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The Utopian Communist: A Biography of Wilhelm Weitling

346 Pages · 2010 · 22.26 MB · English

  • The Utopian Communist: A Biography of Wilhelm Weitling

    THE UTOPIAN


    C O M M U N I ST


    A B I O G R A P HY OF


    WILHELM WEITLING


    N I N E T E E N T H- CENTURY


    R E F O R M ER


    BY


    CARL WITTKE


    LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS


    BATON ROUGE Copyright, 1950, by


    LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS


    MADE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA P R E F A CE


    T


    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


    communism.


    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.


    CARL WITTKE


    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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