The Great Powers of Europe, not content with overthrowing the aggressive Imperialism of Napoleon, made the stupendous blunder of imposing upon the fallen empire the old monarchy of reaction and incompetence. Louis XVIII and his exiled nobility had learnt nothing and had forgotten nothing. If they could have restored the ancien regime and resuscitated the dry bones of feudalism, they would. This was impossible. But all that they were able to accomplish in this direction they did, besides avenging themselves on their enemies, and compensating their friends for their overthrow. Yet the Bourbon monarchs of the Restoration, with all their eagerness to return to the old period, as if the Revolution had never taken place, found it out of their power either to restrain the growing influence of the bourgeoisie, or to put back the peasantry or the artisans into their position of subservience. Nevertheless the clergy and the aristocracy had more control than was advantageous either for the people, the Crown, or, in the long run, for themselves. And as time went on discontent grew. The economic and social results of the Revolution remained far behind the ideals for which the mass of Frenchmen had fought and fallen at home and abroad. The impulse given towards the attainment of higher and nobler conditions remained: their realisation seemed indefinitely postponed.
This was much more felt under Charles X than under his predecessor. The King’s belief in his right divine was profound; and, as a reasonable return to the Deity from whom he derived his royal prerogative to rule over his subjects, he did his utmost to make them as devout Catholics as himself. The priesthood regained much of their old influence; freedom of speech and the Press was restricted as far as possible; only those ministers were favoured who were given over to antidemocratic policies. This could not go on. The memories of the great Revolution and the good which it had done were still fresh in men’s minds; the recollections of its horrors had partly been obliterated by the glories of Napoleon’s victories, partly dimmed by efflux of time. Whether or not the hour had come for another great effort towards freedom, all could agree that the day had gone by for an irresponsible monarchy, dominated by unscrupulous priestcraft and intriguing aristocracy. Paris once more took the lead in overthrowing a kingship which had all the drawbacks of intolerable usurpation, wedded to worn-out traditions of the sanctity of hereditary rule. Three days of tremendous street fighting in the metropolis were sufficient, in July 1830, to put an end to the resuscitated Bourbon dynasty. Charles X and all his descendants found themselves chased into exile, from which they can never hope to return.
This sudden and complete defeat of unconstitutional and semi-despotic monarchy was not surprising. For, since 1815, the spirit of republicanism, democracy, Socialism and even anarchy had been growing beneath the surface in all the great towns. What was still more fatal to the form of kingship admired and upheld by the last of the Bourbon kings of France, was the fact that he had failed to propitiate the bourgeoisie, who now required not only the substance, but the appearance, of power. Had Charles recognised this, and acted in accordance with the wishes of that section of the country which was now, in effect, the most powerful political and economic factor, he might have held his own during his life against the real forces of progress, just as Louis Philippe and Napoleon III afterwards did for a time. As it was, he united parties against him which dexterous statesmanship might have separated; and the very honesty of his bigotry only rendered his downfall more complete. That, in any case, France was not ripe for the reconstitution of the Republic, used and then discarded by Napoleon, was clear from what followed upon “the glorious days of July” which sent Charles headlong from his throne. Had the Republicans possessed a strong hold upon Paris, the great industrial towns and the country, the road to power was open before them, even more clearly than it was eighteen years later. Louis Philippe, with all his considerable faculties and by no means undistinguished career as a friend of the Revolution, a soldier of the Republic, an exile, and a man of thought and intelligence, had no great wave of popular enthusiasm behind him such as, twenty-three years afterwards, enabled Napoleon III. to sweep into control of France as President. Yet he became king in place of his relative, with little difficulty and no bloodshed. His family had been for two or three generations the favoured royalists of the bourgeoisie, and his father, whatever his shortcomings in other respects prior to his decapitation, had, at least, been true to his friends and fellow-conspirators of that class, against the adherents of the ancien regime. Louis Philippe inherited the family tradition, and he ascended the throne as, above all, the bourgeois king. From 1830 onwards he played that role, and that alone.
