- This term derives from Karl Marx’s analysis of the rule of Louis Bonaparte who became Napoleon III after seizing power in France in 1851. In his The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) Marx argued that the different warring classes were at an impasse with no one class having sufficient strength to gain control of the state. In this situation it was possible for a single individual to grasp control of the executive of the state and to achieve a dictatorship over society as a whole. A Bonapartist state is an exception to the basic Marxist conception of the state as an instrument of class rule in that the state becomes semi-autonomous representing the interests of no single class. However, Louis Bonaparte’s dictatorship did not constitute an entirely independent state with no class connection according to Marx. Marx stated that Bonaparte in some sense represented the largest class in France at the time, the smallholding peasantry, but that this did not mean it was a peasant state. Objectively Bonaparte’s state actually helped the development of capitalism according to Marx, and at the same time also served its own interests. Bonapartism is an important notion in more recent Marxist writings on the state that stress the state’s “relative autonomy,” for example the work of Nicos Poulantzas.
Historical dictionary of Marxism. David Walker and Daniel Gray . 2014.