Articles for The New Moral World by Frederick Engels 1843

Progress of Social Reform On the Continent

Written: the beginning of November 1843;
First published: in The New Moral World, 3rd Series, No. 21, Nov. 18, 1843;
Signed: F. Engels;
Printed: according to the newspaper. English original;
Transcribed: in 2000 for by Andy Blunden.

Germany and Switzerland

The New Moral World No. 21, November 18, 1843

Germany had her Social Reformers as early as the Reformation. Soon after Luther had begun to proclaim church reform and to agitate the people against spiritual authority, the peasantry of Southern and Middle Germany rose in a general insurrection against their temporal lords. Luther always stated his object to be, to return to original Christianity in doctrine and practice; the peasantry took exactly the same standing, and demanded, therefore, not only the ecclesiastical, but also the social practice of primitive Christianity. They conceived a state of villainy and servitude, such as they lived under, to be inconsistent with the doctrines of the Bible; they were oppressed by a set of haughty barons and earls, robbed and treated like their cattle every day, they had no law to protect them, and if they had, they found nobody to enforce it. Such a state contrasted very much with the communities of early Christians and the doctrines of Christ, as laid down in the Bible. Therefore they arose and began a war against their lords, which could only be a war of extermination. Thomas Münzer, a preacher, whom they placed at their head, issued a proclamation, full, of course, of the religious and superstitious nonsense of the age, but containing also among others, principles like these: That according to the Bible, no Christian is entitled to hold any property whatever exclusively for himself; that community of property is the only proper state for a society of Christians; that it is not allowed to any good Christian to have any authority or command over other Christians, nor to hold any office of government or hereditary power, but on the contrary, that, as all men are equal before God, so they ought to be on earth also. These doctrines were nothing but conclusions drawn from the Bible and from Luther’s own writings; but the Reformer was not prepared to go as far as the people did; notwithstanding the courage he displayed against the spiritual authorities, he had not freed himself from the political and social prejudices of his age; he believed as firmly in the right divine of princes and landlords to trample upon the people, as he did in the Bible. Besides this, he wanted the protection of the aristocracy and the Protestant princes, and thus he wrote a tract against the rioters disclaiming not only every connection with them, but also exhorting the aristocracy to put them down with the utmost severity, as rebels against the laws of God. “Kill them like dogs!” he exclaimed. The whole tract is written with such an animosity, nay, fury and fanaticism against the people, that it will ever form a blot upon Luther’s character; it shows that, if he began his career as a man of the people, he was now entirely in the service of their oppressors. The insurrection, after a most bloody civil war, was suppressed, and the peasants reduced to their former servitude.

If we except some solitary instances, of which no notice was taken by the public, there has been no party of Social Reformers in Germany, since the peasants’ war, up to a very recent date. The public mind during the last fifty years was too much occupied with questions of either a merely political or merely metaphysical nature — questions, which had to be answered, before the social question could be discussed with the necessary calmness and knowledge. Men, who would have been decidedly opposed to a system of community, if such had been proposed to them, were nevertheless paving the way for its introduction.

It was among the working class of Germany that Social Reform has been of late made again a topic of discussion. Germany having comparatively little manufacturing industry, the mass of the working classes is made up by handicraftsmen, who previous to their establishing themselves as little masters, travel for some years over Germany, Switzerland, and very often over France also. A great number of German workmen is thus continually going to and from Paris, and must of course there become acquainted with the political and social movements of the French working classes. One of these men, William Weitling, a native of Magdeburg in Prussia, and a simple journeyman-tailor, resolved to establish communities in his own country.

This man, who is to be considered as the founder of German Communism, after a few years’ stay in Paris, went to Switzerland, and, whilst he was working in some tailor’s shop in Geneva, preached his new gospel to his fellow-workmen. He formed Communist Associations in all the towns and cities on the Swiss side of the lake of Geneva, most of the Germans who worked there becoming favourable to his views. Having thus prepared the public mind, he issued a periodical, the Young Generation,’ for a more extensive agitation of the country. This paper, although written for working men only, and by a working man, has from its beginning been superior to most of the French Communist publications, even to Father Cabet’s Populaire. It shows that its editor must have worked very hard to obtain that knowledge of history and politics which a public writer cannot do without, and which a neglected education had left him deprived of. It shows, at the same time, that Weitling was always struggling to unite his various ideas and thoughts on society into a complete system of Communism. The Young Generation was first published in 1841; in the following year, Weitling published a work: Guarantees of Harmony and Liberty, in which he gave a review of the old social system and the outlines of a new one. I shall, perhaps, some time give a few extracts from this book.

Having thus established the nucleus of a Communist party in Geneva and its neighbourhood, he went to Zurich, where, as in other towns of Northern Switzerland, some of his friends had already commenced to operate upon the minds of the working men. He now began to organise his party in these towns. Under the name of Singing Clubs, associations were formed for the discussion of Social reorganisation. At the same time Weitling advertised his intention to publish a book, — The Gospel of the Poor Sinners. But here the police interfered with his proceedings.

