Franz Mehring

Absolutism and Revolution in Germany



The class struggles of the German Revolution

The Hansemann Ministry

The Camphausen ministry had received a barely-concealed rejection from the Prince of Prussia and a totally unconcealed one from the representatives of the people. However, it was above all Hansemann who impatiently thrust to one side his ‘honoured friend’ who was still battling with all sorts of ideological twinges of conscience.

Hansemann thought that passive resistance to the revolution had done its duty and that an active attack upon it was now in order, that from being the shield of the monarchy the bourgeoisie must now become its sword against the people, and that the ‘ministry of mediation’ must now be followed by the ‘ministry of deeds’ in order to disarm the revolution at all costs and, if humanly possible, the counter-revolution as well. His plan was as simple as it was brilliant. The bourgeoisie was to sacrifice the people to the monarchy, and in return the monarchy would sacrifice the nobility to the bourgeoisie. The Assembly would be won over by giving each of the three bourgeois factions a portfolio. Hansemann was the complete artful bourgeois in the mould of of Louis Philippe, whose constitutional system of swings and roundabouts had just gone so shamefully bankrupt. He never took into account the tiny incidental question of whether the monarchy and the Junkers, the historical powers of old Prussia, might not settle accounts with the bourgeoisie all the quicker once the latter had settled accounts with the working class. For the time being, the monarchy had good reasons to give him a free hand, and the Assembly too took the tempting bait offered them. Of the numerous Auerswald clan, Hansemann took the nearest to hand and made him Minister-President and Foreign Minister, while he himself took the Finance Ministry as the source of all patronage. The Ministries of the Interior and of Justice were occupied by the bourgeois bureaucrats, Kühlwetter and Märker; Trade went to Milde of the Right, Agriculture to Gierke of the Right Centre and Education to Rodbertus of the Left Centre. This shows very drastically how much that brave saviour of society, Hansemann, was concerned with trading votes and how little he was concerned with even bourgeois reforms. Rodbertus, practically and theoretically trained as an agriculturalist, was entrusted with the administration of education, for which task he had never betrayed either vocation or interest, while the Town Clerk, Gierke, entered the newly founded Agricultural Ministry, which was to sweep away all the mess of feudal rubbish, anxiously admitting that he could tell neither barley from oats nor rye from wheat. It was only the War Ministry that the bourgeoisie did not manage to penetrate; here General Roth von Schreckenstein was ensconced, in a dual capacity as a ghost from yesterday and as a bogey for tomorrow.

On June 26 the new cabinet presented itself to the Assembly. The constitution on the broadest democratic foundation had sunk out of sight with Camphausen. In its place came the fully-fledged constitutional monarchy with a bicameral system and no return to absolutism; on the other hand, freedom was not to degenerate into anarchy; lost confidence was to be restored, credit strengthened, and once bourgeois rule had been given a solid foundation, in a rosy glow, there would be comprehensive works for the benefits for all the gainfully employed classes of the population.

The glory lasted only a few days. On June 28, after several weeks of fantasizing about its nebulous sovereignty, the German National Assembly at Frankfurt allowed that honourable man, Gagern, to pursuade it to take the ‘bold step’ of appointing on its own authority an Imperial Regent without responsibility picked from the ranks of the princes. Archduke Johann of Austria was chosen, and thus the German movement was delivered into the hands of the governments. Whether Gagern carried out the betrayal in their direct interest, or whether he really imagined that the House of Habsburg would tie its hands by accepting the provisional central power for an Austrian Archduke, so that later it would be obliged to accept the assumption of a hereditary imperial crown by the House of Hohenzollern, may be open to question. In any case, he was fooling either himself or the others when he bombastically claimed that he had not in doing so abandoned the sovereignty of the nation.

The sheep told the wolves: we want to elect you as our protectors, provided you don’t join in the vote; in our sovereign authority we will decide that you can eat us. The governments were naturally glad to concede that sort of ‘sovereignty of the nation’, but they did not think it any longer worth the effort to conceal from the bold representatives of the people that sheep are and remain sheep. Even before Archduke Johann’s election, the Federal Diet declared that the governments recognized the Imperial Regent. Meanwhile in the Prussian Assembly the Hansemann ministry, whose pact with the Prussian monarchy included betrayal of the German cause, declared that it approved the election of the Imperial Regent, but refused to draw ‘conclusions for the future on the basis of this exceptional case’

With this reservation the Prussian government had publicly contested the sovereignty of the German Parliament and Jacoby was quick to bring in a motion of censure on the Hansemann ministry. But the complete hopelessness of the German cause emerged most clearly precisely in that resolution. He called on the Prussian Assembly to reject the election of the Imperial Regent but nevertheless recognize the German Assembly’s authority to make such an appointment without prior agreement on the part of the governments. However correct the motion was in logic, in fact it amounted to telling the German Assembly: You have committed a great folly, but your right to commit such follies must not be limited. After an extremely confused debate, Jacoby’s resolution was rejected with only some fifty votes in favour. Nevertheless the incident was more of a defeat than a victory for the ministry. Not only was the majority guided by very mixed motives, but Rodbertus also resigned his portfolio. In his own way he was honestly concerned for German unity, and he did not want to assassinate it in the underhand way that Hansemann had agreed with the Prussian monarchy and the Junkers. With its leader’s resignation, the Left Centre began to edge to the Left.

It was the real tragedy in France rather than the tragi-comedy in Frankfurt that cut the Hansemann ministry off before its prime. At first the cruel overthrow of the Paris proletariat in the terrible June battles seemed to fulfil the secret desires of the European bourgeoisie, and Bismarck was audacious enough in the Prussian National Assembly to greet the fact that ‘this question has been so successfully buried in France’ as ‘one of the happiest events anywhere in Europe’. In fact, however, in murdering the proletariat of Paris, the bourgeoisie was murdering its own political role. September in Frankfurt, October in Vienna and November in Berlin were simply echoes of June in Paris.

Under such auspices the deeds of the ‘ministry of deeds’ consisted in opening the door for the return of the old Prussian bureaucratic, police and military state. Without asking the Assembly, Hansemann increased the police force of the capital by adding the ’Constabulary Institute’, 1,600 officers who hastened to outdo even the police of the Vormärz in a mass of illegal activities, by incessant provocations of the peaceful public on the streets and in brutalities to which even Rodbertus, despite his quiet and refined manners, fell victim. When Schulze-Delitzsch complained that ‘these butterflies of the new peoples’ spring’ were more brutal than those ‘old winter birds the gendarmes’, the Mister of the interior, Kühlwetter, replied, as if March 18 had never happened, ‘a state which really wishes to be free must have a really good police force as its executive power’. In vain Rodbertus moved that the government should introduce a retrospective law on the powers of the police; the Right and the Right Centre voted the motion down. The Assembly was satisfied with an impotent protest. On Waldeck’s motion they approved a law protecting personal freedom, which actually received the royal assent. It looked very good on paper, and that is where it remained. Hand in hand with the illegal arrests went numerous press prosecutions on the basis of common law, and when the systematically-provoked masses were carried away into such slight excesses as breaking the Minister-President’s windows, the ministry introduced a law on riotous assembly which was intended to destroy freedom of assembly.

