Camphausen’s Statement at the Session of May 30

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On March 29, 1848, the Camphausen Government in which Hansemann held the post of the Minister of Finance replaced the Government of Count ArhimBoitzenburg, which had been formed on March 19, 1848, when revolution broke out in Prussia.

In writing this and other articles concerning the Prussian National Assembly, the authors made use of the stenographic reports, which later came out as a separate edition entitled Verhandlungen der constituirenden Versammlung für Preussen 1848, Berlin, 1848.

The article was first published in English in the collection: Karl Marx, The Revolutions of 1848. Political Writings, Vol. 1, London, Penguin Books, 1973.

Cologne, June 2. Post et non propter, [after and not because of] in other words Herr Camphausen did not become Prime Minister because of the March revolution but after that revolution. On May 30, 1848, in a most solemn manner and with many protestations, displaying as it were a mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the spirit, [Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Vol. 1, ch. XI] Herr Camphausen has revealed this subsequent significance of his Ministry to the Berlin Assembly which sprang from an agreement between him and the indirect electors.

The thinking friend of history [allusion to subtitle of Karl von Rotteck’s General History from the Beginning of Historical Knowledge Until Our Time. ‘For Thinking Friends of History'] states that “the Government which was formed on March 29 met soon after an occurrence whose significance has not been and will not be misjudged by it”.

Herr Camphausen’s assertion that he did not form a Government before March 29 finds confirmation in the issues of the Preussische Staats-Zeitung published during the last few months. It may be assumed with confidence that a date, which indicates at least the chronological point of departure of Herr Camphausen’s ascension into heaven, possesses great “significance”, particularly for Herr Camphausen. What comfort it must be for the fallen barricade fighters to know that their cold corpses serve as visible sign and index finger pointing to the Government of March 29! Quelle gloire!’ [what honour!]

In one word: after the March revolution, a Camphausen Ministry was formed. This same Camphausen Ministry recognises the “great significance” of the March revolution, at least it does not misjudge it. The revolution itself is a trifle — its significance is what matters! It signifies precisely the Camphausen Ministry, at least post festum. [after the event]

“This occurrence” — the formation of the Camphausen Ministry or the March revolution? — “belongs to the most essential contributing factors in the transformation of our internal political structure.”

Is this passage supposed to mean that the March revolution is “an essential contributing factor” to the formation of the Government of March 29, i.e. the Camphausen Government; or is it supposed merely to say: the Prussian March revolution has revolutionised Prussia! Such a solemn tautology may perhaps be expected from a “thinking friend of history"!

“The Government recognises that we stand at its beginning” (namely of the transformation of our internal political conditions) “and that we have a long road ahead of us.”

In a word, the Camphausen Ministry recognises that it still has a long way to travel, i.e. it is looking forward to a long life. Brief is art, i.e. the revolution, and long is life [modified quotation from Goethe’s Faust], i.e. the Ministry that came after. It gratuitously recognises itself. Or is one to interpret Camphausen’s words in some other way? One would certainly not attribute to the thinking friend of history the trivial explanation that nations who stand at the beginning of a new historical epoch stand at the beginning and that the road which lies ahead of every epoch will be just as long as the future.

So much for the first part of the laborious, grave, ceremonious, thorough and considered oration of Prime Minister Camphausen. It may be summarised in the following three statements: After the March revolution — the Camphausen Ministry. The Camphausen Ministry has great significance. A long road lies ahead of the Camphausen Ministry!

Now for the second part.

“By no means have we judged the situation to be such,” lectures Herr Camphausen, “that a complete upheaval has resulted from this occurrence” (the March revolution), “that the entire structure of our state has been overthrown, that everything that exists has ceased to be legal and that all conditions must be placed on a new legal basis. On the contrary. The Government agreed from the moment of its initial meeting to regard it as essential for its own future that the then convoked United Diet [1] meet in reality, regardless of the petitions received opposing such a course, and that the new constitution evolve from the existing structure with the legal machinery offered by it without the bond which ties the old to the new being severed. This incontestably correct policy has been maintained. The electoral law has been submitted to the United Diet and passed with its advice. Later on, the attempt was made to induce the Government to alter this law on its own authority, in particular to change the indirect electoral system into a direct one. The Government did not yield. The Government did not act in a dictatorial way; it could not and would not act in such a way. The electoral law has in fact been implemented strictly according to the letter. It was on the basis of this electoral law that the electors and deputies were chosen. You are here on the basis of this electoral law with the power to agree with the Crown on a Constitution which it is to be hoped will endure in the future.”

