170 Years ago ...

12th of January 1848

Revolution in Palermo




Marx and Engels on the European revolutions of 1848

and on the revolution in Italy, in particular.


The struggle for the liberation of the oppressed nations was likewise in the eyes of Marx and Engels integrally connected with this revolution. They welcomed with enthusiasm the upsurge of the national liberation movement among the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and Italians, and saw in them allies in the fight against feudal and absolutist counter-revolution.

Warm sympathy for the Italian people, which was fighting for its freedom and independence, was expressed in a letter written by Marx to the editorial board of the Italian democratic newspaper Alba and in several articles of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in which the revolutionary events in Italy were analysed. The Italian revolution, which began with the popular uprising in Sicily in January 1848, was confronted with serious problems. The country consisted of a conglomeration of large and small states, a considerable number of which were oppressively ruled by Austria. The progressive development of Italy was only possible if she liberated herself from foreign domination and abolished the feudal and monarchical regimes. But the Italian liberals, who at the time controlled the Italian movement, were trying to unite the country "from above" within the framework of a constitutional monarchy to be headed by Charles Albert, the King of Sardinia. Marx and Engels called upon the Italian people to take the leadership of the national liberation movement into their own hands, to free themselves from the tutelage of the liberals and monarchists and to frustrate all dynastic intrigues. In many of his articles Engels demonstrated that the self-seeking policy of Charles Albert and his supporters, which counteracted the truly popular resistance to the Austrians, was largely responsible for the reverses the Italians suffered during the Austro-Italian war. He observed that only a revolutionary people's war could end Austrian domination over Italy.

Marx and Engels realised that if the revolutionary struggle was to succeed, it must not be confined within a national framework but become international; the international solidarity of the democratic and proletarian movement in all the major European countries should be counterposed to the bloc that was being formed by the internal and external counter-revolutionary forces. They saw in every revolutionary centre in any part of Europe an integral element of the general European revolutionary movement. They devoted particular attention to Italy and Hungary, where, despite the general downward trend of the European revolution, an upsurge of popular revolutionary energy was evident — a fact justifying their hopes that the reactionaries' attempts at restoration would yet be finally frustrated and the revolution be renewed with greater depth and scope.

In 1848-49 Marx and Engels became finally convinced that the bourgeoisie was step by step losing its effectiveness as an advanced opponent of feudalism. The counter-revolutionary degeneration of the European bourgeoisie—even though in certain sectors of the struggle and in certain countries (Hungary, Italy) it was still acting in a revolutionary way—made it necessary drastically to reassess the disposition of class forces in the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the conditions for its victory. Since the bourgeoisie was losing the ability to carry through bourgeois-democratic reforms by means of revolution, it fell to the working class to head the people's struggle for total liquidation of the remnants of feudalism. Thus changes in the position of the various classes by the middle of the nineteenth century led Marx and Engels to the idea of the hegemony of the working class in the bourgeois-democratic revolution—an idea which was elaborated b> Lenin in the new historic conditions of the twentieth century. During the 1848-49 revolution, Marx and Engels were already directing their efforts to preparing the working class for this role by accelerating the growth of its class consciousness and the creation of a revolutionary working-class party.

Soberly assessing the consequences of the defeat of the revolution, Marx emphasised the importance of these lessons for the masses who at the beginning of the revolution had been prey to illusions, fine phrases about universal brotherhood and so on. "The chief result of the revolutionary movement of 1848 is not what the peoples won, but what they lost—the loss of their illusions."

In their entire approach to the national question, Marx and Engels invariably asked which class forces were playing the leading role in the national movements, to what extent they were helping to weaken the reactionary states, and whether they were reserves of the revolution or were, on the contrary, playing into the hands of counter-revolution. The class criterion was for them decisive in assessing any national movement. For in the course of the revolution, the entire character of a national movement may change depending on the preponderance of the various classes in it. In 1848-49, when the struggle against absolutism and the remnants of feudalism was complicated by violent national conflicts, the ruling classes deliberately sought to fan the flames of national hatred still higher, by deceit or violence to involve individual nations in predatory and counterrevolutionary wars, and to incite them against those peoples who were fighting for the victory of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and for truly national liberation.