The ‘organic laws’ with which Hansemann started rested on exactly the same basis that the French bourgeoisie had operated on for eighteen years under Louis Philippe, except that, in relation to the monarchy and the Junkers, it ‘did not even achieve the level of consciousness of a Paris grocer’. Hansemann’s proposals on the local government structure and the organization of the Bürgerwehr sought to secure the gates of the March revolution for the bourgeoisie alone and to exclude the working class completely. Typical of this kind of legislation was the Bürgerwehr law, which was actually passed, but after the fall of the Hansemann ministry. According to this the Bürgerwehr was, it is true, ‘to defend constitution, freedom and legal order’, but the individual organizational regulations made it half into a useless playing with weapons and half into an armed police force. Conscription began at 24 and finished at 54; servicemen had to arm themselves; if they did not possess the means to do so the local authorities were under the obligation to supply them with arms, but at the same time the local authorities were only given the right to call up one twentieth of the population, so that two thirds or even three quarters of the servicemen, and above all the propertyless proletariat, could be and was in fact excluded. In addition there was a mass of petty bureaucratic regulations, the very first of which – that the monarchy could dissolve the Bürgerwehr of individual local authorities ‘if it has serious reasons, which must be detailed in the Order of Dissolution’ – made a mockery of the whole law and placed under the arbitrary control of the crown the people’s right to bear arms that had been won in the March revolution. Nevertheless, in the end only the Left and part of the Centre Left voted against this suicidal act.

Thus far the monarchy and the Junkers were glad to let the ‘ministry of deeds’ get on with it. They resisted all the harder when, after the treacherous way he had deprived the working class of their rights and held them down, the good Hansemann thought that he could pass feudal society as well under the bourgeois shears. The sober businessman had fallen victim to poetic rapture, imagining that the monarchy would sacrifice the nobility to him as willingly as he had sacrificed the working class to them.

The King was very pleased that the bourgeoisie had fetched his chestnuts out of a fire that had burnt his gracious fingers, but he wanted to eat them on his own. Courtiers had woven round his credulous soul a web of incredible lies about the origins and progress of the March revolution; in his confidential letters to Bunsen, the King, with uncanny imagination, describes liberalism as ‘tuberculosis of the backbone’, as a ‘sinful madness, cursed by God’, and abuses his liberal ministers as ‘simpletons’ and ’intriguers’. For all that, Hansemann was as modest in his demands on absolutism and feudalism as he was unscrupulous in his ill-treatment of the masses. While the special privileged courts for the aristocracy were abolished, he preserved the ones for the army and the universities, and was backed by the legal formalism of the Assembly. He did not even dare to touch the many forms of feudal labour-service. Even the shameless robbery of the peasants by the Junkers in preceeding generation was to go unpunished. The draft law that Gierke brought in on the abolition of various fees and services was intended to do nothing more than remove those feudal dues and services that were least valuable to the Junkers. It was to do the least possible harm and sow the greatest possible confusion among the peasants.

Hansemann only lost his good humour in the one field which for him had never been ‘a joking matter’ – in the field of finance. Here things looked difficult enough. The state’s income had fallen and its expenses had increased; state credit was exhausted. Hansemann began his period of rule under the sign of the forced loan. In order to finance bourgeois rule and trim its production costs as much as possible, he intended to revolutionize somewhat the old Prussian system of finances. As a true bourgeois, he hated all state enterprise. He wanted to sell off the state domains, denationalize the state bank, break up the Seehandlung [102] and sell off state-owned factories to private owners ‘even at a significant loss’. He began by selling for a song the great spinning and weaving mills the Seehandlung had set up in the Silesian mountains. He spoke out against those indirect taxes that raised wages by making staple foodstuffs more expensive. In return, the big landlords were to be bled. Hansemann introduced draft legislation to increase the taxes on spirits and beet sugar and to remove the tax immunities of the feudal estates and the nobility.

He boasted that he was thus cutting ‘deep into the flesh of reaction’, and it is true that the feudal moneybags raised a fearful cry by God for King and Fatherland. But what Hansemann lost on this side he did not make good on the other. The reactionary side of his policies took its revenge in that the masses distrusted what could be called their revolutionary side. Were the people interested in filling the moneybags of a ministry whose police-truncheons beat down their justified demands with all the strength at its disposal, which could not be rid fast enough of the gains of the March revolution? This thought even poisoned the Left’s pleasure at the removal of land-tax immunities, the most decisive measure that Hansemann planned. Moreover, the increase in the spirit tax made more expensive a luxury that had become indispensable to the great mass, and placed the Rhenish distillers in an unfavourable position in their competition with the great landlords east of the Elbe. For all its artfulness the ‘ministry of deeds’ had sawn off the only branch that supported it, and the absolutist and feudal reaction now hastened to send it on its way with a hefty kick.

It had gradually recovered from the blows of the spring, thanks to the impotent policies of the bourgeoisie. First it organized a war of the loyal provinces against the rebellious capital, which was waged with a deafening din but otherwise had no great significance. It was immeasurably more important that in its own way it put itself on a revolutionary footing. It created its own parliament and press. A ‘Union for the protection of property’, popularly called, with very good instinct, the ‘Junker Parliament’, held its sessions in July alongside the Assembly. From the beginning of that month also a new paper, the Kreuzzeitung, appeared as a banner around which the scattered ruins of the feudal party collected. Its founder was Hermann Wagener, and if his management of it was evil and hateful enough, it was neither stupid nor cowardly.

The Kreuzzeitung did not waste precious time presenting itself as the ‘shield of the dynasty’. In its very first test issue it rejected ‘most decisively any absolutism by any single person, by any single prince’. It grasped completely the fact that the Vormärz methods of rule would no longer work. It declared itself to be constitutionalist, and above all hostile to a centralized bureaucracy. Wagener hoped to organize the great landlords as a class in modern bourgeois society, in so far as the situation made this an inevitable necessity. The Junkers had to learn how to set up their barricades in the constitutional battlefield in order to prevent the overthrow of the monarchy by the victoriously advancing bourgeoisie. Wagener directed his most violent attacks against the ministry. He denounced Hansemann’s ‘plans of confiscation’ to throw state and private property worth millions out of the window, and not to the poor, but into the laps of the rich, to expropriate the great landlords and alienate the loyalty due to the crown. He blustered that if the monarchy approved this robbery it would be treating the landlords worse than a foreign conqueror. ‘Hansemann is leading the revolution at a stormy pace and waving the red flag.’ These were comically exaggerated phrases, but this emphatic heavy type was the only way that Wagener could din into the thick heads of the Junkers that a new age had opened which demanded new tactics.

