MARX saw without illusion the fact that the victories of the counter-revolution had changed the relation of forces significantly in favour of feudal reaction. In Prussia and Austria, the two most important German states the ruling circles set out “by the grace of god” to re-establish the pre-revolutionary situation. But despite the seriousness of the situation, Marx and his comrades had no intention of giving up the battle.
Police persecution hampered the activities of the editorial staff of Neue Rheinische Zeitung. To avoid arrest, Engels and five other staff members left Cologne for a time. The paper seemed on the point of going under, and its enemies were already preparing to celebrate their victory. Then Marx took direct charge of all the work of the paper, which was normally done by several editors. He paid the paper’s numerous debts out of the remainder of his personal means. The hopes of the enemies of the paper that Neue Rheinische Zeitung would not withstand the innumerable attacks directed against it and the pressure of its financial difficulties, were dashed.
The counter-revolution had brought the people bloody defeats, but had at the same time taught them important lessons. “The main result of the revolutionary movement of 1848 is not what the people won, but what they lost—their illusions,” wrote Marx, adding: “June, November, December of the year 1848—these are the giant milestones of the disenchantment and the sobering of the European peoples.” The task of the Communists, as Marx saw it, was to draw the correct lessons from the recent struggles, to explain them openly to the people, and to apply them to the new struggles coming up.
In this Marx led the way. In a series of articles, “The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution”, and in many other articles from December 1848 to February 1949, he analysed the character and the peculiarities of the revolution in Germany and the reasons for the victory of the counter-revolution in Prussia. He pilloried the Prussian bourgeoisie, describing it as “without faith in itself, without faith in the people, grumbling at those above, frightened of those below, egoistical towards both and aware of its egoism; revolutionary with regard to the conservatives and conservative with regard to the revolutionaries. It did not trust its own slogans, used phrases instead of ideas, it was intimidated by the world storm and exploited it for its own ends; it displayed no energy anywhere, plagiarism in all directions, base because it is not original, original in its baseness.”
This bourgeoisie, he declared, constantly endeavoured to come to power, not through revolution, but only through a peaceful bargain with the monarchy. The conduct of the Prussian bourgeoisie during the November crisis had clearly shown that it had left the anti-feudal fighting front for good.
In these conditions, Marx told his readers, the further struggle to advance civic progress in Germany could only take the form of a direct confrontation between the revolutionary masses—the workers, peasants and revolutionary petty bourgeoisie—and the feudal counter-revolution. The year 1848 had shown that in Germany “only the absolutist feudal counter-revolution is possible or the social republican.” All the more necessary was it, therefore, to outfit the revolutionary masses for an independent political struggle.
RESPONSIBILITY OF WORKING CLASS
But in the battles between March and December 1848, the petty bourgeois democrats following the betrayal of the bourgeoisie, had also shown themselves incapable of carrying the revolution to completion. Therefore, the responsibility for the further successful advance of the revolution rested even more on the young working class of Germany. Marx was firmly convinced that the German workers could only be equal to the task if they joined together in a united and independent national organization, and if out of this came a national workers’ party which included not a few hundred people, like the Communist League, but broad strata of the most progressive workers. Marx and his comrades in the leadership of the Communist League had already worked towards this goal in the first weeks of the revolution and had never forgotten it in the months that followed.
Of vast importance was the publication in Neue Rheinische Zeitung of Marx’s work Wage-Labour and Capital, beginning April 1849. In this work Marx explained in a popular form the essence of capitalist exploitation and showed the irreconcilable contradiction between labour and capital. It helped the workers become aware of their position under capitalism as an exploited class which could rid itself of the capitalist yoke only through revolution.
The sinister shadow of counter-revolution hanging over Germany, France and other European countries was still pierced from time to time by new revolutionary explosions, but these were rearguard battles. Such were the actions of the armed workers’ detachments in Dresden, the uprisings in the Rhine Province, Westphalia, Baden and Pfalz. Marx closely followed the events in the insurgent regions. He knew that everywhere the many thousands of armed workers selflessly fighting against the superior forces of Prussia were led by members of the Communist League. Among them was Engels who took part in several battles, led the erection of barricades and devised a plan for the placing of artillery, demonstrating exceptional ability as a military leader.
TWO FAMOUS TRIALS
Marx was at that time subjected to ever more harassment and persecution by the authorities. On February 7, 1849, began the famous “Press trial” against Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Marx, Engels and another of their colleagues were charged with having insulted and slandered Government officials in an article published in July 1848.
