Franz Mehring

Absolutism and Revolution in Germany



The class struggles of the German Revolution

The 18th of March

German romanticism had degenerated completely in the course of the 1840s. Incapable of creation, it was helpless in the face of the new developing forces of industry and trade. Its last rites were adminstered in the long royal speech with which the King of Prussia greeted the United Landtag in 1847. The increasing dissatisfaction of the educated and trading classes and, much more important, that importunate persuader, a shortage of money, had forced him to unite the Landtage of the eight Provinces together into one body. With that, he was satisfied that he had fulfilled his father’s old promises of a constitution.

The United Landtag was not intended to be a modern parliament but a feudal assembly of the Estates, and that is what it was. The members of the eight provincial Landtage were divided into two houses, a House of Lords which consisted of 72 members of the great aristocracy, and a House of the Three Estates in which the knights had 231 seats, the towns 182 and the peasants 120. The powers of the Landtag were limited to the approval of loans in times of peace and the approval of new or increased taxes, and in addition the consideration of draft new laws, should the Crown condescend to place such proposals before them. In his royal speech the King swore that no power on earth would ever succeed in making him a constitutional monarch; he would absolutely never permit, he said, a written sheet of paper to thrust itself between his Lord God in Heaven and his country like a second Providence, to rule with its paragraphs and to replace the old loyalty with them. He explained ‘the very brief meaning of the very long speech’ not nearly so romantically but much more succinctly and clearly in a confidential letter to his friend Bunsen in the following terms: one would have to be a seven-fold ox (1) to demand a constitution and (2) an even bigger ox to give a constitution if there already was one. The Crown Prince of Prussia, as Heir Apparent, took the same amiable attitude, but more logically. He thought that the United Landtag itself marked the downfall of the old Prussia.

Nevertheless, for all his reactionary narrow-mindedness, he had a healthier instinct than his gifted brother and a healthier instinct than the ideologists of the bourgeoisie, who simply shrugged their shoulders contemptuously at this fulfilment of their old ideals, and in part advised against the acceptance of that kind of constitution. In this they found no ready listeners in their class, who also had their healthy instinct. Round-shouldered and tame as they were, and moreover terrified by the first confused signs of life on the part of the proletariat, they were content both with what the King offered and with the way he offered it. Together with bourgeoisified elements of the nobility who, through their involvement in agrarian-industrial commodity production, had been forced into the sphere of interest of the big bourgeoisie, and with behind them many of the large and middle peasants, who represented the peasant class in this corporation of the Estates, the bourgeoisie formed the liberal opposition in the United Landtag. With his inspired phrase, ‘Money matters are no joke,’ Hansemann simply threw the kindly romanticism of the King’s speech out of the window. The Landtag kept its hands on the purse-strings. It did not simply want to be what they used to call a ’pumping-station’ for bankrupt absolutism and declared itself incompetent to approve the requested loan of some twenty million talers for the construction of the eastern railway until it had secured periodic recall and extended its rights. On this issue the Landtag quarrelled with the King, without particularly worrying about it. They knew he would have to come back to them.

The storm of world history, however, soon burst upon this Prussian idyll. A series of bad harvests and the great trade crisis of 1847 convulsed Europe. All that was rotten in the structure fell apart. The Parisian workers smashed the throne of Louis hilippe [88] and in the metropolis of the world market, Chartism raised its mighty head. [89] For the first time the modern working class appeared in a bourgeois revolution with independent demands. A flesh and blood proletariat sat in the provisional government of the French republic. ‘It was not just a flash of lightning like 1830. This was the storm of forty-eight.’ Thus the German poet, Freiligrath, celebrated the advance of the February revolution over the July revolution. The storm raged through Europe to the very borders of Russia. The uprising of the Western European proletariat was answered by the heroic independence struggles of the oppressed nations, the Irish, the Poles, the Italians and the Hungarians. [90]

In Germany, the first breath of this revolutionary wind from the West swept away a mass of old rubbish. In all the small and medium-sized states the thronelets tottered. Their occupants rushed to find supporting caryatids in the shape of the liberal ministers of March. In the process they were pleasantly surprised to find that it was easier to rule through these fine fellows than through cloth-eared bureaucrats and stiff-necked Junkers. Their joint gaoler, the Federal Diet (Bundestag), already capitulated at the beginning of March and hoisted the Black-Red-Gold flag as the official banner of Germany, the very flag that it had so often execrated and despised, for whose sake it had wiped out hundreds and thousands of men in the prime of their lives. But it only sank the more quickly under the weight of general scorn. On March 5, fifty-one liberals, mainly South Germans, with only four Rhenish Prussians and one Austrian among them, met in Heidelberg and called on men enjoying the confidence of the public from all over Germany to Frankfurt-am-Main to ‘offer the Fatherland and its rulers their collaboration’ for the most rapid possible convocation of a German Parliament.

All this only had political currency in the airy realm of dreams. The real decision lay in Vienna and even more in Berlin. As long as the Austrian Monarchy was immobilized by the national revolutions in its own bosom and by the general squabbles of its various national components, the Prussian state – with all its institutions and traditions, its absolutism and its feudalism, its army and its bureaucracy – was the German revolution’s only serious domestic opponent. In addition, Prussia was the leading state in the German Zollverein (customs union), and however hated the Prussian straitjacket was in Germany, the working class was starting to stir, and the German bourgeoisie had become accustomed to seeing the Zollverein as the means to achieving German unity, something they needed more and more as time went on. Once the French workers cleared away the Citizen King [91] with their fists, the slow but sure methods of the United Landtag became impossible. On the other hand, while a victorious revolution in Prussia offered a much quicker process, it could well sweep away at a stroke all the liberal glory of March in the small and medium-sized states.

For the time being, the Prussia of the Vormärz (the period of reaction between the Congress of Vienna and the revolution of March 1848) had no intention of making even the modest concessions which would have satisfied the bourgeoisie’s demands. It relied on its army and other despotic resources, and the bourgeois class of the capital – a bourgeoisie that was still very young and a petty bourgeoisie that was forward in words but backward in deeds – did not oppose it in any terrifying form. Its first pronouncements in March were dictated less by love of freedom than by fear of the proletariat: a placatory article in the Vossische Zeitung of March 7 urging workers not to be seduced by the revolution in France from the conviction that they were always better off in the lap of capitalism, and a decision by the town councillors on March 9 to do somewhat more for the working classes than they had previously. They proposed to collect money from the more prosperous citizens to fund public works. On the same day, after endlessly long preparations, a municipal labour exchange was opened, at which six to seven thousand unemployed workers immediately registered, without more than a single one of them being referred to a job.

In all other things, the Crown thought the bourgeois opposition could be silenced by granting the United Landtag periodic recall, by convening it for April 27, and by promising in addition to make representations to the Federal Diet in favour of press freedom and to Metternich [92] in favour of German unity. These wonderful promises did indeed arouse the highest enthusiasm of the Berlin philistines, whose newspaper-in-ordinary, the Vossische Zeitung and whose chosen representatives, the town councillors, trembled with ‘happy gratitude’ as ‘friends of prudent progress’ at such marvellous concessions. Naturally the Berlin proletariat was not satisfied with such meagre fare. Under-developed and immature as this class still was, it nevertheless provided the driving force for the great popular meetings that were held at the town gates. These meetings were already demanding not only freedom of the press and of association but also all the other civil liberties, guaranteed work and an Employment Ministry.

