Affairs in Prussia (December 4, 1858)

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Berlin, Dec. 4, 1858

In a former letter[1] I told you how sudden a turn was given to the general elections by Mr. Flottwell's confidential warning[2] to the middle class not to overdo the "revival" scene. Accordingly a full sweep was made of the middle-class radicals. On the other hand, the inferior classes stood in no need of warnings, since they abstained voluntarily and rather contemptuously from using the farcical right of casting a vote which, by virtue of the electoral law, counts for nothing whenever, as in the present case, first-rate and second-rate wealth have decided upon a common course. The few places where, as in this town for instance, you find the votes of the minority of the ratable working classes recorded, you may be sure that they acted under compulsion on a mot d'ordre[3] intimated by their employers. Even "the London Times' Own Correspondent" (who sees everything couleur de rose) cannot but avow, in the columns of the British Leviathan, that the passive attitude taken by the masses inspired his stout heart with dark misgivings[4]. So, then, the elections are altogether liberal in the ministerial sense. The Kreuz-Zeitung's party[5] has disappeared as by the move of a magical wand. Two of its magnates even have found their way back to the chambers where they used to dictate, and some owe their return solely to the magnanimity of their rivals. The havoc made among them may be inferred from the single fact that out of 77 Landräthe but 27 have been reelected. Altogether they will reappear in the shape of a by no means respectable minority.

But such is the frail nature of Prussian constitutionalism that it has taken fright at the magnitude of its own victory. The elections having resulted in Chambers representing the liberalism of the' Ministry, it is evident that the Ministry represents the liberalism of the elected Chambers, and by this simple process becomes actually converted into a party Ministry, a parliamentary Ministry, just the abomination that ought not to be. Consequently, the Ministers had to protest at once in the Staats-Anzeiger against the new situation created for them. They, the elected Councillors of the Prince, appeared all at once, transformed into the chosen Executive of the country, and their power to emanate from popular delegation. In their protest—the only name one can give to their profession of faith inserted in the Staats-Anzeiger—they asseverate in highflown sentences that Parliamentary Ministry or party Government is in Prussia quite out of the question; that the King, by the grace of , God, must remain the exclusive source of power; that the Ministers cannot serve two masters; that it is all right on the part of the country to have carried the elections in its senses, but that, instead of the country now expecting them to follow the initiative of the Chambers, the Ministry expects the Chambers to walk obsequiously in the footsteps of the Government.

You see where we are. They are a Parliamentary Government and they are no Parliamentary Government. They have, through the elections, ousted the party of the Queen, but already they show themselves anxious to break the ladder by which they entered the premises of power. With the King still living, with the Queen still intriguing, with powerful and organized interests still hiding themselves under their banner, the Prince could not secure his place but by choosing a liberal Ministry, and that Ministry could not hold its post but by appealing to the general elections. The electors sending back from below the tune played from above, the Ministers became a party Ministry and the Prince became a middle-class Dictator. But then, all at once, he, the expectant heir, by the grace of God, to the throne of Prussia, recognizes the false position in which events have placed him, and in his angry weakness, imagines that by words he can blot out facts; that by phrases half didactic, half menacing, he can change the real conditions of his tenure of power, and that the electoral manoeuvre once got through with, he will be able to reassume the traditional airs of a Prussian King. He and his men, while fancying that they can impose upon the country, betray only their own bad faith and exhibit the grotesque spectacle of the malade malgré lui[6]. In their anxiety to hush up the political revival, they are only emancipating it from their control. As an appendage of the ministerial protest must be considered the speech[7] in the State Council of the Prince, a speech published at full- length because the Queen's camarilla harped upon some isolated sentences of the harangue.

