On the French Revolution 1789



collected and arranged

by Wolfgang Eggers



Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848

The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 169


The March revolution in Prussia should not be confused either with the English revolution of 1648 or with the French one of 1789.

In 1648 the bourgeoisie was allied with the modern aristocracy against the monarchy, the feudal aristocracy and the established church.

In 1789 the bourgeoisie was allied with the people against the monarchy, the aristocracy and the established church.

The model for the revolution of 1789 (at least in Europe) was only the revolution of 1648; that for the revolution of 1648 only the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain. [128] Both revolutions were a century ahead of their model not only in time but also in substance.

In both revolutions the bourgeoisie was the class that really headed the movement. The proletariat and the non-bourgeois strata of the middle class had either not yet evolved interests which were different from those of the bourgeoisie or they did not yet constitute independent classes or class divisions. Therefore, where they opposed the bourgeoisie, as they did in France in 1793 and 1794, they fought only for the attainment of the aims of the bourgeoisie, albeit in a non-bourgeois manner. The entire French terrorism was just a plebeian way of dealing with the enemies of the bourgeoisie, absolutism, feudalism and philistinism.

The revolutions of 1648 and 1789 were not English and French revolutions, they were revolutions in the European fashion. They did not represent the victory of a particular social class over the old political system; they proclaimed the political system of the new European society. The bourgeoisie was victorious in these revolutions, but the victory of the bourgeoisie was at that time the victory of a new social order, the victory of bourgeois ownership over feudal ownership, of nationality over provincialism, of competition over the guild, of partitioning [of the land] over primogeniture, of the rule of the landowner over the domination of the owner by the land, of enlightenment over superstition, of the family over the family name, of industry over heroic idleness, of bourgeois law over medieval privileges. The revolution of 1648 was the victory of the seventeenth century over the sixteenth century; the revolution of 1789 was the victory of the eighteenth century over the seventeenth. These revolutions reflected the needs of the world at that time rather than the needs of those parts of the world where they occurred, that is, England and France.

There has been nothing of this in the Prussian March revolution.

The February revolution actually abolished the constitutional monarchy and nominally abolished the rule of the bourgeoisie. The Prussian March revolution ought to have nominally established a constitutional monarchy and actually established the rule of the bourgeoisie. Far from being a European revolution it was merely a weak repercussion of a European revolution in a backward country. Instead of being ahead of its century, it was over half a century behind its time. From the very outset it was a secondary phenomenon, and it is well known that secondary diseases are harder to cure and are liable to cause more harm than the primary diseases do. It was not a question of establishing a new society, but of resurrecting in Berlin a society that had expired in Paris. The Prussian March revolution was not even a national, German revolution; from the very start it was a Provincial Prussian revolution. In Vienna, Cassel, Munich and various other towns provincial uprisings took place alongside it and competed with it.

Whereas 1648 and 1789 gained boundless self-confidence from the knowledge that they were leading the universe, it was the ambition of the Berlin (revolution) of 1848 to constitute an anachronism. Its light is like that of the stars which reaches us, the inhabitants of the Earth, only after the bodies from which it had emanated have been extinct for a hundred thousand years. The March revolution in Prussia was, on a small scale – just as it did everything on a small scale – such a star for Europe. Its light was that of a social body which had long since disintegrated.

The German bourgeoisie developed so sluggishly, timidly and slowly that at the moment when it menacingly confronted feudalism and absolutism, it saw menacingly pitted against itself the proletariat and all sections of the middle class whose interests and ideas were related to those of the proletariat. The German bourgeoisie found not just one class behind it, but all Europe hostilely facing it. Unlike the French bourgeoisie of 1789, the Prussian bourgeoisie, when it confronted monarchy and aristocracy, the representatives of the old society, was not a class speaking for the whole of modern society. It had been reduced to a kind of estate as clearly distinct from the Crown as it was from the people, with a strong bend to oppose both adversaries and irresolute towards each of them individually because it always saw both of them either in front of it or behind it. From the first it was inclined to betray the people and to compromise with the crowned representatives of the old society, for it already belonged itself to the old society; it did not advance the interests of a new society against an old one, but represented refurbished interests within an obsolete society. It stood at the helm of the revolution not because it had the people behind it but because the people drove it forward; it stood at the head because it merely represented the spleen of an old social era and not the initiatives of a new one. A stratum of the old state that had failed to break through and was thrown up on the surface of the new state by the force of an earthquake; 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, but resorted to plagiarism everywhere, it was vulgar because unoriginal, and original in its vulgarity; haggling over its own demands, without initiative, without faith in itself, without faith in the people, without a historic mission, an abominable dotard finding himself condemned to lead and to mislead the first youthful impulses of a virile people so as to make them serve his own senile interests – sans eyes, sans ears, sans teeth, sans everything – this was the Prussian bourgeoisie which found itself at the helm of the Prussian state after the March revolution.


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The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852


Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.

When we think about this conjuring up of the dead of world history, a salient difference reveals itself. Camille Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre, St. Just, Napoleon, the heroes as well as the parties and the masses of the old French Revolution, performed the task of their time – that of unchaining and establishing modern bourgeois society – in Roman costumes and with Roman phrases. The first one destroyed the feudal foundation and cut off the feudal heads that had grown on it. The other created inside France the only conditions under which free competition could be developed, parceled-out land properly used, and the unfettered productive power of the nation employed; and beyond the French borders it swept away feudal institutions everywhere, to provide, as far as necessary, bourgeois society in France with an appropriate up-to-date environment on the European continent. Once the new social formation was established, the antediluvian colossi disappeared and with them also the resurrected Romanism – the Brutuses, the Gracchi, the publicolas, the tribunes, the senators, and Caesar himself. Bourgeois society in its sober reality bred its own true interpreters and spokesmen in the Says, Cousins, Royer-Collards, Benjamin Constants, and Guizots; its real military leaders sat behind the office desk and the hog-headed Louis XVIII was its political chief. Entirely absorbed in the production of wealth and in peaceful competitive struggle, it no longer remembered that the ghosts of the Roman period had watched over its cradle.

But unheroic though bourgeois society is, it nevertheless needed heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war, and national wars to bring it into being. And in the austere classical traditions of the Roman Republic the bourgeois gladiators found the ideals and the art forms, the self-deceptions, that they needed to conceal from themselves the bourgeois-limited content of their struggles and to keep their passion on the high plane of great historic tragedy. Similarly, at another stage of development a century earlier, Cromwell and the English people had borrowed from the Old Testament the speech, emotions, and illusions for their bourgeois revolution. When the real goal had been achieved and the bourgeois transformation of English society had been accomplished, Locke supplanted Habakkuk.

