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by Karl Marx

Translator's Preface

"The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" is one of Karl Marx' most
profound and most brilliant monographs. It may be considered the best
work extant on the philosophy of history, with an eye especially upon
the history of the Movement of the Proletariat, together with the
bourgeois and other manifestations that accompany the same, and the
tactics that such conditions dictate.

The recent populist uprising; the more recent "Debs Movement"; the
thousand and one utopian and chimerical notions that are flaring up; the
capitalist maneuvers; the hopeless, helpless grasping after straws, that
characterize the conduct of the bulk of the working class; all of these,
together with the empty-headed, ominous figures that are springing into
notoriety for a time and have their day, mark the present period of
the Labor Movement in the nation a critical one. The best information
acquirable, the best mental training obtainable are requisite to steer
through the existing chaos that the death-tainted social system of today
creates all around us. To aid in this needed information and mental
training, this instructive work is now made accessible to English
readers, and is commended to the serious study of the serious.

The teachings contained in this work are hung on an episode in recent
French history. With some this fact may detract of its value. A
pedantic, supercilious notion is extensively abroad among us that we
are an "Anglo Saxon" nation; and an equally pedantic, supercilious
habit causes many to look to England for inspiration, as from a racial
birthplace Nevertheless, for weal or for woe, there is no such thing
extant as "Anglo-Saxon" - of all nations, said to be "Anglo-Saxon,"
in the United States least. What we still have from England, much
as appearances may seem to point the other way, is not of our
bone-and-marrow, so to speak, but rather partakes of the nature of
"importations." We are no more English on account of them than we are
Chinese because we all drink tea.

Of all European nations, France is the on to which we come nearest.
Besides its republican form of government - the directness of its
history, the unity of its actions, the sharpness that marks its internal
development, are all characteristics that find their parallel her best,
and vice versa. In all essentials the study of modern French history,
particularly when sketched by such a master hand as Marx', is the most
valuable one for the acquisition of that historic, social and biologic
insight that our country stands particularly in need of, and that will
be inestimable during the approaching critical days.

For the assistance of those who, unfamiliar with the history of France,
may be confused by some of the terms used by Marx, the following
explanations may prove aidful:

On the 18th Brumaire (Nov. 9th), the post-revolutionary development of
affairs in France enabled the first Napoleon to take a step that led
with inevitable certainty to the imperial throne. The circumstance
that fifty and odd years later similar events aided his nephew, Louis
Bonaparte, to take a similar step with a similar result, gives the name
to this work - "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte."

As to the other terms and allusions that occur, the following sketch
will suffice:

Upon the overthrow of the first Napoleon came the restoration of the
Bourbon throne (Louis XVIII, succeeded by Charles X). In July, 1830, an
uprising of the upper tier of the bourgeoisie, or capitalist class - the
aristocracy of finance - overthrew the Bourbon throne, or landed
aristocracy, and set up the throne of Orleans, a younger branch of the
house of Bourbon, with Louis Philippe as king. From the month in which
this revolution occurred, Louis Philippe's monarchy is called the "July
Monarchy." In February, 1848, a revolt of a lower tier of the capitalist
class - the industrial bourgeoisie - against the aristocracy of finance,
in turn dethroned Louis Philippe. The affair, also named from the month
in which it took place, is the "February Revolution". "The Eighteenth
Brumaire" starts with that event.

Despite the inapplicableness to our affairs of the political names and
political leadership herein described, both these names and leaderships
are to such an extent the products of an economic-social development
that has here too taken place with even greater sharpens, and they have
their present or threatened counterparts here so completely, that, by
the light of this work of Marx', we are best enabled to understand our
own history, to know whence we came, and whither we are going and how to
conduct ourselves.

D.D.L. New York, Sept. 12, 1897



Hegel says somewhere that that great historic facts and personages
recur twice. He forgot to add: "Once as tragedy, and again as farce."
Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the "Mountain" of
1848-51 for the "Mountain" of 1793-05, the Nephew for the Uncle. The
identical caricature marks also the conditions under which the second
edition of the eighteenth Brumaire is issued.

Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole
cloth; he does not make it out of conditions chosen by himself, but out
of such as he finds close at hand. The tradition of all past generations
weighs like an alp upon the brain of the living. At the very time when
men appear engaged in revolutionizing things and themselves, in bringing
about what never was before, at such very epochs of revolutionary crisis
do they anxiously conjure up into their service the spirits of the past,
assume their names, their battle cries, their costumes to enact a new
historic scene in such time-honored disguise and with such borrowed
language Thus did Luther masquerade as the Apostle Paul; thus did the
revolution of 1789-1814 drape itself alternately as Roman Republic and
as Roman Empire; nor did the revolution of 1818 know what better to do
than to parody at one time the year 1789, at another the revolutionary
traditions of 1793-95 Thus does the beginner, who has acquired a new
language, keep on translating it back into his own mother tongue; only
then has he grasped the spirit of the new language and is able freely to
express himself therewith when he moves in it without recollections of
the old, and has forgotten in its use his own hereditary tongue.

When these historic configurations of the dead past are closely observed
a striking difference is forthwith noticeable. Camille Desmoulins,
Danton, Robespierre, St. Juste, Napoleon, the heroes as well as the
parties and the masses of the old French revolution, achieved in Roman
costumes and with Roman phrases the task of their time: the emancipation
and the establishment of modern bourgeois society. One set knocked to
pieces the old feudal groundwork and mowed down the feudal heads that
had grown upon it; Napoleon brought about, within France, the conditions
under which alone free competition could develop, the partitioned lands
be exploited the nation's unshackled powers of industrial production be
utilized; while, beyond the French frontier, he swept away everywhere
the establishments of feudality, so far as requisite, to furnish the
bourgeois social system of France with fit surroundings of the European
continent, and such as were in keeping with the times. Once the new
social establishment was set on foot, the antediluvian giants vanished,
and, along with them, the resuscitated Roman world - the Brutuses,
Gracchi, Publicolas, the Tribunes, the Senators, and Caesar himself.
In its sober reality, bourgeois society had produced its own true
interpretation in the Says, Cousins, Royer-Collards, Benjamin Constants
and Guizots; its real generals sat behind the office desks; and the
mutton-head of Louis XVIII was its political lead. Wholly absorbed in
the production of wealth and in the peaceful fight of competition, this
society could no longer understand that the ghosts of the days of Rome
had watched over its cradle. And yet, lacking in heroism as bourgeois
society is, it nevertheless had stood in need of heroism, of
self-sacrifice, of terror, of civil war, and of bloody battle fields
to bring it into the world. Its gladiators found in the stern
classic traditions of the Roman republic the ideals and the form, the
self-deceptions, that they needed in order to conceal from themselves
the narrow bourgeois substance of their own struggles, and to keep their
passion up to the height of a great historic tragedy. Thus, at another
stage of development a century before, did Cromwell and the English
people draw from the Old Testament the language, passions and illusions
for their own bourgeois revolution. When the real goal was reached, when
the remodeling of English society was accomplished, Locke supplanted

Accordingly, the reviving of the dead in those revolutions served the
purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; it
served the purpose of exaggerating to the imagination the given task,
not to recoil before its practical solution; it served the purpose of
rekindling the revolutionary spirit, not to trot out its ghost.

