Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Two: Hegel’s Pupil


1. The First Year in Berlin

EVEN before Karl Marx had become engaged to Jenny von Westphalen his father had decided that his studies should be continued in Berlin and a document dated the 1st of July, 1836, is still extant in which Heinrich Marx not only gives his permission but declares it his wish that his son Karl shall enter the University of Berlin to continue studies in jurisprudence and political economy begun at Bonn.

The engagement itself probably strengthened this decision, for in view of the remote nature of their prospects the cautious character of Marx’s father caused him to feel that for the moment at least a separation of the lovers was desirable. His Prussian patriotism may have influenced him in his choice of Berlin, and also perhaps the fact that the Berlin University did not foster the “glorious college days” tradition which, in the opinion of his prudent parent, Karl Marx had supported quite enough at Bonn. “Other universities are positively Bacchanalian compared with this workhouse,” declared Ludwig Feuerbach, referring to Berlin.

The young student certainly did not choose Berlin himself. Karl Marx loved the sunny Rhineland and the Prussian capital remained obnoxious to him all his life. The philosophy of Hegel cannot have exercised any attraction because he knew nothing at all about it, although it ruled still more absolutely at the University of Berlin since the death of its founder than it had done even during his life. And then there was the accompanying separation from his sweetheart. It is true that he had promised to content himself with her agreement to marry him in the future and to renounce all present signs of affection, but such lovers’ oaths are notoriously writ in water. In later years Marx told his children that his love for their mother had turned him into a raving Roland in those days, and in fact his young and ardent heart did not rest until he had obtained at least permission to write to Jenny.

However, the first letter he received from her arrived only after he had been in Berlin a year. Thanks to a letter he wrote to his parents on the 10th of November, 1837, to give them “some idea of the past year here,” we are perhaps better informed about this year than about any other in his life either earlier or later. This interesting document reveals the whole man even in the youngster, the man striving after truth even to the point of moral and physical exhaustion, his insatiable thirst for knowledge, his inexhaustible capacity for work, his merciless self-criticism, and that fierce fighting spirit which might over-rule the heart, but only when it seemed to be in error.

Karl Marx matriculated on the 22nd of October, 1836. He did not bother much about the academic lectures and in nine half-yearly terms he put his name down for only twelve, including for the most part the obligatory lectures on jurisprudence, and even of these twelve he probably heard very few. Eduard Gans was the only one of the official University lecturers who exercised any influence on his mental development. Marx attended the lectures of Gans on criminal law and the Prussian civil code, and cans himself has testified to the “excellent diligence” which Marx displayed at both these courses. Of far greater value, however, than any such testimony, which always tends to be influenced by personal considerations, is the merciless polemic which Marx waged in his earliest writings against the historical school of law under the example of the philosophically trained jurist Gans, who had raised his eloquent voice so strongly against the narrowness and mustiness and against the deleterious influence of this school on legislation and on the development of the law.

According to his own account Marx studied jurisprudence merely as a subordinate discipline together with history and philosophy. As far as these last mentioned subjects were concerned, he did not bother about the lectures at all and did no more than put down his name for the usual obligatory lectures on logic by Gabler, the official successor of Hegel but the most mediocre amongst Hegel’s mediocre followers. Karl Marx was essentially a thinker and even at the university he worked independently, so that in a year he obtained a wealth of knowledge which ten years of the usual slow spoon-fed academic lectures could hardly have given him.

On his arrival in Berlin “the new world of love” clamoured for attention. “Full of yearning and empty of hope” his feelings poured themselves into three exercise books full of poems all dedicated “To my dear and ever-beloved Jenny von Westphalen.” They were in Jenny’s hands in December, 1836, welcomed with “tears of joy and sadness,” as Marx’s sister Sophie reported to Berlin. A year later in his long letter to his parents the poet himself passes a very disrespectful verdict on these children of his Muse: “All flat and formless in feeling; nothing natural about them; everything up in the air; utter contradiction between what is and what should be; rhetorical reflections instead of poetical ideas.” At the end of this list of sins the young poet is prepared to grant “perhaps a certain warmth of feeling and a striving after poetic fire” as an extenuating circumstance, but even this was true only in the same way and to the same extent as it is true of the Laura Lieder of Schiller.

In general these youthful poems breathe a spirit of trivial romanticism, and very seldom does any true note ring through. In addition the technique of their verse is more clumsy and helpless than it had a right to be after Heine and Platen had both sung. Thus the creative talent which Marx possessed in great measure and which later expressed itself in his scientific works began to develop along peculiar by-paths. In the figurative power of his language Marx rose to the level of the greatest masters of German literature and he attached great value to the aesthetic harmony of his writing, unlike those poor spirits who regard a dry-as-dust style as the first condition of scholarly achievement. Still the gift of verse was not amongst the talents placed in his cradle by the Muses.

As he wrote to his parents, poetry must be for him no more than an agreeable subordinate interest. He would study jurisprudence thoroughly and felt above all a desire to wrestle with philosophy. He went through Heineccius, Thibaut and the authorities, translated the first two books of the Pandects [1] into German, and sought to found a philosophy of law. This “unfortunate opus,” he declares, got almost as far as 300 Bogen [2], but this may very well have been a slip of the pen. In the end he saw “the falsity of the whole thing” and then flung himself into the arms of philosophy to draft a new metaphysical system, only to realize once again the folly of his efforts. During his studies he adopted the habit of making summaries of the books he read, for instance, Lessing’s Laocoon, Solger’s Ervin, Winckelmann’s History of Art, Luden’s German History, etc., and at the same time jotting down his own reflections. He also translated the Germania of Tacitus and the Elegies of Ovid, and began learning English and Italian on his own, that is to say, from grammars, but he made little progress. He read Klein’s Criminal Law and the Annals, and also all the new literary productions, but this was only by the way and in his spare time. The end of the term was then again devoted to the “Dance of the Muses and Music of the Satyrs,” when suddenly the domain of real poetry opened up before his eyes like a far-off fairy palace and all his own creations fell to nothing.

Thus the result of the first term was “many nights of wakefulness, many battles fought, and much internal and external stimulation received,” but little gained; nature, art and the world neglected and friends lost. In addition his health suffered from over-exertion, and, acting on medical advice he moved to Stralau, which at that time was still a peaceful little fishing village. In Stralau he recuperated rapidly and took up his spiritual struggle once again.

In the second term he also mastered a mass of the most varied knowledge, but gradually it became more and more evident that the one firm pole in the ceaseless flow of things was the philosophy of Hegel. Marx’s first acquaintance with it was rather fragmentary and its “grotesque and rough-hewn melody” did not please him at all, but during a second bout of illness he studied it from beginning to end and soon after fell in with a club of young Hegelians where, in the conflict of opinions, he became more and more attached to “the present world philosophy, but certainly not without silencing everything sonorous within him and causing “a downright rage of irony at so much negation.”

Karl Marx explains all this to his parents and concludes by asking permission to come home at once instead of at Easter in the following year as his father had already promised. He declares that he wanted to discuss with his father “the many vicissitudes” to which his mind had been subjected in the process of formation, and that only in the “dear presence” of his parents would he be able to lay “the restless ghosts.” This letter is of great value to us to-day because it is a mirror in which we can see the young Marx clearly, but it was not favourably received by his parents. His father, already ailing, again caught sight of the “Demon” which he had always feared and which he now doubly feared since his son had fallen in love with “a certain person” whom the old man loved as his own child and since an honourable family had been persuaded to approve of a relationship which apparently and according to the usual way of the world would be full of danger and gloomy prospects for its beloved child. Marx’s father was not wilful enough to dictate a course of life to his son, provided that an alternative course would still permit the latter to fulfil his “sacred obligations,” but what the old man now saw ahead was a storm-troubled sea with no prospect of any safe anchorage.

