August Willich

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Sun Mar 18 09:25:14 MST 2001

Phil Ferguson wrote:

>>A few weeks ago, someone posted a question asking if anyone knew anything abut
August Willich. Lou and I posted details of several books in which he features.

>>Last week, however, I came across his name again. I was giving a lecture on
the Marx Women, and came across a referendce to him in a chapter on Jenny
(Westphalen) Marx, written by Edna Healy in her book on Mrses Livingstone,
Darwin and Marx. Healy mentioned that Willich pursued Jenny Marx for a while.
This was when the Marxes had been marrried for a number of years and were living
in London. I think he may have come a-calling when Karl was over in Europe.
Anyway, Willich challenged Marx to a duel. Marx, wisely, didn't pick up the
glove that was thrown down. However, one of Marx's young supporters took up the
challenge on Marx's behalf, and he and Willich went to france to fight the duel.
Marx's rather over-enthusaistic young supporter was shot in the head.
Thankfully, however, he survived the ordeal.

Philip Ferguson<<

Lou, Phil, and João Paulo Monteiro all supplied some info on Willich.

Francis Wheen, in his recent biography of Karl Marx, has some interesting and
amusing references to Willich, as well.

at pages 146-7 (in the closing days of the defeat of the 1848 revolution in

"After liquidating everything - including the newspaper's printing machinery,
which he owned personally, and the furniture from his house - Marx managed to
settle all outstanding debts. But he was left penniless. Jenny's family silver
was despatched to a pawnshop, this time in Frankfurt, while she and the children
set off once again to stay with her mother in Trier. Marx and Engels headed for
Frankfurt in the hope of persuading left-wing deputies in the National Assembly
to support the insurgent troops from south-western Germany, who were still
fighting the good fight on behalf of the `provisional government' in Baden and
the Palatinate. No one would listen, so the next day they travelled to Baden and
urged the revolutionary forces to march on Frankfurt uninvited. Again their
appeals were ignored, though they had a friendly encounter with their old
colleague Willich, who was now in charge of a partisan corps. Engels, a lifelong
student of military strategy, couldn't resist the chance to put on a uniform and
join a real war. Enlisting as a volunteer, he soon became Willich's chief
adjutant, jointly directing operations and campaigns, and during the next few
weeks he fought in four skirmishes - all of which were lost. His most important
discovery, he told Jenny Marx, was `that the much-vaunted bravery under fire is
quite the most ordinary quality one can possess. The whistle of bullets is
really quite a trivial matter.' He saw little evidence of cowardice, but plenty
of `brave stupidity'."

at pages 164-65 (in a discussion of conflicts within the Communist League in
London in 1850 that resulted in its effective dissolution):

"The leader of the malcontents was August Willich, Engels's old military
commander from the '49 campaign in Baden, who had been making a thorough
nuisance of himself since joining the German diaspora in England. `He would come
to visit me,' Jenny Marx wrote many years later, `because he wanted to pursue
the worm that lives in every marriage and lure it out.' Almost everything about
Willich was calculated to irritate Marx - his posturing and preening, his
colourful clothes, his noisy attention seeking By the summer of 1850 he was
openly denouncing Jenny's husband as a `reactionary'. Marx, never one to miss an
opportunity for vituperation, retaliated by dismissing him as an `uneducated,
four-times cuckolded jackass'. At a riotous meeting of the League's central
committee on 1 September, Willich challenged Marx to a duel.

"As Willich was a crack shot who could hit the ace of hearts at twenty paces,
Marx had enough sense to refuse; but his eager lieutenant Conrad Schramm, who
had never fired a pistol in his life, picked up the gauntlet at once and
departed with Willich to Antwerp - duels being illegal in Britain - for a final
reckoning. Karl and Jenny feared the worst, especially when they heard that
Willich was taking Emmanuel Barthélemy as his second. Barthélemy, a fierce-eyed
muscular ruffian, had been convicted of murdering a policeman at the age of
seventeen and still wore on his shoulder the indelible brand of a galley
convict. Having fled to London only a few weeks earlier, after escaping from a
French prison, he had already been heard to say that `traîtres' such as Marx and
his cronies should be killed. Given his prowess with pistol and sabre, as
demonstrated at the salon in Rathbone Place, this was no idle threat.

