Imperialist Economism, Democracy and the Socialist Revolution
The Activist - Volume 10, No 2, Feb 2000, Links No 17
By Doug Lorimer
- Once again on the purpose of my pamphlet
- 'Two Tactics' and the bourgeois revolution
- The 'democratic dictatorship' and the bourgeois republic
- Lenin's and Trotsky's 'conceptions' of the revolution and 1905
- The October Revolution and 'permanent revolution'
- Once again: what is the socialist revolution?
- National oppression, national-democratic revolution and socialism
- Conclusion: what's wrong with 'permanent revolution'?
During the first imperialist world war, a trend began to emerge among the Russian revolutionary Marxists that argued that since national oppression could not be abolished without an economic revolution against imperialism and capitalism, Marxists did not need to concern themselves with the problems of a political revolution to achieve democracy. Instead, the "nascent trend of imperialist Economism" (as Lenin characterised it) argued that all that was needed to abolish national oppression was the anti-capitalist economic revolution, i.e., the socialist revolution. The imperialist Economists ignored the fact, as Lenin explained in his October 1916 article "A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism", that in "all the colonies and the semi-colonies … there still exist oppressed and capitalistically underdeveloped nations" and, therefore, "Objectively, these nations still have general national tasks to accomplish, namely, democratic tasks, the tasks of overthrowing foreign oppression" in the political sphere.1
Furthermore, the imperialist Economists displayed "just as complete a misinterpretation of the relationship between socialism and democracy" as the "late and unlamented Economism of 1894-1902".2 Explaining what he meant by this, Lenin wrote:
All "democracy" consists in the proclamation and realisation of "rights" which under capitalism are realisable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights, without a struggle to introduce them now, immediately, without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle, socialism is impossible.
Having failed to understand this, Kievsky bypasses the central question, that belongs to his special subject, namely, how will we Social-Democrats abolish national oppression? He shunts the question aside with phrases about the world being "drenched in blood", etc. (though this has no bearing on the matter under discussion). This leaves only one single argument: the socialist revolution will solve everything! Or, the argument is sometimes advanced by people who share his views: self-determination is impossible under capitalism and superfluous under socialism.
From the theoretical standpoint that view is nonsensical, from the practical political standpoint it is chauvinistic. It fails to appreciate the significance of democracy. For socialism is impossible without democracy because: (1) the proletariat cannot perform the socialist revolution unless it prepares for it by the struggle for democracy; (2) victorious socialism cannot consolidate its victory and bring humanity to the withering away of the state without implementing full democracy.3
In his first article criticising my pamphlet on Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution,4 and even more so in his second article [see previous article], Phil Hearse advances the same sort of caricature of Marxism as the imperialist Economist trend that Lenin had to ideologically combat more than eight decades ago. That is, he dissolves the objective democratic tasks of winning full political and economic independence in the imperialist- dominated, semi-colonial countries into the anti-capitalist economic (socialist) revolution. Thus he argues that "there can be no 'national-democratic revolution', i.e., a revolution that solves the tasks of the national-democratic revolution, which is not simultaneously anti-imperialist and thus anti-capitalist"; that the anti-imperialist revolution in the semi-colonial countries "will necessarily combine socialist and 'national-democratic' measures, tasks of the socialist revolution with those of the national-democratic revolution"; and that "In the epoch of imperialism it could not be otherwise, because without anti-capitalist measures, tasks of the socialist revolution, national-democratic tasks cannot be solved". Hence, Hearse answers the question of how Marxists will abolish national oppression with the same caricature of Marxism offered by his imperialist Economist forebear Kievsky (Yury Pyakatov): the socialist revolution will solve everything!
I will return to Hearse's imperialist Economist approach to the relationship between the national-democratic revolution and the socialist revolution in the semi-colonial countries later in this article. First though, I will take up his utterly confused response to my reply to his critique of my pamphlet Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution: A Leninist Critique.
Once again on the purpose of my pamphlet
Hearse begins by noting that my reply to his first article criticising my pamphlet "starts off by denying that the pamphlet represents an attempt to outline the DSP's policy in relation to revolution in the semi-colonial and dependent countries". I pointed out that Hearse "alleges that my pamphlet presents Lenin's policy of carrying out the proletarian revolution in semi-feudal Russia in two-stages (a bourgeois-democratic and then a socialist stage) 'as a general schema for the 'Third World' today". I stated that, "Nowhere in my pamphlet, however, do I make such a claim".
"The aim of my pamphlet", I explained, "was not to set out a 'general schema' for revolution in all semi-colonial countries today", but "as I explicitly stated in the introduction to the pamphlet, to discuss where and how Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution differed from Lenin's policy for carrying out a socialist revolution in semi-feudal Russia", i.e., in an imperialist country in which the immediate objective tasks were a democratic political revolution against an autocratic regime and a peasant bourgeois-agrarian revolution against the survivals of feudal landed property. In the Third World today the main issue is winning freedom from the political and economic domination of imperialism.
One of Hearse's main criticisms of the pamphlet was that it largely remained on the "terrain" of "what happened in Russia". Instead of confining his criticism of my pamphlet to this "terrain" (i.e., "where and how Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution differed from Lenin's policy for carrying out a socialist revolution in semi-feudal Russia"), Hearse decided to expand his criticism to the question of contemporary revolutionary strategy in the imperialist-dominated, underdeveloped capitalist countries. He evidently felt that this would provide a better vantage point from which to rebut my criticism of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution than the "terrain" of "what happened in Russia". However, in doing so, he made the claim that my pamphlet was guilty of "abstracting from the Russian experience and transferring it, without any mediations of any kind, to contemporary conditions". In reply, I pointed out that this accusation was based on a two-fold false assumption, i.e.:
1. That my pamphlet was aimed at providing an exposition of contemporary revolutionary strategy in the imperialist-dominated countries, and;
2. That I had argued in my pamphlet that the experience of carrying out a socialist revolution in tsarist Russia (an imperialist state with a semi-feudal political regime and semi-feudal system of land ownership) could be transferred without any mediation to semi-colonial capitalist-ruled countries today.
In his rejoinder Hearse attempts to portray these points as if they were some sort of devious ploy on my part to dissociate the pamphlet from having any connection with the DSP's policy on revolutionary strategy in the semi-colonial countries. Nowhere in my reply to his criticism, however, did I claim that my pamphlet did not "pertain to contemporary DSP policy" (my emphasis), i.e., that it did not have some relation to the DSP's strategic policy toward the imperialist-dominated countries. I simply pointed out that my pamphlet did not attempt to present the DSP's strategic policy for carrying out the proletarian revolution in all semi-colonial countries today.
Continuing his misrepresentation of the content of my pamphlet, Hearse writes: "Indeed, as I pointed out in my critique, the fact that most 'Third World' countries are not today 'peasant countries' was nowhere referred to in Lorimer's pamphlet". That's because my pamphlet did not attempt to discuss the applicability or otherwise of either Lenin's strategic policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution or Trotsky's permanent revolution theory to the Third World today. Hearse goes on:
The important thing is that Lorimer now recognises that the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry", which he defends against permanent revolution, does not apply to countries where the peasantry is not a majority. Excellent. This immediately poses the question—what general political approach should revolutionaries take today in the majority of semi- colonial and dependent countries dominated by imperialism, where the peasantry is not a majority? Apart from quoting a passage from the DSP program (of which more below), Lorimer doesn't tell us.
The DSP rejected permanent revolution as a strategy for the countries dominated by imperialism in the name of the "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry". Now we find out that this doesn't apply to most Third World countries.
