Revolution - a reply to Doug Lorimer
This document was produced as a reply to the Democratic
Socialist Party (Australia) pamphlet ‘Trotsky’s Theory of
Permanent Revolution – a Leninist Critique’. It sparked a
reply from its author, and two rejoinders. For the full debate
go to www.dsp.org.au,
click on ‘documents’ on the contents bar to the left.
one, no force, can overthrow the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries
except the revolutionary proletariat. Now, after the experience
of July 1917, it is the revolutionary proletariat that
must independently take over state power. Without that
the victory of the revolution is impossible. The only solution
is for power to be in the hands of the proletariat, and for
the latter to be supported by the poor peasants or semi-proletarians.
And we have already indicated the factors that can enormously
accelerate this solution.” (VI Lenin, On Slogans July
1917, my emphasis PH.)
solved the problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution
in passing, as a "by-product" of our main and genuinely
proletarian-revolutionary, socialist activities. We have always
said that reforms are a by-product of the revolutionary class
struggle. We said -- and proved it by deeds -- that bourgeois-democratic
reforms are a by-product of the proletarian, i.e., of the
socialist revolution.” (VI Lenin, Speech on the 4th anniversary
of the revolution).
tactical conclusions coincided completely with those which
Lenin drew at the same time in Geneva, and consequently were
in the same irreconcilable contradiction to the conclusions
of Stalin, Kamenev and the other epigones. When I arrived
in Petrograd, nobody asked me if I renounced my ‘errors’ on
the permanent revolution...Kamenev accused Lenin of Trotskyism
and declared when he first met me: ‘now you have the last
laugh on us’. On the eve of the October revolution I wrote
in the central Bolshevik organ on the prospect of the permanent
revolution. It never occurred to anyone to come out against
me.” (Leon Trotsky, Permanent Revolution p221, Pathfinder
Australian Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) has produced a
brochure by Doug Lorimer, one of its central leaders, criticising
Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution and counterposing
“Lenin’s theory of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship
of the proletariat and peasantry”[i].
the fall of the Soviet Union, and the defeats suffered by
the workers’ movement and the left at the hands of neo-liberalism
over the past 20 years, we are necessarily involved in a process
of rebuilding the socialist movement internationally. In this
situation - the fight for socialist renewal - international
collaboration cannot be on the basis of total agreement on
theory, strategy or tactics. Collaboration must also involve
a fight for learning the lessons of past mistakes. It is inevitable
then that international collaboration should simultaneously
involve the breaking down of old boundaries, and comradely
debate and polemic.
DSP knows that all or some the members of a number of organisations
with which it seeks to collaborate hold, or tend towards,
the permanent revolution theory. These include, inter alia,
the sections of the Fourth International, the Scottish Socialist
Party, the Pakistani Labour Party, the NSSP in Sri Lanka,
Solidarity in the USA and Socialist Democracy in Britain.
But it is quite correct for the DSP not to have been swayed
by petty “diplomacy” in forthrightly criticising permanent
revolution in a very polemical pamphlet. Equally Doug Lorimer
recently wrote a very sharp attack on Michel Löwy’s book on
the national question[ii],
despite the DSP’s collaboration with the French LCR and the
Fourth International, of which Löwy is one of the best known
theorists. This critique of Doug Lorimer’s pamphlet then follows
the same policy: that international collaboration will go
hand-in-hand with open critique and polemic.
debate over permanent revolution of course mainly pertains
to the semi-colonial and dependent semi-industrialised countries;
and Australia falls
into neither of these categories. However, insofar as the
DSP influences some organisations in these countries, and
insofar as Doug Lorimer’s brochure attempts a general strategic
view in these countries which is different to permanent revolution,
it can only be confusing and disorienting.
theory of permanent revolution, as explained by Trotsky, does
have some weaknesses in the light of 20th century experience.
But these weaknesses apply just as much to the “democratic
dictatorship” two-stage theory which Doug Lorimer defends.
His general conclusion, that permanent revolution is “an inferior
guide to revolutionary action compared to the Leninist theory
and policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution” is wrong.
The reverse is true.
this document I make the following criticisms of Doug Lorimer’s
The whole pamphlet is written on the basis of an obviously
false assumption; namely that the social structure of ‘third
world’ countries today is much the same as that in pre-1917
Russia or 1920s China - ie that the peasantry is the overwhelmingly
numerically dominant class. The fact that this is today untrue
in most dominated and semi-colonial countries is not referred
to once in Doug Lorimer’s pamphlet. This is connected to the
Doug Lorimer confines his critique to the experience of pre-revolutionary
Russia, and to 1920s-30s China, and does not discuss either
the other revolutionary experiences of the 20th century, or
post-Trotsky attempts to analyse and re-analyse the theory
in the light of subsequent experience. In his introduction
have also not attempted to take up the innumerable distortions
of Lenin’s views on the class dynamics of the Russian revolution
made by later Trotskyists and writers influenced by Trotskyism,
preferring instead to concentrate on the original source of
these distortions, ie Trotsky himself”. (Lorimer p9).
into the dustbin of “innumerable distortions” go the writings
of Isaac Deutscher, Marcel Liebman, Ernest Mandel, and two
very important works which deal with these problems - Norman
Geras’ “Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg”[iii]
and Michael Löwy’s “Politics of Uneven Development - the theory
of permanent revolution”[iv],
not to mention the works of non-Marxist scholars like EH Carr.
Löwy’s book in particular is a full-scale attempt to re-assess
permanent revolution, taking into account all the most fundamental
revolutionary experiences of the 20th century, and incidentally
answering in advance every single point that Lorimer makes.
instead of an attempt to re-assess Lenin’s and Trotsky’s theories
in the light of historical and contemporary experience, Doug
Lorimer’s pamphlet stays stuck in a pre-revolutionary Russian
time warp, which contributes to the brochure’s doctrinaire
Doug Lorimer’s pamphlet fails to recognise that the solution
of the national and democratic tasks of the revolution, in
an epoch where ‘third world’ countries have achieved formal
independence, but are still in the deepening iron grip of
imperialist finance capital, cannot be solved without anti-capitalist
measures, ie tasks of the socialist revolution. How can any
state achieve real national liberation today without breaking
the grip of the transnational corporations, World Bank, IMF
and domestic banks and finance houses?
The DSP pamphlet gives a partial, one-sided and therefore
false account of the debates inside the Russian Social Democratic
Labour Party up to October 1917, attempting to ignore the
contradictions and inconsistencies in Lenin’s position, and
to falsely caricature the position of Trotsky. In particular
the pamphlet misrepresents the crucial debates inside the
Bolshevik party in 1917.
It further omits all references to and quotations from
Lenin which tend to contradict the DSP view. One is reminded
of the debate in the Russian Central Committee in 1928, when
Bukharin, like Lorimer, was attempting to prove the continuity
of Lenin’s policy with quotations. Trotsky interjected: “there
are many quotations which prove the opposite”. Bukharin, caught
off guard, replied: “I know that, but I’m choosing the quotations
which support my view, not yours”!
Doug Lorimer tends to give a false picture of the nature and
significance of the post-1923 struggles in Russia and elsewhere
between partisans of the ‘two-stage’ and ‘permanent revolution’
positions - effectively writing out the struggle against Stalinism
and its neo-Menshevik ‘two-stage’ positions.
Paradoxically, while attempting to paint Trotsky’s views in
the worst possible light, Doug Lorimer comes up with definitions
of what the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship’ might
mean in practice which come close to being re-writes of permanent
revolution. These theoretical concessions to Trotsky’s theory
give back to Trotsky with the left hand what Lorimer thinks
he has taken away with the right. We are thus left with an
eclectic and dangerously confused mish-mash.
what I say here about the importance of demonstrating theories
by their contemporary relevance, I have necessarily been forced
to take up Doug Lorimer at some length on his own chosen terrain
- what happened in Russia.
central strategic problem: class alliances in the dominated
centre-piece of Doug Lorimer’s criticism of Trotsky, the crux
of his whole argument, comes down to this. He claims that
in order to move towards socialist revolution it is first
necessary to complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution,
something Trotsky failed to understand. To complete the bourgeois
democratic revolution, it is necessary to forge an alliance
between the working class and the whole peasantry, on the
basis of national and democratic demands, and this alliance
can then take power in the form of a “revolutionary democratic
dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”. This alliance
will include the “peasant bourgeoisie” and can then proceed
to complete the bourgeois democratic revolution, in particular
land reform, and only then can a break with the peasant bourgeoisie
take place and the transition to socialist revolution be posed.
This forms an “uninterrupted” process, but with a definite
and distinct “national democratic” stage. It is thus a “two-stage”
revolution. Lorimer argues:-
Bolsheviks projected a line of march that was necessary for
the working class to take and hold power in Russia. The Bolsheviks
recognised that a socialist revolution could only be carried
out in Russia if the majority of the population (the workers
and poor peasants) supported it. But the majority of workers,
and above all the masses of poor peasants could only be won
to support a socialist revolution through their own experience
in struggle. As long as the bourgeois democratic revolution
was not completed, the Bolsheviks argued, the poor peasants
would remain united with the peasant bourgeoisie in the struggle
against the landlords and would not see their problems stemmed
not only from the vestiges of feudalism in Russia (the autocracy
and landlordism) but also from capitalism. As long as this
remained the case, the revolutionary proletariat would be
unable to rally the majority of the country’s population,
i.e. the semi-proletarian section of the peasantry, to the
perspective of carrying out a socialist revolution.” (Lorimer
the next section we go into whether this is an adequate account
of what happened in Russia[v].
But even if it were, would this be applicable as a
general schema for the ‘third world’ today? For South Korea,
Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Iran and South Africa? In fact
social changes in a whole series of the dominated countries
exclude such a strategy a priori, because the class composition
of these countries - and the relative numerical weight of
the different classes on a world scale - has changed dramatically.
In 1929 Trotsky could write:
only the agrarian, but also the national question, assigns
to the peasantry - the
overwhelming majority in the backward countries - an exceptional
place in the democratic revolution”. (Permanent Revolution
p.276 - my emphasis.)
inability to clearly understand that a proletarian-socialist
revolution could not be carried out in a peasant country
except on the basis of the completion of the tasks of the
peasant-democratic revolution, led him to identify the Bolshevik
perspective with that of Menshevism.” (Lorimer p.70. Trotsky’s
‘identification’ of Menshevik and Bolshevik policy is dealt
goes on to his conclusion - that permanent revolution is an
‘inferior’ guide to revolutionary action compared with what
he takes to be Lenin’s theory - straight from his polemic
about Trotsky’s theory “in a peasant country”, without a nod
in the direction of the fact that today that most third world
countries are not ‘peasant’ countries in the way that Russia
was in 1917.
late as the 1960s socialist writers as diverse as Ted Grant,
Tony Cliff and Ernest Mandel could all write “the overwhelming
majority of the world’s population are peasants”. This is
not true at the turn of the millennium. As Michael Löwy, writing
about the 1848 Communist Manifesto and its relevance for today,
appeal (ie the Manifesto’s call for international working
class unity -PH) was a visionary one. In 1848 the proletariat
was still only a minority in most European societies, not
to mention the rest of the world. Today the mass of wage workers
exploited by capital - industrial workers, white collar workers,
services employees, day labourers, farmhands - comprises the
majority of the world’s population. It is by far and away
the most important force in the class struggle against the
global capitalist system, and the axis around which all other
social forces other social struggles can and must orient themselves.”
