Report on the 18th Brumaire
Bryan A. Alexander
bnalexan at umich.edu
Sat Nov 11 13:59:01 MST 1995
At last I get some time to respond to Louis' excellent post.
1. It is important to highlight Bonaparte's use of French
military culture. He could rely on a society accustomed to two centuries
of intensive militarization: the constant raising of massive armies,
their stationing throughout France (here's a difference with the US,
which has to create the National Guard to oppose labor), above all the
triumphalism of the first Bonaparte. Looking forward, we find Hitler
obsessing over Frederick the Great, Mussolini leaping even further back
to the Roman empire (I can't speak for Franco - did he use the tercio as
a positive rhetorical figure? it would have worked well...). This is I
think a crucial point to bring up in any discussion of fascist
character. It helps make more sense of 1945-1960 in the US, with the
widespread messianic fervor that greeted MacArthur, to the adulation for
the other big general Eisenhower, for example.
2. Speaking of cultural levels (one of my jobs), I wanted to
bring up a fragment of some research I'm working on. If we look at
military manuals from the Napoleonic era (ca 1790-1820) a curious
rhetoric and strategy appear. These texts work on the basis of a system
of order out of a Foucauldian nightmare: a vertical order based on
meticulous surveillance, from geography to body posture; a horizontal
order less readily apparent, based on certain associative logics, and
seemingly anarchic (clearly opposed to early Enlightenment texts, which
proceed by a more explicit logical system, more encyclopedic). No
dissent is allowed in these texts, of course - but neither are individual
units allowed unique attributes (a serious flaw from a strategic point of
view!). When reading these texts I was struck by the rich proto-fascist
ideology of control; Louis P's insistence on Louis B's use of disorder
recalls this complementary and necessary horizontal logic of control.
Given the military culture which I mentioned in #1 above, this point
seems increasingly relevant.
3. It's important to spend more time on the rural aspect of
Marx's argument, which proceeds in section 7.
a) this is a thorny problem - how to characterize an apparently
nonindustrial sector in an industrial society? how to explain such a
self-destructive drive as peasant support for Bonaparte?
b) Marx first distinguishes between comparatively wealthy and
poor peasants, a distinction we can accept (not without a shudder of the
fate of the kulaks), I think. This naturally causes the former to
support Bonaparte in order to "consolidate... his... smallholding"; the
latter has no such material basis for her politics (Penguin ed., 240).
How important is this class? These "material conditions... made the
feudal French peasant a small proprietor and Napoleon an emperor." (241)
c) this distinction also has its idealist side, causing the
smallholder to be superstitious, prejudiced, and nostalgic, the poorer
peasant to be enlightened, judgemental, and forward-looking (240).
Marx of course insists on grounding these ideas in materiality (see the
excellent linking of "Napoleonic ideas" to property forms on 241).
d) this scema of rural behavior leads to fascism, and the
seething conflict that it springs from, embraces, and claims to solve:
"The interests of the [poorer] peasants are therefore no longer consonant
with the interests of the bourgeoisie, as they were under Napoleon, but
in opposition to those interests, in opposition to capital. They
therefore find their natural ally in the *urban proletariat*, whose task
is the overthrow of the bourgeois order. But the *strong and
unrestricted government* [Marx's emphases, not mine] - and this is the
second *"Napoleonic idea"* which the second Napoleon has to implement -
is required to defend this "material" order by force. This "ordre
material" also serves as the catchword in all Bonaparte's proclamations
against the rebellious peasants." (242-3)
Here we see Louis P's syllabus justified.
e) back to the military: the first Napoleon's campaign's promised
- and often fulfilled - social climbing and status to the peasantry
(244); the second Nap. could rely on this.
All for now.
Department of English
University of Michigan
On Sun, 5 Nov 1995, Louis N Proyect wrote:
> Fascism is the most extreme form of counterrevolution.
> Counterrevolution itself only emerges as a response to revolution.
> Nazism, for example, didn't arrive because the German people all of a
> sudden lost their bearings from an overdose of Wagner's operas and
> Nietzsche's aphorisms. It arrived at a time when massive worker's
> parties threatened bourgeois rule during a period of terrible economic
> hardship. Big capital backed Hitler as a last resort. The Nazis
> represented reactionary politics gone berserk. Not only could Nazism
> attack worker's parties, it could also attack powerful institutions of the
> ruling class, including its churches, media, intellectuals, parties and
> individual families and individuals. Fascism is not a scalpel. It is a
> very explosive, uncontrollable weapon that can also inflict some harm
> on its wielder.
