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Pelissier's Mission to England

Karl Marx

Paris, March 27, 1858

Of all governmental positions, the most trying is that of a civilian at the head of a despotic military state. In the Orient, the difficulty is more or less met by transforming the despot into a god, theocratic attributes not allowing the ruler to be reduced to a measure common to himself and to his swordsmen. In Imperial Rome, the deification of the Emperors, while not affording the same defense, grew out of the same necessity. Now, Louis Bonaparte is a civilian, although he was the editor of a history of cannon[a], but he cannot adopt the Roman expedient. Hence the accumulating, perplexities of his position. At the same rate that France grows impatient of the yoke of the army, the army waxes bolder in its purpose of yoking Bonaparte. After the 10th of December[510], Bonaparte could flatter himself that he was the elect of the peasantry, that is, the mass of the French nation. Since the attempt of the 14th January[511], he knows that he is at the mercy of the army. Having been compelled to avow that he rules through the army, it is quite natural that the latter should seek to rule through him.

The parceling out of France into five pashalics[512] therefore, but preceded the installation of Espinasse as Minister of the Interior. The latter step was followed by making over the police of Paris to M. Boitelle, who was a non-commissioned officer in 1830, serving with M. de Persigny in the same regiment at La Fere and trying, when the revolution of July broke out, to make his comrades cry "Vive Napoleon II". The glorification of Boitelle is backed by the nomination of Pelissier Duc de Malakoff, as his Imperial Majesty's representative at the Court of St. James's. This appointment means flattery to the army and menace to England. It is true that the Moniteur pretends to turn it into a compliment to John Bull[b], but Veuillot of the Univers, who is known to have his petites and grandes entrées[c] at the Tuileries, foreshadowed the event in a fierce article containing this significant phrase:

"The pride of England is wounded. The wound is an old one. The wound was inflicted in the Crimea at the Alma, at Inkermann, at the Malakoff, everywhere where the French were the first at the field and penetrated the deepest into the enemy's ranks. St. Arnaud, Bosquet, Canrobert, Pelissier, McMahon—these are the men who wounded the pride of England."[d]

In one word, Napoleon III. has sent his Menchikoff to London, of whom, by-the-by, he is rather glad to get rid for a time, since Pelissier has taken up the attitude of a frondeur from the moment his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the five pashalics was rescinded. The Paris Bourse, on the news becoming known, went down at once.

Pelissier has more than one grudge to avenge upon England. In 1841, before his electors at Tiverton, Palmerston publicly branded him as a monster[e], and gave the signal to his general abuse by the London Press. After the Crimean campaign, General de Lacy Evans, in the House of Commons, more than hinted at Pelissier as the principal cause of the disgrace that had befallen the English army before Sevastopol. He was also roughly handled by the British Press, expatiating upon the intimations of Gen. Evans. Lastly, at a banquet given to the Crimean Generals, Pelissier simply appropriated the whole Crimean glory, such as it is, to the eagles of France, not even condescending to recollect John Bull's cooperation. Again, the London Press, by way of reprisal, dissected Pelissier. Moreover, his temper is known to unfit him altogether for the part of that mythological Greek personage who alone was able to heal the wounds it had inflicted[f]. Still we cannot share the opinion of those London papers which, working themselves up to a Roman state of mind, warn the Consuls to take care "ne republica detrimenti capiat."[g] Pelissier means intimidation, but he does not mean war. This appointment is a mere coup de théâtre.

The broad ditch that separates perfide Albion[513] from la belle France, is her Lacus Curtius[514], but Bonaparte is not the romantic youth to close the yawning chasm by plunging himself into the gulf, and disappearing. Of all men in Europe, he knows best that his frail tenure of power hinges upon the alliance with England: but this is a truth fatal to the revenger of Waterloo[515], and which he must do his best to conceal from his armed myrmidons[516] by pulling hard on John Bull, and clothing the very alliance in the garbs of a vassalage, imposed by France, and accepted by England.