(Monthly Review, November 1998, pp22-3).
problem with Doug Lorimer abstracting from the Russian experience
and transferring it, without mediation of any kind, to contemporary
conditions, is that the changes described by Michel Löwy have
changed the relative weight of the classes within specific
countries and not just on a world scale. As an example which
I know a little bit about, let’s look at Mexico.
Mexico the peasants - individual peasant farmers with their
own plots of land - are a small minority of the population.
Already in 1960 50% of the Mexican population lived in towns,
today the figure is around 75% (compared with about 15%
in 1917 Russia). More than 20% of the roughly 98 million
population live in Mexico City, whose population is incidentally
bigger than that of countries like Belgium and Holland. The
rural population is not in its majority composed of peasants
but of agricultural labourers, working for a wage - and often
only seasonally and intermittently employed.
the cities, the proletarian population lives side by side
with the legions of urban poor, often engaged in petty trade,
criminal activity - in general the ‘informal’ sector. But
even here, the urban poor are often disguised proletarians.
For example, the vast majority of the 100,000 ‘ambulantes’
in Mexico City - street traders - are actually employees of
mafia-capitalists who control the street trade. Another huge
sector of the urban population is engaged in home working,
producing everything from clothes to fireworks in their backrooms
and back yards. These people, despite the fact that they may
own their own (pitiful) ‘means of production’, are also disguised
proletarians, selling their products to the vastly rich capitalists
who control the trade for a pittance.
what do these changes in the social structure over the last
40 years mean for socialist strategy? The first point to make
is that a society like Mexico is very different from Russia,
not just from the point of view of social structure but from
the point of view of the character of the agrarian question,
which dominated the thinking of Russian Marxists about the
peasantry. Lenin and Trotsky debated how to overthrow a semi-feudal
aristocracy based on landed estates. But in Mexico there is
no semi-feudal aristocracy, there is agribusiness,
the thorough permeation of agriculture by capitalism, by capitalist
social relations, and not the social relations of semi-feudalism.
The enemies of the rural poor are Mexican capitalist farmers
and international, especially American, agribusiness transnational
corporations. Insofar as you can talk about latifundia in
Mexico, it takes the form of big farms, linked to agribusiness
and the rural bourgeoisie (not a semi-feudal aristocracy).
demands of the rural poor come right up against the national
and international bourgeoisie, and are therefore directly
linked with the anti-capitalist (not anti-feudal) struggle.
This is obvious to virtually the whole Mexican left, and reflected
in the ideology of the main peasant organisations of struggle
- like the OCSS (Organisacion de Los Campesinos de la Sierra
del Sur - Peasant Organisation of the Southern Sierra) - which
are socialist, anti-capitalist, explicitly linked with urban
left organisations. In other words, there is no push whatever
to create an independent party of the peasantry, counterposed
to proletarian and socialist demands. Insofar as the left
and progressive parties fight for the allegiance of the rural
poor, it is against the right-wing bourgeois parties, particularly
the governing PRI. In other words, in a historical sense,
the battle for the allegiance of the rural poor is directly
between the working class and the bourgeoisie. A striking
confirmation of Lenin’s argument that:-
the peasant does not march behind the workers, he marches
behind the bourgeoisie. There is and there can be no middle
course.” (VI Lenin, The Year 1919).
worker-peasant-indigenous alliance - which already exists
in skeleton form - will be under the political leadership
of the working class, and while putting forward demands to
meet the needs of the peasants, will combine these with demands
which meet the interests of the proletariat itself.
governmental slogan which virtually the whole Mexican far
left puts forward is “un gobierno obrera, compesino, idigena
y popular” (a workers, peasants, indigenous and popular government).
Even this of course does not capture the full complexity and
diversity of the popular masses who will have to be mobilised
to conquer state power. But such a government could not be
anything but the dictatorship of the proletariat, ie a socialist
a revolution in a country like Mexico there can be no talk
of an alliance with the “peasant bourgeoisie” against the
semi-feudal aristocracy, because there is no peasant bourgeoisie
and no semi-feudal aristocracy. Does this mean that the demands
of the peasants and the rural poor - in particular “land to
the tiller” - are irrelevant or totally secondary? Not at
all. For historical reasons the struggles of the peasants
and indigenous people have enormous weight, and are enormously
popular with the progressive sections of the urban workers.
But it does mean that the crucial class to carry through a
revolutionary transition is the working class itself. A worker-peasant-indigenous
government could only be one under the political and ideological
hegemony of the proletariat.
spectacular growth in the urban population in many third world
countries is directly linked to changes in agriculture, ie
the intrusion of capitalist social relations, the subordination
of the rural population to agribusiness. This has led to the
destitution of millions of peasants and their transformation
into landless rural workers, often employed for only a small
part of the year and living a miserable, semi-starvation existence.
Mass migration to the cities (Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Karachi
and Jakarta are classic examples) is a logical move for the
rural poor: they know that the miserable existence of the
urban poor is generally better, with more opportunities, than
staying in the countryside. But a paradoxical effect of these
processes is sometimes to heighten, rather than diminish,
the importance of the land question.
intrusion of agribusiness, especially in this neo-liberal
epoch, tends to involve counter-reforms in countries where
limited land reform has already taken place (Mexico is an
example). Nonetheless, individual or collective land ownership
by the peasantry cannot be a solution to rural poverty in
and of itself, so long as agribusiness retains its iron grip
on the purchase and marketing of agricultural produce. Where
agribusiness determines the prices and the quantities bought,
rural poverty is bound to follow and the peasants become the
indirect employees of national and international capital.
(A recent article has explained why even in the United States
independent small and medium farmers are being transformed
into sui generis proletarians (Farmer as Proletarian, RC Lewontin,
Monthly Review, July/August 1998, p.72]).
owning your own plot of land and/or being part of a peasant
collective, while not freeing you of your subordination to
agribusiness, is going to give you more economic possibilities
than being a landless labourer. That’s why movements like
Brazil’s MST (Movement of the Landless) and similar movements
have such enormous popularity. But coming up against not a
semi-feudal aristocracy, but against the domestic and international
capitalist/agribusiness nexus, these movements tend to have
a spontaneously anti-capitalist ideology and ally themselves
with the urban left. Show me a leader of the MST, and I will
show you a Guevarist, a Maoist, a partisan of semi-Marxist
liberation theology or a supporter of the PT (Workers Party).
You will not find the social and political basis for an ‘independent’
peasant party counterposed to the Left, you will not find
a peasant bourgeoisie, and you will not - outside some limited
cases like rural Pakistan or parts of pre-1994 Chiapas (where
the social relations of bonded labour, semi-slavery, persist(ed))
- find anything like a semi-feudal aristocracy.
all people, Doug Lorimer and the DSP leadership, should know
this because of their close attention to the debates in the
Philippines Communist Movement. Remember, Doug, the early
1990s polemics by the Manila-Rizal leadership against the
‘semi-feudal, semi-colonial’ thesis of Sison and the CPP leadership,
which was the theoretical basis of their Maoist, two-stage
‘bloc of four classes’ strategy?
decline of the semi-feudal aristocracy on an international
scale is a function (to state the obvious) that it is (was)
a hangover from the feudal mode of production which in a world
more capitalist than ever, no longer exists. Russia in 1917
was a very peculiar social formation, being at the same time
an imperialist country, financially dependent on western imperialist
powers (especially France and Britain) and having, simultaneously,
a semi-feudal rural class and a huge majority of peasants
in its population. Where exactly can you find a similar social
formation in the world today?
country which is overwhelmingly peasant in composition is
of course the largest - China. Today only about 450 million
people - about a third of the population - live in cities.
This is a much bigger proportion than in 1917 Russia, and
China indeed has some of the largest concentrations of the
proletariat in the world. And there is indeed a peasant bourgeoisie,
the kulak class created by Deng Xiaoping’s late ‘70s economic
reforms which broke up the peasant communes - and have in
successive stages led to China’s transformation into a capitalist
state. However, Doug Lorimer’s theory could not possibly apply
to contemporary China. The peasant bourgeoisie will not struggle
for land reform against a non-existent semi-feudal landlord
class, it will fight tooth and nail to defend its gains, together
with the urban bourgeoisie, against the urban proletariat
and the rural workers. Class struggle will develop along the
axis of anti-capitalist struggle, under the hegemony of the
of whether Doug Lorimer’s theory of Russia is right or wrong,
it should be ABC that it needs confirmation of its contemporary
applicability by reference to concrete conditions today. And
cannot be just assumed by swapping quotations from what Lenin
and Trotsky said about 1917.
and democratic tasks in the era of neo-liberal globalisation
1997 Asian financial crash was greeted with almost undisguised
glee by sections of the ‘Washington consensus’ financial establishment.
The World Bank waxed lyrical about the new possibilities of
‘globalisation’, by which they meant the buying up of South
Korean, Indonesian and Taiwanese companies at bargain-basement
prices by US companies. Neo-liberalism, the latest phase of
imperialism, has clamped the semi-colonial and dependent countries
under the most harsh regime of exploitation since the era
of direct imperialist occupation.
experience of the Asian ‘tigers’ and ‘dragons’ has disproved
the idea that these countries are real independent centres
of capital accumulation to rival the imperialist powers, and
shown their financial dependence of the Western
imperialist centres. However much they may sometimes
strain at the leash, the bourgeoisie in these countries is
bound hand to foot to the imperialists. As a consequence,
the ideologies of bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalism
which swept the third world in the 1950s and ‘60s, have been
seriously undermined. The Nassers and Nehrus of yesteryear
have been replaced by pale imitations, unwilling to take the
faintest independent step against the imperialist powers.
The national oppression of the semi-colonial and dependent
countries has deepened and not lessened.
the fall of the Berlin wall, the United States responded with
a fake ‘democracy’ offensive. But a brief glance at Asia,
Africa and Latin America today tells us that, far from democracy
taking giant strides, neo-liberalism necessarily goes hand-in-hand
with deepening repression.
reasons explained earlier, the destitution of the rural poor
and the immiseration of partially-employed agricultural labourers
- together with the flight to the cities - has in many places
increased the importance of the land question.
these factors, we cannot conclude that there is any diminution
of the centrality of democratic and national questions (including
land reform) in these countries. What has changed is the class
structure of many semi-colonial and dependent countries, strongly
increasing the specific weight of the working class. This
is a positive factor in the struggle for socialism. But the
content of the struggle for real national liberation and real
democracy is more than ever an anti-imperialist and thus anti-capitalist
writer Norm Dixon has recently made the point that the struggle
for national liberation is now even more than ever an anti-imperialist
struggle. He argues:
struggle for national liberation has shifted overwhelmingly
to demands to end the Third World's subservience to the dictates
of the World Bank and IMF, rejection of the austerity programs
formulated by these imperialist‑controlled institutions,
and the demand to cancel foreign debt. As a result, the labour
and socialist movements are more centrally placed and essential
in the struggle for national liberation than ever before.”