"What hope did the bold but feeble Schramm have against the formidable expertise
of Willich and Barthélemy? On the appointed day, Marx and Jenny sat miserably in
their rooms with Wilhelm Liebknecht, counting the minutes until their young
comrade died. The next evening Barthélemy himself came to the door and announced
in a sepulchral voice that `Schramm a une balle dans la tête!' Bowing stiffly,
he then left without another word.

"`Of course, we gave up Schramm for lost,' Liebknecht wrote. `The next day,
while we were just talking about him sadly, the door is opened and in comes with
a bandaged head but gaily laughing the sadly mourned one and relates that he had
received a glancing shot which had stunned him - when he recovered
consciousness, he was alone on the sea coast with his second and his physician.'
Assuming that the wound was fatal, Willich and Barthélemy had caught the next
steamer back from Ostend.

"Thus ended Marx's dream of running the Communist League from England. ..."

and at pages 191-93 (after a lengthy discussion of Marx's vicious public
polemics against many of the exiled leaders of the 1848 revolutions who were now
being lionized by liberal society in England, which concludes with Marx's
statement that he had better things to do):

"These `greater matters' turned out to be yet more internecine squabbles,
prompted by the opening of the long-postponed trial of Cologne Communists in
October 1852. Since the most incriminating exhibits at the trial were
minute-books and reports advocating armed insurrection, supposedly purloined
from the Communist League in London, Marx spent the summer and autumn collecting
affidavits to confirm that the documents were forgeries. When the trial was over
he felt obliged to write an article defending himself against the slanders on
`the Marx group' that had been aired in the Cologne courtroom - and, by the by,
putting the knife into the Willich-Schapper faction from the Communist League.
Inevitably enough, this article soon grew into a book, Revelations Concerning
the Communist Trial in Cologne, which, with equal inevitability, was denounced
by August Willich. Marx then dashed off another pamphlet, The Knight of the
Noble Conscience, savaging his erstwhile comrade's `overweening conceit' and
`foul insinuations'. And so on, and so on . . .

"With unusual discretion, he omitted one damaging fact about the ignoble knight.
During 1852 Willich was given free lodging at the Baroness von Brüningk's house
in north London, and according to a story relayed by Marx to Engels, she `used
to enjoy flirting with this old he-goat, as with the other ex-lieutenants. One
day the blood rushes to the head of our ascetic, he makes a brutally brutish
assault upon madame, and is ejected from the house with éclat. No more love! No
more free board!' With his London reputation in tatters Willich emigrated to
America shortly afterwards, where he fought with great courage in the Civil War.
Even Marx was forced to concede, many years later, that the old he-goat had at
least partly redeemed himself. ...

"The only people likely to receive satisfaction from this communist cannibalism
were the Prussian authorities: Marx's vendettas against men such as Willich were
far more effective than the bungled attempts at sabotage and entrapment by their
own Keystone Cops. Though aware that he was giving aid and comfort to the enemy,
Marx argued that the conspirators he attacked were the truly dangerous enemies
because their siren song of instant revolution might lure socialists into some
sort of premature and disastrous stunt. Fake messiahs, if left unexposed, were
far more attractive to the masses than genuine monarchs. The ad hominem
pamphlets, and the threats of pistols at dawn, were therefore essential
political interventions rather than mere manifestations of pique and wounded
pride - or so he convinced himself. `I am,' he said, `engaged in a fight to the
death with the sham liberals.' The most deadly weapon against these poltroons
would be a finished copy of his magnum opus, demonstrating once and for all why
revolutionaries could never succeed without first doing their economic homework.
`The democratic simpletons to whom inspiration comes "from above" need not, of
course, exert themselves thus,' he sneered. 'Why should these people, born under
a lucky star, bother their heads with economic and historical material? It's
really all so simple, as the doughty Willich used to tell me. All so simple to
these addled brains.'"

Actually, Wheen's book, which I quite enjoyed, is interesting not least for its
fascinating descriptions of Marx's work habits and the endless difficulties he
experienced, particularly during the 1850s as he began his London exile, in
working through the lessons of 1848 and sorting out his agreements and
differences with the various personalities involved. Reading Wheen's account
will reassure subscribers to this List that our polemics, fierce and personal as
they may become at times, are quite genteel in comparison with what Marx
suffered - and meted out in due measure.

Richard Fidler
rfidler at

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