US Politics

Radicalism, Bonapartism, and the Aftermath of the 2020 U.S. Elections

[This article was originally published Jan. 10, 2021, and was updated Jan. 11, and Jan. 13, 2021.]

By Geoff Mirelowitz, Argiris Malapanis, and Francisco Picado

Jan. 13, 2021—In a culminating step to a series of developments unprecedented in U.S. politics in more than a century, outgoing U.S. president Donald Trump and his supporters engaged in a riot aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election. While Congress certified the outcome of the November vote next day, on Jan. 7, it is notable that more than 25% of members of the House and Senate, all Republicans, joined Trump’s challenge to his defeat at the polls, even after the rightist mob attack on the U.S. Capitol had been dispersed.


Trump’s dogged refusal to accept the results split the Republican Party as he insisted on his demand to hold on to political power and remain in the White House. The U.S. president and his supporters filed dozens of complaints and lawsuits to push unsubstantiated claims of a fraudulent vote. State government officials, often Republicans, state legislatures in the six “swing” states where Trump disputed the outcome of the popular vote, as well as lower federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court swiftly rejected these challenges. Despite such overwhelming institutional repudiation, Trump’s conspiratorial and outlandish claims of a “stolen election” still won backing from 139 members of the House of Representatives and 8 U.S. senators, who in the end objected to certifying the election results in Arizona or Pennsylvania. They also energized radical rightist groups, which, with Trump’s prodding, staged violent protests in the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, storming the building and forcing a joint session of Congress, convened to certify the election results, to temporarily suspend proceedings. Earlier, a fringe among the U.S. president’s backers had even suggested he invoke martial law to remain in power.

Many politicians tried to brush aside as “un-American” the unsuccessful attempt to overturn the election results. They included former President George W. Bush, who said Jan. 6, this is “how elections are disputed in a banana republic, not our democratic republic.” These events, however, indicate that a not insignificant minority of the privileged classes at least considered sidestepping the legislative and judicial branches of government and handing all important policy decisions to the executive, run by an individual with extraordinary powers. One who would not act as a servant of the institutions of capitalist democracy, but who would instead be anointed to “rescue the nation,” in order to finally “make America great again.”

The accurate political term for such a course is “Bonapartism.” It was also manifested in the campaign and significant vote for billionaire Ross Perot in the 1992 U.S. presidential elections albeit as a whisper then. While the challenge to the 2020 election results failed, the danger it represents to civil liberties and the working class is palpable and will not disappear. To the contrary, all indications point to Trump and his backers using these claims to campaign against the “illegitimate” administration of Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the coming months and years.

All this is unfolding in the middle of the global capitalist economic and social crisis we are now living through, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The history of the last century shows that such steep economic downturns start breeding radical attitudes ahead of triggering significant class battles. Before large numbers of workers become receptive to class-struggle proposals and open to political action independent of the capitalist class and its parties—the Democrats and Republicans—radical attitudes get a hearing in the middle class and among layers of workers. The working class in the United States does not yet think and act like a class. Much of the political initiative today comes from right-wing currents. Ultra-rightist groups take advantage of their foothold within the two-party system and other ruling-class institutions. They tap into the loss of confidence in the government and suspicions of the most prominent, established politicians. Conditions are ripe for rightist demagogy and conspiracy theories to gain a wide reach.

Left: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Right: Thousands surround Dallas, TX, food bank, Nov. 14, 2020, seeking food aid. (Photo: Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News)

Republican Party rift

While Trump tried to keep a tight grip on the Republican Party and originally won support from 13 U.S. senators and some 140 House members, he faced considerable pushback against his effort to hold on to power, indicating that a large majority of the moneyed men and women and their political representatives opposed a Bonapartist takeover. The rift tore through the GOP and extended to big-business executives and owners of conservative media who had backed Trump.

