Frederick Engels in The Northern Star
Source: MECW Volume 6, p.385.
Written: at the end of November 1847;
First published: in The Northern Star, December 4, 1847.
Since my last, the banquets of Lille, Avesnes, and Valenciennes, have been held. Avesnes was merely constitutional; Valenciennes half-and-half; Lille a decided triumph of democracy over middle-class intrigue. Here are, shortly, the facts concerning this most important meeting: —
Besides the liberals and the party of the National the democrats of the Réforme had been invited, and Messrs Ledru-Rollin and Flocon, editor of the last-named paper, had accepted the invitation. M. Odilon Barrot, the virtuous middle-class thunderer, was also invited. Every thing was ready, the toasts were prepared, when all of a sudden M. Odilon Barrot declared he could not assist, nor speak to his toast, “Parliamentary Reform”, unless that reform was qualified by adding: — “as a means to insure the purity and sincerity of the institutions conquered in July 1830.” This addition excluded, of course, the republicans. Great consternation of the committee ensued. M. Barrot was inflexible. At last it was resolved to submit the decision to the whole meeting. But the meeting very plainly declared they would have no alterations in the programme; they would not violate the understanding upon which the democrats had come to Lille. M. Odilon Barrot, along with his tail of liberal deputies and editors, scornfully retired; Messrs Flocon and Ledru-Rollin were sent for, the banquet took place in spite of the liberals, and M. Ledru’s speech was rapturously applauded.
Thus the treacherous plot of the middle-class reformers resulted in a glorious triumph of democracy. M. Odilon Barrot had to decamp shamefully and will never dare to show his face again in the democratic city of Lille. His only excuse was, he had understood the gentlemen of the Réforme intended to profit by the Lille banquet to get up a revolution — in the very depth of tranquillity!
A few days after, M. Barrot got some consolation in the Avesnes banquet, a mere family meeting of some middle-class liberals. Here he had the pleasure of toasting the King. [Louis Philippe] But at Valenciennes he was again obliged to pocket his favourite sentiment, dropped so sadly at Lille; no King’s health was to be drunk, although the formidable getters-up of revolutions, at the shortest notice, were not at hand. The discomfited thunderer will have to devour his virtuous indignation until another hole-and-corner banquet will allow him to denounce “anarchism”, “physical forcism”, and “communism”, to the astounded grocers and tallow-chandlers of some petty provincial town.
The Lille banquet produced extraordinary discussions in the press. The Conservative papers shouted triumph at the division in the ranks of the reformers. M. Thiers’ old and drowsy Constitutionnel, and the Siécle, M. Barrot’s “own”, all of a sudden were seized with the most dreadful convulsions.
“No,” shouted the indignant Siècle to its shopkeeping public, “no, we are none of these anarchists, we have nothing in common with these restorers of the reign of terror, with these followers of Marat and Robespierre: we would prefer to their reign of blood the present system, were it even a hundred times worse than it is!”
And quite rightly; for such peaceful grocers and tallow-chandlers the white nightcap is a hundred times more fit than the red cap of the Jacobin. At the same time, however, that these papers heaped their vilest and most virulent abuse upon the Réforme, they treated the National with the utmost esteem. The National, indeed, has behaved, on this occasion, in a more than doubtful manner. Already at the banquet of Cosne, this paper blamed the conduct of several democrats who would not assist on account of the King’s health being proposed. Now, again, it spoke very coolly of the Lille banquet, and deplored the accident which for a moment troubled the demonstration, while several provincial allies of the National openly attacked the conduct of Messrs Ledru and Flocon. The Réforme now asked of that paper a more explicit declaration. The National declared his article to be quite explicit enough. Then, asked the Réforme, what was the deplorable accident at Lille? What is it you deplore? Is it M. Barrot’s or M. Ledru-Rollin’s conduct you deplore? Is it M. Barrot’s impudence or his bad luck you deplore? Is it M. Ledru’s speech in favour of Universal Suffrage? Is it the discomfiture of monarchism, the triumph of democracy, you deplore? Do you avow, or not, what your provincial allies say on this occasion? Do you accept the praise of the Siécle, or do you take our part of the abuse it heaps upon us? Would you have advised M. Marie, your friend, to submit, if, at Orleans, M. Odilon Barrot had made similar pretensions? The National replied, from party motives they would have no controversy with the Réforme: they were not responsible for articles sent to provincial papers by a “friend” of theirs; as to the other questions, the past of the National allowed them to pass them unnoticed, and not to trouble themselves with a reply. The Réforme gave the whole of this reply, with this remark only: — “Our questions remain.” [La Réforme, November 16, 1847] Democrats now have the documents under their eyes — they may judge for themselves. This they have done; a whole host of radical, and even liberal, papers of France have declared in the most decided terms for the Réforme.
The conduct of the National, indeed, deserves the strongest blame. This paper is getting more and more into the hands of the middle classes. It has of late always deserted the cause of democracy at the decisive moment; it has always preached union with the middle classes, and has on more than one occasion served none but Thiers and Odilon Barrot. If the National does not very soon change its conduct, it will cease to be counted as a democratic paper. And in this Lille affair, the National, out of mere personal antipathy against men more radical than itself, has not hesitated to sacrifice the very principles upon which [it] itself had contracted an alliance with the liberals in order to get up banquets. After what has passed, the National will never again be able to oppose seriously toasting the King at future banquets. The “past” of the National is not so very bright as to allow of its answering by silence only the questions of its contemporary. Think only of its defence of the Parisian Bastilles!
P.S. — The Reform Banquet of Dijon has come off this week. Thirteen hundred sat down at dinner. The whole affair was thoroughly democratic. No toast to the King, of course. All the speakers belonged to the party of the Réforme. MM. Louis Blanc, Flocon, E. Arago, and Ledru-Rollin, were the chief speakers. M. Flocon, editor of the, Réforme, spoke to the toast of the foreign democrats, and mentioned the English Chartists in a very honourable manner. Next week I shall give you his speech at full length, as well as a full report of the whole proceedings of this most important meeting.