The Utopian Communist: A Biography of Wilhelm Weitling

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  • The Utopian Communist: A Biography of Wilhelm Weitling


    C O M M U N I ST

    A B I O G R A P HY OF



    R E F O R M ER




    BATON ROUGE Copyright, 1950, by




    HERE were many varieties of radicals, reformers, and

    intellectuals among the German Forty-eighters who

    migrated to the United States in the middle of the last

    century. Some, like Carl Schurz, the best known of this group

    of German liberals, became completely adjusted to the American

    scene and rose to positions of eminence and trust in their adopted

    fatherland. Others, like Karl Heinzen, represented the militant,

    uncompromising radicals who remained the same irrepressible

    crusaders in America which they had been in Europe, were never

    completely at home in the United States, but nevertheless played

    an important role in many of the reforms of their time.

    Wilhelm Weitling, also a Forty-eighter, belonged to the exxad

    treme left wing of the German immigration. A simple artisan,

    entirely self-educated, he had won fame in the radical movement

    of Europe long before he migrated to the United States. His

    books and his propaganda for a communist Utopia were known

    in western Europe before Karl Marx leaped into prominence

    with his Communist Manifesto and became the outstanding

    spokesman of proletarian revolution.

    Weitling belonged to the working class. He was not a unixad

    versity man and he knew the sufferings of the poor from perxad

    sonal experience. He served a jail sentence in Switzerland bexad

    cause of his convictions. He was one of the most important figxad

    ures in the history of pre-Marxian socialism. His philosophy of

    history and his brand of communism were very different from

    Marx's doctrines of economic determinism and the inevitability

    of the proletarian revolution, for Weitling, though an agnostic vi PREFACE

    and a severe critic of all institutionalized religion, insisted on

    morality, ethics, and religion as a basis for social reform. The

    repudiation of this aspect of his "system" by the Marxians is not

    without significance for the present-day theory and practice of


    In the United States, Weitling tried once more to give pracxad

    tical application to the theories he had formulated and proxad

    claimed in Europe. He deserves to be remembered, in spite of

    his failures and the unsound character of some of his proposals,

    because of the important place which he occupied in the early

    history of the American labor movement and its agitation for

    social security, social insurance, and co-operatives. His disastrous

    experiences with the colony at Communia, Iowa, constitute an

    interesting chapter in the history of the immigrant Utopias

    which were so numerous in the America of a hundred years ago.

    Finally defeated and disillusioned, he turned his eager, restless

    mind from social reform to the problems of astronomy, linxad

    guistics, and inventions.

    Weitling's career might be summarily dismissed as simply anxad

    other failure in a long line of failures by completely impractical

    and somewhat unbalanced dreamers. Yet this poor, self-educated,

    philosophical tailor had such a passion for social justice, such a

    fervent hope that public policy might be judged by the standxad

    ards of ethics, such a craving and reverence for science and

    progress, and such a desire to make life more humane, that I bexad

    lieve he deserves to be rescued from among the forgotten men

    who, in every age, try to renew men's hopes for a better age than

    the one of which they are a part. If faith in the ultimate perxad

    fectibility of mankind should turn out to be only an illusion, it

    is at least a comforting illusion, and it has been a major force in

    the history of the human enterprise, for in all ages, men have

    had to walk part of their way by faith.

    In acknowledging the help received in the preparation of this

    biography, I must express my thanks first of all to Terijon Weitxad

    ling of Staten Island, New York, who so graciously made all the PREFACE vii

    remaining papers of his father available to me and answered all

    my questions about those personal details which are so important

    in any biographical study.

    I also have received aid and suggestions from my friends and

    colleagues, Dr. Ernst Feise of The Johns Hopkins University,

    Dr. Ferdinand Schevill of Chicago, and Dr. Traugott Böhme of

    Berlin. G. W. Hunt of Guttenberg, Iowa, and H. L. Meyer of

    Elkader, Iowa, have furnished data which helped me to unravel

    some of the confusion which surrounds the closing days of the

    Communia colony. I also am indebted to the library staffs of

    Western Reserve Historical Society, Western Reserve Univerxad

    sity, the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, the Wisxad

    consin Historical Society, the Oberlin College Library and the

    library of Belleville, Illinois.

    Some of the material contained in this volume has appeared

    earlier in the form of two articles, "Wilhelm Weitling's Literary

    Efforts," in Monatshefte (Madison, Wisconsin), XL (February,

    1948), No. 2, pp. 63-68; and "Marx and Weitling," in Essays

    in Political Theory, Presented to George H. Sabine (Ithaca,

    1948), 179-93.


    Cleveland, Ohio

    March 1, 1949 C O N T E N TS

    Preface V

    I. A Child of War 1

    II. Paris, the Crucible of Revolution 11

    III. Carrying the Torch to Switzerland 31

    IV. Weitling's "System" 56

    V. A Martyr's Crown 70

    VI. A London Interlude 90

    VII. Weitling and Marx 105

    VIII. The German Revolution of 1848-49 124

    IX. A Radical Journalist in America 138

    X. On Tour for the Cause 166

    XI. The Workingmen's League 188

    XII. Banks, Co-operatives, and Railroads 220

    XIII. Communia, Iowa 237

    XIV. Farewell to Reform 276

    XV. New Frontiers 291

    XVI. Closing Years 309

    Bibliographical Note 317

    Index 319 I L L U S T R A T I O NS

    Wilhelm Weitling Frontispiece

    Facing page

    The new currency of the social revolution 68

    Daguerreotype of Weitling's family 282

    Sample of work done by Weitling's embroidering device 306

    Mrs. Wilhelm Weitling (about 1910) 312

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