Lassalle (May 2, 1849)

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Cologne, May 1. The day after tomorrow the indictment against Lassalle on the charge of direct incitement to take up arms against the royal power will come before the Assizes in Düsseldorf.

It will be recalled that Lassalle, Cantador (head of the Düsseldorf civic militia) and the street-vendor Weyers were arrested last November when the state of siege was proclaimed in Düsseldorf, and an investigation was begun against them on account of the above-mentioned “crime under Articles 87 and 102 of the Code Pénal”.[1]

The investigation proceeded as slowly as possible. Whereas the simultaneously instituted tax-refusal trial of the Rhenish District Committee of Democrats took place already on February 8 in Cologne, [2] one assize period after another elapsed in Düsseldorf before the Cologne indictment board had even referred the case to the Assizes. But Marx, Schneider and Schapper were at liberty, whereas Lassalle was kept in the Düsseldorf remand prison; yet the Code d'instruction criminelle [3] lays down that the case of an arrested person should have priority in being dealt with!

In prison Lassalle was given a quite special kind of preference. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung has often enough had occasion to report examples of the tenderness with which he was treated by the myrmidons of the royal-Prussian judiciary. Whereas all sorts of favours were conferred on Cantador — for, despite his political activity, Cantador had a great many friends among the Düsseldorf bourgeoisie — Lassalle had once again [4] to experience the arbitrary tyranny to which a royal-Prussian prisoner under examination is subjected. Without speaking of the pettier annoyances, we shall merely recall the brutal way in which Herr Morret, the prison governor, treated Lassalle in the presence of the examining magistrate, Herr Ebermeyer (whom we now have the pleasure of having here, in Cologne). Lassalle sent a complaint to the Public Prosecutor’s office. The Public Prosecutor General, Herr Nicolovius, decided: the action in question is neither a crime nor an offence and therefore cannot be the subject of legal proceedings!

We recall further that the physician considered that outdoor walks were absolutely necessary for Lassalle’s health, to which the Public Prosecutor’s office gave its consent, whereas the government authority prohibited them, although according to the law a prisoner undergoing examination does not come under the jurisdiction of the government authority but solely under that of the Public Prosecutor.

The difficulties involved in gaining access to Lassalle in the prison, the excuses, evasions etc. are familiar to everyone who has ever tried to penetrate into the interior of the Düsseldorf “institution”.

The investigation was at last concluded and the case should have gone to the Court. There was then still enough time to bring the case for trial at the last Assizes, which were held in February and March. But they wanted to prevent this at all costs. When the dossiers were submitted to the deputy Chief Public Prosecutor, the “gracious” Herr von Ammon I, for his final conclusion, Herr Ammon suddenly produced a letter from LassaIle to a certain Stangier, a farmer in the Altenkirchen district, in order to base a fresh charge on it. But this letter had for several weeks already lain quietly in the office desk of Herr Ammon, without the idea occurring to him of adding it to the dossiers as a new point in the indictment. Now, when everything was ready and the time for the Assizes was at hand, now Herr Ammon came forward with the letter. Then, of course, new interrogations of witnesses had to take place and the case was delayed for several weeks. And this period was just sufficient to make it impossible for Lassalle’s case to be dealt with at the Assizes then about to be held.

The letter, which Herr Ammon, as he himself admitted, had kept for a fairly long time in his office desk, was moreover so unimportant that neither the Court nor the indictment board paid any attention to it or listed it as an additional reason for indictment!

In short, the Assizes were successfully avoided, and the next session began only in May. One deputation after another went to the Public Prosecutor General Herr Nicolovius, and asked for the case to be expedited or for an extraordinary session of the Assizes to be called. Herr Nicolovius promised to do all he could and stated that in no case would Lassalle be imprisoned for as much as six months. And now! It is hardly two weeks short of six months.

The Court at last decided: all three accused were referred to the indictment board. But here a difficulty arose: people were quite convinced that in the whole Düsseldorf Circuit no jury could be found that would convict Herr Cantador. Hence in order to free Cantador, Lassalle also would have to be acquitted, even by people who would otherwise have convicted him. And it was precisely the conviction of Lassalle that was desired by the authorities in Düsseldorf, the Government, and even the very high and supreme camarilla. The hostility to Lassalle “does not even stop short of the throne”.

This is what has happened:

“The indictment board drops the case against Cantador and sets him free, whereas Lassalle and Weyers remain in prison and have to come before the Assizes.”

