Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung August 1848

The Italian Liberation Struggle and the Cause of its Present Failure
By Friedrich Engels

Written: 11 August 1848;
First Published: Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 73, 12 August 1848;
Source: Marx and Engels: Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Moscow 1972, pp. 103-105;
Transcribed: Einde O'Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet archive (May 2014).

With the same celerity with which they were expelled from Lombardy in March, the Austrians have now returned in triumph and have already entered Milan.

The Italian people spared no sacrifice. They were prepared at the cost of life and property to complete the work they had begun and win their national independence.

But this courage, enthusiasm and readiness to make sacrifices were nowhere matched by those who stood at the helm. Overtly or covertly, they did everything to use the means at their disposal, not for the liberation of the country from the harsh Austrian tyranny, but to paralyse the popular forces and, in effect, to restore the old conditions as soon as possible.

The Pope[1], who was worked on more and more every day and won over by the Austrian and Jesuitical politicians, put all the obstacles in the way of the Mamiani Ministry which he, in conjunction with the “Blacks” and the “Black-Yellows” [2], could find. The Ministry itself delivered highly patriotic speeches in both chambers, but did not have the energy to carry out its good intentions.

The Government of Tuscany distinguished itself by fine words and even fewer deeds. But the arch-enemy of Italian liberty among the native princes was and remains Karl Albert. The Italians should have repeated and borne in mind every hour of the day the saying: Heaven protect us from our friends, we will protect ourselves from our enemies! They hardly needed to fear Ferdinand of Bourbon, he was unmasked long ago. Karl Albert, on the other hand, let himself be acclaimed everywhere as “la spada d'Italia” (the sword of Italy) and the hero whose rapier was Italy’s best guarantee of freedom and independence.

His emissaries went to all parts of Northern Italy portraying him as the only man who could and would save the country. To enable him to do this, however, it was necessary to set up a North Italian kingdom. Only this could give him the power required not only to oppose the Austrians but to drive them out of Italy. The ambition which had previously made him join forces with the Carbonari[3], whom he afterwards betrayed, this ambition became more inflamed than ever and made him dream of a plenitude of power and magnificence before which the splendour of all the other Italian princes would very soon pale. He thought that he could appropriate the entire popular movement of 1848 and use it in the interests of his own miserable self. Filled with hatred and distrust of all truly liberal men, he surrounded himself with people more or less loyal to absolutism and inclined to encourage his royal ambitions. He placed at the head of the army generals whose intellectual superiority and political views he did not have to fear, but who neither enjoyed the confidence of the soldiers nor possessed the talent required to wage a successful war. He pompously called himself the “liberator” of Italy while making it a condition that those who were to be liberated accept his yoke. Seldom was a man so favoured by circumstances as he was. His greed, his desire to possess as much as he could led in the end to his losing everything he had gained. So long as there was no firm decision that Lombardy would join Piedmont, so long as the possibility of a republican form of government still existed, he remained in his entrenchments and did not move against the Austrians, although they were relatively weak at the time. He let Radetzky, d'Aspre, Welden, and others seize the towns and fortresses of the Venetian provinces one by one and did not stir a finger. Only when Venice sought the refuge of his crown did he deign to give his help. The same applies to Parma and Modena. Radetzky meanwhile had mustered strength and made all preparations for an attack which, in view of the inability and blindness of Karl Albert and his generals, led to a decisive victory. The outcome is well known. Henceforth Italians can and will no longer entrust their liberation to a prince or king. On the contrary, in order to save themselves they must completely discard this useless “spada d'Italia” as quickly as possible. If they had done this earlier, and had superannuated the King with his system and all the hangers-on, and had formed a democratic union, it is likely that by now there would have been no more Austrians in Italy. Instead, the Italians not only bore all the hardships of a war waged with fury and barbarity by their enemies and suffered the heaviest sacrifices in vain, but were left defenceless to the tender mercies of the vindictive Metternich-Austrian reactionaries and their soldiery. Anyone reading Radetzky’s manifestos to the people of Lombardy and Welden’s manifestos to the Roman legations will understand that to the Italians Attila and his Hun hordes would have appeared merciful angels. The reaction and restoration have triumphed. The Duke of Modena, called “il carnefice” (the hangman), who loaned the Austrians 1,200,000 florins for war purposes, has returned as well. The people, in their magnanimity, have so often made a stick for their own back, that it is time they got wiser and learned something from their enemies. Although, during his previous reign, the Duke had imprisoned, hanged and shot thousands of people for their political convictions, the Modenese let him depart unmolested. Now he has returned to discharge his sanguinary princely office with redoubled zeal.

The reaction and restoration have triumphed, but only for a time. The people are so deeply imbued with the revolutionary spirit that they cannot be held in check for long. Milan, Brescia and other towns showed in March what this spirit is capable of. The excessive suffering inflicted upon them will lead to a new rising. By taking into account the bitter experience of the past months, Italy will be able to avoid new delusions and to secure her independence under a single democratic banner.


1. Pius IX.

2. The term “Blacks” is an allusion to the Jesuit priests; “Black-Yellows” to the Austrians, since the colours of the Austrian flag were black and yellow.

3. Carbonari – a secret political society organised in Italy in the early nineteenth century to fight for national independence.