“The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken,” majority speaker Mitch McConnell, said Jan. 6 on the U.S. Senate floor, before the assault on the Capitol. “If we overrule them, it will damage our republic forever.”

“CEOs urge Congress to certify Biden’s Electoral College win,” said a Jan. 4 headline in the Wall Street Journal. “Nearly 200 chief executives call on legislators to uphold ‘essential tenets of our democracy’ by enabling transition of power to president-elect.”

“Stop the insanity,” read the front-page banner headline in the Dec. 27 New York Post. “Mr. President,” the Post editors, ardent Trump supporters until recently, declared, “You lost the election.” They advised their man to accept defeat and “focus on Senate races in Georgia.”

Front page of Dec. 27, 2020, New York Post.

Paul D. Ryan, former House speaker and 2012 GOP vice-presidential candidate, said in a Jan. 3 statement: “Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden’s victory strike at the foundation of our Republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans.”

The 10 living former defense secretaries, Democrats and Republicans, signed an Op-Ed published in the Jan. 3 Washington Post, warning: “As senior Defense Department leaders have noted, ‘there’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.’ Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.”

These former overseers of the U.S. military were citing a statement by the secretary of the Army and the Army chief of staff, disavowing any intention of participating in a military coup. Reporting on this in a Dec. 20 article in The Atlantic magazine, David Frum wrote: “That’s a fine statement, in line with the long-standing traditions of the U.S. military. It’s alarming, though, that anybody thought it necessary at all. The next day, multiple media sources reported that President Donald Trump has been scheming about a possible coup in the Oval Office with his innermost team of advisers: Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and Rudy Giuliani.”

On Dec. 1, Flynn, a former Trump national security adviser, had shared a message on Twitter calling on the president to suspend the U.S. Constitution, “declare limited martial law,” have the “military oversee a national re-vote,” and “silence the destructive media.” While Flynn’s views may be backed by a right-wing fringe at the moment, the more recent statements by U.S. military officials and former defense secretaries underline the danger such rhetoric poses.

Storming of U.S. Capitol

In a calculated move, Trump even pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to try to stop Congress from certifying the November election. Pence refused. “I will keep the oath I made,” he stated, prompting his boss to slam him as a coward. “Mike Pence did not have the courage to do what should have been done,” Trump tweeted Jan. 6.

The same day, Trump addressed thousands of his supporters at a Washington D.C. rally to press his demands for overturning the election. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild,” Trump had tweeted Dec. 19 to build the action. “We will never concede,” he declared from his D.C. pulpit on Jan. 6, urging supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol. From the same stage, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudi Giuliani, egged on the crowd to engage in “trial by combat.” Thousands did. They surrounded the Capitol waving flags, signs, banners, as well as sticks and shields, and pressed the message of their leader, chanting “We want Trump!” While small numbers of police stood by, were ineffectual, or helped the mob, hundreds stormed the building. Some broke windows, scaled fences, and brandished weapons. One protester was shot by the police in the melee and later died. Six others also died, three from medical complications and three policemen, one of them from injuries suffered during the scuffle and two others from suicide. The rightist attack prompted officials to evacuate legislators and suspend the joint session of Congress, which at that time had started deliberations on certifying the November election. Most politicians, including Pence and other top Republicans, promptly condemned the assault and called on protesters to leave the area. The D.C. mayor declared a curfew that evening. Maryland state police, the D.C. National Guard, and federal agencies deployed armed forces around the U.S. Capitol.

Left: Spectators listen to U.S. president Donald Trump at Jan. 6, 2021, rally, National Mall, Washington, DC. Right: Trump supporters force entry into U.S. Capitol later that day. [Photos: Pete Marovich/NY Times (left); Win McNamee/Getty Images (right)]

In a pre-taped video message released to the media that afternoon, Trump offered a tepid reaction. He thanked protesters for their support, urging them to stay peaceful and go home, but his statement opened by reiterating his baseless claims of a “fraudulent vote.” Trump later seemed to condone the riot. “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he tweeted that evening.

