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.

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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. Put very succinctly, it is that when ideologically-driven interests are fully engaged in the sort of conflict that pulls at the very fabric of society, becoming plays and ploys for power, carried out to implement this or that set of goals beyond mere power, all of the competing factions are at a disadvantage with respect to the party or person which fundamentally just aims after power.

The story that Marx narrates exemplifies these lessons. A word of warning, though: without some understanding of post-Revolutionary French politics and culture, it can be quite difficult to make sense out of some of the developments and parties within the story.

For example, the "Radicals" in French parlance are really those who are still trying to continue the several-decades-past program of the French Revolution, essentially a party of bourgeois interests, looking for political change, but focused on rights of property, commerce, production, anti-clerical and anti-monarchic, but certainly not "radical" in the sense that an American reader might expect. The situation as Marx depicts it is one in which competing parties, each driven by their own class-interests and class-consciousness -- which will keep them, of course, from engaging in anything more than alliances of expediency, unable to seek any genuinely common good together -- are engaged in struggle with each other, carried out partly through elections and the power that electoral victories bring, through their involvements with important institutions or significant portions of French society, through public opinion and at times through force.

Each group is willing -- indeed at times eager -- to use what power they have against their perceived opponents and for the remaking of a society in clear crisis along their ideal lines.

Put very bluntly, each group wants to gain power, in order to use power to attain ends which are themselves beyond power. They regard power instrumentally. And, this struggle opens the door for someone who sees things quite differently, Napoleon III -- who Marx depicts as interested in power for its own sake, not laboring under the sorts of restraints or illusions holding back the other players on the political stage.

Gaining the support of the Army, itself an venerable French institution with multiple roles, different ideological resonances, but also a keen conception of the need for some social order in the face of external threats, Bonaparte steers the different political factions against each other -- none of them realizing that what he intends not only does not align with their interests but ultimately entirely negates them -- preparing the way for his rise to complete power, a military-backed autocracy.

Bonaparte and the Army themselves were not immune to the temptation of historical mimesis Marx points out -- numerous enough parallels suggested themselves. You might say that one of the ways the various competing parties went wrong was in not seeing what historical analogy they were actually acting within -- they thought they were involved in a very different game than the one it turned out they were in fact playing.

A last note: One of my areas of work is study of totalitarian movements.


Coup of 18 Brumaire

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.


Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte



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