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Affairs in Prussia

Karl Marx

Berlin, Nov. 23, 1858

To-day was election day, the electors of the second degree, a body by no means numerous, meeting quietly to act as the proxies of the turbulent multitude. Liberalism, in its most moderate form, middle-class liberalism, clothed in bureaucratic garb—self-denying liberalism, has sprung out of the urn one moment suspected of turning out a Pandora box. The very titles of the nominees in this town prove that they can mean no harm. There is a General-Steuer-Director (chief controller of the taxes), an Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor), a Minister, an ex-Minister, a Gerichts President (chief justice), a Geheimer Archiv Rath (keeper of the royal archives), a Geheimer Rath (secret counsellor); all these official and secret people being backed by two bourgeois—the one Mr. Reimer, a Conservative and publisher to his Majesty, the other Dr. Veit, also a publisher, chosen by the money market, which here, as everywhere, is strongly imbued with Semitic blood, because of his Jewish persuasion. Now, there can be no mistake about the fact, that the middle-class radicals of 1848, Jacoby, Unruh, Waldeck, Rodbertus, Stein, Elsner, and so forth, in one word, the men whom I wrote you a month ago[a] were likely to be chosen by the great towns, played, indeed, a leading part in the meetings of the primitive electors, drew up many of the electioneering programmes, and at Breslau, Königsberg, Magdeburg, Elbing had seats in the Landtag offered to them. Whence this sudden changement de décoration? They have humbly declined accepting the honor kept in store for them. Some acted not quite as free agents, but resolved only upon self-abnegation after an uncomfortable and by no means spontaneous interview with the Polizei Director. The others yielded to the pressure of the anxious part of the bourgeoisie, which lords it supreme at this moment. All, however, Polizei Directors, candidates and constituents, acted under the strong impulse of suddenly changed circumstances, or, I should rather say, circumstances had not changed, but the mist of delusions that hung about them became dissolved by a thunder-storm. La situation, as the French call it, s'était dessinée[b]. The Government had taken fright, and, out of mere timidity, grew bold. Herr Flottwell, the Minister of the Interior, published a circular[c] such as never before has been published in any language, teeming with grammatical blunders, perplexed in its wording, nonsensical in its arguments, but still full of angry meaning. You know what in France is understood by an official warning to a newspaper. Well, Flottwell's circular was a general warning to the electors, backed by private instructions to the police force. It directly pointed at the electioneering speeches, the electioneering programmes, and the electioneering prospects of the radical ex-members of the National Assembly of 1848. So, as the higher middle-class is willed to take the fortress by moderation, and as the more democratic majority of the people understand that for the moment the political initiative belongs to the higher middle-class, the Ministerial hint was at once acted upon, the grands airs of the revival were dropped, and the elections cut down to the Government pattern. Still, to be roughly shaken out of a delicious dream is by no means a pleasant sensation. The men and the speeches and the programmes interfered with, had, in their boldest soarings, kept themselves so strictly "within the limits of practical reason," that even the anxious part of the middle-class felt offended at the anxiety of the Government. Its method of ushering in the new regime of liberty seemed rather unceremonious; consequently, there was a low rumbling of disappointment through the general public, while the organs of the old Camarilla were overflowing with ironical congratulations upon the "Selbstbesinnung"[d] of the new Cabinet. Upon this poor Flottwell had another circular of his published[e], which he had some weeks ago secretly addressed to the Landräthe, and in which they were warned against supporting candidates of extreme opinions on either side. To give some weight to this anachronism, the by-gone edict was made the pretext of the following commentary in the Preussische Zeitung, the Ministerial organ:

"One highly auspicious fact characterizing the present elections is, that all parties concur to meet on the monarchical and constitutional basis, and thus lessen in a degree the points of difference separating their various creeds. The progressive but firm and moderate course of politics assumed by Government, will aim especially at promoting this union. Government will not suffer itself to be driven from its liberal but temperate principles by extravagant hopes or demands. Government, on the other hand, cannot allow that party to appropriate to themselves the exclusive title of Royalists, who, far from unreservedly accepting the basis of the Constitution, only admit the legality of the Charter in the same proportion as it corresponds with their own interests. Government denies the assertion that the majority of the landed proprietors belong to this party," etc.