(Marx, Engels and Lenin on the National Question, Links no
Real national liberation today means breaking the dominance
of imperialist finance capital over the peoples of the exploited
countries. This of course is a task of the socialist revolution,
not the democratic revolution. A solution of the national
and democratic tasks of the revolution, the “completion” of
the national-democratic revolution, is inconceivable without
anti-capitalist measures, for example the establishment of
a monopoly of foreign trade, the nationalisation of the banks
and finance houses, a regime of workers control over the finance
houses and big monopolies, and the expropriation of - or at
least the state control and supervision of - the assets of
if Doug is going to turn round and say all these measures
are quite compatible with the national democratic revolution,
carried out by what he calls a “special form of the dictatorship
of the proletariat”, he has really just baptised the first
steps of socialist revolution with another name and agrees
in essence with permanent revolution. If not, then he is going
to be the partisan of a ‘democratic revolution’ which singularly
fails - in the epoch of the domination of globalised finance
capital - to solve the national and democratic tasks of the
centrality of these anti-capitalist measures to solve the
national and democratic tasks of the revolution was made by
Trotsky in his writings on China. He argued:-
most extreme agrarian revolution, the general division of
the land (which will naturally be supported by the communist
party to the very end) will not by itself provide a way out
of the economic blind alley. China requires just as urgently
national unity and economic sovereignty, that is customs autonomy,
or more correctly a monopoly of foreign trade. And this means
emancipation from imperialism...” (The Third International
after Lenin, Pathfinder edition, p.183).
continuing importance of the national and democratic questions
makes alliances centering on these issues - especially between
the workers and poor peasants - essential for mobilising the
forces of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, transition.
a decisive issue facing the revolutionary movement in third
world countries today is how to articulate the question of
class independence, ie working class independence of strategic
alliances with the bourgeoisie. There are no cook-book recipes
which give precise tactical advice on how this is to be achieved
in each concrete situation. Tactical and conjunctural alliances
with forces from bourgeois nationalist and petty bourgeois
nationalist traditions are absolutely inevitable in this period,
in specific campaigns and movements. This is different to
a strategic alliance, such as that envisaged in the Stalinist-Menshevik
version of the ‘two-stage’ theory.
the movements around national and democratic objectives today,
the revolutionary forces have to advance the objective of
a “workers and peasants government” - ie a government politically
led by the working class, supported by the poor peasants and
other oppressed groups. This can only be the first stage of
the dictatorship of the proletariat.
DSP on Indonesia
Doug Lorimer does not attempt to demonstrate his theory by
reference to contemporary conditions, one DSP writer - former
Green Left staffer and present Canberra branch secretary James
Vassilopoulos - has attempted to do this with reference to
Indonesia (Uninterrupted Revolution, GLW 373).
the time of writing (October 1999) the political situation
in Indonesia is extremely unstable, with right wing forces
led by the army attempting to throw back the democratic gains
made during and since the overthrow of Suharto. In this situation,
the task of socialists in imperialist countries is to build
solidarity, to the best of their abilities and in their own
national circumstances, with the popular movements in that
country. However this, as James’ article shows, cannot preclude
debate about the strategy to be followed by socialists.
polemicises against the views of the Australian ISO. But in
doing so he makes an entirely failed attempt to squeeze Indonesia
into the optic of 1917 Russia. He starts off by conceding
that social reality is entirely different between the two
can Lenin’s policy of uninterrupted revolution be applied
in Indonesia today? Indonesia is a capitalist country oppressed
by imperialism. Russia was a weak imperialist power, with
survivals of feudal relations in the countryside.”
far, so good. But...
main significance of the Russian Revolution for Indonesia
lies in the fact that in Indonesia, like Russia in 1917, the
working class is in a minority. A socialist revolution cannot
occur without the active support of the poor peasants.
the 1997 economic crisis, there were some 86 million employed
workers out of a population of 200 million in Indonesia. There
are substantially fewer now since millions of workers have
lost their jobs”.
million employed workers, even if this number has fallen since
the 1997 Asian crash, is an enormous percentage of the economically
active population. In an advanced country it would the be
more than the whole of the economically active population,
although in a poor country where children and the elderly
often have to work, it is a smaller proportion. Nonetheless,
we should bear in mind Lenin’s strictures about the social
and political weight of the proletariat:-
strength of the proletariat in any capitalist country is infinitely
greater than the proportion of the proletariat in the total
population. This is due to the fact that the proletariat is
in economic command of the central points and nerve centres
of the entire capitalist system of economy, and because the
proletariat expresses economically and politically the real
interests of the vast majority of the toilers under capitalism.
this reason the proletariat, even if it constitutes the minority
of the population (or in cases where the conscious and truly
revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat comprises a minority
of the nation) is capable both of overthrowing the bourgeoisie
and of attracting subsequently (note: subsequently -PH) to
it side many allies from among the masses of the semi-proletarians
and petty bourgeois, who will never come out beforehand for
the domination of the proletariat...but who will convince
themselves from their subsequent experiences of the inevitability,
justice and legitimacy of the proletarian dictatorship”. (VI
Lenin, The Year 1919).
to the PRD (People’s Democratic Party) about 10.5 million
workers are employed in manufacturing, 30 million in service
and mining industries, and 46 million in agriculture. In the
cities there are millions of urban poor, many of whom are
semi-proletarians, having only occasional waged work, and
engaging in petty trading activities for survival.”
this point we should note that by any Marxist definition whatever,
James has so far listed more than 40 million proletarian workers
- even if we were to take the false step of discounting rural
workers - ie 20% of the whole population, and a much bigger
percentage than the Russian proletariat in 1917. James continues:-
Indonesia is to have a socialist revolution, a revolutionary
alliance between the working class and the tens of millions
of rural and urban semi-proletarians will have to be forged...To
forge such an alliance the revolutionary workers will have
to champion the immediate needs of the peasant masses, which
centre on winning democracy and land reform.
majority of Indonesia’s rural population are still landowning
peasants. In the early 1980s, almost 16 million small landowners
grew subsistence and cash crops on some 16 million hectares.”
course, the algebra of revolution will never be solved by
simple arithmetic, but at first blush I fail to see why the
16 million small peasant landowners are a majority against
the 46 million rural workers. It would seem more logical to
say that the economically active majority in the countryside
are rural proletarians - at least on the basis of the figures
which James quotes.
Marxist party in Indonesia today would need to build a revolution
as two stages of one uninterrupted process. In the first stage,
an alliance would have to be forged between the workers and
the whole of the peasantry. It would also have to include
campus students (who largely come from urban bourgeois and
middle class families) and the urban poor.
an alliance would need to win the democratic right to strike,
protest and organise.
Indonesian law it is a crime to publish and distribute Marxist
literature. So winning political liberty is crucial to being
able to conduct open socialist educational and organising
work among the masses of the people.”
his account of the alliance that needs to be forged, James
has left out the agricultural workers. Once this correction
is made, the vast majority of this alliance would be composed
of proletarians and ‘semi-proletarians’ - ie those directly
exploited by capital. Such an alliance, while centering initially
on democratic and national tasks, would be inevitably be under
the organisational and political hegemony of the working class.
And its victory would be, as explained by the theory of permanent
revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the first
step of the socialist revolution.
Vassilopoulos’ whole account is an attempt to argue that because
alliances between different social groupings have to be made,
this alliance must be of the same type as the (DSP’s account
of) the worker-peasant alliance in Russia. In fact, even in
imperialist countries the working class will have to lead
an alliance (and it will include sections of the petty-bourgeoisie,
semi-proletarian sections of the urban poor and even students!).
The question is - under whose political leadership and hegemony?
There will never be any such thing as a “pure” workers’ revolution.
As Lenin said in his polemic over the 1916 Easter rising in
Dublin: anyone who expects to see a revolution where the workers
line up on one side, and the bourgeoisie on the other - with
no other forces or alliances involved - is doomed to be permanently
and the DSP are trying to make the urban poor and rural labourers
into an ersatz substitute for the Russian peasantry. But in
doing so, they are making an unwitting ‘workerist’ error in
their conception of the proletariat. The proletariat today,
in every country, is an immensely diverse, stratified and
varied class. In the imperialist countries service workers
of all kinds make up an enormous percentage of the working
class, in some countries a bigger proportion than in manufacturing.
The definition of the proletariat is not that it works in
manufacturing, but the wage labour-capital relationship, ie
the selling and exploitation of labour power, and the appropriation
of surplus value from the labourers by the capitalist class.
That is what makes millions of, for example, home workers
proletarians. Obviously it is this definition of the working
class which underpins Michel Löwy’s statement above.
can see the false counterpositions involved in the “two-stage’
dogma in an astounding section of James’ polemic. Under the
heading ‘Socialist revolution Now?’ he argues:-
the PRD be calling for an immediate socialist revolution today?
Such a call would have no mass resonance because the working
class does not have sufficient class consciousness and organisation
to carry it out and the poor peasants are inert.”
don’t know if the Australian ISO advocates ‘immediate socialist
revolution today’, but if so they are out to lunch. Any serious
debate between a “two-stage” and “permanentist” perspective
in Indonesia would not be about ‘socialist revolution now’,
but overall strategic perspectives. The immediate tasks of
the class struggle in any country revolve around an uneven
combination of transitional, democratic, immediate economic
and other demands, depending on the situation. ‘Socialist
revolution now’ is only relevant in a revolutionary situation,
and even then it is unlikely to be posed in those words.
would we say about someone in the Italy who advocated ‘socialist
revolution now’? Total ultraleft, at the very minimum. But
we would not draw out from that, surely, that the revolution
in Italy would be anything other than a proletarian and socialist
revolution, and not a “two-stage” revolution? Despite the
fact that 8% of the Italian population are individual landowning
peasants, and that there is a large petty-bourgeoisie, and
that a significant section of the population of some of the
cities are ‘semi-proletarians’ (street traders and the like)?
debate over perspectives in a country like Indonesia is about
something else, namely this. Can the national and democratic
tasks of the revolution, in particular land reform and freeing
of the country from imperialist domination (is that not the
central ‘national’ issue today?) be solved other than through
a huge national alliance which involves at its centre the
multi-millioned legions of the proletariat and semi-proletariat?
And could such an alliance possibly be under the hegemony
and leadership of any class but the working class? Won’t such
an alliance, if it is victorious, come immediately and massively
into conflict with local capital and imperialism, and not
‘semi-feudalism’? And how could such a victorious revolution,
in a country as important to world imperialism as Indonesia,
avoid an immediate and direct clash with the long-term interests
of local capitalism and world, especially, US imperialism?
We return to these questions below.
debate inside the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP)
Lorimer’s pamphlet contains an interesting section in which
he attempts to prove “Trotsky’s identification of Bolshevik
policy with Menshevism”, which according to him had become
by the early 1930s a “grotesque absurdity” (Lorimer pp 67ff).
Could this be the same Trotsky who wrote “Three Conceptions
of the Russian Revolution” (three not two Doug), in which
Trotsky scrupulously explained the differences between Bolshevism,
Menshevism and his own pre-1917 views (Trotsky Writings 1939-40)?
Trotsky in a painstaking and scrupulously objective way, explains
the differences between the three views in Chapters 15 and
16 of the History of the Russian Revolution (The Bolsheviks
and Lenin and Re-arming the Party). Doug Lorimer
refers to Trotsky’s History as “providing an incomparable
Marxist exposition of the events that led to the Bolshevik
victory in 1917”. Has he forgotten that this whole book is
written from the perspective of permanent revolution? Indeed
is one of the most important expositions of the theory, it’s
application to Russia and its theoretical underpinnings in
the law of uneven and combined development? If Doug is right
about the Trotsky’s views on the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks,
then at the core of Trotsky’s book is ‘grotesque absurdity’
bordering on falsification. Strange then, that he should recommend
its “incomparable Marxist exposition”.
