Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich
Marx had been put to the test as revolutionary champion. He had withstood the test. Maybe in his zeal, in the heat of battle, he had erred on the side of passion rather than on that of moderation, had been too impetuous rather than unduly cautious. But he had never blenched in the decisive hour; had never lost sight of the goal or been wanting in impetus; had never for a moment been lacking in readiness to leap into the breach. As a man, he had been tried, and had not been found wanting.
But what of the cause he had been fighting for? Could that resist the test of criticism?
Marx now devoted himself to answering this question—not once, but again and again. He set to work with the relentlessness, the thoroughness, the incisiveness, that were his leading characteristics.
With the scalpel of an anatomist, he dissected history, and demonstrated the result.
His first critical examination, his first attempt “to explain a section of history, by means of the materialist method of interpretation, as an expression of the extant economic situation,” took the form of an analysis of the February revolution in the year 1848. It was entitled Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich [Class Struggles in France].
Here are some of the results of his inquiry.
“In the reign of Louis Philippe, what ruled in France was not the bourgeoisie as a whole, but a section thereof, the so-called financial aristocracy, consisting of bankers, stock-exchange magnates, railway kings, mine owners, ironmasters, and some of the great landed proprietors. They occupied the throne; they dictated the laws that were passed by the Chambers; they appointed the office holders, ranging from the ministers of State down to the minor employees in the Tobacco Office.”
“The industrial bourgeoisie was part of the official opposition, and only represented in the Chambers as a minority. Its oppositional attitude became intensified in proportion as the power of the financial aristocracy grew, and in proportion as (after the risings of 1832, 1834, and 1839 had been drowned in blood) it believed its own dominion over the workers to be assured.”
“The petty bourgeoisie in all its gradations, and the peasant class, were completely excluded from political power. Finally, in the official opposition or altogether outside the ‘pays légal’ [the king, his ministers, the deputies, and the 200,000 electors], were the ideological representatives and spokesmen of the aforesaid classes, their professors, lawyers, doctors, etc., in a word, their so-called men of talent.”
“It was to the direct interest of the ruling and legislating section of the bourgeoisie (ruling and legislating through the Chambers) that the State should run into debt. The deficit was for these gentry the material substratum of their speculative activities and the main source of their enrichment. Every year there was a new deficit, and every four or five years there was a new loan. Each new loan gave the financial aristocracy fresh opportunities for diddling a State artificially kept insolvent, and therefore compelled to deal with the bankers on very unfavourable terms.”
“The sections of the French bourgeoisie that were excluded from power raised a clamour about corruption. ... Then came worldwide economic happenings to hasten the outbreak of general discontent, to ripen disaffection into revolt. These were: the potato disease, a failure of other crops, and a general commercial and industrial crisis.”
“The provisional government, climbing to power from the February barricades, necessarily represented in its composition the various parties which had shared in the victory.”
“The February republic had first of all to complete the dominion of the bourgeoisie, by allowing all the other possessing classes to enter the charmed circle of political power, and to take their places in it side by side with the financial aristocracy.”
“The proletariat, which had imposed a republic on the provisional government (and, through the provisional government, on the whole of France), at once came to the front as an independent political party, but thereby summoned the whole of bourgeois France into the lists against it. What it had conquered was a field on which it could fight for its revolutionary emancipation, but by no means that emancipation itself.” “By the establishment of universal [manhood] suffrage, the nominal owners who form the great majority of the French, the peasants that is to say, had been made the arbiters of the destiny of France.”
“By accepting the bills of exchange which the old bourgeois society had drawn on the State, the provisional government had ruined itself. It had become the harassed debtor of bourgeois society, instead of confronting that society as a menacing creditor, as one to whom the revolutionary indebtedness of several years had become payable.”
“The emancipation of the workers, even as a mere phrase, was now an intolerable danger to the new republic, for it was a perpetual protest against the establishment of credit, which rests upon the undisturbed and unqualified recognition of the extant economic class relations. The workers, therefore, must be reduced to impotence.”
“Only in the name of the republic could the fight against the proletariat be undertaken.”
“In the National Assembly, all France sat in judgment on the Parisian proletariat. Promptly abandoning the socialist illusions of the February revolution, the Assembly proclaimed the bourgeois republic, pure and simple. Forthwith it excluded Louis Blanc and Albert, the proletarian representatives, from the executive committees it now proceeded to appoint; it rejected the proposal to establish a labour office as a special department of the government; and it greeted with vociferous applause Trélat’s statement, ‘the only matter with which we are concerned is to bring labour back to its old conditions.’”
“The workers had no other option than between starvation and rebellion. Their answer took the form of the insurrection of June 22nd, the first pitched battle between the two classes into which modern society is severed. It was a struggle for the maintenance or the destruction of the bourgeois order. The veil hiding the true visage of the republic had been torn.”
“Fraternity had lasted just so long as the interest of the bourgeoisie had been able to fraternize with the interest of the proletariat.”
“Cavaignac did not signify the dictatorship of the sword over bourgeois society; he signified the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie exercised by means of the sword.”
“The constitution did not sanction a social revolution, it sanctioned the momentary victory of the old society over the revolution.”
“December 10, 1848, was the day of the peasants’ insurrection. The French peasants’ February began on December 10th. The symbol which expressed their entry into the revolutionary movement—clumsily astute, knavishly simple, clownishly sublime, a calculated superstition, an emotional burlesque, a brilliantly stupid anachronism, a practical joke on the part of universal history, an undecipherable hieroglyph for civilized understandings—this symbol bore unmistakably the physiognomy of the class which represents barbarism within the confines of civilization. The republic had announced itself to the peasants by sending a tax collector; the peasants announced themselves to the republic by sending the emperor. Napoleon was the only man who had fully represented the interests and the fancies of the peasant class newly created in 1789.”
“With the formation of the Legislative National Assembly, was completed the manifestation of the constitutional republic, that is to say of the republican form of State in which the dominion of the bourgeoisie is embodied.”
“With the official restoration of the financial aristocracy, it was inevitable that the French people would ere long be face to face once more with a February 24th.”
“So rapidly had circumstances been ripened by the course of the revolution, that the reformers of all shades of opinion, including those who represented the most modest demands of the middle classes, had to group themselves round the banner of the extreme revolutionary party, round the red flag.”
“The proletariat is grouping itself more and more round revolutionary socialism, round communism. This socialism is the declaration that the revolution is permanent, that the class dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary transition to the abolition of class distinctions in general, to the abolition of all the productive relations on which class distinctions depend, to the abolition of all the social relations which express these productive relations, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas which proceed from these social relations.”
“The proletariat did not allow itself to be provoked into riots, for it was engaged in making a revolution. ... Despite all endeavours, the socialist candidates were victorious. Even the army voted for the June insurgents against their own war minister Lahitte. The Party of Order was as if thunderstruck. ... The election of March 10, 1850! It was the reversal of June 1848. Those who had massacred and transported the June insurgents returned to the National Assembly, but with bowed heads, in the train of the transportees, and with the latter’s principles on their lips. It was the reversal of June 13, 1849. The Mountain, which had been proscribed by the National Assembly, returned to the National Assembly, but as the advance trumpeter of the revolution, no longer as its commander. It was the reversal of December 10th. Napoleon had been discomfited with the discomfiture of his minister Lahitte.”
“March 10th was a revolution. Behind the votes lay paving stones.”
“A new revolution is only possible as the sequel to a new crisis. But the one is as certain as the other.”
Those who, when they refer to Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich, speak of Marx’s brilliant style, of the force of his descriptions, of his mastery of satire, of the splendid way in which he exhibits the movements of universal history, and of the boldness with which he discovers the hidden interconnexions of events, are in the right of it. But this praise, since it is restricted to formal merits, overlooks the material importance of the book.
What gives Klassenkämpfe special significance, as Engels pointed out, is the fact that here for the first time is clear expression given to the formula which was subsequently to become the general formula of the class struggle as pursued by all parties, of all socialistic trends, and in all countries. This formula is the appropriation of the means of production by the proletariat, the abolition of the wage system and of capital and of their mutual relations. Therewith, to quote Engels, was formulated the demand by which “modern working-class socialism is sharply distinguished, not only from all the various shades of feudalist, bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, etc., socialism, but also from vague utopian ideas as to a community of goods and from the elementary but spontaneously developed forms of working-class communism. When, subsequently, Marx extended the formula to include appropriation of the means of exchange as well, this extension, which is an obvious corollary to the Communist Manifesto, signified nothing more than an expansion of the main proposition.”
In matters of detail, the book is not free from errors. When he wrote it, Marx was still unduly influenced by impressions derived from earlier revolutions; was still, as Engels puts it, “under the spell of prior historical experiences.”
The fundamental tint of the revolutions from 1789 to 1830 shows through in all Marx’s deductions. He is here and there because, despite the depth of his insight, his grasp of economic causes is still defective. Owing to a lack of sufficient statistical information, trustworthy reports, exhaustive politico-economic study, he arrives at the erroneous conclusion that the social revolution, as the last decisive struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in Europe, will necessarily follow hard upon the revolutionary upheaval of 1848.
Writing in 1895, Engels said that history had shown this assumption to be an illusion. “It has made clear to us that in those days the condition of economic development on the Continent was far from being ripe for the abolition of capitalist production; it has proved this by the economic revolution which since 1848 has affected the whole Continent, has involved large-scale industry in France, Austria, Hungary, and Poland; has recently begun seriously to influence Russia; and has made of Germany an industrial country of the first rank. All this has occurred upon a capitalist foundation far wider than that which existed in the year 1848. Now, it is this industrial revolution which has everywhere for the first time clarified class relations; has done away with a number of intermediate conditions which had persisted as vestiges of the manufacturing period, and in eastern Europe even as vestiges of the guild system; has created a true bourgeoisie and a true urban proletariat; and has pushed these two classes into the foreground of social evolution. Thanks to this, however, the struggle between these two great classes, which in 1848 existed outside England in Paris alone and a few great industrial centres, has now been diffused throughout Europe, and has attained an intensity which was still quite unthinkable in 1848.”
These defects notwithstanding, Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich is a fine piece of critical and analytical history penned in the light of historical materialism. It is a brilliant draft for the completer study of the same period, for Marx’s masterpiece, Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte.
Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte
The coup d’état of Louis Napoleon was a logical sequel to the February revolution. The imperial crown was nothing more than a piece of theatrical “property,” a symbol added under stress of a dynastic megalomaniac urge. Marx, who had already drawn attention to the part played by the bizarre in French history, thanks to which “in France, the simplest man acquires the most complicated significance,” now went on to show “that the class war in France created circumstances and relations that enabled a grotesque mediocrity to strut about in a hero’s garb.”
The coup d’état had already set a number of pens to work, justifying it, condemning it, or explaining it. Marx refers to some of them.
