The State and the Ruling Class: An Anthology of Key Works of Libertarian/Classical Liberal Class Analysis

Compiled by David M. Hart
Table of Contents of the Anthology: <>

[Created: 16 August, 2016]
[Updated: 7 January, 2017 ]


Karl Marx, "Letter to Engels" (27 July, 1854)

Editing History

  • Item added: 27 Nov. 2016
  • 1st Edit:
  • Word count: 1,762 (exract 517w)


MECW, Volume 39, p. 472. First published slightly abridged in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913 and in full in: Marx and Engels, Works, 1929.

Editor's Intro


Text: Marx To Engels [London,] 27 July 1854, 28 Dean Street, Soho

Dear Engels,

Je vous attends for Tuesday. How very boastful Mr Herbert was. This same Herbert was Vorontsov’s brother-in-law and at the same time English Secretary at war. The way the English brag as though Nasmyth and Butler had held Silistria ‘single-handed’ is grotesque. Have you read about Monday evening’s session, when Disraeli so neatly punctured little John’s [Lord John Russell] and the Times’ ‘Sevastopol’ bubble with one prick of the needle?

I am, hélas once again saddled with Pieper who looks like a half-starved sucking pig seethed in milk, after having lived for a fortnight with a whore he describes as un bijou. He has frittered away some £20 in a fortnight and now both his purses are equally depleted. In this heat it is a bore to have the fellow hanging around one du matin jusqu'au soir et du soir jusqu'au matin [from morning to night ...]. And it disrupts one’s work.

On Saturday I got the following note from Papa Tucker:

‘Dear Sir, There is a pretty brisk demand for the “Fly-Sheets” just now. Could you send me some articles from the Tribune that could suit the taste of the public? The third on Palmerston would move the other two. Faithfully Yours E. Tucker.'

Incidentally I have also heard from Freiligrath that that rogue Trübner is advertising these ‘Fly-Sheets’ under his imprint. You will note that he asks for ‘Articles from The Tribune’, in order once again to evade the question of money. Now, 1. So far as he is concerned, not one copy of the Tribune is to be had anywhere in London, since it is sent only to subscribers and back numbers cannot even be ordered from New York; 2. Without substantial additions, none of the articles would now suit. Now I must clear up the matter with the fellow and this ‘easy-going’ relationship must end. If he is agreeable, and you for your part approve, would suggest the following:

1. Of the Tribune articles, I shall give him (for publication) the critique of the ‘Secret correspondence’. For this Dronke would only have to send me the 2nd article on this, which was detained by the Post Office here. The latter gratis, 2 and 3 to be paid for in cash and on delivery of the MSS, namely.

2. A general pamphlet on Palmerston, beginning with my introduction in the Tribune to which I should, however, add a new middle and ending.

3. A pamphlet that I would have to write in collaboration with you, i.e. on England’s diplomacy and military action since war was declared. The articles which have appeared in the Tribune will provide us with material for both these aspects. If you agree to 3, the question arises:

How much do we ask?

After all, my articles do seem to sell better than Urquhart’s who is ‘happy’ if his stuff in the Advertiser is accepted by Tucker for the ‘Fly-Sheets’.

If you agree with all this — (Nos. 2 and 3 would, of course, have to be pungent enough to produce a real sensation in London; moreover, such is the footing we are on with Tucker that we can write anything we choose without worrying about English prejudices) — then compose a letter for me putting these proposals to Mr Tucker. Not being sufficiently adept in business matters, I have deliberately avoided answering him either orally or in writing. But no time is to be lost.

A book that has interested me greatly is Thierry’s Histoire de la formation et du progrès du Tiers État, 1893. It is strange how this gentleman, le père of the ‘class struggle’ in French historiography, inveighs in his Preface against the ‘moderns’ who, while also perceiving the antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat, purport to discover traces of such opposition as far back as the history of the tiers-état prior to 1789. He is at great pains to show that the tiers-état comprises all social ranks and estates save the noblesse and clergé and that the bourgeoisie plays the role of representative of all these other elements. Quotes, for example, from Venetian embassy reports:

These that call themselves the Estates of the realm are of three orders of persons, that of the clergy, of the nobility, and of the rest of those persons who, in common parlance, may be called the people. [Thierry, Histoire... Vol. I, p. III].

