MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




First used in reference to the government established by Louis Bonaparte, who had been elected to the office of presidency in 1848. Three years following, on 2 December, 1851, he staged a coup d'etat against his government, setting up a military dictatorship in its place.

Marx soon after wrote a popular pamphlet called the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte "demonstrating how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero's part."

Bonapartism has been used to describe a government that forms when class rule is not secure and a military, police, and state bureaucracy intervenes to establish order. Nineteenth century Bonapartism is commonly associated with Twentieth century fascism and stalinism.

Further readings: Trotsky, The Rise of Hitler and Destruction of the German Left; and The Workers' State, Thermidor and Bonapartism.



The class of people in bourgeois society who own the social means of production as their Private Property, i.e., as capital.

See The Communist Manifesto for Marx and Engels' description of the historical role of the bourgeoisie.



Bourgeois Society (or “capitalism”)

Bourgeois Society is the social formation in which the commodity relation – the relation of buying and selling – has spread into every corner of life. The family and the state still exist, but – the family is successively broken down and atomised, more and more resembling a relationship of commercial contract, rather than one genuinely expressing kinship and the care of one generation for the other; the state retains its essential instruments of violence, but more and more comes under the sway of commerical interests, reduced to acting as a buyer and seller of services on behalf of the community.

The ruling class in bourgeois society is the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production as Private Property, despite the fact that the productive forces have become entirely socialised and operate on the scale of the world market.

The producing class in bourgeois society is the proletariat, a class of people who have nothing to sell but their capacity to work; since all the means of production belong to the bourgeoisie, workers have no choice but to offer their labour-power for sale to the bourgeoisie.

This system of buying and selling labour-power is called wage-labour and is characteristic of bourgeois society, though it has been around since the Peasant Revolt of 1381. The classic form of wage labour is payment for work by the hour or week. Nowadays many workers work on the basis of contracts and piece-work but these forms only disguise the underlying relationship, which remains that of wage-labour.

Money and all forms of credit reach their highest development in bourgeois society. As a result, life in bourgeois society “happens” to people in much the same way as the weather happens to people, with money flowing around apparently according to its own laws.

To put this another way, in bourgeois society there is a “fetishism” of commodities;– just as tribal peoples believed that their lives were being determined by trees and animals and natural forces possessing human powers, in bourgeois society, people's lives are driven by money and other commodities, whose value is determined by extramundane forces; instead of ethics and morality being governed by traditional systems of belief and imagined spiritual forces, there is just the ethic of cash-payment.

NB: The German for “bourgeois society” is bürgerliche Gesellschaft, and this is usually translated into English as “Civil Society”.

See Engels' discussion of the translation of bürgerliche Gesellschaft in his Letter to Marx, 23rd September 1852.

This phrase was originally meant to refer to that “war of all against all” that grew up outside of both the state and family, governed only by money. Nowadays, “civil society” is frequently used to denote that domain outside of the state and business – voluntary association of various kinds.



Bourgeois Democracy

A government that serves in the interests of the bourgeois class. The word Democratic is attached to such a government, because in it all people in such a society have certain freedoms: those who own the means of production , the bourgeoisie, are free to buy and sell labor-power and what is produced by it solely for their own benefit. Those who own only their own ability to labor , the proletariat, are free to sell themselves to any bourgeois who will buy their labor power, for the benefit of maintaining their own survival, and giving greater strength and power to the bourgeoisie.

The state fundamentally represents the interests of one class over others. On this basis Lenin named bourgeois democracy bourgeois dictatorship. On the same token, Lenin made no distinction that the socialist state, being a state that represents the working-class, is a dictatorship of the proletariat.

In no civilized capitalist country does "democracy in general" exist; all that exists is bourgeois democracy, and it is not a question of "dictatorship in general", but of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, i.e., the proletariat, over its oppressors and exploiters, i.e., the bourgeoisie, in order to overcome the resistance offered by the exploiters in their fight to maintain their domination.

Vladimir Lenin
First Congress of the Communist International

In capitalist society, providing it develops under the most favourable conditions, we have a more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation, and consequently always remains, in effect, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich. Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners. Owing to the conditions of capitalist exploitation, the modern wage slaves are so crushed by want and poverty that "they cannot be bothered with democracy", "cannot be bothered with politics"; in the ordinary, peaceful course of events, the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public and political life.

Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich - that is the democracy of capitalist society. If we look more closely into the machinery of capitalist democracy, we see everywhere, in the "petty" - supposedly petty - details of the suffrage (residential qualifications, exclusion of women, etc.), in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly (public buildings are not for "paupers"!), in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc., etc., - we see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has never known want himself and has never been inclose contact with the oppressed classes in their mass life (and nine out of 10, if not 99 out of 100, bourgeois publicists and politicians come under this category); but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from active participation in democracy.

V.I. Lenin
The State and Revolution
Chpt. 5: The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State

See Also: The same government: dictatorship of the bourgeoisie , save put in the perspective of the oppressed class; and Democracy in general.