Written: August 1946
Source: The Unbroken Thread
Transcription/Markup: Emil 1998
Proofread: Emil 1998
Editor's note: This is a reply to Pierre Frank's Democracy or Bonapartism in Europe? (November 1945)
Lenin's aphorism that we live in an epoch of wars and revolutions - to which Trotsky added 'and counter-revolutions' - has been amply demonstrated by the history of the last three decades. Few periods in history have been filled with such terrific convulsions and clashes between the nations and classes and such kaleidoscopic changes and manipulations of the political regimes whereby finance capital maintains its domination over the peoples. Thus, it becomes doubly important for those who carry on the scientific teachings of Marxism, and who alone can lay claim to make a theoretical analysis of events, to keep a scrupulous and careful check on the changes which are taking place if they are correctly to orientate the advance guard and give guidance to the masses.
In criticising the barren conceptions of Stalinism, which identified all regimes to fascism at the time of the 'third period', Trotsky brilliantly characterised the essence of the epoch as one of change and fluctuations, in which generalisations would not suffice. Each stage must be examined concretely by the vanguard who could thus understand and interpret events and draw the correct practical conclusions for activity therefrom. He wrote:
"The vast importance of a correct theoretical orientation is most strikingly manifested in a period of acute social conflict, of rapid political shifts, of abrupt changes in the situation. In such periods, political conceptions and generalisations are rapidly used up and require either a complete replacement (which is easier) or their concretisation, precision and partial rectification (which is harder.) It is in just such periods that all sorts of transitional, intermediate situations and combinations arise, as a matter of necessity, which upset the customary patterns and doubly require a sustained theoretical attention. In a word, if in the pacific and 'organic' period (before the war) one could still live on the revenue from a few ready-made abstractions, in our time each new event forcefully brings home the most important law of the dialectic: the truth is always concrete." (Bonapartism and Fascism, July 1934) [source]
Among the cadres of the Fourth International, there are comrades who have not sufficiently understood this lesson. They continue to live on the 'revenue from a few ready-made abstractions' instead of concretising or partially rectifying previous generalisations. An outstanding example of this is the article of Pierre Frank.
Frank attempts to equate all regimes in Western Europe to 'Bonapartism'. His generalisations go even further: he argues that there have been Bonapartist regimes in France since 1934; that it is impossible to have any but Bonapartist or fascist regimes until the coming to power of the proletariat in Europe. This, if you please, in the name of 'the continuity of our political analysis for more than ten years of French history'! Such complacency reduces theory to formless abstractions and conceals inevitable and episodic errors, thus making them into a system. It has no place in the Fourth International.
Comrade Frank indiscriminately mixes the terms bourgeois democracy with Bonapartism, not explaining the specific traits of either. He interchangeably speaks of 'Bonapartism', 'elements of Bonapartism' and he contrasts democratic liberties with 'a regime which one can correctly define as democratic.' Yet the reader has to seek in vain for a definition of his ideal 'democratic regime' as distinguished from the very real bourgeois democracy. He denies the existence of democratic regimes in Europe today because 'there is literally no place for them.'
We will here repeat some elementary ideas of Marxism in order to arrive at the necessary clarity and understanding of the shifting processes and changes taking place in the regimes in Europe at the present time - at least in Western Europe. The Eastern half, dominated directly by the Stalinist bureaucracy, develops in a different direction and under different conditions.
The political character of a regime (Bonapartist, fascist, democratic) is basically determined by the relations between the classes in the nation, which vary at different stages. Its fundamental nature is determined, in the last analysis, by its mode of production and property relations, by its class character. Thus the regimes of Hitler(1) and Roosevelt, of Attlee and Mussolini, of Franco and Gouin, of Peron and Salazar, of de Valera and Chiang Kai Shek are all governments of the capitalist class, for they rest upon the economy of capitalist exploitation. However, the class nature of these regimes does not exhaust the problem. We have to classify the instrument - which differs in each case - by which the bourgeoisie ensures its dominance and rule. The character of this rule is decided not only by the subjective wishes and needs of the finance-capitalists, which remain but one factor in the process, but precisely by the objective-subjective inter-relations between the classes at a given stage, which has been predicated by the previous history and the development of the class struggle of the given country.
It is a vulgarisation of Marxism - vulgar materialism of the worst sort - to argue that the superstructure of a society is determined immediately by the development of its economy.
The disappearance of the economic basis on which the 'democracy' of the imperialists is based, does not immediately lead to the disappearance of the bourgeois democracy. It only prepares its collapse in the long run. Properly speaking, the development of capitalism into imperialism by the beginning of this century had already rendered outmoded the existence of bourgeois democracy. Yet we see that bourgeois democracy managed to maintain itself for decades after its economic base had disappeared.
That capitalism had outlived its historic functions was attested already by the first imperialist world war. But this did not, and could not by itself, lead to the overthrow of the capitalist system. The first world war led to favourable conditions for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie on a world scale. But the proletariat was prevented from carrying out its mission by the organisations of its own creation. The social democracy betrayed the revolution and saved the capitalist system from destruction. In the revolutionary epoch following world war one, the bourgeoisie was compelled to lean on the social democracy for support, the only reliable prop they had to maintain their rule. Where the bourgeoisie relied on such regimes based on social democracy, uniting repression against the revolutionary workers with reforms and half-reforms, these could only be characterised as regimes of 'bourgeois democracy.' Thus, Lenin and Trotsky characterised the counter-revolutionary regime in Germany in 1918, which was organised by social democracy, as a bourgeois democratic regime.
It is ABC that the democratic liberties were gained in the struggle against the bourgeoisie over a period of a century; the right to vote had to be fought for and wrested from the bourgeoisie at a period of ascending capitalism, at the time of the blossoming of bourgeois democracy. Even in its heyday there was never an idyllic democratic state without police intervention and without brute force.
Yet even at this stage when capitalism was still an ascending economy, there were not only democratic regimes but Bonapartist regimes as well. In the classic land of Bonapartism, both Louis Napoleon(2), and Bonaparte himself came to power at a time when there was a veritable boom which lasted in the one case for two decades. According to Comrade Frank's conception there was no basis for Bonapartism; there should have only been bourgeois democracy. But we see the problem is not so simple.