He was a man of peace, and he maintained peace. He overcame the risings of 1834 without incurring any bitter animosity, and he slipped out of foreign difficulties which might easily have involved his country in war. There was nothing to be said against his personal character. His relations with his wife and family were beyond reproach. The class which he specially favoured made money steadily throughout his reign, and he looked on with satisfaction at their accumulation of wealth. Corruption was not uncommon, and this was the charge principally levelled at himself and his ministers towards the close of his reign. But Louis Philippe was, it appears, personally incorruptible. He himself also did nothing seriously harmful to the mass of people and was universally admitted to have ability. It is no easy matter, even to-day, with all the documents of the time before us, to say precisely why he lost heart at a comparatively trifling crisis, and ran away in disguise. But the truth seemed to be, not that the real revolutionists, who came immediately to the front from below, were ready to act and did act, but that he had somehow “bored” the Parisian bourgeoisie and disgusted the artisans, had failed to rally the peasantry to his standard, and had been unable to impress the nation as a whole with the sense that he was dignified himself and cared for its dignity. He roused no hatred, but he stirred no enthusiasm. He had no enemies, but he could rely upon no friends. He had shown ability before he came to the throne, but he displayed only judicious mediocrity when he attained it. To no man of modern times could the famous epigram of Tacitus be applied with more manifest truth than to Louis Philippe: Omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset. It is true that accidents do not make political revolutions, but they give the opportunity for them when all is ready for a change. And that is how the revolution in France in 1848 came about. A chance firing upon a crowd by a company of misguided soldiers, and King Louis Philippe went skulking out of France as “Mr Smith.”
Then began the first serious effort to achieve the conquest of social and economic liberty for the people, since the decline of the revolution of 1789 to 1794. For thirty-three years, from 1815 to 1848, revolutionary France had become conservative France – for twenty years longer, if we reckon from the triumph of the reactionary forces in 1794-1795. The great impulse towards general freedom in its true sense had come too soon for more than very partial realisation; the bourgeoisie, which won its own special struggle, was indifferent to all else; the peasantry, no longer chained to the land by personal ties, but by pecuniary bonds to the market, had become conservative through sheer individualism; the Parisian wage-earners and intellectuals were, as ever, far in advance of the country as a whole; the Socialists, with all their high ideals and splendid enthusiasm, had not yet formed a definite party, even in Paris, Lyons and the industrial centres of the north, and were regarded with distrust and hatred not only by the population of the rural districts, but by the majority of the high and low bourgeoisie.
Yet the latter, with the more progressive of the middle class, formed the combination which pushed the King from his throne, rushed to the barricades, then so easily run up in the narrow streets of the metropolis, with arms in their hands, against an enemy that for the moment lay low, and clamoured for social measures on behalf of the population. There were plenty of differences even then among the men of the extreme left, but in the early days, though moving from various centres, they acted towards a common end. Louis Blanc, Ledru Rollin, Albert and Arago were combined in the attack with the great Blanqui, Barbes, Cabet and even the anarchist Proudhon. So little, however, did the leaders at the top know of the forces which they were supposed to command that, when it came to the formation of a Provisional Government, none of its members Liuch ?] as knew Albert, the engineer, who was the hero of all working-class Paris. Yet his fellow-workmen insisted that Albert should at once be accepted as a member of the Government, so completely had he their confidence. Accepted he was. This the Parisians followed up by electing him at the head of the poll for the metropolis to the National Assembly.
Mistakes were soon made. The Provisional Government itself was a coalition of compromise, and had all the weaknesses inherent in such political combinations. Men like Gamier-Pages, Marie, Flocon, Lamartine, could not long continue to work in accord with the Socialists and Radicals, especially when they could not even agree upon the reforms, administrative and social, which should be adopted before the National Assembly was elected, and laid before that body as definite measures for confirmation, rejection or modification. The plan actually adopted of having no clear Government policy really played into the hands of fanatical insurrectionists, such as Blanqui and Barbes on the one hand, and the Royalists and reactionists, who stood behind the moderates, on the other. There was no effective official administration to meet the clamours of the populace, who, with a heavy financial deficit bequeathed to them from M. Guizot’s administration above, were menaced with famine below.
