Articles by Frederick Engels in The Northern Star

The Late Butchery at Leipzig.-The German Working Men’s Movement [226]

Source: MECW Volume 4, p. 645;
Written: September 8-11, 1845;
First published: in The Northern Star No. 409, September 13, 1845 with an editorial note: “From our own correspondent”

The massacre at Leipzig, [227] which you commented on in your last number, and of which you gave a more detailed account some weeks ago, is continuing to occupy the attention of the German papers. This massacre, — surpassed in infamy by that of Peterloo,[228] only, — is by far the most villainous act of scoundrelism that military despotism ever devised in this country. When the people were shouting, “Ronge for ever! down with Popery!” Prince John of Saxony, who, by-the-bye, is another of our many rhyming-and book-writing princes’ having published a very bad translation of the Italian poet Dante’s “Hell”; this “hellish” translator tried to add military glory to his literary fame by planning a most dastardly campaign against the unarmed masses. He ordered the battalion of rifles, called in by the authorities, to divide into several detachments and to block up the passages to the hotel in which his literary “royal highness” had taken up his quarters. The soldiers obeyed, and pressed the people by enclosing them in a narrow circle, and advancing upon them into the gateway of the hotel; and from this unavoidable entering of the people into the sacred gateway of the royal residence, brought on by the military acting under Prince john’s orders; from this very circumstance the pretext was taken to fire upon the people; by this very circumstance the firing has been tried to be justified by the Government papers! Nor is this all; the people were taken between the several detachments, and the plan of his royal highness was executed by a cross fire upon the defenceless masses; wherever they turned they met with a repeated volley from the rifles, and had not the soldiers, more humane than Prince John, fired mostly over the heads of the people, the slaughter would have been terrible. The indignation created by this piece of scoundrelism is general; the most loyal subjects, the warmest supporters of the present order of things, share in it, and pronounce their utter disgust at such proceedings. The affair will do a great deal of good in Saxony, a part of Germany that before all others, has always evinced an inclination for talking, and where action was sadly wanted. The Saxons, with their little constitutional government, their talking houses of parliament, their liberal deputies, liberal and enlightened parsons, etc., were, in Northern Germany, the representatives of moderate Liberalism, of German Whiggery; and yet, with all that, greater slaves of the King of Prussia than the Prussians themselves. Whatever the Prussian Government resolved, the Saxon ministry had to execute; nay, of late, the Prussian Government did not even take the trouble to apply to the Saxon ministry, but direct to the Saxon inferior authorities, as if they were not Saxon, but their own employees! Saxony is governed in Berlin, not in Dresden! and with all their talking and boasting the Saxons know very well that the leaden hand of Prussia presses hard enough upon them. To all this talking and boasting, to all this self-conceit and contentment which would make the Saxons a peculiar nation opposed to the Prussian, etc., this Leipzig massacre will put an end. The Saxons must see, now, that they are under the same military rule as all other Germans, and that, with all their constitution, liberal laws, liberal censorship, and liberal king’s [Frederick Augustus II] speeches, martial law is the only one that has any practical existence in their little country. And there is another thing to aid this Leipzig affair in spreading the spirit of rebellion in Saxony; notwithstanding all the talking of the Saxon Liberals, the great majority of the Saxon people are only beginning to talk; Saxony is a manufacturing country, and among her linen-weavers, frame-work-knitters, cotton-spinners, pillow-lace-makers, coal and metal-miners, there has been, from time immemorial, an appalling amount of distress. The proletarian movement, which, from the Silesian riots, the weavers’ battle as it is called, in June, 1844,[229] has spread all over Germany, has not left Saxony untouched. There have been movements at several places among the railway constructing workmen, and also among the calico-printers some time ago, and it is more than likely, though positive evidence cannot now be given, that communism is making its progress there as well as everywhere else, among the working people; and if the workers of Saxony enter the field, they are sure not to be satisfied with talking like their employers, the liberal “bourgeois”.

Let me direct your attention somewhat more to the working class movement in Germany. In your paper of last week, [The Northern Star No. 408, September 6, 1845] you predict a glorious revolution, — not such a one as that of 1688,[230] — to this country. In this you are perfectly right — I only would beg to correct, or rather to more clearly define your expression, that it is the youth of Germany that will bring about such a change. This youth is not to be looked for among the middle classes. It is from the very heart of our working people that revolutionary action in Germany will commence. It is true, there are among our middle classes a considerable number of Republicans and even Communists, and young men too, who, if a general outbreak occurred now, would be very useful in the movement, but these men are “bourgeois”, profit-mongers, manufacturers by profession; and who will guarantee us that they will not be demoralised by their trade, by their social position, which forces them to live upon the toil of other people, to grow fat by being the leeches, the “exploiteurs” of the working classes? And if they remain proletarians in mind, though bourgeois in profession, their number will be infinitely small in comparison with the real number of the middle-class men, who stick to the existing order bf things through interest, and care for nothing but the filling of their purses. Fortunately, we do not count on the middle classes at all. The movement of the proletarians has developed itself with such astonishing rapidity, that in another year or two we shall be able to muster a glorious array of working Democrats and Communists — for in this country Democracy and Communism are, as far as the working classes are concerned, quite synonymous. The Silesian weavers, in 1844, gave the signal; the Bohemian and Saxon calico-printers and railway constructors, the Berlin calico-printers, and, indeed, the manufacturing classes of almost all parts of Germany, responded by turnouts and partial riots; the latter of which were almost always produced by the laws prohibiting combinations. The movement is now almost general throughout the country, and goes on quietly, but steadily, whilst the middle classes spend their time with agitating for “Constitutions”, “Liberty of the Press”, “Protective Duties”, “German Catholicity”, and “Protestant Church Reform”. All these middle-class movements, although not without some merit, do not touch the working classes at all, who have a movement of their own — a knife-and-fork movement. In my next letter more on this subject. [231]