Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

The Debate on the Address in Berlin

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 135;
Written: by Engels on March 25, 1849;
First published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 259, March 30, 1849.

Cologne, March 25. We must confess to our readers that it is only with reluctance that we can resolve to take a closer look at the debates of the so-called Second Chamber [131] in Berlin. The debates of the dissolved Agreement Assembly, [132] meaningless and dull as they were, nevertheless had the interest of being topical. The debates dealt with things which had no influence on the fate of Europe, and with laws which from the outset had no prospect of endurance, but they did deal with matters of immediate interest to us, and they provided a faithful mirror of the mounting reaction in Prussia. The debates of the present Chamber, on the other hand, serve no other purpose than that of legalising the already completed counter-revolution. They do not deal with the present time — that has been excluded by the ban on interpellations — they deal with the past, with the temporary interregnum lasting from December 5 to February 26,[133] and if the Chamber does not unconditionally recognise this interregnum it will be dispersed and once again its activity will have been in vain.

And people are supposed to take an interest in such deliberations, at a time when the revolution and the counter-revolution are fighting it out arms in hand in Hungary and Italy, when the Russians are stationed on the Eastern frontier and France is preparing for a new world-shaking revolution!

The debate on the Address is altogether one of the dreariest that we remember ever having read. The whole debate turned, of course, merely on recognition or non-recognition of the imposed so-called Constitution. [134] And what does it matter whether this Chamber, which was elected in circumstances of a state of siege and the crushing effect of a successfully carried out counter-revolution, which deliberates in a corner of Berlin under the state of siege, and which dare not utter a word of dissent if it does not want to be dissolved — what does it matter whether such an Assembly recognised this document or not? As if recognition or non-recognition would make the slightest difference to the course of the European revolution, which will reduce to dust all the imposed and not-imposed constitutions now in force!

The sole feature of interest in the whole debate is the puerile arrogance of the Right and the cowardly collapse of the Left.

The royalist gentlemen are incorrigible. As soon as their affairs are temporarily again in better shape thanks to the aid of the obedient soldiery, they imagine themselves back in the promised land and adopt a tone whose impudence surpasses anything the police state has ever shown.

The gentlemen of the Left, on the other hand, moderate their claims to the same extent as those of the Right increase theirs. In all their speeches, one can discern the broken spirit that is the result of bitter disappointment, that dejection of the ex-member of the Assembly which first let the revolution sink in the mire and afterwards, drowning in the morass of its own creation, perished with the painful cry: The people are not yet mature enough!

Even the resolute members of the Left, instead of putting themselves into direct opposition to the whole Assembly, do not abandon the hope of achieving something in the Chamber and through the Chamber, and of winning a majority for the Left. Instead of adopting an extra-parliamentary position in the parliament, the only honourable one in such a Chamber, they make one concession after another to parliamentary expediency; instead of ignoring the constitutional point of view as far as possible, they actually seek an opportunity of coquetting with it for the sake of peace.

The general debate turned on the recognition or non-recognition of the so-called Constitution. The Left, which regarded itself as the continuation of the majority of the former Agreement Assembly which had voted for refusing payment of taxes,[135] ought to have begun with the most emphatic protest against the coup d'état of December 5. But what did it do? It declared that it was prepared to accept the dissolution of the National Assembly as a fact which could no longer be altered, to give up the dispute in principle over the validity of the imposed bastard, to cover all the kicks and insults with the cloak of charity, and to pass at once to the revision!

The Right, of course, rejected this cowardly offer with the contempt it deserved and forced the Left to take up the dispute over principles.

The Left suffered the fate it deserved. Why did the gentlemen imagine that they had to achieve something where there was nothing to achieve? Why did they persuade themselves that they were destined to achieve by parliamentary means something that can only be achieved in a revolutionary way, by force of arms? But, of course, these gentlemen “ came to the top owing to Parliamentary activity”, about which deputy Waldeck has so many beautiful things to say, the top where esprit de corps commences and revolutionary energy — s'il y en avait — evaporates!

The first speaker of the variegated party that is called the Left was Herr von Berg. But one should certainly not expect to encounter again the cheerful little abbé of last year, who was able greatly to annoy the gentlemen of the Right with all kinds of piquant witticisms. Herr Berg no longer spoke as an abbé, but as a pastor.

He was of the opinion that it would have been desirable to draw up the draft Address in such a way that “the greatest possible majority could vote for it”. The Chamber ought to have shown the country “that its representatives do not intend to sacrifice the good of the country to mere disputes over principles”. In conclusion Herr Berg said that he missed in the draft “the spirit of reconciliation with which we (?) are imbued”, the striving for; “agreement”. He prophesied that by the debate on the Address the Chamber would not “establish in the fatherland peace and the hope of a better future”.

