Works of Frederick Engels

The Times on German Communism

Source: MECW, Volume 3, p. 410;
Written: on January 13, 1844;
First published: The New Moral World, Third Series, No. 30, January 20, 1844.

To the Editor of the New Moral World

Sir. — Seeing the paper from the Times on the Communists in Germany, republished in The New Moral World, [170] I thought it better not to let it pass without some commentatory remarks, which you perhaps will find worth inserting.

The Times hitherto enjoyed on the continent the reputation of a well-informed newspaper, but a few more articles like that on German Communism must very soon destroy that opinion. Every one who has the slightest knowledge of the social movements in France and Germany, must at once perceive that the author of the paper alluded to speaks of a subject of which he is thoroughly ignorant. He knows not even so much about it as would enable him to expose the weaker parts of the party he attacks. If he wanted to decry Weitling, he could have found in his writings passages much more fitted for his purpose than those he translates. If he only would have given himself the trouble to read the report of the Zurich committee [J. C. Bluntschli, Die Kommunisten in der Schweiz nach den bei Weitling vorgefundenen Papieren] which he professes to have read, but evidently has not, he would have found plenty of matter for slander, lots of garbled passages collected expressly for the purpose. It is very curious, after all, that the Communists themselves must furnish their opponents with arms for the combat; but, standing upon the broad base of philosophical argument, they can afford to do so.

The correspondent of the Times begins by describing the Communist party as very weak in France, and doubts whether the insurrection of 1839, in Paris [171], was got up by them, or, which he thinks very likely, by the “powerful” republican party. My well-informed informer of the English public, do you consider a party very weak which numbers about half a million of adult males? Do you know that the “powerful” republican party in France is, and has been these last nine years, in a state of utter dissolution and increasing decay? Do you know that the National newspaper, the organ of this “powerful” party, has a more limited circulation than any other Paris paper? Must I, a foreigner, remind you of the republican subscription for the Irish repeal fund, got up by the National last summer, and amounting to less than one hundred pounds, although the republicans affected considerable sympathy for the Irish repealers?[172] Do you not know that the mass of the republican party, the working classes, have seceded from their richer partisans long since, and not joined, no, established the Communist party, long before Cabet commenced to advocate Communism? Do you not know that all the “power” of the French republicans consists in the reliance they have in the Communists, who wish to see a republic established before they begin putting Communism into practice? It seems you are ignorant of all these things, and yet you ought to know them, in order to form a correct opinion of continental Socialism.

As to the insurrection of 1839, I do not consider such things creditable to any party; but I have it from parties actively engaged in this émeute, that it was plotted and executed by the Communists.[173]

The well-informed correspondent goes on to state that

“Fourier’s and Cabet’s doctrines seemed more to occupy the minds of some literary and scientific characters, than to gain general favour with the people”.

Of Fourier this is true, as I had occasion to show in a former number of this paper'; but Cabet! Cabet, the author of almost nothing but small pamphlets, — Cabet, who is always called Father Cabet, a name not likely to be given by “literary and scientific characters” — Cabet, whose greatest fault is superficiality and want of regard for the just claims of scientific research” — Cabet, the editor of a paper [Le Populaire de 1841] calculated for the information of those who are able to read only — that this man’s doctrines should occupy the mind of a professor of the Parisian university, like Michelet, or Quinet, whose boast is a deepness deeper than mysticism? It is too ludicrous.

The correspondent then speaks of the celebrated German nocturnal meeting at Hambach and Steinholzli, [174] and expresses his opinion

“that this bore rather a political than a social revolutionary character”.

I hardly know where to begin in exposing the blunders of this sentence. Firstly, “nocturnal meetings” are quite unknown on the continent: we have no torch-light Chartists’ or nocturnal Rebeccaite assemblages.[175] The Hambach meeting was held in open day, under the eyes of the authorities. Secondly, Hambach is a place in Bavaria, and Steinholzli in Switzerland, some hundred miles from Hambach; yet our correspondent speaks of the “Hambach and Steinholzli meeting”. Thirdly, these two meetings were separated by a considerable extent, not only of space, but of time also. The Steinholzli meeting took place several years after the other. Fourthly, these meetings not only seemed, but in reality did bear a merely political character; they were held before the Communists appeared in the field.

The sources from which our correspondent got his invaluable information, were “the report of the (Zurich) Commission, the published and unpublished Communist writings discovered at the arrest of Weitling, and personal inquiry”. Now it is evident, from the ignorance of our correspondent, that he never read the report; it is evident that “published communistical writings” could not be “discovered” at the arrest of anybody, as the very fact of their “publication” destroys every possibility of a “discovery”. The attorney-general of Zurich certainly would not boast of the “discovery” of books which every bookseller could have furnished him with! As to the “unpublished” writings, for the suppression of which the prosecution was commenced, the Zurich senators would have been inconsistent indeed, had they, as our correspondent appears to believe, afterwards published them themselves! They did no such thing. In fact, in all the report of our correspondent, there is nothing produced, which he could have procured from this source and from that of personal inquiry, if it be not the two novel facts, that the German Communists got their doctrine chiefly from Cabet and Fourier, whom they attack; as our correspondent could. have read in the same book from which he so extensively quotes (Weitling’s Guarantees, [Wilhelm Weitling, Garantien der Harmonie und Freiheit] p. 228); and that “they consider as their four evangelists, Cabet, Proudhon, Weitling, and — and — Constant"! Benjamin Constant, the friend of Madame de Staël, died long ago, and never thought of anything connected with social reform. Evidently our correspondent means Considérant, the Fourierist, editor of the Phalange, now the Démocratie Pacifique, who is not at all connected with the Communists.

“The Communist doctrine is at present more negative than positive”

and immediately after this assertion is given, our correspondent cuts its throat by laying down, in twelve paragraphs, an outline of Weitling’s proposed arrangements for a new social state, which arrangements are altogether positive, and do not even mention the destruction of the present social system.

These extracts, however, are given in a very confused manner, showing that our correspondent did in several cases fail to hit upon the vital point of the question, and gave in its stead some rather insignificant details. Thus he omits to state the chief point in which Weitling is superior to Cabet, namely, the abolition of all government by force and by majority, and the establishment in its stead of a mere administration, organising the different branches of labour, and distributing its produce; he omits the proposal to nominate all officers of this administration, and in every particular Branch, not by a majority of the community at large, but by those only who have a knowledge of the particular kind of work the future officer has to perform; and, one of the most important features of the plan, that the nominators are to select the fittest person, by means of some kind of prize essays, without knowing the author of any of these essays; the names to be sealed up, and that paper only to be opened which contains the name of the successful competitor; obviating by this all personal motives which could bias the minds of the electors.

As to the remainder of the extracts from Weitling, I leave it to the readers of this periodical to judge, whether they contain such contemptible stuff as our correspondent thinks them to be; or whether they do not advocate in most, if not in all cases, the same principles and proposals, for the propagation of which this paper was established. At any rate, if the Times should wish to comment again on German. Communism, it would do well to provide another correspondent.

I am, Sir, yours truly,

F. Engels