The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon/Chapter IV

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The National Assembly reconvened in the middle of October. On November 1, Bonaparte surprised it with a message, in which he announced the dismissal of the Barrot-Falloux Ministry, and the framing of a new. Never have lackeys been chased from service with less ceremony than Bonaparte did his ministers. The kicks, that were eventually destined for the National Assembly, Barrot & Company received in the meantime.

The Barrot Ministry was, as we have seen, composed of Legitimists and Orleanists; it was a Ministry of the party of Order. Bonaparte needed that Ministry in order to dissolve the republican constituent assembly, to effect the expedition against Rome, and to break up the democratic party. He had seemingly eclipsed himself behind this Ministry, yielded the reins to the hands of the party of Order, and assumed the modest mask, which, under Louis Philippe, had been worn by the responsible overseer of the newspapers—the mask of "homme de paille."[1] Now he threw off the mask, it being no longer the light curtain behind which he could conceal, but the Iron Mask, which prevented him from revealing his own physiognomy. He had instituted the Barrot Ministry in order to break up the republican National Assembly in the name of the party of Order; he now dismissed it in order to declare his own name independent of the parliament of the party of Order.

There was no want of plausible pretexts for this dismissal. The Barrot Ministry had neglected even the forms of decency that would have allowed the president of the republic to appear as a power along with the National Assembly. For instance, during the vacation of the National Assembly, Bonaparte published a letter to Edgar Ney, in which he seemed to disapprove the liberal attitude of the Pope, just as, in opposition to the constitutive assembly, he had published a letter, in which he praised Oudinot for his attack upon the Roman republic; when the National Assembly came to vote on the budget for the Roman expedition, Victor Hugo, out of pretended liberalism, brought up that letter for discussion; the party of Order drowned this notion of Bonaparte's under exclamations of contempt and incredulity as though notions of Bonaparte could not possibly have any political weight;—and none of the Ministers took up the gauntlet for him. On another occasion, Barrot, with his well-known hollow pathos, dropped, from the speakers' tribune in the Assembly, words of indignation upon the "abominable machinations," which, according to him, went on in the immediate vicinity of the President. Finally, while the Ministry obtained from the National Assembly a widow's pension for the Duchess of Orleans, it denied every motion to raise the Presidential civil list;—and, in Bonaparte, be it always remembered, the Imperial Pretender was so closely blended with the impecunious adventurer, that the great idea of his being destined to restore the Empire was ever supplemented by that other, to-wit, that the French people was destined to pay his debts.

The Barrot-Falloux Ministry was the first and last parliamentary Ministry that Bonaparte called into life. Its dismissal marks, accordingly, a decisive period. With the Ministry, the party of Order lost, never to regain, an indispensable post to the maintenance of the parliamentary regime,—the handle to the Executive power. It is readily understood that, in a country like France, where the Executive disposes over an army of more than half a million office-holders, and, consequently, keeps permanently a large mass of interests and existences in the completest dependence upon itself; where the Government surrounds, controls, regulates, supervises and guards society, from its mightiest acts of national life, down to its most insignificant motions; from its common life, down to the private life of each individual; where, due to such extraordinary centralization, this body of parasites acquires a ubiquity and omniscience, a quickened capacity for motion and rapidity that finds an analogue only in the helpless lack of self-reliance, in the unstrung weakness of the body social itself;—that in such a country the National Assembly lost, with the control of the ministerial posts, all real influence; unless it simultaneously simplified the administration; if possible, reduced the army of office-holders; and, finally, allowed society and public opinion to establish its own organs, independent of government censorship. But the Material Interest of the French bourgeoisie is most intimately bound up in maintenance of just such a large and extensively ramified governmental machine. There the bourgeoisie provides for its own superfluous membership; and supplies, in the shape of government salaries, what it can not pocket in the form of profit, interest, rent and fees. On the other hand, its Political Interests daily compel it to increase the power of repression, i.e., the means and the personnel of the government; it is at the same time forced to conduct an uninterrupted warfare against public opinion, and, full of suspicion, to hamstring and lame the independent organs of society—whenever it does not succeed in amputating them wholly. Thus the bourgeoisie of France was forced by its own class attitude, on the one hand, to destroy the conditions for all parliamentary power, its own included, and, on the other, to render irresistible the Executive power that stood hostile to it.

