Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 219 February 1849


Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 344;
Written: by Marx on February 10, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 219, February 11, 1849.

Cologne, February 10. We promised yesterday to return to the question of Lassalle. Already for eleven weeks Lassalle has been confined in Düsseldorf prison, and only now has the investigation of simple facts which no one denies come to an end, only now is the Council Chamber reaching a decision. The case has been successfully prolonged to a point where the Council Chamber and board of indicting magistrates, by merely keeping to the maximum legal term, can drag out the case beyond the forthcoming Düsseldorf assizes and so favour the prisoner with a further three months of detention under investigation!

And what a detention under investigation that is!

It is well known that recently a deputation of various democratic associations of Cologne handed Prosecutor-General Nicolovius an address signed by several thousand citizens which requested: 1) speedier examination of the case against the Düsseldorf political prisoners, 2) decent treatment of them during their detention under investigation. Herr Nicolovius promised to take these just demands into consideration as far as possible.

From the following example, however, it can be seen how much concern is shown in Düsseldorf prison for the Prosecutor-General, the laws and the most ordinary requirements of decency.

On January 5 a prison warder went so far as to indulge in brutal treatment of Lassalle, and to cap it all he went to the prison governor and complained that Lassalle had assaulted him.

An hour later the prison governor accompanied by the examining magistrate entered Lassalle’s cell and, without greeting him, took him to task for what had occurred. Lassalle interrupted him by remarking that among educated people it was customary to offer a greeting when entering anyone’s room, and that he considered himself entitled to demand this politeness from the prison governor.

This was too much for the prison governor. In a fury he advanced on Lassalle, pushed him back against the window and, gesticulating furiously, shouted at the top of his voice:

“Listen you, here you are my prisoner and nothing more: you have to comply with the prison rules, and if you don’t like it, I shall have you thrown into a dark cell, and something even worse could happen to you!”

At this, Lassalle also lost his temper and told the prison governor that the latter had no right to punish him on the basis of the prison rules since he was in detention under investigation; that loud shouting was no use and proved nothing; and although the building was a prison, this was nevertheless his room, and if the prison governor (pointing his finger at him) came here to him, he had to greet him.

Now the governor completely lost his head. He rushed at Lassalle, brandished his fists at him and shouted:

“Don’t point your finger at me or I shall slap you in the face with my own hand so that....”

Lassalle immediately requested the examining magistrate to bear witness to this scandalous treatment and placed himself under his protection. The examining magistrate tried to calm the prison governor, but succeeded only after the latter had several times repeated his threat to strike Lassalle.

After this edifying scene Lassalle addressed a proposal to the Public Prosecutor, von Ammon, that proceedings should be instituted against the prison governor, Herr Morret. Indeed, the violent actions of the governor constitute not only maltreatment and serious insult, but also an act exceeding his official powers.

Herr von Ammon replied that an investigation into prison officials exceeding their official powers could not be instituted without previous permission from the administrative authorities, and told Lassalle to apply to the Government. In so doing he referred to an old Cabinet Order of 1844.[301]

Article 95 of the granted so-called Constitution states:

“No previous permission from the authorities is required for instituting proceedings against public civil or military officials for violating the law by exceeding their official powers.”

Article 108 of the same Charter expressly abrogates all laws that contradict this Charter. But it was in vain that Lassalle referred the Public Prosecutor to Article 95. Herr von Ammon insisted on his conflicting view regarding competence and dismissed Lassalle with the pleasant remark: “You seem to forget that you are a prisoner under investigation!”

Were we not right in saying that the so-called Constitution has been granted only against us, and not against the officials?

Thus, threats of slaps in the face, the dark cell and corporal punishment — for that is the “something worse” which Herr Morret was keeping in reserve — that was the “decent treatment” of political prisoners that the deputation was promised!

Incidentally, let us point out that, according to the law, prisons for investigation should be quite separate from penal prisons and that prisoners in the former should be under a totally different regime from that of prisoners serving a sentence. In Düsseldorf, however, there is no special prison for preliminary investigation, and prisoners under investigation, after being illegally confined in a penal prison, must in addition obey the rules for sentenced prisoners, can be put in a dark cell and can be subjected to corporal punishment! In order to achieve this praiseworthy aim in regard to Lassalle, the aforesaid Morret summoned a disciplinary commission which is to see that Herr Lassalle gets a share of the above-mentioned pleasant things. And the Herren examining magistrates and public prosecutors apparently accept all this quite calmly or else they hide behind conflicting views on competence!

Lassalle addressed himself to the Prosecutor-General. We, for our part, are giving publicity to the whole case in order that public opinion will support the prisoner’s complaint.

We hear, incidentally, that Lassalle has at last been released from solitary confinement and is at least sharing the same prison as Cantador.