In the last letter which Marx wrote to Engels from Paris he informed him that there was every prospect of founding a German paper in London and that a part of the necessary money was already available. At the same time he asked Engels, who was then living as a political fugitive in Switzerland after the collapse of the insurrection in Baden and the Palatinate, to go London at once, and Engels did so, making the journey in a sailing ship from Genoa.
It is no longer possible to discover where they obtained the necessary money for the venture. It cannot have been very much and in any case they did not reckon with any very long life for the paper, and Marx hoped that a world war would come within the next three or four months. The Share Prospectus of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Politisch-Okonomische Revue, edited by Karl Marx, is dated January 1st, 1850, in London and signed by Konrad Schramm as guarantor. The document declares that after having taken part in the revolutionary movements in Southern Germany and in Paris during the previous summer, the editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung have come together again in London and decided to continue the publication of their paper. In the beginning it would appear as a monthly publication containing about 80 pages, but when finances permitted it would be issued fortnightly in the same format, or perhaps every week as a newspaper along the lines of the big English and American weeklies, whilst as soon as conditions permitted a return to Germany it would appear again as a daily newspaper. And finally the document invites its readers to take up shares to the value of 50 francs each.
It is unlikely that many shares were floated. The magazine was printed in Hamburg where a bookseller undertook to produce it on a commission basis and demanded 50 per cent of the 25 silver groschen which represented its quarterly net sale price per copy. The firm did not take much trouble about the publication, particularly as the Prussian army of occupation in Hamburg hampered its activities, but the situation would hardly have been improved even if it had shown real zeal in the matter. Lassalle succeeded in obtaining only 50 subscribers in Düsseldorf, whilst Weydemeyer, who had ordered 100 copies for sale in Frankfort, had taken only 51 guilders after six months of effort: “I put enough pressure on the people, but nevertheless no one is in a hurry to pay.” Frau Marx wrote to him with justifiable bitterness that the venture had been utterly ruined by careless management, and that it was impossible to say what or who was most responsible, the dilatoriness of the bookseller, or the manager and friends in Cologne, or the attitude of the democracy.
In any case, a certain amount of responsibility attaches to the insufficient editorial preparation of the first number and Marx and Engels were chiefly responsible for this. The manuscript for the January number arrived in Hamburg on the 6th of February. However, we have every reason to be satisfied that the plan was carried out at all, for a few months’ further delay and it would have been made completely impossible owing to the rapid ebb of the revolutionary wave. As it is, the six numbers of the Revue provide us with a valuable example of how Marx raised himself above the petty troubles of life which besieged him “in a revolting form” daily and even hourly, with, to use the words of his wife, “all his energy and all the calm, clear and collected strength of his character.”
In their youth, Marx and Engels, the latter even more so than the former, saw the coming things much nearer than they were in reality, and often they hoped to pick the ripe fruit where the first blossoming had hardly begun. How often have they been denounced as false prophets on that account! And to be regarded as a false prophet does not enhance the reputation of a politician. However, it is necessary to distinguish between false prophecies which spring from clear and acute thought and those which are the result of conceited self-reflection in pious wishes. In the latter case the resulting disappointment is enervating because an illusion disappears utterly, whilst in the former case it is salutary because the thinking man tracks down the cause of his error and thus gains new knowledge.
Probably no one has ever been quite so ruthless in his self-criticism as Marx and Engels were. Both of them were completely free of that wretched dogmatism which still seeks to deceive itself even in the face of the bitterest disappointments, declaring that it would certainly have been right if only this or that had happened a little differently. And they were just as free of cheap defeatism and fruitless pessimism. They learned from their defeats and gained new strength to prepare for the coming victory.
With the defeat of the Paris workers on the 13th of June, the failure of the Reich Constitution campaign in Germany, and the crushing of the Hungarian revolution by the Tsar, a great stage in the revolutionary movement came to an end, and if there was to be any resuscitation of the revolution then it could take place only in France where, despite all that had happened, the last word had not been spoken. Marx held firmly to the hope of such a resuscitation, but that did not stop him from subjecting the previous course of the French revolution to a ruthless criticism which mocked at all illusions. On the contrary, it impelled him to do so, and in this criticism the chaotic confusion of the revolutionary struggles, which necessarily appeared more or less insoluble to the idealist politician, was examined from the standpoint of the economic antagonisms which collided in them.
This criticism was published in the first three numbers of the Revue and in it Marx often succeeds in unravelling the most complicated questions of the day with a few epigrammatical sentences. How many words had been expended-on the right to work by the most prominent representatives of the bourgeoisie and even by the doctrinaire socialists, and how completely Marx summed up the historic sense and nonsense of this slogan in a few sentences! “The first draft of the constitution drawn up before the June days contained a demand for the right to work as the first clumsy formulation of the revolutionary desires of the proletariat. Later it was transformed into the right to public support, and what modern State does not support its paupers in one form or the other? From the bourgeois point of view the right to work is nonsense, a pitiful and pious wish, but behind the right to work stands the power over capital, and behind the power over capital stands the appropriation of the means of production and their subordination to the organized working class, that is to say, the abolition of wage-labour and capital and of their mutual relations.” Marx first recognized the class struggle as the motive power of historical development on the basis of French history in which the class struggle has shown itself in a particularly clear and classic form from the days of the middle ages, and this explains his particular preference for French history. This dissertation and the later one on the Bonapartist coup d’etat, and the still later one on the Paris Commune are the most brilliant gems in the crown of his minor historical works.
The first three numbers of the Revue also contained an amusing contrast to this, but it was one not without its own tragic upshot. It was the sketch of a petty-bourgeois revolution which Engels drew in his description of the Reich Constitution campaign in Germany. The reviews of the month, which were drawn up by Marx and Engels jointly, dealt chiefly with the course of economic events. In the February number they referred to the discovery of the Californian gold fields as a fact of “even greater importance than the February revolution” and one which would have even greater and more far-reaching results than the discovery of America: “A coastal stretch of 30 degrees latitude, one of the most beautiful and fertile areas in the world, and practically unpopulated up to the present, is now turning before our eyes into a rich and civilized country thickly populated with men of all races, from the Yankee to the Chinese, the Negro to the Indian and the Malayan, the Creole and Mestizo to the European. Californian gold is pouring in streams over America and over the Asiatic coasts of the Pacific, sweeping the unwilling barbarian peoples into the orbit of world trade, into the province of civilization. For the second time world trade is receiving a new alignment ... Thanks to the gold of California and to the tireless energy of the Yankees, both coasts of the Pacific will soon be as thickly populated, as highly industrialized and as open for trade as the coast from Boston to New Orleans is now. The Pacific Ocean will then play the role the Atlantic Ocean is playing now and the role that the Mediterranean played in the days of classical antiquity and in the middle ages – the role of the great water highway of world communications – and the Atlantic Ocean will sink to the level of a great lake such as the Mediterranean is to-day. The one chance which the civilized countries of Europe have to avoid falling into the same industrial, commercial and political dependence as Italy, Spain and Portugal lies in a social revolution whilst there is still time. Such a revolution should transform the mode of production and intercourse in accordance with the needs of production arising from the nature of modern productive forces, thus making possible the development of new forces of production which would maintain the superiority of European industry and counteract the disadvantages of the geographical situation.” All that needed to be added to this magnificent perspective, as its authors were soon to discover, was that the chances of any immediate revolution foundered on the discovery of the Californian gold fields.
Marx and Engels also jointly criticized a number of works in which the intellectual leaders of the pre-March period did their best to unravel the problems of the revolution, including books by the German philosopher Daumer, the French historian Guizot and the English genius Carlyle. Daumer had developed from the Hegelian school, whilst Guizot had exercised considerable influence on Marx, and Carlyle on Engels, but the verdict now passed on all three was: weighed in the balance of the revolution and found wanting. The incredible platitudes with which Daumer preached “the religion of the new world era were summed up in the “touching picture”: German philosophy is wringing its hands and lamenting at the death bed of its economic sire, German Philistinism. Their criticism of Guizot pointed out that even the most capable brains of the ancien regime, even those with considerable historical talent, had been thrown into utter confusion by the fatal February events so that they had lost all historical understanding, even for their own former actions. Finally they declared that Guizot’s book demonstrated the intellectual decline of the great leaders of the bourgeoisie, whilst a few pamphlets of Carlyle showed the decline of literary genius in face of the acute historic struggles on which it sought to exercise its misunderstood, direct and prophetic inspirations.
