Bonaparte's Financial Maneuvers. Military Despotism
In his letter to Engels of May 31, 1858 Marx wrote that during the past week he had prepared two articles for the New York Daily Tribune, presumably this and the preceding one, Lord Canning’s Proclamation and Land Tenure in India
Paris, May 27, 1858
The dilapidated state of the Bonapartist Exchequer cannot longer be said to form a matter of dispute. It has been openly proclaimed by the "savior of property" himself. In no other way is it possible to account for General Espinasse's circular to the French Prefects, calling upon them to use their influence, and, "if need be, their authority," in order to induce the trustees of hospitals and other charitable institutions to convert the real property from which they derive their revenues into three per cent consols. That property amounts to $100,000,000, but, as Bonaparte, in the name of the poor, bewails, does riot report an income of more than 2½ per cent. If invested in the Funds the revenue would improve by at least one half. In his paternal solicitude Bonaparte had recently bid the Council of State to initiate a law for this conversion of the landed property of the charitable establishments into funded property, but, strange to say, his own Council of State doggedly declined to take the hint. What he thus failed in effecting in the legislative way he now tries to get at in the "executive way," by a military ordre du jour. There are some people silly enough to fancy that he only intends increasing the funds by the maneuver. Nothing can be further off the mark. If the above-named landed property was sold at its nominal value of $100,000,000, a great part of that purchase money would of course be forthcoming from capital till now invested in consols and other public securities, so that the artificially created demand for the funds would be met by heaps of them thrown into the open market. The operation might even result in a further depression of the security market. However, Bonaparte's scheme is of a much sounder and more intelligible character. For the 100,000,000 of landed property he intends creating 100,000,000 of new Rentes. With the one hand he wants to seize the property of the charitable establishments, and with the other to indemnify them by drawing a cheque upon the "grand livre" of the nation. On a former occasion, when examining the French Bank act of 1857, we dwelt upon the enormous privileges Bonaparte had bestowed upon the Bank, at the cost of the State, with a view to secure himself a miserable loan of $20,000,000 We considered that Bank act as a financial cry of distress on the part of the savior of society, but since that time the disasters overwhelming French commerce, industry and agriculture have rebounded upon the Exchequer, while its expenses were increasing at an awful ratio. The different ministries for 1858 actually require 79,804,004 francs more than they did in 1855; the expense for the army alone amounting to 51 per cent of the total receipts of the country. The Crédit Mobilier, unable to pay a dividend to its own shareholders, and whose last report, if closely scrutinized, shows a considerable surplus of liabilities over assets, cannot, as it did in 1854 and 1855, come to the rescue, and help raise, loans on "democratic" principles. There remains, then, nothing for Bonaparte but to return, in financial matters, as he has been forced to do in political ones, to the original principles of the coup d'état. The financial policy initiated by the theft from the Bank cellars of 25,000,000 francs, continued in the confiscation of the Orleans estates, is now to receive a further development in the confiscation of the property of the charitable establishments.
The latter operation, however, would cost Bonaparte one of his armies, his army of priests, who administer by far the greatest portion of the charitable establishments, Already, for the first time since the coup d'état, the Univers dares openly dissent froth the savior of society, and even implores the Siècle to make common cause against this intended encroachment upon "private property."
While the "eldest son of the Church" is placed in this rather equivocal position toward his holy army, his most profane army simultaneously threatens to become unmanageable. If he should interfere, in real good earnest, with the amusements of such heroes as Messrs. De Mercy, Léaudais and Hyenne, he will lose his hold on the only portion of the army on which he can rely. If, on the contrary, he allows that pretorian corruption which he has so systematically fostered since the days of the Camp of Satory boldly to show its front, all discipline will be at an end, and the army prove unable to withstand any shock from without. Another such event as the assassination of the rédacteur, of the Figaro, and that shock will take place. The general exasperation prevailing may be inferred from the one fact, that when the account of the duel got to Paris about 5,000 young men flocked to the bureaux of the Figaro, requesting to be inscribed upon a list, as ready to fight with any sub-lieutenant who might be forthcoming. The Figaro, of course, is itself a Bonapartist creation, heading that literature of scandal and chantage and private slander which suddenly shot up after the violent extinction of the political press, and found in the soil and atmosphere of the lesser Empire all the conditions for a luxuriant growth. It is a fine trait of historical irony that the signal for the impending conflict should be given by the murderous quarrel between the literary and the military representatives of the Bonapartist swell mob.
- "The savior of property" was the name given to Louis Bonaparte in addresses which municipal councils of various French towns sent him in July 1849.
- [Ch. M. E. Espinasse,] "La circulaire au sujet des biens immeubles...", Le Moniteur universel, No. 142, May 22, 1858.—Ed.
- "Debt register".—Ed.
- See The New French Bank Act —Ed.
- Napoléon III, "Loi portant prorogation du privilège de la Banque de France", Le Moniteur universel, No. 162, June 11, 1857.—Ed.
- The Crédit Mobilier is short for the Société générale du Crédit Mobilier—a French joint-stock bank founded in 1852 by the Péreire brothers. The bank was closely connected with the Government of Napoleon III and, protected by it, engaged in speculation. It went bankrupt in 1867 and was liquidated in 1871. The first article on Crédit Mobilier was published by Marx in The People's Paper without any indication that it was "to be continued". The editors of the New York Daily Tribune who published the subsequent articles on the subject printed them as a series and defined them by ordinal numbers.
- I. Péreire, "Rapport présenté au nom du Conseil d'administration 129 avril 1858]", Le Moniteur universel, No. 120, April 30, 1858.—Ed.
- Napoleon III.—Ed.
- In Ancient Rome Praetorians were privileged soldiers in the personal guard of a general or the emperor. Here Marx is referring to the French military on whom Napoleon III relied (see The Rule of the Pretorians).
- On October 10, 1850 Louis Bonaparte, then President of the French Republic, held a general review of troops on the plain of Satory (near Versailles). During this review Bonaparte, who was preparing a coup d'état, treated the soldiers and officers to sausages in order to win their support.
- For details on the duel of Henri de Pène and the Sub-Lieutenant Hyenne in which the former was wounded see The Times, No. 23000, May 22, 1858.—Ed.