“Three Conceptions” Trotsky is at pains to stress the tensions
and contradictions within Lenin’s policy, and the fundamental
change of 1917. The contradiction in Lenin’s policy, according
to Trotsky, was on the one hand that he correctly identified
that the Russian bourgeoisie would not lead its “own” bourgeois
revolution, while at the same time failing to see the logical
consequences of this; namely that if the working class in
alliance with the peasantry led the revolution and took power,
it would not and could not limit itself solely to the tasks
of the bourgeois revolution and creating a bourgeois republic.
Indeed, in the medium and long term, there cannot be a contradiction
between the class(es) which hold the power, and the social
programme which they implement.
we go on to a textual examination of what Bolshevik policy
was, it is worth simply stating what the difference
between the Doug Lorimer’s conception, and Trotsky’s conception,
of the Russian revolution actually is. According to Lorimer,
October 1917 saw the advent of the revolutionary democratic
dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, which proceeded
to complete the bourgeois revolution, and only after that
in the summer of 1918 proceeded to the socialist revolution.
But explicitly, October 1917 was not the socialist revolution.
to the Trotsky (and -ist) explanation, the working class,
supported by the poor peasantry seized power in a socialist
revolution in October 1917, and first proceeded to solve the
democratic tasks of the revolution, but combined this with
tasks of the socialist revolution from the beginning.
From the beginning, according to Trotsky’s conception, the
working class held the power (which is, logically, the very
definition of a socialist revolution, according to this conception).
Trotsky’s account fits in well with the quotation from the
1921 Lenin speech at the beginning of this document:
solved the problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution
in passing, as a "by-product" of our main and genuinely
proletarian-revolutionary, socialist activities. We have always
said that reforms are a by-product of the revolutionary class
struggle. We said -- and proved it by deeds -- that bourgeois-democratic
reforms are a by-product of the proletarian, i.e., of the
socialist revolution (VI Lenin, Speech on the 4th anniversary
of the revolution).”
Lenin’s position in one of his most important works Economics
and Politics in the Epoch of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,
that the expropriation of the main groups of capitalists was
accomplished “in a few months”, fits Trotsky’s position but
not Lorimer’s. Lenin says:
accomplished instantly, at one revolutionary blow, all that
can, in general, be accomplished instantly; on the first
day of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for instance,
on October 26 (November 8),1917, the private ownership
of land was abolished without compensation for the big landowners
-- the big landowners were expropriated. Within the space
of a few months practically all the big capitalists, owners
of factories, joint-stock companies, banks, railways, and
so forth, were also expropriated without compensation.”
(VI Lenin, Economic and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship
of the Proletariat - my emphasis, PH).
can “a few months”, with Soviet power, a Bolshevik-led government
and a regime of workers’ control, be described as a “stage”
in any but the most doctrinaire accounts? And how does this
fit in with Lenin’s views in “Two Tactics” (1905) that the
bourgeois revolution would be separated from the proletarian
by a whole series of stages of revolutionary development?).
two different accounts - those of Lorimer and Trotsky - do
however point to a difference, which has long existed within
the Trotskyist movement and beyond, about the definition of
the class nature of any particular revolution or state. Doug’s
position, inherited from Joe Hansen and the US SWP, prioritises
the character of the
relations of production - ie are they the social relations
of nationalised property and national planning?
The Trotsky conception implicitly prioritises another
criterion: which class has the power, and which social
relations does this class, and its political representatives,
defend in an historical sense.
logic of the Trotsky position is this: there is no socialist
revolution in any country whatsoever, advanced or “backward”,
which will carry out the socialist tasks of the revolution
“all at once” (an absurd position which Lorimer attributes
to Trotsky). As Marx and Engels explained in the Communist
Manifesto, the working class will seize power “and then by
degrees” socialise the economy. Are we to say, if the working
class led by revolutionary organisations were to take the
power in a country like France or Italy, that the socialist
revolution had not happened until all basic industry was nationalised?
If this were indeed to be the central criterion, we would
probably have to conclude that all revolutions will have an
initial, pre-socialist, stage. Indeed this was the trend of
Joe Hansen’s thinking, made explicit by his latter-day caricaturers
in the Jack Barnes loony-stage SWP (US)- that each socialist
revolution would be preceded by a “workers and farmers government”.
timing of the socialisation of basic industry is, especially
in more “backward” countries, a complex question. It crucially
depends on the issue of whether the working class (and its
allies) are socially and technically capable of running industry
themselves. In the advanced countries where the working class
has a higher educational and cultural level, the transition
time will probably be short. Indeed the idea that the US,
British, Canadian or French bourgeoisie would go on conducting
its normal business for any length of time under the supervision
of a workers’ government, and with a regime of workers’ control,
is totally far-fetched. A revolutionary workers’ government
in an imperialist country would almost certainly be faced
with a sustained counter-revolutionary offensive, and the
need to take more-or-less immediate steps to expropriate the
major industries, banks and finance houses.
the Bolsheviks considered that the nationalisations of 1918
were “premature”, precisely from the point of view of the
state of preparation of the working class to run industry.
It was precisely to prepare for eventual socialisation that
the Bolsheviks instituted the “regime of workers’ control
and supervision” from the time they took power - the first
step towards socialisation
The socialisations of 1918 were determined above all
by the logic of the class struggle, ie the fierce clashes
between workers and capitalists, leading to strikes, lock-outs
and factory seizures by the workers. The working class took
the tempo of socialisation into its own hands; a workers’
government had no choice but to sanction these workers’ expropriations,
or come into sharp conflict with the working class. Doug Lorimer’s
implicit scenario, that the Bolsheviks judged that the bourgeois
democratic revolution was now completed and thus proceeded
to the socialist revolution (“item 2 on the agenda, comrades!”)
is a schema imposed upon the real course of events. In reality
the socialisations were determined by the logic of the class
struggle, ie by the workers themselves..
these things happened in a country where the workers, through
the soviets and the Bolshevik party, had conquered state power,
ie where the dictatorship of the proletariat already existed.
This of course confirms the “uninterrupted” (or to use the
word used by Marx and Trotsky: permanent) character of the
revolution. It does not however confirm a rigid two-stage
Lorimer’s concessions to permanent revolution
trying to define the character of the regime which existed
after the seizure of power in October 1917, Doug Lorimer ties
himself up in rather “permanent” knots, and indeed comes very
close to putting forward re-writes of Trotsky’s theory. He
revolutionary worker-peasant dictatorship, or state power,
could only come into being if the workers in the cities overthrew
and replaced state institutions of the tsarist landlord-capitalist
state with their own organs of state power. The workers would
use the state power they had conquered to rally the peasantry
as a whole to consummate the bourgeois-democratic revolution
and then, once the peasants came into conflict with the peasant
bourgeoisie, to rally the poor peasants in the struggle for
the transition to socialism. The proletarian-peasant dictatorship
would therefore be the first stage of the proletarian dictatorship
in Russia, or as Trotsky himself described in Results and
Prospects, a “special form of proletarian dictatorship
in the bourgeois revolution”. (Lorimer p 41).
state power which organises the working class, in alliance
with the peasantry as a whole, to suppress the resistance
of the big landowners and industrialists in order to carry
to completion a democratic revolution would also be a form
of proletarian dictatorship, of working class state power.
But it would not yet be the socialist dictatorship
of the proletariat, ie a state power that organises the working
class and the semi-proletarian elements to suppress the resistance
of the capitalists to the “abolition of bourgeois property
in city and village”. It would be a special form of proletarian
state power in the bourgeois democratic revolution, a revolutionary-democratic
dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.”
(Lorimer p. 59, his emphasis).
these quotes Doug Lorimer its attempting to guard his back,
because he knows very well that the Bolsheviks routinely described
their regime from the first day of the revolution as the “dictatorship
of the proletariat”. But in accepting that it was, in essence,
the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lorimer is despite himself
forced to veer towards permanentist perspectives. Who was
it exactly in the RSDLP before 1917 who said that solving
the national and democratic tasks would require the dictatorship
of the proletariat? Wasn’t it the author of the theory of
what Lorimer says with a passage he himself quotes from Trotsky:-
matter what the first episodic first stages of the revolution
might be in the individual countries, the realisation of the
revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry
is conceivable only under the leadership of the proletarian
vanguard...This in turn means that the victory of the democratic
revolution is conceivable only through the dictatorship of
the proletariat which bases itself upon the alliance with
the peasantry and solves first the tasks of the bourgeois
Revolution p. 277, Pathfinder edition, quoted by Lorimer p.74).
there is a difference in emphasis between this quote and what
Doug Lorimer says. But the similarity of positions - a worker-peasant
alliance to create the proletarian dictatorship and solve
the democratic tasks - will be obvious to anyone but the most
doctrinaire. What is equally obvious is that neither of these
two positions is anything like that defended by the Lenin
or 1905 or 1908. Because, contrary to Lorimer, under the impact
of the proof of events Lenin not only changed his position,
but as a result demanded a change of the Bolshevik programme
(and a change of the name of the party) in April 1917. Doug
Lorimer imputes an identity to Lenin’s positions over the
years 1905-17, in order to try to deny that he moved closer
to Trotsky’s positions. It is to this we now turn.
from ‘bourgeois republic’ to ‘Commune state’
the Menshevik notion of subordinating the revolution to the
liberal bourgeoisie, Lenin and the Bolsheviks developed the
idea that the democratic revolution would be led by the workers
and peasants - against the resistance of the bourgeoisie itself.
In making this decisive theoretical advance, the Bolsheviks
leadership implicitly acknowledged the workings of the law
of uneven and combined development, later formulated by Trotsky
and explained in the History of the Russian Revolution, as
applied to Russia. The Russian bourgeoisie did not suffer
from some original sin of ‘cowardice’, but from the uneven
development of imperialism. The Russian bourgeoisie (and Russian
industry) had developed a totally (financially and politically)
dependent position in relationship to French and British imperialism
from which it was structurally incapable of breaking. It was
this which determined its inability to complete the bourgeois
revolution internally. This incidentally shows the incorrectness
of attempting to define the political situation in any one
country solely by ‘internal’ factors. As Trotsky succinctly
reality, the national peculiarities represent an original
combination of the basic features of the world situation.”
(Preface to the German edition of Permanent Revolution, Pathfinder
Bolsheviks thus developed the idea of the “workers and peasants
democratic dictatorship” - democratic because it would carry
through the democratic revolution. But the democratic revolution
did not mean going beyond capitalism. In Two Tactics of Social
Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (1905) Lenin condemned
as “reactionary” the idea of “seeking salvation for the working
class in anything save the further development of capitalism”.
Indeed he went further:
are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the
Russian revolution. What does this mean? It means that the
democratic reforms that become a necessity for Russia do not
in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining
of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first
time, clear the ground for the wide and rapid, European and
not Asiatic, development of capitalism; they will, for the
first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as
a class.” (collected works volume 9, p 29).
question to Doug. Is this what happened in 1917? That the
revolution for the first time made it possible for the bourgeoisie
to rule as a class?!
