Translation:Confessions of a Revolutionary/10
If however, you persist in telling me, the Provisional Government had been composed of more homogenous elements, more energetic men; if Barbès and Blanqui, instead of being in opposition, had been able to agree; if the elections had taken place a month earlier; if the socialists had dissimulated for some time their theories; if... if... if... etc.: admit that things would have taken place in a whole other manner. The Provisional Government would have achieved the Revolution in fifteen days; the National Assembly, entirely comprised of republicans, would have combined, developed its work; we would have had neither 17 March, nor 16 April, nor 15 May; and you, subtle historian, you would be for your theory of the impotence of power, and the revolutionary incapacity of government.
Let us reason therefore; and, since the facts abound, let us quote facts. 17 March, 16 April, and 15 May have not convinced you: I will recount to you a story that will give you some thought. But first, let us know a little of what history is like.
There are two ways to study history: one which I will call the providential method, the other, which is the philosophical method.
The first consists in relating the cause of events either to a superior will which directs from on high the course of things, and which is God; or to a human will momentarily placed in such a manner as to act upon events by its own free will, like God. This method does not exclude absolutely any design, any systematic premeditation in history: but this design is not necessary, it could be at any instant revoked at the will of its author; it depends entirely upon the determination of the personages, and on the sovereign will of God. Just as God, according to theologians, could have created an infinite number of worlds different from the actual world; so Providence could have directed the course of events in an infinite number of other ways. If, for example, Alexander the Great, instead of dying at thirty-two, had lived to sixty; if Caesar had been defeated at Pharsalus; if Constantine had not gone to establish himself at Byzantium; if Charlemagne had not founded or consolidated the temporal power of the popes; if the Bastille had not been taken on 14 July, or if a detachment of grenadiers had expelled the representatives of the people from the Jeu de paume, as those of Bonaparte did at St. Cloud; is it not true, asks the providential historian, that civilization would have taken another course, that Catholicism would not have had the same character, and that Henry V or Louis XVII would be king?
One sees that this theory is nothing other than that of chance. What the believer calls Providence, the skeptic calls Fortune: it is all one. Fieschi and Alibaud, having faith in regicide to hasten the triumph of democracy; Bossuet, reporting universal history to the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, were all of the same school. In the matter of historical science, there is no difference between absolute Pyrrhonism and the deepest superstition. This policy of the last reign, without a system despite its pompous verbiage, a policy of flip-flopping and expediting, is worth, basically, as much as that of Gregory VII. It was a routine which followed, like Catholicism, its development in profound blindness, and without knowing where it would end.
The philosophical method, while recognizing that the particular facts are not fatal, that they may vary infinitely, according to the wills which produce them, nevertheless considers them dependent upon general laws, inherent in nature and in humanity. These laws are the eternal, invariable thought of history: as to the facts which traduce them, they are, like the written characters which depict speech, like the words which express ideas, the arbitrary side of history. They could be changed indefinitely, and the immanent thought they cover would not suffer.
So, to answer the objection that is made to me, it was possible that the provisional government might have been composed of other men; that Louis Blanc might not have been one of them; that Barbès and Blanqui might not have come to complicate their already complex situation with their rival influence; that the majority of the National Assembly might have been more democratic: all this, I say, and many other things were possible; the events would have been quite different from what we have seen: there is the accidental, factitious, side of history.
But the revolutionary series in the midst of which the modern world is engaged, a series which itself results from the conditions of the human spirit, being a datum, more a prejudice, admitted by the whole world and fought at the same time by the whole world, according to which it is to the authority constituted over the nation to take the initiative of the reforms and to direct the movement, I say that the events which were to be deduced from them, whatever they might be, whether happy or unhappy, could only be the expression of the struggle between tradition and the Revolution.
All the incidents that we have witnessed since February take their significance from this double datum. On the one hand, an economic and social revolution, which comes, if I may say so, at a militaristic hour, imposed itself after twenty previous political, philosophical, religious revolutions; on the other, a rash confidence, a continuation of feudal manners, at the initiative of government. Once again, the February Revolution could have had another peripeteia, other actors, different roles or motives. The spectacle, instead of being a tragedy, could have been nothing but a melodrama: the sense, the morality of the piece remains the same.
According to this philosophical conception of history, the general facts classify, engender one another with a rigor of deduction which nothing in the positive sciences surpasses; and as it is possible for reason to impart philosophy, it is possible for human prudence to direct the course. In the providential theory, on the contrary, history is no more than a romantic imbroglio, without principle, without reason, without aim; an argument for superstition as well as for atheism, the scandal of the spirit and of the conscience.
