Frederick Engels in The Northern Star

To The Editor of The Northern Star [316]

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 559;
First published: in The Northern Star, March 25, 1848.

Dear Sir,

After the important events accomplished in France, the position taken by the Belgian people and government is of a greater interest than in ordinary times. I hasten, therefore, to inform your readers of what has happened since Friday, 25th of February.

The excitement and inquietude was universal in this town on the evening of that day. All sorts of rumours were spread, but nothing was really believed. The railway station was full of a crowd of people of all classes, anxious for the arrival of news. The French Ambassador, ex-Marquis de Rumigny, himself was there. At half-past twelve at night, the train arrived, with the glorious news of Thursday’s revolution, and the whole mass of people shouted, in one sudden outburst of enthusiasm: Vive la République! The news spread rapidly all over the town. On Saturday all was quiet. On Sunday, however, the streets were crowded with people, and every one was curious to see what steps would be taken by two societies — the Association Démocratique and the Alliance. [317] Both bodies assembled in the evening. The Alliance, a set of middle-class Radicals, resolved to wait, and thus retired from the movement. The Association Démocratique, however, took a series of most important resolutions, by which this body placed itself at the head of the movement. They resolved to meet daily, instead of weekly; to send a petition to the town-council, reclaiming the arming, not only of the middle-class Civic Guard, but of all citizens in districts. In the evening some rioting took place in the streets. The people cried: Vive la République, and assembled in masses around the Town Hall. Several arrests took place, but nothing of any consequence occurred.

Among the individuals arrested, there were two Germans — a political refugee, M. Wolff, and a working man. Now, you must

know that there existed here, in Brussels, a German working men’s society,[318] in which political and social questions were discussed, and a German democratic newspaper [Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung]. The Germans, resident in Brussels, were known for being generally very active and uncompromising democrats. They were almost all members of the Democratic Association, and the vice-president of the German society, Dr. Marx, was also vice-president of the Democratic Association.

The government, perfectly aware of the narrow sentiment of nationalism prevalent among a certain class of the population of a small country like Belgium, immediately profited by these circumstances, in order to spread the rumour that the whole agitation for the Republic had been got up by the Germans — men who had nothing to lose, who had been expelled from three or four countries for their turpitudes, and who intended to place themselves at the head of the intended Belgian Republic. This precious piece of news was reported on Monday through the whole town, and in less than a day the whole mass of the shopocracy, who form the body of the Civic Guard, raised one unanimous outcry against the German rebels, who wanted to revolutionise their happy Belgian fatherland.

The Germans had fixed a place of meeting in a coffee-house, where every one of them was to bring the latest news from Paris. But the outcry of the shopocrats was so great, and the rumours of government measures against the Germans were so manifold, that they were obliged to give up even this innocent means of communicating with each other.

On Sunday evening already the police had succeeded in prevailing upon the publican, proprietor of the German society’s room, to refuse them the room for any future meeting.

The Germans behaved perfectly well during these times. Exposed to the most petty persecutions of the police, they yet rested at their post. They assisted every evening at the meeting of the Democratic Association. They abstained from all tumultuous crowding in the streets, but they showed, though personally exposing themselves, that in the hour of danger they would not abandon their Belgian brethren.

When, after a few days, the extraordinary agitation of Sunday and Monday had ceased, when the people had returned to their work, when the government had recovered from their first terror, then commenced another series of persecutions against the Germans. The government published orders, according to which all foreign working men, from the moment they had no work, were to be expelled the country; and all foreigners indiscriminately, whose passports were out of order, were to be treated in the same way. Thus, while they took these measures, they excited, by the rumours they spread, the masters against all foreign working men, and made it impossible to any German to find work. Even those who had work lost it, and were, from that moment, exposed to an order of expulsion.

