Open main menu
Translation:Confessions of a Revolutionary, to serve as a History of the February Revolution by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, translated by Wikisource
VIII. 16 April: Reaction of Ledru-Rollin

Governmental democracy, deceived in its hopes by its own coryphées, could now be regarded as eliminated. There was no longer a risk that it would retake the upper hand. The scission was consummated: the demagogic and social party now had its right and its left, its moderates and its ultras. The new Jacobins imposed silence upon the new Cordeliers. The country was in vigil; the bourgeoisie had no more than to stand ready, and to throw itself like a supplement to the side which would incline toward it, at the first symptom of contradiction.

It should not be expected, indeed, that the opinion so strongly professed by Louis Blanc and his friends, and which has so many roots in France, should have come to pass so soon and should have stayed defeated; especially since daily events, and the pettiness of the acts of the Provisional Government did not cease to enliven it. That which was flattered to have only repressed 17 March was not the dictatorship, which was considered more necessary than ever, it was Blanqui. Blanqui, dismissed by the reprobation of the Luxembourg, crushed by the defamation emanating from the Hotel de Ville, hoped to recover without opposition, especially without rivalry, dictatorial omnipotence. As earlier, repulsing the man had not condemned the idea!...

That idea lived on everywhere. The Provisional Government, condemned by its nature, and by the heterogeneity of its elements to confine itself to the role of conservator, was seething with revolution: it wanted, anyway, to revolutionize. The wind of opinion pushing it, it endeavored to seize some initiative. Triste initiative! Posterity would refuse to believe the actions of the February Government, if history had not taken care to record the pieces. With some measures of public economy and of general utility for which time had revealed the urgency and that the circumstance commanded, all else being only farce, would flaunt, against sense and against good sense. It seems that power renders intelligent people stupid. The Provisional Government is not the only one, since February, which went through this experience.

If the circulars of Ledru-Rollin, the 45 cents of Garnier-Pagès were mistakes in politics and finance, which any force could yet contest, these mistakes then at least had a sense, an intention, a scope; what their authors wanted or did not want was known; they were neither flat nor absurd. But what of those proclamations as idle as they are puerile, where the Provisional Government announced the arraignment of Mr. Guizot and his colleagues, abolished titles of nobility, released the functionaries from their oaths, changed the disposition of the colors on the tricolor flag, erased the monarchical names of monuments, and gave them to so-called republicans, making Tuileries the Les Invalides of the People, etc., etc.? — It really took its time, the Provisional Government!

In an emphatic address, it exclaimed, through the mouth of Mr. Lamartine: The gates to liberty are open!... Moreover, it put its selflessness on the agenda, and it was known that the real policy was greatness of soul. On another occasion, on the proposition of Louis Blanc, it invited the people to patience, saying that the question of labor was complex, that it was impossible to solve it in an instant, which no person, with the exception of the Provisional Government, had theretofore doubted.

The people had demanded the removal of the troops. A journalist, Mr. Émile de Girardin, still better advised, proposed the immediate reduction of the army to 200,000 men. It was to march to the revolution that was to go to liberty. The Provisional Government responded to the wishes of the people, along with the proposal of the journalist, 1) by decreeing the creation of twenty-four battalions of gardes mobiles; 2) by shortly afterward making a call for 80,000 men; 3) by inviting the youth of the schools to enroll in the sections. Not to mention that the troops were not removed. That which the Provisional Government was taking for initiative was not an imitation of '93. What then did it want to do with all these soldiers? June, June on two occasions, that we will learn.

As it could not by itself deal with the great question of the century, and it would have otherwise been very embarrassed to resolve it, the Provisional Government had taken the wise course of burying it. Whereunto mainly it applied its initiative. So, it named one commission (this is good government!) to examine the question of labor; another commission to examine the question of credit; a third commission to suppress the spoils of positions! The fair sex was not forgotten: an ordinance of the Ministry of Public Instruction authorized Citizen Legouvé to open at the Sorbonne a course on the Moral History of the woman. Then the Provisional Government organized feasts: invitation was made by its order to ministers of religion to sing the Domine salvam fac rempublicam, and to call upon for the Republic divine benediction. Caussidière himself, the terrible Caussidière, was made to attend religious service at the Église de l'Assomption, whose patriots had made a club. And you are surprised that the pope is now more in control in Paris than Rome!... L'abbé Lacordaire became simultaneously representative and ordinary preacher of the Republic, while the Archbishop of Paris, Affre, with a malicious geniality, was singing in the churches the ironic verse: Domine fac salvun populam; O God, save these people; for they know not what they do.