In his eagerness to score a debating point, Hearse has overreached himself and attributed to me an argument I did not make. In my reply I did not say that the concept of a workers' and peasants' democratic dictatorship is not applicable to countries where the peasantry is a minority of the population. I simply said that in my pamphlet I did not present this concept "as a 'general schema' for all semi-colonial countries today".
Hearse decided to devote a major part of his criticism of my pamphlet to arguing that Lenin's formula of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry could not be applied to most semi-colonial countries today, because the peasantry is allegedly no longer a majority of the population. However, in the process of doing so, he actually ended up extending the concept of the workers' and peasants' democratic dictatorship to all semi-colonial countries today. Thus he concluded:
In the movements around national and democratic objectives today, the revolutionary forces have to advance the objective of a "workers and peasants government"—i.e., 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.
This is precisely the argument that the DSP has been making since we rejected Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution in the mid-1980s.5
The reason Hearse interprets the statements in my pamphlet that the worker-peasant dictatorship/workers' and peasants' government is a special form of proletarian state power as being in contradiction with the Leninist strategic line of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution is because he thinks that Lenin's formula of a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry did not signify a "workers' and peasants' government" (the first stage of the proletarian dictatorship in Russia) but, rather, a bourgeois state.
'Two Tactics' and the bourgeois revolution
In my reply to Hearse's criticism, I pointed out that Lenin's formula of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry meant "the conquest of state power by the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry to solve first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution". I further pointed out that Trotsky, in his 1929 summary of the basic postulates of his theory of permanent revolution, presented the same view of what this formula meant, i.e., "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 of all the tasks of the democratic revolution", to which Trotsky added the comment: "Assessed historically, the old slogan of Bolshevism—'the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry'—expressed precisely the above-characterised relationship of the proletariat, the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie. This has been confirmed by the experience of [the] October [Revolution]".6
Hearse ignores this argument and continues to claim that the "old Bolshevik" formula did not mean the conquest of power by the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry to solve first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution. He continues to assert that it meant a perspective of fighting for the establishment of a bourgeois republic and a prolonged period of capitalist economic development. He bases this assertion upon seven sentences taken from Lenin's July 1905 booklet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution—the same seven sentences which he cited in his first article.
In my reply to Hearse's first article I demonstrated—using Lenin's own further comments on these sentences in Two Tactics—that they do not prove what he contends they do, i.e., that Lenin's perspective was limited to the revolutionary creation of a bourgeois republic which would preside over a prolonged period of rapid development of capitalism.
Hearse refuses to accept my explanation that the points made in the cited passages are simply a restatement of elementary Marxist precepts—i.e., maxims, general truths drawn from experience. Is this because my explanations are "tainted" in his eyes by my rejection of the permanent revolution theory? But the same points were made by the author of that theory. Trotsky's 1906 work Results and Prospects begins with the following five sentences:
The Russian Revolution came unexpectedly to everybody but the Social Democrats. Marxism long ago predicted the inevitability of the Russian Revolution, which was bound to break out as a result of the conflict between capitalist development and the forces of ossified absolutism. Marxism estimated in advance the social character of the coming revolution. In calling it a bourgeois revolution, Marxism thereby pointed out that the immediate objective tasks of the revolution consisted in the creation of "normal conditions for the development of bourgeois society as a whole."
Marxism has proved to be right, and this is now past the need for discussion or proof.7
Moreover, in his November 1929 introduction to the first edition of The Permanent Revolution, Trotsky did not repudiate, but affirmed as correct, this evaluation of the social character of the Russian revolution:
In its essential features, the theory of permanent revolution was formulated by me even before the decisive events of 1905. Russia was approaching the bourgeois revolution. No one in the ranks of the Russian Social Democrats (we all called ourselves Social Democrats then) had any doubts that we were approaching a bourgeois revolution, that is, a revolution produced by the contradictions between the development of the productive forces of capitalist society and the outlived caste and state relationships of the period of serfdom and the Middle Ages. In the struggle against the Narodniks and the anarchists, I had to devote not a few speeches and articles to the Marxist analysis of the bourgeois character of the impending revolution.8
In Two Tactics Lenin argued that the realisation of the immediate objective tasks of the democratic revolution in Russia, "far from undermining capitalism", would in fact "clear the ground for a rapid development of capitalism". In Results and Prospects Trotsky argued that the realisation of the immediate objective tasks of the democratic revolution in Russia would create "normal conditions for the development of bourgeois society as a whole". Is Hearse going to claim that there is a difference of substance here? Or that a revolution that goes no further than creating normal conditions for the development of bourgeois society wouldn't make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class?
Taken in isolation from everything else Trotsky wrote in Results and Prospects, the above-quoted five sentences could easily lend themselves to the interpretation that Trotsky believed the Russian revolution would lead to nothing more than the creation of normal conditions for the development of capitalism in Russia. Obviously, that is not the perspective that Trotsky put forward in Results and Prospects. Yet, on the basis of seven sentences taken out of Two Tactics—a literary work that fills 126 book-size pages—Hearse wants us to accept his claim that Lenin's revolutionary perspectives were limited to clearing the way for bourgeois rule and the rapid development of capitalism in Russia.
Hearse claims that I made "three replies" to this claim: "(a) the revolution did bring the bourgeoisie to power, (b) it did provide for the rapid development of capitalism, and (c) it is wrong to interpret the above passages [from Two Tactics—DL] as implying a program for a bourgeois republic".
On the first of these replies, Hearse claims my response—i.e., that the first stage of the workers' and peasants' democratic revolution in Russia (the February Revolution) did enable the bourgeoisie to seize state power from the semi-feudal autocracy—"is absurd". As proof of this Hearse provides us with the following truly absurd argument:
When Lenin says that the revolution will make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule for the first time as a class, he evidently means that it will be possible for them to establish their social dictatorship, i.e., "rule as a class". Nine and a half months of provisional government, with a situation of dual power, is not the bourgeoisie ruling as a class, i.e., establishing its social dictatorship.
What does this mean? That the Provisional Government was not a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie?
Hearse's argument is either an attempt to claim that, because the bourgeoisie did not exercise total state power (i.e., it had to share power with the soviets), the Provisional Government did not represent a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie—or it is a rather clumsy attempt to counterpose state power to the words "social dictatorship (i.e., rule as a class)".
Dictatorship, as Lenin explained in his November 1918 pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, is a form of state power, of class rule. It is class rule which is exercised by direct force, unrestricted by any laws. The Provisional Government was just such a form of state power, of class rule.
According to Hearse, the "October 1917 revolution prevented the bourgeoisie from establishing its power, or its social rule as a class" (my emphasis). This claim raises the obvious question: if the bourgeoisie had not established its power prior to the October Revolution as a result of the February Revolution, what was the class character of the state power that was overthrown by the Bolshevik-led insurrection of November 7 (October 25), 1917?
If Hearse now denies that the Russian bourgeoisie came to power as a result of the February Revolution, he must think the whole of Trotsky's 1930 History of the Russian Revolution is based on a falsehood.9
Evidently feeling the untenability of his attempt to make a distinction—utterly meaningless from a Marxist standpoint—between the bourgeoisie's seizure of control over the organs of state power and the establishment of its "class rule", Hearse opts for a different line of argument to defend his rejection of the idea that a democratic revolution in the political system in Russia would enable the bourgeoisie to rule as a class. He writes: "In any case, [in Two Tactics—DL] Lenin does not say 'briefly' or 'for a historically insignificant period of time, after which they will be ejected by a proletarian upsurge'."
