A Review of the Literature on the Coup d'etat

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Note from MECW :

This work was published in instalments in nine issues of the Chartist People’s Paper, from the end of September 1852 until the end of the year. The articles were published unsigned under the editorial heading “Our Paris Correspondence”. Their author was Georg Eccarius—a tailor from London, a close associate of Marx and an active member of the Communist League—which can be seen from Marx’s letter to Adolf Cluss written in November 1853. This letter also shows that it was Marx who helped to get Eccarius to contribute to the Chartist paper and, most probably, looked through his writings in manuscript before Eccarius sent them to Jones. Marx and Engels rated highly Eccarius’ intelligence and theoretical ability (see, for example, their opinion of Eccarius’ article “Tailoring in London or the Struggle Between Big and Small Capital” in Volume 10 of the present edition, p. 485). Marx encouraged and assisted his literary activities in every possible way. There is no doubt that Marx also helped Eccarius to write this review, especially in examining the writings of different authors on the coup d’état of December 2, 1851. It is noteworthy that in assessing Victor Hugo’s book on this subject Eccarius expresses ideas close to those which Marx himself expressed on the same subject later, in 1869, in the Preface to the second edition of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (see present edition, Vol. 21). Eccarius’ criticism of Proudhon’s social projects in this review coincides with their assessment in the works of Marx and Engels (see, in particular, this volume, pp. 557-68).

The first, introductory, article of the series was printed in The People's Paper without the general heading, “A Review of the Literature on the Coup d’Etat”, under which the ensuing articles were published. Four articles immediately following the introductory one were marked No. 1, No. 2, etc., while the remaining articles were not numbered. But the general heading and the editors’ “to be continued” given in some cases show that the series was not only written but also published as a single work, of which the separate articles seemed to be chapters. Accordingly, in this volume the missing numbers (5-8) are added in square brackets. In the eighth and ninth articles Eccarius assesses Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. (As distinct from the erroneous title of the first edition, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, he uses the right one which indicates that Marx took part in writing the “Review”.) These articles, containing the most important excerpts from Chapter I of The Eighteenth Brumaire, acquainted the English reader with this outstanding work for the first time. Later, in his “Statement to the Editorial Boards of the Newspapers Reform, Volkszeitung and Allgemeine Zeitung” (November 7, 1859), Marx pointed out that his work The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte “appeared in excerpts in the then London organ of the Chartists” (i.e. The People's Paper) (see present edition, Vol. 17).

[Preliminaries][edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 21, September 25, 1852][edit source]

There is a subject with regard to this country which we have hitherto not been able to dwell upon but which we deem worthy of our most eager attention: namely, the utterly shortsighted and ignorant views on the change in the public destinies of France since the 2nd December, taken by nearly all the authors who have written on the character and consequences of the coup d’état. A short review of the publications that have appeared from different quarters on this subject will render the truth of this statement the more evident and the more important, as all these publications pretend more or less, to be the expressions and sentiments of the parties or classes to which their authors respectively belong.

On the 2nd December, in the face of the Bonapartist coup, it was but natural that all parties opposed to it should agree in their language—and so it was. The protest of the combined royalists and the proclamation of the Montagne, as dictated by the common interests of self-defence against a common foe, differed only in this, that the latter fraction had at least the courage to take up those arms to which the former merely made a cowardly appeal. Both had the name of the constitution in their mouth, of a constitution which had been as often attacked, violated, suspended and overthrown by the royalists, as it had been ridiculously and hopelessly defended by the republicans.

But, what have they done since? The legitimists have accepted, the Orleanists denounced, the republicans execrated, the coup d’état. Has any one explained, has any one understood its secret? With the legitimists the fault lies in the socialists; with the Orleanists in the Montagne; with the republicans in the crime of Bonaparte. To such casualties as the mistaken policy of a couple of representatives, or the frivolous ambition of an individual, the mighty changes in the condition of a people are ascribed by the political sages of the day, who still, by exempting themselves from all responsibility in past events, attempt to impose themselves on the public as the initiators of a future, when they, as well as their parties, are crushed for ever, and flung into nought long ago. What a poor argument for historical explanation! But what a rich source of pamphlets, of recriminations, and of all kinds of attacks on antagonistic personalities! We are certainly no partisans of Mr. Bonaparte; we do not mean to thank him as he did not mean to benefit us by it, for having replaced the tyranny of middle-class parliamentary rule by dictatorship of his own and of a military swell-mob; but we are glad at his success, we rejoice in his temporary triumph because it secures the triumph of our principles, the triumph of our class. His is the momentary glory, the revelry of an hour; but ours will be the final, the definitive victory. The dictatorship of Bonaparte has prepared the sovereignty of the working-classes. What are all these lamentations about the decay of French civilisation? What all these splendid comparisons with the fall of the Roman Empire in the mouth of the middle-class writers, but the elegiac confessions that the times of their glory are gone in France, never to return? What is it they understand by civilisation, but the government of landlords and capitalists with their appendage of priests and lawyers? Is it the ruin of the working-classes they deplore? Good Heavens! Let them be cheerful, their ruin depends not on the calamities of the middle class. It is just the political ruin of the latter, that prepares the advent of the working-classes, that guarantees their salvation, both political and social. How deeply those writers deplore, and almost weep over, the decline and hopeless degeneration of France, of that unhappy and blind nation which could sacrifice its public liberties (?) to the arbitrary pleasure of a tyrant! What are these liberties alleged to have been sacrificed? The Suffrage? You forget the law of the 31st of May.[1] The Press?—why you had gagged, fined, confiscated, and suppressed it. Association?— there never were such things as decrees of suspension, high tribunals, dungeons, or transportations for the leaders of the clubs! No—Blanqui never was in the pontoons of Belle Isle. You never provoked—you never laid an ambush for the people! You never slaughtered them at Rouen, nor massacred them at Lyons, nor shot them in the streets of Paris! To hear you, the people, before the 2nd of December, were as free and sovereign, as they were happy and prosperous. You wonderful talkers and writers! Yes, decidedly; then it was madness and quite shameful on the part of the people to forsake such disinterested and loyal leaders, on the day when they proclaimed the liberties of the nation to be in danger. But, if it were otherwise—if the people really had nothing to lose—if it was only your liberties, your rule over the people, that were in danger—what do you say then? Never mind; for morality’s sake the people ought to have resisted a man[2] who so openly broke his faith to them. To them? Why, he never swore them obedience or faithfulness! How preposterous to suppose a “vile and immoral multitude” to stand up for morality! Who accustomed the people to broken oaths? Not Thiers—not Berryer—not Mole—innocent, pure, and honest consciences! It was Bonaparte who invented the trade never known before. The world was so young, so harmless, and so perfect, that it knew almost no crimes before this ominous day of December, which put an end to the paradise of political innocence. The apple of perjury had never been eaten; but the spectacle of a drunken and infuriated army stabbing the peaceful (why were they peaceful, if their liberties were in danger?); violating the virgin, and demolishing the property of the citizen (this last was their worst crime): — should not that have animated the people to rise up in their defence? Why? They had no property; the rich leave them very few virgins; and if the killed had been peaceful, they remained so without being killed. The people allowed Bonaparte to revenge them on their enemies, awaiting the opportunity when they might take their revenge on both. They were right. But to suffer the dictator to enforce a constitution on them which is all but a mockery of the people’s dearest principle, the Suffrage!—how disgraceful to a nation to be deluded and duped by the very appearances of unbounded liberty, which is still,in fact, an outrageous slavery! In the first place, they are neither duped nor deluded, because they know this as well as any liberal English newspaper. Then, how can they suffer it? They only take their time. The Orleanists and Republicans no doubt will find it rather long, wishing to return to their country. Now, the people do not have such a desire; they are, besides, in no hurry. Trade is doing well, as yet. And did not you always say, “the people ought to be quiet, and to mind nothing but their work?” Well, they will mind their work, as long as they have any, after which they will look out for themselves. For themselves? Yes, is not that frightful? To behold a people unwilling to hazard their lives for the restoration of a prince, or the revival of a middle-class parliament—a people who will only take up arms for murderers! Adieu! civilisation of France—the “Times” despairs of thee! No hopes in France but for the people. There is the terrible deluge, prophesied to the French people so often by every successive party in power. There it is coming, and no escape. O! sage Lord Maidstone! when will our English deluge begin?

