Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848

The Agreement Debates

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 226;
Written: by Engels on July 14, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 45, July 15, 1848.

Cologne, July 14. Today we come to the second half of the agreement session of the 7th [of this month]. After the debate about the financial committee, which was so painful for Herr Hansemann, there occurred yet another series of small woes for the ministerial gentlemen. It was a day of urgent motions and questions, of attacks on and embarrassment for the Ministry.

Deputy Wander proposed that any official who orders the unjust arrest of a citizen should be obliged to make full reparation and besides should be jailed for a period four times as long as the person he arrested.

The motion, as not urgent, is sent to the relevant committee.

Minister of Justice Märker declares that the adoption of this motion would not only fail to strengthen the legislation hitherto in force against officials who carry out unlawful arrests, but that it would actually weaken this legislation. (Cheers.)

The Minister of justice only forgot to observe that according to the laws hitherto in force, particularly the old Prussian Law, it is hardly possible for an official to arrest anybody unlawfully. The most arbitrary arrest may be justified by the paragraphs of the most time-honoured Prussian Law.

We want to call attention, by the way, to the most unparliamentary method which the Ministers have fallen into the habit of using. They wait until a motion is referred to the relevant committee or section and then they still continue to discuss it. They are then certain that nobody can answer them. Thus Herr Hansemann acted in the case of Herr Borries’ motion and now Herr Märker follows suit.

Ministers trying to get away with such parliamentary improprieties in England and France would have been called to order very differently. But not in Berlin!

Herr Schulze (from Delitzsch): A motion to request the Government at once to hand over to the Assembly for debate in committee the already completed or soon to be completed constitutional Bills.

This motion again contained an indirect reproof of the Government for its negligence or intentional delay in submitting Bills to supplement the Constitution. The reproof was the more painful as during that same morning two Bills had been submitted, including the Bill on the civic militia. Thus, had the Prime Minister shown any energy, he would have decisively rejected this motion. But instead he makes only a few general remarks about the Government’s desire to meet all just wishes of the Assembly in every possible way and the motion is adopted by a large majority.

Herr Besser asks the Minister of War about the absence of service regulations. The Prussian army is the only one which lacks such regulations. Hence there exist in all army units down to company and squadron level the greatest differences of opinion about the most important service matters, particularly about the rights and duties of the various ranks. There exist, to be sure, thousands of orders, ordinances and instructions but they are worse than useless precisely because of their countless number, their confusion and the contradictions which prevail in them. Besides, every such official document is mixed up and rendered unrecognisable by as many different corollaries, elucidations, marginal notes and notes to the marginal notes as there are intermediate authorities through which it passes. This confusion naturally works to the advantage of the superior in all kinds of arbitrary acts whereas the subordinate only reaps the disadvantage of it. The subordinate, therefore, knows no rights but only duties. There used to be service regulations called the pigskin regulations, but they were taken away from those individuals who had a copy of them during the 1820s. Since then no subordinate may cite them to his advantage whereas the higher authorities are allowed to cite them constantly against the subordinates! It is the same with the Service regulations of the guard corps which are never communicated to the army or made accessible to subordinates who are nevertheless punished under them! The staff officers and generals naturally only profit from this confusion which allows them to exercise the most extreme arbitrariness and the harshest tyranny. The subaltern officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, however, suffer under it and it is in their interest that Herr Besser questions General Schreckenstein.

How Herr Schreckenstein must have been astonished when he had to listen to this lengthy “quill-driving” — to use a popular term from the year 1813! What, the Prussian army does not have service regulations? What absurdity! Honestly, the Prussian army has the best, and at the same time the shortest, regulation in the world consisting of only two words: “Obey orders!” If a soldier of this “unbeaten” army is cuffed, kicked and struck with rifle-butts, if he has his beard or nose pulled by a lieutenant not yet of age and just escaped from officers’ training school, and if he should complain, it is: “Obey orders!” If a tipsy major after dinner and for his special amusement marches his battalion into a swamp up to the waist, and there lines them up in square formations, and a subordinate dares to complain, it is: “Obey orders! “ If officers are forbidden to visit one or another café and they take the liberty to comment, it is: “Obey orders!” This is the best service regulation, for it fits every occasion.

Of all the Ministers, Herr Schreckenstein is the only one who has not yet lost heart. This soldier who served under Napoleon, who for thirty-three years has practised the senseless Prussian spit and polish and has heard many a bullet whistle, will certainly not be afraid of agreers and questioners, particularly not when the great “Obey orders!” is in danger!

Gentlemen, he says, I am bound to know better. I ought to know what changes have to be made. It is here a question of tearing down, and tearing down must not he allowed to prevail since rebuilding is very difficult. The military organisation has been created by Scharnborst, Gneisenau, Boyen and Grolmann, it comprises 600,000 armed and tactically trained citizens and offers a secure future to every citizen as long as there is discipline. I shall maintain it and that is all I have to say.

