Affairs in France (January 1860)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 17 January 1860

First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 5862, February 7, 1860
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.330-334), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): New York Tribune

This article was written by Marx for the New York Daily Tribune to which he contributed from August 1851 to March 1862. On Marx's request many of the articles were written by Engels (see Marx's letters to Engels of November 3, 1859, June 2 and June 25, 1860). By agreement with the New York Daily Tribune editors Marx wrote on some of his articles dealing with different European countries "Paris", "Berlin" or "Vienna" respectively. (See Marx's letters to Engels of November 10, 1858, December 16, 1858, and January 13 and 15, 1859 and also Marx's letter to F. Lassalle of March 28, 1859).

The articles which Marx and Engels contributed to the New York Daily Tribune mainly dealt with the most important questions of foreign and home policy, the working-class movement, the economic development of the major European countries, colonial expansion and the national liberation movement in the oppressed and dependent countries. They immediately attracted attention by their profundity, political insight and literary merit. Many of Marx's and Engels' contributions were reprinted in special issues of the New York Daily Tribune—the New York Weekly Tribune and Semi-Weekly Tribune—and some of them also in the Chartist People's Paper. Other papers, in particular the New-York Times, quoted passages from Marx's and Engels' articles.

On many occasions the New York Daily Tribune editors treated these articles quite arbitrarily; they printed them unsigned, as editorials, made insertions and introduced new passages which sometimes ran contrary to what Marx and Engels wanted to say. Marx repeatedly protested against those practices. From the autumn of 1857, when the financial position of the New York Daily Tribune deteriorated due to the economic crisis that gripped the USA, Marx had to reduce the number of his contributions to the paper, and during the American Civil War he stopped sending them altogether, mainly because the Tribune had come under the sway of people advocating a compromise with the slave-owning states.

Paris, Jan. 17, 1860

Louis Napoleon has been converted to Free-trade, and is about to inaugurate a new era of peace. He can hardly fail to be enrolled as a member of the Society of Friends[1], and the year 1860 will, in the annals of Europe, be recorded as the year I of the Millennium. This extraordinary news going the round of the London Press dates its origin from a letter of Louis Bonaparte published in the Moniteur, dated Jan. 15, 1860, and addressed to Mr. Fould, Minister of State[2]. The first effect of the letter was to send the Funds down at Paris and to send them up at London.

Now, before all things, it seems necessary to scrutinize somewhat closely the corpus delicti—that is, the Imperial letter—upon which the whole superstructure of the new era is about to be reared. Louis Bonaparte informs Mr. Fould that

"the moment has arrived for applying ourselves to the means of giving a greater development to the different branches of national wealth."

The almost identical announcement[3] appeared in the Moniteur of January, 1852, when the Coup d'état inaugurated the era of the Crédit Mobilier[4], the Crédit Foncier, and other Crédits ambulants[5]. And this is not all. Since that eventful epoch, every yearly financial bulletin issued under the auspices of the French autocrat has laid all its stress upon and proved by an awful array of official figures the circumstance that the Empire had been as good as its word, and that, under its fostering sway, all the branches of national industry had taken an immense development.

Thus one finds himself in a fix. Either the proclamations of the Coup d'état were untimely, and the financial bulletins issued after the Coup d'état were spurious, or the present proclamation is a mere hoax.

At all events, this much appears incontrovertible, on the own showing of the new Imperial manifesto, that the economical benefits which French society was to derive from the resurrection of Bonapartism belong not to the past, but to the future tense. Let us, then, see by what new contrivance the happy economical change is to be brought about.

