The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon/Chapter II
Let us resume the thread of events.
The history of the Constitutional National Assembly from the June days on, is the history of the supremacy and dissolution of the republican bourgeois party, the party which is known under several names of "Tricolor Republican," "True Republican," "Political Republican," "Formal Republican," etc., etc. Under the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Philippe, this party had constituted the Official Republican Opposition, and consequently had been a recognized element in the then political world. It had its representatives in the Chambers, and commanded considerable influence in the press. Its Parisian organ, the "National," passed, in its way, for as respectable a paper as the "Journal des Debats." This position in the constitutional monarchy corresponded to its character. The party was not a fraction of the bourgeoisie, held together by great and common interests, and marked by special business requirements. It was a coterie of bourgeois with republican ideas-writers, lawyers, officers and civil employees, whose influence rested upon the personal antipathies of the country for Louis Philippe, upon reminiscences of the old Republic, upon the republican faith of a number of enthusiasts, and, above all, upon the spirit of French patriotism, whose hatred of the treaties of Vienna and of the alliance with England kept them perpetually on the alert. The "National" owed a large portion of its following under Louis Philippe to this covert imperialism, that, later under the republic, could stand up against it as a deadly competitor in the person of Louis Bonaparte. The fought the aristocracy of finance just the same as did the rest of the bourgeois opposition. The polemic against the budget, which in France, was closely connected with the opposition to the aristocracy of finance, furnished too cheap a popularity and too rich a material for Puritanical leading articles, not to be exploited. The industrial bourgeoisie was thankful to it for its servile defense of the French tariff system, which, however, the paper had taken up, more out of patriotic than economic reasons the whole bourgeois class was thankful to it for its vicious denunciations of Communism and Socialism For the rest, the party of the "National" was purely republican, i.e. it demanded a republican instead of a monarchic form of bourgeois government; above all, it demanded for the bourgeoisie the lion's share of the government. As to how this transformation was to be accomplished, the party was far from being clear. What, however, was clear as day to it and was openly declared at the reform banquets during the last days of Louis Philippe's reign, was its unpopularity with the democratic middle class, especially with the revolutionary proletariat. These pure republicans, as pure republicans go, were at first on the very point of contenting themselves with the regency of the Duchess of Orleans, when the February revolution broke out, and when it gave their best known representatives a place in the provisional government. Of course, they enjoyed from the start the confidence of the bourgeoisie and of the majority of the Constitutional National Assembly. The Socialist elements of the Provisional Government were promptly excluded from the Executive Committee which the Assembly had elected upon its convening, and the party of the "National" subsequently utilized the outbreak of the June insurrection to dismiss this Executive Committee also, and thus rid itself of its nearest rivals—the small traders' class or democratic republicans (Ledru-Rollin, etc.). Cavaignac, the General of the bourgeois republican party, who command at the battle of June, stepped into the place of the Executive Committee with a sort of dictatorial power. Marrast, former editor-in-chief of the "National", became permanent President of the Constitutional National Assembly, and the Secretaryship of State, together with all the other important posts, devolved upon the pure republicans.
The republican bourgeois party, which since long had looked upon itself as the legitimate heir of the July monarchy, thus found itself surpassed in its own ideal; but it cam to power, not as it had dreamed under Louis Philippe, through a liberal revolt of the bourgeoisie against the throne, but through a grape-shot-and-canistered mutiny of the proletariat against Capital. That which it imagined to be the most revolutionary, came about as the most counter-revolutionary event. The fruit fell into its lap, but it fell from the Tree of Knowledge, not from the Tree of life.
The exclusive power of the bourgeois republic lasted only from June 24 to the 10th of December, 1848. It is summed up in the framing of a republican constitution and in the state of siege of Paris.
The new Constitution was in substance only a republicanized edition of the constitutional charter of 1830. The limited suffrage of the July monarchy, which excluded even a large portion of the bourgeoisie from political power, was irreconcilable with the existence of the bourgeois republic. The February revolution had forthwith proclaimed direct and universal suffrage in place of the old law. The bourgeois republic could not annul this act. They had to content themselves with tacking to it the limitation a six months' residence. The old organization of the administrative law, of municipal government, of court procedures of the army, etc., remained untouched, or, where the constitution did change them, the change affected their index, not their subject; their name, not their substance.
