Written between June and September 1876 First published in Die Neue Welt Nos. 27, 28, 30, 31, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45 and 47 July 1, 8, 22, 29; Sept 30; Oct. 7, 14, 21, 28; Nov. 4, 25, 1876
Shorter reprint appeared in the 1886 book "Die schlesische Milliarde". Von Wilhelm Wolff. Mit Einleitung von Friedrich Engels Hottingen-Zürich, 1886
English translation by Barrie Selman for Collected Works Transcribed for the Internet by [email protected] Jan. 16 1996
If I am not mistaken it was towards the end of April 1846. Marx and I were then living in a Brussels suburb; we were engaged in a joint piece of work [the German Ideology] when we were informed that a gentleman from Germany wished to speak to us. We found a short but very stockily built man; the expression on his face proclaimed both goodwill and quiet determination; the figure of an East German peasant in the traditional clothes of an East German provincial bourgeois. It was Wilhelm Wolff. Persecuted for infringing the press laws, he had been fortunate enough to evade the Prussian prisons. We did not suspect at first sight what a rare man lay concealed under this inconspicuous exterior. A few days were enough to put us on terms of cordial friendship with this new comrade in exile and to convince us that it was no ordinary man we were dealing with. His cultured mind schooled in classical antiquity, his wealth of humor, his clear understanding of difficult theoretical problems, his passionate hatred of all oppressors of the masses, his energetic and yet tranquil nature soon revealed themselves; but it took long years of collaboration and friendly association in struggle, victory and defeat, in good times and bad, to prove the full extent of his unshakable strength of character, his absolute, unquestionable reliability, his steadfast sense of duty equally exacting towards friend, foe and self.
Wilhelm Wolff was born on June 21, 1809 in Tarnau, near Frankenstein in Silesia. His father was an hereditary serf and also kept the court kretscham (the inn -- Polish karczma -- where the village assizes took place), which did not save him from having to perform statute labor with his wife and children for his worthy lord. Wilhelm was thus not only familiar with the frightful plight of the East German bondsmen from early childhood, but also suffered it himself. But he learnt more besides. His mother, of whom he always spoke with particular affection and who possessed an education unusual for her station, roused and nursed in him anger at the shameless exploitation and disgraceful treatment of the peasants by the feudal lords. And we shall see how this anger fermented and seethed in him all his life when we reach the period when he was finally able to give vent to it in public. This peasant lad's talents and lust for knowledge soon attracted attention; if possible he was to go to grammar school, but what obstacles there were to be surmounted before this could be achieved! Quite apart from financial difficulties there was the worthy lord and his steward, without whom nothing could be done. Although serfdom had been abolished in name in 1810, feudal tributes, statute labor, patrimonial jurisdiction and the manorial police remained in existence, thus preserving serfdom in practice. And the worthy lord and his officials were far more inclined to make peasant lads into swineherds than students. However, all barriers were successfully negotiated. Wolff gained admission to the grammar school at Schweidnitz and then went to university in Breslau. At both of these institutions he had to earn the greater part of his living by giving private lessons. At university he preferred to devote his energies to classical philology; but he was not one of those hair-splitting philologists of the old school; the great poets and prosaists of the Greeks and Romans were received by him with genuine understanding and remained his favorite reading as long as he lived.
He had almost concluded his university studies when the persecution of the Demagogues by the Federal Diet and the Austrian and Prussian governments, which had died down in the twenties, was resumed. A member of the Students' Association, he too was arrested in 1834, dragged from prison to prison for years while inquiries proceeded, and finally sentenced. For what? I do not think that he ever found it worth the trouble of saying. Suffice it to say that he was taken to the fortress at Silberberg. There he found comrades in suffering, Fritz Reuter among others. A few months before Wolff's death, the latter's Ut mine Festungstid came into his hands, and no sooner had he discovered the author to be his old fellow-sufferer than he sent news to him through the publisher. Reuter answered him straightaway in a long and very friendly letter, which I have here in front of me and which proves that on January 12, 1864, at least, the old Demagogue was certainly not the kind of man to knuckle under meekly:
"I've been sitting here now for nearly thirty years," he writes, "until my hair has turned grey, waiting for a thorough-going revolution, documenting the people's will energetically once and for all, but to what avail? ... if only the Prussian people would at least refuse to pay taxes; it is the only means of getting rid of Bismarck and Co. and worrying the old king to death."
At Silberberg Wolff experienced the many sufferings and few joys of the incarcerated Demagogues which Fritz Reuter has described so vividly and with such humor in the above book. It was pitiful compensation for the damp casemates and bitterly cold winters that the old cliffside castle had a garrison of old invalids, so-called GarnisÃ¶ner, who were not unduly harsh and were sometimes approachable at the price of a schnapps or a four groschen piece. Be that as it may, by 1839 Wolff's health had suffered so much that he was pardoned.
He went to Breslau and tried to make his way as a teacher. But he had reckoned without his host, and his host was the Prussian government. Interrupted in the middle of his studies by his arrest, he had not been able to complete the prescribed three years at the university, let alone take his examinations. And in Prussian China only someone who had done all this in accordance with the rules and regulations was considered to be a competent scholar. Anyone else, however learned he might be in his field, as Wolff was in classical philology, was outside the guild and prevented from making public use of his knowledge. There remained the prospect of struggling through as a private tutor. But a government permit was needed for that, and when Wolff applied for one it was denied him. The Demagogue would have had to starve to death or return to do statute labor in his native village if there had been no Poles in Prussia. A landowner from Posen took him on as a domestic tutor; he spent several years here, of which he always spoke with particular pleasure.
Having returned to Breslau, after much tribulation and contention he finally obtained the permission of a highly esteemed royal government to give private lessons, and could now at least earn a modest living. Being a man of very few needs, he did not ask for more. This was when he resumed the struggle against the prevailing oppression, as far as this was possible under the dreadful conditions of the time. He had to restrict himself to bringing to public attention isolated instances of the despotism of civil servants, landowners and manufacturers, and even then encountered obstacles with the censors. But he refused to be diverted from his purpose. The newly established High Court of Censorship had no more regular and persistent client than Wolff, the private tutor from Breslau. Nothing afforded him greater pleasure than to dupe the censors, which, given the stupidity of most of them, was not all that difficult as soon as one became somewhat familiar with their weak spots. Thus it was he who scandalized pious spirits to the limit by discovering the following popular "song" of the repentant sinner in an old hymn book which was still in use in some places, and publishing it in the Silesian local newspapers:
I really am a gallows-bird, One of the truly bad ones, And gobble up my sins unheard As Russians eat up onions.
A cringing dog, I pray to Thee, Lord, cast the bone of grace to me, Do take me by the ear and throw Me to Thy Heaven, though I be low.
This song spread throughout Germany like wildfire, provoking the resounding laughter of the godless and the indignation of those "that are quiet in the land." The censor received a harsh reprimand, and the government once again began to keep a watchful eye on this private tutor Wolff, this turbulent hare-brain whom five years' fortress had failed to tame. And it was not long before another pretext was found to put him on trial. After all, the old Prussian legislation was spread out over the country like an ingeniously contrived system of traps, snares, pitfalls and nets which not even loyal subjects could always avoid, while the disloyal ones were all the more certain to get caught in them.
The press offense with which Wolff was charged at the end of 1845 or early 1846 was so trifling that none of us can now recall the exact circumstances. But the persecution attained such dimensions that Wolff, who had had quite enough of Prussian prisons and fortresses, evaded imminent arrest by leaving for Mecklenburg. Here he found a safe refuge amongst friends until his unimpeded passage from Hamburg to London could be arranged. In London, where he participated for the first time in a public association -- the still existing German Communist Workers' Educational Society -- he did not remain long but then came, as we have already related, to Brussels.
In Brussels he soon found employment in a correspondence agency which had been set up there, supplying German newspapers with French, English and Belgian news, edited, as far as circumstances permitted, along Social-Democratic lines. When the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung placed itself at the disposal of our party Wolff worked for that too. In the Brussels German Workers' society, which was founded by us at this time, Wolff was soon among the favorite speakers. He would give a weekly survey of current events which was always a masterpiece of popular presentation, both humorous and powerful, in which he castigated in particular, and quite rightly, the pettiness and meanness of both masters and subjects in Germany. These political surveys were such a favorite theme of his that he would deliver them to any society in which he took part, and always with the same mastery of popular presentation.
