by Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker blog
(This is the fifth chapter in a new book, France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values. Please click here for the article which announces this book and explains its goals.)
For Marx all of society was divided into classes – classes which played political roles. What’s unfortunate is that he fundamentally believed that the average rural person – 85% of mid-19th century France – was incapable of playing a political role. It’s a major blind spot which seems to defy common sense, but it was actually a common mistake back then.
It’s a common mistake even now: Rejecting the part played by the rural voters continues to be a 175-year problem for Western leftists.
Yes, in 1848 Marx was a working socialist who was going to fight, write and lobby for socialism – and denigrate all the other parties vying for influence in the new 2nd Republic (1848-52) – but in 2022 we can see that his disregard for the rural masses was also a major factor in his rejection (and rather slandering) of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who was elected France’s first president in 1848.
In the previous chapter I noted how two crucial facts are always left out of any discussion of the 2nd Republic and Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup against the legislative branch (and subsequent establishment of the 2nd Empire: 1852-70):
1) the legislative branch voted to subordinate the 1848 constitution to the majority will of parliament – thus they made a coup against the people’s constitution, and 2) the legislative branch gutted 1848’s progressive advance of instituting universal male suffrage, thus they made a coup against the people and millions of new voters. Thus, it is the oligarchical parliament which made the first coup – the Bonapartist coup was a reaction to these outrages. Critically, it was approved in a referendum so large it was then the world’s largest referendum.
The simplest definition of “Bonapartism” is accepted as, “A political movement associated with authoritarian rule, usually by a military leader, supported by a popular mandate.” Of course I am not arguing for Bonapartism being progressive in the 21st century, but from 1799-1870 the Bonapartes were the only elected chief executives in Europe, and that certainly was progressive! The failure is in obscuring the Bonapartes’ historical context and judging solely by 21st century standards – which is ludicrous and dooms us to never understanding history and repeating the same mistakes.
Without embracing the will of a mainly rural French electorate intent on keeping the spirits of 1848 and 1789 not just alive but actually partially implemented via their election of the Bonapartes, we are stuck with siding with awful absolute monarchs or awful Liberal Democrats. It’s unfortunate that France has never selected Socialist Democracy, but that doesn’t mean Bonapartism wasn’t an advance over the other two.
By denigrating both Bonapartes leftists agree with conservatives that not only was 1848 a failure everywhere including the one place it reportedly succeeded – France – but that the French Revolution was a failure as well. This forces us to lose the thread of political history: moving away from unelected, theocratic autocracy and towards greater self-empowerment and democracy.
So, Marx got Louis-Bonaparte all wrong. He’s not as thrilling as his uncle, but he should no longer be portrayed as the “farce” in Marx’s famous history repeated as farce idea from his essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
What’s farcical is that people keep championing ruinous, repugnant Western Liberal Democracy even though it was voted out after just three years in France.
From Burke to Marx to ‘deplorable’ Brexiteers & Yellow Vests – both left and right have been biased against rural people
Marx’s Brumaire, a title which referred back to the similarly bloodless and similarly voter-ratified coup of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, clearly tried to obscure crucial truths: He waited until the absolute end of his famous essay to explain that Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s elevation to emperor was democratically approved and justifiably rests on his insistence on 1848’s unprecedented implementation of universal male suffrage.
“(Louis-Napoleon) Bonaparte represents an economic class, and that most numerous in the commonweal of France – the Allotment Farmer. As the Bourbons (ousted 1815) are the dynasty of large landed property, as the Orleans are the dynasty of money, so are the Bonapartes the dynasty of the farmer, i.e. of the French masses. Not the Bonaparte who threw himself at the feet of the bourgeois parliament (as Marx notes Louis-Napoleon did repeatedly from his election in 1848), but the Bonaparte who swept away (made a coup against) the bourgeois parliament is the elect of this farmer class. For three years the cities had succeeded in falsifying the meaning of the election of December 10 (1848, Louis-Napoleon’s election as president), and in cheating the former out of the restoration of the Empire. The election of December 10, 1848, is not carried out until the ‘coup d’etat’ of December 2, 1851.”
Marx asserts what the Yellow Vests assert and what this book asserts: the parliaments of Western Liberal Democracy refuse to implement the will of the average voter, and we have known this since at least 1848.
