Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Two: Hegel’s Pupil


6. The Rhenish Diet

In the previous year the Diet of the Rhenish province had sat for nine weeks in Dusseldorf and in a series of five long treatises Marx now proceeded to elucidate its activities. The provincial Diets were impotent, pseudo-representative bodies instituted by the Prussian Crown to cloak the betrayal of its promise of 1815 to grant a constitution. They held their sessions behind closed doors and were permitted at the utmost a little say in petty communal affairs. However, since the trouble with the Catholic Church in Cologne and in Posen in 1837, the Diets had not been convened at all. Opposition to the government, if it came at all, was to be expected only from the Rhenish and Posen Diets, but even then only an ultramontane opposition.

These worthy bodies were protected very effectively from liberalist aberrations by the provision that the possession of landed property was a necessary condition of membership. The country gentry were to provide one half of the membership, the urban landowners one third and the peasant landowners one sixth. However, this edifying principle could not be put into operation in all its glory everywhere, and in the newly-won Rhineland, for instance, one or two concessions had to be made to the spirit of modernism; but always the country gentry provided over one third of the membership and in view of the fact that all the decisions of the Diets had to be adopted with a two thirds majority nothing could be passed without their approval. Urban landowners were subjected to the further limitation that their land must have been in their uninterrupted possession for a period of at least ten years before it conferred the boon of eligibility to the Diet. As a further precautionary measure the government reserved the right to veto the election of any urban official.

Although the Diets were the object of general contempt, Frederick William IV convened them again in 1841 after his accession to the throne, and he even extended their rights somewhat, but only in order to trick the creditors of the State who had been promised by the Crown in 1820 that no new loans should be floated without the consent and the guarantee of the future Reich Corporative Assembly. Johann Jacoby issued a famous pamphlet calling on the Diets to demand the fulfilment of the royal promise, but he preached to deaf ears.

Even the Rhenish Diet gave way ignominiously and it did so precisely on those political questions relating to the church on account of which the government had most feared it. With a two-thirds majority it rejected a demand that the illegally arrested Archbishop of Cologne should either be brought before the courts or reinstated, although the justice of this demand was beyond discussion both from the liberal and the ultramontane standpoints. It did not even mention the question of a constitution and it dealt in the most pusillanimous fashion with a petition signed by over a thousand citizens of Cologne demanding the admission of the general public to the Diet sessions, the publication of a daily and unexpurgated report of the Diet proceedings, the right to discuss the affairs of the Diet and all other provincial affairs in the press, and the issue of a definite press law in place of the censorship. All the Diet did was to request the King for permission to publish the names of the speakers in its records, and instead of demanding a press law it asked for a censorship law designed merely to prevent arbitrariness in the application of the censorship. The well-earned consequence of its cowardice was a rebuff at the hands of the Crown even for these modest requests.

The Diet showed signs of life only when it sprang to defend the interests of the landowners. The restoration of the old feudal glories was out of the question. Even the officials sent into the Rhineland from East Prussia reported that to Berlin. Any attempt to do so would have aroused fierce opposition on the part of the Rhinelanders who were not prepared to put up with anything of the sort. In particular they were prepared to resist any interference whether in the interests of the country gentry or in the interests of the peasantry, with the right to partition landed property at will, although the unlimited carving up of landed property had already led to the downright atomization of the landholdings, as the government pointed out with more than a little justification. A government proposal to place certain limits on the partitioning of landed property “in the interests of maintaining a strong peasantry” was therefore rejected by the Diet by 49 against 8 votes, for it was in agreement with the province on this point. But after this the Diet plunged into legislation more after its own heart and it passed a number of laws put forward by the government against wood-gathering, trespass and poaching on private lands and in the woods. The landowners in the Diet shamelessly and unscrupulously prostituted their legislative powers to their own private interests.

Marx had drawn up a comprehensive plan for taking the Diet to task. In the first treatise, which was composed of six long articles, he dealt with the debates of the Diet on the freedom of the press and on the publication of the Diet proceedings. Permission to publish a report of the proceedings without publishing the names of the speakers was one of the reforms with which the King had tried to encourage the Diets, but he met with violent opposition from the Diets themselves. The Rhenish Diet did not go so far as the Pomeranian and the Brandenburg Diets, which flatly refused to publish any reports of their proceedings; but it too showed that stupid arrogance which would make of elected representatives higher beings secure from the criticism of the electors. “The Diet cannot stand the light of day. The privacy of its own circle is better suited to it. If the province has sufficient confidence in a body of individuals to entrust them with the representation of its rights, then it is only natural that these individuals should be condescending enough to accept the honour, but it would really be going too far to demand that they should return the compliment and submit themselves, their modes of living and their characters to the judgment of the province which has just given them such a vote of confidence.” With delicious humour Marx derides the first appearance of that phenomenon which he was later to dub “parliamentary cretinism,” a thing he hated all his life.

