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Articles by Frederick Engels for The Northern Star

The State of Germany

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 15;
Written: between October 15, 1845 and February 20, 1846;
First published: in The Northern Star Oct 25, Nov 8, 1845 and Apr 4, 1846.

Letter I, To The Editor
The Northern Star No. 415, October 25, 1845

Dear Sir, — In compliance with your wish, I commence by this letter a series of articles on the present state of my native country. In order to make my opinions on the subject plainly understood, and to justify the same as being well founded, I shall have to trace with a few words the history of Germany from the event which shook modern society to its very foundation — I mean to say, from the French Revolution.

Old Germany was at that time known by the name of The Holy Roman Empire,[15] and consisted of God knows how many little states, kingdoms, electorates, dukedoms, arch and grand dukedoms, principalities, counties, baronies, and free Imperial cities — every one independent of the other, and only subjected to the power (if there was any, which however, for hundreds of years, had not been the case) of the Emperor and Diet. The independence of these little states went so far, that in every war with “the arch-enemy” (France, of course), there was a part of them allied to the French king, and in open war with their own Emperor. The Diet, consisting of the deputations from all these little states, under the presidency of the Imperial one, being intended to check the power of the Emperor, was always assembled without ever coming to any, even the most insignificant, results. They killed their time with the most futile questions of ceremony, whether the embassy of Baron so-and-so (consisting, perhaps, of the tutor of his son and an old livery-servant, or worn-out game-keeper) ought to have precedency before the embassy of Baron so-and-so-or whether the deputy from one Imperial city ought to salute the deputy of another without waiting for his salute, etc. Then there were so many hundreds of thousands of little privileges, mostly burthensome to the privileged themselves, but which were considered as points of honour, and, therefore, quarrelled about with the utmost obstinacy. This and similar important things took up so much of the time of the wise Diet, that this honourable assembly had not a minute to spare for discussing the weal of the empire. In consequence of this, the greatest possible disorder and confusion was the order of the day. The empire, divided within itself in time of war as well as peace, passed through a series of internal wars from the time of the Reformation down to 1789, in every one of which France was allied to the party opposed to the weak and easily vanquished party of the Emperor, and took, of course, its lion’s share in the plunder — first, Burgundy; then the three bishoprics, Metz, Toul, and Verdun; then the rest of Lorraine; then parts of Flanders and Alsace — were in this manner separated from the Holy Roman Empire and united to France. Thus Switzerland was allowed to become independent from the empire; thus Belgium was made over to the Spaniards by legacy of Charles V; and all these countries fared better after their separation from Germany. To this progressive external ruin of the empire, was joined the greatest possible internal confusion. Every little prince was a blood-sucking, arbitrary despot to his subjects. The empire never cared about the internal concerns of any states except by forming a court of law (Imperial Court Chamber at Wetzlar [16]) for attending to suits of subjects against their superiors, but that precious court attended so well to these actions, that not one of them has ever been heard of as having been settled. It is almost incredible what cruelties and arbitrary acts were committed by the haughty princes towards their subjects. These princes, living for pleasure and debauchery only, allowed every despotic power to their ministers and government officers, who were thus permitted, without any risk of punishment, to trample into the dust the unfortunate people, on this condition only, that they filled their master’s treasury and procured him an inexhaustible supply of female beauty for his harem. The nobility, too, such as were not independent but under the dominion of some king, bishop, or prince, used to treat the people with greater contempt than they bestowed upon dogs, and squeezed as much money as they possibly could out of the labour of their serfs — for servitude was quite a common thing, then, in Germany. Nor was there any sign of liberty in those emphatically, so-called, free Imperial cities; for here a burgomaster and self-elected senate, offices which, in the course of centuries, had become as hereditary as the Imperial crown, ruled with greater tyranny still. Nothing can equal the infamous conduct of these petty-bourgeois aristocrats of the towns, and, indeed, it would not be believed that such was the state of Germany fifty years ago, if it was not in the memory still of many who remember that time, and if it was not confirmed by a hundred authorities. And the people! What did they say to this state of things? What did they do? Why, the middle classes, the money-loving bourgeois, found, in this continued confusion, a source of wealth; they knew that they could catch the most fish in the troubled waters; they suffered themselves to be oppressed and insulted because they could take a revenge upon their enemies worthy of themselves; they avenged their wrongs by cheating their oppressors. United to the people, they might have overthrown the old dominions and refounded the empire, just as the English middle classes had partly done from 1640 to 1688, and as the French bourgeois were then about to do. But, no, the German middle classes had not that energy, never pretended to that courage; they knew Germany to be nothing but a dunghill, but they were comfortable in the dung because they were dung themselves, and were kept warm by the dung about them. And the working people were not worse off than they are now, except the peasantry, who were mostly serfs, and could do nothing without the assistance of the towns, hired armies being always quartered on them, who threatened to stifle in blood every attempt at revolt<"art">.

