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Revolution and Counter Revolution in Portugal
(Part III)

By Nahuel Moreno

V. The MFA Government

1. Classical Bonapartism: An Unfortunate Definition

In other words, the Portuguese ruling class is compelled to have in power a sort of judge-arbiter, appearing to stand above the classes and capable of acting with decisiveness both to regulate the internal affairs of the capitalist class and to contain and repress the workers movement—acting in the last analysis as the representative of the capitalist class as a whole. In Marxist terminology this phenomenon is sometimes called ‘Bonapartism,’ after Napoleon Bonaparte, who fulfilled a similar function, although in a much stronger way than the MFA can.

That is how Gus Horowitz defines, in the previously mentioned article, the current Portuguese government: as “classical Bonapartism.” In this paragraph there are theoretical and political novelties by the wholesale that have astonished and worried us. But let us proceed step by step. Before considering the novelties, let us see what Trotsky had to say about classical Bonapartism:

In order that the Little Corsican might lift himself above a young bourgeois nation, it was necessary that the revolution should already have accomplished its fundamental task—the transfer of land to the peasants—and that a victorious army should have been created on the new social foundation. In the 18th century a revolution had no farther to go: it could only from that point recoil and go backward. In this recoil, however, its fundamental conquests were in danger. They must be defended at any cost. The deepening but still very immature antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat kept the nation, shaken as it was to its foundations, in a state of extreme tension. A national ‘judge’ was in those conditions indispensable. Napoleon guaranteed to the big bourgeois the possibility to get rich, to the peasants their pieces of land, to the sons of peasants and the hoboes a chance for looting in the wars. The judge held a sword in his hand and himself also fulfilled the duties of bailiff. The Bonapartism of the first Bonaparte was solidly founded. (Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, Vol.2 [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936] pp.154-55.)

We have only to read the two quotations to see that there is a great difference between them. For Horowitz, Napoleon Bonaparte “fulfilled a function,” that of “containing and repressing the workers movement”; for Trotsky the function he fulfilled was that of “defending at any cost” the “fundamental conquest” of the revolution: “the transfer of land to the peasants and that a victorious army should have been created on the new social foundation,” and, in fulfilling that function, he “guaranteed to the peasants their pieces of land” and created his victorious army with the “sons of peasants” and the “hoboes.” In fulfilling that same function, he “contained and repressed” the feudal reaction of all Europe, which aspired to suffocate the bourgeois nation and restore the “old regime.”

We must add that Trotsky’s definition of Napoleon’s regime has nothing to do with the current Portuguese reality, in which there are no victorious armies (in fact, there is a defeated army), no transfer of land to the peasants, nor anything else like that.

Let us go back to Horowitz. His definition poses a question of method that is really alarming. As we have already seen, he considers that Napoleon “fulfilled a similar function” to that of the MFA “although in a much stronger way than the MFA can.” Putting the pieces together, this would mean that Napoleon Bonaparte fulfilled, in a much stronger way than the MFA, the function of “repressing the workers movement” (!). But let us leave this aside. What is certain is that, for Horowitz, the differences between Napoleon I and the current Portuguese regime are differences of degree, quantitative, not qualitative, differences. Following the logic of his way of thinking, the MFA and its government are weak Napoleon Bonapartes; Napoleon Bonaparte was, then, a strong MFA.

We do not know by what method Horowitz is led to suppose that there can exist in 1975 a regime substantially similar to one at the beginning of the nineteenth century. All the circumstances have changed: Then, capitalism was rising powerfully; today it is in decadence. Then the antagonism between the proletariat and bourgeoisie had “not yet matured”; today it is fully developed; etc., etc., etc. It is precisely these “small” differences between two eras that makes Trotsky distinguish very sharply between the Bonapartism of the rising stage of capitalism and that of its decadence.

We always strictly differentiated between this Bonapartism of decay and the young, advancing Bonapartism that was not only the gravedigger of the political principles of the bourgeois revolution but also the defender of its social conquest. (Writings of Leon Trotsky—1934-35 [New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1974], p.181.)
Historically, Bonapartism was and remains the government of the bourgeoisie during periods of crisis in bourgeois society. It is possible and it is necessary to distinguish between the ‘progressive’ Bonapartism that consolidates the purely capitalistic conquest of bourgeois revolution and the Bonapartism of the decay of capitalist society, the convulsive Bonapartism of our epoch (von Papen, Schleicher, Dollfuss, and the candidate for Dutch Bonapartism, Colijn, etc.). (Writings of Leon Trotsky—1933-34 [New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1972], p.107.)

Napoleon I’s Bonapartism was progressive, because it defended capitalist progress against the feudal reaction. Up until the end of last century, Bonapartist governments retained progressive elements (Bismarck succeeded in the national unification of Germany, Napoleon III gave a great push forward to capitalist development in France). But, in this century, with capitalism in full decadence and putrefaction, no Bonapartism in an imperialist country can be “progressive”; it is—and it can not be anything else — counterrevolutionary, regressive, and opposed to historical progress.

