front cover of original pamphlet

Works of Karl Marx 1853

Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne

Source: MECW, Volume 11, p. 399.

From MECW Footnotes: In Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne Marx exposed the unseemly methods used by the Prussian police state against the communist movement. On October 27, 1852 Marx wrote to Engels: “My pamphlet is not intended to defend any principles but to brand the Prussian Government on the basis of an account of the facts and the course of the trial.” Marx began writing the pamphlet at the end of October 1852, when the trial of the Communists was still in progress in Cologne, and completed it by early December despite his material difficulties and the fact that he was very busy collecting evidence for the defence counsel in Cologne to discredit the prosecution. His main sources of information were the documents of the trial, in particular the official minutes published in the Kölnische Zeitung from October 5 to November 13, 1852, newspaper reports, and the material collected by himself and his friends, Engels included. On December 6 a copy of the MS was sent to the publisher Schabelitz junior, in Switzerland, and on the following day a second copy was despatched to Adolf Cluss, a member of the Communist League in the USA, to he published there. In his covering letter to Cluss Marx wrote: “You will appreciate the humour of the pamphlet when you realise that its author is practically interned through his lack of adequate covering for his posterior and feet and moreover at any moment expects to see really horrid misery overwhelming his family. The trial is to blame for this as well, because I have had to spend five weeks working for the Party against the machinations of the government instead of working for my daily bread.”

The pamphlet was published in Basle in January 1853, but in March almost the whole edition (2,000 copies) was confiscated by the police in the Baden frontier village of Weill on the way to Germany. (See the letters of 23rd February & 25th March). In the USA the work was at first published in instalments (on March 6 and April 2 and 28, 1853) in the democratic Boston newspaper Neue-England-Zeitung and at the end of April 1853 it was printed as a separate pamphlet by the same publishing house. However, the Boston edition was circulated at the time mostly among the German refugees in North America.

In 1874 this work was reprinted in 13 instalments in the Volksstaat (Leipzig), organ of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (from October 28 to December 18, 1874), and Marx was named as its author for the first time. On January 20 and 22, 1875, the Volksstaat published, as a supplement to the Revelations. Marx’s Appendix 4 (“The Communist Trial in Cologne”) to his pamphlet Herr Vogt written in 1860, and on January 27 it published his special postscript to the Revelations dated January 8, 1875. The Revelations appeared as a book in Leipzig in 1875, reproducing the text from the Volksstaat.

The third edition came out in Hottingen-Zürich in 1885 under the editorship of Engels, with notes and an introductory article by Engels: “On the History of the Communist League”. Engels included in this edition Marx’s Postscript of 1875, Appendix 4 to Herr Vogt and the March and June 1850 Addresses of the Central Authority to the Communist League.

The editions of the Revelations printed during Marx’s lifetime, and the 1885 edition prepared for publication by Engels after Marx’s death, differ only in minor respects, such as discrepancies in separate words, the spelling of some proper names and the use of italics. In the 1875 and 1885 editions some misprints of the first edition are corrected and certain factual and stylistic improvements made, sometimes on the basis of the Boston (1853) edition. In the present edition these improvements of the text, as well as those made in the 1885 edition as compared with the last authorised edition of 1875, are taken into account.

In English the Revelations were first published in 1971 in the book: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Cologne Communist Trial, Lawrence and Wishart, London.

Table of Contents

I. Preliminaries

II The Dietz Archive

III. The Cherval Plot

IV. The Original Minute-Book

V. The Letter Accompanying the Red Catechism

VI. The Willich-Schapper Group

VII. Judgment


But if the final goal of the League is the overthrowing of the social order, the method by which this is to be achieved is necessarily that of political revolution and this entails the overthrow of the Prussian state, just as an earthquake entails the overthrow of a chicken-house. ... The Prussian political philosophers from Leibniz to Hegel have laboured to dethrone God, and if I dethrone God I also dethrone the king who reigns by the grace of God. But has anyone ever prosecuted them for lčse-majesté against the house of Hohenzollern?
[Chapter II]