Thus the awakening of the dead in those revolutions served the purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not making its ghost walk again.

From 1848 to 1851, only the ghost of the old revolution circulated - from Marrast, the républicain en gants jaunes [Republican in yellow gloves], who disguised himself as old Bailly, down to the adventurer who hides his trivial and repulsive features behind the iron death mask of Napoleon. A whole nation, which thought it had acquired an accelerated power of motion by means of a revolution, suddenly finds itself set back into a defunct epoch, and to remove any doubt about the relapse, the old dates arise again – the old chronology, the old names, the old edicts, which had long since become a subject of antiquarian scholarship, and the old minions of the law who had seemed long dead. The nation feels like the mad Englishman in Bedlam [1] who thinks he is living in the time of the old Pharaohs and daily bewails the hard labor he must perform in the Ethiopian gold mines, immured in this subterranean prison, a pale lamp fastened to his head, the overseer of the slaves behind him with a long whip, and at the exits a confused welter of barbarian war slaves who understand neither the forced laborers nor each other, since they speak no common language. “And all this,” sighs the mad Englishman, “is expected of me, a freeborn Briton, in order to make gold for the Pharaohs.” “In order to pay the debts of the Bonaparte family,” sighs the French nation. The Englishman, so long as he was not in his right mind, could not get rid of his idée fixé of mining gold. The French, so long as they were engaged in revolution, could not get rid of the memory of Napoleon, as the election of December 10 [1848, when Louis Bonaparte was elected President of the French Republic by plebiscite.] was proved. They longed to return from the perils of revolution to the fleshpots of Egypt , and December 2, 1851 [The date of the coup d’état by Louis Bonaparte], was the answer. Now they have not only a caricature of the old Napoleon, but the old Napoleon himself, caricatured as he would have to be in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.


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Marx-Engels Correspondence 1889

Engels To Karl Kautsky

London, February 20, 1889


The class or the factional group of the class which alone could safeguard the victory of the revolution not only maintained itself in power by this means (that was the least after victory over the revolts) but ensured itself freedom of motion, elbow-room, the possibility of concentrating forces at the decisive spot, the border. At the end of 1793 that was already fairly secure; 1794 started well. French armies scored progress almost everywhere. The Commune with its extreme course became superfluous. Its propagation of revolution became a hindrance to Robespierre as well as to Danton both of whom, but each in his own way, wanted peace. From this conflict of three elements Robespierre emerged victorious, but now terror became in his hands a means of self-preservation and thus absurd. On June 26 Jourdan at Fleurus laid the whole of Belgium at the feet of the republic. Thereby terror became untenable. On July 27 Robespierre fell and the bourgeois orgy began.

“Well-being for all on the basis of labour” still expresses much too definitely the aspirations of the plebeian fraternité of that time. No one could tell what they wanted until long after the fall of the Commune Babeuf gave the thing definite shape. Whereas the Commune with its aspirations for fraternity came too early, Babeuf in his turn came too late.


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Marx-Engels Correspondence 1885

Engels to Vera Zasulich

In Geneva

London, 23 April, 1885


What I know or believe about the situation in Russia impels me to the opinion that the Russians are approaching their 1789. The revolution must break out there in a given time; it may break out there any day. In these circumstances the country is like a charged mine which only needs a fuse to be laid to it. Especially since March 13. This is one of the exceptional cases where it is possible for a handful of people to make a revolution, i.e., with one small push to cause a whole system, which (to use a metaphor of Plekhanov's) is in more than labile equilibrium, to come crashing down, and thus by one action, in itself insignificant, to release uncontrollable explosive forces. Well now, if ever Blanquism—the phantasy of overturning an entire society through the action of a small conspiracy—had a certain justification for its existence, that is certainly in Petersburg. Once the spark has been put to the powder, once the forces have been released and national energy has been transformed from potential into kinetic energy (another favourite image of Plekhanov's and a very good one)—the people who laid the spark to the mine will be swept away by the explosion, which will be a thousand times as strong as themselves and which will seek its vent where it can, according as the economic forces and resistances determine.


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Works of Frederick Engels

Notes on Germany




I. The German enclaves in Alsace-Lorraine, etc. — already half under French sovereignty — allied themselves with the French Revolution, thus giving a pretext for war. Prussia and Austria are now suddenly at one. Valmy. Defeat of linear tactics by the use of massed artillery. Fleurus and Jemmapes. Defeat of Austrian tactics, which are based on a chain of military posts? Conquest of the left bank of the Rhine. Jubilation of the peasants and the free-spirited towns, which is not dispelled even by individual instances of extortion or by Napoleon’s blood tax. The peace of Amiens and the imperial deputies’ main decision — dissolution of the German empire. The Rheinbund. The sweeping away of small states by Napoleon; unfortunately this is far from enough. He is always a revolutionary in relation to the princes and would have gone further had the petty princes not humbled themselves before him so abjectly. 1806 — Napoleon’s error was that he did not completely annihilate Prussia. Economic position of Germany during the Continental Blockade. — The period of greatest humiliation from abroad coincides with a period of great brilliance in literature and philosophy while music reaches its culmination in Beethoven.


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The Holy Family Chapter VI 3)

c) Critical Battle Against the French Revolution


The narrow-mindedness of the Mass forced the “Spirit”, Criticism, Herr Bauer, to consider the French Revolution not as the time of the revolutionary efforts of the French in the “prosaic sense” but “only” as the “symbol and fantastic expression” of the Critical figments of his own brain. Criticism does penance for its “oversight” by submitting the Revolution to a fresh examination. At the same time it punishes the seducer of its innocence — “the Mass” — by communicating to it the results of this “fresh examination”.

“The French Revolution was an experiment which still belonged entirely to the eighteenth century.”

The chronological truth that an experiment of the eighteenth century like the French Revolution is still entirely an experiment of the eighteenth century, and not, for example, an experiment of the nineteenth, seems “still entirely” to be one of those truths which “are self-evident from the start”. But in the terminology of criticism, which is very prejudiced against “crystal-clear” truths, a truth like that is called an “examination” and therefore naturally has its place in a “fresh examination of the Revolution”.

