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Franz Mehring

Franz Mehring


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Franz Mehring was born in Schlawe, Germany, on 27th February, 1846. He became a journalist and worked for various daily and weekly newspapers including Neue Zeit, Die Zukunft and Frankfurter Zeitung. Mehring also edited the socialist newspaper, Berliner Volkszeitung.

Mehring supported August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht when they voted against war credits in 1870: "There were still traces of a split in the Social Democracy when it came to voting the war credits in July, 1870; all the Social Democratic deputies voted favorably except Liebknecht and Bebel, who abstained from voting. When in December of the same year the second war credit was to be granted, all differences had disappeared, and every single parliamentary deputy voted. All the groups of the Social Democracy of that time lined up as a unit against the militarism of the class-controlled government, a stand to which the party has adhered ever since."

Mehring joined the Social Democratic Party in 1890 and soon became accepted as one of the SDP's theoreticians. In 1893 he published On Historical Materialism where he attempted to explain the theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: "The bourgeois world today regards historical materialism as it did Darwinism a lifetime ago, and socialism half a lifetime ago. It reviles it without understanding it.... The life work of Marx and Engels is based throughout on historical materialism; all their writings are founded upon this. It is simply a trick of the bourgeois pseudo-sciences to pretend that they made only occasional excursions into the science of history in order to find support for a theory of history."

Mehring was deeply influenced by the work of Rosa Luxemburg. Her biographer, Paul Frölich, pointed out: "Franz Mehring used Luxemburg's manuscript for the explanatory notes to his edition of the essays by Marx and Engels from the years 1848-49, and it is not difficult to distinguish and intellectual influence of Rosa Luxemburg in his work." In 1897 Mehring published The History of German Social Democracy.

The author of Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work (1940) has argued: "Franz Mehring was a touchy and sensitive man given to nursing grudges. No wonder they were often clashing and breaking up... Nevertheless, their mutual respect for each other's intellectual achievements, their related temperaments, and finally their common aims and enemies brought them together again and again."

In 1911 Mehring warned against the dangers of war with Britain and France and called on the working-class to stop this from happening: "For the working class this helplessness no longer exists. They have an approved weapon with which to tear the question of peace and war from the hands of the diplomatists, in that they take this question into their own hands.... An old poet has said: When the kings quarrel the peoples get the blows. But if the peoples refuse to allow themselves to be flogged, kings will think twice before they quarrel. Certainly the peace policy of the workers cannot prevent a world-wide war under all conditions, but it can at least provide that such a way shall bring the ruin of those who have instigated it."

Karl Liebknecht was the only member of the Reichstag who voted against Germany's participation in the First World War. He argued: "This war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an Imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of the world markets and for the political domination of the important countries in the interest of industrial and financial capitalism. Arising out of the armament race, it is a preventative war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and of secret diplomacy."

Clara Zetkin later recalled: "The struggle was supposed to begin with a protest against the voting of war credits by the social-democratic Reichstag deputies, but it had to be conducted in such a way that it would be throttled by the cunning tricks of the military authorities and the censorship. Moreover, and above all, the significance of such a protest would doubtless be enhanced, if it was supported from the outset by a goodly number of well-known social-democratic militants.... Out of all those out-spoken critics of the social-democratic majority, only Karl Liebknecht joined with Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, and myself in defying the soul-destroying and demoralising idol into which party discipline had developed."

Mehring now joined with Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Karl Liebknecht and Clara Zetkin to establish an underground political organization called Spartakusbund (Spartacus League). The Spartacus League publicized its views in its illegal newspaper, Spartacus Letters. Liebknecht, like the Bolsheviks in Russia, began arguing that socialists should turn this nationalist conflict into a revolutionary war.

In May 1915, Karl Liebknecht published a pamphlet, The Main Enemy Is At Home! He argued: "The main enemy of the German people is in Germany: German imperialism, the German war party, German secret diplomacy. This enemy at home must be fought by the German people in a political struggle, cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists. We think as one with the German people – we have nothing in common with the German Tirpitzes and Falkenhayns, with the German government of political oppression and social enslavement. Nothing for them, everything for the German people. Everything for the international proletariat, for the sake of the German proletariat and downtrodden humanity."

Rosa Luxemburg pointed out that it was important to stop the First World War through mass action. This brought her into conflict with Lenin who had argued that "the slogan of peace is wrong - the slogan must be, turn the imperialist war into civil war." Lenin believed that a civil war in Russia would bring down the old order and enable the Bolsheviks to gain power. Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches took the side of the Mensheviks in their struggle with the Bolsheviks. As a result Lenin favoured the Polish section led by Karl Radek over those of Luxemburg.

On 1st May, 1916, the Spartacus League decided to come out into the open and organized a demonstration against the First World War in the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. One of those who attended reported: "It was a great success. At eight o'clock in the morning a dense throng of workers - almost ten thousand - assembled in the square, which the police had already occupied well ahead of time. Karl Liebknecht, in uniform, and Rosa Luxemburg were in the midst of the demonstrators and greeted with cheers from all sides." Several of its leaders, including Liebknecht and Luxemburg were arrested and imprisoned.

Franz Mehring, who published a biography of Karl Marx: A Biography in 1918, died in Berlin on 28th January, 1919.

The bourgeois world today regards historical materialism as it did Darwinism a lifetime ago, and socialism half a lifetime ago. It reviles it without understanding it. Eventually, and with great difficulty, the bourgeoisie began to grasp that Darwinism was really something other than an “ape theory”, and that socialism was not a matter of “having a share-out” or “laying a thieving hand on all the fruits of a thousand years of culture”. But historical materialism still remains something upon which they pour phrases that are as foolish as they are cheap, describing it, for example, as the “fantasy” of a few “talented demagogues”...

The life work of Marx and Engels is based throughout on historical materialism; all their writings are founded upon this. It is simply a trick of the bourgeois pseudo-sciences to pretend that they made only occasional excursions into the science of history in order to find support for a theory of history which they had “sucked out of their thumbs”. Capital, as Kautsky has already stressed, is in the first place an historical work, and indeed, in relation to history, it is a mine of only partially explored treasures. And in just the same way one can say that the writings of Engels are incomparably richer in content than they are in scope, encompassing infinitely more historical material than is dreamt of by the academics, who take a few partially understood or deliberately misunderstood sentences at face value, and then think they have done something wonderful in discovering a “contradiction” or something of the sort in them. It would be a very worthwhile task to bring together the wealth of historical views which, are scattered in the works of Marx and Engels in a systematic fashion, and certainly this task will at some point be carried out. But for now we must content ourselves with a general indication, because my aim, here is to draw only the essential outlines of historical materialism, and to do so in a negative rather than a positive way, through the refutation of the commonest objections which are raised against it.

On August of this year it was ten years ago that Frederick Engels closed his eyes for ever, less towards the end than at the zenith of his happy and fruitful life. He remained young right till a patriarchal age, and in his old age he exercised his greatest historical influence, as he influenced Lassalle in youth and Marx in middle age.

It would be wrong to conclude that Engels’s mind was slow in coming to maturity. On the contrary, he soon developed, like Lassalle and Marx. When he was younger than either of them, he wrote an epoch-making work, a work of lasting importance, the first great monument of scientific Socialism. He was only 24 when he wrote his book on the Condition of the Working Classes in England. Such a brilliant beginning in science for a young man has always been rare, and this shows that he had strength and genius – the more especially that there was constant progress for half a century. The old man fully fulfilled what had been expected from the young man.

When Engels wrote his first work, which opened the way, he already knew Marx. Not only had they corresponded, but they had been in personal communication, and had formed the plan of a common work which appeared later under the title of the Holy Family. But Marx had in no way exercised any influence on the book relating to the condition of the English working class; on the contrary, Engels introduced him to many subjects of which he knew nothing. But a few years later, when they wrote together the Communist Manifesto, Engels took a secondary place, as he himself has always clearly recognised. It was as his friend’s most faithful and most true assistant that he fought during the revolutionary years, and afterwards, except for trifling incidents, he disappeared from public life. Then he re-appeared, being nearly 60 years of age, with his second great book (The Anti-Duhring), which marks an important advance in scientific Socialism, and when he picked up the sword which fell from the hand of his dying friend he remained for many years the most important man of the international working-class movement.

What the morning and noon had refused to him was given to him in abundance by the evening. Engels thought it was given in superabundance, though he would admit that he had done much for his destiny. As a fact, his friendship for Karl Marx was the greatest happiness, but also the great suffering of his life. He made for it many sacrifices, great even for him, but it was an honour for him greater than might have been given to him by the finest intellectual gift to have sacrificed himself to a superior genius, not in a doleful and hesitating way, but with real devotion. Knowing what the strength of Marx was for the working class, he knew how to be modest, and if more than one considerable talent was shattered against the genius on which he looked with an envious eye, Engels – and also Lassalle – showed himself to be the equal of the master by walking at his side without any trace of jealousy.