Although in these brilliant criticisms Marx and Engels demonstrated the disastrous effects of the revolutionary struggles on the bourgeois literary lights of the pre-March period, they were very far from believing in any mystical power of the revolution, which on various occasions they have been accused of doing. The revolution had not created the picture which shocked Daumer, Guizot and Carlyle; it had done no more than tear away the curtain which had concealed it. Historical development did not alter its course during revolutions, but merely accelerated its progress, and in this sense Marx once called revolutions “the locomotives of history.” The stupid Philistine belief that “peaceful and legal reform” is superior to all revolutionary outbreaks was naturally never shared by men like Marx and Engels, who regarded force as an economic power, as the midwife of all new societies.
With its fourth number, which appeared in April, 1850, the Neue Rheinische Revue ceased to appear regularly and a contributory factor was undoubtedly a short article which appeared in this number. Its authors prophesied that the article in question would cause “general indignation amongst sentimental swindlers and democratic demagogues.” It was a brief but annihilating criticism of the speech delivered in his own defence by Gottfried Kinkel on the 7th of August, 1849, as a captured volunteer before a court-martial in Rastatt, and which he had published in a Berlin newspaper at the beginning of April, 1850.
Objectively considered, the criticism was absolutely justified, for Kinkel had abandoned not only the revolution, but also his comrades-in-arms. Before the court-martial, which had already sent 26 of his comrades to their deaths in the barrack square where they had died gallantly, Kinkel praised the “grape-shot prince” and “the Hohenzollern Kaiserdom”; but for all that, he was in prison when Marx and Engels attacked him, and it was generally considered that he had been chosen as the special object of royal vengeance because the sentence of imprisonment in a fortress passed on him by the courtmartial had been subsequently changed by an Order in Council to the dishonouring one of hard labour in an ordinary prison. To pillory Kinkel in such a situation caused misgivings in the minds of many people who were certainly neither “sentimental swindlers” nor “democratic demagogues.”
Since then the archives have been opened and the Kinkel case is seen to have been a maze of tragicomic misunderstandings. Originally Kinkel had been a theologian, and an orthodox one at that, but his fall from grace, accompanied and perhaps furthered by his marriage to a divorced Catholic, had brought the irreconcilable hatred of the orthodox down on his head and given him a reputation as a “hero of freedom” far beyond his real deserts. It was due more to a “misunderstanding” than anything else that Kinkel happened to slide into the same party as Marx and Engels. Politically he never advanced beyond the usual slogans of the common rut of German democracy, but the “damnable eloquence,” to use an expression of Freiligrath, which had remained with him from his theological days occasionally swept him off his feet and sent him careering as far to the left as it did to the right before the court-martial in Rastatt, whilst moderate poetical talent contributed to making him better known than the other democrats of his kidney.
During the Reich Constitution campaign Kinkel joined the volunteer corps raised by Willich, in which Engels and Moll also served. He fought bravely and during the last engagement of the corps on the Murg, where Moll fell, he was wounded in the head and taken prisoner. The court-martial which tried him sentenced him to lifelong imprisonment in a fortress, but the “grape-shot prince,” or, to use the politer expression adopted by Kinkel in his defence, “His Royal Highness the Heir to our Throne,” was not satisfied with this and the Judge-Advocate General in Berlin therefore requested the King to quash the sentence and place Kinkel on trial again as he should have been sentenced to death.
However, the Judge-Advocate General met with the united resistance of the Ministry which, although it was prepared to admit that a traitor had been punished too leniently, declared that the sentence should be confirmed by the King “as an act of mercy” and as a concession to public opinion. At the same time the Ministry declared that it thought it advisable” that Kinkel should serve his sentence in “a civil institution,” because it might cause “a great sensation” if he were treated as a fortress prisoner. The King accepted the proposals of his Ministry but thereby caused just the “great sensation” it had been anxious to avoid, for “public opinion” considered it a piece of cynical mockery that “as an act of mercy” the King should send a man to hard labour in a common prison after a court-martial had sentenced him to imprisonment in a fortress only.
However, owing to its inability to appreciate the finer points of the Prussian Criminal Code, public opinion was under a misapprehension. Kinkel had not been sentenced to detention in a fortress, but to penal imprisonment in a fortress, which was something quite different and in fact much more severe and revolting than ordinary hard labour in a common prison. Prisoners under sentence of penal imprisonment in a fortress were huddled together ten or twenty in one cell with only a hard bench to sleep on, whilst their food was poor in quality and insufficient in quantity. They had to perform all kinds of menial labour such as cleaning out the latrines and sweeping the streets, etc., and at the least offence they were given a taste of the whip. For fear of “public opinion” the Ministry had been anxious to spare Kinkel this inhumanity, but when “public opinion” misunderstood the situation the Ministry did not dare to admit its own “humanitarian motives” for fear of the “grape-shot prince” and it therefore left the King under a suspicion which was bound to damage his reputation and which in fact actually did so in the eyes of all well-meaning people.
Under the impression of this unfortunate failure the Ministry was anxious to avoid any further “sensation,” as a result of Kinkel’s prison experiences, but its courage went only as far as ordering that under no circumstances should Kinkel be subjected to corporal punishment. It would also have liked to free him from the necessity of forced labour and it suggested to the governor of the prison in Naugard, where Kinkel was first sent, that he should take this action on his own initiative. However, the old bureaucrat turned a deaf ear to the suggestion and carried out his instructions to the letter, putting Kinkel to the spooling-wheel. This again caused a great sensation and The Song of the Spinning Wheel appeared and was declaimed with great gusto all over the country, whilst pictures of the poet at the wheel were sold everywhere. Writing to his wife Kinkel declared: “The factional struggles and the play of fate are approaching madness when the hand which gave the German nation Otto der Schütz now turns the spooling-wheel.” However, the old experience that the “moral indignation” of the Philistine usually ends in absurdity was soon confirmed. Alarmed by the general indignation and having more courage than the Ministry, the local authorities in Stettin ordered that Kinkel should henceforth be occupied with literary work only, whereupon Kinkel protested and declared that he would prefer to stay at the spooling-wheel because light physical work permitted him to let his thoughts run freely whilst copying all day long might affect his chest and impair his health.
The widespread opinion that Kinkel was being treated with particular severity in prison at the instructions of the King was therefore incorrect, though naturally he had quite enough to put up with. The governor of the prison, Schnuchel, was a strict bureaucrat, but he was not inhuman. In addressing Kinkel he always used the familiar form “Du,” but he granted him as much time as possible in the open air and showed a sympathetic understanding for the ceaseless efforts of Frau Kinkel to secure the release of her husband. In May, 1850, when Kinkel was transferred to the prison of Spandau, he was granted the formal “Sie,” but he was compelled to submit to having his hair and beard shaved off, and the governor of the prison, a pious reactionary named Jeserich, plagued him with attempts at conversion and immediately began the most revolting petty disputes. However, even this Pecksniff made no very great difficulties when the Ministry called on him to make a report in connection with a request of Frau Kinkel that her husband should be released on condition that he should emigrate to America, give his word of honour not to engage in any further political activities, and not return to Europe. Jeserich even declared that his knowledge of Kinkel convinced him that the best cure for the latter’s soul would be found in America. Nevertheless, he should be kept in prison for about a year still in order that the sword of justice should not be unduly blunted and notched, but after that, providing that his health did not suffer from the long imprisonment, and up to the present there had been no signs of it doing so, he might be permitted to emigrate.
This report was submitted to the King who, however, proved even more vengeful than the prison governor and the Ministry, and the “All-Highest” decided that Kinkel should not be released after one year because he had not been sufficiently humiliated and punished.
