Peasant War in Germany
The bloody suppression of the peasant uprisings and revolts cost more than
130 000 peasants' life.
490 Years have passed since the great Peasant war in Germany. It differs from similar peasant uprisings of the Forteenth century in Italy France and England in that these uprisings were of a more or less of a local character and were directed against the money economy then in the process of development, while the Peasant War, unfolding in the early epoch of capitalism which was creating a world market, was intimately related to the events of the Reformation. This more complex background, compared with the background of the Forteenth century, rendered more complex the class grouping whose struggle determined the whole course of the Peasant War. The role of proletarian elements also becomes more pronounced compared with earlier uprisings.
It was natural that the German communists, confronted with the necessity of determining how far the peasantry could be relied upon as a revolutionary factor, should have carefully studied the history of the Peasant War. Their attention was particular drawn to the leaders of the Peasant War, one of whom was Thomas Muenzer. It is characteristic that as early as 1845, Engels, in one of his first articles for the Chartist "Northern Star", called the attention of the English workers to this "famous leader of the Pesant War of 1525", who, according to Engels, was a real democrat, and fought for real demands, not illusions.
Marx and Engels who very soberly regarded the role of the peasantry in the realisation of the social revolution never underestimated its role as a revolutionary factor in the struggle against the large landowners and the feudal masters. They understood very well that the more the peasantry falls under the leadership of the revolutionary classes which unite it, the more capable it is of general political actions. Led by the revolutionary proletariat, supporting its struggle against capitalism in the city and the village, the peasantry appeared to be a very important ally. This is why Marx and Engels, during the revolution of 1848.1849, mercilessly exposed the cowardly conduct of the German bourgeoisie, which, currying favour with the Junkers and afraid of the proletariat, had refused to defend the interests of the peasantry.
Permeating the whole Engels' work is the idea of the necessity of the merciless struggle against the feudal masters, the landlords. Only a radical abolition of all traces of feudal domination, he said, could create the most favourable conditions for the success of a proletarian revolution.
In this respect Engels was in full harmony with Marx, who wrote to him later, (August 16, 1856):
"Everything in Germany will depend upon whether it will be possible to support the proletarian revolution by something like a second edition of the Peasant War. Only then will everything proceed well."
In his letter from August 5, 1895 - some days before he died, Engels criticized Kautsky as follows:
"You have not sufficiently taken into account the situation of the world market, as so far as one could speak of such a market that time, and the international economic situation in Germany at the end of the Fifteeth century. However, only this situation explains why the bourgeois-plebeian movement under a religious cloak, having suffered defeat in England, the Netherlands and Bohemia, could achieve a measure of success in Germany in the Sixteenth century. This was due to its religious cloak, whereas the success of its bourgeois contents was reserved for the following century and for the countries which had utilized the development of the world market that had in the meantime taken another direction, namely, Holland and England. It is a great subject, which I hope to be able to treat briefly in the Peasant War, if I only succeed in taking it up !"
However, his death prevented him from completing his work...
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"Who profited by the revolution of 1525 ?
Who profited by the revolution of 1848 ?
The big princes, Austria and Prussia.
Behind the princes of 1525, there stood the lower middle-class of the cities, held chained by means of taxation.
Behind the big princes of 1850 stood the modern big bourgeoisie, quickly subjugating them by means of the state debt.
Behind the big bourgeoisie stand the proletarians."
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"From the day when the mass of the workers of the land have learned to understand their own interests, a reactionary, feudal, bureaucratic or bourgeois government in Germany becomes an impossibility."
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"The revolution of 1525 was a local German affair. The English, French, Bohemians and Hungarians had already gone through their peasant wars when the German began theirs. If Germany was decentralized, Europe was so to a much greater extent. The revolution of 1848 was not a local German affair. It was one phase of a great European movement. The moving forces througout the period of its duration were not confined to the narrow limits of one individual country, not even to the limits of one-quarter of the globe. In fact, the countries which were the arena of the revolution were least active in producing it. They were more or less unconsious raw materials without a will of their own. They were moulded in the course of a movement in which the entire world participated, a movement which under existing social conditions may appear to us as an alien power, but which, in the end, is nothing but our own. This is why the revolution 1848-1849 could not end in the way that the revolution of 1525 ended."
now available in
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hint 1 :
concerning Thomas Muenzer, please read on page 63 ff
In the battle of Frankenhausen - on May 17, 1525 - Thomas Muenzer was captured and tortured.
On May 27, 1525 he was executed.
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hint 2 :
The famous "12 Articles" of the Peasants
can be found on page 157
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hint 3 :
more comprehensive material can be found on our
The Revolution of 1525
The Revolution of 1525 is another name for the German Peasants' War, the largest insurrection in European history before the French Revolution. It began in the Black Forest in late summer and fall of 1524, reached its peak around Easter of 1525, and produced its last risings (notably in Tyrol) in 1526. The revolution's ultimate causes reach far back to the later Middle Ages to the great agrarian depression that weakened the lords' and strengthened the peasants' power over local life. The widespread movement for village self-government (communalism) was a hallmark of rural life in the Holy Roman Empire, especially in its central and southern regions. Where the movement for local self-government had already largely fulfilled its aims, as in Switzerland, the peasants did not revolt in 1524-26. Some other southern areas remained quiet as well, notably the very strongly ruled duchy of Bavaria. The Lower Rhineland (i.e. the area along the Rhine north of Cologne) and the north German lands also remained undisturbed. Otherwise, the movement engulfed the Empire's southern and central tiers, spilling over language barriers into French-speaking Lorraine and Italian-speaking South Tyrol. In general, the zones of stronger local government and weaker noble power (shown in darker orange) formed the chief centers of the revolution, but many adjoining territories (shown in lighter orange) also became involved as well. In some regions, especially in Saxony and Tyrol, miners revolted and joined the movement, and so did burghers in many of the small towns. The rebels typically agitated for the redress of grievances and for political reform, largely in the direction of stronger territorial government. In the course of the war, inexperienced rebel troops faced off against princely armies strengthened by professionals and supported by strong cavalry and artillery; the rebel armies lost all but one of the pitched battles in which they engaged. The outcome of the revolution varied greatly from region to region: in some areas, the rebels suffered severe repression and their grievances went unredressed; in other areas, their grievances were redressed and their burdens were ameliorated.