Works of Karl Marx, 1844

Critical Notes on the Article:
“The King of Prussia and Social Reform.
By a Prussian” [1]

Karl Marx, Vorwarts!, No.63, August 7 1844

An article has appeared in the 60th issue of the Vorwarts! with the “The King of Prussia and Social Reform” and it is signed by “A Prussian.”

This so-called Prussian begins by reporting the contents of the Royal Prussian Order in Council on the subject of the workers’ uprising in Silesia [2] and goes on to give the opinion of the French journal La Reforme [3] of the same Prussian Order in Council. The Reforme, he says, discerns the origins of the Order in Council in the King’s “panic and his religious sentiments.” It even hails this document as a presentiment of the great reforms imminent in bourgeois society. The “Prussian” delivers the following lecture to the Reforme.

Neither the King nor German society has had any “presentiment of its reform” [4]; not even the uprisings in Bohemia and Silesia have managed to arouse such feelings. In an unpolitical country like Germany it is not possible to represent the sporadic misery of the factory districts as a matter of universal concern, let alone as a disaster to the whole civilized world. As far as the Germans are concerned, these events belong in the same category as any local shortage of food or water. In accordance with this the King views it as a failure of the administration or of charitable institutions. For this reason and because but few troops were needed to deal with the feeble weavers the destruction of factories and machines does not make the King and the authorities “panic.” Nor were religious sentiments responsible for the Order in Council; it was instead a very sober expression of Christian statesmanship and of a doctrine which does not permit any obstacles to stand in the way of its only remedy: the “good intentions of Christian hearts.” Poverty and crimes are two great evils; who can provide a cure for them? The state and the authorities? By no means. But the union of all Christian hearts can do so.

Our so-called Prussian denies that the King “panicked” for a number of reasons, among them being the fact that few troops were needed to deal with the feeble weavers.

This means that in a country where banquets with liberal toasts and liberal champagne froth provoke Royal Orders in Council (as we saw in the case of the Dusseldorf banquet [5]), where the burning desire of the entire liberal bourgeoisie for freedom of the press and a constitution could be surpassed without the aid of a single soldier, in a country where passive obedience is the order of the day, can it be anything but an event and indeed a terrifying event when armed troops have to be called out against feeble wavers? And in the first encounter the feeble weavers even gained a victory. They were only suppressed when reinforcements were brought up. Is the uprising of a mass of workers less dangerous because it can be defeated without the aid of a whole army? Our sharp-witted Prussian should compare the revolt of the Silesian weavers with the uprisings of English workers. The Silesians will then stand revealed as strong weavers.

A consideration of the general relationship between politics and the defects of society will enable us to explain why the weavers could not induce any great “panic” in the King. For the present, however, we will only point out that the uprising was directed in the first instance not against the King of Prussia but against the bourgeoisie. As an aristocrat and an absolute monarch the King of Prussia can have no love of the bourgeoisie; even less can he feel any anxiety if the submissiveness and impotence of the bourgeoisie is increased by its tense and difficult relationship with the proletariat. Similarly, an orthodox Catholic will feel a greater hostility towards an orthodox Protestant than towards an atheist, just as a legitimist will dislike a liberal more than a communist. This is not because atheists are closer to Catholics or communists closer to legitimists than they are to Protestants or liberals respectively, but, on the contrary, because they are more remote from t hem, because the latter do not impinge on their sphere of interests. The direct political antagonist of the King of Prussia, in his role as politician, is to be found in liberalism. For the King, the antagonism of the proletariat exists no more than does the King for the proletariat. This means that if the proletariat has contrived to eliminate such antipathies and political antagonisms, and to attract the entire hostility of the political powers towards itself, it must have acquired a very definite power. Lastly, the King’s appetite for interesting and significant phenomena is well known and it must have been a very pleasant surprise for him to discover such an “interesting” and “much discussed” pauperism within his very own frontiers and thus to find yet another opportunity to appear in the public eye. How he must have rejoiced to hear the news that he too now possessed his “own” Royal Prussian pauperism!

Our “Prussian” is even less fortunate when he denies that “religious sentiment” was responsible for the Royal Order in Council.

Why is “religious sentiment” not the source of this Order in Council? Because the latter “was the very sober expression of Christian statesmanship,” a “sober” expression of the doctrine whose “only remedy, the good intentions of Christian hearts... does not permit any obstacles to stand in its way.”

