The theater of politics



Considerations on “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, by Karl Marx

“Stage” is the right word for politics, this alienated representation of real life. In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx begins the drama with a macabre parade of dead and undead characters (ghosts and specters) compared in their greatness and smallness to soon give way to the script that will be followed: “Hegel observes in one of his works that all facts and characters of great importance in the history of the world are repeated, so to speak, twice. And he forgot to add: the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce. Caussidière by Danton, Louis Blanc by Robespierre, the Mountain of 1845-1851 by the Mountain of 1793-1795, the nephew by the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances accompanying the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire!”[I]

They will then be called to the stage Luther with the mask of the apostle Paul and the heroes of the Bourgeois Revolution (although there is nothing heroic in the bourgeoisie): Camile Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Napoleon, disguised as the Brutus, the Gracchi, the Publiques, the tribunes, the senators and Caesar himself, in addition to Cromwell.

The bourgeois spokespeople who intervene in the next scene are economists and thinkers: Say, Cousin, Royer-Collard, Benjamin Constant and Guizot. At the head of all Louis XVIII, the “bacon head” (Speckkopf). This is no longer a continuation of the legitimist tradition but the king of a Restoration in which political regression is just the mask of bourgeois propriety when Jacobin characters become unnecessary. Only later will new, even more mediocre characters take the stage. In the preamble, however, a new actor will emerge, indomitable and, therefore, will have to be removed from the play, hanging around the theater like a ghost until almost the end of the performance: the proletariat.

The characters are followed by the class procession. Let us remember that in the preface to the second edition Marx cites two authors. Victor Hugo, by dwarfing Napoleon III, inadvertently lends him personal power. Proudhon, on the other hand, sees the coup as the result of a previous historical development. It makes history “objective”, that is, tied to events as explanatory units in themselves, even if linked by a common thread. Marx intends to create a history of class struggles and their representations. He wanted to uncover the conditions under which drama is played out by mediocre characters. Therefore, he dedicates himself to defining the classes that make up the game of politics: financial bourgeoisie, industrial bourgeoisie, peasantry, petty bourgeoisie, proletariat and lumpenproletariat. It is only by conceiving classes that Marx can strip the characters of their theatrical fantasies.

In fact, from the beginning the reader/spectator is faced with a movement of apprehension of politics that cannot dispense with the indices of theatrical activity: spirit (Mind/Spirit), parody (Parodieren), spectrum (spook), Phantasmagoria (Phantasmagorie), trickster, magician, imagination or fantasy (Imagination)... And also typical theater terms: Actors (die Schauspieler), caricature (Karikatur), costumes (Costumes), Tragedy (Tragödie), opening (Ouvertüre), Farce (Farce) and its dramatic effects (die dramatic effect).

road map

Once the characters are presented in their costumes, the script follows: (i) February period (prologue of the revolution); (ii) National Constituent Assembly (14 May 1848 to 28 May 1849); (iii) Legislative Assembly (28 May 1849 to the coup of December 1851).

We note that in this periodization chronological milestones are not important. For example: in the first period there is May 15th when Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881) and his comrades invade parliament. They are arrested. This means that in June the workers' uprising took place without its leaders, as another observer at the time also recalled: Tocqueville.

In the second period there is June 1849 of the “mountain” party, when this revived false left behaves like an armed party in parliament and decides to be a parliamentarian in the streets (a caricature of June 1848). If in June 1848 the proletariat entered the scene without leaders, the following June, the socialist petty bourgeoisie caused the opposite sensation: now, the leaders appeared without the people.

The second period is that of domination (until December 1848) and disintegration (until June 1849) of the bourgeois republicans. Marx suggests that he has before him an “eventless history”.

On the other hand, June is the “most colossal event in the history of European civil wars”,[ii] says Marx. It can be inferred that it is after this heroic event that the phase of “heroes without heroic deeds, history without events” begins.

Let us note that the true events do not constitute chronological markers of Karl Marx's narrative. He “prefers” “false” events. Why would Marx dedicate himself to narrating a “story without events” according to his own expression?

The Social Republic of February appeared as a phrase (Die social Republik erschien als Phrase). In the first acts of the drama the proletariat was displaced from the stage. First your “bosses” on May 15th. Then he himself in June 1848.