The Crown imagined – this was its downfall – that it could make short work of this opposition too. It tolerated the first few popular meetings, but then had them broken up by force of arms, had the masses beaten up and shot on the way home, and generally flooded the streets of the town with the military. The Guard had earlier been harangued in its barracks by the Prince of Prussia, and its fanatical bloodlust grew so quickly that in the end they were cutting down even completely harmless people who ventured onto the streets. This slaughter was repeated on March 13, 14 and 15. At first the bourgeois class watched unmoved, and even closed their doors to the fleeing victims of the soldiers’ fury. But when even ‘the quietest citizens’ were indiscriminately put to the sword, they became rebellious.

The news that, on March 13, the population of Vienna had overthrown Metternich’s system and expelled its chief fell like a spark onto this accumulated fuel. Now at last the government felt the flames burning their own fingers. Their realization was lent wings by a delegation that arrived under the leadership of the Rhenish Oberpräsident from Cologne and indicated fairly bluntly that unless they introduced out immediate reforms, they could reckon on the Rhineland seceding. Two Letters Patent were therefore hurriedly decreed, one of which was dated March 17 and the other March 18. The former promised conditional press freedom, the latter the convening of the United Landtag on April 2 with a general programme that provided for a federal German state under Prussian domination and a constitution for Prussia. Both Letters Patent were signed by the hated ministers of the Vormärz government.

Meanwhile the revolution in Vienna had aroused a feeling of profound shame in the Berlin population. That the ‘city of the Intellect’, adept at rolling out high-sounding phrases like silken cloth, should inferior in political insight and energy to the despised city of fleshpots on the Danube, was too bitter a pill. It was precisely the most peaceful elements, the Civic Guard – which the municipal authorities had set up a few days previously to pacify ‘troublemakers’ – who decided to organize a peaceful mass meeting at midday on March 18 in front of the royal palace, the Schloss, to demand of the King: withdrawal of military forces, the organization of an armed Civil Guard, the grant of unconditional press freedom and rapid convocation of the United Landtag. The fourth of these points was completely conceded in the Letters Patent, and the third point partially. The second point, at least in the opinion of the vast majority of its originators, was in no sense intended to arm the people against the army, but to form a voluntary gendarmerie against the rebels from among the roll of citizens, in order to make it possible to answer the first demand, in importance as well as in its position in the list -the withdrawal of the military. This was the main point of the planned meeting. Fortunately it was the Vormärz despotism itself that exhausted the endless patience of its Vormärz subjects, with the military massacres, with the feeling that they were letting themselves be slaughtered like a herd of sheep at the whim of an oriental despot.

The revolution broke out over these points. At noon on March 18 masses of people filled the square in front of the Schloss. It is true they applauded the announcement of the Letters Patent, but they had been cheated by the pompous phrases of the romantic King and his feudal, bureaucratic ministry too often to be fooled over the decisive point of the whole situation. When, at gates of the Schloss, the Justice Minister, Savigny, argued with the jostling crowd that the King had granted more than had ever been demanded, a worker told him: ‘Old man, you don’t understand, he has given nothing’ – a remark which contains more historic sense than the whole of the Historical School put together. Calls for the withdrawal of the military became louder and louder, despite the King’s attempts to silence them from the balcony, and they swelled to a storm when a squadron of dragoons moved from the Tiltyard, and a company of infantry from the Schloss itself, to clear the square of people. Two shots from the ranks of the infantry then gave the signal for street fighting to commence.

The wearisome debate whether these shots were discharged accidentally, whether the Prince of Prussia did or did not give the order for the army to intervene, and all the rest of it, is completely incidental. It is possible that coincidence played a part in the discharge of the two muskets. It is even possible that the Prince of Prussia, who is generally held to be the instigator of the army’s intervention and earned the suspicion amply enough by his inflammatory speeches to the troops in their barracks, was not weaving his reactionary intrigues at that moment. The mighty collision was inevitable as soon as the withdrawal of the military became a question of practical burning importance on which neither of the two opposing sides could or would give way. If it had not happened under these accidental circumstances it would have happened under other accidental circumstances.

It is equally idle to argue over who won in the thirteen hours of fighting that followed. Victory in war means imposing one’s will on a resisting opponent and we do not see why this simple logic, which is presented to every Prussian schoolboy in the battles of old Blucher and ‘Old Fritz’, should not apply in the struggle between the Crown and the people. On the morning of March 19, the King withdrew the troops from the town, something which he had obstinately refused to do, at the risk of provoking street-fighting, on the afternoon of the 18th. It has been said on countless occasions by right-thinking historians that the order to withdraw the troops was given without any urgent reason and in a manner that has never been explained. But a military leadership whose decisive orders come, God knows why and from God knows who, is beaten not once but thrice. In fact, in the night of March 18-19, 1848, the old Prussia collapsed helplessly under the weight of its sins brought down on its head by the mighty blow of revolution.

The soldiers had been whipped up to the point where they waged the street fighting with great cruelty. Even patriotic veterans of the wars of liberation said that it put the Prussian Army to shame. The youths and men on the barricades on the other hand fought with gay and persistent courage with good-humoured humanity, a fact confirmed by all impartial witnesses and involuntarily conceded here and there in military reports. Despite their entirely inadequate armament, they were able to make things so hot for the 14,000 troops and 36 cannon that they faced that at 5 a.m the military commander ordered his exhausted troops to stop fighting. The fighters on the barricades drew ever-renewed strength from the sympathy of the population. There is no doubt that the spring storm of that March night raised the nucleus of the petty bourgeoisie above the narrow horizon of its usual peaceful outlook.

But the main burden of the fighting rested upon the proletariat. Among the 183 civilian dead who were buried in solemn procession on March 22 there was one young lawyer and two students, one of whom had not even taken part in the fighting but had been murdered by the blood-thirsty soldiers. The mass of the dead consisted of craftsmen, a few of whom were described in the lists as masters, but very many as journeymen, of workmen, mechanics, clerks and apprentices. That the 33 unclaimed corpses belonged exclusively to the working class is obvious. It was on these unknown victims that the reaction later pinned the infamous slander that the fighters of March 18 were foreign agents, rogues and criminals. They failed to prove any of it, and failed, despite all their efforts, to find among the recognised corpses or among the 700 prisoners a single agent, rogue or criminal, or even anyone with a criminal record, although in the Berlin of the Vörmarz even smoking on the street could lead to a criminal indictment. ‘It is frequently claimed that, among the dead, there were several dozen known thieves. There were obviously not going to be state councillors in their number! If that claim really were true, then those men were honoured by such a death.’ Thus Gneist [93], himself a Geiheimrat, deals with that impudent allegation.

