the two revolutions



Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx anticipate key elements to understand the internal dynamics of XNUMXth century revolutions.

 “After the victory, power itself fell indisputably into the hands of the working class. It can then be seen, once again, how such working-class power was still impossible twenty years after the time we have described here. On the one hand, France left Paris alone (...); On the other hand, the Commune allowed itself to be consumed by the sterile quarrel of the two parties into which it was divided, the Blanquists (majority) and the Proudhonists (minority), both without knowing what to do” (Friedrich Engels, Introduction to Class struggles in France).

Friedrich Engels was born on the 28th of November 1820 in Barmen, in the Rhine province of what was then the Kingdom of Prussia. The definition of Marx and Engels about the opening of an epoch of social revolution, that is, a period in which the objective conditions, in the sense of material, economic and social conditions, would be mature in the most advanced countries does not solve the problem of historical characterization , but only puts it.

In 1848, when writing the communist manifesto, it is inseparable from other evaluations, which contain central elements for understanding the theoretical-historical criteria that guide the political thinking of Marx and Engels on the temporalities and strategic hypotheses with which they work on the actuality of the revolution. And about the times, tasks and social subjects of the revolution that are expected to be on the horizon.

The most interesting thing is that they announce the imminence of two revolutions: because they work with the concept of epoch associated with that of stages, a subperiod within epochs, which corresponds to the overlapping of times determined by uneven economic and social development (the historical delays imposed by forces of social inertia); and also by the diversity of paths of political evolution (the bourgeois hesitation or resistance to plunge into the revolutionary path).

In the first place, we find a historical reflection on the model of the great French revolution, which would have revealed that there are tendencies internal to the dynamics of the revolutionary process, which develops permanently, and which will be translated into the 1850 Message to the League of Communists, in defense of the necessary uninterrupted radicalization of the democratic revolution into a proletarian revolution, that is, the perspective of permanent revolution:[I]

“But these demands cannot in any way satisfy the party of the proletariat. While the democratic petty bourgeois want to complete the revolution as quickly as possible, (...) our interests and our tasks consist in making the revolution permanent until the domination of the more or less possessing classes is eliminated, until the proletariat conquers Power. of the State, until the association of the proletarians develops, not only in one country, but in all the predominant countries of the world, to such proportions that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases, and until at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletariat. For us, it is not a question of reforming private property, but of abolishing it; it is not a question of attenuating class antagonisms, but of abolishing classes; it is not a question of improving the existing society, but of establishing a new one.”[ii]

There is, however, a controversy of historical interpretation about the expectations that Marx had when writing the Message in relation to the role that the bourgeoisie could or could not play in the revolutionary process.[iii] At least during the years of the 1848 revolution, they fed two perspectives that were interlinked: (a) the understanding that the struggle against absolutism and for democracy could only triumph with revolutionary methods, that is, the need for a revolution by democracy, which is analyzed in the Address, especially for Germany, but the criterion was the same for France, as the antechamber of the proletarian revolution, from which a program of struggle for two revolutions should be concluded, even with an abbreviated interval between both;[iv]

(b) the understanding that there is a historic challenge to be overcome: the construction of class political independence, a condition sine qua non so that the gear of radicalization that, roughly speaking, could be described as the “Jacobin formula”, does not result in a strangulation of the proletarian revolution, that is, in a new thermidor and, on the contrary, guarantees the continuous mobilization of the workers for their demands and shorten the interval between the two revolutions.[v]

France seemed to be the epicenter of the European revolutionary process, and in it Marx placed his greatest hopes during the process opened by 1848: “France is the country where class struggles, more than anywhere else, have always been brought to the forefront. ultimate consequences, and where, therefore, the changing political forms, within which their results are processed and summarized, take on clearer contours. Center of feudalism in the Middle Ages, classical country, after the Renaissance, of hereditary monarchy, France, in its great Revolution, destroyed feudalism and established the rule of the bourgeoisie with a characteristic of classical purity unmatched by any other country in Europe. Here, too, the struggle of the revolutionary proletariat against the ruling bourgeoisie takes on acute forms, unknown elsewhere. This is why Marx not only studied France's past history with a special predilection, but also closely followed its contemporary history.[vi]

The first historical prognosis was not confirmed. The second half of the XNUMXth century showed that, while the historical period for bourgeois revolutions in Europe was over, the conditions for anti-capitalist revolutions were not ripe. On the other hand, the civil war in the USA could rightly, not only because of the program but, above all, because of the social forces unleashed, and because of the methods, be interpreted as the second American revolution.