Had Mr Thierry read our stuff, he would know that the decisive opposition between bourgeoisie and peuple does not, of course, crystallise until the former ceases, as tiers-état, to oppose the clergé and the noblesse. But as for the ‘racines dans 1'histoire ... d'un antagonisme né d'hier’ [roots in history ... of an antagonism born yesterday], his book provides the best proof that the origin of the ‘racines’ coincided with the origin of the tiers-état. By the same token, this otherwise intelligent critic would have to conclude from the ‘Senatus populusque Romanus’ that in Rome there was never any opposition save that between the senatus and the populus. I was interested to discover from the documents he quotes that the term ‘catalla, capitalia’, capital, came into being with the rise of the communes. He has, by the by, unwittingly demonstrated that the victory of the French bourgeoisie was delayed by nothing so much as the fact that it did not decide until 1789 to make common cause with the peasants. Although he does not generalise, he depicts very nicely, 1. how from the beginning, or at least since the rise of the towns, the French bourgeoisie has gained undue influence by constituting itself a parliament, bureaucracy, etc., and not, as in England, by commerce and industry alone. This undoubtedly holds true even of present-day France. 2. From his account it may be readily shown how the class rises as the various forms in which its centre of gravity has lain at different times are ruined and with them the different sections whose influence derives from these forms. In my view, this sequence of metamorphoses leading up to the domination of the class has never before been thus presented — at least so far as the material is concerned. In regard to the maîtrises, jurandes etc., in short, the forms, in which the industrial bourgeoisie develops, he has, alas, restricted himself almost wholly to general, and generally known, phrases, despite the fact that here too he alone is familiar with the material. What he successfully elaborates and underlines is the conspiratorial and revolutionary nature of the municipal movement in the twelfth century. The German Emperors, e.g. Frederick I and Frederick II, issued edicts against these ‘communiones’, ‘conspirationes’ ‘conjurationes’ [communes, secret associations, sworn confederacies] in very much the same spirit as the German Federal Diet. E.g. in 1226 Frederick II takes it upon himself to declare null and void all ‘consulats’ [municipal councils] and other free municipal bodies in the towns of Provence:

It has recently been brought to our notice that the guilds of certain cities, market towns and other places have, of their own accord, constituted tribunals, authorities (the Podesta), consulates, administrations and certain other institutions of this kind ... and because, among certain of them ... such things have already developed into abuses and malpractices ... we hereby, in virtue of our imperial power, and by our sure knowledge, revoke these tribunals, etc., and also the concessions in regard to them obtained through the Counts of Provence and Forcalquier and declare them null and void.


We likewise prohibit conventions and sworn confederacies of whatever kind within the cities and without ... between city and city or between person and person or between city and person.’ (Peace Charter of Frederick I.)

That no city and no market town may organise communes, constitutions, unions, leagues or sworn confederacies of any kind, by whatever name they may be referred to, and that, without the assent of their lord, we neither can nor should allow the cities and market towns in our Empire the right to establish communes, constitutions ... sworn confederacies of any kind, whatever names may be conferred on them. (Decree of King Henry against city communes.)

Is that not the raide [stiff] German professorial style to the life — the very same which later, graced the fulminations of the ‘Central Commission of the Confederation’? In Germany, the ‘commune jurée[sworn commune] penetrated no further than Trier where, in 1161, the Emperor Frederick I put a stop to it:

The commune of the citizens of Trier, which is also called sworn confederacy and which we have abolished in the city ... and which as we have heard was later set up anew, shall also be dissolved and declared null and void.

The policy pursued by the German emperors was exploited by the French rois who secretly supported ‘conjurationes’ and ‘communiones’ in Lorraine, Alsace, the Dauphiné, Franche-Comté, the Lyonnais, etc., thus alienating them from the German Empire:

According to the information which has reached our Highness, the King of France ... is seeking to corrupt the sincerity of your loyalty. (Rudolph I, Letter to the citizens of Besançon.)

The very same policy was used by the fellows to make Italian cities Guelphic.

It’s funny how the word ‘communio’ is often reviled in just the same way as communism nowadays. Thus, for example, the priest Guibert of Nogent writes:

Commune, a new and thoroughly bad appellation.

There’s often something rather pathetic about the way in which the twelfth-century philistines invite the peasants to take refuge in the towns, the communio jurata. As, for instance, in the Charter of St Quentin:

They (the burghers of St Quentin) have jointly sworn each to give common aid to his confederate and to share with him common counsel and common responsibility and common defence. We have jointly determined that whoever shall enter our commune and give us his aid, either by reason of flight or for fear of his enemies or for some other offence ... shall be allowed into the commune, for the gate is open to all; and if his lord had unjustly withheld his chattels and does not wish to detain him lawfully, we shall see that justice is done. [II, 135]

K. M.