The Communist League

Circular of First Congress to Members, June 9, 1847 [333]

Written: June 1847;
Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 589;
First published: Gründungs dokumente des Bundes der Kommunisten (Juni bis September 1847), Hamburg, 1969;

The Congress to the League

Dear Brothers!

The First Congress of the League, which was called last February by the Central Authority (Halle) [334] and opened on June 2 here in London, has concluded its deliberations. In view of the whole position of our League, its sessions could not be public.[335]

But it is incumbent on us, members of the Congress, to make them public for you in retrospect, by at least giving you a survey of our proceedings.

This is all the more our duty as the Central Authority in office up to now had to render account to us, and we, therefore, have to tell you how far the Congress was satisfied with this rendering of account. We must also do so, because we have added an article to the new Rules which makes all legislative decisions of the Congress subject to the vote of the individual communities ; hence, for this part of our decisions at least, there are two reasons why we owe you a statement of the grounds for them.

After checking credentials the previous Halle had first to give the Congress an account of its conduct of office and to report on the state of the League. The delegates declared themselves completely satisfied with the way in which the Halle had looked after the interests of the League and had made a start with its reorganisation. That point was thereby disposed of. We take the following brief summary from the report of the Central Authority and from the original letters submitted to the Congress.

In London our League is strongest. Freedom of speech and of association immensely facilitates propaganda and gives opportunities to the many able members to use their character and talent for the greatest good of the League and the cause. For this purpose the League uses the German Workers’ Educational Society, and also its branch in Whitechapel. Members of the League also take part in the Fraternal Democrats,[336] the French communist discussion clubs,[337] etc.

The previous Paris Halle itself realised in how much better a position the London League would be to take over the central leadership of the affairs of the League. The security of all documents and of members of the Central Authority itself is nowhere else as great as here. During its proceedings the Congress had opportunity enough to see that the London communities have a sufficient number of competent people who can he entrusted with the supreme executive authority of the League. It therefore decided that the Central Authority should remain in London.

In Paris the League has much declined in recent years.[338] The regional and Halle members have for a long time occupied themselves only with quarrels about formalities and alleged breaches of the Rules instead of looking after the affairs of the whole League or of its regions. In the communities similar time-wasting, superfluous and divisive trifles were dealt with. At most they discussed the old questions which have been talked over again and again, ever since Weitling’s Garantien, to the point of boredom. In the Paris League itself there was no sign of the slightest progress, not the slightest concern with the development of the principle, or with the movement of the proletariat as it was proceeding in other localities of the League, and outside the League. The consequence was that all those who were not satisfied with what they were offered inside the League looked outside the League for further enlightenment. This need for enlightenment was made use of by a literary knight of industry and exploiter of workers, the German writer Karl Grün. This individual had sided with communism when he noticed that there was money to be made by communist writings. After some time he found that it was dangerous to continue to declare himself a Communist and found occasion to resign in the new book b,,, Proudhon on the economic contradictions, which he himself had translated into German. This Grün used the economic statements in this otherwise quite insignificant book as the basis of lectures which he gave in Paris for League members. These lectures were attended by two kinds of people: 1. those who had already enough of communism in general; 2. those who hoped perhaps to get from this Grün enlightenment on a number of questions and doubts never resolved for them in the community meetings. The latter were fairly numerous and consisted of those members of the Paris communities who were the most useful and the most capable of development. For a. time this Grün succeeded in dazzling even a number of these with his phrases and his alleged immense learning. The League was thus split. On one side was the party which had exclusively dominated the Halle and the region, the party of the Weitlingians; on the other side were those who still believed one. could learn something even from Grün. These soon saw, however, that Grün expressed definite hostility to the Communists and that all his teaching was quite unable to replace communism. Heated discussions took place during which it became clear that almost all League members remained loyal to communism and that only two or three defended this Grün and his Proudhonist system. At the same time it was revealed that this same Grün had defrauded the workers, as was his wont, by using 30 francs, the sum collected for the Polish insurgents [339] for his private purposes, and had also wheedled several hundred francs out of them for the printing of a miserable pamphlet about the dissolution of the Prussian Provincial Diet. But enough; the majority of Grün’s former listeners stayed away and formed a new party which was mainly concerned to develop further the communist principle in all its implications and in its connection with social relations. By this split, however, the organisation of the League fell to pieces. In the course of the winter the Central Authority sent an emissary who restored the organisation as far as possible. But soon the quarrels arose again; the three different parties and principles were irreconcilable. The party of progress succeeded with the aid of the Weitlingians in removing from the League the three or four stubborn Grünians who had declared themselves openly against communism. But then, when it came to the election of a delegate to the Congress, the two parties clashed in the regional meeting. The split became incurable, and in order at least to achieve an election, the three communities in which the party of progress was most strongly represented resolved to separate from the two communities on which the main strength of the Weitlingians rested and to elect a congress delegate for themselves at a general meeting. This was done. The Weitlingians were thereby provisionally removed from the League and the number of League members was reduced by one third. After examining the reasons advanced by both parties, the Congress declared its agreement with the action of the three communities, because the Weitlingian party had everywhere held up the League in its development; this had also been experienced both in London and in Switzerland. The Congress resolved unanimously to remove the Paris Weitlingians from the League and to admit the delegate of the Paris majority [Engels] to the Congress.

