Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion - Gareth Stedman Jones (2016)

Chapter 8. The Mid-Century Revolutions


A fortnight after the Revolution of 22–24 February, Karl together with his family arrived in Paris, on 4 March 1848. Evidence of the February insurrection lay all around.1 According to the German novelist Fanny Lewald, ‘the paving stones are laid loosely at the street corners and not pounded down. Wrecked bread wagons and overturned buses show where the most important barricades were. Most of the iron fencing (except for a few remaining feet giving witness that there had been a fence there) had been torn down around a church. In the Palais Royal – or the Palais National as it is now called according to the sign – all the window panes and their frames have been broken … On the boulevards, the trees are felled, the pipes and columns of the fountains torn down. At the Tuileries, tattered white curtains flutter from the paneless windows; over all the doors, on the walls of the palace, you can read this inscription written in chalk or charcoal: “Hôpital des Invalides Civiles” (City Hospital).’2

During this stay in Paris – which proved to be brief – Karl met again with those he had known in 1844, in particular those associated with La Réforme, the left-leaning republican newspaper, now represented in the Provisional Government. He was in contact with Ledru-Rollin, just become the Minister of the Interior in the Provisional Government, but was closest to Ferdinand Flocon, the editor of La Réforme and soon to be Minister of Agriculture. Flocon was a friend who had first invited Karl back from Brussels. He had also apparently offered Karl money to restart the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, but the offer was refused.3

In early March, the Fraternal Democrats also sent a delegation to Paris. The delegation, which was there to congratulate the new Provisional Government, included the Chartists Harney and Jones, and representatives of the German Workers’ Educational Association in London, Schapper and Moll. The opportune presence in Paris of these leading members of the Communist League both from London and from Brussels made possible the re-establishment of a central office. Karl was reappointed President and Karl Schapper was again Secretary.

In the immediate aftermath of the February days, the atmosphere in Paris remained one of euphoria. Its spirit was evoked by the revolutionary enthusiast, Dussardier, in Flaubert’s novel A Sentimental Education. ‘Everything’s fine! The People are on top! The workers and middle classes are falling into each other’s arms! Ah, if only you knew what I’ve seen! What a splendid lot! How wonderful it all is! … The Republic’s been proclaimed and now everyone’s going to be happy! Some journalists talking near me a moment ago were saying we’re going to liberate Poland and Italy! Do you realize there’ll be no more kings? The whole world will be free, absolutely free!’4

In this heady atmosphere, in which it was believed that revolution would sweep across Europe, it was not difficult to kindle enthusiasm among exiles for the assembling of expeditions which would take the republic back to their native lands. The Provisional Government was keen to see political exiles and foreign workers return to their homelands, and it assisted their passage to the frontier; while, in Belgium, Karl had already found himself falsely accused of promoting the dispatch of revolutionary Belgian workers from Paris to Brussels. When he arrived in France, he learned that a similar plan was afoot among the Germans in Paris. At a large meeting of artisans and exiles, Karl discovered that ‘German democrats of Paris have formed a legion to march and proclaim the German republic’; German and Polish democrats would ‘march together’. They might join the uprising in Posen, and even go on to Russia itself. Gifts were required in the form of arms, ammunition, money and clothing. The first volunteers had already started drilling on the Champ de Mars. The plan was to proceed via Odenwald, the place where the sixteenth-century Peasants’ War had begun, and launch an insurrection there.

This plan, which had been devised by Herwegh and Bornstedt, was vehemently opposed by socialists and communists, who held public meetings to condemn any attempt to establish a republic by means of armed intervention from without. In one of these meetings Karl made a long speech, in which he condemned the Legion, not so much for its Romanticism or its naivety, as for misreading the character of the current revolution. According to Sebastian Seiler, a fellow member of the Communist League, Karl argued that ‘the February revolution was only to be regarded as the superficial beginning of the European movement. In a short time open fighting would break out in Paris between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie … On its result’, he declared, ‘the victory or defeat of revolutionary Europe would depend. He therefore insisted that the German workers remain in Paris and prepare in advance to take part in the armed struggle.’5 As President of the reconstituted League, Karl was now able to break with any organization supporting Herwegh’s Legion, and to expel Bornstedt from the League. Karl and his allies withdrew from the democratic organizations, and set up their own German Workers’ Union, which by April had attracted 400 members.

But plans changed when on 19 and 20 March news reached Paris of revolutions in Vienna and Berlin. In the light of these events, the reconstituted leadership of the Communist League decided to encourage individual members to make their own way back to their home towns and there to work towards the formation of a national network of branches centred upon Mainz. Members were to prepare themselves for a revolution akin to that of 1789. As Karl explained in a reply to Weitling in a speech to the Cologne Democratic Society later in the year, ‘we Germans’ have ‘only now arrived at the point which the French had already reached in the year 1789’.6 All members of the League were to take with them copies of the Communist Manifesto and the seventeen ‘Demands of the Communist Party in Germany’, a document thought likely to appeal to peasants and artisans. In contrast to liberal reform programmes across Europe, these ‘demands’ contained no mention of individual rights, or freedom of speech, of assembly or of the press, and no reference to trial by jury.

The French revolutionary government had given help to the German Legion that marched out of Paris on 1 April. Similar assistance was offered to members of the Communist League, who left Paris on the same day. Karl and his family, together with Engels and Ernst Dronke, left Paris at the beginning of April, first making their way to Mainz. On 10 April, Jenny and the children moved to Trier, where they stayed for three months with her mother, until Karl obtained his residence permit. Karl himself moved to Cologne.


The revolutions of 1848 represented a spectacular collapse of political authority in Western and Central Europe: in Paris in February, in Vienna and Berlin in March. Governments were taken by surprise as some were brought down and others forced into reform. For this reason, most of the gains made by opposition forces – constitutional reformers, liberals, republicans and socialists – were achieved within the first few weeks or even the first few days following the victories of the crowds. Thereafter, in a protracted and sometimes precarious process, conservative forces regained the initiative and recaptured power. The forces of order re-established the fractured polities, but along new and unfamiliar lines.

Karl was fully engaged in the mid-century revolutions, both as a participant and as a critical observer. Before being issued a deportation order on 16 May 1849, he spent thirteen months in Cologne, as the editor of the largest-selling radical newspaper in the Rhineland, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and as a leading member of the Cologne Democratic Society. Later he also became involved in the direction of the Workers’ Association. From Cologne, he proceeded to Frankfurt on 19 May and arrived back in Paris around 3 June. Two months later, he was informed that he had to leave Paris, which he did on 24 August, for London. In England in the aftermath of revolution between January 1850 and March 1852, he wrote two major texts: The Class Struggles in France and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. These works were attempts to interpret the revolutionary sequence of events in the light of his new historical conception of ‘class struggle’: ‘Forms of class struggle’, he wrote to Joseph Weydemeyer, while composing the Eighteenth Brumaire in March 1852, were related to ‘historical phases in the development of production’.7 This conviction governed his political activity as a participant, and his subsequent judgements as a philosopher and a historian. How well it corresponded to the observable sequence of events can only be assessed in the light of an account of what actually occurred.

The possibility of a crisis gathering in Europe had become apparent in 1847. Chartist agitation began in England and a campaign to extend the suffrage started in France. In Switzerland, a civil war resulted in the victory of the liberal cantons over the Catholic ones, while in Palermo the king of Naples was forced to grant a constitution. In Prussia, King Friedrich Wilhelm was obliged to summon a United Landtag in order to authorize a loan to enable the state to build strategically important railways. The government’s continued use of incongruous distinction by estates had been noted at the time, and comparisons were made with the summoning of the Estates General in 1789. Led by Rhineland liberals, the Landtag attempted to make its authorization dependent upon regular meetings and the authority to approve taxes. But this attempt to move towards representative government was refused and the Landtag was adjourned.

The uneasy awareness that official languages of political or social hierarchy no longer matched patterns of belief or behaviour affected both ruling and subordinate classes. This was particularly true in cities, where cafés, taverns and newspapers provided daily updates on political life. On 27 January 1848, Tocqueville asked the French Chamber of Deputies, ‘have you no intuitive instinct, incapable of being analysed, but certain, that tells you the ground is trembling once more in Europe? Do you not feel – how should I say it – a revolutionary wind in the air?’8 Even so, no one expected the Revolution to come precisely when it did.

It arrived three weeks later and in Paris lasted for three days – between 22 and 24 February 1848. It was the unanticipated outcome of the suffrage campaign that had been gathering momentum during the previous year. The Guizot ministry won a substantial victory in 1846, but on the basis of a franchise so narrow that it revealed little about political sentiment in the nation at large. Legitimists no less than republicans, and even the moderate ‘dynastic’ opposition within the Assembly, felt frustrated by the July Monarchy (the constitutional compromise that had followed the Revolution of July 1830). So a suffrage campaign began in the National Assembly in 1847 with Duvergier de Hauranne’s proposal to create 200,000 new voters.9 Since political demonstrations had been forbidden from the mid-1830s, support was to be expressed by a series of reform banquets held all over France. The dining was a pastime largely confined to the middle classes, while large numbers of workers looked on. One banquet in Rouen was attended by 1,800 guests, and Flaubert recorded his distaste at it: ‘Such cuisine! Such wine! And such talk! … After nine hours spent before cold turkey and sucking pig in the company of my locksmith, who continually slapped me on the back at all the best parts, I came home frozen to the marrow.’10

The banquet campaign generated mounting excitement. The moderate ‘dynastic opposition’ – so called because of its acceptance of the July Monarchy – was only prepared to sanction a modest reform programme. It took fright at the plan promoted by radicals in early 1848 to hold a democratic banquet in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, a democratic stronghold around the Panthéon. An alternative plan was put forward, for a banquet near the Champs-Élysées on 22 February. The Prime Minister, Guizot, declared it to be illegal, so on 21 February the leaders of the parliamentary opposition backed down. But the poet Lamartine, famous for his recently published History of the Girondins, and for his move away from the conservative and Catholic deputies in the Assembly, announced his intention to attend the banquet, alone if necessary. Workers and students also refused to capitulate. On the morning of 22 February, therefore, considerable numbers from the eastern suburbs and from the Latin Quarter proceeded to the Place de la Concorde.

No one expected the marches and demonstrations to turn into a revolution. With the National and Municipal Guards the government had at its disposal three times the armed forces which it had commanded in 1840. Nevertheless, within forty-eight hours, Louis Philippe and his ministers were defeated, and the July Monarchy was over. The crucial mistake had been to depend upon the National Guard – the shopkeepers, masters, teachers, journalists and local officials, the so-called ‘petite bourgeoisie in uniform’. During the years 1831–4, the July regime had relied on it as an armed force, but now its loyalties had become uncertain. The editor of Le Siècle and leading member of the National Guard, Louis Parée, reported that there was considerable ill-feeling against Guizot and that his legion would shout, ‘Down with the system! Long live reform!’

Most observers expected that the contestation between the crowds and the regime would end in some sort of compromise between the king and the liberals. What happened later in the day, however, made any such compromise impossible. A long and festive column of marchers, adults and children, proceeded from Saint-Antoine to Porte Saint-Denis, where it mixed with a squadron of cuirassiers in what was seen as a celebration of solidarity between bourgeois and proletarian. The column soon passed the offices of Le National, the journal of the republican opposition, where it was addressed by the editor, Armand Marrast. He called for dissolution of the Assembly, parliamentary reform, and the prosecution of corrupt ministers. The marchers then made their way along the Rue de la Paix to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Boulevard des Capucines, where they found their way unexpectedly blocked by 200 men of the 14th Regiment of the Line. Confused by the thick smoke from the demonstrators’ torches, the soldiers felt threatened and began to shoot, at first by accident and then so it seemed in earnest. Once the smoke cleared, it emerged that fifty demonstrators had been killed, and many more wounded.

On the night of 23 February news of the ‘Massacre of the Boulevard des Capucines’ spread rapidly, and caused 1,500 barricades to be erected throughout the city. The king appointed Marshal Bugeaud to restore order – a tasteless and provocative choice, since Bugeaud was hated for his brutal suppression of the Paris riots of April 1834. Bugeaud found the insurgents too well entrenched to be dislodged. Abandoning the military solution and moving to a political one, Louis Philippe dismissed Guizot and appointed Thiers, who insisted that the opposition leader, Odilon Barrot, be appointed to the ministry and that the troops be cleared from the capital. But this was now too late to placate the crowd. The king abdicated in favour of his nine-year-old grandson, and left for England.

Talk on the streets had already moved towards a republic. The Tuileries Palace was overrun and the royal throne set on fire, and the Assembly was invaded by demonstrators. Not surprisingly, in a chaotic chamber, the regency proposed by the Duchess of Orléans made no headway and the nomination of members of a provisional government was adjourned to the Hôtel de Ville. There, further radicalization took place. Pressure from a vast crowd assembled outside the building – fed on angry memories of how the 1830 Revolution had been ended prematurely with the installation of the July Monarchy – ensured that attempts to leave the future form of government open had to be abandoned. A republic was declared. At the same time, the Chamber of Peers was removed, freedom of assembly and of the press was proclaimed, slavery in the colonies was abolished, and imprisonment for debt and the death penalty for political offences were brought to an end. A solution to the problems of labour was proffered in the appointment of a commission charged with hearings at the Palais de Luxembourg. Above all, in sweeping and unanticipated measures of democratization, universal male suffrage was proclaimed and membership of the National Guard opened to all.

In the eyes of its more radical supporters, the newly established Republic was not simply the ‘Democratic Republic’, but the ‘Democratic and Social Republic’. Pressure from the streets ensured that the government included seven members from the liberal republican journal Le National and five more from the more radical, social-democratic La Réforme. The government now also included the socialist Louis Blanc and the worker Albert.11 Lastly, on 25 February, in response to a further demonstration outside the Hôtel de Ville, the Provisional Government committed itself to ‘guarantee work to all citizens’ and to recognize that ‘workers must associate themselves to enjoy the fruits of their labour’. In apparent recognition of the ‘right to work’ and as a means of removing unemployed workers from the streets, the new government sanctioned on 26 February the creation of ‘National Workshops’.

The events in Paris produced great excitement in Germany. Berliners poured onto the streets in search of news. Coming on top of the liberal victories in Switzerland and Naples and the dismissal of conservative ministries in Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Hanover and Hesse, the tide of reform appeared to be unstoppable. There were demonstrations in Rhineland cities. In Cologne, while deputies discussed a liberal petition demanding civil liberties and constitutional reform on 3 March, radicals burst into the Town Hall, demanding manhood suffrage (the right to vote extended to all adult males) and the abolition of the standing army. In Berlin, on 9 March, crowds similarly burst into the Council Chamber and turned the Municipal Assembly into a protest rally. At the ‘Tents’ in the Tiergarten, there were daily assemblies reaching some 20,000 participants at which constitutional changes were discussed, and artisans and labourers made known their economic discontents, and demanded a new law to protect labour.12

Tension mounted when on 13 March troops were brought into the city, and several demonstrators were killed in the palace precinct. The authorities were divided on how to react: whether to make concessions, as proposed by General Pfuel, the governor of Berlin, or to attack the insurgents, as was urged by Prince Wilhelm, the king’s brother.

News from Vienna decided the issue. On 13 March, a large demonstration of citizens, students and artisans took place outside Vienna’s Landhaus (the meeting place of the lower Austrian estates), where demands were made for reform and for the resignation of Metternich, the Empire’s veteran Chancellor. Throughout the day, the demonstration grew, and, as in Paris, frightened soldiers responded with excessive force. But the crowd did not retreat; it regrouped in various parts of the city, particularly the depressed working-class quarters surrounding the centre. Rioting continued during the night, employers and officials were attacked and fires started. In response to the demands of the Civil Guard, Metternich resigned and left for England. On 15 March, after two days of revolutionary upheaval, the emperor abolished censorship, acknowledged the Civil Guard and promised to summon a constitutional assembly.