No regime, of any type, can be defined outside of the concrete social conditions in which it originates and develops. In the case of Bonapartism, this means that in our epoch a Bonapartist regime fundamentally the same as those in the epoch of the rise of capitalism cannot be repeated.

Furthermore, if Horowitz was right in his definition, this would go against what he wants to demonstrate. In fact, in that case, the MFA government would be a relatively “progressive” government.

We will say no more about Horowitz’s unfortunate definition.

2. More Confusion: Bonapartism ‘Sui generis’?

But there is still another aspect to the question of Bonapartism. Trotsky analyzed a type of Bonapartism typical of semi-colonial and neocolonial countries. The weakness of the national bourgeoisie in these countries, where the main exploiter is imperialism, gives rise to governments that act as arbiters between the movement of the workers and the masses and the dominant imperialism. Insofar as the national bourgeoisie is unable to directly impose its own government, an arbiter appears and imposes itself between the two most powerful forces in the national scene.

These governments can operate either as agents of imperialism, in which case they have an accentuated reactionary character, or they can base themselves on the worker and peasant masses to resist the pressure of the metropolis. In the latter case, they have a relatively progressive character, which, despite the historical distance, repeats some of the positive features of the Bonapartism of the last century. That relatively progressive character has its counterpart in the role these “sui generis” Bonapartisms play in preventing the working class from advancing along an independent path toward its revolution and in maintaining a resistance to imperialism within the limits of bourgeois property. Càrdenas, Nasser, and Peròn are some examples of this “sui generis” Bonapartism: bourgeois governments through and through, which defend their countries from imperialism by basing themselves on the exploited masses.

Some MFA ideologists proclaim themselves to be adherents of the “third world” and compare their movement with those of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples, trying in this way to take advantage of the prestige and attraction the national liberation movements have on the European left, especially the younger layers.

Unfortunately, they have found an echo within our movement. On the basis of purely formal terminology and comparisons, the MFA is presented as similar to the military regimes of the “third world.” Livio Maitan tells us, in his article, The Role of the Armed Forces Movement in Portugal (op. cit., p.728):

The process we are seeing today in Portugal shows clear analogies with those that have already occurred in neocolonial, or economically and socially underdeveloped countries.

What are those “clear analogies”? Here is what Maitan holds:

In situations where the bourgeoisie finds itself unable to exercise its political hegemony by the normal means—the bourgeois-democratic parliamentary or presidential mechanisms, the formal or de facto dictatorship of a bourgeois party, and so on—in periods of deep political crisis, the military apparatus may emerge as the only force capable of running the state. More precisely, the army can play the role of a ruling party with the capacity to maintain the functioning of the essential mechanisms of the system. This need not necessarily take the form of a reactionary military dictatorship but can occur under the leadership of reformist or populist tendencies in the military (obviously the Brazilian dictatorship falls into the former category, while the Peruvian regime comes under the latter, to mention only the two most prominent examples in Latin America).

We confess that the author’s method astonishes us. It leaves aside the fact that it is impossible to understand a government of any kind, outside the framework of the deep, structural, class characteristics of the country and of the situation it faces. Portugal is an imperialist country; Peru and Brazil are semi-colonial countries exploited by imperialism. This is a decisive demarcation. No matter what type of bourgeois government may appear in Portugal, it will constitute above all an imperialist government. Any government of any type in Peru and Brazil must in some way reflect the great contradiction that puts the country as a whole into opposition to imperialist domination. The Brazilian regime has served as a direct agent of imperialism and an enemy of its own country. The Peruvian regime offers a timid defense of the country in face of imperialism.

In Portugal no government of this kind could arise because the main exploiter is Portuguese capitalism. Naturally, the “third world” ideology of sectors of the MFA contains an element of truth. Portuguese capitalism is weak and backward, which arouses fears of colonization by its more powerful competitors. The strengthening of the state points in that direction: to have available a strong instrument to better negotiate with the other imperialisms and with the working class and the colonial movement.

While the most important by far, this is not the only difference between Portugal, on one hand, and Brazil and Peru, on the other. Portugal is undergoing the development of a working-class revolution and a crisis of the capitalist regime. There has been no pre-revolutionary, let alone revolutionary, situation in Peru in the last ten years. The Brazilian regime is the product of a counterrevolutionary stage.

While Portugal is being shaken by an instability reaching a paroxysm, the two Latin American countries cited have enjoyed years of bourgeois stability (eleven in the case of Brazil: seven in Peru).

Again, we find that the only similarity between the three cases is that power is in the hands of the military. But, even considering the question from this formal point of view, Maitan’s analogy is wrong. Let us see what our commentator says:

The only solid apparatus, the only relatively cohesive force, remains the armed forces, and precisely for this reason they are emerging as the dominant political force. The MFA, which arose and developed in this context, has thus become the real political leadership of the country. (Ibid., p.729.)

