The Web Site for Critical Realism WSCR: Resources The WSCR Archive: List of Papers
[Parts I and VII of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte are translated by Saul K. Padover from the German edition of 1869; Parts II to VI are based on the third edition, prepared by Engels (1885), as translated and published by Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1937.]
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Introduction | Preface | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII
By KARL MARX
The coalition with the Montagne and the pure republicans, to which the party of Order saw itself condemned in its unavailing efforts to maintain possession of the military power and to reconquer supreme control of the executive power, proved incontrovertibly that it had forfeited its independent parliamentary majority. On May 28 the mere power of the calendar, of the hour hand of the clock, gave the signal for its complete disintegration. With May 28, the last year of the life of the National Assembly began. It now had to decide for continuing the constitution unaltered or for revising it. But revision of the constitution -- that implied not only rule of the bourgeoisie or of the petty-bourgeois democracy, democracy or proletarian anarchy, parliamentary republic or Bonaparte, it implied at the same time Orleans or Bourbon! Thus fell in the midst of parliament the apple of discord that was bound to inflame openly the conflict of interests which split the party of Order into hostile factions. The party of Order was a combination of heterogeneous social substances. The question of revision generated a political temperature at which the product again decomposed into its original components.
The Bonapartists' interest in a revision was simple. For them it was above all a question of abolishing Article 45, which forbade Bonaparte's reelection and the prolongation of his authority. No less simple appeared the position of the republicans. They unconditionally rejected any revision; they saw in it a universal conspiracy against the republic. Since they commanded more than a quarter of the votes in the National Assembly, and according to the constitution three-quarters of the votes were required for a resolution for revision to be legally valid and for the convocation of a revising Assembly, they needed only to count their votes to be sure of victory. And they were sure of victory.
As against these clear positions, the party of Order found itself inextricably caught in contradictions. If it should reject revision, it would imperil the status quo, since it would leave Bonaparte only one way out, that of force; and since on the second Sunday in May, 1852, at the decisive moment, it would be surrendering France to revolutionary anarchy, with a President who had lost his authority, with a parliament which for a long time had not possessed it, and with a people that meant to reconquer it. If it voted for constitutional revision, it knew that it voted in vain and would be bound to fail constitutionally because of the republicans' veto. If it unconstitutionally declared a simple majority vote to be binding, it could hope to dominate the revolution only if it subordinated itself unconditionally to the sovereignty of the executive power; then it would make Bonaparte master of the constitution, of its revision, and of the party itself. A partial revision, which would prolong the authority of the President, would pave the way for imperial usurpation. A general revision, which would shorten the existence of the republic, would bring the dynastic claims into unavoidable conflict, for the conditions of a Bourbon and an Orleanist restoration were not only different, they were mutually exclusive.
The parliamentary republic was more than the neutral territory on which the two factions of the French bourgeoisie, Legitimists and Orleanists, large landed property and industry, could dwell side by side with equality of rights. It was the unavoidable condition of their common rule, the sole form of state in which their general class interest subjected to itself at the same time both the claims of their particular factions and all the remaining classes of society. As royalists they fell back into their old antagonism, into the struggle for the supremacy of landed property or of money, and the highest expression of this antagonism, its personification, was their kings themselves, their dynasties. Hence the resistance of the party of Order to the recall of the Bourbons.
The Orleanist and people's representative Creton had in 1849, 1850, and 1851 periodically introduced a motion for the revocation of the decree exiling the royal families. Just as regularly, parliament presented the spectacle of an Assembly of royalists that obdurately barred the gates through which their exiled kings might return home. Richard III murdered Henry VI, remarking that he was too good for this world and belonged in heaven. The royalists declared France too bad to possess her kings again. Constrained by force of circumstances, they had become republicans and repeatedly sanctioned the popular decision that banished their kings from France.