When one considers the personal cult which was developed in connection with Kinkel at the time, it is easy to understand that it must have aroused disgust in men like Marx and Engels, for Philistine side-shows of that sort were always hateful to them. In his articles on the Reich Constitution campaign Engels had already written bitterly of the fuss made about the “educated” victims of the May insurrections, while none bothered about the hundreds, even thousands, of simple workers who had lost their lives in the fighting who were rotting in the underground cells of Rastatt or were compelled to eat the bitter bread of banishment down to the last miserable crust in poverty and privation. However, even apart from this there were many men amongst the “educated victims” who were being treated far worse than Kinkel and who nevertheless bore themselves with far greater manliness without anyone growing indignant at their fate. There was August Röckel, for instance, who was certainly no meaner intellect than Kinkel. He was brutally maltreated in the prison of Waldheim and even subjected to corporal punishment, but even after twelve years of such martyrdom his torturers could not force him to beg for mercy by as much as the flicker of an eyelid, so that, helpless in the face of such indomitable and manly pride, they were finally compelled, so to speak, to eject him from prison. Röckel was by no means the only one who showed such steadfast manliness. In fact, of all the prisoners Kinkel was the only one who did public penance when, after a few months of by no means intolerable imprisonment, he caused his speech in his defence at Rastatt to be published. The bitter and ruthless criticism to which Marx and Engels subjected it was therefore thoroughly justified, all the more so as they could say with truth that far from harming Kinkel’s position their attack had improved it.
The further development of the affair showed that they were right. The hero-worship of Kinkel caused the bourgeoisie to loosen its purse strings, so much so in fact that it was possible to bribe one of the officials of Spandau prison, and in November, 1850, Kinkel was rescued by Karl Schurz. That was His Majesty’s reward for his vengefulness. Had he permitted Kinkel to emigrate to America and accepted his word of honour not to take any further part in politics Kinkel would soon have been forgotten, as even the prison governor Jeserich realized, but, thanks to his successful escape from prison, Kinkel was now a thrice-lauded agitator and the King had not only to pocket the damage, but also to swallow the resultant mockery.
However, the King determined to revenge himself in a royal fashion. The report of Kinkel’s escape gave birth to an idea which even he was honest enough to admit was “ignoble,” but he nevertheless instructed Manteuffel to make use of the “valuable personality” Stieber with a view to discovering a conspiracy and punishing its authors. Stieber already enjoyed such general contempt that even the Police President of Berlin, Hinckeldey, whose own conscience was elastic enough in all truth when it was a question of persecuting the political opponents of the State, protested against the man’s reemployment in the police service, but all to no purpose and Stieber was given a free hand to show what he could do. The result was the Cologne communist trial with its background of theft and perjury.
This piece of official criminality was a dozen times worse than the Kinkel affair and far more infamous, but it is not on record that the worthy petty-bourgeoisie of Germany gave vent to any particular indignation at it. Perhaps this pleasant tribe was anxious to prove how thoroughly Marx and Engels had seen through its hypocrisy from the beginning.
On the whole the significance of the Kinkel affair was more symptomatic than real. The essence of the dispute which developed at about this time between Marx and Engels on the one hand and the London fugitives on the other, can be seen most clearly in connection with the Kinkel affair, although the latter was not its most important factor and certainly not its cause.
The two chief activities of Marx and Engels in 1850, apart from the issue of the Neue Rheinische Revue, show us what drew the two friends towards the other emigrants and what tended to separate them. On the one hand there was the Fugitives’ Aid Committee, which they founded together with Bauer, Pfänder and Willich to assist political fugitives, who were flooding to London all the more freely owing to the fact that the authorities in Switzerland had begun to treat them with scant consideration, and on the other hand there was the re-establishment of the Communist League, a task which became more and more necessary as the victorious counter-revolution ruthlessly deprived the working class to an increasing extent of the freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly, in fact of all the means of open propaganda. One may sum up the situation by saying that Marx and Engels declared themselves in solidarity with the fugitives personally, but not politically, that they shared the sufferings of the fugitives, but not their illusions, that they sacrificed their last penny to assist the fugitives, but not the smallest fraction of their political convictions.
The German, and still more so the international emigration, represented a confused mixture of the most diverse elements. And yet they all hoped for a resuscitation of the revolution which would permit them to return home, and they all worked for this aim so that there appeared to be a basis for joint action; but in practice every concrete effort invariably failed. The utmost that was achieved was the adoption of paper resolutions, and the more pompous they sounded the less they really signified. Immediately any practical action was taken the most obnoxious quarrels began. These quarrels were not caused by the persons engaged in them and at the utmost they were only sharpened by the disagreeable situation in which the participants found themselves. Their real basis was the class struggle which had determined the course of the revolution and which continued in the emigration despite all the well-meaning attempts which were made to exorcise it. Marx and Engels realized the fruitlessness of all such attempts from the beginning and took no part in them, a circumstance which united all the factions and groups on at least one point, namely that Marx and Engels were the real and incorrigible trouble-makers.
On their part they continued the policy of proletarian class struggle which they had begun even before the revolution. Since the autumn of 1849 the old membership of the Communist League had reassembled in London almost in its entirety, with the exception of Moll, who had fallen in the engagement on the Murg, Schapper, who arrived only in the summer of 1850, and Wilhelm Wolff, who came to London from Switzerland only a year later. In addition new members had been won. There was August Willich, a former Prussian officer who had been won over by his adjutant Engels and had shown himself a capable leader of his volunteer corps during the campaign in Baden and the Palatinate. He was a very useful man, but theoretically vague. Then there were many younger men: the merchant Konrad Schramm, the teacher Wilhelm Pieper, and above all Wilhelm Liebknecht, who had studied at various German universities but had taken his finals in the insurrection in Baden and in exile in Switzerland. In the following years all these men were closely connected with Marx, most devotedly probably Liebknecht. Marx did not always speak so highly of the other two, who caused him a certain amount of trouble, but one must not take every word uttered in annoyance at its face value. Konrad Schramm died young of consumption, and Marx declared that he had been the “Percy Hotspur” of the party, and referring to Pieper he declared that, “all in all he was a bon garcon.” Thanks to Pieper the Göttingen advocate Johannes Miquel came into correspondence with Marx and then joined the Communist League, and Marx obviously regarded him as a man of some intelligence. Miquel remained loyal to the flag for a number of years, but in the end, like his friend Pieper, he turned tail and went back to the camp of the liberals.
In March, 1850, the Central Committee of the Communist League issued a circular drawn up by Marx and Engels and it was taken to Germany by Heinrich Bauer as an emissary of the League entrusted with its reorganization in Germany. It was based on the belief that a new revolution was approaching “perhaps as a result of an independent rising of the French proletariat, or as a result of an invasion of the revolutionary Babel by the forces of the Holy Alliance.” Just as the March Revolution had carried the bourgeoisie to victory, so the coming revolution would carry the petty-bourgeoisie to victory and the latter would then again betray the proletariat.
The attitude of the revolutionary workers’ party to the petty-bourgeois democrats was summed up as follows: “The revolutionary workers’ party will cooperate with the petty-bourgeois democrats against the faction whose overthrow they both desire, but it will oppose them in all points where its own interests arise.” The petty-bourgeoisie would utilize a successful revolution in order to reform capitalist society so as to make life easier and more comfortable for itself and to a certain extent for the workers. However, the proletariat could not be content with this. After its own limited demands had been achieved, the democratic petty-bourgeoisie would seek to have done with the revolution as quickly as possible, whilst on the other hand it would be the task of the workers to make the revolution permanent “until all the more or less possessing classes have been forced from power and State power has been taken over by the proletariat, and the association of the workers, not only in one country, but in all the most important countries throughout the world, is so far progressed that competition between the workers of these countries has ceased and at least the most important tools of production are in their hands.”
The circular therefore warned the workers not to let themselves be deceived by the conciliatory preachings of the petty-bourgeois democrats or to let themselves be degraded to the role of camp followers of bourgeois democracy. On the contrary, they should organize themselves as strongly and as thoroughly as possible in order, after the victory of the revolution, which would be won as usual by their strength and courage, to dictate such conditions to the petty-bourgeoisie that the rule of the bourgeois democrats would bear within it the seeds of is own decay, thus greatly facilitating its replacement later by the rule of the proletariat.