Now, let us take a look at the reality. Between the Portuguese army, on the one hand, and the Peruvian or Brazilian, on the other, the only thing in common is that in both cases they are armies, and therefore, the final and decisive guarantor of the bourgeois regime. The armies of Peru and Brazil are normal armies in normal bourgeois situations; they are cohesive and within them hierarchical discipline rules. The Portuguese army is completely anarchic, because it is immersed in the process of a revolution. All of its hierarchies have been thrown off balance. It has little about it that is “solid”; it is split; there is a group within it—a minority among the officers — that is trying in its own way and within the framework of the conditions imposed by reality, to save the bourgeois and imperialist order, even if it has to go against the “natural command structure.”

That is the MFA in the government. It is there not because it is military, but because the mass movement trusts it; not because it is part of the “solid” apparatus of the army, but because that apparatus is going through such a deep crisis that it is unable to rule without basing itself on the captains.

Comrade Maitan makes another comparison in the same article as unfortunate as the one we have just considered. According to him, the Portuguese situation is characterized “precisely by the growing inadequacy of the traditional political apparatus and the absence of a bourgeois party with a mass base sufficiently broad to allow it to exercise hegemony, say, in the manner of the Italian Christian Democracy or the English Conservative party.”

Livio Maitan has not considered the fact that, in a revolutionary period, bourgeois parties never have sufficient support from the masses to exercise hegemony, precisely because it is a revolutionary period, in which the masses do not trust the bourgeoisie and fight against it. One of the symptoms of the progress of the revolutionary crisis in Italy is precisely the growing impossibility of the Christian Democrats continuing to exercise hegemony. The same will happen to the British Conservatives as soon as the British proletariat goes beyond the stage of episodical outbursts—of which the miners strike of 1974 was a notable example—to engage in more militant and generalized struggles. Both parties have been able to rule in normal periods, without generalized workers and popular struggles, but they will not be able to do so in a revolutionary stage. That is why the situation in Portugal is not defined, as our commentator affirms, merely by “a deep political crisis,” but by a violent social and economic crisis.

Perhaps Comrade Maitan will reply that he never intended to mix up the Portuguese government with the “third world” military regimes and that he simply was trying to point out some formal similarities. If he does this, the explanation would be a weak one. For Marxists, the governmental forms always express a particular relation between the classes. A comparison between mere forms, abstracting them from their class content, has no validity or usefulness. We accept analogies when they help to point out more precisely the class definition of a phenomenon; if they do not help in this, they are a journalistic exercise and carry the danger, at a minimum, of creating confusion.

3. A Government of the Armed Forces or of a Popular Front?

Liberal thinkers and politicians have coined a superficial classification of bourgeois governments; civilian and military. We Marxists, in contrast, define governments not according to the clothes their officials wear, but according to the function they fulfill in the relations between classes. Archbishop Makarios, even though he wears a robe, does not head a medieval ecclesiastical government, but one that is the product of the current imperialist stage and a struggle of a British colony for independence. Nevertheless, the uniforms of the Portuguese rulers are making it difficult for many comrades to perceive, behind them, the real relations that have been established between the classes and that have given rise to the present MFA government.

It is sufficient to recall that, in its time, a similar difficulty gave rise to very peculiar definitions of the Peruvian military regime and of its ephemeral Bolivian emulators (Ovando and Torres): The label “military reformism” was assigned to them, without taking into account the class relations. In this way, a vulgar journalistic description was adopted, which defined the phenomenon by its outer appearance: the uniforms worn by the rulers and the “reforms” (whether real or phony, important or significant, did not matter) they carried out.

The curious thing is that from looking so much at the uniforms of the Lusitanian rulers, a really very crucial fact has been overlooked: It is the first bourgeois government in Western Europe in the last twenty-seven years in which the Communist Party has participated. And it is doing it not alone but with the Socialist Party.

This participation of the workers parties (Socialist and Communist), and especially of Stalinism, in the Portuguese government, is the decisive feature of the MFA regime. Much more important than the epaulets of General Costa Gomes.

The participation in the government of the two large workers parties is a consequence of the revolutionary upsurge, which has compelled the Portuguese bourgeoisie to accept a government shared with these organizations as the only way to paralyze and defeat the workers. A class-collaborationist government has thus been formed to help maintain the bourgeois regime in a very difficult moment. Very difficult among other things because the crisis of its armed forces makes it unable to do so through the use of force. The collaboration became necessary from the moment when, without the support of the workers or their pacification, the bourgeois government could not stay in power one minute; such was the magnitude of the revolutionary upsurge.

If we leave aside the uniforms, the current Portuguese government is a typical popular-front government, a bloc between the bourgeois government and the workers parties. The Torres government in Bolivia was military and popular-frontist, one of collaboration and participation of the leadership recognized by the workers movement. That of Kerensky and of the Kuomintang were also governments of class collaboration, popular-frontist, even though they were not parliamentary either.

