General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851)

First Study. Reaction Causes Revolution.

1. The Revolutionary Force

It is an opinion generally held nowadays, among men of advanced views as well as among conservatives, that a revolution, boldly attacked at its incipiency, can be stopped, repressed, diverted or perverted; that only two things are needed for this, sagacity and power. One of the most thoughtful writers of today, M. Droz, of the Academie Francaise, has written a special account of the years of the reign of Louis XVI, during which, according to him, the Revolution might have been anticipated and prevented.

And among the revolutionaries of the present, one of the most intelligent, Blanqui, is equally dominated by the idea that, given sufficient strength and skill, Power is able to lead the people whither it chooses, to crush the right, to bring to nought the spirit of revolution. The whole policy of the Tribune of Belle-Isle—I beg his friends to take this characterization of him in good part—as well as that of the Academician, springs from the fear that he has of seeing the Reaction triumph, a fear that I am not afraid to call, in my opinion, ridiculous. Thus the Reaction, the germ of despotism, is in the heart of everybody; it shows itself at the same moment at the two extremes of the political horizon. It is not least among the causes of our troubles.

Stop a revolution! Does not that seem a threat against Providence, a challenge hurled at unbending Destiny, in a word, the greatest absurdity imaginable? Stop matter from falling, flame from burning, the sun from shining!

I shall endeavor to show, by what is passing before our eyes, that just as the instinct for conservatism is inherent in every social institution, the need for revolution is equally irresistible; that every political party may become by turns revolutionary and reactionary; that these two terms, reaction and revolution, correlatives of each other and mutually implying each other, are both essential to Humanity, notwithstanding the conflicts between them: so that, in order to avoid the rocks which menace society on the right and on the left, the only course is for reaction to continually change places with revolution; just the reverse of what the present Legislature boasts of having done. To add to grievances, and, if I may use the comparison, to bottle up revolutionary force by repression, is to condemn oneself to clearing in one bound the distance that prudence counsels us to pass over gradually, and to substitute progress by leaps and jerks for a continuous advance.

Who does not know that the most powerful soveriegns have made themselves illustrious by becoming revolutionaries within the limits of the circumstances within which they lived? Alexander of Macedon, who reunited Greece, Julius Caesar, who founded the Roman Empire on the ruins of the hypocritical and venal Republic, Clovis, whose conversion was the signal for the definite establishment of Christianity in Gaul, and to a certain extent, the cause of the fusion of the Frankish hordes in the Gallic ocean. Charlemagne, who began the centralization of freeholds, and marked the beginning of feudalism, Louis the Fat, dear to the third estate on account of the favor he extended to the towns, Saint Louis, who organized the corporations of arts and crafts, Louis XI and Richelieu, who completed the defeat of the barons, all performed, in different degrees, acts of revolution. Even the execrable Bartholomew massacre was directed against the lords, rather than against the reformers, in the opinion of the people, agreeing in that respect with Catherine de Medicis. Not until 1614, at the last meeting of the States General, did the French monarchy seem to abjure its function of leadership and betray its tradition: the 21st of January, 1793 was the penalty for its crime.

It would be easy to multiply examples; anybody with the slightest knowledge of history can supply them.

A revolution is a force against which no power, divine or human, can prevail: whose nature is to be strengthened and to grow by the very resistance which it encounters. A revolution may be directed, moderated, delayed: I have just said that the wisest policy lay in yielding to it, foot by foot, that the perpetual evolution of Humanity may be accomplished insensibly and silently, instead of by mighty strides. A revolution cannot be crushed, cannot be deceived, cannot be perverted, all the more, cannot be conquered. The more you repress it, the more you increase its rebound and render its action irresistible. So much so that it is precisely the same for the triumph of an idea, whether it is persecuted, harassed, beaten down during its beginning, or whether it grows and develops unobstructed. Like the Nemesis of the ancients, whom neither prayers nor threats could move, the revolution advances, with sombre and fatal step, over the flowers cast by its friends, through the blood of its defenders, across the bodies of its enemies.

When the conspiracies came to an end in 1822, some thought that the Restoration had overcome the Revolution. It was at this time, under the Villèle administration, and during his expedition to Spain, that insults were hurled at him. Poor fools! The Revolution had passed away: it was waiting for you in 1830.

When the secret societies were broken up in 1839, after the attacks of Blanqui and Barbès, again the new dynasty was believed to be immortal: it seemed that progress was at its command. The years that followed were the most flourishing of the reign. Nevertheless it was in 1839 that serious disaffection began, among the business men by the coalition, among the people by the uprising of the 12th of May, which ended in the events of February. Perhaps with more prudence, or with more boldness, the existence of the monarchy, which had become flagrantly reactionary, might have been prolonged a few years: the catastrophe, although delayed, would have been only the more violent.

Following February, we saw the Jacobins, the Girondists, the Bonapartists, the Orleanists, the Legitimists, the Jesuits, all the old parties, I had almost said factions, that had successively opposed the revolution in the past, undertake, by turns, to put down a revolution which they did not even understand. At one time the coalition was complete: I dare not say that the Republican party came out of it well. Let the opposition continue, let it persist: its defeat will be universal. The more the inevitable overthrow is put off, the more must be paid for the delay: that is as elementary as the working-out of revolutions as an axiom in geometry. The Revolution never lets go, for the simple reason that it is never in the wrong.