Yet the charge against Cantador was exactly the same as against Lassalle, except for a single speech which Lassalle made in Neuss.[5] And it is precisely this speech in Neuss that is seized on and for which Lassalle is committed to the Assizes.

Let us briefly recall the whole course of events.

At a time when at any day an open struggle could break out between the now defunct National Assembly and the Crown, Düsseldorf was, as is well known, one of the greatest centres of agitation of all the towns in the Rhine Province. The civic militia here was completely on the side of the National Assembly and, moreover, was led by a democrat. It was ready to turn passive resistance into active resistance as soon as Berlin gave the signal for it. Arms and munitions were available. Lassalle and Cantador stood at the head of the whole movement. They not merely called on the citizens to arm themselves against the Manteuffel Government, they actually provided them with arms. Here, in Düsseldorf, was the centre of their activity. It was here, therefore, if any crime had actually been committed, that this crime must have taken place. But where is it supposed to have taken place? Not in Düsseldorf, but — in Neuss!!

Lassalle was at a meeting in Neuss and called for armed reinforcements to be sent to Düsseldorf. This call did not even have any result, because matters never reached the point of fighting. And yet Lassalle’s crime is supposed to consist in this!

Consequently, Lassalle has not been committed for trial at the Assizes on account of his main activity, on account of the actual arming, or the actual uprising, that was on the point of breaking out in Düsseldorf. There was no “crime” in that. Even the indictment board, decrepit though it is, had to admit that. The alleged crime consisted in a quite fortuitous, incidental action which was totally dependent on the main action in Düsseldorf and absolutely meaningless apart from it; — it consisted not in the organisation of armed force against the government authorities in Düsseldorf, but in a call to the inhabitants of Neuss to support that organisation!

But, of course, Cantador was not in Neuss when Lassalle made this terrible speech; Cantador did not call on the inhabitants of Neuss for armed resistance, Cantador merely — organised the inhabitants of Düsseldorf for armed resistance and called on the Düsseldorf civic militia, which is itself part of the Government’s armed force, to resist the Government. That is the difference, and that is why Cantador was set free, and Lassalle kept in prison up to the present session of the Assizes.

But that is not all. Lassalle also directly appealed to the farmer Stangier for armed reinforcements to be sent to Düsseldorf. This letter is in the dossiers and is cited word for word in the indictment (see Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 277, second edition). Did the indictment regard this letter as a reason for committing Lassalle to the Assizes? By no means. Even the Court, which had put forward nine counts against Lassalle, eight of which were dropped by the indictment board, never thought of including this letter among them. But this letter contains exactly the same alleged “crime” as that committed by Lassalle in Neuss.

Rarely has anything more inconsistent, more contradictory and more incomprehensible been fabricated than this decision of the indictment board to send the case for trial.

But what is certainly commendable is the following: even according to the decision of the Cologne indictment board, in all the agitation that was carried out in Düsseldorf last November, in the direct call for resistance to the Government, in the arming, in the procurement of ammunition, in the direct and open opposition of the civic militia to the Government, in the oath sworn by the civic militia that they would fight, arms in hand, against the Government and in support of the National Assembly — in all this there was no crime. The Cologne indictment board has said so.

And it is true that on this point it agrees with the Cologne Court, and indeed with the Cologne Public Prosecutor’s office. During the investigation of the case against the Rhenish District Committee, they both calmly ignored the call to arm against the “enemy”, took no notice of the criminal case involved, and confined themselves merely to the fact of a call to revolt punishable by a police court, and it came before the Assizes only because it was issued through the press.

Lassalle was dealt with much more cunningly. First of all criminal proceedings were instituted, and the police court kept in reserve. For in case he were to be acquitted in connection with the speech made in Neuss, he was committed for trial to the police court on account of his call for resistance to officials (revolt) supposed to be contained in two Düsseldorf speeches.

We need merely to recall here the course of the trial of the Rhenish District Committee. The case is completely analogous. At that trial it was argued that the matter under consideration was either a crime (the same as that of which Lassalle is accused) or nothing at all, and that it was not possible to call for armed resistance to the Government without at the same time calling for resistance to all the individual officials who constitute the Government. The jury’s verdict was an acquittal.

Lassalle will be in the same position when, after his indubitable acquittal by the jury, he comes before the police court. But meanwhile they have a pretext to apply for the prolongation of the arrest, and in addition it is easier to manipulate the police court than the jurymen!

