True Bonapartism

Luciano Dondero DOND001 at
Mon Feb 5 10:39:48 MST 1996

On Sat, 03 Feb 1996 18:12:51 -0500 (EST
James Lawler <phijiml at>
>Some time ago, Louis gave us an informative submission
>on Trotsky's analysis of Naziism as close to the Bonapartism described by
>Marx.  As I recall, Louis reported that for Trotsky, Hitler, while
>demogogically appealing to the petty bourgeoisie, was really a
>representative of the big bourgeoisie, that Naziism was an expression of
>the naked power of the steel companies, or something to this effect.

>The texts I have selected from Marx's work do not support this approach.
>Marx is quite explicit that Bonaparte was *not* a representative of the

>Hobsbaum puts the
>matter this way: "...the point about really big business is that it can
>come to terms with any regime that does not actually expropriate it, and
>any regime must come to terms with it." (129)

Hobsbawm's point about the approach that the big bourgeoisie takes regarding
the form of its political power seems all right to me. However, I find James
Lawler' approach on the whole a bit off.

I believe that it is always dangerous to attempt to establish a direct
connection between Marx's Nineteenth century analysis and Trotsky's (or
Louis' or anybody else's). So much is usually said and written about the
need to update Marx's economic analysis. That is certainly much more
necessary regarding Marx's political ones.

The main element to keep in mind, IMO, is that the formation and
consolidation of the nation-states and the creation of imperialism are
relatively recent developments, and that they do affect the relationship
between the main classes in society.

I would like to bring into this discussion two examples, Britain and France.

In Britain, the queen (by definition not bourgeois) has in her hands vast
political powers. To draw from this the conclusion that Britain is not a
parlamentarian democracy - ie the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie operates
through proper parlamentarian channels (most of the time, at least) - would
be ludicrous.

But let's assume that certain drammatic developments of class struggle would
push the royalty to act in a bonapartist fashion, calling upon the army to
intervene one way or another.

Would that be because the queen is a representative of the big bourgeoisie?
Or because she isn't?

In France, since the de Gaulle coup in 1958, the parlamentarian regime has
been somewhat deformed in the direction of bonapartism. The powers invested
in the President are much less checked by the kind of system ("of checks and
balances") that exists in the United States. The French Congress ("Assemblee
Nationale") is some kind of a joke, considering that the President can
dissolve it pretty much at will.

All French Presidents in the past 40 years have acted in a rather
high-handed fashion, whether they were from the military (de Gaulle), from
the big bourgeoisie (Giscard d'Estaing) or merely Socialdemocratic lackeys
of capital (Mitterrand).

This does not perhaps square with Marx' analysis, especially if taken
straightforwardly. That's too bad. But Marx is dead, and we are here (even
though some of us are not feeling quite well these days).

--Luciano Dondero--

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