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Chapter 32

WHAT 1852 WOULD HAVE BEEN


But, had it not been for this abominable 2nd of December, which its accomplices, and after them its dupes, call "necessary," what would have occurred in France? Mon Dieu! this:--

Let us go back a little, and review, in a summary way, the situation as it was before the coup d'état.

The party of the past, under the name of order, opposed the republic, or in other words, opposed the future.

Whether opposed or not, whether assented to or not, the republic, all illusions apart, is the future, proximate or remote, but inevitable, of the nations.

How is the republic to be established? There are two ways of establishing it: by strife and by progress. The democrats would arrive at it by progress; their adversaries, the men of the past, appear to desire to arrive at it by strife.

As we have just observed, the men of the past are for resisting; they persist; they apply the axe to the tree, expecting to stop the mounting sap. They lavish their strength, their puerility, and their anger.

Let us not utter a single bitter word against our old adversaries, fallen with ourselves on the same day, and several among them with honour on their side; let us confine ourselves to noting that it was into this struggle that the majority of the Legislative Assembly of France entered at the very beginning of its career, in the month of May, 1849.

This policy of resistance is a deplorable policy. This struggle between man and his Maker is inevitably vain; but, though void of result, it is fruitful in catastrophes. That which ought to be will be; that which ought to flow will flow; that which ought to fall will fall; that which ought to spring up will spring up; that which ought to grow will grow; but, obstruct these natural laws, confusion follows, disorder begins. It is a melancholy fact that it was this disorder which was called order.

Tie up a vein, and sickness ensues; clog up a stream, and the water overflows; obstruct the future, and revolutions break out.

Persist in preserving among you, as if it were alive, the past, which is dead, and you produce an indescribable moral cholera; corruption spreads abroad, it is in the air, we breathe it; entire classes of society, the public officials, for instance, fall into decay. Keep dead bodies in your houses, the plague will break out.

This policy inevitably makes blind those who adopt it. Those men who dub themselves statesmen do not understand that they themselves have made, with their own hands and with untold labour, and with the sweat of their brows, the terrible events they deplore, and that the very catastrophes which fall upon them were by them constructed. What would be said of a peasant who should build a dam from one side of a river to the other, in front of his cottage, and who, when he saw the river turned into a torrent, overflow, sweep away his wall, and carry off his roof, should exclaim: "Wicked river!"? The statesmen of the past, those great builders of dams across streams, spend their time in exclaiming: "Wicked people!"

Take away Polignac and the July ordinances, that is to say, the dam, and Charles X would have died at the Tuileries. Reform in 1847 the electoral laws, that is to say once more, take away the dam, and Louis Philippe would have died on the throne. Do I mean thereby that the Republic would not have come? Not so. The Republic, we repeat, is the future; it would have come, but step by step, successive progress by progress, conquest by conquest, like a river that flows, and not like a deluge that overflows; it would have come at its own hour, when all was ready for it; it would have come, certainly not more enduring, for it is already indestructible, but more tranquil, free from all possibility of reaction, with no princes keeping watch, with no coup d'état behind.

The policy which obstructs the progress of mankind--let us insist on this point--excels in producing artificial floods. Thus it had managed to render the year 1852 a sort of formidable eventuality, and this again by the same contrivance, by means of a dam. Here is a railway; a train will pass in an hour; throw a beam across the rails, and when the train comes to that point it will be wrecked, as it was at Fampoux; remove the beam before the train arrives, and it will pass without even suspecting the catastrophe recently lurking there. This beam is the law of the 31st of May.

The leaders of the majority of the Legislative Assembly had thrown it across 1852, and they cried: "This is where society will be crushed!" The Left replied: "Take away your beam, and let universal suffrage pass unobstructed." This is the whole history of the law of the 31st of May.

These are things for children to understand, but which "statesmen" do not understand.

Now let us answer the question we just now proposed: Without the 2nd of December, what would have occurred in 1852?

Revoke the law of the 31st of May, take away the dam from before the people, deprive Bonaparte of his lever, his weapon, his pretext, let universal suffrage alone, take the beam off the rails, and do you know what you would have had in 1852?

Nothing.

Elections.

A sort of peaceful Sundays, when the people would have come forward to vote, labourers yesterday, today electors, to-morrow labourers, and always sovereign.

Somebody rejoins: "Oh, yes, elections! You talk very glibly about them. But what about the 'red chamber' which would have sprung from these elections."

Did they not announce that the Constitution of 1848 would prove a "red chamber?" Red chambers, red hobgoblins, all such predictions are of equal value. Those who wave such phantasmagorias on the end of a stick before the terrified populace know well what they are doing, and laugh behind the ghastly rag they wave. Beneath the long scarlet robe of the phantom, to which had been given the name of 1852, we see the stout boots of the coup d'état.


Victor Hugo