Trump had already heightened concerns about plans to bypass long-established capitalist electoral norms in a Jan. 2 hour-long telephone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The transcript, made public by the Georgia Republican, reveals Trump’s demand that Raffensperger “find” 11,780 votes to overturn Biden’s win in that state. Trump also hinted that Raffensperger and the attorney for his office might find themselves charged with a “criminal offense” if they did not bend to Trump’s will. Georgia state officials declined the offer.

Mixed in with these threats were references to some of the wildest conspiracy theories Trump and some of his supporters have peddled, including the charge that 250,000 ballots or more were “dropped mysteriously into the rolls” in Georgia. Though unfounded, public opinion polls show that a large percentage of those who voted for Trump believe this claim and others.

The U.S. president had made his authoritarian tendencies clear leading up to Election Day. Trump repeatedly explained there could be only two outcomes. First, he would win. Second, he would be denied a second term through fraud and conspiracy. Echoing his assertion he had been the victim of “the greatest witch-hunt in history” while in office, he claimed that could extend to the election outcome. He publicly insinuated there was no chance he wouldn’t be the choice of the majority.

These methods—conspiracy theories, the “big lie,” the leader allegedly under unfair attack from special interests—are among the stock-in-trade of Bonapartist demagogues who assert their word must be final in all disputes.

What is Bonapartism?

More than 50 years ago Marxist scholar and working-class leader George Novack explained the essential meaning of Bonapartism. In an essay titled, “Bonapartism, Military Dictatorship and Fascism,” which appears in his book Democracy and Revolution, Novack said, “Parliamentary government…becomes a liability to big capital when the middle classes are radicalized, the workers take the offensive and the country seems to be slipping out of its control.”

He continued, “when social tensions tighten to the breaking point, parliament is less and less able either to settle the disputes at the top or act as a buffer between the power of property and the wrath of the masses. General disappointment with its performance plunges bourgeois parliamentarism together with its parties into a period of acute crisis.”

Bonapartism, Novack explained, “carries to an extreme the concentration of power in the head of the state already discernible in the contemporary imperialist democracies. All important policy decisions are centralized in a single individual equipped with extraordinary emergency powers. He speaks and acts not as the servant of parliament… but in his own right as ‘the man of destiny’ who has been called upon to rescue the nation in its hour of mortal peril.”

Many of these factors exist today. The working class has not yet “taken the offensive,” as Novack put it, although Trump spoke for many in the ruling class when he attacked last summer’s mass actions, which included millions of workers, protesting cop brutality and racism after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The other signs Novack described, however, are increasingly familiar. Trump’s desire to maintain and expand his individual power is no secret to any observer.

June 10, 2020, march in White Center, Washington. Protesters demand prosecution of cops who killed George Floyd. (Photo: Lisa Ahlberg)

Moreover, Trump’s preference for the strong-arm role has been apparent since before he won the White House in 2016. It was expressed most clearly when Trump told that year’s GOP national convention—and the country—“I alone can fix it,” referring to the nationwide political, economic and social crises.

He alone, he claimed, would “drain the swamp” that many working people agree exists in Washington D.C. He alone could “Make America Great Again.”

There are other examples of Trump’s strong-arm tactics and his unlawful ambitions during his four years in office. They include his use of special federal agents—some operating with no identifying insignia—against cop brutality protests in Portland, Oregon, and the threat to use them elsewhere, particularly in what he called “anarchist cities,” including New York and Seattle, last year. Repeatedly, Trump suggested he could serve more than the two presidential terms allowed by the U.S. constitution.

Trump administration was not Bonapartist regime, but that danger is now clear

Despite the rhetoric, however, the overall record of the Trump administration shows it was not a Bonapartist, nor, even less, a fascist regime, as many on the U.S. left claim.

Trump did use executive orders but not in a way qualitatively different than his predecessors.

