Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung February 1849
Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 354;
Written: by Marx on February 10, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 219 (2nd edition), February 11, 1849.
Cologne, February 10. With the best will in the world, we were unable last week to pay attention even to our best friends, our nearest neighbours. Other matters — everyone knows which — kept us busy. Let us hasten now to make up for the omission and turn our gaze first of all to our neighbouring journalists.
The division of labour is carried out in the Kölnische Zeitung with rare team work. We shall disregard the more remote part of the newspaper, pages 3 and 4, where the noble Wolfers praises Belgium and does his best to ensure that Henry V regains the throne of his forefathers and grants a Constitution “on the Belgian model”. We shall keep only to the newspaper’s frontispiece, its first page. Here our friend Schilcking has his own little nook in the basement where he displays for his votaries the latest products of his doctrinaire fantasy and fantastic doctrinairism in prose and verse. Who does not know the interesting “Political Conversations”, in which the talented author endeavoured — as he himself says — to extricate a Mephistopheles from the pigskin of a German professor, but succeeded only in producing a Wagner? Above this basement nook, on the first floor, Herr Dumont has opened his spacious political salons, in which these great men Brüggemann and Schwanbeck (not to be confused with Weissbrodt) do the honours of the house. Brüggemann is responsible for the thinking part, for saving principle in all catastrophes, for preserving the legal basis despite all earthquakes, for the elegiac genre, for swan-songs and requiems. Schwanbeck is responsible for the declamatory part, for the exalted lyricism, for moral indignation, for dithyrambs and storms. Intoxicated with enthusiasm, Schwanbeck’s phraseology reaches the highest peaks of Olympus, and if its course is not always steady, it never ceases to be rhythmical and, in fact, it accounts for almost all the involuntary hexameters in which the Kölnische Zeitung abounds.
The first one whom we come across today is precisely this same sublime Schwanbeck. In an article, de dato “Cologne, February 7”, he enlightens us about the after-pains of absolutism and the after-pains of revolution.
The great Schwanbeck pours out all the vials of his wrath on the Prussian people because it either did not vote at all or voted in the wrong way.
“This National Assembly should put the finishing touch to the construction of a constitutional-monarchical state, and yet, who still doubts that some in this Assembly will undermine this construction work because they are no longer monarchists, and others because they are still absolutists and have not yet become constitutionalists, and both of them because they are just not supporters of a constitutional monarchy? From the two opposite poles storms will blow, a dead past will fight against a distant, perhaps never attainable future, and who knows whether the present will not be lost as a result!”
Note the mighty strength of the style resulting from these classic lines. Every phrase is a rugged, compressed entity, every word has the stamp of moral indignation. Picture in your mind as tangibly as possible the struggle between the “dead past” and the “distant, perhaps never attainable future”. There cannot be anyone who does not seem to see how the “perhaps never attainable’ future” will nevertheless be attained by the “dead past”, how like furies the two of them come to blows, and how, precisely because of the unattainability of the one and the dead state of the other, the present is being increasingly lost while storms blow from the opposite poles!
Do not regard this as a trifle. For if we are allowed to pronounce an opinion about such great men, we must say: if in Brüggemann the thought usually runs away with the style, in Schwanbeck, on the other hand, the style runs away with the thought.
And, in fact, who would not in virtuous indignation lose sight of the style when one finds that an Assembly to whom not only the King of Prussia but also the Kölnische Zeitung itself has given the mission of putting the finishing touch to the construction of a constitutional-monarchical state, that such an Assembly consists of people either too far to the Left or too far to the Right to achieve the aforesaid benevolent aim? Especially when “storms blow from the opposite poles” and “the present will be lost” for the Kölnische Zeitung!
It is bad enough for the Kölnische Zeitung when the people elect deputies who do not want what they “should” want according to the Kölnische Zeitung; but it is even worse for the people when it scoffs at the Cassandra voice of a Schwanbeck and, instead of a man of a constitutional-monarchical pattern from “the great centre of the nation”, it elects people who have either ceased to be monarchists or have not yet become constitutionalists. Tu 1'as voulu,[you asked for it] George Dandin!’ Schwanbeck will exclaim sadly when the terrible conflict between the dead past and the perhaps never attainable future swallows up the present!
“In other words, the signs of reaction and the signs of a new or, rather, a permanent revolution have not failed to appear.”
After this notable discovery, Cassandra-Schwanbeck takes a look at Austria. Schwanbeck’s look at Austria is always watchful. Austria is his second fatherland; here earlier, he waxed indignant at the tyranny of Viennese demagogy, here he now devours the Magyars, here the author of lofty dithyrambs is finally moved also by a tender feeling, a slight pang of conscience over those on whom martial law bestowed the mercy of gunpowder and shot! Hence the tender glance which the prophet full of foreboding casts on Austria in each of his leading articles.
“What then has changed?” (namely, in Austria). “Unrestricted bureaucracy has been replaced by unrestricted democracy, and then by unrestricted military power, and in the end everything has remained as it was!”
