Mazzini and Napoleon (1858)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 30 March 1858


MIA-bannière.gif
First published unsigned in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 5321, May 11, 1858
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.485-489), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): New York Tribune

M. Mazzini has recently addressed a letter to the French Emperor[1], which, in a literary point of view, must hold, perhaps, the first place among his productions. There are but few traces left of that false sublimity, puffy grandeur, verbosity and prophetic mysticism so characteristic of many of his writings, and almost forming the distinctive features of that school of Italian literature of which he is the founder. An enlargement of views is also perceptible. He has, till now, figured as the chief of the Republican formalists of Europe. Exclusively bent on the political forms of the State, they have had no eye for the organization of society on which the political superstructure rests. Boasting of a false idealism, they have considered it beneath their dignity to become acquainted with economical realities. Nothing is easier than to be an idealist on behalf of other people. A surfeited man may easily sneer at the materialism of hungry people asking for vulgar bread instead of sublime ideas. The Triumvirs of the Roman Republic of 1848[2], leaving the peasants of the Campagna in a state of slavery more exasperating than that of their ancestors of the times of imperial Rome, were quite welcome to descant on the degraded state of the rural mind.

All real progress in the writing of modern history has been effected by descending from the political surface into the depths of social life. Dureau de la Mane, in tracing the different phases of the development of landed property in ancient Rome, has afforded a key to the destinies of that world-conquering city, beside which Montesquieu's considerations on its greatness and decline[3] appear almost like a schoolboy's declamation. The venerable Lelewel, by his laborious research into the economical circumstances which transformed the Polish peasant from a free man into a serf[4], has done more to shed light on the subjugation of his country than the whole host of writers whose stock in trade is simple denunciation of Russia. M. Mazzini, too, does not now disdain to dwell on social realities, the interests of the different classes, the exports and imports, the prices of necessaries, house-rent, and other such vulgar things, being struck, perhaps, by the great if not fatal shock given to the second Empire, not by the manifestoes of Democratic Committees, but by the commercial convulsion which started from New-York to encompass the world. It is only to be hoped that he will not stop at this point, but, unbiased by a false pride, will proceed to reform his whole political catechism by the light of economical science. His letter commences with this vigorous apostrophe to Louis Napoleon:

"The fullness of time approaches; the Imperial tide is visibly rolling back. You too feel it. All the measures you have been enacting, since the 14th of January[5], in France—all the diplomatic notes and requests you have been, since the fatal day, scattering to the four winds abroad, are bespeaking the restlessness of terror. There is a Macbeth feeling of intense agony preying upon your soul, and betraying itself through all that you say or do. There is at work within a presentiment that summa dies et ineluctabile fatum[6] are impending. The 'Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and King'—the Pretender, President and Usurper—are doomed. The spell is broken. The conscience of mankind is aroused; it gazes sternly on you; it confronts you; it sifts your acts, and calls to account your promises. From this moment, your fate is sealed. You may now' live months; years you cannot."[7]

Having thus announced the doom of the second Empire, Mazzini contrasts the present economical state of France with Napoleon's glowing promises of general prosperity:

