Written by Florence Oppen
Saturday, 01 February 2014 17:37
A Marxist critique of the theory of Deflected Permanent Revolution
Re-opening a dialogue
In 1963, Tony Cliff and the IST published a very short essay “Deflected Permanent Revolution” which was an attempt to revise Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution in light of the two major postwar revolutions: Cuba and China.
This revision of Trotsky’s theory needs to be understood in a broader theoretical context: that of the advancement by the Socialist Review Group first of the thesis of “State Capitalism” to describe Stalinist Russia (initially formulated in 1947), and later, towards the end of the 1950’s, of that of the “permanent arms economy” to analyze the economic development of the postwar period. Both theoretical formulations, added to the “Deflected Permanent Revolution one” differed from the positions taken by the Fourth International., and these theoretical differences clearly led to opposed political positions around the US invasion of Korea and to a split in 1950 of the SRG from the 4th International.
With the publication of the revision of the theory of the permanent revolution in 1963, the British International Socialism Group (IS, the former SRG) was trying to explain the political grounds of its definitive separation from the Fourth International and those tendencies which claimed to be following directly in the footsteps of Trotsky and trying to rebuild a revolutionary Marxist understanding of the world and a new international. The IST became an international tendency in the early 1970s, theoretically and organizationally separate from most of the rest of the revolutionary left who still claimed in a sort of ways the contradictory legacy of the Russian Revolution.
This split in the Trotskyist movement was compounded by regional and linguistic divisions (the SWP and IST remaining mostly in English speaking countries). Even though a theoretical exchange always existed in the UK between the SWP and the different groups claiming the heritage of the 4th International in the 1950s and 1960s – in the publications of the Fourth International, the Labor Review Magazine and the ISL journal New International-; these debates were not carried as far as they should have been, and did not reach the international arena, quickly becoming forgotten or disregarded by both sides, who each took separate paths. Neither tendency saw the necessity or the value in articulating more clearly their differences or reopening a political dialogue; and the whole left has suffered from that.
We also think that the “linguistic” seclusion that has contained this debate in the imperialist English speaking centers cannot be solely justified by Trotskyism’s weaknesses as a political current in the cold war period (and therefore its tendency to sectarianism). It was also reinforced by the IST’s analysis and adoption of Deflected Permanent Revolution, which led them, as we will see, to become primarily focused on the most advanced industrial countries, and less interested in building sections elsewhere.
The absence of a more open theoretical debate on these issues, coming from our tradition that still claims the heritage of the Fourth International, was a mistake, and one we cannot afford to make any longer if we are serious about rebuilding the Fourth International with the best and most dedicated revolutionaries around the world. We need to be able to go back to our theory, assess it, and revise it in light of the contours of class struggle and the debates with other revolutionaries, some of who might be advancing different understandings from our own.
Furthermore the context today is also different; both in the UK and the US, the sections that were affiliated with the Fourth International have collapsed, whilst the respective sections of the IST, which became prominent in recent decades, are in crisis. Meanwhile, there has been a failure, thus far at least, to articulate clearly how and why the deep theoretical differences between us still have importance today. It is essential for old and new militants alike to develop a coherent assessment of our revolutionary heritage that is founded on both the principles of Marxism and an honest appraisal of historical realities in the post-WWII era, regardless of how they may have differed from Trotsky’s own predictions.
The two great post-WWII revolutions, the Chinese Revolution (1949-1952) and the Cuban Revolution (1959-1962), which despite being great revolutions did not follow the historical course of the Russian Revolution (given that an “October revolution” did not occur), forced Marxists to re-examine the theory of Permanent Revolution. In this first essay we will try to clarify the debate and our position in the IWL-FI in relation to the theory of Permanent Revolution and our understanding of it, as various interpretations within Trotskyism have been given and our current has been, historically, a minority for decades until recently. Then we will formulate our differences with Cliff’s theory, which is the same that the IST and the ISO still claim, and we’ll explain why and how we consider that the foundations of Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution are still valid today.
