From The Irish Felon (Vo. 2), 1 July, 1848.
A REPUBLIC of some three moons since its birth, with its young armies undisciplined and untried, its system of government and local institutions not grown into existence, its laws unmade, its taxes unlifted, its fame and name unwon – resisting for three days and nights, in its capital’s heart, a civil war without parallel in history for its well-laid schemes, the bravery of its agents, the sweeping slaughter in which it has resulted – at once the conspiracy of ejected Kings, and their families, and their slaves – of foreign despots, and the harbourer of despots, and the intriguers in their pay – and of the ill-governed, starving, half-drunken workmen, victims of monarchic times, and of the aristocrats of capital, for whom, and by whom, the monarchy existed – an infant Republic, I say, resisting all this, and resisting it successfully, without warning beforehand, and without subsequent cruelty, such is the grand spectacle, such the proof of the stability, strength, and justice, of democratic institutions, presented to the world by the late Parisian revolt.
A defeat in Belgium upset the empire built of the crowns and battle-fields of Europe. An unplanned insurrection, limited to Paris, not half so lengthened, not one-fifth so destructive as this, tumbled the monarchy of Charles X, and expelled the whole of the elder Bourbon line. An insurrectionary riot of half an hour, ended the sway of eighteen years, and converted the great “Orleans dynasty” into a family circle of conspirators at Claremont. But the attempts of foreigners, even in the heart of Paris, of defeated despots who lend themselves to foreigners, the insurrection of starving men, the barricades built for the fall of kings, all are alike unsuccessful, all alike vain, against a free state, in which every man has a vote, and every vote a gun.
Yes, Milan, Vienna, Berlin, Palermo, wherever monarchy or vice-monarchy existed, wherever governments constituted against the people’s will have come to combat with, the people’s will, entrenched behind a barricade, and spoken through a long barrel there insurrection has conquered, there despotism has not had even the power to resist decently; it totters, and falls, and is forgotten, like the dream of awaking men. The people’s will alone is real; built on barricades, it alone is superior to barricades.
Yet glorious and inspiring to Republicans the world over, as this quelled commotion is, we cannot look on it without poignant regret. The Republic has conquered, but in the sad necessity of this conquest, in the fifteen thousand brave youths of the Garde Mobile, now in the grave or hospital; in the blood of the ten thousand workmen, the heroes who won for France, in July and in February, that liberty to which their own lives have been the first sacrifice, is the proof that poetizing is not government; that middle-class rule, the despotism of capital and heartless “economy,” either in monarchy or republic, can be sustained by the destruction of labour, and the slaughter of labour alone.
The attempts of expelled kings, of the soi-disant DUC DE BORDEAUX, and his late father’s aide-de-camp, and serving men, to upset the Republic; of the self-styled COUNT NEUILLY, and his family circle, and banking accommodation, to retake the nation from which he had fled in red muffler and pen-jacket: of PRINCE LOUIS NAPOLEON, and his insurrection of one pistol-shut, to overthrow a National Assembly of the representatives of thirty millions, are all so ridiculous, that to baulk them it needed but some score of gamins to stand at the barrier, and grin.
But in the 70,000 working men, to whom the Republic refused the protection of a mother, the “equality,” the right of existence she owed to all her children alike, to whom she refused work, sustenance, and life; in these, and her own criminal neglect, or worse than neglect, desertion of them, are the sole causes of the late revolt, the sole dangers which, for the present, the Republic has escaped, the sole agency which enabled fallen tyrants and foreign dynasts to cover Paris with blood, and stain with the stain of intestine slaughter the name of Republic.
LAMARTINE and his coadjutors threw these men into the hands of the enemies of France – left them no other resource than to die of hunger or the bullet. He did this by converting to the sole benefit of the Bourgeoisie, of the middle classes of Paris, the revolution of February, which, like that of Italy, was the work of the people.
He did this by attempting to confine to France a revolution intended for the world. There was Italy in arms, struggling against her tyrant. Half of the brave men, now slain by mutual hands on the streets of Paris, would have liberated her in a month, checked CHARLES ALBERT, enfranchised Rome, and split the Austrian empire from root to top. There, too was Poland – there Naples – there England – there Ireland; but the bankers and merchants of France must have peace, even a cowardly peace, and LAMARTINE must grind out his poetry, end ride his hobby.
Well he did, and lo! He waits till the Russian agents, whom we should have met in Galicia, or on the Danube; till the English agents, whom a month or two ago he might have seized, conspiring in London, or checkmated in Ireland, make the very capital of France the seat of war, and the very children of France the instruments of their own destruction. Here is punishment hot-foot on selfishness – a lesson future rulers of all Republics may not forget with impunity.
We are not communists – we abhor communism; for the same reasons we abhor poor-law systems, and systems founded on the absolute sovereignty of wealth. Communism destroys the independence and dignity of labour, makes the working man a state pauper, and takes his manhood from him. But communism or no communism, those 70,000 workmen had a clear right to existence – they had the best right to existence of any men in France; and if they could have asserted that right by arms, they would have been fully justified.
The social system, in which a man, willing to work, is compelled to starve, is a blasphemy, an anarchy, and no system. For the present, these victims of monarchic rule, disowned by the Republic, are conquered. Ten thousand are slain, twenty perhaps doomed to the Marquesas. But for all that, the rights of labour are not conquered, and will not and cannot be conquered. Again and again the labourer will rise up against the idler – the working men will meet this bourgeoisie, and grapple and war with them, till their equality is established not in word, but in existence. There will be no peace to France till this is done. She must either subdue the children she abandons by slaughtering them in her capital; or else turn them out to graze on the battle-plains of her enemies.
There is another lesson from this Parisian revolt. Of all the instances of street-fighting, this is the greatest. Seventy thousand men; a poor fraction of the people; disowned and opposed by the people, maintained against the united forces of the Republic, numbering at one time 200,000 men, commanded by perhaps the most successful and ablest generals of Europe, a mortal combat of fifteen hours without yielding an inch; and maintained it with such success as to compel the troops, having expended all their ammunition, to retire, leaving cannon, and flags, and generals behind them, and 15,000 men dead or wounded. One may judge of this wondrous execution of guns from behind barricades, by recollecting that 15,000 men, the number put hors de combat by the insurgents, is exactly twice the garrison of Dublin – a fact worth totting up in our memory now and then.