Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848

The Civic Militia Bill

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 256;
Written: on July 20-23, 1848;
First published: in the New Rheinische Zeitung Nos. 51, 52 and 54, July 21, 22 and 24, 1848.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 51, July 21, 1848

Cologne, July 20. The civic militia is disbanded, that is the chief paragraph of the Bill on the establishment of a civic militia, even though this paragraph appears at the very end of it as Paragraph 121, in the modest form:

“By the establishment of the civic militia under this law, all armed units, which at present either belong to or exist side by side with the civic militia, are herewith disbanded.”

The disbandment of the units which do not belong directly to the civic militia has started without much ado. The disbandment of the civic militia itself can only be brought about under the pretext of reorganising it.

Legislative propriety necessitated the inclusion of the conventional constitutional phrase in Paragraph 1:

“It is the function of the civic militia to protect constitutional freedom and lawful order.”

In order to live up to the “nature of this function”, however, the civic militia may neither think nor speak of public affairs nor consult or decide about them (Paragraph 1), neither assemble nor arm (Paragraph 6), nor show any sign of life except by permission of the superior authorities. It is not that the civic militia “protects” the Constitution from the authorities but rather the authorities protect the Constitution from the civic militia. Thus the civic militia has to ‘,obey” blindly the “demands of the authorities” (Paragraph 4) and to abstain from all interference “in the activities of communal, administrative or judicial authorities”, and must also abstain from all arguments. If it “refuses” to obey passively, the Regierungspräsident may “suspend it from service” for four weeks (Paragraph 4). If it should moreover arouse the royal displeasure, a “royal decree” may order “its suspension” for “six months”, or even “disbandment”; thereupon it shall be re-formed only after six months have passed (Paragraph 3). Thus there “shall exist a civic militia in every community of the kingdom” (Paragraph 2), that is insofar as the Regierungspräsident or the King does not find it necessary to order the exact opposite in every community. Whereas matters of state are not within the “competence” of the civic militia, the civic militia, on the contrary, is “within the competence of the Minister of the Interior”, i.e. the Police Minister who is its natural superior and who “by the nature of his function” is the faithful Eckart of “constitutional freedom” (Paragraph 5). Insofar as the civic militia is not ordered by the Regierungspräsident and the other officials “to protect constitutional freedom”, i.e. to carry out the judgment of the authorities, i.e. to be commandeered for service, its specific life’s work is to implement a set of service regulations designed by a royal colonel. This set of service regulations is its Magna Carta[173] for whose protection and execution it was, so to speak, created. Long live the service regulations! Finally, enrolment in the civic militia provides the occasion to make every Prussian “after completion of his 24th and before the completion of his 50th year of life” swear the following oath:

“I swear loyalty and obedience to the King, the Constitution and the laws of the kingdom.”

The poor Constitution! How cramped, bashful, civilly modest and with what submissive attitude it stands between the King and the law. First there is the royalist oath, the oath of the dear faithful ones, then the constitutional oath and finally an oath which does not make any sense at all unless it be a legitimist one indicating that besides the laws derived from the Constitution there are still other laws which originate from royal authority. And now the good citizen belongs from head to foot to the “competence of the Ministry of the Interior”.

This worthy fellow has received weapons and uniform on condition that he first of all relinquish his primary political rights, the right of association, etc. He fulfils his task to protect “constitutional freedom”, according to the “nature of the function”, by blindly carrying out the orders of the authorities, by exchanging the usual civil liberty which was tolerated even under the absolute monarchy for the passive, automatic and disinterested obedience of the soldier. A fine school, as Herr Schneider said in the Agreement Assembly, to bring up the republicans of the future! What has become of our citizen? A hybrid between a Prussian policeman and an English constable! Yet for all his losses he is consoled by the set of service regulations and the knowledge that he is obeying orders. Would it not be more original to dissolve the nation in the army rather than to dissolve the army in the nation?

This transformation of constitutional phrases into Prussian facts is a truly bizarre spectacle.

If Prussianism condescends to become constitutional, constitutionalism ought surely to take the trouble to become Prussian.

Poor constitutionalism! Worthy Germans! They have been moaning for so long that the “most solemn” promises were not fulfilled. Soon they will have only one fear, the fear of seeing the fulfilment of these solemn promises! The nation is punished par où il a péché. [by its sins] You have demanded freedom of the press? You will be punished by freedom of the press, and you will get censorship without censors, censorship by the Public Prosecutor’s office, censorship by a law that discovers in the “nature of the function” of the press that it must be concerned with everything except the authorities, the infallible authorities, the censorship of prison sentences and fines. As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so you are to pant after the good old much-maligned and much-misunderstood censor, the last of the Romans under whose ascetic providence you led such a comfortable and safe life.

