The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852


Let us pick up the threads of the development once more.

The history of the Constituent National Assembly since the June days is the history of the domination and the disintegration of the republican faction of the bourgeoisie, of the faction known by the names of tricolor republicans, pure republicans, political republicans, formalist republicans, etc.

Under the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Philippe it had formed the official republican opposition and consequently a recognized component part of the political world of the day. It had its representatives in the Chambers and a considerable sphere of influence in the press. Its Paris organ, the National, was considered just as respectable in its way as the Journal des Débats. Its character corresponded to this position under the constitutional monarchy. It was not a faction of the bourgeoisie held together by great common interests and marked off by specific conditions of production. It was a clique of republican-minded bourgeois, writers, lawyers, officers, and officials that owed its influence to the personal antipathies of the country to Louis Philippe, to memories of the old republic, to the republican faith of a number of enthusiasts, above all, however, to French nationalism, whose hatred of the Vienna treaties[79] and of the alliance with England it stirred up perpetually. A large part of the following the National had under Louis Philippe was due to this concealed imperialism, which could consequently confront it later, under the republic, as a deadly rival in the person of Louis Bonaparte. It fought the aristocracy of finance, as did all the rest of the bourgeois opposition. Polemics against the budget, which in France were closely connected with fighting the aristocracy of finance, procured popularity too cheaply and material for puritanical leading articles too plentifully not to be exploited. The industrial bourgeoisie was grateful to it for its slavish defense of the French protectionist system, which it accepted, however, more on national grounds than on grounds of national economy; the bourgeoisie as a whole, for its vicious denunciation of communism and socialism. For the rest, the party of the National was purely republican; that is, it demanded a republican instead of a monarchist form of bourgeois rule and, above all, the lion’s share of this rule. About the conditions of this transformation it was by no means clear in its own mind. On the other hand, what was clear as daylight to it, and was publicly acknowledged at the reform banquets in the last days of Louis Philippe, was its unpopularity with the democratic petty bourgeois, and in particular with the revolutionary proletariat. These pure republicans, as is indeed the way with pure republicans, were already at the point of contenting themselves in the first instance with a regency of the Duchess of Orleans[80] when the February Revolution broke out and assigned their best-known representatives a place in the Provisional Government. From the start they naturally had the confidence of the bourgeoisie and a majority in the Constituent National Assembly. The socialist elements of the Provisional Government were excluded forthwith from the Executive Commission which the National Assembly formed when it met, and the party of the National took advantage of the outbreak of the June insurrection to discharge the Executive Commission[81] also, and therewith to get rid of its closest rivals, the petty-bourgeois, or democratic, republicans (Ledru-Rollin, etc.). Cavaignac, the general of the bourgeois-republican part who commanded the June massacre, took the place of the Executive Commission with a sort of dictatorial power. Marrast, former editor in chief of the National, became the perpetual president of the Constituent National Assembly, and the ministries, as well as all other important posts, fell to the portion of the pure republicans.

The republican bourgeois faction, which had long regarded itself as the legitimate heir of the July Monarchy, thus found its fondest hopes exceeded; it attained power, however, not as it had dreamed under Louis Philippe, through a liberal revolt of the bourgeoisie against the throne, but through a rising of the proletariat against capital, a rising laid low with grapeshot. What it had conceived as the most revolutionary event turned out in reality to be the most counterrevolutionary. The fruit fell into its lap, but it fell from the tree of knowledge, not from the tree of life.

The exclusive rule of the bourgeois republicans lasted only from June 24 to December 10, 1848. It is summed up in the drafting of a republican constitution and in the state of siege of Paris.

The new constitution was at bottom only the republicanized edition of the constitutional Charter of 1830.[82] The narrow electoral qualification of the July Monarchy, which excluded even a large part of the bourgeoisie from political rule, was incompatible with the existence of the bourgeois republic. In lieu of this qualification, the February Revolution had at once proclaimed direct universal suffrage. The bourgeois republicans could not undo this event. They had to content themselves with adding the limiting proviso of a six months’ residence in the constituency. The old organization of the administration, the municipal system, the judicial system, the army, etc., continued to exist inviolate, or, where the constitution changed them, the change concerned the table of contents, not the contents; the name, not the subject matter.

