Karl Marx in the Deutsche Brüsseler-Zeitung

The Communism of the Rheinischer Beobachter [96]

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 220;
Written: September 5, 1847;
First published: in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, September 12, 1847;

Brussels, September 5. — In issue No. 70 of this newspaper an article from the Rh[einischer] Beobachter is introduced with the words:

“In issue No. 206 the Rh[einischer] B[eobachter] preaches communism as follows.”

Whether or not this comment is intended ironically, Communists must protest against the idea that the Rheinischer Beobachter could preach “communism”, and especially against the idea that the article communicated in issue No. 70 of the D[eutsche]-B[rüsseler]-Z[eitung] is communist.

If a certain section of German socialists has continually blustered against the liberal bourgeoisie, and has done so, in a manner which has benefited nobody but the German governments, and if at present government newspapers like the Rh[einischer] Beobachter, basing themselves on the empty phrases of these people, claim that it is not the liberal bourgeoisie but the government which represents the interests of the proletariat, then the Communists have nothing in common with either the former or the latter.

Certain people have admittedly wished to lay the responsibility for this on the German Communists, they have accused them of being in alliance with the government.

This accusation is ludicrous. The government cannot unite with the Communists, nor the Communists with the government, for the simple reason that of all the revolutionary parties in Germany the Communists are by far the most revolutionary, and that the government knows this better than anyone else.

Can Communists unite with a government which has pronounced them guilty of high treason and treats them as such?

Can the government propagate in its press principles, which, in France, are considered to be anarchistic, incendiary and destructive of all social relations, and to which this same government continually ascribes the very same characteristics?

It is inconceivable. Let us examine the so-called communism of the Rheinischer Beobachter, and we shall find that it is very innocent.

The article begins:

“If we examine our (!) social condition, then the greatest distress and the most pressing want reveal themselves everywhere (!), and we have to admit that much has been neglected. This is, indeed, a fact, and the only (!) question which arises, is what causes it. We are convinced that our constitution does not bear the responsibility for this, for (!) as far as social conditions are concerned matters are (!) still worse in France and England. Nevertheless (!) liberalism seeks the remedy in representation alone; if the people were represented, it would help itself. This is quite illusory to be sure, but nonetheless (!) extremely (!!) plausible.”

In this paragraph we see the Beobachter [observer] before us, in the flesh — the way he chews his pen, at a loss for an introduction, speculates, writes, crosses out, writes again, and then finally, after some considerable time, produces the above magnificent passage. In order to arrive at liberalism, his own inherited hobby-horse, he begins with “our social condition”, that is, strictly speaking, the social condition of the Beobachter, which may very well have its unpleasantnesses. By means of the extremely trivial observation that our social condition is miserable and that much has been neglected, he arrives, by way of some very thorny sentences, at a point where the only question which arises for him, is what causes it. This question arises for him, however, only to disappear again at once. The Beobachter does not, in fact, tell us what causes it, neither does he tell us what does not cause it, he tells us merely what he is convinced does not cause it, and that is, of course, the Prussian constitution. From the Prussian constitution, by means of a bold “for”, he arrives at France and England, and from here to Prussian liberalism is for him of course only a trifling leap, which, supported by the least motivated “nevertheless” conceivable, he accomplishes with case. And thus at last. he has reached his favourite terrain, where he can exclaim, “This is quite illusory to be sure, but nonetheless extremely plausible.” But nonetheless extremely!!!

Is it possible that the Communists have sunk so low that the paternity of such utterances, such classical transitions, such questions, arising and disappearing with ease, such remarkable Only’s, For’s and Nevertheless’s, and above all the phrase “but nonetheless extremely”, should be ascribed to them?

Besides the “Old General”, Arnold Ruge, there are only a few men in Germany who can write in this way, and these few are all Consistorial Counsellors in Herr Eichhorn’s ministry.

We cannot be required to go into the contents of this introductory passage. It has no content other than the awkwardness of its form, it is merely the portal through which we step into the hall where our observing Consistorial Counsellor is preaching a crusade against liberalism.