In this respect, then, there can be no doubt: The government of Costa Gomes, the armed forces, and the reformist parties is a typical class-collaborationist government in a revolutionary period. If there is anything new it is that it is a doubly popular-frontist government, because having to confront not only the revolutionary upsurge of the workers movement but also the revolutionary mobilization of the colonial masses, it collaborates or conciliates also with these colonial masses to save the empire. The convergence of the colonial and workers revolutions has given rise to a twice collaborationist government, a double popular-front. This really is a genuine novelty with regard to the relationship between the revolutionary classes and movements and their exploiters; although there is the precedent of the Kerenskyist demagogy toward the nationalities oppressed by the great Russian imperialism.

The form, technique, and mechanisms through which this collaboration between the representatives of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois leaderships of the workers and colonial movements takes place are important. But they are not determinant; they do not modify this definition of the current Portuguese regime.

For the representatives of the bourgeoisie and of the working class to collaborate, a hinge is necessary, and intermediary. In the case of Portugal, that intermediary is the MFA.

VI. A Classical Kerenskyist Government

1. The Different Types of imperialist Governments

Whether we accept or do not accept the preceding definitions by Horowitz and Maitan of the MFA government, we must emphasize the importance of their attempt. The authors we have cited have hit the right spot: To define the stage of the class struggle and its probable dynamics is a prerequisite for formulating a correct revolutionary policy, but it is not enough. It is necessary to define the character of the regime and government the masses have to confront.

Revolutionists will not follow the same policies with different types of governments. There is a policy for a pre-revolutionary situation under a bourgeois-democratic, parliamentary regime and government, as in the cases of France, Belgium, and Spain in the 1930s. There is another policy for a pre-revolutionary situation (or one close to it) under a post-fascist Bonapartist government, as in Spain today. During the revolutionary situation that opened in 1905, the Bolsheviks advanced slogans (Down with the Tsar! Republic!) that resulted from their having to confront a semi-feudal regime. In a similar situation in Germany in 1919, there was no reason at all to advance these slogans, since the communists had to confront a republic and not a semi-feudal monarch.

In responding to this necessity, comrades in the metropolitan countries run into an obstacle: the theoretical inertia caused by reality. During the last 30 years, Western Europe has lived under the same bourgeois-democratic regime (200 years in the case of the United States). The European reality has not compelled our movement to face other types of bourgeois governments, with the exception of Portugal and Spain (which could easily be considered as “fossils” inherited from a previous period), and for some years, Greece. We should note, in passing, that these are “peripheral” countries in the European theater. This long period of political monotony caused our movement to lose its theoretical reflexes in reacting to new phenomena like the present Portuguese regime.

That is, new in relation to the period Western Europe has just completed, but not new for revolutionary Marxists, who already had occasion to study similar regimes during the almost three decades from 1917 to 1945. At that time, regimes and governments that were not bourgeois-democratic proliferated in Western Europe. Thus we have only to resort to the theoretical arsenal inherited from our teachers to find definitions fundamental for our attempts to characterize the MFA government and the future regimes that will make their appearance on the European continent as the revolution continues to advance.

Starting from the chronic crisis of imperialism (which has not led to a revolutionary outcome because of the betrayal of the Social Democracy and Stalinism), Trotsky studied and defined four types of imperialist governments and regimes: fascist, Bonapartist, bourgeois-democratic, and Kerenskyist. For the countries dominated by imperialism, he defined a particular kind of Bonapartism: “sui generis” Bonapartism, which we have already dealt with. And, in its time, he advanced the definition of Bonapartist for Stalin’s government, although with an essentially different social base: It was the organ of a workers state.

2. Bourgeois Democracy and Fascism

At the end of the last century, Engels noted the trend of bourgeois regimes toward Bonapartism, toward leaving the government in the hands of the bureaucracy and the military apparatus. It is true that this trend was and continues to be a constant. Nevertheless, the bourgeois-democratic type of regime flourished and spread in the imperialist countries up until the First World War.

In the typical democratic regime, the problems of the bourgeoisie are settled through electoral competition between the different sectors that seek support among the middle class and the workers. Beyond their electoral character, these bourgeois-democratic regimes base themselves on an agreement with the middle class to maintain a democratic-electoral mechanism.

The colossal development of capitalism and imperialism in the past century and the first years of the present one was the necessary precondition for the flourishing of bourgeois-democratic regimes in the imperialist countries, as it made possible a certain improvement in the situation of the workers. Thus assurance was provided that granting the people the right to vote would not turn against the bourgeoisie, since the workers would vote for the bourgeois or reformist parties. In that period, and in consequence of these conditions, the reformist ideology arose that equates capitalism with democracy.

Since the end of the Second World War, a similar phenomenon took place in the imperialist countries (and a similar ideology arose) in consequence of the spectacular boom of the capitalist economy in the last twenty-five years.

But in the period between the two world wars, the capitalist economy, far from a boom, experienced a deep and prolonged crisis. We only need to recall the great world crisis of 1929-32 and the one that Germany and the countries of central Europe underwent for entire years.

