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225 8 Barricades and the Culture of Revolution Hegel says somewhere that all great historic facts and personages recur twice. He forgot to add: “Once as tragedy, and again as farce.” Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the “Mountain” of 1848–51 for the “Mountain” of 1793–95, the Nephew for the Uncle. The identical caricature marks also the conditions under which the second edition of the eighteenth Brumaire is issued. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte The previous chapter hinted at the visibility and symbolic power that the nineteenth -century barricade derived from its association with a “revolutionary tradition .” That last phrase may, at first glance, appear to have something of the quality of an oxymoron, since it joins two concepts that are commonly presumed to be polar opposites.1 On reflection, however, it is evident that even the most radical attempts to do away with every last vestige of the former status quo must confront the need to provide a social movement organization that can coordinate supporters’ activities and give structure to their collective aspirations, since without such a framework, the chances of the new order prevailing remain remote. Moreover, to the extent that these initial challenges are surmounted and the revolution triumphs, the desire to make its success lasting and meaningful logically implies an effort to reconstitute society by coming up with novel institutional forms capable of replacing the old. In the process, revolutionaries assume roles, formulate policies, and devise alternative societal arrangements that respond to the demands of the immediate situation. They may perceive these expedients as being utterly without precedent, but in reality, the problems they are intended to address are timeless, and the “innovations” they introduce therefore inevitably share much in common with those championed by the system builders of earlier eras. Thus, even when the protagonists claim to be marking a sharp break with all that has gone before, they frequently appear to be reenacting rituals borrowed from the past. 226 Barricades and the Culture of Revolution The celebrated passage from Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte quoted above as the epigraph to this chapter is not the only nineteenth-century reference to the recurrent quality of the behavior exhibited by revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries alike. In his Recollections of the events of 1848, Tocqueville also calls attention to this penchant for historical repetition: [The February revolution] was a time when everybody’s imagination had been coloured by the crude pigments with which Lamartine daubed his Girondins. The men of the first revolution were still alive in everybody’s mind, their deeds and their words fresh in the memory. And everything I saw that day was plainly stamped with the imprint of such memories; the whole time I had the feeling that we had staged a play about the French Revolution, rather than that we were continuing it.2 Although the allusion to a script from which historical actors hesitated to deviate was meant to suggest how shallow and inauthentic such efforts to recapture past glories could be, Tocqueville also presents this impulse as an affirmative act of remembrance that demonstrated the power that the exploits and symbols of previous generations could exert over the minds of those who sought to emulate (or perhaps magically reproduce) their success. Another version of this same insight—this time from the pen of the poet Heine—can actually claim precedence over those of both Tocqueville and Marx. In March 1848, in the very first of a series of reports on the February Days he published in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, Heine broached the theme of revolution as play-acting. After decrying the mind-numbing effect that Parisians’ monotonous singing of the “Marseillaise” was having on his frazzled nerves, he adopted a breezy, ironic style—almost as if he were turning to engage his reader out loud—to express his puzzlement at the revolutionary spectacle that he had before his eyes. Speaking of the French people as of a playwright, and of the 1848 revolution as of a theatrical production, he evoked the sense of déjà vu that the recent events inspired in him in these terms: Is the great author repeating himself? Are his creative powers faltering? Wasn’t this play, presented to us in February with such pride, the same as the one he produced eighteen years ago in Paris under the title “The July Revolution”? But one can always see a good play twice. In any case, this...


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