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The Money Panic in Europe[142]

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

Paris, Jan. 13, 1859

The panic on the European Exchanges has not yet subsided, and according to a very moderate calculation public securities have been depressed in value, some $300,000,000. While French, Sardinian and Austrian Government stocks have declined 5 per cent, the railway shares in the same countries have sustained a fall of between 15 and 35 per cent, while the Lombardo-Venetian show a decline of nearly 50 per cent. Save London, every European stock exchange now believes in war. I have no reason to alter my views on this topic, as before expressed[a]. I am convinced that Louis Napoleon does not really mean war; that his intentions do not exceed a diplomatic victory over Austria, connected with a good haul for himself and his tail of adventurers on the Paris Bourse. The noisy tone of the Bonapartist press and of that venal deposit of gossip, the Indépendance belge, the ostentation with which military preparations are heralded forth, are sufficient to show that not fighting but frightening is the object in hand. It is now admitted even by the London Times'[b] correspondent that the debt-ridden flunkeys about the Court have again been allowed, and to a. more formidable extent than ever, to fleece the "respectable" speculators' and the small holders of stock all over the country by bearing the market in an unprecedented degree. Count de Morny alone is said to have won at this game, up to the 5th January, not less than 2,000,000 of francs, and the total amount of money transplanted from the pockets of the Bourgeoisie to those of the Bonapartist adventurers must be many times this sum.

There are three agencies which impel Louis Napoleon to court Italian sympathies and to affect a menacing attitude toward Austria. There is, first, Russia, which has used him like a manakin ever since the peace of Paris[143]. The second agency is little known, as he and his court do their best to hide it s from the public eye, although its existence is an established fact. Since the attempt of Orsini, both before and after his execution, the French Emperor has continually received missives from the supreme Venta of the Italian Carbonari, of which secret society he was a member in 1831[144]. He has been reminded what his oaths were on entering that association, how he broke them, and how the laws of the society punish a traitor like him. While Orsini was in prison, he was warned that if he had him executed these attempts on his own life would be repeated until successful; after the execution, a formal sentence of death, passed upon Louis Napoleon by the Venta, was forwarded to him. The superstitious mind of the successful adventurer was terribly affected by this judgment of a secret tribunal. The nerves that had become, not iron, but tough and impermeable as leather, by twenty years' nightly training at the gambling table, were not proof against this constant vision of the sword of Damocles. This mysterious intervention of a power, invisible indeed, but known to him by his experience of former years, as well as latterly by the pistol of Pianori and the shells of Orsini, was the very thing to disturb the brains of a man who, beyond the common everyday policy of expediency, knew no causality in history but a mysterious action of some fatalistic influence, baffling rational inquiry, and often elevating perfect humbug to supreme power. This constant fear of assassination has contributed infinitely to the series of palpable blunders which mark the last twelve months of his reign.

The fact is that, to escape from his fate—for he believes in the omnipotence of the Italians for assassination as firmly as in the words of the Gipsy women at the Epsom races—a few pledges had to be given to the invisible power; and so the letters of Orsini, garbled as they were, were printed, and were made to bequeath to Louis Napoleon, as a sacred legacy, the realization of the hopes of the Italians[145]. But the Carbonari were not so easily satisfied; they have again and again reminded the culprit that he is still under sentence of death, and that to be pardoned he must act. Now the domestic difficulties of his situation in France have been growing very much of late. The great question as to where the money is to come from stares him in the face more threateningly every day. There is no chance of a loan, and the national debt has been so rapidly increased that such a thing is out of the question. The Credit Mobilier and Crédit Foncier[146], the raising of millions under pretext of drainage and irrigation, rewooding, and the construction of dykes, all these have had their day, and cannot be played over again. But the necessities of the situation demand more money; his own prodigalities, and above all, , the daily increasing exigencies of the ravenous band of soldiers, officials and adventurers, whose fidelity he has to buy from day to day, render the money question a question of life and death to him, and from a merely pecuniary point of view, a war with the prospect of forced loans, of plunder and war contributions from conquered provinces, would, at a certain extremity, appear the only outlet left to him. But it is not merely the financial question; it is the general insecurity of his position in France; it is the. consciousness that, though Emperor by the grace of the army, he cannot overstep certain limits in struggling against public opinion, either of the middle or working class; that, because Emperor by the grace of the army, he must obey its will. It is all this which long since has made it as evident to himself as to the rest of the world that, his last trump, in an extreme danger, is a war, and a war for the reconquest of the left bank of the Rhine. It is not exactly necessary that such a war should be commenced on the Rhine itself. On the contrary, the territory in question may be conquered, or its conquest begun, in Italy, just as the first conquest of these provinces was completed by Gen. Bonaparte's victories in Lombardy.

Such a war is necessarily Louis Napoleon's last card. He stakes his all upon it, and as an experienced gambler, he knows full well how fearful the odds are against him. He knows that silent and mysterious as he affects to be, the whole world knows, and knew from the first day of his power, what that last card is. He knows that none of his sphinx-like airs can deceive anybody on this point. He knows that no European power would tolerate such an extension of French territory, and that the friendship of Russia is almost as reliable as his own oath. To a man like him, who has given such a development to Louis XV's "Après moi le déluge", and who knows what that deluge will be, every hour is a positive and invaluable gain, by which he can delay, temporize, bamboozle the players who surround him.

