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The France of Bonaparte The Little[421]

Karl Marx

The France of Bonaparte the Little, revelling at the birth of a son[a] of a Montijo, lavishing the treasures of a nation on a ludicrous pageantry, "all clinquant, all in gold, like heathen gods,"[b] that France is terribly contrasting with the France tortured at Cayenne, smarting at Lambessa, lingering at Belle-Île[422], and rotting in the Bagne—with the France starving in the Crimea and the France in France reeling on the brink of bankruptcy.

In the letter of Citizen Tassilier, literally translated from the original[c], the reader will find the genuine and soul-stirring story of the French citizens transported to Cayenne. The press of true-born British flunkeyism, it is true, trumpets into the ears of the drowsy world in most hyperbolical flourish the great news of the boundless magnanimity and rather superhuman clemency of the sausage-hero of the camp of Satory[423] proclaiming a general amnesty[d] and deafening the first screams of his testy baby by the shouts of thousands of Frenchmen given back to their families and to liberty.

But turning away from the paid exaltation of the sycophant, let us harken to the unbribed language of facts. Boustrapa[e] offers the men he has tortured during four years, to tear asunder their chains, on the condition of their consenting to brand themselves with indelible infamy, and to pass through the furcae Caudinae of the lower empire[424]. If they will declare loyal submission to the empire, that is, sanctify the coup d'état, and abnegate the Republic—if they will sell their souls, Boustrapa is ready to sell them their lives.

"Already," says the Moniteur[f], "at the inauguration of the empire, this generous appeal has been made."

Thus, the Moniteur itself[g] avows that the general amnesty, now puffed as a stupendous novelty, is but a repetition of a stale farce played off four years ago. The genius of corruption flatters himself that his victims are now brought down to his own level, that they are sufficiently broken in to accept[h] as a grace in 1856 what they indignantly resented as an affront in 1852.

The Moniteur decks its "generous appeal" to meanness with wisely calculated forgeries and falsifications. It pretends that after the events of June 1848, 11,000 persons having been condemned to transportation to Algiers, the clemency of the President left only 306 in Africa. Now, with the same Moniteur in our hand, we assert that from the 11,000 prisoners made in June 1848, there remained in November 1848, at the time when the Assemblée Constituante discussed the execution of the decree of transportation, only 1,700; that 1,500 of them were sent to Belle-Île, and on the 8th March, 1849, under the ministry of O. Barrot, 700 out of these 1,500 were directed to Bona, in Africa. It is then this last figure of 700 that the grace of Boustrapa has reduced to 306, and not as his lying Moniteur has it, the enormous number of 11,000, and that small grace itself was only a trick played off against the assembly. However, we are obliged to thank the Moniteur for having reminded France of the atrocious infamies committed by Cavaignac and the Bourgeois Republic.[i]

As to the transported and exiled of December, the same Moniteur computes their number at 11,201, and affirms that this is now reduced to 1,058. Now, the coup d'état made more than 11,000 victims in the sole departments of the Lower Alps, Hérault, Var and Nièvre, and at this very moment there remain at least 12,000 victims doomed to exile or deportation. It is notorious that the coup d'état has affected more than 50,000 persons. It should be further remarked that the "generous appeal" of the Moniteur is exclusively addressed to those deported to Algiers and other foreign possessions, the slightest allusion being avoided to the condemned of Angers, the incarcerated for participation in secret societies, to those thrown into the Bagne by the ambulant war councils of 1851, to the prisoners of Belle-Île, to the students locked up for hissing the paid white-washers of Boustrapa, etc. By way of compensation, the Moniteur announces an unsophisticated and unconditional amnesty for poachers, smugglers, forgers, thieves, deserters, convicts, and id genus omne[j]. It is quite in keeping with the character of the Lower Empire and the precedents of the Brummagem[k] Bonaparte, that the birth of a son should prove a holiday for all the lower relations of the father.

From the victims of the coup d'état we pass now to its tools, from the men who opposed it to the slaves that executed it, from the soldiers of liberty to the army of the Crimea. If it is a great historical sign that Bonaparte, in midst of the fresh delusions of a new fangled dynasty, and the supreme triumph of his admittance into the embalmed air of rancid legitimacy, still wants to be acknowledged by his wretched victims, and, therefore, hypocritically bids for their adhesion to the empire[l], it is a trait of historical irony, not less notable that at the very time the head and the members of the society of the 10th December[425] are feasting the success of the coup d'état in pompous profusion at Paris, the army that imposed this disgusting rule upon France is expiating its crime in the Crimea by denudation, starvation, agony and death in their most dismal and hideous forms.