Such was the state of Germany towards the end of the last century. It was all over one living mass of putrefaction and repulsive decay. Nobody felt himself at ease. The trade, commerce, industry, and agriculture of the country were reduced to almost nothing; peasantry, tradesmen and manufacturers felt the double pressure of a blood-sucking government and bad trade; the nobility and princes found that their incomes, in spite of the squeezing of their inferiors, could not be made to keep pace with their increasing expenditure; everything was wrong, and a general uneasiness prevailed throughout the country. No education, no means of operating upon the minds of the masses, no free press, no public spirit, not even an extended commerce with other countries — nothing but meanness and selfishness — a mean, sneaking, miserable shopkeeping spirit pervading the whole people. Everything worn out, crumbling down, going fast to ruin, and not even the slightest hope of a beneficial change, not even so much strength in the nation as might have sufficed for carrying away the putrid corpses of dead institutions.

The only hope for the better was seen in the country’s literature. This shameful political and social age was at the same time the great age of German literature. About 1750 all the master — spirits of Germany were born, the poets Goethe and Schiller, the philosophers Kant and Fichte, and, hardly twenty years later, the last great German metaphysician, [17] Hegel. Every remarkable work of this time breathes a spirit of defiance, and rebellion against the whole of German society as it then existed. Goethe wrote Goetz von Berlichingen, a dramatic homage to the memory of a rebel. Schiller, the Robbers, celebrating a generous young man, who declares open war against all society. But these were their juvenile productions; when they grew older they lost all hope; Goethe restrained himself to satire of the keenest order, and Schiller would have despaired if it had not been for the refuge which science, and particularly the great history of ancient Greece and Rome, afforded to him. These, too, may be taken as examples of the rest. Even the best and strongest minds of the nation gave up all hope as to the future of their country.

All at once, like a thunderbolt, the French Revolution struck into this chaos, called Germany. The effect was tremendous. The people, too little instructed, too much absorbed in the ancient habit of being tyrannised over, remained unmoved. But all the middle classes, and the better part of the nobility, gave one shout of joyful assent to the national assembly and the people of France. Not one of all the hundreds of thousands of existing German poets failed to sing the glory of the French people. But this enthusiasm was of the German sort, it was merely metaphysical, it was only meant to apply to the theories of the French revolutionises. As soon as theories were shuffled into the background by the weight and bulk of facts; as soon as the French court and the French people could in practice no longer agree, notwithstanding their theoretical union, by the theoretical constitution of 1791; as soon as the people asserted their sovereignty practically by the “ 10th of August": and when, moreover, theory was entirely made silent on the 31st of May, 1793,[18] by the putting down of the Girondists — then this enthusiasm of Germany was converted into a fanatic hatred against the revolution. Of course this enthusiasm was meant to apply to such actions only as the night of the 4th of August, 1789, when the nobility resigned their privileges,[19] but the good Germans never thought of such actions having consequences in practice widely differing from those inferences which benevolent theorists might draw. The Germans never meant to approve of these consequences, which were rather serious and unpleasant to many parties, as we all know well. So the whole mass, who in the beginning had been enthusiastic friends to the revolution, now became its greatest opponents, and getting, of course, the most distorted news from Paris by the servile German press, preferred their old quiet holy Roman dunghill to the tremendous activity of a people who threw off vigorously the chains of slavery, and flung defiance to the faces of all despots, aristocrats, and priests.

