Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung Politisch-ökonomische Revue 1850

Gottfried Kinkel

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 345;
Written: in mid-April 1850;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Politisch-Ökonomische Revue No. 4, 1850.

This article was written in response to Gottfried Kinkel's speech in his own defence at the court-martial in Rastass in August 1849 and published in the Abend-Post. He was a representative of the Left in the Frankfurt National Assembly, a participant in the campaign for an Imperial German Constitution and taken prisoner by the Prussians.

The slackness in the German allegedly revolutionary party is so great that things which would arouse a universal storm in France or England blow over in Germany without anybody even being amazed that such things actually find general favour here. Herr Waldeck gives the jurymen a detailed witness’s testimony that he was always a good constitutionalist, and is driven home in triumph by the Berlin democrats. In Trier, Herr Grün denies the revolution in a public court in the silliest fashion, and the people turn their backs on the condemned proletarians in the court-room to acclaim the acquitted industrialist.[253]

A fresh example of what is possible in Germany is provided by the defence speech made by Herr Gottfried Kinkel before the military court in Rastatt on August 4, 1849, and published in the Berlin Abend-Post of April 6 and 7 this year.

We know in advance that we shall provoke the general wrath of the sentimental swindlers and democratic spouters by denouncing this speech of the “captured” Kinkel to our party. To this we are completely indifferent. Our task is that of ruthless criticism, and much more against ostensible friends than against open enemies; and in maintaining this our position we gladly forego cheap democratic popularity. Our attack will by no means worsen Herr Kinkel’s position; we denounce his amnesty by confirming his confession that he is not the man people allege to hold him for, and by declaring that he is worthy, not only of being amnestied, but even of entering the service of the Prussian state. Moreover, the speech has been published. We denounce the whole document to our party, and only reproduce the most striking passages here.

“Also, I was never in command, so that I am not responsible for the actions of others either. For I wish to guard against any identification of my actions with the dirt and filth which recently, I know, unfortunately tagged on to this revolution.”

Since Herr Kinkel “joined the Besançon company as a private”, and since he here casts suspicion on all commanders, was it not his duty at this juncture to exempt at least his immediate superior, Willich?

“I have never served in the army, and have therefore also never broken any oath to the flag, nor used against my fatherland any military knowledge which I might have obtained in the service of my fatherland.”

Was this not a direct denunciation of the captured former Prussian soldiers, of Jansen and Bernigau, who were shot soon afterwards; was it not a complete endorsement of the death sentence against Dortu, who had already been shot?

Herr Kinkel further denounces his own party to the military court in speaking of plans for ceding the left bank of the Rhine to France, and declaring himself to be innocent in relation to this criminal project. Herr Kinkel knows very well that there was only talk of a union of the Rhine Province with France in the sense that in the decisive battle between revolution and counter-revolution the Rhine Province would unfailingly fight on the revolutionary side, whether it was represented by Frenchmen or Chinamen. Just as little does he omit a reference to the mildness of his character, in contrast to the wild revolutionaries, which made it possible for him to have a good relationship with an Arndt and other conservatives as a human being, if not as a party man.

“My guilt is that in the summer I still wanted the same thing that you all wanted in March, that the whole German people wanted in March!”

Here he declares himself to be nothing but a fighter for the Imperial Constitution, who never wanted anything beyond the Imperial Constitution. We take note of this declaration.

Herr Kinkel comes to speak of an article which he wrote about a riot of the Prussian soldiers in Mainz [254] and says:

“And what happened to me because of this? During this my absence from home I received a second summons to appear in court, and since I was unable to appear to defend myself I was deprived, as I have recently been informed, of the franchise for five years. Five years deprivation of the franchise was pronounced over me: for a man who has already once had the honour of being a deputy, this is an exceedingly harsh punishment. (!).

“How often have I heard it said that I am a ‘bad Prussian'; these words have wounded me.... Well then! My party has for the present lost the game in our fatherland. If the Prussian Crown now at last pursues a bold and strong policy, if His Royal Highness our Crown Prince, the Prince of Prussia, succeeds in forging Germany into one by the sword, for no other way is possible, and giving it a great and respected place in relation to our neighbours, and ensuring real and lasting internal freedom, raising trade and intercourse again, sharing the military burden, now weighing too heavily on Prussia, equally over the whole of Germany, and above all providing bread for the poor of my nation, whose representative I feel myself to be-if your party succeeds in this, well, upon my oath! The honour and greatness of my fatherland are clearer to me than my ideals of state, and I know how to appreciate the French republicans of 1793” (Fouché and Talleyrand?) “who afterwards voluntarily bowed to the greatness of Napoleon for the sake of France; now should this happen, and then my people once again do me the honour of choosing me as their representative, I should be the first deputy to cry with a glad heart: Long live the German Empire! Long live the Hohenzollern Empire! If one is a bad Prussian with such opinions, well! Then I really have no desire to he a good Prussian.”

“Gentlemen, think a little also of wife and child at home when you pronounce sentence upon a man who stands before you today in such deep misfortune as a result of the changing tides of human destiny!”

Herr Kinkel made this speech at a time when twenty-six of his comrades were being sentenced to death and shot by the same military courts, men who faced the bullet in a quite different fashion from that in which Herr Kinkel faced his judges. When, incidentally, he presents himself as a quite harmless person, he is completely right. He only happened to join his party through a misunderstanding, and it would be a quite senseless piece of cruelty if the Prussian Government wished to keep him in the penitentiary any longer.


253 Benedikt Waldeck and Karl Grün were left-wing deputies to the Prussian National Assembly, put on trial in Trier in 1849 for their political activities. While the prosecution used forgery to convict them, the defendants endeavouted to prove their loyalty to the Prussian government.

254 In the spring of 1848, Mainz was the scene of bloody clashes between the civil militia and Prussian soldiers, which had repercussions throughout Germany.