True enough, Lenin doesn't say either of these things. That's because he did not believe that the Russian bourgeoisie would lead an anti-autocratic, democratic revolution in Russia; he thought that this revolution could be carried through to completion only through the conquest of power by the proletariat in alliance with the peasant masses. This, of course, did not mean that Lenin excluded the possibility that if the workers were insufficiently class-conscious and organised, an armed uprising by the workers against the autocratic government might be utilised by the bourgeoisie to place itself in power. In Two Tactics Lenin warned against the possibility of just such a "partial victory" (and thereby anticipated, 12 years before it happened, the February 1917 revolution!):
Even after a partial victory in an armed struggle (the victory of the Berlin workers over the troops on March 18, 1848) an "incomplete" revolution, a revolution "that has not been carried to completion", is possible. On what, then, does its completion depend? It depends on whose hands immediate power passes into, into the hands of the Petrunkeviches and Rodichevs [leaders of the liberal bourgeois Constitutional Democratic Party—DL], that is to say, the Camphausens and the Hansemanns, or into the hands of the people … In the first instance, the bourgeoisie will possess power, and the proletariat—"freedom of criticism", freedom to "remain the party of extreme revolutionary opposition" [this was how the Mensheviks conceived of the role of the proletariat in the democratic revolution—DL]. Immediately after the victory the bourgeoisie will conclude an alliance with the reactionaries (this would inevitably happen in Russia too, if, for example, the St. Petersburg workers gained only a partial victory in street fighting with the troops and left it to Messrs. Petrunkeviches and Co. to form a government). In the second instance, a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship, i.e., the complete victory of the revolution, would be possible.10
If an examination of what Lenin wrote in Two Tactics isn't restricted to the seven sentences that Hearse fixates upon, it will be seen that Lenin argued (a) that the democratic revolution (bourgeois in its social and economic essence) could be realised in Russia only through the conquest of political power by the proletariat, supported by the peasant masses, and (b) that the completion of the democratic revolution would open the road to the proletariat, in alliance with the semi-proletarian section of the peasantry, beginning a struggle for a socialist revolution. What else can Lenin have meant when he wrote, "The complete victory of the democratic revolution will mark the end of the [democratic] revolution and the beginning of a determined struggle for a socialist revolution", or "The more complete the democratic revolution, the sooner, the more widespread, the cleaner, and the more determined will the development of this new struggle [i.e., the struggle for a socialist revolution—DL] be"?11
The 'democratic dictatorship' and the bourgeois republic
Looking back on the October Revolution in November 1918, Lenin explained:
… if the Bolshevik proletariat in the capitals and large industrial centres had not been able to rally the village poor around itself against the rich peasants [in the second half of 1918—DL], this would have indeed proved that Russia was "unripe" for socialist revolution. The peasants would have remained an "integral whole", i.e., they would have remained under the economic, political, and moral leadership of the kulaks, the rich, the bourgeoisie, and the revolution would not have passed beyond the limits of a bourgeois-democratic revolution.12
In that case, of course, the Bolshevik proletariat would not have been able to retain its hold on power—it would have been overthrown by an alliance between the bourgeoisie and the peasant masses. But, Lenin added in parentheses, "even if this had been the case, it would not have proved that the proletariat should not have taken power" because in late 1917 and the early months of 1918 the Bolshevik proletariat had "really carried the bourgeois-democratic revolution to its conclusion".13 That is, it would have simply created "normal conditions for the development of bourgeois society as a whole"; it would have gone no further in its socioeconomic measures than having cleared "the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism" in Russia.
Hearse wants us to accept his claim that prior to April 1917 this is the limit of what the Bolsheviks aspired to accomplish. But if that were true, then prior to April 1917 the Bolsheviks would not have been Marxists—partisans of the proletarian-socialist revolution—but petty-bourgeois democrats who, like the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, falsely labelled themselves socialists.
While Hearse does not explicitly describe the Bolsheviks as petty-bourgeois democrats, in his first article he recommended a book—The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, by Norman Geras—which does explicitly make that claim. According to Geras, "the Menshevik view was in fact common to all Social Democrats before 1917, except Trotsky",14 i.e., Trotsky was the only Marxist, the only consciously proletarian revolutionary socialist, in Russia prior to 1917!
Confusing the proletarian revolution (i.e., the conquest of power by the proletariat) with the socialist revolution (i.e., the centralisation of large-scale production in the hands of the proletarian state), Geras claims that before 1917 Lenin was opposed to any struggle by the proletariat to seize state power.
"Lenin's incomparable historical merit", however, according to Geras, was that "even against his own view that the proletarian revolution was not yet on the agenda in Russia, Lenin forged the organisational consequence of the theory that it was, a revolutionary proletarian party with its sights on political power".15 Geras attributes this "paradox" to Lenin's insistence "on the need for the proletariat to assume the leadership of the Russian revolutionary movement and of the peasantry in particular".16
That Geras could attribute to Lenin the view that the proletariat would lead a revolution—the forcible transfer of state power from the semi-feudal autocracy to a workers' and peasants' government—without itself conquering state power, is not so much a paradox as it is a paralogism.
Hearse obviously agrees with Geras' view of the Bolsheviks' strategic perspective. Indeed, in his rejoinder he reaffirms his earlier argument that the Bolsheviks' revolutionary aims were limited to a (petty-bourgeois democratic) program of creating a bourgeois republic and clearing the way for a prolonged development of capitalism:
Lorimer is outraged that I suggest that the meaning of these passages from Two Tactics [i.e., the seven sentences Hearse is fixated upon—DL] is that the Bolsheviks will fight for a bourgeois republic. Well, the text says—does it not?—that the revolution will be able "in the best case" to "introduce a consistent and full democratism up to instituting the republic" … This is the sole reference to the type of political regime.
Hearse evidently assumes that for Lenin (in 1905) the only conceivable "republic" was a bourgeois republic, i.e., that Lenin could not have conceived of the possibility of a workers and peasants' republic. If Hearse were right and in July 1905—more than 30 years after the Paris Commune and Marx's comments on it—Lenin had believed that a bourgeois republic was the realisation of "a consistent and full democratism", then we'd be forced to conclude that Lenin was indeed a petty-bourgeois democrat and not a Marxist.
But what type of state did Lenin, in Two Tactics, advocate the Bolsheviks fight for—a parliamentary bourgeois-democratic republic (a state with a standing army commanded by unelected, privileged officials) or a democratic republic of the Paris Commune type (a state without a standing army in which "the people themselves" were organised into the only armed force)? He argued that in order to carry through the democratic revolution:
… the proletariat must be armed—for in a revolutionary situation matters develop with exceptional rapidity to the stage of open civil war—and must be led by the Social-Democratic Party. The object of its armed pressure is "to defend, consolidate, and extend the gains of the revolution", i.e., those gains which from the standpoint of the proletariat's interests, must consist in fulfilling the whole of our minimum programme.17
The "minimum program" of the RSDLP called for the replacement of the tsarist autocracy by a "democratic republic" based upon the "replacement of the standing army by the universally armed people", i.e., a state of the Paris Commune type!
In my previous reply to Hearse, I demonstrated that in July 1905, in an article reviewing the experience of the Paris Commune, Lenin had pointed out that "the real task the Commune had to perform was primarily the achievement of the democratic and not a socialist dictatorship, the implementation of our 'minimum programme'", and that the Bolsheviks had to imitate the "successfully practical steps" undertaken by the Paris Commune (i.e., replacement of the standing army with a people's militia, etc.). Further, he pointed out that in Russia, a state of the Paris Commune type would be a "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry".18
Hearse simply ignores all this and, on the basis of one word ("republic"), asserts that Lenin's perspectives in 1905 did not go beyond those of a petty-bourgeois democrat!