Marx’s vital analysis of democratic denial by parliament only comes after scores of pages of denigrating Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte as personally unfit for office. However, 175 years later, we can see it clearly right there: Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte partially confirmed the people’s victory of 1848 just as Napoleon Bonapartism partially confirmed the people’s victory of 1789 – both upheld the democratic will and opposed oligarchs.
The “allotment farmer” is the rural proletariat, whether they own their own small holdings or are sharecroppers. 1789 broke up the large estates of the church and created these small holdings, which was really the main economic blow to end French feudalism. It is facile to falsely slander the land redistribution post-1789 as something which only profited the richer peasants and professionals, because as the Revolution went on poor peasants were undoubtedly buying land. By the turn of the century 70% of land buyers were peasants and only 30% were noblemen, dealers, merchants and lawyers. Even if poor peasants could never afford their own land the French Revolution’s ending of tithe, seigniorial dues and primogeniture represented an enormous leftist leap for the lives of all peasants. One shouldn’t have to be a Maoist to grasp that finally giving peasants property and economic freedoms at the expense of the elite and an elite-infested clergy was a spectacular advance in its day. To not see all this as historical progress – even if not ideal – from feudalism is to lose the thread completely. In order to maintain it French farmers used arms, then the guillotine, then votes. The fear of a return to feudalism – especially in the context of a total failure of the 1848 Revolutions everywhere else across Europe – was a real, regular fear for the French peasant in the 2nd Republic.
Marx continues, and it’s clear that he sees the formally feudal masses as being incapable of embracing socialism; of a need for an urban vanguard party; that he could be describing the Yellow Vests 170 years later:
“The allotment farmers are an immense mass, whose individual members live in identical conditions, without, however, entering into manifold relations of one another. Their method of production isolates them from one another, instead of drawing them into mutual intercourse. In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes, and that place them in an attitude hostile toward the latter, they constitute a class; in so far as there exists only a local connection among these farmers, a connection which the individuality and exclusiveness of their interests prevent from generating among them any unity of interest, national connections and political organisation, they do not constitute a class.”
If rural farmers – in the breadbasket of Western Europe and in Europe’s then-richest and most politically advanced country – cannot constitute a political class (even with a vote for the males, even!) then Marx necessarily sees French politics as limited to urbanites and non-farmers. It’s an incredibly English-influenced view of politics: suffrage would be excluded for Britain’s agricultural workers until as late as 1884, until the Representation of the People Act. We see that the rural-urban divide in the Anglophone world, and their view that ruralites are second-class citizens who should be excluded from politics, is not since Brexit or the Yellow Vests but extends deep into the roots of even Socialist Democracy.
Yellow Vest: “What we have in common is that we share a feeling of injustice, about climate, about fiscal, about work. They are making laws about retirement, unemployed people, everything – so there is a lot of different people here today, but what we all have in common is a feeling of injustice.”
(Note: this book intersperses over 100 quotations taken from actual, marching Yellow Vests which were originally published in news reports on PressTV.)
Marx continues: “Consequently, they are unable to assert their class interests in their own name, be it by a parliament or by convention. They cannot represent one another, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power, that protects them from above, bestows rain and sunshine upon them. Accordingly, the political influence of the allotment farmer finds its ultimate expression in an Executive power that subjugates the commonweal to its own autocratic will.”
Because around 85% of France is incapable of political action (even with a vote for males!) for Marx, and only appreciates absolute autocrats (Then why did they fight for the French Revolution! Then why have Chinese farmers embraced a vast Party?!), then the only alternative is for political life be limited to a vanguard party drawn from urban classes. This urban snobbery is still rampant today across both sides of the spectrum, but the left rarely examines this “acceptable” prejudice they often display.
However, we need to stress that Marx was not at all alone. Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism, shared the same incorrectly dim view of rural political capabilities as Marx. Interestingly, Burke also wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France that this new Western Liberal Democracy would perpetually depend on those classes which oppress the rural masses. He notes that it would be dominated by what I have often written about: not a vanguard class inspired by Socialist Democracy but Bankocracy.