In 1848-51 only the ghost of the old revolution wandered about,
from Marrast the "Republicain en gaunts jaunes," [#1 Silk-stocking
republican] who disguised himself in old Bailly, down to the adventurer,
who hid his repulsively trivial features under the iron death mask
of Napoleon. A whole people, that imagines it has imparted to itself
accelerated powers of motion through a revolution, suddenly finds
itself transferred back to a dead epoch, and, lest there be any mistake
possible on this head, the old dates turn up again; the old calendars;
the old names; the old edicts, which long since had sunk to the level of
the antiquarian's learning; even the old bailiffs, who had long seemed
mouldering with decay. The nation takes on the appearance of that crazy
Englishman in Bedlam, who imagines he is living in the days of the
Pharaohs, and daily laments the hard work that he must do in the
Ethiopian mines as gold digger, immured in a subterranean prison, with a
dim lamp fastened on his head, behind him the slave overseer with a long
whip, and, at the mouths of the mine a mob of barbarous camp servants
who understand neither the convicts in the mines nor one another,
because they do not speak a common language. "And all this," cries the
crazy Englishman, "is demanded of me, the free-born Englishman, in order
to make gold for old Pharaoh." "In order to pay off the debts of the
Bonaparte family" - sobs the French nation. The Englishman, so long as
he was in his senses, could not rid himself of the rooted thought making
gold. The Frenchmen, so long as they were busy with a revolution,
could not rid then selves of the Napoleonic memory, as the election
of December 10th proved. They longed to escape from the dangers of
revolution back to the flesh pots of Egypt; the 2d of December, 1851 was
the answer. They have not merely the character of the old Napoleon,
but the old Napoleon himself-caricatured as he needs must appear in the
middle of the nineteenth century.

The social revolution of the nineteenth century can not draw its poetry
from the past, it can draw that only from the future. It cannot start
upon its work before it has stricken off all superstition concerning
the past. Former revolutions require historic reminiscences in order
to intoxicate themselves with their own issues. The revolution of the
nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to reach
its issue. With the former, the phrase surpasses the substance; with
this one, the substance surpasses the phrase.

The February revolution was a surprisal; old society was taken unawares;
and the people proclaimed this political stroke a great historic act
whereby the new era was opened. On the 2d of December, the February
revolution is jockeyed by the trick of a false player, and what is seer
to be overthrown is no longer the monarchy, but the liberal concessions
which had been wrung from it by centuries of struggles. Instead of
society itself having conquered a new point, only the State appears to
have returned to its oldest form, to the simply brazen rule of the sword
and the club. Thus, upon the "coup de main" of February, 1848, comes
the response of the "coup de tete" December, 1851. So won, so lost.
Meanwhile, the interval did not go by unutilized. During the
years 1848-1851, French society retrieved in abbreviated, because
revolutionary, method the lessons and teachings, which - if it was to be
more than a disturbance of the surface-should have preceded the February
revolution, had it developed in regular order, by rule, so to say. Now
French society seems to have receded behind its point of departure; in
fact, however, it was compelled to first produce its own revolutionary
point of departure, the situation, circumstances, conditions, under
which alone the modern revolution is in earnest.

Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, rush onward
rapidly from success to success, their stage effects outbid one another,
men and things seem to be set in flaming brilliants, ecstasy is the
prevailing spirit; but they are short-lived, they reach their climax
speedily, then society relapses into a long fit of nervous reaction
before it learns how to appropriate the fruits of its period of feverish
excitement. Proletarian revolutions, on the contrary, such as those
of the nineteenth century, criticize themselves constantly; constantly
interrupt themselves in their own course; come back to what seems to
have been accomplished, in order to start over anew; scorn with cruel
thoroughness the half measures, weaknesses and meannesses of their first
attempts; seem to throw down their adversary only in order to enable
him to draw fresh strength from the earth, and again, to rise up against
them in more gigantic stature; constantly recoil in fear before the
undefined monster magnitude of their own objects - until finally that
situation is created which renders all retreat impossible, and the
conditions themselves cry out:

"Hic Rhodus, hic salta!" [#2 Here is Rhodes, leap here! An allusion to
Aesop's Fables.]

