"The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" is one of Karl Marx' most profound and most brilliant monographs. It may be considered the best work extant on the philosophy of history, with an eye especially upon the history of the Movement of the Proletariat, together with the bourgeois and other manifestations that accompany the same, and the tactics that such conditions dictate.
The recent populist uprising; the more recent "Debs Movement"; the thousand and one utopian and chimerical notions that are flaring up; the capitalist maneuvers; the hopeless, helpless grasping after straws, that characterize the conduct of the bulk of the working class; all of these, together with the empty-headed, ominous figures that are springing into notoriety for a time and have their day, mark the present period of the Labor Movement in the nation a critical one. The best information acquirable, the best mental training obtainable are requisite to steer through the existing chaos that the death-tainted social system of today creates all around us. To aid in this needed information and mental training, this instructive work is now made accessible to English readers, and is commended to the serious study of the serious.
The teachings contained in this work are hung on an episode in recent French history. With some this fact may detract of its value. A pedantic, supercilious notion is extensively abroad among us that we are an "Anglo Saxon" nation; and an equally pedantic, supercilious habit causes many to look to England for inspiration, as from a racial birthplace Nevertheless, for weal or for woe, there is no such thing extant as "Anglo-Saxon"--of all nations, said to be "Anglo-Saxon," in the United States least. What we still have from England, much as appearances may seem to point the other way, is not of our bone-and-marrow, so to speak, but rather partakes of the nature of "importations." We are no more English on account of them than we are Chinese because we all drink tea.
Of all European nations, France is the on to which we come nearest. Besides its republican form of government--the directness of its history, the unity of its actions, the sharpness that marks its internal development, are all characteristics that find their parallel her best, and vice versa. In all essentials the study of modern French history, particularly when sketched by such a master hand as Marx', is the most valuable one for the acquisition of that historic, social and biologic insight that our country stands particularly in need of, and that will be inestimable during the approaching critical days.
For the assistance of those who, unfamiliar with the history of France, may be confused by some of the terms used by Marx, the following explanations may prove aidful:
On the 18th Brumaire (Nov. 9th), the post-revolutionary development of affairs in France enabled the first Napoleon to take a step that led with inevitable certainty to the imperial throne. The circumstance that fifty and odd years later similar events aided his nephew, Louis Bonaparte, to take a similar step with a similar result, gives the name to this work--"The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte."
As to the other terms and allusions that occur, the following sketch will suffice:
Upon the overthrow of the first Napoleon came the restoration of the Bourbon throne (Louis XVIII, succeeded by Charles X). In July, 1830, an uprising of the upper tier of the bourgeoisie, or capitalist class--the aristocracy of finance--overthrew the Bourbon throne, or landed aristocracy, and set up the throne of Orleans, a younger branch of the house of Bourbon, with Louis Philippe as king. From the month in which this revolution occurred, Louis Philippe's monarchy is called the "July Monarchy." In February, 1848, a revolt of a lower tier of the capitalist class--the industrial bourgeoisie--against the aristocracy of finance, in turn dethroned Louis Philippe. The affair, also named from the month in which it took place, is the "February Revolution". "The Eighteenth Brumaire" starts with that event.
Despite the inapplicableness to our affairs of the political names and political leadership herein described, both these names and leaderships are to such an extent the products of an economic-social development that has here too taken place with even greater sharpens, and they have their present or threatened counterparts here so completely, that, by the light of this work of Marx', we are best enabled to understand our own history, to know whence we came, and whither we are going and how to conduct ourselves.
Daniel De Leon (1852-1914)
New York, Sept. 12, 1897