Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848
Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 73;
Written: by Engels on June 13-14, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 14-17, June 14-17, 1848.
Cologne, June 14. Deputy Berends from Berlin opened the debate by moving:
“In recognition of the revolution, the Assembly declares that those who fought on March 18 and 19 have rendered a genuine service to their country.”
The form of the motion, the classical-Roman laconic style, which was revived by the great French Revolution, was quite appropriate.
On the other hand, the way in which Herr Berends argued in support of his motion was all the more inappropriate. He spoke not in a revolutionary but in a placating manner. He had to vindicate the anger of the insulted barricade fighters in the face of an Assembly of reactionaries and yet he calmly delivered a completely dry lecture as if he still spoke as a teacher to the Berlin Craftsmen’s Association. The cause he had to defend was quite simple and quite clear but the arguments he advanced were the most confused imaginable.
Herr Berends begins:
“Gentlemen, recognition of the revolution is entirely in the nature of things (!). Our Assembly is itself an eloquent recognition of the great movement which has swept through all the civilised countries of Europe. The Assembly is a product of this revolution, and consequently its existence is the actual recognition of the revolution.”
Firstly. It is by no means a question of recognising in general that the “great movement which has swept through all the civilised countries of Europe” is a fact; it would be quite superfluous and meaningless to recognise this. It is rather a question of recognising the Berlin street battle, which is passed off as a revolt, as a genuine, real revolution.
Secondly. The Assembly in Berlin is in one respect indeed a “recognition of the revolution”, since without the Berlin street battle we would have no “agreed” Constitution, but at most an impose a Constitution. But the Assembly is likewise a rejection of the revolution, because of the way it was convoked and because of the mandate it was given by the United Diet and by the Ministry. An Assembly standing “on a revolutionary basis” does not agree, it decrees.
Thirdly. By its vote on the address the Assembly has already recognised the agreement theory and by voting against the march to the grave of those killed in the fighting it has already rejected the revolution. It has rejected the revolution by “meeting” at all alongside the Frankfurt Assembly.
Herr Berends’ motion has therefore been in fact already twice rejected. Its failure this time was even more inevitable because the Assembly had to express its views openly.
Since the Assembly was reactionary and since it was certain that the people could expect nothing from it, it was in the interest of the Left that the minority who voted for the motion should be as small as possible and should comprise only the most resolute members.
Hence there was no need for Herr Berends to stand on ceremony. He had to act in the most determined, the most revolutionary way. Instead of clinging to the illusion that it was and wanted to be a constituent assembly, an assembly standing on a revolutionary basis, he had to tell the Assembly that it had already rejected the revolution indirectly, and to invite it now to reject it openly.
But not only Berends, the speakers of the Left in general have failed to adhere to this policy, the only policy appropriate to a democratic party. They have been under the illusion that they could persuade the Assembly to make a revolutionary move. They have therefore made concessions, they have tried to soothe, they have spoken of reconciliation and they have consequently themselves repudiated the revolution.
It is in a very reserved manner and very wooden language that Herr Berends then proceeds to expatiate upon revolutions in general and the Berlin revolution in particular. In the course of his reasoning he encounters the argument that the revolution was, unnecessary because already before the revolution the King [Frederick William IV] had conceded everything, and he replies:
“It is true that His Majesty the King conceded many things ... but did these concessions satisfy the people? Did we have the guarantee that this promise would become a reality? I believe this assurance was ... only obtained after the battle!... it is well established that such a political transformation can only come to birth and be firmly grounded in the great catastrophes of battle. On March 18 one great concession was not yet made; that is the arming of the people.... Only when the people was armed, did it feel secure against possible misunderstandings.... Struggle is therefore (!) certainly a sort of natural occurrence (!), but an inevitable occurrence ... a catastrophe in which the transformation of political life becomes a reality, a fact.”
This long and confused argument, which abounds in repetitions, shows quite clearly that Herr Berends is completely in the dark about the results of the revolution and its necessity. The only results of the revolution known to him are the “guarantee” of the promises of the 18th, and the “arming of the people”. He deduces the necessity of the revolution in a philosophical manner by once more giving a rendering of the “guarantee” in a superior style and finally by asseverating that there can be no revolution without a revolution.
The revolution was necessary, surely this means simply that it was necessary in order to obtain what we have obtained now. The necessity of the revolution is directly proportional to its results. But since Herr Berends is in the dark about its results, he has of course to resort to exaggerated asseverations in order to deduce the necessity of the revolution.
