Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Six: Revolution and Counter-Revolution


5. The Cologne Democracy

The September crises in Berlin and Frankfort had strong repercussions in Cologne. The Rhineland represented the biggest anxiety of the counter-revolution and it was flooded with troops recruited from the Eastern provinces. Almost one third of the Prussian army was quartered in the Rhineland and in Westphalia, and under the circumstances minor insurrections were quite useless. The need of the moment was the carrying out of a thorough and disciplined organization of democracy for the day when it would be possible to turn the half-hearted revolution into a whole one.

A congress of 88 democratic associations had taken place in Frankfort in June and it had been decided to found a democratic organization. However, it was only in Cologne that this body took on any firm and solid form whilst in the rest of Germany it remained a very loose affair. The Cologne democracy was organized in three big associations, each of which had several thousand members: the Democratic Association led by Marx and the advocate Schneider, the Workers Association led by Moll and Schapper, and the Association of Employers and Employees led by the young barrister Hermann Becker. When the Frankfort congress decided on Cologne as the centre for the Rhineland and for Westphalia, these associations formed a joint central committee which then convened a congress of all the democratic associations in the Rhineland and in Westphalia, to take place in the middle of August in Cologne. Forty delegates representing 17 associations came to the congress and they confirmed the joint central committee of the three Cologne democratic associations as the district committee for the Rhineland and Westphalia.

Marx was the intellectual leader of this organization as he was of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. He had the gift of leadership to a high degree and the banal democrats were unwilling to forgive him this. Karl Schurz, who was then a nineteen-year-old student, saw him for the first time at the Cologne congress and afterwards described him from memory: “Marx was thirty years old at the time and already the acknowledged leader of a socialist school of thought. The thick-set man with his broad forehead and dark flashing eyes, his jet-black hair and full beard immediately attracted general attention. He had the reputation of being a very considerable scholar in his own field and, in fact, what he said was weighty, logical and clear, but never in my life have I met a man whose attitude was so insolent and intolerantly arrogant.” Schurz, who afterwards became one of the heroes of the bourgeoisie, always particularly remembered the cutting scorn and the contemptuous tone with which Marx invariably used the term “bourgeois” – as though he were spitting out something disagreeable.

It was the same tune sung a couple of years later by Lieutenant Techow, who wrote of a conversation with Marx: “Marx impressed me not only by his unusual superiority, but also by his very considerable personality. If his heart were as big as his brain and his love as great as his hate I would go through fire for him, despite the fact that he indicated his low opinion of me on several occasions and finally expressed it quite frankly. He is the first and only one amongst us to whom I would ascribe the quality of leadership, the capacity to master a big situation without losing himself in insignificant details.” And after that followed the usual litany that the dangerous personal ambition of Marx had eaten away everything else.

In the summer of 1848 Albert Brisbane, the American apostle of Fourier, was in Cologne as the correspondent of the New York Tribune, together with its publisher, Charles Dana, and his judgment of Marx was different: “I saw Karl Marx, the leader of the people’s movement. At that time his star was just in the ascendant. He was a man in the thirties with a squat powerful body, a fine face and thick black hair. His features indicated great energy and behind his moderation and reserve one could detect the passionate fire of a daring spirit.” That was true – in those days Marx was leading the Cologne democracy with cool but daring courage.

Although the September crises had caused great excitement in its ranks, the Frankfort Assembly was unable to summon up sufficient courage to organize a revolution, whilst on the other hand the Pfuel Ministry was not ready to organize a counter-revolution. A local insurrection would have had no chance of success whatever and therefore the authorities were anxious to provoke one in order to drown it in blood with ease. Legal proceedings were begun and police measures taken against the members of the democratic district committee and the editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The pretexts put forward were so flimsy that they were soon abandoned even by the authorities. Marx raised a warning voice against the treacherous cunning of the authorities: at the moment no great question was exercising the people as a whole and urging them into a struggle, and thus any attempt at a putsch must fail. An insurrection at the moment would be worse than useless because great events might take place in the near future and it behooved the democrats not to let themselves be disarmed before the day of battle arrived. If the Crown dared to organize a counter-revolution then the hour would strike for a new revolution on the part of the people.

However, minor disturbances did occur when on the 25th of September Becker, Moll, Schapper and Wilhelm Wolff were to be arrested. The news that troops were advancing to break up a public meeting even caused the erection of barricades, but in fact the military made no move and only after complete calm had descended again did the military commandant summon up sufficient courage to proclaim martial law in Cologne. Under martial law the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was suppressed and on the 27th of September it ceased to appear. This was probably the only aim of the senseless military coup and a few days afterwards the Pfuel Ministry raised the state of siege. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung was in fact very heavily hit and it was the 12th of October before it appeared again.