In our next we shall commence giving a résumé of the works that have appeared on both sides of the Channel, on the subject of the French coup d’état, comprehending the “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” by Charles Marx; “The coup d’état of Louis Bonaparte,” by Xavier Durrieu; “Napoleon the Little,” by Victor Hugo; and

“The Social Revolution,” by Proudhon.

No. 1[edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 22, October 2, 1852][edit source]

The empire not having yet been proclaimed, and the new police farce of the infernal machine[3] offering little or no comment, I intend in this letter to criticise a series of works on the events of the 2nd December, enumerated in my last letter, which have as yet been not sufficiently circulated amongst the English public, and most superficially appreciated by the English press. The order in which I shall proceed differs from that in which I first placed the different works under notice; but it will be perceived how much better it suits the purposes of a gradually-progressing and yet all-exhausting criticism, to begin with that work which merely elucidates the data and facts of history, and next to take that which elevates itself to a contemplation of those same facts from the general point of view of current traditional ideas[4]; then to dispose of that work which, although advancing a step in the revolutionary direction, still affects to consider the whole change in the destinies of France, brought about by Bonaparte, as a proof of the truth or necessity of its author’s doctrinary Socialist schemes’[5]; and, finally, to conclude by reviewing that work which, as we may here at once point out, is the only one that has at once satisfied history, and the want of the present generation to understand the revolutionary movement in which it finds itself engaged.[6]



The merits of this book consist in the great probability, or rather in the simple truth, of its narrative. As all the witnesses of the 2nd December, who have stood up to denounce the crimes and treachery of Louis Bonaparte, have been charged with gross exaggeration of the facts, by the “Moniteur” and other government organs, the author of this book has rendered a great service by his depositions, which certainly nobody will accuse of tending, by rhetorical or poetic licence, to impose on the public. And if Mr. Durrieu’s talent as a writer may be doubted in England, where your penny-a-liners write such admirable articles, although he was a Paris journalist, his right of describing the horrible actions of which he was the spectator and victim at the same time, remains incontestable, and one can only applaud him for having had the courage to come before the public. Here you have a short account of the events he relates, and of the part he played in them.

He commences by a sketch of Louis Bonaparte, and of his principal accomplices in the perpetration of the coup d’état. We pass by that of the master, it being too inferior to the portrait which others, and Victor Hugo especially, have given us of that monster scoundrel; we will cast a glance only at those of his ministers.

General Magnan, the commander of the Boulevard-butchery, was accused in 1840 of having favoured Bonaparte’s attempts at Strasburg, and Boulogne.[8] Called to appear at the bar of the Peers, he denied and betrayed his then unfortunate master, with so much coolness and contemptible egoism, that even the Peers—those veterans in the traffic of apostasy—felt disgusted. In 1848 he was charged by some Democratic paper with being in the pay of the Orleanists; he went himself to the office, and begged insertion of a protest, in which he denounced the Orleanists, and swore that, as a soldier of the old Republic, under the Convention, his sympathies had ever been attached to the Republican institutions. Three years afterwards he murdered that Republic for the payment of his debts.

General St. Arnaud, the Minister of War, was a simple captain in 1835, when, for certain services rendered at the Castle of Blaye, the prison of the unfortunate Duchess of Angoulême, he was suddenly promoted to the rank of a general. His debaucheries and dissipations would have brought him in contact with the criminal law, had not his former crimes protected him. Louis Philippe sheltered him first—Louis Napoleon has sheltered him now.

M. Persigny, the Minister of the Interior of to-day, but who lacked the courage to become it on the 2nd December, raised himself from the station of a penny-a-liner to that of Louis Bonaparte’s valet and confidant—the purveyor of his master’s pleasures, in which he is even supposed to take a very close part, and the agent in his low intrigues and forgeries; the fellowship of crime is the secret of his present splendour.

M. de Morny, lastly, may be considered as the type of the higher swell-mob, that gang of gamblers, swindlers, and forgers, who always escape by some enormous crimes from the claws of the lower police. He was to be imprisoned on the 3rd; he imprisoned his creditors and accusers on the 2nd December. The portraits of these four men are as true as they are familiar to every Parisian.

I am sorry that I cannot delight you with their counterfeit—the work of Mr. Granier de Cassagnac,[9] a miserable but impudent Gascoign, who erected, almost on the smoking ruins of the December Insurrection, the statues of its murderers, elevating them to the rank of demi-gods, and idolising Bonaparte as the Saviour of society. By the way, it will amuse you to hear, that the gendarmerie and clergy of his department have received this new apostle under a triumphal arch, bearing the inscription—”To the defender of order and religion!” After this, may we not hope soon to see the downfall of the two pillars of class society?

Now to Mr. Durrieu. On the morning of the 2nd December, he hastened to the office of the “Révolution,” a paper founded by Ledru-Rollin, and invested with that name, after its competitor, the real revolution, had been ruined by him in the struggle of June.[10] As is usual at Paris in times of excitement, the so-called revolutionary notabilities, which means a handful of petty ambitions, held a meeting at the newspaper-office. Durrieu was charged to draw up a proclamation. “Constitution—treason” were its two handles, the paltry weapons which alone were left to the Democrats, after their separation from the Revolution. The proclamation was placarded; so was that issuing from the office of the “Presse.” Mr. Durrieu complains that they were so little responded to. But by whom were they signed, and to whom did they appeal? Was there any one of the people’s leaders—of those the people acknowledged and cherished as their champions—amongst the names of the undersigned? They were all known to be Montagnards, “liberal” writers, orators, drums and trumpets of the tribune indeed, but whose greatness sprung from the ruin of the proletarian party, whose eloquence had for condition the silence of the people’s defenders; in a word, who had always preached submission and calm, when a combat had to be fought, and who called to arms, when revolution had no interest in the battle, but Mr. Durrieu himself has the naivete to reveal the reasons why his partisans had no influence on the masses, why their alarm-cries were distrusted, like those of the shepherd-boy in the fable.[11] They had raised their cry too often, when no wolf was to be met; in fact, it was a thing used up. He tells us that, when the surprised Republican Representatives were removed in prison vans to Vincennes, on passing the Boulevards the people attempted to break the file of their escorte, and actually offered to release the prisoners. What did these heroes of the tribune reply? “For heaven’s sake, desist! Let us proceed to our prison, we know we are innocent]” Such frightened, cowardly innocents—do they not deserve to be laughed at by the people? These tame and timid souls—these inviolable, but also non-violating personages—these knights of the sorrowful figure, were offered to the people as their guides—nay, their commanders. No, if the people had had the choice (but they had not, nor did they want it then), they would have been right to prefer Bonaparte, although a knave, a thief, an assassin, and whatever else you may call him (for he deserves every one of these titles), even when he struck them in the face, to that band of officious mourners, who have buried Revolution to get the right of lamenting over it. Their sermons have demoralised and torpified the people, while Bonaparte’s effrontery has awakened their senses. I say this in respect of the Montagne, and the Democratic leaders as a body, I don’t mean to include in my invectives against that party every individual belonging to it (French Democracy is not to be confounded with the English. In France, it represents the small proprietors and tenants, but less their real wants than their imaginary wishes. In England, Democracy applies directly to the movement of the working class); such brave and generous men as the heroic Charles Baudin, and the author of the present work himself, regain as much estimation by their conduct as they may have lost by their narrow principles and views. But these are exceptions, and no hero or martyr ever deserves to have the people on his side, unless he battles for the direct interest of the masses, instead of for the dead letter of a class constitution, or the imaginary glory of some abstract truth. But this latter point I will settle in my next, as Mr. Hugo still affords me still better occasion for it. As for Mr. Durrieu, let me add that, after having issued his proclamation, he took his post on the barricades, where he fought until night, and whence, after all was lost, he escaped only to be taken prisoner, to be conducted to the prison of Mazas, thence to the casemates of Bicétre and Ivry, the horrors of which he describes with much tact; transported thence on board the “Duguesclin,” to be sent to Cayenne, and finally expelled by the Dictator from his country.