> Fascism emerged in the period following the great post-World War I
> revolutionary upsurge in Europe. The Bolsheviks triumphed in Russia,
> while communists mounted challenges to capitalism in Hungary,
> Germany and elsewhere. These revolutions receded but their
> embers flickered. The world-wide depression of 1929 added new fuel to
> the embers of proletarian revolution. Socialism grew powerful
> everywhere because of the powerful example of the USSR and because of the
> suffering capitalist unemployment brought.
> Proletarian revolutions do not break out every year or so, like new car
> models. They appear infrequently since working-people prefer to
> accomodate themselves to capitalism if at all possible. They tend to be
> last-ditch defensive reactions to the mounting violence and insecurity
> brought on by capitalist war and depression.
> The proletarian revolution first emerges within the context of the
> bourgeois revolutions of 1848. Even though the revolutions in
> Germany, France and Italy on the surface appeared to be a
> continuation of the revolutions of the 1780's and 90's, they contain
> within them anticapitalist dynamics. The working-class at this point in
> its history has neither the numbers, nor the organization, nor the self-
> consciousness to take power in its own name. Its own cause tends to
> get blurred with the cause of of other classes in the struggle against
> feudal vestiges.
> Marx was able to distinguish the contradictory class aspects of the
> 1848 revolutionary upsurge with tremendous alacrity, however. Some
> of his most important contributions to historical materialism emerge
> out of this period and again in 1871 when the proletariat rises up in its
> own name during the Paris Commune. The 18th Brumaire was written
> in the aftermath of the failure of the revolution in France in 1848 to
> consolidate its gains. Louis Bonaparte emerges as a
> counterrevolutionary dictator who seems to suppress all classes,
> including the bourgeoisie. Marx is able to show that Bonapartism, like
> Fascism, is not a dictatorship that stands above all classes. The
> Bonapartist regime, whose social base may be middle-class, acts in the
> interest of the big bourgeoisie.
> Robert Tucker's notes in his preface to the 18th Brumaire that, "Since
> Louis Bonaparte's rise and rule have been seen as a forerunner of the
> phenomenon that was to become known in the twentieth century as
> fascim, Marx's interpretation of it is of interest, among other ways, as
> a sort of a prologue to later Marxist thought on the nature and
> meaning of fascism."
> The 18th Brumaire was written by Marx in late 1851 and early 1852,
> and appeared first in a NY magazine called "Die Revolution". This
> was a time of great difficulty for Marx. He was in financial difficulty
> and poor health. The triumph of the counterrevolution in France
> deepened his misery. In a letter to his friend Weydemeyer, Marx
> confides, "For years nothing has pulled me down as much as this
> cursed hemorrhoidal trouble, not even the worst French failure."
> In section one of the 18th Brumaire, Marx draws a clear distinction
> between the bourgeois and proletarian revolution.
> "Bourgeois revolutions like those of the eighteenth century storm more
> swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other,
> men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of
> the day- but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith,
> and a long Katzenjammer [crapulence] takes hold of society before it
> learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly.
> On the other hand, proletarian revolutions like those of the nineteenth
> century constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves
> in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to
> begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures,
> weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down
> their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the
> earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil
> constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals -- until a
> situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the
> conditions themselves call out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta!"
> Proletarian revolutions, Marx correctly points out, emerge from a
> position of weakness and uncertainty. The bourgeoisie develops over
> hundreds of years within the cocoon of feudalism. At the time it is
> ready to seize power, it has already conquered major institutions in
> civil society. The bourgeoisie is not an exploited class and therefore is
> able to rule society long before its political revolution is effected.
> When it delivers the coup de grace to the monarchy, it does so from a
> position of overwhelming strength.
> The workers are in a completely different position, however. They lack
> an independent economic base and suffer economic and cultural
> exploitation. Prior to its revolution, the working-class remains
> backward and therefore, unlike the bourgeoisie, is unable to prepare
> itself in advance for ruling all of society. It often comes to power in
> coalition with other classes, such as the peasantry.
