Articles by Marx & Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung

[Three New bills]

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 50;
Written: Written by Marx on March 12, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 244, March 13, 1849

Cologne, March 12. The Prussian monarchical power considers the time has come at last to unfold its full glory. The "unweakened" Crown, by the grace of God, [46] has today imposed on us three new Bills—on associations and meetings, on posters, and on the press—in which the Chambers are invited to burden us with a compact phalanx of the most delightful September-type laws.[47]

Tomorrow we shall publish the texts of these Bills with their preambles insofar as they have reached us. We shall return --more than once -- to these magnificent Prussian products. Today we give only a brief summary of them!

I. The law on associations.

"All meetings must be notified 24 hours in advance."

Thus, hastily convened meetings in response to suddenly occurring important events are banned, and it is just such meetings that are most important of all. Everyone must be allowed access, consequently it is forbidden to charge an entrance fee to cover the costs of the meeting. At meetings of associations a quarter of the space must be left for non-members of the association, so that the associations will be compelled to obtain larger and more expensive premises and so that paid agents of the police will be able to disrupt all discussion by noise, uproar and rowdy behaviour, and make every meeting impossible. And if all this should not yield the desired result, it is left open to "representatives of the police department" on any pretext to "immediately dissolve" any meeting in the same way as the supreme head of the "police department", His Majesty our most gracious king, "immediately dissolved" the Agreement Assembly.[48] As soon as the police declare a meeting dissolved, all those present must leave at once unless they wish to share the fate of the Berlin paladins of agreement, i.e. if they do not want to be driven from the hall by bayonets.

True, the associations do not have to obtain any "preliminary permission", but instead they have to comply with such a mass of preliminary announcements and formalities for the local authorities that for that reason alone their activity becomes almost impossible. Public out-door meetings, processions etc., etc., on the other hand, definitely require preliminary police permission. Finally, in order to put an end to the wearing of red ribbons, rosettes and caps, the law further revives the old regulations for persecuting persons wearing black-red-and-gold badges.

Such is the "right of association and assembly" that a year ago the truth-loving Hohenzollern, who keeps his word, guaranteed us with trembling lips!

II. The law on posters. All posters of a political nature, except for invitations to attend legal, permitted meetings (thus once again all meetings are only most graciously "permitted") are forbidden. Consequently, in troubled times the executive committees of the associations are not even allowed by posters to request the people to keep calm, in order that not a single victim will escape the heroic soldiery! Further: the sale or free distribution of printed matter in public places is also forbidden, unless one has a special licence, which can be withdrawn at any moment! In other words: the Prussian monarchical power wishes to present us with an improved edition of the law on crieurs publics, which in the worst times of Louis Philippe's bourgeois despotism was wrung from the terrified Chamber of Deputies in France.[49]

And what is the motive given for this law? It is that posters and newspaper-sellers obstruct street traffic, and that posters spoil the appearance of many public buildings!

III. The law on the press. But all that is nothing compared with the charming proposals by which it is intended to gag the press. It is known that in general since 1830 the benefaction of the Hohenzollern to the people consisted merely in ennobling the Prussian fatherly patriarchalism by combining it with the modern artful enslavement after the manner of Louis Philippe. Flogging has been retained and penal servitude added to it; censorship has continued and at the same time the full flower of the September legislation has been bestowed on us. In a word, we have simultaneously been given the benefit of all the advantages of feudal servitude, bureaucratic police administration and modern bourgeois legal brutality. And this is what is called "the world-famous liberalism of Frederick William IV".

The new Hohenzollern press Bill, after long series of complicated formal definitions, favours us with a matchless fusion of: 1. the Code Napoleon, 2. the French September laws, 3. and chiefly the laudable Prussian Law.[50]

Para. 9 is borrowed from the Code [Napoleon]: In those provinces where the Prussian Law is in force an attempt, an incitement to commit a crime, even if successful, was hitherto less severely punished than the crime itself. In these areas a provision of the Code [Napoleon] is now introduced by which incitement to commit a crime, when successful, is regarded as equivalent to the crime itself.

Para. 10. The French September legislation states: Anyone who attacks property and the family, the foundations on which civil society is based, or incites citizens to hatred or contempt for one another, is liable to be punished by imprisonment for up to two years. Compare the loi du 9 Sept. 1835, Article 8:

"Toute attaque contre la propriete ... toute provocation a la haine entre les diverses classes de la societe sera punie" etc.

