Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 169
Translated by the Marx-Engels Institute
Transcribed for the Internet by, 1994

Cologne, December 11. When the March flood – a flood in miniature – subsided it left on the surface of Berlin no prodigies, no revolutionary giants, but traditional creatures, thickset bourgeois figures-the liberals of the United Provincial Diet, the representatives of the conscious Prussian bourgeoisie. The main contingents for the new ministries were supplied by the Rhineland and Silesia, the provinces with the most advanced bourgeoisie. They were followed by a whole train of Rhenish lawyers. As the bourgeoisie was pushed into the background by the feudal aristocracy, the Rhineland and Silesia were replaced in the cabinets by the old Prussian provinces. The only link of the Brandenburg cabinet with the Rhineland is through a single Elberfeld Tory. Hansemann and von der Heydt! These two names exemplify the whole difference between March and December 1848 for the Prussian bourgeoisie.

The Prussian bourgeoisie reached the political summit, not by means of a peaceful deal with the Crown, as it had desired, but as the result of a revolution. It was to defend, not its own interests, but those of the people – for a popular movement had prepared the way for the bourgeoisie – against the Crown, in other words, against itself. For the bourgeoisie regarded the Crown simply as a cloak provided by the grace of God, a cloak that was to conceal its own profane interests, The inviolability of its own interests and of the political forms appropriate to these interests, expressed in constitutional language, is inviolability of the Crown. Hence the enthusiasm of the German bourgeoisie and in particular of the Prussian bourgeoisie for the constitutional monarchy. Although the February revolution together with its repercussions in Germany was welcomed by the Prussian bourgeoisie, because the revolution had placed the helm of state into its hands, it also upset the plans of the bourgeoisie, because its rule was thus bound by conditions which it neither wanted nor was able to fulfill.

The bourgeoisie did not raise a finger; it simply allowed the people to fight for it. Hence the rule it was called upon to exercise was not the rule of a commander who has defeated his adversary, but the rule of a committee of public safety which has been entrusted by the victorious people with the protection of its interests.

Camphausen was still clearly aware of this embarrassing position, and the weakness of his cabinet was entirely due to this feeling and the circumstances that gave rise to it. Even the most shameless actions of his government are therefore tinctured by a sort of shamefaced blush. Open shamelessness and insolence were Hansemann's privileges. The red complexion is all that distinguishes these two artists from one another.

The March revolution in Prussia should not be confused either with the English revolution of 1648 or with the French one of 1789.

In 1648 the bourgeoisie was allied with the modern aristocracy against the monarchy, the feudal aristocracy and the established church.

In 1789 the bourgeoisie was allied with the people against the monarchy, the aristocracy and the established church.

The model for the revolution of 1789 (at least in Europe) was only the revolution of 1648; that for the revolution of 1648 only the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain. [128] Both revolutions were a century ahead of their model not only in time but also in substance.

In both revolutions the bourgeoisie was the class that really headed the movement. The proletariat and the non-bourgeois strata of the middle class had either not yet evolved interests which were different from those of the bourgeoisie or they did not yet constitute independent classes or class divisions. Therefore, where they opposed the bourgeoisie, as they did in France in 1793 and 1794, they fought only for the attainment of the aims of the bourgeoisie, albeit in a non-bourgeois manner. The entire French terrorism was just a plebeian way of dealing with the enemies of the bourgeoisie, absolutism, feudalism and philistinism.

The revolutions of 1648 and 1789 were not English and French revolutions, they were revolutions in the European fashion. They did not represent the victory of a particular social class over the old political system; they proclaimed the political system of the new European society. The bourgeoisie was victorious in these revolutions, but the victory of the bourgeoisie was at that time the victory of a new social order, the victory of bourgeois ownership over feudal ownership, of nationality over provincialism, of competition over the guild, of partitioning [of the land] over primogeniture, of the rule of the landowner over the domination of the owner by the land, of enlightenment over superstition, of the family over the family name, of industry over heroic idleness, of bourgeois law over medieval privileges. The revolution of 1648 was the victory of the seventeenth century over the sixteenth century; the revolution of 1789 was the victory of the eighteenth century over the seventeenth. These revolutions reflected the needs of the world at that time rather than the needs of those parts of the world where they occurred, that is, England and France.

There has been nothing of this in the Prussian March revolution.

The February revolution actually abolished the constitutional monarchy and nominally abolished the rule of the bourgeoisie. The Prussian March revolution ought to have nominally established a constitutional monarchy and actually established the rule of the bourgeoisie. Far from being a European revolution it was merely a weak repercussion of a European revolution in a backward country. Instead of being ahead of its century, it was over half a century behind its time. From the very outset it was a secondary phenomenon, and it is well known that secondary diseases are harder to cure and are liable to cause more harm than the primary diseases do. It was not a question of establishing a new society, but of resurrecting in Berlin a society that had expired in Paris. The Prussian March revolution was not even a national, German revolution; from the very start it was a Provincial Prussian revolution. In Vienna, Cassel, Munich and various other towns provincial uprisings took place alongside it and competed with it.

Whereas 1648 and 1789 gained boundless self-confidence from the knowledge that they were leading the universe, it was the ambition of the Berlin (revolution) of 1848 to constitute an anachronism. Its light is like that of the stars which reaches us, the inhabitants of the Earth, only after the bodies from which it had emanated have been extinct for a hundred thousand years. The March revolution in Prussia was, on a small scale – just as it did everything on a small scale – such a star for Europe. Its light was that of a social body which had long since disintegrated.

The German bourgeoisie developed so sluggishly, timidly and slowly that at the moment when it menacingly confronted feudalism and absolutism, it saw menacingly pitted against itself the proletariat and all sections of the middle class whose interests and ideas were related to those of the proletariat. The German bourgeoisie found not just one class behind it, but all Europe hostilely facing it. Unlike the French bourgeoisie of 1789, the Prussian bourgeoisie, when it confronted monarchy and aristocracy, the representatives of the old society, was not a class speaking for the whole of modern society. It had been reduced to a kind of estate as clearly distinct from the Crown as it was from the people, with a strong bend to oppose both adversaries and irresolute towards each of them individually because it always saw both of them either in front of it or behind it. From the first it was inclined to betray the people and to compromise with the crowned representatives of the old society, for it already belonged itself to the old society; it did not advance the interests of a new society against an old one, but represented refurbished interests within an obsolete society. It stood at the helm of the revolution not because it had the people behind it but because the people drove it forward; it stood at the head because it merely represented the spleen of an old social era and not the initiatives of a new one. A stratum of the old state that had failed to break through and was thrown up on the surface of the new state by the force of an earthquake; without faith in itself, without faith in the people, grumbling at those above, frightened of those below, egoistical towards both and aware of its egoism; revolutionary with regard to the conservatives and conservative with regard to the revolutionaries. It did not trust its own slogans, used phrases instead of ideas, it was intimidated by the world storm and exploited it for its own ends; it displayed no energy anywhere, but resorted to plagiarism everywhere, it was vulgar because unoriginal, and original in its vulgarity; haggling over its own demands, without initiative, without faith in itself, without faith in the people, without a historic mission, an abominable dotard finding himself condemned to lead and to mislead the first youthful impulses of a virile people so as to make them serve his own senile interests – sans eyes, sans ears, sans teeth, sans everything – this was the Prussian bourgeoisie which found itself at the helm of the Prussian state after the March revolution.