Reports of a Speech by Karl Marx at the Anniversary Celebration of the German Workers' Educational Society in London (1865)

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The only extant report of Marx’s speech, delivered in early February 1865 at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the German Workers’ Educational Society in London, when Marx criticised the idea of the bourgeois state giving assistance to workers’ associations and other Lassallean and Proudhonist dogmas was made by Johann Georg Eccarius and is rather unsatisfactory. In his letters to Wilhelm Liebknecht on February 23 and to Engels on February 25 (see MECW, Vol. 42), Marx drew then attention to mistakes in the report and emphasised that some ideas in it were completely the opposite of what he had said. This particularly applied to the last sentence about the impossibility of joint action fly the proletariat and the bourgeoisie against reactionary, regimes. Marx attributed these blunders in Eccarius’ report to ill health. The German Workers’ Educational Society in London was founded in 1840 by German worker refugees, members of the League of the Just. After the foundation of the Communist League in 1847, representatives of its local communities played the leading role in the Society, which had branches in various working-class districts in London. In 1847 Marx and in 1849-50 Engels took an active part in the Society’s work, but in September 1850 they temporarily withdrew because the Willich-Schapper sectarian — adventurist group had increased its influence in the Society. In the late 1850s, when Marx’s followers (Georg Eccarius, Friedrich Lessner and Karl Schapper, who had rejected firs sectarian views, and others) prevailed again, Marx and Engels resumed their activities in the Educational Society. When the International Working Men’s Association was founded, the Society became its German section in London. Eccarius, Kaub, Lessner, Lochner, Bolleter and other members of the Society joined the Central Council of the International Association and played an important part in its activities. The Society existed until 1918, when it was closed by. the British government.

[...] Of the speeches made at the anniversary celebration I shall only report some remarks by Karl Marx. Concerning the dispute about self-help versus state-help he said that both parties were mistaken. In bourgeois society all the means of subsistence and of labour belong to the capitalists and therefore self-help is nonsense. On the other hand, it is obvious that under a Bismarckian government state assistance is out of the question. — The workers cannot sell themselves to the Bismarck government. State assistance can only proceed from a state in which the proletariat exercises supreme power. To preach the emancipation of labour within the Prussian monarchy would be to raise a storm in a teacup. The emancipation of labour implies the liberation of Germany and this in turn entails the restoration of Poland and the overthrow of the Prussian monarchy. Turning to the Progress Party’s[1] criticisms of the behaviour of the workers towards the bourgeoisie, Marx said that at the time when he had written that the workers must unite with the bourgeoisie against absolutism, it had been assumed that the German bourgeoisie would achieve at least as much as the English bourgeoisie had achieved in its time, but this had not happened in fact. In Germany, and particularly in Prussia, a press law was in force which freely permitted people high up in society to abuse and slander those beneath them. He added that the workers’ newspapers and the workers’ movement itself could only exist with police authorisation and that the government could only be attacked with kid gloves. In such conditions joint action by the workers and the bourgeoisie was impossible, particularly since the bourgeoisie was too cowardly to carry out its own programme.

  1. A reference to the members of the Party of Progress founded in June 1861 (the most eminent figures were Waldeck, Virchow, Schulze-Delitzsch, Forckenbeck and Hoverbeck). The Party of Progress advocated unification of Germany under Prussia, convocation of an all-German parliament, and a liberal ministry responsible to the Chamber of Deputies. Fearing a people’s revolution, it did not support the basic democratic demands — universal suffrage, freedoms of the press, association and assembly. In 1866 the Party of Progress split and its Right wing founded the National Liberal Party, which capitulated to the Bismarck Government.