Works of Frederick Engels

Notes on Germany


Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden;


a) Political situation. The German princes exploit the Westphalian peace, vying with one another to sell themselves to the foreign power, and these — France and the princes — exploit Germany’s weakness in order gradually to appropriate all Germany’s French possessions and to round off Alsace’s boundaries. France’s historical right and cries of “robbery” from the Teutons. Immutability of the linguistic frontier (see Menke) since c. A.D. 1000, with the exception of the left Vosges districts. This in general. In particular: the rise of Prussia in the north as a power competing with Austria and the empire. The division into north and south begins to be realised. Criticism of Prussian history. Frederick II — The rise of Russia and Frederick II’s subjection to Russian policy — because of Prussia, civil wars are now wars of competition between Austria and Prussia.

b) Economic matters. For all that, slow recovery from the consequences of the Thirty Years’ War; the bourgeoisie scramble up again. In such a situation, this resurgence is possible only by dint of infamous virtues. Despite all this, economic progress is made possible only by political intervention, by the villainy of the princes and the money they receive from abroad. This demonstrates the depth of Germany’s economic humiliation. This period is the source of the patriarchal regime. After 1648, the state is really called upon to carry out social functions and is forced to do this by financial necessity; where it neglected them — stagnation (the Westphalian bishoprics). What a state of humiliation! And how miserable state assistance is! Purely passive in relation to the world market; able to make some profit in large-scale world wars (the American and the revolutionary wars until 1801) as a neutral only. On the other hand, impotent against the robber states. (Thanks to the French Revolution, this shameful position in Europe is abolished.)

c) Literature and language in total decay; theology is petrified dogmatism; in other branches of learning, Germany is in full decline, but there are still glimmers of light: Jakob Böhme (a new portent of the coming philosophers), Kepler, Leibniz — again abstraction from the existing, from reality. Bach.

d) The situation of Germany in 1789. a) Agriculture — condition of the peasants, serfdom, floggings, payment of tax. b) Industry — unrelieved starvation, essentially manual labour, but in England large-scale industry is already beginning, while German industry is doomed even before it has fully developed. c) Trade — passive. d) Social position of the burghers in relation to the nobility and the government. e) Political impediment to development: fragmentation, description according to Menke. Customs duties, obstacle to river traffic; free trade confined to internal boundaries by disintegration, customs duties are for the most part municipal consumer taxes.

These princes, incapable of good, even when enlightened men — like the protectors of Schubart, and Karl August — all much preferred to enter the Rheinbund than to fight a war through. The proof was invasion of 1806 in which they found themselves with a knife pointed at their throats. Besides, each of these 1,000 princes is an absolute monarch — crude, uneducated blackguards, co-operation among whom is never to be expected, but always a multitude of whims (Schlözer). Trade in soldiers during the American war. — But their most shameful act was their mere existence. And alongside them, on the eastern frontier, Prussia to the north and Austria to the south, greedily reaching out their hands for new areas; the only two states which could still save the situation, had only one of the two existed. But their inevitable competition ruled out any solution. A genuine cul-de-sac; help could only come from outside — it was brought by the French Revolution. Only two signs of life: military ability and literature, philosophy, scrupulous, objective scientific research. Whereas in France political writings, even though of the first rank, predominated from as early as the 18th century, in Germany all this was a flight from reality into the sphere of the ideal. Man as such and the development of language; 1700 barbarism, 1750 Lessing and Kant, soon Goethe, Schiller, Wieland, Herder, Händel, Gluck, Mozart.


I. The German enclaves in Alsace-Lorraine, etc. — already half under French sovereignty — allied themselves with the French Revolution, thus giving a pretext for war. Prussia and Austria are now suddenly at one. Valmy. Defeat of linear tactics by the use of massed artillery. Fleurus and Jemmapes. Defeat of Austrian tactics, which are based on a chain of military posts? Conquest of the left bank of the Rhine. Jubilation of the peasants and the free-spirited towns, which is not dispelled even by individual instances of extortion or by Napoleon’s blood tax. The peace of Amiens and the imperial deputies’ main decision — dissolution of the German empire. The Rheinbund. The sweeping away of small states by Napoleon; unfortunately this is far from enough. He is always a revolutionary in relation to the princes and would have gone further had the petty princes not humbled themselves before him so abjectly. 1806 — Napoleon’s error was that he did not completely annihilate Prussia. Economic position of Germany during the Continental Blockade. — The period of greatest humiliation from abroad coincides with a period of great brilliance in literature and philosophy while music reaches its culmination in Beethoven.