Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848

Legal Proceedings Against The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 208;
Written: by Marx on July 10, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 41, July 11, 1848.

Cologne, July 10. Yesterday eleven compositors of our newspaper as well as Herr Clouth were summoned to appear as witnesses before .the examining magistrate on Tuesday, July 11. It is still a question of finding the author of the incriminatory article. We recall that at the time of the old Rheinische Zeitung, the time of the censorship and the Arnim Government, when they tried to find out who had sent in the famous “Marriage Bill”,"[151] there were neither house searches nor were examinations of compositors and the printshop owner resorted to. In the meantime, of course, we have experienced a revolution which had the misfortune to be recognised by Herr Hansemann.

We have to revert once again to the July 5 “rejoinder” of Public Prosecutor Hecker.

In this rejoinder Herr Hecker accuses us of lying with respect to one or another remark which we ascribed to him. Perhaps we have now the means at our disposal to correct the correction, but who will vouch that during this unequal battle. we will not once again be answered with Paragraph 222 or Paragraph 367 of the Penal Code?

Herr Hecker’s rejoinder ends with the following words:

“The defamations and insults contained in this article” (dated Cologne, July 4), “directed against Chief Public Prosecutor Zweiffel and the police who carried out the arrest, will be evaluated in the legal proceedings which will be initiated on this count.”

Evaluation! Have the black-red-gold colours been “evaluated” in the “legal proceedings” which were initiated by the Kamptz Government? [152]

Let us consult the Penal Code[153]. Paragraph 367 reads:

“Whosoever at public places ... or in an authentic and public document, or in a printed or unprinted piece of writing which has been posted, sold or distributed, accuses someone of facts which, if they were true, could result in the prosecution of the accused in a criminal or police court, or merely expose him to the contempt and hatred of his fellow citizens, is guilty of the offence of defamation.”

Paragraph 370: “If the fact which forms the subject of the accusation should, after due process of law, prove to be true, then the originator of the accusation shall go free of all punishment. Only proof which is derived from a verdict or some other authentic document is regarded as legal.”

In order to elucidate this paragraph we shall still add Paragraph 368:

“Consequently it will be of no avail to the originator of the accusation to plead in his defence that he will undertake to provide proof., nor can he enter the plea that the documents or the facts are notorious or that the accusations which gave rise to the prosecution were copied or extracted from foreign papers or other printed matter.”

The imperial era with all its crafty despotism radiates from these paragraphs.

According to ordinary human understanding, somebody is defamed if he is charged with fictitious evidence. According to the extraordinary understanding of the Penal Code, however, he is defamed if he is charged with real facts that can be proved but not in an exceptional manner, not by a verdict or by an official document. Oh for the miraculous power of verdicts and official documents! Only facts which have been judged in court, only officially documented facts are true and genuine facts. Has there ever been a penal code which has more maliciously defamed the most ordinary common sense? Has any bureaucracy ever thrown up a similar Chinese Wall between itself and the public? Covered with the shield of this paragraph, officials and deputies are immune like constitutional kings. These gentlemen may commit as many facts as they deem proper “which will expose them to the hatred and contempt of their fellow citizens”, but these facts must not be pronounced, written or printed on penalty of loss of civil rights in addition to the inevitable prison sentence and fine. Long live the freedom of the press and free speech moderated by Paragraphs 367, 368 and 370! You are arrested illegally. The press denounces this illegality. Result: the denunciation is “evaluated” in “legal proceedings” because of the “defamation” of the venerable Official who has committed the illegality, unless a miracle occurs and a verdict has already been rendered yesterday about the illegality which he commits today.

No wonder that the Rhenish jurists, among them the people’s representative Zweiffel, voted against a Polish commission with absolute authority! From their point of view, the Poles ought to have been sentenced to loss of their civil rights and also mandatory imprisonment and fine because of their “defamation” of Colomb, Steinsäker, Hirschfeld, Schleinitz, the Pomeranian army reserve and the old-Prussian police. Thus this peculiar pacification of Posen would be most gloriously crowned.

And what a contradiction it is to use these paragraphs of the Penal Code in order to label the rumour of the threat of getting rid of “March 19, the clubs and freedom of the press” a “defamation"! As if the use of Paragraphs 367, 368 and 370 of the Penal Code against political speeches and writings were not the real definitive destruction of March 19, clubs and freedom of the press! What is a club without freedom of speech? And what is freedom of speech with Paragraphs 367, 368 and 370 of the Penal Code? And what is March 19 without clubs and freedom of speech? The suppression of freedom of speech and the press in deed: is there a more striking proof that only defamation could tell fables about the intention of this deed? Beware of signing the address which was drawn up yesterday at the Gürzenich Hall.[154] The Public Prosecutor’s office would “appreciate” your address by initiating “legal proceedings” on the count of the “defamation” of Hansemann and Auerswald. Or may only Ministers be defamed with impunity, defamed in the sense of the French Penal Code, that code of political slavery carved in such a pithy style? Do we have responsible Ministers and irresponsible policemen?

Thus it is not that the incriminatory article can be evaluated by the use of the paragraphs on “defamation in a juridical sense”, a defamation in the sense of despotic fiction which is an outrage to common sense. All that can thereby be evaluated are purely and simply the accomplishments of the March revolution, that is the height reached by the counter-revolution and the recklessness with which the bureaucracy may revive and enforce weapons still to be found in the arsenal of the old legislation against the new political life. This use of the calumny paragraphs in attacks upon the people’s representatives is a marvellous method of shielding these gentlemen from criticism and of depriving the press of the protection of the jury system.

Let us now pass from the charge of defamation to the charge of insult. Here Paragraph 222 is applicable; it reads as follows:

“If one or more officials from the administrative or judicial authorities during the exercise of their official duties or as a result of these duties suffer any verbal insults which aim at an attack upon their honour or delicacy of feeling, the person who insults them in this way shall be punished with imprisonment of from one month to two years.”

When the article appeared in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Herr Zweiffel was acting as people’s representative in Berlin and by no means as an official of the judicial authorities in Cologne. It was indeed impossible to insult him in the exercise of his official duties or as a result of these duties since he was not performing any official duties. The honour and delicacy of feeling of the gentlemen of the police, however, could only then come under the protection of this article if they had been insulted in words (par parole). We have written, however, and not spoken, and par écrit is not par parole. Thus, what is there left to do? The moral is to speak with more circumspection of the lowest of policemen than of the foremost of princes and in particular not to take liberties with the most irritable gentlemen of the Public Prosecutor’s office. We remind the public once more that similar prosecutions have been started simultaneously in different Places such as Cologne, Düsseldorf and Koblenz. What a strange method of coincidence!