Beginning with 1914, the imperialist world began to suffer a social and economic crisis. As the situation of capitalism became more and more critical, the bourgeois-democratic regime burned out its electoral fuses. It was no longer possible for it to assure the middle class and the labor aristocracy their privileges. The disputes between the different wings of the bourgeoisie sharpened. The different classes no longer accepted waiting for elections and demanded immediate solutions. If in Russia bourgeois-democracy (after a short life of a few months) was replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat, in Italy it gave way to a new type of bourgeois government: fascism. The “eternal” democratic regime of “eternal” capitalism thus revealed its true transitional character, of a period in the life of capitalism. Its real role, that of a station house on the line leading to two opposite terminals: fascism or communism, was exposed.

It was Trotsky who made a precise analysis of the new fascist phenomenon. Faced with an economic crisis and the danger of a workers revolution, finance capital saw itself compelled to mobilize the petty-bourgeoisie and the declassed layers to crush the working class and its organizations with the methods of civil war and to install a totalitarian state, which not only suppressed workers democracy, but also all democratic rights.

3. Imperialist Bonapartism

But fascism is only a last resort, costly and full of risks. The bourgeoisie does not always find itself compelled to mobilize the petty-bourgeoisie. In many cases, it could count on a less convulsive instrument: The reformist workers parties guaranteed its survival. This allowed the bourgeoisie on occasions to limit or directly suppress a democratic regime without resorting to fascism (many times, as anticipatory steps in the march toward such a regime). This intermediate regime, born out of the advances of the bourgeois counterrevolution and defeats of the masses, based itself on the bureaucracy and fundamentally on the armed forces, which is what gives it a Bonapartist character.

Trotsky was meticulous in his study of these regimes, typical of Europe in the 1920s and the 1930s. “The decline of capitalist society places Bonapartism—side by side with fascism and coupled with it — again on the order of the day.” (Leon Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, [New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1971] p.329.)

And pointing to the relationship between these distinct forms of bourgeois rule, he said: between parliamentary democracy and the fascist regime [there is] a series of transitional forms ...

On the basis of the German experience, the Bolshevik-Leninists recorded for the first time the transitional governmental form ... which we called Bonapartism (Ibid., p.438.)
These governmental forms are an indirect result of the advance of the fascists:
The determinism of this transitional form has become patent, naturally not in the fatalistic but in the dialectical sense, that is, for the countries and periods where fascism, with growing success, without encountering a victorious resistance of the proletariat, attacked the positions of parliamentary democracy in order thereupon to strangle the proletariat. (Ibid., p.438.)

And Trotsky again emphasizes that Bonapartism bases itself on the retreat of the masses and in the victories of the counterrevolution, not on the proximity of the revolution.

“Without this basic condition, that is, without a preceding exhaustion of the mass energies in battles, the Bonapartist regime is in no position to develop.” (Ibid., p. 278.)

These regimes, precisely because of their character of intermediate stations on the passageway from parliamentary democracy to fascism, were less stable than post-fascist Bonapartism. The later arises when fascism in power gets rid of (sometimes, with the same civil-war methods that it used previously against the proletariat) its petty-bourgeois wing and begins to rule on the basis of the military police apparatus.

Trotsky thus distinguished three types of “normal” bourgeois regimes in this epoch of crisis: parliamentary democracy, pre-fascist and post-fascist Bonapartism, and fascism. In saying “normal” we refer to the fact that we are dealing with regimes in which the stability of the bourgeoisie is guaranteed.

4. Kerenskyism

But what happened in the opposite case, when the movement of the workers and the masses was advancing toward a socialist revolution? Trotsky recognized in those cases a new type of regime and government: Kerenskyist or popular-frontist. It is an extremely unstable form, sunk in a chronic crisis, of very limited duration, constituting the last or next to the last type of bourgeois government before a workers revolution or a turn backwards toward fascism, Bonapartism, or bourgeois democracy.

“The regime existing in Spain today,” said Trotsky in November 1931 in relation to the liberal-socialist government, “corresponds best to the conception of a Kerensky, that is, the last (or next-to-last) ‘left’ government, which the bourgeoisie can only set up in its struggle against the revolution.” (Leon Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution—1931-39, [New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1973], p.169.)

And in face of the criticisms made of this concept: (“You say that the present regime in Spain can be compared to ‘Kerenskyism’ ... I do not think so. ‘Kerenskyism’ was the bourgeoisie’s last card. It was the announcement for October. Azana announces Lerroux, that is, Miliukov, the big bourgeoisie.”) (Ibid., p.380), Trotsky responds by criticizing the mechanical conception of Nin, who believed that Kerenskyism would inevitably lead to a proletarian revolution, pointing out that to the contrary the possibility was great that it would move backwards toward more reactionary bourgeois regimes. Here is the quote: “Everything depends on the manner in which ‘Kerenskyism’ is seen: as the last bourgeois government after which the bourgeoisie must perish, or as the last left government, the furthest left which the bourgeoisie can advance in the struggle for its regime, and which must enable the bourgeoisie to save itself (and hardly perish) or yield its place to a fascist government.” (Ibid., p.397.)