The parliamentary history that follows turns falsely, in a void, apparently suspended in the air. Heavenly life (as Marx says in the jewish question) does not contain its reason for being within itself, but it must be sought in earthly life. Politics unfolds in the celestial world of ideas, citizenship, legal equality and not economic and class inequalities.

Politics is the alienated representation of earthly life, hence the need for theatrical language. This language had already appeared in Communist Manifesto and Speech on Free Trade. The background of the scene, the representation, the art of giving voice to characters from social classes, the caricature (Luis Bonaparte, June 1849), the tragedy (the Great French Revolution, June 1848), the farce, the parliamentary comedy (parliamentary cretinism) and even buffoonery (Napoleon III) are not casual forms. Theatrical form has a meaning in and of itself. She is not a mere shell. It means bourgeois heavenly politics as opposed to real behind-the-scenes politics. It is the “sentence”.

The problem is that if the first Bonaparte was already deceiving himself about his role, dressing like Caesar, at least he sanctioned property and the social victory of capitalism with his code. Napoleon III is a farce of a comedy without grandeur. The character does not need to be painted with low and comical features in accordance with the teachings of Poetics of Aristotle. Marx shows how it is only the most expressive of a historical process that is itself a farce.

The first Revolution had a history, even if the high-sounding phrase disguised the narrow, petty and bourgeois content. It followed an ascending line, like every true revolution. The most radical group supplanted the most moderate and carried the revolution forward. That of 1848 follows a descending line and the most radical group is the first to go behind the scenes (the proletariat). Hence why the true revolutionary history is in the economy, commerce, the living conditions of the social classes, etc. It will appear as a political story at the moment of the dissolution of politics itself and the end of the play. At this moment the content will go beyond the sentence and the Revolution will not need to invoke disguises to carry out its work. “There the sentence went beyond the content, here the content goes beyond the sentence” (“Dort ging die Phrase über den Inhalt, hier geht der Inhalt über die Phrase hinaus).”

Still, Marx narrates the parliamentary comedy. It's just that form is never a form. It means, we have already said. Only by laying bare the parliamentary comedy is it possible to see the detachment between class and class representation. Among the literary representatives of the petty bourgeoisie and the shopkeepers; between the “imaginary world” of parliamentarians and the “rude outside world” and even between the peasantry and Napoleon III. After all, the peasant has a double soul, that of the Vendée[iii] and that of Cèvennes[iv]. That is, he is grateful to the memory of Napoleon I, but he will realize that servile obligations have been replaced by tax, mortgage and interest.

Bonapartism[v] It is based electorally on the peasantry, militarily on a part of the army and socially on the lumpenproletariat, a layer described more morally than scientifically by Marx. The lumpenproletariat serves to beat the literary representatives of the bourgeoisie when the latter no longer cares about this representation and prefers an “end with terror to an endless terror”. However, this Bonapartism is linked to the detachment mentioned here, to a certain autonomy of the State and to a social base not linked to a single class. In the concrete conditions of a country in which the definition of the two fundamental social classes was not yet clear, a “sleight of hand”, capable of constant surprises, was able to “attract the public’s gaze upon him”.

pure republic

The revolutions of 1848 presented a synchrony that awakened revolutionary consciousness. In January, the revolution began in Sicily; February, in Paris; March in Vienna. The wave spread to Hungary, the German states and reached students in Prague. Although Marx and Engels wrote about European events, France remained the rehearsal of concentrated revolutionary activity, especially after the month of June 1848 when its socialist character appeared and disappeared from the main scene.

The first period after the revolutionary events of June 1848 is the dominance of pure republicans: a heterogeneous group of bourgeoisie with republican ideas. They are not exactly a class, but a group of people linked by ideas. They reduce for the first time the circle of representation of the revolution. When the Constituent Assembly is installed, socialist elements are excluded from the Executive Committee. After the June insurrection they got rid of the petty bourgeois republicans (Ledru Rollin's democrats), dissolved the Executive Committee and handed over executive power to Cavaignac, the general who massacred the people in June.

There is a sub-period subtly identified by Marx. He is between June 24, 1848 and December 10 of the same year. Cavaignac reigns there, but only until the rise of Luis Bonaparte in the presidential elections. The Constitution is drawn up in an unsurprising way. In each paragraph there is the affirmation of universal freedom, but nothing more (in fact less) than what the Great Revolution of 1789 had already proclaimed. But in infraconstitutional legislation all general freedom materializes as bourgeois freedom.