What maintains faith in Providence is the involuntary confusion of the laws of society with the accidents that form the mise en scène. The vulgar, perceiving a certain logic in general facts, and relating to the same source the facts of detail, of which he neither discovers purpose nor necessity, since in fact this necessity does not exist, concludes a Providential Will which sovereignly rules the little things and the greatest alike, the contingent and the necessary, as the school says: that which is simply a contradiction. For us, Providence in history is the same thing as supernatural revelation in philosophy, arbitrariness in government, abuse in property.
We shall see, in the event which I have to recount, while democracy, on the one hand, and the conservative party, on the other, obedient to the same passions, endeavor with equal ardor to exercise upon the events a pressure favorable to their ideas, history unfold according to its own laws with the precision of a syllogism.
The Provisional Government had guaranteed, in the most formal way, the right to work. This guarantee it had given by virtue of its pretended initiative, and the people accepted it as such. The commitment had been made on both sides in good faith: how many men in France, on 24 February, even among the most fierce adversaries of socialism, would have thought it impossible for a State so strongly organized as ours, so abundantly endowed with resources, to ensure work to a few hundreds of thousands of workers? The thing seemed so facile, so simple; the conviction in this respect was so general that the most refractory to the new order would have been happy to terminate the Revolution at this price. Besides, there was no haggling: the people were the masters, and when, after bearing the weight of the day and of the heat, the only honor they demanded of sovereignty was work, the people could rightly be regarded as the fairest of kings and the most moderate of conquerors.
Three months had been given to the Provisional Government to honor its obligation. The three months had passed, and the work had not come. The demonstration of 15 May having brought some disorder into the relations, the bill drawn by the people upon the government had been renewed; but the deadline approached, and there was no reason to believe that the bill would be paid.
— Let us work for you, said the workers to the government, if the entrepreneurs cannot resume production.
To this proposal by the workers, the government gave a threefold objection:
— I have no money, it said, and consequently I cannot assure you wages;
I don't know what to do with your products, and I don't know to whom to sell them;
And even if I could sell them, it would not advance anything, because, by my competition, the free industry, being arrested, would return to me its workers.
— In that case, take charge of all industry, all transport, and even agriculture, resumed the workers.
— I cannot, replied the government. Such a regime would be the community, the absolute and universal servitude, against which the immense majority of citizens protest. They proved it on 17 March, 16 April, 15 May; they proved it by sending us an assembly composed nine-tenths of partisans of free competition, of free commerce, of free and independent property. What do you want me to do against the will of 35 million citizens, against yours, O unhappy workers who saved me from dictatorship on 17 March?
— So give us credit, advance us capital, organize the sponsorship of the State.
— You have no collateral to offer me, observed the government. And, as I have told you, the whole world knows it, I have no money.
— It is up to the State to give credit, not to receive it! we have been told, and we have not forgotten it. Create a paper money; we accept it in advance and will make others receive it.
— Forced course! assignats! replied the government with despair. I can force the payment, but I cannot force the sale; your paper money will collapse in three months under depreciation, and your misery will be worse.
— The February Revolution therefore means nothing! said the workers with trepidation. Must we die yet to have done it?
The Provisional Government, being unable either to organize labor or to give credit, besides what was routine to all governments, had hoped that with time and order it could restore confidence, that labor would restore itself, that it would be sufficient to offer to the working masses, who could not be abandoned to their distress, an alimentary subsidy.
Such was the thought of the national workshops, a thought all of humanity and of good desire, but a dazzling avowal of impotence. It would have been painful, perhaps dangerous, to say brusquely to those men who had believed for a moment in their forthcoming emancipation, to return to their workshops, to solicit anew the benevolence of their patrons: this would have been taken for treason against the people, and until 15 May, it was not government, the people were king. But, on the other hand, the provisional government had soon seen that an economic renovation, such as would have been required to satisfy the people, was not an affair of the State; it had felt that the nation was repugnant to this revolutionary method; it had sensed more and more that what had been proposed to it under the name of organization of labor, and which had been thought so facile, was forbidden to it. Seeing no way out of this labyrinth, it decided to stay on the sidelines, and, at the same time that it would better provoke the reprise of business to feed the workers without work, which no one assuredly could make out to be a crime.
But here again the government was lulled into the most fatal illusion.
