Frederick Engels in Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung

Louis Blanc’s Speech at the Dijon Banquet [217]

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 406;
Written: December 1847;
First published: in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, December 30, 1847.

The Northern Star in its report of the Dijon banquet criticises the speech of Louis Blanc in remarks with which we completely concur. The union of the democrats of different nations does not exclude mutual criticism. It is impossible without such criticism. Without criticism there is no understanding and consequently no union. We reproduce the remarks of The Northern Star in order that we too, for our part, may protest against preconceptions and illusions which are in direct and hostile opposition to the trends of modern democracy and which should be abandoned if the union of democrats of different nations is to remain more than an empty phrase.

At the Dijon banquet, M. Blanc said:

“We want union in Democracy. And no one may deceive himself about this, 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 in history has been the struggle for egotism against ‘fraternité’. 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? 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 French 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? When beaten or victorious, she enlightened her very enemies by the sparks of her genius! Let Europe send us sixteen armies, and we shall send her liberty in return.”

The Northern Star says with regard to this:

“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 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? 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. 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, 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. 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,’ says M. Blanc. Yes, in a world ruled over only 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 accept. Quite ready to give up the harshness of their own nationality, they expect the same from the French. They will not be satisfied in the assertion, on the part of the French, that they are cosmopolites by the mere fact that they are French, an assertion which amounts to the demand urged upon all others to become Frenchmen.

“Compare Germany. Germany is the fatherland of an immense number of invention f 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. Just as France had to complain of the treachery of English policy, Germany experienced an equally treacherous policy 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. However the German democrats are far from having any such pretensions.”