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

Chapter 5. The Alliance of Those Who Think and Those Who Suffer: Paris, 1844


One of the most enduring effects of the 1848 revolutions was to draw clearer lines between liberals, republicans and socialists. In Prussia, this divergence had taken place four years earlier, in the years 1843–4. Until that time, it had still been possible to think about a ‘Bewegungspartei’ – a ‘party of movement’ ranging from the reform-minded liberal shareholders of the Rheinische Zeitung through to the socialism of Moses Hess or the republican nationalism of Arnold Ruge. Hopes still centred upon a reform of consciousness building upon radicalized versions of Kantian and Hegelian idealism and spearheaded by a free press. Aspirations were framed not in the language of happiness or well-being, but in that of self-determination and freedom. The aim was to realize a state in which ‘the individual citizen in obeying the laws of the state only obeys the natural laws of his own reason, of human reason’.

As long as hope of change still prevailed, attention was paid to nuances of political position, to glimpses of struggles between contending parties behind closed doors, and to the possible re-emergence of a reform agenda within government and administration. The memory of the ‘Reform Era’ or of the national mobilization of 1813–14, and the presence until the beginning of the 1840s of influential veterans of those times, softened the lines of division within the forces of progress. But in the face of the intransigent stance of the new government, the removal of an oppositional press and the absence of effective resistance, positions soon hardened. Moderate reformers were reduced to silence, radicals were forced into exile.

This was a situation in which the broad alliance of the Bewegungspartei foundered and unity within the Young Hegelian movement broke down. By mid-1844, Karl was estranged from both Bruno Bauer and Arnold Ruge. He had become a ‘communist’, an advocate of ‘social revolution’.1 The fragility of the alliance between liberals and radicals had been apparent from the 1830s and was pinpointed by differences of attitude towards the parliamentary monarchy of Louis Philippe in France. This regime, which had attained power after the July Revolution of 1830, was the sort of government German liberals would have striven for. But it soon found itself, in 1831, embarked upon a programme of repression, both of republicans in Paris and of workers in Lyons and other provincial centres. Its juste milieu liberalism was attacked by Legitimist supporters of the deposed Bourbons, on the right, and by a broad array of radicals, republicans and socialists on the left.

Less readily understandable was the split between republicans and ‘communists’ within the Young Hegelian group. Why did Karl break with those who held a socially informed republican position? Three elements account for what otherwise might have looked like an arbitrary lurch on Karl’s part towards ‘communism’ in the winter of 1843–4.

The first element was self-evident: the failure of the politics of self-consciousness to bring about any change in the policies of the state. The feebleness of the reaction to the suppression of the Rheinische Zeitung or Ruge’s Deutsche Jahrbücher from any quarter of Prussian society also led to disenchantment with the strategy of ‘criticism’. The second, and crucial, element was the emergence of an alternative philosophical path beyond Hegel, which had been outlined by Feuerbach. The politics of enlightenment and the development of self-consciousness were ideally suited to the process of religious and juridical criticism, but, unlike the position developed by Feuerbach, had no distinctive viewpoint in relation to the questions which were to dominate political life in the 1840s and to constitute the third element: the condition of the ‘proletariat’ and ‘the social problem’. All three elements were closely interconnected. Seen from the perspective of ‘criticism’, it was difficult to accord special significance to the proletariat, a class whose distinguishing features were material misery and lack of education. But seen from the perspective of a ‘human’ or ‘social’ revolution, which Karl inferred from premises laid down by Feuerbach, such a class could be accorded a central role.


Karl finally withdrew from the Rheinische Zeitung on 16 March 1843. He had already decided to leave Germany, and from January had been looking for other work, first with Herwegh in Switzerland, then with Ruge in Saxony, Belgium or France.2 He had also determined to get married. For, as he wrote to Ruge on 25 January, he would not leave without his fiancée. Once arrangements for the marriage were finally settled, he wrote again on 13 March, telling Ruge that he would travel to Kreuznach, marry and ‘spend a month or more there at the home of my wife’s mother, so that before starting work we should have at any rate a few articles ready’.

Marriage brought to an end long and bumpy years of engagement, which became particularly tense after the death of Heinrich, but even more so following the demise of Jenny’s father, Ludwig. As Karl explained to Ruge:

I have been engaged for more than seven years, and for my sake my fiancée has fought the most violent battles, which almost undermined her health, partly against her pietistic aristocratic relatives, for whom ‘the Lord in heaven’ and the ‘lord in Berlin’ are equally objects of religious cult, and partly against my own family, in which some priests and other enemies of mine have ensconced themselves. For years, therefore, my fiancée and I have been engaged in more unnecessary and exhausting conflicts than many who are three times our age and continually talk of their ‘life experience’ (the favourite phrase of our Juste-Milieu).

Despite all this, he told Ruge, ‘I can assure you, without the slightest romanticism, that I am head over heels in love, and indeed in the most serious way.’3

The marriage took place on 19 June in Kreuznach in the Palatinate, eighty miles from Trier, and the centre of a wine-growing district famous for its Riesling and Silvaner grapes. Ludwig’s death had been followed by that of an aunt, who also lived with them. Jenny then moved temporarily to Kreuznach with her mother, Caroline, probably out of economic need; Karl had already visited her there. According to Jenny’s friend Betty Lucas, Bettina von Arnim, the famous Romantic writer and social critic, visited Kreuznach in October 1842 and insisted that Karl accompany her on a walk to the Rheingrafenstein, a famous castle and local beauty spot, a good hour away from their home. Karl had apparently followed Bettina ‘with a melancholy glance at his bride’.4

The marriage was celebrated in St Paul’s church, Kreuznach, by a preacher whose appointment dated back to Jacobin times; among the witnesses were one of Karl’s schoolboy contemporaries and a local innkeeper. Henriette did not attend the wedding, but sent her written consent. After the wedding, according to Jenny’s account, ‘we went from Kreuznach to Rhein-Pfalz via Ebernburg and returned via Baden-Baden. Then we stayed at Kreuznach till the end of September. My dear mother returned to Trier with my brother Edgar.’5 Karl and Jenny left for Paris at the end of October.

Karl had earlier hoped to co-edit Deutscher Bote (German Messenger) with Herwegh in Zurich, and on 19 February Herwegh wrote about a possible collaboration. But this plan ended when the authorities closed down the Bote and expelled Herwegh. Arnold Ruge had also agreed to the Bote plan, but his primary aim was to secure the ‘essential rebirth’ of the Deutsche Jahrbücher. So next he offered Karl co-editorship and a fixed income of 550–600 thalers with another 250 thalers for other writings. The new journal would establish ‘radical philosophy on the foundations of the freedom of the press’ and would ‘articulate the question of the political crisis or of general consciousness as it begins to form itself’. The immediate aim would be ‘to prepare ourselves, so that later we may jump in among the philistines fully armed and knock them out with one blow’.6

Karl’s politics had closely followed those of Ruge ever since the end of the 1830s. In 1842 and 1843, their responses to immediate events, not least the ‘frivolous’ diatribes of the ‘Free’, had remained very close. An established author, and in possession of independent means, ‘Papa Ruge’ – as Jenny called him – was clearly the senior partner in this collaboration. The banning of the Deutsche Jahrbücher in January 1843 as the result of Prussian pressure, together with the suppression of the Rheinische Zeitung, meant the effective silencing of Young Hegelianism within Germany. The aim of criticism, as it was employed among Young Hegelians, was to highlight the gap between the demands of reason and the behaviour of the government, but its failure to make any significant headway against the Prussia of Friedrich Wilhelm IV had also pushed them both towards an open criticism of Hegel’s political philosophy.

During his summer in Kreuznach, Karl attempted to complete the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which he had promised to the Deutsche Jahrbücher as far back as the spring of 1842. Initially conceived as a critique of constitutional monarchy, by the time he returned to the topic, his criticism of Hegel’s philosophy had been fundamentally transformed by expansive application of Ludwig Feuerbach’s philosophical approach. Feuerbach offered a different way of reading Hegel and this was spelled out in his essay entitled ‘Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy’, published in Ruge’s Anekdota in Zurich in the spring of 1843, and developed further in his Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, published later that year.7

Feuerbach had become famous in 1840 as the author of The Essence of Christianity, which would be translated into English by George Eliot in 1854.8 His argument was that religion was an alienated form of human emotion. Unlike animals, humans could turn their emotions into objects of thought. These emotions were re-embodied in an external being freed from the limitations of individual human existence, and in this way man had been led to project his own essence as a species upon a fictive being, God. As a result, the relationship between subject and object (or predicate) was reversed. Henceforth, it no longer appeared that man had created God, but that God had created man.

By contrast, Feuerbach began with ‘man-in-nature’. ‘Man’ (the human being) was not simply a thinking being. Man embodied reason and freedom, but was first a ‘sensuous being’. Man-in-nature was both active and passive. Just as thought had its genesis in ‘real being’, so ‘suffering precedes thinking’. As a natural being ‘man’ stood in need of means of life that existed outside him, above all the elementary species-relationship, love. ‘The first object of Man’, wrote Feuerbach ‘is Man.’ As a creature of need, man depended on others. In this sense, he was a ‘communal being’. The essence and starting point of man was not the ‘self’, but ‘the unity of I and Thou’. Man came to consciousness of his humanity, of his ‘species-being’, through the agency of other men.

Feuerbach’s construction of a ‘species-being’ out of the natural attributes of man led to a quite different vision of the significance of civil society from that found in Hegel. In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel had assigned a foundational role to need and human interdependence. What he called ‘the system of needs’ described the forms of exchange and interdependence that had been discovered by political economists, and which underpinned modern commercial society. But Hegel did not regard civil society as the true sphere of human freedom; nor did he see in it the capacity to become so. It was the sphere of necessity, the ‘external state’ governed by the selfish individual needs and desires of natural man. Man’s true being as spirit could only be actualized in ‘the state’. For Feuerbach, by contrast, man’s only existence was that of a natural being, governed by need. On this basis, however, it was possible to conceive of the interdependence of civil society as the basis of the communal nature of man and to envisage the gradual flowering of a society which would be in accordance with the ‘species-being’.

The development of Christianity had blocked the emergence of such a society. Christianity had transformed the communal character of the human species into the particular union of each individual with an external being. Religion was, therefore, responsible for the individualism of modern society. Between the individual and the universality of the species was now interposed an external mediator. In place of the primordial species-unity of ‘I and Thou’, the role of ‘Thou’ had been usurped by Christ. Protestantism, in particular, with its emphasis upon the individual conscience and the priesthood of all believers, had dismantled the spiritual community of medieval religion and inspired an egotistical withdrawal from communal life and a material world divested of sanctity.