The doctrinaire party, rallied to the absolutist party, spoke up since the debacle of 15 May. It was they who sought to dominate the government and the Assembly, and who, from the rostrum and their journals, gave the watchword to France, republican if you will, but above all conservative. While the democrats, by dint of straining power, were in the process of losing it, the doctrinaires, urged on by the Jesuits, were preparing to recapture it. The opportunity being favorable, they could not let it escape.
The adversaries of the government, therefore, pretended that the restoration of order, and consequently the return of confidence, was incompatible with the existence of the national workshops; that if it were seriously desired to revive work, it was necessary to begin by dissolving these workshops. So that the government was entangled in a double circle, cornered in the face of geminate impossibilities, whether it wished to procure work for the workers, or merely give them credit, or desired to sent them home, or decided, for a time, to feed them.
The reaction was all the more intractable, because they thought, not without reason, that the national workshops, counting more than 100,000 men, were the boulevard to Socialism; that this army, once dispersed, would have been a good bargain to democracy, to the Executive Commission; perhaps they thought that, before discussing the Constitution, they could put an end to the Republic. The party was charming: they were determined to pursue their luck, and to profit from their fortune. These men, so touchy with regard to bankruptcy when it came to their rents, were ready to violate the promise made in the name of the country by the Provisional Government, to bankrupt the workers of guaranteed work, and, if necessary, to support this bankruptcy by force.
Such was the situation:
As a price for the February Revolution, and consequentially for the opinion that it had on the quality of power, it had been agreed between the Provisional Government and the people that the latter would relinquish their sovereignty, and that, upon taking power, the Government pledged to guarantee, within three months, work.
The execution of the agreement being impossible, the national assembly refused to subscribe to it.
One of two things: either there would intervene a transaction; or, if both parties were obstinate, there would be a catastrophe.
For some humanity, respect for the sworn faith, the concern for peace; for the others the financial embarrassments of the Republic, the difficulties of the question, the demonstrated incompetence of power, commanded them to lend themselves to an accommodation. This was understood on the part of the national workshops, represented by their delegates, but especially by their national director Lalanne, and by the minister of public works, Trélat, who in those deplorable days behaved like a man of heart, and did his duty.
Since this part of the facts relating to the June insurrection has hitherto been very obscure, that the Report of Inquiry into the June affair has been careful not to make mention of it, and that it, still the same, appears to be the cause of those bloody days, I shall go into some detail. The people ought to know what enemies they have to deal with, and how revolutions are conjured away; the bourgeoisie ought, in its turn, to know how its terrors are exploited, and what intriguers make its sentiments of loyal moderation serve their execrable policy. The principal details have been furnished to me by Mr. Lalanne himself, who has testified to me on this occasion, a kindness for which I cannot here sufficiently thank him.
The Executive Commission had just created a ministry. On 12 May, Trélat was appointed to public works, a department to which belonged the charge of the national workshops. He immediately perceived the dangers of the situation, and sought without delay the means to parry them. As early as the 17th, despite the trouble brought on by the 15th, he instituted a commission to report on the national workshops and propose a solution. The next day, on the 18th, this commission met; it deliberated without interruption during the whole day. The report was drafted the following night, read to the commission on the morning of the 19th, discussed and decided in the second sitting, copied and handed at once to the minister. Upon having heard it read, Trélat declared that he adopted all the conclusions, giving the order to have it printed immediately; and on the 20th, at two o'clock, the national printing press had printed the 1,200 copies destined for the Constituent Assembly and the principal administrations. The distribution was to take place on the same day.
Suddenly, the order was given to postpone the distribution; not one copy must leave the minister's office, the Executive Commission had so decided. It feared that the conclusions of the Report, that certain principles expressed therein, the right to work among others, would stir up violent opposition in the National Assembly. Since 15 May, hostile passions had begun to emerge: they must not be given a pretext to burst. When audacity alone could save it, the Executive Commission gave way to fear: the hour of its retreat had struck.
Halted at the outset of a reform both prudent and radical, to which he had committed himself, the minister did not put it off. He sought at least to extirpate the most flagrant abuses among those the Commission had pointed out; but he had received, from the young director who had presided over the national workshops since the beginning, only promises not followed into effect. One would have said that a fatal genie was bent on aggravating the evil, while at the same time preventing the remedy. A few days were lost in useless efforts. Trélat wanted to overcome the inertia he had encountered, to give more authority to his orders, to surround himself with more light; to this end, he reconstituted the commission and brought into it experienced administrators who represented diverse ministerial departments. This commission met on 26 May under the chairmanship of the minister; it appealed to the director, and soon recognized that it had nothing to expect from him. He was replaced on the same day.
