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This is Lenin’s writing between the February and October revolutions of 1917 in Russia, discussing the then provisional government’s slide toward a “Bonapartist’ state. Napoleon Bonapart presided as emperor over a militarized conquering state in which the freedoms of the French Revolution had been repressed and economic development was increasingly conducted under state control. The period between the overthrow of the Tzar and the October Revolution are sometimes discussed as a period of “dual power” during which political control of the society was split between the formal provisional regime and the mass urban organizations known as “soviets” or councils.
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.
V. I. Lenin
<a href=” http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/jul/29.htm“>The Beginning of Bonapartism
Published: First published in Rabochy i Soldat No. 6, July 29, 1917. Published according to the text in Rabochy i Soldat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 25, pages 223-226.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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