Letter to Friedrich Engels, April 24, 1848
|Written||24 April 1848|
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.
To Engels in Barmen
Cologne about 24 April 1848 Apostelnstrasse Nr. 7[edit source]
A good many have already been subscribed for here, and we must shall probably soon be able to make a start. But now you must without fail make demands on your old man and in general declare definitively what is to be done in Barmen and Elberfeld.
A prospectus (written by Bürgers ) [Bürgers, ‘Prospectus for the Founding of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, later published in Das Westphälische Dampfboot, 17 May 1848], etc., has been sent from here to Hecker in Elberfeld.
Have you no address for Dronke? He must be written to forthwith.
Answer by return. I might come to your part of the world if things don’t look too fearsome with you.
- The subject is the prospects of the planned Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the first issue of which appeared on 31 May but was dated 1 June 1848.
Marx and Engels began to prepare for the publication of a German revolutionary newspaper as early as March 1848 when they were in Paris. They regarded a proletarian periodical as an important step towards creating a mass party of the German proletariat based on the Communist League. Soon after their return to Germany, however, they realised that the conditions for the creation of such a party had not yet matured. Disunity and lack of political awareness made the German workers susceptible to the artisan and petty-bourgeois influences and particularise aspirations. Moreover it was senseless for the League to continue to work underground in the context of the revolution but the League was too weak and numerically small to serve as a rallying centre. Under these conditions the newspaper was to play an especially important role in the ideological and political education of the masses. It was also to become an organ of political guidance for the Communist League members, whom Marx and Engels advised to take an active part in the workers’ organisations and democratic societies then being set up in Germany.
It was decided to call the newspaper the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in order to stress that it was to continue the revolutionary-democratic traditions of the Rheinische Zeitung which was edited by Marx in 1842 and early 1843. In view of the specific conditions and the absence of an independent proletarian party, Marx, Engels and their followers entered the political scene as the Left, in fact proletarian, wing of the democratic movement. This predetermined the stand adopted by the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which had as its subtitle Organ der Demokratie (Organ of Democracy). The editorial board included Karl Marx (editor-in-chief), Frederick Engels, Wilhelm Wolff, Georg Weerth, Ferdinand Wolff, Ernst Dronke and Heinrich Bürgers. In October 1848 Ferdinand Freiligrath also became an editor.
The consistent revolutionary line of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, its militant internationalism, its articles containing political accusations against the Government aroused the displeasure of its bourgeois shareholders in the first months of its existence and led to attacks in the feudal monarchist and liberal bourgeois press. The editors were persecuted by the police and judicial authorities. On 26 September 1848, when a state of siege was declared in Cologne, the publication of the newspaper was suspended and was resumed only on 12 October. Despite all this, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung courageously defended the interests of revolutionary democracy and the proletariat. In May 1849, against the background of the general counter-revolutionary offensive, the Prussian Government issued an expulsion order against Marx on the grounds that he had not obtained Prussian citizenship. This arbitrary act and repressions against other editors led to the paper ceasing publication. The last issue, No. 301, printed in red ink, appeared on 19 May 1849. In their farewell address to the workers the editors wrote that ‘their last word everywhere and always will be: emancipation of the working class’ (see To the Workers of Cologne, May 1849).
- On 6 May 1848 Marx and Weerth arrived in Elberfeld to discuss with Engels problems connected with the publication of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung and the activity of the Communist League.