Hearse claims that "what precisely Two Tactics doesn't have is a clear notion of the uninterrupted—permanent—character of the revolution", i.e., that "the overthrow of the tsarist and semi-feudal regimes will be directly linked with the dictatorship of the proletariat and the coming to power of the working class".
In Two Tactics Lenin repeatedly argued that the democratic revolution in Russia could be carried to completion only by a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Is Hearse seriously arguing that Lenin thought such a dictatorship could be established without the coming to power of the working class?
Lenin's and Trotsky's 'conceptions' of the revolution and 1905
Hearse claims that "Lorimer goes to extraordinary pains to prove that black is white, because he cannot stomach the idea that on this question [i.e., the necessity for a proletarian dictatorship—DL] Trotsky had a clearer, more precise and more prescient conception of the revolution than Lenin". However much it might pain Hearse, the evidence of what Lenin and Trotsky each wrote before 1917—i.e., what is available to us in black and white—demonstrates that this idea is simply not true.
Beginning in early 1905, Lenin began to argue for the Bolsheviks to set themselves "the task of organising the forces of the proletariat for direct struggle against the autocracy by means of mass political strikes and the armed uprising", and to "start preparing the political mass strike as well as the organisation of special groups for the obtainment and distribution of arms, for the elaboration of a plan of the armed uprising and the direct leadership of the rising".19
On October 13, 1905, workers in St. Petersburg began electing delegates to a city-wide committee (the Soviet of Workers' Deputies) to organise a mass political strike against the autocratic system of government. Leadership of the soviet fell into the hands of the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. While still in exile in Geneva, Lenin sent an article on October 19 to the Bolshevik paper Proletary in which he observed:
The working class has shown its titanic might in the all- Russia political strike, but there is still much to be done among the backward sections of the urban proletariat. While establishing a workers' militia—the only bulwark of the revolution—while preparing ourselves for new and even more determined struggles, while upholding our old slogans, we must also pay attention to the army … we must attract the soldiers to workers' meetings, intensify our agitation in the barracks, extend our liaisons with the officers, creating, alongside of the revolutionary army of workers, cadres of class-conscious revolutionaries from among the troops as well, troops which only yesterday were most loyal to the tsar and are now on the verge of becoming a people's army.20
Arriving in Stockholm on November 2 on his way back to St. Petersburg, Lenin wrote his first article on the St. Petersburg soviet, "Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers' Deputies". In this article, he argued that "politically the Soviet of Workers' Deputies should be regarded as the embryo of a provisional revolutionary government", adding:
It is absolutely necessary, in contrast to the decay of the tsarist, counter-revolutionary forces, to organise the revolutionary forces at once, immediately, without the slightest delay. This organisation has been making splendid progress, particularly of late. This is evident from the formation of contingents of a revolutionary army (defence squads, etc.), the rapid development of Social-Democratic mass organisations of the proletariat, the establishment of peasants' committees by the revolutionary peasantry, and the first free meetings of our proletarian brothers in sailor's or soldier's uniforms …
What is lacking now is the unification of all the genuinely revolutionary forces, of all the forces that are already operating in a revolutionary fashion …
The Soviet must proclaim itself the provisional revolutionary government, or form such a government, and must by all means enlist to this end the participation of new deputies not only from the workers, but, first of all, from the sailors and soldiers, who are everywhere seeking freedom; secondly, from the revolutionary peasantry, and thirdly, from the revolutionary bourgeois intelligentsia. The Soviet must select a strong nucleus for the provisional revolutionary government and reinforce it with representatives of all revolutionary parties and all revolutionary (but, of course, only revolutionary and not liberal) democrats. We are not afraid of so broad and mixed a composition—indeed, we want it, for unless the proletariat and the peasantry unite and unless the Social-Democrats and revolutionary democrats form a fighting alliance, the great Russian revolution cannot be fully successful.
… to do this, we must unite those forces as speedily as possible through the proletariat proclaiming a provisional revolutionary government. True, only an armed uprising can really form the basis of such a government. But the projected government will in fact be the organ of this growing and already maturing uprising. The formation of such a revolutionary government could not be initiated in practice until the insurrection had assumed proportions evident to all, proportions that were, so to speak, tangible to all. But now is the time to unify this uprising politically, to organise it, to give it a clear-cut programme, to turn all the contingents of the revolutionary army, which are already numerous and are growing fast in strength, into the mainstay and into instruments of this new, truly free and truly popular government. The struggle is imminent, the uprising inevitable, and the decisive battle close at hand. It is time to issue a direct challenge, to set the organised power of the proletariat against the decaying tsarist power, to address to the whole people a manifesto on behalf of the provisional revolutionary government constituted by the foremost workers.21
This was how Lenin applied his policy of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry to the revolutionary events of 1905. Now let us see how Trotsky applied his permanent revolution theory—which Hearse claims expressed "a clearer, more precise and more prescient conception of the revolution"—to these same developments.
Trotsky made his first appearance at the St. Petersburg soviet, then assembled in the Technological Institute, on October 15. Aligning himself with the Mensheviks, he quickly became the key ideological leader of the soviet. As Trotsky himself acknowledged in his 1929 autobiography My Life, "all the decisions of the Soviet, with the exception perhaps of a few that were accidental and unimportant, were shaped by me; I submitted them first to the Executive Committee, and then, in its name, I placed them before the Soviet".22
On October 17 the tsarist police dispersed the meeting of the soviet. That same day, however, the tsar signed a manifesto promising a constitution, political liberties and the election of a legislative assembly on the basis of universal suffrage. The following day, Trotsky joined a small crowd assembled outside the Technological Institute. In his 1908 book 1905, he gave the following description of the events of the day:
"Let's go to the University," someone said, "there'll be speeches."
I went along with them. We walked rapidly and in silence. The crowd grew every minute…
We crossed the bridge to the Vasilyevsky Island. A huge bottleneck of people formed on the quay, through which a countless mass poured. Everyone was trying to push their way through to the balcony from which the orators were to speak. The balcony, windows, and spire of the University were decorated with red banners. I got inside with difficulty. My turn to speak came third or fourth. The picture which opened before my eyes was extraordinary. The street was packed with people.23
Trotsky began to address the crowd. When the shout was raised "Down with Trepov!" (a reference to the army general and minister of the interior who had ordered the dispersing of the soviet the day before), Trotsky responded:
Yes, down with Trepov! but is he the only one? Are there no villains in the bureaucracy's reserves to take his place? Trepov rules over us with the help of the army. The guardsmen covered in the blood of 9 January are his support and his strength. It is they whom he orders not to spare bullets against your breasts and heads. We cannot, we do not want to, we must not live at gunpoint. Citizens! Let our demand be the withdrawal of troops from Petersburg! Let not a single soldier remain within a radius of twenty-five versts from the capital! The free citizens themselves will maintain order. No one shall suffer from violence and arbitrary rule. The people will take everyone under their protection.
