Works of Frederick Engels 1850

Letters From Germany

Curious Revelations Concerning the Despots of Germany.-Intended War Against France.-The Coming Revolution

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 10-13;
Written: Cologne, Jan. 20th, 1850;
First published: in The Democratic Review, February 1850.

The day after I sent you my last, news reached here of the "settlement of the question" who was to rule over all Germany. The "Interim", consisting of two Austrian and two Prussian delegates, have at last prevailed upon old Archduke John to retire from business. They have consequently taken the reins of a power which, however, will not be of long duration. It expires in the month of May next, and there is good reason to expect that even before that term certain "untoward events" will sweep away these four provisional rulers of Germany. The names of these four satellites of military despotism are very significant. Austria has sent M. Kubeck, minister of finance under Metternich, and General Schonhals, the right hand of the butcher Radetzki. Prussia is represented by General Radowitz, member of the Jesuit order, favourite of the king, and principal inventor of all those plots by which Prussia has succeeded, for the moment, in putting down the German revolution; and by M. Botticher, governor, before the revolution, of the province of Eastern Prussia, where he is fondly (?) remembered as a "putter down" of public meetings and organiser of the spy system. What the doings of such a lot of rogues will be you will not need to be told. I will name one instance only. The Wurtemberg government, forced by the revolution, had contracted with the Prince of Thurn and Taxis--who, you know, has the monopoly of forwarding letters by post and conveying of passengers in a large part of Germany, to the exclusion of the governments--the Wurtemberg government, I say, had contracted with this robber on a national scale to part, for a handsome sum, with his monopoly in favour of the said government. Times having got better for those who live upon national plunder, Prince Thurn and Taxis values his monopoly higher than the sum contracted for, and won't part with it. The Wurtemberg government, freed from the pressure from without, find this change of opinion quite reasonable; and both parties apply--the prince publicly, the government aforesaid secretly--to the "Interim", which, taking for pretext an article of the old act of 1815, declares the contract void and unlawful. This is all right. It is far better that M. Thurn and Taxis keeps his privilege a few months longer; the people, when they finish with the whole lot of privileges, will take it not only from him without giving him anything, but will, on the contrary, make him give up even the money he has robbed them of up to this time.

The military despotism in Austria is getting more intolerable every day. The press almost reduced to annihilation, all public liberties destroyed, the whole country swarming with spies--imprisonments, courts-martial, floggings in every part of the country--this is the practical meaning of those provincial constitutions which the government publish from time to time, and which they do not care a straw about breaking in the very moment of publication. There is, however, an end to everything, even to states of siege and the rule of the sword. Armies cost money, and money is a thing which even the mightiest emperor cannot create at his will. The Austrian government have, up to this time, managed to keep their finances afloat by tremendous issues of paper money. But there is an end to this, too; and, in spite of that Prussian lieutenant who once would challenge me to a duel, because I told him a king or emperor could not make as many paper dollars as he liked--in spite of that profound political economist, the Emperor of Austria sees his paper money, though inconvertible, at the discount of from twenty to thirty per cent against silver, and almost fifty per cent against gold. The foreign loan he intended has dropped to the ground through the exertions of Mr. Cobden. Foreign capitalists have subscribed to the amount of L500,000 only, and he wants fifteen times that sum; while his exhausted country cannot afford to lend him anything. The deficit, fifteen millions and a half at the end of September last, will, by this time, have reached from twenty to twenty-four millions--the greater part of the Hungarian war expenses being payable in the last quarter of 1849. Thus there is only one alternative for Austria: either bankruptcy, or a foreign war to make the army pay itself, and to reconquer commercial credit by battles gained, provinces conquered, and war contributions imposed. Thus Mr. Cobden, in opposing the Austrian and Russian loans on the plea of the preservation of peace, has more than any one else contributed--for Russia is in the same awkward state as Austria--to hasten that coalesced campaign against the French Republic which cannot, under any circumstances, be long delayed.

