Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

The Milliard

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 79;
Written: on March 15, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 247, March 16, 1849.

Cologne, March 15. Already soon after the February revolution there was a shortage of money in Paris. Respect de la propriété was proclaimed universally and the poor petty bourgeois thought that this applied to them. The Provisional Government[71] was all the more willing to show its respect de la propriété, since the bank at once lent it 50 million without interest. The Provisional Government consisted mainly of petty bourgeois of the National and was misled by the magnanimity of the bank. The 50 million were soon exhausted. Meanwhile the shareholders and owners of the banknotes had time to make the best use of respect de la propriété by withdrawing all their gold from the bank. The petty bourgeois, who for their part also wished to take advantage of respect de la propriété, went to their banker in order to have their bills of exchange — which had been drawn against their propriété, i.e. against their industrial enterprises, boutiques or factories — discounted. The bankers put forward the excuse of lack of money and refused to discount the bills. The petty bourgeois then went to other bankers in order to have their bills endorsed by their bankers and discounted in the bank; the bankers refused their endorsement. Respect de la propriété! It was therefore precisely the bankers who were the first to violate respect de la propriété, although they themselves knew very well how to exploit it. Then a general complaint arose that credit, confiance had been lost. On the other hand, the petty bourgeois still did not abandon their respect de la propriété; they thought that if “calm and order” were re-established, confidence also would return and then, their propriété serving as cover, their bills would surely be discounted. It is common knowledge that after the June battle,[72] when calm and order had been restored, all propriété came into the pockets of the bankers, as a result of judicial concordats, and that the petty bourgeois only understood the meaning of “respect”, when their “property” had gone. Obviously, it was the workers who suffered most as a result of the financial crisis brought about by the big bourgeoisie. Just at the time when the Provisional Government, in order to solve its own difficulties, invented the notorious 45-centime tax,[73] a poster signed by workers appeared on the walls. It began with the words: avez-vous besoin d'argent? (do you need money?) and it contained a direct proposal to demand the return of the milliard granted to the émigrés in 1825 as compensation. Who were those émigrés? They were the very same people who had incited and supported from abroad the war against France and who had then returned to France in the company of foreigners. Who were to be found among the émigrés who benefited from the compensation? The Duke of Orleans, i.e. the King who had recently been driven out, and the legitimists,[74] i.e. the followers of the King who had been driven out, long ago. The Constituent Assembly and the Convention had decreed the confiscation of the property of the émigré traitors; the kings and émigrés who had returned after both restorations [75] awarded the compensation to themselves and their friends. The kings were again driven out, the decisions of the Constituent Assembly and the Convention regained their full validity, and what could be more natural than that the compensation should again benefit the people. The poster which thus set out the demand for the return of the milliard was read by the workers with general jubilation; they stood round it in thousands and discussed its content in their own way. This continued for a whole day; the next day the poster had vanished from the walls. Recognising the serious danger threatening them, the legitimists and Orleanists [76] had paid large sums to hire persons for the special purpose of destroying all traces of the poster during the night. At that time there was a passion for new organisational plans. Everyone was thinking only of how to invent a new system and to introduce it at once into the “state”, in spite of all existing conditions. The Provisional Government hit on the unfortunate idea of inventing the 45-centime tax to be imposed on the peasants. The workers thought that the 45 centimes would have the same effect as the milliard: a tax on landed property — and they abandoned the plan regarding the milliard. The Journal des Débats, as also the stupid National, strengthened them in this opinion, and in their leading articles they argued that real capital was the “earth”, original landed property, and that the Provisional Government had every right to levy this tax in favour of the workers. When the tax actually began to be levied, the peasants raised a terrible outcry against the urban workers. “What?”, said the peasants, “we are worse off than the workers. We have to borrow capital at high rates of interest in order to cultivate our land and to be able to feed our families, and, besides the taxes and interest paid to the capitalists, are we also to pay for the upkeep of the workers?”

The peasants turned away from the revolution because, instead of promoting their interests, it was detrimental to their interests. The workers realised how cunning a tax the reactionary party had suggested and only now the meaning of respect de la propriété became clear to them as well: the difference between formal and actual property became evident; it turned out that bourgeois capital had, so to speak, separated the land from the earth, that the formal owner of the land had become a vassal of the capitalist, and that the tax fell only on the indebted vassal. And when, in addition, the real owner of the land made the poor peasants even more conscious of his power, by withdrawing credit, by levying a distress etc., then the revolution became even more hateful to them. The legitimists, who as big landowners possessed great influence in the countryside, exploited this situation, and the intrigues of the royalists on behalf of Henry V then began. In these distressing circumstances for the revolution, May 15 [77] arrived. Barbès’ demand for the milliard, although advanced in a different form, struck the people once again like a flash of lightning and set them on fire. Even the June battle could not stamp out this thought of the milliard and now that the trial of Barbès has begun in Bourges,[78] this idea has increasingly gripped the peasants. To demand from the legitimists, who were their landlords and blood-suckers, the return of the milliard which they, the peasants, had raised — that was a more attractive bait than Napoleon. The agitation for the repayment of the milliard has already spread throughout France and if it were put forward for decision by universal suffrage, more votes would be cast for it than for Napoleon. The demand for the milliard is the first revolutionary measure to draw the peasants into the revolution. The petitions coming from all parts and the tone in which they are composed prove that this revolutionary measure has already struck deep roots. In Cluny people demand not only the return of the milliard, but also the 3 per cent interest which it had yielded since 1825. From the start of the trial in Bourges these petitions have piled up in such a way that the judges in Bourges as well as the entire reactionary party begin to feel uneasy. Agey, Ancey, Malain, St. Vibald, Vittaux and numerous other communes have today again sent petitions to the Chamber through their parliamentary representatives. Under the headline “Rappel du milliard”, the newspapers day by day print the names of fresh communes giving their adherence to this magnificent measure. Soon on all the walls, in all the communes, it will be possible to read: “Rappel du milliard”, and if the forthcoming elections are held under this slogan, we shall be interested to see what the capitalists, whether they are called legitimists, Orleanists or bourgeois, can counterpose to this milliard in order to push aside the democratic candidates who intend to enter the new Chamber with the dowry of this milliard in order to use it for the benefit of the peasants and workers. But that is still not all. Louis Napoleon has been promising the peasants everywhere not only the return of the money paid under the 45-centime tax, but a reduction of taxation in general. The petitions generally put forward the demand that the greater part of the milliard be used for this purpose. As for the legal reasons for the return of the milliard, these have already been stated immediately after the July revolution in 1830. At that time paying out the money still remaining from the milliard was suddenly discontinued. If what had already been paid out was not demanded back at that time, it was only because Louis Philippe himself and his family had received a very large part of this money.

Since it is impossible for the counter-revolutionary party to dispute the justice of this measure, it contents itself for the time being with calling attention to the difficulty of implementing it. The difficulty is said to lie in discovering the persons who have received more or less large sums from the compensation granted. But nothing could be easier. Let us begin with the large sums. At the head of the list is the Duke of Orleans (later Louis Philippe) and his sister, Madame Adelaide, with 50 million, and one had only to take these 50 million from the countless estates which the National Assembly recently restored to the royal family.

Prince de Condé received 30 million, and who inherited this sum?

The Duke d'Aumale and Madame de Feuchères. A good beginning, therefore, could be made with this! The royal family owns huge forests and estates in France, and the peasants are already beginning to calculate how much they have lost by the fact that these millions were not returned to them already in 1830.