The Campaign for the German Imperial Constitution, Frederick Engels 1850
It will he remembered how the armed uprising for the Imperial Constitution first broke out in Dresden at the beginning of May. It is well known how the Dresden barricade-fighters, supported by the rural population and betrayed by the Leipzig philistines, were defeated by superior forces after six days' fighting. They at no time had more than 2,500 combatants with a motley collection of weapons and for their whole artillery two or three small mortars. The royal troops consisted, apart from the Saxon battalions, of two regiments of Prussians. They had cavalry, artillery, riflemen and a battalion equipped with needle-guns [Dreyse Needle-gun, first breach loading bolt-action rifle, introduced 1848]. The royal troops appear to have conducted themselves in an even more cowardly way in Dresden than elsewhere; at the same time, however, it is clear that the men of Dresden fought more courageously against these superior forces than was probably the case elsewhere in the campaign for the Imperial Constitution. It must be added, however, that street-fighting is something quite different from an engagement in the field.
Berlin, disarmed and in a state of siege, remained quiet. Not once was the railway torn up to hold up the Prussian reinforcements at Berlin. Breslau [The Polish name is Wroclaw.–Ed.] attempted a feeble barricade-fight  for which the government had long been prepared, and as a result the city only ended up the more certainly under the dictatorship of the sabre. The rest of North Germany, having no revolutionary centres, was paralysed. Only Rhenish Prussia and South Germany could still be reckoned on, and in South Germany the Palatinate already started to move just at that moment.
Since 1815 Rhenish Prussia has been considered one of the most progressive provinces in Germany, and rightly so. It combines two advantages which are not to be found in combination in any other part of Germany.
Rhenish Prussia shares with Luxembourg, Rhenish Hesse and the Palatinate the advantage of having experienced since 1795 the French Revolution and the social, administrative and legislative consolidation of its results under Napoleon. When the revolutionary party in Paris succumbed, the armies carried the revolution across the frontiers. Before these so recently liberated sons of peasants not only the armies of the Holy Roman Empire but also the feudal rule of the nobility and the priests fell to pieces. For two generations the left bank of the Rhine has no longer known feudalism; the nobleman has been deprived of his privileges and the landed property has passed from his hands and those of the church into the hands of the peasants; the land has been divided up and the peasant is a free landed proprietor as in France. In the towns, the guilds and the patriarchal rule of the patricians disappeared ten years earlier than anywhere else in Germany in the face of free competition, and the Napoleonic Code finally sanctioned the whole changed situation by summing up all the revolutionary institutions.
Secondly, however, Rhenish Prussia possesses – and herein lies its main advantage over the rest of the states on the left bank of the Rhine – the most developed and diversified industry in the whole of Germany. In the three administrative districts of Aachen, Cologne and Dusseldorf, almost all branches of industry are represented: cotton, wool and silk industries of all kinds, together with those branches dependent upon them such as bleaching, textile printing and dyeing, iron-founding and engineering, are to be found concentrated here, alongside mining, armaments manufacture and other metal industries, within an area of a few square miles and employ a population of a density unheard of in Germany. Directly adjoining the Rhine Province is the iron and coal district of the Mark which provides it with a part of its raw materials and from the industrial point of view belongs to it. The best waterway in Germany, the proximity of the sea and the mineral wealth of the region favour industry, which has also built numerous railways and is even now daily further integrating its railway network. There is a mutual interaction between this industry and an import and export trade, for Germany very extensive, with all parts of the world, a considerable direct traffic with all the great trading centres of the world market and a commensurate degree of speculation in raw materials and railway shares. To sum up, the level of industrial and commercial development in the Rhine Province is for Germany unique, even if in world terms it is fairly insignificant.
The consequence of this industry – which also burgeoned under the revolutionary rule of the French – and the trade connected with it is the creation in Rhenish Prussia of a mighty industrial and commercial big bourgeoisie and, in opposition to it, of a large industrial proletariat, two classes which in the rest of Germany only exist in isolated areas and in embryonic form but which almost exclusively dominate the distinct political development of the Rhine Province.
Over the rest of the German states revolutionised by the French Rhenish Prussia has the advantage of industry and over the rest of the German industrial areas (Saxony and Silesia) the advantage of the French Revolution. It is the only part of Germany whose social development has almost reached the level of modern bourgeois society: developed industry, extensive trade, accumulation of capital and free ownership of land; the predominance in the towns of a strong bourgeoisie and a numerous proletariat and in the countryside of a multitude of debt-ridden allotment peasants; rule of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat by means of the wages system, over the peasantry by means of the mortgage and over the petty bourgeoisie by means of competition, and finally the sanctioning of bourgeois rule through the courts of trade, the factory courts, the bourgeois jury and the entire body of material legislation.
Is it easier now to understand the Rhinelander's hatred for everything that is Prussian? Along with the Rhine Province Prussia incorporated the French Revolution into its states and treated the Rhinelanders not only as a subjugated and alien people but even as vanquished rebels. Far from developing the Rhenish legislation in the spirit of the ever growing modern bourgeois society, Prussia intended saddling the Rhinelanders with the pedantic, feudal, philistine hotchpotch of Prussian Law, which was barely suitable any longer even for Farther Pomerania.
The revolutionary change after February 1848 clearly showed the exceptional position of the Rhine Province. It provided not only the Prussian but the whole of the German bourgeoisie with its classical representatives, Camphausen and Hansemann, and provided the German proletariat with the sole organ in which it was championed not only in terms of fine words or good will, but according to its true interests: the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. How is it, then, that Rhenish Prussia for all that took so little part in Germany's revolutionary movements?
