(KARL MARX – continued)

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Marx and the Failed Revolutions of 1848

By 1845 Marx had a drinking companion, Frederick Engels, who agreed with his ideas. Engels was the son of a wealthy German cotton manufacturer with a plant in Manchester, England, that made sewing threads, and when Engels could he would help Marx financially.

Marx had been writing political tracts. In 1845 he wrote that philosophers had been interpreting the world in various ways but that the point was to change the world. He wrote a refutation to a book by an acquaintance who was better known than he: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon's book was The Philosophy of Poverty. Marx titled his The Poverty of Philosophy and pushed his view that the way to change the world was to side with the proletariat rather than to philosophize about ideals. Proudhon wanted an order in which no one had power over others. Marx saw him as a dreamer and a utopian, and he favored the working class acquiring power over its oppressors.

Europe was sinking deeper into economic crisis. There were bad grain harvests and a potato blight that spread from Ireland to the continent that devastated food supplies. People were hungry and anger was intensifying.

By 1845 the secret League of the Just had a membership of around 300 and branches in Switzerland, Germany and London. In June 1847 Marx was in London attending a meeting of the League of the Just, and at that meeting the League changed its name to the Communist League and changed its slogan from "All Men are Brothers" to "Working Men of All Countries Unite."

Also in 1847, Marx and Engels described their views in a manifesto commissioned by the Communist League. It was published in 1848, the year of uprisings across Europe – known to some as the "Spring of Nations." In January 1848 sixty-one people were killed in Milan. The Swiss that month were having a civil war, and there was rioting in Palermo, Sicily. In February the rioting spread to Paris. King Louis-Philippe fled, and a provisional government was created – mostly of moderates but with a few radicals. A republic was declared and people like Karl Marx were free to return, which Marx did with his family in early March. He found railway tracks torn up, red flags decorating rail stations, streets littered with stones used for barricades and littered with burned carts, broken furniture and overturned carriages.

Marx was well-known enough that a member of the new government, Ferdinand Flocon, offered him money to create a journal. Marx refused, saying he wanted to be independent. He was interested, moreover, in moving back to Cologne and starting a newspaper there. In Cologne he found the middle classes feeling triumphant. King William IV had been making concessions to their demand for more freedom – while laborers in Cologne remained mostly quiet and watching. There Karl Marx started a newspaper whose banner declared itself an advocate of democracy. It bore the name of New Rhineland Newspaper, and the paper benefitted from the contributions of wealthy British liberals.

Marx held back from publishing calls for the kind of revolution that some of his fellow radicals in Cologne wanted but that he saw as not fitting with his middle class readership. He wanted bourgeois democracy to take root against the aristocracy's authoritarianism, believing this was a necessary stage before the proletariat could overthrow the bourgeoisie.

Then in June, bourgeois democracy in Prussian-ruled Germany became jeopardized. In Paris, reaction to radical policies brought conservatives to power, and they used military force against people on the barricades that King Louis-Phillipe had been reluctant to use. Artillery and riflemen crushed the revolution in Paris, and this encouraged reaction in Germany and Austria.

Marx was annoyed by what he described as the bourgeoisie tumbling over each other in a hurry to patch up their differences with Prussia's monarchy. He described the National Assembly in Frankfurt as going the way of all bourgeois parliaments: headed for conciliation and appeasement rather than siding with change in the interest of the masses.

Marx cut his ties with his bourgeois democratic associates. Authorities in Cologne jailed him for a week and forced him to flee to France once again. In June 1849 he was in Paris, living under the alias of Monsieur Ramboz. He was not entirely displeased by the move, believing that France was still ready for a great revolution. In mid-June 1849 another rising occurred in Paris, and another crackdown. The police discovered that Monsieur Ramboz was the radical activist Karl Marx and ordered him out of the city to the Morbihan area of Brittany, which he believed to be a pestilent swamp and a death trap. Marx asked the French for a passport that allowed him to move to Switzerland. This was denied him, but liberal England allowed him to move there. He arrived in late August – at the age of 31. His pregnant wife Jenny and their three children, in Paris, followed him to London two weeks later.


Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.