Communal Reform and the Kölnische Zeitung - Karl Marx

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Communal Reform and the Kölnische Zeitung

Karl Marx

Communal Reform and the Kölnische Zeitung [100]

Source: MECW, Volume 1, p. 266;
Written: on November 7-12, 1842;
Published: in the Rheinische Zeitung Nos. 312, 316 and 317, November 8, 12 and 13, 1842;
Transcribed: in 2000 for by Andy Blunden.

Rheinische Zeitung No. 312, November 8, 1842

Cologne, November 7. We have not considered it appropriate when discussing the question of the Communal Reform to take into account what has appeared on the subject in the provincial papers, and in particular in the Kölnische Zeitung. We shall easily justify ourselves if we show by an example the approximate strength of the argument which has been advanced in defence of the separation of the urban and rural communities.

The Supplement to No. 309 of the Kölnische Zeitung adduces under the heading “Summing Up” the authorities for the affirmative and negative answers to the question of separation. Among other curiosities we find as grounds against the separation “some newspaper articles”, and in favour of the separation “likewise newspaper articles”, just as newspaper articles have “likewise” appeared in favour of censorship. In any case we must mention with the greatest praise a devotion which considers an article a ground for the mere reason that it is a newspaper article as indeed a very uncritical, but despite its comical tone, rare recognition of the periodical press. Credit for an equally praiseworthy ingenuousness by no means attaches to the juxtaposition of two other authorities for and against the separation of the urban and rural communities. Said to have been against this separation is the Provincial Assembly of 1833, which moreover was prevailed upon by a single energetic personality, and accordingly therefore only this personality was against the separation; in favour of the separation was the whole Provincial Assembly of 1827 with the exception of one vote; but, honourable Summing Up, if the 1833 Provincial Assembly is only worth as much as the single personality which it followed, then what rules out the possibility that the 1827 Provincial Assembly is worth less than the single vote which it opposed; and yet the Provincial Assembly, which is so hesitating, so unable to depend on itself, still remains an authority! If further the petitions from Cologne, Aachen and Koblenz are adduced as petitions for the separation of the urban and rural communities because these petitions are limited to Cologne, Aachen and Koblenz, in the best of cases this can prove only the limitation of these petitions, but by no means their reasonableness; besides, having in their initial haste grasped so little the generality of the question and considered the interest of the whole province, these cities have just as little conceived their particular reform in any kind of opposition to the general reform. They made a petition only for themselves, but by no means against the province. We admired immediately at the beginning the comical ingenuousness of the “Summing Up”, and although it does not preserve this quality throughout but, as we have just heard, could not but occasionally lapse into small intentional subtleties, this comicality and ingenuousness nevertheless victoriously reasserts itself in the end. Said to be in favour of the separation of the city and the countryside are also

“the remaining cities of the Rhine Province, whose petitions are unknown as far as their content is concerned, but which in making their requests could presumably only speak for themselves, since no single locality can be the organ of a whole province”.

So not only a newspaper article in the abstract is an authority, but even the decided mediocrity of a “presumably only” can puzzle out the unknown content of the remaining cities' petitions. That this prophet who is called “presumably only” is a false prophet is proved by the petition of the city of Trier. At the end of the “Summing Up” emerges the inner ground which is the real ground for a separation of the city and the countryside. What is wanted is not only to separate the city from the countryside, but to separate the individual cities from one another and from the province, to separate the province from its own intelligence. A single locality could not be the organ of a whole province? Correct. The single locality must not be the whole organ, but it must be a part of this organ, and hence must be for its part the organ of the whole and general interest. And does not such a view remove all possibility of even a single city communal system? If a single locality cannot be the organ of the whole province, can a single citizen be the organ of a whole city? This citizen, as follows from the argument advanced above, can only request something for himself, and not for the whole city, and since the whole city consists only of single citizens, nothing at all can be requested for the city as a whole. The “Summing Up” ends with what the separation of the city and the countryside must in general end with if it is to be consistent, with making not only the city, not only the province, but even the state itself impossible. Once the particular is to be asserted in hostile opposition to the general, in the end all political and social institutions must be made to disappear before the ultimate indivisible particular, the single individual in his physical appetites and aims. The troops that the “Summing Up” puts into the field on its side resemble, with few exceptions, Falstaff's recruits: all they are good for is to fill the a breach with the corpses of thoughts [Paraphrase of Falstaff's words from Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part One, Act IV, Scene 2]. Enough of the grave-digger business!