The inevitable "General Staff" of the "freedoms" of 1848—personal freedom, freedom of the press, of speech, of association and of assemblage, freedom of instruction, of religion, etc.—received a constitutional uniform that rendered them invulnerable. Each of these freedoms is proclaimed the absolute right of the French citizen, but always with the gloss that it is unlimited in so far only as it be not curtailed by the "equal rights of others," and by the "public safety," or by the "laws," which are intended to effect this harmony. For instance:
"Citizens have the right of association, of peaceful and unarmed assemblage, of petitioning, and of expressing their opinions through the press or otherwise. The enjoyment of these rights has no limitation other than the equal rights of others and the public safety." (Chap. II. of the French Constitution, Section 8.)
"Education is free. The freedom of education shall be enjoyed under the conditions provided by law, and under the supervision of the State." (Section 9.)
"The domicile of the citizen is inviolable, except under the forms prescribed by law." (Chap. I., Section 3), etc., etc.
The Constitution, it will be noticed, constantly alludes to future organic laws, that are to carry out the glosses, and are intended to regulate the enjoyment of these unabridged freedoms, to the end that they collide neither with one another nor with the public safety. Later on, the organic laws are called into existence by the "Friends of Order," and all the above named freedoms are so regulated that, in their enjoyment, the bourgeoisie encounter no opposition from the like rights of the other classes. Wherever the bourgeoisie wholly interdicted these rights to "others," or allowed them their enjoyment under conditions that were but so many police snares, it was always done only in the interest of the "public safety," i. e., of the bourgeoisie, as required by the Constitution.
Hence it comes that both sides-the "Friends of Order," who abolished all those freedoms, as, well as the democrats, who had demanded them all—appeal with full right to the Constitution: Each paragraph of the Constitution contains its own antithesis, its own Upper and Lower House-freedom as a generalization, the abolition of freedom as a specification. Accordingly, so long as the name of freedom was respected, and only its real enforcement was prevented in a legal way, of course the constitutional existence of freedom remained uninjured, untouched, however completely its common existence might be extinguished.
This Constitution, so ingeniously made invulnerable, was, however, like Achilles, vulnerable at one point: not in its heel, but in its head, or rather, in the two heads into which it ran out-the Legislative Assembly, on the one hand, and the President on the other. Run through the Constitution and it will be found that only those paragraphs wherein the relation of the President to the Legislative Assembly is defined, are absolute, positive, uncontradictory, undistortable.
Here the bourgeois republicans were concerned in securing their own position. Articles 45-70 of the Constitution are so framed that the National Assembly can constitutionally remove the President, but the President can set aside the National Assembly only unconstitutionally, he can set it aside only by setting aside the Constitution itself. Accordingly, by these provisions, the National Assembly challenges its own violent destruction. It not only consecrates, like the character of 1830, the division of powers, but it extends this feature to an unbearably contradictory extreme. The "play of constitutional powers," as Guizot styled the clapper-clawings between the legislative and the executive powers, plays permanent "vabanque" in the Constitution of 1848. On the one side, 750 representatives of the people, elected and qualified for re-election by universal suffrage, who constitute an uncontrollable, indissoluble, indivisible National Assembly, a National Assembly that enjoys legislative omnipotence, that decides in the last instance over war, peace and commercial treaties, that alone has the power to grant amnesties, and that, through its perpetuity, continually maintains the foreground on the stage; on the other, a President, clad with all the attributes of royalty, with the right to appoint and remove his ministers independently from the national assembly, holding in his hands all the means of executive power, the dispenser of all posts, and thereby the arbiter of at least one and a half million existences in France, so many being dependent upon the 500,000 civil employees and upon the officers of all grades. He has the whole armed power behind him. He enjoys the privilege of granting pardons to individual criminals; suspending the National Guards; of removing with the consent of the Council of State the general, cantonal and municipal Councilmen, elected by the citizens themselves. The initiative and direction of all negotiations with foreign countries are reserved to him. While the Assembly itself is constantly acting upon the stage, and is exposed to the critically vulgar light of day, he leads a hidden life in the Elysian fields, only with Article 45 of the Constitution before his eyes and in his heart daily calling out to him, "Frere, il faut mourir!" Your power expires on the second Sunday of the beautiful month of May, in the fourth year after your election! The glory is then at an end; the play is not performed twice; and, if you have any debts, see to it betimes that you pay them off with the 600,000 francs that the Constitution has set aside for you, unless, perchance, you should prefer traveling to Clichy on the second Monday of the beautiful month of May.
