What I particularly like about the mind of Marx seen in this essay is that history, economics, struggle, etc. There is some room for individual decisions and motivations, for the person just as much as a political community to be a place of competing interests which have to make their claims. If the first is the one just noted, the second is that it is inherent to human beings and culture that when they are launching forth into something new, something radical, something revolutionary, they inevitably grope around for historical analogies, idealized precedents, dramatic roles, as it were, within which to locate themselves, their own actions and intentions, their rivals, allies, or enemies, even the basic situation being faced. The third lesson is one about liberal democracies, the workings of politics in them, and a particular danger always lurking unrealized or in our own time, usually misfigured in the play of power and ideology.
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While revolutionary turning points such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence in , the storming of the Bastille in , the Emancipation Proclamation of , or even the Paris Commune of retain some place in popular consciousness, the same cannot be said of the events of — the uprising in Vienna, the June Days in Paris, the Siege of Rome, or the nationalist revolt in Hungary. Particularly for Marxists, however, the revolutions of have huge significance.
For one thing, these upheavals represented the first examples of independent working-class political action in European history—they marked the moment at which something resembling the modern socialist movement began to take shape. Secondly, the revolutions of gave Karl Marx and Frederick Engels their first major opportunity to put their revolutionary theories into practice—both men participated as central actors in the German wing of the revolutionary movement.
Finally, and most importantly for the purposes of this review, the revolution of in France gave Marx his first chance to analyze and write about the development of the revolutionary movement using the method of historical materialism. While this review will focus on the latter text, readers are strongly recommended to read the two books together. The origins of revolution Europe was experiencing major economic and social change in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The great bourgeois revolutions—the Dutch Revolt of the sixteenth century, the English Revolution of the s, the American War of Independence, and the French Revolution of the s—had swept away the remnants of the feudal order and cleared the way for industrial and commercial development across the Atlantic World. The spread of factories and textile mills had transformed urban life in cities like London, Manchester, Paris, Lyon, New York, and Berlin. Technological innovations such as the railroad, the steamboat, and the canal had revolutionized transportation and created national markets for manufactured goods.
The industrialization of Europe also brought social dislocation and economic misery in its wake. Conditions were appalling in the working-class districts of the new industrial cities. The potato blight, which first began to affect crops in , created a devastating famine across Europe in Later that year, the end of the railroad boom created a major panic in the British financial markets, leading to a sharp recession and the closing of many factories and mills.
The economic turbulence spread to continental Europe and produced an epidemic of bankruptcies in major cities like Paris.
Thousands of workers lost their jobs, with perhaps one in three Parisians facing unemployment. The undemocratic character of many European governments magnified anger at the economic misery sweeping Europe.
The bourgeois revolutions had left much of their work undone. Germany remained divided into a host of squabbling principalities and petty dukedoms. The Austrian Empire continued to rule over a multitude of oppressed nationalities in Central and Southern Europe. Even France, the epicenter of bourgeois radicalism in the eighteenth century, grumbled under the rule of a monarchy. From revolution to reaction Economic and political discontent came to a head in France in early Since the previous summer, French citizens had circumvented a ban on political demonstrations by organizing a series of banquets at which diners could voice their criticisms of the regime.
Against the banqueters stood Louis Philippe, the so-called July Monarch. Louis Philippe had come to the throne as the result of a popular uprising in , and presided over a constitutional monarchy for almost two decades.
Despite the liberal aspirations of his supporters, Louis Philippe had turned out to be a staunch opponent of democracy, and had restricted the franchise so that it included just 1 percent of the French population by Faced with the growth of dissent, the July Monarch chose to ban the political banquets in February of The revolution began on February The spark came when French soldiers fired on a crowd of Parisian protesters, killing fifty-two.
Citizens from all classes of Parisian society flooded into the streets and, in homage to the French revolutionary tradition, began to build barricades. When huge crowds began to approach the royal palace, Louis Philippe chose to abandon his throne and flee to England.
The July Monarchy had fallen at the first serious challenge from below. With a major social and political crisis convulsing the nation, the republic would have two central goals: expanding the democratic elements of the government, and providing aid to the thousands of unemployed workers.