Lenin’s view with what Trotsky wrote in the very next year,
immediate task of the social democracy will be to bring the
democratic revolution to completion. But once in control,
the proletarian party will not be able to confine itself to
the democratic programme, but will be forced to adopt socialist
measures”. (Preface to the Russian edition of Marx’s writings
on the Paris Commune).
which of these two quotations, Trotsky’s or Lenin’s, best
explains what happened in 1917-18? The answer is obvious.
Lenin at the same time stressed a) the bourgeois character
of the revolution, and b) the need to politically sweep aside
the bourgeoisie. Trotsky identified a tension in these ideas;
they faced a logical and not dialectical contradiction. How
could the workers and peasants be put in power and then merely
preside over the “European’ development of capitalism? Trotsky
political domination of the proletariat is incompatible with
its economic enslavement. No matter under what political flag
the proletariat has come to power, it is obliged to take the
path of socialist policy. It would be the greatest utopianism
to believe that the proletariat, having been raised to political
domination by the internal mechanism of the bourgeois revolution
can, even if it so desires, limit its mission to the creation
of republican-democratic conditions for the social domination
of the bourgeoisie.” (Results and Prospects, in Permanent
Revolution, Pathfinder edition pp 101-2).
the same time, Trotsky did not argue that all the tasks of
the bourgeois-democratic and socialist revolutions could be
carried out ‘simultaneously’ as Lorimer falsely suggests.
In fact Trotsky said the opposite:-
power is not omnipotence. It would be absurd to suppose that
it is only necessary for the proletariat to take power and
then by passing a few decrees to substitute socialism for
capitalism. An economic system is not the product of the actions
of the government. All that the proletariat can do is to apply
its political power with all possible energy in order to ease
and shorten the path towards economic collectivism.” (Ibid.
ideas about the likely course of the democratic revolution
were already present in his major theoretical work The
Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899). In this work
Lenin argues that that there are two different routes out
of semi-feudalism - the American and the Prussian. In the
Prussian case semi-feudalism had been destroyed by the transition
to capitalism ‘from above’, transforming the Junker landlords
into capitalists, but clamping the peasantry into a situation
of harsh authoritarian and ‘unfree’ exploitation. The American
system, ‘capitalism from below’, had by contrast created a
free peasant farmer class, the basis for a much more rapid
development of fully capitalists relations in agriculture
- ie bourgeois farmers and agricultural proletarians. (This
is all explained in detail in Capitalism from Above and
Capitalism from Below, Terence J. Byres, MacMillan/St
Martins Press 1996). As Byres explains (see pp30 and ff) Lenin
strongly favoured the ‘American’ development of agricultural
capitalism in Russia. He did so, because at that time (1899)
he had no conception that the national-democratic revolution
could do any more than hasten the development of capitalism.
Lenin later explained:
victory of the revolution can be achieved by] “ only a dictatorship
because the accomplishment of transformations immediately
and urgently needed by the proletariat will evoke the desperate
resistance of the big landlords, bourgeoisie and czarism...But
this of course will be a democratic and not a socialist dictatorship.
It will not be able to touch (without a whole series of transitional
stages of revolutionary development) the foundation of capitalism.
It will be able, in the best case, to realise a radical redivision
of landed property in favour of the peasantry, introduce a
consistent and full democratism up to instituting the republic,
root out all Asiastic and feudal features not only from the
day-to-day life of the village but also the factory, put a
beginning to a serious improvement of workers conditions and
raise their living standard, and last but not least, carry
over the revolutionary conflagration to Europe.” (“Two Tactics
of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution”).
is not too hard to understand what this means. It is the establishment
of a bourgeois republic by revolutionary means, against the
resistance of the bourgeoisie itself. Socialist perspectives
are postponed until after “a whole series of transitional
stages of revolutionary development” (and it is obvious that
he did not mean by this the ‘few months’ to which he referred
in Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of
the Proletariat). This was Lenin’s contradiction, at the same
time his strength (revolutionary means) and his weakness (social
objectives). Events in 1917 forced him to change his perspectives,
and hence the programme of the Bolshevik party.
fights for the ‘Commune state’
argued that the February 1917 had, in the form of the Soviet
of Workers, Peasants and Soldiers Deputies, created the democratic
dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry “in a certain
form and a certain way”. But, he argued, unforeseen in the
strategy of Bolshevism was that this ‘democratic dictatorship’
would voluntarily cede power to the bourgeoisie. Now a radical
change was needed in Bolshevik strategy. The proletariat would
have to seize power in a socialist revolution, supported by
the poor peasants. He noted:
one, no force, can overthrow the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries
except the revolutionary proletariat. Now, after the experience
of July 1917, it is the revolutionary proletariat that
must independently take over state power. Without that
the victory of the revolution is impossible. The only solution
is for power to be in the hands of the proletariat, and for
the latter to be supported by the poor peasants or semi-proletarians.
And we have already indicated the factors that can enormously
accelerate this solution. ( On Slogans July 1917).
was against this background that Lenin wrote one of his most
important works, The State and Revolution, establishing
the revolutionary and not reformist road to socialism, and
the character of socialist democracy, ie soviet power, the
self-rule of the workers. In its preface he wrote of the Russian
the latter [the Russian Revolution] is now (early August 1917)
completing the first stage of its development; but this revolution
as a whole can only be understood as a link in a chain of
socialist proletarian revolutions being caused by the
imperialist war.” (my emphasis - PH).
the April Theses, which motivated the change in the Bolshevik
programme, Lenin now wrote:
specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that
the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution
-- which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and
organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands
of the bourgeoisie -- to its second stage, which must place
power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections
of the peasants.”
that both in On Slogans and the April Theses Lenin argues
for the proletariat to take power, supported by the “poor
peasants” and “semi-proletarians” (not the peasantry as a
whole). Indeed, he specifically argued for a political break
with the representatives of the ‘small proprietors’.
his Letters on Tactics (April 1917) Lenin now wrote the following
(I have quoted a long piece here because key formulations
are missed out in Lorimer’s quotes):
the revolution, the power is in the hands of a different class,
a new class, namely, the bourgeoisie.
passing of state power from one class to another is the first,
the principal, the basic sign of a revolution, both in the
strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning
of that term.
this extent, the bourgeois, or the bourgeois-democratic, revolution
in Russia is completed.
at this point we hear a clamour of protest from people who
readily call themselves "old Bolsheviks". Didn't
we always maintain, they say, that the bourgeois-democratic
revolution is completed only by the "revolutionary-democratic
dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry"? Is
the agrarian revolution, which is also a bourgeois-democratic
revolution, completed? Is it not a fact, on the contrary,
that it has not even started?
answer is: The Bolshevik slogans and ideas on the whole have
been confirmed by history; but concretely things have worked
out differently ; they are more original, more peculiar, more
variegated than anyone could have expected.
ignore or overlook this fact would mean taking after those
"old Bolsheviks" who more than once already have
played so regrettable a role in the history of our Party by
reiterating formulas senselessly learned by rote instead of
studying the specific features of the new and living reality.
revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and
the peasantry" has already become a reality (in a certain
form and to a certain extent) in the Russian revolution, for
this "formula" envisages only a relation of classes,
and not a concrete political institution implementing this
relation, this co-operation. "The Soviet
Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies" -- there you have the
"revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat
and the peasantry" already accomplished in reality.
formula is already antiquated. Events have moved it from the
realm of formulas into the realm of reality, clothed it with
flesh and bone, concretised it and thereby modified it.
new and different task now faces us: to effect a split within
this dictatorship between the proletarian elements (the anti-defencist,
internationalist, "Communist" elements, who stand
for a transition to the commune) and the small-proprietor
or petty-bourgeois elements (Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov,
the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the other revolutionary
defencists), who are opposed to moving towards the commune
and are in favour of "supporting" the bourgeoisie
and the bourgeois government.
person who now speaks only of a "revolutionary-democratic
dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" is
behind the times, consequently, he has in effect gone over
to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle;
that person should be consigned to the archive of "Bolshevik"
pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of
revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and
the peasantry has already been realised, but in a highly original
manner, and with a number of extremely important modifications.
I shall deal with them separately in one of my next letters.
For the present, it is essential to grasp the incontestable
truth that a Marxist must take cognisance of real life, of
the true facts of reality, and not cling to a theory of yesterday,
which, like all theories, at best only outlines the main and
the general, only comes near to embracing life in all its
my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life."
deal with the question of "completion" of the bourgeois
revolution in the old way is to sacrifice living Marxism to
the dead letter.”
meaning of this couldn’t be clearer. The “democratic dictatorship”
has been realised but failed to complete the democratic revolution.
Only now by effecting a “split” between the Communist elements
who stand for the Commune state (ie socialist revolution)
and the petty-bourgeois democrats (who represent, let us note,
the “small proprietors”) can the democratic revolution be
completed by means of socialist revolution. Note: Lenin did
not say: we got a fake “democratic dictatorship, now we need
a real one”. He said that the democratic dictatorship slogan
was now antiquated, and should be dumped in
favour of a socialist revolutionary perspective.
this context it is easy to see why Kamenev said to Trotsky
“now you have the last laugh on us”, and accused Lenin (as
did others) of going over to Trotsky’s position. Doug Lorimer
has to explain why there was such a huge and controversial debate inside the Bolshevik
Party over Lenin’s position inside the Bolshevik party. The
answer is that much of the party leadership, including the
St. Petersburg leadership in which Stalin played a central
role, adopted an opportunist attitude to the Provisional government
and/or the opportunist leadership of the Soviet, because they
saw them as the living embodiment of the “democratic dictatorship”
for which the Bolsheviks had always fought.
speech at the Finland Station when he arrived back in Russia
at the beginning of April 1917, as is explained by eye-witnesses
in many accounts, came like a blow over the head to the party
stalwarts, when he called for workers’ revolution. For the
majority of the Bolshevik fraction in the central soviet had,
in line with their understanding of the ‘democratic dictatorship’
voted at the beginning of March for the peaceful transfer
of power to the provisional government; and indeed at the
end of March they supported, at the Soviet congress at which
82 soviets were represented,
the resolution on the same subject which had been drafted
by the Menshevik leader Dan. How come, Doug Lorimer should
explain to us, that the Bolshevik leadership ended up, at
this point, supporting the same opportunist position as the
Mensheviks? The answer is that many in the party leadership
thought they were living through the ‘democratic dictatorship’,
and that it would be ultra-left to oppose the provisional
government from the perspective of workers’ power. This confusion
was understandable because the very concept of the ‘democratic
dictatorship’ was confused, and lent (and we should say: lends)
itself to opportunist interpretations.
he launched the political fight around the April Theses Lenin
was virtually isolated in the Bolshevik leadership. Trotsky
later commented: “The
whole of the April Party Conference was devoted to the following
fundamental question: Are we heading toward the conquest of
power in the name of the socialist revolution or are we helping
(anybody and everybody) to complete the democratic revolution?