What were the results of the revolution? Certainly not the “guarantee” of the promises of the 18th, but rather the subversion of these promises.
The promises made on the 18th included a monarchy in which the aristocracy, the bureaucracy, the military and the clergy remained at the helm, but allowed the big bourgeoisie to exercise control by a granted Constitution and freedom of the press together with caution money. For the people: German flags, a German navy and Compulsory military service in the army of the German Confederation instead of Prussian flags, a Prussian navy and compulsory military service in the Prussian army.
The revolution overthrew all the powers of the absolute monarchy, the aristocrats, the bureaucrats, the military and the clerics. It brought about the exclusive rule of the big bourgeoisie. It gave the people the weapon of freedom of the press without caution money, the right of association and, to some extent, the physical weapon, the musket.
But even that is not the main result. The people that has fought on the barricades and has been victorious is entirely different from the people that on March 18 marched to the palace to be enlightened, by means of cavalry attacks, about the significance of the concessions it had received. It is able to achieve things of a quite different nature and it confronts the Government in an entirely different way. The most important achievement of the revolution is the revolution itself.
“As an inhabitant of Berlin I can indeed say that it has caused us painful feelings” (nothing more!) “... to see this struggle maligned.... I take as my starting point the words of the Prime minister, who ... declared that it was up to a great nation and all its representatives to work with clemency towards reconciliation. I appeal to this clemency when, as a representative of Berlin, I ask you to recognise the events of March 18 and 19. The people of Berlin has certainly on the whole acted very honourably and righteously during the whole period that has passed since the revolution. it is possible that a few excesses have occurred ... and thus I believe that it is appropriate for the Assembly to declare etc., etc.”
The only thing we should like to add to this craven conclusion, which rejects the revolution, is that following such reasoning the motion deserved to be lost.
Cologne, June 14. The first amendment put forward in opposition to Berends’ motion owed its short existence to Deputy Brehmer. It was a diffuse, well-meaning declaration which firstly recognised the revolution, secondly recognised the agreement theory, thirdly recognised all those who had contributed to the sudden change that had taken place, and fourthly recognised the great truth that
No steed, no mounted knight
Protects the lofty summits
Where princes stand, —
[from the Prussian hymn “Heil Dir im Siegerkranz"]
thus finally reducing the revolution again to a truly Prussian expression. Herr Brehmer, the worthy schoolmaster, wanted to please all parties, and none of them wanted to have anything to do with him. His amendment was dropped without any discussion, and Herr Brehmer retired with all the resignation of a disappointed philanthropist.
Herr Schulze (from Delitzsch) has mounted the rostrum. Herr Schulze, too, is an admirer of the revolution, he admires however not so much the barricade fighters as the men of the morning after, those who are called the “people” as distinct from the “fighters”. He desires that the “attitude of the people after the battle” should be especially recognised. His enthusiasm exceeded all bounds when he heard
“about the restraint and circumspection of the people when it was no longer confronted by an enemy (!) ... about the earnestness and the conciliatory spirit of the people ... about its attitude towards the dynasty ... we observed that the people was well aware that at such moments it directly faced history itself"!!
It is not so much the revolutionary activity of the people during the battle that enraptures Herr Schulze, as its quite non-revolutionary inactivity after the battle.
To recognise the magnanimity of the people after the revolution can only signify one of two things:
Either an insult to the people, for to recognise it as a merit that the people did not commit any base acts after its victory, is an insult to the people.
Or it means recognising that the people relaxed after the military victory, and that this gave the reaction an opportunity to rise once again.
“Combining both meanings” Herr Schulze has expressed his “admiration which turned into enthusiasm” because the people firstly behaved decently and secondly provided an opportunity for the reaction to recover its strength.
The “attitude of the people” consisted in being so busy enthusiastically “facing history itself” when it should have been making history; in the fact that for all this “attitude”, “restraint”, ..circumspection”, “profound earnestness” and “inextinguishable dedication”, the people never got round to preventing the Ministers from conjuring away one part after the other of the freedom it had won; and that the people declared the revolution to be complete instead of continuing it. How differently did the Viennese act, who rapidly overwhelmed the reaction and have now won a Constituent Imperial Diet instead of an Agreement Assembly.
Thus Herr Schulze (from Delitzsch) recognises the revolution on condition of not recognising it. This earned him resounding cheers.
