The Beginning of Bonapartism

"The people can get no peace, the peasants no land, the workers no eight-hour day, and the hungry no bread unless the counter-revolution is completely stamped out. Let the Party say so, and every step in the march of events will bear it out."

Now that the Cabinet of Kerensky, Nekrasov, Avksentyev and Co.[1] has been formed, the gravest and most disastrous error Marxists could make would be to mistake words for deeds, deceptive appearances for reality or generally for something serious.

Let’s leave this pastime to the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries who have already gone as far as to play the part of clowns around the Bonapartist Kerensky. Indeed, it certainly is buffoonery on the part of the Chernovs, Avksentyevs and Tseretelis to start striking postures and uttering fancy words at a time when Kerensky, clearly at the Cadets’ bidding, forms something of a secret Directory composed of himself, Nekrasov, Tereshchenko and Savinkov, keeps quiet about both the Constituent Assembly and the declaration of July 8,[2] proclaims the sacred union of classes in his address to the people, concludes an agreement on terms unknown to anyone with Kornilov, who has presented a most brazen ultimatum, and continues the policy of scandalously outrageous arrests.

At a time like this, it certainly is buffoonery on the part of Chernov to challenge Milyukov to appear before a court of arbitration, of Avksentyev to shout about the futility of a narrow class point of view, or of Tsereteli and Dan to push through the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets the emptiest resolutions stuffed with utterly meaningless phrases, resolutions that call to mind the Cadet First Duma during its worst period of impotence in the face of tsarism.

Just as the Cadets in 1906 prostituted the first assembly of popular representatives in Russia by reducing it to a miserable talking shop in face of the growing tsarist counter-revolution, so the S.R.s and Mensheviks in 1917 have prostituted the Soviets by reducing them to a miserable talking-shop in face of the growing Bonapartist counter-revolution.

Kerensky’s Cabinet is undoubtedly a cabinet taking the first steps towards Bonapartism.

We see the chief historical symptom of Bonapartism: the manoeuvring of state power, which leans on the military clique (on the worst elements of the army) for support, between two hostile classes and forces which more or less balance each other out.

The class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat has reached the limit and on April 20 and 21, as well as on July 3–5, the country was within a hair’s breadth of civil war. This socio-economic condition certainly forms the classical basis for Bonapartism. And then, this condition is combined with others that are quite akin to it; the bourgeoisie are ranting and raving against the Soviets, but are as yet powerless to disperse them, while the Soviets, prostituted by Tsereteli, Chernov and Co., are now powerless to put up serious resistance to the bourgeoisie.

The landowners and peasants, too, live as on the eve of civil war: the peasants demand land and freedom, they can be kept in check, if at all, only by a Bonapartist government capable of making the most unscrupulous promises to all classes without keeping any of them.

Add to this the situation created by a foolhardy offensive and military reverses, in which fancy phrases about saving the country are particularly fashionable (concealing the desire to save the imperialist programme of the bourgeoisie), and you have a perfect picture of the socio-political setting for Bonapartism.

Don’t let us be deluded by phrases. Don’t let. us be misled by the idea that all we have is the first steps of Bonapartism. It is the first steps we must be able to discern unless we want to find ourselves in the ridiculous predicament of the stupid philistine who laments the second step although he himself helped to take the first.

It would now be nothing short of stupid philistinism to entertain constitutional illusions, such as, for instance, that the present Cabinet is probably more Left than all the preceding ones (see Izvestia), that well-meaning criticism by the Soviets could rectify the errors of the government, that the arbitrary arrests and suppression of newspapers were isolated incidents which, it is to be hoped, will never recur, or that Zarudny is an honest man and that in republican and democratic Russia a fair trial is possible and everyone should appear at it, and so on, and so forth.

The stupidity of these constitutional philistine illusions is too obvious to require special refutation.

The struggle against the bourgeois counter-revolution demands soberness and the ability to see and speak of things as they are.

