The Campaign for the German Imperial Constitution, Engels 1850


Hecker, Struve, Blenker, Zitz und Blum,
Bringt die deutschen Fürsten um!

This refrain [Hecker, Struve, Blenker, Zitz and Blum, slay the German princes!– Ed.] which on every highway and in every tavern from the Palatinate to the Swiss frontier rang out on the lips of the South German "people's militia" to the well-known tune of "Surrounded by the Sea", a mixture of chorale and barrel-organ–this refrain sums up the whole character of the "magnificent uprising for the Imperial Constitution".[134] Here you have in two lines their great men, their ultimate aims, their admirable staunchness, their noble hatred for the "tyrants" and at the same time their entire insight into the social and political situation.

Amidst all the movements and convulsions in Germany which followed in the wake of the February Revolution and its subsequent development, the campaign for the Imperial Constitution stands out owing to its classically German character. Its occasion, its appearance, the way it conducted itself, its whole course, were through and through German. In the same way as the June days of 1848 mark the degree of the social and political development of France, so the campaign for the Imperial Constitution marks the degree of the social and political development of Germany, and especially of South Germany.

The soul of the whole movement was the class of the petty bourgeoisie, usually known as the burghers, and it is precisely in Germany, and especially in South Germany, that this class is in preponderance. It was the petty bourgeoisie which, in the "March Clubs",[135] the democratic constitutional clubs, the patriotic clubs, the multitude of so-called democratic press, swore to the Imperial Constitution its Grutli oaths,[136] as widespread as they were innocuous, and carried on its fight against the "refractory" princes of which the only immediate result was admittedly the elevating consciousness of having fulfilled one's civic duty. It was the petty bourgeoisie, represented by the resolute and so-called extreme Left of the Frankfurt Assembly, i.e. in particular by the Stuttgart Parliament and the "Imperial Regency",[137] which furnished the entire movement with its official leadership; lastly, the petty bourgeoisie was dominant in the local committees of the provincial diets, committees of public safety, provisional governments and constituent assemblies which in Saxony, on the Rhine and in South Germany won greater or lesser credit in the cause of the Imperial Constitution.

It is most unlikely that the petty bourgeoisie, if left to its own devices, would have gone outside the legal framework of lawful, peaceful and virtuous struggle and taken up the musket and the paving-stone in place of the so-called weapons of the spirit. The history of all political movements since 1830 in Germany, as in France and England, shows that this class is invariably full of bluster and loud protestations, at times even extreme as far as talking goes, as long as it perceives no danger; faint-hearted, cautious and calculating as soon as the slightest danger approaches; aghast, alarmed and wavering as soon as the movement it provoked is seized upon and taken up seriously by other classes; treacherous to the whole movement for the sake of its petty-bourgeois existence as soon as there is any question of a struggle with weapons in hand – and in the end, as a result of its indecisiveness, more often than not cheated and ill-treated as soon as the reactionary side has achieved victory.

Standing everywhere behind the petty bourgeoisie, however, are other classes who take up the movement provoked by it and in its interest, give it a more defined and energetic character and wherever possible seek to take it over: the proletariat and a large part of the peasantry, to whom moreover the more advanced section of the petty bourgeoisie usually attaches itself for a while.

These classes, headed by the proletariat of the larger towns, took the loudly protested assurances in favour of the Imperial Constitution more seriously than was to the liking of the petty-bourgeois agitators. If the petty bourgeois were prepared, as they swore at every moment, to stake "property and life" [In the German original a paraphrase of "mit Gut und Blut fur des Reichsgrundgesetz einzustehen" in the proclamation issued by the Bavarian petty-bourgeois deputies in reply to the Bavarian King's refusal to recognise the Imperial Constitution; the proclamation was published in the Kolnische Zeitung No. 109, May 8, 1849.–Ed.] for the Imperial Constitution, the workers, and in many districts the peasants too, were ready to do the same, but under the condition, admittedly unspoken but perfectly understood by all parties, that after victory the petty bourgeoisie would have to defend this same Imperial Constitution against these same workers and peasants. These classes drove the petty bourgeoisie to an open break with the existing state power. If they could not prevent their allies, with their shopkeepers mentality, from betraying them even while the battle was still going on, they at least had the satisfaction of seeing this treachery punished after the victory of the counter-revolution by the counter-revolutionaries themselves.