“The ideas to which the French Revolution gave rise did not, however, lead beyond the order of things that it wanted to abolish by force.”

Ideas can never lead beyond an old world order but only beyond the ideas of the old world order. Ideas cannot carry out anything at all. In order to carry out ideas men are needed who can exert practical force. In its literal sense the Critical sentence is therefore another truth that is self-evident, and therefore another “examination”.

Undeterred by this examination, the French Revolution gave rise to ideas which led beyond the ideas of the entire old world order. The revolutionary movement which began in 1789 in the Cercle Social, which in the middle of its course had as its chief representatives Leclerc and Roux, and which finally with Babeuf’s conspiracy was temporarily defeated, gave rise to the communist idea which Babeuf’s friend Buonarroti re-introduced in France after the Revolution of 1830. This idea, consistently developed, is the idea of the new world order.

“After the Revolution had therefore” (!) “abolished the feudal barriers in the fife of the people, it was compelled to satisfy and even to inflame the pure egoism of the nation and, on the other hand, to curb it by its necessary complement, the recognition of a supreme being, by this higher confirmation of the general state System, which has to hold together the individual self-seeking atoms.”

The egoism of the nation is the natural egoism of the general state system, as opposed to the egoism of the feudal classes. The supreme being is the higher confirmation of the general state system, and hence also of the nation. Nevertheless, the supreme being is supposed to curb the egoism of the nation, that is, of the general state system! A really Critical task, to curb egoism by means of its confirmation and even of its religious confirmation, i.e., by recognising that it is of a superhuman nature and therefore free of human restraint! The creators of the supreme being were not aware of this, their Critical intention.

Monsieur Buchez, who bases national fanaticism on religious fanaticism, understands his hero Robespierre better.

Nationalism [Nationalität] led to the downfall of Rome and Greece. Criticism therefore says nothing specific about the French Revolution when it maintains that nationalism caused its downfall, and it says just as little about the nation when it defines its egoism as pure. This pure egoism appears rather to be a very dark, spontaneous egoism, combined with flesh and blood, when compared, for example, with the pure egoism of Fichte’sego”.But if, in contrast to the egoism of the feudal classes, its purity is only relative, no “fresh examination of the revolution” was needed to see that the egoism which has a nation as its content is more general or purer than that which has as its content a particular social class or a particular corporation.

Criticism’s explanations about the general state system are no less instructive. They are confined to saying that the general state system must hold together the individual self-seeking atoms.

Speaking exactly and in the prosaic sense, the members of civil society are not atoms. The specific property of the atom is that it has no properties and is therefore not connected with beings outside it by any relationship determined by its own natural necessity. The atom has no needs, it is self-sufficient., the world outside it is an absolute vacuum, i.e., is contentless, senseless, meaningless, just because the atom has all fullness in itself. The egoistic individual in civil society may in his non-sensuous imagination and lifeless abstraction inflate himself into an atom, i.e., into an unrelated, self-sufficient, wantless, absolutely full, blessed being. Unblessed sensuous reality does not bother about his imagination, each of his senses compels him to believe in the existence of the world and of individuals outside him, and even his profane stomach reminds him every day that the world outside him is not empty, but is what really fills. Every activity and property of his being, every one of his vital urges, becomes a need, a necessity, which his self-seeking transforms into seeking for other things and human beings outside him. But since the need of one individual has no self-evident meaning for another egoistic individual capable of satisfying that need, and therefore no direct connection with its satisfaction, each individual has to create this connection; it thus becomes the intermediary between the need of another and the objects of this need. Therefore, it is natural necessity, the essential human properties however estranged they may seem to be, and interest that hold the members of civil society together; civil, not political life is their real tie. It is therefore not the state that holds the atoms of civil society together, but the fact that they are atoms only in imagination in the heaven of their fancy, but in reality beings tremendously different from atoms, in other words, not divine egoists, but egoistic human beings. Only political superstition still imagines today that civil life must be held together by the state, whereas in reality, on the contrary, the state is held together by civil life.

Robespierre’s and Saint-Just’s tremendous idea of making a ‘free people’ which would live only according to the rules of justice and virtue — see, for example, Saint-Just’s report on Danton’s crimes and his other report on the general police — could be maintained for a certain time only by terror and was a contradiction against which the vulgar, self-seeking elements of the popular community reacted in the cowardly and insidious way that was only to he expected from them..,

This phrase of Absolute Criticism, which describes a “free people” as a “contradictionagainst which the elements of the “popular community” are bound to react, is absolutely hollow, for according to Robespierre and Saint-just liberty, justice and virtue could, on the contrary, be only manifestations of the life of the “people” and only properties of the “popular community”. Robespierre and Saint-just spoke explicitly of “liberty, justice and virtue” of ancient times, belonging only to the “popular community”. Spartans, Athenians and Romans at the time of their greatness were “free, just and virtuous peoples”.

“What,” asks Robespierre in his speech on the principles of public morals (sitting of the Convention on February 5, 1794), “is the fundamental principle of democratic or popular government? It is virtue, I mean public virtue, which worked such miracles in Greece and Rome and which will work still greater ones in Republican France; virtue which is nothing but love of one’s country and its laws.” >

Robespierre then explicitly calls the Athenians and Spartanspeuples libres”. He continually recalls the ancient popular commune and quotes its heroes as well as its corrupters — Lycurgus, Demosthenes, Miltiades, Aristides, Brutus and Catilina, Caesar, Clodius and Piso.

In his report on Danton’s arrest (referred to by Criticism) Saint-Just says explicitly:

“The world has been empty since the Romans, and only their memory fills it and still prophesies liberty.”

His accusation is composed in the ancient style and directed against Danton as against Catilina.

In Saint-Just’s other report, the one on the general police, the republican is described exactly in the ancient sense, as inflexible, modest, simple and so on. The police should be an institution of the same nature as the Roman censorship. — He does not fail to mention Codrus, Lycurgus, Caesar, Cato, Catilina, Brutus, Antonius, and Cassius. Finally, Saint-Just describes the “liberty, justice and virtue” that he demands in a single word when he says:

“Que les hommes révolutionnaires soient des Romains."
["Let revolutionary men he Romans."]

Robespierre, Saint-just and their party fell because they confused the ancient, realistic-democratic commonweal based on real slavery with the modern spiritualistic-democratic representative state, which is based on emancipated slavery, bourgeois society. What a terrible illusion it is to have to recognise and sanction in the rights of man modern bourgeois society, the society of industry, of universal competition, of private interest freely pursuing its aims, of anarchy, of self-estranged natural and spiritual individuality, and at the same time to want afterwards to annul the manifestations of the life of this society in particular individuals and simultaneously to want to model the political head of that society in the manner of antiquity!

