The Willing Destruction of Self Belief in Bonapartism II

I’ve been asked a few times how I was able to predict a Trump victory.  First and foremost, I did not.  I merely mapped out the conditions in the United States and how they were similar to when a similar demagogue was able to pull out unexpected electoral victories.

Second, I am not the first to say that Trump is a Bonapartist.  So far as I know, I’m the only one to do so in the way that I did—but there were other people well before me that did the same (1, 2, 3, and probably more).

In fact, I would make an argument that I didn’t go far enough in my first piece.  I said that he wasn’t a Bonapartist, but further events proved that I was overly cautious in stating this.

It’s worth going into some detail about Bonapartism before we go any further.

The first Bonaparte of note, obviously, was Napoleon.

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Napoleon took power in the coup of 18 Brumaire, November, 9 1799.  He was a powerful person, one of the great world generals, and ended the French Revolution declaring, “The revolution is over—I am the revolution.”  He ruled first as a consul, and then an emperor—looking back at a Roman past that he wanted to recreate for France.

Napoleon III, a rather distant relation, was touched upon in my previous piece.

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These were very different men in very different times.  Marx famously summed up:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.

Trotsky connected the theme of Thermidor with Bonapartism, when examining Stalin.  In this case, he borrowing more from Napoleon I than from Louis Napoleon.  This is not unusual, the conditions as Stalin took over the Soviet Union were much more akin to Napoleon I’s defeat of the Directory than it was Napoleon III’s plebiscite.

Stalin wasn’t the only one consolidating power around the globe mid last century.  Though there are many examples to be examined in Asia, perhaps the best well known is in Germany.  Before the fascists came to power, the precarious balance of the Weimar Republic carefully attempted to breathe new life into a Germany that had just lost the First World War.  However, the problems that came from the First World War still existed—and there was no good way to fix them.

Only a year later, Trotsky used the term, “Bonapartist” in reference to Germany:

Such terms as liberalism, Bonapartism, fascism have the character of generalizations. Historical phenomena never repeat themselves completely. It would not have been difficult to prove that even the government of Napoleon III, compared with the regime of Napoleon I, was not “Bonapartist” – not only because Napoleon himself was a doubtful Bonaparte by blood, but also because his relations to the classes, especially to the peasantry and to the lumpenproletariat were not at all the same as those of Napoleon I. Moreover, classical Bonapartism grew out of the epoch of gigantic war victories, which the Second Empire did not know at all. But if we should look for the repetition of all the traits of Bonapartism, we will find that Bonapartism is a one-time, unique occurrence, i.e., that Bonapartism in general does not exist but that there once was a general named Bonaparte born in Corsica. The case is no different with liberalism and with all other generalized terms of history. When one speaks by analogy of Bonapartism, it is necessary to state precisely which of its traits found their fullest expression under present historical conditions.

Weimar still Germany holds a fascination to us today.  In my previous article I mentioned that Weimar Germany was, in part, a reflection of the Belle Époque from which Napoleon III rose.  This still holds true.

The Weimar Republic was a beacon for every political tendency.  Red Berlin saw a huge amount of Russian Newspapers, communist movements of every stripe, and late night parties experimenting with art, fashion, sex, and drugs.  The other side, a Brown movement, despised these things.  It wanted a Germany of order, of marching troops, of remaking forgotten glories.  The two sides had women demanding rights between them, Catholic and Lutheran groups fighting over who was the most chaste while boasting about who had the best nudist group, and any other political experiment one might be able to imagine.

But in the end it was always a fight between the Reds and the capitalists—the Browns being the attack dogs against the Reds; the Reds settling on Social Democrats to represent them until a utopian time in the distant future when all would see their knowledge of ideas were correct and adopt their principles.

Hindenburg was elected to save the republic from itself, in a similar way that Napoleon III was elected to save France from the French. This is a defining characteristic of the Bonapartist, a figure put into power in order to accomplish this contradictory goal. But Hindenburg was not the Bonapartist in the story.  Heinrich Brüning was until he was replaced with Franz von Papen in 1932.  These were twin Bonapartes resurrected to save the republic by destroying it.

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The faltering days of the Weimar Republic has been called by Paul Bookbinder, “a presidential dictatorship with legislative sufferance.”  The Bonapartist regime was to reconcile the two halves of the republic, the two halves that wanted nothing to do with each other and demanded that the other concede control.

As the Bonapartist regime sat comfortably in the chair of the administration it found little opposition from the Social Democrats that rolled over and invited a constitutional leader that was in a position that had too much power and fascists waiting in his wing.

It was little different in Napoleon III’s France.  Marx leaves us a blistering criticism of the relationship between the president and the congress, which is worth reading as he is essentially describing American constitutionalism.  He finishes:

While each separate representative of the people [in congress] represents only this or that party, this or that town, this or that bridgehead, or even only the mere necessity of electing someone as the seven hundred and fiftieth, without examining too closely either the cause or the man, he [the president] is the elect of the nation and the act of his election is the trump that the sovereign people plays once every four years…Such was the Constitution of 1848, which on December 2, 1851, was not overthrown by a head, but fell down at the touch of a mere hat; this hat, to be sure, was a three-cornered Napoleonic hat.

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Republican Party in the US, which constitutes a fine Party of Order, looked to Marx as it advanced its Napoleon as the office of the president became increasingly powerful and bold over the last century.

