Paul Lafargue 1887

The Boulanger Question

Source: le Socialiste, July 23, 1887;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor.

Our era has seen many marvels: electric light, the telephone, the bourgeoisie represented by the ministry it deserves, the crooked trinity: Rouvier-Heredia-Etienne [1], and others still. But these extraordinary phenomena are surpassed, are erased by the stupefying popularity of the illustrious Boulanger, the great general who writes epic letters [2] while awaiting victory; the ebullient captain whose pistol missed the royalist Lareinty [3], but whose saber worked wonders against the Parisians in 1871. [4]

The name of Boulanger is circulating around France, as once did that of the late Gambetta. The Caesar from Cahors [5] got into a balloon, happy as he could be to leave besieged Paris: the general, pale and undone by his triumph, leaves by locomotive without saying a word to the crowd that acclaims him. I’m mistaken: he cried out, “Give me something to drink,” like Gargantua when he was born. Though it was less curious to hear a guy with hair on his chain call out, “Give me something to drink,” nevertheless the Déroulèdists [6] and the Boulangistes, in order to preserve that memorable phrase, on July 14th sang these words to the well-known tune:

“It’s a drink that we need!!”

Boulanger’s popularity is colossal and grows every day. We could be frightened by it if we didn’t remember that the popularity of the man who for the opportunists incarnates national defense couldn’t hold out against two months in power and a meeting in Belleville.[7] Balloons are more quickly deflated than they are inflated.

The true guilty parties for the extravagant and grotesque popularity of this general without victories are not those who are accused. Rochefort [8], Déroulède, Meyer [9] of “La Lanterne,” Laur [10] of “La France,” Laguerre [11]and others sang the praises of Boulanger, but the reactionaries of all colors and M. Bismarck, closely allied, invented this thunderbolt of war who faints, and loses his head and its footing when his admirers surround him.

The general’s titles to the admiration of his contemporaries don’t take long to enumerate: he took a few measures which, if they displeased officers, satisfied the soldiers, who they think the officers think take sufficient care of when they are stupefied with the discipline of a lion tamer; he expelled the d’Orleans family; and finally, like the prince president, he pranced about on his horse, who is almost as popular as him. These remarkable acts earned him well deserved applause, which would nevertheless have gone unheard amidst the noise of Paris without the incomprehensible and unreasonable hatred of the royalists and opportunists.

M. de Bismarck, who isn’t naïve and foolish enough to be frightened by a general from the Grand Duchy of Gerolstein,[12] but who is sly enough to simulate fright in order to scare the philistines of the Reichstag and have them vote as he wants, has enrolled in the anti-Boulangiste camp with Grévy, Ferry and the rest.

And then came the Schnaebele Affair [13]; the unheard of brutality of the Prussian government, capable of arousing the indignation of the most apathetic, awakens the patriotism that Déroulède and his pals were beginning to kill with ridiculousness. And Boulanger, who the soldiers love and who the opportunists and royalists hate, stoked by the radical and intransigent press, becomes the hero of the day, the idol of the braying and chauvinist crowd.

The opportunists speak of Caesarism, and it is they who launched Boulanger, who only ever asked to be a useless minister and friend to all.

The opportunists speak of Ceasarism, but isn’t the working class well and truly under the saber’s regime? If the proletariansset in motion in Anzin, Decazevuille, Vierzon or Montluçon the praetorian troops of the bourgeoisie hasten there with sabers and cannons to terrorize the country.

This despotism against the workers is the good despotism, the liberal and bourgeois despotism that should be developed in order to keep the proletarian in a state of subjection. But the reactionaries only cry out about Caesarism through fear at seeing Boulanger play at radicalism. They benevolently impute evil intentions to this good sword-bearer who will make the radicals pay dearly for their enthusiasm.

But while the opportunists scream before they are burned, they are organizing the military despotism. On July 14 Paris was already in a state of siege; the troops were already in position. Along the quays, on the bridges and public squares, platoons of infantrymen and cavalry were massed, sabers and rifles in hand, ready to charge. In that mixed crowd of women and children, what a frightful massacre they were determined to carry out! Why ? In order to maintain in the presidency the old tightwad Grévy and the swindler Rouvier.

The bourgeois of France were incapable of establishing parliamentarianism, the bourgeois governmental form par excellence. Since Napoleon’s military dictatorship constitutional regimes have been cooked up through the despotism of the saber.

Louis-Philippe, issued from a parliamentary revolution, opened his reign with massacres in the middle of Paris. The provisional government, before founding the republic, made sure to have a general in hand. It had Cavaignac [14] come, who distinguished himself in June; Napoleon [III] imitated the republicans and drew from Africa the butchers he needed to make Paris bleed. The radicals of the day court Boulanger, while the opportunists have assured themselves Gallifet,[15] who is worth a half-dozen Cavaignacs.

In times of peace it is impossible to establish and maintain a machine of oppression against the standing army without the political parties taking it over to turn it against their adversaries.

The dangers of coups d’état and military despotism will only cease to exist when the standing army is abolished and the nation is armed.


1. May 30,1887 the Rouvier government was formed, which Boulanger was no longer a member of and which included Hérédia and Etienne.

2. Allusion to the publication in August 1886 of letters in which Boulanger assured the Duke d’Aumale of his devotion, when he had been the source of his expulsion a month earlier.

3. Boulanger fought a duel with Lareinty on July 17,1886

4. Boulanger participated in the defense of Paris against the Prussians. He fought against the Commune, but after receiving a wound didn’t participate in the massacres of the Bloody Week.

5. Gambetta, the great republican politician, was from Cahors.

6. Paul Déroulède founded the Ligue des Patriotes, a right-wing, revanchard organization in 1882. The leader and his group were to be at the heart of the Boulangist movement.

7. Gambetta is being referred to

8. Editor and writer of “La Lanterne,” the anti-Napoleon III magazine. He was a participant in the Commune, was exiled for his role, and when he returned founded “L’Intransigeant,” which supported Boulanger. He was condemned for his role in the Boulangist movement, and moved progressively towards an anti-Semitic position, taking up the anti-Dreyfus cause.

9. Editor of “La Lanterne.”

10. Deputy from the Loire. La France was a newspaper favorable to Boulanger.

11. Former secretary to Louis Blanc, lawyer for socialists and anarchists, including Louise Michel. One of the key organizers of the Boulangist movement.

12. Reference to Offenbach’s comic opera, “La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein.”

13. Schnaebele was a French police superintendent involved in espionage against Germany. He was arrested by the Germans on French territory.

14. General who led the repression of the people of Paris in 1848.

15. General who ordered the summary execution of the Communards. He became Governor of Paris in 1880.