The crisis of 1857 did not develop into a proletarian revolution as Marx and Engels had hoped, but it was certainly not without revolutionary effects even though they took the form of dynastic changes only. The United Kingdom of Italy arose and a little later the United German Empire, whilst the old French Empire disappeared.
This course of events resulted from the double fact that the bourgeoisie never fights its own revolutionary battles and that, since the revolution of 1848, it had grown unwilling to let the proletariat fight them for it. The trouble was that in this revolution, and in particular in the June struggles in Paris, the proletariat had abandoned its old custom of letting itself be used merely as cannon-fodder for the bourgeoisie and had demanded a share of the fruits of the victories which were won with its own blood and heroism.
As a result, even in the revolutionary years, the cunning idea occurred to the bourgeoisie of persuading some power other than the increasingly mistrustful and unreliable proletariat to snatch its chestnuts out of the fire. This was particularly the case in Germany and in Italy, that is to say, in those countries where for the moment the chief task presented by historical development was the creation of a national State such as capitalist forces of production require for their fullest development. The obvious solution of the problem was to offer one of the princelings the hegemony over the whole country in return for his promise to grant the bourgeoisie the elbow room it needed for the full development of capitalist exploitation. However, this plan compelled the bourgeoisie to abandon its own political ideals and content itself with the satisfaction of its bald profit interests, for by calling in the aid of the princes, it subordinated itself to princely domination.
Even in the revolutionary years, therefore, the bourgeoisie began to flirt with the princely States, and with the most reactionary ones at that. In Italy it was the Kingdom of Sardinia, that “military-Jesuit” Statelet in which, in the bitter words of the German poet, “both priest and mercenary sucked the people dry,” and in Germany it was the Kingdom of Prussia, which was under the thumb of obscurantist East Elbian Junkerdom. At first the bourgeoisie was unsuccessful both in Italy and in Germany. King Albert of Sardinia did consent to make himself “the sword of Italy,” it is true, but on the battlefield he was defeated by the Austrian army and died a fugitive on foreign soil. And in Prussia Frederick William IV rejected the German Kaiser Crown offered him by the German bourgeoisie, for he considered it a purely illusory honour, a crown baked of mud and clay. Instead he preferred a little body-snatching at the expense of the revolution, though he failed woefully in this, less on account of the Austrian sword than the Austrian whip in Olmütz.
However, the industrial prosperity which had sapped the strength of the revolution in 1848 became a powerful lever for the furtherance of bourgeois interests in Italy and Germany, and in both these countries it made national unity more urgent and necessary than ever. In 1857, the crisis broke out and reminded the bourgeoisie of the evanescence of all capitalist glory, but at last things began to move – first in Italy. Not that this must be taken as an indication that capitalist development had proceeded further in Italy than in Germany. On the contrary, large-scale industry did not exist at all in Italy, and therefore the antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat had not yet developed to the extent of awakening mutual distrust. No less important was the fact that Italy’s disunity was the result of foreign dominance, and that it was the common aim of all classes of society to overthrow this dominance. Austria ruled directly over Lombardy and the province of Venice and indirectly over Central Italy, whose little courts took their orders from the Vienna Hofburg. A struggle against the foreign yoke had been proceeding in Italy for twenty years without a break, and it had led to brutal measures of repression on the one hand and desperate reprisals on the other. The Italian stiletto was the inevitable answer to the Austrian scourge.
However, all the terrorism, the insurrections and the conspiracies proved useless against the superior power of the Habsburgs, and even in the revolutionary years the Italian insurrections all failed. The promise that Italy should win its own independence (Italia fara da se) proved to be a delusion. Italy needed outside assistance in order to throw off the Austrian yoke, and therefore it turned to its sister nation, France. The maintenance of national disunity in Italy and Germany was a traditional principle of French foreign policy, but the adventurer who sat on the throne of France was prepared to bargain about the matter. The Second Empire was a farce so long as it was confined within the frontiers drawn for France by the European powers after the overthrow of the First Empire. France needed territorial conquests, but the false Bonaparte was unable to make them as the real one had done. The false Bonaparte had to content himself with borrowing the so-called “nationality principle” from his alleged uncle and presenting himself in the role of the Messiah of the oppressed nations, naturally always on condition that his friendly services were generously rewarded in the way of land and population.
At the same time his whole situation was such that he could not take many risks. He was not in a position to wage a European war, not to speak of a revolutionary war, and the utmost he could do was belabour the scapegoat of Europe with the condescending permission of the other powers. At the beginning of the fifties the scapegoat had been Russia, but by the end of them it was Austria. The shameful regime maintained by the Austrian intruders in Italy had developed into a European scandal, whilst at the same time the House of Habsburg had quarrelled with its old partners of the Holy Alliance, with Prussia on account of Olmütz and with Russia on account of the Crimean War. In fact, Bonaparte was quite certain of Russian assistance in case he should attack Austria.
The internal situation of France urgently demanded some foreign political action in order to bolster up Bonapartist prestige. The commercial crisis of 1857 had paralysed French industry, and thanks to the manoeuvres with which the government had tried to prevent its outbreak, the evil had become chronic, and French trade had lain stagnant for years. As a result both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat were becoming rebellious, whilst even the peasantry, the chief prop of the coup d’etat regime, were beginning to grumble. The big drop in grain prices which took place from 1857 to 1859 caused the peasants to declare that, owing to the low prices they obtained for their produce and the heavy burdens on agriculture, the tilling of the soil was rapidly becoming impossible.
In this situation Bonaparte was zealously courted by Cavour, the chief Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia. This man had taken up the tradition of King Albert, but he pursued his policy with incomparably greater skill. Still, with only the impotent methods of diplomacy at his disposal, he made little progress because the brooding and undecided character of Bonaparte made it difficult for him to take any rapid decision. However, the Italian Party of Action took a hand in the game and as a result the champion of freedom was compelled to make up his mind quickly. On the 14th of January, 1858, Orsini and his accomplices flung their bombs at the imperial carriage, which was hit by no less than 76 fragments. The occupants of the carriage were not injured, but as is usually the way with such characters the false Bonaparte answered the attempt by establishing a reign of terror. However, the very fury with which he did so indicated that his regime, which had now lasted seven years, was in reality based on a very unstable foundation, whilst a letter which he received from Orsini during the latter’s imprisonment gave him a new shock of fear. “Remember,” declared Orsini, “that the peace of Europe and your own peace of mind will remain purely chimerical so long as Italy has not achieved its independence.” Orsini is said to have spoken still more plainly in a second letter. During the erratic wanderings of his adventurous life Bonaparte had once fallen in with Italian conspirators and he was well aware that their vengeance was not a thing to be trifled with.
In the summer of 1858, therefore, he invited Cavour to meet him in Plombieres where the two arranged a little war on Austria. Sardinia was to receive Lombardy and the province of Venice and to constitute itself the Kingdom of Upper Italy, and in return it was to grant Savoy and Nice to France. It was a diplomatic bargain which fundamentally had little to do with the freedom and independence of Italy, and no mention was made of Central and Southern Italy, though no doubt both parties had their own ideas on the subject. Bonaparte was unwilling to abandon the traditional French foreign policy and further the unification of Italy. On the contrary, he wished to maintain the temporal power of the Papacy and create a League of Italian dynasties which could be played off against each other, thus securing French hegemony, and in addition he harboured the idea of creating a Kingdom of Central Italy for his cousin Jerome. Cavour, on the other hand, reckoned with the development of a powerful national movement which would permit him to hold all dynastic and particularist tendencies in check once Upper Italy had been forged into a strong State.