What the Socialists of reorganisation, represented by the trio, Louis Blanc, Ledru Rollin and Albert, might have effected, had they been allowed a free hand, it is impossible to say. Louis Blanc’s proposals, as formulated in his own works, were based upon schemes of Socialist co-operation for all. He adopted in its fullest meaning Morelly’s phrase, so generally attributed to the communist anarchists, but most certainly not originated by them: “From each according to his abilities: to each according to his needs.” His practical schemes of working-class cooperation in different departments were successful until upset by the reactionary bourgeoisie; but it is doubtful whether, even if they had been left alone, they could have been permanent. That the organisers and the employees, who were all workers together, should have achieved what they did, with scarcely any capital to start upon, was most creditable. Also it is clear that Louis Blanc desired to apply his measures on a very much larger scale, since he demanded, when the Republic had been constituted by the Provisional Government, that a complete Department of Labour should be established, with a responsible minister at its head. This was a statesmanlike project, which might have led to great improvements in the organisation and conditions of existence of the mass of the workers in the cities. But reaction was now gaining ground, and the National Assembly had become little better than an obstacular combination of the bourgeoisie and their hangers-on. So obvious was this that it afforded some ground – though from a tactical point of view little excuse – for the attack made upon it by the physical force Socialists and their followers, organised by Blanqui, whose natural hatred of the bourgeoisie, and furious desire to destroy the entire profiteering system, often misled his judgment and obscured his remarkable intelligence. The attack failed, and grossly unfair efforts were made to connect Louis Blanc, Ledru Rollin and their faction with the assault. This misrepresentation, as well as the attempt itself, told against Socialists of all shades of opinion, although they had nothing to do with Blanqui’s scheme. In fact the cry of “property in danger“ was thenceforth raised in earnest, and Proudhon’s anarchist pronouncements were quoted far and wide as evidence of what all degrees of peaceful, hard-working, respectable citizens, from bankers and capitalists down to professional men and small shopkeepers, must expect if the Socialists and their proletariat had their way. Thus, even before the Republic had gained a firm hold on the situation, the path to supreme power was being prepared for an anti-Socialist dictator; and the feeling of the provinces towards Paris, never too friendly, was greatly embittered. It is this antagonism between the conservative peasantry of the rural districts and the brilliant idealism of la ville lumière that has so often proved a serious source of trouble to France throughout the nineteenth century.
But, in addition to all this, one of the most extraordinary series of misrepresentations ever recorded in history was devised, carried out, and triumphantly brought to a conclusion, by the politicians of the dominant bourgeoisie, in order to discredit and permanently damage the reputation of their Socialist opponents. All the world knew that the constructive Socialists of 1848 wished to organise the labour of the wage-earners on co-operative principles, with the help of capital advanced by the State, so that production and distribution might be established in the interest of the whole community, but primarily for the benefit of the workers themselves, and under their control, without profit to the capitalist class. It was the same idea that found expression at the same date in Great Britain, through the plans of Robert Owen and some of the Chartists. The Louis Blanc party never concealed their hopes of being able to bring this about, with the aid of their friends of the so-called Luxembourg group. It was to this end that a Ministry of Labour was proposed; and it was because the adherents of the bourgeoisie feared that such a department would lead to the success of the scheme on a large scale that they defeated the suggestion in the National Assembly. They thought that it might bring to naught all their favourite machinery of private property in the means and tools of production and all the paraphernalia of profiteering based upon wage slavery. This was their reason for nipping the scheme of State co-operation in the bud.
Whether the project could have been successful, even if worked to its fullest extent, with perfect good faith and with ample capital, at that particular juncture, may be doubted. Probably not. But it is quite indisputable that not a single member of the Socialist party had the crude conception of massing together a great body of workpeople, anxious to obtain employment, who were of quite different capacities and dissimilar trades, in one establishment, under one head, paying them all an inadequate wage to start with, and then paying those who applied for work, but could not be employed, half that wage, whether they were doing useful service or not. During the eighteen years of Louis Philippe’s reign nothing had been done to benefit the poor workers or to organise the unemployed, but numerous plans had been put forward, outside the Government, to deal with an increasingly difficult problem. Nothing, however, so wholly idiotic as this. The Socialists had no capital wherewith to start such an absurd project, and no State organisation at their disposal wherewith to put it in motion. That it was doomed to failure was obvious from the very first. Yet, from that time to this, Louis Blanc, Ledru Rollin, Albert, and the Socialists generally, have been held responsible by the capitalist Press in every country for these National Workshops of the French Republic, with which they had nothing whatever to do, directly or indirectly, in any shape or way. Even to-day, when the whole of the lying statements have been exposed, and the truth has been told time after time, the National Workshops brought up to prove the folly of any attempt at collective management in the interest of the people.