Indeed! Did the electors of Jillich and Düren send Herr Berg to Berlin for him to declare that the struggle for the people’s right to decide its Constitution for itself is a mere “dispute over principles”, to preach “reconciliation” and “agreement” in pulpit tones, and to drivel about “peace” when it is a question of war?

You, chaplain Berg, were elected, not because you are a preacher, but because you were a supporter of tax refusal. Your election did not take place in the interests of peace, but was from the outset a declaration of war against the coup d'état. You were sent to Berlin not to propose reconciliation and agreement, but to protest. And now, when you are a deputy, now you declare that the struggle between the sovereignty of the people and the “omnipotence of the Crown” is a mere barren dispute over principles!

Most of those who supported tax refusal were re-elected not because all their activities between May and November 1848 satisfied the electors, but because by the decision on tax refusal they took up a revolutionary position, and because it could be hoped that the kicks the Government had bestowed on them had opened their eyes and shown them how to behave towards the Crown and the Government in order to achieve some result. It was hoped that consequently they would all move a step to the left.

Instead of this, it has turned out that the chastisement they received in November has borne fruit; instead of moving to the left, these gentlemen have gone farther to the right. With the most well-intentioned zeal typical of the wailers,[136] they preach reconciliation and agreement. They say they want to forget and forgive the maltreatment they received, they propose peace. It serves them right that their proposals have been laughed to scorn.

The next speaker was Count Renard, a feudal magnate from Silesia.

Herr Renard imagines that nothing was overturned in March, but only a new factor introduced. The Crown remains the Crown, the only difference being that representation based on the estates (!), with the people having a consultative voice, is added as a “determining factor”. Otherwise everything remains as it used to be. (In point of fact that is precisely what with God for King and fatherland is to be imposed on us and has to be revised.) The deputy has “to represent the Constitution of the people in its entirety, that is the people with the sovereign, but not the people against the sovereign”. (Why then is the sovereign still required if in any case the deputies already “represent” him?) After advancing this new theory of the state, Herr Renard also made the following statement to the Chamber: It does not exist “in order to bargain and haggle with the Crown” — i.e. to reach agreement with it — “to dispute over words or, if you like, even about rights”; the Government and the Chamber are by no means “advocates on behalf of two parties engaged in litigation”. Anyone who regards his mandate in any other way “wages civil war in matters of theory”.

Herr Renard speaks plainly enough. In the profane constitutional states, the Chamber rules through its committee, the Government, and the King’s only right is that of saying yes and amen, and of giving his signature. That was also the case among us in the period of affliction, in the period of Camphausen, Hansemann and Pfuel. But in the royal Prussian constitutional monarchy by the grace of God the exact opposite holds good. The Crown rules through its Ministers, and woe to the Chambers if they venture to do anything but say yes and amen to the effusions of divine grace!

“The clearest proof,” Herr Renard continued, “that there is no rift between Crown and people is afforded by the present moment, when the German question is being spoken of in all the provinces amid universal enthusiasm.... In many of them this enthusiasm ... is largely due to the dignity, the greatness, of our ancient royal house by divine grace, and of the knightly and victorious’ (especially in Champagne, at Jena and on March 18, 1848 [137]) “Hohenzollern dynasty. (Animation and cries of ‘bravo’.)”

Testimony to this enthusiasm was given by the cries of “Down with the German Emperor” coming from 5,000 throats in Gürzenich on March 19, the very same day when Herr Renard spoke the words quoted above. Similar testimony was the rejection in Frankfurt a few days later of the King of Prussia as hereditary emperor, and the miserable majority in Frankfurt of four whole votes in favour of a hereditary emperor in general. [138]

No, finally exclaimed Renard, who incidentally is not at all a fox:

“No one should or will succeed by corrosive poison in killing the new life in the wound that strives to be healed, or in converting the split that has possibly arisen” (so it is there after all!) “into an unbridgeable gulf!”

Most worthy Renard! May the evil-minded never succeed “by corrosive poison in killing the new life in the wound” which last spring was inflicted on your purse crammed with feudal privileges, a wound which now thanks to the return of divine grace “strives to be healed”, or in “converting into an unbridgeable gulf the split that has possibly arisen” between your income and expenditure!

