Leon Trotsky

and Bonapartism

Written: 1931.
First Published: 1931.
Source: Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition) Volume 1, Number 1, May, 1931.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

Concerning the question of Thermidor and of Bonapartism, I will only speak very briefly, for I have already expressed myself several times on the necessity of developing this theme in an article. The danger in this question, as well as in every other historic question consists of the fact that we are too apt to draw analogies too formally, no matter how important and fruitful they may be, and that we are wont to reduce the concrete process to abstractions. Thermidor was a transitory form between Jacobinism and Bonapartism. What was really characteristic of the Thermidor was the fact that the government was formally controlled by the members of the same party. Part of the Jacobins, or quasi-Jacobins, destroyed the other part, the true Jacobins, by an appeal to open civil war. Bonapartism signifies the victory of the bureaucratic-military centralist power over all the various shades of Jacobinism. In the language of the class struggle, this means the gradual change of power from the sans culottes to the leisure class.

If we take into consideration theoretically the possibility of a counter-revolutionary victory in the Soviet Union that does not mean that the latter must take on the form of the French Thermidor. It may skip this stage directly to Bonapartism, or intermingle the two, just as the October Revolution intermingled the end of the democratic revolution with the beginning of the socialist revolution. Such a mixture of historic stages corresponds perfectly to the social development of Russia and to its entire history.

What we must take into consideration above all is the immense role of the Russian Party or rather, at present, of its apparatus. With us the party is far more advanced than the State apparatus. For example, Rykov, from the point of view of the party, has been entirely liquidated, but still remains the head of the state. Thermidorian elements have materialized in the life of the party: genuine “Jacobins” have been replaced by opportunists, but Bonapartist elements have also developed largely, that is in the selection of the apparatus according to a single commandant (Stalin). Weakening of the character and of the spine is a very important preparatory work of Bonapartism.

The counter-revolution has not yet become victorious, the question is not yet settled, and that is the reason for our implacable struggle against the Korschists and the other howlers. One physician says: the man is sick, there is hope of curing him; it is my duty to do all in my power to put him on his feet again. Another says: no, he must die, and turns his back on the patient. What can these two physicians have in common?

But when the counter-revolution does come, will it take a Bonapartist, a Thermidorian or a combined third form? It is impossible to say, but our duty consists in observing attentively the existing elements of the possible variants of counter-revolution and their dialectic development.

Comrade Landau writes me that some comrades have expressed the opinion that the proletariat is the weaker class in Russia. This question cannot be solved nor even correctly posed in cross section. We must look at it dynamically. Theoretically speaking, it is not impossible that a victorious counter-revolution will prove that the Russian working class has become so weakened that it is no longer able to hold the power in its own hands. But that can only be done by open civil war. Politically we must prevent this possibility by reinforcing the political and economic points of support of the proletariat. There is no economic or political scale by means of which we could daily weigh the relation of forces and in this manner decide upon a “point quotation”. The most important fact is that the bourgeoisie is as yet far removed from victory, but that within the present regime the germs of very important elements of its victory are growing.

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Last updated on: 30 May 2021