“During the struggle and immediately afterwards the workers must oppose above all and as far as possible all bourgeois attempts at pacification and compel the Democrats to carry their terrorist phrases into execution.... Far from opposing so-called excesses, the vengeance of the people on hated individuals or attacks of the masses on buildings which arouse hateful memories, we must not only tolerate, but even take the lead in them.” During the elections for the National Assembly the workers should put forward their own candidates everywhere, even when there was no chance of getting them elected, and ignore all democratic phrases. At the beginning of the movement the workers would naturally not be able to bring forward any directly communist proposals, but they could compel the Democrats to interfere to the greatest possible extent and in every possible way in the structure of the previous social order, to interfere with its orderly working and thereby compromise themselves, and to place as many of the means of production as possible, transport, factories, railways, etc., in the hands of the State.
Above all, when the revolution abolished feudalism, the workers should not tolerate the carving up of the big feudal estates and the distribution of the pieces amongst the peasants as private property, as had been done after the Great French Revolution, for this would perpetuate the rural proletariat and create a petty-bourgeois class of peasant landholders experiencing the same circle of impoverishment and indebtedness as the French peasants. On the contrary, the workers should demand that the confiscated feudal estates remain the property of the State to be turned into workers’ colonies and run by the organized land proletariat on large-scale agricultural lines. In this way the principle of common ownership would be given a firm basis in the very centre of tottering bourgeois property relations.
Armed with this circular Bauer met with great success on his mission to Germany. He re-established connections which had been broken off and established new ones, and above all he succeeded in winning considerable influence on the remnants of the workers, peasants, day-labourers and sport associations which had continued to exist despite the terrorism of the counter-revolution. The most influential members of the Workers Brotherhood founded by Stephan Born now joined the Communist League, and Karl Schurz, who was on a tour through Germany on behalf of a fugitives’ association in Switzerland, reported to Zurich that the League was winning “all the most useful elements.” In a document issued in June, 1850, the Central Committee was able to report that the League had won a firm footing in a number of German towns and that leading committees had been formed in Hamburg for Schleswig-Holstein, in Schwerin for Mecklenburg, in Breslau for Silesia, in Leipzig for Saxony and Berlin, in Nuremberg for Bavaria, and in Cologne for the Rhineland and Westphalia.
The same document also declared that London was the strongest district of the League, that it provided the funds of the League almost exclusively, directed the work of the German Workers Educational Association (Deutscher Arbeiterbildungsverein) and of the most important emigrant groups, and that the League maintained close relations with the English, French and Hungarian revolutionary parties. However, judged from another angle the London district of the League was also its weakest point because through it the League became involved more and more in the fierce and hopeless struggles of the emigrants.
During the summer of 1850 the hope that the revolution would soon revive disappeared visibly. In France the general franchise was destroyed without producing any rising on the part of the workers and the decision now lay between the Pretender Louis Bonaparte and the monarchist reactionary National Assembly. In Germany the democratic petty-bourgeoisie retired from the political arena whilst the liberal bourgeoisie joined in the body-snatching activities which Prussia immediately began at the expense of the revolution. However, Prussia was cheated by the other German States, which all danced to the tune of Austria, whilst the Tsar flourished the knout threateningly over the whole of Germany. The more obvious the revolutionary ebb became, the more the emigration intensified its efforts to create an artificial revolution. It deliberately ignored all the warning signs and placed its hope in miracles, which it sought to perform by strength of will and determination alone. At the same time and to the same extent it became distrustful of any self-criticism within its ranks, and as a result Marx and Engels, who clearly realized the situation, came into deeper and deeper conflict with the other emigrants. How could the voice of logic and reason hope to master the storm of passion which was rising higher and higher in the hearts of men who were growing more and more desperate It was hopeless, and in fact the general delirium penetrated even into the ranks of the League itself and demoralized its Central Committee.
In the session of the Central Committee which took place on the 15th of September, 1850, an open split occurred, six members being on one side and four on the other. Marx, Engels, Bauer, Eccarius and Pfänder from the ranks of the old guard stood with Konrad Schramm from the younger generation against Willich, Schapper, Fränkel and Lehmann, of whom only Schapper came from the old guard. Schapper, “an inveterate revolutionary” as Engels had once called him, had been swept off his feet with revolutionary anger after having witnessed the brutalities of the counter-revolution at first hand for over a year, and he had only just arrived in England.
At this decisive session the dispute was summed up by Marx as follows: “The minority replaces critical observation with dogmatism, a materialist attitude with an idealist one. It regards its own wishes as the driving force of the revolution instead of the real facts of the situation. Whilst we tell the workers that they must go through fifteen, twenty, perhaps even fifty years of war and civil war, not only in order to alter existing conditions, but even to make themselves fit to take over political power, you tell them, on the contrary, that they must seize political power at once or abandon all hope. Whilst we point out how undeveloped the German proletariat still is, you flatter the nationalism and the craft prejudices of the German artisan in the crudest fashion, and that is naturally more popular. Just as the Democrats made a sort of holy entity out of the word people, you are doing the same with the word proletariat.” Violent discussions took place and Schramm even challenged Willich to a duel, though Marx disapproved of his action. The duel actually took place near Antwerp and Schramm was slightly wounded, In the end it proved impossible to reconcile the two parties.
The majority sought to save the League by transferring its central leadership to Cologne. The Cologne district was to elect a new Central Committee and the London district would be divided into two separate districts independent of each other and connected only with the Central Committee in Cologne. The Cologne district agreed to this proposal and elected a new Central Committee, but the minority then refused to recognize it. The minority had the upper hand in the London district, and particularly in the German Workers Educational Association, from which Marx and his nearest associates then resigned. Willich and Schapper proceeded to form an organization of their own, but it soon degenerated utterly into an adventurous sham revolutionism.
Marx and Engels explained their point of view in the fifth and sixth numbers of the Neue Rheinische Revue, which appeared together as a double issue in November, 1850, concluding the life of the paper altogether. Their position was given in even greater detail than in the session at which the split took place. The double issue also contained a long article by Engels on the peasant war of 1525 from the historical materialist standpoint, and an article by Eccarius on the tailoring trade in London. This latter article was greeted enthusiastically by Marx who declared: “Before the proletariat fights out its battles on the barricades, it announces the coming of its rule with a series of intellectual victories.”
Eccarius was himself working in one of London’s tailoring workshops and he had realized that the replacement of handicraft by large-scale industry was a historical step forward. At the same time he observed that the results and achievements of large-scale industry created and daily renewed the conditions for the proletarian revolution. He adopted a purely materialist standpoint and opposed bourgeois society and its forces without the usual sentimentality, and for this reason his article was praised by Marx as a great step forward beyond the sentimental, moral and psychological criticism of existing conditions as practised by Weitling and other working-class writers. It also represented one of the fruits of Marx’s own tireless enlightenment work and it was a very welcome fruit.
However, the most important contribution to this final number was the politico-economic review of the period from May to October. Marx and Engels dealt with the economic causes of the political revolution and counter-revolution in an exhaustive analysis, pointing out that the former had arisen out of the economic crisis whilst the latter had its roots in a new advance of production. The conclusion they came to was: “In view of the general prosperity which now prevails and permits the productive forces of bourgeois society to develop as rapidly as at all possible within the framework of bourgeois society, there can be no question of any real revolution. Such a revolution is possible only in a period when two factors collide, when the modern productive forces collide with the bourgeois mode of production. The various squabbles in which the representatives of the individual factions of the Continental order are now indulging and compromising themselves will not lead to any new revolution. On the contrary, they are only possible because at the moment the basis of prevailing relations is so secure and, a point on which the reaction is ignorant, so bourgeois. All the attempts of the reaction to prevent bourgeois development will break down as helplessly as the moral indignation and the enthusiastic proclamations of the Democrats. A new revolution will be made possible only as the result of a new crisis, but it is just as certain as is the coming of the crisis itself.”
This clear and convincing description of the existing situation was then compared with an appeal issued by a European Central Committee and signed by Mazzini, Ledru-Rollin, Darasz and Ruge. It represented a collection of all the illusions of political emigration in as confined a space as possible, explaining the failure of the revolution as the result of the ambitious jealousy of individual leaders and of the contradictory teachings of the various representatives of the people, and concluding with a confession of faith in liberty, equality and fraternity, the family, the community, the State and the Fatherland, in short, in a social system with God and His eternal laws at the apex and the people at the base.