“Among books which, almost simultaneously with mine, discussed Louis Bonaparte’s coup d’état, only two are worth mentioning, Victor Hugo’s Napoléon le petit; and Proudhon’s Coup d’état.”
He goes on to say:
“Victor Hugo confines himself to a scathing and brilliantly worded polemic against the man personally responsible for the coup d’état. For him, the incident resembles a thunderclap in a clear sky. He can see nothing but the arbitrary act of an isolated individual. Hugo fails to realize that he makes this individual seem great instead of small by ascribing to him a capacity for personal initiative without parallel in history. Proudhon, on the other hand, tries to show that the coup d’état was the outcome of an antecedent historical development. But in his case an exposition of the coup d’état becomes transformed into a historical apology for the hero who effected it.”
In contrast with these writers, Marx, with the aid of the materialist interpretation of history, gives his readers an insight into the nature of the various interests which led to the coup d’état, exposing their operation so clearly that not even the slightest detail can retain its ideological mask. Louis Bonaparte and his policy are unsparingly dissected.
This book, full of profound thought and keen vision, and written in a brilliant style, was composed at a time when Marx was in danger of succumbing to the hardships of a refugee’s life. The family of six or seven persons was packed into two small rooms, not knowing from day to day whether they would get food on the next. Clothing and shoes had been pawned. “Marx had to keep the house, for lack of a coat to go out in, and had no meat for dinner, as the butcher had refused further credit.” He was ill, and could see no hope of better days. Engels was only a clerk in his father’s Manchester house; and the other refugees were all as poor as church mice.
At this juncture, Marx had a letter from his old friend Weydemeyer. During the revolution of 1848, Weydemeyer had published a revolutionary periodical in Germany. Then, subject to police persecutions and weary of a hunted life, he had emigrated to America. Now he wrote that he was about to issue a new periodical, and would like Marx to send him paid contributions. Week by week, down to the middle of February 1852, Marx dispatched articles dealing with the history of the coup d’état.
Then, instead of the eagerly expected fees, came news that the whole plan of the periodical had come to grief. These unhappy tidings arrived at a moment when Marx’s little daughter Francisca had just died, and when Frau Marx, impecunious as usual, was forced to borrow from her neighbours the sum needed for funeral expenses.
Soon, however, more cheerful intelligence came from New York. Weydemeyer wrote that he would be able to issue the periodical after all, though as a monthly instead of a weekly. A comrade, a tailor by trade, who had saved forty dollars, was prepared to devote the whole sum to the venture. To this nameless Maecenas we owe it that Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire was able to appear in the second issue of “Die Revolution”—a periodical whose existence was brief. But several hundred extra copies of the second number were printed, found their way to Germany, and were circulated there.
In the Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx revised the opinion put forward in the Class Struggles that a social revolution was to be expected in connexion with the movement of 1848. Since writing the earlier work, he had been engaged in profounder economic studies (carried on in London), had seen further into the mechanism of the processes of history, and had come to conclusions whose elaboration threw light on the victory of the usurper Louis Bonaparte. The “adventurer from foreign parts” had risen to the front, step by step, climbing on the shoulders of “the tatterdemalion proletariat, that vague, dissolute, down-at-heels and out-at-elbows rabble which the French denote by the composite name of la Bohème”; upon their shoulders, and upon the backs of the conservative peasants, whom petty proprietorship had “transformed into troglodytes”; and upon the bayonets of a drunken soldiery, whom he had bribed with brandy and sausages. What had been the upshot?
“The French bourgeoisie rose in revolt against the rule of the working proletariat; with the result that it has brought the slum proletariat into power, the loafers and tatterdemalions. ... The bourgeoisie kept France breathless in alarm by talking about the menace of Red Anarchy; on December 4th, Bonaparte gave it a taste of the future it had prophesied when he had the most respectable burghers of the Boulevard Montmartre and the Boulevard des Italiens shot, while they sat at their windows, by the soldiers of the army of order, who had been made half drunk to keep up their enthusiasm. The bourgeoisie glorified the sword; now it is to be ruled by the sword. It destroyed the revolutionary press; now its own press has been destroyed. It subjected public meetings to police supervision; now its own drawing-rooms are under police supervision. It disbanded the democratic National Guard; now its own National Guard has been disbanded. It had cowed the workers by declaring a state of siege; now it is itself cowed by the same weapon. It had substituted courts martial for trial by jury; now its own juries are replaced by courts martial. It had put elementary education under the thumb of the priests; now it is to experience clerical dominion in its turn. It had transported the workers without trial; now the bourgeois are trans ported without trial. It had suppressed every kind of social stir by the use of all the powers of the State; now every social stir initiated by the bourgeoisie is suppressed by all the powers of the State. In its passion for its money-bags, it had rebelled against its own statesmen and men of letters; now its statesmen and men of letters have been swept out of the way, and its money-bags are rifled when its mouth has been gagged and its pen broken.” Thus was the bourgeoisie punished for all the sins it had committed against the spirit of the revolution; and the instrument of this punishment, this vengeance, was Louis Bonaparte, the chosen of the smallholders.
Nevertheless: “By the economic development of this smallholding system the relationship between the peasantry and the other classes of society has been turned upside down. Under the first Napoleon, the parcelling-out of the land encouraged free competition in the rural districts, and favoured the beginnings of great industry in the towns. The peasant class was an embodied and ubiquitous protest against the landed aristocracy, so recently overthrown. The roots, which the new system of smallholding struck deep into French soil, cut off the supply of nutriment upon which feudalism had depended. The landmarks of peasant proprietorship were the natural fortifications of the bourgeoisie against any attempt at a coup de main that might be made by the old overlords. But in the course of the nineteenth century the feudal extortioner was replaced by the urban usurer; the obligations that the feudal system had imposed upon those who were bound to the soil found their modern counterparts in the obligations to the mortgagee; aristocratic landlordism had been exchanged for bourgeois capitalism. The peasant’s holding is still only the pretext whereby the capitalist is enabled to draw profit, interest, and rent from the land, while leaving the cultivator to wrest his own wages from the soil. French agricultural land is so heavily burdened with mortgages that the interest paid on them is equal to the interest on the British national debt. ... At the beginning of the century, the bourgeois system of society placed the State as sentinel in front of the newly created petty landholdings, and manured their soil with laurels. Today, that same bourgeois system has become a vampire which sucks the blood and marrow from the peasants’ little farms, and throws them into the alembic of capital. The Code Napoléon is now nothing more than the warrant for distraints and forced sales. ... The result is that the interests of the peasants no longer coincide, as during the reign of the first Napoleon, with the interests of the bourgeoisie, with the interests of capital. There is now a conflict of interests. The peasants, therefore, find their natural allies and leaders in the urban proletariat, whose mission it is to subvert the bourgeois order of society.”
“All ‘Napoleonic ideas’ (a vast expansion of bureaucracy, the rule of the priests, the preponderance of the army) are the ideas of the petty proprietors in their callow youth. When the peasants have grown old and experienced, these ideas seem nonsensical to them. In the death struggle of the system of petty proprietorship, the Napoleonic ideas have become hallucinations; the words are empty phrases; the spirits are but ghosts. Yet the parody of Empire was necessary that the mass of the French nation might be freed from the yoke of tradition, and that the opposition between the State authority and society might be displayed in all its nudity. With the progressive decay of the system of petty proprietorship, the State structure that was founded upon it collapses.”
Again: “Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, spread from success to success; they vie with one another in the lustre of their stage effects; men and things seem to be set in sparkling brilliants; every day is filled with ecstasy: but they are shortlived; their climax is soon reached; on the morning after, society has to pass through a long fit of the dumps; and only when that is over can there be a dispassionate assimilation of the achievements of the periods of storm and stress. Proletarian revolutions, on the other hand, like those of the nineteenth century, are ever self-critical; they again and again stop short in their progress; retrace their steps in order to make a fresh start; are pitilessly scornful of the half-measures, the weaknesses, the futility of their preliminary essays. It seems as if they had overthrown their adversaries only in order that these might draw renewed strength from contact with the earth and return to the battle like giants refreshed. Again and again, they shrink back appalled before the vague immensity of their own aims. But, at long last, a situation is reached whence retreat is impossible, and where the circumstances clamour in chorus: ‘Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Here is the Rose; dance here!’”
Sufferings in Exile
Marx and his family had reached London in the end of June 1849. They had no money, no occupation, no source of help.
The funds derived from the sale of what was left of his property in Treves were soon exhausted. The publication of the “Neue Rheinische Revue” had been a failure.
More than once Marx had considered the possibility of setting to work in conjunction with Wilhelm Wolff to supply syndicated correspondence for a few dozen American journals, correspondence in which he would discuss the problems of European politics and economics. Now, unexpectedly, there came a chance for journalistic activity. In 1848, at Cologne, Freiligrath had introduced him to Dana, the managing editor of the “New York Tribune,” then visiting Europe. In 1851, when Dana asked Freiligrath, one of the German refugees in London, to send him reports on European politics, Freiligrath turned the offer over to Marx.
Marx came to an understanding with Dana. Twice every week he was to send an article dealing with European politics, and was to receive for each article a fee of two pounds. This gave him an opportunity for which he had long been eager. Now he could bring his opinions concerning political matters before a large circle of readers, and make his influence felt. Moreover, at a season of dire poverty, when he had found the “nocturnal tears and lamentations” of his wife almost unendurable, the work would provide him with an income which would at least keep the wolf from the door.
But in 1851, Marx was not yet at home in the English tongue, and he therefore had to ask Engels for help. After some hesitation, Engels agreed, sent one article after another, and in the end wrote the whole series of articles which Karl Kautsky republished in 1896 under the title Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, articles signed by Marx. From the correspondence between Marx and Engels published at a still later date by Franz Mehring, we learn that this incomparable friend was Marx’s ready helper in all possible difficulties. Not only was he in unceasing correspondence with Marx upon political, literary, and personal topics; not only was he untiring in the supply of pecuniary aid; but he also unselfishly devoted his evenings, year after year, when the day’s work was over, to writing the necessary articles for the “New York Tribune.”
After a while, Engels, following his natural bent, concentrated upon military topics, whereas Marx discussed English politics in their interconnexion with economic conditions. Thus, in his articles on the Crimean war, he disclosed the Anglo-Russian slavery which weighed so heavily on Europe, proved from acts of parliament and blue-books that there were secret diplomatic ties between the British and the Russian cabinets, stigmatized Lord Palmerston as the purchased tool of tsarist policy, adopted a definite attitude towards panslavism, towards the Indian Mutiny, towards the Eastern question, towards the Italian war, towards the North-American civil war, and so on.
Ryazanoff has been at pains to make a careful examination of the files of the “New York Tribune” from 1852 to 1862, in order to discover the articles contributed by Marx and Engels.
