Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Five: Exile in Brussels


5. The Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung

Marx found publishers both in Brussels and in Paris for his answer to Proudhon, but, although it was not very voluminous, he had to pay for the costs of the printing himself. By the time the book appeared in midsummer, 1847, he also had a mouthpiece in the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung which offered him the possibility of placing his views before the public.

The paper had been issued twice a week since the beginning of the year by Adalbert von Bornstedt, who had formerly edited Bornstein’s Vorwärts in Paris, and who had been in the pay of both the Austrian and Prussian governments, a fact which has since been irrefutably established from documents in the Berlin and Vienna archives, and the only point which is not quite clear is whether Bornstedt was continuing his spying in Brussels. There was a certain amount of suspicion against him, but this was dispelled by the fact that the Prussian Ambassador in Brussels roundly denounced his paper to the Belgian authorities. Naturally, these denunciations may very well have been made in order to throw dust into the eyes of the revolutionary elements which had collected in Brussels, and to accredit Bornstedt in their ranks, for the defenders of Throne and Altar have never been squeamish in their choice of means to further their lofty aims. Marx in any case did not believe that Bornstedt was a Judas. Despite its many weaknesses, the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung was doing good work, he declared, and those who thought it not good enough should work to make it better and not shield themselves behind the facile pretext that suspicion clung to Bornstedt’s name. On August 8th we find Marx writing bitterly to Herwegh: “Either the man’s no good, or it may be his wife, or it’s the tendency, or the style, or the size, or the distribution involves a certain amount of danger ... Our Germans have always a thousands words of wisdom up their sleeves to prove why they should once again let an opportunity slip by unutilized. An opportunity for doing something is nothing but a source of embarrassment for them.” He then sighs that his manuscripts are suffering the same fate as the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung and ends up with a robust curse at the fools who reproached him because he preferred to write in French rather than not write at all.

Even if we assume from this that Marx treated the suspicion against Bornstedt somewhat lightly in order not to “let an opportunity slip by unutilized,” it would hardly be possible to reproach him for it because the opportunity was indeed favourable and it would have been foolish to jet it slip by merely on account of suspicion. In the spring of 1847 pressing financial need had compelled the King of Prussia to call together the United Diet, a gathering of the former Provincial Diets, that is to say, a feudal body along corporative lines similar to the one called by Louis XVI in the spring of 1789 under similar outward compulsion. Matters had certainly not developed so rapidly in Prussia as they had previously in France, but still, the United Diet kept the purse strings tightly drawn and brusquely informed the government that it would refuse to vote any monies until its rights had been extended and in particular until a guarantee had been given that it would be convened regularly. With this things had begun to move, for the financial straits of the government were really pressing. Sooner or later the dance would have to begin anew, and the sooner the music struck up the better.

This was the idea which pervaded the contributions of Marx and Engels to the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung. An article which was published anonymously, but which, to judge from style and content, came from the pen of Engels, dealt with the debates in the United Diet on free trade and protective tariffs. At the time Engels was thoroughly convinced that the German bourgeoisie needed protective tariffs in order to prevent itself being driven to the wall by foreign industry, and to give itself an opportunity of developing sufficient strength to overcome feudalism and absolutism. For this reason, and for this reason only, Engels advised the proletariat to support the agitation for protective tariffs. In his opinion, List, the authority of the protectionists, had produced the best bourgeois German economic literature, although he declared that List’s best work had been copied from Ferrier, the French theorist of the Continental system. He also warned the workers against being fooled by phrases about “the welfare of the labouring classes” which were being used by both protectionists and free-traders as an ostentatious shield for their own self-serving agitation, and declared that the wages of the workers would remain the same under protectionism as under free trade. He defended protectionism purely and simply as “a progressive bourgeois measure,” and this was Marx’s standpoint also.

A longer contribution which appeared in the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung, repulsing an attack on the part of Christian-feudal socialism, was the joint work of Marx and Engels. The attack had been launched in the Rheinischer Beobachter, an organ which the government had recently founded in Cologne in order to play off the workers of the Rhineland against the bourgeoisie. It was in the columns of this paper that young Hermann Wagener won his spurs, as he afterwards placed on record in his memoirs. Marx and Engels maintained close connections with Cologne and they were obviously aware of Wagener’s activities, for mocking references to “neat ecclesiastical commissioners” formed a sort of refrain to their observations and at the time Wagener was an ecclesiastical commissioner in Madgeburg.

The Rheinischer Beobachter now used the failure of the government to obtain what it wanted from the United Diet for an attempt to mislead the workers, declaring that by refusing to vote the necessary monies the bourgeoisie had shown that all it cared about was seizing power in the State in its own interests. It cared nothing for the welfare of the people, but merely pushed forward the masses in order to intimidate the government. The masses were being treated as nothing but cannon-fodder in an attack on the government. Marx and Engels replied in a fashion which is obvious to us to-day: The proletariat had no more illusions about the bourgeoisie than it had about the government, and its only consideration was which served its purpose better, the rule of the bourgeoisie or the rule of the government. The answer to the question could be obtained by a simple comparison between the situation of the German workers and that of the English and French workers.

