David Riazanov's

An Introduction to Their Lives and Work


THE FOUNDING OF THE Neue Rheinische Zeitung.

The Communist Manifesto was published only a few days before the February Revolution, and the organisation of the Communist League was brought to completion only in November, 1847. The League which was composed of the Paris, London and Brussels circles, was only loosely connected with some smaller German groups.

 This in itself is sufficient to show that the organised forces of the German sections of the Communist League with which Marx had to operate were quite insignificant. The Revolution flared up in Paris on February 24, 1848. It spread rapidly to Germany. On March 3 there was something of a popular insurrection in Cologne, the chief city in the Rhine province. The city authorities were forced to address a petition to the Prussian King; they implored him to heed this disturbance and to make some concessions. At the head of this Cologne insurrection there were two men, Gotschalk, a physician who was very popular among the poor and the workers of Cologne, and the ex-officer, August Willich (1810-1878). On March 13, the Revolution broke out in Vienna, on the 18th it reached Berlin.

 During all this time Marx was in Brussels. The Belgian government, not wishing to share the fate of the July monarchy swooped down upon the immigrants who resided in Brussels, arrested Marx, and within a few hours conducted him out of the country. He went to Paris. One of the heads of the provisional government of France, Ferdinand Flocon (1800-1866), an editor of a newspaper to which Engels was a contributor, had previously invited Marx to come, declaring that on the now free French soil all the decrees of the old government were null and void.

 The Brussels district committee, to whom the London committee had handed over its authority after the revolutionary outbreaks on the continent, transferred its authority to Marx. Among the German workers who congregated in Paris in large numbers, many dissensions arose and various groups were organised. One of these groups was under the sway of Bakunin who, together with the German poet Georg Herwegh (1817-1875), hatched a plan of forming an armed organisation and invading Germany.

 Marx tried to dissuade them from this enterprise; he suggested that they go to Germany singly, and participate in the revolutionary events there. But Bakunin and Herwegh adhered to their old plan. Herwegh organised a revolutionary legion, and led it to the German border, where he

 was completely defeated. Marx together with some comrades succeeded in getting into Germany, where they settled in different places. Marx and Engels went to the Rhine province.

 We must remember that the German section of the Communist League had no organisation. There were only isolated sympathisers. What was there left for Marx, Engels and their comrades to do? About forty years after the events described here, Engels tried to explain to the young comrades the tactics which he and Marx had pursued in Germany in 1848. To a question, "why did he and Marx stay in the Rhine province, in Cologne, instead of going to Berlin?" he gave the following clear answer: They chose the Rhine province because industrially it was the most developed part of Germany; because it was under the system of the Napoleonic code -- a heritage of the French Revolution, and they could, therefore, expect greater freedom of action, greater latitude for agitation and propaganda. Besides, the Rhine province had an appreciable proletarian element. True, Cologne itself was not among the most industrialised localities in the Rhine province, but in the administrative and every other sense, it was the centre of the province. Considering the times, its population was considerable -- eighty thousand inhabitants. Its most importent machine industry was sugar refining. The eau-de-Cologne industry, while important, did not require much machinery. The textile industries distinctly lagged behind those of Elberfeld and Barmen. At any rate, Marx and Engels had good reasons for having chosen Cologne as their residence. They wished to keep in touch with the whole of Germany; they wished to found a strong journal which would serve as a tribune for the entire country, and for this, in their opinion, Cologne was the most appropriate place. Was it not in the same province that the first important political organ of the German bourgeoisie had been published in 1842? All the preliminary work for the publication of such an organ had been going on for some time. Marx and Engels succeeded in gaining control of the publication that was being organised.

 But this publication was the organ o; the democratic groups. Here is how Engels tried to explain why they referred to it as the Organ of Democracy. There had been no proletarian organisation, and there were only two roads they could follow -- either the immediate organisation of a communist party, or the utilisation of the democratic organisations that were on hand, first by uniting them all, and then by boring from within, by criticism and propaganda, to effect a reorganisation and to attract working men's circles that had not belonged to the democratic organisations before. The second method was chosen. This placed Marx and Engels in a somewhat false position in relation to the Workingmen's Union of Cologne which had been organised by Gotschalk and Willich immediately after the third of March.