The result has been rather unsatisfactory, for most of the articles were unsigned. The name of Marx does not appear in the newspaper after 1855; and many of the contributions were published as leading articles, anonymously. As Ryazanoff says, to begin with, Marx and Engels wrote exclusively from a bourgeois-democratic outlook. Only by degrees did they free themselves from this influence, and consistently present a proletarian standpoint. “They recognized that the great aim they had set themselves, the freeing of the working class, was incompatible (for the very reason that it necessitated the collaboration of various nations) ‘with a foreign policy which pursues criminal aims, takes advantage of national prejudices, sheds the blood and wastes the goods of the people in piratical wars.’ While thus pointing out the necessary connexion between home policy and foreign policy, and while proclaiming the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie to be the leading principle in all domains and all phases of the historical evolution of bourgeois society, they urged the proletariat never to lose sight of the machinations of secret diplomacy, and to worm its way into the mysteries of international politics.”
Hence the collaboration on the staff of the “Tribune” was for Marx a valuable school of mental development. But as far as material benefit was concerned, it was less lucrative than he had been led to expect. Dana was close-fisted. He committed to the wastepaper basket numberless articles for which he had no use, and for which he did not pay the author a cent. The result was that the income fell far short of anticipations. Despite the utmost industry, and despite the unfailing help of Engels, who was continually supplying him with articles, Marx was unable to make ends meet.
He and his were living in excruciating poverty. They were ever on the edge of an abyss. A letter penned by Frau Marx during this period gives a heartrending picture of their distresses.
“Dear Herr Weydemeyer: Nearly a year has passed since you and your wife gave me so friendly a reception, since you made me so cordially at home in your house, and in all that long time I have not given you any sign of life. ... Now circumstances force me to take up my pen. It is to beg you that you will as soon as possible send us any money that has come or is coming to hand from the ‘Revue.’ We are urgently, most urgently, in need of it. Certainly no one can reproach us for having made much fuss about what we have sacrificed and borne for years. The public has been little if at all troubled with our private affairs. In these matters my husband is extremely sensitive, and he would make any sacrifices rather than practise the arts of democratic mendicancy, like great public men. But he had certainly looked to his friends, especially those in Cologne, for energetic support of his ‘Revue.’ Above all, he had reason to expect such support from those who were acquainted with his sacrifices on behalf of the ‘Neue Rheinische Zeitung.’ Instead of this, the affair has been brought to utter ruin by neglectful and disorderly management, and it is hard to say whether the procrastination of the bookseller or the manager and acquaintances in Cologne, or the behaviour of the democracy in general, has been the most disgraceful.
“My husband is almost overwhelmed here by the pettiest cares, which press on him in so disturbing a way that all his energy, the quiet, clear, tranquil self-consciousness of his nature, have been necessary to maintain his equanimity in these daily, hourly struggles. You know, dear Herr Weydemeyer, what sacrifices my husband made for the newspaper. He paid thousands in cash, buying it (persuaded to this step by democratic worthies) at a time when there was already very little prospect of a successful consummation. For the sake of the newspaper’s political honour, and to save the civic honour of his acquaintances in Cologne, he took upon himself all the burdens ... handed over his whole income; nay, in the end he borrowed three hundred thalers to pay the rent of the new offices, to provide arrears of fees for contributors, and so on—and then he was driven out by force. You know that we had absolutely nothing left for ourselves. I went to Frankfort to pawn my silver-plate, the last thing we had; in Cologne I sold my furniture. When the unhappy epoch of the counter-revolution began, my husband went to Paris; I followed him thither with my three children. Hardly had we reached Paris than we were driven out again; I and my children were forbidden to stay there. I followed him once more across the sea. A month later, our fourth child was born. You would need to know London, and the conditions there, to understand what that meant: three children, and the birth of a fourth. Simply for rent, we had to pay forty-two thalers a month. We were able to manage for a time, out of the funds we had brought with us. But our poor resources were exhausted when the ‘Revue’ was first published. Agreements notwithstanding, money did not come to hand; or if it did, it was in such small sums that we were in the most terrible situation.
“Let me describe only one day of this life, as it actually was, and you will see that perhaps few other refugees have had to suffer as much. Since wet-nurses are exceedingly expensive here, I made up my mind, despite terrible pains in the breasts and the back, to nurse the baby myself. But the poor little angel drank in so much sorrow with the milk that he was continually fretting, in violent pain day and night. Since he has been in the world, he has not slept a single night through, at most two or three hours. Of late, there have been violent spasms, so that the child is continually betwixt life and death. When thus afflicted, he sucked so vigorously that my nipple became sore, and bled; often the blood streamed into his little mouth. One day I was sitting like this when our landlady suddenly appeared. In the course of the winter we had paid her more than two hundred and fifty thalers, and then it had been agreed that in future we were not to pay her but her landlord, who had put in an execution. Now she repudiated this agreement, and demanded the five pounds which we still owed her. Since we could not pay this sum instantly, two brokers came into the house, and took possession of all my belongings—bedding, clothes, everything, even the baby’s cradle and the little girls’ toys, so that the children wept bitterly. They threatened to take everything away in two hours. If this had happened, I should have had to lie on the floor, with my freezing children beside me, and with my aching breast. Our friend Schramm hastened forthwith to seek help. He took a cab, the horse fell down, he jumped out, and was brought back into the house bleeding, the house where I was lamenting and my poor children were trembling.
“Next day we had to leave. It was cold and rainy. My husband tried to find a lodging, but as soon as he said we had four children no one would take us in. At length a friend helped us. We paid what was owing, and I quickly sold all my beds and bedding, in order to settle accounts with the chemist, the baker, the butcher, and the milkman, who had heard that the brokers had been put in, and had hastened to send in their bills. The beds and bedding that had been sold were loaded on to a handcart at the street door—and what do you think happened then? It was late in the evening, after sunset; the English law forbids this; the landlord arrived with policemen, saying that some of his goods might be on the cart. Within five minutes, there was a crowd of two or three hundred people in front of the door, the whole mob of Chelsea. The beds had to be brought in again, and could not be sent to the purchaser until after sunrise next morning. Now that the sale of all our possessions had enabled us to pay our debts to the last penny, I removed with my little darlings to our present address, two tiny rooms in the German Hotel, Leicester Street, Leicester Square, where they were good enough to take us in for five pounds ten a week.
“You must not imagine that I am cast down by these petty troubles. I know only too well that we are not the only ones engaged in such a struggle. I know, too, that I am among the lucky ones, am specially favoured, seeing that my dear husband, the prop of my life, is still at my side. But what really crushes me, what makes my heart bleed, is that my husband has to suffer so many paltry annoyances, that so few have come to his help, and that he, who has willingly and joyfully helped so many others, should here be left unaided. ... The one thing which my husband might certainly have expected of those who have had from him so many thoughts, so much uplifting, so extensive a support, was that they might have devoted more energy to his ‘Revue,’ might have shown more participation in it. This small thing, at least, they owed him. ... This hurts me. But my husband thinks otherwise. Never, not even in our most terrible afflictions, has he lost hope of the future, has he ceased to be cheerful; and he would be perfectly content if he could only see me cheerful, and if our dear children could play happily round their beloved mother. He does not know, dear Herr Weydemeyer, that I have written to you at such length about our situation, so please keep these lines to yourself.”
The tragedy of this life in London as a refugee began in two small rooms which Marx rented in Dean Street, in June 1850. The living room, which had to serve the turn of seven persons, was at one and the same time kitchen, study, and reception room for the numerous visits paid to him. For real study, therefore, he had to depend on the British Museum Reading Room, where for many years, day after day, he worked from morning till night.
For Engels, it became a matter of course to give Marx financial aid. Among the thousands of letters exchanged between London and Manchester, there is hardly one in which we do not find a few words or a line or two about money. Sometimes we read from Marx an outburst of despair or wrath, in which he asks his friend for speedy help. Sometimes it is Engels who, quietly and straightforwardly, pens the stereotyped phrase: “Enclosed a post office order for ---- pounds.” Yet at this time Engels was by no means well off. He had a moderate salary, and had frequent disputes with his father and with the other members of the firm because he wanted an increase. Besides this, there were various troubles. At one time, the cashier was short of money; at another time, the head clerk refused to sanction an advance; at another, Engels’ relatives were visiting him, and must not be allowed to know about the sending of a remittance to Marx: “My governor has been buzzing about here for a week,” writes Engels to Marx. “At length I am glad to say he has departed, so that I can send you the enclosed post office order for five pounds.” Again: “My brother is leaving tomorrow, and I shall have peace once more. I have not been alone for a moment during his stay, and it was simply impossible for me to send you the banknote before Saturday.”
From time to time, there came from London exceptionally loud cries of distress. Under date March 31, 1851, we read: “You know that on March 23rd I had to pay £31.10s. to old Bamberger, and on the 16th, £10 to the Jew Stiebel, all at the current rate of exchange. I had applied to my mother-in-law through Jenny. The answer was that Edgar had been sent off to Mexico with the rest of Jenny’s money, and I could not raise a centime. With Pieper’s aid, I paid Stiebel his £10 on March 16th. All I could do for old Bamberger, was to give him two bills of exchange. ... My mother has positively assured me that she will protest any bill drawn on her. On April 21st, therefore, I have the worst possible to expect from old Simon Bamberger, who will be furious. At the same time, my wife has been confined. The confinement was an easy one, but she is now very ill in bed, from sentimental rather than physical reasons. Meanwhile, I have literally not a farthing in the house, though there are plenty of unpaid bills from the small shopkeepers, the butcher, the baker, and so on. You will agree that the dish is agreeably sauced, and that I am dipped up to the ears in a petty-bourgeois pickle. To crown all, I am accused of exploiting the workers, and of striving to establish a dictatorship! Quelle horreur! But that is not all. The factory owner who in Brussels sent me money on loan from Treves, wants it back again, because his iron mines are in a bad way. Tant pis pour lui. I cannot pay him his due.”
It was Engels, always Engels, who provided advice and money, without ever growing impatient, without a single refusal. In letter after letter, the remittances streamed into Lon don, to be emptied there into the sieve of the Danaides, to vanish into the bottomless pit of a household that was not very well managed. As late as 1854, Engels was still entertaining tacit hopes of devoting himself to authorship, and of removing to London. But the conviction that if he did this he would no longer be able to give Marx material help, determined him to keep his neck under the yoke of the “detested commerce.”
In August 1851, the Marx household was once more at grips with penury. “You will realize,” wrote Marx to Weydemeyer, “that my situation is a gloomy one. It will bring my wife down to the grave if it lasts much longer. The unceasing troubles, the paltry struggles of life, are a perpetual friction. Then there is the infamous conduct of my adversaries. ... For my part, I should laugh at the scum; I should not let them disturb me in my work for a moment. But you will understand that my wife, who is ill, who has to endure the most dismal poverty from morning till night, and who is nervously upset, gets none the better because, day after day, idiotic chatterers bring her all the vapourings of the democratic cesspools.”