It would be idle to speculate as to what would have happened to Engels or to Marx if they had never met. They were bound to come together, and the only thing that we can do in rendering grateful recognition to their common work is to just to the work of each.

The life which Engels lived seemed to have passed happy and serene compared to the storms which agitates the lives of Lassalle and of Marx, but it was not free from troubles and worries, and what fate spared him in one way it may have been said unmercifully to have overwhelmed him with in another. Destiny has not failed in thinking differently of the dead, but Engels, as a wise man, predicted that this would be, and in the last years of his life he used to say that his present reputation, which seemed to him to be then excessive, would fall to its true level when he was no longer among the living.

That is what has happened, and to-day there is more danger in thinking too little of Engels than of estimating him at too high a standard. For Karl Marx grows greater and greater in spite of, or perhaps on account of, the race of Lilliputians who would like to climb, in their despairing vanity, on the foot of his monument so as to pull down the laurels from his head. Thus he seems to rise above Engels. Yet Marx cannot rise without taking Engels with him. For Engels was not only his interpreter and his acolyte, such as Marx often found in his life and after his death, but he was also his independent co-worker, his mind was not of the same extent, but of the same class, of the same race, and – to make a comparison which seems obvious – you cannot ignore the historic importance of Lessing because Leibniz was a more universal genius.

This has for years been more clumsy than the foreign policy of England and France, which is to be explained from the fact that the German diplomatists are recruited from the backward Junket class and is bound down to their short-sighted class interests. All the same, the methods according to which they are managed are not better than those adopted here, and if the foreign policy of England and France is conducted with greater dexterity the fact remains that it is no more generous and magnanimous, or even more mindful of the interests of the working class than that of Berlin. In its squabble with foreign Powers we are for this very reason bound to show the more complete impartiality towards the German diplomacy, as it is not in the interests of the international proletariat that this should he looked on as alone guilty of having provoked the danger of war last summer; the fight against Imperialism will only be rendered more difficult if all the blame is thrown on to one Government which really should be meted out to all; or, to put the matter more accurately, when a vile system itself ought to be made responsible.

What has now made such a deep impression on the mass of the nation, so that even the agitation in connection with the Reichstag elections has had to give way, is the feeling which came over the rider in the ballad when he discovered that, without knowing it, he was trotting over the frozen water of Lake Constance: a mortal terror of the frightful condition of affairs when a small number of people, whose sagacity and the honesty of whose intentions are matters beyond our control, are able to decide whether Europe is to be laid waste by a world-wide war or not. At no time has this intolerable state of affairs been so brilliantly exposed in all its hideous reality as is the case now, and never was the indignation on that account so deep or so lively, extending as it does a long way into the ranks of the very bourgeoisie themselves. The more necessary it is to keep this fire of indignation glowing, the more necessary is it to keep principles to the fore, and anxiously to be on the watch lest the opinion should gain ground that the matter would have been otherwise if only Bethmann-Hollweg and Kiderlen Waechter had played their cards as well as they have undoubtedly played them badly. This diplomatic intrigue is equally repugnant whether Bismarck garbles the Ems despatch, or Kiderlen sends the Panther to Agadir.

No exaggerated importance ought either to be attached to the fact that Germany, with its system of personal rule, is in a worse position than countries with Parliamentary government. In the realm of foreign policy that does certainly make a difference, but none so very great. The German defenders of personal rule are not so entirely wrong with their assertion that foreign policy even in countries where Parliament rules is made over the head of Parliaments. What is to-day the foreign policy of all States – namely, a policy of robbery or barter, where every State tries to swindle the other in its own interest – this foreign policy cannot be controlled by an assembly consisting of several hundred people. A Parliament can certainly lay down the lines on which foreign policy must go, but it cannot control the carrying out of its wishes; it cannot prevent the aims of the policy being changed in the process of execution. A Cabinet that represents the interests of the dynasty and the ruling classes against foreign countries can never show the cards to Parliament, while they are cheating or trying to cheat the foreigners, for this reason alone if for no other – namely, on account of the opposition between the interests of the dynasty and the ruling classes on the one hand and those of the workers on the other.

It is sixty years since Lothar Bucher described in a most drastic fashion how even the English House of Commons is deceived in questions of foreign policy. He writes: “With the most complete secrecy the Minister of Foreign Affairs opens negotiations, gives instructions to Ambassadors and Admirals, signs agreements. After a time rumours come from abroad; somebody asks for information; a question is put. The Minister withholds all information. How he does so depends on his temperament and his skill. The one absolutely refuses an answer from a high sense of duty, from a feeling of his responsibility, in the interest of the Service; negotiations are proceeding; the diplomatic witch’s pot is on the boil; the gold is almost ready; a profane glance and everything would be spoilt; the philosopher’s stone would be turned to coal. The House turns away with a shudder and reconciles itself to its ignorance. Lord Palmerston attained the same end in another manner. He springs at once from his seat with great agility, as if he had not expected the question. He is exceedingly happy and grateful to his honourable friend – if he may so describe him – for bringing the matter before the House, to which all servants of Her Majesty are responsible, and for which no matter is too small or unimportant or too great, whose wisdom controls the fate of England! And he then either gives a reply that is untrue in point of fact, or so carefully prepared that it can be interpreted in more than one sense, or says something that is either meaningless or insolent. We have not read all the speeches of Palmerston, but very many, and we have found no answer which could not he brought under one or other of these categories.” So far Bucher, who was a shrewd observer and had a thorough acquaintance with the diplomatic swindles, but who, in his bourgeois helplessness, knew no other way of escape than by becoming the subservient tool of a diplomatist who was still more cunning and astute than Palmerston.

For the working class this helplessness no longer exists. They have an approved weapon with which to tear the question of peace and war from the hands of the diplomatists, in that they take this question into their own hands. The diplomatic game, about whose incredible stupidity even Bismarck himself has many times spoken with contempt, only becomes serious in so far as the masses pay with their lives and possessions for diplomatic undertakings. So soon as they refuse, the diplomatic house of cards falls down. We are not yet so far, but we are on the way, and will soon arrive at this. If last summer the thunder clouds rolled up but did not discharge, a large part of the debt is due to the peace demonstrations of the international proletariat; and if to-day not only Grey in the English Parliament, but also Kiderlen in the Reichstag, are obliged to answer in a very different manner to the days of Palmerston and Bismarck, so is that to be ascribed to the decision of the workers to form their own opinion on peace and war.

An old poet has said: “When the kings quarrel the peoples get the blows.” But if the peoples refuse to allow themselves to be flogged, kings will think twice before they quarrel. Certainly the peace policy of the workers cannot prevent a world-wide war under all conditions, but it can at least provide that such a way shall bring the ruin of those who have instigated it. This policy can and must be a policy of a free hand. There is no need to get enthusiastic on ostensibly national grounds for Bethmann and Kiderlen, but there is equally no need to let our dislike of these men lead us to grow enthusiastic about Grey and Lloyd George. The workers need not say what they would do on the outbreak of a world war, but they have no need to say what they would not do. The main thing is to awake and keep on stirring up in all diplomatists of the political world, small and great, the feeling that necessity knows no law. That they will understand, although according to Bucher and Bismarck their understanding is none too great, and so soon as they have understood it is such peace assured as is possible for a capitalist age.

Of the three great English novelists during the long reign of Queen Victoria - Bulwer, Dickens and Thackeray - Dickens was the most loved and most read, although the literature and philosophy of the Continent were much less familiar to him than to either of his classically educated rivals. Yet he easily outstripped them by his original talent and by that indomitable energy for work and life which was perhaps his most outstanding quality...

The nerve-shattering life of the city was the real spirit of his artistic creation. He knew that life in its heights and depths; with wonderful penetration he grasped its social types and embodied them in living figures, many of which are still popular in England and beyond England as well. Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller compare in fame with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. His heart, even when he was a celebrated dinner guest of Ministers of State and a close friend to all the famous names of England, was with the poor and unfortunate from whose midst he had, by his huge strength of spirit and life, raised himself to brilliant fame. No one could feel more deeply for Nature’s stepchildren, the blind, the dumb, and the deaf, nor more deeply – and this says even more – for the stepchildren of society. Even bourgeois aesthetes said of Dickens, partly in accusation, partly in wonder, that he never confused in his sympathy for the working classes crudity, criminality, immorality, or filth.

His creative powers were almost unbelievable. As much as he enjoyed the exciting social life which the fruits of his writing made possible, he still managed to write in scarcely two decades twelve substantial novels as well as a host of stories and sketches, a yearly Christmas tale, travel journals and other things as well; matters which might otherwise occupy the whole of a man’s life, such as the founding of a newspaper, the Daily News, or a substantial weekly magazine, Household Words, were for him incidental. Attempts were made to explain his productivity as carelessness; he was accused of a lack of economy, of clumsiness in his plots and denouements, of the improbabilities of his stories, of the mannered style, of a broadness in his humor, of exaggerations, and so on. It is difficult in fact to argue with many of these accusations, which are understandable in light of the facility with which Dickens wrote. Still it goes too far to contest on those grounds the honors due him as the author, since in many of his creations (and not in the least of them) he pursued certain moral ends.