On New Year’s Day, 1859, Bonaparte received the Austrian Ambassador in audience and informed him of the French intentions, whilst a few days later the King of Sardinia announced to the world that he was not deaf to the heart-rending appeals of the Italian people. These threats were perfectly understood in Vienna and the outbreak of hostilities approached rapidly, whilst the Austrian government was clumsy enough to let itself be manoeuvred into the role of attacker. Half-bankrupt, attacked by France and threatened by Russia, it was in a difficult position and the lukewarm friendship of the English Tories was not of very much assistance, so it therefore sought to win the support of the German League. The League was not bound by any agreement to defend the non-German possessions of any of its members, but the Austrian government hoped to inveigle it into doing so with the politico-military slogan that the Rhine must be defended along the Po, or in other words, it tried to persuade the League that the maintenance of Austrian oppression in Italy was a matter of vital national importance for Germany.
Since the outbreak of the crisis in 1857 a national movement had also developed in Germany, but it was different from the national movement in Italy and the difference was not to its credit. The German national movement was not goaded on by the irritation of foreign domination, and in addition, since 1848 the German bourgeoisie had harboured a lively horror of the proletariat, although the latter had not really proved so dangerous after all. Nevertheless, the Paris June days represented an awful warning. Up to 1848, France had been the ideal of the German bourgeoisie, but after that it had turned to England for stimulus, a country in which the bourgeoisie and the proletariat seemed to be able to compose their differences peaceably. The marriage of the Prussian Crown Prince to an English princess had caused an ecstasy of delight amongst all good German bourgeois, and when the mentally defective King of Prussia handed over the reins of government to his brother in the autumn of 1858 and the latter appointed a tame liberal Ministry, for reasons which were anything but liberal, “bovine coronation rejoicings,” as Lassalle called them bitterly, burst out. In order not to irritate the Prince Regent, the noble bourgeoisie disavowed its own heroes of 1848 and, instead of protesting when the new Ministry left things practically as they were before, it adopted the famous slogan, “Gently does it!” for fear of arousing the displeasure of the new ruler who might then sweep away the “New Era,” which existed only at his whim like a shadow on a wall.
As the clouds of war gathered, the national wave began to rise higher in Germany. The way in which Cavour was working for Italian unity was very tempting to the German bourgeoisie, which had long ago chosen Prussia to play the role of Sardinia, but the attack of Germany’s hereditary enemy, France, on Germany’s ally, Austria, caused misgivings in the breast of the German bourgeoisie and awakened unpleasant memories. Perhaps the false Bonaparte intended to revive the traditions of the real one? Perhaps the days of Austerlitz and Jena would return and the chains of foreign domination again rattle in Germany? The journaille in the pay of the Austrian government scribbled for all they were worth to convince the German bourgeoisie of the reality of its fears, and at the same time they drew an idyllic picture of a “Central European Great Power” under the leadership of Austria and embracing the German League, Hungary, the Slav and Roumanian Danubian lands, Alsace-Lorraine, Holland and heaven knows what else. On the other hand, the false Bonaparte naturally let loose his ink-slingers also and they swore by all the Gods that their paymaster harboured no such evil thought as a desire to seize the banks of the Rhine, and that his attack on Austria was prompted solely by the most edifying considerations, to wit, the interests of European civilization.
Naturally, the good German Philistine found it very difficult to form an opinion of his own in this welter of contradictory propaganda, but gradually he began to lend a more willing ear to the voice of the Habsburg charmer, to the detriment of the latter’s Bonapartist rival. The arguments of the Habsburgers flattered his own pot-valiant patriotism whilst at the same time it was asking rather much of anyone to believe in the civilizing mission of the false Bonaparte. For all that, however, the situation was so complicated that even men used to dealing with political intricacies, and revolutionaries at that, men who agreed absolutely on all fundamental questions, were unable to agree as to the practical policy which Germany should pursue towards the Italian war.
In agreement with Marx, Engels entered the arena first with his pamphlet, Po and Rhine, and its publication was arranged by Lassalle through Franz Duncker. Engels’ aim was to refute the Habsburg argument that the Rhine must be defended on the Po. He pointed out that Germany needed not a hand’s breadth of Italian soil in order to defend itself, and declared that if military considerations were to be the decisive factors, then France had a much greater claim to the banks of the Rhine than Germany had to the Po. Considered purely from the military point of view, Austrian domination in Upper Italy might be indispensable for Germany, but politically it was highly deleterious because the monstrous dragooning of the Italian patriots by the Austrian oppressors engendered fanatical hostility and hatred also against Germany throughout the whole of Italy.
However, he declared, the question of the possession of Lombardy was a matter between Germany and Italy, and not between Louis Bonaparte and Austria. As far as a third party like Bonaparte was concerned, who was interfering purely in his own interests and anti-German interests at that, Germany’s only attitude could be to keep its hold on the province and to yield only under compulsion, to maintain its military position and to evacuate it only when it became untenable. With regard to the Bonapartist threat, therefore, the Habsburg slogan was quite justified. If Louis Bonaparte made the Po his excuse then the Rhine was certainly his real aim, for only the capture of the Rhine frontier could offer any basis for the consolidation of the coup d’etat regime in France. It was a classic example of the old proverb in practical application: Bonaparte belaboured the sack but meant the donkey. Italy might be tempted to play the role of the sack, but that was no reason whatever why Germany should take the role of the donkey. If in the last resort it was merely a question of who should possess the left bank of the Rhine, then Germany could not dream of abandoning the Po and thus one of its strongest, if not its strongest, positions without a fight. On the eve of war just as in warfare itself one occupied every possible position from which one could threaten the enemy or defend oneself, without first of all indulging in moral reflections as to whether such action could be satisfactorily reconciled with eternal justice and the principle of nationality. In a tight corner one defended oneself with any weapons that came to hand.
Marx was completely in agreement with this standpoint and after he had read the manuscript of the pamphlet he wrote to the author: “Extraordinarily capable: even the political side of the matter, which was damned difficult. The pamphlet will be a great success.” Lassalle, on the other hand, declared that he was quite unable to understand Engels’ attitude, and almost immediately afterwards he issued a pamphlet of his own on the subject entitled, The Italian War and Prussia’s Task, which was also published by Duncker. Lassalle proceeded from totally different premises and in consequence he came to quite different conclusions, “monstrously false” ones according to Marx.
Lassalle declared that the national movement which arose in Germany under the influence of the war threat was “pure hatred of France and nothing else, sheer anti-Gallicism (Napoleon as the pretext, but the real reason, a hatred of French revolutionary development).” In his eyes a Franco-German war in which the two greatest Continental peoples would rend each other for mere nationalist delusions, a really popular war against France not prompted by any vital national interest, but nourished, by pathologically irritated nationalism, high-flown patriotism and childish anti-Gallicism, was a tremendous danger to European culture and to all really national and revolutionary interests, and it would represent the most monstrous and incalculable victory of the reactionary principle since March, 1848. In his opinion, therefore, it was the vital task of democracy to oppose such a war with all possible means.