At Easter 1852, Marx’s little daughter, born into this poverty-stricken environment, quitted an inhospitable world. Here is what her mother writes about the matter: “Our poor little Francisca fell ill with severe bronchitis. For three days the poor child struggled with death. She suffered so terribly. When it was over, her little body rested in the small back room, and we all came into the front room. At night, we lay down on the floor. The three other children were with us, and we wept at the loss of the little angel. ... The dear child’s death happened at a time when we were in the direst need. Our German friends were unable to help us. ... Ernest Jones, who paid us a visit at this time, and had promised to help, was unable to do anything. ... In my overwhelming need, I hastened to a French refugee who lived in the neighbourhood, and had visited us not long before. At once, in the most friendly way possible, he gave me two pounds. With this sum I was able to buy the coffin in which my poor child now lies at peace. She had no cradle when she came into the world, and for a long time it was difficult to find a box for her last resting place.”
The years from 1852 onwards were for Marx, politically considered, almost “idyllic years of peace,” for he had no further conflicts or controversies with opponents, had withdrawn from political activity, and had buried himself in scientific work. Pecuniarily, however, they were no better than their predecessors. Consider two passages from the letters of 1853. “Dear Engels: I have not written to you for a long time, not even to acknowledge the receipt of the five pounds, for my time and my energies were fully engaged in an indescribable stew. On July 7th I had given a bill of exchange to Spielmann. On August 31st the fellow, after I had been to see him seven times, declared that the bill had been lost, and so on. Thus I had been dragging along for weeks, had pawned the last thing pawnable, and had put all my creditors off until September 3rd, having fended them away since July. Since I have no resources beyond the income from the ‘Tribune” you will understand my situation.” Again, under date October 8th: “For ten days we have been without a son in the house. I have proof, now, that Spielmann has cheated me. ... I must draw another twenty-four pounds.”
Sickness, like poverty, was an unceasing guest. The dwelling was unwholesome, airless, and sunless. Marx was kept in bed for weeks by a disorder of the liver; a family trouble, he believed. Not long afterwards, he wrote to Engels: “My wife is very ill, cough and loss of weight.” Another time: “My wife is ill, so is little Jenny, and Lenchen has a sort of nervous fever. I cannot send for the doctor, having no money. For the last eight or ten days I have fed the family upon bread and potatoes, but I doubt if I can raise any for today. Of course this diet was not calculated to improve matters in the present climatic conditions.”
There was great anxiety about the third child, the only son, at once his pride and his hope. Little Edgar (named after Marx’s brother-in-law) was remarkably talented, and took after his father in his love for learning, for books. But from earliest childhood he was sickly, lacking in vital energy, the sort of plant that might be expected to grow where light and nutriment were so inadequate. In 1855 came a new child of sorrow, little Eleanor, the sixth in the series. Known by the pet name of Tussy, she was at birth so immature, so weakly, that she was very difficult to rear. Fed exclusively on milk until she was five years old, and mainly on the same diet until she was ten, she grew plump and healthy, and was the darling of all.
A few months after Eleanor’s birth, Marx had to endure the greatest affliction of his life. At the age of nine, Edgar, his dear “Musch,” died in his arms after several weeks’ illness. A few days later, Marx wrote to Engels: “The house is desolate and orphaned since the death of the dear child, who was its living soul. I cannot attempt to describe how we all miss him. I have been through a peck of troubles, but now for the first time I know what real unhappiness is. As luck would have it, since the funeral I have been suffering from such intense headaches that I can no longer think or see or hear. Amid all the miseries of these days, the thought of you and your friendship has kept me going, and the hope that you and I will still find it possible to do something worth doing in the world.”
A year afterwards, Baroness von Westphalen died in Treves. Frau Marx had gone with her children to sit by the mother’s deathbed. When all was over, there was a small heritage for Frau Marx, amounting to a few hundred thalers. Marx thereupon decided to seek a new dwelling. In the beginning of 1857, the family settled into a roomier and healthier habitation, 9 Grafton Terrace. This was a relief to them all, and Frau Marx was happy. “We have a really princely home, compared with the hovels we have lived in up to now,” she wrote to a friend. “Although the whole furnishings did not cost much more than forty pounds (second-hand rubbish played a great part in them), our new parlour, to begin with, looked splendid to me. ... Its splendours did not last very long, for soon one article after another found its way to the pawnshop. Still, we have been able to enjoy our bourgeois comfort.”
In this house another child was born to Marx, but did not survive. The circumstances were so dreadful, and made so terrible an impression on the father, that for several days afterwards he was almost beside himself. In letters to Engels he refers to the matter again and again. He says that the retrospect is so painful that he cannot write any details.
All who came into close contact with Marx were agreed in what they had to say about the tenderness and affection he showed where children were concerned. What could be more characteristic than this as regards the delicate mysteries of his inner life. A violent, quarrelsome, contentious man, a dictator and a swashbuckler, one at feud with all the world and continually alarmed lest he should be unable to assert his superiority—none the less, in the depths of his soul, he had vast treasures of gentleness, kindliness, and capacity for self-sacrifice. But because in the unconscious he was filled with anxiety lest his gentleness and kindliness might prove disadvantageous to him, he kept them under close guard, and was ashamed to display to grown-ups the beauties which he regarded as weaknesses, and would only disclose them in a region where there was no struggle with adult rivals, far from the gladiatorial combats for mastery and self-assertion in the arena we call life. With children, he could play like a child. In their company he threw aside authoritarianism as burdensome armour; was never mortified, never fretful, never concerned to maintain his prestige. Children called him, as his intimate friends called him, “Mohr”; and in the neighbourhood where he lived he was generally known as “Daddy Marx,” the man who always had a packet of sweets in his pocket.
There was one person besides Engels who did much to mitigate the unspeakable miseries of the early years of the Marx family in exile. This was the familiar spirit of the household, the faithful Helene (Lenchen) Demuth. An embodiment of unselfishness, a counterpart to Pestalozzi’s Babeli, she had entered the house of the Baroness von Westphalen at the age of eight or nine years. When Jenny married Marx, her mother sent Lenchen away with her daughter “as the best thing I can send you.” Lenchen went with the Marxes to Paris, Brussels, Cologne, and London; saw the children born and die; experienced poverty, hunger, and sorrow with the family; cared indefatigably for the children, for the friends of the house, for innumerable poverty-stricken refugees; served bread at table when everything had been pawned; nursed the sick, sewed and mended far on into the night; was the indispensable buttress of the household, the guardian angel of the family, a perennially flowing source of help. Wilhelm Liebknecht says of her: “All the same, she exercised a sort of dictatorship. To this dictatorship Marx yielded like a lamb. It has been said that no one is a hero to his valet. Certainly Marx was not a hero to Lenchen. She would have sacrificed herself on his behalf; if necessary, she would have given her life a hundred times over for him and Frau Marx and any one of the children (and she did indeed give her life for them), but Marx was not an imposing figure for her. She knew him with all his whimsies and weaknesses, and she twisted him round her finger. No matter how irritable he might be, no matter how he might storm and rage so that every one else kept away from him in terror, Lenchen would go into the lion’s den; and if he roared at her, she would give him such a rating that the lion became as tame as a lamb.” It was fitting that this devoted friend, who was united with the Marx family by a thousand spiritual bonds, should in due course, as both Frau Marx and Karl Marx had wished, find her resting place in the family tomb.
Associates and Friends
Repelled by the unsavouriness of party struggles, and full of bitterness towards an environing world which he felt to be hostile, Marx had withdrawn into the solitude of scientific research.
But the life he tried to escape followed him into his study, sat beside him at his desk in the British Museum Reading Room, stood at his shoulder when he was writing, and found issue through his pen. It appeared in the vesture of the poverty which compelled him to write articles for the “New York Tribune” upon the events of the day and upon political problems. It disclosed itself in the form of the friends and companions-in-arms who sought him out in London, asked his advice, appealed to his political interest. It displayed itself in the form of happenings on the political fighting front, happenings which constrained him to adopt a position, to pass judgments, to take measures.
Thus it came to pass that living practice could not be kept away by theoretical reflection. Nevertheless, the transition from a contemplative and critical reserve to active participation and positive collaboration was effected by slow degrees. Fundamentally, Marx was an unsocial being, and was happiest in solitude.
Despite this temperament, he entered into relations with men who at that time were playing an important part in the political life of England. Among these may be mentioned, David Urquhart, George Julian Harney, and Ernest Jones.
Urquhart was a British diplomatist, a turcophile who had made it his business in life to counteract Russian plans for world dominion, particularly in the East. According to Urquhart, Lord Palmerston, the leading figure in the British foreign policy of that day, had been bought by Russia. Urquhart hated Palmerston with a deadly hatred; and the English liberals, to whom Palmerston was the arch-enemy, were glad to avail themselves of all the materials and arguments that Urquhart could bring forward. Marx, who was likewise opposed to Palmerston and the latter’s russophile policy (not as a turcophile, but as a revolutionist), had an interview with Urquhart which led to permanent relations; and he wrote articles for Urquhart’s newspaper the “Free Press” (in 1866 renamed the “Diplomatic Review”), though without getting into dose touch with the man. For Urquhart, whom Marx described as “a complete monomaniac,” was an opponent of the Chartist movement, whereas Marx was intimate with those who formed the left wing of Chartism. Nevertheless, in the eight articles upon Lord Palmerston contributed to the “People’s Paper” in 1853, articles in which Marx threw a glaring light on the underground trends of Anglo-Russo-Turkish policy in the Balkans, he made use of all the information which Urquhart had gathered together in diplomatic activities and in the study of the relevant documents. “This is a fitting occasion,” wrote Marx in the sixth of these articles, “to give his due to Mr. David Urquhart, the indefatigable antagonist for twenty years of Lord Palmerston who has proved his only adversary—not one to be intimidated into silence, bribed into connivance, charmed into suitorship—while, what with cajoleries, what with seductions, Alcina Palmerston contrived to change all other foes into fools.”
With Harney and Jones, Marx had closer ties than with Urquhart. These two men were leaders in the Chartist camp, were men of culture, thoroughly trustworthy, and widely popular. Harney was a journalist of proletarian origin, whilst Jones was a lawyer connected by blood with the aristocracy he despised. Both of them had the greatest respect for Marx’s revolutionary personality, for his outstanding intelligence, and for his unerring consistency. Harney had done good service by publishing, in his newspaper the “Red Republican,” a translation of the Communist Manifesto and of some of the “Rheinische Revue” articles. Jones often rendered the Marx family much-needed help in its material difficulties. But in the quarrels among the refugees, neither Harney nor Jones took Marx’s side without qualification, which was what Marx demanded. Of Harney, Marx said that he had chosen for a following some of his (Marx’s) personal enemies; and of Jones that “despite his energy, tenacity, and activity, he spoiled everything by charlatanry, a tactless grasping at pretexts for agitation, and a restless desire to outrun time.” Since both of them made concessions to the opposing party, and showed a reserved or hesitating attitude in some of the disputes, Marx gave them a liberal taste of the gall with which, in his ebullitions of impetuosity, he was so apt to ruin the possibilities of intimate friendship and fruitful comradeship.
