Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848

The Agreement Debates

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 57;
Written: by Engels on June 6, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 8, June 8, 1848.

Cologne, June 6. At the Berlin agreement session of the 2nd, Herr Reuter moved the appointment of a committee of inquiry into the causes of the civil war in Posen [46].

Herr Parrisius demands an immediate debate on this motion. The President [Karl Milde] gets ready to call for a vote when Herr Camphausen recalls that there has as yet been no debate on Herr Parrisius’ motion:

“May I remind you that the passage of this” (Reuter’s) “motion would mean the acceptance of an important political principle which is certainly entitled (sic!) to a test in the sections.”

We are put in suspense about the “important principle” contained in Reuter’s motion, a secret which Herr Camphausen is not disclosing for the time being.

While we have to show patience in this respect, a complacent debate develops between the Chairman (Herr Esser, Vice-President) and several “votes” as to whether or not a debate is permissible on Parrisius’ motion. Herr Esser here debates with arguments which sound strange in the mouth of the President of a soi-disant National Assembly: “I was under the impression that it is permissible to discuss any matter that the Assembly is called upon to decide.”

“I was under the impression"! Man proposes and Herr Camphausen disposes by drafting standing orders that nobody can understand and having them adopted provisionally by his Assembly.

Herr Camphausen was gracious this time. He had to have the .debate. Parrisius’ and Reuter’s motions might have been passed without debate, i.e. an indirect vote of no confidence would have been rendered against him. And, still worse, what would have become of his “important political principle” without a debate?

Hence, a discussion takes place.

Herr Parrisius wants an immediate debate on the main motion so that no time is lost and the committee may possibly report before the debate on the address. Otherwise judgment would be made in the address without any factual knowledge about Posen.

Herr Meusebach opposes this move although as yet rather mildly.

But now Herr Ritz rises impatiently to put an end to Reuter’s subversive motion. He is a royal Prussian Regierungsrat and will not tolerate that assemblies, even if they are assemblies for the purpose of agreement, meddle in his special field. He knows of but one authority entitled to do so: the Oberpräsidium. He prefers the system of successive appeals to everything else.

“What,” he exclaims, “do you, gentlemen, intend to send a commission to Posen? Do you intend to turn yourselves into administrative or judicial authorities? Gentlemen, I cannot perceive from this motion what you are trying to accomplish. Are you going to demand an inspection of the files of the commanding general” (what outrage!) “or the judicial authorities” (horrible) “or perhaps even the administrative authorities?” (in contemplating that possibility, the Regierungsrat is at his wits’ end.) “Do you want the investigation to be conducted by an improvised committee” (which perhaps has never taken an examination) “dealing with all these matters which nobody yet clearly understands?” (Herr Ritz probably only appoints committees to investigate matters which everybody dearly understands.) “This important issue on which you arrogate to yourselves rights which do not belong to you...... (Interruption.)

What is one to say to this Regierungsrat of sterling worth, to this personification of red tape who has no guile! He is like that provincial character in Cham’s little cartoon who, upon arriving in Paris after the February revolution, sees posters with the inscription “République française” and runs to the Public Prosecutor-General to denounce these agitators against the royal Government. That man had slept through the entire period.

Herr Ritz, too, has been asleep. The thundering words “committee of inquiry for Posen” roughly shake him awake and, still drowsy with sleep, the astonished man exclaims: “Do you wish to arrogate to yourselves rights which do not belong to you?”

Herr Duncker regards a committee of inquiry as superfluous ‘,since the committee on the address must demand the necessary clarifications from the Ministry”. As if it were not precisely the job of the committee to compare the “clarifications” of the Ministry with the facts.

Herr Bloem spoke of the urgency of the motion. The question ought to be settled before there are deliberations on the address. There had been talk about improvised committees. Herr Hansemann had the previous day similarly improvised a question of confidence and still a vote had been taken.