He pointed out in great detail that the Italian war represented no serious threat to Germany, which was deeply interested in a successful culmination of the Italian struggle for national unity. A good cause did not become a bad one merely because a bad man took it up. Bonaparte might hope to win a little popularity through the Italian war, but in that case it was the task of the democracy to see to it that he was unsuccessful, and thus make what he undertook in his own interests useless as a means of furthering those interests. How could one now oppose what one had previously desired just because of Napoleon? On the one side there was a bad man and a good cause, and on the other side there was a bad cause and – “And the man?” Lassalle reminded his readers of Blum’s murder, of Olmütz, Holstein and Bronzell, of all the crimes which had been committed against Germany not by Bonapartist, but by Habsburg despotism. The German people, he declared, were not in the least interested in the maintenance of Austria’s strength, on the contrary the thorough destruction of Austria was the preliminary condition of German unity. On the day Italy and Hungary won their independence the twelve million Austro-Germans would be given back to the German people. Only then would they be able to feel themselves as Germans and only then would German unity be possible.
Lassalle analyzed Bonaparte’s position and pointed out that this much over-rated weakling was not in a position to think seriously of foreign conquests even in Italy, let alone then in Germany. And even supposing that the lunatic really harboured fantastic dreams of conquest, was that any reason for such a display of indecent fear on Germany’s part? He mocked at the patriotic poltroons who regarded Jena as the normal measure of Germany’s national strength and were driven desperate by their own fear. He derided the brave spirits who for fear of a highly improbable attack by France clamoured for an attack by Germany and pointed out that it was perfectly obvious that if Germany were called upon to repel a French invasion it would be able to muster much greater strength than if it attacked France, a proceeding which would cause the French to rally round Bonaparte and would only strengthen his position.
War against France should be waged only if Bonaparte attempted to keep the booty won from Austria for himself or even if he did no more than attempt to create a Central Italian Kingdom for his cousin Jerome. Should neither of these contingencies arise and should the Prussian government still show a tendency to incite the people into a war against France, then democracy must do everything possible to counter such incitement. However, neutrality was not sufficient, the historic task of Prussia in the interests of the German nation was to send its army against Denmark with the announcement: “If Bonaparte insists on altering the map of Europe in the South in the name of the principle of nationality, then we shall do the same thing in the North. If Bonaparte liberates Italy we shall liberate Schleswig-Holstein. Should Prussia continue to do nothing it would prove thereby that the German monarchy was no longer capable of a great national deed.
As a result of this program, Lassalle was extolled as a sort of national prophet who foresaw the later policy of Bismarck, but in reality the dynastic war of conquest which Bismarck waged in 1864 to annex Schleswig-Holstein had nothing in common with the revolutionary national war which Lassalle urged in 1859 for the liberation of Schleswig-Holstein. Lassalle was well aware that the Prince Regent would not take over the task sketched out for him, and that alone gave him the right to make a proposal which coincided with Germany’s national interests even if it immediately turned into a reproach against the government. He was justified in drawing the excited masses away from the wrong path by showing them the right one.
However, apart from the arguments he put forward in his pamphlet, he was moved by “ulterior motives,” as he explained in his letters to Marx and Engels. He knew that the Prince Regent was about to enter the Italian war on the side of Austria, and he was not greatly perturbed about this because he assumed that the war would be badly conducted and that it would be possible to make revolutionary capital out of the changing fortunes which would inevitably result, but only on condition that the national movement could be persuaded from the beginning to regard the Prince Regent’s war as a dynastic affair without any national justification. In Lassalle’s opinion an unpopular war against France would be “an immense piece of luck” for the revolution, whilst a popular war under dynastic leadership might result in all the counter-revolutionary consequences which he had described so eloquently in his pamphlet.
From his point of view, therefore, the tactic which Engels proposed in his pamphlet was more or less incomprehensible. From the military point of view Engels had proved brilliantly that Germany did not need the Po to defend itself, and his subsequent contention that in case of war the Po must nevertheless be held, that is to say, that the German nation was in duty bound to support Austria against a French attack, seemed highly contestable to Lassalle, for it was perfectly obvious that a successful repulse of Bonaparte’s attack on the part of Austria could have only counter-revolutionary consequences. If Austria, supported by the German League, was successful, then it was clear that nothing could prevent it maintaining its grip on Upper Italy, just the thing Engels so strongly condemned, and the Habsburg hegemony in Germany would be strengthened and the miserable German League politics galvanized into new life. And even assuming that a victorious Austria would overthrow the French usurper, it would do so only in order to replace him by the old Bourbon regime and that would serve neither French nor German national interests, not to mention the interests of the revolution.
In order to understand the point of view which Marx and Engels advanced one must realize that they had their “ulterior motives” no less than Lassalle, and both for the same reason, as Engels indicates in a letter to Marx: “It is absolutely impossible to come forward openly in Germany itself, either politically or polemically, in the interests of our party.” However, the “ulterior motives” of the two friends in London are not so clear as those of Lassalle because although his letters to them are still extant, their letters to him are not, but still, their motives can be recognized in the main from their general publicist activities at the time. In a second pamphlet entitled, Savoy, Nice and the Rhine, which Engels issued about a year later against the annexation of Savoy and Nice by Bonaparte, he clearly describes the standpoint from which his first pamphlet was written.
First of all, both Marx and Engels believed that the national movement in Germany was a really genuine one. They believed that it had developed “naturally, instinctively and directly” and that it promised to sweep the unwilling governments along with it. For the moment both Austrian rule in Upper Italy and the Italian movement for independence were a matter of indifference to this national movement. The instinct of the people demanded war against Louis Bonaparte as the representative of the traditions of the First French Empire, and this instinct was right.
Secondly, they assumed that Germany was really seriously threatened by the Franco-Russian alliance. In the New York Tribune Marx pointed out that the finances and the internal political situation of the Second Empire had arrived at a critical point and that only a foreign war could lengthen the life of the coup d’etat regime in France and, at the same time, the life of the counter-revolution in Europe. He feared that the Bonapartist liberation of Italy was merely a pretext to keep France itself in chains, to subjugate Italy to the coup d’etat regime, to shift “the natural frontiers” of France further into Germany, to turn Austria into a tool of Russia, and to jockey the peoples of Europe into a war on behalf of the legitimate and illegitimate counter-revolution. As Engels pointed out in his second pamphlet, he regarded the action of the German League in taking up the cudgels on behalf of Austria as the decisive moment for Russia to appear on the scene in order to win the left bank of the Rhine for France in exchange for a free hand in Turkey.