On March 2, the new government declared the advent of universal suffrage, adding nine million French men to the voter rolls but continuing the exclusion of women from the right to vote. A relaxation of censorship and repression allowed for the flowering of a new political culture, with hundreds of newspapers and political clubs springing up all across France. The system of National Workshops, or government-run businesses, expanded to employ tens of thousands of French workers and guarantee the right to work.
But the Second Republic faced a growing polarization in French society. On the one hand, throughout the spring and early summer, the working classes of Paris mobilized to attempt to push the government of the Second Republic to the left. On the other hand, however, French business owners and farmers were beginning to resent the increased taxation necessary for the National Workshops, and had begun to worry that the current government was incapable of restoring order.
Conservative and moderate candidates triumphed in the elections of April , and began to shift the government of the republic along a more right-wing course.
On June 23, the government announced the closure of the National Workshops, and immediately deployed troops to the most rebellious working-class neighborhoods of Paris.
The three days of fighting that followed came to be known as the June Days. Although workers and artisans resisted heroically, they fought without any allies and suffered defeat at the hands of the National Guard. The overall trend in French politics remained to the right, however. In particular, the election of Louis Bonaparte as president in December of signaled the growing conservatism of the French bourgeoisie. The ensuing debate over the nature of the French Constitution led to a set of laws that were much more conservative than might have been expected—leaving the educational establishment in the hands of the Catholic clergy, for example.
In this context, the elections for the Legislative Assembly in May of gave a majority to the conservative Party of Order, albeit one that would face strong opposition from a sizable minority of radical Republican and Social-Democratic legislators, known as the Montagne faction. The struggle between the radicals and conservatives in the Legislative Assembly came to a head the following month, when representatives of the Montagne organized a peaceful demonstration, leading to the arrest and expulsion from the Assembly of their leaders.
Despite its victory over the Montagne, the Party of Order became increasingly subservient to Louis Bonaparte, and in November , the president felt strong enough to dismiss the royalist ministry and appoint a government of men loyal only to him. At this point the Party of Order might have attempted to mobilize all the pro-democracy forces against the growing executive power of President Bonaparte.
In fact it did just the opposite. In March , elections were held to replace the radical leaders who had been expelled from the Legislative Assembly the previous June. When Parisian voters handed a sweeping victory to the Montagne and Social Democrats, the Party of Order moved to abolish universal suffrage, disenfranchising 30 percent of the French electorate. From this point on, the Party of Order began to collapse as a political force. Having lost its majority in the Legislative Assembly, it was forced to rely on a coalition with the radicals of the Montagne—the very force it had just been in conflict with.
The weakness of the conservative parliamentarians allowed Louis Bonaparte to consolidate his power over the course of the summer and fall of , wresting control of the army away from the Assembly and appointing an even more conservative and sycophantic ministry. In October, he undermined the Legislative Assembly still further by declaring his intention to restore universal male suffrage. Finally, on December 2, , Bonaparte carried out a coup and dispersed the Legislative Assembly—he would soon go on to declare himself emperor of France.
The very title of his book provides one important clue to his analysis of these events. During the first French Revolution, which began in , the revolutionaries got rid of the Roman calendar and renamed the months of the year. Intended to symbolize a complete break with the old, pre-revolutionary way of doing things, the new names were in use from —the most radical stage of the revolution—to He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
As he notes on the first page: Just when [people] seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries, and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language…. The revolution of knew nothing better to do than to parody, now , now the revolutionary tradition of to The politics of social classes In order to answer these questions, Marx studied the events in question with a method he called historical materialism.
From the mids, Marx and his collaborator Frederick Engels had been developing a theoretical framework for understanding the development of human societies. Hegel, they insisted that the material conditions of life, and not ideas, drove the development of human society; in contrast to the materialist philosophy of German thinkers such as Ludwig Feuerbach, they insisted that humans were capable of altering the world around them.
As Frederick Engels wrote in the s: Marx…first discovered the great law of motion of history, the law according to which all historical struggles, whether they proceed in the political, religious, philosophical or some other ideological domain, are in fact only the more or less clear expression of struggles of social classes, and that the existence and thereby the collisions, too, between these classes are in turn conditioned by the degree of development of their economic position, by the mode of their production and of their exchange determined by it.
