Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848
Written: 31 May 1848.
First Published: Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 1, 1 June 1848.
Source: Marx and Engels: Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Moscow 1972, pp. 22 – 26.
Transcribed: Einde O'Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive (May 2014).
Cologne, May 31. For a fortnight Germany has had a constituent National Assembly elected by the German people as a whole.
The German people won its sovereign status by fighting in the streets of almost all towns in the country, large and small, and especially on the barricades of Vienna and Berlin. It exercised this sovereignty in the elections to the National Assembly.
The bold and public proclamation of the sovereignty of the German people should have been the first act of the National Assembly.
Its second act should have been the drafting of a German constitution based on the sovereignty of the people and the elimination from the conditions actually existing in Germany of everything that conflicts with this principle.
During the whole of its session the Assembly ought to have taken all necessary measures to frustrate any reactionary sallies, to maintain the revolutionary basis on which it depends and to safeguard the sovereignty of the people, won by the revolution, against all attacks.
Though the German National Assembly has met about a dozen times already, it has done none of these things.
But it has ensured the salvation of Germany by the following great deeds.
The National Assembly realised that it must have rules, for it knew that when two or three Germans get together they must have a set of rules, otherwise chair legs will be used to decide matters. And now some school-master had foreseen this contingency and drawn up special regulations for this high Assembly. A motion was submitted to adopt this scheme provisionally; though most deputies had not read it, the Assembly adopted it without more ado, for what would become of Germany’s representatives without regulations? Fiat reglementum partout et toujours!
Herr Raveaux of Cologne tables a quite simple motion dealing with conflicts between the assemblies at Frankfurt and at Berlin. But the Assembly debates the final regulations, and although Raveaux’s motion is urgent, the regulations are still more urgent. Pereat mundus, fiat reglementum! However, the elected philistines in their wisdom cannot refrain from making a few remarks concerning Raveaux’s motion, and while they are debating whether the regulations or the motion should take precedence, they have already produced up to two dozen amendments to this motion. They ventilate the thing, talk, get stuck, raise a din, waste time and postpone voting from the 19th to the 22nd of May. The matter is brought up again on the 22nd, there is a deluge of new amendments and new digressions, and after long-winded speeches and endless confusion they decide that the question, which was already placed on the agenda, is to be referred back to the sections. Thus the time has happily slipped by and the deputies leave to take their meal.
On May 23 they first wrangle about the minutes, then have innumerable motions read out again, and just when they are about to return to the agenda, that is, to the beloved regulations, Zitz of Mainz mentions the brutalities of the Prussian army and the despotic abuses of the Prussian commandant at Mainz. This was an indubitable and successful sally on the part of the reaction, an event with which the Assembly was especially competent to deal. It ought to have called to account the presumptuous soldier who dared threaten to shell Mainz almost within sight of the National Assembly, it ought to have protected the unarmed citizens of Mainz in their own houses from the atrocities of a coarse soldiery which had been forced upon them and incited against them. But Herr Bassermann, the waterman of Baden [A pun on the words “Bassermann” and “Wassermann” (waterman). – Ed.], declares that these are trifles. Mainz must be left to its fate, the whole is more important, the Assembly meets here to consider a set of regulations in the interests of Germany as a whole – indeed, what is the shelling of Mainz compared with this! Pereat Moguntia, fiat reglementum! But the Assembly is soft-hearted, it elects a commission that is to go to Mainz to investigate matters and – it is again just time to adjourn and dine.
And then, on May 24, we lose the parliamentary thread altogether. The regulations would seem to have been completed or to have got lost, at any rate we hear nothing more about them. Instead we are inundated by a veritable flood of well-intentioned motions in which numerous representatives of the sovereign people obstinately demonstrate the limited understanding of a loyal subject. Then follow applications, petitions, protests, etc., and in the end the national slops find an outlet in innumerable speeches skipping from one subject to another. The fact, however, that four committees have been set up cannot be passed over in silence.