This educational process took some time, and Wagener never completely achieved his goal. Meanwhile the policies of the bourgeoisie opened a short cut. As a ruling class of centuries’ standing, the Junkers knew that in class struggle organized force is decisive, and the army was their great trump card against the revolution. Their whole programme was contained in the straightforward little line: The only thing that’s any use against democracy is soldiers.

The fearful collapse of the state had also revealed deep lesions in the army. In the March days, many generals exposed themselves to ridicule through cowardice and losing their heads. On the other hand, many of the younger officers had joined the revolution. In the attack on the Arsenal, Lieutenant Techow sacrificed a brilliant career to take the side of the people. [103] By and large, however, esprit de corps overcame oppositional tendencies much faster in the army after the March days than it did in the bureaucracy. Camphausen and Hansemann outrivalled one another in their efforts to restore the Vormärz militarism by suppressing Polish insurgents and sabre-rattling against Denmark. Instead of steering the Polish revolution against its arch-enemy Russia, and waging a serious war to liberate Schleswig-Holstein, these wise statesmen preferred to betray the national interest, in doing which they whetted a sword that was turned against their own breasts.

So when the French army defeated the Parisian proletariat in terrible street fighting, the Junker sword could no longer be kept sheathed. Daily the officers intensified their presumptuous provocations. It was as Waldeck described it: ‘The old military system, with which we broke completely in the March days, still exists totally and completely’. Hansemann, in his anxiety over bourgeois profit, was in complete agreement with this; but the majority of the Assembly, who thus far had followed him through thick and thin, did at last take fright when the garrison occupying Schweidnitz, who had accustomed themselves to shedding citizens’ blood during the Weavers’ Revolt [104], carried out a terrible massacre of the Bürgerwehr.

Out of some whimsy, the army commandant in Schweidnitz had forbidden the Bürgerwehr to beat their drums, which heroic deed was greeted with a regular chorus of cat-calls. The Bürgerwehr was then called out to disperse this unwelcome choir, but in front of the commandant’s residence they were met by a company of infantry who without any reason fired a salvo of 102 shots at them. Fourteen Bürgerwehr men were killed and thirty-two severely wounded. This bloodbath opened the Berlin Assembly’s eyes to the true state of things. On a motion of the Left from Stein, it demanded on August 9 that the Minister of War should issue a decree to the army, warning the officers to avoid all reactionary activities and conflicts of any sort with civilians, recommending them to become closer to the citizens and work honestly and devotedly for constitutional legality, and finally making resignation a duty dictated by the honour of any officer whose political convictions made this impossible. It was for all that a very modest step, and the ‘honour’ clause was only passed by a majority of one. For the time being the Hansemann ministry thought it was enough simply to ignore the decision.

The German National Assembly was awoken from its dreams of sovereignty by Prussian militarism in a different but no less emphatic manner. Since the appointment of the Imperial Regent it had spent its time in endless chatter about paper rights, once more tricked by Gagern, that honourable man, who, in confidence, made no secret of the fact that at any cost he had to play for time until the Prussian King had so far recovered from general contempt that he could be called on to be German Kaiser. Meanwhile Gagern’s majority refreshed themselves with the satisfying spectacle of a member of the petty-bourgeois democratic minority, who interrupted the Prussian monarchy’s moral convalescence with the remark that the republican Hecker deserved an amnesty just as much as the reactionary Prince of Prussia. The ‘sovereign’ representatives of the people only avoided getting a sound hiding for this harmless remark by the skin of their teeth, although it was certainly no compliment to Hecker. But the Prussian monarchy had no desire to make even the most modest reply to such extravagant respect. Ignoring the powers of the Empire, they signed at Malmö on August 26 a seven months truce with the Danish government, a truce whose conditions, which were nothing short of shameful for Germany, were a fitting climax to the way the Prussians had waged the war in Schleswig-Holstein.

The war had been begun by the Prussian monarchy in order to demonstrate its German vocation and carry out the decisions of the German Federal Diet, whose successor was the German National Assembly. As early as June 9 it had solemnly decided that it would not ratify any peace treaty that gave up the right to the Duchies and Germany’s honour. In the Truce of Malmö however the Prussian monarchy gave up both; the right to the Duchies was Germany’s honour. After all the empty decisions and speeches the National Assembly now for the first time had to prove in practice whether it was a power that meant anything. On September 5 it rejected the Malmö Pact and decided by a majority of 17 votes that measures to carry out the truce were to be stopped.

Thereupon the so-called Imperial Ministry resigned, that imaginary cabinet of the Imperial Regent or, as Blum used to call him, the Imperial Rotter, the cabinet in which the Austrian Schmerling and the Prussian Peucker, for all their rivalry, collaborated peacefully in making the German Parliament the object of public scorn. Then, according to the constitutional pattern, the Imperial Regent entrusted the leader of the majority of September 5 with the formation of a new ministry. It was Dahlmann, the very type of the professorial liberal of the Vormärz. His personal incapacity to act energetically loyally reflected the whole impotence of the German Parliament. After a few days, he returned his mandate as unrealizable to the smirking Imperial Regent, and on September 16 the National Assembly cancelled its previous decision and ratified the Truce with a majority of 21 votes.

It thus destroyed itself morally and politically. It had shamefully squandered the fruits of the revolution which had fallen into its lap, and its only chance of salvation lay in a new revolution. Thousands of ready fighters rose up within two days’ travel of Frankfurt and demanded that the Left factions should form as a convention and take over the leadership of a new revolutionary movement. But with a few exceptions, like the courageous Schlöffel, these factions failed. They decided to submit to the parliamentary majority. It was then that Robert Blum, their most influential member, incurred the guilt that he was to expiate by his tragic death a few months later. The disappointed armed hordes left Frankfurt. Without support from the elected representatives of the people, an uprising was bound to fail and would only strengthen the princely counterrevolution. A new putsch by Struve in Baden fell apart on the spot. [105]

In Frankfurt itself, a small uprising broke out, which the newly reappointed ministers, Peucker and Schmerling, if they did not instigate it, at least deliberately fostered so that they could bring an overwhelming military force from the Federal fortress at Mainz and place the Parliament under the domination of the bayonet. These efforts were actually superfluous where the Assembly was concerned. Two of its members, an old General von Auerswald and the vain and boastful Junker von Lichnowsky, had so far forgotten their dignity as peoples’ representatives as to ride out, on September 18, on a reconnaissance of the insurgents, and while carrying out this patrol had been killed. The National Assembly forgot its dignity even more on September 19 when, in complete safety, it thanked the troops for the ‘devotion shown in the suppression of the uprising’, and, on a motion from the Left, added the word ‘moderation’ to ‘devotion’. Scarcely eight or ten members of the Left voted against this dishonourable proposal. From now on the German Parliament had irrevocably become a mere talking shop.