But at the same time the game is not in his hands; its necessities may compel him to play his grand trump long before he wishes. For the last three months at least armaments have been going on in France on a colossal scale. After dismissing on furlough a considerable number of old soldiers, the whole of the recruits of 1858, 100,000 in number, have been called out, instead of the 60,000 of other years of peace. The activity developed in all the arsenals and military workshops has been such as to persuade all general officers, as much as three months ago, that a serious campaign was in preparation. We now learn that 75 batteries or 450 guns of Louis Napoleon's new construction (light 12-pounders), have been ordered in the public foundries; that new improvements in rifle projectiles (invented by Mr. Nessler, the official successor of Minié), have been introduced; that the battalions of chasseurs are increased from 400 to 700, and the regiments of the line from 900 or 1,000 to 1,300 men, by a draft on the depots (where the recruits have been forming), of some 60,000 men; that the materials of a campaign are being heaped up at Toulon, and that two camps, the sites of which are not yet known, have been fixed upon. The sites of these two camps may easily be guessed; the one will be about Lyons, or in the south, near Toulon, and the other at Metz, as an army of observation against Prussia and the German Confederation[147]. All this has of necessity excited the warlike spirit of the army to the highest pitch, and a war is so certainly reckoned upon that the officers will not order any more civilian's clothes, convinced as they are that they will have to wear the uniform alone for some time to come.

While this is going on in France, in Piedmont we have a King who, before Christmas, announced to his generals the intimation to keep themselves ready, for they might be called upon to smell powder before Spring[c], and who now opens his Chambers with a speech[d] so full of general run of Italian patriotic bombast, and of allusions to Austria's misrule, that he must be either determined upon war or be content to be declared by all the world a perfect fool. In Lombardy, in Rome, in the Duchies, we have an excitement equaled only by that preceding the outbreak of 1848; the population seem to put the foreign troops at defiance, to be intent upon nothing but to show their utter contempt of established authority, and their certain conviction that the Austrians will in a few months have to leave Italy. To all this Austria answers by very quietly strengthening her army in Lombardy. It has consisted of three army corps—the 5th, 7th and 8th, together about 100,000 men. Now, as I stated in my last[e], the 3d is on the march to join it. Six infantry regiments (30 battalions), four battalions of Tyrolean chasseurs, two cavalry regiments, six batteries and the whole staff and engineering train of the Third Army corps are reported to be on the road, or to have already arrived in Lombardy. This raises the force to 130,000 or 140,000 men, who, in the position between the Adige and Mincio, will be able to resist, at least, double their number.

Thus, on every hand, the elements of strife are accumulating. Is Louis Napoleon the- man to control them all? Not he; most of them are perfectly out of his reach. Let there be an outbreak in Lombardy, in Rome, or in one of the Duchies—let Gen. Garibaldi make an irruption into the very next portion of neighboring territory and insurge the population—will Piedmont, will Louis Napoleon be able to hold back? After the French army have been all but promised the conquest of Italy, where they are to be received as liberators, are they to be told that they must stand at ease, with arms grounded, while Austrian troops trample out the embers of Italian insurrection? There is the point. The turn of events in Italy has already escaped from Louis Napoleon's control; the turn of events in France may escape from it any day.

Written on January 13, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5548, February 1, 1859;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1429, February 4, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See this volume, pp. 154-56.—Ed.

[b] The Times, No. 23194, January 4, 1859 ("France").—Ed.

[c] Victor Emmanuel II's address- to Colonel Rolland after the review of the Savoy brigade, November 1858, The Times, No. 23168, December 4, 1858 ("Piedmont").—Ed.

[d] See also this volume, p. 154.—Ed.

[e] See this volume, p. 154.—Ed.

[142] As can be seen from Marx's letter to Engels written between January 13 and 15, 1859, Engels' article was edited and enlarged by Marx before being dispatched to the USA.

[143] This peace treaty was signed at the Paris Congress on March 18 (30), 1856 by France, Britain, Austria, Sardinia, Prussia and Turkey on the one hand and Russia on the other; it ended the Crimean war of 1853-56.

[144] The Supreme Venta of the Italian Carbonari—the leading body of the Carbonari, a secret society which appeared in Italy in the early nineteenth century and fought for national independence and liberal reforms. While in Italy in 1831 Louis Bonaparte joined the Carbonari and for a short time took part in their activities.

[145] The reference is to Felice Orsini's letters of February 11 and March 10, 1858, addressed, according to the official version, to Napoleon III from the Mazas and La Roquette prisons, where the Italian revolutionary was confined after an abortive attempt on the life of Napoleon III. The first letter was read at the Orsini trial the next day, and on February 27, 1858 it was published in Le Moniteur universel; the second letter was published after Orsini's execution. Historians still question whether Orsini addressed Louis Napoleon with these letters.

[146] The Crédit Foncier, a French joint-stock bank set up in 1852, granted short-and long-term loans on the security of immovable property. Between 1854 and 1859 it made loans amounting to 2,000 million francs to the Government of Napoleon III.

[147] The German Confederation (der Deutsche Bund)—a short-lived confederation of German states founded in 1815 by decision of the Congress of Vienna.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.162-166), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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