After a short intermezzo concerning procedure, Herr Camphausen himself appears on the scene. He observes that according to Berends’ motion “the Assembly should express its opinion and give its verdict on an idea”. For Herr Camphausen the revolution is merely an “idea”. He “leaves” it therefore to the Assembly to decide whether it wishes to do this. In Camphausen’s view there “exist perhaps no considerable differences of opinion” about the matter under discussion, in accordance with the well-known fact that whenever two German burghers quarrel, they are always au fond in agreement.
“If one wants to repeat that ... we have entered a phase which must bring about” (that is, it has not yet brought about) “very substantial transformations ... then no one can be more in agreement with this than I."
"If, on the other hand, one intends to say that the state and the political authority have lost their legal foundation and that the existing authority was overthrown by force ... then I must protest against such an interpretation.”
Up to now Herr Camphausen saw his principal merit in having re-tied the broken thread of legality; now he asserts that this thread has never been broken. This may be completely at variance with the facts, but the dogma of the continuity of the legal succession of power from Bodelschwingh to Camphausen cannot bother about facts.
“If one wants to say that we are on the threshold of events similar to those we know from the history of the English revolution in the seventeenth century and of the French revolution in the eighteenth, events whose upshot is the transfer of power into the hands of a dictator”,
then Herr Camphausen must likewise protest.
Our thinking friend of history could of course not miss the opportunity the Berlin revolution provided for palming off those observations which the German burgher is the more eager to hear the more often he has read them in Rotteck’s work. The Berlin revolution must be no revolution even for the reason that otherwise it would have to produce a Cromwell or a Napoleon, and Herr Camphausen objects to this.
In the end Herr Camphausen permits his agreers “to express their feelings for the victims of a fateful clash”, but he adds that in this case “many and essential aspects depend on the wording”, he would therefore like to have the whole matter referred to a committee.
After another point-of-order episode, a speaker finally comes forward who knows how to pluck at people’s heart-strings, because he goes to the root of the matter. This is the Reverend Pastor Müller of Wohlau, who supports Schulze’s amendment. The pastor does “not want to take up much of the Assembly’s time but wishes merely to broach one rather important point”.
The pastor therefore submits the following question to the Assembly.
“The motion has led us to the moral sphere, and if we take the motion not in its surface” (how does one set about to take a thing in its surface?) “but in its depth” (there is such a thing as empty depth, just as there is empty length) “we cannot help recognising, however difficult these considerations may be, that the point in question is nothing more nor less than the moral recognition of the uprising. I therefore ask: is an uprising something moral or is it not?”
The point at issue is not a party political question but something infinitely more important — a theological-philosophical-moral problem. The Assembly has to come to an agreement with the Crown not about a Constitution but about a system of moral philosophy. “Is an uprising something moral or not?” That is what matters. And what answer does the pastor give to the Assembly which is breathless with suspense?
“I do not believe, however, that we are in the position here of having to solve this high moral principle."!!
The pastor has only tried to get to the bottom of the matter in order to declare that he cannot reach the bottom.
“Many thoughtful men have pondered on this subject and have nevertheless not arrived at any definite solution. Nor shall we achieve clarity in the course of a brief debate.”
The Assembly seems thunderstruck. The pastor presents a moral problem to the Assembly with great trenchancy and all the seriousness that the subject demands; he presents it and then announces that the problem cannot be solved. In this distressing situation, the agreers must have felt as if they were actually standing already “on a revolutionary basis”.
But this was nothing but a simple pastoral stratagem to which the pastor resorted in order to induce the Assembly to do penance. He has moreover prepared some balm for the penitent:
“I believe that there is also a third point of view which has to be considered here. The victims of March 18 acted in a frame of mind which makes moral judgment impossible."!!
The barricade fighters were non compos mentis.
“But if you ask me whether they were morally competent, my answer is a firm — ‘yes!'"'
We ask: if the word of God from the countryside allows himself to be elected to the Berlin Assembly merely in order to bore the entire public by his moralising casuistry, is such an action moral or is it not moral?
Deputy Hofer, in his capacity of a Pomeranian peasant, protests against the whole thing.
“For who were the military? Were they not our brothers and sons? Consider well the effect it will have, when the father on the seashore” (in Wendish : po more, i.e. Pomerania) “hears how his son has been treated here!”
However the military may have behaved and whether or not they allowed themselves to be made the tools of the most infamous treachery — it makes no difference, they were our Pomeranian boys and therefore three cheers for them!
Deputy Schultz of Wanzleben: Gentlemen, the people of Berlin must be recognised. Their courage was boundless. They conquered not only the fear of cannon.
