Works of Frederick Engels 1850

Letters From Germany

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 7-9;
Written: Cologne, Dec. 18th, 1849;
First published: in The Democratic Review, January 1850.

Letters from Germany by Engels, as well as his series of articles Letters from France were written for the Chartist journal The Democratic Review of British and Foreign Politics, History and Literature published by George Julian Harney in 1849 and 1850. Harney had invited Engels to make regular contributions to the new journal as early as March 1849. But Engels was only able to start contributing in November 1849, when he came to London. In London Marx and Engels established close contacts with the revolutionary wing of the Chartist party and used The Democratic Review to disseminate the ideas of scientific communism and explain the character of events on the Continent to the English working people.

"Order reigns in Germany." Such is the present great motto of our rulers, be they princes, aristocrats, bourgeois, or any other fraction of that recently formed party which you might call in English the party of Ordermongers[5]. "Order reigns in Germany"; and yet never was there, not even under the "Holy Roman Empire"[6] of yore, such a confusion in Germany as there is at present under the reign of "Order".

Under the old system, before the revolution of 1848, we knew at least who governed us. The old Federal Diet of Frankfort[7] made itself felt by laws against the liberty of the press, by exceptional courts of law, by checks imposed even upon the mock constitutions with which certain German populations were allowed to delude themselves. But now! We hardly know, ourselves, how many Central Governments we have got in this country. There is, firstly, the Vicar of the Empire, instituted by the dispersed National Assembly,[8] and who, although without any power, sticks to his post with the greatest obstinacy. There is secondly the "Interim",[9] a sort of thing--nobody knows exactly what--but something like a revival of the old Diet, got up under the old prevalent influence of Prussia, and which "Interim" is poking at the old Vicar (who more or less represents the Austrian interest), to resign his place into their hands.[10] In the meantime neither has the slightest power. Thirdly, there is the "Regency of the Empire",[11] elected in Stuttgart by the National Assembly during the latter days of its existence, and the remains of that Assembly, the "Decided Left" and the "Extreme Left", which two Lefts, along with the "Regency", represent the "moderate and philosophical" Democrats and Shopocrats of Germany. This "Imperial" government holds its sittings in a public house in Berne in Switzerland," and has about as much power as the two preceding. Fourthly, there is what is called the Three-Kings'-League,[12] or the "Confined (or Refined, I don't know which) Federal State", got up for the purpose of making the King of Prussia Emperor over all the lesser states of Germany. It is called the "Three-Kings'-League" because all kings, with the exception of the King of Prussia, are opposed to it! and it calls itself the "Confined Federal State", because, although travailing in birth ever since the 28th of May last,[13] there is no hope of its ever producing anything likely to live!! There are, fifthly, the Four Kings, of Hanover, Saxony, Bavaria, and Wurtemberg, who are determined to do as they like themselves, and not to submit to any of the above "Central Impotencies"; and lastly, there is Austria, trying every means to keep up her supremacy in Germany, and supporting, therefore, the Four Kings in their efforts for independence from Prussian ascendancy. The real governments. in the meantime, those who hold the power, are Austria and Prussia. They rule Germany by military despotism, and make and unmake laws at their liking. Between their dominions and dependencies lie, as quasi neutral ground, the four kingdoms, and it will be upon this ground, and particularly in Saxony, that the pretensions of the two great powers will meet each other. There is, however, no chance of a serious conflict between them. Austria and Prussia, both, know too well that their forces must remain united if they want to keep down the revolutionary spirit spread all over Germany, Hungary, and those parts of Poland belonging to the powers in question. In case of need, besides, "our beloved brother-in-law" the orthodox Czar of all the Russias, would step in and forbid his lords-lieutenant of Austria and Prussia to quarrel any more amongst themselves.

This never equalled confusion of governments, of pretensions, of claims, of German Federal Law, has, however, one enormous advantage. The German Republicans were, up to this time, divided into Federalists and Unitarians; the first having their principal force in the south. The confusion ensuing upon every attempt to re-organise Germany into a Federative State, must make it evident that any such plan will prove abortive, impracticable, and foolish, and that Germany is too advanced in civilisation to be governable under any form but the German Republic, One and Indivisible, Democratic and Social.

I should have liked to have said a few words on the acquittal of Waldeck and Jacoby,[14] but want of room prevents me doing so. Suffice it to say, that for at least some months to come it will be quite impossible for the government in Prussia to obtain in political trials a verdict of guilty, excepting, perhaps, in some remote corners where the jury-class are as fanaticised as the Orangemen of Ulster.


5The term Ordermongers is formed on the pattern of the words "profitmongers" and "moneymongers" often met in the Chartist press. Engels uses it here for the first time. In the Letters from France Engels used this term to denote the members of the party of Order (see Note 52).

