Max Beer 1921

Book Reviews
The Story of the “Communist Manifesto”

Source: Labour Monthly, August 1921, pp. 183-185;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Die Londoner Kommunistiscke Zeitschrift und andere Urkunden, 1847-48. (Hauptwerke des Sozialismus, Neue Folge, Heft 5.) Carl Grünberg, Verlag Hirschfeld, Leipzig, 1921.

In the last years several old documents and papers have been discovered which are well calculated to throw full light on the circumstances and sources which contributed to the composition of the “Communist Manifesto.” A very scholarly summary of them is given in the above noted booklet by Dr. Carl Grünberg, Professor at the Vienna University and editor of the Archiv für Geschichte des Sozialismus. Here are some of the salient facts relevant to our subject.

The Communist current in the French Revolution was represented by Gracchus Babeuf and Darthé. After their execution on May 27, 1797, Communism disappeared and was apparently forgotten, until the surviving member of that movement, Ph. Buonarroti, published in 1828, at Brussels, his “Conspiration pour l’égalité dite de Babeuf,” one of the seminal books of Socialist literature (translated into English by Bronterre O’Brien, London, 1836). At the same time the French Democrats and Radicals, incensed at the reactionary measures of the Bourbon Restoration, began secretly to organise, and after the July Revolution (1830) united with the proletarian elements, mainly for preparing a broad Republican movement. These organisations were the “Societé des Amis du Peuple” and the “Société des Droits de l’Homme.” Gradually the proletarian elements got the upper hand, and Communist theories, taken from Buonarroti, were propagated. The leaders of these proletarian Communist elements were Armand Barbés and Louis August Blanqui. They seceded from the older Republican organisations and formed the “Société des Familles,” and in 1835 the “Société des Saisons,” which in May, 1839, attempted an insurrection but were defeated. By the way, my studies of British Chartism led me to the belief that the great agitation in Britain in that year was connected, through Dr. John Taylor, with the Paris movement of Barbés and Blanqui, Taylor having been a member of the Paris Republican and Communist secret societies. Connected with the same societies and movements were the German refugees in Paris, who in 1834 founded there the “League of the Banished” (Bund der Geächteten), among whom the Proletarian Communist elements were preponderating. Their leader was Wilhelm Schuster, a University lecturer of Goettingen, who had a clear notion of the class struggle. This League of the Banished was transformed, in 1836, into the “League of the Just” (Bund der Gerechten), which, through the journeyman tailor, Weiting (1808-1871), was partly inculcated with Fourierist and Owenite ideas of co-operative production. The “League” was connected with the “Société des Saisons,” and, indirectly, with the Left Wing of the Chartist movement. Thus a nucleus of a proletarian Communist International was created in the ‘thirties in Paris. Most of the German Leaguers were involved in the insurrection of 1839 and had to flee for their life. Weitling went to Switzerland, others to London, among the latter being Karl Schapper, who joined Chartism, and on February 7, 1841, formed, at 19A, Drury Lane, the Communist Working Men’s Educational Society, which existed till 1915 (107, Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square). The headquarters of the League were transferred to London, where Chartist views took hold of its members, so that Weitling, who had come to London in August, 1844, and lectured before the Owenites in Charlotte Street (see “New Moral World,” 1844), had only a passing success. He removed to Paris, where he was active among the German workmen, who at that time were attaching themselves to Proudhonism. The League of the Just thus presented a medley of ideas, all Utopian, originating as they did from Fourier, Owen, and Proudhon.

At the end of 1843 Marx settled in Paris, and in 1844-1845 worked on his materialist conception of history, on the significance of the social classes and their opposing interests, finally on the application of Ricardian economics to the proletarian movement. He came in contact with Proudhon, with the Parisian and German working men, and in attempting to make them familiar with his views he saw that his first business was to demolish Proudhon, Weitling, and all Utopianism. He wrote, therefore, after having removed to Brussels, his Anti-Proudhon (“Misery of Philosophy” against Proudhon’s book “Philosophy of Misery”), smashed poor Weitling in a debate and fought systematically against all petty bourgeois reform, Socialism and journeymen’s schemes of emancipating humanity. The members of the “League” soon reported the activity of Marx to the headquarters in London, where Marx’s books began to be studied. In this work he was greatly assisted by Engels, who, in 1844, made the acquaintance of Harvey, the editor of the Northern Star, for which paper he used to write occasional letters on German and Continental affairs. Harvey, Schapper and his Geneva friends formed in London (1845) the “Fraternal Democrats,” for whom Lovett wrote the international Addresses (see Tawney’s edition of Lovett’s “Life,” vol. ii., p.314 sqq). Proletarian Internationalism and Communism were coming to the fore. The effect on the “League of the Just” was quite revolutionary. They turned against O’Connor’s land schemes, against Weitling, against Cabet, who besought them to join the Icarian expedition against all system making, and finally adopted the Communist theories as propagated by Marx in Brussels through the medium of a hectographic correspondence. In November, 1846, and in February, 1847, the League sent out two circulars to its members, with the following questions for discussion: –

“1. What is Communism and what are the Communists aiming at? 2.What is Socialism and what do the Socialists want? 3. By what means can Communism be introduced in the quickest and surest way? Can it be introduced at once, or must there be a transition period in order to educate the masses for it, and if so, how long shall that period last? Shall it be introduced by force or by peaceful means? 4. What is the attitude of the proletariat towards the higher and lower middle classes? Is it advisable to co-operate with the lower and radical middle classes? 5. What is the attitude of the proletariat towards the various religious parties? 6. What is our attitude towards the various Socialist and Communist parties? Is it desirable and advisable to effect the unity of all Socialists? 7. What is a proletarian?”

These questions were discussed in the Congress of the League in 1847; in September the first and only number of the Kommunistische Zeitschrift appeared in London with the memorable sub-heading, “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” and in November, 1847, took place the final Congress, which was attended both by Marx and Engels, and which commissioned them to write the “Communist Manifesto” as the most adequate reply to those questions.