Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung January 1849
Translated: by the Marx-Engels Institute;
Written: by Engels on January 4, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 187, January 4, 1849;
Transcribed: by firstname.lastname@example.org, 1994.
Cologne, January 4. In England, where the rule of the bourgeoisie has reached the highest stage of development, public charity too, as we know, has assumed the most noble and magnanimous forms. In England's workhouses- those public institutions where the redundant labor population is allowed to vegetate at the expense of bourgeois society -- charity is cunningly combined with the revenge which the bourgeoisie wreaks on the wretches who are compelled to appeal to its charity. Not only do the poor devils receive the bare and most meagre means of subsistence, hardly sufficient for physical reproduction, their activity, too, is restricted to a form of revolting, unproductive, meaningless drudgery, such as work at the treadmill, which deadens both mind and body. These unfortunate people have committed the crime of having ceased to be an object of exploitation yielding a profit to the bourgeoisie -- as is the case in ordinary life -- and having become instead an object of expenditure for those born to derive benefit from them; like so many barrels of alcohol which, left unsold in the warehouse, become an object of expenditure to the dealer. To bring home to them the full magnitude of their crime, they are deprived of everything that is granted to the lowest criminal-association with their wives and children, recreation, talk-everything. Even this "cruel charity" is due not to enthusiasm but to thoroughly practical and rational reasons. On the one hand, if all the paupers in Great Britain were suddenly thrown into the street, bourgeois order and commercial activity would suffer to an alarming extent. On the other hand, British industry has alternate periods of feverish over-production, when the demand for hands can hardly be satisfied, and the hands are nevertheless to be obtained as cheaply as possible, followed by periods of slack business, when production is far larger than consumption and it is difficult to find useful employment even at half pay for half the labor army. Is there a more ingenious device than the workhouse for maintaining a reserve army in readiness for the favorable periods while converting them in these pious institutions during unfavorable commercial periods into unresisting machines without will, without aspirations and requirements?
The Prussian bourgeoisie differs favorably from the English bourgeoisie, since it opposes British political arrogance reminiscent of pagan Rome with Christian humility and meekness and cringes in worshipful reverence before throne, altar, army, bureaucracy and feudalism; instead of displaying the commercial energy which conquers whole continents, it engages in Chinese pedantry appropriate to imperial citizens, and tries to confound the impetuous titanic spirit of inventiveness in industry by clinging staunchly and virtuously to the traditional semi-guild routine. But the Prussian bourgeoisie approaches its British ideal in one respect -- in its shameless maltreatment of the working class. That, as a body, it in general lags behind the British bourgeoisie, is due simply to the fact that, on the whole, as a national class, it has never achieved anything of importance and never will, because of its lack of courage, intelligence and energy. It does not exist on a national scale, it exists only in provincial, municipal, local, private forms, and in these forms it confronts the working class even more ruthlessly than the English bourgeoisie. Why is it that since the Restoration the people longed for Napoleon, whom they had just before that chained to a lonely rock in the Mediterranean? Because it is easier to endure the tyranny of a genius than that of an idiot. Thus the English worker can feel a certain national pride in face of the German worker, because the master who enslaves him enslaves the whole world, whereas the master of the German worker, the German bourgeois is himself everybody's servant, and nothing is more galling and humiliating than to be the servant of a servant.
We publish here without any alterations the "Worker's Card", which proletarians engaged on municipal works have to sign in the good city of Cologne; this historical document shows the impudence with which our bourgeoisie treats the working class.
S 1. Every worker must strictly obey the instructions and orders of all municipal supervisors, who have been sworn in as police officers. Disobedience and insubordination will entail immediate dismissal.
S 2. No worker is allowed to move from one section to another or to leave the building-site without the special permission of the supervisor.
S 3. Workers purloining wheelbarrows, carts or other equipment from another section in order to use them in their work will be dismissed.
S 4. Drunkenness, disturbance of the peace, and the starting of squabbles, quarrels and fights entail immediate dismissal. -- In appropriate cases moreover legal proceedings will be taken against the culprits.
S 5. A worker arriving ten minutes late at his place of work will be given no work on that particular half day; if this should occur three times he may be debarred from work.
S 6. If workers are dismissed at their own request or by way of punishment, they will receive their wages at the next regular pay-day in accordance with the work done.
S 7. A worker's dismissal is noted in the Worker's Card. -- Should the dismissal be by way of punishment, the worker, according to the circumstances, is barred from re-employment either at the same place of work or at all municipal works.
S 8. The police are always to be informed when workers are dismissed by way of punishment and of the reasons for their dismissal.
S 9. Should workers have any complaints to make against the building site supervisor, these are to be lodged with the town surveyor through an elected delegation of three workers. This officer will examine the cause of the complaint on the spot and give his decision.
S 10. The working hours are from six thirty in the morning to twelve noon and from one o'clock in the afternoon till evening darkness sets in. (Wonderful style!)
S 11. The worker is employed on these conditions.
S 12. Payment is made on the building-site on Saturday afternoon.
The sworn building-site supervisor, for the present [...] whose instructions have to be obeyed.
} of the worker Assigned to section of...
or sign } and has, etc.
Signature of the building-site
Could the Russian edicts of the Autocrat of all the Russias be couched in more Asiatic terms?
The municipal, and even "all municipal supervisors, who have been sworn in as police officers", must be "strictly obeyed". "Disobedience and insubordination will entail immediate dismissal." That is first of all passive obedience. Then, according to S 9, the workers have the right t complain to "the town surveyor". The decisions of this pasha are irrevocable and directed, of course, against the workers, if only for hierarchical reasons. And once this decision has been taken and the municipal interdict laid upon the workers, woe to them, for they will then be placed under police surveillance. The last semblance of bourgeois freedom disappears, for, according to S 8, " the police are always to be informed when workers are dismissed by way of punishment and of the reasons for their dismissal".
But gentlemen, if you dismiss a worker, if you terminate a contract by which he gives his labor for your wages, what on earth has the police to do with this cancellation of a civil agreement? Is the municipal worker a convict? Have you denounced him to the police because he did not pay due deference to you, his hereditary, most wise and noble-minded masters? Would you not deride the citizen who denounced you to the police for having broken some delivery contract, or failed to pay a bill when it was due, or drunk too much on New-Year's eve? Of course you would! But as regards the worker you are bound by no civil agreement, you lord it over him with the caprice of the lords by the grace of God! You make the police, on your behalf, keep a record of his conduct.
Under S 5, a worker arriving ten minutes late is punished with the loss of half a day's labor. What a punishment in comparison with the offense! You are centuries late, but the worker is not allowed to arrive ten minutes after half past six without losing half a working day,
Finally, in order that this patriarchal arbitrariness should not be in any way restricted and the worker be entirely dependent on your whim, you have left the mode of punishment, as far as possible, to the discretion of your uniformed servants. Dismissal and denunciation to the police is, according to S 4, to be followed in "appropriate cases", that is, in cases which you will be pleased to regard as appropriate, by "legal proceedings against the culprits". Under S 5, the worker who arrives late for the third time, i.e., ten minutes after half past six, "may" be debarred altogether. In case of dismissal by way of punishment, S 7 states, the worker, "according to the circumstances, is barred from re-employment either at the same place of work or at all municipal works", and so on and so forth.
What scope for the whims of the annoyed bourgeois is given in this criminal code of our municipal Catos, these great men who grovel before Berlin!
This model law shows what sort of Charter our bourgeoisie, if it stood at the helm of state, would impose on the people.