Sad result of the revolutions, melancholy consequence of peoples never having been willing to heed the voice of misunderstood Cassandras! “In the end everything has remained as it was!” True, Metternich’s traditional government differs in many respects from the present counter-revolutionary military rule; and, in particular, the good-natured Austrian people of Metternich’s time is quite different from the present revolutionary people which grinds its teeth in fury; moreover, in history the counter-revolution has always led merely to a more thoroughgoing, bloodier revolution. But what does that matter? “In the end everything has remained as it was”, and despotism remains despotism.
The philistine pot-house politicians who constitute “the great centre of the German nation”, to use one of Schwanbeck’s expressions, these worthies who at every temporary counterblow exclaim: “What was the use of rebellion, we are again precisely where we were before”, these profound experts on history who can never see more than two paces in front of them — they will be delighted to find that the great Schwanbeck has precisely the same point of view as they have.
After this inevitable glance at Austria, Cassandra once more turns to Prussia and prepares to cast a glance into the future. The elements of reaction and the elements of revolution are duly weighed against each other. The Crown and its servants, Wrangel, martial law (with pious wishes for its abolition), and the “Prussian associations" are each in turn subjected to a thorough scrutiny. Then he goes on to say:
“However, in spite of all that we must nevertheless admit that the number of our reactionaries is not a very heavy item in the balance of forces. Worse is the fact that the great centre of the nation has become so accustomed to absolutism that it is still quite unable to understand self-government, out of sheer laziness. You, who were absent from those elections in such large numbers ... you are the true supporters of absolutism! ... There is no more disgusting phenomenon in the whole world than a nation which is too lazy for free political life.”
“Great centre of the German nation”, you are unworthy of your Schwanbeck!
This “centre of the nation” which “is too lazy for free political life” is, as it later turns out, no other than the bourgeoisie. A painful admission, hardly made less bitter by the self-satisfaction of moral indignation about this disgraceful “indolence” of the great centre of the nation!
“But matters are still worse with the after-pains of the revolution. Our nation is richer than one would imagine in persons of a romantic and fantastic character, in clever demagogues” (a naive admission!) “and in thoughtless masses devoid of any trace of political education. The year 1848 had to show us for the first time what a mass of anarchical elements was concealed in this calm, justice-loving, sensible people, how a vague yearning for revolution took possession of it, and how the convenient means” (at any rate far more “convenient” than profound leading articles full of dithyrambs in the Kölnische Zeitung) “of revolution came to be regarded ... as a panacea.”
Whereas the “centre” is too lazy, the periphery, the “mob”, the “thoughtless masses” are too industrious. The “clever demagogues” linked with the “mass of anarchical elements”, in contrast to the “laziness” and “indolence” of the bourgeoisie, are bound, of course, to evoke gloomy forebodings in the soul of a Schwanbeck!
“Such is the natural course of things: the blow gives rise to the counterblow.”
With this further great achievement of thought, which is bound to serve later on as the theme for some eloquent variations, Cassandra comes to an end and draws the following conclusion:
“The right path to a truly free political life will be available only when the great centre of the nation, the strong and intelligent bourgeoisie, has become sufficiently united and powerful to make these deviations to the Left and the Right an impossibility. We have before us a North-German newspaper in which ... the following is written:’... the bourgeoisie has already gained the upper hand over both extremes — the Left and the Right — and the future belongs to it alone!’ We fear this rejoicing is still premature; if proof of this is desired ‘the elections in Prussia will provide it’.”
Such is the great song of lamentation expressing the moral indignation of the newest Cassandra at the wrongness of this wicked world, which is unwilling to advance along the lines advocated by the Kölnische Zeitung. Such is the result of Schwanbeck’s researches into the “dead past”, the “distant, perhaps never attainable future”, and the doubtful “present”. The real, decisive struggle is being waged not between the feudal bureaucratic monarchy and the bourgeoisie, nor between the bourgeoisie and the people, it is being waged between the monarchy and the people, between the absolutists and the republicans, and the bourgeoisie, the constitutionalists are withdrawing from the field of battle.
We shall not indulge here in any further comments on whether the bourgeoisie has really withdrawn from the struggle, whether it has done this from laziness or from weakness, and what the elections in Prussia prove. It is sufficient, the Kölnische Zeitung admits, that in the present struggle the bourgeoisie is no longer in the forefront, that it is no longer its interests which are at stake, and that the struggle is being waged for an absolute monarchy or a republic.
And now compare that with Neue Rheinische Zeitung since November of last year, and say whether we did not give an analysis in every issue and at every opportunity — on the occasion of the counter-revolution in Vienna, the counter-revolution in Berlin, and the imposed Constitution — and whether in the long article “The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution”, and in several articles before the primary elections, we did not explain in detail how the weakness and cowardice of the German bourgeoisie made counter-revolution possible, and how the counter-revolution, for its part, pushed the bourgeoisie aside and made inevitable a direct struggle between the relics of feudal society and the extreme pole of modern society, between the monarchy and the republic! What we, three months ago, described as historically inevitable due to the whole course of the German revolution, the Kölnische Zeitung presents in the form of a weak and confused conjecture, as the result of charlatan attempts to guess the contents of the ballot-box in the forthcoming elections on March 5. And this weak and confused conjecture is held to be such a discovery that it is at once put forward piping hot for the indulgent public to enjoy in the shape of a turgid, pompous leading article prefaced with the sign D Naive Kölnerin!