Variations of Bonapartism from Nasser to Chavez

The recent developments in Venezuela and especially Chavez’s talk of socialism which he named as “Socialism of the 21st Century” created a new wave of excitement in the vast majority of the world socialist movement. It is undoubtedly exciting and pleasing for anyone who calls himself/herself Marxist to see that working masses demonstrate openly their discontent against the system by eliminating traditional bourgeois parties, repulse - by fighting in the streets - attempts of coup d´état supported by the Venezuelan oligarchy and the US imperialism and finally create a revolutionary situation. But, the meaning of these developments changes when it is realized that the real source of this wave of excitement is not the revolutionary situation created by the initiative of the masses but the demagogical talk and populist policies of Chavez. In this case, Marxists’ duty is calmly to warn against the real danger rather than getting excited, to invite those who got dizzy by Chavez’s demagogical talk to wake up, to point that unless an internationalist communist leadership can be created, the opportunity of working masses’ coming to power will be lost and to remind the historical experiences again and again. Certainly at the expense of being accused of and criticized for sectarianism, ultraleftism and despising the developments in Venezuela.

Today not only the developments in Venezuela but also the political attitudes in response to them are reminding us the experiences of the Arab socialism in the past. Decades passed since 60’s and 70’s when the popularity of the Arab socialism, which was identified by Nasser and taken as a model by the Baath regimes, was high. As for the ones who opened their eyes into politics after 80’s, these regimes left no track in terms of the 60’s and 70’s meaning.

But we think that, the most fitting evidence of the fact that what is being presented as the “21st Century’s Socialism” by Chavez and his tailenders is nothing more than the national developmentalist state capitalism, can be found in Nasser’s Egypt, Gaddafi’s Libya, Baath’s Syria and Iraq.

“21st Century Socialism” or the 21st Century Model of State Capitalism?

Since 19th century, North Africa and Middle East where the Ottoman Empire lost power, had become the regions in which the British Empire and France, and partly the Italians, dominated. Then by the entrance and development of capitalist production relations in these areas, a weak domestic bourgeoisie began to emerge and a nationalism was born, the spokesmen of which were civilian and military intellectuals.

Another common characteristic of these countries where the bourgeoisie and proletariat have not developed adequately was the extensive role and power of civilian and military bureaucracy such as in Turkey (undoubtedly originating from the social, economic and political structure of The Ottoman Empire):

“Another feature of the bourgeois revolutions from above is the primary role played by the state apparatus and statism. In countries where we come across with this kind of development, state bureaucracy achieves an extraordinary position compared to the countries where the premises of bourgeois revolution were fermented to a significant extent within the old society and the bourgeoisie owning private property played an important role in the revolution. The power of the state bureaucracy in the political life and in the regulation of the economy such as in Germany, Turkey and then Egypt demonstrates this situation. For this reason Engels considered Bismarckism a variant of Bonapartism” (Elif Çağlı, From Bonapartism to Fascism, Tarih Bilinci Publications, p.203-4)

This strong position of the bureaucracy, strengthened by its role as a primary founder of the bourgeois states, laid the ground on which the military bureaucracy actively intervenes in the political affairs. Accordingly, the coup d´états carried out by the juntas consisted of the nationalist-developmentalist officers and the “saviors” who came to power as Bonapartes as a result of these coup d´états, would become part of political life of these lands.

In these countries - lacking adequate accumulation of capital - a national developmentalist policy rested on statism, in other words state capitalism - was followed. It was clear that a state, rebelling against colonial powers would need a strong support. In the regions such as North Africa and the Middle East this support had to be obviously very powerful. Finally the required aid came from the USSR. And the Arab “socialism” emerged, which marketed state capitalism and nationalist development as “socialism” and labeled bourgeois Bonapartes as “revolutionists” and “socialists”, not only as a political consequence of this cooperation but also as the need to gain the support of the working masses. The Arab socialism, the first and the main ideologue of which was Jamal AbdulNasser who was the leader of a junta that came to power after a military coup d´état in Egypt, became very popular in the whole region in a very short period of time. This hybrid ideology presenting and glorifying socialism as a development strategy that would be executed from above by a state party without any intervention of the working class, gained an influence in a wide area (including the Baath regimes also) beginning from 1950’s.

All the official CP’s, with their support, played a vital role in the establishing of Bonapartist regimes in these countries. But neither this support, nor the moral authority of the USSR could prevent the massacre and torture they faced in the following years. The reformist and opportunist policy followed by the Stalinist USSR not only costed the lives of thousands of communists but also blocked the potential proletarian revolutions in these countries. Because of this treacherous policy, the rebelling masses of labourers were sentenced to be the instrument of bringing the bourgeoisie to power. And they were used like pawns by the referendums that were done for several reasons but mainly to legitimate these governments which the labourers were made to know as “socialist”.