According to Trotsky's own account, his call met with immediate approval from the crowd: "Out with the troops! All troops to leave Petersburg!"24
In a later chapter of his book, Trotsky recounts that the soviet's "attitude towards the [tsar's] manifesto was expressed very bluntly and precisely on the day of its publication. The representatives of the proletariat demanded amnesty, dismissal of the police at all levels of rank, withdrawal of troops from the city, and the creation of a people's militia."25
In October-November 1905 Lenin argued that the revolutionary workers needed to "attract the soldiers to workers' meetings", "intensify" their "agitation in the barracks" and create "alongside of the revolutionary army of workers, cadres of class-conscious revolutionaries from among the troops as well"; that the St. Petersburg soviet had to "proclaim itself the provisional revolutionary government, or form such a government, and must by all means enlist to this end the participation of new deputies not only from the workers, but, first of all, from the sailors and soldiers". Trotsky, by contrast, argued for and secured the soviet's endorsement of a policy of calling on the autocratic government to withdraw the troops from the city, i.e., to isolate the rank-and-file soldiers (most of whom were drawn from the peasantry) from the workers' meetings and from their agitation in the barracks!
In the first volume of his three-volume biography of Trotsky, Isaac Deutscher correctly observed that the "working-class was unarmed; and it could not get arms, in sufficient quantity, until the army itself was in rebellion".26 That, of course, was precisely why Lenin argued—in direct contrast to Trotsky's approach to the ranks of the army—for the workers to "attract soldiers to workers' meetings" and to "intensify their agitation in the barracks", and for the soviet to "enlist new deputies" from among the soldiers.
The soviet called a new general strike on November 2, after the government announced that sailors in the naval base at Kronstadt who had participated in the October general strike would be court-martialled.
In his 1908 account of these events, Trotsky observed that the second general strike "stirred the consciousness of many circles within the army and, in a matter of a few days, gave rise to a number of political meetings in the barracks of the Petersburg garrison." Continuing his description, Trotsky wrote:
Not only individual soldiers but also soldiers' delegates began to show up in the Executive Committee and even at meetings of the Soviet itself, making speeches, demanding support: revolutionary liaison among the troops was reinforced; proclamations were widely read…
The "regrettable moral influence" of the proletariat on the soldiers led the government to institute a number of repressive measures. Arrests were made in one of the guards regiments; a number of sailors were transferred under escort from Petersburg to Kronstadt. From all sides soldiers were asking the Soviet what they should do. To these inquiries we answered with a proclamation which became known as the Manifesto to the Soldiers.
This manifesto called on the soldiers to "form unions" and "[e]stablish links with the Soviet of Workers' Deputies". However, it was, as Trotsky himself states, "adopted and published during the last day of the Soviet's existence", i.e., on December 3, 1905.27
In his 1908 book on the 1905 revolution, Trotsky explained the connection between his "conception" of the revolution in Russia—his permanent revolution theory, which he counterposed to Lenin's perspective of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry—and his opposition to drawing soldiers' deputies into the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies, as follows:
As it became the focus of all the country's revolutionary forces, the Soviet did not allow its class nature to be dissolved in revolutionary democracy; it was and remained the organized expression of the class will of the proletariat…
By the October strike [the revolution] showed that it could disorganize the enemy, paralyse his will, and reduce him to complete humiliation. Finally, by organizing workers' Soviets throughout the country, the revolution showed that it was able to create organs of power. Revolutionary power can rest only on active revolutionary strength. Whatever one's views of the further development of the Russian revolution may be, the fact is that no social class except the proletariat has hitherto shown itself capable and ready to support revolutionary power …
The Soviet's weakness was not its own weakness but that of any purely urban revolution …
It has been said that the Soviet's fundamental flaw was its class nature. In order to become the organ of "national" revolution, the Soviet should have broadened its structure, so that representatives of all the strata of the population might find their place within it. This would have stabilized the Soviet's authority and increased its strength. But is that really so?
The Soviet's strength was determined by the role of the proletariat in a capitalist society. The Soviet's task was not to transform itself into a parody of a parliament, not to organize equal representation of the interests of different social groups. The principal weapon in the Soviet's hands was the political strike—a method unique to the proletariat, which is the class of wage labour. The homogeneity of its class composition eliminated internal friction within the Soviet and rendered it capable of revolutionary initiative.28
Lenin, against whom the above-cited comments were directed, did not call for the conversion of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies into a "parody of a parliament", but rather into an organ of insurrection and into a provisional revolutionary government of workers', soldiers' and peasants' deputies, into a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Trotsky's rejection of such a strategic line of march flowed from his theory of permanent revolution, i.e., a perspective for the conquest of power by the proletariat alone.
Lenin accurately summed up the mistakenness of Trotsky's pre-1917 "conception" of the revolution when he wrote:
From the Bolsheviks Trotsky's original theory has borrowed their call for a decisive proletarian revolutionary struggle and for the conquest of political power by the proletariat, while from the Mensheviks it has borrowed "repudiation" of the peasantry's role.29
Prior to 1917, Trotsky held an ultraleft-sectarian, i.e., workerist, conception of the revolution. It may have been "clearer" and "more precise", i.e., much less complicated, than Lenin's Marxist theory and policy of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, but it was far inferior to the latter in its "prescient" capacity, i.e., as a correct guide to revolutionary action.
The October Revolution and 'permanent revolution'
In 1917 Trotsky invested the idea of "permanent revolution" with the same content as Lenin's strategic policy, i.e., the seizure of power by the proletariat and the peasant soldiers in order to effect "the immediate offer of a democratic peace, the immediate handing over of landowners' lands to the peasants, the transfer of all power to the Soviets, and the honorable convocation of a Constituent Assembly"30.
After the October Revolution, Trotsky drew attention to that part of his pre-1917 "conception" of the revolution which he had shared in common with the Bolsheviks, i.e., the recognition of the necessity for the conquest of power by the proletariat, while downplaying his previous, erroneous, views on the non-revolutionary role of the peasant masses. For example, in the preface to the 1922 Russian re-edition of his book 1905 he wrote:
It was precisely in the interval between 9 January and the October strike of 1905 that those views which came to be called the theory of "permanent revolution" were formed in the author's mind. This rather high-flown expression defines the thought that the Russian revolution, although directly concerned with bourgeois aims, could not stop short at those aims; the revolution could not solve its immediate bourgeois tasks except by putting the proletariat into power. And the proletariat, once having power in its hands, would not be able to remain confined within the bourgeois framework of the revolution. On the contrary, precisely in order to guarantee its victory, the proletarian vanguard in the very earliest stages of its rule would have to make extremely deep inroads not only into feudal but also into bourgeois property relations. While doing so it would enter into hostile conflict, not only with all those bourgeois groups which had supported it during the first stages of its revolutionary struggle, but also with the broad masses of the peasantry, with whose collaboration it—the proletariat—had come to power.
The contradictions between a workers' government and an overwhelming majority of peasants in a backward country could be resolved only on an international scale, in the arena of a world proletarian revolution. Having, by virtue of historical necessity, burst the narrow bourgeois-democratic confines of the Russian revolution, the victorious proletariat would be compelled also to burst its national and state confines, that is to say, it would have to strive consciously for the Russian revolution to become the prologue to the world revolution.
Despite an interruption of twelve years, this analysis has been entirely confirmed. The Russian revolution could not culminate in a bourgeois-democratic regime. It had to hand power over to the working class. In 1905, the working class was still too weak to seize power; but subsequent events forced it to gain maturity and strength, not in the environment of a bourgeois-democratic republic, but in the underground of the Tsardom of 3 June [a reference to the June 1907 counter-revolutionary coup against the limited democratic gains of the 1905 revolution—DL]. The proletariat came to power in 1917 with the help of the experience acquired by its older generation in 1905. That is why young workers today must have complete access to that experience and must, therefore, study the history of 1905.31
It should be noted that what Trotsky, in the above-cited passage, claims had been "entirely confirmed" in his 1905 conception of the revolution by the October Revolution was the idea that the Russian revolution "could not culminate in a bourgeois-democratic regime" but "had to hand over power to the working class".