One need only mention in this connection Oliver Twist, in which he describes the poor-relief with such biting humor, or Nicholas Nickleby where he does the same for the school systems, or Bleak House in which he does it for the judiciary. As it happens, notwithstanding the shameful conditions which they reveal, these novels remain a claim to fame on behalf of the English people. If a German author, either in Dickens’ time or now, had dared to portray the venality and inflexibility of the official institutions of the government as Dickens did with respect to the judiciary in Bleak House, he would be defamed in all patriotic circles, including the so-called liberal ones, as a disgrace to the Government; and the insulted judges would prepare their genuine Prussian requital, inviting the malcontent to lengthy afterthoughts in prison. There is something true in the writer’s words: “Only a free people is worthy of an Aristophanes.” To return to Dickens, however, he did not consider tendentiousness in art to be objectionable, but only that tendentiousness which utilized inartistic means. And in the choice of his own means, Dickens, as his letters edited by Forster show, was extraordinarily deliberate and circumspect. Of course, according to an aesthetic doctrine which he himself had contrived. But Lessing already knew that each genius creates new rules for himself; and as strongly as an aesthetic theory may attempt to draw the boundaries around ethical judgment and artistic taste, in the practice of artistic creation those boundaries are continually overrun, as many of the most famous art works of all people and times attest. “To better and to convert men” is an undeniable drive even in the areas of writing and painting; and to attempt to evade it anxiously can readily lead to opposite extremes represented in those tasteless and bland sauces into which a full blown morality is poured under the guise of art...

Dickens regarded alcoholism as the English national vice, but even with respect to it he kept himself free of narrowly partisan fanaticism; he himself enjoyed a drink and was never overcome by the attractions of abstinence. Nonetheless, he basically favored the temperance movements; and it was only as they sought to uproot alcoholism with pietistic and moralistic sermonizing that he poked fun at them, for example in one of the scenes in Pickwick Papers. He reiterated constantly the social causes of alcoholism – the confined, unhealthy dwellings with their disgusting odors, the mean working places with their lack of light, air, and water. He felt that if one showed so emphatically the side of the coin on which the common people with their mistakes and crimes were engraved, one was the more obligated to show the other side as well, where the mistakes and crimes of the governments which ruled the people were impressed.

One cannot call him, then, a socialist writer. He lacked any speculative plan or inclination along these lines, quite aside from the fact that it was much more difficult then than now to visualize bourgeois society overthrown and reconstructed on new foundations. Dickens had to work himself up from the bitterest poverty, in the absence of any systematic education; all philosophy would have seemed to him, had he ever troubled himself with the question, a bit foolish. As difficult as the first stages of his life might have been, he was at 27 a famous writer; bourgeois society looked to him uncannily like a stepmother. What it was able to offer, it strenuously heaped on him. He did not, however, become its toady on that account, as did so many like him and for lesser prices; his good heart and his healthy understanding of mankind kept his eyes open to its faults. But with all his passionate words his political credo remained that the institutions of England must be improved, not replaced by new ones.

In the last decade of his life Dickens was overtaken by the auri sacra fames, the unholy lust for gold, which was richly enough satisfied. Not only the writer ran afoul of this; the man himself also deteriorated in a version of suicide awful in its details. It was, apparently, certain love affairs which gave him the idée fixe that he had to earn more and more in order to assure a lavish living not only in the present but also in the future for whomever he was involved with. The extraordinary talent of representation which Dickens had restricted to playacting, reading aloud, and dinner table talk, he now turned to the public recital of his works. His friend Forster had the courage to tell him honestly that this means of earning money was not worthy of him, but this single friendly voice remained unheard in the storm of approbation which accompanied the writer’s new career. He had, however, purchased his own demons, which pursued and scourged him from then on and until, in July, 1870, he broke down.

Thus, a shadow marks the twilight of the writer; but this shadow should not be allowed to obscure the brilliant light of his dawn and midday. The grave of the writer, on February 7th, his hundredth birthday, deserves from the German working class as well, a wreath of homage.

After the revolution of 1848 had failed to create a united Germany the German government tried to utilize the growing need of economic unity, for dynastic purposes, to create, not a united Germany, but as the then King William put it, an elongated Prussia. Lassalle and Schweitzer, Marx and Engels, Liebknecht and Bebel agreed absolutely that the German unity which the German proletariat needed could be attained only through national revolution, and they therefore fought uncompromisingly all dynastic aspirations based on a greater Prussia. But they had to concede subsequently on account of the cowardice of the Bourgeoisie and the weakness of the proletariat that a national revolution was utterly impossible, and that the Prussia;of blood and iron; offered more favorable prospects for the proletarian struggle than any futile efforts to put the Bourgeoisie back into power. After Sedan they accepted the Prussian-German Empire, such as it was, as an accomplished fact, furnishing a better basis for the struggle for emancipation than the preceding wretched regime.

There were still traces of a split in the Social Democracy when it came to voting the war credits in July, 1870; all the Social Democratic deputies voted favorably except Liebknecht and Bebel, who abstained from voting. All the groups of the Social Democracy of that time lined up as a unit against the militarism of the class-controlled government, a stand to which the party has adhered ever since, until the 4th of August, 1914.


Karl Marx: the story of his life - Franz Mehring

Part of the series of biographies of Karl Marx.
'Karl Marx: The Story of His Life' (German: 'Karl Marx. Geschichte seines Lebens'), first published in German in 1918, is considered a classic amongst biographies of Marx. Written by Franz Mehring (1846-1919).


A Spartacan Manifesto

March 8, 1919

Red carnations are laid on the tomb of German communist leader Rosa Luxemburg during a ceremony to commemorate her death. (Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch)

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Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, founders of the Spartacus League, were brutally murdered by proto-fascists on January 15, 1919. Two months after their deaths, The Nation’s new International Relations Section published the full text of what it called their “Spartacan Manifesto”:

The manifesto of the Spartacus group in Germany to the working class of the world issued in the early days of the revolution was published in Switzerland and later in the Populaire (Paris) of January 11, from which the following is taken. According to an article in the Populaire of January 10, printed in the last issue of the International Relations Section, the manifesto was previously suppressed by the French censor. Of the four signers of the manifesto two, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, have been murdered, and Franz Mehring has died.

TO THE MEN AND WOMEN OF ALL COUNTRIES:

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History and Heartbreak: The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg

COMRADES: The Revolution has reached Germany. The soldier masses who four years were driven to the shambles by the profiteering capitalists, the working-class masses who during the same four years were deceived, oppressed, starved, have risen in revolt. Prussian militarism, that terrible instrument of oppression, that scourge of humanity, has been overthrown. Its most prominent representatives, and consequently those par excellence responsible for this war, the Emperor and the Crown Prince, have fled. Soldiers’ and workmen’s councils are being formed everywhere.

Proletarians of all countries, we do not say that in Germany all power is actually in the hands of the working people, or that complete victory for the Proletarian revolution has been obtained. Those Socialists who in August, 1914, abandoned our most sacred principle, and who during four years have betrayed the German working class and the Internationale at the same time, are still a part of the Government. But the real German working class speaks to you now, fellow proletarians. We believe we have the right to speak to you in the name of the real working class of Germany. In order to live up to our international duties we have been compelled from the first days of this war to combat with all our power this criminal Government and scourge it as the party actually guilty of precipitating the war.

At last we are justified before history, before the Internationale, and before the German proletariat. The masses enthusiastically admit that we are right, and larger and larger fractions recognize that the time has come for an accounting with the dominant capitalist class. But the German proletariat cannot alone complete this great work it cannot wage the struggle and win the victory without appealing to the solidarity of the working class of the entire world.

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Comrades of the belligerent countries, we know your situation. We know full well that your Governments, now that they have won the victory, will undertake by the outward splendor and glory of that victory to dazzle and blind at birth the popular movements of the people toward liberty. We know that they will make use of the victory to make the people forget the causes and objects of this wholesale murder.

But we also know another thing, and that is that the working classes of your countries have suffered terribly in flesh and blood they are tired of this horrible carnage they are now returning to their homes where they will find nothing but misery and poverty, while fortunes reaching hundreds of millions have accumulated in the hands of the capitalists. These workers understand now that the war was carried on by their Governments, as well as by our Government, in the interest of the money lords. And they will recognize, moreover, that their Governments in speaking of the “rights of civilization,” of the “defense of small nations,” speak, as our Government spoke, in the interest of capitalist profits. The working classes of your countries understand that the “peace of justice” and of the “society of nations” leads to the same despicable and cowardly rapacity as did the peace of Brest-Litovsk. Here as there the same immodest greed, the same desire to oppress, the same determination to exploit to the utmost limit through the preponderant power of military strength.