In the first period of the Oriental campaign, from November 1854, to March 1855, the upstart of December was extolled as a second providence and in every tune was sung the admirable military administration of the empire of all the glories, in contrast to the scandalous sufferings that befell the English army from intentional treason at home and[m] the natural working of a superannuated system. But, as in every other feat of the Lower Empire, what was taken for a substance, was but a theatrical phantasmagoria calculated for immediate stage effect. During two years Bonaparte had been exclusively bent on preparing for war. He had strained every nerve of the immense power of centralised France to provide for the first movement of his army[n]. Indeed, it is not to be wondered at, that even the wretched adventurer of Strassburg and Boulogne should not succeed, during the first two years of his misrule, in breaking down the admirable organisation of the French army, bequeathed by the first revolution. It is a miracle that he has contrived that point in the first two years of actual warfare. Having lavished more wealth on a Batrachomyomachia[426] of his own, than the Great Napoleon in fifteen years of his Iliad[o], he finds at the beginning of the third year the resources of France drained, her military administration broken up, and her very army dwindling away from misery. The cancer that eats up the French army is the organic principle of the Lower Empire—theft and embezzlement; and but two years were needed to make its work appear on the surface.

The wretched state of the French army was for a long time carefully concealed not only in the French but also in the English press[427]. Now-a-days it has become a secret running the streets and encumbering the thoroughfares. It has become a truth no longer controverted after Bonaparte's own Moniteur has given it the lie direct[p]. For the present purpose it will suffice to quote from the last letter of the Times' Sebastopol correspondent:—

"The French army, however, numerous as they may show it to be on paper, is dwindling sadly; scurvy and fever are playing havoc in its ranks: I recently stated its daily loss at 170 men ... now the French admit the daily mortality in their army to be 120 men, and in some days considerably more. The right wing of the army, in the Baidar valley, suffers the most.... When the mild weather sets in, a great increase of disease is to be anticipated.... The sick returns of the French will be terrible.... The French army is being expended at least as rapidly as it was by shell and shot during the severest part of the siege."[q]

Insufficiency of shelter, want of covering, and the scarcity of food[r] are pointed at as the principal causes of their trials. Having described the rigour of the weather, "tubs of water in the huts having frozen to a depth of 3 inches," and the prevalence of snow-storms which "allowed few huts to remain in which the snow did not make its appearance in great quantities," the correspondent puts the question what the French army must have suffered in tents not huts carefully fitted out, not double tents well dug out, but single and unprotected tents. He concludes by stating that "it is really painful to meet the French convoys of sick," and that Marshal Pélissier is more anxious to hide them from the English army than to mitigate their sufferings.

We add another quotation from The Morning Advertiser, the very paper that shared with The Morning Post the infamous privilege of hailing Bonaparte's advent in 1851 and of still trumpeting Lord Palmerston as the truly English minister:—

"There are 3,000 sick in the French camp of the Chernaya—the ambulances are choked and the medical staff decimated by disease and exhaustion—the commissariat has broken down, and is unable to feed the troops—the men are actually begging biscuits from the soldiers at the outposts—scurvy from the want of vegetables, and typhus from the want of meat, rage with indomitable virulence—and the contrast between the two armies is the source of open discontent on the part of the French soldiery. The transports are insufficient to convey the sick to Constantinople—the hospitals there have more than 12,000 patients in them—the epidemic is a positive pestilence—and the mortality frightful—the troop-ships arriving from the east at Marseilles are loaded with the dregs of fever, and the vessels and the typhoid patients are consigned to the lazaretto at Frioul."[s]