“Happy people!” declared the Rheinischer Beobachter. “You have won the battle of fundamental principles, and if you don’t know what that is, ask your representatives to explain it to you, and perhaps during their long speeches you will forget your hunger.” These demagogic phrases were answered by Marx and Engels with caustic mockery: from the fact that such incitement went unpunished it was easy to see that the press in Germany was really free. And they declared that in fact the German proletariat had thoroughly understood the fundamental principles at stake, so much so that it reproached the United Diet not with having won them, but with having lost them. Had the United Diet not contented itself with demanding merely the extension of its own rights, but instead demanded trial by jury, equality before the law, the abolition of forced labour, the freedom of the press, the right of free association and the convening of a really representative body, then it would have received the wholehearted support of the proletariat.

The pious mumblings of the Rheinischer Beobachter about the social principles of Christianity which made communism unnecessary were thoroughly disposed of: “The social principles of Christianity have had eighteen hundred years in which to develop and they need no further development at the hands of Prussian ecclesiastical commissioners. The social principles of Christianity justified slavery in the classic world and they glorified mediaeval serfdom, and if necessary they are quite willing to defend the oppression of the proletariat even if they should wear a somewhat crestfallen appearance the while. The social principles of Christianity preach the necessity of a ruling and an oppressed class, and all they have to offer to the latter is the pious wish that the former may be charitable. The social principles of Christianity transfer the reparation of all infamies to the realms of heaven and thus they justify the perpetuation of these infamies on earth. The social principles of Christianity declare that all the villainies of the oppressors against the oppressed are either the just punishment for original or other sin, or tribulations which God in his inscrutable wisdom causes the redeemed to suffer. The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-abasement, resignation, submission and humility, in short, all the characteristics of the canaille, but the proletariat is not Prepared to let itself be treated as canaille and it needs its courage, confidence, pride and independence even more than it needs its daily bread. The social principles of Christianity are sneaking and hypocritical whilst the proletariat is revolutionary.”

It was this revolutionary proletariat which Marx and Engels led into the field against the blandishments of monarchist social reform. A people prepared to thank its rulers with tears in its eyes for a kick accompanied by a penny existed only in the imagination of a King. The real people, the proletariat, was, in the words of Hobbes, a robust and dangerous youth, and its way of dealing with Kings who tried to worst it could be seen graphically in the fate of Charles I of England and Louis XVI of France.

This answer broke over the feudal-socialist crop like a hailstorm, though some of the stones fell wide of the mark. Marx and Engels were right when they defended the action of the United Diet in refusing to grant monies to a reactionary and negligent government, but they did the Diet too much honour when they adopted the same attitude towards its rejection of a government income tax proposal. The proposal was in fact a trap set for the bourgeoisie by the government. The demand that the milling and slaughtering taxes, which weighed most heavily on the workers in the big towns, should be abolished and the resultant financial deficit made up by means of an income tax on the propertied classes, had first been raised by the Rhenish bourgeoisie, which was moved by considerations similar to those which moved the English bourgeoisie in its struggle for the repeal of the Corn Laws. The government itself was strongly opposed to this proposal because it struck at the rich landowners, who could not, as a result of the abolition of these taxes, expect any fall in the wages of the workers exploited by them, since the taxes were imposed in the big cities only. However, it brought in the necessary bill because it felt sure that a feudal corporative body like the United Diet would never agree to a tax reform which benefited the working classes even temporarily at the expense of the possessing classes, and it hoped therefore to make itself popular and the Diet unpopular. How right the government was in its calculation was seen when the bill came before the Diet and almost all the princes, almost all the junkers and almost all the officials voted against it. In addition, the government had the good fortune that even a section of the bourgeoisie turned tail hurriedly when it came to the point.

The rejection of the income tax Proposal was then thoroughly exploited by the subsidized press as a striking proof of the hypocritical and deceitful game being played by the bourgeoisie, and the Rheinischer Beobachter in particular rode the poor nag to death. When Marx and Engels answered their “ecclesiastical commissioner” by informing him that he was “the biggest and most shameless ignoramus in economic matters” for asserting that the introduction of an income tax would alter the existing social misery by one hair’s breadth, they were quite right, but they were not right when they defended the rejection of the bill by the bourgeoisie as a justifiable blow against the government. The action of the bourgeoisie was in fact not a blow against the government at all, and the rejection of the bill rather strengthened the government’s financial position than otherwise, for it retained its efficient milling and slaughtering taxes instead of experimenting with a new income tax, whose imposition would certainly have met with innumerable difficulties, as the history of all such taxes has shown. In this case therefore, Marx and Engels regarded the bourgeoisie as still revolutionary when in fact it was already reactionary.

On the other hand, the “True Socialists” made the opposite mistake often enough, and it is understandable that at a time when the bourgeoisie was girding its loins for the fray, Marx and Engels delivered another attack on them. The attack was delivered in a number of belletristic contributions which Marx published in the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung, Against German Socialism in Prose and Verse, and in an unpublished contribution which is in Engels’ handwriting but was probably a joint work. “True Socialism” was attacked this time chiefly from its aesthetic-literary aspect, which was its weakest, or, according to taste, its strongest side. In their attack on this literary perversion Marx and Engels did not always sufficiently respect the rights of literature and art, for instance, in the handwritten contribution referred to above, Freiligrath’s splendid Ca ira is treated with unconscionable severity. Karl Beck’s Songs of the Poor were also harshly treated by Marx in the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung on account of their “petty-bourgeois illusions,” but at the same time Marx prophesied the sorry fate of that pretentious naturalism which was to develop fifty years later when he wrote: “Beck belauds this cowardly petty-bourgeois misery. His hero is the ‘poor man,’ the pauvre honteux, with his pious, petty and inconsequent longings, instead of the proud, menacing and revolutionary proletarian.” The unfortunate Grün then came in for a thorough castigation on account of a long-since forgotten book in which he had maltreated Goethe “from a human standpoint” by painstakingly piecing together a picture of what he alleged was “the real man” out of all the petty, boring and Philistine traits of the great poet.