The Constitution, like the Republic on which it is based, is therefore the expression of a contradictory regime. It gives all powers to the President (direct administration and armed forces) and the legitimacy of “universal” direct male voting. And it places before him the permanent threat of the end of his mandate. The president obviously cannot be for life. But the guardian of the Constitution, the future Legislative Assembly, is made up of 750 heads against a single representative of the nation (Luís Napoleão).

Similarity between chronology and constitution

Marx finally locates the true events in the subperiods of a reworked and expanded chronology that appears in Chapter VI: (a) First Period: From February 24 to May 4, 1848. February Period. Prologue. Comedy of general fraternization.

Second Period: Period of constitution of the republic and the National Constituent Assembly. (a) From May 4th to June 25th, 1848. Struggle of all classes against the proletariat. Defeat of the proletariat in the June days. (b) From June 25 to December 10, 1848. Dictatorship of pure bourgeois republicans. Preparation of the draft Constitution. Proclamation of a state of siege in Paris. The bourgeois dictatorship was put aside on December 10th with the election of Bonaparte as president. (c) From December 20, 1848 to May 28, 1849. Struggle of the Constituent Assembly against Bonaparte and against the party of order, allied with Bonaparte. End of the Constituent Assembly. Fall of the republican bourgeoisie.

Third Period: Period of the constitutional republic of the National Legislative Assembly. (a) From May 28, 1849 to June 13, 1849. Struggle of the petty bourgeoisie against the bourgeoisie and against Bonaparte. Defeat of petty-bourgeois democracy. (b) From June 13, 1849 to May 31, 1850. Parliamentary dictatorship of the order party. He completes his rule with the abolition of universal suffrage, but loses his parliamentary ministry.

From May 31, 1850 to December 2, 1851. Struggle between the parliamentary bourgeoisie and Bonaparte.

(a) From May 31, 1850, to January 12, 1851. Parliament loses supreme control of the army.

(b) From January 12 to April 11, 1851. He gets the worst of his attempts to regain administrative power. The party of order loses its independent parliamentary majority. His alliance with the Republicans and the Mountain.

(c) From April 11, 1851 to October 9, 1851. Attempts at revision, merger, extension. The party of order breaks down into its component parts. The rupture of the bourgeois Parliament and the bourgeois press with the mass of the bourgeoisie becomes definitive.

(d) From October 9th to December 2nd, 1851. Clear rupture between Parliament and the Executive Branch. Parliament completes its final act and succumbs, abandoned by its own class, the army and all other classes. End of the parliamentary regime and bourgeois rule. Bonaparte's victory. Empire restoration parody.

The chronology goes from Comedy to parody. The movement of the script mimics the grandiloquent form of the constitutional text itself as much as the sub-periods correspond to the infra-constitutional text where the “truth” of class domination appears. The sub-periods keep the “true events” alongside the “false” ones, just as the farce of universal rights only appears in the articles of the Constitution and its narrow earthly truth is revealed in the paragraphs and ordinary legislation.

The III period of the first chronology (May 28, 1849 to December 2, 1851) is the largest of all and is presented in Chapter III. It is here that the ascending Revolution of 1789 is opposed to the descending revolution of 1848. Are we facing an inverted revolution? Of a counter-revolution? After all, the only real force in it already appears as an appendage of the bourgeoisie and is defeated in the first acts of the narrative.

The dance of the vampires

After June 1848 each dominant group played the grotesque role of being the opposite of itself. In the play the roles are reversed and the actors wear disguises. The Mountain, which should be radical like the Mountain of the period of terror in Year II of the Great French Revolution, is patient!

When monarchists take center stage they defend the Republic! Is that divided into Orleanists and Legitimists,[vi] they would rather support a regime they hate than allow another dynasty to predominate. Their division forced them to support a Republic that no one wanted. Neither did the socialists, who wanted more; nor did the conservatives, who wanted less.

Red appears as its opposite. Instead of the Phrygian cap of the Revolution (its red hood), we have the cullots of the ruling class.

In this period of no relevance, everyone is like Peter Schlemihl inverted, according to Marx. He refers to Chamisso's character who sold his shadow and only walks at night so they don't discover what he lacks. Afterwards, he continues using the seven-league boot. The French of 1848 are just shadows without bodies. Undead that survive on the blood of the proletarian, just as dead Labor is Capital as opposed to living labor. These are specters waiting one at a time in the wings for their turn to perform the vampire dance on the stage of revolution without revolution.

