Engels for Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848

The French Working Class and the Presidential Elections [128]

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 123;
Written: by Engels at the beginning of December 1848;
First published: in German, in Marx/Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 1, Bd. 7.

Paris. Raspail or Ledru-Rollin? Socialist or Montagnard? That is the question which is now splitting the party of the red republic into two hostile camps.[129]

What is this dispute really all about?

Ask the journals of the Montagnards, the Réforme, the Révolution, and they will tell you that they themselves cannot make it out; that the socialists have drawn up the same programme [reference to “Manifeste électoral du Peuple”, Le Peuple, November 8-15, 1848], word for word, as the Mountain [reference to “Declaration au peuple”, La Réforme, November 9, 1848], a programme of permanent revolution, of progressive taxes and death duties, and of organisation of labour; that there is no dispute on principles, and that the whole untimely scandal has been instigated by a few jealous and ambitious men who are deceiving the “religion and the good faith” of the people and out of egotism casting suspicion on the men of the people’s party.

Ask the journal of the socialists, the Peuple, and you will be answered with bitter ‘expletives about the ignorance and empty-headedness of the Montagnards, with endless legal, moral and economic treatises, and finally with the mysterious hint that at bottom it is all about Citizen Proudhon’s new panacea, which they say is going to outdo the old socialist phrases of Louis Blanc’s school.

Finally, ask the socialist workers, and they will answer you shortly: Ce sont des bourgeois, les montagnards.

Once again, the only ones who hit the nail on the head are the workers. They will have nothing to do with the Mountain because the Mountain consists only of bourgeois.

The socialist-democratic party, even before February, consisted of two different factions; first, of the spokesmen, deputies, writers, lawyers etc., with their not inconsiderable train of petty bourgeois who formed the party of the Réforme proper; secondly, of the mass of Paris workers, who were not at all unconditional followers of the former, but, on the contrary, were very distrustful allies, and adhered more closely to them or moved farther away from them, according to whether the Réforme people acted with more resolution or with more vacillation. In the last months of the monarchy the Réforme acted with great resolution in consequence of its polemic with the National, and the relationship between it and the workers was very close.

The Réforme people therefore also entered the Provisional Government as representatives of the proletariat.

There is no need to go into details here about how they were in the minority in the Provisional Government and hence, incapable of asserting the workers’ interests, only served the pure republicans [130] to put off the workers until the pure republicans had re-organised public power, which was now their power over against the workers; how Ledru-Rollin, the leader of the Réforme party, was persuaded by Lamartine’s phrases of self-sacrifice and by the lure of power to enter the Executive Commission [131]; how he thereby split and weakened the revolutionary party, partially putting it at the disposal of the Government, and so caused the failure of the insurrections of May and June, nay, even fought against them himself. The facts are still too fresh in the memory.

Enough said; after the June insurrection, after the overthrow of the Executive Commission and the rise of the pure republicans to exclusive domination [132] in the person of Cavaignac, the party of the Réforme, of the democratic-socialist petty bourgeoisie, lost all illusions about the development of the Republic. It was pushed into opposition, it was free again, acted again as opposition and resumed its old connections with the workers.

As long as no important questions were raised, as long as it was only a question of exposing the cowardly, treacherous and reactionary policy of Cavaignac, so long the workers could put up with being represented in the press by the Réforme and the Révolution démocratique et sociale. The Vraie République and the real working-class papers had anyway already been suppressed by the state of siege, by tendentious trials and surety payments. They could equally well put up with being represented in the National Assembly by the Mountain. Raspail, Barbès and Albert were under arrest, Louis Blanc and Caussidière had had to flee. The clubs were in part closed, in part under strict supervision, and the old laws against freedom of speech continued and still continue in operation. Enough examples of how these laws were used against the workers were given in the newspapers every day. The workers, faced with the impossibility of having their own representatives speak, had again to be content with those who had represented them before February, with the radical petty bourgeois and their spokesmen.

Now the question of the Presidency arises. There are three candidates: Cavaignac, Louis Napoleon and Ledru-Rollin. For the workers Cavaignac was out of the question. The man who shot them down in June with grape-shot and incendiary rockets could only count on their hatred. Louis Bonaparte? They could only vote for him out of irony, to raise him by the ballot today and overthrow him again by force of arms tomorrow, and with him the honourable, “pure” bourgeois republic. And finally, Ledru-Rollin, who recommended himself to the workers as the only red, socialist-democratic candidate.