The editorial board was broken up owing to the fact that most of its members were compelled to go over the frontier to avoid arrest: Dronke and Engels went to Belgium, and Wilhelm Wolff to the Palatinate, and it was some time before they returned. At the beginning of January, 1849, Engels was still in Berne, where he had gone through France, mostly on foot. Above all, the finances of the paper were in a sad state. After the shareholders had turned their backs on it, the paper managed to exist for a while on its increased circulation, but after the latest blow it was saved from final disappearance only by the fact that Marx took it over as his “personal property,” that is to say, by the fact that he sacrificed what little he had inherited from his father, or what little he could obtain in advance on his future inheritance. Marx himself never said a word about the affair, but from the letters of his wife and the utterances of his friends it would appear that he sacrificed about 7,000 thaler to further the agitation and keep the paper alive, though naturally the exact sum is unimportant, the main thing being that he sacrificed all he had in order to keep the flag flying.

Marx’s position was very insecure in another respect also. After the outbreak of the revolution the Federal Council had decided on the 30th of March that the German fugitives should be given both the active and passive franchise in the elections for the German National Assembly provided they returned to Germany and gave notice of their desire to renew their former civil rights. This decision was expressly recognized by the Prussian government and Marx, who fulfilled all the conditions guaranteeing him national civil rights, was therefore all the more entitled to demand that he should be given back his Prussian civil rights. In fact, when he applied in April, 1848, the Cologne Town Council immediately granted his application and when he pointed out to the Police President of Cologne, Müller, that he could not very well bring his family from Trier to Cologne so long as the affair was uncertain, Müller replied that the district authorities, which according to an old Prussian law had to confirm the decision of the Town Council, would certainly give their permission for his re-naturalization. However, in the meantime the Neue Rheinische Zeitung began to appear and on August 3rd Marx received an official intimation from the commissarial Police President Geiger to the effect that under the circumstances the Royal Government had decided to make no use “for the moment” in his case of its right to grant Prussian civil rights to a foreigner, and that therefore he must continue to regard himself as an alien. On the 22nd of August he appealed indignantly to the Minister of the Interior, but his appeal was rejected.

Devoted husband and father as he was, Marx had in the meantime brought his family to Cologne despite the uncertainty. In the meantime its numbers had increased: the first daughter, who was called Jenny after her mother and was born in May, 1844, was followed by a second daughter Laura, who was born in September, 1845. Presumably not long afterwards, a son, Edgar, was born. Edgar is the only one of Marx’s children whose exact birth date is not known. Since its Paris days the family had been accompanied by Helene Demuth, a loyal and devoted servant and friend.

Marx was not one of those men who greet every new acquaintance as a friend and a brother immediately, but his loyalty to his friends was beyond reproach and his friendship firm. At the same congress at which his intolerable arrogance is alleged to have repulsed men who would gladly have approached him, he won lifelong friends in the lawyer Schily of Trier and the teacher Imandt of Krefeld, and although the stern singleness of purpose which guided him throughout his life made him appear forbidding to semi-revolutionaries like Schurz and Techow, at the same time it irresistibly drew real revolutionaries like Freiligrath and Lassalle into his intellectual and personal orbit.



6. Freiligrath and Lassalle

Ferdinand Freiligrath was eight years older than Marx and in his youth he had been liberally suckled with the pure milk of orthodoxy. On one occasion he had felt the lash of the old Rheinische Zeitung for having published a mocking poem on the unsuccessful tour of Herwegh after the latter’s expulsion from Prussia. However, it had not been long before the pre-March reaction had turned Saul into Paul, and during the period of exile in Brussels he had made the acquaintance of Marx. Their acquaintance in the beginning was slight but friendly. “A nice fellow, interesting and modest in his attitude,” he declared of Marx, and he was no bad judge of character. Freiligrath himself was utterly free of all personal vanity and perhaps just for this reason he had a fine feeling for anything which suggested arrogance in others.

The acquaintance of the two men ripened into a firm friendship in the summer and autumn of 1848, and the thing which drew them together was the respect which each felt for the courageous and uncompromising fashion with which the other represented their joint revolutionary principles in the Rhenish movement. Referring to Freiligrath Marx declared in a letter to Weydemeyer: “He is a real revolutionary and a thoroughly honest man, and that is praise I would give to very few. At the same time Marx advised Weydemeyer to flatter the poet a little, declaring that all poets needed a little flattering encouragement if they were to give of their best. Marx was not a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, but in a moment of tension he wrote to Freiligrath: “I tell you frankly that I am not prepared to lose one of the few men I regard as my friends in the best sense of the word merely on account of unimportant misunderstandings.” Apart from Engels, Marx had no better friend than Freiligrath in the times of his worst troubles.

Because this friendship was so simple and so real it has always been a source of annoyance to the Philistines. Sometimes they declared that the passionate fantasy of the poet had played him a scurvy trick by leading him into bad company, and at other times they declared that a demoniacal demagogue had breathed poisonously on a harmless poet and shrivelled up his song. It would not be worth while to waste a word on this nonsense, but for the fact that a wrong antidote has been offered against it. An attempt has been made to turn Freiligrath into a modern social democrat and this puts him in a wrong light. Freiligrath was a revolutionary from passionate instinct and poetic feelings and not out of any scientific considerations. He regarded Marx as a pioneer of the revolution and the Communist League as the revolutionary advance guard, but the historical arguments of The Communist Manifesto always remained more or less foreign to him, and above all, his glowing fantasy could make nothing of the often miserable and sober petty details of the everyday agitational work.