On May 28, 1849, the Legislative Assembly met. The Party of Order unites the monarchists in defense of the Conservative Republic, the republicans fall and the Mountain becomes the parliamentary opposition. Meanwhile, the counter-revolution triumphs in Europe and the People's Spring will end.

Marx narrates a classic parliamentary story, but he constantly needs to interrupt the narrative to expose the behind-the-scenes. The resumption of the action is always preceded by phrases such as: “let us resume the thread of events…”. The surface is that of the Party of Order's reaction against democratic rights; and on the part of the Mountain we see the defense of the “eternal rights of man”. This appearance “dissimulates the class struggle”, as the legitimists represent great territorial property; the Orleanists, the upstart, parvenu, financier bourgeoisie. Forms of property explain conceptions of life.

However, Marx himself then shows that there is no direct correspondence between the fantasies of men and women and their real interests. A class's ideals and mentality are not just a reflection of its life. But they are really limited by real life! Thus, the literary or parliamentary representative of the petty bourgeoisie is not necessarily a shop keeper, only his mentality does not exceed the limits that he does not exceed in his practical life.

Everything that is most high-sounding in parliamentary phraseology is destined for the dustbin of history when in concrete action the representative reveals that he cannot go beyond the line of the material interest of his represented. So the “bourgeois” philosopher Locke supplants the prophet of Old Testament Habakkuk, Marx would say. In other words: the “real” language of the ruling class becomes detached from its verbal tournaments and ornamental adjectives and is reduced to a noun: counter-revolution.

The Party of Order leaves its monarchist clothes in the dressing room and defends the republic as the only way to maintain the social nature of its class. And in the “only form” lies the entire destruction of the Party of Order! Because he cannot be what he is: a monarchist.

The Republic is the form in which the contradiction of classes matured by the historical process finds to develop. Are classes mature in a country where the bourgeoisie is a monarchical appendage and the proletariat is still absent from most of an industrialized country, only in Paris and Lyon?

Social Democracy, in turn, results from the replacement of the social label of the working class by the political label of the petty bourgeoisie and its general ideas. The workers now appear as mere extras. This is what the electoral process always reserves for a class that loses the revolutionary initiative. It has to be represented by someone else.

Behind the scenes, some extras are preparing to enter the scene as a means of maneuvering for the mountain actors. These, when they come to believe that their role is serious, threaten the Order established within parliament with great courage, as if they were in a revolutionary barricade struggle. But when they take to the streets to protest, they do so in a parliamentary and cowardly manner. They are removed from the scene with a flick of the narrator.

Here we refer to June 13, 1849 (see chronology above). The Mountain’s defeat fulfills the narrator’s prediction: “Society is often saved if it contracts the circle of its rulers”. By expelling the deputies from the Mountain, the Party of Order presents the force that is the appearance of the general weakening of parliament. This is a dangerous precedent. Wasn't this how the Girondists prepared their way to the guillotine when they ripped up the immunity of a parliamentarian to try Marat? Robespierre would later remind them how much parliamentary immunity is worth when violated just once! But there, it was about the deepening of the Revolution.

For Marx, the deputies saw their false disputes as pitched battles and the Party of Order believed that day to have won its Austerlitz.

That day there was an attempt to impede Louis Napoleon. Defeated in parliament, the Mountain took to the streets, but limited itself to an unarmed march: “If the Mountain wanted to win in parliament, it should not have resorted to arms. If he appealed to arms in parliament he should not have behaved in a parliamentary manner on the streets.”

The serious comedy

In chapter V it becomes clearer how the narrative form of history allows the historical process to be revealed. Previously, the narrator had noted that only when bourgeois rule appears complete does the antagonism of other classes acquire a pure form.

In the new situation, the bourgeoisie seriously represents a comedy, says Marx. This is a serious comedy (oxymoron). But Luís Napoleão doesn't take that comedy seriously. He will kill those zombies who are not yet known to be dead, since their last food is always the living workers behind the scenes of the play.