The February Revolution broke out and found an immediate response in Brussels. Every evening crowds of people gathered in the Great Market place in front of the City Hall, which was occupied by the civil guard and gendarmerie; the numerous public houses around the market place were packed. People were shouting, "Vive la République!", and singing the Marseillaise, pushing and shoving and. being shoved back. The government was apparently keeping as quiet as a mouse, but called up the reserves and men on leave in the provinces. It had the most respected Belgian republican, Mr. Jottrand, secretly informed that the King was prepared to abdicate should the people so wish, and that he could hear this from the King himself as soon as he liked. Jottrand was in fact told by Leopold that he was himself a republican at heart and would never stand in the way if Belgium should wish to constitute itself a republic; his only wish was that everything should take place properly and without bloodshed, and he hoped incidentally to receive a decent pension. The news was swiftly and secretly put out and had such a soothing effect that no attempt at insurrection was made. But scarcely were the reserves gathered together and the majority of troops concentrated around Brussels -- three or four days were enough in that tiny country -- when there was no more talk of abdication; suddenly one evening the gendarmerie went into action with the flats of their swords against the crowds in the market place, and arrests were made right, left and center. Among the first to be beaten and arrested was Wolff, who had been quietly proceeding home. Dragged into the City Hall, he was given a further beating by the raging and drunken city militia, and, after several days' imprisonment, dispatched over the border to France.
He did not stay long in Paris. The March Revolution in Berlin and the preparations for the Frankfurt Parliament and the Berlin Assembly prompted him first to go to Silesia to campaign for radical elections there. As soon as we had started a newspaper, whether in Cologne or in Berlin, he wanted to join us. His general popularity and his powerful vernacular eloquence succeeded in getting radical candidates elected, particularly in the rural constituencies, who without him would not have stood a chance.
In the meanwhile the Neue Rheinische Zeitung appeared on June 1 in Cologne, with Marx as editor-in-chief, and Wolff soon came to take over his duties on the editorial board. His inexhaustible energy, his scrupulous, unswerving conscientiousness had the drawback for him that the young people, of whom the entire editorial board consisted, sometimes took an extra break in the certitude that "Lupus" [Wolff's nickname, the Latin word for "wolf"] will see that the paper comes out, and I cannot claim to have been wholly innocent of this myself. Thus it was that in the early days of the paper Wolff had less to do with leading articles than with the day-to-day jobs. But he soon found a way of turning these, too, into an independent activity. Under the regular heading "Aus dem Reich" the news from the small states of Germany was assembled; the small-state and small-town narrow-mindedness and philistinism of both the rulers and the ruled were treated with incomparable humor. At the same time he gave his survey of current events in the Democratic Society every week, which soon made him one of the most popular and effective speakers here too.
The stupidity and cowardice of the bourgeoisie, which had been rising ever higher since the June battle in Paris, had again allowed reaction to summon up its strength. The camarillas of Vienna, Berlin, Munich, etc., were working hand in hand with the noble Imperial Regent and behind the scenes was Russian diplomacy, pulling the strings on which these puppets danced. Now, in September 1848, the moment for action was approaching for these gentlemen. Under direct and indirect Russian pressure (conveyed by Lord Palmerston) the first Schleswig-Holstein campaign was decided by the ignominious MalmÃ¶ ceasefire. The Frankfurt Parliament stooped so far as to ratify it, thus publicly and unquestionably renouncing the revolution. The Frankfurt uprising of September 18 was the response; it was put down. Almost simultaneously the crisis between the Constitutional Agreement Assembly and the Crown had broken out. On August 9, the Assembly had requested the government in an extremely mild, indeed timid resolution to be so good as to do something to prevent the reactionary officers from indulging in their shameless conduct so publicly and offensively. When it demanded in September that this resolution be put into effect, the response was the appointment of the openly reactionary Pfuel ministry with a general at its head (September 19) and the appointment of the notorious Wrangel as Supreme General of Brandenburg: two broad hints to the Berlin Agreers either to go down on their knees or to expect a rude dispersal. General excitement set in. In Cologne, too, public meetings were held and a Committee of Public Safety appointed. The government decided to deliver the first blow in Cologne. Consequently on the morning of September 25, a number of democrats were arrested, including the present Mayor, then generally known as "Red Becker." [Hermann Heinrich Becker] The excitement mounted. In the afternoon a public meeting was held on the Altenmarkt. Wolff presided. The civic militia were formed up on all sides, not objecting to the democratic movement but giving first priority to their own welfare. In response to an inquiry, they stated that they were there to protect the public. Suddenly people crowded into the market place with the cry: "The Prussians are coming!" Joseph Moll, also arrested the same morning but freed by the people, who was then speaking, shouted: "Citizens, do you intend to run away from the Prussians?" "No, no!" was the answer. "Then we must build barricades!" and they set to work at once. -- The outcome of the day of barricades in Cologne is well known. Provoked by a false alarm, without encountering any resistance, without any arms -- the civic militia went prudently home -- the whole movement came, quite bloodlessly, to nothing; the government achieved its purpose: Cologne was declared in a state of siege, the civic militia disarmed, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung banned and its editorial staff compelled to go abroad.
The state of siege in Cologne was short-lived. It ended on October 4. On the 12th the Neue Rheinische Zeitung resumed publication. Wolff had gone to Dürkheim in the Palatinate where he was left in peace. There was a warrant out for his arrest as for several others of the editorial staff, for conspiracy, etc.; but our Wolff did not bide long in the Palatinate, and when the grape harvest was over he suddenly turned up in the editorial office again, 17 Unter Hutmacher. He managed to find rooms next door, from where he was able to cross the yard into the office without setting foot in the street. However, he soon tired of captivity; disguised in a long overcoat and a cap with a long peak, he sallied out into the darkness nearly every evening on the pretext of buying tobacco. He believed that no one recognized him, although his curiously gnarled figure and determined gait were absolutely unconcealable; anyway he was not betrayed. Thus he lived for several months while the warrants out for the rest of us were gradually lifted. Finally on March 1, 1849 we were informed that there was no longer any danger, and Wolff now went before the examining magistrate, who also declared that, being based on exaggerated police reports, the whole case had been dropped.
Meanwhile the Berlin Assembly had been sent packing and Manteuffel's period of reaction had set in. One of the first measures of the new government was to reassure the feudal lords of the Eastern Provinces regarding their disputed right to unpaid peasant labor. After the March days the peasants of the Eastern Provinces had ceased to perform statute labor, and in places even forced the worthy lords to give them a written disclaimer concerning such labor. It was thus merely a matter of declaring this existing state of affairs legal, and the long oppressed peasant east of the Elbe would be a free man at last. But the Berlin Assembly, a full 59 years after August 4, 1789, when the French National Assembly had abolished all feudal burdens without compensation, had still not been able to summon up the courage to take the same step. It somewhat eased the terms for the commutation of statute labor; but only a few of the most scandalous and infuriating feudal rights were to be abolished without compensation. Yet before this Bill was finally passed the Assembly was broken up, and Mr. Manteuffel declared that this Bill would not be passed into law by the government. This destroyed the hopes of the Old Prussian peasants subject to statute labor, and the need now was to influence them by explaining to them the position they were facing. And Wolff was just the man for this. Not only was he the son of a bondsman and had himself been forced to do statute labor as a child; not only had he retained the full fervor of his hatred towards the feudal oppressors which this childhood had aroused in him; no one knew the feudal method of enslavement so well in all its details as he did, and this in the very province that provided a complete pattern-card of all its manifold forms -- Silesia.
In the issue of December 17 1848 he opened the campaign in an article on the above-mentioned statement by the ministry. On December 29 there followed a second, more blunt one on the imposed "Decree concerning the interim settlement of seignorial-peasant relations in Silesia."
This decree, says Wolff,
"is an invitation to our lords the princes, counts, barons, etc., to make haste 'in the interim' to rob and plunder the rural population under the semblance of law to an extent that will enable them, after this fat year, to survive the lean ones all the more easily. Before March Silesia was the promised land of the worthy landowners. By the redemption laws since 1821 the feudal Junkers had made themselves as comfortable as they conceivably could. As a result of the redemptions, which were always and everywhere passed and put into effect for the benefit of the privileged and the ruination of the rural people, the Silesian Junkers had obtained the tidy sum of about 80 millions in hard cash, arable land, and interest from the hands of the rural population. And the redemptions were still far from being completed. Hence their rage at the godless revolution of 1848. The country people refused to go on doing statute labor for the worthy lords like docile cattle, and to go on paying the terrible impositions, interest and dues of all kinds. The amounts of money flowing into the coffers of the landowners underwent a serious decline."
The Berlin Assembly took the settlement of these relations in hand.
"There was danger in delay. This was understood by the camarilla of Potsdam, which is equally adept at filling its money-bags from the sweat and blood of the country folk. So, away with the Assembly! Let us make the laws ourselves as they seem most lucrative to us! -- And so it happened. The decree for Silesia published in the Staats-Anzeiger is nothing but an entangled snare with all the trimmings, in which the rural population, should it once venture in, will be irrevocably lost."