No. 2[edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 23, October 9, 1852][edit source]

Your readers will doubtlessly absolve me for another week from recording and commenting on those well-known despicable quackperformances composing the official history of the day—all the feasts, revelries, processions, demonstrations, conspiracies, triumphs, and final choruses, which make up the “mise en scene” of the Empire in France, and through which they hope to derive the power of producing an impression upon a public to whom the piece itself offers no other novelty, than that “the machinery is by electric telegraph.” In fact, these are dull times, and men certainly want some leisure yet, before they will be able to come forth with “a new piece.” And as good actors require to be critics first, so let the people become critics of their own revolutionary past, and let those who aspire to be their leaders, prove their vocation in guiding them through their studies, and the revolutionary drama of the future will be a hit, and no failure. I proceed with my review.


It would be difficult exactly to describe my feelings at the moment when I sit down to criticise a work of such generally acknowledged reputation, yet of so little solid or lasting merits as this last production of the most splendid of all French writers. What I cherish in it, what I could not omit expressing, without becoming guilty of ingratitude, is the pleasure it gave me on the first reading. And that pleasure will be shared by all people who do the same, particularly those who had it in the original language. Victor Hugo stands indeed unsurpassed in the ranks of French literature of the nineteenth century. He is a true genius. To compare, as some of his countrymen, or rather, his political enemies do, to compare Victor Hugo with Lamartine as a poet, with - Alexander Dumas as a dramatist, with Eugène Sue as a romance-writer, or with Odilon

Barrot as an orator, would be comparing a Byron with a

Wordsworth, a Shakespeare with a Bulwer, a Walter Scott with a

James, or a Sheridan with an Osborne. Lamartine, that vainest of all authors, and that most hypocritical of all men, relates in his “Voyage in the Orient,”[13] that in his youth he considered it the height of all human greatness for one man to unite in himself the poet’s laurel, the orator’s palm, and the politician’s sceptre. He let us into the secret of his own ambition.

But how signally has that ambition failed! History will scarcely recognise him as an historian; but no doubt the Athenians would have given him the headmastership of a school of rhetoric. Ah! On your rival posterity will confer the honours that you have craved in vain. Yes! Victor Hugo’s is the laurel! I cannot omit extracting the following poetic passage from his last work: —


“We are in Russia, the Neva is frozen over; houses are built on the ice, and heavy chariots roll over it. ‘Tis no longer water, but rock. The people flock up and down this marble, which was once a river. A town is run up, streets are made, shops opened, people buy, sell, eat, drink, sleep, light fires on what once was water. You can do whatever you please there. Fear nothing. Laugh, dance; ‘tis more solid than terra firma. Why, it sounds beneath the foot like granite. Hurrah for the winter! Hurrah for the ice! This will last till doomsday! And look up at the sky; is it day? is it night? what is it? A dull, wan light drags over the snow; why, the sun is dying!

“No, thou art not dying, O liberty! And these days, at the moment when thou art least expected, in the hour when they shall have most utterly forgotten thee, thou wilt rise dazzling! thy radiant face will suddenly be seen issuing from the earth, resplendent in the horizon! Over all that snow, over all that ice, over that hard, white plain, over that water become rock, over all that villainous winter, thou wilt cast thine arrow of gold, thine ardent and effulgent ray! Light, heat, life! and then, listen! hear you that murmuring sound! hear you that cracking noise wide-spread and so formidable! ‘Tis the breaking up of the ice! ‘tis the melting of the Neva! ‘tis the river resuming its course! ‘tis the water, living, joyous, and terrible, upraising the hideous, dead ice, and smashing it. ‘T was granite, said you; see, it splinters like glass! ‘tis the breaking up of the ice, I tell you: ‘tis the truth returning, ‘tis progress recommencing, ‘tis humanity resuming its march, and uprooting, breaking to pieces, carrying off, and burying fathoms deep, and for ever, not merely the brand-new empire of Louis Bonaparte, but all the constructions and all the walls of the antique despotism. Look on these things as they are passing away; they will never return, you will never behold them again. That book, half submerged, is the old code of iniquity; that sinking stool is the throne; that other stool, standing upon it, is the scaffold!

“And for this immense engulfment, this supreme victory of life over death, what was needed? One of thy glories, O sun! one of thy rays, O liberty!”[14]

Yes, Victor Hugo’s is the pàlm of eloquence! His is, also, what is more—the immortelle of the insurgent. He also fought on the barricades of December. But the sceptre of the politician: would that he never thought of aspiring to it; for that we must absolutely deny him, and withhold from his hands. His partisans might entrust him with the leadership of Democracy. Does he not behold the hopeless prostration of that party? His vanity might be flattered by the supposition of a talent which is not given to him. Does he not perceive how it endangers the glory of those talents which really are in his possession? Alas! is it then true that all human greatness—all the heroes and martyrs—all the stars and lumina—find a stone in their road, over which they will stumble! Revel, ye millions! you are rising in the scale; and that makes your great men go down.[15]

Let them all break their necks over this stumbling stone of politics, let them be thrown into the sea, if they cannot devise the riddle of the modern Sphinx—the revolutionary solution of the war of classes.

But I am forgetting Napoleon the Little. The title is well-chosen, if meant to humiliate Louis Bonaparte. Why, then, is it not carried through in the work itself? There was a Napoleon the Great; but Victor Hugo does not show us a litde one. What if this is the work of one man: the dissolution of an assembly—the confiscation of the laws—the suppression of the public liberties—the imprisonment of the representatives—the slaughter of the Republicans—the transportation of thousands—the profanation of religion—the prostitution of justice—the proclamation of a new constitution—the sequestration of the national, and almost the private property—the submission of the proudest nation to his arbitrary pleasure—the restoration of a dynasty, of an Empire: if all this is the work of the one man, as you assert, Mr. Hugo, how can you call him “Litde” in your work? But you do not. On the contrary, except in the title, you everywhere swell his personal dimensions to the most enormous bulk of a liar, a swindler, a perjurer, an assassin, it is true; but when you thus place him by the side of Nero, Attila, Jenghiz Khan, or King Bomba,[16] you cannot affirm, in the same breath, that he is the “Little.” With all your brilliant parallels you do not obtain that object. Had you shown that for instance the Assembly was already dead and decayed, when buried by Bonaparte; that the laws had ever been suspended and confiscated; that a systematic suppression of the public liberties had actually left little for the dictator to add; that your representatives were accustomed to imprisonment and transportation, by the same parties who had ever slaughtered your republicans; that religion had profaned itself on every occasion as an instrument of governmental oppression; that justice had proclaimed its prostitution in your High-Courts of May and your Courts-Martial of June,[17] in short, that your whole middle-class rule and bourgeois society was already rotten from top to bottom, smelling of bribery and corruption as much as the soldiery who kicked it from its pedestal, were smelling of brandy and sausages—then you might have justly called him “little” whose name only, not his person, was necessary at the head of a coup d’état effected by the last desperate exertions of the army, the priesthood, the functionaries and the mob, to save themselves from their inevitable destruction by the approaching revolution of the working-class, to which they felt themselves exposed by the weakness and incapacity of a parliamentary bourgeoisie. Then what remained for Bonaparte? To make himself the instrument of the situation. To command a situation is greatness. To obey one is littleness. There you would have reduced him to his proper dimensions. You would not have made such a noise of his oath—was he not as dependent, as “little,” in breaking it, as he was in taking it? Then the title of your book would have indeed been to the purpose. Nevertheless, one admires your parallels.

“Peter the Cruel massacred, but he did not steal; Henry III assassinated, but he did not swindle; Timour Beg crushed children under horses’ hoofs, much as M. Bonaparte exterminated women and old men on the Boulevard, but he did not tell lies.”

No. 3[edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 24, October 16, 1852][edit source]

Having shown that the principal error of V. Hugo consists in ascribing the whole turn of events, before and after the 2nd of Dec, to the policy and conduct of an individual, L. Bonaparte, it becomes incumbent on me, further to develop the causes which necessarily led our author to such a fallacy. Reasoning from general principles—the general principles of society, laid down by the ruling classes and embodied in their very creeds, Victor Hugo judges from an erroneous point of view; he sees in the man the motive power, instead of seeking for it in class interests, class antagonism, and class revolution, while the man is the mere temporary exponent of the change—as the weathercock betokens the direction of the wind.