To win, you must tear the veil of that representation. However, Bonaparte, his uncle's nephew, is just a buffoon. Was he a nephew or son of Napoleon I? What would Queen Hortênsia's letters have revealed to him about his bastardy? When in doubt, after tearing up the comedy he himself will believe in his imperial role, without suspecting that he is also a faker. He will marry the future Empress Eugênia, also of “dubious” paternal origin, but experienced (and rightly so) in a life of Spanish courtship.[vii]

Marx, incorporating the absent voice of the proletariat, the one that only appears as a murmur, gnashing of teeth and vote, ironizes twice. His ironic manner of language defeats the comedy, as the comedian is caught up in the ridiculousness of his real situation when he discovers who he is. The audience laughs. But after “universal” suffrage was abolished by the Party of Order itself, the public was reduced to just Louis Napoleon.

The irony lies in the oxymorons, in these funny oppositions: the superior forces that govern Bonaparte's destiny are cigars, champagne, slices of turkey and sausages with garlic (according to French taste). Respectable language is hypocritical and the future Napoleon III is a “picnic hero”.

When the comedy unfolds, the class struggle comes to a standstill! The other way to reach out to the public is to appeal to the streets to defend the Assembly. But this would be too much for the Party of Order. He had even approved the arrest of deputies, as we saw!

Bonaparte is above the internecine quarrels of the Legislative Assembly. In yet another oxymoron of Marx's, he makes us note that Bonaparte, as a “princely lumpen” (als prinzlicher Lumpenproletarier) has the advantage of not stopping at legal formalities and using vile methods that will give him victory over the Assembly. This was already vile on the streets, but in politics it masks “its practical pettiness with its theoretical extravagance”.

What the comedy hides before showing is that the bourgeoisie no longer has the capacity to govern. Open war begins, which contains Marx's supreme irony: the bourgeoisie only fights after losing its weapons. He alludes to the episode of Changarnier's dismissal by Bonaparte on January 12, 1851.

Just as the republican petty bourgeoisie had its support in an authentic murderer, General Cavaignac, the Party of Order relies on Changarnier. This one had massacred the workers in June 1848. This one had dispersed the small crowds of mountaineers. That one had to be defeated at the polls. This one was simply fired.

The decomposition

Chapter VI is the final story of the decomposition of the Party of Order. Constitutional revision was the “fight” method. Marx supposes that the Republic is the appearance of a provisional neutral field in which the bourgeoisie unifies itself politically by submitting its fractions and other classes to the belief in the legitimacy of parliament. This is the key: the Republic is only bourgeois because it appears as its opposite, above classes.

In every parliament the fiercest fights are possible because they lead to nothing. And they don't lead anywhere because among the debaters there is a common belief in the neutrality of the space for dialogue. As the practical bourgeois is not interested in politics, he also does not constitute himself politically as a class and leaves to his representatives the illusory role of leaders of society as a whole.

Bonaparte realizes that he can only remain in power if he abolishes the limitation of his mandate, which ends on the second Sunday of May 1852. He will explore the crisis of representation in a parliament that increasingly restricts its bases of support.

Marx indicates the existence of three “parties” of the Order: parliamentary, business and press. The separation of the bourgeoisie from its representatives does not happen because they abandon their principles (the phrase), but because they believe in them too much! Thus, Marx separates the prosaic bourgeois party (which is the class itself) from its comedians who become believers in comedy and, as a result, even lose its fun.

Commerce is prosperous until February 1851. What does the bourgeois party do in the streets? He demands that the literary and political bourgeoisie cease their vain struggles that could harm business. Then, commerce went into crisis until mid-October 1851. Who did the bourgeoisie on the streets blame? The same parliamentary struggles.

Bonaparte's coup makes the pure expression of bourgeois rule appear after stripping away the vine of its transitional parliamentary impurities.

We are faced with a ghostly story and simulacra. The phrase goes beyond its content because it was crushed in June 1848 and haunts the theater of politics like the ghost of the Revolution. The Republic thus produced is the appearance of a vile Monarchy. It's the strength of the sentence.

The party of order is incapable of defending itself because it wants to prevent popular participation that could take away its majority. Bonaparte, in turn, tries to approve his re-election through constitutional revision, but the republican minority prevents him. The coup, therefore, will be an art: Bonaparte will show himself as the antagonist of the law of May 31st (the one that restricted voting) and the defender of universal suffrage.

The Napoleonic coup took place on December 2, 1851 (anniversary of the consecration of Napoleon I and the victory of Austerlitz). After the shooting of the bourgeoisie on their balconies on the Parisian boulevards by a drunken soldiery, Luis Bonaparte becomes the “prince president”. In December 1852, Emperor Napoleon III was crowned.

