Revolution of 1848–49 in Germany

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Revolution of 1848–49 in Germany


a bourgeois-democratic revolution whose principal objective was the creation of a unified German state and the abolition of the feudalabsolutist system. The country’s political fragmentation and feudal relations had been retarding the development of capitalism. The growing political crisis in Germany was exacerbated by poor harvests in 1845–46 and the economic crisis of 1847. A revolutionary explosion was hastened by the proclamation of a republic in France. The moving forces of the revolution were the broad popular masses—workers, artisans, and peasants. Although the proletariat was especially active in the revolutionary struggle, the leading role was played by the liberal bourgeoisie. The working class was as yet too small and weak to become the guiding force of the movement.

The revolutionary events in Germany began on February 27, when mass popular assemblies and demonstrations were held in Baden, inspired by news that a republic had been proclaimed in France two days earlier. In early March waves of disturbances also engulfed other states in western and southwestern Germany. On March 6 the first gatherings and demonstrations occurred in Berlin. By March 18 they had escalated into a popular uprising in which armed Berlin workers and artisans played a prominent role. A two-day struggle between the insurgent people and government troops ended in victory for the insurgents. The king of Prussia recalled his troops from the capital and formed a liberal government on March 29 headed by the Rhenish bourgeois leaders L. Camphausen and D. Hanse-mann. May 22 witnessed the opening of the Prussian National Assembly, which had been elected on the basis of a two-phase election. The majority of seats were held by the liberal bourgeoisie.

As a result of outbreaks by the popular masses, liberal governments were formed in a number of other German states. The revolutionary events of March led to a general upswing in the workers’ movement and to an intensification of antifeudal peasant outbreaks. The petit bourgeois democrats also became active. Led by G. von Struve and F. Hecker, they attempted to proclaim a republic in Germany. To achieve their goal, they staged an armed uprising in Baden in the middle of April. Because their forces were scattered and received no support from the peasants, the insurgents were crushed.

Both in Prussia and in the other German states the big liberal bourgeoisie, once in power, proceeded to betray the revolution by attempting to hinder the democratization of the social and political structure and to preserve the monarchical regime. The liberal bourgeoisie did almost nothing to liberate the peasants from feudal oppression, nor did they improve the position of the workers. Moreover, they continued the policy of suppressing the enslaved nationalities. The Prussian government dealt harshly with the Polish national liberation uprising that engulfed Poznan between March and May 1848. On June 14 the Berlin workers, joined by artisans, stormed the arsenal and seized the arms stored there. However, the uprising by the Berlin proletariat, spontaneous and unorganized, suffered defeat.

On May 18, 1848, the All-German National Assembly was convened in Frankfurt am Main to resolve the question of the country’s unification. The majority of the delegates to the assembly were bourgeois liberal constitutionalists. Becoming embroiled in fruitless semantic disputes, the delegates dragged out the drafting of an all-German constitution, thereby enabling the counterrevolutionary forces to rally.

K. Marx and F. Engels took an active part in the revolution. In late March 1848 they worked out the Demands of the Communist Party in Germany, which was disseminated in the form of a leaflet in addition to being printed in a number of newspapers. The document formulated the revolution’s basic tasks, which were to establish a unified democratic republic through a victorious bourgeois-democratic revolution and to ensure the most favorable conditions for the proletariat’s further struggle. In April 1848, Marx and Engels arrived in Germany and settled in Cologne. Because conditions were not suitable for the creation of a mass proletarian party, they attached themselves to the extreme left wing of the general democratic movement. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published under the direction of Marx and Engels, became the tribune of the proletariat and the progressive revolutionary democrats. The newspaper consistently struggled to extend the scope of the revolution and to draw the broad masses into it.

The events of the June Days in Paris hastened the German bourgeoisie’s shift to the camp of the counterrevolution. The uprising that flared up in Frankfurt am Main on September 18 was put down by troops at the request of the liberal majority in the Frankfurt National Assembly. Immediately after the defeat of the October popular uprising in Vienna, the king of Prussia on November 2 appointed a government consisting exclusively of representatives of the aristocracy and the high bureaucracy. The government was headed by Count Brandenburg and Baron Manteufel, sworn foes of the revolution. Troops were brought into Berlin, and a coup d’etat soon occurred in Prussia. The National Assembly was dissolved, and on Dec. 6, 1848, a constitution “from above” was promulgated, clearing the way for the restoration of absolutism in Prussia. The coup in Prussia was a signal for an offensive by the counterrevolution throughout Germany.

The revolutionary forces did not lay down their arms, however. During the spring and summer of 1849 an uprising broke out in defense of the imperial constitution adopted in March 1849 by the Frankfurt National Assembly and rejected by the governments of Prussia and a number of other German states. The movement engulfed Saxony and southwestern Germany, and it was the last clash between the forces of the German revolution and counterrevolution. Engels was directly involved in the armed struggle for the imperial constitution. The forces were unequal, and this fact determined the defeat of the insurgents.

The Revolution of 1848–49 in Germany proved to be incomplete; its objectives were not attained. The principal cause of its failure was a treacherous betrayal by the liberal bourgeoisie. The defeat of the revolutionary forces was also facilitated by the cowardly and indecisive policies of the petit bourgeois democrats, as well as by the weakness and lack of organization of the working class. The victory of the counterrevolution largely determined the country’s subsequent unification along antidemocratic lines under the domination of militaristic Prussia.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Trebovaniia Kommunisticheskoi Partii v Germanii.” Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 5.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. [Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.] Ibid., vols. 5–6.
Engels, F. “Germanskaia kampaniia za imperskuiu konstitutsiiu.” Ibid., vol. 7.
Engels, F. “Revoliutsiia i kontrrevoliutsiia v Germanii.” Ibid., vol. 8.
Engels, F. “Marks i Neue Rheinische Zeitung.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Engels, F. “K istorii Soiuza Kommunistov.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “O vremennom revoliutsionnom pravitel’stve.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 10.
Lenin, V. I. “Dve taktiki sotsial-demokratii v demokraticheskoi revoliutsii.” Ibid, vol. 11, pp. 20–21, 58–59.
Lenin, V. I. “Russkaia revoliutsiia i zadachi proletariata.” Ibid., vol. 12, pp. 209–11.
Lenin, V. I. “Fr. Mering o vtoroi Dume.” Ibid., vol. 15, pp. 260–66.
Lenin, V. I. “Protiv boikota.” Ibid., vol. 16, pp. 23–25.
Revoliutsii 1848–1849, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1952.
Kan, S. B. Revoliutsiia 1848 g. v Avstrii i Germanii. Moscow, 1948.
Kan, S. B. Nemetskaia istoriografiia revoliutsii 1848–1849 gg. v Germanii. Moscow, 1962.
Leviova, S. Z. Marks v germanskoi revoliutsii 1848–1849 godov. Moscow, 1970.
Obermann, K. Die deutschen Arbeiter in der ersten bürgerlichen Revolution von 1848. Berlin, 1950.
Becker, G. K. Marx und F. Engels in Köln, 1848–1849. Berlin, 1963.
Strey, J., and G. Winkler. Marx und Engels 1848/49: Die Politik und Taktik der “Neuen Rheinischen Zeitung” während der bürgerlichdemokratischen Revolution in Deutschland. Berlin, 1972.
Illustrierte Geschichte der deutschen Revolution 1848/49. Berlin, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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