Victor Hugo belongs to a class who thus look on the effect as the cause—on the instrument as the hand that uses it. In that class, certainly there are those who denounce the inequalities and horrors of the present system with a violence and a declamatory force often superior to the expressions of the very revolutionary class itself. To hear them one would believe that they are more socialist than the whole of the working class. And what are they in fact? They are reactionary. I shall not call them knaves; perhaps they are unconscious of the real tendency of their doctrines and actions, although in our present age illusions are hardly possible to men, who live in contact with the actual world. But most certainly are they the dupes of the class notions, instilled into their minds as the general principles of social life. Incapable of conceiving that such gregarious phrases as “Liberty of the individual,” “Industry,””Prosperity,” and “Humanity,” proclaimed at the outset of our modern age, are just the promises under which all the results of middle-class society were necessarily brought about, they fancy those results to be all the faults of the moral degeneration of the governments, to whose care the development of the social principles had been trusted. And such is particularly the case with Victor Hugo. In his eyes the principles of present social government are right, and the men to be blamed. That is the opinion of all moralising middle-class reformers. Whatever there is wrong and perverted, pernicious and deleterious, it is the fault of the individuals—and the classes who support those individuals? Oh, they never think of classes. Far from them the misanthropical conception of a society composed of classes and ruled by class-interests. “Mend your morals, nations, and your governments will be perfect.” Such is their motto. They always treat the people as a whole, address it as a whole, suppose them of the same creed, with one common conscience, with one universal opinion. Take that for granted, and those men would seem the greatest (would-be) benefactors of humanity, the initiators of a new era, the restorers of the paradise lost. Drive them from this ground, show the people that there is neither a community of morals, nor of conscience, nor of opinion ever possible between different classes with opposed interests, that the institutions of a class produce not only with necessity those facts over which our philanthropists lament, but also the men, whom they accuse of all the mischievous arrangements in the body politic—and from the dignity of demi-gods you reduce them to the nullity of sham-prophets. Deprive V. Hugo of these garments, which style, eloquence and poetry have spread over his work, all that remains is a moral sermon, full of vituperations of the Lord, and of reproach to the middle class, preached to poor peasants who are not a bit wiser for it, neither how it came that they fell into the hands of the former, nor how they will ever be able to escape the grasp of the latter.

No. 4[edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 25, October 23, 1852][edit source]



In suppressing the greater part of my last letter, you have, no doubt, followed such considerations of policy as, under existing circumstances, I can scarcely object to. I have now arrived, in the series of my critical remarks, at the last production of an author who has acquired a considerable reputation on the continent for the “boldness” of his opinions, and is sometimes considered by English middle-class writers as the very incarnation of the revolutionary Socialism in France, but whose only real merit consists, as I shall prove, in the severe, but true judgment which he has passed on all the hollow conceptions of plain Republicanism and of formal Democracy. The sarcasm with which he has attacked and exposed both the political leaders and literary notabilities of the said parties have merited for him the surname of the “Mephisto” of the French Democracy. As it is possible that the meaning of this epithet may not be generally understood by your readers, I think it expedient to give a short explanation of it. There exists an old German legend, long familiarised to the English by Marlowe,[19] but universally divulged in the matchless tragedy of Goethe,[20] in which the vague ideal aspirations of man towards an imaginary state of perfection, are ingeniously parodied by the materialist and practical suggestions of the spirit of the world (Mephisto), with whom the hero, Faust, has concluded an indissoluble treaty of union. Faust, a philosopher, or “black artist,” as the medieval legend says, full of wild dreams, conceived in seclusion and ignorance of human society, calls upon the spirit who has the control of the material world, to assist him in the realisation of his visionary schemes of perfection. Mephisto then acquaints him with the realities of life. But the more Faust becomes conversant with our common world, the more he believes to approach the accomplishment of his ardent desire of perfection by an accumulation of sensual pleasures, the more also does he lose recollection of his first proud conceptions, and the more he descends from the height of moral elevation; until, after a variety of adventures and experiences, in all of which he is attended by Mephisto, the witness and merciless scorner of his weaknesses and vacillations, our “noble, aspiring, and generous” Faust, turns out to be of the same low, degenerate, and egotistical nature of which he had thought himself to be the most competent reformer, and the most opposite example. Substitute for the “noble” Faust a “noble” Democracy, and you may not improperly call Proudhon its Mephisto, in so far as he has, indeed, not only recorded and urged all the manifold deceptions and weaknesses of the French Democracy, but treated with the severest scorn its hyperbolical pretensions and its ridiculous ambition. And that part he has performed ever since the Democrats in the Provisional Government had manifested their incapacity, and the Republicans in the National Assembly enacted their reactionary formalism in the Constitution of 1848. While arguing against the former, that raised upon the shoulders of Revolution, which, if it means anything at all, has for its invariable object “the displacement of the previously commanding interests of the substitution of a government for the benefit of the oppressed classes,” they left all the enemies of progress in the undisturbed possession of the strongholds of society, such as the army, the administration, the church, the courts, and the police, and thus allowed them the means of organising their counter-revolutionary crusade. Proudhon crushes the Republican party by sarcastically demonstrating how their great formula of liberty—their “pure and sublime” Democracy obtained its practical realisation only by the slaughter of almost a whole class, and through the establishment of a military dictatorship, placed in the hands of General Cavaignac. But the best of his arguments he has spared for the refutation of the dogma of Universal Suffrage, and on this ground he has given the most deadly blow to the French sham Democracy. I recollect very well the attempts once made to persuade the people of England likewise, that Universal Suffrage alone was in itself the cure of all the social iniquities under which they are suffering, and that, at a certain time, it was held almost a sacrilege or a blasphemy to talk of Social Rights, or the Labour Question. Happily they have learnt that, far from being the definitive end of political development, it is only the first decisive step in the revolutionary direction, the piece of ground necessary for the organisation of their army, the open field in which the hitherto disguised war of classes can at last be fairly fought out, the means in a word, and not the end, of the people’s emancipation. But how much are we indebted for this knowledge to the experiments which, for want of our own experience, the French nation has made on behalf of the whole world, and of which that nation itself could hardly be expected to reap the fruits, if it had not, on the denunciation of Blanqui and other revolutionary leaders, ceased at last to believe in the fatal delusion into which Democracy has led them by representing Universal Suffrage as the magic rod, that has only to be once applied, when the treasures of a new social paradise would be thrown open to the world.

It cannot be said that Proudhon was the first who discovered and exposed the insufficiency of the suffrage to effect the social enfranchisement of the people. As early as April, 1848, Blanqui, then at the head of the Paris proletarians, had the conviction that the result of the first general elections[21] would be the formation of a reactionary assembly, and he urged the Provisional Government to defer the time appointed for those elections, in order to gain the means of better influencing them by the organisation of revolutionary committees, the only condition as he then pointed out, under which the suffrage would be made a weapon in the hands of the people. Thus he indicated already, in opposition to the official Democracy, that he considered Universal Suffrage as a mere instrument of class-warfare which might be turned to advantage if used in the proper way, but which he declared might as well be employed for the purposes of any particular party in power. His views were confirmed by subsequent events, and as he was decided to carry the victory of Revolution in spite of all imposed sham legal decrees, he endeavoured to break up the very National Assembly, which was the first manifestation of Universal Suffrage. The 15th of May was a failure and Blanqui went to prison,[22] while Proudhon profited in safety by this lesson and restricted himself to protesting in the Press against the suffrage, as a political fiction. His peaceful remonstrance, however, did not save him from a similar fate, and he also went into prison for three years, whence he has now come forth, resuming with laudable vigour his former attacks. As it happens, that on this subject Proudhon, although still from a mere theoretical point of view, concurs in the arguments of the revolutionary party, I give you the whole passage on the Suffrage, contained in his last work; observing that if the argumentation itself necessarily leads to extreme conclusions, his language will be found to lack that spirit and decision which would betray in every work, however disguised and moderate the author might have been obliged to be in his phraseology, from considerations of policy, the man of a determined principle—the man of Revolution.

