Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung January 1849

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

Montesquieu LVI

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 202
Translated by the Marx-Engels Institute
Transcribed for the Internet by, 1994

Cologne, January 21. With the sly petty cunning of an experienced horse-dealer, Montesquieu LVI seeks to sell the "gift horse", the imposed constitution, to the primary voters. He is the Montesquieu of the horse-fair.

Anyone not wanting the imposed constitution wants a republic, and not just a republic, but a red republic! Unfortunately, the issue in our elections is least of all a republic, or a red republic; it is simply this:

Do you want the old absolutism together with a refurbished system of social estates, or do you want a bourgeois system of representation? Do you want a political constitution in keeping with the "existing social relations" of past centuries, or do you want a political constitution in keeping with the "existing social relations" of your century?

In this case, therefore, it is least of all a matter of fighting against bourgeois property relations similar to the struggle that is taking place in France and is in the offing in England; rather it is a question of a struggle against a political constitution which endangers "bourgeois property relations" by surrendering the helm of state to the representatives of "feudal property relations", to the King by the grace of God, the army, the bureaucracy, the country squires, and a few financial magnates and philistines who are allied with them.

Beyond a doubt, the imposed constitution has solved the social question in keeping with the views of these gentlemen.

What is the "social question" as understood by the civil servant? It is the maintenance of his salary and his present position, which is superior to the people.

What is the "social question" as understood by the nobility and its big landowners? It is the maintenance of the hitherto existing feudal rights of the landowners, seizure of the most lucrative posts in the army and civil service by the families of the landed nobility, and finally direct alms from the public purse. Apart from these palpable material and therefore "most sacred" interests of the gentlemen "with God for King and Country", it is for them, of course, also a question of preserving those social privileges which distinguish their species from the inferior species of the bourgeois, peasants and plebeians. The old National Assembly was dispersed because it dared to touch these c 4 most sacred interests". As we have already indicated, these gentlemen, by "revision" of the imposed constitution, understand simply the introduction of a system of social estates, that is to say, a form of political constitution representing the "social" interests of the feudal aristocracy, the bureaucracy and the monarchy by the grace of God.

We repeat, there is not the slightest doubt that the imposed constitution solves the "social question" according to the ideas of the aristocracy and bureaucracy, in other words, it presents these gentlemen with a form of government which ensures the exploitation of the people by these demigods.

But has the imposed constitution solved the "social question" from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie? In other words, does the bourgeoisie receive a political form enabling it freely to run matters concerning its class as a whole, i.e., the interests of commerce, industry and agriculture, to make the most productive use of public funds, to manage the state apparatus as cheaply as possible, to protect national labor effectively abroad, and within the country to open up all springs of national wealth silted by feudal mud?

Does history provide a single example showing that under a king imposed by the grace of God, the bourgeoisie ever succeeded in attaining a form of government in keeping with its material interests?

In order to establish a constitutional monarchy it was twice compelled to get rid of the Stuarts in Britain, and the hereditary Bourbons in France and to expel William of Orange from Belgium. [158]

What is the reason?

A hereditary king by the grace of God is not a particular individual but the physical representative of the old society within the new society. Political power in the hands of a king by the grace of God is political power in the hands of the old society existing now merely as a ruin; it is political power in the hands of the feudal estates, whose interests are profoundly antagonistic to those of the bourgeoisie.

But it is the "King by the grace of God" who forms the basis of the imposed constitution. 

Just as the feudal strata of society regard the monarchy by divine right as their political apex, so does the monarchy by divine right regard the feudal estates as its social foundation, the well-known "monarchical wall".

Therefore, whenever the interests of the feudal lords and of the army and bureaucracy controlled by them clash with the interests of the bourgeoisie, the monarchy by divine right will invariably be impelled to a coup d'etat and a revolutionary or counter-revolutionary crisis will arise.

Why was the National Assembly ejected? Only because it upheld the interests of the bourgeoisie as against the interests of feudalism; because it wanted to abolish feudal relations, which impede agriculture, to subordinate the army and bureaucracy to trade and industry, to stop the squandering of public funds and abolish aristocratic and bureaucratic titles. 

All these matters chiefly and directly affected the interests of the bourgeoisie. 

Thus, coup d'etats and counter-revolutionary crises are vital to the existence of the monarchy by the grace of God, which the March and similar events compelled to eat humble pie and reluctantly to accept a pseudo-bourgeois monarchy. 

Can credit ever revive again under a form of government whose inevitable climax are coup d'etats, counter-revolutionary crises and states of siege?

What a delusion!

Bourgeois industry must burst the chains of absolutism and feudalism. A revolution against both only demonstrates that bourgeois industry has reached a level when it must either secure an appropriate political form or perish.

The system of bureaucratic tutelage consolidated by the imposed constitution spells death for industry. It is sufficient to look at the Prussian administration of mines, the factory regulations, etc. When an English manufacturer compares his costs of production. with those of a Prussian manufacturer, he will always first of all note the time losses which the Prussian manufacturer incurs because he has to observe bureaucratic rules.

What sugar-refiner does not remember the Prussian trade agreement with the Netherlands in 1839? [159] What Prussian factory owner does not blush at the memory of 1846, when the Prussian government in deference to the Austrian government banned exports to Galicia for a whole province, and when one bankruptcy after another occurred in Breslau the Prussian government declared with astonishment that it had had no idea that so important an export trade was carried with Galicia, etc.!