Marx's and Engels' strategy and tactics during the revolution were based on their materialist conception of the dialectic of social change and on the theoretical generalisation of the experience gained by the masses in the struggle. Their activities in that period, as in the earlier stages of the revolution, demonstrated the organic unity of revolutionary theory and practice. In the circumstances that arose in the spring of 1849, they brought a new element into their tactics:

still seeking to rally all revolutionary forces against the advancing counter-revolution, they tried to promote an independent political line for the working class, and to differentiate it from the general democratic movement by creating a political proletarian mass organisation.

The distinctive features of the spring and summer of 1849 were the rearguard actions fought by the revolutionary forces and the increasing attacks made by the counter-revolutionaries on the people's democratic achievements. The reactionary ruling circles in Austria, Prussia and Tsarist Russia were seeking to revive the Holy Alliance in order to crush the revolutionary movement with the help of the French monarchists and the British bourgeois and aristocratic oligarchy. At the same time the people everywhere continued to defend their political and social rights. Proletarian and democratic organisations became increasingly active in spite of police persecutions.

A national liberation struggle was waged in Hungary and many parts of Italy. Peasants' uprisings took place in Slovakia, Galicia and the Bukovina. A new clash between proletarian and pettybourgeois democrats on the one hand and the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie on the other was imminent in France. All this led Marx and Engels to expect that a new revolutionary surge would soon take place in Europe.

They pinned their hopes on the French proletariat taking the revolutionary initiative, for they thought it would be able to repel any attack by international counter-revolution. They expected the working class to play a major part in the next stage of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and that this would make it possible to extend and consolidate democratic achievements vital to the proletariat, and to carry the revolutionary process further and transform it into a proletarian revolution. Writing about the workers of the Rhine Province Engels observed that "the present movement is only the prologue to another movement a thousand times more serious, in which the issue will concern their own, the workers', most vital interests". Thus the course of events in 1848 and 1849 helped them shape their ideas about the relations of the bourgeois-democratic and proletarian stages of the revolution.

These ideas form part of the Marxist theory of "permanent revolution*', which Marx and Engels were to formulate more explicitly and fully later on the basis of analysing the lessons of these events.

Marx and Engels expected the liberation struggle of the oppressed nationalities to play a significant role in the revolutionary strategy of the proletariat. They warmly welcomed the national liberation movements of the Italian and Hungarian peoples. The renewed military operations of the Piedmontese against Austria in the spring of 1849 were regarded by the Neue Rheinische Zeitung as a new indication that the revolution was continuing to develop and as a serious blow at the Habsburg monarchy which was now obliged to wage a war on two fronts, against both Hungary and Italy.

Engels analysed the military campaign in Northern Italy in the articles "The War in Italy and Hungary" and "The Defeat of the Piedmontese" and in a series of reports printed under the heading "From the Theatre of War" in the section "Italy". These articles, which express the author's sympathy for the Italian people and call upon them to throw off the Austrian yoke, contain many shrewd observations on the specific features of revolutionary national liberation wars and the conditions required for winning them. In his article "The Defeat of the Piedmontese" Engels writes: "A nation that wants to conquer its independence cannot restrict itself to the ordinary methods of warfare" . In order to gain victory it has to turn the war into a genuinely revolutionary war supported by the masses of the people.

The reason for the reverse suffered by the Piedmontese army was, according to Engels, above all the policies of the liberal and monarchical groups in Piedmont, which were strongly opposed to the transformation of the war into a truly popular war, for they were afraid that this might lead to a revolutionary upsurge and thus undermine their own rule. "There is only one means to counter the treachery and cowardice of the Government: revolution," Engels pointed out (see this volume, p. 151). The defeat of the Piedmontese put the last revolutionary strongholds in Italy, the republics of Venice and Rome, in a very difficult position. Only a European, and above all a French, revolutionary outbreak could, as Engels wrote, save the situation.

The events of 1848 and 1849 influenced the historical process not only in this particular revolutionary period, but also at subsequent stages. The revolutions of 1848 and 1849 left unsolved a number of social and political tasks which remained, however, on the agenda of history.

These revolutions, moreover, brought about significant changes in the social consciousness of various classes of society.

