Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung May 1849

The New Martial Law Charter

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 440;
Written: by Marx on May 15 and 16, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung Nos. 299 and 300, May 16 and 17, 1849.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 299, May 16, 1849

Cologne, May 15. We still have to report on the latest paternal intentions of the subordinate knyaz in Potsdam towards his “hereditary” subjects, acquired by plunder and traffic in people. We are referring to the newly imposed martial-law Charter, this sole true promise of all the Hohenzollern promises, in which Prussian glory is at last revealed even to the most stupid and credulous simpletons in its fullest natural nakedness, divested of the last traces of its hypocritical comedian’s tinsel.

The dispersal of the inoffensive Berlin Chambers, which were supposed to “revise” the imposed Constitution of December 5, was only, as is well known, the necessary preparation for the Russians’ entry into German territory. But the agreement arrived at between the Potsdam Bashkirs and the kindred dog-nosed Cossacks of the orthodox Tsar had another purpose besides that of the notorious Trinity’s campaign against Hungary,[359] in which Prussia, true to its cowardly, perfidious nature, stood at the gates like a police agent with orders for arrests, while the Austrian and Russian executioners were intended to institute the murder hunt within the country. The true aim of this Hohenzollern alliance was through the entry of the Russians to inspire the Potsdam hero with the necessary courage to take revenge on the revolution for the confession of cowardice wrung from him in March of last year.

We have no need to make excursions into history in order to prove the innate and natural cowardice of the Hohenzollerns at all times, nor perhaps do we even need to go back to the ancestors of this noble clan who ambushed unarmed travellers from behind bushes and hedges, and thus as highwaymen laid the foundations for the “splendour of the dynasty”. Nor do we need to recall the boastful campaign of Frederick William II against the French Republic, in which the great Hohenzollern was the first to turn tail thus betraying the German “imperial troops” in order together with Russia to set about a new rape of Poland[360]; still less is it necessary for us to mention the pitiful role his successor, Frederick William III, played in the imperial wars before driving “His people” into battle with the aid of lying promises. The history of the “March achievements” was only a continuation of the old “hereditary” cowardice and perfidy. The Agreement Assembly was the first concession made by this cowardice to the revolution, a concession which superseded the famous boasting about a “scrap of parchment” [361]; the Assembly was dispersed when the fall of Vienna gave the reinvigorated Hohenzollern the necessary courage for that action. The imposed Constitution with the Chambers that were “to revise” the Constitution was the second act of cowardly hypocrisy, since the “unweakened Crown” [362] at that time still considered a few liberal concessions to be necessary. The Second Chamber was dismissed when the conspiracy with the Russian Tsar and master had reached the desired conclusion. But only the actual entry of Russians into German territory, only the reliable proximity of the protecting Cossacks, gave the Hohenzollern the courage to come out with the latest plan: abolition of the last hypocritical “constitutional guarantees” by the introduction of the most unrestricted, most arbitrary sabre dictatorship, by the suspension of the old, even the pre-March, laws and law-courts, by revenge with “gunpowder and lead” on the revolution for the cowardice of the Hohenzollerhs proclaimed in the March concessions.

That is the historical origin of the recently imposed martial-law Constitution. Let us now look at its content.

Under Articles 1 and 2, “for the event of a disturbance” not only every commandant of a fortress can declare his fortress to be in a state of siege, but every “commanding general” can declare the whole area occupied by the army corps to be in a state of siege.

“For the event of a disturbance”, c'est-à-dire, if the commandant or general sees fit to foresee the “event of a disturbance”. Or is it possible that the Hohenzollern Ministers, in whose stylistic exercises the most remarkably abundant lack of grammatical knowledge usually predominates, intended to say: “in the event of a disturbance"? The interpretation will be left to the well-tested understanding of the generals and commandants.

“For the event of a disturbance”, therefore, a commandant can declare his fortress, and a commanding general a whole province, to be in a state of siege. The limits of this “event” are not defined. Whether the “event of a disturbance” must show itself within the fortress or province or needs only threaten the fortress or province from a greater or lesser distance — that, too, will have to be decided only by the “tact” of the general or the commandant, and “tact”, according to the weighty word of Lieutenant-General Tietzen, is the first requirement of a Prussian officer.

