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Erfurtery in the Year 1859[311]

Karl Marx

Reaction carries out the programme of the revolution. On this apparent contradiction rests the strength of Napoleonism, which still today considers itself the mandatory of the Revolution of 1789; the success of the Schwarzenberg policy in Austria, which brought the vague 1848 dream of unity into a clear, positive focus; and the phantom of parliamentary reform of the Confederation, which is now current in Little Germany owing to Prussian initiative and performs a burlesque dance of ghosts with Citizens Jacobus Venedey and Zais on the graves of the 1848 revolution. In the hands of reaction, to be sure, this programme of the revolution turns into a satire on the relevant revolutionary efforts, and thus becomes a lethal weapon in the hands of an implacable enemy. Reaction fulfils the demands of the revolution just as Louis Bonaparte fulfils those of the Italian national party. What is tragicomical in this process is that the poor sinners that are to be hanged there on their own phrases and stupidities cry "Bravo!" at the top of their voice as the executor puts the noose round their necks, and wildly applaud their own execution.

Just as in 1848 the well-known March demands, which had been drawn up by the party then called "revolutionary" and had been spread far and wide by very skilful organisation[312], made the rounds from Diet to Diet and from riot to riot, so today a "Declaration" is making a triumphal tour of Central and South Germany, apparently the regency's mot d'ordre[a] for the "popular movement" wanted for the purpose of armed mediation. This regency programme which bears the very characteristic name of the "Nassau Declaration", since it was first adopted by the sponging[b] fathers of the fatherland under the leadership of our old friend Herr Zais, proclaims:

"Austria should not be left alone in the present war, which may eventually threaten German interests. On the contrary, it is the duty of Germany" (its calling, Herr von Schleinitz would say) "to insist on reforms by Austria, including assurance of a state of affairs in Italy that meets the just demands of our time. The military and political leadership in the impending struggle must be turned over to Prussia. That leadership, however, would not yet (!) satisfy the lasting need of a strong federal government; a reorganisation of the central power in Germany on the one hand, and the creation of a constitution on the other, with German popular representation as its conclusion" (point, as Herr von Gagern used to put it), "cannot be withheld from the German people."[c]

This Nassau Declaration, also given the name of "Manifesto", has already been adopted by the constitutional and democratic notables of Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Württemberg—here signed by Reyscher, Schott, Vischer, Duvernoy, Ziegler, etc., in harmonious confusion—and is preached by the "liberal" press of Southwest Germany, Franconia and Thuringia, as the wonder-working gospel that will save Germany, extirpate the French Empire root and branch, give Herr Venedey his daily allowances back. and provide Citizen Zais with political significance.

So that is the gist of the matter[d]; by using this kind of shabby trick, speculating on the utter mental retardation and senile childishness of the philistines of the Empire, the advocates of Prussia's calling hope to conjure away from the Federal Diet the laurels of Bronzell[313], so chivalrously won and so dearly paid for! We must admit that we have very little respect for advocates of Prussia's calling who, instead of openly slapping the gentlemen of the Eschenheimer Gasse[314], as one would like to do and dare not, insult them by throwing Messrs. Schott, Zais and Reyscher in their faces from a safe distance. If the statecraft of Berlin knows no other way of "saving Germany" than buying second-hand[e] the effects of the lamented Herr von Radowitz and his unlamented men of Gotha, then it can after all make peace at any price and submit unresistingly to the Franco-Russian dictatorship, since it has not the slightest conception of the seriousness of the struggle that has been initiated by the Italian freedom campaign.

The fact that there are still patriotic notables who find an adequate expression of their insignificance in a "Nassau declaration" and live in the comforting conviction that by means of a feeble echo of the 1848 Imperial Parliament they can call into being a popular movement strong enough to take up the struggle against the combined despotisms of Russia and France, only proves how right H. Heine is when he says:

"True madness is as rare as true wisdom."[f]

For the madness of the Nassau declarers is false through and through, lying and cowardly, a Harlequin mask that these gentlemen put on to give the appearance of being lunatics not responsible for their actions, because in fact they are ashamed of their pitiable helplessness and inaction, and hope to evade responsibility by appealing for public sympathy as imbeciles.

"Reorganised central power" with "popular representation"—a splendid weapon against raving Bonapartism and a Tsarism that has been driven to desperation and has to fight on German soil for an existence threatened in its own interior! I should have thought we had had enough of both in 1848 and 1849 to have realised that any popular movement is dead when it loses its revolutionary power to a constituent popular representative assembly.

Written about July 9, 1859
First published in Das Volk, No. 10, July 9, 1859
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] Slogan.—Ed.

[b] Here Marx plays on the word nassauisch (of Nassau) which is of common derivation with the word Nassauer (sponger, lickspittle).—Ed.

[c] "Erklärung nassauischer Staatsbürger", Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 176, June 25, 1859.—Ed.

[d] Marx has "des Pudels Kern", an expression from Goethe's Faust, Erster Teil, "Studierzimmer".—Ed.

[e] Marx uses the English word.—Ed.

[f] Heinrich Heine, Die Bäder von Lucca, Kapitel I.—Ed.

[311] This refers to the attempts made by Prussia, in alliance with the sovereigns of Hanover, Saxony and other German states, to unite Germany, excluding Austria, under Prussian hegemony and thus realise the plan for creating a "Little Germany". This plan was backed by the liberal bourgeoisie who formed the so-called Gotha party (see Note 87). The latter took an active part in the elections to the German parliament which met in Erfurt on March 20, 1850 to adopt the draft German Constitution revised to suit pro-Prussian circles. Under pressure from the Austrian Court and the Russian Emperor the Prussian Government had to abandon its unification plans temporarily and dissolve the Erfurt parliament on April 29, 1850.

Below Marx quotes from the "Erklärung nassauischer Staatsbürger" published by a number of German newspapers. The full text of this declaration appeared in the Rhein und Lahnzeitung on June 21, 1859. It was the political programme of the German bourgeoisie striving to unite Germany under Prussian supremacy.

[312] The March demands—four principal political demands expressing the mood of the people. They were formulated by the petty-bourgeois democrats of Baden in February 1848 and soon became known in the whole of South-Western Germany. These were: 1) arming of the people with the right to elect their officers, 2) unrestricted freedom of the press, 3) judgment by jury, and 4) immediate convocation of a German Parliament. Under pressure from the people, the liberal bourgeoisie of German states made these demands its programme in the struggle against the monarchy but when it came to power as a result of the revolution, it made a compromise with the monarchist circles.

[313] By the autumn of 1808, when Napoleon I arrived in Erfurt to negotiate with the Russian Tsar Alexander I, almost the whole of Germany had been subjected to France. The German Princes assembled in Erfurt confirmed their loyalty to Napoleon.

In May and October 1850 Warsaw was the scene of conferences in which representatives of Russia, Austria and Prussia took part. They were convened on the initiative of the Russian Tsar in view of the intensification of the struggle between Austria and Prussia for mastery in Germany. The Russian Tsar acted as arbiter in the dispute between Austria and Prussia and used his influence to make Prussia abandon its attempts to form a political confederation of German states under its own aegis.

The battle of Bronzell was an unimportant skirmish between Prussian and Austrian detachments on November 8, 1850, during an uprising in Kurhessen. Prussia and Austria a contended for the right to interfere in the internal affairs of Kurhessen to suppress the uprising. In this conflict with Prussia Austria again received diplomatic support from Russia and Prussia had to yield.

[314] Eschenheimer Gasse—a street in Frankfurt am Main where the German Federal Diet had its premises in 1816-66.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.404-406), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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