The years 1848 and 1849 were of special importance for the future development of Marxism. They confirmed the correctness and viability of its main conclusions and provided material for its further enrichment. On the other hand, none of the doctrinaire and sectarian trends in the revolutionary movement was able to stand the test of revolutionary reality, and the collapse of their illusions, antiquated traditions and Utopian doctrines was one of the positive results of the revolution. The defeat of the revolutionary movement could shake neither the methodological basis of the Marxist theory, nor the political ideas and the strategic and tactical principles which Marx and Engels had put forward. For they were truly scientific conclusions drawn from progressive social processes which were actually taking place and which, though at that time they manifested themselves merely as tendencies of social development, later increasingly succeeded in forcing their way into history. Lenin was perfectly justified in saying that "the tactics of Marx in 1848 were correct ... they and only they really provided reliable, firm and unforgettable lessons for the proletariat" (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 15, p. 47).

The strategy and tactics worked out by Marx and Engels in 1848 and 1849 is an invaluable asset of the revolutionary labour movement of many countries. Many times has recourse been made—and it will continue to be made—to the lessons of that period.



* * *

The European revolution of 1848 began with the revolution in Italy.
At the same time that the revolution broke out in Palermo on January 12, 1848, Marx and Engels had written their Communist Manifesto, whose Italian preface we publish here:



The 1893 Italian Edition

Publication of the Manifesto of the Communist Party coincided, one may say, with March 18, 1848, the day of the revolution in Milan and Berlin, which were armed uprisings of the two nations situated in the center, the one, of the continent of Europe, the other, of the Mediterranean; two nations until then enfeebled by division and internal strife, and thus fallen under foreign domination. While Italy was subject to the Emperor of Austria, Germany underwent the yoke, not less effective though more indirect, of the Tsar of all the Russias. The consequences of March 18, 1848, freed both Italy and Germany from this disgrace; if from 1848 to 1871 these two great nations were reconstituted and somehow again put on their own, it was as Karl Marx used to say, because the men who suppressed the Revolution of 1848 were, nevertheless, its testamentary executors in spite of themselves.

Everywhere that revolution was the work of the working class; it was the latter that built the barricades and paid with its lifeblood. Only the Paris workers, in overthrowing the government, had the very definite intention of overthrowing the bourgeois regime. But conscious though they were of the fatal antagonism existing between their own class and the bourgeoisie, still, neither the economic progress of the country nor the intellectual development of the mass of French workers had as yet reached the stage which would have made a social reconstruction possible. In the final analysis, therefore, the fruits of the revolution were reaped by the capitalist class. In the other countries, in Italy, in Germany, in Austria, the workers, from the very outset, did nothing but raise the bourgeoisie to power. But in any country the rule of the bourgeoisie is impossible without national independence Therefore, the Revolution of 1848 had to bring in its train the unity and autonomy of the nations that had lacked them up to then: Italy, Germany, Hungary. Poland will follow in turn.

Thus, if the Revolution of 1848 was not a socialist revolution, it paved the way, prepared the ground for the latter. Through the impetus given to large-scaled industry in all countries, the bourgeois regime during the last forty-five years has everywhere created a numerous, concentrated and powerful proletariat. It has thus raised, to use the language of the Manifesto, its own grave-diggers. Without restoring autonomy and unity to each nation, it will be impossible to achieve the international union of the proletariat, or the peaceful and intelligent co-operation of these nations toward common aims. Just imagine joint international action by the Italian, Hungarian, German, Polish and Russian workers under the political conditions preceding 1848!

The battles fought in 1848 were thus not fought in vain. Nor have the forty-five years separating us from that revolutionary epoch passed to no purpose. The fruits are ripening, and all I wish is that the publication of this Italian translation may augur as well for the victory of the Italian proletariat as the publication of the original did for the international revolution.

The Manifesto does full justice to the revolutionary part played by capitalism in the past. The first capitalist nation was Italy. The close of the feudal Middle Ages, and the opening of the modern capitalist era are marked by a colossal figured: an Italian, Dante, both the last poet of the Middle Ages and the first poet of modern times. Today, as in 1300, a new historical era is approaching. Will Italy give us the new Dante, who will mark the hour of birth of this new, proletarian era?


Fredrick Engels
London, February 1, 1893





The Revolutionary Movement in Italy

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 156


Cologne, November 29.

After six months of democracy's almost uninterrupted defeats, after a series of unprecedented triumphs for the counter-revolution, there are at last indications of an approaching victory of the revolutionary party. Italy, the country whose uprising was the prelude to the European uprising of 1848 and whose collapse was the prelude to the fall of Vienna -- Italy rises for the second time. Tuscany has succeeded in establishing a democratic government, and Rome has just won a similar government for itself.