Even in his relations with young Wilhelm Liebknecht, who was a daily guest in the house and a playfellow of the children, there was a period of tension and irritability, with the result that for a long time Liebknecht, most reluctantly, kept aloof. In this case the offence was that Liebknecht had not broken away from the Workers’ Educational Society, but had earnestly endeavoured to mediate between the two hostile camps. His attempts failed, and it soon became plain to him that he was falling between two stools. Then, one day, he happened upon the Marx children in the street. Delighted at meeting their favourite playmate, they would give him no rest until he went home with them. They smuggled him into the house, but could not restrain their rejoicings. When Marx heard the clamour they were making, and found Liebknecht, he stretched out his hand with a cordial laugh. No further word was said about their differences.
In 1856, when the tailor Lessner, who had been one of those sentenced in the Cologne communist trial, came to London after spending four and a half years in prison, he found the Workers’ Educational Society in a very poor way, but was ready to give Liebknecht active assistance in its reorganization. The Kinkel clique, which had been in control, was driven out; a working programme was drawn up; and even Marx was induced to take part in the educational activities. During the winter of 1856-1857, the society was as flourishing as ever; many of the old members rejoined; and the tactics of the ultra-radical hotspurs were abandoned. Once more the society had become a centre of serious and fruitful work. Marx delivered a course of lectures on political economy, thus resuming his role of 1850-1851. He expounded his subject, as Liebknecht tells us, in the most methodical way. He would formulate a proposition, as pithily as possible, and would then proceed to elaborate it, carefully avoiding any words or phrases which his working-class hearers might have found it difficult to understand. Then he would ask for questions. “If there were no questions, he would subject the audience to an examination, and would do it with so much skill that no gaps and no misunderstandings could be overlooked.” Marx was not an orator; he lacked the faculty of speaking easily before a considerable audience. Moreover, his speech was rather thick, and he spoke with a broad Rhenish accent. When, as was inevitable from time to time, he had to deliver a set speech, he would display passionate excitement, which was an over-compensation for his dread of failure. Throughout life, in all important situations, this titan, who had made it his task to turn the world upside down, was overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy. The weaker he felt, the more was he inclined to bluster.
The list of friends and companions with whom Marx had close association in the fifties is concluded when the names of Ferdinand Freiligrath and Wilhelm Wolff have been mentioned. When Freiligrath came to London and was courted by refugees representing various trends and belonging to various camps and faction, he categorically declared that he proposed to associate “only with Marx, and Marx’s most intimate friends.” He was manager of the London agency of the Genevese Banque Générale Suisse, and had a good income, being thus able to say of himself that he was lucky enough to eat the “beefsteaks of exile.” He was liberal in furnishing aid to less fortunate political refugees, and the, Marxes found in him a valuable supporter. Wilhelm Wolff, a close friend of Marx since the days of the “Rheinische Zeitung,” was the latter’s nearest intimate with the exception of Engels. He was the son of a Silesian hotel-keeper, and had inherited a small property from his father. He lived upon this in England as best he could, supplementing it by occasional paid occupation.
When he died in 1864 of a stroke, after a long illness, Marx became his heir.
For Marx the fifties, the first decade he spent on English soil, ended as they had begun, with a feud. The witch’s cauldron of the refugees was boiling over once more, and was sending forth the vapours of a pestiferous brew which poisoned the political life of Europe.
In 1859 Marx became involved in a controversy which was extremely trying to his nerves. It concerned the Vogt affair, which originated as follows.
For several decades the Italian bourgeoisie had been carrying on a struggle on behalf of national independence and unity. By its unaided powers, it could not hope within any reasonable time to bring this struggle to a victorious issue. Ultimately, the liberal and democratic bourgeois had harnessed the kingdom of Sardinia to their coach as trace-horse, but this had not sufficed to pull them up the hill. Then Sardinia, which now formed the nucleus of the national consolidation, prompted by Cavour, turned to Napoleon III for armed assistance. In the treaty of Plombières, it was agreed that Sardinia and France should make common cause in a war on Austria, and that Nice and Savoy should be ceded to France in return for this help. The unification and independence of Italy were to be achieved, not by revolution, but by war.
This diplomatic and militarist move, which excluded revolutionary action on the part of the people, encountered widespread opposition in Italy and elsewhere. Mazzini, who as a refugee in London was the father of all the conspiratorial secret societies, declared the treaty to be a dynastic intrigue, which would sacrifice the interests of Italy to the imperialist lusts of Napoleon. In actual fact, Napoleon III was less concerned about the liberation of Italy from Austria than about the expansion of the French sphere of influence. The war was designed, not so much to drive Austria out of Italy, as to keep Austria away from the Balkans, where Russia wished to carry out her imperialist plans undisturbed. Thus, for those who, as revolutionists, were opposed to the policy of Russia and of France, but could not favour the maintenance of Austrian dominion in Italy—and for those who were simultaneously concerned about Italian interests and German interests—it was extremely difficult to choose a political line.
Some regarded the Italian war as only a pretext behind which French Bonapartism and Russian tsarism were joining hands against Germany, which would be impotent without Austria’s help. A victory of France in Italy, they said, would mean for Germany the loss of the left bank of the Rhine, as the outcome of a Franco-German war which would immediately follow. They therefore advocated common action on the part of Prussia and Austria, to attack Napoleon. Any one who wished to defend the Rhine must stand beside Austria for the defence of the Po. Other onlookers were filled with enthusiasm on behalf of the liberal and nationalist aspirations of the Italians, who must be supported whatever happened. They declared that Prussian action in favour of Austria would result in strengthening the counter-revolution, and would be a crime directed against historical evolution. In petty-bourgeois circles, however, Napoleon had supporters and defenders, who urgently desired his success should Prussia join forces with Austria. In Napoleon’s own view, nothing could be more dangerous to his schemes than active intervention of Prussia on the side of Austria, and consequently, through his press agents, he carried on a vigorous propaganda in favour of Prussian neutrality.
In German nationalist circles yet another view prevailed, and found considerable support. Those of this way of thinking were anti-Austrian on the ground that if Austria were weakened or defeated, Prussia would be strengthened. Thus the unification of Germany under Prussian hegemony would be brought nearer to realization. Lassalle espoused this view, and advocated it vigorously in his pamphlet Der italienische Krieg und die Aufgabe Preussens [The Italian War and Prussia’s Tasks]. The German nation, he said, was as keenly interested in the overthrow of Austrian despotism as in the success of the Italian movement for unification, seeing that Austria was the focus of reaction. Should Napoleon make war on Prussia, the whole nation would rise like one man. Now, however, the favourable moment had come for Prussia, not only to be neutral towards Austria, but also to do in the north what Napoleon was doing in the south. “If Napoleon alters the map of Europe in the south in accordance with the principle of nationalities, let us do the same thing in the north. If Napoleon frees Italy, let us take Schleswig-Holstein.”
Much the same view was advocated by the Swiss professor Karl Vogt. In a letter to Engels, Marx sketched Vogt’s political programme in the following words: “Germany gives up her possessions outside the German frontier. She does not support Austria. The French despotism is transitory, the Austrian is permanent. Allow both the despots to let blood (a certain predilection for Bonaparte is manifest). Germany, armed neutrality. Of a revolutionary movement in Germany there cannot be, as Vogt has learned ‘from trustworthy sources,’ any thought during our lifetime. Consequently, as soon as Austria has been ruined by Bonaparte, they will spontaneously begin an all-German moderate national-liberal development in the fatherland, and Vogt will perhaps become Prussian court-fool to boot.”
Marx adopted a very different standpoint from Lassalle and Vogt. Being passionately opposed both to Bonaparte and to tsarism, he considered the war to be the issue of a Franco-Russian alliance. In an article in the “People’s Press,” Jones’ newspaper, he let himself go against both Lassalle and Vogt. In a letter to Engels, he wrote: “Lassalle’s pamphlet is an enormous blunder. ... As regards the ‘governments,’ obviously, from all standpoints, were it only in the interests of the existence of Germany, we must demand of them that they should not remain neutral, but, as you rightly say, should be patriotic. Yet a revolutionary point can be given to the affair simply enough, by throwing even more emphasis on the opposition to Russia than on that to Boustrapa [Napoleon III]. This is what Lassalle ought to have done, as contrasted with the anti-French clamour of the ‘Neue Preussische Zeitung.’ This, too, is the point where, in practice during the continuance of the war, the German governments will act treasonably, and where we can seize them by the collar.”
Meanwhile, Engels had incorporated his own and Marx’s views in a booklet entitled Po und Rhein, which, through Lassalle’s instrumentality, was published in April 1859 by Franz Duncker of Berlin.
At about this date, Marx was privately informed by Karl Blind, the Badenese refugee, that Vogt was in Napoleon’s pay, had received large sums of money, had attempted to bribe a journalist, and so on. In conversation, Marx made no secret of the matter; and at length it found its way into the German newspaper “Das Volk,” published in London, to which Marx was an occasional contributor.
Vogt answered with a flood of invectives, and started in the German press a furious campaign against the “band of ruffians,” and its “ringleader, Karl Marx.”
As chance would have it, in a Manchester printing house, shortly afterwards, Liebknecht came across a leaflet written by Blind, containing the latter’s revelations about Vogt. Liebknecht sent a proof of the leaflet to the “Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung,” of which he was correspondent. The substance of the leaflet was published in that journal and attracted widespread attention. Vogt swore by all the gods that he was the victim of a disgraceful calumny, and brought a libel action against the newspaper.
The upshot was very unsatisfactory. Blind, when called as a witness, wilted. No other proof of the accusation was forthcoming. In the end, the charge was dismissed on technical, not factual grounds. Although Vogt had not won his case legally, he had secured a moral victory, of which he made the most before the public. As a further complication, Blind now wrote to the papers declaring Liebknecht’s story about the leaflet to be a “malicious invention.” Vogt published the shorthand report of the proceedings at the trial, a report which told very much in his favour. The general impression produced was that Marx and his friends had circulated a base calumny. Thereupon Marx lost patience. Returning to the charge, he attacked Vogt with all the weapons at his command. He sought out witnesses; made careful investigations, explored old correspondence; sharked up materials from every quarter of the world; picked Vogt’s articles to pieces, and showed that they were made up of catchwords and commonplaces lifted from Bonapartist pamphlets; opened all the sluices of his wit, his scorn, his pitiless satire, in order to make Vogt appear ludicrous and contemptible. In the course of a year, he compiled a volume of two hundred pages, entitled Herr Vogt. It was published in London, but had so small a circulation that it was without any notable influence on public opinion. The book was killed by the silence of the press. Only the few who had a special interest in the matter read it. Others were repelled by its bulk, its overweighting with detail, and its prolixity. Vogt had triumphed. The artillery directed against him had missed fire. His shield was untarnished.
