Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848

The Agreement Assembly Session of June 17

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 96;
Written: by Engels on June 19, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 20, June 20, 1848.

Cologne, June 19. “Nothing learned and nothing forgotten” [remark Talleyrand is supposed to have made about the Bourbons] — this saying is as valid for the Camphausen Government as it is for the Bourbons.

On June 14, the people, enraged by the agreers’ repudiation of the revolution, march upon the arsenal.’ They want a guarantee against the Assembly and they know that weapons are the best guarantee. The arsenal is taken by storm and the people arm themselves.

The storming of the arsenal, an event without immediate results, a revolution that stopped halfway, nevertheless had the effect:

1. That the trembling Assembly retracted its decision of the previous day and declared that it would place itself under the protection of the people of Berlin.

2. That it repudiated the Ministry on a vital question and rejected the Camphausen draft Constitution by a majority of 46 votes.

3. That the Ministry immediately disintegrated, that the Ministers Kanitz, Schwerin and Auerswald resigned (of these up to now only Kanitz has definitely been replaced, by Schreckenstein) and that on June 17 Herr Camphausen asked the Assembly to give him three days to replenish his decimated Ministry.

All this was accomplished by the storming of the arsenal.

And at the same time when the effects of this self-arming of the people become so strikingly apparent, the Government dares attack that action itself. At the same time when Assembly and Ministry acknowledge the insurrection, the participants of the insurrection are subjected to a judicial investigation, and are dealt with according to old-Prussian laws, slandered in the Assembly and portrayed as common thieves!

On the very same day when the trembling Assembly places itself under the protection of those who stormed the arsenal, they are described as “robbers” and “violent thieves” in decrees issued by Herr Griesheim (Commissioner in the Ministry of War) and Herr Temme (Public Prosecutor). The “liberal” Herr Temme whom the revolution brought back from exile, begins a stringent investigation of those who continue the revolution. Korn, L÷winsohn and Urban are arrested. All over Berlin, police raid after police raid is being carried out. Captain Natzmer, who had the sense to recognise the necessity for an immediate withdrawal from the arsenal, the man who by his peaceful retreat saved Prussia from a new revolution and the Ministers from immense danger, this man is tried by a military court which makes use of the articles of war to condemn him to death.

The members of the Agreement Assembly are likewise recovering from their fright. In their session on the 17th, they repudiate the men who stormed the arsenal just as they repudiated the barricade fighters on the 9th. The following events transpired during this session of the 17th.

Herr Camphausen explains to the Assembly that he will now reveal all facts in order that it may decide whether or not to impeach the Ministry because of the storming of the arsenal.

There was a reason, indeed, for impeaching the Ministers, not because they tolerated the storming of the arsenal, but rather because they caused it by circumventing one of the most significant results of the revolution: the arming of the people.

Then Herr Griesheim, Commissioner in the Ministry of War, rises after him. He gives a lengthy description of the weapons in the arsenal, especially of rifles “of an entirely new type of which only Prussia knows the secret”, of weapons “of historical significance” and of all the other marvellous items. He describes the guarding of the arsenal: upstairs there are 250 army troops and downstairs is the civic militia. He refers to the fact that the flow of weapons to and from the arsenal, which is the main armoury of the whole Prussian state, was hardly interrupted by the March revolution.

After all these preliminary remarks with which he tried to arouse the sympathy of the agreers for the arsenal, this most interesting institution, he finally comes to the events of June 14.

The people’s attention had always been drawn to the arsenal and the arms deliveries and they had been told that these weapons belonged to them.

The weapons belonged indeed to the people, first of all as national property and secondly as part of the acquired and guaranteed right of the people to bear arms.

Herr Griesheim “could state with certainty that the first shots were fired by the people against the civic militia”.

This assertion is a counterpart to the “seventeen dead soldiers” of March.[75]

Herr Griesheim now relates that the people invaded the arsenal, that the civic militia retreated and that “ 1,100 rifles of the new type of rifle were then stolen, an irreplaceable loss” (!). Captain Natzmer had been talked into a “dereliction of duty”, i.e. into retreating, and the military had withdrawn.

But now the Commissioner from the Ministry of War comes to a passage of his report which causes his old-Prussian heart to bleed: the people desecrated the sacred shrine of old Prussia. Listen:

“Thereafter downright atrocities began to occur in the rooms upstairs. Theft, robbery and destruction took place. New weapons were flung down and broken. Antiques of irreplaceable value, rifles inlaid with silver and ivory and artistic, hard-to-replace artillery models were destroyed. Trophies and flags won by the blood of the people, symbols of the nation’s honour, were torn and besmirched! (General indignation. Calls from all sides: Shame! Shame!)