Ferdinand Lassalle, who joined Marx’s circle at about the same time, was a totally different type. He was seven years younger than Marx, and up to that time his reputation was based exclusively on his zealous struggle on behalf of the Countess Hatzfeldt who had been ill-treated by her husband and betrayed by her caste. In February, 1848, he had been arrested on a charge of instigating the theft of a deed-box but on the 11th of August he was acquitted by a Cologne jury, after putting up a brilliant defence, and he was then able to devote himself to the revolutionary struggles. With his “unfailing sympathy for all real strength” he naturally could not fail to be deeply impressed with the leader of the revolutionary struggle, Marx.

Lassalle had also gone through the Hegelian school and had thoroughly mastered its methods without up to that time harbouring any doubts as to their infallibility and without being affected by the decadence of Hegel’s successors. During a visit to Paris he had made the acquaintance of French socialism and received the accolade of a great future from Heine’s prophetic vision. However, the great expectations which the young man had aroused were hampered in their development to a certain extent by an ambiguity of character which he had been unable to master completely in his struggle against the impeding heritage of an oppressed race. The stale atmosphere of Polish Judaism had prevailed absolutely in the home of his parents. In his championship of Countess Hatzfeldt even unprejudiced spirits were not always able to appreciate the truth of his contention, justifiable from his own point of view, that in this individual case he was fighting against the social misery of a whole period now lumbering towards the grave. Even Freiligrath, who was never particularly fond of him, spoke contemptuously of the “wretched domestic trivialities” around which world history seemed to revolve for him.

Seven years later Marx expressed himself in much the same fashion: Lassalle considered himself a world conqueror because he had been ruthless in a private intrigue, as though a man of any real character would be prepared to sacrifice ten years of his life on such a bagatelle. And several decades later Engels declared that Marx had harboured an antipathy towards Lassalle from the very beginning and that the Neue Rheinische Zeitung had deliberately published as little as possible about the Hatzfeldt case in order to avoid any impression that it had anything in common with Lassalle in the matter. However, in this respect Engels’ memory was deceiving him, for in fact up to the day of its suppression on September 27th the Neue Rheinische Zeitung published very detailed reports of the trial of Lassalle in connection with his alleged instigation of the theft of the deed-box, although of course its reports did not conceal the fact that the whole affair had less agreeable sides. And further, Marx himself, as he informed Freiligrath in a letter, assisted Countess Hatzfeldt financially in her dire straits from his own modest means, and when, after his Cologne period, he got into serious difficulties himself, he chose Lassalle, apart from Freiligrath, as his confidant in a town in which he had many old friends.

But Engels was certainly right when he said that Marx harboured an antipathy to Lassalle, and he and Freiligrath did also. It was an antipathy which had little to do with reason, and there is sufficient evidence available to show that Marx did not let it blind him to the deeper significance of the Hatzfeldt affair, not to speak of the fiery enthusiasm which Lassalle showed for the cause of the revolution, his outstanding talents and finally the devoted friendship which the younger comrade-in-arms showed towards him.

It is necessary to examine carefully the development of the relations between the two men from the beginning, not on Lassalle’s account – his historical claims have long ago been vindicated – but in order to shield Marx himself from misunderstandings, for his attitude to Lassalle represents the most difficult psychological problem his life offers.



7. October And November Days

On the 12th of October the Neue Rheinische Zeitung began to appear again and announced that Freiligrath had joined its staff. It was fortunate enough to be able to welcome a new revolution immediately, for on the 6th of October the proletariat of Vienna had brought down its fist resoundingly and upset the treacherous plans of the Habsburg counter-revolution, which after Radetzky’s victories in Italy intended, with the help of the Slav peoples, to crush first the rebellious Hungarians and then the rebellious Germans.

Marx himself had been in Vienna from the 28th of August to the 7th of September in order to enlighten the masses there, but to judge from the occasional newspaper references he had not been particularly successful, and that is not surprising, for the workers of Vienna were still at a comparatively low level of development. The revolutionary instinct with which they had opposed the departure of the regiments ordered to Hungary to suppress the revolution there was therefore all the more praiseworthy. Their action drew the first fire of the counter-revolution upon themselves, a noble sacrifice of which the Hungarian aristocracy proved unworthy. It was anxious to wage its struggle for Hungarian independence on the basis of its historical rights, and the Hungarian army made only one half-hearted drive which increased rather than diminished the difficulties of the Vienna insurrectionaries.