The inevitable general staff of the liberties of 1848, personal liberty, liberty of the press, of speech, of association, of assembly, of education and religion, etc., received a constitutional uniform which made them invulnerable. For each of these liberties is proclaimed as the absolute right of the French citoyen, but always with the marginal note that it is unlimited so far as it is not limited by the “equal rights of others and the public safety” or by “laws” which are intended to mediate just this harmony of the individual liberties with one another and with the public safety. For example:

“The citizens have the right of association, of peaceful and unarmed assembly, of petition and of expressing their opinions, whether in the press or in any other way. The enjoyment of these rights has no limit save the equal rights of others and the public safety.”

“Education is free. Freedom of education shall be enjoyed under the conditions fixed by law and under the supreme control of the state.”

“The home of every citizen is inviolable except in the forms prescribed by law.”

The constitution, therefore, constantly refers to future organic laws which are to put into affect those marginal notes and regulate the enjoyment of these unrestricted liberties in such manner that they will collide neither with one another nor with the public safety. And later these organic laws were brought into being by the friends of order and all those liberties regulated in such manner that the bourgeoisie in its enjoyment of them finds itself unhindered by the equal rights of the other classes. Where it forbids these liberties entirely to “the others,” or permits enjoyment of them under conditions that are just so many police traps, this always happens solely in the interest of “public safety” – that is, the safety of the bourgeoisie – as the constitution prescribes. In the sequel, both sides accordingly appeal with complete justice to the constitution: the friends of order, who abrogated all these liberties, as well as the democrats, who demanded all of them. For each paragraph of the constitution contains its own antithesis, its own upper and lower house, namely, liberty in the general phrase, abrogation of liberty in the marginal note. Thus so long as the name of freedom was respected and only its actual realization prevented, of course in a legal way, the constitutional existence of liberty remained intact, inviolate, however mortal the blows dealt to its existence in actual life.

This constitution, made inviolable in so ingenious a manner, was nevertheless, like Achilles, vulnerable in one point – not in the heel, but in the head, or rather in the two heads it wound up with: the Legislative Assembly on the one hand, the President on the other. Glance through the constitution and you will find that only the paragraphs in which the relationship of the President to the Legislative Assembly is defined are absolute, positive, noncontradictory, and cannot be distorted. For here it was a question of the bourgeois republicans safeguarding themselves. Articles 45-70 of the Constitution are so worded that the National Assembly can remove the President constitutionally, whereas the President can remove the National Assembly only unconstitutionally, only by setting aside the constitution itself. Here, therefore, it challenges its forcible destruction. It not only sanctifies the division of powers, like the Charter of 1830, it widens it into an intolerable contradiction. The play of the constitutional powers, as Guizot termed the parliamentary squabble between the legislative and executive power, is in the constitution of 1848 continually played va-banque [staking all]. On one side are seven hundred and fifty representatives of the people, elected by universal suffrage and eligible for re-election; they form an uncontrollable, indissoluble, indivisible National Assembly, a National Assembly that enjoys legislative omnipotence, decides in the last instance on war, peace, and commercial treaties, alone possesses the right of amnesty, and, by its permanence, perpetually holds the front of the stage. On the other side is the President, with all the attributes of royal power, with authority to appoint and dismiss his ministers independently of the National Assembly, with all the resources of the executive power in his hands, bestowing all posts and disposing thereby in France of the livelihoods of at least a million and a half people, for so many depend on the five hundred thousand officials and officers of every rank. He has the whole of the armed forces behind him. He enjoys the privilege of pardoning individual criminals, of suspending National Guards, of discharging, with the concurrence of the Council of State, general, cantonal, and municipal councils elected by the citizens themselves. Initiative and direction are reserved to him in all treaties with foreign countries. While the Assembly constantly performs on the boards and is exposed to daily public criticism, he leads a secluded life in the Elysian Fields, and that with Article 45 of the constitution before his eyes and in his heart, crying to him daily: “Frere, il faut mourir![‘Brother, one must die!’][83] Your power ceases on the second Sunday of the lovely month of May in the fourth year after your election! Then your glory is at an end, the piece is not played twice, and if you have debts, look to it quickly that you pay them off with the 600,000 francs granted you by the constitution, unless, perchance, you prefer to go to Clichy[84] on the second Monday of the lovely month of May! Thus, whereas the constitution assigns power to the President, it seeks to secure moral power for the National Assembly. Apart from the fact that it is impossible to create a moral power by paragraphs of law, the constitution here abrogates itself once more by having the President elected by all Frenchmen through direct suffrage. While the votes of France are split up among the seven hundred and fifty members of the National Assembly, they are here, on the contrary, concentrated on a single individual. While each separate representative of the people represents only this or that party, this or that town, this or that bridgehead, or even only the mere necessity of electing someone as the seven hundred and fiftieth, without examining too closely either the cause or the man, he is the elect of the nation and the act of his election is the trump that the sovereign people plays once every four years. The elected National Assembly stands in a metaphysical relation, but the elected President in a personal relation, to the nation. The National Assembly, indeed, exhibits in its individual representatives the manifold aspects of the national spirit, but in the President this national spirit finds its incarnation. As against the Assembly, he possesses a sort of divine right; he is President by the grace of the people.