Is not religious sentiment the source of Christian statesmanship? Is it not true that a doctrine which possesses a universal panacea in the good intentions of Christian hearts is founded on religious sentiments? Is it true that the expression of religious feelings ceases to be the expression of religious feelings ceases to be the expression of religious feelings if it is sober? I would go even further! I would maintain that any religious feelings that contest the ability of “the state and the authorities” to “remedy great evils” while they themselves seek a cure in the “union of Christian hearts” must be conceited and drunk in the extreme. Only very drunk religious feelings could locate the course of the evil – as does our “Prussian” – in the absence of the Christian spirit. Such feelings alone could suggest that the authorities should resort to “exhortation” as the only means whereby the Christian spirit might be fortified. According to the “Prussian” Christian sentiment is the sole end aim of the Order in Council. Religious sentiment, when it is drunk, of course, not when it is sober, considers itself to be the only good. Whenever it comes across evil it attributes it to its own absence, for, if it is the only good, then it alone can create the good. Therefore, an Order in Council, dictated by religious feelings, logically enough itself decrees religious feelings. A politician with sober religious feelings would not attempt to find a “cure” for his own “perplexity” in the “exhortations of the pious Preacher to cultivate Christian sentiments.”

How then does out so-called “Prussian” demonstrate to the Reforme that the Order in Council is not an emanation of religious feeling? By describing it as an emanation of religious feeling. What insight into social movements can be expected from such an illogical mind? Let us listen to him gossiping about the relationship of German society to the workers’ movement and social reform in general.

Let us distinguish – as our “Prussian” fails to do – let us distinguish between the various categories subsumed by the expression “German society"; government, bourgeoisie, the press and finally the workers themselves. These are the various masses we are concerned with here. The “Prussia” merges them all into one mass and condemns them en masses from his exalted standpoint. According to him German society has “not even had a presentiment of its reform.”

Why is it so lacking in this instinct? Because, the Prussian explains,

In an unpolitical country like Germany it is not possible to represent the sporadic misery of the factory districts as a matter of universal concern, let alone as a disaster to the whole civilized world. As far as the Germans are concerned, these events belong in the same category as any local shortage of food or water. In accordance with this the King views it as a failure of the administration or of charitable institutions.

The “Prussian thus explain this absurd interpretation of the plight of the workers with reference to the peculiar nature of an unpolitical country.

It will be granted that England is a political nation. It will further be granted that England is the nation of pauperism; the work itself is English in origin. An examination of the situation in England is thus the most certain way whereby to discover the relation of a political nation to pauperism. In England the misery of the workers is not sporadic but universal; it is not confined to the factory districts but extends to country districts too. Workers’ movements are not in their infancy but have recurred periodically for close on a century.

What then is the view of pauperism taken by the English bourgeoisie and the government and the press concerned with it?

In so far as the English bourgeoisie regards pauperism as the fault of politics, the Whigs put the blame on the Tories and the Tories put it on the Whigs. According to the Whigs, the chief cause of pauperism is to be discovered in the monopoly of landed property property and in the laws prohibiting the import of grain. In the Tory view, the source of the trouble lies in liberalism, in competition and the excesses of the factory system. Neither party discovers the explanation in politics itself but only in the politics of the other party. Neither party would even dream of a reform of society as a whole.

The most decisive expression of the insight of the English into pauperism – and by the English we mean the English bourgeoisie and the government – is to be found in English Political Economyi.e., the scientific reflection of the state of the economy in England.

MacCulloch, a pupil of the cynic Ricardo and one of the best and most celebrated of the English economists, is familiar with the present state of affairs and has no overall view of the movement of bourgeois society. In a public lecture, amidst applause, he had the temerity to apply to political economy what Bacon had said of philosophy:

The man who suspends his judgment with true and untiring wisdom, who progresses gradually, and who successively surmounts obstacles which impede the course of study like mountains, will in time reach the summit of knowledge where rest and pure air may be enjoyed, where Nature may be viewed in all her beauty, and whence one may descend by an easy path to the final details of practice. [6]

The pure air of the pestilential atmosphere of English basement dwellings! The great natural beauty of the fantastic rags in which the english poor are clothes and of the faded, shrivelled flesh of the women worn out by work and want; the children lying on dung-heaps; the stunted monsters produced by overwork in the mechanical monotony of the factories! The most charming final details of practice: prostitution, murder, and the gallows!

