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

Chapter 9. London


Dean Street, where the Marx family lived, together with their servant, Lenchen, between 1850 and 1856, was in the heart of Soho. On 13 May 1850, they had moved into two rooms in 64 Dean Street belonging to a Jewish lacemaker and occupied by Heinrich Bauer, the treasurer of the Refugee Committee. At the end of the year, they moved from 64 Dean Street to number 28.

In a London that had become ‘the great city of refuge for exiles of all nations’, Soho was the favoured centre for Germans, particularly for democrats, republicans and socialists. While the unskilled Germans working in bakeries lived in the East End, and the genteel frequented the drawing rooms of St John’s Wood, for radicals – especially artisans – Soho, with its German Workers’ Educational Association in Great Windmill Street, was an obvious point of attraction. According to the journalist George Augustus Sala, these Germans were particularly to be found ‘in the purlieus of Oxford Street, near Leicester Square, or in the centre of that maze of crooked streets between Saint Martin’s Lane and Saint Anne’s church, Soho’.1

In his satirical sketch of ‘Herr Brutus Eselskopf’ (donkey-head), a publican and in his time ‘general of brigade’, Sala depicted the manners and way of life of these Germans. Eselskopf wore ‘a Turkish cap, with blue tassels, and a beard and moustaches of prodigious magnitude’. His ‘little back parlour’ was ‘filled morning, noon and night, with foreigners under political clouds of various degrees of density, and in a cloud of uniform thickness and of strong tobacco, emitted in many-shaped fumes from pipes of eccentric design’. Among the customers ‘by the fire reading the Allgemeine Zeitung or the Ost-Deutsche Post, and occasionally indulging in muttered invectives against the crowned heads of Europe’, Sala picked out ‘that valiant republican Spartacus Bursch, erst PhD. of the University of Heidelberg’. He was ‘then on no pay, but with brevet rank, behind a barricade formed of an omnibus, two water-carts and six paving stones at Frankfort … afterwards of Paris, Red Republican, manufacturer of lucifer matches, affilié of several secret societies, chemical lecturer, contractor for paving roads, usher in a boarding school’ and ‘ultimately … promoter of a patent for extracting vinegar from white lead, keeper of a cigar shop, professor of fencing, calisthenics, and German literature; and latterly out of any trade or occupation’. Others included ‘enthusiastic young advocates, zealous young sons of good families, patriotic officers, who have thrown up their commissions under despot standards to fight for liberty, freedom-loving literary men, republican journalists, socialist workmen … hunted from frontier to frontier on the Continent like mad dogs’.

Sala also alluded to the interminable conflicts between moderate and intransigent exiles. These refugees, or at least the great majority, were ‘the quiescent ones’. But there were also ‘the incandescent ones, the roaring, raging, rampaging, red-hot refugees; the amateurs in vitriol, soda water bottles full of gunpowder, and broken bottles for horses’ hoofs; the throwers of grand pianofortes from first floor-windows on soldiers’ heads, the cutters off of dragoons’ feet, the impalers of artillery men’. These were no longer welcome at Herr Eselskopf’s and met instead at the little Gasthaus in Whitechapel, formerly known as the Schinkenundbrot (the ham sandwich) and now rechristened ‘The Tyrants’ Entrails’.

Soho of the 1850s was overcrowded with an average of fourteen inhabitants per house, and was particularly unhealthy since the water supply was in some parts contaminated. It was, as Karl noted, ‘a choice district for cholera’ and the site of an isolated outbreak in London in 1854. ‘The MOB is croaking right and left (e.g. an average of 3 per house in Broad Street) and “victuals” are the best defence against the beastly thing.’2

Karl and Jenny had not planned to live in Soho. After pawning her silver in Frankfurt, selling her furniture in Cologne, and being forced to leave Paris, Jenny had arrived in London with three children and a fourth expected within a month. When she arrived, she was met by one of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung group, Georg Weerth, who put her up in a boarding house in Leicester Square. But, as she noted in her autobiography, ‘the time was approaching when I would need a quiet roof over my head’, and they had therefore looked in haste for a larger lodging house in Chelsea. The baby was born on 5 November, ‘while the people outside were shouting “Guy Fawkes for ever!” ’ and ‘small masked boys were riding the streets on cleverly made donkeys … We called him Little Fawkes, in honour of the great conspirator.’3

The family had come to England expecting their stay to be brief. They expected the revolution to regain its momentum, and for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung team to be reassembled in London, in the meantime, ready to return to Cologne. This was the aim which underpinned the Neue Rheinische Zeitung – Politisch-Ökonomische Revue, set up at the beginning of 1850. But the paper was dogged by problems from the beginning. It never attracted the readership once enjoyed by its predecessor, and by the end of the year the project had foundered.

The halting and half-hearted circulation of the Revue meant unanticipated penury for the Marx family. Evidence of their desperation was to be found in an angry letter of 20 May from Jenny to Joseph Weydemeyer in Frankfurt. After apologizing for not being in touch before, she declared that ‘circumstances’ now ‘compelled’ her to take up her pen: ‘I beg you to send us as soon as possible any money that has come in or comes in from the Revue. We are in dire need of it.4

Like other radicals, Karl and Jenny were unwilling to accept that the revolution was over. The failure of the Revue was therefore blamed upon ‘the bookseller’s procrastination, or that of … those managing the business in Cologne’, but especially upon ‘the whole attitude of the democrats generally’. She reminded Weydemeyer that while her husband would not ‘demean himself by passing around the democratic begging-bowl’, he ‘was entitled to expect of his friends’, especially in Cologne, ‘active and energetic concern for his Revue, especially among those who were aware of the sacrifices he had made for the Rh.Ztg’. Her husband had ‘been all but crushed by the most trivial worries of bourgeois existence’, while she, unable to afford a wet-nurse, struggled to cope with ‘agonising pain in my breast and back’ brought about by an infant who was ‘always ailing and in severe pain by day and by night’.5

In these circumstances, the expense of living in Chelsea proved unsustainable and ended in eviction. On 24 March, as a result of their inability to pay the £5 rent arrears, their possessions were placed under distraint by two bailiffs.

The following day we had to leave the house, it was cold, wet and overcast, my husband went to look for lodgings; on his mentioning 4 children no one wanted to take us in. At last a friend came to our aid, we paid and I hurriedly sold all my beds so as to settle with the apothecaries, bakers, butchers, and milkman who, their fears aroused by the scandal of the bailiffs, had suddenly besieged me with their bills. The beds I had sold were brought out onto the pavement and loaded on to a barrow – and then what happens? It was long after sunset, English law prohibits this, the landlord bears down on us with constables in attendance, declares we might have included some of his stuff with our own, that we are doing a flit and going abroad. In less than five minutes a crowd of two or three hundred people stands gaping outside our door, all the riff-raff of Chelsea. In go the beds again; they cannot be handed over to the purchaser until tomorrow morning after sunrise; having thus been enabled, by the sale of everything we possessed, to pay every farthing, I removed with my little darlings into the two little rooms we now occupy in the German Hotel, 1 Leicester Street, Leicester Square, where we were given a humane reception in return for £5.10 a week.6

But their stay there did not last long. According to Jenny ‘one morning our worthy host refused to serve us our breakfast and we were forced to look for other lodgings’.7 They had then moved to the Soho apartment, 28 Dean Street, in which they lived from December 1850 through to 1856. This was graphically described in a spy report in 1853. There were two rooms:

The one looking out on the street is the living room, and the bedroom is at the back. In the whole apartment there is not one clean and solid piece of furniture. Everything is broken down, tattered and torn, with a half inch of dust over everything and the greatest disorder everywhere. In the middle of the living room there is a large old-fashioned table covered with an oilcloth, and on it there lie his [Karl’s] manuscripts, books and newspapers, as well as the children’s toys, and rags and tatters of his wife’s sewing basket, several cups with broken rims, knives, forks, lamps, an inkpot, tumblers, Dutch clay pipes, tobacco ash – in a word, everything topsy-turvy, and all on the same table …8

In the years that followed, the imbalance between income and expenditure which had first led them to choose an expensive apartment in Chelsea continued. On 6 January 1851, Karl wrote to Engels, asking for money by return. ‘My landlady is VERY POOR, this is the second week she has not been paid, and she is dunning me with dreadful determination.’ Engels sent him £1. He was unable to send him the whole amount, but promised the rest in early February.9 Once again oppressed by debt in March 1851, he asked Jenny to procure some money from his mother-in-law, but learnt that the ‘remainder of Jenny’s money’ had been sent to Mexico with her brother Edgar. He had then written to his own mother threatening to draw bills on her. But she had written back ‘full of moral indignation’, addressing him ‘in the most insolent terms’ and ‘declaring positivement that she will protest any bill I draw on her’. He complained that he did not have a farthing in the house, so that ‘tradesmen’s bills – butcher’s, baker’s and so forth – keep mounting up’.10 The problem seemed temporarily to have been resolved by a post office order sent by Engels.11 At the end of July, Karl complained, ‘I haven’t written for a fortnight because during such time as I haven’t spent at the library, I’ve been harried from pillar to post.’ The promise to discount a bill for him had been put off from month to month and had now been refused.12 In October, he was pressed by the county court to pay back the £5 which had been lent to him by Carl Göhringer, a friend of Willich. Engels sent him £2 and advised him that there was nothing to do except pay up.13

In 1852, although he had begun to work for the Tribune and had added a third room to the apartment, the situation seemed even more desperate. On 20 February, Karl wrote to Weydemeyer declaring that he could not send his promised instalment of the Eighteenth Brumaire, because ‘for a week or more I have been so beset by money troubles that I have not been able to pursue my studies at the Library, let alone write articles’.14 The situation got even worse in the following week. ‘A week ago I reached the pleasant point where I am unable to go out for want of the coats I have in pawn, and can no longer eat meat for want of credit.’ He was afraid that this might at some point ‘blow up into a scandal’. The one hope was that Jenny’s ‘indestructible uncle’ was ill. ‘If the cur dies now I shall be out of this pickle.’15

Perhaps the lowest point came on 14 April, with the death of his one-year-old daughter, Franziska. He had not been thrilled by her arrival in the first place: ‘My wife, alas,’ he had written to Engels on 2 April 1851, ‘has been delivered of a girl, and not a garçon. And, what is worse, she’s very poorly.’16 But he sounded more affected when he wrote to Engels on 14 April 1852, ‘only a couple of lines to let you know that our little child died this morning at a quarter past one’. Engels wrote to tell Weydemeyer that Karl’s youngest child had died ‘the second already in London. As you can imagine, his wife is greatly afflicted by it.’17 Jenny wrote that ‘little Franziska had a severe bronchitis.

For three days, she was between life and death. She suffered terribly. When she died we left her lifeless little body in the back room, went into the front room and made our beds on the floor. Our three living children lay down by us and we all wept for the little angel whose livid lifeless body was in the next room. Our beloved child’s death occurred at the time of the hardest privations, our German friends being unable to help us just then … Anguish in my heart, I hurried to a French emigrant who lived not far away and used to come to see us, and begged him to help us in our terrible necessity. He immediately gave me two pounds with the most friendly sympathy. That money was used to pay for the coffin in which my child now rests in peace.18

On 8 September in the same year, Karl wrote to Engels:

Your letter today found us in a state of great agitation … My wife is ill. Little Jenny is ill. Lenchen has some sort of nervous fever. I could not and cannot call the doctor because I have no money to buy medicine. For the past 8–10 days I have been feeding the FAMILY solely on bread and potatoes, but whether I shall be able to get hold of any today is doubtful … I have not written any articles for Dana because I didn’t have a PENNY.19

The pattern was repeated in the following year. On 27 April, Jenny wrote to ‘Mr Engels’ telling him that she had already written ‘to Hagen in Bonn, to Georg Jung, to Cluss, to my mother-in-law, to my sister in Berlin. Ghastly letters! And so far not a word from a single one of them … I cannot describe what things are like here.’ Throughout August and through to October, there were repeated complaints about how shabby the family had become, how all had been pawned and how ‘there hasn’t been a sou in the house’.20 In 1854–5 there was more of the same. In 1855, Karl wrote to Moritz Elsner of the Breslau-based Neue Oder-Zeitung, excusing himself for not writing in the previous week, explaining that he had been forced to leave London to avoid Jenny’s Dr Freund, who had been pursuing him for the settlement of unpaid medical bills, dating back to the previous year.21 He had first gone to stay in the house of Peter Imandt in Camberwell and then proceeded to Manchester, where he stayed with Engels through to December.

The chronic ill-health of Karl and Jenny was in large part the result of living in an overcrowded and ill-kept apartment situated in narrow and insanitary streets. But Karl’s habits made things worse: ‘When you enter Marx’s room, smoke from the coal and fumes from the tobacco make your eyes water, so much that for a moment you seem to be groping about in a cavern, but gradually, as you grow accustomed to the fog, you can make out certain objects, which distinguish themselves from the surrounding haze. Everything is dirty and covered with dust, so that to sit down becomes a thoroughly dangerous business.’22 Upon a family with a hereditary predisposition towards tubercular and respiratory illness the effects of such conditions were devastating. Three of the children died in Dean Street, two in infancy and one before the age of ten.23 It was the death from ‘convulsions’ of the sickly one-year-old Guido, who, as Jenny told Weydemeyer, ‘since coming into the world … never slept a whole night through’, that led the family to move from 64 to 28 Dean Street.24 But there was no significant improvement. Particularly sad was the case of the one little boy in the household, the eight-year-old Edgar, or ‘Musch’, as he was called. At the beginning of 1854, he showed ‘the first symptoms of the incurable disease which was to lead to his death a year later’.25 The following March, Karl reported to Engels that ‘Musch has had a dangerous gastric fever which he has still not shaken off (this is the worst of all).’26 For a couple of weeks it seemed as if the boy was getting better. But, on 16 March, Karl confessed that ‘I do not believe that the good Musch is going to get over his illness … My wife once again altogether DOWN.’27 On 27 March, Karl again reported that there were some signs of improvement, but could write no more than a few lines: ‘I am dog-tired from the long night vigils, since I am Musch’s nurse.’28 But on 30 March he had become resigned to the worst: ‘Latterly … the illness has assumed the character, hereditary in my family, of an abdominal consumption, and even the doctor seems to have given up hope.’29 The end came a week later. ‘Poor Musch is no more. Between 5 and 6 o’clock today, he fell asleep (in the literal sense) in my arms.’30 In her memoirs, Jenny wrote, ‘had we been able to give up our small unhealthy flat then [in 1854] and take the child to the seaside, we might have saved him. But what is done cannot be undone.’31

Karl’s tendency to respiratory illness and a tubercular condition had been clearly noted when he was exempted from military service. From 1849 onwards he was afflicted by complaints of liver and gall. As Jenny told Lassalle in April 1858, Karl was incapable of writing to him at that time, because ‘the liver complaint from which he was already suffering at the time – unfortunately it recurs every spring – had got so much worse that he has had to dose himself constantly’.32 When Karl finally got round to writing to Lassalle, on 31 May, he explained:

having been totally incapable of writing – not only IN A LITERARY, BUT IN THE LITERAL SENSE OF THE WORD – for several weeks, and striven in vain to rebel against my illness … In itself the illness wasn’t dangerous – enlargement of the liver – but on this occasion the accompanying symptoms were particularly revolting; moreover in my family it has nasty implications in that it was the starting point of the illness which led to my father’s death.33