And after Louis Napoleon, bourgeois democracy (with one or two threats of dictatorship - Boulangerism) lasted for decades in France. According to Frank's mysterious conceptions, after Bonapartism - which means that the economic basis for democracy is gone - It is no longer possible for the bourgeoisie to have democracy, but...only Bonapartism.
It is difficult to understand why Comrade Frank stops at 1934 to trace Bonapartist regimes in France. If we follow his method logically we have had Bonapartism since the coup d'etat of Louis Napoleon in 1851, or perhaps since the first Bonaparte!
If there is a grain of sense in his case that the economic basis for reforms has disappeared, all that it proves is not automatically and consequently a regime of Bonapartism is posed but that the democratic regime under such conditions will be of an extremely unstable character, afflicted with convulsions and crises, which must make way either for the revolutionary proletarian dictatorship or the open dictatorship of finance capital through Bonapartism or fascism.
Comrade Frank says the existence of democratic liberties does not suffice to make a democratic regime. A profound observation! What follows? The existence of Bonapartist measures does not make a regime Bonapartist either, Comrade Frank! This argument is about as profound as those of the 'bureaucratic collectivises' who argued that we had the intervention of the state in the economy in Germany under Hitler, in France under Blum, in America under Roosevelt (National Industrial Recovery Act), in Russia under Stalin...consequently all those regimes were the same. It is not the points of similarity only - all human societies have points of similarity, particularly different types of capitalist societies - it is the decisive traits which determine our definition of regimes.
The British RCP has characterised the regimes in Western Europe (France, Belgium, Holland, Italy) as regimes of counter-revolution in a democratic form. Comrade Pierre Frank claims that the idea of 'democratic counter-revolution' is 'devoid of all content.' He would then he hard put to explain what the Weimar(3) Republic organised by the social democracy in Germany was. He would be compelled to argue that what took place in Germany in 1918, was not the proletarian revolution which was betrayed by the 'counter-revolution in a democratic form' (by the undemocratic and bloody suppression of the January 1919 uprisings), but was a democratic revolution which overthrew the Kaiser and replaced his regime by one of 'pure' bourgeois democracy! The fact that this regime was ushered in by martial law and the conspiracy of the social democratic leaders with the General Staff of the Reichswehr, the Junkers and the bourgeoisie, validates entirely the conclusion of Lenin and Trotsky that there was a 'democratic' counter-revolution, with the bourgeoisie using the social democrats as their agents.
In advance Trotsky foresaw and prepared theoretically for a similar situation with the collapse of fascism in Italy, when he wrote in a letter to the Italian comrades in 1930:
"Following the above comes the question of the 'transitional' period in Italy. At the very outset it is necessary to establish very clearly: transition from what to what? A period of transition from the bourgeois (or 'popular') revolution to the proletarian revolution is one thing. A period of transition from the fascist dictatorship to the proletarian dictatorship is another. If the first conception is envisaged, the question of the bourgeois revolution is posed in the first place and it is then a question of establishing the role of the proletariat in it. Only after that will the question of the transitional period toward a proletarian revolution be posed. If the second conception is envisaged, the question is then posed of a series of battles, disturbances, upsets in the situation, abrupt turns, constituting in their ensemble the different stages of the proletarian revolution. These stages may be many in number. But in no case can they contain within them a bourgeois revolution or its mysterious hybrid: the 'popular' revolution.
"Does this mean that Italy cannot for a certain time again become a parliamentary state or become a 'democratic republic'? I consider - in perfect agreement with you, I think - that this eventuality is not excluded. But then it will not be the fruit of a bourgeois revolution but the abortion of an insufficiently matured and premature proletarian revolution. In case of a profound revolutionary crisis and of mass battles in the course of which the proletarian vanguard will not have been in a position to take power, it may be that the bourgeoisie will reconstruct its power on 'democratic' bases.
"Can it be said, for example, that the present German republic constitutes a conquest of the bourgeois revolution? Such an assertion would be absurd. There was in Germany in 1918-19 a proletarian revolution which, deprived of leadership, was deceived, betrayed and crushed. But the bourgeois counter-revolution nevertheless found itself obliged to adapt itself to the circumstances resulting from this crushing of the proletarian revolution and to assume the form of a republic in the 'democratic' parliamentary form. Is the same - or about the same - eventuality excluded from Italy? No, it is not excluded. The enthronement of fascism was the result of the incompletion of the proletarian revolution in 1920. Only a new proletarian revolution can overturn fascism. If it should not be destined to triumph this time either (weakness of the Communist Party, manoeuvres and betrayals of the social democrats, the freemasons, the catholics), the 'transitional' state that the bourgeois counter-revolution would then be forced to set up in the ruins of its power in a fascist form, could be nothing else than a parliamentary and democratic state." (Problems of the Italian Revolution, 14 May, 1930) [source]
Events in Italy have demonstrated the remarkable foresight of Trotsky. The bourgeoisie has been compelled to allow the jettisoning of the king(4) and the Stalinist-socialist traitors have headed off the developing proletarian revolution into the channels of a 'parliamentary and democratic state'. This of course, will not attain a stable base, but will be subject to crises and upheavals, movements on the part of the proletariat, and counter-movements of monarchists and fascists. Would Frank now deny the correctness of Trotsky's conceptions and assert that we have had a Bonapartist state since the fall of Mussolini?
It is incomprehensible that Frank, in his argumentation, should refer to this very article of Trotsky's which puts forward precisely the opposite point of view. After fascism what? asks the Old Man and answers that, as a means of preventing the revolution in face of mass upsurge, the bourgeoisie will turn towards the establishment of a bourgeois democratic republic. We note in this connection that the immediate introduction of Bonapartism (allegedly because democracy has no economic base) was not even considered by Trotsky.
From this can be seen that what is really 'devoid of content' is the mechanical conception that counter-revolution can only manifest itself in the form of fascism or Bonapartism, ie military-police dictatorships.
'The experience of history has shown, and events now unfolding in Europe demonstrate irrefutably, that the methods of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the proletarian revolution vary widely and are not determined a priori. The bourgeoisie makes use of different methods, relies on different strata, depending on the class relation of forces in order to re-enforce or re-establish its rule.
