Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 183
Translated by the Marx-Engels Institute
Transcribed for the Internet by, 1994

Cologne, December 29.

"Gentlemen, business is business!" [135]

In these few words Hansemann epitomized the whole liberalism of the United Provincial Diet. This man was bound to become the head of a government based on the Assembly of conciliators, a government which was to turn passive resistance to the people into an active attack on the people, the government of action.

No Prussian government contained so many middle-class names. Hansemann, Milde, Murker, Kuhlwetter, Gierke! Even von Auerswald, the label presentable at Court, belonged to the liberal aristocracy of the Konigsberg opposition which paid homage to the bourgeoisie. Roth von Schreckenstein alone represented the old bureaucratic Prussian feudal nobility among this rabble. Roth von Schreckenstein! The surviving title of a vanished novel about robbers and knights by the late Hildebrandt. [136] But Roth von Schreckenstein was merely the feudal setting for the bourgeois jewel. Roth von Schreckenstein in a middle-class government meant this, spelled out in capital letters: the Prussian feudalists, the army and bureaucracy are guided by the newly arisen star, the Prussian middle class. These powerful figures have placed themselves at its disposal, and the middle class has set them up in front of its throne, just as bears were placed in front of the rulers of the people on old heraldic emblems. Roth von Schreckenstein is merely intended to be the bear of the middle-class government.

On June 26 the Hansemann government presented itself to the National Assembly. Its actual existence began in July. The June revolution was the background of the government of action, just as the February revolution formed the background of the government of mediation.

The bloody victory of the Paris bourgeoisie over the proletarians of Paris was used against the people by the Prussian bourgeoisie, just as the bloody victory of the Croats at Vienna was used against the bourgeoisie by the Prussian Crown. The suffering of the Prussian bourgeoisie after the Austrian November was retribution for the suffering of the Prussian people after the French June. In their short- sighted narrow-mindedness the German philistines mistook themselves for the French bourgeoisie. They had overturned no throne, they had not abolished feudal society, still less its last vestiges, they did not have to uphold a society they themselves had created. After the June events, as after those of February, they believed, as they had since the beginning of the sixteenth century-and during the eighteenth century, that they would be able in their traditional crafty money-making manner to pocket three-quarters of the profit produced by someone else's labor. They had no inkling of the fact that behind the French June lurked the Austrian November and behind the Austrian November, the Prussian December. They did not suspect that whereas in France the throne-shattering bourgeoisie was confronted by only one enemy, the proletariat, the Prussian bourgeoisie, grappling with the Crown, possessed only one ally -- the people. Not because these two groups have no hostile and contradictory interests, but because they are still welded together by the same interests in face of a third power which oppresses them both equally.

The Hansemann government regarded itself as a government of the June revolution. In contrast to the "red robbers", the philistines in every Prussian town turned into "respectable republicans", without ceasing to be worthy royalists, and occasionally overlooking the fact that the "reds" wore white-and-black cockades. [137]

In his speech from the throne on June 26, Hansemann gave short shrift to Camphausen's mysteriously nebulous monarchy on the broadest democratic basis".

"Constitutional monarchy based on the two-chamber system and the joint exercise of legislative power by the two chambers and the Crown" -- that was the dry formula to which he reduced the portentous motto of his enthusiastic predecessor.

"Modification of the most essential conditions that are incompatible with the new constitution, liberation of property from the fetters that hamper its most advantageous utilization in a large part of the monarchy, reorganization of the administration of justice, reform of fiscal legislation and particularly annulment of tax exemptions, etc." and above all "strengthening of the state which is necessary for safeguarding the freedom which has been won" (by the citizens) "against reaction" (i.e., using the freedom in the interests of the feudal aristocracy) "and anarchy" (i.e., using the freedom in the interests of the people) "and for restoring the shaken trust"

-- such was the government's programme, the programme of the Prussian bourgeoisie in office, whose classical representative is Hansemann.

In the United Provincial Diet Hansemann was the most bitter and the most cynical adversary of trust, for-"gentlemen, business is. business!" Hansemann in office proclaimed the "restoration of the shaken trust" a foremost necessity, for -- this time he addressed the people as previously he had addressed the throne -- for

"Gentlemen, business is business!"