“The whole of the power obtained by this (France’s 1789) revolution will settle in the towns among the burghers and the monied director who lead them. The landed gentleman, the yeoman, and the peasant have, none of them, habits or inclinations or experience which can lead them to any share in this sole source of power and influence now left in France. The very nature of a country life, the very nature of landed property, in all the occupations, and all the pleasures they afford, render combination and arrangement (the sole way of procuring and exerting influence) in a manner impossible amongst country people. Combine them by all the art you can, and all the industry, they are always dissolving into individuality. Anything in the nature of incorporation is almost impracticable amongst them. Hope, fear, alarm, jealousy, the ephemerous tale that does its business and dies in a day – all these things which are the reins and spurs by which leaders check or urge the minds of followers are not easily employed, or hardly at all, amongst scattered people. They assemble, they are, they act with the utmost difficulty and at the greatest charge. Their efforts, if they can be commenced, cannot be sustained. They cannot proceed systematically.
It is obvious that in the towns all things which conspire against the country gentleman come in favor of the money managers and director. In towns combination is natural. The habits of burghers, their occupations, their diversion, their business, their idleness continually brings them into mutual contact. Their figures and their vices are sociable; they are always in garrison; and they come embodied and half disciplined into the hands of those who mean to form them for civil or military action.
All these considerations leave no doubt on my mind that, if this monster of a constitution can continue, France will be wholly governed by the agitators in corporations, by societies in the towns, formed of directors of assignats, and trustees for the sale of church lands, attorneys, agents, money jobbers, speculators and adventurers, composing an ignoble oligarchy founded on the destruction of the the crown, the nobility and the people. Here are all the deceitful dreams and lies of the equality and rights of men.”
They are always in garrison… a sycophant, yes, but Burke was also a great writer. He also foresaw that Western Liberal Democracy was going to culminate in an “ignoble oligarchy” formed of “agitators in corporations”, land speculators, “attorneys, agents, money jobbers, speculators and adventurers”. Who today would not admit that this is what it is?
What Burke failed to foresee is that Marx, Lenin, Russia, China, Cuba, Iran and others would create new systems which would wrest control from both monarchs and this group – which rules along with monarchs in Western Liberal Democracies – and give it to the masses.
So Marx was not alone in thinking that the rural masses are difficult to wrangle into politics, but the weekly roundabout protest and the Facebook page – where freedom of assembly and speech/writing are enjoyed (or at least they were at one point in the internet’s history) – has definitely ended the isolation of the rural class. This class, which was created by 1789 let’s recall, had to wait a very long time to challenge the capital’s death-grip on governance. What is the capital’s 21st century response? To both accuse this rural class of racism while at the same time promoting mainstream politicians who have explicitly pushed imperialist racism.
In 1852 socialism was not sufficiently developed. Ruralites understandably turned to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte after just 3 years of trying out bourgeois Western Liberal Democracy – the alternative was a return to feudalism, autocracy and the total death of 1789.
“The rooted thought of the Nephew becomes a reality because it coincided with the rooted thought of the most numerous class among the French.”
Marx was right to champion socialism, but 175 years later we can champion Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte for his popular democratic legitimacy, something which Marx knew, but refused to grudgingly champion:
If the bourgeois have no values at all, then not only does liberalism have no values but neither does the first years after 1789
Also coming at the end of his analysis, Marx has rather tossed in this defense of half the country.
“But this should be well understood: The Bonaparte dynasty does not represent the revolutionary, it represents the conservative farmer; it does not represent the farmer who presses beyond his own economic conditions, his little allotment of land, it represents him rather who would confirm these conditions; it does not represent the rural population, that, thanks to its own inherent energy, wishes, jointly with the cities to overthrow the old older. It represents, on the contrary, the rural population that, hide-bound in the old order, seeks to see itself, together with its allotments, saved and favoured by the ghost of the Empire.”
Yet Marx is wrong all over the place, in this effort to portray Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte as the candidate of only the far-right farmer. Marx is wrong about who was a “conservative”: Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was elected at a time when royalism was dominant across Europe and still a major part of France’s own political spectrum. To imagine that in 1848 all of France’s farmers had been converted to republicanism/anti-monarchism is certainly false – there were still plenty of royalist farmers, and they are the true conservatives. Furthermore, Marx is implying that farmers who want to preserve the gains of 1789 (which is hardly an “old order”) but are skeptical of 1848 are hidebound reactionaries even though this farmer and his family are the only ones to have thrown off the chains of autocratic feudalism in all of Europe. It’s tortuous logic, indeed.
