Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire


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The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon - Wikipedia

Jaded even. But reading the change in his tone and growth of ideas over time makes me feel much better about my teeter-tottering beliefs. I have no idea how accurate the history of the events described in this book actually is. The analysis is extremely dense and difficult to follow, but this is slightly beside the point. This book is an attempt to put into practice the principle stated so famously at the beginning of The Communist Manifesto : 'The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

While it is certainly the case that class antagonism can be a driving f I have no idea how accurate the history of the events described in this book actually is. While it is certainly the case that class antagonism can be a driving factor in history, and sometimes noting inter-class undertones in history can be revealing, if you try to fit everything in history into the class-struggle box, you will end up with a distorted view of things.

Still worse, you will end up dismissing things that don't fit into the box at all as uninteresting, or not even history at all. I submit that the purpose of historical study is not to study those things in the past that are 'interesting' by our own definitions, but to assume that everything in the past is interesting, and try to work out why.

May 25, David Nichols rated it liked it Shelves: reviewed , classicss.

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It's probably not a good idea to attempt this long essay unless one is A comfortable with the author's heavy, Germanic prose style, and B familiar with the history of the short-lived, unlamented Second French Republic. Assuming both of these conditions pertain, though, the Eighteenth Brumaire is well worth the time invested in it; it contains some of Marx's bitchiest invective and concludes with a startling observation about the first French Revolution. Namely, that its winners were not the b It's probably not a good idea to attempt this long essay unless one is A comfortable with the author's heavy, Germanic prose style, and B familiar with the history of the short-lived, unlamented Second French Republic.

Namely, that its winners were not the bourgeoisie but the small farmers who acquired confiscated clerical and aristocratic lands, and who later became the conservative force that elected Louis Napoleon to the presidency and supported his coup d'etat. Aug 16, Derek rated it it was amazing. Marx excellently elucidates his often oversimplified theories of capitalism and historical materialism here, hashing out some of the idiosyncrasies of bourgeois rule in the particular context.

Questions on Historical Materialism

Dec 30, Trevor rated it it was ok Shelves: social-theory. I really struggled with this - but I had downloaded it from manybooks. I'll have to track down a penguin edition of this or something that explains all his jokes. Some eerie similarities with the current state of events in Brazil. Dec 22, Ali Reda rated it really liked it.


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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". Karl Marx wrote this book, on an entirely different event 52 years later, It dealt with the 2 December 18 "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.

Marx implies to the connection between to the two events by saying: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. 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.


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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.

Historical Materialism

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".

The fixed idea of the nephew was realized because it coincided with the fixed idea of the most numerous class of the French people".

Historical Materialism

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". Only theft can still save property; only perjury, religion; bastardy, the family; disorder, order! A masterwork, where Marx applied dialectical materialism to a blow-by-blow analysis of the coup in France that took everyone by surprise. He observed it as it was happening and then wrote this right after. It portrays the numerous contradictions between the various class factions inter-playing. On the left the Republicans, including the pure republicans, the Montagne social democrats sell-outs, the petty bourgeois, the proletariat.

On the right the Royalists, the Party of Order, the Legit A masterwork, where Marx applied dialectical materialism to a blow-by-blow analysis of the coup in France that took everyone by surprise.

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On the right the Royalists, the Party of Order, the Legitimists land , the Orleanists capital , the Bonapartist Decemberist lumpen proletarians In reading it many events of today come to mind. Jul 07, Nazila rated it liked it. I'm sure this was a compelling read for its time, but it's like wading through a mass of irrelevant and dead pedantic facts, to reach far and few moments of absolute brilliance.

But it truly is a fantastic analysis of populist fascism: how empty signifiers are mobilised towards mass affective responses, that ultimately, harm those who most believed in them. In other words, how authoritarian leaders bring about the submission of both bourgeois and proletariat classes, however, to the continuation I'm sure this was a compelling read for its time, but it's like wading through a mass of irrelevant and dead pedantic facts, to reach far and few moments of absolute brilliance.