Every revolution first declares itself as a complaint of the people, an accusation against a victorious state of affairs, which the poorest always feel the first. It is against the nature of the masses to revolt, except against what hurts them, physically or morally. Is this a matter for repression, for vengeance, for persecution? What folly! A government whose policy consists in evading the desires of the masses and in repressing their complaints, condemns itself: it is like a criminal who struggles against his remorse by committing new crimes. With each criminal act the conscience of the culprit upbraids him the more bitterly; until at last his reason gives way, and turns him over to the hangman.

There is but one way, which I have already told, to ward off the perils of a revolution; it is to recognize it. The people are suffering and are discontented with their lot. They are like a sick man groaning, a child crying in the cradle. Go to them, listen to their troubles, study the causes and consequences of them, magnify rather than minimize them; then busy yourself without relaxation in relieving the sufferer. Then the revolution will take place without disturbance, as the natural and easy development of the former order of things. No one will notice it; hardly even suspect it. The grateful people will call you their benefactor, their representative, their leader. Thus, in 1789, the National Assembly and the people saluted Louis XVI as the Restorer of Public Liberty. At that glorious moment, Louis XVI, more powerful than his grandfather, Louis XV, might have consolidated his dynasty for centuries: the revolution offered itself to him as an instrument of rule. The idiot could see only an encroachment upon his rights! This inconceivable blindness he carried with him to the scaffold.

Alas, it must be that a peaceful revolution is too ideal for our bellicose nature. Rarely do events follow the natural and least destructive course: pretexts for violence are plentiful. As the revolution has its principle in the violence of needs, the reaction finds its own principle in the authority of custom.

Always the status quo tries to prescribe for poverty; that is why the reaction has the same majority at first that the revolution has at the end. In this march in opposite directions, in which the advantage of the one continually turns into a disadvantage for the other, how much it is to be feared that clashes will occur! …

Two causes are against the peaceful accomplishment of revolutions: established interests and the pride of government.

By a fatality which will be explained hereafter, these two causes always act together; so that riches and power, together with tradition, being on one side, poverty, disorganization and the unknown on the other, the satisfied party being unwilling to make any concession, the dissatisfied being unable to submit longer, the conflict, little by little, becomes inevitable.

Then it is curious to observe the fluctuations of the struggle, in which all the unfavorable chances at first seem to be for the progressive movement, all the elements of success for the resistance. They who see only the surface of things, incapable of understanding an outcome which no perspicacity, it seems to them, could have anticipated, do not hesitate to accuse as the cause of their disappointment, bad luck, the crime of this one, the clumsiness of that, all the caprices of fortune, all the passions of humanity. Revolutions, which for intelligent contemporaries are monsters, seem to the historians who afterwards recount them the judgments of God. What has not been said about the Revolution of ’89? We are still in doubt about that revolution, which asserted itself in eight successive constitutions, which remodelled French society from bottom to top, and destroyed even the memory of ancient feudalism. We have not compassed the idea of its historic necessity: we have no comprehension of its marvellous victories. The present reaction was organized in part through the hatred of the principles and tendencies of the Revolution. And among those who defend what was accomplished in ’89, many denounce them who would repeat it: having escaped, they fancy, by a miracle from the first revolution, they do not want to run the risk of a second! All are agreed then upon reaction, as sure of victory as they are that they are in the right, and multiplying perils around them by the very measures which they take to escape them.

What explanation, what demonstration can turn them from their error if their experience does not convince them?

I shall prove in the different parts of this work, and I am now about to establish in the most triumphant manner, that for three years past the revolution has been carried on only by the red, tricolor, and white conservatives who welcomed it: and when I say, carried on, I use the expression in the sense of the determination of the idea, as well as the propagation of the deeds. Make no mistake, if the revolution did not exist, the reaction would have invented it. The Idea, vaguely conceived under the spur of necessity, then shaped and formulated by contradiction, is soon asserted as a right. And, as rights are so bound together that one cannot be denied without at the same time sacrificing all the rest, the result is that a reactionary government is drawn on, by the phantom which it pursues, to endless arbitrary acts, and that, in endeavoring to save society from revolution, it interests all the members of society in revolution. In this way the ancient monarchy, dismissing first Necker, then Turgot, opposing every reform, dissatisfying the Third Estate, the parliaments, the clergy, the nobility, created the Revolution. I mean to say, caused it to enter into the world of facts—the Revolution, which since then has not ceased to grow in extent and in perfection, and to extend its conquests.

Translator’s note #9. The date of the execution of Louis XVI.

Translator’s note #10. After the second Restoration of Louis XVIII.