Bonapartism in Russia is no accident but a natural product of the evolution of the class struggle in a petty-bourgeois country with a considerably developed capitalism and a revolutionary proletariat. Historical stages like April 20 and 21, May 6, June 9 and 10, June 18 and 19, and July 3-5 are landmarks which show clearly how preparations for Bonapartism proceeded. It would be a very big mistake to think that a democratic situation rules out Bonapartism. On the contrary, it is exactly in a situation like this (the history of France has confirmed it twice) that Bonapartism emerges, given a certain relationship between classes and their struggle.

However, to recognise the inevitability of Bonapartism does not at all mean forgetting the inevitability of its down fall.

If we only said the counter-revolution had temporarily gained the upper hand here in Russia we should be dodging the issue.

If we analysed the origin of Bonapartism and, fearlessly facing the truth, told the working class and the whole people that the beginning of Bonapartism is a fact, we should there by start a real and stubborn struggle to overthrow Bonapartism, a struggle waged on a large political scale and based on far-reaching class interests.

The Russian Bonapartism of 1917 differs from the beginnings of French Bonapartism in 1799 and 1849 in several respects, such as the fact that not a single important task of the revolution has been accomplished here. The struggle to settle the agrarian and the national questions is only just gathering momentum.

Kerensky and the counter-revolutionary Cadets who use him as a pawn can neither convoke the Constituent Assembly on the appointed date, nor postpone it, without in both cases promoting the revolution. And the catastrophe engendered by the prolongation of the imperialist war keeps on approaching with even greater force and speed than ever.

The advance contingents of the Russian proletariat succeeded in emerging from our June and July days without losing too much blood. The proletarian party has every opportunity to choose the tactics and form, or forms, of organisation that will in any circumstances prevent unexpected (seemingly unexpected) Bonapartist persecutions from cutting short its existence and its regular messages to the people.

Let the Party loudly and clearly tell the people the whole truth that Bonapartism is beginning; that the “new” government of Kerensky, Avksentyev and Co. is merely a screen for the counter-revolutionary Cadets and the military clique which is in power at present; that the people can get no peace, the peasants no land, the workers no eight-hour day, and the hungry no bread unless the counter-revolution is completely stamped out. Let the Party say so, and every step in the march of events will bear it out.

With remarkable speed Russia has gone through a whole epoch in which the majority of the people put their faith in the petty-bourgeois Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties. And now the majority of the working people are beginning to pay heavily for their credulity.

All indications are that the march of events is continuing at a very fast pace and that the country is approaching the next epoch, when the majority of the working people will have to entrust their fate to the revolutionary proletariat. The revolutionary proletariat will take power and begin a socialist revolution; despite all the difficulties and possible zigzags of development, it will draw the workers of all the advanced countries into the revolution, and will defeat both war and capitalism.


[1] Lenin means the coalition Provisional Government formed on July 24 (August 6), 1917. It included A. F. Kerensky, Premier and War and Naval Minister (S.R.), N. V. Nekrasov, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance (Cadet), and N. D. Avksentyev, Minister of the Interior (S.R.). The cabinet was composed of Cadets, Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Popular Socialists, and non-party people who were close to the Cadets. In this composition, it found itself in Cadet hands. At a joint meeting of the Central Executive Committee of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies and the Executive Committee of the Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, held on July 25 (August 7), the Mensheviks and S.R.s adopted a resolution urging the most active support for the new coalition government.

[2] That is, the declaration issued by the Provisional Government on July 8 (21), 1917. It contained a number of demagogic promises which the Provisional Government hoped would reassure the people after the July events. The government promised to hold elections to the Constituent Assembly on the appointed date, September 17 (30), guarantee the early introduction of local—urban and Zemstvo (rural)—self-government, abolish the social estates, take steps to remedy economic dislocation, and draft legislation on an eight–   hour day, labour safety and social insurance, as well as a land reform, to be considered by the Constituent Assembly. Not one of these promises was kept.


Source: Marxist Internet Archive.