The Prince of Prussia left the city with the troops and fled in disguise to London, after what one can only describe as heroic adventures. The most hated of the former ministers and a mass of waverers from among the top ten thousand also left Berlin. The King entrusted Count Arnim with the formation of a new ministry, a big landowner with occasional liberal tendencies. However, no-one was keen to grasp the trailing reins of government. Boundless confusion reigned in the Schloss and a growing crowd jostled and pushed in its courtyard. From every part of the town, driven by a common instinct, the fighters from the barricades streamed in through the portals. With their victorious weapons in their hands and their faces still glowing from the fight, they bore on their shoulders the biers with the corpses of their fallen brothers, their wounds laid bare, their bloody foreheads adorned by women’s hands with laurel and immortelles. In silence the crowd received them, with quivering lips and flowing tears; the firm tread of the bearers alone echoed in the courtyard, and from time to time the name of one of the fallen was called out loud by the bearers: ‘Father of five small children’; ‘Hit by grapeshot on the barricade at the Köllner Rathaus’; ‘Cut down without mercy after he had surrendered’; ‘Fifteen years old, shot down by my side, my only son’. And then there burst over the Hohenzollern a judgement such as no Stuart and no Capet suffered even on the steps of the scaffold, a judgement whose shattering power has been preserved for ever in Freiligrath’s immortal verses, describing how the King was forced to pay homage to the martyrs of the rising.

So war’s! Die Kugel in der Brust, die Stirne breit gespalten,
So habt ihr uns auf schwankem Brett auf zum Altan gehalten!
‘Herunter!’ – und er kam gewankt – gewankt an unser Bette;
‘Hut ab!’ – er zog – er neigte sich! (so sank zur Marionette,
Der erst ein Komödiant war!) – bleich stand er und beklommen!
Das Heer indes verliess die Stadt, die sterbend wir genommen!
Dann ‘Jesus, meine Zuversicht!’, wie ihr’s im Buch konnt lesen;
Ein ’Eisen, meine Zuversicht!’ war pässlicher gewesen!

[So it was! Shot through the heart, our heads split open,!
you carried us on boards, held us up to the balcony.
'Get down!’ – he staggered down – staggered to our biers;
‘Take off your hat!’ – he did; he bowed! (So did this erstwhile actor
sink to a puppet.) Blenching, uneasy he stood there.
‘Jesus, be my faith!’ – so the book says.
Iron, be my faith!’ would have been more fitting.]

The silent reproof that the dead in this poem direct at the living has often been levelled at the victorious fighters on the barricades. Why twist the knife of an unforgettable humiliation in his heart instead of smashing the throne with cold-blooded determination? The reproof is as justified or as unjustified as criticizing those who stormed the Bastille for not immediately declaring the republic. In a high-hearted uprising the proletariat had broken a humiliating yoke, in one day’s blood they had washed away the shame of centuries and drawn a historic boundary, back over which no power on earth could return. Certainly it could overthrow the throne for a moment, but it could not enter into a rule for which it was too underdeveloped and immature by far; it could not fulfil a task, the very first basis of which it was barely beginning to lay down. It did not forget the ‘iron be my faith’, for the funeral procession to the Schloss was not only an expiation taken from a guilty prince by popular justice; it was much more placing the crown on the work of March 18 by taking from him his right to approve the arming of the people. The proletariat could do no more than clear the board for the bourgeoisie, the class which, in the conditions of historical development, was now called upon to seize power. The duty of settling accounts with absolutism and feudalism lay on them, as did the duty of deciding whether the bold work of March 18 was to be crowned or betrayed.

They betrayed it, and their bad conscience permitted the graveyard to grow wild where the fallen pioneers were laid to rest. Rust gnawed at the letters and figures on the crosses, and the grass waved over the untended grave-mounds. But then came the day when the awakened class-consciousness of the proletariat grasped the historical significance of the March Revolution and reconsecrated the graveyard on the Friedrichshain. What Marx later said of another March 18 is true of these martyrs: they are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. On March 18, 1871, the Paris Commune, the government of the revolutionary working people of Paris, was proclaimed. It ended, cruelly and bloodily suppressed, on May 28, 1871. Marx commemorated its martyrs with the words: ‘Working-men’s Paris, with its Commune, will be for ever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priests will not avail to redeem them.’ [94]



The Treachery of the Bourgeoisie

On the Berlin barricades the German revolution had won firm ground beneath its feet. It travelled stormily through the land and destroyed the roots of feudal society. The peasant class arose to revenge innumerable wrongs. In Southern Germany, in the Odenwald, in the Black Forest, new flames broke out on the old soil of the peasant war. The rent-collectors of the nobility and of the lords of the Estates were hunted down, the land and tithe registers were destroyed, as were the castles of the great landlords. In the Kingdom of Saxony the fire consumed individual feudal castles. The peasant movement was strongest in Prussia east of the Elbe, and here it was particularly strong in Silesia. The peasants went to their landlords’ estates and forced documents from their tormentors renouncing all the fees and services of serfdom. The Feudal Party, the only organized party in Prussia, was wiped out in the countless peasant revolts, and with it fell the last pillar of the Vormärz state.

Meanwhile in Berlin itself the contradiction between the bourgeois and the proletarian class came clearly to the fore. Scarcely had the intoxication of that exciting March night begun to die down, than the middle class began to call for an ‘end to the revolution’, for peace at any price. The bourgeois class held the municipal offices, and used them to seize for themselves the 25,000 rifles delivered from the army’s arsenals for the Bürgerwehr (citizen’s defence force). They made entry into the Bürgerwehr conditional upon citizenship of a particular locality, personal guarantee of the safe return of the weapon issued and self-employed status – conditions which were widely used to exclude the working class from the arming of the people. On the morning after the victory, the victors were cheated of the prize.

The new Bürgerwehr immediately began to behave as a police force, in a way which even aroused a certain nostalgia for the Vormärz gendarmerie. It moved against ‘agitators’ with animal fury. And this despite the fact that the alleged ‘excesses’ of the March fighting amounted to no more than the demolition of a retired officer’s house and a glove-maker’s shop because they had betrayed fighters on the barricades to the troops. (The Prince of Prussia’s palace was threatened with a similar fate, but it was averted because one of the leaders of the masses had the presence of mind to declare that it had become the property of the nation.) Moreover, the revolution exercised its usual ennobling power in that March week: common crimes, and particularly crimes against property, became fewer. Characteristically, in the days leading up to March 18, the Minister of the Police, von Bodelschwingh, while still ‘denying the political danger from the great masses, saw a threatening sign in the fall in crimes against property.’ Exactly a month after March 18, the Berlin Police President declared: ‘In general the behaviour so far of journeymen and workers rightly deserves public recognition’. Three weeks after the freedom of the press had been achieved, the Public Prosecutor in the Berlin Criminal Court had to tell the good citizens, as a result of their countless denunciations of ‘press infringements’: ‘If you want freedom of the press you have to put up with its abuse; in any case, the novelty of the thing probably leads to an overestimation of the danger.’ Nevertheless the Bürgerwehr continued to make a great uproar over the threat to property; ‘all’s quiet in the town except the Bürgerwehr’, a patrol leader reported one night, fed up with his comrades’ antics. Nothing characterizes the spirit of these brave troops better than the roll of their self-elected commanders: the first was the President of Police, von Minutoli, then the Town Commandant, von Aschoff, then the ultra-reactionary Major Blesson and finally, when these bourgeois heroes were overwhelmed by their own divinity, the philistine Rimpler, flesh of their flesh and blood of their blood, the heart of a frightened rabbit when facing the armed reaction, and a roaring lion towards the defenceless proletariat.