Therefore, despite his “weakness,” which he realized better than anyone else, he decided “to be hard for once, and in his reply he was hard after his own fashion, and boundless exaggeration alternated with woeful sighs. He asks how his son has solved his problems and answers the question for him: “God help us!!! Lack of order, a fusty prowling around in all the fields of science, a stuffy brooding under a dismal oil lamp. Going to seed in a scholastic dressing-gown with unkempt hair as a change from going to seed with beer glass in hand. Repellent unsociability and the consignment to a secondary position of everything decent, even including consideration for your own father. The limitation of the social graces to a dirty room where in woeful disorder the love letters of a Jenny and the well-meaning exhortations of a father, written with tears perhaps, are used as pipelighters, which, by the way, is better than that they should fall into the hands of third persons as a result of still more irresponsible disorder.”

And then he is overcome by melancholy and in order to remain merciless he fortifies himself with the pills the doctor has prescribed for him. Karl’s poor management is taken to task severely. “My worthy son spends 700 thaler in a year as though we were made of money, in defiance of all advice and against all custom and although the richest need no more than 500 thaler.” To be sure, he admits, Karl is neither a spendthrift nor a waster, and how can a man who invents new systems every week and scraps them the next be expected to bother his head about such trivial matters? Everyone had his hand in Karl’s pocket and everyone swindled him right and left.

The letter proceeds in this style for some time and finally the father sternly refuses his son permission to return home: “To come home now would be foolish. I am very well aware that you do not bother much about the lectures – probably paid for all the same – but at least I insist on decorum being observed. I am no slave to the opinions of other people, but I don’t like gossip at my expense.” Karl could come home at Easter, as arranged, or even ten days earlier if he cared, for his father was not pedantic.

Throughout all these complaints we can detect the reproach that the son has no heart. As this reproach was later levelled against Karl Marx repeatedly, it is as well to say here, when it is raised for the first time and probably with some justification, what little there is to say about it. The popular phrase “the right to enjoy life to the full,” which was invented by a pampered civilization to cloak its cowardly egoism, is, of course, meaningless. Nor is the older phrase, “the right of genius,” to permit itself more than the ordinary human being much better. The ceaseless striving for the highest truth which always characterized Marx sprang from the depths of his heart.

As he once said bluntly, his hide was not thick enough to let him turn his back on “the sufferings of humanity, or as Hutten once expressed the same idea: God had burdened him with a heart which caused the common sorrows of humanity to touch him more acutely than the others. No man has ever done so much as Karl Marx to destroy the root causes of “the sufferings of humanity.” His ship ploughed its way across the high seas of life through storm and stress and under constant fire from his enemies. His flag was always at the mast-head, but the life on board was not a comfortable one either for the captain or the crew.

Marx was certainly not devoid of feelings towards those nearest to him. His fighting spirit could overrule the feelings of his heart where necessary, but it never completely stifled them, and the man in his maturity often complained bitterly that those who were nearest to him suffered more under the inexorable lot of his life than he did himself. The young student quickly showed that he was not impervious to the distress of his father. He abandoned his wish to go home immediately and even his Easter visit, much to the disappointment of his mother, but to the great satisfaction of his father, whose anger quickly began to subside. He continued his complaints, but he did abandon his exaggerations: in the art of abstract reasoning he was certainly no match for his son, he wrote. And he was already too old to study the necessary terminology, before plunging into the holy of holies; but on one point abstract argument offered little assistance and just on this point his son wisely maintained a dignified silence, namely on the paltry question of money whose value to the father of a family the son still apparently failed to recognize. However, he declared, weariness compelled him to lay down his arms.

Unfortunately this last sentence had a more serious meaning than was suggested by the sly humour which again began to show in the letter. It was dated the 10th of February, 1838, and Heinrich Marx had just risen from a sick bed to which he had been confined for five weeks. The improvement in his health which had permitted him to rise was not maintained and the trouble, apparently a liver disease, returned and grew worse until just three months later, on the 10th of May, 1838, he died. Death came just in time to spare him the disappointments which would have broken his heart bit by bit.

Karl Marx always realized with gratitude what his father had been to him, and as his father had enshrined him in the depths of his heart, so the son bore a picture of his father next to his heart until the day when he took it into the grave with him.



2. The Young Hegelians

From the spring of 1838, when he lost his father, Karl Marx spent three more years in Berlin, and the intellectual life in the circle of Young Hegelians opened up the secrets of the Hegelian philosophy to him.

At that time Hegelian philosophy was regarded as the Prussian State philosophy and the Minister of Culture Altenstein and his Privy Councillor Johannes Schulze had taken it under their special care. Hegel glorified the State as the reality of the moral idea, as the absolute reason and the absolute aim in itself, and therefore as the highest right as against the individual whose paramount duty it was to be a member of the State. This doctrine of the State was naturally very welcome to the Prussian bureaucracy, for it transfigured even the sins of the demagogue hunt. [3]

Hegel’s philosophy was not hypocritical and his political development explains why he regarded the monarchical form, embracing the best efforts of all the servants of the State, as the most ideal form of government. At most he considered it necessary that the dominant classes should enjoy a certain indirect share in the government, but even that share must be limited in a corporative fashion. He was no more prepared to consider a general representation of the people in the modern constitutional sense than was the Prussian King or his oracle Metternich.

However, the system which Hegel had worked out for himself was in irreconcilable antagonism to the dialectical method which he adopted as a philosopher. With the conception of being, the conception of non-being is given, and from the antagonism of the two the higher conception of becoming results. Everything is and is not at one and the same time, for everything is in a state of flux, in a state of permanent change, in permanent development and decline. Accordingly history is a process of development rising from the lower to the higher in an uninterrupted process of evolution. Hegel, with his universal knowledge in the most varied branches of historical science, set out to prove this, though only in that form which accorded with his own idealist conception of the absolute idea expressing itself in all historical happenings. This absolute idea Hegel declared to be the vitalizing spirit of the whole world without, however, giving any further information about it.

The alliance between the philosophy of Hegel and the State of the Frederick-Williams could therefore be no more than a marriage of convenience lasting as long as each partner was prepared to minister to the convenience of the other. This worked excellently in the days of the Carlsbad decisions and the demagogue hunt, but the July revolution of 1830 gave European development such a strong impetus that Hegel’s method was seen to be incomparably more reliable than his system. When the effects of the July Revolution, weak enough in any case as far as Germany was concerned, had been stifled and the peace of the graveyard had again descended on the land of thinkers and poets, Prussian Junkerdom hastened to dig out the old dilapidated lumber of mediaeval romanticism for use against modern philosophy. This was made easier by the fact that Hegel’s admiration was directed less to the cause of Junkerdom than to the cause of the tolerably enlightened bureaucracy, and by the fact that with all his glorification of the bureaucratic State Hegel had done nothing to maintain religion amongst the people, an endeavour which is the alpha and omega of all feudal traditions and, in the last resort, of all exploiting classes.

