‘Censorship’ by Karl Marx
In May 1842 a new German newspaper, Rheinische Zeitung, attracted attention when it published an anonymous article entitled ‘Prussian Censorship’. It was the first in a series of six articles penned by Karl Marx, then a relatively unknown writer.
Marx’s articles challenged the Prussian Government’s strict censorship laws and provided coverage of censorship debates in the Sixth Rhine Province Assembly.
‘Censorship’, the fifth article in the series, is easily the most accessible and entertaining for today’s readers. Marx’s scathing coverage of the Province Assembly debates provides a fascinating insight into early thoughts on freedom of the press.
He condemns the censorship laws and calls for journalism to be free of government interference. ‘Censorship does not accuse me of violating an existing law. It condemns my opinion because it is not the opinion of the censor and his superiors,’ wrote Marx.
Of particular interest are Marx’s references to censorship in other countries: North America is home to freedom of the press ‘in its purest, most natural form’ while France is ‘subject to a material censorship, in the shape of high money sureties’.
Marx closes by comparing those scared by freedom of the press to a man terrified to discover the earth spins on an axis. The analogy is typical of his witty retorts scattered throughout the document.
As some of Marx’s earliest work, the articles provide not only an intriguing study into the history of press freedom debates but also an entertaining insight into the personality of one of the most influential philosophers of the last 200 years.