In the ‘Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy’, Feuerbach extended his criticism to Hegel’s philosophy. Hegel’s incarnation of ‘Absolute Spirit’ in history presupposed an extra-human perspective that had no natural basis. It was an extension of Christian theology. Just as Christianity had originally alienated man from his emotions, so Hegel had alienated man from his thought, and common to both was the method of ‘abstraction’. ‘To abstract means to posit the essence of nature outside nature, the essence of Man outside Man, the essence of thought outside the act of thinking. The Hegelian philosophy has alienated Man from himself in so far as its whole system is based on these acts of abstraction.’9

These abstractions, as Feuerbach emphasized, possessed no independent existence. All could be resolved into empirical natural terms, and redescribed in the language of nature and history. Abstraction was an expression of man’s own rational nature and capacities. The impression that such abstractions possessed an objective existence outside humanity was the result of man’s alienation from nature, and in particular from his own social nature. This was particularly acute in the case of idealist philosophies like those of Fichte or Hegel, which began with the ‘I’ or ‘self’ in isolation. ‘Two human beings are needed for the generation of man, of the intellectual as well as the physical one.’ The defect of idealism was the desire to derive ideas from the ‘I’ without a given sensuous ‘You’. The extreme case was that of Hegel’s Science of Logic, where terms such as concept, judgement or syllogism ‘are no longer our concepts’, but presented as ‘objective’ absolute terms existing in and for themselves. In this way, Absolute philosophy externalized and alienated ‘from man his own essence and activity’.10

Quite independently from Feuerbach, Ruge had developed his own critique of Hegel’s conception of the state. Already in 1840 he had argued that Hegel’s posthumously published Philosophy of History – which presented states as products of rational and historical development – was superior to The Philosophy of Right, which explained the state in categories employed in his Science of Logic. In the Deutsche Jahrbücher in August 1842, Ruge drew upon Feuerbach’s insights to elaborate his political criticism.11 Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, he argued, had been a child of a time which ‘totally lacked public discussion and public life’. Hegel had cherished the illusion that one could be ‘theoretically free without being politically free’. He had veered away from ‘the nasty “should” of praxis’.12

After Strauss, Ruge argued, this was impossible, for ‘the times’ were ‘political’. The problem about starting from The Science of Logic was that it did not confront questions about existence. Only with the entry of history into the realm of science, did existence become relevant. For Young Hegelians, ‘the historical process is the relating of theory to the historical existences of Spirit; this relating is critique’. By contrast, The Philosophy of Right raised ‘existences or historical determinations to logical determinations’. This lack of any explicit distinction between the historical and the metaphysical resulted in a ‘foolish juggling act’ in which hereditary monarchy and the bicameral system became logical necessities. Ruge abandoned his previous identification of Prussia with rational development and Protestantism. Like Feuerbach, he now presented the Reformation as the point of separation between religion and the community, and the beginning of Hegel’s picture of the ‘external state’ or ‘civil society’, in which individuals were concerned only with their private affairs.13


Ruge’s critique of Hegel kept within the limits of a standard republican position; Karl’s critique was much more drastic. After initially complaining to Ruge that Feuerbach devoted too much attention to nature and too little to politics, his own extension of Feuerbach’s critical procedure was even more ambitious.14 In 1842, Karl’s target had been ‘the Christian state’; now it was ‘the modern state’ or ‘the political state’. Like Ruge, Karl applied Feuerbach’s ideas about abstraction and inversion, but what excited him most about Feuerbach’s approach was seeing religion as only one instance of a more universal process of abstraction.15 All abstractions could be resolved into aspects of human nature. Through the translation of abstractions back into the natural and historical phenomena from which they derived, it was possible – so Feuerbach had claimed – to arrive at ‘the unconcealed, pure and untarnished truth’.16

In Karl’s view this insight could be applied as much to politics as to religion. Hegel was attacked for forgetting that ‘the essence of a “particular personality” ’ was ‘its social quality and that state functions, etc., are nothing but modes of being and modes of action of the social qualities of men’.17 ‘Just as it is not religion which creates man, but man who creates religion, so it is not the constitution which creates the people, but the people which creates the constitution.’ If this was not clear, this was because the ‘political’ state was not a totality, but ‘a dualism’, in which each individual ‘must effect a fundamental division within himself between the citizen of the state and the citizen as member of civil society’.18

Like Ruge, Karl used Feuerbach’s ideas to attack Hegel’s attempt to present his theory of the state as an application of his Science of Logic. Hegel had made the state the creation of ‘the Idea’; he had ‘turned the subject of the idea into a product, a predicate, of the idea’. His procedure was to transform empirical fact into speculation, and speculation into empirical fact. In this way, ‘the correct method is stood on its head’. The transition from family and civil society to the state was not derived from the nature of the family or of civil society, but seen like the purely categorical transition from the sphere of essence to that of concept in the Science of Logic.19 All the terms Karl later employed to explain his difference from Hegel in his ‘Postscript to Capital’, the attempt to derive a concept of the state from a sequence of abstractions, were reiterations of the terms employed here.20

Was it Hegel’s theory of the state, or was it the post-revolutionary state itself that was guilty of abstraction? According to Karl, Hegel was right in treating the state as an abstraction, and in taking for granted the separation of civil and political estates. ‘Hegel is not to be blamed for depicting the nature of the modern state as it is, but for presenting that which is as the nature of the state.’ What was peculiar to the modern state was that the constitution had been developed into ‘a particular actuality alongside the actual life of the people’, and, as a result of the division between the state and civil society, a situation where ‘the state does not reside within, but outside society’. In this process, Karl argued, ‘the political constitution has been the religious sphere, the religion of national life, the heaven of its generality over against the earthly existence of its actuality’.21

Such an ‘abstraction of the state as such’ characterized modern times, as did its cause, ‘the abstraction of private life’. Karl’s picture of medieval feudalism remained that which he had developed while studying Christian art in 1841. It was a period in human society in which man was turned into an animal ‘identical with his function’, but also one where ‘every private sphere had a political character’. ‘The life of the nation and the life of the state were identical.’ ‘Man’ was the principle of the state, even if it was ‘unfree man’. It was ‘the democracy of unfreedom’. The political state of modern times only came into being once the ‘private spheres’ – trade and landed property – had gained an independent existence. This transformation of political estates into civil estates took place under the absolute monarchy, and the process was completed by the French Revolution. Henceforth, differences between estates became simply ‘social differences of civil life’.22

Only in the ‘rational state’, what Karl now called ‘democracy’, did there exist ‘a true unity of universal and particular’. ‘Democracy was the solved riddle of all constitutions.’ Only here was the constitution brought back ‘to its actual basis, the actual human being, the actual people’. ‘In democracy, the formal principle is at the same time the material principle.’23 An imagined point of comparison was once again classical Greece. Unlike the modern state, which was a compromise between the political and unpolitical state, the ancient state was ‘universal’, the unity of the formal and the material. There the republic was ‘the real private affair of the citizens, their real content, the true and only content of the life and will of the citizens’. In the states of antiquity, whether Greece or Rome, the political state made up the content of the state to the exclusion of all other spheres.24

The ‘democracy’ to which Karl referred was not the post-1789 political democracy based upon the representative principle. In the modern ‘political’ state, democracy could only be ‘formal’, since such a state presupposed the coexistence of the ‘unpolitical’ and the ‘political’, the ‘man’ and the ‘citizen’. This was true, whether in a monarchy, in a republic, or even in a state based upon universal male suffrage. The modern state was a compromise between civil society and the state or between the ‘unpolitical’ and the ‘political’ state. Judged by these criteria, ‘the entire content of the law and the state is the same in North America as in Prussia, with few modifications. The republic there is thus a mere state form, as is the monarchy here. The content of the state lies outside these constitutions.’25

The dominant reality in modernity was ‘civil society’, with its guiding principles of individualism, the ‘war of all against all’, and the rule of private interests. Hegel claimed that the modern state was ‘the actuality of the ethical idea’, but ‘the identity which he has constructed between civil society and the state is the identity of two hostile armies’. Furthermore, from his presentation, it seemed that the ethical idea was simply ‘the religion of private property’. The constitution was ‘guaranteed’ by primogeniture, while the different subdivisions of trade and industry were ‘the private property of different corporations’. Similarly, the bureaucracy, according to Hegel the universal interest, only constituted one particular private aim over against others. Private property was not just ‘the pillar of the constitution, but the constitution itself’.26

In a true democracy, there would be no place for representation as it had developed in the ‘political state’. Representation was only an issue ‘within the abstraction of the political state’, when ‘universality’ was turned into ‘external multiplicity’. What was missing was ‘universality’ as an ‘abstract, spiritual, actual quality of the individual’, such that ‘all’ would participate as ‘all’, and not as ‘individuals’.27

In a true democracy, civil society becomes political society, ‘the significance of the legislative power as a representative power’ would completely disappear. Legislative power in a true democracy would only exist in the sense ‘in which every function is representative’; for example, ‘the shoemaker, insofar as he satisfies a social need, is my representative, in which every particular social activity as a species-activity merely represents the species, i.e., an attribute of my own nature, and in which every person is the representative of every other’. Furthermore, in this situation decision-making was not the result of the conflict of wills, ‘rather the actual law has to be discovered and formulated’. In other words, in a ‘democracy’, decision-making would approximate to Rousseau’s vision of the exercise of the ‘General Will’ in The Social Contract.28

After 130 pages, Karl abandoned this ‘essay’. But the direction of the argument was reasonably clear. Change would occur when civil society declared itself to be the political state. For this completion of abstraction would at the same time be the ‘transcendence of abstraction’. Signs of such a possibility were suggested by movements for political reform in France and England. For ‘electoral reform within the abstract political state is therefore the demand for its dissolution, and also for the dissolution of civil society’.29

One of Karl’s main purposes in the manuscript was to clarify rejection of the notion of ‘criticism’, which he had shared with Bruno Bauer. Karl’s divergence from Bauer had developed gradually. He had become familiar with Feuerbach’s work at least as far back as 1839, and his impatience with the narrow focus of religious criticism was already apparent by November 1842, when he had written that religion was ‘without content’. But in March 1843 his praise for Bauer’s ‘Self-Defence’ remained wholehearted, and as late as June 1843 he apparently shared Ruge’s hope that Bauer might join the journal they had in mind.30

But, as the year wore on, Karl’s distance from the assumptions of ‘criticism’ became more evident. Bauer did not accept that the process of abstraction, which Feuerbach had applied in his critique of religion, could be extended to the modern state. Nor did he accept, therefore, that ‘political emancipation’ could be criticized in the name of ‘human emancipation’. This was the basis upon which Karl attacked Bauer in the first part of the essay ‘On the Jewish Question’, which Karl was to publish in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher in early 1844.

Bauer’s error, Karl wrote, was only to criticize ‘the Christian state’, not the state as such and therefore to regard ‘the political abolition of religion as the abolition of religion as such’. Bauer did not investigate the relation between ‘political emancipation’ and ‘human emancipation’. Nor did he take account of the limitations of ‘the political state’ and its relationship with civil society. According to Karl, where ‘the political state has attained its true development’, man led a twofold life: ‘life in the political community in which he considers himself a communal being, and life in civil society in which he acts as a private individual’. This was what had happened during the French Revolution, which by ‘smashing all estates, corporations, guilds and privileges’ associated with feudalism had ‘abolished the political character of civil society’.

Political emancipation embodied in the Rights of Man did not, as Bauer thought, contradict ‘privilege of faith’. Both the French Constitution of 1791 and the Constitution of Pennsylvania of 1776 treated ‘the privilege of faith’ as a universal right of man. The religiosity of the United States, where there had been a complete separation of church and state, was proof that the existence of religion was not in contradiction to ‘the perfection of the state’. Political emancipation meant that religion was relegated to the private sphere, the sphere of civil society. In this sense, ‘the perfect Christian state’ was ‘the atheist state, the democratic state, the state which relegates religion to a place among the other elements of civil society’.