In a Kerenskyist regime, the bourgeois counterrevolution, unable to crush the workers revolution but still able to prevent its victory, sees itself compelled to conciliate with the workers movement to stop its advance. Let me stress an example: If we take bourgeois democracy as the midway station of a railway line, if we move toward the right we pass by the station of Bonapartism; the end of the line is fascism. But, if we go in the opposite direction, we will pass by the station of Kerenskyism, and crossing the class frontier, we will arrive at the other end of the line, a workers state.

Kerenskyism is a combination of a workers revolution and bourgeois counterrevolution. But a combination in which the dynamic and decisive element continues to be a workers revolution on the rise. This is exactly opposite to a Bonapartist regime, in which the dynamic factor is the bourgeois counterrevolution, and the workers movement is on the defensive.

We are amazed at the resistance of the majority of contemporary Marxists to accepting this definition, which we have recently applied to the governments of Torres in Bolivia and Allende in Chile. A resistance which is all the more serious, since the present crisis of capitalism makes inevitable the emergence of governments of this type. Above all, our attention is called to the fact that the comrades of the Militant , who very correctly compare the Russian and Portuguese revolutions, do not notice the similarity between the governments produced by both of those processes.

It is possible that the confusion originates in the fact that Kerenskyist governments just like parliamentary ones) tend to move toward Bonapartism. Another fact that can create confusion is that both Bonapartism as well as Kerenskyism are characteristic of periods of capitalist crisis, in opposition to parliamentary democratic governments.

5. Kerenskyism and Bonapartism

But the big difference between these two regimes lies in the form in which the bourgeoisie goes about solving the crisis. When it bases itself directly on the armed forces without resorting to conciliation with the movement of the workers and the masses, when it attempts to overcome a crisis with a government of the “right”, of “law and order,” and of “strength,” with an “incontestable arbiter,” we are facing a typical Bonapartist government.

When it tries to “conciliate,” to obtain the “collaboration of the working class through its representatives” to install a “left” or “socialist” government, we face a class collaborationist, a Kerenskyist, government.

We could summarize by saying that the difference between a Bonapartist and Kerenskyist government is the same as that between a judge or arbiter, who hands down his sentences with the weight of disciplined armed forces behind him, and a conciliator, who does not have reliable armed forces with which to impose his decisions or “advice.”

Logically, this conciliator or intermediary between the contending classes tries with all his might to attain the power that would give his decisions a compulsory and incontestable character. But, as long as he does not succeed (and to succeed he must defeat the working class), he will continue to be Kerenskyist and not Bonapartist.

This combination of traits of one type of regime and another is not unusual. On the contrary, it is the rule in reality, where pure types are a rare exception. Thus, we have Bonapartisms and Kerenskyisms with parliamentary forms, parliamentary-democratic regimes with strong Bonapartist tendencies, etc.

In the case of Kerenskyism, its unstable character requires it to try to become Bonapartist, in order to reestablish the lost bourgeois social equilibrium. Trotsky, in narrating the history of the Russian revolution, points to this trait in the Kerensky government. He speaks of “elements of Bonapartism” in defining Kerensky and Kornilov. This is how we must understand the references that Lenin and Trotsky himself made to the “Bonapartist” character of Kerensky, in the midst of the struggle against him. In the History of the Russian Revolution, but also in other works of his, Trotsky makes this very clear:

The misfortune of the Russian candidates for Bonaparte lay not at all in their dissimilarity to the first Napoleon, or even to Bismarck. History knows how to make use of substitutes. But they were confronted by a great revolution which had not yet solved its problems or exhausted its force. [...] The revolution was still full-blooded. No wonder Bonapartism prove anemic. (Op.cit., Vol.2, pp. 155-56.)

There is no one better than the class enemy at summarizing the difference between a Kerensky with Bonapartist tendencies and the directly Bonapartist Kornilov. Trotsky quotes one of the big Russian industrialists complaining about the Kerenskyist government: “They would summon representatives of the workers to Petrograd and in the Marble Palace scold them and try to persuade and reconcile them with the industrialists and engineers.” (Ibid., Vol.2, p.267.)

This big capitalist was anxious to have the “conciliator” government replaced by another one (Bonapartist) which, as supreme arbiter, would give orders and have the rebellious Russian workers comply with them.

As Trotsky narrates, according to the testimony of Miliukov, the most important Russian bourgeois politician, “this installing of a strong man ... [Kornilov] was ‘thought of in different terms from those of negotiation and compromise.’” The same was said by another commentator to explain the support of Kornilov by the Kadet party: “Hopes of democracy, of the will of the people, of the Constituent Assembly [...] were already thrown overboard. The municipal elections throughout all Russia had given an overwhelming majority to the socialists ... and there were beginning to be convulsive reachings out for a power which should not persuade [like that of Kerensky, we add] but only command.” (Ibid., Vol.2, p.142. Emphasis added.)