Napoleonic ideas

It is remarkable how until Chapter VII the Revolution is not worth its name. The French Bourgeoisie no longer has a revolutionary appeal. We return once again to the question: why, then, does Marx narrate this story, this eventless story?

Firstly because, according to Marx, there was a regular development of “studies and knowledge” that precedes an authentic Revolution. That of 1848 was only a superficial tremor and society seemed to have gone back to before its starting point. In reality, the year 1848 allowed society to learn using an abbreviated method (the revolutionary one) and only now has it created its true revolutionary starting point.

Secondly, Marx uncovers the actual Revolution behind the apparent revolution. She is underground and now appears not as a ghost, but as a mole. Each stage of the vampire dance simultaneously conceals and realizes the perfection of forms that will only be destroyed when performed.

Thus, centralization, absolutism, the decline of local privileges, greater division of labor, factory organization, etc., are works that precede 1789 and that continue even in the Restoration of 1815. In their struggle to contain and betray the Revolution, the bourgeoisie finds itself forced to further improve the State machinery, thus carrying out a revolutionary task.

There is a dialectic of the Revolution and its opposite that moves history and allows the bourgeoisie to temporarily steal the spotlight.

The figure of Napoleon III finally emerges with the social support of the peasant. Its members have a common way of life (Common) opposed to other classes. The peasant only has a local connection, he has no political organization or general interest (allgemeins). If Napoleon III is anchored in the riots of the lumpenproletariat, electorally he is supported by the peasant, due to the ideological heritage of his uncle, the real Napoleon.[viii]

Napoleonic ideas are based on the peasant: (i) Property is denied in practice by interest, land rent and mortgage. The old Napoleonic form of property no longer corresponded to its historical content in 1848; (ii) Absolute, strong government. The government is synonymous with taxes that fall on the peasant. (iii) Rule of priests. But the heaven of the first Bonaparte was the property mentally extended by expansionist war. Now the sky collapses and the content of religion is irreligion; (iv) Earthly police, the complement of the priests' domain; (v) Army. The homeland is the small property expanded in the imagination. But now the social composition of the peasant army generates its opposite: a war machine that oppresses the peasantry. And at the top of the Army there is a false Napoleon.

Karl Marx invokes hallucinations, ghosts and shows Napoleonic ideas through their opposite. By showing himself too much, the buffoon demonstrates himself in his teratological form. Just as the bourgeoisie only exists as a result of its denial, theft saves property, perjury saves religion. It is, nota bene, is no longer the emancipation of the peasant on the heavenly plane. Marx suggests that she can be cynical and dominate an irreligious society. Napoleon III, the monster, takes away the political power of the bourgeoisie just to reaffirm the material power of this same class. To this end, the buffoon disguises himself as an emperor.

The contrast is comical. Comedy is the old form of unformed content for the current era. The conjuror Napoleon III only needs the public's eyes.


Mole – The Proletarian Revolution does not need to enchant any public. She only engages in politics as a transitory means. As in true Greek tragedies, she must win over the peasant chorus in a country where the peasantry is the majority.

The proletarian Revolution cannot be disguised in fantasies or mentally anticipated because the content goes beyond any sentence. Communism is, therefore, not a utopia but a real movement that does not implement “principles”.

Who is the Party? – In the same way, the party of the proletariat is just Blanqui and his comrades. And no matter how much Blanqui thinks of a dictatorship of a few leaders to quickly bring light to the proletariat and hand over to it the historical task of building the new community, this matters little to Marx. What he admires in Blanqui, Barbès (1809 – 1870), Flotte (1817-1860) and others is their courage, their ability to make a revolution and to contradict their previous principles in practice. Because they are symbolic leaders, they are experienced revolutionaries and only their experience puts them briefly ahead. They go ahead because they have more courage and not because they want privileges of command. That's how it is in a class war. The party of the proletariat has nothing to do with the party form of the end of the XNUMXth century. It is not a party, but self-activity (Selbsttätigkeit) of the proletarians.

Now, in June 1848, for the first time in history, the basic contradiction of the capitalist system came to the surface. There, the “content goes beyond the sentence”, as the proletariat stands naked and without any utopian ornament. It could be said that it emerged without a defined program and without its leaders (arrested on May 15th when they occupied and threatened parliament), but never without organization. And this is important. The proletarian party does not depend on a vertical organization that we could only project anachronistically in 1848.

