Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement
The events in Paris had also exercised a deep influence upon the English workmen’s movement. The Chartist movement had occupied the minds of the English workers since the middle of the Thirties, and now received a new impulse by the victorious progress of the February Revolution. The outbreak of this revolution was greeted by a great demonstration of the London workmen. The members of the “Arbeiter Bildungsverein” took part in it, for they supported the English Chartist movement in every way.
The most popular and most able leader of the Chartists, Ernest Jones, sometimes attended our club, where I found opportunity to make the acquaintance of this plucky and self-sacrificing agitator. Jones was of a small but robust figure. His fine-cut, earnest and energetic face at once revealed the resolute, fearless leader of men. He mastered German sufficiently to write and speak it, and was also one of the few Chartist leaders who at the same time understood and preached Socialism. On March 13th a meeting was called at Kennington Common, in London, at which Jones spoke. He exhorted the people not to fear the miserable puppets of the law, nor the police, nor the soldiers, nor the shopkeepers enlisted as special constables who ran away from the street-boys. “Down with the Ministry, demand the dissolution of Parliament, and the Charter—and no surrender,” was the substance of his oration.
At the commencement of April a Chartist convention sat in London to make arrangements for presenting the petition for the political concessions demanded by the working-class. Such a petition was every year forwarded to Parliament, but on the 10th of April the petition was to be presented, not as was done before by a few delegates, but by the masses themselves. They intended to make Parliament understand that the working-class was determined to carry through its demands, if needs be, by force.
On the morning of the 10th of April London offered a remarkable aspect. All factories and shops were closed. The London middle classes were sworn in as special constables to maintain “order,” among these bourgeois being Napoleon the Little, afterwards prisoner of Wilhelmshöhe. The members of the Communist League had decided to take part in the demonstration. We armed ourselves with all sorts of weapons. I vividly remember the comic impression George Eccarius made on me when he showed me a well-ground pair of enormous tailors’ scissors, by which he meant to defend himself against the attacks of the constables.
The workmen met at Kennington Common, to start from there for the procession towards Parliament, but suddenly we heard that Feargus O’Connor, the leader of this demonstration, was against forming a procession en masse, because the Government was ready to oppose us with an armed force. Many followed the counsels of O’Connor, others pushed forward, so that bloody conflicts between Chartists and police resulted. The unanimity among the demonstrators had disappeared in consequence of O’Connor’s knuckling-down. In single combat the workmen could not win. That soon became clear to us. Bitterly disappointed, we left the place of demonstration where we had arrived full of hope an hour before.
Simultaneously with these stormy events in Western Europe the revolution in Central Europe broke out, which created great excitement among us. The evening debates at the “Arbeiter Bildungsverein” became more and more lively and enthusiastic—we were all ready to hurry to the field of battle in Germany. Most of us, however, did not possess the means to execute at once this intention; only in July, 1848, had I saved enough to enable me to start on the journey to Germany. Unexpectedly the bad news of the crushing of the Revolution of June in Paris reached us. How this news impressed us all I cannot describe by words. I still vividly remember reading the article written by Marx on this event in the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung” (29th of June, 1848), which so well expressed our feelings. His words were:
“The last official remains of the February Revolution, the Executive Commission, has disappeared like a hazy phantom before the seriousness of events. Lamartine’s Roman candles have transformed themselves into Cavaignac’s war-rockets. The ‘fraternité,’ which the exploiting class proclaimed in February on the forehead of Paris, with gigantic letters, on every prison, on every barracks, its true, unsophisticated, prosaic expression is the civil war, civil war in its most frightful shape, the war between Labour and Capital. This ‘fraternity’ flashed before all eyes on the evening of June 25th, when the Paris of the middle classes illuminated whilst the Paris of the proletariat was bled to death. The ‘fraternity’ lasted just as long as the interests of the middle class fraternised with those of the proletariat.
“Pedants of the old revolutionary tradition of 1793, Socialistic systematicians who were allowed to preach long sermons and to expose themselves as long as the proletarian lion had to be lulled to sleep, republicans that demanded the whole of the old bourgeois constitution minus the crowned head, dynastic opponents to whom chance gave the downfall of a dynasty instead of a change of ministry, legitimists that would not throw off, but only change the shape of their livery—these were the allies with whom the people made its February.
“The February Revolution was the revolution of moderation, the revolution of a general sympathy, because the contrasts which coalesced in it against the royal power, lay undeveloped, peacefully side-by-side, because the social contrast that formed its background had only an aerial existence, the existence in phrase, in word only. The June Revolution is the rotten revolution, the nauseous revolution; because fact has taken the place of phrase, because the republic revealed the head of the monster itself by knocking off its protecting, concealing crown. ‘Order!’ was the war-cry of Guizot. ‘Order!’ shouted Sebastian, the Guizotist, when Warsaw became Russian. ‘Order!’ shouts Cavaignac, the brutal echo of the French National Assembly and of the republican bourgeoisie. ‘Order!’ thundered its cannons, tearing the body of the proletariat. None of the numerous revolutions of the French bourgeoisie was a plot against order, for it left the dominion of the class, it left the slavery of the workmen, it left untouched the bourgeois order, however often the political form of this misrule and this slavery changed. June has touched this order. Woe to this June Revolution!”
Nevertheless we did not lose courage. Early in July I left London and went back to Germany.
< Previous | Contents | Next >