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A New French Revolutionary Manifesto[22]

Karl Marx

London, Sept. 24, 1858

Last night, at a public meeting held in commemoration of the 66th anniversary of the establishment of the first French Republic, M. Félix Pyat read a remarkable "lettre aux Mandarins de la France", in which he fiercely denounces the want of moral courage displayed under the present regime by the literary class of France. In the outlines we propose giving of it, we have occasionally swerved from the letter of the original, in order to render more strikingly its spirit:

"In the night which has enveloped France since the invasion of the coup d'état, you, gentlemen of the press, are the most lost of souls. You undergo your punishment with a terrible patience and submission. You undergo it in silence, as if you deserved it; with resignation, as if it was to last forever. Is it possible? For ten years not an act, not a cry, not a word of protestation or hope. Strong and weak, age and youth, great and little, professor and disciple, all dumb, all crest-fallen. Not a single voice in the desert. In the French vocabulary there is no longer a word signifying liberty. Englishmen ask us whether French is still spoken in France, and we lower our heads. Even the press of Austria girds at you—even that of Russia bewails you. An object of pity and scorn for the Cossack himself, this press of France! Bonaparte has spit upon the sun and put it out. Who is to kindle again, or to replace that dead star? Suns wanting, there remain the volcanoes. If there is to be no more light, no more warmth from above, there is still the interior sun, the subterranean flame, the ray from below, the fire of the people. Already, we see blaze that Vesuvius, and therefore, do not despair."

Commencing his review of the French literary world with the members of the Institut[a], Mr. Pyat addresses them thus:

"Let us begin with those who are most completely dead, with the Immortels. (The members of the 'Institut' going by the name of the 'Immortels.') There they are, the chairs, or rather the coffins, of the forty! Shadows of authors, mumbling shades of epigrams; defunct minds still galvanized by the reminiscences and the regrets of the past. There is he (Guizot), an old Ixion, enamoured of the doctrinary mist[23], pursuing his constitutional chimera, whirling from Gaud to Frohsdorf[b], the vicious circle of the monarchial wheel, the symbol, packed in straw, of the 'Fusion'.[24] There is that other wizard, his contemporary (Cousin), retreated from the Sorbonne to the land of love, making, like Faust, amends for time lost, with a load of three score and more on his back, relapsing into youth, and devoting himself to the Margarets of the Fronde[25], because of having been too much in love with eclecticism at the age of twenty! That other fellow there (Thiers), neither old nor young, with something unripe and something rotten about him, an oldish child, a petrified perpetuum mobile, having fluttered about art, politics and history—having carped at the Revolution, celebrated the Empire, and entombed twice the great man[c] in the Dôme des Invalides and in his books[26]; in one word, the national historian, the Taenia[d] of history, the Tacitus in ordinary to the cent-gardes[27] licensed by his Majesty, and warranted on the part of the Government. And last, not least, that Homer without an Iliad (Lamartine), that Belisar without campaigns, who banished barbarian schoolmasters only, and sung the capture of Elvire only, historian of Grasiella, poet of the Girondins, troubadour of the Restoration, orator of the Republic, and honest pauper of the Empire.