Symptoms included headaches, eye inflammation, neuralgia, piles and rheumatic pains. Karl’s irregular way of life made things worse. According to the 1852 spy report:

He leads the existence of a real bohemian intellectual. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are things he does rarely, and he likes to get drunk. Though he is often idle for days on end, he will work day and night with tireless endurance, when he has a great deal of work to do. He has no fixed times for going to sleep and waking up. He often stays up all night, and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening, untroubled by the comings and goings of the whole world …

Karl’s eating habits, given his liver trouble, were also noxious. According to Blumenberg, he liked highly seasoned dishes, smoked fish, caviar and pickled cucumber together with Moselle wine, beer and liqueurs.34

Later in the 1850s, his work routine became more regular, but no more healthy. He continued to study or write Tribune articles in the day and write at night, pushing himself excessively from around 1857 in an effort to write up his political economy in response to the arrival of a fresh economic crisis. On 18 December, he told Engels, ‘I am working enormously, as a rule until 4 o’clock in the morning’, while he reported to Ferdinand Lassalle on 21 December, ‘I am forced to fritter away … my days earning a living. [Only] the nights remain free for real work and that is disrupted by ill-health … The present commercial crisis’, he explained, ‘has impelled me to set to work seriously on my outline of political economy and also to prepare something on the present crisis.’35

Not surprisingly, his body was unable to cope with the strain. At the end of April 1858, he wrote to Engels:

Never before have I had such a violent attaque of liver trouble and FOR SOME TIME there was a fear that it might be sclerosis of the liver. The doctor wanted me to travel but d’abord that was incompatible with the STATE OF FINANCE, and secondly I hoped from day to day to be able to start work again. The persistent urge to get down to work coupled with inability to do so helped aggravate my condition … Whenever I sit down and write for a couple of hours I have to lie quite fallow for a couple of days. I hope to heaven that this state of affairs comes to an end next week. It couldn’t have happened at a more inconvenient time. Obviously I overdid my nocturnal labours last winter.36

In 1859, Karl suffered intermittently from liver trouble and in the first three months of 1860 was continuously ill. Around Christmas 1860, having helped Lenchen nurse Jenny through smallpox, he reported, ‘last Wednesday, I got a cold and cough accompanied by a stabbing pain, so that not only coughing, but turning my carcass from one side to the other, caused me physical PAINS’. Given a ‘hair-raising’ doctor’s bill, he decided to treat himself – ‘no smoking, CASTOR OIL, drink only lemonade, eat little, no spirits whatever, stay at home’. But ten days later, he reported a ‘relapse’ and was back under medical treatment. The doctor recommended riding and a ‘CHANGE OF AIR … Writing means that I have to stoop, which hurts, and so I keep putting it off. As you see, I am as tormented as Job, though not as God-fearing.’37

In 1863, Karl developed carbuncles on his feet, another symptom of his liver trouble. In November of that year, Jenny Marx wrote to Wilhelm Liebknecht in Berlin that for three weeks Karl had been ‘desperately ill’ with a carbuncle on his back. He had already been ‘ailing for months’, found it intensely difficult to work, ‘smoked twice as much as usual and took three times as many pills of various kinds’. He developed a boil on his cheek, which he got rid of with ‘the usual household remedies’. But once that was gone, another erupted on his back, which could not be treated with ‘poultices’. ‘At last, when the swelling was of the size of my fist and the whole of his back misshapen, I went to [Dr] Allen.’ While Lenchen held Karl, the doctor ‘made a deep, deep incision’ from which blood poured out. Then he began to apply a round of hot poultices, applied night and day, while ‘at the same time, the Doctor ordered 3–4 glasses of port and half a bottle of claret daily and four times as much food as usual. The object was to restore the strength he had lost.’ Lenchen also fell ill from worry and exertion.38 Karl supplemented this prescription with the daily addition of one and a half quarts of ‘the strongest London STOUT’, and combated the pain with large doses of opium.39

The liver problems thereafter did not leave him. On 30 November 1863, Karl’s mother died, and he felt obliged to travel to Trier to settle the question of his inheritance. Dr Allen gave him ‘two enormous bottles of medicine’ to take with him. After settling his affairs in Trier, he went on to see his uncle, Lion Philips, in Zaltbommel. ‘My uncle, a splendid old BOY, applies my poultices and cataplasms with his own hands, while my charming and witty cousin with the dangerously dark eyes nurses and cossets me in exemplary fashion.’40 But the trouble did not go away and would afflict him almost uninterruptedly through 1864. ‘In loathsome pain’ and too sick to move on, he stayed in the Philips household until the end of February.

Jenny’s illnesses were both physical and psychological. Living in Dean Street caused repeated bouts of bronchitis, which led her frequently to retire to bed. But she was also prone to what was referred to as ‘nervous excitement’. Her maladies were as much the product of depression or despair as of physical illness. Remedies again generally involved the use of alcohol. On 15 July 1852, Karl reported to Engels that Jenny had a cough and was losing weight. The doctor had in addition to medicine prescribed ‘plenty of porter’.41 But things did not improve. On 18 September, Karl reported, ‘Physically, my wife is lower than ever before, i.e. sheer debility. On doctor’s orders she has been taking a spoonful of brandy every hour for the past 3 days. There is however some improvement inasmuch as she at least got up today.’42 In 1854, Jenny had again become ‘very unwell’ probably as a result of night vigils and nursing the ailing Musch. On this occasion, she refused to consult the doctor: ‘she is dosing herself – on the pretext that two years ago when she was similarly indisposed, Freund’s medicines only made her worse’.43 In the winter of 1860, Jenny went down with smallpox, despite, as Karl wrote, being vaccinated twice. ‘For many weeks my wife had been in an exceptionally nervous state owing to our many TROUBLES and was thus more liable to CATCH the contagion in an omnibus, shop or the like.’ Once again, alcohol seems to have been the main remedy. ‘The doctor has allowed my wife claret, taken in small doses, as she is exceptionally weak’, while at the beginning of December the doctor cancelled the claret, and prescribed port instead.44

Jenny’s ‘nervous state’ was a constant concern. In June 1850, Karl apologized to Weydemeyer for his wife’s ‘agitated letters. She is nursing her child [Guido], and our situation here is so extraordinarily wretched that an outburst of impatience is excusable.’45 In November, after Guido died, Karl wrote to Engels that ‘she’s in a really dangerous state of excitation and exhaustion’.46 A few months later, on 31 March, after the birth of another child, Franziska, Karl wrote that, though the confinement had been an easy one, ‘she is now very ill in bed, the causes being domestic [bürgerlich] rather than physical’.47

Perhaps this referred to the awkward and potentially explosive situation in the Dean Street apartment and the toll it took upon Karl and Jenny’s relationship. ‘In the early summer 1851’, Jenny wrote in her ‘Short Sketch’, ‘an event occurred which I do not wish to relate here in detail, although it greatly contributed to increase our worries, both personal and others.’48 This was the birth of Lenchen’s son, Henry Frederick Demuth, later known as Freddy, on 23 June 1851 at 28 Dean Street.49 There seems little doubt that Karl was the unacknowledged father. The births of Freddy and Franziska were within three months of each other. The atmosphere in a tiny two-room flat occupied by two heavily pregnant women – both with children sired by him – can only be imagined. Freddy was put out to nurse and subsequently brought up in East London by working-class foster parents.50

In the surviving correspondence, there are no obvious references to this situation. The family were led to believe that Engels was the father. After Engels’ death, Karl’s daughter Laura went carefully through his correspondence to remove any material which could be damaging or hurtful to him or to Marx. But a few oblique remarks would appear to hint at the situation. Around the time that Jenny gave birth to Franziska, Karl wrote to Engels about a ‘mystère’, which he was about to reveal, but was then called away to help nurse his wife. Two days later, he stated that he would not write about the mystère since he would be coming to see him at the end of the month – ‘I must get away from here for a week.’51 The arrival of Lenchen’s baby, whatever was said to allay suspicions, clearly increased tensions within the household. At the end of July, Karl wrote to Engels, apologizing for the slow progress of his political economy:

I should have finished at the library long ago. But there have been too many interruptions and disturbances and at home everything is always in a state of siege. For nights on end, I am set on edge and infuriated by floods of tears. So I cannot of course do very much. I feel sorry for my wife. The main burden falls on her and, au fond [deep down], she is right. Il faut que l’industrie soit plus productive que le mariage. For all that, you must remember that by nature I am très peu endurant [not very patient] and even quelque peu dur [a little rough], so from time to time I lose my equanimity.52

Two days later, oppressed both by lack of resources and by gossip about the apartment and its two resident mothers, Karl wrote to Weydemeyer in resigned despair. ‘As you can imagine, my circumstances are very dismal. My wife will go under if things continue like this much longer’; not only ‘the constant worries’, but on top of that ‘the infamies of my opponents … casting suspicions on my civil character’. The word in the street was that Marx was ‘perdu’, while ‘My wife, who is poorly and caught up from morning till night in the most disagreeable of domestic quandaries, and whose nervous system is impaired, is not revived by the exhalations from the pestiferous democratic cloaca daily administered to her by stupid tell-tales.’53

Jenny was an intelligent woman. It is hard to believe that she was taken in by the face-saving formula which attributed paternity to Engels. But, whatever the reasoning, it is clear that the underlying relationship between Karl and Jenny remained strong enough, while Lenchen’s help continued to be seen as indispensable.54 In Karl’s case, some anxiety was perhaps revealed in an over-eagerness to reassure, suggested by the effusive and hyper-romantic imagery in some of the subsequent letters to Jenny.55 In Jenny’s case, the tension may have emerged in her frequent changes of mood and tendency to retire to bed. But during these years she seems fully to have shared her husband’s politics and wholly to have accepted his right to lead. In particular, she enjoyed acting as Karl’s secretary, making neat copies of his illegible scripts. She appears to have done this job particularly from the time of the Cologne treason trial. At first that role was played by Karl’s enthusiastic but incompetent admirer Wilhelm Pieper. But soon Jenny took over this secretarial role. In her ‘Short Sketch’, she stated that ‘the memory of the days I spent in his little study copying his scrawly articles is among the happiest of my life’.56

Whatever the tensions within the household, surviving accounts also suggest a strong and happy family life. According to ‘the Prussian spy’, writing in 1852, ‘as a husband and father, Marx, in spite of his wild and reckless character, is the gentlest and mildest of men’. A particular friendship developed between the Marx family and Wilhelm Liebknecht and his wife.57 When Jenny went down with smallpox in the autumn of 1860, the children were looked after by the Liebknechts. Wilhelm Liebknecht in his later recollections offered a vivid account of Sunday family expeditions to Hampstead Heath during the time that the Marx family lived in Soho:

Those walks to Hampstead Heath! Were I to live to a thousand I would never forget them … The children used to speak about it the whole week and even the adults young and old used to look forward to it. The journey there was a treat in itself.

The walk took place as follows. I generally led the way with the two girls, entertaining them with stories or acrobatics or picking wild flowers, which were more abundant then than now. Behind us came a few friends and then the main body: Marx and his wife and one of the Sunday visitors who was deserving of special consideration. In the rear came Lenchen and the hungriest of our party, who helped her carry the hamper.

When we arrived at the Heath we first of all chose a place to pitch our tent, taking tea and beer facilities into consideration as much as possible.

Once food and drink had been partaken of, both sexes went in search of the most comfortable place to lie or sit. Then those who did not prefer a nap got out the Sunday papers bought on the way and spoke about politics. The children soon found playmates and played hide-and-seek among the gorse bushes.58


In the mid-1850s, there was an improvement in the family’s situation. Jenny proudly recorded that from 1853 Karl gained a regular income from writing his two articles a week for the New-York Daily Tribune. ‘This steady income enabled us to pay off our old debts to a certain extent and to live a less anxious life … Christmas that year was the first merry feast we celebrated in London.’59

Between August 1851 and September 1852, Karl supposedly contributed an extensive account of the Revolution in Germany – eighteen articles on ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany’. But these were in fact written by Engels.60 In 1852 Charles Dana asked Karl to contribute articles which threw light on ‘the coming revolutionary crisis’. Karl’s first article appeared in August 1852. His English was not yet proficient. So it was written in German and translated by Engels. But by February 1853 Karl was able to write in English. Dana was impressed by the articles and in 1853 increased Karl’s payment from £1 to £2 per article.

Dana exercised his editor’s prerogative, sometimes incorporating articles into editorials, sometimes sub-editing to ensure that articles were in accord with the overall editorial line. Occasionally, his articles were signed, other times not. But in 1855 it was agreed that all his pieces should remain unsigned.

Demand for Karl’s (and Engels’) articles fluctuated with American interest in Europe. In 1853 and 1854, the Tribune published around eighty of his articles. This amounted to an income of £80 in 1853 and £160 in 1854. While the amount dipped in 1855–6 – with Dana only publishing forty articles in 1855, and twenty-four in 1856 – the shortfall was in large part filled by earnings of £50 from the Neue Oder-Zeitung. But in 1857 Dana agreed to pay Karl for one article per week, irrespective of whether it was printed.61

The second way in which the fortunes of the Marx family improved was the result of Engels’ growing prosperity. Engels had started back in Manchester at a salary of £100 per year, together with £200 as an ‘expenses and entertainment’ allowance. In the mid-1850s, he was in addition accorded a 5 per cent profit share, rising to 7.5 per cent by 1860. In 1856, this profit share amounted to £408, by 1860 £978. This meant that his earnings amounted to well over £1,000 per year in 1860, or over £110,000 per year in today’s money.62 In 1860 also, Engels’ father died, enabling Friedrich to make possible freer disposal of his funds. The Marx family could therefore rely upon the ever more regular and generous support derived from Engels’ position in the cotton thread enterprise of Ermen and Engels.