Imperialism in every country does not know conciliation. It knows but one right, the right of capitalist profits. It speaks but one language, that of the sword. It uses but one method, violence. And when imperialists now talk of the “society of peoples,” of “disarmament,” of the “rights of small nations,” of “self-determination of peoples,” they utter nothing but the habitual and lying phrases of the dominant class, designed to lull to sleep the vigilance of the proletariat.

Workers of every country! This war should be the last war. We owe it to the 12,000,000 murdered victims, to our children, to humanity.

By this infamous murder of the peoples Europe is ruined. Twelve million dead bodies fill the horrible graves dug by imperialist crime. The flower of youth and the best manhood of the peoples have been mowed down. Productive forces without measure have been destroyed. Humanity has shed nearly all its blood through this slaughter without parallel in the history of the world. Conquerors as well as conquered stand on the brink of the precipice. The direst poverty and the stoppage of the mechanism of production are imminent, and epidemics and degeneration menace humanity.

The responsible criminals for this horrible anarchy and this unchained chaos are the dominant classes, and they are unable to rise above the work they have wrought. The brute of capitalism precipitated the hell of the world war. And now it can neither avert disorder nor establish genuine order nor assure to tortured humanity bread and work, peace and civilization, justice and liberty.

The peace and justice that the ruling classes are preparing are nothing but a new regime of brute violence, out of which the hydra of oppression, hatred, and new and bloody wars raise their thousand heads.

Socialism alone is capable of consummating the great work of a durable peace. Alone it can cure the thousand wounds of humanity and transform into flourishing gardens the fields of Europe trampled under foot by the horsemen of the apocalypse. Alone out of the general destruction it can multiply ten-fold the productive forces. It will awaken all the physical and moral forces of humanity, substituting hatred and discord fraternal solidarity and concord and respect for all human beings.

If the representatives of the working people of every country clasp hands with us under the banner of Socialism to conclude peace, peace will be concluded within a few hours. Then there will be no disputes over the left bank of the Rhine, nor over Mesopotamia, nor over Egypt and the colonies. There will be but one people: the working class of every race and every language. There will be but one justice: the equality of all men. There will be but one aim: prosperity and progress for every one.

Humanity is faced with the following alternative: dissolution and disappearance in capitalist anarchy rebirth by the social revolution. The hour for decision has struck. If you believe in Socialism, it is time to demonstrate it by action. If you are a Socialist, you must act now.

Workers of all countries! If we summon you now to make common cause with us, it is not in the interests of the German capitalists, who, under the banner of the “German nation,” are trying to escape the consequences of their own crime. No! summon you to make common cause with us in your own interest. Face the facts. Your victorious capitalists are ready to repress in a bloody manner the revolution in Germany because they fear it will reach them. You, yourselves, are not enjoying greater liberty because of the “victory.” The “victory” has reinforced your slavery. If your ruling classes succeed in strangling the proletarian revolution in Germany and in Russia, then they will turn upon you with redoubled fury. Your capitalists hope that victory over us and revolutionary Russia will give them the power to scourge you and build upon the tomb of Socialism a thousand-year empire of exploitation.

That is why we cry aloud: Arise and face the struggle! Arise and act! The time for empty demonstrations, platonic resolutions, and sounding words has passed. The hour for action has struck for the Internationale. We pledge ourselves to name everywhere soldiers’ and workmen’s councils who will take over the political power and working together will establish peace.

Neither Lloyd George nor Poincaré, neither Sonnino nor Wilson, neither Erzberger nor Scheidemann should conclude peace. It is under the floating banner of the worldwide Socialist revolution that peace should be made.

Workers of all countries! We summon you to accomplish the task of socialist liberation, to restore a human form to violated humanity, and to give a living meaning to the phrase with which we formerly greeted each other and with which we bade each other goodbye:

“The Internationale will be mankind!” (“L’Internationale sera le genre humain!”)

Clara Zetkin
Rosa Luxemburg
Karl Liebknecht
Franz Mehring

Clara Zetkin Clara Zetkin was a German Marxist theorist, activist, and advocate for women's rights.

Rosa Luxemburg Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist, anti-war activist, and revolutionary socialist.

Karl Liebknecht Karl Liebknecht was a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League.

Franz Mehring Franz Mehring was a German communist and revolutionary.

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Franz Mehring - History

Franz Mehring: On Historical Materialism

(From the Archives of Marxism)

Marxists seek to understand the world in order to change it. Our aim is the forging of workers parties to overthrow the capitalist profit system through proletarian revolutions worldwide, ushering in an egalitarian socialist society. In his 1893 pamphlet, On Historical Materialism , excerpted below, Franz Mehring drew on the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and advanced an appraisal of conceptions and thoughts as subordinate but integral elements of the material social structure. A brilliant historian and theoretician, Mehring was also an outstanding communist. When the German Social Democracy aligned with its &ldquoown&rdquo bourgeoisie in World War I, Franz Mehring&mdashalready well into his sixties&mdashpicked up the banner of revolutionary internationalism along with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, including by joining them in founding the German Communist Party in December 1918. Mehring died on 29 January 1919, shortly after the murder of his comrades, Luxemburg and Liebknecht.

Let us glance once again at the accusations and objections which have been made against historical materialism: that it denies all ideal forces, that it makes humanity the helpless plaything of a mechanical development, that it rejects all moral standards.

Historical materialism is no closed system crowned by an ultimate truth it is the scientific method for the investigation of processes of human development. It starts from the unchallengeable fact, that human beings do not only live in nature but also in society. There have never been people in isolation every man who accidentally loses contact with human society, quickly starves and dies. But historical materialism thus recognizes all ideal forces in the widest context. &ldquoOf everything that happens in nature, nothing happens as a desired, conscious purpose. On the other hand, in the history of society, the participants are nothing but human beings endowed with consciousness, acting with thought and passion, working for specific purposes nothing happens without a conscious intention, without a planned goal. Will is determined through thought or passion. But the levers which in turn determined the passion or the thought are of very different kinds. They can be outside objects or ideal motives, greed, &lsquoenthusiasm for truth and justice,&rsquo personal hatred or just individual peculiarities of all kinds&rdquo (Engels). This is the essential difference between the history of the development of nature on the one hand and of society on the other. But apparently all the innumerable conflicts of individual actions and wills in history only lead to the same result as the unconscious, blind agencies in nature. On the surface of history accident seems to reign as much as on the surface of nature. &ldquoOnly rarely does what is desired take place in most cases, the desired aims cut across each other, and come into conflict, or these aims are from the beginning impossible or lacking in means.&rdquo But when, through the interplay of all the blind accidents which appear to dominate in unconscious nature, a general law of movement nevertheless imposes itself&mdashonly then does the question arise whether the thoughts and desires of consciously acting human beings are also dominated by such a law.

And the law is to be found, if one searches for it, through which the ideal driving forces of human beings are set into motion. A human being can only reach consciousness in a social relationship, thinking and acting with consciousness the social grouping of which he is part awakens and directs his spiritual forces. The basis of all social community, however, is the form of production of material life, and this determining also in the last analysis the spiritual life process, in its manifold reflections. Historical materialism, far from denying the ideal forces, studies them down to their very basis, so that it can achieve the necessary clarity about where the power of ideas is drawn from. Human beings make their own history, certainly, but how they make history, this is dependent in each case upon how clear or unclear they are in their heads about the material connections between things. Ideas do not arise out of nothing, but are the product of the social process of production, and the more accurately an idea reflects this process, the more powerful it is. The human spirit does not stand above , but within the historical development of human society it has grown out of, in and with material production. Only since this production has begun to develop out of a highly variegated bustle into simple and great contradictions, has it been able to recognize the whole relationship and only after these latter contradictions have died or been overcome, will it win domination over social production, and will the &ldquoprehistory of man come to an end&rdquo (Marx) and then &ldquomen will make their own history with full consciousness, and the leap of man from the realm of necessity into that of freedom&rdquo will take place (Engels)….

Only historical materialism demonstrates the law of this development of thought, and finds the root of this law in that which first made man into man, the production and reproduction of immediate life. That beggarly pride which once decried Darwinism as the &ldquotheory of the apes&rdquo may struggle against this, and find solace in the thought that the human spirit flickers like an unfathomable will-o&rsquo-the-wisp, and with Godlike creative powers fashions a new world out of nothing. This superstition was dealt with by [German Enlightenment-era writer and philosopher] Lessing, both in his mockery of the &ldquobald ability to act now in one way, now in another, under exactly the same circumstances,&rdquo and also through his wise words:

The pot of iron
Likes to be lifted with silver tongs
From the flame, the easier to think itself
A pot of silver.

