Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Wilhelm Wolff

Wilhelm Wolff (1809-1864) Friedrich Wilhelm Wolff, editor of Neue Rheinische Zeitung, proponent of the emerging Communist movement around Marx and Engels, and delegate to the Frankfurt national assembly, was one of the most resolute representatives of the 1848 revolutionary democracy in Germany. Son of modest Silesia peasants, he was imprisoned for four years for membership in a Breslau students' fraternity. His newspaper exposé of prison conditions and semi-feudal situation in Prussian Silesia attracted attention of the general public. His articles revealing the horrible situation in Breslau's prisons, which earned him the name "Kasematten-Wolff," caused a sensation equal only to his description of the Silesian weavers' uprising in June 1844. Gerhard Hauptmann later drew on these as the source for his drama The Weavers. In 1846 he escaped renewed police persecution by travelling to Brussels to join the circle around Marx and Engels. Soon he became one of their most intimate friends. Betweem 1846 and 1848 he published in the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung, Westphälische Dampfboot, and the Kommunistischen Zeitschrift.

As a deputy to the first federal congress of the Communist Leaague in June 1847, he was among its leading co-founders. A co-signatory of the Demands of the Communist Party in Germany which appeared at the end of March 1848, he returned to Silesia in April 1848 to join the left wing of the democratic movement. He edited the Schlesische Chronik, promoted democratic and proletarian attempts at organization, and, was elected as a radical democrat to the Frankfurt assembly. Appointed by Marx to the editorial board of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, he served as its secretary while concentrating his atttention on agrarian matters. Several of his articles concedrning the situation in the countryside and the demands of peasants and agricultural workers were re-printed as leaflets. His articles published under the headline Die Schlesische Milliarde (The Silesian Billion) in March-April 1849 was his most important theoretical contribution to the agrarian problems in the German revolution. In this series, Wolff opposed peasants' redemption payments for release from feudal bondage, as advocated by the large landowners and liberals. He instead proposed the expropriation of great landowners without compensation in favor of the peasantry and demanded the repayment of the "billion thalers" extorted from peasants by the landowners. Special political agitation was combined with impressive demonstrations and detailed analysis into the nature of the Prussian agrarian reforms between 1807 and 1848.

A member of the district board of the democratic union oo the Rhineland and Westphalia, Wolff participated actively in democratic politics in the Rhineland. With Marx's other supporters of Marx, in the spring of 1849 he sought to found an independent workers' party in Germany.

From the middle of May 1849 through mid-July when Frankfurt assembly disbanded, as a delegate to the first German parliament hevoted without exception with the extreme left of the Donnersberg faction. At the end of May, he demanded that the head of the provisional central German authority should be declared an outlaw for having betrayed the cause of the revolution and that a revolutionary force should be organized against the counter-revolution. Wolff's public political activities ended with the revolution. During his emigration in Switzerland (until 1851) and in England, where he worked as a private tutor in Manchester, he remained a loyal friend and supporter of Marx and Engels.
Walter Schmidt


Franz Mehring (ed.) Gesammelte Schriften von Wilhelm Wolff. Berlin 1909.

Wilhelm Wolff. Wybor pism o slasku Waclaw Dlugoborski Warsaw 1954.

______. Aus Schlesien, Preussen und dem Reich. Walter Schmidt (ed.) Berlin 1985.

Walter Schmidt . Wilhelm Wolff: Sein Weg zum Kommunisten. Berlin, 1963.

______. Wilhelm Wolff: Kampfgefährte und Freund von Marx und Engels Berlin 1979.

______. "Wilhelm Wolff" Männer der Revolution von 1848 Berlin 1988, I, 39-78.

Table of Contributors    Table of Contents    Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

JGC revised this file ( on September 27, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1998, 2004 James Chastain.