Previously it was a question of the trust that gives money, this time it was of the trust that makes money; then it was a matter of feudal trust, the sincere trust in God, King and Country, now it was bourgeois trust, trust in trade and commerce, in interest-bearing capital, in the solvency of one's commercial friends, that is, commercial trust; it is not a matter of faith, love or hope, but of credit.

Hansemann's words: "restoration of the shaken trust", expressed the fixed idea of the Prussian bourgeoisie.

Credit depends on the confidence that the exploitation of wage labor by capital, of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, of the petty bourgeois by the big bourgeois, will continue in the traditional manner. Hence any political move of the proletariat, whatever its nature, unless it takes place under the direct command of the bourgeoisie, shakes this trust, impairs credit. "Restoration of the shaken trust" when uttered by Hansemann signifies:

Suppression of every political move of the proletariat and of all social strata whose interests do not completely coincide with the interests of the class which believes itself to be standing at the helm of state.

Hansemann accordingly placed the "strengthening of the state" side by side with the "restoration of the shaken trust". But he mistook the character of this "state". He sought to strengthen the state which served credit and bourgeois trust, but he strengthened the state which demands trust and if necessary extorts this trust with the help of grape-shot, because it has no credit. He wanted to economize on the costs of bourgeois rule but has instead burdened the bourgeoisie with the exorbitant millions which the restoration of Prussian feudal rule costs.

He told the workers quite laconically that he had an excellent remedy for them. But before he could produce it the "shaken trust" must first of all be restored. To restore this trust the working class had to give up all political activity and interference in the business of state and revert to its former habits. If it followed his advice and trust were restored, this mysterious potent remedy would prove effective if only because it would no longer be required or applicable, since in this case the malady itself-the upset of bourgeois law and order-would have been eliminated. And what need is there of a medicine when there is no malady? But if the people obstinately stuck to their purpose, very well, then he would "strengthen the state", the police, the army, the courts, the bureaucracy, and would set his bears on them, for "trust" had become a "business question", and:

"Gentlemen, business is business!"

Hansemann's programme, even though he may smile about it, was an honest programme, a well-intentioned programme.

He wanted to strengthen the power of the state not only against anarchy, that is, against the people, he wanted to strengthen it also against reaction, that is, against the Crown and feudal interests in case they attempted to assert themselves against the bourgeoisie's purse and their "most essential", that is, their most modest, political claims.

The very composition of the government of action expressed a protest against this "reaction".

It differed from all previous Prussian cabinets in that its real Prime Minister was the Minister of Finance. For centuries the Prussian state had carefully concealed the fact that the departments of war, internal and foreign affairs, church and educational matters and even the treasury of the royal household as well as faith, hope and charity depended on profane financial matters. The government of action placed this tiresome bourgeois truth uppermost by placing Herr Hansemann at its head, a man whose ministerial programme like his opposition programme may be summarized in the words:

"Gentlemen, business is business!"

The monarchy in Prussia became a "money affair".

Now let us pass on from the programme of the government of action to its actions.

It really carried out its threat of "strengthening the state" against "anarchy", that is, against the working class and all sections of the middle class who did not stick to the programme of Herr Hansemann. It can even be said that, apart from increasing the tax on beet-sugar and spirits, this reaction against so- called anarchy, i.e., against the revolutionary movement, was the only serious action of this government- of action.

Numerous lawsuits against the press based on Prussian law or, where it did not exist, on the Code penal, [138] numerous arrests on the same "sufficient grounds" (Auerswald's formula), introduction of a system of constables in Berlin [139] at the rate of one constable per every two houses, police interference with the freedom of association, the use of soldiers against unruly citizens and of the Civil Guard against unruly workers, and the introduction, by way of deterrent, of martial law -- all these events of Hansemann's Olympiad are still vividly remembered. No details need be mentioned.

This aspect of the efforts of the government of action was summarized by Kuhlwetter in the following words:

"A state that wants to be really free must have a really large police force as its executive arm",

to which Hansemann muttered one of his usual remarks:

"This would also greatly help to restore trust and revive the rather slack commercial activity."