Herr Jacoby came to the rostrum. He too, although he spoke more resolutely than Berg and was clearer and more precise in his arguments, could not refrain from practising diplomacy. The recognition of the Constitution in the Address was inappropriate, because it ought not to occur incidentally, and it was untimely, because the Constitution had not yet been revised, definitely sanctioned and given allegiance to by oath. As if the recognition’ of such a Constitution could ever be appropriate and timely!

Herr Jacoby, too, “had no wish to renew the old dispute” about the dispersion of the Agreement Assembly; the question whether it was an act of salvation or the aim and goal of a diplomatic scheme he would “leave to impartial history”. “Impartial history” will record “that the people who spoke so loudly when they had a majority, now, when they are in a minority, behave with the humility of schoolboys who have been punished.”

“As far as recognition of the Constitution by the people is concerned, I have to reply that our Assembly is the sole legitimate and the sole authorised organ for such recognition.”

No, Herr Jacoby, your Assembly is nothing of the sort. Your Assembly is nothing but the organ of the electoral delegates selected by means of the grand criterion of “independence"[139] on the basis of the imposed so-called electoral law, it is an organ which in the main owes its existence to government intrigues. Your Assembly may recognise the Constitution, but that is merely a recognition of the imposed Constitution by the imposed Constitution itself. The people will show little concern about that and “impartial history” will quite soon have to register that this so-called Constitution, despite recognition of it — if that were ever to take place — was trampled underfoot in the course of the European revolution and disappeared no one knows how.

Herr Jacoby probably knows that as well as we do; the Right in the Chamber knows that he knows it; so why all this nonsense about a legal basis, especially when one wants to leave dubious the legal basis of the dispersed Assembly!

Herr Scherer, a barrister and deputy from Düsseldorf-Elberfeld, was greatly shocked by d'Ester’s draft Address. He considered that the deputation which presented such an Address to the King must “entail an armed uprising”. People whose actions entail armed uprising, Herr Scherer, speak to kings in quite a different way!

This draft “casts a flaming torch in the country,” but Herr Scherer believes that “it will not cause a conflagration, but only harm its bearers"!

It is impossible to speak more clearly. Herr Scherer gives the Left the well-meant advice to withdraw the draft, otherwise they will be apprehended one fine day in spite of the article guaranteeing immunity.[140] Very philanthropic of you, Herr Scherer!

Next Herr Waldeck rose to speak. He proved to be unchanged: on the Left, but not farther to the left than is expedient if one wants to be regarded as possible. Herr Waldeck began by expressing his annoyance that the Right always wanted to make him responsible for the unfortunate dispute over the November coup d'état. Herr Waldeck and “his party” had “clearly stated that in their opinion this dispute over principles ought not to have arisen at all”. In his opinion, “the Assembly is unanimous” (that is bad enough!) “about what it ought to do with the Constitution” — namely, to revise it. Herr Waldeck then once more explained why the dispute over principles was superfluous, and again appealed to the better feelings of the Right:

“Cannot you for the time being very well leave this question open?... You will lose nothing as far as your views are concerned, but do spare the views of others!”

A worthy speech of one of the dispersed “representatives of the people” to the same majority that rubs its hands in glee when it thinks of the successful dispersal of the National Assembly.

“But do spare the views of others!” The great man begs for mercy.

When, however, the work on the Constitution has been completed, then the Minister of the future “hopes” that

“this Assembly, owing to its parliamentary activity, will really have reached the high level essential for fully recognising the consequences of such a declaration” (on the validity of the Constitution)!

Indeed! Do not our new-baked knights of the rostrum, who have hardly seven months of parliamentary activity behind them, already behave as precociously wisely as if they had sat for fifty years on the benches of St. Stephen’s Chapel[141] and had been members of all the Paris Chambers from the “introuvable” of 1815 to the “introuvable” of February 24!

But this is true. In their short career our knights of the rostrum have become imbued with as much parliamentary self-satisfaction, and have become as divested of all revolutionary energy — si jamais il y en avait — as if they had grown grey in the grandiloquent proceedings of parliament.

After Herr Waldeck came a speech from His one-time Excellency, the formerly omnipotent Herr von Bodelschwingh.

Just like Herr Manteuffel, so too his previous chief has become a constitutionalist “by order of His Majesty”. It is quite amusing to hear the last Prime Minister of the absolutist regime defend constitutional monarchy.

