Meeting of the Central Authority, September 15, 1850

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Present: Marx, Engels, Schramm, Pfänder, Bauer, Eccarius, Schapper, Willich, Lehmann.

Fränkel is excused.

As this is an extraordinary meeting the minutes of the last meeting are not here and are therefore not read.

Marx: The Friday meeting could not take place because of a clash with a meeting of the commission of the Society.[1] As Willich has called[2] a meeting of the district, a meeting whose legality I will not go into, this meeting must be held today. I wish to make the following proposal which is in three parts:

1. The Central Authority shall be transferred from London to Cologne and its powers will be transferred to the district authority there as soon as this meeting is over. This decision shall be reported to League members in Paris, Belgium and Switzerland. The new Central Authority will itself notify members in Germany.

Explanation: I was opposed to Schapper’s motion to set up a district authority in Cologne for the whole of Germany because this might disrupt the unity of the Central Authority. Our motion does away with this objection. There are a number of new reasons which support the motion. The minority in the Central Authority is in open rebellion against the majority both in the motion of censure during the last meeting, in the general meeting now called by the district as well as in the Society and among the refugees. Therefore the Central Authority cannot possibly remain here. Its unity cannot be maintained any longer, there would be a split and there would then be two leagues. As the interests of the party must come first I propose this way out.

2. The existing League Rules shall be declared null and void. The new Central Authority shall be responsible for drawing up new rules.

Explanation: The Rules of the 1847 Congress were amended by the London Central Authority in 1848. Circumstances have now changed yet again. The latest London Rules weakened the principal articles of the original Rules. Both Rules are in force in different places, in some places there are no Rules at all or there are unauthorised ones, so that there is complete anarchy in the League. Moreover the latest Rules have become public and so can no longer be used. My proposal, therefore, essentially is that effective rules be introduced in place of the present lack of rules.[3]

3. Two districts shall be formed in London to be entirely independent of each other and the only bond between them will be that they belong to the League and correspond with the same Central Authority.

Explanation: It is necessary to form two districts here for the very reason that the unity of the League must be preserved. Quite apart from personal disagreements we have witnessed also differences of principle even in the Society. In the last debate on “the position of the German proletariat in the next revolution” views were expressed by members of the minority on the Central Authority which directly clash with those in the last circular but one[4] and even the Manifesto.[5] A German national standpoint was substituted for the universal outlook of the Manifesto, and the national feelings of the German artisans were pandered to. The materialist standpoint of the Manifesto has given way to idealism. The revolution is seen not as the product of realities of the situation but as the result of an effort of will. Whereas we say to the workers: You have 15, 20, 50 years of civil war to go through in order to alter the situation and to train yourselves for the exercise of power, it is said: We must take power at once, or else we may as well take to our beds. Just as the democrats abused the word “people” so now the word “proletariat” has been used as a mere phrase. To make this phrase[6] effective it would be necessary to describe all the petty bourgeois as proletarians and consequently in practice represent the petty bourgeois and not the proletarians. The actual revolutionary process would have to be replaced by revolutionary catchwords. This debate has finally laid bare the differences in principle which lay behind the clash of personalities, and the time for action has now arrived. It is precisely these differences that have furnished both parties with their battlecries and some members of the League have called the defenders of the Manifesto reactionaries, seeking thereby to make them unpopular, which however does not worry them in the least, as they do not seek popularity. The majority would therefore be justified in dissolving the London district and expelling the members of the minority[7] as being in conflict with the principles of the League.

I do not put a motion to that effect as it would cause a pointless scandal and because these people are still Communists in their convictions even though the opinions they are now expressing are anti-communist and could at best be described as social-democratic. It is obvious, however, that it would be a mere waste of time, and a harmful one at that, for us to remain together. Schapper has often spoken of separation—very well then, I am seriously in favour of it. I think that I have found the way for us to separate without splitting the party.

I wish to state that, for my own part, I should like to have at most twelve people[8] in our district, as few as possible, and gladly leave the minority in possession of the great throng. If this proposal is accepted we shall obviously be unable to remain in the Society[9]; I shall resign from the Great Windmill Street Society[10] together with the majority. After all it is not a matter of the hostile relationship between the two groups, but, on the contrary, of eliminating the tension and so all relationships. We remain together in the League and in the party but we are not going to maintain a relationship that is plainly harmful.

Schapper: Just as in France the proletariat parts company with the Montagne[11] and La Presse so it is here also: the people who represent the party in principle part company with those who organise the proletariat. I am in favour of moving the Central Authority0 and also of making alterations in the Rules. The Cologne members are familiar with the situation in Germany. I also think that the new revolution will produce people who will lead themselves6 better than all those who made a name for themselves in 1848. As far as disagreements of principle are concerned, it was Eccarius who raised the question that provided the occasion for this debate. I have voiced the opinion attacked here because I am in general an enthusiast in this matter. The question at issue is whether we ourselves chop off a few heads right at the start or whether it is our own heads that will fall. In France the workers will come to power and thereby we in Germany too. Were this not the case I would indeed take to my bed; in that event I would be able to enjoy a different material position. If we come to power we can take such measures as are necessary to ensure the rule of the proletariat. I am a fanatical supporter of this view but the Central Authority favours the very opposite. You want to have nothing more to do with us—very well, let us part company now. I shall certainly be guillotined in the next revolution, nevertheless I shall go to Germany. You want two districts—very well, but that will be the end of the League. We shall meet again in Germany and then perhaps be able join forces again. Marx is a personal friend of mine but you are in favour of separation—very well, we shall each go our separate ways. But in that case there should be two leagues, one for those who work with the pen and one fori those who work in other ways. I do not share the view that the bourgeoisie in Germany will come to power and on this point I am a fanatical enthusiast—if I weren’t I wouldn’t give a brass farthing for the whole affair. But if there are two districts here in London, two societies and two refugee committees then we should prefer also to have two leagues and complete separation.