A revision of the constitution -- and circumstances compelled taking that into consideration -- called in question, along with the republic, the common rule of the two bourgeois factions, and revived, with the possibility of a monarchy, the rivalry of the interests which the monarchy had predominantly represented by turns, the struggle for the supremacy of one faction over the other. The diplomats of the party of Order believed they could settle the struggle by an amalgamation of the two dynasties, by a so-called fusion of the royalist parties and their royal houses. The real fusion of the Restoration and the July Monarchy was the parliamentary republic, in which Orleanist and Legitimist colors were obliterated and the various species of bourgeois disappeared into the bourgeois as such, the bourgeois genus. Now, however, Orleanist was to become Legitimist and Legitimist Orleanist. Royalty, in which their antagonism was personified, was to embody their unity, the expression of their exclusive factional interests was to become the expression of their common class interest, the monarchy was to do what only the abolition of two monarchies, the republic, could do and had done. This was the philosopher's stone, to produce which the doctors of the party of Order racked their brains. As if the Legitimist monarchy could ever become the monarchy of the industrial bourgeois or the bourgeois monarchy ever become the monarchy of the hereditary landed aristocracy. As if landed property and industry could fraternize under one crown, when the crown could descend to only one head, the head of the elder brother or of the younger. As if industry could come to terms with landed property at all, so long as landed property itself does not decide to become industrial. If Henry V should die tomorrow, the Count of Paris would not on that account become the king of the Legitimists unless he ceased to be the king of the Orleanists. The philosophers of fusion, however, who became more vociferous in proportion as the question of revision came to the fore, who had provided themselves with an official daily organ in the Assemblee Nationale, and who are again at work even at this very moment (February, 1852), considered the whole difficulty to be due to the opposition and rivalry of the two dynasties. The attempts to reconcile the Orleans family with Henry V, begun since the death of Louis Philippe, but, like the dynastic intrigues generally, played at only while the National Assembly was in recess, during the entr'actes, behind the scenes -- sentimental coquetry with the old superstition rather than seriously meant business -- now became grand performances of state, enacted by the party of Order on the public stage, instead of in amateur theatricals as before. The couriers sped from Paris to Venice, from Venice to Claremont, from Claremont to Paris. The Count of Chambord issues a manifesto in which "with the help of all the members of his family" he announces not his, but the "national" restoration. The Orleanist Salvandy throws himself at the feet of Henry V. The Legitimist chiefs, Berryer, Benoit d'Azy, Saint-Priest, travel to Claremont to persuade the Orleans set, but in vain. The fusionists perceive too late that the interests of the two bourgeois factions neither lose exclusiveness nor gain pliancy when they become accentuated in the form of family interests, the interests of two royal houses. If Henry V were to recognize the Count of Paris as his heir -- the sole success that the fusion could achieve at best -- the House of Orleans would not win any claim that the childlessness of Henry V had not already secured to it, but it would lose all the claims it had gained through the July Revolution. It would waive its original claims, all the titles it had wrested from the older branch of the Bourbons in almost a hundred years of struggle; it would barter away its historical prerogative, the prerogative of the modem kingdom, for the prerogative of its genealogical tree. The fusion, therefore, would be nothing but a voluntary abdication of the House of Orleans, its resignation to Legitimacy, repentant withdrawal from the Protestant state church into the Catholic. A withdrawal, moreover, that would not even bring it to the throne it had lost, but to the steps of the throne where it had been born. The old Orleanist ministers, Guizot, Duchatel, etc., who likewise hastened to Claremont to advocate the fusion, in fact represented merely the Katzenjammer over the July Revolution, the despair about the bourgeois kingdom and the kingliness of the bourgeois, the superstitious belief in Legitimacy as the last charm against anarchy. Imagining themselves mediators between Orleans and Bourbons, they were in reality merely Orleanist renegades, and the Prince of Joinville received them as such. On the other hand, the viable, bellicose section of the Orleanists, Thiers, Baze, etc., convinced Louis Philippe's family all the more easily that if any directly monarchist restoration presupposed the fusion of the two dynasties, and if any such fusion presupposed abdication of the House of Orleans, it was, on the contrary, wholly in accord with the tradition of their forefathers to recognize the republic for the moment and wait until events permitted the conversion of the presidential chair into a throne. Rumors of Joinville's candidature were circulated, public curiosity was kept in suspense, and a few months later, in September, after the rejection of revision, his candidature was publicly proclaimed.
The attempt at a royalist fusion of Orleanists with Legitimists had thus not only failed; it had destroyed their parliamentary fusion, their common republican form, and had broken up the party of Order into its original component parts; but the more the estrangement between Claremont and Venice grew, the more their settlement collapsed and the Joinville agitation gained ground, so much the more eager and earnest became the negotiations between Bonaparte's minister Faucher and the Legitimists.
The disintegration of the party of Order did not stop at its original elements. Each of the two great factions, in its turn, decomposed all over again. It was as if all the old shadings that had formerly fought and jostled one another within each of the two circles, whether Legitimist or Orleanist, had thawed out again like dry Infusoria on contact with water, as if they had acquired anew sufficient vital energy to form groups of their own and independent antagonisms. The Legitimists dreamed they were back among the controversies between the Tuileries and the Pavillon Marsan, between Villele and Polignac. The Orleanists relived the golden days of the tourney between Guizot, Mole, Broglie, Thiers, and Odilon Barrot.
