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Karl Marx

The strange frenzy which has converted France into a gambling-house, and identified the Napoleonic Empire with the Bourse, has by no means been confined within Gallic boundaries. That plague, unrestrained by political frontiers, has crossed the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Rhine, and, wonderful to say, has seized upon solid Germany, where speculation in ideas has given way to speculation in stocks, the summum bonum[a]to the bonus, the mysterious jargon of dialectics to the no less mysterious jargon of the Exchange, and the aspiration for unity to the passion for dividends. Rhenish Prussia, from its proximity to France, as well as from the high development of its industry and commerce, was the first to catch the disease. Not only did the Cologne bankers enter into a formal alliance with the great swindlers at Paris, by purchasing with them the Indépendance belge as their common organ, and establishing an international bank at Luxemburg; not only did they drag into the whirlpool of the Crédit Mobilier[437] all South-Western Germany, but in the limits of Rhenish Prussia and in the Duchy of Westphalia they succeeded so well that at this moment every layer of society, except that formed by the working classes and smaller peasantry, is permeated by the gold mania, so that even the capital of the small middle class, diverted from its customary channels, seeks for wild adventure, and every shopkeeper is turned into an alchemist. That the rest of Prussia has not escaped the contagion will be seen by the following extract from the Preussische Correspondenz, a ministerial paper.

"Observations recently made on the money market justify the assumption that there is again approaching one of those frightful commercial crises which return periodically. The feverish movement of an immoderate spirit of speculation, first prompted abroad, has, since last year, pervaded Germany to a great extent, and not only the Berlin Bourse and the Prussian capitalists have been dragged into this whirlpool, but also whole classes of society, which, at every former time, endeavored to shun any immediate participation in the hazards of the stock market."

On this apprehension of an imminent financial crisis, the Prussian Government grounded its refusal to allow the establishment of a Crédit Mobilier, the dazzling colors of which were suspected to conceal a swindling purpose. But what is not permitted under one form may be allowed in another; and what is not permitted at Berlin will be tolerated at Leipsic and Hanover. The latest phase of the speculative mania has set in at the close of the war[b], which, apart from the commercial excitement inseparable from any conclusion of peace—as witnessed in 1802 and 1815—is this time marked by the peculiar feature that Prussia has formally expressed her wish to throw open her markets to the importation of western capital and speculation. We shall, accordingly, soon hear of the grand Irkutsk trunk-line with branches to Pekin, and other not less monstrous schemes, the question being not what is really designed for execution, but what fresh material may be offered for the spirit of speculation to feed upon. There was nothing wanting but the peace to hurry the great crash apprehended by the Prussian Government.

This uncommon participation by Prussia in the speculative movement of Europe would have been impossible but for the great strides made by its industry of late years. The capital invested in railways alone has been increased from 19,000,000 to 154,000,000 Prussian thalers, in the interval from 1840 to 1854-55. Other railroads at an estimated cost of 54,000,000, are in progress; and the Government have further authorized the construction of new lines at a cost of 57,000,000. Eighty-seven joint-stock companies, with a capital of 83,000,000, have sprung into life since 1849. From 1854-56, nine insurance companies, with a capital of 22,000,000, have been registered. In these last two years, likewise, six joint-stock companies, with a capital of 10,500,000, have commenced to run spinning-mills. From the Cotton Report it will be seen that the quantity of cotton received by the different ports of Europe, has, from 1853-56, varied in the following proportions, according to the return of the first seven months of the year the export of bales being as follows:

To England1,100,000840,000963,0001,131,000
Other European ports204,000179,000167,000346,000

Hence it follows that the Continent, which in 1853 received only about one third of the cotton exported to England, received in 1856 as much as five eighths of it. To this must be added the cotton reshipped by England to the Continent. The great export to France is only so in appearance, considerable quantities being transported from Havre to Switzerland, Baden, Frankfort and Antwerp. The development of Continental industry as exhibited by the above figures denotes therefore. above all, the increase of German, and chiefly of Prussian industry. The wealth accumulated by the industrial middle classes of late years, is nearly rivaled by' the appreciation of land-owners' profits during the war period of dearth and high price. Horses, cattle, live-stock in general, and not least corn, have kept so high in Germany itself, that the influence of foreign markets has hardly been needed to enable the great landholders to roll in gold. It is wealth the—rapid increase of wealth never before experienced by these two classes—which has furnished the basis for the present speculative murrain in Prussia.

