Frederick Engels in Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung 1848

The Movements of 1847 [266]

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 520
Written: about January 20, 1848;
First published: in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, January 23, 1848;
Signed: F. E.

The year 1847 was certainly the most stormy we have experienced for a very long time. A constitution and a United Diet in Prussia [267] ; an unexpectedly rapid awakening in political life and a general arming against Austria in Italy; a civil war in Switzerland [268] ; a new Parliament of pronounced radical complexion in Britain; in France scandals and Reform banquets; in America the conquest of Mexico by the United States — that is a series of changes and movements such as no other recent year can show.

The last turning point in history was the year 1830. The July revolution in France and the Reform Bill in Britain finally secured the victory of the bourgeoisie; and in Britain this was, indeed, the victory of the industrial bourgeoisie, the manufacturers, over the non-industrial bourgeoisie, the rentiers. Belgium, and to a certain extent Switzerland, followed suit; here again the bourgeoisie triumphed .[269] Poland rose in revolt [270] Italy chafed under Metternich’s heel. Germany was seething. All countries were preparing for a mighty struggle.

But after 1830 there was everywhere a set-back. Poland fell, the insurgents in Romagna were dispersed, [271] the movement in Germany was suppressed. The French bourgeoisie defeated the republicans in France itself, and betrayed the liberals of other countries whom it had spurred on to revolt. The liberal ministry in Britain could accomplish nothing. Finally, in 1840, reaction was in full swing. Poland, Italy, and Germany were politically dead: the Berliner politisches Wochenblatt [allusion is to Frederick William IV, who patronised this reactionary newspaper] sat enthroned in Prussia; Herr Dahlmann’s all-too-clever constitution was repealed in Hanover [272]; the decisions of the Vienna Conference of 1834 were in full force[273] The Conservatives and the Jesuits were thriving in Switzerland. In Belgium, the Catholics were at the helm. Guizot ruled supreme over France. In Britain, under pressure from the growing power of Peel, the Whig government was in its last throes, and the Chartists were vainly endeavouring to reorganise their ranks after their great defeat of 1839.[274] Everywhere the reactionary party was victorious; everywhere the progressive parties were broken up and dispersed. The arrest of the historical movement — this seemed to be the final result of the mighty struggles of 1830.

1840 was, however, also the peak of reaction just as 1830 had been the peak of the revolutionary movement of the bourgeoisie. From 1840 onward the movements against the existing state of affairs began afresh. Though often defeated, in the long run they gained more and more ground. While in England the Chartists reorganised themselves and became stronger than ever, Peel was forced time and again to betray his party, dealing it a fatal blow by the repeal of the Corn Laws, [275] and finally himself to resign. The radicals gained ground in Switzerland. In Germany, and especially in Prussia, the liberals were pressing their demands more vigorously with every year. The liberals emerged victorious from the Belgian elections of 1847. France was an exception, for there the reactionary ministry secured a triumphant majority in the 1846 elections; and Italy remained dead, until Pius IX mounted the papal throne, and at the end of 1846 attempted a few dubious reforms. So came the year 1847, and with it a series of victories for the progressive parties of nearly all countries. Even where they sustained defeat, this was more advantageous to them than an immediate victory would have been.

The year 1847 decided nothing, but everywhere it brought the parties into sharp and clear confrontation; it brought no final solution of any questions, but it posed all questions in such a way that now they must be solved.

Among all the movements and changes of the year 1847 the most important were those in Prussia, in Italy and in Switzerland.