While the Constitution thus clothes the President with actual power, it seeks to secure the moral power to the National Assembly. Apart from the circumstance that it is impossible to create a moral power through legislative paragraphs, the Constitution again neutralizes itself in that it causes the President to be chosen by all the Frenchmen through direct suffrage. While the votes of France are splintered to pieces upon the 750 members of the National Assembly they are here, on the contrary, concentrated upon one individual. While each separate Representative represents only this or that party, this or that city, this or that dunghill, or possibly only the necessity of electing some one Seven-hundred-and-fiftieth or other, with whom neither the issue nor the man is closely considered, that one, the President, on the contrary, is the elect of the nation, and the act of his election is the trump card, that, the sovereign people plays out once every four years. The elected National Assembly stands in a metaphysical, but the elected President in a personal, relation to the nation. True enough, the National Assembly presents in its several Representatives the various sides of the national spirit, but, in the President, this spirit is incarnated. As against the National Assembly, the President possesses a sort of divine right, he is by the grace of the people.
Thetis, the sea-goddess, had prophesied to Achilles that he would die in the bloom of youth. The Constitution, which had its weak spot, like Achilles, had also, like Achilles, the presentiment that it would depart by premature death. It was enough for the pure republicans, engaged at the work of framing a constitution, to cast a glance from the misty heights of their ideal republic down upon the profane world in order to realize how the arrogance of the royalists, of the Bonapartists, of the democrats, of the Communists, rose daily, together with their own discredit, and in the same measure as they approached the completion of their legislative work of art, without Thetis having for this purpose to leave the sea and impart the secret to them. They ought to outwit fate by means of constitutional artifice, through Section 111 of the Constitution, according to which every motion to revise the Constitution had to be discussed three successive times between each of which a full month was to elapse and required at least a three-fourths majority, with the additional proviso that not less than 500 members of the National Assembly voted. They thereby only made the impotent attempt, still to exercise as a parliamentary minority, to which in their mind's eye they prophetically saw themselves reduced, a power, that, at this very time, when they still disposed over the parliamentary majority and over all the machinery of government, was daily slipping from their weak hands.
Finally, the Constitution entrusts itself for safe keeping, in a melodramatic paragraph, "to the watchfulness and patriotism of the whole French people, and of each individual Frenchman," after having just before, in another paragraph entrusted the "watchful" and the "patriotic" themselves to the tender, inquisitorial attention of the High Court, instituted by itself.
That was the Constitution of 1848, which on, the 2d of December, 1851, was not overthrown by one head, but tumbled down at the touch of a mere hat; though, true enough, that hat was a three-cornered Napoleon hat.
While the bourgeois' republicans were engaged in the Assembly with the work of splicing this Constitution, of discussing and voting, Cavaignac, on the outside, maintained the state of siege of Paris. The state of siege of Paris was the midwife of the constitutional assembly, during its republican pains of travail. When the Constitution is later on swept off the earth by the bayonet, it should not be forgotten that it was by the bayonet, likewise—and the bayonet turned against the people, at that—that it had to be protected in its mother's womb, and that by the bayonet it had to be planted on earth. The ancestors of these "honest republicans" had caused their symbol, the tricolor, to make the tour of Europe. These, in their turn also made a discovery, which all of itself, found its way over the whole continent, but, with ever renewed love, came back to France, until, by this time, if had acquired the right of citizenship in one-half of her Departments—the state of siege. A wondrous discovery this was, periodically applied at each succeeding crisis in the course of the French revolution. But the barrack and the bivouac, thus periodically laid on the head of French society, to compress her brain and reduce her to quiet; the sabre and the musket, periodically made to perform the functions of judges and of administrators, of guardians and of censors, of police officers and of watchmen; the military moustache and the soldier's jacket, periodically heralded as the highest wisdom and guiding stars of society;—were not all of these, the barrack and the bivouac, the sabre and the musket, the moustache and the soldier's jacket bound, in the end, to hit upon the idea that they might as well save, society once for all, by proclaiming their own regime as supreme, and relieve bourgeois society wholly of the care of ruling itself? The barrack and the bivouac, the sabre and the musket, the moustache and the soldier's jacket were all the more bound to hit upon this idea, seeing that they could then also expect better cash payment for their increased deserts, while at the merely periodic states of siege and the transitory savings of society at the behest of this or that bourgeois faction, very little solid matter fell to them except some dead and wounded, besides some friendly bourgeois grimaces. Should not the military, finally, in and for its own interest, play the game of "state of siege," and simultaneously besiege the bourgeois exchanges? Moreover, it must not be forgotten, and be it observed in passing, that Col. Bernard, the same President of the Military Committee, who, under Cavaignac, helped to deport 15,000 insurgents without trial, moves at this period again at the head of the Military Committees now active in Paris.