It must not be forgotten that the 1830 movement in favour of a hollow pettifogger's constitutionalism could not hope to interest Germany's Rhenish bourgeoisie, who were busily engaged in much more real, industrial enterprises; that, whereas people in the petty German states were still dreaming of a German Empire, in Rhenish Prussia the proletariat was already beginning to come out openly against the bourgeoisie; that from 1840 to 1847, at the time of the bourgeois, truly constitutional movement, the Rhenish bourgeoisie stood in the forefront and decisively tipped the balance in Berlin in March 1848. The reason, however, why Rhenish Prussia could never achieve anything in an open insurrection or even bring about a general insurrection of the whole province is best explained by a straightforward account of the campaign for the Imperial Constitution in the Rhineland.
The struggle had just broken out in Dresden; it might break out at any moment in the Palatinate. In Baden, in Wurttemberg and in Franconia mass rallies were launched and people barely concealed their determination to settle the question by force of arms. In the whole of South Germany the troops were wavering. Prussia was no less roused. The proletariat was only waiting for an opportunity of revenging itself for having been tricked of the gains it believed it had won for itself in March 1848. Everywhere the petty bourgeois were busy welding together all the discontented elements into a great Imperial Constitution party whose leadership they hoped to secure for themselves. Their sworn promises to stand or fall with the Frankfurt Assembly and stake property and life for the Imperial Constitution filled all the newspapers and rang out in every club-room and every beer-house.
It was at this point that the Prussian Government opened hostilities by calling up a large part of the army reserve, particularly in Westphalia and on the Rhine. To order a call-up during a period of peace was illegal and not only the petty bourgeoisie but also the bigger bourgeoisie rose up against it.
The Cologne municipal council proclaimed a congress of deputies of the Rhenish municipal councils. The government banned it; conventions were disregarded and the congress held in spite of the ban. The municipal councils, representing the big and middle bourgeoisie, declared their recognition of the Imperial Constitution, demanded its acceptance by the Prussian Government and the dismissal of the ministry as well as the repeal of the order calling up the army reserve, and threatened unambiguously enough that the Rhine Provinces would secede from Prussia if these demands were not met.
"Since the Prussian Government has dissolved the Second Chamber following on the latter's pronouncement in favour of unconditional acceptance of the German Constitution of March 28 of this year and has thereby deprived the people of its representation and voice in the present critical moment, the undersigned delegates of the towns and municipalities of the Rhine Province have assembled to discuss the need of the fatherland.
"The meeting, chaired by Councillors Zell of Trier and Werner of Coblenz and assisted by the clerks of the minutes, Councillors Boecker of Cologne and Bloem II of Dusseldorf,
has resolved as follows:
"1. This meeting declares that it recognises the Constitution of the German Empire, as promulgated by the Reich Assembly on March 28 of this year, as a definitive law and that in the conflict brought about by the Prussian Government it stands on the side of the German Reich Assembly.
"2. The meeting calls upon the entire people of the Rhineland, and in particular all men capable of bearing arms, to make collective declarations in smaller or larger gatherings of its commitment and steadfast intent to uphold the German Imperial Constitution and comply with the ordinances of the Imperial Constitution.
"3. The meeting calls on the German Reich Assembly henceforth and with the utmost dispatch to make greater efforts to give to the resistance of the people in the separate German states and in particular in the Rhine Province that unity and strength which alone is capable of thwarting the well-organised counter-revolution.
"4. It calls on the imperial authorities to take steps as soon as possible to tender to the imperial troops an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and to decree a concentration of these troops.
"5. The undersigned pledge themselves to secure recognition of the Imperial Constitution by all means at their disposal in the area of their municipalities.
"6. The meeting considers the dismissal of the Brandenburg-Manteuffel Ministry and the summoning of the Chambers, without change in the existing system of voting, to be absolutely necessary.
"7. In particular it considers the recent partial call-up of the army reserve to be an unnecessary measure which highly endangers the internal peace, and experts its immediate repeal.
"8. Lastly the undersigned express their conviction that if the content of this declaration is disregarded the fatherland is threatened by the greatest dangers which could even jeopardise the continued existence of Prussia as at present constituted. "Resolved on May 8, 1849, at Cologne."
(Signatures follow.)[Published in the Kolnische Zeitung No. 110, May 9, 1849, second edition.– Ed]
We would only add that the same Herr Zell who presided over this meeting went a few weeks later as imperial commissioner of the Frankfurt imperial ministry to Baden, not only for the purpose of appeasement, but also to plot with the local reactionaries those counter-revolultionary coups which later broke out in Mannheim and Karlsruhe. It is at least probable that at the same time he served imperial General Peucker as a military spy.
We insist on firmly establishing this fact. The big bourgeoisie, the flower of the pre-March liberalism of the Rhineland, sought from the very beginning to place themselves at the head of the movement for the Imperial Constitution in Rhenish Prussia. Their speeches, their resolutions, their whole demeanour demonstrated their solidarity for the subsequent events. There were plenty of people who took the words of the municipal councillors seriously, especially the threat that the Rhine Province would secede. If the big bourgeoisie went along with the movement, then the cause was as good as won from the beginning; it would mean that every class of the population was taking part, and that one could afford to take a risk. The petty bourgeois calculated along these lines and hastened to strike a heroic pose, It goes without saying that his supposed associe the big bourgeois, did not let this in any way deter him from betraying the petty bourgeois at the first opportunity and afterwards, when the whole affair had come to a truly miserable end, from ridiculing him for his stupidity to boot.
