Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848

The Agreement Debates

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 180;
Written: by Engels on July 4, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 35, July 5, 1848.

Cologne, July 4. Today we will take up the agreement session of June 28. The Assembly is confronted by a new President [Wilhelm Grabow], a new set of standing orders and new Ministers. One can therefore imagine how great is the confusion.

After lengthy preliminary debates about standing orders and other matters, Deputy Gladbach was finally allowed to speak. A few days ago in Spandau, the Prussian soldiery forcibly disarmed, and in some instances even arrested, on their return from Schleswig-Holstein, the members of the 6th Company of the Volunteer Corps which had been disbanded for republican sentiments. It had no legitimate reason or legal authority whatever to carry out this act. In law, the army cannot take such steps on its own initiative at all. Most of these volunteers, however, had formerly fought on the barricades of Berlin and the gentlemen of the guard had to get even with them.

Herr Gladbach questioned the Ministry on this act of military despotism.

The Minister of War, Schreckenstein, declares that he does not know anything about this matter and that he must reserve the right to demand a report on it from the appropriate authority.

Hence the people pay a Minister of War so that he does not yet know in Berlin on the 28th what steps the military took on the 25th a mere three hours from Berlin, in Spandau, and so that, right in front of his eyes, as it were, a mere three hours from Berlin, lieutenants of the guard should occupy the railway stations and seize the weapons from the armed nation (weapons which belong to the people, and which they captured on the battlefield), without even deigning to honour the Minister of War with a report! But to be sure, Lieutenant-Colonel Schlichting who accomplished this heroic deed acted according to “instructions”, which he probably receives from Potsdam, and it is probably also to Potsdam that he reports!

Tomorrow, the well-informed Minister of War pleads, tomorrow I will perhaps be able to give an answer!

There follows a question by Zachariä: The Ministry had promised a Bill on the civic militia. Will this Bill be based upon the principle of arming the whole nation?

The new Minister of the Interior, Herr Kühlwetter, answers: Indeed, a civic militia Bill was under consideration, but it had not yet been discussed in the Ministry, hence he could not say anything further about it.

Thus the new Ministry has been formed so precipitously and has reached so little agreement upon its guiding principles that even the burning question of the arming of the nation has not yet been debated!

A second question by Deputy Gladbach concerned the definitive appointing of burgomasters and other officials by the authorities hitherto empowered to do so. Since the entire prevailing administration will continue to exist only on a provisional basis, it will be able to fill the existing vacancies also only provisionally until it is determined by legislation how and by whom the different authorities are to be appointed. Nevertheless, burgomasters and other officials have been appointed definitively.

Minister Kühlwetter expresses his general agreement with Herr Gladbach and will allow only provisional burgomasters to be appointed.

President Grabow skilfully evades a further question by Herr Gladbach about the suspension of the many officials hated by those they administer; during the initial flush of revolutionary ardour a number of these officials, especially in the country, having been put to flight.

After some debates on procedure the question of Deputy Dierschke concerning the Köslin address[141] and its furtherance by the governments and the rural district administrations was reached. But the deputy had completely forgotten that his question had been put on the agenda and he had failed therefore to bring along the papers necessary to substantiate his case. Thus there was nothing left for him to do but to indulge in a few general phrases about the reaction, to accept a highly unsatisfactory reply from the Minister and to be told by the President that he must surely be satisfied with it.

But he had still to put a second question: Whether or not the Ministers intended to oppose the reactionary schemes of the aristocracy and the party of the officials.

In this case, too, he seems to have forgotten the necessary papers. Once again he spouts declamatory phrases instead of quoting facts and demands nothing better from the Ministry than that it issue a proclamation against reaction.

Herr Kühlwetter answers, of course, that the views of lords of the manor and of officials were not his concern, only their actions were. These people had the same freedom as Herr Dierschke, and besides, would Herr Dierschke please cite facts. In duly dignified manner, he rejected the absurd idea of an “enactment” against reaction. Herr Dierschke then cited the fact that in his district of Ohlau the Landrat had stated that the National Assembly would not be unanimous until it was glued together with grape-shot, and that their deputy (Dierschke himself) had said that it would be a trifle to string up a Minister.

The Chairman deduced from this remark that Herr Dierschke was now also satisfied in regard to the second question and Herr Dierschke could not think of any objections to raise.

Herr Hansemann, however, is not satisfied. He accuses the speaker of having digressed from the main question. He

“leaves it to the Assembly to judge the propriety of making personal accusations against officials when proof of these accusations is not supplied at the same time”.

After delivering this proud challenge and being greeted by the resounding applause of the Right and the Centre, Herr Hansemann sits down.

Deputy Elsner puts an urgent motion. He calls for the immediate appointment of a committee of inquiry into the situation of the spinners and weavers as well as of the entire Prussian linen manufacture.

In a brief and striking speech Herr Elsner tells the Assembly how the old Government had in every single case sacrificed the linen industry to dynastic and legitimist interests or rather notions. Spain, Mexico, Poland and Cracow served as proofs.[142]

Fortunately the facts were striking and affected only the old Government. Therefore no difficulties were raised by any side. The Government put itself at the disposal of the committee in advance and the motion was passed unanimously.

There follows a question by d'Ester concerning the shaved Poles.[143]

D'Ester declares that he does not just seek information about the fact but specifically about the measures taken by the Government against this treatment. That was the reason why he was not just addressing himself to the Minister of War but to the entire Government.

Herr Auerswald: If d'Ester does not want an answer to this specific case “the Government is not interested” in replying.