Proudhon excuses himself, that writing as it were under the jealous eyes of a dictator, he could not allow himself to indulge in using such strong expressions as would expose him at once as the most terrible champion of Revolution. I think, however, that he has, nevertheless, said everything in this work as determinedly as he could have intended to do under any circumstances, seeing that those passages in which he endeavours, by an occasional flattering supposition, to captivate the indulgence of Louis Napoleon’s censorship, have altogether nothing to do with, and interrupt in no wise, the strain of his observations. At any rate M. Proudhon could never make me believe him to be a decided champion of Revolution, when I remember him to have always been the loudest where nobody was in the field besides himself, and no immediate measure to be proposed to the people; and to have almost disappeared or entirely plunged himself into doctrinary expositions where a real revolutionary act was to be committed.

While Blanqui was leading the Proletarians onwards, to the direct destruction of the class obstacles that stood in the way of the people’s enfranchisement, Proudhon went about preaching the wonderful blessings of petty co-operation; and when the terrible defeat of June had removed, with the best and bravest part of their army, the whole claims of the working class, Proudhon started up in the middle-class Assembly, and proposed the abolition of property. But of the nature of this proposition, and of the particular Socialist doctrine which makes up the chief contents of Proudhon’s literary publications, I shall treat in my next letter. Here is the above-mentioned passages on Universal Suffrage[23]:

“It is just the republicans who, on the authority of the most suspicious traditions, have always repeated that the voice of the People is the voice of God. Then it is the voice of God that has elected Louis Napoleon! By the expression of the popular will he is your true and legitimate Sovereign. And to whom would you expect that the people should have given their votes? You have entertained them with 1789, with ‘92 and ‘93: the people have retained nothing but the legend of the Empire. In the memory of the people the Empire has wiped out the Republic. Do they remember Count Mirabeau, Robespierre, their ‘Ami du Peuple,’ Marat, or the Père

Duchesne’ (the journal of the Jacobins)? The people know only the good God and the Emperor, as they once knew but the good God and Charlemagne. It is in vain that you have preached the Rights of Man, or that you made a monarch swear to respect the Republic as above Universal Suffrage. The people only recognise the rights of force.

“And you are defeated in virtue of your own principles. You have been defeated because, relying on Rousseau and the most detestable orators of 1793, you would not acknowledge that monarchy is just the direct and inevitable product of popular spontaneity; because, after having abolished the government by the Grace of God, you have pretended to establish,by means of another fiction, a government by the Grace of the People; because, instead of making yourselves the educators of the multitude you have made yourselves its slaves. You, the same as the masses, required visible manifestations, palpable symbols, puppets in a word. Having chased a king from the throne you placed the mob in his stead, without conceiving that that was just the root from which, sooner or later, would spring up a new crown, the onion which would generate the ‘lily.’ [The lily is the emblem of Legitimate Monarchy in France.] Scarcely delivered of one idol you must already create a new one, resembling therein those soldiers of Titus who, after the taking of the Temple of Jerusalem, could not withhold their surprise at discovering in the Jewish sanctuary neither statues, nor oxen, nor asses, nor phalluses, nor wenches. They could not conceive an invisible Jehovah. Thus you could not conceive Liberty without chamberlains.

“May these severe remarks be pardoned to an author who has performed so often the part of Cassandra. [A high priestess of the Trojans who predicted the fall of their city.] I do not accuse Democracy as little as I mean to inveigh against the vote which has renewed the mandate of Louis Napoleon. But it is time that this sect of sham-revolutionary men should at once disappear who, speculating more on the agitation than on the instruction of the people, on handstrokes more than on ideas, have made themselves the courtiers of the multitude, and become the most dangerous blockers-up of the revolution.

“Who has named the Constituent Assembly, swarming with Legitimatist dynasties, nobles, generals, and prelates? Universal Suffrage. Who has made the 10th of December, 1848?[24] Universal Suffrage. Who has elected the Legislative Assembly? Universal Suffrage. And who has absolved Bonaparte of his coup d’état? Universal Suffrage.

“May it not be said also, that it was Universal Suffrage which commenced the reaction of the 16th of April,[25] which eclipsed itself behind the back of Barbes on the 15th of May, which remained deaf to the appeal of the 13th of June,[26] which allowed the passing of the law of the 31st of May,[27] which crossed arms on the 2nd of December.[28]

“In thus accusing the suffrage, I repeat that I do not intend to attack the established Constitution and the principle of the present government. I have myself defended the suffrage as a constitutional right, and the law of the state; and as it once exists, I do not demand its suppression; but let it be instructed and organised. To the philosopher, however, it must be permitted to argue, for the explanation of history and the information of the future, that Universal Suffrage given to a people of so neglected an education as ours, far from being the instrument of progress, is only the stumbling-block of liberty.

“Poor, inconsequent democrats! You made philippic speeches against tyranny, preached the respect of every nationality, the free exercise of the people’s sovereignty; you were ready to take up arms to defend against everybody all those sublime and incontestable doctrines.—And with what right, if Universal Suffrage was your rule, did you suppose that the Russian nation felt the least uncomfortable under their Czar; that the Polish, Hungarian, Lombard, and Tuscan peasants were sobbing for their emancipation; that the Lazzaroni hated their King Bomba, and the Trasteverians[29] abhorred Monsignor Antonelli; that the Spaniards and Portuguese blushed for their Queens, Donna Maria and Isabella, when our own people, in spite of the appeal of their representatives, in spite of the written law of the Constitution, in spite of the bloodshed and the merciless proscription, from fear, ignorance, constraint or affection (you may choose), give 7,600,000 votes to the man the most detested by Democracy, whom it believed to have ruined, demolished and used up by a three-years exposure to ridicule, insults, and hatred, when the people make this man a dictator, and Emperor?”[30]

[No. 5][edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 27, November 6, 1852][edit source]

While that Assembly of Bonapartist lackeys, called the Senate of France, is deliberating on the ceremonies by which the long expected Empire shall be ushered in at last, and the official world at Paris is all given up to conjectures about the manner of the coronation, the prince’s marriage, the probable succession, &c, I shall take advantage of the leisure thus left to my pen, and, turning my back to those “important events” which furnish the gossiping middle-class papers with inexhaustible stuff for small talk, I continue to-day my review on Proudhon’s last work. We have seen Proudhon criticising the actions and political systems of the different Republican parties in France; let us now become, in our turn, the critics of his own system. A few words only may be said before, on the career of an author who is yet so little known in England.

Proudhon is a native of Besançon, a town which is perspicuous for the number of eminent men it has sent forth, among whom the names of Victor Hugo and Béranger stand in the first rank. The son of a poor vine-grower, his means for obtaining a good education were but scanty; but thanks to the energy of his character, he had no sooner grown up, and secured a situation for himself as printer, than he began to make up the gaps in his knowledge by strenuously applying himself to the study of languages, of history, and of political economy. Proudhon is altogether an autodidact (self-taught),and as such he shares largely in that quality of tenaciously sticking to his first conceptions, so common to the whole of this class of people. It is curious to observe how regularly he relapses into those errors which his critics have so often exposed, and of which it would seem as if he had sometimes become conscious himself.

Napoleon, the uncle of course, has invented a term for such people which marvellously applies to M. Proudhon. He called them “ideologues”—an expression by which he meant to embrace all those speculative minds, philosophers and politicians, who standing aloof from the real movement of history, incapable or unwilling to take any active part therein, or to fill out any practical mission, still wanted to prescribe to the historical process the laws according to which it had to enact itself. Those philosophers, it must be said, deserved by no means the contempt in which they were held by Napoleon, who esteemed but two qualities in man: military genius and administrative talents. They are often superior observers of facts and admirable critics of past events; their weakness consists only in this: that they understand not to draw just conclusions such as correspond to the premises so well defined by them. In their proposed solutions they invariably substitute the arbitrary decrees of speculation to the force of circumstances, to the decisions of the combating elements, to the material power, from which in reality not only the motive force but also the direction can alone be derived. Materialists in their judgment of the past they fall back in the fathomless depths of idealism, of Utopianism, the moment they endeavour to indicate, or rather to fix the constitution of the future. And what is the cause of this error? Merely this: that our “ideologues,” correct in their view of the past, by comparing the facts themselves with their representation in thought, neglect to secure for their conjectures on the future that same measure of comparison, which can exclusively guarantee the justice of human conceptions. And this comes because they either take their stand on the ground of a party or class which by its very conditions can have no future, or, what is more generally the case, because they pretend to keep themselves apart from all the actual parties, and to anticipate by speculation the solution of a problem which can only result from the co-operation or rather the conflict of those very parties. They conceive history as a mathematical problem, a sum of equations. Thus they conceive the possibility of calculating it on paper. The elements known are put in their respective order, a line is drawn, and the result is found without difficulty. But is it thus in reality? Are there any conflicts recorded by history which have proven their decision through the decree of a philosopher, the idea of an individual? Are they all decided by their mere force of an idea? They are decided by men, their solution is given by the triumph of a political class. That is what our “ideologues,” including M. Proudhon, overlook.