The illusion appears tragic when Saint-Just, on the day of his execution, pointed to the large table of the Rights of Man hanging in the hall of the Conciergerie and said with proud dignity: “C'est pourtant moi qui ai fait cela[Yet it was I who made that] It was just this table that proclaimed the right of a man who cannot be the man of the ancient commonweal any more than his economic and industrial conditions are those of ancient times.

This is not the place to vindicate the illusion of the Terrorists historically.

“After the fall of Robespierre the political enlightenment and movement hastened to the point where they became the prey of Napoleon who, shortly after 18 Brumaire, could say: ‘With my prefects, gendarmes and priests I can do what I like with France.'”

Profane history, on the other hand, reports: After the fall of Robespierre, the political enlightenment, which formerly had been overreaching itself and had been extravagant, began for the first time to develop prosaically. Under the government of the Directory, bourgeois society, freed by the Revolution itself from the trammels of feudalism and officially recognised in spite of the Terror’s wish to sacrifice it to an ancient form of political life, broke out in powerful streams of life. A storm and stress of commercial enterprise, a passion for enrichment, the exuberance of the new bourgeois life, whose first self-enjoyment is pert, light-hearted, frivolous and intoxicating; a real enlightenment of the land of France, the feudal structure of which had been smashed by the hammer of the Revolution and which, by the first feverish efforts of the numerous new owners, had become the object of all-round cultivation; the first moves of industry that had now become free — these were some of the signs of life of the newly emerged bourgeois society. Bourgeois society is positively represented by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, therefore, begins its rule. The rights of man cease to exist merely in theory.

It was not the revolutionary movement as a whole that became the prey of Napoleon on 18 Brumaire, as Criticism in its faith in a Herr von Rotteck or Welcker believes; it was the liberal bourgeoisie. One only needs to read the speeches of the legislators of the time to be convinced of this. One has the impression of coming from the National Convention into a modern Chamber of Deputies.

Napoleon represented the last battle of revolutionary terror against the bourgeois society which had been proclaimed by this same Revolution, and against its policy. Napoleon, of course, already discerned the essence of the modern state; he understood that it is based on the unhampered development of bourgeois society, on the free movement of private interest, etc. He decided to recognise and protect this basis. He was no terrorist with his head in the clouds. Yet at the same time he still regarded the state as an end in itself and civil life only as a treasurer and his subordinate which must have no will of its own. He perfected the Terror by substituting permanent war for permanent revolution. He fed the egoism of the French nation to complete satiety but demanded also the sacrifice of bourgeois business, enjoyments, wealth, etc., whenever this was required by the political aim of conquest. If he despotically suppressed the liberalism of bourgeois society — the political idealism of its daily practice — he showed no more consideration for its essential material interests, trade and industry, whenever they conflicted with his political interests. His scorn of industrial hommes d'affaires was the complement to his scorn of ideologists. In his home policy, too, he combated bourgeois society as the opponent of the state which in his own person he still held to be an absolute aim in itself. Thus he declared in the State Council that he would not suffer the owner of extensive estates to cultivate them or not as he pleased. Thus, too, he conceived the plan of subordinating trade to the state by appropriation of roulage [road haulage]. French businessmen took steps to anticipate the event that first shook Napoleon’s power. Paris exchange- brokers forced him by means of an artificially created famine to delay the opening of the Russian campaign by nearly two months and thus to launch it too late in the year.

Just as the liberal bourgeoisie was opposed once more by revolutionary terror in the person of Napoleon, so it was opposed once more by counter-revolution in the Restoration in the person of the Bourbons. Finally, in 1830 the bourgeoisie put into effect its wishes of the year 1789, with the only difference that its political enlightenment was now completed, that it no longer considered the constitutional representative state as a means for achieving the ideal of the state, the welfare of the world and universal human aims but, on the contrary, had acknowledged it as the official expression of its own exclusive power and the political recognition of its own special interests.

The history of the French Revolution, which dates from 1789, did not come to an end in 1830 with the victory of one of its components enriched by the consciousness of its own social importance.


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Articles by Karl Marx in Rheinische Zeitung, 1842

Communism and the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung

October 16, 1842


Cologne, October 13 -- Issue No.284 of the Augsburg paper is so inept as to find the Rheinische Zeitung to be a Prussian communist -- not a communist, to be sure, but still one that fanatically flirts with and platonically ogles communism.

Whether this ill-mannered fantasy of the Augsburger is unselfish or whether this idle trick of its excited imagination is connected with speculation and diplomatic affairs, the reader may decide -- after we have presented the alleged corpus delicti.

The Rheinische Zeitung, they say, has printed a communistic essay on Berlin family dwellings, accompanied by the following comment: This report "might not be without interest for the history of this important issue". From this it follows, according to the Augsburger's logic, that the Rheinische Zeitung "served up such dirty linen with approval". Thus, for example, if I say: "The following report from [Leipzig journal] Mefistofeles about the household affairs of the Augsburg paper might not be without interest for the history of this pretentious lady," do I thereby recommend dirty "material" from which the Augsburg lady could tailor a colorful wardrobe? Or should we not consider communism an important current issue because it's not a current issue privileged to appear at court, since it wears dirty linen and does not smell of rosewater?

But the Augsburg paper has reason to be angry at our misunderstanding. The importance of communism does not lie in its being a current issue of highest moment for France and England. Communism has "European significance", to repeat the phrase used by the Augsburg paper. One of its Paris correspondents, a convert who treats history the way a pastry cook treats botony, has recently had the notion that monarchy, in its own fashion, must seek to appropriate socialist-communist ideas. Now you will understand the displeasure of the Augsburg paper, which will never forgive us for revealing communism to the public in its unwashed nakedness; now you understand the sullen irony that tells us: So you recommend communism, which once had the fortunate elegance of being a phrase in the Augsburg paper!

The second reproach to the Rheinische Zeitung deals with the conclusion of a report on the communist speeches given at the congress in Strasbourg, because the two stepsister papers had so divided the booty that the Rhineland sister took the proceedings and the Bavarian one the fruits of the Strasbourg scholars. The exact wording of the incriminating passage is:

"It is with the middle class today as it was with the nobility in 1789. At that time, the middle class claimed the privileges of the nobility and got them; today, the class which possesses nothing demands to share in the wealth of the middle classes that are now in control. Today, however, the middle class is better prepared for a surprise attack than the nobility was in 1789, and it is to be expected that the problem will be solved peacefully."

