Louis Auguste Blanqui 1832

Speech before the Society of the Friends of the People

Source: Louis Auguste Blanqui, écrits sur la révolution, Oeuvres completes, Tome 1. Editions Galilée, paris, 1977;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2007.

The fact shouldn’t be hidden that there is a war to the death between the classes that compose the nation. This truth recognized, the truly national party, the ones patriots should rally to, is the party of the masses.

Until now there have been three interests in France: that of the so-called upper classes, that of the middle or bourgeois class, and finally that of the people. I place the people last because they were always the last and because I count on an imminent application of the Gospel maxim that “the last shall be first.”

In 1814 and 1815 the bourgeois class, tired of Napoleon not because of despotism (it cares little for liberty, which in its eyes it isn’t worth a pound of good cinnamon or a nice fat bill), but because the blood of the people being exhausted, the war was beginning to take its children from it and, even more, because it harmed its tranquility and hindered commerce. The bourgeois class then received the foreign soldiers as liberators and the Bourbons as God’s envoys. They were the ones who opened the gates of Paris, who treated the soldiers of Waterloo as brigands, and who encouraged the bloody reaction of 1815.

Louis XVIII rewarded them with the Charter. This Charter established the upper classes as an aristocracy and gave the bourgeois the Chamber of Deputies, called the democratic chamber. With this the émigrés, the nobles, the big landowners who were fanatical partisans of the Bourbons, and the middle class who accepted them from self-interest found themselves the masters in equal part of the government. The people were pushed to the side. Bereft of leaders, demoralized by foreign invasion, having lost faith in liberty, they remained silent and submitted to the yoke while remaining on their guard. You know the consistent support the bourgeois class gave the Restoration until 1825. It loaned its hand to the massacres of 1815 and 1816, to the scaffolds of Borie and Berton, to the war in Spain, to the arrival of Villèle and the changes in the electoral law; until 1827 it regularly sent majorities given over to those in power.

In the period 1825-1827 Charles X, seeing that he was succeeding at everything and believing himself strong enough without the bourgeois, wanted to proceed to their exclusion, as was done with the people in 1815. He took a daring step towards the Ancien Régime and declared war on the middle class by proclaiming the exclusive dominance of the nobility and clergy under the banner of Jesuitism. The bourgeoisie is by essence anti-spiritual: it detests churches, and believes only in double entry bookkeeping. The priests irritated them: they had consented to share with the upper classes in oppressing the people, but seeing its turn arrive as well, full of resentment and jealousy against the high aristocracy, it rallied to that minority of the middle class that had combated the Bourbons since 1815 and that it had sacrificed up till then. It was then that a war of newspapers and elections began, carried out with so much steadfastness and fury. But the bourgeois fought in the name of the Charter and nothing but the Charter, and in fact the Charter assured their power. Faithfully executed, it gave them supremacy within the state. Legality was invented to represent this interest of the bourgeoisie’s and to serve as its flag. The legal order became a kind of divinity before which constitutional opponents burned their daily incense. This struggle was carried out from 1825 -1830, ever more favorably to the bourgeois, who rapidly gained ground and who, masters of the Chamber of Deputies, soon threatened the government with complete defeat.

What were the people doing in the midst of this conflict? Nothing. They remained a silent spectator to the quarrel, and everyone knows that its interests didn’t count in the debates of its oppressors. To be sure, the bourgeois cared little about them and their cause, which were looked on as having been lost fifteen years before. You recall that the papers most devoted to the constitutionals regularly repeated that the people had submitted their resignation to their representatives, the only organs of France. It wasn’t only the government that considered the masses as indifferent to the debate: the middle classes detested them perhaps even more, and they surely counted on being the only ones to pluck the fruits of victory. That victory didn’t go further than the Charter. Charles X and the Charter with an all-powerful bourgeoisie, this was the goal of the constitutionals. Yes, but the people understood the question differently. The people mocked the Charter in execrating the Bourbons. Seeing its masters argue among themselves it spied out in silence the moment to leap onto the battlefield and bring the parties into agreement.