"Let us pass from fossils to men. Let us look at the most lively among them—those at least who pretend to be so—to stand by principle, to unfurl their colors—Legitimists, Orleanists and Liberals. Another cemetery this. But there is something audible there. What? A sigh, a whine, an allusion. So far goes their breath. No farther. They pant, they weep; tears make no noise. It is but the revolt of silence, the audacity of sadness, and the courage of regrets. The Constitution is regretted; so is the Charter[28], so Henry V, everybody and everything, down to the Duchesses[e], whom they themselves had bid to be gone. Béranger is embalmed; Voltaire revived from the death.... Béranger went to prison; Voltaire into exile. Their weepers go to church. To die for the ungrateful, say the brave Débats, is to die in vain, and they prefer living at any price.... We will not die, says the Siècle, save for moderation's sake. Who is wise in his generation will accept facts accomplished, and content himself with selling in the streets.... The very Brutuses' among them will take to mongering opposition against Veuillot[29]. Yes, in the midst of this Nineteenth century, after three revolutions made in the name of the sovereignty of the people and of reason, 66 years after the revolution of September, 28 years after that of July, 10 years after that of February, in 1858, in France, they are discussing.... What? Miracles.... Oh, Lamennais, model of courage and honor, passionate lover of justice, who, the day after the battle of June, 1848, preferred breaking his pen rather than having it cut to the measure of the sword; who protested against the rich victor by the courageous cry, 'Silence for the poor'[30]; who made his very age protest from the prison, and his death itself from the common ditch[31], thou wast but a coward and a fool! It is wisdom to write in order to say nothing; it is courage to speak in order to lie and betray, to keep-peace with the regime of warnings, to conform to the diet prescribed by Doctor Fialin, to drink oil and treacle in the leading articles, and feed upon the legislative debates of Piedmont and Belgium[32]. All that time over, December will continue to dispose of the life, the rights, the future of France. Late representatives of the people, journalists, the best citizens, all that remains of the revolution, will be transported from the dungeons of Belle Isle[33] to those of Corsica, on the expiration of their punishment to be shipped off further still, to the burning sands of Cayenne[34], as was done with Delescluze ... and such information even will have to be smuggled to France in the bottoms of the English press. Shame unheard of, even in Pagan Rome, even among the fanatics of Jiddah[35]! A woman married and separated from her husband, arrives a stranger at Paris, is arrested and conducted to the guard-house; and now hark what the soldiers of December set about doing. We quote the official act of accusation. The Sergeant of the guard takes her up in the ward and vainly annoys her with his filthy importunities. Then he orders two of his chasseurs to enter the ward, and be more fortunate. The woman still resists the two. The Sergeant has her stretched in the barrack-room itself, on a bench, with a sack for her cushion. Then the candle is put out, and all the men, nine in number, the Sergeant and the Corporal at their head, ravish that woman, keeping her by the arms and by the legs, while she screams, 'My God, leave me, leave me!' The Sergeant, who gives the orders, as he sets the example, says: 'Take numerals each from the right to the left, everybody must pass in his turn.'... Then, afterward, two quarts of brandy are drunk at the expense of the victim. And those defenders of order, those saviours wearing medals, the prime of the nation, those chasseurs of Vincennes who made December, and who do now the work of violation by the number, platoon violation, they are committed to prison for six days, and to the payment of 16 francs damages. The violators are inviolable, and the journal that enregisters the fact is authorized to state that there are 'attenuating circumstances'. Long life to the Empereur! In truth, The Times is right; every man of sense and feeling must wish the total abolition of the French press, rather than see it the accomplice of such crimes. A lamp without flame, why should it smoke? Why deceive, why trouble opinion any more? Enough of lies, under the semblance of truth; enough of prostitution, with the airs of prudery; enough of cowardice, under the name of constancy; enough of corruption, under the mask of life. Hypocritic, histrionic mummies, do not longer counterfeit life, get yourselves buried, ... and, to think that these are still the best, those press men who, at least, plume themselves upon being partisans, one way or the other!... But what of the remainder? There are, first, the neutrals, insensible to collective life, withdrawn to the background of cool grottoes, there to coquet with art for art's sake, or with philosophy for philosophy's sake, a sort of hermits in ecstasy at a rhyme or a diagram, fops believing in form only, pedants sticking to abstraction, excusing their indifference by the worthlessness of the vulgar, yet allowing the imperial eagle to convey them little cakes and little crosses, suiciding themselves in their works as the insect does in its cocoon, caterpillars of vanity, chrysalids of egotism, with no heart in them, dying of self-love like Narcissus. Then there comes another gang who once did in revolutions, but now do in jobs.... Happy results of the empire of peace[36].... Once they served principles, now they serve the funds; once the parties, now the bankers; once they called themselves monarchy or republic, now they go by the name of the North Western or Great Eastern, subjects of the branch Mires or the house Millaud, legitimists in the pay of these Jewish dynasties, Levites[37] of the idols of the Bourse singing the scala of the Rentes and preaching the rights of the premium in the temple of the merchants, the tail of St. Simonism heading the choir before the altar of the golden calf again become god, and before the throne of the blackleg[f] transformed into Caesar.... Fie! We smell the last ranks of the literary world, official putrefaction, corpses in livery, gallooned skeletons, Pays, Patrie, Moniteur, Constitutionnel, the domestic pest dancing in a ring on the dung-yard of Augias."