What Marx failed to admit here is that the desire to hold on to a little allotment, at a time when Anglo-Germanic-Russian autocracy offered only continued feudalism, contains plenty of socialist revolutionary sentiment. It’s surprising that Marx fails to admit this, because in the Communist Manifesto Marx is clearly not against the property of the allotment farmer: “The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. … Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations.”
Yet it’s clear: upholding 1789 was still a revolutionary act in 1848 Europe. I believe Marx was playing politics – he could not make a tactical support of Louis-Napoleon because he wanted the socialists to win.
Yellow Vest: “The Yellow Vests won’t stop until we get citizen-initiated referendums. We need some real democracy in our system, but the Yellow Vests can’t do it alone. I’m glad more help from other sectors is on the way next week.”
As in the previous chapter, Marx proves that Liberal Democracy does not even offer or defend the bourgeois rights of mere liberalism, but Marx goes too far in saying that the bourgeois have no virtues at all when compared to monarchists.
Marx differentiated between royal & bourgeois money and classes, but not between the differences between royal & bourgeois virtues
Marx views the rule of the bourgeois in the 2nd Republic as absolutely terrible, but it’s not really clear if he views them to be as absolutely terrible as monarchy: he truly hates them both. He also truly hates Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. Marx is only on the side of socialism, which is fine, but he underestimates the non-royalists in how they reject the social order of the royalists, and this is a fundamental trend of history:
“All classes and parties joined hands in the (1848 uprising) June Days in a ‘Party of Order’ against the class of the proletariat, which was designated the ‘Party of Anarchy’, of Socialism, of Communism. They claimed to have ‘saved’ society against the ‘enemies of society’. They gave out the slogans of the old social order – ‘Property, family, religion, order’ – as the passwords for their army, and cried out to the counter-revolutionary crusaders: ‘In this sign thou wilt conquer!’”
I think we all get where Marx is coming from. He is also describing what the last chapter focused on: The February Revolution of 1848 was sold out over and over, culminating in the exclusion from power of all classes but the royalists, bourgeois wealth and the upper professionals.
But if we take a longer view of history we see that those were actually new slogans, as they come from a new liberalist republican mindset – those slogans are not the slogans of monarchy at all!
Autocratic monarchy doesn’t respect “property”: they confiscate and bestow at will. They don’t respect “family”: they enslaved your family, forced you to work in their self-glorifying projects and some had the right to rape your wife on your wedding night. They don’t respect righteous “religion” and good works: they conflate religion with praise of their person and total obedience to them, not God. They don’t respect “order”: the “order” in the mind of one king or queen, i.e. their despotism, is “disorder” to everyone else, as they live in fear of that one mind in charge.
Marx does not see that these 2nd Republic slogans have an actual force among liberalist republicans which was new in human history, even if their definition was misused by the royalists. Marx is making politics and thus was, fairly, more concerned with socialism winning power than delineating a progression of history.
In 2022 no socialist-inspired country is against “property”: it does certainly expropriates from the appropriator those goods which the public needs (i.e. electricity, transport, schools, hospitals, etc.). Socialism does not break up the “family”: it undoubtedly promotes the family with tax breaks for children, state-run nurseries, maternal and paternal leave, etc. Socialism is not against “religion”: the USSR proved that this was an immoral failure, and thus religion coexists in places like Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, etc. Socialism is not against “order”: it enforces an order based around equality, whereas the order of Western Liberal Democracy is based around the violence needed to prop up an oligarchy.
So the problem with the “Property, family, religion, order” upheld by Western Liberal Democracy is that these four things are of the conception held by a 1% who either champions or is still a part of the monarchical legacy, and not for and of the masses. Losing property to the 1%’s usury, losing family to the 1%’s hospital bills, losing religion to the 1%’s worship of individualistic sensation, losing order to the 1%’s idea of “slightly less despotism is offered by rule by our class” – this is not socialism, but it clearly is Western Liberal Democracy.
