Letter to Ferdinand Freiligrath, February 29, 1860

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 29 February 1860


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 41, p. 80;
First published: considerably abridged in Die Neue Zeit, Erganzungshefte, No. 12, Stuttgart, 1911-1912, and in full in: Marx and Engels, Works, Moscow, 1934.
Collection(s): Die Neue Zeit

To Ferdinand Freiligrath in London

Manchester, 29 February 1860 6 Thorncliffe Grove, Oxford Road[edit source]

Dear Freiligrath,

Your letter really warmed my heart, for there are very few people with whom I strike up a friendship, but when I do I adhere to it. My friends of 1844 continue to be my friends today. As to the strictly official part of your letter, however, this is based on some grave misapprehensions, hence the following by way of clarification:

1. The Eichhoff-Stieber case

The ‘material’ which I passed on to Juch (on which occasion I also pointed out to him that there were two reasons why he and Eichhoff did not deserve my support: firstly, the way in which they had referred to the Cologne trial in the Hermann; secondly, my conviction that Eichhoff is simply a tool of the ex-police official Duncker, who is seeking to avenge himself on Stieber as Vidocq once did on Gisquet in Paris; nevertheless, I would, I said, do all in my power to help overthrow Stieber and bring him to book, if only to avenge the death of my friend, Dr Daniels), this ‘material’, say, amounts to the following:

I gave Juch a copy of the Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne; N. B. this publication of mine, which was printed first in Switzerland and later in Boston, was cited by Vogt as a well-known book, and was in no sense ‘something secret’.

I told Juch that it contained all I knew.

Finally, I pointed out to him that Lewald (Eichhoff’s defence counsel) must examine Hirsch, who was in jail in Hamburg, as a witness. This was done. Hirsch has now admitted on oath that the ‘minute-book’ was a Prussian fabrication and an indictable offence in every other respect.

Hence the ‘revelations’ produced by the trial, thanks to my ‘material’, exonerate the former members of the League from any semblance of legal culpa and ‘expose’ the Prussian police system, which, once installed as a result of the ‘Cologne trial’ and the infamous pusillanimity of the Cologne jury, grew to be such a power in Prussia that it has finally become intolerable to the bourgeois themselves and even to Auerswald’s ministry. Voilà tout.

Besides, I'm astonished that you could even imagine that I might hand the police anything on a platter. I would remind you of letters sent from Cologne (1849-50), which you knew about and in which I was reproached in so many words with having dragged my feet too much (at the time, I did so for very good reasons, certainly not out of concern for myself) in regard to agitation by the League.

2. My lawsuit against the ‘National-Zeitung’

I would point out d'abord that, after the ‘League’ had been disbanded at my behest in November 1852, I never belonged to any society again, whether secret or public; that the party, therefore, in this wholly ephemeral sense, ceased to exist for me 8 years ago. The lectures on political economy I gave, after the appearance of my book (in the autumn of 1859), to a few picked working men, amongst whom were also former members of the League, had nothing in common with an exclusive society — less even than, say, Mr Gerstenberg’s lectures to the Schiller Committee.

You will recall that the leaders of the fairly ramified Communist Club in New York (among them. Albrecht Komp, Manager of the General Bank, 44 Exchange Place, New York) sent me a letter, which passed through your hands, and in which it was tentatively suggested that I should reorganise the old League. A whole year passed before I replied, and then it was to the effect that since 1852 I had not been associated with any association and was firmly convinced that my theoretical studies were of greater use to the working class than my meddling with associations which had now had their day on the Continent. Because of this ‘inactivity’ I was thereupon repeatedly and bitterly attacked, if not by name at least by inference, in Mr Scherzer’s London Neue Zeit.

When Mr Levy came over from Düsseldorf (for the first time), on which occasion he frequently called on you, too, he actually proffered me a factory operatives’ insurrection, no less, in Iserlohn, Solingen, etc. I told him bluntly, that I was against such futile and dangerous folly. I further informed him that I no longer belonged to any ‘league'; nor, in view of the danger presented to the people in Germany by such a connection, could I have anything to do with it, no matter what the circumstances. Levy returned to Düsseldorf, and as I was shortly afterwards informed by letter, spoke very highly of you while denouncing my ‘doctrinaire’ indifference.

Since 1852, then, I have known nothing of ‘party’ in the sense implied in your letter. Whereas you are a poet, I am a critic and for me the experiences of 1849-52 were quite enough. The ‘League’, like the société des saisons in Paris and a hundred other societies, was simply an episode in the history of a party that is everywhere springing up naturally out of the soil of modern society.

There are two things I have to prove in Berlin (I mean with regard to this hoary and outdated business of the League):

First, that since 1852 no such society has existed of which I have been a member,

next, that in as much as he slings Telleringian mud, and worse, at the communist society that existed up till November 1852, Mr Vogt is a scoundrelly and infamous slanderer.