Let us listen:

“Liberalism has above all the advantage that its approach to the people takes easier and more pleasant forms than does that of the bureaucracy.” (Indeed, not even Herr Dahlmann or Gervinus writes such clumsy and angular prose.) “It speaks of the welfare and the rights of the people. In reality, however, it only pushes the people forward in order thereby to intimidate the government; it considers the people only as cannon fodder in the great onslaught against the power of the government. To seize the power of the state — this is the true tendency of liberalism, the welfare of the people is only of secondary importance to it.”

Does the Herr Consistorial Counsellor believe he has told the people anything new with this? The people, and in particular the communist section of the people, knows very well that the liberal bourgeoisie is only pursuing its own interests and that little reliance should be placed on its sympathy for the people. If, however, the Consistorial Counsellor concludes from this that the liberal bourgeoisie exploits the people for its own ends in so far as the people participates in the political movement, then we must answer him: “That is quite plausible for a Consistorial Counsellor, to be sure, but nonetheless extremely illusory.”

The people, or, to replace this broad and vague expression by a definite one, the proletariat, has quite another way of reasoning than the gentlemen of the ecclesiastical ministry permit themselves to imagine. The proletariat does not ask whether the welfare of the people is a matter of secondary or of primary importance to the bourgeoisie, or whether the bourgeoisie wishes to use proletarians as cannon fodder or not. The proletariat does not ask what the bourgeoisie merely wishes to do, but what it must do. It asks whether the present political system, the rule of the bureaucracy, or the one the liberals are striving for, the rule of the bourgeoisie, will offer it the means to achieve its own purposes. To this end it only has to compare the political position of the proletariat in England, France and America with that in Germany to see that the rule of the bourgeoisie does not only place quite new weapons in the hands of the proletariat for the struggle against the bourgeoisie, but that it also secures for it a quite different status, the status of a recognised party.

Does the Herr Consistorial Counsellor then believe that the proletariat, which is more and more adhering to the Communist Party, that the proletariat will be incapable of utilising the freedom of the press and the freedom of association? Let him just read the English and French working men’s newspapers, let him just attend some time a single Chartist meeting!

But in the ecclesiastical ministry, where the Rh[einischer] Beobachter is edited, they have queer ideas about the proletariat. They think they are dealing with Pomeranian peasants or with Berlin loafers. They think they have reached the greatest depths of profundity when they promise the people no longer panem et circenses [bread and games], but panem et religionem [bread and religion] instead. They delude themselves that the proletariat wishes to be helped, they do not conceive that it expects help from nobody but itself. They do not suspect that the proletariat sees through all these empty consistorial phrases about the “welfare of the people” and bad social conditions just as well as through the similar phrases of the liberal bourgeoisie.

And why is the welfare of the people only of secondary importance to the bourgeoisie? The Rh[einischer] Beobachter replies:

“The United Diet [97] has proved it, the perfidy of liberalism is exposed. The Income Tax was the acid test of liberalism, and it failed the test.”

These well-meaning Consistorial Counsellors, imagining in their economic innocence that they can use the Income Tax to throw dust in the eyes of the proletariat!

The Slaughter and Milling Tax directly affects wages, the Income Tax affects the profit of capital. Extremely plausible, Herr Consistorial Counsellor, isn’t it? But the capitalists will not and cannot allow their profits to be taxed with impunity. This follows from competition itself. So within a few months after the introduction of the Income Tax, wages will therefore have been reduced to precisely the extent by which they were actually raised by the abolition of the Slaughter and Milling Tax and by the reduced food prices resulting from this.

The level of wages expressed, not in terms of money, but in terms of the means of subsistence necessary to the working man, that is the level of real, not of nominal wages, depends on the relationship between demand and supply. An alteration in the mode of taxation may cause a momentary disturbance, but will not change anything in the long run.

The only economic advantage of the Income Tax is that it is cheaper, to levy, and this the Consistorial Counsellor does not mention. Incidentally the proletariat gains nothing from this circumstance either.

What, then, does all this talk about the income Tax amount to?

In the first place, the proletariat is not at all, or only momentarily, interested in the whole matter.