What the Party of Order did was subvert these ideals which liberalism and socialism, both born in 1789, agree are necessary. What they disagree is in the conception of them.
Where they agree is in a negative view of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte.
It’s notable that he is so contemptible to Marx yet his Louis-Napoleon’s enemies (François Guizot) said of his coup: “This is the complete and definitive triumph of socialism.” A reassessment of Marx’s animus is clearly needed to clearly understand “the nephew”.
Marx disliked Louis-Napoleon the way a working socialist politician today dislikes Donald Trump
Marx spends an inordinate amount of Brumaire both suppressing the role of the rural masses and elevating the importance of the urban areas, as I have noted. He also repeatedly condemns Louis-Napoleon as the president of the “slum-proletariat”, or what he calls the “La Boheme” social classes: people without merit and without any desire to acquire work skills, combined with pseudo-artistic types, outright criminals and addicts.
And yet Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte seemed to be a man after Marx’s own leftist-writer heart? Sadly, he had the fortune/misfortune of being a Bonaparte. Louis-Napoleon was the son of whom the Dutch called “Louis the Good” – Napoleon’s brother Louis, who headed French Revolutionary Netherlands.
Louis-Napoleon clearly saw his political ideology as perpetuating the middle-of-the-road revolutionary path of Napoleon Bonaparte, which is based around ideas that government exists to serve the masses, stability while implementing progressive political changes, and a healthy and not jingoistic patriotism. A fuller, uncredited definition is: A popular national leader confirmed by popular election, above party politics, promoting equality, progress, and social change, with a belief in religion as an adjunct to the State, a belief that the central authority can transform society, a belief in the “nation” and its glory and a fundamental belief in national unity. I note that Iran’s revolutionary concept of what I term a “supreme leader branch” shares a lot of these characteristics.
Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s path was quite similar to his uncle’s, and with similar conflicts – he started as a revolutionary republican, fighting Teutonic autocracy in Italy. But his personal attempts at revolution – himself at the head of a Bonapartist revolt – landed him in prison. It’s there that he starts to be much like a Marx – a widely-read socio-economic historian of a leftist variety. An major part of his 1848 electoral popularity is based on his works like The Extinction of Pauperism, which reveal his concern with the general good of the average French person – this puts him in stark contrast with the royalists and elite seated in the 2nd Republic’s first National Assembly in 1849. His philosophy is ultimately not socialism but Bonapartism, with himself obviously at the head – and for this Marx cannot ally with him.
However, equating Bonapartism with absolute monarchism or unelected authoritarianism is as foolish as it was in the era of Napoleon Bonparte. It also cannot be equated with Western Liberal Democracy.
I would like to ask Marx: How bad can Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte be when on October 10, 1851, he announces plans to restore universal suffrage and on October 16 his executive cabinet resigns over it? Marx commented:
Marx quotes Louis Napoleon, who concludes with a perfect analysis of the 1849-51 rule of Western Liberal Democracy, but still with no credit from Marx. I think it’s precisely because he, like so many Western leftists and unlike so many modern Muslim leftists, totally forgets the influence of monarchism:
“With such unhoped for successes, I am justified to repeat how great the French republic would be if she were only allowed to pursue her real interests and reform her institutions, instead of being constantly disturbed in this by demagogues, on one side, and on the other, by monarchic hallucinations. The monarchic hallucinations hamper all progress and all serious departments of industry. Instead of progress we have struggle only. Men, formerly the most zealous supporters of royal authority and prerogative become the partisans of a convention that has no purpose other than to weaken an authority that is born of universal suffrage. We see men who have suffered most from the (1848) revolution and complained bitterest of it proving a new one for the sole purpose of putting fetters on the will of the nation.” (emphasis mine)
Modern Iranians certainly know what it means to be disturbed by “monarchic hallucinations”. Marx failed to appreciate Louis-Napoleon’s railing against the royalist threat even though that is exactly what the average voter in France (a farmer) wanted to hear, because a return to feudalism was horrible to them and quite a real danger. Nor did he appreciate the average voter’s the brand-new goal: ending the self-interested oligarchy which is Western Liberal Democracy.
Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte is an advance in global political history because he is against the total domination of the bourgeois, here in the form of a parliamentary republic, which ended universal suffrage and which dominated in many ways more thoroughly than in absolute autocracy as Marx himself said.
Like his uncle, Louis Napoleon is far from a perfect political hero, but he is no Western Liberal Democrat, nor is he an absolute monarch, nor does he disbelieve in the ideals of 1789 – for that they elected them emperor.
What’s needed in 2022 is not a new emperor, but the reforms which make representative democracy truly representative across the West, and an ousting of all royal/aristocratic/technocratic “hallucinations” of their supposed superiority over people like the Yellow Vests.
Yellow Vests: “Yes, there are many Yellow Vests who are poor and unemployed, but there are countless Yellow Vests who have stable jobs. We are all together regardless of our ethnic or religious background, because the Yellow Vests are the true representative of a united France.”
Appreciating Bonapartism over Western Liberal Democracy isn’t being blind to its failures
Marx’s recap of the historic vote approving Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s self-coup here, which admits that his primary electoral support was the democratic mass:
“Suffice it here to say that it was a reaction of the farmers’ class, who had been expected to pay the costs of the February (1848) revolution against the other classes of the nation: it was a reaction of the country against the city. It met with great favor among the soldiers, to whom the republicans of the ‘National’ (a bourgeois republican newspaper – started by Adolphe Thiers) had brought neither fame nor funds; among the great bourgeoisie who hailed Bonaparte as a bridge to the monarchy; and among the proletarians and small traders, who hailed him as a scourge to Cavaignac. I shall later have occasion to enter closer into the relation of the farmers to the French revolution.”
I began this chapter where Marx concluded – the relation of the farmers to French politics.
At the end of the previous chapter I stressed the importance of Western Liberal Democracy’s first imperialist strongman, Louis-Eugène Cavaignac. He went from being the governor of Algeria to leading the repression of urbanites (“proletarians”) in the June Days of 1848, and thus was despised. The army’s rank and file was full of lower-class men who lacked better job offers precisely because the elites who would staff the 2nd Republic’s unicameral parliament abolished the National Workshops, a fundamental demand of the the revolution, which is what then set off the June Days uprising. So of course they approved of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte and opposed the warmongering Cavaignac, probably just as the rank-and-file Western soldier probably opposed Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Indochine, Korea, the Falklands, etc. and etc.).
What Marx wants to stress, necessarily, is that Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was allied with both the rural masses as well as the new rich bourgeois. It’s the same failing of “the uncle”: neither were sincere Jacobins, i.e. socialists; it’s the same virtue – opposing the royalists.
“I have already indicated that, since the entry of Fould (a banker representing the stock exchange) in the Ministry that portion of the commercial bourgeoisie that had enjoyed the lion’s share in Louis Philippe’s reign, to wit, the aristocracy of finance, had become Bonapartist. Fould not only represented Bonaparte’s interests at the Bourse, he represented also the interests of the Bourse with Bonaparte.”
Marx also relates that this new “aristocracy of finance” had also grown to include government bonds – i.e the taxes and money of the people – which remain the lynchpin of the Western economic capitalist system today. The French stock exchange wasn’t until Napoleon Bonaparte – it was a new and slowly growing leviathan, and by 1848 it was able to leave the Bourbons and Orleanists behind.
Marx is relating how by 1851 the financial-industrial-imperialist wealth which had backed the House of Orleans coup in the 1830 Revolution (commonly referred to as the July Revolution) had continued to grow in power to the point where many broke free from the Orleanists to back Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. These two groups worked together, with the rural masses, to push out the Bourbons and the Orleanist monarchical autocrats out of power once and for all.
(I did not cover it in this book, but the July Revolution is often called the Trois Glorieuses in French (“Three Glorious [Days]”). Both terms are less descriptive and more purposely opaque than a contemporary term: the Second French Revolution, as it inspired revolutions in Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and led to the independence of Belgium. The political advance of the July Revolution was slight: replacing the ultra-royalist Charter of 1814, which provided a short bill of rights within a strong monarchy, similar to the UK, with the Charter of 1830, which barely expanded suffrage and loosened press controls. Popular dissatisfaction with the July Monarchy was constant, producing a week of revolution in 1832 (the June Rebellion of 1832/Paris Uprising of 1832), which was the subject of Hugo’s Les Miserables, and then the Revolution of 1848.)