The section of the party of Order that was eager for revision, but was divided again on the limits to revisions -- a section composed of the Legitimists led by Berryer and Falloux, on the one hand, and by La Rochejaquelein, on the other, and of the conflict-weary Orleanists led by Mole, Broglie, Montalembert and Odilon Barrot -- agreed with the Bonapartist representatives on the following indefinite and broadly framed motion: "With the object of restoring to the nation the full exercise of its sovereignty, the undersigned representatives move that the constitution be revised."
At the same time, however, they unanimously declared through their reporter Tocqueville that the National Assembly had no right to move the abolition of the republic, that this right was vested solely in the Revising Chamber. For the rest, the constitution might be revised only in a "legal" manner, hence only if the constitutionally prescribed three-quarters of the number of votes were cast in favor of revision. On July 19, after six days of stormy debate, revision was rejected, as was to be anticipated. Four hundred and forty-six votes were cast for it, but two hundred and seventy-eight against. The extreme Orleanists, Thiers, Changarnier, etc., voted with the republicans and the Montagne.
Thus the majority of parliament declared against the constitution, but this constitution itself declared for the minority and that its vote was binding. But had not the party of Order subordinated the constitution to the parliamentary majority on May 3I, 1850, and on June 13, 1849? Up to now, was not its whole policy based on the subordination of the paragraphs of the constitution to the decisions of the parliamentary majority? Had it not left to the democrats the antediluvian superstitious belief in the letter of the law, and castigated the democrats for it? At the present moment, however, revision of the constitution meant nothing but continuation of the presidential authority, just as continuation of the constitution meant nothing but Bonaparte's deposition. Parliament had declared for him, but the constitution declared against parliament. He therefore acted in the sense of parliament when he tore up the constitution and acted in the sense of the constitution when he adjourned parliament.
Parliament had declared the constitution and, with the latter, its own rule to be "beyond the majority"; by its vote it had abolished the constitution and prolonged the term of presidential power, while declaring at the same time that neither could the one die nor the other live so long as the Assembly itself continued to exist. Those who were to bury it were standing at the door. While it debated on revision, Bonaparte removed General Baraguay d'Hilliers, who had proved irresolute, from the command of the First Army Division and appointed in his place General Magnan, the victor of Lyon, the hero of the December days, one of his creatures, who under Louis Philippe had already more or less compromised himself in Bonaparte's favor on the occasion of the Boulogne expedition.
The party of Order proved by its decision on revision that it knew neither how to rule nor how to serve; neither how to live nor how to die; neither how to suffer the republic nor how to overthrow it; neither how to uphold the constitution nor how to throw it overboard; neither how to cooperate with the President nor how to break with him. To whom, then, did it look for the solution of all the contradictions? To the calendar, to the course of events. It ceased to presume to sway them. It therefore challenged events to assume sway over it, and thereby challenged the power to which, in the struggle against the people, it had surrendered one attribute after another until it stood impotent before this power. In order that the head of the executive power might be able the more undisturbedly to draw up his plan of campaign against it, strengthen his means of attack, select his tools, and fortify his positions, it resolved precisely at this critical moment to retire from the stage and adjourn for three months, from August 10 to November 4.
The parliamentary party was not only dissolved into its two great factions, each of these factions was not only split up within itself, but the party of Order in parliament had fallen out with the party of Order outside parliament. The spokesmen and scribes of the bourgeoisie, its platform and its press -- in short, the ideologists of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie itself, the representatives and the represented -- faced one another in estrangement and no longer understood one another.
The Legitimists in the provinces, with their limited horizon and unlimited enthusiasm, accused their parliamentary leaders, Berryer and Falloux, of deserting to the Bonapartist camp and of defection from Henry V. Their fleur-de-lis minds believed in the fall of man, but not in diplomacy.
Far more fateful and decisive was the breach of the commercial bourgeoisie with its politicians. It reproached them not as the Legitimists reproached theirs, with having abandoned their principles, but on the contrary, with clinging to principles that had become useless.
I have indicated above that since Fould's entry into the ministry the section of the commercial bourgeoisie which had held the lion's share of power under Louis Philippe, namely, the aristocracy of finance, had become Bonapartist. Fould not only represented Bonaparte's interests in the Bourse, he represented at the same time the interests of the Bourse before Bonaparte. The position of the aristocracy of finance is most strikingly depicted in a passage from its European organ, the London Economist. In the issue of February 1, 1851, its Paris correspondent writes: "Now we have it stated from numerous quarters that above all things France demands tranquillity. The President declares it in his message to the Legislative Assembly; it is echoed from the tribune; it is asserted in the journals; it is announced from the pulpit, it is demonstrated by the sensitiveness of the public funds at the least prospect of disturbance, and their firmness the instant it is made manifest that the executive is victorious."