And finally, Marx and Engels assumed that the German governments, and in particular the wiseacres in Berlin, who had joyfully welcomed the Peace of Basle, which gave France the left bank of the Rhine, and had secretly rubbed their hands in delight when the Austrians were defeated at Ulm and Austerlitz, would leave Austria in the lurch. In their opinion the German governments needed goading on by the national movement, and what they then expected was described by Engels in a passage of a letter to Lassalle which the latter quoted in full in his reply: “Long live a war in which we are attacked simultaneously by the French and the Russians, for in such a desperate situation, with disaster immediately threatening all parties, from those which are now ruling to Zitz and Blum, would exhaust themselves and the nation would then finally turn to the most energetic party in order to save itself.” Lassalle answered that he quite agreed with this and that he was wearing himself out in Berlin in order to prove that if the Prussian government declared war it would be playing into the hands of the revolution, but only on condition that from the very beginning the people regarded the war as a counter-revolutionary scheme of the Holy Alliance. If things turned out as Engels anticipated then the German League system, Austrian domination in Upper Italy and the French coup d’etat regime would all be destroyed, and only from this point of view did he find it possible to understand Engels’ tactic completely.
All this shows clearly that there were no fundamental differences of opinion between the disputants, but only, as Marx put it a year later, “opposing judgments on given conditions.” There was no difference of opinion between them, either in their national or their revolutionary opinions. For all of them the final aim was the emancipation of the proletariat, and the absolutely necessary condition for the achievement of this aim was the formation of big national States. As Germans they were all primarily interested in securing German national unity, and the absolutely necessary condition for this was the abolition of the multi-dynastic system in Germany. Just because they all had national interests, none of them supported the German governments and all of them wished for their defeat. The brilliant idea that, in case of a war between the governments, the working class should abandon its own independent policy and place its fate in the hands of the ruling classes did not occur to any of them, for their national spirit was much too authentic and deeply rooted for them to be deceived by dynastic slogans.
However, the situation was complicated by the fact that the heritage of the revolutionary years began to be liquidated in dynastic changes, and to find the correct attitude in this mixture of revolutionary and reactionary aims was less a question of fundamental principles than a question of facts. Neither standpoint was subjected to the acid test of fulfilment, but the very development which prevented this showed clearly enough that on the whole Lassalle had judged the “given conditions” more accurately than Marx and Engels. The two friends had to pay for having lost touch with conditions in Germany for so long. They had also over-estimated, if not the lust of Tsarism for conquest, then at least the practical possibilities at its disposal for sating that lust. Lassalle may have exaggerated when he declared that the national movement in Germany was due to nothing but traditional hatred of France, but in any case, the movement was certainly not revolutionary, as was later demonstrated by the pitiful outcome of its labours – the miscarriage known as the German Nationalverein.
Perhaps Lassalle also under-estimated the Russian danger. In his pamphlet he treated it as an item of secondary importance, but in any case, the danger was not an imminent one, as was shown when, exactly as Lassalle had prophesied, the Prince Regent of Prussia mobilized the Prussian Army and called upon the German League to mobilize the troops of the smaller States also. This military demonstration proved sufficient to make both the false Bonaparte and the Tsar very conciliatory. Vigorously encouraged by a Russian general who immediately appeared at the headquarters of the French Army, Bonaparte offered peace to the defeated Emperor of Austria and half-abandoned his official program, agreeing to content himself with Lombardy whilst the province of Venice remained under Austrian sway. He was not in a position to wage a European war on his own, and Russia was held in check by the troubles in Poland, the difficulties it was experiencing in connection with the emancipation of the serfs, and the blows it had received during the Crimean War, from which it had by no means fully recovered.
It was the Peace of Villa Franca which settled the dispute on revolutionary tactics in connection with the Italian war, but Lassalle returned to the matter again and again in his letters to Marx and Engels, and insisted that he had been right and that the course of events had demonstrated the correctness of his views. As we are not in possession of their answers and as they did not set out their own views in a manifesto as they had intended, it is impossible to weigh the arguments and counter-arguments. Lassalle could point with justification to the actual course of events, the actual development of the movement for Italian unity, the abolition of the Central Italian dynasties by the revolt of their ill-treated “subjects,” the conquest of Sicily and Naples by Garibaldi and his volunteers, and the big spoke that all this had put in Bonaparte’s wheel, ruining all his plans, but in the last resort it was the Savoy dynasty which skimmed the cream from the milk.
Unfortunately the dispute was aggravated by the circumstance that Marx was unable to overcome his mistrust of Lassalle although he was honestly anxious to win him over completely, declaring him to be an “energetic fellow” who would not temporize with the bourgeois party. Although his Heraclitus was a little crude, it was better than anything the Democrats could boast of. Still, even when Lassalle approached him with an open heart and an outstretched hand, Marx always felt that diplomacy was necessary in his dealings with him. “Clever management” was necessary, he declared, in order to keep Lassalle up to the scratch, and the least incident was sufficient to awaken all his old suspicions.
For instance, Friedländer renewed his offer that Marx should contribute to Die Presse in Vienna. The offer was again made through Lassalle and this time without any conditions, but finally Friedländer let the matter drop, whereupon Marx immediately suspected Lassalle of having deliberately spoiled his prospects. And again, when the printing of Marx’s works on political economy was delayed from the beginning of February to the end of May, he was quite sure that it was one of Lassalle’s “tricks” and promised that he would not forget it. As a matter of fact the delay was caused solely by the dilatory publisher, and even then the latter had a fairly good excuse, pointing out that he had postponed the printing in order to get out the pamphlets of Engels and Lassalle, which were of greater urgency as they dealt with topical matters.
The ambiguous character of the Italian war renewed old antagonisms and brought new confusion into the ranks of the exiles.
Whilst the Italian and French fugitives opposed the mixing up of the Italian movement for independence with the coup d’etat regime in France, many of the German fugitives were anxious to repeat the folly which had already cost them ten years of banishment. However, they were very far removed from Lassalle’s standpoint and even effusively in favour of the “New Era,” which they believed to have opened up in Germany by the grace of the Prince Regent and in which they hoped to share. As Freiligrath declared contemptuously, they were bubbling over with a desire to be pardoned and were eager to perform any patriotic action if only “His Royal Highness” would fulfil Kinkel’s prophecy before the courtmartial in Rastatt and draw the sword to establish German unity.
Kinkel once again sprang into the breach and made himself the mouthpiece of this tendency and on January 1st, 1859, he began issuing a weekly publication, Der Hermann whose antediluvian title immediately betrayed the ideas it preached. To quote Freiligrath again, it immediately became the favourite organ of all those “homesick heroes” who were trembling with impatience to receive permission to plunge into “the barrack square liberalism” which now prevailed in Germany, but just for this reason it became very popular, so much so, in fact, that it killed Die Neue Zeit, a little working-class paper issued by Edgar Bauer on behalf of the Workers Educational League. Die Neue Zeit lived chiefly on the credit granted to it by its printer, and it was naturally lost when Kinkel offered the latter the far more profitable and reliable order for the printing of Der Hermann. However, Kinkel’s shabby trick did not meet with unanimous approval even amongst the bourgeois fugitives, and even the Free Trader Faucher formed a finance committee in order to save Die Neue Zeit. These efforts were successful and Die Neue Zeit lived on under the new title of Das Volk and Elard Biskamp became its editor. Biskamp was a fugitive from the Electorate of Hesse and he had contributed to Die Neue Zeit from the provinces, but now he gave up his post as a teacher to devote his whole time to the paper.