The scandal grew so great that Berlin’s only political newspaper, the Zeitungshalle, founded a year previously, printed an article against the preachers of peace. It said, very rightly, that if the middle class had pulled backwards with all its strength on the first day after the revolution, it was fear of the workers that drove them to this suicidal conduct; that there was, it is true, a breach between the bourgeoisie and the working class, but that in order to bridge it the bourgeoisie should move not backwards but forwards. The editor of the Zeitungshalle was nearly lynched by indignant members of the Bürgerwehr for this article, which was as calm as it was sensible. His democratic friends stormed his house to break off their friendship, and the Stock Exchange solemnly swore that anybody who did not join in a boycott of the Zeitungshalle was a ‘rogue’.

The municipal authorities were naturally worthy of the Bürgerwehr. In their pronouncements they persisted, despite all knowledge to the contrary, in the claim that the political movement of the masses was directed against the property of the bourgeois class, and as early as March 21 they had, through secret intrigues, agreed with the Crown that the Guards Regiments which had only recently been driven out of the town should march back in. In order to throw the necessary dust into the people’s eyes, the City Council’s printed proclamation ran: ‘His Majesty has ordered that, before they enter the city, the soldiers must swear loyalty to the German constitution’, in other words, to a constitution that did not exist. In the last moment, however, they lost their nerve, and the proclamation went into the waste paper basket. On the other hand an Address to the Crown was now put together, with 14,000 signatures, asking for the entry – not indeed of the troops who had been driven out – but of ‘regiments friendly to the citizens’. A very dubious demagogue, the veterinary surgeon Urban, was of great assistance in this, and the majority of the Bürgerwehr also declared itself to be in favour. For all their toying with coloured piping and epaulettes, in which they even outdid the moustachioed Guards officers, it was better to be safe than sorry; it was better to have their holy property guarded by real soldiers than by their volunteer heroism. Thus on March 30 a regiment of infantry and one of cavalry, with two further battalions and a squadron, marched back into the capital.

There could be no more favourable augury for the bourgeoisie, which promptly joined the government. Now that it was called upon to rule, the Rhenish bourgeoisie was once more the most developed and mature element within it. Camphausen and Hansemann, the Presidents of the Chambers of Commerce of Cologne and Aachen, were immediately invited by Count Arnim to enter the ministry, but prudently declined to serve as figure-heads under a great landlord who could put on a liberal mask from time to time but who, in essence, retained his feudal caste outlook. Count Arnim fell as a result of this resistance. On March 29, Camphausen was appointed Minister-President and Hansemann Finance Minister. Count Schwerin and Auerswald, two leading opposition figures in the United Landtag, stayed on from the outgoing cabinet as Ministers of Culture and the Interior respectively, and Arnim-Heinrichsdorff, the former Ambassador to Paris, became Foreign Minister.

These people deserved a place in the first bourgeois ministry, which they had worked hard to prepare even under Count Arnim. On March 21 they had organized the King’s theatrical procession through the main streets of Berlin. Preceeded by an advance guard of Generals and Ministers wearing Black-Red-Gold armbands, in front of him a Bürgerwehr man with the tricolour flag, beside him the policeman Stieber and behind him the veterinary, Urban, with a painted Imperial Crown, the King had announced at the Town Hall and the University, like a fairground huckster, that Prussia was to be dissolved into Germany, and that he wished to head a constitutional Germany. For all the innocent pleasure it afforded the inhabitants of the Berlin streets, this tomfoolery loaded new contempt on the head of a King, who, only recently humiliated into the very dust, once more indulged in pompous processions. From all over Germany a contemptuous echo greeted his solemn promises.

But those who staged this theatrical jaunt knew very well what they were doing. What the King got out of it was the invitation, in a letter to the Duke of Augustenburg, to involve himself in the struggle of the Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein against Denmark. [95] Publicly, this took place under the aegis of the German Confederation for the salvation of people of German descent from foreign rule by the Danes. The secret aims were, on the one hand, to give the humiliated Guards – who had been driven out of Berlin – some military satisfaction, and on the other hand to stamp out a focus of revolution in Schleswig-Holstein, whose cause was very popular in Germany. Before the Prussian troops crossed the frontier, the Prussian Ambassador von Wildenbruch wrote a secret note to the Danish cabinet telling them not to take the war too seriously. What the Prussian government wanted above all, he said, was to preserve the Duchies for the King of Denmark, and the only reason they had undertaken the campaign was to prevent a dangerous intervention by radical and republican elements in Germany.

While the Arnim ministry had thus already begun to weave the web of counter-revolution, his cabinet proved much too weak to resist the harsh blows of the revolution without the help of the bourgeoisie. Like the deputation from Cologne on March 18, a deputation from Breslau intervened decisively in the Crown’s policies on March 22, and with the same means. They threatened that Silesia would secede unless popular representation based on direct suffrage replaced the United Landtag and unless there were guarantees of complete security of the person, trial by jury, especially for political offences, general arming of the people with free election of officers, immunity from dismissal for judges, abolition of all feudal privileges in the legal system and law-enforcement and an oath of loyalty to the constitution on the part of the army. Count Arnim resisted tooth and nail, but the deputation, which was led by a former Police President and consisted mainly of municipal officials, was so pressing, and the news from Silesia so disturbing, that the King had to give way willy-nilly.

In an Order in Council immediately addressed to the Silesian delegation the King promised ‘a constitutional system on the broadest foundation’ and a popular electoral law intended to create representation embracing all the interests of the people and based on direct suffrage. This assembly was to decide on the other points raised by the Silesian deputation, which the Order in Council repeated. Moreover, the King promised to have the standing army swear an oath of loyalty to the future constitution, and his only reservation was that the new electoral law should be laid before the United Landtag for consideration. Such a programme was impossible under Count Arnim. He hung on for a few more days, but his own colleagues, particularly his namesake, forced him out. These bourgeoisified aristocrats did not hesitate to place themselves under bourgeois command.

Of the two new ministers, Camphausen was the more cultured and Hansemann the more determined. Hansemann wanted to impose the material interests of the bourgeoisie without fear or shame, while Camphausen still had the school-prefect’s outlook of the bourgeois ideologist. But they were both united in believing that the victory of the proletariat would have to be conjured away in favour of the bourgeoisie. They therefore refused to convene the new popular assembly on the basis of the historic fact of the revolution, but would only do so on the ‘basis of law’. They wanted to maintain the ‘continuity of a state of legality’ and all the other high-sounding slogans. Therefore they insisted that the United Landtag would have to discuss an electoral law and draft the principles of the new constitution. The famous ‘legal basis’ consisted in the artful calculation that, if it was imposed on the proletariat by a feudal ghost, the conjuring out of existence of the revolution by the bourgeoisie would retain an appearance of respectability.