Tomorrow we shall deal with the indictment itself, and from it, too, prove the absurdity of this whole trial.

  1. ↑ An allusion to Frederick William IV’s statement in his speech at the opening of the United Diet on April 11, 1847, that he was “heir to the unweakened crown and must hand it over to his successors in an unweakened state” (see Der Erste Vereinigte Landtag in Berlin 1847, erster Teil).
  2. ↑ The trial of the Rhenish District Committee of Democrats. The Rhenish District Committee of Democrats was set up at the First Rhenish Congress of Democrats held in Cologne on August 13 and 14, 1848, by a decision of the First All-German Democratic Congress in Frankfurt am Main, on the basis of the Central Commission of representatives from the three democratic organisations in Cologne — the Democratic Society, the Workers’ Association and the Association for Workers and Employers — formed late in June 1848. Marx, who was on the Central Commission, also became a member of the Rhenish District Committee, together with Schapper, Moll and other prominent figures of the Communist League. The President of the Committee was a German democrat, lawyer Schneider 11. When he was elected to the Second Chamber of the Prussian Provincial Diet early in 1848, Marx acted as President. Thanks to Marx and his associates, the Committee exerted a considerable influence on the popular movement in the Rhine Province. It successfully organised resistance to the growing counter-revolutionary forces and, in particular, initiated the tax-refusal campaign during the coup d'état in Prussia (November-December 1848). It did not confine its activities to the Rhine Province, but extended them to Westphalia as well. Marx and other members of the Communist League decided to withdraw from the Rhenish District Committee of Democrats because of the changes that had taken place in Germany and in the working-class movement there by the spring of 1849. The rising activity of workers’ associations and the markedly growing class consciousness of the German proletariat provided the opportunity to create a mass proletarian party. On the other hand, the wavering position of the petty-bourgeois democrats made necessary an ideological and organisational separation from them. Under these conditions, taking the first steps to found a proletarian party, Marx and Engels proposed the task of strengthening the independence of the workers’ associations, primarily the Cologne Workers’ Association, of freeing them from petty-bourgeois influence, of marshalling their activities in a single direction and achieving a unified revolutionary platform. Their withdrawal from the Committee in no way meant a break with the non-proletarian democratic trends. Marx and Engels continued to call for unity of action with democrats in the struggle against counter-revolution, believing, however, that at that stage it should not be carried out within a single organisation. At the same time, Marx established closer contacts with the representatives of the workers’ associations. These tasks and the financial problems of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung were the main purpose of Marx’s trip to North-West Germany and Westphalia in the second half of April 1849, during which he visited Bremen, Hamburg, Bielefeld, Hamm and other towns. was held on February 8, 1849. Marx, Karl Schapper and the lawyer Schneider II were brought before the jury and accused of instigation to revolt on the basis of that committee’s appeal issued on November 18, 1848 concerning the refusal to pay taxes as a measure of struggle against the counter-revolutionary coup in Prussia. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
  3. ↑ Code d'instruction criminelle — French Criminal Code which was in force in the Rhine Province of Prussia. In this particular case, reference is to Article 300
  4. ↑ The first time Lassalle was imprisoned from February to August 1848. Legal proceedings were instituted against him on the charge that he had instigated the theft of a box containing documents to be used in the divorce case of Countess Hatzfeld. As a lawyer, he was employed on this case from 1846 to 1854.
    Lassalle was again arrested in Düsseldorf on November 22, 1848 on a charge of incitement to arm against the government during the tax-refusal campaign. The proceedings against him were delayed by the legal authorities of the Rhine Province in every possible way. During the investigation, attempts were also made to bring a case against him for insulting government officiate, etc. On Lassalle’s request, expressed in his letters to Marx and Engels, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung came out in defence of him and of other Düsseldorf democrats under persecution. The newspaper carried a number of articles exposing the abuses of power and illegal actions by the judicial and prison authorities against Lassalle. Marx and Engels also took part in the efforts of the Cologne democratic organisations to induce the legal authorities to speed up the investigation of the case. Subsequently, the newspaper several times published material exposing this trial which was held on May 3 and 4. The jury acquitted Lassalle.
  5. ↑ On November 22, 1848 Lassalle made a speech at the popular meeting in Neuss (near Düsseldorf) in which he called upon the people to give armed support when needed to the Prussian National Assembly in its conflict with the Prussian Government. On the same day he was arrested