 Gotschalk was a physician, very popular with the Cologne poor. He was not a communist; in his views he rather approached Weitling and the Weitlingites. He was a good revolutionist, but too easily swayed by moods. Personally he was a man beyond reproach. Though not guided by a definite programme, he was sufficiently critical of democracy to have declared at his first public appearance at the town hall, "I come not in the name of the people, for all these representatives are of the people; no, I address myself to you only in the name of the labouring population." He differentiated between the working class and the people as a whole. He insisted on revolutionary measures, but being a republican he demanded a federation of all the German republics. This was one of the essential points of disagreement between him and Marx. The society founded by him in Cologne, the Workingmen's Union of Cologne, soon embraced almost all the proletarian elements of the city. It counted about seven thousand members. For a city with a population of eighty thousand this was an imposing number.

 The Workingmen's Society led by Gotschalk soon entered into a conflict with the organisation to which Marx and Engels belonged. We should note, however, that there were elements within this vast workingmen's organisation that differed with Gotschalk. Moll and Schapper, for instance, though members of the Workingmen's Union, were closely connected with Marx and Engels. Thus within the Union there were soon formed two factions. But the fact remains that alongside the Workingmen's Union of Cologne, there existed a democratic society which counted Marx, Engels and others among its members.

 All this resulted from Marx's plan. Everything converged to one point. Marx and Engels had hoped to make the central organ, which was first published on June 1, 1818, the axis around which all the future communist organisations which would be formed in the process of revolutionary conflict, would assemble. We must not think that Marx and Engels entered this democratic organ as democrats. They did not; they entered as communists who regarded themselves as the most extreme left wing of the entire democratic organisation. Not for a moment did they cease vehemently to denounce the errors not only of the German liberal party, but above all, the errors of the democrats. They did it so well that they lost their shareholders within the first few months. In his very first editorial, Marx attacked the democrats most severely. And when the news of the June defeat of the Paris proletariat arrived, when Cavagniac, supported by all the bourgeois parties, swept down upon the workers, effected a massacre in which several thousands of Paris workers perished, the democratic organ, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published an article which till now remains unexcelled in power and passion with which it lashes the bourgeois hangmen and their democratic apologists.


This article was written on June 28, 1848. Such an article could not have been written by a democrat; only a communist could have written it. Marx and Engels deceived no one with their tactics. The paper ceased to receive financial support from the democratic bourgeoisie. It had in reality become the organ of the Cologne workers and of the German workers. Other members of the Communist League, Spread all over Germany, continued their work. One of them, Stefan Born, a compositor, is worth mentioning. Engels does not speak favourably of him; Born adopted different tactics. Having found himself from the very beginning in Berlin, in the proletarian centre, he put before himself, as his objective, the creation of a large workingmen's organisation. With the aid of some comrades he established a small journal, The Brotherhood of Workers, and conducted a systematic agitation among various types of workers. Unlike Gotschalk and Willich, he did not confine himself merely to organising a workers' political party. Born undertook to organise craft unions and other societies which were to protect the economic interests of the workers. He forged ahead so energetically that he soon attempted to carry over this organisation into a number of neighbouring cities, and to spread it into other parts of Germany. There was one flaw in this organisation -- it emphasised the purely economic demands of the workers to the exclusion of other demands. Thus, while some members of the Communist League were forming purely workingmen's organisations all over Germany, in the South there were others who, headed by Marx, used all their strength to reorganise the democratic elements, and to make the working class into a nucleus of an even more democratic party. It was in this spirit that Marx carried on his work.

 The Neue Rheinische Zeitung reacted upon all fundamental questions. We must admit that up to the present the paper remains the unattainable ideal of revolutionary journalism. Its acuteness of analysis, its freshness, its revolutionary ardour, its breadth and profundity have never been parallelled.

 Before we pass over to the discussion of the basic principles upon which the internal and the external policies of the paper were determined, we should examine the revolutionary experience of its editors-in-chief. Neither Marx nor Engels had had any other experience except that which had been provided by the Great French Revolution. Marx had studied most attentively the history of that revolution and had endeavoured to work out principles of tactics for the epoch of the coming revolution which he, contrary to Proudhon, had correctly foreseen. What then did Marx learn from the experience of the French Revolution? The Revolution broke out in 1789. It represented a rather lengthy process; it lasted from 1789 to 1799, that is, up to the year in which Napoleon accomplished his coup d'etat. The English Revolution of the seventeenth century also suggested that the coming revolution would be a prolonged one. The French Revolution began with universal joy, with universal jubilation. At the very beginning the bourgeoisie assumed the leadership of the oppressed populace, and abolished absolutism. Only later there developed friction within this triumphant bourgeoisie. In the process of this struggle, power was passing to more extreme elements. This struggle lasted for three years, with the result that power had passed into the hands of the Jacobins. To Marx, who had carefully studied the evolution of the Jacobin party, it seemed that in the next revolution, too, it would be possible to direct the forces which would develop spontaneously in the heat of prolonged political action.