2. Parallel Progress of the Reaction and of the Revolution since February

In 1848 the lower class, suddenly taking part in the quarrel between the middle class and the Crown, made its cry of distress heard. What was the cause of its distress? Lack of work, it said. The people demanded work, their protest went no further. They embraced the republican cause with ardor, those who had just proclaimed the Republic in their names having promised to give them work. Lacking better security, the people accepted a draft on the Republic. That was sufficient to make it take them under its protection. Who would have believed that the next day those who had signed the agreement thought only of burning it? Work, and through work, bread, this was the petition of the working classes in 1848; this was the unshakeable basis given by them to the Republic; this is the Revolution.

Another thing was the proclamation of the Republic on the 25th of February, 1848, the action of a more or less intelligent, more or less usurping, minority; and yet another, the revolutionary question of work, which gave to this republic an interest, and alone gave it real value, in the eyes of the masses. No, the Republic of February was not the revolution; it was the pledge of revolution. It is not the duty of those who govern this Republic, from the highest to the lowest, to see that the pledge is not broken: it is for the people, at the next election, to determine on what further conditions they will accept it.

At first this demand for work did not seem exorbitant to the new officials, of whom not one up to this time had cared anything for political economy. On the contrary, it was the subject for mutual congratulations. What a people was that which, on the day of its triumph, asked for neither bread nor amusements, as formerly the Roman mob had demanded,—panem et circenses—but asked only for work! What a guaranty among the laboring classes of morality, of discipline, of docility! What a pledge of security for a government! With the greatest confidence, and, it must be admitted, with the most praiseworthy intentions, the Provisory Government proclaimed the right to labor! Its promises, no doubt, bore witness to its ignorance, but the good intention was there. And what cannot be done with the French people by the manifestation of good intentions? There was not at this time an employer so surly that he was not willing to give work to everybody, if the power were granted to him. The Right to Labor! The Provisional Government will claim from posterity the glory of this fateful promise, which confirmed the fall of the monarchy, sanctioned the Republic, and made the Revolution certain.

But making promises is not all: they must be kept.

Looking more closely, it is easy to see that the right to labor was a more ticklish business than had been suspected. After much debate, the Government, which spent 300 million dollars annually to preserve order, was forced to admit that it had not a cent left wherewith to assist the workers; that in order to employ them, and consequently to pay them, it would be necessary to impose additional taxes, making a vicious circle, because these taxes would have to be paid by those whom they were intended to assist. Moreover, it was not the business of the State to compete with private industry, for which already consumption was lacking and an outlet was demanded; and, still further, for the State to take part in production could only end in aggravating the condition of the workers. In consequence, for these reasons, and for others not less peremptory, the Government made it understood that nothing could be done, that it was necessary to be resigned, to keep order, to have patience and confidence!

It must be admitted that the Government was right to a certain extent. In order to assure work, and in consequence, exchange, to all, it becomes necessary, as we shall show, to change the course and to modify the economy of society; a serious matter, quite beyond the power of the Provisory Government, and upon which it became its duty to consult the Country as a preliminary. As for the plans which were thereupon proposed, and the semi-official conferences with which the lack of work of the laborers was beguiled, they merit the honor neither of record nor of criticism. They were so many pretexts of conservatism, which soon showed itself, even in the bosom of the Republican party.

But the mistake of the men in power, which exasperated the working class, and which turned a simple labor question in less than ten years into definite revolution, was when the Government, instead of inviting the researches of publicists, as did Louis XVI, instead of appealing to the citizens, and asking them their wishes upon the great questions of labor and poverty, shut itself up for four months in a hostile silence; when it was observed to hesitate about granting the natural rights of men and citizens, to distrust liberty, even liberty of the press and of assembly, to refuse the petitions of patriots relating to bail bonds and the stamp tax, to spy upon the clubs instead of organizing and directing them, to create for emergency from the volunteer guard a body of praetorians, to intrigue with the clergy, to recall the troops to Paris, that they might fraternise with the people, to arouse hatred against Socialism, the new name for the Revolution; then, whether from recklessness, or incapacity, or misfortune, or plotting and treachery, or all these together, to force penniless crowds at Paris and at Rouen into a desperate struggle; finally, after victory, to have but one thought, one idea, to smother the cry of the workers, the protest of February, by any means, lawful or unlawful.

It is enough to glance over the series of decrees of the Provisory Government and of the Executive Committee to convince oneself that during this period of four months repression was planned, prepared, organized, and revolt was provoked, directly or indirectly, by Power.

This reactionary policy, let it never be forgotten, was conceived in the bosom of the Republican party, by men who were scared at the memory of Hébert, of Jacques Roux, of Marat, and who believed themselves in good faith to be aiding the Revolution by combatting all the manifestations to the limit. It was governmental zeal which divided the members of the Provisory Government into two opposing factions, leading some to desire open conflict against the Revolution, in order that they might rule through the prestige given by victory; others to prefer the display of superior force and the distractions of politics and of war, in order to restore quiet by rendering agitation wearisome and futile. Could it have been otherwise? No, because each shade of opinion regarded its emblem as that of the true Republic, and devoted itself patriotically to the destruction of its rivals, whom it regarded as too moderate or too extreme. The Revolution could not fail to be caught between these rollers: it was too small then and too low down to be perceived by its formidable guardians.