In Prussia, Frederick William IV was at length forced to grant a constitution. The sterile Don Quixote of Sans-Souci,[276] after long struggles and labour-pains, was delivered of a constitution which was to establish for all time the victory of the feudalist, patriarchal, absolutist, bureaucratic, and clerical reaction. But he had miscalculated. The bourgeoisie was strong enough by then to turn even that constitution into a weapon against the king and all the reactionary classes of society. In Prussia, as everywhere else, the bourgeoisie began by refusing him money. The king was in despair. One could say that in the first days after the refusal of the money Prussia was without a king. The country was in the throes of revolution without knowing it. Then by good luck came the fifteen million from Russia; Frederick William was king again, the bourgeoisie of the Diet crumpled up in alarm, and the revolutionary storm clouds scattered. The Prussian bourgeoisie was, for the time being, defeated. But it had made a great step forward, had won for itself a forum, had given the king a proof of its power, and had worked the country up into a great state of agitation. The question: who shall govern Prussia — the alliance of nobles, bureaucrats, and priests headed by the king, or the bourgeoisie — is now posed in such a way that it must be decided in favour of one side or of the other. In the United Diet a compromise between the two parties was still possible, but today no longer. Now it is a matter of life-and-death struggle between the two. To make matters worse, the committees (those unhappy inventions of the Berlin constitution manufacturers) are now assembling.[277] They will make the already complicated legal issues so enormously more involved, that no man will any longer know where he stands. They will tie matters up into a Gordian knot which will have to be cut with the sword. They will complete the final preparations for the bourgeois revolution in Prussia.

We can therefore await the advent of this Prussian revolution with the utmost calm. The United Diet will have to be convened in 1849 whether the king wants it or not. We will give His Majesty a breathing space till then, but not a moment longer. Then he will have to resign his sceptre and his “unimpaired” crown[278] to the Christian and the Jewish bourgeois of his realm.

Thus 1847 was politically a very good year for the Prussian bourgeoisie in spite of their temporary defeat. The bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of the other German states have also noted this and shown the most heartfelt sympathy towards them. They know that the victory of the Prussian bourgeoisie is their own victory.

In Italy we have witnessed the amazing spectacle of the man who occupies the most reactionary position in the whole of Europe, who represents the petrified ideology of the Middle Ages, the Pope [Pius IX], taking the lead in a liberal movement. The movement grew to power in a night, carrying along with it the Austrian archduke [Leopold II] of Tuscany and the traitor Charles Albert of Sardinia, undermining the throne of Ferdinand of Naples, its waves sweeping over Lombardy to the Tyrolese and Styrian Alps.

Today the movement in Italy resembles that which took place in Prussia from 1807 to 1812.[279] As in Prussia of those days, there are two issues: external independence and internal reforms. For the moment there is no demand for a constitution, but only for administrative reforms. Any serious conflict with the government is avoided in the meantime so as to maintain as united a front as possible in face of the foreign overlord. What kind of reforms are these? To whose advantage are they? In the first place to that of the bourgeoisie. The press is to be favoured; the bureaucracy to be made to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie (cf. the Sardinian reforms, the Roman consulta, [280] and the reorganisation of the ministries); the bourgeois are to be granted extended influence on communal administration; the bon plaisir of the nobles and of the bureaucracy is to be restricted; the bourgeoisie is to be armed as guardia civica. Hitherto all the reforms have been and could be only in the interests of the bourgeoisie. Compare the Prussian reforms of Napoleonic times. These are exactly the same, only that in many respects they go further: the administration made subservient to the interests of the bourgeoisie; the arbitrary power of the nobility and the bureaucracy broken; municipal self-government established; a militia inaugurated; the corvée abolished. As earlier in Prussia, so today in Italy, the bourgeoisie, owing to its growing wealth and, in particular, to the growing importance of industry and commerce in the life of the people as a whole, has become the class upon which the country’s liberation from foreign domination mainly depends.

The movement in Italy is thus a decisively bourgeois movement. All the classes now inspired with a zeal for reform, from the princes and the nobility down to the pifferari and the lazzaroni,[281] appear for the nonce as bourgeois, and 1 the Pope himself is the First Bourgeois in Italy. But once the Austrian yoke has finally been thrown off, all these classes will be greatly disillusioned. Once the bourgeoisie has finished off the foreign enemy, it will start on the separation of the sheep from the goats at home; then the princes and the counts will again call out to Austria for help, but it will be too late, and then the workers of Milan, of Florence, and of Naples will realise that their work is only really beginning.