Was there a Military Plan? - In The Class Struggle in France Marx says that the workers achieved the feat of keeping the Army, the Mobile Guard and the National Guard paralyzed for five days. However, what surprises the narrator is that they did it without bosses and without a common plan (ohne Chefs, ohne gemeinsamen Plan, ohne Mittel).

Engels, in his set of articles published in the heat of the moment in Neue Rheinisch Zeitung, says that there was political and military organization. The Military Plan was attributed by Engels to Kersausie, a former Army officer and friend of Raspail (1794-1878), although there is no historical proof of this.[ix]

The plan consisted of four columns based in the working-class suburbs of western Paris that moved in a concentric movement to occupy the buildings of power in the center. Organized in the national workshops decreed by the February Revolution, they transplanted their distribution into work companies from the industrial to the military level,[X] Blanqui, in turn, was adamant: “there was a lack of guides”. The Revolution would have been spontaneous[xi] and most of the barricades erected in the wrong place! But none of them considered an answer to Marx's question: without leaders and a common plan, how did they resist three or four times as many soldiers for five days? And the answer cannot be found by anachronistically attributing the non-existence of leaders, parties, programs, etc., to the past.

Perhaps the local organization of the workers and the support they enjoyed there were essential. On the other hand, the absence or presence of a common military plan does not imply the opposition between spontaneity and a party representing the workers. After all, in the registration of The 18th Brumaire, they must organize themselves to destroy the representative organization. But the material forces of production, on the one hand, and the necessary revolutionary learning, on the other hand, would only be completed with the coronation of Napoleon III. Blanqui, in prison, already wrote that either the Republic will be social or it will not be a Republic. Enough of semi-republics!

The State – Nas Glosses of 1844, Marx already understood the State from Civil Society, the earthly universe of production relations. The State is a community abstraction apparently dissociated from society. A Political Revolution only changes the political regime, the form of power. The Revolution, therefore, cannot be political but social. Just as parliament, we have already seen, is not the locus of the real life of the bourgeoisie, it is not where the fight against the bourgeoisie takes place. Evidently his first negative and destructive act is still political (the abbreviated method of learning in 1848, already mentioned here), but in the immediate next moment the political envelope is abandoned. The theater opens up and behind the scenes are exposed. All differences between the public and the actors cease.

Relationship with the analysis of the Commune – The Orgy (or the Conclusion Outside the Text). It is said that Countess Virginia Oldoini, lover of Emperor Napoleon III and cousin of Cavour, went to a fancy dress ball at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the Queen of Hearts. Her dress had a heart just below the waist. Seeing her in that long dress adorned with a big heart below the waist, Empress Eugênia couldn't contain herself: “The heart is a little low, Madame.” It's almost a ball without a costume.

After Napoleon III's coup, politics went from theater to orgy and only the emperor had the tedious duties of representation. Of course only the next morning and not very early. O 18 Brumaire introduced the class struggle into a historical narrative in the form of theater. But the politics of 1848 were the ghostly phraseology of bourgeois politicians. The Paris Commune in 1871 is finally political sans phrase. That's why your text is not an advertisement, a pamphlet or a “story”. It is a message to the international “party”. And more than a message, it is a praise. A disused form that was invoked for kings. Since the second empire is a sham, the only possible praise is to a class.

The second empire was the form for a situation in which the bourgeoisie could no longer govern and the proletariat still could not. Empire characters no longer wear masks. They allow themselves to be surprised in orgies of corruption. In an orgy, as is well known, clothes are the first thing to be abandoned.

The hypocritical conversion of the two factions of the Party of Order into a republican political current in 1848, as we have already seen, was only possible after threats from the “Social Republic”, says Marx in Civil War in France. Thus, Marx says that “the ruling classes instinctively feel that the anonymous kingdom of the parliamentary Republic can be converted into a society through the actions of their conflicting factions”.

No Communist Manifesto the State appeared as a “committee to manage the business common of the bourgeoisie.” In other words, as an apparatus above its internal dissensions. At Civil War in France, Marx defines the republican political regime as “the anonymous society of united bourgeois fractions”. The terms of political economy are not casual. Just as share capital erases the immediate relationship between ownership and control of the means of production, the Republic dissolves the direct link between ownership and control of the repressive apparatus. And just as share capital is enhanced in the face of wage labor, the bourgeois Republic and other forms of appearance above the bourgeoisie reinforce political power over workers militarily and ideologically.

