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Louis Napoleon's Position

Karl Marx

Paris, Jan. 26, 1859

You will certainly have been already informed of the secret connection between Louis Bonaparte's recent Italian policy and his inveterate dread of Italian assassins. Some days ago you might have read in the France Centrale, a provincial paper that unfortunately never crosses the Atlantic, the following tale:

"We alluded to the ball of last Monday at the Tuileries. Letters from Paris inform us of an incident that caused no small disturbance at that fête. The crowd was great; a lady fainted, we believe, or from some cause of a similar nature, confusion ensued, and the 3,000 or 4,000 guests present fancied an accident had happened. A tumult was occasioned, several persons hurried toward the throne, and the Emperor, in order to calm the agitation, walked through the salons."

Now, there were, on the occasion alluded to; about 200 or 300 persons present in the Salle du Trône witnessing a scene very different from what the France Centrale has been allowed to describe. By some accident or other, there had, in fact, taken place a sudden rush of the guests throughout the different salons, and the throng was pressing against the Salle du Trône, when Louis Bonaparte and Eugénie fled at once from the throne, and cut their way as precipitately as possible across the salon, the Empress gathering up her petticoats with her hands as best she might, and looking so pale that her best friends said "it was death-like to look at.

These cruel tribulations, which the usurper and his friends have' been tormented by ever since Orsini's attempt, almost remind one of the celebrated passage in Plato's Republic[a]:

"Not even his end of being a ruler is attained by the tyrant. Whatever he may appear to be, the tyrant is a slave. His heart will be always filled with fears, always tortured by terror and pangs. From day to day he will become more and more what he was from the beginning, envied and detested, suspicious, friendless, unjust, an enemy to everything divine, and a protector and fosterer of all that is infamous. Thus he is himself the most unfortunate of men."

Bonaparte's hostile attitude against Austria, while it certainly intended holding out to the grumbling army some prospect of active employment other than its present police service, is still mainly aimed at disarming the Italian dagger, and giving the Italian patriots an earnest of the Emperor's adherence to his old Carbonari oath. The marriage of Prince Napoleon—or Gen. Plon-Plon, as the Parisians call him—with Princess Clotilde of Sardinia was to irretrievably identify, in the eyes of the world, France with Italy, thus paying the first installment, as the Tuileries people affect to think, of the debts due by the Bonapartes to the Italians. But you know the hero of Satory[148]. Obstinate as he has always shown himself in the pursuit of a ,purpose once settled, his ways are tortuous, his advances are made by continuous retreats, and supreme perplexities seem to paralyze him whenever he has crawled up to the crisis.

In such moments, as at Boulogne, at Strasbourg[149], and during the night of the 1st of December, 1851, it is always by some bold, sanguine, impetuous desperadoes, standing behind him, that he is no longer allowed to put off the execution of his long-hatched plans and is forcibly plunged into the Rubicon. Having once passed it safely, he again begins to wind his way in his own plotting, designing, conspiring, irresolute and lymphatic manner. The very falsehood of his mind tempts him to play a double game with his own plans. This Sardinian marriage, for instance, was designed eight months ago, on the pretext of an Italian crusade, to be led by France. After so many baffled attempts at intruding into the royal families, would it not be a fine stroke of policy to ensnare, on false pretenses, the daughter of the oldest European dynasty into the Bonapartist net?

But Louis Bonaparte had more urgent reasons to resort to a reculade[b], and try the soothing system after he had blown the war trumpet. Never during his whole reign had the middle classes shown so unmistakable signs of ill humor, while their alarm at the mere rumor of war exploded in tremendous commotions at the Bourse, on the produce markets and in the centers of industry. The financial magnates remonstrated. The Count de Germiny, Governor of the Bank of France, personally informed the Emperor of the widespread commercial disasters which persistence in the dangerous line of policy pursued was sure to bring about.

The prefects of Marseilles, Bordeaux and other great commercial towns, while reporting on the unprecedented panic prevalent among the mercantile classes, gave strange hints as to the marks of disaffection on the part of those "friends of property and order." Mr. Thiers thought the opportunity fit for breaking his long silence and openly attacking in salons, interspersed with Government spies, the "insane policy" of the Tuileries. Entering into an elaborate political and strategical review of the chances of war, he showed how impossible it would be for France to escape defeat unless she could begin the contest with 400,000 soldiers, beside those she must keep in Algeria and those she must retain at home. The Governmental Constitutionnel itself, though in affected tones of indignation, could not but avow that the spirit of France was gone, and that, like a coward, she stood aghast at the mere notion of a serious war.[c]

On the other hand, the spies of inferior rank unanimously reported the sneers current among the populace, at the mere idea of the despot of France playing the liberator of Italy, along with most irreverent couplets sung in honor of the Sardinian marriage. One of those couplets begins with the words:

"So this time, it is Plon-Plon who is to be the husband of Marie Louise."[150]