Hence, the number of League members in Paris has been greatly reduced; but, at the same time, obstructive elements have also been removed, and, through the struggle, minds have been quickened to renewed activity. A new spirit is making itself felt, and a completely new energy. The police persecutions seem more or less to have ended; they were in any case not directed against the party which is now victorious and from which only one member was expelled, but struck Grün’s party almost alone, proof that information of the Prussian Government was at the bottom of the whole persecution, as will be shown presently. And if the government has dispersed the public meetings at the Barričre, this too mainly hits the Grünians who made loud speeches there and inveighed against the Communists, because here, of course, the Communists could not freely reply to them. Hence, the League is in far better shape in Paris now than at the time when the Halle resigned. We are less numerous but we are united and have capable people there.

In Lyons the League has regular members who seem to be very active for the cause.

In Marseilles we are also established. We have received the following letter about the membership there: “The position of the Marseilles League is not too good. Encouragement by letters would not help much; we shall try to arrange for some of us to go there this autumn and to organise the League anew.”

The League has succeeded in gaining a firm footing in Belgium. Brussels has a competent community whose members are Germans and Belgians and who have already founded a second community in large among the Walloon factory workers. In that country the prospects for the League are quite encouraging, and we hope that at the next congress Belgium will already be represented by several delegates.

In Germany we had several communities in Berlin which this spring were suddenly dispersed by the police. League members will have seen from the newspapers that a meeting of workers directed by League members was cancelled by the police, an enquiry was held, and as a result several leading members were arrested. Among the arrested was a certain Friedrich Mentel, a tailor born in Potsdam, about 27 years old, of medium, stocky build, etc. This man, who had formerly been in London and Paris, and in the latter place had belonged to Grün’s party and turned out to be a maudlin sentimentalist, and had, by the way, in the course of his travels got to know the situation in the League pretty accurately, was unable to stand up to this little ordeal. This time too it was seen that the weak-mindedness and vagueness of such sentimentalists can find final satisfaction only in religion. Within a few days this Mentel let himself be completely converted by a priest and twice during his arrest took part in the farce of Holy Communion. A Berlin member writes to us as follows: “...he told in court about the communities in Paris, London, Hamburg and Kiel (all of which he had visited himself) and gave the addresses to which Herm. Kriege sent his Volks-Tribun to Berlin. To somebody else, he said to his face: ‘Did 1 not sell you these books? Did we not go to meetings at such and such an address? Are you not a member of the League of the just?’ And when the answer to everything was ‘No’, Mentel said: ‘How can you answer for this before God the Almighty and All-knowing?’ and other such stupidities.” Fortunately, Mentel’s baseness did not succeed in confusing the other accused, so the government had no alternative but to let the arrested be acquitted for the time being. Clearly, this Mentel’s denunciations are closely connected with the persecutions of the German Communists in Paris. We can only congratulate ourselves that the Grünian Mentel regarded the Grünians themselves as the real leaders of the League and denounced them. Thereby the real Communists were in general protected from the persecutions. Naturally, the entire Berlin circle was disorganised by these events. However, knowing the competence of the members there, we are hopeful that the reorganisation of the League will soon be effected.

Hamburg is also organised. But the members there have let themselves be somewhat intimidated by these persecutions in Berlin. The contacts were not broken for a single moment, however.