Vitally, Marx believes the experience of the 2nd Republic proved to one and all that Western Liberal Democracy was a total failure, and thus they, too, approved of the self-coup! This is an entirely rational conclusion drawn from his experiences of the time, and in concordance with class warfare – the new royalists + bourgeoisie simply wanted to get back to business, and Western Liberal Democracy was not yet skilled enough to efficiently aid the oligarchy:
“It (the leaders of the “bourgeois republic”) declared unmistakably that it longed to be rid of its own political rule, in order to escape the troubles and dangers of ruling.”
So Marx reported that Western Liberal Democracy went down without a fight.
Marx quotes The Economist from Feb 1851 on Louis-Napoleon’s coup: “Now we have it stated from numerous quarters that France wishes above all things for repose. The president declares it in his message to the Legislative (National) Assembly; it is echoed from the tribune; it is asserted in the journals; it is announced from the pulpit; it is demonstrated by the sensitiveness of the public funds at the least prospect of disturbance, and their firmness the instant it is made manifest that the Executive is far superior in wisdom and power to the factious ex-officials of all former governments.” (emphasis mine)
France was becoming a modern Bankocracy, but royalist hallucinations were slowing this down.
From The Economist in November 1851: “The President is now recognised as the guardian of order on every Stock Exchange of Europe.”
Like in 1799 a Bonaparte was going to win democratic approval by finding a propertied ally against the royalists. In 1799 it was those whose profited from the sale of the assignats – in 1851 it was those who profited from industrial-financial-imperialist wealth. In both cases the peasants and proletariat supported the Bonapartists, even if Marx claims that only the slum-proletariat (and thus not the honest workers and artisans) supported “the nephew”.
Thus the essence of Louis-Napoleon is similar to his uncle’s: A France advancing politically too far ahead of the rest of Europe in 1848 and garnering total enmity, thus acquiescing to only a moderate revolution by 1852. The compromise gives the average Frenchmen unparalleled rights but with a price of not neutering a new, usurious aristocracy.
Thus we now have the essence of Louis-Napoleon: one half is the righteous rejector of Western Liberal Democracy (a parliamentary bourgeois republic) and unelected monarchy in favor of universal suffrage, but the other half is a refusal to tax the wealthy, prohibit the usurious methods of the new financial class against the recently-propertied allotment farmers, resume the National Workshops (which would have reduced the power of the industrial class), or confiscate the wealth of the landed royalists – all the things which 1917, 1949, 1959 and 1979 would do.
Because Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte did not stop the financial oligarchy this happened, Marx wrote in 1871:
“The Second Empire had more than doubled the national debt, and plunged all the large towns into heavy municipal debts. The war had fearfully swelled the liabilities, and mercilessly ravaged the resources of the nation. To complete the ruin, the Prussian Shylock was there with his bond for the keep of half a million of his solders on French soil, his indemnity for 5 billions, and interest at 5 percent on the unpaid instalments thereof. Who was to pay the bill? It was only by the violent overthrow of the (Paris Commune) republic that the appropriators of wealth could hope to shift on to the shoulders of its producers the cost of a war which they, the appropriators, had themselves originated. Thus, the immense ruin of France spurred on these patriotic representatives of land and capital, under the very eyes and patronage of the invader, to graft upon the foreign war a civil war – a slaveholders’ rebellion.”
That is a stunning historical passage which sums up much in 1871, and is addressed in the next chapter on the Paris Commune.
It’s about knowing the real enemies – it is not the Bonapartes
This chapter requires so much Marx because the birth of Western Liberal Democracy was such a rapid failure that it appears complicated. With Marx’s tremendous journalism its lifecycle was made clear.
Facing a reign of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte and the rural will, the socialist Marx writes:
“All the same, the revolution is thoroughgoing. It still is on its passage through purgatory. It does its work methodically. Down to December 2, 1851, it (the revolution) had fulfilled one-half of its programme, it now fulfils the other half. It first ripens the power of the Legislature into fullest maturity in order to be able to overthrow it. Now that it has accomplished that the revolution proceeds to ripen the power of the Executive into equal maturity; it reduces this power to its purest expression; isolates it; places it before itself as the sole subject for reproof in order to concentrate against it all the revolutionary forces of destruction.”