Following these events, on the morning of 17 March in Berlin it was also announced that censorship was abolished, that the United Landtag would be recalled and that Prussia would become a constitutional state. The city celebrated and illuminations were ordered. But it was too late to drop the plan to hold a political demonstration in the Palace Square. The demonstration would be a celebration of the crown’s concessions. The crowd duly assembled, but was disturbed by the presence of the military. There were shouts that the soldiers should leave and the beginnings of panic. The order was given for the soldiers to clear the square, but, as the dragoons advanced, two weapons were accidentally fired. Anger mounted on both sides; and the square and its surroundings became a battlefield. As in Paris, the crowd saw the killing of demonstrators as a deliberate tactic, and in response built barricades across the city.13

By the end of the following day, there were 300 protesters and 100 soldiers dead, but no one controlled the city. The military commander, Prittwitz, together with Crown Prince Wilhelm, proposed that the city be evacuated, surrounded and bombarded. But much to the consternation of hardliners in the military, King Friedrich Wilhelm resisted this proposal, and at noon on 19 March troops were pulled out of the city, leaving the king in the hands of the Revolution. That afternoon, he and his wife were obliged to witness a procession of the corpses of the demonstrators carried across the Palace Square. As a sign of respect, he was required to remove his hat – an unheard of humiliation for a Prussian monarch. On 19 March, Friedrich Wilhelm issued ‘An Address to My People and to the German Nation’. In it he implied that Prussia would lead a movement of national unification. At the same time, Prussian liberals convened with others to plan a national German Parliament. The king meanwhile rode through the city, stopping frequently to explain his actions and proclaiming himself proud to be protected by his citizens.

On 21 March, from Cologne, where Karl had formerly edited the Rheinische Zeitung, his friend the physician Roland Daniels wrote that people still depended on rumour to know what had gone on in Berlin: ‘Everything here is in a state of excitement and tension. The whole population would be inclined to do something, but the uncertainty holds it back … The local population is in such a condition that if the town council declared a republic, all would agree.’14 A few days later, another of Karl’s friends, Georg Weerth, wrote, ‘I have been in Cologne for some days. Everyone is armed. The promises from Berlin are not trusted. People will only be satisfied by universal suffrage, unrestricted freedom of the press and the right of free assembly. In the eyes of the people, the old Landtag [the United Landtag] is dead … People will only be content with a new Landtag chosen on the basis of universal suffrage. The same is true of the Frankfurt National Assembly.’15 Excitement was palpable when on 29 March Ludwig Camphausen from Cologne, the leading liberal member of the United Landtag in 1847, was appointed Prime Minister, and when on 1 April the United Landtag enacted a law providing for elections to a constituent Prussian National Assembly. Elections were to be indirect, but based upon universal manhood suffrage.


Karl arrived in Cologne on 10 April. Together with Engels, he had first spent two days in Mainz meeting Karl Wallau and Adolph Cluss, members sent in March by the Communist League to establish a Workers’ Association along similar lines to those set up in London and Brussels. The hope had been to make Mainz the centre of a network of Associations across Germany led by Wallau, a native of Mainz and President of the German Workers’ Association in Brussels. Both he and Cluss were energetic, and by the time Karl and Engels arrived, they had set up a Workers’ Educational Association and published a handbill addressed ‘To All Workers of Germany! Brothers and Workers’, urging the formation of Workers’ Associations in every town and village to choose candidates for the coming German Parliament. Other League members had made similar efforts elsewhere: Stephan Born in Berlin, Wilhelm Wolff in Silesia, Karl Schapper in towns along the River Main, and Ernst Dronke in Coblenz.

But the reports sent back to the Central Authority were discouraging. Where local associations had been formed, they were above all concerned with local issues. The Mainz appeal had been virtually ignored. The first of the seventeen ‘Demands of the Communist Party in Germany’ stated that ‘the whole of Germany shall be declared a single and indivisible republic’. But even where this neo-Jacobin proclamation did not encounter active hostility, it found no resonance. Before the February Revolution, the attempt to establish uniformity of outlook between the London, Brussels and Paris branches of the League had proved a fantasy. But artisans in these cities were at least aware of the array of political positions debated within exile communities. This was not the case in Germany itself. Except for a few Rhineland centres where the French occupation of 1792 had made a lasting impression, there was no republican tradition and no historical memory of the republic. Not only were local concerns to the fore, but – at least among urban crafts – hopes were still focused upon the revival of guild regulation. By the end of April, it had become clear that the League’s attempt to establish a national network of Workers’ Associations was failing. There was no shortage of grievances among artisans and outworkers, and no evidence of unwillingness to associate. But the ideals and aspirations which inspired these workers to act bore little relation to the League’s neo-Jacobin conception of democracy.

Karl had decided to base himself in Cologne. It was a city of around 90,000 with a considerable working population located predominantly in declining port and riverside industries with an unemployment rate of 25 per cent; in 1848, one third of the population were on poor relief. The initiative in establishing an association there had been taken by Andreas Gottschalk, a member of the Communist League, who was a local doctor and extraordinarily popular with the city’s workers for his work among the poor. On 6 April, he placed an advertisement in the Kölnische Zeitung announcing that with some friends he intended to organize a ‘Democratic-Socialistic Club’. The inaugural meeting on 13 April was a success, with several hundred in attendance, yet the identity they wished to assert was not that of democrats or socialists, but of workers. This was clearly stated on 23 April, in the first issue of the Association’s newspaper, the Zeitung des Arbeiter-Vereines zu Köln. Freiheit, Brüderlichkeit, Arbeit (Newspaper of the Workers’ Association in Cologne. Freedom, Brotherhood, Work). A short report on the inaugural meeting stated that the ‘Democratic-Socialist Club was not favoured; the designation, Peoples-Society, was likewise rejected; the name, Worker-Society, universally accepted.’16

In line with the League’s policy of returning activists to their home towns, Gottschalk assumed that Karl would be destined for Trier, and Engels for Barmen. He was a close friend of Moses Hess and had written, urging him not to get involved in Herwegh’s ‘Legion’, but to come to Cologne.17 Together they hoped to revive the Rheinische Zeitung, Gottschalk thought. It could be restarted on the basis of the sale of shares. The intention of the paper envisaged by Gottschalk and Hess was to combine a democratic perspective with particular attention to ‘the social question’ and would focus upon practical rather than theoretical issues. On 7 April, together with a radical ex-army officer, Fritz Anneke, Hess put a notice in the Kölnische Zeitung calling for support for the plan. But Karl’s friend Heinrich Bürgers was also promoting the idea and wrote to Karl inviting him once more to become editor. What exactly happened when Karl and Engels arrived in Cologne is not known, but it is clear that within two days of their arrival, Karl was established as the prospective editor, while Gottschalk and Hess had been sidelined.

The Workers’ Association established by Gottschalk did not correspond to the structure envisaged by the League. While the League treated workers as an undifferentiated group, members of the Workers’ Association were divided into sections along guild and craft lines. Organization by trade went together with encouragement of the expression of workers’ grievances: the highlighting of low wages, industrial disputes, and the exposure of bad employers. In contrast to the League’s commitment to ‘a single and indivisible republic’, Gottschalk supported a federal principle and considered constitutional monarchy a more realistic goal. He wrote to Hess on 26 March: ‘The name “republic” is highly unpopular and the proletariat is at least in this place not yet strong enough to act independently. For the time being, we should be content with what has been achieved already – a monarchy on a Chartist basis – which is more than England has after all.’18 The very name republic, he added, frightened the bourgeoisie, who placed it on a par with ‘robbery, murder and an invasion by Russia’.19 In accordance with this position, and against most democratic opinion, he prevailed upon the Workers’ Association not to oppose the return from England of the reactionary Crown Prince Wilhelm. All these positions were in line with the secondary status accorded to political questions in most forms of socialism in the 1840s. Gottschalk also strongly disapproved of the principle of indirect franchise and for that reason advised his supporters not to vote in the elections for the Prussian National Assembly or the Frankfurt Parliament. But as conflict increased over the summer of 1848, Gottschalk, like others close to the so-called ‘True Socialist’ position, found himself thrown back into the political battle, and in June declared his support for a republic.

The priorities of the Workers’ Association clashed with the League’s conception of the revolution in Germany. The group around Karl was convinced that Germany in 1848 would follow the course of France in 1789. There would be an initial ‘bourgeois’ or ‘liberal’ phase, in which both propertied and popular forces concentrated upon the overthrow of ‘feudal’ social relations. This would then be followed by a ‘second’, radical revolution, led by ‘the German proletariat, the petty bourgeoisie and the small peasants’. As in 1792–3, this radical phase of revolution would be brought about by war. That is why, be it on the status of Poles in the Duchy of Posen, or the claims of the German minority in Schleswig, Karl and his allies always placed themselves on the most belligerent wing of the war party.

This also explained why after their arrival in Cologne Karl and Engels joined the Democratic Society, formed early in April, by a committee containing two of Karl’s old friends and political allies, Heinrich Bürgers and Karl D’Ester. From then to the spring of 1849, the Democratic Society provided Karl’s chosen political home. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung, whose subtitle was ‘Organ of Democracy’, formed part of the same overall vision. The paper made no reference to communism or class struggle. What was meant by the ‘Democratic Party’ in Germany in 1848, Engels later explained, was a commitment to direct and manhood suffrage, a single legislative body and the recognition of 18 March (in Berlin) as the foundation of the new order.20 But ‘democracy’ for Karl and his followers was more a device than an ultimate principle. The demands of ‘the proletarian party’ were supposed to remain hidden, but on occasion spectacularly escaped their confinement, as would become clear in the reaction of Karl and Engels to the Paris workers’ insurrection in June 1848.

It was impossible to rival the devoted following Gottschalk had gathered around himself during his years as a doctor in Cologne since 1843. Across the cities and towns of Western Europe in the 1840s, leaving aside domestic service, contact between the propertied or educated classes and the working classes or the poor was extremely limited. For this reason, the prestige and popularity of those doctors who devoted themselves to the lives of the poor and were some of the few who had first-hand acquaintance with workers’ lives were high indeed. But Gottschalk was also a powerful orator and an intelligent leader. He led the Workers’ Association with a firm hand. As one follower put it, ‘he spoke and silence reigned in the great space of the Gürzenich [the largest public meeting hall at the time] … he commanded and they obeyed’. The success of his Association was phenomenal. Membership climbed from 5,000 in May to 7,000 in June. By contrast, the membership of the Democratic Society was a more modest 700.21

Needless to say, the division between the two camps was counter-productive. Gottschalk’s campaign for abstention from elections reduced the strength of radical representatives in Berlin and Frankfurt, while the result of Karl’s rigid application of his notion of democratic revolution meant that the Neue Rheinische Zeitung virtually ignored workers’ grievances and initiatives in Cologne throughout 1848.

Gottschalk’s departure from the original strategy of the League and Karl’s inability to challenge Gottschalk’s position publicly were probably the main reasons for the decision to disband the Communist League. At a meeting of the Cologne branch of the League on 11 May, Karl challenged Gottschalk’s departure from the League’s agreed positions. In response, Gottschalk repeated the point that his resignation had already been submitted, ‘since the transformation undergone by the present conditions required also a recasting of the Rules of the League, and under the existing Rules his personal freedom was in jeopardy’.22 The impossibility of maintaining the leadership of the League, even when its ‘Central Authority’ was located in Cologne, led Karl to dissolve it in early June. His stated justification was that since there now was a free press, the structure and activities of a secret society were no longer necessary. Yet despite its abolition, in some places – especially London – the League’s shadowy existence continued and it re-emerged with disastrous consequences in the closing stages of the Revolution.


The first issue of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung appeared on 1 June. Raising funds to finance the paper had proved more difficult than expected. Subscriptions were not sufficient, and so stocks had to be sold. But the campaign to raise the necessary funds was not successful. Despite a public meeting of stockholders, by the end of May only 13,000 thalers in shares out of a hoped-for 30,000 had been subscribed, and only 10 per cent of these shares had been paid for. Engels went to the Wuppertal to raise funds, but not surprisingly in this loyalist Protestant area he met with a suspicious or hostile response. He warned that all would be lost if one copy of the seventeen communist demands were to become public there. He also ridiculed Karl’s suggestion that he should approach Engels’ father, who would rather ‘pepper us with a thousand balls of grape[shot]’ than ‘present us with 1,000 t[h]alers’.23 It seemed therefore as if it would be impossible to start the journal before the beginning of July. But Karl was convinced of the imminent danger of the return of reaction, and therefore insisted that the newspaper appear at the beginning of June.24 As a result, despite an energetic circulation campaign, and the possible deployment of part of his inheritance by Karl himself, the newspaper’s finances still remained precarious.25

Apart from Heinrich Bürgers, the editorial team was composed entirely of League members who had returned with Karl to Germany – Ernst Dronke, Friedrich Engels, Georg Weerth, Ferdinand Wolff and Wilhelm Wolff. As in Brussels, Karl as editor-in-chief continued to play this role in a dictatorial fashion. Engels looked after most of the coverage of foreign affairs, while Georg Weerth edited the lighter literary feuilleton or supplement. Karl concentrated on domestic politics and constitutional issues. Although based in Cologne, the paper devoted little space to local issues. It aspired to act as a national newspaper, drawing upon far-flung contributing correspondents, and attracting subscriptions from all over the German Confederation. As Karl stated when he represented the paper at a trial in February 1849, ‘I prefer to follow the great events of the world, to analyse the course of history, than to occupy myself with local bosses, with the police, and prosecuting magistrates’.26 In addition to its leading article on Germany, the first issue contained reports from Vienna, Belgium, Italy, the French Republic and Great Britain. In the next few issues there were also items on Spain, Sweden and the United States, and regular supplements made substantial additions to the coverage. The paper never managed to compete with the 17,000 subscriptions of the main Rhineland paper, the Kölnische Zeitung, but with 5,000 subscribers became established as Germany’s most important radical newspaper, and an informed source of political events abroad. Not surprisingly it was one of the papers commended by the First German Democratic Congress at Frankfurt.

The paper did not foreground the grievances of workers, and it was also written in a style inaccessible to all except a propertied and educated bourgeoisie. In the first issue, explaining why the paper was appearing a month early, an arcane and unexplained reference was made to the French ‘September Press Laws’ of 1835.27 In issue 3, the lead article by Karl, a two-column report attacking the Camphausen ministry, contained references not only to Tristram Shandy, but also to Shakespeare’s Richard III and Goethe’s Faust. The purpose of the article, hardly a contentious point among radicals, was to attack the attempt by the Prime Minister, Camphausen, to establish a legal continuity between the old ‘United Landtag’ and his own ministry without mentioning the revolution that had taken place between the two. This is how Karl’s report concluded: ‘Thus, a goose is transformed into an egg and an egg into a goose. Thanks to the Capitol-saving cackling, the nation soon realises, however, that the golden eggs of Leda, which it laid in the revolution, have been stolen. Not even Deputy Milde seems to be the bright conspicuous Castor, son of Leda.’28 This ponderous display was a further reason for the ill-feeling of the Workers’ Association towards Karl’s paper. According to Gottschalk’s Zeitung des Arbeiter-Vereines zu Köln, the paper was taking advantage of the depressed economic conditions to assemble a ‘submissive’ labour force at low cost. The Zeitung also attacked the subtitle of the paper – ‘Organ of Democracy’ – both because of the dishonest concealment of its aims, and because it was a ‘formal act of suppression of the proletariat, a betrayal of the people’.