The new Ministry was called the d'Hautpoul Ministry. Not that General d'Hautpoul had gained the rank of Ministerial President. Along with Barrot, Bonaparte abolished this dignity, which, it must be granted, condemned the President of the republic to the legal nothingness of a constitutional kind, of a constitutional king at that, without throne and crown, without sceptre and without sword, without irresponsibility, without the imperishable possession of the highest dignity in the State, and, what was most untoward of all—without a civil list. The d'Hautpoul Ministry numbered only one man of parliamentary reputation, the Jew Fould, one of the most notorious members of the high finance. To him fell the portfolio of finance. Turn to the Paris stock quotations, and it will be found that from November 1, 1849, French stocks fall and rise with the falling and rising of the Bonapartist shares. While Bonaparte had thus found his ally in the Bourse, he at the same time took possession of the Police through the appointment of Carlier as Prefect of Police.

But the consequences of the change of Ministry could reveal themselves only in the course of events. So far, Bonaparte had taken only one step forward, to be all the more glaringly driven back. Upon his harsh message, followed the most servile declarations of submissiveness to the National Assembly. As often as the Ministers made timid attempts to introduce his own personal hobbies as bills, they themselves seemed unwilling and compelled only by their position to run the comic errands, of whose futility they were convinced in advance. As often as Bonaparte blabbed out his plans behind the backs of his Ministers, and sported his "idees napoleoniennes,"[2] his own Ministers disavowed him from the speakers' tribune in the National Assembly. His aspirations after usurpation seemed to become audible only to the end that the ironical laughter of his adversaries should not die out. He deported himself like an unappreciated genius, whom the world takes for a simpleton. Never did lie enjoy in fuller measure the contempt of all classes than at this period. Never did the bourgeoisie rule more absolutely; never did it more boastfully display the insignia of sovereignty.

It is not here my purpose to write the history of its legislative activity, which is summed up in two laws passed during this period: the law reestablishing the duty on wine, and the laws on education, to suppress infidelity. While the drinking of wine was made difficult to the Frenchmen, all the more bounteously was the water of pure life poured out to them. Although in the law on the duty on wine the bourgeoisie declares the old hated French tariff system to be inviolable, it sought, by means of the laws on education, to secure the old good will of the masses that made the former bearable. One wonders to see the Orleanists, the liberal bourgeois, these old apostles of Voltarianism and of eclectic philosophy, entrusting the supervision of the French intellect to their hereditary enemies, the Jesuits. But, while Orleanists and Legitimists could part company on the question of the Pretender to the crown, they understood full well that their joint reign dictated the joining of the means of oppression of two distinct epochs; that the means of subjugation of the July monarchy had to be supplemented with and strengthened by the means of subjugation of the restoration.

The farmers, deceived in all their expectations, more than ever ground down by the law scale of the price of corn, on the one hand, and, on the other, by the growing load of taxation and mortgages, began to stir in the Departments. They were answered by the systematic baiting of the school masters, whom the Government subjected to the clergy; by the systematic baiting of the Mayors, whom it subjected to the Prefects; and by a system of espionage to which all were subjected. In Paris and the large towns, the reaction itself carries the physiognomy of its own epoch; it irritates more than it cows; in the country, it becomes low, moan, petty, tiresome, vexatious,—in a word, it becomes "gensdarme." It is easily understood how three years of the gensdarme regime, sanctified by the regime of the clergyman, was bound to demoralize unripe masses.