The first collision took place therefore on the religious field. Hegel declared that the biblical stories should be regarded in the same way as one would regard profane stories, for belief had nothing to do with the knowledge of common and real matters; and then along came David Strauss, a young Swabian, and took the master at his word in deadly earnest. He demanded that biblical history should be subjected to normal historical criticism and he carried out this demand in his Life of Jesus which appeared in 1835 and created a tremendous sensation. In this book Strauss picked up the threads of the bourgeois enlightenment movement of the eighteenth century of which Hegel had spoken all too contemptuously as “pseudo-enlightenment.” Strauss’ capacity for dialectical thought permitted him to go far more thoroughly into the question than old Reimarus had done before him. Strauss did not regard the Christian religion as a fraud or the apostles as a pack of rogues, but explained the mythical components of the gospel story from the unconscious creations of the early Christian communities. Much of the New Testament he regarded as a historical report concerning the life of Jesus, and Jesus himself as a historical personage, whilst he assumed a historical basis for all the more important incidents mentioned in the Bible.

Politically considered, Strauss was completely harmless and he remained so all his days. But the political note was sounded rather more sharply and clearly in the Hallische Jahrbücher [4], which were founded in 1838 by Arnold Ruge and Theodor Echtermeyer as the organ of the Young Hegelians. This publication also dealt with literature and philosophy and at first it was intended to be no more than a counterblast to the Berliner Jahrbücher, the stick-in-the-mud organ of the Old Hegelians. Ruge, who had played a part in the “Burschenschaft” movement [5], and suffered six years’ imprisonment in Köpenick and Kolberg as a victim of the Demagogue hunt, quickly took the lead in the partnership with Echtermeyer, who died young. Ruge had not taken his earlier fate tragically, and later on a fortunate marriage gave him a lectureship at the University of Halle. He led a comfortable life and, despite his earlier misfortunes, this permitted him to declare the Prussian State system free and just. Indeed he would have liked to justify in his person the malicious saying of the old Prussian mandarins that no one made a career for himself more quickly than a converted Demagogue, but this was just the trouble.

Ruge was not an independent thinker and still less a revolutionary spirit, but he had sufficient education, industry and fighting spirit to make a good editor of a learned magazine, and on one occasion he called himself, not without a certain amount of truth, a wholesale merchant of intellectual wares. Under his leadership the Hallische Jahrbücher developed into a rendezvous of all the unruly spirits, men who possess the advantage – unfortunate from the governmental point of view – of bringing more life into the press than anyone else. For instance, David Strauss as a contributor did more to hold the attention of readers than all the orthodox theologians, fighting tooth and nail for the infallibility of the Bible, put together could have done. Ruge, it is true, made a point of assuring the authorities that his publication propagated “Hegelian Christianity and Hegelian Prussia,” but the Minister of Culture Altenstein, who was already being hard pressed by the romanticist reaction, did not trust his assurances and refused to be moved by Ruge’s urgent pleadings for a State appointment as a recognition of his services. The result was that the Hallische Jahrbücher began to realize that something to be done to shiver the fetters which imprisoned Prussian freedom and justice.

The Berlin Young Hegelians, in whose midst Karl Marx spent three years of his life, were almost all contributors to Ruge’s Hallische Jahrbücher. The club membership was composed chiefly of university lecturers, teachers and writers. Rutenberg, who is described in one of Marx’s earlier letters to his father as “the most intimate” of his Berlin friends, had been a teacher of geography to the Berlin Corps of Cadets, but had been dismissed, allegedly for having been found one morning drunk in the gutter, but in reality because he had come under suspicion of writing “malicious articles in Hamburg and Leipzig newspapers. Eduard Meyen was connected with a short-lived journal which published two of Marx’s poems, fortunately the only two that ever saw the light of day. Max Stirner was teaching at a girls’ school in Berlin, but it has not been possible to discover whether he was a member of the club at the same time as Marx and there is no evidence that the two ever knew each other personally. In any case, the matter is not of much interest because no intellectual connection existed between them. On the other hand, the two most prominent members of the club, Bruno Bauer, a lecturer at the University of Berlin, and Karl Friedrich Köppen, a teacher at the Dorotheen Municipal Secondary School for Modern Subjects, had a great influence on Marx.

Karl Marx was hardly twenty years old when he joined the club of Young Hegelians, but as so often happened in later years when he entered a new circle, he soon became its centre. Both Bauer and Köppen, who were about ten years older than Marx, soon recognized his superior intellect and asked for no better comrade than this youngster who was still in a position to learn much from them and did so. The impetuous polemic which Köppen published in 1840, on the centenary of the accession [6] of Frederick the Great of Prussia, was dedicated “To my Friend Karl Marx of Trier.”

Köppen possessed historical talent in very great measure and his contributions to the Hallische Jahrbücher still vouch for this fact. It is to Köppen we owe the first really historical treatment of the reign of terror during the Great French Revolution. He subjected the representatives of contemporary historical writing, Lee, Ranke, Raumer and Schlosser, to the liveliest and most trenchant criticism and himself made sallies into various fields of historical research, from a literary introduction to Nordic mythology which is worthy of a place beside the works of Jakob Grimm and Ludwig Uhland, to a long work on Buddha which earned even the recognition of Schopenhauer who was otherwise not well disposed towards the old Hegelian. The fact that a man like Köppen yearned for “the spiritual resurrection” of the worst despot in Prussian history in order “to exterminate with fire and sword all those who deny us entrance into the land of promise” is sufficient to give us some idea of the peculiar environment in which these Berlin Young Hegelians lived.

However, two factors must certainly not be overlooked: First of all the romanticist reaction and everything connected with it did its utmost to blacken the memory of “Old Fritz.” Köppen himself described these efforts as “a horrible caterwauling: Old and New Testament trumpets, moral Jew’s harps, edifying and historical bagpipes, and other horrible instruments, and in the middle of it all hymns of freedom boomed out in a Teutonic beer bass.” And secondly, there had as yet been no critical and scientific examination which came anywhere near doing justice to the life and actions of the Prussian King, nor could there have been any such examination because the conclusive sources necessary for such a work had not yet been opened up. Frederick the Great enjoyed a reputation for “enlightenment” and that was sufficient to make him hated by the one and admired by the other.

Köppen’s book also aimed at picking up the threads of the eighteenth century bourgeois-enlightenment movement, and in fact, Ruge once declared of Bauer, Köppen and Marx that their chief joint characteristic was that they all proceeded from this movement; they represented a philosophic Jacobin Party and wrote a Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin on the storm-swept horizon of Germany. Köppen refuted the “superficial declamations” against the philosophy of the eighteenth century. Despite their tediousness, we owe much to the German pioneers of bourgeois enlightenment. Their one deficiency had been that they were not enlightened enough. Here Köppen was tilting chiefly at the thoughtless imitators of Hegel, “the lonely penitents of the idea,” “the old Brahmins of logic,” sitting with crossed legs, eternally and monotonously gabbling the Three Holy Vedas again and again, pausing only now and then to throw a lustful glance into the world of the dancing Bayaderes.

The shaft went home, for Varnhagen promptly condemned the book in the organ of the Old Hegelians as “disgusting” and “repulsive,” probably feeling himself particularly wounded by the plain speaking of Köppen about “the toads of the marsh,” that vermin without religion, without a Fatherland, without convictions, without conscience, without heart, feeling neither cold nor heat, nor joy nor sorrow, nor love nor hatred, without God and without the devil, miserable creatures who squatted around the gates of hell and were too vile to be granted admittance.