Wolff then demonstrates that the decree essentially marks the restoration of the pre-March conditions, concluding:
"Only what's the use? The worthy lords need money. Winter is here with its balls, masquerades, enticing gambling-tables, etc. The peasants who have furnished the funds for amusement hitherto, must go on supplying them. The Junkers wish to enjoy at least one more merry carnival and exploit the November achievements of absolutism to the utmost. They are right to make haste, dancing and celebrating with defiant arrogance. For soon these divinely favored aristocratic orgies may be mingled with scenes of Galician fury."
There followed on January 20 a new article by Wolff which dealt with this field. The party of reaction had got a village mayor, Krengel from Nessin near Kolberg, and a number of day laborers to address an inquiry to the King whether it was true that His Majesty really intended to split up landed property and turn it over to the propertyless.
"One can imagine", says Wolff, "the mortal terror and sleepless nights of the day laborers of Nessin when they heard of such intentions. What? The King wants to split up landed property? We day laborers who have up till now tilled the field of our worthy lords so joyously for 5 silver groschen a day-are we supposed to cease being day laborers and work on our own fields? Our worthy lord, who owns 80 to 90 domains and a mere few hundred thousand morgen -- is he to be forced to give up so and so many morgen to us? -- No, at the mere thought of such a frightful disaster our day laborers were atremble in every limb. They had never a peaceful moment until they were reassured that they were not to be pitched into this bottomless misery, that the menacing morgen of land were to be warded off and the worthy lords left in peace just as before."
All that, however, was still only skirmishing. Around the beginning of 1849 the French Social-Democrats started with increasing frequency to raise the proposal made earlier that the thousand million francs given by the state to the aristocrats returning from emigration in 1825 as compensation for estates lost in the Great Revolution should be demanded back and employed in the interest of the working masses. On March 16, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung carried a leading article on this question and on the very next day Wolff published a piece called The Prussian Milliard.
"The knight Schnapphanski" (Lichnowski) "is dead. But highwaymen we still have in plenty. The Junkers of Pomerania and Brandenburg have joined forces with the other Prussian Junkers. They have donned the holy coat of the respectable bourgeois and call themselves 'Association for the Protection of Property of All Classes of the People', feudal property naturally... Their intention is nothing less than to cheat the Rhine Province, among others, out of some 20 million talers and to pocket the money. The plan is not a bad one. The Rhinelanders may particularly pride themselves on the fact that the Junkers of Thadden-Trieglaff in Eastern Pomerania, the von Arnims and the von Manteuffels as well as a few thousand cabbage Junkers wish to do them the honor of paying their debts in Rhenish money."
The fact of the matter was that Mr. von Bülow-Cummerow, then known as Bülow-Kummervoll [Kummervoll meaning "woeful"], had hit on a little plan and got it accepted by the above association of Junkers -- or as Wolff called it, the Junker Parliament -- and sent to the government and the chambers as a petition, a plan for settling the question of land tax in Prussia. On the one hand, the landowning peasants, especially of the Western Provinces, were complaining that they had to pay too much land tax; on the other, the aristocratic big landowners of the Eastern Provinces were paying no land tax at all, although the law of October 27, 1810 had imposed it on them along with all other landowners. The Junker Parliament had found a way of alleviating both evils. Let us listen to Wolff:
"The Junkers are willing 'to make sacrifices in order to eliminate the discord now prevailing.' So they say. Who would have expected such magnanimity of them? Of what do these sacrifices consist, however? They propose that the revenue from all land-holdings should be fixed by a rough assessment, and then the land tax distributed throughout the state at the same percentage of this revenue. Well, their generosity is by no means large, since they are now simply intending to do what they have been legally obliged to do for the last 38 years. But to continue! Do they demand that the Junkers and the landowning knights who have hitherto illegally refused to pay tax-should repay this tax, perhaps? No: since from now on they are to have the grace to pay their taxes, they should be compensated by an appropriate capital payment", -- namely, 25 times the amount of the future tax. "On the other hand, those who have hitherto been unfairly debited an excessive land tax should -- not, for instance, have the excess refunded to them -- but, on the contrary, they should be enabled to discharge the surplus", by buying themselves out with a single payment of 18-20 times the amount involved, according to the circumstances. -- "The higher taxes will be paid by the peasants in the Eastern Provinces and, apart from them, particularly by the Rhine Province. The peasants of Altland and the Rhinelanders are thus now expected to pay for this with their capital too. Hitherto the noble landowners of the Eastern Provinces have been paying no land taxes at all, or very little.... And they, then, are to receive the money which the Rhinelanders and the peasants are supposed to raise."
There follows a survey of the land tax paid by the various provinces in 1848 and their land areas, from which it emerges:
"The Rhineland pays for every square mile on average approximately five times as much land tax as Prussia, Posen and Pomerania, and four times as much as the March of Brandenburg."
Admittedly the land is better; however,
"at a conservative estimate, the Rhine Province probably has to pay about a million talers more in land tax than would be its due according to the average valuation. According to the Bill proposed by the Junker Parliament the Rhinelanders would thus have to pay as a punishment for this another 18 to 22 million talers in cash, which would flow into the pockets of the Junkers of the Eastern Provinces! The state would simply act as the banker. These are the tremendous sacrifices which cabbage Junkers and pigs are inclined to make; that is the protection which they wish to extend to property. just as every pickpocket protects property....
"The Rhinelanders, especially the Rhenish peasants, and no less the Westphalian and Silesian ones, would do well to look around without delay to see where they can raise the money to pay the Junkers. A hundred million talers are not so easy to come by these days.
"So whilst in France the peasants are demanding a thousand million francs from the aristocracy, in Prussia the aristocracy is demanding five hundred million francs from the peasants!
"Three cheers for the Berlin March Revolution!"
Mere defense, however, was not sufficient to counter the insolence of the Prussian Junkers. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung sought and found its strength in attack, and thus in the issue of March 22, 1849 Wolff commenced a series of articles called The Silesian Milliard, in which he calculated what sums of money, money-value and landed property the Silesian aristocracy alone had wrested from the peasants since the redemption of feudal dues began. Few of the many inflammatory articles in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung had such an effect as these, eight in number, which appeared between March 22 and April 25. Orders for the newspaper from Silesia and the other Eastern Provinces increased at a furious rate; individual issues were requested and eventually, since the exceptional freedom of the press allowed us by Rhenish law was lacking in the other provinces, and there was no question of a reprint under their noble local law, someone came up with the idea of secretly reprinting in Silesia the entire eight issues as near to the original in appearance as possible and disseminating them in thousands of copies -- a procedure to which the editorial board was naturally the last to object.
In the Neue Rheinische Zeitung of March 22, 1849 Wolff opened his attack on the Silesian Junkers as follows:
"Scarcely had the Chamber of the Court and cabbage Junkers" (which met on February 26, 1849 on the basis of the imposed constitution and the imposed electoral law) "been constituted when a motion for the settlement, i.e. redemption of feudal dues, was proposed. The worthy lords are in a hurry. They wish to squeeze enough out of the rural population before closing-time to be able to put by a tidy sum for any hard times that may be on the way and send it abroad in advance of their persons.
"For the terror, for the nameless dread which they suffered during the period after the March 'misunderstanding' in Berlin and its immediate consequences, they are now seeking to extract a doubly dear balsam out of the pockets of their beloved village subjects.
"Silesia, particularly, hitherto the golden land of feudal and industrial barons, is to be thoroughly rifled once again in order that the splendor of its land-owning knights may shine on, enhanced and fortified.
"Immediately after the appearance of the imposed provisional Redemption Law in December last year, we demonstrated that it is solely calculated to benefit the worthy landowners, that the so-called little man is entirely at the mercy of the whims and caprices of the powerful, even in the composition of the court of arbitration. Nevertheless, the knights are still not content with it. They are demanding a law bestowing yet more concessions on the knightly purse.
"In March and April 1848, many noble lords in Silesia made out written documents to their peasants renouncing all tithes and duties previously required of those subject to the estate. To save their manors from burning and themselves from becoming strange adornments on many a stately lime or courtly poplar, they gave away their so-called well-earned rights with a stroke of the pen. Luckily for them, paper was very patient at that time too.
"When, instead of marching forward, the revolution got stuck in the bog of philistinism and complacent temporizing, these gentlemen pulled out their deeds of renunciation, not in order to fulfill them but to submit them to the criminal court as evidence in the inquiry into the rebellious peasant mob."
Wolff now relates how the bureaucracy, under the leadership of the OberprÃ¤sident Pinder and with the aid of mobile military columns, forced the peasants to perform their old duties; how the peasants were left with no other hope but the Berlin Agreement Assembly; how Messrs. Agreers, instead of declaring first and foremost all feudal tithes abolished without compensation, frittered away the time with inquiries into the nature, origins, etc. of these admirable feudal duties and tithes, until the reactionaries had regained sufficient strength to send the entire Assembly packing before it had reached any decision at all about the abolition of feudal burdens; how the new Redemption Law was imposed and how even this arch-reactionary law failed to satisfy the worthy lords and they made even more extravagant demands.
