Engels in The Democratic Review, 1850

Letters From France

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 34-37;
Written: Paris, June 22th, 1850;
First published: in The Democratic Review in July 1850.

The Electoral "Reform" Law has passed, and the people of Paris have not moved. Universal Suffrage has been destroyed, without the slightest attempt at disturbance or demonstration, and the working people of France are again what they were under Louis Philippe: political Pariahs, without recognised rights, without votes, without muskets.

It really is a curious fact, that Universal Suffrage in France, won easily in 1848, has been annihilated far more easily in 1850. Such ups and downs, however, correspond much with the French character, and occur very often in French history. In England such a thing would be impossible. Universal Suffrage, once established there, would be won for ever. No government would dare to touch it. Only think of the minister who should be foolish enough to consider seriously re-establishing the Corn Laws.[49] The immense laughter of the whole nation would hurl him down.

The people of Paris have, undoubtedly, committed a serious mistake, in not profiting of the occasion for insurrection given by the destruction of Universal Suffrage. The army was well disposed, the small trading class was forced to go with the people, and the Mountain,[50] nay, even the party of Cavaignac knew that in case of a defeated insurrection they would inevitably be made to suffer for it, whether they stood with the people or not. Thus, at least, the moral support of the small trading class and of its parliamentary organs, the Mountain, was sure this time, as soon as the insurrection had broken out; and with that the resistance of a large portion of the army would be broken. But the occasion has been missed, partly from the cowardice of the parliamentary chiefs and the press, partly from the peculiar state of mind the people of Paris are in at present.

The working people of the capital are at present in a state of transition. The different socialist systems which, up to this time, have been discussed amongst them, no longer suffice to them; and it must be confessed, take all French systematic Socialism together, and there is not much in it of a very revolutionary nature. On the other hand the people, so many times deceived by their chiefs, have such a deep distrust towards all men who ever have acted as their leaders--not excepting even Barbes or Blanqui[51]--that they are resolved not to make any movement in order to bring any of these leaders into office. Thus the whole working-class movement is about to take a different, far more revolutionary aspect. The people, once thinking for themselves, freed from the old socialist tradition, will soon find socialist and revolutionary formulas which shall express their wants and interests far more clearly than anything invented for them, by authors of systems and by declaiming leaders. And then, arrived thus at maturity, the people will again be enabled to avail themselves of whatever talent and courage may be found among the old leaders, without becoming the tail of any of them. And this state of the popular mind in Paris accounts for the indifference displayed by the people, at the destruction of Universal Suffrage. The great struggle is postponed for the day in which one or both of the two rival powers of the state, the President or the Assembly, will try to overthrow the Republic.

And this day must soon arrive. You recollect what was boasted in all the reactionary papers, about the cordial understanding between the President and the majority. Now, this cordial understanding has just resolved itself into the most deadly struggle between the two rivals. The President has been promised, as the price for his adhesion to the Electoral Law, an annual addition to his salary of 3,000,000 fr. (L120,000), which additional pay was most awfully wanted by the debt-ridden Louis Napoleon, besides being considered as the preliminary step to the prolongation of his presidency for ten years. The Electoral Law was hardly passed, when the ministers stepped in and asked for the three millions a year. But all at once the majority got frightened. They, who no longer consider the imbecile Louis Napoleon as a serious pretender, far from being ready to consent to the prolongation of his presidency, on the contrary want to get rid of him as soon as possible. They name a select committee to report on the Bill, and that committee reports against its adoption. Great consternation at the Elysee-National. Napoleon threatens abdication. A most serious collision between the two powers of the state is imminent. The ministry, a lot of bankers, a number of other "friends of order" interpose, with no result. Several "transactions" are proposed; in vain. At last an amendment is come to, which seems to satisfy all parties more or less. The majority, not quite sure as to the consequences of a rupture with the President, and having, as yet, not quite concluded the compact which is to unite the Legitimists and Orleanists into one party, seems to recoil a little, and to be ready to grant the money in another shape. The discussion is to come off on Monday; what the result will be no one can say. However, a serious rupture with Napoleon is, I think, not yet in the line of policy of the royalist majority.