Köppen honoured “the great King” only as “a great philosopher, but he went further in his advocacy than was permissible even according to the standards of Frederician knowledge then prevailing. “Unlike Kant,” he declared, “Frederick the Great did not subscribe to two forms of reason: a theoretical one bringing forward its doubts, objections and negations fairly honestly and audaciously, and a practical one, under guardianship and in the public pay, to make good what the other did ill and to whitewash its student pranks. Only the most elementary immaturity can contend that as compared with the royal and practical reasoning his philosophical theoretical reasoning appears particularly transcendental, and that often Old Fritz dismissed the hermit of Sans Souci from his mind. On the contrary, the King never lagged behind the philosopher.”

Anyone who dared to repeat Köppen’s contentions to-day would certainly lay himself open to the reproach of most elementary immaturity even from the Prussian historical school; and even for the year 1840 it was going rather too far to place the lifelong enlightenment work of a philosopher like Kant in the same category as the pseudo-enlightenment farce played by the Borussian despot on the French brilliants who were content to act as his court jesters.

Köppen suffered under the peculiar poverty and emptiness of Berlin life which was fatal to all the Young Hegelians living there, and although he should have been able to guard himself against it more easily than the others, it affected him still more than it did them. It expressed itself even in a polemic which had undoubtedly been written with all his heart. Berlin lacked the powerful backbone which industry in the Rhineland, already highly-developed, gave to bourgeois consciousness there. The result was that when the questions of the day took on a practical form the Prussian capital dropped behind Cologne, and even behind Leipzig and Königsberg. Writing of the Berliners of the day the East Prussian Walesrode declared: “They think themselves tremendously free and daring when they make fun of Cerf and Hagen, of the King and the events of the day, sitting safely in their cafe and joking in their familiar street-rowdy style.” Berlin was in fact nothing more than a military garrison and residence town, and the petty-bourgeois populace compensated itself with malicious and paltry back-biting for the cowardly subservience it showed to every court equipage. A regular rendezvous for this sort of opposition was the gossip salon maintained by Varnhagen, the same man who crossed himself in pious horror even at the idea of Frederician enlightenment as Köppen understood it.

There is no reason to doubt that the young Marx shared the opinions expressed in the book which brought his name before the general public for the first time. He was closely acquainted with Köppen and adopted the latter’s style to a considerable extent. Although their paths soon branched off in different directions, the two always remained good friends and when Marx returned to Berlin twenty years later on a visit he found Köppen “just the same as ever” and they celebrated a joyful reunion and spent many happy hours in each other’s company. Not very long afterwards, in 1863, Köppen died.



3. The Philosophy of Self-Consciousness

The real leader of the Young Hegelians in Berlin was not Köppen, however, but Bruno Bauer, who was officially recognized as an orthodox pupil of the master, particularly as he had shown great speculative arrogance in an attack on Strauss’ Life of Jesus, a proceeding which earned him a vigorous rebuff from Strauss. Bauer enjoyed the protection of the Minister of Culture Altenstein, who regarded him as a very promising and talented young man.

However, Bruno Bauer was not a careerist and Strauss turned out to be a poor prophet when he declared that Bauer would end his days in the “petrified scholasticism” of the orthodox chieftain Hengstenberg. On the contrary, in the summer of 1839 Bauer came to grips with Hengstenberg who wanted to present the God of the Old Testament, the God of anger and vengeance, as the God of Christianity. The literary exchanges which resulted remained well within the limits of an academic polemic, but they were sufficiently sharp to cause the decrepit and very much alarmed Altenstein to remove his protege from the suspicious glare of the orthodox who were as vengeful as they were simon pure. In the autumn of 1839 he sent Bauer to the University of Bonn as a lecturer with the intention of appointing him to a professorship before the end of the year.

But Bruno Bauer, as his letters to Marx indicate, was already in a period of intellectual development which was to take him far beyond Strauss. He began a criticism of the gospels which finally demolished the last ruins which Strauss had left still standing. He contended that there was not an atom of historical truth in the gospel story, that everything in it was the product of fantasy, and that Christianity as a world religion was not forced on the classic Graeco-Roman world, but that it was the natural product of that world. With this development he took the one path which offered a possibility of scientifically investigating the origin of Christianity, and it is not without good reason that our contemporary, the fashionable court and salon theologian Harnack [7], who is at the moment engaged in furbishing up the Gospels in the interests of the ruling classes, roundly abuses any attempt to proceed along the path opened up by Bruno Bauer.

Whilst these ideas were beginning to mature in Bruno Bauer’s head Karl Marx was his inseparable companion and Bauer recognized his friend, nine years his junior, as a most capable brother in arms. He had hardly settled down in Bonn when he began to try to persuade Marx to follow him. A club of professors in Bonn was “simple Philistinism” compared with the Hegelian club in Berlin, he declared. The latter had at least always been a centre of intellectual interests. There was also plenty of amusement in Bonn too – what they called amusement there – though he had laughed more crossing the street with Marx in Berlin than he ever had in Bonn. Marx should just polish off his “trivial examination” – after all only Aristotle, Spinoza, Leibnitz and nothing else were required – and stop caking such farcical nonsense seriously. He would find the Bonn philosophers easy game. And above all, a radical publication was necessary, one they could issue jointly, for the Berlin chitchat of the Hallische Jahrbücher was no longer tolerable. He felt sorry for Ruge, but why on earth didn’t the fellow drive the vermin out of his paper?

Bauer’s letters sound revolutionary enough at times, but it is always a philosophical revolution he has in mind and he was far more inclined to count on the support of the State than on its hostility. He had hardly written to Marx in December, 1839, that Prussia seemed destined to make progress only on account of its Jenas, though naturally such battles need not always be fought over a hecatomb of corpses, when a few months later – following on the almost simultaneous decease of his protector Altenstein and the old king – he pledged himself to “the highest idea of our State life,” the family spirit of the princely House of Hohenzollern which had devoted four centuries of high-minded effort to the settlement of the relations of Church and State. At the same time Bauer promised that science would not falter in its defence of the State idea against the usurpation of the church; the State might err; it might become suspicious of science and use the weapon of intimidation, but reason belonged too innately to the State for it to err long. The new King answered this homage by appointing the orthodox reactionary Eichhorn as Altenstein’s successor, and Eichhorn immediately proceeded to sacrifice the freedom of science, as far as it was connected with the State idea, that is to say, the freedom of academic teaching, to the usurpation of the church.

Politically considered, Bauer was far less reliable than Köppen. Köppen might have made a mistake about one Hohenzollern who surprisingly rose above the general family level, but was not likely to make any mistake concerning “the family spirit” of that princely house. Köppen was by no means so thoroughly at home with the Hegelian ideology as was Bauer, but it must not be overlooked that the latter’s political short-sightedness was only the reverse side of his philosophical acumen. He discovered in the gospels the intellectual deposit of the period in which they had originated. He was of the opinion – and considered from a purely ideological standpoint it was not illogical – that if even the Christian religion with its turbid ferment of Graeco-Roman philosophy had succeeded in overcoming the culture of the classic world, then the clear and free criticism of modern dialectics would succeed still more easily in shaking off the incubus of Christian-Germanic culture.

