Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung November 1848

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

The Paris Reforme on the Situation in France

by Karl Marx

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 133
 Transcribed for the Internet by

Cologne, November 2. Even before the June uprising we repeatedly exposed the illusions of the republicans who cling to the traditions of 1793, the republicans of the Reforme (of Paris). Under the impact of the June revolution and the movement to which it gave rise the utopian republicans gradually had their eyes opened.

A leading article in the Reforme for October 29 reflects the conflict between the old delusions of the party and the new facts.

The Reforme says:

"In our country the fights waged to seize the reins of government have long been class wars, struggles of the bourgeoisie and the people against the nobility when the first republic came into being; the sacrifices of the armed people without, and rule of the bourgeoisie within during the empire; the attempt to restore feudalism under the older branch of the Bourbons; finally, in 1830, the triumph and rule of the bourgeoisie -- that is our history."

The Reforme adds with a sigh:

"We certainly regret that we have to speak of classes, of ungodly and hateful divergences, but these divergences exist and we cannot overlook this fact."

That is to say: up to now the Reforme in its republican optimism saw only "citoyens" but it has been so hard pressed by history that the splitting up of the "citoyens" into "bourgeois" and "proletaires" can no longer be dismissed by any effort of imagination.

The Reforme continues:

"The despotism of the bourgeoisie was broken in February. What did the people demand? Justice for all and equality. That was its primary slogan, its primary desire. The wishes of the bourgeoisie, whose eyes had been opened by the flash of lightning, were at first the same as those of the people."

The paper's views on the February revolution are still based on the speeches of that time. The despotism of the bourgeoisie, far from having been broken during the February revolution, was completed by it. The Crown, the last feudal aureole, which concealed the rule of the bourgeoisie, was cast aside. The rule of capital emerged unadulterated. Bourgeoisie and proletariat fought against a common enemy during the February revolution. As soon as the common enemy was eliminated, the two hostile classes held the field of battle alone and the decisive struggle between them was bound to begin. People may ask, why did the bourgeoisie fall back into royalism, if the February revolution brought bourgeois rule to its completion? The explanation is a simple one. The bourgeoisie would have liked to return to the period when it ruled without being responsible for its rule; when a puppet authority standing between the bourgeoisie and the people had to act for it and to serve it as a cloak. A period when it had, as it were, a crowned scapegoat, which the proletariat hit whenever it aimed at the bourgeoisie, and against which the bourgeoisie could join forces with the proletariat whenever that scapegoat became troublesome and attempted to establish itself as an authority in its own right. The bourgeoisie could use the King as a kind of lightning-conductor protecting it from the people, and the people as a lightning-conductor protecting it from the King.

Since the illusions, some of them hypocritical, some honest, which became widespread immediately after the defeat of Louis Philippe, are mistakenly accepted by the Reforme as facts, the developments following those days in February appear to it as a series of errors, awkward accidents, that a great man adequate to the needs of the moment could have avoided. As though Lamartine, the jack-o'lantern, had not been the true man of the moment.

The Reforme bemoans the fact that the true man, the great man, has not yet appeared, and the situation gets worse every day.

"On the one hand the industrial and commercial crisis grows; on the other hand hatred grows and all strive towards contradictory goals. Those who were oppressed before February 24 seek their ideal of happiness and freedom in the conception of an entirely new society. The only concern of those who governed under the monarchy is to regain their realm in order to exploit it with redoubled harshness."

Now what is the attitude of the Reforme towards these sharply antagonistic classes? Does it realize even vaguely that class contradictions and class struggle will disappear only with the disappearance of classes?

No. Just now it admitted that class contradictions exist. But class contradictions are based on economic foundations, on the existing mode of material production and the conditions of commerce resulting from it. The Reforme knows no better way of changing and abolishing these contradictions than to disregard their real basis, that is, these very material conditions, and to withdraw into the hazy blue heaven of republican ideology, in other words, into the poetic February period, from which it was violently ejected by the June events. It writes:

"The saddest aspect of these internal dissensions is the obliteration, the loss of the patriotic, national sentiments' , i.e., of just that patriotic and national enthusiasm which enabled both classes' to veil their distinct interests, their conditions of life. When they did that in 1789, their real contradictions were not yet developed. What at that time was an adequate expression of the real position, is today merely an escape from the existing situation. What had substance then, is today just a relic.

"France," concludes the Reforme, "evidently suffers from a deep-seated Malady, but it is curable. It is caused by a confusion of ideas and morals, by a neglect of justice and equality in social relations, and by depravity resulting from egoistical teaching. The means for reorganization must be sought in this sphere. Instead people have recourse to material means."

The Reforme presents the whole case as a matter of conscience", and moral twaddle is then used as a means to solve everything. The antithesis of bourgeoisie and proletariat accordingly derives from the ideas of these two classes. And where do these ideas derive from? From the social relations. And where do these relations derive from? From the material, economic conditions of life of the hostile classes. According to the Reforme, if the two classes are no longer conscious of their real position and their real contradictions, and become intoxicated with the opium of the "patriotic" sentiments and phrases of 1793, then their difficulties will be solved. What an admission of helplessness!