There can be no doubt about it: For Trotskyism, a conciliatory regime is different from that of an arbiter. The first is Kerenskyism; the other, Bonapartism.

6. A Government of the ‘Left,’ a Class-Collaborationist, Popular-Frontist, or Kerenskyist Government Are All the Same

Originally, Kerenskyism got its name from A. Kerensky, who governed Russia in the last months of the bourgeois regime before the October revolution.

Later, Trotsky used the term to refer to all those class-collaborationist governments in which the reformist parties of the workers movement participated. In this way, the definition of Kerenskyism covered not only those left coalition governments of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat during revolutionary periods, but also those that arose during pre-revolutionary situations, as in the case of the French Popular Front government in 1936 and several similar cases in other countries in the 1920s.

An epoch of Kerenskyism is clearly approaching in your country [France]; the regime of the Radical-socialist Bloc is the first confused rebound from the war epoch. (The First 5 Years of the Communist International , Vol.1, 2nd ed. [New York: Monad Press, 1972] p.163.)
But the most likely candidate at the present time is Herriot who is preparing the background and the conditions for a new policy, for French Kerenskyism, because the assumption of power by the ‘Left Bloc’ signifies a government of Radicals and Socialists, who will undoubtedly enter the Bloc. (Ibid., Vol.2, p.212.)
The appearance of the working class in power will place the entire responsibility for the government’s actions upon the Labor Party; and will give rise to an epoch of English Kerenskyism in the era of parliamentarism ... (Ibid., Vol.2, p.211.)
But there are too many indications that the bourgeoisie will be driven to resort to a reformist and pacifist orientation, before the proletariat feels itself prepared for the decisive assault. This would signify an epoch of European Kerenskyism. (Ibid., Vol.2, p.262)
... in Spain Kerenskyism-the coalition of the liberals and the ‘socialists’ ... (Writings of Leon Trotsky-1930-31 , op. cit., p.355.)

As we can see, Trotsky includes within the category of Kerenskyism all “left” governments in which workers parties participate: from the “leftist” project in France in 1922, to the liberal-socialist coalition of Spain in 1931, including the probable Labour government in England in a pre-revolutionary period. A demagogic-leftist orientation (“reformist and pacifist”) of the European bourgeoisie leads him to predict a period of Kerenskyism on a continental scale.

He defines in this way a Kerenskyism we could call “not classic,” since, in distinction from the Kerensky regime, it does not arise in a revolutionary stage and in a situation of dual power, but in a pre-revolutionary one; and it is not put into power directly by the mass movement, but indirectly, through electoral and parliamentary means.

Later, after seeing and studying the popular-front governments of Blum, Largo Caballero, and Negdn, Trotsky went the other way: He extended the name of “popular front” to Kerensky’s government, thus indicating that they were synonymous.

From February to October, the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, who represent a very good parallel to the ‘Communists’ and the Social Democrats, were in the closest alliance and in a permanent coalition with the bourgeois party of the Cadets, together with whom they formed a series of coalition governments. Under the sign of this Popular Front (The Spanish Revolution , op. cit., p.220.)
For it is often forgotten that the greatest historical example of the Popular Front is the February 1917 revolution. (Ibid., p.220.)

1. A Classical Kerenskylst Government

Let us use Trotsky’s method to define the MFA government, by observing its relationship to the revolution and the counterrevolution. Is this government the product of counterrevolutionary victories or advances, or contrariwise, of great revolutionary victories of the masses? Is it a consequence of the latter having “exhausted their energies in battles” or on the contrary, of their having won these battles, against fascism and then two times against Spínola?

The MFA government is the result of transitional stages that are opposite to those that give rise to Bonapartist governments. It is the result of the fall of the post-fascist Bonapartist government and of the rising curve of a workers revolution; it reflects the transitional stages in the advance of that revolution and the successive ways in which the bourgeoisie, the modern middle class, and the reformist parties that act as representatives of the proletariat accommodate to that advance in order to block it.

Horowitz himself helps demolish the definition of Bonapartist with his description of the situation of the mass movement. Again and again, he points to the occurrence of big strikes, demonstrations, factory occupations, etc. In the reaction’s latest coup attempt on March 11, the masses won, the coup was defeated, and the oligarchy received a hard blow with the nationalization of the banks and the insurance companies. Since the fall of the fascist regime, workers have made gain after gain. Horowitz admits this in his article when he poses the need to “defend the gains the workers have made.” Everything fits: Mobilizations are on a rising curve. We are very far, then, from the “basic condition” that Trotsky indicated as decisive for a Bonapartist regime to develop: that the energies of the masses “have been exhausted.”

As has been said, we do not deny that the MFA has Bonapartist traits, that it tends toward Bonapartism. But the predominant trend since the fall of fascism and the appearance of the government of the MFA has been the opposite: more and more advances and gains of the masses.

