[Marxism] Re: the battle of the adjectives

DLVinvest at cs.com DLVinvest at cs.com
Wed Apr 21 12:55:38 MDT 2004

In a message dated 3/27/04 8:09:54 AM Mountain Daylight Time, 
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net writes: 
> Since the 1992 military revolt, the Militant has continually labelled
> Chavez a "bonapartist demagogue" without ever making a serious attempt
> to prove it (as the SWP did in the past when it labelled McCarthy or
> Father Coughlin incipient fascists, or as Marx did re Louis Bonaparte,
> or Trotsky in reference to Von Papen and Schleicher in Germany).

having never been a Trotsyite or -ist, I have spared myself many of the 
doctrinal disputes within that tendency, but if memory serves, it was in his essay 
on the 18 Brumaire of Louis Napoleon that Marx offered his witticism that 
history indeed repeats itself, in fact twice as it were, "the first time as 
tragedy, the second, as farce." Too often, the debates about that history degenerate 
into something less entertaining. 

The von Papen/Schliecher putschists who paved the way for Hitler were 
alternate brands of fascists or aspiring fascists, looking to represent and put 
themselves at the head of that peculiar blend of racism, anti-semitism, nationalism 
embodied in Nazi ideology; they were not mere "bonapartists" who represented 
a "national bourgeoisie" allied with rich peasants, as the napoleonic 
description suggested. Whether Coughlin or McCarthy were fascists, incipient or no, is 
now a historical curiosity; we might learn more from Leibling's journalistic 
profile of Huey Long in understanding the current role of the US military in 
international class warfare than what Palme Dutt or Dimitrov had to say about 
it in the 1930s. 

It's as if attaching an "-ism" to any historical phenomenon can strip it of 
its particular attributes and universalize it as a formula to be applied in 
different circumstances, as a cursory look at socialist-inspired revolutionary 
struggles in the "third" world reveals, especially in Latin America since the 
1950s; some examples:

In Peru in the early 70s, the SWP (PST led by Hugo Blanco) and the 
forerunners of the Sendero Luminoso (remember it's inspiration -- homegrown Carlos 
Mariategui in the 1920s, not just Mao as is often thought) both denounced the 
Velasco regime as either bonapartist or fascist, respectively, and organized armed 
insurrection in the countryside with some success, only to succumb to superior 
military force -- and terror. In Panama, some factions (SWP or PST led by 
Miguel Antonio Bernal) described the military-dominated regimes of Torrijos and 
Noriega as "bonapartist" with some degree of accuracy (in fact, most Panamanian 
officers had been trained in Peru under the supposedly "progressive" 
Velasco), but this formula ignored the degree of support those regimes had developed 
among workingclass organizations, farmers and the poor, largely as a result of 
organizing by the Popular Party (pro-Soviet, pro-Cuban, "revisionist"). The PP 
largely dissolved itself into truncated "mass" organizations and the 
military-inspired, self-styled "social-democratic" Revolutionary Democratic Party 
(PRD, 2nd International) which survived the overthrow of Noriega and is running 
Martin Torrijos for President in the current elections. These experiences, 
coupled with the collapse of the revolutionary guerrilla movements in Salvador and 
Nicaragua, have been closely studied in Venezuela and Colombia, with very 
different conclusions drawn in strategy by the "left" based on their own 

There is an  obviously strong military current in Castro's version of 
guerrilla war doctrine, based on the July 26 Movement's policy of building alliances 
between largely pesant-based military force and urban workers, that has given 
rise to the proposition that the military in less-developed counties can be a 
revolutionary nationalist force  -- or even a substitute for stunted 
working-class organization in neo-colonial/dependent-capitalist modes of production 
that prevail there. See debates in Latin America Perspectives in the 70s and 80s 
for an attempt to put a Marxian political-economic foundation under this 
practice (or strategy masquerading as "theory"). One widely distributed text was 
Nils Castro's Como Pez en Agua (Like Fish in the Sea) which described the 
Panamanian military as the revolutionary vanguard. -- what some revolutionary 
marxists consider a deviation, others consider a creative contribution to theory and 
strategy. You might want to take a look at materials published by various 
left formations in Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia and now Venezuela, where this is 
getting played out in a new form. Demagogue Chavez may be; "bonapartist" will 
have to be proved, probably in how he walks the tightrope he has strung 
between the huge mass of poor people and the military milieu from which he emerged. 
Colombia's civil war, on the other hand, has continued for 55 years with only 
a few interruptions of truces and cease-fires when the military dictatorship 
and the left-led guerrilla armies have faced the reality of mutual exhaustion 
and political impasse.

The old labels are sometimes useful in summarizing investigation into such 
phenomena, but more often act as a substitute for marshalling the evidence and 
making the argument that would support the political conclusion (usually a 
condemnation in the form of an adjective) they imply. In the US, however, any such 
rigorous analysis and study should be accompanied by the unwavering demand 
that all US military intervention and support for the dominant regimes end 

Douglas L. Vaughan, Jr.
for Print, Film & Electronic Media
3140 W. 32nd Ave. 
Denver CO 80211

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