Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848

The Agreement Debates

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 170;
Written: by Engels on July 2, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 34, July 4, 1848.

Cologne, July 2. After the tragedy the idyll, after the thunder of the Paris June days, the beating of the drums of the Berlin agreers. We had completely lost sight of the gentlemen but now we learn that at the very moment when Cavaignac shelled the Faubourg St. Antoine, Herr Camphausen gave a nostalgic farewell address and Herr Hansemann submitted the programme of the new Ministry.

First of all, we observe with pleasure that Herr Hansemann has taken our advice and has not become Prime Minister. He has realised that it is greater to make Prime Ministers than to be one.

The new Government, in spite of the borrowed name (prête-nom) of Auerswald, is and remains the Hansemann Government. It shows itself as such by presenting itself as the Government of Action and of accomplishing things. Herr Auerswald has certainly no claim to be a Minister of action!

Herr Hansemann’s programme is well known. We will not examine the points of his political programme since they have already provided feed for the more or less petty German newspapers. ‘there is only one point that nobody has dared to examine. We want to make up for that omission so that Herr Hansemann should not feel neglected.

Herr Hansemann declares:

“There is at present no more effective means to revive industry and thus to eliminate the poverty of the labouring classes than to restore the weakened confidence in the preservation of law and order and to establish soon a firm constitutional monarchy. BY concentrating all our efforts on this aim, we can best counteract unemployment and poverty.”

At the beginning of his programme, Herr Hansemann has already said that he proposes to submit new repressive laws for this purpose insofar as the old (police state!) legislation does not. suffice.

That is plain enough. The old despotic legislation does not suffice! The abolition of the poverty of the working class is not the province of the Minister of Public Works or the Minister of Finance but of the Minister of War! First repressive laws, to be followed by grape-shot and bayonets — indeed, “there is no more effective means"! Perhaps Herr Schreckenstein [schrecken-stein, i.e., terror-stone], whose mere name — according to the Westphalian address — strikes terror into the agitators, wants to continue his heroic deeds of Trier[135] and become a Cavaignac on a reduced Prussian scale?

But Herr Hansemann has still other means besides the “most effective” one:

“What is also necessary for this purpose is to procure employment by public works projects of genuine usefulness to the country.”

Herr Hansemann will thus “order still more comprehensive work for the good of all industrious classes of the people” than Herr Patow. But he will do this

“when the Government succeeds in removing the anxieties over the possible overthrow of the political system which are nourished by unrest and agitation and in restoring the general confidence necessary to obtain the required finances”.

For the moment Herr Hansemann cannot order any public works to be started because he cannot obtain any money. He can only obtain the money when confidence is restored. But, as he himself says, when confidence is restored, the workers will be employed and the Government will no longer need to procure jobs for them.

Herr Hansemann’s measures for the abolition of poverty are going round in a circle which is by no means vicious but rather very virtuous in a bourgeois sense. For the moment Herr Hansemann has nothing to offer the workers but the September Laws[136] and a reduced version of Cavaignac. This is indeed a Government of Action!

It is not our purpose to examine the recognition of the revolution in his programme. The “well-informed G-correspondent” of the Kölnische Zeitung has already hinted to the public how far Herr Hansemann has saved the legal basis for the benefit of the neighbouring journalist. [i.e., Karl Brüggemann, editor-in-chief of the Kölnische Zeitung] As regards the revolution Herr Hansemann has recognised that it is basically no revolution.

Herr Hansemann had hardly finished when Prime Minister Auerswald rose, for he was obliged to say something as well. He took out a written scrap of paper and read approximately the following thoughts, only not in verse:

Gentlemen! I am happy today
To tarry at your meeting,
Where many a noble kindred spirit
Lovingly howls a greeting.

My feelings at this very moment
Are quite beyond all measure;
And oh! these truly blissful hours
All my life I'll treasure!
[Heinrich Heine, Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen]

We want to emphasise that we have given the most favourable interpretation to the somewhat unintelligible scrap of paper of the Prime Minister.

Herr Auerswald has hardly finished when our Hansemann jumps up again in order to prove by raising a question of confidence that he has not changed his tune. He demands that the draft address be referred back to committee and says:

“The reception which this first motion will find in the Assembly will be a measure of the amount of confidence that the High Assembly has in the new Ministry.”

This was really too much. Deputy Weichsel, no doubt a reader of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, angrily rushes to the rostrum and protests emphatically against this everlasting method of the question of confidence. So far, so good. But once a German has begun to talk, it is hard to stop him, and so Herr Weichsel let himself go in a long discourse about this and that, about the revolution, the year 1807 and the year 1815, about a warm heart beating beneath a shirt and several other topics. All this he said because “he felt it necessary to get these matters off his chest”. A dreadful clamour, mingled with a few bravos from the Left, forced the worthy fellow to leave the rostrum.

Herr Hansemann assured the Assembly that it was by no means the Ministry’s intention to raise frivolous questions of confidence. It would not be worth the trouble to discuss the issue further since on this occasion it was not really a full question of confidence but only half a question.