Unfortunately, the report of the April Conference remains
unpublished to this very day, though there is scarcely another
congress in the history of our party that had such an exceptional
and immediate bearing on the destiny of our revolution as
the conference of April 1917.
position was this: an irreconcilable struggle against defensism
and its supporters; the capture of the soviet majority; the
overthrow of the Provisional Government; the seizure of power
through the soviets; a revolutionary peace policy and a program
of socialist revolution at home and of international revolution
abroad. In distinction to this, as we already know, the opposition
held the view that it was necessary to complete the democratic
revolution by exerting pressure on the Provisional Government,
and in this process the soviets would remain the organs of
"control" over the power of the bourgeoisie. Hence
flows quite another and incomparably more conciliatory attitude
to defensism.” (The Lessons of October).
Lorimer’s account of the April Theses debate (Lorimer pp71-3)
is “less than forthright”. In fact it is positively evasive:
Lenin’s description of the slogan of the democratic dictatorship
as behind the times, his sharp attack on the Bolshevik leaders
who clung to it, and his call for the transfer of power to
the workers supported by the poor peasants - these things
amounted to an admission of the failure of the “democratic
dictatorship” in reality and as a policy. And this failure
resulted in a change in the programme of the Bolshevik Party,
and a change of name of the party to the “Communist Party”.
It was much more than Doug Lorimer pretends - ie a change
account which I am giving here is the one accepted by nearly
all non-Stalinist historians of the revolution. But no major
historian of the revolution that I know of has argued that
because of Lenin’s change of position, and the change of the
Bolshevik programme, this amounted to a complete identity
of theoretical positions between Lenin and Trotsky. That would
be an exaggeration. For example, in the April 1917 polemical
exchanges with Kamenev, Lenin, while calling for the dumping
of the ‘democratic dictatorship’ attempted to outflank his
opponent by denying that the call for a Commune State was
a call for socialist revolution. Later, after the faction
fight was over, Lenin had no such qualms. Lenin’s thought
was in motion, and his ideas were changing. That’s what explains
apparently contradictory formulas in 1917. But let me ask
Doug directly: isn’t Lenin’s call in On Slogans (July 1917)
for a proletarian government supported by the poor peasantry
and semi-proletarians in contradiction to the idea of the
‘democratic dictatorship’? If not, then the debate between
Trotsky and the Bolsheviks since 1905 was just over words
- ie a big misunderstanding.
is certain however is that the Bolshevik change of position
was the basis for the political fusion between the Bolsheviks
and the small group around Trotsky. The basis of the fusion
was the perspective of the seizure of power by the workers
supported by the poor peasants. If this was not the case,
it could only be explained by Trotsky temporarily dumping
permanent revolution, and only resurrecting it afterwards.
In which case Trotsky is a complete liar when he claims that
on the eve of the October revolution he wrote in Pravda on
the perspective of permanent revolution and “it never occurred
to anyone to come out against me”. That doesn’t mean of course
that there was general acceptance of the theoretical framework
of permanent revolution. It just means that ‘for a difference
to be a difference, it has to make a difference’. And no one
in the Bolshevik party thought there was a difference between
Lenin’s and Trotsky’s perspectives (those around Kamenev would
have added: unfortunately).
final point on Russia.. Doug Lorimer holds that the peasants
“as a whole” (including the ‘peasant bourgeoisie’) were represented
in the Soviet government formed after October 1917 by the
Left Social Revolutionaries. This would have come as a surprise
to both the Left SRs and the rich peasants. The Left SRs were
the militant wing of the party whose base was among the poorest
sections of the peasantry - and urban sympathisers, including
young intellectuals. Bringing the Left SRs into the government
was nothing to do with representing rich peasants, but an
attempt to bring the other revolutionary Soviet parties who
supported the revolution into the government.
fight around permanent revolution
Lorimer’s pamphlet effectively ignores the historical context
of the struggle for permanent revolution from 1923 onwards.
Trotsky and his supporters never waged a prolonged battle
against ‘Lenin’s theory of the democratic dictatorship’, they
waged a fight on two fronts around this theory: first, against
the Stalinist neo-Menshevik “two-stage” theory of revolution
is less developed countries, and against the theory of “socialism
in one country”.
Lorimer notes that the Trotskyist movement was the “main vehicle”
by which the tradition of Bolshevism was transmitted to the
younger generation (or rather the generation that was ‘younger’
in 1968), especially in the advanced countries. But why? Because
Trotskyism waged the fight against Stalinism. There were,
after the Stalinisation of the Comintern, no significant forces
which defended a Doug Lorimer-style “democratic dictatorship”
theory against both Stalinism and the Trotskyists. Stalinism
adopted a rigid Menshevik two-stage theory and baptised it
“Leninist”. But the Stalinist theory contained one element
which Lenin’s theory was always against: a strategic alliance
with the ‘national’ bourgeoisie, the subordination of the
interests of the working class to the national(ist) bourgeoisie.
adoption of the “two stage” theory by the Stalinists signified
a simple retreat to Menshevism, ie the theory that it was
first necessary to create ‘national’ capitalism and then proceed
to organise the working class for socialist revolution. As
is known by everyone from the Trotskyist tradition, the Stalinist
subordination of the class independence of the workers in
the dominated countries has led to multiple catastrophes and
betrayals in the 20th Century.
first significant one was the subordination of the Chinese
Communist Party to the Kuomintang (KMT) in the 1920s. Doug
Lorimer claims that Trotsky made ultra-left mistakes on China
in this period. But his discussion evades the main point.
Irrespective of whether Trotsky made errors of formulation
on China, was not proximate cause the catastrophe in China
in 1927 - the massacre of the Communists by the KMT - the
imposition on the Chinese Communists of the fatal policy of
ceding leadership of the national and democratic revolution
to the KMT, whose leader Chiang Kai-shek, had actually been
made an honourary member of the Communist International? Having
seen the fruits of this policy in the KMT marginalising the
Communists, the CCP, under the pressure of the Comintern,
staged the disastrous ultra-left Canton uprising in 1927.
whole story is told at length in Harold Isaac’s classic, The
Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. And was it not Trotsky,
and only he in the top leadership of the Russian Communist
Party after the dispersal of the mid-1920s joint opposition,
who fought against the subordination of the communists to
the KMT? And isn’t this the main point to be made about the
debates over China?
should remember that the Canton uprising took place just as
the Communist International embarked on its ultra-left third
period stage. Once the turn to the popular front had been
made definitively in 1934, the Stalinised CPs deepened their
neo-Menshevik “two-stage” course.
the first consequences of this was the disaster in Spain;
one hopes that with so many people having had the opportunity
to see Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom, the general outlines
of this story are now better known. (The literature on this
is vast - see for example Felix Morrow’s Revolution and Counter
Revolution in Spain, P. Broue and E. Temime, The Revolution
and the Civil War in Spain, or for those few socialists who
haven’t read it, George Orwell’s classic “Homage to Catalonia”).
army general Franco led a fascist-military putsch in June
1936, the workers and peasants of Spain rose up in a revolution,
successful in many important areas, and especially in Catalonia
and its capital Barcelona. Catalonia was a stronghold both
of the anarchists and the POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification).
Spontaneously the workers socialised just about everything,
even organising into collectives the barber’s shops and shoeshine
boys. In the countryside land was collectivised; peasant collectives
sprang up in many areas.
revolution in Spain was crushed however way before the fascist
victory, but a right-wing republican alliance, who shock troops,
flank guards - and anti-revolutionary murderers and torturers
- were the Communist Party, and especially its Russian-organised
Spanish revolution was crushed in the name of a rigid two-stage
theory: first win the national and democratic struggle against
the fascists, and only then begin the struggle for
socialism (concretised as: first win the war, and only after
that the struggle for socialism).
this perspective, Trotsky counterposed permanent revolution.
Despite the fact that Spain was a weak imperialist country
like Russia, Trotsky insisted on the centrality of the national,
democratic and land questions. Spain had a ‘belated’ bourgeois
development, and these questions centrally concerned the building
of an alliance including the poor peasants and agricultural
labourers, under the leadership of the working class, capable
of defeating fascist reaction.. But fighting for the solution
of these issues under the leadership of the proletariat had
to go hand-in-hand with the measures of socialisation taken
immediately and spontaneously by the working class itself.
“two-stage” theory, any attempt to delay, prevent or obstruct,
the spontaneous socialisation measures of the workers, meant
repressing the revolution - which is exactly what the Stalinists
did, of course.
experience of Spain is incapable of being explained by Doug
Lorimer’s theory. If the national and democratic revolution
has to be achieved first, before measures of socialisation
can be taken, if combining socialist measures with fighting
to solve the national and democratic tasks simultaneously
is a priori incorrect, then the actions of the working class
in Barcelona and in many other proletarian centres, were ultra-left.
Which is exactly what the Stalinists said (blaming the anarchists
and the POUM).
Lorimer makes just one reference to Spain in his pamphlet,
criticising a formula from Trotsky’s pamphlet The Spanish
Revolution and the Dangers which Threaten it, in which Trotsky
argues that the “democratic dictatorship” means the dictatorship
of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat (Lorimer p. 70). This
Doug describes as “grotesque absurdity”. Trotsky argued:
April 1917, Lenin repeated and repeated for the benefit of
Stalin, Kamenev, and others who were clinging to the old Bolshevik
formula of 1905: There is not and there cannot be a “democratic
dictatorship” other than the dictatorship of Miliukov-Tseretelli-Chernov.
The democratic dictatorship, by its very nature, is a dictatorship
of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat”.
Lenin said the “democratic dictatorship” had been (in a certain
way and to a certain extent) realised in Russia, he also insisted
that “the bourgeoisie is in power” - Doug actually quotes
this passage himself (Lorimer page ). Doug Lorimer never explains
why the ‘democratic dictatorship’ was incapable of doing anything
in Russia except putting the bourgeoisie in power.
in any case, this passage is torn completely out of context.
Trotsky was polemicising against the Stalinist “two-stage”
theory, and its application in Spain. Doug would have done
better to say something about the Spanish revolution, and
show how his rigid insistence that the bourgeois-democratic
revolution has to be completed before socialist measures can
begin, could possibly explain the defiance of this schema
actually demonstrated by the Spanish proletarian masses. Or
is Doug Lorimer going to tell us that the workers socialising
everything that moves is part of the bourgeois (national-democratic)
revolution? If Doug Lorimer were to take that step, then we
would have to conclude that his differences with permanent
revolution were purely terminological. If not, he would have
to conclude the Spanish masses were ultra-left. Either way,
the experience of Spain wrecks his “two-stage” schema.
the accounting of all the disasters which the Stalinists led
the third world masses into through their neo-Menshevik
“two-stage” theory would require a long book. To conclude
this section I want to refer to two more modern experiences,
Indonesia and South Africa.
to the Suharto military coup in 1965, the Indonesian Communist
Party under Aidit, subordinated the Indonesian masses to a
national ‘anti-imperialist’ alliance with the bourgeois nationalist
government of Sukarno (father of Megawatti Sukarnoputri).
This alliance fitted perfectly into the official national
unity ideology of the Indonesian state. While the economic
situation got progressively worse, instead of mobilising
the Indonesian masses around a class independentist
line, the PKI acted as the left cover for Sukarno, leaving
the party disastrously unprepared for the military-Islamic
coup which followed. As James Balowski correctly
explained in a recent issue of Green Left Weekly:
PKI adhered to the Stalinist/Maoist theory of revolution:
a national democratic first “stage” in which state power is
exercised by a “bloc of four classes” (the nationalist bourgeoisie,
the petty bourgeoisie, the peasantry and the working class)
would consolidate capitalism. After an extended and unspecified
period of time, a distinct socialist stage would begin.”
attempt to reforge a revolutionary movement in Indonesia has
of course to critically appropriate the strategic errors of
the Aidit leadership, and thus be based on a militant rejection
of the “two-stage’ theory.