And for the freedom of the press his rapier play has never been equalled in brilliance and trenchancy. Without envy Ruge admitted: “It would be impossible to say anything more deep or more thorough in favour of the freedom of the press. We may congratulate ourselves that such maturity, genius and such sovereign mastery over the vulgar confusion of ideas have made their debut in our press.” In one passage Marx refers to the free and happy climate of his homeland, and in these articles there is, even to-day, still something of the brightness and warmth of the summer sun playing on the vineyards along the banks of the Rhine. Hegel once spoke of “the miserable subjectivity of a bad press which would liquidate everything,” but Marx reached back to the bourgeois enlightenment movement, and in the Rheinische Zeitung he recognized Kant as the German theorist of the French Revolution. However, he went back to it, with all the breadth of political and social horizon which the historical dialectics of Hegel had opened up to him. One has only to compare the articles of Marx in the Rheinische Zeitung with Jacoby’s Four Questions in order to realize what an advance the former were. Jacoby appealed again and again to the royal promise of a constitution as the alpha and omega of the whole question, whilst Marx did not consider it worthy of even a casual mention.

With all his praise of a free press as the watchful eye of the people as against a censored press with its fundamental vice of hypocrisy – a vice which gave rise to all its other imperfections including the evil of a passivity disgusting even from an aesthetic standpoint – Marx did not overlook the dangers threatening this freedom. One of the representatives of the urban property owners had demanded the freedom of the press as part and parcel of the freedom of trade, whereupon Marx demanded: “Is a press which degrades itself to a trade free? A writer must certainly earn money in order to exist and write, but he should not exist and write in order to earn money....The first freedom of the press must consist in its emancipation from commerce. The writer who degrades the press to a mere means of material livelihood deserves as a punishment for this inner slavery that outer slavery called censorship, unless his very existence is already his punishment.” All his life Marx lived up to these principles and to the same standard which he demanded from others: a man’s writing must always be an end in itself. Far from being a mere means for himself and others, he must, if necessary, sacrifice his own existence to his writings.

The second treatise on the proceedings of the Rhenish Diet dealt with “The Archbishop Affair” as Marx wrote to Jung. This treatise was blue-pencilled by the censor and it was never published, although Ruge offered to include it in his Anekdota. Writing to the latter on July 9th, 1842, Marx declared: “Don’t think we are living in a political Eldorado here in the Rhineland. It needs the most determined persistence to conduct a newspaper like the Rhenische Zeitung. My second article on the Diet dealing with the church troubles has been rejected by the censor. I pointed out in it that the defenders of the State had taken up a religious attitude and the defenders of the church a political attitude. The rejection of my article is all the more disagreeable because the foolish Catholics of Cologne would have fallen into the trap and the defence of the Archbishop would have attracted new subscribers. You can hardly imagine, by the way, how disgustingly and at the same time how stupidly the despots have treated the orthodox blockhead. But success has crowned the affair. Prussia has kissed the Pope’s toe before the eyes of the whole world and our governmental automatons still appear in public without blushing. The last passage refers to the fact that in accordance with his romanticist leanings Frederick William IV had ventured into negotiations with the Papal Curia, whereupon the latter had shown its gratitude by over-reaching him right and left in the best traditions of the Vatican.

What Marx writes in this letter to Ruge about his article must not be taken to mean that Marx really undertook the defence of the Archbishop in order to lead the unwary Catholics of Cologne into a trap. On the contrary, he remained absolutely true to his principles and completely logical when he declared that with the illegal arrest of the Archbishop for having performed his religious functions and with the demand of the Catholics that the illegally arrested man should be given a legal trial, the defenders of the State had taken up a religious attitude and the defenders of the church a political attitude. It was certainly a crucial question for the Rheinische Zeitung that it should adopt a correct attitude in a topsy-turvy world, precisely for the reasons which Marx gives later on in the same letter to Ruge, namely, that the ultramontane party, which the paper energetically opposed, was the most dangerous force in the Rhineland and that the opposition had grown far too accustomed to conducting its struggle exclusively within the church.

The third treatise, which was composed of five long articles, dealt with the proceedings of the Diet concerning a law against the pilfering of wood in the forests. At this point Marx was compelled to “come down to earth” or, as he expressed the same idea in another connection, he was embarrassed by having to speak of material interests for which Hegel had made no provision in his ideological system. In fact he did not master the problem presented by this law with the incisiveness which he would have shown in later years. The point at issue was a fight between the developing capitalist era and the last remnants of common ownership of the land, a brutal struggle to expropriate the masses of the people. Out of 207,478 penal proceedings begun in Prussia in 1836 no less than 150,000, or almost three quarters, referred to the pilfering of wood in the forests, poaching offences, trespassing, etc.

During the discussion which took place in the Diet the exploiting interests of the private landowners shamelessly forced through their claims, going even beyond the provisions of the government draft, and Marx now entered the field with caustic criticism on behalf of “the unpropertied masses without political and social rights.” However, his reasoning is still based on considerations of justice and not yet of economics. He demanded that the customary rights of the poor people should not be violated and he found the basis of these rights in a somewhat vague form of property whose character was neither definitely private property nor definitely common property, but a mixture of both such as evidences itself in all the institutions of the middle ages. These hybrid and vague forms of property had been abolished by applying the categories of abstract civil law taken from Roman law, but an instinctive sense of justice was embodied in the customary rights of the poorer classes and their roots were positive and legitimate.

