Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung January 1849

A New-Year Greeting

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 222;
Written: by Marx on January 8, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 190, January 9, 1849.

Cologne, January 8. That priests and precentors, vergers and organ-blowers, barbers and night-watchmen, field guards, grave-diggers etc. send us New-Year greetings, is a custom that is as old as it is ever recurrent, and one which leaves us cold.

The year 1849, however, is not content with the traditional. Its arrival has been marked by something unprecedented, a New-Year greeting from the King of Prussia.

It is a New-Year wish addressed not to the Prussian people, nor “To my dear Berliners”, but “To my army”.[210]

This royal New-Year message looks on the army “with pride” because it remained loyal

when” (in March) “revolt disturbed the peaceful development of liberal institutions towards which I wished cautiously to lead My people”.

Previously people spoke of the March events, of “misunderstandings”, and so forth. Now there is no longer need for disguise: the March “misunderstandings” are cast in our face as “revolt”.

The royal New-Year greeting breathes on us the same spirit as that which emanates from the columns of the “Dame of the Cross” [i.e., Kreuz-Zeitung, Neue Preussische Zeitung]. Just as the former speaks of “revolt”, so the latter speaks of inglorious “March criminals”, of the criminal rabble which upset the tranquillity of Court life in Berlin.

If we ask why the March “revolt” should be so particularly revolting, we are told in reply: “because it disturbed the peaceful development of liberal (!!) institutions etc.”

If you were not peacefully at rest in Friedrichshain,[211] you March rebels, you would now have to be rewarded with “powder and shot” or penal servitude for life. By your wickedness did you not indeed disturb “the peaceful development of liberal institutions"? Does one need to be reminded of that royal Prussian development of “liberal institutions”, of the most liberal development in the squandering of money, of the “peaceful” expansion of bigotry and royal Prussian Jesuitry, of the peaceful development of police and barrack rule, of spying, deception, hypocrisy, arrogance, and finally the most disgusting brutalisation of the people alongside of the most shameful corruption among the so-called upper classes? There is all the less need for such a reminder because we have only to look around, to stretch out our hands, in order to see that “disturbed development” again in full bloom and to refresh ourselves with a double edition of the above-mentioned “liberal institutions”.

“My army.” the royal message of greetings goes on to say, “has kept its old glory and won new glory.”

Indeed it has! It has won so much glory that at most the Croats could lay claim to greater.

But where and how has it won it? In the first place:

“It adorned its banners with new laurels when Germany required our weapons in Schleswig.”

The Prussian Note sent by Major Wildenbruch to the Danish Government[212] is the basis on which the new Prussian glory has been erected. The entire conduct of the war conformed excellently to that Note, which assured the Danish Herr cousin that the Prussian Government was not at all in earnest, it was merely throwing out a bait to the republicans and throwing sand in the eyes of other people in order to gain time. And to gain time is to gain everything. Later agreement would be reached in the jolliest of ways.

Herr Wrangel, about whom public opinion was led astray for rather a long time, Herr Wrangel left Schleswig-Holstein secretly like a thief in the night. He travelled in civilian clothes in order not to be recognised. In Hamburg all the innkeepers declared that they could not give him shelter. They considered their houses, and the windows and doors in them, to be clearer to them than the laurels of the Prussian army, which were despised by the people although embodied in this illustrious gentleman. We should not forget either that the only success in this campaign of useless and senseless movements hither and thither, which was wholly reminiscent of the procedure of the old imperial courts of justice (see our issues at the time), was a strategic mistake.

The only surprising thing about this campaign is the inexpressible cheek of the Danes, who mischievously hoaxed the Prussian army and completely cut off Prussia from the world market.

To complete the Prussian glory in this connection, one must include also the peace negotiations with Denmark and the Malmö armistice which resulted from them.[213]

If the Roman Emperor [Vespasian], on sniffing a coin in the receipts from the public conveniences, could say: “Non olet” (it does not smell), the Prussian laurels won in Schleswig-Holstein, on the other hand, are marked in ineradicable characters: “Olet!” (it stinks!).

Secondly, “My army victoriously overcame hardships and dangers when it was necessary to combat insurrection in the Grand Duchy of Posen”.

