Madame Tussauds wax statue of Karl Marx

First Time as Tragedy, Second Time as Farce: Marx’s 18th Brumaire and Beyond

Instructor: Rafael Khachaturian
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Karl Marx’s magisterial essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is a history in real time, combining Marx’s talents as a working journalist with his critique of political economy and theories of historical transformation. A narrative and analysis of Napoleon’s nephew Louis Bonaparte’s rise to the Emperorship of France (in which history repeated itself, ”the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”), the Eighteenth Brumaire contains some of Marx’s most well-known statements on class conflict, the state, and the power of symbols, all the while wrestling with one of the central questions of socialist politics: Why did the revolutionary impasse in capitalist society result not in a proletarian republic, but in right-wing authoritarianism? In its examination of the rise of one of the first modern, mass-based, right-wing regimes, the Eighteenth Brumaire has served as a landmark work, for theorists across the political spectrum, in the analyses of fascism and authoritarianism in the twentieth century. How can we read the Eighteenth Brumaire, and how might it help us understand the political and social predicaments, and possibilities, of today? 

In this course, we will read closely the Eighteenth Brumaire, in companionship with contemporary works of political theory, considering its significance for Marx’s broader theory of capitalist society, the dynamics of revolutionary and reactionary movements therein, and their legacy for contemporary politics. What, after all, is “Bonapartism”? How does it overlap with—and differ from—concepts like fascism, dictatorship, and totalitarianism? What are the historical and modern examples of Bonapartist states? And what insights does this text provide us for thinking more broadly about politics in a Marxist vein? In addition to the core text and related excerpts from Marx and Engels, readings will include selections from Leon Trotsky, Antonio Gramsci, Hannah Arendt, Nicos Poulantzas, Stuart Hall, Eric Hobsbawm, Mike Davis, Dylan Riley, and Terrell Carver.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 12 — August 02, 2022
4 weeks


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