Not only against working men out of work, but also against women, they commenced their persecution. A young German Democrat, who lives, according to the French and Belgian custom, with a French lady, just as married people live — and whose presence at Brussels appears to have importuned the police — was suddenly exposed to a series of persecutions, directed against his mistress. She having no passport — and who ever before thought in Belgium of asking passports from a woman? — was threatened with immediate expulsion! and the police declared that it was not for her sake, but for the sake of the individual with whom she lived. Seven times in three days, the Commissary of Police was at her house; she had to pass at his office several times, and was sent to the central police office, escorted by an agent — and if an influential Belgian Democrat had not interposed, she would certainly have been obliged to leave.

But all this is nothing. The persecutions against working men, — the spreading of rumours about such and such an individual to be arrested, or about a general chase after the Germans to be made in all public houses of the town on Tuesday evening, all this is nothing compared with what I have now to report.

On Friday evening, Dr. Marx, amongst others, received a royal ordinance, ordering him to quit the country within twenty-four hours. He was engaged in arranging his trunks for the journey, when, at one o'clock in the morning, and in spite of the law which forbids the violation of the dwelling of a citizen from sunset to sunrise, ten police agents, armed, headed by a commissary of police, broke into his house, seized upon him and led him to the Town Hall prison. No reason was given but that his passport was not in order, though he presented them at least three passports, and though he had resided in Brussels for three years! He was led off. His wife, seized with terror, instantly ran to see a Belgian lawyer, who always offered his services to persecuted foreigners — the same whose friendly interposition has been mentioned above, — M. Jottrand, President of the Democratic Association. On her return, she met with a friend, a Belgian, M. Gigot. He accompanied her home. At the door of Dr. Marx’s house, they found two of the policemen who had arrested her husband. Where have you taken my husband? asked she. Why, if you will follow us we will show you where he is. They led her, along with M. Gigot, to the Town Hall, but instead of fulfilling their promise, they delivered up both of them to the police, and they were put into prison. Mrs. Marx, who had left her three little children at home, with a servant only, was led into a room where she found a set of prostitutes of the lowest order, with whom she had to pass the night. Next morning she was led into a room where she had to stay three hours without fire, shivering with cold. M. Gigot was also detained. M. Marx had been put into a room with a raving madman, whom he was obliged to fight every moment. The most brutal treatment on the part of the gaolers was joined to this infamous conduct.

At three o'clock in the afternoon, at last, they were conducted before the judge, who very soon ordered their liberation. And of what had Mrs. Marx and M. Gigot been indicted? Of vagabondage, because neither of them had a passport in their pockets!

M. Marx was equally liberated, and ordered to leave the country the same evening. Thus, after having been wantonly imprisoned during eighteen of the twenty-four hours left him to settle his affairs; after having had not only himself, but also his wife, separated for all that time from his three children, the eldest of whom has not attained her fourth year, he was sent away without a minute to put his affairs in order.

M. Gigot, on his arrest, had only left the prison the day before. He had been seized, along with three democrats from Liège, at six o'clock on Monday morning, in an hotel, and arrested for vagabondage, because they had no passports. They were ordered to be liberated on Tuesday, but yet detained till Thursday against all law. One of them, M. Tedesco, is yet in prison, accused of nobody knows what. Both he and M. Wolff will be either liberated or placed before the tribunal in the course of this week.

I must say, however, that the Belgian working men and several other democrats of that nation, particularly M. Jottrand, have behaved exceedingly well towards the persecuted Germans. They have shown themselves quite above all petty sentiments of nationality. They saw in us not foreigners but democrats.

I hear that there is an order of arrest out against a Belgian working man and brave democrat, M. de Guasco. Another, M. Dassy, arrested on Sunday last, for rebellion, was before the tribunal yesterday; his judgment is not yet pronounced.

I am daily and hourly expecting my order of expulsion, if not worse, for nobody can foretell what this Belgio-Russian government is about to dare. I hold myself ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Such is the position of a German democrat in this free country, which, as the papers say, has nothing to envy in the French Republic.

Salutation and Fraternity.
Your old Friend

Brussels, March 5th