cwellen at pen.k12.va.us
Sun Sep 22 19:44:24 MDT 1996
Greetings to all comrades from Wei En Lin
Hugh Rodwell poses the question:
On the other hand, what do people think about the Napoleonic wars? There
was nothing socialist about them, so were they good, bad or
Certainly this is a complex problem which merits volumes. But from the
point of view of those who wish to see an end to the exploitation of man
by man, I would offer the following.
The Great French Revolution, from 1789-1793, initiated possibilites for
the creation of a new society based on equality, fraternity and liberty.
As the struggle for power between the working classes and the nascent
bourgeoisie reached a fever pitch in 1793, the bourgeoisie managed to
get the upper hand. Thermidorean reaction set in; and yet the full head
of steam which the revolution had developed was impossible to derail.
After all, the task of liquidating all feudal structures remained. The
advent of Napoleon satisfied the contradictory needs of the main
historical forces present in the early 19th century in France and in
most of continental Europe. At first, the French goal in creating a
federative and unified Europe was progressive, from the point of view of
the French and European bourgeoisie. However, as Napoleon moved
forward, he made himself Emperor, and this was done in part to satisfy
the European need for some semblance of an aristocratic system of rule
in Europe. Most of the ruling circles in Europeans resisted the
destruction of all aristocratic priviledges. Napoleon was, perhaps in
the beginning, performing a clever sleight of hand, by which he hoped to
introduce anti-feudal reforms wrapped in an aristocratic package.
Gradually he became a tool of reactionary forces.
England was a force both for and against reaction in this struggle
called the "Napoleonic wars."
In so far as England maneuvered to oppose Napoleon's reforms on the
continent, England was reactionary. In so far as England prevented
Napoleon in his attempt impose a new imperial order on Europe, an order
which might have codified a semi-capitalist, semi-aristocratic order,
England was progressive. England's social, political, and legal
structures were more advanced than those of France at the time,
especially as many of the more progressive features of 1789 had been
The final result, after Napoleon's defeat in 1815, was the Congress of
Vienna, which should be characterized as reactionary in the main, since
it restored the social order which existed prior to Napoleon's conquest
of Continental Europe. Of course, the aristocatic order had been dealt
a severe blow by Napoleon's uprooting of the traditonal social
relations. England would have liked to stall all development in Europe,
so it could continue its rise to world dominance as the leading
capitalist power. England allied with the most reactionary forces in
Europe (such as the Turkish Ottoman Empire) in order to maintain the
'balance of power' which would favor its national economic interests.
However, a Napoleonic victory might have resulted in a more reactionary
social order throughout the whole of Europe. The destruction of English
parliamentary democracy could have dealt the whole of Europe a
monumental setback, strengthening a new coalition between the
aristocracy and the bourgeoisie against the working-class.
I am reminded of the words of a contemporary Chinese marxist historian,
who, when asked about the significance for modern history of the French
"It is still too early to tell."
Wei En Lin
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