Articles for The New Moral World by Frederick Engels 1845

Rapid Progress of Communism in Germany

Written: April 1845;
Published: in The New Moral World, No. 46, May 10, 1845.

The New Moral World No. 46, May 10, 1845


Dear sir,

Having been unable, for a time, from certain causes, to write you on the state of affairs in Germany, I now continue my reports, hoping that they will interest your readers, and follow each other more uninterruptedly than heretofore. I am glad of being enabled to tell you that we are making the same rapid and steady progress which we made up to my last report. Since I wrote to you last, the Prussian Government have found it unsafe to continue their support to the “Associations for the Benefit of the Working Classes”. They have found that everywhere these associations became infected with something like Communism, and therefore they have done everything in their power to suppress, or at least obstruct, the progress of these associations. On the other hand, the majorities of the members of those societies, being composed of middle-class men, were totally at a loss with regard to the steps they might take to benefit the working people. All their measures — savings-banks, premiums and prizes for the best workers, and such like, — were instantly proved by the Communists to be good for nothing, and held up to public laughter. Thus the intention of the middle classes, to dupe the working classes, by hypocrisy and sham philanthropy, has been totally frustrated; while to us it gave an opportunity which is rather rare in a Country of patriarchal police government: thus the trouble of the matter has been with the Government and the moneyed men, while we have had all the profit.

But not only these meetings were taken profit of for Communist agitation: at Elberfeld, the centre of the manufacturing district of Rhenan Prussia, regular Communist meetings were held. The Communists of this town were invited by some of the most respectable citizens to discuss their principles with them. The first of these meetings took place in February, and was more of a private character. About forty or fifty individuals assisted, including the attorney-general of the district, and other members of the courts of law, as well as representatives of almost all the leading commercial and manufacturing firms. Dr. Hess, whose name I have had more than once an opportunity of mentioning in your columns, opened the proceedings by proposing Mr. Koettgen, a Communist, as chairman, to which no opposition was made. Dr. Hess then read a lecture on the present state of society, and the necessity of abandoning the old system of competition, which he called a system of downright robbery. The lecture was received with much applause (the majority of the audience being Communists); after which Mr. Frederick Engels (who some time ago had some papers on Continental Communism printed in your columns) spoke at some length on the practicability and the advantages of the Community system. He also gave some particulars of the American colonies and your own establishment at Harmony in proof of his assertions. After which a very animated discussion took place, in which the Communist side was advocated by the foregoing speakers and several others; while the opposition was maintained by the attorney-general, by Dr. Benedix, a literary character, and some others. The proceedings, which commenced about nine o'clock in the evening, were continued until one in the morning.

The second meeting took place a week after, in the large room of the first hotel in the town. The room was filled with the “respectables” of the place. Mr. Koettgen, chairman of the former meeting, read some remarks on the future state and prospects of society, as imagined by the Communists, after which Mr. Engels delivered a speech in which he proved (as may be concluded from the fact, that not a word was offered in reply), that the present state of Germany was such as could not but produce in a very short time a social revolution; that this imminent revolution was not to be averted by any possible measures for promoting commerce and manufacturing industry; and that the only means to prevent such a revolution — a revolution more terrible than any of the mere subversions of past history-was the introduction of, and the preparation for, the Community system. The discussion, in which some gentlemen of the profession of the bar, who had come from Cologne and Düsseldorf for the purpose, took part on the Communist side, was again very animated, and prolonged till after midnight. Some Communist poems, by Dr. Müller of Düsseldorf, who was present, were also read.

A week afterwards a third meeting took place in which Dr. Hess again lectured, and besides, some particulars about the American communities were read from a printed paper. The discussion was repeated before the close of the meeting.

Some days afterwards a rumour was spread through the town that the next meeting was to be dispersed by the police, and the speakers to be arrested. The mayor of Elberfeld, indeed, went to the hotel-keeper, and threatened to withdraw the licence, if any such meetings in future should be allowed to take place in his house. The Communists instantly communicated with the mayor about the matter, and received, the day before the next meeting, a circular directed to Messrs. Hess, Engels and Koettgen, by which the provincial Government, with a tremendous amount of quotations from ancient and written laws, declared such meetings to be illegal, and threatened to ‘put a stop to them by force, if they should not be abandoned. The meeting took place next Saturday the mayor and the attorney-general (who after the first meeting had absented himself) were present, supported by a troop of armed police, who had been sent by railroad from Düsseldorf. Of course, under such circumstances, no public addresses were delivered: the meeting occupied themselves with beef-steaks and wine, and gave the police no handle for interference.