Despite the soothing instructions sent to all the prefects, and the strictly official denials of any danger threatening the status quo, the general panic is far from having yet subsided. In the first instance, it is known here that the demi-god of the Tuileries has been pushed farther than he intended going. It is rumored that the Princess Clotilde, who, despite her young years, is very strong-minded, accepted Plon-Plon's offer with the words: "I marry you in order to insure the support of France to papa. If it were not quite certain of securing that, I would not marry you." She refused to agree to the betrothal until "positive guaranties" were given her father of the active assistance of France. Thus, Louis Bonaparte had to sign a defensive and offensive alliance[151] with Victor Emmanuel, a fact which the agents of Plon-Plon took good care to have immediately communicated to all Europe, through the columns of the Indépendance belge[d]. This Plon-Plon, in fact, and his suite, pretend to play the same part at this moment which Persigny had to act during the expedition of Boulogne, Morny, Fleury and St. Arnaud during the night of the 1st of December, viz.: that of plunging Louis Bonaparte into the Rubicon.. Plon-Plon, you know, is not renowned for his military prowess. He cut a very sorry figure during the Crimean campaign, and, lacking even the pluck necessary for a common rider, knows not how to preserve the proper balance on horseback. Yet he is now the very Mars of the Bonaparte dynasty. To become Viceroy of Lombardy he considers the next step leading him to the throne of France. So indiscreet have grown his friends, that their chief, M. Émile de Girardin, dared to utter before some twenty people, discussing the Emperor's intentions: "Which Emperor do you mean.?" "The one at the Palais Royal[152] is the only real Emperor." While the Government papers affect to preach peace, Plon-Plon's Moniteur, the Presse, in the coolest way announces day by day the preparations for war. While Louis Bonaparte ostensibly admonishes Victor Emmanuel to moderate the Mazzinians, Plon-Plon is pushing the King "to excite them." While Bonaparte has composed the suite following his cousin to Turin of the most conservative men, such as Gen. Niel, Plon-Plon refused to start, save on the condition that Mr. Bixio, the ex-Minister of the French Republic of 1848, was to accompany him, in order to imbue his entourage with a revolutionary perfume. Now, what people say is this: "Unless Louis Napoleon is prepared to go all lengths, nothing can be more dangerous than the airs assumed by Plon-Plon, and the articles published by his friends." Hence the apprehensions still prevailing. On the other hand, it is generally understood that Louis Napoleon would commit suicide if, intimidated by the cry of the French middle class, and the frowns of the European dynasties, he should now draw back, after Victor Emmanuel has been compromised, and the hopes of the French army have been raised to the highest pitch. To give the latter a quid pro quo, he intends, as rumor says, to dispatch them on some transmarine expedition against Morocco, Madagascar, or some other out-of-the-way place, not known to the Treaty of Vienna[153]. Still, any unforeseen event may bring about a war with Austria, despite the Imperial blackleg.

Written on January 28, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5563, February 18, 1859


[a] Plato. Republic, Book VIII.—Ed.

[b] Retreat.—Ed.

[c] E. Dréolle, "On se préoccupe beaucoup de la guerre...", Le Constitutionnel, No. 25, January 25, 1859.—Ed.

[d] No. 22, January 22, 1859.—Ed.

[148] On October 10, 1850 Louis Bonaparte, then President of the French Republic, held a general review of troops on the plain of Satory (near Versailles). During this review Bonaparte, who was preparing a coup d'état, treated the soldiers and officers to sausages in order to win their support.

[149] This refers to Louis Bonaparte's attempts during the July monarchy to stage a coup d'état by means of a military mutiny. On October 30, 1836 he succeeded, with the help of several Bonapartist officers, in inciting two artillery regiments of the Strasbourg garrison to mutiny, but they were disarmed within a few hours. Louis Bonaparte was arrested and deported to America. On August 6, 1840, taking advantage of a partial revival of Bonapartist sentiments in France, he landed in Boulogne with a handful of conspirators and attempted to raise a mutiny among the troops of the local garrison. This attempt likewise failed. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but escaped to England in 1846.

[150] Napoleon I married Marie Louise, daughter of the Emperor of Austria, out of political considerations.

[151] On July 21, 1858, at Plombières, a secret agreement was reached between Napoleon III and the Piedmontese Prime Minister Cavour which envisaged the liquidation of Austrian rule in Lombardy and Venice, the creation of a North-Italian state headed by the Savoy dynasty, and the cession of Savoy and Nice to France. In January 1859 the agreement was formalised by a Franco-Sardinian treaty concluded in Turin.

[152] The Palais-Royal in Paris was the residence of Prince Joseph Bonaparte (Plon-Plon) in the 1850s.

[153] The reference is to the Vienna treaties—the treaties and agreements concluded at the Congress of Vienna held by the European monarchs and their ministers in 1814-15. They established the borders and status of the European states after the victory over Napoleonic France and sanctioned, contrary to the national interests and will of the peoples, the reshaping of Europe's political map and the restoration of the "legitimate" dynasties overthrown as a result of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The Vienna treaties confirmed France's territory within the borders of 1790 and the restoration of the Bourbons in France.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.167-170), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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