We can deal more briefly with the accusation that historical materialism denies all moral standards. It is certainly not the task of the history researcher to use moral standards. He should tell us how things were on the basis of an objective scientific investigation. We do not demand to know what he thinks about them according to his subjective moral outlook. &ldquoMoral standards&rdquo are caught up, involved in a continuous transformation, and for the living generation to impose on former generations its changing standards of today, is like measuring the geological strata against the flying sand of the dunes. Schlosser, Gervinus and Ranke, and Janssen [German historians]&mdasheach of them has a different moral standard, each has his own class morals, and even more faithfully than the times they depict, they reflect in their works the classes they speak for. And it goes without saying that it would be no different if a proletarian writer of history were to make rash criticisms of former times from the moral standpoint of his class today.

In this respect historical materialism denies all moral standards&mdashbut in this respect alone. It bans them from the study of history because they make all scientific study of history impossible.

But if the accusation means that historical materialism denies the role of moral driving forces in history, then let us repeat: the precise opposite is true. It does not deny them at all, but rather for the first time makes it possible to recognize them. In the &ldquomaterial, scientifically determinable upheaval of the economic conditions of production&rdquo it has the only certain yardstick for investigating the sometimes slower, sometimes faster changes in moral outlook. These too are in the last analysis the product of the form of production, and thus Marx opposed the Nibelungen tales of Richard Wagner, who tried in the modern manner to make his love stories more piquant by means of a little incest, with the fitting words: &ldquoIn remote antiquity the sister was the wife and that was moral.&rdquo Just as thoroughly as it clears up the question of the great men who are supposed to have made history, historical materialism also deals with the images of historical characters that come and go in history according to their favour and disfavour in the eyes of different parties. It is able to do every historical personality justice, because it knows how to recognize the driving forces which have determined their deeds and omissions, and it can sketch in the fine shadings which cannot be attained by the coarser &ldquomoral standards&rdquo of the ideological writing of history.


Franz Mehring - History

One hundred years ago, on January 28, 1919, Franz Mehring, one of the leading Marxist theoreticians of his time, died at the age of 72. The sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International named their respective publishing houses--Mehring Verlag and Mehring Books--after him.

Franz Mehring was the most important historian of the German workers movement. He authored a four-volume history of German Social Democracy, a history of Germany from the end of the Middle Ages, and the first comprehensive biography of Karl Marx, which appeared on the 100th anniversary of the birth of the founder of scientific socialism, one year prior to Mehring’s death. It was translated into numerous languages and remains a key text that is well worth reading.

A history of German literature, which Mehring repeatedly sought to complete, was abandoned only because other more pressing tasks intervened. However, his essays on literary questions, which make up two volumes of his collected works, provide an overview of 18th and 19th century German literature.

Mehring possessed a comprehensive knowledge of history and literature, and played an indispensable role in educating hundreds of thousands of workers in the fundamentals of Marxism, the traditions of their movement, Prussian history and classical German literature. He thereby immunised them against nationalist myths, militarism and the cult of Prussia that predominated in so-called educated bourgeois circles.

Mehring’s (far from complete) collected works, which were published by Dietz Verlag in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) during the 1980s, comprise 15 volumes. He wrote for several Social Democratic publications, including Vorwärts, the party’s central organ, and Die Neue Zeit, its internationally recognised theoretical flagship. From 1902 to 1907, he was editor-in-chief of the Leipziger Volkszeitung, which offered a platform for Rosa Luxemburg and other representatives of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) left wing. His own articles concentrated on contemporary political, historical, philosophical and cultural issues, and often assumed the form of a polemic.

Until 1895, Mehring also led the Freie Volksbühne (Free People’s Stage) association in Berlin, which was founded as the first cultural-political mass organisation for workers, with the aim of giving impoverished workers access to education and cultural life. Alongside classics like those of Goethe and Schiller, the Volksbühne performed works by socially critical authors of the day, including Henrik Ibsen and Gerhart Hauptmann.

In 1902, Mehring published part of the literary estate of Marx and Engels, a pioneering step in the study of the history of socialism that was to be later pursued in the Soviet Union during the 1920s. From 1906 until 1911, he taught at the SPD’s main party school in Berlin.

In contrast to Georgi Plekhanov, Karl Kautsky and other Marxist theoreticians of the day, who turned to the right with the approach of the war and opposed the proletarian revolution in Russia in 1917, Mehring radicalised with age. Already in 1905, he enthusiastically welcomed the Russian Revolution of that year and supported Rosa Luxemburg in the debate over the mass strike that erupted in the SPD. In 1917, he gave his unconditional backing to Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

In Germany, Mehring emerged as one of the leaders of the revolutionary left wing of the SPD. Already at the 1903 party congress in Dresden he was sharply denounced by the party's right wing after he declared his support for the Marxist opponents of Eduard Bernstein in the revisionism debate. However, party leaders August Bebel and Karl Kautsky were still prepared to defend him at this stage.

When the SPD backed the world war in 1914 and concluded a labour truce with the ruling class, Mehring collaborated with Luxemburg in publishing Die Internationale, which opposed the war from a revolutionary internationalist standpoint. On 1 January, 1916, he was one of 20 delegates to take part in the first national congress of the Spartacus Group.

Although he was already 70 years old and ill, Mehring was taken into military detention for four months in August 1916 due to his opposition to the war. He was elected to the Prussian state parliament in March 1917. He won the Berlin constituency of Karl Liebknecht, who was not allowed to stand due to a conviction. As a member of the Spartacus League, Mehring was heavily involved in the preparations for the founding congress of the German Communist Party, which took place over New Year 1919 in the midst of revolutionary struggles in Berlin. However, Mehring was prevented by illness from participating.

Two weeks later, he suffered the blow of learning how his two closest comrades, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, had been brutally murdered by the right-wing extremist Freikorps, with the SPD government’s seal of approval. He survived Luxemburg and Liebknecht by only two weeks.

The Lessing Legend

Franz Mehring joined the SPD only in 1891, at the age of 45. He was born on February 27, 1846 in the small town of Schlawe in the Prussian province of Pomerania, now the town of Slawno in Poland. His father, an ex-military officer, was a high-ranking tax official and ensured that Mehring had a good education. He studied classical philology in Leipzig and Berlin and worked as a journalist for various daily and weekly newspapers in the 1870s and 1880s. During this time, Mehring was politically a bourgeois democrat. He wavered between national liberalism and social democracy, against which he regularly polemicised.

In 1875, he authored a polemic against the reactionary Prussian court historian Heinrich von Treitschke that was well received in the SPD. Two years later, he published the book German Social Democracy: History and Lessons, which met with bitter criticism from the SPD. In the book, Mehring sharply criticised Marx and the founders of the SPD, August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht and Ferdinand Lassalle, and accused the SPD of inciting hatred towards the fatherland. He received his doctorate from the University of Leipzig in 1882 on the basis of a work with the same title.

It speaks to Mehring’s intellectual integrity that in the course of the intense conflict with Marxism and the SPD, he ultimately accepted their superiority, became a Marxist and joined the SPD.

The first work Mehring wrote as a Marxist was The Lessing Legend. He originally intended to review a newly published biography of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing — 18th century German philosopher, dramatist and art critic—by Erich Schmidt in three or four articles. In the course of the writing, however, the polemic grew to 20 articles, which were published in the literary supplement of Die Neue Zeit from January to June 1892. They were carefully edited before being published in book form.

The book, with the subtitle “On the history and critique of Prussian despotism and classical literature,” sought to oppose the attempt to co-opt one of the most significant poets of the German Enlightenment and present him as a supporter of Prussian absolutism. The central tenet of the “Lessing legend” was the attempt to portray the author of Nathan the Wise and Minna von Barnhelm not merely as a contemporary of Frederick the Great, but also as his intellectual comrade in arms, so as to give Prussian despotism a progressive and Enlightenment aura.

Mehring exposed this legend by making use of his thorough knowledge of the facts, which thoroughly embarrassed his bourgeois opponent. He demonstrated that Lessing did not admire the Prussian king and consider him an intellectual comrade in arms, but hated him and rebelled against the feudal social order. He presented a comprehensive examination of Prussian history that left no trace of the Prussian cult intact.

Friedrich Engels praised the book in a letter to Mehring on July 14, 1893, writing that it was “by far the best presentation in existence of the genesis of the Prussian state, in fact, I can say the only good one, correctly developing the connections in most matters down to their details.” He continued: “One can only regret that it was unable to incorporate all of the further developments, Bismarck included. ” The exposure of “the monarchical-patriotic legends” is one of the most effective means “of overcoming the monarchy as a shield of class rule,” Engels concluded. [1]

Mehring based himself very consciously on the Marxist method, and even added a treatise on historical materialism to the first edition of The Lessing Legend. In the foreword to that edition, Mehring wrote that he had attempted to “make even clearer the fundamental division between enlightened despotism and classical literature in the Germany of the 18th century.” He wrote further that the more the Friedrichian state emerged “as the historical product of the class struggle of princes and Junkers from east of the Elbe, the more sharply our classical literature emerged as the emancipatory struggle of the German bourgeoisie.”