More important than this skirmishing was a longer work in which Marx dealt as severely with the usual radical phraseology of the bourgeoisie as he did with the pseudo-socialist phraseology of the government. In a polemic against Engels, Karl Heinzen had sought to explain injustice in the distribution of property as the result of State power, declaring everyone a coward and fool who attacked the bourgeoisie for its accumulation of money whilst leaving the King with his accumulation of power in peace. Heinzen himself was a very mediocre phrase-monger and unworthy of any particular attention, but his arguments were very much after the heart of the “enlightened” Philistine: The monarchy owed its existence to the fact that for centuries humanity had been without common sense and without human dignity, and now that humanity was once again in possession of these valuable attributes, all social problems paled into insignificance before the great question: monarchy or republic. This brilliant argument was a suitable complement to the argument of the princes that revolutions were caused purely by the wickedness of demagogues.

Marx demonstrated, chiefly on the basis of German history, that history made the princes, not vice versa. He laid bare the economic causes of the absolute monarchy, pointing out that it developed in a transitional period when the old feudal classes were in decline and the new class of modern bourgeois still in process of formation. The fact that the absolute monarchy had developed later in Germany and was lasting longer was due to the crippled development of the German bourgeoisie. The violently reactionary role being played by the princes was thus due to economic reasons. Where the absolute monarchy formerly encouraged trade and industry and the simultaneous rise of the bourgeoisie as necessary conditions of national power and of its own magnificence, it now sought to hamper them everywhere as increasingly dangerous weapons in the hands of a bourgeoisie already grown too powerful. The absolute monarchy was now turning its dull and anxious glance away from the town, the origin of its own rise to power, to the countryside, whose fields were manured with the corpses of its old and valiant feudal opponents.

This work contains many fruitful ideas, but the “common sense of the admirable Philistine was proof against it. The same theory which Marx took up on Engels’ behalf against Heinzen had to be taken up again a full generation later by Engels on Marx’s behalf against Dühring.



6. The Communist League

During the year 1847 the communist colony in Brussels had grown to quite considerable proportions although there was no one in the group who could measure himself with Marx or Engels. Occasionally it seemed as though either Moses Hess or Wilhelm Wolff, both of whom contributed to the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung, might play the third in the alliance, but in the end neither of them did. Hess was never quite able to brush away his earlier philosophic cobwebs, and finally the painfully severe fashion with which The Communist Manifesto dealt with his writings led to a complete breach between him and Marx and Engels.

The friendship of Marx and Engels with Wilhelm Wolff was of a later date, Wolff having come to Brussels only in the spring of 1846, but it proved to be a staunch one and ended only with the death of Wolff which unfortunately occurred very early. He was not an independent thinker, but as a writer he had “the popular manner.” He came from the ranks of the Silesian serf peasantry, and under tremendous difficulties he had worked his way up to the university where he fed a white-hot hatred against the oppressors of his class on the works of the great thinkers and poets of classic antiquity. As a Demagogue he had for several years been dragged from one Silesian fortress to the next, and afterwards had earned his living as a private teacher whilst, at the same time, conducting ceaseless guerilla warfare against the bureaucracy and the censorship until the filing of new proceedings against him caused him to go abroad in preference to rotting in a Prussian prison.

From his stay in Breslau he was friendly with Lassalle, who, together with Marx and Engels, has laid imperishable laurels on his grave. Wolff was one of those noble natures who, in the words of the poet, pay their way in life with what they are themselves. His steadfast character, his incorruptible loyalty, his scrupulous conscientiousness, his invariable unselfishness and his never-failing modesty made him an exemplary revolutionary fighter and won him the respect of both friends and foes, irrespective of whether they supported or hated his political opinions.

Another member of the circle around Marx and Engels, though not quite so intimate with them, was Ferdinand Wolff. Ernst Dronke, who had written an excellent book about pre-March Berlin and been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in a fortress for alleged lese-majeste, arrived in the circle at the last moment having made his escape from the fortress of Wesel. Another member of the inner circle was Georg Weerth, who was acquainted with Engels from the latter’s Manchester days and who had lived in Bradford as an employee of another German firm. Weerth was a real poet and in consequence he was free from all the affectations of the poetaster. He too, unfortunately, died young and as yet no reverent hand has gathered together the verses which he sang in the spirit of the fighting proletariat and carelessly scattered. The circle of intellectuals was strengthened by a number of capable artisans, men like Karl Wallau and Stephan Born, the two compositors of the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung.

Brussels, as the capital of a State which boasted that it was an exemplary bourgeois monarchy, was the best place to establish international connections as long as Paris, which was still regarded as the centre of the revolution, was stifled by the notorious September Laws. Marx and Engels had established good relations with the participants in the revolution of 1830 in Belgium. In Germany, and particularly in Cologne, they had old and new friends, above all Georg Jung and the physicians, d’Ester and Daniels. In Paris Engels had established connections with the Socialist Democratic Party and in particular with its literary representatives, Louis Blanc and Ferdinand Flocon, who edited Reforme, the organ of the party. Still closer relations existed with the revolutionary wing of the Chartists, with Julian Harney, the editor of The Northern Star, and Ernest Jones, who had been educated in Germany. The Fraternal Democrats, an international organization in which the “League of the Just” was represented by Karl Schapper, Joseph Moll and others, was strongly under the intellectual influence of these Chartist leaders.