Finally, the family benefited from two bequests in 1856. In May, Jenny received an inheritance of £150 from a ninety-year-old uncle, and following her mother’s death in Trier a further £120 in September.63 As a result, on 29 September 1856, the family moved from Dean Street to 9 Grafton Terrace, Haverstock Hill, Kentish Town. Engels, who had helped pay for some of the furnishings for the house, wrote to Jenny, ‘you really are right out in the country, at the foot of the Hampstead Hills … in a highly romantic district’. The reality was more prosaic. Kentish Town, still semi-rural in the 1840s, thanks to railway development was rapidly built over in the 1850s and 1860s. According to Jenny, the new house was difficult to get to: ‘There was no smooth road leading to it. Building was going on all around, one had to pick one’s way over heaps of rubbish and in rainy weather the sticky red soil caked to one’s boots so that it was after a tiring struggle and with heavy feet that one reached our house.’64

Grafton Terrace with eight small rooms on four floors was ‘a princely dwelling compared with the holes we lived in before’.65 But despite the apparent increase in comfort and resources, illness, debt and financial penury soon returned. By December 1856, Jenny was again unwell. Karl reported that she was ‘still dosing herself continually’ and that the house was always in ‘such disarray that it is difficult for me to settle down and write’. In January 1857, he wrote to Engels:

So here I am without any prospects and with growing domestic liabilities, completely stranded in a house into which I have put what little cash I possessed and where it is impossible to scrape along from day to day as we did in Dean Street. I am utterly at a loss what to do, being, indeed, in a more desperate situation than 5 years ago. I thought I had tasted the bitterest dregs of life. Mais non! And the worst of it is that this is no mere passing crisis. I cannot see how I am to extricate myself.66

Jenny also was ill at ease in adjusting to the new house. ‘It was a long time before I could get used to the complete solitude … I often missed the long walks I had been in the habit of making in the crowded West End Streets, the meetings, the clubs and our favourite public house and homely conversations which had so often helped me to forget the worries of life for a time.’67

Later in the year, in a show of desperation, Karl had sent a detailed letter to Engels itemizing his income and expenditure. It was all to demonstrate that their situation was ‘absolutely untenable’. He argued that his ‘abstract thinking’ was no longer a match for ‘domestic miseries’, that ‘the general unpleasantness has made a nervous wreck of my wife’; Dr Allen had not ruled out ‘brain fever or something of the sort unless she is sent to a seaside resort for a longish stay’. He alleged that ‘I for my part wouldn’t care a damn about living in Whitechapel’, provided he could secure peace to get on with his work, even if it meant a ‘wholly working-class lodging’, getting rid of the maids and living on potatoes. But in view of his wife’s ‘condition’, this would be impossible. ‘The SHOW of RESPECTABILITY which has so far been kept up has been the only means of avoiding a collapse.’68 Engels did what he could to stave off disaster. But at the end of the year the situation was again bad. On 11 December 1858, Karl complained that ‘in this house things look MORE DREARY AND DESOLATE THAN EVER’. Jenny was beset by debts and ‘running errands to the pawnshop in town … My wife is quite right’, Karl continued, ‘when she says that, after all the misère she has had to go through, the revolution will only make things worse and afford her the gratification of seeing all the humbugs from here once again celebrating their victories over there. Women are like that.’69

Although in the 1860s material circumstances changed for the Marx family and its reliance upon the accoutrements of a middle-class existence – private schools, piano lessons, better clothes, two servants – increased, the basic disproportion between income and expenditure persisted. The early 1860s were difficult years. For, while Engels’ financial support gradually increased, other and more independent sources of income fell away. In April 1857, Dana had asked Karl to contribute to the New American Cyclopaedia. He counted on Karl ‘to furnish the military articles’ at $2 a page, and stressed that entries on politics, religion and philosophy should have ‘no party tendency whatever’.70 This meant that most of the sixty-seven entries published in the Cyclopaedia were written by Engels, who contributed fifty-one items. It is not clear why the agreement broke down, but no further contributions were published after 1860.

Contributions to the Tribune similarly came to an end. Back in 1857, Dana had written to Karl that ‘European affairs dull enough in themselves, have been quite crowded out of our attention by the superior interest and moment of events in this country’. At the beginning of the 1860s, with the onset of the American Civil War, and pressure from the proprietor, Horace Greeley, for Karl’s dismissal, Dana asked that the publication of Karl’s articles be suspended for several months. Finally, in March 1862, Dana wrote announcing his own imminent withdrawal from the Tribune and requesting that Karl not send further contributions.71

Jenny’s ups and downs also continued. In December 1861, Karl reported to Engels that his wife was ‘in a dangerous nervous condition’ and that for a few days Dr Allen had been ‘most alarmed’.72 Ten days later, when he informed Jenny of an attempted loan negotiation, it brought on ‘a kind of paroxysm’.73 He told Engels that he didn’t yet know ‘how I am to weather this crisis’. At the end of February 1862, his seventeen-year-old daughter Jenny, who was ill and old enough ‘to feel the full strain and also the stigma of our circumstances’, had made enquiries about going on the stage. ‘Taken all in all,’ he told Engels, ‘leading such a dog’s life is hardly WORTH WHILE’. And a few months later, the situation had hardly changed. The family were awaiting the arrival of wine from Engels: ‘the house is otherwise very forlorn’.74 A month later, Karl apologized for ‘pouring out my misère’, but ‘que faire? Every day my wife says she wishes she and the children were safely in their graves, and I really cannot blame her, for the humiliations, torments and alarums that one has to go through in such a situation are indeed indescribable.’75 At the end of the year, one misfortune followed another. With creditors clamouring for repayment, Jenny went on a fund-raising trip to Paris, only to find that the would-be donor had just suffered a stroke. During her absence, Lenchen’s sister, Anna, who had become a second servant in the household, died of a heart attack. On 7 January 1863, Engels wrote to say that his partner, Mary, had just died. ‘The poor girl loved me with all her heart.’ Karl was clearly too preoccupied to respond to the gravity of the event. On 8 January, after a cursory reference to how ‘good-natured, witty and closely attached to you’ she was, he went on to bemoan his own ‘ill-luck’. Everything was in pawn; the children could not go out because they lacked shoes and clothes. He excused his self-absorption by claiming it was ‘a homeopathic remedy’ and presumed to comfort Engels with the thought that ‘instead of Mary, ought it not to have been my mother [who should have died], who is in any case a prey to physical ailments and has had her fair share of life …?’ He then had second thoughts: ‘you can see what strange notions come into the heads of “civilised men” under the pressure of certain circumstances’.76

Engels was deeply hurt by ‘the frosty view’ that Karl had taken of his ‘misfortune’, even ‘his friends, including philistine acquaintances’, had ‘given me proof of greater sympathy and friendship than I could have looked for’. He explained that he was not in a financial position to ‘raise the largish sum of which you speak’ and advised him to explore the possibilities of loans, life assurance or a limited bill which he would be prepared to sign; failing that, he should approach his uncle, Lion Philips, in Holland.77 About ten days later, Karl made a not entirely convincing effort to excuse his behaviour by attributing it to momentary rage against his wife, and her refusal to accept the impossibility of indefinitely ‘keeping up false appearances’. He proposed a declaration of bankruptcy; the two elder children might become governesses, Lenchen would enter service elsewhere, while he and Jenny would go to a ‘CITY MODEL LODGING HOUSE’.78 Perhaps that letter was designed to frighten rather than announce a serious declaration of intent. In any event, Engels was relieved to find that in losing Mary he had not also lost his ‘oldest and best friend’. Even so, ‘that letter, I tell you, obsessed me for a whole week’.79

From March 1863, the financial pressure on the Marx family eased thanks to the efforts of Engels and Ernst Dronke, and through much of August Karl was able to send the family to holiday in Ramsgate. On 30 November, Karl’s mother, Henriette, died. He asked Engels for money to travel to Trier and wind up the estate, adding the somewhat cryptic comment: ‘I myself have already had one foot in the grave. Circumstances being what they were, I, presumably, was needed more than my mater.’80 Afflicted once more by liver trouble, Karl stayed with his uncle in Zaltbommel and did not return to London until the end of February. In May 1864, Wilhelm Wolff – ‘Lupus’ – Karl’s close friend, died in Manchester, and Karl was the main beneficiary of his will.81 Together with what he had inherited from his mother, Karl therefore received bequests of around £1,500 (around £170,000 in today’s terms).

But even with this change of fortune, the habits of the Marx family did not change. On returning from Holland, the family moved before the end of March into 1 Modena Villas, in Maitland Park. The three-year lease cost £65 per year plus rates of £4-8 shillings: an 80 per cent increase over the expenses of Grafton Terrace. Jenny spent £500 on furniture and fittings, including a ‘sturdy CARVING KNIFE AND FORK’ for Engels.82 But by a year later the familiar pattern had reasserted itself. On 31 July 1865, Karl wrote to Engels, explaining his prolonged silence:

For two months I have been living solely on the pawnshop which means that a queue of creditors has been hammering on my door, becoming more and more unendurable every day. This FACT won’t come as any surprise to you when you consider: 1. that I have been unable to earn a FARTHING the whole time and 2. that merely paying off the debts and furnishing the house cost me something like £500 … I myself found it unbelievable how the money disappeared.83

How was this recurrent descent into poverty to be explained? Londoners were accustomed to irregular and uncertain incomes. Henry Mayhew in the 1850s concluded that:

out of four million five hundred thousand people who have to depend on their industry for the livelihood of themselves and families, there is … barely sufficient work for the regular employment of half of our labourers, so that only 1,500,000 are fully and constantly employed, while 1,500,000 more are employed only half their time, and the remaining 1,500,000 wholly unemployed, obtaining a day’s work occasionally by the displacement of some of the others.84

Nor was this solely a problem for manual labour and the working classes; one need only think of Captain Hawdon or ‘Nemo’ of Bleak House, a former army officer, who made a living as a casual law-writer.

But in the case of the Marx family, this was not poverty in the ordinary sense of the word. In 1862, Lassalle’s well-meant suggestion that one of Karl’s daughters might take paid work with Countess von Hatzfeldt, his partner, was regarded as an unspeakable disregard of their social status and occasioned some of Karl’s ugliest racist abuse.85 ‘Just imagine! This fellow, knowing about the American affair, etc. [the loss of earnings at the Tribune], and hence about the state of crisis I’m in, had the insolence to ask me whether I would be willing to hand over one of my daughters to la Hatzfeldt as a “companion”.’ One justification of their behaviour was to suggest that it was governed by the need to secure the future of the children. In July 1865, Karl admitted, ‘It is true my house is beyond my means, and we have, moreover, lived better this year than was the case before. But it is the only way for the children to establish themselves socially with a view to securing their future.’ He believed that Engels would agree with him that ‘even from a merely commercial point of view, to run a purely proletarian household would not be appropriate in the circumstances, although that would be quite all right, if my wife and I were by ourselves or if the girls were boys’.86

The last point may be doubted. There had never been any question of running a ‘purely proletarian household’. When Jenny had originally arrived in London, the family had rented a flat in Chelsea, twice as expensive as the later cost of Grafton Terrace. Similarly in 1854, despite the debts, a considerable amount was spent on a new outfit for Jenny when she would be visiting her mother, ‘since she could naturally not arrive in Trier looking shabby’.87 It also emerged at the time of the death of Lenchen’s half-sister, Marianne, that the family had been employing two servants during the previous five years. Nor was it solely Jenny who insisted upon living out the appearance, if not always the reality, of a bourgeois standard of life. According to Werner Blumenberg, Karl liked to give visitors, especially foreigners, the impression that he was living in comfortable bourgeois circumstances.88 To his Dutch relatives, and in particular his uncle, Lion Philips, he liked to pretend that despite his political beliefs he was not averse to the occasional shrewd flutter on the stock market. In the summer of 1864, rather than admitting to his receipt of the Wilhelm Wolff legacy, he claimed to have made a £400 killing in American funds and English stocks.89

But in Karl’s case it was not solely an insistence upon gentility and the need to keep up appearances which explained his behaviour. There was also the respect due to him even during the darkest years in Soho as the head of a ‘party’. David McLellan has calculated that in the year previous to his employment on the Tribune, Karl received £150 in gifts (the equivalent, he estimates, of the income of a lower-middle-class family) and that amount only included sums specifically mentioned; it probably amounted to considerably more.90 Gifts and support came not only from Engels, but from his Cologne friends Daniels and Weerth, from Lassalle, and from one of Jenny’s cousins and, at least during her time in Chelsea, from her mother, Caroline.

The end of the 1848 Revolution and the failure of another to break out again left Karl frustrated and angered. His testiness was sharpened by a sense of unrecognized notability. He was incensed by the pretensions of ‘the Great Men of the Exile’ – Mazzini, Kossuth, Ledru-Rollin – and the plaudits they received, but particularly irritated by his fellow countrymen Gottfried Kinkel, Karl Heinzen or Arnold Ruge, against whom he poured forth all his bile. After 1852, Karl had withdrawn from any organized grouping, but ‘the party’, as he conceived it, remained, and would continue to play its privileged role in the unfolding historical drama. By ‘the party’ he did not mean the Communist League. ‘The “League”, like the société des saisons in Paris and a hundred other societies, was simply an episode in the history of a party that is everywhere springing up naturally out of the soil of modern society.’91 It was ‘the party’ in the world-historical sense that remained. In more mundane terms, it was a group – probably no more than a dozen or two – held together by deference to Karl, by ties of friendship and political solidarity, and by a commitment to keep the Marx family financially afloat.


The Revolution had been brought to an end by the return of economic prosperity. This had been the verdict of the final double number of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung – Politisch-Ökonomische Revue, which had appeared in November 1850. But a year later, what remained to be explained was why the revolution in France had come to such a grotesque end. Its final act did not consist in the renewed polarization of opposing forces – of a Parisian proletariat, now recovered from the defeat of June, facing a party of order, now harnessing the combined strengths of Orléanists, Legitimists and conservative republicans. Instead there had been the triumph of an imposter, Louis-Napoléon, apparently able to soar above the predictable path of the class struggle. What needed to be explained, therefore, was ‘how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part’. This was the theme of the series of essays written between December 1851 and March 1852, detailing the lead-up to Bonaparte’s coup d’état.

Like other writers of the time, notably Victor Hugo, Karl was struck by the ridiculous aspects of the contrast between the uncle (Napoléon I) and the nephew, Louis Bonaparte. As a way of underlining the point, Engels suggested a comparison between Bonaparte’s coup of 2 December 1851 and Napoléon’s original ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’ seizure of power in 1799. The day after the coup, he wrote to Karl, recalling Hegel’s idea that World Spirit caused ‘everything to be re-enacted twice over, once as grand tragedy and the second time as rotten farce’. Karl took over the idea; hence the title of the text, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.92

This was a more finished and considered document than Class Struggles. The bulk of the text consisted of a detailed blow-by-blow account of the conflict between Bonaparte and the National Assembly. Bonaparte had been elected President of France on the basis of manhood suffrage by a massive majority on 10 December 1848. The two successive forms of the National Assembly had also been elected on the basis of universal manhood suffrage. The first, the ‘Constituent National Assembly’, had been the product of the period of the constitution of the Republic, which ran from 4 May 1848 to 28 May 1849. The second, the constitutional republic, or the ‘Legislative National Assembly’, covered the period from 28 May 1849 to 2 December 1851, the moment of Bonaparte’s coup d’état.

The famous opening lines, which depicted the contrast between the stories of the two Napoléons as that between tragedy and farce made for an arresting beginning. But in other respects the treatment of the mid-century crisis as a form of comedy was inappropriate. It missed what was important in the sequence of events: above all, the emergence of a novel form of democratic politics resulting from the direct participation of ‘the people’ (or at least, adult males) in the electoral process. The creation of a constitution, based not only upon manhood suffrage in the election of the National Assembly, but also (following the example of the United States) in the election of an independent presidential executive, wholly changed the form and content of French politics. In place of ‘the bourgeois republic’ anticipated by the political class, an untried electorate chose an outsider, whose power and legitimacy did not depend upon the National Assembly, but directly upon the ballot. Furthermore, the new constitutional arrangements developed by the Assembly required both that the President should serve a four-year term and that he should not be eligible for re-election when his current term came to an end.

