Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung January 1849

The Berlin National-Zeitung to the Primary Electors

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 271;
Written: by Marx between January 25 and 27, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 205 and No. 207 (second edition), January 26 and 28, 1849.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 205, January 26, 1849

Cologne, January 25. Although rarely, it does happen from time to time that one has the pleasure of seeing a signpost of the good old pre-March times rising out of the alluvial deposit which the double deluge of revolution and counter-revolution has left behind. Mountains have been shifted, valleys have been filled up, and forests levelled to the ground, but the signpost still stands in its old place, painted in the old colours, and still bearing the old inscription: “To Schilda!"[260]

Just such a signpost stretches its wooden arm towards us from No. 21 of the Berlin National-Zeitung with the inscription: “ To the primary electors. To Schilda!”

The well-meant advice of the National-Zeitung to the primary electors states first of all:

“The hour has come when the Prussian people is about to exercise for the second time its hard-won universal suffrage” (as if the so-called universal suffrage, granted from above, with its different interpretation in each village, were the same suffrage as that of April 8! [261]), “from which are to come the men who for the second time have to declare what is the spirit (!), the opinion (!!) and the will (!!!) not of separate social estates and classes, but of the whole people.”

We shall not speak of the turgidly clumsy style of this sentence which advances slowly and long-windedly from one word to the next. Universal suffrage, it says, should reveal to us the will not of separate social estates and classes, but of the whole people.

Fine! But what does “the whole people” consist of?

Of “separate social estates and classes”.

And what does “the will of the whole people” consist of?

Of the separate contradictory “wills” of the “separate social estates and classes”, hence precisely of the will which the National-Zeitung describes as the direct opposite of the “will of the whole people”.

What a great logician the National-Zeitung is!

For the National-Zeitung, however, there exists a single will of the whole people, which is not the sum of contradictory wills, but a united, definite will. How can that be?

It is — the will of the majority.

And what is the will of the majority?

It is the will which derives from the interests, the situation in life, and the living conditions of the majority.

Consequently, in order to have one and the same will, the members of the majority must have the same interests, the same situation in life, and the same living conditions, or for the time being they must be linked with one another by their interests, their situation in life, and their living conditions.

In plain language: the will of the people, the will of the majority, is the will not of separate social estates and classes, but of a single class and of those other classes and sections of classes which are subordinated to this one ruling class socially, i.e. industrially and commercially.

“But what are we to say to that?” That the will of the whole people is the will of a ruling class?

Of course, and it is precisely universal suffrage that acts as the compass needle which, even if only after various fluctuations, nevertheless finally points to this class which is called upon to rule.

And this good National-Zeitung still continues, as in 1847, to chatter about an imaginary “will of the whole people"!

Let us proceed. After this elevating exordium the National-Zeitung astounds us with the following significant remark:

“In January 1849 the state of affairs is different from the May days of 1848 so rich in hope and elation” (why not also in piety?).

All was then adorned with blossom,
And the sun’s rays shone with laughter,
And the birds sang so full of hope,
And the people hoped and thought —
They were deep in thought.
[Heinrich Heine, Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen]

“At that time there seemed to he complete unanimity that the great reforms, which should have been undertaken in Prussia already long ago if on the foundations laid in 1807-14 there had been further construction in the spirit of that time and in accord with the higher level of culture and understanding since achieved, would now have to be carried out completely and without delay.”

“At that time there seemed to be complete unanimity"! Grand, delightful naivety of the National-Zeitung! At that time, when the Guards, gnashing their teeth in fury, were retreating from Berlin, when the Prince of Prussia had to flee in haste from Berlin in a postilion’s jacket, when the upper ranks of the nobility and bourgeoisie had to suppress their anger at the ignominy which the King was made to suffer in the palace-yard when the people forced him to remove his hat before the dead bodies of those killed during the March days — “at that time there seemed to be complete unanimity"!

Heaven knows, it is already overdoing it to have imagined anything of the sort. But now, after one has had to admit to having been cheated, to proclaim one’s cheated gullibility from the house-tops — truly, c'est par trop bonhomme! [that is too simple-minded!]

And on what did there “seem to be complete unanimity"?

On “that the great reforms, which should have been undertaken ... if ... there had been further construction ... would now have to be carried out”.

On that there was — no, there seemed to be — complete unanimity. The great March achievement, expressed in worthy language! And what “reforms” were these?

