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The Berlin Conspiracy

Karl Marx

London, Friday, April 1, 1853

At length, the fifth of the "Great Powers," Prussia, enjoys the good fortune of having added of her own to the great discoveries made by the Austrian Police[32], with respect to the "demagogical machinations" of the revolutionists.

"The Government," we are assured by its official organs, "having obtained proof that the chiefs of the Democratic Party held continued relations with the revolutionary propaganda, ordered domiciliary visits to be made, on the 29th of March, at Berlin, and succeeded in arresting 40 individuals, among whom were Streckfuss, and the ex-members of the Prussian N. Assembly, Berends, Waldeck, etc. Domiciliary visits were made in the houses of eighty persons suspected of participation in a conspiracy. Arms and amunition were found."[a]

Not content with publishing these "startling facts" in its official papers, the Prussian Government thought proper to forward them by telegraph to the British Foreign Office.

In order to lay bare the mystery of this new police farce, it is necessary to go somewhat back. Two months after the coup d'état of Bonaparte, Mr. Hinckeldey, the Polizei Praesident of Berlin, and his inferior, Mr. Stieber, the Polizei Rath, conspired together, the one to become a Prussian Maupas, and the other to become a Prussian Piétri. The glorious omnipotence of the French police, perhaps, disturbed their slumbers. Hinckeldey addressed himself to Herr von Westphalen, the Minister of the Interior, making unjust representation to that weak-minded and fanatical reactionist (Herr von Westphalen being my brother-in-law I had ample opportunity of becoming acquainted with the mental powers of the man), on the necessity of concentrating the whole police force of the Prussian State in the hands of the Polizei Praesident of Berlin. He stated, that in order to accelerate the action of the police, it must be made independent of the Minister of the Interior and intrusted exclusively to himself. The minister von Westphalen, represents the ultra Prussian aristocracy and the President of the ministry, Herr von Manteuffel, represents the old bureaucracy; the two are rivals, and the former beheld. in the suggestion of Hinckeldey, although it apparently narrowed the circle of his own department, a means of inflicting a blow on his rival, whose brother, M. von Manteuffel, was the director in the ministry of the Interior, and especially charged with the control of t he entire police. Herr von Westphalen therefore submitted his proposition to a council of State, presided over by the King himself[b].

The discussion was very angry. Manteuffel, supported by the Prince of Prussia, opposed the plan of establishing an independent ministry of police. The King inclined to the proposition of Herr von Westphalen, and concluded with the Solomonian sentence, that he would follow the example of Bonaparte and create a ministry of police, "if the necessity of that step were proved to him by facts." Now, the affair of the Cologne Communists was chosen by Hinckeldey and Stieber to furnish these facts. You are aware of the heroic performances of those men in the Cologne trials[33]. After their conclusion the Prussian Government resolved to elevate the openly-perjured Stieber, the man who had been hissed wherever he showed himself in the streets of Cologne to the dignity of a Polizei-Director of Cologne. But M. de Bethmann-Hollweg and other well-meaning conservative deputies of Rhenish Prussia, intervened, representing to the ministers that such an open insult to the public opinion of that province might have very ominous consequences at a moment when Bonaparte coveted the natural limits of France[34]. The Government yielded, contenting itself with the nomination of Stieber as Polizei-Director of Berlin, in reward for his perjuries committed at Cologne and his thefts committed at London. There, however, the affair stopped. It was impossible to accomplish the wishes of Mr. Hinckeldey and to create for him an independent ministry of police on the ground of the Cologne trial. Hinckeldey and Stieber watched their time. Happily there came the Milan insurrection. Stieber at once made twenty arrests at Berlin. But the thing was too ridiculous to be proceeded with. But then came Libeny, and now the King was ripe. Overwhelmed with fearful apprehensions he saw at) once the necessity of having an independent ministry of police, and Hinckeldey saw his dreams realized. A royal ordinance created him the Prussian Maupas, while the brother of Herr von Manteuffel tendered his resignation. The most astounding part of the comedy, however, was yet to come. Scarcely had Mr. Hinckeldey rushed into his new dignity when the "great Berlin conspiracy" was discovered directly. This conspiracy, then, was made for the express purpose of proving the necessity of Mr. Hinckeldey. It was the present Mr. Hinckeldey made over to the imbecile King in exchange - for his newly-gained police-autocracy. Hinckeldey's adjunct, the ingenious Stieber, who had discovered at Cologne that whenever letters were found terminating with the words "Gruss" and "Bruderschaft"[c], there was unquestionably a Communist conspiracy, now made the discovery that there appeared at Berlin for some time since an ominous quantity of "Calabrese hats," and that the Calabrese hat was unquestionably the "rallying sign" of the revolutionists. Strong upon this important discovery, Stieber made on the 18th of March several arrests, chiefly of workmen and foreigners, the charge against whom was the wearing of Calabrese hats. On the 23d ejusdem domiciliary visits were made in the house of Karl Delius, a merchant at Magdeburg and brother of a member of the Second Chamber, who had also an unhappy taste for Calabrese hats. Finally, as I informed you at the beginning of this letter, on the 29th ultimo the great coup d'état against the Calabrese hats was struck at Berlin. All those who know anything of the milk-and-water opposition of Waldeck, Berends, &c., will laugh at the "arms and munition" found in the possession of these most inoffensive Brutuses.