But our lord knights had reckoned without their host, this host being
"the Silesian peasant, not the bourgeois peasant with three, four or more hides of land but that mass of smaller peasants, estate gardeners and free gardeners, cottagers and livers-in, who have hitherto been the real beasts of burden of the big landowners and who, according to the plans of the latter, should continue as such in future in a different form.
"In 1848 this mass would have been content with abolition of feudal burdens without compensation.... After the bitter apprenticeship of the final months of 1848 and those that have elapsed of 1849, the Silesian agrarian population, the 'little man', is increasingly coming to realize that the knightly landowners, instead of seizing new riches by means of a cleverly devised Redemption Law, should by right return at least that part of the booty with which they lined their pockets with the aid of the previous redemption laws.... From village to village people are now occupied with the question of how much our lords the robber knights have stolen from the rural people over the last thirty years alone."
The situation is not as simple as in France, where compensation of 1,000 million francs in round figures -- almost 300 million talers -- was extorted from the nation, so that "the French peasant knows how much he must be refunded in capital and interest". In Prussia the exploitation took place year in, year out, and up till now only the individual peasant knew what he and his village had paid.
"But now a rough estimate has been made for the whole province, showing that in the guise of redemption the rural population has paid the worthy lords more than 80 million talers, partly in land and partly in hard cash and interest. In addition to this there are the annual tithes and duties of the hitherto non-emancipated. For the last thirty years this sum amounts to at least 160 million talers, yielding together with the above a total of approximately 240 million talers.
"Now that these calculations have come to their knowledge, the country people have seen the light, and its brightness is causing the feudal accomplices to cower in fear. They have devoured 240 million from the pockets of the country people and 'we must get back our 240 million at the first opportunity' --that is now the idea circulating among the Silesian country people; it is the demand which is already being spoken aloud in thousands of villages.
"The ever-growing awareness that if there is to be any talk of compensation for feudal burdens then it is the peasants who must be compensated for the knightly robbery perpetrated on them -- this is an 'achievement' which will soon bear fruit. It will not be overthrown by any dictatorial wiles. The next revolution will bring it to bear in practice, and the Silesian peasants will then probably be able, to devise a 'Compensation Law' restoring not only the stolen capital but also the 'customary interests' to the pockets of the people."
By what "legal title" the Junker gentlemen appropriated this sum is the lesson of the second article in the issue of March 25, 1849.
"With regard to the manner in which the 'rights' of the robber knights were acquired, eloquent testimony is provided not only by every page of mediaeval history but by every year right up to recent times. The mediaeval knightly sword managed splendidly to ally itself with the goose-quill of the lawyer and the civil service horde. Force was transformed with a fortune-teller's sleight of hand into ,rights', into 'well-earned rights'. An example from last century. In the eighties in Silesia at the initiative of the aristocracy, commissions were created for the establishment of land registers, the mutual duties and obligations of landowner and peasant.... The commissions, composed of nobles and their creatures, worked in exemplary fashion-in the interest of the aristocracy. Nevertheless these gentlemen by no means succeeded everywhere in producing land registers that were 'confirmed'" (recognized by the peasants). "Where they did, though, it was solely by force or trickery.... It is rather naively stated in the introduction to a number of such deeds that the peasants had not consented to put their crosses to them (at that time only very few were able to write) and that they had been forced partly by threats and partly by the actual use of armed force to sign these documents defrauding themselves and their descendants. On the basis of such 'well-earned rights' the worthy knights of Silesia have been able over the last thirty years to distill that tidy little sum of 240 million talers from the sweat and blood of the peasant estate into their ancestral coffers."
From the direct exploitation of the peasants by the aristocracy, Wolff proceeds to the various indirect forms, in which the participation of the state plays a major role.
Firstly, land tax, which was still levied in Silesia in 1849 according to a land register devised in 1749. In this land register the acreage entered for the land of the nobles was less than the real amount, and for the peasants more, right from the outset; the yield of a morgen of pasture or arable land was assessed at one taler and the land tax levied on this basis. Woods and pastures were exempt. Since then the nobles had cleared whole stretches of forestland and brought considerable areas of wasteland under cultivation. Tax continued to be paid according to the acreage of cultivable land entered in the land register of 1749! The tax remaining constant for both parties, the peasant with no wasteland to bring under cultivation was thus considerably overburdened, or to put it bluntly: swindled. Furthermore:
"A large section of the knights, precisely that section which owns the largest and most lucrative estate complexes, has hitherto, under the style of 'well-earned rights' as mediatised peers not yet paid a penny in land tax.
"If we estimate the land tax which the worthy knights have failed to pay (either too little or none at all) over the last thirty years at about 40 million talers -- and that is probably letting them off lightly -- and add to it the 240 million talers stolen directly from the pockets of the Silesian country people, we arrive at a total of 280 million" (Neue Rheinische Zeitung of March 25, 1849).
Then follows the graduated tax. A Silesian peasant, whom Wolff singles out of the masses,
"owns 8 morgen of land of medium quality, paying a host of tithes annually to his 'worthy' lord, is obliged to perform a large amount of statute labor every year, and still has to pay graduated tax of 7 Sgr. 6 Pf. per month, making 3 talers per annum. Contrasted with him we have a worthy lord with the most extensive estates, with forests and meadows, iron-works, zinc ore mines, coal mines, etc., e.g. arch-wailer, Russophile, democrat-eater and Deputy to the Second Chamber, Count Renard. This man has an annual income of 240,000 talers. He pays on the highest grade 144 talers graduated tax annually. Compared with the above peasant owner with 8 morgen he should have been paying at least 7,000 talers per year in graduated tax, making 140,000 talers over 20 years. Thus in 20 years he has paid 137,120 talers too little."
Wolff then compares the amount of graduated tax paid by the same Count Renard with the tax paid by a farmhand with a wage of 10 talers per year, paying 1/2 taler or 5 per cent of his cash income, and with that of a farm-maid who out of a wage of 6 talers per year also pays 1/2 taler in graduated tax, or 8 1/3 per cent of her income. The result is that over 20 years the noble count has paid 237,120 talers graduated tax too little compared with the farmhand and even 397,120 talers too little compared with the maid.
"According to the sovereign will of Frederick William IV, Eichhorn-Ladenberg and the rest of the Christian-Germanic fellowship, primary school" (cf. the Eichhorn rescripts until the beginning of 1848) "should be restricted purely to reading, writing and the most elementary arithmetic. The first four rules of arithmetic, then, would still be allowed to the peasants. There was no need for the primary school, however, to teach the peasant the various rules, particularly subtraction, or deduction and extraction. In Silesia, at least, the divinely favored robber knights have subtracted so much from around him and out of hini that he for his part now ought to succeed at the first possible opportunity with flying colours in this form of subtraction applied to the worthy lords."
Wolff then gives another example of this subtraction practice of the Silesian nobility: The waste hides.
"Wherever rustic hosts" (i.e. peasants) "were ruined by war, epidemics, conflagrations or other disasters, the seigneur was swiftly at hand in order to absorb the land of the farm concerned, either wholly or partly, into his dominion as a 'waste hide'. But you lords were careful not to take over land tax, house tax and the other burdens. These had to be borne either by the whole community or by the subsequent owner, who often only received a third, a sixth or an eighth of the previous land area in the bill of sale, but all the previous taxes, tithes and services. You did the same with common grazing and arable land when, for example, the above-mentioned causes had led to a more or less complete depopulation of the village. You seized these and other opportunities to combine as many lands as possible. But the communities and the individual peasants had to bear communal, school, church, district and other burdens unextenuated, as if they had never been deprived of a whit.... The yardstick with which you seek to measure us, shall be used to measure you, the peasant will reply to you.
"In your raging appetite for compensation, you have blindly rushed into a veritable hornets' nest of popular damages; if, provoked as they are, they one day fly out, you may easily find yourselves suffering scrupulously accurate damages as well as a good helping of damage!" (New Rheinische Zeitung of March 27).
In the next article (in the issue of March 29) Wolff describes the procedure during redemption of the actual feudal dues. Under the notorious General Commissions, which were charged with the execution of this business throughout the province, there were the Royal Landed Estate Commissaries and their aides, the Royal Conductors of Surveying and the actuaries. As soon as the application for redemption had been made by the landowner or the peasant, these officials appeared in the village, where they were straightaway lavishly entertained and suborned by the worthy lord up at the manor-house.
"Often this suborning had already taken place earlier, and since the worthy knights do not spare the champagne if anything may be thereby achieved, the seignorial efforts to please were generally successful."
Certainly there were incorruptible officials here and there, yet they were exceptions and even then the peasants were not helped.