On the other hand at the beginning of the movement, the more resolute section of the bigger and middle bourgeoisie likewise attached itself to the petty bourgeoisie, just as we find in all earlier petty-bourgeois movements in England and France. The bourgeoisie never rules in its entirety; apart from the feudal castes which have still retained some degree of the political power, even the big bourgeoisie itself splits, as soon as it has vanquished feudalism, into a governing and an opposing party usually represented by the banks on the one hand and the manufacturers on the other. The opposing, progressive section of the big and middle bourgeoisie then has, against the ruling section, common interests with the petty bourgeoisie and unites with it for a joint struggle. In Germany, where the armed counter-revolution has restored the almost exclusive rule of the army, the bureaucracy and the feudal nobility and where the bourgeoisie, in spite of the continued existence of constitutional forms, only plays a very subordinate and modest role, there are many more motives for this alliance. For all that, however, the German bourgeoisie is also infinitely more irresolute than its English and French counterparts and as soon as there is the slightest chance of a return to anarchy, i.e. of the real, decisive struggle, it retreats from the scene in fear and trembling. So also this time.

Incidentally, the moment was not at all unfavourable for battle. In France elections were at hand; whether they gave the majority to the monarchists or the reds, they were bound to oust the centre parties of the Constituent Assembly, strengthen the extreme parties and bring about through a popular movement a speedy resolution of the intensified parliamentary struggle: in a word, they were bound to bring about a "journee". [An "historic day".–Ed] In Italy fighting was going on under the walls of Rome, and the Roman Republic was holding out against the French army of invasion. In Hungary the Magyars were pushing on irresistibly; the imperial troops had been chased over the Waag and the Leitha; in Vienna, where every day people imagined they could hear the roar of cannon, the Hungarian revolutionary army was expected at any moment; in Galicia the arrival of Dembinski with a Polish-Magyar army was imminent and the Russian intervention, far from becoming dangerous to the Magyars, seemed much more likely to transform the Hungarian struggle into a European one. Finally, Germany was in a state of extreme ferment; the advances of the counter-revolution, the growing insolence of the soldiery, the bureaucracy and the nobility, the continually renewed betrayals by the old liberals in the ministries and the rapid succession of broken promises on the part of the princes precipitated into the arms of the active party whole sections of former supporters of order.

In these circumstances the struggle broke out which we are about to describe in the following passages.

The incompleteness and confusion that still prevails in the material, the total unreliability of almost all the oral information that can be collected and the purely personal designs that underlie every piece of writing so far published about this struggle make it impossible to give a critical picture of the whole course of events. In these circumstances we have no choice but to restrict ourselves purely to recounting what we ourselves have seen and heard. Fortunately this is quite enough to allow the character of the whole campaign to emerge; and if, besides the movement in Saxony, we also lack personal observation of Mieroslawski's campaign on the Neckar, perhaps the Neue Rheinische Zeitung will soon find an opportunity of giving us the necessary information at least as regards the latter.[138]

Many of the participants in the campaign for the Imperial Constitution are still in prison. Some have managed to return home, others, still abroad, are daily awaiting such an opportunity – and among them are by no means the worst. The reader will understand the consideration we owe our comrades-in-arms and find it natural if we remain silent about certain things; and many a one who is now safely back home will not take it amiss if we also do not wish to compromise him by narrating events in which he displayed truly magnificent courage.