Finally Herr Schlöffel asked for the floor. Three German citizens, Esselen, Pelz and Löwenstein, had been ordered to leave Frankfurt that very day, before 4 p.m. The wise and all-knowing police asserted that these gentlemen had incurred the wrath of the townspeople by their speeches in the Workers’ Association and must therefore clear out. And the police dare to do this after German right of citizenship was proclaimed by the Preparliament and even after it was endorsed in the draft constitution of the 17 “trusted men” (hommes de confiance de la diète).The matter is urgent. Herr Schlöffel asks to be allowed to speak on this point. He is refused permission. He asks for the floor to speak on the urgency of the subject, which he is entitled to do according to the regulations, but on this occasion it was a case of fiat politia, pereat reglementum! Naturally, for it was time to go home and eat.
On the 25th, the flood of tabled motions caused the pensive heads of the deputies to droop like ripe ears of corn in a downpour. Two deputies then attempted once more to raise the question of the expulsion, but they too did not get a chance to speak, even about the urgency of the matter. Some of the documents received, especially one sent by Poles, were much more interesting than all the motions of the deputies. Finally the commission that was sent to Mainz was given the floor. It announced that it could not report until the following day; moreover it had, of course, arrived too late: 8,000 Prussian bayonets had restored order by disarming 1,200 men of the Civil Guard. Meantime, there was nothing for it but to pass on to the agenda. This was done promptly, the item on the agenda being Raveaux’s motion. Since in Frankfurt this had not yet been settled, whereas in Berlin it had already lost all significance because of Auerswald’s decree, the National Assembly decided to defer the question till the next day and to go and dine.
On the 26th innumerable new motions were introduced and after that the Mainz commission delivered its final and very indecisive report. Herr Hergenhahn, ex-people’s representative and pro tempore minister, presented the report. He moved an extremely moderate resolution, but after a lengthy debate the Assembly concluded that even this docile proposition was too strong and resolved to leave the citizens of Mainz to the tender mercies of the Prussians commanded by a Herr Hüser, and “in the hope that the government will do its duty” the Assembly passed on to the agenda, that is, the gentlemen left to have a meal.
Finally, on May 27, after lengthy preliminaries over the minutes, Raveaux’s motion was discussed. There was some desultory talk until half past two and then the deputies went to dine, but this time they assembled again for an evening session and at last brought the matter to a close. Because of the extreme tardiness of the National Assembly, Herr Auerswald had already disposed of Raveaux’s motion, therefore Herr Raveaux decided to support an amendment proposed by Herr Werner, which settled the question of the people’s sovereignty neither in the affirmative nor in the negative.
Our information concerning the National Assembly ends here, but there is every reason to assume that after having taken this decision the meeting was adjourned and the deputies went to dine. That they were able to do this so early, they have to thank Robert Blum, who said:
“Gentlemen, if you decide to pass on to the agenda today, then the whole agenda of this Assembly may be cut short in a very curious manner.”
1. On May 19, Raveaux proposed that Prussian deputies elected to both the Berlin and the Frankfurt assemblies should have the right to be members of both parliaments. Auerswald, Prussian Minister of the Interior, expressed the same point of view in the decree of May 22, 1848, which is mentioned on the article “The Democratic Party,” in the NRZ, No. 2.
The Berlin Assembly, i.e., the Prussian National Assembly, was convened on May 22, 1848, “for the purpose of drafting a constitution by agreement with the Crown” (hence Marx and Engels frequently call it the Assembly of agreement or conciliation). The Assembly was elected under the electoral law of April 8, 1848, by universal suffrage and an indirect (two-stage) system of voting. Most of the deputies belonged to the bourgeoisie or the Prussian bureaucracy.
2. Using the clashes between soldiers and citizens of Mainz as a pretext, Hüser, the Prussian commandant of the city, imposed martial law.
3. An expression used by the Prussian Minister of the Interior von Rochow.
4. The Preparliament, which met in Frankfurt am Main from March 31 to April 4, 1848, consisted of representatives of the German states who were either members of existing diets or had been elected by some association or public meeting. Most of the delegates were constitutional monarchists. The Preparliament passed a resolution for the summoning of an all-German National Assembly in Frankfurt and produced a draft of the “fundamental rights and demands of the German people.” Although this document proclaimed certain bourgeois liberties it did not attack the basis of the semi-feudal absolutist system prevalent in Germany at the time.
5. The seventeen “trusted men” represented the German governments and were summoned by the Federal Diet, the central body of the German Confederation. They met in Frankfurt am Main from March 30 to May 8, 1848, and drafted a constitution for a German empire based on constitutional monarchical principles.