Let us examine the “solution” offered by Proudhon. There is undoubtedly a conflict of antagonistic interest—a war of classes — existing in all European societies, consequently also in France. That conflict will lead to some final result; the war must end in the triumph of one or the other parties. Translate this into the language of Proudhon: “There is a problem,—hanging over modern society, a problem which must find its definitive solution. That solution is the social revolution of the 19th century.” Ah, a revolutionary solution you will say. Then Proudhon is our man? Stop! stop! You think Proudhon would leave the solution of his “problem” to the action of a party, do you? He keeps that for himself; his is to remain the merit of having discovered the philosopher’s stone. That solution is contained in the idea of the social revolution. And what is that idea? “The elements of the problem are given by our history.” Let us resume them. What is the actual situation of France? In the first place the state is composed of:—[31]

“First, an organised clergy, numbering about 50,000 priests, and as many individuals of both sexes living in the various religious establishments; having at their disposition a capital of three hundred millions of francs, exclusive of the churches, the ecclesiastical estates, forming the private property of the priests, the produce of indulgences, the proceeds of collections, &c, an organ of public morality, presumed to be indispensable, and the more powerful, as its influence is secretly and privately exercised within the precincts of domestic life.

“Second, an army of 400,000 men, disciplined, stripped of all family ties, trained in the contempt of the National Guard, entirely at the command of the Executive, and alone considered to be able to defend so as to keep down the nation.

“Third, a centralised administration, ministers of the police, of public instruction, of the state-works, the taxes, the customs, the domains, numbering upwards of 500,000 functionaries in the salary of the state; holding in its dependence, directly or indirectly, every industry, arts, extending its power over all persons and things, governing and administrating everything, and leaving no other care to the taxpayers, but to produce and pay their rates.

“Fourth, a magistracy, hierarchically organised, and influencing by its inevitable arbitration every social relation, every private interest, Court of Cassation, Court of Appeal, Civil and Commercial Tribunals, Justice of the Peace, etc., all in perfect understanding with the Church, the Administration, the Police and the Army.”

As to the nation, it is divided into

“First, the bourgeoisie—that class which comprehends all people living on the revenues of their capital, on their rents, official privileges, places and sinecures, more than on the fruits of their industry. The modern bourgeoisie,thus classified, forms a sort of aristocracy of capital and money, analogous to the ancient aristocracy of birth, by their riches as well as by the extent of their patronage; disposing of the bank, the railways, the mines, the insurances, the great industry, the wholesale commerce, and having for the basis of their operations a public and a hypotheticary debt of 1,000 millions of pounds.

“Second, the small middle class, composed of speculators, masters, shopkeepers, cultivators and professional men, etc., living much more on their personal produce than on their capital, privileges, or property, but distinguishing themselves from the proletarians by this, that they work for their own account and on their own risks, and enjoy for themselves the profits of their industry.

“Third, the working class, or proletarians, living on their wages, and having no economical or industrial initiative, thus fully deserving the name of a mercenary or salaried mass.

“The country has a population of thirty-six millions of inhabitants. Its annual produce is valued at 9,000 millions of francs, one-fourth of which goes off for the maintenance of the State, the Church and other unproductive or parasitic functions; another fourth falls under the tide of interest, rent, agio, commission, etc., to the share of the bourgeoisie; which leaves for the working class, including the small middle class, an average revenue or salary of forty-one centimes (31/2 d.) per head and per diem, but which in some extreme cases falls short of fifteen centimes (11/4 d.) per day.”

Here is a picture of the actual situation of France—which, for its exactitude and striking features, can scarcely be surpassed. Here

Proudhon has collected all the elements that make up the groundwork, the foundation of the real social revolution. Now, what is the conclusion he draws from these premises?[32]

[No. 6][edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 28, November 13, 1852][edit source]

“If the nation is thus divided into three natural categories (mark the expression!) one of which has for its formula: wealth and unproductive consumption; the other: industry, commerce and enterprise, free, but without guarantee; the third: absolute submission and progressive misery; the problem of the revolution is simply to dissolve the first and the third classes in the second, the extremes in the middle, and thereby to effect, that all, without exception, shall enjoy an equal proportion of capital, labour, exchange, liberty and well-being. In this consists the operation of the century, the objects, still so little understood, of Socialism.”[33]

Here the “ideologue” becomes at once visible. The elements of the historical process are changed into the elements of an arithmetical sum; the classes become abstract “categories”—and the result, the conclusion is no longer dependent on the action of the principal and original elements, but on their arbitrary arrangement by the pencil of the calculator. The arithmetical means is substituted for the historical solution of the “problem” of reality. A stroke of his pencil is the touch of the new magic rod, by which Mr. Proudhon discovers at once the secret of the social revolution. The small middle class is henceforth the cardinal point of society! Decidedly every man must be made a shopkeeper! for this end. What has to be done? Why the political power must be entrusted to the shopkeepers; credit, the distribution of labour, the entire organisation of the community must be put into their hands—and they Will give every man the means of placing himself in their class, the bourgeois as well as the proletarian. A nice solution that—on paper! If it could but be made accepted by the world? Let us see.

Will the bourgeois, the great mill owner, the banker, the 10,000 acres proprietor, the railway millionaire, the cotton growing slaveholder, the rich speculator, will these people accept Proudhon’s theory, and modestly forswear their palace-like counting houses for the desk of a small shopkeeper? Will the proletarians, on the other hand, who have learned to appreciate the miraculous force of associated labour, in their great factories and workshops, will they renounce those immense means of production, and of their definitive emancipation, when once theirs, for the idyllic pictures of a ten acres freehold, or a £10 household? Suppose they would, Mr. Proudhon, is that the social solution of the nineteenth century? Why, man, you are behind your time; you are an anachronism. What you preach as a new theory, is an old worn-out fact—it is the solution attempted by the eighteenth century, executed in your own country. Did not 1789 give every peasant his ten acres of land?—were not your shopkeepers and burghers of the towns in possession of their £10 household?—was not liberty the great formula of 1793, the well-being of all the eternal phrases of your “Rights of man” constitutions? Whence, then, came the bourgeois and the proletarian? whence arose these extremes, but just from that middle, your small middle class, invested with the sovereign disposition of the national interests? And you propose to begin the same thing again! Because you have not learned your lesson, you would make the whole nation repeat their task. Strange philosopher, still stranger initiator of the social revolution of the nineteenth century. Like causes, like effects. Liberty of the individual to dispose over his capital and his labour—and concentration of wealth in the hands of the stranger and the more cunning or clever,— “Credit shall be given equally to all,” very good. But can that be done at once? What is credit? The permission to use a portion of the accumulated labour, say the capital, of another man, or the state, if you like, for productive purposes, against the payment of interest, discount, &c.

Now, is the capital accumulated, even supposing it to be in the possession of individuals, of a class, is that capital sufficiently large to put every man on a shopkeeper’s or small cultivator’s footing, by dividing it into equal portions? That is the question,[34] sir, if you have any notions of credit, is it not? Then how will you proceed? You will give credit to as many as possible. Very well, they will get an advance on those that are provisionally left to look to their wages—labour for an existence. There is the proletarian. Ah, but afterwards, with the reflux of the first lent-out capital, you will afford the proletarians the same credit, and draw them from their slavery. Well, supposing that the population had not increased faster than the accumulation of capital, under your provisions, is it you that decides upon the question of extending the public credit, or is it the class into whose hands you have once, in the beginning, placed the capital? And do you think that class, once materially and economically constituted as such, would not keep the capital of the nation for itself, the more so as they are also entrusted by you with the political power? Acknowledge then, that the proletarians will get no credit; their social enfranchisement does not take place. There is one point. Now, it is obvious, that amongst the capital-holding class, cleverness, invention, ability, force, fraud, and competition, will in time mark out some palpable destructions; the one fraction will get the greater part of the capital into their hands, or the whole of the credit under their control. There is the bourgeoisie. There then you would have, after a similar lapse of time, perhaps at the beginning of the twentieth century, arrived again at the starting point of another “Social Revolution,” and another Proudhon might again come forth and propose, for the third time, the same solution. The people, Mr. Proudhon, thank you for this prospect; they will even listen with pleasure to your stricture of other systems, but believe me they will never accept your own.