The GOP simplified the press to demand a binary:

As monosyllabic on the platform as in the press. Flat as a riddle whose answer is known in advance. Whether it was a question of the right of petition or the tax on wine, freedom of the press or free trade, the clubs or the municipal charter, protection of personal liberty or regulation of the state budget, the watchword constantly recurs, the theme remains always the same, the verdict is ever ready and invariably reads: “Socialism!” Even bourgeois liberalism is declared socialistic, bourgeois enlightenment socialistic, bourgeois financial reform socialistic. It was socialistic to build a railway where a canal already existed, and it was socialistic to defend oneself with a cane when one was attacked with a rapier.

It stopped legislation from occurring and called it a virtue:

unproductive-congress

In the domain of the interests of the general citizenry, the National Assembly showed itself so unproductive that, for example, the discussions on the Paris-Avignon railway, which began in the winter of 1850, were still not ripe for conclusion on December 2, 1851. Where it did not repress or pursue a reactionary course it was stricken with incurable barrenness.

And France’s Bonapartist president, like our own Trump, hinted, without concrete proposals, that foreign money was going to come to the working people of the United States :

While Bonaparte’s ministry partly took the initiative in framing laws in the spirit of the party of Order, and partly even outdid that party’s harshness in their execution and administration, he, on the other hand, sought by childishly silly proposals to win popularity, to bring out his opposition to the National Assembly, and to hint at a secret reserve that was only temporarily prevented by conditions from making its hidden treasures available to the French people.

And the result is the same.  Just as in France more than a century ago, our social-democrats and liberals bend knee to the will of the Bonapartist taking office.

Washington Post:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday congratulated Donald Trump on winning the presidency and said in a statement that she would “pray for his success.”

“The peaceful transfer of power is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Pelosi said.

The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama Urges Peaceful Transition of Power

President Obama addresses the nation from the Rose Garden urging the country to come together as the Trump administration takes power.

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Trump will be a president with too much power and an inability to curb it when steps into office.  He will also be attempting to reconcile the fascists in his midst and the finance capitalists that he himself represents; while also reconciling the majority of the country that abhors all of these tendencies that he represents.

But history is a measuring tool, not a fortune-teller.  When the Bonapartist regime was completed in Germany, Trotsky gave it a few options, some of which differed from the French Bonapartism of Louis Napoleon:

A bloc of the Right wing with the Center would signify the “legalization” of the seizure of power by the National-Socialists, that is, the most suitable cloak for the Fascist coup d’état. What relationships would develop in the early days between Hitler, Schleicher and the Center leaders, is more important for them than it is for the German people. Politically, all the conceivable combinations with Hitler signify the dissolution of bureaucracy, courts, police and army into Fascism.

If it is assumed that the Center will not agree to a coalition, in which it would have to pay with a rupture with its own workers for the role of a brake in Hitler’s locomotive, – then in this case only the unconcealed extra-parliamentary road remains. A combination without the Center would more easily and speedily insure the predominance of the National-Socialists. If the latter do not immediately unite with Papen and at the same time do not pass over to the immediate assault, then the Bonapartist character of the government will have to emerge more sharply: von Schleicher would have his “hundred days” … without the preceding Napoleonic years.

Hundred days – no, we are figuring far too generously. The Reichswehr does not decide. Schleicher does not suffice. The extra-parliamentary dictatorship of the Junkers and the magnates of financial capital can be stood firmly on its feet only by the method of a wearisome and relentless civil war. Will Hitler be able to fulfill this task? That depends not only upon the evil will of Fascism, but also upon the revolutionary will of the proletariat.

 

If this is the same kind of Bonapartism, it is possible that it succeeds in balancing upon the very divided and broken ideologies of the United States as Bannon as a fascist does not have open public support at the moment.  Though history moves quickly, and the fascist movement is consolidating and resurrecting far quicker than its Red counterpart.  But one cannot be sure which of an infinite number of possibilities will have sway. Before stating essentially that history was fickle, Marx made one of his most famous statements in relation to Louis Napoleon:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851[66] for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Trump as a Bonaparte is that he is the repetition of this historical process that continues a pattern started when Napoleon I took control from Jacobins—already defeated but by no means powerless by Thermidor; Napoleon’s farce was completed by his nephew taking control of Paris from a barely organized left that had yet to learn to walk. Papen’s triumph in Germany was the defeat of a legitimate left that had not been completely broken; and his farce is completed by Trump warning the country about leftist conspiracies that can’t possibly exist, like Pizzagate.

George Orwell:

…we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. It is not merely that at present the rule of naked force obtains almost everywhere. Probably that has always been the case. Where this age differs from those immediately preceding it is that a liberal intelligentsia is lacking. Bully-worship, under various disguises, has become a universal religion, and such truism as that a machine-gun is still a machine-gun even when a “good” man is squeezing the trigger…have turned into heresies which it is actually becoming dangerous to utter.

 

  1 comment for “The Willing Destruction of Self Belief in Bonapartism II

  1. D P
    December 22, 2016 at 3:44 am

    Fantastic! I liked:

    “The Weimar Republic was a beacon for every political tendency. Red Berlin saw a huge amount of Russian Newspapers, communist movements of every stripe, and late night parties experimenting with art, fashion, sex, and drugs. The other side, a Brown movement, despised these things. It wanted a Germany of order, of marching troops, of remaking forgotten glories. The two sides had women demanding rights between them, Catholic and Lutheran groups fighting over who was the most chaste while boasting about who had the best nudist group, and any other political experiment one might be able to imagine.”

    Also, the George Orwell quote is perfect.

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