1) The theoretical contributions of the theory of Permanent Revolution
Capitalism’s uneven and combined development and the change in class dynamics
It will be useful to begin by reviewing the basics of the theory of Permanent Revolution, as in our view Cliff’s summary is overly schematic and simplistic, and this is a fundamental problem. While he very correctly outlines the concrete conclusions of the theory, condensed in the Basic Postulates,he fails to recognize its core elements. Let’s start with Cliff’s “summary” of Trotsky:
“The basic elements of Trotsky’s theory can be summed up in six points:
- A bourgeoisie which arrives late on the scene is fundamentally different from its ancestors of a century or two earlier. It is incapable of providing a consistent, democratic, revolutionary solution to the problem posed by feudalism and imperialist oppression. It is incapable of carrying out the thoroughgoing destruction of feudalism, the achievement of real national independence and political democracy. It has ceased to be revolutionary, whether in the advanced or backward countries. It is an absolutely conservative force.
- The decisive revolutionary role falls to the proletariat, even though it may be very young and small in number.
- Incapable of independent action, the peasantry will follow the towns, and in view of the first five points, must follow the leadership of the industrial proletariat.
- A consistent solution of the agrarian question, of the national question, a break-up of the social and imperial fetters preventing speedy economic advance, will necessitate moving beyond the bounds of bourgeois private property. “The democratic revolution grows over immediately into the socialist, and thereby becomes a permanent revolution.”
- The completion of the socialist revolution “within national limits is unthinkable … Thus, the socialist revolution becomes a permanent revolution in a newer and broader sense of the word; it attains completion only in the final victory of the new society on our entire planet.” It is a reactionary, narrow dream, to try and achieve “socialism in one country.”
- As a result, revolution in backward countries would lead to convulsions in the advanced countries.” (Tony Cliff, Deflected Permanent Revolution )
Although none of these theses outlined here in Cliff’s initial summary distort or contradict per se the analysis of Trotsky, what Cliff fails to discuss is perhaps the most important aspect of the theory, namely a recognition of afundamental change in the class dynamics, or “political mechanics” as Trotsky called them, in the colonial and semi-colonial world with the emergence of the imperialist epoch. And precisely because Cliff omitted this essential part, failing to recount the theoretical aspect of the theory, we need to develop it in order to answer to the IST comrades who still advocate for the formulation of “Deflected Permanent Revolution.”
Drawing on Lenin’s theory of imperialism, Trotsky deepened the understanding of economic and social changes in the Third World and concluded that that once the world had reached the imperialist epoch (that of the total division of the world amongst the big powers along with the concentration of capital in giant industrial and financial monopolies), while capitalism continues to develop in all countries, the course and modality of development was to occur in not a “linear” but in an “uneven and combined” fashion. A development that is uneven because capitalism does not advance at the same time everywhere. During the imperialist epoch, the development of industry and that of capitalist relations is at different stages in different countries, each one develops at a different pace, but all countries, even the most “backward”, i.e. where the productive forces are less developed, are part of the global capitalist economy dominated by the imperialist centers and financial capital.
But this uneven capitalist development within a hierarchical world order is also a combined one. In each country, the penetration and domination of capitalism takes a different form as capitalist relations coexist with other pre-existing economic and social formation. Different social and political formations will arise in each case, bringing together different stages of historical development. This is the “combined” character of capitalist development in the imperialist epoch.
Why is that so important? It is because change of capitalist development in each country of the colonial and semi-colonial world will also have political consequences, not only economic ones. The first one is the paradox that Trotsky noted that countries supposedly “backward” from an economic point of view, will not be so from a political point of view, i.e. they will have laid out in front of them the same tasks and needs than the most advanced: the struggle for socialism to solve their immediate problems, and therefore the struggle for power. Trotsky explained and criticized the alleged “backwardness” of Russia as follows: “Russia is a backward country, but only a part of world economy, only an element of the capitalist world system” and then clarified this point formulating the “law of uneven and combined development”:
“In the development of nations and states, particularly capitalist ones, there is neither similarity nor regularity. Different stages of civilization, even polar opposites, approach and intermingle with one another in the life of one and the same country.