Shortly afterwards, accompanied by Liebknecht, he visited Marx in an attempt to persuade him to contribute to the paper. Since the dispute in 1850 Marx had maintained no relations with the Workers Educational League and he had even expressed disapproval when Liebknecht had afterwards resumed his connections with the League, though Liebknecht’s contention that a workers’ party without workers was a contradiction in terms had much in its favour. However, it is not difficult to understand that Marx did not succeed in overcoming his unpleasant memories immediately and he “startled” a deputation from the League by informing them that he and Engels had received their mandate as representatives of the proletarian party from no one but themselves and that it had been confirmed by the general and exclusive hatred which all the parties of the old world bore towards them.
At first Marx was none too sympathetic towards the request that he should contribute to Das Volk, but he realized that Kinkel could not be permitted to have things all his own way and therefore he agreed that Liebknecht should assist Biskamp in the editorial work, although he refused to contribute to a small paper himself, or in fact to any exclusively party paper which was not edited by Engels and himself. However, he promised to assist in the distribution of the paper, to place printed articles from the New York Tribune at its disposal and to assist the editors with written and oral notes and hints. Writing to Engels, he declared that he regarded Das Volk as a “boulevard sheet” like the Paris Vorwärts and the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung, but still, a time might come when it would be useful to have a London newspaper at their disposal and Biskamp deserved support because, after all, he was working for nothing.
When the “boulevard sheet” began to make itself a nuisance to Kinkel, Marx was far too much of a fighter not to throw his weight wholeheartedly into the scales on its behalf. He gave a great deal of time and energy in order to keep its head above water, not so much by contributions, for according to his own account they consisted of no more than a few short notes, as by his efforts to provide the means for at least a hand-to-mouth existence for the paper, which appeared in a four-page edition and a fairly big format. Those few amongst the party members and sympathizers who were able to spare a little money were mobilized and in particular Engels, who also supported the paper industriously with his pen, writing military-technical articles on the Italian war and a valuable criticism of the recently-published scientific work of his friend, although the third and fourth articles of this review were never published, because by the end of August the paper was unable to appear any longer. A most disagreeable practical result of Marx’s efforts to keep the paper alive was that the printer, a certain Fidelio Hollinger, made him responsible for the outstanding printing bill. It was an unjust demand, but “in view of the fact that the whole Kinkel gang is only waiting for an opportunity to create a public scandal, and because many of the people connected with the paper are not suitable for facing the publicity of the courts,” Marx compounded the debt with a payment of five pounds.
Another heritage which Das Volk left him cost him incomparably greater sacrifices and trouble. On the 1st of April, 1859, Karl Vogt, who was living in Geneva, sent a political program for the German democracy towards the Italian war to various German fugitives in London, including Freiligrath, at the same time appealing to them to co-operate in the publication of a new weekly in Switzerland in the spirit of the program. Vogt was a nephew of the brothers Follen, who had played a prominent part in the Burschenschaft movement, and he had been one of the leaders of the left-wing in the Frankfort Assembly together with Robert Blum; in fact, one of the last acts of the dying parliament had been to appoint him one of the five Reich Regents. When he sent out his political program he was a Professor of Geology and, together with Fazy, who was the leader of the Geneva Radicals, he represented Geneva in the Swiss Diet. Vogt kept his memory alive in Germany by zealous agitation for materialism on the basis of natural science, a very limited form of materialism which went hopelessly wrong immediately it ventured into the historical field. He propagated his opinions with what Ruge not unjustly termed “crude schoolboyishness” and he sought to capture the prurient fancy of the Philistines with cynical phrases. One of his most popular phrases was, “Ideas stand in the same relation to the brain as bile does to the liver or urine to the kidneys.” This proved a little too much even for his hitherto staunchest supporter, Ludwig Büchner, who then dissociated himself from this sort of “enlightenment work.”
Approaching Marx with the idea of obtaining his verdict on Vogt’s political program, Freiligrath received the laconic answer: “Tub-thumping,” but writing to Engels, Marx dealt in somewhat greater detail with the program: “Germany abandons its non-German possessions. Does not support Austria. French despotism is temporary, Austrian despotism permanent. Both despots are permitted to bleed to death (whereby a certain tendency in favour of Bonaparte is visible). Armed neutrality for Germany. A revolutionary movement in Germany is nor to be thought of in our lifetime, as Vogt is informed from the most reliable source. In consequence, immediately Austria is ruined by Bonaparte, a moderate liberalist-nationalist development will begin in the Fatherland under the auspices of the Prince Regent, and Vogt may even become court jester.” The suspicion that Vogt sympathized with Bonaparte which is indicated in this letter became a certainty when, although he did not issue the proposed weekly, he wrote a number of studies on the European situation which unmistakably demonstrated his intellectual relationship with the Bonapartist slogans.
Vogt also sent his program to Karl Blind, a fugitive from Baden who had been friendly with Marx since the revolutionary years and had contributed an article to the Neue Rheinische Revue, but had never belonged to the inner circle of Marx’s friends and political supporters. In fact, Blind was one of those solemn local patriots and republicans who regarded their own little “Canton Baden” as the centre of the universe. They were often lashed by Engels’ wit, who found that the opinions of these “Statesmen” usually boiled down, for all their lofty grandeur, into an immense respect for their own persons. Blind now approached Marx and informed him that Vogt was being subsidized by Bonaparte and that he, Blind, could provide proof for these treasonable activities. Vogt had attempted to bribe a South German writer with 30,000 guilders and had also made attempts at bribery in London. In the summer of 1858 a conference had taken place in Geneva between Fazy and his friends and Prince Jerome Bonaparte to discuss the Italian war, and it had been decided that the Russian Grand Duke Constantine should be made King of Hungary.
Marx mentioned these revelations to Biskamp when the latter visited him in connection with Das Volk, adding that it was a South German weakness to lay the colours on heavily. Without obtaining Marx’s permission, Biskamp used some of Blind’s revelations in a satirical article in Das Volk in which “the Reich Regent” was denounced as “a traitor to the Reich,” and he sent a copy of the number in which the article appeared to Vogt. The latter answered the attack in the Bieler Handelskurier with a “Warning” to the workers against a “clique of fugitives” who had formerly been known in Swiss exile under various uncomplimentary names, including “The Vagabonds,” and which had now gathered in London under its chief Marx in order to hatch conspiracies amongst the German workers, conspiracies which were known from the beginning to the Continental police and only led the workers into a trap. Marx did not permit “this filthy attack” to distress him unduly and he contented himself with holding it up to general contempt in Das Volk.
At the beginning of June, Marx went to Manchester to collect funds among friends and sympathizers there for the support of Das Volk. During his absence Liebknecht discovered the galleys of a pamphlet attacking Vogt and containing the revelations made by Blind. The compositor Vögele informed him that the manuscript of the pamphlet had been handed in by Blind himself and that the corrections on the galleys were in Blind’s handwriting. A few days later Liebknecht received a copy of the printed pamphlet from the printer Hollinger and he sent it to the Allgemeine Zeitung in Augsburg, whose correspondent he had been for a number of years. In a covering letter he informed the editor that the pamphlet was the work of a reputable German fugitive and its accusations could all be substantiated.