I recall these occurrences, not for the empty pleasure of stigmatizing men who were more ill-advised than culpable, and whom the course of things, it seems to me, restored to power: but rather to remind them that, as the Revolution defeated them once, it will overcome them a second time, if they persist in the course of distrust and of secret defamation which they have hitherto adopted towards it.

Thus, through governmental prejudice and proprietary tradition, whereof the intimate union constitutes the whole political and economic theory of the old liberalism, the Government—I make no illusion to individuals, I understand by this word the sum of powers, before June and after—the Government, I repeat, through its hatred of certain Utopians, more noisy than dangerous, believed it had the right to withhold the most vital question of modern societies, although justice and prudence required an appeal to the country upon the demands of the working classes. That was its mistake; let that be to it also a lesson.

From that moment it was recognized that the Republic, whether yesterday’s or that of ’93, could never be, in the nineteenth century, the same thing as the Revolution. And if Socialism, so calumniated at that time by the very persons who, since then, recognizing their mistake, have come in turn to ask its alliance, if Socialism, I say, had aroused this quarrel, if, in the name of the deceived workers, of the betrayed Revolution, it had pronounced against the Republic, Jacobin or Girondin, it is all the same, this Republic would have been overwhelmed in the election of the 10th of December, the Constitution of 1848 would have been only a transition to empire. Socialism had higher views; with unanimous consent it sacrificed its own grievances, and gave its voice for republican rule. By this it increased its danger, for the moment, rather than strengthened itself. What follows will show whether its tactics were wise.

Thus was battle joined between all-powerful interests, skilful and inexorable, which took advantage of the traditions of ’89 and ’93, and a revolution still in the cradle, divided against itself, honored by no historic antecedent, rallying about no ancient formula, moved by no definite idea.

In fact, what crowned the peril of Socialism, was that it could not say what it was, could not phrase a single proposition, could not explain its grievances nor support its conclusions. What is Socialism? was asked. And twenty different definitions at once vied in showing the emptiness of the cause. Fact, right, tradition, common sense, everything united against it. Besides there was this argument, irresistible with a people brought up in the worship of the old revolutionaries,—a worship that is still murmured among them—that Socialism now is not that of ’89 nor of ’93, that it does not date from the great period, that Mirabeau and Danton would have disdained it, that Robespierre would have guillotined it, after having branded it, that it is the revolutionary spirit depraved, the politics of our ancestors gone astray!… If at that moment Power had found one man who could understand the Revolution, he might have moderated its impetus at his pleasure, profiting by the small favor which it encountered. The Revolution, if it had been welcomed by the ruling classes, would have slowly developed during a century, instead of precipitating itself with racehorse speed.

Matters could not happen thus. Ideas are made definite by their contraries: the Revolution will be made definite by the reaction. We lack formulas: the Provisory Government, the Executive Committee, the dictatorship of Cavaignac, the Presidency of Louis Bonaparte, have undertaken to provide them for us. The folly of governments makes the wisdom of revolutionaries: without this legion of reactionaries which has passed over our bodies, we could not say, my Socialist friends, who we are nor whither we are bound.

Again I declare that I make no charge against the intentions of anybody. I profess to believe still in the goodness of human intentions: without it, what becomes of the innocence of statesmen, and why have we abolished the death penalty in political cases? Soon the reaction will fall; it would be without moral justification as well as without reason, it would do nothing toward our revolutionary education, if its representatives, holding all sorts of opinions, did not form a continuous chain, extending from the peak of the Mountain, and ending among the extreme Legitimists.

It is the character of the Revolution of the Nineteenth Century to separate itself, day by day, from the excesses of its adversaries and from the mistakes of its defenders; so that no one can boast of having been perfectly orthodox at every moment of the struggle. We all, whatever we might have been, failed in 1848; and that is precisely why we have made so much progress since 1848.

Scarcely had the blood shed in the affair of June been dried, when the Revolution, overcome in the streets, began again to thunder through the newspapers and through popular meetings, more explicitly and more accusingly than ever. Three months had not passed when the Government, surprised at this indomitable persistence, demanded new weapons from the Constituent Assembly. The riot of June had not been put down, it asserted: without a law against the freedom of the press and against public meetings, it could not be responsible for keeping order and preserving society.

It is of the essence of reaction to show its evil tendencies under the pressure of revolution. The ministers of Cavaignac said aloud, what a certain member of the Provisory Government, now reinstated in favor with the people, had thought in his secret confidences.

But it is also natural to beaten parties to join the opposition; therefore Socialism might count on at least some of its former adversaries making common cause with it. This was indeed what happened.

The mechanics, together with a good many tradespeople, continued to demand work. Business was not good; the peasants complained of higher rents and the low price of farm produce; they who had combatted the insurrection and pronounced against Socialism, demanded as recompense subsidies for the immediate present, and guaranties for the future. The Government could see in all this nothing but a passing epidemic, the result of unfortunate circumstances, a sort of intellectual and moral cholera-morbus, which must be treated with bleeding and sedatives.

In this, the Government found itself hampered by limitations! the law no longer sufficed for its protection; it must have martial rule. Socialism, on the contrary, declared itself republican, and stood upon the law, in the most disquieting manner, as within a fortress. So it was that at every effort at reaction, the law was always with the revolutionaries, and against the conservatives. Never was such bad luck. The saying of a minister of the old monarchy, Legality is our ruin! became true again under the republican government. Either law must be done away with, or the revolution must advance!