Thetis, the sea goddess, prophesied to Achilles that he would die in the bloom of youth. The constitution, which, like Achilles, had its weak spot, also had, like Achilles, a presentiment that it must go to an early death. It was sufficient for the constitution-making pure republicans to cast a glance from the lofty heaven of their ideal republic at the profane world to perceive how the arrogance of the royalists, the Bonapartists, the democrats, the communists, as well as their own discredit, grew daily in the same measure as they approached the completion of their great legislative work of art, without Thetis on this account having to leave the sea and communicate the secret to them. They sought to cheat destiny by a catch in the constitution, through Article III according to which every motion for a revision of the constitution must be supported by at least three-quarters of the votes, cast in three successive debates with an entire month between each, with the added proviso that not less than five hundred members of the National Assembly must vote. Thereby they merely made the impotent attempt to continue exercising a power – when only a parliamentary minority, as which they already saw themselves prophetically in their mind’s eye – a power which at that time, when they commanded a parliamentary majority and all the resources of governmental authority, was daily slipping more and more from their feeble hands.

Finally the constitution, in a melodramatic paragraph, entrusts itself “to the vigilance and the patriotism of the whole French people and every single Frenchman,” after it has previously entrusted in another paragraph the “vigilant” and “patriotic” to the tender, most painstaking care of the High Court of Justice, the haute cour it invented for the purpose.

Such was the Constitution of 1848, which on December 2, 1851, was not overthrown by a head, but fell down at the touch of a mere hat; this hat, to be sure, was a three-cornered Napoleonic hat.

While the bourgeois republicans in the Assembly were busy devising, discussing, and voting this constitution, Cavaignac outside the Assembly maintained the state of siege of Paris. The state of siege of Paris was the midwife of the Constituent Assembly in its travail of republican creation. If the constitution is subsequently put out of existence by bayonets, it must not be forgotten that it was likewise by bayonets, and these turned against the people, that it had to be protected in its mother’s womb and by bayonets that it had to be brought into existence. The forefathers of the “respectable republicans” had sent their symbol, the tricolor, on a tour around Europe. They themselves in turn produced an invention that of itself made its way over the whole Continent, but returned to France with ever renewed love until it has now become naturalized in half her departments – the state of siege. A splendid invention, periodically employed in every ensuing crisis in the course of the French Revolution. But barrack and bivouac, which were thus periodically laid on French society’s head to compress its brain and render it quiet; saber and musket, which were periodically allowed to act as judges and administrators, as guardians and censors, to play policeman and do night watchman’s duty; mustache and uniform, which were periodically trumpeted forth as the highest wisdom of society and as its rector - were not barrack and bivouac, saber and musket, mustache and uniform finally bound to hit upon the idea of instead saving society once and for all by proclaiming their own regime as the highest and freeing civil society completely from the trouble of governing itself? Barrack and bivouac, saber and musket, mustache and uniform were bound to hit upon this idea all the more as they might then also expect better cash payment for their higher services, whereas from the merely periodic state of siege and the transient rescues of society at the bidding of this or that bourgeois faction, little of substance was gleaned save some killed and wounded and some friendly bourgeois grimaces. Should not the military at last one day play state of siege in their own interest and for their own benefit, and at the same time besiege the citizens’ purses? Moreover, be it noted in passing, one must not forget that Colonel Bernard, the same military commission president who under Cavaignac had fifteen thousand insurgents deported without trial, is at this moment again at the head of the military commissions active in Paris.

Whereas with the state of siege in Paris, the respectable, the pure republicans planted the nursery in which the praetorians of December 2, 1851, were to grow up, they on the other hand deserve praise for the reason that, instead of exaggerating the national sentiment as under Louis Philippe, they now, when they had command of the national power, crawled before foreign countries, and instead of setting Italy free, let her be reconquered by Austrians and Neapolitans.[85] Louis Bonaparte’s election as President on December 10, 1848, put an end to the dictatorship of Cavaignac and to the Constituent Assembly.