“Let us not forget that historical backwardness is a relative concept. There being both backward and progressive countries, there is also a reciprocal influencing of one by the other; there is the pressure of the progressive countries on the backward ones; there is the necessity for the backward countries to catch up with the progressive ones, to borrow their technology and science, etc. In this way arises the combined type of development: features of backwardness are combined with the last word in world technique and in world thought. Finally the countries historically backward, in order to escape their backwardness, are often compelled to rush ahead of the others.
“The flexibility of the collective consciousness makes it possible under certain conditions to achieve the result, in the social arena, which in individual psychology is called “overcoming the consciousness of inferiority”. In this sense we can say that the October Revolution was an heroic means whereby the people of Russia were able to overcome their own economic and cultural inferiority.” (Trotsky, “In Defense of October”, 1932)
Which were then the tasks posed for Russia? Trotsky sums it clearly:
“In accordance with its immediate tasks, the Russian Revolution is a bourgeois revolution. But the Russian bourgeoisie is anti-revolutionary. The victory of the Revolution is therefore possible only as a victory of the proletariat. But the victorious proletariat will not stop at the programme of bourgeois democracy: it will go on to the programme of socialism. The Russian Revolution will become the first stage of the Socialist world revolution.” (Trotsky, “In Defense of October”, 1932)
From this combined and uneven course of capitalist development Trotsky concluded that the tasks of the democratic revolution and socialist revolution rather than following a sequential course will also emerge as combined due to the reactionary character of the bourgeoisie. Then he draws two key conclusions, which are generalized to the colonial and neo-colonial world, one has to do with the dynamics of class, the other with political tasks:the bourgeoisie as a class (regardless of its nationality) has lost any progressive character it may have had in the past so it can no longer fulfil the tasks of the democratic revolution.
The bourgeoisie and the democratic tasks
But what do Marxists mean by the ‘tasks of the democratic revolution’? Let’s summarize them briefly. Lowy provides us a good summary of Trotsky’s view on the tasks of the “democratic revolution”, also called “bourgeois” or “bourgeois-democratic” because initially and in very rare cases, they were led by the bourgeoisie, but their main feature is that “these demands do not transcend the limits of bourgeois society”:
- “Democratic agrarian revolution: the bold and definitive abolition of all residues of slavery, feudalism and “Asiatic despotism”; the liquidation of of all forms of exploitation (corvée, forced labor, etc.); and expropriation of the great landowners and distribution of the land to the peasantry.
- National Liberation: the unification of the nation and its emancipation from imperialist domination, the creation of a unified national market and its protection from cheaper foreign goods, the control of certain strategic natural resources etc.
- Democracy: for Trotsky this included not only the establishment of democratic freedoms, a democratic republic and the end of military rule, but also the creation of social and cultural conditions for popular participation in political life by the reduction of the working day to eight hours and through universal public education.” (Lowy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: the Theory of Permanent Revolution 89)
George Novack highlighted that although the bourgeoisie was the class that led the great bourgeois revolutions from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, particularly the English Revolution and the French Revolution, by the middle of the 19th century it was not willing to do so anymore. If in some great historical examples the bourgeoisie fought for the establishment of liberal-democratic regimes in countries transitioning to capitalism, after the 1848 and under the pressure of other popular classes that want to overthrow tyrannical feudal regimes, it ceased to do so. Furthermore we also need to point out that in the cases where the bourgeoisie played a “progressive” role (the French and the English revolutions, for example) it was in a contradictory way, which needs to be contextualized historically.