When the classes arrived at such a point that the government no longer had any resource than coups d’état, and that that threat of a coup d’état was suspended over the heads of the bourgeois, then they were gripped with fear! Who doesn’t recall the regrets and terrors of the 221 after the order of dissolution that answered their famous address? Charles X spoke of his firm resolve to resort to force, and the bourgeoisie blanched. Already most of them loudly disapproved the 221 for having allowed themselves to be carried away by revolutionary excesses. The most daring placed their hope in the refusal of a tax that would have been paid and in the support of tribunals, almost all of who would gladly have filled the office of summary political courts. If the royalists demonstrated so much confidence and resolution, if their adversaries showed so much fear and uncertainty, it’s that both regarded the people as having resigned themselves and expected to find them neutral in the battle. And so on one hand the government depended on the nobility, the clergy and the big landowners, and on the other was the middle class which, after five years of warming up in a war of words, was ready to come to blows with the people, silent for fifteen years and believed resigned.

It was in these conditions that the combat was engaged. The ordinances were issued and the police smashed the newspaper presses. I won’t speak of our joy, citizens, we who are shaking the yoke and who are finally witnessing the reawakening of the popular lion that had slept for so long. July 26 was the most beautiful day of our life. But the bourgeois! Never has a political crisis offered a spectacle of such frightful, such profound consternation. Pale, frantic they heard the first shots as the first discharge of a picket that was to shoot them down one by one. You all remember the conduct of the deputies on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They used what presence of mind and faculties fear left to them to ward off, to halt the combat. Preoccupied with their own cowardice, they were unready to foresee popular victory and were already trembling beneath Charles X’s knife. But on Thursday the scene changed. The people were the victors. And then another terror seized them, more profound and oppressive. Farewell dreams of the Charter, of legality, of constitutional royalty, of the exclusive domination of the bourgeoisie! The powerless ghost that was Charles X faded away. In the midst of the debris, of flames and smoke, the people appeared standing on the corpse of royalty, standing like a giant, the tricolor flag in hand. They were struck with stupor. It was then that they regretted that the National Guard didn’t exist July 26, that they condemned the lack of foresight and the folly of Charles X, who had smashed the anchor of his own salvation. It is too late for regrets! You can see that during these days, when the people were so grand, the bourgeois were tied up between two fears, that of Charles X in the first place, and then that of the workers. A noble and glorious role for these proud warriors who float their high plumes at parades on the Champ de Mars.

But citizens: how is it that so sudden and fearsome a revelation of the force of the masses remained sterile? By what fatality did that revolution made by the people alone, and that should have marked the end of the exclusive reign of the bourgeoisie as well as the success of popular interests and might, have no other results than the establishing of the despotism of the middle class, aggravating the poverty of the workers and peasants, and plunging France a bit further into the mud? Alas, the people, like the other old man, knew how to win, but not how to profit from its victory. The fault is not all their own. The combat was so brief that its natural leaders, those who would have led the way to victory, didn’t have the time to distinguish themselves from the crowd. They necessarily rallied to the leaders who had figured at the head of the bourgeoisie in the parliamentary struggle against the Bourbons. What is more, they were grateful to the middle classes for their little five year war against their enemies, and you have seen what benevolence, I would almost say what feeling of deference they showed towards those men in suits they met on the streets after the battle. That cry of “Long Live the Charter!” which was so perfidiously abused was nothing but a rallying cry for proving its alliance with these men. Did they already feel, as if by instinct, that they had just played a nasty trick on the bourgeoisie and, in the generosity of the victor, did they want to make advances and offer peace and friendship to their future adversaries? Whatever the case, the masses hadn’t formally expressed any positive political will. What acted on them, what had thrown them into the public square, was the hatred of the Bourbons, the firm resolution to overthrow them. There was both Bonapartism and the Republic in the wishes they formed for the government that was to issue from the barricades.

