Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848

The Agreement Debate

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 195;
Written: by Engels on July 8, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 39, July 9, 1848.

Cologne, July 8. Simultaneously with the news of the dissolution of the Hansemann Ministry the stenographic report about the agreement session of July 4 reached us. It was during this session that the resignation of Herr Rodbertus, the first symptom of this dissolution, was announced, and at the same time the two contradictory votes concerning the Posen committee and the exodus of the Left have greatly accelerated the Ministry’s disintegration.

The announcements of the Ministers regarding the resignation of Rodbertus published in the stenographic report contain nothing new. We shall skip them.

Herr Forstmann rose: He had to protest against the expressions which Herr Gladbach used on June 30 in referring to the “deputation of the most honourable men of Rhineland and Westphalia”.

Herr Berg: I have already a few days ago observed in connection with the standing orders that the reading of this petition is out of place here and that it bores me. (Exclamation: It bores us!) Well then, us. I have spoken for myself and several others and the circumstance that we are being bored today by a supplementary observation does not invalidate this remark.

Herr Tüshaus, the expert adviser of the central section on the question of the Posen committee, gives a report. The central section proposes that a committee be formed to investigate all questions concerning the Posen affair, and leaves open the question what funds shall be put at the committee’s disposal for this purpose.

Herr Wolff, Herr Müller, Herr Reichensperger II and Herr Sommer have proposed amendments which have all met with support and are down for discussion.

Herr Tüshaus adds to his report a few comments directed against the idea of a committee. The truth, in this case, too, was evidently to be found as always in the middle and after long and contradictory reports one would merely arrive at the conclusion that both sides were to blame. With that one would be exactly where one is at present. One should at least first ask for a detailed report by the Government and then decide what to do further.

Why did the central section select a reporter who speaks against his own report?

Herr Reuter explains the reasons which caused him to put the motion to appoint the committee. Finally he remarks that he had no intention of making an accusation against the Ministers and that as a jurist he knew only too well that up to now all ministerial responsibility was illusory so long as there existed no law concerning this point.

Herr Reichensperger II rises. He protests his boundless sympathies for Poland and hopes that the day may not be far when the German nation pays off its old debt of honour to the grandchildren of Sobieski. (As if this debt of honour had not been paid off a long time ago by the eight partitions of Poland, by shrapnel, lunar caustic and canings!)

“We must, however, also maintain the calmest circumspection since German interests must always come first.”

(The German interests are, of course, to keep as much as possible of this territory.) And Herr Reichensperger is especially opposed to the appointment of a committee to investigate the evidence:

“This is a question which should be dealt with expressly by history or the courts.”

Has Herr Reichensperger forgotten that he himself declared during the debate on the revolution that the gentlemen were here “to make history"? He concludes with a juridical sophistry about the position of the deputies. We shall return later to the question of competence.

Now, however, Herr Bauer from Krotoschin, himself a German Pole, rises to defend the interests of his community.

“I would like to ask the Assembly to draw a veil over the past and to occupy itself solely with the future of a people that has every right to lay claim to our sympathy.”

How touching! Herr Bauer from Krotoschin is so taken up with sympathy for the future of the Polish people that he wants to “draw a veil” over its past, over the barbarities of the Prussian soldiery, the Jews and the German Poles. The matter should be dropped in the interest of the Poles themselves!

“What does one hope to gain from such depressing discussions? If you find the Germans guilty will you, therefore, be less concerned for the preservation of their nationality, and the safety of their person and their property?”

That was, indeed, a magnificent show of candour! Herr Bauer from Krotoschin admits that the Germans could possibly be wrong, but even so German nationality must be supported at the expense of the Poles!

“I am unable to perceive how digging through the rubbish of the past can produce anything beneficial for a satisfactory solution of these difficult questions.”

There certainly would not be anything “beneficial” in store for the German Poles and their fervent allies. That is why they are so much opposed to it.

Herr Bauer then seeks to intimidate the Assembly: such a committee would inflame the minds of people once again, incite fanaticism anew, and might lead to a new bloody clash. These philanthropic considerations prevent Herr Bauer from voting for the committee. Nor can he vote against it since that might create the impression that his mandataries have reason to fear the committee. Thus out of consideration for the Poles he is against the committee and out of consideration for the Germans he is for it, and to maintain his perfect impartiality in this dilemma, he does not vote at all.

Bussmann of Gnesen, another deputy from Posen, regards his mere presence as proof that Germans, too, live in Posen. He wants to prove statistically that there are “whole masses of Germans” who live in his region. (Interruption.) Furthermore, over two-thirds of the entire property is supposed to be in German hands.

“on the other hand I believe that I can provide the proof that we Prussians not merely conquered Poland with our weapons (!?!) in 1815 but that we have conquered it a second time by our intelligence (of which this session offers samples) “through 33 years of peace. (Interruption. The President asks Herr Bussmann not to digress from the question.) I am not opposed to a reorganisation; but the most sensible reorganisation would be a system of local government with election of officials, Such a measure combined with the Frankfurt decisions for the protection of all nationalities would offer Poland every guarantee. I am, however, very much opposed to the line of demarcation. (Interruption. A second reprimand.) Well, if I must not digress from the subject, I am against the committee because it is useless and provocative; incidentally, I am not afraid of it and I shall support the committee if it comes to the point (Interruption: He is therefore speaking in favour of it I) No, I am speaking against it Gentlemen, in order that you may at least understand why the insurrection came about I will explain to you in a few words (Interruption. Disagreement.)

Cieszkowski: “Don’t interrupt! Let him finish speaking!”

President: “I am asking the speaker again to speak strictly to the question.”

Bussmann: “I have spoken out against the idea of a committee and I have nothing further to add!”

With these angry words the enraged German-Polish lord of the manor leaves the rostrum and hurries back to his seat to the ringing laughter of the Assembly.

Herr Heyne, the deputy from the Bromberg district, tries to save the honour of his countrymen by voting for the committee. Nevertheless, he cannot refrain either from accusing the Poles of deceit, fraud etc.

Herr Baumstark, also a German Pole, is likewise against the committee. The reasons are always the same.

The Poles abstain from the discussion. Only Pokrzywnicki speaks for the committee. It is well known that the Poles have all along pressed for an investigation while it now becomes apparent that the German Poles, with one exception, have all protested against it.

Herr Pohle is so much a Pole that he regards all Posen as part of Germany and declares the border between Germany and Poland to be a “dividing wall running through Germany”.

The defenders of the committee were mostly long-winded and their arguments betrayed little acumen. Just like their opponents, they repeated themselves over and over again. Their arguments were mostly of a hostile and trivial nature and much less entertaining than the biased protestations of the German Poles.

Tomorrow we shall come back to the attitude of the Ministers and officials in regard to this question and to the well-known question of competence.