Finally Switzerland. For the first time in its history, this country has played a definite part in the European system of states, for the first time it has dared to act decisively and has had the courage to enter the arena as a federal republic instead of as heretofore an agglomeration of twenty-two antagonistic cantons, utter strangers to one another. By most resolutely putting down the civil war, it has assured the supremacy of the central power — in a word, has become centralised. The de facto centralisation will have to be legalised through the impending reform of the Federal Pact.

Who, we again ask, is going to profit by the outcome of the war, by federal reform, by the reorganisation of the Sonderbund cantons? The victorious party, the party which was victorious in the individual cantons from 1830 to 1834, the liberals and radicals, i.e., the bourgeoisie and the peasantry. The rule of the patriciate in the former imperial towns was already overthrown as a result of the July revolution. Where it had been practically restored, as in Berne and Geneva, revolutions followed in 1846. Where it as yet remained intact, as for instance in Basle City, it was shaken to its foundations in the same year. There was little feudal aristocracy in Switzerland, and where it still survived it found its chief strength in an alliance with the herdsmen of the upper Alps. These men were the last, the most obstinate and the most rabid enemies of the bourgeoisie. They were the mainstay of the reactionary elements in the liberal cantons. Aided by the Jesuits and the pietists,[282] they covered the whole of Switzerland with a network of. reactionary conspiracies (cf. the canton of Vaud). They thwarted all the plans laid before the Diet by the bourgeoisie, and hindered the final defeat of the philistine patriciate in the former imperial cities.

In 1847 these last enemies of the Swiss bourgeoisie were completely broken.

In almost all the cantons the Swiss bourgeoisie had had a pretty free hand in commerce and industry. In so far as the guilds still existed, they did little to hamper bourgeois development. Tolls within the country hardly existed. Wherever the bourgeoisie had developed to any considerable extent, political power was in its hands. But although it had made good progress in the individual cantons and had found support there, the main thing was still lacking, namely centralisation. Whereas feudalism, patriarchalism, and philistinism flourish in separated provinces and individual towns, the bourgeoisie needs for its growth as wide a field as possible; instead of twenty-two small cantons it needed one large Switzerland. Cantonal sovereignty, which best suited the conditions in the old Switzerland, had become a crushing handicap for the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie needed a centralised power, strong enough to impose a particular course of development on the legislation of the individual cantons and, by sheer weight of influence, to cancel out the differences in their constitutions and laws, to wipe out the vestiges of the. feudal, patriarchal and philistine legislation, and energetically to represent the interests of the Swiss bourgeoisie in relation to other countries.

The bourgeoisie has won for itself this centralised power.

But did not the peasants also help in overthrowing the Sonderbund? Certainly they did! So far as the peasants are concerned, they will play the same part towards the bourgeoisie as they played for so long towards the petty bourgeoisie. The peasants will remain the exploited arm of the bourgeoisie, they will fight its battles for it, weave its calico and ribbons, and provide the recruits for its proletariat. What else can they do? They are owners, like the bourgeois, and for the moment their interests are almost identical with those of the bourgeoisie. All the political measures which they are strong enough to put through, are hardly more advantageous to the bourgeoisie than to the peasants themselves. Nevertheless, they are weak in comparison with the bourgeoisie, because the latter are more wealthy and have in their hands the lever of all political power in our century — industry. With the bourgeoisie, the peasantry can achieve much; against the bourgeoisie, nothing.

It is true that a time will come when the fleeced and impoverished section of the peasantry will unite with the proletariat, which by then will be further developed, and will declare war on the bourgeoisie — but that does not concern us here.