The government of action accordingly "strengthened" the old Prussian police force, the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the army, who, since they receive their pay from the bourgeoisie, also serve the bourgeoisie, as Hansemann thought. At any rate, they were "strengthened".

On the other hand, the temper of the proletariat and bourgeois democrats is expressed by one event. Because a few reactionaries maltreated a few democrats in Charlottenburg, the people stormed the residence of the Prime Minister in Berlin. So popular had the government of action become. The next day Hansemann tabled a law against riotous gatherings and public meetings. This shows how cunningly he intrigued against reaction.

Thus the actual, tangible, popular activity of the government of action was purely policemanic in character. In the eyes of the proletariat and the urban democrats this cabinet and the Assembly of conciliators, whose majority was represented in the cabinet, and the Prussian bourgeoisie, the majority of whom constituted the majority in the Assembly of conciliation, represented the old, refurbished police and bureaucratic state. To this was added resentment against the bourgeoisie, because it governed and had set up the Civil Guard as an integral part of the police.

The "achievement of the March events", as the people saw it, was that the liberal gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, too, took police duties upon themselves. There was thus a twin police force.

Not the actions of the government of action, but the drafts of its organic laws show clearly that it "strengthened" the "police"-the ultimate expression of the old state-and spurred it into action only in the interest of the bourgeoisie.

In the bills relating to local government, jury, and Civil Guard, introduced by the Hansemann cabinet, property in one form or another always forms the demarcation line between lawful and unlawful territory. All these bills contain the most servile concessions to royal power, for the bourgeois cabinet believed that the wings of royalty had been clipped and that it had become its ally; but as a consolation the ascendancy of capital over labor is all the more ruthlessly emphasized.

The Civil Guard Law approved by the Assembly of conciliation was turned against the bourgeoisie and had to provide a legal pretext for disarming it. According to the fancy of its authors, however, it was to become valid only after the promulgation of the Law on Local Government and of the constitution, that is, after the consolidation of the rule of the bourgeoisie. The experience which the Prussian bourgeoisie gained in connection with the Civil Guard Law may contribute to its enlightenment and show it that for the time being all its actions that are meant to be directed against the people are only directed against itself.

As far as the people are concerned, the Hansemann ministry is in practice epitomized by the old Prussian policeman, and in theory by the offensive Belgian differentiation [140] between bourgeois and non-bourgeois.

Now let us pass on to another section of the ministerial programme, to anarchy against reaction.

In this respect the ministry can boast more pious wishes than real deeds.

Among the pious bourgeois wishes are the partition and sale of demesnes to private owners, the abandonment of banking to free competition, the conversion of the Seehandlung [141] into a private institution, etc.

It was unfortunate for the government of action that all its economic attacks against the feudal party took place under the aegis of a forced loan, and that in general its attempts at reformation were seen by the people merely as financial expedients devised to replenish the treasury of the strengthened "state". Hansemann thus won the hatred of one party without winning the approval of the other. And it has to be admitted that he only ventured to attack feudal privileges when money matters closest to the Minister of Finance, when money matters as understood by the Ministry of Finance, became pressing. In this narrow sense he told the feudal lords:

"Gentlemen, business is business!"

Thus even his positive middle-class efforts directed against the feudalists reveal the same police taint as his negative measures designed to "revive commercial activity". For in the language of political economy the police is called exchequer. The increase in the beet-sugar and liquor duties which Hansemann passed through the National Assembly roused the indignation of the money-bags standing with God for King and Country in Silesia, Brandenburg, Saxony, East and West Prussia, etc. But while this measure angered the industrial landowners in the old Prussian provinces, it caused no less displeasure among the middle-class distillers in the Rhine Province, who perceived that their conditions of competition compared with those of the old Prussian provinces had become even more unfavorable. And to crown all, it angered the workers in the old provinces, for whom it simply meant, and could only mean, a rise in the price of a prime necessity. This measure therefore merely amounted to replenishing the treasury of the "strengthened state". This example suffices, since it is the only action against the feudalists actually taken by the government of action, the only bill of this nature which really became law.