In the meantime the excitement continually mounted; the news from all areas of Germany sounded extremely warlike. At last steps were to be taken to fit out the army reserve. The battalions met and declared categorically that they would not let themselves be fitted out. The majors, in the absence of sufficient military support, could do nothing and were happy if they escaped without threats or actual attacks. They dismissed their men and set a new date for fitting-out.
The government, which could easily have given the officers of the army reserve the necessary backing, was purposely allowing things to go so far. It now immediately used force.
The refractory army reserve units came in particular from the industrial region of Berg and the Mark. Elberfeld and Iserlohn, Solingen and the Ennepe valley were the centres of resistance. Troops were ordered at once to the first two towns.
A battalion of the 16th Regiment, a squadron of lancers and two pieces of artillery moved to Elberfeld. The town was in a state of great confusion. The army reserve had found on mature reflection that they were after all playing a risky game. Many peasants and workers were politically apathetic and had merely been unwilling to absent themselves from their homes for an indefinite period to comply with some chance whim of the government. The consequences of insubordination weighed heavily upon them: species facti, martial law, confinement in irons and perhaps even the firing-squad! Suffice it to say, the number of army reserve men up in arms (they had their weapons) dwindled and dwindled, and in the end there were only about forty left. They had set up their headquarters in an inn outside the town and were awaiting the Prussians there. Around the town hall stood the civic militia and two citizens' rifle corps, vacillating and negotiating with the army reserve but at all events determined to protect their property. The people were thronging the streets: petty bourgeois who had sworn loyalty to the Imperial Constitution in the political club and proletarians of all levels, from the resolute, revolutionary worker to the gin-swilling drayman. Nobody knew what to do or what would happen.
The town council wanted to negotiate with the troops. The commander rejected all overtures and marched into the town. The troops paraded through the streets and drew up in front of the town hall, opposite the civic militia. There were negotiations. Stones were thrown at the troops from the crowd. The army reserve, about forty strong as earlier indicated, after lengthy discussions also marched over from the other side of the town towards the troops.
Suddenly a cry was raised among the people for the freeing of the prisoners. In the prison close to the town hall, sixty-nine Solingen workers had been in custody for a year for demolishing the cast-steel works near the castle. They were to be tried in a few days' time. Intent on freeing these men, the people made a rush for the prison. The doors gave way, the people broke in and the prisoners were free. At the same time, however, the troops advanced, a volley rang out and the last prisoner, hurrying through the door, dropped to the ground with a shattered skull.
The people fell back, but with the cry: "To the barricades!" In a trice the approaches to the inner city were secured. Unarmed workers were there in plenty, but there were at most only fifty men with arms behind the barricades.
The artillery advanced. Like the infantry before it, it fired too high, probably on purpose. Both bodies of troops were made up of Rhinelanders or Westphalians, and were good. Eventually Captain von Uttenhoven advanced at the head of the 8th Company of the 16th Regiment.
Three armed men were behind the first barricade. "Don't shoot at us," they cried, "we only shoot at officers!" The captain ordered halt. "Just order ready and there you'll lie," one of the riflemen behind the barricade shouted at him. "Ready! Present! Fire!" A salvo rang out, but at the very same moment the captain slumped to the ground. The bullet had hit him through the heart.
The platoon retreated in all haste, not even taking back the captain's body. A few more shots rang out, a few soldiers were wounded and the commanding officer, who did not relish staying overnight in the rebellious town, pulled out again and bivouacked with his troops an hour's march outside the town. As the soldiers withdrew, barricades were at once raised on all sides.
The same evening the news of the retreat of the Prussians reached Dusseldorf. Numerous groups formed in the streets; the petty bourgeois and the workers were in a state of extreme excitement. Then the rumour that fresh troops were to be sent to Elberfeld gave the signal for action. Without giving a thought to the lack of weapons (the civic militia had been disarmed since November 1848), the relatively strong garrison and the disadvantage posed by the broad, straight streets of the little ex-capital, some workers raised a call to the barricades. In Neustrasse and Bolkerstrasse a few fortifications were thrown up; the other parts of the town were kept free partly by the troops who had already been consigned there beforehand and partly by the fear of the big and petty bourgeoisie.
Towards evening the fighting began. Here, as elsewhere, there were only a few fighters on the barricades. And where were they to get weapons and ammunition! Suffice it to say that they fought back bravely for a long time against superior odds and only after extensive use of artillery, towards morning, were the half-dozen barricades that could be defended in the hands of the Prussians. As we know, on the following day these cautious heroes took their bloody revenge on servant girls, old folk and other peaceful people.
On the same day that the Prussians were beaten back from Elberfeld, another battalion, from the 13th Regiment if I am not mistaken, was to enter Iserlohn and bring the army reserve there to reason. But here too the plan was frustrated; as soon as the news of the advance of the troops became known, the army reserve and the people fortified all the approaches to the town and awaited the enemy with rifles at the ready. The battalion did not dare to make an attack and withdrew again.
The fighting in Elberfeld and Dusseldorf and the barricading of Iserlohn gave the signal for the uprising of the greater part of the industrial region of Berg and the Mark. The people of Solingen stormed the Grafrath arsenal and armed themselves with the rifles and cartridges they took from it; the people of Hagen joined the movement en masse, armed themselves, occupied the approaches to the Ruhr and sent out reconnaissance patrols; Solingen, Ronsdorf, Remscheid, Barmen, etc., sent their contingents to Elberfeld. In the other localities of the region the army reserve declared itself for the movement and placed itself at the disposal of the Frankfurt Assembly. Elberfeld, Solingen, Hagen and Iserlohn replaced the district and the local authorities, who had been driven out, with committees of public safety.