Repressive laws were granted, and several times made more rigorous. As I write, freedom of assemblage has been abolished; the revolutionary press no longer exists. What fruit has the Government gathered from this antiphlogistic medication?

In the first place, the demand for liberty of the press has united with the assertion of the right to labor. The revolution has added to its ranks all the old friends of public liberty, who refuse to believe that gagging the press was a remedy for the contagion of ideas. Then, as propaganda through the press had been suspended, propaganda by word of mouth began; that is to say, the strongest revolutionary method was opposed to the violence of reaction. In two years the Revolution made more way through this intimate talk of a whole people than it could have made in a century by daily dissertations. While the reaction wreaks its vengeance upon type, the revolution wins by the spoken word: the sick man who was to have been cured of fever, is torn by convulsions!

Are not these the facts? Are we not all daily witnesses of them? In attacking, one after the other, all forms of liberty, has not the reaction as often reaffirmed the revolution? And is it not contemporaneous history, this romance that I seem to be writing, whereof the absurdity far surpasses those of Perrault’s stories? The Revolution never prospered so much as since the most eminent statesmen conspired against it, and its organs disappeared from the stage. Moreover all that shall be undertaken against the Revolution will strengthen it: let us cite only the principal facts.

In a few months the revolutionary malady had infected two-thirds of Europe. Its chief centres were Rome and Venice in Italy, and Hungary beyond the Rhine. The Government of the French Republic, in order to repress the Revolution at home with more certainty, did not hesitate to make a foreign conquest. The Restoration had made the Spanish war against the liberals: the Reaction of 1849 made the expedition to Rome against the Social-Democracy—I employ these two words as indicating the progress which the Revolution had made in one year. Certain descendants of Voltaire, heirs of the Jacobins,—could anything else be expected from Robespierre’s acolytes?—had conceived the idea of bringing aid to the Pope, and thus uniting the Republic and Catholicism: the Jesuits carried it out. Beaten at Rome, the Social-Democracy tried to protest at Paris: it was dispersed without a struggle.

What did the Reaction gain? To the hatred of kings in the heart of the people was added hatred of priests; and the war against governmental authority throughout Europe was complicated by war against religious authority. In 1848, the only question, the doctors said was of political excitement: very soon, through the futility of the remedies, it became an economic question; now it is called religious. Is not medicine useless? What further physic can we use?

Evidently it was a case when politicians of the smallest common sense would have retreated: it was just this moment that they selected to push reaction to its utmost. No, they said, a nation has no right to poison itself, to assassinate itself. The Government has charge of its soul: its duties are those of the guardian and the father. The safety of the people is the highest law. do what you ought, come what may!

It was resolved that the Country should be purged, bled, cauterized to the limit. A vast sanitary system was organized and followed with a devotion which would have done honor to the apostles. Hippocrates, saving Athens from the plague, did not seem more magnaminous. The Constitution, the electorate, the National Guard, the municipal councils, the University, the army, the police the courts, all were passed through the flames. The business world, that everlasting friend of order, was accused of liberal inclinations, and involved in the same suspicions as the working classes. The Government went so far as to say, by the mouth of M. Rouher, that it did not regard itself as sound, that its origin was a stain, that it carried in itself the revolutionary poison: Ecce in iniquitatibus conceptus sum![12] … Then it got to work.

Instruction, based upon reason olny, by secular teachers selected by examination, could not be depended upon. The Government thought it essential to place teaching under the authority of the Faith. It was announced to the world that instruction, like the press, was no longer free, by the subjection of primary teachers to the priests and to the lay brothers, by handing the City Colleges over to the Congregationists, by placing public teaching in charge of the clergy, by astonishing dismissals of professors after their denunciation by bishops. What did the Government gain by this treatment? By its jesuitical annoyance it threw them all into the Revolution, men devoted as they were to the education of youth, with nothing timid about the,

Then it was the army’s turn.

Coming from the people, recruited every year from among them, in perpetual contact with them, nothing would have been less certain than its obedience, in the face of an aroused populace and violated constitution. An intellectual diet, together with complete isolation, and the prohibition of thought, of conversation and of reading on political and social topics was prescribed. No sooner did the slightest sign of contagion appear in a regiment, than it was at once purified, removed from the capital and from populous centres, and sent as discipline into Africa. It is hard to discover what the soldier thought: it is at least certain that the treatment to which he was subjected for more than two years proved to him, in the most unequivocal way, that the Government wanted neither the Republic, nor the Constitution, nor liberty, nor the right to labor, nor universal suffrage; that the plan of the ministers was to reestablish the old order in France, as they had reestablished the rule of priests at Rome, and that they counted on him! … Will the suspicious soldier swallow this dose? The Government hopes so; that is the question! …

It was to the National Guard that the party of order owed its first successes, in April, May, and June of 1848. But the National Guard, while it put down the riot, had no idea of aiding the counter-revolution. More than once it said so. It was said to be sick. Of all the cares of the Government, that which most occupies its attention is the disbandment, or at least, the disarmament, of the National Guard, gradually, not all at once, that would not do. Against a National Guard armed, organized, ready for battle, reactionary wisdom knows no protection. The Government cannot believe itself safe as long as a single citizen soldier remains in France. National Guards! You cannot be turned from liberty and progress, advance toward the Revolution!