As was to be expected, the United Landtag proved to be nothing but a ghost. The feudal party was beaten all the way down the line. Even that feudal firebrand, Bismarck, admitted with frank grief that no human power could resurrect the past that had been buried and added, with a bitter-sweet air, that he would support the Camphausen ministry, since there was no other hope of ‘legal and ordered conditions’. The United Landtag was like a galvanized corpse, just about able to write down the orders the bourgeoisie dictated to it. In the law of April 6 the foundations of the new constitution were established: absolute freedom of the press without bond; trial by jury even for political offences; independence of the judiciary and the removal of the disciplinary law imposed on it; freedom of association and assembly and the free enjoyment of all civil rights regardless of religious creed. And finally, all this was crowned with the assurance that the establishment of the budget and the raising of taxes were to be dependent on approval by the future representatives of the people. In addition the law of April 8 granted universal, equal, secret but indirect suffrage for an assembly which was to establish the new constitution in agreement with the Crown.

Fear of the victorious proletariat can be traced very clearly in these laws. They are the practical outcome of the promises the King had made to the Silesian delegation. Especially the law concerning new popular rights, which was to be put into effect straight away, was born of fear. It is characteristic of the situation that Rodbertus [96], presumably the only member of the United Landtag who fundamentally supported universal suffrage, was certainly the only one who spoke against it, since he did not think that the masses were yet ripe to use it. The ministry had already smashed a huge hole in universal suffrage by making elections indirect. They translated the whole legislation of April 6 and 8 into completely cloudy regions anyway by making the future constitution dependent on mutual agreement between the Crown and the people’s representatives.

This mutual ‘agreement’ was a bourgeois trap on a par with the concept of ‘legality’. As a spokesman of the Left later said in the Berlin Assembly, it was a blemish idly tacked on to the great movement, a word neither old nor new and not even German, a real abortion of a word, tied like an umbilical cord to the new in order to suck out the substance of the old. With this ‘agreement’ the state of things was fundamentally thrown back to that noon of March 18, the victory of the people was rendered void, the Crown restored in all its might. It was again Rodbertus who put the question fair and square in the United Landtag: what would happen if the Crown and the Assembly did not agree? Hansemann answered with cold-blooded scorn: that point of view would prevail that had the greatest strength, whereupon Rodbertus concluded with a sigh that this could only happen through a second revolution. Nevertheless he still based himself on the principle of the agreement. A utopian in political as well as social matters, he wanted to save ‘Prussia’s legal virginity’ – that very same Prussia whose official history since the sixteenth century has been an uninterrupted series of illegalities. In order to be able to deny the ‘first revolution’, the revolution of the people, he prepared the way for the ‘second revolution’, the counter-revolution of the Crown.

The bourgeoisie would not have been the bourgeoisie if it had not, after this betrayal of the working class, strengthened its own hold on the sinews of things. The ministry demanded of the United Landtag a credit of forty million talers, fifteen million to equip the army and twenty five million to control internal anarchy by directing liquid capital to trade and industry in order to drown the unemployed and rebellious proletariat in its floods. Since not only the good-humour of the monarchy but also the legality of the bourgeoisie find their limits where money matters are concerned, Camphausen and Hansemann demanded this credit from precisely the same Landtag that had declared itself a year earlier incompetent to approve such credits, and they received the sizeable sum of pocket money without much oratory.

They were not quite so fortunate in the third intrigue in which they tried to misuse the United Landtag. Simultaneously with that body, the assembly of notables that had been called for in Heidelberg met in Frankfurt-am-Main, the so-called pre-parliament, which was based on revolution but by no means breathed the outlook of revolution. Undeveloped as political education still was in Germany, it was nevertheless impossible to shake off the conviction that if a free and unified Germany was to be created out of two great powers, half a dozen medium-sized states and a few dozen small states – in other words, a confused conglomeration of almost exclusively monarchist states and statelets – then it could only be done in the form of a republic. If therefore the pre-parliament wanted to finish the job, it would have not to ‘close’ the revolution but declare it in permanence. The German bourgeoisie lacked the stamina for that. A minority, particularly recruited from the South German petty bourgeoisie, did indeed demand a German Republic, but in a historically long outmoded form – as a federation of republican cantons on the Swiss pattern. The great mass of the bourgeoisie and the majority particularly of the North German petty bourgeoisie preferred to give up unity rather than give up the monarchy. Their ideal was a rump of Germany. Renouncing German Austria, which Metternich’s infamous policy had sealed off from the rest of Germany with its intellectual censorship and its material customs barriers [97], they wanted a hereditary Prussian Empire, which would remove the all-too-oppressive feudal and particularist chains from the bourgeois class, but otherwise keep as much of the old intact as possible. Never at a loss for high-flown phrases, they bowed in respect before a revolution ‘which had stopped respectfully at the steps to the throne’. They only veiled their ideal somewhat because the Prussian King had, for the moment, sunk too far beneath general contempt.

These contradictions clashed bitterly in the pre-parliament, but the victory of the monarchist faction was determined in advance. With approximately 370 votes they were much stronger than the 150 republican votes. And even then, the constituencies of these dwarf republicans were disproportionately strongly represented; for 52 Württemburgers, 72 from Baden and 84 from Hesse, there were only 2 from Austria and 141 from Prussia. The pre-parliament declined to declare either itself or the revolution in permanence. Instead it appointed a Commission of Fifty to call a German popular assembly together with the purged Federal Diet on the basis of universal suffrage, but leaving to the individual states the question of whether the suffrage was to be direct. The National Assembly was, it is true, to decide ‘solely and alone’ the future German constitution, but its sovereignty was also to extend to deciding whether it wanted to seek agreement with the governments or not. The Federal Diet added another ambiguity to this ambiguity of the pre-parliament by calling a ‘constitutional’ National Assembly but describing its purpose as being to bring about the constitution ‘between the German people and the governments’. A mutual evasion took place over this theory of agreement. The pre-parliament did not reject it unconditionally and the Federal Diet did not state it baldly. It all depended on who would finally turn out the strongest. For the moment the pre-parliament was the stronger, and its rejection of the proposal to back up its decisions by armed force was all the more senseless. It thus relegated the sovereignty of the future National Assembly to some cloud cuckoo land.

The same role that the Prussian March ministers Camphausen and Hansemann played in the United Landtag was played in the pre-parliament by the Hessian March minister, von Gagern, a ’Jupiter’, as the admiring bourgeoisie called him by reason of his thunderous voice and his bushy eyebrows, a ’really stupid fellow’ and a ’wind-bag’ as the practical Junker, Bismarck, correctly assessed him after five minutes of conversation. The North German petty bourgeoisie was especially represented in the pre-parliament by Robert Blum. He held the ponderous assembly together to a certain extent with his energy and skill, and he particularly saved it from the shame of dispersing upon the mere rumour of the approach of an armed body of the people, but after same resistance he finally accepted the decisions of the majority. The South German petty bourgeois, Hecker and Struve, were at the same time more confused and more rabid and, when they were excluded from the Commission of Fifty as a punishment for their recalcitrance, they let themselves be diverted into a republican putsch in Baden which turned out a tragic-comic failure.