In its issue of November 29, 1851, the Economist declares in its own name: "The President is the guardian of order, and is now recognized as such on every stock exchange of Europe."
The aristocracy of finance, therefore, condemned the parliamentary struggle of the party of Order with the executive power as a disturbance of order, and celebrated every victory of the President over its ostensible representatives as a victory of order. By the aristocracy of finance must here be understood not merely the great loan promoters and speculators in public funds, in regard to whom it is immediately obvious that their interests coincide with the interests of the state power. All modern finance, the whole of the banking business, is inter- woven in the closest fashion with public credit. A part of their business capital is necessarily invested and put out at interest in quickly convertible public funds. Their deposits, the capital placed at their disposal and distributed by them among merchants and industrialists, are partly derived from the dividends of holders of government securities. If in every epoch the stability of the state power signified Moses and the prophets to the entire money market and to the priests of this money market, why not all the more so today, when every deluge threatens to sweep away the old states, and the old state debts with them?
The industrial bourgeoisie too, in its fanaticism for order, was angered by the squabbles of the parliamentary party of Order with the executive power. After their vote of January 18 on the occasion of Changarnier's dismissal, Thiers, Angles, Sainte-Beuve, etc., received from their constituents, in precisely the industrial districts, public reproofs in which their coalition with the Montagne was especially scourged as high treason to order. If, as we have seen, the boastful taunts, the petty intrigues which marked the struggle of the party of Order with the President merited no better reception, then on the other hand this bourgeois party, which required its representatives to allow the military power to pass from its own parliament to an adventurous pretender without offering resistance, was not even worth the intrigues that were squandered in its interests. It proved that the struggle to maintain its public interests, its own class interests, its political power, only troubled and upset it, as it disturbed private business.
With barely an exception the bourgeois dignitaries of the departmental towns, the municipal authorities, the judges of the commercial courts, etc., everywhere received Bonaparte on his tours in the most servile manner, even when, as in Dijon, he made an unrestrained attack on the National Assembly, and especially on the party of Order.
When trade was good, as it still was at the beginning of 1851, the commercial bourgeoisie raged against any parliamentary struggle, lest trade be put out of humor. When trade was bad, as it continually was from the end of February, 1851, the commercial bourgeoisie accused the parliamentary struggles of being the cause of stagnation and cried out for them to stop so that trade could start again. The revision debates came on just in this bad period. Since the question here was whether the existing form of state was to be or not to be, the bourgeoisie felt all the more justified in demanding from its representatives the ending of this torturous provisional arrangement and at the same time the maintenance of the status quo. There was no contradiction in this. By the end of the provisional arrangement it understood precisely its continuation, the postponement to a distant future of the moment when a decision had to be reached. The status quo could be maintained in only two ways: prolongation of Bonaparte's authority or his constitutional retirement and the election of Cavaignac. A section of the bourgeoisie desired the latter solution and knew no better advice to give its representatives than to keep silent and leave the burning question untouched. They were of the opinion that if their representatives did not speak, Bonaparte would not act. They wanted an ostrich parliament that would hide its head in order to remain unseen. Another section of the bourgeoisie desired, because Bonaparte was already in the presidential chair, to leave him sitting in it, so that everything could remain in the same old rut. They were indignant because their parliament did not openly infringe the constitution and abdicate without ceremony.
The Department Councils, those provincial representative bodies of the big bourgeoisie, which met from August 25 on during the recess of the National Assembly, declared almost unanimously for revision, and thus against parliament and in favor of Bonaparte.
Still more unequivocally than in its falling out with its parliamentary representatives, the bourgeoisie displayed its wrath against its literary representatives, its own press. The sentences to ruinous fines and shameless terms of imprisonment, on the verdicts of bourgeois juries, for every attack of bourgeois journalists on Bonaparte's usurpationist desires, for every attempt of the press to defend the political rights of the bourgeoisie against the executive power, astonished not merely France, but all Europe.
While the parliamentary party of Order, by its clamor for tranquillity, as I have shown, committed itself to quiescence, while it declared the political rule of the bourgeoisie to be incompatible with the safety and existence of the bourgeoisie -- by destroying with its own hands, in the struggle against the other classes of society, all the conditions for its own regime, the parliamentary regime -- the extraparliamentary mass of the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, by its servility toward the President, by its vilification of parliament, by its brutal maltreatment of its own press, invited Bonaparte to suppress and annihilate its speaking and writing section, its politicians and its literati, its platform and its press, so it would then be able to pursue its private affairs with full confidence in the protection of a strong and unrestricted government. It declared unequivocally that it longed to get rid of its own political rule in order to get rid of the troubles and dangers of ruling.