The League is also established in Altona, Bremen, Mainz, Munich, Leipzig, Königsberg, Thorn, Kiel, Magdeburg, Stuttgart, Mannheim and Baden-Baden. In Scandinavia it is also already established in Stockholm.

The position of the League in Switzerland is not as satisfactory as we might wish. Here the party of the Weitlingians was dominant from the beginning. The lack of development in the communities in Switzerland was particularly evident, on the one hand in their inability to bring the long-standing struggle with the Young Germans[340] to a conclusion, and on the other hand in their religious attitude to the Young Germans and in the fact that they let themselves be exploited in the vilest manner by most despicable knights of industry, such as, for instance, the solemn Georg Kuhlmann of Holstein. As a result of police measures the League was so disorganised in Switzerland that the Congress decided to take extraordinary measures for its reconstitution. The success and the nature of these measures can, of course, only later be made known to the communities.

Concerning America, we must wait for more detailed news from the emissary whom the Central Authority has sent there, before a precise report can be given of the final shape of the League’s conditions there.

From this report and from the League letters produced two things emerge: firstly, that when the London Halle took over the leadership, the League was indeed in a difficult position, that the previous Central Authority’ had not at all attended to the duties incumbent on it; that it had utterly neglected to hold the whole together, and that in addition to this disorganisation of the League, elements of opposition had gradually germinated even in the individual communities themselves. In these circumstances, which threatened the existence of the League, the London Central Authority at once took the necessary measures: sent out emissaries, removed individual members who were jeopardising the existence of the whole, re-established contacts, called the general congress, and prepared the questions to be discussed there. At the same time it took steps to draw into the League other elements of the communist movement who until then had stood aside from it,[341] steps which were highly successful.

After settling these questions the Congress had to make a review of the Rules. The result of these deliberations lies before the communities in the new Rules, all the articles of which were accepted unanimously, and which the Congress moves should be finally adopted. In justification of the changes made, we make the following observations:

The change of name from League of the just to Communist League was adopted because, firstly, the old name had become known to the governments through the infamous treachery of that Mentel, and that in itself made a change advisable. Secondly, and chiefly, because the old name had been adopted on a special occasion in view of special events [342] which no longer have the slightest bearing on the present purpose of the League. This name is therefore no longer suited to the time and does not in the least express what we want. How many there are who want justice, that is, what they call justice, without necessarily being Communists! We are not distinguished by wanting justice in general — anyone can claim that for himself — but by our attack on the existing social order and on private property, by wanting community of property, by being Communists. Hence there is only one suitable name for our League, the name which says what we really are, and this name we have chosen. In the same spirit we have altered the traditional names Gau and Halle, which we took over from the political societies and the German character of which produced a disturbing impression given the nature of our anti-nationalist League which is open to all peoples; these names have been replaced by words which really mean what they should mean. The introduction of such simple, clear names serves also to remove from our propagandist League the conspiratorial character which our enemies are so keen to attach to us.

The necessity to re-call the Congress, now called for the first time, to re-call it regularly and to transfer to it the entire legislative power of the League subject to confirmation by the communities, was unanimously recognised without discussion. We hope that in the provisions laid down in this respect we have hit on the points which mattered and through which the effective work of the Congress is ensured in the interest of the whole.

As to the omission of the headings, which insofar as they contained legal provisions are replaced by certain articles of the Rules, and insofar as they contained general communist principles are replaced by the Communist Credo, this gives the Rules a simpler and more uniform shape and has at the same time led to a more precise definition of the position of each particular authority.[343]

After the Rules had been dealt with, various proposals were discussed which had been prepared either by the Central Authority or put forward by individual delegates.

First of all, there was discussion of one delegate’s proposal to call a new congress in six months time. The Congress itself felt that, as the First Congress, which has been called and had met at a time when the organisation of the League was flagging, it had to regard itself above all as an organising and constituent assembly. It felt that a new congress was needed to deal thoroughly with the most important questions before it; since at the same time the new Rules had fixed the next congress for the month of August, so that there would be barely two months interval, and since it was also impossible to defer the Second Congress until August 1848, it was decided to call this Second Congress for Monday, November 29 of this year, here in London. We did not let ourselves be deterred by the bad time of the year any more than by the new costs. The League has survived a crisis and must not fight shy of an extraordinary effort for once. — The new League Rules contain the necessary provisions for the election of delegates and so we hope that a large number of circles will send delegates to the Second Congress.

