The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 12/22/2014

"The parliamentary republic, in its struggle against the revolution, found itself compelled to strengthen the means and the centralization of governmental power with repressive measures. All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it. The parties, which alternately contended for domination, regarded the possession of this huge state structure as the chief spoils of the victor".
Karl Marx wrote The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon in 1852, on an entirely different event 52 years later, It dealt with the 2 December 1851 coup, and as a result, on the symbolic and historic date of 2 December 1852, President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became Napoleon III, Emperor of the French., who was Napoleon's nephew.

Coup of 18 Brumaire

Abbé Sieyès, a member of the five-man ruling Directory, was the dominant figure in the government and was the one to who opposethe Jacobins. When Napoleon returned to France on 9 October, both factions hailed him as the country's savior. Dazzled by Napoleon's supposed "victories" in the Middle East, the public received him with an ardor that convinced Sieyès he had found the general indispensable to his planned coup. However, from the moment of his return, Napoleon plotted a coup within the coup, ultimately gaining power for himself rather than Sieyès. Perhaps the gravest potential obstacles to a coup were in the army. Some generals, such as Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, honestly believed in republicanism; others, such as Jean Bernadotte, believed themselves capable of governing France. Napoleon worked on the feelings of all, keeping secret his own intentions. Prior to the coup, troops were conveniently deployed around Paris. The plan was, first, to persuade the Directors to resign, then, second, to get the Council of Ancients and the Council of Five Hundred (the upper and lower houses of the legislature) to appoint a pliant commission that would draw up a new constitution to the plotters' specifications.

On the morning of 18 Brumaire, Lucien Bonaparte falsely persuaded the Councils that a Jacobin coup was at hand in Paris, and induced them to depart for the safety of the suburban Château de Saint-Cloud. Napoleon was charged with the safety of the two Councils and given command of all available local troops. Later that morning Abbé Sieyès and Roger Ducos resigned as Directors. Former foreign minister Charles Talleyrand, a close ally of Napoleon, pressured Director Paul Barras to do the same. The resignation of three of the five Directors prevented a quorum and thus practically abolished the Directory, but the two Jacobin Directors, Louis Gohier and Jean-François-Auguste Moulin, continued to protest furiously. Both men were arrested by Napoleon's ally, General Jean Victor Marie Moreau, and by the following day they were compelled to give up their resistance.

By the following day, the deputies of the two councils had realized that they were facing an attempted coup rather than being protected from a Jacobin rebellion. Faced with their recalcitrance, Napoleon stormed into the chambers, escorted by a small force of grenadiers. While perhaps unplanned, this proved to be the coup within the coup. Napoleon found the Ancients resistant "despite a massive show of military strength." He met with heckling as he addressed them with such "home truths" as, "the Republic has no government" and, most likely, "the Revolution is over." One deputy called out, "And the Constitution?" Napoleon replied, referring to earlier parliamentary coups, "The Constitution! You yourselves have destroyed it. You violated it on 18 Fructidor; you violated it on 22 Floreal; you violated it on 30 Prairial. It no longer has the respect of anyone." A motion was raised in the Council of Five Hundred to declare Napoleon an outlaw. At this point, Lucien Bonaparte apparently slipped out of the chamber after the deupties attacked him and told the soldiers guarding the Councils that the majority of the Five Hundred were being terrorized by a group of deputies brandishing daggers. Then, according to Michael Rapport, "He pointed to Napoleon's bloody, pallid face as proof. Then, in a theatrical gesture, he seized a sword and promised to plunge it through his own brother's heart if he were a traitor." Lucien ordered the troops to expel the violent deputies from the chamber. Grenadiers under the command of General Joachim Murat marched into the Orangerie and dispersed the Council.