As to the latter point, you, of course, are a witness and your letter to Ruge (summer of 1851) proves that, during the period with which we are solely concerned here, you regarded attacks of this kind as being directed against yourself, too.

You were a co-signatory to the statements in the Morning Advertiser, the Spectator, the Examiner, the Leader, and the People’s Paper. One copy of these is on the court files in Cologne.

Nor did you raise the least objection when I reverted to this matter in my Revelations (p. 47) (Boston edition).

Again, your name appears — as treasurer — in the appeal we published requesting contributions for the convicted men.

But there’s hardly any need to go into all this again.

What is imperative, however, is that my lawyer in Berlin should be sent the following letter from me to Engels, this being a legal document by virtue of the fact that it was sent without an envelope and bears both London and Manchester Postmarks.

London, 19 November 1852
28 Dean Street, Soho ‘Dear Engels, ‘Last Wednesday, at my suggestion, the League disbanded; similarly the continued existence of the League on the Continent was declared to be no longer expedient. In any case, since the arrest of Burgers-Roser, it had to all intents and purposes already ceased to exist there. Enclosed a statement for the English papers, etc. In addition I am writing, for the Lithographierte Korrespondenz, an article (instead, I wrote the pamphlet published by Schabelitz “) ‘on the dirty tricks played by the police, etc., and also an appeal to America for money for the prisoners and their families. Treasurer Freiligrath. Signed by all our people.’ (The few remaining lines are irrelevant.) ‘Your K. M.’.

In the case of such a document I cannot, of course, delete any names. This is the only document in which, with a view to substantiating a fact, namely the disbandment of the League, I make use of your name, in as much as it happens to occur in a letter written by me in 1852. I cannot see how that would compromise you.

I should like to use one letter of yours, written in 1851, for the pamphlet which is to appear after the hearing. Nothing in the least compromising about it, legally speaking. But since this will take many weeks, I shall arrange matters with you by word of mouth.

From the above it follows that:

The ‘meetings, resolutions and transactions of the party’ since 1852 belong to the realm of fantasy, as you might have known in any case without my telling you and, judging by a great many of your letters to me, evidently did know.

The only activity in which I persisted after 1852, for as long as it continued necessary — i.e. until the end of 1853 — in company with a few kindred spirits on the other side of the Atlantic, was of the kind described by Mr Ludwig Simon in 1851 in the Tribune as a ‘system of mockery and contempt’, and was directed against the emigration’s democratic humbug and revolution-mongering. Your anti-Kinkel poem, no less than your correspondence with me during that time, prove that you and I were entirely d'accord.

However, this has nothing to do with the lawsuits.

Tellering, Bangya, Fleury, etc., never belonged to the ‘League’. That dirt is thrown up by storms, that no revolutionary period smells of attar of roses, that even, at times, one becomes a target for all manner of garbage, goes without saying. Aut, aut. However, when one considers the tremendous efforts made to combat us by the whole of the official world, who did not so much skim as wade through the depths of the Code pénal in order to ruin us; when one considers the slanderous attacks of the ‘democracy of folly’ which could never forgive our party for having more brains and character than itself; when one knows the parallel history of all the other parties; when one finally asks oneself what can actually be held (other than, say, the infamies refutable in court, of a Vogt or a Tellering) against the party as a whole, one can only conclude that what distinguishes it in this, the nineteenth century, is its purity.

Can one escape the filth in bourgeois intercourse or trade? But in the latter, the filth has its natural habitat. Example: Sir R. Carden, vide the Parliamentary Blue Book on corrupt election practices. Example: Mr Klapka, concerning whose personal details I am now very well informed. Kl. is not one whit better, and possibly worse, than Bangya whom, by the by, he and Kossuth have been sheltering to this day in Constantinople, despite his heroic deeds in Circassia and despite my public denunciation, simply because he knew too much about them. As a person Bangya was more decorous than Kl. He kept a mistress; for years Klapka allowed a mistress to keep him, etc. The filth of a Tellering may well be counterbalanced by the purity of a Beta, and even the dissoluteness of a Reiff finds its equivalent in the chastity of a Paula who, at any rate, was not a member of the party, nor made any pretence so to be.

The honourable meanness or mean honourableness of solvent (and this subject only to highly ambiguous provisos, as every trade crisis goes to show) morality is to my mind not one whit superior to disrespectable meanness, from the taint of which neither the first Christian communities. nor the Jacobin Club, nor our erstwhile ‘League’ could remain entirely free. But bourgeois intercourse accustoms one to the loss of one’s sense of respectable meanness or mean respectability.

