Frederick Engels in The Northern Star

The “Satisfied” Majority. — Guizot’s Scheme of “Reform”. — Queer Notions of M. Garnier-Pagès. — Democratic Banquet at Châlon. — Speech of M. Ledru-Rollin. — A Democratic Congress. — Speech of M. Flocon. — The Réforme and The National

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 438;
Written: at the beginning of January 1848;
First published: in The Northern Star, January 8, 1848;

The French Chambers are now open, and we shall very soon have the pleasure of seeing what effect the Reform agitation has had upon the 225 “satisfied” members of the majority. We shall see whether they will be satisfied, too, with the manner in which Guizot has exposed France in the Swiss question to the ridicule of all Europe. Why, this fat, corrupting and corrupted stock-jobbing, swindling, blood-sucking, and cowardly majority, are the very men to swallow down even that — to say “amen” to the trick which Palmerston, in return for the Spanish marriages, played on his worthy colleague Guizot[232] — to declare that never was France so great, so glorious, so respected, so “satisfied” — as at this very moment.

And it is at this very moment that all the papers of Paris, from the Débats [Journal des Débats politiques et littéraires] to the Réforme, discuss, as openly as can be done under the circumstances, the eventuality consequent upon the death of Louis Philippe. The Débats afraid of seeing the majority split itself up, warns them every day that this inevitable event, whenever it takes place, will be the signal for the general rendezvous of all political parties; that “republicanism”, “communism”, “anarchism”, “terrorism”, and so forth, will then break from their subterraneous caverns, to spread desolation, horror and destruction; that France will be lost — liberty, safety, property will be lost, unless the friends of order (M. Guizot and Co., of course) keep them down with a strong hand; that this perilous moment may occur any day; and that if M. Guizot is not supported in office, all will be lost. The other papers, the Presse, the Constitutionnel, the Siècle, on the contrary, say that quite the reverse will take place, that all the horrors of a bloody revolution will overrun the country, unless the abominable corruptor, Guizot, shall, at the moment of the king’s death, have been replaced by their respective political heroes, by M. de Girardin, M. Thiers, or M. O. Barrot. The Radical papers discuss the question from another point of view, as we shall see by and by.

Thus, even the Débat agrees indirectly that “satisfied” France only awaits the proper moment for proving her dissatisfaction, in a manner which the frightened bourgeois imagination of the Débats depicts most ludicrously to its terrified reason. This, however, does not matter to the “satisfied” two hundred and twenty-five. They have a logic of their own. If the people are satisfied, then there is no reason for a change of system. If they are dissatisfied, why, then, their very dissatisfaction is a reason to stick more to the system; for if only one inch was abandoned, there would be a sudden eruption of all the horrors of revolution. Do whatever you like, these bourgeois will always draw the conclusion from it that they are the best rulers of the country.

Nevertheless, Guizot will give a small bit of reform. He will add to the electoral list the “capacities”, that is, all persons possessing a university degree, lawyers, doctors, and other such humbugs. A glorious reform, indeed. But this will suffice to disarm the “Progressive Conservatives”, or, as they call themselves now — for, in want of something else to do, they change names every quarter — the Conservative opposition. And it will be a ready stroke for M. Thiers, who, while sending his second, M. Duvergier de Hauranne, on a Reform banqueting errand, slyly prepared his reform-plan, with which he was to surprise the Chambers, and which was equally the same as the one now to be proposed by his rival, Guizot.

There will be a deal of crying, shouting, and noise-making generally in the Chambers; but 1 hardly think M. Guizot has anything serious to apprehend from his faithful two hundred and twenty-five.