In January, 1847, the League took a very important step. As the “Communist Correspondence Committee” in London, it maintained relations with the “Correspondence Committee” in Brussels, but these relations were mutually somewhat frigid. On the one side there was mistrust of the “intellectuals,” who could not possibly know just where the shoe pinched the workers, and on the other side there was mistrust of the “Straubingers,” that is to say, of the artisan-guild narrow-mindedness which was still strong amongst the German workers at that time. Engels had his hands full with the job of keeping the “Straubingers” in Paris away from the influence of Proudhon and Welding, but he felt that the “Straubingers” in London were made of better stuff, although he characterized an address which the League of the Just had issued in the autumn of 1846 in connection with the Schleswig-Holstein question as “sheer rubbish.” The “Straubingers in England, he declared, had learned nothing from the English apart from their folly of ignoring all existing concrete conditions and their failure to grasp the process of historical development.

A good decade later Marx referred to his erstwhile attitude towards the League of the Just in the words: “We issued a series of pamphlets, some of them printed, others lithographed, mercilessly criticizing the mixture of Anglo-French socialism or communism and German philosophy which represented the secret teachings of the League. We put forward instead a scientific insight into the economic structure of bourgeois society as the only tenable basis, and set forth in a popular form the principle that the task was not to work out a utopian system but to participate consciously in the historic process of social transformation taking place before our eyes.” In January, 1847, the League sent a member of its Central Committee, the watchmaker Joseph Moll, to Brussels to request Marx and Engels to join the organization as it intended to adopt their views, and Marx attributed this step to the efficacy of the pamphlets.

Unfortunately, none of the pamphlets referred to by Marx has been preserved, with the exception of the circular against Kriege who is ridiculed in it as, amongst other things, the emissary and prophet of an Essene association, the “League of Justice.” He is also accused of mystifying the real historical development of communism throughout the world by ascribing its origin and progress to the fabulous and romantic intrigues, wholly figmentary, of this association about whose secret power he spread the most ridiculous and fantastic accounts.

The fact that this circular had such an effect on the members of the League of the Just proves that they were something more than “Straubingers” and that they had learned more from English history than Engels supposed. Although their organization was referred to as an “Essene association” and came in for one or two very unfriendly remarks, they took it in much better part than Weitling, who was not mentioned at all, but who nevertheless went over to Kriege. As a matter of fact the League of the Just in London had remained much fresher and more vital in the invigorating and cosmopolitan atmosphere of London than its counterparts in Zurich and even in Paris. Intended in the first place for propaganda amongst the German workers, it had adopted an international character in London. It maintained close relations with political fugitives from all manner of countries, and, with the example of the Chartist movement before it, which was rapidly growing in power and activity, its leaders broadened their horizon and progressed far beyond their old handicraft conceptions. Apart from the older leaders, Schapper, Bauer and Moll, younger men, such as the miniature painter, Karl Pfänder of Heilbronn, and the tailor, Georg Eccarius of Thuringia, distinguished themselves by their theoretical ability.

The authorization which Moll presented to Marx in Brussels and afterwards to Engels in Paris was dated January 20th, 1847 and written by Schapper. It was drafted with a certain amount of caution and authorized the bearer to report on the situation of the League and to give detailed information on all important points, but in conversation Moll was much less reserved. He requested Marx to join the League and dispelled his original objections by informing him that a League congress was to be called in London with a view to accepting the critical opinions expressed by Marx and Engels, and incorporating them in a public manifesto as the principles of the League. However, he declared, Marx and Engels must join the League and assist it to overcome the old-fashioned and reluctant elements.

Marx and Engels allowed themselves to be persuaded and they both joined the League. However, for the moment the result of the League congress which took place in the summer of 1847 was no more than a democratic reorganization to suit the needs of a propagandist body compelled to work in secret, but eschewing all conspiratorial airs. The League was organized in communes of not less than three nor more than ten members, in circles, leading circles, the central authority and the congress. Its aims were declared to be the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the establishment of the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the old society based on class contradictions, and the building up of a new society without classes and without private property.

In accordance with the democratic character of the League, which now called itself the Communist League, the new statutes were first of all placed before the individual communes for discussion, the final decision being left to a second congress which was to be convened before the end of the year and which would also discuss the new program of the League. Marx was not present at the first congress, but Engels was there as the representative of the Paris communists and Wilhelm Wolff as the representative of the Brussels circle.



7. Propaganda in Brussels

The Communist League regarded its first task as the organization of associations of German workers which would give it the possibility of public propaganda and from which it could draw the most reliable members for its own extension.

The procedure of these associations was the same everywhere; one day in the week was marked down for discussion and another for social intercourse (singing, recitation, etc.); libraries were founded everywhere in connection with the associations and where possible classes were organized to instruct the workers in the elementary principles of communism.