Hansemann's "bills" abrogating all exemptions from graduated and land taxes, [142] and his projected income-tax caused the landowning votaries of "God, King and Country" to rave as if stung by the tarantula. They denounced him as a communist and even today the Prussian Knight of the Cross [An allusion to the Kreuz-Zeitung. -- Ed.] crosses itself three times at the mention of Hansemann's name. That name sounds like Fra Diavolo [143] to it. The repeal of all exemptions from the land-tax, the only important measure to be introduced by a Prussian minister during the glorious reign of the Assembly of conciliators, failed because of the principled narrow-mindedness of the Left. Hansemann himself had justified this narrow-mindedness. Was the Left to provide new financial resources for the cabinet of the "strengthened state" before the completion and promulgation of the constitution?

The bourgeois cabinet par excellence was so unlucky that its most radical measure had to be frustrated by the radical members of the Assembly of conciliators. It was so barren that its whole crusade against feudalism merely resulted in a tax increase, which was equally odious to all classes, and its entire financial acumen brought forth a forced loan: two measures, which ultimately only provided subsidies for the campaign of the counter-revolution against the bourgeoisie. But the feudal aristocrats were convinced of the "nefarious" intentions of the bourgeois cabinet. Thus even the financial struggle of the Prussian bourgeoisie against feudalism merely proved that owing to its unpopularity and impotence it was softly able to collect money against itself and-gentlemen, business is business!

Just as the bourgeois cabinet succeeded in equally offending the urban proletariat, the middle-class democrats and the feudal nobility, so did it manage to alienate and antagonize even the peasants oppressed by feudalism, and in this it was eagerly supported by the Assembly of conciliators. It has to be remembered after all that during half of its existence the Assembly was appropriately represented by the Hansemann cabinet and that the bourgeois martyrs of today were yesterday the train-bearers of Hansemann.

During Hansemann's rule Patio introduced a bill abolishing feudal obligations (see the criticism of it we published earlier). It was a most wretched concoction of the helpless bourgeois desire to abolish feudal privileges, those "conditions that are incompatible with the new constitution", and of bourgeois fear of revolutionarily infringing on any kind of property whatever. Wretched, timid and narrow-minded egoism blinded the Prussian bourgeoisie to such an extent that it repulsed the peasantry, its most needed ally.

On June 3 deputy Hanow moved

"that all pending proceedings which concern landowner-peasant relations and the commutation of services be immediately discontinued at the request of one of the sides until the promulgation of a new law based on just principles."

Not until the end of September, that is, four months later, under the Pfuel cabinet, did the Assembly of conciliation pass a bill designed to discontinue pending proceedings between landowners and peasants, after rejecting all liberal amendments and retaining the "reservation about the provisional establishment of current obligations" and the "collection of dues and arrears in dispute".

In August, if we are not mistaken, the Assembly of conciliators declared that Nenstiel's motion that "labor services be abolished immediately" was not urgent. Could the peasants be expected to consider it an urgent matter for them to take up the cudgels for this Assembly of conciliators, which had thrown them back into conditions worse than those they had actually won after the March events?

The French bourgeoisie began by emancipating the peasants. Together with the peasants it conquered Europe. The Prussian bourgeoisie was so preoccupied with its most narrow, immediate interests that it foolishly lost even this ally and turned it into a tool of the feudal counter-revolutionaries.

The official history of the dissolution of the middle-class cabinet is well known.

Under its protective arm, the "state" was "strengthened" to such an extent and the popular energy so weakened that even on July 15 the Dioscuri Kuhlwetter and Hansemann were obliged to send a warning against reactionary machinations of civil servants, and especially chiefs of rural districts, to all district governors in the monarchy; that later an "Assembly of the nobility and big landowners for the protection" of their privileges [144] met in Berlin alongside the Assembly of conciliators; and that finally, in opposition to the so-called Berlin National Assembly, a "diet of local communities for the protection of the threatened property rights of landlords", a body originating in the Middle Ages, was convoked in Upper Lusatia on September 4.