The Bonapartist traits oppose this tendency; this is the main danger confronting the Portuguese mass movement today. But a danger is precisely that: a probable evil; not a present evil. The danger could become a reality only after a defeat of the masses, or after they have worn out their forces on partial and disorganized struggles, or after battles that were necessary but not engaged in. Again we see that Horowitz empties a political formula of its class content and applies it to a regime that can only base itself on victories of the counterrevolution, whereas the situation is that the workers movement has been winning positions and acquiring a more and more favorable relationship of forces with respect to the bourgeoisie.

The definition of the Portuguese government as Bonapartist has another serious shortcoming. The emergence of a Bonapartist (or democratic, or fascist, or Kerenskyist) regime can only take place in the midst of commotion, since it implies moving from one stage of class struggle to another. That is why Trotsky says: “the passage from one system to another signifies the political crisis.” (The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, op. cit., p.440. Trotsky’s emphasis.) Thus the comrades who maintain that the MFA is a Bonapartist government must define precisely what political crisis opened the Bonapartist stage. Caetano’s fall? Spínola’s fall? The defeat of the Spínolist putsch in March? These three political crises constituted victories of the revolution, not of the reaction. On the other hand, Caetano’s regime was post-fascist Bonapartist, and Spínola was a candidate for the role of Bonaparte. Does the MFA mean only a changing of the guard in a Bonapartist regime that is but the continuation of those of Caetano and Spínola? In that case, the defenders of this thesis should, to be consistent, state that nothing has changed politically in Portugal since April 25, 1974 (except, perhaps, the “strength” of Bonapartism, which would now be weaker).

There is, on the other hand, a definition that fits the characteristics of the MFA regime perfectly. Except for the fact that, up to now, it has not produced a Kerensky, the Portuguese government has all the traits of Kerenskyism or a popular-front government. It is a typical class-collaborationist government, weak, unstable, which covers up its bourgeois character with leftist rhetoric and a profuse demagogy around measures (undoubtedly progressive) that it has found itself compelled to carry out: nationalization of the banks and monopolistic companies. Finally it is structured as a popular-front government, in which a bourgeois party participates with the opportunist and reformist parties of the workers movement (the SP and CP) and a politico-military organization that establishes the relationship between the former and the latter.

Because of the fact that it is not the product of a parliamentary combination, but of an advancing workers revolution, and because it finds itself in a situation containing important seeds of dual power, the Kerenskyist government of the MFA is very similar to that of Kerensky himself.

The adoption of this definition and the rejection of the Bonapartist definition do not alter the principled position that we as revolutionary Marxists must take toward this government. It has not ceased to be a bourgeois government, and thus we must not place the least bit of confidence in it, we must not give it any political support, and we must not participate in it under any circumstance. It is our class enemy and our aim must be to defeat it by means of the workers revolution.

But it is of decisive importance in determining the policies that revolutionary Marxists must follow toward it. Let us recall the example of the railway line with two terminals (fascism and a workers state): If the government is Bonapartist, the country is moving to the right, and thus it is urgent to put the brakes on this trend and try to reverse it. If it is Kerenskyist, we must step on the accelerator to speed the march toward the socialist revolution and free ourselves from the counterrevolutionary government (which does not mean that we will move at the same speed at all times, but we will have to make adjustments according to the circumstances with which we are faced during the journey).

Another trait of Bonapartism is that, being a reactionary government in almost pure form, which does not base itself on any popular sector, it reveals itself as an almost direct government of finance capital. That is, in the case of Portugal, a government of the seven families. This would have undoubtedly been true in the event of a victory by Spínola. But, of course, that is not so in the case of the MFA government, which has partially expropriated the financial oligarchy.

Bonapartism is also a government of law and order, par excellence. And it is so, precisely because it bases itself not on parliament, but on the bureaucracy, the police, and the army. But, to be able to base itself on them, it needs a solid, disciplined police and army, ready to carry out the repressive orders of the regime. In Portugal, we have exactly the opposite. The former political police is practically dismantled. An openly deliberative atmosphere predominates in the army. The very existence of the MFA (a public political faction) contributes objectively to divide it. In some units, the soldiers are removing their commanders and they control the appointment of their replacements. In others, assemblies take place in which officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers participate on an equal footing. There have been cases of troops refusing to repress demonstrations.

Under such conditions, Bonapartism is not possible. And the crisis and disintegration of the army deepens day by day. The only way a Bonapartist regime might be established is through the previous restoration of military discipline. This is the aim of the Bonapartist tendencies within the MFA; the soldiers and the mass movement are marching in the opposite direction. Once more: Until the Bonapartist tendencies defeat the mass movement, there can be no Bonapartism in Portugal.

We do not think it is necessary to go on. The definition of the Portuguese government as Bonapartist does not withstand the least analysis. There is no doubt about it, it is a Kerenskyist government with elements of dual power, that is, a classical Kerenskyist government.

Go to Part IV

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Last updated on 30.12.2002