 This premise explains his error. For long he held to this opinion, and a whole series of events were needed to make him renounce this premise. The first blow the Revolution had received in the West was the June defeat of the Paris proletariat. It immediately gave reaction a chance to raise its head in Prussia, in Austria and in Russia. Nicholas I offered help to the Prussian King from the very start; the armed assistance was rejected but Russian money was cheerfully accepted. It proved exceedingly helpful. To the Austrian Emperor, against whom Hungary had rebelled, Nicholas offered battalions. They were accepted.

 The Neue Rheinische Zeitung, relying upon the experience of the French Revolution, advocated the following tactics: War with Russia, it seemed, was the only means of saving the Revolution in western Europe. The defeat of the Paris proletariat was the first blow at the Revolution. The history of the Great French Revolution showed that it had been the attack of the Coalition upon France that supplied the impulse for the strengthening of the revolutionary movement. The moderate parties had been thrown aside. The leadership had been taken over by those parties which were able to repel most energetically the external attack. As a result of the attack by the Coalition, France had been declared a republic on August 10, 1792. Marx and Engels expected that a war of the reactionaries against the new Revolution would lead to similar results. That is why they kept on criticising Russia in the columns of their paper. Russia was constantly being pointed out as the power behind Austrian and German reaction. Each editorial tried to prove that war with Russia was the sole means of saving the Revolution. The democratic elements were being prepared for this war as for the only way out. Marx and Engels maintained that war with Russia would give the needed jolt to awaken all the revolutionary passions of the German people. Guided by this view, Marx and Engels defended every oppositional, every revolutionary tendency against the established order. They were the most fervent defenders of the Hungarian Revolution; they most passionately defended the Poles who shortly before had made a fresh attempt at insurrection. They demanded the re-establishment of an independent and united Poland. In the same spirit, they demanded the unification of Germany into one republic, and the restoration to Germany of some districts that had once belonged to Germany, and that were populated with Germans. In short, everywhere did they remain true to the basic principles of the Communist Manifesto by supporting Every revolutionary movement directed against the established order.

 Nevertheless, it should not be overlooked that the articles in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung dealt overwhelmingly with the political aspect of things. They were always criticisms of the political acts of the bourgeoisie, or the political acts of the bureaucracy. When we peruse the Neue Rheinische Zeitung we are struck by the inadequacies of space allotted to proletarian questions. This was particularly so during the year 1848. Stefan Born's organ, on the contrary, resembled a modern trade-union paper. It was replete with discussions of proletarian affairs. In Marx's paper questions dealing directly with the demands of the working class were very rare. It was almost completely devoted to the excitation of political passions, and to the agitation in favour of the creation of such democratic revolutionary forces which would with one blow free Germany of all the remnants of the obsolete feudal system.

 But towards the end of 1848 conditions changed. The reaction which had already begun to gain strength after the June defeat of the Paris proletariat, became even more aggressive in October, 1848. The failure at Vienna served as the signal, and brought in its train the defeat at Berlin. With renewed arrogance the Prussian government dispersed the national assembly and imposed a constitution of its own making. And the Prussian bourgeoisie, in lieu of offering actual resistance, was worrying about establishing harmony between the people and the King's government.

 Marx, on the other hand, maintained that the royal power of Prussia suffered defeat in March, 1848, and that there could be no question of an agreement with the crown. The people should adopt its own constitution and, without heeding the royal power, it should declare the country one indivisible German Republic. But the national assembly, in which there was a preponderance of the liberal and democratic bourgeoisie, fearsome of a final break with the monarchy, kept on preaching compromise until it was dispersed.

 Finally Marx was persuaded that no hope could be placed even on the most extreme faction of the German bourgeoisie. Even the democratic faction of the middle class which could be expected to create free political conditions conducive to the development of the working class proved its utter ineptitude for the task.

 Here is how Marx, on the basis of the sad experiences of the Berlin and Frankfort assemblies, characterised the bourgeoisie in December, 1848:


The hope which Marx had placed in the progressive bourgeoisie, in the Manifesto, although even there he enumerated a series of conditions precedent to real co-operation with it, was not justified. Towards the Fall of 1848, Marx and Engels changed their tactics. Not rejecting the support of the bourgeois democrats, nor severing his relations with the democratic organisation, Marx, nevertheless, shifted the centre of his activity into the proletarian midst. Together with Moll and Schapper, he concentrated his work in the Workingmen's Union of Cologne which, too, had its representative in the District Committee of Democratic Societies.