"You promised, when you unlawfully conquered power, and as an atonement for its origin, that you would rule restless, perturbed, perturbing France to peace. Is imprisoning, gagging, transporting, ruling? Is the gendarme a teacher? Is the spy an apostle of morality and mutual trust? You told the French uneducated peasant that a new era was, with your empire, dawning for him, and that the burdens under which he groans would all, one by one, disappear. Has any disappeared? Can you point out a single amelioration to his fate—a single element of taxation removed? Can you explain how it is that the peasant is now enlisting in the Marianne[8]? Can you deny that the absorption of the funds, once naturally devoted to the agricultural element, into the channels of industrial speculation opened by you, has deprived the laborer of the possibility of finding advances for the purchase of working implements and the improvement of the land? You allured the misguided working man by declaring that you would be the Empereur du peuple, a sort of remodeled Henry IV., and procure to him perennial work, high wages, and la poule au pot[9]. Is not la poule au pot somewhat dear just now in France? Is not house-rent, are not some of the first necessaries of life, still dearer? You have opened new streets—drawn for your strategic, repressive purposes new lines of communication—destroyed and rebuilt. But do the bulk of the working classes belong to the benefited building branch? Can you overturn Paris and the main provincial towns, indefinitely, for the sake of creating for the prolétaire a source of work and earnings? Can you ever dream of making of such a factitious, temporary remedy a substitute for regular normal progress, and requited production? Is the demand for production now in a satisfactory state? Are not three-fifths of the cabinet-makers, of the carpenters, of the mechanicians, out of employment now in Paris? You whispered to the easily frightened, easily fascinated bourgeoisie fantastic dreams, hopes of a redoubled industrial activity, new sources of profits, El Dorados of stimulated exportation, and international intercourse. Where are they? Stagnation hovers over your French productive life; orders to commerce are diminishing; capital is beginning to retreat. You have, like the barbarian, cut the tree to pluck the fruit. You have artificially over-stimulated wild, immoral, all-promising and never-fulfilling speculation; you have, by self-puffing, gigantic, swollen schemes, attracted the savings of the small capitalists from the four corners of France to Paris, and diverted them from the only true permanent sources of national wealth, agriculture, trade and industry. These savings have been engulfed and disappeared in the hands of some dozens of leading speculators; they have been squandered in boundless unproductive luxuries; or they are quietly and prudently—I might quote members of your family—transferred to safe foreign countries. The half of these schemes have sunk into oblivious nonentity. Some of their inventors are traveling, as a precautionary measure, in foreign countries. You find yourself before a dissatisfied bourgeoisie, with all normal resources dried up, with the incubus of some five hundred millions of francs spent, throughout the principal towns of France, in unproductive public works, with a deficit of three hundred millions visible in your last budget, with an extensively indebted city of Paris, with no remedy to propose except a new loan of one hundred and sixty millions to be opened—not in your name, it would not succeed—but in the name of the City Council itself, and to meet the burden of interest, a widening of the barriers, therefore, of the hated octroi[10], to the extent of the outward fortifications. The remedy will weigh heavy on the working class, and embitter against you the hitherto devoted suburbs. Your artificial contrivances are at an end; henceforth, everything you do to meet the financial difficulty of your position will mark a step in the fatal descent. You have hitherto lived on an indefinite series of loans and credit; but where is your guaranty for prolonged credit? Rome and Napoleon were ransacking a world; you have only France to ransack. Their armies lived on conquest; yours cannot. You may dream of conquest; you cannot, do not dare to venture on it. The Roman dictators and your uncle were leading the conquering armies; however fond of gilt parade uniforms, I doubt your being able to lead a few combined battalions."[11]

From the material prospect of the second Empire, Mazzini turns to the moral, and, of course, is somewhat perplexed in summing up the evidence for the proposition that liberty wears no Bonapartist livery. Liberty, not only in its bodily forms, but in its very soul, its intellectual life, has shriveled at the coarse touch of these resurrectionists of a bygone epoch. Consequently, the representatives of intellectual France, by no means distinguished by too nice a delicacy of political conscience, never failing to gather around every regime, from the Regent[12] to Robespierre—from Louis XIV. to Louis Philippe—from the first Empire to the second Republic—have, for the first time in French history, seceded in mass from an established government.

"From Thiers to Guizot, from Cousin to Villemain, from Michelet to jean Reynaud, intellectual France shrinks from your polluting contact. Your men are Veuillot, the upholder of the St. Bartholomew[13] and of the Inquisition, Granier de Cassagnac, the patron of negro slavery, and such like. To find a man worth indorsing your pamphlet addressed to England, you have to look for one who is an apostate from Legitimism, and an apostate from Republicanism."