That Sieyes' prophecy has come true and that the tiers etat ["Third Estate"] has become everything and wants to be everything -- all this is recognized with the most sorrowful indignation by Bulow-Cummerow, by the former Berliner Politische Wochenblatt [Berlin Political Weekly], by Dr. Kosegarten, and by all the feudalistic writers. That the class that today possesses nothing demands to share in the wealth of the middle class is a fact that, without the Strasbourg speeches and the silence of the Augsburg paper, is clearly recognized in the streets of Manchester, Paris, and Lyon. Does the Augsburger really believe that indignation and silence refute the facts of the time? The Augsburger is impertinent in fleeing. The Augsburg paper runs away from captious issues and believes that the dust it stirs up, and the nervous invectives it mutters in its flight, will blind and confuse the uncomfortable issue as well as the comfortable reader.

Or is the Augsburger angry at our correspondent's expectation that the undeniable collision will be solved in a "peaceful way"? Or does the Augsburger reproach us for not having given immediately a good prescription and not having put into the surprised reader's pocket a report as clear as daylight on the solution of the enormous problem? We do not possess the art of mastering problems which two nations are working on with one phrase.

But, my dear, best Augsburger! In connection with communism, you give us to understand that Germany is now poor in independent people, that nine-tenths of the better educated youth are begging the state for their future bread, that our rivers are neglected, that shipping has declined, that our once-flourishing commercial cities have faded, that in Prussia very slow progress is made toward free institutions, that the surplus of our population helplessly wanders away and ceases to be German among foreign nations -- and for all these problem there is not a single prescription, no attempt to become "clearer about the means of achieving the great act that is to redeem us from all these sins! Or don't you expect a peaceful solution? It almost seems that another article in the same issue, date-lined from Karlsruhe, points in that direction when you pose for Prussia the insidious question of the Customs Union: "Does anyone believe that such a crisis would pass like a brawl over smoking in the Tiergarten?" The reason you off your disbelief is communistic: "Let a crisis break out in industry; let millions in capital be lost; let thousands of workers go hungry." How inopportune our "peaceful expectation", after you had decided to let a bloody revolution break out! Perhaps, for this reason, your article on Great Britain by your own logic points approvingly to the demagogic physician, Dr. M'Douall, who emigrated to America because "nothing can be done with this royal family after all."

Before we part from you, we would, in passing, like to call your attention to your own wisdom -- your method which, with no shortage of phrases but without even a harmless idea here and there, makes you nevertheless speak up. You find that the polemic of Mr. Hennequin in Paris against the parceling out of the land puts him in surprising harmony with the Autonomes [aristocratic landowners]! Surprise, says Aristotle, is the beginning of philosophizing. You have ended at the beginning. Otherwise, would the surprising fact have escaped you that in Germany communistic principles are spread, not by the liberals, but by your reactionary friends?

Who speaks of handicraft corporations? The reactionaries. the artisan class is to form a state within a state. Do you find it extraordinary that such ideas, couched in modern terms, thus read: "The state should transform itself into an artisan class"? If the state is to be a state for the artisan, but if the modern artisan, like any modern man, understands and can understand the state only as a sphere shared by all his fellow citizens -- how can you synthesize both of these ideas in any other way except in an artisan state?

Who polemicizes about parceling out the land? The reactionaries. A recently published feudalistic writing (Kosegarten on land parceling) went so far as to call private property a privilege. This is Fourier's principle. Once there is agreement on principles, may not there then be disagreement over consequences and implications?

The Rheinische Zeitung, which cannot concede the theoretical reality of communist ideas even in their present form, and can even less wish or consider possible their practical realization, will submit these ideas to a thorough criticism. If the Augsburg paper demanded and wanted more than slick phrases, it would see that writings such as those of Leroux, Considerant, and above all Proudhon's penetrating work, can be criticized, not through superficial notions of the moment, but only after long and deep study. We consider such "theoretical" works the more seriously as we do not agree with the Augsburg paper, which finds the "reality" of communist ideas not in Plato but in some obscure acquaintance who, not without some merit in some branches of scientific research, gave up the entire fortune that was at his disposal at the time and polished his confederates' dishes and boots, according to the will of Father Enfantin. We are firmly convinced that it is not the practical Attempt, but rather the theoretical application of communist ideas, that constitutes the real danger; for practical attempts, even those on a large scale, can be answered with cannon as soon as they become dangerous, but ideas, which conquer our intelligence, which overcome the outlook that reason has riveted to our conscience, are chains from which we cannot tear ourselves away without tearing our hearts; they are demons that man can overcome only by submitting to them. But the Augsburg paper has never come to know the troubled conscience that is evoked by a rebellion of man's subjective wishes against the objective insights of his own reason, because it possesses neither reason nor insight nor conscience.


* * *


Works of Karl Marx 1850

The Class Struggles in France,
1848 to 1850

Part I

The Defeat of June, 1848



The Provisional Government imposed an additional tax of 45 centimes to the franc on the four direct taxes. The government press cajoled the Paris proletariat into believing that this tax would fall chiefly on the big landed proprietors, on the possessors of the milliard granted by the Restoration. But in truth it hit the peasant class above all, that is, the large majority of the French people. They had to pay the costs of the February Revolution; in them the counterrevolution gained its main material. The 45-centime tax was a question of life and death for the French peasant. He made it a life and death question for the republic. From that moment the republic meant to the French peasant the 45 centime tax, and he saw in the Paris proletariat the spendthrift who did himself well at his expense.

Whereas the Revolution of 1789 began by shaking the feudal burdens off the peasants, the Revolution of 1848 announced itself to the rural population by the imposition of a new tax, in order not to endanger capital and to keep its state machine going.

Finally, the defeat of June divulged to the despotic powers of Europe the secret that France must maintain peace abroad at any price in order to be able to wage civil war at home. Thus the people's who had begun the fight for their national independence were abandoned to the superior power of Russia, Austria, and Prussian, but at the same time the fate of these national revolutions was made subject to the fate of the proletarian revolution, and they were robbed of their apparent autonomy, their independence of the great social revolution. The Hungarian shall not be free, nor the Pole, nor the Italian, as long as the worker remains a slave!