The revolutions of 1848 in Europe were a clear example of this fact. Fearing the power of the nascent working class, the bourgeoisie chose to make arrangements with the old feudal classes to deepen capitalist relations within the framework of a semi-feudal political and social structure. The failure of the European revolutions of 1848 unmasked the real interests of the bourgeoisie:
“The industrial bourgeoisie did not attain its political domination but surrendered its right to rule for the right to make money. The Hungarians, Poles and Italians failed to win their national independence. The counterrevolution triumphed all along the line and the Continental countries wound up under a military despotism in France or a restored monarchy in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Poland. The abortive Revolutions of 1848 stood midway between the brilliantly successful bourgeois revolutions of the bourgeois past and the proletarian victories to come.” (Novack, Democracy and Revolution, 92)
And that reactionary character was accentuated in the late nineteenth century. The emergence of liberal-democratic regimes in the ‘second wave’ of capitalist powers (e.g. Germany, the United States, Japan) only came about in spite of the bourgeoisies of those countries, often following violent civil or international conflicts. The institution of bourgeois democratic freedoms found in England & France, such as representative democracy, land reform & the abolition of serfdom, and the establishment of strong nation-states, would not occur at the hands of the bourgeoisie anywhere else, unless the bourgeoisie was forced to do so by other social classes. Novack summarized the new reactionary character of the bourgeoisie as follows:
“The commercial and industrial bourgeoisie in their prime must be credited with considerable capacities for progressive political action and, when they were associated in the struggle with the popular masses, for revolutionary accomplishments in the furtherance of democracy. But they were not invariably attracted to and certainly not constitutionally wedded to democracy. Like any other propertied and privileged class, the capitalists, – whether they held paramount or secondary status, placed the preservation and promotion of their economic interests above devotion to democratic freedoms. When these two considerations diverged and collided, they invariably chose to defend their property without regardless of the injury done to popular rights. The bourgeoisie proved to be a powerful, though neither a persistent nor reliable, force for democracy only during the rise of world capitalism and only in the richest countries of Western Europe and North America. The more capitalism attained maturity and exercised world supremacy, the more conservative and less democratically inclined the men of money became.” (Novack, Democracy and Revolution, 100-101)
With the inauguration of the imperialist epoch in the early 20th Century, this shift became crystallized with the consolidation of new dynamics of the class struggle: the bourgeoisie had managed to impose itself everywhere as a class, and most of the time without a revolution. In other words, it has managed to change the economic structure, and impose and expand capitalist relations as the dominant one in all countries without having to change neither necessarily nor totally the old feudal political infrastructure- one based on an authoritarian monarchy that governs relying on religious ideology, which perpetuates the oppression of nationalities, religious persecution and maintains the land ownership for the big landlords.
This change of the social role of the bourgeoisie has deep implications for the majority of the world that lives under colonial rule. Trotsky foresaw this trend in Russia as early as 1905 and later expanded this conclusion to any country where the democratic tasks have not been achieved, i.e. countries that did not have a bourgeois revolution and did not see the emergence of a liberal-democratic and republican order. In those countriesthe democratic or bourgeois revolution will be carried out by social forces that are not only ‘non-bourgeois’ (i.e. the proletariat and/or peasantry), but that those forces will be confronting this new class in power: the imperialist bourgeoisie and/or the national bourgeoisie.
On the transition from the democratic to the socialist revolution and the combination of tasks: a necessary clarification
The main consequence of this new class dynamics is that due to the class nature of the state they have to overthrow, the democratic revolutions have an anti-capitalist potential, and not an anti-feudal one. This qualitative change in the relation of social forces has profound political consequences. In particular, the classes that will complete the tasks of the democratic revolution will have to destroy a bourgeois state(rather than a feudal), and therefore will have to seize power in the course of a democratic or political revolution if they want it to succeed. This course of action is exactly what happened in Russia with the “February revolution”, a democratic revolution led by a coalition of classes (bourgeoisie, working class, peasantry) that did not succeed in achieving its aims, although it initially managed to topple the tsar and a very limited change in the autocratic regime by establishing a simulacrum of parliamentary democracy. This initial revolution did not suffice and it was followed by the “October Revolution”, which was led by the working class and the Bolshevik Party, and broke with the bourgeoisie and took power to realize both the democratic andsocialist demands.
Based on this experience in a semi-colonial country like Russia, Trotsky concluded that the democratic revolution will now have an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist class dynamics in whichthe combination of democratic and socialist tasks (instead of a stageist view of them) is not only possible but necessary for the proletariat.
Neither Trotsky nor our tradition has ever claimed that the theory of the Permanent Revolution means that democratic revolutions are socialist revolutions, or even that they will “automatically” result in socialism. Yet, there have been some misinterpretations of Trotsky’s formulations that have been decontextualized and resulted in glaring political errors. So, it is necessary to do a clarification and a self-criticism of the “orthodox” Trotskyist tradition, where are included, first Pabloism and then Mandelism – the latter being the mainstream trend for several decades.