"In cases in which the Landed Estate Commissary himself observed the letter of the law, it was of little benefit to the peasants as soon as the Conductor or his officials were won over by the lord of the dominion. It was even worse for the peasants if, as was generally the case, the most cordial understanding prevailed between Landed Estate Commissary, Conductor and sovereign. Then the knightly heart was gay and rejoiced.
"In all the plenitude of power with which the Old Prussian bureaucracy was adept at decking out its dependents, the Royal Commissary would now enter the district kretschama where the peasants were assembled. He would never fail to remind the peasants that he was here 'in the name of the King' to negotiate with them.
"'In the name of the King!' At this phrase all the somber figures such as gendarmes, executors, seignorial judges, district councillors, etc. appear simultaneously in front of the peasant's eyes. Had he not always been oppressed and exploited by them all in that name! 'In the name of the King!' That sounded to him like the stocks and prison, it sounded like taxes, tithes, statute labor and fees. For he was obliged to pay all these 'in the name of the King'. If the Commissary's introduction did not do the trick, if the community or the individual peasant proved to be refractory and went against the plans of the lord of the domain and Commissary, then the latter would be transmogrified into the Olympian Thunderer, hurling one holy hell and damnation after the other into the midst of the nonplused peasant throng, then adding more mildly: If you persist in such foolish excesses, I tell you that you will pay for it in full. This symbolic seizure of the peasant's purse would then generally decide the issue: obligations and counter-obligations could now be adjusted to suit the wishes of the lord."
Now came the surveying, and in the process the corrupt Conductor would cheat the peasants for the benefit of the landowner. For the assessment of usufruct, land quality, etc. the district mayors were brought in as experts, and these too would usually deliver judgment in favor of the landowner. After all this had been settled and the size in morgen of the land left for the peasants after the deduction of the area to be relinquished to the worthy lord as compensation for the loss of feudal dues had finally been established, the worthy knights generally prevailed on the Landed Estate Commissary to place the fields of the little man, if at all possible, on the worst side. The good land was added to that of the estate, and in return the peasants would be allocated estate fields which were regularly flooded in wet years. And then again, the peasants would be tricked out of another part of their fields by the Conductor during the final survey. In the vast majority of cases the peasants were helpless; as a rule anyone who brought a court case was ruined by it; only in quite exceptionally favorable circumstances was a peasant able to obtain his rightful dues.
The end of the business came with the drafting and signing of all the recesses and documents of settlement by the General Commission and -- the general expenses account, which betokened the real beginning of the countryman's distress.
"To characterize these accounts there is no other epithet than: shameless. No matter how the peasant protested or tore his hair: it was all to no avail. After all, it was his purse they were after; the exchequer took its share of stamp duty in advance, and the rest went to pay the General Commission, the Landed Estate Commission etc. This veritable swarm of officials lived in ease and plenty. Through their position as Landed Estate Commissary, poor lads have with the aid of knightly nefariousness risen very quickly to become the owners of knightly estates themselves. It scarcely needs pointing out that the power in the General Commission lay in the hands of the nobles. Without them the little deals of our worthy knights would not have prospered so well."
In good Old Prussian fashion, no account of the total expenses of the General Commission has ever been published, so the people even do not know how much the redemption of feudal dues, insofar as it had been effected by 1848, actually cost them. But the individual communities and peasants will never forget haw much they were forced to "cough up" at this time.
"For instance, a small village, whose peasants did not even own 30 morgen between them, had to pay recess expenses of 137 talers; in another, a peasant with 7 morgen of fields incurs costs of no less than 29 talers... The robber-knights' compensation dish was so delicious that, spiced with a few Christian-Germanic ingredients, it will not be missing from the table of the high and noble lords in days to come, either. This tastes of more! -- say the Silesian robber-knights, wiping their whiskers with a chuckle and smacking their chops as the cabbage Junkers do."
Wolff wrote this 27 years ago, and the events he describes belong to the period 1820-48; but on reading them today one seems to be reading an account of the procedure by which the serfs of Russia were emancipated and became so-called free peasants after 1861. It agrees to the finest detail. In one feature after another this cheating of the peasants in favor of the worthy lords is the same. And just as in all official and liberal accounts the Russian redemption is described as an enormous benefit for the peasants, as the greatest step forward in Russian history, in the same way official and national-servile historiography describes to us that piece of Old Prussian peasant-swindling as a world-liberating event which puts the great French Revolution -- which in fact was the cause of the redemption business -- in the shade!
The Silesian nobility's list of sins is still not exhausted. In the Neue Rheinische Zeitung of April 5, Wolff recounts how the introduction of freedom of trade in Prussia offered the robber-knights a new opportunity to swindle the country folk.
"As long as he was still under the obligation to join a guild, the rural artisan or tradesman paid the worthy landowner an annual fee, as a rule quite high, for his craft or business. In return he enjoyed the advantage of being protected by the landowner against competition from others through refusal of trading permits; and in addition, the landowner had to bring his work to him. This was precisely the position faced by the millers, brewers, butchers, smiths, bakers, kretscham- or inn-keepers, shopkeepers, etc."
When freedom of trade was introduced, the protection afforded to the privileged artisans ceased and everywhere competition sprang up. In spite of this the landowners continued to exact the fee paid up till then, under the pretext that it did not relate to the craft but to the land, and the courts, likewise overwhelmingly on the side of the nobility, recognized these preposterous claims in the great majority of cases. Yet this was not enough. In time the worthy lords had their own water mills and windmills constructed, and later steam-powered mills too, thus constituting unbeatable competition for the previously privileged miller, and yet they still forced him to go on paying the old tax for the former monopoly, under the pretext that it was either ground rent or compensation for certain insignificant repairs to the watercourse incumbent on the landowner, or such like. Thus Wolff quotes the case of a water mill with two conduits, without any arable land, which had to pay 40 talers per annum to the landowner, although he had built a rival mill so that one miller after the other went bankrupt at the first mill. All the better for the landowner: the mill had to be sold and at every change of hands the worthy lord levied 10% of the purchase sum in fees for himself! Similarly, a windmill to which belonged no more than the ground on which it stood had to pay the landowner 53 talers per annum. Such was also the situation of the blacksmiths, who had to continue to pay or redeem the old monopoly fee, although not only was the monopoly abolished but the same landowner who pocketed the fee was competing with them with his own smithy -- and likewise with the other artisans and tradesmen: the fee was either discharged by "recess" or still paid, although the other part of the agreement, protection against outside competition, had long since been dropped.
So far we have considered only the various forms of exploitation which the feudal nobility employed against the landowning country people, peasants with two or more hides down to free gardeners, free cottagers and meadow cottagers and whatever all the people may be called who possess at least a little cottage and generally a garden as well. There remained a numerically strong class neither in the service of the worthy lord nor owning a cottage or even a square foot of land.
"This is the class of lodgers, the livers-in, in short the tenants; people who have rented a room, usually a wretched hovel, for 4-8 talers per year from the peasants, gardeners, landless cottagers. Either they are movers, i.e. people who, having passed on their farms to relatives or sold them to strangers, have retired into a small room there, with or without retaining 'a share' in their former property, or -- and these are the majority -- they are poor day-laborers, village artisans, weavers, miners, etc."
How to get at these people? Patrimonial jurisdiction, that splendid state of affairs (only now due to be abolished by the district regulations) whereby the landowner exercises jurisdiction over his ex-subjects, had to provide the pretext. It stipulated that when the worthy lord delivered one of the subjects of his jurisdiction into gaol, then he had to bear the cost of the prisoner's keep as well as that of the inquiry. For this the worthy lord received all the fees which were payable under patrimonial jurisdiction. If the arrested person was a peasant, the worthy lord made him pay back all the costs, and in extreme cases had his house and farm sold. But in order to cover the costs which any arrested lodgers might cause him, the landowner imposed an annual caution money, called by the more genteel name of jurisdiction money, on all persons of this class under his jurisdiction.
"Some of the worthy lords," says Wolff (Neue Rheinische Zeitung of April 12), "contented themselves with one taler a year; others imposed 1 1/2 talers, and others took their impertinence so far as to demand 2 talers per year from this section of the rural proletariat. With this blood money gathered in there was all the more gambling and whoring in the capital and at the spas.
"When there was no money whatsoever to be squeezed out, the worthy lord or his bailiff would convert the caution money into 6, 10 or even 12 gratis days' labor" (which the lodger had to work gratis for the worthy lord). "Cash laughs! So if the lodger could not pay, the executor was usually set on him to take away his last remaining rags, the last bed, table and chair. A few of the worthy lords refrained from this barbarism and demanded no caution money, not because it was an arrogant right but because in their patriarchal clemency they did not care to make use of this alleged right.