You know how the people, in its confidence in the chiefs they’d accepted and which their ancient hostility to Charles X made them consider them as equally implacable enemies of the entire Bourbon family, retired from the public squares once the battle was finished. At that point the bourgeois came out of their cellars and threw themselves in their thousands onto the streets, which the departure of the combatants had left free. There is no one who doesn’t remember with what amazing suddenness the scene changed on the streets of Paris, like at a theatre; the way suits replaced work jackets, in the blink of an eye, as if a fairy wand had made some disappear and others spring up. This was because the bullets were no longer flying. It was no longer a question of receiving blows, but of gathering up loot. To each his role: the men of the workshops disappeared, the men who work behind the counter appeared.

It was then that the wretches who had been given victory as a deposit, after having attempted to place Charles X back on his throne, feeling that their lives were at risk and lacking the courage to brave the dangers of such a treason, stopped at a less perilous treason. A Bourbon was proclaimed king. Under the direction of agents paid with royal gold 10-15,000 bourgeois put in place in the courts of the new palace saluted the master for a few days with their cries of enthusiasm. As for the people, since they have no dividends and lack the means to stroll beneath the windows of palaces, they were in the workshops. But they weren’t accomplices in this unworthy usurpation that would not have occurred had they found men capable of guiding their angry and vengeful blows. Betrayed by their chiefs, abandoned by the schools, they remained silent and on their guard, as in 1815. I’ll cite you as an example a coachman who drove me last Saturday. After having told me of the part he played in the combats of the three days he added: “ On the way to the Chamber I encountered the procession of deputies headed towards the Hotel de Ville. I followed them to see what they’d do. Then I saw Lafayette appear on the balcony with Louis-Philippe and say, ‘Frenchmen, here is your King.’ Sir, when I heard that word it was as if I’d been stabbed. I was blinded; I went on my way.” That man is the people.

This then was the situation of the parties immediately following the July Revolution. The upper class was crushed; the middle class, which hid itself during the combat and disapproved it, demonstrating as much cleverness as it did prudence, snatched the fruits of victory that were won despite them. The people, who did everything, remained a zero, as before. But a terrible act has been accomplished: like a thunderbolt, the people had suddenly entered the political scene that they took by assault, and though more or less chased from it at the same instant, they nevertheless acted with mastery. They withdrew their resignation. It will henceforth be between them and the middle class that bitter war will be carried out. It’s no longer between the upper classes and the bourgeois: in order to better resist, the latter will need to call their former enemies to their assistance. In fact, for a long time the bourgeoisie has not hidden its hatred of the people.

If we examine the conduct of the government there is in its policies, the same march, the same progression of hatred and violence as among the bourgeoisie, whose interests and passions it represents.

When the bricks of the barricades were still piled up in the streets all that was spoken of was the program of the Hotel de Ville, of republican institutions; handshakes, popular proclamations, the grand words of liberty, independence, and national glory were bandied about. And then, when those in power had at their disposal an organized military force, pretensions mounted; all the laws, all the ordinances of the Restoration were invoked and applied. Later, the prosecution of the press, the persecutions of the men of July, the people beaten and tracked down with bayonet blows, taxes increased and collected with a rigor unheard of under the Restoration: this entire apparatus of tyranny revealed the governments hatreds and fears. But it felt that the people felt that same hatred for them, and not judging itself strong enough with the support of the bourgeoisie alone it sought to rally the upper classes to its cause in order that, established on this dual base, it would be in a state to more successfully resist the threatened invasion of the proletarians. It is to this maneuver to conciliate the aristocracy that we should attach the system it has developed in the past eighteen months. This is the key to its policy. And this upper class is almost entirely composed of royalists. In order to bring them along it was thus necessary to as nearly as possible approach the Restoration, to follow its meanderings, to continue them. And this is what was done. Nothing was changed except the name of the king. The people’s sovereignty was denied, trod upon. The court wore mourning attire for foreign princes, legitimacy was copied in all regards. Royalists were maintained in their places, and all those who had to leave in the first onrush of the revolution found more lucrative positions; the magistracy was preserved in such a way that the whole administration is in the hands of men devoted to the Bourbons. What is more, a part of this upper class, the most rotten part of it, that which above all wants gold and pleasures, deigned to promise its protection to public order. But the other part, the one I’ll call the least rotted in order not to say “ honorable,” that which has self-respect and faith in its opinions, which worships its flag and its old memories, these people reject with disgust the caresses of the middle way. They have behind them the largest part of the populations of the south and the west, all those peasants of the Vendée and Brittany who, having remained foreign to the movement of civilization, preserve an ardent faith in Catholicism, and with reason confound in their devotions Catholicism with legitimacy, for these are two things that have lived and must die together.