London, April 10; Paris, May 15 and June 25; Milan, August 6; Vienna, November l [118] -- these are the four important dates of the European counter-revolution, the four milestones marking the stages of its latest triumphal march.

Not only was the revolutionary power of the Chartists broken in London on April 10, but the revolutionary Propaganda impact of the February victory was for the first time broken. Those who correctly assess the position of England and the role she plays in modern history were not surprised that the continental revolutions passed over her without leaving a trace for the time being. England, a country which, through her industry and commerce, dominates all those revolutionary nations of the Continent and nevertheless remains relatively independent of her customers because she dominates the Asian, American and Australian markets; a country in which the contradictions of present-day bourgeois society, the class struggle of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, are most strongly developed and are most acute, England more than any other country follows her own, independent, course of development. The fumbling approach of continental provisional governments to the solution of problems and the abolition of contradictions is not required in England, for she is more competent in dealing with and solving them than any other country. England does not accept the revolution of the Continent; when the time comes England will prescribe the revolution to the Continent. That is England's position and the necessary consequence of her position, and hence the victory of "order" on April 10 was quite understandable. But who does not remember that this victory of "order", this first counterblow to the blows of February 'and March, gave fresh support to the counter-revolution everywhere and raised daring hopes in the hearts of those known as conservatives. Who does not remember that everywhere throughout Germany the action of London's special constables was immediately accepted as a model by the entire Civil Guard. Who does not remember the impression made by this first proof that the movement which had broken out was not unconquerable.

On May 15, Paris promptly provided its counterpart to the victory of the English party that wants to maintain the status quo. The outermost waves of the revolutionary flood were stemmed on April 10; on May 15 its force was broken at its very source. April 10 demonstrated that the February movement was not irresistible; May 15 demonstrated that the insurrection could be checked in Paris. The revolution defeated at its centre was of course bound to succumb at the periphery as well. And this happened to an increasing extent in Prussia and the smaller German states. But the revolutionary current was still strong enough to secure two victories of the people in Vienna, the first also on May 15, the second on May 26, while the victory of absolutism in Naples, likewise won on May 15, acted because of its excesses rather as a counterbalance to the victory of order in Paris. Something was still missing, though. Not only had the revolutionary movement to be defeated in Paris, but armed insurrection had to be divested of the spell of its invincibility in Paris itself; only then could the counterrevolution feel safe.

And that happened at Paris in a battle lasting four days, from June 23 to 26. Four days of gun-fire put an end to the impregnability of the barricades and the invincibility of the armed people. What did Cavaignac demonstrate by his victory if not that the laws of warfare are more or less the same in a street and in a defile, when faced by a barricade or by an entanglement or bastion? That 40,000 undisciplined armed workers, without guns or howitzers and without deliveries of ammunition, can withstand a well- organized army of 120,000 experienced soldiers and 150,000 men of the National Guard supported by the best and most numerous artillery and abundantly supplied with ammunition for no more than four days? Cavaignac's victory was the most brutal suppression of the smaller force by a force numerically seven times as big; it was the most inglorious victory ever won, the more inglorious for the blood that it cost despite the overwhelmingly superior forces. Nevertheless it was regarded with amazement as if it were a wonder, for this victory won by superior forces divested the people of Paris and the Paris barricades of the aura of invincibility. By defeating 40,000 workers, Cavaignac's 300,000 men defeated not only the 40,000 workers, but, without realizing it, defeated the European revolution. We all know that from that day an impetuous storm of reaction set in. There was nothing now to restrain it; the people of Paris were defeated with shell and grape-shot by conservative forces, and what could be done in Paris could be repeated elsewhere. Nothing remained to democracy after this decisive defeat but to make as honorable a retreat as possible and defend its positions foot by foot in the press, at public meetings and in parliaments -- positions which could no longer be held.

The next great blow was the fall of Milan. The recapture of Milan by Radetzky was indeed the first European event following the June victory in Paris. The double-headed eagle on the spire of the Milan Cathedral signified not only the fall of Italy as a whole, it also signified the restoration of Austria, the restoration of the stronghold of European counter-revolution. Italy crushed and Austria resurrected -- what more could the counter-revolution demand! Indeed, with the fall of Milan there was a slackening of revolutionary energy in Italy for a time, Mamiani was overthrown in Rome, the democrats were defeated in Piedmont; and simultaneously the reactionary party raised its head again in Austria and from its centre, Radetzky's headquarters, it began with renewed courage to spread the net of its intrigues over all provinces. Only then did Jellachich assume the offensive, only then was the great alliance of the counter-revolution with the Austrian Slavs completed.