From that moment, the Commission on the National Workshops was permanently established; it resumed one by one, modified, extended or restrained the proposals which were the subject of the first report. First, it occupied itself with abuse reform; it reduced the bureaus that had taken an excessive development; replaced day labor with piecework; organized, with the concurrence of municipal authorities, a control, and at the first attempt recognized that out of 120,000 registered names, 25,000 had to be struck for double or triple employment. But all these measures were pure repression; it was not enough to gradually reduce the cadres of this great army; it was necessary to provide work for the men who were dismissed. The Commission sensed it, and this was the object of its incessant preoccupation.
It successively presented to the minister proposals of such a nature as to reassure the workers of the intentions of power. Incentives to workers' associations, Algerian colonization on a vast scale, a law on labor courts, the organization of a system of pension funds and assistance, such was the part that it proposed to do for the legitimate exigencies of the working class. Export premiums, payroll advances, direct orders, and a guarantee on certain manufactured articles, were the measures which it indicated in favor of merchants and industrialists. The bourgeois and the worker had equal share in the solicitude of the commission: as, in its thought, their interests were in solidarity, it did not separate them in its incentive and credit projects. It evaluated at 200 million the total expenditure to be allocated between the diverse ministerial departments; but it was convinced that this was a productive expense, an apparent and not real burden, much less cumbersome than the consequences of longer unemployment.
Trélat wholly adopted these views. It was no longer, in effect, a matter of communism, nor of egalitarian organization, nor of the State's universal maintenance of labor and property. It was simply a matter of returning to the status quo, of returning to the rut out of which the February shock had brought us. Trélat sought to bring these ideas into the committees of the National Assembly; but in vain. The penury of the Treasury was objected to; and they did not want to see that it was a question of saving the Treasury itself, by annihilating, by a wide distribution of credit, its revenues. They affected not to understand that the sacrifices made to labor were of less profit to the worker than to the patron, and that, after all, the bourgeoisie is still the party most interested in this tutelary resumption of labor. — “200 million to lay off an army of 100,000 men!” exclaimed the baron and calculator, Charles Dupin. — As if the 100,000 men of the national workshops had not been a small fraction of the working class without work. Ah! if instead of the workers, it had been a question of a railroad company!... — “200 million! It is very expensive! It would be a shame to admit that, in order to preserve the public peace, each of your 100,000 workers had to be paid a premium of 2,000 fr. We will never consent. At the very most, in pronouncing the immediate dissolution, we should give each man three months' salary, or 100 fr., a total of 10 million, which is far from 200. With this advance, the workers would without doubt retire satisfied.”
And in three months?....demanded director Lalanne.
But it was a matter of reasoning, really! Clamors were raised against any project of a nature to go easy on the transition; they wanted it to end. It was whispered at first, and they were prudently content with making a surd opposition to the acts of the government. But soon they grew bolder, and decided to run the risk of a terrible struggle. This voice which repeated incessantly that it must end, and which escaped through the doors of the offices of the Assembly, carrying into the masses trouble and exasperation. And yet the workers, already far removed from that epoch when they assigned a three-month term to agricultural-industrial organization, all consented to return to their patrons, with the sole guarantee of the new law on labor courts, passed on the initiative of Flocon, then minister of commerce. — Work! useful work! such was the cry one unanimous voice uttered during the whole month of June, more than one hundred thousand men. — Yes, exclaimed Trélat, in one of the finest inspirations the French rostrum resounded, the National Assembly must decree work, as once the Convention had decreed victory! This noble language excited the smile of the Malthusians. In vain, in agreement with the minister, director Lalanne came to announce, on 18 June, to a committee of the Assembly, and on the 20th, to the Committee on Labor, that a catastrophe was being dealt with; the ears remained deaf to the truth, the eyes closed to the light. The die was cast! The dissolution was resolved; it would be executed, at all costs. At the sitting of 23 June, Citizen Falloux read the report, which concluded that the workers should be immediately dismissed, with an unemployment benefit of three million, or about thirty francs per man!... Thirty francs for having founded the Republic! Thirty francs for monopoly's ransom! Thirty francs in exchange for an eternity of misery! This calls to mind the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas for the blood of Jesus Christ! To this offer of thirty francs, the workers responded with barricades.
I said what was done on the side of the national workshops to reach a peaceful conclusion. I will, as a faithful historian, give the counterpart of this narrative, so that the reader may know what the intentions had been on both sides, what part of responsibility belongs to each in this dismal drama.
All my documents are excerpts from the Moniteur.
