The Constitution and the Presidency

Le Peuple

no date (No 2)

Translator: Barry Marshall

Since Le Représentant du Peuple ceased to appear 70 days ago,[1] only two facts have been accomplished: one in the social world and another in the political world. It will not take long to recount, just a few lines will suffice for us to relate the chain of events from August 21st to October 31st.

The first of these facts is the invasion of social ideas across all points of the civilised world. The idea of economic revolution is gaining ground throughout the land, [including] into our least advanced departments. In the more despotic states abroad, it spreads with the speed of a forest fire. All the ideas of the day before [the revolution], alleged political, are forced to bow in front of the social idea and borrow its flag to still be something.

The social revolution, inaugurated in Paris on the 25th February, baptised in blood in the funeral days of June, the revolution of labour and capital is unstoppable from now on — in both France and the rest of Europe. The revolution had been slanderously portrayed to the population as a ruination of liberty and the destruction of the family, but now, enlightened by discussion, by the slander itself, they welcome the social revolution as the guarantor of freedom and the saviour of the family. Seeing the triumphant march of this idea, we can predict that it will not need armed struggle [to succeed]; social revolution will soon only have to present itself, along with the mass of its partisans, in order to command respect and establish itself officially in all its authority.

Only a few more weeks of suffering, workers, and you will have changed the face of the Earth more quickly than the Christian religion.

The second thing to discuss is the vote on the constitution.

On October 23rd, the National Assembly ended its consultation, the least of which concerned the new constitutional act. This act will re-establish, in four articles:

1. The right to work.

2. Universal suffrage.

3. Separation of powers.

4. The option to amend the constitution itself.

The right to work, rejected after long debates while discussing Article 8, has been reproduced in more or less explicit terms in Article 13.

Indeed, what is this but the right to assistance, recognised by the constitution in all cases where work is found to be lacking, but unemployment benefit? And what else is the promise of job creation by credit institutions, by the organisation of public workshops, if not the guarantee of work within the scope of human capability, of social capabilities?

As for universal suffrage, it does not say much other than declare it. It organises nothing. Universal suffrage, applied as one has just done, and we have seen and know from experience, is an excellent institution to talk down to the people, not to know what they think but what one wants of them. With universal suffrage, defined as it is in the constitution, the people will vote by turns for monarchy and republics, religion and atheism, freedom and servitude, equality and privilege. This is how the patriotic mean to run everything!

The separation of powers is a hangover from what we call POLITICS, something that is only the eternal deception of liberty. It is the division of what is, moreover, more radically indivisible, of that whose division implies contradiction, the will of the sovereign. In society, as in man, functions are diverse but the will is essentially one: the National Assembly is not arranged in this way. The fear of despotism has thrown it into antagonism, into chaos.

But after having sown division into the state and confusion into universal suffrage, the National Assembly had to make the best of all this by reserving for itself the right to amend the constitution. Thanks to this ability, we are from now on able to realise all social, political and legislative reforms, without conflict or catastrophe.

The constitution voted upon, what remained was to determine the time of its implementation. This is what has made the National Assembly fix the election of the President for the 10 December. Such is what pre-occupies all opinions and weighs on all minds right now, what is the cause of all intrigue, what seems to keep alive the breathlessness of the Revolution: the PRESIDENCY!

Official candidates are posing in front of the nation and in open parliament. The others more modestly in the narrow shadows of the bourgeoisie, leading families and the people.

The names doing the rounds right now are those of citizens: Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, son of Louis Bonaparte and nephew of the emperor; Napoléon Bonaparte, son of Jerome Bonaparte, nephew of the emperor. And why not Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte, son of Lucien Bonaparte and nephew of the emperor?

General Cavaignac: head of the executive.

General Bugeaud: conqueror of Isly.

De Lamartine: member of the provisional government.

Ledru-Rollin: member of the provisional government.

Dufaure: Minister of the Interior.

Molé: president of the council under Louis-Phillipe.

Thiers: president of the council under Louis-Phillipe.