[No. 7][edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 32, December 11, 1852][edit source]


It is a very remarkable phenomenon that all the French authors, who have favoured the contemporary world with their accounts of the late coup d’état, and to whom not only the consequences but also the origin of that event might be supposed to be best known, have failed in the attempt to explain its real causes; while a German writer, who was himself but a distant observer of the progress of events in France, has given not merely the first, but the only competent version of the history of the Bonapartist Usurpation. This is a truly surprising fact. It might perhaps be thought, that the very circumstance of the author’s absence from France had enabled him to take up a more impartial point of view, from which to judge of the character of the situation and the conduct of parties; but we are soon convinced, that such is not the case. No one has shown less of that objective impartiality, which is so wrongly supposed by many people to be the most important requisite in a historian. Such impartiality is simply a fiction, never to be met with in reality; and happily not—for to whom, except to the author himself, could it give satisfaction? Thus it is not his independence from party principles and party views, that has given the power to Mr. Marx of satisfactorily accounting for the causes and effects of the events he records, but rather the correctness of the method and the justice of the principles, which he has followed in his work. The secret of his success, to speak in plain terms, is his adhesion to a party, that was not immediately involved in the struggle, and yet, by its conditions, its growing and indestructible power, and by its future, must finally become the supreme arbiter of all the incidental quarrels and alternative defeats and triumphs of which the official history of the latter days in France is composed. The revolutionary party of the working class disappeared from the political stage with the insurrection of June, 1848. From that time they became the mere witnesses of the historical drama in which all other parties remained engaged: Legitimists, Orleanists, Bonapartists, Republicans, and Democratic Socialists. Consequently, they were the only independent judges of all the errors, faults, “crimes”, &c, committed by each of the said fractions.

Let me now briefly state the argument, why it has not been possible to the representatives of any other party, than that of the revolutionary proletariat, to pronounce a sound and true judgment on the character of the last historical epoch in France. Who are the Legitimists? The representatives of the great landed property, the aristocracy of the soil. And who are the Orleanists? The representatives of commerce, the aristocracy of money. Was it for either of them to confess: Our rule has been upset by the moneyed interest in 1830—and ours by the labour interests in 1848; having succeeded by the combination of our mutual power to grasp again on the political domination, the necessity of our class position, the contingencies of the social struggle compelled us so to strengthen and centralise the resources of the executive, placing it in the hands of a single individual, that it was but the natural and inevitable result of our exertions, if this individual has afterwards deprived us of our prerogative and made himself an absolute dictator and Emperor?

Both Legitimists and Orleanists comprehended that, this being the only manner in which their defeat could have been accounted for, it would be better for them to hold their tongues. This they have done. Not so the Republicans, the Democrats, as well as the Democratic Socialists.But what expedient remained to them? History, the history of the human race, its development under the different social constitutions, is no less a physical process, a series of changes, dissolutions, formations, reformations, revolutions, as the history of our globe with its constantly changing and ever returning phenomena of revolution, change of matter, seasons, &c, &c. As there is not one of the manifestations of this permanent physical change which, even if it cannot be traced by our understanding to its immediate source, does not depend on some particular cause so also is there no event, no circumstance in the affairs of the body of a nation, without its necessary preceding impulse. Nowhere do we behold any miracles, nor casualties; nay, as the elements of the social phenomena are all known to us, open to investigation, subject to experience, they are just the very thing of which a full and circumstantial account can, in every instance, be given, unless prejudice or interest blind man’s observation. This was the case with the Republicans, who tried everything in order to avoid arriving at conclusions which would have no longer permitted them to advocate interests without the conditions of vitality, and to profess principles of demonstrated importance. Rather than do so, they have preferred to misrepresent reality, to understate their actual defeat, to exaggerate the individual merits of their enemy, in short, to falsify history by the substitution of accidents, casualties and enormities to the simple laws of effects and causes, the law of necessity.

From the point of view of the revolutionary proletarians, no such deception was possible; no historical fraud could have been intended; and this being the stand, Mr. Marx has not only occupied in the present work, but which he has filled so eminently in all his critical labours: he, the representative of the revolutionary theory of the working-class movements, the literary pilot of the most advanced fraction of European Democracy, he has also shown himself the best historian of the Presidency, Dictature, and Empire of Louis Bonaparte.

[No. 8][edit source]

[The People's Paper, No. 33, December 18, 1852][edit source]

In this article Eccarius sets forth the contents of Chapter I of Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in some places almost literally. Further he cites a long quotation in his own translation, embracing, except for one paragraph, the concluding part of this chapter (see this volume, pp. 106-12). Eccarius' translation differs from that accepted in modern English publications and from the translation in this volume. The use of italics in the passage quoted by Eccarius does not coincide with that in the original.

The first chapter of this book, which may be considered as its programme, begins with contrasting the character of the revolution of 1789 with that of 1848. The former was the work of the middle class, the latter announced itself as the revolution of the working class; the former was victorious through the energies and conscience of their objects possessed by its originators; the latter turned out a failure, through the indecision and ignorance of its leaders as well as of the masses. A social revolution was to be made. Nobody knew how. What else could be possible but that people looked back for guidance to the pages of past history? So they tried alternately a National Assembly, declared a Republic, established a Dictature, received the Convention, created another Napoleon. They had only drawn up so many caricatures of a dead epoch, the spirit of which was gone. But have these experiments been useless, or what lesson, yet indispensable towards the completion of their education, have the working classes learned by them?

The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin by itself, until stripped of all superstitious veneration of the past. Former revolutions needed the recollections of history, in order to deceive themselves as to their object. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead,[36] in order to arrive at a clear perception of its own ends and purposes. There the phrase overstepped the object, here the object far oversteps the phrase.

The Revolution of February, 1848, was a surprise of the governmental stronghold of existing society, and the people proclaimed this unhoped-for coup-de-main as a first-rate historical event by which a new epoch was to be opened. On the 2nd of Decembe r the revolution of February is lost by the volte of a political cheat at cards; an d society, instead of having conquered the basis for a new stage of historical development, seems only to have restored the state in its most obsolete form, the simple and impuden t rule of sword and priest-gown.

Time , however, has not passed away without fruit. French society, durin g the years 1848-51, has mad e up—following an abridging because revolutionary method, for those studies and experiences which, in the ordinary and regular course of things, ought to have preceded the revolution of February, if that revolution was to have been something mor e than a mer e superficial shock. Society seems n ow to have stepped back beyond its point of departure : but, in reality, it had first to create the revolutionary point of issue, the situation, the circumstances, and the conditions in which alone moder n Revolution becomes serious.

Middle-class revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, rapidly storm from conquest to conquest; their dramati c efforts surpass each other; me n and things appea r as if surrounde d by a halo of radiating fire; ecstasy is the spirit of every day. But they are short-living—they soon reach their zenith: and a long apathy seizes upo n society before it soberly learns to appropriat e the results of the heroic intoxication of its youthful epoch. Proletarian revolutions, like that of the nineteenth century, on the contrary, continually interrupt their own course, sceptically criticise their own performances, retur n periodically to what they appea r to have already completed, in orde r to d o it over again; they rail at the inconsistencies, frailties, contemptibilities of their own first experiments with the merciless superiority of gained experience; they seem to prostrate their antagonist only that h e may draw, Antaeus-like, new strength from the earth, an d rise again the mor e gigantically before them; every momen t they recoil before the indefinite, monstrous grandeu r of their own objects, till that situation has arrived wher e retreat is n o longer possible; and circumstances themselves impose their

“Hi e Rhodus! hie salta!

Her e is Rhodus! come and dance! “ [37][38]

I regret that want of space, and the necessity of putting a term to my reflections on the general literature on the coup d’état, prevent us from dwelling at greate r length on the review of Mr. Marx’s particular work, which contains, besides its historical pages, such a picture on the actual condition of the different classes in France, chiefly of the peasantry, as I have not met with in any other place.

