Works of Frederick Engels 1850

Letters From France

Signs of the Times.-The Anticipated Revolution

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 24-26;
Written: Paris, February 19th, 1850;
First published: in The Democratic Review in March 1850.

I must limit this letter somewhat in space, but the facts which have occurred in the course of this month are so striking, that they will speak for themselves. The revolution is advancing so rapidly, that every one must see its approach. In all spheres of society it is spoken of as imminent; and all foreign papers, even if opposed to democracy, declare it an unavoidable thing. Nay, more, you may with almost certainty foresee, that if no unexpected events give a turn to public affairs, the great contest between the united Ordermongers and the vast majority of the people, can hardly be postponed beyond the latter end of this spring. And what the result of that contest will be, is a matter admitting of no doubt. The people of Paris are so sure of having very shortly the most splendid case for a revolution they ever had, that there is a general order amongst them — "Avoid all petty squabbles, submit to anything which puts not a vital question to you." Thus, with all their efforts, the other day, when the trees of liberty were cut down, the government could not excite the working people to even a petty street-row, and the individuals dancing round the tree at the Forte Saint-Martin, which your London Illustrated News depicted in such a terrific manner, consisted of a set of police spies who lost all their day's job through the coolness of the people. Thus, in spite of what the government papers say to the contrary, the 24th of this month will pass off very quietly. The government would give almost anything if they could have a row in Paris, with some fictitious conspiracies and outbreaks in the departments, in order to inflict the state of siege upon the capital and those departments which, on the 10th of March, will have to elect new deputies in lieu of the condemned of Versailles. A word on the new system of military despotism. To keep the provinces in bondage, the government have invented the new system of commanders-in-chief. They have united a number of the seventeen military divisions of France into four grand districts, each of which is to be under the command of one general, who, thus, has almost the arbitrary power of an eastern satrap or a Roman proconsul. These four military districts are so arranged, that they surround Paris and the whole centre of France, as it were, with an iron circle, in order to keep it down. This measure, illegal as it is, has however been adopted not only on account of the people, but on account of the Bourgeois opposition too. The Legitimist and Orleanist[43] parties now see clear enough that Louis Napoleon is serving them very badly. They wanted him as a means to the re-establishment of monarchy, as an instrument to be shuffled aside when worn out, and they now see him aspiring to a throne for himself, and going a good deal faster than they want. They know well enough that at this moment there is no chance for monarchy, and that they must wait; and yet Louis Napoleon does everything in his power to come to a settlement, and to risk a revolution which may cost him his head, rather than wait his time. They know, too, that neither party, Legitimist or Orleanist, has gained so much ground upon the other as to make the victory of one of the two an undeniable necessity; and as before the 10th of December, 1848, they want another neutral man, who, while they await the course of events, may govern according to the common interests of both. Thus, these two parties, the only important fractions of the Ordermongers, are now against the prolongation of Louis Napoleon's presidency, although four months ago they would have done anything to carry it; they are again, for once, for the neutral ground of the republic, with General Changarnier as president. Changarnier seems to be in the plot; and Napoleon, who does not trust him but dares not dismiss him from his proconsulate at Paris, has put the four military districts as a fetter around him. This may explain why M. Pascal Duprat's (a traitor of June '48, who now courts popularity again) speech against the new military system and against Louis Napoleon himself, was very tolerantly listened to by the majority. There occurred two curious incidents on this occasion. When M.Duprat said, according to a newspaper, Louis Napoleon had to choose between the position of his uncle, or that of Washington, a voice from the left shouted, "or that of the Emperor Soulouque of Haiti". A general burst of laughter hailed this comparison of the French would-be-emperor to a personage, than whom none offers more matter for ridicule to all the Charivaris of Paris; and yet not even the President of the Assembly interposed. You see what even this precious majority thinks of Louis Napoleon! The Minister of War then got up, and, turning to the left, concluded a most violent speech with these words: "And now, gentlemen, if you like to commence we are ready!" This expression of the Minister will show you more than anything, how generally a violent struggle is expected.

In the meantime, the Social-Democratic party are actively preparing for the elections. Although there is a chance for the "honest and moderate", to elect one or two of their candidates in Paris, where some sixty thousand working men have been, under a variety of pretexts, struck off the voting register; yet there is no doubt that the socialists will have a signal triumph in the departments. The government themselves are expecting it. They therefore have prepared a measure for doing away with what is now openly called the conspiracy of "Universal Suffrage". They intend to make the suffrage indirect; the voters to elect a limited number of electors, who again name the representative. In this the government are sure of the support of the majority. But as this amounts to an open overthrow of the constitution, which cannot be revised before 1851, and by an assembly elected for the purpose, they expect violent resistance on the part of the people. These, therefore, are to be intimidated by the foreign armies making their appearance on the Rhine at the time this measure is brought into the House. If this really come to pass--and Louis Napoleon seems foolish enough to risk such a thing--then you may expect to hear something like the thunder of a revolution. And then, the Lord have mercy upon the souls of all Napoleons, Changarniers, and Ordermongers!


43 The Orleanists-- supporters of the House of Orleans, overthrown by the February revolution of 1848; they represented the interests of the financial aristocracy and the big industrial bourgeoisie.