Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 170
Translated by the Marx-Engels Institute
Transcribed for the Internet by, 1994

Cologne, December 15. The theory of agreement, which the bourgeoisie, on attaining power in the person of the Camphausen cabinet, immediately publicized as the "broadest" basis of the Prussian contrat social, was by no means an empty theory; on the contrary, it grew on the tree of "golden" life.

The sovereign by the grace of God was by no means vanquished by the sovereignty of the people as a result of the March revolution. The Crown, the absolute state, was merely compelled to come to an agreement with the bourgeoisie, its old rival.

The Crown offers the aristocracy as a sacrifice to the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie offers the people as a sacrifice to the Crown. Under these circumstances the monarchy becomes bourgeois and the bourgeoisie monarchical.

Only these two powers exist since the March revolution. They use each other as a sort of lightning-conductor against the revolution. Always, of course, on the "broadest democratic basis".

Herein lay the secret of the theory of agreement.

The oil and wool merchants [129] who formed the first cabinet after the March revolution took pleasure in protecting the exposed Crown with their plebeian wings. They were highly delighted at having gained access to the Court and reluctantly driven by pure magnanimity to abandon their austere Roman pose, i.e., the Roman pose of the United Provincial Diet, to use the corpse of their former popularity to fill the chasm that threatened to engulf the throne. Camphausen plumed himself on being the midwife of the constitutional throne. The worthy man was evidently deeply moved by his own action, his own magnanimity. The Crown and its followers reluctantly suffered this humiliating protection and made bonne mine d mauvais jeu, hoping for better days to come.

The bourgeois gentilhomme was easily taken in by a few honeyed words and curtsies from the partly disintegrated army, the bureaucracy that trembled for its positions and salaries, and the humiliated feudals, whose leader was engaged in a constitutional educational journey.

The Prussian bourgeoisie was nominally in control and did not for a moment doubt that the powers of the old state had placed themselves unreservedly at its disposal and had become offshoots of its own omnipotence.

Not only in the cabinet but throughout the monarchy the bourgeoisie was intoxicated with this delusion.

Did not the army, the bureaucracy and even the feudal lords act as willing and obedient accomplices in the only heroic deeds the Prussian bourgeoisie performed after the March revolution, namely, the often sanguinary machinations of the Civil Guard against the unarmed proletariat? Did not the subdued district governors and penitent major-generals listen with admiration to the stern patriarchal admonitions which the local councilors addressed to the people-the only efforts, the only heroic deeds of which these local councilors, the local representatives of the bourgeoisie (whose obtrusive servile vulgarity the Windischgratzes, Jellachiches and Weldens afterwards repaid with kicks), were capable after the March revolution? Could the Prussian bourgeoisie have doubted after this that the former ill-will of the army, bureaucracy and feudal aristocracy had been transformed into respectful loyalty to the bourgeoisie, the magnanimous victor who had put a curb both upon itself and upon anarchy?

Clearly the Prussian bourgeoisie now had only one duty -- to settle itself comfortably in power, get rid of the troublesome anarchists, restore "law and older" and retrieve the profit lost during the storms of March. It was now merely a question of reducing to a minimum the costs of its rule and of the March revolution which had brought it about. The weapons which, in its struggle against the feudal society and the Crown, the Prussian bourgeoisie had been compelled to demand in the name of the people, such as the right of association and freedom of the press, were they not bound to be broken in the hands of a deluded people who no longer needed to use them to fight for the bourgeoisie and who revealed an alarming inclination to use them against the bourgeoisie?

The bourgeoisie was convinced that evidently only one obstacle stood in the way of its agreement with the Crown, in the way of a deal with the old state, which was resigned to its fate, and that obstacle was the people -- puer robustus sed malitiosus, [13O] as Hobbes says. The people and the revolution!

The revolution was the legal title of the people; the vehement claims of the people were based on the revolution. The revolution was the bill drawn by the people on the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie came to power through the revolution. The day it came to power was also the day this bill became due. The bourgeoisie had to protest the bill.

Revolution in the mouth of the people meant: you, the bourgeois, are the Comite du salut public, the Committee of Public Safety, to whom we have entrusted the government in order that you should defend our interests, the interests of the people, in face of the Crown, but not in order that you should come to an agreement with the Crown regarding your own interests.

Revolution was the people's protest against an arrangement between the bourgeoisie and the Crown. The bourgeoisie that was making arrangements with the Crown had therefore to protest against the revolution.

