Le Représentant du Peuple
20th April 1848
Translator: Paul Sharkey
What we had foreseen, what we had foretold has come to pass.
The revolution is bound for doctrinaire, bourgeois democracy; the provisional government, a motley crew, has just carried out a sort of a purge of itself. The personnel remain; the principles had been struck out. Serious failings have accelerated this outcome which was in any case inevitable. Let us recount them in a few lines; by way of a preamble to our profession of faith.
Victory on 24 February had hoisted three different parties into power and refreshed our ancient strifes; the Girondin or Thermidorean camp represented by Le National; the Montagnard camp represented by La Réforme; and the socialist-communist party represented by Louis Blanc.
Discounting the monarchy, those three parties covered the full spectrum of views.
So it looked as if the provisional government, precisely because of its motley composition, should have, in the eyes of France, been an expression of the reconciliation of all the ideas, all the interests. With the bourgeoisie and the proletariat linking hands over L’Organisation du Travail as if it were the gospel of the future, there was some credibility to the notion that the poverty problem, side-stepped by the outgoing government, was on the point of being resolved in an amiable, peaceable fashion by the incoming one.
We have just seen, and for the thousandth time, what such reconciliations, built on vague fellow feeling and not underpinned by any principle, are worth.
Yet the policy the provisional government should have followed was quite straightforward and self-evident. The problem of the proletariat posed with determination and vigour; the workers employed and fed; the bourgeois class revived; then, pending the National Assembly, the building of a republican status quo; this was what common sense, as well as high politics, required of the provisional government.
In such a situation, conserving everything amounted to advancing.
Well now, no one grasped what was so straightforward and wise, what not only had the advantage of common sense but also had the merit of profundity.
Scarcely had it received its brand new mandate to represent the Republic than the bourgeois party within the provisional government, relapsing into its old concerns, started to sound the retreat. — For its part, the revolutionary faction, carried away by the enthusiasm of its memories, and deluding itself utterly about the power of its resources and aiming, as it says, to engage the future, has begun to display vigour and exclusivity. Finally, not content with having laid out its principle, socialism has sought to move on to implementation, looking exclusively to itself for the implementation of its handiwork.
And we know what the upshot of these tensions has been. Everything that the provisional government has done has, in the view of the former bourgeoisie, proven a backward step — everything that it has undertaken in a revolutionary sense has been counter-revolutionary; — everything that it has decreed in the interests of the proletariat has run counter to the proletariat’s interests.
When, thus, in sticking to the conventions of bourgeois economics, the provisional government took out a loan of 100 million; when, in order to prove the soundness of its credit, it handed 50 million over to the rentiers; when it raised the interest on monies deposited with the savings funds; when it put off the insurance companies, etc., etc., and I would say when faced with the socialist principle, which should have informed the law but did not inform it, the government acted contrary to its rights and its duties.
Likewise, when the provisional government set about writing the dictatorial circulars that in 1848 frightened hardly anyone except old ladies; when, without a penny or a person other than what the pleasure of the departments afforded it, it spoke to the departments as if it were an authority; when, in the middle of a France that was republican in mind and heart — albeit in defiance of the Republic — it conjured up the reaction and the counter-revolution just as it would shortly conjure up coalition; in all of these circumstances, the provisional government was acting like a sleep-walker. It has presented us with the spectacle — the only one history has to show — of statesmen acting out an old tragedy with laughable seriousness. Through its backward-looking radicalism, it has compromised future reforms: the electoral law is sufficient proof of that for me.
If we move on from the revolutionary element to the socialist element, we find a similar series of mistakes and miscalculations.
How come there was no one to tell Monsieur Blanc: You are banned from the organisation of labour, such as you understand it, not that you are lacking in ability but because our position forbids it. You see the workshop, namely individualism, as the way to tackle the problem; whereas it is only from the side of society that you can provide the solution, to wit, credit. But even in that light, there is nothing you can do: as a member of this government, you no longer represent one class within society, but the general interests of society, and are precluded from every initiative that might serve the interests of one fraction rather than another. You belong to the bourgeoisie rather than the proletariat. Sponsor and give encouragement to the emancipation of the labouring classes: do not take a hand in it yourself, do not compromise your responsibility, the responsibility of the government. Wait for some higher authority to bestow both credit and power upon you.
Across the board, the actions of the provisional government have not met with success. So protesting voices were not long in making themselves heard. The demonstrations on 16th and 17th March; multiple commissioners driven out of the departments; latterly, the 16th April revolt; all of these, mounted to the accompaniment of cries of Long live the Republic! Long live the provisional government!, were proof even to the least clear-sighted that France is sincerely republican, but that she would not countenance a dictatorship; that by revolution, she means reconciliation; that she rejects doctrinarism, Jacobinism and utopianism equally; but that while she has protested against each of the factions making up the revolutionary government, she retains that government as it stands, it is because she is no longer willing to endure personality issues and looks upon those who govern her as ministering to her will.
That, as we see it, is how things actually stand; the position of the provisional government is admirable and its strength beyond measure; but the difficulties to be overcome are infinite too. They can all be summed up in this formula which encapsulates its role and its rule alike: reconciling diverging interests through the generality of measures.
But just as the tree always falls in the direction in which it leans, the provisional government’s tendency is presently inclining towards the anti-socialist protest of 16th April. There is plenty of encouragement along those lines and formal advice. Many people imagine, the social question having been bungled at the Luxembourg [Commission], that the social question has been dealt with; that from now on capital is spared the need to reckon with labour. Bedazzled by that notion, there is an inevitability to the provisional government’s marching towards bourgeois restoration, at the price of a few gestures made to the ardour of social ideas.
That much is being hinted at already, both by the hypocritical reflections in reactionary newspapers on the difficulty, uncertainty and impossibility of a solution, and the decrees whereby the provisional government simultaneously cuts or abolishes the levies on salt, beef and beverages and introduces other taxes on servants, dogs, quality wines, rents over 800 francs, etc., etc.
The removal of the tax on salt, beef and beverages, in the current economic circumstances, is only a philanthropic exaggeration that will cost the State dearly without bettering the lot of the workers.
The introduction of extravagant taxes is a socialist fantasy that will cost the workers dearly without filling the State’s coffers.
The provisional government’s decrees shift poverty the way bankruptcy shifts capital; they solve nothing. Blind and ignorant, the clamour for revolution is satisfied by these decrees; but the people is bamboozled by those same decrees. In return for an apparent sacrifice, we have an actual restoration: People, you will find that out soon enough.
As for ourselves, even though we may also be as dissatisfied with 16th April as we had been by 17th March, we bow to the fait accompli. We like clear cut stances. The threefold essence of the provisional government was an encumbrance to us. We now know to whom we must speak. Doctrinaire democracy now rules and governs. We had always thought that the proletariat must emancipate itself without the help of the government: the government, since April 16th, thinks the same way.
We are in agreement with the government!...