In the old continent, the revolution was not the first, nor the only path for the bourgeoisie, and the late transitions found a historical path of “reforms from above” to open the way.

But only the astonishing capacity for historical anticipation, the rigor of the method that allows for visionary forecasts, together with a theoretical audacity, which is always alert to new developments in reality, can explain why Marx and Engels, in the mid-XNUMXth century, prefigured some of the elements that will be key to understanding the internal dynamics of the revolutions of the XNUMXth century. XX.

*Valerio Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo).


[I] As today the expression “permanent revolution” is irreversibly associated with the political tradition inspired by the thought of Léon Trotsky, some clarifications are indispensable, to avoid confusion. The concept of “permanent revolution” was current in leftist circles at the end of the XNUMXs, and its origin, contrary to a recurring historical myth, was not Blanquist. More than a historical reference, it was a slogan that was widely used and very widely accepted, beyond communist circles, even among some democrats, apparently as a legacy of contemporary literature of the French Revolution. Even so , its use was not just a literary resource at the end of Message, because it opposed at least two other strategic conceptions: (a) that of the radical democrats (in France, the Ledru-Rollin group, closest heirs to the Jacobin tradition) who in some way defended a social republic for the future, but which they were committed body and soul to the perspective that the liberal bourgeoisie would come to power through a revolution and consolidate the democratic republic for an entire historical period; (b) another was the position of those who denied the need or even the possibility of a bourgeois revolution, even in a first democratic phase of the revolutionary process, such as the Blanquists, and who defended the imminence, without mediations, of the communist revolution. Below is the last paragraph of the famous Message to the League: “But the greatest contribution to the final victory will be made by the German workers themselves, becoming aware of their class interests, occupying a position independent of the party as soon as possible and preventing the hypocritical phrases of the petty-bourgeois democrats from alienating them for even a moment. the task of organizing the party of the proletariat with complete independence. Its war cry must be: permanent revolution” (MARX, Karl and ENGELS, Friedrich. Message from the Central Committee to the League of Communists. In Selected Works. São Paulo, Alfa-Omega, p. 92).

[ii]. MARX, Karl and ENGELS, Friedrich. Message from the Central Committee to the League of Communists. In Selected Works. São Paulo, Alfa-Omega, p. 86.

[iii] It seems quite reasonable to conclude that the attitude of Marx and Engels towards the bourgeois protagonism in the democratic revolution was changing, and that the initial expectations, which were important, later gave way to a profound pessimism. The very serious study by Brossat moves in this direction and differentiates Germany from France: “It is clear, then, that Marx and Engels, in the periods of revolutionary crisis, clearly perceived the scheme of the transcription of the unfinished bourgeois revolution into a proletarian revolution, is to decide, the recovery by the proletariat of the antorch of the revolutionary radicalism of the weakened hands of the bourgeoisie. But this scheme and the practical perspectives that derive from it -the absolute need for political and organizational independence of the working class, specific slogans, separate candidates for the elections, autonomous armament, etc.- are defined according to the historical need, in relation to an indefinite and indefinable period, but not with respect to the actuality of this overcoming. Even though they accurately define the profile of the transcription of the bourgeois revolution into a proletarian revolution on the scale of the historical period, Marx and Engels are involved in the atolladero of the revolution that is coming to an end, and in this sense their permanentist conceptions constitute in the essential example of art of anticipación.It is what teaches, on the other hand, the evolution of its attitude in 1848. At the beginning of the revolution, as editors of the New Gaceta del Rin, they led the German proletariat to observe the greatest prudence, and he advised to avoid everything that could break the “single front” with the bourgeoisie, which then, contrary to the French, was still capable, following them, of playing a revolutionary role. The proletariat forms a united front with the bourgeoisie while the bourgeoisie plays a revolutionary role. There where the bourgeoisie is already in power, the fight must be unleashed against it. In Germany, this fight cannot or should never start. The situation is very different in France and England…” (BROSSAT, Alain. At the origins of the permanent revolution: the political thinking of young Trotsky. Madrid, Siglo XXI, 1976, p.16).