However, such bonds are invisible. Hence why the crisis of that power is revealed not at the exit from the stock exchange, but at the entrance to the ball without costume of the Second Empire.

The Commune does not replace the bourgeois orgy with proletarian representation. It eliminates representation itself by ending the privileged payment of representatives. The commune is “the political form” of the producer’s emancipation. When this governs, the dissociation between economic exploitation is suppressed.sans phrase” and political domination with “phrase”. The Commune's measures are not cerebral inventions. They are concrete: common planning, cooperativism, ending night work for bakers and the standing army, handing over closed factories to workers' associations, etc. What matters is not what many Communards they say, but what they do. The Commune does not have universal principles. His language is not ironic, but direct.

But to create the new, the Commune does not have new human beings. His two central forces for Marx are still political. On one side, the Blanquists, recognized for their honesty and courage. On the other hand, the Proudhonians, “mere talkers”. But what matters is that both groups put aside their “principles” and carry out the practical collective work of the Commune.

To suppress politics, the Revolution uses its “politicians”. The traditional representations of the working class are the first instruments they have at hand at the beginning. Criticism of politics without Proudhon and Blanqui would be just the weapons of criticism without the criticism of weapons.[xii]

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio). []


[I]Marx, K. Le 18 Brummaire by Louis Bonaparte. Paris: Editions Internationales, 1928, p.23. This passage was taken directly by Marx from a letter by Engels. The idea that Louis Napoleon's coup is a parody of the coup of Napoleon I's 18th Brumaire was also Engels' (see p. 12).

[ii]The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte it had five editions until 1898. The first came out in New York, 1852 (one thousand copies) and the second in Hamburg, 1869. Only the third, from 1885 and prefaced by Engels, was considered definitive. The book was initially published in the form of articles written very shortly after the events. His sources were mainly newspapers and parliamentary debates. There was also a fruitful exchange of correspondence with Engels. The quotations from “The 18 Brumário” follow the Portuguese edition (Obras Escolhidas, Lisboa, Avante) and the translation by Leandro Konder for the “Os Pensadores” Collection (Abril Cultural). German terms in: Marx, K. Achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte. Hamburg: O. Meissner, 1885, author's copy.

[iii]When he joined the counter-Revolution under the leadership of LaRochejacquelin.

[iv]Allusion to the revolt or jacquerie of the Huguenot Camisards (1702-1704).

[v]According to Florestan Fernandes Marx did not think of transmuting the historical concept of Bonapartism into an abstract concept of general validity. He himself criticized the 2012th century use of the concept of Caesarism. At the time of monopoly capitalism it became almost an empty concept (Fernandes, F. Marx, Engels, Lenin. São Paulo: Expressão Popular, 105, p. XNUMX.). However, the State that centralizes itself and assumes autonomy in the figure of a comedian is not a French anomaly, but an objective tendency of politics to apparently detach itself from class struggles and present itself in the form of struggles between political celebrities. In peripheral countries or during legitimacy crises, however, it is no longer Bonaparte that the ruling classes turn to, but to open dictatorship.

[vi]Supporters of the Luís Filipe lineage and defenders of the Bourbon tradition, respectively.

[vii]Friedrich, Otto. Olympia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1993, p.62.

[viii]Let us leave aside the fact that Marx ignores the resistance that the French countryside imposed to Napoleonic power in 1851 and also the moralistic descriptions he gives of the Lumpemproletariat. See: Maurice Agulhon. 1848: The Learning of the Republic. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1991.

[ix]Birchall, I. “The Enigma of Kersausie: Engels in June 1848”, From Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 2, 2002, pp. 25–50.

[X]Marx, C. and Engels, F. Las Revoluciones of 1848. Mexico: FCE, 2006, p. 157.

[xi]Decaux, A. White L'Insurgé. Paris: France Loisirs, 1976, p.384

[xii]This text is class notes from the Contemporary History course presented at USP in the first semester of 2013. Therefore, it is not exactly a finished and coherent article or essay. On the other hand, many questions were thought up based on observations from my students, to whom I thank. Originally published in Magazine Moorish, n. 9, São Paulo, 2013.

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