Marx understood what many have covered up: Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte expressed and achieved the total failure of the legislative branch in Western Liberal Democracy – your faith in Congress or the National Assembly or the Parliament of the United Kingdom is a total waste.
We see the reason that Western Liberal Democracy does not wish to remember the 2nd Republic – it was a total failure which saw parliament commit coups agains the constitution and the voters. It took an elected emperor to preserve the progressive idea of expanding democracy. Western Liberal Democracy hasn’t politically allied with the average person from its very beginning.
That passage also reveals Marx’s slandering of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte – he is “the sole subject for reproof” left. For Marx elite English parliamentarianism and been totally discredited – all that was left to do was to discredit the monarchical executive.
Yellow Vests: “People are angry because Macron has only represented just the interests of the rich class, billionaires and the bankers. Last year alone 500,000 more people fell under the poverty line in France, which is a direct result of Macron’s policies.”
Marx, as we will see with Trotsky, believed passionately that monarchy and Liberal Democracy had discredited itself – they were both right, but not enough agree with them. Who knows how many Emmanuel Macrons it will take?
It would take nearly 20 years, not just 3, for Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte to discredit himself and to be replaced by the Socialist Democracy of the Paris Commune.
Louis-Napoleon Bonparte’s real virtue is that he was fighting with the people against the dominant part of the oligarchy – the Bourbons and Orleanists, with all their accumulated wealth and influence. Of course Macron, the “president of the rich”, only fights against the people – he is totally bourgeois, and thus likes any and all rich people.
Macron is thus not like Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, and surely he never aimed to be such a populist. Macron more resembles the key figure from 1871, Adolphe Thiers, who also colluded with foreign powers to weaken France. But that is for the next chapter.
Upcoming chapter list of the brand-new content in France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values. The book will also include previous writings from 2018 through the 2022 election in order to provide the most complete historical record of the Yellow Vests anywhere. What value!
Publication date: June 1, 2022.
Pre-orders of the paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the Kindle version may be made here.
Pre-orders of the French paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the French Kindle version may be made here.
Chapter List of the new content
- New book announcement – ‘France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s best values’ – March 15, 2022
- Introduction: A Yellow Vests’ history must rewrite both recent & past French history – March 20, 2022
- The UK’s endless reaction: 1789 & feudalism’s end creates modern conservatism – March 25, 2022
- Glorious Revolution of 1688: England declares ‘death to all other revolutions’ – March 29, 2022
- Modern political history makes no sense if Napoleon is not a leftist revolutionary – April 2, 2022
- The ‘Counter-Revolutions of 1848’ stillborn child: Western Liberal Democracy – April 7, 2022
- Louis-Napoleon: The revolutionary differences between Bonapartism & Western Liberal Democracy
- The Paris Commune: The true birth of neoliberalism and EU neo-imperialism
- Where the West is stuck: The fascism of the 1930s and the ‘fascism’ of the 2020s
- On ‘Leon Trotsky on France’ in order to reclaim Trotsky from Trotskyists
- The Yellow Vests’ childhood: Seeing French elites, only, swayed by neoliberalism
- No one here is actually in charge: How the EU empire forced the Yellow Vests
- The radicalisation by Europe’s ongoing Lost Decade: the Great Recession changes France
- To Yellow Vests he’s the radical: Macron and ‘Neither Right nor Left but the Bourgeois Bloc’
- Yellow Vests: At worst, the most important French movement for a century
- Who are they, really? Ask a reporter whose seen a million Yellow Vest faces
- Yellow Vest Win: Ending the West’s slandering of all popular movements as far-right xenophobes
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western anarcho-syndicalism & unions as leftism’s hereditary kings
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western parliamentarianism as the most progressive government
- Yellow Vest Win: Reminding us of the link between fascist violence & Western democracy
- What the Yellow Vests can be: a group which can protect liberalism’s rights, at least
- The 2022 vote: The approach needed for ‘Before’- what came ‘After’ polls closed
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’ as well as ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’, which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.