This was the plan according to which the German Workers Association (Deutscher Arbeiterverein) was founded in Brussels at the end of August. The two chairmen of the association were Moses Hess and Wallau, and its secretary was Wilhelm Wolff. The members of the association, who soon numbered over a hundred, met every Wednesday and Sunday evening. On Wednesdays important questions of interest to the proletariat were discussed whilst on Sundays Wolff gave a political review of the week, a task at which he very quickly became highly proficient, and after that the gathering became a social one and women were also present.

On the 27th of September this association held an international banquet to demonstrate the fraternal feelings harboured by the workers of each country for the workers of other countries. At the time it was customary to choose banquets as a framework for political propaganda in order to avoid the police interference inevitable at public meetings. However, there was a special purpose behind this particular banquet, which had been arranged by Bornstedt and other dissatisfied elements in the German colony “in order,” as Engels, who happened to be in Brussels at the time, wrote to Marx, who happened to be absent, “to push us into a secondary role as against the Belgian Democrats and to form a much more magnificent and universal organization than our miserable little workers’ association.” Engels succeeded in foiling this intrigue in good time and despite his reluctance, on account of the fact that he “looked so frightfully young,” he was elected one of the two Vice-Presidents together with the Frenchman Imbert, whilst General Mellinet was elected Honorary President and the advocate Jottrand Acting President. Both had been active fighters in the Belgian Revolution of 1830.

One hundred and twenty guests were present at the banquet, including Belgians, Germans, Swiss, Frenchmen, Poles, Italians and one Russian. After a number of speeches it was decided to found an association of the friends of reform in Belgium along the lines of the Fraternal Democrats. Engels was elected to the preparatory committee, but as he was soon afterwards compelled to leave Brussels, he wrote to Jottrand recommending that Marx should be accepted in his stead, pointing out that had Marx been present at the meeting of the 2?th of September he would undoubtedly have been elected: “It would therefore not be as though M. Marx were taking my place in the committee, on the contrary, it was I who represented him at the meeting.” In fact, when the Democratic Association for the Unification of all Countries finally constituted itself on the 7th and 15th of November, Imbert and Marx were elected Vice-Presidents whilst Mellinet was confirmed as Honorary President and Jottrand as Acting President. The statutes of the association were signed by Belgian, German, French and Polish democrats, about sixty names in all. Amongst the Germans who signed were Marx, Moses Hess, Georg Weerth, the two Wolffs, Stephan Born and Bornstedt.

The first big meeting organized by the new association was on the 29th of November to celebrate the anniversary of the Polish Revolution. Stephan Born spoke on behalf of the Germans and his remarks were received with great applause. Marx himself was not present, being in London as the official representative of the Democratic Association at a meeting held by the Fraternal Democrats in London on the same day and for the same purpose. The speech he delivered at this latter meeting was couched in a thoroughly proletarian and revolutionary tone: “Old Poland has disappeared and we should be the last to wish its resurgence. However, not only old Poland, but old Germany, old France and old England, in fact, the whole of old society is lost. However, the loss of the old society is no loss for those who have nothing to lose in it, and to-day this is the situation for the great majority of the people in all countries.” in the eyes of Marx the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie would see the delivery of all oppressed nations, as the victory of the English proletariat over the English bourgeoisie would see the victory of all the oppressed over all the oppressors. Poland would be freed not in Poland, but in England. If the Chartists defeated their enemies at home they would have defeated the whole of society.

Answering the address which Marx had handed to them on behalf of the Democratic Association, the Fraternal Democrats adopted the same tone: “Your representative, our friend and brother Marx, will tell you with what enthusiasm we welcomed his appearance and the reading of your address. All eyes shone with joy, all voices shouted a welcome and all hands stretched out fraternally to your representative ... We accept with the liveliest feelings of satisfaction the alliance you have offered us. Our association has existed now for over two years with the motto: all men are brothers. At our last anniversary commemoration we recommended the formation of a democratic congress of all nations, and we are happy to hear that you have publicly made the same proposal. The conspiracy of kings must be answered with a conspiracy of the peoples ... We are convinced that we must address ourselves to the real people, to the proletarians, to the men who drip sweat and blood daily under the pressure of the existing social system, if we are to achieve general fraternity ... We shall soon see, in fact we can already see, the bearers of fraternity, the chosen knights of humanity, approaching along the same avenue from the cottage, the garret, the plough, the anvil and the factory.” The Fraternal Democrats then proposed the holding of a general democratic congress in Brussels in September, 1848, as a sort of counterblast to the Free Trade Congress which had taken place there in September, 1847.

However, Marx had gone to London for other reasons apart from delivering an address to the meeting of the Fraternal Democrats. Immediately after the meeting of the latter to celebrate the anniversary of the Polish Revolution, and in the same rooms, the headquarters of the Communist Workers Educational Association (Kommunistischer Arbeiterbildungsverein) founded in 1840 by Schapper, Bauer and Moll, the second congress of the Communist League took place to adopt its new statutes definitively and to discuss its new program. Engels was also present at this congress. He had left Paris and met Marx in Ostende on the 27th of November in order to go with him to England. After a discussion which lasted about ten days Marx and Engels were given the task of drawing up the fundamental principles of communism in a public manifesto.

In the middle of December, Marx returned to Brussels and Engels to Paris via Brussels. Neither of them seems to have been in any hurry to carry out the task with which they had been entrusted, and on the 24th of January, 1848, the Central Committee of the Communist League sent an energetic warning to the district committee in Brussels threatening measures against citizen Marx unless the Manifesto of the Communist Party which he had agreed to draw up was in the hands of the Central Committee by the 1st of February. It is hardly possible to discover now what caused the delay, perhaps it was the thorough fashion in which Marx was accustomed to carry out everything he undertook, perhaps it was the separation from Engels, or perhaps the Londoners grew impatient when they heard that Marx was zealously continuing his propaganda in Brussels.

