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State of Europe[356]
[—Financial State of France]

Karl Marx

The soporific dullness which, since the conclusion of the Oriental war[a], had characterized the physiognomy of Europe, is rapidly giving way to a lively and even feverish aspect. There here is Great Britain, with her Reform movement looming- in the future and her Indian difficulties. The London Times, it is true, tells the world that except those who have friends in India,

"the British public, as a whole, look for the arrival of the next news from India with as much interest as we should on an overdue Australian steamer or the result of a rising at Madrid."[b]

On the same day, however, the same Times, in its money article, drops the mask of proud indifference, and betrays the real feelings of John Bull in the following strain:

"A continued depression like that now prevailing in the stock market, in the face of an uninterrupted augmentation in the Bank bullion and the prospect of a great harvest, is almost unprecedented. The anxiety with regard to India overpowers all other considerations, and if any serious news were to arrive to-morrow it would most probably produce a panic."[c]

To speculate upon the course of events in India would be useless just now, when every mail may be expected to bring authentic news. But it is evident that, in case of a serious revolutionary explosion on the continent of Europe, England, drained of her men and her ships by the Chinese war and the Indian revolts, would prove unable to reassume the proud position she occupied in 1848 and 1849. On the other hand, she cannot afford to stand aloof, since the Oriental war and the alliance with Napoleon have lately chained her to continental politics, at the same time that the complete dissolution of her traditionary political parties, and the growing antagonism between her wealth-producing classes, expose her social frame more than ever to spasmodic disturbances. In 1848-49, while her power weighed like an incubus on the European revolution, England was at first a little afraid of it, then diverted its own native ennui by its spectacle, then betrayed it a little, then coquetted a little with it, and at last took earnestly to making money out of it. Her industrial fortunes, somewhat roughly shaken by the commercial distress of 1846-47, may even be said to have, to some extent, been remade, through the agency of the revolution of 1848. However, the continental revolution will be for England neither a spectacle to enjoy, nor a distress to speculate upon, but a severe trial to pass through.

Crossing the English. Channel, we find the surface of society already heaving and rocking with the movement of the subterranean fires. The Paris elections[357] are even less the foreboding than the real commencement of a new revolution. It is quite in keeping with the historical past of France that Cavaignac should give color and name to the effort against Bonaparte, in the same way that Odilon Barrot introduced that against Louis Philippe. Cavaignac, like Odilon Barrot, is only a pretext on the part of the people, though both of them serious conceptions on the part of the middle classes. The name under which a revolution is ushered in is never that borne on the banner on the day of triumph. To hold out any chances of success, revolutionary movements must, in modern society, borrow their colors, at the beginning, from those elements of the people which, although opposed to the existing government, are quite in harmony with existing society. In one word, revolutions must receive their tickets of admission to the official stage from the ruling classes themselves.

The Paris elections, and the Paris imprisonments, and the Paris prosecutions, can be read in their true light only by considering the state of the Paris Bourse, whose disturbances preceded the electoral agitation, as they have outlived it. Even during the last three months of 1856, when all Europe was laboring in a financial crisis, the Paris Bourse did not witness such a stupendous and continued depreciation of all securities as prevailed during all last June and the beginning of July. Besides, it was now not a process of declining and rising by fits and starts, but all went down in quite a methodical way, following the ordinary laws of fall only in the last precipitate plunges. The shares of the Crédit Mobilier[358], which, at the beginning of June, stood at about 1,300f. were sunk to 1,162f. on the 26th; to 1,095f. on July 3; to 975f. on the 4th; to 890f. on the 7th. The shares of the Bank of France, quoted at the beginning of June at above 4,000f., had, in spite of the new monopolies and privileges bestowed upon the Bank, fallen to 3,065f. on the 29th of June; to 2,890f. on the 3d of July, and or the 9th of July brought no more than 2,900f. The three per cent rentes, the shares of the principal railways, such as the Northern, the Lyons, the Mediterranean, the Grand Fusion lines, and all other joint-stock shares, have proportionably shared in this long downward movement.