Bonaparte was adroit in exploiting the possibilities of his new position. The February Republic had been experienced by conservative France as a frightening shock; its social-democratic rhetoric seemed to justify all the fears about the spectre of communism which had been endlessly reiterated during the July Monarchy, and had apparently been confirmed by the June Insurrection in Paris. The elections in May 1848 had produced a generally moderate Assembly, but one divided between Legitimists, Orléanists and conservative republicans. As Karl emphasized, it was only the existence of the ‘parliamentary republic’ which enabled the supporters of the rival royal houses to combine in the ‘Party of Order’. However, the situation remained unstable. When the threat from the social-democrat left – La Montagne – looked imminent, pressure for unity within the Party of Order increased. When it receded, the Party tended to break down into its component parts. To the outside world, these tensions and rivalries looked either tiresome or dangerous. The Party of Order in the National Assembly also forfeited support by imposing substantial restrictions upon the right to vote.93

As President, Bonaparte possessed privileged access both to the army and to the large number of central and local government officials, which had grown under the French absolutist monarchy and Napoléon. In addition, he possessed both considerable executive power and ample ideological space in which to manoeuvre. Bonaparte’s innovation was to accept popular sovereignty and to restore universal suffrage – hitherto, the nightmare of all conservatives – but to set them within a strongly conservative and nationalist framework. He appealed over the heads of the National Assembly to all classes – to the middle classes as much as to the peasantry, requiring order and tranquillity, and to the working classes through his restoration of universal suffrage and his vague promise to address the social question.94 The idea that not only representative government, but also political democracy, could be appropriated for the populist politics of the right was wholly new. It was one of the ways in which 1848, far from signifying farcical or comic repetition, represented a huge innovation in nineteenth-century politics.

Karl’s hostility towards political democracy and universal suffrage was in no way lessened by the experience of 1848. In Class Struggles, he had rejoiced that ‘universal suffrage did not possess the magic power which republicans of the old school had ascribed to it’. Its one great merit had been in ‘unchaining the class struggle’, of taking away from the middle classes ‘their illusions’ and from all sections of the ‘exploiting class’ their ‘deceptive mask’.95 His position remained unchanged in Eighteenth Brumaire. After referring to the ‘Holy Grail of Universal Suffrage’, he wrote that ‘universal suffrage seems to have survived only for a moment in order that with its head, it may make its last will and testament before the eyes of all the world and declare in the name of the people itself: all that comes to birth is fit for overthrow, as nothing worth’.96

In place of the democrats’ view that the whole period of the Constituent and Legislative Assemblies could be considered a ‘simple struggle between republicans and royalists’, Karl attempted to present the sequence of events as the result of class struggle or the contradictory relationship between forces and relations of production. The results were mixed. Looked at more closely, Karl contended, ‘the superficial appearance, which veils the class struggle and the peculiar physiognomy of this period, disappears’. The clearest example was the conflict between the Legitimists and the Orléanists. What divided the ‘lily and the tricolour’ was ‘not any so-called principles, it was their material conditions of existence, two different kinds of property, it was the old contrast between town and country, the rivalry between capital and landed property … Upon the different forms of property,’ he continued, ‘upon the social conditions of existence, rises an entire superstructure of different and distinctly formed sentiments, illusions, modes of thought and views of life. The entire class creates and forms them out of its material foundations and out of the corresponding social relations.’97

This was not an especially controversial claim for, as Karl himself acknowledged, the depiction of the relationship between bourgeoisie and aristocracy as a form of class struggle between town and country had been common to historians since the work of Guizot, Thierry, Thiers and others in the 1820s.98 But why should one section of the bourgeoisie support a republic rather than a dynastic party? Karl had no ‘materialist’ interpretation to offer, only a tautology: ‘it was not a faction of the bourgeoisie held together by great common interests and marked off by specific conditions of production. It was a clique of republican-minded bourgeois writers, lawyers, officers and officials.’99The proletariat was not discussed since it had supposedly been put out of action by the repression of the June Insurrection. In the case of ‘petit bourgeois’ democrats and republicans, it was claimed that this group did not wish ‘to enforce an egoistic class interest’ but tended to associate the special conditions of their own emancipation with the general conditions for the emancipation of society. Their main concern was to harmonize the interests of labour and capital. Within the term ‘petty bourgeoisie’, strongly differing occupational categories were combined – on the one hand democratic writers, on the other shopkeepers, for example. But in a brave attempt to suggest and explain their shared position, it was argued that, ‘In their education and individual position, they may be as far apart … as heaven and earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life.’100 Finally, in the case of the bourgeoisie itself, the difficulty – it was suggested – was that it could no longer conceal its rule beneath the crown, as it had done during the July Monarchy. The Revolution created the form in which bourgeois rule, combined within the Party of Order, was plainly revealed. ‘The revolution had first created the form in which the rule of the bourgeois class received its broadest, most general and ultimate expression and could therefore also be overthrown, without being able to rise again.’ ‘Out of enthusiasm for its purse, it [the bourgeoisie] rebelled against its own politicians and men of letters.’101

In attempting to explain why France seemed to have escaped ‘the despotism of a class only to fall back beneath the despotism of an individual, and what is more, beneath the authority of an individual without authority’, Karl pinpointed two putative social groups.102 The first was the peasantry, of whom Karl claimed that ‘the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond’. They were like potatoes in ‘a sack of potatoes’. They were ‘incapable of enforcing their class interests in their own name … They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power that protects them against other classes … The political influence of the small-holding peasants therefore finds its final expression in the executive power subordinating society to itself.’103

What was omitted from this sociologically ingenious account was firstly the fact that Bonaparte’s electoral victory in 1848 owed as much to Paris and the towns as it did to the countryside.104 Secondly, in an important qualification, Karl conceded that ‘the Bonaparte dynasty represents not the revolutionary, but the conservative peasant’; not ‘the enlightenment, but the superstition of the peasant’.105 He could hardly do otherwise in a situation in which the one major rebellion against Bonaparte’s 1851 coup d’état was predominantly a rebellion of peasants and of small-town France.

In Karl’s account, the other major promoter of the Bonapartist cause was the so-called Lumpenproletariat. This was a claim very much of its time. In the first half of the nineteenth century, anxiety about the size and anonymity of large cities took the shape of a frequently expressed fear of the uncertain and invisible boundaries between poverty and criminality; or, in the language of the day, between la classe laborieuse and la classe dangereuse. By the 1840s, these preoccupations had produced a large and popular literary genre ranging from Dickens’s Oliver Twist to Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris and Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

Karl appears to have subscribed to this urban myth, and his description of the components of this ‘class’ was typical:

Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, rogues, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaus, brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ-grinders, rag-pickers, knife-grinders, tinkers, beggars – in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French term la bohème.106

Like others, Karl believed this group capable of conspiracy. In his account, the Paris Lumpenproletariat was organized into ‘secret sections’ and was at the behest of Bonaparte. ‘This Bonaparte, who constitutes himself chief of the lumpenproletariat,107 who here alone ‘rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, who recognises in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally, is the real Bonaparte’.108

So far as this melodrama touched upon a social reality, it referred to the extent of marginalization and underemployment found not just among the labouring poor, but in every class from the illegitimate progeny of the aristocracy through the discharged military and bankrupt businessmen down to Joe, the orphan crossing-sweeper described in Dickens’s Bleak House. A similar picture was conjured up by Mayhew in his description of the London docks in the 1850s:

Those who are unable to live by the occupation to which they have been educated, can obtain a living there without any previous training. Hence we find men of every calling labouring at the docks. There are decayed and bankrupt master-butchers, master-bakers, publicans, grocers, old soldiers, old sailors, Polish refugees, broken-down gentlemen, discharged lawyers’ clerks, suspended government clerks, almsmen, pensioners, servants, thieves – indeed, every one who wants a loaf, and is willing to work for it.109

But there was no obvious similarity between the 10,000 ‘rogues’ or the members of the so-called ‘Society of 10 December’, described in the Eighteenth Brumaire, and the Mobile Guard, also allegedly lumpenproletarians, who were described in Class Struggles in France. No doubt Bonaparte’s following included its proportion of adventurers of different kinds, but to describe this assortment of individuals as a ‘class’ was far-fetched.

Because of Karl’s insistence upon depicting Bonaparte’s triumph in class terms, the main point seems to have been missed. As Karl himself realized, ‘Bonaparte would like to appear as the patriarchal benefactor of all classes.’ He managed to present himself both as a friend of the middle class and as a protector of the peasants against the threat of the bourgeoisie. By restoring manhood suffrage, which the Party of Order in the National Assembly had abolished, he could also present himself as a friend of the working class. He practised what would later be called populism. It was not so much ‘enthusiasm for its purse’ as a generalized fear of anarchy and the threat of socialist triumph in the elections of 1852 that enabled him to appeal to all classes as the friend of order and strong executive government.

Both at the beginning and at the end of the text, Karl drew upon Benjamin Constant to place Bonaparte in a larger frame. Constant had written in the first two decades of the nineteenth century about the revolution of 1789–1814, which ‘draped itself alternately as the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire’. Karl drew upon Constant’s criticism of the Jacobins’ confusion of ancient and modern liberty. With modern commercial society, Constant maintained, came a corresponding theory of liberty. Commerce and peace had replaced the ancient reliance upon plunder, slavery and war. How then was it possible that the supposedly peaceful imperatives of commercial society – ‘doux commerce’, as its eighteenth-century admirers had called it – could throw up a despot and a warrior like Napoléon? Constant declared that ‘the prolonged practice of despotism is impossible today’, that despotism like usurpation and conquest was ‘an anachronism’.110

Karl did not attack Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte for his warrior role as Constant had done, since the emperor had no military reputation to defend. But in emphasizing his relative detachment from the main classes of civil society and his relationship with the army and the peasants, Karl followed Constant in accusing him of ‘anachronism’: ‘One sees: all “idées napoléoniennes” are ideas of the undeveloped smallholding in the freshness of its youth; for the smallholding that has outlived its day they are an absurdity. They are only the hallucinations of its death struggles.’111

Even though he now expected that the return of revolution would depend upon the trade cycle, the note of apocalyptic optimism remained: ‘The parody of empire was necessary to free the mass of the French nation from the weight of tradition and to work out in pure form the opposition between state power and society. With the progressive undermining of smallholding property, the state structure erected upon it collapses.’112 ‘The revolution’, he comforted himself, ‘is thorough. It is still journeying through purgatory. It does its work methodically … First it perfected the parliamentary power, in order to be able to overthrow it. Now it was perfecting ‘the executive power’, reducing ‘it to its purest expression … in order to concentrate all its forces of destruction against it. And when it has done this second half of its preliminary work, Europe will leap from its seat and exultantly exclaim: Well burrowed, old mole!’113

As in Class Struggles, the most prominent feature of Karl’s new conception of history was his refusal to accord independent space to the people’s political concerns. Universal suffrage was treated as a form of illusion akin to the notion of the equality of exchanges in the economy or the apparent naturalization of economic categories in what he was later to call ‘the fetishism of commodities’. The illusion of political democracy was yet another symptom of the alienating power of commercial society. But his refusal to think of universal suffrage as anything other than a pathological symptom imposed serious limitations upon his understanding of the sequence of events. It led him to underestimate the ways in which the suffrage issue pushed the revolution in directions different from anything encountered in 1789 or 1830.

As a result, his reading of the sequence of events which had culminated in the implementation of universal suffrage, Bonaparte’s massive electoral majority and finally his coup d’état was wilful and perverse. He claimed that these events signified the ripening of the ‘party of insurrection’ into ‘a really revolutionary party’, and the establishment of the Second Empire was not a defeat of the bourgeoisie, but a new form of bourgeois rule. But he had little to say about what was to be its more obvious consequence – that, as a result of the political demand for universal male suffrage in France in 1848, and again in Germany in the 1860s, both the liberals and the more traditional parties of order found themselves defeated, not by radical democrats on the left, but by the demagogic manoeuvres of maverick post-Legitimist leaders on the right – Bonaparte and Bismarck.

If Karl had hoped that the Eighteenth Brumaire would make a splash among German radical exiles in London and New York, he was disappointed. The text was originally meant to appear as a series of articles in Die Revolution, a new weekly set up by Karl’s friend Joseph Weydemeyer in New York. But the newspaper folded after two issues, and Karl’s essay arrived too late for inclusion. Weydemeyer published the work as the first issue of another ‘non-periodical’ journal, also called Die Revolution, in May 1852. But, much to Karl’s annoyance, he got the title wrong, entitling it The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis-Napoléon, whereas throughout the text Karl had emphatically referred only to ‘Louis Bonaparte’, part of his determination to deny Bonaparte the legitimacy bestowed upon him by the name of ‘Napoléon’. Weydemeyer could not afford to recall the issue. Very few copies reached Europe, so the text remained virtually unknown. The first accessible edition appeared only in 1869.114

Maybe this helps to explain the sour and sardonic tone of The Great Men of the Exile, his next essay, co-written with Engels, partly in London and partly in Manchester, over May and June 1852. If this essay began as a witty attack on the German democratic exiles, the underlying bitterness soon showed through. The essay began with a satirical account of Gottfried Kinkel, poet and pastor, whose sentimental search for his ‘authentic inner being’ and a true partner was couched in terms of ‘Heinrich von Ofterdingen’ and his search for ‘the blue flower’.115 Due to his redoubtable wife Joanna, Kinkel had been released from his Prussian prison after being captured at Rastatt at the end of the Baden campaign. Once in London, he was treated as a hero and lionized in London society, even invited to meet Dickens. He was variously presented as ‘the Democratic Christ’ or ‘the German Lamartine’.

In this first section, the tone remained light, but thereafter the attack became crude and unbounded.116 This was the description of Gustav Struve, one the leaders of the Baden uprising in 1848–9: ‘At the very first glimpse of his leathery appearance, his protuberant eyes with their sly, stupid expression, the mat gleam on his bald pate and his half Slav, half Kalmuck features, one cannot doubt that one is in the presence of an unusual man.’117 But an even worse treatment was reserved for their erstwhile mentor, Arnold Ruge, who was described as ‘the Swiss guard of German philosophy’:

Paris acquaintances were wont to sum up his Pomeranian-Slav features with the word ‘ferret-face’ … This is the gutter in which the contradictions of philosophy, democracy and phrase-mongering in general all strangely merge; such a man is moreover richly endowed with all the vices, the mean and petty qualities, with the slyness and stupidity, the avarice and the clumsiness, the servility and the arrogance, the untrustworthiness and the bonhomie of the emancipated serf, the peasant: philistine and ideologist, atheist and slogan worshipper, absolute ignoramus and absolute philosopher all in one – that is Arnold Ruge as Hegel foretold him in 1806.118

Like the Eighteenth BrumaireGreat Men of the Exile was originally meant to appear in Weydemeyer’s Die Revolution. When this journal folded, it was necessary to look elsewhere. In July 1852, Colonel Bangya, a Hungarian exile and confidant of Kossuth, with whom Karl had become friends, promised to get it published in Germany and to pay a £25 fee. Bangya did not deliver on his promise, and turned out to be a spy in the pay of the Austrian, French and Prussian police. The essay was not published until the twentieth century.119


Insofar as Karl earned his living in the years from 1852, it was as a European correspondent writing for the New-York Daily Tribune. It is estimated that the Tribune published 487 articles from Karl, 350 written by him, 125 by Engels, and 12 jointly. This far exceeded what he wrote for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung or his contributions in the 1850s to the Chartist journal of Ernest Jones, the People’s Paper, or the Turkophile David Urquhart’s Free Press. Only in 1855 in his 220 or more contributions to the Neue Oder-Zeitung did he briefly exceed his productivity on the Tribune. The work on the Tribune was exceptional also because it continued over such a long period of time: the first contribution dated from August 1852, the last at the beginning of 1862, nearly ten years later. Work for the Tribune was valuable not merely because it provided a source of income. In the long years following 1848, it was a way of addressing new developments in the world. As Jenny wrote after she had moved away from the bustle and vitality of Soho, ‘luckily I still had the article for the Tribune to copy out twice a week and that kept me in touch with world events’.120

In 1850, the editor of the Tribune, Charles Dana, who had been impressed by Karl when they met in Cologne in 1848, invited him to become a correspondent. Previously, along with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emerson and others, Dana had been a member of the Fourierist Phalanstery at Brook Farm in 1842. After a fire destroyed the Phalanstery in 1846, Dana had become a journalist under the aegis of Horace Greeley, and in 1848 as European correspondent witnessed the June Insurrection in Paris and revolutionary developments in Berlin. As a result of American interest in the European revolutions, the Tribune’s circulation had shot up and by the 1850s reached around 200,000, the largest circulation in the world at the time. Under Dana, the paper retained an interest in Fourierism, and opposed slavery and the death penalty, while favouring protection and prohibition.