Even that section of the English bourgeoisie which is conscious of the dangers of pauperism regards both the dangers and the means for remedying them not merely as particular problems, but – to put it bluntly – in a childish and absurd manner.

Thus, for example, in his pamphlet “Recent Measures for the Promotion of Education in England,” Dr Kay reduces the whole question to the neglect of education. It is not hard to guess the reason! He argues that the worker’s lack of education prevents him from understanding the “natural laws of trade,” laws which necessarily reduce him to pauperism. For this reason, the worker rises up in rebellion. And this rebellion may well “cause embarrassment to the prosperity of the English manufactures and English commerce, impair the mutual confidence of businessmen and diminish the stability of political and social institutions.”

This is the extent of the insanity of the English bourgeoisie and its press on the subject of pauperism,the national epidemic of England.

Let us assume for the moment that the criticism levelled by our “Prussian” at German society are justified. Is it true that their explanation is to be found in the unpolitical nature of Germany? But if the bourgeoisie of an unpolitical Germany is unable to achieve clarity about the general significance of universal misery, the bourgeoisie of political England, on the other hand, manages to misunderstand the general significance of a universal state of misery whose general meaning has become apparent partly by virtue of its periodic recurrence in time, partly by its extension in space and partly by the failure of every attempt to eliminate it.

The “Prussian” heaps further obloquy on the unpolitical nature of Germany because the King of Prussia has located the cause of pauperism in “failures of the administration or of charitable institutions" and has therefore looked to administrative or charitable measures to provide a cure for pauperism.

Is this analysis peculiar to the King of Prussia? Let us again look briefly at England, the only country where these has been any large-scale action against pauperism worth mentioning.

The present English Poor Laws date from Act 43 of the reign of Elizabeth. [7] how does this legislation propose to deal with pauperism? By obliging the parishes to support their own poor workers, by the Poor Rate, by legal charity. Charity dispensed by the administration: this has been the method in force for two centuries. After long and painful experiences what view is adopted by Parliament in its Bill of Amendment in 1834?

It begins by explaining the frightening increase in pauperism as the result of a “defect in the administration.”

It therefore provides for a reform of the administration of the Poor Rate by officials of the different parishes. Unions of about 20 parishes are to be set up under a central administration. On a specified day, the Board of Guardians, consisting of officials elected by t he tax-payers, are to assemble at the headquarters of the union and decide on eligibility for relief. These Boards are presided over and controlled by government representatives from the Central Commission at Somerset House, the Ministry of Pauperism, to use the phrase aptly coined by a Frenchman [Eugen Buret]. The capital so administered is almost equal to the sum required by the War Office in France. The number of local offices thus maintained amounts to 500 and each of these local offices keeps at least 12 official busy.

The English Parliament did not rest content with the formal reform of the administration.

The chief cause of the acute condition of English pauperism was found to lie in the Poor Law itself. It was discovered that charity, the legal method of combating social evils, itself fostered social evils. As for pauperism in general, it was held to be an eternal laws of nature in accordance with Malthus’ theory:

Since the population threatens unceasingly to exceed the available means of subsistence, benevolence is folly, an open encouragement to misery. The state, therefore, can do nothing but leave misery to its fate, and, at best, facilitate the death of those in want.

The English Parliament combined this philanthropic theory with the view that pauperism is a state of misery brought on by the workers themselves, and that in consequence it should not be regarded as a misfortune to be prevented but as a crime to be suppressed and punished.

In this way, the system of the workhouse came into being – i.e., houses for the poor whose internal arrangements were devised to deter the indigent from seeking a refuge from starvation. In the workhouses charity has been ingeniously combined with the revenge of the bourgeoisie on all those wretched enough to appeal to their charity.

Initially England attempted to eliminate pauperism by means of charity and administrative measures. It then came to regard the progressive increase in pauperism not as the inevitable consequence of modern industry but rather as the consequence of the English Poor Law. It construed the state of universal need as merely a particular feature of English law. What was formerly attributed to a deficiency of charity was now ascribed to the superabundance of charity. Lastly, need was regarded as the fault of the needy and punishable as such.

