The following articles are now, after forty-five years, for the first time collected and printed in book form. They are an invaluable pendant to Marx’s work on the coup d’état of Napoleon III. (“Der Achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte.”) Both works belong to the same period, and both are what Engels calls “excellent specimens of that marvellous gift ... of Marx ... of apprehending clearly the character, the significance, and the necessary consequences of great historical events at a time when these events are actually in course of taking place, or are only just completed.”
These articles were written in 1851-1852, when Marx had been about eighteen months in England. He was living with his wife, three young children, and their life-long friend, Helene Demuth, in two rooms in Dean Street, Soho, almost opposite the Royalty Theatre. For nearly ten years they had been driven from pillar to post. When, in 1843, the Prussian Government suppressed the Rhenish Gazette which Marx had edited, he went with his newly-married wife, Jenny von Westphalen, to Paris. Not long after, his expulsion was demanded by the Prussian Government — it is said that Alexander von Humboldt acted as the agent of Prussia on this occasion — and M. Guizot was, of course, too polite to refuse the request. Marx was expelled, and betook himself to Brussels. Again the Prussian Government requested his expulsion, and where the French Government had complied it was not likely the Belgian would refuse. Marx received marching orders.
But at this same time the French Government that had expelled Marx had gone the way of French Governments, and the new Provisional Government through Ferdinand Flocon invited the “brave et loyal Marx” to return to the country whence “tyranny had banished him, and where he, like all fighting in the sacred cause, the cause of the fraternity of all peoples,” would be welcome. The invitation was accepted, and for some months he lived in Paris. Then he returned to Germany in order to start the New Rhenish Gazette in Cologne. And the Rhenish Gazette writers had very lively times. Marx was twice prosecuted, but as the juries would not convict, the Prussian Government took the nearer way and suppressed the paper.
Again Marx and his family returned to the country whose “doors” had only a few short months before been “thrown open” to him. The sky had changed — and the Government. “We remained in Paris,” my mother says in some biographical notes I have found, “a month. Here also there was to be no resting-place for us. One fine morning the familiar figure of the sergeant of police appeared with the announcement that Karl ‘et sa dame’ must leave Paris within twenty-four hours. We were graciously told we might be interned at Vannes in the Morbihan. Of course we could not accept such an exile as that, and I again gathered together my small belongings to seek a safe haven in London. Karl had hastened thither before us.” The “us” were my mother, Helene Demuth, and the three little children, Jenny (Madame Longuet), Laura (Madame Lafargue), and Edgar, who died at the age of eight.
The haven was safe indeed. But it was storm-tossed. Hundreds of refugees — all more or less destitute — were now in London. There followed years of horrible poverty, of bitter suffering — such suffering as can only be known to the penniless stranger in a strange land. The misery would have been unendurable but for the faith that was in these men and women, and but for their invincible “Humor.” I use the German word because I know no English one that quite expresses the same thing — such a combination of humor and good-humor, of light-hearted courage, and high spirits.
That readers of these articles may have some idea of the conditions under which Marx was working, under which he wrote them and the “Achtzehnte Brumaire,” and was preparing his first great economical work, “Zur Kritik der Politischen Oeconomie” (published in 1859), I again quote from my mother’s notes. Soon after the arrival of the family a second son was born. He died when about two years old. Then a fifth child, a little girl, was born. When about a year old, she too fell sick and died. “Three days,” writes my mother, “the poor child wrestled with death. She suffered so.... Her little dead body lay in the small back room; we all of us” (i.e., my parents, Helene Demuth, and the three elder children) “went into the front room, and when night came we made us beds on the floor, the three living children lying by us. And we wept for the little angel resting near us, cold and dead. The death of the dear child came in the time of our bitterest poverty. Our German friends could not help us; Engels, after vainly trying to get literary work in London, had been obliged to go, under very disadvantageous conditions, into his father’s firm, as a clerk, in Manchester; Ernest Jones, who often came to see us at this time, and had promised help, could do nothing.... In the anguish of my heart I went to a French refugee who lived near, and who had sometimes visited us. I told him our sore need. At once with the friendliest kindness he gave me £2. With that we paid for the little coffin in which the poor child now sleeps peacefully. I had no cradle for her when she was born, and even the last small resting-place was long denied her.” ... “It was a terrible time,” Liebknecht writes to me (the Editor), “but it was grand nevertheless.”
In that “front room” in Dean Street, the children playing about him, Marx worked. I have heard tell how the children would pile up chairs behind him to represent a coach, to which he was harnessed as horse, and would “whip him up” even as he sat at his desk writing.
Marx had been recommended to Mr. C. A. Dana, the managing director of the New York Tribune, by Ferdinand Freiligrath, and the first contributions sent by him to America are the series of letters on Germany here reprinted. They seem to have created such a sensation that before the series had been completed Marx was engaged as regular London correspondent. On the 12th of March, 1852, Mr. Dana wrote: “It may perhaps give you pleasure to know that they” (i.e., the “Germany” letters) “are read with satisfaction by a considerable number of persons, and are widely reproduced.” From this time on, with short intervals, Marx not only sent letters regularly to the New York paper; he wrote a large number of leading articles for it. “Mr. Marx,” says an editorial note in 1853, “has indeed opinions of his own, with some of which we are far from agreeing; but those who do not read his letters neglect one of the most instructive sources of information on the great questions of European politics.”