Like all monomaniacs, the Government is perfectly logical in its idea. It follows with wonderful punctuality and perserverance. It quite understood that the cure of the nation, and of Europe, of which it had constituted itself the physician, might not have reached the point where popular elections could be done away with, and that the unfortunate patient, driven crazy by his medications, might break his bonds, overpower his guards, and in one hour of madness might destroy the fruit of three years of treatment. Already an imposing majority, in voting upon the electoral question, in March and April of 1850, had voted for revolution—monarchy or republic—that is to say, revolution or status quo. How [to] ward off such a danger and save the people from its own frenzy?

It is necessary now, say the wiseacres, to proceed indirectly. Let us separate the people into two categories, the one comprising the citizens who, from their position, are presumed to be the most revolutionary; they are to be excluded from universal suffrage; the other, all those who, from their standing, are more inclined to keep things as they are: these will form the electoral body. What of it, that by this suppression we shall have eliminated three million individuals from the voting lists, if the seven remaining millions accept their privilege? With seven million voters and the army, we are sure to overcome the revolution; and religion, and authority, and the family, and property, are saved!

Twenty-seven notabilities in political and moral science, they say, were present at this consultation of men of consummate skill in checkmating revolutions and revolutionaries. The ordinance was presented to the Legislative Assembly, and was confirmed on the 31st of May.

Unfortunately it was impossible to make a law of privilege which should also be a list of suspects. The law of the 31st of May, cutting right and left almost equally among Socialists and Conservatives, only served to stir up revolution the more, by rendering the reaction odious. Among the seven million voters who retained, four million perhaps belonged to the democracy. Add to these the three millions of the discontented who were shut out, and you will have the relative strength of the revolution and the counter-revolution, at least as regards the electoral privilege. Moreover, see the folly of it! It was just the very voters of the party of order, in whose favor the law of the 31st of May had been drawn, who were the first to denounce it: they blame it for all their present evils, and for the greater ills which they anticipate in the future; they are loudly demanding its repeal in their newspapers. And the best reason for believing that this law will never be put into execution, is that it is perfectly useless, the interest of the Government being rather to withdraw from its support than to defend it. Is that enough of blundering and scandal?

The reaction has made the revolution grow as in a hotbed during the last three years. By its policy, at first equivocal, then veering, finally openly absolutist and terrorist, it has created an innumerable revolutionary party, where before not one man could be reckoned. And, good heavens! what was the use of all this arbitrariness? To what end all this violence? Against whom lay the complaint? What monster, inimical to civilisation and society, did they seek to combat? Did anybody know whether the Revolution of 1848 was right or wrong? This revolution that had never defined itself? Who had studied it? Who, with his hand upon his heart, could accuse it? Deplorable hallucination! Under the Provisional Government and the Executive Committee the revolutionary party did not exist, except in the air: the idea of it, with its mystical formulas, had yet to be discovered. By its declaration against this spectre, the reaction has converted the spectre into a living body, a giant, which with a single gesture may crush it. That which I myself could scarcely conceive before the day of June; which since then I have come to understand only gradually, and under the fire of the reactionary artillery, I dare now assert with certainty: the Revolution has taken shape, it understands itself, it is completed.

Translator’s note #11: 10th of December, 1848, when Louis Napoleon was elected President.

Translator’s note #12: Lo, I was conceived in iniquity.

3. Weakness of the Reaction: Triumph of the Revolution.

And now, reactionaries, you are reduced to heroic measures. You have carried violence to a point where you are hated, despotism to where you are distrusted, the abuse of your legislative power up to disloyalty. You have lavished scorn and outrage: you have sought blood and civil war. All this has produced as much effect on the Revolution as an arrow upon a rhinoceros. They who do not hate you, despise you. They are wrong: you are honest people, full of tolerance and philanthropy, moved by the best intentions, but your mind and conscience are upside down. I disregard whatever you may resolve, whether you continue to attack the revolution, or determine to treat with it, as I expect you will do. But if you select the former course, I will tell you what you must do; you yourselves may judge what you have to expect.

The people, according to you, are affected by mental alienation. It is your mission to ucre them: public security is your only law, your highest duty. As you are accountable to posterity, you would dishonor yourselves by deserting the post at which Providence has placed you. You are in the right; you have the force; your resolution is clear.

All the regular methods of government having failed, your further policy is comprised in one word: force.

Force, in order to prevent society from committing suicide; that means that you must put a stop to every revolutionary manifestation, every revolutionary thought, that you must put the nation in an iron strait jacket, hold the twenty-six departments in a state of siege, suspend the laws generally everywhere, attack the evil at its source by deporting from the cuontry and from Europe the authors and fomenters of anarchical and antisocial ideas, prepare for the restoration of the old institutions by conferring upon the Government discretionary power over proprety, industry and commerce, &c., until a perfect cure is effected.

