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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Völkerabfälle is a term used by Frederick Engels to describe small nations which he considered residual fragments of former peoples who had succumbed to more powerful neighbours in the historic process of social development and which Engels considered prone to become "fanatical standard-bearers of counter-revolution".

He offers as examples:

Engels was referring also specifically to the Serb uprising of 1848–49, in which Serbs from Vojvodina fought against the previously victorious Hungarian revolution. Engels finished the article with the following prediction:

But at the first victorious uprising of the French proletariat, which Louis Napoleon is striving with all his might to conjure up, the Austrian Germans and Magyars will be set free and wreak a bloody revenge on the Slav barbarians. The general war which will then break out will smash this Slav Sonderbund and wipe out all these petty hidebound nations, down to their very names.

The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.


Engels views were criticised by leading socialist Karl Kautsky who in 1915 argued that subsequent to 1848/9 the Czech and Austrian South Slavs had transformed themselves in a manner which in practice refuted the views of Marx and Engels. Referring to Heinrich Cunow he wrote:

Today when those people have achieved such great power and significance to refer to them in the old Marxian terms of 1848/9 does appear most unfortunate. Should someone today still hold onto that standpoint he has a lot to unlearn

Roman Rozdolsky analyses Engels' position in his book Engels and the 'Nonhistoric' Peoples: the National Question in the Revolution of 1848.

There are two ways to look at Marx and Engels: as the creators of a brilliant, but in its deepest essence, thoroughly critical, scientific method; or as church fathers of some sort, the bronzed figures of a monument. Those who have the latter vision will not have found this study to their taste. We, however, prefer to see them as they were in reality.

Rosdolsky examines Engels' viewpoint at length. Both Marx and Engels had supported the 1848 revolution which had spread throughout Europe. They saw this as a necessary first step towards the Socialist revolution, which was hoped to be imminent. However, the forces of reaction rallied in Klemens von Metternich's Austria in October 1848 with the brutal suppression of the Vienna Uprising. Engels was prompted to write his article thanks to the Austrian Slavs' rejection of the opportunity to liberate themselves from the oppressive rule of the Habsburgs, as well their enthusiastic embrace of Metternich’s counter-revolution.


This last passage, the final paragraph of Engels' article in 1849, has fuelled accusations that this constitutes a call for genocide. The British Liberal historian, George Watson, for example, cited this text by Engels as evidence for his view that Hitler was a Marxist. He also participated in the conservative documentary The Soviet Story, where he uses the translation of Völkerabfälle as "racial trash". The film attracted criticism from a range of people including Latvian MEP Tatjana Ždanoka, Finnish political activist Johan Bäckman and Latvian MP Boris Tsilevitch. Alexander Dyukov has provided evidence that the film relies on falsified images to give an historically inaccurate account of the Soviet Union.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Völkerabfälle" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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