But the days of the Holy Roman Empire were numbered. The French revolutionary armies walked straight into the very heart of Germany, made the Rhine the frontier of France, and preached liberty and equality everywhere. They drove away by shoals noblemen, bishops, and abbots, and all those little princes that for so long a time had played in history the part of dolls. They effected a clearing, as if they were settlers advancing in the backwoods of the American Far West; the antediluvian forest of “Christian-Germanic” society disappeared before their victorious course, like clouds before the rising sun. And when the energetic Napoleon took the revolutionary work into his own hands, when he identified the revolution with himself that same revolution which after the ninth Thermidor 1794 [20] had been stifled by the money-loving middle classes, when he, the democracy with “a single head”, as a French author termed him, poured his armies again and again over Germany, “Christian-Germanic” society was finally destroyed. Napoleon was not that arbitrary despot to Germany which he is said to have been by his enemies; Napoleon was in Germany the representative of the revolution, the propagator of its principles, the destroyer of old feudal society. Of course he proceeded despotically, but not even half as despotically as the deputies from the Convention would have done, and really did, wherever they came; not half so much so as the princes and nobles used to do whom he sent a-begging. Napoleon applied the reign of terror, which had done its work in France, to other countries, in the shape of war — and this “reign of terror” was sadly wanted in Germany. Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, and reduced the number of little states in Germany by forming large ones. He brought his code of laws with himself into the conquered countries, a code infinitely superior to all existing ones, and recognising equality in principle. He forced the Germans, who had lived hitherto for private interests only, to work at the carrying out of a great idea of some overwhelming public interest. But that was just what aroused the Germans against him. He offended the peasantry by. the very same measures that relieved them from the oppression of feudalism, because he struck at the roots of their prejudices and ancient habits. He offended the middle classes by the very means that laid the foundation of German manufacturing industry: the prohibition of all English goods and the war with England [21] was the cause of their beginning to manufacture for themselves, but, at the same time, it made coffee and sugar, tobacco and snuff, very dear; and this, of course, was sufficient to arouse the indignation of the German patriotic shopkeepers. Besides, they were not the people to understand any of the great plans of Napoleon. They cursed him because he led their children away into wars, got up by the money of the English aristocracy and middle classes; and hailed as friends those same classes of Englishmen who were the real cause of the wars, who profited by those wars, and who duped their German instruments not only during, but also after the war. They cursed him, because they desired to remain confined to their old, miserable sort of life, where they had nothing but their own little interest to attend to, because they desired to have nothing to do with great ideas and public interest. And at last, when Napoleon’s army had been destroyed in Russia, they took that opportunity of shaking off the iron yoke of the great conqueror.

The “glorious liberation war” of 1813-14 and 15, the “most glorious period of German history”, etc., as it has been called, was a piece of insanity such as will drive the blood into the cheeks of every honest and intelligent German for some time to come.[22] True, there was great enthusiasm then, but who were these enthusiasts? Firstly, the peasantry, the most stupid set of people in existence, who, clinging to feudal prejudices, burst forth in masses, ready to die rather than cease to obey those whom they, their fathers and grandfathers, had called their masters; and submitted to be trampled on and horse-whipped by. Then the students and young men generally, who considered this war as a war of principle, nay, as a war of religion; because not only they believed themselves called upon to fight for the principle of legitimacy, called their nationality, but also for the Holy Trinity and existence of God; in all poems, pamphlets, and addresses of that time, the French are held up as the representatives of atheism, infidelity, and wickedness, and the Germans as those of religion, piety, and righteousness. Thirdly, some more enlightened men, who mixed up with these ideas some notions about “liberty”, “constitutions”, and a “free press”; but these were by far the minority. And fourthly, the sons of tradesmen, merchants, speculators, etc., who fought for the right of buying in the cheapest market, and of drinking coffee without the admixture of chicory; of course, disguising their aims under the expressions of the enthusiasm of the day, “liberty”, “great German people”, “national independence”, and so forth. These were the men, who, with the assistance of the Russians, English and Spaniards, beat Napoleon.

In my next letter I shall proceed to the history of Germany since the fall of Napoleon. Let me only add, in qualification of the opinion above given of this extraordinary man, that the longer he reigned, the more he deserved his ultimate fate. His ascending the throne I will not reproach him with; the power of the middle classes in France, who never cared about public interests, provided their private ones went on favourably, and the apathy of the people, who saw no ultimate benefit [for] themselves from the revolution, and were only to be roused to the enthusiasm of war, permitted no other course; but that he associated with the old anti-revolutionary dynasties by marrying the Austrian Emperor’s daughter that he, instead of destroying every vestige of Old Europe, rather sought to compromise with it — that he aimed at the honour of being the first among the European monarchs, and therefore assimilated his court as much as possible to theirs — that was his great fault. He descended to the level of other monarchs — he sought the honour of being their equal — he bowed to the principle of legitimacy — and it was a matter of course, then, that the legitimists kicked the usurper out of their company.

I am, sir, yours respectfully,
Your German Correspondent

October 15th, 1845

Letter II, To The Editor
The Northern Star No. 417, November 8, 1845

Dear Sir, — Having in my first letter described the state of Germany before and during the French Revolution, as well as during the reign of Napoleon; having related how the great conqueror was overthrown, and by what parties, I now resume the thread of my narrative to show what Germany made of herself after this “glorious restoration” of national independence.