But if the existence of religion were compatible with ‘the perfection of the state’, this could only mean that there was an inherent inadequacy in the notion of political emancipation. For the existence of religion was ‘the existence of a defect’, and since ‘we no longer regard religion as the cause, but only as the manifestation of secular narrowness’, the source of the defect had to be sought in the nature of the state itself. Political emancipation was, of course, ‘a big step forward’.31 But Bauer did not understand what Feuerbach had demonstrated: that the emancipation of the state from religion did not mean the emancipation of real men from religion.

Christianity was still in the dock, but no longer because of the mystifications of the biblical narrative, highlighted by Bauer, but rather because it had become ‘the expression of man’s separation from his community’. Religion had become ‘the spirit of civil society’, the spirit of ‘the sphere of egoism, of bellum omnium contra omnes’. Religion was ‘the recognition of man in a roundabout way, through an intermediary’. Just as the state was ‘the intermediary between man and man’s freedom’, so ‘Christ is the intermediary to whom man transfers the burden of all his divinity’. Religion addressed the individual separated from the community. That was why ‘political democracy is Christian, since in it man, not merely one man but every man, ranks as sovereign, as the highest being, but it is man in his uncivilised, unsocial form, man in his fortuitous existence, man just as he is, man as he has been corrupted by the whole organisation of our society … in short, man who is not yet a real species being’.32

Like Moses Hess, Karl denounced the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen as a proclamation of the primacy of civil society over the modern political state. The right of man to liberty in the Declaration was based not on the association of man with man, but on the separation of man from man. ‘It is the right of this separation’, and ‘the practical application of man’s right to liberty is man’s right to private property’. It was the right to enjoy and dispose of property ‘without regard to other men’, in other words, ‘the right of self-interest’; ‘none of the so-called rights of man’ went beyond ‘egoistic man, as a member of civil society’. There was no conception of species-being or species-life. ‘The sole bond holding them together is natural necessity, need and private interest.’ In sum, the citizen was ‘the servant of the egoistic homme’. Even in the euphoria of revolution, political life declared itself to be ‘a mere means, whose purpose is the life of civil society’. It was not man as citizen, but ‘man as bourgeois’, who was considered to be ‘the essential and true man’.33

The ideal of political emancipation was deficient. It meant the reduction of man to the egoistic independent individual or else to the citizen, the ‘juridical person’. ‘Only when the real individual man reabsorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life … and consequently no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.’34

Karl’s manuscript and its use in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher to distinguish his new position from that of Bruno Bauer were important because much that was argued was to remain a feature of Karl’s subsequent thought. But even in Karl’s own eyes the arguments advanced could have been neither conclusive nor wholly convincing: a point suggested by the fact that Karl attempted to restate his disagreement with Bauer on at least two later occasions.

Whatever the validity of Karl’s attempt to theorize not just Hegel’s state, but the modern state as such, the result was a rigid and impoverished construct, in which the differences between the Prussian and the American state, for example, became secondary and inessential. Secondly, the putative alternative to the separation between civil society and the political state, between man and citizen, rested upon a wholly unexamined vision of the ‘social character’ of human nature and the ‘universal’ character of the individual; supported only by a fleeting reference to the Greek polis. For this reason Hegel was criticized for forgetting that the essence of a particular personality was ‘its social quality’: a criticism that effectively ignored his reasons for distinguishing between the ancient and the modern state. This inability – or refusal – to think of individuality except as an alienation from social being found enduring expression in his distaste for the idea of rights even before he began to dismiss them as a ‘bourgeois’ phenomenon. Lastly, the remoteness of Karl’s conceptions from the realities of radical politics in nineteenth-century Britain and France was underlined by his dismissal of the idea of representation and his expectation that radical movements would press for the overcoming of the division between civil society and the political state.


The second element which helped to account for Karl’s shift in position was the dramatic emergence from around 1840 of the ‘proletariat’ and ‘the social question’ as central to political debate. By 1842, labour movements had come into existence both in Britain and in France.

In France, ‘communism’ had become the object of public attention in 1840. The word had been brought into use by the radical republican Étienne Cabet, as a supposedly inoffensive substitute for the forbidden idea of an egalitarian republic. But ‘communism’ could not so easily shake off its association with the violent and insurrectionary activities associated with the egalitarian tradition: part of the reason why, as the Communist Manifesto claimed, Europe was so soon to become haunted by its ‘spectre’.

Ultra-radical republicans had been distinguished by their emphasis on equality and by their identification with the extreme Jacobin phase of the French Revolution. There were among them followers of Robespierre, of Hébert and especially of ‘Gracchus’ Babeuf, who in 1796 in the name of equality had attempted to organize an uprising against the Directory (the French government following the fall of Robespierre) – hence the frequent identification between ‘communism’ and ‘Babouvism’. Memory of this event had been revived by the veteran revolutionary conspirator and survivor of the plot Philippe Buonarroti, whose account, Babeuf’s Conspiracy for Equality, had appeared in Brussels in 1828. The aim of the ‘Equals’ had been to overthrow the corrupt government of Thermidor and replace it by an emergency committee of ‘wise’ men (a new version of Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety). Its purpose would be to expropriate the rich, take over the land, and establish a community of goods; it would then hand back power to the people, thenceforth constituted as an egalitarian and democratic republic.

Babeuf’s doctrine had reappeared within the radical republican societies formed in the aftermath of the July Revolution of 1830, like the Société des droits de l’homme (Society of the Rights of Man). These societies, mainly composed of Paris-based students and artisans, regarded the parliamentary monarchy, propertied franchise and laissez-faire economics of the new ‘citizen-king’, Louis Philippe, as a ‘betrayal’. Their repeated efforts at insurrection had provoked an increasingly repressive government response, and in 1835 not only were the republican societies outlawed, but all advocacy of a republic was henceforth forbidden.35 Faced with this crackdown, one part of the republican opposition went underground. Secret societies were formed, such as the Société des saisons (Society of the Seasons), which attempted a badly botched uprising in 1839 under the leadership of Armand Barbès and Auguste Blanqui.

This was the background to Cabet’s advocacy of the peaceful establishment of communist communities, set out in 1840 in his Voyage to Icaria, a laborious imitation of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. Cabet’s plan was to replicate ‘the villages of cooperation’ proposed in Britain by Robert Owen.36 In the same year, however, opponents of Cabet’s gradualism, the violents, Pillot and Dézamy, outflanked both Cabet and the dynastic opposition’s growing banqueting campaign for suffrage reform by staging ‘the first communist banquet’ in the proletarian suburb of Belleville, an event attended by 1,200 people. Many held this banquet responsible for a wave of strikes which occurred in Paris soon after. Finally, towards the end of the year, the notoriety of ‘communism’ was underlined when a worker named Darmès, a ‘communist’ and a member of a secret society, attempted to assassinate the king.

The novel interest in ‘communism’, which developed in France in 1840, expressed a real shift in social and political preoccupations. This was the result of a growing overlap between older radical republican obsessions with equality and newer and predominantly socialist concerns about ‘association’ as a solution to the ‘labour’ question. Before the late 1830s, there had not been much common ground between these two positions. Communism was political, a revival of the revolutionary republican tradition, an extension of the cause of equality from the destruction of privilege to a generalized assault on private property. By contrast, socialism in France – a cluster of doctrines inspired by Saint-Simon and Fourier and initially of interest to students from new institutions like the École Polytechnique – was opposed to revolution, indifferent to political forms, hostile towards equality and more interested in church than in state. The goal of socialism was not equality, but the advent of harmony, made possible by a new social science. In the interim it pushed for ‘association’ or ‘cooperation’ as an answer to the ‘antagonism’ generated by competition and ‘egoism’.

Two books published in 1840 gave shape to this new political landscape: Louis Blanc’s Organization of Labour and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s What is Property? Blanc’s book attempted to merge socialism and republicanism. It focused upon a solution to the ‘labour question’: the question raised by a supposedly exterminatory system of competition accompanied by falling wages, the dissolution of the family and moral decline. The plight of labour was the result of ‘bourgeois’ rule, British hegemony and the pervasiveness of egoism. The remedy was the establishment of workers’ associations under the aegis of a republican state. By contrast, Proudhon’s socialism started from a non-state form of ‘association’. Yet in his major object of attack, he seemed closer to the communists. For despite his vehement opposition to the asceticism and authoritarianism of the ‘Babouvists’, he like them argued that ‘if you want to enjoy political equality, abolish property’. In these ways socialism, communism and the discontents of labour were becoming increasingly intertwined in public discussion.

In Britain, too, concern about the social question had taken a dramatic turn. Just as in France, where militant republicanism and subsequently communism had started as an angry reaction to the Orléanist ‘betrayal’ of the July Revolution, so Chartism in England with its demand for universal male suffrage began as a radical reaction to the limited constitutional settlement contained in the 1832 Reform Bill. In both countries, the numbers enfranchised were extremely small and, in both, the ‘middle classes’ or ‘bourgeoisie’ were blamed for abandoning the people rather than supporting them.

In the summer of 1842, there had also been a large-scale, and in part politically inspired, strike movement among workers in the Lancashire and Yorkshire textile districts – the ‘plug-plot riots’. Some thought that these strikes had been deliberately fomented by employers; others accused the Chartists of attempting to turn these strikes into ‘a revolution by legal means’. But whatever the original intention behind this movement, there was general agreement that it represented the most threatening aspect of Chartism so far. It seemed to confirm what Thomas Carlyle had written about ‘the condition of England question’, where he considered that, whatever the ‘distracted incoherent embodiment of Chartism’, its ‘living essence’ was ‘the bitter discontent grown fierce and mad, the wrong condition therefore or the wrong disposition of the Working Classes of England’.37

Just at this moment – November 1842 – the young Friedrich Engels arrived in England to work in his father’s Manchester textile firm, Ermen and Engels, after a year of military service in Berlin, where he had got to know the Bauer brothers and consorted with the ‘Free’. His first impressions appeared to confirm all that he had heard about an approaching social revolution. In December 1842, he had quickly filed a report to the Rheinische Zeitung stating that ‘the dispossessed have gained something useful from these events: the realization that a revolution by peaceful means is impossible’ and that only ‘a forcible abolition of existing unnatural conditions’ could ‘improve the material position of the proletariat’.38

There had also been a growing interest in the social question in Germany in the 1830s; Heine, Börne and the writers of Young Germany were fascinated by the social and religious ideas of the Saint-Simonians, but considered their political ideas untenable. In 1842, a German revival of interest in France was specifically related to questions about socialism and communism, but knowledge of their connection with the preceding French republican tradition was generally absent. Instead, communism was resituated as ‘a rage for equality’ and part of ‘the social question’. It was identified with a primordial and extra-political force: ‘the proletariat’, ‘the anguished cry of an unhappy and fanaticized class’; or as Heine put it, writing from Paris, the communists possessed a simple and universal language, comprehensible to all, a language built upon ‘hunger’, ‘envy’ and ‘death’.