Finally, with the victories of the Holy Alliance, Europe has taken on a form that makes every fresh proletarian upheaval in France directly coincide with a world war. The new French revolution is forced to leave its national soil forthwith and conquer the European terrain, on which alone the social revolution of the nineteenth century can be accomplished.

Thus only the June defeat has created all the conditions under which France can seize the initiative of the European revolution. Only after being dipped in the blood of the June insurgents did the tricolor become the flag of the European revolution – the red flag!

And we exclaim: The revolution is dead! Long live the revolution!


* * *

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels On Poland

Communism, Revolution, and a Free Poland

Marx’s Speech

Speech delivered in French
commemorating 2nd anniversary of Krakow Uprising
Brussels, February 22, 1848


There are striking analogies in history. The Jacobin of 1793 has become the communist of our day. When Russia, Austria, and Prussia partitioned Poland among themselves in 1793, the three powers relied on the Constitution of 1791 which they had unanimously condemned for its alleged Jacobin principles.

And what did that Polish Constitution of 1791 proclaim? Nothing but a constitutional monarchy: legislative power in the hands of the representatives of the country; freedom of the press; freedom of conscience; open court proceedings; abolition of serfdom, etc. And all that was then called Jacobinism! Thus, gentlemen, you see that history was moved forward. What was then Jacobinism has today become liberalism, and in its most moderate form at that.

The three powers marched with history. In 1846, when they incorporated Krakow into Austria and robbed the Poles of their last vestige of independence, they designated as communism what had previously been called Jacobinism.

But, what did did the communism of the Krakow revolution consist of? Was it communist because it wanted to restore the Polish nationality? One could as well say that the war which the European Coalition waged against Napoleon was communistic and that the Congress of Vienna [1815] was made up of crowned communists. Or was the Krakow revolution communistic because it wanted to install a democratic government? Nobody would accuse the millions of citizens of Bern and New York of communistic impulses.

Communism denies the necessity of the existence of classes; it wants to abolish all classes, all class distinctions. The Krakow revolution wanted to extirpate only the political distinctions among classes, it wanted to give equal rights to all classes.

So, in what respect, finally, was this Krakow revolution communistic?

Perchance because it wanted to break the chains of feudalism, to liberate property from feudal obligations and to transform it into modern property?

If one asked French property owners, “Do you know what the Polish democrats want? The Polish democrats want to introduce in their country the form of property that exists among you,” the French property owner would answer, “That is very good.” But if one says to the French property owner, as Guizot did, “The Poles want to abolish the form of property you established by your Revolution of 1789 and which still exists among you,” then they exclaim, “What! They are all revolutionists, communists! The scoundrels should be destroyed” The abolition of corporations and guilds, and the introduction of free competition – this is now called communism in Sweden. The [Paris daily] Journal des Debats [Politiques et Litteraires] goes even further: the abolition of revenues guaranteed to 200,000 voters by corrupt law as a source of income, which the Journal considers rightfully acquired property, this it calls communism. Undoubtedly the Krakow revolution wanted to abolish a certain kind of property. But what kind of property? The kind that in the rest of Europe can no more be abolished than the Swiss Sonderbund [federation] – because neither one exists any more.

Nobody will deny that in Poland the political question is tied up with the social one. For a long time they have been inseparable from each other.

Just ask the reactionaries about it! Did they fight during the Restoration purely against political liberalism and the Voltaireanism that was necessarily dragged along with it?

A very famous reactionary author has openly admitted that the loftiest metaphysics of a de Maistre and a de Bonald reduces itself in the last analysis to a money question – and is not every money question directly a social question? The men of the Restoration did not conceal the fact that in order to return to the policies of the good old days one must restore the good old property, the feudal property and the moral property. Everybody knows that fealty to the monarch is unthinkable without tithes and socages.

Let us go back further. In 1789, the political question of human rights absorbed in itself the social rights of free competition.

And what is it all about in England? Did the political parties there, in all questions, from the Reform Bill [June 7, 1830] to the abolition of the Corn Laws [June, 1846], fight for anything other than changes of property, questions of property, social questions?

Here in Belgium itself, is the struggle between liberalism and Catholicism anything else than a struggle between industrial capital and big landownership?

And the political questions that have been debated for 17 years, are they not at bottom social questions?

Thus no matter what position one takes – be it liberal or radical or conservative – nobody can reproach the Krakow revolution with having entangled a social question with a political one!

The men at the head of the revolutionary movement in Krakow were most deeply convinced that only a democratic Poland could be independent, and that a Polish democracy was impossible without an abolition of feudal rights, without an agrarian movement that would transform the feudally obligated peasants into modern owners. Put Russian autocrats over Polish aristocrats; thereby you have merely naturalized the despotism. In exactly the same way, in their war against foreign rule, the Germans have exchanged one Napoleon for 36 Metternichs.

If the Polish feudal lord no longer has a Russian feudal lord over him, the Polish peasant has not a less feudal lord over him – indeed, a free, in place of an enslaved, lord. The political change has changed nothing in the peasant's social position.

The Krakow revolution has set all of Europe a glorious example, because it identified the question of nationalism with democracy and with the liberation of the oppressed class.

Even though this revolution has been strangled with the bloody hands of paid murderers, it now nevertheless rises gloriously and triumphantly in Switzerland and in Italy. It finds its principles confirmed in Ireland, where O'Connell's party [the Irish Confederation, founded January 1847] with its narrowly restricted nationalistic aims has sunk into the grave, and the new national party is pledged above all to reform and democracy.

Again it is Poland that has seized the initiative, and no longer a feudal Poland but a democratic Poland; and from this point on its liberation has become a matter of honor for all the democrats of Europe.


* * *

Karl Marx

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon


Abstract of Chapter I


Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.  

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.

Bourgeois revolutions like those of the eighteenth century storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day- but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [crapulence] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals -- until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
[Here is the rose, here dance!


* * *

Marx-Engels Correspondence 1865

Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels

in Manchester, 30 January 1865


... What kind of people our Progressives are is shown once more by their conduct in the combination question. (By the way, the Prussian Anti-Combination Law, like all continental laws of this description, takes its origin from the decree of the Constituent Assembly of 14 June 1791, in which the French bourgeois strictly punish anything of the sort, and indeed any kind of workers’ associations – condemning violators to, for instance, a year’s loss of civil rights – on the pretext that this is a restoration of the guilds and a contravention of constitutional liberty and the ‘rights of man’. It is very characteristic of Robespierre that at a time when it was a crime punishable by guillotining to be ‘constitutional’ in the sense of the Assembly of 1789, all its laws against the workers remained in force.)