In the second part of his "letter. to the Mandarins", Mr. Pyat contrasts the active devotion of the French press at the times of the Restoration and Louis Philippe to its present total abdication. Under the regime of the octroyed charter,

"all did their duty, from the most illustrious to the most obscure. From Béranger to Fantau, from Magalon to Courier, Tay, Touy, Bert, Canchois, Chatelain, all went to the prison; some to St. Pélagie, some to Poissy. In the same way, under 'the best of Republics', Lamennais got incarcerated, Raspail, Carrel, Marrast, Dupoty, Esquiros, Thoré—all the Republicans. Armand Carrel then, to his eternal honor, resisted force by force, covering his journal by his sword, and making Périer recoil before this memorable challenge: 'It is little, the life of a man killed furtively in the corner of a street; but it is much, the life of a man of honor who should be massacred in his own house by the sbirri[g] of M. Périer, while resisting in the name of right. His blood would cry for vengeance. Every writer, penetrated by his own dignity, should oppose law to illegality, and force to force. Such is my duty, happen what may.'[h]... However, if, since December, all 'the Mandarins' of France have withdrawn from the battlefield, the working class, and even the peasantry, have become the focus of political life. They alone bear the brunt of criminal persecutions, get up the conspiracies, take the offensive—unknown, anonymous, mere plebs as they are.... With them originated the affair of the Hippodrome,[38] and the attempts at insurrection that ran from Paris to Lyons, from St. Etienne to Bordeaux. At Angers, it was the carriers[i], at Châlon, it was the coopers—simple working men, who had acted on their own account, without any leaders from the upper classes."[39]

As to the conspiracy of Châlon, Mr. Pyat gives some. details hitherto unknown, with which we shall conclude these extracts. The chief of that conspiracy was a working man (cooper), thirty-two years of age, called Agénais. Mr. Lièvre, the public accuser, describes him thus to the Tribunal:

"'This man is a working man, industrious, orderly, instructed, disinterested; consequently the more dangerous—the more worth attracting the eye of the police and the hand of justice. He had declared he would not bear that an Italian should have the honor of saving France.' In order to convince the Judges that that man ought to be put down the type of 'an enemy of family, religion and property,' Mr. Lièvre read the following letter, addressed from Algeria by Agénais to his mother, and intercepted by the Decembrist police: 'My African jailors, knowing my position with my family, have often placed myself between these alternatives—heart and head, feeling and duty. These trials were especially renewed whenever I received a letter from you, the effects of which they spied with lynx eyes. This lasted a long time. Finally, at the end of their tricks and tired of the struggle, a superior jailor, a high officer, came one evening to visit me in my cell, and after some words exchanged with me, ended by saying, "You will not bend, you shall be broken." "I may be broken," was my answer, "but I shall not bend." Some days later, I received communication of an order sending me to Cayenne. I had twelve hours to reflect. I turned them to advantage. Hence I have neither bent, nor was I broken. Man proposes and God disposes, always the old proverb. Congratulate you, therefore, upon having seen myself resist the allurements of your wishes, and having followed the inspirations of my conscience alone. That faithful counselor has often repeated to me that I live only by the heart and for duty, and that without them nothing would remain of me but a coarse envelope, and I feel every day more distinctly that this interior voice is that of the truth.... Such is my excuse with respect to my family.'

"An Imperial Procureur," remarks M. Pyat, "would certainly not have invented that."

Agénais, unwilling either to bend or to break, escapes from the bagno of Algiers in order to avoid that of Cayenne, gains by swimming to a ship and returns to Spain, thence to France, where he again repairs to Chalon, a faithful soldier of the Marianne, an obstinate champion of the Republic.

Written on September 24, 1858
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5458, October 19, 1858


[a] The Institut de France consists of five Academies, the first being called the Académie française.—Ed.

[b] A house near Vienna, residence of Count Chambord, pretender to the French throne.—Ed.

[c] Napoleon I.—Ed.

[d] Tapeworm.—Ed.

[e] Duchesses of Berry and Orleans.—Ed.

[f] Louis Bonaparte.—Ed.

[g] Police spies.—Ed.

[h] Le National, January 24, 1832.—Ed.

[i] Quarriers.—Ed.

[22] In this article Marx analyses a pamphlet by the French petty-bourgeois democrat Félix Pyat, Lettre aux mandarins de la France. Marx always took a negative attitude to Pyat, who in England in the 1850s and 1860s called for the assassination of Napoleon III and for "regicide" in general, thus giving the English police a pretext to deport revolutionary refugees, and the French police a pretext for persecuting participants in the working-class and democratic movement in France. Pyat always opposed an independent movement by the workers and was later an enemy of the First International. But this pamphlet attracted Marx's attention because it contained "one or two facts that are interesting" (see Marx's letter to Engels of October 8, 1858, present edition, Vol. 40), viz., signs of the growing self-consciousness of the proletariat and its acting as a class. Besides, Marx quotes passages which testify to the crisis of the Bonapartist empire and show that the French bourgeoisie has exhausted its revolutionary potentialities.