South Africa, prior to the 1994 transition, the South African
Communist Party (SACP) completely subordinated itself to the
pro-capitalist policies of the ANC. Crucially, when class
independentist forces emerged in the trade unions in the late
1980s, around first FOSATU and then COSATU, the SACP acted
as the central conduit for re-integrating the militant unionists
into the ANC coalition, through the medium of a fusion with
the SACP/ANC trade union front SACTU. The strategic question
in South Africa was not, as some ultra-leftists thought, socialist
revolution versus the national democratic anti-apartheid struggle.
It was “which class will take the leadership of the national
democratic struggle?” - the key question posed by permanent
revolution. That question has been answered in practice; now
we have a neo-liberal government ANC government, headed by
a former leader of the SACP, and graduate of the Moscow Lenin
School, Thabo Mbeki. And a growing mass struggle, led by the
unions, against the ANC government.
do not exclude the possibility that sections of the SACP could
learn the lessons of this process, or criticise anyone for
maintaining friendly relations with people in the SACP. However,
an honest discussion with these comrades cannot evade the
whole issue of the strategy of the SACP before the fall of
other experiences showing the disaster of the Stalinist-Menshevik
‘two-stage’ theory could be listed, from the subordination
of the Middle East Communist parties to bourgeois nationalism
(Nasserism, the Ba’ath etc); the subordination of official
Latin American communism to their own national bourgeoisie,
tail-ending Peronism, being the most rightwing force in the
Chilean popular front in 1970-3 (literally disarming the workers),
tail-ending the 1970s military regime in Peru etc
and the CPI and the CPI(M) tail-ending Congress in India,
and even forming coalitions with more right-wing forces to
prop up the bourgeois order.
Lorimer says: “Any attempt to build an international movement
that is really based, as Cannon put it more than 50 years
ago, on a revival of ‘genuine Marxism as it was expounded
and practised in the Russian revolution and in the early days
of the Communist International’, cannot avoid dealing with
the misrepresentations of Bolshevik policy made by Trotsky
in the 1920s and ‘30s” (Lorimer p.8).
would have been better to say: “Any attempt to rebuild the
international socialist movement cannot avoid dealing with
the rotten Menshevik-Stalinist two stages theory of revolution,
which for decades was fought from the perspective of permanent
Revolution versus Socialism in One Country
Stalinist line of subordinating the struggle in dependent
countries to the interests of the ‘national’ bourgeoisie,
using the “two-stage” theory, did not just arise from wrong
theory, but from the material interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.
Socialism in one country was the theorisation of the perspectives
of the bureaucracy, and its abandonment of international revolution
- later theorised as “peaceful co-existence” with imperialism.
The degenerated Communist International became the vehicle
for imposing Stalinism on the world communist movement, and
transforming the Communist movement into an instrument for
defending the diplomatic interests of the Soviet state. As
noted above, this approach became crystallised with the adoption
of the ‘popular front’ with bourgeois parties in 1934.
socialism in one country
theory envisaged the revolutionary process, and the
building of socialism, as something which happened more-or-less
independently in each country. Trotsky insisted however that
the fate of the Russian revolution was directly linked to
the process of world revolution. As he, and Lenin, repeatedly
stressed, unless the European workers came to its aid, the
Russian revolution was doomed to defeat.
understanding - that the world class struggle and the world
revolution was a powerful independent reality
and not just the sum of national struggles - was built
into the theory of permanent revolution from the beginning.
Already, in Results and Prospects (1905) Trotsky premised
his audacious theory that the democratic tasks could be solved
through the proletariat taking power on the idea that the
Russian revolution would be part and parcel of the European
revolution, and could not be considered independently.
Trotsky’s theory was an early insight into the nature of the
new imperialist epoch. His best exposition of this notion
however is in the Introduction to the German Edition of Permanent
Revolution (Permanent Revolution, Pathfinder edition, p144),
in which he explains the dialectical interaction between national
and international events. This, incidentally, is a much clearer
exposition than anything that can be found in Lenin.
permanent revolution was the theoretical underpinning of the
proletarian internationalism of the Russian Left Opposition,
and later of the Trotskyist movement. After 1934, this struggle
had to be waged against the “popular front” and other class
collaborationist positions in the advanced countries, and
against the “two stages” theory in the semi-colonial world.
his introduction Doug accepts that this aspect of permanent
revolution “fully accorded” with the positions of Lenin and
the Bolsheviks. But there is no reference to the fact that
the battle for this aspect of permanent revolution was waged
against a world communist movement, increasingly Stalinised,
which advocated a “two-stage” theory, and often referred to
the “democratic dictatorship” theory in its defence.
am not saying, let me repeat, that Doug Lorimer’s
theory is the Stalinist neo-Menshevik theory. What
I am saying is that some acknowledgement of the overall historical
context is in order, ie that the fight against class collaborationism
in the imperialist and semi-colonial countries, and the fight
for proletarian internationalism worldwide, was fought under
the banner of permanent revolution.
Revolution against Capital: combined and uneven development
Gramsci referred to the Russian revolution as the “revolution
against Capital”. This of course was a pun: he meant simultaneously
against capitalism and against the theory of iron ‘stages’,
a sequence of logically successive modes of production, which
he attributed to Marx’s book Capital. This attribution
by Gramsci, although providing a neat verbal trick, was unfair.
Nowhere in Marx’s work - and let’s remember that Marx, not
Trotsky, first coined the term ‘permanent revolution’ - is
there the idea the idea that the whole of humanity has to
go through a logically successive series of modes of production
- barbarism, slave society, feudalism, capitalism and then
socialism. On the contrary, Marx insisted that this generalisation
was only true of Europe, and only then with important reservations.
(Despite this, the ‘inevitable stages’ theory became common
in the bowdlerisations of the Second International, and subsequently
in the leaden textbooks of Soviet Stalinism. On this, see
Perry Anderson’s Considerations on Western Marxism).
the base of the rejection of
‘inevitable stages’ theories of historical materialism
are two basic factors. First, contrary to simplistic theories,
a distinct set of forces of production do not automatically
give rise to a pre-defined mode of production. For example,
the same level of productive forces was present in west European
feudalism as in the ‘tributary’ mode of production which existed
simultaneously in the Ottoman empire. The level of the productive
forces sets distinct limits of course - capitalism could not
have existed in either place at that time.
second reason why ‘inevitable stages’ is a wrong way of looking
at human development is because less advanced countries come
into contact with more advanced, and are transformed by this
contact. ‘Stone-age’ tribes in the Amazon or Papua New Guinea
will never go through feudalism. Probably (and hopefully)
contemporary semi-colonial countries will never go through
the stage of advanced capitalism.
reason for this is that the world process is not only uneven,
but also combined. The theory of combined and uneven
development is the theoretical underpinning of permanent revolution,
and when Trotsky originally put forward his theory he was
precisely accused (by the Mensheviks) of wanting to “skip”
historical stages (ie the stage of Russia’s ‘proper’ capitalist
development). (Incidentally Doug doesn’t mention combined
and uneven development - does he agree with it?). Trotsky
is nonsense to say that in general stages cannot be skipped.
The living historical process always makes leaps over isolated
‘stages’ which derive from theoretical breakdown into its
component parts of the process of development in its entirety,
that is taken in its fullest scope. The same is demanded of
revolutionary policy at critical moments.” ( Permanent
this angle, we might ask exactly why there is an ‘inevitable’
stage of the ‘democratic dictatorship’ is each and every less
developed country. Irrespective of the stage of the world
revolutionary process? Irrespective of the exact pattern of
class forces in each country? Doug Lorimer is in danger of
erecting a new, and ahistorical, schema of inevitable stages.
Lenin, in his Letters on Tactics noted:-
theory is not a dogma, but a guide to action’, Marx and Engels
always said, rightly ridiculing the mere memorising and repetition
of "formulas", that at best are capable only of
marking out general tasks, which are necessarily modifiable
by the concrete economic and political conditions of each
particular period of the historical process.”
is no magic theory, no cookbook (permanent revolution included)
which will provide all the concrete answers to revolutionary
strategy and tactics in any particular country.
in, and misinterpretations of, the permanent revolution theory
weaknesses, in the light of historical experience, of the
permanent revolution theory stem from the ambiguities involved
in the notions of ‘bourgeois democratic’ and ‘national democratic’
revolutions. The bourgeois revolutions, for example those
in Britain and France, broke the hold of feudal relations
of production and cleared the way for the full development
of capitalism. From this Marxists imputed a paradigm of general
“tasks” of the bourgeois-democratic revolution which included
the abolition of feudal relations in the countryside, and
the creation of national unity and independence. These factors,
it was held, were a prerequisite for the full development
of capitalism, which required a unified national market and
a free labour force capable of being proletarianised. The
full development of capitalism was taken to mean the beginning
this, many Marxists drew the conclusion that the beginnings
of industrialisation in the semi-colonial countries, and the
achievement of basic tasks of the bourgeois revolution, were
- in the epoch of imperialism -impossible without the conquest
of power by the working class. It was held that imperialist
domination completely blocked the road to all national-democratic
reforms and even partial industrialisation. Trotsky seemed
to lend credence to these ideas in some his writings.
experience of the 20th century has contradicted, at least
in part, the idea that in the epoch of imperialism basic tasks
of the bourgeois revolution cannot be carried out by the nationalist
bourgeoisie, but only by the conquest of power by the working
class. In many less developed countries there has been a partial
solution of the tasks of the bourgeois revolution under bourgeois
or petty bourgeois nationalist leaderships.
example, in Mexico between 1910 and 1920 there was a bourgeois
revolution led by the peasantry and sections of the bourgeoisie
itself. As an eventual consequence of this revolution a ‘state-capitalist’
model of capital accumulation was initiated and partial industrialisation
begun. A radical land reform in favour of the peasantry was
carried out in the 1930s under Lázaro Cardenas. A form of
parliamentary democracy - severely controlled - was established.
The leading Marxist historian of this process, Adolfo Gilly,
argues that the revolution was ‘incomplete’ and ‘interrupted’.