But the power of the general “for the event of a disturbance” has, on the other hand, been most remarkably restricted in the interests of all enthusiasts for the legal basis. Only “for the event of a war” are generals and commandants on their own initiative able to declare provinces and fortresses in a state of siege. “For the event of a disturbance”, however, according to Article 2 of the new Charter, the proclamation of a state of siege emanates from the Ministry; “for this event” the commandant has the right to declare his fortress, and the general his province, in a state of siege only provisionally, subject to being confirmed or (!) rescinded by the Ministry. A pleasant safeguard for subjects threatened by a disturbance! Do we not have “responsible” Ministers? Is not the “legal basis” saved by the merely “provisional power” of the commandant’s or general’s dictatorship, by the, existence of a final instance in the person of the “responsible” Minister? True, under Articles 7 and 13 the “provisional power” of the commandant or general gives them the right provisionally to suspend the ordinary law-courts, provisionally to set up courts martial, which then, likewise provisionally, pass death sentences (Article 8) and provisionally carry out the death sentences within 24 hours (Article 13, § 7). But the “legal basis” is always saved by the final confirmation of the “responsible” Minister — long live the legal basis! Our sole secret wish in this context is that the advocates of the legal basis should be the first to experience provisional execution in the name of God and His Majesty the Christian-Germanic subordinate knyaz.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 300, May 17, 1849

Cologne, May 16. Cervantes somewhere talks about a worthy alguacil [police agent] and his clerk, who for the protection of public morality kept two women of no ambiguous reputation. These obliging nymphs appeared at big fairs or other festive occasions in such attire that already from far off the bird could he recognised by its plumage. If they managed to entrap some new arrival they immediately contrived to, inform their lovers of the hotel to which they had gone. The alguacil and his clerk then broke into the room to the immense fright of the women, created a jealous scene and allowed the stranger to escape only after long pleading and payment of a suitable monetary compensation. In this way they combined advantage for themselves with the interests of public morality, for the victim took care for some time not to give way to his improper inclinations.

Like these guardians of morality, the Prussian heroes of order have a simplified procedure for ensuring normal tranquillity under martial law. The provocative dispatch of some pillars of legality reeking of liquor, a few provocative sabre blows among the people, and the rebellious desires thereby aroused in some remote town or village provide an opportunity for proclaiming a state of siege and thus safeguarding the whole province against further improper disturbances and cheating it of its last remnant of constitutional rights.

Under Article 5 of the new martial-law Charter, on the proclamation of a state of siege the “military commander” can district by district invalidate Articles 5-7 and 24-28 of the latest “acquisitions” imposed in December.

Let us see what still remains when we subtract from the March promises the — Articles abolished by the imposition of the new martial-law Charter. “For the event of a disturbance” by the arbitrary decision of a “military commander” there cease to exist:

Article 5: of the December Constitution: “Freedom of the person is guaranteed."
Article 6: “The home is inviolable."
Article 7: “No one may be deprived of his legally appointed judge.”
Article 24: “Every Prussian has the right etc. freely to express his thoughts.”
Article 25: “Offences committed by word of mouth, writing etc. are punishable in accordance with the general penal laws.”
Article 26: “If the author of a written work is known and within reach of the power of the court, the printer, publisher and distributor are not liable to punishment.”
Article 27: “All Prussians have the right to assemble peacefully and without weapons in closed premises.”
Article 28: “ All Prussians have the right to unite in societies for purposes which do not contravene the penal laws.”

As soon as a military commander proclaims a state of siege, “for the event of a disturbance”, “freedom of the person” is no longer guaranteed, homes are no longer declared inviolable, the “legal” courts, freedom of the press, protection of printers, and the right of association, cease, and even the “societies” of the philistines — casinos and balls — Whose “purposes do not contravene the penal laws”, can only exist par grâce de M. le commandant, but not at all by “right”.