His boasting that he would clean house in D.C. was simply demagogy. The swamp of lobbyists and special interests was never “drained”—nor even touched—during Trump’s four years in the White House. His cabinet and other appointments included dozens of the same types who usually fill these posts serving both major capitalist parties. Examples include the billionaire Betsy DeVos who ran the Department of Education and Wilbur Ross Jr., the Commerce Secretary, previously named by Bloomberg Markets as one of the 50 most influential people in global finance and once an adviser to then-New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Not to mention Giuliani himself.

Generally speaking, Trump did not try to openly undermine democratic institutions until last November. This changed in the aftermath of his defeat at the polls, as he openly bullied many state officials to revise the already certified vote tallies to help him stay in power, and called for street actions with the same goal. The scene at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 shocked the U.S. and the world.

In today’s depression conditions and acute social crises, revealed more clearly by capitalism’s catastrophic response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the danger has grown that the resolutely reactionary forces within the ruling class may “conspire to get out of their bind by shunting parliament aside and going over to a more exclusive rule,” as Novack put it. Steps can be taken along this course prior to actually shutting down the U.S. Congress, as the Jan. 6 events suggest.

As post-election events demonstrate, while Biden won the election, the political initiative today remains in the hands of the right wing. This is not unexpected. The deepening capitalist crisis has resulted in a growth of radical attitudes but has not yet led to massive working-class struggles. Working people do not yet have a political voice on any mass scale independent of the capitalists and their parties that can lead workers and other exploited producers to think and act on the understanding that our class interests are counterposed to those of the privileged rulers.

Warehouse workers protest in New York City Dec. 13, 2017, demanding better working conditions from Amazon. (Photo: Misu Yasukawa/

At the same time, rightist forces who always maintain a foothold in the Republican and Democratic parties, take the lead in shaping attitudes in a heterogeneous popular mass, including among those in the middle classes and layers of workers and farmers looking for radical solutions. Many of their “theories,” like the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against Trump, may sound irrational to most people. But they do get a hearing because millions are trying to find answers to the irrationality of capitalism.

Incumbent presidents who have lost a bid for reelection are generally viewed as “lame ducks” between election and inauguration days. Trump made plain he would play no such role. While his wild claims of a “stolen election” were initially dismissed, he remained undeterred, and he won widespread support from Republicans in Congress as well as among the 74 million who voted for him.

Trump pushed his fantastic claims, disregarding facts, or his own past declarations, despite Biden’s clear win—306 to 232—in the Electoral College, not to mention Biden’s 81 million national vote tally, outpolling Trump by some 7 million votes. In 2016, when Trump himself won the Electoral College by a similar count—304 to 227—he claimed it was a “landslide,” despite his loss in the popular vote that year to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Continuity with Ross Perot

Bonapartism reared its ugly head in U.S. politics during the 1992 presidential election campaign in the form of Ross Perot—a super wealthy businessman—who ran the most successful third-party campaign in recent U.S. history. Decrying the policies and politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties, he declared to all those fed up with the U.S. economic, social and political conditions at that time, “I’m Ross, you’re the boss.”

Perot exceeded predictions of all pre-election pollsters by winning 19% of the vote against Bill Clinton, the Democrat who won, and George H.W. Bush, the incumbent Republican who lost. Perot lied through his teeth, pushed conspiracy fantasies, and explained his admiration for the Navy Seals and other special forces of the U.S. military, while refusing protection from the Secret Service, which he said he did not trust.

Perot faded from the national scene but echoes of his appeal appeared later in the 1990s when Jesse Ventura—a well-known professional wrestler—again surprised many by winning the race for governor in Minnesota. Though more successful in attaining office than Perot, Ventura too faded from the scene.