So many contributions over such a long period of time suggest that, despite some obvious political differences, Karl’s contributions were of value to the Tribune, to such an extent that in certain years up to one third of his output was published in the Tribune’s editorial leaders. An important view of Karl’s value to the Tribune was provided by Dana. In March 1860, he was asked by Karl to supply a testimonial to support his case against the scientist and Bonapartist supporter Carl Vogt. Dana applauded Karl’s work: ‘Nearly 9 years ago I engaged you to write for the New York Tribune, and the engagement has continued ever since. You have written for us constantly, without a single week’s interruption, that I can remember, and you are not only one of the most highly valued, but one of the best paid contributors attached to the journal.’ But what makes Dana’s letter particularly interesting is that the praise he offered was not unqualified: ‘The only fault I have had to find with you has been that you have occasionally exhibited too German a tone of feeling for an American newspaper. This has been the case with reference both to Russia and to France. In questions relating to both Czarism and Bonapartism, I have sometimes thought that you manifested too much interest and too great anxiety for the unity and independence of Germany.’121 Dana rightly perceived that there was an obsessive dimension to Karl’s discussion of ‘Czarism and Bonapartism’ in the Tribune and it was found even more strongly in his other writings during the period. Many revolutionaries in 1848 called for an all-out war against Russia since that was most likely to galvanize the revolutionary energies of the people. Russia for its part was fully committed to preserving the Vienna settlement of 1815 and was active in its name in driving forward the counter-revolution in 1848–9. It had reversed the Prussian intervention in Schleswig-Holstein and Posen; revolutionaries quite rightly focused upon the fact that the Prussian king was the czar’s brother-in-law. Russia had propped up the bankrupt Austrian Empire by massively intervening against the revolution in Hungary in the summer of 1849. A Slavophile position had also begun to make headway on the left, attracting in particular those dismayed by the disenchanting story of revolution in the West. Karl, along with other revolutionaries, had reacted fiercely against this phenomenon and denounced the Pan-Slavist initiatives of Bakunin, Herzen and Bruno Bauer.122

Among the political classes in Britain and France, there was also concern about Russia, not so much as the protector of the European counter-revolution, but more as an expansionist military power with designs upon the failing Ottoman Empire and an ambition to control access to the Black Sea. In the spring of 1853, these tensions culminated in the Crimean War between Russia and the Ottomans, who were supported by the British and the French.

In Britain, Karl’s visceral Russophobia found local expression in the conspiracy theories of the maverick Romantic Tory MP David Urquhart. Urquhart, once a fighter for Greek independence and now an ardent enthusiast for the Ottomans, had for a number of years pursued a tireless campaign against the foreign policy of Lord Palmerston. In early 1853, Karl was drawn towards Urquhart’s writings after Engels had directed his attention to ‘the mad MP, who denounces Palmerston as being in the pay of Russia’.123 By the autumn of 1853, Karl in a series of eight articles on Palmerston had accepted much of Urquhart’s line. ‘Whom was the Czar indebted to for occupying Constantinople by his troops, and for transferring by virtue of the Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi, the supreme seat of the Ottoman Empire from Constantinople to St Petersburg? To nobody else but the Right Honourable Henry John Viscount Palmerston.’124In December 1853, after Palmerston had resigned, Karl declared that as a result of Urquhart’s revelations, both in speeches at anti-Russian meetings and in print, Palmerston had ‘been found out’.125 By this time, Urquhart’s Free Press had published 15,000 copies of Karl’s pamphlet Palmerston and Russia, while the Sheffield Free Press, another Urquhart publication, reprinted a number of his other articles around the same theme.

In relation to the connection between Britain and Russia, Karl always tried to present himself as the fair-minded enquirer who did not share Urquhart’s single-minded obsession. ‘Urquhart’s writings on Russia and against Palmerston had interested but not convinced me,’ he claimed. But if that had been his initial stance, it did not remain so. In order to verify Urquhart’s claims, ‘I undertook the laborious analysis of Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates and the diplomatic Blue Books from 1807 to 1850.’ This allegedly ‘demonstrated Palmerston’s involvement with the St. Petersburg Cabinet on the basis of his transactions with Poland, Turkey, Circassia, etc.’.126 Even the fact that Britain was now supposedly at war with Russia did not diminish belief in this collusion. For the current war in the Crimea was just an appearance. The whole of English diplomacy between 1830 and 1854 could be reduced to one principle – ‘to avoid war with Russia at all costs’. ‘War with Russia’, Karl declared at the end of 1854, ‘has hardly broken out.’127

Two years later, in 1856–7, he examined diplomatic documents in the British Museum going back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. There he discovered ‘continuous secret collaboration between the Cabinets of London and St. Petersburg’ starting from the time of Peter the Great, who ‘coupled the political craft of the Mongol slave with the proud aspiration of the Mongol master, to whom Genghis Khan had, by will, bequeathed his conquest of the earth’.128 As an introduction, he published Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century.

In the 1850s, just as concern about the expansionist ambitions of czarist Russia was common among the British political class, so was anxiety about the adventurism of Napoléon III; and in both cases these worries were largely endorsed by public opinion. Suspicion of Russian designs on the Ottoman Empire was sufficient to provoke the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856, while hostility towards Napoléon III brought about the fall of Palmerston’s government in 1858 when, at the instigation of the French, he had attempted to introduce a bill limiting the right of asylum, following the attempt by a revolutionary nationalist, Felice Orsini, to employ a British-made explosive to assassinate the French emperor.

As in the case of his writings about Russia, there was towards Bonaparte an extra dimension to this hostility fuelled by bitterness and disappointment about the defeats of 1848 and 1851. Bonaparte was always pictured both by Karl and by others as an adventurer, a gambler, and this led to continuous speculation about his next allegedly desperate move. From the time of Bonaparte’s 1851 coup and throughout the 1850s, the most immediate hope was that Bonaparte’s dependence upon army support, probably in alliance with Russia, would lead him into a military adventure, which might spark off a European war. Whom he might fight was a secondary matter. He could attempt to please French Catholics as he had done in launching the expedition to Rome to restore the Pope. He could seek to avenge the humiliation of Waterloo, which would suggest a conflict with England. Or he could attempt to champion ‘the principle of nationality’ and therefore foment war with Austria over Italy. The main point was to strengthen support within the army. As Engels wrote to Karl a few weeks after the coup, ‘that the good Louis-Napoléon must go to war is clear as day and, if he can come to an understanding with Russia, he will probably pick a quarrel with England’.129 In the bleak years of reaction between 1848 and the beginning of the Italian war of 1859, what fuelled the remaining revolutionary hopes of Karl, Engels and the ‘party’ was either the possibility of a European war, or else the prospect of a world economic crisis.

In February 1856, Karl speculated on Bonaparte’s economic difficulties; he claimed that for ‘the first time in their history, the French people have shown themselves indifferent to their old hobby “la gloire” ’. This meant ‘that the epoch of Bonapartism has passed its climax’.130 But in June of that year he had to concede that, for the moment, Bonaparte had resolved his problem. His coup had been based upon ‘two diametrically opposite pretences: on the one hand proclaiming it was his mission to save the bourgeoisie and “material order” from the Red anarchy to be let loose in [the election of] May 1852; and on the other hand, to save the working people from the middle-class despotism concentrated in the National Assembly’. Now he had discovered a means of simultaneously satisfying both of these contradictory demands. The success of the innovative methods devised by one-time Saint-Simonians engaged in the Crédit Mobilier had for the moment led to the belief that ‘all the antagonism of classes must disappear before the creation of universal wealth by some new-fangled scheme of public credit’.131

In 1858, Karl was again speculating upon the approaching end of the Bonapartist regime since the prosperity upon which it rested had been battered by the commercial crisis of 1856–7. Only ‘another military adventure’ could postpone ‘the end of his strange, wicked and pernicious career’. Everywhere in the summer of 1858, war was believed to be imminent. ‘Louis Napoleon has no other means of escaping speedy destruction.’132 More precarious than ever, and even more dependent upon army support, Karl claimed in early 1859, ‘his last trump, in an extreme danger, is a war, and a war for the reconquest of the left bank of the Rhine’. This would be his last move in a war which he would commence in Italy.133

Even more nightmarish visions of a Europe divided up between Russia and France were conjured up in Herr Vogt (to be dealt with in the next section) and other writings in 1860. ‘The natural frontier of the Slav Empire’, according to Herr Vogt, would encompass Bohemia and Moravia.134 Furthermore, in the light of an allegedly secret treaty at Breslau in October 1859, relations between Russia and France had grown ‘more ostentatiously intimate’. As a result, after seizing Savoy, Bonaparte was threatening Switzerland, and throwing out hints upon some unavoidable ‘rectification of the Rhenish frontiers’.135 It is no wonder that confronted by even more extravagant versions of these speculations, Dana had sent back fourteen or fifteen articles (by Engels) on Pan-Slavism from the first half of 1856.136 But while on questions of Bonapartism and Pan-Slavism Dana clearly distrusted the tendency of Karl and other European radicals to go over the top, in other areas there was a remarkable match.

In his coverage of English politics, Karl relied heavily on the reports of parliamentary speeches in Hansard and The Times. On the state of the economy, he based himself on the Economist, amplified by Manchester business gossip regaled by Engels, while on the development of factory industry and the condition of the workers he consulted the reports of the factory inspectors and the medical investigations of the Lancet. When Karl embarked upon a series requiring knowledge of a larger historical background, as was the case in his series on Russell, Palmerston, Spain, India and the opium trade, he consulted everything he could find in the British Museum. He also perused a wide range of newspapers. In addition to The Times, he made frequent use of the Whig Examiner, the pro-Disraeli Press and the Chartist People’s Paper. As a result, his Tribune articles on British politics, industrial development and world trade were both well written and well informed – winning at one point lavish praise from John Bright in the House of Commons.137

Not surprisingly, his choice and coverage of themes were similar to those found in the rest of the press. In the 1852 elections in Britain, for example, like other columnists he thought that the political battle being fought out by two aristocratic parties scarcely concealed the fact that both parties could only survive by pleasing the urban middle classes. Similarly, the idea that Napoléon III was a parody of his uncle was widely found in the English press. He was distrusted as someone who, in order to further his own advancement, did not scruple to flout the constitution. Concern about Bonaparte’s methods around the mid-1850s led to the suspicion that Palmerston’s ambitions and tactics resembled those of the French emperor. Like Bonaparte, Palmerston from 1855 to 1858 appealed over the heads of an elected assembly to the nation at large. In addition, the Indian Mutiny presented him with an excuse to increase still further his powers of patronage, both civil and military. In 1857, everyone from Gladstone to the Chartist Ernest Jones believed that the election of that year could be seen as a coup d’état, in which England would become a Palmerstonian dictatorship and Parliament its obedient tool.138

Karl arrived in England with little knowledge of the English class system beyond what he had read in Guizot and Engels.139 He gradually elaborated a more subtle picture of British politics with the help of the parliamentary speeches and writings of Benjamin Disraeli and of the People’s Paper of Ernest Jones. He considered Disraeli ‘the ablest member’ of the House of Commons, and followed him in his scornful treatment of the Whigs and their ‘Venetian constitution’ as too patrician any longer to hold in check the more democratic aspirations of the northern middle classes. He also adopted Disraeli’s sardonic depiction of the free-trade followers of Cobden and Bright as ‘the Manchester School’.

From Ernest Jones in the People’s Paper, on the other hand, Karl elaborated what he thought to be the emerging shape of industrial class struggle. In 1852, he reported:

While the Tories, the Whigs, the Peelites … belong more or less to the past, the Free Traders (the men of the Manchester School, the Parliamentary and Financial Reformers) are the official representatives of modern English society, the representatives of that England which rules the market of the world. They represent the party of the self-conscious Bourgeoisie, of industrial capital striving to make available its social power as a political power as well, and to eradicate the last arrogant remnants of feudal society … By Free Trade they mean the unfettered movement of capital, freed from all national or religious shackles.140

The ‘unparalleled growth’ of commerce and manufacture in the following few years appeared to reinforce this conclusion. In relation to Britain’s social development, Karl felt able to reiterate, almost word for word, his description of the development of modern industry in the Communist Manifesto:

In no other country have the intermediate stations between the millionaire commanding whole industrial armies and the wages slave living only from hand to mouth so gradually been swept away from the soil. There exist here no longer, as in continental countries, large classes of peasants and artisans almost equally dependent on their own property and their own labour. A complete divorce of property from labour has been effected in Great Britain. In no other country, therefore, the war between the two classes that constitute modern society has assumed so colossal dimensions and features so distinct and palpable.141

In contrast to past revolutions, Karl was pleased to claim that: ‘The so-called revolutions of 1848 were but poor incidents … Steam, electricity, and the self-acting mule were revolutionists of a rather more dangerous character than even Barbès, Raspail and Blanqui.’142

Karl was also keen to demonstrate that the impersonal brutality of laissez-faire Britain was as visible in the countryside as in the towns. Of particular interest to American readers were the evictions, which were forcing so many of the Scots and the Irish off the land and across the Atlantic. Unlike the Continent, in which executioners were ‘tangible and hangable beings’, in England, ‘there acts … an invisible, intangible and silent despot, condemning individuals, in extreme cases to the most cruel of deaths and driving in its noiseless, every day working, whole races and whole classes of men from the soil of their forefathers, like the angel with the fiery sword who drove Adam from paradise. In the latter form the work of the unseen social despot calls itself forced emigration, in the former it is called starvation.’143 Moreover, the activity of this ‘silent despot’ was fully authorized by the teachings of political economy: ‘Begin with pauperising the inhabitants of a country, and when there is no more profit to be ground out of them, when they have grown a burden to the revenue, drive them away, and sum up your Net Revenue! Such is the doctrine laid down by Ricardo, in his celebrated work, The Principle of Political Economy.’144

This emerging society was not only heartless, but built upon the contrast between unheard of wealth and unlimited poverty, in which ‘A matter of a million paupers in the British workhouses is as inseparable from British prosperity, as the existence of eighteen to twenty millions in gold in the Bank of England.’ It was driven forward by a commercial cycle, which would first enter ‘the phase of excitement, in order thence to pass over to those of over-speculation and convulsion’.145 In 1852, Karl predicted that the crisis would assume a far more dangerous character than in 1847. The effects of ‘industrial over-production’ would hit ‘the manufacturing districts’ and recall ‘the unequaled stagnation of 1838–’42’.146 But the advent of this crisis was apparently halted by gold finds in California and Australia.