Although the honest, the pure republicans built with the state of siege the nursery in which the Praetorian guards of December 2, 1851, were to be reared, they, on the other hand, deserve praise in that, instead of exaggerating the feeling of patriotism, as under Louis Philippe, now; they themselves are in command of the national power, they crawl before foreign powers; instead of making Italy free, they allow her to be reconquered by Austrians and Neapolitans. The election of Louis Bonaparte for President on December 10, 1848, put an end to the dictatorship of Cavaignac and to the constitutional assembly.
In Article 44 of the Constitution it is said "The President of the French Republic must never have lost his status as a French citizen." The first President of the French Republic, L. N. Bonaparte, had not only lost his status as a French citizen, had not only been an English special constable, but was even a naturalized Swiss citizen.
In the previous chapter I have explained the meaning of the election of December 10. I shall not here return to it. Suffice it here to say that it was a reaction of the farmers' class, who had been expected to pay the costs of the February revolution, against the other classes of the nation: it was a reaction of the country against the city. It met with great favor among the soldiers, to whom the republicans of the "National" had brought neither fame nor funds; among the great bourgeoisie, who hailed Bonaparte as a bridge to the monarchy; and among the proletarians and small traders, who hailed him as a scourge to Cavaignac. I shall later have occasion to enter closer into the relation of the farmers to the French revolution.
The epoch between December 20, 1848, and the dissolution of the constitutional assembly in May, 1849, embraces the history of the downfall of the bourgeois republicans. After they had founded a republic for the bourgeoisie, had driven the revolutionary proletariat from the field and had meanwhile silenced the democratic middle class, they are themselves shoved aside by the mass of the bourgeoisie who justly appropriate this republic as their property. This bourgeois mass was Royalist, however. A part thereof, the large landed proprietors, had ruled under the restoration, hence, was Legitimist; the other part, the aristocrats of finance and the large industrial capitalists, had ruled under the July monarchy, hence, was Orleanist. The high functionaries of the Army, of the University, of the Church, in the civil service, of the Academy and of the press, divided themselves on both sides, although in unequal parts. Here, in the bourgeois republic, that bore neither the name of Bourbon, nor of Orleans, but the name of Capital, they had found the form of government under which they could all rule in common. Already the June insurrection had united them all into a "Party of Order." The next thing to do was to remove the bourgeois republicans who still held the seats in the National Assembly. As brutally as these pure republicans had abused their own physical power against the people, so cowardly, low-spirited, disheartened, broken, powerless did they yield, now when the issue was the maintenance of their own republicanism and their own legislative rights against the Executive power and the royalists I need not here narrate the shameful history of their dissolution. It was not a downfall, it was extinction. Their history is at an end for all time. In the period that follows, they figure, whether within or without the Assembly, only as memories—memories that seem again to come to life so soon as the question is again only the word "Republic," and as often as the revolutionary conflict threatens to sink down to the lowest level. In passing, I might observe that the journal which gave to this party its name, the "National," goes over to Socialism during the following period.
Before we close this period, we must look back upon the two powers, one of destroys the other on December 2, 1851, while, from December 20, 1848, down to the departure of the constitutional assembly, they live marital relations. We mean Louis Bonaparte, on the-one hand, on the other, the party of the allied royalists; of Order, and of the large bourgeoisie.
At the inauguration of his presidency, Bonaparte forthwith framed a ministry out of the party of Order, at whose head he placed Odillon Barrot, be it noted, the old leader of the liberal wing of the parliamentary bourgeoisie. Mr. Barrot had finally hunted down a seat in the ministry, the spook of which had been pursuing him since 1830; and what is more, he had the chairmanship in this ministry, although not, as he had imagined under Louis Philippe, the promoted leader of the parliamentary opposition, but with the commission to kill a parliament, and, moreover, as an ally of all his arch enemies, the Jesuits and the Legitimists. Finally he leads the bride home, but only after she has been prostituted. As to Bonaparte, he seemed to eclipse himself completely. The party of Order acted for him.
Immediately at the first session of the ministry the expedition to Rome was decided upon, which it was there agreed, was to be carried out behind I the back of the National Assembly, and the funds for which, it was equally agreed, were to be wrung from the Assembly under false pretences. Thus the start was made with a swindle on the National Assembly, together with a secret conspiracy with the absolute foreign powers against the revolutionary Roman republic. In the same way, and with a similar maneuver, did Bonaparte prepare his stroke of December 2 against the royalist legislature and its constitutional republic. Let it not be forgotten that the same party, which, on December 20, 1848, constituted Bonaparte's ministry, constituted also, on December 2, 1851, the majority of the legislative National Assembly.