In the first instance, Louis Bonaparte tells Mr. Fould, who must have been somewhat startled at the profound discovery of his master, that "our foreign commerce must be developed by the exchange of products," a stupendous truism, indeed. Foreign commerce consisting in the exchange of national products for foreign products, it cannot be denied that, to develop French foreign commerce, the exchange of French products must be developed. The principal result which Louis Bonaparte expects from the new development of French foreign commerce he is about to start, is "to spread prosperity among the working classes," the which, as implicitly confessed by the man of the Coup d'État, and as shown by recent French writers (see, for instance, the works of the late Mr. Colins[6]), have visibly decayed within the last ten years. Unhappily, one great fact strikes the most superficial observer. French foreign commerce has made immense strides from 1848 to 1860. Amounting in 1848 to about 875 millions francs, it has risen to more than double that sum in 1859. An increase of commerce by more than 100 per cent in the short space of ten years, is a thing almost unprecedented. The causes that have brought about that increase are to be found in California, Australia, the United States, and so forth, but certainly not in the archives of the Tuileries[7] It appears, then, that despite the immense increase of French foreign commerce within the last ten years—an increase to be traced to revolutions in the markets of the world quite beyond the petty control of the French police—the situation of the mass of the French nation has not improved. Consequently, there must have been at work some agency powerful enough to frustrate the natural results of commercial progress. If the development of French foreign commerce accounts for the apparent ease with which the second Empire has been allowed to indulge its expensive vagaries, the prostration of the nation, despite its doubled exports, betrays the cost at which that Imperial ease is purchased. If the Empire could not have subsisted without that development of French foreign commerce, that commercial progress has failed with the Empire to bear its legitimate fruits.

The Austrian Emperor, having banished the deficit from his States by dint of a ukase, why should Louis Bonaparte, by dint of another ukase, not command the increase of French foreign commerce? Still he apprehends some hitch in his way.

"We must first," he says, "improve our agriculture, and free our industry from all interior impediments which place it in a position of inferiority."

That French agriculture is badly in want of improvement, is the standing topic of French economists; but how is Louis Bonaparte to do the thing? In the first place, he will grant loans to agriculture at a moderate "interest." French agriculture is notoriously the concern of more than two-thirds of the French nation. Will Louis Bonaparte impose taxes upon the remaining third, in order to grant loans "at a moderate rate" to the majority of the nation? The idea is in fact too preposterous to be insisted upon. On the other hand, it was the confessed aim of his Crédits Fonciers to direct loanable capital to the land. The only thing they have proved efficient in is not in ameliorating agriculture, but in ruining small freeholds and accelerating the concentration of landed estates. After all, we have here again the old worn-out panacea—institutions of credit. Nobody will deny that the second Empire marks an epoch in the development of French credit, but that it has overshot the mark, and that, with its own credit, its credit-fostering influence has gone to the wall. The only novelty seems to be that the semi-official credit machinery having been stretched and worked to its utmost, Louis Bonaparte now dreams of converting the Government itself into a direct loan-shop. While any such attempt must be fraught with immense dangers, it would as necessarily collapse as did his grain granaries, intended to screw up the prices of corn[8]. Draining, irrigating, and cleaning the ground, are all very good things in their different lines, but their only possible effect is to multiply agricultural products. They cannot raise, and they are not intended to raise, the prices of those products. Now then, even if Louis Bonaparte should find by some miraculous methods the ways and means required for those ameliorations on a national scale, how are they to mend the depreciation of agricultural produce which the French peasant has labored under for these five years? But then, Louis Napoleon. will set about a consecutive amelioration of the means of communication. The coolness with which this proposition is made, beats even Bonapartist impudence. Look only to the development of French railways since 1850. The annual expense for these "means of communication" amounted, from 1845 to '47, to about 175,000,000 of francs; from 1848 to '51, to about 125,000,000; from 1852 to '54, to nearly 250,000,000 (double the expenditure of 1848-'51); from 1854[9] to '56, to nearly 550,000,000; from 1857 to '59, to about 500,000,000. In 1857, when the general crisis broke in upon the commercial world, the French Government stood aghast at the immense sums still required for the railways in progress or already conceded. It prohibited the railway companies from raising, by means of securities, debentures, &c., more than 212,500,000 francs annually, interdicted the getting up of new companies, and circumscribed within fixed limits the work to be annually undertaken. And, after all this, Louis Bonaparte speaks as if railways, canals, and so forth, were now first to be invented! A forcible reduction of the canal dues, which he hints at, is, of course, an operation involving the breach of public contracts, frightening the capital embarked in those enterprises, and certainly not calculated to allure new capital into the same channels. Lastly, to find a market for agricultural products, manufacturing industry is to be stimulated. Yet, as we have already stated, manufacturing industry has made immense strides during the second Empire, but with all that, with the unprecedented increase of exports, with the immense development of railways and other means of communication, with the exaggeration of a credit system formerly unknown in France, French agriculture languishes, and the French peasantry decays. How shall we account for the strange phenomenon? The fact that 255,000,000 of francs are added yearly to the funded debt, not to speak of the impost of blood for the army and the navy, offers a sufficient answer. The Empire itself is the great incubus whose burden grows in a greater ratio than the productive powers of the French nation.