The general lesson learnt by political England from its experience of pauperism is none other than that, in the course of history and despite all administrative measures, pauperism has developed into a national institution which has inevitably become the object of a highly ramified and extensive administrative system, a system however which no longer sets out to eliminate it, but which strives instead to discipline and perpetuate it. This administrative system has abandoned all attempts to stop pauperism at its source through positive measures; it confines itself to preparing a grave for it with true police mildness as soon as it erupts on the surface of officialdom. Far from advancing beyond administrative and charitable measures, the English state has regressed to a far more primitive position. It dispenses its administrative gifts only to that pauperism which is induced by despair to allow itself to be caught and incarcerated.

Thus far the Prussian” has failed to show that the procedure adopted by the King of Prussia has any features peculiar to it. But why, our great man now exclaims with rare naivety: “Why does the King not decree the education of all deprived children at a stroke?" Why must he turn first to the authorities with requests for their plans and proposals?

Our all-too-clever “Prussian” will regain his composure when he realizes that in acting thus the King of Prussia is just as unoriginal as in all his other actions. In fact, he has taken the only course of action open to the head of a state.

Napoleon wished to do away with begging at a single stroke. He instructed his officials to prepare plans for the abolition of beggary throughout the whole of France. The project was subject to delay; napoleon became impatient, he wrote to Cretet, his Minister of the Interior; he commanded him to get rid of begging within a month. He said,

One should not depart this life without leaving traces which commend our memory to posterity. Do not ask me for another three or four months to obtain information; you have young advocates, clever prefects, expert engineers of bridges and roads. Set them all in motion, do not fall into the sleepy inactivity of routine office work.

Within a few months, everything was ready. On July 5, 1808, the law to suppress begging was enacted. By what means? By means of the depots which were so speedily transformed into penal institutions that in a short time the poor man could gain access to one only via a police court. Nevertheless, M. Noailles du Gard, a member of the legislative body, was able to declare,

Eternal gratitude to the hero who has found a refuge for the needy and the means of life for the poor. Childhood will no longer be abandoned, poor families will no longer lack resources, not will workers go without encouragements and employment. Nos pas ne seront plus arretes par l’image degoutante des infirmites et de la honteuse misere. [We will no longer be hampered by the disgusting sight of illness and shameful misery.]

This last cynical statement is the only truth contained in this eulogy.

If Napoleon can turn to his advocates, prefects, and engineers for counsel, why should not the King of Prussia turn to his authorities?

Why did not Napoleon simply decree the abolition of beggary at a stroke? This question is just as valid as that of our “Prussian" who asks: “Why does the King not decree the education of all deprived children at a stroke?” Does the “Prussian” understand what the King would have to decree? Nothing over that the abolition of the proletariat. To educate children it is necessary to feed them and free them from the need to earn a livelihood. The feeding and educating of the entire future proletariat, would mean the abolition of the proletariat and pauperism.

For a moment the Convention had the courage to decree the abolition of pauperism, not indeed “at a stroke,” as the “Prussian" requires of his King, but only after instructing the Committee of Public Safety to draw up the necessary plans and proposals and after the latter had made use of the extensive investigation by the Constituent Assembly into the state of poverty in France and, through Barer, had proposed the establishment of the “Livre de la beinfaisance nationale” [Book of national charity], etc. What was achieved by the decree of the Convention? Simply that there was now one decree more in the world and that one year later starving women besieged the Convention.

The Convention, however, represented the maximum of political energy, political power and political understanding.

No government in the whole world has issued decrees about pauperism at a stroke and without consulting authorities. The English Parliament even sent emissaries to all the countries in Europe in order to discover the different administrative remedies in use. But in their attempts to come to grips with pauperism every government has struck fast at charitable and administrative measures or even regressed to a more primitive stage than that.

Can the state do otherwise?

The state will never discover the source of social evils in the “state and the organization of society,” as the Prussian expects of his King. Wherever there are political parties each party will attribute every defect of society to the fact that its rival is at the helm of the state instead of itself. Even the radical and revolutionary politicians look for the causes of evil not in the nature of the state but in a specific form of the state which they would like to replace with another form of the state.

From a political point of view, the state and the organization of society are not two different things. The state is the organization of society. In so far as the state acknowledges the existence of social grievances, it locates their origins either in the laws of nature over which no human agency has control, or in private life, which is independent of the state, or else in malfunctions of the administration which is dependent on it. Thus England finds poverty to be based on the law of nature according to which the population must always outgrow the available means of subsistence. From another point of view, it explains pauperism as the consequence of the bad will of the poor, just as the King of Prussia explains it in terms of the unchristian feelings of the rich and the Convention explains it in terms of the counter-revolutionary and suspect attitudes of the proprietors. Hence England punishes the poor, the Kings of Prussia exhorts the rich and the Convention heheads the proprietors.