In April and May, radicals still sensed that the course of events favoured them. The Prussian Assembly that met on 22 May was predominantly liberal or left-liberal. It aimed to reduce the power of the monarch, subordinate the army to the constitution and eliminate many seigniorial rights in the countryside. Democratic societies and Workers’ Associations were established in many areas, especially in Saxony, Berlin and parts of the Rhineland. Radicals were particularly successful in Vienna, where on 11 May armed students and workers had forced the government to establish a more democratic franchise. In the following weeks the emperor was moved to Innsbruck, while the revolutionary movement remained in the ascendant in the city.

In Cologne, there was an increasingly charged atmosphere, both the fear of a reactionary counter-strike – the stated reason why the Neue Rheinische Zeitung appeared one month early – and a tense climate of revolutionary expectation, which only grew during the First German Democratic Congress of the All-German Democratic Party held at Frankfurt from 14 to 17 June. In addition to Karl’s allies, Schapper, Moll, Dronke, Cluss, Weydemeyer and Freiligrath, this congress was attended by Gottschalk, who on his return was carried in triumph through the streets. The atmosphere in Cologne was also heightened by what had happened in Berlin, where a crowd enraged by the rejection of a motion put forward by Julius Berend in the Prussian Assembly proposing recognition of the service of those who fought on 18 March demanded arms and stormed the Berlin armoury to get them. In Cologne, it was rumoured that delegates returning from Frankfurt would similarly demand arms from the local military. This did not occur, but on 17 June there was tumult in the Altenmarkt, where police were mocked and stones were thrown at them, while the Civil Guard in attendance proved weak and ineffective. Handbills warned ‘brothers’ to be alert since the hour of deliverance was near. News of the attempted uprising led by Friedrich Hecker in Baden further increased the tension. The heading of its manifesto was ‘Speak out the Great Word: German Republic! German People’s State!’ The local military also suspected the imminence of a planned insurrection.

Gottschalk returned from Frankfurt intent upon uniting into one ‘Republican Society’ the three democratic organizations in Cologne – the Workers’ Association, the Democratic Society and the Society for Workers and Employers. Given the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Workers’ Association, however, this was resisted by the two smaller societies. Instead, on 24 June a committee of six – two from each society – was appointed as both a local coordinating body and as the Democratic District Committee for the Rhine Province. Karl was to act with Karl Schneider II (analogous to the American, Schneider Junior), the President of the Democratic Society, on this joint committee; he was therefore placed in a privileged position to direct the Rhineland democratic movement.

By the second half of June, the moment of popular ascendancy was almost over. Friedrich Wilhelm IV had not abdicated. He had not fled as Louis Philippe had done, but nor had he left the city with his troops in order to bombard it into submission, as had been advocated by his brother, Crown Prince Wilhelm. By staying in Berlin without army protection, he had both saved lives and gained popularity. This meant that he was in a far stronger position to defend the monarchical prerogatives that had been so endangered in March.

The king’s response to the constitutional proposals, both of the Camphausen ministry and of the Assembly, was an absolute refusal to countenance any diminution of sovereignty. He was determined that the proposed constitution should continue to specify that the king remained the monarch ‘by grace of God’, and that the constitution itself be regarded not as a law imposed on the sovereign by popular will, but as the outcome of ‘an agreement’ between Friedrich Wilhelm and the people. In practical terms, the king would retain exclusive control both over the army and over the conduct of foreign policy.

The beginnings of a crackdown became evident at the end of June. On 25 June, at a large general meeting of the Workers’ Association at the Gürzenich, 2,000 activists wearing red ribbons in their button-holes clamoured to hear from their President news about the progress of the Revolution. Calls were made for insurrection and the declaration of a republic. Pressed by his supporters, Gottschalk responded cautiously: it was necessary to wait and see what happened in Berlin and Frankfurt. Nevertheless, this was enough to incur prosecution, and on 3 July Gottschalk, Anneke and one of the Association’s leading militants, Esser, were arrested. Their prosecution was pursued with deliberate slowness by the judicial authorities through the autumn and ensured that their imprisonment was prolonged. They were finally brought to trial – and acquitted – on 20 December.

From its creation on 1 June, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was intent upon pushing the political situation beyond the liberal constitutional phase of the Revolution as quickly as possible. This was done firstly by ridiculing the procedures of the Prussian Assembly and the Frankfurt Parliament, and secondly by highlighting almost daily the supposed threat of counter-revolution. The Frankfurt Assembly was attacked in the journal’s first issue for not having declared the sovereignty of the German people. According to Engels, it should also have drafted a constitution ‘and the elimination from the regime actually existing in Germany of everything that contradicted the principle of the sovereignty of the people’.29 ‘A Constituent National Assembly must above all be an active, revolutionarily active assembly. The Assembly at Frankfurt is engaged in parliamentary school exercises and leaves it to the governments to act … It is the first time in world history that the Constituent Assembly of a big nation holds its sessions in a small town … The Assembly bores the German people instead of inspiring it.’30

If the ultimate demand were for ‘a united indivisible German republic’, the constitution-making in Berlin would be beside the point. But simply to ignore the constitutional conflict in Prussia would have been self-defeating. Instead, the activities of Camphausen and the Prussian Constituent Assembly were covered in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, but in a wholly negative way. The Assembly was denounced as ‘the Agreement Assembly’, on account of its supposed preparedness to act in accordance with the royal formulation, that the constitution would be the result of an ‘agreement’ (Vereinbarung) between king and people. The Assembly was attacked particularly for its unwillingness to commemorate the fighters of 18 March. This was contrasted with the attack on the armoury by the people of Berlin. The Assembly’s denial of this first revolution, it was stated, would soon be confounded by the beginning of the second; foretold by the attack on the arsenal.31 As for the newspaper’s preoccupation with counter-revolution and conspiracy, its headline reaction to the fall of the Camphausen ministry on 21 June was a good example. The paper had been predicting ‘either a new revolution or a definitely reactionary Government’ and that ‘The attempt at a new revolution has failed’, and it continued in bold letters: ‘a Russophile Government will pave the way for the Czar’.32 During the same period – from 19 to 26 June – in an effort to stoke up radical passions, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung helpfully serialized an account of the trial of Louis Capet, formerly known as Louis XVI, by the French Revolutionary Convention in January 1793.


At this point, the attention of Karl’s newspaper became transfixed by developments in Paris, where an announcement of the imminent closure of the National Workshops had led to an insurrection of more than 40,000 concerned workers. Having learnt of their impending dismissal on 22 June, workers had assembled on the morrow en masse in the Place de la Bastille and then retired to their respective quartiers to build barricades. To deal with the emergency, on 25 June the ‘Executive Commission’ (the government) followed republican precedent derived from Ancient Rome. It entrusted temporary dictatorial power to General Eugène Cavaignac, the republican War Minister who had played a prominent role in the conquest of Algeria. On 25 June, Cavaignac launched a counter-offensive, and on 26 June the last barricade was recaptured. From England, the Clerk to the Privy Council, Charles Greville recorded in his diary:

Although distress and famine were the prime causes of this great struggle, it is remarkable that there was no plundering or robbery; on the contrary, they were strictly forbidden and apparently never attempted. It is the only example, so far as I know, that history records of a pitched battle in the streets of a great capital between the regular army and the armed civil power on the one side, and the populace of the town militarily armed and organised also on the other, nobody knowing how the latter were organised or by whom directed.33

Since Karl had left Paris in early April, the political climate in France had changed markedly. Throughout March and the beginning of April, the supporters of the Revolution had remained in the ascendant. But as militants flocked to Paris, the left assumed more provocative forms, especially in many radical clubs. On 17 March, a demonstration of 100,000 led by the former secret-society leader Auguste Blanqui had ensured that elections for the Constituent Assembly would be postponed from 9 to 23 April together with the promise (not kept) that troops would be progressively withdrawn from the town.

In April, lines of division became more visible. In another large demonstration on 16 April, a plan suspected to be by Blanqui to force a shift in the balance between moderates and radicals within the Provisional Government was thwarted by other radical leaders. These included Barbès, Blanc and especially Ledru-Rollin, the radical Minister of the Interior, who called out the National and Mobile Guards to defend the Hôtel de Ville against the possibility of a radical coup. As expected, the election of the Constituent Assembly on 23 April benefited the moderates rather than the left. Manhood suffrage produced an Assembly which was for the most part unsympathetic to the ideals of February: out of 900 representatives, there were 350–500 nominal republicans. The events of February had taken rural France by surprise; political mobilization of radical support in the countryside had scarcely begun. Not surprisingly, aristocrats, notables and clergy were disproportionately returned. Radical republicans polled less than 10 per cent of the seats. Many more seats were won by monarchists, whether Orléanist or Legitimist. The Provisional Government was replaced by a more conservative five-member ‘Executive Commission’, from which the socialist, Blanc, and the worker, Albert, were dropped.

But even more decisive in shaping the sequence of events leading to the June Insurrection had been the shift in attitudes towards the left as a result of the demonstration of 15 May. The ostensible purpose of this demonstration had been to press for French intervention in aid of Polish democrats. Thirty thousand had initially gathered on the Champ de Mars, but as the ulterior aim of the leaders of the demonstration became clear, many slipped away and numbers were down to 2,000 by the time it reached the Constituent Assembly. There, however, with the connivance of the local National Guard commander, entry was forced into the Assembly chambers, and amid the tumult the demonstrators declared the dissolution of the Assembly and the formation of a new Provisional Government. By this time, loyal units of the National and Mobile Guards had arrived, and the radical leaders had been arrested as they had attempted to make their way to the Hôtel de Ville to install the new government.

By any criterion, these were acts of stupidity, and there have been suspicions ever since that the radicals had been set up by agents provocateurs.34 The result was that a large part of the left’s potential following was now alienated, and its leadership, in Maurice Agulhon’s word, ‘decapitated’.35 The policy of compromise followed by the Executive Commission had been discredited. Leadership of the Constituent Assembly now passed into the hands of an increasingly intransigent coalition of conservatives, who abolished the Luxembourg Commission and began to plan the disbanding of the National Workshops.

Moderates as well as radicals had welcomed the National Workshops as a way of keeping the unemployed off the streets. Under the direction of Émile Thomas, the Workshops themselves were kept away from the influence of radicals and the activities of their clubs. But attitudes changed once Thomas was removed, the right of assembly was limited and democratic clubs were shut down. At this point in early June, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Workshops themselves were also about to be closed. Delegates from the Workshops met up with members of the disbanded Luxembourg Commission and protested against the abandonment of the democratic-social proclamations of the February Republic. Finally, after a debate on 20 June, a directive of the Assembly ordained the immediate dissolution of the Workshops. Younger members were directed to enlist in the army, while older ones were to be sent to rural work projects in distant provinces. Demonstrations against the decree were unavailing, and on the evening of 22 June a crowd of 100,000 in front of the Hôtel de Ville resolved to resist by force of arms. The insurrection began on the following day.36

French republicans condemned this rebellion almost without exception. For Karl’s friend Flocon, the issue was simply that of refusal to obey a democratically elected republican authority. It was akin to an attempted coup d’état. Cavaignac, the general who suppressed the rebels, was a committed republican, and so was the cabinet he chose to serve with him until the presidential elections in December 1848. Although many papers were sympathetic to the plight of the workers, the democratic and republican press across Europe was equally scathing about the revolt.

Only the Neue Rheinische Zeitung – despite its claim to be an ‘Organ of Democracy’ – was prepared to celebrate the insurrection as a triumph of the workers. In his essay ‘The June Revolution’ of 28 June, Karl claimed that ‘the workers of Paris’ had been ‘overwhelmed’ by superior strength, ‘but they were not subdued’. This ‘triumph of brute force’ had been ‘purchased’ with ‘the destruction of all the delusions and illusions of the February revolution’. The ‘fraternity’ proclaimed in February had found ‘its true, unadulterated and prosaic expression in civil war, civil was in its most terrible aspect, the war of labour against capital’. The February Revolution had been ‘the nice revolution, the revolution of universal sympathies’. The June Revolution was ‘the ugly revolution’ because ‘the phrases have given place to the real thing, because the republic has bared the head of the monster [capital] by knocking off the crown which shielded and concealed it’. This was the first ‘revolution’ since 1789 to have assailed ‘class rule’ and the ‘bourgeois order’.37

Ever since his time in Brussels, Karl’s political writings had suffered from a certain incoherence as a result of his attempt simultaneously to ride two horses – the democratic and the proletarian-socialist, the actual revolution and the next revolution but one. The treatment of the June Insurrection was a spectacular example of this contradictory attitude. The article opened up the democratic position to all the objections which could be made by Karl Grün and other socialists. If the workers were crushed by a democratic republic based on manhood suffrage, if democracy did not provide a solution to the social question, then why fight for the attainment of a republic? Despite his bluster – ‘only weak, cowardly minds can pose such a question’ – Karl’s attempt to answer this objection was not satisfactory. He argued that ‘the best form of state is that in which these contradictions reach a stage of open struggle in the course of which they are resolved’.38 But the case made by democrats and republicans was not that democratic politics provided an arena in which the class struggle could be fought through to the end, but rather that, in a democracy, conflicts of interest would be amenable to peaceful and rational solutions.

Not surprisingly, other Rhineland newspapers attacked the Neue Rheinische Zeitung and ironized about its support for ‘democracy’. Karl appears to have realized that he would have to rectify his position if he wished to retain his leading role in the Democratic Society. An opportunity to do this arose when, despite Karl’s opposition, Weitling was given an opportunity to address the Democratic Society on 22 July. Two weeks later, on 4 August, Karl gave a speech in reply. His response to Weitling’s advocacy of a virtuous dictatorship was that such a rule in Germany would be both impractical and quite unfeasible ‘since power cannot be attained by a single class’. On the contrary, ‘the governing power, just as the Provisional Government in Paris, must consist of the most heterogeneous elements’. In a very different tone from that employed in the June article, he argued that ‘the disregard of the position of the various strata of the population to one another, the refusal to make reciprocal concessions and wrong notions about class relations have led to the bloody outcome in Paris’.39

Besides its homage to the June insurrectionaries in Paris, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung also attacked the heightening of repression in Cologne at the beginning of July. The paper alleged that Gottschalk and Anneke were arrested in order to provoke an uprising, which the army could then crush. Mrs Anneke claimed that in the case of ‘the brutal arrest’ of her husband, a servant girl had been mistreated and that no official complaint could be made since the gendarmes were not accompanied by a suitable official. These claims were hotly contested by the judicial officials, Zweiffel and Hecker, who were responsible for the conduct of the case.

In the light of the shift towards reaction on the part of the Prussian state and the growing numbers of instances – both personal and political – which set Karl against the Prussian authorities, it was scarcely surprising that on 3 August 1848 Karl was informed that his application for the re-establishment of his Prussian citizenship had been refused.40


The Revolution in Germany came to an end in the three months following the Schleswig-Holstein crisis in September 1848. The Prussian Assembly lost the battle to establish a constitutional monarchy. The Parliament in Frankfurt was humiliated and marginalized, while both in France and in the Hapsburg Empire a decisive shift to the right was underway.

In France at the beginning of July, the Workshops were dismantled. The Assembly considered that the June Insurrection had not just been the result of socialism, but also a consequence of February. The Revolution had created too much freedom. It therefore supported measures to regulate the clubs and curb the press. The restriction on working hours decreed in February was relaxed, and ‘the right to work’ was omitted from the new constitution drafted by the Assembly between September and November. In the elections for the new executive presidency, created by the constitution, Cavaignac hoped to triumph by aligning himself with the Orléanists headed by Thiers (the so-called ‘Rue de Poitiers group’). But he was trumped by Louis-Napoléon, the nephew of the former emperor, who now unambiguously aligned himself with a ‘party of order’, appealing not only to the Orléanists and Thiers, but also to the church, to strong rule and to the memory of the First Empire.41 Cavaignac was also challenged on the left by Ledru-Rollin, who built upon the social-democratic republicanism associated with La Réforme. In November 1848, he and his supporters, associating themselves with the republicanism of 1792 or La Montagne,42 issued an election manifesto, La Solidarité républicaine.