There ensues debate such as seldom occurs. Everybody speaks at once and the debate wanders off into a myriad trivialities. The question of confidence, the agenda, standing orders, Polish nationality, adjournment, accompanied by bravos and clamour, all circulate for some time. At last Herr Parrisius observes that Herr Hansemann has put a motion on behalf of the Government, whereas the Government as such cannot put motions but can only make communications.

Herr Hansemann replies that it was a slip of the tongue. The motion was really no motion but merely a request from the Government.

The grandiose question of confidence is thus reduced to a mere request” of the Ministers!

Herr Parrisius rushes to the rostrum from the left side, Herr Ritz from the right. At the summit they confront each other. A collision is unavoidable since neither of the two heroes wants to withdraw. At this point, the Chairman, Herr Esser, begins to speak and both heroes turn back.

Herr Zachariä adopts the Government’s motion as his own and demands an immediate debate.

Herr Zachariä, the obedient servant of this as well as the previous Government, who had once before played the redeeming angel by just at the right moment. proposing an amendment to Berends’ motion, could not find anything to say in support of his motion. What had been stated by the Finance Minister sufficed entirely.

A lengthy debate now ensues with the indispensable amendments, interruptions, table-banging, blustering and sophistries about rules of procedure. It would be asking too much of us to lead our readers through this labyrinth. We can merely point out to them some of the more charming aspects of this confusion:

1. Deputy Waldeck enlightens us: the address cannot be referred back to the committee since the committee no longer exists.

2. Deputy Hüffer elaborates: the address is not a reply to the Crown but to the Ministers. The Ministers who produced the speech from the throne no longer exist. How are we supposed to reply to someone who does not exist any more?

3. Deputy d'Ester draws the following conclusion in the form of an amendment: the Assembly wishes to drop the address.

4. The amendment is disposed of by Chairman Esser in the following manner: This proposal seems to be a new motion and not an amendment.

That is the whole skeleton of the debate. To this meagre skeleton, however, there adheres a mass of bloated flesh in the form of speeches by the Ministers Rodbertus and Kühlwetter, the deputies Zachariä, Reichensperger II etc.

The situation is exceedingly strange. Herr Rodbertus himself says that it is

“unprecedented in the history of parliaments that a Government resigns while the draft of an address is on the table and the debate about it is supposed to begin!”

During its first six weeks of parliamentary life, Prussia has on the whole had the good fortune of encountering events almost all of which were “unprecedented in the history of parliaments”.

Herr Hansemann finds himself in the same dilemma as the Chamber. The address, ostensibly a reply to the speech from the throne by Camphausen-Hansemann, is in reality supposed to be a reply to the Hansemann-Auerswald programme. The committee which was complaisant towards Camphausen is therefore supposed to show similar complaisance towards Herr Hansemann. The difficulty is merely to convince people of the need for this demand which is “unprecedented in the history of parliaments”. All means are employed. Rodbertus, the Aeolian harp of the Left Centre, murmurs the most gentle sounds. Kühlwetter makes soothing gestures in all directions: it is, of course, possible that a new examination of the draft address “might convince everybody that no changes need now be made after all (!) but in order to win this conviction” (!!) the draft ought to be returned once more to the committee! Finally, Herr Hansemann, who as always is bored by a long debate, cuts the knot by stating bluntly why the draft should be returned to the committee: he does not want the new changes to slip in through the back door in the form of ministerial amendments, they should rather, in the form of committee proposals, strut into the hall through a large folding-door with wide-open leaves.

The Prime Minister declares that it is necessary that

“the Government should collaborate in a constitutional way in the drafting of the address”.

Even after much cogitation, we are unable to explain what this is. supposed to mean and which Constitution Herr Auerswald has in mind, particularly since Prussia does not have a Constitution at all at this moment.

Only two speeches from the side of the opposition need be mentioned: those of Herr d'Ester and Herr Hüffer. Herr d'Ester successfully ridiculed Herr Hansemann’s programme by using Herr Hansemann’s former disparaging remarks about abstractions, useless quarrels over principles etc. against the very abstract programme. D'Ester called upon the Government of Action “at last to proceed to action and to set aside questions of principle”. We have already mentioned above his proposal, which was the only sensible one that was made in the course of the day.

Herr Hüffer, who most clearly expressed the correct point of view in relation to the address, also formulated it most clearly in relation to Herr Hansemann’s request: the Government demands that we should have enough confidence in it to send the address back to the committee and it makes the continuation of its existence dependent upon such a decision. The Government, however, can only demand a vote of confidence for actions which it carries out itself but not for actions which it requires of the Assembly.

In short: Herr Hansemann demanded a vote of confidence and the Assembly, to spare Herr Hansemann unpleasantness, gave an indirect vote of censure to its address committee. Under the Government of Action the deputies will soon find out what the famous treasury-whip is.