I say nothing of the brief intermezzi in which the counterrevolution gained local victories and conquered separate provinces, of the setback in Frankfurt, and so on. They are of local, perhaps national, but not European significance.

Finally, the work that was begun on the day of Custozza [119] was completed on November 1 -- just as Radetzky had marched into Milan so did Windischgratz and Jellachich march into Vienna. Cavaignac's method was employed, and employed successfully, against the largest and most active focus of German revolution. The revolution in Vienna, like that in Paris, was smothered in blood and smoking ruins.

But it almost seems as if the victory of November I also marks the moment when the retrogressive movement reaches the turning point and a crisis occurs. The attempt step by step to repeat the bold exploit of Vienna in Prussia has failed. Even if the country should forsake the Constituent Assembly, the most the Crown can expect is merely a partial victory which will decide nothing, and at any rate the first discouraging effect of the Viennese defeat has been mitigated by the crude attempt to copy it in every detail.

While Northern Europe has either been forced back again into the servitude of 1847 or is struggling to make safe the gains won during the first months against the attacks of the counter-revolution, Italy is suddenly rising again. Leghorn, the only Italian city which the fall of Milan spurred on to a victorious revolution, Leghorn has at last imparted its democratic elan to the whole of Tuscany and has succeeded in setting up a radically democratic cabinet, more radical than any that ever existed under a monarchy, and more radical even than many a government formed in a republic. This government responded to the fall of Vienna and the restoration of Austria by proclaiming an Italian Constituent Assembly. The revolutionary fire-brand which this democratic government has thus hurled into the midst of the Italian people has kindled a fire: in Rome the people, the National Guard and the army have risen to a man, have overthrown the evasive, counter-revolutionary cabinet and secured a democratic cabinet, and first among the demands they succeeded in putting through is a government based on the principle of Italian nationality, namely, the sending of delegates to the Italian Constituent Assembly as proposed by Guerazzi.

Piedmont and Sicily will undoubtedly follow suit. They will follow just as they did last year.

And then? Will this second resurrection of Italy within three years -- like the preceding one -- herald the dawn of a new upsurge of European democracy? It almost looks as if it will. For the time of counter-revolution has expired. France is about to throw herself into the arms of an adventurer in order to escape the rule of Cavaignac and Marrast; Germany is more divided than ever; Austria is overwhelmed; Prussia is on the eve of civil war. All the illusions of February and March have been ruthlessly crushed beneath the swift tread of history. Indeed, the people have nothing more to learn from any further victories of the counterrevolution!

It is up to the people, when the occasion arises, to apply the lessons of the past six months at the right moment and fearlessly.



Friedrich Engels

"The defeat of the Italian Revolution will be the signal for the breakthrough of the European revolution."


Friedrich Engels




Written by Engels on August 11, 1848

First published in the Neue Rheinische

Zeitung No. 73, August 12, 1848

MECWSH Volume 7, page 385 - 387

With the same celerity with which they were expelled from Lombardy in March, the Austrians have now returned in triumph and have already entered Milan.

The Italian people spared no sacrifice. They were prepared at the cost of life and property to complete the work they had begun and win their national independence.

But this courage, enthusiasm and readiness to make sacrifices were nowhere matched by those who stood at the helm. Overtly or covertly, they did everything to use the means at their disposal, not for the liberation of the country from the harsh Austrian tyranny, but to paralyse the popular forces and, in effect, to restore the old conditions as soon as possible.

The Pope [ Pius IX ] who was worked on more and more every day and won over by the Austrian and Jesuitical politicians, put all the obstacles in the way of the Mamiani Ministry which he, in conjunction with the "Blacks"b and the "Black-Yellows",c could find. The Ministry itself delivered highly patriotic speeches in both Chambers, but did not have the energy to carry out its good intentions.

