Works of Frederick Engels 1850
Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 21-23;
Written: Paris, January 21st, 1850;
First published: in The Democratic Review in February 1850.
A great many important events have occurred since my last, but as the generality of readers will have been informed of them from the daily and weekly papers, I shall refrain from going over the same ground from beginning to end, and instead shall limit this letter to some general observations on the state of the country.
During the last twelve or fifteen months, the revolutionary spirit has made immense progress throughout France. A class, which by its social position was kept apart, as much as possible in civilised society, from taking an interest in public business, which by the old monarchical legislation was shut out from all political rights, which never read a newspaper, and which, nevertheless, forms the vast majority of Frenchmen--this class, at last, is rapidly coming to its senses. This class is the small peasantry, numbering about twenty-eight millions of men, women, and children, counting amongst its ranks from eight to nine millions of small landed proprietors, who possess, in the shape of freehold property, at least four-fifths of the soil of France. This class has been oppressed by all governments since 1815, not excepting the provisional government, which imposed on it the tax of 45 additional centimes upon every franc of the land-tax, which in France is very heavy. This class, borne down also by a band of usurers to whom their property almost without exception is mortgaged at extraordinary high interest, is at last beginning to see that no government, except one acting in the interest of the working men of the towns, will free them from the misery and starvation into which, notwithstanding their land-allotments, they are falling deeper and deeper every day. This class, which in a great measure forced the revolution of 1789, and which formed the basement upon which arose the vast empire of Napoleon, has now, in its immense majority, joined the revolutionary party and the working men of Paris, Lyons, Rouen, and the other large towns of France. The tillers of the soil now see clearly enough how they have been cheated by Louis Napoleon, to whose presidential majority they at least furnished six millions of votes, and who has repaid them with the re-imposition of the wine and brandy tax. And thus, the vast majority of the French people are now united to overthrow, as soon as a proper occasion shall present itself, the insolent sway of the capitalist class, which, hurled down by the storm of February, has again seized the helm of government, and exercises its rule far more arrogantly than ever it did under its own well-beloved Louis Philippe.
The history of the last months affords innumerable proofs of this most important fact. Take the circular of Minister d'Hautpoul to the gendarmerie, by which espionage is carried into the very heart of the most obscure village; take the law against the schoolmasters, who, in French villages, are generally the best expression of the public opinion of their localities, and who are now to be placed at the mercy of government, because they now almost all profess social-democratic opinions; and many other facts. But one of the most striking proofs is to be found in the election which has just taken place in the department du Gard. This department is known as the most ancient stronghold of the "Whites"--the Legitimists. It was the scene of the most horrid outrages against the republicans in 1794 and '95, after the downfall of Robespierre; it was the central seat of the "white terrorism" in 1815, when Protestants and Liberals were publicly murdered, and outrages of the most horrible nature were committed on the wives, daughters, and sisters of those victims by Legitimist mobs, headed by the renowned Trestaillon, and protected by the government of legitimate Louis XVIII. Well, this department had to elect a deputy, in the place of a Legitimist, deceased; and the result was, a great majority for a thoroughly Red candidate, while the two Legitimist candidates were in a signal minority.
Another proof of the rapid progress of this alliance of the working men in the towns and the peasantry of the country, is the new law on public education. The most inveterate Voltairians of the bourgeoisie, even M. Thiers, see there is no way left to oppose that progress but by surrendering their old theories and principles, and by prostrating public education at the feet of the priesthood!
Again. There is, now, a general rush of all public papers and public characters, that are not exactly reactionaries, to claim the once despised title of "Socialist". The oldest enemies of Socialism now proclaim themselves Socialists. The National, even the Siecle, monarchist under Louis Philippe, declare they are Socialists. Even Marrast, the infamous traitor of 1848, now hopes, though in vain, to get elected by proclaiming himself a Socialist. The people, however, are not thus to be duped, and the rope to hang that vagabond is ready, and only waiting for the occasion.
To-day they discuss in the National Assembly the law for killing the remaining 468 prisoners of the June insurrection, by transporting them to, and setting them to work in the most unhealthy parts of Algeria. No doubt the law will pass by an immense majority. But before the unfortunate heroes of that grand battle of labour can reach the shore destined to bury them, there is little doubt but another popular storm will have swept away the voters of this law of murder, and carry, perhaps, to that land of banishment, those of the present majority who may have escaped a prompter, more radical, and most righteous revenge on the part of the people.
34 Freeholders--a category of English small landowners originating from feudal times. Engels often used this term, familiar to English workers, when writing of conditions in France.
35 A tax of 45 additional centimesupon every franc of direct taxes was adopted by the French Provisional Government on March 16, 1848. p. 21
36 In December 1849, the Minister of Education Parier proposed a Bill making schoolmasters in primary schools subordinate to the prefects, who could dismiss or appoint them at will. The law was adopted on January 11, 1850.
37 Following the death of the Right-wing monarchist deputy de Beaune, by-elections were held in the department of the Gard on December 20, 1849. Favand, the candidate of the petty-bourgeois socialist democratic party (Montagne), was elected by a majority vote of 20 thousand out of 36 thousand.
38 The Legitimists--supporters of the Bourbon dynasty overthrown in 1830, who upheld the interests of the big hereditary landowners and the claim to the French throne of Count Chambord, King Charles X's grandson, who took the name of Henry V.
39 The reference is to the draft law on education, submitted on June 18, 1849, by the Minister of Education, Falloux (hence its name). This law collfirming the dominant position of the Catholic Church and religious organisations in public education was adopted bythe Legislative Assembly on March 15, 1850.
40 The June insurrection of the Paris proletariat against the bourgeois regime of the Second Republic (June 25-26, 1848) was the culmination of the 1848 revolution in France and exerted a strong influence on revolutionary event in other European countries.