The view I took of all these events was diametrically opposed to that in which they generally are represented; but my view is, to a letter, confirmed by the events of the following period of German history. Had the war against Napoleon really been a war of liberty against despotism, the consequence would have been, that all those nations which Napoleon had subdued, would, after his downfall, have proclaimed the principles and enjoyed the blessings of equality. But quite the contrary was the case. With England, the war had been commenced by the frightened aristocracy, and supported by the moneyocracy, who found a source of immense profit in the repeated loans, and the swelling of the National Debt; in the opportunity afforded them to enter into the South American markets, to cram them with their own manufactures, and to conquer such French, Spanish and Dutch colonies as they thought proper, for the better filling of their purses; to make “Britannia rule the waves” despotic, that they might harass to their heart’s pleasure the trade of any other nation, whose competition threatened to endanger the progress of their own enrichment; and lastly, to assert their right of making enormous profits, by providing the European markets, in opposition to Napoleon’s continental system. Such were the real causes of the long war on the part of those classes in whose hands the Government of England was then deposited; and as to the pretext, that the fundamental principles of the English Constitution were endangered by the French Revolution, it only shows what a precious piece of workmanship this “perfection of human reason” must have been. As to Spain, the war had commenced in defence of the principle of legitimate succession, and of the inquisitorial despotism of the priesthood. The principles of the constitution of 1812 [23] were introduced later, in order to give the people some inducement to continue the struggle, being themselves of French origin. Italy never was opposed to Napoleon, having received nothing but benefits from his hands, and having to thank him for her very existence as a nation. The same was the case with Poland. What Germany was indebted for to Napoleon I have related in my first letter.

By all and each of the victorious powers the downfall of Napoleon was considered as the destruction of the French Revolution, and the triumph of legitimacy. The consequences were, of course, the restoration of this principle at home, first under the disguise of such sentimentalities as “Holy Alliance”,[24] “eternal peace”, “public weal”, “confidence between prince and subject”, etc., etc., afterwards undisguised by the bayonet and the dungeon. The impotency of the conquerors was sufficiently shown by this one fact, that, after all, the vanquished French people, with a hated dynasty forced upon them, and maintained by 150,000 foreign muskets, yet inspired such awe in the breasts of their victorious enemies, that they got a tolerably liberal constitution, while the other nations, with all their exertions, and all their boasting of liberty, got nothing but fine words first, and hard bullets afterwards. The putting down of the French Revolution was celebrated by the massacres of Republicans in the south of France; by the blaze of the inquisitorial pile and the restoration of native despotism in Spain and Italy, and by the gagging-bills and “Peterloo” in England. [25] We shall now see that in Germany things took a similar course.

The Kingdom of Prussia was the first of all German states to declare war against Napoleon. It was then governed by Frederick William III, nicknamed “The Just”, one of the greatest blockheads that ever graced a throne. Born to be a corporal and to inspect the buttons of an army; dissolute, without passion, and a morality-monger at the same time, unable to speak otherwise but in the infinite tense, surpassed only by his son [Frederick William IV] as a writer of proclamations; he knew only two feelings — fear and corporal-like imperiousness. During the first half of his reign his predominating state of mind was the fear of Napoleon, who treated him with the generosity of contempt in giving him back half his kingdom, which he did not think worth the keeping. It was this fear which led him to allow a party of half-and-half reformers to govern in his stead, Hardenherg, Stein, Schön, Scharnhorst, etc., who introduced a more liberal organisation of municipalities, abolition of servitude, commutation of feudal services into rent, or a fixed sum of twenty-five years purchase, and above all, the military organisation, which gives the people a tremendous power, and which some time or other will be used against the Government. They also “prepared” a constitution which, however, has not yet made its appearance. We shall soon see what turn the affairs of Prussia took after the putting down of the French Revolution.