Needless to say the news of these events was monstrously exaggerated. The whole of the Wupper and Ruhr area was pictured as one huge, organised camp of insurrection. There were said to be 15,000 armed men in Elberfeld and as many in Iserlohn and Hagen. The panic which suddenly seized the government and at one blow paralysed all its measures to deal with this uprising in the most loyal districts played no small part in making these exaggerations credible.
After making all reasonable allowances for probable exaggerations, the undeniable fact remained that the main centres of the industrial region of Berg and the Mark were engaged in an open and so far victorious uprising. That was a fact. There was further the news that Dresden was still holding out, that Silesia was in a state of ferment, that the movement in the Palatinate was consolidating, that in Baden a victorious military revolt had broken out and the Grand Duke [Leopold–Ed.] had fled and that the Magyars stood on the banks of the Jablunka and the Leitha. To sum up, of all the revolutionary opportunities that had presented themselves to the democratic and workers' party since March 1848 this was by far the most favourable, and of course it had to be seized. The left bank of the Rhine could not leave the right bank in the lurch.
What should be done now?
All the larger towns of the Rhine Province are either fortress towns like Cologne and Coblenz, dominated by strong citadels and forts, or they have numerous garrisons like Aachen, Dusseldorf and Trier. In addition to this the province is further kept in check by the Wesel, Julich, Luxembourg, Saarlouis and even the Mainz and Minden fortresses. In these fortresses and garrisons there were altogether at least 30,000 men. Finally, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Aachen and Trier had been disarmed for some time. So the revolutionary centres of the province were paralysed. Here every attempt at an uprising, as had already been demonstrated in Dusseldorf, would inevitably end in a victory for the military; another such victory, e.g. in Cologne, would mean the moral crushing of the uprising in Berg and the Mark, in spite of the otherwise favourable news. On the left bank of the Rhine a movement was possible on the Moselle, in the Eifel and the Krefeld industrial district; but this region was encircled by six fortresses and three garrison towns. On the other hand, those districts on the right bank of the Rhine which were already in insurrection offered a densely populated, extensive terrain which with its woods an mountains seemed to be made for an insurrectionary war.
If the intention was to support the insurgent districts, then there was only one course open:
above all things avoid unnecessary disorders in the fortresses and garrison towns;
make a diversion on the left bank of the Rhine in the smaller towns, in the factory areas and in the countryside in order to hold the Rhine garrisons in check;
finally, throw all available forces into the insurgent district on the right bank of the Rhine, spread the insurrection further and attempt to organise here the nucleus of a revolutionary army around the army reserve.
Prussia's new heroes, who specialise in revelations, should not rejoice too soon over the treasonable conspiracy here revealed. Unfortunately no conspiracy existed. The above three measures are no conspiratorial plan but a simple suggestion put forward by the writer of these lines when he himself left for Elberfeld to see to the execution of the third point. Thanks to the dilapidated organisation of the democratic and workers' party, thanks to the indecision and shrewd cautiousness of most of the local leaders who had come from the petty bourgeoisie, and finally thanks to the lack of time, it never came to a conspiracy. Therefore if the beginnings of a diversion did indeed materialise on the left bank of the Rhine and if in Kempen, Neuss and the surrounding country disorders did break out and the arsenal in Prum was stormed, these incidents were by no means the outcome of a common plan but were merely a manifestation of the revolutionary instinct of the people.
In the insurgent districts in the meantime things looked completely different from what the rest of the province would lead one to suppose. It must be admitted that Elberfeld with its barricades (which were, however, extremely unplanned and thrown together in a hurry), with its many sentinels, patrols and other armed men, with its whole population in the streets, only the big bourgeoisie apparently missing, and with its red flags and tricolours did not look at all bad, but otherwise the greatest confusion reigned in the town. Through the Committee of Public Safety formed in the first moments, the petty bourgeoisie had taken the direction of affairs into its hands. It had scarcely got thus far when it took fright at its power, limited as it was. The first thing it did was to get legitimation from the town council, i.e. from the big bourgeoisie, and out of gratitude for the town council's kindness to take five of its members into the Committee of Public Safety. Reinforced in this way, the Committee forthwith washed its hands of all dangerous activity by transferring the responsibility for external security to a military commission, over which, however, it reserved for itself a moderating and restraining control. Secured in this fashion from all contact with the uprising and transplanted by the fathers of the town onto the ground of legality, the trembling petty bourgeois on the Committee of Public Safety were able to confine themselves to calming tempers, looking after day-to-day business, clearing up "misunderstandings", quietening people down, procrastinating and paralysing every form of energetic activity under the pretext that it was first necessary to await the answers given to the deputations sent to Berlin and Frankfurt. The rest of the petty bourgeoisie naturally went hand in hand with the Committee of Public Safety, quietened things down everywhere, did all they could to hinder the continuation of defence measures and distribution of arms and constantly wavered as to how far they would go with the uprising. Only a small part of this class was determined to defend itself weapons in hand in the event of an attack on the town. The great majority sought to persuade themselves that their threats alone and aversion to the almost inevitable bombardment of Elberfeld would move the government to make concessions; nevertheless they covered themselves against all eventualities.