In the first chapter, Mehring noted that Lessing’s character stood “in the starkest contrast to the character of the German bourgeoisie today.” Lessing was the “most free and genuine” of the intellectual pioneers of the German bourgeoisie. “Honest and valiant, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, tremendous contempt for all worldly goods, a hatred of all oppressors and love for the oppressed, his irreconcilable dislike of the world’s great leaders, readiness to fight against all forms of injustice, modest yet proud stand in the bitter struggle against the miserable social and political conditions”—all of this made up Lessing’s character and found a reflection in his writings.

By contrast, the typical traits of the German bourgeoisie today, Mehring continued, were its “timidity and two-faced character, an insatiable thirst for profit, a love of hunting for profit and, above all, of profit itself, bowing to its superiors and trampling on those below, an ineradicable Byzantinism, deafening silence in the face of glaring injustice, and ever more vainglorious and feeble position in contemporary social and political struggles.”

Mehring identified as the root cause of this the betrayal of the 1848 revolution, when the bourgeoisie allied with the Prussian state against the working class. The German bourgeoisie already recognised in 1848, wrote Mehring, that it would never be able to come to power through its own initiative. The bourgeoisie declared itself ready “to share the bayonets with the Prussian state.” For its part, the Prussian state acknowledged that “it had to modernise a little.” This was the compromise upon which the new German Reich emerged.

This is what Mehring identifies as the source of the Lessing legend. The bourgeoisie faced the devilishly difficult task of “reconciling its present reality with its ideal past, of transforming the era of our classical education into the era of Frederick the Great.”

Other great German thinkers and poets, like Winckelmann and Herder, fled their homeland. “The only sacrificial lamb who could be slaughtered for the bourgeoisie’s ideological requirements,” wrote Mehring, was Lessing, who chose to continue living in Prussia. King Frederick to be sure did not care about Lessing and did mistreat him, but, “In that night of fortunate ignorance, in which all cats appeared grey, both men’s tendencies towards ‘intellectual liberation’ were seen as the same.”

The Lessing Legend went through numerous editions and played a crucial role in arming the German working class against the pressure of the Prussia and Bismarck cults, which the bourgeoisie and educated petty-bourgeoisie fully embraced, and which exercised considerable influence over the SPD, particularly among the party and trade union functionaries. As Engels had advised, Mehring developed the themes in The Lessing Legend in a series of articles and books on German history.

Due to its many polemical arguments over points of detail, and the comprehensive knowledge of German history and literature it displays, The Lessing Legend is not an easy read for the contemporary reader. Nonetheless, it is well worth studying. The book provides a number of insights into historical and political questions that are once again highly relevant today. With the return of German militarism, the Prussian cult is enjoying a revival. The reconstruction of prestigious Prussian buildings, notwithstanding their historical baggage, such as the Berlin City Castle and the Garnisonkirche in Potsdam, testifies to this.

As its favourite Prussian historian, the German media has crowned Christopher Clark, who is considered to be not historically compromised, due to his Australian origins. In his 2006 bestseller on the rise and fall of Prussia, Clark paints a very flattering picture of Prussian despotism. He makes no mention of Franz Mehring, and only refers to Lessing in a footnote, without dealing with his significance.

Against neo-Kantianism and Nietzsche

Mehring’s theoretical work was not confined to historical issues. He also combated all attempts to undermine the SPD’s Marxist foundations with idealist and irrationalist conceptions.

After Bismarck’s failure to destroy the SPD by means of the anti-socialist laws, which were lifted in 1890, the ruling class intensified its efforts to ideologically tame the party and integrate it into the state institutions. Neo-Kantianism flourished at the universities. In opposition to the class struggle, it posited a supra-class and supra-historical ethic, and sought to divert the SPD from the dangerous path of socialist revolution into the harmless pursuit of gradual reforms.

Mehring polemicised repeatedly in Die Neue Zeit against the neo-Kantians and their master. One of his most outstanding articles appeared on February 17, 1904 and was titled “Kant and Marx.” [2] He accused neo-Kantianism, “which seeks to graft Marx onto Kant or Kant onto Marx,” of “having no other effect than to once again obscure the hard-fought insights into its historical tasks achieved by the German working class.”

In the eulogies published on the 100th anniversary of his death, Mehring continued, Kant had been proclaimed the philosopher of liberalism. That makes “at least some sense,” he wrote, “as all of the half-heartedness displayed by German liberalism over the past century had already found exemplary expression in Kant.” In the final analysis, Kant’s philosophy could be explained by the fact that “he never goes beyond philistinism.”

Mehring would frequently return to the theme of Kantianism as the philosophy of German philistines, which found its continuation in Arthur Schopenhauer. Neo-Kantianism, he explained, was “in its objective essence nothing more than the attempt to shatter historical materialism.” Its proponents “suffer from a lack of a sense of history, which one comprehends when one has it, but never learns to comprehend when one doesn’t have it.”

Mehring also went into battle against Friedrich Nietzsche, who had considerable influence within the SPD among those who tended towards anarchism. The three fashionable philosophers of the German bourgeoisie—Schopenhauer, (Eduard von) Hartmann, and Nietzsche—wrote Mehring in the 1897 edition of Die Neue Zeit, “are rooted with every fibre of their being in the different stages of economic development that their class has passed through over the last 50 years.” [3]

Schopenhauer “retained his pride as a philosopher, however pathetic the pre-March philistine may have been.” By contrast, Hartmann’s philosophy of the unconscious signified “giving up bourgeois class consciousness entirely, which was the price the philistine had to pay to secure the gracious protection of the Prussian bayonets.” And Nietzsche was “the philosopher of big capital, which has been strengthened to such an extent that it can do without the assistance of Prussian bayonets.”

The revolutionary-sounding phraseology occasionally found in Nietzsche cannot conceal the fact that “he combats the proletarian class struggle from the same elevated intellectual position as the first and best stock market trader,” added Mehring. He then quoted at length from an article by Nietzsche in which Nietzsche combated socialism with the same reactionary arguments employed by the reactionary historian Heinrich von Treitschke. For example, Nietzsche warned against measuring “the suffering and privations of the lower classes of the people . according to the scale of their perceptions.” Nietzsche elaborated, “In reality, the suffering and privations increase with the culture of the individual: the lowest classes are the dullest, improving their conditions means increasing their capacity to suffer.”

Russian Revolution

The Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 marked a turning point for the international socialist movement. In 1905, the practical significance of the conflict between Marxism and revisionism, which had been largely fought out on the theoretical plane until then, came to the fore. In the debate over the mass strike, the trade union leaders and the right wing of the SPD leadership made it explicitly clear that they would oppose all mass revolutionary working class movements. Rosa Luxemburg was prevented from appearing at trade union meetings.

After the victory of the October Revolution in 1917, the organisational break between the Social Democratic defenders of the state and revolutionary communists was not only unavoidable, but overdue.

Mehring immediately recognised the epochal significance of the 1905 revolution and welcomed it with enthusiasm. In a country that was previously seen as a bastion of reaction and backwardness, the working class had emerged as a powerful revolutionary force.

On November 1, 1905, Mehring compared the Russian revolution in Die Neue Zeit with the French revolution of 1789. “What distinguishes the great Russian Revolution from the great French Revolution is its leadership by the class-conscious proletariat,” wrote Mehring. “The weakness of the European revolution of 1848 is the strength of the Russian Revolution in 1905. Its bearer is a proletariat, which has understood the ‘revolution in permanence,’ which the Neue Rheinische Zeitung [published by Marx] preached at the time to deaf ears.” [4]

Mehring did not go so far as Leon Trotsky, who developed his theory of permanent revolution from the revolution of 1905 and drew the conclusion that the working class had to take power in Russia and transform the bourgeois revolution into a proletarian revolution. However, he left no doubt that the future success of the revolution would be dependent upon the working class maintaining the initiative.

“It is not in its power to skip over stages of historical development and transform the Tsarist repressive state into a socialist community all at once,” wrote Mehring. “But it can shorten and pave the path of its emancipatory struggle if it maintains the revolutionary power it has secured and refuses to give it up to the bourgeoisie’s deceitful mirages, while always intervening anew to accelerate the historical, by which we mean revolutionary, development . This is precisely the ‘revolution in permanence’ with which the Russian working class must answer the bourgeoisie’s cry for ‘peace at all costs’.”

Mehring stressed the international significance of the Russian Revolution, and informed the German working class that “The cause of your Russian brothers is also yours.” In the mass strike debate, Mehring unconditionally aligned himself with Rosa Luxemburg.

After the Bolsheviks conquered power in Russia, the German bourgeoisie unleashed a wave of anti-Bolshevik hysteria that found support not only from the SPD, but also from sections of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD). Karl Kautsky in particular agitated publicly against the Bolsheviks’ “terrorism.” Mehring vehemently defended them against this accusation.