Not the least remarkable among these contributions were those dealing with Lord Palmerston and the Russian Government. “Urquhart’s writings on Russia,” says Marx, “had interested but not convinced me. In order to arrive at a definite opinion, I made a minute analysis of Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, and of the Diplomatic Blue Books from 1807 to 1850. The first fruits of these studies was a series of articles in the New York Tribune, in which I proved Palmerston’s relations with the Russian Government.... Shortly after, these studies were reprinted in the Chartist organ edited by Ernest Jones, The People’s Paper.... Meantime the Glasgow Sentinel had reproduced one of these articles, and part of it was issued in pamphlet form by Mr. Tucker, London. And the Sheffield Foreign Affairs Committee thanked Marx for the “great public service rendered by the admirable exposé”in his “Kars papers,” published both in the New York Tribune and the People’s Paper. A large number of articles on the subject were also printed in the Free Press by Marx’s old friend, C. D. Collett. I hope to republish these and other articles.
As to the New York Tribune, it was at this time an admirably edited paper, with an immense staff of distinguished contributors, both American and European. It was a passionate anti-slavery organ, and also recognized that there “was need for a true organization of society,” and that “our evils” were “social, not political.” The paper, and especially Marx’s articles, were frequently referred to in the House of Commons, notably by John Bright.
It may also interest readers to know what Marx was paid for his articles — many of them considerably longer even than those here collected. He received £1 for each contribution — not exactly brilliant remuneration.
It will be noted that the twentieth chapter, promised in the nineteenth, does not appear. It may have been written, but was certainly not printed. It was probably crowded out. “I do not know,” wrote Mr. Dana, “how long you intend to make the series, and under ordinary circumstances I should desire to have it prolonged as much as possible. But we have a presidential election at hand, which will occupy our columns to a great extent.... Let me suggest to you if possible to condense your survey ... into say half a dozen more articles” (eleven had then been received by Mr. Dana). “Do not, however, close it without an exposition of the forces now remaining at work there (Germany) and active in the preparation of the future.” This “exposition” will be found in the article which I have added to the “Germany” series, on the “Cologne Communist Trial.” That trial really gives a complete picture of the conditions of Germany under the triumphant Counter-Revolution.
Marx himself nowhere says the series of letters is incomplete, although he occasionally refers to them. Thus in the letter on the Cologne trial he speaks of the articles, and in 1853 writes: “Those of your readers who, having read my letters on the German Revolution and Counter-Revolution written for the Tribune some two years ago, desire to have an immediate intuition of it, will do well to inspect the picture by Mr. Hasenclever now being exhibited in ... New York ... representing the presentation of a workingmen’s petition to the magistrates of Düsseldorf in 1848. What the writer could only analyze, the eminent painter has reproduced in its dramatic vitality.”
Finally, I would remind English readers that these articles were written when Marx had only been some eighteen months in England, and that he never had any opportunity of reading the proofs. Nevertheless, it has not seemed to me that anything needed correction. I have therefore only removed a few obvious printer’s errors.
The date at the head of each chapter refers to the issue of the Tribune in which the article appeared, that at the end to the time of writing. I am alone responsible for the headings of the letters as published in this volume.
Eleanor Marx Aveling.
Sydenham, April, 1896.
October 25, 1851.
The first act of the revolutionary drama on the continent of Europe has closed. The “powers that were” before the hurricane of 1848 are again the “powers that be,” and the more or less popular rulers of a day, provisional governors, triumvirs, dictators, with their tail of representatives, civil commissioners, military commissioners, prefects, judges, generals, officers, and soldiers, are thrown upon foreign shores, and “transported beyond the seas” to England or America, there to form new governments in partibus infidelium, European committees, central committees, national committees, and to announce their advent with proclamations quite as solemn as those of any less imaginary potentates.
A more signal defeat than that undergone by the continental revolutionary party — or rather parties — upon all points of the line of battle, cannot be imagined. But what of that? Has not the struggle of the British middle classes for their social and political supremacy embraced forty-eight, that of the French middle classes forty years of unexampled struggles? And was their triumph ever nearer than at the very moment when restored monarchy thought itself more firmly settled than ever? The times of that superstition which attributed revolutions to the ill-will of a few agitators have long passed away. Everyone knows nowadays that wherever there is a revolutionary convulsion, there must be some social want in the background, which is prevented, by outworn institutions, from satisfying itself. The want may not yet be felt as strongly, as generally, as might ensure immediate success; but every attempt at forcible repression will only bring it forth stronger and stronger, until it bursts its fetters. If, then, we have been beaten, we have nothing else to do but to begin again from the beginning. And, fortunately, the probably very short interval of rest which is allowed us between the close of the first and the beginning of the second act of the movement, gives us time for a very necessary piece of work: the study of the causes that necessitated both the late outbreak and its defeat; causes that are not to be sought for in the accidental efforts, talents, faults, errors, or treacheries of some of the leaders, but in the general social state and conditions of existence of each of the convulsed nations. That the sudden movements of February and March, 1848, were not the work of single individuals, but spontaneous, irresistible manifestations of national wants and necessities, more or less clearly understood, but very distinctly felt by numerous classes in every country, is a fact recognized everywhere; but when you inquire into the causes of the counter-revolutionary successes, there you are met on every hand with the ready reply that it was Mr. This or Citizen That who “betrayed” the people. Which reply may be very true or not, according to circumstances, but under no circumstances does it explain anything — not even show how it came to pass that the “people” allowed themselves to be thus betrayed. And what a poor chance stands a political party whose entire stock-in-trade consists in a knowledge of the solitary fact that Citizen So-and-so is not to be trusted.
