Karl Marx in Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung 1848

The Débat Social of February 6 on the Democratic Association

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 537;
Written: about February 10, 1848;
First published: in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, February 13, 1848.

The Débat social of February 6 defends the Brussels Association Démocratique and its branches.[290] We shall permit ourselves a few comments on the character of this defence.

It may well be in the interest of the Belgian radical party to point out to the Catholics that they are acting against their own interest in denouncing the Belgian radical party. It may well be in the interest of the Belgian radical party to distinguish between lower and higher clergy and to compensate the clergy in general with compliments for the truths it addresses to a part of it. We understand nothing of this. We are merely astonished that the Débat could overlook the fact that the attacks of the Flemish Catholic papers against the associations démocratiques were printed immediately in the Indépendance, and the Indépendance is not, as far as we know, a Catholic newspaper.

The Débat social declares that the Belgians are demanding political reforms through the democratic associations.

We realise that the Débat has forgotten the cosmopolitan character of the Association Démocratique for a moment. Or perhaps it has not even forgotten it. It has merely remembered that a society which strives to promote democracy in all countries will work first on the country in which it resides.

The Débat social is not content with saying what the Belgians want of the associations démocratiques; it goes further, it says what the Belgians do not want of them, what one consequently should not want if one belongs to the Association, which the Belgians have founded to demand political reforms. Avis aux étrangers! [warning to foreigners!]

“The political reforms which the Belgians wish to demand through the democratic associations,” says the Débat, “are not those utopias pursued by certain democrats in countries where the social institutions permit no hope of any effective reforms, where it is therefore just as reasonable to think of castles in the air as of the modest well-being of the already free nations. He who possesses nothing does just as well in dreaming of millions at a stroke as of a hundred talers of rent or profit.”

Here the Débat is evidently speaking of the Communists.

We should like to ask it if the “modest well-being” of “free” England manifests itself in the Poor Rate growing faster than the population.

We should like to ask it if by the “modest well-being of the free nations” it understands the destitution in Flanders.

We should like it to let us into the secret whereby it intends to replace wages with a 100 talers of profit or rent. Or does it understand by the “modest well-being of the free nations” the modest well-being of the free capitalists and landowners?

We should finally like to ask it if it has been charged by the Brussels Association Démocratique to give the lie to those utopians who do not believe in “the modest happiness of the free nations”.

However, the Débat social is evidently not speaking of Communists in general, but of the German Communists, who, because political developments in their homeland do not allow them to found a German alliance or a German association liberale,[291] sink in despair into the arms of communism.

We remind the Débat that communism originated in England and France, and not in Germany.

German communism is the most determined opponent of all utopianism, and far from excluding historical development in fact bases itself upon it — for the time being we give this assurance to the Débat social in return for its own assurance.

Germany is retarded in its political development, it still has a long political development to undergo. We should be the last to deny this. On the other hand, however, we believe that a country of more than 40 million inhabitants, when it prepares for a revolution, will not seek the model for its movement in the radicalism of small free countries.

Does the Débat understand by communism the throwing of class antagonisms and of class struggle into sharp relief? In that case, it is not communism which is communistic, but political economy and bourgeois society.

We know that Robert Peel has prophesied that the class antagonism in modern society must erupt in a terrible crisis.[292] We know that Guizot himself in his History of Civilisation believes he is setting forth nothing but particular forms of the class struggle. But Peel and Guizot are utopians. Realists are men who regard the mere statement of social facts as an offence against benevolent worldly wisdom.

The Débat social is quite free to admire and to idealise North America and Switzerland.

We ask it whether the political constitution of North America could ever be introduced in Europe without great social upheavals. We believe, for instance, if the Débat will pardon our boldness, that the English Charter, [293] if it were to be put forward not by individual enthusiasts for universal suffrage but by a great national party, presupposed a long and arduous unification of the English workers into a class, and that this Charter is being striven for with quite another purpose and must bring about quite different social consequences than the constitution of America or of Switzerland ever strove for or ever brought about. In our eyes those people are utopians who separate political forms from their social foundation and present them as general, abstract dogmas.

The manner in which the Débat social attempts to defend the Association Démocratique by simultaneously eliminating “certain democrats” who are dissatisfied with the “modest well-being of the free nations” is demonstrated yet again when it comes to speak of the discussions on free trade held within the Association. [294]

“Six sittings,” says the Débat, “were devoted to the discussion of this interesting question, and many workers from the various workshops of our city asserted here principles which would not have been out of place at the famous congress of economists held in Brussels in September last.”

Before this the Débat notes that the Association voted almost unanimously that absolute free trade between all nations should be considered as a goal of democracy.

After this, in the same issue of the Débat we find a thoroughly commonplace speech by M Le Hardy de Beaulieu, scraped together from the most decayed leavings of the English free-trade cook-shop.

And to round off, Cobden is glorified .[295]

After this presentation in the Débat social, will anyone doubt that the Association voted by a great majority for free trade in the sense of the Congress of Economists and of the bourgeois free traders?