Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848

The Democratic Party

Written: 1 June 1848.
First Published:Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 2, 2 June 1848.
Source: Marx and Engels: Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Moscow 1972, pp. 27 – 29.
Transcribed: Einde O'Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive (May 2014).

Cologne, June 1. Every new organ of public opinion is generally expected to show enthusiasm for the party whose principles it supports, unqualified confidence in the strength of this party, and constant readiness either to use the real power to back the principles, or to use the glamour of the principles to cover up real weaknesses. We shall not live up to these expectations. We shall not seek to gild defeats with deceptive illusions.

The democratic party has suffered defeat; the principles which it proclaimed at the moment of victory are called in question; the ground it has actually won is being contested inch by inch; much has been lost already and soon the question will arise – what is left?

What is important for us is that the democratic party should understand its position. People may ask why we are concerned with a party, why we do not concentrate on the aims of the democratic movement, the welfare of the people, the happiness of all without distinction.

For such is the law and usage of struggle, and only from the struggle of parties can the future welfare arise – not from pseudo-judicious compromises or from a hypocritical alliance brought about despite conflicting views, interests and aims.

We demand of the democratic party that it grasp the significance of its position. This demand springs from the experience of the past months. The democratic party has allowed the elation of its first victory to go to its head. Intoxicated with the joy of being able at last to proclaim its principles openly for all to hear, it imagined that one had merely to proclaim these principles for them to be immediately realised. It did not go beyond this proclamation after its first victory and the concessions which directly followed it. But while the party was lavish with its ideas and treated as a brother everyone who did not immediately dare to challenge it, the others – those who retained or obtained power – were active. And their activity is not to be made light of. Keeping their principles to themselves and divulging only those parts that were directed against old conditions already overthrown by the revolution, they carefully held the movement in check, ostensibly in the interests of the evolving legal system or the establishment of formal order. They made would-be concessions to the advocates of the old order to secure their support for their own plans; then they gradually built up the basic elements of their own political system and thus succeeded in occupying an intermediate position between the democratic party and the defenders of absolutism, on the one hand advancing and on the other retarding the movement, being at once progressive – as regards the absolutists – and reactionary – as regards the democrats.

In its first intoxication the people’s party allowed itself to be taken in by the party of the prudent, moderate bourgeoisie, till finally it began to see things in their true light after having been contemptuously spurned, after all sorts of reprehensible intentions had been imputed to it, and its members denounced as demagogues. Then it perceived that it had actually achieved nothing but what the gentlemen of the bourgeoisie regarded as compatible with their own well-understood interests. Set in conflict with itself by an undemocratic electoral law and defeated in the elections, the party now has against it two elected bodies; the only doubtful thing about them is, which of them will more strongly oppose its demands. Consequently, the enthusiasm of the party has of course melted away and has been replaced by the sober recognition of the fact that a powerful reaction has gained control, and this, strangely enough, happened before any revolutionary action took place.

Although all this is undoubtedly true, it would be dangerous if the bitter feeling engendered by the first and partly self-induced defeat would impel the democratic party now to revert to that wretched idealism, which is unfortunately characteristic of the German temperament, and according to which a principle that cannot be put into practice immediately is relegated to the distant future while for the present its innocuous elaboration is left to the “thinkers.”

We must clearly warn against those hypocritical friends who, while declaring that they agree with the principles, doubt whether they are practicable, because, they allege, the world is not yet ready for them, and who have no intention of making it ready, but on the contrary prefer to share the common lot of the wicked in this wicked earthly life. If these are the crypto-republicans whom the privy councillor Gervinus fears so much, then we wholeheartedly agree with him: “Such men are dangerous.”