The big bourgeoisie, in the first moments after the battle, was as if thunderstruck. In its terror it saw fantastic visions of arson, murder, looting and God knows what abominations rising up out of the ground. Therefore the setting up of the Committee of Public Safety whose majority (town councillors, lawyers, public prosecutors, sober people) suddenly offered it a guarantee for life and property, filled it with more than fanatical delight. The selfsame big merchants, dyers and manufacturers who up to now had decried Messrs. Karl Hecker, Riotte, Hochster, etc.,as bloodthirsty terrorists, now hurried en masse to the town hall, embraced the same alleged butchers with the most feverish passion and deposited thousands of talers on the table of the Committee of Public Safety. It goes without saying that when the movement was ended these same enthusiastic admirers and supporters of the Committee of Public Safety spread abroad the most extravagant and basest lies not only about the movement itself but also about the Committee of Public Safety and its members, and thanked the Prussians with a similar intensity of feeling for liberation from a terror which had never existed. Innocent constitutional bourgeois, like Messrs. Hecker, Hochster and Public Prosecutor Heintzmann, were once more depicted as bugbears and man-eaters whose affinity to Robespierre and Danton stood written all over their faces. For our part we consider it our duty completely to exonerate these honourable gentlemen from any such accusation. For the rest, the greater portion of the big bourgeoisie placed themselves, their wives and their children with the utmost dispatch under the protection of the Dusseldorf state of siege and only the smaller, more courageous portion stayed behind to protect their property against any eventuality. The Chief Burgomaster [Johann Adolph Carnap.–Ed.] stayed hidden in an overturned, manure-covered cab for the duration of the uprising. The proletariat, united in the heat of the struggle, split as soon as the Committee of Public Safety and the petty bourgeoisie began to waver. The artisans, the actual factory workers and a section of the silk-weavers backed the movement up to the hilt; but they, who formed the core of the proletariat, were almost entirely without weapons. The dye-workers, a robust, well-paid working class, coarse and consequently reactionary like all sections of workers whose occupation demands more physical strength than skill, had lost all interest even during the first days. They alone of all the industrial workers stayed at work while the barricades were up and did not allow themselves to be disturbed. Finally the lumpenproletariat was here as elsewhere corruptible from the second day of the movement onwards, demanding weapons and pay from the Committee of Public Safety in the morning and selling itself to the big bourgeois in the afternoon to protect their buildings or rip down the barricades when evening fell. On the whole it stood on the side of the bourgeoisie, which paid it most and with whose money it led a gay life as long as the movement lasted.
The negligence and cowardice of the Committee of Public Safety and the discord in the military commission, in which the party of inaction initially had the majority, prevented any decisive action from the very beginning. From the second day onwards reaction set in. From the outset it became evident that in Elberfeld the only chance of success was under the banner of the Imperial Constitution and in agreement with the petty bourgeoisie. On the one hand, the proletariat had, here in particular, only too recently freed itself from the slough of gin and pietism for even the slightest notion of the conditions of its liberation to penetrate the masses, and on the other hand it had a too instinctive hatred for the bourgeoisie and was much too indifferent towards the bourgeois question of the Imperial Constitution to work up any enthusiasm for such tricolour interests. This put the resolute party, the only one to consider the question of defence seriously, in a false position. It declared itself for the Imperial Constitution. The petty bourgeoisie, however, did not trust it, maligned it in every way to the people and impeded all the measures it took to distribute arms and erect fortifications. Every order that could really serve to put the town in a state of defence was immediately countermanded by the first member of the Committee of Public Safety to come along. Every philistine in front of whose house a barricade was set up at once hurried to the town hall and procured a reversal of the order. The funds for the payment of the barricade-workers (and they asked for the very minimum to avoid starvation) could only be squeezed out of the Committee of Public Safety with great effort and in paltry amounts. Wages and rations for those bearing arms were provided irregularly and were often insufficient. For five to six days there was neither roll-call nor muster of armed men, with the result that nobody knew how many fighters could be reckoned on if an emergency arose. Not until the fifth day was an attempt made to detail the armed men, but the attempt was never carried into effect and was based on a total ignorance of the number of the fighting forces. Every member of the Committee of Public Safety acted on his own. There was a clash of the most contradictory orders and the only thing most of them had in common was to add to the easy-going confusion and prevent any energetic steps being taken. As a result of this the proletariat became heartily sick of the whole movement and after a few days the big bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie succeeded in their aim of making the workers as apathetic as possible.
When I reached Elberfeld on May 11, the armed men numbered at least 2,500 to 3,000. Of these, however, only the reinforcements from outside and the handful of armed Elberfeld workers were reliable. The army reserve was vacillating; most of them had a mighty dread of imprisonment in chains. At first there were not many of them, but they were reinforced by the admission of all the shilly-shallying and faint-hearted elements from the other detachments. Finally the civic militia, reactionary here from the very first and set up specifically to suppress the workers, declared itself neutral and wanted nothing but merely to protect its property. All this only came to light in the course of the next few days; in the meantime, however, a section of the reinforcements from outside and the workers dispersed and the number of actual fighting forces dwindled as a result of the stagnation of the movement, while the civic militia held together more and more and with every day more openly expressed its reactionary desires. During the last few nights it was already tearing down a number of the barricades. The armed reinforcements, who certainly numbered at first more than a thousand men, were already reduced to half on the 12th or 13th, and when at length there was a general roll-call it became evident that the entire armed force upon which one could reckon by now numbered at the most 700 to 800 men. The army reserve and the civic militia refused to appear at this roll-call.