 The fact that upon Gotschalk's arrest, Moll was elected chairman of the Workingmen's Union indicates the increased strength of the communists. The federalist trend which was headed by Gotschalk gradually faded into a minority. When Moll was forced for a time to flee Cologne, Marx, despite the fact that he had repeatedly declined the honour, was elected chairman in his stead. In February, during the elections for the new parliament, disagreements arose. Marx and his followers insisted that the workers, where there was no chance of electing their own representatives, should vote for democrats. The minority protested against this.

 In March and April, friction between the workers and the democrats who were united in the District Committee of the Democratic Societies reached a stage where a schism was unavoidable. Marx and his supporters resigned from the Committee. The Workingmen's Union recalled its representative and proceeded to ally itself with the workingmen's societies which had been organised by Stefan Born in eastern Germany. The Workingmen's Union itself was reorganised into the Central Club with nine regional branches, workingmen's clubs. Towards the end of April, Marx and Schapper issued a proclamation which invited all the workingmen's societies throughout the Rhine province and Westphalia to a regional congress for the purpose of organisation and for the election of deputies to the General Workingmen's Congress which was to take place in June at Leipzig.

 But just as Marx and his followers were setting out upon the organisation of a labour party, a new blow was struck at the Revolution. Having put an end to the Prussian National Assembly, the government decided also to put an end to the German National Assembly. It was in southern Germany that the fight for the so-called Imperial Constitution began.

 We must point out one more detail which is generally overlooked by Marx's biographers. Marx's position in Cologne was precarious; his behaviour had to be exceedingly circumspect. Though he did not have to live underground, he was, nevertheless, subject to expulsion from Cologne by a mere government order. Here is how it came about that Marx found himself in this unique predicament.

 Having been exposed to the incessant persecutions of the Prussian Government, having been expelled from Paris on the insistence of the same government, and having feared deportation from Belgium, Marx finally resolved to renounce his allegiance to Prussia. He did not declare his allegiance to any other country, but definitely renounced his Prussian one. The Prussian government seized upon it. When Marx returned to Cologne, the local authorities recogrused him as a citizen of the Rhine province, but they demanded that the Prussian authorities in Berlin confirm it. The latter decided that Marx had lost his rights of citizenship. That is why Marx, who was trying very hard for a reinstatement into the rights of Prussian citizenship, was compelled in the second half of 1848 to desist from making public appearances. When the revolutionary wave would rise and conditions would improve, Marx appeared openly before the public; as soon as the wave of reaction would rise and repressions in Cologne would become more furious, Marx vanished and confined himself only to literary work, that is, to the directing of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. This is why Marx was so reluctant to become chairman of the Workingmen's Union of Cologne.

 In accord with the change in tactics, there was a turn in the policy of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The first articles on Wage Labour and Capital appeared only after the change. These were prefaced by a long statement in which Marx explained why the paper had never before touched upon the antagonism between capital and labour. The change, however, was made too late. It took place in February, while in May the German revolution was already completely crushed.

 The ferocity of the Prussian government swept like a storm across the country. Its armies swooped down upon the southwest. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung was among the first casualties. It was discontinued on May 19, when the famous red number was published. (Besides a beautiful poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath [1810-1876], that issue contained Marx's address to the working class warning them against provocations by the government.) After this, Marx left the Rhine province, and as a foreigner, had to abandon Germany. The rest of the staff left for various places. Engels, Moll, and Willich went to join the south German rebels.

 After several weeks of heroic but badly organised resistance against the Prussian armies, the rebels were forced to cross over into Switzerland. The ax-members of the staff of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung and of the Workingmen's Union of Cologne peregrinated to Paris, but in 1849, after the unsuccessful demonstration of June 13, they, too, fell under the ban and were forced to leave France. Towards the beginning of 1850 there came together, in London, almost the entire old guard of the Communist League. Moll had perished during the insurrection in the south. Marx, Engels, Schapper, Willich, and Wolff found themselves in London.

 Marx and Engels, as may be gleaned from their writings of that period, did not at first lose hope. They felt that this was only a temporary halt in the march of the revolution and that a fresh and greater upheaval was bound to follow. In order that they might not be caught unawares, they wished to strengthen the organisation, and to tie it up more securely with Germany. The old Communist League was reorganised; the old elements as well as the new ones from Silesia, Breslau and the Rhine provinces were drawn in.