On the 9th of January, 1848, Marx delivered a speech on free trade to the Democratic Association. He had intended to deliver this speech to the Free Trade Congress in Brussels, but he had been unable to obtain the floor. He thoroughly exposed the swindle of the Free Traders who pretended that “the welfare of the workmen” was the prime motive of their agitation, but although free trade favoured the capitalists at the expense of the workers he recognized that it was in accordance with the fundamental principles of bourgeois political economy. Free trade, he declared, was the freedom of capital, which was engaged in pulling down the national limitations which still hampered it in order to release its full energies. Free trade disintegrated the nations and aggravated the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, thus it accelerated the social revolution, and in this revolutionary sense Marx was in favour of the free trade system.

At the same time he defended himself against the suspicion that he harboured protective tendencies, and his plea for free trade involved him in no contradiction with his support of protectionist measures in Germany as “progressive bourgeois measures.” Like Engels, Marx regarded the whole free trade versus protection question purely from a revolutionary standpoint. The German bourgeoisie needed protective tariffs as a weapon against feudalism and absolutism, as a means to concentrate its forces, to establish free trade on the home market and to develop large-scale industry, which would then sooner or later become dependent on the world market, that is to say, on free trade. His speech was received with lively applause by the members of the Democratic Association, which decided to have it printed and distributed in French and Flemish at its own cost.

However, far more important than this speech were the lectures he delivered to the German Workers Association on wage-labour and capital. He proceeded from the assumption that wages were not a share of the worker in the commodity produced by him, but that share of the already existing commodities with which the capitalist purchased a certain amount of productive labour-power. The price of labour-power, he declared, was determined, like the price of any other commodity, by its costs of production. The costs of production of simple labour-power were the costs of providing the worker with the means enabling him to exist and perpetuate his kind. The price of these costs represented wages, and, like the prices of all other commodities, this price was sometimes above and sometimes below the costs of production, according to the vacillations of competition, but within the limits of these vacillations it approximated to a wage minimum.

He then examined capital. In reply to the assertion of the bourgeois economists that capital is accumulated labour, he asked: “What is a Negro slave? A human being of the coloured race. One explanation is as good as the other. A Negro is a Negro, but under certain circumstances he may become a slave. A cotton-spinning machine is a machine for spinning cotton, and only under certain circumstances does it become capital. Without these circumstances it is no more capital than gold is money, or sugar the price of sugar.” Capital is a social productive relation, a productive relation of bourgeois society. A sum of commodities, of exchange values, becomes capital when it appears as an independent social power, that is to say, as the power of a section of society, and increases itself by exchange with direct living labour-power. “The existence of a class possessing nothing but its capacity to labour is a necessary condition for the existence of capital. It is only power of accumulated, past, externalized labour over living labour-power that makes accumulated labour into capital. Capital does not consist in the fact that accumulated labour serves living labour-power as a means for further production. It consists in the fact that living labour-power serves accumulated labour as a means of maintaining and increasing its exchange-value.” Capital and labour-power mutually condition each other; they produce each other mutually.

When the bourgeois economists conclude from this that the interests of the capitalists and the interests of the workers are identical, it is true only in the sense that the worker must starve unless the capitalist employs him, and that capital must perish unless it exploits the worker. The more rapidly productive capital increases, that is to say, the more flourishing industry becomes, the more workers the capitalist needs and the dearer the worker can sell his labour-power. The indispensable condition for a tolerable situation of the working class is therefore the speediest possible growth of productive capital.

Marx points out that in this case any considerable increase in wages presupposes a still more rapid increase in productive capital. When capital grows then wages may increase also, but all the more rapidly do the profits of capital increase. The material situation of the workers has improved therefore, but at the expense of his social situation; the social chasm between him and the capitalist has grown wider. Therefore, to say that the most favourable condition for wage-labour is the speediest possible growth of capital means only that the more rapidly the working class strengthens the hostile power, the alien riches which dominate it, the more favourable will be the conditions under which it is permitted to work anew to increase the power of capital, satisfied with forging the golden chains which drag it along at the heels of the bourgeoisie.

However, continues Marx, the growth of capital and the increase of wages are by no means so indissolubly connected as the bourgeois economists contend. It is not true to say that the fatter capital waxes the better will its slave be fed. The growth of productive capital embraces the accumulation and concentration of capital. Its centralization involves a still greater division of labour and a still greater use of machinery. The increased division of labour destroys the special skill of the worker, and when this special skill is replaced with a form of labour which anyone can perform, competition amongst the workers is increased.

This competition also becomes stronger the more the division of labour permits one worker to do the work formerly done by three. Machinery produces this result to a still greater degree. The growth of productive capital compels the industrial capitalists to work with increasingly growing means, thereby ruining the smaller industrialists and throwing them into the ranks of the proletariat. Further, as the rate of interest falls in accordance with the accumulation of capital, the smaller capitalists can no longer live on their interest and are compelled to turn to industry for employment, thus increasing the ranks of the proletariat.