Men of the same type are placed at the helm of state by the imposed constitution, and this "gift" itself comes from the same men. Consequently, examine it twice.

The Galicia adventure draws our attention to another point.

At that time the counter-revolutionary Prussian government in league with Austria and Russia sacrificed Silesian industry and Silesian trade. This maneuver will be constantly repeated. The banker of the Prussian-Austrian-Russian counter-revolution, from which the monarchy by the grace of God with its monarchical walls will always have to seek outside support, is England. The same England is German industry's most dangerous opponent. These two facts, we believe, speak for themselves.

At home, an industry fettered by bureaucracy and an agriculture fettered by feudal privileges; abroad, a trade sold by the counter-revolution to England -- such is the fate of Prussia's national wealth under the aegis of the imposed constitution.

The report of the "Financial Commission" of the dispersed National Assembly has thrown sufficient light on the divine management of national wealth.

The report however mentions only by way of example the sums taken from the treasury to support the tottering monarchical walls and gild foreign pretenders to the absolute monarchy (Don Carlos). But this money, purloined from the pockets of the rest of the citizens to enable the aristocracy to live in appropriate style and to keep the "pillars" of the feudal monarchy well buttressed, is only of secondary importance compared with the state budget imposed simultaneously with Manteuffel's constitution. The main features of the imposed state budget are, first of all, a strong army to enable the minority to rule the majority; as large an army as possible of officials so that as many of them as possible, by virtue of their private interests, are alienated from the common interest; unproductive employment of public funds in order that wealth, as the Neue Preussische Zeitung says, should not make the subjects presumptuous; immobilization wherever possible of public funds instead of employing them in industry in order that at predictable moments of crisis the government by divine right independently confront the people. The basic principle of the imposed Prussian constitution is to use the taxes for maintaining the state as an oppressive, independent and sacred force contraposed to industry, commerce and agriculture, instead of degrading it by turning it into a profane tool of bourgeois society.

The gift is worthy of the donor. The constitution is of a piece with the present Prussian government that presented it. To get an idea of this government's hostility towards the bourgeoisie it is sufficient to point to its proposed trade regulations. On the pretext of advancing towards association the government attempts to return to the guild system. Competition compels the manufacturer to produce as cheaply as possible and therefore on a constantly increasing scale, i.e., with more capital, with a continuously expanding division of labor and constantly increasing use of machinery. Every new division of labor depreciates the traditional skill of the craftsmen, every new machine ousts hundreds of workers, production on a - larger scale, that. is, with more capital, ruins small trade and petty-bourgeois enterprise. The government promises to protect the handicrafts against the factories, acquired skills against division of labor, and small capital against big capital, by means of feudal guild practices. Thus, the German nation, particularly the Prussian, which is barely able to withstand English competition, is to become its defenseless prey, forced to accept a form of trade organization that is incompatible with modern means of production and is already burst wide open by modern industry.

We are certainly the last people to desire the rule of the bourgeoisie. We were the first in Germany to raise our voice against the bourgeoisie when today's "men of action" were spending their time complacently in petty squabbles.

But we say to the workers and the petty bourgeois: it is better to suffer in the contemporary bourgeois society, whose industry creates the means for the foundation of a new society that will liberate you all, than to revert to a bygone society, which, on the pretext of saving your classes, thrusts the entire nation back into medieval barbarism.

But medieval estates and conditions are, as we have seen, the social foundation of the government by the grace of God. This government is unsuitable for modern bourgeois society. It necessarily tries to create a society in its own image. It is entirely consistent, when it attempts to replace free competition by the guild system, mechanical spinning by the spinning-wheel and the steam plough by the hoe.

Why is it then that, under these circumstances, the Prussian bourgeoisie, in contrast to its French, English and Belgian predecessors, proclaims as its shibboleth the imposed constitution (and with it the monarchy by divine right, the bureaucracy and the landowning nobility)?

The commercial and industrial sections of the bourgeoisie throw themselves into the arms of the counter- revolution for fear of the revolution. As though counter-revolution were not the overture to revolution.

There is moreover a section of the bourgeoisie that, quite indifferent to the interests of its class as a whole, pursues its own particular interests, which may even be inimical to those of its class.

These are financial magnates, big creditors of the state, bankers, and rentiers, whose wealth increases proportionately to the poverty of the people, and finally men whose business depends on the old political structure, e.g., Dumont and his literary lumpenproletariat. These are also ambitious professors, lawyers and similar persons, who can only hope to obtain respectable posts in a state where betrayal of the people's interests to the government is a lucrative business.

These are certain manufacturers who do well out of their transactions with the government; contractors whose considerable profits depend on the general exploitation of the people; philistines who would lose their importance if political life were conducted on a larger scale; local councilors who under cover of the old institutions arrange their private shady affairs at the expense of the public; oil-merchants who at the price of their betrayal of the revolution have become Excellencies and Knights of the Eagle; bankrupt cloth-merchants and speculators in railway-shares who have become royal bank directors, [160] etc., etc.

"It is they who are the advocates of the imposed constitution." If the bourgeoisie has a sympathetic heart for these poor brothers and if it wants to be worthy of the respect of Montesquieu LVI, then it should elect delegates in keeping with the imposed constitution.