In June last, Weitling was taken into custody, his papers and his book were seized, before it left the press. The Executive of the Republic appointed a committee to investigate the matter, and to report to the Grand Council, the representatives of the people. This report has been printed a few months since. It appears from it, that a great many Communist associations existed in every part of Switzerland, consisting mostly of German working men; that Weitling was considered as the leader of the party, and received from time to time reports of progress; that he was in correspondence with similar associations of Germans in Paris and London, and that all these societies, being composed of men who very often changed their residence, were so many seminaries of these “dangerous and Utopian doctrines”, sending out their elder members to Germany, Hungary, and Italy, and imbuing with their spirit every workman who came within their reach. The report was drawn up by Dr. Bluntschli, a man of aristocratic and fanatically Christian opinions, and the whole of it therefore is written more like a party denunciation, than like a calm, official report. Communism is denounced as a doctrine dangerous in the extreme, subversive of all existing order, and destroying all the sacred bonds of society. The pious doctor, besides, is at a loss for words sufficiently strong to express his feelings as to the frivolous blasphemy with which these infamous and ignorant people try to justify their wicked and revolutionary doctrines, by passages from the Holy Scriptures. Weitling and his party are, in this respect, just like the Icarians in France, and contend that Christianity is Communism.

The result of Weitling’s trial did very little to satisfy the anticipations of the Zurich government. Although Weitling and his friends were sometimes very incautious in their expressions, yet the charge of high treason and conspiracy against him could not be maintained; the criminal court sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment, and eternal banishment from Switzerland; the members of the Zurich associations were expelled the Canton; the report was communicated to the governments of the other Cantons and to the foreign embassies, but the Communists in other parts of Switzerland were very little interfered with. The prosecution came too late, and was too little assisted by the other Cantons; it did nothing at all for the destruction of Communism, and was even favourable to it, by the great interest it produced in all countries of the German tongue. Communism was almost unknown in Germany, but became by this an object of general attention.

Besides this party there exists another in Germany, which advocates Communism. The former, being thoroughly a popular party, will no doubt very soon unite all the working classes of Germany; that party which I now refer to is a philosophical one, unconnected in its origin with either French or English Communists, and arising from that philosophy which, since the last fifty years, Germany has been so proud of.

The political revolution of France was accompanied by a philosophical revolution in Germany. Kant began it by overthrowing the old system of Leibnitzian metaphysics, which at the end of last century was introduced in all Universities of the Continent. Fichte and Schelling commenced rebuilding, and Hegel completed the new system. There has never been, ever since man began to think, a system of philosophy as comprehensive as that of Hegel. Logic, metaphysics, natural philosophy, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of law, of religion, of history, all are united in one system, reduced to one fundamental principle. The system appeared quite unassailable from without, and so it was; it has been overthrown from within only, by those who were Hegelians themselves. I cannot, of course, give here a complete development either of the system or of its history, and therefore must restrain myself to the following remarks. The progress of German philosophy from Kant to Hegel was so consistent, so logical, so necessary, if I may say so, that no other systems besides those I have named could subsist. There are two or three of them, but they found no attention; they were so neglected, that nobody would even do them the honour to overthrow them. Hegel, notwithstanding his enormous learning and his deep thought, was so much occupied with abstract questions, that he neglected to free himself from the prejudices of his age — an age of restoration for old systems of government and religion. But his disciples had very different views on these subjects. Hegel died in 1831, and as early as 1835 appeared Strauss’ Life of Jesus, the first work showing some progress beyond the limits of orthodox Hegelianism. Others followed; and in 1837 the Christians rose against what they called the New Hegelians, denouncing them as Atheists, and calling for the interference of the state. The state, however, did not interfere, and the controversy went on. At that time, the New, or Young Hegelians, were so little conscious of the consequences of their own reasoning, that they all denied the charge of Atheism, and called themselves Christians and Protestants, although they denied the existence of a God who was not man, and declared the history of the gospels to be a pure mythology. It was not until last year, in a pamphlet, by the writer of these lines, that the charge of Atheism was allowed to be just. But the development went on. The Young Hegelians of 1842 were declared Atheists and Republicans; the periodical of the party, the German Annals, was more radical and open than ever before; a political paper was established, and very soon the whole of the German liberal press was entirely in our hands. We had friends in almost every considerable town of Germany; we provided all the liberal papers with. the necessary matter, and by this means made them our organs; we inundated the country with pamphlets, and soon governed public opinion upon every question. A temporary relaxation of the censorship of the press added a great deal to the energy of this movement, quite novel to a considerable part of the German public. Papers, published under the authorisation of a government censor, contained things which, even in France, would have been punished as high treason, and other things which could not have been pronounced in England, without a trial for blasphemy being the consequence of it. The movement was so sudden, so rapid, so energetically pursued, that the government as well as the public were dragged along with it for some time. But this violent character of the agitation proved that it was not founded upon a strong party among the public, and that its power was produced by the surprise, and consternation only of its opponents. The governments, recovering their senses, put a stop to it by a most despotic oppression of the liberty of speech. Pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, scientific works were suppressed by dozens, and the agitated state of the country soon subsided. It is a matter of course that such a tyrannical interference will not check the progress of public opinion, nor quench the principles defended by the agitators; the entire persecution has been of no use whatever to the ruling powers; because, if they had not put down the movement, it would have been checked by the apathy of the public at large, a public as little prepared for radical changes as that of every other country; and, if even this had not been the case, the republican agitation would have been abandoned by the agitators themselves, who now, by developing farther and farther the consequences of their philosophy, became Communists. The princes and rulers of Germany, at the very moment when they believed to have put down for ever republicanism, saw the rise of Communism from the ashes of political agitation; and this new doctrine appears to them even more dangerous and formidable than that in whose apparent destruction they rejoiced.