Lastly, all states seek the cause in fortuitous or intentional defects in the administration and hence the cure is sought in administrative measures. Why? Because the administration is the organizing agency of the state.

The contradiction between the vocation and the good intentions of the administration on the one hand and the means and powers at its disposal on the other cannot be eliminated by the state, except by abolishing itself; for the state is based on this contradiction. It is based on the contradiction between public and private life, between universal and particular interests. For this reason, the state must confine itself to formal, negative activities, since the scope of its own power comes to an end at the very point where civil life and work begin. Indeed, when we consider the consequences arising from the asocial nature of civil life, of private property, of trade, of industry, of the mutual plundering that goes on between the various groups in civil life, it becomes clear that the law of nature governing the administration is impotence. For, the fragmentation, the depravity, and the slavery of civil society is the natural foundation of the modern state, just as the civil society of slavery was the natural foundation of the state in antiquity. The existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery. The state and slavery in antiquity – frank and open classical antitheses – were not more closely welded together than the modern state and the cut-throat world of modern business – sanctimonious Christian antithesis. If the modern state desired to abolish the impotence of its administration, it would have to abolish contemporary private life. And to abolish private life, it would have to abolish itself, since it exists only as the antithesis of private life. However, no living person believes the defects of his existence to be based on the principle, the essential nature of his own life; they must instead be grounded in circumstances outside his own life. Suicide is contrary to nature. Hence, the state cannot believe in the intrinsic impotence of its administration – i.e., of itself. It can only perceive formal, contingent defects in it and try to remedy them. If these modification are inadequate, well, that just shows that social ills are natural imperfections, independent of man, they are a law of God, or else, the will of private individuals is too degenerate to meet the good intentions of the administration halfway. And how perverse individuals are! They grumble about the government when it places limits on freedom and yet demand that the government should prevent the inevitable consequences of that freedom!

The more powerful a state and hence the more political a nation, the less inclined it is to explain the general principle governing social ills and to seek out their causes by looking at the principle of the statei.e., at the actual organization of society of which the state is the active, self-conscious and official expression. Political understanding is just political understanding because its thought does not transcend the limits of politics. The sharper and livelier it is, the more incapable is it of comprehending social problems. The classical period of political understanding is the French Revolution. Far from identifying the principle of the state as the source of social ills, the heroes of the French Revolution held social ills to be the source of political problems. Thus Robespierre regarded great wealth and great poverty as an obstacle to pure democracy. He therefore wished to establish a universal system of Spartan frugality. The principle of politics is the will. The more one-sided – i.e., the more prefect – political understanding is, the more completely it puts its faith in the omnipotence of the will the blinder it is towards the natural and spiritual limitations of the will, the more incapable it becomes of discovering the real source of the evils of society. No further arguments are needed to prove that when the “Prussian" claims that “the political understanding” is destined “to uncover the roots of social want in Germany” he is indulging in vain illusions.

It was foolish to expect the King of Prussia to exhibit a power not possessed by the Convention and Napoleon combined; it was foolish to expect him to possess a vision which could cross all political frontiers, a vision with which our clever “Prussian” is no better endowed than is his King. The entire declaration was all the more foolish as our “Prussian" admits:

Fine words and fine sentiments are cheap, insight and successful actions are dear; in this case they are more than dear, they are quite unobtainable.

If they are quite unobtainable then we should acknowledge the efforts of everyone who does what is possible in a given situation. For the rest I leave it to the reader’s tact to determine whether the commercial jargon of “cheap,” “dear,” “more than dear,” “unobtainable,” are to be included in the category of “fine words” and “fine sentiments.”

Even if we assume then that the “Prussian’s” remarks about the German government and the German bourgeoisie – the latter is presumably to be included in “German society” – are well-founded, does this mean that this segment of society is more perplexed in Germany than in England and France? Is it possible to be more perplexed than in England, for example, where perplexity has been erected into a system? If workers’ uprisings were to break out today all over England, the bourgeoisie and the government would not have any better solutions than those that were open to them in the last third of the 18th century. Their only solution is physical force and since the efficacy of physical force declines in geometric proportion to the growth of pauperism and of the proletariat’s understanding, the perplexity of the English necessarily increases in geometric proportion, too.

