Workers Vanguard No. 1110
21 April 2017
10 February 2017
To: Workers Vanguard
For a number of years now, the bourgeois media, journalists and pundits, politicians, and other representatives of the upper echelons of U.S. capitalism have been blithely referring to the political position of President as “Commander-in-Chief”—in the sense of “Commander-in-Chief of the nation”, not merely of the armed forces as specified in the U.S. Constitution. This blurring of the presidential power from purely military to political is dangerous to the extent that it reframes (and bolsters acceptance of) the concept of an imperial, Bonapartist presidency—a danger especially highlighted lately by the saliently authoritarian impulses of Donald Trump.
Marxists are rightfully disdainful of bourgeois political structure, designed to enforce a dictatorship of a nation’s bourgeois ruling class, but we also recognize the need to preserve whatever shreds of democratic norms exist. Within this context, with respect to the U.S. political environment, I feel the need to raise a note of caution about some recent use of the “Commander-in-Chief” formulation by WV.
On one hand, the term “Commander in Chief of U.S. imperialism” (as used for example in the recent article “For a Revolutionary Workers Party!” in WV No. 1103) is accurate and useful in underscoring the undemocratic, brutal, and oppressive role of the pinnacle of American capitalism’s apparatus of rule. But I also sense a vulnerability for misinterpretation that may inadvertently assist the current bourgeois sloppiness (or intention) to reinforce the authoritarian, Bonapartist attributes of the presidency (in pursuit of a further regimentation of U.S. society).
After all, “imperialism” as used by communists can refer to several concepts, from direct military application of imperialist oppression on a global scale to a metonymic reference to the imperialist nation as a whole. It’s in this latter usage that “Commander-in-Chief” could be vulnerable to confusion.
WV’s reply to a letter (“Democrats, Liberals and the Union Tops”) in WV No. 1104 seems to further exacerbate this semantic-conceptual vulnerability, stating “Today, with Trump having succeeded Obama as Commander-in-Chief....” In context, this use of the term (without even reference to imperialism) seems to basically just substitute “Commander-in-Chief” for “President”—a blurriness that may be especially liable to confusion with current bourgeois usage.
For me personally, the ICL and SL represent the most trustworthy modern authority in regard to Marxist and communist policy, strategy, and analysis. It’s within this realization that this note of caution is raised.
WV replies: By referring to the president as Commander-in-Chief we in no way accept the drive toward bonapartism but seek to expose the democratic facade of the capitalist state—the apparatus of class repression of the workers and oppressed. When we use the term “Commander-in-Chief,” we are emphasizing that the president is directly responsible for myriad repressive functions.
Bonapartism refers to direct military/police rule, devoid of the usual democratic trimmings, that the property-owning class may resort to if its rule is significantly challenged. An element of bonapartism is intrinsic to the executive office of any capitalist state. The U.S. president has extraordinary authority, as provided in the Constitution.
We do not have “several concepts” of imperialism but understand, as laid out by Lenin, that it is the highest stage of capitalist development, characterized by the dominance of finance capital and gigantic capitalist monopolies. Imperialism has necessitated a vast increase in the bureaucracy and repressive apparatus of capitalist states. In the imperialist era the presidency has arrogated to itself many of the powers that the Constitution originally assigned to Congress. As U.S. imperialism has come to assert itself as the world’s top cop, it is convenient for the president to be able to launch wars and military adventures without being held up by the bother of seeking Congressional approval. The last time Congress used its constitutional power to declare war was the U.S. entry into World War II.
In the Watergate hearings in 1973, Richard Nixon’s staff argued that the president had the right to commit robberies, but they admitted they had not researched whether he had the right to commit murder. Four decades later, in 2011, Barack Obama asserted his right to kill U.S. citizens anywhere, anytime, with not even the pretense of judicial oversight, when he ordered the drone assassinations of Anwar al-Awlaki and two other U.S. citizens in Yemen. And now the unpredictable Donald Trump has his finger on the nuclear button.
Trump’s lust for authority and his close relations with the military, the police and their political organizations are certainly ominous, but what he will be able to get away with will fundamentally be determined by the development of the class struggle. While the working class must fight to defend every shred of democratic rights and other gains, it needs the understanding that this “democratic” system is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and that freedom from oppression and exploitation will come only through overthrowing the capitalist state by socialist revolution.