As Moreno noted, when facing the difficulty of building new revolutionary parties and disputing the leadership, Pabloism preferred to leave the fate of our class in the hands of other leaders, hoping reformist or treacherous leaderships (like the CP), will transform into revolutionary ones by the pressure of events:
“The essence of the Pabloist position was simple: the objective situation, combined with our propaganda and pressure would turn opportunistic organizations into revolutionary ones, able to fight objectively for the power of the working class.” (Moreno, Lora Denies Trotskyism, 1972)
And although Mandel was initially opposed to this liquidationist concept and continued to defend the need for building a separate Leninist party, he ended up adopting similar conclusions over two decades later. The main mistake of the majoritarian trend in the Fourth International in the early postwar decades, led among others by Ernest Mandel, has been the staunch simplification of the theory of Permanent Revolution to a simple the jump from the democratic revolution to a socialist one, insisting on the “permanent” nature of the revolutionary process but also erasing stages or qualitatively different times, and developing a sort of “permanentist” mystique (i.e. if we keep fighting we will reach socialism “somehow”).
What was wrong with this simplified reading? Basically it bypassed the main idea of Trotsky: that permanent revolution means a dialectical “leap” in the revolutionary process, and what happened in Russia between February and October (and that revolutionaries seek a recurrence) was not only a “continuation of the revolution” but a qualitative change in the revolutionary process and not its simple continuation on an automated track. For years the U-Sec (United Secretariat) rightly argued with and fought the Stalinist stagiest conception – and that of other reformist currents – who wanted to enclose and limit the postwar democratic revolutions (China, Cuba, Algeria, Vietnam etc.) to simple “national liberation struggles” that had nothing to do with socialism. But by focusing too much on combatting those reformist leaderships it capitulated to the ones that were leading these revolutions and ended up almost presenting the socialist revolution as a “radicalization” of the democratic revolution, implying a logical linearity in the process. This insistence on the “permanency” of the process led the U-Sec to openly support petty-bourgeoisie leaderships who led bourgeois democratic revolutions expecting those processes, without any qualitative change or leadership change, without any revolutionary party of a Bolshevik type, would turn into socialism or come close to it. Which of course did not happen. This distortion arises has been skillfully justified in particular with the following statement of Trotsky, which is the eightieth basic postulate of the theory:
“The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and, very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfillment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution.” (Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution)
All the controversy for revolutionaries is how to understand the transition or “transformation” from February to October, from a democratic revolution into a socialist one in the framework of an open revolutionary process. Since both the Chinese and Cuban revolutions were February revolutions but never reached an October analogous to the Russian, and this has to do in part with the under estimation of the role of Stalinism and the impressionistic and catastrophist economic perspectives drafted by the leadership of the 4th International just after the war. The English version of Permanent Revolution says the revolution “grows over directly” instead of “transforms itself”, i.e. that there is another distinct revolution (socialist) growing above the democratic. This is perhaps a more accurate understanding.
But, disregarding the words of the sentence, what does Trotsky mean by this? That the possibility exists that, due to the class dynamics, a democratic revolution can transform itself into a socialist oneafter the working class has seized power. Only after the capitalist state has been destroyed and a new class is in power to implement a “democratic program” the revolution is transformed into socialist. Trotsky establishes as a condition for the transformation of the character of the revolution a fairly qualitative change: the dictatorship of the proletariat. He points out that only at this point the new class that seizes power (which he assumes to be the proletariat) in order to accomplish the most basic democratic tasks (national independence, land reform) will have to attack the “rights of bourgeois property”, that is to say the foundations of the bourgeoisie as a class, and will be pushed, if the revolution continues, to expropriate the bourgeoisie and therefore to consider a reorganization of the economy on a different basis – hopefully socialism. That’s what has happened in Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1920. But also has happened in Cuba and China: the petty bourgeois leadership had to expropriate imperialism to accomplish the democratic tasks (land reform, national liberation), but it did the job only half way.
