Friends and Brothers,
I feel the need, before leaving your mountains, to express to you once again in writing my profound gratitude for the fraternal reception you have accorded me. Is it not a wonderful thing that a man, a Russian, a one-time noble, completely unknown to you when he arrived here, found himself surrounded by hundreds of friends almost the very moment that he set foot in your country? Such miracles no longer happen these days, except at the hands of the International Workingmen's Association, and that for one simple reason: the International alone represents today the historical life, the creative power of the social and political future. Those who are united by a living body of thought, by a will and a great passion held in common, are truly brothers, even if they do not realize it themselves.
There was a time when the bourgeoisie, endowed with the same power of life and exclusively constituting the historical class, offered the same spectacle of fraternity and union, in its acts as well as its thoughts. It was the finest hour of this class, ever respectable to be sure, but since that time impotent, stupid and sterile; it was the epoch of its most energetic development. Such was the case before the great revolution of 1793; such was still the case, although to a much lesser degree, before the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. In those days the bourgeoisie had a world to conquer, a place to take up in society, and, organized for battle, intelligent, audacious, feeling itself strong because it bore the principle of right for everyone, it was endowed with an irresistible omnipotence. It alone made three revolutions against the monarchy, the nobility and the clergy united.
In this epoch the bourgeoisie too had created an international association, a universal and formidable one, Freemasony. It would be a substantial error to judge the Freemasonry of the last century, or even that of the first part of the present century, by what it is today. The bourgeois institution par excellence, Freemasonry, in its development, in its growing power at first and later in its decadence, represented in a way the development, power and moral and intellectual decadence of the bourgeoisie. Today, fallen to the sad position of a senile old intriguer, it is a useless, sometimes malevolent and always ridiculous nullity, whereas, before 1830 and especially before 1793, having gathered together at its core, with very few exceptions, all the minds of the elite, the most ardent hearts, the proudest spirits, the most audacious personalities, it had constituted an active, powerful, and truly beneficial institution. It was the energetic incarnation and implementation of the humanitarian ideal of the eighteenth century. All those great principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, of reason and human justice, elaborated theoretically at first by the philosophy of that century, became in the hands of the Freemasons practical dogmas and the foundations of a new moral and political program, the soul of a gigantic enterprise of demolition and reconstruction. In that epoch, Freemasonry was nothing less than the universal conspiracy of the revolutionary bourgeoisie against the feudal, monarchical and divine tyranny. It was the International of the bourgeoisie.
It is known that all the principal actors of the first revolution were Freemasons, and that when this revolution broke out it was able to find, thanks to Freemasonry, friends and devoted and powerful collaborators in all other countries, a fact that was assuredly of great help in its victories. But it is equally clear that the triumph of the revolution killed Freemasonry, for once the revolution had largely fulfilled the aspirations of the bourgeoisie, and had enabled it to displace the old nobility, the bourgeoisie went on quite naturally, after having been an exploited and oppressed class for such a long time, to become in its turn a privileged class, a class of exploiters, oppressive, conservative and reactionary in nature, the most reliable friend and supporter of the State. After the coup d'Etat of the first Napoleon, Freemasonry became an imperial institution throughout a large part of the European continent.
The Restoration resuscitated it somewhat. Seeing itself threatened by the return of the Old Regime, forced to concede to the coalition of Church and nobility the place that it had conquered through the first revolution, the bourgeoisie became of necessity revolutionary once again. But what a difference between this reheated revolutionarism and the ardent and powerful revolutionarism that had inspired it at the end of the last century! In the old days the bourgeoisie had been of good faith, had believed seriously and naively in the rights of man, had been driven along and inspired by the genius of demolition and reconstruction, had been in full possession of its intelligence and at the height of its powers. It had as yet no fears that an abyss might be separating it from the people; it felt itself, believed itself, to be the people's representative, and it really was. But the Thermidorean reaction and the Conspiracy of Babeuf deprived it of this notion forever. The abyss that separates the toiling people from the exploiting bourgeoisie, from the dominant class that takes everything for itself, has opened, and it will take nothing less than the entire body of the bourgeoisie, their whole privileged existence, to fill it in again. Furthermore, it was no longer the bourgeoisie in its entirety, but only a part of it that returned, after the Restoration, to the task of conspiring against the clerical and aristocratic regime, and against the legitimate monarchs.
In my next letter, I shall, if you will be so good as to permit me, develop my ideas on this last phase of constitutional liberalism and bourgeois carbonarism.