In Prussia, we assist at another act of "royal conscientiousness". You know that Frederick William IV, the man who never broke his word, in November, 1848, dispersed by force the national representation, and forced upon his people a constitution [16] after his own heart; that he agreed that this beautiful piece of workmanship was to be revised by the first parliament to be assembled; that in this parliament the Second Chamber (House of Commons) was, even before they got to the revising business, dissolved, another electoral reform forced upon the people, by which universal suffrage was very nicely done away with, and a majority of landed nobility, of government officials, and of bourgeois, was secured. This Chamber, to vote for the election of which every democrat refused, so that it has been elected by one fifth or one-sixth of the whole number of voters — this Chamber, in conjunction with the old First Chamber, set about revising the Constitution, and made it, of course, even more agreeable to the king than he himself had made it originally. They have now almost done with it. Now, you think, his Majesty will please to accept this amended Constitution, and take the oath prescribed in it? Not he, indeed. He sends his faithful parliament a royal message, stating that he is very much pleased with what his two Chambers have made of his Constitution, but that, before his "royal conscientiousness" permits him to take the oath aforesaid, his own Constitution must be altered in about a dozen points.[17] And what are these points? Why, his Majesty is modest enough not to require any more than the following trifles. 1. The First Chamber, now elected by the large landed proprietors and capitalists, to be a complete House of Lords, containing the royal princes, about one hundred hereditary peers chosen by his Majesty, sixty peers elected by the large landed proprietors, thirty by the large monied interest, six by the universities. 2. Ministers to be responsible to the king and country, not to the parliament. 3. All taxes now upon the budget to be levied for ever, without power of parliament to refuse. 4. A “Star Chamber”,[18] or High Court of Justice, to try political offences — no mention being made of juries. 5. A special law to define and restrain the powers of the Second Chamber of parliament, &c. Now what do you think of this? His Majesty forces upon the good Prussians a new Constitution, to be amended by parliament. His parliament amends it by striking out everything like a remnant of popular rights. And the king, not content with that, declares that his "royal conscientiousness" forbids him to accept his own Constitution, amended in his own interest, without the above further modifications. Verily this is a truly "royal" sort of conscientiousness! There is little chance of even this present mock parliament bowing to such impudence. The consequence will be dissolution, and the end of all parliaments for the moment in Prussia. The secret of all this is the anticipation of the great coalition war, mentioned above. The "conscientious" gentleman on the throne of Prussia expects to have his rebellious country overrun by the month of March or April, by a million of Asiatic barbarians, to march, along with "his own glorious army",[19] against Paris, to conquer that fair country which produces his heart-cherished champagne. And the Republic once done away with, the scion of Saint Louis restored to the throne of France, what then would be the use of constitutions and parliaments at home?

In the meantime the revolutionary spirit is rapidly reviving all over Germany. The most inveterate ex-liberal who, after March, 1848, joined the king to combat the people, now sees that--as the saying is in Germany--although he gave to the devil only the end of his little finger, that gentleman has since seized the whole hand. The incessant acquittals by juries in political trials are the best proofs of this. Every day brings a new fact in this way. Thus, a few days ago, the Mulheim workpeople--who, in May, 1849, tore up the railway, in order to stop the sending of troops to insurged Elberfeld--have been acquitted here at Cologne. In the south of Germany, financial difficulties and increased taxation show to every bourgeois that this present state cannot last. In Baden the very same bourgeois who betrayed the last insurrection, and hailed the arrival of the Prussians, are punished and driven to madness by these very same Prussians and by the government, which under their protection drives them to ruin and despair. And the working people and peasantry everywhere are on the qui vive, waiting for the signal of an insurrection which, this time, will not subside until the political dominion and social progress of the proletarians shall have been secured. And this revolution is drawing nigh.


16 On December 5, 1848, the Prussian National Assembly was dissolved and the Constitution imposed by the King made public. The dispersal of the Assembly was the culmination of the counter-revolutionary coup d'etat that began in November with the order to transfer the Assembly from Berlin to the remote town of Brandenburg. The Constitution introduced a two-chamber system; the age and property qualifications made the First Chamber a privileged Chamber of Gentry ("House of Lords"); by the electoral law of December 6, 1848, the right to vote in the two-stage elections to the Second Chamber was granted only to the so-called independent Prussians. The royal authority was vested with very wide powers-the King was authorised to convene and dissolve the Chambers, appoint ministers, declare war and conclude peace. He was vested with full executive power, while sharing legislative power with the Chambers.

Later, anti-democratic revisions of the Constitution were made repeatedly on the initiative of Prussian ruling circles. Thus, after dispersing on April 27, 1849, the Second Chamber of the Prussian Diet, which included a large number of opposition deputies--liberals and moderate democrats, on May 30 Frederick William IV promulgated a new electoral law introducing elections based on high property qualifications and unequal representation of different sections of the population. The electorate was divided into three classes according to property status. Thus the King succeeded in having an obedient majority elected to the Second Chamber.

17 The reference is to a message by Frederick William IV of January 7, 1850, with new amendments to the imposed Constitution revised by the government and adopted by the Chambers (Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Allerhochste Botschaft in the Preussischer Staats-Anzeiger No. 10 of January 10, 1850, and the Neue Preussische Zeitung No. 9 of January 11, 1850).

18 Engels draws an analogy with English absolutist legal institutions. The Star Chamber (the name of a meeting-place of the king's councillors in the royal palace of Westminster derived from stars fashioned on the ceiling of the hall) was established by Henry VII in 1487 as a special court to try rebellious feudal lords. Under Elizabeth I, it became a political court; it was abolished during the English revolution of the seventeenth century.

19 This refers to Frederick William IV's New-Year message "To My Army" ("An mein Heer") signed in Potsdam on January 1, 1849, and published in the Preussischer Staats-Anzeiger of January 3, 1849. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung used this document to expose the counter-revolutionary actions of the Prussian military (see Marx's article "A New-Year Greeting", present edition, Vol. 8).