Frederick Engels in The Northern Star

Reform Movement in France. — Banquet of Dijon [197]

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 397;
Written: in the first half of December 1847;
First published: in The Northern Star, December 18, 1847.

This meeting of the Democracy of the Department of the Côte d'Or, was incontestably the most splendid one of the whole series of Reform Banquets. 1,300 sat down to dinner. There were present deputations from almost all the neighbouring towns, and even a Swiss deputation, composed of citizens from Neufchâtel, Geneva and Lucerne. The character of the meeting is very clearly marked out by the names of the principal speakers — MM. Louis Blanc, Flocon, Ledru-Rollin, Etienne Arago — all of them belonging to the Ultra-Democratic party, represented by the Réforme. We need not say that Louis Philippe was not toasted at this dinner.

M. Signard, of Gray, a neighbouring town, spoke to the toast — “The Democrats of Lille who, at the late banquet of their town sternly refused to compromise with the sham-Liberals; and by their energy, union, and intelligence, saved the honour of Democracy. “'

M. Etienne Arago, a well-known literary character of Paris, and who but recently brought upon the stage an exceedingly successful comedy, entitled The Aristocracies then spoke to the sentiment — “The development of literature, science, and the fine arts”; exposing, in a brilliant speech, the rapid advance literature and science were sure to make under a free and democratic system.

At the toast — “The future progress of France”, the chairman called upon M. Louis Blanc, who was very enthusiastically received by the meeting. He delivered a splendid speech, containing many just and striking observations on the past development of France; on the conclusions to draw from it with regard to the future; on the particular character impressed indelibly upon the French Democratic Movement by the revolution. He was repeatedly and deservedly interrupted by applause. It was a speech quite worthy of the first historical writer France now possesses. There is, however, one point upon which we would make a few observations, which we hope will be taken in the same friendly spirit in which we write them.

M. Blanc says —

“We want union in Democracy. And no one may deceive himself, we do not think and labour for France only, but for the whole world, because the future of France contains in it the future of mankind. in fact, we are placed in this admirable position, that, without ever ceasing to be national, we are necessarily cosmopolite, and are even more cosmopolite than national. Whoever would call himself a Democrat, and be at the same time an Englishman, would give the lie to the history of his own country, for the part which England has always played, has been a struggle of egotism against fraternity. In the same manner, he who is a Frenchman, and would not be a cosmopolite, would give the lie to his country’s past; for France never could make predominant any idea, except it was for the benefit of the whole world. Gentlemen, at the time of the Crusades, when Europe went to conquer the grave of Christ, it was France who took the movement under her wing. Afterwards, when the priests would impose upon us the yoke of Papist supremacy, the Gallican bishops defended the rights of conscience. And in the last days of the ancient monarchy, who supported young, republican America?[198] France’, always France! And what was true of monarchical France, how should it not be true of Republican France? Where, in the book of history, do we find anything resembling that admirable, self-sacrificing disinterestedness of the Republic, when, exhausted by the blood she had shed on our frontiers and on the scaffold, she found yet more blood to shed for her Batavian brethren? [199] When beaten or victorious, she enlightens her very enemies by the sparks of her genius! Let Europe send us sixteen armies, and we shall send her liberty in return.

Now, without intending to deprecate in any manner the heroic efforts of the French Revolution, and the immense gratitude the world owes to the great men of the Republic, we think that the relative position of France and England, with regard to cosmopolitism, is not at all justly delineated in the above sketch. We entirely deny the cosmopolitic[200] character ascribed to France before the revolution, and the times of Louis XI and Richelieu may serve as proofs. But what is it M. Blanc ascribes to France? That she never could make predominant any idea, except it was to benefit the whole world. Well, we should think M. Louis Blanc could not show us any country in the world which could do otherwise than France is said to have done. Take England, for instance, which M. Blanc places in direct opposition to France. England invented the steam-engine; England erected the railway; two things which, we believe, are worth a good many ideas. Well, did England invent them for herself, or for the world? The French glory in spreading civilisation everywhere, principally in Algiers. Well, who has spread civilisation in America, Asia, Africa, and Australia, but England?[201] Who founded the very Republic, in the freeing of which France took some part — England — always England. If France assisted in freeing the American Republic from English tyranny, England freed the Dutch Republic, just two hundred years sooner, from Spanish oppression.[202] If France gave, at the end of the last century, a glorious example to the whole world, we cannot silently pass by the fact that England, a hundred and fifty years sooner, gave that example [203] and found at that time, not even France prepared to follow. And, as far as ideas are concerned, those very ideas, which the French philosophers of the 18th century — which Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, D'Alembert, and others, did so much to popularise — where had these ideas first been originated, but in England? Let us never forget Milton, the first defender of regicide, Algernon Sydney, Bolingbroke, and Shaftesbury, over their French more brilliant followers.