In May 1853, Karl was once again warning of the unprecedented extension of factories in England. In France, the whole state machinery had been turned into a swindling and stock-jobbing concern, while Austria was on the verge of bankruptcy.147 Two years later, Karl warned again of ‘the crisis in trade and industry, which since last September is growing more violent and more universal every day’. The first houses to collapse had been the cotton spinners, followed by the shipowners, the Australia and California merchants, then the Chinese houses and finally the Indian. ‘A few more months, and the crisis in the factory districts will reach the depth of 1842.’ Then ‘the political movement’, which had been ‘dormant over the past six years’, would return.148

In 1856, Karl discerned a monetary crisis, akin to 1847, but moving from East to West rather than from West to East. What all ‘far-sighted politicians’ now feared was ‘an enlarged edition not only of the crisis of 1847 but also of the revolutions of 1848’:

The anxiety of the upper classes in Europe is as intense as their disappointment … A general bankruptcy is staring them in the face, which they know to be coincidental with the settlement-day of the great pawning shop at Paris … In 1848 the movements which more immediately produced the Revolution were of a merely political character, such as the reform banquets in France, the war of the Sonderbund in Switzerland, the debates at the United Landtag at Berlin, the Spanish marriages, the Schleswig-Holstein quarrels, &c; and when its soldiers, the workingmen of Paris, proclaimed the social character of the Revolution of 1848, its generals were as much taken by surprise as the rest of the world. Now, on the contrary, a social revolution is generally understood, even before the political revolution is proclaimed; and a social revolution brought about by no underground plots of the secret societies among the working classes, but by the public contrivances of the Crédits Mobiliers of the ruling classes. Thus the anxiety of the upper classes in Europe is embittered by the conviction that their very victories over revolution have been but instrumental in providing the material conditions in 1857 for the ideal tendencies of 1848.149

For the Tribune, all this was grist to the mill. The politics of Dana and of Horace Greeley, the proprietor of the Tribune, were protectionist. Free trade, championed by England – especially after the Repeal of the Corn Laws – was, they argued, the means by which England dominated world commerce, and through its enforcement of the gold standard acted as the world’s banker. The economic basis of the Tribune’s protectionism was most clearly articulated by the American economist Henry Carey, who like his father, a successful Philadelphia publisher, had developed Alexander Hamilton’s argument for the protection of infant industries in the face of British commercial superiority. Carey attacked the gold standard and advocated instead a cheap money fiscal policy. He denounced free trade because it inhibited national economic development. Free trade promoted an international division of labour, which privileged Britain’s status as the workshop of the world, while forcing other countries to continue to specialize in agriculture. The social effects of free trade were also denounced as harmful. Free trade accentuated the gulf between wealth and poverty and it did not benefit the English working man. Carey argued that factory slavery in Britain strengthened and perpetuated plantation slavery in the United States. According to Carey, ‘from year to year the small proprietor was seen to pass into the condition of a day-labourer, and the small employing mechanic or tradesman to pass into a receiver of wages, and thus did the whole people tend more and more to become divided into two great classes, separated from each other by an impassable gulf, the very rich and the very poor, the master and the slave’.150

If these were the policies which defined the editorial line of the Tribune and the emergent Republican Party in the 1850s, it is not difficult to understand why Karl was considered such a valuable European correspondent. Karl’s emphasis upon the anachronistic character of British party politics, upon the industrial causes of commercial crises and upon the failure of free trade, either to remove crises or to improve the condition of the workers, derived from his conception of ‘the economical’ basis of ‘bourgeois society’. In the eyes of the Tribune, on the other hand, these were above all the effects of free trade. But, however different the supposed causes of Britain’s position, Karl’s depiction of the condition of ‘modern English society’, converged closely with the Tribune’s depiction of the consequences of free trade.

Dana’s decision to recruit Karl as a European correspondent was also based upon his personal sympathy and familiarity with the European revolutions of 1848 and his interest in socialism. He was a one-time Fourierist, whose social and political sympathies were clear. In the first surviving letter he had written to Karl in July 1850, he had stated that although he could not ‘anticipate any immediate explosion of the great volcano … the play is not yet over, thank God’.151 In 1852, as the publication of the ‘Letters on Germany’ (unbeknown to Dana, written by Engels) drew to a close, Dana was very happy to accept Karl’s proposal to write on ‘English current affairs’.152

Karl, on the other hand, when he embarked upon his own first article for the Tribune at the beginning of August 1852, seemed only to have been vaguely aware of the political stance of the paper. In a letter to Engels, he was unsure whether Dana might take offence at his attack on the Whigs in Britain, given the Tribune’s support for American ‘Whig’ candidates in the forthcoming American election.153 Three days later, he was assailed by further anxieties. What about the competition from other European contributors to the Tribune, including his old enemies Heinzen, Ruge and Bruno Bauer? And ‘what is even more unfortunate, I see from today’s Times that the Daily Tribune is protectionist. So it’s all VERY OMINOUS.’154 In the years before 1848, Karl had offered a paradoxical endorsement of free trade as the most developed form of bourgeois society leading it down the path to revolution, while in 1845, in an unpublished essay, he had ridiculed the protectionist position of Friedrich List’s National System of Political Economy, in large part on the grounds that the time of the nation-state was over.155

Engels was reassuring. There was no need to worry about other European competitors. Their presence was the result of the Tribune’s desire to ensure ‘an “all-round” character … As for protectionism,’ he went on, ‘it does no harm. American Whigs are all industrial protectionists, but this by no means implies that they belong to the landed aristocracy. Derby variety. Nor are they so stupid not to know just as well as does List that FREE TRADE suits English industry better than anything else. By the way, I could at a pinch insert a word here and there to that effect with the FREE TRADERS, which you could cross out if not to your liking. But there’s really no need for it.’156 Karl took some notice of Engels’ letter. In one of the first articles he sent to the Tribune, the ‘Free Traders’ were treated as representatives of ‘that England which rules the market of the world’.157 But the full import of what that meant only struck him the following June, after Henry Carey had sent Karl a copy of his Slavery at Home and Abroad, which cited Karl repeatedly as ‘a recent English writer’ or Tribune correspondent. In this book, according to Karl in a letter written to Engels, ‘All ills are blamed on the centralising effect of big industry. But this centralising effect is in turn blamed on England, who has made herself the WORKSHOP of the world and has forced all other countries to revert to brutish agriculture divorced from manufacturing.’ So this ‘ULTRA-FREE-TRADER finally recommends protective tariffs’. He also noted irritably that the Tribune was ‘puffing Carey’s book for all it’s worth’ and concluded that both Carey and the Tribune could be identified: ‘in the guise of Sismondian-philanthropic-socialist anti-industrialism, they represent the protectionist, i.e. industrial, bourgeoisie of America’. This was the reason why ‘the Tribune, despite all its “isms” and socialist flourishes, manages to be the “LEADING JOURNAL” in the United States’.158

Despite his irritation with Carey, there is nothing to suggest that in subsequent articles Karl did much to distinguish his approach from that of the Republican protectionists. If anything, the opposite seemed to be true. For his articles thereafter referred far more to ‘free trade’ than to ‘bourgeois society’. Similarly, his discussions of commercial crisis made frequent and explicit reference to the deficiency of free trade and monetarist interpretations of the fluctuations of the economy. On 9 September 1853, he highlighted the fallacies of Peel’s 1844 Bank Charter Act, maintaining that the Act would aggravate the severity of the approaching crisis.159 In 1855, he argued that the crisis in trade and industry had ‘shut up the mouths of those shallow Free Traders who for years had gone on preaching that since the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, glutted markets were impossible’. Furthermore, ‘the glut’ had been made more acute by the attempt to dump goods in newly developing extra-European markets: ‘India and China, glutted though they were, continued to be used as outlets – as also California and Australia. When the English manufacturers could no longer sell their goods at home, or would not do so rather than depress prices, they resorted to the absurd expedient of consigning them abroad, especially to India, China, Australia and California.’160 In 1857, after the suspension of the Bank Charter Act as a result of its failure to alleviate the commercial crisis, he once again observed, ‘we were told that British Free Trade would change all this, but if nothing else is proved it is at least clear that the Free-Trade doctors are nothing but quacks.’161 In a lead article in August 1858, he repeated his attack upon the monetarist approach. ‘The idea that banks had unduly expanded the currency, thus producing an inflation of prices violently to be readjusted by a final collapse’ was ‘too cheap a method of accounting for every crisis’.162 Once again, the stated, the real root of the crisis was industrial overproduction.

Such an analysis was central to the Republican election campaign of 1857. So it was not surprising that Dana decided that the Tribune should continue to retain Karl, despite ‘the unexampled ruin now pervading the commercial system in this country’, which ‘compels us all to retrenchment’, and the dropping of all other foreign correspondents. He urged Karl to confine his articles to ‘the most important topics such as the Indian War and the commercial explosion which I suppose will now take place in England as well as on the continent’.163

In practice, the one area in which a clash between his own position and that of the Tribune might have occurred was in the treatment of Asia. For while the Tribune believed that India, like the United States, was a victim of the global free-trade system, created by the British, Karl considered the disruption of traditional India by the British a necessary world-historical development. In June 1853, Karl congratulated Engels on his article on Switzerland as ‘a direct swipe at the Tribune’s “LEADERS” (anti-centralization etc.) and their man Carey’. And he went on: ‘I continued this clandestine campaign in my first article on India, in which England’s destruction of native industries is described as revolutionary. This they will find very SHOCKING. Incidentally the whole administration of India by the British was detestable and still remains so today.’164 Marx’s writings on India during the 1850s in large part repeated the critique of empire found in English radicalism in the first half of the nineteenth century.165 Imperial administration and the East India Company were lambasted as a form of ‘old corruption’, but colonization in social and economic terms was often considered progressive. In one of Karl’s earliest articles on India, in June 1853, it was stated that the East India Company dated back to an agreement between constitutional monarchy and ‘the monopolising monied interest’ after the 1688 Revolution. Originally, its treasures were gained less by commerce than by ‘direct exploitation’; and colossal fortunes were extorted and transmitted to England. After the Seven Years War, ‘oligarchy absorbed all of its [the Company’s] power which it could assume without incurring responsibility’.166 In India under the East India Company, there was ‘a permanent financial deficit, a regular over-supply of wars, and no supply at all of public works, an abominable system of taxation and a no less abominable state of justice and law’.167 The Court of Directors itself dispensed each year appointments of the value of nearly £400,000 among the upper classes of Great Britain. It was also attended by a large and exceedingly slow-moving bureaucracy. As Karl summarized the situation: ‘The oligarchy involves India in wars, in order to find employment for their younger sons; the moneyocracy consigns it to the highest bidder; and a subordinate Bureaucracy paralyse its administration and perpetuate its abuses as the vital condition of their own perpetuation.’168

But, for all this, the British presence in India and British incursions elsewhere in Asia were seen ultimately as progressive. Karl inherited from writers of the first half of the nineteenth century as diverse as James Mill, Hegel and Jean-Baptiste Say an image of Asia as stationary and without a history. His writings of the 1850s and 1860s reproduced these images of the passive immobility of the extra-European world. In his first article on India for the Tribune in early June 1853, he wrote, ‘However changing the political aspect of India’s past must appear, its social condition has remained unaltered since its remotest antiquity … Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society.’169

Throughout the following decade, his view of Asian empires did not fundamentally change. In 1862, he described China as ‘that living fossil’, and explained that ‘the Oriental empires demonstrate constant immobility in their social substructure, with unceasing change in the persons and clans that gain control of the political superstructure’.170 Karl, in line with his rationalist and Enlightenment predecessors, expressed distaste for the orientalist fantasies of what Heine had termed ‘the Romantic school’: ‘we must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies.’ Not only were these little communities ‘contaminated’ by caste and slavery, but, as Karl noted, following Hegel, India’s religion was ‘at once a religion of sensualist exuberance and … self-torturing asceticism’. Above all, these communities ‘subjugated man to external circumstances, instead of elevating man [to be] the sovereign of circumstances’. It was this ‘brutalising worship of nature’ which accounted for the worship of ‘Kanuman the monkey, and Sabbala the cow’.171 The only real question to be resolved was how the supposedly ‘unchanging’ character of ‘oriental despotism’ was to be reconciled with Karl’s picture of historical development as a progressive sequence of ‘modes of production’. In 1853, encouraged by Engels, Karl thought the unchanging character of Asia could be explained, firstly, by ‘the leaving to central government the care of great public works’, especially irrigation, and secondly, a ‘village system’ based upon the ‘domestic union of agricultural and manufacturing pursuits’ agglomerated in small centres.172 In the late 1850s, he came to emphasize the absence of private property in land as its crucial feature, and on the basis of his researches on ‘pre-capitalist economic formations’ in 1857–8 he felt confident enough to write of an ‘Asiatic’ mode of production as the first stage in the ‘economic development of society’.173

What part, then, would be played by the extra-European world in the revolution which would result from the ever more far-reaching intrusion of global capitalism? Or, as Marx saw it in 1853, ‘can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia?’174 Marx agreed with the writers of the 1820s that change in Asia must come from outside. In The Communist Manifesto, he firmly placed his confidence in ‘the bourgeoisie’, ‘the cheap prices’ of whose ‘commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls … It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst.’175 This was the thought which he elaborated in one of his Tribune articles on India in 1853. The age-old ‘village system’ based upon the ‘domestic union of agricultural and manufacturing pursuits’ was being ‘dissolved’, ‘not so much through the brutal interference of the British tax-gatherer and the British soldier, as to the working of English steam and English free trade’. British rule was bringing the advantages of political unity, European science, a European trained army, a free press, British-trained civil servants, the abolition of the old system of common-land tenure and a shorter passage between India and England. If the revolution depended upon the social transformation of Asia, England ‘was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution’.176

Despite what Dana called ‘the Indian War’, Karl’s thinking was not deeply affected by the Indian Mutiny. The Indian revolt did not begin with the Ryots, who were ‘tortured, dishonoured and stripped naked by the British’, but with ‘the Sepoys, clad, fed, petted, fatted and pampered by them’. He therefore compared the Sepoy revolt with that of the French nobility against the monarchy on the eve of the fall of the Ancien Régime.177 His reports dwelt mainly upon the cruelties inflicted by both sides and details of the fighting. It was only after a speech by Disraeli that he was prepared to concede that the insurrection might not simply be ‘a military mutiny’, but ‘a national revolt’.178 His attitude to the Taiping Rebellion was even more distant and poorly informed. It fitted perfectly his belief in the unchanging structures of Oriental empires. As for the rebels, ‘they are aware of no task except changing the dynasty. They have no slogans … they seem to have no other vocation than, as opposed to conservative stagnation, to produce destruction in grotesquely detestable forms, destruction without any nucleus of new construction’.179