The compact which is to unite the Orleanists and Legitimists, the younger and the elder branch of the house of Bourbon, is, at present, more than ever spoken of. It is a fact that most active negotiations are carried on with regard to this subject. The journey of Messrs. Thiers, Guizot, and others to the death-bed of Louis Philippe, at St. Leonards, had no other object than this. I shall not repeat to you the various versions as to the state of this affair, and the results obtained by the journey above mentioned. The daily papers have said more than enough about that. A fact, however, it is, that the Orleanist and Legitimist parties are in France pretty much agreed as to the conditions, and that the only difficulty is to have these conditions adopted by the two rival branches. Henry, Duke of Bordeaux, is to be made king, and as he has no children, the adoption of the Count of Paris, grandson of Louis Philippe, and heir to the throne by regular succession, is a matter almost of course, and offering no difficulties. The tricolour flag, besides, is to be maintained. The expected death of old Louis Philippe would facilitate this solution. He seems to have submitted to it, and the Duke of Bordeaux, too, appears to have accepted the agreement. The Duchess of Orleans, mother of the Count of Paris, and her brother-in-law, Joinville, are said to be the only obstacles in the way of a settlement. Louis Napoleon is to be paid off with ten millions of hard cash.

There is no doubt but this, or a similar settlement, will finally be come to; and as soon as this is done, the direct attack upon the Republic will follow. In the meantime, a preliminary engagement is to be commenced by the councils-general of the departments. They have been just called together before their regular time of meeting, and are expected to call upon the National Assembly to revise the constitution. The same thing was considered last year, but thought premature by the councils themselves. There is no doubt they will show considerably more pluck this time, particularly after the successful blow at the Suffrage. And then the occasion will come for the people to show that if they abstained from showing their power for a time, they are not willing to be thrust back to the most infamous epoch of the Restoration.

P.S.--I have just read a small pamphlet sold at three sous (halfpence) and given out gratis with the Republique. This pamphlet contains the most astounding disclosures as to the plots and conspiracies of the royalists, as far back as the spring of 1848. It is by one Borme,[52] a witness examined in the trial of Barbes and Blanqui, at Bourges.[53] He confesses himself a paid royalist agent, who at that trial committed gross perjury. He contends that the whole movement of the 15th of May, 1848, originated with the royalists, and many other things of a most curious character. There is something, too, which regards The Times. Borme gives name and address. He lives in Paris. The pamphlet is one which must call forth more disclosures still. I call your most earnest attention to it.


49 The reference is to the repeal in June 1846 of the Corn Laws by the Peel Government in the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. The Corn Laws (first introduced in the fifteenth century) imposed in the interests of landowners high import duties on agricultural produce in order to maintain high prices for these products on the home market. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in their repeal.

50 The Mountain (Montagne)--representatives in the Constituent and subsequently Legislative Assembly of a bloc of democrats and petty-bourgeois socialists grouped round the newspaper La Reforme. They called themselves Montagne by analogy with the Montagne in the Convention of 1792-94.

51 Dronke wrote to Engels from Paris (February 21 and the beginning of May, 1850) that the prestige enjoyed among the French workers by prominent representatives of petty-bourgeois socialism and revolutionary democratism (Louis Blanc, Proudhon, Albert and Barbes) was declining. He held a different view of Blanqui, however, saying that he had the same great influence over the French workers as previously.

52 This refers to the prospectus for the pamphlet by a certain Daniel Borme, a French chemist of royalist convictions: Borme fils. Le Rideau est leve!!! Grande lanterne magique des patissiers politiques des 24 fevrin; 15 mai et 24 juin 1848, dediee aux paysans, aux ouvriers laborieux et aux honnetes gens par M. Borme fils, ex-accuse du 15 mai [Paris],impr. de Mme Lacombe [1850] im 4, 2 p. The prospectus told of Borme's part in organising; royalist actions in March-May 1848 and also about the Bourges trial.

53 From March 7 to April 3, 1849, the leaders of the Paris workers uprising of May 15, 1848, were tried at Bourges, accused of conspiracy against the government. Barbes and Albert were sentenced to exile, Blanqui to ten years solitary confinement and the rest of the accused to various terms of imprisonment or exile.