Colin Powell as Bonapartist
Louis N Proyect
lnp3 at columbia.edu
Thu Feb 1 10:00:31 MST 1996
Last summer shortly after reading the 18th Brumaire for the first time
in years, I was struck by certain analogies between the Bonapartism of
1848 and the Bonapartist tendencies of a figure like Gingrich.
Gingrich leads an attack on the federal government despite being a
representative of the congressional district that receives the most
federal aid per capita. He attempts to rise above vying classes by
representing himself as a "revolutionary" who will restore power to the
"little man". He is a demagogue and a nationalist in the manner of
classic Bonapartist types like DeGaulle and Peron.
Unlike Louis Philippe, Gingrich uses the legislative body as a
battering ram against the executive branch. Bonapartists classically
use the executive against the legislative. Of course, if Gingrich was in
the white house, it would be a different matter.
I was reminded of all of this when I opened the "Alternate Orange", a
journal published by students at Syracuse University. I met one of the
editors a couple of weeks ago. He was in town to visit with his girl-
friend, a social-worker. Both are rather determined Marxists. I met
them through a chum of mine who works at Barnard who has been warming
up to Marxism, ever since Derrida started making Marxist noises. I
can't get her to read Marx, however. She is practising with
Deleuze/Guattari. This for her is like dipping her big toe in the water.
I have threatened to lock her up with me and read the Communist
Manifesto to her from start to finish.
Anyhow, getting back to "Alternate Orange".
There's an article in there by our very own Walter Daum, a key leader
of the League for the Revolutionary Party (Communist Organization
for the Fourth International) on "Colin Powell: Savior of U.S.
Capitalism" which makes the following point:
"Powell's candidacy would serve a deeper bourgeois need. Despite the
current blather about reducing the growth of the state, in this era of
decadent capitalism the state's role must inevitably expand. During an
acute period of unresolved class confrontation between proletariat and
bourgeoisie, capitalism traditionally turns to a Bonaparte, a Man on a
White Horse, who seems to stand above the class struggle and
represent the people at large. Such a 'hero' attempts to reach power by
popular acclaim, even voicing hostility to the 'malefactors of great
wealth.' Then, wielding a greatly centralized state power, he uses his
popularity to defend the ruling class, its property and its system.
We have not reached a point of conscious class confrontation. The
capitalist attack is largely one-sided war. A full-fledged Bonaparte
isn't needed--yet. So it is no accident that a semi-Bonapartist figure
like Powell comes riding on the scene. As Leon Trotsky observed
about Germany in the early 1930's, several figures reflecting aspects of
Bonapartism occupied state power within the confines of bourgeois
democracy as a prelude to Hitler, the 'national socialist' who finally put
a bloody end to the immediate class conflict.
The capitalist class at this early stage in the looming confrontation is
hesitant, a good way off from its future turn to fascism as its last resort
in the fight against proletarian communism. And, not by accident,
Powell is also a cautious man. Should he run now? Wait and see. He
only wants to grab for the brass ring if he can win it. His personal
caution makes him even more delectable to the cautious capitalists."
Bravo! Excellent analysis.
By looking at figures like Perot, Gingrich, Buchanan and Powell
within a Bonapartist framework, don't we get closer to the truth about
what's going on in the ruling-class than we do by fretting over Mark
from Michigan or Louis Farrakhan? We are living in a period where
semi-Bonapartist figures are beginning to emerge. As class
contradictions deepen, we should not be surprised to see more and
more big capitalist support swinging over to figures like this.
In any case, we have to get used to the idea that the capitalist class is
not limited to two choices when it comes to rule: bourgeois democracy
versus fascism. There all sorts of intermediate choices based on a
Bonapartist model. In the case of Germany, variations on Bonapartism
took place throughout the decade of the 1920's.
We are not in anywhere as deep a crisis as Germany was in the 1920's,
but as class confrontation continues to deepen, keep your eyes on
Perot, Powell, etc. Figures like these will begin to play more and more
important roles, especially as the two capitalist parties' class base
continue to erode.
(By the way, there are items in Walter's article that I do object to. For
example, he belittles the Labor Party Advocates because they see it
only as a mechanism to put pressure on the Democrats from the left by
the trade union bureaucracy. This, however, doesn't take into account
the efforts of grass-roots organizers in the union movement to make
the Labor Party an instrument for class struggle. In politics, the only
"pure" class-struggle organizations are revolutionary socialist parties.
Every other "mass" organization else is tainted, but, by the same
token, up for grabs to one degree or another. We have to learn to
approach politics dialectically otherwise we turn into sideline kibitzers
like the Spartacist League.)
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