The attitude of the German democracy was no better. It certainly recognized how much depended for itself on the success of the Vienna insurrection, for if the counter-revolution gained the upper hand in the Austrian capital then it would inevitably deal the decisive blow in the Prussian capital also where it had been awaiting its opportunity long enough. However, the German democracy contented itself with sentimental dirges, fruitless expressions of sympathy and vain appeals for aid to the impotent Reich Regent. At the end of October the democratic congress met in Berlin for the second time and it issued an appeal on behalf of besieged Vienna drawn up by Ruge. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung pointed out aptly that the appeal tried to make up for its lack of revolutionary energy by a sermonizing and tearful pathos, and that it contained not. a vestige of revolutionary passion or ideas. On the other hand, the passionate appeals of Marx in powerful prose, and of Freiligrath in magnificent verse, to afford the besieged Viennese the only effective assistance possible by overthrowing the counter-revolution at home, re-echoed like voices in the desert.

Thus the fate of the Vienna revolution was sealed. Betrayed by the bourgeoisie and by the peasants and supported only by the students and a section of the petty-bourgeoisie, the workers of Vienna fought heroically, but on the evening of the 31st of October the besieging troops succeeded in effecting an entry into the town and on the 1st of November the great black and yellow flag of the counter-revolution waved from the steeple of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

The moving tragedy in Vienna was quickly followed by a grotesque tragicomedy in Berlin. The Pfuel Ministry resigned to make way for the Brandenburg Ministry, which immediately ordered the Assembly to retire to the provincial town of Brandenburg and caused General Wrangel to march into Berlin with the Guards Regiments to support this order by force of arms. Brandenburg, an illegitimate Hohenzollern, compared himself somewhat too flatteringly with an elephant which would trample the revolution under foot, but the Neue Rheinische Zeitung declared more truthfully that Brandenburg and his accomplice Wrangel were “two men without heads, without hearts and without principles, nothing more than imposing whiskers,” but as such just the right opponents for the pusillanimous Assembly.

And in fact, Wrangel’s martial whiskers proved sufficient to intimidate the Assembly. It is true that it refused to vacate its constitutional seat, Berlin, but when one blow and one act of violence followed another – dissolution of the citizens’ guard, the proclamation of martial law, etc.-the Assembly declared the Ministers traitors and denounced them – to the Public Prosecutor. It ignored the demand of the Berlin workers that the rights of the people should be defended by force of arms and instead proclaimed “passive resistance,” or in other words, the noble decision to suffer the blows of the enemy without answering back. It was then driven out of one hall after the other by Wrangel’s troops, and in a sudden burst of temperament caused by a new appearance of Wrangel’s bayonets, it solemnly declared that the Brandenburg Ministry had no right to dispose of State monies or collect taxes so long as the Assembly was not permitted to hold its sessions in Berlin without let or hindrance. However, hardly had the Assembly been broken up than its President, von Unruh, fearing for the safety of his precious skin, called together the bureau of the Assembly in order to place on record in the minutes that the decision against the Ministry was invalid on account of a technical formality, although he had let the decision be made public without hindrance.

It was left to the Neue Rheinische Zeitung to oppose the brutal coup of the government in a worthy fashion. It declared that the moment had arrived to oppose the counter-revolution with a second revolution, and it called on the masses to oppose the violence of the authorities with every possible form of counter-violence. Passive resistance must have active resistance as its basis, it declared, otherwise it was nothing but the ineffective struggles of the sheep against the slaughter-man. At the same time it ruthlessly demolished the legal quibbling about the theory of agreement with the Crown, behind which the cowardice of the bourgeoisie sought to hide itself: “The Prussian Crown is absolutely within its rights when it acts as an absolutist power towards the Assembly, and the Assembly is in the wrong because it does not act towards the Crown as a sovereign Assembly ... The old bureaucracy is unwilling to become the servant of the bourgeoisie whose despotic schoolmaster it has been up to the present. Nor is the feudal party willing to sacrifice its privileges and its interests on the altar of the bourgeoisie. And finally, the Crown sees its real and native social basis in the elements of the old feudal society, whose highest expression it is, whilst it regards the bourgeoisie as a foreign and artificial basis which will support the Crown only on condition that it withers away. The rousing ‘By the Grace of God’ becomes a sober legal title for the bourgeoisie, the right of blood becomes the right of paper, and the Royal Sun a bourgeois farthing dip. The Crown therefore refused to let itself be persuaded by the phrases of the bourgeoisie, but answered the half-revolution of the latter with a whole counter-revolution. It flung back the bourgeoisie into the arms of the revolution, into the arms of the people, when it shouted, ‘Brandenburg in the Assembly and the Assembly in Brandenburg!’”

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung aptly parodied this slogan as “The guard-room in the Assembly, and the Assembly in the guard-room!” expressing the hope that the people would be victorious under this slogan and turn it into the epitaph on the grave of the House of Brandenburg.