Every observer of average intelligence; even if he failed to follow step
by step the course of French development, must have anticipated that an
unheard of fiasco was in store for the revolution. It was enough to hear
the self-satisfied yelpings of victory wherewith the Messieurs Democrats
mutually congratulated one another upon the pardons of May 2d, 1852.
Indeed, May 2d had become a fixed idea in their heads; it had become a
dogma with them - something like the day on which Christ was to reappear
and the Millennium to begin had formed in the heads of the Chiliasts.
Weakness had, as it ever does, taken refuge in the wonderful; it
believed the enemy was overcome if, in its imagination, it hocus-pocused
him away; and it lost all sense of the present in the imaginary
apotheosis of the future, that was at hand, and of the deeds, that it
had "in petto," but which it did not yet want to bring to the scratch.
The heroes, who ever seek to refute their established incompetence
by mutually bestowing their sympathy upon one another and by pulling
together, had packed their satchels, taken their laurels in advance
payments and were just engaged in the work of getting discounted "in
partibus," on the stock exchange, the republics for which, in the
silence of their unassuming dispositions, they had carefully organized
the government personnel. The 2d of December struck them like a
bolt from a clear sky; and the 'peoples, who, in periods of timid
despondency, gladly allow their hidden fears to be drowned by the
loudest screamers, will perhaps have become convinced that the days are
gone by when the cackling of geese could save the Capitol.

The constitution, the national assembly, the dynastic parties, the blue
and the red republicans, the heroes from Africa, the thunder from
the tribune, the flash-lightnings from the daily press, the whole
literature, the political names and the intellectual celebrities, the
civil and the criminal law, the "liberte', egalite', fraternite',"
together with the 2d of May 1852 - all vanished like a phantasmagoria
before the ban of one man, whom his enemies themselves do not pronounce
an adept at witchcraft. Universal suffrage seems to have survived only
for a moment, to the end that, before the eyes of the whole world, it
should make its own testament with its own hands, and, in the name of
the people, declare: "All that exists deserves to perish."

It is not enough to say, as the Frenchmen do, that their nation was
taken by surprise. A nation, no more than a woman, is excused for the
unguarded hour when the first adventurer who comes along can do violence
to her. The riddle is not solved by such shifts, it is only formulated
in other words. There remains to be explained how a nation of thirty-six
millions can be surprised by three swindlers, and taken to prison
without resistance.

Let us recapitulate in general outlines the phases which the French
revolution of' February 24th, 1848, to December, 1851, ran through.

Three main periods are unmistakable:

First - The February period;

Second - The period of constituting the republic, or of the constitutive
national assembly (May 4, 1848, to May 29th, 1849);

Third - The period of the constitutional republic, or of the legislative
national assembly (May 29, 1849, to December 2, 1851).

The first period, from February 24, or the downfall of Louis Philippe,
to May 4, 1848, the date of the assembling of the constitutive
assembly - the February period proper - may be designated as the prologue
of the revolution. It officially expressed its' own character in this,
that the government which it improvised declared itself "provisional;"
and, like the government, everything that was broached, attempted, or
uttered, pronounced itself provisional. Nobody and nothing dared to
assume the right of permanent existence and of an actual fact. All
the elements that had prepared or determined the revolution - dynastic
opposition, republican bourgeoisie, democratic-republican small traders'
class, social-democratic labor element-all found "provisionally" their
place in the February government.

It could not be otherwise. The February days contemplated originally
a reform of the suffrage laws, whereby the area of the politically
privileged among the property-holding class was to be extended, while
the exclusive rule of the aristocracy of finance was to be overthrown.
When however, it came to a real conflict, when the people mounted the
barricades, when the National Guard stood passive, when the army offered
no serious resistance, and the kingdom ran away, then the republic
seemed self-understood. Each party interpreted it in its own sense. Won,
arms in hand, by the proletariat, they put upon it the stamp of their
own class, and proclaimed the social republic. Thus the general purpose
of modern revolutions was indicated, a purpose, however, that stood in
most singular contradiction to every thing that, with the material at
hand, with the stage of enlightenment that the masses had reached, and
under existing circumstances and conditions, could be immediately
used. On the other hand, the claims of all the other elements, that had
cooperated in the revolution of February, were recognized by the lion's
share that they received in the government. Hence, in no period do we
find a more motley mixture of high-sounding phrases together with
actual doubt and helplessness; of more enthusiastic reform aspirations,
together with a more slavish adherence to the old routine; more
seeming harmony permeating the whole of society together with a deeper
alienation of its several elements. While the Parisian proletariat
was still gloating over the sight of the great perspective that had
disclosed itself to their view, and was indulging in seriously meant
discussions over the social problems, the old powers of society had
groomed themselves, had gathered together, had deliberated and found
an unexpected support in the mass of the nation - the peasants and small
traders - all of whom threw themselves on a sudden upon the political
stage, after the barriers of the July monarchy had fallen down.