The proposal of the same delegate to set up a special fund for emissaries also found general approval. — The point was made that our League has at its disposal two kinds of emissaries. Firstly, those who are sent out at the expense of the League with special missions to certain localities, either to establish the League in areas where it does not yet exist, or to organise it again where it is in decline. These emissaries must necessarily be under the direct control of the Central Authority. — Secondly, workers who are returning to their own homes or have to make other journeys. Such workers, often very capable men, could be used to the greatest advantage of the League for visits to many communities not far from their travel route, if they are reimbursed on behalf of the League for the additional expenses caused thereby. Such occasional emissaries can, of course, only be under the direct control of the circle authority and only in special cases be placed under the control of the Central Authority. Hence, the Congress decided to instruct the Central Authority to demand from every circle authority a certain financial contribution every three months and from these contributions to set up a fund for sending out emissaries of the first kind. Further, to instruct the circle authorities more than previously to use capable members leaving on journeys as occasional emissaries in the manner described and to pay the additional travelling expenses in advance from their own funds. In very special cases the circle authorities can apply to the Central Authority for a contribution for this purpose; whether this financial application is granted, is, of course, decided by the Central Authority. Every emissary is responsible to the authority which has supplied him with funds and must report to it.

All of you will see how necessary it is to organise propaganda through emissaries and to subject it to central leadership. We hope that our decisions, taken after mature consideration, will meet with your approval and that they may be attended by good success for the cause.

The next question was that of the organ of the League; it was recognised without discussion how necessary such a publication is. It was also readily understood that the paper could appear only in London, and that it should not appear more often than weekly and not less often than monthly. — Title, motto and format were agreed and you will be acquainted with them through the specimen number to be published in July. A commission is in existence to act for the editorial board pending the journal’s publication; then an editor, who also has already been appointed, will take over the direction in co-operation with the Commission. This considered, the Congress came to the question of costs. Firstly, various things are needed to complete the printing equipment, in particular an iron press, for which the Central Authority was instructed to call for a contribution from the circles. But then the costs were calculated. It was found that at 2 pence,=4 sous,=2 Silbergroschen,=6 Kreuzers for every weekly issue of one sheet the number of subscribers required to cover the costs would be greater than we can rely on with certainty at present. A monthly paper without an editor would be able to exist with fewer subscribers, but would not fulfil the League’s requirements. But whether we would be able to get the number of subscribers needed for a weekly paper was, as we have said, too uncertain for us to enter into the necessary engagements. We therefore resolved as follows: To start with, a specimen number will appear in July free of charge. Then the individual communities will have to send word through their circles how many members they have, for the Congress has decided that at least as long as the journal is a monthly, every member pays for one copy, but every community receives only one, and the remainder are distributed free. League members must, moreover, make enquiries regarding the number of copies which can with certainty be sold in their area, gather subscribers and report on this, too. Then in November, taking account of the notices received by the Central Authority, the Congress will take further decisions and if possible launch the journal before the New Year. In the meantime the London printing press will be used to print pamphlets. [344]

Finally, the question of the Communist Credo. The Congress realised that the public proclamation of the principles of the League was a step of the greatest importance; that a credo which in a few years, perhaps months, might no longer suit the times and no longer correspond to the spirit of the majority, would be as harmful as a suitable credo would be useful; that this step had to be considered with particular care and must not be taken too hastily. Here, just as on the question of the League organ, the Congress became aware that it could not act definitively but only in a constituent role, that it had to give new food to the re-awakening life in the League by discussion on the plan of a credo. Hence, the Congress resolved to draft this plan and to submit it to the communities for discussion, so that proposals could be formulated for amendments and additions to be submitted to the Central Authority. The plan is appended. We recommend it for serious and mature consideration by the communities. We have tried on the one hand to refrain from all system-making and all barrack-room communism, and on the other to avoid the fatuous and vapid sentimentality of the tearful, emotional Communists[345]; we have, on the contrary, tried always to keep firm ground under our feet by the constant consideration of the social relations which alone have given rise to communism. We hope that the Central Authority will receive from you very many proposals for additions and amendments, and we will call on you again to discuss the subject with particular zest.

