Elberfeld, May 16, 1849

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Cologne, May 16. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung, too, was represented at the Elberfeld barricades.[1]

In order to refute various false rumours, we owe it to our readers to give them a brief report on this matter.

On May 10, Friedrich Engels editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, went from Cologne to Elberfeld and took with him from Solingen two cases of cartridges which had been captured by the Solingen workers at the storming of the arsenal of Gräfrath. On arriving in Elberfeld, Engels made a report to the Committee of Public Safety on the situation in Cologne, and put himself at the disposal of the Committee. The military commission at once entrusted him with the management of fortification works by issuing the following authorisation:

“The military commission of the Committee of Public Safety hereby empowers Herr Friedrich Engels to inspect all the barricades in the town and to complete the fortifications. All posts at the barricades are hereby requested to assist him wherever necessary.

“Elberfeld, May 11, 1849
(signed) Hühnerbein, Tyoost'

On the following day the artillery too was put at his disposal.

“Citizen F. Engels is hereby empowered to install artillery at his discretion, and also to requisition the artisans necessary for this purpose, the costs involved being borne by the Committee of Public Safety.

“Elberfeld, May 12, 1849 Committee of Public Safety
On behalf of which
(signed) Pothmann Hühnerbein, Tyoost

On his very first day in Elberfeld, Engels organised a company of sappers and completed the building of barricades at several exits from the town. He attended all the meetings of the military commission and proposed that it appoint Herr Mirbach as Chief Commandant, which was unanimously agreed to. In the following days Engels continued his activity, he made changes to a number of barricades, decided on the positions for new ones, and strengthened the sapper companies. From the moment of Mirbach’s arrival, Engels put himself at his disposal and took part also in the war councils held by the Chief Commandant.

During his whole stay in Elberfeld, Engels enjoyed the absolute confidence of the armed workers of the Berg Country and the Mark, as also of the volunteer corps.

On his very first day in Elberfeld, Engels was asked by Herr Riotte, a member of the Committee of Public Safety, about his intentions. Engels stated that he had come, firstly, because he had been sent there from Cologne; secondly, because he believed that he could perhaps be usefully employed in a military respect; and, thirdly, because, having been born in the Berg Country, he considered it a matter of honour to be there when the first armed uprising of the people of the Berg Country took place. He said that he desired to concern himself exclusively with military matters and to have nothing to do with the political character of the movement, since it was obvious that up to now only a movement under the black-red-and-gold flair was possible here, and therefore any action against the imperial Constitution had to be avoided.

Herr Riotte was in full agreement with this statement.

On the morning of the 14th, while Engels was accompanying Chief Commandant Mirbach to a general muster on the Engelnberg, Herr Höchster, also a member of the Committee of Public Safety, approached him and stated that although there was absolutely nothing to be said against his behaviour, nevertheless his presence evoked the utmost alarm of the Elberfeld bourgeoisie; they were afraid that at any moment he would proclaim a red republic and that by and large they wished him to leave.

Engels said that he wanted neither to impose his services, nor cravenly to desert his post, and he requested, without otherwise undertaking any kind of obligation, that the above-mentioned request should be presented to him in black and white, over the signatures of all members of the Committee of Public Safety.

Herr Höchster put the matter before the Committee of Public Safety and on the same day the following decision was adopted:

While fully appreciating the activity hitherto shown in this town by Citizen Friedrich Engels of Barmen, recently resident in Cologne, it is requested that he should from today leave the precincts of the local municipality since his presence could give rise to misunderstandings as to the character of the movement.”

Already before the decision was adopted Engels stated that he would comply with the request of the Committee of Public Safety only if Mirbach ordered him to do so. Mirbach had arrived in Elberfeld at his suggestion, and therefore he could not leave before Mirbach had released him.

On the morning of the 15th, after considerable pressure from the Committee of Public Safety, Mirbach finally signed the requisite order, which was later also made public in the form of a poster.

The armed workers and volunteer corps were highly indignant at the decision of the Committee of Public Safety. They demanded that Engels should remain and said they would “protect him with their lives”. Engels himself went to them and calmed them down, referring them to Mirbach and stating that he did not intend to be the first to refuse obedience to the Commandant who had been invited at his suggestion and in whom, moreover, he had absolute confidence.

Engels then took part in one more reconnaissance of the environs and, after handing over his post to his adjutant, departed from Elberfeld.

Let the workers of the Berg Country and the Mark, who have shown such astonishing affection for and devotion to a member of our editorial board, bear in mind that the present movement is only the prologue to another movement a thousand times more serious, in which the issue will concern their own, the workers’ most vital interests. This new revolutionary movement will be the result of the present movement and as soon as it occurs Engels — on this the workers can confidently rely — like all the other editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, will be at his post, and no power on earth will induce him to forsake it.

  1. The report which Engels cites from the liberal Düsseldorfer Zeitung and supplements with a call to the Cologne troops to join the popular movement, describes the initial stage of the Elberfeld uprising. The Elberfeld uprising of workers and petty bourgeois broke out on May 8, 1849 and served as a signal for armed struggle in a number of cities in the Rhine Province (Düsseldorf, Iserlohn, Solingen and others) in defence of the imperial Constitution. The immediate occasion for the uprising was the attempts by the Prussian Government to use troops to suppress the revolutionary movement on the Rhine, to destroy democratic organisations and the press, and to disarm the army reserve troops it had itself called up which disobeyed its orders and supported the demand for the imperial Constitution. Engels played an active part in the uprising, having arrived in Elberfeld on May 11 together with a workers’ detachment from Solingen (later legal proceedings were instituted against him for this — see MECW, Vol. 10). Engels’ efforts to secure the disbandment of the bourgeois civic militia, the imposition of a war tax on the bourgeoisie, extensive armament of the workers in order to form the core of the Rhenish revolutionary army and to unite local uprisings, met with opposition from the Committee of Public Safety which was dominated by the representatives of the local bourgeoisie. Under pressure from bourgeois circles, Engels was deported from the city on the morning of May 15. As a result of secret negotiations between a deputation from the city bourgeoisie and the Government and of the capitulatory stand taken by the Committee of Public Safety, workers’ detachments including those which came to their support from other places (the Berg Country, etc.) were forced out of the city on the night of May 16 (some managed to break through to the south, to the insurgent Palatinate) and the previous order was restored in Elberfeld. The defeat of the Elberfeld uprising led to the triumph of reaction throughout Rhenish Prussia. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung and Neue Kölnische Zeitung devoted several articles to the events in Elberfeld.