Marx-Engels Correspondence 1851
Source: MECW Volume 38, p. 503;
First published: in MEGA2, Berlin, 1975.
‘Représentants de la France, délibérez en paix!’ ['Representatives of France, hold your deliberations in peace!' — from Changarnier’s speech in the Legislative Assembly on 3 June 1851 in reply to speech by President Louis Bonaparte in Dijon containing concealed threats to the Assembly] And where can the gentlemen deliberate more peacefully than in the Caserne d'Orsay, guarded by a battalion of chasseurs de Vincennes!
The history of France has entered a stage of utmost comicality. Can one imagine anything funnier than this travesty of the 18th Brumaire, effected in peacetime with the help of discontented soldiers by the most insignificant man in the world without, so far as it has hitherto been possible to judge, any opposition whatsoever? And how beautifully have all the old jackasses been caught! The slyest fox in the whole of France, old Thiers, the astutest advocate of the barreau [the Bar], Mr Dupin, caught in the trap set for them by the most notorious blockhead of the century; caught as easily as Mr Cavaignac’s inflexible republican virtue and as that braggart of a Changarnier! And to complete the tableau, a rump parliament with Odilon Barrot as ‘Löwe of Calbe’; and, in view of this violation of the Constitution, the said Odilon demands to be arrested and cannot contrive to get himself battled off to Vincennes! The whole thing is as if expressly invented for the benefit of red Wolff; henceforward he alone will be capable of writing the history of France. Has ever a coup been effected with more fatuous proclamations than this one? And the ludicrous Napoleonic apparatus, the anniversary of the coronation and of Austerlitz, the provocation against the consular Constitution and so on — the fact that anything of this kind could succeed even for a day — does indeed lower Messieurs les Français to a level of puerility that is without parallel.
Wonderful, the arrest of those great, loud-mouthed advocates of order, of little Thiers first and foremost, and of the bold Changarnier. Wonderful, the sitting of the rump parliament in the 10th Arrondissement, with Mr Berryer yelling ‘Vive la République’, out of the window, until finally the whole lot were apprehended and shut up in a barrack square among the soldiers. And then the stupid Napoleon, who at once packed his bags to move into the Tuileries. Even though one racked one’s brains for a whole year, one couldn’t think up a prettier comedy.
And that evening, when the stupid Napoleon at last flung himself down on the long coveted bed in the Tuileries, the numskull must really have been at a loss to know what he was about. Le consular sans premier consul! Internal difficulties no greater than they had been, generally speaking, for the past three years, no exceptional financial straits, not even as regards his private purse, no coalition on the borders, no St Bernard to be crossed, no Marengo to be won. It’s enough to make one despair. And now there’s no longer even a National Assembly to foil the great schemes of this unappreciated man; nay, for the time being at least the jackass is as free, as untrammelled, as absolute as the old man on the night of the 18th Brumaire, so completely unrestrained that he can’t help coming the jackass on each and every occasion. Appalling, a prospect devoid of conflict!
Mais le peuple, le peuple! — Le peuple se fiche pas mal de toute cette boutique [But the people, the people! The people don’t care a damn for all this business], are happy as children over the franchise accorded to them and which, indeed, they will probably make use of like children. What can result from these ridiculous elections a week on Sunday, if in fact it ever comes to that? No press, no meetings, martial law enough and to spare and, on top of it all, the order to produce a deputy within 14 days.
What is to come of the whole business? ‘If we adopt the standpoint of world history’ [Wilhelm Jordan] we are presented with a splendid subject for declamation. Thus, e.g.: it remains to be seen whether the Praetorian regime of the time of the Roman Empire, for which the prerequisite was an extensive state organised on strictly military lines, a depopulated Italy and the absence of a modern proletariat, is possible in a geographically compact, densely populated country such as France, which has a large industrial proletariat. Either: Louis Napoleon has no party of his own; having spurned the Orleanists and Legitimists, he must now turn towards the left. Turning towards the left implies an amnesty, an amnesty implies a collision, etc. Or else: Universal suffrage is the basis of Louis Napoleon’s power, he cannot attack it, and universal suffrage is now incompatible with a Louis Napoleon. And other suchlike conjectural theses which would lend themselves splendidly to prolixity. But, after what we saw yesterday, there can be no counting on the peuple, and it really seems as though old Hegel, in the guise of the World Spirit, were directing history from the grave and, with the greatest conscientiousness, causing everything to be re-enacted twice over, once as grand tragedy and the second time as rotten farce [note], Caussidière for Danton, L. Blanc for Robespierre, Barthélemy for Saint-Just, Flocon for Carnot, and the moon-calf together with the first available dozen debt-encumbered lieutenants for the little corporal and his band of marshals. Thus the 18th Brumaire would already be upon us.
The people of Paris have behaved with childish stupidity. Cela ne nous regards pas; que le président et 1'assemblée s'entre-tuent, peu nous importe! [That is no concern of ours; that the President and the Assembly should massacre each other is of small moment to us!] But that the army should presume to foist a government — and what a government! — on France, that undoubtedly does concern them, and the mob will wonder what kind of a ‘free’ universal suffrage it is they are now to exercise ‘for the first time since 1804’!
How much longer the World Spirit, clearly much incensed at mankind, is going to continue this farce, whether within the year we shall see Consulate, Empire, Restoration and all pass by before our eyes, whether, too, the Napoleonic dynasty must first be thrashed in the streets of Paris before it is deemed impossible in France, the devil only knows. But it strikes me that things are taking a remarkably lunatic turn and that the crapauds [philistines] are heading for an astonishing humiliation.
Even assuming that Louis Napoleon momentarily consolidates his position, such stuff and nonsense can hardly endure, despite the fathomless depths to which the French have sunk. But what then? There’s damned little red in prospect, that much is clear, and if Mr Blanc and Ledru packed their bags at midday yesterday, they may as well begin unpacking them again. La voix tonnante du peuple ne les rappelle pas encore [The thunderous voice of the people is not recalling them yet].
Here and in Liverpool the affair suddenly brought business to a standstill, but today in Liverpool they are already briskly speculating again. And French funds have only fallen by 2 per cent.
In the circumstances any attempt to intercede for the Cologne people in the British press must, of course, be postponed.
With regard to the articles for the Tribune, which have obviously already appeared in it, write to the editor of the Tribune in English. Dana may well be away, and a business letter will certainly be answered. *Tell him that he must distinctly state per next returning steamer what has become of these papers, and in case they have been made use of, he is requested to send by the same opportunity copies of the Tribune containing them, as no copy has been kept here and without having the articles already sent, again before our eyes, we cannot, after such a lapse of time, undertake to go on with the following numbers of the series.*
The news from France must have had a jolly effect on the European émigré rabble. I'd like to have witnessed it.
En attendant tes nouvelles.
Note: Referring to Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, part 3, in 2:. ‘Rom vom zweiten punischen Krieg bis zum Kaiserthum, in which Hegel wrote: “a coup d'état is sanctioned as it were in the opinion of the people if it is repeated. Thus Napoleon was defeated twice and twice the Bourbons were driven out. Through repetition, what at the beginning seemed to be merely accidental and possible, becomes real and established”.