We do not need to speak of Messrs. the Duke of Chambord and the Prince Joinville, as their candidatures are declared unconstitutional by law.

Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte presents, as his qualification for his candidacy, HIS NAME. We would have preferred that he presented something else; but since his NAME is enough for him, we declare, as for us, that logically and politically there is no reason to occupy oneself with this candidate. Reason and the Constitution both oppose that the heritage of a name could ever become, in France, an hereditary entitlement to a function in the Republic.

The second of the Bonapartes offers an even more remote resemblance to his uncle. Nevertheless of all the qualities to recommend him to the electorate, the greater is still his name, the name of NAPOLÉON.

When it comes to Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte, we can say of him that, just as the son of Louis is the ambitious one in the family, and the son of Jérome is the diplomat, so Pierre is their Hercules. Thus it is all back to the imperial heritage. Is this what makes a president?

General Cavaignac cannot count on the support of the working class. To be sure one does not accuse him, but the Junes Days Uprising inspired hatred for him, being to him what the massacre of the Champs de Mars was to Bailly and Lafayette. Let the bourgeoisie unite to elect Cavaignac: they owe him a debt of gratitude.

Marshal Bugeaud is in the same position as Cavaignac regarding the people. To the laurels of the Battle of Isly in Morocco, he adds the cypress of Transnonain.[2] His candidacy is only of interest to the bourgeoisie, to whom, in its intemperance of language, the Marshal promised long ago, if he is elected, he will be the rue of the socialists.

M. de Lamartine is like the daughter of Rampsinit,[3] who used her father’s stone-built treasure store to lure each of her lovers. M. de Lamartine, if one renders justice to his innumerable contradictions, will be elected unanimously.

M. Ledru-Rollin must by his progressive spirit always be at the head of the most advanced opinions. He is the candidate designated for the extreme left and for the party of socialism.

M. Dufaure is the man of the decent people, who, making cheap parties and systems, requires above all a man of the State who works and who is honest. It was said of M. Dufaure that he was a minister of transition; he will be an irremovable minister when it is understood that history is a perpetual transition. We are still not revolutionary enough for that.

M. Molé is not canvassing for himself. He is canvassing for M. de Joinville, in other words, really for M. Thiers! We have lost the right to speak of him. We leave it for our readers to make up their own minds about this character.

And now, democratic republicans and socialists, who shall we choose from all these candidates? Do we even have a candidate? Must we vote? Should we abstain? On the one hand, the country has been keen to move on from this stop-gap; on the other hand, the parties are itching to be counted. Everyone wants to move forward. The status quo merely aggravates the nation. What should be our attitude?

This is for us the key question. We do not hesitate to reply and prove that:

The Presidency is the violation of revolutionary principles.

The Presidency is royalty.

The Presidency is the subordination of labour to capital.

The Presidency is the hoodwinking of the people.

The Presidency is the counter-revolution.

The Presidency is financial feudalism.

The Presidency is the conflict of power.

The Presidency is civil war.

We conclude that people should abstain, so that the National Assembly itself will be forced itself to name the president. Because if the presidency is named by the Assembly he is merely the organ of the Assembly, the head of the ministry formed by it. This will return us to the concept of the indivisibility of power.

And as it is to supposed that the majority of the people, carried along by monarchical intrigues and reactionaries, will not abstain, it is necessary that the minority, using the right given to them under Article 109 of the constitution, petition the National Assembly, demanding the Constitution be immediately revised and the part relating to the presidency removed.

This is how we think the people should respond to the question posed by the National Assembly.

In a future issue, we will further examine this imposing question.

End Notes

[1] Proudhon’s paper was suppressed by the state in August 1848 due to its continued criticism of the government’s repressive and reactionary policies. (Editor)

[2] Rue Transnonain was the scene of a massacre of workers in 1830 (Translator)

[3] “la fille de Rampsinith”: Rhampsinit was an Egyptian prince mentioned by Herodotus who had a great stone tower built to store his treasures. Rhampsinitus is the ancient Greek name for Rameses III (Translator)