In the second place, the government, which in levying the Slaughter and Milling Tax comes daily into direct contact with the proletariat and confronts it in a hateful fashion, the government remains in the background where the Income Tax is concerned, and forces the bourgeoisie to assume in full the odious business of pressing down wages.

The Income Tax would thus be of benefit to the government alone, hence the anger of the Consistorial Counsellors at its rejection.

But let us concede even for a moment that the proletariat has an interest in the matter; should this Diet have granted it?

By no means. It ought not to have granted moneys at all, it should have left the financial system exactly as it was so long as the government had not fulfilled all its demands. The refusal of moneys is, in all parliamentary assemblies, the means by which the government is forced to yield to the majority. This consistent refusal of moneys was the only thing in which the Diet behaved energetically, and that is why the disappointed Consistorial Counsellors have to try and render it suspicious in the eyes of the people.

“And yet,” the Rh[einischer] Beob[achter]” continues, “the organs of the liberal press quite appropriately raised the matter of the Income Tax.”

Quite correct, and it is indeed a purely bourgeois measure. For this very reason, though, the bourgeoisie is able to reject it when it is proposed to it at the wrong time by ministers whom it cannot trust an inch.

We shall, incidentally, add this confession concerning the paternity of the Income Tax to the record; we shall find it useful later on.

After some exceptionally vacuous and confused twaddle the Consistorial Counsellor suddenly stumbles over the proletariat in the following manner:

“What is the proletariat?” (This is yet another of those questions which arise only to remain unanswered.) “It is no exaggeration when we” (that is, the Consistorial Counsellors of Rh[einischer] Beobachter, not, however, the other profane newspapers) “state that one-third of the people has no basis for its existence, and another third is on the decline. The problem of the proletariat is the problem of the great majority of the people, it is the cardinal question.”

How rapidly, indeed, these bureaucrats are brought to see reason by a single United Diet with a little opposition! How long is it since the government was prohibiting newspapers from maintaining such exaggerations as that we might have a proletariat in Prussia? Ever since the Trier’sche Zeitung among others — that innocent organ! — was threatened with closure because it maliciously wished to present the evil circumstances of the proletariat in England and France as existing also in Prussia? Be that as the government wishes. We shall similarly add to the record that the great majority of the people are proletarians.

“The Diet,” it is further declared, “considered the question of principle to be the cardinal question, that is, the question of whether or not this exalted assembly should receive state power. And what was the people to receive? No railway, no annuity banks, no tax relief! Thrice happy people!”

Observe how our sleek-pated Consistorial Counsellor is gradually beginning to show his fox’s ears. “The Diet considered the question of principle to be the main question.” The blessed simplicity of this amiable blind-worm! The question as to whether a loan of 30 millions, an Income Tax providing a revenue not to he determined in advance, an annuity bank by means of which 400 to 500 millions can be raised on the domains — as to whether all this should be put at the disposal of the present dissolute and reactionary government, thus rendering it independent for an eternity, or whether it should be kept short, he rendered submissive to public opinion by the withdrawal of moneys, this our pussy-footing Consistorial Counsellor calls the question of principle!

“And what will the people receive?” asks the sympathetic Consistorial Counsellor. “No railway” — thus it will also avoid paying any taxes to cover the interest on the loan and the inevitable big losses in the running of this railway.

No annuity banks!” Our Consistorial Counsellor acts just as if the government wished to give annuities to the proletarians, doesn’t he? But, on the contrary, it wanted to give annuities to the nobility, for which the people would have had to pay. In this way it was to be made easier for the peasants to buy themselves free from compulsory labour service. If the peasants wait a few years more they will probably no longer need to buy themselves free. When the lords of the manor come under the pitchforks of the peasants, and this could easily happen before very long, then corvée system will cease of its own accord.

“No Income Tax.” But so long as the Income Tax brings no income to the people, this is a matter of utter indifference to it.

“Thrice happy people,” continues the Consistorial Counsellor, “you have at least won the question of principle! And if you do not understand what this is, then let your of representatives explain it to you; perhaps you will forget your hunger in the course their lengthy speeches!”