The inquiry into, and the exposition of, the causes, both of the revolutionary convulsion and its suppression, are, besides, of paramount importance from a historical point of view. All these petty, personal quarrels and recriminations — all these contradictory assertions that it was Marrast, or Ledru Rollin, or Louis Blanc, or any other member of the Provisional Government, or the whole of them, that steered the Revolution amidst the rocks upon which it foundered — of what interest can they be, what light can they afford, to the American or Englishman who observed all these various movements from a distance too great to allow of his distinguishing any of the details of operations? No man in his senses will ever believe that eleven men, mostly of very indifferent capacity either for good or evil, were able in three months to ruin a nation of thirty-six millions, unless those thirty-six millions saw as little of their way before them as the eleven did. But how it came to pass that thirty-six millions were at once called upon to decide for themselves which way to go, although partly groping in dim twilight, and how then they got lost and their old leaders were for a moment allowed to return to their leadership, that is just the question.
If, then, we try to lay before the readers of The Tribune the causes which, while they necessitated the German Revolution of 1848, led quite as inevitably to its momentary repression in 1849 and 1850, we shall not be expected to give a complete history of events as they passed in that country. Later events, and the judgment of coming generations, will decide what portion of that confused mass of seemingly accidental, incoherent, and incongruous facts is to form a part of the world’s history. The time for such a task has not yet arrived; we must confine ourselves to the limits of the possible, and be satisfied, if we can find rational causes, based upon undeniable facts, to explain the chief events, the principal vicissitudes of that movement, and to give us a clue as to the direction which the next, and perhaps not very distant, outbreak will impart to the German people.
And firstly, what was the state of Germany at the outbreak of the Revolution?
The composition of the different classes of the people which form the groundwork of every political organization was, in Germany, more complicated than in any other country. While in England and France feudalism was entirely destroyed, or, at least, reduced, as in the former country, to a few insignificant forms, by a powerful and wealthy middle class, concentrated in large towns, and particularly in the capital, the feudal nobility in Germany had retained a great portion of their ancient privileges. The feudal system of tenure was prevalent almost everywhere. The lords of the land had even retained the jurisdiction over their tenants. Deprived of their political privileges, of the right to control the princes, they had preserved almost all their Mediæval supremacy over the peasantry of their demesnes, as well as their exemption from taxes. Feudalism was more flourishing in some localities than in others, but nowhere except on the left bank of the Rhine was it entirely destroyed. This feudal nobility, then extremely numerous and partly very wealthy, was considered, officially, the first “Order” in the country. It furnished the higher Government officials, it almost exclusively officered the army.
The bourgeoisie of Germany was by far not as wealthy and concentrated as that of France or England. The ancient manufactures of Germany had been destroyed by the introduction of steam, and the rapidly extending supremacy of English manufactures; the more modern manufactures, started under the Napoleonic continental system, established in other parts of the country, did not compensate for the loss of the old ones, nor suffice to create a manufacturing interest strong enough to force its wants upon the notice of Governments jealous of every extension of non-noble wealth and power. If France carried her silk manufactures victorious through fifty years of revolutions and wars, Germany, during the same time, all but lost her ancient linen trade. The manufacturing districts, besides, were few and far between; situated far inland, and using, mostly, foreign, Dutch, or Belgian ports for their imports and exports, they had little or no interest in common with the large seaport towns on the North Sea and the Baltic; they were, above all, unable to create large manufacturing and trading centres, such as Paris and Lyons, London and Manchester. The causes of this backwardness of German manufactures were manifold, but two will suffice to account for it: the unfavorable geographical situation of the country, at a distance from the Atlantic, which had become the great highway for the world’s trade, and the continuous wars in which Germany was involved, and which were fought on her soil, from the sixteenth century to the present day. It was this want of numbers, and particularly of anything like concentrated numbers, which prevented the German middle classes from attaining that political supremacy which the English bourgeoisie has enjoyed ever since 1688, and which the French conquered in 1789. And yet, ever since 1815, the wealth, and with the wealth the political importance of the middle class in Germany, was continually growing. Governments were, although reluctantly, compelled to bow, at least to its more immediate material interests. It may even be truly said that from 1815 to 1830, and from 1832 to 1840, every particle of political influence, which, having been allowed to the middle class in the constitutions of the smaller States, was again wrested from them during the above two periods of political reaction, that every such particle was compensated for by some more practical advantage allowed to them. Every political defeat of the middle class drew after it a victory on the field of commercial legislation. And certainly, the Prussian Protective Tariff of 1818, and the formation of the Zollverein, were worth a good deal more to the traders and manufacturers of Germany than the equivocal right of expressing in the chambers of some diminutive dukedom their want of confidence in ministers who laughed at their votes. Thus, with growing wealth and extending trade, the bourgeoisie soon arrived at a stage where it found the development of its most important interests checked by the political constitution of the country; by its random division among thirty-six princes with conflicting tendencies and caprices; by the feudal fetters upon agriculture and the trade connected with it; by the prying superintendence to which an ignorant and presumptuous bureaucracy subjected all its transactions. At the same time the extension and consolidation of the Zollverein, the general introduction of steam communication, the growing competition in the home trade, brought the commercial classes of the different States and Provinces closer together, equalized their interests and centralized their strength. The natural consequence was the passing of the whole mass of them into the camp of the Liberal Opposition, and the gaining of the first serious struggle of the German middle class for political power. This change may be dated from 1840, from the moment when the bourgeoisie of Prussia assumed the lead of the middle class movement of Germany. We shall hereafter revert to this Liberal Opposition movement of 1840-1847.