Whether they can manoeuvre the Stalinists or manipulate their social democratic, Bonapartist, or fascist agencies, or as sometimes happens, use all forces simultaneously, does not depend only on the subjective intentions of the ruling class, or on this or that adventurer, but on the objective conditions and the inter-relations between all the classes in the nation - bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and proletariat, at any given time. To repeat mechanically the conclusion that the existence of finance capital is incompatible with bourgeois democracy in the contemporary period (which is indubitably correct within certain limits), and thus that all regimes must be Bonapartist, is to substitute abstract categories formulated on the basis of partial and insufficient historical experience, or a narrow and incomplete view of the process as a whole, for a dialectical analysis of events.
To understand the nature of the regimes in Western Europe today, we must know the background on which they evolved. The revolutionary movement of the masses following World War One was paralysed and betrayed by the social democrats, who alone were able to save capitalism from destruction under the banner of bourgeois democracy. The bourgeoisie was compelled to rely on its social democratic agencies for mere survival.
The failure of the proletariat to take power could lead only to the further degeneration and decay of capitalism. The ruin of the petty bourgeoisie, which was shown no way out by the mass organisations of the proletariat, led to them becoming a tool of fascist reaction. Trapped by the intolerable crisis of their system in one country after another, through many transitions, the bourgeoisie turned in the direction of open and unbridled dictatorship.
The wave of revolution was followed by a wave of counter-revolution. In Italy, Germany and other countries, the bourgeoisie used the forces of the frenzied petty bourgeoisie to destroy the organisations of the proletariat. They were compelled at a later stage to turn on the petty bourgeoisie and transform themselves into Bonapartist regimes, ie regimes resting directly on the support of the military-police apparatus rather than regimes with a mass basis.
This could not solve the contradictions of the capitalist system on a national or international scale but inevitably led to the second world war, in a frantic endeavour by the bourgeoisie to find a way out by a repartition of the world. But the second world war, even more than the first, put at stake the whole existence of capitalism as a system. The bourgeoisie realised, with dread, that the unleashing of the war would release tremendous revolutionary energy from the depths of the masses and recreate the conditions favourable to the overthrow of capitalism on a continental scale.
The victories of the nazis and the conquest of practically the whole of the continent of Europe had, as a by-product, the effect of temporally destroying the mass basis of reaction throughout Europe. Reaction and the capitalist system rested directly on the bayonets of the nazi fascist armies. The hated Quislings played a purely auxiliary role. With the victories of the Red Army and the collapse of Hitler and Mussolini, the problem of the socialist revolution was posed on the order of the day throughout Europe. Reaction was without a strong base in the populations and without a strong stable military-police apparatus. The allied armies could not be a stable prop for reaction and open military dictatorship for long. In most of the European countries the bourgeoisie was faced with mass upsurge, which they could not bridle with their own forces.
Greece was the exception. Only after a civil war and a bloody war of intervention was it possible to install a semi-Bonapartist or Bonapartist regime, which is step-by-step attempting to impose a totalitarian regime in that country. The imperialists are aware of the impossibility of using such methods on a continental scale. In addition, in Greece the power of reaction had to be maintained at all costs for fear that this last outpost of British imperialism in the Balkan peninsula should, in common with the rest of the Balkans, fall under the sway of the Stalinist bureaucracy. But even here it was not possible to destroy completely the mass organisations of the proletariat.
Nothing saved the capitalist system in Western Europe except the betrayal of social democracy and Stalinism. When the bourgeoisie leans on its social democratic and Stalinist agencies for the purpose of counter-revolution, what is the 'content' of that counter-revolution? Bonapartist, fascist, authoritarian? Of course not! Its content is that of a 'counter revolution in a democratic form.'
Of course, the bourgeoisie cannot stabilise itself for any length of time on the basis of the democratic counter-revolution. Where the revolution is stemmed by the lackeys of the bourgeoisie, the class forces do not stay suspended. After a period, which can be more or less protracted according to the economic and political developments internationally and within the given country, the bourgeoisie shifts to Bonapartist or fascist counter-revolution.
That is how events manifested themselves in Italy within two years of the ebbing of the revolutionary tide provoked by world war one, and in Germany over a period of 15 years. The change in class relationships reflected itself in the change in regimes through democracy, preventative Bonapartism, to fascism, pure Bonapartist military dictatorship.
Despite the further degeneration of its economic and political base, the failure of the workers once again to take power, destroy capitalist relations and organise society anew, has resulted in the establishment of bourgeois democratic governments in Italy, France and other countries, based upon the manipulation of the Stalinists and social democrats. To argue that counter- revolution or the rule of the bourgeoisie in the present period can only manifest itself in Bonapartism, fascism or Franco-type governments, is to abandon the Marxist appreciation of the processes in modern society. Taking into account the many factors involved in the history of the period, including the weakness of the Marxist current, it could have been, and was, predicted in advance what the developments in Western Europe would be. But the process can only be understood if one takes into account the real nature of democracy, Bonapartism, fascism, and not merely their outward forms.
The classic Bonapartism of the first Napoleon rose out of the bourgeois democratic revolution in the period of the youth and vigour of capitalism. Bonapartism, the rule of the sword over society, represented a position where the state assumed a relative independence of the classes, balancing between the hostile classes and arbitrating between them. It remained, nevertheless, an instrument above all, of the big capitalists. Napoleon, by leaning on the support of the peasants, could maintain himself for a whole historical period because of the development of the productive forces in France at this period.
So with Napoleon the Little, who established his power in France in the coup d'etat of 1851. Marx, in the Eighteenth Brumaire, described the position thus: "the State has gone back to its earliest form, in which the sword rules without shame and club law prevails. [Hardly a mirror of the regime of de Gaulle in France after the liberation! - EG]. Thus is the coup-de-main of February 1848 answered by the coup-de-tete of December 1851." [source (translation differs)]
That is the essence of Bonapartism: naked, military-police dictatorship, the 'arbiter' with a sword. A regime which indicates that the antagonisms within society have become so great that the state machine, 'regulating' and 'ordering' these antagonisms, while remaining an instrument of the property owners, assumes a certain independence of all the classes. A 'national judge' concentrating power in his hands, personally 'arbitrates' the conflicts within the nation, playing off one class against another, nevertheless remaining a tool of the property owners. At the same time, we characterise as Bonapartist, a regime where the basic class forces of bourgeoisie and proletariat more or less balance one another, thus allowing the state power to manoeuvre and balance the contending camps and again giving the state power a certain independence in relation to society as a whole.
