Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung September 1848

The Crisis and the Counter-Revolution [1]
By Karl Marx

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

Written: 11, 12, 13 & 14 September 1848;
First Published: Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 100, 12 September 1848, No. 101, 13 September 1848, No. 102, 14 September 1848 & No. 104, 16 September 1848;
Source: Marx and Engels: Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Moscow 1972, pp. 121 – 128;
Transcribed: Einde O'Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet archive (May 2014).


Cologne, September 11. Anyone reading the reports from Berlin printed below can judge for himself whether we predicted the course of the government crisis correctly. The ministers resigned and it seems that the camarilla did not approve of the government’s plan to dissolve the Assembly of conciliation and to use martial law and guns in order to remain in office. The titled landowners from the Brandenburg backwoods are thirsting for a conflict with the people and a repetition of the Parisian June scenes in the streets of Berlin, but they will never fight for the Hansemann government, they will fight for a government of the Prince of Prussia. The choice will fall on Radowitz, Vincke and similar reliable men who are strangers to the Berlin Assembly and are in no way committed to it. The government of the Prince of Prussia which is to be bestowed on us will comprise the cream of the Prussian and Westphalian knights associated for form’s sake with a few bourgeois worthies from the extreme Right, such as Beckerath and his like, to whom will be assigned the conduct of the prosaic commercial side of the business of state. Meanwhile hundreds of rumours are being spread, Waldeck or Rodbertus is perhaps summoned, and public opinion is misled, while at the same time military preparations are being made to come out openly at the appropriate moment.

We are facing a decisive struggle. The concurrent crises at Frankfurt and Berlin and the latest decisions of the two Assemblies compel the counter-revolution to give its last battle. If the people in Berlin dare to spurn the constitutional principle of majority rule, if they confront the 219 members of the majority with twice as many guns, if they dare to defy the majority not only in Berlin but also in Frankfurt by presenting to them a government which is quite unacceptable to either of the two Assemblies – if they thus provoke a civil war between Prussia and Germany, then the democrats know what they have to do.


Cologne, September 12. Although already by midday we may receive news of the definite formation of a new Government as described by us yesterday and confirmed from other quarters, the government crisis in Berlin continues. There are only two solutions to this crisis:

Either a Waldeck government, recognition of the authority of the German National Assembly and recognition of popular sovereignty;

Or a Radowitz-Vincke government, dissolution of the Berlin Assembly, abolition of the revolutionary gains, a sham constitutionalism or even the United Provincial Diet.

Don’t let us shut our eyes to the fact that the conflict which has broken out in Berlin is a conflict not between the agreers and the Ministers, but between the Assembly, which for the first time acts as a constituent assembly, and the Crown.

The point is whether or not the latter will have the courage to dissolve the Assembly.

But has the Crown the right to dissolve the Assembly?

True, in constitutional states the Crown in case of disputes has the right to dissolve the legislative chambers convened on the basis of the constitution and to appeal to the people by means of new elections.

Is the Berlin Assembly a constitutional, legislative chamber?

It is not. It has been convened “to come to an agreement with the Crown on the Prussian Constitution,” it has been convened not on the basis of a Constitution, but on that of a revolution. It received its mandate by no means from the Crown or from the Ministers answerable to the Crown, but from those who elected it and from the Assembly itself. The Assembly was sovereign as the legitimate expression of the revolution, and the mandate which Herr Camphausen jointly with the United Provincial Diet prepared for it in the shape of the electoral law of April 8 was nothing but a pious wish, and it was up to the Assembly to decide about it.

At first the Assembly more or less accepted the theory of agreement. It realised that in doing so it had been cheated by the ministers and the camarilla. At last it performed a sovereign act, stepping forth for a moment as a constituent assembly and no longer as an assembly of conciliators.

Being the sovereign Assembly of Prussia, it had a perfect right to do this.

A sovereign assembly, however, cannot be dissolved by anybody, and cannot be given orders by anybody.

Even as a mere assembly of conciliation, even according to Herr Camphausen’s own theory, it has equal status with the Crown. Both parties conclude a political treaty, both parties have an equal share of sovereignty – that is the theory of April 8, the Camphausen-Hansemann theory, the official theory recognised by the Crown itself.

If the Assembly and the Crown have equal rights, then the Crown has no right to dissolve the Assembly.

Otherwise, to be consistent, the Assembly would also have the right to depose the King.

The dissolution of the Assembly would therefore be a coup d'état. And how people reply to a coup d'état was demonstrated on July 29, 1830, and February 24, 1848. [2]

One may say the Crown could appeal again to the same voters. But who does not know that today the voters would elect an entirely different assembly, an assembly which would treat the Crown with much less ceremony?