This politico-economic review is dated the 1st of November 1850 and with it the direct and immediate co-operation of its authors ceased for two decades, for Engels went to Manchester to work once again for Ermen & Engels whilst Marx remained in London to devote all his energies to scientific study.
The days of November, 1850, fall almost exactly in the middle of Marx’s life and they represent, not only externally, an important turning point in his life’s work. Marx himself was keenly aware of this and Engels perhaps even more so.
Writing to Marx in February, 1851, Engels declares: “One can see more and more that exile is an institution in which everyone must necessarily become a fool, an ass and a scurvy knave unless he withdraws from it completely and contents himself with being an independent writer who doesn’t bother his head in the least about the so-called revolutionary party.” And Marx answered: “I very much like the public isolation in which we two now find ourselves. It is quite in accordance with our attitude and our principles. The system of mutual concessions, of half-measures tolerated for the sake of appearances, and the necessity of taking one’s share of the responsibility in the eyes of the general public together with all those fools, is now at an end.” And Engels again: “We have now once more an opportunity, for the first time in a very long time, of showing that we need no popularity and no support from any party in any country, that our position is completely independent of such trivialities. From now on we are responsible to ourselves alone ... By the way, we can hardly complain about the fact that the petits grands hommes avoid us. For years we acted as though the ragtag and bobtail were our party, although we had no party and the people whom we considered as belonging to our party, at least officially, did not understand even the elementary principles of our cause.”
It would be wrong to take the expressions “fools” “asses” and “knaves” all too seriously, and a certain amount may be deducted from these spirited remarks, but what then remains shows us that Marx and Engels rightly regarded their decision to cut themselves loose from the fruitless squabbles of the exiles as their salvation. They withdrew, as Engels said, into “a certain isolation” in order to continue their scientific studies until such time as men should better understand their cause.
However, the cut was not made so thoroughly, so quickly and so deeply as would appear to the retrospective observer. In the letters which the two exchanged in the following years we find that the internal struggles amongst the exiles play a very considerable role, and this was due to the ceaseless friction which occurred between the two factions into which the Communist League had split, if to no other reason. And further, although Marx and Engels had decided to take no more part in the noisy squabbles of the emigration, this certainly did not mean the abandonment of all part in the political struggles of the day. They continued to contribute to the Chartist newspapers and they did not accept the disappearance of the Neue Rheinische Revue as final.
A publisher named Schabelitz in Basel offered to undertake the continuation of the Revue, but in the end nothing came of it. Marx then opened up negotiations with Hermann Becker, who had succeeded in maintaining his position in Cologne as editor of the Westdeutsche Zeitung for some time and, when that was finally suppressed, had taken over a small publishing house. Marx wanted to have his works published in a collected edition and to issue a quarterly magazine from Liege. However, this plan was spoiled by the arrest of Becker in May, 1851, though one pamphlet of the Collected Works did actually appear. Two volumes were to have been published, each containing 400 pages, and whoever subscribed to the venture before the 15th of May was to receive the volumes in ten brochures at eight silver groschen each, and after that the sale price was to be one thaler and fifteen silver groschen for each volume. The first brochure was quickly sold out, but Weydemeyer’s statement that 15,000 copies were sold is probably an error, for even one-tenth of that figure would have been quite a fair success for those days.
When drawing up these plans Marx was under “the urgent necessity of making a living.” He and his family were living in great poverty. In November, 1849, the fourth child, a son named Guido, was born, and its mother wrote: “The poor little angel suckled so many cares and worries that it was always ill and in violent pains day and night. Since it came into the world it has not slept a single night properly, and never more than two or three hours at a time.” This child died about a year after its birth.
The family was evicted in the most brutal and ruthless fashion from its first home in Chelsea, for although the rent had been paid to the lease-holder, the latter had not paid it to the landlord. After many difficulties they succeeded in finding a temporary shelter in a German hotel in Leicester Street near Leicester Square, and shortly afterwards they moved into 28, Dean Street, Soho Square. For the next six years the two rooms in Dean Street offered the family a permanent shelter. However, this did not settle their financial troubles, which steadily increased. Towards the end of October, 1850, Marx wrote to Weydemeyer in Frankfort-on-Main asking him to take the family silver out of pawn and sell it at the best price he could get for it, saving only a small case of spoons, etc., belonging to little Jenny. “At the moment my situation is that I must get hold of money under all circumstances in order to be able to go on working.” At about the same time Engels departed for Manchester to devote himself to “damned business” and certainly in order to be able to assist his friend financially.
Apart from Engels, friends in need proved to be rare and in 1850 Frau Marx wrote to Weydemeyer: “The thing that hits me hardest of all and makes my heart bleed is that my husband is worried by so many petty troubles. He could be assisted with so little, but he who always helped others so readily is left helpless himself. Please don’t think, Herr Weydemeyer, that we are asking anyone for anything, but at the very least my husband could justly ask those who turned to him for so many ideas and for support, to show a little more business energy and interest in his Revue. They owe him that little, and I am not ashamed to say so – after all, no one was defrauded in the matter. It hurts me, but my husband thinks differently. He has never lost his confidence in the future, not even in the worst moments, and he has always kept up his good spirits and was happy if he saw me in a good humour and our dear children making a fuss of me.” And as she looked after him when friends were silent, so he looked after her when enemies were all too vociferous in their attacks.
in August, 1851, Marx again wrote to Weydemeyer: “You can imagine that my situation is gloomy. My wife will go under if it lasts much longer. The continual troubles and the petty day-to-day struggle to make ends meet are wearing her out. And on top of all this there is the infamy of my opponents, who do not even attempt to attack me objectively, but revenge themselves for their impotence by casting suspicion on me and spreading the most indescribable infamies about me.... As far as I am concerned, I should laugh at the whole business and I am not letting it interfere with my work in the least, but you can imagine that it is no relief to my wife, who is ill, whose nervous system is rundown and who is forced to struggle with miserable poverty from morning to night, when foolish go-betweens bring her the latest exhalations from the democratic sewers. The tactlessness of some people in this respect is often colossal.” A few months previously (in March) Frau Marx had given birth to a daughter, Franziska, and despite an easy confinement she had been very ill, “more for psychological than for physical reasons.” There was not a penny in the house “and at the same time we exploited the workers and worked for a dictatorship” as Marx wrote in a bitter mood to Engels.
Marx’s scientific studies were a never-failing source of consolation to him. He sat from 9 o’clock in the morning to 7 o’clock in the evening in the British Museum, and, referring to the empty bombast of Kinkel and Willich, he once declared: “Naturally, the democratic simpletons whose inspiration comes ‘from above’ have no need to do anything of that sort. Why should the innocents bother their heads about economics and history? As the worthy Willich used to say to me, everything is so simple. Everything is so simple! In their confused heads perhaps, the simpletons!” At that time Marx hoped to have his Critique of Political Economy completed within a few weeks and he began to look for a publisher, a search which once again caused him one disappointment after another.
In May, 1851, a loyal friend on whom Marx could rely absolutely, Ferdinand Freiligrath, came to London, and during the next few years the two remained in close touch, but bad news followed quickly on his heels. On the 10th of May the tailor Nothjung was arrested in Leipzig whilst on a tour of agitation as a representative of the Communist League. Papers which he carried betrayed the existence of the League to the police, and soon after the members of the Central Committee in Cologne were arrested. Freiligrath himself had escaped by the skin of his teeth and without even knowing the danger he was in. When he arrived in London the various factions amongst the German exiles immediately fought each other tooth and nail for the privilege of the famous poet’s allegiance, but he put a stop to this by informing them that he stood with Marx and his circle, and he refused to attend a meeting which took place on the 14th of July, 1851, in order to make another attempt to compose the differences which existed amongst the exiles. The attempt failed as all previous attempts had failed and it produced only new differences. On the 20th of July, the “Agitation Club” was founded under the intellectual leadership of Ruge, and on the 27th of July this was followed by the formation of the “Emigration Club” under the intellectual leadership of Kinkel, and these two associations were soon fighting each other fiercely, particularly in the columns of the German-American press.
