[Classics] The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte


The social republic appeared as a phrase, as a prophecy, on the threshold of the February Revolution. In the June days of 1848, it was drowned in the blood of the Paris proletariat, but it haunts the subsequent acts of the drama like a ghost. The democratic republic announces its appearance. It is dissipated on June 13, 1849, together with its deserting petty bourgeois, but in its flight it redoubles its boastfulness. The parliamentary republic together with the bourgeoisie takes possession of the entire state; it enjoys its existence to the full, but December 2, 1851, buries it to the accompaniment of the anguished cry of the coalesced royalists: “Long live the Republic!”

The French bourgeoisie balked at the domination of the working proletariat; it has brought the lumpen proletariat to domination, with the Chief of the Society of December 10 at the head. The bourgeoisie kept France in breathless fear of the future terrors of red anarchy – Bonaparte discounted this future for it when, on December 4, he had the eminent bourgeois of the Boulevard Montmartre and the Boulevard des Italiens shot down at their windows by the drunken army of law and order. The bourgeoisie apotheosized the sword; the sword rules it. It destroyed the revolutionary press; its own press is destroyed. It placed popular meetings under police surveillance; its salons are placed under police supervision. It disbanded the democratic National Guard, its own National Guard is disbanded. It imposed a state of siege; a state of siege is imposed upon it. It supplanted the juries by military commissions; its juries are supplanted by military commissions. It subjected public education to the sway of the priests; the priests subject it to their own education. It jailed people without trial, it is being jailed without trial. It suppressed every stirring in society by means of state power; every stirring in its society is suppressed by means of state power. Out of enthusiasm for its moneybags it rebelled against its own politicians and literary men; its politicians and literary men are swept aside, but its moneybag is being plundered now that its mouth has been gagged and its pen broken. The bourgeoisie never tired of crying out to the revolution what St. Arsenius cried out to the Christians: “Fuge, tace, quiesce!” [“Flee, be silent, keep still!”] Bonaparte cries to the bourgeoisie: “Fuge, tace, quiesce!"

The French bourgeoisie had long ago found the solution to Napoleon’s dilemma: “In fifty years Europe will be republican or Cossack.” It solved it in the “Cossack republic.” No Circe using black magic has distorted that work of art, the bourgeois republic, into a monstrous shape. That republic has lost nothing but the semblance of respectability. Present-day France was already contained in the parliamentary republic. It required only a bayonet thrust for the bubble to burst and the monster to leap forth before our eyes.

Why did the Paris proletariat not rise in revolt after December 2?

The overthrow of the bourgeoisie had as yet been only decreed; the decree was not carried out. Any serious insurrection of the proletariat would at once have put new life into the bourgeoisie, reconciled it with the army, and insured a second June defeat for the workers.

On December 4 the proletariat was incited by bourgeois and shopkeeper to fight. On the evening of that day several legions of the National Guard promised to appear, armed and uniformed, on the scene of battle. For the bourgeois and the shopkeeper had learned that in one of his decrees of December 2 Bonaparte had abolished the secret ballot and had ordered them to put a “yes” or “no” after their names on the official registers. The resistance of December 4 intimidated Bonaparte. During the night he had placards posted on all the street corners of Paris announcing the restoration of the secret ballot. The bourgeois and the shopkeeper believed they had gained their objective. Those who failed to appear next morning were the bourgeois and the shopkeeper.

By a coup de main the night of December 1-2 Bonaparte had robbed the Paris proletariat of its leaders, the barricade commanders. An army without officers, averse to fighting under the banner of the Montagnards because of the memories of June, 1848 and 1849, and May, 1850, it left to its vanguard, the secret societies, the task of saving the insurrectionary honor of Paris, which the bourgeoisie had surrendered to the military so unresistingly that, subsequently, Bonaparte could disarm the National Guard with the sneering motive of his fear that its weapons would be turned against it by the anarchists!

"This is the complete and final triumph of socialism!” Thus Guizot characterized December 2. But if the overthrow of the parliamentary republic contains within itself the germ of the triumph of the proletarian revolution, its immediate and obvious result was Bonaparte’s victory over parliament, of the executive power over the legislative power, of force without phrases over the force of phrases. In parliament the nation made its general will the law; that is, it made the law of the ruling class its general will. It renounces all will of its own before the executive power and submits itself to the superior command of an alien, of authority. The executive power, in contrast to the legislative one, expresses the heteronomy of a nation in contrast to its autonomy. France therefore seems to have escaped the despotism of a class only to fall back under the despotism of an individual, and what is more, under the authority of an individual without authority. The struggle seems to be settled in such a way that all classes, equally powerless and equally mute, fall on their knees before the rifle butt.