Pressed to end it, the government, by a ministerial decision, had at first offered to workers 17 to 25 years of age the alternative of either enlisting in the army, or, on their refusal, being excluded from the national workshops. — Famine or slavery: this is how the doctrinaires intended to proceed with the dissolution of the national workshops.
On 21 June, the Executive Committee gave orders for enlistment to begin immediately. “The public and the workers themselves,” said the Moniteur, “will see with pleasure that by this measure the solution of this serious question is at length commenced. The national workshops have been an inevitable necessity for some time: now they are an obstacle to the re-establishment of industry and work. It is therefore important, in the most pressing interest of the workers themselves, that the workshops should be dissolved; and we are persuaded that the workers will understand it without difficulty, thanks to the good sense and the intelligent patriotism which they have so often shown.”
On 22 June, the government informed the workers that, under existing law, enlistments could not be contracted until they were 18 years of age; but that, in order to facilitate the dissolution of the national workshops, a draft decree, at that moment submitted to the National Assembly, would lower the age limit to 17 years for voluntary enlistment.
The age of learning became the age of conscription! what touching solicitude! what a comment to the theory of Malthus!
While the Executive Commission dealt with these urgent concerns, the Workers' Committee was buried in inquests, reports, discussions, projects, the Jesuitical reaction hassled the minister of public works, terrified the National Assembly on the communist consequences of the redemption of the railways, displayed everywhere the hand of the state lent to seize free labor and property. Mr. Montalembert, with the most perfidious remarks, quoted the following passage from the journal the République, written under the inspiration of the theory of governmental initiative which then prevailed:
“We will not seek to turn the difficulty; there is nothing to be gained from beguiling the businesspeople... Yes, it is the question of your property and your company; yes, it is a matter of substituting legitimate property for usurped property, society between all the members of the human family and of the political city, to the city of the wolves against the wolves which is the object of your regrets. Yes, the remission of the public domain to State circulation, which your have dispossessed, is the first link in the chain of social questions which the Revolution of 1848 holds in the folds of its virile robe.”
But, honest Jesuit, acquire for the implementation and operation of the railways such a system as you please, provided that the country is not, so to say, robbed, that the transport is cheap, that the workers work; and leave the République with the Gazette and the Constitutionnel!...
But it was during the sitting of 23 June, when every speech, every phrase which fell from the rostrum, gave the sound of the cannon and the rumbling of the fusillade, that we must follow the scheme of the Jesuit-Golden Mean coalition.
The sitting began with a military bulletin. The president informed the Assembly that the republican guard, marching with the national guard, had just taken two barricades on the rue Planche Mibray, and that the line company had fired several volleys on the boulevards.
After this communication, Citizen Bineau demanded the floor on a point of order. The day before, at the end of the sitting, the minister of public works had submitted a request for a credit of 6 million for work to be carried out on the Chalon-Lyon railway, in the environs of Collonge. In Lyon, as in Paris, there were masses of workers who demanded work; and the minister could do no better than to employ them on this line, the implementation of which was definitely fixed. Citizen Bineau objected that the credit could not be allocated, since, as the law on redemption had not been passed, it would be irregular to begin work before the credit had been allocated.
Trélat exclaimed that he could not conceive such an opposition, since, if the redemption was not passed, the company would have to reimburse the amount of labor; and that in consequence nothing impeded us from occupying the workers on this point. However, on the motion of Citizen Duclerc, minister of finance, the discussion of the credit project was adjourned.
The incident drained, Flocon, minister of commerce and agriculture, ascended the rostrum. He spoke of the gravity of events, he said that the government was at his post; and, believing without doubt that throwing disgrace upon the insurrection would restrain the insurgent masses, he declared, loudly, that they might hear from outside, that the agitators had no other flag than that of disorder, and that behind them is concealed more than one pretender, supported by foreigners. He therefore implored all good republicans to separate themselves from the cause of despotism.
This unfortunate policy succeeded only in inflaming the national guards without appeasing the workers, and rendering the repression more pitiless.
The struggle engaged, they could not retreat. Mr. Falloux chose that instant to deposit on the rostrum the report relative to the dissolution of the national workshops, a report whose conclusions, as we have seen, were known to the workers for two days. It may be said of this that he lit the incendiary wick which produced the conflagration of June. In vain, Citizen Raynal opposed the reading of the report: I do not believe, he exclaimed, that there is an opportunity at the present moment. — From all sides: Read! read!
And Mr. Falloux gave a reading.