Discussion of these questions was greatly facilitated by the publication of a detailed study by a German research student based in Paris, Lorenz von Stein. Stein’s Socialism and Communism in Contemporary France (1842) reinforced the association between hunger, envy and violence. It was widely read, not least because it was informative. He not only summarized the works of Saint-Simon and Fourier, but also introduced German readers to a successor generation of socialists, including Proudhon, Pierre Leroux and Louis Blanc. Once more, discussion centred on the proletariat. Stein treated communism as the specific product of post-revolutionary conditions in France, and assumed that no immediate threat was posed to Germany.

This sense of reassurance was short-lived. Mounting anxiety about the growth of ‘pauperism’ both in the cities and in the countryside from the end of the 1830s was given a political focus in 1843 by the arrest and imprisonment in Zurich of Wilhelm Weitling, a travelling tailor from Magdeburg and communist author. Papers found in his possession suggested that communism was already spreading among the German proletariat by means of a network of secret societies. In his official report, the local magistrate, J. C. Bluntschli, reinforced Stein’s association of communism with the angry, destructive desires of the proletariat. ‘Communism’ had been brought to Switzerland by Weitling and others, who had fled after the failed Parisian uprising of 1839. Weitling had called for a revolution to bring about the community of goods, and although in his published work, Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom, he had appealed to reason, his private correspondence revealed that the attainment of communism also required ‘wild’ and ‘gruesome’ actions on the part of the misery-stricken poor of great cities.39 Bluntschli’s report added considerably to an unreasoning fear of the communist threat which prevailed in Germany through to 1848.

For this reason, although Stein classed communism and socialism together as responses to the creation of the proletariat by the French Revolution, he also made a strong distinction between them. Socialism became the scientific response to the labour question, the solution to the split between society and the state. ‘Communism’ was its instinctive and destructive counterpart, embodied in a proletariat that was propelled by both its ignorance and its lack of property into the unrealizable pursuit of a once-and-for-all redistribution.

Stein was an impecunious law student, who had been dependent upon a government scholarship for his studies in Paris, and who had also supplemented his income by spying on German exiles (although this was not known at the time). The intellectual tradition from which Stein’s book emerged was that of reforming Staatswissenschaft, the form of political science studied in German universities by would-be state officials. It derived from the paternalist economic and social policies of eighteenth-century Prussia, backed by a body of economic and administrative lore known as ‘cameralism’. This governmental tradition was elaborated in the philosophy of Christian Wolff, the most important German philosopher between Leibniz and Kant. Wolff elaborated what was in effect a welfare state in his many publications. The state was made responsible for the defence, welfare and happiness of its subjects. Stein’s conception of the state was also shaped by Hegel. Hegel himself in his discussion of day-to-day social and economic policies in the Philosophy of Right shared much of this administrative outlook. Stein’s book was not, therefore, a simple description of the social problem and the condition of the French proletariat, but that of a passionate advocate of a considered form of state intervention as the answer to the social problem, when and if it reached Prussia.40

Within this Staatswissenschaft tradition, as an answer to the emergence of the proletariat, socialism did not need to be treated as a subversive political philosophy or the ideology of a particular class. It could be considered as a state-supported policy that afforded protection to the worker and political security to the state as a whole. Bismarck’s later introduction of old-age pensions and social insurance owed much to this tradition. Others from the official class were coming to similar conclusions, and this helps to explain the interest shown by administrative reformers like Karl Rodbertus or Robert von Möhl in Louis Blanc’s 1839 proposal for a state-managed ‘organization of labour’.

‘State socialism’, as it came to be called, enjoyed an enduring appeal in Central Europe throughout the rest of the century. In the 1860s and 1870s, its legacy helped to explain the conflict between Lassalle’s state-friendly Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein (General German Workers’ Association) and the anti-Prussian ‘Eisenach’ party of Liebknecht and Bebel, during the formation of the German Social Democratic Party. Its appeal was to be detected both in the proposals for social reform from ‘the Socialists of the Chair’ in the 1870s and in Bismarck’s welfare measures in the 1880s that covered sickness, old age and unemployment.

More immediately, it explained the hostile reaction among Young Hegelians to Stein’s work when it first appeared. This was powerfully articulated in 1843 by Moses Hess.41 Hess questioned the reality of Stein’s distinction between socialism and communism. Above all, he attacked the unpalatable implication of Stein’s book, that the state could solve the ‘social problem’ or even practise ‘socialism’ without having to transform itself.42

Among radical Hegelians, interest in France focused not only upon the growth of the proletariat and the problem of pauperism, but also upon the defects of the juste milieu monarchy of Louis Philippe. This one-time model of liberalism was now associated with repression, both of republicanism and of social unrest. In Cologne, in August 1842, these concerns were evident in the formation by the management of the Rheinische Zeitung of a study circle, led by Moses Hess, to investigate the social question. Hess had travelled to France and in 1837 had produced a radical millenarian work entitled The Sacred History of Mankind by a Disciple of Spinoza. He was often regarded as the first philosophical advocate of communism in Germany. That book made little impact, but his next book, in 1841, The European Triarchy, attempted to rephrase his approach in Hegelian terms.

Hess argued against Hegel that man was not yet in a position to become ‘at one with himself’, and that this reconciliation would not happen if it were solely confined to thought. Such reconciliation could only be realized within a socialist society and under the aegis of a humanist creed; and this required action. Movements towards spiritual and social harmony already existed. In The European Triarchy, progress towards this ultimate harmony was embodied in three movements of emancipation found in three European nations. Germany, the land of the Reformation, was to realize spiritual freedom; France, the land of revolution, would attain political freedom; England, now on the verge of social revolution resulting from the mounting contradiction between pauperism and the ‘money aristocracy’, would bring about social equality.43 Among those convinced by Hess’s vision was Friedrich Engels, who passed through Cologne to England in the autumn of 1842. Hess claimed that after a meeting with him in the Rheinische Zeitung office, Engels shifted his position from Jacobinism to a form of socialism. It was Hess’s vision that had inspired Engels’ expectation of England’s coming social revolution.

Karl was a regular participant in Hess’s Rheinische Zeitung study circle; the ‘rational state’ invoked in his articles already contained a strong social component. But, at that stage, his attitude towards explicitly communist and socialist writings had remained guarded. In October 1842, in response to accusations of communist sympathies made by the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, he replied on behalf of the Rheinische Zeitung that he did not think that communist ideas ‘in their present form possess even theoretical reality’. He stated that such writings as those of Leroux and Considérant, and, above all, ‘the sharp-witted work by Proudhon’, could not be dismissed without ‘long and profound study’.44

In this article, Karl was only prepared to consider ‘communism’ as a form of criticism rather than as a social movement. ‘The real danger’, he wrote, ‘lies not in practical attempts, but in the theoretical elaboration of communist ideas, for practical attempts, even mass attempts, can be answered by cannon as soon as they become dangerous, whereas ideas, which have conquered our intellect and taken possession of our minds’ were ‘chains from which one cannot free oneself without a broken heart’.45 It was only when Karl was able to consider man as a sensuous as well as a rational being that the impact of Feuerbach’s philosophy upon him first became noticeable. This shift occurred in the spring of 1843 at the moment when he had abandoned any further hope of progress in Prussia and was preparing to leave the country.

Evidence of this shift is clear from the title of the journal adopted by Marx and Ruge: the German-French Annals (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher). In his ‘Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy’, Feuerbach had stated, ‘the true philosopher who is identical with life and Man must be of Franco-German parentage … We must make the mother French and the father German. The heart – the feminine principle, the sense of the finite and the seat of materialism – is of French disposition, the head – the masculine principle and the seat of idealism – of German.’46

Radical Hegelians were deeply impressed by this oracular pronouncement. Feuerbach’s conception of man as both a sensuous and a rational being made possible a different way of thinking about the relationship between thought and being, or spirit and nature. In more concrete terms, it suggested a synthesis between Germany and France, or between philosophy and the proletariat. As Karl wrote to Feuerbach in the autumn of 1843, ‘you were one of the first writers who expressed the need for a Franco-German scientific alliance’.47

A similar position was to be found in an essay by Hess published in 1843 in Herwegh’s Deutscher Bote. Hess reiterated the claim that emancipation could only be the result of an equal emphasis upon thought and action. At present, while the Germans were barely aware of ‘the modern social movement’, the French had remained at a standstill in ‘religious matters’. Saint-Simonianism ‘was simply an aping of hierarchy’, while in Germany the Young Hegelians had continued to ‘be enmeshed in theological consciousness’. But now a new radicalism had emerged. ‘In both countries, the radical party has come out against the official powers that emerged from the spiritual and social movement. Protestantism and the July Monarchy were under attack. Pierre Leroux, the French Arnold Ruge, is polemicizing against the juste-milieu government, just as his German equivalent is polemicizing against Protestantism, because they are beginning to see that these represent only a half-victory.’48 A creative synthesis between French ‘materialism’, or ‘sensualism’, and German ‘idealism’, within the philosophical framework provided by Feuerbach, was now required, and in the mid-1840s ‘humanism’ – as this idea came to be known – inspired a generation of German intellectuals, previously radicalized by the writings of the Young Hegelians, or Young Germany. But the question to be resolved was whether ‘humanism’ would take a republican or a socialist form.


In March 1843, in response to Feuerbach’s call for a Franco-German alliance, Karl suggested to Ruge that publication of the journal should be switched from Zurich to Strasbourg and that French as well as German contributors should be enlisted. Ruge responded with enthusiasm, but still toyed with the idea of publication in Saxony, his former location. Karl replied that a reissue of the Deutsche Jahrbücher could only be a ‘poor copy’. By contrast, the publication of a Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher would be ‘An undertaking about which one can be enthusiastic.’49 Ruge accepted Karl’s ‘Gallo-Germanic principle’, but between March and August, perhaps due to Jenny’s misgivings, Karl dropped the Strasbourg idea.50 Ruge explored the possibility of Brussels, but found it contained few intellectuals and nothing to compare with the 85,000 Germans supposedly living in Paris.51 Paris was therefore agreed as the place of publication.

Some idea of what Karl and Ruge initially expected of the new journal was set out in correspondence from the spring and summer of 1843, which was later reprinted in the journal. Karl optimistically compared the Prussian king with the Stuarts and Bourbons, and likened Germany to ‘a ship of fools’ destined to go down in an ‘impending revolution’.52 Ruge’s reply was deeply pessimistic, the result of his experience as a German republican, a political prisoner and a persecuted editor. There was no people more fragmented than the Germans, and – echoing Hölderlin’s Hyperion – he went on, ‘you see artisans, but no men, lords and serfs, young and established people, but no human beings … Is this not a battlefield, where hands, arms and other limbs lie all strewn, mixed up together, where the life’s blood that has been shed drains away into the sand? … Your letter’, he wrote, ‘is an illusion … We will experience a political revolution? We, the contemporaries of these Germans? My friend, you believe in what you wish for.’53

Ruge argued that Germany was undergoing a repeat of the repressive Carlsbad Decrees of 1819. Talk of the Stuarts and the Bourbons was just talk. The Germans had never achieved a revolution. They fought as gladiators for others. ‘Is there a single individual so stupid as to fail to understand our philistines and their eternal sheep-like patience?’ They had now even lost their last cherished possession, freedom of thought. Germans not only tolerated despotism, but tolerated it ‘with patriotism’. As a result, the princes had re-established their personal ownership of their land and people and once more abolished the rights of man as an imposition of the French. The Germans were ‘a squalid people’.54

Faced with Ruge’s scepticism, Karl enlarged upon his argument. It was true, he argued, that the old world belonged to the philistines, but there was a new order emerging, that of ‘thinking beings, free men, republicans’.55 ‘The self-confidence of the human being’ had first to be rekindled in ‘the hearts of these people’. ‘Only this feeling, which vanished from the world with the Greeks, and under Christianity disappeared into the blue mist of the heavens, can again transform society into a community of human beings united for their highest aims, into a democratic state.’