Lastly, it is false, factually false, that the German bourgeoisie wholly fails to appreciate the general significance of the Silesian revolt. In a number of town, the masters are making attempts to associate themselves with the journeymen. All the liberal German papers, the organs of the liberal bourgeoisie, are overflowing with statements about the organization of labor, the reform of society, criticism of monopolies and competition, etc. All as a result of the workers’ movements. The newspapers of Trier, Aachen, Cologne, Wesel, Mannheim, Breslau, and even Berlin are publishing often quite sensible articles on social questions from which our “Prussian" could well profit. Indeed, letters from Germany constantly express surprise at the lack of bourgeois resistance to social ideas and tendencies.

If the “Prussian” were more conversant with the history of the social movement, he would have asked the opposite question. Why does the German bourgeoisie attribute such relatively universal significance to sporadic and particular problems? How are we to explain why the proletariat should be shown such animosity and cynicism by the political bourgeoisie and such sympathy and lack of resistance by the unpolitical bourgeoisie?

Critical Notes on the Article:
“The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian”

Vorwarts!, No.64, August 10 1844

Now for the oracular utterances of the “Prussian” concerning the german workers.

The German poor (he observes wittily) are no cleverer than the poor Germans, i.e., they never look beyond their hearth, their factory or their district: they remain as yet untouched by the all-pervading spirit of politics.

In order to compare the situation of the German workers with that of the English and French workers, the “Prussian” should have compared the first formation, the beginnings of the French and English workers’ movement with the new-born German movement. He fails to do this. Hence his entire argument amounts only to the trivial observation that, e.g., industry in Germany is less advanced than in England, or that the start of a movement looks different from it later development. He had wished to speak of the specific nature of the German workers’ movement, but does not say a single word on the subject.

He should consider the matter from the correct vantage-point. He would then realize that not a single one of the French and English insurrections has had the same theoretical and conscious character as the Silesian weavers’ rebellion.

This first of the Weaver’s Song [by Heinrich Heine], that intrepid battle-cry which does not even mention hearth, factory, or district but in which the proletariat at once proclaims its antagonism to the society of private property in the most decisive, aggressive, ruthless and forceful manner. The Silesian rebellion starts where the French and English workers’ finish, namely with an understanding of the nature of the proletariat. This superiority stamps the whole episode. Not only were machines destroyed, those competitors of the workers, but also the account books, the titles of ownership, and whereas all other movements had directed their attacks primarily at the visible enemy, namely the industrialists, the Silesian workers turned also against the hidden enemy, the bankers. Finally, not one English workers’ uprising was carried out with such courage, foresight and endurance.

As for the German workers’ level of education or capacity for it, I would point to Weitling’s brilliant writings which surpass Proudhon’s from a theoretical point of view, however defective they may be in execution. What single work on the emancipation of the bourgeoisie, that is, political emancipation, can the bourgeoisie – for all their philosophers and scholars – put beside Weitling’s Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom? If we compare the meek, sober mediocrity of German political literature with this titanic and brilliant literary debut of the German workers; if we compare these gigantic children’s shows of the proletariat with the dwarf-like proportions of the worn-out political shoes of the German bourgeoisie, we must predict a vigorous future for this German Cinderella. It must be granted that the German proletariat is the theoretician of the European proletariat just as the English proletariat is its economist and the French its politician. It must be granted that the vocation of Germany for social revolution is as classical as its incapacity for political revolution. For just as the impotence of the German bourgeoisie is the political impotence of Germany, so too the capacity of the German proletariat – even apart from German theory – is the social capacity of Germany. The disparity between the philosophical and political development of Germany is nothing abnormal. It is a necessary disparity. Only in socialism can a philosophical nation discover the praxis consonant with its nature and only in the proletariat can it discover the active agent of its emancipation.

For the moment, however, I have neither time nor the will to lecture the “Prussian” on the relationship between German society and the social revolution and to show how this relationship explains, on the one hand, the feeble reaction of the German bourgeoisie to socialism and, on the other hand, the brilliant talents of the German proletariat for socialism. He can find the first rudiments necessary for an understanding of this phenomenon in my Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (in the Franco-German Yearbooks).

