Letter from Germany. The War in Schleswig Holstein

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 21 July 1850


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 10, p. 392-395;
Written: Cologne, July 21, 1850;
First published: The Democratic Review, August 1850.
Collection(s): Democratic Review

The all-engrossing topic now in Germany is, of course, the Schleswig-Holstein affair. As this affair is in your country, as well as in France, very little understood, you will allow me to give a rapid view of it.

It has been shown clearly enough that the small independent states by which Germany is surrounded are, under a more or less liberal form, the chief seats of reaction. Thus Belgium, the model state of Constitutionalism, was the first to resist the shock of February the first to proclaim martial law and to pass sentences of death upon patriots. Thus Switzerland shifted herself in a far from honourable way through the revolutionary storm, hiding behind the Chinese wall of neutrality as long as revolution was in the ascendant, and playing the subservient tool of the Holy Alliance against disarmed refugees, when reaction was again rife throughout Europe. It is evident that the petty national egotism of those impotent states must induce them to rely upon the support principally of old-established, i.e. reactionary governments, the more so as they cannot but be aware that every European revolution puts their own national independence in question, an independence which to uphold none are interested but the supporters of the old political system.

Denmark is another of these petty states sharing this pride of a national independence and this exorbitant desire to aggrandise themselves. [It is a fact not generally known that the annexation of Savoy to Switzerland was in 1848-49 much discussed in the latter country, and that the Swiss hoped to see this realised by the defeat of the Italian revolution.--Note by Engels.] The independence and power of Denmark, a state living only upon the plunder of universal commerce by the Sound Dues, is of interest to none but Russia and a certain fraction of English politicians. Denmark is literally the slave of Russia, by a series of treaties agreed to in the last century; and through Denmark Russia lays hold upon the Dardanelles of the Baltic. The old school of English politicians, too, take an interest in the aggrandisement of Denmark, according to their old policy of cutting up central Europe into a set of small states quarrelling with each other, and thus leaving England to apply to them the principle "Divide and conquer".

The policy of the revolutionary party in all countries has, on the contrary, always been to strongly unite the great nationalities hitherto cut up in small states, and to ensure independence and power, not to those small wrecks of nationalities--such as Danes, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, &c., &c., counting from one to three millions each at the very outset, or to those mongrel would-be nations, such as the Swiss and Belgians--but to the large and healthy nationalities now oppressed by the ruling European system. An European confederacy of republics can only be formed by great and equally powerful nations; such as the French, English, German, Italian, Hungarian, and Polish nations, but never by such miserably powerless so-called nations as the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians, Swiss, &c.

Besides, will the revolutionary party allow the most important maritime position of the north, the inlet of the Baltic, to remain for ever at the mercy of Danish egotism? Will they allow the Danes to make up the interest of their national debt by imposing heavy tolls upon every vessel trading across the Sound and Belt? Certainly not.

Denmark, by that precious hereditary right which treats a people as so many chattels, became united with two German countries, Schleswig and Holstein. They had separate constitutions, common to both of them, and old-established rights granted by their princes, "that these countries should for ever remain together and undivided". The law of succession, besides, is different in Denmark to what it is in the two duchies. In 1815, at the infamous congress of Vienna, where nations were cut up and sold by auction, Holstein was incorporated with the German confederacy, but Schleswig was not. From that day the Danish national party tried, but in vain, to incorporate Schleswig into Denmark. At last 1848 arrived. In March a popular movement took place in Copenhagen, and the national and liberal party got into office. They instantly decreed a constitution, and the incorporation of Schleswig into Denmark. The consequence was the insurrection of the duchies, and the war between Germany and Denmark.

While German soldiers in Posen, in Italy, and in Hungary, fought against the revolution, this war in Schleswig was the only revolutionary war Germany ever carried on. The question was whether the Schleswigers were to be forced to follow the fate of small, impotent, half-civilised Denmark, and to be the slaves of Russia for ever, or whether they should be allowed to re-unite themselves to a nation of forty millions, which was then just engaged in the struggle for its freedom, unity, and consequent recovery of its strength. And the German princes, particularly the royal drunkard of Prussia, knew the revolutionary signification of this war too well. The note is well known by which the Prussian embassy, Major Wildenbruch, proposed to the king of Denmark to carry on the war for show, just as much as was necessary to allow the Danish and German revolutionary enthusiasts who engaged on both sides as volunteers, to devour each other. Consequently the war was, on the German side, one continued series of treasons, down to the battle of Fredericia, where the republican Schleswig-Holstein corps, 10,000 men, were surprised and cut up by three times their number of Danes, while 40,000 Prussians and others were only a few miles off and left them in the scrape; and down to the treacherous peace concocted at Berlin, a peace which allows Russia to land troops in Schleswig, and Prussia to march into Holstein to put down the rebellion, she herself has aided and abetted at least officially.

If there was any doubt as to which side was the revolutionary, or which the reactionary interest, there can be none now. Russia sends her fleet to fraternise with the Danes and to blockade, in common with them, the shores of Schleswig-Holstein. All the "powers that be" are arrayed against this small German tribe of not more than 850,000 souls; and nothing but the sympathies of the revolutionists of all countries is there to assist this small but brave people. They will fall no doubt; they may resist a time, and even overthrow the treacherous bourgeois government which Prussia has forced upon them, they may beat Danes and Russians, but at last they will be crushed, unless the Prussian army, which is sure to march into Holstein, refuses to act. And if this, which is not at all impossible, should come to pass, you would see things in Germany take another turn. Then there would be a general outbreak, and such a one that 1848 would be nothing compared to it; for the acts of the Holy Alliance have told well upon the German people; and if in '48 even the federative republic was impossible, now nothing would be accepted short of the German republic, one and indivisible, democratic and--within six months--Social.