Do you think that these simple and believing men are open to the seductions of bankers? No, citizens! For the people, whether if in their ignorance they are enflamed with religious fanaticism or if, more enlightened, they allow themselves to be carried away by enthusiasm for liberty, the people are ever great and generous; they don’t obey low monetary interests but the nobler passions of the soul, the aspirations of elevated morality. But however delicately and deferentially we might handle Brittany and the Vendée, they are still ready to rise at the cry of “God and King” and threaten the government with their Catholic and royal armies, which the first shock will smash. And that’s not all: that faction of the upper classes that attached itself to the middle way will abandon it at the first moment. All they promised was to not work to overthrow them. As for devotion, you know it’s possible to have it towards coupon clippers. Even more, I’d say that the greatest part of the bourgeois, who are pressing, gathering around the government from hatred of the people who they fear, from fright at war, which they have a horror of for they think it’ll take their écus from them, these bourgeois barely care for the current order; they feel it to be powerless to protect them. Let the white flag [of the Royalists] come along that would guarantee them the oppression of the people and material security and they’d be ready to sacrifice their former political pretensions, for they bitterly regret having, through pride, sapped the power of the Bourbons and prepared their fall. They would abdicate their part of power to the hands of the aristocracy, willingly trading tranquility for servitude.

For the government of Louis-Philippe hardly reassures them. It can copy the Restoration all it wants, persecute patriots, set itself to erasing the stain of insurrection it is soiled with in the eyes of the adorers of public order. The memory of those three terrible days pursues them, dominates them. Eighteen months of successful war against the people were unable to counter-balance one sole popular victory. The battlefield is still theirs and that already old victory is suspended over power’s head like the sword of Damocles. All are looking to see if the thread is not soon going to break.

Citizens, two principles share France, that of legitimacy and that of popular sovereignty. The first is the ancient organization of the past. This is the framework society lived in for 1400 years, and that some want to preserve by instinct of self-preservation, and others because they fear that the framework won’t be able to be promptly replaced and anarchy will follow its dissolution. The principle of popular sovereignty rallies all men of the future, the masses who, tired of being exploited, seek to smash the framework that suffocates them. There is no third flag, no middle term. The middle road is foolishness, a bastard government that wants to give itself airs of legitimacy that one can only laugh at. And so the royalists, who perfectly understand this situation, profit from the tact and indulgence of those in power who seek to bring them over to them so as to more actively work at their destruction. Their many newspapers demonstrate daily that the only possible order is legitimacy, that the middle road is powerless to constitute the country, that apart from legitimacy there is only revolution and once the first has been left behind, there is only the second.

What will then happen? The upper classes are waiting for the moment to raise the white flag. In the middle class the great majority, composed of those men who have no other homeland than their counter or their cash box, who would gladly become Russian, Prussian, or English to earn two liards on a piece of cloth or 1/4 % additional profit on discount, will without fail line themselves up behind the white flag. The very name of war and popular sovereignty makes them tremble. The minority of that class, made up of intellectual professions and the small number of bourgeois who love the tricolor flag, the symbol of France’s independence and freedom, will take the side of popular sovereignty.