So much for the official world. In the meantime the Reform banquets and the polemic between the National and the Réforme have continued. The allied oppositions, that is, the left centre (M. Thiers’ party), the left (M. Odilon Barrot’s party) and the “sensible Radicals” (the National), had the banquets of Castres, Montpellier, Neubourg, and others; the ultra-Democrats (the Réforme), had the banquet of Châlon. The chief speaker of the banquets of Montpellier and Neubourg was M. Garnier-Pagès, brother of the well-known democrat of that name [Etienne Joseph Louis Garnier-Pagès] deceased a few years ago. But M. Garnier-Pagès, the younger, is far from being like his brother; he totally lacks that energy, that courage and never-compromising spirit which secured so prominent a position to the deceased leader of French Democracy. At Neubourg, M. Garnier-Pagès, the younger, came out with assertions proving him to be entirely ignorant of the actual state of society, and consequently of the means of improving it. While all modern democracy is based upon the great fact, that modern society is irreparably divided into two classes — the bourgeoisie, or possessors of all means of production and all produce, and the proletarians, or possessors of nothing but their labour to live upon; that the latter class is socially and politically oppressed by the former; while the acknowledged tendency of modern Democrats in all countries is to make political power pass from the middle classes to the working classes, these latter constituting the immense majority of the people — in the face of all these facts, M. Garnier boldly asserts that the division of the people into middle classes and working classes does in reality not exist, that it is a mischievous invention of M. Guizot’s got up to divide the people; that in spite of Guizot he recognises that all Frenchmen are equal — that they all participate in the same life, and that he recognises in France none but French citizens! According to M. Garnier-Pagès, then, the monopolising of all instruments of production in the hands of the bourgeoisie, which abandons the proletarians to the tender mercies of the economical law of wages, reducing the share of the working men to the lowest level of food, is an invention of M. Guizot’s too! According to him, the whole of that desperate struggle now going on in all civilised countries of the world, between Labour and Capital, a struggle the different phases of which are marked by coalitions, trades’ unions, murders, riots, and bloody insurrections — a struggle whose reality is testified by the death of the proletarians shot at Lyons, at Preston, at Langenbielau, at Prague [233] this struggle has been carried on upon no better grounds than a lying assertion of a French professor! What else do the words of M. Garnier-Pagès mean but this? “Let the capitalists continue to monopolise all powers of production — let the working man continue to live upon the merest pittance, but give him, as a compensation for his suffering, the title of citizen!” Ay, M. Pagès would under certain circumstances, and with certain restrictions, perhaps, consent to give the people the suffrage; but let them never think of profiting by the gift by passing measures which would essentially alter the actual mode of production and distribution of wealth — which would, in course of time, give to the entire people the command of the productive powers of the country, and do away with all individual “employers"! The Réforme was perfectly right in styling this honourable gentleman a bourgeois radical. [The reference is to the leading article in La Réforme, December 17, 1847]

The Ultra-Democrats had, as I said before, only one banquet, but it was a bumper, and worth a dozen of the coalition party. More than two thousand citizens sat down to dinner at Châlon-sur-Saône. The National had been invited, but very significantly had not come. The men of the Réforme, accordingly, had it all their own way. M. Ledru-Rollin, who had been designated by the National as the chief of the ultra-democratic party, here, accepted this position. He explained his position and the position of his party, by relating in a brilliant abstract, the different phases of French democracy since 1789. He then justified himself against the attacks of the National, attacked that paper in turn, and proposed a jury of Democrats to be nominated from all parts of France — one-half by either party — to decide between the Réforme and the National.

And now (he said), after having settled this home affair, would it not be a good thing if the French democracy entered into relation with the other democracies? There is at this moment a great movement going on in Europe amongst all the disinherited, who suffer by heart or by hunger. This is the moment to console them, to strengthen them, and to enter into communion with them.... Let us, then, hold a congress of Democrats of all nations, now, when the congress of kings has failed!... There is one republic in Europe, which just now has secured in its own territory the ascendancy of democracy — there is Switzerland, a country worthy of seeing the Democrats of all nations upon its free soil!... And thus, citizens, let me conclude, by coupling to my toast: “To the Unity of the French Revolution”, that other one, “The Union of all Democracies”.

This speech excited loud applause, and it merited it. We heartily rejoice in M. Ledru-Rollin’s oratorial success at Châlon, but at the same time, must protest against an unguarded expression, which, we are sure, has been said without intention to hurt. M. Ledru-Rollin says, that the moment has arrived for French Democrats to console and to strengthen the suffering working men of other nations. The Democrats of no country, we are sure, want consolation from whomsoever it be. They admire the revolutionary pride of French Democrats, but they take for themselves the right to be quite as proud and independent. The four millions of English Chartists certainly are strong enough to do their own work for themselves. Glad as we are to see the French democracy take up with enthusiasm the idea of a Democratic Congress, and an alliance of all democracies, we expect, before all things, a perfect reciprocity and equality. Any alliance, which should not recognise this equality as its foundation, would itself be anti-democratic. We know, however, too well the profoundly democratic sentiments of the men of the Réforme to doubt of their perfectly agreeing with us; we only wish them to drop for the interest of our common cause, certain expressions, which far from expressing their real sentiments, are an inheritance from the time when the National alone represented the French Democracy.

