Letter to Karl Marx, March 17, 1858

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 17 March 1858

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 40, p. 289;
First published: abridged in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Stuttgart, 1913, and in full in: Marx and Engels, Works, Moscow, 1929.

To Marx in London

[Manchester,] 17 March 1858[edit source]

Dear Moor,

When you get this letter and today’s Guardian, sent off at the same time, give your wife the Paris report to read. It gives one quite a turn to hear a Bonapartist and official relate how 100,000 ouvriers in the Faubourg St. Antoine responded to Orsini’s execution with the cry ‘Vive la République’. So deportations and arrests à tort et à travers [wholly at random] have borne as little fruit as the cités ouvrières and the national atéliers en gros, and it is gratifying, on the eve of the grand ball, to see such a roll-call take place and hear 100,000 men reply, ‘Present!’ I'm only sorry Orsini couldn’t hear that cry.

A local philistine who was lately in Paris has returned with the news that since Orsini’s attempt on Monsieur Boustrapa’s life two more had been made. The first was also mentioned in the English press; the fellow was arrested in the Bois de Boulogne at the moment he took aim with his pistol; the second was news to me; it appears that the fellow shot at or tried to stab him in the Tuileries gardens and was summarily shot by soldiers of the Guard in the gallery of June 1848 fame beneath the terrasse du bord de l'eau.

It seems that all threadbare patriotic notables want to make fools of themselves: mad old Landor must needs go and write to The Times today. All that remains now is for Venedey to protest against Orsini.

But Boustrapa has indeed come to a pretty pass, and it is a pity that the Constitutionnel should no longer be in a position to declare that l'horizon politique s'obscurcit. What could be funnier than to find in the Moniteur, no less a story about the officers at Châlon who, before risking rank and skin for the empereur, hurried to the sous-préfet to ask whether or not a republic had really been proclaimed in Paris? But one can also see how, even in the army, the only genuine Bonapartists are the men at the top because these are compromised and lured on by the prospect of truly splendid bounties. For, after all, what has Boustrapa to offer the bulk of subalterns? The blackguard doubtless knows as well as we do that, aside from his Guard, there are few troops he can rely on. Unfortunately the Guard is strong and knows that, under any other government, it would either be relegated to the line or disbanded. It consists, as far as infantry is concerned, of 4 regiments of grenadiers, 2 of riflemen, 1 of gendarmes, 1 of Zouaves, 1 battalion of light infantry (17 infantry battalions all told); further, 2 regiments of cuirassiers, 2 of dragoons, 1 of mounted grenadiers, 1 of hussars, 1 of chasseurs — 21 squadrons and a strong force of artillery. In all 18,000-20,000 men with 40-50 cannon, a nucleus solid enough to stiffen a somewhat wavering line. In addition everything has been so organised as to provide for a speedy concentration of troops from the Provinces (you only have to look at a railway map of France) so that a movement, if anticipated, would undoubtedly find itself confronted by 60,000-80,000 men. Victory over such vast numbers is to be achieved in 2 ways only: either by secret societies within the army itself — and these are said to be numerous — or by a determined anti-Bonapartist stand on the part of the bourgeoisie, as in February. I don’t believe that victory is possible in the absence of one, let alone both, of these conditions. There is no doubt that the lower echelons of the army are undermined by reds and the higher by Orleanists and Legitimists, nor that the loi des suspects in conjunction with other repressive measures is making life impossible for the bourgeoisie. Boustrapa’s mounting difficulties are daily forcing him into ever more desperate straits; he dare not risk war with Prussia, he has shut himself out of Italy; no one any longer believes in Boustrapian socialism; Algeria has no more campaigns to offer. All diversions being excluded, reste la répression croiuante, i. e. the virtual driving of the bourgeoisie into revolution. For the Orleanists and Legitimists the restoration of the constitutional republic under their joint rule must already be looming in the distance as the most probable pis aller should circumstances not hold out an immediate prospect of victory for either party. Le cas de soulèvement donné — and it’s bound to come in the course of this year — there is every chance that they will follow the pattern of February 1848, sauf à lancer plus tard les troupes sur les faubourgs. And we know what will happen then. As soon as their fear of Bonaparte has made the troops unsteady enough to render the success of the insurrection inevitable, their fear of the prolétaires will make them induce the troops to put down the insurrection — trop tard! — the flood will surge over them regardless, the troops will stand gaping — and then we shall see how much ground the water has gained since the last springtide of 1848.