In Article 44 of the Constitution it is stated:

“The President of the French Republic must never have lost his status of French citizen.”

The first President of the French Republic, L. N. Bonaparte, had not merely lost his status of French citizen, had not only been an English special constable, he was even a naturalized Swiss.[86]

I have worked out elsewhere the significance of the election of December 10. I will not revert to it here. It is sufficient to remark here that it was a reaction of the peasants, who had had to pay the costs of the February Revolution, against the remaining classes of the nation; a reaction of the country against the town. It met with great approval in the army, for which the republicans of the National had provided neither glory nor additional pay; among the big bourgeoisie, which hailed Bonaparte as a bridge to monarchy, among the proletarians and petty bourgeois, who hailed him as a scourge for Cavaignac. I shall have an opportunity later of going more closely into the relationship of the peasants to the French Revolution.

The period from December 20, 1848, until the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in May, 1849, comprises the history of the downfall of the bourgeois republicans. After having founded a republic for the bourgeoisie, driven the revolutionary proletariat out of the field, and reduced the democratic petty bourgeoisie to silence for the time being, they are themselves thrust aside by the mass of the bourgeoisie, which justly impounds this republic as its property. This bourgeois mass was, however, royalist. One section of it, the large landowners, had ruled during the Restoration and was accordingly Legitimist. The other, the aristocrats of finance and big industrialists, had ruled during the July Monarchy and was consequently Orleanist. The high dignitaries of the army, the university, the church, the bar, the academy, and the press were to be found on either side, though in various proportions. Here, in the bourgeois republic, which bore neither the name Bourbon nor the name Orleans, but the name capital, they had found the form of state in which they could rule conjointly. The June insurrection had already united them in the party of Order. Now it was necessary, in the first place, to remove the coterie of bourgeois republicans who still occupied the seats of the National Assembly. Just as brutal as these pure republicans had been in their misuse of physical force against the people, just as cowardly, mealy-mouthed, broken-spirited, and incapable of fighting were they now in their retreat, when it was a question of maintaining their republicanism and their legislative rights against the executive power and the royalists. I need not relate here the ignominious history of their dissolution. They did not succumb; they passed out of existence. Their history has come to an end forever, and, both inside and outside the Assembly, they figure in the following period only as memories, memories that seem to regain life whenever the mere name republic is once more the issue and as often as the revolutionary conflict threatens to sink down to the lowest level. I may remark in passing that the journal which gave its name to this party, the National, was converted to socialism in the following period.

Before we finish with this period we must still cast a retrospective glance at the two powers, one of which annihilated the other on December 2, 1851, whereas from December 20, 1848, until the exit of the Constituent Assembly, they had lived in conjugal relations. We mean Louis Bonaparte, on the one hand, and the part of the coalesced royalists, the party of Order, of the big bourgeoisie, on the other. On acceding to the presidency, Bonaparte at once formed a ministry of the party of Order, at the head of which he placed Odilon Barrot, the old leader, nota bene, of the most liberal faction of the parliamentary bourgeoisie. M. Barrot had at last secured the ministerial portfolio whose image had haunted him since 1830, and what is more, the premiership in the ministry; but not, as he had imagined under Louis Philippe, as the most advanced leader of the parliamentary opposition, but with the task of putting a parliament to death, and as the confederate of all his archenemies, Jesuits and Legitimists. He brought the bride home at last, but only after she had been prostituted. Bonaparte seemed to efface himself completely. This party acted for him.

The very first meeting of the council of ministers resolved on the expedition to Rome, which, it was agreed, should be undertaken behind the back of the National Assembly and the means for which were to be wrested from it under false pretenses. Thus they began by swindling the National Assembly and secretly conspiring with the absolutist powers abroad against the revolutionary Roman republic.

In the same manner and with the same maneuvers Bonaparte prepared his coup of December 2 against the royalist Legislative Assembly and its constitutional republic. Let us not forget that the same party which formed Bonaparte’s ministry on December 20, 1848, formed the majority of the Legislative National Assembly on December 2, 1851.