At the same banquet, M. Flocon spoke to the toast: — “The Rights of Man and of the Citizen”. He read the declaration of rights of the National Convention,[234] which he declared to be, up to this day, the faithful abstract of true Democratic principles. To this, what he called the true French principle, he opposed the present system of moneyocracy, which places man upon a lower level than even cattle, because man is overabundant, and costs more than he gives in nature when his labour is not required. This system, from the country in which it first arose, he called the English system.

But lo, he said, while the English principle is introduced into the fatherland of the revolution, the English people themselves strive to throw its yoke off their shoulders, and write upon their banners the glorious motto: — “liberty, Equality, Fraternity!” Thus, by one of those painful turns, of which history offers more than one example, the very nation which first gave truth to the world, fallen back into darkness and ignorance, would soon be obliged to ask from its neighbours the revolutionary traditions which itself could not conserve. Shall it ever come thus far with us? No, never, as long as there are Democrats like you, and meetings like this! No, we never will prop up the worm-eaten frame of those English institutions, which the English themselves will no longer support! (No, no!) Well then, to your tents, 0 Israel! Every one of you rally round his standard! Every one for his faith! Here, on our side, Democracy with her twenty-five millions of proletarians to free, whom she greets with the names of citizens, brothers, equal and free men; there the bastard-opposition, with her monopolies and aristocracy of capital! They speak of reducing the qualification by one-half; we, we proclaim the rights of man and of the citizen! (Loud and long-continued applause, which ended by the whole meeting singing the Chant du départ. [235])

We regret not to have room for giving more of the speeches delivered at this splendid and thoroughly Democratic banquet.

At last, the Réforme has forced the National to enter into a polemic. The former journal, in declaring its adhesion to the principles announced by M. Garnier-Pagès, at the Montpellier banquet, in a speech on the French revolution, at the same time disputed the right of men, like M. Garnier, who had sacrificed the interests of Democracy to M. Odilon Barrot and the middle-class opposition, to act as the representatives of the principles of the Revolution. [The reference is to the leading articles in La Réforme, December 15, 17 and 19, 1847] This, at last, brought out a reply from the National, in which Ledru-Rollin in his turn was attacked. The principal points of accusation against the National were: 1st. Its support of the bastilles around Paris, by which the inheritance of the revolution was placed under the control of twelve hundred pieces of cannon .[236] 2nd. Its silence last year, upon a pamphlet of M. Carnot, in which he engaged the Democrats to join the Left Centre and the Left, to get them into office as soon as possible, to drop for the moment the Republican principle, and to agitate for an extension of the Suffrage within the limits of the Charter.[237] M. Garnier-Pagès, the younger, had about the same time announced similar principles; the pamphlet declared itself to be the expression of the opinion not of an individual, but of a party in the Chamber. The Réforme attacked both M. Garnier’s speech and M. Carnot’s (son of the celebrated member of the Convention and Republican minister of war) pamphlet, and tried to provoke the National to a declaration. [ The reference is to the leading article in La Réforme, December 20, 1847] But the National remained silent. The Réforme rightly declared that the policy proposed by both deputies would tend to nothing but to place the Democratic party wholly under the control of MM. Thiers and Barrot, and break it up entirely as a distinct party. 3rd. The National following up in practice during the Reform banquet agitation the policy proposed by M. Carnot. 4th. Its virulent and calumniating attacks upon the Communists, while proposing at the same time no practicable or effective remedy for the misery of the working people.

The dispute has been going on for a week at least. At last the National retired from the contest, after having conducted it in a very improper manner. It has been regularly beaten; but, in order to mask its defeat, it finally accepted M. Ledru’s proposal of a Democratic jury.

We can only declare our full adhesion to the part the Réforme has taken in this affair. It has saved the honour, independence, and the strength of French Democracy as a distinct party. It has maintained the principles of the Revolution, which were endangered by the course pursued by the National. It has asserted the rights of the working classes in opposition to middle-class encroachments. It has unmasked these bourgeois radicals — who would make the people believe that no class oppression exists — who will not see the frightful civil war of class against class in modern society, — and who have nothing but vain words for the working people. The Réforme, by keeping up this contest, until it has succeeded in forcing its haughty rival to break silence, to wave, to retract, to explain, and at last to withdraw, — the Réforme, we say, has well merited of Democracy.