In other words, how authoritarian leaders bring about the submission of both bourgeois and proletariat classes, however, to the continuation of capitalism and class power. This is a brilliant analysis for it shows how complex Marx's thinking is.

Marx’s Open-Ended Critique

It is not a simple proletariat vs bourgeois narrative, for the mechanism towards total domination is one that seems to occur mostly through the bourgeoisie fighting themselves. Here, we can imagine two axes of division: that of political relations - representational government horizontal - and that of social relations - capital vertical. Political relations are those among representatives of the state different ruling blocs, in Gramscian terms. Social relations are the organisation of labour: in capitalist society, the division between those who own the means of production the bourgeoisie and those who must sell their labour power to earn a wage for subsistence the proletariat.

Class struggle is intrinsic to this relationship of inequality and exploitation out of a desire for brevity I'll just say look up the Communist Manifesto or Capital. In a time of intense class struggle, such as the 2nd French Revolution, Marx shows how the slogan "Property, Family, Religion, Order" is utilised by the bourgeoisie, to roll back progressive political changes, further and further, until the bourgeoisie who'd originally championed the phrase, are themselves removed from their offices by higher executive powers, through the very words they'd themselves spoken.

The other side of such rhetoric is the retroactive signification of progressive politics such as enfranchisement and citizen rights , as chaotic, Socialist, against the state sound familiar? Political power then - representational government and democracy - is in contradiction with social power - capital and class privilege. In other words, the bourgeoisie will revoke their own political power, as long as it keeps the masses from fully realising that of their own: collective and direct democratic control of the means of production. The bourgeoisie would rather hand over their rights to an absolute authority.

Let me summarise: Social power vertical is in contradiction with political power horizontal Class struggle attempts to fully realise the promise of political power direct democracy , at the cost of the bourgeoisie's actual social power capitalism The bourgeoisie alter the discursive landscape through retroactive signalling and empty significations: Political power which was celebrated as Liberal under conditions of low class struggle, becomes persecuted as Socialist under conditions of high class struggle Political power representational democracy is subsequently sacrificed for the continuation of social power capitalism You have an authoritarian capitalist state contrary to Milton Friedman's claim that freedom and the free market go hand in hand One could almost call Marx a Foucaultian with this book.

Each paragraph of the Constitution contains its own antithesis … freedom as a generalization, the abolition of freedom as a specification. Accordingly, he acted both in the sense of the parliament when he tore up the Constitution and in the sense of the Constitution when he chased away the parliament. Dysfunction leads to unmeant and typically unseen consequences, or at least unseen only in their causal relationship.

This is the way in which actors, positioning against one another, conjure up peripheral problems, which soon become the main problems. Indeed it relates to the contemporary experience of politics as, above everything else, unpredictable. In a contested political arena, whatever happens is necessarily that which has not been precisely foreseen and planned-for. This is the truth expressed in the book. Thus there are a few conceptual problems raised. The prophetic impulse seems to confound the main aspect of the work — its intricate and serene examination of an unstable, nervous, multifaceted, polymorphous political-society, which implies cause and effect; which gives a piercing philosophical view of decisions and processes; which above all, asserts the possibility of the National Assembly to have not been so stupid, by the insistence that they were at all stupid.

I said there were multiple conceptual problems, and there are, but I have forgotten the others now. The thing is that The Eighteenth Brumaire is a very enjoyable book. With its poetic glory and its condescending humour, which targets the characters and not the reader, the text signals that if the wheel of revolution is not moving constantly forwards then it must be moving constantly backwards — towards political exclusivity and better-institutionalised oligarchy. It offers a meditation on the conflict between the executive and legislature in a split-powers system — that is to say that the text is versatile, as well as sincere.

It is in the end more of an illumination on a way of thinking than on an historical episode.

Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire
Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire
Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire
Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire
Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire
Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire
Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire
Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx as the Historical Materialist: Re-reading The Eighteenth Brumaire

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