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The French Disarmament

Karl Marx

The announcement of Napoleon III, in his Moniteur, that he is about to reduce his land and sea .forces to a peace footing[a], might appear of little value with the fact before us that, on the very outset of the war, the same potentate, in the same Moniteur, solemnly declared that since 1856 his land and sea forces had never been put on a war footing[b]. His purpose, by a clever paragraph in his official organ, to suddenly avert the naval and military armaments of England, is too transparent to be disputed. However, it would be a great mistake to regard the announcement in the Moniteur as a mere trick. His sincerity is a matter of compulsion; he does simply what he cannot help doing.

After the conclusion of the treaty of Villafranca, it was indispensable for Louis Napoleon to reduce his military and sea forces to dimensions consistent with a peace budget. The Italian adventure had cost France about $200,000,000, and 60,000 men of the very élite of her army, without gaining for her anything beyond some military glory of a rather doubtful character. To back the disappointment of an unpopular peace with the continuance of war taxes would be a very dangerous experiment. To rush periodically beyond the frontiers of France, and to dispel civil disaffection by the excitement of warlike exploits, is one of the vital conditions of the restored Empire. To assume the attitude of the savior of France from a general European struggle, after having carried her to its very confines, is another condition of life for the Man of December. After the forced interruption by war of industrial and commercial pursuits, peace, on whatever terms, appears not only as a blessing, but has also the charm of novelty. The tedium that renders peace- burdensome under the monotonous rule of the Zouave and the spy is changed for lively sensations of pleasure after the scene has been diversified by war. The intense feeling of humiliation that must weigh upon the French mind, whenever it ponders the confiscation of a people by an adventurer without character, though not without cunning, has for the time been mitigated by the spectacle of foreign nations and. foreign potentates submitting, if not in fact, at least in appearance, to the same superior sway. Production violently curtailed, now, by the law of elasticity, receives a new start: business transactions all at once broken off, are resumed with redoubled ardor; speculation, suddenly paralyzed, soars higher than before. Thus a peace following in the track of a Napoleonic war, again secures to the dynasty a respite of life for which the violation of peace was just before indispensable. Of course, after a certain interval of time the old dissolvents will, again tend to produce a. war. The essential antagonism between civil society and the coup d'état will revive; and, after the internal strife has again reached a certain degree of intensity, a new warlike interlude will be recurred to as the only practicable safety-valve. It is evident that the terms on which the "Savior of Society" has to save himself, must gradually become more and more dangerous. The adventure of Italy was far more perilous than that of the Crimea. Compared with the adventure of the Rhine, or the still remoter adventure, the invasion of England, both of which are undoubtedly cherished in the mind of Napoleon III and the passions of the more thoughtless among his subjects, this war in Italy may appear mere child's play.

However, it will be some time before these new enterprises are set on foot. Between the Crimean and the Italian war there was a pause of four years; but it is not likely that so long a respite can again intervene, while Louis Napoleon lives and rules. The fatal necessity under which he holds his power will come back upon him in shorter and shorter periods. The appetite of the army, and the ' very degradation which he enforces upon the people, will compel him to the next step more speedily than he- was compelled to the last. War is the condition on. which he keeps the throne, though, as he is after all only a counterfeit Bonaparte, it is likely always to be a barren war, waged on false pretexts, lavish of blood and treasure, and fruitless in benefits to his subjects. Such was the Crimean war; such is that now concluded. On such terms only can France enjoy the advantage of being appropriated by this man. She must, as it were, forever reenact the days of December; only the scene of destruction is removed from the Boulevards of Paris to the plains of Lombardy, or the Crimean Chersonese; and the dwarfed descendants of the great revolution, instead of murdering their own countrymen, are employed in killing people of foreign tongues.

Written about July 30, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5711, August 12, 1859 as a leading article;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1484, August 16, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] This announcement was published in Le Moniteur universel, No. 209, July 28, 1859.—Ed.

[b] The reference is to an anonymous article in Le Moniteur universel, No. 64, March 5, 1859.—Ed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.442-444), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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