You demanded a people’s militia? You will get a set of service regulations. You will be put at the disposal of the authorities. You will get military drill and schooling in passive obedience until your eyes water.

Prussian acumen has found out that every new constitutional institution offers the most interesting opportunity for new penal laws, new rules, new punishments, new supervision, new chicanery and new bureaucracy.

Still more constitutional demands! Still more constitutional demands! exclaims the Government of Action. We have an act for every demand!

Demand: Every citizen must be armed to protect “constitutional freedom”.

Answer: From now on every citizen comes under the competence of the Ministry of the Interior.

See this volume, pp. 233-35

by its sins

It would be easier to recognise the Greeks in the shape of the animals into which Circe transformed them than to recognise the constitutional institutions in the fantastic images into which they have been transfigured by Prussianism and its Government of Action.

The Prussian reorganisation of Poland is followed by the Prussian reorganisation of the civic militia!

New Rheinische Zeitung No. 52, July 22, 1848

Cologne, July 21. We have seen that the “general stipulations” of the civic militia Bill amount to the following: the civic militia has ceased to exist. We shall touch very briefly upon yet some other sections of the Bill to distil from them the spirit of the “Government of Action”, and here, too, we have to be selective in handling the raw materials of the pseudonymous institute. A great number of paragraphs presuppose new community and district regulations, a new administrative division of the monarchy etc., all creatures that conduct their hidden lives, as is well known, in the secret-pregnant womb of the Government of Action. Why then has the Government of Action issued the Bill on the reorganisation of the civic militia before the promised Bills on the community and district regulations etc.?

In Section III we find two service lists: the list of the respectable people serving in the civic militia and the list of citizens who are supported from public funds (Paragraph 14 [and Paragraph 16]). The host of officials, of course, is not included among the people who are supported from public funds. It is generally known that in Prussia these officials constitute the productive class proper. The poor, however, like the slaves in ancient Rome, “are only to be called up under extraordinary circumstances”. If because of their civil dependence the poor are as little qualified to protect constitutional freedom” as the lazzaroni in Naples, [174] do they deserve to occupy a subordinate position in this new institute of passive obedience?

Apart from the poor, we find a far more important distinction between the solvent and insolvent people on the active list of the militia.

But first another observation. Under Paragraph 53:

“Throughout the country, the civic militia must wear the same simple uniform prescribed by the King. The uniform must not he of such a kind that it gives occasion for confusion with the army.”

Of course! The clothing must be of such a kind that the army is distinct from the civic militia and the civic militia from the people, and that no confusion can occur on such occasions as hand-to-hand combat, shooting and similar war manoeuvres. The service uniform as such is, however, as indispensable as the service list and the service regulations. It is precisely the service uniform which is the livery of freedom. This livery causes a significant rise in the cost of equipping a civic militiaman and the increased cost of this equipment gives the welcome excuse for creating an infinite abyss between bourgeois and proletarian members of the civic militia.

Listen to this:

Paragraph 57: “Every member of the civic militia must pay out of his own pocket for uniform (in case one is required), service badges and weapons. The community, however, is obliged to provide these items at its expense in the quantities required for the equipment of soldiers on duty who cannot pay the costs from their own means.”

Paragraph 59: “The community retains the right of possession of the items of equipment that it has supplied and it can keep these in special stores when not in service use.

Thus, all those who cannot equip themselves militarily from top to toe, and that is the great majority of the Prussian population, the entire working class and a large part of the middle class, are all legally disarmed “except during the period of service”, whereas the bourgeois section of the civic militia remains at all times in possession of its weapons and uniforms. Since in the guise of the “community” the same bourgeoisie “can keep in special stores the items of equipment that it has supplied”, it is not only in possession of its own weapons but, in addition, is in possession of the weapons of the proletariat of the civic militia, and it “can” and “will” refuse to hand out these weapons even for “service use” if political collisions occur which are not to its liking. Thus the political privilege of capital has been restored in its most inconspicuous but most effective and decisive form. Capital has the privilege of possessing arms as opposed to those who own little, just as medieval feudal barons over against their serfs.

In order that this privilege should operate in its full exclusiveness, Paragraph 56 states that

“in the countryside and in towns of less than 5,000 inhabitants it suffices to arm civic militiamen with pikes or swords, and with this kind of armament only a service badge to be determined by the colonel need be worn in place of a uniform”.

