Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung November 1848

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

The Revolutionary Movement in Italy
By Karl Marx

Written: 29 November 1848;
First Published: Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 156, 30 November 1848;
Source: Marx and Engels: Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Moscow 1972, pp. 172–176;
Transcribed: Einde O'Callaghan for the Marxists Internet Archive (May 2014).

Cologne, November 29. After six months of democracy’s almost uninterrupted defeats, after a series of unprecedented triumphs for the counter-revolution, there are at last indications of an approaching victory of the revolutionary party. Italy, the country whose uprising was the prelude to the European uprising of 1848 and whose collapse was the prelude to the fall of Vienna – Italy rises for the second time. Tuscany has succeeded in establishing a democratic government, and Rome has just won a similar government for itself.

London, April 10; Paris, May 15 and June 25; Milan, August 6; Vienna, November l [1] – these are the four important dates of the European counter-revolution, the four milestones marking the stages of its latest triumphal march.

Not only was the revolutionary power of the Chartists broken in London on April 10, but the revolutionary propaganda impact of the February victory was for the first time broken. Those who correctly assess the position of England and the role she plays in modern history were not surprised that the continental revolutions passed over her without leaving a trace for the time being. England, a country which, through her industry and commerce, dominates all those revolutionary nations of the Continent and nevertheless remains relatively independent of her customers because she dominates the Asian, American and Australian markets; a country in which the contradictions of present-day bourgeois society, the class struggle of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, are most strongly developed and are most acute, England more than any other country follows her own, independent, course of development. The fumbling approach of continental provisional governments to the solution of problems and the abolition of contradictions is not required in England, for she is more competent in dealing with and solving them than any other country. England does not accept the revolution of the Continent; when the time comes England will prescribe the revolution to the Continent. That is England’s position and the necessary consequence of her position, and hence the victory of “order” on April 10 was understandable. But who does not remember that this victory of “order,” this first counter-blow to the blows of February and March, gave fresh support to the counter-revolution everywhere and raised daring hopes in the hearts of those known as conservatives. Who does not remember that everywhere throughout Germany the action of London’s special constables was immediately accepted as a model by the entire Civil Guard. Who does not remember the impression made by this first proof that the movement which had broken out was not unconquerable.

On May 15, Paris promptly provided its counterpart to the victory of the English party that wants to maintain the status quo. The outermost waves of the revolutionary flood were stemmed on April 10; on May 15 its force was broken at its very source. April 10 demonstrated that the February movement was not irresistible; May 15 demonstrated that the insurrection could be checked in Paris. The revolution defeated at its centre was of course bound to succumb at the periphery as well. And this happened to an increasing extent in Prussia and the smaller German states. But the revolutionary current was still strong enough to secure two victories of the people in Vienna, the first also on May 15, the second on May 26, while the victory of absolutism in Naples, likewise won on May 15, acted because of its excesses rather as a counterbalance to the victory of order in Paris. Something was still missing, though. Not only had the revolutionary movement to be defeated in Paris, but armed insurrection had to be divested of the spell of its invincibility in Paris itself; only then could the counter-revolution feel safe.

And that happened at Paris in a battle lasting four days, from June 23 to 26. Four days of gun-fire put an end to the impregnability of the barricades and the invincibility of the armed people. What did Cavaignac demonstrate by his victory if not that the laws of warfare are more or less the same in a street and in a défilé, when faced by a barricade or by an entanglement or bastion? That 40,000 undisciplined armed workers, without guns or howitzers and without deliveries of ammunition, can withstand a well- organized army of 120,000 experienced soldiers and 150,000 men of the National Guard supported by the best and most numerous artillery and abundantly supplied with ammunition for no more than four days? Cavaignac’s victory was the most brutal suppression of the smaller force by a force numerically seven times as big; it was the most inglorious victory ever won, the more inglorious for the blood that it cost despite the overwhelmingly superior forces. Nevertheless it was regarded with amazement as if it were a wonder, for this victory won by superior forces divested the people of Paris and the Paris barricades of the aura of invincibility. By defeating 40,000 workers, Cavaignac’s 300,000 men defeated not only the 40,000 workers, but, without realizing it, defeated the European revolution. We all know that from that day an impetuous storm of reaction set in. There was nothing now to restrain it; the people of Paris were defeated with shell and grape-shot by conservative forces, and what could be done in Paris could be repeated elsewhere. Nothing remained to democracy after this decisive defeat but to make as honourable a retreat as possible and defend its positions foot by foot in the press, at public meetings and in parliaments – positions which could no longer be held.