The “Corsican monster” being got into safe custody, there was immediately a great congress of great and petty despots held at Vienna, in order to divide the booty and the prize-money, and to see how far the ante-revolutionary state of things could be restored. Nations were bought and sold, divided and united, just as it best suited the interests and purposes of their rulers. There were only three states present who knew what they were about — England, intending to keep up and extend her commercial supremacy, to retain the lion’s share out of the colonial plunder, and to weaken all the remainder — France, not to suffer too much, and weaken all others — Russia, to get increase of strength and territory, and to weaken all others; the remainder were directed by sentimentalities, petty egotism, and some of them even by a sort of ridiculous disinterestedness. The consequence was, that France spoiled the job for the great German states; that Russia got the best part of Poland; and England extended her maritime power more by the peace than by the war, and obtained the superiority in all continental markets — of no use for the English people, but means of enormous enrichment to the English middle classes. The German states, who thought of nothing but of their darling principle of legitimacy, were cheated once more, and lost by the peace everything they had won by the war. Germany remained split up into thirty-eight states, whose division hinders all internal progress, and makes France more than a match for her; and who, continuing [to be] the best market for English manufactures, served only to enrich the English middle classes. It is all well for this section of the English people to boast of the generosity which prompted them to send enormous sums of money to keep up the war against Napoleon; but, if we even suppose that it was them, and not the working people, who in reality had to pay these subsidies — they only intended, by their generosity, to re-open the continental markets, and in this they succeeded so well that the profits they have drawn since the peace, from Germany alone, would repay those sums at least six times over. It is really middle-class generosity which first makes you a present in the shape of subsidies, and afterwards makes you repay it six-fold in the shape of profits. Would they have been so eager to pay those subsidies, if at the end of the war, the reverse had been likely to be the case, and England been inundated with German manufactures, instead of Germany being kept in manufacturing bondage by a few English capitalists?

However, Germany was cheated on all hands, and mostly by her own so-called friends and allies. This I should not much care for myself, as I know very well that we are approaching to a reorganisation of European society, which will prevent such tricks on the one hand, and such imbecilities on the other; what I want to show is, first, that neither the English people, nor any other people profited by cheating the German despots, but that it all was for the benefit of other despots; or of one particular class, whose interest is opposed to the people; and second, that the very first act of the German restored despots showed their thorough incapacity. We now turn to the home affairs of Germany.

We have seen who were the parties that, with the aid of English money and Russian barbarism, put down the French Revolution. They were divided into two sections; first, the violent partisans of old “Christian-Germanic” society, the peasantry and the enthusiastic youth, who were impelled by the fanaticism of servitude, of nationality, of legitimacy and religion; and second, the more sober middle-class men, who wished “to be let alone”, to make money and to spend it without being bothered with the impudent interference of great historical events. The latter party were satisfied as soon as they had obtained the peace, the right to buy in the cheapest market, to drink coffee without admixture of chicory, and to be excluded from all political affairs. The “Christian Germanics”, however, now became the active supporters of the restored governments, and did everything in their power to screw history back to 1789. As to those who wished to see the people enjoy some of the fruits of their exertions, they had been strong enough to make their watchwords the battle-cry of 1813, but not the practice of 1815. They got some fine promises of constitutions, free press, etc., and that was all; in practice everything was carefully left as it had been previously. The Frenchified parts of Germany were purged, as far as possible, from the traces of “foreign despotism”, and those provinces only which were situated on the left of the Rhine retained their French institutions. The Elector of Hesse [Ludwig I] went so far as to restore even the pig-tails of his soldiers, which had been cut off by the impious hands of the French. In short, Germany, as well as every other country, offered the picture of a shameless reaction which was only distinguished by a character of timidity and weakness; it did not even elevate itself to that degree of energy with which revolutionary principles were combated in Italy, Spain, France and England.

The cheating system to which Germany had been subjected at the Congress of Vienna, now commenced to be practised between the different German states themselves. Prussia and Austria, in order to weaken the power of the different states, forced them to give some sort of mongrel constitutions, which weakened the governments, without imparting any power to the people, or even the middle classes. Germany being constituted a confederacy of states, whose embassies, sent by the governments alone, formed the diet, there was no risk that the people might become too strong, as every state was bound by the resolutions of the diet, which were law for all Germany, without being subject to the approval of any representative assembly. In this diet it was a matter of course that Prussia and Austria ruled absolutely; they only had to threaten the lesser princes to abandon them in their struggle with their representative assemblies, in order to frighten them into implicit obedience. By these means, by their overwhelming power, and by their being the true representatives of that principle from which every German prince derives his power, they have made themselves the absolute rulers of Germany. Whatever may be done in the small states is without any effect in practice. The struggles of the Liberal middle classes of Germany remained fruitless as long as they were confined to the smaller southern states; they became important as soon as the middle classes of Prussia were aroused from their lethargy. And as the Austrian people can hardly he said to belong to the civilised world, and, in consequence, submit quietly to their paternal despotism, the state which may be taken as the centre of German modern history, as the barometer of the movements of public opinion, is Prussia.