In all towns of more than 5,000 inhabitants the uniform must enlarge the property qualification, which alone enables a man to bear arms, and with it increase the numbers of the proletariat in the civic militia. just as this proletariat, that is the largest part of the population, have uniforms and weapons only on loan, so they have the right to bear arms in general only on loan; their existence as servicemen is only on loan and — beati possidentes, blessed are the propertied! The moral uneasiness with which a borrowed garb envelops an individual, particularly in the case of soldiers where the borrowed uniform flits successively from one body to another, this moral uneasiness is, of course, the first requisite for Romans called upon “to protect constitutional freedom”. By contrast, however, will not the proud self-esteem of the solvent civic militia grow, and what more can be desired?

And even these stipulations, which render the right to bear arms illusory for the greater part of the population, are encased in still more novel and more restrictive stipulations, in the interests of the propertied section of the population, the privileged capitalists.

For the community needs to have in stock merely enough items of equipment required by that part of the insolvent servicemen “who are on active service”. Under Paragraph 15, the conditions for ,active service” are as follows:

“In all communities where the total number of men currently available for service exceeds the 20th part of the population, the representatives of the community have the right to limit the personnel on, active service to that part of the population. If they make use of this authorisation, they must lay down a service roster in such a way that all men currently available for service take their turn in due course. At every rum, however, not more than a third may leave at any one time; and all age groups must be called up at the same time in proportion to the available number of civic militiamen contained in each group.”

And now one should try to calculate for what tiny fraction of the proletariat of the civic militia and the total population these items of equipment are really provided by the community?

In yesterday’s article we observed how the Government of Action is reorganising the constitutional institution of the civic militia along the lines of the old-Prussian, bureaucratic state. Only today we see it at the height of its mission and observe how it is forming this institution of the civic militia along the lines of the July revolution and Louis Philippe and in the spirit of the epoch which crowns capital and pays homage

With drums and trumpets
To its youthful splendour.
[modified quotation from Heine’s “Berg — Idylle"]

A few words to the Hansemann-Kühlwetter-Milde Government. A few days ago a circular letter against the intrigues of the reaction was sent by Herr Kühlwetter to every Regierungspräsident. What has led to this phenomenon?

The Government of Action intends to establish the rule of the bourgeoisie by simultaneously reaching a compromise with the old police and feudal state. While it is engaged in this dual and contradictory task, it sees that the rule of the bourgeoisie, which has still to be set up, and the existing Government itself are constantly outflanked by the absolutist and feudal reaction — and it is bound to succumb. The bourgeoisie cannot achieve domination without previously gaining the support of the people as a whole, and hence without acting more or less democratically.

But attempting to combine the Restoration period with the July period, and causing the bourgeoisie, which is still grappling with absolutism, feudalism, the country squires, and the rule of the military and the bureaucracy, already at this stage to exclude the people, and to subjugate and bypass it, is tantamount to attempting to square the circle. This is a historical problem which will frustrate the efforts even of a Government of Action, even of the Hansemann-Kühlwetter-Milde triumvirate.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 54, July 24, 1848

Cologne, July 23. The section of the civic militia Bill which deals with the “election and appointment of superiors” is a genuine labyrinth of electoral methods. We want to play Ariadne and give the modern Theseus, the praiseworthy civic militia, the thread that will guide him through the labyrinth. The modern Theseus, however, will be as ungrateful as the ancient one and, having killed the Minotaur, will treacherously abandon his Ariadne, the press, upon the rock of Naxos.

Let us number the different passages of the labyrinth.

Passage One. Direct elections.

Paragraph 42. “The leaders of the civic militia up to and including captains, are elected by the civic militiamen on active service.

Side passage. “The civic militiamen on active service” constitute only a small part of the really “able-bodied” personnel. Compare Paragraph 15 and our article of the day before yesterday.

Thus the “direct” elections, too, are only so-called direct elections.

Passage Two. Indirect elections.

Paragraph 48. “The battalion’s major is elected with an absolute majority of votes by the captains, platoon leaders and corporals of the respective companies.”

Passage Three. Combination of indirect elections with royal appointment.

Paragraph 49. “The colonel is appointed by the King from a list of three candidates elected by the leaders of the respective battalions down to and including the platoon leaders.”

Passage Four. Combination of indirect elections with appointment by the commanders.

Paragraph 50. “The respective commanders will appoint adjutants from among the platoon leaders, battalion clerks from among the corporals and battalion drum-majors from among the drummers.”

Passage Five. Direct appointment by bureaucratic means.

Paragraph 50. “The sergeant and the clerk of a company are appointed by the captain, the sergeant-major and the clerk of a squadron by a cavalry captain and the corporal by the platoon leader.”

