24 March 2010

Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850

Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850

Karl Marx, the son of a lawyer, had a doctorate and was the editor of a magazine. The first published book that he wrote, which Lenin called (in The State and Revolution) “the first mature work of Marxism” was called The Poverty of Philosophy and it was published in 1847.

The Poverty of Philosophy was a polemic. A polemic is an argument made on the basis of an opponent’s text. Marx’s opponent was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a French petty-bourgeois anarchist, who had written a book called The Philosophy of Poverty. Marx was a fluent speaker and reader of French, had lived in Paris and also in Brussels, and knew Proudhon personally.

The confrontation between Marx and Proudhon was very typical of the confrontations that have happened all along in the history of communism. Proudhon thought that the poorer and more desperate the people became, the more revolutionary they would be. Marx on the other hand believed that it was the working proletariat that was the decisive revolutionary class, and the more organised it was, the better, for that revolutionary purpose.

In 1847, Marx also wrote Wage Labour and Capital, designed for political education sessions with workers, and an early fore-runner of his great work Capital, Volume 1 of which was published 20 years later in 1867.

In the second half of 1847, Marx and Engels were commissioned by the secret communist organisation to which they belonged – the Communist League – to write a Communist Manifesto, which they did and published at the beginning of 1848.

Marx’s next full book, The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, was written in 1850. It is a detailed account of the revolutionary events in France from 1848 onwards, including the rise of Louis Bonaparte. Marx was frequently in Paris during this period. The first chapter of this book is given below, as a download.

So in this period you have examples of Marx writing polemic; educational text-book; party propaganda; and then this detailed, original account of real events, combined with understanding of the events, which is The Class Struggles in France. Marx’s next great book, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, finished in 1852, was different again. It was pure journalism but also very great journalism indeed.

What The Class Struggles in France does for us here, early in our course on the National Democratic Revolution, is to demonstrate the realities and permutations of class conflict. It shows once again how the working class must have allies, and it shows how treacherous, brutal and ruthless the bourgeoisie can be. It also shows how lightning-fast revolutionary events can be.

The period covered by chapter 1 is only four months, from February to June, and yet almost everything that can happen in a revolution, happened in that time. Among other things, it is a very exciting story.

The question of the republic arises, and the necessity of supporting it. The revolutionary national democracy is crucial.

Pictures are of Dolores Ibarurri, "La Passionaria", defender of the Spanish Republic against the fascists, shown during the struggle, and later in life after the fall of the fascist regime.