Naturally, Marx had nothing but contempt for this “war of the frogs and mice,” and the intellectual positions of its leaders were all more or less abhorrent to him. Ruge’s attempts to “edit the reason of events” in 1848 had already been dealt with in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in a lighter vein, but heavier artillery had also been brought into action against “Arnold Winkelried Ruge,” the “Pomeranian thinker,” whose writings were “the gutter” in which “all the waste phraseology and contradictions of German democracy flowed off.” However, for all his political confusion, Ruge was of a different calibre from Kinkel, who had been engaged in a ceaseless attempt to play the role of interesting social lion in London since his flight from prison in Spandau, “now in the pub, now in the club,” as Freiligrath had mocked. In addition, Marx was more interested in Kinkel at the time because Willich had become Kinkel’s ally in order to organize a big swindle, a sort of revolution on a limited liability basis. On the 14th of September, 1851, Kinkel landed in New York on a mission to win respected fugitives as guarantors for a German National Loan “in the sum of two million Dollars to further the coming republican revolution,” and to collect a preliminary fund of 20,000 thaler. Kossuth had first conceived the brilliant idea of sailing over the big pond with a collecting box, but on a smaller scale Kinkel carried on the business no less zealously and recklessly, and in the course of their activities both master and pupil preached against slavery in the Northern States and in favour of it in the Southern.
Whilst this farce was proceeding Marx established serious relations with the New World. In his growing financial embarrassment – ”It is almost impossible to go on like this,” he wrote to Engels on the 31st Of July – he proposed to issue a lithographed correspondence for American newspapers, and a few days afterwards he received an offer from the New York Tribune, the most widely-read newspaper in the Northern States, to become a regular contributor. The offer was made by Dana, the publisher of the paper, whom Marx knew from his stay in Cologne. At the time Marx did not have the necessary fluent command of the English language so Engels deputized for him and wrote a series of articles on revolution and counter-revolution in Germany, and shortly afterwards Marx was able to secure the publication of one of his books in the United States in German.
Throughout the revolutionary years Marx’s old friend from Brussels, Josef Weydemeyer, fought courageously as the editor of a democratic newspaper in Frankfort-on-Main. When the counter-revolution became more insolent this paper was also suppressed, and after the discovery of the Communist League, of which Weydemeyer was an active member, the police spies soon got on his track also.
At first he took refuge “in a quiet little inn in Sachsenhausen,” hoping that the storm would roll by and occupying himself in the meantime with a popular book on political economy. However, instead the atmosphere became more and more oppressive until finally Weydemeyer burst out with “the devil take this endless hanging around in hiding.” He was a husband and the father of two small children, and as he saw no likelihood of being able to earn a living in Switzerland or in London, he decided to emigrate to America.
Marx and Engels were both very unwilling to lose such a loyal friend, and Marx racked his brains to find some way of finding him employment as an engineer, railway surveyor or something of the sort, but in vain. “Once you are over there, what guarantee is there that you won’t lose yourself somewhere in the Far West? We have so very few really good men and we must be economical with our forces.” However, when Weydemeyer’s departure proved unavoidable they found it was not a bad thing to have a capable representative of the communist cause in the New World. “We need a reliable fellow like Weydemeyer in New York,” declared Engels. “After all, New York is not out of the world, and we know that if we need him Weydemeyer can be relied on.” In the end, therefore, the two gave him their blessing and he sailed from Havre on the 29th of September and after a stormy voyage which lasted almost forty days he arrived safely in New York.
On the 31st of October Marx sent a letter after him advising him to set himself up as a bookseller and publisher in New York, and to take the best things out of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung and the Neue Rheinische Revue and issue them separately. He was therefore delighted when he received a letter from Weydemeyer informing him, to the accompaniment of a certain amount of abuse directed against the shopkeeper mentality, which Weydemeyer declared was nowhere more brazen and disgusting than in the New World, that he hoped to be able to issue a weekly under the title of Die Revolution at the beginning of January and asking for contributions to be sent over as quickly as possible. Marx immediately enthusiastically mobilized all the communist pens and above all that of Engels. He also secured Freiligrath, from whom Weydemeyer wanted a poem, Eccarius, Weerth and the two Wolffs. In his reply to Weydemeyer he complained that the latter had omitted to mention Wilhelm Wolff when announcing the contributors to the weekly and declared: “None of us has his popular manner, but he is very modest and therefore it is all the more our duty to avoid any appearance of considering his cooperation superfluous.” For his own share Marx announced that apart from a long discussion of a new work by Proudhon, he intended to write on “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” or the Bonapartist coup d’etat of the 2nd of December, which was the most important event of the day in European politics and gave rise to much discussion in print.
Two of the works written on the subject by others became famous and their authors were richly rewarded. At a later date Marx described the difference between these two works and his own as follows: “Victor Hugo’s Napoleon le Petit confines itself to bitter and brilliant invective against the responsible author of the coup d’etat. The coup itself appears to him to have come like a bolt from the blue and to be nothing but the result of the violence of an individual, but he fails to observe that thereby he makes this individual great instead of small by crediting him with a personal power of initiative which would be unexampled in world history. On the other hand, Proudhon’s Coup d’Etat attempts to show the coup as the result of a train of previous historical development, but in his hands the historical construction of the coup develops into a historical apologia for the hero of the coup. Thus he falls into the error of our so-called objective historians. In my treatment of the subject, however, I show how the class struggle in France created conditions and circumstances which made it possible for a mediocre and grotesque individual to play the role of a hero.” Marx’s book appeared like a literary Cinderella beside its more fortunate sisters, but whilst the latter have long since become dust and ashes, his work still shines in immortal brilliance to-day.
In a work sparkling with wit and humour, Marx succeeded, thanks to the materialist conception of history, in analysing a contemporary historical event to the very core. The form of the work is as brilliant as its content. From the magnificent comparison contained in its first chapter: “Bourgeois revolutions, such as those of the eighteenth century, storm forward rapidly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in fiery brilliance, ecstasy is the prevailing spirit of every day; but they are short-lived, they soon attain their zenith, and then a long period of depression falls on society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm and stress period soberly. Proletarian revolutions, such as those of the nineteenth century, on the other hand, criticize themselves ceaselessly and interrupt themselves constantly in their own course. They return to what has apparently already been accomplished in order to begin it again and deride with ruthless thoroughness the half-heartedness, weakness and wretchedness of their first attempts. They appear to throw their adversary to the ground oftly in order that he should draw renewed strength from the earth and rise again still more powerfully before them. They recoil again and again from the uncertain and tremendous nature of their own aims until a situation is created which makes retreat impossible and the circumstances themselves cry out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta!” – from this fine beginning to the confident words of the prophetic conclusion: “If the imperial mantle finally falls onto the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue of Napoleon will crash down from the Vendome column.”
And under what circumstances was this brilliant work written! Least important was the fact that after the first number Weydemeyer was compelled to cease publication of his weekly for lack of funds: “The unparalleled unemployment which has prevailed here since the beginning of the autumn makes it very difficult to start any new venture. And then the workers have been exploited in various ways recently, first Kinkel and then Kossuth. Unfortunately, the majority of them would rather give a dollar for propaganda hostile to them than a cent to defend their own interests. American conditions have an extraordinarily corrupting effect and at the same time they inculcate the arrogant idea that Americans are better than their comrades in the Old World.” However, Weydemeyer did not give up hope of restoring his paper to life, this time as a monthly, and he wanted no more than a miserable two hundred dollars.
Much more important than these troubles was the fact that early in January Marx fell ill and was able to work at all only with great difficulty: “For years nothing has pulled me down as much as this cursed hemorrhoidal trouble, not even the worst French failure.” And above all he was continually troubled by “filthy lucre” or rather the lack of it, which left him no peace. On the 27th of February he wrote: “My affairs have now reached the agreeable point at which I can no longer leave the house because my clothes are in pawn and can no longer eat meat because my credit is exhausted.” But finally, on the 25th of March, he was able to send the last bundle of manuscript to Weydemeyer together with congratulations on the birth of another little revolutionary, of which Weydemeyer had informed him: “It would be impossible to choose a better time to come into the world than at this moment. By the time it is possible to go from London to Calcutta in seven days we shall both have had our heads chopped off or they will be shaky with age. Australia, California and the Pacific! The new world citizens will be unable to realize how small our world was.” Even in the worst of his personal troubles Marx never lost his optimism with regard to the tremendous prospects of human development. And sad days were immediately before him.
