Friday, February 3, 2017

Trump and Bonapartism: Reply to a reader

The Socialist Workers Party does not have one policy during Republican administrations and another for Democratic administrations. 

 John B. writes:

You may remember that a few months ago I asked why the SWP did not characterize Trump as a Bonapartist, since he would seem to fit the definition to a "T." Back in the '90s they were very quick to describe Ross Perot, Patrick Buchanan and even Jesse Ventura this way.

I know you're not a member of the SWP, or even an "organized supporter," but since all of a sudden you're posting articles on the subject, I suspect a line change is imminent, and it will now officially define Trump as a Bonapartist. The problem this poses for them is if they admit it now, the whole edifice of their orientation toward the "Trump Movement" for the last year and a half comes crashing down in a heap. What to do?

My reply:

This blog has posted several articles in the last few days on the Marxist concept of Bonapartism.  I am currently reading Hal Draper's 1977 book Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution Volume 1: State and Bureaucracy.  Chapters 15-18 of that book cover the development of Bonapartism as a scientific classification by Marx and Engels.  They did this while studying living events in France and Germany, focusing on the rule of Napoleon III and Otto Von Bismarck. 

The value of Draper's discussion of Bonapartism is that he grounds the formulation in its historical context, and does not deal with it as an academic abstraction.  Marx and Engels identified Bonapartist elements in the rule not just of Napoleon III and Bismarck, but also Simon Bolivar and several absolutist monarchies in Europe.

The Bonapartist leader, they concluded, was primarily a semi-autonomous arbiter, pretending to be "above" all contending classes, but in fact defending the dictatorship of capital in periods of crisis and polarization.  The Bonapartist leader defended bourgeois rule against the threat of working class organization and political action, and also against threats from capitalists or layers within the ruling class.  [Hence Bismarck's harsh treatment, "for their own good," of Junkerdom.]

Is Trump a Bonapartist?

I disagree with John B.'s statement that Trump is a definitive Bonpartist.  Draper makes clear that under bourgeois rule, with its autonomously functioning capitalist state machinery, there are always elements of an arbitrator function, and of arbitrary executive rule. The U.S. government since 1930s has certainly seen this Bonapartist tendency, as have state and city governments.

The 1990s saw the emergence of figures in bourgeois politics who rejected Republican and Democratic political parties. I would call Perot and Ventura premature wannabe Bonapartes. They presented themselves as "decisive men" and nominated themselves for the role. The appearance of such figures, and the increased use of exclusively executive powers, are complimentary phenomenon. 

Donald Trump has presented himself as an arbitrator, but exclusively within the context of salvaging the fortunes of the Republican Party, not rejecting it.

The Republicans are being remade by Donald Trump, a multibillionaire pretending to speak in the interests of working people while seeking to find policies that further enrich the capitalist class, in a futile attempt to end the inevitable crisis of their system. This has nothing to do with hysteria about “fascism” among liberal and middle-class radicals, Barnes said. In fact, the Trump electoral victory is weakening already marginal ultra-rightist currents, who are unable to gain any traction in U.S. politics. [Source]

Likewise, Trump's use of executive orders is in continuity with the practice of previous U.S. presidents in the modern era.

One executive order issued by Trump on Jan. 25, titled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” states that it is government policy to extend the wall on the Mexican border, speed up deportations, expand immigration detention facilities and add 5,000 Border Patrol agents.

The order traces its continuity to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, signed by then President Bill Clinton. The average daily population of men, women and children held in immigration detention centers soared from 8,000 before the law to 34,000 in 2014.

Does the SWP orient to a Trump Movement?

I do not speak for the U.S. Socialist Workers Party.  I support its program and activity, as do hundreds of others.  My knowledge of the party's politics and approach is based exclusively on my reading of the party press.  Based on this understanding, I reject the statement that the party has had an "orientation toward the 'Trump Movement' for the last year and a half”.

The Socialist Workers Party has an orientation to the working class.  This is carried out where party members happen to work, as well as in cities where party branches take their literature and program door-to-door in an undifferentiated way in working class districts.

In 2015-2016, this orientation included joining fellow workers at Democratic and Republican campaign rallies.  What party members found in discussions at these events was that workers rejected the Clinton campaign's "Things are great" message.  Trump's demagogy, within the two-party straight-jacket, looked to many like a chance to effect the intolerable status quo. But the SWP has never given an inch to the idea that Trump’s campaign could be a political vehicle; it rejects any suggestion Trump is a tribune for workers.

This is in stark contrast to the approach of a galaxy of bourgeois Democratic Party pundits and promoters, and petty bourgeois left and radical movementarians and activists.  They flattered themselves that supporters of Democratic Party demagogue Bernie Sanders were pay dirt for a new socialist movement in the United States.  These same characters, who eight years ago said they would "make Obama keep his promises" by their mass street actions, spent most of 2016 conducting street actions to disrupt and attack workers interested in checking out Trump events.

The Socialist Workers Party does not have one policy during Republican administrations and another for Democratic administrations. 

This alone makes the party unique in U.S. politics.  No other party in this country can say the same. Quite the contrary! Today liberal-left organizations, media, and sundry outfits attempt to whip-up hysteria among former Clinton and Sanders supporters around issues [abortion, immigrant rights, "imperial presidency"] they have accepted with stunning complacency for the last eight years.

What does the Socialist Workers Party counterpose to  this lesser-evil Groundhog Day?

I'll close with lines from this statement, released today:

The propertied rulers’ capitalist system is in deep crisis today, facing declining profit rates, contraction in production and trade, and growing conflicts over resources and markets. The deepening competition between capitalist rulers worldwide has produced growing carnage, devastating economic crises and dispossession of millions of human beings around the world. Washington and other imperialist powers have engaged in nonstop wars since the turn of the millennium in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.

Workers need our own party to organize independent of the bosses and their political parties, to defend our interests on the road toward taking power out of the hands of the capitalist rulers. The Socialist Workers Party is your party.

Let’s fight together: Unionize all workers! No deportations! Speak out against attacks on Muslims and mosques! All U.S. troops out of the Middle East!

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