* * *


Marx-Engels Correspondence 1881

Marx to Domela Nieuwenhuis
In The Hague


London, February 22, 1881


The general demands of the French bourgeoisie laid down before 1789 were roughly just the same, mutatis mutandis [with corresponding alterations] as the first immediate demands of the proletariat are pretty uniformly to-day in all countries with capitalist production. But had any eighteenth-century Frenchman the faintest idea a priori beforehand of the way in which the demands of the French bourgeoisie would be accomplished? The doctrinaire and necessarily fantastic anticipations of the programme of action for a revolution of the future only divert us from the struggle of the present. The dream that the end of the world was at hand inspired the early Christians in their struggle with the Roman Empire and gave them confidence in victory. Scientific insight into the inevitable disintegration of the dominant order of society continually proceeding before our eyes, and the ever-growing passion into which the masses are scourged by the old ghosts of government--while at the same time the positive development of the means of production advances with gigantic strides--all this is a sufficient guarantee that with the moment of the outbreak of a real proletarian revolution there will also be given the conditions (though these are certain not to be idyllic) of its next immediate modus operandi [form of action].


* * *

Speeches by Marx and Engels on Poland

For Poland

Delivered: 24 March, 1875;
Reported: by Engels


'We have spoken here,' said Engels, 'of the reasons why the revolutionaries of all countries are bound to sympathize with and stand up for the cause of Poland. Only one point has been forgotten and it is this: the political situation into which Poland has been brought is a thoroughly revolutionary one, and it leaves Poland with no other choice but to be revolutionary or perish. This was evident even after the First Partition, which was brought about by the efforts of the Polish nobility to preserve a constitution and privileges which had forfeited their right to exist and were detrimental to the country and to general order instead of preserving the peace and securing progress. Even after the First Partition a section of the aristocracy recognized their mistake and became convinced that Poland could only be restored by means of a revolution; — and ten years later we saw Poland fighting for freedom in America. The French revolution of 1789 found an immediate echo in Poland. The constitution of 1791, embodying the rights of man, became the banner of the revolution on the banks of the Vistula and made Poland the vanguard of revolutionary France, and that at a moment when the three powers which had already plundered Poland were uniting to march on Paris and to stifle the revolution there. Could they allow revolution to nestle at the centre of the Coalition? Impossible! Again they threw themselves upon Poland, this time intending to rob it completely of its national existence. The unfurling of the revolutionary banner was one of the main reasons for the subjugation of Poland. A land which has been fragmented and struck off the list of nations because it has been revolutionary can seek its salvation nowhere but in revolution. And thus we find Poland taking part in all revolutionary struggles. Poland understood this in 1863 and during the uprising whose anniversary we are celebrating today it published the most radical revolutionary programme which has ever been laid down in eastern Europe. It would be ridiculous, because of the existence of a Polish aristocratic party, to regard the Polish revolutionaries as aristocrats who want to restore the aristocratic Poland of 1772. The Poland of 1772 is lost forever. No power on earth will be able to raise it up from the grave. The new Poland to which the revolution will give birth differs, from a social and political point of view, just as fundamentally from the Poland of 1772 as does the new society which we are rapidly approaching from present society.

'In the brief moments when the popular masses in Europe have been able to move freely they have remembered what they owe to Poland. After the victorious March revolution of 1848 in Berlin the first act of the people was to set free the Polish prisoners, Mieroslawski and his fellow sufferers, and to proclaim the restoration of Poland; in Paris in May 1848 Blanqui marched at the head of the workers against the reactionary National Assembly to force it into armed intervention on behalf of Poland; finally in 1871, when the French workers had constituted themselves as a government, they honoured Poland by giving its sons the leadership of its armed forces.

'And at this moment, too, the German workers' party will not in the least be misled by the reactionary behaviour of the Polish deputies in the German Reichstag; it knows that these gentlemen are not acting for Poland but in their private interests; it knows that the Polish peasant, worker, in short, every Pole not blinded by the interests of social status, is bound to recognize that Poland has and can only have one ally in Europe — the workers' party.

'Long live Poland!'


 * * *

Marx and Engels on France

Civil War in France

The Third Address
May, 1871

[The Paris Commune]

July 1870 - May 1871

The provincial French middle class saw in the Commune an attempt to restore the sway their order had held over the country under Louis Philippe, and which, under Louis Napoleon, was supplanted by the pretended rule of the country over the towns. In reality, the Communal Constitution brought the rural producers under the intellectual lead of the central towns of their districts, and there secured to them, in the working men, the natural trustees of their interests. The very existence of the Commune involved, as a matter of course, local municipal liberty, but no longer as a check upon the now superseded state power. It could only enter into the head of a Bismarck – who, when not engaged on his intrigues of blood and iron, always likes to resume his old trade, so befitting his mental calibre, of contributor to Kladderadatsch (the Berlin Punch)– it could only enter into such a head to ascribe to the Paris Commune aspirations after the caricature of the old French municipal organization of 1791, the Prussian municipal constitution which degrades the town governments to mere secondary wheels in the police machinery of the Prussian state. The Commune made that catchword of bourgeois revolutions – cheap government – a reality by destroying the two greatest sources of expenditure: the standing army and state functionarism. Its very existence presupposed the non-existence of monarchy, which, in Europe at least, is the normal incumbrance and indispensable cloak of class rule. It supplied the republic with the basis of really democratic institutions. But neither cheap government nor the “true republic” was its ultimate aim; they were its mere concomitants.


* * *

Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848

The Bill Proposing The Abolition of Feudal Obligations

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 60


It is the most striking proof that the German revolution of 1848 is merely a parody of the French revolution of 1789.

On August 4, 1789, three weeks after the storming of the Bastille, the French people, in a single day, got the better of the feudal obligations.

On July 11, 1848, four months after the March barricades, the feudal obligations got the better of the German people Teste Gierke cum Hansemanno.

The French bourgeoisie of 1789 never left its allies, the peasants, in the lurch. It knew that the abolition of feudalism in the countryside and the creation of a free, Iand-owning peasant class was the basis of its rule.

The German bourgeoisie of 1848 unhesitatingly betrays the peasants, who are its natural allies, flesh of its own flesh and without whom it cannot stand up to the aristocracy.

