Engels in The Democratic Review, 1850

Letters From France

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 38-40;
Written: Paris, July 23th, 1850;
First published: in The Democratic Review in August 1850.

As I anticipated in my last, the dotation to Louis Bonaparte finally passed the Assembly--in substance allowing him the sum he wanted, in form humiliating him deeply before the eyes of all France.[54] The Assembly then resumed its work of repression--taking up the press law. Atrocious as this law was when produced from the hand of its originator, M. Baroche, it was innocent and harmless compared with what the spite of the majority has made it. The majority, in its furious and yet impotent hatred against the press, has dealt out its blows almost blindfolded, not caring whether it hits the "good" or the "bad" press. Thus the "law of hatred" has been enacted. The caution money is raised. The stamp is re-established on newspapers. An extra stamp is put upon the "roman-feuilleton" that part of the newspaper which is dedicated to the publication of novels--a measure which would be quite incomprehensible if it was not a reply to the election of Eugene Sue, the effect of whose socialist novels has not yet been forgotten by the majority. All works published in weekly numbers or monthly parts of less than a certain size, are subjected to the stamp in the same manner as newspapers. And lastly, every paragraph appearing in a newspaper must be provided with the signature of the author.

This law, as the blind fury of the majority has made it, falls heavily, not only upon the socialist and republican press, but on the counter-revolutionary press: and perhaps far more heavily upon this than upon the opposition press. The names of the republican writers are pretty well known, and it matters little whether they sign their paragraphs or not; but let the Journal des Debats, the Assemblee nationale, the Pouvoir, the Constitutionnel, &c., be obliged to come out with the names of their contributors, and their leaders will immediately lose all influence even upon their class of readers. The name of a great daily paper, particularly an old-established one, is, to respectable people, always a respectable firm; but let these firms, Bertin and Co., Veron and Co., Delamarre and Co., once be dissolved into their literary components, let that mysterious "Co." once decompose into venal "penny-a-liners" of old standing, who, for hard cash, have defended all possible causes, such as Granier de Cassagnac, or into foolish old women calling themselves statesmen, such as Capefigue, let all the little men who raise loud voices and spout big articles once creep out into daylight under the new law, and you will see what a sad figure the respectable press will make.

It is true that, under the new law, by the enhanced price of newspapers a very numerous class of readers will be excluded from this mode of getting information. Both newspapers, cheap periodicals, and other popular publications will be above the reach of numerous working-men, and particularly of the majority of the country-people. But the press was always an auxiliary means merely to agitate the peasantry; this class being far more sensible to their own material sufferings and to the increase of taxation than to the declamations of the press; and as long as the present bourgeois government cannot find out the means--which it never can--to alleviate the weight of usury and taxation upon the peasantry, as long will there be discontent and "revolutionary tendencies", manifested amongst this newly-roused class. As to the working-men in the towns, they cannot be entirely excluded from seeing the newspapers, and if cheap periodical publications are stopped, they will make up for that by increasing secret societies, secret debating clubs, &c. But if the government, with respect to diminishing the number of revolutionary tracts and periodicals, have obtained some result, they have obtained it at the cost of ruining the whole of the publishing and bookselling trades; for it is impossible that these trades can subsist under the restrictions imposed by the new law. And thus this is very likely to contribute much to breaking up the party of order both in and out of the Assembly.

As soon as the law on the press was voted, the Assembly proceeded to give Louis Napoleon another broad hint that he was not to exceed the limits the constitution had placed him in. The Bonapartist paper, Le Pouvoir, had an article commenting in not very favourable terms upon the Assembly. An old law of the Restoration was dug up, and the publisher of the Pouvoir, arraigned at the bar for breach of privilege, and sentenced to 5,000fr. (L200) fine, which fine was, of course, immediately paid.[55] The penalty was not very severe, but the act of the Assembly was sufficiently significant. "We strike low but we mean to hit higher," said a member, and was loudly applauded.

The Assembly then resolved to suspend its sitting for three months, from the 11th of August next. As provided by the constitution, it had to elect a commission of twenty-five members, which is to remain at Paris during the adjournment, and to watch the executive power.[56] The chiefs of the majority, believing Louis Napoleon to be sufficiently humiliated, drew up a list of these candidates, including none but members of the majority, Orleanists, Moderate Legitimists, some Bonapartists, no Republicans nor ultra-legitimists. But in the vote all the Bonapartists have been thrown out, and in their stead some Moderate Republicans and several ultra-legitimists have been elected, thus again showing the disposition of the Assembly to have none of the coup d'e'tat which Louis Napoleon is always dreaming of.

I do not expect that there will be anything serious until the experiment is made to upset the Republic; be it by the President, or be it by one of the royalist factions. This would, no doubt, rouse the people from their torpor; and this is an event which must take place between now and May 1852, hut at what precise epoch it is impossible to predict.[57]


54 Instead of increasing the civil list by 3 million per annum, the Assembly granted Louis Bonaparte a lump sum of 2,160,000 francs.

55 The reference is to the article "A Gradual Decline of the National Assembly printed in the newspaper Le Pouvoir No. 195, July 15, 1850, for which Felix de Lamartiniere, the publisher, was fined (see Le Moniteur universel Nos. 197 and 200 of July 16 and 19, 1850). The further reference is to the leading article in Le Pouvoir No. 199, July 19, 1850.

56 AS stipulated by Article 32 of the Constitution of the French Republic, during the recess a permanent commission had to be set up of 25 elected deputies and members of the Bureau of the Legislative Assembly. In 1850 this commission consisted of 39 members: eleven Bureau members, three questers and 25 elected deputies.

57 It is not by chance that Engels gives May 1852 as the deadline for any possibile attempt to upset the Republic. According to the French Constitution (Article 45) Louis Napoleon's term of presidency expired on the second Sunday in May 1852 and he was not re-eligible for another four years.
The Bonapartist coup d'etat took place on December 2, 1851.