The dispatch of the article to New York is registered in Marx's Notebook for 1858 as "24 Friday. Pyat's Lettre aux mandarins".

The editors of the present edition do not have Pyat's pamphlet at their disposal.

[23] Ixion (Greek Myth.), King of the Lapithae, tried to seduce the Goddess Hera but was deceived by Zeus who substituted for her a cloud in her own image. Here Pyat alludes to Guizot's ideal of a representative monarchy and, in particular, to his Cours d'Histoire moderne. Histoire des origines du gouvernement représentatif en Europe.

[24] Fusionism—a policy which favoured the union of the Legitimists, supporters of the elder branch of the Bourbons, with the Orleanists, supporters of the younger branch.

[25] The Fronde, a movement in France against the absolutist regime from 1648 to 1653, involved various social sections, which in many cases pursued opposite aims, from radical peasant and plebeian elements and oppositional bourgeoisie, to high-ranking officials and aristocrats. The defeat of the Fronde led to the strengthening of absolutism.

Marx alludes to Victor Cousin's Madame de Longueville, Madame de Sablé, Madame de Chevreuse et madame de Hautefort, and other works written in the 1850s under the general subtitle "Etudes sur les femmes illustres et la société du XVII-e siècle".

[26] Thiers was Prime Minister when Napoleon I's remains were transferred from St. Helena to Paris in 1840 and buried in the Dôme des Invalides.

Pyat also has in mind Thiers' twenty-volume Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire.

[27] Cent-gardes—the Emperor's special privileged guard formed in France by a decree of March 24, 1854.

[28] The reference is to the Charte octroyée granted in 1814 by Louis XVIII. It was the Bourbons' fundamental law which introduced a regime of moderate constitutional monarchy with wide powers for the king and high electoral qualifications ensuring above all political privileges for the landed aristocracy.

[29] An allusion to the fact that Catholic and Bonapartist circles were displeased with Louis Veuillot, editor of. the Catholic newspaper L'Univers religieux, in which he conducted a scandalous polemic against all those who professed other beliefs, and appealed to the Pope against them.

[30] An allusion to the closing of Lamennais' newspaper Le peuple constituant. His words "silence au pauvre" ("silence for the poor") appeared in its last issue, on July 10, 1848.

[31] In his will Lamennais asked to be buried in a cemetery for the poor without any church rites.

[32] The reference is to the discussion and adoption in Belgium and Piedmont on February 18, 1858 of laws punishing instigation to attempts on people's life and participation in them. They were adopted to please Napoleon III after an attempt on his life on January 14, 1858 by the Italian revolutionary Orsini.

[33] Belle Isle—an island in the Bay of Biscay, where political prisoners were detained in 1849-57; among others, workers who took part in the Paris uprising in June 1848 were imprisoned there.

[34] Cayenne—the reference is to French Guiana where political prisoners were sent for penal servitude.

[35] In Jiddah (a Red Sea port) a fierce clash took place between Moslems and Christians in 1858.

[36] An allusion to Louis Bonaparte's words spoken in Bordeaux on October 9, 1852, shortly before the plebiscite and the proclamation of the Second Empire. In an effort to win the people's sympathy he declared demagogically: "L'Empire c'est la paix" ("The Empire is peace").

[37] Levites—Hebrew priests in the service of the temple of Jerusalem for whose benefit tithes were collected.

[38] This refers to the trial of a group of republicans who made two attempts on the life of Napoleon III in the summer of 1853 (on June 7 on the way to the Hippodrome and on July 6 at the Comic Opera).

[39] The secret republican society Marianne established in 1850 made numerous attempts to organise opposition to the Bonapartist regime. On the night of August 26, 1855, the Angers quarry workers, on receipt of the false news of the victory of the republic in Paris, marched to the city but were dispersed by government troops.

In 1858, following Orsini's abortive attempt on Napoleon III's life on January 14, attempts at republican coups were made in a number of French towns, in particular, in Châlon-sur-Saône on March 6 (on the Châlon-sur-Saône events see present edition, Vol. 15).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.41-45), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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