Development of the “foundations laid in 1807-14 in the spirit of that time and in accord with the higher level of culture and understanding since achieved”.

That is to say in the spirit of 1807-14, and at the same time in quite a different spirit.

The “spirit of that time” consisted quite simply in the extremely material pressure of the French of that time on the Prussian Junker monarchy of that time, as well as in the likewise unfavourable financial deficit of the Prussian kingdom at that time. In order to make the bourgeois and the peasant capable of paying taxes, in order to introduce at least in appearance among the royal Prussian subjects some of the reforms which the French had lavished on the conquered parts of Germany — in short, in order in some degree to patch up the decayed monarchy of the Hohenzollerns that was splitting at every seam, for the sake of that a few niggardly so-called urban by-laws, redemption orders, army institutions etc. were introduced. The only distinction of these reforms was that they were a whole century behind the French revolution of 1789, and indeed even behind the English revolution of 1640. And that is supposed to be the foundations for Prussia that has been revolutionised?

But old-Prussian conceit always sees Prussia in the centre of world history, whereas in reality world history has always dragged the “state of reason” [Marx uses ironically the expression Staat der Intelligenz by which Hegel designates the Prussian state] after it, through the mire. This old-Prussian conceit has, of course, to ignore the fact that as long as Prussia was not kicked by the French, it calmly remained on the undeveloped foundations of 1807-14 and never stirred at all. It has to ignore the fact that these foundations were long ago forgotten when the glorious bureaucratic-Junker royal Prussian monarchy in February last year received a new and so powerful push from the French that it most gloriously toppled over from its “foundations of 1807-14”. It has to ignore the fact that for the royal Prussian monarchy it was in no way a question of these foundations, but merely one of warding off the further consequences of the push received from France. But Prussian conceit ignores all that, and when it suddenly receives the push, it cries out, like a child crying for its nurse, for the decayed foundations of 1807-14.

As if the Prussia of 1848, as regards territory, industry, trade, means of communication, culture and class relations, were not a totally different country from the Prussia of the “foundations of 1807-14"!

As if since that time two quite new classes — the industrial proletariat and the class of free peasants — had not intervened in its history; as if the Prussian bourgeoisie of 1848 were not quite different from the timid, docile and grateful petty bourgeoisie of the time of the “foundations"!

But all that is of no avail. A loyal Prussian must not know anything but his “foundations of 1807-14”. Those are the foundations on which further construction will take place — and that is the end of the matter.

The beginning of one of the most colossal historical revolutions is shrunken into nothing more than the ending of one of the pettiest pseudo-reform swindles — that is how revolution is understood in old Prussia!

And in this self-complacent narrow-minded fantasy from the country’s history “there seemed to be complete unanimity” — of course, only in Berlin, thank God!

Let us proceed.

“Those social estates and classes which had to renounce privileges and special rights ... which were destined in the future to stand only on an equal footing with all their fellow citizens ... seemed prepared for that renunciation — inspired by the conviction that the old state of things had become untenable, that it was in their own well-understood interest...”

Look at this meek and mild, sincerely humble bourgeois — how once again he conjures away the revolution! The nobility, the priests, the bureaucrats, the officers, “seemed prepared” to renounce their privileges, not because the armed people forced them to do so, not because in the first moments of terror at the European revolution, the demoralisation and disorganisation irresistibly spreading in their own ranks made them incapable of resistance — no! The peaceful, benevolent “agreements” (to use Herr Camphausen’s language) of February 24 and March 18 [On February 24, 1848, Louis Philippe was overthrown in France; March 18, 1848 — the beginning of the revolution in Prussia], which were advantageous to both sides, “inspired” them with the “conviction” that this “was in their own well-understood interest"!

That the March revolution, and above all February 24, was in the well-understood interest of the Herren cabbage — Junkers, members of church councils, Regierungsräte, and Guards lieutenants — that is indeed a truly monumental idea!

But, unfortunately!

“Today it is no longer like that. The beneficiaries and adherents of the old state of affairs, far from themselves helping, as is their duty (!), to see that the old rubbish is cleared away and the new house built, want only to prop up the old ruins beneath which the ground shook so dangerously and to embellish them with some forms in appearance appropriate to the new period.”

“Today it is no longer like that” — as it appeared to be in May, i.e. it is no longer what it was not in May, or it is precisely the same as it was in May.

That is the sort of language in which the Berlin National-Zeitung is written and, what is more, its writers are proud of it.

