Chapter 4: Putting weapons into the hands of the proletariat: Marx on the contradiction between capitalism and liberal democracy
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The French edition of the ‘European Spring’ taught both Marx and Engels about the fundamental incompatibility of capitalism and liberal democracy as universal suffrage, first formulated in Marx’s ‘Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850’. The constitution that issued from the February 1848 revolution, dissected in detail by Marx, embodied this contradiction. Eventually, Marx suggested, liberal democracy or capitalism would have to give way to the other. Louis Bonaparte’s overthrow of the Second Republic at the end of 1851 allowed Marx, in ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, to explain how his claim had been verified by Bonaparte’s coup d’état and developments leading up to it. These events also required Marx and Engels to pronounce for the first time on how the workers’ movement should respond to opportunities to participate in electoral processes. Marx’s analysis of the rise and fall of the European Spring prepared him theoretically and politically for the next and most consequential struggle for liberal democracy in the nineteenth century: the overthrow of chattel slavery in the United States. Not until the political economy of twentieth-century capitalism would the full implications of Marx’s prescient insight about the contradiction between capitalism and liberal democracy be fully appreciated.

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