The coup within the coup was not yet complete. The use of military force had certainly strengthened Napoleon's hand vis à vis Sieyès and the other plotters. With the Council routed, the plotters convened two commissions, each consisting of twenty-five deputies from the two Councils. The plotters essentially intimidated the commissions into declaring a provisional government, the first form of the Consulate with Napoleon, Sieyès, and Ducos as Consuls. The lack of reaction from the streets proved that the revolution was, indeed, over. "A shabby compound of brute force and imposture, the 18th Brumaire was nevertheless condoned, nay applauded, by the French nation. Weary of revolution, men sought no more than to be wisely and firmly governed." Resistance by Jacobin officeholders in the provinces was quickly crushed. Twenty Jacobin deputies were exiled, and others were arrested. The commissions then drew up the "short and obscure Constitution of the Year VIII", the first of the constitutions since the Revolution without a Declaration of Rights. Bonaparte thus completed his coup within a coup by the adoption of a constitution under which the First Consul, a position he was sure to hold, had greater power than the other two. In particular, he appointed the Senate and the Senate interpreted the constitution. The Senate allowed him to rule by decree, so the more independent State Council and Tribunat degenerated into impotence, serving merely as window dressing. It led ultimately to Empire.

French coup d'état of 1851

The French coup d'état of 2 December 1851, staged by Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (at the time President of the French Second Republic), ended in the successful dissolution of the French National Assembly, and the subsequent re-establishment of the French Empire the next year.

In 1848, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was elected President of France through universal male suffrage, taking 74% of the vote. He did this with the support of the Parti de l'Ordre after running against Louis Eugène Cavaignac. Subsequently, he was in constant conflict with the members (députés) of the Assemblée Nationale. Contrary to the Party's expectations that Louis-Napoleon would be easy to manipulate (Adolphe Thiers had called him a "cretin whom we will lead [by the nose]"), he proved himself an agile and cunning politician. He succeeded in imposing his choices and decisions on the Assemblée, which had once again become conservative in the aftermath of the June Days Uprising in 1848. He broke away from the control of the Parti de l'Ordre and created the Ministère des Commis, appointing General Hautpoul as its head, in 1849. On 3 January 1850, he dismissed Changarnier, a dissident in the Parti de l'Ordre, thereby provoking an open conflict within the party. He also actively encouraged the creation of numerous anti-parliament newspapers and acquired the support of 150 members of Parliament, the "Parti de l'Elysée".

The provisions of the constitution that prohibited an incumbent president from seeking re-election appeared to force the end of Louis-Napoleon's rule in December 1852. Not one to admit defeat, Louis-Napoleon spent the first half of 1851 trying to force changes to the constitution through Parliament so he could be re-elected. Bonaparte travelled through the provinces and organised petitions to rally popular support. Two-thirds of the General Council supported Louis-Napoleon's cause, but in the Assembly, supporters of the Duke of Orléans, led by Thiers, concluded an alliance with the far left to oppose Louis-Napoleon's plans. In January 1851, the Parliament voted no confidence in the Ministère des Commis. On 19 July, it refused the constitutional reform proposed by Louis-Napoleon, also scrapping universal suffrage in an effort to break popular support for Bonaparte.

The coup d'état was meticulously planned from 20 August 1851. Preparations and planning for this coup took place at Saint-Cloud. Among the conspirators were Persigny, a loyal companion of Louis-Napoleon, the Duke of Morny, and General Jacques Leroy de Saint Arnaud. On 14 October, Louis-Napoleon asked the Parliament to restore universal male suffrage but the request was turned down. His request for a reconsideration of the constitutional reform proposal was also turned down on 13 November. Prepared to strike, Louis-Napoleon appointed General Saint-Arnaud as the Minister of War and a circular was issued reminding soldiers of their pledge of "passive obedience". Followers of the President were appointed to various important positions: General Magnan as the Commander of the Troops of Paris, and Maupas, Prefect of Haut-Garonne as Prefect of Police of Paris. Convinced that the coup was now inevitable after the latest refusal, Louis-Napoleon fixed the anniversary of the coronation of Napoleon in 1804, and the victory of Austerlitz in 1805, as the day for the coup. The operation was christened Rubicon, alluding to Julius Caesar.