In a word: May 1848 and January 1849 differ from one another only in appearance. Previously the counter-revolutionaries seemed to understand their duty — today they actually and openly do not, and the peaceful bourgeois moans about it. After all, it is the duty of the counter-revolutionaries to renounce their interests for the sake of their own well-understood interest! It is their duty themselves to cut their vital arteries — yet, they do not do so — thus moans the exponent of well-understood interest!

And why do your enemies not do now what, as you say, is nevertheless their duty?

Because in the spring you yourselves did not do your “duty”, because at that time, when you were strong, you behaved like cowards and quaked before the revolution that was to make you great and powerful; because you yourselves let the old rubbish remain and complacently admired yourselves in the mirror wearing the aureole of a half success! And now, when the counter-revolution has become strong overnight and sets its foot on your neck, when under your feet the ground shakes dangerously — now you demand that the counter-revolution should become your servant, should clear away the rubbish that you were too weak and cowardly to clear away, that it, grown mighty, should sacrifice itself for you who are weak?

What childish fools you are! But wait a little and the people will rise up and with a single mighty push will throw you to the ground together with the counter-revolution against which you are now so impotently yapping!

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 207, January 28, 1849
second edition

Cologne, January 27. In our first article we did not take into account one circumstance which could, at any rate apparently, serve to excuse the National-Zeitung; the National-Zeitung is not free in what it writes — it is under martial law. And under martial law it has, of course, to sing:

Bid me not speak, bid me be silent,
To keep my secret is for me a duty;
I would for you my inmost soul lay bare,
’tis only fate that will not let me do so!!!
[Goethe, Mignon]

Even under martial law, however, newspapers are not published in order to say the opposite of what they think; moreover, martial law has nothing to do with the first half, which we considered previously, of the article in question.

Martial law is not to blame for the inflated, nebulous style of the National-Zeitung.

Martial law is not to blame for the fact that after March the National-Zeitung created for itself all sorts of naive illusions.

Martial law does not at all compel the National-Zeitung to make the 1848 revolution the train-bearer of the reforms of 1807-14.

In short, martial law in no way compels the National-Zeitung to entertain such absurd notions about the course of development of the revolution and counter-revolution in 1848 as we proved it to hold two days ago. Martial law affects not the past but the present.

Therefore, in our criticism of the first half of the article in question, we did not take martial law into account, and precisely for this reason we shall take it into account today.

After ending its historical introduction, the National-Zeitung addresses the primary electors in the following way:

“it is a matter of safeguarding the progress initiated, of consolidating the achievements.”

What “progress"? What “achievements"? The “progress” expressed in the fact that “today it is no longer like that”, as it “appeared” to be in May? The “achievement” that “the beneficiaries of the old state of affairs are far from themselves helping, as is their duty, to see that the old rubbish is cleared away"? Or the granted “achievements” which “prop up the old ruins and embellish them with some forms in appearance appropriate to the new period"?

Martial law, gentlemen of the National-Zeitung, is no excuse for absence of thought and confusion.

The “progress” which just now has been most successfully “initiated” is regression to the old system, and we are daily advancing farther along this path of progress.

The sole “achievement” left to us — and it is not a specifically Prussian, not a “March” achievement, but the result of the 1848 European revolution — is the most general, most determined, most blood-thirsty and most violent counter-revolution, which is itself only a phase of the European revolution, and hence only the generator of a new, universal and victorious revolutionary counterblow.

But perhaps the National-Zeitung knows that just as well as we do, and only dare not say it because of martial law? Listen to this:

“We do not want a continuance of the revolution; we are enemies of all anarchy, all acts of violence and arbitrariness; we want law, tranquillity and order.”

Martial law, gentlemen, compels you at most to be silent, never to speak. Therefore we put on record the sentence just quoted: if it is you who are speaking through its words, so much the better; if it is martial law that is speaking, there is no need for you to make yourselves its organ. Either you are revolutionary, or you are not. If you are not, then we are opponents from the outset; if you are, you should have been silent.

But you speak with such conviction, you have such an honest past, that we can safely assume that martial law has absolutely nothing to do with this asseveration.

“We do not want a continuance of the revolution.” That means: we want the continuance of the counter-revolution. For it is a historical fact that either one does not put an end to violent counter-revolution at all, or one does so only through revolution.

“We do not want a continuance of the revolution”, that means: we recognise that the revolution is ended, that it has reached its goal. And the goal which the revolution had reached on January 21, 1849, when the above-mentioned article was written, this goal was precisely — counter-revolution.