Whatever the mass of passion and declamation, that the party of Order expended from the speakers' tribune in the National Assembly against the minority, its speech remained monosyllabic, like that of the Christian, whose speech was to be "Aye, aye; nay, nay." It was monosyllabic, whether from the tribune or the press; dull as a conundrum, whose solution is known beforehand. Whether the question was the right of petition or the duty on wine, the liberty of the press or free trade, clubs or municipal laws, protection of individual freedom or the regulation of national economy, the slogan returns ever again, the theme is monotonously the same, the verdict is ever ready and unchanged: Socialism! Even bourgeois liberalism is pronounced socialistic; socialistic, alike, is pronounced popular education; and, likewise, socialistic national financial reform. It was socialistic to build a railroad where already a canal was; and it was socialistic to defend oneself with a stick when attacked with a sword.

This was not a mere form of speech, a fashion, nor yet party tactics. The bourgeoisie perceives correctly that all the weapons, which it forged against feudalism, turn their edges against itself; that all the means of education, which it brought forth, rebel against its own civilization; that all the gods, which it made, have fallen away from it. It understands that all its so-called citizens' rights and progressive organs assail and menace its class rule, both in its social foundation and its political superstructure—consequently, have become "socialistic." It justly scents in this menace and assault the secret of Socialism, whose meaning and tendency it estimates more correctly than the spurious, so-called Socialism, is capable of estimating itself, and which, consequently, is unable to understand how it is that the bourgeoisie obdurately shuts up its ears to it, alike whether it sentimentally whines about the sufferings of humanity; or announces in Christian style the millennium and universal brotherhood; or twaddles humanistically about the soul, culture and freedom; or doctrinally matches out a system of harmony and wellbeing for all classes. What, however, the bourgeoisie does not understand is the consequence that its own parliamentary regime, its own political reign, is also of necessity bound to fall under the general ban of "socialistic." So long as the rule of the bourgeoisie is not fully organized, has not acquired its purely political character, the contrast with the other classes cannot come into view in all its sharpness; and, where it does come into view, it cannot take that dangerous turn that converts every conflict with the Government into a conflict with Capital. When, however, the French bourgeoisie began to realize in every pulsation of society a menace to "peace," how could it, at the head of society, pretend to uphold the regime of unrest, its own regime, the parliamentary regime, which, according to the expression of one of its own orators, lives in struggle, and through struggle? The parliamentary regime lives on discussion,—how can it forbid discussion? Every single interest, every single social institution is there converted into general thoughts, is treated as a thought,—how could any interest or institution claim to be above thought, and impose itself as an article of faith? The orators' conflict in the tribune calls forth the conflict of the rowdies in the press the debating club in parliament is necessarily supplemented by debating clubs in the salons and the barrooms; the representatives, who are constantly appealing to popular opinion, justify popular opinion in expressing its real opinion in petitions. The parliamentary regime leaves everything to the decision of majorities,—how can the large majorities beyond parliament be expected not to wish to decide? If, from above, they hear the fiddle screeching, what else is to be expected than that those below should dance?

Accordingly, by now persecuting as Socialist what formerly it had celebrated as Liberal, the bourgeoisie admits that its own interest orders it to raise itself above the danger of self government; that, in order to restore rest to the land, its own bourgeois parliament must, before all, be brought to rest; that, in order to preserve its social power unhurt, its political power must be broken; that the private bourgeois can continue to exploit the other classes and rejoice in "property," "family," "religion" and "order" only under the condition that his own class be condemned to the same political nullity of the other classes, that, in order to save their purse, the crown must be knocked off their heads, and the sword that was to shield them, must at the same time be hung over their heads as a sword of Damocles.

In the domain of general bourgeois interests, the National Assembly proved itself so barren, that, for instance, the discussion over the Paris-Avignon railroad, opened in the winter of 1850, was not yet ripe for a vote on December 2, 1851. Wherever it did not oppress or was reactionary, the bourgeoisie was smitten with incurable barrenness.

While Bonaparte's Ministry either sought to take the initiative of laws in the spirit of the party of Order, or even exaggerated their severity in their enforcement and administration, he, on his part, sought to win popularity by means of childishly silly propositions, to exhibit the contrast between himself and the National Assembly, and to hint at a secret plan, held in reserve and only through circumstances temporarily prevented from disclosing its hidden treasures to the French people. Of this nature was the proposition to decree a daily extra pay of four sous to the under-officers; so, likewise, the proposition for a "word of honor" loan bank for working-men. To have money given and money borrowed—that was the perspective that he hoped to cajole the masses with. Presents and loans—to that was limited the financial wisdom of the slums, the high as well as the low; to that were limited the springs which Bonaparte knew how to set in motion. Never did Pretender speculate more dully upon the dullness of the masses.