And that was done under the great Camphausen. The March revolution was not recognized. The National Representatives at Berlin set themselves up as representatives of the Prussian bourgeoisie, as the Assembly of conciliators, by rejecting the motion recognizing the March revolution.

The Assembly sought to undo what had been done. It vociferously declared to the Prussian people that the people did not come to an agreement with the bourgeoisie in order to make a revolution against the Crown, but that the purpose of the revolution was to achieve an agreement between the Crown and the bourgeoisie against the people! Thus was the legal title of the revolutionary people annulled and a legal basis secured for the conservative bourgeoisie.

The legal basis!

Bruggemann, and through him the Kolnische Zeitung, have prated, fabled and moaned so much about the "legal basis", have so often lost and recovered, punctured and mended that "legal basis", tossed it from Berlin to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt to Berlin, narrowed and widened it, turned the simple basis into an inlaid floor and the inlaid floor into a false bottom (which, as we know, is the principal device of performing conjurers), and the false bottom into a bottomless trapdoor, so that in the end the legal basis has turned for our readers into the basis of the Kolnische Zeitung; thus, they could confuse the shibboleth of the Prussian bourgeoisie with the private shibboleth of Herr Joseph Dumont, a necessary invention of the Prussian world history with the arbitrary hobby-horse of the Kolnische Zeitung, and regard the legal basis simply as the basis on which the Kolnische Zeitung arises.

The legal basis, namely, the Prussian legal basis!

The legal basis on which Camphausen, the knight of the great debate, the resurrected phantom of the United Provincial Diet and the Assembly of conciliators, moved after the March revolution -- is it the constitutional law of 1815 [131] or the law of 1820 regarding the Provincial Diet, [132] or the edict of 1847, [133] or the electoral and agreement law of April 8, 1848. [134]

It is none of these.

"Legal basis" simply meant that the revolution failed to gain firm ground and the old society did not lose its ground; that the March revolution was an "occurrence" that acted merely as a "stimulus" towards an "agreement" between the throne and the bourgeoisie, preparations for which had long been made within the old Prussian state, and the need for which the Crown itself had expressed in its royal decrees, but had not, prior to March, considered as "urgent". In short, the "legal basis" meant that after the March revolution the bourgeoisie wanted to negotiate with the Crown on the same footing as before the March events, as though no revolution had taken place and the United Provincial Diet had achieved its goal without a revolution. The "legal basis" meant that the revolution, the legal title of the people, was to be ignored in the contrat social between the government and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie deduced its claims from the old Prussian legislation, in order that the people should not deduce any claims from the new Prussian revolution.

Naturally, the ideological cretins of the bourgeoisie, its journalists, and such like, had to pass off this palliative of the bourgeois interests as the real interests of the bourgeoisie, and persuade themselves and others to believe this. The phrase about the legal basis acquired real substance in the mind of a Bruggemann.

The Camphausen government fulfilled its task, the task of being an intermediate link and a transitional stage. It was the intermediate link between the bourgeoisie, which had risen on the shoulders of the people and the bourgeoisie which no longer required the shoulders of the people; between the bourgeoisie which apparently represented the people in face of the Crown and the bourgeoisie which really represented the Crown in face of the people; between the bourgeoisie emerging from the revolution and the bourgeoisie which had emerged as the core of the revolution.

In keeping with its role, the Camphausen government coyly and bashfully confined itself to passive resistance against the revolution.

Although it rejected the revolution in theory, in practice it resisted only its encroachments and tolerated only the re-establishment of the old political authorities.

The bourgeoisie in the meantime believed that it had reached the point where passive resistance had to turn into open attack. The Camphausen cabinet resigned not because it had committed some blunder or other, but simply because it was the first cabinet following the March revolution, because it was the cabinet of the March revolution and by virtue of its origin it had to conceal that it represented the bourgeoisie under the guise of a dictatorship of the people. Its dubious beginnings and its ambiguous character still imposed on it certain conventions, restraints and considerations with regard to the sovereign people which were irksome to the bourgeoisie, and which a second cabinet originating directly from the Assembly of conciliators would no longer have to reckon with.

Its resignation therefore puzzled the arm-chair politicians. It was followed by the Hansemann government, the government of action, as the bourgeoisie intended to proceed from the period when it passively betrayed the people to the Crown to the period of active subjugation of the people to its own rule in agreement with the Crown. The government of action was the second government after the March revolution; that was its whole secret.