As far as the “victoriously overcome hardships” are concerned, they are as follows: Prussia, firstly, exploited the magnanimous illusion, fostered by smooth words from Berlin, of the Poles, who regarded the “Pomeranians” as German comrades-in-arms against Russia, and therefore calmly disbanded their army, let the Pomeranians march in, and only reassembled their scattered military cadres when the Prussians most vilely maltreated them when they were defenceless. And as for the Prussian feats of heroism! The heroic deeds of the “glorious” Prussian army were accomplished not during the war, but after the war. When Mieroslawski was presented to the June victor, Cavaignac’s first question was how the Prussian’s had managed to be defeated at Miloslaw. (We can prove this by eyewitnesses.) 3,000 Poles, hardly armed with scythes and pikes, struck twice and twice forced 20,000 Prussians to retreat, although the latter were well organised and liberally equipped with weapons.[214] In its wild flight the Prussian cavalry itself threw the Prussian infantry into confusion. The Polish insurrection kept its hold on Miloslaw, after twice driving the counter-revolutionaries out of the city. Still more shameful than the Prussians’ defeat at Miloslaw was their final victory at Wreschen, prepared for by a defeat.[215] If an unarmed but Herculean opponent confronts a coward armed with pistols, the coward flees and fires his pistols from a respectable distance. That is how the Prussians behaved at Wreschen. They fled to a distance at which they could fire grape-shot, grenades containing 150 bullets, and shrapnel against pikes and scythes which, as is well known, cannot be effective at a distance. Previously shrapnel had only been fired by Englishmen against semi-savages in the East Indies. Only the stalwart Prussians, in fanatical fear of Polish courage and conscious of their own weakness, used shrapnel against their so-called fellow citizens. They had, of course, to look for a method of killing masses of Poles at a distance. Close to, the Poles were too terrible. Such was the glorious victory at Wreschen. But, as already stated, the heroic deeds of the Prussian army begin only after the war, just as the heroic deeds of the prison warder begin after sentence has been pronounced.

That this glory of the Prussian army will go down in history is guaranteed by the thousands of Poles killed with shrapnel, pointed bullets etc. as a result of Prussian treachery and black-and-white trickery, and by those later branded with lunar caustic.[216]

Adequate testimony to this second laurel wreath of the counter-revolutionary army has been provided by the villages and towns burnt by the Prussian heroes, by the Polish inhabitants beaten up and massacred in their homes with rifle-butts and bayonets, and by the acts of plunder and violence of all kinds committed by the Prussians.

Immortal glory for these Prussian warriors in Posen, who paved the way trodden shortly afterwards by the Neapolitan executioner, who battered with shot and shell his loyal capital city and allowed the soldiery to plunder it for 24 hours.[217] Honour and glory to the Prussian army for the Posen campaign! For it served as a shining example for the Croats, Serezhans, Ottochans [218] and other hordes of Windischgrätz and Co., who, as Prague (in June), Vienna, Pressburg etc. have proved, were inspired to be its most worthy imitators.

And, lastly, even this courage of the Prussians against the Poles occurred only owing to fear of the Russians.

“All good things come in threes Hence “My army” also had to win a triple glory. The occasion for it was not lacking. For “its participation in the maintenance of order (!) in South Germany won fresh recognition for the name of Prussia”.

Only malice or an attempt at belittlement could make one deny that “My army” performed the most effective services as jailor and policeman for the Federal Diet, which modernised itself on being rebaptised and had itself called the Central Authority.[219] It is equally undeniable that the Prussian name gained full recognition in guzzling South-German wine, meat, cider etc. The starving Brandenburgers, Pomeranians etc. grew patriotic paunches, the thirsty ones refreshed themselves, and in general succeeded in polishing off everything that the South Germans who provided them with billets set before them with such heroic courage that the Prussian name has gained the most noisy recognition there. It is a pity that the billet money has not yet been paid; the recognition would be still noisier.

The glory of “My army” is really inexhaustible; nevertheless, one must not omit to mention that

“whenever I called, it stood ready, in complete loyalty and in complete discipline”,

nor omit to communicate to posterity the equally remarkable statement that

“My army countered abominable calumnies by its excellent spirit and noble self-control.

How flattering for “My army” is this greeting, evoking as it does the pleasant recollection of its “complete discipline” and “noble self-control”, and at the same time once more its heroic deeds in the Grand Duchy,’ and furthermore the laurels it won in Mainz, Schweidnitz, Trier, Erfurt, Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Aachen, Coblenz, Münster, Minden etc. We others, however, who do not belong to “My army”, can in this way widen our limited conceptions as humble subjects. To shoot down old men and pregnant women, to rob (officially documented in the neighbourhood of Ostrowo), to maltreat peaceful citizens with rifle-butts and sabres, to destroy houses, to make attacks in the night on unarmed people with weapons hidden under cloaks, waylaying (recall what happened at Neuwied) — these and similar heroic deeds are termed in Christian-German language “complete discipline” and “noble self-control"! Long live self-control and discipline, since those murdered under this watchword are in fact dead.

The few passages of this royal Prussian New-Year greeting which we have touched upon here show us that this document in its significance and spirit is on the same level as the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick about 1792.[220]