"In this way then, with few exceptions, the lodger has been shamefully plundered year in, year out for the benefit of the landowner's purse. The poor weaver, for instance, exploited by the factory-owner on the one hand, with a wage of 3-4 silver groschen a day, with 1/2 taler of graduated tax for the state, with dues to the school, Church and community, was nevertheless forced to pay the worthy lord one or two talers caution money, which should be properly called blood money. It was the same for the miner, and for all the other landless people.
"What benefit does he, the lodger, derive from this? The fact that if he has been driven by poverty, misery and brutality to stealing or other climes and is brought to justice, then he may remain in prison or house of correction happy in the knowledge that he and the class of lodgers to which he belongs have already paid the prison costs into the landowner's purse a hundredfold in advance.... The lodger who has paid caution money -- let us put it at 1 1/3 talers per year on average -- for thirty years without going to gaol has been obliged to throw 40 talers cash into the landowner's purse, not counting interest and interest on interest. For this the landowner pays interest on capital of more than 1,000 talers borrowed from the Landschaft' (the credit association of the knightly landowners).
"What a lucrative source of income the robber-knights found in caution money may be deduced from the fact that in most villages there are as many if not more lodgers than householders. We recollect one of the smallest robber-knights who owned three domains and extorted from the lodgers in his three villages 240 talers per year in caution money, with which he paid off the interest on capital borrowed from the Landschaft" (raised on his estate) "of 6,000 talers...
"After all this the naive may believe that the worthy knights really do pay any criminal costs which may arise out of their prenumerando" (by prepayment) "filled purses. Such naive faith will be utterly shattered by knightly speculation. Many cases are known to us from the twenties and from later years in which the knights in their insolence not only raised the caution money from the lodgers but forced their beloved village subjects to meet partly 1/3, partly 1/2 and in several villages 2/3 Of any inquiry and gaol expenses."
In the Neue Rheinische Zeitung of April 14, Wolff deals with the hunting right, which was abolished without compensation in 1848 and whose restoration or purchase with "damages" the noble Junkers were then vociferously demanding.
"The sanctification of game had the consequence that they preferred to shoot down a confounded peasant rather than a hare, partridge or similar protected creatures. When hunting with drovers, taken from among their beloved village subjects, they were not unduly inhibited; even if one of the drovers was shot at or stretched out dead there was at most an inquiry and no more was said. Moreover, several cases from that patrimonial heyday are known to us in which the noble knight fired a charge of buckshot into the legs or hindparts of one drover or another -- purely for his private delectation. Even beyond the actual hunt the worthy knights would indulge in such pastimes with passion. We always recall in this connection the baron who fired a round of buckshot into the thigh of a woman gleaning corn in one of his harvested fields despite his prohibition, and then recounted his heroic exploit at the dinner table in select robber-knightly company with undisguised self-satisfaction.... On the other hand, the beloved village subjects had the pleasure of 'roboting' (doing service) as drovers at the great noble hunt. Every farmer, i.e. every owner of a field and every cottager was directed to provide a drover 'first thing in the morning' for the great noble hunt for so and so many days. It must certainly have made the worthy knights' hearts beat with ecstasy to have a mob of ill-clad, often barefoot, starving villagers trotting along beside them on cold, wet October and November days. The whip hung by the hunting bag for the good and edification of hounds and drovers. It was usually the latter who received the lion's share.... Other knights started large pheasant farms.... Woe to the woman or girl who through carelessness or lack of tracking sense came too close to one of the count's pheasant nests or alarmed the hen.... I have myself in my youth been an eye-witness to how a peasant's wife for the said reason was thrashed in a most barbaric and bestial manner and crippled by a young robber-knight, without even a cock crowing afterwards. They were a poor people, and protesting, i.e. bringing a court-case requires money, and also some confidence in justice, things which in the majority of the Silesian peasants are found sparingly, if at all.
"Seething with rage, the peasant had to watch as the knightly gentlemen, with or without their hunters, or as these alone chased across the field which he had cultivated with toil and trouble, trampling and putting to waste, sparing no fruit of the field, high or low, thick or thin. Right through the middle or over and away they galloped with the hunters and hounds. If the peasant presumed to object, a laugh of derision was his answer, in the mildest case; many are those who have suffered worse, with beaten bodies to show for it. The cabbage in the peasant's field was sought out by the divinely favored and protected hare as fodder, and the peasant planted his trees so as to still the hunger of the hare in winter.... But this damage cannot compare with that inflicted on him by deer and wild boar, which were protected throughout most of Silesia. Wild boar, red deer and roe deer often rooted up, devoured and trampled in a single night what was supposed to serve the peasant or the 'little man' as food and payment of taxes and tithes for a whole year. Of course, the injured party was free to sue for damages. Indeed, individuals and whole communities have tried it. The outcome of such cases will be self-evident to anyone who has acquired during his life even a remote idea of the old Prussian civil service, judiciary and trial procedure.... After interminable writing and petitioning the peasant would obtain judgment in a few years, if fortune favored him, against the noble lord, and if he viewed it in broad daylight and added it all up, he would find that he had been cheated to the extreme.... But the number of villages on whose rustic fields the divinely favored wild boar, red deer and roe deer have harried and ravaged for thirty years, more severely every year, amounts to over a thousand. We know several of them, by no means among the largest, which have suffered 200-300 talers worth of damage annually solely on account of the protected big game."
And if the nobility now demands compensation for the abolition of this hunting right, then Wolff counters that demand with this one:
"Full compensation for all damage done by game, for all the ravages which have been inflicted on our lands for the last thirty years by the divinely favored roe deer, red deer, wild boar and by the worthy knights themselves; to put it in round figures:
"Compensation of at least 20 million talers!"
The conclusion of the whole thing (Neue Rheinische Zeitung of April 25, 1849) is an article on the Polish part of the province, Upper Silesia, which in autumn 1847 was struck by a famine as severe as that which was simultaneously depopulating Ireland. As in Ireland, famine typhus also broke out in Upper Silesia and spread like the plague. The following winter it broke out once again, yet without any failure of the harvest, flooding or other calamity having occurred. What is the explanation? Wolff replies:
"The greater part of the land is in the hands of big landowners, the fiscus" (state) "and in mortmain. Only 2/5 of the total landed property is in the hands of the peasants, and is overloaded with statute labor and tithes to the landowners, as well as taxes to the state, the Church, school, district and community to the most incredible and shameless extent, whereas the worthy lords, compared with the peasants, pay the state a mere pittance at the most.... When rent-day arrives the silver interest is wrung out of the peasant with the knout, should he fail to pay voluntarily. And so lack of capital and credit and an excess of tithes and services to the robber-knights as well as to the state and Church, forced the peasant to throw himself into the arms of the Jew and perish helplessly struggling in the toils of the artful usurer.
"In the age-old humiliation and servitude to which the rural population of Upper Silesia has been subjected by the Christian-Germanic government and its robber-knights, the peasant has found his only solace, as well as a restorative and half his nourishment, in alcohol. One must give the worthy lords their due: they supplied the peasants with ample quantities of this commodity from their distilleries at ever cheaper prices.... Alongside the mud-huts of the Water-Polack peasants where famine, typhus and brutishness have made their abode, the sumptuous palaces, castles and other properties of the Upper Silesian magnates appear all the more romantic.... On the one hand, the incredibly rapid accumulation of riches and colossal annual revenues of their 'lordships'. On the other, the advancing impoverishment of the masses.
"The day wage for agricultural laborers is mean in the extreme: for a man 5-6 silver groschen, for a woman 2 1/2 - 3 silver groschen may even be regarded as a high rate. Many are compelled to work for a day wage of 4 and 2 silver groschen respectively, and even less. Their diet consists almost solely of potatoes and schnapps. If only the laborer had even had these two items in sufficient quantity, then at least starvation and typhus would have spared Upper Silesia. When, however, the staple food became steadily dearer and scarcer as a result of potato blight, and the day wage not only failed to rise but actually fell -- people had resort to plants which they picked in the fields and woods, couch grass and roots, making soup with stolen hay and eating the flesh of dead animals. Their strength evaporated. Schnapps became more expensive -- and even worse than before. Schenker is the name given to those persons, most often Jews, who in return for an enormous rent to the worthy lords sell the schnapps to the public. The Schenker was already accustomed to diluting the schnapps with appropriate amounts of water and then strengthening it again with all kinds of ingredients, chief among which being oil of vitriol. This poisonous adulteration increased from year to year, being carried to an extreme after the outbreak of potato blight. The stomach of the peasant, weakened by hay and couch-grass soups, could no longer take such medicine. Considering the poor clothing, the filthy, unsanitary housing, the cold in winter, and the lack either of work or of strength to work, one realizes how, no more and no less than in Ireland, these famine conditions very soon gave rise to typhus. 'The people had nothing in reserve!' There we have the explanation of it all. They were continually exploited and drained dry by the state and the robber-knights to such an extent that at the slightest increase in their misery they were bound to perish.... The robber-knights, the civil servant caste, and the whole divinely favored royal Prussian government horde did business, drew salaries, distributed gratuities, while down below in the common strata of the people, lashed by famine and typhus, they started to die off in their hundreds like animals and went on dying.