As for his view that in making "deep inroads not only into feudal but also into bourgeois property relations", the "workers' government" would "enter into hostile conflict … with the broad masses of the peasantry", he avoided comment on this part of his "analysis", since this had not eventuated. That's because the Bolshevik-led Soviet government, guided by Lenin's strategic line of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution, did not attempt to simultaneously make "deep inroads" into both feudal and bourgeois property relations in the countryside. Instead, it supported the peasantry as a whole (including its bourgeois elements, the rich peasants) in abolishing the remnants of feudal property while making "deep inroads" into the rights of bourgeois property in the cities and industrial centres (imposing workers' control over the capitalist managers). It was only in the second half of 1918, when the semi-proletarian majority of the peasantry came into conflict with the rich peasants, that the revolutionary process in Russia passed over from carrying through bourgeois-democratic socioeconomic tasks to socialist (anti-capitalist economic) tasks. If the Soviet regime had not been able to undertake the latter measures then the revolution would have remained, as far as its social content was concerned, a bourgeois revolution. As Ernest Mandel correctly observed in his book Marxist Economic Theory:
The programme of the first Bolshevik government did not envisage the immediate expropriation of all the capitalists. It envisaged only the universal establishment of workers' supervision of production, the workers having as a first stage to apprentice themselves to the task of management by checking on the capitalist managers. It further envisaged the nationalisation of the banks, after these had been previously merged into a single national bank; the progressive nationalisation of the chief monopoly controlled sectors of the economy; the non- recognition of foreign debts; and the nationalisation of the land and subsoil, together with the division of the land among the peasants. All these measures taken together would not have meant a qualitative overturn in the social structure of Russian economy.32
Once again: what is the socialist revolution?
Hearse falsely claims that in my reply to him I argued that "the nationalisation of the means of production is the socialist revolution". What I actually argued was that, in the Marxist view, the socialist revolution is the socialisation of the ownership of large-scale production by the proletariat organised as the ruling class, in order to direct this production according to a centralised plan.
Engels explained in October 1847, in the first draft of the Communist Manifesto (later published under the title Principles of Communism), that the fundamental socioeconomic task of the proletarian-socialist revolution is to replace the capitalist social order with a "totally new organisation of society", in which the "running of industry and all branches of production" will be taken "out of the hands of disjoined individuals competing among themselves and will instead run all these branches on behalf of society as a whole, i.e., according to a social plan and with the participation of all members of society".33
On the basis of the experience of the October Revolution, the Communist International, in its founding platform, reaffirmed the view advanced by Marx and Engels that the fundamental socioeconomic task of the proletarian-socialist revolution is to "subordinate production to a centralised plan", adding, "The proletarian dictatorship will be able to accomplish its economic task only to the degree that the proletariat can establish centralised agencies to administer production and introduce workers' management".34
Hearse, on the other hand, affirms that the conquest of political power by the working class, rather than the beginning of the centralisation of large-scale production in the hands of centralised agencies of the proletarian state, is the beginning of the socialist revolution. This would be true only if the former automatically guaranteed the latter. Historical experience, however (e.g., Hungary 1919, Nicaragua 1979-85), has demonstrated that the mere fact that the working class has conquered state power does not inevitably lead to its ability to "establish centralised agencies to administer production and introduce workers' management" so as to "subordinate production to a centralised plan". Even to begin this task, the proletariat needs to attain a level of class consciousness and organisation that is higher than that needed to conquer political power, as well as the experience of supervising and learning from the capitalist managers how to run industry.
In complete contradiction to his argument that the seizure of state power by the working class is the inception of the socialist revolution, Hearse also reaffirms his view that the seizure of the factories by the workers employed in them at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 was the inception of the socialist revolution in Spain. Like the anarchists, Hearse regards "the occupation of the factories" and their running by decentralised committees of workers as the socialisation of industry. In defence of this proposition, he rhetorically exclaims: "Or is Lorimer going to say that the seizure of the factories and the collectivisation of the land 'don't touch the foundations of bourgeois property'!"
The conversion of factories by the workers employed in them into producers' cooperatives certainly impinges on the managerial rights of the previous bourgeois owners, but it does not, in and of itself, "touch" (by which I presume he means, attack) the foundations of bourgeois property.
The foundation of bourgeois property, of capitalist relations of production, is the conversion of means of production and labour-power into commodities. Within the factories run by their workers as cooperatives (just as in capitalist-owned factories) neither labour-power nor the means of production circulate as commodities, but as use-values. But what happens when the products of these capitalist- or cooperatively owned factories (including means of production that they produce) or the workers employed in these factories leave them? These products and the workers' labour-power will be exchanged as commodities, subject to the law of value, which in turn will react back on the cooperative factories, compelling their managers to operate them to maximise the extraction of surplus value from the workers.
This is why Marx, as long ago as 1864 ("Inaugural Address of the Working Men's International Association"), pointed out that "cooperative labour, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten their burden".35 In his instructions to the delegates of the provisional General Council for the first congress of the First International, held in Geneva in 1866, Marx explained that producers' cooperatives could be "one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonisms" provided however that they were not "restricted … to the dwarfish forms into which individual wage slaves can elaborate" them by "their private efforts", adding:
To convert social production into one large and harmonious system of free and cooperative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realised save by the transfer of the organised forces of society, viz., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves.36
National oppression, national-democratic revolution and socialism
Hearse's arguments, in both his original critique and in his rejoinder, demonstrate that he does not understand the relationship between the struggle to end the national oppression of imperialist-dominated countries and the socialist revolution. In his critique he wrote:
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—or at least the state control and supervision of—the assets of transnational corporations.
Now, if Lorimer is going to turn around 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 the 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 revolution.
In his rejoinder Hearse argues that "in the epoch of neo-liberal globalisation, more than ever the countries exploited by imperialism need to break the hold of imperialist finance capital if they are to achieve real national liberation—a crucial task of the national-democratic revolution". According to Hearse, this "means that there can be no 'national-democratic revolution'—i.e., a revolution which solves the tasks of the national-democratic revolution—which is not simultaneously anti-imperialist and thus anti-capitalist. This of course is a basic proposition of the permanent revolution theory."
In fact, it's not. Or, at least, it's not a basic proposition of Trotsky's permanent revolution theory as he generalised it to the imperialist-dominated countries. In his 1929 summary of the basic postulates of his theory of permanent revolution, Trotsky argued that with "regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national independence is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all, its peasant masses". Trotsky argued that the national-democratic revolution in the imperialist-dominated countries could be completed "only through the dictatorship of the proletariat which bases itself upon the alliance with the peasantry and solves first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution" adding: "Assessed historically, the old slogan of Bolshevism—'the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry'—expressed precisely the above-characterized relationship of the proletariat, the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie".37
In other words, the tasks of the (bourgeois-)democratic revolution in "countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries" ("achieving democracy and national independence") could be solved only by a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry (a workers' and peasants' government).
Trotsky went on to argue that having "risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution" such a workers' and peasants' government would be "inevitably and very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfilment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property" (my emphasis—DL), i.e., various measures of (proletarian) state control over the operations of capitalist-owned businesses. Through the implementation of such transitional measures, "the democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution".