The Prussian king’s attempt at reform had failed. His ambition to re-create a past full of ‘priests, knights and feudal serfs’ had clashed with the aims of ‘idealists’, who wanted ‘only the consequences of the French Revolution’. Both the czar and the king’s ministers had warned him that it would create an ungovernable and ‘vociferous people’ and urged him to ‘return to the old system of slaves and silence’. It was a ‘desperate situation’, and this filled Karl with hope. It had led to a previously unattainable understanding among ‘the enemies of philistinism … all the people who think and who suffer … The system of industry and trade, of ownership and exploitation of the people’ was leading even more rapidly than the increase in population ‘to a rupture within present-day society’.56

By September, Ruge had apparently stopped dwelling on the past. Karl outlined their strategy. They would not ‘dogmatically anticipate’ a new world, but rather ‘find the new world through criticism of the old one’. Thus, from ‘the conflict of the political state with itself’, it would be ‘possible everywhere to develop the social truth’.

Continuing the point he had developed in his critique of Hegel, Karl argued that an exposure of the contradictions contained within ‘the political state’ would lead to a ‘reform of consciousness’. ‘In analysing the superiority of the representative system over the social-estate system, the critic in a practical way wins the interest of a large party.’ But then, by ‘raising the representative system from its political form to the universal form and by bringing out the true significance underlying this system, the critic at the same time compels this party to go beyond its own confines, for its victory is at the same time its defeat … We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.’ The strategy was conceived in terms devised by Feuerbach. ‘Our whole object can only be … to give religious and philosophical questions the form corresponding to man who has become conscious of himself.’ Once this was done, it would become clear that ‘the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality’.57

Karl and Jenny arrived in Paris for the first time at the end of October 1843. Paris was after London the second-largest city in Europe, with a population of over one million. It specialized in the fabrication of quality fashion goods and the supply of specialized services. Its working-class population was by far the largest in France, but factory work was almost unknown. Its workers were largely members of skilled trades, employed in small workshops. In 1848, 50 per cent worked alone or were assisted by a single employee; and only one in ten shops employed more than ten workers. In the first half of the century, the city’s population doubled. Immigrants were drawn to the city by the prospect of higher wages, and came not only from provincial France, but also from neighbouring countries. In the mid-1840s, there were estimated to be 40,000–60,000 German inhabitants in Paris, predominantly artisans – printers, shoemakers and tailors, but also teachers, writers and artists. The migration of artisans had begun in the years after 1815, as a result of the increase of population, the relaxation of guild restrictions and the consequent overcrowding of German trades. Educated and professional foreigners, on the other hand, were in large part political refugees, particularly those who came from Poland in what was called ‘the great emigration’ following the uprising of 1830–31. Their presence in Paris had been the result of successive waves of political repression in their homelands.58

Karl looked forward to leaving Prussia; he was happy to be destined for ‘the new capital of the new world’ and to escape from an atmosphere ‘which makes one a serf’.59 Ruge was more effusive, amazed by the size of Paris, particularly the view from the heights of Montmartre of a sea of houses as far as the eye could see. As he wrote:

Vienna and Rome are large, their situation is beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than that of Paris; but unfortunately, one can never forget, if one looks more closely, that they are inhabited by donkeys, and only sparsely colonized by men, whereas here, and only here, is the focal point of the European spirit, here the heart of world history lies before us … Above all, since the time of Athens and Rome, the history of men became the history of their absurdities; the renewal of the humanized world movement is still very young. It begins with the Revolution. For the Revolution has been the first reminder that heroes, republicans and free men once existed in the world.60

In their search for French authors, neither Ruge nor Karl took prior account of local realities. Ruge, helped by Hess, had made a grandiose start. He had approached notables such as Lamartine, Sand, Ledru-Rollin, Lamennais and the anti-slavery activist Victor Schölcher, together with the socialists Étienne Cabet, Théodore Dezamy, Victor Considérant and Flora Tristan. There was reason to be optimistic; the French were curious to learn about German Romanticism and nationalism, and particularly about Schelling, Young Germany and the Young Hegelians. Louis Blanc endorsed the project in Pierre Leroux’s Revue indépendante.

Yet no French writers were prepared to contribute to the proposed journal. Ruge had believed that Feuerbach’s philosophical humanism could unite the Germans and the French. The assumption that ‘the people’ would read a bilingual journal was far-fetched enough, but to assume that they would also warm to their Feuerbachian critique was to take no account of French intellectual development in the previous thirty years. As might have been expected, French authors almost without exception were reluctant to be associated with ‘German atheism’.

From the 1820s, the hostility towards Christianity associated with the Philosophes and the Revolution had largely ceased to define the French left. Conceptions of the significance of religion had shifted. The battles of the Revolution highlighted the importance of what contemporaries called pouvoir spirituel, the cultural hegemony once exercised by the Catholic church. Counter-revolutionary and theocratic critics, most notably Bonald, argued that the Revolution had failed, in large part because of the inability of the Jacobins to establish a new source of ‘spiritual power’, capable of winning the hearts and minds of the people.

The socialism that emerged in France from around the end of the 1820s drew, therefore, not only upon an Enlightenment vision of scientific and social progress, but also upon the theocratic critique of Jacobinism and the Revolution. Saint-Simon’s proclamation of the ‘New Christianity’ and the subsequent foundation of the Saint-Simonian church were attempts to harness this ‘spiritual power’ and apply it towards peaceful industrial and scientific goals. This helps to explain why in the plethora of democratic-social writing which followed the 1830 Revolution Christianity was redescribed or appropriated rather than attacked or dissolved.

Pierre Leroux, the former editor of Le Globe and one of the most famous socialist writers during the July Monarchy claimed to have invented ‘socialism’ in its modern sense in 1833.61 But he had first called his new conception ‘religious democracy’. ‘Religious democracy’ was placed between two extremes: on the one hand, that of Père Enfantin, the ‘Father’ of the Saint-Simonian church – ‘this new crushing and absorbing papacy’; on the other, the ‘individualism of English political economy’, which ‘in the name of liberty’ would ‘turn the behaviour of men towards each other into that of rapacious wolves and reduce society to atoms’.62 ‘Religious democracy’ was an apt description of the language of the social movement in France in the years leading up to 1848. After 1830, it became common to portray the French Revolution as a decisive chapter in the religious history of mankind, with Jesus as its prophet.63 Such an identification was common among socialist and republican groups between 1830 and 1848. The Robespierrist Alphonse Laponneraye described Jesus, Rousseau and Robespierre as ‘three names which exist in inseparable unity’. Cabet declared communism to be Christianity in practice. Philippe Buchez, the ex-Saint-Simonian Christian Socialist and patron of the main artisan journal, L’Atelier, declared that socialism was the realization of the Christian promise of equality. Victor Considérant, Fourier’s successor as leader of the Phalansterians, similarly claimed Fourierism to be the Christianity of the nineteenth century. According to him, social science would make a reality of the Christian promise of fraternity. Disconcertingly for the Germans, Louis Blanc declared that the left were the true defenders of Christianity against the scorn of Louis Philippe and the Orléanists, the new ‘Voltairean’ ruling class.64 Not surprisingly, therefore, replacing Christianity by a humanist creed held little appeal for the French.

Their failure to anticipate how difficult it might be to convert the French to humanism suggests that Marx and Ruge were simply unfamiliar both with popular politics and with the world outside Germany. The problem had certainly been signalled by Moses Hess.65 Ruge thought that fear of German ‘atheism’ and the sectarian party attachments of the French were problems which could be overcome.66 By contrast, Marx, whose starting point was that religion as ‘the existence of a defect’ was incompatible with ‘human emancipation’, made no effort to address French assumptions.67 According to Ruge, ‘because of his cynicism and crude arrogance’, Marx was ‘anathema to the French’. ‘His opinion’ was that ‘the whole culture of present-day France must disappear’.68 He affected to believe that ‘irreligion’, formerly associated with the propertied classes, was now located in the proletariat, a largely unfounded assumption. His idea was another indication of the distance between French and German versions of socialism and republicanism in the 1840s and 1850s. More perceptive was the observation made by Friedrich Engels, not yet acquainted with Karl and writing from Manchester. In October 1843, he remarked how strange it was that English socialists, ‘generally opposed to Christianity’, had to suffer ‘all the religious prejudices of a really Christian people’, while ‘French Communists, being part of a nation celebrated for its infidelity, are themselves Christian.’69

The inability to secure the cooperation of the French was only the first misfortune to befall the ill-fated joint venture. At a personal level, things went badly from the start. Ruge, so it was claimed, had originally proposed that they should establish a Fourierist phalanstery – the Fourierist version of a socialist community – next to the office of the Jahrbücher in the Rue Vaneau. The three families – the Ruges, the Marxes and the Herweghs, were to live on separate floors, but the women were to take it in turn to look after the cooking, sewing and organizing of a communal household. According to Marcel Herwegh, his mother, Emma:

rejected the idea at once. How could a nice little Saxon woman like Frau Ruge possibly get on with the highly intelligent and even more ambitious Madame Marx, who knew so much more than she? And how could the so recently married Frau Herwegh, who was the youngest of them all, possibly feel attracted to this communal life? Surely enough, Herwegh and his wife declined Ruge’s invitation. Ruge and Marx and their wives went to live together in the Rue Vaneau. A fortnight later they parted.70

The editing of the single issue of the journal, published as a double number at the end of February 1844, was largely left to Karl, since Ruge was mainly out of town and afterwards ill. There were no contributions from writers living in Germany. Feuerbach claimed that there was no point in writing anything further about Schelling. There was nothing new he could say about him, save for making a semi-serious comparison between Schelling and Cagliostro.71The journal still contained some exceptional contributions: a comic hymn of praise for king Ludwig of Bavaria by Heine, together with poetry by Herwegh, the essays from Karl himself, and from Engels an essay on Thomas Carlyle together with a path-breaking critique of political economy, the initial inspiration of Karl’s own investigations in the area.


Karl included two contributions of his own in the journal. In an essay on ‘the Jewish Question’, he added to what he had originally written in Kreuznach a new section much closer to a socialist viewpoint. In his original disagreement with Bauer, he had argued that the emancipation of the state from religion was not the same as emancipation of human beings from religion. In the second section, probably written after he reached Paris, Judaism was equated with the possessive individualism of civil society.

Karl took issue with Bauer’s Hegelian treatment of Judaism and Christianity as successive stages in the development of Spirit. As an alternative to Bauer’s ‘theological approach’, Karl attempted to specify the distinction between Christianity and Judaism in non-theological terms, and to identify the social element which would have to be overcome, if Judaism were to be abolished. His approach made substantial use of an essay by the socialist Moses Hess, ‘On the Essence of Money’, which was intended for publication in a subsequent number of the journal.