Although the historical perception of this article bears “a certain vacillating character” it nevertheless, or rather precisely on that account, shows us what in the last resort roused this great defender of “the poorer classes.” His description of the villainies committed by the landowners and of the way in which they trampled underfoot logic and reason, law and justice, and in the last resort the interests of the State, in order to satisfy their own private interests at the expense of the poor and the dispossessed reveals the fierce anger against injustice which moved him. “In order to destroy the poacher and the pilferer the Diet has not only broken the limbs of the law, but it has pierced it to the very heart. On the basis of this one example Marx wished to show what might be expected of a class assembly of private interests when once it seriously set about the task of legislating.

At the same time he still adhered to the Hegelian philosophy of law and the State, though he did not do so after the fashion of the orthodox disciples of Hegel who praised the Prussian State as ideal. On the contrary, he compared the Prussian State with the ideal State resulting from the philosophical hypotheses of Hegel. Marx regarded the State as the great organism within which legal, moral and political freedom must find its fulfilment, whilst the individual citizen obeyed the laws of the State only as the natural laws of his own reason, of human reason. From this standpoint Marx succeeded in dealing satisfactorily with the debates of the Diet on the law against wood pilfering. From the same standpoint he could probably have dealt with the fourth treatise discussing a law against poaching and trespassing, but not with the fifth which was intended to crown the whole work and discuss “the mundane question in life size,” the question of partitioning the land.

Together with the bourgeois Rhineland, Marx was in favour of complete freedom to partition landed property. His attitude was that to refuse the peasant the right to divide up his property as he wished would be to add legal impoverishment to physical impoverishment. However, this legal consideration was not wide enough to provide a solution of the problem. The French socialists had already pointed out that unlimited freedom to partition landed property created a helpless proletariat and placed it on a level with the atomistic isolation of the artisan. If Marx wanted to deal with this problem therefore he must first come to grips with socialism.

It is certain that Marx recognized this necessity and it is equally certain that he would not have evaded it had he concluded the series. It did not, however, come to the test. By the time his third treatise was published in the Rheinische Zeitung he was already its editor and found himself faced with the socialist riddle before he was in a position to solve it.



7. Five Months Of Struggle

During the course of the summer months the Rheinische Zeitung made one or two minor excursions into the social field. In all probability Moses Hess was responsible for them. On one occasion it reprinted an article on housing conditions in Berlin taken from one of Weitling’s publications and entitled it A Contribution to an Important Contemporary Question. And on another occasion it published a report on a congress of savants in Strassburg which had also touched on the socialist question, and added a harmless remark to the effect that if the non-possessing classes were now casting their eyes on the riches of the middle classes this might be compared to the struggle of the middle classes against the feudal aristocracy in 1789 with the difference that this time the problem would meet with a peaceable solution.

Small though this incident was, it proved sufficient to cause the Allgemeine Zeitung in Augsburg to accuse the Rheinische Zeitung of flirting with communism. As a matter of fact the conscience of the Allgemeine Zeitung was not quite clear in this respect, for it had published much sharper articles from the pen of Heinrich Heine on French socialism and communism, but it was the only German newspaper of any national and even international importance and it felt its position threatened by the Rheinische Zeitung. Although the violent attack launched by the Allgemeine Zeitung had thus no very edifying motive, it was not without a certain malicious dexterity. Together with various allusions to the sons of well-to-do merchants who in their innocent simplicity played with socialist ideas without the least intention of sharing their possessions with the dockers or with the men at work on Cologne Cathedral, it played a trump card by declaring it childish to threaten the middle classes in an economically backward country like Germany with the fate of the feudal aristocracy in France in 1789, particularly in view of the fact that the German middle classes were hardly granted room to breathe freely themselves.

It was Marx’s first editorial task to parry this biting attack and he found it uncomfortable enough. He was unwilling to defend things which he himself thought to be amateurish, but he was also not in a position to say quite what he thought of communism. Therefore he did his best to carry the war into Egypt by accusing the enemy of communist leanings, but at the same time he admitted that the Rheinische Zeitung had no right to dispose with a phrase or two of a problem at whose solution two great peoples were working. The Rheinische Zeitung would subject the ideas of communism to thorough criticism “after protracted and deep study,” for writings like those of Leroux and Considerant, and above all the sagacious writings of Proudhon, could not be disposed of by the superficial and chance ideas of the moment. However, in their present form the Rheinische Zeitung was not prepared to grant these ideas even theoretical reality, much less wish for their realization or think such realization possible.

Later on Marx declared that this polemic had spoiled his enthusiasm for the work on the Rheinische Zeitung and that he had therefore “eagerly” seized the opportunity of withdrawing into his study. However, as so often happens when one thinks back to past events, cause and effect were brought too close together. For the moment Marx was heart and soul in his work for the Rheinische Zeitung and it even appeared important enough to him to risk a breach with his old companions in Berlin for its sake. There was very little to be done with them, for the issue of the mitigated censorship instructions had turned the Hegelian Club, which had “at least always been a centre of intellectual interests,” into a society of so-called “Freemen” which embraced almost all the pre-March literary lights in the Prussian capital. They now met to play at being political and social revolutionaries like unhinged Philistines. Even during the summer months Marx had been disquieted by this development, declaring that it was one thing – a conscientious thing – to proclaim one’s emancipation, but quite another to indulge in advance in self-adulation and self-advertisement. However, he went on, Bruno Bauer was in Berlin and he would see to it that at least no “imbecilities” were committed.