The great mass of the nation, which neither belonged to the nobility nor to the bourgeoisie, consisted in the towns of the small trading and shopkeeping class and the working people, and in the country of the peasantry.
The small trading and shopkeeping class is exceedingly numerous in Germany, in consequence of the stinted development which the large capitalists and manufacturers as a class have had in that country. In the larger towns it forms almost the majority of the inhabitants; in the smaller ones it entirely predominates, from the absence of wealthier competitors or influence. This class, a most important one in every modern body politic, and in all modern revolutions, is still more important in Germany, where, during the recent struggles, it generally played the decisive part. Its intermediate position between the class of larger capitalists, traders, and manufacturers, the bourgeoisie properly so-called, and the proletarian or industrial class, determines its character. Aspiring to the position of the first, the least adverse turn of fortune hurls the individuals of this class down into the ranks of the second. In monarchical and feudal countries the custom of the court and aristocracy becomes necessary to its existence; the loss of this custom might ruin a great part of it. In the smaller towns a military garrison, a county government, a court of law with its followers, form very often the base of its prosperity; withdraw these, and down go the shopkeepers, the tailors, the shoemakers, the joiners. Thus eternally tossed about between the hope of entering the ranks of the wealthier class, and the fear of being reduced to the state of proletarians or even paupers; between the hope of promoting their interests by conquering a share in the direction of public affairs, and the dread of rousing, by ill-timed opposition, the ire of a Government which disposes of their very existence, because it has the power of removing their best customers; possessed of small means, the insecurity of the possession of which is in the inverse ratio of the amount, — this class is extremely vacillating in its views. Humble and crouchingly submissive under a powerful feudal or monarchical Government, it turns to the side of Liberalism when the middle class is in the ascendant; it becomes seized with violent democratic fits as soon as the middle class has secured its own supremacy, but falls back into the abject despondency of fear as soon as the class below itself, the proletarians, attempts an independent movement. We shall by and by see this class, in Germany, pass alternately from one of these stages to the other.
The working class in Germany is, in its social and political development, as far behind that of England and France as the German bourgeoisie is behind the bourgeoisie of those countries. Like master, like man. The evolution of the conditions of existence for a numerous, strong, concentrated, and intelligent proletarian class goes hand in hand with the development of the conditions of existence for a numerous, wealthy, concentrated, and powerful middle class. The working class movement itself never is independent, never is of an exclusively proletarian character until all the different factions of the middle class, and particularly its most progressive faction, the large manufacturers, have conquered political power, and remodelled the State according to their wants. It is then that the inevitable conflict between the employer and the employed becomes imminent, and cannot be adjourned any longer; that the working class can no longer be put off with delusive hopes and promises never to be realized; that the great problem of the nineteenth century, the abolition of the proletariat, is at last brought forward fairly and in its proper light. Now, in Germany the mass of the working class were employed, not by those modern manufacturing lords of which Great Britain furnishes such splendid specimens, but by small tradesmen, whose entire manufacturing system is a mere relic of the Middle Ages. And as there is an enormous difference between the great cotton lord and the petty cobbler or master tailor, so there is a corresponding distance from the wide-awake factory operative of modern manufacturing Babylons to the bashful journeyman tailor or cabinetmaker of a small country town, who lives in circumstances and works after a plan very little different from those of the like sort of men some five hundred years ago. This general absence of modern conditions of life, of modern modes of industrial production, of course was accompanied by a pretty equally general absence of modern ideas, and it is, therefore, not to be wondered at if, at the outbreak of the Revolution, a large part of the working classes should cry out for the immediate re-establishment of guilds and Mediæval privileged trades’ corporations. Yet from the manufacturing districts, where the modern system of production predominated, and in consequence of the facilities of inter-communication and mental development afforded by the migratory life of a large number of the working men, a strong nucleus formed itself, whose ideas about the emancipation of their class were far clearer and more in accordance with existing facts and historical necessities; but they were a mere minority. If the active movement of the middle class may be dated from 1840, that of the working class commences its advent by the insurrections of the Silesian and Bohemian factory operatives in 1844, and we shall soon have occasion to pass in review the different stages through which this movement passed.