The results of the presidential election of 10 December came as an unpleasant surprise to the political class. Cavaignac polled 1,400,000 votes while Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, whom Ledru-Rollin and Lamartine had attempted to outlaw from the Assembly the previous summer, polled more than 5 million. For the moderate left, Ledru-Rollin polled 400,000, while only 37,000 voted for the intransigent secret-society veteran, Raspail. The republic now seemed to be in danger. For the new ministry, put together by Bonaparte and the Rue de Poitiers Orléanists, contained no republicans, and its leader was intent upon restoring the imperial throne. The ministry was headed by the Orléanist politician Odilon Barrot, and defined itself as the ‘Party of Order’. It attempted an energetic campaign of repression against what it construed to be the growth of a ‘red menace’, whether Ledru-Rollin’s ‘Démoc-Socs’, who had been growing in parts of the countryside, or the remnants of the Blanquists in Paris.

The news from France was depressing, but it was not clear that the Revolution there had finally come to an end. Paris may have been stunned by the brutal subjugation of the June Insurrection, but elsewhere in France support for the ‘Démoc-Socs’ was growing. In Austria and Central Europe, by contrast, initial hopes for democracy in Vienna and for independence in Italy and Hungary gave way to a nightmarish sequence of reversals, in which the seemingly moribund Hapsburg Empire experienced first military triumph and then political renewal.

Over the summer, the Hapsburg armies were the first to turn the balance of forces in favour of counter-revolution. In June, an army commanded by Prince Windischgrätz defeated the Czech rebels in Prague. In July, an army of Croats under General Jellačić began to push the Hungarians back, and on 25 July the Austrian army in Italy under Radetzky decisively defeated the Piedmontese at the Battle of Custozza.

Radicals found themselves increasingly on the defensive. As in Paris, the commitment of the radical Viennese authorities to support a public-works programme attracted large numbers of unemployed to Vienna. But the costs became politically unsustainable and, on 23 August, the Council was forced to reduce wages, leading to clashes between workers and a middle class, reminiscent of Paris in June.

On the question of the Empire, there were also some crippling divisions among radicals and nationalists. The crushing of rebellion in Prague was in part the result of the division between Germans and Czechs in Bohemia. While democrats in Vienna identified with Germany and sent representatives to the Frankfurt Parliament, Czech national leaders supported an Austro-Slav programme outside German borders, and in June convoked a Pan-Slav Congress, supported also on the left by Bakunin. This congress was disrupted by an anti-Hapsburg insurrection on the part of those supporting Frankfurt, and was made worse by the shooting of Windischgrätz’s wife. Threatened with destruction by Windischgrätz’s army, the insurrection collapsed. But, thereafter, the leaders of the Czech national movement and the democrats in Vienna were pitted against each other. Other subordinate nationalities in the Empire – Croats, Serbs, Romanians and Slovaks – also found themselves increasingly aligned with the Hapsburgs against the revolution in Vienna and Hungary.

The final act in the Viennese Revolution was sparked off by the news on 5 October that regiments were to be dispatched to join Jellačić’s Croat army to fight the Hungarians. On 6 October, the departure of these troops led to the erecting of barricades and an uprising in Vienna. The court once more fled the city, and conservative deputies withdrew. A revolutionary Committee of Public Safety (named after the Jacobin society which presided over the Terror in 1793) took over the running of the city, but the citizenry were soon alienated by its excesses. Revolutionaries were also undecided about how to act in the face of approaching Hapsburg armies. Hope was pinned on the Hungarians, but their help was not forthcoming until too late. There was therefore increasing panic as Jellačić’s army moved in from the south-east and that of Windischgrätz from the north. Finally, on 23 October, Windischgrätz surrounded the city with an army of 60,000 and by the end of the month it was taken. A new and more decisive imperial government was formed under Prince Felix zu Schwarzenberg. The feeble-minded emperor was forced to abdicate and a new constitution was issued.

In parallel with the defeat of the democratic-social republic in France and the destruction of revolution in Vienna, from September onwards the German Parliament in Frankfurt experienced a series of comparable defeats. On 21 March 1848, liberals had been delighted when the Prussian king invoked the memory of the struggle against Napoléon in 1813 and announced his support for the formation of an all-German Parliament. On 18 May, following the assembly of the Pre-Parliament, the German National Assembly began its proceedings in Frankfurt. But doubt about its powers and status in relation to existing German states was there from the beginning. While liberal nationalists planned a federal monarchy, presided over by either Prussia or Austria, and a tiny minority of ultra-radicals like Karl dreamt of a unitary republic, the Germany imagined by Friedrich Wilhelm was something like a revival of the medieval Holy Roman Empire. Incorporating both Berlin and Vienna, it did not entail significant ceding of power to the Frankfurt Assembly.

These ambiguities were made brutally clear when the Frankfurt Assembly was forced directly to confront the problem of and authority over the issue of Schleswig-Holstein. On 21 March, the Danish government annexed Schleswig, a border province with a substantial minority of German speakers. Outraged by the annexation, which had met with revolutionary resistance on the part of the Germans of south Schleswig on 23 April, the Prussian army – with the endorsement of the German Confederation – marched into Schleswig and pushed out the Danes. The liberal nationalists in Frankfurt were delighted. But the Russian czar was alarmed to see Prussia acting in apparent alliance with revolutionary nationalists and threatened to send in troops. This in turn aroused the British government, worried that Russia might use the Schleswig-Holstein affair as a pretext to turn Denmark into a Russian protectorate and secure control over access to the Baltic. Faced with intense diplomatic pressure, under the terms of the Treaty of Malmo on 26 August 1848, the Prussians withdrew their troops, leaving northern Schleswig in Danish hands.

In signing this treaty, the Prussians paid no attention to the views of the Frankfurt Parliament. Deputies were enraged and on 5 September voted to block the treaty. But without an army or any constitutional means by which its decisions might be enforced within the German Confederation, the Parliament was powerless, and in a humiliating climb-down it voted on 16 September to accept the terms of the Malmo armistice. Much of the prestige of the Frankfurt Parliament was thereby lost. The decision caused consternation, and provoked another uprising in Baden. In Frankfurt, a mass meeting insisted that radical deputies secede from the Parliament; two conservative deputies were killed and a crowd tried to storm the Assembly.

The crisis in Frankfurt over the Treaty of Malmo coincided with a parallel ministerial crisis in Prussia over the control of the army. An incident in Schweidnitz in Silesia, which had originated in the intervention of the army in a dispute between the Civil Guard and their local commander, resulted on 3 August in an exchange of shots between the army and the Guard in which fourteen civilians were killed. This provoked widespread indignation throughout Prussia and resulted in a motion proposed on 3 August by Julius Stein, the democratic representative from Breslau, and accepted by the National Assembly, instructing the army to cooperate with civil authorities. This was unacceptable to the king for it threatened the notion of ‘agreement’ upon which dealings between the monarch and the Assembly were supposed to proceed. The Chief Minister, Hansemann, attempted to delay the implementation of the motion, but the Assembly backed by crowd pressure outside the building forced the issue. On 10 September, Hansemann was compelled to resign; liberals felt uneasy about the presence of the crowd.

In Cologne, the tension between soldiers and civilians took a different form. On the day after the Hansemann resignation, soldiers of the 27th Regiment in one of the town squares insulted a local girl, who appealed to local bystanders for protection. The hostility of the locals towards the soldiers provoked a riot of drunken soldiers, their sabres drawn and beyond control by their officers. Eventually order was restored by the Civil Guard, but anger in the city remained intense. A meeting of the Council reinforced by a crowd of radical demonstrators insisted that the regiment be moved, and that the Civil Guard patrol the city.

The hostility between Rhinelanders and East Elbian soldiers – ‘soldeska’, seen as foreign as well as reactionary – was long-standing. Nevertheless, most assumed that there was no larger political agenda behind this senseless drunken affray. Yet while tension in Berlin and Frankfurt was at its height, and the possibility of the radicalization of the revolution seemed imminent, the left scented a conspiracy and so over-reacted. Radical companies in the Civil Guard, and, following them, the Democratic Society and the Workers’ Association, proposed the formation of a Committee of Public Safety and the next day mounted the public election of its members. Members of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, including Karl, were prominent among those elected. But the square was only half filled, other detachments of the Civil Guard and other societies objected, and seven leading members of the Democratic Society resigned. In the following days, the Committee backed down, protesting the legality of its intentions.

The ministerial crisis in Berlin was temporarily resolved by the formation of General Pfuel’s ministry on 20 September. But in the meantime, anger about the Treaty of Malmo and the determination to support the Frankfurt Assembly’s initial refusal to endorse the treaty had prompted the Workers’ Association to organize a large-scale protest at Worringen, on the Rhine, ten miles north of Cologne. The meeting attracted between 5,000 and 10,000 people, many of them peasants recruited from the surrounding villages by the Workers’ Association. At the meeting there was a unanimous declaration in favour of ‘the democratic-social, the Red Republic’, and an endorsement of the newly formed ‘Committee of Public Safety’. Engels was elected Secretary and he committed the meeting to support the Frankfurt Assembly’s stand on Schleswig-Holstein – they had not yet heard that Frankfurt had gone back on its decision. As ‘assembled imperial citizens’, those present were to disregard the Prussian position and commit their ‘fortune and blood’ to the battle with Denmark. Engels’ speech at this meeting was cited as the reason for a warrant for his arrest later in the month. Karl himself was not at the meeting and the rejection of his appeal for citizenship had been confirmed on 12 September, so his continued residence in Cologne was wholly at the discretion of the authorities.

Once it was learnt that the Frankfurt Parliament had in fact ratified the Malmo treaty, Cologne was in turmoil. On 20 September, a protest meeting was arranged by the Democratic Society, the Workers’ Association and the Committee for Public Safety, while further action was expected at the Second National Democratic Congress, due to be held on 25 September. In an attempt to forestall further radical activity, on 23 September warrants were issued for the arrest of Engels, together with Schapper, Moll, Wilhelm Wolff, Bürgers and others. The meeting of the Democratic Congress was cancelled, but the atmosphere in Cologne around the end of September remained extremely tense. There was looting and disorder, and windows were broken on many streets; a new stage in the revolution was thought to be imminent. The police and army moved in to occupy strategic positions within the city. Radicals, including Karl, addressed several meetings of the Democratic Society and the Workers’ Association advising workers not to be provoked into premature action, but to remain disciplined and await news of events in Berlin.

Despite this warning a workers’ meeting did assemble in the Altenmarkt in the late afternoon of 23 September. On hearing that soldiers were about to arrive, the crowd hurriedly dispersed, but at the same time embarked upon the building of barricades and by nightfall more than thirty had been erected. When, on the following morning, the soldiers did eventually advance on the barricades, they found no one there. The defenders had tired of waiting through the night and retired. After this moment of bathos, some mockery was directed at the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, to which Karl was unable to reply, since on 26 September martial law was declared in Cologne and the newspaper was unable to appear again until 12 October.43

The crisis in September was for the moment eased by Pfuel, who attempted to cooperate with the Assembly and ordered the army to conform to the Assembly’s demands. But this attitude angered the king and annoyed the army. The situation became increasingly tense once the debate on the constitution began. The Assembly refused to accept the king’s insistence upon royal authority ‘by the grace of God’ and went on to abolish titles of nobility. Crowd pressure from the left in Berlin steadily increased and was reinforced towards the end of the month after a takeover of the meeting of the German National Democratic Congress by a radical minority. What was left of the congress declared for a ‘red republic’ and organized a mass demonstration designed to force upon the Assembly a commitment to assist besieged Vienna, the Waldeck motion. On the other side, the king was strengthened by the army’s return from Denmark under the command of General Wrangel, who since 13 September had been in charge of all military units around Berlin. Direct confrontation was unavoidable.

Karl thought that developments in France determined the course of events. But the happenings in Austria seem to have made a greater impression on Friedrich Wilhelm and his circle, for just as the triumph of the crowd in Vienna had prompted Friedrich Wilhelm’s concessions in Berlin in March, so in November the victory of the Hapsburg counter-revolution encouraged the Prussian king to regain full military control in Berlin. On 2 November, the king dismissed the moderate Pfuel ministry and installed instead his own uncle, the conservative Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg, as Chief Minister. The Assembly refused Brandenburg, but without any attention being paid to its declaration. On 9 November, Brandenburg announced to the Assembly that it was adjourned for three weeks and would reconvene in the town of Brandenburg. At the same time, General Wrangel and 13,000 troops re-entered Berlin, without significant resistance from the Civil Guard. Wrangel proceeded to the Gendarmenmarkt and informed the Assembly that it must disperse immediately. In response, the Assembly moved to a shooting gallery and called for passive resistance. On 14 November, martial law was declared in Berlin and the Civil Guard disbanded, political clubs were closed down and radical newspapers banned. Karl’s reaction in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on 12 November was to call for a tax strike. On 15 November the radical remnant of the Assembly – urged on by Karl’s friend Karl D’Ester – decreed by a unanimous majority of 226 to 0 that the Brandenburg ministry did not have the authority to collect taxes, so long as the Assembly was denied the right to meet freely in Berlin.

This seemed like the moment for which radicals had been waiting. The king was forced, for the moment at least, to disregard the idea of ‘the Agreement Assembly’, and revert to the position of an absolute monarch, driving the Assembly to outraged resistance. In Cologne, on 11 November, a large meeting attended by workers, merchants and officials passed a resolution declaring that the crown had no right to suspend the Assembly, a declaration subsequently signed by a further 7,000. The City Council was persuaded to endorse it, and so did the liberal-constitutionalist Cologne Citizens’ Society. A delegation from Cologne was sent to Berlin to convey the opinion of the city to the government. Karl and Schneider II issued a proclamation in the name of the Democratic District Committee calling all Rhineland democratic societies to support the tax refusal. At the same time, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung published any news or rumours it could find to magnify the extent of resistance to the government. Soldiers were said to be fraternizing with the people, martial law in Berlin was being mocked and the provinces of Silesia and Thuringia were said to be in revolt. The Assembly’s decree was to begin on 17 November and on that day the Neue Rheinische Zeitung printed on its masthead the headline ‘No More Taxes!!!’ A further proclamation by Karl and Schneider II proposed resistance to tax collection, the formation of a militia and the demand that all officials declare loyalty to the commands of the Assembly.

At the beginning, there was a promising response to the campaign for tax refusal. Pressure was put on city councils to join the tax ban. In Bonn, Düsseldorf, Coblenz and elsewhere, toll booths were destroyed, while cattle and flour entered the cities toll-free. An effort was made to mobilize the Civil Guard and the Landwehr in defence of the campaign. But the attempt to assemble such a force in a square in Cologne was prevented by the army and the prospective commander, von Beust, was compelled to flee. By 23–24 November, resistance was fading. Unlike in Britain or the United States the association between taxation and representation lacked historical potency. In Cologne, the City Council was prepared to protest against the Brandenburg coup, but was unwilling to join in tax refusal. Furthermore, the Civil Guard was not in a position to prevent tax collection in the city. As a major garrison town, Cologne was full of soldiers, and in addition the Guard had been disarmed in September.

