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Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne by Karl Marx 1853

VI. The Willich-Schapper Group

With the defeat of the revolution of 1848-49 the party of the proletariat on the Continent lost use of the press, freedom of speech and the right to associate, i.e. the legal instruments of party organisation, which it had enjoyed for once during that short interval. The social status of the classes they represented enabled both the bourgeois-liberal and the petty-bourgeois democratic parties to remain united in one form or another and to assert their common interests more or less effectively despite the reaction. After 1849 just as before 1848, only one path was open to the proletarian party — that of secret association. Consequently after 1849 a whole series of clandestine proletarian societies sprang up on the Continent, were discovered by the police, condemned by the courts, broken up by the gaols and continually resuscitated by the force of circumstances.

Some of these secret societies aimed directly at the overthrow of the existing state. This was fully justified in France where the proletariat had been defeated by the bourgeoisie and hence attacking the existing government and attacking the bourgeoisie were one and the same thing.. Other secret societies aimed at organising the proletariat into a party, without concerning themselves with the existing governments. This was necessary in countries like Germany where both bourgeoisie and proletariat had succumbed to their semi-feudal governments and where in consequence a victorious assault on the existing governments, instead of breaking the power of the bourgeoisie or in any case of the so-called middle classes, would at first help them to gain power. There is no doubt that here too the members of the proletarian party would take part once again in a revolution against the status quo, but it was no part of their task to prepare this revolution, to agitate, conspire or to plot for it. They could leave this preparation to circumstances in general and to the classes directly involved. They had to leave it to them if they were not to abandon the position of their own party and the historic tasks that follow of themselves from the conditions governing the existence of the proletariat. For them the contemporary governments were but ephemeral phenomena, the status quo a brief stopping place and the task of toiling away at it could be left to the petty narrow-minded democrats.

The “Communist League”, therefore, was no conspiratorial society, but a society which secretly strove to create an organised proletarian party because the German proletariat is publicly debarred, igni et aqua, from writing, speaking and meeting. Such a society can only be said to conspire against the status quo in the sense that steam and electricity conspire against it.

It is self-evident that a secret society of this kind which aims at forming not the government party of the future but the opposition party of the future could have but few attractions for individuals who on the one hand concealed their personal insignificance by strutting around in the theatrical cloak of the conspirator, and on the other wished to satisfy their narrow-minded ambition on the day of the next revolution, and who wished above all to seem important at the moment, to snatch their share of the proceeds of demagogy and to find a welcome among the quacks and charlatans of democracy.

Thus a group broke off from the Communist League, or if you like it was broken off, a group that demanded, if not real conspiracies, at any rate the appearance of conspiracies, and accordingly called for a direct alliance with the democratic heroes of the hour: this was the Willich-Schapper group. It was typical of them that Willich was, together with Kinkel, one of the entrepreneurs in the business of the German-American revolutionary loan.

Such in short is the relation of this party to the majority of the Communist League, to which the Cologne defendants belonged. Bürgers and Röser defined it succinctly and exhaustively in the proceedings of the Cologne Assizes.

Let us pause before finally bringing our narrative to a close in order to take a glance at the behaviour of the Willich-Schapper group during the Cologne trial.

As was pointed out above, the data contained in the documents purloined from the group by Stieber make it plain that their documents contrived to find their way to the police even after Reuter’s theft. To this day the group has failed to give an explanation of this phenomenon.

Schapper knew the facts about Cherval’s past better than anyone. He knew that Cherval had entered the League on his nomination in 1846 and not on that of Marx in 1848, etc. By his silence he gives confirmation to Stieber’s lies.

The group knew that Haacke, who was their member, had written the threatening letter to the witness, Haupt; but it allows the suspicion to remain on the heads of the party of the accused.

Moses Hess, a member of the group and the author of the Red Catechism[284] — that unfortunate parody of the Manifesto of the Communist Party — Moses Hess, who not only writes but also distributes his own works, knew exactly to whom he had delivered parcels of his Red. He knew that Marx had not deprived him of his profusion of Reds to the extent of even a single copy. But Moses calmly let suspicion fall on the accused, as if it were their party that had hawked his Red, together with its melodramatic accompanying letter, in the Rhine Province.

That the group made common cause with the Prussian police is apparent not only in their silence but also in their utterances: whenever they entered the trial it was not in the dock with the accused, but as “witnesses for the Crown”.

Hentze, Willich’s friend and benefactor, who admitted that he knew about the activities of the League, spent a few weeks in London with Willich and then journeyed to Cologne where he falsely testified that Becker (against whom there was far less evidence than against himself) had been a member of the League in 1848.

Hätzel, as the Dietz archive reveals, was a member of the group and received financial support from it. He had already been put on trial in Berlin for his association with the League and now he appeared as a witness for the prosecution. His testimony was false for he invented a wholly fictitious connection between the Rules of the League and the exceptional arming of the Berlin proletariat during the revolution.