These measures, however, could not but serve our cause: those who had not yet heard of the matter were now induced to ask for information about it from the importance ascribed to it by the Government; and a great many of those who had come to the discussion ignorant or scoffing at our proposals, went home with a greater respect for Communism. This respect was also partially produced by the respectable manner in which our party was represented; nearly every patrician and moneyed family of the town had one of its members or relatives present at the large table occupied by the Communists. In short the effect produced by these meetings upon the public mind of the whole manufacturing district was truly wonderful; and in a few days afterwards those who had publicly advocated our cause were overrun by numbers of people who asked for books and papers from which they might get a view of the whole system. We understand that the whole proceedings will shortly be published.

As to Communist literature, there has been exhibited a great activity in this branch of agitation. The public literally long for information: they devour every book published in this line. Dr. Püttmann has published a collection of essays, containing an excellent paper by Dr. Hess, on the distress of modern society, and the means of redressing it; a detailed description of the distressing state of the working people of Silesia, with a history of the riots of last spring; some other articles descriptive of the state of society in Germany; and, finally, an account of the American and Harmony communities (from Mr. Finch’s letters and that of “One who has whistled at the Plough”), by F. Engels. The book, though prosecuted by the Prussian Government, met with a rapid sale in all quarters. A number of monthly periodicals have been established: the Westphalian Steamboat , published at Bielefeld, by Lüning, containing popular essays on Socialism and reports on the state of the working people; the People’s Journal at Cologne, with a more decided Socialist tendency; and the Gesellschaftsspiegel (Mirror of Society), at Elberfeld, by Dr. Hess, founded expressly for the publication of facts characteristic of the present state of society, and for the advocacy of the rights of the working classes. A quarterly review, the Rheinische Jahrbücher (Rhenish Annals), by Dr. Püttmann, has also been established; the first number is now in the press and will shortly be published.

On the other hand, a war has been declared against those of the German philosophers, who refuse to draw from their mere theories practical inferences, and who contend that man has nothing to do but to speculate upon metaphysical questions. Messrs. Marx and Engels have published a detailed refutation of the principles advocated by B. Bauer; and Messrs. Hess and Bürgers are engaged in refuting the theory of M. Stirner: — Bauer and Stirner being the representatives of the ultimate consequences of abstract German philosophy, and therefore the only important philosophical opponents of Socialism — or rather Communism, as in this country the word Socialism means nothing but the different vague, undefined, and undefinable imaginations of those who see that something must be done, and who yet cannot make up their minds to go the whole length of the Community system.

In the press are also-Dr. Marx’s Review of Politics and Political Economy; Mr. F. Engels’ Condition of the Working Classes of Great Britain; Anecdota, or a Collection of Papers on Communism; and in a few days will be commenced a translation of the best French and English works on the subject of Social Reform.

In consequence of the miserable political state of Germany, and the arbitrary proceedings of her patriarchal governments, there is hardly a chance of any but a literary connection between the Communists of the different localities. The periodicals, principally the Rhenish Annals, offer a centre for those who, by the press, advocate Communism. Some connection is kept up by travellers, but this is all. Associations are illegal, and even correspondence is unsafe, as the “secret offices” of late have displayed an unusual activity. Thus it is only by the newspapers that we have received the news of the existence of two Communist associations in Posen and the Silesian mountains. It is reported that at Posen, the capital of Prussian Poland, a number of young men had formed themselves into a secret society, founded upon Communist principles, and with the intention of taking possession of the town; that the plot was discovered, and its execution prevented: this is all we know about the matter. This much, however, is certain, that a great many young men of aristocratic and wealthy Polish families have been arrested; that since (more than two months) all watch posts are doubled and provided with ball cartridge; and that two youths (of 12 and 19 years respectively), the brothers Rymarkiewicz, have absconded, and not yet been got hold of by the authorities. A great number of the prisoners are youths of from 12 to 20 years. The other so-called conspiracy, in the Silesian mountains, is said to have been very extensive, and also for a Communist purpose: they are reported to have intended to take the fortress of Schweidnitz, to occupy the whole range of mountains, and to appeal from thence to the suffering workpeople of all Germany. How far this may be true, nobody is able to judge; but in this unfortunate district, also, arrests have taken place on the depositions of a police spy; and a wealthy manufacturer, Mr. Schlöffel, has been transported to Berlin, where he is now under trial, as the supposed head of the conspiracy.

The associations of German Communists of the working classes in Switzerland, France and England continue to be very active; though in France, and some parts of Switzerland, they have much to suffer from the police. The papers announce that about sixty members of the Communist association of Geneva have been expelled from the town and canton. A. Becker, one of the cleverest of the Swiss Communists, has published a lecture delivered at Lausanne, entitled, “What do the Communists Want?” which belongs to the best and most spirited things of the sort we know of. I dare say it would merit an English translation, and I should be glad if any of your readers were acquainted enough with the German language to undertake it. It is, of course, only a small pamphlet.

I expect to continue my reports from time to time, and remain, etc.

An old friend of yours in Germany