How did the Neue Rheinische Zeitung respond to this crucial phase of the 1848 Revolution? As we have seen, Karl and his friends not only hated Russian czardom but feared its capacity to intervene and crush progressive movements across Central and Eastern Europe – and even in Denmark. For Karl and Engels, however, hatred of Russia was also a means to an end. Whether the issue was the assistance to be given to the Polish rebels in Posen or the military support to be given to Schleswig Germans in Denmark, the objective was to provoke war with Russia: ‘Only a war against Russia would be a war of revolutionary Germany, a war by which she could cleanse herself of her past sins, could … make herself free within her borders by bringing liberation to those outside.’44

Such thinking was inspired by an analogy with the first French Revolution; Germany in 1848 was a replay of France in 1789.45 But what particularly fascinated Karl and his colleagues on the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was not 1789, but 1792–3 when European war radicalized the Revolution. Revolutionary war had brought about the declaration of the Republic, the assembly of the Convention, the execution of the king, the formation of the Committee of Public Safety and the practice of the Terror. At the height of the Malmo crisis on 13 September 1848, Karl wrote, ‘If the government continues in the way it has been doing, we shall have a Convention before long – not merely for Prussia, but for Germany as a whole – a Convention which will have to use all means to cope with the civil war in our twenty Vendées and with the inevitable war with Russia.’46

The use of such an analogy was dangerously misleading. It presumed that it was possible to anticipate events solely on the basis of ‘social development’, regardless of political forces and institutions. It took no account of the fact that in 1789 the French state was bankrupt, that it was indissolubly tied to a discredited church, that it could not rely on the army to control popular forces, and that by 1792 the monarch had been disgraced and rendered powerless by his attempt to flee the country. None of this applied to the Prussian king, whose control of army and bureaucracy remained unchallenged throughout the 1848 crisis.

In 1815, Talleyrand was reported to have said of the Bourbons that they had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. But on the evidence of 1848 it was the left rather than the leaders of reaction who remained trapped in an outdated fantasy about revolution rather than coming to terms with new realities. As Engels had written to Karl back on 8–9 March, ‘if only Friedrich Wilhelm IV digs his heels in! Then all will be won and in a few months’ time we’ll have the German Revolution. If he only sticks to his feudal forms! … But’, he had to add, ‘the devil only knows what this capricious and crazy individual will do.’47 Engels was wise to add a note of caution. For the reactions of the king and his circle were far from stupid, not only in March but throughout the rest of the year. On 12 September, at the height of the crisis following the Treaty of Malmo and the departure of Hansemann, Karl wrote, ‘we are facing a decisive struggle’. It revolved around the king’s choice of government. Karl wrote: ‘There are only two solutions to this crisis. Either a Waldeck Government, recognition of the authority of the German National Assembly and recognition of popular sovereignty; Or a Radowitz-Vincke Government, dissolution of the Berlin Assembly, abolition of the revolutionary gains, a sham constitutionalism or even the United Diet.’48 Here at last was the conflict the radicals had been waiting for, the conflict between the Berlin Assembly ‘acting as a Constituent Assembly, and the Crown’. Karl was confident that the king, particularly after the Assembly had yielded to the government on the Malmo treaty, would press ahead with a government of reaction. On 22 September, he wrote, ‘It has happened after all! The government of the Prince of Prussia is in being and the counter-revolution intends to risk the final decisive blow … The Don Quixotes of Further Pomerania, these old warriors and debt-encumbered landed proprietors will finally have their opportunity to cleanse their rusty blades in the blood of the agitators.’49 In fact, however, whether as a result of indecision or of good judgement, the king deferred the decision about the new ministry until nationalist passion had somewhat abated, and then chose the conciliatory General Pfuel to head the government.

The attempt of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung to treat political struggles as ‘merely the manifestations of social collisions’ produced a reading of events that was far too crude. It treated all the ministries created between that of Camphausen at the end of March and that of the royal coup d’état in November as the conscious or unconscious tools of reaction. Just as, after the departure of Hansemann, Karl had predicted the arrival of a backward ‘feudal’ government, so he predicted exactly the same after the fall of Camphausen on 22 June. ‘Camphausen has the honour of having given the absolutist feudal party its natural boss and himself a successor.’50

His treatment of the Prussian Assembly suffered from a similarly dismissive handling of political difference. Karl argued on 14 September that ‘from the very beginning we blamed Camphausen for not having acted in a dictatorial manner, for not having immediately smashed up and removed the remains of the old institutions’.51 It was certainly true that because Camphausen’s liberal ministry was fearful of the popular forces that had established it in office at the end of March, it did not press for major constitutional reforms at the moment when monarchical forces were at their weakest. But it was naive of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung to imagine that a liberal ministry would not also have taken account of the danger from radicalism and the anger on the streets.

For liberals were haunted by the memory of the French Revolution as much as the left. For them, the threat represented by popular forces on the street was even more to be feared than the resistance of the crown. If unchecked, it could lead to uncontrolled violence and the rule of the untutored masses. That this belief was shared by the bulk of the Berlin middle classes was apparent in a memorial procession in honour of the ‘March fallen’. The event ‘attracted well over 100,000 people, but these were virtually all labourers, working men and journeymen, or to put it more pointedly, people from the same social stratum as the dead barricade fighters themselves. Middle-class burghers of the kind who predominated in the National Assembly were conspicuous by their rarity.’52 The aim of Camphausen, Hansemann and the liberal leadership of the United Landtag had never been to establish a republic, but to achieve a constitutional monarchy. Their aim was to find an acceptable compromise between monarch and parliament supported by public opinion – the opinion of the propertied and the educated. The last thing they wanted was to be at the mercy of the anarchic passions of the crowds.

The contemptuous tone adopted by Karl and Engels whenever they referred to ‘the Agreement Assembly’ provided another example of the Zeitung’s lack of political discrimination. It failed to accept that the inter-class nature of a ‘democratic’ revolution raised the need to build alliances rather than to resort to derision and condemnation whenever the Assembly was mentioned. Such an approach obscured the extent to which a struggle still continued between the crown and the Assembly. This was most immediately about control of the army, but ultimately over the issue of sovereignty – whether the king was beholden to the people or acted ‘by the grace of God’.

As this conflict reached an acute phase at the end of October, culminating on 2 November in the dismissal of the Pfuel ministry, the Zeitung moved again towards the need for a united front. On 14 November, Karl declared that it was ‘the duty of the Rhine Province to hasten to the assistance of the Berlin National Assembly with men and weapons’.53 The article acknowledged the refusal of the Assembly to back down, its condemnation of Brandenburg for treason, and the continuation of its proceedings in a shooting gallery after Wrangel had expelled it from the theatre in which it had met. This was a gesture which Karl compared with the use of a tennis court by the French ‘Third Estate’ after its own expulsion in June 1789.54 Two days earlier the Zeitung had not been able to refrain from sniping at the ‘bourgeoisie’: ‘the bourgeoisie would have liked so much to unite with the feudal party and together with it enslave the people’.55

So what should be done now? According to the paper, before declaring that ‘we should refuse to pay taxes’, Karl berated the National Assembly for its failure to resist Wrangel and his soldiers: ‘Why does it not pronounce the mise hors de loi [outlawing]? Why does it not outlaw the Wrangels? Why does not one of the deputies step into the midst of Wrangel’s bayonets to outlaw him and address the soldiers? Let the Berlin National Assembly leaf through the Moniteur, the Moniteur for 1789–1795.’ This again was more a reference to the histrionics of revolution than to its actuality. In Karl’s own case in the Rhineland, whenever the question of physical resistance was raised, his appeals were to ‘conduct yourselves calmly’, and not to react to any provocation which the soldiery might commit.56

As for Brandenburg and Wrangel themselves, in a witty attack, Karl ridiculed them as ‘nothing but mustachios’, and as ‘the two most stupid men in the monarchy’.57 But, once again, he underestimated the ability of the leaders of reaction. Karl was right to assume that the king was determined to defeat any notion of popular sovereignty, but wrong to imagine that this would come about through the staging of the great final confrontation of which Karl dreamt. In reality, the king and his advisers were able to produce a solution which divided the opposition and rallied support for the crown.

On 9 November, the Prussian National Assembly was informed by royal decree that it was to be transferred from Berlin to Brandenburg, where it would reconvene three weeks later. But many of the deputies who rejected the decree stayed in Berlin. This meant, however, that there were too few deputies present in Brandenburg on 27 November and that it was not sufficient to make up a quorum. On 5 December, Brandenburg was therefore enabled to declare the Assembly dissolved. Wisely, however, he made no effort to revert to the non-parliamentary Prussian practices of the pre-1848 years. He issued a new constitution, and scheduled new elections for a two-house Assembly in late January. The new constitution was similar to the one it replaced as it incorporated some important liberal demands. But it was still based on royal sovereignty with crown control over army, bureaucracy and foreign policy. This new constitution was a clever initiative which successfully split the opposition and isolated the radical left. It won approval from all parts of Prussia, not least the Rhineland. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung was almost alone in its wholesale condemnation. For, whatever their misgivings, many liberals found it an acceptable compromise, while Catholics were delighted by its effort to accommodate the church.

Karl found it impossible to accept that this could be the result of the 1848 Revolution in Prussia. Throughout the months between March and December, he had been predicting a reactionary Junker-led coup, which in turn would provoke a radical social revolution. In November, after the fall of Vienna, attacking what he called ‘the bourgeoisie’ in the shape of the National Guard, he also claimed that ‘everywhere’ the ‘bourgeoisie’ had come to a secret agreement with the forces of reaction, and this idea propelled him once more back to the repertoire of the French Revolution. After referring to the June events in Paris, and the October events in Vienna, he continued, ‘the very cannibalism of the counter-revolution will convince the nations that there is only one means by which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated – and that is by revolutionary terror.’58 In December, in the aftermath of the Brandenburg coup he reiterated the point in a more extended article, ‘The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution’. He claimed that 1848 had shown ‘that a purely bourgeois revolution and the establishment of bourgeois rule in the form of a constitutional monarchy is impossible in Germany, and that only a feudal absolutist counter-revolution or a social republican revolution is possible’.59

Once again, Karl’s was a static and anachronistic picture. It was true that a pure form of ‘bourgeois rule’ had not been established. But what had come into being was a hybrid creation, a form of representative state, but one in which parliament still lacked control over crucial aspects of the executive, notably the army and foreign policy. Developments in France under Louis-Napoléon were tending in the same direction. The crisis in political authority had produced a renewed predilection for strong government, but no longer in its traditional shape. The alternatives envisaged by Karl missed altogether the emergence of these new political forms, which encompassed, however demagogically, some form of a representation and a broader suffrage.

In historic Prussia, Brandenburg’s constitution effectively brought the Revolution to an end. The second half of November was the nearest that Prussia had come to insurrection, not only in the cities but also in the countryside, particularly the wine-producing district of the Moselle valley. At that point, democrats commanded broad support, and they remained the strongest grouping in the new Parliament elected on 22 January 1849. The slogan ‘No more taxes!!!’ remained on the masthead of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung until 17 December, but ceased to carry any weight after the last week of November. In the Rhineland, forms of opposition and outbreaks of rebellion among peasants and outworkers continued through to the spring. But this was not enough to shake the government. For without leadership from Berlin, Vienna or Frankfurt, rebellions remained localized and opposition fragmented.

7. 1849 – FINAL MONTHS

The final phase of the Revolution occurred in the spring and early summer of 1849. On 27 March, having laboured to complete the drafting of an imperial constitution, a narrow majority of the Frankfurt Parliament voted to approve a royal constitution and to offer the imperial throne to Friedrich Wilhelm, making him the ruler of all Germany. To have accepted an offer from the Parliament would have implied an endorsement of popular sovereignty. Only a proposal from the crowned heads of the German Confederation would have been acceptable. After some delay, the king declined the crown, and refused to ratify the Frankfurt constitution. Furthermore, on 26 April, he dissolved the new Prussian Assembly, which had accepted the constitution and offered military assistance to other states which supported its rejection.

In the Rhineland, the response was divided. Catholics were happy to support a decision that preserved the pre-existing German Confederation, and Austria’s pre-eminent place within it. Conversely, in Protestant districts, traditionally loyal to the Prussian crown, the king’s response was met with disbelief. Elberfeld, near Engels’ childhood home, and Krefeld, a centre of outworking metal trades, became hubs of resistance. Along the Rhine, meetings of democrats and militiamen were held, and it is estimated that 10,000–15,000 participated in some form of resistance.60 But the groups were short of weapons, and by mid-May the insurrection had run out of steam. In the south and the west, a military campaign to ensure the ratification of the Frankfurt constitution continued. But it stood no chance against Prussian forces and finally came to an end in July.

For the radical left crisis was welcome. But this was not the crisis for which they had yearned. How could republicans get involved in a campaign to induce Friedrich Wilhelm to accept the imperial crown? At least liberals in the liberal-constitutionalist citizen societies had felt sufficiently incensed to contest the actions of royal government. The Cologne City Council protested that the king had acted contrary to the will of the people, while that of Elberfeld appointed a Committee of Public Safety and sent a message of support to Frankfurt. Karl and other radicals had expected that some form of compromise would be reached between Frankfurt and Berlin. Since Malmo, Frankfurt was held in little respect by either the right or the left. The powerlessness of the Assembly had been underlined on 9 November by the shooting on the order of Prince Windischgrätz of Robert Blum, an emissary sent by Frankfurt to negotiate an end to the siege of Vienna. Blum was a radical and a native of Cologne; and the Neue Rheinische Zeitung had produced a special black-lined front page to commemorate his passing. Thereafter, the paper had all but lost interest in Frankfurt and relegated its proceedings to the back page.

The refusal of the king and the dissolution of the Assembly had taken Karl and the other radicals by surprise. This helps explain why at the moment when the Prussian Assembly endorsed the imperial constitution and demanded the lifting of martial law in Berlin, Karl was out of town fund-raising. Belatedly, the Zeitung got involved in the Rhineland resistance. Engels offered his services to the revolt in Elberfeld, and subsequently fought in the German Imperial Constitution Campaign, while Karl, who had kept clear of the conflict, nevertheless found himself placed under an expulsion order. He was told to leave Prussia on 16 May, and departed after publishing the last issue of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung three days later. This final edition, of 19 May, was printed in red. Its last message was to urge the ‘emancipation of the working class’, but it kept its distance from the campaign over the imperial constitution and warned workers not to get involved in any attempt at a ‘putsch’.

Between the Malmo crisis in September 1848 and January 1849, Karl ran the Neue Rheinische Zeitung almost alone; of the original staff only Georg Weerth was left to assist him. After Worringen, and the protest meetings in Cologne, warrants had been issued for the arrest of Schapper, Moll, Wilhelm Wolff, Bürgers, Engels, Dronke and others. Moll went to London, where he began to make clandestine plans for the resurrection of the Communist League. Schapper was released on 15 November and returned to Cologne, where he provided crucial support for Karl in the continuing conflict with Gottschalk.

Engels first returned to the family home in Barmen, where he burnt incriminating papers, then left for Brussels. After being expelled from Belgium, he travelled by foot from Paris to Berne. On his way he took leave from politics and enjoyed the wine harvest in Burgundy. He offered a thumbnail sketch of the different kinds of female charm the traveller might encounter on this itinerary, confessing that he preferred ‘the cleanly washed, smoothly combed, slimly built Burgundian women from Saint-Bris and Vermenton’ to ‘those earthily dirty, tousled, young Molossian buffaloes between the Seine and the Loire’. He saw no sign of the incipient republican sentiment which in some areas was to connect the peasantry with the democratic-social programme of La Montagne in the following year. For him, ‘the peasant in France, as in Germany, is a barbarian in the midst of civilisation’.61

Engels only returned to Cologne in January, once the danger of imprisonment had passed. His role in Karl’s circle remained contentious, just as it had been four years earlier. Ewerbeck, D’Ester and, not surprisingly, Hess still wished to oust him from his privileged position. But it was clear that Karl had no intention of abandoning such a prolific and dependable friend. As Ewerbeck remarked to Hess, Karl ‘is completely crazy about Engels, whom he commends as excellent intellectually, morally and with respect to his character’.62

The problems faced by the Neue Rheinische Zeitung were considerable, quite apart from the enforced departure of so many members of its editorial team. As a result of the imposition of martial law in Cologne on 26 September, the problem of funding once again became acute. Martial law was lifted on 3 October, but the paper did not reappear until 12 October. Uncertainty about how long martial law would last coincided with the period set aside for quarterly renewals and this led to a sharp drop in the number of subscribers. At the same time, the recruitment of the poet Freiligrath to the editorial team was expected to increase circulation.

