Marx at his Study

Study Guide for


18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

See Neue Rheinische Zeitung for Marx and Engels' reporting of the events of June 1848 - May 49, and
Class Struggles in France, 1848 - 1850 and Engels' 1895 introduction for more analysis of the events of 1848-50 in France.
Chapter 6 has a succinct time line of the period.

Chapter 1 - The Course of French Revolution: Feb. 1848 to Dec. 1851

People: Hegel, Robespierre, Louis Blanc, Blanqui, Danton, Guizot.

Terms: Bourgeoisie, Proletariat.

Questions for discussion:
1. What were the three periods Marx identifies in this period and what were the main events that marked out the development of each phase?
2. “All great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. ... the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Can you think of modern day events like this, or instances from your personal experience?
3. “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past” Can you illustrate what this means in terms of current political problems?
4. Can you give contemporary examples of how political leaders “conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”
5. But Marx says “The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content”, so how is it possible for the working class to avoid simply borrowing its slogans from the past?
6. Marx describes the difference between the way a bourgeois revolution progresses in contrast to how the proletariat develops politically. Why is there this difference?
7. Can you describe the process whereby the defeated proletariat got itself back into the struggle in the “third period”?
8. Marx describes the broadening and narrowing of the base of the government. At what point was it broadest and why, and at what point was it narrowest and why?

Chapter 2 - The Downfall of the Republicans

Terms: Bonapartism, Freedom.

Questions for discussion:
1. How did it come about that a proletarian uprising put a group of reactionaries into power?
2. How did the republicans undermine the freedoms which the French Revolution had claimed to establish, and how was the struggle over these rights reflected in the Constitution?
3. What do you think about Marx's analysis of the relative position of the President and the Legislature, thinking in terms of the government in your own country?
4. What mistake did the republicans make in making a constitution that was impossible to amend, and why were they thrown out?
5. How did Napoleon come to be able wield power in France, and what lesson does Marx say he learnt from the Barrot Ministry and the Party of Order?

Chapter 3 - The Rise of Louis Bonaparte

Terms: Legitimists, Historical Materialism,

Questions for discussion:
1. Who were the Constitutionalists, the Girondists and the Jacobins?
2. Can you think of examples in your own experience of situations, maybe in the workers' movement, where every party relied on the party to its left, and on the other hand, where every party relied on the party to its right? And what happens at the end?
3. What were the social bases of the House of Bourbon, the House of Orleans, the Legitimate Monarchy and the July Monarchy?
4. What function does the Monarchy perform for the bourgeoisie, and on the other hand, why does Marx say that only a republic can make their rule complete?
5. What brought the petty bourgeoisie and the workers together and what price did the proletariat pay for this support?
6. “What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically.” What do you think about this?
7. What general lessons would you draw about the class struggle from this chapter?

Chapter 4 - The Defeat of the petty-bourgeois democracy

Terms: Class, Democracy.

Questions for discussion:
1. According to Marx what is the specifically French type of bourgeois rule, and what is the either-or alternative?
2. What does Marx mean by: “all the so-called bourgeois liberties and organs of progress attacked and menaced its class rule at its social foundation and its political summit simultaneously.”?
3. What does Marx mean by: “the bourgeoisie confesses that its own interests dictate that it should be delivered from the danger of its own rule.”?

Chapter 5 - The Struggle of the Constituent Assembly with Bonaparte

Terms: Lumpen Proletariat, Decembrists, State.

Questions for discussion:
1. What was Bonaparte's own social base and how did he maintain it?
2. How did Bonaparte gain control of the army?
3. Why did the party of Order become powerless, why was it unable to do anything about Bonaparte?

Chapter 6 - The Victory of Bonaparte

Terms: Historical Materialism,

Questions for discussion:
1. “This bourgeoisie, which every moment sacrificed its general class interests, that is, its political interests, to the narrowest and most sordid private interests, ... now moans that the proletariat has sacrificed its ideal political interests to its material interests”. What does this mean?
2. What does Marx claim to be the effects of the industrial and commercial crises of 1851?
3. Can you explain what was referred to in this sentence: “If by its motion to restore universal suffrage the executive power appealed from the National Assembly to the people, the legislative power appealed by its Quaestors' Bill from the people to the army”?
4. How many different social classes can you recall Marx referring to in this chapter, and how did Marx describe the political dispoition of this class?

Chapter 6 - Summary

Terms: State, Ideology, Centralisation and Decentralisation,

Questions for discussion:
1. “The social republic appeared as a phrase, as a prophecy, ... it was drowned in the blood of the Paris proletariat, but it haunts the subsequent acts of the drama like a ghost.” Are there other events that you see like this?
2. Marx judged that the proletariat was correct not to revolt after the coup of December 2. On what basis, and have you had experiences where the same kind of issues were involved? Who was calling upon the proletariat to fight, and why?
3. See Lenin's comment in State and Revolution. How has Marx arrived at these conclusion which Lenin sees as being so significant?
4. Marx says that Bonaparte “represented” the small-holding peasants. On what basis does Marx claim this connection?
5. “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.” How does this observation fit with the notion of social class? Is this “enormous mass” a social class?
6. To what does Marx ascribe the improverishment of the peasantry, and what is the political effect of this impoverishment?
7. “The centralization of the state that modern society requires arises only on the ruins of the military-bureaucratic government machinery which was forged in opposition to feudalism.” Can you explain what this means?
8. “By protecting [the middle class's] material power, [Bonaparte] revives its political power.” How did this process work itself out?
9. What was the net result of the events of 1848-51 for the French proletariat?

Andy Blunden, 2002