The second period, from May 4, 1848, to the end of May, 1849, is the
period of the constitution, of the founding of the bourgeois republic
immediately after the February days, not only was the dynastic
opposition surprised by the republicans, and the republicans by
the Socialists, but all France was surprised by Paris. The national
assembly, that met on May 4, 1848, to frame a constitution, was the
outcome of the national elections; it represented the nation. It was a
living protest against the assumption of the February days, and it was
intended to bring the results of the revolution back to the bourgeois
measure. In vain did the proletariat of Paris, which forthwith
understood the character of this national assembly, endeavor, a few
days after its meeting; on May 15, to deny its existence by force, to
dissolve it, to disperse the organic apparition, in which the reacting
spirit of the nation was threatening them, and thus reduce it back to
its separate component parts. As is known, the 15th of May had no other
result than that of removing Blanqui and his associates, i.e. the real
leaders of the proletarian party, from the public scene for the whole
period of the cycle which we are here considering.

Upon the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Philippe, only the bourgeois
republic could follow; that is to say, a limited portion of the
bourgeoisie having ruled under the name of the king, now the whole
bourgeoisie was to rule under the name of the people. The demands of the
Parisian proletariat are utopian tom-fooleries that have to be done away
with. To this declaration of the constitutional national assembly, the
Paris proletariat answers with the June insurrection, the most colossal
event in the history of European civil wars. The bourgeois republic
won. On its side stood the aristocracy of finance, the industrial
bourgeoisie; the middle class; the small traders' class; the army; the
slums, organized as Guarde Mobile; the intellectual celebrities, the
parsons' class, and the rural population. On the side of the Parisian
proletariat stood none but itself. Over 3,000 insurgents were massacred,
after the victory 15,000 were transported without trial. With this
defeat, the proletariat steps to the background on the revolutionary
stage. It always seeks to crowd forward, so soon as the movement seems
to acquire new impetus, but with ever weaker effort and ever smaller
results; So soon as any of the above lying layers of society gets into
revolutionary fermentation, it enters into alliance therewith and thus
shares all the defeats which the several parties successively suffer.
But these succeeding blows become ever weaker the more generally they
are distributed over the whole surface of society. The more important
leaders of the Proletariat, in its councils, and the press, fall one
after another victims of the courts, and ever more questionable
figures step to the front. It partly throws itself it upon doctrinaire
experiments, "co-operative banking" and "labor exchange" schemes; in
other words, movements, in which it goes into movements in which it
gives up the task of revolutionizing the old world with its own large
collective weapons and on the contrary, seeks to bring about its
emancipation, behind the back of society, in private ways, within the
narrow bounds of its own class conditions, and, consequently, inevitably
fails. The proletariat seems to be able neither to find again the
revolutionary magnitude within itself nor to draw new energy from the
newly formed alliances until all the classes, with whom it contended in
June, shall lie prostrate along with itself. But in all these defeats,
the proletariat succumbs at least with the honor that attaches to great
historic struggles; not France alone, all Europe trembles before the
June earthquake, while the successive defeats inflicted upon the higher
classes are bought so easily that they need the brazen exaggeration
of the victorious party itself to be at all able to pass muster as an
event; and these defeats become more disgraceful the further removed the
defeated party stands from the proletariat.

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