It was the philosophy of self-consciousness which gave him such inspiring confidence. The Greek philosophic schools which developed from the national disintegration of Greek life and did most to fructify the Christian religion, the Sceptics, the Epicureans and the Stoics, had united under this name. They could not be compared with Plato in speculative depth nor with Aristotle in universal knowledge, and they had been somewhat contemptuously treated by Hegel. Their common aim was to make the individual, separated by a terrible cataclysm from everything which heretofore had stayed and fortified him, independent of everything outside himself; to lead him back into his inner life, to seek his real happiness in the peace of the mind, a peace which might remain unshaken whilst the whole world was collapsing around his ears.

However, declared Bauer, on the ruins of a vanished world the emaciated ego feared itself as the only power. It estranged and alienated its own consciousness by representing its own general power as an alien power outside itself. In the Lord and Master of the gospel story who overcame the laws of nature with one breath of his mouth, subjugated his enemies and announced himself even on earth as the Lord of the world and the Judge of all things, it created a hostile brother, but still a brother, to the world ruler in Rome holding sway over all rights and carrying the power over life and death on his lips. Under the slavery of the Christian religion, however, humanity was trained so that it might prepare itself all the more thoroughly for freedom and encompass it all the more completely when it should finally be won. The eternal consciousness of self, realizing itself, understanding itself and comprehending its own essence, had power over the products of its own alienation.

If we brush aside the typical phraseology current in the philosophic language of the day we can express in simpler and more understandable terms what it was that attracted Bauer, Köppen and Marx to the Greek philosophy of self-consciousness. Here too they were in reality again picking up the threads of the bourgeois enlightenment movement. The old Creek philosophic schools of self-consciousness produced no one comparable to the geniuses of the old natural philosophy, Democritus and Heraclitus, or of the later abstract philosophy, Plate and Aristotle, but nevertheless they played a great historic role. They opened up new and wider horizons to the human intellect and they broke down both the national limitations of Hellenism and the social limitations of slavery, limitations which neither Plate nor Aristotle had dreamed of overstepping. They greatly fructified primitive Christianity, which was the religion of the oppressed and the suffering, and which did not go over to Plato and Aristotle until it had become the religion of an oppressing and exploiting power. Although generally speaking Hegel treated the philosophy of self-consciousness in a very off-hand fashion, even he expressly pointed out the great significance of the inner freedom of the individual amidst the utter calamity of the Roman world empire which effaced all the nobility and beauty of spiritual individuality with a brutal hand. The bourgeois enlightenment movement of the eighteenth century revived the Greek philosophies of self-consciousness: the doubts of the Sceptics, the hatred the Epicureans bore towards religion, and the republican sentiments of the Stoics.

In his work on Frederick the Great, whom he regarded as one of the heroes of the enlightenment movement, Köppen sounded the same note when he declared: “Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism represent the nerves, muscles and intestinal system of the antique organism. Their direct and natural unity determined the beauty and morality of classical antiquity, which collapsed when the latter died out. Frederick the Great adopted all three and wielded them with wonderful power. They became the chief factors in his world outlook, in his character and in his whole life.” Marx was at least prepared to grant that what Köppen said here concerning the relation of the three philosophies to Greek life possessed “a deeper significance.” The problem which occupied his older friends occupied Marx no less, but he dealt with it in a different fashion. He sought “human self consciousness as the supreme Godhead,” tolerating no other gods before it, neither in the distorting mirror of religion nor in the philosophic dilettantism of a despot. He went back to the historical origins of this philosophy whose systems represented for him as well the key to the real history of the Greek spirit.



4. The Doctoral Dissertation

When Bruno Bauer urged Marx just to polish off his “trivial examination,” he had some grounds for impatience, for it was the autumn of 1839 and Marx had already been studying for eight terms. Bauer certainly did not suppose that Marx was suffering from any examination fever in the usual and disagreeable sense of the term or he would never have credited him with being able to bowl over the professors of philosophy in Bonn at the first encounter.

It was characteristic of Marx, and it remained so until the end of his days, that his insatiable urge for knowledge permitted him to master difficult problems quickly whilst his merciless self criticism prevented him from having done with them equally quickly. In accordance with his usual thoroughness Marx must have plunged into the greyest depths of Greek philosophy, and the representation of only the three systems of the philosophy of self consciousness was no matter which could be settled in a few terms. Bauer, who turned out his own work at a great speed, much too quickly in fact for their permanence, had little understanding for this, much less than Friedrich Engels showed later on. Even Engels sometimes became impatient when Marx could find no limit and no end to his self-criticism.

However, the “trivial examination” presented other difficulties, if not for Bauer then for Marx. Whilst his father was still alive Marx had decided on an academic career without thereby abandoning completely the choice of a practical profession; but with the death of Altenstein the most attractive feature of a professional career, and one which might have made up for its numerous disadvantages, began to disappear, namely, the comparative freedom granted to philosophers in their university chairs. Bauer himself was never tired of pointing out that the academic gown was good for nothing else.

And in fact it was not long before Bauer discovered that even the scientific investigations of a Prussian professor could not be conducted entirely without let or hindrance. After Altenstein’s death in May, 1840, the Ministry of Culture was taken over for a few months by Privy Councillor Ladenberg who showed sufficient piety towards the memory of his old superior to make him want to fulfil the latter’s promise to provide Bauer with a permanent appointment in Bonn. However, immediately Eichhorn was appointed Minister of Culture, the Theological Faculty in Bonn rejected the appointment of Bauer as professor on the ground that it would disturb the harmony of the faculty. Under Eichhorn it had succeeded in summoning up that rare heroism which German professors display when they are sure of the secret approval of their superiors.

Bauer had spent his autumn holidays in Berlin and was on the point of returning to Bonn when the news reached him. A discussion immediately took place in the circle of his friends as to whether or not an irreparable breach had already occurred between the religious and the scientific schools, and whether a supporter of the latter could reconcile membership in a theological faculty with his scientific conscience. Bauer himself maintained his optimistic attitude towards the Prussian State and rejected a semi-official proposal made to him that he should occupy himself with literary work and receive a grant from the State funds the while. He returned to Bonn full of fighting spirit and in the hope that together with Marx, who was soon to follow him, he would be able to bring the crisis to a head.

Neither of them abandoned the idea of issuing a radical journal together, but Marx’s prospects of an academic career at the Rhenish University now appeared decidedly poor. As the friend and assistant of Bauer he had to reckon with a hostile reception at the hands of the professorial clique in Bonn and nothing was farther from his thoughts than to curry favour with Eichhorn or Ladenberg, as Bauer advised him to do in the justifiable hope that then everything in Bonn would be “all right.” In such matters Marx’s ideas were always very strict, but even had he felt inclined to trust himself on such a slippery path it was easy to foresee that sooner or later he must lose his balance, for Eichhorn was not long in showing his true colours. In order to finish off the decrepit mob of fossilized Hegelians at the University of Berlin once and for all, he appointed a professor named Schelling, a man who had come round in his old age to a belief in revelation, to discipline the students of Halle University, who had drawn up a respectful petition to the King as their Rector asking him to appoint Strauss to a professorship in Halle.