In August the Constituent Assembly had decided to dissolve only after it had worked out and promulgated a whole series of organic laws that were to supplement the constitution. On January 6, 1849, the party of Order had a deputy named Rateau move that the Assembly should let the organic laws go and rather decide on its own dissolution. Not only the ministry, with Odilon Barrot at its head, but all the royalist members of the National Assembly told it in bullying accents then that its dissolution was necessary for the restoration of credit, for the consolidation of order, for putting an end to the indefinite provisional arrangements and establishing a definitive state of affairs; that it hampered the productivity of the new government and sought to prolong its existence merely out of malice; that the country was tired of it. Bonaparte took note of all this invective against the legislative power, learned it by heart, and proved to the parliamentary royalists, on December 2, 1851, that he had learned from them. He repeated their own catchwords against them.

The Barrot Ministry and the party of Order went further. They caused petitions to the National Assembly to be made throughout France, in which this body was politely requested to decamp. They thus led the unorganized popular masses into the fire of battle against the National Assembly, the constitutionally organized expression of the people. They taught Bonaparte to appeal against the parliamentary assemblies to the people. At length, on January 29, 1849, the day had come on which the Constituent Assembly was to decide concerning its own dissolution. The National Assembly found the building where its sessions were held occupied by the military; Changarnier, the general of the party of Order, in whose hands the supreme command of the National Guard and troops of the line had been united, held a great military review in Paris, as if a battle were impending, and the royalists in coalition threateningly declared to the Constituent Assembly that force would be employed if it should prove unwilling. It was willing, and only bargained for a very short extra term of life. What was January 29 but the coup d’etat of December 2, 1851, only carried out by the royalists with Bonaparte against the republican National Assembly? The gentlemen did not observe, or did not wish to observe, that Bonaparte availed himself of January 29, 1849, to have a portion of the troops march past him in front of the Tuileries, and seized with avidity on just this first public summoning of the military power against the parliamentary power to foreshadow Caligula. They, to be sure, saw only their Changarnier.

A motive that particularly actuated the party of Order in forcibly cutting short the duration of the Constituent Assembly’s life was the organic laws supplementing the constitution, such as the law on education, the law on religious worship, etc. To the royalists in coalition it was most important that they themselves should make these laws and not let them be made by the republicans, who had grown mistrustful. Among these organic laws, however, was also a law on the responsibility of the President of the Republic. In 1851 the Legislative Assembly was occupied with the drafting of just such a law, when Bonaparte anticipated this coup with the coup of December 2. What would the royalists in coalition not have given in their winter election campaign of 1851 to have found the Responsibility Law ready to hand, and drawn up, at that, by a mistrustful, hostile, republican Assembly!

After the Constituent Assembly had itself shattered its last weapon on January 29, 1849, the Barrot Ministry and the friends of order hounded it to death, left nothing undone that could humiliate it, and wrested from the impotent, self-despairing Assembly laws that cost it the last remnant of respect in the eyes of the public. Bonaparte, occupied with his fixed Napoleonic idea,[87] was brazen enough to exploit publicly this degradation of the parliamentary power. For when on May 8, 1849, the National Assembly passed a vote of censure of the ministry because of the occupation of Civitavecchia by Oudinot, and ordered it to bring back the Roman expedition to its alleged purpose,[88] Bonaparte published the same evening in the Moniteur a letter to Oudinot in which he congratulated him on his heroic exploits and, in contrast to the ink-slinging parliamentarians, already posed as the generous protector of the army. The royalists smiled at this. They regarded him simply as their dupe. Finally, when Marrast, the President of the Constituent Assembly, believed for a moment that the safety of the National Assembly was endangered and, relying on the constitution, requisitioned a colonel and his regiment, the colonel declined, cited discipline in his support, and referred Marrast to Changarnier, who scornfully refused him with the remark that he did not like baionnettes intelligentes [intellectual bayonets]. In November, 1851, when the royalists in coalition wanted to begin the decisive struggle with Bonaparte, they sought to put through in their notorious Quaestors’ Bill the principle of the direct requisition of troops by the President of the National Assembly.[89] One of their generals, Le Flo, had signed the bill. In vain did Changarnier vote for it and Thiers pay homage to the farsighted wisdom of the former Constituent Assembly. The War Minister, Saint-Arnaud, answered him as Changarnier had answered Marrast – and to the acclamation of the Montagne!

Thus the party of Order, when it was not yet the National Assembly, when it was still only the ministry, had itself stigmatized the parliamentary regime. And it makes an outcry when December 2, 1851, banishes this regime from France!

We wish it a happy journey.