This seems incredible; but the facts have been placed quite beyond dispute, not only by Louis Blanc and his coadjutors, but by the Minister who authorised the enterprise, by the Manager of the National Workshops himself, and by contemporaneous records of what was done. The Minister who undertook the elaboration of the whole scheme was M. Marie. M. Marie was not only not a Socialist, but was one of the most vehement anti-Socialists of his time, as he never hesitated to declare. The head of the whole establishment was M. Henri Thomas, likewise a strong anti-Socialist, who wrote a book still extant recording the progress of the works. All this must be known to most of the anti-Socialist writers who have used these Industrial Workshops, set on foot and maintained by men of the same opinions themselves, for the purpose of decrying all Socialist effort; yet the misrepresentation goes on.
But the downfall of this foolish or deliberately sinister plan – for many were of the opinion that so fatuous a scheme was set on foot with the express object of preventing any reasonable effort in the same direction – played a great part in the events which followed. The waste of public money was comparatively small, but it was enough to serve as an argument among the small traders, and to strengthen the propaganda, shortly thereafter organised throughout the provinces among the peasantry, in favour of a strong and stable government. This new government would legitimately secure remunerative work for all, would put an end to all attacks upon private property, would protect the savings alike of the rich and the poor, would secure the expansion of trade and the growth of profits that went on under the late king, without the corruption that permeated all departments of the State, would give France again her rightful leadership in Europe – would, in short, be the rule, not of the powerless and discredited Republic, but of a genuine Republic, under the Presidency of Louis Napoleon Buonaparte, who had been allowed to return to France as a private citizen. How Louis Napoleon and his clique of unscrupulous adventurers succeeded in dominating the Republic through his Presidency, acclaimed by the French people, and then in establishing himself as Emperor by an overwhelming plebiscite in his favour, need not be dealt with. The powerful bourgeoisie welcome Napoleon III for fear of Socialism, as their forbears had we corned [?] Napoleon I. to shut down the Revolution. It was reaction again in its worst form. But it was reaction based upon the will of the people, and the bourgeois Empire lasted as long as Louis Philippe’s bourgeois Kingdom. Even just before its overthrow by the German invaders in 1870, another plebiscite ha declared that the great majority of Frenchmen preferred Napoleon III, in spite of all his blunders, to the establishment of a third Republic. France, which is rural France, was not ready to accept the leadership of Paris, then bitterly opposed by Napoleon, his wife and all their coterie. It needed the terrible defeats and devastations of 1870 to shake down the Empire.
When, in 1870, the news of the disasters on the front reached Paris there was no thought of reorganising the Empire und a Regency. The cry for abdication immediately arose. The Empress was glad to get safely out of the metropolis and take refuge in England. A Republic was at once established and moderate or even conservative government formed. During the last years of the Empire Socialism had gained much ground in Paris; and its adherents, who had never bowed to the Imperialist despotism, which the more active spirits had conspired to overthrow, took their part in the new administration.
So long before as 1847 the famous Communist Manifest by Marx and Engels, had been published. No pamphlet in modern times has ever had so wide and so continuous an influence. Even now, seventy-two years after the first appearance of the Manifesto, it is continually quoted by Social Democrats and Labour men, its historical survey generally admitted to be sound, and its prognostications are being verified all round the world. Its authors boldly declare that in every country where the capitalist system of production prevails, the last class war, that between the wage slaves and the bourgeoisie – who with their parasites now own and control all the means for making and distributing wealth – is the one great subject for the workers to consider. They are economically and socially the hereditary successors of the chattel slaves and the serfs. Now will come their turn. They must combine to conquer, not only nationally but internationally. With them, as time goes on, the whole of the rest of the disinherited class, such as the small shopkeepers and intellectual proletariat, will be forced to make common cause to overthrow the wages system and constitute a Communist Republic. For this great struggle the workers of all nations must band themselves together.
