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Pierre Frank

Bonapartism in Europe

(November 1945)

From Fourth International, Vol.7 No.3, March 1946, pp.93-94.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

This is the second section of Pierre Frank’s article on Bonapartism. The preceding section appeared in the January issue of Fourth International. We are publishing this section as a discussion article – Ed.

The importance of a correct definition of the European governments goes beyond the domain of theory. What Trotsky wrote in 1932 on the subject of bonapartism in Germany preserves all its value mutatis mutandis for the bonpartism of 1945:

If we have insistently demanded that a distinction be made between Fascism and Bonapartism, it has been in no wise out of theoretical pedantry. Names are used to distinguish between concepts; concepts, in politics, in turn serve to distinguish among real forces. The smashing of Fascism would leave no room for Bonapartism, and. it is to be hoped, would mean the direct introduction to the social revolution.

Only – the proletariat is not aimed for the revolution. The reciprocal relations between Social Democracy and the Bonapartist government on the one hand, and between Bonapartism and Fascism on the other – while they do not decide the fundamental questions – distinguish by what roads and in what tempo the struggle between the proletariat and the Fascist counter-revolution will be prepared.

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 à 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 reforms within capitalism, but on the contrary, from a situation of acute crisis, the result of the absence of all margin for reforms.

Precisely because we do not generally have in Europe at the present time democratic regimes, because there is literally no place for them and because the extension of democratic liberties can only undermine the bonapartist regimes, we put forward the most extreme democratic demands, in connection of course with the transitional demands which prepare the duality of power.

The resolution of the recent national conference of the English section of the Fourth International ignores, alas, in a general fashion bonapartism for Europe, and employs the expression, devoid of content, “democratic counter-revolution” for the European governments. The resolution contains on the other hand a fairly good example for the future development of events in Europe, namely that of Spain in the period which extends from the fall of Primo de Rivera up to the civil war against the fascism of Franco. In all this period of the Spanish Republic there was no democratic regime properly speaking.

Bonapartism, as will probably be the case in all Europe, expressed itself through a series of epileptic convulsions, of great shifts to the right and to the left. The same phenomenon likewise occurred in France after 1934: 1934, violent reactionary attack; 1936, general strike and occupation of the factories; 1940, coup d’etat of Bordeaux; 1944, uprising against the Petain regime. These great leaps follow one another, accompanied by deepening division of the nation along with a political clarification on both sides in regard to the decisive struggle. [1]

The use of democratic slogans – combined with transitional slogans – is justified more precisely because the possibilities of a democratic regime are non-existent, because present-day bonapartism is completely unstable and the struggle for the most extreme democratic demands can only end its existence. But again it is necessary for us to understand one another on the democratic slogans which we adopt and not to define slogans as democratic when they are not.

Let us merely recall in passing that the partisans of the Three Theses seriously propose to make a struggle for the freedom of religion – a democratic slogan, unquestionably – one of the most essential points in the struggle against fascism. For anyone who has not completely lost the use of his faculties in the course of these terrible years of reaction through which we have passed, it is clear that such a democratic slogan has nothing in common with us. It is on the contrary more and more evident that this slogan is today the property of a whole section of reaction which does not dare to show its true face.

But a great error, even a very dangerous error, has been committed in qualifying as democratic and in proposing to our organization the slogan of “the Republic” (cf. the article of Comrade Logan on Italy). We are completely in favor of the slogan “Down with the monarchy” in Italy, in Greece, and for all the countries where this institution inherited from feudalism exists. We are no less in favor of the slogan of the Assembly of a single chamber which is against the Senate, the House of Lords, etc. . . . But between these slogans and the “Republic” there is a deep moat which we cannot cross. In one case we endeavor to direct the masses against institutions of a profoundly reactionary character, which limit, even under the capitalist, regime, the possibility of democratic expression of the masses, and which, in moments of crisis become quasi-automatically the rallying point for the forces of the counter-revolution. In the other case, we would advance the slogan which, if we made the mistake of adopting it, would make us the promoters of a completely vague state form. “The Republic”? This slogan does not concern a partial objective but puts to the fore the very question of the state. What republic can we recommend in the current epoch? The Republic of Workers and Peasants Soviets alone, and not a bourgeois republic. The slogan of “the Republic” is absolutely silent on this point and can only, by its confusion, favor the class enemy.