Mazzini then hits on the true meaning of the affair of the 14th of January by stating that the missiles which missed the Emperor pierced the Empire, and laid bare the hollowness of its boasts:

"You boasted to Europe, only a short while ago, that the heart of France was yours, hailing you as her savior, calm, happy, undisturbed. A few months have elapsed, a crash has been heard in the rue Lepelletier, and through your wild, alarmed, repressive measures—through your half-threatening, half-imploring appeals to Europe—through your military division of the country, with a saber in the Ministry of the interior, you declare now, after seven years of unlimited sway—with an overwhelming concentrated army—with the national ranks cleared of all the dreaded leading men—that you cannot live and rule unless France is converted into a huge Bastille, and Europe into a mere Imperial police-office.... Yes: the Empire has proved a lie. You shaped it, Sir, to your own image. No man, during the last half century, has lied in Europe, Talleyrand excepted, so much as you have; and that is the secret of your temporary power."

The falsehoods of the savior of society are then recapitulated from 1831, when he joined the insurrectionary movement of the Roman population against the Pope[14] as "a sacred cause;" to 1851, a few days before the coup d'état, when he said to the army, "I shall ask nothing from you beyond my right, recognized by the Constitution;" to the 2d of December itself, the final result of the usurping schemes still pending, when he proclaimed that "his duty was to protect the Republic." Finally, he tells Napoleon roundly that but for England he would have been already conquered by the Revolution. Then, having disposed of Napoleon's claim to have inaugurated the alliance between France and England, he concludes with the words:

"You stand now, Sir, whatever self-mouthed, self-disguising diplomacy may say, alone in Europe."

  1. G. Mazzini, To Louis Napoléon.—Ed.
  2. The Triumvirs—Mazzini, Saffi and Armellini—of the Roman Republic (1848-49) pursued a moderate policy. Although their measures towards peasants were progressive, in practice they neither changed agrarian relations in the countryside nor improved the hard condition of the peasants, who did not support the revolution in the greater part of the Italian states.
  3. A. Dureau de la Mane, Economie politique des Romains; Ch. Montesquieu, Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence.—Ed.
  4. J. Lelevel, Considérations sur l'état politique de l'ancienne Pologne et sur l'histoire de son peuple.—Ed.
  5. On January 14, 1858 the Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini made an attempt on the life of Napoleon III, thus hoping to provoke revolutionary actions in Europe and intense struggle for the national unification of Italy. His attempt failed, and Orsini was executed on March 13, 1858.
  6. The last day and the ineluctable hour (cf. Virgil, Aeneid, II, 325).—Ed.
  7. G. Mazzini, To Louis Napoléon, p. 3.—Ed.
  8. The Marianne, founded in France in 1850, was a secret republican society which opposed Napoleon III during the Second Empire.
  9. A fowl in his pot.—Ed.
  10. A tax on articles (for sale) entering a town.—Ed.
  11. Here and below G. Mazzini, To Louis Napoléon, pp. 3-8 and 13.—Ed.
  12. Philip II of Orleans.—Ed.
  13. A great massacre of Huguenots by Catholics took place in Paris on St. Bartholomew's Day (August 24) in 1572.

    Marx calls Louis François Veuillot the upholder of St. Bartholomew's Day because he was a rabid Catholic.
  14. After the death of Pius VIII on November 20, 1830, the Holy See remained vacant until February 2, 1831. This created favourable conditions for uprisings against the Pope's secular power in a number of provinces of the Papal States—Romagna, Marca, Umbria—and also in the dukedoms of Modena and Parma. They were instigated by the Carbonari. Louis Bonaparte took part in the plot in Rome which was denounced by one of the conspirators. Expelled from Rome, Louis Bonaparte left for Florence. In late March 1831 the uprisings were suppressed by the Austrian troops and the government forces of small Italian states.

    Carbonari—members of secret political societies in Italy and France in the first half of the nineteenth century. In Italy they fought for national independence, the unification of the country and liberal constitutional reforms. In France the movement was above all directed against the restored monarchy of the Bourbons (1815-30). In the first half of the nineteenth century the word "Carbonari" was synonymous with "revolutionary".