This is key when it comes to understand and differentiate the two moments that are the February and October revolutions. Mandel was determined to minimize the qualitative differences between these so-called “February type” (democratic) and “October type” (socialist) revolutions, merging them in a continuous ongoing process. Moreno insisted throughout his life in clarifying them and distinguishing their characteristics to avoid confusion and false hopes among the revolutionaries. And for being accurate, he was accused unjustly of being a disguised “stageist”. Not only that, Mandel used the theory of Permanent Revolution to seed illusions about the “revolutionary” potential of Castro and Maoism, implying that if they drove the democratic revolution “all the way” they would lead to a new October, to socialism.
What precisely is the basis for the “permanent” nature of the revolution?
This heated debate within Trotskyism was developed during the early seventies, after it became clear that the policy pursued by the majority of the Fourth International facing the revolutionary processes, particularly the revolutions in Bolivia and Cuba, was a disaster. We will not repeat here all the controversy raised by Moreno and the Leninist Trotskyist Faction in response to the document presented to the Fourth Congress of the Fourth International in 1974 by the United Secretariat. We will only underline the fundamental differences in the interpretation of the theory of Permanent Revolution and the transition from the democratic to the socialist revolution.
The main error by Mandel in his conception of permanent revolution was not the emphasis he put on the “permanent” nature of the revolution – we agree in this -, but rather his superficial conception of the permanent revolution’s mechanism. For Pablo the scheme was very simple and economicist: the new objective conditions of the crisis of imperialism will immediately generate a Third World War and will automatically push all the democratic revolutions toward socialism. It is a mixture of catastrophism and messianism, which has nothing to do with Marxism. Mandel developed another interpretation, recognizing the subjective factor, the role of revolutionaries in that leap from February to October, but started mainly from the point of view of the slogans, the combination of tasks and slogans, leaving aside the question of the qualitative change that has to occur in social reality, i.e. from the point of view of the masses mobilization and the actual advance of the class struggle:
“What is important is to see the revolutionary process not as a series of time intervals during which one or another variety of demand is more or less prominent, but to see it as a continuous struggle for a mix of slogans and demands in which there is not clear separation between “democratic” and “proletarian” or “socialist.” (“The Permanent Revolution in the Third World”, Revolutionary Marxism Today, p. 91)
That’s the mistake of the majoritarian current, by understanding the “permanent” nature of the revolution as the product of a proper propaganda and of the correct agitation of combined slogans, as if the slogans where going to be the enablers of the transition. For Trotsky and our current the permanent nature of the “revolution” is neither given in advance, nor magically produced by the slogans, but is, firstly, the result of continuous and actual mobilization of the masses in the struggle, and secondly the progress in their political organization. The Permanent Revolution is the relentless struggle of workers pulling down all governments that don’t fulfill their demands until the working class takes power; not the fine-tuning of the slogans, and at the same time building a party that can do so. That was the key between February and October: the proletariat fighting continuously, deepening the dual power bodies and lastly aiming for the seizure of power and the existence of the Bolshevik Party; not the agitation of correct transitional demands.
That was precisely the criticism that Moreno did to Mandel, who simplified the task of revolutionaries to the question of choosing correct slogans, mystifying the latter and minimizing the urgent task of building the party and independent struggle organizations of the working class. The slogans without struggle, without mobilization and without a party having an organic link to the working class don’t act for themselves:
“According to the phenomenologist Germain, you have to give utmost importance to the transitional slogans, because they “raise the level of consciousness.” According to Trotskyism, the appropriate slogan or slogans combination are used for each concrete mobilization in question, to develop it towards the seizure of power by the working class. Because only put in the context of the class struggle the slogans come alive, and so every slogan may have different consequences from what would be expected by its historic location.
( … ) “Our slogans should serve to raise all mobilization to a higher level, because the only thing that raises the consciousness of the masses is their mobilization. Its development will create the need for new slogans, more advanced, until, in a continuous process, the need (and the slogan) for the seizure of power and the socialist revolution. Try to replace this objective process (of permanent mobilization) of raising the level of mass consciousness till higher consciousness levels that power must be taken, by party propaganda (spoken, written or “exemplary actions”) around slogans that, by themselves, miraculously, “raise the awareness” is a crime of lese Trotskyism.” (Moreno, “A Scandalous Document – In response to “In defense of Leninism, in defense of the Fourth International”, 1973)
Now back to Trotsky and the Marxist method. To understand the permanent or transitional character of the revolution, the revolutionary process has to be evaluated from two different points of view and understanding their relationship: its objective and subjective basis.