In the article “Marx and the Bolsheviks,” [5] Mehring denounced Kautsky and cited Lenin, who had written three years earlier of Kautsky: “The international working class cannot fulfill its world historic revolutionary task without an irreconcilable struggle against such renegacy, this lack of character, this groveling at the feet of opportunism, this unprecedented theoretical distortion of Marxism.” He defended the Bolsheviks against Kautsky’s absurd assertion that Marx understood the “dictatorship of the proletariat” to mean the introduction of universal suffrage.

In June 1918, Mehring published a four-part article in the Leipziger Volkszeitung titled “The Bolsheviks and us.” He firmly rejected the accusation that it was a reckless adventure and contradicted basic conceptions of Marxism “that the Bolsheviks want to build a socialist society in a country that is 90 percent peasant and only 10 percent industrial workers.”

He wrote: “That may be so, but if Marx could state his opinion on this, he would probably repeat the well-known phrase: ‘Well, then I am no Marxist.' He never saw his task in measuring new revolutions according to old formulae, but observed every new revolution to see if it supplied new insights that could assist the emancipatory struggle of the proletariat, caring little if this meant that one or another formula had to be scrapped.” [6]

Mehring unyieldingly pursued the path that he began in 1891 with his embrace of Marxism to the end. The last words of this commemoration can be left to Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote of Mehring on his 70th birthday on February 27, 1916, in the midst of the bloody slaughter of the war:

"And as soon as the socialist spirit once again grips the German proletariat, its first move will be to reach for your writings, the fruits of your life’s work, whose value is imperishable and from which emanates the breath of a strong and noble world outlook. Today, when bourgeois intellectuals are betraying and leaving us in packs to return to the fleshpots of the rulers, we can watch them go with a contemptuous smile: Just go!

“After all, we have taken from the German bourgeoisie the best it had to offer in spirit, talent and character: Franz Mehring." [7]

[1] MEW [The Collected Works of Marx and Engels], Vol. 39, pp. 98-99

[2] Franz Mehring, “Kant und Marx,” Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 13, p. 57 and p. 66

[3] Franz Mehring, “Nietzsche gegen den Sozialismus,” Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 13, p. 164 and p. 169

[4] Franz Mehring, “Die Revolution in Permanenz,” Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 15, pp. 84-88

[5] Franz Mehring, “Marx und die Bolschewiki,” Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 15, pp. 778-780

[6] Franz Mehring, “Die Bolschewiki und wir,” Leipziger Volkszeitung, 31 May, 1 June, 10 June and 17 June, 1918


Franz Mehring

Born Feb. 27, 1846, in Schlawe died Jan. 29, 1919, in Berlin. A figure in the German working-class movement. Philosopher, historian, and literary critic. A Marxist.

Mehring was born into an affluent bourgeois family. He studied at the universities of Leipzig and Berlin (1866&ndash70) and received a Ph.D. in 1882. At first he was a bourgeois radical with socialist leanings. But by 1890 he had essentially completed his evolution from idealism to dialectical and historical materialism and from bourgeois democracy to proletarian socialism. He joined the Social Democratic Party in 1891.

From that time, Mehring devoted his talents as a scholar and publicist to propagandizing the Marxist world view, to struggling for the cause of the working class, and to unmasking the ideological opponents of the proletariat. He became a permanent contributor to the party&rsquos theoretical organ, Die Neue Zeit. Mehring vigorously opposed opportunism and revisionism, expressing his views particularly in the Leipziger Volkszeitung, which he edited from 1902 to 1907. Increasingly, he revealed himself as an intellectual leader of the left revolutionary wing of the German Social Democratic Party. He welcomed the Revolution of 1905&ndash07 in Russia.

Mehring and other German leftists were faithful to proletarian internationalism and condemned the ruling circles of the capitalist countries, including Germany, as instigators of the imperialist war. Although he fought passionately against militarism and chauvinism, he did not understand the imperialist nature of the contradictions that had caused the world war. Mehring was a founder of the International group, an internationalist organization that became the Spartacist League in 1916. In the same year he was arrested for antimilitarist writings and speeches. Mehring exposed the social chauvinists and centrists, but like other leftists, he was late in understanding that the ideological separation from them must be accompanied by an organizational one. He was one of the first Western defenders and propagandists of the ideas of the October Socialist Revolution. In 1918, V. I. Lenin noted appreciatively that in his articles Mehring had shown &ldquothe German workers that the Bolsheviks alone have properly understood what socialism is&rdquo (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 459). Mehring was a founder of the German Communist Party.

The scope of Mehring&rsquos scholarly legacy is extremely wide. As a philosopher he made a considerable contribution to elaborating the materialist conception of history, and he criticized various currents in bourgeois philosophy, including neo-Kantianism, Machism, philosophical revisionism, the views of K. R. E. von Hartmann, A. Schopenhauer, and F. Nietzsche, and the theories of bourgeois and revisionist sociologists and economists such as W. Sombart, E. Bernstein, and E. David. Lenin thought highly of Mehring as a scholar &ldquowho not only wants to be, but knows how to be a Marxist&rdquo (ibid., vol. 18, p. 377).

Mehring contributed a great deal to the development of Marxist literary theory and criticism and art studies and the general principles of Marxist aesthetics. Applying historical materialism to the study of literature, he revealed the major trends in the literature of his time (for example, his articles on naturalism and impressionism, L. N. Tolstoy, and M. Gorky). He offered a Marxist interpretation of German classical literature and criticized its tendentious interpretation in official bourgeois literary studies. One of his main scholarly preoccupations was the study and publication of the works and letters of K. Marx and F. Engels. In the collections From the Literary Legacy of K. Marx, F. Engels, and F. Lassalle (first volume issued in 1902) he published many important works by the founders of Marxism, including articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.

In his historical works, including The Legend of Lessing (1893) and German History From the End of the Middle Ages (1910), as well as Jena and Tilsit, From Tilsit to Tauroggen, and From Kalisz to Carlsbad (a series 1906&ndash13), Mehring provided a concrete elaboration of the Marxist conception of German history. He debunked many of the Prussophile and monarchist legends of bourgeois and Junker historiography, revealed the reactionary role of Prussia and the Hohenzollerns, and showed the consequences of the cowardice of the burghers and later, of the German bourgeoisie. At the same time, he pointed out the progressive and revolutionary traditions of the German people, noted the significance of the Peasant War of 1524&mdash26, and posed the question of the influence of the Great French Revolution on German society.

Mehring also wrote several studies on military history. In his works on the history of the working-class movement, especially the four-volume History of German Social Democracy, Mehring examined the victories of the German working-class movement against the broad background of European and German history, demonstrating the close relationship between these victories and various phases of the international struggle of the proletariat. His biography of Marx is profound and stylistically brilliant. Nevertheless, his works are not entirely free of the mistakes and weaknesses that are characteristic of the writings of other left-wing Social Democrats. For instance, Mehring did not understand the meaning of Marx&rsquo and Engels&rsquo struggle against antiproletarian tendencies in the Communist League and in the First International, and he overestimated the role of Lassalle and his supporters in the German working-class movement.


The Commune Lives

One hundred and fifty years later, it is important to remember that the Paris Commune showed that it was possible for the working class to liberate itself and create a new society. The workers of Paris not only struggled for their own immediate aims, but also fought under the red flag for an entire world free of exploitation, oppression, militarism, and national barriers. Only by learning from the commune, the first example of what Marx called the dictatorship of the proletariat, can the working class today go further and resurrect the commune.

It will live again not just as the Paris Commune but as the New York Commune, the Boston Commune, the Chicago Commune, the LA Commune, the Seattle Commune, the Cairo Commune, the Jakarta Commune, the New Delhi Commune, the Johannesburg Commune, the Buenos Aires Commune. It will live on in all the communes that spring up in suburbs, rundown towns, outskirts, slums, and farms, and in all the forgotten neighborhoods and places. The commune will live again in Flint, in Minneapolis, and in Kenosha. Finally, it will live again as a World Commune of Socialism.


What Mehring family records will you find?

There are 4,000 census records available for the last name Mehring. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Mehring census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 824 immigration records available for the last name Mehring. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the USA, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 1,000 military records available for the last name Mehring. For the veterans among your Mehring ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

There are 4,000 census records available for the last name Mehring. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Mehring census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 824 immigration records available for the last name Mehring. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the USA, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 1,000 military records available for the last name Mehring. For the veterans among your Mehring ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.