What is more, the moment of disaster is rapidly approaching. You see that the Chamber of Peers, the magistracy, and most civil servants are openly conspiring for the return of Henri V, mocking the middle road. Legitimist gazettes no longer hide either the hopes or the projects of the counter-revolution. The royalists in Paris and the provinces are gathering their forces, organizing the Vendée and Brittany, and are proudly planting their banner. They are openly saying that the bourgeoisie is with them, and they aren’t wrong. They are only waiting for a signal from foreign lands to raise the white banner, for in foreign countries they would be crushed by the people. They know this and we are counting on their being crushed, even with foreign support.

You can be assured Citizens that they will not want for this support. This is the place to take a look at our relations with the European powers. It should be noted, in fact, that the external situation has developed in parallel with the political march of the government internally. External shame has grown in the exact same proportion as bourgeois despotism and the poverty of the masses internally.

At the first sound of our revolution the kings lost their heads, and the electric spark of insurrection having rapidly set Belgium, Poland, and Italy aflame, they sincerely thought their last day had arrived. How could it be imagined that the revolution didn’t mean a revolution, that the expulsion of the Bourbons didn’t mean the expulsion of the Bourbons, that the overturning of the Restoration would be a new edition of the Restoration? Not even the maddest of individuals could believe this. The cabinets saw in the three days the awakening of the French people and the beginning of its vengeance against the oppressors of nations. Nations judged in the same way as cabinets. But for our friends and enemies it was soon obvious that France had fallen into the hands of cowardly merchants who asked only to traffic in its independence and to sell its glory and liberty at the best price possible. While the kings awaited our declaration of war they received begging letters in which the French government implored pardon for its errors. The new master excused himself for having participated against his will in the revolt. He protested his innocence and his hatred for the revolution that he promised to tame, to punish, to wipe out if his good friends the kings promised him their protection, a small place in the Holy Alliance whose faithful servant he would become.

The foreign cabinets understood that the people weren’t complicit in this treason and that it wouldn’t delay in rendering justice. Their decision was taken: exterminate the insurrections that had broken out in Europe, and when everything returns to order unite their forces against France and come strangle in Paris itself the revolution and the revolutionary agent. This plan was followed with an admirable consistency and skill. They couldn’t go too fast, because the people of July, still full of their recent triumph, would have been too alert to a too direct threat and would have forced its government’s hand. In any event, it was necessary to grant time to the middle way to stifle enthusiasm, discourage patriots and instill mistrust and discord in the nation. They also couldn’t go too slowly, for the masses could have grown tired of the servitude and poverty that weighed on it internally and for a second time smash the yoke before the foreigners were in shape.

All of these shoals were avoided. The Austrians invaded Italy. The bourgeois who govern us said “Good!” and bowed before Austria. The Russians exterminated Poland. Our government cried “Very good!” and prostrated itself before Russia. During this time the London conference amused the onlookers with its protocols aimed at assuring the independence of Belgium, for a Restoration in Belgium would have opened France’s eyes and it would have been in a position to defend its work. The kings are now taking a forward step. They don’t want an independent Belgium: it’s a Dutch restoration they want to impose on it. The three courts of the north, confronted with the massacre, refuse to ratify the famous treaty that cost the conference sixteen months of labor.

And now will the middle way respond with a declaration of war on this insolent aggression. War! Good God! The word makes the bourgeois turn pale. Listen to them! War means bankruptcy, war means the Republic! War can only be supported with the blood of the people; the bourgeoisie doesn’t involve itself in this. Their interests, their passions have to be appealed to in the name of liberty, of the fatherland’s independence. The country must be put back into their hands, which alone can save it. It would be a hundred times better to see the Russians in Paris than to unleash the passions of the multitude. At least the Russians are friends of order; they reestablished order in Warsaw... These are calculations and the language of the middle way.

The Royalists will keep themselves at the ready, and next spring the Russians, on crossing the border, will find their lodgings prepared for them as far as Paris. For you can be sure that when the time comes the bourgeoisie will not resolve to make war. Its terror will have been increased by all the fear that will be inspired in it by the anger of a people betrayed and sold out, and you’ll see the merchants brandish the white rosette and receive the enemy as a liberator, for the Cossacks frighten them less than the mob in work jackets.