In my pamphlet I argued, and cited evidence in support of the argument, that Trotsky tended to telescope the democratic and socialist revolutions together, i.e., before October 1928 he quite often argued that the proletarian state power would have to implement the tasks of the socialist revolution before the tasks of the democratic revolution had been completed. However, that is not the same thing as saying, as Hearse does, that the tasks of the national-democratic revolution (democracy and national independence) in the imperialist-dominated countries cannot be achieved without socialist, i.e., anti-capitalist, measures. Hearse puts an imperialist Economist interpretation upon Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution that Trotsky himself—at least after October 1928—did not.
The source of Hearse's error is that he confuses the ending of the national oppression ("real national liberation") of the oppressed nations with the achievement of the tasks of the national-democratic revolution in the semi-colonial countries.
The tasks of the national-democratic revolution are to achieve democracy and national independence (this remains true whether or not, like Indonesia today, the proletariat is a minority of the population, or like Cuba before 1959, it constitutes the majority, including in the countryside).
"Democracy", as Lenin explained in his 1917 work The State and Revolution, "is a form of state" which "like every state" represents "on the one hand, the organised, systematic use of force against persons" and "on the other hand, it signifies the formal recognition of equality of citizens, the equal right of all to determine the structure of, and to administer, the state".38 The fullest and most complete democracy, Lenin explained, is a democratic republic in which state power (the "organised, systematic use of force against persons") is administered by armed organisations of the majority of the population (a people's militia) directed by representative bodies which combine legislative and executive functions, in which all officials are elected, subject to recall by their electors and are paid no more than the average skilled worker, i.e., a Paris Commune type state, a revolutionary-democratic state. This is the best form of state through which the proletariat can conduct its class struggle against the bourgeoisie to its ultimate conclusion, i.e., the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the creation of a socialised, planned economy.
In support of these propositions, Lenin cited the following remarks by Engels (from his critique of the Erfurt Program of the German Social-Democratic Party):
If one thing is certain it is that our party and the working class can only come to power in the form of the democratic republic. This is even the form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution [i.e., the Paris Commune—DL] has shown …39
In the imperialist epoch, the citizens of the oppressed, semi-colonial nations cannot achieve lasting and full national democracy (i.e., the formal right to administer their own state free from foreign interference) without the establishment of a revolutionary-democratic state, a democratic dictatorship of the working people (led by the class-conscious vanguard of the proletariat). This is because, as long as state power in these countries remains under the control of the bourgeoisie, imperialist finance capital both in the form of transnational corporations and banks and through its state and quasi-state institutions (e.g., the IMF and the World Bank) will interfere in the determination of (actually, will dictate) the social and economic policies of such semi-colonial states. Only a revolutionary-democratic state, a workers' and peasants' democratic republic, can assure the oppressed nation full political sovereignty within its state frontiers.
Furthermore, an oppressed nation in the imperialist epoch, the epoch of the domination of finance capital, cannot achieve real national independence so long as its economy is internally dominated by foreign capital. That is why the establishment of a state monopoly of foreign trade, the nationalisation of banks and finance houses, and the expropriation of the assets—or at least, state control of the activities—of transnational corporations within its state borders are required to achieve genuine national independence, i.e., full political and economic sovereignty within its state frontiers.
Hearse claims that these economic measures are anti-capitalist and are therefore tasks of the socialist revolution, not the national-democratic revolution. Here he confuses measures which suppress or control a particular fraction of the bourgeoisie with measures aimed at abolishing capitalism. It was precisely the failure to distinguish between these two different sorts of measures that led some forces identifying with Trotskyism (the Committee for a Workers International, for example) to claim that a range of semi-colonial countries with petty-bourgeois nationalist leaderships that carried out all of these measures (e.g., Egypt under Nasser, Burma under Ne Win, Syria under the Baathists, Ethiopia under Mengistu) had ceased to be bourgeois states and had become "deformed workers' states". They equated nationalisation with socialisation, with the centralisation of the means of production in the hands of the proletariat organised as the ruling class.
Hearse's statement that "[r]eal national liberation today means breaking the dominance of imperialist finance capital over the peoples of the exploited countries" and that this is a "task of the socialist revolution, not the democratic revolution" is certainly correct. However, from this correct observation he draws false—i.e., imperialist Economist—conclusions. He dissolves the national-democratic revolution in the semi-colonial countries into the socialist revolution. Consequently, he fails to recognise that:
1. The oppressed and capitalistically underdeveloped nations still have general national tasks to accomplish, namely, democratic tasks, the tasks of overthrowing foreign oppression in the political sphere, i.e., winning full national independence.
2. Even a socialist revolution in an oppressed and capitalistically underdeveloped country in the imperialist epoch, the epoch of the domination of world economy by the financial oligarchies that rule the countries which have attained the highest stage of capitalism (monopoly capitalism), will not end national oppression. This is because it cannot end the material inequality that flows from the latter's monopolisation of advanced technology. Despite the fact that Cuba, for example, has had a socialist revolution, it remains an imperialist-oppressed and imperialist-exploited nation. Consequently, the breaking of the dominance of imperialist finance capital over the peoples of the oppressed, semi-colonial countries (the only way to achieve their full national liberation) is, ultimately, a task of the socialist revolution in the imperialist countries.
3. In both the semi-colonial and imperialist countries, anti-capitalist economic measures "cannot be implemented without organising the entire people for democratic administration of the means of production captured from the bourgeoisie, without enlisting the entire mass of the working people, the proletarians, semi-proletarians and small peasants, for the democratic organisation of their ranks, their forces, their participation in state affairs".40 The strategic line of march to the reorganisation of the economic basis of capitalist society along socialist lines therefore cannot "skip over" the revolutionary democratisation of the legal and political superstructure. The creation—through the smashing of the bourgeois state and the substitution of organs of state power that organise the class rule of the proletariat and its semi-and non-proletarian allies—of a genuinely democratic republic is a precondition (and therefore necessary first step) for carrying out the socialist revolution.
Conclusion: what's wrong with 'permanent revolution'?
At the end of his rejoinder, Phil Hearse states "it doesn't matter much if Lorimer and the DSP adopt the words 'permanent revolution'." Furthermore, "it doesn't much matter if they stick to their idiosyncratic interpretation of the Russian revolution" (i.e., the interpretation that Lenin and the whole Bolshevik Party leadership, including Trotsky, presented in 1918-19!).
"The important thing", he says, "is what strategy is going to be advocated in 'Third World' countries, in other words what policy revolutionary Marxists are going to take toward revolutions in the 21st century". That is true. And it is precisely why we in the DSP think it is important to reject the words "permanent revolution"; because these words have come to designate a strategy that is (as I put it at the end of my pamphlet) "an inferior guide to revolutionary action compared to the Leninist theory and policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution".
Now, isn't there a contradiction between saying this and acknowledging, as I did above, that the main difference between Trotsky's permanent revolution theory and the Leninist theory and policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution is that "Trotsky tended to telescope the democratic and socialist revolutions together, i.e., before October 1928 he quite often argued that the proletarian state power would have to implement the tasks of the socialist revolution before the tasks of democratic revolution had been completed". A case could be made that "permanent revolution", as Trotsky presented it in The Permanent Revolution, is free of this problem and is practically indistinguishable from Lenin's conception of the relation of the democratic and socialist stages of the proletarian revolution in the capitalistically underdeveloped countries.
Even if this were true, and it isn't, there would still be a problem with the use of the words "permanent revolution" to describe this strategic policy, namely, the fact that Trotsky affirmed a continuity between his pre-1917 ultraleft-sectarian, workerist conception of "permanent revolution" and his post-1928 "Bolshevised" conception.