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1. Steinberg , Hans-Josef , Sozialismus und deutsche Sozialdemokratie Zur Ideologie der Partei vor dem I. Weltkrieg ( Hanover , 1967 ), pp. 27 – 30 Google Scholar Lidtke , Vernon , The Outlawed Party: Social Democracy, 1878–1890 ( Princeton , 1966 ), esp. pp. 279 –90, 329 –31.Google Scholar

2. Lidtke, p. 17 Sheehan , James J. , German Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century ( Chicago , 1978 ), pp. 215 , 143 Google Scholar Schorske , Carl E. , German Social Democracy, 1905–1917: The Development of the Great Schism ( Cambridge, Mass. , 1955 ), pp. 266 –70.Google Scholar

3. Craig , Gordon A. , Germany 1866–1945 ( New York , 1978 ), pp. 10 , 96 – 97 Google Scholar Lees's , Andrew analysis in Revolution and Reflection: Intellectual Change in Germany during the 1850's ( The Hague , 1974 ), pp. 125 –32CrossRefGoogle Scholar , of liberal views in the 1850s shows how small a step the liberal compromise with Bismarck actually was. See also, Krieger , Leonard , The German Idea of Freedom ( Boston , 1947 ), p. 458 Google Scholar Lichtheim , George , Marxism ( London , 1961 ), p. 261 Google Scholar Abendroth , Wolfgang , Aufstieg und Krise der deutschen Sozialdemokratie ( Frankfurt , 1964 ), p. 39 Google Scholar Lidtke, p. 228.

4. Roth , Guenther , The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany ( Totowa, N.J. , 1963 ), p. 59 Google Scholar Ritter , Gerhard A. , Die Arbeiterbewegung in Wilhelminischen Reich: 1890–1900 ( Berlin , 1959 )Google Scholar , and Groh , Dieter , Negative Integration und Revolutionärer Attentismus ( Frankfurt , 1973 ), especially pp. 36 – 39 , 60 – 61 Google Scholar , for discussions of the contradictory ways in which Social Democrats interacted with the broader society of which they were a part.

5. Krieger, pp. 460–61 Sheehan, pp. 191, 205–6, 213 Müller-Platenberg , Urs , Der Freisinn nach Bismarcks Sturz (inaugural diss., Free Univ. , Berlin , 1971 ), pp. 37 , 45 Google Scholar Seeber , Gustav , Zwischen Bebel und Bismarck: Zur Geschichte der Linksliberalismus in Deutschland 1871–1893 ( Berlin , 1965 ), p. 148 Google Scholar Schmidt , Gustav , “Die Nationalliberalen—eine regierüungsfähige Partei? Zur Problematik der inneren Reichsgründung, 1870–1878,” Ritter , Gerhard A. , ed., Deutsche Parteien vor 1918 ( Cologne , 1973 ), pp. 208 –23Google Scholar Snell , John , The Democratic Movement in Germany, 1789–1914 ( Chapel Hill , 1976 ), pp. 176 –81.Google Scholar

6. Lidtke, p. 15 Müller-Platenberg, pp. 42–43 Sheehan, p. 205 for relations between the liberals and the working class see also, Lademacher , H. , “ Zu den Anfängen der deutschen Sozialdemokratie, 1863–1878 ,” International Review of Social History 4 , nos. 2 and 3 ( 1959 ): 239 –60, 367 –93CrossRefGoogle Scholar Birker , Karl , Die deutsche Arbeiterbildungsvereine, 1840–1870 ( Berlin . 1973 )Google Scholar Engelberg , Ernst , ed., Im Widerstreit um die Reichsgründung: Eine Quellensammlung zur Klassenauseinandersetzung in der deutschen Geschichte von 1849 bis 1871 ( Berlin , 1970 ), p. 203 Google Scholar Snell, pp. 309–10.

7. Höhle , Thomas , Franz Mehring: Sein Weg zum Marxismus, 1869–1891 ( Berlin , 1958 ), p. 173 Google Scholar Seeber , Gustav and Wittwer , Walter , Kleinbürgerliche Demokratie im Bismarck-Staat ( Berlin , 1971 ), pp. 112 –14Google Scholar Seeber, pp. 58–60 Sheehan, pp. 207–8, 210. For the effects of the Great Depression see Rosenberg , Hans , Grosse Depression und Bismarckzeit: Wirtschaftsablauf, Gesellschaft, und Politik in Mitteleuropa ( Berlin , 1967 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8. Ratz , Ursula , Georg Ledebour: 1850 bis 1947: Weg und Wirken eines sozialistischen Politikers ( Berlin , 1969 ), pp. 32 – 33 and passimCrossRefGoogle Scholar McDougall , Glen , “Franz Mehring: Politics and History in the Making of Radical German Social Democracy 1869–1903” (unpub. Ph.D. diss., Columbia Univ. , New York , 1977 ).Google Scholar

9. What information exists on Mehring's early life is scattered throughout the corpus of his work. See Mehring , , Die deutsche Sozialdemokratie, Ihr Geschichte und Ihre Lehre , 3d ed. ( Bremen , 1879 ), p. x Google Scholar Letter Mehring to Kautsky of Dec. 1, 1892, in International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, Kautsky Archiv (hereafter KA), K.D.XVII.29 Kapital und Presse, Ein Nachspiel zum Fall Lindau ( Berlin , 1891 ), pp. 60 , 30 Google Scholar “ Onckens Lassalle ,” Neue Zeit (hereafter NZ) 13 , pt. 1 ( 1905 –5): 521 Google Scholar “Unsere akademische Jugend,” Weser-Zeitung, no. 12434, morning ed. of Aug. 8, 1884. See also the 2d ed. of his Deutsche Sozialdemokratie ( Bremen 1878 ), pp. ix , 7 .Google Scholar On his early political development, he noted “for more or less twenty years we were participants in all attempts to create a principled bourgeois democratic paper. The Zukunft, the Demokratische Zeitung, the Wage, the Demokratischen Blätter—it was always the same misery.” “ Ein alter Demokrat ,” 10 23, 1909 , NZ 27 , pt. 1 ( 1909 – 1910 ): 129 .Google Scholar For brief biographies of Weiss and Jacoby and their influence on Mehring see his articles, “ Johann Jacoby und die wissenschaftliche Sozialismus ,” Grünbergs Archiv 1 ( 1911 ): 449 –57Google Scholar “ Johann Jacoby ,” 05 3, 1905 , NZ 23 , pt. 2 ( 1904 – 1905 )Google Scholar , in Gesammelte Schriften ( Berlin , 1960 – 1967 , hereafter GS) 7 : 317 –21Google Scholar “ Zwei Nachrufe ,” NZ 17 , pt. 1 ( 1898 – 1899 ): 545 –48.Google Scholar See also, Krieger, pp. 391–93 Seeber and Wittwer, pp. 19–39, 45–46 Seeber, pp. 8–12. On Mehring and the Frankfurter Zeitung see Geschichte der Frankfurter Zeitung 1856 bis 1906 ( Frankfurt , 1906 ), p. 239 Google Scholar and Bernstein , Eduard , “ Franz Mehring zu seinem siebzigsten Geburtstag ,” NZ 24 , pt. 1 ( 1915 – 1916 ): 674 .Google Scholar For a discussion of the general liberal view of the social question from the 1850s on see Lees, pp. 140–46.

10. Volksstaat, nos. 100 and 104 of Aug. 8 and Sept. 9, 1876, and Protokoll des Socialisten Congress zu Gotha vom 19 bis 23 August 1876 ( Berlin , 1876 ), p. 52 .Google Scholar Kautsky wrote for the Frankfurter Zeitung as late as 1884. See Protokoll über die Verhandlungen des Parteitages der Sozialdemokratischen Partei zu Dresden ( Berlin , 1903 ), p. 175 Google Scholar Letter Engels to August Bebel of Mar. 18, 1875 in August Bebel, Briefwechsel mit Friedrich Engels ( The Hague , 1965 ), p. 28 .Google Scholar The widely pervasive eclecticism of German socialism in these years made such contacts possible. See Steinberg, pp. 13–15.

11. Letter Mehring to Kautsky of Dec. 1, 1892 in International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, KA, K.D.XVII.29 Mehring , , Kapital und Presse: Ein Nachspiel zum Fall Lindau ( Berlin , 1891 ), p. 60 Google Scholar Die Deutsche Sozialdemokratie, 2d ed., p. ix “Unsere akademische Jugend,” Weser-Zeitung, no. 12434, morning ed. of Aug. 8, 1884 “ Jeremia Sauerampfer und Johannes Scherr ,” Die Wage 3 , no. 4 ( 01 22, 1875 ): 59 Google Scholar “Der Kongress der Eisenacher,” Frankfurter Zeitung, no. 207, 2d ed. of July 26, 1874. For Lassalle's influence on social democracy see Steinberg, pp. 13–19.

12. “Die Sozialdemokratie im Reichstag,” Frankfurter Zeitung no. 142, 2d ed. of May 22, 1874 no. 170, 2d ed. of June 19, 1874 no. 251, 1st ed. of Aug. 3, 1874 no. 294, morning ed. of Oct. 21, 1874 no. 148, 1st ed. of Mar. 28, 1874 “Der Kongress der Eisenacher,” op. cit. Also Mehring , , Herr von Treitschke der Sozialistentöter und die Endziele des Liberalismus: Ein sozialistische Replik ( Leipzig , 1875 )Google Scholar . Despite the title, Mehring was never a member of the SPD before 1891. For a different interpretation of Mehring's early views on the social problem see Höhle, p. 64.


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