The bursting of the bubble will put the Prussian State to a severe test. The different counter-revolutions it has undergone since 1849 have ended in placing the Government in the power of the narrow class of noble landowners, with respect to whom the King, who has done everything to create their supremacy, now finds himself in the same situation as did Louis XVIII toward the Chambre introuvable[438].Frederick William had never the sense to put up with the dry bureaucratic machinery of Government bequeathed him by his father. He has all his life been dreaming of beautifying the Prussian State edifice by some romantico-gothic decoration. The short experience which he has had of his Herrenhams[c], however, must have satisfied him that in reality the landocracy or krautjunkers, as they are called in Prussia, so far from deeming themselves happy in serving as a mediaeval ornament to the bureaucracy, are striving with all their might to degrade the bureaucracy and make it the simple executor of their class-interests. Hence the split between the Junkers and the Administration; between the King and the Prince of Prussia[d]. To show the Government how much they are in earnest, they have just refused to renew the grant of an additional tax which had been levied during the war—a thing unheard of in constitutional Prussia. They have coolly and deliberately proclaimed the doctrine that they are as much kings over their little estates as the King himself is over the country at large. They insist that the Constitution, while it is to remain a sham for all other classes, must be a reality for themselves. Emancipating themselves from all control of the bureaucracy, they wish to see it weigh with double force on the classes below.

The middle class, who betrayed the revolution of 1848, have now the satisfaction, even while they are accomplishing their social triumph by the unrestrained accumulation of capital, of seeing themselves politically annihilated. Moreover, the Krautjunkers delight in every day finding fresh occasions to make them feel their humiliation, even setting aside the common laws of etiquette. When the middle-class spokesmen get up in the House of Deputies, the Junkers leave their benches en masse, and when requested at least to listen to opinions contrary to their own, they laugh in the faces of the gentlemen of the Left. When the latter complain of the obstructions put in the way of elections, they are informed that it is simply the duty of the Government to protect the masses from seduction. When they contrast the licentiousness of the aristocratic, with the shackled condition of the liberal press, they are reminded that liberty in a Christian State is not to do as one pleases, but as pleases God and the authorities. One day they are given to understand that "honor" is the monopoly of an aristocracy; the next day they are stung to the quick by a practical illustration of the exploded theories of a Haller, a de Bonald and a de Maistre. Proud of his philosophical enlightenment, the Prussian citizen has the mortification of seeing the first scientific men driven from the universities, education handed over to a gang of obscurants, ecclesiastical courts meddling with his family concerns, and the police taking him to church on a Sunday. Not content with exempting themselves from taxes so far as they could, the Junkers have packed the middle class in guilds and corporations, adulterated their municipal institutions, abolished the independence and immovability of their Judges, cancelled the religious equality of the different sects, and so forth. If at times their choking anger breaks through their fears, if they occasionally muster enough courage to threaten, from their seats in the Chamber, the Junkers with a coming revolution, they are sneeringly answered that the revolution has as heavy an account to settle with them as with the nobility.

Indeed, the higher middle class is not likely to find itself again, as in 1848, at the head of a Prussian revolution. The peasantry in Eastern Prussia have lost not only all that the revolution of 1848 had brought them in the shape of emancipation, but have been reduced once more, both administratively and judicially, under the direct yoke of the nobility. In Rhenish Prussia, by the attraction of capital toward industrial enterprise, they have sunk deeper into the bondage of the mortgagee, at the same rate at which the interest on loans has risen. While in Austria something, at least, has been done to conciliate the peasantry, in Prussia nothing has been left undone to exasperate them. As to the working classes, the Government has prevented them from participating in the profits of their masters by punishing them for strikes, and has systematically excluded them from taking part in political affairs. A disunited dynasty, a Government broken up into hostile camps, the bureaucracy quarreling with the aristocracy, the aristocracy with the middle class—a general commercial crisis, and the disinherited classes brooding in the spirit of rebellion against all the upper layers of society: such is the aspect of Prussia at this hour.

Written on April 15, 1856
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4694, May 5, 1856 as a leading article.


[a] Supreme good.—Ed.

[b] The Crimean war (1853-56).—Ed.

[c] The First Chamber of the Prussian Diet.—Ed.

[d] William.—Ed.

[436] In this article Marx used information on the economic position of Prussia and other European countries which he had received from Engels in a letter of April 14, 1856.

[437] The Société générale du Crédit mobilier was a big French joint-stock bank founded by the Péreire brothers in 1852. It was closely associated with Napoleon III's government and under the latter's protection engaged in large-scale speculation. It went bankrupt in 1867 and was liquidated in 1871.

[438] Chambre introuvable was the name given by King Louis XVIII to the Chamber of Deputies in France, which in 1815-16 consisted of extreme conservatives. It attacked the Government from the right and was eventually disbanded by the King because of its arch-reactionary views.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.657-661), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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