Some money was also raised in the form of ‘loan certificates’, but the response to this promotion was mixed. According to Lassalle, writing from Düsseldorf, ‘men of decidedly radical views accused the said newspaper of perfidy and would like to see some other democratic organ founded in its place’.63 On previous occasions, Karl’s fund-raising trips had enjoyed some success. Over the summer of 1848, he had journeyed to Vienna and Berlin and soon after received 2,000 thalers from Vladislav Koscielsky in thanks for the paper’s support to the Polish cause. But in its last months raising funds became ever more difficult. From 14 April through to 9 May, Karl attempted to fund-raise in Westphalian towns and later in Bremen and Hamburg. But he returned with only 300 thalers, just enough to pay off immediate debts. And then the paper was forced to cease publication.

During this period, radicalism in Cologne was weakened once more by the unseemly row between the supporters of Gottschalk and the group around Karl. Gottschalk was acquitted on 23 December 1848 and, had the authorities allowed it, would have been accompanied from court through the streets in a triumphal torchlight procession.64 On 16 October 1848, Karl was temporarily made President of the Workers’ Association during Gottschalk’s absence. But when Gottschalk and Anneke were released, Karl did not relinquish the post. Seeing no chance of ousting Karl and his supporters from their now controlling position within the Association, Gottschalk left Cologne, first to tend to his sick sister in Bonn, and on to Brussels and Paris. His supporters remained in charge of the Association’s newspaper, Freiheit, Brüderlichkeit, Arbeit (Freedom, Brotherhood, Labour) and were determined to contest the takeover.

Conflict initially focused upon a specific political issue. Having dissolved the previous Prussian Assembly, the Brandenburg ministry in Berlin had issued a new constitution and decreed elections on 22 January 1849 for a new Assembly. Democrats had to determine whether to accept a constitution bestowed upon the people by the king as an act of grace. All male citizens except those on poor relief were eligible to vote, but elections were indirect, in two stages: electors would vote for delegates, who in turn would vote for representatives. Karl and his circle campaigned for the democratic candidates, Franz Raveaux and Schneider II. But in the Workers’ Association Anneke proposed that independent worker candidates should stand; democrats should be supported tactically only where worker candidates stood no chance. Against this Karl argued it was too late to put up separate candidates. In the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on 21 January, he contended that ‘workers and the petty bourgeois’ would do ‘better to suffer in modern bourgeois society, which by its industry creates the material means for the foundation of a new society that will liberate you all, than to revert to a bygone form of society, which, on the pretext of saving your classes, thrusts the entire nation back into medieval barbarism’.65 In the ensuing elections, Cologne democrats, who refused the terms of the new constitution, did extremely well. But this was no constitutional crisis, since the Rhineland was outvoted by other parts of Prussia where opinion was more conservative.

The supporters of Gottschalk denounced the whole strategy. Wilhelm Prinz, now the editor of Freiheit, Brüderlichkeit, Arbeit, attacked the democratic candidates, and despite attempts to discipline him went on to attack Karl directly. On 25 February 1849, the battle culminated in an anonymous denunciation by Gottschalk himself of Karl’s linkage between the democratic position and the necessity of a bourgeois revolution. Gottschalk attacked intellectuals for whom ‘the hunger of the poor has only a scientific doctrinaire interest’ and derided the political strategy of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, according to which the outbreak of revolution in Germany depended upon the outbreak of revolution in France, and the outbreak of revolution in France was made dependent upon the outbreak of revolution in England.

By then, the conflict had reached the stage in which two different versions of the newspaper, with almost identical logos, the one Freiheit, Brüderlichkeit, Arbeit and the other Freiheit, Arbeit, competed to express the purported position of the Workers’ Association. Under the leadership of Karl Schapper, the Workers’ Association was reorganized in such a way that Gottschalk’s supporters were marginalized. In place of the 7,000 or more members of the previous summer, a much smaller and more tightly organized Association was created. Organization by trade was discontinued, members paid fees and a far more pedagogic approach was adopted. Members were now enjoined to study Karl’s ‘Wage Labour and Capital’ and directed to read up on the themes discussed in the editorials of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. But, despite all this, support for Gottschalk did not diminish. A month after his attack on Karl, Gottschalk wrote to Hess, expressing his satisfaction that the attack on Karl and Raveaux had made ‘a powerful sensation’, and that a banquet in the Gürzenich had been packed out because of Gottschalk’s expected presence.66

In the early months of 1849, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was strengthened by the return of most of the former editorial team, mainly as a result of the unwillingness of Rhineland juries to support the prosecution of radicals by state authorities from Berlin. The two trials in which Karl was involved benefited from this attitude. At the first trial Karl made masterly use of the Napoleonic penal code to accuse prosecutors of falling back upon the extra-legal assumptions of an absolutist state.67 In the second Karl provided the jury with his theory of the bourgeois revolution in Prussia, building on the contrast between the still feudal United Landtag and the bourgeois National Assembly. On that basis, he argued that the laws he was supposed to have transgressed no longer existed.68

Most striking in the first few months of 1849 was how extraordinarily optimistic Karl and his group remained, despite Bonaparte’s victory, the fall of Vienna, and Friedrich Wilhelm’s triumph over the Prussian National Assembly. In an article in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published on New Year’s Day 1849, he declared, ‘the table of contents for 1849 reads: Revolutionary rising of the French working class, world war’. This was the speculative prophecy mocked by Gottschalk: ‘The liberation of Europe’ depended upon ‘the successful uprising of the French working class’. But this was likely to be ‘thwarted’ by the English bourgeoisie. The toppling of this bourgeoisie could only be accomplished by a ‘world war’; ‘Only when the Chartists head the English government, will the social revolution pass from the sphere of utopia to that of reality.’69 In an image repeatedly used by the two friends from 1844 onwards, Engels was equally convinced of the revolutionary transformation of Europe, once ‘the Gallic cock crowed’. In Central and Eastern Europe, this would ensure the victory of the three nations which represented the cause of revolution: the Germans, the Poles and the Magyars. Conversely, those who belonged to the cause of counter-revolution – the Czechs, Moravians, Slovaks, Croats, Ruthenians, Rumanians, Illyrians and Serbs – were ‘destined to perish before long in the revolutionary world storm’. Engels expected that ‘The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples.’70

Through the mid-century revolutions, Karl stuck in formal terms to the goal of democratic revolution. But within that framework hopes of a progression across Europe towards a second wave of revolution led Karl and his friends in 1849 to place growing emphasis upon the role of the proletariat, while adopting an ever more dismissive attitude to the role of the democrats. After concluding that ‘constitutional monarchy’ was ‘impossible’ in Germany, Karl’s treatment of the democratic beginnings of the revolution itself became increasingly contemptuous.71 There had been no events ‘more philanthropic, humane and weak than the February and March Revolutions’.72 Similarly, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung distanced itself from the democratic deputy from Breslau, Julius Stein, who had attempted to subject the army to parliamentary control. The paper declared that it had never ‘flirted with a parliamentary party’ and that in the struggle against the existing government ‘we ally ourselves even with our enemies’.73 In a similar spirit, the paper denounced the March Association, which had been founded in Frankfurt in November 1848 and had acquired over 900 branches. It was committed to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and the defence of the gains of the March Revolution by all legal means. Sticking doggedly to the French revolutionary script, Karl compared the Association with ‘the Feuillants’, the liberal constitutional reformers who had opposed the dethroning of Louis XVI and ‘had to be got out of the way before the outbreak of the real revolution’; they were ‘the unconscious tool of counter-revolution’.74

Finally, on 14 April 1849, Karl, Schapper, Anneke and Wilhelm Wolff announced their resignation from the Democratic District Committee in Cologne, proposing instead a closer union of Workers’ Associations, and calling for a Congress of Workers’ Associations to meet on 6 May. Simultaneously, the Workers’ Associations it reached were sent copies of ‘Wage Labour and Capital’ and the revised statutes of the Cologne Workers’ Association.

There have been various subsequent attempts to justify this abandonment of the Democratic Society, ranging from the appropriateness of the foundation of a proletarian party at this stage, to Karl’s disappointment at the activities and aspirations of the Kleinbürger (lower middle class), to his desire to join together with the recently created Workers’ Brotherhood (Arbeiterverbrüderung) initiated by Stefan Born and by then active in Berlin.75 But none of these interpretations are especially convincing. This was a moment of large-scale protests on the part of liberal constitutionalists as well as democrats and socialists against the king’s rejection of the imperial throne and constitution, together with another dissolution of the Prussian National Assembly and the imposition of martial law in Berlin. This was hardly an auspicious moment to plan the formation of a separate proletarian party. As for the desire to link up with Born’s Workers’ Brotherhood, there was no reason why such a step should have precluded continued membership of the Democratic Association. More likely, it was a move designed to placate Gottschalk supporters within the Cologne Workers’ Association.76

In a larger sense, this was a continuation of the stance Karl had adopted in Brussels: the attempt both to support the democratic or so-called ‘bourgeois’ revolution and at the same time to fast-forward to the development of a ‘social-republican revolution’ beyond. This zigzag between the two scenarios continued through the revolutionary period. In August 1848, Karl had insisted against Weitling that the democratic revolution must contain a coalition of ‘the most heterogeneous elements’ just like the French Provisional Government of February.77 But in April 1849 his justification for leaving the ‘Democratic Associations of the Rhine Province’ was ‘the conviction that, in view of the heterogeneous elements in the Associations in question, there is little to be expected from them, that would be advantageous for the interests of the working class or the great mass of the people’.78 In February, he had supported the democratic candidates; now he considered it urgent ‘firmly to unite the homogeneous elements’. Similarly, on the anniversary of the March Revolution in Berlin, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung dismissed it as ‘that feeble echo of the revolution in Vienna’ and declared that the anniversary which the paper would celebrate would be that of 25 June (the Paris uprising).79 Yet in June he travelled to Paris as the representative of the ‘Democratic Central Committee’ of the Palatinate.80

Seen from the perspectives of other democrats – the many enrolled in the March Associations for example, or the liberals and radicals pushing for a constitutional monarchy – the precise location of Karl and his friends, whether in the Democratic Society or the Workers’ Association, was of purely scholarly interest. For what Karl meant by democracy, in the context of a ‘bourgeois’ revolution, was a re-enactment of the activities of the indivisible republic, the Convention and the Committee of Public Safety in 1793. Even in August 1848, when he had argued for the necessity of a coalition of ‘heterogeneous elements’, his attitude towards putative allies had remained ungenerous, even cantankerous. Carl Schurz, who attended the Democratic Congress from Bonn, recalled many years after:

Everyone who contradicted him, he treated with abject contempt; every argument that he did not like he answered either with biting scorn at the unfathomable ignorance that had prompted it, or with opprobrious aspersions upon the motives of him who had advanced it. I remember most distinctly the cutting disdain with which he pronounced the word ‘bourgeois’; and as a ‘bourgeois’ – that is, as a detestable example of the deepest mental and moral degeneracy – he denounced everyone who dared to oppose his opinion.81

Flaubert wrote of the 1848 February Revolution in France: ‘in spite of the most humane legislation ever seen, the bogy of 1793 reared its head and every syllable of the word “republic” vibrated like the thud of the blade of the guillotine’.82

Horrific though the memory of the Terror remained, at the time it had possessed justification, and as a result significant support. The Terror of 1793 had not been inaugurated as an act of will. It had been introduced, and justified, as a reluctant response to wartime emergency – ‘La patrie en danger’ – since France had been invaded and the Vendée was in revolt. This had been an appeal to the political wisdom of the ancients – Necessitas non habet legem (Necessity knows no laws). Those who had carried out the Terror had not imagined that the politics of emergency could be wilfully invented, irrespective of whether or not an emergency existed. For this reason, it was not simply the ‘bourgeoisie’ who found the constant allusions to the watchwords of 1793 either frightening or indeed tiresome.

Although the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was successful in establishing itself as the voice of a distinctively caustic form of radicalism in 1848, the extent of its understanding of the events – and therefore the quality of its journalism – was limited by its dogmatic tone and its reductive conception of politics. The position it occupied at one extreme of the political spectrum was too marginal to have much impact upon the general course of development in the second half of 1848. But insofar as it possessed the ability to affect the political situation, its impact was mixed. When opportunities arose, it made the aim of securing a united front more difficult. When it articulated the authentic and widely held local hostility towards Prussian rule and the military occupation which sustained it, it provided a powerful and uncompromising expression of popular sentiment in the Rhineland.


From Cologne, Karl and Engels proceeded to Baden and the Palatinate, where they expected to find an insurrection under way. They hoped to persuade the left in Frankfurt to summon armed assistance from Baden and the Palatinate. But the Frankfurt representatives were reluctant to assume responsibility for an armed insurrection, and the troops in Baden and the Palatinate were loath to fight beyond their frontiers. Around 3 June, Karl therefore went on to Paris now as the accredited representative of the Palatinate Democratic District Committee.

Paris was very different from the city he had left fourteen months earlier. Hope of revolution had given way to fear of disease. Alexander Herzen recorded in his Memoirs: ‘The cholera raged in Paris; the heavy air, the sunless heat produced a languor; the sight of the frightened, unhappy population and the rows of hearses which started racing each other as they drew near the cemeteries – all this corresponded with what was happening … The victims of the pestilence fell nearby, at one’s side.’ Nevertheless, Karl found on his arrival excitement among revolutionaries about what they considered an imminent and transforming event. In May 1849, to please the church, Bonaparte had sent the French army to Rome to expel Mazzini and the republicans, and to restore the exiled Pope. In the National Assembly, Ledru-Rollin denounced Bonaparte and the ministry, claiming that they should be impeached for violating the terms of the new constitution. He and the party of La Montagne called for a public demonstration to be held on 13 June. The left hoped that this protest might topple the government. On 12 June, Herzen’s friend Sazonov came to see him. ‘He was in the greatest exaltation: he talked of the popular outbreak that was impending, of the certainty of its being successful, of the glory awaiting those who took part in it, and urgently pressed me to join in reaping the laurels.’83

When 13 June dawned the government was well prepared and the meeting attracted only a few participants. Soldiers drove the Montagnards off the streets; some of their deputies were arrested, Ledru-Rollin went into hiding and then fled to England. Karl later affected to believe that this failure was due to the deficiencies of the ‘petite bourgeoisie’. More likely, as Maurice Agulhon has suggested, the Parisian crowds were less preoccupied with foreign affairs than with questions of economic well-being.84

As a result of the failure of 13 June, the ‘Party of Order’ took full control of the National Assembly and the scale of repression increased. Germans in Paris were particularly subject to police attention, and it was only a matter of time before Karl’s address was discovered. On 19 July, he was told to leave Paris and was given the option of moving to Morbihan, an especially unhealthy coastal region of Brittany. So he decided instead to cross the Channel to England on 24 August 1849. Jenny and the family followed on 15 September.

