Articles for The New Moral World by Frederick Engels

Rapid Progress of Communism in Germany

Written: November 1844;
Published: in The New Moral World, No. 25, December 13, 1844.


The New Moral World No. 25, December 13, 1844

Hoping, as I do, that your countrymen will be glad to hear something on the progress of our common cause on this side of the channel, I send you a few lines for your paper. At the same time, I rejoice in being able to show that the German people, though, as usual, rather late in mooting the question of Social Reform, are now exerting themselves to make up for lost time. Indeed, the rapidity with which Socialism has progressed in this country is quite miraculous. Two years ago, there were but two solitary individuals who cared at all about Social questions; a year ago, the first Socialist publication was printed. It is true, there were some hundreds of German Communists in foreign countries; but being working men, they had little influence, and could not get their publications circulated among the “upper classes”. Besides, the obstacles in the way of Socialism were enormous; the censorship of the press, no right of public meeting, no right of association, and despotic laws and secret courts of law, with paid judges to punish every one who in any way dared to set the people about thinking. And notwithstanding all this, what is the state of things in Germany now? Instead of the two poor devils who wrote about Socialism to a public no ways acquainted with, or interested in the question, we have dozens of clever writers preaching the new gospel to thousands who are anxious to hear everything connected with the subject; we have several papers as radically Socialist as the censorship will allow, principally the Trier’sche Zeitung (Gazette of Trier), and the Sprecher (Speaker) of Wesel; we have a paper published under the free press of Paris, and there is no periodical, save those under the immediate influence of the governments, but comments every day, and in very creditable terms, upon Socialism and the Socialists. Our very opponents want the moral courage to speak their full minds against us. Even the governments are obliged to favour all legal movements in the direction towards Socialism. Societies are forming everywhere for ameliorating the condition of the working people, as well as for giving them the means to cultivate their minds, and some of the highest officers of the Prussian Government have taken an active part in those associations. In short, Socialism is the question of the day in Germany, and in the space of a year, a strong Socialist party has grown up, which already now commands the respect of all political parties, and is principally courted by the liberals of this country. Up to the present time our stronghold is the middle class, a fact which will perhaps astonish the English reader, if he do not know that this class in Germany is far more disinterested, impartial, and intelligent, than in England, and for the very simple reason, because it is poorer. We, however, hope to be in a short time supported by the working classes, who always, and everywhere, must form the strength and body of the Socialist party, and who have been aroused from their lethargy by misery, oppression, and want of employment, as well as by the manufacturing riots in Silesia and Bohemia.

Let me on this occasion mention a painting by one of the best German painters, Hübner, which has made a more effectual Socialist agitation than a hundred pamphlets might have done. It represents some Silesian weavers bringing linen cloth to the manufacturer, and contrasts very strikingly cold-hearted wealth on one side, and despairing poverty on the other. The well-fed manufacturer is represented with a face as red and unfeeling as brass, rejecting a piece of cloth which belongs to a woman; the woman, seeing no chance of selling the cloth, is sinking down and fainting, surrounded by her two little children; and hardly kept up by an old man; a clerk is looking over a piece, the owners of which are with painful anxiety waiting for the result; a young man shows to his desponding mother the scanty wages he has received for his labour; an old man, a girl, and a boy, are sitting on a stone bench, and waiting for their turn; and two men, each with a piece of rejected cloth on his back, are just leaving the room, one of whom is clenching his fist in rage, whilst the other, putting his hand on his neighbour’s arm, points up towards heaven, as if saying: be quiet, there is a judge to punish him. This whole scene is going on in a cold and unhomely-looking lobby, with a stone floor: only the manufacturer stands upon a piece of carpeting; whilst on the other side of the painting, behind a bar, a view is opened into a luxuriously furnished counting-house, with splendid curtains and looking-glasses, where some clerks are writing, undisturbed by what is passing behind them, and where the manufacturer’s son, a young, dandy-like gentleman, is leaning over the bar, with a horsewhip in his hand, smoking a cigar, and coolly looking at the distressed weavers. The painting has been exhibited in several towns of Germany, and, of course, prepared a good many minds for Social ideas. At the same time, we have hid the triumph of seeing the first historical painter of this country, Charles Lessing, become a convert to Socialism. In fact, Socialism occupies at this moment already a ten times prouder position in Germany than it does in England. This very morning, I read an article in a liberal paper, the Cologne Journal, the author of which had for some reasons been attacked by the Socialists, and in which article he gives his defence; and to what amounts it? He professes himself a Socialist, with the only difference that he wants political reforms to begin with, whilst we want to get all at once. And this Cologne Journal is the second newspaper of Germany in influence and circulation. It is curious, but, at least in the north of Germany, you cannot go on board a steamer, or into a railway-carriage, or mail-coach, without meeting somebody who has imbibed at least some Social idea, and who agrees with you, that something must be done to reorganise society. I am just returning from a trip to some neighbouring towns, and there was not a single place where I did not find at least half-a-dozen or a dozen of out-and-out Socialists. Among my own family — and it is a very pious and loyal one-I count six or more, each of which has been converted without being influenced by the remainder. We have partisans among all sorts of men — commercial men, manufacturers, lawyers, officers of the government and of the army, physicians, editors of newspapers, farmers, etc., a great many of our publications are in the press, though hardly three or four have as yet appeared; and if we make as much progress during the next four or five years as we have done in the past twelve months, we shall be able to erect forthwith a Community. You see, we German theorists are getting practical men of business. In fact, one of our number has been invited to draw up a plan of organisation and regulations for a practical Community, with reference to the plans of Owen, Fourier, etc., and profiting of the experience gained by the American Communities and your own experiment at Harmony, which I hope goes on prosperously. This plan will be discussed by the various localities and printed with the amendments. The most active literary characters among the German Socialists are: — Dr. Charles Marx, at Paris; Dr. M. Hess, at present at Cologne; Dr. Ch. Grün, at Paris; Frederick Engels, at Barmen (Rhenan Prussia); Dr. O. Lüning, Rheda, Westphalia; Dr. H. Püttmann, Cologne; and several others. Besides those, Henry Heine, the most eminent of all living German poets, has joined our ranks, and published a volume of political poetry, which contains also some pieces preaching Socialism. He is the author of the celebrated Song of the Silesian Weavers, of which I give you a prosaic translation, but which, I am afraid, will be considered blasphemy in England. At any rate, I will give it you, and only remark, that it refers to the battle-cry of the Prussians in 1813: — “With God for King and fatherland!” which has been ever since a favourite saying of the loyal party. But for the song, here it is; —

Without a tear in their grim eyes,
They sit at the loom, the rage of despair in their faces;
“We have suffered and hunger'd long enough;
Old Germany, we are weaving a shroud for thee
And weaving it with a triple curse.
“We are weaving, weaving!

“The first curse to the God, the blind and deaf god
Upon whom we relied, as children on their father;
In whom we hoped and trusted withal,
He has mocked us, he has cheated us nevertheless.
“We are weaving, weaving!

“The second curse for the King of the rich,
Whom our distress could not soften nor touch;
The King, who extorts the last penny from us,
And sends his soldiers, to shoot us like dogs.
“We are weaving, weaving!

“A curse to the false fatherland,
That has nothing for us but distress and shame,
Where we suffered hunger and misery-
We are weaving thy shroud, Old Germany!
“We are weaving, weaving!”

With this song, which in its German original is one of the most powerful poems I know of, I take leave from you for this time, hoping soon to be able to report on our further progress and social literature.

Yours sincerely,
An old friend of yours in Germany