Now, the Prince, like the Ministers, turns in most lusty self-contradiction. He has chosen a new Cabinet, because he considered the dismissal of the old one no real change. He wants something new, but the new thing must be a new edition of the old one. He condemns the Constitution of the Municipalities, forced upon the country by the late Government, because it extinguished the last spark of municipal self-government; but he will not have it altered, because such an alteration might work dangerously in the present fermentation of the public mind. He proposes to extend the influence of Prussia by pacific means only, and, consequently, dwells upon the necessary augmentation of the army, already a ruinously huge excrescence. He confesses that for the latter purpose money is wanted, and that, despite the creation of a State debt since the revolution, the Exchequer turns a deaf ear to the demands pressing upon it. He announces the creation of new taxes, and, at the same time, inveighs against the immense strides credit has made in Prussia during the last decennial epoch. As his Ministers want electors in their sense, while not admitted to be Ministers in the sense of their electors, he, the Regent, wants money for his army, but wants no moneyed men. The only passage in his speech which smacks of decided opposition to the late regime, is his invective against religious hypocrisy. This was a pique he owed to the Queen, but lest the public should take the same liberty, he, a Protestant Prince, had simultaneously a Berlin congregation of free Catholics[8] dispersed by the Police force.

Now, you will admit that such a nondescript, self-contradictory, suicidal policy would, even under ordinary circumstances, prove provoking and dangerous enough, but the circumstances are no ordinary ones. There is the revolution threatening from France, to show front against which the Prussian Government must feel comfortable at home. The only prospect of delaying the revolution in France is a European war. In such a war Russia, France and Sardinia would club together against Austria. Not to become the common scapegoat, Prussia must then be ready to carry on an insurrectionary war, a war of German independence; for if it should wage war against its own subjects, it would, as in 1806, be felled by a single stroke[9] The Prussian Government is fully conscious of the predicament it would be put in by either a French revolution or a European war. And it knows that on the horns of this dilemma Europe is tossed at this moment. But, on the other hand, it knows that in giving full swing to the popular movement, the same danger would start from within, which would thus be shunned from without. To make popular concessions in appearance and baffle them in fact, is a game perhaps dangerous to play with the German people, but the poor Prussian Government lacks the nerve to even attempt the game. Why, for instance, not allow the higher middle classes to indulge the comfort that a Cabinet nominated by the Regent was afterward elected by them? Because even the appearance of popular concession offends the dynastic pride. As with the internal policy, so with foreign policy. No State feels more horror-struck at the aspect of a European war, than Prussia. Yet a little private war, say a fight with Denmark as to Schleswig-Holstein, or internecine bullets exchanged with Austria as to the German Hegemonie, might prove an extremely clever diversion, and create popularity at the cheap price of bleeding the mob. But, there again the thing desirable is not the thing that can be done. Behind the Danish question lurks Russia, while Austria represents in her proper person nothing less than the European status quo. Thus, as Constitutional concessions would pave the way to the revolution, so a little fighting would lead to a European war. Hence you may be sure that the grand warlike tones of Prussia against Denmark will evaporate in a wordy protest inserted in the Staats-Anzeiger.

  1. See Affairs in Prussia (November 23, 1858) —Ed.
  2. See von Flottwell's circular of November 17, 1858, Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 271, November 19, 1858.—Ed.
  3. Order.—Ed.
  4. See the report from Berlin of November 30, The Times, No. 23167, December 3, 1858 ("Prussia").—Ed.
  5. The Kreuz-Zeitung's party (Kreuzzeitungs partei)—a name given from 1851 to the end of the nineteenth century to the extreme Right wing of the Prussian conservative party grouped round the Neue Preussische (Kreuz-) Zeitun.
  6. A play of Words on the titles of two comedies by Molière, Le médecin malgré lui and Le malade imaginaire.—Ed.
  7. Delivered on November 8, 1858 and published in the Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 276, November 25, 1858.—Ed.
  8. The reference is to the "German Catholics"—members of a religious movement which arose in a number of German states in 1844 and involved considerable sections of the middle and petty bourgeoisie. The "German Catholics" did not recognise the supremacy of the Pope, rejected many dogmas and rites of the Roman Catholic Church and sought to adapt Catholicism to the needs of the German bourgeoisie.
  9. This refers to the battle of Jena on October 14, 1806, in which the Prussian troops were defeated by Napoleon's army. This resulted in Prussia's capitulation.