Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Social-Democracy, Bonapartism and Permanent Revolution, Chapter 11 – Results and Prospects (4)

Chapter 11 – Results and Prospects

Part 4

What characterises a Bonapartist regime, therefore, is this fusion between the state power, and the governmental power, as opposed to the normal situation in a democratic republic (and this applies to a bourgeois state as well as to a workers' state), in which there is a tension between the governmental power and the state power. The tension arises, precisely as a manifestation of democracy (whether bourgeois democracy or workers democracy, and the same can be said about relations under feudalism).

On the other hand, its political interests compelled it to increase daily the repressive measures and therefore the resources and the personnel of the state power, while at the same time it had to wage an uninterrupted war against public opinion and mistrustfully mutilate, cripple, the independent organs of the social movement, where it did not succeed in amputating them entirely. Thus the French bourgeoisie was compelled by its class position to annihilate, on the one hand, the vital conditions of all parliamentary power, and therefore, likewise, of its own, and to render irresistible, on the other hand, the executive power hostile to it.”

(The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Chapter 4)

The governmental power, in the presence of democracy, arises out of some form of parliament, which is the product of a process of democracy, which to one degree or another, reflects the heterogeneous nature of the society, and the electorate. Even in Presidential systems, such as exist in France and the US, the executive power of the President is constrained by a series of checks and balances, from parliamentary institutions, the Assembly and the Congress, in these cases.

Hobbes, in Leviathan, talks about the sovereign generally in the sense we understand by that term, meaning an absolute monarch. But, Hobbes also says that the sovereign does not need to be considered solely in this way. Once a basis of the state is established, he says, essentially once a constitution is determined, the sovereign could be an elected body, on the proviso that this body, like the absolute monarch, once appointed, has sole right to appoint its successors.

In fact, what Hobbes is describing here is the foundation of the modern permanent state bureaucracy. It is this permanent state that is the real sovereign, with the governmental power acting merely as a decoration that provides a safety valve for civil society.

The evidence of that is that whenever the governmental power oversteps the mark, it is reined in by the state power. Anyone who has studied British Constitution, even to GCSE level, knows that the permanent state bureaucracy has ample means of doing that by normal constitutional channels; anyone who has worked in central or local government knows where the real power lies, and it is not with the elected politicians. A reading of Dick Crossman's Diaries gives an indication of the means by which the bureaucracy can capture ministers or committee chairs, and so on. “Yes Minister” was only a comedic caricature of the reality.

And, of course, if those means are not sufficient, the permanent state has other options. The courts can intervene as they did over Trump's travel bans, and May's attempts to by-pass parliament over Brexit. The central bank can intervene, in relation to economic policy, often in conjunction with global financial capital, to cause spikes in interest rates, runs on the currency, and so on.

And, as Trump has found out recently, because the permanent state controls all of the information, it can release information that may or may not be true, in order to mobilise the media, and thereby public opinion, so as to push politicians in particular directions. Rumours were continually spread, in the 1960's, about Labour ministers, including Wilson, being Russian agents. The US security services and FBI, have a similar power today, in relation to Trump's administration. The plot of the current series of “Homeland” is again only a dramatisation of the actual functioning of the state, and its manipulation of the elected politicians.

In the US, we have seen not only this political meat grinder chew up and spit out Trump's more nonsensical policies, but also the way it erodes his support base, within the administration, chipping away at his lieutenants such as Flynn and Bannon. By forcing him to drop policies, and in the case of the bombing of Syria, to change course 180 degrees, and then force him to justify it, the state undermines both his credibility, and his wider support base, turning him increasingly into their puppet, isolated from any countervailing power.

A similar thing is happening in Britain. Bojo, already a figure of some derision, by his own clownish behaviour, was the real face of Brexit. His decision not to go to Russia, following the US bombing of Syria, not only reflects the extent to which a Britain, leaving the EU, is powerless, and lacking in any real sovereignty, but also makes him, personally, look even more irrelevant. His failure to gain any support for Britain's proposal for sanctions against Russia, at the G7 meeting, and his total ostracism by the other members, shows that not only is Bojo seen as a clown, but Britain is seen as a bit of a joke that has not yet realised that it is a rather mediocre second rate power.

We can expect, over the next few years, that the political meat grinder will strip away more of the main Brexiteers from the government, as the case for Brexit is itself increasingly undermined.

In a sense, the same thing is happening with Labour, even though it is in opposition. On issue after issue, Corbyn, McDonnell and their supporters are being led to prevaricate and even abandon principled positions they have held for decades, and in the process their actual support base is stripped away.

In the most extreme case, where the governmental power threatens the very basis of the state, the state itself rises up and and overthrows the governmental power, thereby instituting a Bonapartist regime. The classic example of modern times is Pinochet's coup against the Allende government. But, in the 1960's, there were some fringe elements that discussed a coup even against Wilson's government, with Mountbatten being lined up as the chosen Bonaparte figure. Again, Chris Mullin's “A Very British Coup” is only a fictionalisation of these actual relations between the state and governmental power.

Its for this reason that revolutionaries have always criticised the reformist programmes of left social-democrats, be it the British Road to Socialism, of the Communist Party, the Alternative Economic Strategy of the Bennite Left, or the demand for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, put forward by the Militant Tendency (now Socialist Party). Not only are such reformist programmes (and similarly reformist demands for ad hoc nationalisation, by the capitalist state, can be found in the propaganda of nearly all the so called “Trotskyist” sects) statist, top-down bureaucratic solutions, not only are they impractical, but they are highly dangerous, precisely because were a government power resting only on electoral support to implement them, they invite a violent response from the permanent state.

In this sense, too, Marx's comment, in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, applies, because unless such governmental power has a support base within civil society, not merely at an atomised, passive level of electoral support, but active, organised support, then it will simply fall foul of such a coup. That is the problem with the superficial moralising approach of the liberal interventionists, whether it is in Iraq, Libya, Egypt or Syria. They fail to ask the basic question of why these states have Bonapartist regimes in the first place. They assume that simply overthrowing the existing unpleasant regime will somehow open the door to a period of bourgeois democracy and social harmony. In fact, on every occasion, it turns simply into a period of social chaos, as contending armed powers within civic society attempt to assert their own political power.

Trotsky warned of such consequences in relation to the Balkan Wars, at the start of the last century, and he carried that lesson through to his writings of the 1930's, warning against adopting a superficial attitude towards imperialism, on the basis of it wearing a “democratic” mask rather than a fascistic mask.

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