The Kolnische Zeitung on the Elections

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 30 January 1849

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 8, p. 286;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 210, February 1, 1849.
Collection(s): Neue Rheinische Zeitung

In the primary elections to the Second Prussian Chamber on January 22, 1848, the democrats in Cologne won a considerable victory: they made up two-thirds of the electors. They also won in many other towns and rural localities in the Rhine Province. This victory, which proved the correctness of the tactics pursued by the Neue Rheinische Zeitung — that of uniting all democratic forces in the elections — aroused apprehensions not only on the part of the authorities but also of the moderate liberals, whose reaction to the elections was reflected in the Kölnische Zeitung.

Cologne, January 30. The Kölnische Zeitung has at last also obtained reports on the elections, and they are indeed reports which to some extent pour oil on its wounds.

“The democratic reports on the elections,” exclaims the worthy Brüggemann, intoxicated with joy, “the democratic reports on the elections” (i.e. the Neue Rheinische Zeitung) “have grossly exaggerated. Protests are now reaching us from all sides.

From all sides! The Kölnische Zeitung intends to crush us with the weight of its “protests”. Will two pages of compressed election bulletins, each one a “gross exaggeration” of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, each one proving a victory of the constitutionalists, produce a deep-red blush of shame on our cheeks?

On the contrary.

“Protests are now reaching us from all sides.”

The worthy Brüggemann does not “exaggerate”. He actually got summa summarum four whole protests: from the west (Trier), north (Hamm), south (Siegburg) and east (Arnsberg)! Are those not “protests from all sides” against the “gross exaggeration of the democratic reports on the elections"?

For the time being, let us leave to the Kölnische Zeitung the pleasure of believing that the constitutionalists were victorious in these four decisive localities. At any rate this pleasure is soured by pain because all the same in many places the constitutionalists were defeated owing to the “masses’ susceptibility to being seduced”.

Naive confession of the constitutionalists that for them the “masses” are not “susceptible to being seduced"!

One consolation, however, remains for the Kölnische Zeitung. And what is this consolation? It is that the Coblenz correspondent of the Deutsche Zeitung is a comrade in misfortune, that in this unfortunate state of affairs he uttered appropriate words, worthy of figuring in the first columns of the Kölnische Zeitung:

“Note that the political question in this point also, as everywhere, becomes a small one compared with the social question, that it becomes entirely merged in the latter.

Until a few days ago the Kölnische Zeitung did not want to hear about the social question. On this subject belonging to the other world it never had occasion to speak, or at most it did so with a certain frivolity (insofar as it is possible for the Kölnische Zeitung to be frivolous). It adopted an atheistic, disbelieving, free-thinking attitude towards it. Then suddenly it underwent the same experience as the fisherman in A Thousand and One Nights. Just as, before the fisherman, the genie arose gigantically out of the bottle he had fished up from the sea-bed and unsealed, so before the trembling Kölnische Zeitung there suddenly arises out of the election urn the menacing gigantic spectre of the “social question”. Terrified, the worthy Brüggemann sinks to his knees; his last hope vanishes, the spectre at a gulp swallows his entire “political question”, which for years he had tenderly cherished, together with its legal basis and accessories.

Clever policy of the Kölnische Zeitung. It tries to put a good face on its political defeat by means of its social defeat.

This discovery that it has been defeated not only in the political field, but in the social field as well, is the greatest experience it has gained from the primary elections!

Or was perhaps the Kölnische Zeitung enthusiastic even earlier over the “social question"?

In point of fact, Montesquieu LVI had stated in the Kölnische Zeitung that the social question was infinitely important and that recognition of the imposed Constitution was the solution of the social question.

But recognition of the imposed Constitution — that is pre-eminently what the Kölnische Zeitung calls the “political question”.

Prior to the elections, therefore, the social question became merged in the political question, after the elections the political question becomes merged in the social question. That, therefore, is the difference, that is the experience from the primary elections, namely, that what is correct after the elections is exactly the opposite of what was gospel truth prior to the elections.

“The political question becomes merged in the social question"!

Let us leave out of account that already before the elections we explained as clearly as possible that there could be no talk of a “social question” as such, that each class has its own social question, and that this social question of a definite class involves at the same time a definite political question for this class. Let us leave out of account all these light-hearted marginal notes when confronting the serious, solid Kölnerin, and let us analyse as far as possible the line of thought and mode of speech of this strong-charactered and profound newspaper.

By the social question, the Kölnische Zeitung understands the question: how are the petty bourgeoisie, the peasants and the proletariat to be helped?

And now, since at the primary elections the petty bourgeoisie, peasants and proletarians emancipated themselves from the big bourgeoisie, the upper nobility and the higher bureaucracy, now the Kölnische Zeitung exclaims: “The political question becomes merged in the social question"!

A fine consolation for the Kölnische Zeitung! Therefore the fact that the workers, peasants and petty bourgeoisie routed by striking majorities the big bourgeois and other highly respected constitutional candidates of the Kölnische Zeitung is no defeat of the “constitutionalists”, but merely a victory of the “social question"! The fact that the constitutionalists were defeated does not prove that the democrats were victorious, but that politics has no part to play in the face of material questions.

Profound thoroughness on the part of our neighbouring journalist. [Brüggemann] These petty bourgeois, hovering on the brink of ruin, are they enthusiastic about the imposed Constitution? These peasants, oppressed by mortgages and usurers, and crushed under feudal burdens, are they enthusiastic about the finance and feudal barons who are their exploiters, and for whose direct benefit the imposed Constitution was invented? And, finally, these proletarians, who suffer simultaneously from the administrative passion of our bureaucrats and from the lust for profit of our bourgeoisie, have they any reason to rejoice that the imposed Constitution provides a new tie linking these two classes that suck the blood of the people?

Are not all these three classes interested above all in the abolition of the First Chamber, which represents not them, but their direct opponents and oppressors?

In point of fact, the Kölnische Zeitung is right: the social question swallows up the political question. In the interest of the “social question” the classes that have newly joined the political movement will vote against their own political interests and for the imposed Constitution!

Can the petty bourgeois and peasants, and, the more so, the proletarians, find a better political form for representing their interests than the democratic republic? Are not precisely these classes the most radical, the most democratic, of society as a whole? Is it not precisely the proletariat that is the specifically red class? — That does not matter, exclaims the Kölnische Zeitung, the social question swallows up the political question.

According to the Kölnische Zeitung, the victory of the social question is at the same time the victory of the imposed Constitution.

But the “social question” of the Kölnische Zeitung has also a very special feature. Read the report of the Kölnische Zeitung on the elections to the First Chamber[1] and their “fortunate outcome”, which consists in the fact that Herr Joseph Dumont has become an elector. That at any rate solves the real social question for the Kölnische Zeitung, and compared with it all the subordinate “social questions” which could perhaps crop up in connection with elections to a plebeian Second Chamber disappear.

May the storm of the world-historic “political question”, which at the present time is menacingly rising in Paris, not mercilessly break to pieces, the Kölnische Zeitung’s delicate “social question"!

  1. The reference is to the article “Elections to the First Chamber” published in the Kölnische Zeitung No. 24, January 28, 1849. The article expressed an opinion that as opposed to “a somewhat revolutionary-democratic Second Chamber”, the First Chamber would be “the pillar of the Crown, law and order and genuine freedom”, and called upon the electors to see to it that the “highest culture” and “statesmanly wisdom” should he represented in it by people of really outstanding talent