The next great blow was the fall of Milan. The recapture of Milan by Radetzky was indeed the first European event following the June victory in Paris. The double-headed eagle on the spire of the Milan Cathedral signified not only the fall of Italy as a whole, it also signified the restoration of Austria, the restoration of the stronghold of European counter-revolution. Italy crushed and Austria resurrected – what more could the counter-revolution demand! Indeed, with the fall of Milan there was a slackening of revolutionary energy in Italy for a time, Mamiani was overthrown in Rome, the democrats were defeated in Piedmont; and simultaneously the reactionary party raised its head again in Austria and from its centre, Radetzky’s headquarters, it began with renewed courage to spread the net of its intrigues over all provinces. Only then did Jellachich assume the offensive, only then was the great alliance of the counter-revolution with the Austrian Slavs completed.

I say nothing of the brief intermezzi in which the counter-revolution gained local victories and conquered separate provinces, of the setback in Frankfurt, and so on. They are of local, perhaps national, but not European significance.

Finally, the work that was begun on the day of Custozza [2] was completed on November 1 – just as Radetzky had marched into Milan so did Windischgrätz and Jellachich march into Vienna. Cavaignac’s method was employed, and employed successfully, against the largest and most active focus of German revolution. The revolution in Vienna, like that in Paris, was smothered in blood and smoking ruins.

But it almost seems as if the victory of November I also marks the moment when the retrogressive movement reaches the turning point and a crisis occurs. The attempt step by step to repeat the bold exploit of Vienna in Prussia has failed. Even if the country should forsake the Constituent Assembly, the most the Crown can expect is merely a partial victory which will decide nothing, and at any rate the first discouraging effect of the Viennese defeat has been mitigated by the crude attempt to copy it in every detail.

While Northern Europe has either been forced back again into the servitude of 1847 or is struggling to make safe the gains won during the first months against the attacks of the counter-revolution, Italy is suddenly rising again. Leghorn, the only Italian city which the fall of Milan spurred on to a victorious revolution, Leghorn has at last imparted its democratic élan to the whole of Tuscany and has succeeded in setting up a radically democratic cabinet, more radical than any that ever existed under a monarchy, and more radical even than many a government formed in a republic. This government responded to the fall of Vienna and the restoration of Austria by proclaiming an Italian Constituent Assembly. The revolutionary fire-brand which this democratic government has thus hurled into the midst of the Italian people has kindled a fire: in Rome the people, the National Guard and the army have risen to a man, have overthrown the evasive, counter-revolutionary cabinet and secured a democratic cabinet, and first among the demands they succeeded in putting through is a government based on the principle of Italian nationality, namely, the sending of delegates to the Italian Constituent Assembly as proposed by Guerazzi.

Piedmont and Sicily will undoubtedly follow suit. They will follow just as they did last year.

And then? Will this second resurrection of Italy within three years – like the preceding one – herald the dawn of a new upsurge of European democracy? It almost looks as if it will. For the time of counter-revolution has expired. France is about to throw herself into the arms of an adventurer in order to escape the rule of Cavaignac and Marrast; Germany is more divided than ever; Austria is overwhelmed; Prussia is on the eve of civil war. All the illusions of February and March have been ruthlessly crushed beneath the swift tread of history. Indeed, the people have nothing more to learn from any further victories of the counter-revolution!

It is up to the people, when the occasion arises, to apply the lessons of the past six months at the right moment and fearlessly.


1. On April 10, 1848, a vast Chartist demonstration was to take place in London in connection with the presentation of the third Chartist Petition. The Chartist gathering was dwarfed by the large number of troops and special constables assembled by the government, and the planned march to Parliament was called off.

On May 15, 1848, the bourgeois National Guard frustrated the attempt of the revolutionary Paris workers to set up a Provisional Government.

On June 25, 1848, the rising of the workers of Paris was crushed.

On August 6, 1848, Milan was occupied by Austrian troops who defeated the national liberation movement in Northern Italy.

On November 1, 1848, the troops of the Austrian Field-Marshal Windischgrätz took Vienna.

2. The Sardinian-Lombardian army was defeated by the Austrian army under Radetzky at Custozza on July 25, 1848.