The chief editor of the paper did not content himself in court with refuting the charges, but used the public forum to defend the freedom of the press in Prussia and in all Germany. “It is not enough”, Marx declared, “to fight against the general conditions and the ruling power. The Press must make up its mind to enter the lists against this gendarme, this prosecutor, this district president.” The first duty of the Press remained the destruction of the foundations of the existing reactionary “order”. The audience in the court applauded Marx’s speech, and the jury declared him “not guilty”.
More important were the court proceedings the next day. This time, Marx and two others were accused, as members of the Rhine Action Committee of Democrats, to have called upon the people in November 1848 to refuse to pay taxes, and thus to have stirred up rebellion against the Government.
Marx transformed the court, which was packed to the rafters, into a revolutionary tribunal. He was not concerned with exonerating himself before the jury. He spoke, first of all, of the popular masses, by whom he wished to be heard and understood, he said.
In his brilliant speech, Marx showed that it was in fact the monarchist Government who was the offender. The government had destroyed Parliament and the National Assembly; it was trampling on the democratic rights of the working people. It had engineered on coup d’etat after the other, and had set aside legal rights through unrestricted military dictatorship, euphemistically called a state of siege. Now, however precisely this Government dared to invoke against the people laws “which the crown itself had trampled under-foot.”
Marx then showed in a thorough-going manner that the refusal to pay taxes was a natural defence measure of the people against a reactionary Government. He determinedly defended the sovereignty of the people, its right to intercede in the historical process and to answer counter-revolutionary violence with violence. “When the crown,” he said, “makes counter-revolution, the people justifiably answer with revolution.” Even the Prussian Constituent Assembly had no rights of its own. “The people had merely transferred to it the defence of its own rights. If it does not fulfill its mandate, then it ceases to exist. The people themselves then come on to the stage and act on the basis of their own legitimate authority.”
The prosecution suffered a setback in this trial also. Marx and his comrades were cleared of the charges. The foreman of the jury even thanked Marx for his instructive remarks.
ATTACK ON THE PAPER
The Prussian militarist State, after putting down the uprisings of May 1849 with the help of court-martials and bloody reprisals, felt strong enough to deal with Neue Rheinische Zeitung.
On May 11, Marx was given an order to leave Prussia within 24 hours. He was able to continue the publication of the paper only for a few more days. Further police harassment followed, a number of the staff were deported, and orders were issued to start proceedings against Engels and Wolff. “Nothing could be done against it, as long as a whole army corps stood behind this Government” Engels wrote. “We had to surrender out fortress, but we withdrew with our arms and baggage, with band playing and flag flying, the flag of the last issue, a red issue.”
In an address to the workers which can be considered the political testament of the editors of Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and at the same time a summing up of the revolutionary activity in 1848-49, Marx and his comrades warned the people of cologne against hopeless putsches which would only benefits the counter-revolution. Their appeal to the workers ended with the words” “The editors of Neue Rheinische Zeitung thank you, in this farewell, for the sympathy shown to them. Their last word everywhere and always will be: emancipation of the working class.” To the enemy, however, they declared: “We are implacable, and we ask no sympathy from you…. We have vindicated the revolutionary honour of our native land.”
The farewell poem by Freiligrath in the last number said:
“They do not kill the spirit, you brother!
Soon I will arise, shaking my chains,
Soon I will return with arms in hand.
The first daily newspaper of revolutionary proletariat now ceased to exist-the first paper in which scientific Communism was the basis of its entire work. In its columns, Marx, Engels and their collaborators followed those principles which, to this day, are still characteristic of the revolutionary Communist Press. Firm in principle and tactically flexible, scientific and partisan, mobilizing and organizing the masses, popular and polemical-these attributes, in the words of Lenin, made it possible for Neue Rheinische Zeitung to become “the best unrivalled organ of the revolutionary proletariat.”
DEPARTURE FOR LONDON
Marx quickly wound up all his most pressing affairs. He settled the debts of the paper using up the remainder of his patrimony and paid the print shop workers their wages. What money that was left went in aid of fellow-fighters. Jenny’s silver plate was pawned, and there was just enough money for their fare. Leaving cologne, Marx went to Sought-West Germany, were the revolutionary movement was still alive, and then to Frankfurt and Mannheim.
Hoping for a new revolutionary upsurge in France, Marx moved to Paris, where he came to know many leaders of workers’ clubs and organizations. But reaction triumphed in France as well, and there was no escaping police persecution there, either. The free France that had flung its doors open to Marx after the victory of the revolution was no more. “One day,” Jenny Marx recalled, “the familiar police sergeant came again and informed us that ‘Karl Marx and his wife had to leave Paris within 24 hours’.”
The only way out was to leave for England.
(To be continued)