Do not bargain about the absolute rulership: do not dispute over the choice of a dictator. Legitimate monarchy, half legitimate, a combination of parties, imperialism, total or partial revision of the Constitution, all that, believe me, is of no importance. The promptest action is the surest. Remember that it is not the form of government that is in question: it is society. Your only care should be to take your measures prudently; because if at the last moment the Revolution gets away from you, you are lost.

If the prince who is now in power were president for life, if at the same time the Assembly, uncertain of the voters, could prorogue itself as the Convention used to do, until the convalescence of the invalid, the solution would perhaps seem to be discovered. The Government would only have to keep still and have masses celebrated in all the churches of France, for the restoration to health of the People. There would be little need of doing anything against insurrection. Legality, in this land of journalists, is so powerful, that there is no oppression, no outrage, that we are not ready to endure, as soon as they speak to us In the Name of the Law.

But by the terms of the fundamental agreement, Louis Bonaparte leaves office at the end of April, 1852; as for the Assembly, its powers expire on the 29th of May following, at the very height of revolutionary ardor. All is lost if things go as the Constitution prescribes. Lose not a moment: Caveant consules!

Then as the Constitution now is the cause of all the danger, as there is no legal solution possible, as the Government cannot count on the support of any part of the nation, as the gangrene has involved everything, you must take counsel only of yourselves and of the immensity of your duties, on pain of forfeiture and cowardice.

In the first place the Constitution must be revised by you, by Authority; at the same time Louis Bonaparte must be prorogued in his powers, by Authority.

This prorogation will not suffice, as the elections of 1852 may give a demagogic Assembly, of which the first act will be the impeachment of the reelected President and his ministers. Therefore the President, at the same time that he is prorogued by the Assembly, will prorogue the Assembly in his turn, and by Authority.

After these first acts of dictatorship, the General and Municipal Councils, duly renewed, will be asked to send in their adhesion, on pain of immediate dissolution and of the dispatch of commissioners.

It is likely that this double prorogation of the president and of the Assembly will be followed by some disturbance; it is a risk to be run, a battle to be joined, a victory to win.

To conquer without danger is to triumph without glory.


Then you must abolish universal suffrage, as well as the law of the 31st of May, and return to the system of M. Villèle and to the double vote; better still, suppress the whole representative system, while waiting for the reclassification of the nation in orders, and the restoration of feudalism on a more solid basis.

Suppose then that the Revolution, so violently provoked, does not stumble, or that if it does stumble, it is crushed; suppose that the two hundred republican representatives do not answer the usurping acts of the majority by a declaration that they are unlawful, prepared, signed and published in advance; that, following this declaration, the authors of the coup d’Ètat are not struck down in the street, in their homes, anywhere that the avenging hand of patriotic bands can reach them; suppose that the populace does not rise in mass, at Paris and in the provinces; that a part of the troops, upon which the reaction places its hopes, does not join the insurgents; suppose that two or three hundred soldiers are enough to hold down the revolutionaries of thirty-seven thousand towns, to which the coup d’Ètat will serve as a signal; suppose that, lacking relief, the refusal to pay taxes, the stoppage of work, the interruption of transportation, devastation, conflagrations, all the fury forseen by the author of The Red Spectre, do not block the counter-revolution in its turn; suppose that it is enough for the head of the executive power, elected by four hundred conspirators, for the eighty-six prefects, the four hundred and fifty-nine subprefects, the procurers-general, the presidents, the councillors, substitutes, captains of police, commissioners of police, and some thousands of notabilities their accomplices, to present themselves to the masses in order to make them return to their duty.

Suppose, I say, that any one of these conjectures, so likely, so probable, is not realized, it will be necessary, if you expect your work to stand:

  1. To declare the state of siege general, absolute, and for an unlimited time;

  2. To decree the deportation beyond the seas of a hundred thousand individuals;

  3. To double the effective strength of the army, and to keep it constantly on a war footing;

  4. To increase the garrisons and the police, to arm all the fortresses, to build in each district a strong castle, to interest the military in the reaction, by making the army an endowed and ennobled caste, which can partly recruit itself;

  5. To rearrange the people in corporations of arts and crafts, no one accessible to any other; to suppress free competition; to create in commerce, industry, agriculture, property, finance, a privileged trading class, which will join hands with the aristocracy of the army and the Church;

  6. To expurgate or burn nine-tenths of the books in the libraries, books of science, philosophy and history; to do away with every vestige of the intellectual movement for four centuries; to commit the direction of studies and the archives of civilization to the Jesuits exclusively;

  7. To increase the taxes two hundred million dollars, and issue new loans, in order to cover these expenses, and to erect a special and inalienable privilege for the support of the new nobility, as well as of the churches, seminaries and convents.

That is an outline of the policy and of the measures for organization and repression which the reaction must adopt in order to carry out what it has undertaken, if it wants to be logical and to follow its fortune to the end. It constitutes a social regeneration which carries civilization back to the fourteenth century, and restores feudalism, with the aid of the new elements furnished by the modern spirit and by experience of revolutions. To hesitate or to stop halfway would be to lose disgracefully the fruit of three years of effort, and to rush to certain, irreparable disaster!

