Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848

The Agreement Debates in Berlin [41]

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 53;
Written: by Engels on June 6, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 7, June 7, 1848.

Cologne, June 6. The negotiations for an agreement etc. are making most satisfactory progress in Berlin. Motions follow motions and most of them are even submitted five or six times to make quite sure that they are not lost on their long way through the sections and committees. At every opportunity the greatest number of preliminary questions, secondary questions, interpolated questions, supplementary questions, and main questions is raised. Whenever one of these great or small questions is taken up, an informal conversation ensues between the delegates “on the floor” and the President, the Ministers etc., thus creating a welcome pause between the demanding “great debates”. Especially. those anonymous agreers whom the stenographer is in the habit of designating as ,,votes”, love to express their opinions during such genial discussions. These “votes”, by the way, are so proud of their right to vote that sometimes “they vote both yes and no” as happened on June 2. Alongside this idyll, however, there arises with all the grandeur of tragedy the battle of the great debate, a battle which is not only conducted verbally from the rostrum but is joined by the chorus of the agreers with drumming, murmuring, and confused shouting. Each time the drama ends, of course, with a victory for the virtuous Right and is almost always decided by the conservative army calling for a vote.

During the session of June 2 Herr Jung questioned the Foreign Minister about the extradition treaty with Russia.[43] It is known that already in 1842, public opinion forced the abrogation of the extradition treaty, which was, however, renewed during the reaction of 1844. It is known that the Russian Government orders extradited persons to be knouted to death or to be exiled to Siberia. It is known that the agreed extradition of common criminals and vagabonds offers the desired pretext for the delivery of political refugees into the hands of the Russians.

Foreign Minister Arnim replied:

“Surely, no one will object to the extradition of deserters, since it is an accepted practice between friendly states mutually to extradite such people.”

We take notice that according to our Minister Russia and Germany are “friendly states”. The massive armies which Russia is concentrating along the Bug and Niemen rivers have no other intention, to be sure, than to liberate “friendly” Germany as soon as possible from the terror of the revolution.

“The decision to extradite criminals, by the way, rests in the hands of the courts so that there is every guarantee that the accused will not be extradited before the conclusion of the criminal investigation.”

Herr Arnim tries to make the Assembly believe that Prussian courts investigate the evidence which has been gathered against the accused. The opposite is true. Russian or Russian-Polish judicial authorities send a decision to the Prussian judicial authorities, indicting the fugitive. The Prussian court is obliged to check merely the authenticity of this document and if it proves to be genuine, the extradition has to take place. Thus, “there is every guarantee” that the Russian Government has only to beckon to its judges in order to get hold of every fugitive with the aid of Prussian chains as long as the fugitive has not yet been indicted for political offences.

“It goes without saying that our own subjects will not be extradited.”

“Our own subjects”, feudal Baron von Arnim, cannot be extradited under any circumstances because there are no longer “subjects” in Germany since the people took the liberty of emancipating themselves on the barricades.

“Our own subjects"! Are we, who elect assemblies and prescribe sovereign laws to kings and emperors, “subjects” of His Majesty the King of Prussia?

“Our own subjects"! If the Assembly had even a spark of the revolutionary pride to which it owes its existence, it would have drummed the servile Minister off the rostrum and the ministerial bench in a single outburst of indignation. Instead it calmly allowed the stigmatising expression to go unchallenged. Not the slightest protest was heard.

Herr Rehfeld questioned Herr Hansemann about the Seehandlung.[44] renewed buying up of wool and about the advantages enjoyed by British buyers over German buyers as a result of the discount offered to the British. The wool industry, depressed by the general crisis, expected to gain at least some small benefit by purchasing at this year’s very low wool prices. Along comes the Seehandlung and drives up the price of wool by its enormous purchases in bulk. At the same time it offers to facilitate considerably the purchases of British buyers by discounting bills of exchange drawn on London-a measure which is also quite apt to raise the price of wool by attracting new buyers and which gives significant advantages to foreign over domestic purchasers.

The Seehandlung is a legacy of absolute monarchy which used it for all sorts of purposes. For twenty years it has caused the 1820 Law on Government Debts[45] to remain an illusion and it has meddled in trade and industry in a most disagreeable fashion.

The question asked by Herr Rehfeld is basically of little interest to democracy. It concerns a profit of several thousand talers more or less for either wool producers or wool manufacturers.

The wool producers are almost exclusively large landed proprietors, i.e. feudal lords from Brandenburg, Prussia, Silesia and Posen.

The wool manufacturers are for the most part big capitalists, i.e. gentlemen of the big bourgeoisie.

Hence, the price of wool is a matter not of general interest but of class interests. The question is whether the big landed aristocracy will profit to the exclusion of the big bourgeoisie or whether it will be the other way around.

Herr Hansemann who has been sent to Berlin as the representative of the big bourgeoisie, the party now in power, betrays it to the landed aristocracy, the conquered party.

The only interest which this entire matter holds for us democrats lies in the fact that Herr Hansemann has taken up the cause of the conquered party, that he does not support the merely conservative class but the reactionary class. We admit that we did not expect such behaviour from the bourgeois Hansemann.

Herr Hansemann assures us, to begin with, that he is no friend of the Seehandlung and then adds: Neither the purchasing business nor the mills of the Seehandlung can be stopped suddenly. Concerning wool purchases, there are treaties by which the Seehandlung ... is committed to buy up a certain amount of wool this year. I believe that if during any year such purchases are not harmful to private trade, it is certainly the case this year (?) ... because otherwise the prices would drop too low.

The entire speech shows that Herr Hansemann is not comfortable while delivering it. He had been induced to do a favour to the Arnims, Schaffgotsches and Itzenplitzes to the detriment of the wool manufacturers, and he must now defend his rash step with the arguments of modern political economy which is so unmerciful to the interests of the aristocracy. He knows better than anyone else that he is making a fool of the Assembly.

“Neither the purchasing business nor the mills of the Seehandlung can be stopped suddenly.” Thus, the Seehandlung buys wool and lets its mills work at full speed. If the mills of the Seehandlung “cannot be stopped” suddenly then the sales obviously also cannot be ended. Thus, the Seehandlung will put its woollen products on the market, glut the already overstocked market and depress the already sinking prices even more. In a word, it will make the current commercial crisis even worse and take away the last few remaining customers from the wool manufacturers in order to supply the landed gentry of Brandenburg etc. with money for their wool.

Concerning the English bills of exchange, Herr Hansemann delivers a brilliant tirade describing the enormous advantages which will accrue to the entire country when English guineas flow into the pockets of the landed gentry of Brandenburg. We will of course not discuss these remarks seriously. What we cannot understand is that Herr Hansemann was able to maintain a straight face during his speech.

The same session also debated a committee which is to be formed because of Posen. Concerning that, tomorrow.