Unfortunately, Marx was wrong in this assumption. According to reliable information Köppen kept himself aloof from the antics of the “Freemen,” but Bruno Bauer certainly did not and, in fact, he even played the role of standard bearer in their buffooneries. The ragging processions through the streets, the scandalous scenes in brothels and taverns, and the deplorable taunting of a defenceless clergyman at Stirner’s wedding, when Bauer removed the brass rings from a knitted purse he was carrying and handed them to the officiating clergyman with the remark that they were quite good enough to serve as wedding rings, made them the object half of admiration and half of horror for all tame Philistines, but they hopelessly compromised the cause which they were supposed to represent.

Naturally, these guttersnipe antics had a devastating effect on the intellectual production of the “Freemen” and Marx had great difficulties with their contributions to the Rheinische Zeitung. Many of their contributions were blue-pencilled by the censor, but as Marx declared in a letter to Ruge: “I permitted myself to dispose of at least as many. Meyen and his satellites sent us piles of world-uprooting scribblings, empty of ideas and written in a slovenly style, the whole tinged with a little atheism and communism (which the gentlemen have never bothered to study). Owing to Rutenberg’s complete lack of any critical faculty, independence or capacity, they had grown used to regarding the Rheinische Zeitung as their complaisant tool, but I had no intention of letting that sort of thing go on.” This was the first reason why “the Berlin horizon became overclouded,” as Marx put it.

The breach came in November, 1842, when Herwegh and Ruge paid a visit to Berlin. At that time Herwegh was on his triumphant career through Germany, and in Cologne he had quickly made friends with Marx. In Dresden he met Ruge and went on with him to Berlin where they were naturally unable to find any virtue in the antics of the “Freemen.” Ruge came to grips with his collaborator Bruno Bauer, because, as he pointed out, the latter wanted him to agree to “the most absurd things,” for instance that the State, private property and the family must be dissolved as conceptions without bothering about the practical side of the question at all. Herwegh disapproved equally strongly of the “Freemen” and they revenged themselves for his disdain by slating him in their usual fashion in connection with his audience with the King and his engagement to a rich girl.

Both parties appealed to the Rheinische Zeitung. In agreement with Ruge, Herwegh asked for the publication of a statement to the effect that although the “Freemen” were quite excellent as individuals, their political romanticism, their megalomania and their itch for self-advertisement compromised the cause and the parry of freedom, as both Herwegh and Ruge had told them frankly. Marx published this statement and was then bombarded with ill-mannered letters from Meyen who had made himself the mouthpiece of the “Freemen.”

In the beginning Marx answered these letters coolly and objectively in an endeavour to secure fruitful co-operation with the “Freemen.” “I demanded less vague arguments, fewer fine-sounding phrases, less self-adulation and rather more concreteness, a more detailed treatment of actual conditions and a display of greater practical knowledge of the subjects dealt with. I told them that in my opinion it was not right, that it was even immoral, to smuggle communist and socialist dogmas, i.e., an entirely new way of looking at the world, into casual dramatic criticisms, etc., and that if communism were to be discussed at all then it must be done in quite a different fashion and thoroughly. I also asked them to criticize religion by criticizing political conditions rather than the other way about, as this would be more in accordance with the character of a newspaper and the necessity for educating our public, because religion, quite empty in itself, lives from earth and not from heaven and will disappear by itself once the inverted reality whose theory it represents is dissolved. And finally I told them that if they wanted to deal with philosophy they should flirt less with the idea of atheism (which is reminiscent of those children who loudly inform anyone who cares to listen that they are not afraid of the bogeyman) and do more to acquaint the people with its meaning.” These remarks afford us an instructive glance at the principles according to which Marx edited the Rheinische Zeitung.

However, before this advice reached those for whom it was intended, Marx received “an insolent letter” from Meyen in which the latter demanded no more and no less than that the paper should stop “temporizing” and “go the limit,” in other words, that it should challenge suppression for the sake of the “Freemen.” At this Marx became impatient and wrote to Ruge: “All this shows a terrible degree of vanity. They are quite unable to realize that in order to save a political organ we should be quite prepared to abandon some of the Berlin gas-baggery which deals with nothing but its own clique concerns ... Day after day we have to put up with the chicanery of the censorship, ministerial letters, complaints from the provincial governor, wails from the Diet, protests from the shareholders, etc., etc., and as I am sticking to my post only because I feel it my duty to foil the intentions of the despots as far as possible, you can imagine that I was rather irritated by this letter and I have sent Meyen a pretty sharp reply.”

In fact, this represented the final breach between Marx and the “Freemen,” almost all of whom came to a more or less woeful political end, from Bruno Bauer who later worked on the Kreuz-Zeitung and the Post to Eduard Meyen who ended his days as the editor of the Danziger Zeitung, Meyen characterized his wasted life with the dismal joke that he was now permitted to ridicule only Protestant orthod-“oxen” because the liberal owner of his paper had forbidden him to criticize the Papal syllabus out of consideration for his Catholic readers. Others of the circle found a shelter in the semi-official and even the official press. Rutenberg, for instance, died a few decades later as editor of the Preussischer Staats-Anzeiger.

