Marx/Engels Internet Archive

On Freedom of the Press

Proceedings of the Sixth Rhine
Province Assembly [43]
Debates on Freedom of the Press
and Publication of the Proceedings
of the Assembly of the Estates [45]

Written: May 1842;
First Published: May, 1842, in the Rheinische Zeitung;
Source: MECW, Volume 1, pp. 132-181;
Translated: from the German;
Transcription/Markup: Zodiac, Brian Baggins and Sally Ryan;
Online Version: Marx/Engels Internet Archive ( 1996, 2000.



May 5: [Prussian Censorship]
May 8: [Opponents of a Free Press]
May 10: [On the Assembly of the Estates]
May 12: [As a privilege of particular individuals or a privilege of the human mind?]
May 15: [Censorship]
May 19: [Freedom in General]

General Introduction

Post-Napoleonic Germany had been promised a constitutionally-established string of provincial parliaments.

In 1823, Prussia formed eight such parliaments (Assemblies of the estates). They embraced the heads of princely families, representatives of the knightly estate, i.e., the nobility, of towns and rural communities. The election system based on the principle of landownership provided for a majority of the nobility in the assemblies. The competency of the assemblies was restricted to questions of local economy and administration. They also had the right to express their desires on government bills submitted for discussion. They were largely powerless ("advisory") however, could only summoned by the Prussian government, and then they were held in secret. Furthermore, a two-thirds majority was required to pass resolutions. Since the knightly (aristocratic) estate held 278 of the 584 parliamentary votes (the towns estate had 182 and the rural estate 124), nothing could be done against its wishes.

In the 17 years of Frederick William III's rule, parliaments met five times. In 1841, Frederick William IV came to power and decreed parliaments would meet every two years and the secrecy surrounding them would be lifted. And so the first parliament under his reign (and Sixth since the Assemblies were created) was held in Düsseldorf between May 23 and July 25 1841.

That same year, a Konigsberg doctor named Johann Jacoby issued the pamphlet "Four Questions Answered by an East Prussian," calling for the constitution promised after Napoleon's final defeat in 1815. For this, Jacoby was charged with treason. Among other things it opened a debate on censorship.

In March 1842, in the official government paper Preussische Allgemeine Staats-Zeitung (Prussian General State Gazette) ran a series of articles supporting censorship "in order to enlighten the public concerning the true intentions of the Government."

The Sixth Rhine Province Assembly held debates, dealt with by Marx which took place during the discussion on publication of the proceedings of the assemblies (this right had been granted by the Royal edict of April 30, 1841) and in connection with petitions of a number of towns on freedom of the press.

Citations in the text are given according to the Sitzungs-Provinzial-Landtags des sechsten Rheinischen Provinzial-Landtags, Koblenz, 1841.

Publishing Notes: Marx devoted three articles to the debates of the Sixth Rhine Province Assembly, only two of which, the first and the third, were published. In the first series of articles Marx proceeded with his criticism of the Prussian censorship which he had begun in his as yet unpublished article Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction. The second series of articles, devoted to the conflict between the Prussian Government and the Catholic Church, was banned by the censors. The manuscript of this article has not survived, but the general outline of it is given by Marx in his letter to Ruge of July 9, 1842. The third series of articles is devoted to the debates of the Rhine Province Assembly on the law on wood thefts.

These articles constitute Marx's first contribution to the Rheinsche Zeitung für Politik. Handel und Gewerbe. Marx began his work as a contributor and in October 1842 became one of the editors of the newspaper. By its content and approach to vital political problems, the article helped the newspaper, founded by the oppositional Rhenish bourgeoisie as a liberal organ, to begin a transition to the revolutionary-democratic positions.

The appearance of Marx's article in the press raised a favourable response in progressive circles. Georg Jung, manager of the Rheinische Zeitung, wrote to Marx: "Your articles on freedom of the press are extremely good.... Meyen wrote that the Rheinsche Zeitung had eclipsed the Deutsche Jahrbücher ... that in Berlin everybody was overjoyed with it" (MEGA, Abt. 1, Ed. 1, Hb. 2, S. 275). In his comments on the article published in the Rheinische Zeitung Arnold Ruge wrote: "Nothing more profound and more substantial has been said or could have been said on freedom of the press and in defence of it" (Deutsche Jahrbücher, 1842, S. 535-36).

In the early 1850s Marx included this article in his collected works then being prepared for publication by Hermann Becker. However only the beginning of the article was included in the first issue. The major part of the text which had been published in the Rheinische Zeitung No. 139 was left unprinted. The end of the article was intended for the following issue, which was never published.

A copy of the Rheinische Zeitung which Marx sent from London to Becker in Cologne in February 1851 with the author's notes on the text of articles (mostly in the form of abbreviations) intended for the edition Becker was preparing has recently been found in the archives of Cologne University library. This copy of the newspaper proves that Marx thought of publishing--partly in an abridged form-- many of his articles written for the Rheinische Zeitung. However, his plan was not realised. Marginal notes show that the articles "Communal Reform and the Kölnische Zeitung" and "A Correspondent of the Kölnische Zeitung vs, the Rheinische Zeitung" belong to Marx. These articles have never been published in any collection of Marx's works.

In English an excerpt from the Proceedings was published in Karl Marx, Early Texts, Oxford, 1971, pp. 35-36.

This online publication: Chapter titles have been introduced in brackets.