> Since it is in a position of weakness, it is often beaten back by the
> bourgeoise. But the bourgeoisie itself is small in numbers. It also has
> its own class interests which set it apart from the rest of society.
> Therefore, it must strike back against the workers by utilizing the
> social power of intermediate classes such as the peasantry or the
> middle-classes in general. It will also draw from strata beneath the
> working-class, from the so-called "lumpen proletariat". Louis
> Bonaparte drew from these social layers in order to strike back against
> the workers, so did Hitler.
> Bonaparte appears as a dictator whose rule constrains all of society. In
> section seven of the Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx characterized
> Bonapartist rule in the following manner:
> "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,
> At first blush, Bonaparte seems to be oppressing worker and capitalist
> alike. Supported by the bourgeoisie at first, he drowns the Parisian
> working-class in its own blood in the early stages of the
> counterrevolution. He then turns his attention to the bourgeoisie itself
> and "jails", "gags" and imposes a "state of siege" upon it. By all
> appearances, the dictatorship of Bonaparte is a personal dictatorship
> and all social classes suffer. The Hitler and Mussolini regimes gave
> the same appearance. This led many to conclude that fascism is simply
> a totalitarian system in which every citizen is subordinated to the
> industrial-military-state machinery. There is the fascism of Hitler and
> there is the fascism of Stalin. A class analysis of Nazi Germany and
> Soviet Russia would produce different political conclusions, however.
> Hitler's rule rested on capitalist property relations and Stalin's on
> collectivized property relations.
> Bonaparte's rule, while seeming to stand above all social classes, really
> served to protect capitalist property relations. Bonaparte represents the
> executive branch of government and liquidates the parliamentary
> branch. The parliament contains parties from every social class, so a
> superficial view of Bonapartist rule would conclude that all classes
> have been curtailed. In actuality, the bourgeoisie maintains power
> behind the scenes.
> In order to maintain rule, Bonapartism must give concessions to the
> lower-classes. It can not manifest itself openly as an instrument of the
> ruling-classes. It is constantly on the attack against both exploiter and
> exploited. It acts against exploited because it is ultimately interested in
> the preservation of the status quo. It acts against the exploiters,
> because it must maintain the appearance of "neutrality" above all
> Marx describes this contradictory situtation as follows:
> "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'etat
> 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, 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 Vendome
> Bonaparte throws the bourgeois economy into a confusion, violates it,
> produces anarchy in the name of order. This is exactly the way fascism
> in power operates. Fascism in power is a variant of Bonapartism. It
> eventually stabilizes into a more normal dictatorship of capital, but in
> its early stages has the same careening, out-of-control behavior.
> Bonapartism does not rest on the power of an individual dictator. It is
> not Louis Napoleon's or Adolph Hitler's power of oratory that explains
> their mastery over a whole society. They have a social base which they
> manipulate to remain in power. Even though a Bonapartist figure is
> ultimately loyal to the most powerful industrialists and financiers, he
> relies on a mass movement of the middle-class to gain power.
> Louis Bonaparte drew from the peasantry. The peasantry was in
> conflict with the big bourgeoisie but was tricked into lending support
> to someone who appeared to act in its own behalf. The peasantry was
> unable to articulate its own social and political interests since the
> mode of production it relied on was an isolating one. Marx
> "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
> homonymous 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. "
> Intermediate layers such as the peasantry are susceptible to Bonapartist
> and Fascist politicians. They resent both big capital and the working-
> class. They resent the banks who own their mortgage. They also resent
> the teamsters and railroad workers whose strikes disrupts their own
> private economic affairs. They turn to politicians whose rhetoric
> seems to be both anti-capitalist and anti-working class. Such
> politicians are often masters of demagoguery such as Hitler and
> Mussolini who often employ the stock phrases of socialism.