After the downfall of Napoleon, the King of Prussia spent some of his happiest years. He was cheated, it is true, on every hand. England cheated him; France cheated him; his own dear friends, the Emperors of Austria and Russia [Ferdinand I and Alexander I] cheated him over and over again; but he, in the fullness of his heart, did not even find it out; he could not think of the possibility of there being any such scoundrels in the world who could cheat Frederick William III, “The Just”. He was happy. Napoleon was overthrown. He had no fear. He pressed Article 13 of the Fundamental Federative Act of Germany, which promised a constitution for every state. He pressed the other article about the liberty of the press.[26] Nay, on the 22nd of May, 1815, he issued a proclamation commencing with these words — words in which his benevolent happiness was beautifully blended with his corporal-like imperiousness — “There shall be a representation of the people!” He went on to order that a commission should be named to prepare a constitution for his people; and even in 1819, when there had been revolutionary symptoms in Prussia, when reaction was rifest all over Europe, and when the glorious fruit of the Congresses was in its full blossom, even then he declared that, in future, no public loan should be contracted without the assent of the future representative assemblies of the kingdom.

Alas! this happy time did not last. The fear of Napoleon was but too soon replaced in the king’s mind by the fear of the revolution. But of that in my next.

I have only one word to add. Whenever in English democratic meetings the “patriots of all countries” are toasted, Andreas Hofer is sure to be amongst them. Now, after what I have said on the enemies of Napoleon in Germany, is Hofer’s name worthy to be cheered by democrats? Hofer was a stupid, ignorant, bigoted, fanatical peasant, whose enthusiasm was that of La Vendée,[27] that of “Church and Emperor”. He fought bravely — but so did the Vendéans against the Republicans. He fought for the paternal despotism of Vienna and Rome. Democrats of England, for the sake of the honour of the German people, leave that bigot out of the question in future. Germany has better patriots than him. Why not mention Thomas Münzer, the glorious chief of the peasant insurrection of 1525, who was a real democrat, as far as possible, at that time? Why not glorify George Forster, the German Thomas Paine, who supported the French Revolution in Paris up to the last, in opposition to all his countrymen, and died on the scaffold? Why not a host of others, who fought for realities, and not for delusions?

I am, dear Sir, yours respectfully,
Your German Correspondent

Letter III, To The Editor
The Northern Star No. 438, April 4, 1846

Dear Sir, — I really must beg of you and your readers to excuse my apparent negligence in not continuing sooner the series of letters on the above subject which I commenced writing for this paper. You may, however, rest assured that nothing but the necessity of devoting some weeks to the German movement exclusively could detain me from the pleasant task I have undertaken, of informing the English democracy of the state of things in my native country —

Your readers will, perhaps, have some recollection of the statements made in my first and second letters. I there related how the old, rotten state of Germany was rooted up by the French armies from 1792 to 1813; how Napoleon was overthrown by the union of the feudalists, or aristocrats, and the bourgeois, or trading middle classes of Europe; how, in the subsequent peace arrangements the German princes were cheated by their allies, and even by vanquished France; how the German Federative Act, and the present political state of Germany was brought about; and how Prussia and Austria, by inducing the lesser states to give constitutions, made themselves the exclusive masters of Germany. Leaving Austria, as a half-barbarian country, out of the question, we come to the result that Prussia is the battle-field on which the future fate of Germany is to be decided.

We said in our last, that Frederick William Ill, King of Prussia, after being delivered from the fear of Napoleon, and spending a few happy, because fearless years, acquired another bugbear to frighten him — “the revolution”. The way in which “the revolution” was introduced into Germany we shall now see.

After the downfall of Napoleon, which I must repeat again, by the kings and aristocrats of the time, was totally identified with the putting down of the French Revolution, or, as they called it, the revolution, after 1815, in all countries, the anti-revolutionary party held the reins of government. The feudalist aristocrats ruled in all cabinets from London to Naples, from Lisbon to St. Petersburg. However, the middle classes, who had paid for the job and assisted in doing it, wanted to have their share of the power. It was by no means their interest which was placed in the ascendant by the restored governments. On the contrary, middle-class interests were neglected everywhere, and even openly set at nought. The passing of the English Corn Law of 1815 [28] is the most striking example of a fact which was common to all Europe; and yet the middle classes were more powerful then than ever they had been. Commerce and manufactures had been extending everywhere, and had swelled the fortunes of the fat bourgeois; their increased well-being was manifested in their increased spirit of speculation, their growing demand for comforts and luxuries. It was impossible, then, that they should quietly submit to be governed by a class whose decay had been going on for centuries — whose interests were opposed to those of the middle classes — whose momentary return to power was the very work of the bourgeois. The struggle between the middle classes and the aristocracy was inevitable; it commenced almost immediately after the peace.