But the revolution is thoroughgoing. It is still traveling through purgatory. It does its work methodically. By December 2, 1851, it had completed half of its preparatory work; now it is completing the other half. It first completed the parliamentary power in order to be able to overthrow it. Now that it has achieved this, it completes the executive power, reduces it to its purest expression, isolates it, sets it up against itself as the sole target, in order to concentrate all its forces of destruction against it. And when it has accomplished this second half of its preliminary work, Europe will leap from its seat and exult: Well burrowed, old mole! [paraphrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5: “Well said, old mole!”, also cited by Hegel in his Philosophy of History]

The executive power with its enormous bureaucratic and military organization, with its wide-ranging and ingenious state machinery, with a host of officials numbering half a million, besides an army of another half million – this terrifying parasitic body which enmeshes the body of French society and chokes all its pores sprang up in the time of the absolute monarchy, with the decay of the feudal system which it had helped to hasten. The seignorial privileges of the landowners and towns became transformed into so many attributes of the state power, the feudal dignitaries into paid officials, and the motley patterns of conflicting medieval plenary powers into the regulated plan of a state authority whose work is divided and centralized as in a factory.

The first French Revolution, with its task of breaking all separate local, territorial, urban, and provincial powers in order to create the civil unity of the nation, was bound to develop what the monarchy had begun, centralization, but at the same time the limits, the attributes, and the agents of the governmental power. Napoleon completed this state machinery. The Legitimate Monarchy and the July Monarchy added nothing to it but a greater division of labor, increasing at the same rate as the division of labor inside the bourgeois society created new groups of interests, and therefore new material for the state administration. Every common interest was immediately severed from the society, countered by a higher, general interest, snatched from the activities of society’s members themselves and made an object of government activity – from a bridge, a schoolhouse, and the communal property of a village community, to the railroads, the national wealth, and the national University of France. Finally the parliamentary republic, in its struggle against the revolution, found itself compelled to strengthen the means and the centralization of governmental power with repressive measures. All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it. The parties, which alternately contended for domination, regarded the possession of this huge state structure as the chief spoils of the victor.

But under the absolute monarchy, during the first Revolution, and under Napoleon the bureaucracy was only the means of preparing the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Under the Restoration, under Louis Philippe, under the parliamentary republic, it was the instrument of the ruling class, however much it strove for power of its own.

Only under the second Bonaparte does the state seem to have made itself completely independent. The state machinery has so strengthened itself vis-à-vis civil society that the Chief of the Society of December 10 suffices for its head – an adventurer dropped in from abroad, raised on the shoulders of a drunken soldiery which he bought with whisky and sausages and to which he has to keep throwing more sausages. Hence the low-spirited despair, the feeling of monstrous humiliation and degradation that oppresses the breast of France and makes her gasp. She feels dishonored.

And yet the state power is not suspended in the air. Bonaparte represented a class, and the most numerous class of French society at that, the small-holding peasants.

Just as the Bourbons were the dynasty of the big landed property and the Orleans the dynasty of money, so the Bonapartes are the dynasty of the peasants, that is, the French masses. The chosen of the peasantry is not the Bonaparte who submitted to the bourgeois parliament but the Bonaparte who dismissed the bourgeois parliament. For three years the towns had succeeded in falsifying the meaning of the December 10 election and in cheating the peasants out of the restoration of the Empire. The election of December 10, 1848, has been consummated only by the coup d’état of December 2, 1851.

The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is furthered by France’s poor means of communication and the poverty of the peasants. Their field of production, the small holding, permits no division of labor in its cultivation, no application of science, and therefore no multifariousness of development, no diversity of talent, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. A small holding, the peasant and his family; beside it another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these constitute a village, and a few score villages constitute a department. Thus the great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not constitute a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name, whether through a parliament or a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, an unlimited governmental power which protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power which subordinates society to itself.

Historical tradition gave rise to the French peasants’ belief in the miracle that a man named Napoleon would bring all glory back to them. And there turned up an individual who claims to be that man because he bears the name Napoleon, in consequence of the Code Napoleon, which decrees: “Inquiry into paternity is forbidden.” After a twenty-year vagabondage and a series of grotesque adventures the legend is consummated, and the man becomes Emperor of the French. The fixed idea of the nephew was realized because it coincided with the fixed idea of the most numerous class of the French people.

But, it may be objected, what about the peasant uprisings in half of France,[117] the raids of the army on the peasants, the mass incarceration and transportation of the peasants?