This, dear Brothers, is the survey, the outcome, of our deliberations. We would very much have liked to have definitively settled the items before us, to have founded the League organ, to have proclaimed the communist principles in a credo. But in the interest of the League, in the interest of the comm[unist] movement, we had to set limits to ourselves here, we had to appeal anew to the majority, and to leave it to the second Congress to carry through what we have prepared.

It is now for you, dear Brothers, to prove that you have the cause of the League, the cause of communism, at heart. The League has emerged victorious from a period of decline. Apathy and laxity have been overcome, the hostile elements which had arisen in the League itself have been eliminated. New elements have joined it. The future of the League is secure. But, dear Brothers, our position is not yet such that we can for one moment relax our efforts; all wounds are not yet healed, all gaps have not yet been filled, many painful effects of the struggle we have gone through can still be felt. Therefore the interest of the League, the communist cause, still demands of you a short period of the most strenuous activity; therefore for a few months you must not even for a moment weary in your work. Extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary effort. A crisis such as our League has gone through, a crisis in which we had first to fight the fatigue caused by the heavy pressure of German and other police harassments and, even more, caused by the hope of an early improvement in social conditions apparently receding ever further from fulfilment; a crisis, furthermore, in which we not only had to fight the persecutions of our enemies, of governments either dominated by or allied to the bourgeoisie against us, but in which we found enemies in our midst who had to be fought and rendered harmless, with regard only for the threatened position of the League, for the menacing disorganisation of the entire German-speaking Communist Party, without any consideration of persons; Brothers, one does not recover from such a crisis overnight. And even if the existence of the League, the strength of the organisation, is re-established, there will have to be months of unceasing work before we can say: We have done our duty as Communists, our duty as League members.

Brothers! In the firm conviction that you will feel the importance of the situation as much as we do; in the firm conviction that you will nevertheless be fully equal to these difficult circumstances, we confidently appeal to you, to your enthusiasm for the cause of the community! We know that the bourgeoisie’s infamous lust for gain leaves you hardly a moment to work for the cause; we know that it presses down to the lowest limit even the miserable wage it gives you for your hard work; we know that just now famine and the slump in business weigh on you especially heavily; we know that it persecutes you, imprisons you, ruins your health and endangers your lives if you find time and money despite all to work for the interest of the community; we know all that, and in spite of everything we have not hesitated for one moment to appeal to you for new financial sacrifices, to call on you to redouble your activity. For we ourselves would have to withdraw from the whole movement, blushing and ashamed, if we did not know that the men who elected us to decide on the good of the whole, will vigorously and unhesitatingly put our resolutions into practice; if we did not know that there is no one in our League for whom the interest of the Communist Party, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the victory of the community is not his very own, his dearest interest; if we did not know that people with sufficient determination to organise a league which exposes them to great dangers are also determined and steadfast enough to defy these dangers and to make this League great and mighty over the whole of Europe; if we did not know, finally, that such people are the more courageous, the more active, the more enthusiastic, the greater the obstacles they face.

Brothers! We represent a great, a wonderful cause. We proclaim the greatest revolution ever proclaimed in the world, a revolution which for its thoroughness and wealth of consequences has no equal in world history. We do not know how far it will be granted to us to share in the fruits of this revolution. But this we know, that this revolution is drawing near in all its might; this we see, that everywhere, in France as in Germany, in England as in America, the angry masses of the proletariat are in motion and are demanding their liberation from the fetters of money rule, from the fetters of the bourgeoisie, with a voice that is often still confused but is becoming ever louder and clearer. This we see, that the bourgeois class is getting ever richer, that the middle classes are being more and more ruined and that thus historical development itself strives towards a great revolution which will one day burst out, through the distress of the people and the wantonness of the rich. Brothers, we all hope to live to see that day, and even if last spring we did not get the chance to take up arms, as the letter of the Halle predicted we might, do not let that disconcert you! The day is coming, and on the day when the masses of the people with their solid ranks scatter the mercenaries of the capitalists: on that day it will be revealed what our League was and how it worked! And even if we should not live to see all the fruits of the great struggle, even if hundreds of us fall under the grapeshot of the bourgeoisie, all of us, even the fallen, have lived to be in the struggle, and this struggle, this victory alone is worth a life of the most strenuous work.

And so, farewell!

In the name of the Congress,

Heide [Wilhelm Wolff]

The President,
Karl Schill [Karl Schapper]

London, June 9, 1847