Lastly, there was the great class of the small farmers, the peasantry, which with its appendix of farm laborers, constitutes a considerable majority of the entire nation. But this class again sub-divided itself into different fractions. There were, firstly, the more wealthy farmers, what is called in Germany Gross and Mittel-Bauern, proprietors of more or less extensive farms, and each of them commanding the services of several agricultural laborers. This class, placed between the large untaxed feudal landowners, and the smaller peasantry and farm laborers, for obvious reasons found in an alliance with the anti-feudal middle class of the towns its most natural political course. Then there were, secondly, the small freeholders, predominating in the Rhine country, where feudalism had succumbed before the mighty strokes of the great French Revolution. Similar independent small freeholders also existed here and there in other provinces, where they had succeeded in buying off the feudal charges formerly due upon their lands. This class, however, was a class of freeholders by name only, their property being generally mortgaged to such an extent, and under such onerous conditions, that not the peasant, but the usurer who had advanced the money, was the real landowner. Thirdly, the feudal tenants, who could not be easily turned out of their holdings, but who had to pay a perpetual rent, or to perform in perpetuity a certain amount of labor in favor of the lord of the manor. Lastly, the agricultural laborers, whose condition, in many large farming concerns, was exactly that of the same class in England, and who in all cases lived and died poor, ill-fed, and the slaves of their employers. These three latter classes of the agricultural population, the small freeholders, the feudal tenants, and the agricultural laborers, never troubled their heads much about politics before the Revolution, but it is evident that this event must have opened to them a new career, full of brilliant prospects. To every one of them the Revolution offered advantages, and the movement once fairly engaged in, it was to be expected that each, in their turn, would join it. But at the same time it is quite as evident, and equally borne out by the history of all modern countries, that the agricultural population, in consequence of its dispersion over a great space, and of the difficulty of bringing about an agreement among any considerable portion of it, never can attempt a successful independent movement; they require the initiatory impulse of the more concentrated, more enlightened, more easily moved people of the towns.
The preceding short sketch of the most important of the classes, which in their aggregate formed the German nation at the outbreak of the recent movements, will already be sufficient to explain a great part of the incoherence, incongruence, and apparent contradiction which prevailed in that movement. When interests so varied, so conflicting, so strangely crossing each other, are brought into violent collision; when these contending interests in every district, every province, are mixed in different proportions; when, above all, there is no great centre in the country, no London, no Paris, the decisions of which, by their weight, may supersede the necessity of fighting out the same quarrel over and over again in every single locality; what else is to be expected but that the contest will dissolve itself into a mass of unconnected struggles, in which an enormous quantity of blood, energy, and capital is spent, but which for all that remain without any decisive results?
The political dismemberment of Germany into three dozen of more or less important principalities is equally explained by this confusion and multiplicity of the elements which compose the nation, and which again vary in every locality. Where there are no common interests there can be no unity of purpose, much less of action. The German Confederation, it is true, was declared everlastingly indissoluble; yet the Confederation, and its organ, the Diet, never represented German unity. The very highest pitch to which centralization was ever carried in Germany was the establishment of the Zollverein; by this the States on the North Sea were also forced into a Customs Union of their own, Austria remaining wrapped up in her separate prohibitive tariff. Germany had the satisfaction to be, for all practical purposes divided between three independent powers only, instead of between thirty-six. Of course the paramount supremacy of the Russian Czar, as established in 1814, underwent no change on this account.
Having drawn these preliminary conclusions from our premises, we shall see, in our next, how the aforesaid various classes of the German people were set into movement one after the other, and what character the movement assumed on the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1848.
London, September, 1851.
October 28th, 1851.
The political movement of the middle class or bourgeoisie, in Germany, may be dated from 1840. It had been preceded by symptoms showing that the moneyed and industrial class of that country was ripening into a state which would no longer allow it to continue apathetic and passive under the pressure of a half-feudal, half-bureaucratic Monarchism. The smaller princes of Germany, partly to insure to themselves a greater independence against the supremacy of Austria and Prussia, or against the influence of the nobility of their own States, partly in order to consolidate into a whole the disconnected provinces united under their rule by the Congress of Vienna, one after the other granted constitutions of a more or less liberal character. They could do so without any danger to themselves; for if the Diet of the Confederation, this mere puppet of Austria and Prussia, was to encroach upon their independence as sovereigns, they knew that in resisting its dictates they would be backed by public opinion and the Chambers; and if, on the contrary, these Chambers grew too strong, they could readily command the power of the Diet to break down all opposition. The Bavarian, Würtemberg, Baden or Hanoverian Constitutional institutions could not, under such circumstances, give rise to any serious struggle for political power, and, therefore, the great bulk of the German middle class kept very generally aloof from the petty squabbles raised in the Legislatures of the small States, well knowing that without a fundamental change in the policy and constitution of the two great powers of Germany, no secondary efforts and victories would be of any avail. But, at the same time, a race of Liberal lawyers, professional oppositionists, sprung up in these small assemblies: the Rottecks, the Welckers, the Roemers, the Jordans, the Stüves, the Eisenmanns, those great “popular men” (Volksmänner) who, after a more or less noisy, but always unsuccessful, opposition of twenty years, were carried to the summit of power by the revolutionary springtide of 1848, and who, after having there shown their utter impotency and insignificance, were hurled down again in a moment. These first specimen upon German soil of the trader in politics and opposition, by their speeches and writings made familiar to the German ear the language of Constitutionalism, and by their very existence foreboded the approach of a time when the middle class would seize upon and restore to their proper meaning political phrases which these talkative attorneys and professors were in the habit of using without knowing much about the sense originally attached to them.
