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Affairs in Prussia

Karl Marx

Berlin, Nov. 16, 1858

The eclectic and variegated character of the new Cabinet, which I dwelt upon in a former letter[a], has been laid hold of by the Kreuz-Zeitung, in the following sneering apostrophe:

"A change of system is to take place. What change of system, if we may take the liberty of asking? What is the system abandoned, and what are the principles of the new system to be adopted? Is it the Catholic Prince at the head of the Ministry, who represents its leading thought; or the Minister of Church and Educational Affairs, the man of the Evangelical alliance? And how is it that the Minister of Finance, the former deputy of the Democrats, is expected to harmonize with the above-mentioned persons? And can the veteran representative of old Prussian bureaucracy bring his opinions to the same level as that of Herr von Patow?"[b]

On the 12th of November, the Urwahlen (primitive elections) took place throughout the whole of the monarchy. The Wahlmänner[c] thus elected will in their turn elect the Deputies on the 23d of this month. Nobody likes moderate chastity in his wife, or moderate solvency on the part of his debtor; but moderate liberty was the watchword moderately dealt out among the Urwähler. The part of the Prussian population which as yet monopolizes the movement, and whose political creed may be characterized as liberalismus vulgaris, is anything but heroical. In 1848, they dared not move on until Naples and Paris and Vienna had broken loose. By a curious concatenation of circumstances, they find themselves, at this moment, in the position of giving the signal of the political revival on the continent. With a great army at their own back, with a Decembrist France on one side, a newly centralized Austria[91] on another, an eternally watchful Russia on the third, they offer too easy an object for a concentric attack not to feel rather uncomfortable. Then there is before their eyes and in their hearts the still fresh remembrance of the revolution; and, lastly, the Prince Regent must not be frightened out of his new constitutionalism. So one liberal hero admonishes the other, to do him the good service which the 'husband asked from his wife on her being insulted in the open street by a military officer. "Keep me back," cried the gallant fellow, "or I shall take revenge, and there will be bloodshed." In fact, no delusion is allowed on this point. A Prussian movement, in the local meaning of the word, is possible only within very narrow limits, which, once overstepped, it must roll back or resolve itself into a general continental movement. The fear of the latter is shared alike by the higher middle class and by the Prince Regent. A fact which you are not likely to find reported in any newspaper, but which I can vouch for, is, that the Prince, on his last visit to Breslau, in an audience granted to the notabilities of that city, declared in a most solemn tone that the revolutionary fire was still burning, that a new European eruption was threatened, and that it was, therefore, the duty as well as the interest of the middle classes to gather round the throne, and above all, by the observance of strict moderation in their political act, to stop any hole by which reckless demagogues (gesinnungslose Demagogen)[d] might rush in. This is quite in consonance with what I was recently told by a highly intellectual Prussian nobleman: "Do you know," he said, "what it was that drove the King mad? The specter of the Red Republic, and his brother, though a sober, mediocre and dull martinet, is haunted by the same ghost."

On the whole, liberal Wahlmänner have carried the day in the greater towns, and decided reactionists in the country. The way in which the country elections were managed you may infer from the fact that the Landräthe, in their private capacities, sent round circulars, through their respective districts, calling upon the Urwähler (primitive electors) to return such and such persons. Now, the position of the Landrath is quite exceptional in Prussia. In all the provinces, with the single exception of Rhenish Prussia, he is a squire of extensive landed property, the latter being situated, like that of the English county magistrate, within the circle of his official domain. At the same time, he is a link of the Bureaucracy elected by the country, nominated by the crown, subject to the Regierung (a collegial body), residing in one of the centers of the greater administrative divisions, but in his district (or Ressort, as the Prussians call it) he is the highest Government representative. These Landräthe combine, therefore, in their persons the quality of the Krautjunker (fox-hunter) and the Bureaucrat. They do not, like the greater part of the State functionaries, exclusively depend on their public salaries; or they are, in the worst case, recruited from the younger sons of the landed aristocracy, to eke out by the State salary of $1,200 a year, the allowance granted by the father, or the uncle, or the elder brother. Generally, therefore, their interests are more strictly bound up with the class and party interests of the landed aristocracy than with the caste interests of the Bureaucracy. These men were the principal pillars of the Cabinet just overthrown. They considered a central government the tool of their own social interests, rather than that they had been its tools. They are making at this moment a stand against the new Cabinet, which has not dared to remove them, partly because such a radical operation would smash up all revolutionary tendencies, and clash with the routine of Prussian administration; partly because the action of the Landräthe is, to some degree, depended upon for fettering the agricultural population, and thus forming a counterpoise to the liberalism of the towns. The only Landrath yet removed is Count von Krassow in Pomerania, who amused himself with insulting the Cabinet in his circular addressed to the Urwähler.[e]

There has been no new census published since 1852; but the latter is quite sufficient to give you some idea of the proportion between the country population and the population of the towns. Of seventeen millions of inhabitants, twelve millions were scattered over the country, while five millions were gathered in towns, a great part of the latter being themselves country-towns only. Of the 984 towns of the monarchy, the 12 principal ones boasted of an aggregate population of 1,000,000, while more than 500 came not up to 2,500. The industrial population numbers 11 per cent in the Province of Prussia[f], 15 per cent in Pomerania, 18 per cent in Posen, 23 per cent in Silesia, 26 per cent in Westphalia, 28 per cent in Saxony, 25 per cent in Rhenish Prussia, 37 in Brandenburg. In the latter province, however, the whole industrial population is almost absorbed by Berlin. Of the whole population of the monarchy, 60 per cent belong to strictly agricultural life, and, on the average, there is one nobleman to 263 people.

Written on November 16, 1858
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5497, December 3, 1858


[a] See this volume, pp. 96-97.—Ed.

[b] "Der Ministerwechsel", Neue Preussische Zeitung, No. 264, November 11, 1858.—Ed.

[c] Electors.—Ed.

[d] The Prince of Prussia's declaration at the reception of the Breslau notabilities on September 13, 1858, Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 216, September 16, 1858.—Ed.

[e] Count von Krassow's circular addressed to the primary electors on October 26, 1858, was published in the Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 267, November 14, 1858.—Ed.

[f] This is what the North-Eastern province of the monarchy was called until 1878.—Ed.

[91] The centralisation of the Austrian monarchy, undermined by the 1848-49 revolution, was restored by patent of the Emperor of Austria on December 31, 1851.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.106-109), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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