Really, after the experiences of the Provisional Government, of May 15 and June 24, could the workers be expected once again to give a vote of confidence to the radical petty bourgeoisie and Ledru-Rollin? To the same people who on February 25, when the armed proletariat ruled Paris, when they could have obtained everything, had only lofty, reassuring phrases instead of revolutionary action, only promises and vain hopes instead of quick and decisive measures, only the flag, the fine phrases and the styles of 1793, instead of the energy of 1793? To the same people who shouted with Lamartine and Marrast: First and foremost the bourgeois must be reassured, and who in doing so forgot to carry on the revolution? To the same people who on May 15 were undecided and on June 23 had artillery fetched from Vincennes and battalions from Orléans and Bourges?

And yet, the people might have voted for Ledru-Rollin so as not to split the votes. But then came his speech of November 25 against Cavaignac in which he once again took the side of the victors, reproached Cavaignac for not having acted with sufficient energy against the revolution, for not having had more battalions in readiness against the workers.

This speech deprived Ledru-Rollin completely of all credit with the workers. Even now, after five months, after having had to suffer all the consequences of the June battle so to speak on his own body, even now he still sides with the victors against the vanquished, he is proud of having demanded more battalions against the insurgents than Cavaignac could supply!

And the man who considers the June fighters were not vanquished quickly enough wants to be the head of the party which has entered upon the heritage of the June martyrs?

After that speech the candidature of Ledru-Rollin was lost for the Paris workers. The opposing candidature of Raspail, already put forward earlier and already having earlier enjoyed the sympathy of the workers, was victorious in Paris. If the ballot papers of Paris had decided, Raspail would now be President of the Republic.

The workers know very well that Ledru-Rollin is not yet played out, that he still can and will render great service to the radical party. But he has forfeited the confidence of the workers. For his weakness, his petty vanity, his dependence on high-sounding phrases, through which even Lamartine mastered him, they, the workers, have had to suffer. No service he can render will make them forget that. The workers will always know that when Ledru-Rollin becomes energetic again, his energy will only be that of the armed workers standing behind him and driving him on.

By giving Ledru-Rollin a no-confidence vote, the workers also gave a no-confidence vote to the whole of the radical petty bourgeoisie. The indecision, the dependence on the traditional phrases of dévoûment [devotedness] etc., the forgetting of revolutionary action over revolutionary reminiscences, are all qualities which Ledru-Rollin shares with the class he represents.

The radical petty bourgeois are only socialistic because they clearly see before their eyes their ruin, their transition into the proletariat. They are enthusiastic for the organisation of labour and revolution in the relationship between capital and labour not as petty bourgeois, as possessors of a little capital, but as future proletarians. Give them political domination, and they will soon forget the organisation of labour. Political domination gives them, of course, at least in the intoxication of the first moment, the prospect of the acquisition of capital, of salvation from threatening ruin. Only when the armed proletarians stand behind them with bayonets at the ready, only then will they remember their allies of yesterday. That is how they acted in February and March, and Ledru-Rollin, as their leader, was the first to act Eke that. If they are now disappointed, does that alter the workers’ attitude to them? If they come back in sackcloth and ashes, does that entitle them to demand that the workers now, under quite different circumstances, shall fall into the trap again?

By voting not for Ledru-Rollin but for Raspail, the workers give them to understand that they will not do so, that they know how they stand in relation to the radical petty bourgeoisie.

But Raspail — what services has Raspail rendered the workers? How can he be placed in opposition to Ledru-Rollin as a socialist par excellence?

The people know full well that Raspail is no official socialist, no system-maker by profession. The people want none of the official socialists and system-makers, they are fed up with them. Otherwise, Citizen Proudhon would be their candidate, and not the hot-blooded Raspail.

But the people have a good memory and are not nearly so ungrateful as it pleases certain unappreciated reactionary celebrities, in their modesty, to maintain. The people still remember very well that Raspail was the first to reproach the Provisional Government for its inactivity, for its preoccupation with mere republican stuff and nonsense. The people have not yet forgotten the Ami du Peuple, par le citoyen Raspail, and since Raspail was the first to have the courage — and it did require courage — to speak out in revolutionary fashion against the Provisional Government, and since Raspail represents not any particular socialist couleur, but only the social revolution, the people of Paris vote for Raspail.

It is not at all a question of a few petty measures solemnly proclaimed in the manifesto of the Mountain as the salvation of the world. It is a question of the social revolution which will give the French people something very different from these incoherent, already stale phrases. It is a question of the energy to carry through this revolution. It is a question whether the petty bourgeoisie will have this energy, after it already once proved powerless. And the proletariat of Paris, by voting for Raspail, replies “ No!

Hence the amazement of the Réforme and the Révolution that one can accept their phrases and yet not vote for Ledru-Rollin, although he proclaims these phrases. These worthy papers, which think of themselves as working-class papers and yet are now more than ever before papers of the petty bourgeoisie, cannot, of course, realise that the same demand which on the lips of the workers is revolutionary, is on their lips a mere phrase. Otherwise they would not have their own illusions.

And Citizen Proudhon and his Peuple? More of them tomorrow.