Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850


a work by K. Marx in which the most important tenets of historical materialism, the theory and tactics of the proletariat’s class struggle, are developed on the basis of an examination of the Revolution of 1848 in France. It was written by Marx from January to March 1850 and published as three articles in the first three issues of the journal Neue Rheinische Zeitung: Politischökonomische Revue (1850) under the title “From 1848 to 1849.” Reissuing Marx’ work in 1895, F. Engels entitled it “The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850,” wrote an introduction, and included a supplementary, fourth chapter. Incorporated into the fourth chapter were sections of Marx’ and Engels’ third review of the international situation, written in November 1849 and placed in the fourth and fifth issues of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which were devoted to the events in France. (Marx was the author of the incorporated sections.)

In The Class Struggles in France, in analyzing the causes, character, and course of the bourgeois democratic Revolution of 1848 in France, Marx applied for the first time the method of materialist dialectics to the study of an entire historical period. Examining the role played by the various classes and social groups during the revolution, Marx used the French example to show that revolutions, as the “locomotives of history” hastening the course of its development, bring out the powerful creative forces of the popular masses. Marx exposed the counterrevolutionary character of the French bourgeoisie that was revealed in a heightened class struggle. From the very first days of the revolution this bourgeoisie acted not only as the worst enemy of the proletariat, having provoked it to revolt in June 1848 and having used brutal violence against it, but also as a stagnant force hindering the country’s development along revolutionary and democratic lines. Marx showed that in these conditions the proletariat became the main force for the revolutionary movement and for historical progress. A captive of bourgeois illusions in the first stage of the revolution, the French proletariat freed itself of these illusions and realized its class interests only through a violent fight with the counterrevolution in the course of the uprising.

In his work Marx revealed the worldwide historical significance of the June uprising, calling it “the first great battle . . . between the two classes that split modern society” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 7, p. 29).

In attempting to prove the need for the working class to seize political power, Marx in this work for the first time used the term “dictatorship of the proletariat,” which he viewed “as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations” (ibid., p. 91).

Deciding the question of the allies of the proletariat in the revolution, Marx saw that one of the main reasons for the defeat of the June uprising was that the peasantry and urban petite bourgeoisie did not support the workers; the immaturity of the proletariat itself was another factor. However, the position occupied by these strata represented a transient phenomenon, as Marx noted, and contradicted their own real interests. “Only the fall of capital can raise the peasant; only an anticapitalist, a proletarian government can break his economic misery, his social degradation” (ibid., p. 86). Thus Marx, using as his starting point the experience of the Revolution of 1848 in France, arrived at the important theoretical and political conclusion that the alliance of the proletariat and peasantry is one of the basic conditions for the victory of revolution. Explaining the role of the urban petit bourgeois strata as allies of the proletariat, Marx at the same time subjected their political representatives and ideologists to a sharp critique. Using as an example the actions of the petit bourgeois La Montagne party on June 13, 1849, Marx showed its total inability to lead the revolutionary struggle independently.

In Marx’ work the most important tenets of historical materialism were developed further and given more concrete expression than they had previously had been: for example, theories on the relationship between the basis and the superstructure and on the decisive role of the economic basis in social life; the significance of the struggle between classes and parties and the leading role of the proletariat in the revolution; the place of revolutionary overturns and the decisive role of the popular masses in history; and the roles of the state and of social ideas in the historical process. The ideas set forth by Marx in The Class Struggles in France were developed in several of his subsequent works.

B. A. KRYLOV [12–825–1; updated]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.