However, at that time, in the autumn of 1842, Rutenberg was a much-feared man and the government demanded his removal from the Rheinische Zeitung. Throughout the summer the government had done its best to make life miserable for the paper, but it had been spared in the hope that it would die of its own accord. On August 8th the Governor of the Rhineland, von Schaper, reported to Berlin that the paper had only 885 subscribers, but on the 15th of October Marx took over the editorship and on the 10th of November von Schaper was compelled to report that the number of subscribers was steadily increasing, it having risen from 885 to 1,820, and that the tendency of the paper was becoming more and more insolent and hostile. To make matters worse the Rheinische Zeitung obtained a copy of a marriage Bill of an extremely reactionary nature and published its contents before the authorities were ready for it. This greatly embittered the King because the Bill aimed at making divorce more difficult and was thus certain of strenuous opposition amongst the masses of the people. He therefore demanded that the paper should be threatened with immediate suppression unless it revealed the name of the person who had provided it with the draft. However, the King’s Ministers were unwilling to place the crown of martyrdom on the brow of the Rheinische Zeitung, for they knew very well that such a degrading proposal would be rejected immediately it was made. They therefore contented themselves with demanding the removal of Rutenberg and the appointment of a responsible editor to answer for the paper in place of the publisher Renard. At the same time an Assessor named Wiethaus was appointed censor in place of Dolleschall, whose utter stupidity had brought him into bad odour.

On the 30th of November Marx reported to Ruge: “Owing to the colossal stupidity of our State dispensation, Rutenberg, who had already been deprived of the German article (his work on it consisted chiefly in correcting the punctuation) and was given the French article only at my intervention, is regarded as dangerous, although he is dangerous to nothing and no one apart from the Rheinische Zeitung and himself. Still, his removal was demanded categorically. The Prussian dispensation, this despotisme prussien, le plus hypocrite, le plus fourbe, has spared the guarantor (Renard) an unpleasant experience, and the new martyr, who is already adept in the facial expression, carriage and language of his new role, is exploiting the occasion to the full. He is writing everywhere, including Berlin, declaring that he represents the exiled principle of the Rheinische Zeitung and that the latter is now about to revise its attitude towards the government.” Marx mentions the incident because it aggravated his quarrel with the Berlin “Freemen,” but it would appear almost as though he went a little too far in his mockery of the poor devil, the “martyr” Rutenberg.

Marx’s observation that the government had “categorically” demanded the removal of Rutenberg and that the guarantor Renard had thereby been spared an unpleasant experience can only mean that the Rheinische Zeitung gave way to the pressure exerted by the government and that it made no attempt: to keep Rutenberg. In any case, such an attempt would have been hopeless and in addition there was every reason to spare the publisher “an unpleasant experience,” i.e., an examination by the police and the drawing up of a protocol, an ordeal which the absolutely unpolitical man was quite unsuited to undergo. However, he signed a written protest against the threat to suppress the paper, but the handwriting of the document, which is now in the town archives of Cologne, shows that it was drawn up by Marx.

It announces that, “giving way to force,” the Rheinische Zeitung agrees to the temporary removal of Rutenberg and to the appointment of a responsible editor. It also assures the authorities that the Rheinische Zeitung will gladly do everything reconcilable with the character of an independent newspaper to save itself from suppression, and that it is prepared to moderate the form of its articles in so far as the subject matter may permit. This document is drawn up with a diplomatic caution of which the life of its author offers no second example, but it would be unfair to weigh scrupulously every word of it and equally unfair to say that the young Marx did any noticeable violence to his convictions at the time even when he referred to the pro-Prussian attitude of the paper. Apart from its polemical articles against the anti-Prussian tendencies of the Allgemeine Zeitung in Augsburg, and its agitation in favour of the extension of the Zollverein to Northwestern Germany, its Prussian sympathies had expressed themselves chiefly in repeated references to North German science as against the superficiality of French and South German theories. Marx also points out in this document that the Rheinische Zeitung was the first “Rhenish and South German newspaper” to introduce the North German spirit into the South and thus contributed to the intellectual unification of the separated branches of the German people.

The answer of the Governor of the Rhineland, von Schaper, to this address was somewhat ungracious: even if Rutenberg were dismissed immediately and a thoroughly suitable editor named it would still depend on the future conduct of the paper whether it would be granted a definite concession or not. However, the paper was granted until the 12th of December to appoint a responsible editor, though things never progressed as far as that, for in the middle of December new cause for dissension arose. Two articles from a correspondent in Berncastel concerning the impoverished situation of the Moselle peasants caused von Schaper to send in two corrections which were as empty of content as they were formally ill-mannered in style. For the moment the Rheinische Zeitung again made the best of a bad job and praised the “calm dignity” of von Schaper’s corrections, declaring that they put the agents of the secret police to shame and were calculated “as much to dissolve mistrust as to restore confidence”; but when it had collected sufficient material it published five articles, beginning in the middle of January, containing a mass of documentary evidence showing that the government had stifled the complaints of the Moselle peasants with brutal severity. The highest government official in the Rhineland was thus exposed to general ridicule, but he had the agreeable consolation of knowing that on January 21st, 1843, the Cabinet had decided, in the presence of the King, that the paper should be suppressed.