After the decision of the Berlin Assembly to deprive the government of the right to collect taxes, the democratic district committee in Cologne issued an appeal on the 18th of November signed by Marx, Schapper and Schneider demanding that the democratic associations in the Rhineland should immediately take steps to put the following measures into effect: any attempt made by the authorities to collect taxes by force should be resisted by every possible means; citizens’ guards to be organized everywhere immediately to offer resistance to the enemy; arms and munitions to be supplied to the poor at municipal cost and by voluntary contributions; should the government refuse to recognize and respect the decisions of the Assembly then committees of public safety should be elected everywhere, if possible in agreement with the municipalities, those municipalities resisting the Assembly to be re-elected by popular vote. Thus the Democratic Association did what the Berlin Assembly should have done and must. have done had it taken its decision to refuse the payment of tarts seriously. However, the heroes of the Berlin Assembly trembled at their own courage and hurried off to their constituencies in order to prevent the carrying out of their decision, and after that they slunk off to Brandenburg to continue their sessions. With this the last vestige of dignity and influence had been abandoned so that on the 5th of December it was an easy matter for the government to dismiss the Assembly altogether and to impose a new constitution and a new franchise.

The treachery of the Berlin Assembly paralysed the district committee in the Rhineland, which was flooded with troops. On the 22nd of November Lassalle, who had enthusiastically welcomed the appeal, was arrested in Düsseldorf, whilst in Cologne the Public Prosecutor took action against those who had signed it, although he did not dare to arrest them. On the 8th of February the signatories to the appeal appeared before a jury in Cologne on a charge of having incited the people to armed resistance against the authorities and against the military forces of the Crown.

The attempt of the Public Prosecutor to use the laws of the 6th and 8th of April, the same laws which the government had trodden underfoot with its coup, against the Assembly and against the accused was demolished by Marx in a powerful speech: those who had carried out a successful revolution might logically hang their opponents, but not sit in judgment upon them; they might get rid of their defeated enemies, but not try them as criminals. It was cowardly hypocrisy to use the laws which a successful revolution or counterrevolution had just overthrown against those who had upheld them. The question of whether the Assembly was in the right, or the Crown, was a historical one and could be determined only by history and not by a jury.

But Marx went still further, he refused to recognize the laws of the 6th and 8th of April at all, declaring them to have been manufactured by the United Diet in order to save the Crown from having to admit its defeat in the March struggles. An assembly representing modern bourgeois society could not be judged according to the laws of a feudal body. The principle that society was based on law was a legal fiction. On the contrary, in reality law was based on society:

“In my hand is the Code Napoleon. It did not produce bourgeois society. On the contrary, it was produced by bourgeois society, which, arising in the eighteenth century and continuing its development in the nineteenth, found no more than its legal expression in the Code. The moment the Code failed to reflect social relations faithfully, it would be no more than a scrap of paper. You cannot make the old laws the basis of the new society any more than the old laws made the old society.”

The Berlin Assembly had failed to understand the historic role which had developed for it out of the March Revolution. The reproach of the Public Prosecutor that the Assembly had refused all mediation was baseless because the misfortune and the mistake of the Assembly lay precisely in the fact that it had degraded itself from a revolutionary convention into an ambiguous association of conciliators: “What we have witnessed was not a political conflict between two fractions on the basis of one society, but a conflict between two societies, a social conflict in a political form. It was the struggle of the old feudal-bureaucratic society against modern bourgeois society, the struggle between the society of free competition and the society of the guilds and corporations, between the society of landownership and the society of industry, between the society of authoritarian belief and the society of knowledge.” There could be no peace between these two societies, but only a struggle in which one of them must go under. The refusal to pay taxes did not shake the foundations of society, as the Public Prosecutor had amusingly contended. It was an act of self-defence on the part of society against a government which threatened its foundations.

The Assembly had not acted illegally with regard to its refusal to pay taxes, nor had it acted legally with its announcement of passive resistance: “If the collection of taxes is declared illegal, it is my duty to oppose, by force if necessary, any attempt to carry out an illegal act.” Although those who had proclaimed the refusal to pay taxes had refused to take the revolutionary path for fear of their own skins, the masses of the people were nevertheless compelled to do so when carrying out this proclamation. The attitude of the Assembly was not decisive for the people: “The Assembly has no rights of its own; the people have merely transferred to the Assembly the task of defending their rights. When the Assembly fails to perform this task, its rights expire, and the people then appear in the arena in person to act in their own right. When the Crown organizes a counter-revolution the people justly answer with a new revolution.” Marx concluded his speech with the statement that only the first act in the drama had been played out. The final denouement would be the complete victory of the counterrevolution or a new and victorious revolution, though perhaps that could be possible only after the completed victory of the counterrevolution.

After this proud revolutionary speech the jury acquitted all the accused and the foreman of the jury thanked Marx for his instructive explanation.



8. An Act of Perfidy

With the victory of the counter-revolution in Vienna and in Berlin the decisive word had been spoken in Germany. All that was left of the achievements of the revolution was the Frankfort Assembly, which had long ago lost all its political credit and which frittered away its energies in endless torrents of discussion about a paper constitution. In reality the only question still outstanding was whether the Assembly would be dismissed at the point of Prussian or Austrian bayonets.