In a letter of the 30th of March, Weydemeyer must have robbed him of all hope that his work would be printed. This letter itself has not been preserved, but an echo it produced has, in the shape of a violent letter written by Wilhelm Wolff on the 16th of April, the day on which one of Marx’s children was buried. Wolff declared: “Almost all our friends are afflicted with general misfortune and under horrible pressure.” The letter was full of bitter reproaches of Weydemeyer, whose own life was no bed of roses and who always did his best.
It was a terrible Easter for Marx and his family. The child which had died was their youngest daughter, born a year before, and the following moving description is taken from the diary of Frau Marx: “At Easter, 1852, our poor little Franziska fell ill with severe bronchitis. For three days the poor child struggled against death and suffered much. Her small lifeless body rested in our little back room whilst we all went together into the front room and when night came we made up beds on the floor. The three surviving children lay with us and we cried for the poor little angel who now rested so cold and lifeless in the next room. The poor child’s death took place in a period of bitterest poverty. I went to a French fugitive who lives near us and who had visited us shortly before. He received me with friendliness and sympathy and gave me two pounds and with that money the coffin in which my child could rest peacefully was paid for. It had no cradle when it was born and even the last little shell was denied it long enough. It was terrible for us when the little coffin was carried out to go to its last resting-place.” On this black day Weydemeyer’s letter with its bad news arrived and Marx was sorely troubled about his wife who had witnessed everything fail to which he had set his hand during the previous two years.
However, during those unhappy hours a new letter was already on its way over the water. It was dated the 9th of April and read: “Unexpected assistance finally cleared away the difficulties which prevented publication of the pamphlet. After I had sent off my last letter I met one of our workers from Frankfort, a tailor who also came over here in the summer, and he immediately placed all his savings, forty dollars, at my disposal.” But for this worker The Eighteenth Brumaire would not have been published – and Weydemeyer does not even mention his name! But what does it matter what the man’s name was? The power which moved him was the class consciousness of the proletariat, which never tires of making noble sacrifices for its emancipation.
The Eighteenth Brumaire formed the first number of the monthly Revolution which Weydemeyer now began to issue. The second and final number contained two poetic contributions by Freiligrath in the form of letters to Weydemeyer, scourging with brilliant wit and humour the mendicant peregrinations of Kinkel in America. And that was the end of the venture. A number of contributions sent in by Engels were lost on the way.
Weydemeyer printed a thousand copies of The Eighteenth Brumaire and about one-third of this number went to Europe, but not into the hands of the booksellers. They were distributed by friends and sympathizers in England and in the Rhineland, for even “radical” booksellers could not be persuaded to handle such an “untimely effort, and an English translation drafted by Pieper and polished by Engels was unable to find a publisher.
If it was at all possible to increase the difficulties of Marx in finding a publisher this was done by the circumstance that the Bonapartist coup d’etat in France was followed by the Cologne Communist Trial in Germany.
Since the arrests which had taken place in May, 1851, Marx had closely followed the course of the preliminary investigations, but as they were repeatedly held up owing to the lack of any “objective basis for an indictment,” as even the official prosecutor was compelled to admit, there was not much to be done. All that could be proved against the arrested men was that they were members of a secret propaganda organization, and for this the Code Penal provided no punishment.
However, the King insisted that his nominee, Stieber, should be given a chance to show his mettle and provide the Prussian public with the much-desired consummation of a discovered conspiracy and punished conspirators, and Stieber himself was too good a patriot not to execute the will of his hereditary ruler and King. He began his task in a fitting fashion by instigating an act of robbery. One of his tools broke open and rifled the writing desk of a man named Oswald Dietz, who had been secretary to Willich’s organization. As an astute agent-provocateur, Stieber realized that the recklessness of this organization opened up prospects of success for his own edifying task such as “the Marx party” would never have offered.
With the assistance of stolen documents and with the aid rendered to him on the eve of the Bonapartist coup d’etat by the French authorities, Stieber manufactured the so-called “Franco-German Plot” in Paris, and in February, 1852, this led to the conviction of a number of unfortunate German workers by the Paris courts, which sentenced them to various terms of imprisonment. However, what Stieber did not succeed in doing was establishing any connection between his Paris plot and the accused in Cologne. For all his cunning the “Franco-German Plot” did not offer him even the shadow of a proof which could be used in Cologne.
In the meantime the differences between the “Marx Party” and the “Willich-Schapper Party” became still sharper. Willich still made common cause with Kinkel and the latter’s return from America caused all the squabbles amongst the exiles to flare up anew so that in the spring and summer of 1852 the tension between the two organizations was acute. Kinkel had not secured the 20,000 thaler which was to have been the backbone of the national revolutionary loan, but he had obtained about half of it, and now the question of what was to be done with the money developed into one over which the democratic fugitives not only racked their brains but also began to break each other’s heads. In the end a thousand pounds sterling was deposited with the Westminster Bank as an earnest for the first provisional government, the remainder of the sum collected having been expended on the journey and for administration costs. The deposited sum never served its intended purpose, but fifteen years later the foolishness came to a fairly satisfactory end when it assisted the press of the German Social Democracy over its initial difficulties.
Whilst the tumult and the shouting surged around this Nibelungen treasure, Marx and Engels made sketches of the heroes of the battle, but unfortunately the manuscripts have not been preserved. They were persuaded to do so by a Hungarian Colonel named Banya, who presented himself to them with a holograph authorization from Kossuth appointing him Police President of the Hungarian emigration, although in reality the man was a common spy and always at the service of the highest bidder. He was exposed by Marx and Engels because instead of handing the manuscript to the Berlin publishers for whom it was intended, Banya gave it to the Prussian police. Marx nailed down the rogue’s knavery instantly in a signed declaration which was published in the New York Kriminal Zeitung, but he was unable to obtain the return of his manuscript, which has never turned up since. If the Prussian government had hoped to use it as material in the Cologne trial it must have been disappointed.
In its desperation at the lack of proofs against the accused, the government caused the postponement of the public trial from one assize to the next, thereby increasing the suspense of an eager public to concert pitch until in October, 1852, it simply had to raise the curtain and let the performance begin. Not all the determined perjuries of the police agents were sufficient to establish any connection between the accused and the “Franco-German Plot” i.e., with a plot which was fabricated by the police whilst the accused were in prison and in an organization of which they were not only not members, but even opponents. In the end therefore, Stieber, in his desperation produced The Original Minute Book of the Marx Party containing a chronological series of minutes describing meetings at which Marx and his comrades were alleged to have discussed their nefarious plans for world revolution. This Minute Book was an infamous forgery scraped together by the agents-provocateurs Charles Fleury and Wilhelm Hirsch under the direction of a police officer named Greif. At first glance the precious document bore all the marks of forgery and its contents were simply idiotic, but Stieber counted on the stupidity of his carefully sifted bourgeois jurymen and kept a close watch over the mail in order to prevent explanations and enlightenment coming from London.
However, Stieber’s wretched plan failed owing to the energy and circumspection with which Marx countered it, although he was ill-prepared for a long and gruelling struggle. On the 8th of September he wrote to Engels: “My wife is ill. Little Jenny is ill. Lenchen has a sort of nervous fever, and I can’t call in the doctor because I have no money to pay him. For about eight or ten days we have all been living on bread and potatoes, and it is now doubtful whether we shall be able to get even that ... I have written nothing for Dana because I have not had the money to buy newspapers. The best thing that could possibly happen now would be for the landlady to throw us out, for in that case I should have the weight of twenty-two pounds back rent off my mind, but I doubt whether she will be so considerate. And then we are indebted to the baker, the milkman, the grocer, the greengrocer and the butcher. How on earth am I to get out of this devilish mess? During the past week or so I have borrowed a few shillings and even pence from workers. It was terrible, but it was absolutely necessary or we should have starved.” This was the desperate situation in which Marx was compelled to take up the struggle with powerful enemies, but in it both he and his wife forgot their domestic troubles.