What is to be done with this withering army?[t] are they to be soothed by recitals of the Arabian tale of the King of Algiers' "nativity"? or by the description of the embroidered and gold-laced uniforms of the cautious hero's pampered guards? It should be recollected that French soldiers have no stomach for undergoing injuries like English privates. Proof, if proof be wanted, the several attempts made in the French army to shoot General Pélissier, a fact recorded by the Gazette de Milan[u], Radetzky's Moniteur. Nor must it be imagined that the army of the line in France remains a dull spectator of the Crimean tragedy. The razzias of the Paris police are beginning to affect the barracks[v]. The Zouaves ordered to Paris to chafe public enthusiasm by their exhibition are already removed from the capital, they having become suspicious. Two other regiments returned from the Crimea have also been banished into the provinces. The antagonism between the guard and the line is daily growing more embittered, Bonaparte being about to create at this very moment new guard regiments in sufficient numbers to enable this privileged corps to keep the garrison of Paris, exclusive of the regiments of the line. Having bribed the army into antagonism to the country, he is now trying to bribe an army within the army—a rather dangerous experiment this.

The Finances—we would not call them the heels of this strange Achilles, he being rather tall at his heels—require a separate article for a full exposition. For the present it may suffice to state[w] that the funds falling somewhile hence, it was consequently expected the announced conclusion of peace, and the birth of another Bonaparte could not fail to send them up. Such an issue was not quite left to chance. Not only the Government gave orders to freely use the public chests at its disposal for the purchase of public funds, but the crédit mobilier, and similar mushrooms of Bonapartist credit were, during two consecutive days, largely employed in buying stock. All these manoeuvres notwithstanding, on the very news of the "nativity," instead of rising, the funds went down, and continue to go down. Bonaparte, in great rage now, prohibited the sale on Change of any but governmental quoted papers, and had then the principal stockjobber summoned to the Préfecture de Police.

When the statuary of Pallas Athene tumbled down in the Parthenon, such an accident told fatal tidings to the Republic of Athens. Bonaparte's bust, tottering on its pedestal in the Synagogue[x], where the marketable value of governments is settled, and the peoples' history discounted, presages the downfall of the Empire of Agio.

Written about April 1, 1856
First published in The People's Paper, No. 205, April 5, 1856 (signed: K. M.)
and simultaneously in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4676, April 14, 1856.
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1136, April 15, 1856 as a leading article.
Reproduced from The People's Paper.


[a] Prince Eugene, titled King of Algeria (born March 16, 1856).—Ed.

[b] Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act I, Scene 1.—Ed.

[c] The People's Paper has the following editorial note here: "M. Tassilier's letter we are forced to postpone till next week, from want of space. We direct the particular attention of all our readers to it." Marx's translation of the letter was published in The People's Paper, No. 206, April 12, 1856.—Ed.

[d] The New-York Daily Tribune has: "superhuman clemency of Louis Bonaparte, proclaiming a general amnesty".—Ed.

[e] A nickname of Louis Bonaparte, formed of the first syllables of Boulogne, Strasbourg and Paris, the cities where Bonapartist coups were staged in August 1840, October 1836 and December 1851, respectively. The New-York Daily Tribune everywhere has "Bonaparte" instead of "Boustrapa".—Ed.

[f] Le Moniteur universel, No. 80, March 20, 1856.—Ed.

[g] The New-York Daily Tribune has: "the official journal itself".—Ed.

[h] The New-York Daily Tribune has: "to humbly accept".—Ed.

[i] This sentence does not occur in the New-York Daily Tribune.—Ed.

[j] Le Moniteur universel, No. 81, March 21, 1856. Id genus omne means "all persons of that sort".—Ed.

[k] This word does not occur in the New-York Daily Tribune.—Ed.

[l] Instead of the words "for their adhesion to the empire" the New-York Daily Tribune has "the acknowledgement".—Ed.

[m] The words "intentional treason at home and" do not occur in the New-York Daily Tribune.—Ed.

[n] The New-York Daily Tribune has: "He had strained every nerve of the centralized power of France to provide for the first movements of his army—then the main prop of his usurpation and which had not yet served his turn."—Ed.

[o] The New-York Daily Tribune has: "Having lavished more wealth in that short struggle than the great Napoleon in the fifteen years of his warfare...."—Ed.

[p] This refers to reports published in Le Moniteur universel, Nos. 84 and 85, March 24 and 25, 1856. In the New-York Daily Tribune this sentence does not occur.—Ed.

[q] Here and below Marx quotes from a report by W. H. Russell published in The Times, No. 22324, March 25, 1856.—Ed.

[r] In the New-York Daily Tribune the words "principally of wine and vegetables" are added here.—Ed.