[iv] In the fragment that follows, we have a reconstitution made by Engels himself, at the end of his life, about the expectations that he and Marx fed during the process: “When the February Revolution broke out, we were all under the fascination of previous historical experience, mainly that relating to France, with regard to the way in which we conceived the conditions and development of revolutionary movements. Was it not precisely from France, which since 1789 had dominated the whole of European history, that the signal of general subversion had once again departed? It was, therefore, logical and inevitable that our conceptions of the nature and course of the “social” revolution proclaimed in Paris in February 1848, the revolution of the proletariat, were strongly colored by the memory of the models of 1789 and 1830. And, above all, when the insurrection in Paris resounded, (...) when after June the first great struggle for power between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie took place in Paris, when the very victory of its class shook the bourgeoisie of all countries to such an extent that it once again took refuge in the arms of the monarcho-feudal reaction, which was just about to be overthrown, we could have no doubt, in the circumstances of that time, that the great decisive combat had begun, that it was necessary to fight it in a single long revolutionary period and full of alternatives, but which could only end in the definitive victory of the proletariat.” (ENGELS, Friedrich. Introduction to Class struggles in France. In MARX and ENGELS. Selected Works. São Paulo, Alfa-Omega, p. 97-8).

[v] In the assessment of Engels that we present below, there are several elements that deserve attention. Firstly, an assessment of the dynamics of the permanence of the revolution based on the premise that the bourgeois revolutions were minority revolutions that needed, yes or yes, to mobilize the majorities for their project of conquest of power, to ensure the defeat of ancient regime, but once victory was assured, they got rid of their most radical leaders, and subjectively supported by the depletion of the revolutionary energies of the people, who, after the phase of greater enthusiasm, plunged into an interval of tiredness or depression, and objectively in the historical need of the progressiveness of their domain, managed to consolidate the vital conquests of the first moderate phase, and revert the radical concessions of the second Between the objective elements (the historical necessity) and the subjective ones (the fatigue of the popular mobilization and the excesses of the radicals) Engels defines the first ones as decisive, and the second as “dust of history”, or in his words “cries of betrayal or bad luck”. Later we will see how this dialectic of causalities is inverted, when, in the same Introduction, Engels refers to the new difficulties he foresees in the face of proletarian revolutions, the majority revolutions, but not for that reason, a simpler historical passage: “After the first great success, the victorious minority used to split: one of the halves was satisfied with the results obtained; the other wanted to go further, presenting new claims that, at least in part, corresponded to the real or apparent interest of the great popular mass. these more radical demands also imposed themselves in certain cases, but often only for a moment; the more moderate party regained supremacy and the last conquests were again lost in whole or in part; the vanquished then shouted that there had been treason or blamed the defeat on bad luck. Actually, however, the facts almost always happened like this: the conquests of the first victory were only assured by the second victory of the more radical party; once that was achieved, and therefore achieved what was needed, for the moment the radical elements left the scene and their successes followed. All the revolutions of modern times, beginning with the great English Revolution of the seventeenth century, have exhibited these characteristics which seemed inseparable from any revolutionary struggle. They also seemed applicable to the struggles of the proletariat for its emancipation…” (ENGELS, Friedrich. Introduction to “Class struggles in France”. In MARX and ENGELS. Selected Works. São Paulo, Alfa-Omega, p. 97-8).

[vi] ENGELS, Friedrich. Preface to the third edition of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Translated by Teresa de Sousa. Coimbra, Our time, 1971.

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