Letter to Ferdinand Freiligrath, July 31, 1849

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To Ferdinand Freiligrath in Cologne

Paris, 31 July 1849[edit source]

Dear Freiligrath,

I must confess that I am much astonished by Lassalle’s behaviour. I had approached him personally and, since I myself had at one time made the countess [Sophie von Hatzfeldt] a loan and was, besides, aware of Lassalle’s liking for me, it would never have occurred to me that he would compromise me in this way. On the contrary, I had impressed upon him the need for the utmost discretion. The direst straits are better than public begging. I have written to him on the subject.[1]

I find the business unspeakably annoying.

Let us talk politics, since it will distract us from this private unpleasantness. In Switzerland things are becoming ever more complicated and now, as regards Italy, there is Savoy into the bargain. It would seem that, if needs be, Austria proposes to recoup her loss of Hungary at Italy’s expense. The incorporation of Savoy by Austria would, however, be the undoing of the present French government if tolerated by the latter. The majority in the French Chamber is clearly falling apart. The Right is splitting up into Philippists pure and simple, Legitimists who vote with the Philippists, and Legitimists pure and simple, who have recently been voting with the Left.[2] What Thiers and company are planning is to make Louis Napoleon Consul for ten years, until the coming-of-age of the Count of Paris [Louis Philipp Albert] who will then replace him. If, as is almost certain, the assemblée reimposes the taxes on drink,[3] it will arouse the antagonism of all the wine-growers. With each reactionary measure it alienates yet another section of the population.

But most important of all just now is England. We must have no illusions about the so-called Peace Party[4], of which Cobden is the acknowledged leader. Nor should we have any illusions about the ‘unselfish enthusiasm’ of the English for Hungary, which has resulted in the organisation of meetings throughout the country.

The Peace Party is simply a cloak for the Free Trade Party. The same content, the same object, the same leaders. just as, at home, the Free Traders attacked the aristocracy in its material basis with the repeal of the Corn and Navigation Laws,[5] so now in their foreign policy, they are attacking it in its European connections and ramifications — by seeking to break the Holy Alliance[6]. The English Free Traders are radical bourgeois who wish to break radically with the aristocracy in order to rule without let or hindrance. What they overlook is the fact that they are thus, willy-nilly, bringing the people onto the stage and into power. Exploitation of the peoples, not by means of medieval warfare but solely by means of trade warfare — that’s your Peace Party. Cobden’s behaviour in the Hungarian affair had an immediately practical nexus. Russia is now seeking to negotiate a loan. Cobden, the representative of the industrial bourgeoisie, forbids this deal of the financial bourgeoisie’s, and in England the Bank is ruled by industry, whereas in France industry is ruled by the Bank.

Cobden’s attack on Russia has been more formidable than any of either Dembinski or Görgey. [Reference to Cobden’s speech at a meeting held on 23 July 1849 in support of Hungary, see The Times 24 July 1849 and The Northern Star, 28 July 1849] He revealed how pitiable was the condition of her finances. She is, he says, the most wretched nation. Each year the Siberian mines bring the State no more than £700,000: the duty on spirits brings it 10 times as much. True, the gold and silver reserve in the vaults of the Bank of Petersburg amounts to £14,000,000, but it serves as a metallic reserve for a paper circulation of £80,000,000. Hence, if the Tsar [Nicholas I] dips into the vaults of the Bank, he will depreciate the paper money, and thus bring about a revolution in Russia herself. Consequently, the proud English bourgeois exclaims, the absolutist colossus cannot stir unless we make him a loan, and this we shall not do. Once again we are waging, by purely bourgeois means, the bourgeoisie’s war against feudal absolutism. The golden calf is mightier than all the calves on the thrones in the world. Of course the English Free Trades also have a direct interest where Hungary is concerned. Instead of Austrian trade barriers, as hitherto, a trade agreement and some Sort of Free Trade with Hungary. The money, which they are now without doubt secretly remitting to the Hungarians, they will assuredly get back ‘with profit and interest’ in return by way of trade.

The English bourgeoisie’s attitude to continental despotism is a reversal of the campaign they conducted against the French from 1793 to 1815. The importance of this development cannot be overrated.

Kindest regards to you and your wife d from me and my wife.

K. Marx

  1. The subject is Lassalle’s intention to raise funds to help Marx.

    The letters to Lassalle mentioned by Marx have not been found.

    An extract from this letter was published in English for the first time in: K. Marx and F. Engels, On Britain, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954.
  2. These were the two factions in the so-called Party of Order — a conservative bloc of the monarchist groups formed in 1848 which had the majority in the Legislative Assembly of the French Republic (opened at the end of May 1849).

    The Philippists or Orleanists were supporters of the House of Orleans (a lateral branch of the Bourbon dynasty) overthrown by the February revolution of 1848; they represented the interests of the financial aristocracy and the big industrial bourgeoisie; their candidate for the throne was Louis Philippe Albert, Count of Paris and grandson of Louis Philippe.

    The Legitimists, supporters of the main branch of the Bourbon dynasty overthrown in 1830, upheld the interests of the big hereditary landowners and the claim to the French throne of the Count of Chambord, King Charles X’s grandson, who called himself Henry V. Some of the Legitimists remained outside the bloc of monarchist groups.
  3. According to a decision of the Constituent Assembly the wine tax was to be abolished before I January 1850. But, as Marx predicted, it was retained by a decision of the Legislative Assembly on 20 December 1849 (see The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850).
  4. The Peace Society — a pacifist organisation founded by the Quakers in 1816 in London. It was actively supported by the Free Traders who assumed that in peace time free trade would enable Britain to make better use of its industrial superiority and win economic and politics supremacy.
  5. The Corn Laws (first introduced in the fifteenth century) imposed high import duties on agricultural produce in the interests of landowners in order to maintain high prices for these products on the home market. In 1838 the Manchester factory owners Cobden and Bright founded the Anti-Corn Law League, which demanded the lifting of the corn tariffs and urged unlimited freedom of trade for the purpose of weakening the economic and political power of the landed aristocracy and reducing worker’s wages. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in 1846 with their repeal.

    The Navigation Acts were passed by the British Parliament in 1651 and subsequent years to protect British shipping companies against foreign rivals. They were repealed in 1849.
  6. Marx mentions the Holy Alliance in connection with the attempts of feudal-monarchical circles in Prussia, Austria and tsarist Russia to form a coalition similar to the counter-revolutionary Holy Alliance founded in 1815 by the European monarchs, and which ceased to exist after the 1830 revolution in France.