However, there is a big difference between the role of Bonapartism in the period of capitalism's ascending phase and the period of its decline. We give two quotations from Trotsky explaining this difference with the utmost clarity, in Germany, The Only Road.
"In its time, we designated the Bruening(5) government as Bonapartism ('caricature of Bonapartism'), that is, as a regime of the military police dictatorship. As soon as the struggle of two social strata - the haves and the have-nots, the exploiter and the exploited - reaches its highest tension, the conditions are given for the domination of bureaucracy, police, soldiery. The government becomes 'independent' of society. Let us once more recall: if two forks are stuck symmetrically into a cork, the latter can stand even on the head of a pin. That is precisely the scheme of Bonapartism. To be sure, such a government does not cease being the clerk of the property-owners. Yet the clerk sits on the back of the boss, rubs his neck raw and does not hesitate at times to dig his boots into his face.
"It might have been assumed that Bruening would hold on until the final solution. Yet, in the course of events, another link inserted itself: the Papen government. Were we to be exact, we should have to make a rectification of our old designation: the Bruening government was a pre-Bonapartist government. Bruening was only a precursor. In a perfected form, Bonapartism came upon the scene in the Papen-Schleicher government (September 1932)." [source]
And further on:
"However, in spite of the appearance of concentrated forces, the Papen government as such is weaker yet than its predecessor. The Bonapartist regime can attain a comparatively stable and durable character only in the event that it brings a revolutionary epoch to a close; when the relationship of forces has already been tested in battles; when the revolutionary classes are already spent; while the possessing classes have not yet freed themselves from the fear; will not the morrow bring new convulsions? Without this basic condition, that is, without a preceding exhaustion of the mass energies in battles, a Bonapartist regime is in no position to develop." [source]
The Bonapartism at the stage of capitalism's rise, raising itself above society, suppressing and 'arbitrating' the open conflicts within it and regulating the class antagonisms, is strong and confident. Under the conditions of a powerful development of the productive forces, it attains a certain stability. But the Bonapartism of capitalism's decline is affected by senility. Rising out of the crisis of capitalist society, it cannot solve any of the problems with which it is faced. The main crisis of society, the conflict between the productive forces and private ownership and the national state, has become so great, the class antagonisms which it engenders, so tense, that this which alone allows the rise of senile Bonapartism, at the same time, as a consequence, makes it so weak and feeble that its whole structure is shaky and likely to be overthrown in the series of crises which confront it. It is this weakness of Bonapartism which leads to the bourgeoisie and military clique surrendering the power to fascism and unleashing the greedy bands of maddened petty bourgeoisie and lumpenproletariat against the proletariat and its class organisations.
The differing categories of regimes, though of vital importance for Marxist theory and practice, are not metaphysical abstractions, indicating a rigid, fixed and eternal differentiation between them.
There are so many factors involved, that it is necessary to examine each regime concretely before categorically defining its position.
It is only necessary to point out that even within each rough category, widely differing regimes can be comprised. England with her feudal remnants (House of Lords and monarchy) and barbarous oppression of colonial peoples, is a 'democracy'. The Federal Republic of Switzerland, and France with its laws based on the Code Napoleon, the United States, Weimar Germany and Eire - despite their wide differences, remain 'democracies'. What, then, is the dominating thread which places these regimes under one head?
Despite their diverse histories, which explains their different national peculiarities, they all possess certain specific traits in common. These are the traits which are decisive in determining the Marxist classification. All have independent workers' organisations: trade unions, parties, clubs, etc, with the rights which go with them. The right to strike, organise, the right to vote, free speech, press, etc, and the other rights which have been the by-product of the class struggle of the proletariat in the past. (Here we might add that the loss of this or that right would not, in itself, he decisive in our analysis of a regime. It is the totality of the relations which is the determining factor.) In one sense, the existence, within capitalism, of elements of the new society. Or, as explained by Trotsky in Germany, What Next [source] in answering the Stalinist ultra-lefts, under the regime of the bourgeoisie there already exists the embryo of the rule of the working class in the form of the workers' organisations.
Where these organisations exist and play a powerful role (in France and Italy they are stronger than they have ever been) the bourgeoisie rules through the leaders and top layers of these organisations. It is not without interest, as Lenin pointed out, that at a certain stage, the bourgeoisie even ruled through the Soviets, or more correctly, the Menshevik leadership of the Soviets.
Fascism too, has its peculiarities. The regimes of Franco, Mussolini, Hitler and Pilsudsky(6), all are comprised within this conception. Yet there are wide differences between them. What fundamentally unites the conception is the complete destruction of all working-class organisations. Yet even here we see that right up to the outbreak of the war, Polish fascism, far weaker than that of Germany and Italy, had not completely succeeded in destroying the workers' organisations and may have been overthrown before it finally succeeded in doing so.
Bonapartism too, shows a similar variety. Napoleon, Louis Napoleon, von Schleicher and Papen, Petain, and the fascist-regimes-become-Bonapartist - all were Bonapartist regimes. What is it that they have in common? The independence of the state, the concentration of power 'personally', resting directly and openly on the domination of the state machine through the naked power of the military-police apparatus, 'Rule by the sword.' Whatever differences there may be between the regimes, the existence of workers' organisations with attenuated or limited rights in certain cases, they all have the above mentioned features in common. The specific peculiarities in each case would again be determined by the history of the country, the development of the social contradictions which made the development of Bonapartism possible, etc, etc.
