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Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne by Karl Marx 1853

VII. Judgment

As the police mysteries were gradually explained, public opinion declared itself increasingly in favour of the defendants. When it became apparent that the original minute-book was a fraud an acquittal was generally expected. The Kölnische Zeitung felt induced to defer to public opinion and to dissociate itself from the government. Little items favourable to the defendants and casting suspicion on Stieber suddenly found their way into columns that had earlier contained nothing but police insinuations. Even the Prussian government threw in the sponge. Its correspondents in The Times and The Morning Chronicle suddenly began to prepare public opinion abroad for an unfavourable outcome. Monstrous and destructive as the teachings of the defendants were, horrifying as were the documents found in their possession, conclusive evidence of a conspiracy was nevertheless wanting and a conviction was therefore unlikely. So low-spirited and discouraged did the Berlin correspondent of The Times write, who obsequiously echoed the fears that were circulating in the upper circles of the city on the Spree. All the more extravagant then was the rejoicing of the Byzantine court and its eunuchs when the electric telegraph flashed its message of the jury’s verdict of “Guilty” from Cologne to Berlin.

With the unmasking of the minute-book the case had advanced to a new stage. The jury was no longer free merely to find the defendants guilty or not guilty; they must either find the defendants guilty — or the government. To acquit the accused would mean condemning the government.

Replying to the summing-up for the defence, Public Prosecutor Saedt abandoned the original minute-book. He was unwilling to make use of a document on which such a slur had been cast, he himself thought that it was “unauthentic”, it was an “unfortunate” book, it had resulted in much time being wasted, it added nothing factual to the case, Stieber’s praiseworthy zeal had led in this instance to his being deceived, etc.

But the prosecution itself had maintained in its indictment that there was “much that was true” in the book. Far from declaring it spurious the prosecution had regretted only that it could not prove it to be authentic. But if the original minute-book was not authentic though Stieber had sworn to its authenticity, Cherval’s statement in Paris was invalidated despite Stieber’s sworn testimony, and to this statement Saedt had returned in his summing-up; indeed all the material evidence accumulated by the most strenuous efforts of all the authorities of the Prussian state for 1 1/2 years was invalidated at one stroke. The court sitting set down for July 28 was postponed for three months. Why? Because Chief of Police Schulz had been taken ill. And who was Schulz? The original discoverer of the original minute-book. Let us go back even further. In January and February 1852, Frau Dr. Daniels’ house had been searched. On what grounds? On the grounds discovered in the first few pages of the original minute-book that Fleury had sent to Schulz, that Schulz had sent to the police authorities in Cologne, that the police authorities in Cologne had sent to the examining magistrate, that led the examining magistrate to the house of Frau Dr. Daniels.

In October 1851, despite the Cherval conspiracy, the Indictment Board was still unable to discover the missing indictable offence and on instructions from the Ministry it therefore ordered a new investigation. Who was in charge of this investigation? Chief of Police Schulz. It was therefore Schulz’s task to discover the offence. What did Schulz discover? The original minute-book. The only new material he provided was limited to the loose leaves of the minute-book which on Stieber’s orders were later completed and bound. Twelve months’ solitary confinement for the accused simply to give the original minute-book the time necessary to he born and to grow. “Bagatelles!” Saedt exclaims and finds evidence of the guilt of the accused in the mere fact that it took them and their counsel eight days to clean out an Augean stable that all the authorities of the Prussian state had needed 1 1/2 years to fill while the accused had to remain 1 1/2 years in gaol. The original minute-book was no mere single item of evidence; it was the focal point where all the threads spun by the various Prussian governmental authorities met-embassy and police, ministry and magistracy, prosecution and postal authorities, London, Berlin and Cologne. The original minute-book meant so much to the case that it was invented in order that a case might be made out. Couriers, telegrams, the intercepting of letters, arrests, perjuries to support the original minute-book, forgeries to bring it into existence, attempted bribery to authenticate it. When the mystery of the original minute-book was revealed the mystery of the whole monster trial was revealed with it.

The miracles performed by the police were originally necessary to conceal the completely political nature of the trial. “The revelations you are about to witness, Gentlemen of the jury,” said Saedt when opening for the prosecution, “will prove to you that this trial is not a political trial.” But now he emphasises its political character so that the police revelations should be forgotten. After the 1 1/2-year preliminary investigation the jury needed objective evidence in order to justify itself before public opinion. After the five-week-long police comedy they needed “politics pure and simple” to extricate themselves from the sheer mess. Saedt therefore did not only confine himself to the material that had led the Indictment Board to the conclusion that “there was no factual evidence of an indictable offence”. He went even further. He attempted to prove that the law against conspiracy does not require any indictable action, but is simply a law with a political purpose, and the category of conspiracy is therefore merely a pretext for burning political heretics in a legal way. The success of his attempt promised to be all the greater because of the decision to apply the new Prussian Penal Code that had been promulgated after the accused had been arrested. On the pretext that this code contained extenuating provisions the servile court was able to permit its retroactive application.

But if it was simply a political trial why a preliminary investigation lasting 1 1/2 years? For political reasons.

