Lassalle (Neue Rheinische Zeitung, March 1849)

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Cologne, March 3. People still remember the notorious case where an unfortunate girl was brought before the assize court on a charge of infanticide. The jury acquitted her. Later on, she was brought before a police court for concealment of pregnancy. Amid the general laughter of the public, the Court’s decision to prosecute was quashed.

The Düsseldorf Court is following in the footsteps of its illustrious predecessor.

By a decision of the Düsseldorf Court dated February 22, Lassalle, Cantador and Weyers were committed to the assize court, charged with making inflammatory speeches. We have no objection to that. But by a decision of the same Court, Lassalle is a second time being brought before a police court on the grounds that in a speech at Neuss [1] he is alleged to have called for “violent resistance to officials” (a crime under Articles 209, 217) .[2]

Let us, first of all, establish the facts.

Among the circumstances adduced as motives for Lassalle’s committal to the assize court is this same speech at Neuss. The Court alleges that in this speech he “called for arming against the state power” (a crime under Articles 87, 91, 102).

On the basis of one and the same speech, therefore, Lassalle is brought on one occasion before the assize court, and on a second occasion before the police court. If the jury acquits him, he will be convicted by the police court. And if the police court does not convict him, in any case he will remain in custody on remand until the police court acquits him. Whatever the verdict of the jury, Lassalle will continue to be deprived of his freedom, and the Prussian state is saved.

We repeat: it is on the basis of one and the same speech that Lassalle is committed by the Düsseldorf Court first to the assize court and secondly to the police court. It is the same fact in each case.

Furthermore, apart from that.

If in a speech I “call for arming against the state power”, is it not self-evident that I am calling for “violent resistance to officials"? The existence of the state power is embodied precisely in its officials, the army, the administration and the courts. Apart from this, its physical embodiment, it is but a shadow, an idea, a name. The overthrow of the Government is impossible without violent resistance to its officials. If in a speech I call for revolution, it is superfluous to add: “offer violent resistance to the officials”. According to the procedure of the Düsseldorf Court, everyone without exception who is committed to the assizes under Articles 87 and 102 on a charge of incitement to overthrow the Government can subsequently be brought before the police court under Articles 209 and 217.

And is there not in the Code d'instruction criminelle [3] an article which states:

“No one who is legally acquitted can again be taken in charge or accused on the basis of the same offence.”

But it makes no difference to the actual state of affairs whether after I have been acquitted by the jury I am subsequently brought before the police court for the same offence, or whether the verdict of the jury is annulled in advance by my being first of all 1) committed for trial before the assize court and 2) brought before the police court for the same offence.

We ask the Düsseldorf Court whether its patriotic zeal has not clouded its legal acumen. We ask Examining Magistrate Ebermeier whether he is entirely free from personal enmity towards Lassalle. We ask, finally, a certain official of the Düsseldorf Public Prosecutor’s office whether he did not declare: “The acquittal of Cantador and Weyers is of no great concern to us, but we must in any case hold Lassalle.”

We doubt whether Lassalle has the same desire to be listed for an incredibly long period in the inventory of “subjects of the statepar excellence.

The Lassalle case is important for us not only because it concerns the liberty and rights of a fellow-citizen, one of our party friends. It is above all important because the issue is whether the exclusive competence of the assize court for political offences will or will not suffer the same fate as all the so-called March gains, whether the salaried lawyers will be able at their discretion to degrade the assize court with its unpaid jury to the mere semblance of a court of justice, in the event of some fact not being recognised by the jury as a political crime or offence, by immediately referring the same fact to the judgment of a police court as an ordinary offence. Why in general have these crimes and offences been withdrawn from the competence of ordinary courts and referred to the assize court? Obviously it has been presumed that, in spite of the honour and sensitivity of the salaried judges, in political trials they represent anything but the interests of the accused.

We shall take up this subject again.

  1. On November 22, 1848, Lassalle delivered a speech at a popular meeting in Neuss (near Düsseldorf) in which he called upon the people to offer if necessary armed support to the Prussian National Assembly. Lassalle was arrested on the same day. On the legal proceedings against Lassalle. Lassalle was arrested in Düsseldorf on November 22, 1848, on the charge of incitement to arming against the Government during the campaign for refusal to pay taxes. The judiciary of the Rhine Province used all means to drag out his case. On Lassalle’s request, expressed in his letters to Marx and Engels, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung came out in his defence and that of other persecuted Düsseldorf democrats. It carried a number of articles exposing the abuses and illegal actions of the judiciary and the prison authorities against Lassalle. An article on Lassalle, written later on, is published in Vol. 9 of the present edition. Marx and Engels also participated in the steps taken by the Cologne democratic organisations to induce the judiciary to speed up the investigation of the case. In particular they were among the deputation who visited Prosecutor-General of the Rhine Province Nicolovius on March 3, 1849, and protested against the protraction of, Lassalle’s case. The trial was held on May 3 and 4; Lassalle was acquitted.
  2. Here and elsewhere, the reference is to the articles of the Code pénal.The Penal Code (Code pénal), adopted in France in 1810 and introduced into the regions of West and South-West Germany conquered by the French, remained in effect in the Rhine Province even after its incorporation into Prussia in 1815. The Prussian Government attempted to reduce the sphere of its application and by a whole series of laws and orders to reintroduce in this province Prussian Law designed to guarantee feudal privileges. These measures, which met with great opposition in the Rhine Province, were annulled after the March revolution by the decree of April 15, 1848.
  3. Code d'instruction criminelle — the French Criminal Code in force in the Rhine Province of Prussia. Further Article 360 of this Code is cited