Thus the weak and sterile Bonapartism of Petain and von Schleicher in the epoch of capitalist decline resembled only as a caricature the vigorous and powerful regime established by Napoleon in its period of ascent. In the change from democracy to fascism, there must be one, perhaps many, transitional phases. Thus the path for Bonapartism is prepared by the division of the nation into two hostile camps - that of the fascist petit bourgeoisie and that of the organised working class. Nominally, the state power assumes an independence of both and the military-police regime established prepares the way for the handing of power to fascism. (The bourgeoisie prefers to rule through democratic means. Under the impact of crisis, however, they utilise the fascist gangs as a terrorist agency for pressure on the proletariat so that they can push through Bonapartist dictatorial measures. Only as a last resort do they reluctantly surrender power to the fascists.) At least that was the process in Italy and Germany. Depending on many factors, including the policy of the revolutionary party of the proletariat, events in Europe and elsewhere may develop on somewhat different lines, should reaction succeed in temporarily stabilising itself.
However, it is important to note that the regimes of Schleicher and Papen, of Petain and General Sirovy in Czechoslovakia after Munich all developed directly (through intermediate stages perhaps) out of the regimes of bourgeois democracy. The pre-Bonapartist, or even Bonapartist regimes, of Doumergue(7), Laval and Flandin prepared the way for the Popular Front in France which in turn paved the way again for a development towards Bonapartism. To call the Popular Front under Blum 'Bonapartism' as does Comrade Frank in the citation which follows, can only cause immeasurable confusion in the ranks of the Fourth International:
"...But the Bonapartism of declining capitalism can cloak itself in other costumes. In certain cases it is fairly difficult to recognise it, for example in the case of governments, of the left, even very much to the left, notably of the Popular Front type. There, Bonapartism is so outrageously varnished with a democratic sheen that many allow themselves to be taken in by it (!)"
In those words of Comrade Frank is the key to the confusion in the characterisation of regimes. It is easy to slip into such errors because in the same way as the embryo of a new form of society exists in the workers' organisations, so the possibility of Bonapartism is rooted in the structure of society under bourgeois democracy. Within every state there is reflected the antagonisms within society, even in the freest bourgeois democratic society. As Engels wrote in his book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:
"The state is therefore by no means a power imposed on society from the outside; just as little is it the reality of the moral idea, the image and reality of reason, as Hegel asserted. Rather it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction within itself, that it is cleft into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, classes with conflicting economic interests, may not consume themselves and society in sterile struggle, a power apparently standing above society becomes necessary, whose purpose is to moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of 'order'; and this power arising out of society, but placing itself above it and increasingly separating itself from it, is the state." (Peking, 1978, page 205) [source (translation differs)]
In the last analysis every state is based on naked force. The army officers, the general staff clique, the police and civil service bureaucracy, trained and selected to serve the interests of capitalism, provide the soil on which military plots and conspiracies thrive, given conditions of crisis and social ferment.
Pierre Frank confuses here the role of the state with Bonapartism. A democracy that was not based on force, that did not have an apparatus placing itself above society, has never existed and never will exist. But this does not make Bonapartism.
But because every state is based on armed bodies of men with its appendages in the form of prisons, courts, etc, and thus even under the fullest democratic regime we have the hidden dictatorship of capitalism, it does not follow that every repressive regime is necessarily Bonapartist. Repression and suppression of the rights of the workers under conditions of 'emergency' take place under every regime, including the democratic, when the basic interests of capital are threatened and till 'normal' conditions are restored - ie, till the masses accept without active rebellion, the yoke of capital. The bourgeoisie preserves an extreme flexibility, manipulating the regimes according to the resistance of the masses, the class forces, etc. Thanks to the betrayals of the workers' leaderships they are enabled to do this.
Whatever their original desires or wishes to impose Bonapartist regimes in Europe, Anglo-American imperialism soon saw the impossibility of this (apart from Greece) in the incalculable dangers which it would bring and in Western Europe swung over to democratic regimes, based on a disarmed proletariat.
Events in France and Western Europe have confirmed the incorrectness of the method of Pierre Frank. Everywhere in Western Europe since the 'liberation', the tendency has been for a steady movement towards bourgeois democracy and not towards greater and greater dictatorial regimes; towards an increase in democratic rights, not towards their limitation. At a later stage this tendency will be reversed, but at present the motion in Western Europe is towards bourgeois democratic regimes. Thus in Italy we have the establishment of the bourgeois democratic republic, trade unions, etc; in France we have elections, parties, trade unions, etc; in Belgium and Holland we have democratic elections. The swing of the masses towards socialism-communism is reflected in the fact that these parties have secured a greater percentage of the votes than at any time in history. In order to mobilise the petty bourgeois reaction as a counterpoise against them, the bourgeoisie, at this stage, is leaning not on fascist reaction (that is still well in reserve) but on the catholic and christian parties basing themselves on parliamentary democracy. This gives the bourgeoisie a breathing space to prepare at a later stage and under the necessary favourable conditions for a transition through Bonapartist regimes to totalitarian dictatorship.
It is clear that the position today is entirely different from the position in Germany and Italy before the victory of fascism, where mass parties of fascism were organised and the possibility of the state manoeuvring between the two mortally hostile camps, was posed by the whole situation. Far from this, in Italy and France the Christian Democratic parties are collaborating with the workers' organisations in a typical coalition cabinet of bourgeois democracy. The bourgeoisie cannot do otherwise because of the danger of revolutionary disturbances on the part of the masses.
The situation is similar to that in Germany in the Weimar Republic. In order to stem the revolution the bourgeoisie organised a coalition government of social democracy and the Catholic Centre(8).
Was this Bonapartism? Obviously not. But as a result of the policy of social democracy they were punished by the petty bourgeois swinging to reaction and a Bonapartist-monarchist attempt at a coup d'etat in the Kapp Putsch(9) in 1920. As is well known, this attempted Bonapartist coup was defeated by the masses, where the communists and socialists participated in a general strike. The indignation of the workers, owing to the correct propaganda of the Communist Party in warning of this danger and forming a united front to beat it off, led to the workers in the Ruhr attempting the seizure of power. The reaction then joined together with the social democrats to crush this movement of the masses. This in its turn, paved the way for an uneasy and unstable regime of bourgeois democracy.
