Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement
On January 27th, 1856, I was released. “Released,” for Germany was nothing but a vast prison at that time. This was my impression as soon as I came to Weimar after a visit to the relations of my fellow-prisoners at Breslau, Erfurt, and Freiburg. At Weimar I tried to agitate, but the people were so frightened by the repressive measures of the Government, that they shrunk from the mere word “Communism.” They all seemed to me as thrashed children that feel themselves threatened by the schoolmaster at every step.
I myself was homeless. The magistrates I applied to for a passport were not willing to acknowledge me any longer—a notorious Communist—as a subject of the country. It was only after much running about and pushing that I got some certificates. I then went viâ Hamburg to London. The only people that treated me with kindness during my short stay in Germany after my release were the mother-in-law of Freiligrath at Weimar, and the Martens at Hamburg.
In May, 1856, I arrived in London. Soon after I called on Freiligrath, who welcomed me most heartily; then I went to Karl Marx, who presented me with his books published up to that time as a compensation for my confiscated library. I went to see my old friends of ’48, such as Charles Pfänder, George Eccarius, and others, and also made the acquaintance of the German exiles, who were then very numerous in London, among them being William Liebknecht. After I had found employment, I again resumed my attendance at the “Communistische Arbeiterbildungsverein,” which was then in a very straitened condition. The reason was that after the breakdown of the revolutionary movement of the year 1848, the society divided itself into two factions, one being led by Marx and Engels, which aimed at a systematic education and organisation of the working class, whilst the other faction, led by Willich and Schapper, sought the salvation of the German people in plots and revolts. This internal quarrel had weakened the society greatly. Many members had left the club, and the rest were so unsettled in their minds that they would calmly listen to lectures of the bourgeois representative, Professor Kinkel, who was willing to give lectures as long as he was paid from 10s. to 12s. per lecture. Without payment, however, that professor was not willing.
I was sorely grieved to see this state of affairs in the club, and endeavoured to bring about a change, I made friends with members of my way of thinking, and by combined action we undermined the influence of the bourgeois element in the club, till at last we felt strong enough to get rid of Professor Kinkel. A new era began for the club. Liebknecht became a regular attendant, and Marx gave a series of lectures on political economy without any payment, as Marx has never accepted a farthing payment from workmen for whatever he did in their interest. A new life was soon infused into the club; the membership increased, and improved in character so much that it rendered the greatest help when the “International Workingmen’s Organisation” was founded in 1864. In a financial way, also, the club did much for the International.
Simultaneously with the events described here, the Freethought movement made itself conspicuous in London. At the head of it was Charles Bradlaugh, a man of the people, a very able speaker and agitator. He held public lectures, which, at the beginning, were directed not only against religion and church, but also against oppression and corruption. I and my first wife (I married in 1858) at once joined the movement, and assisted it to the best of our abilities. Mrs. Marx and her children also attended the Sunday afternoon lectures of Bradlaugh, and Marx himself went several times. When I paid a visit to the Marx family about that time, I heard Mrs. Marx praising Bradlaugh, and expecting great things from him for the proletarian movement. Marx smiled, and gave his opinion that Bradlaugh would go over to the bourgeois party sooner or later. After his return to Parliament, he only spoke in favour of the middle class, and decried Socialism. The bishop of atheism behaved towards the working class as badly as the bishops of the church. He also tried to intrude himself into the International Workingmen’s Association, but here he met Marx’s opposition, who knew how to keep undesirables off. Bradlaugh avenged himself on Marx by spreading the rumour that Marx had sold himself to Bismarck, and was acting in his interests. Men like Bradlaugh are not rare in England. They use the shoulders of working men only as steps to rise higher, and then turn against the working class.
In 1859, a weekly German paper was started in London, edited by Professor Kinkel. Its tendency was middle-class “Liberal.” We determined to start an opposition paper on Communistic lines, and requested Marx’s and Engel’s co-operation. The first number of our paper, “Das Volk” (The People), appeared on May 7th, 1859. I was charged with the sale of the paper. Two months later Professor Kinkel severed his connection with the “Hermann.” Of “Das Volk,” only 16 numbers appeared, in which Engels published a series of articles on the Austro-Italian war, and Marx discussed the policy of Prussia during this war. In Nos. 15 and 16 appeared a review of “Zur Kritik der politischen Oekonomie,” published by Marx at that time.
From 1860 to 1864, little happened in political affairs worth mentioning. I devoted these years to my family, and to my personal education. I regularly attended the lectures held at the London University by Professors Huxley, Tyndall, and Hoffmann, on Physiology, Geology, and Chemistry. The lectures of these eminent scientists were then much frequented by working men. It was Marx who encouraged us in doing so, and he himself would often go with us.
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