The movements of 1848

The appearance of the Manifesto of the Communist party, written by Marx and Engels, February 1848, coincided with the outbreak of the revolution in Europe.

The revolution began in France on February 22-24, the bankers’ king, Louis Philippe, was dethroned and a republic proclaimed. The first reports of the revolution reached Marx while he was in Brussels. On behalf of the Brussels Democratic Association, Marx warmly greeted France’s Republican Government.

Marx had long prophesied the revolution, and had prepared for it together with Engels. But now that it had come, it became very clear quickly that the revolutionary movement had its special aspects in every land, and that to overlook these would be catastrophic for the revolution.


Reaction also did not rest. While the Belgian bourgeoisie negotiated with the king, he had his troops surround the Capital, Brussels, and sent them with the mission of armed violence against the popular masses. The Government especially sought to provoke the foreigners living in Brussels, primarily the German workers and political emigrants. In the light of such developments, the German emigrants in Brussels, Communists as well as democrats, began to close ranks even more firmly with the Belgian democrats in joint actions. But they lacked arms.

Marx, only a few days previously, had at last received a substantial sum of money as an inheritance from his father. He turned over a large share of this patrimony for the arming of the workers in Brussels, with the full agreement of Jenny Marx who, after years of bitter poverty, had now hoped for some material security, but did not hesitate to make the sacrifice, although she knew that the menace of dire poverty would again loom over their family. For Marx and Jenny, the main rule in life was to subordinate their personal interest to the interests of the revolutionary struggle.

After the outbreak of the revolution on February 27, 1848, Marx received a communication from the Central Bureau of the Communist League in London that, in view of the revolutionary events on the Continent, the Bureau had transferred its authority to the district leadership in Brussels which was headed by Marx. Marx, by that time, had become the most authoritative proletarian leader, and it was only natural that in those days so crucial for the working class of Europe, he should stand at the head of the communist League.

Marx decided to move to Paris to be at the head of the revolutionary struggle. He wrote a letter to the Provisional Government of France and soon received an official reply from that Government, on behalf of the French people, inviting him to France. Starting with the motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!” the reply read: “Brave, honourable Marx, the French Republic is an asylum for all friends of liberty. Tyranny banished you, and free France once again throws open her door to you, to you and to all fighters for the sacred cause, for the fraternal cause of all peoples…..We salute you.”

He was preparing to leave for Paris when he was told by the Belgian authorities to leave the country within twenty four hours. Leaders of the Communist League who had gathered at his home, authorized him to set up a new Central Committee in Paris, which was to become the centre of the League. The moment they left, the police broke into Marx’s home and took him to a Brussels prison.

Immediately after Marx’s arrest, Jenny visited the President of the Democratic Society of Belgium, Monsieur Jottrand, to arrange for him to start the necessary proceedings. On her return, she found a policeman at the door of her home. She was taken to the police headquarters, and there the Commissar asked her roughly who she was, what business she had with Herr Jottrand, and whether she had her papers with her. One the charge of vagrancy, she was taken to the City Council Prison and locked up with prostitutes in a dark room.

When they were released, the twenty four hours had already expired, and they had to leave Brussels without being able to take even the simplest necessities with them.


On March 5, 1848, Marx arrived in Paris. Marx was delighted to see how the revolution had transformed the French capital, still vibrant with revolutionary fervour. It seemed to the French working people that the long-awaited republic of “liberty, equality and fraternity” had come at last, that from now on they were the masters of their destinies.

The revolutionary euphoria influenced also German émigrés, many of whom became attracted to the ideas of the German petty-bourgeois democrats, Herwegh and Bornstedt, calling for hastening the revolution in Germany by “grafting” the republican system upon it with the help of an invasion of revolutionary legions.

Marx found it disturbing that such adventuristic ideas should have supporters. Time and again he explained that the February revolution in France was only a prologue to the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and that on the outcome of that struggle depended whether revolutionary Europe would win or be defeated. In Germany the contradictions between the antagonistic classes had reached such a pitch that there existed a real possibility of a popular revolutionary upsurge.Marx regarded the idea of “export of revolution” as being incompatible with the conception of revolution as part of the natural development of the historical process. “To carry an invasion”, Engels wrote in this connection, “which was to impact the revolution forcibly from outside, into the midst of the ferment then going on in Germany, meant to undermine the revolution in Germany itself, to strengthen the Government.”

Aw Marx and Engels had foreseen, this “playing with revolution” came to a sad end. The legion of German workers led by Herwegh was routed at the border. Many revolutionaries, workers and artisans were arrested.

In Paris, Marx immersed himself in organizational work, established contacts with revolutionary friends, met Communist League leaders arriving from London, attended workers’ meetings and took part in street demonstrations.


In mid-March came the news at last that the revolution in Germany had reached its peak. Many German workers and petty-bourgeois elements came to believe that a complete victory of the people was near. But this was an illusion. Marx tirelessly explained to his German comrades in-arms that while the people had scored a victory, won bourgeois-democratic freedoms and succeeded in arming the people, direct political rule had gone into the hands of the big bourgeoisie. A programme of further struggle was needed by the revolutionary masses and above all by the workers whose class consciousness had begun to take shape.

Marx, together with Engels (who had also arrived in Paris), drew up a political programme of the Communist League in the German revolution, the 17-point Demands of the Communist Party in Germany, setting forth the conditions necessary for the building of a single democratic republic: to declare Germany a single and indivisible republic, to democratize the political system by establishing universal suffrage for men, to carry out the universal arming of the people, to separate the Church from the state, to introduced universal free public education.

In the economic sphere, Marx and his associates called for the abolition of all feudal obligations and expropriation of large landholdings without compensation. Thus the Communists showed the peasants the way to liberation from feudal exploitation. At the same time they stressed the need to establish a close alliance to workers and peasants.

The revolutionary-democratic State was to take over mines, private banks and all transport facilities. The Communists called for the setting up of “national workshops” and said that the State should guarantee a livelihood to all workers and provide for those who are incapacitated for work.

During the hectic days in which Marx, supported by Engels, worked out the Demands, he also began to prepare the publishing of a newspaper in Germany. At the same time, with great energy, he organized the return to Germany of the League’s members and the workers and artisans of the Club of German Workers. In contrast to the adventurist project of Bornstedt and Herwegh, Marx followed a plan under which the revolutionary workers went back to Germany singly or in groups. Herwegh’s legion was ambushed and wiped out as soon as it crossed the border. On the other hand, under the plan evolved by Marx, some 300 to 400 revolutionary workers, including the majority of the League’s workers, were able by April to get back into Germany unhindered.


They went back with instructions from Marx and the members of the Central Bureau to operate, not in illegality as before, but openly in the sense of the Communist Manifesto and the Demands.Marx’s aim was to utilize the newly won freedoms and to unite the many local workers’ groups in an all-German political workers’ organization. Such an independent workers’ organization would have the task of joining in an alliance with the democratic petty- bourgeoisie and to work as a force driving the revolutionary movement forward. They could immensely strengthen the democratic popular movement.

After most of the revolutionary workers had gone, Marx and Engels also left Paris. They arrived in the German city of Mainz on April 7, but considering the place not suitable for the launching of a newspaper, continued on to Cologne and arrived there on April 11, 1848.      





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