Towards the close of the previous year a number of happenings had angered the King: a sentimentally defiant letter which Herwegh had addressed to him from Königsberg and which the Allgemeine Zeitung in Leipzig had published without the knowledge of the author; the acquittal of Johann Jacoby by the Supreme Court on charges of high treason and lese-majeste; and finally the New Year’s proclamation of the Deutsche Jahrbücher in favour of “Democracy with all its practical problems.” The Deutsche Jahrbücher was immediately suppressed and the Allgemeine Zeitung also as far as Prussian territory was concerned, and the “harlot sister on the Rhine” was to be suppressed in the general clean-up, particularly as it had still further irritated the authorities by publishing an indignant protest against the suppression of the other two publications.

The formal pretext for the suppression of the Rheinische Zeitung was the alleged lack of an official concession – ”As though it could have appeared in Prussia for a single day without official permission when not even a dog can exist without a government license!” as Marx exclaimed. The supplementary and “objective reason” was the usual babble about its nefarious tendency – ”the old stuff and nonsense about its ill-will, its empty theorizing, diddlydumdey, etc.,” as Marx declared contemptuously. Out of consideration for its shareholders, the paper was permitted to appear until the end of the quarter. Writing to Ruge, Marx declared: “During our gallows respite we are under double censorship. Our real censor, a very decent fellow, is himself under the censorship of the Provincial President von Gerlach, a passive and obedient blockhead. When it is ready for print the paper must be thrust under the noses of the police and if they think they can smell anything un-Christian or un-Prussian then the paper may not appear.”

Assessor Wiethaus showed spirit and decency enough to give up his post as censor and for this action he was honoured with a serenade by the Cologne Choral Society. Ministerial Secretary Saint-Paul was then sent from Berlin to take his place and this man did the garrotting so thoroughly that the double censorship was withdrawn on the 18th February.

The suppression of the paper was felt as a personal insult by the whole population of the Rhineland and the number of subscribers jumped to 3,200 whilst petitions with thousands of signatures were sent to Berlin in an attempt to ward off the final blow. A deputation from the shareholders went to Berlin in order to see the King, but they were not permitted an audience. The petitions from the populace wandered into the waste-paper baskets of government offices and those officials who had signed them were severely reprimanded. However, much worse was the fact that the shareholders were inclined to demand that the policy of the paper should be toned down in the hope that this would prove successful where their appeals had failed. It was chiefly this circumstance which caused Marx to resign his post as editor on the 17th of March, though naturally this did not prevent him giving the censorship as much trouble as possible up to the last moment.

The new censor, Saint-Paul, was a youthful Bohemian. In Berlin he had caroused with the “Freemen” and in Cologne he was soon mixed up in affrays with night watchmen outside the brothels. However, he was a cunning fellow and he soon discovered the “doctrinaire centre” of the Rheinische Zeitung and “the living source” of its theories. In his reports to Berlin he speaks with involuntary respect of Marx, whose character and intellect obviously made a deep impression on him despite “the great speculative errors” which he thought he had discovered in Marx’s views. On March 2nd he was able to report to Berlin that “under the existing circumstances” Marx had decided to sever his connections with the Rheinische Zeitung and to leave Prussia. This report caused the Berlin wiseacres to make a note in their records to the effect that it would be no loss if Marx emigrated, because his “ultra-democratic opinions are in utter contradiction to the principles of the Prussian State,” a statement which it would be difficult to dispute. On March 18th the worthy Saint-Paul then sent a triumphant report to Berlin: “The spiritus rector of the whole undertaking, Dr. Marx, definitely retired yesterday and Oppenheim, on the whole a really moderate though insignificant man, took over the editorship ... I am very pleased at this and to-day I had to spend hardly a quarter of the usual time on the censorship.” The censor then paid the departing Marx the flattering compliment of suggesting to Berlin that in view of Marx’s retirement the Rheinische Zeitung might now be permitted to continue publication. However, his masters displayed even greater cowardice than he did, for they instructed him to bribe the editor of the Kölnische Zeitung, a certain Hermes, and to intimidate its publishers, who had been made to realize by the Rheinische Zeitung that dangerous competition was possible. And the underhand trick was successful.

As early as the 25th of January, the day on which the decision to suppress the Rheinische Zeitung had become known in Cologne, Marx wrote to Ruge: “I was not surprised. You know what I thought about the censorship instructions from the beginning. What has now happened I consider nothing but a logical consequence. I regard the suppression of the Rheinische Zeitung as an indication of the progress of political consciousness and I am therefore resigning. In any case, the atmosphere was becoming too oppressive for me. It is a bad thing to work in servitude and to fight with pinpricks instead of with the sword even in the cause of freedom. I am tired of the hypocrisy, the stupidity and the brutality of the authorities and of our submissiveness, pliancy, evasiveness and hair-splitting, and now the government has given me back my freedom ... There is nothing more I can do in Germany. One debases oneself here.”



8. Ludwig Feuerbach

In the same letter Marx acknowledges the receipt of the collection to which he had contributed his first political work. This collection appeared in two volumes under the title, Anekdota zur neuesten deutschen Philosophie und Publizistik and it was published in Zurich at the beginning of March, 1843, by the Literarisches Kontor which Julius Fröbel had made into an asylum for those authors who had been compelled to flee the German censorship.

In this collection the Old Guard of the Young Hegelians took the field once again, but its ranks were already wavering. In the van was Ludwig Feuerbach, the daring thinker who had already thrown the whole philosophy of Hegel on to the scrap-heap, who had declared the “absolute idea” to be nothing more than the deceased spirit of theology and thus a belief in pure phantoms, who found all the secrets of philosophy resolved in the contemplation of humanity and nature. The Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy which he published in the Anekdota were a revelation for Marx among others.