During the summer of 1849, the last pockets of revolutionary resistance were eliminated across Europe. The Hungarians surrendered to the Russians, while Prussian armies destroyed remaining centres of resistance in the German Confederation, most spectacularly the insurrection in Dresden between 3 and 9 May. Yet despite this string of defeats Karl and the left remained ebullient. Like Herzen, Karl noted that Paris was ‘morne’ (dreary) and that ‘the cholera is raging mightily’. But his reaction was similar to that of Herzen’s friend Sazonov: ‘For all that,’ Karl wrote on 7 June, ‘never has a colossal eruption of the revolutionary volcano been more imminent than it is in Paris today.’85

At the end of July, Karl was undaunted. He wrote to Freiligrath that ‘with each reactionary measure’ the French government ‘alienates yet another section of the population’, while Cobden and ‘the English bourgeoisie’s attitude to continental despotism’ offered another source of hope.86 His rejoicing sounded like Schadenfreude. Around the same time, he wrote to Weydemeyer that he was among ‘the satisfaitsLes choses marchent très bien [things are going very well] and the Waterloo suffered by official democracy may be regarded as a victory: “Governments by the grace of God” are taking it upon themselves to avenge us on the bourgeoisie and to chastise them.’87 Two weeks later he awaited the expulsion of ‘the Barrot-Dufaure clique’ from the French cabinet, and ‘as soon as this comes about you can look for an early revolutionary resurrection’. In England, he was hopeful for an alliance of Chartists and free traders: ‘Consequences of this economic campaign against feudalism and Holy Alliance incalculable.’88

During the whole period between early 1849 and the summer of 1850, Karl was preoccupied with the strategy and activities of the Communist League. The League had been disbanded in the summer of 1848, but as the forces of reaction gained the upper hand in the autumn and winter of that year, pressure grew to restore it. At the Second Democratic Congress in Berlin, Ewerbeck, the representative from Paris, had met with other former members and agreed to summon a meeting in Berlin, at which new officers could be appointed. The December crisis in Berlin, caused by Brandenburg’s dissolution of the Assembly, prevented this meeting from taking place, but arrangements for reconstituting the League went ahead anyway. The initiative was carried forward mainly by the London branch, where former members were still active, notably Joseph Moll after fleeing from Cologne, Heinrich Bauer and Johann Georg Eccarius. At the beginning of 1849, Karl Schapper had set up a branch in Cologne, and attempts had been made to persuade Karl and other members of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung to rejoin. According to one report, a meeting to discuss the issue was held in Cologne at the beginning of 1849, and was attended by Karl, Engels and Wilhelm Wolff, together with Joseph Moll and other members. Karl remained opposed since he considered a secret society unnecessary as long as there remained freedom of speech and freedom of the press.89 But at some point later in the spring – perhaps around 16 April, when Karl resigned from the Democratic Society – he and Engels evidently rejoined.

Some commentators have treated Karl’s political activity in the Communist League in 1849–50 as a regrettable lapse of political judgement, provoked by ‘the breakdown of his immeasurable hopes’.90 It makes more sense, however, to relate his behaviour not to psychology, but to the inherent volatility of his theoretical position. His attempt to combine politics and a preset notion of development led to a continued impression of zigzagging, which disconcerted friends and enemies alike. In the light of his advocacy of ‘revolutionary terror’, his emphatic rejection of the existence of any ‘legal basis’ and his denunciation of the ‘bourgeois’ revolution towards the end of 1848, what was there to distinguish his position from that of insurrectionary intransigents like Willich?91 The main point of difference was Karl’s insistence upon dividing the revolution into a series of distinct ‘stages’, for the moment a purely academic point. If Karl no longer believed a ‘bourgeois revolution’ to be possible in Germany, why should workers accept their subordination to a democratic ‘petite bourgeoisie’? Karl was not only prepared to rejoin the Central Committee of the reconstituted Communist League, but was active in pushing its position further to the left. This is strongly suggested by his collaboration with August von Willich during the autumn and the winter after he arrived in London in August 1849.

Willich was a former artillery officer from an aristocratic family and had been deprived of his rank for writing to the king in defence of his fellow officer Fritz Anneke, who had publicly proclaimed his support for socialism. Having left the army and become a carpenter, Willich joined the Cologne Communist League and met and befriended Andreas Gottschalk, with whom he had headed a demonstration which invaded the Cologne Council Chamber on 3 March 1848. Willich was imprisoned, and then released at the outbreak of the March Revolution; so he proceeded to Baden, where he participated in a failed insurrection. He appealed through Anneke for financial assistance for those who had taken part in the insurrection. Karl and the Democratic Society rejected the appeal, but it was supported by Gottschalk and the Workers’ Association. During the campaign over the imperial constitution, Engels had served under his command, and when Willich came to London in the autumn of 1849, it was with a strong recommendation from Engels. As President of the Central Authority, Karl proposed the co-option onto the Committee, not only of Engels, but also of Willich. Later on, Schapper was co-opted as well on his return from Germany. He too favoured an insurrectionary position.

Willich was not therefore an unknown quantity and the fact that he was welcomed by Karl suggests a substantial political convergence. This is suggested by three clues. The first was Karl’s role in what came to be called the Social Democratic Support Committee for German Refugees. This committee was set up by the German Workers’ Educational Association at 30 Great Windmill Street, the centre of a maze of streets adjoining Leicester Square and Soho. In 1849, the Association became the destination for the large numbers of German political exiles and refugees who had streamed into London. Many were in distress, without a job, away from their families and lacking other contacts. But providing help was not straightforward, not simply because of the shortage of money, but also because of the fierce political disagreements among the exiles and refugees themselves. At a general meeting of the Workers’ Educational Association on 18 September to discuss the plight of refugees, Karl was elected to a committee in charge of charitable relief. Collaboration between communists and democrats was difficult, and these divisions became even sharper when, on Karl’s initiative, Engels and Willich joined the committee, and its title was changed to the Social Democratic Support Committee for German Refugees.

The second clue was to be found in the direction followed by the Central Authority of the Communist League itself. The Authority also co-opted Engels, Willich and Schapper; and this was followed up by an effort in 1850 to reactivate branches in Germany. The shoemaker Heinrich Bauer was sent on a tour of German centres, and Karl sent a letter to the cigar-maker Peter Röser, urging him to re-establish a branch in Cologne and other Rhineland cities.

The third and most obvious indication of this emerging alliance was indicated by the League’s policy pronouncements. These adopted a strikingly aggressive tone towards democrats. During the last few weeks in Cologne, divergence from the democrats was of little practical importance, but in England Karl and his allies behaved as if democrats had been solely responsible for the failure of the Revolution. The new position was clearly spelled out in ‘Address of the Central Authority to the League’ of March 1850, signed among others by Karl, Engels and Willich, and almost certainly written by Karl. It began with an uncompromising criticism of the position adopted in 1848, arguing it had been wrong to imagine that the time for secret societies was over and therefore to dissolve the League. It had also been a mistake not to have put up independent worker candidates in the elections of January/February 1849. As a result, the working class was now under the domination of the petite bourgeoisie.92

In the future, the proletariat in France and Britain should be engaged in a direct struggle for state power. In Germany, on the other hand, bourgeois revolution was to be completed and then succeeded by a second revolution headed by the proletariat and the petite bourgeoisie. In this second revolution, the petite bourgeoisie would probably triumph, but while ‘the democratic petty bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent … until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dominance, the proletariat has conquered state power’ and ‘competition among proletarians all over the world has ceased’.93

The Address’s vision became even more surreal; thus ‘alongside the new official governments [of petit bourgeois democrats] they [the workers] must immediately establish their own revolutionary workers’ governments’. In order to do so, they would have to be armed. If victorious, the revolutionary government would not distribute the feudal lands to the peasants as free property. Such land would remain state property ‘and be converted into workers’ colonies cultivated by the associated rural proletariat’. Workers should oppose a federal republic and strive not only for ‘a single and indivisible German republic, but also within this republic for the most determined centralisation of power in the hands of the state authority’. If the democrats were to propose ‘moderately progressive taxation, the workers must insist on a taxation with rates that rise so steeply that big capital will be ruined by it’. The workers’ ‘battle cry must be: The Revolution in Permanence’.94

This Address was reinforced by another in June, stressing the need for ‘a strong secret organisation of the revolutionary party’. Once again, a strenuous effort was made to establish clear boundaries between the League and the ‘petty bourgeois’ democrats, particularly in Baden, the Palatinate and Switzerland. It surveyed the situation in various other countries. In relation to England, it applauded ‘the breach’ between the ‘revolutionary independent workers’ party’ and ‘the more conciliatory faction led by O’Connor’. It also claimed that ‘of the French revolutionaries the really proletarian party, led by Blanqui, has joined forces with us’. The Address concluded with the prediction that ‘the outbreak of a new revolution can no longer be very far away’.95

The reference to the ‘Blanquist secret societies’ and ‘the important tasks’ entrusted to League members ‘in preparation for the next French Revolution’ was underlined by the participation of the League in the future formation of the Universal Society of Revolutionary Communists. This society was dedicated to ‘the downfall of all privileged classes’ and ‘the submission of those classes to the dictatorship of the proletarians by keeping the revolution in continual progress until the achievement of communism, which shall be the final form of the constitution of the human family’.96 This international association of secret societies was made possible by the contacts established within the Fraternal Democrats. The declaration was signed by the Blanquist exiles Vidil and Adam, Julian Harney for the Chartists, and Karl, Engels and Willich for the Communist League.

As it began to dawn on Karl that the prospects of revolution were receding, his previous emphasis on ‘stages’ returned. Already in early summer rumours of squabbles in the Central Authority had reached German League members. According to Röser’s evidence, based on a letter from Karl in July 1850, Karl had given a series of lectures to the Workers’ Association in the previous winter, and argued in them that there would be no prospect of communism for a good number of years and that in the meantime the main task of the League would be education and propaganda. The letter added that Willich had violently opposed these ideas, insisting that the coming revolution would be communist. By August, Karl was openly ridiculing Willich’s ‘communist reveries’, while Willich’s supporters – the majority of the London branch – attacked ‘journalists and semi-learned men’ in whose eyes ‘the workers are zeros’. At a meeting of the Workers’ Association, at which Willich resigned from the Refugee Committee, supporters of the two sides practically came to blows, while at a meeting of the Central Authority in late August Willich accused Karl of lying. Conrad Schramm, one of Karl’s strongest admirers at the time, challenged Willich to a duel, which was fought in Belgium and left Schramm slightly wounded.97

Knowing that most members of the Communist League’s London branch backed Willich and that a general assembly was imminent, on 15 September Karl hastily called a meeting of the Central Authority, on which he possessed a majority. Conveniently forgetting his endless strictures on Camphausen for not displaying revolutionary will in the summer of 1848, Karl declared that for the minority on the Central Authority (Willich and Schapper) revolution had been seen ‘not as the product of realities of the situation, but as a result of an effort of will’. Instead of telling the workers: ‘you have 15, 20, 50 years of civil war to go through in order to alter the situation and to train yourselves for the exercise of power’, the minority claimed ‘we must take power at once’. Karl and the majority voted that the Central Authority be transferred from London to Cologne and that the existing League Rules become null and void. Schapper declared these proposals unconstitutional, while Willich and his supporter Lehmann walked out.98 The breach was made final when the minority elected their own Central Authority. Karl ‘adjourned indefinitely’ his London section and dissolved it in November 1852. There is a danger of devoting disproportionate attention to the scholastic disputes which took place within what at the time was a tiny sectarian grouping, unable to comprehend that the moment of revolution in reality had passed, and that its vision of what had happened had in any case been hopelessly obscured by myth. Karl could not be compared with prominent revolutionary leaders of 1848 – Mazzini, Kossuth, Blanqui and others. He was virtually unknown outside Cologne, and remained so throughout the 1850s and 1860s. His followers during this period amounted at most to a few dozen. It was only in the 1870s, after his notorious defence of the Paris Commune and after people began to read Capital, in German, French or Russian editions, that Karl began to acquire global fame.

Karl’s engagement with insurrectionary communism came to an end in the autumn of 1850, but this was not quite the end of his dealings with the Communist League.

In May 1851, a tailor named Nothjung was arrested by the Saxon police. He was found to be in possession of papers relating to the League in Cologne. Police searches in Cologne revealed more documents. Particularly valuable in the police’s eyes were intemperate letters sent by Willich to the Cologne communists. Prussian police were keen to prosecute, in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on Friedrich Wilhelm IV in the spring of 1850. Government fears of revolutionary conspiracies had become endemic, and in London, especially, an army of spies – serving the Austrians, the German states, the French, the Belgians, the Dutch and the Danes – competed to supply information about the revolutionary diaspora and their real or alleged plans. The tiny ‘Marx party’ was a favourite target.

By the summer of 1851, eleven of its members were in prison awaiting trial. The evidence of criminal intent was very flimsy. The accused for the most part rejected Willich’s argument and shared the position expressed by Peter Röser in his interrogation: that the purpose of the League was education and propaganda. The authorities were worried that the case as it stood was insubstantial and unlikely to be accepted by a Rhineland jury. Therefore, between the end of 1851 and beginning of the trial, on 4 October 1852, the police forged documents to incriminate the ‘Marx party’. Karl conversely threw himself into the task of exposing forgeries, establishing defence committees, writing to newspapers and raising funds. Jenny provided indispensable assistance. At the end of October, she wrote to Adolf Cluss in Washington: ‘A complete office has now been set up in our house. Two or three people are writing, others running errands, others scraping pennies together so that the writers may continue to exist and prove the old world of officialdom guilty of the most outrageous scandal. And in between whiles my three merry children sing and whistle, often to be harshly told off by their papa. What a bustle!’99 As a result of these efforts, four of the accused were acquitted. The rest served terms of imprisonment ranging from three to six years. Karl wrote a polemical account of the prosecution, in a pamphlet, Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne, published in Basle in January 1853, but all but a few copies were confiscated at the Baden frontier.

Karl’s other preoccupation in his first year and a half in London was to produce a new version of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. To restart the paper was to keep together his ‘party’, especially while the Revolution was temporarily in abeyance. During this period, the term ‘party’ could refer to a political entity – the ‘communist party’, the ‘Girondin party’, the ‘Whigs’. But it could also, and that is the sense in which Karl used it, refer to something more intimate, a group of like-minded individuals who operated together on a newspaper and built up a following in the wider society. Once again, France was probably the model. For there, republicanism was divided between the followers of Le National and the followers of La Réforme. This had also been the way in which Karl had thought of those who worked with him on the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, on Vorwärts!, and on the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. For this reason, his first priority in London was to re-establish the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in some form.

Just before he left Paris for London, Karl wrote to Engels that ‘in London, there is a positive prospect of my being able to start a German newspaper. I am assured of part of the funds.’100 As soon as he reached London, he also wrote to Freiligrath, using the address Peterson’s Coffee House, Grosvenor Square, that there were ‘excellent prospects of my being able to start a monthly review here’, and in January 1850 he was still talking of its transformation ‘into a fortnightly and weekly and if circumstances permit, back into a daily paper’.101 Finally, in mid-November, and with the help of Theodor Hagen, a member of the Communist League, an agreement was reached with a Hamburg publisher, Schuberth, for the publication of a monthly, Neue Rheinische Zeitung – Politisch-Ökonomische Revue.

As in other publications set up by Karl, the financial and administrative arrangements were unsatisfactory. It was planned that Conrad Schramm would travel to the United States with financial support from the Chartists and Blanquists in London to raise funds from well-wishers. But none of this happened. Publication should have started on 1 January, but the manuscript was not ready and Karl was ill so publication was postponed to early March 1850. By May, three numbers were published, and then nothing until a final double number in November. Sales were poor, and contributors few. Some idea of the frustrations surrounding the project was evident in a letter from Jenny to Weydemeyer in May 1850. In it she begged for whatever money had come in from sales of the Revue: ‘We are in dire need of it.’ Jenny reproached friends in Cologne for not helping in return for all the sacrifices Karl had made for ‘Rh.Ztg’. ‘The business has been utterly ruined by the negligent slovenly way in which it was run, nor can one really say which did most harm – the bookseller’s procrastination, or that of acquaintances and those managing the business in Cologne, or again the whole attitude of the democrats generally.’102 The project ended with Karl intent upon suing the publisher and continuing the Revue from Cologne or Switzerland.