6The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (962-1806) included, at different times, German, Italian, Austrian, Hungarian and Bohemian lands, Switzerland and the Netherlands, forming a motley conglomeration of feudal kingdoms and principalities, church lands and free towns with different political structures, legal standards and customs.

7The Federal Diet--a representative body of the German Confederation, an ephemeral union of German states,founded in 1815 by decision of the Congress of Vienna. Though it had no real power, it was nevertheless a vehicle for feudal and monarchical reaction. During the 1848-49 revolution in Germany, reactionary circles made vain attempts to revive the Federal Diet, intending to use it to prevent the democratic unification of Germany. After the defeat of the revolution, the Federal Diet received its former rights in 1850 and survived till 1866.

8 The German National Assembly, which opened on May 18, 1848, in St. Paul's Church in the free city of Frankfurt am Main, was to unify the country and to draw up a Constitution. The liberal deputies, who were in the majority, turned the Assembly into a mere debating club. At the decisive moments of the revolution, the liberal majority condoned the counter-revolutionary forces. In spring 1849, the liberals left the Assembly after the Prussian and other governments rejected the Imperial Constitution it had drawn up. What remained of the Assembly moved to Stuttgart and was dispersed by the Wiirttemberg forces on June 18.

The Imperial Vicar or Regent(Archduke John of Austria) and the Imperial Ministry constituted a provisional Central Authority set up by the Frankfurt National Assembly on June 28-29, 1848. The provisional Central Authority had neither a budget nor an army of its own, possessed no real power, and was an instrument of the counter revolutionary German princes.

9 The interim (a temporary agreement) was concluded in September 1849 between Prussia and Austria on joint administration in Germany until the question of the German Constitution was settled. Under this agreement, the Austro-Prussian commission was established, which actually meant the revival of a kind of Federal Diet. While reflecting the counter-revolutionary aspirations of both governments, the agreement conflicted with Prussia's claims for supremacy in Germany.

10 The following editorial note is supplied to this passage: "Since the above letter came to hand, intelligence has reached this country of the abdication of the'Vicar', and the resignation of his authority (?) into the hands of Austrian and Prussian commissioners. Thus has ended the Frankfort farce.-Ed. D.R." This note was presumably written by Engels.

11 The Left wing of the Frankfurt National Assembly consisted of two factions: the Left (Robert Blum, Karl Vogt and others) and the extreme Left, known as the radical-democratic party (Arnold Ruge, Friedrich Wilhelm Schloffel, Franz Zitz, Samuel Truzschler and others), which, in the main, represented the petty bourgeoisie, but was nevertheless supported by a section of the German workers. The extreme Left vacillated and took a halfway position on the basic problems of the German revolution-abolition of the remnants of feudalism and unification of the country. In April and May 1849, after the conservative and most of the liberal deputies had left the Assembly, the Left and the extreme Left gained the majority. But they, too, continued the policy of curbing the revolutionary actions of the masses.

The Regency of the Empire was formed in Stuttgart on June 7 by what remained of the Frankfurt National Assembly, instead of the Central Authority headed by the Imperial Regent, Archduke John, who was openly counter-revolutionary. The Regency consisted of five deputies representing the Left faction (moderate democrats): Franz Raveaux, Karl Vogt, Ludwig Simon, Friedrich Schuler, August Becher. They failed in their attempts to carry by parliamentary means the Imperial Constitution that had been worked out by the Frankfurt Assembly and rejected by the German princes: The Regency virtually ceased its activities after the Frankfurt Assembly was finally dispersed on June 18, 1849. Some of its former deputies emigrated to Switzerland.

12The Three-Kings'-League--an agreement concluded in Berlin on May 26, 1849, between Prussia, Saxony and Hanover. Based on the Prussian project of reorganising the German Confederation, it was an attempt by Prussia to gain hegemony in Germany. By trying to make other German princes join this League (known as the Prussian Union), Prussia's ruling circles hoped to unify the German states, without Austria, under Prussian rule. However, under pressure from Austria, supported by Russia, the Prussian Government was forced to give up its plans in 1850.

13. On May 28, 1849, the Prussian Government appealed to the German governments to join the Three-Kings'-League. The appeal, together with a new draft of the Imperial Constitution, revised in a counter-revolutionary spirit, was published in the German press at the end of May and the beginning of June 1849.

14 Engels is referring to the acquittal for high treason by jury in Berlin and Konigsberg in December 1849 of Benedikt Waldeck and Johann Jacoby, the leaders of the Left wing of the Prussian National Assembly, which was dissolved by the government on December 5, 1848.