The Third International after Lenin

Monday, June 20, 2016

Why the German Revolution of 1848 went down to defeat

Amazon review of Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany by Engels:

In 1848 bourgeois-democratic revolutions broke out in much of Europe. In France a Republic was proclaimed again, but still, the working class was dealt a heavy blow. Germany then consisted of 36 principalities, but only two major powers—Prussia and Austria. The bourgeoisie had an opportunity to get rid of feudalism, unite the nation, and establish a democratic republic.

It is necessary for revolutionaries to draw a balance sheet of defeats as well as victories, so Engels writes: “But how it came to pass that thirty-six millions were at once called upon to decide for themselves which way to go, although partly groping in dim twilight, and how then they got lost and their old leaders were for a moment allowed to return to their leadership, that is just the question.”

“If, then, we try to lay before the readers of The Tribune the causes which, while they necessitated the German Revolution of 1848, led quite as inevitably to its momentary repression in 1849 and 1850, we shall not be expected to give a complete history of events as they passed in that country. Later events, and the judgment of coming generations, will decide what portion of that confused mass of seemingly accidental, incoherent, and incongruous facts is to form a part of the world's history. The time for such a task has not yet arrived; we must confine ourselves to the limits of the possible, and be satisfied, if we can find rational causes, based upon undeniable facts, to explain the chief events, the principal vicissitudes of that movement, and to give us a clue as to the direction which the next, and perhaps not very distant, outbreak will impart to the German people.”

Later Engels writes:

“On February 24th, 1848, Louis Philippe was driven out of Paris and the French Republic was proclaimed. On March 13th following, the people of Vienna broke the power of Prince Metternich, and made him flee shamefully out of the country. On the 18th of March the people of Berlin rose in arms, and, after an obstinate struggle of eighteen hours, had the satisfaction of seeing the King surrender himself into their hands. Simultaneous outbreaks of a more or less violent nature, but all with the same success, occurred in the capitals of the smaller States of Germany. The German people, if they had not accomplished their first revolution, were at least fairly launched into the revolutionary career.”

Marx and Engels both took part in the revolution: Marx as a revolutionary writer and editor; Engels as a military officer in the revolutionary forces. The bourgeoisie proved to be more afraid of the working class, which together with the students played the leading revolutionary role, than it was of the feudalists. The Austrian peasants succeeded in largely smashing feudal relations in the countryside, but otherwise the revolution went down to defeat. Marx and Engels wound up in England, and many other revolutionaries also had to flee, some ending up in the United States, where they played a big role in the labor movement and in the Union Army in another bourgeois-democratic revolution.

This is an analysis of what happened and why. In the course of it, the national question in Eastern Europe, and many other questions are explored. Marx and Engels supported independence for Poland and Hungary, but they mistakenly thought that the smaller national groupings would fade from history. With the passage of time, this didn’t happen, and Lenin later set this question right in his works; see National Liberation, Socialism and Imperialism and Lenin's Final Fight: Speeches and Writings, 1922-23, among other sources.

The amount of writings by the two revolutionaries is enormous, some books to start with after this and the Manifesto are: The German IdeologyCapital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Classics);Socialism: Utopian and ScientificThe Paris Commune: Including the "First Manifesto of the International on the Franco-Prussian War," the "Second Manifesto of the International on the ... "the Civil War in France" (Classic Reprint)Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
This book may also be the first time the expression “parliamentary cretinism” is used. There’s a lot of it in the US, especially during pre-election periods.

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