It is clear, from the concluding exhortation to the workers to use the collective power they would then attain, that the authors still believed, when the Communist Manifesto was penned, that “force could act as the midwife of the old society pregnant with the new,” and that a capable, thoroughly educated and enthusiastic minority might, in some degree, anticipate events to advantage of all by forcible action in each of the great industrial centres of their respective countries. This concession to the natural impatience of toiling humanity, when once we understand how its members are enslaved by capitalism and the wages system, runs counter to the authors’ own theories. But in 1847 all Europe was astir with fresh ideas, national and social, and the possibility of a new, wider and more successful French Revolution was in every mind. The Chartists vigorously preached their national views of the class antagonism in Great Britain; and more than one of their leaders those practical views of the growth and historical bearing of economic relations upon the existing capitalist system, h were more elaborately and scientifically set forth in the Manifesto. But the conception of a concerted international movement, and revolution under arms against capital, first made its public appeal to the peoples of Europe in that Manifesto. In 1848, however, it had little direct influence even on Continental risings. In 1870 the situation was different. The International had been formed in 1864 in London, and had held its first Congress in Geneva in 1868. There were acute differences between the various sections of Socialists then, as ever since; but Marxian theories had already considerable effect, and were accepted as a whole by many Socialists, who were by no means inclined to concur in the personal attitude which Marx and Engels too often adopted. Nevertheless the International made a great impression on the world, much greater than its strength warranted at this date (1868-1870). The capitalist class instinctively felt that its right to domination, or even to existence, was definitely challenged all over the civilised world, and its fears for the future were translated into apprehension for the present.
When, however, the French Empire fell and a Republic was proclaimed, there was nothing whatever to give an indication that Socialists would choose perhaps the most unpromising opportunity that could have been offered to attempt a serious movement in Paris, on behalf of the proletariat, national and international. Nor did they choose it. The people of Paris, who had undergone all the terrible trials of starvation during the siege by the German army, were first provoked into resistance by the wholly unjustifiable attempt of the reactionary element in the Provisional Government of the metropolis to disarm their citizen forces. The same Government, then, regardless of the fact that the victorious German army – certainly no friend to Communism – still kept watch and ward round their city, drifted into a policy which put the Commune in Paris at variance with the rest of France. The leaders of the extreme party then forced the pace, without knowing the road they had to travel.
Their quarrels prevented them from achieving even a limited success against the troops which M. Thiers gathered to assail them at Versailles. Had they attacked these troops, before they were consolidated under efficient generalship, and won, the citizens of Paris might have negotiated on reasonable terms with their countrymen, who proved themselves later to be their most ruthless enemies. But noble as were the ideals of the chiefs of the Commune, they entirely misjudged the situation without, and as completely overrated their strength within. Not only so, but they overlooked the crucial fact of their position. They forgot that the Commune of Paris played a decisive part in the great effort against feudalism at the crisis of the Revolution, in 1792, and before reaction set in, precisely because Paris then, as to some extent again in 1848, had the sympathy and support of the other large cities of France, and, still more important, of the peasantry and the rural districts generally. But, in the case of the Commune of 1871, there was no such even incipient solidarity. Early in the conflict an arrangement for common action was rendered virtually impossible. Paris had to suffice for herself. Many who sympathised with the aspirations of the Communists saw from the beginning that this made the situation hopeless. That is why there were such strenuous endeavours to bring about terms of accommodation to the deplorable civil war between the brain and the body of France. But, owing to the intransigent attitude taken up on both sides, all such well-meant intervention was vain. During the days that passed from March to May the conflict became more and more a fight to the death between the national and international proletariat and people, as represented by the Parisians with their municipal troops, and the bourgeoisie, championed by M. Thiers and his army outside the walls. Unfortunately for them, the Communists could neither develop a military genius whom all would trust – Cluseret, the ablest who appeared, was constantly hampered by internal jealousies – nor a capable diplomatist who might conceivably have brought about peace. So, for two months, the world looked on at a battle, the result of which was inevitable if continued to the bitter end.