Watery as the wine of the pre-parliament was, it was still too fiery for tastes in Berlin. The King of Prussia had already placed himself at the head of a constitutional Germany, and the Rhenish bourgeoisie certainly did not intend to abdicate in favour of local celebrities from Baden or Hesse. The Camphausen ministry therefore, basing itself on a decision of the Federal Diet that the latter had passed immediately before the assembly of the pre-parliament, asked the United Landtag to elect the Prussian delegates to the German National Assembly. But the revolutionary current was still too strong to accept such a challenge patiently, and Camphausen thought it advisable to give in to a protest from the Commission of Fifty. The United Landtag had to declare the election they had just carried out invalid, a further cross it had to bear until it finally sank out of sight.



The Parliaments

Elsewhere, too, the betrayal by the bourgeoisie had not taken place without violent resistance from the revolutionary elements. The recall of the United Landtag, the indirect elections and the famous question of agreement had called forth stormy protests, particularly in Berlin. Nevertheless the bourgeoisie succeeded in its surprise attack because it possessed the great advantage of already being conscious of its interests as a class, while in the petty bourgeois and proletarian masses there were still only quite vague tendencies all mixed up together.

It could not be otherwise. They had been thrust from an existence that was politically totally dead into a revolutionary movement. They possessed unlimited freedom of the press and of assembly, when for centuries they had lacked any lever for involvement in public affairs. It was quite impossible for them to do any other than proceed very helplessly with the new weapons.

The petty bourgeoisie was by far the strongest class of the urban population, but its strength was cancelled out by its disunity. It was still full of guild prejudices, and in the countless towns whose main occupations were administration, the army and the court, it was very dependent on its customers among the courtiers, Junkers, officials and soldiers. A great part of this class was reactionary or rather, as soon as it rebelled, it was easily caught out by the first reactionary slogans that came to hand. But even its more developed elements were difficult to unite together; in disunited Germany, which was still so backward, their interests and thus their demands changed from state to state, even from province to province, and sometimes from town to town. And what made even the boldest petty bourgeois timid and unreliable was the revolution itself, which was smoothing not a golden path for the handicrafts, but a battlefield of the modern class struggle.

The working class was immune from such fatal surprises; but it was only where large-scale industry had sharpened its gaze that it saw the one thing that was necessary: its organization as a class of modern bourgeois society. The other and major parts of the proletariat still stood on the most primitive level of a class consciousness that was only just awakening and was still half wrapped in sleep; they wanted, as the Communist Manifesto says, to win back the vanished position of the medieval worker. This was particularly true of the rural proletariat. In the towns, the inevitable lack of clarity among workers, their inability to find their way around all the bourgeoisie’s tricks and ruses, the terrible straits in which they found themselves, all left the way open for all kinds of dubious demagogues like the veterinary surgeon Urban, the former Lieutenant Held, the confectioner Karbe and similar phantoms. Berlin now had to pay heavily for that frivolous longing for ‘genius’ that Marx had already criticized in the Rheinische Zeitung [98]; the intelligentsia of the capital had shot off all their ammunition to no avail, and now that the real fight was at hand, there was no powder left to flash in the pan. Immediately after the March days, too, there began the attempts of the feudal absolutist reaction to whip up the lumpen-proletariat. How could they not use the glorious opportunity offered by the bourgeoisie’s outcry of fear for its property?

In addition, the elections for the German and Prussian Assemblies were monopolising attention. The Parliaments could, and would have to, make good what had been missed out in the first weeks following the revolution. Of course, the fact that two great assemblies were in session side by side showed how thoroughly the bourgeoisie had led the whole affair astray. The Commission of Fifty demanded that the governments should not convene their states’ Landtage until the Frankfurt Parliament had determined the German constitution, and this demand would have made some sense if representatives of the German people were going to play the role of a revolutionary convention. But if, on the other hand, it was going to follow in the airy tracks of the pre-parliament and the Commission of Fifty, then the German people’s last hope lay with the Prussian Assembly, which was at least struggling on the earth here below with the mightiest crown in Germany. In an appeal to the Prussian representatives, Johann Jacoby [99] called on them to appoint men in whom they had confidence as their ministers as soon as they assembled, and to give them unconditional carte blanche, but then to adjourn until the work of preparing the German constitution had been completed. Pathetically, he declared that never again should the fate of Germane depend on one town, on the foolhardy arrogance of the masses of the people in that town; as if it had not been the ‘arrogance’ of the Berlin proletariat, rather than the pre-parliament and the Commission of Fifty, on which Jacoby sat, which had torn Germany out of the swamp of the Vormärz! Scarcely had the echoes of his thundering words died away, when the logic of facts forced this honourable man to take his seat in the Prussian Assembly.

In the elections for the two Parliaments that took place in early May, universal suffrage showed its naturally sound instincts by packing off all the romantics from the days of the Burschenschaft, including those old fossils of the wars of independence, Arndt and Jahn, all the celebrities of the Landtage and the Vormärz universities, to the apparently more important but in fact impotent Assembly at Frankfurt. To the Prussian Assembly new, and in part very practical, people were elected. This was the first but also the last time the rural proletariat was to be represented in parliament, by a delegation of some fifty members. By contrast, there were as good as no Junkers there; a mere one was elected in the Junker paradise of Silesia. Even the Vendée of Farther Pomerania had grown rebellious. From Lauenburg there came a village schoolmaster, from Schlawe a cottager, from Rügenwalde the clerk of the court, from Neustettin a half-peasant, from Belgard a master-butcher and in amongst them, from the Junker stronghold of Stolp, the Assessor Lothar Bucher, who, although the Junkers’ judge, had won the love and the confidence of their tenants.

It would be wrong to speak of a party political struggle during the elections, simply because there were no parties. Even in Berlin, two men were elected by the same voters in the same poll, one on the extreme Left and the other on the extreme Right of the new assembly. The Nationalzeitung, the new organ that the Berlin bourgeoisie had set up because the Zeitungshalle was too heretical and the old philistine sheets were too narrow-minded, was still so much feeling its way in the dark that it lamented Waldeck’s election in Berlin as a victory for reaction. Universal suffrage could only work with the materials that lay to hand, and there was no great choice. If the new organ of popular representation was to clear out the old state, it needed trained forces. It was really not as short-sighted as it looked when actual members of the ruling class, the administration, the church, the school system and the state found a special resonance among the voters, especially if they had been harassed by romantic reaction for real or alleged free-thinking. There were many parsons, teachers and judges among those elected. Moreover, the guild-like isolation of the legal profession had given rise to a kind of judicial proletariat, from which a whole swarm of dissatisfied Assessors arrived at the Assembly. The bourgeoisie of the cities, conscious of its great lack of education, also preferred to elect academically-trained members of the legal bureaucracy as its parliamentary representatives.

