“They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.”
– Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852).
I like it when people rip this quote from Marx out of context to prove he was an authoritarian who thought the little people had to be ruled from above… because in so doing they demonstrate their own ignorance and/or dishonesty (I give Edward Said a pass, for various reasons).
Marx is talking about a specific group of people: French ‘small holding’ peasants in the mid-19th century. He’s not saying they’re too inherently dumb. He’s saying that their way of living (small, self-sufficient, private agricultural property) makes it hard for them to be a unified class, to assert united interests, etc. He’s saying they’ve had revolutionary demands beaten or bribed out of them by the bourgeoisie. Consequently, they end up ready to be represented by an Emperor.
It’s a sound analysis that inherently recognises the ability of ordinary people to represent themselves under conditions other than the ones Marx is describing, and which puts those conditions in historical context rather than attributing them to any unavoidable destiny.
As usual, Marx is accused of doing and saying the exact opposite of what he actually did and said.