And finally, the more productive capital grows, the more it is compelled to work for a market whose needs it does not know. Production forges ahead of demand, supply strives to compel demand, and the result is seen in the crises, those industrial earthquakes, more frequent and violent all the time, in which the world of commerce manages to maintain itself only by sacrificing to the dark gods of the underworld a section of its riches, a section of its products, and even a section of the productive forces themselves. Capital not only lives off labour, but, like a noble barbarian chieftain, it drags the corpses of its slaves into the tomb with it, whole hecatombs of workers who perish in its crises. Marx then sums up: If capital grows rapidly, the competition amongst the workers grows still more rapidly, that is to say, the more reduced, comparatively, are the means of occupation and the means of life of the workers. Nevertheless, the speedy growth of capital is the most favourable condition for wage-labour.

Unfortunately, this fragment is all that remains of the lectures delivered by Marx to the German workers in Brussels, but it is sufficient to show us with what seriousness and what thoroughness he carried on his propaganda. Bakunin was of another opinion. He arrived in Brussels at about this time after having been expelled from France owing to a speech he had delivered on the anniversary of the Polish Revolution. On the 28th of December, 1847, we find him writing to a Russian friend: “Marx is still carrying on the same old vain activities, spoiling the workers by making logic-choppers out of them. It’s the same old insane theorizing and ungratified self-satisfaction.” And in a letter to Herwegh about Marx and Engels he was still more savage: “In a word, lies and stupidity, stupidity and lies. It is impossible to breathe freely in their company. I keep away from them and I have told them very definitely that I will not join their communist artisans’ group and that I refuse to have anything to do with it.”

These remarks of Bakunin are noteworthy not so much on account of the personal irritation they betray, for Bakunin had judged Marx quite differently on former occasions and was to do so again, but because they reveal an antagonism which was to lead to violent struggles between the two revolutionaries.



8. The Communist Manifesto

In the meantime the manuscript of what was afterwards to be known as The Communist Manifesto had been sent off to London.

There had been plenty of preparatory work immediately after the first congress, which had left the discussion of the program to the second congress. Naturally, it was the theorists of the movement who occupied themselves with the task, and drafts were drawn up by Marx, Engels and Moses Hess.

However, the only one of these preliminary drafts which still exists is the one which Engels refers to in a letter to Marx dated the 24th of November, 1847, that is to say, shortly before the second congress: “Think over the confession of faith a bit. I think it would be better to drop the catechism form and call the thing a communist manifesto. As a certain amount of history will have to be brought in I think the present form is unsuitable. I am bringing along what I have done here. It is in simple narrative form, but miserably edited and done in a terrible hurry.” Engels then adds that he had not yet submitted his draft to the Paris branches but that, apart from one or two minor details perhaps, he hoped to get it through.

This draft is completely in the catechism form; and this would rather have enhanced the general understanding of it than otherwise and it would have been better suited to the purpose of immediate agitation than the subsequent manifesto with whose ideological content it was in complete harmony. Engels immediately sacrificed his twenty-five questions and answers in favour of the historical method of presentation, and in doing this he gave proof of his conscientiousness, for he realized that the manifesto in which communism presented itself to the world must be, in the words of the Greek historian, a work of lasting importance and not a polemic for the casual reader.

It was in fact the classical form which won a lasting place in world literature for The Communist Manifesto, although this statement is not intended as the least concession to the owlish fellows who are so anxious to prove by tearing out some passage from its context that its authors have plagiarized Carlyle or Gibbon or Sismondi or someone or other. That is sheer nonsense and in fact the manifesto is as independent and original as any writing ever was. However, it contained no idea which Marx and Engels had not already dealt with in their previous writings. It was therefore not a revelation, but a presentation of the world outlook of its authors in a mirror whose glass could not have been clearer nor its frame smaller. As far as the style permits us to judge, it would appear that Marx had the greater hand in shaping its final form, but, as his own draft shows, Engels was not behind Marx in his understanding of the problems at issue and he ranks side by side with Marx as the author of it.

Two-thirds of a century have passed since the manifesto was first published and the six or seven decades which have unrolled have been full of tremendous economic and political changes which have not left it untouched. In certain respects historical development has proceeded differently, and above all it has proceeded less quickly than the authors of the manifesto anticipated. The farther their glance penetrated into the future, the nearer it appeared to be. This much may be said: without this shadow there could have been no light. It was a psychological phenomenon which Lessing had already noticed in those human beings who cast accurate glances into the future”: “That for which nature requires thousands of years, must ripen in the moment of their existence.” Marx and Engels were certainly not thousands of years out, but they were in error to the tune of decades. When they drew up The Communist Manifesto they regarded capitalism as having reached a level which it has hardly reached in our own day. In his draft Engels says it even more clearly than the final form of the manifesto, when he declares that in all civilized countries almost all branches of production are conducted in factories, and that handicraft and manufacture have been squeezed out by large-scale industry in almost all branches of production.

The comparatively sketchy beginnings of the working-class parties recorded in the manifesto are in peculiar contrast to this. Even the most important working-class movement of the day, Chartism, was strongly influenced by petty-bourgeois elements, not to speak of the Socialist Democratic Party of France. The radicals in Switzerland and those Polish revolutionaries who regarded the emancipation of the peasants as the preliminary condition for national freedom were no more than shadows on the wall. Later on the authors of the manifesto themselves pointed out how narrow had been the field occupied by the proletarian movement of that day, and in particular they stressed the absence of Russia and of the United States: “It was the period when Russia represented the last great reserve of European reaction and when emigration to the United States absorbed the surplus forces of the European proletariat. Both countries provided Europe with raw materials and both served at the same time as markets for the industrial production of Europe. Both therefore were in the one way or the other bulwarks of the European social order.” How much had the situation changed a generation later! And how much has it changed in our own day!