On the morning of 2 December, troops led by Saint-Arnaud occupied strategic points in Paris, from the Champs-Élysées to the Tuileries. Top opposition leaders were arrested and six edicts promulgated to establish the rule of Louis-Napoleon. The Assemblée Nationale was dissolved, and universal suffrage restored. Louis-Napoleon declared that a new constitution was being framed and said he intended to restore a "system established by the First Consul." Reacting to this coup, parliamentarians took refuge in the mayor's office of the 20th arrondissement of Paris and 220 of them voted to oust Louis-Napoleon from power. Most prominent among these were liberals like Remusat and moderates like Pascal Duprat, who were arrested soon after.

A Parisian insurrection led by the likes of Victor Hugo and Victor Schoelcher erupted despite tight control by the Army. The insurgents were soon defeated. On 3 December, parliamentarian Alphonse Baudin was killed and on 4 December, 200 more people fell victim to the revolution. By evening, the revolt of Paris was suppressed and the city returned to normal. The coup triggered revolts in other places across France. On 5 December, rebellions were reported in big cities, small towns and rural areas in the south-west of France. The department of Basses-Alpes even declared itself administered by a "Committee of Resistance" but the army, still loyal to the President, succeeded in quelling the rebellion. A total of 32 departments were put under a state of alert from 8 December and the rebellious areas were controlled in a few days. Opponents were arrested and some were forced to flee. Victor Hugo fled to Brussels, then Jersey, and finally settled with his family on the Channel Island of Guernsey at Hauteville House, where he would live in exile until 1870 when Louis-Napoleon fled after his defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. By the end of the rebellion, 26,000 people were arrested, 9,530 were sent to Algeria and 250 to the prison of Cayenne.

The Bonapartists were finally assured of a victory. Generals Vaillant and Harispe became Marshal of France on 11 December. A new constitution was being drafted. A referendum was organised to ratify the new order and the coup was portrayed as a security operation. On 20 and 21 December, the French population were recorded as having voted for acceptance of the new regime by an overwhelming majority of 7,145,000 to 600,000, although the official tally and free nature of the vote were questioned by dissidents like Victor Hugo. Louis-Napoléon now had the power to draft a new constitution.

Following a heavily rigged referendum in December 1851, a new constitution was adopted in January 1852. It dramatically expanded the powers of the president, who was elected for a period of 10 years with no term limits. He not only possessed executive power, but was vested with the power of legislative initiative, thereby reducing the scope of the Parliament. Louis-Napoleon was automatically reelected to a fresh term as president. For all intents and purposes, he now held all governing power in the nation. The authoritarian republic proved to be only a stopgap, as Louis-Napoleon immediately set about restoring the empire. In less than a year, following a referendum on 7 November 1852, the Second French Empire was proclaimed. On the symbolic and historic date of 2 December 1852, President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became Napoleon III, Emperor of the French.

Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

In an allusion to 1799, Marx began, with:
"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
In the preface to the second edition, Marx said it was the intention of the work to:
"demonstrate how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero's part." 
So why didn't the Paris proletariat rise in revolt after December 2?
"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 homologous 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".

"Historical tradition gave rise to the French peasants’ belief in the miracle that a man named Napoleon would bring all glory back to them. And there turned up an individual who claims to be that man because he bears the name Napoleon, in consequence of the Code Napoleon, which decrees: “Inquiry into paternity is forbidden.” After a twenty-year vagabondage and a series of grotesque adventures the legend is consummated, and the man becomes Emperor of the French. The fixed idea of the nephew was realized because it coincided with the fixed idea of the most numerous class of the French people".
"The bourgeoisie itself has violently strengthened the imperialism of the peasant class; it has preserved the conditions that form the birthplaces of this species of peasant religion. The bourgeoisie, in truth, is bound to fear the stupidity of the masses so long as they remain conservative, and the insight of the masses as soon as they become revolutionary".

"Obviously the bourgeoisie now had no choice but to elect Bonaparte. When the Puritans of the Council of Constance [1414-18] complained of the dissolute lives of the popes and wailed about the necessity for moral reform, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly thundered at them: “Only the devil in person can still save the Catholic Church, and you ask for angels.” Similarly, after the coup d’état the French bourgeoisie cried out: Only the Chief of the Society of December 10 can still save bourgeois society! Only theft can still save property; only perjury, religion; bastardy, the family; disorder, order!"

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