“What is the fear of being pulverised by grape-shot compared with the danger of being charged with causing a disturbance in the street and incurring severe, perhaps even degrading punishment! The courage required to take up this struggle is so lofty that the courage needed to face the open mouth of a cannon cannot possibly be compared with it!”
Accordingly the Germans did not make a revolution before 1848, because they were afraid of the Police Inspector.
Minister Schwerin rises to declare that he will resign if Berends’ motion is passed.
Elsner and Reichenbach speak against Schulze’s amendment.
Dierschke observes that the revolution must be recognised, because the struggle for moral freedom has not yet ended” and because it was likewise “the moral freedom which called this Assembly into being”.
Jacoby demands “full recognition for the revolution with all its consequences”. His was the best speech made during the entire session.
Finally, after so much morality, tedium, irresolution and reconciliation, we are pleased to see our Hansemann mount the rostrum. Now at last we shall hear something resolute and to the point. But no, Herr Hansemann too speaks today in a mild and mediating manner. He has his reasons, he does nothing without good reason. He sees that the Assembly wavers, that the vote is uncertain and that the proper amendment has not yet been found. He would like to have the debate adjourned.
To achieve this he summons up all his ability to speak as gently as possible. The fact is there, it is incontestable. Some, however, call it a revolution, others call it “great events”. We must
“not forget that a revolution like that in Paris, or like the earlier one in England, has not taken place here, but what has taken place here is a transaction between the Crown and the people” (a strange transaction with grape-shot and rifle-bullets!). “Now precisely because in a certain sense we” (the Ministers) “do not object to the substance of the matter, but on the other hand the formulation has to be such that the basis of the Government on which we stand remains feasible”...
therefore the debate ought to be adjourned, so that the Ministers can take counsel.
What it must have cost our Hansemann to use such phrases and to admit that the “basis” on which the Government stands is so weak that it can be overturned by a “formulation"! His only compensation is the pleasure of being able to turn the matter again into a question of confidence.
Consequently, the debate was adjourned.
Cologne, June 14. — Second day. — The debate begins again with a long argument on procedure. When this has been settled
Herr Zachariä rises. He wants to propose an amendment designed to help the Assembly out of the predicament. The great ministerial formula has been found. It reads:
“Taking into consideration that the immense importance of the great March events — to which together with the royal consent” (which is itself a “March event”, though not a “great” one) “we owe the present constitutional position — and also that the services the fighters have rendered to it” (that is to the royal consent) “are undisputed (!!) and that moreover the Assembly does not regard it as its duty to pass judgments” (the Assembly is to declare that it has no judgment!), “but to agree with the Crown upon the Constitution, — the Assembly passes to the agenda.”
This muddled and unprincipled amendment, which pays obeisance to all sides, and in which, as Herr Zachariä flatters himself, everybody, even Herr Berends, will find everything that he could have possibly intended in the well-meaning attitude in which the motion was tabled”, thus this bitter-sweet pap is the “formulation” on the “basis” of which the Camphausen Government “stands” and is able to stand.
Encouraged by the success of his colleague Müller, Pastor Sydow of Berlin ascends into the pulpit. The moral question is on his mind. He will solve the question that Müller was unable to solve.
“Gentlemen, allow me at this point immediately (after having already preached for half an hour) “to express what my sense of duty impels me to say: If the debate continues, then, in my opinion, no one should refrain from speaking until he has discharged his bounden duty. (Cheers.)
"Permit me to make a personal observation. My view of revolution is (keep to the point!) that where a revolution occurs it is merely a symptom indicating that both sides, the rulers and those they rule, are to blame. This” (this platitude, the cheapest way of disposing of the matter) “is the higher morality of the matter and (!) let us not anticipate the Christian-moral judgment of the nation.” (For what purpose do the gentlemen think they are there?) (Agitation. Point of order!)
"But gentlemen,” continues the imperturbable champion of the higher morality and of the not-to-be-anticipated Christian-moral judgment of the nation, “I am not of the opinion that there may not he times when, with the inevitability of a natural event, political self-defence (!) is imposed upon a nation, and ... I am of the opinion that then the individual can participate in it in an entirely moral way.” (We are saved, with the help of casuistry!) “Although it is also possible to participate in an immoral way, that rests with his conscience."!!
The barricade fighters are not a subject to be examined by the soi-disant National Assembly, they ought to be heard in the confessional. Thus the matter is disposed of.
Pastor Sydow announces moreover that he has “courage”, speaks at length about the sovereignty of the people from the standpoint of the higher morality, is three more times interrupted by impatient clamour and returns to his seat with the pleasing conviction that he has discharged his bounden duty. Now the world knows what opinion Pastor Sydow holds and what opinion he does not hold.