The middle classes being powerful by money only, cannot acquire political power but by making money the only qualification for the legislative capacity of an individual. They must merge all feudalistic privileges, all political monopolies of past ages, in the one great privilege and monopoly of money. The political dominion of the middle classes is, therefore, of an essentially liberal appearance. They destroy all the old differences of several estates coexisting in a country, all arbitrary privileges and exemptions; they are obliged to make the elective principle the foundation of government — to recognise equality in principle, to free the press from the shackles of monarchical censorship, to introduce the jury, in order to get rid of a separate class of judges, forming a state in the state. So far they appear thorough democrats. But they introduce all the improvements so far only, as thereby all former individual and hereditary privileges are replaced by the privilege of money. Thus the principle of election is, by property qualifications for the right of electing and being elected, retained for their own class. Equality is set aside again by restraining it to a mere “equality before the law”, which means equality in spite of the inequality of rich and poor — equality within the limits of the chief inequality existing — which means, in short, nothing else but giving inequality the name of equality. Thus the liberty of the press is, of itself, a middle-class privilege, because printing requires money, and buyers for the printed productions, which buyers must have money again. Thus the jury is a middle-class privilege, as proper care is taken to bring none but “respectables” into the jury-box.

I have thought it necessary to make these few remarks upon the subject of middle-class government in order to explain two facts. The first is, that in all countries, during the time from 1815 to 1830, the essentially democratic movement of the working classes was more or less made subservient to the liberal movement of the bourgeois. The working people, though more advanced than the middle classes, could not yet see the total difference between liberalism and democracy — emancipation of the middle classes and emancipation of the working classes; they could not see the difference between liberty of money and liberty of man, until money had been made politically free, until the middle class had been made the exclusively ruling class. Therefore the democrats of Peterloo were going to petition, not only for Universal Suffrage, but for Corn Law repeal at the same time; therefore, the proletarians fought in 1830 in Paris, and threatened to fight in 1831 in England, for the political interest of the bourgeoisie. In all countries the middle classes were, from 1815 to 1830, the most powerful component, and, therefore, the leaders of the revolutionary party. The working classes are necessarily the instruments in the hands of the middle classes, as long as the middle classes are themselves revolutionary or progressive. The distinct movement of the working classes is, therefore, in this case always of a secondary importance. But from that very day when the middle classes obtain full political power — from the day on which all feudal and aristocratic interests are annihilated by the power of money — from the day on which the middle classes cease to be progressive and revolutionary, and become stationary themselves, from that day the working-class movement takes the lead and becomes the national movement. Let the Corn Laws be repealed today, and tomorrow the Charter is the leading question in Englandtomorrow the Chartist movement will exhibit that strength, that energy, that enthusiasm and perseverance which ensures success.

The second fact, for the explanation of which I ventured to make some few remarks on middle-class government, refers to Germany exclusively. The Germans being a nation of theorists, and little experienced in practice, took the common fallacies brought forward by the French and English middle classes to be sacred truths. The middle classes of Germany were glad to be left alone to their little private business, which was all in the “small way”; wherever they had obtained a constitution, they boasted of their liberty, but interfered little in the political business of the state; wherever they had none, they were glad to be saved the trouble of electing deputies and reading their speeches. The working people wanted that great lever which in France and England aroused them — extensive manufactures — and the consequence of it, middle-class rule. They, therefore, remained quiet. The peasantry in those parts of Germany where the modern French institutions had been again replaced by the old feudal regime, felt oppressed, but this discontent wanted another stimulus to break out in open rebellion. Thus, the revolutionary party in Germany, from 1815 to 1830, consisted of theorists only. Its recruits were drawn from the universities; it was made up of none but students.

It had been found impossible in Germany to re-introduce the old system of 1789. The altered circumstances of the time forced the governments to invent a new system, which has been peculiar to Germany. The aristocracy was willing to govern, but too weak; the middle classes were neither willing to govern nor strong enough — both, however, were strong enough to induce the government to some concessions. The form of government, therefore, was a sort of mongrel monarchy. A constitution, in some states, gave an appearance of guarantee to the aristocracy and middle classes; for the remainder there was everywhere a bureaucratic government — that is, a monarchy which pretends to take care of the interests of the middle class by a good administration, which administration is, however, directed by aristocrats, and whose proceedings are shut out as much as possible from the eyes of the public. The consequence is the formation of a separate class of administrative government officers, in whose hands the chief power is concentrated, and which stands in opposition against all other classes. It is the barbarian form of middle-class rule.