Is it really a refutation of the manifesto when we admit that the “highly revolutionary role” which it ascribed to the capitalist mode of production has taken longer to make itself felt than the authors of the manifesto thought? The magnificent and powerful description of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat contained in its first section remains fundamentally unchanged to-day, although the course of the class struggle is dealt with somewhat too summarily. To-day one cannot generalize in quite the same fashion and declare that the modern worker – as distinct from the members of former oppressed classes who, at least, were sure of conditions in which they could continue their slavish existence – falls deeper and deeper below the conditions of his own class instead of raising himself with the progress of industry. It is true that the capitalist mode of production has definitely this general tendency, but nevertheless broad sections of the working class have succeeded in securing for themselves on the basis of capitalist society an existence which raises them even above the level of existence of some petty-bourgeois strata.

Naturally, one must take care not to fall into the error of the bourgeois critics of the manifesto who conclude from this that the “theory of increasing misery” allegedly put forward in it was wrong. This theory, the contention that the capitalist mode of production impoverishes the masses wherever it prevails, was put forward long before The Communist Manifesto was published, even before either Marx or Engels put pen to paper. It was put forward by socialist thinkers and radical politicians – in fact, first of all by bourgeois economists. The Essay on Population, written by Malthus, was an attempt to refine this “theory of increasing misery” and turn it into an eternal natural law. It represented a state of affairs over which the legislation of the ruling classes constantly stumbled. Poor Laws were passed and bastilles erected for the paupers, pauperization was regarded as the fault of the paupers and punished accordingly. Far from inventing this “theory of increasing misery” both Marx and Engels opposed it from the beginning; not in the sense that they attempted to deny the indisputable and generally recognized fact of mass misery, but in that they proved that it was not an eternal law of nature, but a historical phenomenon which could and would be abolished by the effects of the same mode of production which had caused it.

If there is to be any attack on The Communist Manifesto from this angle, then it can only be that its authors had not yet thoroughly escaped the influence of this bourgeois “theory of increasing misery.” The manifesto adopted the wage theory which Ricardo had developed on the basis of the Malthusian theory of population, and as a result it under-estimated the importance of wage struggles and of the trade union organizations of the workers, which it regarded primarily as training schools to prepare them for the political class struggle. At that time Marx and Engels did not regard the English Ten Hour Bill as “the victory of a principle,” but, within capitalist conditions, as a reactionary fetter on large-scale industry. The manifesto did not recognize the Factory Laws and trade union organizations as stages in the proletarian struggle for emancipation, a struggle which must transform capitalist society into socialist society and which must be fought out to the bitter end unless the first hard-won successes were to be lost again.

The manifesto therefore regarded the reaction of the proletariat to the impoverishing tendencies of the capitalist mode of production too one-sidedly in the light of a political revolution. It based its conclusions on the English and French Revolutions, and expected several decades of civil war and national wars in whose hectic atmosphere the proletariat would quickly ripen into political maturity. The opinions of its authors can be seen clearly in those passages of the manifesto which deal with the tasks of the Communist Party in Germany. It favours co-operation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie when the latter acts in a revolutionary fashion against the absolutist monarchy, against large-scale feudal landownership and against petty-bourgeoisdom, but it points out expressly that the communists must not fail to make the workers understand thoroughly the fundamental antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It then declares:

“The main attention of the communists is directed towards Germany because Germany is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution and because it will experience this revolution under far more highly developed conditions of European civilization and with a far more developed proletariat than was the case in England in the seventeenth and France in the eighteenth century, and because a German bourgeois revolution can be only the immediate prelude to a proletarian revolution.” The bourgeois revolution referred to in the manifesto soon took place, but the conditions under which it took place had exactly the opposite effect: they caused the bourgeois revolution to pause hesitantly with its task only half-fulfilled until a few months later the Paris June fighting cured the bourgeoisie in general and the German bourgeoisie in particular of all revolutionary hankerings.

Thus we observe that magnificently chiselled as the manifesto is, nevertheless the passage of time has not left it unscathed. In 1872 in a preface to a new edition, the authors themselves pointed out that it had grown out of date here and there, but with equal truth they were able to add that on the whole the principles laid down in it had proved correct. That is a statement which will remain valid until the world historic struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat has been fought to a finish. The first section of the manifesto sketches the fundamental principles of this struggle with incomparable mastery, whilst the second section deals equally effectively with the main ideas of modern scientific communism. Although the third section which criticizes socialist and communist literature goes only to the year 1847, it does its work so thoroughly that since then no socialist or communist tendency has arisen which has not already been criticized in advance in this section. Even the prophecy contained in the fourth and last section of the manifesto on the development of Germany has come true, though in another sense than the one intended by its authors: the German revolution, stunted in the bud, has become no more than the prelude to the powerful development of the proletarian class struggle.

Irrefutable in its fundamental truths and instructive even in its errors, The Communist Manifesto has become a historic document of world-wide significance and the battle cry with which it closes still re-echoes throughout history: “Workers of the World Unite!”


Last updated on 27.2.2004