These developments suggested the beginning of a crisis in the capitalist two-party system, which has long exercised a stranglehold on U.S. electoral politics. The propertied classes have used the Democratic and Republican parties to absorb all dissent, to conciliate the lower classes, and to deny the working class a chance for an independent political voice. The possibility of its breakup, revealed in the 1992 elections, corresponded to the inability of both parties to offer anything other than escalating assaults on working people beginning in the 1970s, with the end of the post-World War II boom. It was deepened by administrations run by both parties in the subsequent 40 years.

Since the developments recounted above, the working class and our main organizations, the trade unions, have remained on the defensive. The organized labor movement is as weak as it has ever been. With their mis-leadership tied to the Democratic Party, trade unions are for the most part docile and ineffective as working people face increasing misery.

Despite the tremors of the 1990s and beyond, however, the two-party setup has so far remained resilient enough to contain most dissatisfaction and discontent. Among liberals—including many workers who still define themselves that way—and what remains of “the left” in liberal and radical politics, the consensus to support Biden was virtually universal last year. Those who argue for independent working-class political action remain a tiny minority.

Among conservatives, and on the political right, there was no challenge to Trump’s re-election effort. His electoral loss notwithstanding, vote results showed that Trump’s support broadened and grew over 2016. This included winning slightly higher percentages among Latinos, and others of all skin colors, compared to four years ago. Biden, running as a Democrat, relied from the primaries through the general election, on overwhelming support among African-Americans. Yet even there, Trump seemed to have modestly gained strength.

Failure of bourgeois liberalism

This is a testimony to the decades-long failure of bourgeois liberalism as represented by the record of the Democratic Party. It is based on the experience of millions of workers—again of all skin colors—during the 8-year-long tenures of Bill Clinton in the 1990s and Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017.

Wars and imperialist interventions in the Middle East and beyond to safeguard the profits of big business were also waged and defended under the Democrats.

U.S. troops about to land in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, April 2010, deployed by then-U.S. president Barack Obama. (Photo: Demon Winters/NY Times)

Joblessness, under-employment (millions juggling two or more, poorly paid, part time jobs, forced to do so by manufacturing jobs being lost to automation and outsourcing abroad), low wages (the federal minimum wage has been $7.25/hr for more than a decade), inadequate housing (declining homeownership across the board since 2006, but with Black homeownership rates dropping to levels predating the 1968 Fair Housing Act), a failed educational system, more deportations than at any time in U.S. history (with Democrats often showing the way), and utterly inadequate medical care (only underlined by the very modest reforms of Obama’s “Affordable Care Act”) continued to afflict working people no matter who was in the White House.

And, as revolutionary leader Malcolm X often pointed out, Black people always catch more hell. A reality also faced by many Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, and Native Americans, as well as Mexican and other immigrants from Latin America and the rest of the semicolonial world.

When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, he echoed some of Perot’s messages. If elected he would cut through the gridlock in Washington. In fact, he would do more; he would drive the “special interests” from power and restore America’s “greatness.” Trump added an edge to his demagogy, aimed initially at immigrants. “When Mexico sends its people,” he said, “they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you….  They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

During his four years in office, Trump went further. He often came close to openly condoning racist attacks. One of the most egregious examples was his reaction to the white supremacist assault in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017. That day ultra-rightists staged a “Unite the Right” rally there. Counter protesters had gathered nearby in a peaceful action. A 20-year-old, James Alex Fields, who espoused neo-Nazi views and was attending the right-wing rally, drove his car into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing a young woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others. Fields was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. After this heinous act, Trump initially condemned “bigotry and violence on many sides,” which drew widespread criticism, including even from some Republican politicians who recognized his equivocating tone. Under pressure, he subsequently tried to walk back those remarks, stating that “white supremacists, and other hate groups… are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” That did not last long, however. A day later Trump seemed to lay equal blame on the white nationalists and counter-protesters, stating, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” *

That kind of behavior consistently put wind in the sails of Trump’s most reactionary supporters. A dangerous example took place in Los Angeles the day the rightist mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. It was reported by the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and other news outlets. *