In fact the ongoing process in Venezuela cannot proceed in the direction of a Cuban style despotic-bureaucratic dictatorship, as opposed to the expectations of many, but rather in the direction of a state capitalism sauced with a demagogy of socialism. If Chavez wins the presidential elections that will be held in the end of this year, this victory will obviously serve him to reinforce his power enormously as a Bonaparte. And the real danger starts at his point. It is quite obvious that the ones who already declared Chavez a socialist, will cherish Chavez, blessing him as a second Castro; just like once upon a time’s Nasser. And this situation will show us one more example of making mobilisations of working masses - by the help of “communists” - serve not proletarian revolutions but bourgeois governments appearing in this or that shape.

As far as we read from an interview with Heinz Dietrich, who works in Mexico as an academician, he is an expert whose advices are seriously taken into consideration by Chavez. Dietrich, in his 14 March 2006 dated interview, says that he sees socialism as a very remote probability for Venezuela, and that the only road of development in today’s context of world capitalism is state capitalism and this road is already being followed by China and Asian Tigers. And as for the “Bolivarian revolution” he says one could speak of a kind of state capitalism of a Keynesian character that includes national dignity. He also expresses his expectations for Venezuela:

“In my view, one can only do today in Venezuela what Lenin did in the New Economic Policy. Every other attempt to make steps toward socialism under today's conditions would lead rapidly to the collapse of the system because there is no basis of power from which to execute it. The bourgeois state has not been destroyed, it has merely reorganized itself into a new way of governing. The church has not lost its influence. Eighty percent of the mass media are in the hands of large companies opposed to the government. Also, the kind of correlation of power that would allow for a repetition of what happened in Cuba or the Soviet Union is lacking. The new economic policy must be arranged in such a way that the social sectors that until now have been sidelined are strengthened: small farmers, industrial workers, small businesses. Naturally, that does not lead automatically to socialism. ” (Venezuela: A Serious Alternative for Latin America,

What Chavez means by socialism is nothing but state capitalism, as it is understood from the advices of Dietrich who promotes “the socialism of the 21st century”. While the actual situation is so clear, the insistent effort of the so-called Marxists to dress Chavez a socialism pelerine is not an acceptable political attitude.

Trademarks of Arab Socialism

Nasser had declared the three main aims of the Arabic revolution and struggle as “Socialism, Union and Freedom” and this formulation he developed had been acquired by the Baath parties. These three themes formed the basic watchwords of Arabian socialism and were embodied in the formula of “One United, Independent, Socialist Arab State”. What kind of a socialism was this? Let Nasser speak for himself:

“Our socialism is scientific. (…) But our socialism is not materialist. We have never said that our socialism is Marxist or materialist. We have never said that we reject the religion; we said that our religion is a socialist religion. (…) Mohammed is the first person who implemented socialism in world history. (…) I said before that there were differences between us and communism, between us and Marxism-Leninism. The first difference is that we believe in religion but Marxists do not, that we stick to the prophet but Marxists do not. The second difference (…) lies in our willingness to pass from the dictatorship of reaction to the democracy of the whole people; on the contrary communism, that is Marxism-Leninism, passes from the dictatorship of reaction to the dictatorship of the proletariat, in other words to the dictatorship of a social class. The third difference is that Marxism, i.e. communism, nationalises land but we do not; because we believe in private property on land within the framework of cooperatives. The fourth difference is that while communism wants to remove private property we are loyal to private property and are struggling only against exploitative private property. Finally the last difference is the will of Marxism – Leninism to liquıidate the class which they called as bourgeois by force without any indemnity. We reject such a thing. (Encyclopedia of Socialism and Social Struggles. Volume: 4. Appendixes, Pages:309-10, İletişim Publications, Turkey)”

Indeed these five differences were indicating very well what kind of a thing the Arabian Socialism was: A socialism not materialist, not resting on the leading role of the working class, not against private property and bourgeoisie, defending not the collective property but the private property in the form of cooperatives on land; in other words a socialism for the taste of petty bourgeoisie! By the way, let us note that, after years, thousands of kilometres away, the only difference of the socialism which Chavez put forward for discussion would be that his way is the Christ’s way and not the Mohammad’s.