That is not all. Insurgent Elberfeld was surrounded by places all of which were alleged to be "neutral". Barmen, Kronenberg, Lennep, Luttringhausen, etc., had not joined the movement. The revolutionary workers of these places, insofar as they had weapons, had marched to Elberfeld. The civic militia, which in all these places was purely an instrument in the hands of the manufacturers for holding down the workers, and was composed of the manufacturers, their factory overseers and the shopkeepers wholly dependent on the manufacturers, ruled here in the interests of "order" and the manufacturers. The workers themselves, who because of their dispersion in the more rural areas were rather out of touch with the political movement, had been partially brought over to the side of the manufacturers by the familiar means of coercion and by slanders about the character of the Elberfeld movement; among the peasants these slanders always worked unfailingly. In addition, the movement had come at a time when the manufacturers, after a business crisis of fifteen months, at last had full order books again; and it is common knowledge that no revolution can be made with regularly employed workers – a circumstance which also had a very significant effect in Elberfeld. It is obvious that under all these conditions the "neutral" neighbours were only so many covert enemies.
And there was still more to it than that. No links were established with the other insurgent districts. From time to time odd individuals came over from Hagen; as good as nothing was known of Iserlohn. Some individuals offered their services as commissaries, but none of them was to be trusted. Several couriers between Elberfeld and Hagen were said to have been arrested by the civic militia in Barmen and the surrounding area. The only place with which there was regular communication was Solingen, and the situation there looked no different from that in Elberfeld. That it looked no worse there was due only to the good organisation and determination of the Solingen workers, who had sent 400 to 500 armed men to Elberfeld and yet were still strong enough to keep their own bourgeoisie and civic militia in check. If the Elberfeld workers had been as developed and as organised as the Solingen workers, the chances would have been completely different.
Under these circumstances there was only one possibility left: to take swift, energetic measures to inject new life into the movement, provide it with new fighting forces, cripple its internal enemies and organise it as strongly as possible throughout the whole industrial area of Berg and the Mark. The first step was to disarm the Elberfeld civic militia, distribute its weapons among the workers and impose a compulsory tax for the maintenance of the workers thus armed. This step would have broken decisively with all the slackness which had hitherto characterised the Committee of Public Safety, given the proletariat new life and crippled the "neutral" districts' capacity for resistance. How then to go about getting weapons from these districts too, spreading the insurrection and regularly organising the defence of the whole region depended on the success of this first step With an order from the Committee of Public Safety and with no more than the 400 Solingen workers the Elberfeld civic militia would have been disarmed in no time. Courage was not their strong point.
For the safety of those Elberfelders charged in May and still in prison, I owe the declaration that I alone was responsible for all these proposals. I began to call for the disarming of the civic militia immediately when the Committee of Public Safety's funds began to run out.
But the commendable Committee of Public Safety did not at all consider that it was necessary to take such "terroristic measures" The only thing I managed to get carried out, or rather, directed on my own initiative together with a few corps leaders – who all got away safely and some of whom are already in America, was to fetch some eighty rifles belonging to the Kronenberg civic militia which were kept in the town hall there. And these rifles, distributed with extreme carelessness, ended up for the most part in the hands of gin-happy lumpenproletarians, who sold them that very evening to the bourgeoisie. These same bourgeois gentlemen were sending agents among the people to buy up as many rifles as possible and they paid quite a high price for them. In this way the Elberfeld lumpenproletarians delivered up to the bourgeoisie several hundred rifles, which had got into their hands through the negligence and lack of order of the improvised authorities. With these rifles the factory overseers, the most reliable dye-workers, etc., etc., were armed and the ranks of the "well-disposed" civic militia strengthened from day to day.
The gentlemen of the Committee of Public Safety answered every proposal for improving the town's defences by saying that there was no point, the Prussians would take care not to come there, they would never venture into the mountains, and so on. They themselves were fully aware that in saying this they were spreading the most barefaced lies, that the town could be bombarded from all the heights even with field-guns, that no arrangements at all had been made for any at all serious defence and that, the insurrection having come to a halt and the Prussians possessing a colossal superiority, only really extraordinary events could now save the Elberfeld uprising.
The Prussian generals, however, did not seem to be particularly anxious to venture into a terrain which was as good as totally unknown to them, at least not until they had assembled a truly overwhelming force. The four unfortified towns of Elberfeld, Hagen, Iserlohn and Solingen made such an impression on these cautious military heroes that they had an entire army of twenty thousand men and large numbers of cavalry and artillery brought up, partly by rail, from Wesel, Westphalia and the eastern provinces. Not daring to attack, they had a regular strategic formation drawn up the other side of the Ruhr. High command and general staff, right flank, centre. everything was in the most beautiful order, just as if they were facing a colossal enemy army, as if it were a question of giving battle to a Bem or a Dembiriski and not of an unequal fight against a few hundred unorganised workers, badly armed, virtually leaderless and betrayed behind their backs by those who had put the weapons into their hands.
We know how the insurrection ended. We know how the workers, disgusted with the petty bourgeoisie's constant procrastination, its faint-hearted shilly-shallying and its treacherous lulling into a false sense of security, finally moved out of Elberfeld to fight their way through to the first state they came to where the Imperial Constitution offered them the slightest refuge. We know how they were hunted by Prussian lancers and by incited peasants. We know how immediately after their departure the big bourgeoisie crawled out into the open again, had the barricades carried off and built triumphal arches for the approaching Prussian heroes. We know how Haben and Solingen were played into the hands of the Prussians through direct betrayal by the bourgeoisie and how only Iserlohn put up a fight, unequal and lasting two hours, against the 24th Regiment, the conquerors of Dresden, who were already laden with booty.
