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Preparations for War in Prussia

Frederick Engels

Berlin, Oct. 23, 1860

The anger and the dread felt by our Liberals at the Prince Regent's[a] participation in the Warsaw Congress, find, as is usual with the grievances of genuine Prussian Liberals, their vent in bitter aspersions of Austria and its new-fangled Constitution[351]. In the first place, Francis Joseph will never be forgiven, for having bereft these gentlemen of their greatest consolation, and the standing topic of their verbose self-righteousness, viz., the contrast between "constitutional" Prussia and "absolutist" Austria. The Austrian patent, of course, is open, not only to cavils, but to serious misgivings of every kind. The circumstances under which and the hands by which the gift is bestowed, stamp it with the character of a shift, rather than a sincere concession. Once before, on the 4th of March, 1849, Francis Joseph promulgated the outlines of a constitution, only to cancel them the following year, after the fortune of war had declared on his side[352]. But, then, there exists no instance on the records of history of princes having ever curtailed their own privileges, and yielded to popular claims, except under a heavy pressure from without, and there exists no instance of their having kept faith whenever they could dare to break their oaths and their pledges with impunity. The old Hungarian Constitution[353] has not been restored in its integrity, since the two most important rights of voting the ways and means, and the levies of troops, are transferred from the Diet at Pesth to the Central Imperial Council at Vienna, which latter being intended to form the States General of the whole empire, finds itself invested with attributes likely to become permanent sources of strife between itself and the different national or provincial Diets. The Constitutions of the German and Slavonic provinces being limited to the most general and vague outlines, may be made nothing or everything of. The greatest fault found with the patent on the part of the Magyars is the separation of Croatia and Servia and Transylvania from Hungary, and the grant to those provinces of different independent Diets; but if the events of 1848-49 be recalled to mind, it may be justly doubted whether the Croats, Slavonians, Serbs, and Wallachians will be inclined to share in this Magyar grievance, and back it by their support. The Vienna statesmen, in this instance, seem rather to have played a clever trick upon the principle of nationality, and turned it to their own account.

But, as for the general Diet of the whole empire, under the name of the Imperial Council, seated at Vienna and composed of the respective delegates appointed by the different Diets of Galicia, Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, Servia, Venetia, and the German provinces, being placed beyond the pale of allegiance to the Diet of the German Confederation, will it not cut asunder the relations that have hitherto obtained between German Austria and the German Confederation? This is the great theme now harped upon by official Prussian Liberalism, which will never stand in want of arguments for its pet idea, the exclusion of Austrian Germany from the German Confederation. But all this reasoning proceeds from a false premise in clinging to the letter of Francis Joseph's patent. While the latter must be considered, on the part of the Austrian dynasty, as a clever device, it affords to the various peoples crushed under Hapsburg sway a precious handle for working out their own destinies and reopening the era of revolutions. For the present, the Austrian Constitution will have done much good in humbling the Pharisean pride of the Prussian mock Liberals, and stripping the Hohenzollern dynasty of the only advantage it could boast over its rival, that of carrying on the old concern of the bureaucrat and the soldier under the more respectable form of constitutionalism.

To give you an insight into the real state of this much-vaunted, "regenerated'' Prussia, it will be necessary to recur to the changes that have lately taken place in the organization of the Prussian army. You will remember that the Prussian Chamber of Deputies, while lacking on the one side the courage to affront public opinion by an open sanction of the Government proposals for the reorganization of the army, and lacking on the other side the courage to make a decided stand against the martinet leanings of the Prince Regent, hit upon the usual expedient of weakness—a middle course, neither fish nor flesh. It refused to pass the Government plan for the reorganization of the army, but voted $9,500,000 for putting the army into a state fit to encounter the dangers apprehended from without[b]. In other words, the Prussian Deputies voted the ways and means wanted by the Government for carrying out its plan, but voted them on false pretexts. Hardly had the Prussian Parliament been adjourned when the Ministry, openly breaking through the conditions on which the grant was obtained, began, without further ado, to introduce the changes in the organization of the army willed by the Prince Regent and rejected by the so-called representatives. During the recess of the Parliament, the standing army has been doubled, being raised from 40 regiments to 72 regiments of the line and 9 regiments of the. guard. The permanent annual expenses for the military budget have thus, by the supreme will of the Prince Regent, and in open violation, not only of the will of the people, but of the vote of its mock representatives, been raised by 100 per cent. But do not fancy the Prince of Hohenzollern or any of his colleagues risks the fate of Strafford[354]. There will be some low grumbling, pickled with fervent assertions of dynastic loyalty, and unbounded confidence in the Cabinet, and this will be all. Now, considering that even the old army organization, founded as it was upon a merely agricultural population, had become an intolerable draw-back upon the resources and the productive activity of a people which in the course of time had engaged in manufactures, it will be easily understood how the army, now doubled in numbers, must grind down the best energies of the masses, and drain the springs of national wealth. The Prussian army may now boast of being the largest in Europe in proportion to population and national resources.