Steingens, whose own letters proved (in the sitting on October 18) that he was the group’s chief agent in Brussels, appeared in Cologne not as a defendant, but as a witness.

Not long before the court action in Cologne Willich and Kinkel sent a journeyman tailor as emissary to Germany. Kinkel is not indeed a member of the group but Willich was co-director of the German-American revolutionary loan.

Kinkel was at that time already threatened by the danger, which was later to become a reality, of seeing himself and Willich removed by the London guarantors from control of the loan moneys and seeing the money itself drift back to America despite the indignant protests of Willich and himself. Kinkel was just then in need of the pseudo-mission to Germany and a pseudo-correspondence with Germany, partly in order to demonstrate that an area still existed there for his revolutionary activities and the American dollars, and partly to provide a pretext for the enormous costs of the correspondence, postal expenses, etc., that he and Willich managed to charge to the account (see Count O. Reichenbach’s lithographed circular). Kinkel knew he had no contacts either with the bourgeois liberals or with the petty-bourgeois democrats in Germany. As he could not afford to be particular he used an emissary of the group as the emissary of the German-American Revolutionary League. [285] This emissary’s sole function was to promote antagonism among the workers towards the party of the accused in Cologne. It must be admitted that the moment was well chosen and it offered a new pretext in the nick of time to reopen the investigation. The Prussian police had been fully apprised of the emissary’s identity, of the day of his departure and of his route. Who thus apprised them? We shall see. Their spies were present at the secret meetings he held in Magdeburg and they reported on the debates. The friends of the Cologne accused in Germany and in London trembled.

We have already narrated how on November 6 Hirsch went before the magistrate at Bow Street and admitted to having forged the original minute-book under the guidance of Greif and Fleury. It was Willich who induced him to take this step, and it was Willich and Schärttner the innkeeper who accompanied him to the magistrate. Three copies were made of Hirsch’s confession and these were sent through the post to various addresses in Cologne.

It was of supreme importance to arrest Hirsch as soon as he left the court. With the aid of the officially witnessed statement in his possession it would have been possible for the case lost in Cologne to be won in London. If not for the accused, at any rate against the government. However, Willich did everything in his power to make such a step impossible. He observed the strictest silence not only towards the “Marx party”, which was directly involved, but also towards his own people and even towards Schapper. Schärttner alone was taken into his confidence. Schärttner declared that he and Willich had accompanied Hirsch to the ship, for according to Willich’s scheme Hirsch was to give evidence against himself in Cologne.

Willich informed Hirsch of the route by which the documents had been sent, Hirsch informed the Prussian Embassy, and the Prussian Embassy informed the post. The documents did not arrive at their destination; they disappeared. Some time after this, Hirsch, who had also vanished, re-appeared in London and declared at a public meeting of democrats that Willich was his accomplice.

Although it had been on a motion from Willich that Hirsch had been expelled as a spy from the Great Windmill Street Society in 1851, Willich admitted, when questioned, that he had resumed relations with Hirsch at the beginning of August 1852. For Hirsch had revealed to him that Fleury was a Prussian spy and had apprised him of all of Fleury’s incoming and outgoing correspondence. He, Willich, made use of this to keep himself informed of the activities of the Prussian police.

It was notorious that Willich had been on terms of intimate friendship with Fleury for about a year, and he had received assistance from him. But if Willich knew since August 1852 that he was a Prussian spy and if he was likewise familiar with his activities how was it possible that he should have remained ignorant of the original minute-book?

That he did not intervene until the Prussian government itself disclosed that Fleury was a spy?

That he intervened in a way which at best caused the removal of his ally Hirsch from England and of the officially witnessed proofs of Fleury’s guilt from the hands of the “Marx party"?

That he continued to receive assistance from Fleury, who boasts that he has in his possession Willich’s receipt for £15 sterling?

That Fleury continued to he actively engaged in the German-American revolutionary loan?

That he informed Fleury of the meeting place of his own secret society so that Prussian agents in the next room could make records of the debates?

That he revealed to Fleury the route of the above-mentioned emissary, the journeyman tailor, and that he even received money from Fleury towards the costs of this mission?

That, lastly, he told Fleury that he had instructed Hentze, who lived with him, how he should testify against Becker at the trial in Cologne?* It must be admitted — que tout cela n'est pas bien clair.

*As to relations between Willich and Becker: “Willich writes me the funniest letters; I do not reply, but this does not prevent him from describing his latest plans for a revolution. He has appointed me to revolutionise the Cologne garrison!!! The other day we laughed till the tears came. His idiocy will spell disaster for countless people yet; for a single letter would suffice to guarantee the salaries of a hundred Demagogue judges for three years. As soon as I have completed the revolution in Cologne he would have no objection to assuming the leadership for all subsequent operations. Very kind of him! “ (From a letter by Becker to Marx, January 27, 1851) [Note by Marx.[287]]