12 September 2009

Origin of the National Republic

[CU for Monday, 14 September 2009]

The Great French Revolution that started in 1789 did not immediately produce a lasting democratic republic in France. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Empire, which had attacked feudal monarchs all over Europe, was followed during the next three decades by the restoration of weak versions of the French monarchy, culminating in the “July Monarchy” of Louis Philippe. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels anticipated a coming revolutionary upsurge and published the Communist University at the beginning of the revolutionary year of 1848.

The Manifesto’s first major section is called “Bourgeois and Proletarians” and it says among other things that: “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other - bourgeoisie and proletariat.”

Yet it was Marx in particular, in two great books and one short Address (see the links below), who soon described the much less simple, more complex, permutations of class conflict at the time. For example, in the following cut from “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” (click on the link below for a longer selection) it is clear that the proletariat suffered an almost immediate disaster, because it had no allies and was isolated and attacked by all the other classes together, and massacred in June of 1848 in Paris [Picture: photo of barricades in a Paris street in June, 1848].

This is the situation that the proletariat must always avoid, and it is one reason why the working class must always have allies. Here is the cut from Marx’s outline of events:

“a. May 4 to June 25, 1848. Struggle of all classes against the proletariat. Defeat of the proletariat in the June days.

“b. June 25 to December 10, 1848. Dictatorship of the pure bourgeois republicans. Drafting of the constitution. Proclamation of a state of siege in Paris. The bourgeois dictatorship set aside on December 10 by the election of Bonaparte as President.”

In the “18th Brumaire”, not only do the contenders of the Great French Revolution reappear, namely the Aristocracy, the Peasantry (known as the Montagne), the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat; but also described are the clear contradictions within the bourgeois class; the classless, manipulative Bonaparte, who played the four main classes off against each other for more than two decades until he lost the plot; and the “lumpen proletariat” of idle adventurers who were Bonaparte’s willing, and paid (with “whisky and sausages”) accomplices.

In his March 1850 Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League Marx spoke in particular of Germany, which had also caught the revolutionary enthusiasm, but still in terms of a precise and dynamic comprehension of the patterns and permutations of class contradiction, and of who must ally with whom at any particular moment.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were deeply, personally and very effectively involved in these events as individuals and as organisers, and in Engels’ case as a military combatant. These events shaped the new form of democratic republic that arrived in France after the eventual fall of Louis Bonaparte in 1871. That newly-formed kind of “democratic bourgeois republic” still remains the standard form of nation-state in the world, and it is the same kind that our republic has become, here in South Africa.

This historic understanding, as well as the unsurpassed clarity, with which Marx in particular describes the nature of practical multi-class struggle, can serve to prepare us for a progressively more specific, historical examination of the theory and practice of National Democratic Revolution (NDR) through the 20th Century, in Africa, and in South Africa up to the present time.

The NDR is nothing if it is not about class alliance, and about democracy on the national scale.

As the second component of the CU Generic Course on the NDR, the extracts from the “18th Brumaire” would be used as the discussion text, with the “March Address” and the “Class Struggles in France” offered as additional reading.

Click on these links:

The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Chapters 1 & 7, Marx (10719 words)

March 1850 Address to the CC of the Communist League, Marx (4120 words)

Class Struggles in France, Part 1, The Defeat of June 1848, Marx (9373 words)


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