Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne by Karl Marx 1853
The document found in the possession of the accused, the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which had been printed before the February revolution and had been available from booksellers for some years, could neither in its form nor in its aims be the programme of a “plot”. The confiscated Addresses of the Central Authority were concerned exclusively with the relations of the Communists to the future democratic government and therefore not to the government of Frederick William IV. Lastly, the “Rules” were indeed the rules of a secret propaganda society, but the Code pénal prescribes no penalties for secret societies. The ultimate aim of this propaganda is said to be the destruction of existing society; but the Prussian state has already perished once and could perish ten times more and indeed for good and all without the existing social order being even the slightest bit harmed. The Communists can help accelerate the dissolution of bourgeois society and yet leave the dissolution of the Prussian state in the hands of bourgeois society. If a man whose immediate aim was the overthrow of the Prussian state were to preach the destruction of the social order as a means to this end he would be like that deranged engineer who wished to blow up the whole planet in order to remove a rubbish-heap.
But if the final goal of the League is the overthrowing of the social order, the method by which this is to be achieved is necessarily that of political revolution and this entails the overthrow of the Prussian state, just as an earthquake entails the overthrow of a chicken-house. The accused, however, proceed in fact from the outrageous assumption that the present Prussian government would collapse without their having to lift a finger. They accordingly did not found a league to overturn the present government of Prussia, and were not guilty of any “treasonable conspiracy”.
Has anyone ever accused the early Christians of aiming at the overthrow of some obscure Roman prefect? The Prussian political philosophers from Leibniz to Hegel have laboured to dethrone God, and if I dethrone God I also dethrone the king who reigns by the grace of God. But has anyone ever prosecuted them for lèse-majesté against the house of Hohenzollern?
From whatever angle one looked at it, when the corpus delicti was subjected to public scrutiny it vanished like a ghost. The complaint of the indictment board that there was “no indictable offence” remained valid and the “Marx party” was spiteful enough to refrain from providing one single iota for the indictment during the whole year and a half of the preliminary investigation.
Such an embarrassing situation had to be remedied. The Willich-Schapper party, in conjunction with the police, remedied it.
Let us see how Herr Stieber, the midwife of this party, introduces it into the trial in Cologne. (See Stieber’s testimony in the sitting of October 18, 1852.)
While Stieber was in London in the spring of 1851, allegedly to protect the visitors to the Great Exhibition from pilferers and thieves, the Berlin police headquarters sent him a copy of the papers found in Nothjung’s home.
“In particular,” Stieber swore, “my attention was directed to the conspirators’ archive which according to papers found in Nothjung’s home were in the possession of a certain Oswald Dietz in London and which would undoubtedly contain the whole correspondence of the League’s members.”
The conspirators’ archive? The whole correspondence of the League’s members? But Dietz was the secretary of the Willich-Schapper Central Authority. If the archive of a conspiracy was in his possession it was the archive of the Willich-Schapper conspiracy. If Dietz had correspondence belonging to the League it could only be the correspondence of the separate league that was hostile to the accused in Cologne. But even more became clear from the scrutiny of the documents found in Nothjung’s home, namely that nothing in them points to the fact of Oswald Dietz being the keeper of an archive. Moreover, how should Nothjung, who was in Leipzig, know what was not even known to the “Marx party” in London?
Stieber could not say outright: Now note this, Gentlemen of the jury! I have made amazing discoveries in London. Unfortunately they refer to a conspiracy with which the accused in Cologne have nothing to do and which it is not the task of the Cologne jury to judge, but which provided a pretext for keeping the accused in solitary confinement for one and a half years. Stieber could not say this. The intervention of Nothjung was indispensable to create even the semblance of a connection between the revelations and documents from London and the trial in Cologne.
Stieber then swore on oath that a man offered to buy the archive for cash from Oswald Dietz. The plain fact is that a certain Reuter, a Prussian police spy who has never belonged to a communist society, lived in the same house as Dietz and, during the latter’s absence, broke into his desk and stole his papers. That Herr Stieber paid him for the theft is quite credible, but this would hardly have protected Stieber from a journey to Van Diemen’s Land [i.e., Tasmania, to which British convicts were transported] if the manoeuvre had become public knowledge while he was in London.
On August 5, 1851, Stieber, who was in Berlin, received from London the Dietz archive, “in a bulky parcel wrapped in stout oil-cloth”, which turned out to be a heap of documents consisting of “60 separate items”. To this Stieber could swear, and at the same time he swore that the parcel he received on August 5, 1851 contained also letters from the leading district in Berlin dated August 20, 1851. If someone were to assert that Stieber was perjuring himself when he claimed that he received on August 5, 1851 letters dated August 20, 1851, Stieber would justly retort that a royal Prussian counsellor, like the Evangelist Matthew, has the right to perform chronological miracles.
En passant. From the list of documents stolen from the Willich-Schapper party and from the dates of these documents it follows that although the party had been warned by Reuter’s burglary, it still constantly found ways and means of having its documents stolen and allowing them to fall into the hands of the Prussian police.
When Stieber found himself in possession of the treasure wrapped in stout oil-cloth he was beside himself with joy. “The whole network,” he swore, “lay revealed before my eyes.” And what did the treasure-trove contain about the “Marx party” and the accused in Cologne? According to Stieber’s own testimony, nothing at all except for
“the original of a declaration by several members of the Central Authority, who obviously formed the nucleus of the ‘Marx party’; it was dated London, September 17, 1850, and concerned their resignation from the communist society consequent on the well-known breach of September 15, 1850”.
Stieber says so himself but even in this simple statement he is unable simply to confine himself to the facts. He is compelled to raise them to a higher plane in order to make them truly worthy of the police. For the original declaration contained nothing more than a statement of three lines to the effect that the majority members of the former Central Authority and their friends were resigning from the public Workers’ Society of Great Windmill Street; but they did not resign from a “communist society”.
Stieber could have spared his correspondents the oil-cloth and his authorities the postal dues. He had only to ‘rummage’ [a pun on Stieber's name] through the various German papers of September 1850 and he would have found in black and white the declaration of the “nucleus of the Marx party” announcing their resignation from the Refugee Committee and also from the Workers’ Society of Great Windmill Street.
The immediate product of Stieber’s researches was then the amazing discovery that the “nucleus of the Marx party” had resigned from the public Society of Great Windmill Street on September 17, 1850. “The whole network of the Cologne plot lay revealed before his eyes.” But the public couldn’t believe their eyes.