The Allgemeine Zeitung published the material and Vogt then sued it for libel whereupon the paper turned to Liebknecht to obtain the promised proofs. Liebknecht in his turn approached Blind, but the latter declared that the troubles of the Allgemeine Zeitung had nothing to do with him and even denied being the author of the pamphlet, though he was compelled to admit that he had communicated the facts contained in it to Marx and that he himself had published some of them in The Free Press, one of Urquhart’s papers. Naturally, Marx bore no responsibility in the matter at all and Liebknecht had quite made up his mind that Marx would disavow him, but the latter thought it his duty to do everything possible to expose Vogt, particularly as the latter had dragged him into the affair quite gratuitously. But even his attempts to extract an admission of authorship from Blind failed owing to the latter’s obstinacy, and he had to content himself with a written statement from the compositor Vögele to the effect that the original manuscript had been in Blind’s handwriting, which was thoroughly familiar to him, and that the pamphlet had been set up and printed in Hollinger’s printing works. Naturally, this proved nothing at all against Vogt.
Before the case came up for trial in Augsburg the Schiller celebrations, planned for the 10th of November, 1859, on the centenary of the great poet’s birth, led to a new dispute in the ranks of the London exiles. To quote Lassalle, this day was celebrated by all Germans both at home and abroad as evidence of “the cultural unity” of the German people and as “a joyful promise of national resurrection.” Celebrations were also arranged in London and a great meeting was to take place at the Crystal Palace, the proceeds to be devoted to founding a Schiller Memorial Institute with a library and a course of lectures beginning annually on the anniversary of the poet’s birth. Unfortunately, however, the Kinkel faction succeeded in getting control of the preparations and it exploited them in the most hateful and petty fashion in its own narrow interests. This group invited an official of the Prussian Embassy in London to grace the celebrations by his presence although the man had earned a very unenviable reputation in the days of the Cologne Communist Trial, and at the same time it did its best to keep the proletarian elements amongst the exiles away from the meeting. A certain Bettziech, who used the pen-name Beta, was Kinkel’s chief literary hodcarrier and sang his praises in the most nauseating fashion in Die Gartenlaube whilst at the same time ridiculing the members of the Workers Educational League, who intended to take part in the celebrations.
Under the circumstances, therefore, both Marx and Engels were unpleasantly surprised when Freiligrath consented to be present at the celebrations and to recite a poem after Kinkel had delivered the main speech of the evening. Marx warned his friend against having anything to do with what he termed “the Kinkel demonstration” and Freiligrath admitted that he had his own misgivings and that perhaps the celebrations were being exploited to flatter Kinkel’s personal vanity, but for all that he thought that as a German poet he could not very well absent himself from the celebrations, and even if the Kinkel people were trying to misuse the affair for their own purposes, that was not the aim of the meeting. However, during the preliminary arrangements a number of “peculiar incidents” occurred and made Freiligrath feel (despite his deeply-rooted antipathy to seeing anything but the best in men and things, and that from the best possible angle) that after all Marx might be right, though he determined to go on with the matter because he thought that he could work against “certain intentions” better by his presence than his absence.
Marx was not in agreement with this and Engels still less so, and the latter gave vent to his feelings in angry words about Freiligrath’s “poetic vain gloriousness and his officiousness, coupled with sycophancy” although of course this was going much too far. When the Schiller celebration finally took place, it proved to be something more than the usual superficial festivities with which the German Philistine is accustomed to celebrate the memory of the great thinkers and poets who have passed over his nightcap like high-flying cranes, and it found an echo even on the extremist left wing.
When Marx complained about Freiligrath to Lassalle, the latter replied: “Perhaps it would have been better had he kept away from the meeting itself, but in any case, he did well to compose the cantata. It was by far the finest thing that appeared in connection with the celebrations.” In Zurich Herwegh composed a special song for the occasion, and the centenary speech in Paris was delivered by Schily. In London the Workers Educational League took part in the meeting at the Crystal Palace after having salved its conscience the day before by a special Robert Blum memorial meeting at which Liebknecht spoke. In Manchester the celebrations were organized by a young poet, Siebel, who came from the Wuppertal and was a distant relative of Engels and the latter saw nothing to object to in his activities. Writing to Marx, Engels declared that he had nothing to do with the affair and that Siebel intended to deliver the oration, “the ordinary sort of declamation of course, but quite decent. The fellow is also organizing a performance of Wallenstein’s Camp. I was present at two of the rehearsals and if they can summon up sufficient audacity, it ought to go off all right.” Later on Engels became President of the Schiller Memorial Institute which was founded in Manchester in connection with the celebrations there and Wilhelm Wolff mentioned it in his will for a good round sum.
Whilst all this was going on and a certain tension was making itself felt between Marx and Freiligrath, the Augsburg court heard Vogt’s action against the Allgemeine Zeitung. It was dismissed with costs against the plaintiff, but the latter’s legal defeat developed into a moral victory. The defendants, the editors and publishers of the Allgemeine Zeitung, were unable to bring forward any proof in support of their charges against Vogt, and they contented themselves with a defence which Marx described, all too mildly, as “politically unsavoury cant.” In fact, their attitude was worthy of the severest condemnation not only politically, but also morally, and its trump card was that the personal honour of a political opponent was fair game. How, inquired the defence, could Bavarian judges give a verdict in favour of a man who had violently attacked the Bavarian government and who was compelled to live abroad owing to his political activities? If the court found against the defendants, the social democratic elements in Germany, who had first sought to put their dreams of freedom into execution eleven years before with the murder of Generals Latour, Gagern and Auerswald and of Prince Lichnowsky, would burst into shouts of approval. If Vogt succeeded in his action there would be no reason at all why Klapka, Kossuth, Pulski, Teleki and Mazzini should not appear before the court with equal justification and demand a verdict against their political enemies.
Despite the low cunning of this defence, or perhaps just because of it, the judges were impressed. However, their legal consciences were not quite elastic enough to permit them to give a verdict for defendants who had so utterly failed to substantiate their charges, but they were also not vigorous enough to do justice to a man who was hated by the Bavarian government and the Bavarian people. The Public Prosecutor offered a way out of the quandary and this the judges seized on eagerly. Under formal pretexts they sent the case for trial by jury, a proceeding which meant absolutely certain defeat for Vogt because at such a trial no evidence was required to substantiate the truth of the charges against him and the jurymen were not called upon to advance any reasons for their decision.
Vogt did not take up the hopeless challenge and he is not to be blamed for that. In any case, his situation was not unfavorable for he could now bask in the sun of double martyrdom: not only had he been falsely accused and his accusers unable to substantiate their charges against him, but the courts had refused to give him justice. One or two accompanying circumstances even heightened his triumph. For instance, it made a most embarrassing impression on public opinion when a letter from Biskamp to the Allgemeine Zeitung was read in court. Biskamp was really the chief accuser of Vogt, but in this letter he admitted that he had no real proofs for his charges, advanced a few vague suppositions and concluded by asking the Allgemeine Zeitung whether in view of the fact that Das Volk was going out of existence it would care to engage him as a second London correspondent beside Liebknecht. Even after the trial the Allgemeine Zeitung kept up its vague attacks on Vogt, declaring that he had been condemned by his own people, by Marx and by Freiligrath, and everyone knew that Marx was a keener and more profound thinker than Vogt whilst Freiligrath towered above him as far as political morality was concerned.
