On the Freedom of the Press and Meetings in Germany

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In accusing the French Government of

“having rendered impossible the free expression of opinion in France through the medium of the press and of national representatives”,[1]

Bismarck did evidently but intend to crack a Berlin Witz.[2] If you want to become acquainted with “true” French opinion please apply to Herr Stieber, the editor of the Versailles Moniteur, and the notorious Prussian police spy!

At Bismarck’s express command Messrs. Bebel and Liebknecht have been arrested, on the charge of high treason, simply because they dared to fulfil their duties as German national representatives, viz., to protest in the Reichstag against the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine, vote against new war subsidies, express their sympathy with the French Republic, and denounce the attempt at the conversion of Germany into one Prussian barrack.[3] For the utterance of the same opinions the members of the Brunswick Socialist Democratic Committee have, since the beginning of last September, been treated like galley-slaves, and are still undergoing a mock prosecution for high treason. The same lot has befallen numerous workmen who propagated the Brunswick manifesto.[4] On similar pretexts, Mr. Hepner, the sub-editor of the Leipzig Volksstaat, is prosecuted for high treason. The few independent German journals existing outside Prussia are forbidden admission into the Hohenzollern estates. German workmen’s meetings in favour of a peace honourable for France are daily dispersed by the police. According to the official Prussian doctrine, as naively laid down by General Vogel von Falckenstein, every German “trying to counteract the prospective aims of the Prussian warfare in France”, is guilty of high treason. If M. Gambetta and Co. were, like the Hohenzollern, forced to violently put down popular opinion, they would only have to apply the Prussian method, and, on the plea of war, proclaim throughout France the state of siege. The only French soldiers on German soil moulder in Prussian gaols. Still the Prussian Government feels itself bound to rigorously maintain the state of siege, that is to say, the crudest and most revolting form of military despotism, the suspension of all law. The French soil is infested by about a million of German invaders. Yet the French Government can safely dispense with that Prussian method of “rendering possible the free expression of opinion”. Look at this picture and at that! Germany, however, has proved too petty a field for Bismarck’s all-absorbing love of independent opinion. When the Luxemburgers gave vent to their sympathies with France, Bismarck made this expression of sentiment one of his pretexts for renouncing the London neutrality treaty.[5]

When the Belgian press committed a similar sin, the Prussian ambassador at Brussels, Herr von Balan, invited the Belgian ministry to put down not only all anti-Prussian newspaper articles, but even the printing of mere news calculated to cheer on the French in their war of independence. A very modest request this, indeed, to suspend the Belgian Constitution, “pour le roi de Prusse!”[6] No sooner had some Stockholm papers indulged in some mild jokes at the notorious “piety” of Wilhelm Annexander,[7] than Bismarck came down on the Swedish cabinet with grim missives. Even under the meridian of St. Petersburg he contrived to spy too licentious a press. At his humble supplication, the editors of the principal Petersburg papers were summoned before the Censor-in-Chief, who bid them beware of all strictures upon the feal Borussian vassal of the Czar. One of those editors, M. Saguljajew, was imprudent enough to emit the secret of this avertissement through the columns of the Golos. He was at once pounced upon by the Russian police, and bundled off to some remote province.[8] It would be a mistake to believe that those gendarme proceedings are only due to the paroxysm of war fever. They are, on the contrary, the true methodical application of Prussian law principles. There exists in point of fact an odd proviso in the Prussian criminal code, by dint of which every foreigner, on account of his doings or writings in his own or any other foreign country, may be prosecuted for “insult against the Prussian King” and “high treason against Prussia”![9] France—and her cause is fortunately far from desperate—fights at this moment not only for her own national independence, but for the liberty of Germany and Europe.

I am, Sir, yours respectfully,

Karl Marx

  1. O. Bismarck’s despatch headlined “Versailles, den 9. Januar 1871”, Königlich Preussischer Staats-Anzeiger, No. 15, January 14, 1871.— Ed.
  2. Joke.— Ed.
  3. A. Bebel’s speech in the Reichstag on November 26, 1870. Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des Reichstages des Norddeutschen Bundes. I. Legislatur-Periode. II. Ausserordentliche Session 1870. Berlin, 1870; W. Liebknecht’s speech in the Reichstag on November 26, 1870, ibid.— Ed.
  4. “Manifest des Ausschusses der sozial-demokratischen Arbeiterpartei. An alle deutschen Arbeiter! Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, 5. September, 1870”, Der Volksstaat, No. 73, September 11, 1870.— Ed
  5. Yhe London Treaty on Neutrality of Luxembourg was signed on May 11, 1867 by Austria, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Prussia and Russia. It ended the so-called Luxembourg crisis that had been caused by Napoleon Ill’s attempt to make Prussia agree to France’s annexation of Luxembourg in payment for the latter’s neutrality in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866. This treaty declared Luxembourg a permanently neutral state, its neutrality being guaranteed by the signatory states. On December 9, 1870, Bismarck announced his intention not to abide by this treaty, considering that Luxembourg had taken too friendly a position towards France, but already on December 19 under pressure from Britain he abandoned his threat.
  6. Literally: for the sake of Prussian King, and figuratively: for nothing.
  7. A blend of the words “annexion” and “Alexander”, an ironical comparison with Alexander of Macedon.— Ed.
  8. Marx learned of this from a letter by the Russian revolutionary Lopatin, dated December 15, 1870.— Ed.
  9. Entwurf des Strafgesetzbuchs für die Preussischen Staaten, nach den Beschlüssen des Königlichen Staatsraths, Berlin, 1843.— Ed