And this extraparliamentary bourgeoisie, which had already rebelled against the purely parliamentary and literary struggle for the rule of its own class, and had betrayed the leaders of this struggle, now dares after the event to indict the proletariat for not having risen in a bloody struggle, a life-and-death struggle on its behalf! This bourgeoisie, which every moment sacrificed its general class interests, that is, its political interests, to the narrowest and most sordid private interests, and demanded a similar sacrifice from its representatives, now moans that the proletariat has sacrificed its ideal political interests to its material interests. It poses as a lovely creature that has been misunderstood and deserted in the decisive hour by the proletariat, misled by socialists. And it finds a general echo in the bourgeois world. Naturally, I do not speak here of German shyster politicians and riffraff of the same persuasion. I refer, for example, to the already quoted Economist, which as late as November 29, 1851, that is, four days prior to the coup d'etat, declared Bonaparte to be the "guardian of order" but Thiers and Berryer to be "anarchists," and on December 27, 1851, after Bonaparte had quieted these "anarchists," is already vociferous about the treason to "the skill, knowledge, discipline, spiritual insight, intellectual resources, and moral weight of the middle and upper ranks" committed by the masses of "ignorant, untrained, and stupid proletaires." The stupid, ignorant, and vulgar mass was none other than the bourgeois mass itself.
In the year 1851, France, to be sure, had passed through a kind of minor trade crisis. The end of February showed a decline in exports compared with 1850; in March trade suffered and factories closed down; in April the position of the industrial departments appeared as desperate as after the February days; in May business had still not revived; as late as June 28 the holdings of the Bank of France showed, by the enormous growth of deposits and the equally great decrease in advances on bills of exchange, that production was at a standstill, and it was not until the middle of October that a progressive improvement of business again set in. The French bourgeoisie attributed this trade stagnation to purely political causes, to the struggle between parliament and the executive power, to the precariousncss of a merely provisional form of state, to the terrifying prospect of the second Sunday in May of 1852. I will not deny that all these circumstances had a depressing effect on some branches of industry in Paris and the departments. But in any case the influence of political conditions was only local and inconsiderable. Does this require further proof than the fact that the improvement of trade set in toward the middle of October, at the very moment when the political situation grew worse, the political horizon darkened, and a thunderbolt from Elysium was expected at any moment? For the rest, the French bourgeois, whose "skill, knowledge, spiritual insight, and intellectual resources" reach no further than his nose, could throughout the period of the Industrial Exhibition in London have found the cause of his commercial misery right under his nose. While in France factories were closed down, in England commercial bankruptcies broke out. While in April and May the industrial panic reached a climax in France, in April and May the commercial panic reached a climax in England. Like the French woolen industry, the English woolen industry suffered, and as French silk manufacture, so did English silk manufacture. True, the English cotton mills continued working, but no longer at the same profits as in 1849 and 1850. The only difference was that the crisis in France was industrial, in England commercial; that while in France the factories stood idle, in England they extended operations, but under less favorable conditions than in preceding years; that in France it was exports, in England imports which were hardest hit. The common cause, which is naturally not to be sought within the bounds of the French political horizon, was obvious. The years 1849 and 1850 were years of the greatest material prosperity and of an overproduction that appeared as such only in 1851. At the beginning of this year it was given a further special impetus by the prospect of the Industrial Exhibition. In addition there were the following special circumstances: first, the partial failure of the cotton crop in 1850 and 1851, then the certainty of a bigger cotton crop than had been expected; first the rise, then the sudden fall-in short, the fluctuations in the price of cotton. The crop of raw silk, in France at least, had turned out to be even below the average yield. Woolen manufacture, finally, had expanded so much since 1848 that the production of wool could not keep pace with it and the price of raw wool rose out of all proportion to the price of woolen manufactures. Here, then, in the raw material of three industries for the world market, we already have threefold material for a stagnation in trade. Apart from these special circumstances, the apparent crisis of 1851 was nothing else but the halt which overproduction and overspeculation invariably make in completing the industrial cycle, before they summon all their strength in order to rush feverishly through the final phase of this cycle and arrive once more at their starting point, the general trade crisis. During such intervals in the history of trade, commercial bankruptcies break out in England, while in France industry itself is reduced to idleness, partly forced into retreat by the competition, just then becoming intolerable, of the English in all markets, and partly singled out for attack as a luxury industry by every business stagnation. Thus besides the general crisis France goes through national trade crises of her own, which are nevertheless determined and conditioned far more by the general state of the world market than by French local influences. It will not be without interest to contrast the judgment of the English bourgeois with the prejudice of the French bourgeois. In its annual trade report for 1851, one of the largest Liverpool houses writes:
"Few years have more thoroughly belied the anticipations formed at their commencement than the one just closed; instead of the great prosperity which was almost unanimously looked for it has proved one of the most discouraging that has been seen for the last quarter of a century -- this, of course, refers to the mercantile, not to the manufacturing classes. And yet there certainly were grounds for anticipating the reverse at the beginning of the year -- stocks of produce were moderate, money was abundant, and food was cheap, a plentiful harvest well secured, unbroken peace on the Continent, and no political or fiscal disturbances at home; indeed, the wings of commerce were never more unfettered.... To what source, then, is this disastrous result to be attributed? We believe to overtrading in both imports and exports. Unless our merchants will put more stringent limits to their freedom of action, nothing but a triennial panic can keep us in check."
