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Central Union on German Democrats


The Central Union of German Democrats emerged as a reaction to the defeat of the democratic forces in electio ns to the Frankfurt national assembly. It sought to reach beyond state boundaries to unite all local and provincial associations of republican-oriented democrats and the workers' organizations for common action and program to achieve a social-democratic oriented republic. The association resulted from an initiative of the Marburg democratic union under the leadership of Professor Karl Bayrhofer who convened the all-German congress of democrats held in Frankfurt am Main on June 14 - 17, 1848. 234 delegates from 89 unions, primarily based in southern and western Germany, elected a central committee consisting of five persons to sit in Berlin, and adopted a program seeking a democratic republic, that is, "a constitution in which the people as a whole will take responsibility for the freedom and welfare of the individual". Due to its radical-democratic, social, and socialist intentions both factions of the St. Paul's church boycotted the congress. Julius Fröbel and Hermann Kriege were the leading personalities in the central committee. Their central organs were the Neue Rheinische Zeitung of Cologne, the Berlin Zeitungshalle and the Mannheimer Abendzeitung.

In an effort to consolidate and give a structure the national union of social-republicans, the central committee called for the establishment of district unions which were successfully set up in Silesia, Westphalia, Saxony, Hesse and the Rhineland. The fatherland unions in the Kingdom of Saxony and the popular unions in Baden, Wurtemberg and Franconia were associated only for short time. The activity of republican organizations was impeded by early bans imposed by the governments in Wurtemberg, Baden and Bavaria. For awhile the communists around Karl Marx played a leading role in the Rhenish district union.

The most conspicuous instruments used by the center to become effective were propaganda tours undertaken by the members of the central committee, circulars, appeals and correspondence with the district unions. On August 1, 1848, the center issued an appeal to the Polish people, supporting the struggle for national independence and self-determination of Poland and demanding a referendum on the establishment of the future German-Polish border. The central committee devoted special attention to the activity of the deputies to the St. Paul's Church, publicly denouncing their resolutions as well as their undemocratic character. After the middle of September 1848, when a majority of the parliament ratified the armistice of Malmö concluded by Prussia with Denmark, the central committee called upon the left to leave the assembly and to re-constitute a people's parliament as the leading organ of the revolutionary movement.

At the second Congress of Democrats, which was held in Berlin October 26 to 30, 1848 and was insufficiently prepared by the central committee, there were widespread contradictions among the 226 delegates regarding basic aspects of revolutionary perspectives, democratic strategy, and strategic action. Especially in dispute was the social question, the attitude toward the interests of the workers, and the opportunities of a proletarian-socialist or petty-bourgeois-social orientation of the union. Before the closing, a right wing dissociated itself from the congress, which accepted Robespierre's formulation of civil and human rights as radical-democratic constitutional principles. In the newly elected central committee, which after the coup d'état in Prussia was forced into illegality and had its seat successively in Köthen, Halle and Leipzig, the leading figure was the Cologne doctor-for-the-poor Karl D'Ester. With the objective of sparking in a second revolution in Germany, they involved their members in conspiratorial groups, among others, with Polish and Czech Democrats as well as with the Russian revolutionary Michail Bakunin. The union, which in Spring 1849 had only negligible influence, collapsed with the beginning of the struggle for the Reich constitution.
Rolf Weber

Bibliography

Rolf Weber "Centralausschuss der Demokraten Deutschlands (Centralausschss) 1848-1849," in Lexicon zur Parteiengeschichte Dieter Fricke (ed.) 1983.

Werner Boldt Die Anfäge des deutschen Parteien in der Revolution 1848: Darstellung und Dokumentation Paderborn, 1971.

Karl Obermann "Karl Ludwig Johann D'Ester," Aus d er Frühgeschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung Berlin 1964.


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