134 The Imperial Constitution was adopted by the Frankfurt National Assembly on March 28, 1849. While proclaiming a number of civil liberties and introducing national central institutions, the Constitution nevertheless shaped the united German state as a monarchy. On March 28 the Prussian King Frerderick William IV was elected "Emperor of the Germans" by the Frankfurt National Assembly. Prussian-oriented liberal deputies of the Assembly in particular insisted on handing the imperial crown to the Hohenzollerns. However, Frederick William IV refused to accept the offer. Apart from the Prussian Government, those of almost all the larger German states (including Saxony, Bavaria and Hanover) refused to recognise the Constitution. Afraid of revolutionary action, liberals and democrats in the Frankfurt National Assembly proved incapable of upholding the Constitution. The people themselves were its sole defender, and in the spring and summer of 1849, they started an armed struggle led by petty-bourgeois democrats. Despite its limitations, the Constitution was seen by the people as the only remaining achievement of the revolution. On May 3, an armed uprising broke out in Dresden and later in a number of towns in Rhenish Prussia; however, these uprisings were rapidly suppressed by troops. The most powerful struggle in support of the Imperial Constitution developed in the Bavarian Palatinate and Baden, where workers, urban petty bourgeoisie and peasants rose in its defence. They were soon joined by military units, especially mounted units. In the middle of May provisional governments were set up, Leopold, the Grand Duke of Baden, fled, and the separation of the Palatinate from Bavaria was proclaimed. The leadership of the movement, however, fell mainly into the hands of moderate petty-bourgeois democrats, who were hesitant and refused to proclaim a republic. They chose passive defensive tactics confining the movement to local limits and preventing the uprising from spreading outside the Palatinate and Baden. Nevertheless, the combined Palatinate-Baden insurgent army, in which there were many workers' units, put up a strong resistance to the Prussian-Bavarian-Wurttemberg troops who greatly exceeded the insurgents in numbers and strength. The insurgents' last stronghold–Rastatt–fell on July 23. The uprisings in the Palatinate and Baden in the spring and summer of 1849 were the closing events of the German revolution.

135 The March Association, thus named after the March 1848 revolution in Germany, was founded in Frankfurt am Main at the end of November 1848 by Left-wing deputies to the Frankfurt National Assembly and had branches in various towns in Germany. Frobel, Simon, Wesendock, Eisenmann, Vogt and other petty-bourgeois democratic leaders of the March associations confined themselves to revolutionary phrase-mongering and showed indecision and inconsistency in the struggle against counter-revolutionaries, for which Marx and Engels criticised them sharply.

136 The reference is to a legend of the Swiss Confederation the origin of which dates back to the agreement between the three mountain cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden in 1291. The legend runs that representatives of the three cantons met in the Grutli (or Rutli) meadow in 1307 and took an oath of loyalty in the joint struggle against Austrian rule.

137 The Left wing of the Frankfurt National Assembly consisted of two factions: the Left (Robert Blum, Karl Vogt and others) and the extreme Left, known as the radical-democratic party (Arnold Ruge, Friedrich Wilhelm Schloffel, Franz Zitz, Samuel Truzschler and others), which, in the main, represented the petty bourgeoisie, but was nevertheless supported by a section of the German workers. The extreme Left vacillated and took a halfway position on the basic problems of the German revolution - abolition of the remnants of feudalism and unification of the country. In April and May 1849, after the conservative and most of the liberal deputies had left the Assembly, the Left and the extreme Left gained the majority. But they, too, continued the policy of curbing the revolutionary actions of the masses.

The Regency of the Empire was formed in Stuttgart on June 7 by what remained of the Frankfurt National Assembly, instead of the Central Authority headed by the Imperial Regent, Archduke John, who was openly counter-revolutionary. The Regency consisted of five deputies representing the Left faction (moderate democrats): Franz Raveaux, Karl Vogt, Ludwig Simon, Friedrich Schuler, August Becher. They failed in their attempts to carry by parliamentary means the Imperial Constitution that had been worked out by the Frankfurt Assembly and rejected by the German princes: The Regency virtually ceased its activities after the Frankfurt Assembly was finally dispersed on June 18, 1849. Some of its former deputies emigrated to Switzerland.

138 Presumably Engels himself intended to write this work to complement his essays on the campaign for the German Imperial Constitution, but no article on this was ever published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Politisch-okonomische Revue.