The false position on the nature of the regimes in Europe flows from an incorrect perspective. The American comrades argued that only Franco-type military dictatorships were possible in Europe after the victory of the allied imperialists. Pierre Frank approvingly quotes a wrong position taken by the International Secretariat (IS) in 1940:
"If England should install de Gaulle in France tomorrow, his regime would not in the least be distinguished from that of the Bonapartist government of Petain." [source]
A trifle different, Comrade Frank! For the workers a decisive difference! It is true that the capitalist class continued to rule under de Gaulle as they did under Petain. But to argue in 1946 that the regimes could not be distinguished is to fall into the sectarian stupidity of the Stalinists in Germany who couldn't distinguish between a capitalist regime leaning on the workers' organisations and the abolition of these organisations by fascism.
Pierre Frank's confusion is further exposed by his triumphant declaration that the Petain regime was Bonapartist. Trotsky said that the Petain regime was Bonapartist. But Frank just does not understand what Trotsky was driving at. In their period of decay and decline, Trotsky referred to the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini as Bonapartist regimes. The only difference between these regimes and that of Petain was that Petain never had a mass base in the petty bourgeoisie, like Hitler and Mussolini, and in that sense could not be called fascist, but Bonapartist. For this reason his regime was much weaker and could be more easily over-thrown by a movement of the masses. Petain had to lean on foreign bayonets for his rule. Otherwise there is no difference between the regimes of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler in their decaying phases and that of Petain.
Comrade Frank declares:
"...our most responsible International body has predicted that a simple substitution of gangs following a victory of the Allies would not signify a change in the nature of the political regime. We find ourselves in the presence of an evaluation on the historical scale based on positions which were defended for many years by the Fourth International against all other theories and cheap labels spread by the other tendencies and formations of the labour movement. If an error was committed it would be truly a considerable one and we would be urgently obliged to seek the reasons for it and correct it. As for ourselves, we don't believe that our organisation was in error on this point..."
The statement of the IS made in 1940 was incorrect. We made the same mistake. Under the circumstances it was excusable. But to repeat in 1946 a mistake that was already clear by 1943 is inexcusable. A British Trotskyist resolution, written in 1943, in which we corrected ourselves, analysed the coming situation in Europe as follows:
"In the absence of experienced Trotskyist parties with roots and traditions among the masses, the first stages of the revolutionary struggles in Europe will most likely result in a period of Kerenskyism or Popular Frontism. This is already presaged by the initial struggles of the Italian workers and the repeated betrayals of social democracy and Stalinism." (Main resolution at the National Conference of the Workers International League, October 1943).
Events have demonstrated the correctness of this analysis. Instead of frankly facing up to an error in perspective, Frank flies in the face of reality and attempts to convert an error into a virtue.
Frank takes France as the keystone of his thesis. He surely must be lamenting this by now. Because it is France, above all, which has mirrored the process very clearly. France is the key to Europe and any mistakes on the nature of the French regime could be fatal for the young cadres of Trotskyism.
Let us examine the situation. Pierre Frank visualises the development as follows: Bonapartism since 1934, because, you see, the bourgeoisie could not afford bourgeois democracy; Petain was Bonaparte: de Gaulle was Bonaparte; the Popular Front (Blum!) was Bonapartism; in fact, as the metaphysicians would say: 'in the twilight all cats are grey'. The thesis is that all were Bonaparte. It follows that Gouin is Bonaparte and the government which will follow also will be Bonapartist. If this madness should infect the French, our French Party will be in a sorry state. Happily, this danger apparently does not exist.
A Marxist appreciation would be somewhat different from that of Pierre Frank. What was the development of the regime - from what to what is it evolving? What is the position of the classes? What are the relations between the classes? A sober appreciation of the last two years will tell us that (a) here we have an unachieved proletarian revolution; result (b) unstable bourgeois democracy, assembly, elections, constituent, bourgeois-democratic constitution; (c) in this setting a candidate Bonaparte. The real power rests in the principal working class parties. A would-be Hitler striving for power and a Hitler in power are not one and the same thing. A would-be Bonaparte like de Gaulle and a real Bonaparte wielding real personal power with the sword, are two different things. De Gaulle may yet be a French Franco, but one does not declare the enemy victorious before the decisive battle has begun.
Bonapartism in the modern epoch, by its very nature, must be a regime of transition - transition to fascism, transition to democracy, or even to proletarian revolution: a period of manoeuvring between the classes. That there are elements of Bonapartism in the situation in Europe, goes without saying. These elements can be transformed into the dominant ones, but only under certain conditions. If one declares a regime Bonapartist, then the specific features of the regime must be brought out. In spite of Pierre Frank's zealous endeavours to elevate de Gaulle into a position to which he only aspired, the 'Bonaparte' de Gaulle, measuring the relation of forces, was forced to retire sadly from the scene to await a more propitious moment.
There precisely is the nub of the question: it is necessary to answer Stalinist and socialist propaganda by warning that their policies inevitably bring the dangers of counter-revolution and Bonapartism: to warn of the threat of military-police dictatorship which hangs over the proletariat if it does not disperse the Bonapartist nests, composed of the cadres of the general staff, police and civil bureaucracy, and take power into its own hands.
Comrades must not make the mistake of the German communists who declared every regime in turn 'fascist' till in the end, by their lulling and confusing the advance guard, the real Hitler arrived. Of course, if Pierre Frank continues to repeat it long enough, no doubt reality will, in the end, coincide with his definition and we will have a Bonapartist regime in France and other countries in Europe. But for Marxists this is not good enough. We must painstakingly analyse and explain every change in government. In that way we can prepare for the events to come.
Scattered through his article, Frank refers to 'Bonapartist a-la-Kerensky', the Bonapartism of Kerensky, thus assuming that Bonapartism had in fact been established under the Kerensky regime - entirely unwarranted by a knowledge of the period.