As early as autumn, 1842, some of the party contended for the insufficiency of political change, and declared their opinion to be, that a Social revolution based upon common property, was the only state of mankind agreeing with their abstract principles. But even the leaders of the party, such as Dr. Bruno Bauer, Dr. Feuerbach, and Dr. Ruge, were not then prepared for this decided step. The political paper of the party, the Rhenish Gazette, published some papers advocating Communism, but without the wished-for effect. Communism, however, was such a necessary consequence of New Hegelian philosophy, that no opposition could keep it down, and, in the course of this present year, the originators of it had the satisfaction of seeing one republican after the other join their ranks. Besides Dr. Hess, one of the editors of the now suppressed Rhenish Gazette, and who was, in fact, the first Communist of the party, there are now a great many others; as Dr. Ruge, editor of the German Annals, the scientific periodical of the Young Hegelians, which has been suppressed by resolution of the German Diet; Dr. Marx, another of the editors of the Rhenish Gazette; George Herwegh, the poet whose letter to the King of Prussia was translated, last winter, by most of the English papers, and others: and we hope that the remainder of the republican party will, by-and-by, come over too.

Thus, philosophical Communism may be considered for ever established in Germany, notwithstanding the efforts of the governments to keep it down. They have annihilated the press in their dominions, but to no effect; the progress parties profit by the free press of Switzerland and France, and their publications are as extensively circulated in Germany, as if they were printed in that country itself. All persecutions and prohibitions have proved ineffectual, and will ever do so; the Germans are a philosophical nation, and will not, cannot abandon Communism, as soon as it is founded upon sound philosophical principles: chiefly if it is derived as an unavoidable conclusion from their own philosophy. And this is the part we have to perform now. Our party has to prove that either all the philosophical efforts of the German nation, from Kant to Hegel, have been useless — worse than useless; or, that they must end in Communism; that the Germans must either reject their great philosophers, whose names they hold up as the glory of their nation, or that they must adopt Communism. And this will be proved; this dilemma the Germans will be forced into, and there can scarcely be any doubt as to which side of the question the people will adopt.

There is a greater chance in Germany for the establishment of a Communist party among the educated classes of society, than anywhere else. The Germans are a very disinterested nation; if in Germany principle comes into collision with interest, principle will almost always silence the claims of interest. The same love of abstract principle, the same disregard of reality and self-interest, which have brought the Germans to a state of political nonentity, these very same qualities guarantee the success of philosophical Communism in that country. It will appear very singular to Englishmen, that a party which aims at the destruction of private property is chiefly made up by those who have property; and yet this is the case in Germany. We can recruit our ranks from those classes only which have enjoyed a pretty good education; that is, from the universities and from the commercial class; and in either we have not hitherto met with any considerable difficulty.

As to the particular doctrines of our party, we agree much more with the English Socialists than with any other party. Their system, like ours, is founded upon philosophical principle; they struggle, as we do, against religious prejudices whilst the French reject philosophy and perpetuate religion by dragging it over with themselves into the projected new state of society. The French Communists could assist us in the first stages only of our development, and we soon found that we knew more than our teachers; but we shall have to learn a great deal yet from the English Socialists. Although our fundamental principles give us a broader base, inasmuch as we received them from a system of philosophy embracing every part of human knowledge; yet in everything bearing upon practice, upon the facts of the present state of society, we find that the English Socialists are a long way before us, and have left very little to be done. I may say, besides, that I have met with English Socialists with whom I agree upon almost every question.

I cannot now give an exposition of ‘this Communist system without adding too much to the length of this paper; but I intend to do so some time soon, if the Editor of the New Moral World will allow me the space for it. I therefore conclude by stating that, notwithstanding the persecutions of the German governments (I understand that, in Berlin, Mr. Edgar Bauer is being prosecuted for a Communist publication; and in Stuttgart another gentleman has been committed for the novel crime of “Communist correspondence"!), notwithstanding this, I say, every necessary step is taken to bring about a successful agitation for Social Reform, to establish a new periodical, and to secure the circulation of all publications advocating Communism.