Explicable – and even to a certain extent inevitable – as the predominance of officials in the Berlin Assembly was, it brought severe disadvantages. Legalistic formalism led it astray more than once, the teachers and parsons proved in the main extremely unreliable customers, and above all Prussian bureaucrats always remain Prussian bureaucrats – people who, in the phrase of one of the best of their number, have had all their intellectual and moral backbone broken in a process of elaborate dressage. At a decisive hour, that was to prove fatal.

Only gradually did four factions emerge in the Prussian Assembly, with very vague boundaries and programmes that sounded more or less the same, but which nevertheless betrayed their social origins. The very numerous Right wing, which made up nearly half the Assembly, was purely ministerial, in principle rejected feudalism and all that went with it, but in practice was prepared for any possible compromise with the King and the Junkers. At its head stood the Rhenish lawyer, Reichensperger, the Silesian factory owner Milde, the Pomeranian Professor Baumstark and Grabow, the Lord Mayor of Prenzlau. Milde was the Assembly’s first President, Grabow its second.

Next to the Right stood the Right Centre, which differed from it about as much as the dynastic opposition in France differed from Guizot’s loyal majority. This faction wanted to eat out of the same dish as the King and the Junkers, but they wanted to dig their spoon in a bit further than the Right. Its leader was the Councillor for Building and Administration, von Unruh, born an East Prussian, the son of a General and originally a rigid bureaucrat, until railway construction involved him deeply in the interests of the bourgeoisie, whose table he found more richly and appetisingly laid than that of the bureaucracy. Ready at any moment to betray the masses, he still haggled obstinately over the price of his betrayal. Plagued by secret vanity, he played the loyal man of integrity, for whom the common cause was everything and his own person nothing. Next to and behind him stood the Berlin city councillor Duncker and the Stettin Town Clerk, Gierke, and then too the Assessor Pilet from Stendal, whose previous work had been regulating relations between the great landlords and the bourgeoisie, and had learnt in practice how to deal with the Junkers.

In the Left Centre sat the ideologists of the bourgeoisie. One could compare this faction with the republican opposition under Louis Philippe, except for the fact that they wanted nothing to do with a republic. What they represented were the interests of the whole bourgeois class, and they represented them from a higher standpoint of principle than was represented in the wheeling and dealing of the Right and the Right Centre. Bucher and Rodbertus may well have been the finest brains of the Assembly, but they came from Pomerania, politically the most backward province, and they lacked any revolutionary energy. They possessed a certain degree of understanding of political development, but in the mannor of the academic in his lonely study, not like the fighter in the rough-and-tumble of the market place. Rodbertus never spoke on the social and economic questions that came before the Assembly, and which he could have addressed better than by any other member. He preferred, instead, to get involved the German question, where his utopian bent could pile one castle in the air on top of another. Bucher’s logic had a sharper cutting edge, but on the other hand he lacked the social independence that Rodbertus enjoyed. Seldom has ‘German misery’ revenged itself on so great a talent as Bucher. From earliest childhood he had had to fight his way through painfully limited circumstances, until the native hue of resolution had faded in his cheeks. Not nearly so well informed and far-sighted as Bucher and Rodbertus, a petty bourgeois through and through, but a man of practical talent, was the manorial court judge, Schulze, from Delitzsch, in Saxony. In the last days of the Assembly, Ziegler, Lord Mayor of Brandenburg, also joined the Left Centre as a result of a bye-election. He was the true and gifted type of the Prussian democrat, who only dared to enter the promised land of bourgeois freedom under the crozier of ‘Old Fritz’. He was a man who was far Schulze’s superior in organizational talent, shared Rodbertus’ and Bucher’s deeper conception of social questions, and yet, like Rodbertus in particular, was hypnotized by the concept of the Prussian state.

The Left formed the fourth faction. It bore no comparison at all with the republican-socialist party under Ledru-Rollin and Louis Blanc. [100] Its narrow-minded petty-bourgeois character was only emphasized all the more by the republican or even communist outlook of some of its members. In its mass, it represented the more radical elements of the North German petty bourgeoisie, and it was superior to the Centre Left in determination but not at all in political vision. This was also true of its leaders, Johann Jacoby and the Senior Judge Waldeck. Jacoby understood very little of the class struggles of the day. He was the strict man of principle, but it was a principle tied to the petty bourgeoisie, which bent like a slender sapling when it should have measured up to the revolutionary convulsions of the working class, sometimes making them out to be ‘justified demands of the working class’ and sometimes ‘the anarchistic activities of a work-shy mob’. If Jacoby clung too fast to abstract formulae, Waldeck on the other hand suffered from a concrete surfeit of history. His admirers compared this born Westphalian with the farmer in Immermann’s story, and not without reason. [101] In his own way he was a very powerful figure, but he was full of caprices. A fanatical Prussian and a rigid monarchist, he brandished ‘the sword of Frederick the Great’ just as the farmer in the story did Charlemagne’s. As ‘King of the Westphalian peasants’ he could understand the peasant as the farmer in the story, but he could not understand the peasant as proletarian. He denied universal suffrage as a social weapon of the working class. He was an orthodox Catholic; he was, in particular, also a self-conscious bureaucrat, who thought himself too ‘refined’ to speak at popular meetings. He translated the parliamentary mandate into a priesthood that cut itself off from practical life.

These four factions only crystallized gradually out of the Assembly, first of all the Left and the Right, the dividing line between them being drawn by the struggle over governmental ‘agreement’. The two Centre groups wavered for a long time in their numbers and in their policies, with a strong inclination to the Right, until they were thrown to the Left by the growth of the counter-revolution. At first the Left numbered scarcely forty to fifty members, and the two centre groups were each about as strong.

The contempt with which the Camphausen ministry treated the representatives of the people contrasted very strangely with its tender solicitude for the dynasty. It did nothing to make their first steps easier, to guide the confusion that was bound to arise when an Assembly of four hundred people has to find its way in the unaccustomed territory of Parliament. The ministry did not even open the necessary negotiations with the Right, who for the time being were in control. It contented itself with presenting the draft constitution, a misconceived copy of the Belgian constitution, which in the end nobody agreed with.

Understandably, the mass of the Berlin population showed no great interest in the Assembly, from which they expected little. It became a source of great weakness for the Berlin Parliament and for that in Frankfurt that they met in towns that lacked vigorous popular life. They lacked the fiery soil that the English and the French revolutions had possessed in London and Paris. The Berlin masses did indeed try occasionally to get the Berlin Parliament moving by violent means, but they were not organized, and every outbreak only gave lurking reaction an opportunity to play false and provided pretexts for breaking up the Assembly.