Who still dares to claim that the German press is not free? The Rh[einischer] Beob[achter] employs here with complete impunity a turn of phrase which many a French provincial jury would without more ado declare to be an incitement of the various classes of society against one another and cause to be punished.

The Consistorial Counsellor behaves, incidentally, in a terribly awkward manner. He wishes to flatter the people, and does not even credit it with knowing what a question of principle might be. Because he has to feign sympathy for the people’s hunger, he takes his revenge by declaring it to be stupid and politically incompetent. The proletariat knows so well what the question of principle is that it does not reproach the Diet for having won it, but for not having won it. The proletariat reproaches the Diet for having stayed on the defensive, for not having attacked, for not having gone ten times further. It reproaches it with not having behaved decisively enough to make possible the participation of the proletariat in the movement. The proletariat was certainly incapable of showing any interest in the Privileges of the Estates. But a Diet demanding trial by jury, equality before the law, the abolition of the corvée system, freedom of the press, freedom of association and true representation, a Diet having once and for all broken with the past and formulating its demands according to the needs of the present instead of according to the old laws — such a Diet could count on the strongest support from the proletariat.

The Beobachter continues:

“And may God grant that this Diet should not absorb the power of the government, otherwise an insuperable brake will be put upon all social improvements.”

The Herr Consistorial Counsellor may calm himself. A Diet that could not even get the better of the Prussian government will be given short shrift by the proletariat when the need arises.

“It has been said,” the Consistorial Counsellor observes further, “that the Income Tax leads to revolution, to communism. To revolution, to be sure, that is to say, to a transformation of social relations, to the removal of limitless poverty.”

Either the Consistorial Counsellor wishes to mock his readers and merely say that the Income Tax removes limitless poverty in order to replace it with limited poverty, and more of a similar kind of bad Berlin jokes — or he is the greatest and most shameless ignoramus in economic matters alive. He does not know that in England the Income Tax has been in existence for seven years and has not transformed a single social relation, has not removed the least hair’s breadth of limitless poverty. He does not know that it is precisely where the most limitless poverty exists in Prussia, in the weaving villages of Silesia and Ravensberg, among the small peasants of Silesia, Posen, the Mosel and the Vistula, that the Class Tax, that is, the Income Tax, is in force.

But who can reply seriously to such absurdities? It is further stated:

“Also to communism, as it happens to be understood.... Where all relations have been so intertwined with one another and brought into flux by trade and industry that the individual loses his footing in the currents of competition, by the nature of the circumstances he is thrown upon the mercy of society which must compensate in respect of the particular for the consequences of the general fluctuations. Hence society has a duty of solidarity in respect of the existence of its members.”

And there we are supposed to have the communism of the Rh[einischer] Beobachter! Thus — in a society such as ours, where nobody is secure in his existence, in his position in life, society is duty bound to secure everybody’s existence. First the Consistorial Counsellor admits that the existing society cannot do this, and then he demands of it that it should nevertheless perform this impossible f eat.

But it should compensate in respect of the particular for that for which it can show no consideration in its general fluctuations, this is what the Consistorial Counsellor means.

“One-third of the people has no basis for its existence, and another third is on the decline.”

Ten million individuals, therefore, are to be individually compensated for. Does the Consistorial Counsellor believe in all seriousness that the pauvre Prussian government will be able to achieve this?

To be sure, and what is more by means of the Income Tax, which leads to communism, as it happens to be understood by the Rh[einischer] Beobachter.

Magnificent. After bemusing us with confused balderdash about alleged communism, after declaring that society has a duty of solidarity in respect of the existence of its members, that it has to care for, them, although it cannot do so, after all these aberrations, contradictions and impossible demands, we are urged to accept the Income Tax as the measure which will resolve all contradictions, make all impossibilities possible and restore the solidarity of all members of society.

We refer to Herr von Duesberg’s memorandum on the Income Tax, which was presented to the Diet. In this memorandum employment had already been found for the last penny of the revenue from the Income Tax. The hard-pressed government had not a farthing to spare for the compensation in respect of the particular for general fluctuations, for the fulfilment of society’s duties of solidarity. And if, instead of ten million, only ten individuals had been through the nature of circumstances thrown upon Herr von Duesberg’s mercy, Herr von Duesberg would have rejected all ten of them.