In December the Neue Rheinische Zeitung described the development of the Prussian revolution and counter-revolution in a series of brilliant articles, and then turned a hopeful eye to the rise of the French working class, from which it expected a world war. “The country which has turned whole nations into its proletarians, which holds the whole world in its gigantic tentacles, which has once already paid the expenses of a European restoration, and in whose own lap the class contradictions have developed in their dearest and most shameless form – England, appears to be the rock against which the waves of revolution will break. England will starve the new society before it is born. England dominates the world market, and a transformation of economic relations in every country of Europe, on the whole Continent, would be a storm in a teacup without England. The relations of industry and commerce within each country are determined by their relations with other countries, by their relations with the world market. But England dominates the world market and England is dominated by the bourgeoisie.”

Thus, any social upheaval in France would be crushed by the English bourgeoisie, by the industrial and commercial world power of Great Britain. Any partial social reform in France or anywhere else on the European Continent would remain, in so far as it was intended to be definitive, a pious and empty wish. Old England could be overthrown only by a world war, which alone could offer the Chartists, the organized party of the English proletariat, the conditions necessary for a successful insurrection against its powerful oppressors. Only when the Chartists were at the head of the English government would the social revolution advance from the world of utopia into the world of reality.

The preliminary conditions for this future hope did not materialize. The French working class, still bleeding from a thousand wounds received in the June days, was not capable of any new rising. The counter-revolution had begun its tour of Europe in Paris in the June days, going on to Frankfort, Vienna and Berlin, to end for the moment on December 10th with the election of the false Bonaparte as President of the French Republic. The revolution remained alive only in Hungary, and it found an eloquent and expert advocate in Engels, who had in the meantime returned to Cologne. For the rest, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was compelled to limit its activities to a guerilla war against the advancing counter-revolution, and it waged this struggle as daringly and as determinedly as it had waged the greater struggles of the previous year. A bundle of press writs loaded on it by the Reich government as the worst paper in a bad press, was greeted with the mocking remark that the Reich’s power was the most comic of all comic powers, and the boastful display of “Prussianism” which the East Elbian Junkers had adopted since the Berlin coup was answered with well-earned sarcasm: “We Rhinelanders have had the good fortune to win a Grand-Duke of the Lower Rhineland from the great re-shuffle in Vienna, a man who has not fulfilled the conditions under which he became ‘Grand-Duke.’ A King of Prussia exists for us only through the Berlin Assembly; as there is no Assembly for our ‘Grand-Duke of the Lower Rhineland,’ thus no King of Prussia exists for us. We fell into the hands of the ‘Grand-Duke of the Lower Rhineland’ as a result of jugglery with the fate of the peoples, and as soon as we are in a position to reject this jugglery we shall ask the ‘Grand-Duke’ for his credentials.” These lines were written during the wildest orgies of the counter-revolution.

One thing is missing at first glance in the columns of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, something which one would expect to find there above all, namely, a detailed account of the activities of the German workers at the time. This movement was by no means insignificant and it extended even into the districts of the East Elbian Junkers themselves. It had its congresses, its organizations and its newspapers, and a capable leader in Stephan Born, who was friendly with Marx and Engels from the Paris and Brussels period and who still contributed to the Neue Rheinische Zeitung from Berlin and from Leipzig. Born understood The Communist Manifesto very well, but he was less successful in applying its principles to the undeveloped class consciousness of the proletariat of the greater part of Germany. Later on Engels condemned Born’s activities with unjust severity, but it is quite possible that Born is right when he declares in his memoirs that during the years of revolution neither Marx nor Engels ever expressed a word of dissatisfaction with his activities, though this naturally does not exclude the possibility that they may have been dissatisfied with this or that detail. In any case, in the spring of 1849 Marx and Engels made the first move towards the working-class movement, which had developed in the meantime independent of their influence.

The fact that in the beginning the Neue Rheinische Zeitung paid very little attention to this movement can be explained in part by the fact that the Cologne Workers Association had its own special organ, which appeared twice a week under the editorship of Moll and Schapper, and in part – indeed in greater part – by the circumstance that the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was above all “an organ of democracy, that is to say, that it aimed at representing the joint interests of the bourgeoisie and of the proletariat against absolutism and feudalism. At that time this task was most important because it helped to create the basis on which the proletariat could begin its own discussion with the bourgeoisie. However, the bourgeois section of the democracy demoralized rapidly, and at every more or less serious test it collapsed miserably. There was such men as Meyen and Kriege (who had in the meantime returned from America) on the Committee of Five which had been elected in June, 1848, by the first Democratic Congress. Under such leadership the organization began to decline rapidly; this became disastrously plain when it met for the second time on the eve of the Prussian coup d’etat. A new committee was elected and d’Ester, a personal friend and political supporter of Marx, was a member of it, but this was little more than a bill drawn on the future. The parliamentary left-wing of the Berlin Assembly failed in the November crisis and the left-wing of the Frankfort Assembly sank deeper and deeper into the morass of miserable compromises.