Thus the cleverness of the German poor stands in inverse ratio to the cleverness of the poor Germans. But people who make every object the occasion for stylistic exercises in public are misled by such formal activities into perverting the content, while for its part the perverted content stamps the imprint of vulgarity upon the form. Thus the “Prussian’s” attempt to discuss the workers’ unrest in Silesia in formal antithesis has led him into the greatest antitheses to the truth. Confronted with the initial outbreak of the Silesian revolt no man who thinks or loves the truth could regard the duty to play schoolmaster to the event as his primary task. On the contrary, his duty would rather be to study it to discover its specific character. Of course, this requires scientific understanding and a certain love of mankind, while the other procedure needs only a ready-made phraseology saturated in an overweening love of oneself.

Why does the “Prussian” treat the German workers with such disdain? Because he believes the “whole problem” – namely the plight of the workers – “to have been as yet untouched by the all-pervading spirit of politics.” He dilates on his platonic love for the spirit of politics as follows:

All rebellions that are sparked off by the disasterous isolation of men from the community and of their thoughts from social principles are bound to be suppressed amid a welter of blood and incomprehension. But once need produces understanding and once the political understanding of the German discovers the roots of social need then even in Germany these events will be felt to be the symptoms of a great upheaval.

First of all, we hope that the “Prussian” will permit us to make a stylistic comment. His antithesis is incomplete. The first half asserts: Once need produces understanding. The second half states: Once the political understanding discovers the roots of social need. The simple understanding of the first half of the antithesis becomes political understanding in the second, just as the simple need of the first half becomes the social need of the second. Why has our master of style weighted the two halves of his antithesis so unequally? I do not think that he has reflected on the matter. I shall reveal his correct instinct to him. Had he written: “Once social need produces political understanding and once political understanding has discovered the roots of social need” no impartial reader could have failed to see that this antithesis was nonsensical. To begin with, everyone would have wondered why the anonymous author did not link social understanding with social need and political understanding with political need as the most elementary logic would require? But let us proceed to the issue itself!

It is entirely false that social need produces political understanding. Indeed, it is nearer the truth to say that political understanding is produced by social well-being. Political understanding is something spiritual, that is given to him that hath, to the man who is already sitting on velvet. Our “Prussian” should take note of what M. Michael Chevalier, a French economist, has to say on the subject:

In 1789, when the bourgeoisie rose in rebellion the only thing lacking to its freedom was the right to participate in the government of the country. Emancipation meant the removal of the control of public affairs, the high civic, military, and religious functions from the hands of the privileged classes who had a monopoly of these functions. Wealthy and enlightened, self-sufficient and able to manage their own affairs, they wished to evade the clutches of arbitrary rule.

We have already demonstrated to our “Prussian” how inadequate political understanding is to the task of discovering the source of social need. One last word on his view of the matter. The more developed and the more comprehensive is the political understanding of a nation, the more the proletariat will squander its energies – at least in the initial stages of the movement – in senseless, futile uprisings that will be drowned in blood. Because it thinks in political terms, it regards the will as the cause of all evils and force and the overthrow of a particular form of the state as the universal remedy. Proof: the first outbreaks of the French proletariat. [8] The workers in Lyons imagined their goals were entirely political, they saw themselves purely as soldiers of the republic, while in reality they were the soldiers of socialism. Thus their political understanding obscured the roots of their social misery, it falsified their insight into their real goal, their political understanding deceived their social instincts.

But if the “Prussian” expects understanding to be the result of misery, why does he identify “suppression in blood” with “suppression in incomprehension"? If misery is a means whereby to produce understanding, then a bloody slaughter must be a very extreme means to an end. The “Prussian” would have to argue that suppression in a welter of blood will stifle incomprehension and bring a breath of fresh air to the understanding.

The “Prussian” predicts the suppression of the insurrections which are sparked off by the “disasterous isolation of man from the community and of their thoughts from social principles.”

We have shown that in the Silesian uprising, there was no separation of thoughts from social principles. That leaves “the disasterous isolation of men from the community.” By community is meant here the political community, the state. It is the old song about unpolitical Germany.

But do not all rebellions without exception have their roots in the disasterous isolation of man from the community? Does not every rebellion necessarily presuppose isolation? Would the revolution of 1789 have taken place if French citizens had not felt disasterously isolated from the community? The abolition of this isolation was its very purpose.

