Foreign Affairs

Le Représentant du Peuple

14th May 1848

Translator: Paul Sharkey

Our diplomacy is mindless, our foreign policy unprincipled, aimless and bereft of resources. Our statesmen supposedly as incapable of arriving at a decision as they are of prompting one. Amid the host of international law issues thrown up, they supposedly could not tell where France’s interests lie nor of what those interests consist: what the latest revolution contributed to and imposed upon the European system. Even as they cannot understand the people, they have nothing to say to the people. And saddest of all, even if they were in a position to define the new righteousness, they are devoid of the wherewithal to defend it. France’s word counts for nothing in the counsels of Europe and her broken sword is feared by none.

What, I ask, do either the cant of enthusiasm or flights of eloquence count for, faced with the material gravity of events! What matter to us the talent of a Lamartine when what we need is — let me dare state it — the positivism of a Talleyrand? And that great slogan Liberty, Equality, Fraternity … please, I beseech you, wring a diplomatic solution out of that!

Are you or are you not within your rights to insist of Austria that she withdraw her troops from Italy and give up on her claims to suzerainty there? What case, what arguments can you come up with!… It is not enough to say: We are fond of Italy; Italy is France’s sister; Italy must be free even as we are free. All of that, if I may say so, is mysticism and mysticism of the worst sort, for it is revolutionary mysticism, just as the corruption of the finest things is the foulest of corruptions. — Let me ask in respect of the Italian question, what is your principle, your entitlement, your interest — in short, your motives? And once you have spelled out your motives, let me ask: what are your means? No long-windedness: facts, reasons, names. The former government was unwilling to intervene in Italy: how come what was tolerable yesterday is no longer such today? And if you cannot countenance it, are you in any position to prevent it?…

I know, I know, the February revolution has altered every policy: civil law, public law, international law now rest upon brand new principles. In order to intervene in Italy, it tickles you to say that Italy is our ally: how so? What makes an alliance? How, in what way, in relation to what actual, short-term, specific purpose has the fact of an insurrection turned us into the allies of a people?

And, returning to the question posed earlier, what, in political terms, is the rule governing alliances?

According to some, our natural ally is England: according to others, Germany. Why not Russia? Why not Spain, Piedmont, Switzerland, Belgium who revolve around us like a crown of satellites? Ultimately, who are our natural allies? What is a natural ally? And as for those peoples who are no natural allies of ours, what are they to us? Foreigners! Which is tantamount to saying enemies! So our natural enemies are all those peoples who are not our natural allies! What confusion! What discord! Back in 1840 M. de Lamartine foretold that only the East could provide us with the key to the European problem: well! What does the mysterious and fabled East reveal to M. de Lamartine today?

The matter of international alliances has never departed from the norm. Princely whims, dynastic agreements, the ambition and vanity of government heads, the fanaticism of opinion, the obsessions of the masses, these are what govern the policies of nations. Diplomacy is one of the forms of anarchic commerce, thieving and counterfeit: questions of style aside, it is the same charlatanism, the same narrow-mindedness, the same hypocrisy, the same bad faith.

Imagine a grocer from the Rue Saint-Martin writing to his counterpart in Marseilles:

“The shipment of your crates of soap is running twenty four hours behind schedule (they were to have been delivered by an agreed date). I have withheld a third of the load (amounting to 300 francs).

“I am leaving you your rice, coffee and sugar on account, having noted a shortfall in terms of quantities (and having no further use for them).

“I will not fill your order because my custom is to ask for a 4 per cent discount on all my orders, which you have failed to afford me with this shipment (which was not the issue).

“I will take receipt of your oil, but under 10 per cent subsidy (particularly as, since I placed the order, this commodity has fallen by 10 per cent).”

That just about sums up the entire spirit behind our diplomacy. Translate that into the poetic prose of M. de Lamartine or into M. Guizot’s philosophical style and you will have yourself a master-piece of a diplomat.

Are we to have peace? Are we to have war? — That question is unanswerable, being unfathomable and shrouded in mystery as far as our statesmen are concerned.

Peace? Peace is impossible for it lacks roots and guarantees. Peace is like credit: if it is to last, it needs mortgages [hypothèques], not hypotheses [hypothèses]; it cries out for commitments not castles in Spain. Peace is not a matter of convenience and temperament: of all human affairs, it is the most substantial and as a result is absolutely insistent upon de facto and de jure reasoning, actual and positive factors.

So where are our commitments to peace with Europe? By what shared ideas, inclinations and interests are we bound to her? What over-riding obligation between the powers of Europe has taken the place of the 1815 pact?[1] Our peace is more fragile than a spider’s web. I would like to believe that the outgoing government had a large hand in this destruction of the factors for peace. It was the old king’s policy to exploit confusion and disorder. But Monsieur Guizot’s handiwork must be repaired: so what are his successors’ ideas on that score? Do they reckon they have greatly advanced alliance with Prussia, Germany and Italy, just because they have pointed them out to us — in a painting — shaking hands?

War? As unfeasible for us as peace.