In this situation Marx, Wilhelm Wolff, Schapper and Hermann Becker announced their resignation from the democratic district committee on the I5th of April, justifying their action as follows: “In our opinion the present form of organization of the democratic associations embraces too many heterogeneous elements to make possible any useful activity in furtherance of its aim. In our opinion a closer association of workers’ organizations will be more useful because these organizations are composed of similar elements.” At the same time the Cologne Workers Association resigned from the Association of Rhenish Democratic Organizations and invited all working-class and other organizations upholding the principles of social democracy to send representatives to a provincial congress on the 6th of May. This latter congress was called to decide on an organization of Rhenish-Westphalian workers’ associations, and whether delegates should be sent to a congress of all working-class organizations called for June in Leipzig by Born’s organization, the Leipzig Workers Brotherhood.

On the 20th Of March, before these steps were taken, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung had begun to publish Wilhelm Wolff’s articles on the Silesian billion, which so aroused the rural proletariat, and on the 5th of April it began to publish the lectures which Marx had delivered to the workers’ associations in Brussels on wage-labour and capital. After showing on the basis of the tremendous mass struggles of 1848 that every revolutionary insurrection must fail, no matter how removed its aim might appear to be from the class struggle, so long as the working class had not been victorious, the paper turned its attention to the problem of economic relations, on which the existence of the bourgeoisie and the slavery of the workers were both based.

However, this promising development was interrupted by the struggles which now took place around the paper constitution that had finally been botched together by the Frankfort Assembly. In itself the precious constitution was not worth the shedding of a single drop of blood, and the hereditary imperial crown it sought to place on the head of the King of Prussia was for all the world like a fool’s cap. The King of Prussia did not accept, but he also did not definitely refuse. He wanted to negotiate with the German Princes on the question of the Reich Constitution in the secret hope that they would agree to Prussian hegemony in return for Prussian military services in destroying what was left of the gains of the revolution in the small States and Statelets.

This was a blatant piece of body-snatching and it fanned the spark of revolution into a flame again, causing a number of insurrections which received their name if they did not derive their content from the Reich Constitution. The Constitution, after all, embodied the sovereignty of the people, which was to be destroyed in order to establish the sovereignty of the Princes once again. Armed insurrections in support of the Reich Constitution took place in the Kingdom of Saxony, in the Grand Duchy of Baden and in the Bavarian Palatinate. Everywhere the King of Prussia played the part of hangman though afterwards the other potentates cheated him of the hangman’s wage. Isolated insurrections also took place in the Rhineland, but they were crushed immediately by an overwhelming weight of numbers thanks to the strong military forces which the government had drafted into the much-feared province.

The authorities then plucked up sufficient courage for an annihilating blow against the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. As the signs of a new revolutionary rising made themselves felt everywhere, the flames of revolutionary enthusiasm rose higher and higher in its columns, and in fact the special editions it issued in April and May were nothing but appeals to the people to hold itself in readiness for the coming insurrection. The reactionary Kreuz-Zeitung did it the honour of declaring that its insolence was monumental and that the activities of the Moniteur of 1793 paled before it. The government was itching to lay its hands on the paper, but did not dare. Thanks to the spirit of the Rhineland jurymen, two legal proceedings against Marx had done nothing but win him new laurels, and a suggestion from Berlin that martial law should again be declared in Cologne was evaded by the nervous commandant of the garrison who instead applied to the police for the expulsion of Marx as “a dangerous individual.”

The request embarrassed the police, who turned the matter over to the provincial governor, who in his turn passed on his share of the unpleasantness to Manteuffel, the Minister of the Interior. On the 10th of March the provincial government reported to Berlin that Marx was still in Cologne though he had no police permission to stay there and that the newspaper he edited was still pursuing its destructive aims, its incitement against the existing constitution and its demand for the establishment of a social republic, whilst at the same time mocking and ridiculing everything humanity respected and held dear. The paper was becoming more and more dangerous in view of the fact that the temper and insolence with which it was written were steadily increasing the number of its readers. The police, the report went on, had misgivings regarding the request of the commandant of the garrison for the expulsion of Marx, and the provisional government was compelled to support the police because an expulsion “without any particular reason other than the tendency and the dangerousness of the newspaper edited by him” might cause a demonstration on the part of the Democratic Party.

After receiving this report Manteuffel approached Eichmann, the President of the Rhine Province, to obtain his opinion. On the 29th of March Eichmann declared that the expulsion of Marx would be justifiable, but attended with difficulties unless Marx were guilty of further offences. On the 7th of April Manteuffel then informed the provincial government that he had no objection to the expulsion, but that he must leave the time and circumstances to the provincial government, and that he felt it desirable for the order of expulsion to be issued in connection with some particular offence. In the end, however, the order of expulsion was issued solely on account of the “dangerous tendency” of the paper edited by Marx and not on account of any particular offence. This was done on the 11th of May when apparently the government felt itself strong enough to deliver a blow it had been too cowardly to deliver on the 29th of March or the 7th of April.

The Prussian Professor who recently unearthed the documentary record of the affair in the State archives did great honour to the poetic and prophetic vision of Freiligrath who wrote under the immediate impression of the expulsion:

Kein offner Hieb in offner Schlacht –
Es fällen die Nücken und Tücken,
Es fällt mich die schleichende Niedertracht
Der schmutzigen Westkalmücken.