Some of the Elberfeld, Solingen and Mulheim workers got safely through to the Palatinate. Here they met with their fellow-countrymen, the fugitives from the storming of the Prum arsenal. Together with these they formed a company consisting almost exclusively of Rhinelanders in Willich's volunteer corps. All their comrades will surely testify that whenever they came under fire, and especially in the last decisive battle on the Murg, they fought very bravely.
The Elberfeld insurrection deserved this more detailed description because it was here that the position of the different classes in the Imperial Constitution movement was most sharply pronounced and furthest developed. In the other towns in Berg and the Mark the movement resembled that in Elberfeld in every way, except that there the participation or non-participation in the movement by the various classes was less clearly defined, the classes themselves not being so sharply differentiated as in the industrial centre of the area. In the Palatinate and in Baden, where concentrated large-scale industry and along with it a developed big bourgeoisie are almost non-existent, where the class relationships merge into each other in a much more easy-going and patriarchal way, the mixture of the classes that were the mainstay of the movement was even more confused. We shall see this later, but we shall also see at the same time how all these admixtures to the uprising likewise end up by grouping themselves around the petty bourgeoisie as the core for the crystallisation of the whole splendour of the Imperial Constitution.
It is abundantly clear from the attempted uprisings in Rhenish Prussia in May of last year what position this part of Germany is capable of occupying in a revolutionary movement. Surrounded by seven fortresses, three of them first-class for Germany, constantly manned by almost a third of the entire Prussian army, intersected in all directions by railways and with an entire fleet of transport steamers at the disposal of the military authorities, a Rhineland uprising has no prospect of succeeding except under quite exceptional circumstances. Only when the citadels are in the hands of the people can the Rhinelanders hope to achieve anything by force of arms. And such an eventuality can only arise either if the military authorities are terrorised by tremendous external events and lose their heads, or if the military declare themselves wholly or partly for the movement. In every other case an uprising in the Rhine Province is doomed in advance. A swift march on Frankfurt by the Badeners and on Trier by the Palatines would probably have led to the uprising immediately breaking out on the Moselle and in the Eifel, in Nassau and in both parts of Hesse, and the troops of the central Rhenish states, who at that time were still favourably disposed, joining the movement. There is no doubt that all the Rhenish troops, and especially the entire 7th and 8th artillery brigades, would have followed their example, that they would at least have given loud enough vent to their feelings to cause the Prussian generals to lose their heads. Probably several fortresses would have fallen into the hands of the people, and even if not Elberfeld, at least most of the left bank of the Rhine would have been saved. All that, and perhaps much more, was forfeited as a result of the shabby, cowardly and philistine policies of the wiseacres on the Baden Provincial Committee.
With the defeat of the Rhenish workers died the only newspaper in which they saw their interests openly and resolutely championed: the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The editor-in-chief,[Karl Marx–ed.] though a native of Rhenish Prussia, was expelled from Prussia and the other editors had either direct arrest or immediate expulsion hanging over their heads. The Cologne police explained this with extreme naivete and went to great lengths to prove that they had enough against each one of them to take proceedings along one or the other of these lines. In this way the newspaper was forced to cease publication at the very moment when the unprecedentedly rapid increase in its circulation more than secured its existence. The editors scattered across the various German provinces where uprisings had taken place or were still to take place; several went to Paris, where yet again a critical moment was impending. There is not one of them who during or as a result of the movements of this summer was not arrested or expelled, so experiencing the fate which the Cologne police were kind enough to prepare for him. A number of the compositors went to the Palatinate and joined the army.
The Rhenish uprising too had to end tragically. After three-quarters of the Rhine Province had been placed in a state of siege, after hundreds had been thrown into prison, it closed with the shooting on the eve of Frederick William IV of Hohenzollern's birthday of three of the men who had stormed the Prum arsenal." Vae victis![Woe to the vanquished!–Ed.]
139 From May 3 to 9, 1849, Dresden, the capital of Saxony, was the scene of an armed uprising caused by the refusal of the Saxon King to recognise the Imperial Constitution. The insurgents captured a considerable part of the city, with the workers playing the most active part in the barricade fighting, and formed a Provisional Government headed by the radical demcocrat Samuel Tzschirner. The moderate line pursued by the other members of the Provisional Government, the desertion of the bourgeois civic militia and the treacherous actions of the bourgeoisie in Leipzig where they suppressed the workers' solidarity movement, weakened the insurgents' resistance to the counter-revolutionary forces. The uprising was crushed by Saxon and Prussian troops. The Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin, the German working-class leader Stephan Born and the composer Richard Wagner took an active part in the uprising.
140 On May 6 and 7, 1849, workers and other democratic elements in Breslau (Wroclaw) erected barricades in protest to the dispatch of artillery to suppress the Dresden uprising, but they were defeated by vastly superior counterrevolutionary forces.
141 The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (962-1806) included, at different times, German, Italian, Austrian, Hungarian and Bohemian lands, Switzerland and the Netherlands, forming a motley conglomeration of feudal kingdoms and principalities, church lands and free towns with different political structures, legal standards and customs.
142 The Napoleonic Code (Code Napoleon) – Napoleon's 1804 civil code which he introduced into the conquered regions of Western and South Western Germany. It remained in force in the Rhine Province after its incorporation into Prussia in 1815.
143 Prussian Law (Allgemeines Landrecht fur die Preussischen Staaten) was promulgated in 1794. It included criminal, state, civil, administrative and ecclesiastical law and bore the distinct imprint of obsolete feudal legal standards.