You know that a Hohenzollern ruler, when speaking of himself, or when spoken of by his cabinet and his officials, goes by the name of Kriegsherr, that is to say, "Lord of War." Now this, of course, does not mean that Prussian kings and regents lord it over the chances of war. Their great anxiety to keep peace, and their known propensity for being thrashed in the open field show better. By that title of "Lord of War," so dearly cherished by Hohenzollern rulers, it is rather understood that the true prop of their kingly power must be sought for, not in the people, but in a portion of the people, separated from the mass, opposed to it, distinguished by certain badges, trained to passive obedience, drilled into a mere instrument of the dynasty which owns it as its property and uses it according to its caprice. A Prussian king would, therefore, rather abdicate than allow his army to swear obedience to the Constitution. Hence a Hohenzollern ruler, being. the king of his people only as far as he is the "Lord of War," in other words, the proprietor of the army, must, before all things, dote on it, fondle it, flatter it, and feed it with always increasing morsels of the national wealth. This great aim has been obtained by the new military organization. The number of officers has been doubled, and the rapid promotion to higher grades in the French, Austrian, and Russian armies, which the Prussian officers had cast longingly anxious eyes upon, has been secured to them without exposing their lives and limbs to the least hazard. Hence there is just now prevailing, not among the common soldiers, but among the officers of the Prussian army, a vast amount of enthusiasm for the Prince Regent and his "liberal" Ministers. At the same time the aristocratic fox-hunters, grumbling at the liberal phrases of the new regime, have been quite conciliated by the new occasion afforded them for fastening their younger sons on the purse of the country. There is one drawback to all this, even from the dynastic standpoint. Prussia has now concentrated all its available forces into one standing army. That army once beaten, there will be no reserve to fall back upon.

Written on October 23, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6097, November 8, 1860


[a] William, Prince of Prussia.—Ed.

[b] On this sitting of the Prussian Diet (February 10, 1860) see the Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen, Bd. I, Berlin, 1860, S. 95-106.—Ed.

[351] This refers to Emperor Francis Joseph's diploma of October 20, 1860 (das Kaiserliche Diplom vom 20. Oktober 1860) which granted a measure of autonomy to the non-German parts of the Austrian Empire. It was a half-measure designed to placate the advocates of federalism, particularly the Hungarians. (Engels analysed it in his article "Austria—Progress of the Revolution", see this volume, pp. 499-500.) However the October diploma was rescinded a few months later by the Patent of February 26, 1861, which reintroduced the centralist system in the Austrian Empire.

[352] An allusion to the Constitution of the Austrian monarchy (Gesamtmonarchie) introduced by Francis Joseph on March 4, 1849 (Reichsverfassung für das Kaiserthum Oesterreich. Olmütz, 4 März 1849. In: Wiener Zeitung, No. 57, March 8, 1849). Despite the promises of autonomy to the lands inhabited by non-Austrians, the imposed Constitution was conceived in an anti-democratic spirit of centralised bureaucracy and anti-democratic government (the Emperor and his Ministers were to enjoy full powers). The Constitution of March 4 was a step towards restoring absolutism in Austria. Nevertheless the Constitution limited the Emperor's power and it was abrogated by the imperial patent of December 31, 1851. (Concerning the Constitution of March 4, 1849, see F. Engels' articles "The War in Italy and Hungary", "From the Theatre of War.—Windischgrätz's Comments on the Imposed Constitution", present edition, Vol. 9, pp. 148, 261-64, and "Letters from Germany", Vol. 10, p. 11.)

[353] The reference is to Hungary's unwritten constitution which was the oldest in Europe and based on ancient traditions and legislative acts of the Kingdom. The independence of the Diet was guaranteed in the interests of the Hungarian nobility, as also was the Diet's right to decide the most important state questions, including financial credits and army recruitment.

[354] Lord Strafford, Charles I's favourite and an ardent champion of absolutism, was accused of high treason and executed in 1641 by demand of Parliament supported by the people of London and the suburbs.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.493-496), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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