Now picture to yourself the French bourgeois, how in the throes of this business panic his trade-crazy brain is tortured, set in a whirl, and stunned by rumors of coups d'etat and the restoration of universal suffrage, by the struggle between parliament and the executive power, by the Fronde war between Orleanists and Legitimists, by the communist conspiracies in the south of France, by alleged Jacqueries in the departments of Nievre and Cher, by the advertisements of the different candidates for the presidency, by the cheapjack solutions offered by the journals, by the threats of the republicans to uphold the constitution and universal suffrage by force of arms, by the gospel- preaching emigre heroes in partibus, who announced that the world would come to an end on the second Sunday in May, 1852 -- think of all this and you will comprehend why in this unspeakable, deafening chaos of fusion, revision, prorogation, constitution, conspiration, coalition, emigration, usurpation, and revolution, the bourgeois madly snorts at his parliamentary republic: "Rather an end with terror than terror without end!"
Bonaparte understood this cry. His power of comprehension was sharpened by the growing turbulence of creditors, who with each sunset which brought settling day, the second Sunday in May, 1852, nearer, saw a movement of the stars protesting their earthly bills of exchange. They had become veritable astrologers. The National Assembly had blighted Bonaparte's hopes of a constitutional prolongation of his authority; the candidature of the Prince of Joinville forbade further vacillation.
If ever an event has, well in advance of its coming, cast its shadow before, it was Bonaparte's coup d'etat. As early as January 29, 1849, barely a month after his election, he had made a proposal about it to Changarnier. In the summer of 1849 his own Prime Minister, Odilon Barrot, had covertly denounced the policy of coups d'etat; in the winter of 1 85o Thiers had openly done so. In May, 1851, Persigny had sought once more to win Changarnier for the coup; the Messager de I'Assemblee had published an account of these negotiations. During every parliamentary storm the Bonapartist journals threatened a coup d'etat, and the nearer the crisis drew, the louder their tone became. In the orgies that Bonaparte kept up every night with men and women of the "swell mob," as soon as the hour of midnight approached and copious potations had loosened tongues and fired imaginations, the coup d'etat was fixed for the following morning. Swords were drawn, glasses clinked, the representatives were thrown out the window, the imperial mantle fell upon Bonaparte's shoulders, until the following morning banished the ghost once more and astonished Paris learned, from vestals of little reticence and from indiscreet paladins, of the danger it had once again escaped. During the months of September and October rumors of a coup d'etat followed fast, one after the other. Simultaneously the shadow took on color, like a variegated daguerreotype. Look up the September and October copies of the organs of the European daily press and you will find, word for word, intimations like the following: "Paris is full of rumors of a coup d'etat. The capital is to be filled with troops during the night, and the next morning is to bring decrees which will dissolve the National Assembly, declare the Department of the Seine in a state of siege, restore universal suffrage, and appeal to the people. Bonaparte is said to be seeking ministers for the execution of these illegal decrees." The dispatches that bring these tidings always end with the fateful word "postponed." The coup d'etat was ever the fixed idea of Bonaparte. With this idea he had again set foot on French soil. He was so obsessed by it that he continually betrayed it and blurted it out. He was so weak that, just as continually, he gave it up again. The shadow of the coup d'etat had become so familiar to the Parisians as a specter that they were not willing to believe in it when it finally appeared in the flesh. What allowed the coup d'etat to succeed was therefore neither the reticent reserve of the chief of the Society of December 10 nor the fact that the National Assembly was caught unawares. If it succeeded, it succeeded despite its indiscretion and with its foreknowledge, a necessary, inevitable result of antecedent developments.