Making war is not only a matter of being able to marshal the manpower, horses, munitions and money — which we do not have: war, like peace, cries out for principles, motives, some idea, some interest. Otherwise, war is immoral and before long turns into defeat through a loss of morale. Back in ’93, our forefathers knew why they were making war and they won: but could we say why we would be making war? The idea, the motive, the interest may well be there: the deed and the righteousness may well be there: but what are they? Let them be spelled out, let them be made public. I scour opinion and leaf through the government records, but instead of motives and instead of a serious, real interest, all I find is our troubled thoughts and despair at the situation.

In my view, similarities between our revolutions, comparable governments and appetites, or national points of honour upon are not grounds enough for declaring a people our ally and embarking upon a propaganda war for its benefit. These are matters of opinion to be taken into account: but they are not grounds. Why, in terms of our interest, the French interest, present, positive and short-term, should we back Italy against Austria or Poland against Russia? What business is it of ours? What is our interest in these conflicts between foreign peoples? What have we to gain from it? What have we to lose by it? For think on this: if our only interest is empathy; if the only ground we can devise for our intervention is the hollow sentiment of equality and human brotherhood, we have no genuine interest at stake and our intervention is unjust. For my own part, I believe, and I make no bones about this, that the ruination of Polish nationhood and the curtailment of freedom in Italy jeopardise France’s most positive interest. But before making a move, that interest needs to be highlighted, brought into full view and made the subject matter of all your manifestos. Now there is nothing in the government’s record to make that interest known, the interest without which any armed intervention by us in the affairs of Europe would be labelled in advance as immoral and inevitably followed by a shameful defeat. Are we, then, gratuitously going to act out the part of civilisation’s Don Quixotes for the satisfaction of a few humanitarian utopians?

So, in the complete absence of principles, in our present utter ignorance of our own interests, further peace and war are equally unfeasible and pose an equal danger to us.

In this truly absurd peace, bereft of principles, ideas, likelihood of survival, prospect of durability, a nonsense in all respects; in this pained wait for what events may bring, France, unsure of herself, melts into her inertia like an icicle in the July sunshine. WE are dying of a slow fever; no longer productive; no longer exchanging; frittering away our capital on contraband; another few months of this lethargy and we will be at each other’s throats. Are we to throw ourselves at the foreigner as a means of escape from starvation?

As for war, until such time as a principle married to a great interest comes along to invest it with the morality it lacks, it can only culminate — no matter how its battalions may fare — in a dismal outcome. If we win, it resurrects military government as a solution to the social question: if we lose, it draws restoration down upon us along with the foreigner. Will we prove to have erected our barricades for the benefit of some Napoléon II or Henri V? …

Meanwhile, Poland sacrificed screams for vengeance: Italy is ridden over roughshod by her torturers; the king of Piedmont falters, the Pope shies away, the emperor of Austria schemes, the king of Prussia strikes bargains, England casts the net of her merchandise across Europe and France looks on! America and Great Britain make off with what is left of our produce at knock-down prices and stock up for years to come: unemployment and the obligatory imports that follow from it deliver the coup de grace to our industry. On every front, freedom goes under, there thanks to war and here to strike!

In order to put paid to this lamentable situation, the old revolutionary routine has decided to do... what? ... hold a demonstration in favour of Poland!

A demonstration! And what is that demonstration going to prove? What are its programme, its idea, its methodology, its formula, its solution going to be? What is it going to teach representatives? What firm conviction, what belief will it inject into their souls?

Patriots, let me tell it to you a second time: circumstances have turned every last one of you into a statesman. You are forbidden to talk like mindless humanitarians or to behave like brainless clubmen.

But back to principles.

To make war, as well as to preserve the peace, one must have reasons.

The reasons you shall know from their means.

What are the means of war? What are the means of peace?

Wealth, capital.

Now, capital is forged through labour:

Labour, divided and compartmentalised as it is in the economy of modern societies is built upon commerce.

Commerce requires mutual lending.

Organise commerce by means of mutual lending and you will have your labour and your capital: you will have the instruments of peace and war.

You will be invincible in peace; you will have nothing to fear from external competition or from stagnation at home, for competition organised on the principle of reciprocity opens in yourselves an infinite market; thus your production becomes infinite, your capitalisation infinite.

You will be invincible in war: 1st in terms of resources, because your capital; being formed through collective commerce rather than individual savings as at present, and commerce being forever expanding, there will be no end to your wealth. And 2nd in terms of principles, because by organising commerce at home by means of mutual lending and equality of exchange, you are thereby resolving the matter of international trade and, through that solution, conjuring up a positive interest in foreign affairs, just as you are conjuring up a positive interest abroad in your own.

And once all States, caught up by your example and impelled by necessity which is mightier than artillery and protocols have organised commerce at home and thereby followed your example and conjured up freedom and equality between their citizens: when, through such organising, they will, as you have, become unassailable at home, invincible in peace and in war, then the ALLIANCE will be world-wide and peace will be incorruptible and war impossible.

End Notes

[1] The treaties signed after the second and final defeat of Napoléon Bonaparte. (Editor)