The Arab socialism defined as a third way except for capitalism and communism or as a non-capitalist way was also described by Nasser as a cooperative socialism. Besides, he was informing us about the fact that there could also be a type of private property which does not exploit (!):

“Cooperative socialism is implemented through the partnership of state with the entrpreneurships in the industrial sector. In this way the industry is prevented from the monopoly and hegemony of capital. State represents the people; and its aim is to establish a balance between private property and collective state property (…) We are not against private property, but against exploitation. If we were against private property, we would only immediately confiscate it, and without compensation; we would prohibit private property. But we say that private property has a social function. Only when private property heads towards exploitation, it goes beyond this function. (Encylopedia of Socialism and Social Struggles. Volume: 4. Appendices, p.309, Iletişim Publications, Turkey)”

All these statements and practices clearly proved that what is called Arab socialism was nothing but a populist discourse and state capitalism which was used to placate the anger of the working masses against imperialist oppression and exploitation and existing system. The practices such as an agriculture model within which cooperativism, namely, petty commodity production was promoted, pseudo copartnership of workers in the factory managements and pseudo share in profits were marketed as evidence of socialism. No partnership of workers in administration and in decision making processes existed in this “socialism” within which everything was decided at the top. Nevertheless, those who praise Chavez and Venezuela, where the above practices are implemented very limitedly, as progressing towards socialism, should recognise Nasser of those days as a Saint of socialism.

Nationalism masked by talk of union

As we mentioned above one of the three mottos of Arabic revolution formulated by Nasser was union. In his words, this union would bring the Arabic nation - separated into pieces by its enemies contrary to its interests and will - to its natural conditions of existence. It did not take too much time to see that this unionist discourse which was at the beginning regarded as expression of an internationalist stance that would unite millions of people spread all over the Middle East and North Africa, was in fact expression of a deep nationalism.

In spite of the fact that talk of union has been commonplace in all the Arabic states and there existed some attempts, all these efforts failed in disappointment each time. Moreover, these unions, to the extent they were established, were based on the interests of the dominant oppressing classes rather than the oppressed labouring classes and also they naturally turned into domination of the more powerful Arabic state’s upon the weak one. For instance, The United Arab Republic which was established by Egypt and Syria collapsed after “socialist” unionist Nasser openly declared his will to liquidate BAATH party and expand his dictatorship to include Syria. In this way it was once again revealed that whenever the bourgeoisie talks about union, the reality is in fact the behind-the-scene capitalist interests and such a union cannot be achieved under capitalism. Of course, for those ones to see!

We say “for those ones to see”, because today there are a lot of people who regard Chavez’s talk of a United Latin America as an expression of his internationalism. Because of this discourse, there are even some Trotskyists who discover the dynamics of permanent revolution in Chavez and “Bolivarian revolution”. However, in spite of the fact that the oldest and the most famous defender of the unification of Latin America was Simon Bolivar, a bourgeois revolutionary, who struggled for a dream of United Latin America in the early 1800’s, and this was not enough to make him a socialist and internationalist. Just like the discourse of “Arab Union” is not enough to make Nasser and Baath followers socialist and internationalist.

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These kind of bourgeois ideologies which hide reformism behind a revolutionary rhetoric and appear in the name of socialism, have existed in every period of the history of capitalism and still exist. Today, although the Arab socialism had been buried in the history, the new derivatives of this bourgeois ideology emerges again and again at different regions of the world whenever it finds similar atmospheres. Today when the actions of the working masses are rising, we face every type reformism abundantly. As a matter of fact in recent years Latin America has already started to demonstrate the living examples of them.

Wearing read shirts and making himself an image of being supra classes, Chavez who fills the vacuum formed after the traditional bourgeois parties’ removal from the political arena, represents the stereotype of a populist and reformist bourgeois Bonapart. The point we want to remind for the ones who prefer to follow him without hesitance is that the history is full of examples of betrayals of the “radical” leaders, especially the Arab counterparts of Chavez who were even much more radical than Chavez.

When Nasser died, the masses mourned for a long time crying “the lion died”; each time Qaddafi swore at the USA the oppressed masses got ecstatic; when Saddam defied the USA, he was exalted in the eyes of Arabic masses. And today with his excessive self confidence and biting speeches, Chavez is standing in front of us. He is the “lion” now!

At the foreword of Eighteenth Brumaire Marx said “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Let us add: taking the same bait of this farce time and again is a total blindness and foolishness. The cost of this blindness and foolishness, which result in refraining from destructing the bourgeois state apparatus and passing off reformism as socialism, has always been defeated revolutions and bloody counterrevolutions all over the world.

(Source: Marksist Tutum, April 2006)