The new Bank act[d], while exposing the desperate situation of the Bonapartist exchequer, has at the same time shaken the public confidence in the Bank administration itself. The last report of the Crédit Mobilier[e], while revealing the organic hollowness of that institution and the vastness of the interests involved in it, informed the public that there was a struggle going on between its Directors and the Emperor[f], and that some financial coup d'état was contemplated. In fact, to make good its most pressing obligations, the Crédit Mobilier has been forced to throw on the market about twenty millions of securities held by it. At the same time, in order to pay their dividends and get the means of continuing or commencing the works undertaken, railways and other joint-stock companies have also had to sell securities, to call for fresh deposits on their old shares, or to procure capital by issuing new ones. Hence the protracted heaviness in the French stock market, which, so far from being the result of merely incidental circumstances, will recur in aggravated forms at every subsequent settling term.

The alarming features of the present disease may be inferred from the fact that Emile Pereire, the great financial quack of the second empire, has stepped forward and tendered a report to Louis Napoleon, taking for his text the words pronounced by the latter in 1850 in an address to the Council-General of Agriculture and Commerce:

"Credulity, let us not forget it, is the moral part of material interests—the spirit which animates the body—it increases tenfold by confidence the value of all productions."[g]

Mr. Pereire then goes on explaining in a manner already familiar to our readers the decrease of 980,000,000f. in the values of the country within the last five months. He winds up his lamentations with these fatal words: "The budget of fear almost equals the budget of France." If, as Mr. Pereire asserts, apart from the $200,000,000 France has to pay in taxes for maintaining the empire, she has to pay as much more for fear of losing it, the days of that expensive institution, adopted as it was with the exclusive view of saving money, are indeed numbered. If the financial disturbances of the empire have conjured up its political difficulties, the latter, in their turn, are sure to react on the former. It is from this state of the French empire that the recent outbreaks in Spain and Italy[359], as well as the pending Scandinavian complications[h], receive their true importance.

Written on July 10, 1857
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5075, July 27, 1857 as a leading article


[a] The Crimean war, 1853-56.—Ed.

[b] The Times, No. 22728, July 9, 1857, leading article.—Ed.

[c] The Times, No. 22728, July 9, 1857, "Money-Market and City Intelligence".—Ed.

[d] See this volume, pp. 289-92.—Ed.

[e] Ibid., pp. 270-77.—Ed.

[f] Napoleon III.—Ed.

[g] Napoleon III's speech at the opening session of the Council-General of Agriculture, Commerce and Industry on April 7, 1850, Discours et Messages de Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte..., p. 78.—Ed.

[h] See this volume, pp. 334-35.—Ed.

[356] This title is given in accordance with the entry in Marx's notebook for 1857.

[357] A reference to the elections to the Corps Législatif in the summer of 1857. Despite the police measures taken by the government to secure success to the official candidates, the anti-Bonapartist opposition supported by the workers managed, for the first time in the history of the Second Empire, to get five of its representatives elected to the Chamber.

[358] The Crédit Mobilier is short for the Société générale du Crédit Mobilier—a French joint-stock bank founded in 1852 by the Péreire brothers. The bank was closely connected with the Government of Napoleon III and, protected by it, engaged in speculation. It went bankrupt in 1867 and was liquidated in 1871.

[359] Marx refers here to the revolution in Spain in 1856 (see this volume, pp. 97-108) and to the events in Italy in 1857. At the end of June 1857, Mazzini, who secretly arrived in Genoa, and other supporters of revolutionary action attempted to start an uprising in Italy with a view to liberating and uniting. the country. A detachment of revolutionaries led by Pisacane seized a ship bound for Tunis from Genoa and landed in the Kingdom of Naples. Attempts were also made to start uprisings in Leghorn and Genoa but, like the expedition to the South, they also failed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.301-304), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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