I have already said, that the Insurrection of June was the turning point of the tide of Revolution in 1848. Consequently that event must contain in its germs the original and last explanation of all subsequent history, including the coup d’état and the proclamation of another Empire. Let us see if our author has successfully argued this idea. I again extract his own words, touching the changed aspect of a class-struggle, after the defeat of the working class.

“After this defeat, the proletarians attempt, indeed, to step forward, every time that the movement appears to take a fresh start; but their efforts become gradually weaker, and the results more insignificant. As soon as one of the higher strata of society passes into revolutionary fermentation, they combine with it, and thus share all the defeats suffered in succession by the respective parties. But these subsequent blows become less severe the more they extend over the whole surface of society. The more prominent leaders of the working class in the assembly and in the press fall, each in its turn, the victims of the courts of law, and more and more equivocal individuals appear at their head. A portion of them throw themselves into doctrinary experiments, such as labour exchange, banks and co-operative associations,[39] and thus engage in a new movement where they renounce the attempt to overthrow the whole world by appropriating and putting in movement its own great resources, labouring instead to effect their emancipation privately and clandestinely behind the back, so to say, of society, and within the narrow limits prescribed by their actual condition. In this they, of course, are defeated. They seem neither to recover from their own energies, their past revolutionary grandeur, nor do they appear likely to gain new energy from their alliance with other classes, until all those classes against which they fought in June, be prostrate aside of them. They, however, do not fall without the honours of the grand historical battle; not only France—all Europe trembles under the earthquake of June, while the subsequent victories over the higher classes’[40] are so cheaply bought, as to require the most impudent exaggeration on the part of the conqueror, in order to pass as anything like events, and turn out the more ignominiously the more remote the vanquished class stands from the proletariat.[41]

“All classes and all parties’[42] had fused themselves into the one Party of Order, in opposition to the proletariat, the party of Anarchy, of Socialism, and of Communism. They had saved society from ‘the enemies of society’. They had given out the watchwords of bourgeois society: ‘Property, Family, Religion, and Order,’ to the army, and encouraged the counter-revolutionary crusade by the sacramental words: ‘In hoc signo vinces!,[43]

“From this moment, as often as any one of the numerous parties that had ranged themselves under this sign against the insurgents of June, ventures to contest the revolutionary battle-field on the grounds of its own separate class interests it succumbs to the cry of ‘Property, Family, Religion, and Order.’ Society is saved as often as the number of its rulers is diminished by the victory of a more exclusive interest over wider and more general interests. Every demand of simple, middle-class financial reform, of ordinary liberalism—of mere Republican formalism and etiquette—of common-place Democracy, is at once branded as an ‘attack upon society’, and stigmatised as ‘Socialism’. And, finally, the high priests of the religion of order[44] themselves are kicked from their Pythian stools, carried away from their beds in the depth of night, thrown into prison vans, incarcerated, and exiled; their temple levelled to the ground—their mouths gagged—their pens broken—their laws torn to pieces—in the name of ‘Religion, of Order, of Property, and of Family.’[45] ‘Respectable’ capitalists, themselves fanatics of order,[46] are shot down from their balconies by a drunken soldiery—the sanctity of their families profanated—their houses bombarded for pastime, in the name of’Religion, of Family, of Order, and of Property.’[47] The lowest caste of all society[48] in the end, forms the sacred phalanx of order; and the hero, Crapulinski,* triumphantly enters the Tuileries as the ‘saviour of society’.”

  1. This law adopted by the Legislative Assembly abolished universal suffrage.— F.d.
  2. Louis Bonaparte.— Ed.
  3. At the end of September 1852 the French police declared that an infernal machine had been discovered in Marseilles with which the conspirators wanted to kill Louis Bonaparte, who at the time was touring the South of France. The public regarded this communication as a crude farce providing an additional pretext for proclaiming Louis Bonaparte emperor.
  4. An allusion to Victor Hugo's book.—Ed
  5. The reference is to Proudhon's work.—Ed.
  6. This refers to Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.—Ed.
  7. Xavier Durrieu, Le coup d'état de Louis Bonaparte, Genève et New York, [1852].—Ed
  8. See Note 107.
  9. The reference is to a pamphlet by Granier de Cassagnac, Récit populaire des événements de décembre 1851, Paris, 1852.—Ed.
  10. The uprising of the Paris proletariat in June 1848.—Ed.
  11. The reference is to Aesop's fable "The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf" in which the shepherd boy repeatedly raised false alarms by shouting that wolves were attacking the herd. After a number of such episodes, nobody responded to his cries for help when wolves really did attack the herd.
  12. Victor Hugo, Napoléon le petit, Londres, 1852.— Ed.
  13. A. Lamartine, Voyage en Orient.—Ed.
  14. Victor Hugo, Napoleon le petit, Book 1, Ch. IV.— Ed.
  15. Probably a paraphrase of the motto of the Révolutions de Paris, a revolutionarydemocratic weekly which was published in Paris from July 1789 to February 1794. The motto was: "Les grands ne nous paraissent grands que parce que nous sommes à genoux: levons-nous!" ("The great only seem great to us because we are on our knees: Let us rise up!").— Ed.
  16. Ferdinand II, King of Naples.—Ed
  17. This refers to the High Court in Bourges which passed severe sentences on the participants in the revolutionary events of May 15, 1848 (see Note 103), and to the courts-martial which dealt with the participants in the June uprising in Paris in 1848.
  18. P. J. Proudhon, La révolution sociale démontrée par le coup d'état du 2 décembre, Paris, 1852.— Ed.
  19. Ch. Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.—Ed.
  20. Goethe, Faust.—Ed.
  21. The elections to the French Constituent Assembly, held on April 23, 1848.—Ed
  22. See Note 42.
  23. The quotations that follow are taken from pp. 80-81 of Proudhon's book.—Ed.
  24. On this day Louis Bonaparte was elected President of the Republic.—Ed.
  25. See Note 42.
  26. On June 13, 1849 the Montagne organised a peaceful demonstration in Paris in protest against a violation of the Constitution—the dispatch of French troops against the Roman Republic. The demonstration was dispersed by troops.
  27. The law abolishing universal suffrage.—Ed.
  28. The reference is to Louis Bonaparte coup d'état.—Ed.
  29. On the lazzaroni see Note 105. Trasteverians—inhabitants of a district of Rome situated on the right bank of the Tiber
  30. At the end of this article the editors of The People's Paperpadded the following note in square brackets: "It is obvious that our correspondent does not attack Universal Suffrage, but the idea, that Universal Suffrage taken nakedly by itself, must necessarily emancipate a people. Here is another proof how necessary the details are to guard the suffrage—here is another proof how necessary is a knowledge of our social rights, to make the suffrage conducive to happiness and freedom. We trust our correspondent's strictures on a one-sided class-application of Universal Suffrage will not be misunderstood."—Ed.
  31. There follow quotations from pp. 19-22 of Proudhon's book.—Ed.
  32. Here the editors of The People's Paper added the following note in square brackets: "The valuable analysis which follows here we are compelled to leave out this week."—Ed.
  33. P. J. Proudhon. La révolution sociale démontrée par le coup d'état du 2 décembre, Paris, 1852.— Ed.
  34. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1.— Ed.
  35. See this volume, pp. 99-197.—Ed.
  36. Matthew 8:22.— Ed.
  37. Marx translates this line as "Here is the rose, here dance!" — Ed.
  38. See Note 71.
  39. Marx has here "exchange banks and workers' associations".—Ed.
  40. Marx has here "while the ensuing defeats of the upper classes".—Ed.
  41. The next paragraph from Chapter I of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is omitted by Eccarius.— Ed.
  42. Marx has here "During the June days all classes and parties".— Ed.
  43. "By this sign thou shalt conquer!" — Ed.
  44. See this volume, p. 112.— Ed.
  45. Marx has here "in the name of religion, of property, of the family, of order".— Ed.
  46. Marx has here "Bourgeois fanatics for order".— Ed.
  47. Marx has here "in the name of property, of the family, of religion and of order".— Ed.
  48. Marx has here "the scum of bourgeois society".— Ed.