But this form of government satisfied neither the “Aristocrats”, “Christian Germanics”, “Romantics”, “Reactionaries”, nor the “Liberals”. They, therefore, united against the governments, and formed the secret societies of the students. From the union of those two sects — for parties they cannot be called — arose that sect of mongrel Liberals, who in their secret societies dreamt of a German Emperor wearing crown, purple, sceptre, and all the remainder of that sort of apparatus, not to forget a long grey or red beard, surrounded by an assembly of estates in which clergy, nobility, burgesses, and peasants should be duly separated. It was the most ridiculous mixing up of feudal brutality with modern middle-class fallacies that could be imagined. But that was just the thing for the students, who wanted enthusiasm, no matter for what, nor at what price. Yet these ridiculous idiosyncrasies, together with the revolutions in Spain, Portugal and Italy, the movements of the Carbonari in France, and the Reformation in England, [29] frightened the monarchs almost out of their wits. Frederick William III got his bugbear, “the revolution” — under which name all these different and partly discordant movements were comprised.

A number of incarcerations and wholesale prosecutions quashed this “revolution” in Germany; the French bayonets in Spain, and the Austrian in Italy, secured for a while the ascendancy of legitimate kings and rights divine. Even the right divine of the Grand Turk to hang and quarter his Grecian subjects was for a while maintained by the Holy Alliance; but this case was too flagrant, and the Greeks were allowed to slip from under the Turkish yoke.[30]

At last, the three days of Paris [31] gave the signal for a general outbreak of middle-class, aristocratic, and popular discontent throughout Europe. The aristocratic Polish revolution was put down; the middle classes of France and Belgium succeeded in securing to themselves political power[32]; the English middle classes likewise obtained this end by the Reform Bill; the partly popular, partly middle-class, partly national insurrections of Italy, were suppressed; and in Germany numerous insurrections and movements betokened a new era of popular and middle-class agitation.

The new and violent character of liberal agitation in Germany, from 1830 to 1834, showed that the middle classes had now taken up the question for themselves. But Germany being divided into many states, almost each of which had a separate line of customs and separate rates of duty, there was no community of interest in these movements. The middle classes of Germany wanted to become politically free, not for the purpose of arranging public matters in accordance with their interest, but because they were ashamed of their servile position in comparison to Frenchmen and Englishmen. Their movement wanted the substantial basis which had ensured the success of Liberalism in France and England; their interest in the question was far more theoretical than practical; they were, upon an average, what is called disinterested. The French bourgeois of 1830 were not. Laffitte said, the day after the revolution: “Now we, the bankers, will govern”; and they do up to this hour. The English middle classes, too, knew very well what they were about when they fixed the ten-pound qualification[33]; but the German middle classes being, as aforesaid, men in a small way of business, were mere enthusiasts — admirers of “liberty of the press”, “trial by jury”, “constitutional guarantees for the people”, “rights of the people”, “popular representation”, and such like, which they thought not means, but ends; they took the shadow for the substance, and therefore got nothing. However, this middle-class movement was sufficient to bring about several dozens of revolutions, of which two or three contrived somehow to succeed; a great number of popular meetings, a deal of talk and newspaper-boasting, and a very slight beginning of a democratic movement among students, working men, and peasants.

I shall not enter into the rather tedious details of this blustering and unsuccessful movement. Wherever somewhat important had been won, as liberty of the press in Baden, the German Diet stepped in and put a stop to it. The whole farce was concluded by a repetition of the wholesale imprisonments of 1819 and 1823, and, by a secret league of all German princes, concluded in 1834, at a Conference of delegates at Vienna to resist all further progress of Liberalism. [34] The resolutions of this Conference were published some years ago.

From 1834 to 1840, every public movement in Germany died out. The agitators of 1830 and 1834 were either imprisoned or scattered in foreign countries, where they had fled. Those who had kept much of their middle-class timidity during the times of agitation, continued to struggle against the growing rigour of the censor, and the growing neglect and indifference of the middle classes. The leaders of Parliamentary opposition went on speechifying in the Chambers, but the governments found means to secure the votes of the majorities. There appeared no further chance of bringing about any public movement whatsoever in Germany; the governments had it all their own way.

In all these movements the middle classes of Prussia took almost no part. The working people uttered their discontent throughout that country in numerous riots, having, however, no defined purpose, and therefore no result. The apathy of the Prussians was the principal strength of the German confederacy. It showed that the time for a general middle-class movement in Germany was not yet come.

In my next [Engels’ letter did not appear in the following numbers], I shall pass to the movement of the last six years, unless I can bring together the necessary materials for characterising the spirit of the German governments by some of their own doings, in comparison to which those of your precious Home Secretary b are pure and innocent.[35]

I am, in the meantime, dear Sir,
Your German Correspondent

Febr. 20th,[36] 1846