Corbon had observed that the Workers' Committee, while being of the opinion of the dissolution, had nevertheless acknowledged that it should be done only after the workers had been given the guarantees to which they were entitled; that the Committee had prepared a decree for this purpose, the provisions of which it made known. The decree was disavowed.
Here, the discussion was interrupted by a new communication from the president on the exploits happening outside. He announced that the shooting had begun on the boulevards; that barricades had risen throughout the city; that a woman of the people was wounded in the shoulder. All Paris was in arms!
At those words, Créton, whom nothing stops, demanded the floor to declare the urgency of a proposal as follows:
“The Executive Commission shall, as soon as possible, file a detailed statement of all receipts and expenses incurred during the one hundred and seventy-seven days from 24 February to 1 June 1848.”
This was the case against the Provisional Government and the Executive Commission. While it was being forced to dismiss the national workshops, the only support it had left; while, in order to please its enemies, it shot its own soldiers in the street, and while each of its members exposed his life on the barricades, it was brought to the bar, and asked for its accounts. No time lost for the men of God: Providence protects them. The urgency was accorded.
The discussion of the proposed redemption of the railways was then resumed. Citizen Jobez had the floor.
“Whatever may be the gravity of the circumstances, I think the discussion must undergo the phases which it would have followed in a moment of calm and peace... As a partisan of the performance of great public works by the State, I have nevertheless come up against the proposed redemption presented to you, and support the conclusions of your finance committee.”
And why does this young representative, one of the most honest and moderate of all the republicans of the morrow, come to abjure his opinion with such brilliance?
Ah! it was because the Government had made it known that it was counting on the adoption of the plan for the redemption of the railways to give useful work to the workers, and that by removing this resource from the Government, the Revolution was caught in the crossfire. The workers demanded work! No, no work, said Jobez, whose thought corresponded to that of Bineau.
“Since the meeting of the Assembly,” he continued, “whenever one speaks of the national workshops, you are answered by redeeming the railways. And when we say: But without this redemption you have 311 million to carry out the work, support all or part of the national workshops; they respond: Give us the law of redemption. The arguments are always the same; and, by a singular coincidence, it happens that the inventory of the national workshops requested since the meeting of the Assembly has not yet been completed, and that the works which have been selected are all at the door of Paris.”
Pure chicanery. It was not a question of the works the Government had to carry out, it had to do several billion worth; but of the sums it could put into it. Yet, it believed that the law on the redemption of railways should procure it more money and above all more credit, this law was eminently favorable to the occupation of the workers.
On 17 March, the people had demanded from the Provisional Government the removal of the troops, and had not been able to obtain it. On 23 June, the reaction imposed upon the Executive Commission the dispersion of the national workshops, that is to say, the removal of the people; it was granted on the spot. There is a whole revelation in this rapprochement.
Scarcely had Citizen Jobez descended from the rostrum, when the minister of war, General Cavaignac, ascended to give new details on the insurrection. The riot was driven from the suburbs of Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin; it occupied only the quarters of Saint-Jacques and Saint-Antoine. The national guard, the mobile guard, the republican guard, and the final line (for, all the forces whose power he disposed were then united against the people), were animated with the best spirit.
So, it was with the rifle that the National Assembly paid out the debt of the Provisional Government! Well! I ask: who were most culpable, the insurgents of March, April, May, or provocateurs of June? those who solicited the government in order to obtain work, or those who made it spend 2,500,000 cartridges to refuse?
But what could the cannon have done against innocence if it had not been reinforced by calumny? At the same hour when General Cavaignac informed the Assembly of his strategic dispositions, the mayor of Paris, A. Marrast, wrote to the municipalities of the twelve arrondissements the following circular: it looks like an edict of Diocletian.
“Paris, 23 June 1848, three hours after noon.
- “Citizen Mayor,
“You have witnessed this morning the efforts made by a small number of turbulans to raise the most vivid alarm in the heart of the population.
“The enemies of the Republic assume all forms; they exploit all misfortunes, all difficulties produced by events.” — (Who exploited the difficulty, if not the very ones who affected to complain of it the most?) — “Foreign agents join them, excite them and pay them. It is not only civil war that they would like to arouse amongst us; it is pillage, social disorganization, it is the ruin of France that they prepare, and one can guess for what purpose.
“Paris is the principal seat of these infamous intrigues; Paris will not become the capital of disorder. Let the national guard, which is the first guardian of public peace and property, understand well that it is above all its concern, its interests, its credit, its honor. If it should abandon it, it would be the whole country that it would deliver to all hazards; it would be families and properties that it would leave exposed to the most frightful calamities.