With such prospects Marx as a Young Hegelian decided not to take his examination in Prussia at all. He had no desire to give the zealous satellites of Eichhorn a chance of plaguing him, though he had no intention of evading the struggle. Quite to the contrary in fact! He decided to take his doctor’s degree at one of the smaller universities and then to publish his doctoral dissertation together with a challenging foreword as a proof of his knowledge and capacity, and after that to settle down in Bonn and publish the proposed magazine with Bauer. In this way Bonn University would not be completely closed to him because, as Doktor Promotus of “a foreign university,” he would have only one or two formalities to comply with in order to be given the freedom of the university as an independent lecturer.

This was the plan that Marx actually carried out. On the 15th of April he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in his absence by the University of Jena on the basis of a written dissertation dealing with the differences between Democritean and Epicurean natural philosophy. This dissertation was an anticipatory part of a larger work in which Marx intended to deal with the whole cycle of the Epicurean, Stoic and Sceptic philosophy in its relation to Greek speculative philosophy as a whole. For the moment he demonstrated this relation on the basis of one example only and in connection with only the older speculative philosophy.

Amongst the older natural philosophers of Greece, Democritus was the one who had adhered most closely to materialism. Out of nothing nothing can come. Nothing that is can be destroyed. All change is nothing but the joining and separation of parts. Nothing happens fortuitously and everything that happens happens with reason and necessity. Nothing exists but the atoms and empty space, everything else is opinion. The atoms are endless in number and of an infinite variety in form. Falling eternally through infinite space, the larger atoms, which fall more quickly, collide with the smaller atoms and the material movements and rotations which result are the beginning of the formation of worlds. Innumerable worlds form and pass away co-existently and successively.

Epicurus took over this conception of nature from Democritus, but he made certain alterations. The most famous of these alterations consisted in the so-called “declination of the atoms.” Epicurus contended that in their fall the atoms “declined,” that is to say, that they did not fall vertically, but in a deviation from the straight line. From Cicero and Plutarch to Leibnitz and Kant, Epicurus has been thoroughly ridiculed for propounding this physical impossibility and he has been dubbed an imitator of Democritus who merely botched the model which he took from his master. However, parallel with this condemnation of its physical absurdity, there is a tendency which regards the Epicurean philosophy as the most highly-developed materialist system in the classic world, thanks largely to the fact that it has been perpetuated in the didactic poems of Lucretius whereas only insignificant remnants of the philosophy of Democritus have weathered the storm and stress of the centuries. Kant dismissed the declination of the atoms as “an insolent invention,” nevertheless he recognized Epicurus as the most noble philosopher of sensualism as against Plato, the most noble philosopher of the intellect.

Naturally, Marx did not deny the physical unreasonableness of the Epicurean philosophy and he condemned “the reckless irresponsibility of Epicurus in the explanation of physical phenomena,” but he pointed out that the only test of truth for Epicurus was the evidence of his senses: Epicurus believed the diameter of the sun to be two feet because it looked so to his eyes. However, Marx did not content himself with dismissing these evident absurdities with a phrase or two, but set himself to track down the philosophic reason in the physical unreason. He acted in accordance with the fine words he had used in honour of his master Hegel in a note to his dissertation. He pointed out here that when a master had committed a sin of accommodation his philosophic school should not blame him, but seek to explain the accommodation from the inadequacy of the principle in which it must have its root, thus turning into an advance in knowledge what must appear an advance of conscience.

That which was an end in itself for Democritus was nothing but a means to an end for Epicurus. Epicurus did not aim at an understanding of nature, but at a view of nature which would support his philosophic system. The philosophy of self consciousness as it was known to the classic world fell into three schools, and according to Hegel the Epicureans represented the abstract individual consciousness of self, and the Stoics, the abstract general consciousness of self, both as one-sided dogmas opposed immediately on account of their one-sidedness by the Sceptics. Or as a later historian of Creek philosophy expressed the same relation: in Stoicism and Epicureanism the individual and the general aspects of the subjective spirit, the atomistic isolation of the individual and his pantheistic surrender to the whole, faced each other irreconcilably with the same claims whilst this antagonism was neutralized in Scepticism. Despite their common aims, the Epicureans and the Stoics were led far away from each other by their different starting points. Their surrender to the whole made the Stoics philosophically into determinists for whom the necessity of every happening was axiomatic, and politically into decided republicans, whilst on the religious field they were unable to free themselves from a superstitious and fettered mysticism. They looked for support to Heraclitus, in whom the surrender to the whole had taken on the form of the most uncompromising self-consciousness, though they treated him with as little ceremony as the Epicureans treated Democritus. On the other hand, the principle of isolated individuality made the Epicureans philosophically into indeterminists, into proclaimers of the free-will of each individual, and politically into passive sufferers – the biblical exhortation: submit to the authorities which have power over you, is a heritage of Epicurus. At the same time this attitude freed them from all religious bonds.

Marx then shows in a series of keen investigations how “the difference between Democritean and Epicurean natural philosophy” can be explained. Democritus concerned himself exclusively with the material existence of the atom, whereas Epicurus concerned himself further with the atom as a conception, with its form as well as its matter, with its essence as well as its existence. Epicurus regarded the atom as being not only the material basis of the world of phenomena, but also the symbol of the isolated individual, the formal principle of abstract individual self-consciousness. From the vertical fall of the atoms Democritus concluded the necessity of all happenings, whilst Epicurus caused his atoms to deviate from the straight line in their fall, for otherwise where – as Lucretius, the best-known interpreter of Epicurean philosophy, asks in his didactic poems – would be free will, the will of the living human being, wrested from the inexorable course of fate? This contradiction between the atom as a phenomenon and the atom as a conception is evident throughout the whole of the Epicurean philosophy and compels it to adopt that utterly arbitrary explanation of physical phenomena which was subjected to such ridicule even in the classic world. The contradictions of Epicurean natural philosophy are reconciled only in the movements of the heavenly bodies, whose general and eternal existence, however, destroys the principle of abstract individual self-consciousness. Epicurean natural philosophy thus abandons all material mummery and Epicurus fights as “the greatest Greek enlightener,” as Marx calls him, against the tyranny of religion intimidating man with a baleful glance from the heights of heaven.

In this his first work Marx reveals himself as a constructive thinker even if one questions the details of his interpretation of the Epicurean philosophy. In fact his independent thought becomes even more clear then because the only possible objection can be that Marx developed the basic principle of Epicureanism further and drew clearer conclusions from it than Epicurus did himself. Hegel declared that the Epicurean philosophy was thoughtlessness on principle, and it is certainly true that its originator who, as a self-taught man, attached great importance to the language of the common people, did not clothe his thoughts in the speculative phraseology of Hegelian philosophy with which Marx explained it. With this dissertation the pupil of Hegel draws up his own certificate of maturity. He uses the dialectical method in a masterly fashion and his style shows that vigour of expression which always characterized the language of his teacher Hegel, but which was so sadly lacking in the ranks of his camp-followers.

However, in this work Marx is still completely on the idealist basis of the Hegelian philosophy and the most surprising thing about it for the present-day reader is the unfavourable verdict passed on Democritus. Marx declares that all Democritus did was to put forward a hypothesis which represented the result of experience and not its energizing principle; and that therefore this hypothesis was never fulfilled and never materially influenced the practical investigation of natural phenomena. On the other hand he praises Epicurus as the founder of the science of atomism, despite his arbitrariness in the explanation of physical phenomena and despite the abstract individual self consciousness he preaches. This last, Marx admits, neutralizes all real and authentic science because it is not the individual unit which prevails in the nature of things.