Victory was still in the balance when Frau Marx wrote to an American friend: “All the proofs of the forgery have had to be provided from here and my husband has had to work all day and even far into the night. And then we have had to copy everything six or seven times and send it to Germany by various ways, over Frankfort, Paris, etc., because all letters to my husband and all his letters to Germany are opened and confiscated. The whole affair has now been reduced to a struggle between the police on the one hand and my husband on the other, and my husband is being made responsible for everything, even the conduct of the trial. You must excuse my confusion, but I have also had some part in the intrigue, and I have copied and copied until my fingers ached. Whole lists of business addresses and pseudo-business letters have just arrived from Weerth and Engels as a cloak for the safe sending of the documents, etc. Our house has been turned into a regular office. Two or three are writing, others are running messages, and the remainder are engaged in scraping pennies together in order that we can all continue to exist and provide proof of the most shameful scandal the official world has ever perpetrated. And all the time my three lively children are singing and whistling, occasionally earning a severe rebuke from their father. What a life!”
Marx won the victory and Stieber’s forgery was exposed even before the trial so that the Public Prosecutor was compelled to abandon “the wretched book.” However, the public victory sealed the fate of the accused. The five weeks’ proceedings revealed such a mass of infamies committed in part by the highest authorities in the Prussian State that the acquittal of the accused would have meant the conviction of the State in the eyes of the whole world. To spare the State this humiliation the jurymen were prepared to besmirch their honour and violate their consciences, and they therefore found seven of the eleven accused guilty of attempted high treason. The cigar-maker Roser, the author Bürgers, and the journeyman-tailor Nothjung were sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in a fortress each, the worker Reiff, the chemist Otto and the former barrister Becker received five years each, whilst the journeyman-tailor Lessner received three years. The clerk Ehrhardt and the three physicians Daniels, Jacoby and Klein were all acquitted. However, Daniels died a few years later of consumption contracted during the eighteen months he had been imprisoned awaiting trial. In a moving letter his wife sent his last greetings to Marx, who mourned his death deeply.
The other victims of this shameful trial survived Daniels by many years and some of them even worked their way back into the bourgeois world, for instance, Burgers, who was elected to the Reichstag as a progressive, and Becker, who later became Lord Mayor of Cologne and a member of the Prussian Upper House and whose highly patriotic attitude on all occasions won him the good graces of the government and the court. Amongst the convicted men who remained loyal to the proletarian flag were Nothjung and Röser, both of whom played an active part in the beginnings of the renewed working-class movement, and Lessner, who survived both Marx and Engels and became one of their most devoted comrades in exile.
After the Cologne Communist Trial, the Communist League dissolved and its example was soon followed by Willich’s organization. Willich himself emigrated to America and during the Civil War he won well-earned fame as a General in the Northern Army, whilst Schapper returned penitently to his old comrades. However, Marx was unwilling to permit the Prussian government to enjoy the miserable victory it had won at the Cologne assizes, and he determined to pillory it in the eyes Of the world. To this end he prepared the revelations at the trial for publication in Switzerland and, if possible, also in America. Writing on the 7th of December to friends in America he declared: “You will appreciate the humour of the pamphlet more I think when I tell you that its author is practically interned owing to the lack of adequate covering for his feet and his behind, and that in addition his family was and still is threatened with really horrible misery. This too is in part a result of the proceedings weeks I was compelled to devote all my energies to defending the party against the machinations of the government, instead of earning a living. Not only that, but the trial has turned the German booksellers against me completely and I had hoped to come to some arrangement with them for the publication of my book on political economy.”
However, on the 11th of December Schabelitz, Jr., who had undertaken to publish the book, wrote to Marx from Basle informing him that he was already going through the first galleys. “I am convinced that the book will create a tremendous sensation because it is a masterpiece.” Schabelitz proposed to print 2,000 copies and fix the price at ten silver groschen per copy because he reckoned that at least part of the edition would be confiscated. Unfortunately the whole of the edition was confiscated when it was about to be sent into the interior from the little frontier village in Baden where it had been stored for about six weeks.
On the 10th of March the bad news was reported to Engels with the bitter words: “Such misfortunes threaten to rob one of all further encouragement to write. Always to be working pour le roi de Prusse!” It proved impossible to discover how the leakage had occurred and the suspicion which Marx had at first harboured against the publisher turned out to be baseless. Schabelitz even offered to distribute the 500 copies he had retained in Switzerland, although little seems to have come of this. The affair had a bitter sequel for Marx when three months later not Schabelitz but his partner Amberger demanded compensation for the printing costs in the sum of 424 francs.
Fortunately, however, the failure in Switzerland was in part compensated by success in America, though naturally the effect of the revelations concerning the Cologne trial in America was not so disturbing to the Prussian government as it would have been in Europe. The New England Zeitung, which was published in Boston, printed the revelations and Engels had 440 special copies printed at his own expense. With Lassalle’s assistance he proposed to distribute them in the Rhine province. Frau Marx corresponded with Lassalle on the point and the latter showed himself zealous enough, but unfortunately the correspondence does not reveal whether the plan was carried out successfully or not.
The revelations found a lively echo in the German-American press and Willich in particular came forward against the work. This caused Marx to write a short reply to him entitled “The Knight of the High-souled Conscience,” but to-day it is hardly worthwhile to lift the veil of oblivion which has long since fallen on it. As is always the case in such controversies, sins were committed by both sides, and as the victor Marx gladly refrained from triumphing over the vanquished. Referring to the first years of the emigration period he declared in 1860 that its most brilliant vindication was a comparison between its history and the parallel history of the bourgeois governments and of bourgeois society. With very few exceptions the fugitives could be accused of nothing worse than having harboured illusions which were more or less justified by the conditions of the day, and of having committed follies which necessarily arose out of the unusual circumstances in which the emigrants unexpectedly found themselves.
When he prepared a second edition of the revelations for publication in 1875, he at first hesitated as to whether he should delete the passages dealing with the Willich-Schapper faction, but finally he let them stand, feeling that any mutilation of the text might appear like tampering with an historic document, but he added: “The violent events of a revolution leave a disturbing heritage in the minds of those who take part in it, and in particular in the minds of those who are hounded into exile away from their homes. This mental disturbance affects even capable men for a longer or shorter period and makes them, so to speak, irresponsible. They fail to understand the meaning of events and they refuse to see that the form of the movement has changed. The result is that they indulge in conspiracies and romantic revolutionism which compromise both them and the cause they have at heart. This is the explanation of the errors of Schapper and Willich. In the American Civil War Willich demonstrated that he was something more than a weaver of fantastic projects, whilst Schapper, who was a lifelong pioneer of the working-class movement, recognized and admitted his momentary errors soon after the Communist Trial in Cologne. Many years later, the day before he died, Schapper referred with caustic irony to the folly of the early emigrant days. On the other hand, the circumstances in which the revelations were originally issued explain the bitterness with which the involuntary helpers of the common enemy were attacked. To lose one’s head at a moment of crisis is a crime against the party and it demands public expiation.” These were words of wisdom at a time when it was still thought more important to maintain “a good tone” than to establish clarity on matters of principle.
Once the battle was fought and the victory won, Marx was the last man to harbour petty rancour. Answering some brusque remarks of Freiligrath in 1850 on “the doubtful and degraded elements” which had found their way into the League, he admitted more than he need have done when he declared: “Storms always raise a certain amount of dirt and dust, and a revolutionary period does not smell of attar of roses. It is clear that occasionally one is spattered with all sorts of muck. It is impossible to be too particular at such a moment”; but he was justified in adding: “However, if one considers the tremendous efforts of the official world against us, the ransacking of the Code Penal against us, the slanderous tongues of ‘the Democracy of Stupidity,’ which has never been able to forgive us for displaying greater intelligence and greater strength of character than it did itself, and the history of all other parties, one must come to the conclusion that in this nineteenth century our party is distinguished above all by its purity.”
When the Communist League ceased to exist the last threads which connected Marx with public life in Germany were broken and from now on exile, “the home of the good,” became his home too.
Last updated on 27.2.2004