Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement
Some months after my arrival in London—in the summer of 1847—the first general meeting of the Council took place, for which purpose Engels and William Wolff had come over to London from Brussels. Marx was not present at that time. At this congress the re-organisation of the Association took place. All that had still been left of the old mysticism from the time of conspiracies was now abolished; the Association organised itself into districts, sections, leading sections, central office, and congress, and called itself from this time the “Association of the Communists.”
The second congress, leading up to the working-out of the “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” was to take place in November, 1847. But before I give a detailed account of this congress, I should like to mention an event that occupied in the meantime the London “Arbeiter Bildungsverein” for some weeks.
In the summer of 1847, Etienne Cabet, the famous author of the “Voyage to Icaria,” published a manifesto to the French Communists, in which he said: “As we are here [in France] persecuted, calumniated, and damned by the Government, the priests, the middle classes, and even by the revolutionary republicans (for they try to backbite us in order to ruin us physically and morally), let us leave France, let us go to Icaria, to found there a Communistic colony.” Cabet then uttered the hope that 20,000 to 30,000 Communists would be found to work out this plan.
This manifesto was also sent to the London “Arbeiter Bildungsverein.” About September, 1847, Cabet came to London to win us over to his idea. The discussion on his proposal lasted a whole week. At last the Association decided against any experimenting. The refusal was worded something like this:—
“Assuredly all Communists acknowledge with pleasure that Cabet has fought, and successfully fought, with admirable perseverance for the sake of suffering humanity, and that he has rendered immense services to the proletariat by his warnings against all conspiracies. But all this cannot induce us to follow Cabet when he, in our opinion, pursues a wrong path. Though we esteem citizen Cabet, we must fight his plan of emigration, being convinced that if the emigration proposed by him should take place the greatest damage would be done to the principles of Communism. The reasons for our opinion are as follow:—
“(1) We think that when in a country the most scandalous briberies are going on, when people are suppressed and exploited in the most outrageous manner, when right and justice are no longer respected, when society begins to dissolve itself into anarchy, as is now the case in France, every champion of justice and truth should make it his duty to remain at home to enlighten the people, to encourage the sinking, to boldly face the rogues, and lay the foundation of a new social organisation. If the honest men, if the champions of a better future mean to go away and leave the field to the religious obscurantists and exploiters, Europe will assuredly be lost to the people.
“(2) Because we are convinced that the establishment in America of a colony by Cabet, based on the principle of common property, cannot yet be carried out for the following reasons:—
“(a) Because although those comrades who intend to emigrate with Cabet may be eager Communists, yet they still possess too many of the faults and prejudices of present-day society by reason of their past education, to be able to get rid of them at once by joining Icaria.
“(b) Because the differences and frictions which would naturally arise in the colony from the very beginning would be still more excited and exacerbated by the agents and spies of the European Governments and the middle classes, until they lead to a complete break-up of the colony.
“(c) Because emigrants mostly belong to the artisan class, whilst robust labourers are wanted for the clearing and cultivation of the soil, and because an artisan cannot very easily be transformed into a farmer.
“(d) Because privations and diseases, produced by the change of climate, will discourage and induce many to leave.
“(e) Because a communism of property without a period of transition, in which personal property is transformed into collective property, is impossible for the Communists, who are determined to acknowledge the principle of individual freedom. Icarians, therefore, are like a farmer who wants to reap a harvest without first sowing.
“(3) Because no communism of property can be established and maintained at all by a few hundreds or thousands of persons without its acquiring a completely exclusive and sectarian character.
“These are the principal reasons why we consider as harmful the proposals of Cabet, and we say to the Communists of all countries: Brethren, let us stay here in old Europe, let us act and fight in the trenches at home, for it is here that the elements for the establishment of communism of property are at hand, and where it will first be established.”
The above statement formed our refusal to Cabet. I have written it out at some length because of its historic value. It shows that the thinking Communists had at that time already come under the influence of Marx and Engels, and were prepared to condemn all utopian experiments. It proves, further, that we were right. Experience has only too completely justified our fears. But this declaration is also a strong answer to all anti-Socialists, who fancy they can kill Socialism by pointing to wrecked Communistic experiments.
Cabet left London. Soon after, at the end of November, 1847, there met the second congress of the Association, at which Karl Marx was present. He and Engels had come from Brussels to represent the principles of modern Socialism. The congress lasted ten days, only delegates taking part in the proceedings. Though not a delegate, I, in common with others, was keenly interested in the result of the debates. Our anxious inquiries soon brought us the knowledge that the congress had unanimously declared itself for the principles proposed by Marx and Engels, and had ordered these two to draw up a manifesto. At the beginning of February, 1848, the manuscript of the “Manifesto of the Communists” reached Brussels, and I had an opportunity of reading the manifesto, having been commissioned to carry the manuscript to the printer, from whom I brought the proof-sheets to Karl Schapper for revision.
It was about this time that I first saw Marx and Engels. The impression these men made on me I still remember. Marx was still a young man, being about 28 years old; nevertheless he strongly impressed all of us. Marx was of middle height, broad-shouldered, and of an energetic bearing. The forehead was high and beautifully moulded, the hair was thick and jet-black, his look penetrating, his mouth already showed that sarcastic trait so dreaded by his opponents. His words were short and concise; he did not utter superfluous words, each sentence was a thought, and each thought a necessary link in his argument. He spoke with a convincing logic; there was nothing dreamy about him. The more I learnt to understand the difference between the Communism of Weitling and that of the Manifesto of the Communists, the clearer it became to me that Marx represented the manhood of the Socialist idea.
Frederick Engels, the spiritual twin-brother of Marx, rather represented the Teutonic type. Tall, elastic, with fair hair and moustache, he more resembled a smart young lieutenant of the guards than a scholar. And yet Engels, who always laid stress on the great talent of his immortal friend, has undoubtedly done much for the establishment and propagation of modern Socialism. Engels belonged to those men whom one must know intimately to properly estimate and love them. These were the men who took into their hands the cause of the proletariat.
The members of the “Arbeiter Bildungsverein” were in a certain agitation at that time. They firmly believed that the revolution was soon to “come off.” They had not yet the slightest idea of how much educating and organising work had to be done before the workers would shake the foundations of the bourgeois world.
The “Manifesto of the Communists” left the press in February, 1848, and we received it at the same time as the news of the outbreak of the February Revolution in Paris reached us.
I am not able to describe the deep impression which this news made upon us. An ecstasy of enthusiasm seized us. Only one feeling, only one thought filled us: To chance our lives and fortunes for the deliverance of mankind.
The London Central Council of the Association at once transferred its functions to the leading section at Brussels, which, in its turn, transferred them to Marx and Engels, and authorised them to constitute a new Central Council in Paris. Immediately after this decision Marx was arrested at Brussels and compelled to start for France.
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