The Class Struggle in France.

Quotes from Engels, intro to Class Struggles in France, 1895

On retroactive analysis vs analysis in the moment:
Engels describes “The Class Struggles in France” as “Marx’s first attempt to explain a piece of contemporary history by means of his materialist conception, on the basis of the prevailing economic situation. (…) the question was to demonstrate the inner causal connection in the course of a development which extended over some years, a development as critical, for the whole of Europe, as it was typical; hence, in accordance with the conception of the author, to trace political events back to effects of what were, in the final analysis, economic causes.” He adds that “in the articles by Marx and myself in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, [this method] was constantly used to interpret political events of the day.”

Engels writes that it is impossible “to follow day by day the movement of industry and trade on the world market and the changes which take place in the methods of production in such a way as to be able to draw a general conclusion for any point in time from these manifold, complicated and ever-changing, factors, the most important of which, into the bargain, generally operate a long time in realms unknown before they suddenly make themselves forcefully felt on the surface. A clear overall view of the economic history of a given period can never be obtained contemporaneously, but only subsequently, after the material has been collected and sifted. Statistics are a necessary auxiliary aid here, and they always lag behind. For this reason, it is only too often necessary in current history to treat this, the most decisive, factor as constant, and the economic situation existing at the beginning of the period concerned as given and unalterable for the whole period, or else to take notice of only such changes in this situation as arise out of the patently manifest events themselves, and are, therefore, likewise patently manifest. So here the materialist method has quite often to limit itself to tracing political conflicts back to the struggles between the interests of the existing social classes and fractions of classes caused by economic development, and to demonstrate that the particular political parties are the more or less adequate political expression of these same classes and fractions of classes.

It is self-evident that this unavoidable neglect of contemporaneous changes in the economic situation, the very basis of all the processes to be examined, must be a source of error. But all the conditions required for a comprehensive presentation of current history inevitably include sources of error — which, however, keeps nobody from writing current history.”


On insurrection and/or military conflict:

“Let us have no illusions about it: a real victory of insurrection over the military in street fighting, a victory as between two armies, is one of the rarest exceptions. And the insurgents counted on it just as rarely. For them it was solely a question of making the troops yield to moral influences which, in a fight between the armies of two warring countries, do not come into play at all or do so to a much smaller extent. If they succeed in this, the troops fail to respond, or the commanding officers lose their heads, and the insurrection wins. If they do not succeed in this, then, even where the military are in the minority, the superiority of better equipment and training, of uniform leadership, of the planned employment of the military forces and of discipline makes itself felt. The most that an insurrection can achieve in the way of actual tactical operations is the proficient construction and defence of a single barricade. Mutual support, the disposition and employment of reserves — in short, concerted and co-ordinated action of the individual detachments, indispensable even for the defence of one borough, not to speak of the whole of a large town, will be attainable only to a very limited extent, and usually not at all. Concentration of the military forces at a decisive point is, of course, out of the question here. Hence passive defence is the predominant form of struggle; an attack will be mounted here and there, by way of exception, in the form of occasional thrusts and assaults on the flanks; as a rule, however, it will be limited to the occupation of positions abandoned by retreating troops. In addition, the military have at their disposal artillery and fully equipped corps of trained engineers, means of warfare which, in nearly every case, the insurgents entirely lack. No wonder, then, that even the barricade fighting conducted with the greatest heroism — Paris, June 1848; Vienna, October 1848; Dresden, May 1849 — ended in the defeat of the insurrection as soon as the leaders of the attack, unhampered by political considerations, acted according to purely military criteria, and their soldiers remained reliable.

The numerous successes of the insurgents up to 1848 were due to a great variety of causes. In Paris, in July 1830 and February 1848, as in most of the Spanish street fighting, a civic guard stood between the insurgents and the military. This guard either sided directly with the insurrection, or else by its lukewarm, indecisive attitude caused the troops likewise to vacillate, and supplied the insurrection with arms into the bargain. Where this civic guard opposed the insurrection from the outset, as in June 1848 in Paris, the insurrection was vanquished. In Berlin in 1848, the people were victorious partly through considerable reinforcements in the shape of new fighting forces during the night and the morning of March 19th, partly as a result of the exhaustion and poor rations of the troops, and, finally, partly as a result of the paralysis engendered by the command. But in all cases the fight was won because the troops failed to respond, because the commanding officers lost the faculty to decide or because their hands were tied.
Even in the classic time of street fighting, therefore, the barricade produced more of a moral than a material effect. It was a means of shaking the steadfastness of the military. If it held out until this was attained, victory was won; if not, the outcome was defeat. This is the main point which must be kept in view, also when examining the outlook for possible future street fighting.
Back in 1849 already, this outlook was pretty poor. Everywhere the bourgeoisie had thrown in its lot with the governments, “culture and property” had hailed and feasted the military moving against insurrection. The barricade had lost its magic; the soldier no longer saw behind it “the people”, but rebels, subversives, plunderers, levellers, the scum of society; the officer had in the course of time become versed in the tactical forms of street fighting, he no longer marched straight ahead and without cover against the improvised breastwork, but went round it through gardens, yards and houses. And this was now successful, with a little skill, in nine cases out of ten.
But since then there have been very many more changes, and all in favour of the military. (…) Does that mean that in the future street fighting will no longer play any role? Certainly not. It only means that the conditions since 1848 have become far more unfavourable for civilian fighters and far more favourable for the military. In future, street fighting can, therefore, be victorious only if this disadvantageous situation is compensated by other factors. Accordingly, it will occur more seldom at the beginning of a great revolution than at its later stages, and will have to be undertaken with greater forces.”