Fortunately commerce in France is in such a state that it cannot improve until the chronic crisis has culminated in political revolution. I don’t believe that the state of trade in France can possibly improve so long as Boustrapa remains at the helm. While the crisis lasts all the talk about ‘confidence’ being undermined by Orsini, Espinasse, etc., is mere idle euphemism; but under a régime of this nature it will become sober truth should the conditions responsible for the crisis cease to obtain. By the way, I have quite come round to your opinion that in France the Crédit mobilier was no haphazard swindle but an altogether necessary institution, and that Morny’s pilferings which it spawned were no less inevitable, for it was only the prospect of getting rich quick which made the Crédit mobilier viable in France. Under these circumstances it’s a toss-up which falls first — Boustrapa or the Crédit mobilier. — The prolongation of bills must inevitably give rise to enormous losses. The use of such means to overcome a crisis can be of avail only if the reprise des affaires is a real one in industry too, but the mere fact of an easy money market cannot help anyone who has no credit — and I believe that in France credit is no longer accorded save by prolonging what has already been given.

Things in Prussia look pretty rotten to me. The tin-pot little Chamber has greatly inflamed the parochial Prussian patriotism of the philistines there and even the arch-philistine, I fear, looks forward with assurance to the advent, along with the English marriage, of an English constitution, albeit democratised. If only the corporal were to make a fool of himself, and that right soon! In Prussia, I fear, it won’t be too easy to get rid of the Royal family — unless, that is, the proletariat has made really enormous strides. The bourgeois and philistines have, at any rate, got even worse since 1848. In German Austria, too, nothing much seems to be happening. Plainly your good, honest German has not yet emerged from the hibernation that followed the strenuous exertions of 1848. Slav insurrections and the loss of Hungary and Italy will, by the way, serve their turn in Austria, and on top of that, in the big towns and industrial districts, the crisis will have repercussions which, just now and at this distance, are impossible to gauge. Après tout it’s going to be a hard struggle.

But what if Boustrapa were to subdue the first big attempt at an uprising? I regard this as practically impossible, precisely because the measures he has adopted are such that things would not become serious save on a really major occasion. But supposing Boustrapa were to succeed, he'd be doubly in the soup. Pélissier would be empereur. The troops of the line, who would in any case show signs of weakness and irresolution, would be declared non grate and the Guard alone remain in favour — indeed more so than ever before. A sure means of fostering conspiracy in the army. Next, Boustrapa would have to go directly for the Orleanists and Legitimists, nor would Thiers get away with a couple of days in the Mazas burnishing his Brown Bess. A sure means of utterly ruining commerce. If Boustrapa were ever to triumph, his downfall would be all the more assured.

I only hope the fellow won’t be assassinated. In which case I believe things would turn out in the way Morny once described to him: ‘Nous commencerions par jeter tons Tees Jérôme par la fenêtre et puis nous tacherions de nous arranger tant bien que mal avec les Orléans. Before the faubourgs had had time to collect their wits, Morny would have effected his palace revolution and, although the revolution from below would only be postponed for a short while, its basis would no longer be the same.

To return to our own private affairs, I've been able to find virtually nothing about Bülow in Jomini and Cathcart and must see if I can unearth some other source. I shall try and get ‘Bomarsund’ done tonight. These two articles are preying on my mind.

As soon as the Indian mail brings details about Campbell’s Lucknow expedition (in maybe a week or a fortnight’s time), send me all the material you can lay hands on, so that I can make an immediate start. I shall be able to buy The Times up here, but not the other London papers, i. e. in single numbers.

Warm regards to your wife and children. I'd like to send you some more money but shall have to wait and see what further payments I shall have to make this month; as soon as I get some idea of this I shall do what I can, you may be sure of that.

F. E.

Lupus has the solemn document from New York. Isn’t Kamm that Kinkelian ‘proletarian’ who used to run a brothel? F. Jacobi is a ridiculous little barrister from Münster who was the butt of everyone’s jokes in Switzerland.