But the community from which the workers is isolated is a community of quite different reality and scope than the political community. The community from which his own labor separates him is life itself, physical and spiritual life, human morality, human activity, human enjoyment, human nature. Human nature is the true community of men. Just as the disasterous isolation from this nature is disproportionately more far-reaching, unbearable, terrible and contradictory than the isolation from the political community, so too the transcending of this isolation and even a partial reaction, a rebellion against it, is so much greater, just as the man is greater than the citizen and human life than political life. Hence, however limited an industrial revolt may be, it contains within itself a universal soul: and however universal a political revolt may be, its colossal form conceals a narrow split.

The “Prussian” brings his essay to a close worthy of it with the following sentence:

A social revolution without a political soul (i.e., without a central insight organizing it from the point of view of the totality) is impossible.

We have seen: a social revolution possesses a total point of view because – even if it is confined to only one factory district – it represents a protest by man against a dehumanized life, because it proceeds from the point of view of the particular, real individual, because the community against whose separation from himself the individual is reacting, is the true community of man, human nature. In contrast, the political soul of revolution consists in the tendency of the classes with no political power to put an end to their isolation from the state and from power. Its point of view is that of the state, of an abstract totality which exists only through its separation from real life and which is unthinkable in the absence of an organized antithesis between the universal idea and the individual existence of man. In accordance with the limited and contradictory nature of the political soul a revolution inspired by it organizes a dominant group within society at the cost of society.

We shall let the “Prussian” in on the secret of the nature of a “social revolution with a political soul": we shall thus confide to him the secret that not even his phrases raise him above the level of political narrow-mindedness.

A “social” revolution with a political soul is either a composite piece of nonsense, if by “social” revolution the “Prussian” understands a “social” revolution as opposed to a political one, while at the same time he endows the social revolution with a political, rather than a social soul. Or else a “social revolution with a political soul” is nothing but a paraphrase of what is usually called a “political revolution” or a “revolution pure and simple.” Every revolution dissolves the old order of society; to that extent it is social. Every revolution brings down the old ruling power; to that extent it is political.

The “Prussian” must choose between this paraphrase and nonsense. But whether the idea of a social revolution with a political soul is paraphrase or nonsense there is no doubt about the rationality of a political revolution with a social soul. All revolution – the overthrow of the existing ruling power and the dissolution of the old order – is a political act. But without revolution, socialism cannot be made possible. It stands in need of this political act just as it stands in need of destruction and dissolution. But as soon as its organizing functions begin and its goal, its soul emerges, socialism throws its political mask aside.

Such lengthy perorations were necessary to break through the tissue of errors concealed in a single newspaper column. Not every reader possesses the education and the time necessary to get to grips with such literary swindles. In view of this does not our anonymous “Prussian” owe it to the reading public to give up writing on political and social themes and to refrain from making declamatory statements on the situation in Germany, in order to devote himself to a conscientious analysis of his own situation?


1. Marx note: Particular circumstances make it necessary for me to declare that the present article is my first contribution to Vorwarts!.

This two-part article was a reply to Marx’s former co-editor Arnold Ruge, who was the anonymous “Prussian” who, in Vorwarts! No.60 had written a piece generally playing down the Silesian weavers’ revolt and calling for state-initiated reform to address their problems. Marx wrote this to clarify his break with Ruge, criticize Ruge’s ideas of state reform, and to make it very clear he was not the anonymous “Prussian.” (The area of the Rhine on which Marx was born had been ceded to Prussia after the Napoleonic Wars.) Both parts were written in Paris, July 1844.

2. On June 4-6, 1844, Silesian weavers rose up in the first historic worker-capitalist struggle Germany had ever seen.

3. La Reforme: Parisian democratic republican paper, from 1843-50.

4. Marx: Note the stylistic and grammatical nonsense. “Neither the King nor German society has had any presentiment of its reform.” (To whom does “its” refer?)

5. Dusseldorf banquet: Prussian government employees attended a sumptuous banquet held in Dusseldorf by liberals to celebrate the Seventh Flemish Parliament. On July 18, 1843, Prussian king Frederick William IV decreed state employees were now forbidden from attending such Rhenish events.

6. Max is quoting bacon from t he French translation (Geneva, Paris, 1825, pp.131-2) of John Ramsay MacCulloch’s A Discourse on the Rise, Progress, Peculiar Objects and Importance of Political Economy (Edinburgh, 1824).

7. Marx note: It is not necessary for our purposes here to go back to the laborers’ Statute of Edward III.

8. First outbreaks of the French proletariat: reference to the uprisings of the Lyons workers in November 1831 and April 1834.