German literature, too, labored under the influence of the political excitement into which all Europe had been thrown by the events of 1830. A crude Constitutionalism, or a still cruder Republicanism, were preached by almost all writers of the time. It became more and more the habit, particularly of the inferior sorts of literati, to make up for the want of cleverness in their productions, by political allusions which were sure to attract attention. Poetry, novels, reviews, the drama, every literary production teemed with what was called “tendency,” that is with more or less timid exhibitions of an anti-governmental spirit. In order to complete the confusion of ideas reigning after 1830 in Germany, with these elements of political opposition there were mixed up ill-digested university-recollections of German philosophy, and misunderstood gleanings from French Socialism, particularly Saint-Simonism; and the clique of writers who expatiated upon this heterogeneous conglomerate of ideas, presumptuously called themselves “Young Germany,” or “the Modern School.” They have since repented their youthful sins, but not improved their style of writing.
Lastly, German philosophy, that most complicated, but at the same time most sure thermometer of the development of the German mind, had declared for the middle class, when Hegel in his “Philosophy of Law” pronounced Constitutional Monarchy to be the final and most perfect form of government. In other words, he proclaimed the approaching advent of the middle classes of the country to political power. His school, after his death, did not stop here. While the more advanced section of his followers, on one hand, subjected every religious belief to the ordeal of a rigorous criticism, and shook to its foundation the ancient fabric of Christianity, they at the same time brought forward bolder political principles than hitherto it had been the fate of German ears to hear expounded, and attempted to restore to glory the memory of the heroes of the first French Revolution. The abstruse philosophical language in which these ideas were clothed, if it obscured the mind of both the writer and the reader, equally blinded the eyes of the censor, and thus it was that the “young Hegelian” writers enjoyed a liberty of the Press unknown in every other branch of literature.
Thus it was evident that public opinion was undergoing a great change in Germany. By degrees the vast majority of those classes whose education or position in life enabled them, under an Absolute Monarchy, to gain some political information, and to form anything like an independent political opinion, united into one mighty phalanx of opposition against the existing system. And in passing judgment upon the slowness of political development in Germany no one ought to omit taking into account the difficulty of obtaining correct information upon any subject in a country where all sources of information were under the control of the Government, where from the Ragged School and the Sunday School to the Newspaper and University nothing was said, taught, printed, or published but what had previously obtained its approbation. Look at Vienna, for instance. The people of Vienna, in industry and manufactures, second to none perhaps in Germany; in spirit, courage, and revolutionary energy, proving themselves far superior to all, were yet more ignorant as to their real interests, and committed more blunders during the Revolution than any others, and this was due in a very great measure to the almost absolute ignorance with regard to the very commonest political subjects in which Metternich’s Government had succeeded in keeping them.
It needs no further explanation why, under such a system, political information was an almost exclusive monopoly of such classes of society as could afford to pay for its being smuggled into the country, and more particularly of those whose interests were most seriously attacked by the existing state of things, namely, the manufacturing and commercial classes. They, therefore, were the first to unite in a mass against the continuance of a more or less disguised Absolutism, and from their passing into the ranks of the opposition must be dated the beginning of the real revolutionary movement in Germany.
The oppositional pronunciamento of the German bourgeoisie may be dated from 1840, from the death of the late King of Prussia, the last surviving founder of the Holy Alliance of 1815. The new King was known to be no supporter of the predominantly bureaucratic and military monarchy of his father. What the French middle class had expected from the advent of Louis XVI., the German bourgeoisie hoped, in some measure, from Frederick William IV. of Prussia. It was agreed upon all hands that the old system was exploded, worn-out, and must be given up; and what had been borne in silence under the old King now was loudly proclaimed to be intolerable.