Marx: Schapper has misunderstood my motion. If the motion is adopted we shall separate, the two districts shall separate and the people concerned will have no relations with each other. However, they will belong to the same League and be under the same Authority.[12] You can even retain the greater part of the League membership. As for personal sacrifice, I have given up as much as anyone; but for the class and not for individuals. And as for enthusiasm, not much enthusiasm is needed to belong to a party when you believe that it is on the point of seizing power. I have always defied the momentary opinions of the proletariat. We are devoted to a party which, most fortunately for it, cannot yet come to power. If the proletariat were to come to power the measures it would introduce would be petty-bourgeois and not directly proletarian. Our party can come to power only when the conditions allow it to put its own views into practice. Louis Blanc is the best instance of what happens when you come to power prematurely.[13] In France, moreover, it isn’t the proletariat alone that gains power but the peasants and the petty bourgeois as well, and it will have to carry out not its, but their measures. The Paris Commune[14] shows that one need not be in the government to accomplish something. And incidentally why do we hear nothing from the other members of the minority, especially Citizen Willich, who approved the circular unanimously at the time? We cannot and will not split the League: we wish merely to divide the London district into two districts.

Eccarius: It was I who raised the question and it certainly was my intention to have the whole matter discussed. I have explained it in the Society why I think that Schapper’s view is based on an illusion and why I do not think that our party can come to power immediately in the next revolution. Our party will then be more important in the clubs than in the government.

Citizen Lehmann walks out without comment. Citizen Willich likewise.

First part of the motion: all in favour, Schapper abstains.

Second part: all in favour, Schapper abstains.

Third part: all in favour, Schapper abstains.

Schapper makes a protest against us all: We are now completely separated. I have my own acquaintances and friends in Cologne who follow me rather than you.

Marx: We have acted in accordance with the Rules. The resolutions of the Central Authority are valid.

After the minutes are read out both Marx and Schapper declare that they have not written to Cologne on this matter.[15]

Schapper is asked whether he has any objection to the minutes. He says he has no objection as he thinks all objections are superfluous.

Eccarius proposes that everyone should sign the minutes. Accepted. Schapper declares that he will not sign.

Dated, London, September 15, 1850

Read, approved and signed.[16]

Signed: K. Marx, Chairman of the Central Authority

F. Engels, Secretary

Henry Bauer, K. Schramm, J. G. Eccarius,

K. Pfänder

  1. German Workers' Educational Society in London, called below the Great Windmill Street Society.— Ed.
  2. The second copy of the minutes has: "called for Monday".— Ed.
  3. The Rules of the Communist League (see present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 633-38) were adopted at its Second Congress in December 1847. In the latter half of 1848, the London Central Authority of the League made changes in the Rules and gave this document the vague title of "The Rules of a Revolutionary Party". The clear formulation of the ultimate aims of the proletarian movement given in Article 1 (the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat and the foundation of communist society without classes) was replaced by a demand for a social republic. The demand to acknowledge communism was omitted from Article 2, which formulated the conditions of membership. Marx and Engels resolutely opposed these changes. On Marx's initiative, the Central Authority formed in Cologne from the local authority worked out new Rules (see this volume, pp. 634-36).
  4. The second copy has: "of the Central Authority".— Ed.
  5. This refers to the Address of the Central Authority to the League, March 1850, and Manifesto of the Communist Party (see this volume, pp. 277-87, and present edition, Vol. 6).— Ed
  6. The second copy reads: "this view".— Ed.
  7. The second copy reads: "the minority of the Central Authority".— Ed.
  8. The reference is to the following Communist League members who belonged to the London district: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, the district's President Johann Georg Eccarius, Heinrich Bauer, Hermann Wilhelm Haupt, August Hain, G. Klose, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Pfänder, Konrad Schramm, Sebastian Seiler and Ferdinand Wolff.
  9. The second copy reads: "in the same Society".— Ed.
  10. See this volume, p. 483.— Ed.
  11. See Note 50.
  12. The second copy reads: "Central Authority".— Ed
  13. An allusion to Louis Blanc's participation in the bourgeois Provisional Government of France from February to May 1848 (see this volume, pp. 53, 55-56).
  14. The reference is to the Paris Commune of 1789-94, which administered the French capital during the revolution. It played an important part in organising the revolutionary struggle of the masses and in implementing revolutionary measures introduced after the victory of the Jacobins on the eve of the popular uprising of August 10, 1792, up to the counter-revolutionary coup of 9 Thermidor (July 27), 1794.
  15. This sentence is missing in the second copy.— Ed
  16. These words are missing in the second copy.— Ed.