But eleven years later, during the Commune of Paris, the archives of the Napoleonic government were rifled in the Tuileries. There was found, signed by Vogt, a receipt for 40,000 francs, paid over to this man of honour in August 1859, out of the Bonapartist secret-service fund.
Not a word about this revelation found its way into the ordinary press.
Nevertheless, Marx had been justified.
Condemned to Permanent Expatriation
In the year 1861, Prince William of Prussia came to the throne, and an amnesty was declared.
It was an extremely ungracious amnesty, half-hearted, reluctant, petty; “the scurviest which has been granted since 1849 in any country (Austria not excepted),” as Marx wrote bitterly to Engels. The refugees of 1848-1849 were graciously permitted to return, but not unconditionally. They had to make an “official” application for the king’s clemency, whereupon His Majesty would be guided “by a report from Our Military justice department.”
In this matter, Marx came worse off than most of the German refugees. It was not merely that the conditional amnesty was no good to him, since he was unwilling to demean himself by suing King William’s favour. Furthermore, he was no longer a Prussian subject, and had only a refusal to expect should he apply for reinstatement. As an actual fact, when Lassalle made zealous efforts to secure naturalization papers for Marx, his applications were refused on the ground that Marx was “of republican, or at least non-royalist sentiment.”
Since Marx was unable to recover his status as a Prussian subject, he was, in effect, condemned to permanent expatriation. For him, however, expatriation implied the lack of a means of livelihood, economic insecurity, incessant poverty.
At the time when the amnesty was declared, his financial embarrassments had again become extreme, notwithstanding the unceasing help of Engels and the frequent contributions to his expenses made by Lassalle. The editor of the “New York Tribune” had cut down the space allotted to him, and had for several weeks stopped publishing his contributions at all. Urgent debts were accumulating. “I do not know how on earth I shall get on,” he wrote to Engels. “Taxes, school expenses, rent, the grocer, the butcher, and God and the Devil alone know what others, will wait no longer.” Besides, Marx was ailing, his chronic liver trouble having lighted up again. Frau Marx had just recovered from an attack of smallpox, and this had cost a lot of money. The children had been taken care of by Liebknecht, while Marx and Lenchen ran the house alone. Once more everything possible had been pawned, and they were in dire need.
Then Marx made up his mind to go to Holland, and to ask an uncle who lived there for help that would save his family from utter ruin. Engels encouraged him to this undertaking, so with borrowed funds and a false passport he made his “raid into the land of my maternal forefathers, tobacco, and cheese.”
This time, fortune smiled. His uncle Philips in Rotterdam forked out £160, which would have enabled Marx to pay most of his debts. But, now that he had money in his pocket, he had no fancy for returning home immediately. Instead, he went to visit his mother at Treves, and she, since “there was no talk of ready cash,” was complaisant enough to tear up his earlier notes of hand. From Treves he made his way to Berlin, where he stayed as Lassalle’s guest. He got in touch with various friends, clinked glasses with Köppen, had himself photographed, made arrangements for contributing to a Viennese newspaper, attended (in the press gallery) a sitting of the Lower House, which seemed to him “an extraordinary mixture of office and schoolroom,” and talked over with Lassalle the plans for founding a great newspaper. His general impression of Berlin, where “an impudent and frivolous tone prevailed,” was unfavourable. On the way home, he caroused with old acquaintances, both in Elberfeld and in Cologne, and finally got back to London after two months’ absence.
Ere long he was on the rocks again. Within a month of his return he wrote to Engels saying that the money he had brought back with him was already finished. Since applications to his mother produced “only affectionate phrases, but no cash,” Engels had to come to his help once more. From a visit to Manchester, Marx brought back some money with him. There followed the usual remittances by letter. But in November he was in trouble once more: “With the last money you sent me I paid the school fees, so that I might not have to pay two terms’ fees in January. The butcher and the grocer have forced me to give them notes of hand. Although I do not know how I shall pay these notes when they fall due, I could not refuse without bringing the house down about my ears. I am in debt to the landlord, also to the greengrocer, the baker, the newspaper man, the milkman, and the whole mob I had appeased with instalments when I came back from Manchester; also to the tailor, having had to get the necessary winter clothing on tick. All I can expect to receive at the end of the month will be £30 at most, for these infernal devils of the press are only printing part of my articles. ... What I have to pay (including interest to pawnbrokers) amounts to about £100. It is extraordinary how, when one has no regular income, and when there is a perpetual burden of unpaid debts, the old poverty persistently recurs, despite continual dribbles of help.”
The “dribbles of help” that came in from Engels amounted to a very large sum in the course of the year. But Engels was only a salaried employee, kept on short commons by his father, and with no share in the profits of the factory. Writing to Marx in February 1862, he said: “This year I have spent more than my income. We are seriously affected by the crisis, have no orders, and shall have to begin working half time next week. I shall have to pay the £50 to Dronke in a month, and during the next few weeks a year’s rent for my house falls due. This morning, Sarah (be damned to her) stole the money out of my coat pocket. ... I am now living almost entirely at Mary’s, to keep down expenses as much as possible; unfortunately, I cannot get on without a house of my own, or otherwise I should remove to her place altogether.” The more Engels denied himself, and the more he sent to his friend, the more hopeless became the condition of the Marx household, whose shiftlessness seemed irreparable.
“It is sickening to have to write to you in this way once more,” said Marx apologetically in a letter under date June 18, 1862. “Yet what can I do but pour my miseries into your ears again? My wife says to me every day that she wishes she were with the children in the grave, and I really cannot take it amiss of her, for the humiliations, torments, and horrors of our situation are indescribable. As you know, the fifty pounds went to the payment of debts, but did not suffice to settle half of them. Two pounds for gas. The pitiful sum from Vienna will not come in before the end of July, and will be damned little, for the dogs are not printing as much as even one article a week now. Then I have had to meet fresh expenses since the beginning of May. I will say nothing about the really desperate situation in London, to be without a centime for seven weeks, since this sort of thing is chronic. Still, you will know from your own experience that there are always current expenses which have to be paid in cash. As far as that was concerned, we got on for a time by pawning again the things we had taken out of pawn in the end of April. For some weeks, however, that source has been so utterly exhausted that last week my wife made a vain attempt to dispose of some of my books. I am all the more sorry for the poor children seeing that we are so short in this season of exhibitions, when their acquaintances are amusing themselves, and when their one terror is that any one should visit them and see the nakedness of our poverty.” In another letter he writes: “With Jenny it has gone so far that she feels all the pressure and filthiness of our circumstances, and this, I believe, is one of the main causes of her bodily troubles (Apropos! Allen ordered wine for her yesterday, and I should be awfully glad if you could send a few bottles.) Without telling us, she went to Mrs. Young, to see if she could get an engagement at the theatre.”
In July 1862, Lassalle spent several weeks in London. Marx, wishing to return his hospitality, had invited him to stay in the house. “To be able to keep up appearances before him,” wrote Marx to Engels, “my wife had had to pawn practically every thing that was not nailed down.” Lassalle made the best of things, but was, in the end, profoundly moved when he became aware of the abysses that had been laboriously and exiguously hidden out of sight. “He realized from my dejected aspect that the crisis which he had long known to be impending was about to culminate in a catastrophe. He questioned me. When I told him how things were, he said he could lend me fifteen pounds up to January 1, 1863; and that I could draw upon him to any amount.” Marx wished to avail himself of this offer forthwith, and tried to secure four hundred thalers, but Lassalle wanted Engels’ guarantee, and Engels, through Freiligrath’s instrumentality, had the amount covered in Berlin. A few days later came another urgent appeal to Engels: “Eccarius has lost three children one after another from scarlet fever. They are in terrible straits. Beat up a trifle amongst our friends, and send it to him.” Six days later: “Since you have just sent money to Eccarius, as well as paying the large sum for the Lassalle bill of exchange, you must be ‘stony’ yourself. Still, I have to beg you to send me a trifle by Monday, for I have to buy coal, and also food. The grocer has refused me credit for three weeks past, and until I have paid the pig off I must buy of him for cash, if I do not want him to sue me.” And so on, letter after letter, week after week.
Thus Engels was incessantly dipping his hand into his pocket. Sometimes, when he took stock of his payments, he realized that they were far greater than he could afford, and that he was living beyond his means; but he never refused help. When his father died, and his position in the firm had consequently improved, so that he had a larger income, he was able to hand over more considerable sums without pinching himself unduly. Nevertheless, since Marx’s claims on his generosity continually increased, there was a strain on both sides. In the end, just as towards the close of 1862 there had been a breach between Marx and Lassalle “for financial reasons,” so, early in 1863, there was grave risk of a sudden end to the friendship between Engels and Marx. The trouble came from Marx’s side.
In the beginning of January 1863, occurred the death of Engels’ friend Mary Burns, an Irish working-class girl with whom he had been living in a free union. Her loss was a bitter grief to him, and on January 7th he wrote to Marx: “Dear Mohr: Mary is dead. Yesterday evening she went to bed early. When Lizzy went up to bed towards midnight, she was dead already. Quite suddenly. Heart disease, or a stroke. I did not hear of it till this morning; on Monday evening she was perfectly well. I simply cannot tell you how I feel about it. The poor girl loved me with all her heart.”
To this letter so moving in its simplicity, to this letter in which his friend’s tears could be read between the lines, Marx wrote the following almost incredible answer: “Dear Engels: The news of Mary’s death has both astonished and dismayed me. She was extremely good-natured, witty, and much attached to you. The devil knows that there is nothing but trouble now in our circles. I myself can no longer tell whether I am on my head or my heels. My attempts to raise some money in France and Germany have failed, and it is only to be expected that £15 would not hold off the avalanche more than a week or two. Apart from the fact that no one will give us credit any more, except the butcher and the baker (and they only to the end of this week), I am harried for school expenses, for rent, and by the whole pack. The few of them to whom I have paid a little on account, have pouched it in a twinkling, to fall upon me with redoubled violence. Furthermore, the children have no clothes or shoes in which to go out. In a word, there is hell to pay. ... We shall hardly be able to keep going for another fortnight. It is abominably selfish of me to retail all these horrors to you at such a moment. But the remedy is homoeopathic. One evil will help to cancel the other.”
Although Engels was familiar with Marx’s cynicism, and with his friend’s inclination to make a parade of coldness, he was thunderstruck by this letter. He had not expected an outburst of sentiment, but he had not been prepared for an answer couched in such terms. It was five days before he replied, writing: “You will find it natural enough that on this occasion my own trouble and your frosty attitude towards it have made it impossible for me to write to you sooner. All my friends, including acquaintances among the philistines, have on this occasion, which indeed touches me shrewdly, shown more sympathy and friendship than I could have anticipated. To you it seemed a suitable moment for the display of the superiority of your frigid way of thinking. So be it!”
