Letter to Emil Blank, March 28, 1848

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 28 March 1848


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 38, p. 167;
First published: in Marx and Engels, Works, First Russian Edition, 1934.
This letter was published in English for the first time in Science and Society, New York, 1940, Vol. IV, No. 2.

To Emil Blank in London

Paris, 28 March 1848[edit source]

Dear Emil,

Today I received the first four halves of the 4 £5 notes and would ask you to send the other halves immediately, since I must get away as soon as possible. Many thanks for your willingness to come so promptly to my assistance in this emergency. Your subscription to the [Neue] Rheinische Zeitung has been registered.

As regards the parties here, there are, properly speaking, three major ones, not counting the minor ones (Legitimists [supporters of the Bourbon dynasty overthrown in 1830] and Bonapartists who simply intrigue, mere sects without influence among the people, in part wealthy, but no hope whatever of victory). These three are, first, those defeated on 24 February, i.e. the big bourgeoisie, speculators on the Bourse, bankers, manufacturers and big merchants, the old conservatives and liberals. Secondly, the petty bourgeoisie, the middle class, the bulk of the National Guard which, on 23 and 24 Febr. sided with the people, the ‘reasonable radicals’, Lamartine’s men and those of the National. Thirdly, the people, the Parisian workers, who are now holding Paris by force of arms.

The big bourgeoisie and the workers are in direct confrontation with each other. The petty bourgeois play an intermediary but altogether contemptible role. The latter, however, have a majority in the provisional government (Lamartine, Marrast, Dupont de I'Eure, Marie, Garnier-Pagès and, occasionally, Crémieux as well).

They, and the provisional government with them, vacillate a great deal. The quieter everything becomes, the more the government and the petty-bourgeois party incline towards the big bourgeoisie; the greater the unrest, the more they join up with the workers again. Recently, for instance, when the bourgeois had again become fearfully uppish and actually dispatched a column of National Guards 8,000 strong to the Town Hall to protest against a decree of the provisional government, and more especially against Ledru-Rollin’s vigorous measures,[1] they did in fact succeed in so intimidating the majority of the government, and in particular the weak-kneed Lamartine, that he publicly disavowed Ledru. But on the following day, 17 March, 200,000 workers marched on the Town Hall, proclaimed their implicit confidence in Ledru-Rollin and compelled the majority of the government and Lamartine to recant. For the time being, then, the men of the Réforme (Ledru-Rollin, Flocon, L. Blanc, Albert, Arago) again have the upper hand. They, more than anyone else in the government, still represent the workers, and are communists without knowing it. Unfortunately little Louis Blanc is making a great ass of himself with his vanity and his crack-brained schemes.[2] Ere long he will come a terrible cropper. But Ledru-Rollin is behaving very well.

The most unfortunate thing is that the government, on the one hand, has to make promises to the workers and, on the other, is unable to keep any of them because it lacks the courage to secure the necessary funds by revolutionary measures against the bourgeoisie, by severe progressive taxation, succession duties, confiscation of all émigré property, ban on the export of currency, state bank, etc. The men of the Réforme are allowed to make promises which they are then prevented from keeping by the most inane conservative decisions.

In addition there is now a new element in the National Assembly: the peasants who make up 5/7 of the French nation and support the party of the National, of the petty bourgeoisie. It is highly probable that this party will win, that the men of the Réforme will fall, and then there'll be another revolution. It’s also possible that, once in Paris, the deputies will realise how things stand here, and that only the men of the Réforme can stay the course in the long term. This, however, is improbable.

The postponement of the elections for a fortnight is also a victory for the Parisian workers over the bourgeois party.[3]

The men of the National, Marrast and Co., cut a very poor figure in other respects as well. They live in clover and provide their friends with palaces and good positions. Those from the Réforme are quite different. I've been to see old Flocon several times; the fellow lives as before in poor lodgings on the fifth floor, smokes cheap shag in an old clay pipe, and has bought nothing for himself but a new dressing-gown. For the rest his way of life is no less republican than when he was still editor of the Réforme, nor is he any less friendly, cordial and open-hearted. He’s one of the most decent fellows I know.

Recently I lunched at the Tuileries, in the Prince de Joinville’s suite, with old Imbert who was a réfugié in Brussels and is now Governor of the Tuileries. In Louis-Philippe’s apartments now the wounded lie on the carpets, smoking stubby pipes. In the throne-room the portraits of Soult and Bugeaud have been torn down and ripped and the one of Grouchy cut to shreds.

Going past at this very moment, to the strains of the Marseillaise, is the funeral cortège of a working man who died of his wounds. Escorting him are National Guards and armed populace at least 10,000 strong, and young toffs from the Chaussée d'Antin, have to escort the procession as mounted National Guards. The bourgeois are enraged at seeing a working man thus given the last honours.

Your
F. E.

  1. The reference is to the attempts of Ledru-Rollin, Minister of the Interior, to renew the administrative staff of municipal councils and his decree of 14 March to abolish the privileged National Guard units of bourgeois and aristocrats.
  2. This refers to the utopian plans for the ‘organisation of labour’ with the help of a bourgeois state proposed by Louis Blanc as president of the Labour Commission set up by the Provisional Government on 28 February 1848 (it held its meetings in the Luxembourg Palace). The Commission was dissolved by the Government after the popular action of 15 May 1848.
  3. The reference is to the elections to the National Guard, fixed for 18 March, and to the Constituent Assembly of the Republic, which originally were to be held on 5 April 1848. To hold the elections in a short time would have benefited the anti-revolutionary forces. That is why the demonstration of the Paris workers on 17 March, of which Engels writes above, demanded that the Provisional Government, besides withdrawing the troops from the capital, should postpone the elections to the National Guard till 5 April and to the Constituent Assembly till 31 May 1848. The Government was compelled to comply with these demands, but the elections to the Constituent Assembly were postponed only till 23 April.