In the written statement for the defense filed by the editor Kolb, Freiligrath was declared to be a contributor to Das Volk and one of the accusers of Vogt. These statements had been made by Kolb owing to a misunderstanding arising out of one of Liebknecht’s letters, in which the latter had not expressed himself any too clearly. When the report of the Allgemeine Zeitung on the trial arrived in London, Freiligrath immediately sent off a short statement to the effect that he had never been a contributor to Das Volk and that his name had been used against Vogt without his knowledge and permission. In view of the fact that Vogt and Fazy were intimate friends and that Freiligrath’s employment by the Swiss bank depended on Fazy, disagreeable conclusions were drawn from this action, but they would have been justified only if it had been Freiligrath’s duty to come forward openly against Vogt, which was not the case. Freiligrath had nothing whatever to do with the matter and he was quite entitled to protest against Kolb’s attempt to shelter himself behind his name when things began to go wrong. However, the laconic and terse form in which Freiligrath’s statement was couched left open the possibility of interpreting it as a disavowal of Marx also, and the latter found it strange that the statement contained not the slightest indication which might have corrected the impression that it was intended as a personal breach with him and a public disavowal of the party. The form of Freiligrath’s statement may very well have been due to a certain irritation at the fact that, in the name of the party, Marx had wanted to forbid him publishing a harmless poem in praise of Schiller, whilst he, Freiligrath, was expected to plunge into the breach immediately on behalf of Marx when the latter had begun an unnecessary quarrel.
Appearances were made still worse when Blind published a declaration in the Allgemeine Zeitung condemning Vogt’s policy unreservedly but declaring at the same time that it was a deliberate lie to say that he had written the pamphlet against Vogt. The statements of two witnesses were added to his letter: the printer Hollinger declared that the statement of the compositor Vögele that the pamphlet had been written by Blind and printed in Hollinger’s works was “a malicious invention,” whilst a second compositor named Wiehe made a statement corroborating Hollinger’s evidence.
The differences between Marx and Freiligrath were then aggravated by an unfortunate incident. Kinkel’s literary hack, Beta, published an article in Die Gartenlaube praising the poet Freiligrath to the sky and ending with a scurrilous attack upon Marx, who was described as a malicious disseminator of poisonous hatred who had robbed Freiligrath of the power of song, of his freedom and of his character. Since he had come into contact with Marx’s searing breath, the poet had sung but little.
However, after one or two lively exchanges by letter between Marx and Freiligrath, all these things looked as though they would be cleared up and buried with the year 1859, when they were dragged up in the New Year by Vogt who seemed anxious to prove the truth of the old proverb that when a donkey is too well off it insists on venturing over thin ice.
In the New Year of 1860 Vogt published a book entitled, My Action against the Allgemeine Zeitung. It contained a stenographic report of the court proceedings and copies of all the written statements and other documents brought forward in connection with the case. All the documents were quoted in full and with perfect accuracy.
However, apart from all this the book contained a re-hash in still greater detail of all the old nonsense about the “Vagabonds” Vogt had previously published in the Bieler Handelskurier. Marx was described as the leader of a band of blackmailers whose members lived by “so compromising people in the Fatherland” that they were compelled to purchase the silence of the band. “Not one letter, but hundreds of letters have been sent to people in Germany threatening to denounce their participation in this or that revolutionary action unless a sum of money specified was sent to a given address by a certain date,” declared Vogt. That was the worst, but by no means the only libel against Marx published in the book. Although Vogt’s story was thoroughly mendacious it was so mixed up with all sorts of half-truths concerning life in exile that a fairly exact knowledge of the details was necessary in order to recognize its dishonesty immediately, and naturally, the German Philistine was the last person in the world likely to be in possession of such detailed knowledge.
The book therefore made a great sensation in Germany and it was welcomed with enthusiasm by the liberal press. The National Zeitung published two long leading articles on the basis of Vogt’s statements and when a copy of the paper arrived in London towards the end of January it created tremendous excitement in the Marx household and Frau Marx in particular was deeply shaken. As no copy of the book could be obtained in London, Marx hurried to Freiligrath and asked him whether he had received a copy from his “friend” Vogt. Freiligrath was deeply offended and answered that Vogt was not his friend and that he had not received a copy of the book.
Although Marx was always unwilling to bother about answering scurrilous attacks upon himself, no matter how vile they might be, he realized that this time an answer was absolutely necessary, and even before a copy of Vogt’s book arrived in London, he decided to sue the National Zeitung for libel. The paper had accused him of a number of criminal and infamous actions before a public whose political prejudices made it inclined to believe anything against him, no matter how monstrous it might be, though owing to his eleven years of absence from Germany it had no facts at all on which to judge his personal character. He felt that quite apart from political considerations he must bring the National Zeitung to book for defamation of character out of regard for his wife and children, and he reserved himself the satisfaction of making a literary answer to Vogt.
Marx first of all proceeded to call Blind to account on the assumption that the fellow actually held proofs against Vogt, but was unwilling to produce them out of the personal consideration which one vulgar democrat owed to another. Apparently Marx was wrong and Engels probably came nearer the truth when he declared that Blind had invented the details of Vogt’s alleged attempts at bribery in order to make himself important, but that when the affair had become uncomfortable he had decided to deny everything stoutly, thereby involving himself more and more deeply in contradictions. On the 4th of February Marx had an announcement published in English in The Free Press which called untrue the statements of Blind, Hollinger and Wiehe that the anonymous pamphlet had not been printed in Hollinger’s plant. It also declared that Karl Blind was an infamous liar, adding that if the latter felt himself injured he could seek recourse to the English courts. Blind was not such a fool as to accept this challenge and he tried to defend himself by publishing a long statement in the Allgemeine Zeitung strongly condemning Vogt and again imputing bribery to him, but denying that he, Blind, had written the pamphlet in question.
Marx was not content with this and he succeeded in hauling Wiehe before a magistrate and securing from him an affidavit to the effect that he, Wiehe, had repaged the type of the pamphlet for reprinting in Das Volk, that he too had recognized Blind’s handwriting in the corrections on the galleys, and that his first statement had been enticed from him by Hollinger and Blind, the former having offered him money and the latter future favours. With this Blind became liable to proceedings under English criminal law and Ernest Jones offered to secure his arrest on the basis of Wiehe’s affidavit, but he pointed out that once an information had been laid it would be impossible to go back on the matter and that if any attempt was made to compose the affair afterwards, he, Jones, as a lawyer, would be committing a punishable offence.
Out of consideration for Blind’s family Marx did not want the matter to go so far and he sent a copy of Wiehe’s affidavit to Louis Blanc, who was Blind’s friend, together with a letter explaining that on account of Blind’s family he, Marx, would be very sorry to have to lay an information against the man though he thoroughly deserved it. This letter had its effect and on the 15th of February, 1860, The Daily Telegraph, which had in the meantime repeated the scurrilous libels of the National Zeitung, published a notice to the effect that one Schaible, a friend of Blind’s family, had in fact been the author of the anonymous pamphlet and not Blind. The manoeuvre was transparent enough, but Marx let it go at that because he had won his point and cleared himself of all responsibility for the pamphlet.
