The government is wrong to declare victory simply because the riots have ceased.1 If it was more sensible, far from taking the silence of the streets to be a favourable sign, it would see this only as a sinister symptom. But as it happens, we think that it is not as deluded as it might seem, nor as blind to the danger as its swaggering posture might lead us to believe. It seems unlikely that our rulers maintain, behind the closed doors of the dynastic salons, that conceited tone they constantly affect to the outside world in order to reassure the supporters of the juste milieu and to fill them with a sense of security that they themselves do not have. This confidence is not even feigned well enough to conceal the price of forcing it. The boastful and menacing quality of the official harangues does little to disguise the underlying fear – or, rather, it simply serves to reveal it.
Why are there so many threats against the ‘guilty factions’ and the ‘eternal enemies of order’? The eternal enemies of order remain calm. The government repeatedly insisted that once the last riot had been subdued it would all be over. Well then! There are no more riots, and it seems there is no prospect or even possibility of riots. But does the monarchy think that its power is now permanently and definitively established? The Journal des Débats certainly does not believe so, for its famous tirade against moral disorder is nothing but a cry of distress uttered by its owners at the sight of the abyss they see opening up in front of them. The Journal des Débats is indeed right. It was the end of the riot that brought the real danger for the government. Its fall has never been more certain than since its sergents de ville began to rule unchallenged over the city streets. On the contrary, so long as the riots continued the government ran no real risk; for the government the riots were a sign of life. This was not, however, as is generally understood, because the riots ensured it the armed support of the bourgeoisie, who had become furious in reaction to the disorder that it blamed for the poor state of commerce. Everything must be judged in terms of its real value. The bourgeois are allies that only appear when they are not needed. They might be well turned out when fighting, with fine, strong woollen uniforms, with wonderful plumes, with rifles that are all the more well-polished since they do not even clean them themselves. But we have no illusions; they are only capable of defending a power that is not seriously threatened. They are also unable to maintain or to overthrow a government against the will of the people.
The people, if they choose to, might make ten further revolutions in a row, under the nose of the National Guard, who will not raise a finger to stop them, regardless of the irritation this might cause them.
Power is only really maintained because the people do not think to destroy it. The riots are the best proof of this. The workers, it must be admitted, for a time showed benevolence towards this power that emerged from a revolution that they themselves had made. At first they did not consider whether it remained loyal to its origins, but once they saw the series of counter-revolutionary acts unfold, they sought, in their own way, to change its course. Unable to express their disapproval legally, as a result of the political repression that weighed upon them, they instead protested tumultuously on the public square.
Each riot was a paternal warning issued from the barricades to the monarchy. The unrest of 18 October , for instance, was designed to show that the people had not been duped by the shameful bit of political theatre performed in the Chamber of Deputies in order to save the ministers’ skin, by resorting to the pretext of a philanthropic abolition of the death penalty, and that the people considered this solicitude towards the champions of the July massacres to be grossly indecent while the bodies of their victims were not yet cold. The great riot of December only reiterated the lesson given two months earlier with an even more fearsome voice.2
On 13 February 3 the people offered their own definition of the famous ‘quoique Bourbon’,4 making clear with a stunning act of sovereignty that they intended to bring about a definite break with both the tradition and the symbols of a detested family. They demonstrated in the same moment that they saw the Catholic clergy as nothing but an odious instrument of the feudal monarchy. The riots of the faubourg Saint-Denis [on 14-17 June] and the rue du Cadran [on 7 September] were an open indictment uttered out of despair at a government that could only draw, from a revolution carried out by the masses, hunger and destitution for those same masses. They were also the first rumblings of the mounting anger of the people against their exploitation by insatiable capitalists.
The same month of September was marked by an explosion of popular grief at the news that Warsaw had fallen into the hands of the Russians as a result of the French ministry’s betrayal.5 There was then a pause before the dreadful convulsion that soon came to devour Paris, when cholera, which had loaded its gloomy wings with death as it flew over the battlefields of Poland, suddenly swooped down on the faubourgs.6
Who could have failed to learn the lessons of this great disaster? It revealed a people decimated by hardships, prey to the pitiless greed of a handful of privileged exploiters, and driven by new woes to make a new revolution. The government misjudged remonstrances. It responded to the people’s first demonstrations against their old enemies by surrounding itself exclusively with these very same enemies; it responded to cries in support of Poland by hunting down Polish refugees like savage beasts. It responded to everything with force. And yet the various popular demonstrations, far from seeking to overthrow the [new Orléanist] dynasty, only sought to enlighten it.
In December 1830, as in February, June and September 1831, one thing remains constant: the idea of destroying the new monarchy did not enter into the people’s head. For them it was only a matter of convincing the dynasty to change its system of government. The ill-fated June days7 were themselves, in principle, nothing but a major demonstration staged in pursuit of this end; it was only a fortuitous clash with the armed and provocative forces of order that drove a small number of men to take up arms – men who had now finally begun to despair of reforming the monarchy. So long as they still had hopes for reforming the government the people continued to send it warning signs, in the form of riots. The government, for its part, saw in every riot that came to an end a battle it had won, and in the end its state of siege convinced even the most incredulous members of the public that from now on the August monarchy intended to rely only on the sword, and that it had firmly taken its side. The people had taken their side too: they withdrew from the public squares, and they offered no further warnings.