Really, the Government is not “interested” in replying to the question! What novelty! It is indeed customary to ask questions precisely in those cases in which “the Government is not a bit interested”. Precisely because it is not interested in answering it, precisely for that reason, Herr Prime Minister, the Government is asked the question.

The Prime Minister, by the way, must have believed that he was not among his superiors but among his subordinates. He attempts to make the reply to the question dependent upon the interest shown not by the Assembly but by the Government.

We attribute it solely to the inexperience of President Grabow that he did not call Herr Auerswald to order for this bureaucratic arrogance.

The Prime Minister, by the way, gave the assurance that the shaving of Poles would be vigorously counteracted but that he could not reveal any details until a later date.

D'Ester is very willing to agree to a delay but wants to know the date when Auerswald intends to answer.

Herr Auerswald, who must be hard of hearing, replies: 1 believe that there is nothing in my declaration which indicates that the Ministry does not wish (!) to revert to this matter at a later date. But he cannot yet fix the date.

Behnsch and d'Ester moreover declare explicitly that they are also demanding further information about the fact itself.

Then follows d'Ester’s second question: What was the meaning of the military preparations in the Rhine Province, particularly in Cologne, and did perhaps the necessity arise to protect the frontier with France?

Herr Schreckenstein replies: For several months now no troops have gone to the Rhine with the exception of individual reservists. (To be sure, brave Bayard, but there were already too many troops there.) Not just Cologne but all fortresses are being fortified so that the fatherland should not be endangered.

Thus if the troops are not drafted into the forts at Cologne where they have nothing to do and are in very poor quarters, if the artillery units do not get any rifles, if the troops do not receive bread for a week in advance and if the infantry is not provided with live bullets and the artillery with grape and ball shot, the fatherland is in danger? Thus, according to Herr Schreckenstein, the fatherland is ,only out of danger when Cologne and the other big cities are in danger!

By the way,

“all troop movements must be left entirely to the judgment of a military person, i.e. the Minister of War, otherwise he cannot be responsible"!

Imperial Baron Roth von Schreckenstein a of the terror-inspiring name sounds like a young girl whose virtue is threatened rather than the Prussian pro tempore Bayard without fear and reproach!

When Deputy d'Ester, M.D., who truly is a dwarf by the side of the mighty Imperial Baron Roth von Schreckenstein, asks the said Schreckenstein about the meaning of one or another measure, the great Imperial Baron believes that the little M.D. wants to take away his prerogative freely to decide on the disposition of troops. In such an event he could of course no longer be responsible!

In a word, the Minister of War declares that he must not be called to account; otherwise — he would not be accountable at all.

By the way, what weight does a deputy’s question carry compared with the “judgment of a military person, and particularly a Minister of War"!

Although d'Ester declares that he is not satisfied, he nevertheless draws from Schreckenstein’s answer the conclusion that the military preparations are designed to protect the French frontier.

Prime Minister Auerswald protests against this conclusion.

If all border fortresses are fortified, it stands to reason that all frontiers are “protected”. If all frontiers are protected, surely the French frontier, too, is “protected”.

Herr Auerswald admits the correctness of the premises but rejects” the deduction “in the name of the Government”.

We, on the other hand, 11 assume in the name” of common sense that Herr Auerswald is not merely hard of hearing.

D'Ester and Pfahl protest at once. Reichenbach declares that Neisse, the most significant Silesian fortress against the East, is not being fortified at all and that it is in a most sorry plight. When he begins to give details, the Right supported by the Centre makes a terrible racket and Reichenbach is forced to leave the rostrum.

Herr Moritz:

“Count Reichenbach has given no reason for addressing the Assembly (!). 1 believe that I may speak for the same reason (!!). I consider it to he unparliamentary and unheard of in the history of parliaments to embarrass the Ministry in such a manner ... (great commotion), to bring up matters which should not be discussed before the public ... we have not been sent here to endanger the fatherland.” (A terrible din ensues. Our Moritz has to get off the rostrum.)

Deputy Esser I calms the tumult by a disquisition, as thorough as it is appropriate, on Paragraph 28 of the standing orders.

Herr Moritz protests; he had not intended to correct a fact but merely “wanted to speak for the same reason as Count Reichenbach"! The conservative faction supports him and grants him a loud cheer, whereas the extreme Left bangs on the tables.


“Is it appropriate to discuss in detail the defensive capacity of Prussia either in individual cases or as a whole?”

We note in the first place that the discussion did not deal with the defensive capacity of the state but rather with the defencelessness of the state. Secondly, what is inappropriate is not that the Minister of War should be reminded of his duties but rather that. he should make military preparations against domestic opponents and not against external foes.

The Right is terribly bored and calls for an end to the debate. The President, in the midst of much noise, declares that the matter is settled.

Next on the agenda is a motion by Jung. Herr Jung deems it appropriate to be absent. What a wonderful representation of the people!

Now comes a question by Deputy Scholz. It reads literally as follows:

“Question to the Minister of the Interior inquiring whether he is able or inclined to supply information on the inopportune introduction of constables in the districts[144]

President: To begin with I am asking whether this question has been understood.

(It has not been understood and it is read once again.)

Minister Kühlwetter: Indeed, I do not know what information is demanded of me. I do not understand the question.

President: Is there support for the question? (It is not supported.)

Scholz: I withdraw my motion for the time being.

We, too, are “withdrawing” for today after this priceless scene which is “unheard of in the history of parliaments”.