Since Louis XIV, France has experienced no similar persecution of the peasants “on account of demagogic agitation.” [118]

But let us not misunderstand. The Bonaparte dynasty represents not the revolutionary, but the conservative peasant; not the peasant who strikes out beyond the condition of his social existence, the small holding, but rather one who wants to consolidate his holding; not the countryfolk who in alliance with the towns want to overthrow the old order through their own energies, but on the contrary those who, in solid seclusion within this old order, want to see themselves and their small holdings saved and favored by the ghost of the Empire. It represents not the enlightenment but the superstition of the peasant; not his judgment but his prejudice; not his future but his past; not his modern Cevennes [A peasant uprising in the Cevennes mountains in 1702-1705] but his modern Vendée.[119] [A peasant-backed uprising against the French Revolution in the French province of Vendée, in 1793]

The three years’ stern rule of the parliamentary republic freed a part of the French peasants from the Napoleonic illusion and revolutionized them, even though superficially; but the bourgeoisie violently repulsed them as often as they set themselves in motion. Under the parliamentary republic the modern and the traditional consciousness of the French peasant contended for mastery. The process took the form of an incessant struggle between the schoolmasters and the priests. The bourgeoisie struck down the schoolmasters. The peasants for the first time made efforts to behave independently vis-à-vis the government. This was shown in the continual conflict between the mayors and the prefects. The bourgeoisie deposed the mayors. Finally, during the period of the parliamentary republic, the peasants of different localities rose against their own offspring, the army. The bourgeoisie punished these peasants with sieges and executions. And this same bourgeoisie now cries out against the stupidity of the masses, the vile multitude that betrayed it to Bonaparte. The bourgeoisie itself has violently strengthened the imperialism of the peasant class; it has preserved the conditions that form the birthplaces of this species of peasant religion. The bourgeoisie, in truth, is bound to fear the stupidity of the masses so long as they remain conservative, and the insight of the masses as soon as they become revolutionary.

In the uprisings after the coup d’état, a part of the French peasants protested, arms in hand, against their own vote of December 10, 1848. The school they had gone to since 1848 had sharpened their wits. But they had inscribed themselves in the historical underworld; history held them to their word, and the majority was still so implicated that precisely in the reddest departments the peasant population voted openly for Bonaparte. In their view, the National Assembly had hindered his progress. He has now merely broken the fetters that the towns had imposed on the will of the countryside. In some parts the peasants even entertained the grotesque notion of a convention with Napoleon.

After the first Revolution had transformed the semi-feudal peasants into freeholders, Napoleon confirmed and regulated the conditions in which they could exploit undisturbed the soil of France which they had only just acquired, and could slake their youthful passion for property. But what is now ruining the French peasant is his small holding itself, the division of the land and the soil, the property form which Napoleon consolidated in France. It is exactly these material conditions which made the feudal peasant a small-holding peasant and Napoleon an emperor. Two generations sufficed to produce the unavoidable result: progressive deterioration of agriculture and progressive indebtedness of the agriculturist. The “Napoleonic” property form, which at the beginning of the nineteenth century was the condition of the emancipation and enrichment of the French countryfolk, has developed in the course of this century into the law of their enslavement and their pauperism. And just this law is the first of the “Napoleonic ideas” which the second Bonaparte has to uphold. If he still shares with the peasants the illusion that the cause of their ruin is to be sought not in the small holdings themselves but outside them – in the influence of secondary circumstances – his experiments will shatter like soap bubbles when they come in contact with the relations of production.

The economic development of small-holding property has radically changed the peasants’ relations with the other social classes. Under Napoleon the fragmentation of the land in the countryside supplemented free competition and the beginning of big industry in the towns. The peasant class was the ubiquitous protest against the recently overthrown landed aristocracy. The roots that small-holding property struck in French soil deprived feudalism of all nourishment. The landmarks of this property formed the natural fortification of the bourgeoisie against any surprise attack by its old overlords. But in the course of the nineteenth century the urban usurer replaced the feudal one, the mortgage replaced the feudal obligation, bourgeois capital replaced aristocratic landed property. The peasant’s small holding is now only the pretext that allows the capitalist to draw profits, interest, and rent from the soil, while leaving it to the agriculturist himself to see to it how he can extract his wages. The mortgage debt burdening the soil of France imposes on the French peasantry an amount of interest equal to the annual interest on the entire British national debt. Small-holding property, in this enslavement by capital toward which its development pushes it unavoidably, has transformed the mass of the French nation into troglodytes. Sixteen million peasants (including women and children) dwell in caves, a large number of which have but one opening, others only two and the most favored only three. Windows are to a house what the five senses are to the head. The bourgeois order, which at the beginning of the century set the state to stand guard over the newly emerged small holdings and fertilized them with laurels, has become a vampire that sucks the blood from their hearts and brains and casts them into the alchemist’s caldron of capital. The Code Napoléon is now nothing but the codex of distraints, of forced sales and compulsory auctions. To the four million (including children, etc.) officially recognized paupers, vagabonds, criminals, and prostitutes in France must be added another five million who hover on the margin of existence and either have their haunts in the countryside itself or, with their rags and their children, continually desert the countryside for the towns and the towns for the countryside. Therefore the interests of the peasants are no longer, as under Napoleon, in accord with, but are now in opposition to bourgeois interests, to capital. Hence they find their natural ally and leader in the urban proletariat, whose task it is to overthrow the bourgeois order. But “strong and unlimited government” - and this is the second “Napoleonic idea” that the second Napoleon has to carry out – is called upon to defend this “material order” by force. This “material order” also serves, in all Bonaparte’s proclamations, as the slogan against the rebellious peasants.