It is evident that, despite our rejection of this slogan, we will not be neutral in the plebiscites which may be held in Europe on the question of the monarchy. We shall call the workers and peasants to vote against the monarchy, but clearly specifying that we do not have the choice as to the other term of the alternative, that we are voting against the monarchy but not in favor of the bourgeois republic.

It is almost twenty years ago that the Italian Social Democrats in one of their fits of theoretical audacity inscribed in their program of the struggle against fascism the slogan of “the democratic republic of the toilers” and, for a certain period, the Italian Communist Party, in one of its zig-zags to the right, had an equivocal position towards this slogan. When in 1930, a section of the leadership of the Italian CP broke with Stalinism, formed the New Italian Opposition and turned toward the Left Opposition, this slogan was the object of a clarification in the exchange of views which took place at that time. The old opposition, that of the Bordigists, had an absolutely negative attitude on democratic slogans; it was especially necessary that the new Italian comrades should not take for their part a position which could be exploited by the Bordigists and which would have been fatal in the struggle against fascism. In a letter to the comrades in the NOI Trotsky expressed himself as follows on the slogan of the Italian Social Democrats:

While advancing one or another set of democratic slogans we must irreconcilably fight against all forms of democratic charlatanism. Such low-grade charlatanism is represented by the slogan of the Italian Social Democracy: “The Democratic Republic of the Toilers”. The “Toilers republic” can be only the class state of the proletariat. The “Democratic Republic” is only a masked rule of the bourgeoisie. The combination of the two is a naive petty bourgeois illusion of the Social Democratic rank and file (workers, peasants) and deliberate treachery on the part of the Social Democratic leaders (all these Turatis, Modiglianis and their ilk). Let me once again remark in passing that I was and remain opposed to the formula of a “National Assembly on the basis of worker-peasant committees” precisely because this formula approaches the Social Democratic slogan of the “Democratic Toilers Republic” and, consequently, can render extremely difficult for us the struggle against the Social Democrats. May 14, 1930.

The slogan of “the Republic” as such is also as erroneous and pernicious as that of “The Democratic Republic of the Toilers” although, we are persuaded, few comrades in our international organization would have at present an inclination to mix in the above fashion the forms of bourgeois power with the forms of proletarian power. But it is not the thoughts and intentions of this or that comrade which are under discussion but the slogan of “the Republic” itself. This is not a democratic slogan but, to employ the strong expression of Trotsky, democratic charlatanism.

The theoretical principles and positions which are a part of the accumulated capital of the Bolshevik-Leninists, gained in the course of their years of struggle against Stalinism, reformism and all the varieties of centrism in the workers’ movement, and which we have called to mind in this article, obviously far from exhaust the questions which arise on the European situation. But it is indispensable to take them as a point of departure to permit our militants and our sections to orient themselves correctly despite the enormous confusion which rages and which, unhappily, will not fail to rage for the duration of a complete period, up to the point when the events and ourselves, in assisting events by a correct policy, consciously array an important fraction of the working class under the flag of the Fourth International.



1. Since we here speak of the resolution of our English comrades let us note that it defines the new Labor 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 that the present Attlee government is bonapartist à la Kerensky. Without questioning the coming to power of this government, that is to say, of a formation which rests on the working class but wishes to leave intact. The City and British capitalism, at the moment when the latter has only gained a victory at the price of its very substance, will accelerate the downfall of British imperialism. The oldest of democracies has, as a result of the last elections, reached a dead end. But the term “Kerenskyism” is not appropriate, for it already presupposes the accomplishment of the passage from democracy to this form of bonapartism. On the contrary, it is in the future, probably very soon, that this passage will occur and the English workers and their organizations will then have to face an important crisis. In England one can only observe features of bonapartism. For example the Labor government, under the pressure of capital and encouraged by the administrative apparatus, of which it hasn’t harmed a hair, is inclined to play a role of referee above the parties, while a section of the Labor parliamentary group endeavors to continue representing in a reformist and parliamentary fashion the worker masses who have elected them.

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