A kingdom for a doctrine! A doctrine for a kingdom! [modified quotation from Shakespeare’s Richard III]

First there is the “occurrence” — a bashful euphemism for revolution. Afterwards there comes the doctrine and dupes the “occurrence”.

The illegal “occurrence” turned Herr Camphausen into the responsible Prime Minister, i.e. into a creature that had no place and no meaning within the old state of affairs, within the existing structure. We override the old by a salto mortale and, fortunately, we find a responsible Minister. The responsible Minister however is even more fortunate in discovering a doctrine. With the first breath of life of a responsible Prime Minister the absolute monarchy died and rotted. Among the latter’s victims was to be found primarily the blessed “ United Diet”, that disgusting mixture of Gothic delusion and modern deception. [Heinrich Heine, Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen] The “United Diet” was the “dear faithful follower”, the “pet” of the absolute monarchy. just as the German republic can only celebrate its entry over the body of Herr Venedey, so the responsible Ministry can only enter over the body of the “dear faithful follower”. The responsible Minister now picks out the lost body or conjures up the ghost of the dear faithful “United Diet”, the ghost indeed makes an appearance, but unfortunately hovers suspended in the air, going through all sorts of bizarre capers because it can no longer find any ground under its feet, since the old foundation of law and trust has been swallowed up by the “occurrence” of the earthquake. The master magician reveals to the ghost that he has summoned it so as to settle its estate and to be able to act the loyal heir. The ghost cannot find enough praise for these polite manners because in ordinary life the deceased are not permitted to issue posthumous testaments. The most highly flattered ghost nods like a pagod to all that the master magician orders, takes a bow at the exit and disappears. The law on indirect election [2] is its posthumous testament.

The doctrinal trick by which Herr Camphausen “has evolved the new constitution from the existing structure with the legal machinery offered by it” develops as follows:

An illegal occurrence turns Herr Camphausen into an illegal person within the meaning of the “existing structure” and of the “old state of affairs": that is into a responsible Prime Minister, a constitutional Minister. The constitutional Minister illegally transforms the anti-constitutional, dear faithful “ United Diet”, based on the estates, into a constituent assembly. The dear faithful “United Diet” creates unlawfully the law of indirect elections. The law of indirect elections creates the Berlin Chamber, the Berlin Chamber draws up the Constitution and the Constitution produces all successive chambers from here to eternity.

Thus, a goose is transformed into an e g and an egg into a goose. Thanks to the Capitol-saving cackling [3] the nation soon realises, however, that the golden eggs of Leda, which it laid in the revolution, have been stolen. Not even Deputy Milde seems to be the bright conspicuous Castor, son of Leda.

  1. The United Diet — an assembly of representatives from the eight Provincial Diets of Prussia, similarly based on the estate principle. The United Diet sanctioned new taxes and loans, discussed new Bills and had the right to petition the King. The First United Diet, which opened on April 11, 1847, was dissolved in June, following its refusal to grant a new loan. The Second United Diet met on April 2, 1848, when the Camphausen Ministry was in office. It passed a law on the elections to a Prussian National Assembly and sanctioned the loan. The United Diet session was closed on April 10, 1848
  2. At the sitting of the Frankfurt National Assembly on May 19, 1848, the liberal Deputy Raveaux proposed that Prussian deputies elected to both the Berlin and Frankfurt Assemblies should have the right to be members of both. The Berlin Assembly, i. e. the Prussian National Assembly, was convened on May 22, 1848, to draft a Constitution “by agreement with the Crown”. The Assembly was elected under the electoral law of April 8, 1848, by universal suffrage and an indirect (two-stage) voting system. Most of the deputies belonged to the bourgeoisie or liberal bureaucracy.
  3. According to tradition, around 390 B. C. the Gauls captured Rome with the exception of the Capitol, whose defenders were warned of the approaching enemy by the cackling of the geese from the Temple of Juno