In addition to the mortgage which capital imposes on it, the small holding is burdened by taxes. Taxes are the life source of the bureaucracy, the army, the priests, and the court – in short, of the entire apparatus of the executive power. Strong government and heavy taxes are identical. By its very nature, small-holding property forms a basis for an all-powerful and numberless bureaucracy. It creates a uniform level of personal and economic relationships over the whole extent of the country. Hence it also permits uniform action from a supreme center on all points of this uniform mass. It destroys the aristocratic intermediate steps between the mass of the people and the power of the state. On all sides, therefore, it calls forth the direct intrusion of this state power and the interposition of its immediate organs. Finally, it produces an unemployed surplus population which can find no place either on the land or in the towns and which perforce reaches out for state offices as a sort of respectable alms, and provokes the creation of additional state positions. By the new markets which he opened with bayonets, and by the plundering of the Continent, Napoleon repaid the compulsory taxes with interest. These taxes were a spur to the industry of the peasant, whereas now they rob his industry of its last resources and complete his defenselessness against pauperism. An enormous bureaucracy, well gallooned and well fed, is the “Napoleonic idea” which is most congenial to the second Bonaparte. How could it be otherwise, considering that alongside the actual classes of society, he is forced to create an artificial caste for which the maintenance of his regime becomes a bread-and-butter question? Hence one of his first financial operations was the raising of officials’ salaries to their old level and the creation of new sinecures.

Another “idée napoléonienne[Napoleonic idea] is the domination of the priests as an instrument of government. But while at the time of their emergence the small-holding owners, in their accord with society, in their dependence on natural forces and submission to the authority which protected them from above, were naturally religious, now that they are ruined by debts, at odds with society and authority, and driven beyond their own limitations, they have become naturally irreligious.

Heaven was quite a pleasing addition to the narrow strip of land just won, especially as it makes the weather; it becomes an insult as soon as it is thrust forward as a substitute for the small holding. The priest then appears as only the anointed bloodhound of the earthly police – another “idée napoléonienne.” The expedition against Rome will take place in France itself next time, but in a sense opposite from that of M. de Montalembert.[120]

Finally, the culminating “idée napoléonienne” is the ascendancy of the army. The army was the “point d’ honneur” of the small-holding peasants, it was they themselves transformed into heroes, defending their new possessions against the outer world, glorifying their recently won nationhood, plundering and revolutionizing the world. The uniform was their own state costume; war was their poetry; the small holding, enlarged and rounded off in imagination, was their fatherland, and patriotism the ideal form of the sense of property. But the enemies whom the French peasant now has to defend his property against are not the Cossacks; they are the huissiers [bailiffs] and the tax collectors. The small holding no longer lies in the so-called fatherland but in the registry of mortgages. The army itself is no longer the flower of the peasant youth; it is the swamp flower of the peasant lumpen proletariat. It consists largely of replacements, of substitutes, just as the second Bonaparte is himself only a replacement, the substitute for Napoleon. It now performs its deeds of valor by hounding the peasants in masses like chamois, by doing gendarme duty; and if the natural contradictions of his system chase the Chief of the Society of December 10 across the French border, his army, after some acts of brigandage, will reap, not laurels, but thrashings.

It is clear: All “idée napoléonienne” are ideas of the undeveloped small holding in the freshness of its youth; they are a contradiction to the outlived holdings. They are only the hallucinations of its death struggle, words transformed into phrases, spirits transformed into ghosts. But the parody of imperialism was necessary to free the mass of the French nation from the weight of tradition and to work out in pure form the opposition between state power and society. With the progressive deterioration of small-holding property, the state structure erected upon it collapses. The centralization of the state that modern society requires arises only on the ruins of the military-bureaucratic government machinery which was forged in opposition to feudalism.

The condition of the French peasants provides us with the answer to the riddle of the general elections of December 20 and 21, which bore the second Bonaparte up Mount Sinai, not to receive laws but to give them.

Obviously the bourgeoisie now had no choice but to elect Bonaparte. When the Puritans of the Council of Constance [1414-18][121] complained of the dissolute lives of the popes and wailed about the necessity for moral reform, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly thundered at them: “Only the devil in person can still save the Catholic Church, and you ask for angels.” Similarly, after the coup d’état the French bourgeoisie cried out: Only the Chief of the Society of December 10 can still save bourgeois society! Only theft can still save property; only perjury, religion; bastardy, the family; disorder, order!