This call to order, so delicate, so magnanimous, brought Marx to his senses. The crust of ice in which his heart was wrapped, speedily melted, and within a few days he answered ruefully: “It was very wrong of me to write you that letter, and I repented it as soon as it was posted. My wife and children will confirm me when I say that on receipt of your letter I was as deeply moved as by the death of one of my own nearest and dearest. But when I wrote to you in the evening, I had been driven desperate by the state of affairs at home. The brokers were in; I had a summons from the butcher; we had neither fire nor food; and little Jenny was ill in bed. In such circumstances, I can, generally speaking, only help myself out by cynicism.”
Engels knew his friend so well that he could not but be aware of the weakness, the desperate anxiety, that were masked by this cynicism. Though he was still profoundly shaken by the loss of his companion, he thanked Marx for replying so frankly, and went on to say: “I felt that when I buried her, I buried with her the last fragment of my youth. Your letter came before the funeral. I must tell you that I could not get the letter out of my head for a whole week, could not forget it. Never mind, your last letter has made up for it, and I am glad that in losing Mary I have not at the same time lost my oldest and best friend.”
As if nothing had happened, Engels promptly turned to consider what he could do to straighten out the hopelessly disordered finances of the Marx household. After casting this way and that for means of raising money, he ventured upon “the bold coup” of borrowing a hundred pounds on account of the firm, without consulting his partners. Speedy aid was essential. Marx had announced that he contemplated the desperate step of going through the bankruptcy court, breaking up his home, getting the children placed elsewhere, dismissing Lenchen Demuth, and going with his wife into cheap lodgings. “I cannot bear to look on while you carry out your plan,” wrote Engels. “Still, you will understand that after my exceptional efforts I am absolutely cleaned out, and that therefore you will not be able to count on anything from me before June 30th.”
In the Marx family, after all the agitations, conflicts, and conjugal disputes, there now prevailed the greatest possible delight at the happy turn of events. But only two months later, Dronke had to help them out with £50, to which, with Engels’ assistance, he added an additional £200 in July. At odd times in between, Engels continued to send small remittances. When, in December 1863, old Frau Marx died in Treves, Engels had to supply a further £10 in order that Marx, who had just been very ill with boils and was still in extremely poor health, could go to the funeral. No man ever had a better friend than Marx had in Engels. Never a reproach, never a refusal, never an evasion. To the last of these letters, clamouring for money and draining his purse to the dregs, he answered, referring to Marx’s handwriting (which no one could read so well as he): “I was damned glad to see your crabbed old fist once more.”
Whereas for the bourgeoisie, the fifties, the years of the counter-revolution, were a period characterized by a tremendous economic impetus, for the proletariat they were a period of limitless exploitation, which the workers were powerless to resist. Towards the end of the decade, however, from 1857 onwards, there came a crisis which arrested the victorious advance of the capitalist economy. Marx had staked all his revolutionary hopes on the prospect of this crisis, and he was bubbling over with cheerful anticipation when the wave of bankruptcies, failures, arrest of production, and difficulty in making ends meet, spread across the Atlantic from America to England, and ultimately overwhelmed the continent of Europe. “Although the crisis in America has a very unpleasant effect on our own purse,” wrote Frau Marx to Comrade Schramm in Jersey, “you can imagine how delighted Mohr is. His old capacity for work has come back, with the old freshness and cheerfulness which have been in abeyance for years. ... In the daytime, Karl works for daily bread, and at night to finish his Ökonomie. Now, when this book is so greatly needed, one may hope that it will find a publisher.”
As things turned out, the crisis had not the result anticipated by Marx. It did not restore the revolutionary enthusiasm of the workers. The proletariat had been too much disheartened by the counter-revolution after 1848; and the stimulating effects of the economic catastrophe, terrible as it was, were insufficient. Still, and this was a gain anyhow, the workers were scared out of their paralysis, were induced to think things over, and were spurred into political activity. That had brought Lassalle into contact with Marx once more. What Lassalle had said in 1852, namely that “during this apparent stillness of death the genuine German labour party will be born,” seemed likely, now, to find confirmation.
Down to 1855, in numerous letters, Lassalle had tried to get into closer touch with Marx, working for a vigorous exchange of ideas. Again and again, with all possible respect, and with assurances of the most friendly sentiments, he had sent Marx information concerning the political situation in Germany; concerning his own views, experiences, and projects; concerning his literary undertakings, and the like. He was never tired of saying how much he admired Marx’s historical erudition, penetrating insight into economic categories, and revolutionary impetus. He had written enthusiastic letters to Frau Marx; had gone out of his way to secure information for Marx from diplomatic sources; had found a publisher for one of Marx’s books; had sent money (a whole two hundred thalers in the New Year of 1855); had found Marx openings in the press; had been exuberant in proofs of friendship. Yet always Marx had kept him at a distance, had been coldly uncivil, had been provocative in the assumption of superiority. Often he left Lassalle’s letters unanswered; and when he did answer them, it was distantly, irritably, and with an obvious lack of interest. He rarely tried to mask his contempt by introducing a few cordial words.
Almost all Lassalle’s letters begin with a complaint because Marx does not write. “Why don’t you write to me? Why do you never let me hear direct from you? I learn from others that you have been through a very bad time, but that now things are a little better. I was sorry to learn of your troubles, for you are among the very few for whom I really have a weakness, and whom I would often be glad to see helped rather than myself” (1851). Again: “At length I have a line or two from you, a real Christmas present. It was so long since I had heard from you that I had positively begun to wonder” (1852). And so on, in subsequent years.
Marx never gave any frank explanation of his coldness towards this man. Lassalle was not in any way to his taste. Our minds tend to react with sympathy towards those from whom we expect advancement and profit, and with antipathy towards those from whom we expect danger and loss. It is fairly obvious that Marx must have regarded Lassalle as a dangerous rival in the field where both men were at work, the field of political theory, the labour movement, and the revolution. Since Lassalle was not a second Engels, was not willing to put himself entirely into Marx’s hands, but strode forward independently towards his own goal as hero of the European revolution, Marx was naturally confirmed in this sentiment of hostility. That was why his letters to Lassalle were so sparse, so laconic, and so cold.
Lassalle’s energies were fully engaged in other concerns and other tasks. He successfully wound up Countess Hatzfeld’s divorce proceedings, which had occupied much of his time for years; wrote an extremely able book on Heraclitus, which brought him considerable renown in the world of learning; made a journey to Egypt, Constantinople, Smyrna, and the Balkans; and, “as the last of the Mohicans in revolutionary Rhineland,” was able ultimately, after considerable difficulties, and after humbugging the authorities by the pretence that he needed specialist treatment for an affection of the eyes, to achieve a removal to Berlin. On April 26, 1857, he wrote cordially to Marx: “You are not exiled, but I! You are living in the same city with numbers of the old companions-in-arms; whereas I, these many years, have been living so much alone, quite cut off from them all. ... That is really very trying. If we leave out of account the working class, whose heart and sensibilities are not merely as healthy and fresh as of old, but have greatly developed since those days—among the so-called cultured people there still prevails, and more than ever, the same timidity, the same anxiety, the same tendency to skulk in the corner, as of old. In the long run it becomes an urgent need to refresh oneself among those who are of the same way of thinking as oneself and have enjoyed the same sort of education. I have been feeling this need for a long, long time; so keenly that I am almost prepared to swear it will drive me to London next year—I have long wished to come thither, that I may see old associates once more.”
Lassalle’s visit to London did not mend matters between the two men. Their correspondence did not become more regular or more fruitful. When Lassalle sent Marx a copy of his Heraclitus, the unfortunate fact that Marx had to pay excess postage to the amount of two shillings, at a time when this sum was almost the last he possessed, ensured a bad reception for the book. Despite its colossal erudition, Marx could not admire it, but could only make fun of it. Writing to Engels, Marx said that Lassalle moved to and fro “in his philosophical spangle-bedecked State with all the grace of a rough fellow who has for the first time put on a well-fitting suit.” His thanks to Lassalle for the gift were expressed in two lines, “curtly and coolly.” Lassalle was wounded, but hid the smart, and made no moan of mortified vanity. Instead, he persisted in wooing the friendship of his suspicious rival. He offered to find a publisher for the forthcoming work on economics, and brought pressure to bear on his own publisher Franz Duncker, until the latter agreed to issue the book, and to pay Marx a fee far higher than was customary. Marx took all these manifestations of friendship as a matter of course, tendering no thanks for them, but regarding them as a perfectly natural tribute to his own abilities. He was almost a year behind time in the delivery of the manuscript, and offered no excuses to Lassalle for this delay, which had put Lassalle in Duncker’s bad graces. Then, when Duncker delayed publication for a few months, Marx loaded the innocent Lassalle with reproaches. He considered that Lassalle was working against him behind the scenes, and thus stripped the last veils which had hidden the jealousy with which his own soul was poisoned. Lassalle, however, merely wrote good-naturedly to Duncker: “Marx is the Marat of our revolution. No web of treason can be spun betwixt heaven and earth, but Marx will have foreseen its spinning. Indeed, he will foresee many a web which no one has ever thought of spinning. Well, one must take the rough with the smooth.”
In the year 1859, in connexion with the Italian war, there was an open conflict between Marx and Engels on one side and Lassalle on the other. Lassalle was always ready to learn from his friends; but always brought forward material considerations in support of his opinion; and, having done so, with due modesty he would ask for an admission that he had been right. All he could get from Marx was blunt contradiction, malevolent suspicion, uncomradely behaviour! While we cannot but admire Lassalle for his courage and confidence, it is painful to contemplate Marx in the role of one who defends a case in a way calculated to lose it. At any rate, the course of the Italian movement rewarded Lassalle for the fine humanity of his attitude by proving him to have been right in his judgment.
The Vogt affair led to another controversy between Marx and Lassalle, a fierce and bitter one this time. To Lassalle, Blind seemed an infamous liar, who had scattered accusations without having any evidence to substantiate them, and had then backed down. Liebknecht, for him, was a ne’er-do-well who, though professing to be a revolutionist, contributed to reactionary journals; and Marx was a man who had been rashly eager to attack, and then, when his accusations had proved untenable, had not been honest enough to withdraw them frankly. In long letters full of “sincerest and most heartfelt friendship,” he put his views before Marx. What did Marx do? Not only did he shower vulgar abuse on Lassalle in his letters to Engels; but he hunted up the “most abominable, most odious inventions,” flinging them as charges against Lassalle—on whom he wished to revenge himself because he had not succeeded in extorting from him as much money as he wanted. A man must have great magnanimity to maintain his composure in face of such behaviour. Lassalle did more, quietly explaining that the charges were malicious calumnies, and continuing his correspondence with Marx as if nothing had happened. He wrote long letters discussing important political topics; supported Marx in the action for libel which the latter brought against the “Nationalzeitung”; provided funds for the publication of the book against Vogt; and in all possible ways showed himself a true friend.