Finally, a well-intended recollection of the Kölnische Zeitung. For the first time a sense of modesty and mistrust of its own strength has crept into the leading article, although it is otherwise accustomed to behave as if it were the criterion de omnibus rebus et de quibusdam aliis. [of all things and certain others] Not for the first time, but indeed for all time can Kölnische Zeitung become convinced on this occasion of the untenability of its editorial principle. Since all unpaid contributors are welcome, a few fingers with an itch to write and set in motion by a mediocre brain suffice to falsify the expression of public opinion. When one casts a glance at the columns of the Kölnische Zeitung, one would think the view favouring the separation of the city and the countryside is predominant in the Rhine Province. But if one casts a glance at the Rhine Province, one would think the Rhine Province is not predominant in the Kölnische Zeitung.

Rheinische Zeitung No. 316, November 12, 1842

Cologne, November 11. Our appeal to the Rhineland “provincial papers” regarding the communal reform question did not fail to produce results. The Kölnische Zeitung found itself moved to dip its issue of Nov. 11 into a false bright instead of the usual twilight colour and to recognise, though with unmistakable ill humour, hesitant reservations, suspicious side-glances, and deliberate ambiguity, the equal rights of town and countryside. Today once again we seize the opportunity to make the Kölnische Zeitung conscious of its state of mind and will not abandon the pleasant, though fantastic hope that it will renounce its point of view as soon as it has gained consciousness of its point of view.

“Incidentally,” the Kölnische Zeitung concludes its article today, “as regards the communal system question, which has such a high claim to the general interest, the editorial board of the Kölnische Zeitung considers it appropriate to state that in this respect also it pays allegiance to the principle of equality of rights but considers it its duty to give as free scope as possible to discussion of the forms in which an improvement of the present situation, which is thoroughly unfree and acknowledged by all parties to be no longer tolerable, is to be effected.”

The Kölnische Zeitung has so far not carried a single article about the forms in which the communal reform is to be effected while maintaining the principle of equality of rights. It was therefore impossible for us to fight a non-existent opponent. Or does the Kölnische Zeitung consider that the “separation of town and countryside”, a separation which a number of its articles suggested should be simulated legally by means of a separate communal system, is likewise one of the forms in which the principle of equality of rights is crystallised? Does it hold that the established inequality of rights is a form of equality of rights? The struggle in the Kölnische Zeitung centred not on the different forms of one and the same principle, but rather on the difference of the principle itself, and, indeed, in this struggle, if we consider the articles of the Kölnische Zeitung, according to that paper's own suggestion, as mere articles, i.e., according to their numerical mass, most of the troops belonged to the opponents of equality. We said to the Kölnische Zeitung. Be honest, do not falsify the expression of public opinion, fulfil the calling of a Rhineland paper, which is to represent the spirit of the Rhineland, disregard personal considerations, in a vital question for the province close your columns to all individual opinions which have the defect of wishing to assert a separate attitude in opposition to the will of the people. And how does the Kölnische Zeitung reply!

It finds it “appropriate” to pay allegiance to the principle of equality of rights in relation to the communal reform, a “finding appropriate” that will be considered very clever in respect of the Rhine Province, and not precisely as a proof of the inventiveness of the Kölnische Zeitung. Alongside this moderate allegiance to the spirit of the province, however, the Kölnische Zeitung considers it its “duty” to give as free scope as possible to discussion of the “forms” of the communal reform, among which forms it also includes the forms of “inequality”. This “devotion to duty” will be found appropriate from the standpoint of its private interests and private considerations, however inappropriate this standpoint itself is. To cut off all hiding places for the Kölnische Zeitung, which creeps into concealment behind the difference between form and content, we pose the categorical question whether it declares an inequality of town and countryside legally established by means of a separate communal system to be a “form” of equality of rights and believes it can continue to keep its columns open to pretences of such equality as a mere question of form. Tomorrow we shall return to the article of the Kölnische Zeitung in question.

Rheinische Zeitung No. 317, November 13, 1842

Cologne, November 12. The article in No. 314 of the Rheinische Zeitung on the question of the communal system, which has such a high claim to the general interest a is nothing but an avant-propos to the detailed discussion of communal equality for town and country which is being carried on in our supplement. The Kölnische Zeitung introduces its reference to this, that is, to the matter itself, with “Incidentally”, just as the worker at the craftsmen's banquet begins his speech with “In general”, but this must not at all diminish the merits of the Kölnische Zeitung in respect of originality, since we recognise it rather as a habit of the paper, a habit which is just as original as praiseworthy, that in dealing with a question of general interest it “incidentally” touches also on the “matter itself”. This method of treatment, which is somewhat intentional, possesses a wonderful elasticity which makes the most curious misunderstandings possible and for a third party even probable as the proper understanding of the matter.