In his first contributions to the Tribune in 1852–4, Karl accepted that the 1848 revolutions were over. But he remained confident that in Britain the modern class struggle between the ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘the politically active portion of the British working class’ was imminent. This was the struggle between ‘the Manchester School’ and the Chartists. For the moment, the central importance of this struggle was obscured by the party battles at Westminster. But ‘the Tories, the Whigs, the Peelites’ all belonged ‘more or less to the past’. ‘The official representatives of modern English society’ were the free traders, the men of the ‘Manchester School’, ‘led on by the most active and most energetic portion of the English Bourgeoisie – the manufacturers’; and they were faced by the Chartists, for whom ‘Universal Suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but only landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired labourers.’180 For the representatives of the ‘Manchester School’ since their victory in 1846 with the Repeal of the Corn Laws, ‘the aristocracy’ was ‘their vanishing opponent’, ‘the working class’ ‘their arising enemy’. For the moment, as Karl admitted, they preferred to compromise with ‘the vanishing opponent’:

but historical necessity and the Tories press them onwards. They cannot avoid fulfilling their mission, battering to pieces Old England, the England of the Past; and the very moment when they will have conquered exclusive political dominion, when political dominion and economical supremacy will be united in the same hands, when, therefore, the struggle against capital will no longer be distinct from the struggle against the existing Government – from that very moment will date the social revolution of England.181

In the following year, there was a large-scale strike movement in the industrial districts. In 1853, Karl wrote in his still stilted English, ‘there have waned away the false pretenses on the part of the masters and the silly illusions on the part of the men. The war between those two classes has become unmitigated, undisguised, openly avowed and plainly understood …’ The question was no longer one of wages but one of mastership: ‘The Manchester liberals, then, have at last thrown off the lion’s skin. What they pretend at – is mastership for capital and slavery for labour.’182 In September of that year, Karl was excited by a panic on the London Stock Exchange and expectant that, should the resultant depression prove lasting, the activity of the work-people ‘will soon be carried over to the political field’.183 In 1854, Karl was optimistic about a Chartist revival. Through the initiative of the Chartist leader, Ernest Jones, a ‘Labour Parliament’ met in Manchester and this was followed in the summer by one of Jones’s speaking tours through the manufacturing districts, attracting large crowds.

In 1855, depression loomed. In March, Karl predicted that after a few more months ‘the crisis in the factory districts will reach the depth of 1842. Once the effects of this crisis began to be felt among the working classes:

the political movement which has been more or less dormant among these classes over the past six years, leaving behind only the cadres for a new agitation will spring up again. The conflict between the industrial proletariat and the bourgeoisie will flare up again at the same time that the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy reaches its climax. Then the mask, which has so far hidden the real features of Britain’s political physiognomy from foreigners, will drop.184

Later that summer, he got carried away witnessing the mass demonstration in Hyde Park – swelling from 50,000 to 200,000 – against the Bill, proposed by Evangelicals, to outlaw Sunday trading. It was according to Karl the largest demonstration in London since the death of George IV in 1830. ‘We saw it from beginning to end and do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the English Revolution began in Hyde Park yesterday.’185

The 1850s was the period of Karl’s maximal faith in the global unfolding of the ‘bourgeois system of production’. ‘The devastating effects of English industry’ in relation to India were ‘the organic results of the whole system of production as it is now constituted … Bourgeois industry and commerce create those material conditions of a new world in the same way as geological revolutions have created the surface of the earth.’186

There is one great fact, characteristic of this our 19th century, a fact which no party dares deny. On the one hand, there have started into life, industrial and scientific forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman Empire.


On our part, we do not mistake the shape of the shrewd spirit that continues to mark all these conditions … the new-fangled forces of society … only want to be mastered by new-fangled men – and such are the working men. They are as much the invention of modern times as machinery itself. In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor prophets of regression, we do recognise our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer – the Revolution. The English working men are the first-born sons of modern industry. They will then, certainly, not be the last in aiding the social revolution produced by that industry, a revolution, which means the emancipation of their own class all over the world, which is as universal as capital-rule and wages-slavery.

The moment of social redemption was at hand. In the Middle Ages, there had existed in Germany a secret tribunal called the ‘Vehmgericht’ to revenge the misdeeds of the ruling class; it had placed a red cross on every house doomed by the ‘Vehm’: ‘all the houses of Europe are now marked with the mysterious red cross. History is the judge – its executioner, the proletarian.’187

However surreal this extraordinary vision, it was a product of the unquiet spirit which for nearly a decade seethed beneath the artificial calm produced by the burial of the Revolution of 1848. There could be no doubt that the 1850s had inaugurated a new era in the economy. The extraordinary energy of the economic boom which took hold not only in Britain, but also in important manufacturing regions across the Continent, was now no longer held back by institutional obstacles and reactionary political authority. No state could afford to be without railways and the new forms of enterprise which went with them.

But the subterranean political developments which emerged into the light at the end of the decade were not those anticipated by the revolutionaries of the 1840s. When commercial crisis came, it bore no resemblance to 1842. Chartism did not return. The leaders of the ‘Manchester School’, Cobden and Bright, were defeated in the election of 1857. Tories abandoned protection and redefined themselves under Disraeli as an urban as much as a rural party. Whigs and Peelites did not simply disappear, but together with Irish MPs and the remnants of ‘the Manchester School’ formed the Liberal Party in 1859. Even Ernest Jones, the editor of the People’s Paper and Karl’s only friend and ally in the Chartist movement, allied himself with middle-class radicals in 1857. From 1858, Karl’s writing in the Tribune had little to say about English working-class politics. It mainly drew upon parliamentary proceedings or focused upon European news. At the end of the 1850s, Karl was an increasingly isolated figure, even among his German ‘party’ friends. The strains of continuing to maintain a common front were beginning to show.


After the Cologne communist trial and the dissolution of the Communist League in 1852, followed by the breakup of the Willich–Schapper faction amid a welter of accusations and exposure of spy intrigue, political activity among revolutionary German exiles in London went into abeyance. In 1853, neither democrats nor socialists believed any longer in the imminence of revolution. Membership of radical political clubs dwindled, while increasingly large numbers emigrated to either the United States or Australia.

Not surprisingly, the change in the political climate also affected Karl’s ‘party’. The band of brothers who had once gathered around Karl – in some cases going back to Vorwärts! and Paris in 1844 – became increasingly depleted, both for political and for personal reasons. Of Karl’s Cologne friends, the physician Roland Daniels, who had been arrested in 1851 but acquitted in the communist trial of 1852, emerged from prison terminally afflicted by tuberculosis and died in 1855. Conrad Schramm, who had miraculously survived a duel with Willich on Karl’s behalf in 1850, died of consumption in Jersey in 1858. George Weerth, who had acted as the feuilleton editor on the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848–9, became a travelling agent for a German commercial firm and died of ‘jungle fever’ in Havana in 1856.

Heinrich Bürgers, another of Karl’s Cologne friends, was imprisoned for six years. This, according to Karl, had ‘a very moderating effect on him’, and in the 1860s he gravitated towards the Nationalverein (the liberal pro-Prussian National Association) and the Progress Party.188 Wilhelm Pieper, a sort of secretary to Karl in the early 1850s, had come to be regarded as increasingly tiresome. He stayed with the Marx family over Christmas 1857. Karl reported that ‘he arrived in a state of alcoholic remorse and was more vapid and boring THAN EVER’.189 According to Jenny writing to Louise Weydemeyer a few years later, Pieper had become a schoolmaster in Bremen, ‘has come down badly in the world and has become a slovenly flibbertigibbet’. Like Bürgers, he had joined the National Association. Peter Immand had left Camberwell for a job in Scotland, while Ferdinand Wolff, ‘Red Wolff’, became a teacher in ‘some Godforsaken spot’, got married, had three children, and ‘turned philistine aussi’.190 ‘Little’ Ernst Dronke, as Karl and Jenny contemptuously called him, started a business in Glasgow. By 1865, according to Jenny, he had become ‘an all-out philistine, boastful and repulsive’.191 Already, when Conrad Schramm had died at the beginning of 1858, Engels lamented, ‘Our old guard is rapidly dwindling away during this long spell of peace!’192

When political interest revived around 1858, with the advent of what the Prussian king declared to be a ‘new era’, political debate was no longer determined by discussion among exiles.193 Political differences among the Germans in London were now shaped by public discussion in Germany. The social question was no longer predominant. Politics was no longer defined by the supposed imminence of revolution, but by questions about Prussian leadership and the future of Germany. Rival conceptions of national unification in turn shaped differing reactions to the new wars and conflicts engendered by the opportunist adventurism of Napoléon III, to fears about Russian expansion, and more generally to the ‘Eastern Question’ and the future of the Ottoman Empire. In the face of these developments, it was not surprising that Karl’s idea of the ‘party’ did not survive the pressure of events.

The important test came in 1859 with the Italian War. Despite a twenty-year struggle, the Italian national movement found it impossible to dislodge the Austrians occupying Lombardy and Venetia. Foreign assistance was needed and was most likely to come from France. In 1858, Cavour, the Prime Minster of Piedmont, signed a treaty with Bonaparte, committing both states to war with Austria. Austria was in a weak and isolated position. It had alienated Prussia at the Treaty of Olmutz in 1850 by reconstituting the German Confederation and forcing the withdrawal of Prussian troops from Schleswig-Holstein. It had alienated Russia by siding against it in the Crimean War of 1853–6.

But for radicals, particularly in Germany, help for Italy from the French emperor was considered problematic. It was widely believed that Bonaparte had designs on the Rhineland and was counting on Russian support against Austria. France under Bonaparte had already intervened in Italy in 1849, at that point to please French Catholics, by restoring the Pope to Rome and ending Mazzini’s Roman Republic. Among Germans, there was division between a majority who believed that support should be given to Austria in opposing the expansionist ambitions of France and an influential minority, including Bismarck, who believed that Prussia should take advantage of the war to hasten the exclusion of Austria from the German Confederation. The Austrians, keen to build up support within Germany, played upon the fear of French expansionist designs by recalling memories of the first Napoléon and the French revolutionary occupation of the Rhineland. To this end, they coined the slogan that the Rhine must be defended along the Po – or, more plainly, that Austrian rule in Upper Italy was a vital national concern for Germany – and by this means managed to win over public opinion in Germany in support of Austria against the threat of France.

In early 1859, Engels intervened with a pamphlet entitled The Po and the Rhine. He argued that although Austria had no claim to Lombardy and Venetia, militarily the Austrian occupation of Upper Italy was essential to the security of Germany. The main point was to combat the Bonapartist threat, since, as Engels argued, Napoléon’s real ambition was to establish the French frontier at the Rhine, and thus to win back the glory which France had lost at the Congress of Vienna. Karl thought the pamphlet ‘EXCEEDINGLY CLEVER’, although he admitted the ‘political side’ was ‘damned difficult’.194

Lassalle disagreed. In a pamphlet entitled The Italian War and Prussia’s Task, he considered that the Italian War was no threat to Germany, that a war between France and Germany was undesirable and that democracy should oppose it. German support for the Austrian position in Italy was a mistake. It would strengthen Austria’s position in Lombardy and Venetia; similarly, if Germany attacked France, Napoléon’s standing in France would be strengthened.

Karl reacted angrily. ‘Lassalle’s pamphlet is an ENORMOUS BLUNDER. The publication of your “anonymous” pamphlet’, he told Engels, ‘made him envious … We must now absolutely insist on party discipline.’195 In November 1859, Karl attempted to correct Lassalle on Bonaparte and Italy:

So far as I can see, the Italian war has temporarily strengthened Bonaparte’s position in France; betrayed the Italian revolution into the hands of the Piedmontese doctrinaires and their henchmen; made Prussia exceptionally popular with the liberal vulgus by virtue of her Haugwitzian policy; increased Russia’s influence in Germany; and, finally, propagated demoralisation of an unprecedented kind – a most repulsive combination of Bonapartism and drivel about nationalities.196

So much for the Risorgimento!197 He went on to berate Lassalle from the viewpoint of the ‘party’. ‘Either no one speaks for the party without prior consultation with the others, or everyone has the right to put forward his views without any regard for the others’. Public polemic, he insisted, would in no way benefit such a small party, ‘which, I hope, makes up in vigour for what it lacks in numbers’.198 But Lassalle did not change his position.

The question of the meaning of ‘party’ arose again in 1860, this time in relation to the answer Karl attempted to construct in relation to Carl Vogt.199 The Vogt affair arose out of differences between the exiles in London. The majority were prepared to go along with Prussian leadership in Germany at least until the constitutional conflict of 1861–2. This was the position adopted by Gottfried Kinkel, who founded Hermann, the most successful German-language paper in London. Hermann under Kinkel aligned itself with the National Association. But in July 1859 the editorship of Hermann changed hands and the paper moved towards a strongly pro-Austrian position. In this connection, it gave support to Karl Blind, who had been associated with Struve in 1848. Blind was inspired by Mazzini, had attacked pan-Slavism and supported a republican, anti-Prussian position in Germany. He also wrote a sharp attack on Bonapartism and its expansionist ambitions. He was convinced that political discussion was being influenced by Bonapartist agents, in particular Carl Vogt, a professor of geology and zoology at the University of Geneva.

The renewal of political interest in 1858–9 found expression not only in the growth of the liberal Nationalverein, but also in the revival of the CABV (the Communistischer Arbeiter-Bildungsverein, or Communist Workers’ Educational Association). The majority of its members were followers of Weitling or Cabet and former members of the Willich–Schapper faction. But there were also some followers of Karl, notably Wilhelm Liebknecht, a philosophy graduate from Giessen and former activist in the Communist League,200 and the tailors Johann Georg Eccarius and Friedrich Lessner. Liebknecht had become important in the organization; he provided a weekly political survey and was chairman of the West End branch. One of the results of the Association’s renewed political interest was the foundation in 1859 of a radical rival to HermannDas Volk, whose first number appeared on 7 May.

Karl was not a member of the Association, and he was cross with Liebknecht for allowing Bruno Bauer’s brother, Edgar, to join. Nevertheless he was eager to re-establish his political renown. In the autumn of 1859, he gave ‘private lectures’ on political economy on the premises of the CABV to ‘20–30 picked men’. The first instalment of his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy had just appeared in Germany, but he was resigned to poor sales since, as he told Lassalle, it had been ‘utterly ignored’ by critics.201 He had also set his hopes upon the impact which would be made by Engels’ Po and Rhine as a riposte to ‘those dogs of democrats and liberal riff-raff … stultified by the ghastly period of peace’.202 Karl’s main hope was that the revival of the Association and the launching of Das Volk would provide an opportunity to re-establish the political hegemony of the ‘party’. For this reason, from the beginning he offered covert help to the paper. His efforts to take control of the policy of the paper did not succeed, but when this ambition became known, it occasioned widespread resentment within the CABV and its disavowal of any further connection with the paper. A sharp decline in the readership followed, and despite considerable efforts on the part of Karl and Engels to save the paper it collapsed in August.