But no, we are mistaken; besides the Income Tax the Herr Consistorial Counsellor has yet another means for introducing communism, as he happens to understand it:

“What is the Alpha and omega of the Christian faith? The dogma of original sin and redemption. And therein lies the association in solidarity of humanity in its highest potential: one for all and all for one.”

Thrice happy people! The cardinal question is solved for all eternity! Under the double wings of the Prussian eagle and the Holy Ghost, the proletariat will find two inexhaustible springs of life: first, the surplus from the Income Tax above the ordinary and extraordinary needs of the state, which surplus equals zero, and second, the revenues from the heavenly domains of original sin and redemption, which likewise equal zero. These two zeroes provide a splendid basis for the one-third of the people which has no basis for its existence, a powerful support for the other third which is on the decline. Imaginary surpluses, original sin and redemption will undoubtedly satisfy the people’s hunger in quite another way than the long speeches of liberal deputies! It is further stated:

“We also pray, in the Lord’s prayer: ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ And what we supplicate for ourselves we ought to practise with regard to our fellow human beings. Our social conditions undoubtedly tempt man, and the excess of poverty incites to clime.”

And we, gentlemen, we bureaucrats, judges and Consistorial Counsellors of the Prussian state, practise this consideration by having people broken on the wheel, beheaded, locked up and flogged to our heart’s content, thereby “leading” the proletariat “into the temptation” to have us later similarly broken on the wheel, beheaded, locked up and flogged. Which will not fail to occur.

“Such conditions,” declares the Consistorial Counsellor, “must not be tolerated by a Christian state, it must remedy them.”

Indeed, with absurd blusterings about society’s duties of solidarity, with imaginary surpluses and unacceptable bills of exchange on God the Father, Son and Company.

“We can also save ourselves all this tedious talk of communism,” opines our observing Consistorial Counsellor. “If only those who have the vocation for it develop the social principles of Christianity, then the Communists will soon fall silent.”

The social principles of Christianity have now had eighteen hundred years to be developed, and need no further development by Prussian Consistorial Counsellors.

The social principles of Christianity justified the slavery of antiquity, glorifies the serfdom of the Middle Ages and are capable, in case of need, of defending the oppression of the proletariat, with somewhat doleful grimaces.

The social principles of Christianity preach the necessity of a ruling and an oppressed class, and for the latter all they have to offer is the pious wish that the former may be charitable.

The social principles of Christianity place the Consistorial Counsellor’s compensation for all infamies in heaven, and thereby justify the continuation of these infamies on earth.

The social principles of Christianity declare all the vile acts of the oppressors against the oppressed to be either a just punishment for original sin and other sins, or trials which the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, ordains for the redeemed.

The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submissiveness and humbleness, in short, all the qualities of the rabble, and the proletariat, which will not permit itself to be treated as rabble, needs its courage, its self-confidence, its pride and its sense of independence even more than its bread.

The social principles of Christianity are sneaking and hypocritical, and the proletariat is revolutionary.

So much for the social principles of Christianity.


“We have acknowledged social reform to he the most distinguished vocation of the monarchy.”

Have we? There has not been a single word of this hitherto. However, let it stand. And what does the social reform of the Monarchy consist in? In promulgating an Income Tax stolen from the liberal press, which is to provide surpluses the Minister of Finance knows nothing about, in the abortive Land Annuity Banks, in the Prussian Eastern Railway, and in particular in the profits from a vast capital of original sin and redemption!

“The interests of the monarchy itself makes this advisable” — how low, then, the monarchy must have sunk!

“The distress in society demands this” — for the moment it demands protective tariffs far more than dogmas.

“The gospel recommends this” — this is recommended by everything in general, only not by the terrifyingly barren condition of the Prussian State treasury, this abyss, which, within three years, will irrevocably have swallowed up the 15 Russian millions. The gospel recommends a great deal besides, among other things also castration as the beginning of social reform with oneself (Matth[ew] 19:12).