Thus by the beginning of the sixties, the two men were on sufficiently friendly terms for Marx to stay with Lassalle when he visited Berlin.
At this time Lassalle’s mind was full of great schemes. Being extremely ambitious, he was on the look-out for some field which would open exceptional possibilities. His close ties with Countess Hatzfeld, who since her divorce had regained control of her extensive possessions, provided him with abundant means for these far-reaching enterprises. Lassalle’s first desire was to found a great daily newspaper in Berlin. He had broken away from the bourgeois democrats, and aimed at establishing the labour movement upon a broader foundation, of which he would be one of the main buttresses. This new movement was to be a trump in his political game, and was to be played with a sensational gesture. When Marx was in Berlin, Lassalle talked over with him the question of the proposed daily newspaper. “It would, no doubt, be opportune,” wrote Marx to Engels after returning to London, “if next year we could issue a newspaper in Berlin, much as I detest the place. With the aid of Lassalle and others we could get together twenty or thirty thousand thalers. But hic jacet. Lassalle made me a direct proposal. At the same time he confided to me that he must act with me as editor-in-chief. ‘What about Engels?’ I enquired. ‘Well, if three are not too many, Engels can join us as one of the chief editors. But you two must not have more votes in the matter than I, for if you had I should always be outvoted.’ As reasons why he must have an equal voice in the chief-editorship he alleged: first, that in the general view he was more closely connected with the bourgeois party, and could therefore more readily secure funds; secondly, that in this venture he would sacrifice his ‘theoretical studies and theoretical repose,’ and must get something out of it in return. Lassalle, being blinded by the prestige he has secured in certain learned circles by his Heraclitus, and which toadies ascribed to him because he has a good cellar and a good cook, is naturally unaware that as far as the general public is concerned he is a discredited man. Then we have to remember his disputatiousness, the way in which he is ‘still entangled in speculative concepts’ (the fellow actually dreams of writing a new Hegelian philosophy multiplied to the second power), his infection with old-school French liberalism, his overbearing pen, his obtrusiveness, his tactlessness, and so on. Lassalle might be of service as a member of the staff, under strict discipline. Otherwise, he would only make us all ridiculous. But, as will be obvious to you, the position was an embarrassing one, in view of his extremely friendly attitude towards me. It was hard to know what to say. I was vague, therefore, and said that I could decide nothing until I had consulted you and Lupus [Wilhelm Wolff].”
An essential preliminary to Marx’s proposed removal to Berlin was that he should once more be naturalized as a Prussian subject. Lassalle had undertaken to pull the necessary strings. He ran from pillar to post, interviewed ministers of State, sent in petition after petition, had a question asked in the Landtag, and displayed the utmost zeal—at the very time when, in letters to Engels, Marx was writing of him with contempt and mockery. When Lassalle published his work in two volumes, System der erworbenen Rechte [System of Acquired Rights], Marx fobbed it off with a few casual observations, although he knew that Lassalle was eagerly awaiting a detailed criticism from his pen. “I am really very much annoyed at your way of reading my book,” wrote Lassalle, in justified ill-humour. “If I write such a book, it is done with my best blood and all my nervous energy, au fond, and, in the last resort, only for a very few persons. ... Surely of these few, anyhow, I may expect that a work which is the outcome of so much self-martyrdom shall at least be read in the precise order and evolution of the thoughts in which it was written by the author.” In detailed letters, Lassalle endeavoured to answer Marx’s objections, and to correct his misunderstandings, but it was all love’s labour lost. Marx ignored the “schoolboy theme.”
In 1862, Lassalle at length came to London, and, under very distressing conditions, was a guest in Marx’s house. Since Lassalle had the airs of a grand seigneur, Marx felt that the poverty of his own household was shown up in a ludicrous light. His vanity was touched; he conceived himself forced into an inferior position; and he gave vent to his feelings in outbursts of spleen. “Lassalle,” he wrote to Engels, “is now posing, not only as the greatest of scholars, the profoundest of thinkers, the most brilliant of investigators, etc., but also as a Don Juan and a revolutionary Cardinal Richelieu. He confided to me and my wife in the utmost confidence that he advised Garibaldi not to attack Rome but ... also that he had recently been to see Mazzini, who had approved and ‘admired’ his plan. He presented himself to these people as ‘representative of the German revolutionary working class,’ and declared to them (this is literally true!) that he (Lassalle) ‘by his pamphlet on the Italian war had prevented Prussia’s intervention,’ and, in fact, ‘had guided the history of the last three years.’” In another letter Marx wrote: “Lassalle also informed me that he would perhaps found a newspaper when he got home in September. I told him that for good fees I would supply his paper with English correspondence, without undertaking any responsibility or political partnership, seeing that politically we were agreed as to nothing except certain distant goals.”
The newspaper scheme fizzled out. But Lassalle entered the political arena, and placed himself at the head of the labour movement, which he had conjured up out of the ground by loud and fiery appeals. He expounded his labour programme to the manual workers of Oranienburg, a suburb of Berlin. To the Leipzig workers, who had applied to him through Vahlteich, Dammer, and Fritzsche, he sent his Offenes Antwortschreiben [Open Answer]. He secured publicity by his speech on the constitution; and by a propagandist tour, which resembled a triumphal procession. When he founded the General Union of German Workers, he provided the working class of his native land with its first political organization, its first contact with the vanguard of the class struggle.
Marx’s attitude towards these multifarious activities, which implied nothing less than the awakening and mobilization of the proletariat for the tasks of the social revolution, was one of chill reserve and scarcely concealed enmity. He looked upon Lassalle as a successful rival, who threatened to outdo him; as “the fellow who obviously believes himself to be the man who will enter into our heritage.” Marx did not show the smallest readiness to recognize at least Lassalle’s good intentions; did not make the slightest endeavour to do justice to Lassalle’s activity; did not manifest a trace of glad recognition of the historical fact that a breach had at length been made in the political passivity and indifference of the German proletariat. Instead, in his letters to Engels, Marx continued to display envy, malice, and all uncharitableness towards the person and the doings of Lassalle. “This fellow”; “this boomster”; “this future dictator of the workers”; “these commonplaces”; “these borrowed phrases” “this monumental arrogance”; “this ridiculous assumption of learning and preposterous sense of self-importance” “this botched work of a schoolboy, who is in a hurry to parade himself as a learned man and an independent investigator”—such are the tones in which Marx passes judgment. “Since the beginning of this year, I have not been able to bring myself to write to him. It would be a waste of time to criticize his stuff. Besides, he appropriates every word as a ‘discovery’ of his own. But it would be absurd to rub his nose in his plagiaries, for I will have no truck with our own things after he has smeared them all over. Nor will it do to recognize these pufferies and exhibitions of tactlessness. He would hasten to turn that to account. All that remains, therefore, is to wait until his anger breaks out at last. Then I shall have a fine answer ready: that he always remarks ‘this is not communism,’ and so on.” Engels sounded the same note: “The stories about Lassalle, and the scandal they are making in Germany, are beginning to become disagreeable. It is certainly time that you finished your book. ... It is disastrous that the man should get a position for himself in this way.”
That was the sore point! Lassalle was making a position for himself. A criminal undertaking, which could only be answered with enmity, battle, and annihilation! Marx, who throughout life was feverishly striving for the highest possible achievement, for success, and for recognition, was made blind and crazy by hatred for his rival. No longer could he think of the joint mission, of the great historical task, of the revolutionary aim. He could think of nothing but priority, the right of the first-born, the triumph of uniqueness, the glory of the originator, the dictatorship of the victor. This hysteria of the struggle for power found expression in venomous outbreaks.
Who can doubt that Marx breathed more freely when Lassalle was killed in a duel? There is no word of regret, no indication of a sense of loss, in the heartless and frivolous words he wrote to Engels when the news came. “It is hard to believe that so noisy, so stirring, so pushful a man should be as dead as a doornail, and have to hold his tongue altogether.” Nothing but profound hostility could make any one speak in this way of a companion-in-arms.
At a later date, when hatred had been mitigated by time, and when no further rivalry was possible, Marx was able to appraise Lassalle and his work in a more concrete way, though not less critically. Writing to Schweitzer, Lassalle’s successor in the General Union of German Workers, under date October 13, 1868, Marx said: “As regards the Lassallist Union, it was founded during a period of reaction. When the labour movement had been slumbering in Germany for fifteen years, Lassalle wakened it once more, and this was his imperishable service. But he made great mistakes. He was unduly influenced by the immediate circumstances of the time. He made a small starting-point (his opposition to a dwarf like Schulze-Delitzsch) into the central feature of his agitation (State-help versus self-help). ... For him, the State transformed itself into the Prussian State. Thus he was compelled to make concessions to the Prussian monarchy, the Prussian reaction, and even the clericals. With the demand for State-help on behalf of associations, he combined the Chartist demand for universal suffrage. He overlooked the difference between German and English conditions. Also, from the very start—like every one who believes that he has in his pocket a panacea for the sufferings of the masses—he gave a religious sectarian character to his agitation. ... Furthermore, being the founder of a sect, he repudiated all natural connexion with the earlier movements. He fell into the same mistake as Proudhon, in that he did not seek his concrete foundation in the actual elements of the class movement, but wished to prescribe its course to the class movement in accordance with a doctrinaire prescription of his own.”
Marx’s judgment of Lassalle’s mission, which is substantially just in this respect: that Lassalle was not in fact a historical materialist, and did not ground his theory upon a fundamental knowledge of economics, became a one-sided and erroneous judgment in this respect: that it was coloured with personal animus. And it became utterly fallacious in this respect: that it contained no syllable about the enormously important fact that Lassalle (for whatever reason and with whatever programme) had actually appeared in history, and, at this particular epoch, had conjured up the labour movement out of the ground. It is of minor importance how much in Lassalle’s theory and in his method of agitation may have been sound or unsound, how much he may have borrowed from Buchez, taken over from Malthus, understood in Ricardo, or misunderstood in Marx. The decisive thing was that he succeeded in marshalling the proletariat in a politically independent formation upon the battlefield of history. Mehring rightly points out that at a later date, when the proletarian movement began to develop in the United States, Engels, writing to Sorge anent the criterion of achievement in a particular historical situation, said: “The first great step when, in any country, the movement makes its appearance, is the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long only as it is a separate labour party.” That was the sense in which Lassalle acted; and in that sense, Lassalle’s achievement was a historical deed of supreme importance.
Man of transcendent genius though he was, Marx’s insight failed him when his emotions were profoundly stirred by the appearance of a formidable rival. He forfeited his revolutionary infallibility as soon as nervous anxiety for the maintenance of his personal prestige marred his devotion to the material advancement of the cause.
Marx was not a team worker. He was not a man of comradely spirit, not one of those whose powers are intensified by the sense of living community with others. He was not a rank-and-file fighter.
He could only create as first in the field; could only fight as generalissimo; could only conquer when assigned the heroic role. He was a lonely eagle upon an icebound crag.