This law, which has the same significance for history as the law of the transformation of energy has for natural science—this law gave him here, too, the key to an understanding of the history of the Second French Republic. He put his law to the test on these historical events, and even after thirty-three years we must still say that it has stood the test brilliantly.
On the face of it, the events of — can seem pretty confusing, especially for readers unfamiliar with the basic contours of French history. Marx wants to know the social and economic interests that these different factions, parties, and individuals represent, and how the conflicts between them reflect the struggles taking place at the base of society. The entire class creates and forms them out of its material foundations and out of the corresponding social relations. The single individual, who derives them through tradition and upbringing, may imagine that they form the real motives and the starting point of his activity….
In historical struggles one must distinguish…the phrases and fancies of parties from their real organism and their real interests, their conception of themselves from their reality. Marx had a love-hate relationship with this class. One of the major goals of the book is to explain why the vanguard of the European bourgeoisie could, just a couple of generations after its heroic role in one revolution, do everything in its power to limit the spread and scope of another revolution.
Marx identifies three main factions within the French bourgeoisie: the big landlords, the industrialists, and the finance capitalists. Two of these factions, the landlords and industrialists, form antagonistic wings of the Party of Order—the landlords favoring a return to the Bourbon dynasty of Louis XVI and operating under the name of Legitimists, and the industrialists supporting the Orleans dynasty of Louis Philippe.
For Marx, the political rule of the bourgeoisie is in a certain sense at its strongest and most secure under a democratic republic. He argues that the democratic republic allows the different factions of the capitalist class to work out their differences and disagreements in a peaceful fashion and to put the interests of the class as a whole above the sectional interests of any particular group of capitalists.
Marx expresses this phenomenon with a neat dialectical formulation: The republic, true enough, makes their political rule complete, but at the same time undermines its social foundation, since they must now confront the subjugated classes and contend against them without mediation, without the concealment afforded by the crown, without being able to divert the national interest by their subordinate struggles among themselves and with the monarchy.
In the June days of , it was drowned in the blood of the Paris proletariat, but it haunts the subsequent acts of the drama like a ghost. According to Marx, this is why the bourgeoisie was willing to tolerate the dictatorship of Louis Bonaparte.
All of its factions were worried that continuing political tumult would only disturb the conditions necessary for the serious business of business. Between the capitalists and the workers sat the petty bourgeoisie, represented by the democratic republicans of the Montagne and the reformists of the Social Democrats. The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people.
On the one hand it had, through the National Guard, participated in the bloody repression of the working class in June On the other hand, it found itself locked in parliamentary struggle with the Party of Order and the bourgeoisie. Its answer to this conundrum was the futile semi-insurrection of June , when the petty bourgeois elements of the National Guard staged protests against the government but neglected to take their weapons with them. Their movement was thus defeated without striking a blow.
Bonapartism Thus the dictatorship of Louis Bonaparte did not represent the dictatorship of any of these classes—the bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, or proletariat—but rather represented the fact that none of them were able to impose their rule on society. His rule represented the growing size and power of the state machinery in France and its apparent separation from, and domination over, all of French society. Marx described the massive growth of the state, and in particular, the executive power, as a result of the historical development of French society.
Nevertheless, this great machine very clearly served the interests of a definite class—the rising bourgeoisie. The contending factions of this class came to see access to and control over the state machine as one of the most important spoils of victory in their political squabbles. By acquiescing to the rise of Bonaparte, and surrendering the executive power to him with barely a fight, the French bourgeoisie had demonstrated that it was unfit to exercise its political authority over society.
As Marx noted: Only under the second Bonaparte does the state seem to have made itself completely independent. The peasantry Ultimately, however, Marx understood that Bonaparte did derive his support from a distinct class in French society—the small-holding peasantry.
Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte
Learn how and when to remove this template message After Habsburg-controlled Austria declared war on France on 12 March , emergency measures were adopted and the pro-war Jacobin faction triumphed in the April election. As the prospect of invasion receded, the Jacobins feared a revival of the pro-peace Royalist faction. Probably the weightiest possible obstacles to a coup were in the army. Some generals, such as Jean-Baptiste Jourdan , honestly believed in republicanism; others, such as Jean Bernadotte , believed themselves capable of governing France. Napoleon worked on the feelings of all, keeping secret his own intentions.
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Coup of 18 Brumaire