As the executive authority which has made itself independent, Bonaparte feels it to be his task to safeguard “bourgeois order.” But the strength of this bourgeois order lies in the middle class. He poses, therefore, as the representative of the middle class and issues decrees in this sense. Nevertheless, he is somebody solely because he has broken the power of that middle class, and keeps on breaking it daily. He poses, therefore, as the opponent of the political and literary power of the middle class. But by protecting its material power he revives its political power. Thus the cause must be kept alive, but the effect, where it manifests itself, must be done away with. But this cannot happen without small confusions of cause and effect, since in their interaction both lose their distinguishing marks. New decrees obliterate the border line. Bonaparte knows how to pose at the same time as the representative of the peasants and of the people in general, as a man who wants to make the lower classes happy within the framework of bourgeois society. New decrees cheat the “true socialists” [122] of their governmental skill in advance. But above all, Bonaparte knows how to pose as the Chief of the Society of December 10, as the representative of the lumpen proletariat to which he himself, his entourage, his government, and his army belong, and whose main object is to benefit itself and draw California lottery prizes from the state treasury. And he confirms himself as Chief of the Society of December 10 with decrees, without decrees, and despite decrees.

This contradictory task of the man explains the contradictions of his government, the confused groping which tries now to win, now to humiliate, first one class and then another, and uniformly arrays all of them against him; whose uncertainty in practice forms a highly comical contrast to the imperious, categorical style of the government decrees, a style slavishly copied from the uncle.

Industry and commerce, hence the business affairs of the middle class, are to prosper in hothouse fashion under the strong government: the grant of innumerable railroad concessions. But the Bonapartist lumpen proletariat is to enrich itself: those in the know play tripotage [underhand dealings] on the Exchange with the railroad concessions. But no capital is forthcoming for the railroads: obligation of the Bank to make advances on railroad shares. But at the same time the Bank is to be exploited for personal gain and therefore must be cajoled: release the Bank from the obligation to publish its report weekly; leonine [from Aesop’s fable about the lion who made a contract in which one partner got all the profits and the other all the disadvantages] agreement of the Bank with the government. The people are to be given employment: initiation of public works. But the public works increase the people’s tax obligations: hence reduction of taxes by an attack on the rentiers, by conversion of the 5-percent bonds into 4½-percent. But the middle class must again receive a sweetening: hence a doubling of the wine tax for the people, who buy wine retail, and a halving of the wine tax for the middle class, which drinks it wholesale; dissolution of the actual workers’ associations, but promises of miraculous future associations. The peasants are to be helped: mortgage banks which hasten their indebtedness and accelerate the concentration of property. But these banks are to be used to make money out of the confiscated estates of the House of Orleans; no capitalist wants to agree to this condition, which is not in the decree, and the mortgage bank remains a mere decree, etc., etc.

Bonaparte would like to appear as the patriarchal benefactor of all classes. But he cannot give to one without taking from another. Just as it was said of the Duke de Guise in the time of the Fronde that he was the most obliging man in France because he gave all his estates to his followers, with feudal obligations to him, so Bonaparte would like to be the most obliging man in France and turn all the property and all the labor of France into a personal obligation to himself. He would like to steal all of France in order to make a present of it to France, or rather in order to buy France anew with French money, for as the Chief of the Society of December 10 he must buy what ought to belong to him. And to the Institution of Purchase belong all the state institutions, the Senate, the Council of State, the Assembly, the Legion of Honor, the military medals, the public laundries, the public works, the railroads, the general staff, the officers of the National Guard, the confiscated estates of the House of Orleans. The means of purchase is obtained by selling every place in the army and the government machinery. But the most important feature of this process, by which France is taken in order to give to her, are the percentages that find their way into the pockets of the head and the members of the Society of December 10 during the turnover. The witticism with which Countess L., the mistress of M. de Morny, characterized the confiscation of the Orleans estates – “It is the first vol [the word means both “flight” and “theft"] of the eagle” – is applicable to every flight of this eagle, who is more like a raven.[123] He and his follower; call out to one another like that Italian Carthusian admonishing the miser who ostentatiously counted the goods on which he could still live for years: “Tu fai conto sopra i beni, bisogna prima far il conto sopra gli anni” [Thou countest thy goods, thou shouldst first count thy years]. In order not to make a mistake in the years, they count the minutes. At the court, in the ministries, at the head of the administration and the army, a gang of blokes of whom the best that can be said is that one does not know whence they come – these noisy, disreputable, rapacious bohemians who crawl into gallooned coats with the same grotesque dignity as the high dignitaries of Soulouque – elbow their way forward. One can visualize clearly this upper stratum of the Society of December 10 if one reflects that Veron-Crevel [A dissolute philistine character in Balzac’s novel Cousin Bette] is its preacher of morals and Granier de Cassagnac its thinker. When Guizot, at the time of his ministry, turned this Granier of an obscure newspaper into a dynastic opponent, he used to boast of him with the quip: “C’est le roi des droles” [He is the king of buffoons]. It would be wrong to recall either the Regency[124] or Louis XV in connection with Louis Bonaparte’s court and clique. For “often before France has experienced a government of mistresses, but never before a government of kept men.” [Quoted from Mme. de Girardin.]