Herr Besser: Herr Schreckenstein has not answered the question at all. It seems evident, however, from his remarks that he believes service regulations would slacken discipline!

Herr Schreckenstein: I have already stated that I will do what is expedient for the army and benefits the service.

Herr Behnsch: We can at least demand that the Minister answers( yes or no or declares that he does not wish to reply. Up to now we have only heard evasive phrases.

Herr Schreckenstein, annoyed: I do not consider it in the interest of the service to discuss this question any further.

The service, always the service! Herr Schreckenstein believes that he is still the commander of a division and that he is speaking to his officer corps. He imagines that as Minister of War, too, he only needs be concerned with the service and not with the legal relations between the individual ranks of the army, least of all with the relations of the army to the state as a whole and its citizens! We are still living under Bodelschwingh; the spirit of the old Boyen seems to prevail unbroken at the Ministry of War.

Herr Piegsa asks about the maltreatment of Poles at Mielzyn on June 7.

Herr Auerswald declares that he must first wait for full reports.

Thus an entire month of 31 days after the event Herr Auerswald is not yet fully informed! What a wonderful administration!

Herr Behnsch asks Herr Hansemann as to whether at the presentation of the budget he will give a survey’ of the administration of the Seehandlung[158] since 1820 and of the state treasury since 1840.

Herr Hansemann declares amidst resounding laughter that he will be able to reply in a week’s time.

Herr Behnsch once again inquires about government support of emigration.

Herr Kühlwetter replies that this is a German affair and refers Herr Behnsch to Archduke John.

Herr Grebel asks Herr Schreckenstein about the officials of the Military Administration who are simultaneously officers of the army reserve and who do active service during the army reserve exercises thereby depriving other officers of the army reserve of the opportunity to perfect their training. He moves that these officials be released from service in the army reserve.

Herr Schreckenstein declares that he will do his duty and even take the matter into consideration.

Herr Feldhaus asks Herr Schreckenstein about the soldiers who lost their lives on the march from Posen to Glogau a on June 18 and the measures taken to punish this barbarity.

Herr Schreckenstein: The matter has taken place. The report of the regimental commander has been submitted. The report of the General Command which arranged the stages of the march is still lacking. I cannot yet say, therefore, whether the order of march was transgressed. Besides, we are in this case passing judgment on a staff officer and such judgments are painful. It is to be hoped that the “High General Assembly” (!!!) will wait until the reports have arrived.

Herr Schreckenstein does not consider this barbarity a barbarity, he merely asks whether the major in question has “obeyed orders”. What does it matter if 18 soldiers die miserably like so many heads of cattle on a country road so long as orders are obeyed!

Herr Behnsch who had asked the same question as Herr Feldhaus says: I withdraw my question which has now become superfluous but I demand that the Minister of War fixes a day on which he will answer. Three weeks have already passed since this incident and the reports could have been here long ago.

Herr Schreckenstein: We have not wasted a moment; the reports from the General Command were requested immediately.

The President wants to skip over the matter.

Herr Behnsch: I am only asking the Minister of War to give an answer and to fix a day.

President: Would Herr Schreckenstein....

Herr Schreckenstein: It is not yet possible to surmise when that will be.

Herr Gladbach: Paragraph 28 of standing orders lays the obligation upon Ministers to fix a day. I also insist upon it.

President: I am asking the Minister once again.

Herr Schreckenstein: I cannot fix a specific day.

Herr Gladbach: I insist upon my demand.

Herr Temme: I am of the same opinion.

President: Would the Minister of War perhaps in a fortnight....

Herr Schreckenstein: That could very well be. I shall answer as soon as I know whether or not orders have been obeyed.

President: All right then, in a fortnight ...

This is how the Minister of War carries out “his duty” to the Assembly!

Herr Gladbach has yet another question, directed to the Minister of the Interior concerning the suspension of unpopular officials and the merely temporary, provisional filling of vacancies.

Herr Kühlwetter’s answers are most unsatisfactory and further remarks of Herr Gladbach are drowned after brave resistance by the muttering, shouting and hissing of the Right which is at last moved to fury by so much insolence.

A motion by Herr Berends to place the army reserve, which has been called up for domestic service, under the command of the civic militia is not recognised as urgent and is thereupon withdrawn. Thereafter a pleasant conversation begins about all sorts of subtleties linked to the Posen committee. The storm of questions and urgent motions has passed and the last conciliatory sounds of the famous session of July 7 fade away like the soft whispering of zephyr and the pleasant murmuring of a meadow brook. Herr Hansemann returns home with the consolation that the blustering and table-banging of the Right has woven a few flowers into his crown of thorns, and Herr Schreckenstein smugly twirls his moustache and murmurs: “Obey orders!”