Karl’s contributions to Das Volk were mainly concerned with the question of combating Bonaparte. His interest in the Italian War was virtually confined to this issue. He repeated his view that Bonaparte was in secret alliance with Russia, and that his involvement in the Crimean and Italian wars was dictated by the fact that ‘War is the condition on which he keeps the throne.’203 He even speculated that ‘Mr. Bonaparte could not lead his praetorian hordes to any enterprise that could be more popular in France and a large part of the continent of Europe than an invasion of England.’ And he concluded that ‘Mr. Bonaparte is just the man to stake all on invasion. He must play va banque [go for broke]; sooner or later, but play he must.’204 Karl’s involvement in the affairs of Das Volk mattered because it led to his legal and political conflict with Carl Vogt, a battle which preoccupied Karl from the summer of 1859 through to December 1860, when he published his 300-page polemic Herr Vogt.

In Herr Vogt, Karl recounted that at a public meeting on 9 May 1859, arranged by David Urquhart to discuss the Italian War, he had been approached by Karl Blind – an ex-member of the Communist League, turned Mazzinian – who told him that he suspected that Carl Vogt was in the pay of Bonaparte. Vogt had been on the radical wing of the Frankfurt National Assembly in 1848–9 and had been prominent enough to be chosen as one the five ‘imperial regents’ when the Parliament was dissolved. He had developed a strongly anti-Austrian position and more recently argued that the support of Bonaparte was necessary to destroy Austrian hegemony and clear the way for successful liberal and national development in Germany.

Carl Vogt was one the most famous natural scientists of the age. He was a student of the famous chemist Liebig, and became professor of geology, physiology and zoology at the University of Geneva. In his early career, he achieved fame through his investigation of the mechanism of apoptosis – programmed cell death – which he identified in his study of the development of toad-tadpoles. He was acknowledged by Darwin as one of the foremost champions of the theory of evolution in The Descent of Man.205 In his later career, he had developed a variant of evolutionary theory, entitled ‘polygenism’. In this approach, the existence of different races was ascribed to the fact that each race had evolved from a different type of ape. This meant that the ‘white race’ belonged to a different species from ‘the negro’.

Politically, what particularly attracted suspicion was Vogt’s 1859 pamphlet, Studies on the Present Situation of Europe. The purpose of this work was to reassure German public opinion that Bonaparte’s attitude towards the Italian Question fully respected ‘German unity and nationhood’ and should inspire ‘the greatest sense of security in Germany’. But some of the phrases used appeared to be direct translations of French Bonapartist propaganda. As Karl wrote, ‘his Studien are nothing but a compilation in German of Moniteur articles’.206 In an anonymous article in Urquhart’s Free Press, Blind directed suspicion at Vogt without actually naming him, but did name him in an anonymous flysheet, Zur Warnung.

Having heard the rumours from Karl, Liebknecht and the editor of Das Volk, Elard Biscamp, reprinted the allegations in Das Volk, claiming in addition that they had proof that Vogt had attempted to bribe a Baden democrat on France’s behalf. In response, Vogt sued, not Das Volk, but the pro-Austrian Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, which reported the claim. The editors of the Allgemeine Zeitung turned to Das Volk for evidence to back up the allegations. Das Volk turned to Karl, and Karl turned to Karl Blind. Blind, however, denied authorship of Zur Warnung. It therefore looked as if Karl was the originator of the story. Karl repeatedly attempted to get Blind to admit to his authorship. But he refused.

From there, the story became even more complicated. In the print shop which published Das Volk, Liebknecht discovered the original proofs of Zur Warnung with corrections in Blind’s handwriting. Eventually, this led to the admission that the author of Zur Warnung was a friend of Blind, Karl Schaible. Karl was therefore able to rebut the accusation that he had been responsible for the original allegation. But in the meantime, in December 1859, Vogt had published his own lengthy self-defence, My Action against the Allgemeine Zeitung, in which he attributed his persecution not to Blind, but to ‘the web of intrigue woven by London Communists’. As Karl noted, Vogt had cleverly manoeuvred the evidence to make it seem as if it were a dispute between liberals and communists. As he told Lassalle, ‘it was very clever of Vogt to make me out to be the source of the denunciation … Mr Vogt knew that Germany’s vulgar democrats regard me as their bête noire.’207

Biographers have generally treated Karl’s book-length self-defence, Herr Vogt, either as an example of his inability to distinguish between the important and the trivial or else as an unfortunate diversion from Capital, which he was supposed to be preparing at the same time. But given the gravity of Vogt’s accusations, this charge seems unreasonable. Vogt charged that communists in London sent appeals to workers in Europe, who by responding identified themselves; thereafter they were either blackmailed or fell into the hands of the police. This unscrupulous activity had allegedly originated in Switzerland. Its original members had been connected with the attempted republican putsch of Gustav Struve in September 1848. Forced into Switzerland after the defeat of the Imperial Constitution Campaign, its members formed one or more gangs, the ‘Brimstone Gang’ and the ‘Bristlers’ (or maybe these were two names for the same organization). They moved to London, where they became active in one of the refugee committees. Vogt paid no attention to the 1850 split within the Communist League between the Marx faction and the Willich–Schapper faction. Both, according to Vogt, were branches of the Brimstone Gang.

With the renewal of political activity in 1858–9 and the founding of Das Volk, the Brimstone Gang were again said to have become active and were intent upon ‘tearing to pieces the democratic party’. Vogt claimed that the gang was now said to be led by Karl, Liebknecht and Biscamp, the editor of Das Volk. At first, Vogt had believed that they were the unconscious tools of reaction. But today ‘I have come to the conviction that they do so deliberately, that the persons mentioned are knowingly the instruments of reaction, that they maintain the closest connection with it … Everybody who enters into any kind of political dealings with Marx and his comrades will sooner or later fall into the hands of the police.’ Clearly, the core accusations – the charges of blackmail and betrayal – were absurd. In response, Karl presented his own account of the history of the Communist League, starting from its activities before 1848. But, despite his best efforts, it was practically impossible to provide a clear and straightforward alternative account of communist activity in the aftermath of 1848 to the mixture of lies, half-truths and genuine facts presented by Vogt. It was a time in which far-fetched rumours and insurrectionist fantasy were too easily believed in exile circles, and in which every organization or grouping was vulnerable to the activities of spies and agents provocateurs. Edgar Bauer, who had himself become a Danish spy, claimed that the German emigration and the political police were ‘two branches growing on the same tree’.208 This activity of spies and double agents was at its height around the lead-up to the Cologne treason trial in 1852 and the manufacture of forged evidence to support the prosecution. Such activity made particularly deep inroads into the credibility of the Willich–Schapper faction, in which the doings of police agents such as Cherval, Gipperich, Hirsch and Fleury seriously compromised the reputation of Willich. But Karl was also implicated, having been flattered into writing The Great Men of the Exile at the behest of the secret agent ‘Colonel Bangya’.

In the light of this somewhat grey history, it is perhaps not surprising that Karl’s own interpretation of the exile in the 1850s was uncharacteristically mild: ‘Except for a few persons, the emigration can be reproached with nothing worse than indulging illusions that were more or less justified by the circumstances of the period, or perpetrating follies which arose necessarily from the extraordinary situation in which it unexpectedly found itself.’209 In the rest of the book, Karl recapitulated his belief in an unholy alliance between Bonapartism and Pan-Slavism, and that the arguments for such an alliance were to be found in Vogt’s Studies. He also summarized the interpretation of Bonaparte he had put forward in the Eighteenth Brumaire and the allegations made in Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century that there had been ‘continuous secret collaboration between the cabinets of London and St Petersburg’ since the time of Peter the Great, a parallel but much more grandiose set of conspiracy theories to match those of Vogt. According to Karl, ‘the Russian Pan-Slavist’ Vogt supported the establishment of the ‘natural frontier’ of a Slav empire, and in support of this ambition had suggested that ‘Russia annex Austria, Salzburg, Styria and the German parts of Carinthia’. In relation to Bonapartism, Karl explained why it was necessary for Napoléon to mount a limited war in Italy in response to the parlous state of the French economy and as a way to bolster the faltering loyalty of the army. He then went on to detail Bonaparte’s designs on Switzerland, following his acquisition of Savoy.210

After reading Herr Vogt, Engels wrote to Karl: ‘This is, of course, the best polemical work you have ever written; it’s simpler in style than the Bonaparte [the Eighteenth Brumaire] and yet just as effective, where this is called for.’211 Liebknecht also placed Herr Vogt together with Capital and Eighteenth Brumaire in a ‘Trinity’, each ‘the unit of a great personality expressing itself differently on different topics’.212 Edgar Bauer was more measured. He agreed that Karl had refuted Vogt’s allegations against him. But although he had mounted a plausible case against Vogt on the basis of his writings, he had not succeeded in proving Vogt was a Bonapartist agent and was unable to do more than repeat Blind’s original allegation.213

In Karl’s own estimation, the battle with Vogt was ‘crucial to the historical vindication of the party and its subsequent position in Germany’.214 But, if anything, the argument with Vogt and the larger argument about the role of Bonaparte in Italy attested to the fading relevance of the ‘party’ at the end of the 1850s and the beginning of the ‘new era’. The Vogt affair began as an argument among democrats, the allegations made by Blind against Vogt. The issue was not about revolution or the proletariat, but about the significance of Bonaparte’s actions in Italy in relation to the prospect of national unification in Germany. This was not an issue which pitted socialists against democrats. It was an issue which divided socialists, just as it divided democrats. The inability to reach an agreed ‘party’ position on Italy was made apparent by the different approaches of Engels and Lassalle.

The fading relevance of ‘party’ was also made clear when Karl tried to enlist the support of the poet Freiligrath in the legal battle over Vogt. Although Freiligrath was happy to reiterate his personal friendship with Karl, and to affirm, like Karl, his continuing dedication to Saint-Simon’s ‘classe la plus laborieuse et la plus misérable’,215 he refused to be drawn into the Vogt battle as an issue of ‘party’. He replied to Karl, ‘when towards the end of 1852, the League was dissolved as a result of the Cologne trial, I severed all links that bound me to the party as such’. He had been ‘a poet of the Revolution and the proletariat’ long before he had joined the League or joined the editorial board of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. As a poet, he needed freedom, but the party was ‘a kind of cage’. Finally, another consideration had reinforced him in his determination never to regret his distance from the party. That was its association with the two-faced and base elements – like Tellering, Bangya, Fleury, etc. – who despite every precaution had been able to impose themselves upon the party. He was delighted whenever he recalled the feeling of cleanliness produced by not belonging to an organization which could bring him again into contact with such elements.216

Freiligrath’s activities in the 1850s aptly illustrated the forces leading to the breakup of the ‘party’ in the second half of the 1850s. Despite his radical convictions, poetry and German literary culture drew Freiligrath closer to the affluent literary circle around the aspiring poet Gottfried Kinkel and his talented composer wife, Joanna, in affluent St John’s Wood. In 1858, the newly founded radical democrat London paper Die Neue Zeit, aiming at a radical working-class audience, published an anonymous article by Karl ridiculing Kinkel’s proposal to read German poetry to a select party touring the English lakes. Kinkel’s weekly liberal-national journal Hermann was prepared to downplay republican and democratic politics in favour of a Prussian-led national unification. In the summer of 1858, Kinkel had also made renewed appearances to read his poetry at the Workers’ Educational Association, leading to what Karl called a ‘Kinkel Revival’.

In the autumn of 1858, Joanna Kinkel fell out of a window and was killed. For her funeral, Freiligrath wrote a poem, praising her faith in freedom, love and poetry and saluting her as a martyr fallen on the battlefield of exile. Karl was apoplectic at the apostasy of Freiligrath, whom he referred to in private as ‘the fat philistine’, for having participated in the ‘melodramatic’ funeral organized by Gottfried for ‘the death of the ‘NASTY acrimonious shrew’.217 He was further offended the following year, when the attention of most Germans in London was focused upon the Schiller Festival to be held at Crystal Palace.218 As poets, Kinkel together with Freiligrath were the most prominent members of the preparatory committee. Karl was angry that Freiligrath had made no attempt to insist that any of ‘his party friends’ be invited to the committee (‘though he knew perfectly well that I wouldn’t attend’). Kinkel’s Hermann gave extensive publicity to the event, and virtually the entire German colony in London participated in the event.

Freiligrath’s letter about the Vogt affair a few months later forced Karl to relinquish the convenient ambiguity that had attached to his notion of ‘party’ in the 1850s. Since he felt that he could not afford to alienate Freiligrath, his reply was placatory. By ‘party’, Karl explained, he did not mean the Communist League or the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, but ‘party in the broad historical sense’.219


It is unlikely that much was seen of Frederick Demuth, ‘Freddy’, during Karl’s lifetime. But he is said to have become a regular visitor to the surviving household, once Lenchen became Engels’ housekeeper after Karl’s death in 1883. At this point, Freddy was a skilled fitter and an active member of the King’s Cross Branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. Karl’s daughters certainly knew him and considered that they had an obligation towards him. The accepted family story was that Freddy was Engels’ son. But if that were true, the daughters thought Engels’ treatment of him had been shabby. At the time of Lenchen’s death in 1890, Eleanor Marx wrote to her sister, Laura, ‘Freddy has behaved admirably in all respects and Engels’ irritation against him is as unfair as it is comprehensible. We should none of us like to meet our pasts, I guess, in flesh and blood. I know I always meet Freddy with a sense of guilt and wrong done.’220

But a few days before Engels’ death in August 1895, Eleanor first learnt from his close friend Samuel Moore that in fact Karl was Freddy’s father. He revealed the fact to give the lie to the gossip that Engels had disowned his son. It is likely that Laura already knew or strongly suspected this to be true. But Eleanor was shocked and upset. She went to get confirmation from Engels himself. Engels was dying from oesophageal cancer and too weak to speak, but wrote down the fact on a slate. He had told Moore, ‘Tussy [Eleanor] wants to make an idol of her father.’221

Details of this deathbed scene first came to light as a result of the discovery in Amsterdam by Werner Blumenberg in 1962 of a letter of 2 August 1898 from Louise Freyburger to August Bebel. Freyburger, formerly the wife of Karl Kautsky, was Engels’ housekeeper from 1890 until his death in 1895. Although she accepted Karl’s paternity, Yvonne Kapp in her biography of Eleanor Marx launched a strong attack upon the credibility of the Freyburger letter. She claimed it was written in ‘a vein of high fantasy’ and she demonstrated the unlikelihood of several of the claims made in the letter.222 Given the fact that only a typewritten copy of the letter existed and that its discovery provided useful anti-communist ammunition at the height of the Cold War, some like Terrell Carver believed the letter to be a forgery ‘possibly by Nazi agents’.223 In my entry on Engels in The Dictionary of National Biography, I also accepted this interpretation, and more recently this approach has been continued in the study by Paul Thomas.224

I now believe that although the Freyburger letter contained a number of far-fetched claims, these were garbled memories of what she might have heard from Engels rather than deliberate untruths. As for the idea that the document was a forgery, evidence confirming that several prominent German Social Democrats in the 1890s were aware of Freddy’s paternity was collected by David Riazanov, but hidden in Soviet Communist archives after Riazanov was purged. This evidence came to light after the fall of Communism in the 1990s. From this, it also emerged that Freddy himself, who was a toolmaker and who died in 1929, was aware that Karl was his father.225