Hess argued that Christianity provided the ‘theory and logic’ of the ‘upside-down world, currently inhabited by humanity’. Just as the activity of the species was not ascribed to the individuals who composed it, but rather to God as a species-essence conceived to exist outside these individuals, so, in practical life, money was the equivalent of this inverted God, a materialized Christian God, who stripped man of his social ties. In this modern ‘Christian shopkeeper world’, money represented the setting of species-life outside the individual. Money had become the alienated wealth of man, the bartering away of man’s life activity.72

Hess’s distinction between the Christian theory of an upside-down world and money as the equivalent in practical life to the inverted God was transformed by Karl into a theory of ‘Judaism’. Money was ‘the worldly God’ of the Jew, and ‘huckstering’ his ‘worldly religion’, since the secular basis of Judaism, according to Karl, was ‘practical need’ and ‘self-interest’. Both Hess and Karl were attempting to make use of Feuerbach’s conception of abstraction. According to Karl, Man in the grip of religion can objectify his essential nature and turn it into something alien. He places his activity under the domination of an alien being and bestows the significance of alien entity – money – on them.73

In the present, Judaism constituted ‘a general anti-social element’. Judaism as huckstering had developed through history to its present heights, in which money had become a world power and the worship of mammon had become universal. The Jew’s lack of political rights was belied by his financial power.74 For politics had become ‘the serf of financial power’. Money was ‘the estranged essence of man’s work’ and he worshipped it.

Egoism was the core of the Jewish religion, but it was also the ‘principle of civil society’. As financial power grew, the affinity between the values of Judaism and those of civil society had become ever closer. Contempt for theory, art and man as an end in himself together with a debased view of nature were all contained ‘in abstract form’ in the Jewish religion. But these also formed ‘the real standpoint of the man of money’, for whom ‘the species-relation itself, the relation between man and woman becomes an object of trade’. Similarly, ‘the chimerical nationality of the Jew’ was equivalent to ‘the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general’.75

As a religion of practical need, Judaism could not develop any further; it could only find its consummation in practice. While it had reached its highest point in civil society, the perfection of civil society itself could only occur in the Christian world. Judaism lacked the theory to create ‘a new world’. Yet out of Judaism there had developed Christianity, which created the theory that Judaism lacked. For only Christianity was able to make ‘all national, natural, moral and theoretical conditions extrinsic to man’. ‘Only under the dominance of Christianity … could civil society separate itself completely from the life of the state, sever all the species-ties of man, put egoism and selfish need in the place of these species-ties and dissolve the human world into a world of atomistic individuals who are inimically opposed to one another.’76

Christianity had sprung from Judaism, but was now merging back into it again. For Christianity had only appeared to overcome Judaism through its creation of a Christian heaven. Now, however, that Christianity had completed the estrangement of man from himself and from nature, and everything had been turned into vendible, alienable objects, Judaism could finally achieve ‘universal dominance’. Now ‘the Christian egoism of heavenly bliss’ was again merging with ‘the corporal egoism of the Jew’. The tenacity of the Jew derived from the ‘human basis’ of his religion – practical need, egoism. Political emancipation therefore could not emancipate the Jew. Only human emancipation – emancipation from huckstering and money – would make the Jew ‘impossible’.77

Karl’s other contribution to the journal, his introduction to his ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, also crossed the line between republicanism and socialism by presenting a particular group – the proletariat – as the privileged embodiment of the universal rather than couching his analysis in the form of an appeal to all potential citizens. This short essay reiterated some of the major themes of the unfinished ‘Critique’: the inadequacy of ‘political emancipation’ and the failure of ‘criticism’. His confidence in the uses to which the critique of abstraction could be put remained undiminished. ‘The criticism of religion’, he announced, ‘was now complete.’ But ‘the criticism of religion’ was ‘the premise of all criticism’ and it ended with ‘the teaching that man is the highest being for man, hence with the categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, forsaken, despicable being … To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness.’ The task of philosophy, once the holy form of self-estrangement had been unmasked, was to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms. Every sphere of German society must be exposed, ‘these petrified relations must be forced to dance by singing their own tune to them’. Like Hess, he stressed the necessity of action, and the need to resort to force. ‘The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism of weapons.’78

The present German regime was ‘an anachronism … The last phase of a world-historical form is its comedy.’ The fate of other anciens régimes had been tragic, but ‘the modern ancien régime is only the comedian of a world order whose true heroes are dead’. The leaders of German industry, ‘our cotton barons and iron champions’, were equally anachronistic. They were demanding the introduction of ‘protective duties’ at just the moment when more advanced nations like Britain and France were beginning to abandon them. More generally, ‘even the moral self-confidence of the German middle class rests only on the consciousness that it is the general representative of the philistine mediocrity of all the other classes.’79

For in Germany there was no class capable of acting like the French ‘Third Estate’ in 1789. Every class was struggling against classes both above and beneath it. That meant that in Germany it was not ‘radical revolution’ or ‘general human emancipation’, but ‘political emancipation’, ‘the partial, the merely political revolution’, which was a ‘utopian dream’. In Germany ‘universal emancipation’ was ‘the sine qua non of partial emancipation’. What was now required was a ‘human’ transformation carried through by a class outside and beneath existing society, a class with only ‘a human title’, ‘a class with radical chains’, a ‘sphere’ that ‘cannot emancipate itself without emancipating … all other spheres of society’. In Germany, such a class was already coming into being. This was the proletariat, a class arising from ‘industrial development’ and from the ‘drastic dissolution of society’. It was ‘the complete loss of Man’ and ‘the dissolution of the hitherto existing world order’. For radical revolution to occur in Germany it would not be enough for ‘thought to strive for realisation … reality must itself strive towards thought’. This requirement was now being met, for ‘by demanding the negation of private property … the proletariat merely raises to the rank of a principle what society has made the principle of the proletariat’.80

The proletariat represented the ‘passive element, a material basis’ in the process of revolutionary change. In Feuerbach’s vision, it represented ‘the heart – the feminine principle, the sense of the finite and the seat of materialism’. The spark must come from elsewhere, from philosophy, ‘the head – the masculine principle and the seat of idealism’. Germany’s revolutionary past was theoretical – the Reformation. Just as present-day Germany was trapped in the clutches of an outdated ancien régime, so ‘official’ Germany on the eve of the Reformation had been ‘the most unconditional slave of Rome’. But ‘as the revolution then began in the brain of the monk, so now it begins in the brain of the philosopher’. If the original constituency of the journal had been ‘people who think’ and ‘people who suffer’, by the beginning of 1844 the role of suffering had been assigned to the proletariat. According to Karl’s conclusion, ‘as philosophy finds its material weapons in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its spiritual weapons in philosophy … The emancipation of the German is the emancipation of the human being. The head of this emancipation is philosophy; its heart is the proletariat … Once the lightning of thought has squarely struck this ingenuous soil of the people, the emancipation of the Germans into human beings will take place.’81

As was to be expected, the Prussian government was alarmed by the publication of the Jahrbücher. It was considered to be a treasonable journal, and instructions were given that Karl, Ruge, Heine and Bernays (a young lawyer from the Palatinate and former editor of the Mannheimer Abend-Zeitung, recently expelled from Bavaria) should be arrested if they set foot on Prussian soil. Of 1,000 copies printed, 100 copies were found by the police on a Rhine steamer, while being transported by Bernays; another 230 were impounded at the frontier between France and the Palatinate.

The Zurich publisher Julius Froebel was also dismayed by the radicalism of the first number, which was far greater than he had expected, by the absence of French contributors and by the harassment of the authorities. He announced that funding for the journal was exhausted, and that he could not carry on without more money. Ruge refused to put any more of his own money into the journal and tried to convince Moses Hess to return the money he had advanced for unpublished essays; Karl was paid in unsold copies of the Jahrbücher. And so after one large number of around 350 pages, the Gallo-Germanic publishing project came to an end.

The financial emergency which Karl might otherwise have experienced was offset by his receipt of 1,000 thalers collected in support of his continuing literary activity by former shareholders of the Rheinische Zeitung through the initiative of Georg Jung, but relations with Ruge were tense. Of the occasion of Karl’s breakup with Ruge, only Ruge’s account survives, and it concerned the morality of the poet Georg Herwegh. Gossip suggested that Herwegh, very recently married to the daughter of a rich banker from Berlin, might be having an affair with the Countess d’Agoult, former mistress of Franz Liszt and future chronicler of 1848 in Paris under the name Daniel Stern. Ruge later recalled:

I was incensed by Herwegh’s way of living and his laziness. Several times I referred to him warmly as a scoundrel and declared that when a man gets married, he ought to know what he is doing. Marx said nothing and took his departure in a perfectly friendly manner. Next morning he wrote to me that Herwegh was a genius with a great future. My calling him a scoundrel filled him with indignation and my ideas on marriage were philistine and inhuman. Since then we have not seen each other again.82

Karl’s ambition had once been to become a poet, and in Paris he was delighted to have the opportunity to get to know Heinrich Heine, whose satirical wit and stylistic artistry he vainly tried to emulate. Lonely and in poor health, Heine became friendly with the Jahrbücher group. According to Eleanor Marx’s memories of her parents, there was a time in Paris when Heine called in practically every day and tried out new verses on Karl and Jenny. He seems to have been charmed by Jenny in particular, and unlike either Karl or Jenny had a practical turn of mind. According to Eleanor’s account: ‘Little Jenny Marx, a baby a few months old, was attacked one day by strong cramps which threatened to kill the child. Marx, his wife and their faithful helper and friend Helene Demuth were standing around the child in a complete quandary. Then Heine arrived, had a look and said, “the child must have a bath”. With his own hands he prepared the bath, put the child in and saved, so Marx said, Jenny’s life.’83

Like the Saint-Simonians, Karl believed that artists were endowed with a privileged vision of the future and so formed the elect avant-garde of humanity: they should not be assessed by the measure of ordinary or even extraordinary men.84 It is also clear that whatever the shift in his philosophical views, Karl’s fixation on poetic genius – which he associated with the disorder of creation – continued to define his life style. Ruge described his work habits:

He has a peculiar personality – perfect as a scholar and author but completely ruinous as a journalist. He reads a lot; he works with unusual intensity and has a critical talent that occasionally degenerates into a wanton dialectic. But he finishes nothing, breaks off everything and plunges himself ever afresh into an endless sea of books … He is irritable and hot-tempered, particularly when he has worked himself sick and not gone to bed for three, even four nights on end.85

As Ruge’s account of his time in Paris makes clear, Karl’s view of poetry or his work habits were not the real issues which brought about the breach between the two men. Ruge considered that the published number of the journal had contained some remarkable essays, even though some of Karl’s epigrams were forced and some of the essays ‘unpolished’. But the main reason for the failure of the project had been the journal’s gravitation from the beginning towards a most emphatic form of communism. This had caused his publisher, Froebel to withdraw, had frightened the booksellers and had alienated ‘important talents’. Ruge was still attempting to find another publisher when his co-editor, Karl, ‘a disruptive personality given to sophistry, whose practical talents I had greatly overestimated, explained to me he could no longer work together with me since I was only political, while he was a communist’. This came as a surprise, for from September 1843 to March 1844, Ruge continued, Karl remained silent about his progression to ‘crude socialism’, which in his letters (published in the Jahrbücher) he had ‘very reasonably held forth against’.86

Ruge went on to attack Karl’s communism. He argued to Feuerbach that neither the aims of the Fourierists, nor the suppression of property that the communists advocated, could be articulated with any clarity. ‘These two tendencies end up with a police state and slavery. To liberate the proletariat from the weight of physical and intellectual misery, one dreams of an organization that would generalize this very misery, that would cause all human beings to bear its weight.’87

As for Karl himself, having once been convinced momentarily that he had discovered the new Luther, he now expressed no regret that his collaboration with Ruge had come to an end.