Driven by the contradictory demands of his situation, and being at the same time, like a juggler, under the necessity of keeping the public gaze on himself, as Napoleon’s successor, by springing constant surprises – that is to say, under the necessity of arranging a coup d’état in miniature every day – Bonaparte throws the whole bourgeois economy into confusion, violates everything that seemed inviolable to the Revolution of 1848, makes some tolerant of revolution and makes others lust for it, and produces anarchy in the name of order, while at the same time stripping the entire state machinery of its halo, profaning it and making it at once loathsome and ridiculous. The cult of the Holy Tunic of Trier[125] [A Catholic relic, allegedly taken from Christ when he was dying, preserved in the cathedral of Marx’s native city] he duplicates in Paris in the cult of the Napoleonic imperial mantle. But when the imperial mantle finally falls on the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue of Napoleon will come crashing down from the top of the Vendôme Column.[126]


64. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte) was written by Marx from December 1851 to March 1852, immediately following the coup d’état in France engineered by the French President, who called himself “Louis Napoleon.” In the course of his work on the book Marx constantly exchanged views with Engels concerning these events. Thus, in this book Marx developed some of the ideas contained in Engels’ letter of December 3, 1851, in particular the ironical comparison of the Bonapartist coup d’état of December 2, 1851 with the coup of November 9, 1799 (the 18th Brumaire according to the republican calendar), as a result of which the Directory was overthrown and a dictatorship set up under General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was proclaimed First Consul and later, in 1804, Emperor of the French. Besides periodicals and official documents, Marx also used private letters from Paris as his sources.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte was originally intended as a series of articles in the weekly Die Revolution, which was being prepared for publication by Joseph Weydemeyer, a friend of Marx and Engels and a member of the Communist League in the United States. But Weydemeyer managed to put out only two issues (January 1852), following which publication ceased for lack of funds. Marx’s articles arrived too late for inclusion. On Marx’s advice, Weydemeyer published this work in May 1852 as the first issue of the “non-periodic journal” Die Revolution, and provided it with a short preface. In giving it the title The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Weydemeyer failed to take into account that throughout the book Marx referred to the chief initiator of the coup d’état as Louis Bonaparte, which he did deliberately (see his letter to Jenny Marx of June 11, 1852). Being in financial straits, Weydemeyer could not buy up the bulk of the impression from the print-shop, and only a small number of copies reached Europe. All attempts to publish the book in Germany or England (in an English translation) were unsuccessful.

The second edition of the book, this time under the title The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, appeared only in 1869. For this edition Marx revised the text, corrected a large number of misprints, mainly in accordance with the list appended to the 1852 edition, eliminated repetitions, abridged certain passages, and wrote a preface dated June 23, 1869, in which he described the editorial work he had done as follows: “A revision of the present work would have robbed it of its peculiar colouring. Accordingly I have confined myself to mere correction of printer’s errors and to striking out allusions now no longer intelligible.” This 1869 edition is the one translated here, but since the passages omitted by Marx are of great interest because they show how he revised the book and, in a number of cases (especially the abridgments in Chapter VII) because of their theoretical content, they are reproduced in this volume as footnotes.

The third edition came out in 1885 under the editorship of Engels and with his preface. The text in the main coincided with that of the 1869 edition. Passages from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte were published in Der Sozialdemokrat, an illegal organ of the German Social-Democratic Party, on March 18, 1887 (No. 12) and on March 16, 1889 (No. 11). During Engels lifetime two translations were made from the 1885 edition: a French translation (published in Le Socialiste, organ of the Workers’ Party of France. From January to November 1891, and in a separate pamphlet that appeared in Lille the same year) and a Russian translation (appeared as a pamphlet in Geneva in 1894).

In English, excerpts from this work were first published in “A Review of the Literature on the Coup d’état by Georg Eccarius, a Communist League member, which was printed in the Chartist People’s Paper from September to December 1852. In the last section of this review, printed on December 18 1852, Eccarius quoted long passages from Chapter 1 of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. In English this work was first published in full in The People, the weekly of the Socialist Labour Party of the United States, in September-November 1897. It was published in book form in New York in 1898.

65. Hegel expressed this idea in his work Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (its first edition came out in Berlin in 1837). In the third part of this work, at the end of Section 2, entitled “Vom der zweiten punischen Krieg bis zum Kaiserthum,” Hegel wrote in particular that “A coup d’état is sanctioned as it were in the opinion of people if it is repeated. Thus, Napoleon was defeated twice and twice the Bourbons were driven out. Through repetition, what at the beginning seemed to be merely accidental and possible becomes real and established.” Hegel also repeatedly expressed the idea that in the process of dialectical development there is bound to be a transition from the stage of formation and efflorescence to that of disintegration and ruin (see, in particular, G.W.F.Hegel, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, Th. 3, Abt. 3, §347). Developing this thought and Hegel’s idea about the recurrence of historical phenomena Marx wrote in his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of RightIntroduction (end of 1843-beginning of 1844): “History is thorough and goes through many phases when carrying an old form to the grave. The last phase of a world-historical form is its comedy.” A similar interpretation of Hegel’s idea, albeit in the form of a vague hint, can be found in Marx’s article “The Deeds of the Hohenzollern Dynasty” written in 1849.