As it is therefore a question of politics are we to engage in a fundamental discussion of politics with a Saedt-Stieber-Seckendorf, with a Göbel, with a Prussian government, with the 300 most highly taxed people in the district of Cologne, with the Royal Chamberlain von Münch-Bellinghausen and with the Freiherr von Fürstenherg? Pas si bête.

Saedt admits (in the sitting on November 8) that

“when some few months ago, the Chief Public Prosecutor commissioned him to join him in representing the prosecution in this affair, and when, as a result, he began to read through the files he first hit upon the idea of making a somewhat more thorough study of communism and socialism. He felt impelled to impart the results of his studies to the jury, especially since he thought he might proceed on the assumption that many of them like himself may have not greatly concerned themselves with the subject hitherto.”

So Saedt bought the well-known compendium by Stein.

And what he has learnt today,
he'll teach to others tomorrow.

But the prosecution was afflicted by a singular misfortune. It sought objective evidence for a case against Marx and found objective evidence for the case Cherval. It went in search of the communism propagated by the defendants and found the communism they combated. Various sorts of communism can indeed be found in Stein’s compendium, but not the sort Saedt was seeking. Stein had not yet recorded German, critical communism. It is true that Saedt has in his possession a copy of the Manifesto of the Communist Party that the defendants recognise as the manifesto of their party. This Manifesto contains a chapter devoted to a criticism of the whole previous literature of socialism and communism, i.e. of the whole of the wisdom recorded in Stein. From this chapter the distinction between the kind of communism propounded by the defendants and all previous kinds must become apparent; that is to say the specific content and the specific political tendency of the theory against which Saedt seeks to act. But no Stein will help him over this stumbling-block. Here understanding was essential, if only in order to prosecute. How did Saedt manage when Stein left him in the lurch? He claimed:

“The Manifesto consists of three sections. The first section contains a historical account of the social status of the various citizens (!) from the communist point of view” (very fine)....... The second section expounds the communist point of view vis-à-vis the proletariat.... Lastly, the final section treats of the position of the Communists in different countries...... (!) (Sitting of November 6.)

Now in fact the Manifesto consists of four sections, not of three, but what the eye does not see the heart does not grieve over. Saedt claims therefore that there are three sections and not four. The section which for him does not exist is that same accursed section with the critique of communism as recorded by Stein, that is to say the section that contains the specific brand of communism advocated by the defendants. Poor Saedt! First he cannot find an indictable offence, and now he cannot find indictable political views.

But “grey, dear friend, is every theory”.

“In recent times,” as Saedt observed, “competent and incompetent people have been concerned with the so-called social question and its solution.”

Saedt at any rate belongs to the “competent,” for three months ago the Chief Public Prosecutor, Seckendorf, officially authorised him to study socialism and communism. The Saedts of all times and all places have from time immemorial unanimously declared that Galileo was “incompetent” to explore the movements of the heavenly bodies, but that the inquisitor who accused him of heresy was “competent” to do so. E pur si muove.*

* Saedt was not only “competent”. He was moreover — as a reward for his performance in this trial — appointed Chief Public Prosecutor for the Rhine Province and remained in this post until he was pensioned, and afterwards, provided with the holy sacraments, he passed on. [Note by Engels to the edition of 1885]

The defendants, who represented the revolutionary proletariat, stood defenceless before the ruling classes who were represented by the jury; the defendants therefore were condemned because they stood before this jury. What could, for a moment, move the bourgeois conscience of the jury, just as it had deeply disturbed public opinion, was the unmasking of the intrigues of the government, the corruption of the Prussian government that had been laid bare before their eyes. But, the members of the jury reasoned, if the Prussian government could risk using such infamous and at the same time such foolhardy methods against the accused, if it could, as it were, stake its European reputation, then the accused must be damnably dangerous, however small their party, and their theories in any case must be a real power. The government has violated every law in the penal code in order to protect us from these monstrous criminals. Let us for our part sacrifice our little point d'honneur to save the government’s honour. Let us be thankful and let us condemn.

With their verdict of Guilty the Rhenish nobility and the Rhenish bourgeoisie joined in the cry uttered by the French bourgeoisie after December 2: “Property can be saved only by theft, religion only by perjury, the family only by bastardy, order only by disorder!”

In France the whole political edifice has prostituted itself. And yet no institution prostituted itself so deeply as French courts of law and French juries. Let us surpass the French judges and jurymen, the judge and jury exclaimed in Cologne. In the Cherval case immediately after the coup d'état the Paris jury acquitted Nette though there was more evidence against him than against any one of the accused [in Cologne]. Let us surpass the jury of the coup d'état of December 2. Let us, in condemning Röser, Bürgers, etc., also condemn Nette retrospectively.

Thus the superstitious faith in the jury, still rampant in Rhenish Prussia, was broken. People realised that the jury was a court-martial of the privileged classes; it was created to bridge the gaps in the law with the broad bourgeois conscience.

Jena! That is the final outcome of a government that requires such methods in order to survive and of a society that needs such a government for its protection. The word that should stand at the end of the communist trial in Cologne is ... Jena!