Thus if these electoral methods begin with adulterated direct elections, they end with the unadulterated cessation of all elections, namely with the discretion of the captains, cavalry captains and platoon leaders. Finis coronat opus. [the end crowns the work] This labyrinth has its apex, its point.

The crystals — ranging from the effulgent colonel to the insignificant corporal — which are precipitated in this complicated chemical process, settle for six years.

Paragraph 51. “Elections and appointments of leaders are made for six years.”

It is hard to understand why after such precautionary measures the Government of Action needed to commit another gaffe by shouting in the face of the civic militia, in the “general regulations": You are to be transformed from a political into a purely police institution and you are to be reorganised as a nursery for old-Prussian drill. Why take away the illusion?

The royal appointment is so like a canonisation that in the section on “Civic Militia Courts” we find no courts for “colonels” but only courts for ranks up to major. How could a royal colonel possibly commit a crime?

In contrast, the mere existence as a militiaman is to such an extent a profanation of the citizen, that a word from his superior officers, a word from the infallible royal colonel, or even from the first chap that comes along who has been appointed sergeant by the captain or corporal by the platoon leader, is enough to rob the militiaman of his personal freedom for 24 hours and to have him arrested.

Paragraph 81. “Every superior may reprimand his subordinate while on service; he can even order his immediate arrest and imprisonment for 24 hours if the subordinate is guilty of drunkenness while on duty or some other gross violation of service regulations.”

The superior, of course, decides what constitutes some other gross violation of service regulations and the subordinate has to obey orders.

Thus if the citizen at the very beginning of the Bill matures towards the “nature of his function”, the “protection of constitutional freedom”, by ceasing to be what according to Aristotle is the function of man — a “zoon politikon”, a “political animal” [Aristotle, Politica] — he only completes his calling by surrendering his freedom as a citizen to the discretion of a colonel or a corporal.

The “Government of Action” seems to subscribe to some peculiar oriental-mystical notions, to a sort of Moloch cult. To protect the “constitutional freedom” of Regierungspräsident burgomasters, police superintendents, chiefs of police and police inspectors, officials of the public prosecution, presidents or directors of law-courts, examining magistrates, justices of the peace, village mayors, Ministers, clergymen, military personnel on active service, frontier, customs, tax, forestry and postal officials, superintendents and warders of all kinds of penal institutions, the executive security officers and of the people under 25 and over 50 years of age — all of them persons who according to Paragraphs 9, 10, and 11 do not belong to the civic militia — to protect the “constitutional freedom” of this élite of the nation, the rest of the nation must let its constitutional freedom and even personal freedom die a bloody sacrificial death upon the altar of the fatherland. Pends-toi, Figaro! Tu n'aurais pas inventé cela! [hang yourself, Figaro, you would not have thought of that! — modified quotation from Beaumarchais’ La folle journée, ou le mariage de Figaro]

It is hardly necessary to mention that the section dealing with penalties has been worked out with voluptuous thoroughness. The entire institution, in accordance with “the nature of its function”, is, of course, to be purely a penalty for the desire of the praiseworthy citizenry to have a Constitution and a civic militia. We merely observe that in addition to the legally determined criminal cases, the service regulations, the Magna Carta of the civic militia, devised by the royal colonel in consultation with the major and with the permission of the apocryphal “district representation”, give rise to a new specimen collection of penalties (see Paragraph 82 and the subsequent paragraphs). It goes without saying that fines can be substituted for imprisonment so that the difference between the solvent and insolvent members of the civic militia, i.e. the difference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of the civic militia invented by the “Government of Action”, may enjoy penal sanction.

The exempt judiciary, which the Government of Action had by and large to give up in the Constitution, is smuggled back again into the civic militia. All disciplinary offences of the men and corporals of the civic militia are within the competence of company courts consisting of two platoon leaders, two corporals and three civic militiamen (Paragraph 87). All disciplinary offences of “leaders of companies belonging to the battalion, from platoon leaders up to and including majors”, are under the jurisdiction of battalion courts consisting of two captains, two platoon leaders and three corporals (Paragraph 88). For the major there is a specially exempt judiciary since the same Paragraph 88 prescribes that “if the investigation concerns a major, the battalion court will be joined by two majors serving as members of the court”. Finally, a colonel, as has already been mentioned, is exempt from any court.

The admirable Bill ends with the following paragraph:

(Paragraph 123.) “The rules concerning the participation of the civic militia in the defence of the fatherland in case of war and its armament, equipment and provisioning to be carried out then are reserved for the law on the organisation of the army.”

In other words: the old army reserve continues to exist side by side with the reorganised civic militia.

Does not the Government of Action deserve to be impeached just because of this Bill and the projected armistice with Denmark?