Although he benefitted from them, the position of Trotsky with respect to organ-grinders is not clear. Marx on the other hand leaves no room for doubt. He opposed Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s populist 1851 coup, which restored universal male suffrage, so he claimed in The Eighteenth Brumaire that the considerable popular support for Bonaparte came, not from the proletariat, but from what he called the lumpenproletariat – basically, the poor and workers who didn’t agree with him:
As in 1849 so during ’s parliamentary recess — the party of Order had broken up into its separate factions, each occupied with its own restoration intrigues, which had obtained fresh nutriment through the death of Louis Philippe. The Legitimist king, Henry V, had even nominated a formal ministry which resided in Paris and in which members of the Permanent Commission held seats. Bonaparte, in his turn, was therefore entitled to make tours of the French departments, and according to the disposition of the town he favored with his presence, now more or less covertly, now more or less overtly, to divulge his own restoration plans and canvass votes for himself. On these processions, which the great official Moniteur and the little private Moniteurs of Bonaparte naturally had to celebrate as triumphal processions, he was constantly accompanied by persons affiliated with the Society of December 10. This society dates from the year 1849. On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème; from this kindred element Bonaparte formed the core of the Society of December 10. A “benevolent society” – insofar as, like Bonaparte, all its members felt the need of benefiting themselves at the expense of the laboring nation. This Bonaparte, who constitutes himself chief of the lumpenproletariat, who here alone rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, who recognizes in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally, is the real Bonaparte, the Bonaparte sans phrase. An old, crafty roué, he conceives the historical life of the nations and their performances of state as comedy in the most vulgar sense, as a masquerade in which the grand costumes, words, and postures merely serve to mask the pettiest knavery. Thus his expedition to Strasbourg, where the trained Swiss vulture played the part of the Napoleonic eagle. For his irruption into Boulogne he puts some London lackeys into French uniforms. They represent the army. In his Society of December 10 he assembles ten thousand rascals who are to play the part of the people as Nick Bottom [A character in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. – Ed.] that of the lion. At a moment when the bourgeoisie itself played the most complete comedy, but in the most serious manner in the world, without infringing any of the pedantic conditions of French dramatic etiquette, and was itself half deceived, half convinced of the solemnity of its own performance of state, the adventurer, who took the comedy as plain comedy, was bound to win. Only when he has eliminated his solemn opponent, when he himself now takes his imperial role seriously and under the Napoleonic mask imagines he is the real Napoleon, does he become the victim of his own conception of the world, the serious buffoon who no longer takes world history for a comedy but his comedy for world history. What the national ateliers were for the socialist workers, what the Gardes mobile were for the bourgeois republicans, the Society of December 10 was for Bonaparte, the party fighting force peculiar to him. On his journeys the detachments of this society packing the railways had to improvise a public for him, stage popular enthusiasm, roar Vive l’Empereur, insult and thrash republicans, under police protection, of course. On his return journeys to Paris they had to form the advance guard, forestall counter-demonstrations or disperse them. The Society of December 10 belonged to him, it was his work, his very own idea. Whatever else he appropriates is put into his hands by the force of circumstances; whatever else he does, the circumstances do for him or he is content to copy from the deeds of others. But Bonaparte with official phrases about order, religion, family, and property in public, before the citizens, and with the secret society of the Schufterles and Spiegelbergs, the society of disorder, prostitution, and theft, behind him — that is Bonaparte himself as the original author, and the history of the Society of December 10 is his own history.
More positive images from other revolutions? If you were a Marxist dictator, would you send us to the gulag or dedicate a statue to us?
- The secret life of organ-grinders
Speculation in French revolutionary fiduciary currency, the murder of the great British ballad-singer, & a revised date (1802) for the start of the supposedly post-Napoleonic emigration of Italian puppeteers & organ-grinders
- I know where your house lives, but sometimes the front door’s a struggle
Featuring Abel and Marguerite Chevalley and their Concise Oxford French Dictionary.
- A sensational 1810 Parisian fire scene on top of an 1840s Russian barrel organ
But who are the three noseless Austrian ladies?
- Transvestite barrel organ dancers in 1930s Whitechapel and the 1860s London West End
With acrobats, clowns, and Doris and Thisbe, goddesses of wind.