The Government of Tuscany distinguished itself by fine words, but even fewer deeds. But the arch-enemy of Italian liberty among the native princes was and remains Charles Albert. The Italians should have repeated and borne in mind every hour of the day the saying: "Heaven protect us from our friends, we will protect ourselves from our enemies!" They hardly needed to fear Ferdinand of Bourbon, he was unmasked long ago. Charles Albert, on the other hand, let himself be acclaimed everywhere as "la spada d'ltalia" (the sword of Italy) and the hero whose rapier was Italy's best guarantee of freedom and independence.

His emissaries went to all parts of Northern Italy portraying him as the only man who could and would save the country. To enable him to do this, however, it was necessary to set up a North Italian kingdom. Only this could give him the power required not only to oppose the Austrians but to drive them out of Italy. The ambition which had previously made him join forces with the Carbonari,248 whom he afterwards betrayed, this ambition became more inflamed than ever and made him dream of a plenitude of power and magnificence before which the splendour of all the other Italian princes would very soon pale. He thought that he could appropriate the entire popular movement of 1848 and use it in the interests of his own miserable self. Filled with hatred and distrust of all truly liberal men, he surrounded himself with people more or less loyal to absolutism and inclined to encourage his royal ambitions. He placed at the head of the army generals whose intellectual superiority and political views he did not have to fear, but who neither enjoyed the confidence of the soldiers nor possessed the talent required to wage a successful war. He pompously called himself the "liberator" of Italy while making it a condition that those who were to be liberated accept his yoke. Seldom was a man so favoured by circumstances as he was. His greed, his desire to possess a great deal and if possible everything led in the end to his losing all that he had gained. So long as there was no firm decision that Lombardy would join Piedmont, so long as the possibility of a republican form of government still existed, he remained in his entrenchments and djd not move against the Austrians, although they were relatively weak at the time. He let Radetzky, d'Aspre, Weiden, and others seize the towns and fortresses of the Venetian provinces one by one and did not stir a finger. Only when Venice sought the refuge of his crown did he deign to give his help. The same applies to Parma and Modena.

Radetzky meanwhile had mustered strength and made all preparations for an attack which, in view of the incompetence and blindness of Charles Albert and his generals, led to a decisive victory. The outcome is well known. Henceforth Italians can and will no longer entrust their liberation to a prince or king. On the contrary, in order to save themselves they must completely discard this useless "spada d'ltalia" as quickly as possible. If they had done this earlier, and had superannuated the King with his system and all the hangers-on, and had formed a democratic union, it is likely that by now there would have been no more Austrians in Italy. Instead, the Italians not only bore all the hardships of a war waged with fury and barbarity by their enemies and suffered the heaviest sacrifices in vain, but were left defenceless to the thirst for vengeance of the Metternich-Austrian reactionaries and their soldiery. Anyone reading Radetzky's manifestos to the people of Lombardy and Weiden 's manifestos to the Roman legations will understand that to the Italians Attila and his Hun hordes would have appeared merciful angels. The reaction and restoration have triumphed. The Duke of Modena,3 called "il carneficé" (the hangman), who loaned the Austrians 1,200,000 florins for war purposes, has returned as well. The people, in their magnanimity, have so often made a stick for their own back, that it is time they got wiser and learned something from their enemies.

Although, during his previous reign, the Duke had imprisoned, hanged and shot thousands of people for their political convictions, the Modenese let him depart unmolested. Now he has returned to discharge his sanguinary princely office with redoubled zeal.

The reaction and restoration have triumphed, but only for a time.

The people are so deeply imbued with the revolutionary spirit that they cannot be held in check for long. Milan, Brescia and other towns showed in March what this spirit is capable of. The excessive suffering inflicted upon them will lead to a new rising. By taking into account the bitter experience of the past months, Italy will be able to avoid new delusions and to secure her independence under a single democratic banner.


Friedrich Engels



August 16, 1848

Neue Rheinische Published in English for the first
Zeitung No. 77-78, August 17, 1848