Herr Plönnis declares that the matter should be dropped. A statement qualified by so many amendments and amendments to amendments, and worn thin by so much discussion and quibbling, has after all no value. Herr Plönnis is right. But he could have rendered the Assembly no worse service than calling attention to this fact, this demonstration of cowardice on the part of so many members of both sides.
Herr Reichensperger from Trier:
“We are not here to construct theories and to decree history, we ought to make history as far as possible.”
By no means! By accepting the substantiated agenda, the Assembly decides that on the contrary its purpose is to unmake history. This is indeed also a way of “making history”.
“I should like to call your attention to Vergniaud’s statement, that the revolution is about to devour its own children.”
Alas, this is not the case. On the contrary, its own children are about to devour the revolution!
Herr Riedel has discovered that Berends’ motion “is supposed to mean not only what is simply expressed by its words, but that it conceals a dispute about principles”. And this victim of the “higher morality” is a geheimer Archivrat and professor!
Another very reverend cleric approaches the platform. It is Herr Jonas, the ladies’ preacher from Berlin. He really seems to have mistaken the Assembly for an audience made up of daughters of the educated élite. With all the pretentious prolixity of a true adept of Schleiermacher, he utters an endless series of the most banal commonplaces about the exceedingly important difference between revolution and reform. He was three times interrupted before completing the introduction to his sermon; at last he burst out with the grand proposition:
“Revolution is something diametrically opposed to our present religious and moral consciousness. A revolution is an act which was considered great and glorious in ancient Greece and Rome, but Christianity...... (Vehement interruptions. General confusion. Esser, Jung, Elsner, the Chairman [Karl Milde] and numerous other speakers are trying to join in the discussion. At long last the popular pulpit orator can be heard again.)
“At any rate, I dispute the right of the Assembly to vote on religious and moral principles, no assembly can vote on such matters” (? what about the consistory and the synod?). “The attempt to decree or declare that the revolution is a high moral principle or anything else” (that is anything at all), “seems to me to be on a par with the Assembly attempting to assert that there is a God or that there is no God, or that there are several Gods.”
There we are. The ladies’ preacher has succeeded in transferring the question again to the sphere of the “higher morality”, and now of course it falls only within the scope of the Protestant church councils and of the catechism manufacturers in the synod.
Thank God! At last, after all this moral fog, our Hansemann speaks. With this practical mind, we are quite safe from the “higher morality”. Herr Hansemann eliminates the entire moral point of view with one disdainful remark:
“I ask, do we have leisure to indulge in such disputes about principles?”
Herr Hansemann recalls that yesterday a deputy spoke about unemployed workers. Herr Hansemann uses this observation to perform an adroit turn. He speaks of the distress of the working class, regrets their poverty and asks:
“What is the reason of the general distress? I believe ... everybody has the feeling that there is as yet no certainty that the existing state of affairs is stable, so long as our constitutional position has not yet been put in order.”
Herr Hansemann now speaks from the heart. He exclaims, confidence must be restored! And the best way to restore confidence is to reject the revolution. Then the speaker for the Government, which “sees no reaction”, launches into an alarming account of the importance he attaches to the friendly attitude of the reaction.
“I beseech you to promote harmony among all classes” (by insulting the classes that carried through the revolution!); “I beseech you to promote harmony between the people and the army; do not forget that our hope of maintaining our independence depends on the army” (! in Prussia where everyone is a soldier!); “do not forget the difficult situation in which we find ourselves, I do not have to explain this to you in greater detail, anyone who reads the newspapers attentively” (and surely all the gentlemen do this) “will recognise that the situation is difficult, extremely difficult. I consider it inappropriate to sow the seeds of discord at this moment.... Therefore, gentlemen, try to reconcile the parties, do not raise any question liable to provoke our opponents, for this is what would certainly occur. The adoption of the motion could have the most deplorable consequences.”
How the reactionaries must have smiled when they saw Hansemann, who is usually so intrepid, talking not only the Assembly but also himself into a state of alarm.
This appeal to the fear of the big bourgeois, the lawyers and the schoolmasters in the Chamber was more effective than all the sentimental phrases about the “higher morality”. The question was decided. D'Ester threw himself once more into the fray to neutralise the effect, but in vain. The debate was closed and with 196 votes to 177 the Assembly passed to the agenda as substantiated by Zachariä.
Thereby the Assembly passed judgment upon itself, i.e. it admitted that it was without judgment.