“The troops of the garrison are under arms, numerous and perfectly disposed. Let the national guards place themselves in their quarters, at the edges of the streets. Authority will do its duty: let the national guard do the same.”
Sénard's proclamation was even more furious. I will only quote these words:
“They do not demand the Republic! It was proclaimed.
“Universal suffrage! It has been fully accepted and practiced.
“What do they want? It is now known: they want anarchy, arson, looting!...”
Was a plot ever followed with more implacable perseverance? Was famine and civil war ever exploited with a more villainous deftness? And yet one would be mistaken if one believed that I accuse all those named of wanting, for the interest of a coterie, the misery and the massacre of one hundred thousand of their brothers. In all this there is only a collective thought developed with all the more zeal because each of those who expressed it had less consciousness of its fatal role, and, while using his right of initiative, could not bear responsibility for his words. Individuals are susceptive of clemency; parties are pitiless. The spirit of conciliation had been great on the side of the National Workshops: it was that they were organized, that there were men speaking on their behalf and answering for them, Trélat and Lalanne. The reactionary party, given over to its fanatical instincts, would not listen, because it was not represented, and it acted without a reply. Do you wish, in a political struggle, to assassinate your adversary, without incurring the odium of Crime? Point of deliberation, and the secret ballot.
After Cavaignac, Garnier-Pagès, the lost soul, voice full of tears, came to carry to its height the reactionary exaltation. — It must end, he exclaimed (Yes! yes!); it must end with the agitators! (Yes! yes! bravo! bravo!)
Citizen Bonjean proposed that a commission be appointed to march with the national guards and the troops, and die if need be, at their head, for the defense of order! The motion was welcomed with transport.
Mauguin demanded that the Assembly be constituted at all times. Adopted. Reports intersected, the news from the battlefield became more and more grave. Considerant proposed addressing a proclamation to the workers, in order to reassure them of their fate and put an end to this fratricidal war. But parties are pitiless. No reconciliation was desired; the author of the proposal was not even allowed to read it. It was ruled out by the previous question. — “Our duty is to remain impassive in our place,” replied the stoic Baze, “without deliberation with the riot, without any pactisation with it by the discussion of a proclamation.”
The blood boiled in Caussidière. “I demand,” he exclaimed, “that a proclamation be made in torchlight, and that a certain number of deputies, accompanied by a member of the Executive Commission, should go into the heart of the insurrection.” — The cries: To order! You speak as a provocator! Mr. president, suspend the sitting! welcomed the words of the Montagnard. Minister Duclerc, who would soon fall under the blows of the reaction, himself treated this proposition as insensible.
Baune joined Caussidière. More cries: Suspend the sitting!
On new details furnished by General Cavaignac, Lagrange returned to the charge. — On all sides: Suspend the sitting!
At last the dénouement approached, the word of the intrigue was revealed. Pascal Duprat proposed that Paris be declared to be in a state of siege, and all powers be remitted to General Cavaignac.
I oppose dictatorship! cried Larabit.
Treveneuc: The national guard demands from all sides the state of siege.
Langlois: It is the will of the population.
Bastide: Hurry up; in an hour the Hotel de Ville will be taken.
Germain Sarrut: In the name of the memories of 1832, we protest against the state of siege. (Cries: to order!)
Quentin Bauchart and others wanted an additional article to be added to Pascal Duprat's proposition: “The Executive Commission shall immediately cease its functions.” — It's a rancor, disdainfully replied minister of finance Duclerc. Finally, it was announced that the Executive Commission, which, for twenty-four hours, running from barricade to barricade, had, for the sake of the honest and the moderate, fired upon its own troops, not waiting to be dismissed, resigned its functions. Now it was up to the saber to do the rest: the curtain fell on the fourth act of the February Revolution.
“O working people! disinherited, vexed, proscribed people! imprisoned, judged and silenced people! scorned people, wizened people! Will ye not cease listening to those orators of mysticism who, in lieu of soliciting your initiative, are constantly speaking to you from Heaven and the State, promising salvation sometimes by religion, sometimes by the government, and whose vehement and sonorous speech” captivates you?....
