In 1837, as the League of Outlaws was falling apart, several of its members in Paris drew up a new organization, the League of the Just (Bund der Gerechten). Like its predecessor, the League was an association of German radicals who hoped to spark revolution in the fragmented states of nineteenth-century Germany, and it drew much of its organization and strategy from the Carbonari and other early nineteenth-century political secret societies. One of the League’s leading members, Johann Höckerig, was an associate of Filippo Buonarroti – the grand old man of European revolutionists at that time – in Buonarroti’s last years, and echoes of Buonarroti’s writings and secret societies show up all through the League’s publications. See Buonarroti, Filippo; Carbonari; League of Outlaws.

The League broke with earlier revolutionary secret societies in combining a democratic system of internal government with the hierarchical structure common to secret societies. Each group of 10 members formed a commune, 10 communes a county, 10 counties a hall, and each of these units elected its own leaders and made many of its own decisions. This system left the League vulnerable to disagreements between its members. A schism soon developed between a moderate faction, the “carpenters,” who sought political reform, and a more radical wing, the “tailors,” who advocated social revolution to break the power of the rich over the working classes. “Tailor” Wilhelm Weitling, the chief theoretician of the League’s early years, published a book, Der Menschheit wie sie ist und wie sie sein sollte (Humanity as it Is and as it Should Be, 1838), arguing that the artificial economy of money should be replaced by a system in which goods were priced according to the hours of labor needed to make them, and existing political systems should be abolished in favor of a “universal republic.”

The League’s original headquarters was in Paris, but police repression after the insurrection of 1839 forced many of the League’s leaders to emigrate to Britain. There, the League found supporters in the radical wing of Chartism, a British movement for constitutional reform. An Educational Society for German Workingmen was founded in London in 1840 as a front group for the League’s activities, and soon established links with revolutionary circles as far afield as Hungary, Poland, and New York. Close cooperation between the League and the Democratic Association, a radical group founded by dissident Chartists in 1837, led to an effective fusion of the two organizations during the 1840s.

Before the end of that decade the League mutated into a different, and far more famous, revolutionary organization. In 1847, impressed by the writings of a young German journalist and economic theorist then living in Brussels, the League’s leadership dissolved what was left of the secret-society framework of their organization and took a new name. The journalist’s name was Karl Marx, and the new name was the Communist League. Ironically, the League accomplished little before dissolving in the mid-1850s, but it popularized Marx’s ideas and helped lay the groundwork for the First International. See Communism; First International.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006