In the same September days the die was also cast for the Prussian Assembly. It knew why the Truce of Malmö had been signed. Undertaken with a counter-revolutionary intention, the war for Schleswig-Holstein had threatened to take on a revolutionary character since England and Russia, the powers of European counter-revolution and the sworn enemies of German unity, had made a diplomatic intervention in support of Denmark. [106] It was the will of the monarchy and the Junkers that the Prussian army should not do ‘service for the revolution’; in their secret opinion it ought rather to be let loose on the Prussian Assembly as the representative of the revolution. When Wrangel returned with the Guards from the Schleswig-Holstein marches to Mark Brandenburg, the counterrevolution was concentrating its forces for a decisive blow. Foreign powers were thus satisfied, the German Parliament morally ruined, and the Prussian Parliament surrounded by troops. It is understandable that the peoples’ representatives in Berlin found that blood was thicker than water. They accepted the Truce of Malmö without enthusiasm, but also without laments about Germany’s lost honour, and on the other hand referred back to the decision of August 9. Stein introduced a resolution that said it was the urgent duty of the ministry to issue immediately to the army the decree that had been decided upon on that day by the Assembly.

In fact the decree was no more than outward show. Similar decrees forbidding officials to engage in reactionary activities had been issued to various branches of the civil administration, with as much or as little success as such paper announcements usually have faced with the real relationship of forces. One can guess with what respect those hardened sinners of reactionary officials would treat warnings and hints from liberal ministers, who in any case did not dare sack a single one of them. The monarchy could issue a decree to the army that satisfied the Assembly without injuring its interests, and it actually did so a few weeks later. But what the monarchy gladly granted to a military ministry it refused to a bourgeois ministry. Hansemann could not carry out the Assembly’s decision of August 9; the fox had fallen into his own trap.

The Assembly was obliged to insist all the more emphatically on the execution of its decision. If it had no control over the army and the ministry used its decisions to fill its waste paper basket, it might as well abdicate. Basically the question at issue was that same government agreement that had been involved in the Left’s motion in June recognizing the revolution. And, as had happened then, great excitement now seized the population of Berlin. Even the tepid Bürgerwehr, through its commander and his staff, issued an address to the Assembly promising to support its decisions by all means at its disposal.

Stein’s motion was discussed on September 7. Hansemann threatened the Assembly with counter-revolution, civil war and bloodshed if it insisted on the decision. The speakers of the Right tried by means of all kinds of legal hair-splitting to show that the decision was an attack on the whole constitutional tissue. The speakers of the Left rightly said that what was at stake was less the content of the decision than whether the Ministry was obliged to carry it out. In an incisive speech, Bucher pointed out that it was a question not of right but of might. He said it was naive, in the face of the coming storm, to cavil scrupulously over written laws; that a new age needed better foundations than a sheet of paper in the law books; that the Assembly could not fulfil its vocation, perhaps unparalleled in history, of bringing about the completion of an unfinished revolution by the peaceful means of legislation, with limited juridical conceptions. He said that the powers, the principles, the institutions against which the revolution was directed stood condemned but not defeated; that all the absolutist authorities were still in action and almost all its laws were still in force. He said that the Assembly could not permit absolutism to forge in the army a tool to throw out the freedom of the people; that they would have to break the Junker obstinacy of the officers; and encourage the soldiers to fight for human rights for themselves and their comrades in suffering.

The decision lay with the Right Centre, and this time it wavered towards the Left and the Left Centre. Unruh, unlike Hansemann, had no wish simply to be the court jester of the King and the Junkers. He remained very far away from Bucher’s political position; like the dry businessman he was, he explained that, if the Assembly ‘destroyed itself morally’ by annulling its decision, there would only remain the ‘dangerous dilemma’ of choosing between the counter-revolution or a second revolution. By no means the least important factor in his decision, perhaps, was the fact that, if he decided in favour of Stein’s motion, he was the next in line to inherit the ministry that he would thus bring down. Unruh laboured under the sweet illusion that he could lead the bourgeois cause better than Hansemann.

Stein’s motion was carried by 219 votes to 143. The centre of gravity of the Assembly had thus moved to the left. But what in May could have been a prelude to its victory was in September only the start of its death agony.



The Sacrifice of the Peasants

The monarchy answered Stein’s motion by appointing General Pfuel Minister-President and Minister of War. Some, but not all, of the ministerial posts were occupied by unimportant lay-figures from the Vormärz bureaucracy and diplomatic service. At the same time General Wrangel received supreme command over the troops concentrated in the Province of Brandenburg. These were preparations for a coup d’état, but not yet the coup itself. The counter-revolution had no plan of campaign. For very good reasons, it had reservations about simply breaking the Assembly up by force; the King in particular had a very lively fear of renewing his experiences of March 18-19.

The reaction’s main trick in the immediate period consisted in roaring for a constitution ‘like a seven-fold ox’. All the sentimental nostalgia of the Vormärz liberals for a constitution were child’s play compared with the holy ardour that now consumed all reactionaries for that sheet of paper to ‘thrust itself like a second providence between our Lord God in Heaven and this country’. The Assembly was buried under the most vehement accusations that it was light-mindedly neglecting its vocation to agree constitution and was wasting its time with all sorts of useless rubbish.

This ugly humbug, which has gone down in the patriotic histories of the year of revolution as the honest voice of the people, had two objectives. First of all the Assembly was to be so intimidated that it would back away from any further attacks on the Vormärz state, and concentrate exclusively on composing a sheet of paper which could anyway be torn up by the first bayonet. Secondly however there was in the constitution a paragraph in which the Junkers and their followers had a lively interest, that is the paragraph which, as is only right in a bourgeois constitution, declares that property is holy and inviolable, and that any infringement of it must be fully compensated. The faster this paragraph was proclaimed a new fundamental right the better as far as the Junkers were concerned. Armed with this, they planned to defend to the last gasp all their feudal property, however rotten it might be.

The Assembly saw through this move by the reaction, and its leaders, like Bucher and Waldeck, publicly exposed it. Their commission had prepared a constitution that was quite tolerable from the bourgeois point of view. What it lacked could be laid at the door of the government, which had in particular failed to complete the draft District and Regional Statutes, whether out of malice or out of mere incapacity. Whatever wastage of time and energy the Assembly can really be accused of should also be charged to the government. A new parliament that from the start gets nothing but hindrance from the government must perforce often stumble. Despite all its difficulties, the Berlin Assembly proved that an organ of popular representation, elected under the fresh impact of a revolution by general suffrage, is far superior in practical insight and clarity to the best-trained bureaucracy. It produced incomparably more than the Prussian bureaucracy in its best periods, and Gneist, who was by no means one of its admirers, said in its favour that materially it achieved more in five months than the English Parliament did in any year in the current century. Many objections to the Assembly can be raised from the revolutionary point of view, but against the reactionary slanders that have paraded under the guise of ‘objective historiography’ in the fifty years since, it is without reproach.