“Power, the instrument of collective puissance, created in society to mediate between labor and capital, is fatally chained to capital, and directed against the proletariat. No political reform can resolve this contradiction, since, by the admission of the politicians themselves, such a reform would only serve to give more energy and extension to power, and that unless the hierarchy were overthrown and society dissolved, power cannot affect the prerogatives of monopoly. For the working classes, therefore, the problem is not to conquer, but to vanquish at the same time power and monopoly, that is to say, to bring forth from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labor, a greater activity, a more potent fact which envelops and subjugates capital and the State. Any proposition of reform which does not satisfy this condition is only another scourge, a rod doing sentry duty, virgam vigilantem, as a prophet said, which menaces the proletariat.” — (Economic Contradictions, Paris, Guillaumin.)
Those lines, written in 1845, are the prophecy of the events that we saw unfold in 1848 and 1849. It was for obstinately wanting revolution through power, social reform through political reform, that the February Revolution was adjourned and the cause of the proletariat and of the nationalities was lost in the first instance by all of Europe.
June fighters! the principle of your defeat is in the decree of 25 February. Those have abused you, who have made to you, in the name of power, a promise that power was incapable of keeping. Vanquish power, that is, place power under the control of the people by the separate centralization of political and social functions; vanquish capital by the mutual guarantee of circulation and credit: that is the policy of democracy. Is that so difficult to understand?
In March, in April, in May, instead of organizing yourselves for labor and liberty, taking advantage of the political advantages conferred upon you by the February victory, you ran to the Government, you demanded of it what you alone could give you, and you reversed the revolution in three steps. In June, victims of an odious lack of faith, you had the misfortune of yielding to indignation and anger: which threw you into the snare which for six weeks had been stretched out for you. Your error was to demand of power the fulfillment of a promise which it could not keep; your tort was to rise up against the national representation and the government of the Republic. No doubt, your enemies have not received the fruit of their intrigue; no doubt your martyrdom has made you grow: you are a hundred times stronger now than under the first state of siege, and you can relate to the justice of your cause your future success. But, it must be acknowledged, since victory could give you nothing more than what you already possess, the faculty of concerting you for production and the market, victory was lost in advance for you. You were the soldiers of the Republic, that is true, and the republicans did not comprehend it: but the national guards were also the soldiers of the Republic, the soldiers of order and liberty. Never accuse the most considerable portion of the people of a felony; do not be resentful of those of your deceived brothers who have fought you. Let only those who have seduced you with baneful utopias strike their breasts: as for those who, in these days of mourning, have had intelligence only to exploit your misery, I hope that they do not abuse their power long enough to draw on their heads too much just retaliation.
For me, the memory of the June Days will weight eternally as remorse in my heart. I confess with pain: until the 25th I planned nothing, knew nothing, divined nothing. Elected for a fortnight as a representative of the people, I entered the National Assembly with the timidity of a child, with the ardor of a neophyte. Assidious, from nine o'clock, to the bureaux and committees, I left the Assembly only in the evening, exhausted with fatigue and disgust. Ever since I had set foot on Parliamentary Sinai, I had ceased to be in touch with the masses: by dint of absorbing myself in my legislative labors, I had entirely lost sight of current affairs. I knew nothing about the situation of the national workshops, nor the politics of government, nor the intrigues that were intersecting the Assembly. One must have lived in this booth, called the National Assembly, to conceive how the men who are the most completely ignorant of the state of a country are almost always those who represent it. I began to read everything that the distribution bureau gives to the representatives, propositions, reports, brochures, up to the Moniteur and the Bulletin des Lois. Most of my colleagues on the left and on the extreme left were in the same perplexity of mind, in the same ignorance of the everyday occurances. The national workshops were spoken of only with a sort of terror: for the fear of the people is the evil of all those who belong to authority; the people, for power, are the enemy. Everyday we voted new subsidies for the national workshops, shuddering at the incapacity of power and our impotence.
Disastrous apprenticeship! The effect of this representative mess wherein I had to live was that I had no intelligence for anything; that on the 23rd, when Flocon declared in full rostrum that the movement was directed by political factions and bribed by the foreigner, I allowed myself to be taken to this ministerial canard; and that on the 24th I was still wondering whether the insurrection really had as a motive the dissolution of the national workshops!!! No, Mister Senard, I was not a coward in June, as you have insulted me in the face of the Assembly; I was like you and like so many others, a fool. I failed, by parliamentary hebetude, to do my duty as a representative. I was there to see, and I did not see; to sound the alarm, and I did not shout! I did like the dog that does not bark in the presence of the enemy. I was elected by the plebeian, a journalist of the proletariat, not to leave this mass without direction and without advice: 100,000 regimented men deserved that I should take care of them. I would have been better if I were to languish in your offices. I have since done what I could to repair my irreparable fault; I was not always fortunate; I have often been mistaken: my conscience reproaches me for nothing more.