Moreover, the public and the press were in unison with authority. A placard demanded that the government prevent the export of capital, and that Mr. Rothschild be placed under surveillance. Another proposed to sell the diamonds of the crown, and to invite all citizens to take their silver to the Mint; a third spoke of transporting the remains of Armand Carrel to the Panthéon. Pacific Democracy, also taking the initiative, demanded that the blouse be adopted uniformly by all the national guards of the republic; that the information and placement bureaus for the workers be organized by the State; that professors be sent to the departments to demonstrate to peasants the superiority of the democratic form over the monarchical, etc. George Sand sang hymns to the proletarians; the Société des gens de lettres placed itself at the disposal of the government: why cannot be said, and has never been known! A petition adorned with 5,000 signatures urgently demanded the creation of a Ministry of Progress! One would have never thought, without the February Revolution, that there was so much foolishness at the foundation of the French public. It seemed like the world of Panurge. Did Blanqui, or rather his party, have it so very wrong to want, by a stroke of the popular broom, to clean those Augean stables, the Luxembourg and the Hotel de Ville?...

All of this, understandably, was not on the behalf of the workers any more than of the bourgeois. The days passed by and it looked the same, that is to say, we did absolutely nothing. The Revolution evaporated like alcohol in the drain: soon it would be no more than what passes by, a date!... The corporations of the Luxembourg and the clubs resolved to return to the charge. Socialism, driven by the foolish imaginations of neo-Jacobins, gave itself in full to the project. Elaborated at the Luxembourg were an ensemble of decrees, which I have not read, since they were not published, but which could only fail to be very beautiful: they were decrees. One held in hand the salvation of the people: to repel it, or just to postpone it, would have been a crime. A demonstration was organized for Sunday, 16 April, by the workers of the corporations: the pretext was the nomination of fourteen staff officers, after which they had to go to the Hotel de Ville to present a petition with a patriotic offering. “It is for us, men of action and dedication,” said the petitioners, “to whom it appertains to declare to the Provisional Government that the people want the Democratic Republic; that the people want the abolition of the exploitation of man by man; that the people want the organization of labor by association.” Measures were agreed to in advance by the men of the Luxembourg, so that people outside the demonstration could not, like on 17 March, try to change the character and goal: but they had not counted on Blanqui[1]. While the Luxembourg summoned the power to take care of the organization of labor by association, the clubs, recounted Mr. Lamartine, and my information is consistent with his, made themselves permanent, nominated a Committee of Public Safety, and prepared, as on 17 March, to take leadership of the demonstration, and to provoke the purification of the Provisional Government.

Louis Blanc, whose thinking brought everything to the Luxembourg, does not appear to have had, on 16 April, a clear awareness of what was coming: in his Review of 15 September, he denies the existence of a plot. I admit that while doing justice to his sentiments vis-à-vis those of his colleagues, while recognizing the peaceful character that he was trying to imprint on the demonstration, I would have preferred, for the honor of his intelligence and the morality of his situation, to see him enter boldly into the policy of Blanqui, instead of ceaselessly counteracting it with a dull and petty hostility. All thither invited, all excused. In the perspective of the old dynastic opposition, who had provoked the February Revolution, as well as that of the republican party, which had boldly executed it, Louis Blanc could undertake anything: his right was only dependent on his force. Since the men who the choice of the people had originally designated to serve in the Provisional Government did not act, nothing would be easier than to replace them with others who would act: the mandate of 16 April would have been just as authentic as that of 25 February. To remain any longer in the status quo was to betray the Revolution; it was necessary that it advance: unless it were absurd, the demonstration of 16 April cannot be interpreted otherwise. And if my information is not wrong, I dare say that none of those who, with knowledge of the cause, had taken part, would disavow me.

