“Rather an end with terror than terror without end!” | Marx’s insights into social turmoil and civil strife | Socialism Art Nature


“Rather an end with terror than terror without end!” | Marx’s insights into social turmoil and civil strife | Socialism Art Nature.

The quote above comes from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, by Karl Marx (1852).

I always come back to this work by Marx as containing one of his most insightful analyses regarding the intricacies of complex social phenomena — the predictable unpredictability of it all.

How a society that has become pregnant with its own insoluble contradictions — to paraphrase Marx — can produce EITHER a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or the common exhaustion of the contending classes.

More along the lines of the latter case, he describes how a society that undergoes a protracted period of social turmoil — whether it be revolution or civil strife — can give way, seemingly “out of the blue,” to mass resignation and the rise of despotism, if no social classes or forces exist at that moment that are capable of resolving the crisis on a broadly democratic basis. In this context, a Bonaparte-type figure or group can arise, using the mechanisms of an established bureaucracy, to impose “peace” and “order” at all costs.

And in a way, this can seem to fill a popular need, as people grow weary of unending instability; paralyzed by seemingly irremediable strife and internecine violence, people can be attracted to a demagoguery that promises peace through the imposition of iron-clad order, as opposed to the calls of the socialists and revolutionaries for an unrelenting class war against international capital (and this is even more so the case in the degree to which the revolutionaries are insufficiently rooted amongst the masses).

Returning to the phrase at top, people can become supportive of a move by the seemingly most stable force in society to end the chaos even through means of terror and brute force, rather than face a future society riven in perpetuity by mutually contending factions each resorting to terror, force, and violence, but never in sufficient quantity to permanently vanquish the opposing factions.

In fact, viz., this book’s continuing relevance, this seems to hold insights into ongoing situations in Egypt and Greece, not to mention elsewhere at present …

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 … Now picture to yourself the French bourgeois, how in the throes of this business panic his trade-crazy brain is tortured, set in a whirl, and stunned by rumors of coups d’etat and the restoration of universal suffrage, by the struggle between parliament and the executive power, by the Fronde war between Orleanists and Legitimists, by the communist conspiracies in the south of France, by alleged Jacqueries in the departments of Nievre and Cher, by the advertisements of the different candidates for the presidency, by the cheapjack solutions offered by the journals, by the threats of the republicans to uphold the constitution and universal suffrage by force of arms, by the gospel-preaching emigre heroes in partibus, who announced that the world would come to an end on the second Sunday in May, 1852 — think of all this and you will comprehend why in this unspeakable, deafening chaos of fusion, revision, prorogation, constitution, conspiration, coalition, emigration, usurpation, and revolution, the bourgeois madly snorts at his parliamentary republic:

“Rather an end with terror than terror without end!”

Bonaparte understood this cry. His power of comprehension was sharpened by the growing turbulence of creditors, who with each sunset which brought settling day, the second Sunday in May, 1852, nearer, saw a movement of the stars protesting their earthly bills of exchange. They had become veritable astrologers. The National Assembly had blighted Bonaparte’s hopes of a constitutional prolongation of his authority; the candidature of the Prince of Joinville forbade further vacillation.

If ever an event has, well in advance of its coming, cast its shadow before, it was Bonaparte’s coup d’etat.

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