"Not much better off than the day-laborers are the farmers, or those who possess a house with a plot of land, whether larger or smaller. They too derive their main sustenance from potatoes and schnapps. They have to sell what they produce to raise the tithes payable to the landowner, the state, etc.... And to be forced to perform estate service" (for the worthy lord), "to be barbarically maltreated by the lord or his officials with the knout, to be forced, toiling, starving and beaten, to witness and endure the luxury and arrogance of the robber-knights and a snarling caste of officials -- this was and is the lot of a great part of the Water-Polack population....
"The sort of treatment meted out to the estate servants, the farmhands and maids of the lords may be readily gauged from what the village subjects liable to labor service and the so-called wage-laborers had to endure. Here, too, the knout is the Alpha and Omega of the robber-knights' gospel....
"The robber-knights rule and dispose as they please. From their ranks are taken the Landrats; they train the domanial and district police, and the entire bureaucracy works in their interests. Then there is the fact that the Water-Polack peasant does not have German officialdom over him -- which might be too humane -- but an old Prussian one, with its Prussian language and its own provincial law. Exploited, maltreated, derided, whipped and cast into fetters by all quarters, the Upper Silesian peasant was bound eventually to reach the point he has reached. Starvation and plague were bound to ripen as the final fruits in this genuine Christian-Germanic soil. Whoever still has the power to steal, does so. That is the only form for the Irishised Upper Silesian to actually put up opposition to Christian Teutonism and the robber-knights. The next step is beggary; the pauperised figures may be seen moving from one place to another in droves. In the third rank we discover those who lack the strength or aptitude for either stealing or begging. It is to their beds of mouldering straw that the epidemic angel of death pays his most productive visits. These are the fruits of a century of divinely favored monarchist government and the robber knighthood and bureaucracy allied with it."
And as before, Wolff now demands that the knights compensate the peasants, that all statute labor and money dues be abolished without compensation, and finally that all the large estates of the Upper Silesian magnates be broken up. This would naturally not occur, he notes, under the Manteuffel-Brandenburg government, and thus "the Upper Silesians would continue as before to fall prey to famine and famine typhus in huge numbers", which proved to be literally true, until the tremendous upsurge of Upper Silesian industry in the fifties and sixties entirely revolutionized the living conditions of the whole region, and increasingly replaced brutal feudal exploitation with civilized, but even more thorough, modern bourgeois exploitation.
We have deliberately quoted large extracts from The Silesian Milliard, not only because it conveys with the utmost clarity the character of Wolff, but also because it gives a true picture of the conditions which prevailed until 1848 throughout rural Prussia, with the exception of the Rhine Province, in Mecklenburg, Hanover, and a few other small states, as well as the whole of Austria. Where redemption had taken place the peasant had been defrauded; but for half to two-thirds of the peasant population -- according to locality -- feudal service and tithes to the landowner remained, with little prospect of a more rapid rate of redemption until the thunderbolt of 1848 and the ensuing period of industrial development all but swept away these relics of the Middle Ages as well. We say "all but" because in Mecklenburg feudalism continues to exist with undiminished power, and also in other backward areas of Northern Germany there are as likely as not districts where redemption has not yet been effected. In 1849 caution money and a few other less important feudal dues were abolished without compensation in Prussia; the other burdens were redeemed more rapidly than before because the nobility, after the experiences of 1848 and with the constant difficulty of extracting profitable labor from the recalcitrant peasants, was now itself pressing for redemption. Finally, with the district regulations, there disappeared the landowners' seignorial jurisdiction, eliminating, at least formally, feudalism in Prussia.
But only formally. Wherever large-scale landed property is prevalent, the big landowners retain a semi-feudal dominance, even under otherwise modern bourgeois conditions of management. Only the forms of this dominant position vary. They are different in Ireland, where the land is cultivated by small tenant farmers, and different in England and Scotland, where moneyed tenants run large leasehold farms with the aid of wage laborers. The domination of the nobility prevalent in Northern Germany, especially in the East, approaches the latter form. The large estates are mostly run by the owners themselves and more rarely by large tenants, with the aid of servants and day laborers. The servants are subject to the Regulations for Servants, which in Prussia date from 1810 and are so clearly designed for feudal conditions that they expressly permit "minor acts of violence" by the nobility against the servants, while expressly forbidding the latter on pain of criminal punishment to offer active resistance to assault from their master, except if their life or health be endangered! (General Regulations for Servants, §§ 77, 79). Partly by their contracts but partly by the predominant system of payment in kind -- which also includes housing -- the day laborers are reduced to a state of dependence on the landowner quite equal to that of the servants; and so even today there flourishes east of the Elbe the patriarchal treatment of farm laborers and domestic servants, with the punches in the face, blows from the stick and cuts of the whip which Wolff has described to us in Silesia. Unfortunately the common people are getting more and more rebellious and are in some places already refusing to tolerate any longer these paternal measures for their betterment.
Since Germany is still preponderantly an agricultural country, and the mass of the population therefore gain their livelihood from farming and live in the country, it remains the chief but also the most difficult task of the workers' party to make the agricultural workers' interests and position clear to them. The first step towards this is that the party should itself become familiar with the interests and position of the agricultural workers. Those party comrades whom circumstances permit would be doing the cause a great service by comparing Wolff's accounts with present conditions, collating the changes which have occurred and describing the present situation of the agricultural workers. In addition to the day laborer proper, the small peasant should not be ignored either. How have the redemptions progressed since 1848? Has the peasant had his ears boxed as soundly as before in the process? Such questions, among others, emerge on their own from reading The Silesian Milliard, and if the business of answering them were undertaken seriously and the resulting material published in the party organ, this would be a greater service to the workers' cause than any number of articles about the organization in detail of the society of the future.
One more point is raised by the conclusion of Wolff's articles. Since 1849 Upper Silesia has developed into one of the focal points of German industry. As in the rest of Silesia, this industry is situated mainly in the countryside, in large villages or newly emerging towns, far from the urban centers. If we are concerned with spreading Social-Democracy in the countryside, Silesia, and particularly Upper Silesia, offers the most suitable locality for use as a lever. In spite of this, Upper Silesia, at least, seems to have been virgin soil for socialist propaganda up till now. The language cannot amount to an obstacle; on the one hand, the use of German has greatly increased there with the growth of industry, on the other, there are surely enough socialists who speak Polish.
But back to our Wolff. On May 19 the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was suppressed after the last issue had appeared printed in red. Apart from 23 pending press trials the Prussian police had so many other pretexts for seizing each individual member of the editorial board that they all left Cologne and Prussia immediately. Most of us went to Frankfurt, where the decisive point seemed near at hand. The victories of the Hungarians provoked the Russian invasion; the conflict between the governments and the Frankfurt Parliament on account of the Imperial Constitution had given rise to various insurrections, of which those in Dresden, Iserlohn and Elberfeld had been suppressed, while those in the Palatinate and in Baden were still in progress. Wolff had an old Breslau mandate in his pocket as the substitute for that old distorter of history, Stenzel; they had only got wailer Stenzel through by including the agitator Wolff as his substitute. Like all good Prussians, Stenzel had naturally obeyed the Prussian government's order of recall from Frankfurt. Wolff now took his place.
The Frankfurt Parliament, having sunk through its own idling and stupidity from the position of the most powerful assembly that had ever convened in Germany to the most utter impotence, now evident to all the governments, even to the Imperial Government it had appointed itself and to the very Parliament itself, was at a loss what to do, caught between the governments which had massed their forces, and the people who had risen to defend the Imperial Constitution. There was still everything to be gained if only the Parliament and the leaders of the South German movement showed courage and determination. A parliamentary decision calling the armies of Baden and the Palatinate to Frankfurt to defend the Assembly would have sufficed. The Assembly would thereby have regained the confidence of the people at a stroke. The defection of the troops of Hesse and Darmstadt, and the accession of Württemberg and Bavaria to the movement could then have been anticipated with certainty; the small states of central Germany would likewise have been brought in; Prussia would have had its hands full, and, in the face of such a mighty movement in Germany, Russia would have been compelled to retain in Poland part of the troops subsequently employed with success in Hungary. Thus Hungary could have been saved at Frankfurt, and moreover there was every likelihood that with the spread of a victorious revolution in Germany, the outbreak that was daily expected in Paris would not have dissolved into the uncontested defeat of the radical philistines which occurred on June 13, 1849.
The prospects were as favorable as they could be. The advice to summon the guard of Baden and the Palatinate was given a in Frankfurt, that to march to Frankfurt even without a summons, in Mannheim. b But neither the Baden leaders nor the Frankfurt parliamentarians had the courage, energy, intelligence or initiative.