The energy expended by the government and the so-called National Assembly against these increasingly menacing counter-revolutionary symptoms found adequate expression in paper admonitions. The bourgeois cabinet reserved bayonets, bullets, prisons and constables exclusively for the people "so as to restore the shaken trust and revive commercial activity".

The incidents at Schweidnitz, [145] where the troops in fact murdered the bourgeoisie in the person of the Civil Guard, finally roused the National Assembly from its apathy. On August 9 it braced itself for a heroic deed, that of the Stein-Schultze army order, [146] whose most drastic measure of coercion was an appeal to the tact of the Prussian officers. A measure of coercion indeed! Did not royalist honor forbid the officers to follow the dictates of bourgeois honor?

On September 7, a month after the Assembly of conciliators had passed the Stein-Schultze army order, it once more decided that its resolution was a real resolution and should be carried out by the ministers. Hansemann refused to do this and resigned on September 11, after having appointed himself a bank director at a yearly salary of 6,000 thaler, for -- gentlemen, business is business!

Finally, on September 25, the Assembly of conciliators gratefully agreed to Pfuel's thoroughly watered- down formula of acceptance of the Stein-Schultze army order, which by that time-Wrangel's parallel army order [147] and the large number of troops concentrated around Berlin had turned into a bad joke.

A mere glance at these dates and the history of the Stein-Schultze army order suffices to show that the army order was not the real reason for Hansemann's resignation. Is it likely that Hansemann, who did not shy at recognizing the revolution, should have shied at this paper proclamation? Are we to believe that Hansemann, who, whenever the portfolio slipped from his fingers, always picked it up again, has this time, in a fit of virtuous exasperation, left it on the ministerial benches to be hawked about? No, our Hansemann is no fanatic. Hansemann was simply deceived, just as in general he was the representative of the deceived bourgeoisie. He was given to understand that on no account would he be dropped by the Crown. He was made to lose his last semblance of popularity in order that the Crown should at last be able to sacrifice him to the malice of the country squires and get rid of this middle-class tutelage. Moreover, the plan of campaign agreed upon with Russia and Austria required that the cabinet should be headed by a general appointed by the camarilla from outside the Assembly of conciliators. The old "state" had been sufficiently "strengthened" under the bourgeois cabinet to venture on this coup.

Pfuel was a mistake. The victory of the Croats at Vienna made even a Brandenburg a useful tool.

Under the Brandenburg cabinet the Assembly of conciliators was ignominiously dispersed, fooled, derided, humiliated and hunted, and the people, at the decisive moment, remained indifferent. The defeat of the Assembly was the defeat of the Prussian bourgeoisie, of the constitutionalists, hence a victory for the democratic party, however dear it had to pay for that victory.

And the imposed constitution?

It had once been said that never would a "piece of paper" be allowed to come between the King and his people. [148] Now it is said, there shall only be a piece of paper between the King and his people. The real constitution of Prussia is the state of siege. The imposed French constitution had only one article -- the 14th, which invalidated it. [149] Every article of the imposed Prussian constitution is an article 14.

By means of this constitution the Crown imposes new privileges-that is, upon itself.

It permits itself to dissolve the Chambers indefinitely. It permits ministers in the interim to issue any desired law (even those affecting property and so forth). It permits deputies to impeach ministers for such actions, but at the risk, under martial law, of being classed as "internal enemies". Finally, it permits itself, should the stock of the counter-revolution go up in the spring, to replace this nebulous "piece of paper" by a Christian-Germanic Magna Charta organically growing out of the distinctions of the medieval estates, or to drop the constitutional game altogether. Even in this case the conservative bourgeois would fold their hands and pray:

"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!"

The history of the Prussian middle class, and that of the German middle class in general between March and December shows that a purely middle-class revolution and the establishment of bourgeois rule in the form of a constitutional monarchy is impossible in Germany, and that the only alternatives are either a feudal absolutist counter-revolution or a social republican revolution.

The viable section of the bourgeoisie is bound to awake again from its apathy -- this is guaranteed above all by the staggering bill which the counter-revolution will present it with in the spring and, as our Hansemann so thoughtfully says:

Gentlemen, business is business!