Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis — First Letter (1870)

[There are two manuscripts by Bakunin with titles very close to “Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis,” written one after the other and overlapping in some places, but substantially different. The 12,000-word “Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis” in the Dolgoff anthology is drawn from one of the later parts of a 54,000-word manuscript identified in the Collected Works collection with the title “Lettre à un Français.” A second manuscript, 10,000 words long, broken into separate letters, and identified as “Lettres à un Français sur la crise actuelle,” followed. Here is the first letter from the second, shorter set of manuscripts, dated September 1,1870: ]
Letter to a Frenchman
My dear friend,
The latest events have placed France in such a position, that it can no longer be saved from a long and terrible slavery, from ruin, poverty, and annihilation, except by a rising en masse of the armed people.
Your principal army being destroyed, — and that is no longer in doubt today, — there remains to France only two outcomes: either to submit sheepishly, shamefully, to the insolent yoke of the Prussians, to bow beneath the staff of Bismarck and all his Pomeranian lieutenants; abandon Alsace and Lorraine, who do not want to be Germans, to the military despotism of the future emperor of Germany Alsace and Lorraine; to pay billions in damages, without counting the billions that this disastrous ware will have cost you; to accept from the hands of Bismarck a government, a crushing and ruinous public order, with the dynasty of the Orléans or the Bourbons, returning once more to France behind the foreign armies; to see itself, for a dozen or for twenty years, reduced to the miserable state of modern Italy, oppressed and contained by a viceroy who would administer France under the iron rule of Prussia, as Italy has thus far been administered under the iron rule of France; to accept, as a necessary consequence, the ruin of national commerce and industry, sacrificed to the commerce and industry of Germany; to see, in the end, the completion of the intellectual and moral decline of the whole nation…
Well, to avoid that ruin, that distraction, give the French people the means to save itself.
Well, my friend, I do not doubt that all the titled and well-heeled men of France, almost without exception, that the vast majority of the haute and moyenne bourgeoisie consent to this cowardly abandonment of France, rather than accept its salvation by a popular uprising. In fact, the popular uprising is the social revolution, it is the fall of privileged France. The fear of that revolution has cast them, for twenty years, under the dictatorship of Napoléon III, today it will cast them under the saber of Bismarck and under the constitutional and parliamentary rod of the Orléans. The liberty of the people causes them such a dreadful fear, that in order to avoid it they will accept any shame, consent to any cowardice, — even should these cowardices ruin them later, provided that they serve them now.
Yes, all official France, all bourgeois and privileged France conspire for the Orléans, and consequently conspire against the people. The generals of the empire, the commander of Paris, the left, agree in this treason. And the European powers see the thing approvingly. Why? Because knows well that if France tries to save itself by a formidable popular uprising, that would be the signal for the outburst of revolution in all of Europe.
Why then is the restoration of the Orléans still not an accomplished fact? Because the collective and obviously reactionary dictatorship of Paris finds itself at this moment inevitably powerless. Napoléon III and the empire have already fallen, but the whole imperial machine, legislative corps, senate, prefects, etc, continues to function; and they dare not change anything, because to change all that is to proclaim the revolution, and to proclaim the revolution is to provoke precisely what they wanted to avoid.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.