Again and again did the National Assembly fly into a passion at these unmistakable attempts to win popularity at its expense, and at the growing danger that this adventurer, lashed on by debts and unrestrained by reputation, might venture upon some desperate act. The strained relations between the party of Order and the President had taken on a threatening aspect, when an unforeseen event threw him back, rueful into its arms. We mean the supplementary elections of March, 1850. These elections took place to fill the vacancies created in the National Assembly, after June 13, by imprisonment and exile. Paris elected only Social-Democratic candidates; it even united the largest vote upon one of the insurgents of June, 1848,—Deflotte. In this way the small traders' world of Paris, now allied with the proletariat, revenged itself for the defeat of June 13, 1849. It seemed to have disappeared from the field of battle at the hour of danger only to step on it again at a more favorable opportunity, with increased forces for the fray, and with a bolder war cry. A circumstance seemed to heighten the danger of this electoral victory. The Army voted in Paris for a June insurgent against Lahitte, a Minister of Bonaparte's, and, in the Departments, mostly for the candidates of the Mountain, who, there also, although not as decisively as in Paris, maintained the upper hand over their adversaries.

Bonaparte suddenly saw himself again face to face with the revolution. As on January 29, 1849, as on June 13, 1849, on May 10, 1850, he vanished again behind the party of Order. He bent low; he timidly apologized; he offered to appoint any Ministry whatever at the behest of the parliamentary majority; he even implored the Orleanist and Legitimist party leaders—the Thiers, Berryers, Broglies, Moles, in short, the so-called burgraves—to take hold of the helm of State in person. The party of Order did not know how to utilize this opportunity, that was never to return. Instead of boldly taking possession of the proffered power, it did not even force Bonaparte to restore the Ministry dismissed on November 1; it contented itself with humiliating him with its pardon, and with affiliating Mr. Baroche to the d'Hautpoul Ministry. This Baroche had, as Public Prosecutor, stormed before the High Court at Bourges, once against the revolutionists of May 15, another time against the Democrats of June 13, both times on the charge of "attentats" against the National Assembly. None of Bonaparte's Ministers contributed later more towards the degradation of the National Assembly; and, after December 2, 1851, we meet him again as the comfortably stalled and dearly paid Vice-President of the Senate. He had spat into the soup of the revolutionists for Bonaparte to eat it.

On its part, the Social Democratic party seemed only to look for pretexts in order to make its own victory doubtful, and to dull its edge. Vidal, one of the newly elected Paris representatives, was returned for Strassburg also. He was induced to decline the seat for Paris and accept the one for Strassburg. Thus, instead of giving a definite character to their victory at the hustings, and thereby compelling the party of Order forthwith to contest it in parliament; instead of thus driving the foe to battle at the season of popular enthusiasm and of a favorable temper in the Army, the democratic party tired out Paris with a new campaign during the months of March and April; it allowed the excited popular passions to wear themselves out in this second provisional electoral play it allowed the revolutionary vigor to satiate itself with constitutional successes, and lose its breath in petty intrigues, hollow declamation and sham moves; it gave the bourgeoisie time to collect itself and make its preparations finally, it allowed the significance of the March elections to find a sentimentally weakening commentary at the subsequent April election in the victory of Eugene Sue. In one word, it turned the 10th of March into an April Fool.

The parliamentary majority perceived the weakness of its adversary. Its seventeen burgraves—Bonaparte had left to it the direction of and responsibility for the attack—, framed a new election law, the moving of which was entrusted to Mr. Faucher, who had applied for the honor. On May 8, he introduced the new law whereby universal suffrage was abolished; a three years residence in the election district imposed as a condition for voting; and, finally, the proof of this residence made dependent, for the working-man, upon the testimony of his employer.