To-day the matter is no longer open for discussion. As far as there is any science of atomism, and as far as the theory of tiny units of matter and the development of all phenomena as a result of their movement has become the basis of the modern investigations into natural phenomena, explaining the laws of sound, light and heat and the chemical and physical alterations in material bodies, Democritus was the pioneer and not Epicurus. However, for the Marx of that period philosophy, or to be more accurate, abstract philosophy, was so completely science that he came to conclusion which we should hardly be able to understand to-day but for the fact that the very essence of his character was revealed in it.

As far as Marx was concerned, living always meant working, and working fighting. What turned him against Democritus therefore was the lack of an “energizing principle” or, as he put it later on, “the chief weakness of all previous materialism”: the appreciation of the thing, of reality, of sensualism only in the form of the object or the idea, and not subjectively, not in practice, not in human sensuous activity. And on the other hand, what drew him to Epicurus was the “energizing principle” which permitted this philosopher to revolt against and defy the crushing weight of religion.

“Weder von Blitzen geschreckt, noch durch das Geraune von Gottern, Oder des Himmels murrenden Groll ...” [8]

The foreword which Marx intended to publish together with the dissertation and which he dedicated to his father-in-law breathes an unquenchable and fierce fighting spirit. “As long as one drop of blood still pulses through the world-conquering and untrammeled heart of philosophy, it will always defy its enemies with the words of Epicurus: ‘Not he is Godless who scorns the Gods of the multitude, but he who accepts the opinions of the multitude concerning the Gods.’” Philosophy does not reject the avowal of Prometheus:

“Mit schlichtem Wort, den Gottern allen heg’ ich Hass.” [9]

And to those who complain of their apparently deteriorated well-being it replies as Prometheus replied to Hermes, the servant of the Gods:

“Fur deinen Frondienst gab’ ich mein unselig Los, Das sei versichert, nimmermehr zum Tausche dar.” [10]

Prometheus is the noblest saint and martyr in the philosophic calendar. This was the closing passage of Marx’s defiant foreword which alarmed even his friend Bauer, but what seemed to the latter to be “unnecessary temerity” was in fact no more than the simple avowal of a man who was destined to be a second Prometheus, both in struggle and in suffering.



5. The Anekdota and the Rheinische Zeitung

Marx had hardly pocketed the diploma of his newly-won degree when all the plans he had built up for his future collapsed as a result of further blows delivered by the romanticist reaction.

In the summer of 1841 Eichhorn mobilized all the theological faculties in a shameful campaign against Bruno Bauer on account of his criticism of the Gospels. With the exception of Halle and Königsberg all the universities at once betrayed the principle of Protestant academic freedom and Bauer had to give way. With this all hope of Marx obtaining a foothold at the University of Bonn disappeared.

At the same time the plan for the issue of a radical philosophical journal also collapsed. The new King considered himself a supporter of the freedom of the press and at his instance a mitigated censorship order was drawn up. At the end of 1841 this order actually saw the light of day, but it was then seen that the freedom of the press was to be limited to a romanticist whim. The freedom of the press as understood by the King was also demonstrated in the summer of 1841 when an Order in Council was issued calling on Ruge to submit his magazine, which was printed and published by Wigand in Leipzig, to Prussian press censorship or else be prepared for its prohibition in the Prussian States. This action enlightened Ruge sufficiently concerning his “free and just Prussia” to cause him to move to Dresden where from July 1st, 1841, he issued his magazine as the Deutsche Jahrbücher. At the same time and on his own initiative, he adopted that sharper tone which both Bauer and Marx had missed in his previous writings, and this made them decide to contribute to his publication rather than found one of their own.

In the end Marx did not publish his doctoral dissertation. Its immediate aim was no longer a matter of urgency and according to a later indication of its author it was put to one side to await its resurrection as part of a larger work on Epicurean, Stoic and Sceptic philosophy as a whole. As it turned out, “political and philosophic affairs of quite another kind” did not permit Marx to carry out his original intention.

One of the most important of these affairs was to prove that not only Epicurus but also Hegel were thorough-going atheists. In November, 1841, Wigand published an “Ultimatum” entitled The Trumpet of the Last Judgment against Hegel, the Atheists and the Anti-Christs. Under the mask of an orthodox believer, the anonymous pamphleteer bemoaned Hegel’s atheism in the accents of biblical prophecy and proved his point in the most convincing fashion from Hegel’s own works. The pamphlet created a great sensation, particularly as in the beginning the orthodox mask actually deceived the public and even Ruge was taken in by it. In reality the author of The Last Trumpet was Bruno Bauer and he intended to continue the work together with Marx and to prove on the basis of Hegel’s aesthetics, his philosophy of law, etc., that the Young Hegelians and not the Old Hegelians had inherited the real spirit of the master.

In the meantime, however, The Last Trumpet was prohibited and Wigand made difficulties about publishing any more of it. In addition, Marx fell ill, as also did his father-in-law, who was bedridden for three months until he died on March 3rd, 1842. Under the circumstances Marx found it “impossible to do anything worth while,” but he did send in “a minor contribution” on February 10th and at the same time promised Ruge that he would place himself at the disposal of the publication to the full extent of his powers. The “minor contribution” referred to was an article on the latest censorship instructions issued at the instance of the King with a view to securing a mitigated application of the censorship, and it represents the beginning of Marx’s political career. Point by point his trenchant criticism laid bare the logical absurdities hidden beneath a cloak of hazy romanticism. His attitude was in uncompromising contradiction to the joy of the “pseudo-liberal” Philistines and even of some of the Young Hegelians who thought they already descried “the sun high in the heavens” because of “the royal spirit” which pervaded the instructions.

In his accompanying letter Marx requests that the article be put into print as quickly as possible “unless the censor censors my censure. His foreboding did not deceive him and on February 25th, Ruge wrote informing him that the Deutsche Jahrbücher was having the greatest difficulties with the censorship and that “your contribution has become impossible.” Ruge also informed Marx that he had chosen “an elite of pungent and excellent things” from amongst the material rejected by the censorship and that he intended to publish them in Switzerland as Anekdota Philosophica. On March 5th Marx wrote expressing enormous enthusiasm for the proposal. “Owing to the sudden resurrection” of the censorship in Saxony the publication of his essay on Christian art which was to have appeared as the second part of The Last Trumpet was made quite impossible. Marx then went through it again and offered it to Ruge for the Anekdota together with a criticism of Hegelian natural law as far as it referred to the inner constitution. This latter criticism showed a tendency to attack constitutional monarchy as a thoroughly self contradictory and self-neutralizing hybrid. Ruge proposed to accept both, but, apart from the article on the censorship instructions, he received nothing.

On March 20th Marx announced that he intended to free his essay on Christian art from the style of The Last Trumpet and from the irksome limitations of the Hegelian phraseology, at the same time giving it a freer and more thorough treatment. This he promised to have finished by the middle of April. On April 27th it was “almost finished” and Ruge was requested to “excuse him for another few days” and informed that he would receive only a summary of the essay on Christian art because during the course of the work it had grown into a book. But by July 9th Marx was prepared to abandon all attempts to find an excuse, unless “unpleasant external matters” were sufficient excuse. In the meantime he promised to touch nothing else until his contributions to the Anekdota were finished. On October 21st Ruge reported that the Anekdota was ready and that it would be published by the Literarisches Kontor in Zurich. He was still holding a place open for Marx’s contributions though up to the moment the latter had been more generous in promise than in performance. Still he, Ruge, knew very well what Marx could do in the way of performance once he settled down to it.