> The peasantry backed Bonaparte. It was also an important pillar of
> Hitler's regime. In the final analysis, the peasants suffered under both
> because the banks remained powerful and exploitative. The populism
> of Bonaparte and the "socialism" of Hitler were simply deceptive
> mechanisms by which the executive was able to rule on behalf of big
> Bonapartism, populism and fascism overlap to a striking degree. We
> see elements of fascism, populism and Bonapartism in the politics of
> Pat Buchanan. Buchanan rails against African-Americans and
> immigrants, both documented and undocumented. He also rails
> against Wall St. which is "selling out" the working man. Is he a
> fascist, however? Ross Perot employs a number of the same themes. Is
> The problem in trying to answer these questions solely on the basis of
> someone's speeches or writings is that it ignores historical and class
> dynamics. Bonaparte and Hitler emerged as a response to powerful
> proletrian revolutionary attacks on capital. What are the objective
> conditions in American society today? Hitler based their power on
> large-scale social movements that could put tens of thousands of
> people into the streets at a moment's notice. These movements were
> not creatures of capitalist cabals. They had their own logic and their
> own warped integrity. Many were drawn to Hitler in the deluded hope
> that he would bring some kind of "all-German" socialism into
> existence. These followers were not Marxists, but they certainly hated
> the capitalist class. Are the people who attend Buchanan, Perot and
> Farrakhan rallies also in such a frenzied, revolutionary state of mind?
> At what point are we in American society today?
> I would argue that rather than being in a prerevolutionary situation,
> we are in a period which has typified capitalism for the
> better part of a hundred and fifty years. We are in a period of capitalist
> "normalcy". Capitalism is a system which is prone to economic crisis
> and war. The unemployment and "downsizing" going on today are
> typical of capitalism in its normal functioning. We have to stop
> thinking as if the period of prosperity following WWII was normal. It was
> not. It was an anomaly in the history of capitalism. When industrial
> workers found themselves in a position to buy houses, send children
> through college, etc., this was only because of a number of exceptional
> circumstances which will almost certainly never arise again.
> We are in a period more like the late 1800's or the early 1900's. It is a
> period of both expansion and retrenchment. It is a period of terrible
> reaction which can once gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan and now fosters the
> skinheads and other neo-Nazis. It is also a period which can give birth to
> something like Eugene V. Debs' Socialist Party.
> But if we don't recognize at which point we stand, we will never be
> able to build a socialist party. We will also not be in a position to resist
> fascism when it makes its appearance.
> In my next report, I will take a look at the American Populist
> movement led by Tom Watson at the turn of the century. It is a highly
> contradictory social movement. In some respects it is fascist-like, in
> other respects it is highly progressive. If we understand American
> Populism, we will in a much better position to understand the
> populism of today.
> These are the types of questions that we should be considering in the
> weeks to come:
> 1) Why did fascism emerge when it did? Could there have been
> fascism in the 1890's?
> 2) Is fascism limited to imperialist nations? Could there be fascism in
> third-world countries? Did Pinochet represent fascism in Chile?
> 3) What is the class base of the Nation of Islam? Can there be fascism
> emerging out of oppressed nationalities? Can a Turkish or Algerian
> fascism develop as a response to neo-fascism in Europe today?
> 4) The Italian government includes a "fascist" party that openly
> celebrates Mussolini. What should we make of this?
> 5) What is the difference between fascism and ultrarightism?
> Ultrarightism is a permanent feature of US and world politics. Was
> George Wallace a fascist? What would a European equivalent be?
> 6) Is fascism emerging in the former Soviet Union? Does Zherinovsky
> represent fascism? Is the cause of the civil war in former Yugoslavia
> Serbian or Croatian fascism?
> 7) Can there be a fascism which does not incorporate powerful
> anticapitalist themes and demagoguery? Joe McCarthy was regarded
> as a fascist-like figure, but he had no use for radical left-wing
> verbiage or actions. What should we make of him?
> 8) If fascism emerged as a reaction to the powerful proletarian
> revolutionary movements of the 1920's and 30's, what types of
> conditions can we see in the foreseeable future that would provoke new
> fascist movements? If socialism is no longer objectively possible
> because of the ability of capitalism to "deliver the goods", what would
> the need for fascism be? Why would the capitalist class support a new
> Hitler when the working-class is so quiescient? Should we be thinking
> about a new definition of fascism?
> 9) Fascism has a deeply expansionist and bellicose dynamics. In the
> age of nuclear weaponry, can we expect imperialism to opt for a fascist
> solution? Would the Rockefellers et al allow a trigger-happy figure
> like "Mark from Michigan" to control nuclear weapons?
> 10) What tools are necessary to analyze fascism? Should we be looking
> at the speeches of Farrakhan or Mark from Michigan? Was this Marx's
> approach to Bonapartism?
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