“As Berlinda Nibo was walking home Wednesday [Jan. 6], she was met by a crowd of Trump supporters who had gathered in downtown Los Angeles,” the Post reported in a chilling account. “Nibo, who is Black, said the group began to harass her as she passed by. ‘They’re yelling at me because of my color, calling me the n-word, calling me the b-word, saying, ‘All lives matter. Black lives doesn’t matter,’ Nibo, 25, told [Los Angeles CBS affiliate] KCAL. When she yelled back, Nibo said the crowd of dozens went after her. Moments later, Nibo found herself in the middle of pro-Trump demonstrators, as they pushed her around, smacked her, snatched her wig from her head, and at one point, pepper-sprayed her, she said. Nibo said she believes the crowd would have tried to kill her had it not been for a man who stepped in to shield her before she was carried away.” *

Berlinda Nibo, an African-American woman, was attacked by Trump supporters in downtown Los Angeles Jan. 6, 2021. She credits the man with the red beard, holding her, for pulling her out of the crowd of racists and saving her life. (Photo: Raquel Natalicchio/KCAL)

Unlike Perot who had no hope of winning the nomination of either capitalist party in 1992 and didn’t try to do so, Trump took a different path. From the beginning Perot ran as an “independent.” Neither he, nor Patrick Buchanan, an incipient fascist who ran against George H.W. Bush in the Republican primaries, could defeat an incumbent president inside the GOP at that time. The capitalist crisis, while already apparent, had not reached a stage where such options were seriously considered by the ruling elites.

More than 20 years later, Trump did the opposite. He ran as a candidate in the Republican primaries. Initially discounted or dismissed by most pundits—and other more established politicians—he registered primary victories that led one GOP “front runner” after another to drop out of the race as he ridiculed them. By the time of the GOP national convention his nomination was a settled question. That gathering became Trump’s convention and the GOP became Trump’s party. He brooked no challenges to his authority and was quick to attack publicly any GOP leader who did not fall into line.

Perot’s “I’m Ross, you’re the boss,” was essentially transformed into, “I’m Trump, I’m the boss.” The boss who will “Make America Great Again.”

Thus a new and unusual situation developed. Trump was of the Republican Party, its undisputed leader. Yet he was also not entirely of the GOP. 

Events following the 2020 election signal a new stage in U.S. politics, one with roots in the past as well as new perils.

What does the future hold?

The outcome of the election is now settled, but the danger of Bonapartism most definitely is not. Trump himself is unlikely to disappear from the political stage. Rather he has staked out a new position in it. While scheduled to leave the White House Jan. 20, he continues to portray himself as the “man of destiny,” denied his “rightful place” by vast fraud and conspiracy that Congress, the courts, and even the Department of Justice in his own administration, refused to act against.

Once outside the White House and no longer in any way a part of official Washington, Trump is free to decry every branch of government. All can be fair targets as the “swamp,” the “fraud,” the “conspiracy,” and the “witch hunt” against the only viable savior of the nation. Whatever his precise future plans, Trump’s stance and forthcoming actions will likely exacerbate the crisis of both capitalist parties and the two-party system. Even if Trump’s appeal fades, other demagogues may step forward to try to play a similar role.

Despite the promises by Biden and his running mate Harris, the new administration is unlikely to stem the decline in the standard of living of working people and threats to civil liberties and political rights, even if some of their policies seek to ameliorate these conditions. The Democratic Party remains an ardent defender of the system responsible for the crisis. 

This will inevitably offer grist to the mill of Trump and his supporters. His theatrics regarding the recent bi-partisan pandemic “relief” bill, which his Treasury Secretary helped negotiate but Trump waited to attack until after Congress approved it, suggest the form this can take. It underlines the unique status Trump has claimed for himself. He is still seen as a central leader of the Republican Party, despite his electoral defeat. But he also claims to stand above it, above “the swamp,” including the “vipers’ nest” in Congress, above the federal courts that let him down by refusing to expose and reverse “electoral fraud.” Fallout from the failed effort to stay in power despite his defeat at the polls is already affecting Trump’s standing in the GOP, as the post-Jan. 6 resignations from his Cabinet and among his aides indicate, but it may also make him more popular among his most ardent supporters.