Louis Bonaparte's prescriptions for French industry, if we deduct all that is mere phraseology, or is still looming in the future, are simply these: Suppression of the duties on wool and cotton, and successive reductions on sugar and coffee. Now, this is all very well, but all the gullibility of English free-traders is required to call such measures free trade. Whoever is acquainted with political economy, knows full well that the abolition of duties on agricultural raw material forms a main item in the doctrine of the mercantile school of the eighteenth century. These "interior impediments" which weigh upon French production, are as nothing if compared with the octrois[10], dividing France into as many independent countries as there are towns, paralyzing the internal exchange, and barring the creation of wealth by crippling its consumption. Those octrois, however, have increased under the Imperial regime, and will continue to increase. The diminution of duties on wool and cotton is to be made up by suppressing the sinking fund, so that the last restraint upon the growth of the public debts, although merely nominal, will be done away with.

On the other hand, the woods are to be cleared, the hills to be leveled, and the moors to be drained, by applying to those purposes the 160,000,000 of francs said to form the remnant disposable from the last war loans, in three yearly installments, which will make less than 54,000,000 of francs on an annual average. Why, the embankment of the Loire alone, so pompously announced by the Imperial Cagliostro some five years ago, and then no longer thought of, would absorb the whole sum in less than three months. What then remains of the manifesto! "The inauguration of an era of peace," as if that era had not long since been proclaimed at Bordeaux. "L'Empire c'est la paix."[11]

  1. Quakers (or Society of Friends)—a religious sect founded in England during the seventeenth-century revolution and later widespread in North America. They rejected the Established Church with its rites and preached pacifist ideas.
  2. Here and below see Le Moniteur universel, No. 15, January 15, 1860. Further on Marx calls this letter a "manifesto".—Ed.
  3. "Au nom du peuple français", Le Moniteur universel, No. 15, January 15, 1852.—Ed.
  4. The Crédit Mobilier (Société général du Crédit Mobilier) was a French joint-stock bank founded in 1852 by the Péreire brothers. Closely connected with and protected by the Government of Napoleon III, it engaged in large-scale speculation. The bank was involved, in particular, in the railway-building business. It went bankrupt in 1867 and was liquidated in 1871.
  5. Crédit Foncier, a French joint-stock bank, set up in 1852, granted short- and long-term loans on the security of immovable property. Between 1854 and 1859 it granted loans totalling 2,000 million francs to the government of Napoleon III.

    By referring to the banks of Napoleonic France as Crédits ambulants (travelling credits) Marx emphasised their instability.
  6. Marx refers to Jean Guillaume Colins' works L'économie politique. Sources des révolutions et des utopies prétendues socialistes, Vols. I-III, Paris, 1856-1857, and Science sociale, Paris, 1857.—Ed.
  7. Rich gold deposits were discovered in California in 1848 and Australia in 1851. Apart from their great importance for the commercial and industrial development of Europe and America, these discoveries whipped up stock-exchange speculation in the capitalist countries.

    The Tuileries—the royal palace in Paris, residence of Napoleon III.
  8. A reference to an imperial decree of Napoleon III on grain reserves of November 16, 1858 (Le Moniteur universel, No. 322, November 18, 1858). See Marx's article "Project for the Regulation of the Price of Bread in France", and Marx's letter to Lassalle of February 4, 1859.
  9. Thus in the original.—Ed.
  10. Droit d'octroi—a right, originating from feudal times, of cities to levy tolls on imported consumer goods. It was repealed in 1791 during the French Revolution, but later reintroduced on some foodstuffs (salt, wine, fish, etc.). These tolls varied from town to town.
  11. The words quoted are taken from Napoleon III's speech in Bordeaux on October 9, 1852, shortly before the plebiscite and the proclamation of the second Empire. They were a demagogic attempt to win the sympathy of the people.—Ed.