[No honest blow in an honest fight –
But the spite of malice and trick,
The skulking infamy lays me low
Of the wretched Western Kalmuck.]



9. And Another Cowardly Trick

Marx was not in Cologne when the order of expulsion arrived. Although the circulation of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was steadily increasing and it now had about 6,000 subscribers, its financial difficulties were by no means at an end. With the increasing sales the immediate expenses also increased, whereas the revenue increased only later, so that Marx was in Hamm negotiating with Rempel, one of the two capitalists who had declared themselves prepared to put up the money for a communist publishing house in 1846. However the generous fellow still kept his purse strings tightly drawn and referred Marx to an ex-lieutenant named Henze who in fact did advance 300 thaler for the paper, a loan for which Marx accepted personal responsibility. Although Henze was later exposed as an agent-provocateur, at that time he was also being persecuted by the police, and he accompanied Marx back to Cologne where the latter found the expulsion order awaiting him.

This sealed the fate of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Several of the other editors were in the same position as Marx and could be expelled at any moment as “foreigners,” whilst the others were all being prosecuted. On the 19th of May the final red number appeared with the famous valediction of Freiligrath and a defiant farewell article by Marx in which the latter belaboured the government fiercely: “Why bother with your foolish lies and your formal phrases We are ruthless ourselves and we ask no consideration from you. When our turn arrives we shall make no apologies for our terrorism, but the royal terrorists, the terrorists by the Grace of God and the right of law, are brutal, contemptible and vile in practice, secretive and double-faced in theory, and without honour in both theory and practice.” The Neue Rheinische Zeitung warned the workers against any putsch as the military situation rendered any such attempt hopeless, and the editors thanked their readers for their sympathy and support, declaring that their final word always and- everywhere would be: “The emancipation of the working class!”

And at the same time Marx fulfilled the duties which devolved upon him as captain of the sinking ship. The 300 thaler he had received from Henze, 1,500 thaler paid in by subscribers, the presses, etc., which belonged to him, all resources in fact were used to meet the liabilities of the paper to its printers, its paper merchants, its clerks, its correspondents, its editorial staff, etc. Marx kept only the silver of his wife for himself and his family and that had to pay a visit to the pawnbrokers in Frankfort. The few hundred guilders which Marx obtained for this silver was all he and his family had to live on.

From Frankfort he went with Engels to the scene of the insurrection in Baden and the Palatinate, visiting first Karlsruhe and then Kaiserslautern where they met d’Ester, who was the moving spirit in the provisional government. From d’Ester Marx received a mandate of the Democratic Central Committee to represent the German revolutionary party in Paris in the Montagne of the National Assembly, the social democracy of the day, a mixture of petty-bourgeois and proletarian elements, which was preparing a great blow against the parties of “law and order” and their representative, the false Bonaparte. On their way back they were arrested by Hessian troops on suspicion of having taken part in the insurrection and taken to Darmstadt and from there to Frankfort where they were finally released. Marx then went to Paris whilst Engels returned to Kaiserslautern to become the adjutant of a volunteer corps which had been raised by a former Prussian lieutenant named Willich.

Writing from Paris on the 7th of June, Marx declared that a royalist reaction was in the saddle and that it was even worse than under Guizot, but that nevertheless a tremendous outbreak of the revolutionary volcano had never been nearer. However, his expectations were disappointed, for the blow which the Montagne was planning failed and it failed in a not very edifying fashion. A month later the vengeance of the victors descended on Marx also. On the 19th of July the Prefect of Police conveyed an order of the Minister of the Interior to Marx that he should take up his domicile in the Departement Morbihan. It was a cowardly blow, “the infamy of infamies,” as Freiligrath declared in a letter to Marx after receiving the news. “Daniels declares Morbihan to be the most unhealthy district in France, marshy and fever-wracked, the Pontine swamps of the Bretagne.” Marx did not submit tamely to this “cloaked attempt at murder,” but succeeded in securing a stay of execution by an appeal to the Minister of the Interior.

By this time Marx was in desperate financial straits and he appealed to Freiligrath and Lassalle for assistance. Both men did their best, but Freiligrath complained of Lassalle’s indiscretion in collecting the necessary money, declaring that he had made the affair the talk of the taverns. Marx was greatly embarrassed at this and in a reply on the 30th of July he declared: “The greatest financial difficulties are preferable to public begging and I have written to him saying so. The business has annoyed me terribly.” However, Lassalle succeeded in dissipating Marx’s annoyance by a letter overflowing with good-will, although his assurances that henceforth he would treat the matter “with the greatest delicacy” left room for doubt.

On the 23rd of August Marx wrote to Engels telling him that he was leaving France, and on the 5th of September he wrote to Freiligrath that his wife would follow him on the 15th though he still did not know where he was to find the money necessary for her journey and for her settling down when she arrived. Black care accompanied him on his third exile and it remained an all-too steadfast companion.


Last updated on 27.2.2004