As revolutionarily as the democrats had agitated and stormed during the constitutional struggles, so constitutionally did they, now, when it was imperative to attest, arms in hand, the earnestness of their late electoral victories, preach order, "majestic calmness," lawful conduct, i. e., blind submission to the will of the counter-revolution, which revealed itself as law. During the debate, the Mountain put the party of Order to shame by maintaining the passionless attitude of the law-abiding burger, who upholds the principle of law against revolutionary passions; and by twitting the party of Order with the fearful reproach of proceeding in a revolutionary manner. Even the newly elected deputies took pains to prove by their decent and thoughtful deportment what an act of misjudgment it was to decry them as anarchists, or explain their election as a victory of the revolution. The new election law was passed on May 31. The Mountain contented itself with smuggling a protest into the pockets of the President of the Assembly. To the election law followed a new press law, whereby the revolutionary press was completely done away with. It had deserved its fate. The "National" and the "Presse," two bourgeois organs, remained after this deluge the extreme outposts of the revolution.

We have seen how, during March and April, the democratic leaders did everything to involve the people of Paris in a sham battle, and how, after May 8, they did everything to keep it away from a real battle. We may not here forget that the year 1850 was one of the most brilliant years of industrial and commercial prosperity; consequently, that the Parisian proletariat was completely employed. But the election law of May 31, 1850 excluded them from all participation in political power; it cut the field of battle itself from under them; it threw the workingmen back into the state of pariahs, which they had occupied before the February revolution. In allowing themselves, in sight of such an occurrence, to be led by the democrats, and in forgetting the revolutionary interests of their class through temporary comfort, the workingmen abdicated the honor of being a conquering power; they submitted to their fate; they proved that the defeat of June, 1848, had incapacitated them from resistance for many a year to come finally, that the historic process must again, for the time being, proceed over their heads. As to the small traders' democracy, which, on June 13, had cried out: "If they but dare to assail universal suffrage . . . then . . . then we will show who we are!"—they now consoled themselves with the thought that the counter-revolutionary blow, which had struck them, was no blow at all, and that the law of May 31 was no law. On May 2, 1852, according to them, every Frenchman would appear at the hustings, in one hand the ballot, in the other the sword. With this prophecy they set their hearts at ease. Finally, the Army was punished by its superiors for the elections of May and April, 1850, as it was punished for the election of May 29, 1849. This time, however, it said to itself determinately: "The revolution shall not cheat us a third time."

The law of May 31, 1850, was the "coup d'etat" of the bourgeoisie. All its previous conquests over the revolution had only a temporary character: they became uncertain the moment the National Assembly stepped off the stage; they depended upon the accident of general elections, and the history of the elections since 1848 proved irrefutably that, in the same measure as the actual reign of the bourgeoisie gathered strength, its moral reign over the masses wore off. Universal suffrage pronounced itself on May 10 pointedly against the reign of the bourgeoisie; the bourgeoisie answered with the banishment of universal suffrage. The law of May 31 was, accordingly, one of the necessities of the class struggle. On the other hand, the constitution required a minimum of two million votes for the valid ejection of the President of the republic. If none of the Presidential candidates polled this minimum, then the National Assembly was to elect the President out of the three candidates polling the highest votes. At the time that the constitutive body made this law, ten million voters were registered on the election rolls. In its opinion, accordingly, one-fifth of the qualified voters sufficed to make a choice for President valid. The law of May 31 struck at least three million voters off the rolls, reduced the number of qualified voters to seven millions, and yet, not withstanding, it kept the lawful minimum at two millions for the election of a President. Accordingly, it raised the lawful minimum from a fifth to almost a third of the qualified voters, i.e., it did all it could to smuggle the Presidential election out of the hands of the people into those of the National Assembly. Thus, by the election law of May 31, the party of Order seemed to have doubly secured its empire, in that it placed the election of both the National Assembly and the President of the republic in the keeping of the stable portion of society.

  1. #1 Man of straw
  2. #2 Napoleonic ideas.