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Friedrich Engels on the Socialists’ Gotha Program (October 12, 1875)

At the Gotha party congress in 1875, the Lassallean General German Workers’ Association merged with the rival Social Democratic Workers’ Party (the “Eisenachers”) to form the German Socialist Workers’ Party. As the following letter to August Bebel (1840-1913) reveals, Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) and Karl Marx (1818-1883) were appalled by the compromises and muddled diction forced through by the Lassalleans. They dubbed the endeavor a short-lived “educational experiment.” The merger nonetheless rendered German Social Democracy more able to withstand the repressive Anti-Socialist Law enacted in 1878.

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London, October 12, 1875

Dear Bebel! Your letter wholly confirms our view that our unification [of the workers’ parties] was overhasty and already contains the seeds of conflict. It would be good if we could manage to postpone that conflict until after the next Reichstag elections. [ . . . ] The program as it now stands consists of three parts:

1. Lassallean phrases and key words, the adoption of which remains a disgrace to our party. When two factions settle on a common program, they incorporate those points on which they agree and leave out those on which they disagree. Admittedly, the Lassallean state support scheme was part of the Eisenach program, but only as one of numerous transitional measures; and, as far as I have heard, if not for the unification it most likely would have been thrown out at this year’s congress at [Wilhelm] Bracke’s request. Now it figures as the one exclusive and infallible remedy for all social evils. To have the “iron law of wages” and other hollow phrases of the Lassalleans imposed upon us constitutes an enormous moral defeat for our party. It was thus paid homage to the Lassallean creed. That is simply undeniable. This part of the program is the gauntlet* our party has run for the greater glory of Saint Lassalle;

2. Democratic demands that are formulated entirely along the lines of the People’s Party;

3. Demands aimed at the “current state” (in the context of which it is unclear to whom the remaining “demands” should be addressed), which are very confused and illogical;

4. General formulations, mostly borrowed from the Communist Manifesto and the statutes of the International, which, however, are rewritten in such a way that they either contain something completely wrong or, alternatively, constitute pure nonsense, just as Marx has demonstrated in the essay known to you.

* “das kaudinishe Joch” refers to the Caudine Forks, a battle in the Apennines in 321 BC in which the Samnites defeated the Romans – ed.

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