On 11 August 1844, Karl wrote to Feuerbach about ‘the great respect and – if I may use the word – love which I feel for you’. And, referring especially to Feuerbach’s Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, he went on, ‘In these writings you have provided – I don’t know whether intentionally – a philosophical basis for socialism and the Communists have immediately understood them in this way.’ Feuerbach was saluted in particular for his understanding of ‘the unity of man with man which is based on the real differences between them’ and ‘the concept of the human species brought down from the heaven of abstraction to the real earth, what is this but the concept of society?’88


In December 1843, French and German authorities were forewarned of the appearance in Paris of two new German papers, one of them ‘communist in tendency’. Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor, and Bülow, the Prussian Foreign Minister, hoped that preventive measures could be taken in the Frankfurt Diet, reiterating the prohibition of uncensored German-language journals, outside as well as within the German Confederation. German artisans were after all officially forbidden to leave the German Confederation: a measure impossible to enforce, but a good pretext for searching workers whenever they crossed frontiers. At the same time, uncensored German publications imported into the Confederation were liable to confiscation – as Bernays was to discover. Even so, the Prussian ambassador in Paris, Count von Arnim, considered these measures ineffective and pressured the French premier, François Guizot, to intervene. Guizot refused, having no wish to provoke the press outcry which would follow the expulsion of political refugees at the behest of the Prussians.

At the end of March 1844, however, the ambassador was pleased to report to Berlin that the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher had gone bankrupt. The trouble seemed to be over. But just for good measure, since the authorities were convinced that trouble was brought into the otherwise peaceful and loyal kingdom of Prussia by outside agitators, on 16 April 1844 warrants were issued for the arrest of Karl, Ruge, Heine and Bernays, should they set foot in Prussia.

The second journal, Vorwärts!, was set up in January 1844 by the theatrical director and translator Heinrich Börnstein, with the help of the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer.89 Initially, the journal had hoped to remain politically inoffensive, emphasizing charitable help for distressed artisans. The presence of Adalbert von Bornstedt, reputedly funded by Prussia, provided further reassurance, though even the vaguest of commitments to ‘unity’ and ‘freedom’ made it liable to Prussian suspicion.90

Börnstein was unable to build up a viable circulation, and over the next few months he found it necessary to rethink the character of the journal. If he wanted able writers, he would have to recruit from among Parisian émigrés; if he wanted to build up a readership he would have to appeal to artisans. The collapse of the Jahrbücher provided him with a perfect opportunity. But the political émigrés were unlikely to participate so long as Vorwärts! was associated with Bornstedt, whom Heine had accused of being a spy as far back as 1838. Demand could also be stimulated among the artisans associated with radical educational associations, and the secret societies connected with them; they needed a journal in which political positions could be debated. This was particularly the case within the largest of the German radical associations, the League of the Just (Bund der Gerechten), which dated back to 1836.

Divisions within these groups were both political and generational. The older generation of émigrés from the 1830–34 period were primarily defined by different forms of nationalism from Romantic Burschenschaftler, Jacobin cosmopolitan republicans, Mazzinian nationalists to Hambach liberals. In age and political formation, Ruge was closer to this first group. The second wave of émigrés from the late 1830s were more likely to be defined by various forms of socialism and communism, ranging from Cabetist Icarians, followers of Weitling or Lamennais, advocates of various forms of Swiss-based Christian communism and, more recently, those, like Karl Schapper, drawn to London-based Chartism. Finally, there were the ‘humanists’ and ‘neo-Hegelians’, who had clustered around the Jahrbücher.

In response to this radical constituency, Börnstein broke with Bornstedt and drew in former collaborators from the Jahrbücher and prominent members of the League. Börnstein himself claimed to have been converted to ‘humanism’ and, as he boasted with some justification, ‘there soon gathered around Vorwärts a group of writers such as no other paper anywhere could boast … there wrote for the paper Arnold Ruge, Karl Marx, Heinrich Heine, Georg Herwegh, Bakunin, Georg Weerth, G. Weber, Fr. Engels, Dr Ewerbeck and H. Bürgers.’ Börnstein went on to remember ‘with pleasure’ the weekly editorial conferences:

From twelve to fourteen men used to gather … Some would sit on the bed or on the trunks, others would stand or walk about. They would all smoke terrifically, and argue with great passion and excitement. It was impossible to open the windows, because a crowd would immediately have gathered in the street to find out the cause of the violent uproar, and very soon the room was concealed in such a thick cloud of tobacco-smoke that it was impossible for a newcomer to recognise anybody present. In the end we ourselves could not even recognise each other.91

As in the Jahrbücher, the main battle was between republicans and socialists. Börnstein wrote of violent nightly arguments between the two tendencies. Socialists were in the majority and Ruge was the main target. Back in March, Börnstein had originally considered the Jahrbücher as Ruge’s journal: Ruge was famous; he was ‘the master’, Karl his clever but obscure assistant. Ruge was also well-funded, and so Börnstein had proposed that together they should refound the journal. Ruge refused, not least because of his dislike of the increasingly strong ‘communist’ faction around the journal. But this led to increasing attacks upon his politics. On 22 June, Börnstein published a provocative open letter to Ruge accusing him of ‘negativity’ and challenging him to be more specific about his views. Why, for instance, did he stop at the ‘rights of man’, why not go beyond them like Karl? Additional interventions by Bernays and Ewerbeck put further pressure upon the republican position. But at this point (6 July) Ruge was reluctant to publicize his conflict with Karl and stuck to generalities.92

Ruge could have given a perfectly cogent reply. Like Karl, he had been inspired by Feuerbach’s critique of abstraction, but saw no reason why its effects should be confined to one particular form like labour, or to one social group like the proletariat. Republican humanism entailed a struggle against all forms of abstraction (the assumption that concepts possessed an objective existence outside humanity, see here). He approved of the activities of socialist and communist groups in England and France, but thought the idea of a social revolution an illusion. All could be, and had to be, encompassed within a democratic national revolution along the lines of 1789. The problem of Germany, as he had insisted to Karl in the Jahrbücher letters of 1843, was apathy. His position was, ‘There are no German people and only a revolution can create one.’

During the months following the collapse of the Jahrbücher in March, Karl had withdrawn from journalism to get on with his own work. On 1 May, his first daughter, Jenny, was born, and in early June Jenny and the baby went back to Trier to stay with her mother. Little Jenny was quite ill from the journey. She suffered from ‘constipation and downright overfeeding’ – and the doctor insisted that she must have a wet-nurse, since with ‘artificial feeding she would not easily recover’. The wet-nurse, whom her father, Ludwig, had known as a child, turned out also to be able to speak French, and so was able to accompany mother and child back to Paris in September. Jenny wrote back to Karl from Trier around 21 June that ‘everyone still hopes that you will decide after all to obtain a permanent post’. In Trier, she was happy to catch up with her mother, but she was also worried about the profligacy of her brother, Edgar. While her mother scrimped and saved, Edgar frequented the opera in Cologne; Edgar ‘makes use of all the great signs of the times, and all the sufferings of society, in order to cover up and whitewash his own worthlessness’.93With some trepidation, she ‘set out on my difficult journey – you know where to’. But all turned out well, and when the door opened, Jenny was greeted by Jettchen, who ‘embraced and kissed me’ and led her into the drawing room, where Henriette and her sister Sophie ‘both immediately embraced me’ and ‘your mother called me “thou” ’. Sophie looked to have been ‘terribly ravaged by illness’, and Jettchen was already in what was to become a terminal state of consumption. ‘Only your mother looks well and flourishing.’ Next morning, Henriette came to see the baby; ‘can you imagine such a change?’ She thought it due to their success ‘or in our case rather the appearance of success’.94

Karl’s own first aim during this period was to develop the argument he had been considering ever since his critical encounter with Hegel in Kreuznach – to write a history of the Convention (1792–5) during the French Revolution.95 This would provide a historical elaboration of his argument about the limitations of the ‘political state’. For empirical detail he used the forty volumes of Buchez and Roux to provide a résumé of the parliamentary debates during the revolutionary period.96 He did not make a strong distinction between 1789 and 1793. His interest throughout was in the inability of the ‘political state’ to transcend its conditions of existence. He had already made this the central point in ‘On the Jewish Question’ in his analysis of the distinction between the rights of man and the rights of the citizen. An account of how the efforts of the Committee of Public Safety to override the market price of bread had reverted back to the laissez-faire practices of Thermidor would have reinforced the argument. More generally, his aim would have been to account for the birth of the modern democratic citizenry and its illusions.

Karl had also been powerfully impressed by Friedrich Engels’ essay in the Jahrbücher, ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’. It revealed yet another way in which the process of abstraction dominated and distorted the relations between ‘I and Thou’. Thus, between March and August, Karl took notes on Smith, Ricardo, Say, Sismondi, Pecqueur, Buret, James Mill, Wilhelm Schulz and MacCulloch. Out of this material, he prepared a preliminary draft of what was to become his central preoccupation over the next quarter of a century, the ‘Critique of Political Economy’.97

When Engels passed through Paris on his way to Wuppertal to write up his book on England, he broke his journey for ten days between 28 August and 6 September 1844 to spend the time in conversation with Karl. This was the beginning of a lifelong partnership; its immediate result was an agreement with Engels to participate in a polemical attack that Karl was preparing against Bruno Bauer, and his new journal, the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung.98

But, in the meantime, exciting events drew Karl back into political controversy. Faced with continued pressure from socialists and communists, Ruge and his supporters were gradually withdrawing from Vorwärts!; Ruge went on instead to form a more congenial alliance with Louis Blanc and Ledru-Rollin on La Réforme. Before that happened, the argument acquired an unexpected German dimension. On 4–6 June 1844, the Silesian weavers of Peterswaldau attacked a local firm said to be responsible for low wages and degrading working conditions. They smashed the house and works of the employers and on the morrow reassembled in the neighbouring village of Langenbielau, where troops in panic shot down eleven weavers before being driven away by an enraged crowd that proceeded to ransack another owner’s house.99

Events in Silesia appeared to suggest that the German Confederation had also finally acquired a proletariat. There were disturbances involving workers in Bohemia and elsewhere in Germany. In response, Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia launched a debate on pauperism and encouraged the formation of charitable and Christian societies for ‘the well-being of the working classes’. When uncensored reports of what had happened in Silesia reached Paris, enthusiasm bordering on euphoria gripped an editorial collective whose expectations had been shaped by Ludwig Feuerbach on the advent of ‘species-being’, Karl on the coming ‘human revolution’ in Germany, Moses Hess on the essence of money and Friedrich Engels’ critique of political economy. After the failure to persuade Ruge to invest in the journal, Carl Bernays was appointed editor from the beginning of July. He praised the exemplary behaviour of the weavers, in particular that, instead of looting, they destroyed the firm’s accounts books. ‘They were the sublime harbingers of a universal revolt, which also proved that as long as political economy perpetuated its old routines, a truly human society would not be possible.’ In the following number, Vorwärts! published what was to become one of Heine’s best-remembered poems, ‘The Poor Weavers’, with its triple curse on God, King and Country and its arresting climax – ‘Old Germany, we are weaving your shroud!’100

Ruge responded to the Silesian events at the end of July. He was not impressed by the actions of the weavers. His main concern was about the feebleness of the government response to the events; and he remarked that in an apolitical country like Germany it was impossible for partial distress in the manufacturing districts to be treated as a general question. Rather, like a flood or a famine, it was treated as a natural disaster, whose alleviation was left to Christian charity. As for the disturbances themselves, Ruge argued that this was a hunger-riot, characteristic of Germans who nowhere ‘see beyond their hearth and home’. His intervention was anonymous, but signed ‘A Prussian’.101Why he signed it in this way is unclear; not only was he a Saxon rather than a Prussian, but the only Prussian in the group was in fact Karl. This must have provoked Karl to intervene.