The perpetuation of feudal rights and their endorsement in the form of the (illusory) commutations -- such is result of the German revolution of 1848. There was much ado about nothing.


* * *

Karl Marx

The Class Struggles in France

Introduction by Frederick Engels



When the February Revolution broke out, we all of us, as far as our conception of the conditions and the course of revolutionary movements was concerned, were under the spell of previous historical experience, namely, that of France. It was, indeed, the latter which had dominated the whole of European history since 1789, and from which now once again the signal had gone forth for general revolutionary change. It was therefore natural and unavoidable that our conceptions of the nature and the path of the "social" revolution proclaimed in Paris in February 1848, of the revolution of the proletariat, were strongly colored by memories of the models of 1789-1830. Moreover, when the Paris upheaval found its echo in the victorious insurrections in Vienna, Milan and Berlin; when the whole of Europe right up to the Russian frontier was swept into the movement; when in Paris the first great battle for power between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was joined; when the very victory of their class so shook the bourgeoisie of all countries that they fled back into the arms of the monarchist-feudal reaction which had just been overthrown—for us under the circumstances of the time, there could be no doubt that the great decisive struggle had broken out, that it would have to be fought out in a single, long and changeful period of revolution, but that it could only end with the final victory of the proletariat.


* * *

Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung November 1848

The Paris Reforme on the Situation in France

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 133


Cologne, November 2. Even before the June uprising we repeatedly exposed the illusions of the republicans who cling to the traditions of 1793, the republicans of the Reforme (of Paris). Under the impact of the June revolution and the movement to which it gave rise the utopian republicans gradually had their eyes opened.

A leading article in the Reforme for October 29 reflects the conflict between the old delusions of the party and the new facts.

The Reforme says:

"In our country the fights waged to seize the reins of government have long been class wars, struggles of the bourgeoisie and the people against the nobility when the first republic came into being; the sacrifices of the armed people without, and rule of the bourgeoisie within during the empire; the attempt to restore feudalism under the older branch of the Bourbons; finally, in 1830, the triumph and rule of the bourgeoisie -- that is our history."

The Reforme adds with a sigh:

"We certainly regret that we have to speak of classes, of ungodly and hateful divergences, but these divergences exist and we cannot overlook this fact."

That is to say: up to now the Reforme in its republican optimism saw only "citoyens" but it has been so hard pressed by history that the splitting up of the "citoyens" into "bourgeois" and "proletaires" can no longer be dismissed by any effort of imagination.

The Reforme continues:

"The despotism of the bourgeoisie was broken in February. What did the people demand? Justice for all and equality. That was its primary slogan, its primary desire. The wishes of the bourgeoisie, whose eyes had been opened by the flash of lightning, were at first the same as those of the people."

The paper's views on the February revolution are still based on the speeches of that time. The despotism of the bourgeoisie, far from having been broken during the February revolution, was completed by it. The Crown, the last feudal aureole, which concealed the rule of the bourgeoisie, was cast aside. The rule of capital emerged unadulterated. Bourgeoisie and proletariat fought against a common enemy during the February revolution. As soon as the common enemy was eliminated, the two hostile classes held the field of battle alone and the decisive struggle between them was bound to begin. People may ask, why did the bourgeoisie fall back into royalism, if the February revolution brought bourgeois rule to its completion? The explanation is a simple one. The bourgeoisie would have liked to return to the period when it ruled without being responsible for its rule; when a puppet authority standing between the bourgeoisie and the people had to act for it and to serve it as a cloak. A period when it had, as it were, a crowned scapegoat, which the proletariat hit whenever it aimed at the bourgeoisie, and against which the bourgeoisie could join forces with the proletariat whenever that scapegoat became troublesome and attempted to establish itself as an authority in its own right. The bourgeoisie could use the King as a kind of lightning-conductor protecting it from the people, and the people as a lightning-conductor protecting it from the King.

Since the illusions, some of them hypocritical, some honest, which became widespread immediately after the defeat of Louis Philippe, are mistakenly accepted by the Reforme as facts, the developments following those days in February appear to it as a series of errors, awkward accidents, that a great man adequate to the needs of the moment could have avoided. As though Lamartine, the jack-o'lantern, had not been the true man of the moment.

The Reforme bemoans the fact that the true man, the great man, has not yet appeared, and the situation gets worse every day.

"On the one hand the industrial and commercial crisis grows; on the other hand hatred grows and all strive towards contradictory goals. Those who were oppressed before February 24 seek their ideal of happiness and freedom in the conception of an entirely new society. The only concern of those who governed under the monarchy is to regain their realm in order to exploit it with redoubled harshness."

Now what is the attitude of the Reforme towards these sharply antagonistic classes? Does it realize even vaguely that class contradictions and class struggle will disappear only with the disappearance of classes?

No. Just now it admitted that class contradictions exist. But class contradictions are based on economic foundations, on the existing mode of material production and the conditions of commerce resulting from it. The Reforme knows no better way of changing and abolishing these contradictions than to disregard their real basis, that is, these very material conditions, and to withdraw into the hazy blue heaven of republican ideology, in other words, into the poetic February period, from which it was violently ejected by the June events. It writes:

"The saddest aspect of these internal dissensions is the obliteration, the loss of the patriotic, national sentiments' , i.e., of just that patriotic and national enthusiasm which enabled both classes' to veil their distinct interests, their conditions of life. When they did that in 1789, their real contradictions were not yet developed. What at that time was an adequate expression of the real position, is today merely an escape from the existing situation. What had substance then, is today just a relic.

"France," concludes the Reforme, "evidently suffers from a deep-seated Malady, but it is curable. It is caused by a confusion of ideas and morals, by a neglect of justice and equality in social relations, and by depravity resulting from egoistical teaching. The means for reorganization must be sought in this sphere. Instead people have recourse to material means."

The Reforme presents the whole case as a matter of conscience", and moral twaddle is then used as a means to solve everything. The antithesis of bourgeoisie and proletariat accordingly derives from the ideas of these two classes. And where do these ideas derive from? From the social relations. And where do these relations derive from? From the material, economic conditions of life of the hostile classes. According to the Reforme, if the two classes are no longer conscious of their real position and their real contradictions, and become intoxicated with the opium of the "patriotic" sentiments and phrases of 1793, then their difficulties will be solved. What an admission of helplessness!




Marx - Engels