The monarchy now has a free hand to imprison, crush or deport whomever it wants. It can raid houses day and night, condemn any suspects behind closed doors with their magistrate-provosts, dismiss any jury that might compromise it, and dismiss any defence lawyer. Who might be troubled by such measures? Ah! by God, no-one at all. The masses are not moved by these palace intrigues. The bourgeoisie will be delighted. Some observers think that the bourgeoisie has become somewhat disaffected, and is distancing itself from the monarch; this is the error of those brilliant writers who believe they might win over them through magnificent reasoning. But the bourgeoisie will exclaim while rubbing their hands: ‘The government is strong! That is very good! Now we must put an end to these crude tracts that rouse our workers, by persuading them that they are men like us. What do they want? Have they ever been happier? See how rich our shops are! What a wonderful regime!’ Tell them that they only see this wonderful regime from the comfort of their fireside after a good dinner; tell them, for example, that this very morning policemen dragged a woman and two children, the oldest of whom is not five years old, before the correctional police; that this wretched mother earns fifteen sous a day for her work, of which twelve pays for her rent, leaving her with three to feed, heat and cloth herself and her four children. Tell them that and they will respond: ‘We cannot change this. Things have always been this way; they will always be so. If this woman was brought before the correctional police it is because her children were begging; there must not be any beggars – they are a disgusting sight in the street, and begging brings shame on a great nation. Moreover, why did she have four children when she knew she could not feed them? Or why did she keep them?’
It is clear that the men who are prepared to say such things have decided to support the government to the end, and that they will also stand by it should it resort to violence. With the approval of the bourgeoisie and the support of four thousand soldiers, the government has carte blanche to spill blood and to crush any resistance. If the workers try to assemble, if they try to agree on means of relieving their common misery or of protecting themselves from their exploitation, they are thrown into prison for two, three, five years; they are hunted down; they are arbitrarily stripped of their employment records [livrets].
What is to be done? These iniquities will have to remain momentarily unpunished; they should be left to accumulate, so that people grow weary of them.
Ah! What’s certain is that the workers will no longer merely riot, with their hands in their pockets, and present their unarmed bodies before bayonets that they know are thirsty for their blood. And there are other men who are also smouldering with a profound sense of resentment. They are ardent, generous minds who dream of a great, strong France giving impetus to Europe, gathering all people around it like an invigorating centre of intelligence; a France where talent is honoured, where genius earns respect and veneration, where noble thoughts are welcomed, encouraged, rewarded – in a word, a brilliant and glorious France. Looking out from it, they see a country stripped of its sovereign status, reviled and scorned by the kings of Europe, forced to lick the blood of Poland from the hands of [Tsar] Nicolas, a country that has become an object of ridicule for all the old aristocracies, of hatred and contempt for all the peoples it has deceived, a country kicked in the shins by the most recent prig anointed with a duke’s crown, playing the role of both traitor and fool in this lousy diplomatic melodrama that is jeered by the European audience. Looking inside it, they see a country delivered to the plundering pashas who make themselves millionaires in eighteen months by scooping up the pennies of the poor, a country ransacked by a band of tax collectors and publicani who snigger at the words probity, honour, and la patrie; they see the golden calf placed on the altar and proclaimed the true God, the only God, the complete dissolution of all society’s moral ties, and this hideous anarchy celebrated in the name of ‘public order’!
Can these good-hearted men continue to live in this public order – or, rather, this filthy public disorder? One should not count on it. There are no more riots, but the silence of the streets is sinister, for it is foreshadows a revolution. The monarchy suspects as much, and now sees in the National Guard only a weak bulwark against this danger. It is more reassured by the fifteen regiments gathered in Paris. But its enemies are animated by a sombre determination.
Should a spark ignite the gunpowder, eighty thousand armed men will appear on the public square.
- Source: OI, 266-271, based on the manuscript in MSS 9592(2), ff. 8-11. ↩
- When the Chamber of Deputies voted on 27 September to charge Charles X’s former ministers for their part in the King’s attempted coup on 25 July 1830, it also put forward legislation to abolish the death penalty for political convictions. Louis-Philippe’s support for this proposal provoked a major public outcry on 18 October. Demanding ‘Death to the Ministers’ whom they saw as responsible for the bloodshed of July, a crowd marched on the Palais-Royal and then on Vincennes, where the ex-ministers were being held. The trial took place from 15-21 December at the Palais du Luxembourg. The ministers were sentenced to life imprisonment, which again infuriated the crowd gathered outside, causing rioting to break out. ↩
- Provocative political gestures at a mass held on 14 February 1831 at Saint-German-l’Auxerrois to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of the ultra-royalist Duc de Berry in 1820 resulted in a crowd invading and sacking the church. The following day the Archbishop of Paris’s palace was stormed and looted, as church property across the capital became the target of mass anger. ↩
- In August 1830 a split emerged between conservatives claiming that the duc d’Orléans should be considered the hereditary successor to the Bourbon throne and therefore rule ‘parce que Bourbon’ (because he was a Bourbon), and more liberal supporters of the new order who insisted that he rule ‘quoique Bourbon’ (despite being a Bourbon). ↩
- News of Warsaw’s capitulation to the Russians on 7 September reached Paris on 15 September, provoking three days of rioting across the city. ↩
- A cholera pandemic that had begun in the Far East swept across Europe and reached France in the spring of 1832. The final death toll was more than 18,000 in Paris alone, with the impoverished neighbourhoods suffering the greatest losses. (Blanqui’s father, Jean Dominique, was amongst the victims.) The social tensions caused by the cholera outbreak were one of the main causes of the June 1832 uprising. ↩
- A reference to the Paris uprising of 5-6 June 1832, the last significant outbreak of political violence in the capital that followed the 1830 July Revolution. ↩