3. The special matter of Vogt and Blind.

Following the affidavits made by Vögele and Wiehe (as everyone knows, a false affidavit entails transportation) and following the statements extracted in consequence thereof — from Blind in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung and from Dr Schaible (Daily Telegraph of 15 February ) — the affair has resolved itself to the extent that your testimony relating to this point has now been rendered quite superfluous. As regards the Blind case, my only problem is an embarras de richesses.

In this matter I approached Ernest Jones, with whom I had not consorted for two years on account of his foolish, but now publicly disavowed, attitude to Bright, Gilpin, etc. I approached him firstly because he, like many others, some of them quite unknown to me, let me know spontaneously, immediately after the Telegraph of 6 February had appeared, how profoundly indignant he was at the infamous conduct of Vogt, who had had the effrontery to assert that the Communist League had been founded and, from 1849 to 1852, had operated, with one end in view, namely to extort money from compromised people in Germany by threatening to denounce them; who traced back my ‘connection’ with the Neue Preussische Zeitung to my ‘relationship by marriage’ to von Westphalen, etc. (For my wife’s sake I was glad of this demonstration, since one can hardly expect ladies to grow a political thick skin; moreover, it is precisely by catastrophes that they are accustomed to gauge whether a friendship is in earnest or in jest); secondly, because I was deterred by consideration, not for Blind, but for his wife and children, from discussing his case, most invidious from a legal point of view, with a true-blue English lawyer. It was this same consideration that deterred me from sending the English circular to the Morning Advertiser or to any English daily other than the Telegraph.

What Jones told me was this:

‘You can go — and I myself will go with you — to the magistrate and at once take out a warrant for Blind’s arrest for conspiracy on the strength of Wiehe’s affidavit. But bear in mind that this is a criminal action and that, once it has been reported, you will have no power to withdraw it.’

I then asked Jones (who can tell you this all over again; he lives at 5 Cambridge Place, Kensington, W.) whether it wasn’t possible for him to warn Blind and thus induce him to make a statement that would include, not only everything he knew about Vogt, but also an admission of the falsity of the depositions adduced by him in the A.A.Z.

Jones replied:

‘In conspiracy, and hence criminal, cases, any attempt by the advocate to compound or bring about a compromise would itself be punishable under criminal law.’

Jones will act as my council in the Telegraph affair.

After Jones’s pronouncements, I found myself in a most awkward and embarrassing situation, for, on the one hand, I owed it to my family to compel the Telegraph to recant; on the other, I did not wish to take any steps that might be legally injurious to Blind’s family. As an expedient I sent to Blind’s friend Louis Blanc a copy of both affidavits and a letter, part of which reads (I quote):

Not for Mr Blind who has richly deserved it, but for his family, I should regret being forced to lodge a criminal action against him.’

This last move evoked Schaible’s statement (poor dear), just as the printed circular, which I had sent to Blind immediately after it came out, had evoked his anti-Vogt statement the self-same day in the A. A. Z. Blind may have the hole-and-corner cunning of a man from Baden, but he had forgotten that he was confronting someone who would be ruthless the moment his own honour, or that of his party, was at stake.

This is how matters stand: The action against The Daily Telegraph has been instituted but my solicitor will delay matters until after the case against the National-Zeitung has been decided.

Had Schaible told me frankly what he knew against Vogt (Schaible is Blind’s tame elephant, of course), it would have been wholly unnecessary for me, after his statement had appeared in the Telegraph of 15 February, to lodge the affidavits in London. In Berlin, where it will have no legal repercussions on Blind, this will, of course, be unavoidable. Whether Schaible was the real (literary) author of the ‘flysheet’ or not does nothing to alter the facts established in the affidavits, namely that the depositions adduced by Blind in the A. A. Z. were false, that they were obtained by means of a conspiracy, that the flysheet had been printed in Hollinger’s printshop, written in Blind’s hand and handed over by him to Hollinger to be printed.

Distasteful though these matters certainly are, they are not more distasteful than European history as a whole since 1851, with all its achievements in the diplomatic, military and literary fields.

‘For all that and all that’, the philistine upon me will always be a better device for us than I beneath the philistine.’

I have frankly stated my views, with which I trust you are largely in agreement. Moreover, I have tried to dispel the misunderstanding arising out of the impression that by ‘party’ I meant a ‘League’ that expired eight years ago, or an editorial board that was disbanded twelve years ago. By party, I meant the party in the broad historical sense.

With sincere assurances of my friendship,

Your
K. Marx

P. S. I have just had a letter from my wife, and should accordingly be much obliged if you would draw £16 on the Tribune on Saturday (the day after tomorrow) (not on Friday as I am also including the Tuesday article). As usual, the plenipotentiary-general will pay you a call.