The transition from a democratic revolution to the socialist in the “backward” countries should be understood from those two levels too: from the point of view of the class dynamics, an objective factor, democratic revolution has an anti-capitalist potential, but to this must be added the organizational capacity of the proletariat and its level of consciousness, i.e. the subjective factor, which is the key factor.
Trotsky insists that in the imperialist epoch, the subjective factor becomes the main and decisive in determining the course of the revolution.Therefore, departing from this new class dynamics Trotsky refuses to conclude that any democratic revolution in the colonial or semi-colonial world will surely lead to socialism. He never says so. Instead he lays out very clearly two essential factors that must exist for a socialist revolution to occur, as it did in the Russian case: 1) that the working class be organized in a revolutionary party of the Bolshevik type, and 2) that it will manage, in the course of the democratic revolution to overthrow the ruling class, destroy the State, and seize power. Because if the working class does not continue its mobilization after the kick off of the February Revolution (masses on the street, first government falling etc) and does not take power, that is, if it doesn’t directly confront the bourgeoisie, the revolution is buffered, curbed and finally stopped. But to get to that point, to get to “October”, our class must be organized independently and have a revolutionary leadership. In other words, the subjective factor (soviets and party) is what allows the mobilization and organization to take power and the transformation of the political character of the revolution, and the continuation of the revolution worldwide. It is the subjective factor that ensures the ultimate, permanent character of the revolution.
Indeed, Trotsky very clearly outlines the necessary role of the revolutionary workers’ party in the victory of the democratic revolution itself (not to mention, of course, the socialist revolution):
“No matter what the first episodic stages of the revolution may be in the individual countries, the realization of the revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is conceivable only under the political leadership of the proletariat vanguard, organized in the Communist Party. 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 of all the tasks of the democratic revolution.” (The Permanent Revolution)
At that point, our current was separated from the United Secretariat, because in practice, Mandelism was devoted to limit its intervention to the critical support of the petty bourgeois leaderships (Castro and Maoism) who led democratic revolutions, reducing or subordinating the task of building revolutionary Bolshevik-type parties to that support, hoping that the mere dissemination of transitional slogans, without a revolutionary party, would change the character of the revolution or that the Trotskyist propaganda would influence those leaders. As Moreno said in his time, correct theories and slogans without a party to carry them out, make them, spread them in the fights, have little effect:
“We could make the following political theorem: a Bolshevik party can overcome its theoretical errors and lead the masses to take power, but a correct theory is absolutely sterile when revolutionary situation comes if you have not had the previous strategy of building a party Bolshevik. And one of the demonstrations of this truth is that Trotsky, who had the correct theory , could not guarantee the success of the Russian revolution because he had not had the strategy of building the party , however , despite its theoretical shortcomings , the Bolshevik Party with Lenin at the head itself could.” (Moreno, “A Scandalous Document – In response to “In defense of Leninism, in defense of the Fourth International”. 1973)
The problem of Mandelism was that, when it comes to reading, interpreting and politically applying the meaning of the theory of Permanent Revolution and the Transitional Program, it forgot the basic principles of Bolshevism, and dealt in practice with party building as a simple tactic amongst others, and not as a constant strategic objective. Against it, Moreno insisted that Trotskyism, as heir of permanent revolution and Bolshevism, has only two long term and constant strategies: building the revolutionary party and the mobilization of the working class to take power.
The “theoretical” issue behind the theory of permanent revolution
Trotsky not only formulated a theory on the social and political subjects of revolutions and the combination of tasks. He formulated a theory of history to differentiate and oppose the two largest “socialist” tendencies (the social-democrats and the Stalinists) highlighting that the “two stage” revolutionary process had lost its validity in the colonial and semi-colonial world, that this linear ‘stageist’ conception of history was obsolete in the imperialist epoch, and that any alliance or support of the national bourgeoisie would be a crime, because the working class was historically ready to seize power anywhere, even if it was not organizationally ready. But historically doesn’t mean effectively; Trotsky’s reasoning had a theoretical point of view, it means it should fill this gap by organizing itself.