Instead of acting, the Parliament decided -- as if it had not spoken too much already -- to speak again, namely, in a "Proclamation to the German Nation." A commission was appointed which produced two drafts, the one approved by the majority having been prepared by Uhland. Both of them were feeble, bloodless and powerless, expressing nothing but their own helplessness and dejection and the bad conscience of the Assembly itself. At the debate on May 26, they gave our Wolff the opportunity to speak his mind to the honorable parliamentarians once and for all. The shorthand record of this speech runs':
"Wolff of Breslau:
"'Gentlemen! I have registered my name against the Proclamation to the Nation that has been composed by the majority and read out here, because I think it utterly inadequate in the present conditions, because I find it too weak -- suitable solely as an article for publication in those newspapers which represent the party that has conceived it, but not as a Proclamation to the German Nation. Since a second has now been read out, I shall only remark in passing that I would oppose this one even more strongly, for reasons that I do not need to give here.' (Voice from the Center: 'Why not?') 'I am speaking only of the majority proclamation; it is after all so moderate that even Mr. Buss could not object to it too much, and that is certainly the worst recommendation for any proclamation. No, gentlemen, if you wish to retain any influence whatsoever over the people, you must not speak to the people in the way you do in the Proclamation; you must not speak of legality, of legal grounds and so on, but of illegality, in the same way as the governments, as the Russians, and by Russians I mean Prussians, Austrians, Bavarians and Hanoverians.' (Commotion and laughter.) 'These are all included under the common name of Russians.' (Great amusement.) 'Yes, gentlemen, in this Assembly, too, the Russians are represented. You must say to them: just as you adopt the legal point of view, so shall we. This is the viewpoint of force, and in parenthesis you ought to explain that legality means opposing the cannons of the Russians with force, with well-organized storming-parties. If you have to issue a proclamation at all, then issue one in which you declare from the very outset the first traitor to the people, the Imperial Regent, an outlaw.' ('Order!' Vigorous applause from the gallery.) 'And the ministers too!' (Renewed commotion.) 'Oh no, I will not be intimidated. He is the first traitor to the people.'
"President Reh: 'I think that Mr. Wolff has discarded all respect. He cannot describe the Archduke Imperial Regent as a traitor to the people before this House, and I must therefore call him to order...'
"Wolff: 'For my part, I accept the call to order and declare that I intended to be out of order, that he and his ministers are traitors.' (From all sides of the House: 'Order, this is scandalous!')
"President: 'I must deny you leave to speak.'
"Wolff: 'Well, I protest; it was my intention to speak here in the name of the people and to say what the people are thinking. I protest against every proclamation which is worded in this spirit.'"
These few words descended like a thunderbolt on the terrified Assembly. For the first time the real state of affairs had been clearly and openly expressed to its members. The treachery of the Imperial Regent and his ministers was a public secret; every one of those present saw it occurring before their very eyes; but no one dared to put into words what he saw. And now comes this disrespectful little Silesian and all at once demolishes their whole conventional house of cards! Even the "determined Left" could not help protesting energetically against the unforgivable breach of all parliamentary decorum which this simple statement of the truth constituted, through the mouth of their worthy representative Mr. Karl Vogt (Vogt -- the man who was sent a remittance of 40,000 francs in August, 1859, according to the lists of sums paid by Louis Napoleon to his agents, published in 1870). Mr. Vogt enriched the debate with the following shabbily embarrassed and infamously mendacious protest:
"'Gentlemen, I have requested leave to speak in order to defend the crystal-clear stream that has flowed from a poetic soul into this proclamation against the unworthy filth that has been thrown into the same or' (!) 'hurled at the same' (!), 'to defend these words against the muck which has piled up in this latest movement, threatening to swamp and defile everything there. Yes, gentlemen! It is muck and filth which are being cast in this' (!) 'way at all that may be considered pure, and I express my most profound indignation that such a thing' (!) 'could have happened.'"
Since Wolff had not mentioned Uhland's editing of the proclamation at all, but simply found its content too weak, one is at a loss to understand to what Mr. Vogt is actually referring with his indignation and his "filth" and "muck." But on the one hand there was the memory of the ruthless way in which the Neue Rheinische Zeitung had always treated false brethren of Vogt's sort; on the other, rage at Wolff's straight language, which made the time-serving game of these false brethren henceforth impossible. Forced to choose between real revolution and reaction, Mr. Vogt declares himself in favor of the latter and the Imperial Regent and his ministers -- of "all that may be considered pure." Unfortunately, the reactionaries wanted nothing to do with Mr. Vogt.
The very same day Wolff challenged Mr. Vogt to a duel with pistols through the deputy Würth from Sigmaringen, and when Mr. Vogt declined to shoot it out, threatened him with physical chastisement. Mr. Vogt, although physically a giant compared with Wolff, now fled under the protection of his sister, not showing his face anywhere except in her company. Wolff let the loudmouth go.
Everyone knows how a few days after the scene, the Assembly itself recognized the correctness of Wolff's utterances by fleeing from its own Imperial Regent and his government to Stuttgart.
We are nearing the end. Wolff remained at his post in Stuttgart even when the National Assembly was dispersed by the troops from Württemberg, then going to Baden and finally to Switzerland with the other refugees. He chose Zurich as his place of residence, where he immediately established himself as a private tutor, but naturally encountered fierce competition from the many other graduate refugees living there. In spite of the indigent life which ensued, Wolff would have stayed in Switzerland. But it became increasingly obvious that the Swiss Federal Council, obedient to the voice of European reaction, was determined little by little to harry all these refugees out of Switzerland, as Wolff put it. For most of them, this meant emigrating to America, and this was what the governments wanted. Once the refugees were on the other side of the ocean there was no being pestered by them.
Wolff too often pondered on the idea of emigrating to America, which the many friends of his who had gone there urged him to do. When the "harrying" became too much for him, he arrived, half-decided, in London in June 1851, where we gave him a place of abode for the time being. Here too the competition as a private tutor was very keen. Wolff was scarcely able to earn the paltriest living despite the greatest exertions. He did his utmost to keep his position a secret from his friends, as always when things were going badly for him. Nonetheless, he had been obliged by the end of 1853 to run up debts of about 37 sterling (750 marks), which weighed very heavily on him; he wrote in his diary the same summer:
"On June 21, 1853, I had to spend my birthday in almost horrible DISTRESS."
His intention of going to America would probably have been put into effect, had not a likewise fugitive German doctor in Manchester, who was a friend of Wolff's from Breslau, obtained him enough private lessons in Manchester through his connections to enable him at least to live off them. And so he made the move in early January 1854. In the beginning, certainly, things were rather touch-and-go. But his livelihood was assured, and then Wolff, with his extraordinary flair for getting on with children and winning their affection, was able to count on gradually extending his sphere of activities just as soon as he was known among the Germans there. This did not fail to happen. After a few years he found himself in a fairly comfortable material position for his demands, adored by his pupils, universally popular and respected by young and old, Englishmen and Germans on account of his uprightness, sense of duty and his cheerful amiability. It was in the nature of things that he mainly came into contact with bourgeois, in other words, more or less politically hostile elements; but although he never compromised either his character or his convictions in the slightest, only very rarely did he have to weather any conflicts, and this he did honorably. At that time we were all cut off from public political activity; we were silenced by the reactionary legislation, utterly ignored by the daily press and hardly honored by a refusal from the publishers in response to any of our offers; Bonapartism seemed to have triumphed over socialism forever. For several years Wolff was the only comrade I had in Manchester with the same views as myself; no wonder that we met almost daily and that I then again had more than ample opportunity of admiring his almost instinctively correct assessment of current events.
Suffice it to take a single instance to illustrate Wolff's conscientiousness. He set one of his pupils a sum in arithmetic from a textbook. He compared the answer with the one given in the so-called key, and found it wrong. But when the boy always arrived at the same answer after repeated attempts Wolff did the sum himself and discovered that the boy was right; the key contained a printer's error. At once Wolff sat down and worked through every sum in the book in order to make sure that there were no more such errors in the key: "That's never going to happen to me again!"
This conscientiousness was, in fact, the cause of his death, not even 55 years old. In the spring of 1864 he started suffering from severe headaches due to overwork, which gradually resulted in almost total insomnia. His doctor had gone away; he refused to consult any other. All pleas for him to cancel or limit his lessons for a while were in vain; whatever he had taken on, he wanted to see through. Only when he simply could not endure it any more did he occasionally cancel his lessons. But it was too late. The headaches caused by saturation of the brain with blood went from bad to worse, the insomnia became ever more unremitting. A blood-vessel in the cerebrum burst, and after repeated cerebral hemorrhages death occurred on May 9, 1864. With him, Marx and I lost our most faithful friend, and the German revolution a man of irreplaceable worth.