Everyone knows that after the dissolution of this Assembly it will only be possible to appeal to voters of an entirely different kind from those of April 8, that the only elections possible will be elections carried through under the tyranny of the sword.

Let us have no illusions –

If the Assembly wins and succeeds in setting up a Left ministry, then the power of the Crown existing alongside the Assembly is broken, then the King is merely a paid servant of the people and we return again to the morning of March 19 – provided the Waldeck Government does not betray us, as did many a ministry before it.

If the Crown wins and succeeds in setting up a Government of the Prince of Prussia, then the Assembly will be dissolved, the right of association abolished, the press muzzled, an electoral law based on property qualifications introduced, and, as we have already mentioned, even the United Provincial Diet may be reinvoked – and all this will be done under cover of a military dictatorship, guns and bayonets.

Which of the two sides will win depends on the attitude of the people, especially that of the democratic party. It is up to the democrats to choose.

We have again the situation of July 25. Will they dare to issue the decrees being devised in Potsdam? Will the people be provoked to make the leap from July 26 to February 24 in a single day?

The will to do it is certainly there, but what about the courage!


Cologne, September 13. The crisis in Berlin has advanced a step further. The conflict with the Crown, which yesterday could still be described as inevitable, has actually taken place.

Our readers will find below the King’s reply to the resignation of the Ministers.[3] By this letter the Crown itself comes to the fore, sides with the ministers and opposes the Assembly.

It goes even further – it forms a cabinet outside the Assembly, it nominates Beckerath, who represents the extreme Right at Frankfurt and who, as everyone knows, will never be able to count on the support of the majority in Berlin.

The King’s message is countersigned by Herr Auerswald. Let Herr Auerswald, if he can, justify the fact that he thus uses the Crown to cover up his ignominious retreat, that at one and the same time he tries to hide behind the constitutional principle as far as the Chamber is concerned and tramples on the constitutional principle by compromising the Crown and invoking the republic.

Constitutional principle! shout the ministers. Constitutional principle! shouts the Right. Constitutional principle! faintly echoes the Kölnische Zeitung.

“Constitutional principle!” Are these gentlemen really so foolish as to believe that it is possible to extricate the German people from the storms of 1848, and from the imminent threat of collapse of all traditional institutions, by means of the Montesquieu-Delolme worm-eaten theory of division of powers, by means of worn-out phrases and long exploded fictions!

“Constitutional principle!” But the very gentlemen who want to save the constitutional principle at all costs should realise first of all that at a provisional stage it can only be saved by energetic action.

“Constitutional principle!” But the vote of the Berlin Assembly, the clashes between Potsdam and Frankfurt, the disturbances, the reactionary attempts, the provocations of the brutal soldiery – has all this not shown long ago that despite all the empty talk we are still on a revolutionary ground, and the pretence that we have already reached the basis of an established, a complete constitutional monarchy only leads to collisions, which have already brought the “constitutional principle.” to the brink of the abyss?

Every provisional political set-up following a revolution calls for dictatorship, and an energetic dictatorship at that. From the very beginning we blamed Camphausen for not having acted in a dictatorial manner, for not having immediately smashed up and removed the remains of the old institutions. While thus Herr Camphausen indulged in constitutional fancies, the defeated party strengthened its positions within the bureaucracy and in the army, and occasionally even risked an open fight. The Assembly was convened for the purpose of agreeing on the terms of the constitution. It existed as an equal party alongside the Crown. Two equal powers in a provisional arrangement! It was this division of powers with the aid of which Herr Camphausen sought “to save freedom” – it was this very division of powers in a provisional arrangement that was bound to lead to conflicts. The Crown served as a cover for the counter-revolutionary aristocratic, military and bureaucratic camarilla. The bourgeoisie stood behind the majority of the Assembly. The cabinet tried to mediate. Too weak to stand up for the bourgeoisie and the peasants and overthrow the power of the nobility, the bureaucracy and the army chiefs at one blow, too unskilled to avoid always damaging the interests of the bourgeoisie by its financial measures, the cabinet merely succeeded in compromising itself in the eyes of all the parties and bringing about the very clash it sought to avoid.

The one important factor in any unconstituted state of affairs is the salut public, the public welfare, and not this or that principle. There is only one way in which the government could avoid a conflict between the Assembly and the Crown and that is by recognising the public welfare as the sole principle, even at the risk of the government itself coming into conflict with the Crown. But it preferred “not to compromise” itself in Potsdam. It never hesitated to employ public welfare measures (mesures de salut public), dictatorial measures, against the democratic forces. What else was the application of the old laws to political crimes, even after Herr Märker had recognised that these articles of the Civil Code ought to be repealed? What else were the wholesale arrests in all parts of the kingdom?

