Colin Powell as Bonapartist

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at
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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