“We are enemies of all anarchy, all acts of violence and arbitrariness.”

That means enemies also of the “anarchy” which occurs after every revolution until the new conditions have been consolidated, enemies of the “acts of violence” of February 24 and March 18, enemies of the “arbitrariness” which ruthlessly shatters a decayed system and its decrepit legal supports!

“We want law, tranquillity and order"!

Indeed, the time has been well chosen to bow down before “law, tranquillity and order”, to protest against the revolution, and to concur in the cheap outcry against anarchy, acts of violence and arbitrariness! It has been well chosen, at the very moment when under the protection of bayonets and cannons the revolution is officially branded as a crime, when “anarchy, acts of violence and arbitrariness” are openly put into practice through ordinances countersigned by the King, when the “law”, imposed on us by the camarilla, is always used against us and never for us, when “tranquillity and order” consist in leaving the counter-revolution in “peace”, so that it can re-establish its old-Prussian “order” of things.

No, gentlemen, it is not martial law that speaks through you — it is most unadulterated Odilon Barrot, translated into Berlin language, with all his narrow-mindedness, all his impotence, all his pious wishes.

There is no revolutionary who is so tactless, so childish, so cowardly, as to deny the revolution at the very moment when counter-revolution is celebrating its most glittering triumphs. If he cannot speak, he acts, and if he cannot act, he prefers to remain perfectly silent.

But is it not possible, perhaps, that the gentlemen of the National-Zeitung are pursuing a cunning policy? Are they perhaps speaking so tamely in order on the eve of the elections to win over to the opposition yet another section of the so-called moderates?

From the very first day that the counter-revolution swooped down on us, we said that from now on there are only two parties: “revolutionaries” and “counter-revolutionaries”; only two slogans: ‘,the democratic republic” or “the absolute monarchy”. Everything in between is no longer a party but only a faction. The counter-revolution has done everything to make our statement come true. The elections are the most brilliant confirmation of that.

And at such a time, when the parties confront one another so sharply, when the struggle is being conducted with the greatest ferocity, when only the overwhelming superiority of organised soldiery prevents the struggle from being fought out arms in hand — at such a time all conciliation policy ceases. One needs to be Odilon Barrot himself to play the role of Odilon Barrot at such a time.

But our Berlin Barrots have their reservations, their conditions, their interpretations. They are wailers, but by no means simply wailers; they are wailers with a reservation: “that is to say”, wailers from the quiet opposition:

“We, however, want new laws such as are required by the awakened free spirit of the people and the principle of equality; we want a genuinely democratic-constitutional order” (i.e. a genuine absurdity); “we want tranquillity which rests on more than bayonets and martial laws, which is a politically and morally (!) based pacification of mind arising from the conviction, guaranteed by deeds and institutions, that every class of the people has its rights etc., etc.”

We can spare ourselves the labour of completing this sentence, written in conformity with martial law. It suffices to say that these gentlemen “want” not revolution, but only a small nosegay from the results of revolution; a little democracy, but also a little constitutionalism; a few new laws, abolition of feudal institutions, bourgeois equality etc., etc.

In other words, the gentlemen of the National-Zeitung and those from the Berlin ex-Lefts, whose organ it is, want to obtain from the counter-revolution precisely that for which the counter-revolution dispersed them.

Nothing learnt and nothing forgotten![262]

These gentlemen “want” the very things they will never obtain except by a new revolution. But they do not want a new revolution.

A new revolution would bring them also quite other things than are contained in the above-quoted modest bourgeois demands. And for that reason these gentlemen are quite right in not wanting any revolution.

Fortunately, however, historical development is little concerned about what the Barrots “want” or “do not want”. The Parisian prototype Barrot also “wanted” on February 24 only to achieve quite modest reforms, in particular a ministerial portfolio for himself; and he had hardly laid hands on both of these when the waves broke over him and he disappeared with all his virtuous petty-bourgeois retinue in the revolutionary deluge. Now, too, when at last he has once more obtained a ministerial post, he again “wants” various things; but nothing of what he wants is coming about. Such has ever been the fate of the Barrots. And the same thing will happen to the Berlin Barrots as well.

Under martial law or without it, they will continue to bore the public with their pious wishes. At most they will secure the adoption on paper of a few of these wishes, and finally they will be put on the shelf either by the Crown or by the people. In any case they will be put on the shelf.