 Very soon, however, differences began to spring up. The controversy came to a head on the following question:

 Even at the beginning of 1850, Marx and Engels thought that it would not be long ere the revolution would be resuscitated. It was precisely at this time that two famous circulars were released by the Communist League. Lenin, who knew them by heart, used to delight in quoting them.

 In these circulars -- and they can only be understood if we recall the errors made by Marx and Engels during the Revolution of 1848 -- we find that besides mercilessly criticising bourgeois liberalism, we must also attack the democratic elements. We must muster all our strength to create a workingmen's party in opposition to the democratic organisation. The democrats must be lashed and flayed. If they demand a ten-hour workday, we should demand an eight-hour day. If they demand expropriation of large estates with just compensation, then we must demand confiscation without compensation. We must use every possible means to goad on the revolution, to make it permanent, and not to let it lapse into desuetude. We cannot afford to be satisfied with the immediate conquests. Each bit of conquered territory must serve as a step for further conquests. Every attempt to declare the revolution consummated is treason to its cause. We must exert our strength, to the last bit, to undermine and destroy the social and political fabric in which we live, until the last vestiges of the old class antagonisms are eradicated forever.

 Differences of opinion arose about the evaluation of the existing conditions. In contradistinction to his opponents, the most important among whom were Schapper and Willich, Marx, true to his method, insisted that every political revolution was the effect of definite economic causes, of a certain economic revolution. The Revolution of 1848 was preceded by the economic crisis of 1847 which had held all of Europe, except the Far East, in its grip. Having studied in London the prevailing economic conditions, the state of the world market, Marx came to the conclusion that the new situation was not favourable to a revolutionary eruption, and that the absence of the new revolutionary upheaval, which he and his friends had been anticipating, might be explained otherwise than by the lack of revolutionary initiative and revolutionary energy on the part of the revolutionists. On the basis of his detailed analysis of the existing conditions, he reached the conclusion, at the end of 1850, that in the face of such economic efflorescence any attempt to force a revolution, to induce an uprising, was doomed to fruitless defeat. And conditions were then particularly conducive to the development of European capital. Fabulously rich gold mines were discovered in California and in Australia; vast hosts of workers rushed into these countries. The deluge of European emigration started in 1848 and reached tremendous proportions in 1850.

 Thus, a study of economic conditions brought Marx to the conviction that the revolutionary wave was receding and that there would be no renewal of the revolutionary movement until another economic crisis arose and created more favourable conditions. Some of the members of the Communist League did not subscribe to these views. These views met with the particular disapproval of those who were not well grounded in economics and who attached inordinate importance to the revolutionary initiative of a few resolute individuals. Willich, Schapper, a number of other members of the Cologne Workingmen's Union, and the old Weitlingites, coalesced. They insisted upon the necessity of forcing a revolutionary uprising in Germany. All they needed, they claimed, was a certain sum of money, and a number of daring individuals. They began to hunt for money. An effort was made to solicit a loan from America, a loan with a German revolution as its objective. Marx, Engels and a few of their near friends refused to participate in this campaign. Finally a schism occurred, and the Communist League was split into a Marx-Engels faction and a Willich-Schapper faction.

 It happened that at this very time one section of the Communist League which was still in Germany, came to grief. It was since 1850 that Marx and Engels were making an effort to strengthen the League in Germany along with its reorganisation in London. Emissaries were sent to Germany with the purpose of establishing closer ties with the German communists. One of them was arrested. The papers that were found on him revealed the names of all his comrades. A number of communists were jailed. The Prussian government, in order to demonstrate to the German bourgeoisie that the latter had no reason to regret the few privileges it had lost in 1850, staged an imposing trial of the communists. The upshot was a few long-term sentences for several communists who included Friedrich Lessner. During the trial certain ugly facts came to the surface -- the agent provocateur, Stieber, the falsification of minutes, perjury, etc.

 At the suggestion of the communists who stood with Marx, he wrote a pamphlet in which he exposed the nefarious work of the Prussian police in connection with the persecution of the communists. This, however, proved of little assistance to the condemned. Upon the termination of the trial, Marx, Engels and their comrades came to the conclusion that, in face of this unfortunate turn of events, and since all revolutionary connections with Germany were severed, the League had nothing to do but to wait for a more auspicious time; in 1852 the Communist League was officially disbanded. The other part of the Communist League, the Willich-Schapper faction, vegetated for another year. Some left for America. Schapper remained in London. A few years later he came to realise the errors he had made in 1852, and again made peace with Marx and Engels.


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