This indignation of the old blade at the frivolity of the people is indeed laughable. The people have committed “downright atrocities” against old spiked helmets, the shakos of the army reserve and other junk “of irreplaceable value"! They have flung down the “new weapons"! What an “atrocity” such an act must represent in the eyes of a veteran lieutenant-colonel who was only allowed to admire the “new weapons” respectfully in the arsenal while his regiment had to practise with the most antiquated rifles! The people have destroyed the artillery models! Perhaps Herr Griesheim is demanding that the people are supposed to put on kid gloves before starting a revolution? But the most horrible event has yet to come — the trophies of old Prussia have been besmirched and torn!

Herr Griesheim relates an event which demonstrates that the people of Berlin showed a most correct revolutionary attitude on June 14. The people of Berlin disavowed the wars of liberation by trampling upon the flags captured at Leipzig and Waterloo. [76] The first thing the Germans have to do in their revolution is to break with their entire disgraceful past.

The old-Prussian Agreement Assembly, however, had of course to cry shame! shame! over an action in which the people for the first time confront in a revolutionary way not only their oppressors but also the glittering illusions of their own past.

In spite of all his whisker-raising indignation over such an outrage, Herr Griesheim does not, however, fail to remark that the whole matter “cost the state 50,000 talers as well as enough weapons to equip several battalions of troops”.

He continues:

“It was not the desire to arm the people which caused the assault since the weapons were sold for a few groschen.”

The storming of the arsenal, according to Herr Griesheim, was merely the deed of a number of thieves who stole rifles in order to sell them again for a dram of liquor. The Commissioner from the Ministry of War so far owes us an explanation why the “robbers” Plundered the arsenal rather than the wealthy shops of the goldsmiths and money-changers.

“Much sympathy has been shown for the unfortunate (!) captain because he violated his duty allegedly to prevent the shedding of citizens’ blood; his action has even been portrayed as commendable and deserving of thanks. Today I was even visited by a delegation which is demanding that this deed should be acknowledged by the entire fatherland as deserving of thanks. (Indignation.) It consisted of representatives of the various clubs which are under the chairmanship of Assessor Schramm. (Indignation on the Right and calls of “shame!”) One thing is certain, the captain has broken the first and foremost law of the soldier: he has abandoned his post in spite of explicit instructions given him not to leave it without explicit orders. It was put to him that his withdrawal would save the throne, that all troops had left the city and the King had fled from Potsdam. (Indignation.) He acted in exactly the same manner as the fortress commandant in 1806 who also surrendered that which had been entrusted to him without further ado instead of defending it.[77] Incidentally, the rejoinder that his withdrawal prevented the shedding of citizens’ blood does not hold water. Not a hair on anybody’s head would have been touched since he surrendered his post at the moment when the rest of the battalion was coming to his aid.” (Shouts of “bravo” from the Right, hissing from the Left.)

Herr Griesheim has, of course, forgotten again that Captain Natzmer’s restraint saved Berlin from renewed armed fighting, the Ministers from the greatest danger and the monarchy from being overthrown. Herr Griesheim, who again plays the role of lieutenant-colonel to the hilt, sees in Natzmer’s act nothing but insubordination, cowardly desertion of his post and treason in the well-known old-Prussian manner of 1806. The man to whom the monarchy owes its continued existence is to be condemned to death. What a wonderful example for the entire army!

And how did the Assembly act at this tale by Herr Griesheim? It became the echo of his indignation. The Left finally protested — by hissing. The Berlin Left is generally behaving in a more and more cowardly and ambiguous manner. Where were these gentlemen, who exploited the people during the elections, on the night of June

14, when the people soon let the advantages gained slip from their grasp again, solely because of their perplexity, and when only a leader was lacking to make the victory complete? Where were Herr Berends, Herr Jung, Herr Elsner, Herr Stein, and Herr Reichenbach? They remained at home or made innocuous complaints to the Ministers. But that is not all. They do not even dare to defend the people against the calumnies and vilifications of the Government Commissioner. Not a single one of them speaks up. Not a single one wants to be responsible for the action of the people which gave them their first victory. They dare not do anything but — hiss. What heroism!