Trump’s popularity does not rest on his role as the top GOP boss. Rather it rests on what millions see as his independence from “the system.” That is an illusion, but one that is no less powerful for being false.

Trump, or someone like him using his playbook, thus positions himself as the future solution to the deepening crisis that neither of the two capitalist parties can solve. This is the classic stance of a would-be Bonapartist dictator as Novack explained so astutely: “The Bonapartist regime makes a big show of total independence from special interests. Its head invariably claims to be above the brawling party factions which have misruled the nation and led it to the brink of ruin, from which he has providentially snatched it in time. He parades as the anointed custodian of the eternal values, the true spirit of the people who have been victimized by selfish warring cliques or threatened by alien and subversive mischief makers.”

Bonapartist aspirations are not enough. To realize them depends on winning substantial ruling-class support Trump does not have. “Actually the ‘man of iron’ is mandated to defend the social interests of the magnates of capital by blunting the class conflicts which created the opportunity for his despotism,” as Novack said. “Though the big bourgeoisie may clench its teeth at the overhead cost of the Bonapartist experiment, it prefers to pay up lest worse befall it.”

So far there is no indication that a large and bold enough section of the ruling capitalists has decided to pay that price. However, there is now evidence that such a course has been considered. A final point Novack raised should also be noted: “The various forms of antidemocratic rule in the era of imperialism are not separated by impassable partitions. The lines of demarcation between them are often blurred and one can in the course of time grow over into another.”

Auto workers during 2019 strike against General Motors picket Flint, Michigan, manufacturing plant. (Photo: Erin Kirkland/NY Times)

Future events—not least among them, the shape and pace of any new resistance by the working class and its allies among the oppressed and exploited—will determine the outcome.

[This article is an updated version from the original published Jan. 10, 2021. The paragraphs marked with (*), in the section subtitled “Failure of bourgeois liberalism,” were added Jan. 11, 2021. The paragraph describing the rightist mob attack on The Capitol, under the subheading “Storming of U.S. Capitol,” was edited Jan. 13, 2021.]

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9 replies »

  1. Hello, and thanks for this, which is written so promptly.

    From the photo you show, the march itself looks massive. Which surprises me, I must be honest. How big exactly was it ?
    and why did so few make it into the state building ?
    It also seems that a vast number of working class people believe Trump was cheated out of the election, which requires a tremendous lack of faith in every aspect of ‘the system’… ie, that only Trump can be trusted.
    I assume most cops (and many working class soldiers) think only Trump can be believed, too.

    Yet he seems to have little or no support in the ‘educated middle class’ or the capitalist class or the military brass.

    It truly is a fascinating and new development, and being a forever-angry opposition leader (with, now, like a trumpet-blast, a large street protest-movement behind him — if he wants to go that way, who knows)… this all may suit him better than being a president.

    Countries such as mine, the U.K., are not seeing (yet?) any wildly popular bonaparte.
    Is there something special about the u.s. situation ?
    Does it mean the working class in the u.s. is the most deeply disenchanted ? Or are their other factors ?

    Thankyou for your time.

  2. The preparation of the article above began well before the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol. We edited the article in light of those events before posting it. The first version was published on Jan. 10. Since then we have indicated a few additions. We note here that new information continues to come to light every day in what is clearly a rapidly developing political picture. We will continue to update this news analysis and hope to provide additional coverage when possible. – editors

  3. Welcome to your blog. Good point of discussion. Important discussion. No historical period is a carbon copy of any other. Any working person or progressive would be alarmed by the rise of violent rightest mobs. Any group which is not is headed into the trash-bin of history.

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