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The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Paperback – 4 Dec 2008
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From the Back Cover
Considered one of Marx's most profound monographs and a brilliant history of the proletariat, this 1852 essay--which originally appeared in Die Revolution magazine--is Marx's commentary on the 1851 French coup by Louis Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, overthrowing the constitution of 1848. Most famous as the source of Marx's dictum that history occurs twice, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce," this work is better known to historians as a vital early discussion of the politics of fascism in the 20th century, which Bonaparte's coup anticipated. Students of Marx's philosophy and readers in modern political movements will find this an enlightening read. Prussian philosopher KARL MARX (1818-1883) was a social scientist, historian, and political revolutionary. He is indisputably the most influential socialist thinker to emerge in the 19th century. Although scholars largely ignored him in his own lifetime, his social, economic, and political ideas gained rapid acceptance in the socialist movement after his death.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Described as one of the most influential figures in human history, Karl Marx was a German philosopher and economist who wrote extensively on the benefits of socialism and the flaws of free-market capitalism. His most notable works, Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto (the latter of which was co-authored by his collaborator Friedrich Engels), have since become two of history s most important political and economic works. Marxismthe term that has come to define the philosophical school of thought encompassing Marx s ideas about society, politics and economicswas the foundation for the socialist movements of the twentieth century, including Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism. Despite the negative reputation associated with some of these movements and with Communism in general, Marx s view of a classless socialist society was a utopian one which did not include the possibility of dictatorship. Greatly influenced by the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, Marx wrote in radical newspapers from his young adulthood, and can also be credited with founding the philosophy of dialectical materialism. Marx died in London in 1883 at the age of 64. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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This work was first published in 1852, within a year of the coup d’état of December 02, 1851, orchestrated by Louis Bonaparte, which would end the Second Republic, and usher in the Second Empire, of which he would be the “emperor,” for almost two decades. It has been a tumultuous three years since the revolutions of 1848 had swept over Europe. Fictionally, this period in French history is depicted so well in Gustave Flaubert’s L'Éducation Sentimentale (French Edition). Marx’s title is derived from the actions of Louis Napoleon’s uncle, the “original” Napoleon, who ended the period of the French revolution on the 18th of Brumaire, Year VIII (of the French revolutionary calendar, which corresponds with November 09, 1799). Effectively, Louis Napoleon did the same, in terms of the Second Republic, of which he was President, ending it on December 02, 1851. Marx commences his work with a famous aphorism that I have heard numerous times, but never with attribution: “Hegel says somewhere that that great historical facts and personages recur twice. He forgot to add: ‘Once as tragedy, and again as farce’. Caussidiere for Danton… the Nephew for the Uncle. The identical caricature marks also the conditions under which the second edition of the eighteenth Brumaire is issued.”
Polemic, political analysis of the conflicts among the economic and social classes, and newscast. Marx’s work is all of that, and more. The “newscast” portions make it a bit difficult for the modern reader. Various (now obscure) French politicians are mentioned, with the assumption the reader will know who they are, and what role they played. Marx weaves back and forth across time, often in a disjointed way. He does recap the events of those three years towards the end of his work. Essentially, the proletariat led the revolution of 1848. All parties united against them, and they were shelved. Exclusive power of the bourgeois republic lasted only from June 24 to Dec. 10, 1848, when Louis Bonaparte was elected President, ending the dictatorship of Caviagnac. And for the next three years he would plot the Republic’s destruction, playing off the “Orleanists” and the “Legitimists”, against each other and the bourgeois. Bonaparte creates the “Society of December 10”, who are “…rag pickers, scissors grinders, tinkers, beggars – in short, that whole undefined, dissolute, kicked-about mass…” He is “Chief of the Slum-Proletariat” and would use it to: “…forestalled or dispersed counter-demonstrations.” A forerunner of the “brown shirts.”
It would be the small farmers who would provide the backbone of Napoleon’s support. Marx analyzes their isolation and self-sufficiency, a “class” of common interests. Ultimately it would not be a story that would end well, as the rule of the aristocracy of finance would be reasserted. With a Marxian flair: “the mortgage indebtedness that burdens the soil of France imposes upon the French farmer class… slavery of capital… has transformed the mass of the French nation into troglodytes…the newly instituted allotment… has become a vampire that sucks out its heart-blood and its very brain, and throws it into the alchemist’s pot of capital.” And the aristocracy of finance love him since: “The President is now recognized as the guardian of order on every Stock Exchange of Europe.”
Ancient history? Not exactly… for as Jean-Baptiste Karr fittingly first put it, ironically in this same period, 1849: “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” It was Adolphe Thiers who contemptuously thought that Napoleon is a cretin “whom we will lead by the nose.” Hum! Or, ripped from a fairly recent headline: “Never have lackeys been chased from service with less ceremony than Bonaparte did his ministers.” Hum, redux. The “blind submission to the will of the counter-revolution, which revealed itself as law.” And if the system is placed under just a bit of stress, say, the next “terrorist attack,” voila: “The industrial bourgeois cheer the destruction of their own parliament,” as always, only a “temporary” measure to get us through the crisis.
Sometimes it is difficult to end on an up-note, so why bother? For as Marx said: “The traditions of all the dead generations burden, like a nightmare, the minds of the living.” Overall, 4-stars.
This book was first published in 1852. (The "18th Brumaire" simply means the date, which was November 9, 1799 on our calendars.) In it, Karl Marx (1818-1888) gives a detailed and specific application of his "historical materialism" to a concrete subject. Marx begins by saying that "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please... but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past." (Pg. 15)
He charges that in the then-current situation, the inscription of the French Revolution (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) should be replaced by "the unambiguous words: Infantry, Calvary, Artillery!" (Pg. 59)
He comments that "The bourgeois (i.e., capitalists, the ruling class) and, above all, the bourgeois inflated into a statesman, supplements his practical meanness by theoretical extravagance." (Pg. 85) He charges that France seems "to have escaped the despotism of a class only to fall back beneath the despotism of an individual," and that "all classes, equally impotent and equally mute, fall on their knees before the rifle butt." (Pg. 121)
With pretended modesty, he says that what he did that was "new" was to prove (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and (3) that this dictatorship only constitutes the transition to the "abolition of all classes and to a classless society." (Pg. 139)
This book is an important one in the development of Marxist thought.