Furthermore, he also never repudiated the pre-1917 conception that he revived, briefly it is true, in his June 1928 criticism of Bukharin's draft program of the Communist International (published in French in 1929 under the title L'Internationale Communiste apres Lenine and in English in 1936 under the title The Third International After Lenin), wherein he wrote:
If in our country the poor peasants committees appeared on the scene only during the second stage of the October revolution, in the middle of 1918, in China, on the contrary, they will, in one form or another, appear on the scene as soon as the agrarian movement revives. The drive on the rich peasant will be the first and not the second stage of the Chinese October.
The agrarian revolution, however, is not the sole content of the present historical struggle in China. The most extreme agrarian revolution, the general division of 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 world imperialism …
The enormous role of foreign capital in Chinese industry and its way of relying directly in defense of its plunder on its own "national" bayonets, render the program of workers' control in China even less realizable than it was in our country. The direct expropriation first of the foreign capitalist and then of the Chinese capitalist enterprises will most likely be made imperative by the course of the struggle on the day after [!] the victorious revolution …
These fundamental and, at the same time, incontrovertible social and political prerequisites of the third Chinese revolution demonstrate not only that the formula of the democratic dictatorship has hopelessly outlived its usefulness, but also that the third Chinese revolution, despite the great backwardness of China, or even more correctly, because of this great backwardness as compared with Russia, will not have a "democratic" period, not even such a six month period as the October Revolution had (November 1917 to July 1918); but it will be compelled from the very outset to effect the most decisive shake-up and abolition of bourgeois property in city and village.41
In his original criticism of my pamphlet, Hearse quoted the second paragraph in the above-cited passage but avoided informing readers what policy Trotsky advanced in his criticism of the draft Comintern program to solve the task of emancipation of China from imperialist domination. Did Hearse perhaps find the social-revolutionary fatalism and absurdly leftist policy that Trotsky set forth in the subsequent paragraphs too embarrassing to cite? They certainly wouldn't have helped him to make a case that "permanent revolution" has nothing in common with the view that there has to be "an instantaneous nationalisation of the means of production, or all the means of production", and that it fully accords with the "basic postulate of Marxism that the working class will seize power, and then 'by degrees' socialise the means of production, the tempo depending on a series of circumstances, including the level of the productive forces, the cultural level of the labouring masses and other factors" (as he claimed in his rejoinder).
The fact that Trotsky never repudiated the interpretation of "permanent revolution" he presented in his criticism of the draft program of the Comintern, and even authorised its publication in French and English without any qualifying comments, demonstrates what's wrong with "permanent revolution": it is open to being interpreted (and in fact was by its originator, and is by many of its present-day adherents) as sanctioning a policy that departs from Marxism toward the sort of absurdly leftist adventurism that the Hungarian Communists applied in 1919.
By contrast, only a year earlier (in April 1927) Trotsky had presented a much more sober view of the possibilities for the revolution in China at the end of the 1920s. He had written:
How can and must the question of the capitalist and socialist paths of China's development be posed in reality?
Above all it must be made clear to the vanguard of the Chinese proletariat that China has no prerequisites whatever economically for an independent transition to socialism; that the revolution now unfolding under the leadership of the Kuomintang is a bourgeois-national revolution, that it can have as its consequence, even in the event of complete victory, only the further development of productive forces on the basis of capitalism. But it is necessary to develop no less forcefully before the Chinese proletariat the converse side of the question as well: The belated bourgeois-national revolution is unfolding in China in conditions of the imperialist decay of capitalism. As Russian experience has shown—in contrast, say, to the English—politics does not at all develop in parity with economics. China's further development must be taken in an international perspective. Despite the backwardness of the Chinese economy, and in part precisely due to this backwardness, the Chinese revolution is wholly capable of bringing to political power an alliance of the workers and peasants, under the leadership of the proletariat. This regime will be China's link with the world revolution.
In the course of the transitional period, the Chinese revolution will have a genuinely democratic, worker-peasant character. In its economic life, commodity-capitalist relations will inevitably predominate. The political regime will be primarily directed to secure the masses as great a share as possible in the fruits of the development of the productive forces and, at the same time, in the political and cultural utilization of the resources of the state. The further development of this perspective—the possibility of the democratic revolution growing over into the socialist revolution—depends completely and exclusively on the course of the world revolution, and on the economic and political successes of the Soviet Union, as an integral part of this world revolution.42
The contrast between the revolutionary realism of this perspective and the farcical, ultraleft line Trotsky formulated in June 1928 could not be starker. The source of the difference was that in April 1927 Trotsky was defending the Leninist theory and policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution while in June 1928 he was arguing for the application of "permanent revolution".
1. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964), Vol. 23, p. 59.
2. ibid., p. 76.
3. ibid., p. 74.
4. Phil Hearse, ''Permanent Revolution—A Reply to Doug Lorimer", Links no. 16.
5. See Doug Lorimer, ''The 12th World Congress of the Fourth International and the future of the Socialist Workers Party's international relations", in Jim Percy and Doug Lorimer, The Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International, Sydney, 1985, pp. 40-2.
6. Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution & Results and Prospects (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1970), p. 277.
7. ibid., p. 36.
8. ibid., pp. 126-7.
9. Since Hearse repeats in his rejoinder his claim that he finds it "inexplicable" how I could praise Trotsky's History in the introduction to my pamphlet as an "incomparable Marxist exposition" and at the same time reject Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, I should point out that I did not say that Trotsky's History provided an "incomparable Marxist exposition" of Bolshevik strategic policy. I said that it provided "an incomparable Marxist exposition of the events that led to the Bolshevik victory in 1917".
10. Lenin, CW, Vol. 9, p. 134.
11. PROOFREADERS PLEASE ASK DOUG FOR THIS REFERENCE.
12. Lenin, CW, Vol. 28, p. 305. Emphasis added.
13. ibid., p. 305.
14. Norman Geras, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, New Left Books, London, 1976, p. 49.
15. ibid., p. 81.
16. ibid., pp. 74-5.
17. Lenin, CW, Vol. 9, p. 31.
18. ibid., p. 130.
19. Lenin, CW, Vol. 8, p. 368.
20. Lenin, CW, Vol. 9, p. 432.
21. Lenin, CW, Vol. 10. pp. 21-6.
22. Leon Trotsky, My Life (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1970), p. 181.
23. Leon Trotsky, 1905 (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1971), p. 133.
24. ibid., p. 134-5.
25. ibid., p. 141.
26. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed (OUP, London, 1970), p. 130.
27. Trotsky, 1905, pp. 189-93.
28. ibid., pp. 266, 268, 270, 274.
29. Lenin, CW, Vol. 21, p. 419.
30. Trotsky, "To the Army Committees and Soldiers' Soviets", Leon Trotsky Speaks, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1972, p. 74.
31. Trotsky, 1905, pp. 8-9.
32. Ernest Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory, Merlin Press, London, 1968, p. 549. Emphasis added.
33. Frederick Engels, "Principles of Communism", in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1971, p. 79.
34. John Riddell, ed., Founding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress, March 1919, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1987, p. 246.
35. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, Vol. 2, p. 17.
36. ibid., p. 81-2.
37. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution & Results and Prospects, pp. 276-7.
38. Lenin, The State and Revolution, Resistance Books, Sydney, 1999, p. 85.
39. ibid., p. 63.
40. Lenin, CW, Vol. 23, p. 26.
41. Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1970, pp. 183-4.
42. Leon Trotsky on China, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1978, p. 142.
Doug Lorimer is a member of the Political Committee of the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia and the author of Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution: A Leninist critique.