But futile as this police comedy may appear to be got up, as it were, by mere personal motives of Messrs. Hinckeldey & Stieber, it is not without significance. The Prussian Government is exasperated at the passive resistance it meets with in every direction. It smells the breath of Revolution in midst of the apparent apathy. It despairs at the want of a tangible form of that specter, and feels alleviated, as it were, from the nightmare every time the police affords bodily shapes to its ubiquitous but invisible antagonist. It attacks, it will go on attacking, and it will successfully convert the passive resistance of the people into an active one.

Written on April 1, 1853
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3745, April 18, 1853;
reprinted in the Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 824, April 19, 1853
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] See "Prussia", The Morning Post, No. 24734, March 31, 1853.—Ed.

[b] Frederick William IV.—Ed.

[c] "Greeting" and "Fraternity".—Ed.

[32] A reference to the actions of the Austrian police in connection with the Milan insurrection in February 1853 (see Note 19 ↓) and the attempt of the Hungarian tailor János Libényi to assassinate the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph on February 18, 1853 (see present edition, Vol. 11, p. 513). These events were used by the Austrian authorities as a pretext for mass arrests and trials of persons suspected of conspiracy against the government and participation in the national liberation movement in Hungary and Italy. Marx compares these reprisals with the measures taken by the governments of German states against participants in the opposition movement after the Napoleonic wars, which were carried out on the pretext of fighting against "demagogical machinations".

[19] A reference to the Milan insurrection started on February 6, 1853 by the followers of the Italian revolutionary Mazzini and supported by Hungarian revolutionary refugees. The aim of the insurgents, who were mostly Italian workers, was to overthrow Austrian rule, but their conspiratorial tactics led them to failure. Marx analysed it in a number of articles (see present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 508-09, 513-16 and 535-37).

[33] The Cologne communist trial (October 4-November 12, 1852) was a trial of a group of Communist League members charged with "treasonable conspiracy". The trial was rigged by the Prussian police on the basis of forged documents and fabricated evidence, which were used not only against the accused but also to discredit the whole proletarian organisation. Such evidence included, for instance, the so-called Original Minute-book of the Communist League Central Authority meetings and other documents forged by police agents, but also genuine documents of the Willich-Schapper adventurist faction which was responsible for the split in the Communist League. Seven of the twelve accused were sentenced to imprisonment for terms of three to six years. Marx guided the defence from London by sending material revealing the provocative methods of the prosecution, and after the trial he exposed its organisers (see Engels' article "The Late Trial at Cologne", published in the New-York Daily Tribune, and Marx's pamphlet Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne, present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 388-93 and 395-457).

[34] Marx is referring to Napoleon III's claims to the left bank of the Rhine, which representatives of French ruling circles had regarded as France's "natural border" in the east ever since the seventeenth century.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.28-31), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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