Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement


In Midsummer of 1848 I arrived at Cologne. This town had a particular attraction for me, because of the men who were working there in the interest of the revolution. Marx, Engels, Wilhelm Wolff, Freiligrath, Schapper, and Moll were there, and it was the place of publication of the “Rheinische Zeitung.”

First of all, I tried to find work, in order to be able to stay. Of course, I could not do it under my real name, as I was then considered a deserter from my military duty. One of my Hamburg friends, however, provided me with a passport in the name of Carstens, under which name I was then known. As the description in this passport nearly corresponded to my personal appearance, I had no trouble with the police. My real passport I left as a memento with the Hamburg police.

After having obtained work, I joined the Workingmen’s Union, managed by Dr. Gottschalk, Lieutenant Anneke, Schapper, Moll, Nothjung, and Elster. There existed, besides, a democratic league, to which Freiligrath, Wolf, Marx, and others belonged. Here I made the acquaintance of Wolff, who frequently lectured on current political events. Freiligrath also attended, with whom I soon became on friendly terms.

I frequented all the important public meetings held at that time, of which I will only mention two:

In September, 1848, an open-air meeting was held to protest against the disarmament of the civic guard, the declaration of a state of siege, and against the suspension of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung.” After the meeting was over, people began to build barricades. No fight, however took place.

On November 9th, a meeting of the “Democratic League” was held, when Marx brought the news that Robert Blum had been shot in Vienna, in accordance with martial law. The meeting was in full swing when Marx appeared. At once, all became deadly quiet in the hall, as if in expectation of evil news. Marx at once ascended the platform and read aloud the telegram from Vienna about Blum’s death. We were struck dumb with amazement. Then there broke out something like a storm in the hall. I thought that now the German nation would rise in a body, finally to fight through the revolution. I and all others, however, were mistaken. Things went a different way. The mayors did homage to the tyrants who murdered the noblest democrats.

That the reaction was gathering strength became clear at once by the persecution of the opposition press, especially of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung.” On February 7th, 1849, the first action against the editors of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung” was taken. The following day there came the second action, and at last, on May 19th, 1849, the paper was entirely suppressed. The last number was printed in red ink. The proceedings in the second trial have been published as the second part of the “Social-Democratic Library.” But the first trial, in which Engels took part, is nearly forgotten in Germany. And yet the defence that Marx made at this occasion is worth mentioning. The expression “defence” is hardly the right word to use, for Marx did not defend himself, but accused the Ministers. As far as I remember, there stood before the jury—H. Korff (manager of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung”), Karl Marx (principal editor), and Frederick Engels (sub-editor), who were charged with having “libelled” the public prosecutor Zweifel, concerning his official actions, also the constables ordered to arrest Gottschalk and Anneke concerning their official functions, by an article printed in No. 35 of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung,” concerning the arrest of Dr. Gottschalk and the dismissed Lieutenant Anneke. The galleries were crowded. After the public prosecutor and the solicitors had spoken, Marx spoke for something like an hour, in a quiet, composed and energetic tone. He dwelt first upon the legal aspects of the case, and at the end said:—

“Not only does the general situation in Germany, but also the state of affairs in Prussia, impose upon us the duty to watch with the utmost distrust every movement of the Government, and publicly to denounce to the people the slightest misdeeds of the system. The present, the Cologne Court, afforded us quite a special inducement to expose it before public opinion as a tool of the counter-revolution. In the month of July alone, we had to denounce three illegal arrests. On the first two occasions, the public prosecutor kept quiet, the third time he tried to exculpate himself, but kept silent when we replied, for the simple reason that nothing could be said. And under these circumstances the Ministers dared to affirm that the case was not one of denunciation, but of paltry malicious ‘libel’! This view is derived from a misinterpretation of their own. I, for my part, assure you, gentlemen, that I prefer following the great historical events; I prefer analysing the march of history to fighting with local idols, with constables and public prosecutors. However great these gentlemen may be in their own imagination, they are as nothing in the gigantic struggles of the present. I consider it a real loss when we have to break a lance with such opponents. But, on the other hand, it is the duty of the press to step forward on behalf of the oppressed and their struggles. And, then, gentlemen, the edifice of slavery has its most proper supports in the subordinate political and social functionaries that immediately deal with private life—the person, the living individual. It is not sufficient to fight the general conditions and the superior powers. The press must make up its mind to oppose this constable, this attorney, this councillor. What has wrecked the March revolution? It reformed only the highest political class, but it left untouched all the supports of this class—the old bureaucracy, the old army, the old courts, the old judges, born, educated, and worn out in the service of absolutism. The first duty of the press is now to undermine all the supports of the present political state.

Marx was expelled from Prussia some months later; Engels went to Baden, where the revolution had broken out. Some of my acquaintances followed Engels. Schapper went to Nassau, there to organise the peasants, whilst those who had remained in Cologne extended their agitation to the open country, as we had already understood the importance of the rural agitation.

(When I attended the Cologne Congress in 1893, I was invited by some peasants to Worringen, near Cologne. They still remembered me from the years 1848 and 1849.)

Our leisure time was filled up by manufacturing cartridges. The cartridges were then sent to Baden. The manufacture was, of course, done in secret. The “red Becker” (afterwards Chief Mayor of Cologne, and a member of the Prussian house of peers) provided balls and powder, and each contributed his share in promoting the revolution.

About this time Dr. Gottschalk died. At Cologne, the cholera was raging in the town, but it was mostly poor working men that were killed by it. Gottschalk, who had in a most unselfish manner devoted his medical aid to the working men, was everywhere where counsel and help was needed, till he himself, fatigued and exhausted, succumbed to the disease. The death of this sincere democrat was a hard blow for the Cologne workmen. The grief was general. No wonder that the funeral transformed itself into a great demonstration. On behalf of the Cologne “Arbeiter-Bildungsverein,” I was delegated to deliver the funeral speech, which was afterwards printed.

Karl Schapper, who had gone to Nassau in order to agitate there, was arrested at Wiesbaden soon after. During his imprisonment his wife died at Cologne. The better off comrades took care of the four children left; Freiligrath also adopted a child, a girl of eight years, who knew only English, as Mrs. Schapper was an English lady. Every day I would go and see the children, and by this I got on intimate terms with Freiligrath.

In February, 1850, Schapper was tried before the jury. The workmen of Cologne sent me to Wiesbaden, to be present at the trial, and to bring Schapper with me in case of an acquittal. Originally Freiligrath had been charged with this mission, but as he had to stay at Cologne at this time, I took charge of the business. In the meantime, the news had spread at Wiesbaden that Freiligrath would arrive, and they made preparations to give the poet a great reception.

I had, of course, not the least idea of what was planned at Wiesbaden; so I was not a little astonished at the grand reception I got on my arrival. Everybody wanted to see Freiligrath, and to shake hands with him. Of course, I at once explained to the people that I was not Freiligrath. But, notwithstanding their disappointment, they retained their high spirits. Schapper and the rest of the accused were found “Not guilty,” and this verdict was celebrated by banquets and meetings by the Wiesbaden democrats. Schapper and I then started for Cologne. As soon as he arrived at Cologne, Schapper was expelled by the police though a Prussian, and had to leave Prussian territory within three days. Schapper and I then went back to Wiesbaden, from where I was expelled on June 18th, 1850. I went to Mainz, Schapper to London.

In the meantime, the revolution in Baden had broken down. On the whole line the counter-revolution had won, and reaction had now begun its reign of terror.


< Previous | Contents | Next >