Comments on an "Anti-Capitalist" Riot
These excerpts are from letters written by Engels in the immediate aftermath of the February 1886 "West End Riots". The letter to Laura Lafargue is taken from Engels-Lafargue, Correspondence, Vol.1, 1959. The letters to Bebel are from Marx-Engels, Correspondence, 1846-1895, 1934, although the last two paragraphs from the 15 February letter have been translated from the German original in August Bebels Briefwechsel mit Friedrich Engels, 1965.
To Laura Lafargue, 9 February 1886
Our clever folks of the S[ocial] D[emocratic] Federation scorn to rest on their laurels. Yesterday they must needs interfere in a meeting of the unemployed – who count now by hundreds of thousands – in order to preach La Révolution, revolution in general, and ask the mass to hold up their hands, those who were ready to follow M. Champion wherever he would lead them to – well, to what he does not know himself. Hyndman, who can only overcome his personal cowardice by deafening himself with his own shouts, went on in the same strain.
Of course you know what a meeting at 3pm in Trafalgar Square consists of: masses of the poor devils of the East End who vegetate in the borderland between working class and Lumpenproletariat, and a sufficient admixture of roughs and 'Arrys to leaven the whole into a mass ready for any "lark" up to a wild riot à propos de rien [about nothing].Well, just at the time when this element was getting the upper hand (Kautsky who was there says das eigentliche Meeting war vorbei, die Keilerei ging los und so ging ich weg [the meeting proper was over, the brawling broke out and so I made off]), the wiseacres above named took these roughs in procession through Pall Mall and Piccadilly to Hyde Park for another and a truly revolutionary meeting. But on the road the roughs took matters into their own hands, smashed club windows and shop fronts, plundered first wine stores and bakers' shops, and then some jewellers' shops also, so that in Hyde Park our revolutionary swells had to preach "le calme et la modération"! While they were soft-sawdering, the wrecking and plundering went on outside in Audley St and even as far as Oxford St where at last the police intervened.
The absence of the police shows that the row was wanted, but that Hyndman and Co donnaient dans le piège [fell into the trap] is impardonable and brands them finally as not only helpless fools but also as scPost too long. Click here to view the full text.