What it lacked was precisely the revolutionary power to act. On the one hand, the Pfuel ministry showed it the palpable danger, on the other hand, it offered a stay of execution. Pfuel himself was a cultured officer of the school of Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, in old age a friend of Lassalle, just as in his youth he had been a friend of Heinrich Kleist. If the counter-revolution thought it had found in him a willing tool for its secret plans, it was mistaken. Possibly, however, they saw him as a man who would lazily let events take their course until the coup d’état could be sprung. In no event could the Assembly afford the delusion that the Pfuel ministry was anything more than a temporary measure. If it wanted to make up to any lost ground at all, it had to continue along the path opened up by Stein’s motion.

This motion itself had lost its significance with the fall of Hansemann’s ministry. Secretly Unruh secured on behalf of the new ministry a decree to the army that more or less corresponded with Stein’s motion and was immediately issued by Pfuel. Nobody was under any illusion about the practical effect of this watery stuff. Orders of the day issued by General Wrangel as supreme commander in the Mark, and by Count Brandenburg as commanding General in Silesia, destroyed any doubt whether feudal absolutist reaction would allow well-meaning exhortations to force it to to abandon the bastion of support that the army was. The Berlin Assembly had missed the most favourable moment to tackle the army, but there still remained one more excellent opportunity of success from their own bourgeois point of view; that is to say by binding the interests of the peasant class to their fate. That would have checkmated the monarchy and the Junkers politically, socially and, in the end, militarily.

The ferment of the rural masses had increased rather than diminished during the summer. It tore like a vulture at the heart of the King and his Junkers. Force and kindness were used to try to persuade the peasants of the friendly intentions of their former oppressors, but they remained obstinate and continued to batter away at all the fees, services and burdens of feudalism. They simply laughed at a decree of the Arnim ministry on March 27 which declared null and void all concessions forced from landlords by threats and violence.

The King and the Junkers now tried a trick worthy of Till Eulenspiegel. Like countless Silesian Junkers, Count Schaffgotsch had been forced by his tenants to renounce seizin [107], and all services of every kind, expense-money and the gabelle [108], the honour tax, spinning dues and the corn-tax. Somehow the commune of Warmbrunn was persuaded to return the ‘deed of renunciation’ to the Count on May 5, his birthday, with the request that he would bury it in eternal oblivion. The King made this ‘noble deed’ known in a solemn Order in Council On May 25. He revealed his ‘high pleasure’ at this ‘shining example of loyalty and of feeling for right, for law and for a true return to the paths of good and necessary order’, and called on the Silesian peasants to make their way as calves to the Junker slaughter in a ‘similarly heartwarming manner’. The peasants again laughed themselves silly at his expense.

There was no help for it; the old feudal system was finished. The bourgeoisified part of the landed aristocracy realized it of their own accord and the more blockheaded Junkers had to realise it willy nilly. If the peasants were to be cheated in future, it would have to be done in a bourgeois, not a feudal manner. In other words the feudal burdens would have to be perpetuated by being discharged in the form of money or land. But for the time being this could not be done in the brutal and ruthless way it had been done in the decades after Waterloo. The October Edict and the Regulatory Edict had made the minority of the peasants rebellious, and the undiminished continuation of their feudal burdens had made the majority equally rebellious. But laws that could clip the peasants as thoroughly as previously without them noticing could not be made at the drop of a hat, while the chronic rebellion of the rural masses demanded rapid measures. The Camphausen ministry extricated itself from this dilemma with a Memorandum on the regulation of relations between landlords and peasants. It was signed by the Minister of Trade, von Patow, a bourgeoisified aristocrat in the mould of Schwerin and Auerswald.

Patow’s Memorandum rested on the following principles: no changes were to be made in the discharges from feudal services already regulated by a judge’s verdict or contract; in principle, moreover, the situation was to remain where ‘all restraints limiting free disposition of persons or property’ were to be abolished on payment of compensation, although they could in future be discharged on a much cheaper basis than formerly. Exceptions to the above were such limitations as could be regarded as emanating from serfdom, the previous taxation system or seigneurial juridical privileges, or which seemed to be merely partially out-dated burdens upon landed property without any true lasting value to the recipient and did not affect economic relations. Among such exceptions to the rule the Memorandum mentioned homage, death-duties, services in hunting and in travelling, stock tithe, protection money, Walpurgis tax, shepherd tax, bee-fees and wax-rent, watercourse-fees, pasturage rights and more of the same.

This list looked good but meant nothing, or very little. The ‘best administered state in the world’ had preserved such masses of feudal rubbish that it could be carted away by the wagon-load without visibly diminishing the mountain that remained. The fees and services that were remitted free had either fallen into complete disuse, or existed only in individual areas or, as the Memorandum itself indicated with gratifying honesty, brought no benefit worth mentioning to the Junkers. It was the purest legerdemain, and for that very reason this was the only part of Patow’s Memorandum that the Hansemann ministry enacted into law.

The most serious of all the mistakes the Berlin Assembly made, and the blackest blot on its memory, is that it did not grasp its historical task in this field. Even if all it had for the industrial proletariat was cheap phrases and the occasional little palliatives, nevertheless it was a bourgeois Parliament. As such it should have been able to liberate the peasants from the feudal yoke. In the shape of the fifty or sixty peasant deputies, it possessed a general staff that could have built it an invincible army. Certainly only a part of this delegation had developed so far as to join the faction to which it really belonged, the extreme Left. Another part had still not found its bearings and let itself be snared as voting fodder by the cunning Hansemann, who paid them with positions in the Finance Ministry. Here, in the words of one English correspondent, they looked like a party of Ojibbeway Indians in the salon of the Duke of Devonshire. All the more reason why the bourgeois opposition should have enlightened these poor fellows as to their real interests. Instead, one member of the Left Centre even handed the Right a cheap victory by demanding the exclusion of the peasant deputy Kiolbassa for his alleged ignorance of German. The member in question was given a severe dressing down by the right-wing President of the Assembly for this dishonourable proposal. The Kreuzzeitung was completely in character when it printed the canarde that Kiolbassa took his boots off during sessions because he was used to going barefoot, and that, overcome by emotion, he had kissed the coat-tails of the cashier who had paid him out his expenses. But what can one say about bourgeois Liberals who gladly joined in these bad jokes, men like Gustav Freytag who, in his Grenzbote [109], outrivalled the Kreuzzeitung in mocking his Silesian compatriots, Mros and Kiolbassa, as ‘quaint devils’?

The Left and the Left Centre did, it is true, launch some attacks against feudal burdens, against the Statute of Servants, against feudal hunting rights over others’ land, and against much else of the sort, but there was no real emphasis behind it, and the only thing to pass into law was a motion of Bucher’s removing the right of the local feudal Estates to fix expenditure. Even on September 1 the Assembly lacked the urgency to pass a motion abolishing labour service. Indeed, even a motion proposed in June by the Left Centre to halt negotiations underway between landlords and peasants until cheaper laws on discharge and regulation were decreed had still not been approved by the Assembly at the end of September. Even six months after March 18, it could not bring itself to take this simple provisional measure, whereas the French National Assembly of 1789 had cleared away the whole feudal rubbish three weeks after the storming of the Bastille.