In later years Engels dated the great influence which Feuerbach exercised on Marx’s intellectual development from The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach’s most famous work, which was published in 1844. Of this book Engels declared that one must have read it in order to realize its “liberating effect”: “The enthusiasm was general and we were all instantly followers of Feuerbach.” However, Marx’s writings for the Rheinische Zeitung reveal no trace of Feuerbach’s influence, and although Marx did, in fact, “enthusiastically welcome” the new ideas, whilst making one or two critical reservations, this was not until February, 1844, when the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher appeared and indicated even in its title a certain relation to Feuerbach’s ideas.

The ideas of the Preliminary Theses are already contained in germ in The Essence of Christianity and therefore the trick which Engels’ memory played him would seem to be of very little importance, but it is in reality not quite so unimportant because it tends to misrepresent the intellectual relations between Feuerbach and Marx. Feuerbach was only at ease in rural seclusion, but he was no less a fighter on that account. With Galileo he regarded the town as a prison for speculative minds whilst in the freedom of rural life the book of nature was open to the eyes of anyone with sufficient intelligence to read it. This was always Feuerbach’s defence against all the reproaches directed against him on account of the secluded life he led in Bruckberg. He loved rural seclusion, not in the sense of the old peaceable maxim that he is fortunate who lives in obscurity, but because in seclusion he found the strength necessary to carry on the fight. It was the need of the thinker to compose his thoughts in peace, away from the noise and bustle of the town which might have distracted him from the contemplation of nature which he regarded as the great source of all life and of all its secrets.

Despite the rural seclusion in which he lived, Feuerbach was in the forefront of the great struggles of his day. His contributions had given Ruge’s publications their point and trenchancy. In his Essence of Christianity he pointed out that man makes religion and not religion man, and that the higher being which man’s fantasy creates is nothing but the imaginative reflection of his own being. However, just at the time when this book was published Marx had turned his attention to the political struggle which led him right into the hurly-burly of public life, as far as it was possible to speak of such a thing in Germany, and the weapons which Feuerbach had forged in his writings were not suited to such surroundings. The Hegelian philosophy had already proved itself incapable of solving the material problems which had arisen during Marx’s work on the Rheinische Zeitung, when the Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy appeared and gave Hegelian philosophy the coup de grace as the last refuge and the last rational prop of theology. The work therefore deeply impressed Marx although he immediately made critical reservations.

Writing to Ruge on the 13th of March he declared: “Feuerbach’s aphorisms are not to my liking in one point only, namely, that they concern themselves too much with nature and too little with politics. Still, an alliance with politics is the only way in which contemporary philosophy can become a reality; but I suppose it will happen as in the sixteenth century when the nature enthusiasts were faced with another set of State enthusiasts.” Marx’s objection was reasonable enough for in his Preliminary Theses Feuerbach mentioned politics only once and even then his attitude represented rather a retrogression from Hegel than an advance on him. The upshot was that Marx determined to examine Hegel’s philosophy of law and the State as thoroughly as Feuerbach had examined his philosophy of nature and religion.

Another passage in this letter to Ruge reveals how strongly Marx was under Feuerbach’s influence at the time. As soon as he had realized that he could not write under Prussian censorship and that the air of Prussia was altogether too oppressive, Marx decided to leave Germany, but not without his future wife. On January 25th he had written to Ruge inquiring whether it would be possible for him to find something to do on the Deutscher Bote which Herwegh intended to publish in Zurich. However, owing to his own expulsion from Zurich, Herwegh had been unable to carry out his plan. Ruge had then made other proposals, including the joint editorship of the re-named Jahrbücher, suggesting that when his “editorial purgatory” in Cologne was at an end Marx should come to Leipzig to discuss “the place of our resurrection.”

In his letter of the 13th of March Marx agreed in principle but expressed his “provisional opinion on our plan” as follows: “After the fall of Paris some proposed that the son of Napoleon should be made Regent, whilst others suggested Bernadotte as the ruler of France, whilst still others were in favour of Louis Philippe. But Talleyrand answered: either Louis XVIII or Napoleon. That would be a matter of principle, anything else would be intrigue. And I should call everything with the exception of Strassburg (and perhaps Switzerland) an intrigue and not a matter of principle. Voluminous books are not for the people and the best we can do is to issue a monthly. Even if the Deutsche Jahrbücher was permitted to appear again the utmost we could manage would be a feeble imitation of the late lamented and that is not enough to-day. A Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, on the other hand – that would be a matter of principle, an event of consequence, an undertaking to inspire enthusiasm.”

In this letter one can hear the echo of Feuerbach’s Preliminary Theses in which he declares that a real philosophy in harmony with life and humanity must be of Gallo-Germanic origin. The heart must be French and the head German. The head must reform and the heart revolutionize. Only where there was movement, emotion, passion, blood and feeling could there be any spirit. Only the spirit of Leibnitz with his sanguinary materialist-idealist principle had rescued the Germans from their pedantry and scholasticism.

Replying to Marx’s letter on the 19th of March Ruge declared himself in complete agreement with the “Gallo-Germanic principle,” but the settlement of the business side of the arrangements took up a few further months.