“The monarchy,” declares our Consistorial Counsellor, “is one with the people.”

This pronouncement is only another form of the old “l'état c'est moi[I am the state — expression attributed to Louis XIV] and precisely the same form, in fact, as was used by Louis XVI against his rebellious estates on June 23, 1789: “if you do not obey, then I shall send you back home” “And alone I shall create the happiness of my people.”

The monarchy must indeed be very hard-pressed if it decides to make use of this formula, and our learned Consistorial Counsellor certainly knows how the French people thanked Louis XVI for its use on that occasion.

“The throne,” the Herr Consistorial Counsellor assures us further, “must rest on the broad foundation of the people, there it stands best.”

So long, that is, as those broad shoulders do not, with one powerful heave, throw this burdensome superstructure into the gutter.

“The aristocracy,” thus concludes the Herr Consistorial Counsellor, “leaves the monarchy its dignity and gives it a poetical adornment, but removes real power from it. The bourgeoisie robs it of both its power and its dignity, and only gives it a civil list. The people preserves to the monarchy its power, its dignity and its poetry.”

In this passage the Herr Consistorial Counsellor has unfortunately taken the boastful appeal To His People, made by Frederick William in his Speech from the Throne, [98] too seriously. its last word is — overthrow of the aristocracy, overthrow of the bourgeoisie, creation of a monarchy drawing its support from the people.

If these demands were not pure fantasies they would contain in themselves a complete revolution.

We have not the slightest wish to argue in detail that the aristocracy cannot be overthrown in any other manner than by the bourgeoisie and the people together, that rule of the people in a country where the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie still exist side by side is a piece of sheer nonsense. One cannot reply to such yarn-spinnings from one of Eichhorn’s Consistorial Counsellors with any serious development of ideas.

We merely wish to make some well-intentioned comments to those gentlemen who would like to rescue the apprehensive Prussian monarchy by means of a somersault into the people.

Of all political elements the people is by far the most dangerous for a king. Not the people of which Frederick William speaks, which offers thanks with moist eyes for a kick and a silver penny; this people is completely harmless, for it only exists in the king’s imagination. But the real people, the proletarians, the small peasants and the plebs — this is, as Hobbes says, puer robustus, sed malitiosus [Hobbes, Elementa philosophica de cive] a robust, but ill-natured youth, which permits no kings, be they lean or fat, to get the better of him.

This people would above all else extort from His Majesty a constitution, together with a universal franchise, freedom of association, freedom of the press and other unpleasant things.

And if it had all this, it would use it to pronounce as rapidly as possible on the power, the dignity and the poetry of the monarchy.

The current worthy occupant of this monarchy could count himself fortunate if the people employed him as a public barker of the Berlin Artisans’ Association with a civil list of 250 talers and a cool pale ale daily.

If the Consistorial gentlemen now directing the destiny of the Prussian monarchy and the Rhein[ischer] Beobachter should doubt this, then let them merely cast a glance at history. History provides a quite different horoscopes for kings who appealed to their people.

Charles I of England also appealed to His People against his estates. He called his people to arms against parliament. The people, however, declared itself to be against the king, threw all the members who did not represent the people out of parliament and finally caused parliament, which had thus become the real representative of the people, to behead the king. Thus ended the appeal of Charles I to his people. This occurred on January 30, 1649, and has its bicentenary in the year 1849.

Louis XVI of France likewise appealed to His People. Three years long he appealed from one section of the people to another, he sought His people, the true people, the people filled with enthusiasm for him, and found it nowhere. Finally he found it in the encampment of Koblenz, behind the ranks of the Prussian and Austrian army. This, however, was too much of a good thing for his people in France. On August 10, 1792 it locked up the appellant in the Temple and summoned the National Convention, which represented it in every respect.

This Convention declared itself competent to judge the appeal of the ex-king, and after some consultation the appellant was taken to the Place de la Révolution, where he was guillotined on January 21, 1793.

That is what happens when kings appeal to Their People. Just what happens, however, when Consistorial Counsellors wish to found a democratic monarchy, we shall have to wait and see.