On October 10 Bonaparte announced to his ministers his decision to restore universal suffrage; on the sixteenth they handed in their resignations; on the twenty-sixth Paris learned of the formation of the Thorigny Ministry. Police Prefect Carlier was simultaneously replaced by Maupas; the head of the First Military Division, Magnan, concentrated the most reliable regiments in the capital. On November 4 the National Assembly resumed its sessions. It had nothing better to do than to recapitulate in a short, succinct form the course it had gone through and to prove that it was buried only after it had died.
The first post it forfeited in the struggle with the executive power was the ministry. It had solemnly to admit this loss by accepting at full value the Thorigny Ministry, a mere shadow cabinet. The Permanent Commission had received M. Giraud with laughter when he presented himself in the name of the new ministers. Such a weak ministry for such strong measures as the restoration of universal suffrage! Yet the precise object was to get nothing through in parliament, but everything against parliament.
On the very first day of its reopening, the National Assembly received the message from Bonaparte in which he demanded the restoration of universal suffrage and the abolition of the law of May 31, 18 So. The same day his ministers introduced a decree to this effect. The National Assembly at once rejected the ministry's motion of urgency and rejected the law itself on November i3 by three hundred and fifty-five votes to three hundred and forty-eight. Thus, it tore up its mandate once more; it once more confirmed the fact that it had transformed itself from the freely elected representatives of the people into the usurpatory parliament of a class; it acknowledged once more that it had itself cut in two the muscles which connected the parliamentary head with the body of the nation.
If by its motion to restore universal suffrage the executive power appealed from the National Assembly to the people, the legislative power appealed by its Quaestors' Bill from the people to the army. This Quaestors' Bill was to establish its right of directly requisitioning troops, of forming a parliamentary army. While it thus designated the army as the arbitrator between itself and the people, between itself and Bonaparte, while it recognized the army as the decisive state power, it had to confirm, on the other hand, the fact that it had long given up its claim to dominate this power. By debating its right to requisition troops, instead of requisitioning them at once, it betrayed its doubts about its own powers. By rejecting the Quaestors' Bill, it made public confession of its impotence. This bill was defeated, its proponents lacking a hundred and eight votes of a majority. The Montagne thus decided the issue. It found itself in the position of Buridan's ass -- not, indeed, between two bundles of hay with the problem of deciding which was the more attractive, but between two showers of blows with the problem of deciding which was the harder. On the one hand, there was the fear of Changarnier; on the other, the fear of Bonaparte. It must be confessed that the position was not a heroic one.
On November 18 an amendment was moved to the law on municipal elections introduced by the party of Order, to the effect that instead of three years', one year's domicile should suffice for municipal electors. The amendment was lost by a single vote, but this one vote immediately proved to be a mistake. By splitting up into its hostile factions, the party of Order had long ago forfeited its independent parliamentary majority. It showed now that there was no longer any majority at all in parliament. The National Assembly had become incapable of transacting business. Its atomic constituents were no longer held together by any force of cohesion; it had drawn its last breath; it was dead.
Finally, a few days before the catastrophe, the extraparliamentary mass of the bourgeoisie was solemnly to confirm once more its breach with the bourgeoisie in parliament. Thiers, as a parliamentary hero infected more than the rest with the incurable disease of parliamentary cretinism, had, after the death of parliament, hatched out, together with the Council of State, a new parliamentary intrigue, a Responsibility Law by which the President was to be firmly held within the limits of the constitution. just as, on laying the foundation stone of the new market halls in Paris on September 15, Bonaparte, like a second Masaniello, had enchanted the dames des balles, the fishwives -- to be sure, one fishwife outweighed seventeen burgraves in real power -- just as after the introduction of the Quaestors' Bill he enraptured the lieutenants whom he regaled in the Elysee, so now, on November 25, he swept off their feet the industrial bourgeoisie, which had gathered at the circus to receive at his hands prize medals for the London Industrial Exhibition.
I shall give the significant portion of his speech as reported in the journal des Debats: "'With such unhoped-for successes, I am justified in reiterating how great the French Republic would be if it were permitted to pursue its real interests and reform its institutions, instead of being constantly disturbed by demagogues, on the one hand, and by monarchist hallucinations, on the other.' (Loud, stormy and repeated applause from every part of the amphitheater.) 'The monarchist hallucinations hinder all progress and all important branches of industry. In place of progress nothing but struggle. One sees men who were formerly the most zealous supporters of the royal authority and prerogative become partisans of a Convention merely in order to weaken the authority that has sprung from universal suffrage.' (Loud and repeated applause.) 'We see men who have suffered most from the Revolution, and have deplored it most, provoke a new one, and merely in order to fetter the nation's will.... I promise you tranquillity for the future,' etc., etc. (Bravo, bravo, a storm of bravos.) "
Thus the industrial bourgeoisie applauds with servile bravos the coup d'etat of December 2, the annihilation of parliament, the downfall of its own rule, the dictatorship of Bonaparte. The thunder of applause on November 25 had its answer in the thunder of cannon on December 4, and it was on the house of Monsieur Sallandrouze, who had clapped most, that they clapped most of the bombs.