Nevertheless a lot of lost ground could have been made up when the decisive life-and-death crisis of the Assembly began with the accession of the Pfuel ministry. The peasants were still as bold as ever, sending in thousands of petitions demanding protection by the organ of popular representation. The opening of the hunting season on September 1 led to murderous encounters between the peasants and the Junkers, since the peasants, with good reason, considered that feudal hunting rights had been extinguished by the March revolution, while the Junkers did not want to desist from the noble passion of hunting on peasant land. In fact the Assembly intervened at this point, and with a success, moreover, that could well have given it courage. It decided on its own initiative to abolish without compensation the material right to hunt over others’ land. It even proceeded more radically here than is justifiable from the bourgeois point of view, and still the monarchy did not dare to refuse its assent. All the Assembly needed to do now was change the law on the abolition without compensation of various fees and services from legerdemain to something real by including in it all the oppressive, or only the most oppressive burdens placed on the peasant class, and it could well have been in a position to take up the political fight with the monarchy and the Junkers.

Unfortunately its energy was already exhausted by its first rush. It did, it is true, finally accept after long delay the law postponing negotiations between landlords and peasants, but only after rejecting all amendments favourable to the peasants. The monarchy assented to this law also. Hopeless confusion broke out, however, over the law on feudal burdens. The Right Centre, which had brought about the victory of the Left factions on September 7, once more fell off to the right. Unruh was such a fanatical supporter of property that even Patow’s Memorandum went too far for him. His fellow faction member, Pilet, declared, in his report on the new law, that it was neither just nor clever to abolish feudal burdens without compensation – apart from a few exceptions that were insignificant or of very slight importance: unjust, because by virtue of centuries of legally-protected possession they had become the object of proper entitlement; not clever, because abolition would alienate from the state a numerous class of regular landlords who were influential by virtue of their great material means. The right wing factions did not wish simply to brush aside the peasants, who were only waiting to give the Assembly new power, but they were all the less willing to spoil their chances with the Junkers, who were solely waiting for a chance to give the Assembly a death-blow. They whispered to the peasants: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and you should be glad we can abolish a thirtieth or a twentieth part of your burdens. And they whispered to the Junkers: you can afford a little down payment if it will help you to transform your threatened possessions from feudal property into bourgeois property.

Bucher threw himself into the attack on this wheeling and dealing in a series of brilliant speeches. He did not see justice and wisdom from the same angle as Pilet. Either the landowner was justified in demanding compensation, in which case he should have it, or the legislation was justified in abolition without compensation, in which case it had no right to make presents to the Junkers at the expense of the peasants. The legal basis on which the question was to be decided was not the rotten basis of the historical school, but the basis of the revolution. ‘The revolution is the emergency defence of the people whose holiest rights have been injured. But defence in emergencies is a right that is recognized not only morally but in the laws of all nations at all times. If a people have made a revolution, a true revolution in this sense, that means as their defence in an emergency, and their representatives place themselves upon this basis and carry out their legislation in this sense, embodying the concept of the revolution, they stand on the basis of law.’ To abandon this basis would be as stupid as it was unjust. As he had on September 7, Bucher once again warned of the dangers of hair-splitting legalistic formalism. ‘The legalists will have to acquaint themselves with the social sciences before the social question devours them ... If we discuss the draft point for point with legalistic precision and add countless amendments, we will be like Archimedes sitting over his circles.’ For all that, Bucher was entirely conscious that the revolution which he was adopting as a legal basis was a bourgeois revolution. He consequently demanded that the Assembly should act in the same way as the Assemblies of the great French Revolution, according to the principle that the landowners’ rights are immediately abolished without compensation insofar as they are feudal and seigneurial in nature and rest on the domination of one person over another, while they are to be discharged against compensation insofar as they are based on the legal entitlement of contract, which continues in bourgeois society, on the principle of the mutual performance of duties.

The balance of votes was at that time so distributed in the Assembly that the factions of the Left and those of the Right were more or less in equilibrium. Towards the end of October, when Grabow retired from the Presidium, Unruh was elected by 177 votes from the right-wing factions while the Left on that occasion mustered 170 votes. This distribution of the votes was already enough to make it difficult to carry out the principle put forward by Bucher and his friends. It had a last chance precisely because it was a clear and pure principle, and thus could serve, like Ariadne’s thread, as a guide through the labyrinth of feudalism, but the Left themselves destroyed this chance. Feeling ashamed of their earlier omissions, this faction wanted to abolish at a stroke without compensation as many seigneurial rights as possible, without concerning itself whether they rested on a feudal or a bourgeois entitlement. Not only did the Left, who by no means intended to abandon the bourgeois legal basis, act inconsistently in this, but they also fell into a trap treacherously set by the Right. As far as it could, this bold party opposed the abolition of feudal burdens without compensation, and applied all its strength to making the law worthless to the peasants. Where it could not achieve that noble purpose, it supported the blind impetuosity of the Left in order to give the Assembly the reputation – among the propertied classes – of being communist and respecting neither feudal nor bourgeois property.

This disloyal game had its first success when the hunting law was discussed. Immediately after the passage of the abolition without compensation of feudal hunting rights, the Right, in unity with the Left, rejected an amendment introduced from the Left Centre by Schulze- Delitzsch, which provided for compensation to be paid for the ending of hunting rights over other people’s property if the owner or his predecessors had already sold their hunting rights over the land within the previous thirty years. But it was over the law on feudal burdens that the perfidious tactics of the Right and the uncanny short-sightedness of the Left really ran riot. An example is the struggle over seizin. So-called seizin, market-pence, confirmation charges, census-money, depreciation-money, copy-money, mortgage-charges, access money; seigneurial perquisites and other fees and services entailed in feudal landholding were among the worst scourges the peasants suffered. They were charged every time the land in question changed hands, whether it was the lord or the vassal who changed, and amounted to as much as ten per cent of the value. It was pure theft, the simplest form of the confiscation of property. If the peasant died, his heirs had to pay as much as one tenth of the value of the farm, irrespective of whether or not it was entailed, to the Junker. If a peasant farm worth ten thousand talers, but burdened with mortgages of six thousand talers and personal debts of three thousand, was inherited by the widow as a result of the death of the proprietor, the state would only calculate the inheritance tax at ten talers, based on the value of one thousand talers actually inherited, but the Junker pocketed one tenth of the whole value, that is to say of the whole inheritance of ten thousand, as seizin. He could immediately have the farm auctioned off. If the holding was then sold for, say, seven thousand talers, the personal debts were disregarded and remained a millstone round the widow’s neck, but the Junker was not only covered against the mortgage, but was entitled to demand a new seizin of seven hundred talers from the new proprietor.

