Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung April 1849

Sitting of the Second Chamber in Berlin. April 13

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 295;
Written: by Engels on April 19, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 277, April 20, 1849.

Cologne, April 19. For a change, let us return once more to our dear Second Chamber in Berlin. It has checked the elections, issued Addresses, produced standing orders, and with quite exceptional interest it has discussed a question which, as is well known, belongs to the feature section of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, i.e. the question of the German Emperor.[233] All this passed quite unnoticed in view of the cannonades at Novara and Pest, and even the “naval battle” at Eckernförde and the storming of the Düppel fortifications[234] made a greater impression than all the speeches from the Right and the Left in the Prussian people’s representative body.

Now, however, when the honourable Chamber is busy with the three gagging laws[235] — the law on posters, the law on associations and the law on the press — when it has already finished dealing with one of them, the law on posters, now the matter more closely concerns us, now it will be more interesting to see how our deputies do their utmost to make up deficiencies in the imposed Constitution.

Let us look at the verbatim report of the 26th sitting on April 13.

First of all Deputy Lisiecki put a question to the Ministry about the use of the Polish army reserve in the war against Denmark.

According to § 61 of the law on the army reserve, [236] it can only be mobilised in the event of unexpected hostile attacks on the country. Its entire organisation is so constituted that in general it is only to be employed when the standing army and reserves are insufficient. But now the army reserve is being mobilised in the war against little Denmark, which can be dealt with by the troops of the line of a single army corps!

That is not all. Although the allegedly German part of Posen could be tricked into joining the German Confederation only through breach of faith and brutal violence, although, according to all the treaties, the part of Posen lying on the other side of the famous demarcation line has nothing to do with the German Confederation, [237] part of the army reserve sent to Schleswig from Posen has been taken from both sides of the demarcation line.

These army reserve men of purely Polish nationality, half of whom do not even belong to the German Confederation, are being sent to Schleswig to let themselves be killed there for the greater glory of Germany as German imperial troops with the German black-red-and-gold imperial cockade on their helmets!

The Croats decided the outcome of the “German war” in Lombardy; the Czechs, Ruthenians [238] and, again, the Croats decided the outcome of the “German” struggle against Vienna; the Poles will decide the outcome of the “German” war in Schleswig. It is with such soldiers that nowadays the “victories of German arms” are being won!

And that is how the King keeps the promise he gave the Poles on April 11 through his plenipotentiary commissioner:

“Accordingly, no recruits born in the Grand Duchy of Posen are to be incorporated in a Silesian or other German regiment and, conversely, no German recruits are to he incorporated in a Polish regiment. The training and commanding of troops are to be in their own language ... all arms of the Polish military service are likewise to form a completely independent entity” etc.

Lisiecki enumerated these various points in a calm, but resolute, tone. In conclusion he drew attention to the special malice shown by recruiting three battalions of the army reserve precisely in the one province which last year had suffered heavily from the civil war imposed on it by Prussia.

Herr Strotha, Minister of War, rose to speak.

The Minister delivered a lecture to the Assembly at some length to the effect that

“the entire Prussian army organisation is based on a combination of troops of the line and the army reserve, and in war this combination in the composition of corps and divisions reaches as far as the composition of brigades”, that the dispatch of “mere troops of the line without the army reserve to a distant theatre of war essentially hinders the organic formation of several troop units and gives rise to many kinds of serious drawbacks when mobilising the remaining units” etc.

All this was very suitable for opening the eyes of the philistines and civil officials in the Chamber to the organisation of “My glorious army”. [239]

It may be so. It is possible that “the troops of the line of My glorious army” cannot manage without “the army reserve of My glorious army”. It may be that the dangerous potato war [240] with Denmark compels the Government to set in motion all the chicanery of the glorious Prussian military organisation. But why is it that precisely the Poles have been made the victims of this fate, which derives from the glorious Prussian military organisation?

Because — well, “because it is justified by the immediate circumstances! ”

That is all we are told. That is how a Prussian Minister of War answers questions.

There still remains the reply to the legal question: should not German troops be used in German imperial wars? On this Herr Strotha stated:

1) “The Grand Duchy of Posen, with the exception of a small part ... belongs to Germany.”

That is the Prussian translation of last year’s phrases to the effect that Posen should become Polish, “with the exception of a small part” of the frontier, which must become German. Things have now gone far enough for the phrases to be dispensed with and the perpetrated swindles to be admitted in blunt words.

2) “The delimitation of military areas in the entire Grand Duchy of Posen has so far undergone no change. Accordingly (!), therefore (!), the three mobilised battens consist to the extent of about half of inhabitants from one side of the demarcation line and one half of inhabitants from the other side of the demarcation line.”

In plain language that means: the whole farce with the demarcation line merely served to incorporate two-thirds of Posen into Germany directly, and the remaining one-third indirectly. And in order that the Poles finally abandon the illusion that this demarcation line has any practical meaning, we have at this very time recruited our imperial troops from those districts through which the demarcation line passes.

3) “In utilising troops of the line drawn from the Grand Duchy of Posen, no other consideration has ever been taken into account than that demanded by state reasons.

And if the solemn pledges of March and April 1848 in regard to the troops of the line have been trampled under foot, then why should not the same happen in regard to the army reserve? Cannot a Polish army reserve man become as good a “soldier of the imperial troops” as a Polish regular soldier?

We have taken into consideration only “state reasons"!

And what are these “state reasons"?

They are quite obvious. Men capable of bearing arms and trained in the use of arms who live in areas not yet sufficiently merged in the “Prussian fatherland” are to be removed from their homeland. Objectionable primary electors who voted in an un-Prussian way are to be punished. The authorities wish to inculcate in these primary electors a better notion of the duties of a citizen by making them undergo a supplementary course of instruction in the school of “my glorious army”. By this Prussian treatment many a hated elector will be provoked to insubordination and then, with the greatest nonchalance, he can under martial law be awarded 15 years’ confinement in irons and perhaps even gunpowder and lead.

It is for this that the army reserve has been mobilised in Posen and also in part of the Rhine Province and Westphalia. Herr Strotha does not mention the Rhine Province, nevertheless the Clever battalion has already been sent to Schleswig. Or does Herr Strotha want to introduce a demarcation line in the Rhine Province as well and declare: The Rhine Province, “with the exception of a small part”, belongs to Westphalia?

But what has not yet happened can happen. Although up to now the greater part of the Rhine Province has been spared from mobilisation, we are nevertheless aware that, in spite of all official denials, there exists a firm intention to mobilise also the army reserve of the Eighth Corps, i.e. of the Rhine Province. Preparations for this have already been made, and the order will not be long in coming.

Of course, this also is dictated by “state reasons” and is justified by the “immediate circumstances”.

And if the Rhenish deputies put down a parliamentary question, Herr Strotba will reply to them just as he now replies to Herr Lisiecki: the matter “is in fact already settled” since “the Rhenish division is already concentrated at Flensburg"!

After Herr Strotha had concluded his speech, Herr Lisiecki wanted to make a factual correction. But the standing orders forbid factual corrections to replies by Ministers. And the standing orders are quite right. What un-Prussian insolence to imagine that a ministerial reply could be capable of undergoing factual correction!