The Socialist party throughout the world, as well as many wage-earners who were not Socialists, were hoping against hope that some miracle might save their fanatical comrades from destruction. The capitalist class and their Press of that day rejoiced to see the Communists thus driven into a corner, with the Germans ready to crush them, if, by any such miracle, they gained a temporary advantage. Whatever mistakes they may have made, and, unluckily for the cause, they made many, none could dispute the honesty or high idealism of the majority of the leaders, or of the rank and file who fought at the Barricades. They were striving for the emancipation of the working people from the sordid organisation of production for profit, and the substitution of a nobler system for the whole civilised world. Those of the Communists who differed most as to methods were agreed as to the end they wished to attain. Therefore, from that day to this, the men and women who fell, during the fighting, and after the victory of the bourgeoisie, have been regarded as martyrs for the great cause of human freedom, economic and social. The horrible butcheries on the plains of Satory and elsewhere, with which the bourgeoisie celebrated their triumph, strengthened this feeling. Such wholesale slaughter was intended, not merely to avenge the rising upon the insurrectionists, but, like Napoleon III’s cold-blooded shooting down of the crowds upon the boulevards, to terrorise the revolutionary people of Paris for at least a generation. So ruthless were these immolations of men and women against whom often no offence was proved, that a change of feeling was manifest even in the capitalist Press. Beside these massacres, such deplorable events as the killing of General Thomas and the sacrifice of the Archbishop of Paris and other hostages, for which the Communist leaders were not responsible, faded into mere incidents. But they were incidents which, in conjunction with the incendiary fires, were long used to inflame public opinion against all who held and expressed Socialist views.
What made the whole rising the more regrettable was the strength and weakness displayed by the Communists when they had Paris entirely in their hands. Their strength was shown in the complete absence of corruption, in the perfect freedom for all which was maintained during their administration, in the almost excessive parsimony of the heads of departments in their own personal expenditure, and in the quite admirable management, not only of all the municipal work of Paris, but of other civil matters which fell within their scope. According to the testimony of conservative foreigners of means and education who knew the French capital well, never was Paris so clean, so orderly, so excellently ruled in every respect as during the short period of the Commune. The elected of the workers showed in this respect the highest sense of responsibility. Their weakness they displayed in still adhering, when in power, to some of the narrowest prejudices of the bourgeoisie against whom they were in revolt. They went so far as to confuse respect for private property with veneration for the sanctity of public and absolutely necessary funds. Thus when £60,000,000 in gold and an enormous store of silver were lying in the Bank of France they actually borrowed a trifle of £40,000 from the Rothschilds. What might have been effected in the way of bribing their enemies with these vast accumulations, especially at the outset, they failed to consider.
But the greatest mistake was to drift into the conflict at all. A desperate struggle of this kind is precisely what should be avoided by the oppressed class, until at least a fair prospect of success lies immediately ahead, and a complete policy has been formulated. The emancipation of the workers of the world cannot be brought about by half-trained levies, with no adequate commanders, and civil administrators who see no farther than the passing problems of the day. High ideals call for the highest ability and foresight, with a cool judgment of the situation, to secure their realisation. Defeat on such an issue ought not to be lightly risked. When incurred, it brings with it long and serious discouragement. For leaders to imagine that capitalism can be overthrown, before its time and under impossible circumstances, by glorious self-sacrifice and magnificent but unorganised heroism, is a species of martyrdom which involves temporary ruin to the cause. Leaders who act on these principles, therefore, are, with perfect honesty and the best of intentions, untrue to their trusteeship for humanity. For leaders there will ever be; and the loss or exile of the best of them means a setback to the principles they strive for. Not only did the failures of the Commune of Paris throw back the whole movement of education and political action for at least twenty years, but, fifty years after, the calumnies and misrepresentations, which have been unjustly but plausibly heaped upon its champions, tell against the apostles of Socialism to-day.
The truth, on the other side, is that, sad as the campaign of the Communists may have been from the point of view of the workers, injurious as its inevitable failure was to the general movement, and fatal for the time being to the International, which was credited with responsibility for the attempt, the real criminals were the statesmen and generals of the bourgeoisie. By their illegal attempt to disarm the defenders of Paris they put themselves wholly in the wrong to begin with. By their revolting cruelty and shameful injustice they covered themselves with infamy at the end.
Last updated on 7.7.2006