At the same time Article 4 of the new martial-law Charter lays down that

“with the proclamation of the state of siege” (pur et simple) “the executive power is transferred to the military commander, and the civil-administrative and municipal authorities must carry out the orders and commissions of the military commander”.

By this paragraph all the usual forms of municipal and administrative government are safely abolished and the oxen of the snub-nosed, arrogant bureaucracy harnessed under the yoke of the sovereign military dictatorship as “lackeys for executing commissions”.

Articles 8 and 9 contain the punishments by which the energetic Hohenzollern intends to defend his safety and order even when he is protected by bayonets and guns. This new penal law has at any rate the advantage of brevity over all the tediously agreed theories of law.

Article 8: “Anyone who in a place or region declared to be in a state of siege is guilty of deliberate arson, of deliberately causing an inundation” (what prudence!), “or who uses open violence and dangerous weapons to attack or resist the military forces or representatives of the civil and military authorities will be punished by death.”

“Resistance to the military forces or representatives of the authorities"! The deeds of “My glorious army” are well known; it is known also that the worthy Pomeranians, Prussians and Upper Silesian Poles, who in the interest of unity are being so zealously grafted into the Western provinces, following the example of His Majesty, derive their courage only from the circumstances and after having disarmed the citizens, as in Düsseldorf, Breslau, Posen, Berlin, and Dresden, they crown the state of siege by the murder of unarmed men, women and children. Hence the “hereditary” subjects of the Potsdam Bashkir knyaz are given the highly commendable freedom, after a state of siege has been proclaimed, either to allow themselves to be “lawfully” murdered by the courageous executors of the benevolence of the sovereign, or by offering “resistance” to allow themselves to be shot in accordance with martial law.

Ought we also to discuss the provisions of Article 9, by which the dissemination of reports which “mislead” the authorities and the violation of any “prohibition issued in the interests of public security” etc. are punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment, and even the most ordinary police and gendarme functions are henceforth made more perfect in accordance with martial law?

Ought we to deal with the cowardly perfidy with which the Hohenzollern sovereign and his accomplices Simons-von der Heydt-Manteuffel decree the formation of courts martial consisting of three “senior officers” and two civil judges appointed by the military commander, in order to preserve the semblance of “legal” procedure in the eyes of the stupid bourgeois and yet at the same time to be sure of a conviction owing to the preponderance in the number of military executioners?

Ought we to take note of the various provisions of Article 13 on “procedure at courts martial”, in which there is nowhere any mention of the testimony of witnesses, but under which judgment can obviously be pronounced in the spirit of the murderer Windischgrätz “in accordance with the coincidence of circumstances"?

Ought we to take note of the provisions that there is no appeal against sentences of courts martial, that death sentences are merely confirmed by the “military commander” and are carried out within twenty-four hours, and lastly that even after the lifting of the state of siege, in cases where sentences of courts martial have not yet been carried out, the “ordinary courts” can only convert the court-martial punishment into a legally imposed punishment, but must “accept the fact as proven” and cannot decide on the correctness or incorrectness of the charge?

Ought we, finally, to examine the last and best Article of this new Constitution which has been strengthened by the Cossacks, according to which “even apart from the state of siege”, consequently “not for the event of a disturbance”, Articles 5, 6, 24-28 of the December acquisition, “personal freedom”, “inviolability of the home”, “freedom of the press” and the “right of association” can be abolished district by district?

After all these splendid things there is no need for us to express our heartfelt good wishes to all well-intentioned Prussians on the new, solely true promises, on the finally true outburst of paternal benevolence resulting from the proximity of the Cossacks. We sincerely rejoice at this bloody castigation of the bourgeois who are so frantic for order, and of the miserable dolts who yearn for a basis of legality.

But the people will soon feel that this new “acquisition” has filled its cup to overflowing, it will wreak vengeance on this lying cowardly race that plagues the land, and the Rhine Province above all will not let slip the long-desired hour when we shall cry out: Ça ira! [363]

The pitiful ranks of knights
Will soon be riding off.
They shall be offered a stirrup-cup
From bottles of iron to quaff!