Bucher and Schulze-Delitzsch now introduced, from the Left Centre, the motion that seizin should be abolished without compensation ‘unless the obligation could be proved to be founded on a covenant in the contract concluded between the party enjoying and the party under the obligation or their predecessors in possession’. As had been the case with the proposal for a hunting law, this limitation was as insignificant in fact as it was important in principle. Above all else, seizin payments were of a purely feudal origin, and rested on the basis of custom and practice. The motion was carried by 178 votes to 160, and now two members of the Right, Justizrat Gellern and Oberlandesgerichtrat Tüshaus [110], who had both voted against the motion, introduced the amendment that in the cases subject to the reservation, the rate of seizin should never exceed two per cent. The intention was obvious: the Assembly was to be tempted into an attack on a property right that it itself had just recognized as bourgeois. Nevertheless the Left fell into the crude trap. Scarcely had the amendment been adopted, without particular opposition, when other members of the Right, led by the Landgerichurat Reichensperger and the Geheime Obertribunalsrat [111] Rintelen, insisted that a formal protest against the alteration proposed by their own members should be entered in the minutes because it attacked the law of contract and thus undermined all law.

This was just one scene of a tragic-comedy, for whose production the Right daily divided itself into two choruses. Its best achievement was never completed. The Assembly brought off the remarkable trick of botching together a law that offended the propertied classes, and particularly the bourgeoisified aristocracy, in its holiest possessive feelings, while at the same time making the peasants more and more distrustful and suspicious. How could they have found their way through that chaos of often forty amendments amplifying or limiting for each clause, where even the most skilful legal hair-splitter would have lost his way? How were they supposed to drag their bones to market for an Assembly that could not liberate them but only sacrifice them?

At the same time as they discussed the law on the feudal burdens, the Assembly did little to improve its position in the discussion of the first sections of the new constitution. They crossed out ‘By the Grace of God’ in the King’s title, abolished the nobility, and removed all ceremonial orders and titles. None of this helped them. On the contrary! A policy that demobilises its own troops with one hand while vehemently challenging the enemy with the other only hastens its own defeat.



The Monarchy and the Junkers

The counter-revolution made much better use of the transition period provided by the Pfuel ministry. It surrounded Berlin more and more closely with a hundred cannons and an army of forty to fifty thousand men. It worked zealously to excite the masses of the capital to a disturbance that would serve as a pretext for military intervention.

For preference they would have liked to stage a copy of the Paris battles of June. They made a first attempt at that in the middle of October, when out-of-work craftsmen employed by the state to build a canal on the Köpenicker Felde, wrecked a machine which, with the approach of winter, threatened to take the last piece of bread out of their mouths. The desperate mood of these poor people is all the better explained by the fact that they were mainly skilled workers, like gold and silver-smiths, whose hands were being made less and less suitable for their proper trades by the heavy labour. The half embarrassed, half clumsy intervention of the Bürgerwehr led to an encounter in which several workers and several Bürgerwehr men were killed, but the Left deputies managed to settle the conflict before the army could be called in. The reaction then made one further attempt to inflame the workers by instructing the master builder running the canal site on the Köpenicker Felde ‘on the highest authority’ to sack in punishment not only those workers who had been involved in wrecking the machine but also hundreds of others who had not. But even this barbaric demagogy failed. The masses of the workers, organized and developed to a certain extent, knew very well whose interests would be best served by a bloodbath at that point.

The reaction had to make do with more modest measures for the salvation of the state. During October tumultuous crowds began to besiege the Playhouse where the Assembly was sitting. They did not listen to the Left, but to dubious demagogues like Count Bressler, who had befriended first the Left, then the ‘Junker Parliament’. It was later established in court that, in the critical October days, he tried to bribe workers to erect barricades. What was more, the daily more melancholy cries of the reaction that these mobs were terrorizing the parliamentary debates also cut little ice. The very same right-wing deputies who, during the attack on the Arsenal, when real proletarians had tried to drive the Assembly forward, had themselves stayed at home, now walked in and out of the hall freely. Even they did not dare to claim that their votes were adversely affected by fear of rioters, they merely complained that it ‘injured the dignity’ of the Assembly, that very same Assembly whose dignity they daily injured by their miserable intrigues. There are grounds for believing that reactionary provocations played a role in the riots outside the Playhouse. In any case, not only all impartial witnesses but even people like Gneist and Unruh, who kept a sharp look-out for even the slightest threat to person and property, have testified that, in free countries, the whole thing would only have aroused the most incidental interest.

The decisive blow fell in Vienna. Like the Berlin revolution, the counter-revolution too took its cue from the Austrian capital. After Radetzky’s victories [112] in Italy the Austrian government rallied its half-barbaric Slavic nationalities and used them to smash the revolutionary, civilized nations of Germans and Magyars. On October 31, Prince Windischgrätz [113] stormed Vienna, which fell after a brave defence. On the evening of the same day the Prussian Parliament accepted, after a passionate debate, a harmless motion from Rodbertus calling on the government to make urgent and energetic representations to the Imperial Regent to truly and effectively protect the national freedom that was endangered in the German parts of Austria and the threatened existence of the Imperial Diet and restore peace. On November 1, news of the fall of Vienna reached Berlin. Pfuel was immediately dismissed and Count Brandenburg entrusted with the formation of a new ministry. Brandenburg was a trinity of Junker, officer and Hohenzoller, an uncle of the King, the offspring of one of those double marriages through which King Frederick William II used to testify to his fear of God and his pious morals.

Count Brandenburg’s aim was the coup d’état in its most naked form, one which was too much even for the Right. Now the Assembly could either declare open war on the King by constituting itself as an independent power (but this tactic, which had Jacoby’s lively support [114], was much too revolutionary for the majority), or it could try to checkmate the new ministry by parliamentary means, but this method seemed too hopeless to the majority. Agreement was reached on a motion from the Left Centre to send a deputation to make representations to the King about the ‘state of the country’. It was a half-hearted step that betrayed to the King simultaneously the obstinacy and the impotence of the Assembly. That was already obvious in the external form of the Address the deputation was to hand the king. Jacoby, Bucher and Reichensperger were entrusted with drawing it up; into Bucher’s beautifully stylized draft, which earnestly drew to the King’s attention the ‘endlessly sad consequences’ of a deed ‘reminiscent of the fate of a neighbouring state’, Reichensperger embroidered all sorts of loyal phraseology about ‘His Majesty’s heart’, which was supposed to beat constantly for the good of the people.

After long negotiations with the aide-de-camp, von Mannteufel, who later became Field Marshal, the deputation was actually admitted to see the King at Sanssouci on November 2. As Unruh read the Address out, the King first fiddled with his sword and then turned his back on the deputation in that drastically inviting stance which is so popular among Berlin street arabs when they wish to display the opposite of respect, but which had never yet been tested in constitutional intercourse between a King and the representatives of the people. The astonished delegation watched at first in silence as the King, when the Address had been read, started to leave the room. Then Jacoby plucked up enough courage to ask if the King would grant the deputation an audience. At the rude answer, ‘No!’ he shouted after the King, who was disappearing into the ante-chamber, that it was his own hard luck if he didn’t want to hear the truth.