The most violent of these outbreaks, the attack on the Arsenal, took place on June 19. After the Assembly had painfully brought itself to order, the Left introduced the motion that, in recognition of the revolution, it should be recorded in the minutes that the fighters of March 18-19 had rendered great service to the Fatherland. The motion was not defended with any particular energy or clarity. In good-humoured confusion, Schulze-Delitzsche even tried to gain recognition not only for those who had fought on the barricades but also subsequently, which more or less turned the motion in its head. The masses understood the motion much better, and during the two hours of debate they surged round the hall in the greatest excitement. The motion was lost by 196 votes to 177. The Assembly moved on to next business on the grounds that while the March events, which (in conjunction with the royal agreement) formed their current legal basis, were undeniably important, the Assembly was not competent to pass a verdict on them, but only to work out a constitution in collaboration with the Crown. Thus the need for governmental agreement was recognized, and the crowd became angry. Minister von Arnim who felt impelled, while leaving the session, to enrage them still further with a few scornful phrases, had to take to his heels, as did the preacher Sydow, who, as the parson at the funeral of the dead fighters on the barricades, had extolled them as much as he now had vilified them as a member of the Assembly.

This act of very tame popular justice was used by the Right at the Assembly session of June 14 to claim that popular representation was threatened and to demand measures for its protection. The Left succeeded in fighting off this attack, but the masses’ excitement found relief in the attack on the Arsenal. This betrayed a lack of confidence in the Left which was proved a few days later to be thoroughly justified. Without a word of protest, with little more than a slight hissing, the Left listened to a commissar of the War Minister drivelling on about a band of thieves who had plundered the Arsenal. It is possible that by then the counter-revolution had already succeeded in infiltrating agents provocateurs among the attackers, and these champions of the throne and the altar may also have had sticky fingers. Essentially, the attack on the Arsenal was an instinctive revolutionary counter-stroke to the treachery of the bourgeoisie, who had sealed their rejection of the fighters on the barricades with a majority vote in the Assembly. At first the attack was successful, and the military garrison of the Arsenal capitulated. But before the rebellious crowd could arm themselves fresh troops arrived and drove them out. As usual, the Bürgerwehr was less than impressive on this occasion, too.

Nevertheless, the attack on the Arsenal stiffened Parliament’s backbone to a certain extent. Most of the members of the Right, who even then were planning to adjourn the Assembly to a provincial town at a safe distance, stayed away from the session of June 15 out of fear. The Left, however, got a proposal adopted to renounce all security measures for the Assembly and place it under the protection of the people of Berlin, and also successfully moved that the government’s draft constitution was to be treated as ‘valuable material’ and that it should be referred to a commission for revision or re-drafting. The Left and the Left Centre could see that just any old piece of paper would not do. Waldeck called out: ‘We must start building from below; first we must create the local communities and smash up the sad remains of the feudal state. If we do not do that we have done nothing; like ploughing in the sand, we are merely building in the air.’ Similarly Bucher thought: ‘We should not let a single day go by without smashing some remnant of the defeated past’. Rodbertus had already proposed a motion that a Statute of Trades, a local government system and a taxation system, a law on education and a law on defence and so forth should be decided upon as organic parts of the constitution by the Assembly.

It was a powerful first assault which might have gone much further than the bourgeoisie wanted. They hastened to meet the danger with an even higher degree of treachery.




[88] The Revolution in France in February 1848 forced the abdication of Louis Philippe, the ‘Citizen King’. Workers, students and the middle-class members of the National Guard proclaimed the Republic. The bourgeoisie aimed ‘to save the tricolour from the Red Flag of Socialism’ and in November gave their votes to Napoleon’s nephew, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who in 1852 declared himself Emperor.

[89] Chartism – Political movement based on the People’s Charter (1838) which demanded manhood suffrage, annual parliaments and the abolition of the property qualification for MPs. In 1840 the National Charter Association had an estimated 40,000 members. In 1848 Chartists were involved in ‘incidents’ in Glasgow, where the military were called in, and in Edinburgh and Manchester. In London, a mass meeting of 50,000 on Kennington Common threatened to march on Westminster. Its leadership was split between the ‘physical force’ faction and the reformists who supported ‘moral force’, and it subsequently declined. The movement nonetheless represents the revolutionary tradition in the British working class.

[90] The year 1848 saw risings and struggles for independence in France, in Italy (against the Austrian Empire), in Germany, in Austria and Hungary (also against the Austrian Empire), and in Schleswig-Holstein (against Denmark).

[91] Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans, known as the Citizen King, came to the French throne in July 1830 as a result of the July Revolution of that year, which was led by the bourgeois historian Thiers against the reactionary rule of Charles X. Louis Philippe’s reign saw the beginning of the golden age of French capitalism with the rapid spread of industrialization and railways. The slogan was ‘Enrichissez-vous!’ (Get rich!); de Tocqueville, the French political theorist, compared the July monarchy to a corrupt joint-stock company.

[92] Prince Metternich (1773-1859) – Austrian statesman who dominated the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) at which the victorious powers of Europe imposed a reactionary settlement on Europe at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Metternich considered the liberal and nationalistic ideas of the time to be a danger to the state.

[93] Heinrich Gneist (1816-1895) – Professor of law and Prussian deputy. Described as a representative of ‘scientific German socialism aimed at solving the social question on national, peaceful and legal lines.’ Strongly anti-clerical in the Kulturkampf, Bismarck’s campaign against Catholic influence in German political life.

[94] The Civil War in France, London 1937, p.63.

[95] Schleswig-Holstein comprised duchies in South Denmark and North Germany. In 1818 there was a rising in Schleswig-Holstein, which had been annexed by Denmark, aiming at union with Germany. Prussia intervened on the side of the rebellion but was forced to withdraw by Britain, France and Russia. War was renewed in 1849; once again Prussia gave way to pressure from France and Russia and in the London Protocol recognized the personal union of Schleswig with Denmark. Schleswig-Holstein became German as a result of the war between Prussia and Denmark in 1864.

[96] Johann Karl Rodbertus (1805-1877) – Politician and political economist.

[97] See note 92.

[98] The paper in which Marx and others of the Communist League wrote in the period before 1848.

[99] Johann Jacoby (1805-1877) – Prussian politician and deputy. A strong anti-monarchist, he remarked after a deputation to the King of Prussia that ‘it is the misfortune of kings that they do not want to hear the truth.’ Believed the unity of Germany to be the death of freedom. Deputy in 1863. Imprisoned in 1871 for attacking the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany.

[100] Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin (1807-1874)- French bourgeois politician who at one point was seen as the leader of the French working-class movement; but in 1848 he sided with the moderates against the workers, and saw universal suffrage as the solution to social ills. Banished in 1849 to London where he was an associate of the Italian bourgeois revolutionary Mazzini, and Kossuth, the leader of the 1848 revolution in Hungary. Louis Blanc (1811-1881) – French politican and historian. In 1839 wrote a book on The Organization of Labour. Held that ‘the evils which afflict society are due to the pressure of competition whereby the weaker are driven to the wall.’ Saw the solution in the equalization of wages and coined the phrase: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’ In 1848 he was a member of the provisional government in France and set up ‘national workshops’ to solve the social problem; failed to inspire confidence in the workers and went into exile in London.

[101] Karl Immermann (1796-1840) – German lawyer, dramatist and author.


Last updated on 16.8.2004