But the cabinet carefully refrained from intervening against the counter-revolution in the name of public welfare.

It was this half-heartedness of the Government in face of the counter-revolution, which became more menacing with every day, that compelled the Assembly itself to prescribe measures of public welfare. If the Crown represented by the ministers was too weak, then the Assembly itself had to intervene. It did so by passing the resolution of August 9.[4] It did so in a still rather mild form, by merely warning the ministers. The ministers simply took no notice of it.

Indeed, how could they have agreed to it? The resolution of August 9 flouted the constitutional principle, it is an encroachment of the legislative power on the executive power, it undermines the division of powers and their mutual control, which are essential in the interests of freedom, it turns the Assembly of conciliation into a National Convention.

There follows a running fire of threats, a vociferous appeal to the fears of the petty bourgeois and the prospect of a reign of terror with guillotines, progressive taxes, confiscations and the red flag.

To compare the Berlin Assembly with the Convention. What irony!

But these gentlemen were not altogether wrong. If the government goes on the way it has been doing, we shall have a Convention before long – not merely for Prussia, but for Germany as a whole – a Convention which will have to use all means to cope with the civil war in our twenty Vendées and with the inevitable war with Russia. At present, however, we merely have a parody of the Constituent Assembly.

But how have the Ministers who invoke the constitutional principle upheld this principle?

On August 9, they calmly allowed the Assembly to break up in the belief that the ministers would carry out the resolution. They had no intention of making known to the Assembly their refusal to do so, and still less of resigning their office.

They ruminated on the matter for a whole month and finally, when threatened with parliamentary questions, they curtly informed the Assembly that it was self-evident that they would not put the resolution into effect.

When the Assembly thereupon instructs the ministers, nevertheless, to put the resolution into effect, they take refuge behind the Crown, and cause a rupture between the Crown and the Assembly, thus pushing matters towards a republic.

And these gentlemen still talk about the constitutional principle!

To sum up:

The inevitable conflict between two powers having equal rights in a provisional situation has broken out. The cabinet was unable to govern with sufficient energy; it has failed to take the necessary measures of public welfare. The Assembly has merely performed its duty in demanding that the cabinet do its duty. The cabinet declares this to be an encroachment upon the rights of the Crown and discredits the Crown at the very moment of its resignation. The Crown and the Assembly confront each other. The “agreement” has led to disagreement, to conflict. It is possible that arms will decide the issue.

The side that has the greater courage and consistency will win.


Cologne, September 15. The government crisis has once again entered a new phase, due, not to the arrival and vain efforts of the impossible Herr Beckerath, but to the army revolt in Potsdam and Nauen. The conflict between democracy and aristocracy has broken out even within the guard regiments. The soldiers consider that the resolution carried by the Assembly on the 7th liberates them from the tyranny of their officers; they send letters of greeting and thanks to the Assembly.

This has wrenched the sword from the hands of the counter-revolutionaries. They will not dare now to dissolve the Assembly, and since this cannot be attempted, they will have to give in, carry out the resolution of the Assembly and form a Waldeck cabinet.

It is quite possible that the soldiers in revolt at Potsdam will save us a revolution.


1. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung published the second, third and fourth articles of this series under the heading “The Crisis.”

2. Royal decrees issued by the King of France on July 26, 1830, abolished freedom of the press, dissolved parliament and changed the electoral law, thereby reducing the electorate by three-quarters. These measures precipitated the French July revolution of 1830.

On February 24, 1848, King Louis Philippe of France was overthrown.

3. In his message of September 10, 1848, Frederick William IV agreed with the view of the ministers that the resolution passed by the Prussian National Assembly on September 7, 1848, was an infringement of the “principles of constitutional monarchy” and approved the ministers’ decision to resign as a protest against this action of the Assembly.

4. On August 9, 1848, the Prussian National Assembly accepted a proposal submitted by deputy Stein requesting the Minister of War to issue an army order to the effect that officers were expected to demonstrate their support of a constitutional system and that .those who held different political views were bound in honour to quit the army. Schreckenstein, the Minister of War, did not issue such an order: Stein therefore tabled a similar motion once more, and this was passed by the National Assembly on September 7. Thereupon the Auerswald-Hansemann cabinet resigned. Under the Pfuel cabinet which followed, the decree, though in a considerably weakened form, was at last issued on September 26, 1848, but it remained on paper.