But if Louis XVI., “Louis le Désiré,” had been a plain, unpretending simpleton, half conscious of his own nullity, without any fixed opinions, ruled principally by the habits contracted during his education, “Frederick William le Désiré” was something quite different. While he certainly surpassed his French original in weakness of character, he was neither without pretensions nor without opinions. He had made himself acquainted, in an amateur sort of way, with the rudiments of most sciences, and thought himself, therefore, learned enough to consider final his judgment upon every subject. He made sure he was a first-rate orator, and there was certainly no commercial traveller in Berlin who could beat him either in prolixity of pretended wit, or in fluency of elocution. And, above all, he had his opinions. He hated and despised the bureaucratic element of the Prussian Monarchy, but only because all his sympathies were with the feudal element. Himself one of the founders of, and chief contributors to, the Berlin Political Weekly Paper, the so-called Historical School (a school living upon the ideas of Bonald, De Maistre, and other writers of the first generation of French Legitimists), he aimed at a restoration, as complete as possible, of the predominant social position of the nobility. The King, first nobleman of his realm, surrounded in the first instance by a splendid court of mighty vassals, princes, dukes, and counts; in the second instance, by a numerous and wealthy lower nobility; ruling according to his discretion over his loyal burgesses and peasants, and thus being himself the chief of a complete hierarchy of social ranks or castes, each of which was to enjoy its particular privileges, and to be separated from the others by the almost insurmountable barrier of birth, or of a fixed, inalterable social position; the whole of these castes, or “estates of the realm” balancing each other at the same time so nicely in power and influence that a complete independence of action should remain to the King — such was the beau idéal which Frederick William IV. undertook to realize, and which he is again trying to realize at the present moment.
It took some time before the Prussian bourgeoisie, not very well versed in theoretical questions, found out the real purport of their King’s tendency. But what they very soon found out was the fact that he was bent upon things quite the reverse of what they wanted. Hardly did the new King find his “gift of the gab” unfettered by his father’s death than he set about proclaiming his intentions in speeches without number; and every speech, every act of his, went far to estrange from him the sympathies of the middle class. He would not have cared much for that, if it had not been for some stern and startling realities which interrupted his poetic dreams. Alas, that romanticism is not very quick at accounts, and that feudalism, ever since Don Quixote, reckons without its host! Frederick William IV. partook too much of that contempt of ready cash which ever has been the noblest inheritance of the sons of the Crusaders. He found at his accession a costly, although parsimoniously arranged system of government, and a moderately filled State Treasury. In two years every trace of a surplus was spent in court festivals, royal progresses, largesses, subventions to needy, seedy, and greedy noblemen, etc., and the regular taxes were no longer sufficient for the exigencies of either Court or Government. And thus His Majesty found himself very soon placed between a glaring deficit on one side, and a law of 1820 on the other, by which any new loan, or any increase of the then existing taxation was made illegal without the assent of “the future Representation of the People.” This representation did not exist; the new King was less inclined than even his father to create it; and if he had been, he knew that public opinion had wonderfully changed since his accession.
Indeed, the middle classes, who had partly expected that the new King would at once grant a Constitution, proclaim the Liberty of the Press, Trial by Jury, etc., etc. — in short, himself take the lead of that peaceful revolution which they wanted in order to obtain political supremacy — the middle classes had found out their error, and had turned ferociously against the King. In the Rhine Provinces, and more or less generally all over Prussia, they were so exasperated that they, being short themselves of men able to represent them in the Press, went to the length of an alliance with the extreme philosophical party, of which we have spoken above. The fruit of this alliance was the Rhenish Gazette of Cologne, a paper which was suppressed after fifteen months’ existence, but from which may be dated the existence of the Newspaper Press in Germany. This was in 1842.
The poor King, whose commercial difficulties were the keenest satire upon his Mediæval propensities, very soon found out that he could not continue to reign without making some slight concession to the popular outcry for that “Representation of the People,” which, as the last remnant of the long-forgotten promises of 1813 and 1815, had been embodied in the law of 1820. He found the least objectionable mode of satisfying this untoward law in calling together the Standing Committees of the Provincial Diets. The Provincial Diets had been instituted in 1823. They consisted for every one of the eight provinces of the kingdom: — (1) Of the higher nobility, the formerly sovereign families of the German Empire, the heads of which were members of the Diet by birthright. (2) Of the representatives of the knights, or lower nobility. (3) Of representatives of towns. (4) Of deputies of the peasantry, or small farming class. The whole was arranged in such a manner that in every province the two sections of the nobility always had a majority of the Diet. Every one of these eight Provincial Diets elected a Committee, and these eight Committees were now called to Berlin in order to form a Representative Assembly for the purpose of voting the much-desired loan. It was stated that the Treasury was full, and that the loan was required, not for current wants, but for the construction of a State railway. But the united Committees gave the King a flat refusal, declaring themselves incompetent to act as the representatives of the people, and called upon His Majesty to fulfil the promise of a Representative Constitution which his father had given, when he wanted the aid of the people against Napoleon.
The sitting of the united Committees proved that the spirit of opposition was no longer confined to the bourgeoisie. A part of the peasantry had joined them, and many nobles, being themselves large farmers on their own properties, and dealers in corn, wool, spirits, and flax, requiring the same guarantees against absolutism, bureaucracy, and feudal restoration, had equally pronounced against the Government, and for a Representative Constitution. The King’s plan had signally failed; he had got no money, and had increased the power of the opposition. The subsequent sitting of the Provincial Diets themselves was still more unfortunate for the King. All of them asked for reforms, for the fulfilment of the promises of 1813 and 1815, for a Constitution and a Free Press; the resolutions to this effect of some of them were rather disrespectfully worded, and the ill-humored replies of the exasperated King made the evil still greater.