Have you thought of this, reactionaries? have you reckoned the power that has been acquired by the Revolution through three years of pressure? Have you realized that the monster has grown his claws and teeth and that if you cannot strangle him he will devour you?

If the reaction counts on the prudence of the country, and waits for the elections of 1852, it is lost. Upon this point almost everybody is agreed, both in the Government and among the people, whether republicans or conservatives.

If it limits itself to proroguing the powers of the President, it is lost.

If, after having prorogued the powers of the Assembly by the same decree, it allows the law of the 31st of May to stand, it is lost.

If it permits the hundred thousand most active republican socialists to remain in the country, it is lost.

If it allows the present numerical weakness of the army, and its present mode of recruiting to stand, it is lost.

If, after having restored the military caste, it fails to reconstruct industry and commerce on feudal principles, it is lost.

If it does not reestablish large properties and the right of primogeniture, it is lost.

If it does not completely reform the system of instruction and of public education, if it does not efface the very memory of past insurrections from the minds of the people, it is lost.

If it does not double the taxes, and succeed in collecting them, to cover the expenses of such great undertakings, it is lost.

Are you able to attempt even the first of these indispensable measures, from which a single omission will plunge you into the abyss? Do you dare to proclaim to the people this unconstitutional resolution: The powers of Louis Bonaparte have been prorogued?

No, you can do nothing, you can dare nothing, royalists, imperialists, bancocrats, Malthusians, Jesuits, who have used and abused force against ideas. You have wasted time and lost your reputation, without advantage for your safety.

Prorogue or not; revise everything or revise nothing; summon Chambord and Joinville, or come over to the Republic; all that signifies nothing. You will hold a National Convention, if not in 1852, then in 1856. The revolutionary idea is triumphing; in order to combat it you have no recourse but to republican law, which you have not ceased for three years to violate. Your only refuge is in that make-believe republic, which in 1848 was forced to be honest and moderate, as if honesty and moderation could exist where principle was lacking—that republic whose ignominious nakedness you are now exhibiting to the world. Do you not see her, calling to you and stretching out her hands to you, sometimes under the appearance of the most pacific sentiments, sometimes under the mask of the most inflated orations. Go then, to this republic—this constitutional, parliamentary, governmental republic, steeped in Jacobinism and in religion, which is none the less ruled by the formula of counter-revolution, whether it invokes the name of Sièyes, or appeals to that of Robespierre. After you have exhausted violence, trickery remains to you: in that also we are ready to meet you.

But to the republicans of February I say,—to that party which, without distinguishing shades of opinion, the Revolution may reproach for some errors, but not for crime:

It was you who gave the signal for reaction in 1848, by your ambitious rivalries, by your routine politics, by your retrospective fancies, almost at the same moment that you proposed the revolutionary question, unknown to yourselves.

You see what the reaction has done.

Before the battle of June, the Revolution was hardly aware of itself; it was but a vague aspiration among the working classes toward a less unhappy condition. Such complaints have been heard at every period; if it was a mistake to despise them, it was unnecessary to fear them.

Thanks to the persecution which it has suffered, the Revolution of today is fully conscious of itself. It can tell its purpose: it is in the way to define itself, to explain itself. It knows its principles, its means, its aim; it possesses its method and its criterion. In order to understand itself, it has needed only to follow the connection of ideas of its different adversaries. At this moment it is discarding the erroneous doctrines which obscured it: free and brilliant, you are about to see it take possession of the masses, and drive them toward the future with irresistible inspiration.

The Revolution, at the point at which we have arrived, is completed in thought, and needs only to be put into execution. It is too late to give vent to the mine: if the power which has come back into your hands should change its policy toward the Revolution, it would obtain no result, unless it changed its principles at the same time. The Revolution, I have just told you, has grown its teeth: the Reaction has been only a fit of teething sickness for it. It must have solid food: a few fragments of liberty, a few concessions to the interests which it represents, will only serve to increase its hunger. The Revolution means to exist, and to exist, for it, is to reign.

Are you willing then to serve this great cause; to devote yourselves, heart and soul, to the Revolution?

You may, for there is still time, again become the chiefs and regulators of the movement, save your country from a serious crisis, emancipate the lower classes without turmoil, make yourselves the arbiters of Europe, decide the destiny of civilization and of humanity.

I know well that such is your fervent desire; but I do not speak of desire, I want acts—pledges.

Pledges for the Revolution, not harangues; plans for economic reconstruction, not governmental theories: that is what the lower classes want and expect from you. Government! Ah! we shall still have enough of it, and to spare. Know well that there is nothing more counter-revolutionary than the Government. Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes, the Revolution repudiates it: its fate is to be absorbed in the industrial organization.

Speak then, for once, straightforwardly, Jacobins, Girondists, Mountainists, Terrorists, Indulgents, who have all deserved equal blame, and all need equal pardon. Fortune again favoring you, which course will you follow? The question is not what you would have done in a former exigency: the question is what you are going to do now, when the conditions are no longer the same.

Will you support the Revolution—yes or no?