The newspapers of Turin, Genoa etc. are loudly complaining that the cause of Italy's freedom and independence has been betrayed by him and by those who up to the very last moment were repeatedly swearing under oath that they would win or die for Italy. What was earlier uttered only by a small handful of men—that Charles Albert is a traitor—is now loudly repeated day after day by the mass of the people and by all those newspapers that have not completely sold out to the perfidious King of Sardinia. This insight will later bear its fruit; this time, however, it has come too late. Since the battles of Goito and Mozambano it became more and more clear to many people as the days went by that the Sardinian was either plotting a betrayal or was totally incapable of carrying out the task that he has undertaken. He lapsed into complete inactivity and whatever was done was against all the rules of common sense, of politics and of the art of war. For a long time now many questions have been obtruding themselves on the public's attention. Some of the answers to these questions have in fact already been given, and others will shortly come to light. Who, for example, constandy obstructed the arrangements for the arming of the whole people? Who distributed and dispersed the Italian army over so many points and neglected to form a reserve-line, with the result that every defeat was bound to lead to ruin? Why did Charles Albert not advance on Vicenza? Why did the army in Valleggio lack bread? Why did the Modenese desert?

How did it happen that the Lombardian volunteers did not find a single cannon on the banks of the Mincio? How was it that the cartridges distributed during the battle to several Piedmontese corps could not be used because the bullets were too big? And lastly: how could Charles Albert, who had long since decided to retreat, still order the destruction of a large number of houses in the suburbs of Milan, to the value of 30 million lire? There is only one answer to these questions, unless we are prepared to assume the most lamentable and incredible incompetence, and that is that Charles Albert behaved just as treacherously and perfidiously in the year 1848 as he did in the year 1821, when he shamelessly betrayed his fellow conspirators and helped to deliver them up to the hangman's rope, to the galleys and to banishment.


Friedrich Engels



Written by Engels on August 31, 1848

First published in the Neue Rheinische

Zeitung No. 91, September 1, 1848

MECWSH, Volume 7, page 402-403

The armistice concluded as the result of Charles Albert's, treachery will expire in about three weeks (on September 21). France and Britain have offered to act as mediators. The Spectateur républicain, Cavaignac's paper, writes that Austria has not yet stated whether she will accept or decline the offer. France's dictator is getting annoyed over the discourtesy of the Austrians and threatens armed intervention if by a given date the Viennese Cabinet does not reply, or rejects mediation. Will Austria allow a Cavaignac to prescribe the peace terms to her, especially now after the victory over democracy in Vienna264 and over the Italian "rebels"? Austria understands perfectly well that the French bourgeoisie wants "peace at any price", that the freedom or bondage of the Italians is altogether a matter of complete indifference to the bourgeoisie and that it will agree to anything so long as it is not openly humiliated and thus reluctantly compelled to draw the sword. It is said that Radetzky will pay a short visit to Vienna in order to say the decisive word about mediation. He does not have to travel to Vienna to do that. His policy has now prevailed, and his opinion will be none the less weighty for his remaining in Milan. If Austria were to accept the basis for peace proposed by Britain and France, she would do so not because she is afraid of Cavaignac's intervention but for much more pressing and compelling reasons.

The Italians were just as much deluded by the March events as the Germans. The former believed that foreign rule at any rate was now at an end; the latter thought that the old system was buried for good and all. On the contrary, the foreign rule in Italy is worse than ever, and in Germany the old system has recovered from the few blows it sustained in March and it acts with greater ferocity and vindictiveness than ever before.

The Italians are now making the mistake of expecting salvation from the present Government of France. Only the fall of this Government could save them. The Italians are further mistaken in regarding the liberation of their country as possible while democracy in France, Germany and other countries continues to lose ground.

Reaction, to whose blows Italy has succumbed, is not merely an Italian phenomenon, it is a European phenomenon. Italy alone cannot possibly free herself from the grip of this reaction, least of all by appealing to the French bourgeoisie, which is the real pillar of reaction in Europe as a whole.

Before reaction can be destroyed in Italy and Germany, it must be routed in France. A democratic social republic must first be proclaimed in France and the French proletariat must first subjugate its bourgeoisie before a lasting victory of democracy is conceivable in Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary and other countries.


The Neue Rheinische Zeitung carried comments not only on vital questions of the German revolutionary movement but also on those of the European one. In their articles Marx and Engels sought to analyse all important aspects of social development during the revolutionary epoch. They saw the revolution in broad historical perspective, as a phase of universal history, and so understood the interconnectedness of widely dispersed events as separate links in a single chain.

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung, supporting as it did the revolutionary actions in many countries, was rightly regarded as the revolutionary organ not only of German democracy, but also of European democracy. It was the first influential popular newspaper to voice the class interests of the European proletariat and to formulate the democratic and socialist aims of the international proletarian struggle for emancipation.