9. Marriage and Banishment

During the lively years of his first public struggles Marx also had to contend with a number of domestic difficulties. He always referred to them unwillingly and only when unpleasant necessity compelled him to. In direct contrast with the pitiful lot of the Philistine who can forget God and the world in his own petty troubles, it had been given to Marx to raise himself above his bitterest troubles in “the great affairs of mankind.” Unfortunately his life offered him all too frequent opportunity for exercising this power.

We find his attitude to such matters expressed in a very characteristic fashion in the first utterance concerning his “paltry private affairs” which has come down to us. Writing to Ruge on July 9th, 1842, to excuse himself for not having sent in the contributions he had promised for the Anekdota he mentions a number of difficulties and then declares: “The remaining time was wasted and upset by the most unpleasant family controversies. Although quite well off, my family has put difficulties in my way which have temporarily placed me in most embarrassing circumstances. I cannot possibly bother you with a description of these paltry private affairs and it is really fortunate that the state of our public affairs makes it impossible for any man of character to let his private troubles irritate him.” This is one of the many indications of that unusual strength of character which has always enraged the Philistines, with their “irritability in matters private,” against the “heartless” Marx.

No details have become known about these “most unpleasant family controversies” and Marx referred to them again only on one occasion, and even then only very generally, when the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher were about to be launched. Writing to Ruge he declared that as soon as their plans had taken on a more definite form he would go to Kreuznach, where the mother of his future wife had gone to live after the death of her husband, get married there and spend some time in the house of his mother-in-law “because we must have a certain amount of material ready before we start work.... I can assure you without any romanticism that I am head over heels and in all seriousness in love. We have been engaged now for over seven years and my future wife has had to fight hard struggles on my behalf partly against her pious aristocratic relatives who regard their ‘Father in Heaven’ and the government in Berlin as equal objects of veneration, and partly against my own family in which a number of clerical individuals and other enemies of mine have got a hold, and these struggles have almost undermined her health. For years therefore my future wife and I have been compelled to engage in unnecessary and exhausting conflicts, more so in fact than many people three times our age who are always talking about their ‘experience of life.’ “ Apart from these rather vague indications we know nothing of the difficulties of the engagement period.

Not without trouble, but comparatively quickly, the arrangements for the issue of the new publication were made without Marx having to go to Leipzig. After Ruge, who was well-to-do, had declared himself ready to put up 6,000 thaler [13] as a shareholder in the Literarisches Kontor, Frobel agreed to undertake the publishing. Marx was promised a salary of 500 thaler as editor and with these prospects he married his Jenny on the 19th of June, 1843.

It still remained to decide where the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher should be published and the choice was between Brussels, Paris and Strassburg. The young pair would have preferred the Alsatian capital, but finally the decision was taken in favour of Paris after both Ruge and Frobel had visited Paris and Brussels and made various inquiries. In Brussels the press had more elbow room than in Paris with its provision for the deposit of bond and its September laws, but the French capital was in closer touch with German life, and Ruge wrote encouragingly that with 3,000 francs or perhaps a little more Marx would be able to live quite comfortably there.

In accordance with his plans Marx spent the first few months of his married life in the house of his mother-in-law, and in November moved his fledgling household to Paris. The last documentary evidence of his early life in Germany is a letter written to Feuerbach on October 23rd, 1843, asking him for a contribution to the first issue of the new Jahrbücher, preferably a criticism of Schelling: “I feel myself almost justified in assuming from your introduction to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity that you have something in store for this windbag. That would be a fine debut, don’t you think? How cleverly Herr Schelling has succeeded in deceiving the French: first the feeble and eclectic Cousin, and later on even the brilliant Leroux. Pierre Leroux and his associates still regard Schelling as the man who put reasonable realism in the place of transcendental idealism, ideas of flesh and blood in the place of abstract ideas, world philosophy in the place of formal philosophy ... You would therefore render our publication a great service and the cause of truth a still greater one if you gave us a characterization of Schelling for our first issue. You are just the man for the job because you are the exact opposite of Schelling. He had for the realization of the honest ideas of his youth – we are entitled to believe the best of our opponents – no other means but imagination, no other energy but vanity, no other motive force but opium, no other organ but an irritable and effeminate receptivity. In him these ideas always remained a fantastic youthful dream, but in you they have become truth, reality and manly gravity ... I regard you therefore as the necessary and natural opponent of Schelling appointed by the twin powers of nature and history.” How amiable is the tone of this letter and at the same time how delighted is its author at the prospect of a great struggle!

But Feuerbach hesitated. He had, indeed, praised the venture to Ruge, but now he refused to assist it. Even an appeal to his “Gallo-Germanic principle” had not moved him. It was, above all, his writings which had aroused the ire of the authorities and caused them to bludgeon out of existence what still remained of philosophic freedom in Germany, thus compelling the philosophical opposition to leave the country unless it was prepared to capitulate miserably.

Feuerbach himself was not the man to capitulate, but at the same time he was unable to summon up sufficient courage to plunge into the breakers which surged around the dead land of Germany. Feuerbach’s reply to the fiery words with which Marx sought to win him was friendly and interested, but it was nevertheless a refusal. It was a black day in his life and from then on his isolation gradually became an intellectual one also.




13. Thaler: a three-mark piece. – Tr.


Last updated on 27.2.2004