Once again, none of this was realized. The Revue contained some important essays, including Engels’ account of ‘The Campaign for the German Imperial Constitution’ and a series of essays by Karl entitled ‘1848 to 1849’, later published by Engels under the title The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850. It also included a critical discussion of conspiracy, particularly interesting since it coincided with the participation of Karl, Engels and Willich in the Blanquist Universal Society of Revolutionary Communists. But the project was doomed. Demand for the journal was low, not least because of its belligerent treatment of democrats. In large parts of Germany democrats and communists were few and they saw no reason not to continue to collaborate. A particularly ill-chosen example was Karl’s sneering attack on the speech made by Gottfried Kinkel, before a military court at Rastatt. Kinkel was a democratic hero who had fought in Baden under Willich, and his trial was followed with great sympathy by the public.103

More positive was the attention which the Revue devoted to global economic development. The prospectus written on 15 December 1849 stated that the Revue would provide ‘a comprehensive and scientific investigation of the economic conditions which form the foundation of the whole political movement’.104 In the final number a justification was provided for the Revue’s move away from the revolutionary line of the Communist League. After examining the economic upswing, which had taken place since 1848, it stated:

With this general prosperity, in which the productive forces of bourgeois society develop as luxuriantly as is at all possible within bourgeois relationships, there can be no talk of a real revolution. Such a revolution is only possible in the periods when both these factors, the modern productive forces and the bourgeois forms of production, come in collision with each other … A new revolution is possible only in consequence of a new crisis. It is, however, just as certain as this crisis.105

In June 1850, Karl was able to secure a ticket to use the library of the British Museum. This was the beginning of the years of study that culminated in the writing of Capital. On 15 November, Engels left for Manchester to take up employment in his father’s company. On 30 July, Karl had received a friendly letter from Charles Dana, editor of the New-York Daily Tribune, whom he had first met in Cologne. Dana invited Karl to write for the paper.106 On 17 November 1852, on Karl’s suggestion, the Communist League was dissolved. Karl’s life was entering a new phase.


In two works written in London, Karl attempted to produce an interpretation of the mid-century revolutions, focusing in particular upon France. ‘1848 to 1849’, later retitled by Engels The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850, was written between January and October 1850, and published in successive numbers of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung – Politisch-Ökonomische Revue. The next essay, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, was written between December 1851 and March 1852.107

While he was composing the Eighteenth Brumaire, Karl wrote to Joseph Weydemeyer that ‘the existence of classes’ was connected with ‘certain historical phases in the development of production’.108 How well did this approach relate to what happened in 1848? Throughout most of the twentieth century, Karl’s notion of ‘class struggle’ received little critical attention. It was treated as a dramatization of the self-evident socio-economic facts of industrialization. During the last thirty years, however, it has become increasingly clear that there were no self-evident economic facts of the kind presupposed in this socio-historical interpretation.109 Furthermore, historians have come to understand class no longer as the expression of a simple social-economic reality, but as a form of language discursively produced to create identity.110 Consciousness of class, so far as it existed, was inseparable from a plurality of the ways it was experienced and expressed. It is therefore not surprising to discover that the language of class that Marx attempted to take over in 1845–6, that of French socialists and republicans, possessed quite different premises and aspirations from those which arose from theoretical debate among German radicals of 1843 and 1844.

Underlying Karl’s approach to class was the attempt to merge two very different forms of discourse. On the one hand there was the teleological account of the place of labour in the transformation of the world, a product of the development of the Young Hegelian movement in Germany. On the other hand he used the language of ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘proletariat’ originating in republican, socialist and even Legitimist opposition to the ‘bourgeois’ monarchy of Louis Philippe in France.

The language imputed by Karl to bourgeoisie and proletariat was part of his attempt to reformulate his philosophical stance in the light of Stirner’s criticism of Feuerbachian humanism. ‘Communism’, as he and Engels presented it between 1845 and 1848, no longer expressed the realization of ‘man’. It was now ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’, while communists, as the Manifesto put it, ‘merely express, in general terms, the actual relations springing from an existing class struggle’.111

In his earlier writings of 1843–4, Marx had stressed the estrangement of human activity in a world created by private property. His picture of the proletariat was that of dehumanization, of man bifurcated by the post-classical division between the ‘political state’ and a market fuelled by private interests. According to the argument put forward in the 1844 Manuscripts, in producing the proletariat, private property produced a class ‘driven by the contradiction between its human nature and its condition of life, which is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that nature … The proletariat is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite private property.’112

This picture, built out of the degradation produced by private property, was extra-political. Karl’s hostility towards the modern representative state continued, with consequent belittlement of the significance of manhood suffrage and the democratic republic. A similar disregard for political forms informed Engels’ account of proletarian class formation in England. In an analysis of the political and legal system in England at that time, he had concluded that the constitution was ‘nothing but a big lie’. The Chartist battle against the undemocratic state was therefore in reality not a political battle, but a social battle against the rule of property: ‘the struggle of democracy against the aristocracy in England is the struggle of the poor against the rich. The democracy towards which England is moving is a social democracy.’113

This disregard of political and legal forms continued, but from 1845 onwards the terminology changed. In place of private property, the proletariat were now engaged in class struggle with the ‘bourgeoisie’. This was a new conception of the historical significance of labour, combined with Karl’s principal aim during these years, the critique of political economy. This approach had originally been inspired by Engels’ contention that political economy was largely ‘the elaboration of private property’. But with the shift towards an emphasis upon human activity and the material transformation of the world, the terms of this critique also shifted. The picture was no longer of a suffering class in need of illumination by philosophy, facing private property as an impersonal entity. A critique of the relationship between labour and capital within political economy was now combined with the French political vocabulary of bourgeois and proletarian; and this produced an extraordinary amplification of the active roles assigned to these classes in the Communist Manifesto.

As argued before (see here), the Communist Manifesto freed the picture of the bourgeois from local limitations. It now embodied the supposed rational political capacities of Guizot’s classe moyenne as well as the productive proclivities of Thierry’s industriels, in addition to the reputed economic dynamism of the Lancashire cotton master.114 Similarly, the proletarian incorporated both the ‘communist’ militancy of the Parisian followers of Blanqui or Raspail and the membership of a mass movement such as Chartism. In sum, Guizot’s belief that the July regime had ushered in the rule of the most able and rational of the citizenry, the classe moyenne, denounced by the opposition as the rule of the ‘bourgeoisie’, was now transmuted by Karl’s alchemy into the global sociological destiny of capitalism itself, even if it as yet incorporated only one fraction of that class – ‘the stock exchange kings’.115 The imagined political trajectory of the French ‘Third Estate’ had fused together with the economic trajectory of English industrial capital.

The attempt to merge this global historical vision with day-to-day empirical history explains the strangeness of the account of the 1848 revolution in The Class Struggles in France. Despite a wealth of descriptive details, there is scarcely any reference to the political context in which the struggles took place. In particular, the promise asserted by the February Revolution that the ‘social question’ could be resolved by ‘the democratic and social republic’ through its commitment to ‘the right to work’ and the acknowledgement of the value of ‘association’ was barely mentioned.

Equally striking is the absence of more than a cursory reference to the social-economic context in which the February Revolution originally occurred. French socialist analysis of the capitalist crisis had concentrated on the phenomenon of overproduction. This had originally been highlighted by Sismondi in reaction to the post-war crisis of 1819.116 Karl’s understanding of economic crisis had followed this line of reasoning. But the mid-century crisis was not of this type. It started from the potato blight, poor wheat harvests and a poor cotton crop, which occasioned mass unemployment in Lancashire. Harvest crises raised the price of bread and lowered the demand for industrial goods, not only in the towns but in large parts of Northern Europe, where linen production as a rural by-industry in many places faced terminal collapse. It precipitated the first large wave of emigration to America from Ireland, south-west Germany and to a far lesser extent France.117 The crisis in the 1840s was not simply a combination of industrial depression and exceptional dearth. It represented a more secular turning point in the history of the Western European economy. It inaugurated the de-industrialization of the countryside and the pastoralization of extensive areas that until then had combined agriculture and domestic industry, though it did not in England or anywhere else diminish the importance of small workshop production in the towns.118

The most direct connection between this crisis and the revolutions of 1848 was its creation of mass unemployment, exacerbated by an unprecedented scale of migration to the cities. This may not have been the prime factor producing the collapse of the regime in France in February 1848. But it was certainly the prime factor in provoking the establishment of the Ateliers Nationaux (National Workshops) in Paris and the political debate about their future.

Karl’s text virtually ignored this material economic context, even though it centred upon the Paris insurrection in June 1848, following the decision of the National Assembly to close down the National Workshops. The participants were led for the most part by those discharged from the Workshops. The June Insurrection was described by Karl as class war between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat: ‘the first great battle … fought between the two classes that split modern society’. But neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie were defined and their identity in terms of the Marxian conception of ‘relations of production’ remained unclear.119 References to the ‘proletariat’ occasionally slipped back into that of ‘the people’, while references to the ‘bourgeoisie’ were ubiquitous, but could easily be exchanged for the term ‘republic’. In reality, the executive of the new Republic was not composed of employers, industrial or otherwise; nor were the insurgents by any means exclusively composed of wage workers as many small employers were also involved. Most blatantly, Karl rearranged his depiction of the social combatants engaged in the insurrection to disguise the fact that those engaged in its suppression were no more or less ‘proletarian’ than the combatants themselves. There was no meaningful social difference to justify Karl’s distinction between the June Insurgents (the proletariat) and the Garde Mobile (the Lumpenproletariat).120 It is also important to remember that the insurrection, although clearly of major significance, only mobilized a minority of the Parisian working classes, 40,000–50,000 out of 200,000–300,000.121

More fundamentally, no account was given of what primarily prompted the resistance of the insurgents – the threat of destitution following the closing down of the National Workshops – nor of their principal political grievance – the Republic’s failure to keep its promise of ‘the right to work’. What caused the rebellion was not the action of the employing class, but the decisions of members of the National Assembly, motivated by a dislike of what they feared as ‘communism’.

Karl also made no reference to the financial and organizational difficulties of the Republic, faced with the practical need to provide for 150,000 unemployed workmen, and mindful of the dangers of huge numbers of unoccupied and politically volatile working men clustered on the streets. Throughout the four-month existence of the National Workshops, 90 per cent of their members – 140,000 – remained without work; the workers were scattered across the city to while away their time drinking, womanizing or playing cards until 4 p.m. when they could collect a ‘demeaning dole’. If they were given work, one of their organizers argued, ‘you will see, you self-satisfied critics, if we are lazzaroni asking no better than to live off public funds’.122 Unsurprisingly, the fact of having to support one third of the Parisian labour force without any appreciable result aroused resentment – not just from ‘the bourgeoisie’, but from large numbers of the Parisian working population too.

The insurgents in June possessed no nationally recognized leaders. Nor did they make any demands beyond the insistence that the ‘democratic and social’ Republic honour the promises it had made at the time of the February Revolution. Karl did not provide a concrete account of the precipitants or of the character of the June battle. Instead, he veered off into an unfounded fantasy about the Parisian proletariat: ‘In place of its demands, exuberant in form, but petty and even bourgeois still in content, the concession of which it wanted to wring from the February Republic, there appeared the bold slogan of revolutionary struggle: Overthrow the bourgeoisie! Dictatorship of the working class.’123

Karl was right to view the events between 1789 and 1848 as a series of social and political struggles of a potentially revolutionary nature. This was an exceptional period in England and France because, in both countries, political organizations and social movements, sometimes on a national scale, did seek to bring down the existing political order in the name of a true republic or a true constitution based upon universal manhood suffrage. But Karl misunderstood both the causes and the remedies for this exceptional phase of political antagonism.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the first appearance, both in England and in France, of movements and organizations which claimed to speak in the name of the ‘working class’ or ‘working classes’ was not the result of the economic advance of modern industrial capitalism; it was rather the political effect of the demolition of the Ancien Régime in France, and in England of the unprecedented political mobilization of the population following the American and French Revolutions, the prolonged wars against France and the economic distress following the defeat of Napoléon.

During these years, the ‘bourgeoisie’ or ‘middle classes’ were also conjured into political existence. The languages of class, which became prevalent in France around 1830 and in England around 1832, were closely connected with the need to reform the constitution and the political system in a rational and secular way, without allowing an opening to popular sovereignty, which was still greatly feared from the years of Robespierre and the Terror. What Karl and his ‘party’ failed to understand was that the character of politics in this period was not simply an expression of the nature of class. Just as important, especially in the juxtaposition of ‘bourgeois’ and ‘proletarian’, or ‘middle’ and ‘working’ classes, was the fact that these languages of class were a particular product of the politics of the representative state.

It was not the activities or strategy of a fictive ‘bourgeoisie’, but the attempt around 1830 to construct a political system based upon the political exclusion of wage-earners that created the ‘struggle’ of the ‘working class’ and the ‘middle class’. In England, the vote was defined on the basis of property holding and hence those who earned wages were excluded. Class-consciousness, whether among the Chartists in England or ‘democratic and social Republicans’ in France, was not for the most part the result of dehumanization or proletarianization, but political exclusion. Indeed, exploitation was seen by the leaders of these radical workers’ movements as the consequence of exclusion. Given his hostility to representation and the ‘political state’, Karl was in a poor position to understand these political determinants of working-class action.

Karl’s form of political myopia was widely shared in 1848. Far from being ahead of his times in his conception of class, Karl shared the general perception of the propertied classes in Western Europe who, while they purported to sympathize with them, failed to listen to the discourse of workers themselves, whether in Britain or in France during the 1830–50 period.124 In the light of Thomas Carlyle’s distinction between the ‘distracted incoherent embodiment of Chartism’ and ‘its living essence, the bitter discontent grown fierce and mad’, the tendency to discount what workers actually said was general.125 Propertied and educated observers found it hard to think of workers or proletarians as other than wild, predatory and levelling. The point was put clearly by Thomas Macaulay in his speech in Parliament rejecting the Chartist Petition of 1842. To accept the Petition would be to commit government to a class which would be induced ‘to commit great and systematic inroads against the security of property … How is it possible that, according to the principles of human nature, if you give them this power, it would not be used to its fullest extent?’126 A similar fear was expressed by de Tocqueville writing about the Mobile Guard, even after it had fought for the Republic against the insurrection: ‘it would have taken very little to make them decide against us instead of for us … They went to war as to a festival. But it was easy to see that they loved war in itself much more than the cause for which they fought.’127

A combination of memories of the Terror, gothic nightmares about the criminal and dangerous classes, and the ‘spectre of communism’ haunted the political imagination in 1848. It was one of the reasons why the middle classes both in France and in Germany were so insistent upon keeping within the limits of legality. Karl was unusual, only in thinking about the conflict of classes not as a reason for fear, but as a source of hope. This deep fear according to Daniel Stern was a major reason why the Republic of 1848 did not rest on true foundations:

The principal cause is to be found in the ignorance in which the lettered and opulent classes have remained with regard to the people, and the false idea they have conceived of the necessities of the proletariat. Troubled by a vague awareness of the duties which they have failed to perform during the last two reigns, they have attributed to them pitiless resentments and insatiable appetites. The ghost of 1793 has appeared to their souls in distress.128

The ideals and aspirations of the working classes in 1848 were not mysterious. They involved the desire for political inclusion and association. But their speech was discounted. It was ignored or replaced by quite different forms of discourse conjured up by the fervid imagination of writers from the propertied classes.

The fact that exclusion and lack of recognition rather than exploitation were the prime precipitants of the insurrectionary sentiments of the peoples in 1848 was borne out by the subsequent history of Western Europe. With manhood suffrage and a representative system established in France after the fall of the Second Empire, and renewed talk of Reform in England, the working classes were progressively reincorporated back into the political system.129Thus the political and extra-constitutional significance of the ‘class struggle’, as it had been invoked by the Manifesto, faded away.