67. An allusion to the fact that, while in emigration in England, Louis Bonaparte volunteered for the special constabulary (a police reserve consisting of civilians) which helped the regular police disperse the Chartist demonstration on April 10, 1848.

The “Little Corporal” – a nickname of General Bonaparte (later Emperor Napoleon I) popular among the French army.

68. At Marengo (North Italy) Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, which had crossed the Alps at the St. Bernard Pass, defeated the army of the Austrian General Melas on June 14, 1800.

A company of gendarmes to be sent across the Jura” – Marx refers here to the conflict between France and Switzerland in December 1851-January 1852 over Louis Bonaparte’s demand for the deportation of French republican refugees from Switzerland. The Jura – a mountain range on the French-Swiss border.

Order of St. Andrew – the highest order of the Russian Empire. Marx apparently refers to the need for Louis Bonaparte to be recognised by the Russian Tsar Nicholas I.

69. On December 10, 1848 Louis Bonaparte was elected President of the French Republic by a majority vote.

70. As the Bible has it (Exodus 16:3), during the exodus of the Jews from Egypt the faint-hearted among them, depressed by the difficulties of the journey and by hunger, began to sigh for the days spent in captivity when they at least had something to eat. The expression “to sigh for the fleshpots of Egypt” became a proverb.

71. Hic Rhodus, hic salta! (“Here is the rod, now jump!” – meaning: here is situation, do what the situation demands!) – words addressed to a swaggerer (in a fable by Aesop, “The Boasting Traveller”) who claimed that he had made tremendous jumps. Here is the rose, here dance! is a pun on the maxim used by Hegel in the preface to his work Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts. See [MIA Encyclopedia] for clarification.

72. In May 1852 Louis Bonaparte’s term of office as President expired. Under the French Constitution of 1848, presidential elections were to be held every four years on the second Sunday in May, and the outgoing President could not stand for re-election.

73. Chiliasts (from the Greek word chilias, a thousand) – preachers of a mystical religious doctrine that Christ would come to earth a second time and usher in a “millennium” of universal equality, justice and well-being. Chiliastic belief, sprang up in the period of early Christianity and were continuously revived in the doctrines of the various medieval sects which voiced the sentiments of the peasants and the urban poor.

74. The dynastic parties – the Legitimists (see Note 13) and the Orleanists. The latter supported the House of Orleans, which was overthrown by the February revolution of 1848. They represented the interests of the finance aristocracy and the big bourgeoisie.

The blue republicans – bourgeois republicans; red republicans – democrats the socialists of various trends.

The heroes of Africa – Generals Cavaignac, Lamoricière and Bedeau, took an active part in the colonial wars in Algeria.

75. The dynastic opposition-an opposition group in the French Chamber of Deputies during the July monarchy (1830-48). The group, headed by Odilon Barrot, expressed the views of the liberal industrial and commercial bourgeoisie and favoured a moderate electoral reform, which they regarded as a means of preventing a revolution and preserving the Orleans dynasty.

76. On April 16, 1848 a peaceful procession of Paris workers marched towards the Town Hall to present a petition to the Provisional Government for “organisation of labour” and “abolition of the exploitation of man by man.” The workers encountered battalions of the bourgeois national guard and were forced to retreat.

On May 15, 1848 Paris workers led by Blanqui, Barbès and others took revolutionary action against the anti-labour and anti-democratic policy of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly which had opened on May 4. The participants in the mass demonstration forced their way into the Assembly, demanded the formation of a Ministry of Labour and presented a number of other demands. An attempt was made to form a revolutionary government. National guards from the bourgeois quarters and regular troops succeeded, however, in restoring the power of the Constituent Assembly. The leaders of the movement were arrested and put on trial.

77. The Mobile Guard was set up by a decree of the Provisional Government on February 25, 1848 with the secret aim of fighting the revolutionary masses. Armed units consisted mainly of lumpenproletarians and were used to crush the June uprising of the Paris workers. Subsequently, it was disbanded on the insistence of the Bonapartists, who feared that in the event of a conflict between President Bonaparte and the republicans the Mobile Guard would side with the latter.

For Marx’s description of the Mobile Guard see his work The Class Struggle in France, 1848 to 1850.

78. An allusion to a legend according to which the Roman Emperor Constantine (274-337) on the eve of a battle against his rival Maxentius in 312 saw in the sky the sign of the Cross and over it the words: “By this sign thou shalt conquer!” With this legend the Church links Constantine’s “conversion” from the persecution of Christianity to its protection.

112. In the 1850s, the Count of Chambord, the Legitimist pretender to the French throne, lived in Venice.

Claremont – see Note 93.

113. The reference is to tactical disagreements in the Legitimist camp during the Restoration period. Louis XVIII and Villele favoured a more cautious introduction of reactionary measures while the Count d’Artois (King Charles X from 1824) and Polignac ignored the actual situation in France and advocated the complete restoration of the pre-revolutionary regime.