Frank takes one or two conditional formulations of Lenin and Trotsky in relation to the Kerensky regime in Russia and tries to convert them into hard and fast definitions. In reality, the record speaks against him. It is significant to note that the chapter in the History of the Russian Revolution to which he refers, is headed, not 'Bonapartism', but Kerensky and Kornilov - Elements of Bonapartism in the Russian Revolution. Trotsky was always particularly careful on definitions and thus when he says 'elements', he does not mean the thing itself. And for very good reason. No doubt Kerensky would have liked to play the role of Bonaparte. The possibilities of Bonapartism were rooted in the situation. But Bonapartism was never achieved because the Bolshevik Party was strong and achieved. the proletarian revolution, leaving no avenue for adventurers to take control. Many citations could be given to show the conditional nature of the characterisation of the Kerensky regime as Bonapartist. In the very section quoted by Comrade Frank, from which he abstracts the single sentence characterising Kerensky as 'the mathematical centre of Russian Bonapartism', Trotsky wrote:
"The two hostile camps invoked Kerensky, each seeing in him a part of itself, and both swearing fealty to him. Trotsky wrote while in prison: 'led by politicians who are afraid of their own shadow, the Soviet did not dare take the power. The Kadet Party, representing all the propertied cliques, could not yet seize the power. It remained to find a great conciliator, a mediator, a court of arbitration.'
"In a manifesto to the people issued by Kerensky in his own name, he declared: 'I, as head of the government...consider that I have no right to hesitate if the changes (in the structure of the government)...increase my responsibility in the matters of supreme administration.' That is the unadulterated phraseology of Bonapartism. But nevertheless, although supported from both right and left it never got beyond phraseology.'" (History of the Russian Revolution , Sphere, Volume III page 155. Our emphasis) [source]
Trotsky wrote this as a historian, soberly evaluating and weighing every word. And if one studies the works of Lenin conscientiously, even though written in the heat of events, one cannot but see the falsity of Frank's position in confusing the germs with the disease. Lenin writes, for example, in his work Towards the Seizure of Power: 'Kerensky's cabinet is indubitably the first step towards Bonapartism.' (Collected works Volume 25 page 224) [source (translation and title differs)]
Here can be seen the conditional character of what Lenin and Trotsky were talking about. In the very section of State and Revolution quoted by Frank, in which Lenin refers to the Kerensky government as Bonapartist, the conditional character of this is shown by the paragraphs immediately following. In dealing with the state and all its forms in an instrument for the exploitation of the Oppressed Class (that is what the chapter is headed in which these references to Bonapartism occur, and that is what Lenin is dealing with), he goes on to say:
"In a democratic republic, Engels continues, 'wealth wields its power indirectly, but all the more effectively', first, by means of 'direct corruption of officials' (America); second, by means of the 'alliance of the government with the stock exchange' (France and America).
"At the present time, imperialism and the domination of the banks have 'developed' to an unusually fine art both these methods of defending and asserting the omnipotence of wealth in democratic republics of all descriptions. Since, for instance, in the very first months of the Russian democratic republic, one might say during the honeymoon union of the 'Socialists' - Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks - joined in wedlock with the bourgeoisie." (CW Volume 25, page 397) [source (translation differs)]
To clinch the matter, in a later section of the same pamphlet dealing with the same period, in contrasting a soviet to a parliamentary body, Lenin goes on to say:
"'A working, and not a parliamentary body' - this hits the vital spot of present-day parliamentarians and the parliamentary social-democratic 'lap-dogs'! Take any parliamentary country, from America to Switzerland, from France to England, Norway and so forth - the actual work of the 'state' there is done behind the scenes and is carried out by the departments, the offices and the staffs. Parliament itself is given up to talk for the special purpose of the fooling the 'common people'. This is so true that even in the Russian Republic, a bourgeois democratic republic, all these aims of parliamentarism were immediately revealed, even before a real parliament was created..." (CW Volume 25, page 428. Our emphasis). [source (translation differs)]
We would have to reduce Lenin to a mass of stupid contradictions if we used the method of Pierre Frank. For him there is no real contradiction because he makes no real contradiction between bourgeois democracy and Bonapartism. If he carried this through he would have to argue that we had both bourgeois democracy and Bonapartism in France and his objection to the term 'bourgeois democratic regime' becomes entirely incomprehensible.
Frank points to the fact that the British comrades have referred to the Labour government in Britain as a Kerensky regime and then proceeds to argue that this is incorrect because we have not a Bonpartist regime in this country:
"Since we here speak of the resolution of our English comrades let us note that it defines the new Labour government as 'Kerenskyism'. The Bonapartism, that they ignored, has found the means to insinuate itself into their document under a very special name. But we do not think the present Attlee government is Bonapartist a-la-Kerensky."
This merely serves to demonstrate that Frank has not understood the meaning of the Kerenskiad or of Bonapartism. The Kerenskiad is the last, or 'one before the last' left government before the proletarian revolution, or, we may add, the bourgeois counter-revolution. Under given conditions, the social tensions and sharp conflicts of the classes in such a period would tend to give rise to Bonapartist conspiracies and plots. That is precisely what happened in the Russian revolution, and that is why Lenin and Trotsky referred to the Bonapartist tendencies within the Kerensky regime. However, for Comrade Frank's benefit, this does not make a Kerensky regime a Bonapartist regime. Here perhaps we had better make haste to add, that in referring to the Labour government as a Kerensky government, this was not at all a finished evaluation, but an analogy which we invested with appropriate and necessary safeguards. To put the question beyond dispute, we quote from our resolution:
"At a later stage the most resolute section of the bourgeoisie will begin to seek a solution in a Royalist or military dictatorship on the lines of the Spanish Primo de Rivera, or some similar solution. Royalist or fascist bands under the guise of ex-servicemen's or 'patriotic' associations will begin to spring up.
"Events may speed up or slow down the processes but what is certain is the heightening of social tension and class hatreds. The period of triumphant reaction has drawn to a close, a new revolutionary epoch opens up in Britain. With many ebbs and flows, with a greater or lesser speed, the revolution is beginning. The Labour government is a Kerensky government. That does not mean that the tempo of development will match that of the events in Russia after March 1917, on the contrary, the revolution will probably assume a long drawn out character but it provides the background against which the mass revolutionary party will be built."