The only difference is that the Prussian version: to incite citizens in general to hatred etc. for one another is much more ludicrous.

All the subsequent paragraphs of the Bill have been drawn up solely in order once more to confer on the Rhine Province the same magnificent features of the Prussian Law which we had enjoyed to the full for 33 years and of which we were deprived shortly after March 18. [51] Among other things, the following new crimes, totally unknown to our own Rhenish legislation, are to be thrust on us.

1. The arousing of hatred and contempt towards institutions of the state or its government by means of actual falsehoods or of facts that cannot be legally proven.

2. "Utterances" about a legally existing religious society (under the imposed Constitution 52 even Turks and pagans are legally existing religious societies!), which are calculated (!) to spread hatred and contempt for it.

These two new crimes introduce among us a) the old-Prussian "arousing of discontent" and b) the old-Prussian concept of insulting religion, and are punished by imprisonment for up to two years.

3. Lese-majeste and, in particular, want of reverence (!!) for

a) the king (!)

b) the queen (!!)

c) the heir to the throne (!!!)

d) any other member of the royal house (!!!!)

e) the supreme head of a German state (!!!!!), is punished by imprisonment of from one month to five years!

4. The edifying provision that the assertion even of facts that can be proved to be true is to be punished as insult if it demonstrates the intention to insult!

5. Insult

1) to either of the Chambers,

2) to one of their members,

3) to a state authority (the Code does not recognise any insult to corporations as such),

4) to an official or member of the armed forces. All this is "in connection with their official function" and is punished by imprisonment of up to 9 months.

6. Insult or calumny in private life. The Code Napoleon recognises only publicly uttered or disseminated insults or calumnies. The new Bill, on the other hand, intends to subject to the control of the police and Public Prosecutor's office and/or make punishable all utterances made in private conversation, in the home, in the bosom of the family, in private letters, i.e. it intends to organise the vilest, most universal espionage. The military despotism of the all-powerful French empire respected at least the freedom of private conversation; it remained—at any rate in its legislation—outside the threshold of the private dwelling. Prussian paternal constitutional supervision and punishment reaches into the inmost sanctum of the private dwelling, into the most secret refuge of family life, which even the barbarians regarded as inviolable. Yet the same law, three Articles earlier, punishes all attacks against the family by two years' imprisonment!

Such are the new "achievements" which it is intended to bestow on us. Three of the cruellest laws mutually supplementing one another in order to attain the acme of cruelty and perfidy which is quite unprecedented—such is the price for lifting the state of siege in Berlin over which the "unweakened" Crown wants to strike a bargain with the Chambers!

The intention is obvious. The press Bill, at least, does not impose anything very new on the old provinces. The Prussian Law was already bad enough. The main anger of the embodiment of the divine grace is turned against us Rhinelanders. They want to reimpose on us the very same infamous Prussian Law which we have hardly got rid of, the removal of which, while we are still chained to Prussia, has at last enabled us to breathe somewhat more freely.

The wishes of the King by the grace of God are clearly stated through the mouthpiece of his servant Manteuffel in the preamble to this charming document: the King desires "the establishment of a legal system that is as uniform as possible" — i.e., he desires the elimination of the hated French law and the universal introduction of the disgraceful Prussian Law. Further the King desires "to fill the gap" which was caused "in the greater part of the Rhine Province" (just listen!) by the abolition of "the penal law on lese-majeste in consequence of the decree of April 15, 1848"!

This means that the new penal law is intended to deprive us Rhinelanders of the only thing left to us of the results of the so-called revolution of 1848: The undiminished validity of our own system of law.

It is intended that we shall become Prussians at all costs, Prussians after the heart's desire of his All-gracious Majesty, with the Prussian Law, arrogant nobility, tyranny of officialdom, rule by the sabre, flogging, censorship and obedience to orders. These legislative proposals are only the very beginning. We have before us the plan of the counter-revolution, and our readers will be amazed at the plans that are being envisaged. We do not doubt that the gentlemen in Berlin will once again be strangely disappointed in the inhabitants of the Rhine Province.

We shall return again and again to these disgraceful Bills, on account of which alone the Ministers must be put into the dock. But there is something we must already say today: if the Chamber adopts anything looking even remotely similar to these Bills, then it is the duty of the Rhenish deputies immediately to resign from the Chamber, which by such decisions seeks to throw their electors back into the patriarchal barbarism of the old-Prussian legislation.