Ruge was sixteen years older than Marx, but like Bruno Bauer and Köppen he had the greatest respect for the capacities of the younger man, though Marx had severely strained his editorial patience. Marx was never an accommodating author either for his collaborators or his publishers, but none of them ever thought of ascribing to neglect or laziness what was caused only by an overbrimming richness of ideas and a self-criticism which was never satisfied.

In this particular case there was another circumstance which excused him even in the eyes of Ruge, for an incomparably more powerful interest than philosophy had begun to occupy his attention. With his article on the censorship instructions he had entered the political arena and he continued this activity in the columns of the Rheinische Zeitung instead of spinning on the philosophical thread in the Anekdota.

The Rheinische Zeitung was founded in Cologne on January 1st, 1842, and originally it was not an oppositional paper at all, but rather pro-governmental. Since the trouble with the bishops in the thirties, the Kölnische Zeitung with its eight thousand subscribers had become the mouthpiece of the ultramontane party, which held undisputed sway in the Rhineland and caused the strong-arm policy of the government much trouble. The attitude of the Kölnische Zeitung sprang less from any righteous enthusiasm for the Catholic cause than from purely business considerations, for it was well aware that its readers were far from being enamoured of the blessings of the Berlin dispensation. The monopoly of the Kölnische Zeitung was so powerful that its owners invariably succeeded in buying out any competitive newspapers even when the latter enjoyed support from Berlin. In December, 1839, the necessary concession for publication had been granted to the Rheinische Allgemeine Zeitung in the hope that it would succeed in breaking the monopoly of the Kölnische Zeitung, but it was not long before the former was threatened with the fate which had overtaken all its predecessors. At the last moment, however, a group of well-to-do citizens clubbed together to raise new share-capital and place the paper on a new basis. The government favoured the plan and gave provisional permission for the reorganized paper, which was to be known as the Rheinische Zeitung, to use the concession which had been granted to its predecessor.

The bourgeoisie of Cologne had no intention of making difficulties for the Prussian regime, which was still hated by the mass of the people in the Rhineland as an alien yoke. Business was proceeding satisfactorily and the bourgeoisie in the Rhineland had therefore abandoned its pro-French sympathies and after the creation of the Zollverein [11] it practically demanded Prussian hegemony throughout Germany. The political demands of the bourgeoisie in the Rhineland were extremely moderate and not so far-reaching as its economic demands, which aimed at furthering the capitalist mode of production in the Rhineland, where it had already made great progress. The demands put forward were: economical administration of the State, extension of the railway services, reduction of court and postage fees, a common flag and common consuls for the Zollverein, and, in short, all those items which invariably appear on a list of bourgeois desiderata.

But the two young people who were entrusted with the reorganization of the editorial board, Georg Jung, a young Referendar, and Dagobert Oppenheim, an Assessor [12], turned out to be enthusiastic Young Hegelians and very much under the influence of Moses Hess, who was, like them, the son of a Rhenish business man and had not only studied the Hegelian philosophy, but also made himself familiar with French socialism. These two recruited the new contributors from amongst their own intellectual circle and above all from amongst the Young Hegelians in Berlin, and, at the recommendation of Marx, Rutenberg even took over the editorship of the regular German article, although this recommendation was not, as it turned out, one of Marx’s happiest notions. Marx himself must have been closely connected with the venture from the beginning. He had intended to move from Trier to Cologne at the end of March, but he found life in the latter town too noisy for him and instead he provisionally pitched his tent in Bonn from which Bruno Bauer had meanwhile disappeared. He observed, “It would be a pity if no one remained to annoy the orthodox.” In Bonn he began those contributions to the Rheinische Zeitung which were to carry him far above the heads of all the other contributors.

Although the personal connections of Jung and Oppenheim were the first means of turning the paper into a rendezvous of the Young Hegelians it is difficult to believe that this change in its character could have taken place without the approval or without the knowledge of the actual shareholders. The latter were in all probability acute enough to realize that they could not have found more capable intellects anywhere in Germany. The Young Hegelians were pro-Prussian, even exuberantly so, and whatever else they did which the good bourgeois of Cologne were unable to understand or found suspicious was probably regarded as harmless idiosyncrasies. Whatever the explanation may have been, the shareholders did not in fact interfere, although in the very first weeks of its existence complaints about the “subversive tendency” of the paper began to come in from Berlin and there was even a threat to suppress it altogether at the end of the first quarter. The thing which chiefly shocked the Berlin dispensation was the appointment of Rutenberg, who was regarded as a terrible revolutionary and kept under strict political surveillance. Even in the March days of 1848 Frederick William IV trembled before him – believing him to be the real instigator of the revolution. Despite the dissatisfaction felt in Berlin the deadly bolt was not discharged and this was due chiefly to the Minister of Culture Eichhorn who, although he was thoroughly reactionary, felt the necessity for some counterweight to the ultramontane tendencies of the Kölnische Zeitung. Although the tendency of the Rheinische Zeitung was “almost more dangerous,” nevertheless it played with ideas which could not possibly have any attraction for the solid and reliable elements of society.

This was certainly not the fault of the contributions which Marx sent in, and in fact the practical fashion in which he dealt with the affairs of the day did more to reconcile the shareholders with Young Hegelianism than the contributions of Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. Otherwise it would be impossible to understand how it came about that in October, 1842, a few months after he had sent in his first article, he was made editor of the paper.

For the first time Marx was now given an opportunity of showing his incomparable ability to take things as they were and to make petrified conditions dance by playing them their own tune.




[1] The corpus juris civilis of Justinian. Presumably the Institutions and Digest. – Tr.

[2] A “Bogen” or printer’s sheet is sixteen printed pages. – Tr.

[3] “Demagogue” was the name given to the Radicals and Liberals of the Metternich era on the continent, and as all forms of democratic agitation were prohibited by the Karlsbad Decisions in 1819 the Demagogues were outlaws. The “Demagogue Hunt” Was the name given to the fierce campaign of persecution conducted against them. – Tr.

[4] Hallische Jahrbücher: Halle Annuals. The custom, widely prevalent in Germany at the time, of issuing so-called “Annuals,” which were in fact collections of articles, was due to a desire to circumvent the censorship which, although it applied strictly to shorter publications, excepted those of more than 20 “Bogen” or 320 pages. – Tr.

[5] The “Burschenschaft” movement was founded in Jena in 1815 as a bourgeois-democratic students’ organization opposed to the traditional aristocratic students’ “Corps.” It was imbued with a libertarian and militant spirit and in consequence it was suppressed by the decisions of the Karlsbad Congress in 1819. The “Burschenschaften” still exist, but their original significance has naturally long ago been lost. – Tr.

[6] The German text erroneously refers to birth. – Tr.

[7] Harnack died in 1930. – Tr.

[8] “Frightened neither by lightning, nor the threats of the Gods. Nor the growling thunders of Heaven.”

[9] “In simple truth, I harbour hate ’gainst all the Gods.”

[10] “For your vile slavery, be assured,
Never would I change my own unhappy lot.”

[11] German Customs Union, formed in 1834. – Tr.

[12] Referendar is the official title of law graduates who enter preparatory service after the first State examination; after the second State examination. they become Assessor: afterwards they really begin their career.


Last updated on 27.2.2004