Herr Hansemann, who had probably thought about his new financial plan during the entire unedifying debate, was rudely awakened from his golden dreams by the mention of his name. He evidently had no idea what it was all about but his name had been mentioned and he had to speak. Only two points of contact had remained in his memory: the speeches of his superior, Camphausen, and Herr Ritz. After mouthing a few platitudes about the question of the address he composed the following rhetorical masterpiece from these two speeches:

“Precisely because we do not vet know all the tasks which the committee will have to perform, whether it will dispatch some of its own members to the Grand Duchy, whether it will have to take care of this or that matter, all this proves, the great importance of the question that is under discussion (!). To decide this question here and now right away would mean to decide one of the most important political questions in an improvised fashion. I do not believe that the Assembly will want to tread this path and I am confident that it will be careful etc.”

What contempt Herr Hansemann must have for the entire Assembly to be able to fling such conclusions at this body! We want to appoint a committee which will perhaps have to go to Posen and maybe not. just because we do not know whether it must remain in Berlin or go to Posen, the question whether a committee ought to be appointed at all is of great importance. And because it is of great importance, it is one of the most important political questions!

Which question, however, this most important political question’ is, Herr Hansemann keeps to himself for the time being, just as Herr Camphausen does not reveal his important political principle. Let us all be patient once more!

The effect of Hansemann’s logic is so crushing that everybody at once begins clamouring for a termination of the debate. Now the following scene ensues:

Herr Jung demands the right to speak against the closing of the debate.

The President: It seems to me inadmissible to permit you to speak on this.

Herr Jung: it is customary everywhere to have the right to speak against the closing of a debate.

Herr Temme reads out Article 42 of the provisional standing orders according to which Herr Jung is correct and the President incorrect.

Herr Jung is allowed to speak: I am against closing the debate because the Minister was the last person to speak. The words of a Minister are of the greatest importance because they attract a great party to one side, because a great party does not like to disavow a Minister....

A general, long-drawn-out aha! aha! arises. A terrific uproar begins on the Right.

Commissioner of justice Moritz exclaims from the floor: I move that Jung be called to order since he has offended the entire Assembly by resorting to personalities!(!)

Another voice from the “Right” shouts: I second the motion and I protest against....

The uproar grows constantly. Jung does his best but finds it impossible to make himself heard. He calls upon the President to uphold his right to speak.

President: Since the Assembly has decided, my duties are over.(!!)

Herr Jung: The Assembly has not decided. You must first call for a formal vote.

Herr Jung is forced to yield. The noise does not abate until he has left the rostrum.

President: The last speaker seems (!) to have spoken against the termination of the debate. The question is whether someone else still wants to speak for closure.

Herr Reuter: The debate for and against closure has already taken up 15 minutes of our time. Should we not leave it on the table?

Thereupon the speaker again takes up the urgency of setting up a committee which compels Herr Hansemann to rise once more and to explain at last his “most important political question”.

Herr Hansemann: Gentlemen! We are dealing with one of the greatest political questions, i.e. whether the Assembly has the desire to venture upon a path that may involve it in considerable conflicts!

At last! Herr Hansemann, as a consistent Duchâtel, promptly declares once again that it is a question of confidence. For him all questions have only one significance, namely whether they are questions of confidence, and a question of confidence is for him naturally the “greatest political question”.

This time Herr Camphausen does not seem to be satisfied with this simple method of curtailment. He takes the floor.

“It should be observed that the Assembly could already be informed” (about Posen) “if the deputy had chosen to ask the question” (but the deputies wanted to ascertain the facts for themselves). “That would be the quickest method of obtaining clarification” (but of what kind?)....... I close with the explanation that the motion simply means that the Assembly ought to decide whether we should form committees of inquiry for one or another purpose. I agree entirely that the question must be thoroughly considered and examined, but I do not want it so suddenly here and now to become a topic for debate.”

Thus, the “important political principle” turns out to be the question whether the Agreement Assembly has the right to form committees of inquiry or whether it will refuse itself this right!

The French Chambers and English Houses have all along formed such committees (select committees) to conduct an inquiry (enquête, parliamentary inquiry)’ and respectable Ministers have never raised objections to them. Without such committees, ministerial responsibility is an empty phrase. But Herr Camphausen contests this right of the members of the Agreement Assembly!

Enough. Talking is easy but voting is difficult. The debate is closed and a vote is to be held. Numerous difficulties, doubts, sophistries and moral scruples make their appearance. But we shall spare our readers the details. After a great deal of speech-making, Parrisius’ motion is rejected and Reuter’s is sent to the sections. May its ashes rest in peace.