Such is his game, a most dangerous one, likely to hasten the issue it aims to put off. If Pelissier fails in his bullying mission, as he is sure to do, the last card has been played, the theatrical performances must make room for real ones, or Bonaparte will stand before his army a confessed impostor, hiding behind his Napoleonic airs the sorry figure of the London constable of the 10th of April, 1848.[517]

In point of fact, it was but the alliance with England which enabled the nephew for a time to mimic the uncle. The close connection of England and France, while giving the death-blow to the Holy Alliance[518] and putting at nought the balance of European power, naturally invested Bonaparte, the Continental representative of that alliance, with the appearance of the arbiter of Europe. So long as the Russian war and the internal state of France allowed him to do so, he was but too glad to content himself with this symbolical rather than real supremacy. All this has changed since peace reigns in Europe and the army reigns in France. He is now called upon by the army to show that, like a real Napoleon, he holds the dictature of Europe, not in trust for England, but in spite of England. Hence his perplexities. On the one hand he bullies John Bull, on the other hand he insinuates to him that he means no harm. He rather implores him to look frightened, out of courtesy, at the mock-menaces of his "august ally." This is the very way of stiffening John Bull, who feels that he risks nothing in giving himself heroical airs.

Written on March 26, 1858
First published unsigned in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5299, April 15, 1858


[a] Napoléon-Louis Bonaparte, Histoire du canon dans les armées modernes.—Ed.

[b] "Voici en quels termes les principaux organes...", Le Moniteur universel, No. 86, March 27, 1858.—Ed.

[c] The right of informal and official entrance.—Ed.

[d] "Le journal la Patrie publie...", L'Indépendance belge, No. 86, March 27, 1858.—Ed.

[e] Palmerston's speech before the electors at Tiverton on June 28, 1841, The Times, No. 1773, July 3, 1841.—Ed.

[f] The reference is to Achilles, who, as the Greek myth has it, was the only one able to heal the wounds he had inflicted to Telephus, Heracles' son.—Ed.

[g] That the state suffer no harm (the decretum ultimum passed by the Roman senate in times of national peril, which gave the chief magistrates, the consuls, full powers to use any means to save the commonwealth).—Ed.

[510] On December 10, 1848 Louis Bonaparte was elected President of the French Republic by a majority vote.

[511] On January 14, 1858 the Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini made an attempt on the life of Napoleon III, thus hoping to provoke revolutionary actions in Europe and intense struggle for the national unification of Italy. His attempt failed, and Orsini was executed on March 13, 1858.

[512] Under Napoleon III's decree of January 27, 1858 the whole of French territory was divided into five military districts, with Paris, Nancy, Lyons, Toulouse and Tours as their capitals and Marshals Magnan, Baraguay d'Hilliers, Bosquet, Castellane and Canrobert as their .commanders. Marx calls these districts pashaliks (a comparison earlier used by the French republican press), to emphasise the similarity of the unlimited powers of the reactionary Marshals and the despotic power of the Turkish pashas. Pélissier's proposed appointment as marshal general in 1858 remained unrealised.

[513] Albion—an old name of the British Isles; the expression "perfide Albion", current from the time of the French Revolution, was taken from a poem by Augustin, Marquis de Ximénès: Britain was so called for its government's numerous intrigues against the French Republic and organisation of anti-French coalitions.

[514] It is. said that in 362 B. C. a deep gulf opened in the forum, which the seers declared would never close until Rome's most valuable possession was thrown into it. Then Curtius, recognizing that nothing was more precious than a brave citizen, leaped into the chasm, which immediately closed. The spot was afterward covered by a marsh called the Lacus Curtius

[515] At the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815) Napoleon's army was defeated by British and Prussian forces commanded by the Duke of Wellington and Blücher.

[516] Myrmidons, in Homer, the inhabitants of Phthiotis in Thessaly. A fierce and devoted followers of Achilles. In modern times their name is used to mean subordinates who carry out orders implacably.

[517] An allusion to the fact that, while in emigration in England, Louis Bonaparte volunteered for the special constabulary (a police reserve consisting of civilians) which helped the regular police disperse the Chartist demonstration on April 10, 1848, organised to present a petition to Parliament for the adoption of the People's Charter.

[518] The Holy Alliance—an association of European monarchs founded on September 26, 1815, on the initiative of the Russian Emperor Alexander I and the Austrian Chancellor Metternich, to suppress revolutionary movements and preserve feudal monarchies in European countries.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.482-484), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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