In August the constitutive assembly decided not to dissolve until it had prepared and promulgated a whole series of organic laws, intended to supplement the Constitution. The party of Order proposed to the assembly, through Representative Rateau, on January 6, 1849, to let the Organic laws go, and rather to order its own dissolution. Not the ministry alone, with Mr. Odillon Barrot at its head, but all the royalist members of the National Assembly were also at this time hectoring to it that its dissolution was necessary for the restoration of the public credit, for the consolidation of order, to put an end to the existing uncertain and provisional, and establish a definite state of things; they claimed that its continued existence hindered the effectiveness of the new Government, that it sought to prolong its life out of pure malice, and that the country was tired of it. Bonaparte took notice of all these invectives hurled at the legislative power, he learned them by heart, and, on December 21, 1851, he showed the parliamentary royalists that he had learned from them. He repeated their own slogans against themselves.
The Barrot ministry and the party of Order went further. They called all over France for petitions to the National Assembly in which that body was politely requested to disappear. Thus they led the people's unorganic masses to the fray against the National Assembly, i.e., the constitutionally organized expression of people itself. They taught Bonaparte, to appeal from the parliamentary body to the people. Finally, on January 29, 1849, the day arrived when the constitutional assembly was to decide about its own dissolution. On that day the body found its building occupied by the military; Changarnier, the General of the party of Order, in whose hands was joined the supreme command of both the National Guards and the regulars, held that day a great military review, as though a battle were imminent; and the coalized royalists declared threateningly to the constitutional assembly that force would be applied if it did not act willingly. It was willing, and chaffered only for a very short respite. What else was the 29th of January, 1849, than the "coup d'etat" of December 2, 1851, only executed by the royalists with Napoleon's aid against the republican National Assembly? These gentlemen did not notice, or did not want to notice, that Napoleon utilized the 29th of January, 1849, to cause a part of the troops to file before him in front of the Tuileries, and that he seized with avidity this very first open exercise of the military against the parliamentary power in order to hint at Caligula. The allied royalists saw only their own Changarnier.
Another reason that particularly moved the party of Order forcibly to shorten the term of the constitutional assembly were the organic laws, the laws that were to supplement the Constitution, as, for instance, the laws on education, on religion, etc. The allied royalists had every interest in framing these laws themselves, and not allowing them to be framed by the already suspicious republicans. Among these organic laws, there was, however, one on the responsibility of the President of the republic. In 1851 the Legislature was just engaged in framing such a law when Bonaparte forestalled that political stroke by his own of December 2. What all would not the coalized royalists have given in their winter parliamentary campaign of 1851, had they but found this "Responsibility law" ready made, and framed at that, by the suspicious, the vicious republican Assembly!
After, on January 29, 1849, the constitutive assembly had itself broken its last weapon, the Barrot ministry and the "Friends of Order" harassed it to death, left nothing undone to humiliate it, and wrung from its weakness, despairing of itself, laws that cost it the last vestige of respect with the public. Bonaparte, occupied with his own fixed Napoleonic idea, was audacious enough openly to exploit this degradation of the parliamentary power: When the National Assembly, on May 8, 1849, passed a vote of censure upon the Ministry on account of the occupation of Civita-Vecchia by Oudinot, and ordered that the Roman expedition be brought back to its alleged purpose, Bonaparte published that same evening in the "Moniteur" a letter to Oudinot, in which he congratulated him on his heroic feats, and already, in contrast with the quill-pushing parliamentarians, posed as the generous protector of the Army. The royalists smiled at this. They took him simply for their dupe. Finally, as Marrast, the President of the constitutional assembly, believed on a certain occasion the safety of the body to be in danger, and, resting on the Constitution, made a requisition upon a Colonel, together with his regiment, the Colonel refused obedience, took refuge behind the "discipline," and referred Marrast to Changarnier, who scornfully sent him off with the remark that he did not like "bayonettes intelligentes." In November, 1851, as the coalized royalists wanted to begin the decisive struggle with Bonaparte, they sought, by means of their notorious "Questors Bill," to enforce the principle of the right of the President of the National Assembly to issue direct requisitions for troops. One of their Generals, Leflo, supported the motion. In vain did Changarnier vote for it, or did Thiers render homage to the cautious wisdom of the late constitutional assembly. The Minister of War, St. Arnaud, answered him as Changarnier had answered Marrast—and he did so amidst the plaudits of the Mountain.
Thus did the party of Order itself, when as yet it was not the National Assembly, when as yet it was only a Ministry, brand the parliamentary regime. And yet this party objects vociferously when the 2d of December, 1851, banishes that regime from France!
We wish it a happy journey.
- #1 Brother, you must die!
- #2 The debtors' prison.
- #1 Intelligent bayonets