Karl had also been gripped by the euphoria which had spread among the Vorwärts! collective in July, as had Jenny. In the aftermath of the unsuccessful attempt by Heinrich Tschech, the disaffected Bürgermeister of Storkow (a province of Brandenburg), to assassinate the king, she wrote from Trier about the guns firing, the bells ringing and the ‘pious crowd flocking into the temples’ to offer their thanks for the king’s deliverance. The mood in Trier convinced her that ‘a political revolution is impossible in Germany, whereas all the seeds of a social revolution are present’.102 She recalled the poems of Heine, who predicted – and as Jenny firmly believed – that the old world was really coming to an end, and human emancipation, embodied in the emergence of the proletariat, was in sight. Moses Hess’s letter at the beginning of July was equally encouraging. ‘The Jahrbücher have been a great success. New socialists are popping up everywhere: in particular, the party of philosophy has been wholly won over [to socialism] … The Silesian disturbances are now also contributing their own part to it … In short, the whole of educated Germany will soon be socialist, and in fact radical socialist, I mean communist.’103

In the same couple of weeks, Karl wrote effusively to Feuerbach of his first contacts with proletarians. According to reports by spies, Dr Hermann Ewerbeck, a leading League member and translator of Cabet, had taken Karl on a number of occasions to the public gatherings of German artisans at the Barrière du Trône in the Rue de Vincennes. Karl emphasized to Feuerbach ‘the theoretical merits of the German artisans in Switzerland, London and Paris’ but regretted that ‘the German artisan is still, however, too much of an artisan’. But he had no such reservations about ‘the French proletariat’. ‘You would have to attend one of the meetings of the French workers to appreciate the pure freshness, the nobility which burst forth from these toil-worn men.’104

All this helps to explain the extraordinary terms in which Karl extolled the virtues of the German proletarian when he answered Ruge’s dismissive observations on the Silesian disturbances in August 1844. He began by reiterating the argument about the impotence of the ‘political state’ that he had developed over the previous year. The argument of ‘the alleged Prussian’ that the king should have legislated for the education of uncared-for children missed the fact that such legislation would have been tantamount to ‘the abolition of the proletariat’. The French Revolutionary Convention, Napoléon and the English government had all failed in the attempt to abolish pauperism. For the ‘slavery of civil society’ was ‘the natural foundation on which the modern state rests’. The ‘principle of politics’ was ‘the will’ and this had led Robespierre to imagine that poverty, the main ‘obstacle to pure democracy’, could be remedied by the practice of ‘universal Spartan frugality’. But even the Convention, which represented ‘the maximum of political energy, political power and political understanding’, could not achieve its purpose. For administrative action and charities were the only means available to government, and the state ‘cannot abolish the shortcomings of administration without abolishing itself’.

In extolling the action of the Silesian weavers, Karl went far beyond Bernays: ‘not one of the French and English uprisings had ‘such a theoretical and conscious character’. The Silesian uprising began ‘where English and French risings end’. The weavers were praised for attacking ledgers rather than machines, and bankers rather than the owners of industrial enterprises. Not only did the Silesian uprising possess ‘the stamp of superior character’ in relation to the English and the French, but in Weitling’s book Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom, of 1842, Karl celebrated the ‘brilliant literary debut of the German workers’. Truly, the German was ‘the theoretician of the European proletariat’, as the English was its ‘economist’ and the French its ‘politician’. The political impotence of Germany was ‘the impotence of the German bourgeoisie’; the Germans were ‘classically destined for social revolution … A philosophical people can find its corresponding practice only in socialism’ and therefore only in the proletariat can it ‘find the dynamic element of its emancipation’. Unlike ‘the narrow-minded spirit’ that governed a ‘political uprising … however partial the uprising of the industrial workers may be, it contains within itself a universal soul’. For the ‘community of workers’ was that of ‘human nature … the true community of man’.105

From August to the end of 1844, Karl played an active role in Vorwärts! by offering lectures to artisans and by shaping the editorial line of the paper. The journal was now closely aligned with the activities of the League. He wrote to Feuerbach that ‘the German artisans in Paris, i.e. the Communists amongst them, several hundreds’, had been attending twice-weekly lectures, on The Essence of Christianity, ‘throughout this summer’. Karl and others around the paper, notably Georg Weber, lectured on political economy, drawing upon Engels, Hess on money and Karl’s manuscripts. The journal fully reported industrial disturbances around Germany and also published articles, formerly destined for the Jahrbücher, notably Engels on the English constitution and Bernays on Weitling.

The Prussian authorities became increasingly restive after the assassination attempt on the king. They were outraged by Bernays’s editorial, which suggested that in the face of such an attack German absolutism lost its ‘divine and infallible nature’. Eventually Bernays was arraigned and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for a failure to pay caution money and more generally the encouragement of regicide. In December 1844, Guizot was prevailed upon to issue expulsion orders against Ruge, Heine, Bernays and Karl. Ruge insisted upon his Saxon citizenship and was therefore not subject to Prussian jurisdiction. Heine could not be expelled, because he had been born in Düsseldorf at a time when the Rhineland was part of France. Bernays once released from prison was forgotten. Only Karl, on 3 February 1845, whether through arrogance or incompetence, found himself on a coach together with his friend, Heinrich Bürgers, on his way to Brussels.


Commentators have understandably treated ‘On the Jewish Question’ with some awkwardness, not least because of its cavalier and uncritical use of anti-Semitic imagery. It is also strange because, despite its reference to ‘the real Jew’, the ‘Jew’ in this essay was purely abstract, little more than a metaphor for the values and practices of civil society. In Karl’s picture, with the downfall of the polis and the loss of knowledge or memory of participation in a political community, the inhabitants of the post-classical world constructed a sort of religion based upon practices arising out of self-interest and pure need. ‘Judaism’, according to Karl, was the religion which legitimated these practices and assumptions. According to his account, Judaism despised nature, was uninterested in art or love except for the financial value they might contain, while its interest in law was primarily in its circumvention. But a religion that merely rationalized everyday practice lacked the capacity to encompass a reality larger than itself or to transform it. Hence the emergence of Christianity, which completed man’s severance from all species-ties. In this sense, the essay is not just a denunciation of Judaism, but of the whole Judaeo-Christian development, which followed the fall of the ancient republic. Even judged in its own terms, however, the analogy between Judaism and the practices of civil society was forced, and so, thereafter, it was dropped. When Karl settled in Paris and became more familiar with the discourse of French republican socialism, he abandoned the terminology of the ‘Jew’ and shifted to the more capacious notion of the ‘bourgeois’.

But none of this explains the studied indifference and lack of empathy apparent in Karl’s deployment of this language, nor why he chose to use it. It is noticeable that in the original extension of the alienation idea to encompass the money system, Moses Hess wrote of ‘the modern Christian shopkeeper world’, or the modern ‘Judaeo-Christian shopkeeper world’. Karl’s unconcerned usage of anti-Semitic tropes contrasts strongly with other radical Jewish writers who during the Vormärz period attempted to incorporate the history of the Jews into the history of progress. Heine, in his 1834 On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, considered the Jews the first truly modern people because of their reverence for the law. Gans, who had founded the Association for the Culture and Science of Jews between 1821 and 1823 for the purpose of reconciling Judaism and Enlightenment, had eventually persuaded Hegel to consider Judaism the first religion of freedom. Hess himself in his 1837 Holy History of Mankind had also attempted to construct an alternative and Judaeo-centric philosophy of history running from Abraham through Jesus to Spinoza in place of conventional histories, in which Jews barely merited a footnote.

Nothing of this was found in Karl’s writing. He did not share the view of some French socialists, notably the Fourierists or Proudhon, that the extent of indebtedness and pauperism had been made worse by the emancipation of the Jews at the time of the French Revolution. Karl supported a Jewish petition for the removal of Jewish disabilities to the Provincial Assembly in the Rhineland, though he claimed to do so only to increase pressure on the Prussian administration. He wrote to Ruge, ‘However much I dislike the Jewish faith, Bauer’s view seems to me too abstract. The thing is to make as many breaches as possible in the Christian state and to smuggle in as much as we can of what is rational.’106

It may be that because Heinrich had abandoned Judaism before Karl was born or because Karl had been brought up a Christian, he felt remote from the Jews and their problems. But whatever the reason, his treatment of the question was not simply unsympathetic, but a direct continuation and extension of the republican discourse about ‘regeneration’, which had characterized the French Revolution. Despite the best efforts of his father and his uncle, Karl unhesitatingly adopted Napoléon’s secular equation between Judaism and usury. Not only did he attack the supposed monotheism of the Jew in the most insulting terms derived from Voltaire as ‘a polytheism of many needs’, but also went on to attack the Talmud as ‘the relation of the world of self-interest to the laws governing that world’.107 The only real difference between Karl’s approach and that of republicans at the time of the Revolution was that his version of ‘regeneration’ now incorporated the all-encompassing notion of human as opposed to merely political emancipation. Human emancipationan organisation of society which would abolish the preconditions of huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible. His religious consciousness would be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society.’

Karl’s unreflective resort to catty anti-Semitic jibes incongruously combined with a sensitivity on the question of his Jewishness continued in later life too. Instances of the former were especially salient in relation to Lassalle. On his visit to Berlin in 1861, he could not refrain from remarking upon the voice of Lassalle’s partner, Countess von Hatzfeldt, which had ‘a Jewish intonation that has been acquired from and instilled in her by him’. Similarly, at a dinner party given by Lassalle, when seated next to Fräulein Ludmilla Assing, the niece of Varnhagen von Ense and editor of Varnhagen’s correspondence with Humboldt, he could not refrain from remarking that she ‘who really swamped me with her benevolence, is the most ugly creature I ever saw in my life, a nastily Jewish physiognomy, a sharply protruding thin nose, eternally smiling and grinning’.108 On the other hand, he reacted sharply to the suggestion of his son-in-law, Charles Longuet, in 1881, that there had been hostility in Trier to Karl’s marriage to Jenny von Westphalen, based on ‘race prejudice’. Karl told his daughter that this was ‘a simple invention’ and that there had been ‘no prejudice to overcome … Longuet would greatly oblige me in never mentioning my name in his writings.’109