The Tuileries Palace in Paris was Louis XVIII’s residence.

The Pavillon Marsan, one of the wings of the Palace, was the residence of the Count d’Artois during the Restoration.

114. General Magnan directed the suppression of the armed uprising of workers and artisans in Lyons on June 15, 1849 (see Note 97).

115. The Great Exhibition in London, from May to October 1851, was the first world trade and industrial exhibition.

116. On December 4, 1851 government troops commanded by Bonapartist generals suppressed a republican uprising directed against the coup d’état in Paris. The uprising was led by a group of Left-wing deputies of the Legislative Assembly and leaders of workers’ corporations and secret societies. Employing cannon, the government troops destroyed the barricades erected by the defenders of the Republic. While fighting the insurgents, drunken soldiers and officers fired at passers-by, at customers in cafés and at spectators at windows and balconies. Several bourgeois mansions were also damaged in this Bonapartist terror.

117. This refers to the participation of peasants in the republican uprisings in France in late 1851 in protest against the Bonapartist coup d’état. These uprisings, involving mainly artisans and workers of small towns and settlements, local peasants, tradesmen and intellectuals, embraced nearly twenty departments in south-east, south-west and central France. Lacking unity and centralisation they were fairly quickly suppressed by police and troops.

118. Here Marx compares the Bonapartist authorities’ reprisals against the participants in the republican movement, including peasants, with the persecution of the so-called demagogues in Germany in the 1820s and 1830s.

Demagogues inGermany were participants in the opposition movement of intellectuals. The name became current after the Karlsbad Conference of Ministers of the German States in August 1819, which adopted a special decision against the intrigues of “demagogues.”

119. Cévennes – a mountain region in the Languedoc Province of France where all uprising of peasants, known as the uprising of “Camisards” (camise in old French means shirt) took place between 1702 and 1705. The uprising, which began in protest against the persecution of Protestants, assumed all openly anti-feudal character.

Vendée – a department in Western France; during the French Revolution of 1789-94 a centre of a royalist revolt in which the mass of the local peasantry took part. The name “Vendée” came to denote counter-revolutionary activity.

120. This refers to a speech by Montalembert, leader of the Legitimists, in the Legislative Assembly on May 22, 1850, in which he urged them to wage a serious war against.

121. The Council of Constance (1414-18) was convened to strengthen the position of the Catholic Church at that period. The Council condemned the teachings of John Wycliffe and Jan Huss, and put an end to the split in the Catholic Church by electing a new Pope instead of the three pretenders competing for the papacy.

122. The reference is to German or “true socialism” which was widespread in Germany in the 1840s, mostly among petty-bourgeois intellectuals. The “true socialists” – Karl Grün, Moses Hess, Hermann Kriege – substituted the sentimental preaching of love and brotherhood for the ideas of socialism and denied the need for a bourgeois-democratic revolution in Germany. Marx and Engels criticised this trend in the following works: The German IdeologyCircular Against Kriege, German Socialism in Verse and Prose and Manifesto of the Communist Party.

123. This witticism of Countess Lehon and the caustic remark of Madame de Girardin on the Bonapartist regime, which Marx quotes at the end of the paragraph, were forwarded to him, together with many other items used in The Eighteenth Brumaire, by Richard Reinhardt. a German refugee in Paris, Heinrich Heine’s secretary, In his letter to Ferdinand Lassalle of February 23, 1852 Marx quotes a letter to him from Reinhardt, in the following passage: “As for de Morny, the minister who resigned with Dupin, he was known as the of his mistress’ (Countess Lehon’s) husband, which caused Emile de Girardin’s wife to say that while it was not unprecedented for governments to be in the hands of men who were governed by their wives, none had ever been known to be in the hands of hommes entretenus [kept men]. Well, this same Countess Lehon holds a salon where she is one of Bonaparte’s most vociferous opponents and it was she who, on the occasion of the confiscation of the Orleans’ estates let fall ‘C’est le premier vol de l’aigle’.A pun: “It is the first flight of the eagle” and “It is the first theft of the eagle.”] Thanks to this remark of his wife’s, Emile de Girardin was expelled.” .

124.The reference is to the Regency of Philippe of Orleans in France front 1715 to 1723 during the minority of Louis XV.

125.The Holy Coat of Trier – a relic exhibited in the Catholic Cathedral at Trier, allegedly a garment of Christ of which he was stripped at his crucifixion. Generations of pilgrims came to venerate it.

126.The Vendôme Column was erected in Paris between 1806 and 1810 in tribute to the military victories of Napoleon I. It was made of bronze from captured enemy guns arid crowned by a statue of Napoleon; the statue was removed during the Restoration but re-erected in 1833. In the spring of 1871, by order of the Paris Commune, the Vendôme Column was destroyed as a symbol of militarism.

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