Letter from Maillard to Blanqui (Barcelona, 1 April 1852)

Allow me first of all to tell you honestly what I think of the ‘democratic party’.1  I am neither French, nor Spanish, nor German. I am cosmopolitan. I am neither bourgeois nor proletarian; I am a Republican-democrat-socialist, though the latter word is quite elastic. I thus believe it possible to speak openly without fear of partiality. I will begin by giving my assessment as a politician and then as a soldier, in order to understand the recent rout based on the information with which I have been provided.

In February [1848], who caused the Republic’s downfall? The philosophers, the fearful, the intellectual leaders [chefs d’écoles]; these men who sought to destroy the corrupt institutions and who recoiled before revolutionary methods; the lawyers who thought a monarchy could be transformed into a Republic through words; and, something difficult to admit for a Republican, the divisions that dominated our party. For three years, what did they do, those who had sworn before the people to defend them and bring them happiness? They remained tranquil spectators of a constitution that was being continually torn to shreds. Instead of appealing to the nation and taking up arms in defence of the constitution, they opted for the parliamentary regime. They offered reconciliation where rifle shots were necessary. On 13 June 18492 some fled without knowing why. Others, who were more cunning, remained in their posts. None made a call to arms. Our Mountain ended up bringing forth not a mouse, but a Napoleon.3

The people have been suffering for three years, while our dear Montagnards were being paid 25 francs a day. Perhaps they wanted to resist on 2 December [1851].4 But they lacked heart, talent and, above all, faith. It is sad to say but they were more cowardly than certain reactionaries. Today you see one or another Montagnard living peacefully in Paris, and while soldiers are imprisoned or exiled, certain leaders enjoy the most perfect security. How should one respond to such enormities? In the end, the last tide washed up new discords on foreign shores. In London, disunity. In Belgium, disunity. In Switzerland, disunity. This disorderly retreat is truly pitiful to see. Everyone blames everyone else. There is nothing but reproaches and recriminations. You see nothing but despondency. If you speak of reconstituting a serious group, people look at you with incredulity, and then flee.

In short, dear citizen, I write these lines in a state of consternation. The leaders set an example of discord, and without unity there can be no Republic, no victory. It is still possible to win today. But to do so we need a military corps, leaders and, above all, discipline. For three years we have endured the parliamentary regime. It has produced only revulsion and contempt. The people need a firm and active Revolutionary government.

As for myself, I belong to no school, to no man. I am a Revolutionary-Republican. You will now be more or less able to judge my political opinions. In order to arrive at a military understanding of recent events, two words suffice. A level-headed and good-hearted man was lacking in the Midi region of France. Victory was certain. The soldiers, as in February 1848, were expecting us to seize their weapons.

I had been hoping to send you Mazzini’s manifesto,5 which I am sure you would have enjoyed since it contains your own revolutionary ideas, but it is impossible to get hold of it. L. Blanc and his ilk have declared that Mazzini is a traitor. I have therefore, in the name of the deported convicts of June 1848, approved of his manifesto with my signature. If I could have sent it to you, I would have asked you to offer your endorsement, and to support the man who calls for the most salutary means of establishing the Social Republic.

  1.  Source: MSS 9590(2), f. 373, extract; there are other versions of this letter, dated 21 April 1852, in 9581, ff. 254-8, and 9584(2), ff. 469-77. As Dommanget notes, Maillard had been an active member of the republican movement well before 1848; he served a prison sentence in the early 1840s for stockpiling arms, before becoming a follower of Buchez and then Leroux. In 1848 he founded a local republican club on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, the Club Républicain du Vème, serving as its president. He was deported to a penal colony in north Africa for his participation in the June Days, but escaped to Barcelona, where he joined a large exile community. It was from there that he wrote several letters to Blanqui, who remained imprisoned at Belle-Île. (Dommanget, Blanqui à Belle-Île, 167-9; cf. Victor Bouton, Profils révolutionnaires, par un crayon rouge (Paris: Anon., 1848-49), 128-9). Maillard’s first name and dates are difficult to verify. Neither Dommanget, Decaux, Bernstein, Spitzer, Paz nor Le Nuz provide a first name; nor does Bouton, and he is again listed simply as ‘Maillard’ in Jean Maitron’s authoritative Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français (1966). Historical sources on the Club Républicain du Vème confirm its president as ‘Georges Maillard’ (see for instance https://www.parisrevolutionnaire.com/spip.php?article2714). Copies of Maillard’s letter in MSS 9584(2), f. 477 and 9581, f. 258, however, are signed ‘Aug.’ Maillard, with the latter giving ‘M. Auguste Maillard, à la fonda de Francia, Barcelona’ as the return address. Perhaps his name was Georges Auguste Maillard, but we haven’t been able to prove this.
  2.  A demonstration organised by the radical, self-styled ‘Montagnard’ republicans took place on 13 June 1849 in opposition to the government’s military interventions against the Roman Republic.
  3.  ‘Enfin notre montagne a fini par accoucher, non d’une souris, mais d’un Napoléon.’ Deriving from the fables of Aesop and Jean de la Fontaine, in French the expression ‘la Montagne a accouché d’une souris’ denotes an end result that falls short of one’s expectations, particularly in relation to the work and effort involved.
  4.  Prince Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, elected President of the Second Republic on 10 December 1848, staged a coup d’état on 2 December 1851. The coup dissolved the National Assembly, established Louis-Napoleon as de facto ruler of France, and paved the way for the establishment of the Second Empire exactly one year later, on 2 December 1852.
  5.  Cf. Giuseppe Mazzini, Manifesto of Young Italy (1831).