James Billington
Fire in the Minds of Men

The victory of the counter-revolution had created—by its own international character—conditions for the universal victory of revolution. His interpretation—in form if not in content—was strikingly like that of religious messianists who occasionally joined the revolutionaries of 1848, arguing that the triumph of the Antichrist announced the imminent Second coming of Christ. Marx, too, saw Armageddon coming:
Every new workers' revolution in France inevitably involves a new world war. A new French revolution will be obliged now to leave the national arena and conquer the European arena in which alone the social revolution of the XIX century can be realized.
'The problem of the worker can nowhere be resolved within national borders.'
Class war within French society will be transformed into world war between nations. The revolution will begin only when world war places the proletariat at the head of the nation controlling the world market, at the head of England.
He hoped that conflict would develop between the temporarily triumphant bourgeoisies of France and England. This in turn would unify the French and English proletariat-and represent the 'organic beginning' of the final revolution.
The present generation is reminiscent of those Jews whom Moses led through the desert. It must not only conquer a new world, but also leave the scene in order to give way to a people ripe for the new world.
By the end of 1848 it had become clear that the German and French revolutions had failed to produce a new order (and the Chartist movement had failed to produce even a serious uprising). But the cause of social revolution had at least acquired a banner of its own to match the myriad colors of the national revolutionaries. In Paris in 1848 the red flag had replaced the black flag as the favored banner of the proletariat. 'Only when steeped in the blood of the June insurgents,' Marx wrote in 1850, 'did the tricolor become transformed into the flag of the European Revolution—the red flag.' At an international gathering of November 10, 1850, Marx's friend the Chartist Julian Harney became the first man publicly to repudiate his own national banner in favor of the red flag of revolution.

But the workers did not follow this banner. The revolution had collapsed everywhere except among the orators in London, where a revolution had never taken place at all. It was a time of crisis for a committed ideological revolutionary. Marx had believed in a universal revolution, which was fading into universal failure. History manifestly refused to follow his manifesto. As a participant, Marx proved largely unable to communicate with workers, let alone lead them. The standard response to such disappointment was emigration to America for a new start. The flight of German revolutionaries to the New World after 1848 represented one of the most massive movements of its kind in the century. Marx and Engels themselves briefly planned to emigrate to America in August 1850. But they rejected this alternative along with the second one of substituting reformist for revolutionary goals within Europe.

Marx followed instead a third course characteristic of a small number of Germans remaining in exile within Europe: the intensification of messianic commitment. Almost uniquely among the revolutionary extremists, however, Marx avoided acts of adventurism or fantasies of fresh conspiracy. Indeed, he fortified his commitment not by undertaking any new activity in the 1850s, but rather by refining his revolutionary theory.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.