Wilhelm Weitling

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Weitling, Wilhelm

 

Born Oct. 5, 1808, in Magdeburg; died Jan. 25, 1871, in New York. Figure in the early German workers’ movement; one of the theoreticians of so-called egalitarian communism. A tailor by profession.

Weitling joined the Union of the Just in 1836 in Paris (where he lived from 1835). In 1838 he wrote a programmatic work Mankind As It Is and As It Should Be (Russian translation, 1906) for the union. From 1841 to 1843 he carried on propaganda for the ideas of egalitarian communism among organizations of craftsmen in Switzerland and published a monthly journal Der Hilferuf der deutschen Jugend (The Cry for Help of German Youth). Weitling’s Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom (1842; Russian translation, 1962), the first of the great works of German socialist literature, was called the brilliant literary debut of German political literature by K. Marx (see Marx, K., and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd., ed., vol. 1, p. 444). In 1843, Weitling was imprisoned and in 1844, freed and exiled abroad. In 1845 his new work The Gospel of a Poor Sinner (Russian translation, 1907) was published. In 1846, Weitling joined the Brussels Communist Correspondence Committee, where the sharp divergence of his views and those of K. Marx and F. Engels soon became apparent.

At the end of 1846 he emigrated to the USA and carried on propagandistic activity among the German émigrés in New York. During the Revolution of 1848-49 he went back to Germany and at the end of 1849 returned to New York. Weitling’s views are characterized by a recognition of the necessity of the revolutionary path to the establishment of the communist system; however, he regarded the communist revolution as a spontaneous process in which the major role belonged to declassed elements. K. Marx and F. Engels greatly valued Weitling’s works and propagandistic activity as a manifestation of the first independent theoretical movement of the German proletariat. However, when Weitlingism began to impede the development of the workers’ movement in connection with the appearance of scientific communism, they criticized him severely.

REFERENCES

Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vols. 1-4, 19-21, 37. (See Index of Names.)
Seidel-Höppner, W. W. Weitling—der erste deutsche Theoretikerund Agitator des Kommunismus. Berlin, 1961.

W. SEIDEL-HÖPPNER (German Democratic Republic)