Moreover, if the two members of the Provisional Government who sat in the Luxembourg misconstrued the role that, despite good will, gave them the demonstration, the people were not wrong; adding that the government and the national guard were no more wrong. The account given by Louis Blanc of that day, tending to establish the perfect innocuity of the demonstration, is far too naive, I would even say far too insulting to the intelligence of democrats. Within hours Paris was at foot: everyone taking sides, some for the demonstration, some for the Provisional Government. And once again it was the democratic fraction as opposed to Blanqui and the communists, who gave the signal to the reaction. While Ledru-Rollin, deceived, assures Louis Blanc, by false reports, but in reality very little infatuated with socialism and the policy of the Luxembourg, fought the recall, Barbès, in the name of the club of the Revolution, of which I was a member along with Pierre Leroux, and then sitting permanently, went to the government to support it and offer it our adherence. We did not know just what was happening; whether it was the whites or the reds who threatened the Republic: in the uncertainty, we arranged ourselves around power, as around the flag of the Revolution. Ledru-Rollin obtained of this beaten recall a long and unjust unpopularity; Barbès, comprehending but too late the fatality of his position, shed, it is said, tears of regret. But the anti-government opinion was strongest: decidedly, the country did not want to let it revolutionize from above; and while Barbès, yielding to repulsions perhaps too personal, conceived to resist only the fanatics of the clubs, the Bayard of democracy was in the true principles: he represented, against his own inclinations, the intimate thoughts of the people. The national guards, which for up to four hours had ignored the cause of the movement, had only to bother to show themselves to stop it. On the balcony of the Hotel de Ville, during the parade, Louis Blanc and Albert were seen pale and consternated, among their colleagues who seemed to address their most vivid reproaches to their imprudence. In the evening, the cry of Down with the Communists! had testified that in France the government is placed vis-à-vis the country in the same manner as Figaro vis-à-vis censorship: it is permitted to say everything and do everything, on the condition that it be in the opinion of everyone.

Louis Blanc had the honor of the reaction to 17 March; Ledru-Rollin had the honor of the reaction to 16 April. As much as the first had been founded to oppose the real or supposed dictatorship of Blanqui, so the second was in opposition to the dictatorship of Louis Blanc. On 16 April, Ledru-Rollin was neither socialist nor communist; he mocked the theories of his colleague. People's Delegate to the Ministry of the Interior, responsible to the country for order and liberty, responsible for defending all interests, he could see in the demonstration of 16 April an attempt at usurpation: he resisted. Who would dare to condemn him? Surely, it is not Louis Blanc.

16 April, like 17 March, was nonetheless a failure to the Revolution: because any attack of power, with the end of being used to violate the instincts of a country, successful or not, is a failure to progress, a retreat. Louis Blanc hoped to ensure the triumph, by Coup d'Etat and dictatorial authority, of a system of economic reforms which was summed up in these three propositions:

1) Create of power a grand force of initiative;

2) Create and command, at the expense of the State, public workshops;

3) Snuff out private industry under competition from national industry?

It would have been on his part a grand illusion. But if the economic system of Louis Blanc is not oppression; if the means by which he intended to apply it are not usurpation, how would one qualify the attempt of 16 April? how does one excuse it, I would not say to the conscience, — the good faith of the publicist herein covers the intentions of the man of State, — but before reason?

It is from 16 April that socialism has become particularly odious to the country. Socialism existed since July. Since July, Saint-Simonians, phalansterians, communists, humanitarians, and others, had kept the public in their innocent dreams; and neither Mr. Thiers, nor Mr. Guizot had deigned to deal with it. They did not fear socialism, and they had no reason to fear socialism, as long as there was no question of applying the expenses of the State and by public authority. After 16 April, socialism roused against itself all the angers: it had been seen as an imperceptible minority taking the government! What makes the parties hate each other is less the divergence of their ideas than their tendency to dominate each other: there is little concern for opinions; there was only anxiety about which side had power. If there was no government, there would be no parties; if there were no parties, there would be no government. When do we get out of this circle?

FootnotesEdit

  1. When I point out the presence of Blanqui in the demonstration of 16 April, it is mainly the party I want to talk about, much more than the man. It turned out that this demonstration was party to the Luxembourg: some even claim that it was secretly backed by the police prefecture, and directed all at once against the influence of Blanqui and that of Le National. So that, according to this version, the authors of the demonstration of 16 April, ultra-revolutionaries in respect to the republicans of Le National and of La Réforme, were no more than third parties vis-à-vis the communists, at the head of which was included, ex-æquo, Cabet and Blanqui. It is not likely that the latter had taken any initiative in a movement that was intended, in part, to sacrifice him. But in revolution, the leaders propose and the people dispose. On 16 April, as on 17 March, the friends of Blanqui, who were everywhere, at the police prefecture as at the Luxembourg, set the tone of the movement, and that which had been premeditated to be done against the two extreme fractions of the democratic party turned in favor of the conservative reaction. When will democracy be free of all these intrigues which cause it to get lost and dishonor it?