Enough that the expulsion of the Jesuits and their associates, those organised opponents of the bourgeoisie, the general introduction of civil instead of religious education, the seizure of most of the church estates by the state, benefit above all the bourgeoisie.

Thus the common factor in the three most noteworthy movements of the year 1847 is that all are primarily and chiefly in the interests of the bourgeoisie. The party of progress was, everywhere, the party of the bourgeoisie.

It is indeed the characteristic feature of these movements that those countries which remained backward in 1830 are precisely those which last year took the first decisive steps to raise themselves to the level of 1830 — that is, to secure the victory of the bourgeoisie.

So far, then, we have seen that the year 1847 was a brilliant year for the bourgeoisie.

Let us proceed.

In Britain a new parliament has assembled, a parliament which, in the words of John Bright the Quaker, is the most bourgeois ever convened. John Bright is the best authority in the matter, seeing that he himself is the most determined bourgeois in the whole of Britain. But the bourgeois John Bright is not the bourgeois who rules in France or who thunders with pathetic bravado against Frederick William IV. When John Bright speaks of a bourgeois he means a manufacturer. Ever since 1688, separate sections of the bourgeois class have been ruling in England. But, in order to facilitate their seizure of power, the bourgeoisie has allowed the aristocrats, its dependent debtors, to retain their rule in name. Whereas, in reality, the struggle in England is between sections of the bourgeoisie, between rentiers and manufacturers, the manufacturers are able to represent it as a struggle between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, or, in case of necessity, as a struggle between the aristocracy and the people. The manufacturers have no interest in maintaining the appearance of government by the aristocracy, for the lords, the baronets and the squires do not owe them a farthing. On the other hand they have a great interest in destroying this appearance, for with it the rentiers lose their last sheet-anchor. The present bourgeois or manufacturers’ parliament will see to this. It will change the old feudal-looking England into a more or less modern country of bourgeois organisation. It will bring the British constitution nearer to those of France and of Belgium. It will complete the victory of the English industrial bourgeoisie.

Another advance of the bourgeoisie: for an advance within the bourgeoisie is also an extension and a strengthening of bourgeois rule.

France alone appears to be an exception. The power which fell into the hands of the whole of the big bourgeoisie in 1830 is being year by year increasingly limited to the rule of the wealthiest section of this big bourgeoisie, to the rule of the rentiers and the stock exchange speculators. They have made the majority of the big bourgeoisie serve their interest. The minority, which is headed by a section of the manufacturers and shipping owners, is continually diminishing. This minority has now made common cause with the middle and petty bourgeoisie who have no electoral rights and celebrates its alliance at reform banquets. It despairs of ever coming to power with the present electorate. After long hesitation, it has made up its mind to promise a share of political power to the sections of the bourgeoisie next below itself, and especially the bourgeois ideologists, as being the least dangerous — the lawyers, doctors, and so on. It is, of course, still very far from being able to keep its promise.

Thus also in France we see approaching the struggle within the bourgeoisie which in Britain has already been almost ended. But, as always in France, the situation is more sharply defined, more revolutionary than elsewhere. This distinct division into two camps is also an advance for the bourgeoisie.

In Belgium the bourgeoisie won a decisive victory in the elections of 1847. The Catholic ministry was forced to resign, and here also the liberal bourgeoisie now rule for the time being.

In America we have witnessed the conquest of Mexico and have rejoiced at it.[283] It is also an advance when a country which has hitherto been exclusively wrapped up in its own affairs, perpetually rent with civil wars, and completely hindered in its development, a country whose best prospect had been to become industrially subject to Britain — when such a country is forcibly drawn into the historical process. It is to the interest of its own development that Mexico will in future be placed under the tutelage of the United States. The evolution of the whole of America will profit by the fact that the United States, by the possession of California, obtains command of the Pacific. But again we ask: “Who is going to profit immediately by the war?” The bourgeoisie alone. The North Americans acquire new regions in California and New Mexico for the creation of fresh capital, that is, for calling new bourgeois into being, and enriching those already in existence; for all capital created today flows into the hands of the bourgeoisie. And what about the proposed cut through the Tehuantepec isthmus?[284] Who is likely to gain by that? Who else but the American shipping owners? Rule over the Pacific, who will gain by that but these same shipping owners? The new customers for the products of industry, customers who will come into being in the newly acquired territories — who will supply their needs? None other than the American manufacturers.