You might think that Jacoby’s comrades would have congratuled him for these words. Without being exactly original they suited the situation perfectly, and he had at least done something to extricate the deputation from the embarrassing situation into which the King’s extraordinary behaviour had put them. However, as soon as the King had left the room the majority of the deputation fell upon Jacoby with harsh rebukes, and scarcely had the aide-de-camp re-entered when Rodbertus, as he publicly boasted the following day in the Assembly, hurried to him ‘and begged him urgently to go in to his Majesty and to tell him that we were convinced that his Majesty’s feelings would be able to distinguish between the National Assembly’s Address and the last words heard from the deputation’. This is what these Peoples’ Representatives were like, even the best of them. While the King was having the swords whetted and the horses saddled and the cannon loaded to break up the organ of popular representation by military force, the leaders of Parliament excused themselves to the King’s aide-de-camp for their tack of loyal humility. Such a woeful policy could only give the reactionaries new courage.

They needed it. Brandenburg and Wrangel were nothing more than military moustaches, whose violent braggadocio aroused little confidence in the more thoughtful reactionaries. There was a popular joke at the time that von Mannteufel, was making the streets of Berlin unsafe, going around with a revolver trying to press-gang people into being ministers. After six days Brandenburg had not even gathered half a cabinet together. Some old war-horse had been ordered into the Ministry of War and two Vormärz bureaucrats had taken over Education and the Interior. No takers could be found for Foreign Affairs, Trade, Agriculture, Justice and Finance. The simple restoration of Vormärz absolutism and feudalism was such an impossibility that only the most utterly hidebound Junkers dreamt of it. Wagener declared point-blank it was a reactionary utopia, and even Brandenburg never tired in his assurances that he was a constitutionalist from the parting in his hair to the soles of his shoes, although for him constitutionalism was an enigma with seven seals.

The counter-revolution had to find support from at least the Right before launching the decisive blow against the Assembly. But there was a problem: even the Right had repeatedly stated that the monarch could not dissolve the Assembly. The principle of mutual agreement made no sense, since two sovereigns can no more remain side by side in one state than two suns in the sky, but the bourgeoisie was bogged down in it and could not work itself free at the drop of a hat. According to this principle the King could no more dissolve the Assembly than the Assembly could depose the King. The to-ing and fro-ing in agonizing suspense lasted a whole week, during which the Assembly occupied itself with debates on matters of indifference, after once more rejecting a proposal from the Left to set up a Committee of Safety. During this period the most total calm reigned in the city. The rioters of October had disappeared as if the ground had swallowed them up, because the counter-revolution had seized the helm, but it did not know where it was going.

Meanwhile a marriage of true minds took place between Count Brandenburg and the Right. The how and the where have never been discovered in detail, but the results of their secret intrigues emerged immediately to the light of day. If the King could not dissolve the Assembly, he could move its meeting place, and adjourn it for that purpose. A beautiful excuse for this was offered by the ‘frequent anarchist movements’ and ‘criminal demonstrations’ in the capital aimed at ‘intimidating’ the Assembly. How could such tender solicitude for the independence of the Assembly be an attempt on its life? It was the old plan that the Right had already hatched out once before at the time of the attack on the Arsenal. If the Assembly agreed to this then a precedent had been created which, if need be, gave the King the authority even to dissolve it. If it witheld agreement, it was rebelling against a legitimate disposition by the monarchy, which intended nothing worse than to protect the Assembly from the violence of the mob. In their justified anxiety over Count Brandenburg’s mental abilities, the right wing thoughtfully provided him with their own member, Rintelen, a well-proven shyster, as Minister for Justice. As recently as November 2, it is true, Rintelen had been part in the pilgrimage to Sanssouci to protest against the Brandenburg ministry, but when has a Prussian Obertribunalsrat ever hesitated to place the seal of the law today upon the atrocities that he cursed yesterday? With this tidy little plan in his pocket, Brandenburg betook himself to Unruh to sound him out. And if he knew how to read the soul of the bourgeoisie, then Unruh’s immediate answer – that the majority of the Assembly, the Centre factions, the Left, and he himself as President at their head, would never agree to adjournment and removal – must have filled him with honest pleasure.

Unruh took the feudal absolutist reaction very seriously, and he by no means intended to compromise with it as cheaply as the Right. But he took a second popular revolution even more seriously, and the need to avoid one at any price was, as Unruh himself publicly stated, the real reason for his recalcitrance. If the Assembly allowed its proceedings to be adjourned, its standing in the eyes of the people, long since shaky, would collapse completely. Then it was to be feared that ‘political groupings would gain control of the movement’, in which case ‘street fighting would be inevitable’, as Unruh says in his memoirs. On the other hand, if the Assembly opposed the monarchy’s instructions, it would gain standing in the eyes of the masses, and it could still make such a muddle of things that no power on earth could put them right. Unruh correctly believed that he could carry out that task like a master.

However slender Brandenburg’s grasp of the general situation, he now had a political guideline in his hand that he could reel in. On November 9, he told the Assembly that he had a royal message adjourning it until November 27 and removing it to Brandenburg-am-Havel. [115] When Unruh declared that he could not close the session without the agreement of the Assembly and would therefore put the question for them to decide, Brandenburg protested ‘solemnly’ against the ‘illegal’ continuation of business and left the room. He barricaded himself in the War Ministry and Wrangel marched into Berlin with a great force of troops. It took only three days for the military moustaches to stamp out all public rights: the laws of April 6 and 8 and the laws on the Bürgerwehr and on personal freedom. On the other hand they provided themselves with a new legal basis by declaring a state of siege, for which they lacked any legal pretext or any factual occasion. They established the naked rule of the sabre.




[102] Seehandlung – Prussian banking institution set up in 1772 to regulate overseas trade under a state monopoly.

[103] See above

[104] Of 1792.

[105] Gustav von Struve (1805-1870), German republican who took part in the 1848 Revolution. Fled to Switzerland. Later emigrated to America and served in the Army in the Civil War.

[106] In the post-Napoleonic period Britain and Russia were the two main supporters of Mettetnich’s repressive policies in Europe.

[107] Seizin – Freehold possession.

[108] Gabelle – Salt tax.

[109] Paper run by Freytag.

[110] Justizrat – ;German equivalent of Queen’s Counsel. Oberlandgerichtsrat – ;Judge in a provincial court. Landgerichtsrat – A junior judge.

[111] Geheime Obertribunalrat – ;High legal official.

[112] Field-Marshal Radetzky (1766-1858) – Austrian commander-in-chief in North Italy. In 1848 defeated Carlo Alberto, King of Piedmont, at Custozza and Novara and forced his abdication. Suppressed popular rising in Milan and compelled the Venetian Republic to surrender.

[113] Prince Alfred Windischgratz (1787-1862) – Austrian Field-Marshal who put down the armed rising of the Viennese in 1848.

[114] See note 99.

[115] Brandenburg-am-Havel – Town near Potsdam.


Last updated on 16.8.2004