Karl Marx and Frederick Engels 1852

To the Editor of The Times

Source: MECW Volume 11, p. 210;
First published: in German in Der Briefwechsel zwischen Friedrich Engels und Karl Marx, 1913.

This letter was written by Engels on the initiative of Marx (see his letter to Engels of January 24, 1852) and sent by the latter to the editor of The Times. At Marx’s request Engels prepared a similar letter for The Daily News. But the letters were not published because of the openly hostile attitude of these newspapers towards the Communist League leaders. The letter is published according to the draft written on the back of Engels’ letter to Marx of January 28, 1852. The signature “A Prussian” is in Marx’s hand.


The destruction of the last remnants of an independent press on the Continent has made it the honourable duty of the English press to record every act of illegality and oppression in that quarter of Europe. Allow me, therefore, through your columns, to lay before the public a fact, which shows that the judges in Prussia are quite on a level with the political menials of Louis Napoleon.

You know what a valuable moyen de gouvernement a well got-up conspiracy may turn out, if brought forward at the proper moment. The Prussian government, in order to render their parliament pliable, wanted such a plot in the beginning of last year. Accordingly, numbers of persons were arrested, and the police was set to work all over Germany. But nothing was made out, and after all, but a few individuals were ultimately retained in prison at Cologne, under the pretext of being the chiefs of a widespread revolutionary organisation. The principal of them are Dr. Becker and Dr. Bürgers, two gentlemen connected with the press, Dr. Daniels, Dr. Jacobi and Dr. Klein, medical practitioners two of whom had honourably filled the arduous duties of a physician to the administration of the poor, and M. Otto, director of extensive chemical works, and well known in his country by his attainments in chemical science. There being, however, no evidence against them, their release was expected every day. But while they were in prison, the “Disciplinary Law” was promulgated, enabling the government, by a very short and easy proceeding, to rid themselves of any obnoxious judicial functionary. The effect of this enactment upon the hitherto slow and languishing proceedings against the above-named gentlemen was almost instantaneous. Not only were they placed au secret, denied every communication with each other or their friends, even by letter, and deprived of books and writing materials (allowed, in Prussia, to the meanest felon before conviction); but the judicial proceedings took a quite different turn. The Chambre du Comeil (you know we are judged, in Cologne, by the Code Napoléon) was at once found ready to make out a case against them, and the matter went before the Senate of Accusation, a body of judges fulfilling the functions of an English Grand Jury. It is to the unparalleled judgment of this body that I beg particularly to draw your attention. In this judgment there occurs, literally translated, the following extraordinary passage:

“Considering, that no reliable evidence has been brought forward, that, therefore, no case having been made out, there exists no reason for maintaining the indictment” — (the prisoners are ordered to be set at liberty, you suppose, is the necessary conclusion? Not it indeed) — “the whole of the minutes and documents is to be returned to the juge d'instruction for a fresh investigation.”

This means, then, that after a detention of ten months, during which time neither the activity of the police nor the acumen of the counsel for the Crown have been able to make out the shadow of a case — the whole proceeding is to begin again from the beginning, in order, perhaps, after another year’s investigation, to be handed over a third time to the juge d'instruction!

The explanation of such a glaring breach of the law is this: the government are just now preparing the organisation of a High Court of Justice to be made up of the most subservient materials. As a defeat before a jury would be certain, the government must delay the final trial of this affair until it may go before this new Court, which of course, will give every guarantee to the Crown and none to the prisoners.

Would it not be far more honourable for the Prussian government to pass sentence at once, by Royal Decree, upon the prisoners, in the way M. Louis Bonaparte has done?

I am, Sir, your most obedient servant.

London, 29 January 1852

A Prussian