This is correct from one angle.
democracy was not, and has not been established. Real national
independence does not exist when the country is in so many
ways under the tutelage of US imperialism. But then, as explained
above, breaking the grip of imperialism is a task of the socialist
the other hand, did the revolution do away with the last vestiges
of semi-feudal relations, and did it establish the basis for
the emergence of an unambiguously capitalist country, and
free wage labour? Obviously it did. In this sense it was a
‘successful’ bourgeois revolution.
clearly, the nationalist struggles under bourgeois or petty-bourgeois
leadership have been incapable of doing is establishing new
imperialisms to rival the existing ones. They have all been
subordinated to imperialism, which is why ‘real’ national
independence cannot be achieved outside the conquest of power
by the working class.
the light of experiences in Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, South
Korea, Argentina, India and other places show, the idea that
imperialism is a complete block to any form of industrialisation
is also wrong. These countries, among others, have achieved
a partial, but dependent, industrial development. The traditional
model of semi-colonial countries - exporters of raw materials,
importers of manufactures - does not fit these examples. Which
is why some Marxists have preferred to call them “dependant
semi-industrialised countries”. This category was prefigured
by Lenin, when in his pamphlet Imperialism he talked about
the ‘Argentinean variant’, as distinct from semi-colonialism
these experiences, in my opinion it would be more useful to
distinguish the tasks of the national democratic revolution
as being distinct, or at least partially so, from the bourgeois
revolution per se. If this is done, then it makes sense to
say that real democracy, real national independence, real
national unity etc can only achieved by the conquest of power
by the working class and its allies (or if Doug Lorimer prefers:
a special form of the dictatorship of the proletariat).
all, the declared aims of the bourgeois revolution - liberty,
equality and ‘fraternity’ (social solidarity) - could only
ever be achieved by the socialist revolution anyway.
organisations with origins in the Trotskyist movement (for
example comrades from the HKS tradition in Iran and the AWL
in Britain) have concluded from the developments discussed
above that a series of countries have become “sub-imperialist”,
relays of imperialist powers or small imperialist powers themselves,
and thus there are no democratic and national tasks to solve.
The conclusion these comrades have drawn is that the revolution
is simply now a socialist revolution, analogous to that in
the imperialist countries. One other consequence of this is
that these organisations have been loathe to take an unambiguously
anti-imperialist position in the case of wars between these
countries and big imperialist states - for example over the
Malvinas and Iraq (and the AWL supported the war against Serbia
in 1999). The logic has been - why take sides between big
gangsters and small gangsters, when there is no fundamental
difference between them?
do not have the time and space to make a detailed critique
of the “sub-imperialism” thesis here. It seems to me however
that the events of the 1990s - the war against Iraq, the deepening
enslavement of third world countries to the debt crisis, the
domination of imperialist finance capital, the debacle of
the Asian “Tigers” in the 1997-8 financial crash - all these
things show the sub-imperialism theory is wrong.
should be said that this ‘sub-imperialism’ thesis has not
really been a mistaken interpretation of permanent revolution,
but a rejection of it - explicitly so in the case of the ex-HKS
under-estimating the role of the proletariat, underestimating
the role of the party
final irony of Doug Lorimer’s pamphlet is that despite its
intention to take a stand on Leninism and Bolshevism, it ends
up under-estimating the role of the proletariat, and thus
the role of the revolutionary party. How?
we have seen, Doug Lorimer wants to defend the idea that in
the countries oppressed by imperialism, it is first necessary
to forge an alliance with “the whole peasantry”
including the mis-named “peasant bourgeoisie”, to first
complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution. However, as
we have also seen, the peasantry is a declining force worldwide,
and the peasant bourgeoisie a theoretical anachronism. Since
the DSP theory simply doesn’t fit contemporary reality, it
is what the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos called “a
degenerating research programme”. The DSP has now carried
out a series of subsidiary theoretical manoeuvres designed
to defend the basic theory, but in fact further undermining
it. The DSP theory now assigns the urban poor and the agricultural
labourers directly exploited by capital the role previously
assigned to “the whole peasantry”.
political-strategic consequences of this move are the following.
Since the DSP theory considers it necessary to forge an alliance
on the basis of national and democratic demands with the rural
and urban poor, it follows that it considers that these forces
will be under the political leadership of non-proletarian
political forces, and specifically not under the leadership
of the revolutionary party. In Russia the Lorimer theory considers
that the peasants were under the leadership of a peasant party,
the Social Revolutionaries, and that the Bolshevik alliance
with the Left SRs was key to cementing a worker-peasant alliance.
But it is very difficult to imagine what the contemporary
analogue of the Socialist Revolutionaries might be amongst
the multi-millioned legions in the ghettos and barrios of
the growing cities of the “third world”. The urban poor are
often proletarians in the most direct sense themselves: there
are hundreds of thousands of factory workers, construction
workers, transport workers, government employees, personal
servants and workers in the tourism, catering and entertainment
industries who live in the huge poor barrios of Iztapalapa,
Indios Verdes and La Villa in Mexico City. They live cheek-by-jowel
with the “semi-proletarians” - street traders, home workers,
unemployed etc. in the same neighbourhoods. If the working
class political forces do not seize the leadership in the
poor neighbourhoods, then the forces of right wing reaction
will (in Mexico in the form of the fascistic Antorchistas,
who have a small mass base in precisely these neighbourhoods,
but thankfully much smaller than the left). There is no political
force which can take the leadership in the poor barrios which
is independent of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat;
there is no candidate for an “alliance” on a democratic basis.
On the contrary, the revolutionary forces must themselves
fight for the leadership of the struggles around housing and
other amenities which dominate the barrios. These of course
are class, not national or democratic, demands.
the struggles of the rural poor - peasants, day labourers,
agricultural proletarians - increasingly come up against agri-business,
rural bourgeois and capitalist farmer-landlords. The forces
of capitalist reaction will themselves try to establish -
through clientalism and violent repression - a mass base among
the rural poor. In today’s conditions it is mostly fruitless
to try to find (ideologically)
“independent” peasant organisations to form an alliance with.
The revolutionary and progressive forces among the workers
will spontaneously ally with the combat organisations of the
rural poor, who in general reciprocate. The rebellious peasants
and agricultural workers face the same enemies as the urban
workers; that is why they today strongly incline towards the
left. The worker-peasant alliance today is overwhelmingly
an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist alliance.
DSP theory amounts to a self-limitation of the role of the
revolutionary party. In the dominated countries the revolutionary
party cannot limit itself to building a base among the workers
(although that is crucial) and then looking for allies in
a “democratic” alliance. It has to directly build itself among
the urban and rural poor, to try to take the leadership of
their struggles. Many of these struggles will unfold on the
terrain of national and democratic demands, which are today
inherently linked to anti-capitalist objectives.
DSP theory, as advanced by Doug Lorimer, is a recipe for confusion
on central issues. It correctly identifies the centrality
of national and democratic questions, and, in key formulations,
concedes that the “democratic dictatorship” it advocates is
a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. From this we
might conclude that the differences with permanent revolution
are purely terminological.
weakness of the DSP theory is its hankering after an alliance
with the “peasant bourgeoisie”, or forces who might be taken
as their political representatives, in circumstances where
often the “peasant bourgeoisie” is a theoretical anachronism
(see end note 5). Its second weakness is its insistence on
a ‘democratic stage’ at a governmental level, when the class
polarisation is third world countries does not create the
social or political basis for this. It is hard to imagine
a “democratic stage” which will not be anything other than
an Aquino-type government which was the eventual outcome of
the February 1986 “peoples power” movement in the Philippines;
or an ANC-type government, which was the outcome in South
Africa. In other words a “democratic stage” means a new form
of capitalist stabilisation. This generally signifies the
defeat of the revolutionary forces, or at least that they
are not strong enough to impose an alternative, workers and
idea that there could be a “stage” other than a workers’ and
peasants’ government, the dictatorship of the proletariat,
which could solve the national and democratic tasks of the
revolution, is extremely dangerous and is potentially open
to all kinds of opportunist interpretations.
programmatic codification is not the same as political practice.
As Trotsky insisted, a programme is a concrete series of actions.
There is no evidence that the DSP has adopted positions, or
advocated actions, which in key countries like Indonesia or
the Philippines would automatically lead to a subordination
of the interests of the workers and poor peasants to those
of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. In debating questions
like these among grown-up revolutionaries (even if the debate
is sharp) we are not dealing with accusations of ‘betrayal’,
as infantile sectarians believe. Doug Lorimer’s pamphlet maintains
an admirable sense of proportion on these matters, concluding
simply that (his version of) Lenin’s theory is a superior
guide to action than permanent revolution.
Marxists aim for the highest possible unity of theory and
practice, in reality this evolves in a combined and uneven
way. Organisations with different theoretical codifications
can come to precisely the same conclusions in concrete situations.
Which is why the question of whether an organisation is revolutionary
or not cannot be read off, a priori, simply from its programmatic
codification. It is another reason why collaboration between
revolutionaries today cannot be based on total theoretical
agreement. If it were, it would be a recipe for building international
‘branch offices’ of the type promoted by the British SWP and
my opinion the DSP should re-think its opposition to permanent
revolution, a hangover from when the DSP was in an alliance
with the US Socialist Workers Party, and under the pressure
of Jack Barnes’ repudiation of permanent revolution in the
1980s (see “Our Trotskyism and Theirs” Jack Barnes, New International
of the immediate consequences, it is always a shame when a
revolutionary organisation takes a theoretical step backwards,
towards confused and less adequate positions.
Don’t Mystify Lenin
problem with organisations which describe themselves as “marxist-leninist”
is often their
apparent elevation of Lenin into a thinker whose thought had
no contradictions, and who made no mistakes. If you do this,
paradoxically you diminish Lenin’s greatness. (The same error
of course is made by sectarian Trotskyist organisations who
fetishise and reify Trotsky’s writings).
theoretician, every political leader, makes mistakes. The
thought of every living thinker evolves and develops. The
great Marxist leaders of the early part of this century -
Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and Gramsci
and others - all left a substantial body of theoretical
work. This has to be appropriated critically by contemporary
Marxists, not woven into timeless dogma. Equally the political
actions, and organisational methods, of each of these leaders
has to be assessed critically.
essence of Lenin and Leninism is not at all his conjunctural
assessments on tactical questions, often made in the heat
of factional battles. Lenin’s most enduring theoretical contributions
were his general theory of party organisation (even though
the proposals for 1902 Russian clandestinity cannot be simply
copied today); his theory of imperialism; his writings on
dialectics, particularly his Philosophical Notebooks; his
writings on the national question and self-determination;
his reaffirmation and concretisation of the revolutionary,
and not reformist road to socialism; his reaffirmation of
socialism being the self-rule of the workers, rather than
the dictatorship of a single party; and his general overview
of revolutionary strategy in the advanced capitalist countries.
The main writings which correspond to these issues are What
is to Be Done?; Imperialism - the Highest Stage of Capitalism;
On the National Question and Self-Determination; The State
and Revolution; and Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder.
These writings were an essential underpinning for the work
of the Communist International in its early years.
however did not theorise many things which Trotsky did (for
example fascism) because he died in 1924. In the course of
analysing fascism, Trotsky necessarily was forced to engage
in much more detail with strategy and tactics in the advanced
capitalist countries than Lenin ever had. To that extent,
Trotsky’s thought on this and other questions is more up to
none of the thinkers named above was alive after 1940. There
are many new questions which we have to theorise for ourselves.
There is much to learn from all the great theorists of Marxism;
but none of them took the work of previous theorists, not
even Marx and Engels, to be holy writ.
[i] Trotsky’s theory of permanent
revolution - a Leninist critique. Doug Lorimer, Resistance
[ii] Fatherland or Mother Earth?
[v] I am not very happy with
the phrase “peasant bourgeoisie”. It would be much more
accurate to say the rich peasants (kulaks) were a section
of the petty bourgeoisie. In one of his writings Lenin
says, rhetorically, “are not the peasants also a form
of bourgeisie?”. Well, no. The more wealthy peasants in
general employed only a few agricultural workers. They
were not bourgeois in the normal sense of the word. Here
I have not disputed the term “peasant bourgeoisie” every
time it occurs.