So the Kölnische Zeitung begins its article in question of November 4c with the anecdote that a “neighbouring paper”, namely, the Rheinische Zeitung, has called on “all Rhine Province papers to join forces against the threat, allegedly coming from Berlin, to the equality before the law of urban and rural communities” and issued the common slogan: “Equality for all, for townspeople and for peasants.” The Kölnische Zeitung declares itself prepared to take up this slogan

“insofar as by equality is understood not the foolish dream of the Communists, but, as we presume, the only possible equality, equality of rights”.

This cunning side-glance at the communist dreams would have been just as impossible as the magnanimous presumption of our non-communist tendency would have been unnecessary had the Kdlnische Zeitung begun its report with the matter itself, with the fact that the Rheinische Zeitung wants an equal communal system for town and countryside and even designates this equality expressly in the article quoted as “equality of rights of urban and rural communities”. But if the Kolnische Zeitung were to see this equality itself as communist foolishness, then it would simply have to be referred to its own credo introduced by the Catonic “Caeterum”. [Cato]

The ridiculous communist side-cut is not enough. The Kölnische Zeitung considers it necessary to associate another confession of faith with that of equality of rights.

“But,” it says, “we must admit that we cannot at all share the concern that the wise government of Frederick William IV is contemplating an infringement of equality of rights in the Rhineland. Before we believe this we must be presented with facts and not with assertions, which, we hope, are without any foundation.”

With this clumsy and perfidious insinuation imputing to us fears of and the spreading of rumours about an intentional infringement of equality of rights in the Rhineland by the wise government of Frederick William IV, the Kölnische Zeitung flees from the field of argument to the field of suspicion and denunciation and convinces us anew that the impotence of understanding seeks as a last resort to assert itself through impotence of character, through the vain recklessness of demoralisation. What is the insinuation of the Kölnische Zeitung based on? Basing ourselves on information from Berlin, we reported that the Rhineland deputies to the Central Commissions had before them a draft of a communal system which did not recognise the equality of town and countryside; we recommended that in this case the Rhine press should adopt the attitude and energy of truth.

If the government submits to the opinion of the Rhineland deputies a communal system which separates town and countryside, it follows from this simple fact that the government, far from having any concealed intention, rather entertains the complete conviction that by such a separation it will not infringe equality of rights in the Rhine Province. If the Rhine press, the organ of the Rhine Province, is convinced that the province is of the opposite view, it follows just as simply that it must prove that a common communal system for town and countryside is a necessary consequence of equality of rights in the Rhine Province; or is it not even a duty of the press to the government not only to express the popular conviction without consideration for the exceptional opinion of single individuals, but also to prove the reasonable content of this conviction?

Finally, it is more than indecent on the part of the Kölnische Zeitung to bring the All-high person of His Majesty into controversies of this kind. It needs really a minimum of intelligence and a maximum of irresponsibility to make any political discussion impossible in a purely monarchical state by the simple and easy manoeuvre of disregarding the true content of the discussion, bringing in a personal relationship to the monarch and thereby turning every objective debate into a debate on a question of confidence. We expressed the hope that all Rhine Province papers would represent the view of the Rhine Province, because and insofar as we entertain the unshakeable conviction that His Majesty would not refuse to recognise the great significance of the general view of the Rhine Province, even if our Berlin information is grounded — which we have no occasion to doubt — even if the Rhine deputies approve a separation of town and countryside, of which there can be all the less doubt since just recently the articles of the Kölnische Zeitung proved that not all Rhinelanders are capable of understanding and sharing the conviction of the vastly overwhelming majority.

The Rheinische Zeitung advanced the slogan of equality of rights for town and countryside, and the Kölnische Zeitung accepted this slogan with the cautious condition that by “equality of rights” we understand equality of rights and no communist dream. The Rheinische Zeitung accompanied the Berlin information with an appeal to the feelings of the Rhine Province papers, and the Kölnische Zeitung denounces it for suspicions concerning His Majesty's intentions. The Rheinische Zeitung called on the various editorial boards of our provincial papers to sacrifice individual considerations and preconceived opinions to the Fatherland, and the Kölnische Zeitung comes out with a flat, entirely unexplained recognition of equality of rights for town and countryside, a recognition whose formal merit it itself nullifies, by declaring the “separation” of town and countryside to be a “form” of equality of rights. Is it possible to write in a more illogical, unprincipled and wretched manner? Is it possible to proclaim more clearly freedom with the lips and unfreedom with the heart? But the Kölnische Zeitung knows the Shakespeare saying:

“... to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand”, [Hamlet]

and the Kölnische Zeitung did not succumb to the temptation to be one out of ten thousand.

Finally, a word about the “separation of town and countryside”. Even apart from general grounds, the law can only be the ideal, self-conscious image of reality, the theoretical expression, made independent, of the practical vital forces. In the Rhine Province town and countryside are not separated in reality. Therefore the law cannot decree this separation without decreeing its own nullity.