Thus also in America the bourgeoisie has made great advances, and if its representatives now oppose the war, that only proves that they fear that these advances have in some ways been bought too dear.

Even in quite barbarous lands the bourgeoisie is advancing. In Russia, industry is developing by leaps and bounds and is succeeding in converting even the boyars into bourgeois. Both in Russia and Poland serfdom is being restricted and the nobility thereby weakened in the interest of the bourgeoisie, and a class of free peasants is being created which the bourgeoisie everywhere needs. The Jews are being persecuted — entirely in the interest of the settled Christian bourgeois, whose business was spoiled by the pedlars. — In Hungary, the feudal magnates are more and more changing into wholesale corn and wool merchants and cattle dealers, and consequently now appear in the Diet as bourgeois. — What of all the glorious advances of “civilisation” in such lands as Turkey, Egypt, Tunis, Persia, and other barbarous countries? They are nothing else but a preparation for the advent of a future bourgeoisie. In these countries the word of the prophet is being fulfilled: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord .... [Isaiah 40:3] Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory?” [Psalms 24:7, 8] The bourgeois!

Wherever we look, the bourgeoisie are making stupendous progress. They are holding their heads high, and haughtily challenge their enemies. They expect a decisive victory, and their hopes will not be disappointed. They intend to shape the whole world according to their standard; and, on a considerable portion of the earth’s surface, they will succeed.

We are no friends of the bourgeoisie. That is common knowledge. But this time we do not grudge the bourgeoisie their triumph. We can chuckle over the haughty looks which the bourgeois deign to bestow (especially in Germany) upon the apparently tiny band of democrats and Communists. We have no objection if everywhere they force through their purposes.

Nay more. We cannot forbear an ironical smile when we observe the terrible earnestness, the pathetic enthusiasm with which the bourgeois strive to achieve their aims. They really believe that they are working on their own behalf! They are so short-sighted as to fancy that through their triumph the world will assume its final configuration ‘ Yet nothing is more clear than that they are everywhere preparing the way for us, for the democrats and the Communists; than that they will at most win a few years of troubled enjoyment, only to be then immediately overthrown. Behind them stands everywhere the proletariat, sometimes participating in their endeavours and partly in their illusions, as in Italy and Switzerland, sometimes silent and reserved, but secretly preparing the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, as in France and Germany; finally, in Britain and America, in open rebellion against the ruling bourgeoisie.

We can do still more. We can say all this to the bourgeoisie straight out, we can lay our cards on the table. Let them know in advance that they are working only in our interest. They still cannot for that reason give up their fight against the absolute monarchy, the nobility, and the clergy. They must conquer — or already now go under.

In Germany in a very short time they will even have to ask for our help.

So just fight bravely on, most gracious masters of capital! We need you for the present; here and there we even need you as rulers. You have to clear the vestiges of the Middle Ages and of absolute monarchy out of our path; you have to annihilate patriarchalism; you have to carry out centralisation; you have to convert the more or less propertyless classes into genuine proletarians, into recruits for us; by your factories and your commercial relationships you must create for us the basis of the material means which the proletariat needs for the attainment of freedom. In recompense whereof you shall be allowed to rule for a short time. You shall be allowed to dictate your laws, to bask in the rays of the majesty you have created, to spread your banquets in the halls of kings, and to take the beautiful princess to wife — but do not forget that

“The hangman stands at the door! “
[Heinrich Heine, “Ritter Olaf"]