International Workingmen’s Association 1868

To the Directorate of The Schiller Institute

Source: MECW Volume 21, p. 18;
Written: by Frederick Engels;
First published: in German in the Bulletin the International Institute of Social History Amsterdam, 1950.

The Schiller Institute, founded in Manchester in November 1859 in connection with the centenary of Schiller’s birth was conceived as a cultural and social centre of the city’s German colony. At first Engels was critical of the society, notorious for its tendency to formalism and pedantry, and kept aloof from it. But after certain amendments were made in the Rules, he became a member of its Directorate in 1864, and later President of the Institute, devoting much time to it and exercising a considerable influence on its activities.

In September 1868, while Engels was away from Manchester, the Directorate invited Karl Vogt, who was connected with Bonapartist circles and cast aspersions on proletarian revolutionaries, to give a lecture in the society. In view of this Engels held that his political reputation would be compromised if he remained President and wrote this letter to the Directorate.

On October 2 the secretary, Davisson, on behalf of the Directorate approached Engels asking him to revise his decision but Engels refused. In April 1870 Engels was again elected member of the Directorate, but he did not take an active part in its work.

Manchester, September 16, 1868

Mr. Davisson has informed me that at its meeting of September 7 the Directorate took the decision to invite Mr. Karl Vogt to give a lecture at the Institute.

Much as I regret it, this decision obliges me to resign my post as chairman as well as that of member of the Directorate.

I do not need to enter here into the objective grounds on which, had I been present, I would have voted against the decision. It is not these reasons which make my decision a duty.

My resignation stems only from reasons not connected with the Institute. During 1859 and 1860 my political friends and I levelled grave charges of a political nature against Mr. Vogt, presenting evidence to support them. (See the work Herr Vogt by Karl Marx, London, 1860.) Mr. Vogt has so far remained silent in the face of these accusations, which have subsequently been repeated by other quarters.

This entire affair, as well as the polemic about it at the time, is probably unknown to the other members of the Directorate, or forgotten by them. They are quite entitled to disregard Mr. Vogt’s political character and regard him as the more or less agreeable populariser of the scientific discoveries of others. I cannot afford to do so. Were I to remain in the Directorate after the above decision, I would be denying my entire political past and my political friends. I would be giving a vote of confidence to a man who, I consider it proved, was in 1859 a paid agent of Bonapartism.

Only such a compelling necessity could induce me to resign from a post in which I considered it my duty to remain under difficulties now fortunately overcome.[29]

I thank the members of the Directorate cordially for the confidence they have so lavishly bestowed on me, and leave them with the request to retain towards me the same friendly sentiments that I shall always cherish for them.

Yours faithfully,
F. E.

29 Engels refers to the difficulties experienced by the Schiller Institute in building new premises.