In point of fact, the Ministry went in all this for nothing. The Prince had not established himself with a reactionary speech in the Staatsrath[f], on the introduction of his son, with another reactionary speech in the Freemasons' meeting, and with a reactionary address to the Treubund[g] (a sort of Prussian Orangemen organization)[94], but he had frightened the Cabinet by violent explosions of anger at the turn things were taking under their direction. Flottwell's first circular was a well-meant warning to the middle-class not to put the Regent's new-fangled constitutionalism upon anything like a trial. When, consequent upon this step, the Ministers became aware of their own precarious position, they telegraphed to the Princess of Prussia, who at once hastened from Coblenz to Berlin and gave a coup de baguette[h] in the opposite direction. The Princess during the last year alternately dwelt at Weimar, Carlsruhe and Coblenz. She had only repaired to Berlin at the moment of the settlement of the Regency question. Then all the physicians consulted, declining to declare whether the King's malady was or was not to be cured, the Queen, through Herr von Kleist-Retzow, singled out an army surgeon, one Boeger, who countersigned a paper to the effect that the King could be restored to health. The Princess of Prussia feigned to fall sick. Cited that same surgeon to her side, had herself treated by him, coaxed him by flattery and gracious condescension, and, when he seemed ripe for her purpose, put the pertinent question, whether he, such an exceedingly learned and conscientious man, could in fact believe in his own declaration as to the King's state of health? Silly Boeger avowed that the tears of the Queen had alone determined his course of action. Upon this, the Princess rang the bell, two chamberlains rushed in, and the army surgeon, required to obey his natural superiors, had to repeat, not by word of mouth, but in his own handwriting, the confession just extorted. Having thus gained her end, the Princess was banished from Berlin. After her husband's installation as Regent, she voluntarily prolonged her sojourn at Coblenz. Prince William, like other mediocre men, suffers from the mental superiority of his better half, and, though kept in leading strings, dislikes to see the hands that pull them. His wife's influence must be brought to bear upon him in a roundabout way. The relations between these two personages are, besides, of an icy and ceremonious character. Prince William, in his youth, was passionately in love with Fräulein von Brockhaus, and wanted to marry her. His father interfered, and the Fräulein died of a broken heart at Paris. The marriage with the Princess of Weimar was forced upon the restive scion of the house of Hohenzollern; and to revenge himself, he exhibited, during the first years of marriage, an unbounded passion for Fräulein V——k. So the relations between the Prince and his wife are anything but homelike, and the best method for installing her Ministry at Berlin was to hide herself at Coblenz.

Meanwhile, the Queen played one of those tricks familiar to the readers of the oeil de boeuf's[95] chronicles. You have, perhaps, read in the newspapers that, on the departure from Berlin of the King. and the Queen, the latter's portefeuille was stolen at Leipsic, and that, despite all the exertions of the Argus-eyed and Briareushanded German police, the thief was not to be caught. By some accident or other, this portefeuille found its way to the Regent's writing-desk, and in the portefeuille there was found a voluminous correspondence, carried on by the Princess, his wife, with all sorts of political characters.

There were letters addressed to Wenzel, Gerichts President at Ratibor, one of the. deputies just elected at Berlin, and an Opposition member in the Manteuffel House of Commons, and letters to Reichensperger, the chief of the Prussian Catholic opposition, and other letters—all teeming with affected liberalism, and all longing for a united Germany. In this way, the Prince, known to be haunted by the bugbear of the Red Republic, was still more frightened by the apparent discovery of his own wife being made a wife of the Revolutionists. Other intrigues were resorted to. I chronicle this chronique scandaleuse, the correctness of which I can vouch for, because revolutions, before taking the shape of popular commotion, announce themselves in monarchic States first by the decay of dynasties.

Written on November 23, 1858
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5505, December 13, 1858


[a] See this volume, pp. 74-75.—Ed.

[b] The situation had taken shape.—Ed.

[c] Von Flottwell's circular of November 17, 1858 was published in the Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 271, November 19, 1858.—Ed.

[d] Prudence.—Ed.

[e] Von Flottwell, "Circular an die Herren Regierungs-Präsidenten und den Herrn Polizei-Präsidenten von Berlin. 10. November 1858", Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 273, November 21, 1858.—Ed.

[f] The Prince's speech in the State Council on November 8, 1858 was published in the Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 276, November 25, 1858.—Ed.

[g] This address was delivered on November 11, 1858. See Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 270, November 18, 1858.—Ed.

[h] Stroke of the wand.—Ed.

[94] Treubund (the Union of the Loyal)—a Prussian monarchist society founded in Berlin at the end of 1848. Late in 1849 it split into ultra-royalists and constitutional monarchists.

The Orangemen—members of the Orange Society (Order), a militant Protestant organisation founded in Ireland in 1795 and used by the authorities, Protestant landlords and the clergy against the Irish national liberation movement. The name was derived from William III, Prince of Orange, who suppressed the Irish uprising of 1688-91. The Order had an especially strong influence in Ulster, Northern Ireland, where the population was mainly Protestant.

[95] The reference is to Touchard-Lafosse's eight-volume Chroniques de l'oeil-de-boeuf published in Paris in 1829-33. The oeil-de-boeuf was a large ante-room to the bedroom of the French king in the palace of Versailles, lighted only by a small round window (oeil-de-boeuf). Here the courtiers waited for the king and could engage in all sorts of intrigue.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.115-119), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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