Cromwell, when he dissolved the Long Parliament, went alone into its midst, took out his watch so that it should not continue to exist a minute after the time limit he had fixed, and drove out each one of the members of Parliament with hilariously humorous taunts. Napoleon, smaller than his prototype, at least betook himself on the eighteenth Brumaire to the legislative body and read out to it, though in a faltering voice, its sentence of death. The second Bonaparte, who, moreover, found himself in possession of an executive power very different from that of Cromwell or Napoleon, sought his model not in the annals of world history but in the annals of the Society of December 1 o, in the annals of the criminal courts. He robs the Bank of France of twenty-five million francs, buys General Magnan with a million, the soldiers with fifteen francs apiece and liquor, comes together with his accomplices secretly like a thief in the night, has the houses of the most dangerous parliamentary leaders broken into, and Cavaignac, Lamoriciere, Le Flo, Changarnier, Charras, Thiers, Baze, etc., dragged from their beds and put in prison, the chief squares of Paris and the parliamentary building occupied by troops, and cheapjack placards posted early in the morning on all the walls, proclaiming the dissolution of the National Assembly and the Council of State, the restoration of universal suffrage, and the placing of the Seine Department in a state of siege. In like manner he inserted a little later in the Moniteur a false document which asserted that influential parliamentarians had grouped themselves around him and formed a state consulta.
The rump parliament, assembled in the mairie building of the Tenth Arrondissement and consisting mainly of Legitimists and Orleanists, votes the deposition of Bonaparte amid repeated cries of "Long live the Republic," unfailingly harangues the gaping crowds before the building, and is finally led off in the custody of African sharpshooters, first to the d'Orsay barracks, and later packed into prison vans and transported to the prisons of Mazas, Ham, and Vincennes. Thus ended the party of Order, the Legislative Assembly, and the February Revolution. Before hastening to close, let us briefly summarize the latter's history:
1. First period. From February 24 to May 4, 1 848. February period. Prologue. Universal-brotherhood swindle.
2. Second period. Period of constituting the republic and of the Constituent National Assembly.
a. May 4 to June 25, 1848- Struggle of all classes against the proletariat. Defeat of the proletariat in the June days.
b. June 25 to December 10, 1848. Dictatorship of the pure bourgeois republicans. Drafting of the constitution. Proclamation of a state of siege in Paris. The bourgeois dictatorship set aside on December 10 by the election of Bonaparte as President.
c. December 20, 1848, to May 28, 1849- Struggle of the Constituent Assembly with Bonaparte and with the party of Order in alliance with him. Passing of the Constituent Assembly. Fall of the republican bourgeoisie.
3. Third period. Period of the constitutional republic and of the Legislative National Assembly.
a. May 28, 1849, to June 13, 1849- Struggle of the petty bourgeoisie with the bourgeoisie and with Bonaparte. Defeat of the petty-bourgeois democracy.
b. June 13, 1849, to May 31, 1850. Parliamentary dictatorship of the party of Order. It completes its rule by abolishing universal suffrage, but loses the parliamentary ministry.
c. May 31, 1850, to December 2, 1851. Struggle between the parliamentary bourgeoisie and Bonaparte.
(1) May 31, 1850, to January 12, 1851. The Assembly loses the supreme command of the army.
(2) January 12 to April 11, 1851. It is worsted in its attempts to regain the administrative power. The party of Order loses its independent parliamentary majority. It forms a coalition with the republicans and the Montagne.
(3) April 11, 1851, to October 9, 1851. Attempts at revision, fusion, prorogation. The party of Order decomposes into its separate constituents. The breach between the bourgeois parliament and press and the mass of the bourgeoisie becomes definite.
(4) October 9 to December 2, 1851. Open breach between parliament and the executive power. The Assembly performs its dying act and succumbs, left in the lurch by its own class, by the army, and by all the remaining classes. Passing of the parliamentary regime and of bourgeois rule. Victory of Bonaparte. Parody of restoration of empire.
Introduction | Preface | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII
The Web Site for Critical Realism WSCR: Resources The WSCR Archive: List of Papers