[s] The quotation from The Morning Advertiser and the preceding paragraph do not occur in the New-York Daily Tribune.—Ed.

[t] Instead of this sentence the New-York Daily Tribune and New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune have: "What is to be done with these discontented legions, dying from a wretched commissariat, scandalous neglect, and notoriously organized plunder?"—Ed.

[u] Gazzetta Ufficiale di Milano.—Ed.

[v] Instead of this sentence the New-York Daily Tribune has: "The razzias of the Paris police have lately been directed at two barracks situated on the right bank of the Seine."—Ed.

[w] The preceding sentence does not occur in the New-York Daily Tribune. The paragraph begins as follows: "As for the finances of France, it may suffice to state...."—Ed.

[x] The New-York Daily Tribune has: "in the temple".—Ed.

[421] Besides The People's Paper, Marx also sent this article to the New-York Daily Tribune, which published it as a leading article under the heading "Bonapartean Victims and Tools" on April 14, 1856. It was reprinted under that heading in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune on April 15. The Tribune version differs somewhat from The People's Paper one. Certain passages were omitted and a number of—presumably editorial—insertions made. One such insertion, referring to Tassilier's letter, is the phrase "which will be found in another column" at the beginning of the article (the letter, possibly translated by Marx, was published in the same issue of the New-York Daily Tribune). Both versions contain numerous misprints in figures, which have been corrected on the basis of the sources used by Marx.

The People's Paper, founded in May 1852, was a weekly published by the revolutionary Chartists. Marx contributed to it without claiming remuneration and helped Ernest Jones, the chief editor, with the editing and organisational matters, especially in the weekly's early years. He also enlisted as regular contributors his associates Adolf Cluss (who lived in the USA), Georg Eccarius and Wilhelm Pieper. In the period between October 1852 and December 1856 The People's Paper, in addition to publishing Marx's articles written specially for it, reprinted the most important articles by Marx and Engels from the New-York Daily Tribune. At the beginning of 1856 Marx's contributions to The People's Paper became especially frequent. However towards the end of the year Marx and Engels temporarily broke off relations with Jones and ceased to contribute to his weekly because of Jones' increasing association with bourgeois radicals. In June 1858 the paper was taken over by J. Baxter Langley, a follower of Richard Cobden, with the proviso that Jones should have two columns in each issue for Chartist news. However, the paper met with no success and ceased publication in September 1858.

[422] The reference is to French Guiana where political prisoners were sent for penal servitude. The high mortality caused by the harsh prison regulations and the unhealthy tropical climate earned Cayenne the nickname of the "Dry Guillotine".

Lambessa (Lambèse) was a French penal colony in North Africa set up on the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Lambaesis. From 1851 to 1860 it was a place of deportation for political prisoners.

Belle-Île is an island in the Bay of Biscay. From 1849 to 1857 political prisoners, including participants in the June 1848 uprising of Paris workers, were confined there.

[423] An allusion to the methods Louis Bonaparte employed to win supporters while preparing the coup d'état of December 2, 1851. At the receptions and military reviews he held as President of the Republic at Satory and elsewhere army officers and men were served sausage, cold meat and champagne (see Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 99-197).

[424] Furcae Caudinae (Caudine Forks)—a gorge near the Roman town of Caudium, where in 321 B.C., during the second Samnite war, the Samnites defeated the Roman legions and made them "pass under the yoke", which was considered a terrible disgrace to a defeated army. Hence the expression to "pass under Furcae Caudinae"—to be subjected to extreme humiliation.

On the Lower Empire (the New-York Daily Tribune has New Lower Empire everywhere) see Note 198↓.

[425] The Society of December 10 was a secret Bonapartist society set up in 1849 consisting mainly of déclassé elements. Marx gives a detailed description of it in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (see present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 99-197).

[426] The Batrachomyomachia (The Battle of the Frogs and Mice) was an Ancient Greek anonymous mock-heroic poem parodying Homer's Iliad.

[427] Instead of this sentence the New-York Daily Tribune has the following one partly or wholly added by the editors: "The wretched state of the French army in the Crimea was broadly asserted in our columns before the London press dared hint at it."

[198] Lower Empire (Bas Empire)—the name given in historical literature to the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire); also used with reference to states at the stage of decline or disintegration. Here an allusion to the Second Empire in France.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.615-620), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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