In the meantime, the financial difficulties of the Government went on increasing. For a time, abatements made upon the moneys appropriated for the different public services, fraudulent transactions with the “Seehandlung,” a commercial establishment speculating and trading for account and risk of the State, and long since acting as its money-broker, had sufficed to keep up appearances; increased issues of State paper-money had furnished some resources; and the secret, upon the whole, had been pretty well kept. But all these contrivances were soon exhausted. There was another plan tried: the establishment of a bank, the capital of which was to be furnished partly by the State and partly by private shareholders; the chief direction to belong to the State, in such a manner as to enable the Government to draw upon the funds of this bank to a large amount, and thus to repeat the same fraudulent transactions that would no longer do with the “Seehandlung.” But, as a matter of course, there were no capitalists to be found who would hand over their money upon such conditions; the statutes of the bank had to be altered, and the property of the shareholders guaranteed from the encroachments of the Treasury, before any shares were subscribed for. Thus, this plan having failed, there remained nothing but to try a loan, if capitalists could be found who would lend their cash without requiring the permission and guarantee of that mysterious “future Representation of the People.” Rothschild was applied to, and he declared that if the loan was to be guaranteed by this “Representation of the People,” he would undertake the thing at a moment’s notice — if not, he could not have anything to do with the transaction.
Thus every hope of obtaining money had vanished, and there was no possibility of escaping the fatal “Representation of the People.” Rothschild’s refusal was known in autumn, 1846, and in February of the next year the King called together all the eight Provincial Diets to Berlin, forming them into one “United Diet.” This Diet was to do the work required, in case of need, by the law of 1820; it was to vote loans and increased taxes, but beyond that it was to have no rights. Its voice upon general legislation was to be merely consultative; it was to assemble, not at fixed periods, but whenever it pleased the King; it was to discuss nothing but what the Government pleased to lay before it. Of course, the members were very little satisfied with the part they were expected to perform. They repeated the wishes they had enounced when they met in the provincial assembles; the relations between them and the Government soon became acrimonious, and when the loan, which was again stated to be required for railway constructions, was demanded from them, they again refused to grant it.
This vote very soon brought their sitting to a close. The King, more and more exasperated, dismissed them with a reprimand, but still remained without money. And, indeed, he had every reason to be alarmed at his position, seeing that the Liberal League, headed by the middle classes, comprising a large part of the lower nobility, and all the different sections of the lower orders — that this Liberal League was determined to have what it wanted. In vain the King had declared, in the opening speech, that he would never, never grant a Constitution in the modern sense of the word; the Liberal League insisted upon such a modern, anti-feudal, Representative Constitution, with all its sequels, Liberty of the Press, Trial by Jury, etc.; and before they got it, not a farthing of money would they grant. There was one thing evident: that things could not go on long in this manner, and that either one of the parties must give way, or that a rupture — a bloody struggle — must ensue. And the middle classes knew that they were on the eve of a revolution, and they prepared themselves for it. They sought to obtain by every possible means the support of the working class of the towns, and of the peasantry in the agricultural districts, and it is well known that there was, in the latter end of 1847, hardly a single prominent political character among the bourgeoisie who did not proclaim himself a “Socialist,” in order to insure to himself the sympathy of the proletarian class. We shall see these “Socialists” at work by and by.
This eagerness of the leading bourgeoisie to adopt, at least the outward show of Socialism, was caused by a great change that had come over the working classes of Germany. There had been ever since 1840 a fraction of German workmen, who, travelling in France and Switzerland, had more or less imbibed the crude Socialist or Communist notions then current among the French workmen. The increasing attention paid to similar ideas in France ever since 1840 made Socialism and Communism fashionable in Germany also, and as far back as 1843, all newspapers teemed with discussions of social questions. A school of Socialists very soon formed itself in Germany, distinguished more for the obscurity than for the novelty of its ideas; its principal efforts consisted in the translation of French Fourierist, Saint-Simonian, and other doctrines into the abstruse language of German philosophy. The German Communist school, entirely different from this sect, was formed about the same time.
In 1844, there occurred the Silesian weavers, riots, followed by the insurrection of the calico printers of Prague. These riots, cruelly suppressed, riots of working men not against the Government, but against their employers, created a deep sensation, and gave a new stimulus to Socialist and Communist propaganda amongst the working people. So did the bread riots during the year of famine, 1847. In short, in the same manner as Constitutional Opposition rallied around its banner the great bulk of the propertied classes (with the exception of the large feudal land-holders), so the working classes of the larger towns looked for their emancipation to the Socialist and Communist doctrines, although, under the then existing Press laws, they could be made to know only very little about them. They could not be expected to have any very definite ideas as to what they wanted; they only knew that the programme of the Constitutional bourgeoisie did not contain all they wanted, and that their wants were no wise contained in the Constitutional circle of ideas.