Fortunately, to put the position in its proper perspective, Trotsky gave a definition of Kerenskyism - (he didn't call it Bonapartism!) when he dealt with the false positions of the Comintern in relation to the Spanish revolution of 1931:
"...We see that fascism [we may add Bonapartism - EG] does not at all represent the only means of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the revolutionary masses. The regime existing in Spain today (a coalition government of the bourgeois republicans and Socialist Party similar to that in Italy and France today - EG), corresponds best to the conception of the Kerenskiad, that is, the last, (or 'one before the last') 'left' government which the bourgeoisie can only set up in its struggle against the revolution. But this kind of government does not necessarily signify weakness and prostration. In the absence of a strong revolutionary party of the proletariat, a combination of semi-reforms, left phrases and gestures still more to the left and reprisals, can prove to be of much more effective service to the bourgeoisie than fascism. [We may add, naked military dictatorship - EG]" (Germany, the key to the international situation, November 1931) [source]
Frank's hazy notions of democracy and Bonapartism can be seen in his references scattered throughout his article. To take a few examples:
"The use of democratic slogans - combined with transitional slogans is justified more precisely, because the possibilities of a democratic regime are non-existent..."
"Precisely because we do not generally have in Europe at the present time democratic regimes, because there is literally no place for them..."
"One must no more confuse the Bonapartism 'of the right' with fascism than the Bonapartism 'of the left' with democracy. We have seen that Bonapartism takes very different forms according to the conditions in which the two mortally opposed camps find themselves; we maintain also that the existence of democratic liberties, even of very great democratic liberties, does not suffice to make a regime democratic. The Bonapartists a-la-Kerensky, Popular Front...are even notorious for their flood of democratic liberty up to the point where capitalist society thereby even risks its balance and is in danger of capsizing. Democratic liberties do not proceed, as in a regime which one can correctly define as democratic, from the existence of a margin for reform within capitalism, but on the contrary, from a situation of acute crisis, the result of the absence of all margin or reforms."
"...The regime of the Popular Front was not a democratic regime; it contained within itself numerous elements of Bonapartism as we shall see further on."
The conception of democracy which is put forward by comrade Frank never existed in heaven or earth. It exists only in the idealistic norms of liberalism. Always, democracy, ie bourgeois democracy, has been built on the framework of repression. Every bourgeois constitution or regime contains its Article 48 as in the Weimar Constitution. The very existence of class society presupposes a regime of oppression. But only one who has abandoned Marxist discipline of thought and operates on the basis of metaphysical categories can equate democracy with Bonapartism, or for that matter with fascism. Though there are many points of similarity between these regimes, and elements of naked military rule in all these regimes in one degree or another. But quantity changes into quality. What dictates the nature of the regime is not this or that element, but its basic features. Democracy today can become Bonapartism tomorrow and be changed into fascism the next day. Fascism, as we have seen, can be transformed into democracy and the process repeated.
The Marxist method is not to lump all regimes indiscriminately together. That is the easy way, but it will lead to blunders and confusion. The Marxist method is to examine things in their process of change and evolution. To examine each government in turn, to establish its specific features and tendencies. To prepare for abrupt changes and transitions, which is the basic characteristic of our epoch, and thus to rectify and delimit, if necessary, our characterisations at each successive stage. The painful limitations of Pierre Frank's method (which he labels Marxism but is in reality impressionism) is summed up in his own words:
"The term 'Bonapartism' does not completely exhaust the characterisation of the regime, but it is indispensable to employ it in present day Europe, if one wishes to go forward with the least possible chance of error. Let us add finally that Marxism is not alone in the possession of such important general ideas: all the sciences do likewise. Thus chemists call bodies carbides which differ more widely from one another than the Bonapartism of Schliecher and that of Kerensky. And chemistry doesn't get along so badly either on that account. The contrary is true."
The Stalinists used the same method during the Third Period with lamentable results in Germany. Starting with a correct generalisation that all the parties from social democracy to fascism were agents of the capitalist class...they ended up by saying that, therefore...there was no difference between them - all were fascists of different varieties. For the scientist as for the Marxist, the problem begins where, for Frank, it ends. A chemist can classify certain bodies under a general heading of carbides. But a chemist who stopped at this definition would not get along so well! If, for example, on the basis that a chemist had defined silicon carbide (carborundum) and calcium carbide, all under the same heading of 'carbides', one attempted to work an acetylene lamp on a bicycle with the former instead of the latter, some very sad results would occur. It would not be possible to light the path ahead. No more can Frank's method cast light on the nature of the regimes in Europe.
(1) Government leaders in Germany, America, Britain, Italy, Spain, France, Argentina, Portugal, Ireland and China in the period 1943-6 who presided over various types of regimes ranging from fascist to social democratic, but all based on capitalism.
(2) Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I), came to power in a coup on 18 Brumaire (9-10 November 1799) and had himself proclaimed emperor in 1804. Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon III) won the presidential election in 1848. In a coup in 1851 he dissolved the legislative assembly and in 1852 declared himself emperor.
(3) Weimar was the city in Germany where the new constitution was formulated in 1919. The Reichswehr was the regular army of Weimar Germany. For a full account of the 1918 revolution and the January 1919 'Spartacist Rising' see Germany - From Revolution To Counter-Revolution by Rob Sewell (Fortress).
(4) When the Allies liberated Rome in May 1944, they blocked any attempt, contrary to previous agreements they had, by the exiled King Victor Emmanuel, to return to the the throne for fear of provoking a new uprising by the workers.
(5) Heinrich Bruening was German Chancellor 1930-32. At the end of 1931 he annulled virtually all union contracts and restricted the press. Kurt von Schleicher, a Reichswehr general, succeeded von Papen as Chancellor in December 1932. He was replaced by Hitler within two months.
(6) Josef Pilsudsky led a coup in Poland in 1926, and became dictator until his death in 1935.
(7) Gaston Doumergue, a former president of France, became premier after the attempted coup of 6 February 1934, promising a 'strong' government. Pierre Laval, French premier 1935-6, and premier of the collaborationist Vichy regime in 1942. Pierre Viandin succeeded Doumergue as premier in 1934-35.
(8) The Catholic Centre Party was a German Christian Democratic party.
(9) For a full account of the Kapp Putsch see Germany - From Revolution to Counter-Revolution by Rob Sewell. (Fortress)