After the annexation of the Rhine Province to Prussia in 1815, the Prussian Government tried to introduce Prussian Law into various legal spheres there to replace the French bourgeois codes in force in the province. This was done by introducing a series of laws, edicts and instructions aimed at restoring the feudal privileges of the nobility (primogeniture), Prussian criminal and marriage law, etc. These measures were resolutely opposed in the province and were repealed after the March revolution by special decrees issued on April 15, 1848.
144 The army reserve (Landwehr) was formed in Prussia at the time of the struggle against Napoleonic rule. In the 1840s it was made up of persons up to 40 years of age who had served three years in the army and been on the reserve list for at least two years. As distinct from the regular troops, the army reserve was mobilised only in special emergencies (war or threat of war).
145 On May 1, 1849, the Cologne Municipal Council, composed mainly of representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie, issued an appeal for the convocation, on May 5, 1849, of a meeting of all the municipal councils of the Rhine Province to discuss the new situation in Prussia resulting from the dissolution by the Prussian Government on April 27 of the Second Chamber of the Prussian Provincial Diet, which had approved the Imperial Constitution despite the King's intention to reject it. The Prussian Government banned the meeting. Even so, the Cologne Municipal Council convoked a congress in Cologne of delegates from the Rhine cities on May 8, 1849. The congress came out in support of the Imperial Constitution and demanded that the dissolved Diet be convoked. It was made clear that, if the Prussian Government ignored the resolution of the congress (Engels quotes it below), the Rhine Province would consider secession from Prussia. This threat, however, proved empty as it was not backed up by resolute action on the part of the liberal majority of the congress, which rejected a proposal for arming the people and offering resistance to the authorities.
146 The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (962-1806) included, at different times, German, Italian, Austrian, Hungarian and Bohemian lands, Switzerland and the Netherlands, forming a motley conglomeration of feudal kingdoms and principalities, church lands and free towns with different political structures, legal standards and customs.
147 The description of revolutionary events given below deals mainly with Elberfeld, which was one of the main centres of the uprising in Rhenish Prussia in defence of the Imperial Constitution.
The Elbefeld uprising involved mainly workers and petty-bourgeois strata. It flared up on May 9, 1849, and served as a signal for armed struggle in a number of towns in the Rhine Province (Dusseldorf, Iserlohn, Solingen and others). The immediate cause of the uprising was the Prussian Government's attempt to suppress the revolutionary uprising on the Rhine with arms. crush democratic organisations and the press and disarm those army reserve units which had refused to take orders and backed the demand for the Imperial Constitution (the army reserve had been mobilised by the Prussian Government itself). After the expulsion of the Prussian troops who tried to capture the city, power in Elberfeld passed into the hands of the Committee of Public Safety, composed mainly of moderate democrats and liberals. In contrast to Elberfeld, the uprising that broke out in Dusseldorf on May 9 was suppressed by troops on the following day. In Elberfeld and other towns the insurgents were able to hold out longer.
148 Engels arrived in Elberfeld on May 11, 1849, from insurgent Solingen, where, the day before, he had formed a detachment of workers to help the Elberfeld insurgents. In Elberfeld he worked for a reform of the bourgeois civic militia, the imposition of a war tax on the bourgeoisie and the extensive arming of workers with a view to creating the nucleus of a Rhenish revolutionary army and uniting localised uprisings. These efforts were counteracted by the Committee of Public Safety, in which considerable influence was wielded by representatives of the bourgeoisie.
Under pressure from bourgeois circles, Engels was deported from the city on the morning of May 15. On May 17, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung carried an article, entitled "Elberfeld", describing the situation in the insurgent city and Engels' activities there. Later an action was brought against Engels for his part in the Elberfeld uprising. Engels also touches on his stay in Elberfeld during the uprising in this series of articles.
149 The arsenal in Priim was stormed by democrats and workers from Trier and neighbouring townships on May 17 and 18, 1849. Their aim was to seize the arms and extend the uprising in defence of the Imperial Constitution to the areas on the left bank of the Rhine. The insurgents succeeded in capturing the arsenal, but government troops soon arrived on the scene and the movement was suppressed.
150 The tricolour–the black-red-and-gold flag, symbolising Germany's national unity, was the banner of the movement in support of the Imperial Constitution.
151 As a result of behind-the-scenes negotiations between a delegation of the Elberfeld bourgeoisie and the government, and the defeatist attitude of the Committee of Public Safety, the Committee was dissolved by the city authorities on May 16, 1849. On the night of May 17, the workers' detachments, including reinforcements from other towns, were led out of Elberfeld under false pretences and the previous order was restored in the city. The failure of the Elberfeld uprising brought the triumph of reaction throughout Rhenish Prussia.
152 Immediately after the Neue Rheinische Zeitung ceased publication, Marx and Engels went to Frankfurt am Main and then to insurgent Baden and the Palatinate. Their attempts to convince the Left deputies to the Frankfurt Assembly and members of the Baden and Palatinate provisional governments of the need to extend the movement throughout Germany, to mount a resolute offensive, and to persuade the Assembly openly to join in the uprising proved, however, unavailing. In late May 1849, Marx and Engels arrived in Bingen (Hesse) where they parted. Marx went on to France to establish contacts with French democrats and socialists, while Engels returned to the Palatinate to take a direct part in the impending armed struggle against the concentrating counterrevolutionary troops. Besides Marx, two other editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Ferdinand Wolff and Ernst Dronke, went to Paris, where the Montagne party and the revolutionary clubs were preparing for mass actions against the ruling party of Order.