Letters of Marx and Engels 1842
Written: Cologne, November 30 1842;
Source: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 1, pp. 393-395;
Publisher: International Publishers 1975;
First Published: journal Documente des Socialismus, Bd I, 1902;
Translated: Clemens Dutt;
Transcribed: S. Ryan.
My letter today will be confined to the “confusion” with “The Free.”
As you already know, every day the censorship mutilates us mercilessly, so that frequently the newspaper is hardly able to appear. Because of this, a mass of articles by “The Free” have perished. But I have allowed myself to throw out as many articles as the censor, for Meyen and Co. sent us heaps of scribblings, pregnant with revolutionising the world and empty of ideas, written in a slovenly style and seasoned with a little atheism and communism (which these gentlemen have never studied). Because of Rutenberg’s complete lack of critical sense, independence and ability, Meyen and Co. had become accustomed to regard the Rheinische Zeitung as their own, docile organ, but I believed I could not any longer permit this watery torrent of words in the old manner. This loss of a few worthless creations of “freedom,” a freedom which strives primarily “to be free from all thought,” was therefore the first reason for a darkening of the Berlin sky.
Rutenberg, who had already been removed from the German department (where his work consisted mainly in inserting punctuation marks) and to whom, only on my application the French department was provisionally transferred – Rutenberg, thanks to the monstrous stupidity of our state providence, has had the luck to be regarded as dangerous, although he was not a danger to anyone but the Rheinische Zeitung and himself. A categorical demand was made for the removal of Rutenberg. Prussian providence, this despotisme prussien, le plus hypocrite, le plus fourbe, spared the manager an unpleasant step, and the new martyr, who has already learned to display consciousness of martyrdom in facial expression, behaviour and speech with some virtuosity, is exploiting this turn of events. He writes to all the corners of the earth, he writes to Berlin that he is the banished principle of the Rheinische Zeitung, which is adopting a different position in relation to the government. It goes without saying that this also evoked demonstrations from the heroes of freedom on the banks of the Spree, “whose muddy water washes souls and dilutes tea.”
Finally, on top of this came your and Herwegh’s attitude to “The Free” to cause the cup of the angry Olympians to overflow.
A few days ago I received a letter from little Meyen, whose favourite category is, most appropriately, what ought to be. In this letter I am taken to task over my attitude 1) to you and Herwegh, 2) to “The Free,” 3) to the new editorial principle and the position in relation to the government. I replied at once and frankly expressed my opinion about the defects of their writings, which find freedom in a licentious, sansculotte-like, and at the same time convenient, form, rather than in a free, i.e., independent and profound, content. I demanded of them less vague reasoning, magniloquent phrases and self-satisfied self-adoration, and more definiteness, more attention to the actual state of affairs, more expert knowledge. I stated that I regard it as inappropriate, indeed even immoral, to smuggle communist and socialist doctrines, hence a new world outlook, into incidental theatrical criticisms, etc., and that I demand a quite different and more thorough discussion of communism, if it should be discussed at all. I requested further that religion should be criticised in the framework of criticism of political conditions rather than that political conditions should be criticised in the framework of religion, since this is more in accord with the nature of a newspaper and the educational level of the reading public; for religion in itself is without content, it owes its being not to heaven but to the earth, and with the abolition of distorted reality, of which it is the theory, it will collapse of itself. Finally, I desired that, if there is to be talk about philosophy, there should be less trifling with the label “atheism” (which reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogy man), and that instead the content of philosophy should be brought to the people. Voilà tout.
Yesterday I received an insolent letter from Meyen, who had not yet received this work and who now questions me on every possible thing: 1) I should state on whose side I am in their quarrel with Bauer, about which I know absolutely nothing; 2) why did I not allow this and that to go through; I am threatened with being accused of conservatism; 3) the newspaper should not temporise, it must act in the most extreme fashion, i.e., it should calmly yield to the police and the censorship instead of holding on to its positions in a struggle, imperceptible to the public but nevertheless stubborn and in accordance with its duty. Finally, an infamous report is given of Herwegh’s betrothal, etc., etc.
All this is evidence of a terrible dose of the vanity which does not understand how, in order to save a political organ, one can sacrifice a few Berlin windbags, and thinks of nothing at all except the affairs of its clique. Moreover, this little man strutted like a peacock, solemnly laid his hand on his breast and on his dagger, let fall something about “his” party, threatened me with his displeasure, declaimed à la Marquis Posa, only somewhat worse, etc.
Since we now have to put up from morning to night with the most horrible torments of the censorship, ministerial communications, complaints of the Oberpräsident, accusations in the Provincial Assembly, howls from shareholders, etc., etc., and I remain at my post only because I consider it my duty to prevent, to the best of my ability, those in power from carrying out their plans, you can imagine that I am somewhat irritated and that I replied rather sharply to Meyen. It is possible, therefore, that “The Free” will withdraw for a while. Therefore I earnestly beg that you yourself help us by contributing articles, and also ask your friends to do the same.