Prior to February, Herr Bodelschwingh used to be ranked as the best orator of the Government of the time. In the United Diet, [142] he still proved himself the most skilful. But when one reads his present speech, one is alarmed for the sake of the man himself by the silliness and insipidity of this strange disquisition. Herr Bodelschwingh has become a constitutionalist by order; apart from this word, however, he has remained exactly as before, we do not know whether by order or not. He excused himself by saying that he had lived “in rustic seclusion”; but it could really be thought that he has let himself be buried for a whole year.

He acknowledges that by the extremely innocent draft Address of the Left he

“had been enlightened about their views in a manner and to an extent of which he had not even an inkling before his appearance in the Chamber”.

Quel bonhomme! When Herr Bodelschwingh still ruled over Prussia his numerous spies must have kept him remarkably badly informed for our money if he can now believe that since then such views have suddenly appeared out of nowhere!

The Left had stated that it was here not on the basis of the Charter imposed under martial law, but on the basis of universal suffrage. What did Herr Bodelschwingh reply?

“If our seats are the outcome of universal suffrage, then there is no need for all the formalities” (of the election test). “We need only appear in the market place and say: Elect me! I do not know how many particles of universal suffrage you regard as requisite in order to lay claim to entry in this Chamber. Take as many as you like, in this way it would be easy to obtain sufficient votes; by the acknowledgment of this right the Chamber would soon be so filled that we could no longer remain here; for my part at least I would renounce my seat, and the sooner the better.”

If a Westphalian peasant, or if Herr von Bodelschwingh at the time when he was still a Minister, had uttered this profound wisdom about universal suffrage, we would not have been surprised. The interesting feature of the above-quoted passage is that it proves that one could be a Prussian Prime Minister and in control of the whole carefully scrutinised bureaucracy without “having even an inkling” of the most immediate questions of European interest. But after universal suffrage has been in operation twice in France, after what the Left calls universal suffrage has been in operation twice in Prussia, and has even thrust a seat in the Chamber upon Herr Bodelschwingh himself — after this to be able to indulge in such fabulous fantasies about universal suffrage, one must have been an antediluvian Prussian Minister! However, we must not forget that Herr Bodelschwingh was buried and has only been resurrected in order to enter the Chamber “by order of His Majesty"!

Herr Bodelschwingh said further:

“Even if we are not at all of the opinion that this Constitution will become valid only through its revision, nevertheless we are completely confident that the Crown will not refuse its sanction ... to the wishes (!) ... of the Chambers ... being conscious that we do not need to quarrel and find fault with the Government as if we faced an enemy, but being convinced instead that we confront a crown which like ourselves is only concerned for the good of the fatherland .... in good and bad days alike we must be firmly united with our sovereigns ... the foundation for piety, respect for the law, public spirit, etc.”

Herr Bodelschwingh imagined he was still speaking in the United Diet. His basis now as previously is that of confidence. But the man is quite right! What the Left has called universal suffrage has, by means of provisions about independence, indirect elections and Manteuffel’s manoeuvres, brought into existence a Chamber which has no need to be ashamed of being addressed as “Exalted United Diet”.

After an unimportant speech by deputy Schulze-Delitzsch, there came to the rostrum His one-time Excellency, Herr Count Arnim. Unlike Herr Bodelschwingh, he has not been asleep during the past year. He knows what he wants.

It is clear, he said, why we want to recognise the Constitution immediately and in its entirety.

“For is it so certain that the business of revising the Constitution will lead to a result? How is this to be achieved? What fundamental law will then be valid? Precisely, therefore, because in this situation an agreement between the three powers on the points to be revised is doubtful, precisely for that reason we are concerned that even in this case the people should have a Constitution.”

Is that clear enough? That is already the second delicate hint in this one sitting.

Then deputy d'Ester opposed the Commission’s draft. His speech was by far the best coming from the Left in this general debate. The audacity and vigour with which the deputy from Mayen attacked the gentlemen of the Right made a pleasant impression in the midst of this dismal and tedious debate. But d'Ester, too, could not speak without diplomatic concessions and parliamentary contortions. He said, for example, that he fully agreed that the revolution must be ended. While this statement of the deputy might, perhaps, he excused as due to parliamentary considerations, the member of the democratic Central Committee[143] ought never to express himself in this way, and the man who immediately afterwards began a debate with Vincke on the respective “degree of culture” ought not to incur even’ the suspicion of being capable of such twaddle. Moreover, in any case no one believed him.

Finally, deputy Riedel sounded a note of triumph because “the Crown has reassumed its right to legislate”. An ironic cry of “bravo” made him aware that he had been telling tales out of school. He took fright and added: “Provisionally, of course!”

A third delicate hint for the deputies!

The Chamber proceeded to the special debate. We shall save it for tomorrow.