If an Englishman “would call himself a democrat he would give the lie to the history of his own country”, says M. Blanc. Well, we consider it as the veriest proof of sterling democracy, that it must give the lie to its country, that it must repudiate all responsibility for a past filled up with misery, tyranny, class oppression, and superstition. Let the French not make an exception to the other democrats; let them not take the responsibility for the doings of their Kings and Aristocrats of former times. Therefore, what M. Blanc. thinks a disadvantage to English democrats, we think to be a great advantage, that they must repudiate the past, and only look to the future.

A Frenchman is necessarily a cosmopolite. Yes, in a world ruled over by French influence, French manners, fashions, ideas, politics. In a world in which every nation has adopted the characteristics of French nationality. But that is exactly what the democrats of other nations will not like. Quite ready to give up the harshness of their own nationality, they expect the same from the French. They will not he satisfied in the assertion, on the part of the French, that they are cosmopolites; assertion which amounts to the demand urged upon all others to become Frenchmen.

Compare Germany. Germany is the fatherland of an immense number of inventions — of the printing press, for instance. Germany has produced — and this is recognised upon all hands — a far greater number of generous and cosmopolitic ideas than France and England put together. And Germany, in practice, has always been humiliated, always been deceived in all her hopes. She can tell best what French cosmopolitism has been. In the same measure as France has to complain — and quite justly — of the treachery of English policy, Germany has experienced a policy quite as treacherous on the part of France, from Louis XI down to Louis Philippe. If we were to apply the measure of M. Louis Blanc, the Germans would be the true cosmopolites, and yet they do not pretend to this.

So much upon this point. We wish to establish a discussion upon it, as this will only lead to a mutual understanding; to a firm union of French and English Democracy.

After M. Blanc, M. Flocon spoke to the toast: “The Democrats of Europe.”

M. Flocon said:

“Look around you, listen to the voices which arise from foreign countries; complaints or menace; sighs or hopes; what tell they? They invoke the principle of the French Revolution; they proclaim in the face of all despotisms, its immortal motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Yes, those very nations, which in the delusions of slavery and ignorance, made an impious war on the revolution; they now come by thousands to take up its standard, and promise to be most ardent defenders of the glorious principles they did not understand in times past. This striking fact is before the eyes of all the world, and I know nothing more terrible to our enemies, nothing which could more effectually recall to our minds our duty. In England, at the side of the old factions, in the face of the richest and most tyrannical aristocracy of the world, the people are organising. An immense association, conducted by experienced leaders, enrols daily thousands of working men, who will undertake to avenge the wrongs of humanity. And the rights of man are not a new watchword in England. At the time of the old civil wars, in the midst of religious fanaticism and political passions, several parties clearly saw the great social truth:

When Adam delved and Eve span
Where was then the gentleman? [204]

That was proclaimed by the Covenanters[205] almost three hundred years ago. The same question is again put; and the cotton lords disdain as much to listen to the complaint of the children of toil, as did the landlords in by-gone times. Therefore, asking what is right will not suffice, the people must be strong enough to take it, and the English people know this. In Belgium, at this very moment, a society is organising, uniting Democrats of all nations, a Democratic Congress[206] is being prepared. In Germany, while the princes play the game of granting gracious constitutions, the people prepare themselves for working out their own salvation.”

The speaker then reviewed briefly the Polish, Italian, and Swiss movements, and closed his speech as follows:

“Yes, the seed of the revolution is germinating, the soil is fertile, the splendid flower of hope adorns the fields of the future, But the winter has been long, and we ought soon to take to the sickle, to make our harvest. Let us then take up again the work of the revolution, where our fathers left it. Let us make haste, else we shall have to take it up where they commenced.” (Loud applause.)

The next toast: “The Sovereignty of the people”, was spoken to by M. Ledru-Rollin, deputy.

Letters of apology were read from MM. François Arago, Lamennais, Dupont de L'Eure, and the meeting separated.

This demonstration proves that the provincial Democrats are more and more leaving the party of the National, in order to rally around the party of the Réforme.