Works of Frederick Engels 1850

Letters From France

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 30-32;
Written: Paris, April 20th, 1850;
First published: in The Democratic Review in May 1850.

The outbreak of the revolution, which has become inevitable since the elections of the 10th of March, has been retarded by the cowardice both of the government and of the men who, for the moment, have taken the lead of the Paris movement. The government and the National Assembly were so terror-struck by the vote of the 10th of March, and by the repeated proofs of mutinous spirit in the army, that they dared not come immediately to any conclusion. They resolved upon passing new repressive laws, a list of which I gave you in my last; but if the ministry and some of the leaders of the majority had confidence in these measures, the mass of the members had not, and even the government very soon lost its confidence again. Thus, the more stringent of these repressive laws were not brought forward, and even those that were--the laws on the press and on electoral meetings--met with a very doubtful reception from the majority.

The Socialist party, on the other hand, did not Profit by the victory as it ought to have done. The reason for this is very plain. This party consists not only of the working men, but it includes, now, the great mass of the shopkeeping class too, a class whose socialism is indeed a great deal tamer than that of the proletarians. The shopkeepers and small tradesmen know very well that their own salvation from ruin is entirely dependent upon the emancipation of the proletarians; that their interests are indissolubly tied up with those of the working men. But they know also, that if the proletarians conquered political power by a revolution, they, the shopkeepers, would be entirely set aside, and be reduced to accept from the hands of the working class any thing they might give them. If the present government on the contrary, be overthrown by peaceful means, the shopkeepers and small tradesmen, being the least obnoxious of the classes now in opposition, would very quietly step in and take hold of the government, giving, at the same time, the working people as small a share of it as possible. The small trading class, then, were quite as much terrified at their own victory as the government was at its own defeat. They saw a revolution starting up before their eyes, and they strove immediately to prevent it. There was a means for this ready at hand. Citizen Vidal, in addition to being elected for Paris, had been elected for the Lower Rhine too. They managed to make him accept for the Lower Rhine, and thus there is to be a new election in Paris. But it is evident, that as long as there is an opportunity given to the people to obtain peaceful victories, they will never raise their cry "to arms"; or if, nevertheless, provoked into an emeute, they will fight with very little chance of victory.

The new election was fixed for the 28th of this month; and the government immediately profited by the favourable position created by the amiable shopocracy. Ministers disinterred old police regulations, in order to expel from Paris a number of working men, for the moment without work; and showed that they could do even without the proposed law against electoral meetings, by directly putting a stop to all of them. The people knowing that the day before an election, they could not fight to any advantage, submitted. The social and democratic press, entirely in the hands of the shopocracy, of course did every thing to keep them quiet. The behaviour of this press has, ever since the affair of the "trees of liberty", been most infamous. There have been numbers of occasions for the people to rise; but the press has always preached peace and tranquillity while the representatives of the shopocracy in the electoral committee and other organised bodies have always managed to lessen the chances of a street victory, by opening peaceful outlets for the popular exasperation.

The false position in which the Red party has been forced, and the advantage given by the new election to the Ordermongers, is fully shown by the names of the two opposing candidates. The red candidate, Eugene Sue, is an excellent representative of that well-meaning, "soft sawder", sentimental shopocrat-socialism, which, far from recognising the revolutionary mission of the proletarians, would rather mock-emancipate them by the benevolent patronage of the petty trading class. As a political man, Eugene Sue is a nullity; as a demonstration, his nomination is a step backwards from the position conquered on the 10th of March. But it must be confessed, that if sentimental socialism is to have the honour of the day, his name is the most popular to be put forward, and he has a great chance to be elected.

The Ordermongers, on the other side, have so far recovered, that they now oppose to Eugene Sue, whose name signifies nothing or very little, a name which signifies everything--M. Leclerc, the bourgeois Lacedemonian of the insurrection of June.[46] Leclerc is a direct reply to Deflotte, and a direct provocation to the working men, more direct than any other name could possibly be. Leclerc, candidate for Paris--that is a repetition of the words of General d'Hautpoul:--"Now, gentlemen, whenever you please to descend into the streets, we are ready!"

The repeated election in Paris, as you see, offers no advantage, but, on the contrary, has already put to a great deal of disadvantage the proletarian party. But there is another fact to be noticed. The election of the 10th of March was carried under the old list; that of the 28th of April is to come off under the new revised list of voters for 1850, which came into force on the 1st of April; and in this revised list there are from twenty to thirty thousand working men struck off under various pretexts.

However, even if this time the Ordermongers obtain a small majority, they will not be the gainers. The fact remains, that, with universal suffrage, they can no longer govern France. The fact remains, that the army is largely infected with socialism, and only awaits an occasion for open rebellion. The fact remains, that the working people of Paris are in better spirits than ever for putting an end to the present state of things. Never before did they come out so openly as they have done this time in the electoral meetings, till they were suppressed. And the government, forced to attack universal suffrage, will thereby give the people an occasion for a combat, in which there is for the proletarians the certainty of victory.


46 Bourgeois Lacedemonian is an ironical nickname for the Paris businessman and member of the National Guard Alexandre Leclerc who was awarded the Legion of Honour for his part, together with his sons, in suppressing the June 1848 insurrection of Paris workers.