Before launching his counter-attack against Vogt he made an attempt to bring about a reconciliation with Freiligrath, to whom he sent a copy of his own statement against Blind and a copy of Wiehe’s affidavit, but he received no reply. Despite this rebuff he made another attempt to convince Freiligrath of the importance of the Vogt case for the historical vindication of the party and for its later position in Germany. He did his best to dispel any resentment which Freiligrath might have harboured against him and declared, “If I have offended you in any way I shall be glad at any time to make amends. Nothing human is foreign to me.” He was, he said, quite able to understand how extremely unpleasant the whole thing must be for Freiligrath in his present situation, but he, Freiligrath, would realize at. least that it was not possible to keep his name out of the affair altogether. “We are both well aware that for years each of us in his own way, from the most unselfish motives and subordinating all private interests, has held aloft the banner of the classe la plus laborieuse et la plus miserable above the heads of the Philistines, and it would be a petty crime against history if we were to drift apart now on account of trifling matters due in any case to misunderstandings.” The letter closed by expressing the warmest feelings of friendship for Freiligrath.
Freiligrath accepted the hand of friendship which was extended to him, but not quite so warmly as the “heartless” Marx had offered it. He declared that in the future as in the past he would remain loyal to the classe la plus laborieuse et la plus miserable and that he would gladly maintain his old relations with Marx as a friend and a comrade, but, he added, “I have had nothing to do with the party now for seven years (since the dissolution of the Communist League). I have never attended its meetings, and its decisions and its actions were agreed upon without my participation. In reality, therefore, my connections with the party were broken off long ago. We were never in any doubt about it; it was a sort of silent agreement between us. And I can only say that I still feel that I was right. My nature, like the nature of any poet, needs freedom. The party is a cage and it is easier to sing outside it, even for the party, than inside it. I was a poet of the proletariat and of the revolution before I became a member of the Communist League and of the editorial board of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. In the future too I want to remain independent, to belong to myself alone and to order my actions as I think fit.” Freiligrath’s old dislike of the routine of political agitation expressed itself again in this letter and it even caused him to see things which had no existence in fact. The party meetings he had never attended and the party decisions and actions which had been taken without his participation, had in fact never taken place at all.
Marx pointed this out in his reply and after he had once again done everything he could to dispel all possible misunderstandings, he referred to a favourite saying of Freiligrath in the words: “The Philistines are on us, will always be a better slogan for us than to be amongst Philistines. I have explained my attitude frankly and I hope that you are in general agreement with me. I have also tried to clear up the misunderstanding that when I refer to the party I mean an organization which died eight years ago, or an editorial board which broke up twelve years ago. When I refer to the party I do so in a historical sense.” Marx’s words were both conciliatory and to the point, for in a historical sense the two men belonged together despite all differences. Marx’s attitude did him all honour, for in view of the villainous attacks which Vogt had made on him, he might reasonably have demanded that Freiligrath should openly dispel any appearance of solidarity with the traducer. However, Freiligrath contented himself with renewing their friendly relations and for the rest he maintained a reserved attitude which Marx henceforth facilitated by avoiding as far as possible any mention of Freiligrath’s name in the matter.
A discussion with Lassalle in the Vogt affair ended differently. Marx had last written to Lassalle in November of the previous year in connection with their dispute in the Italian question and, to use his own expression, its tone had been “very blunt.” Lassalle had not replied to this letter and Marx assumed that it had wounded his feelings, but when the National Zeitung attacked him Marx naturally felt the need of some connections in Berlin and he requested Engels to smooth things over with Lassalle, who was after all “a first-rate fellow” compared with the others. This was indirectly a reference to a Prussian Assessor named Fischel who had introduced himself to Marx as an Urquhartite and offered his services in connection with the German press. Marx sent greetings to Lassalle through Fischel, but Lassalle refused to have anything to do with “the incompetent and ignorant fellow” who, irrespective of how he may have conducted himself in London, belonged to the literary bodyguard of the Duke of Coburg in Germany, a man who had a deservedly evil reputation. Shortly after this Fischel met with a fatal accident.
Before Engels had been able to comply with Marx’s request, Lassalle himself wrote explaining his long silence with lack of time and demanding energetically that something should be done in “the deplorable Vogt business” which, he declared, had caused a big sensation in Germany. Naturally, those who knew Marx would not be deceived by Vogt’s story, but those who did not might very well be impressed because it was cleverly supported by half-truths which the less discerning might very well accept as the whole truth. Lassalle was not prepared to acquit Marx of all responsibility in the matter because he had accepted such serious accusations against Vogt merely on the word of a miserable liar like Blind. Unless he was really in possession of some proofs against Vogt, Marx should begin his defence by withdrawing the accusation of bribery against Vogt. Naturally, he, Lassalle, was well aware that it would require a great measure of self-discipline to do justice to a man who had been guilty of such monstrous and baseless slanders, but Marx must nevertheless give this proof of his good faith unless he wanted to render his defence ineffective from the beginning. And then Lassalle objected strongly to Liebknecht’s activities on behalf of such a reactionary paper as the Allgemeine Zeitung as they would cause astonishment amongst the general public and indignation against the party.
When Marx received this letter he had still not seen Vogt’s book and was therefore not in a position to realize the situation fully, but it is not difficult to understand that Lassalle’s suggestion that he should begin his defence with an amende honorable for Vogt did not please him, particularly as he had more reliable evidence of the latter’s Bonapartist intrigues than the vague statements of Blind. Nor was he able to agree with Lassalle’s severe condemnation of Liebknecht’s connection with the Allgemeine Zeitung. Marx was certainly not a friend of this paper and whilst the Rheinische Zeitung had existed he had fought it energetically, but as counter-revolutionary as it might be on other fields, it at least opened its columns to various points of view with regard to foreign politics, and in this respect it enjoyed a privileged position in the German press.
Marx therefore answered somewhat ill-humouredly that the Allgemeine Zeitung was just as good as the Volkszeitung. He would sue the National Zeitung for libel and write an answer to Vogt, but in the introduction he would make it clear that he didn’t give a damn for the opinion of the German public. On his part Lassalle then took the irritable words of Marx too seriously and protested against a democratic paper like the Volkszeitung being mentioned in the same breath with “the most disreputable and shameless rag in Germany.” In the main he warned Marx not to begin proceedings against the National Zeitung, or at least not before he had himself answered Vogt, and concluded by expressing the hope that Marx would not feel hurt by his letter and would accept an assurance of his “honest and warm friendship.”
Lassalle’s hope was ill-founded. In a letter to Engels, Marx used the strongest terms about Lassalle’s letter and even recalled “the official accusations” which Lewy had brought to London, though he did so in order to show that he had not harboured any precipitate distrust against Lassalle, and that despite these “official accusations” he had not changed his opinion of him. However, in view of the calibre of the accusations Lassalle was unable to see any particular merit in Marx having ignored them and he revenged himself in a dignified fashion by writing a fine and convincing description of the self-sacrifice he had shown and the services he had rendered to the workers in the Rhineland during the worst days of the reaction.
Marx did not treat Lassalle as he had treated Freiligrath, and Lassalle’s answer was different. He gave Marx the best advice he could give him and he did not allow his willingness to assist him to be affected by the fact that the advice was ignored.
Last updated on 27.2.2004