What is the usefulness of such a theory? To remark that the main task of revolutionaries should be to build parties like the Bolshevik party everywhere to accomplish its historical task. Parties that practice democratic centralism and which are aimed at the seizure of power by the working class and with democratic class organizations like the Soviets, parties that would be ready to mobilized the other oppressed and exploited social classes to accomplish the democratic revolution with a combined program and will pose the need of seizing power. Social Democrats and Stalinists opposed this view in the 1930 and continued to oppose it for a long time, arguing that Russia was an exception and the rest of the world proletariat were not “not ripe”, refusing to build independent parties for the working class, and keeping the workers tied in “national” coalitions with petty-bourgeois and bourgeois sectors with an “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, believing that the development of “national bourgeoisies” and the national capitalist economy was a “step forward” in the direction of workers emancipation.
The base of the theory of the permanent revolution is the scientific acknowledgement that we have moved from an old schema of class dynamics (first the bourgeoisie will undertake the democratic revolution and later, after a period of development the proletariat will undertake the socialist one) to a new schema where the democratic revolution has an anti-capitalist character and therefore a socialist potential if the revolution is continued till the end with the right social and political subject (the working class and the party), because in order to be achieved, the social forces leading the democratic revolution will have to begin the expropriation of imperialist/capitalist forces and therefore put the question of socialism on the agenda.
This theory sought to show to the revolutionaries a deeper understanding of the historical reality, which could not be acquired “spontaneously” in the struggle, because it goes against the ideological schemes in our heads, which are made to believe that imperialism can support democratic revolutions because capitalism loves freedom of all sorts. The democratic revolution in the colonial world can perfectly begin without appearing contradictory with imperialism, without unveiling its anti-imperialist potential, but as it advances and develops with a clear political leadership it will encounter in the capitalists forms of property and the links with imperialism are always a clear obstacle to realize some of the basic democratic demands, like national economic independence and land reform.
But Cliff’s revision of the theory of Permanent Revolution does not start with the nature of capitalism in the imperialist epoch, nor the uneven and combined character of capitalism and its class dynamics, it directly jumps to the conclusions or basic postulates, which always have a historical and contingent character in Marxism. Moreno explained that.
“The basic postulates, not theory, made an incorrect assessment of the dynamics and the transformation of the democratic revolution into socialist revolution in backward countries.” (Moreno, The Transitional Program Now, 1980).
In his prompt summary of Trotsky, and before he will criticize the basic postulates, Cliff does not mention thewhy behind the conclusions and formulas. By not explaining the dynamics and antagonisms of the class struggle in the colonial world, or what Trotsky used to call the “mechanics” of the revolution, he fails to mention that the combination of the democratic and socialist tasks, the struggle for truly democratic rights, will be a struggle against the power of the bourgeois class. The central elements of the theory he wants to invalidate or replace are simply not discussed.
This curious method of reading Marxist theory by Cliff, refusing to separate the theoretical elements from prognosis or historical findings (as the post-war history was not a repetition of what happened after the First World War which was Trotsky’s wrong prognosis) led him and his entire tendency to progressively abandon theoretical elements of revolutionary Marxism because of being unable to isolate them. This method does not help the revolutionaries, because instead of updating the theory it erodes it. Cliff leans on history not to correct and enrich the theory, but to abandon it: first removing the theoretical elements of Trotsky in the “summary” and then, as we shall see, reaches opposed political conclusions to the theory of Permanent Revolution.
For us the aim of this discussion is not to assert that Trotsky was right in everything, but to see what are the theoretical tools and ideas Marxists have to develop to understand reality and the whole historical processes. We want to know which elements can be extracted from concrete historical experiences; and the wrong prognosis. We want to know what elements can be extracted from historical experiences (like the Russian and the first Chinese revolutions) and how can we apply these theoretical elements today to understand and change reality. In this sense, this long sketch of the theoretical core of permanent revolution that has just been made is, in part, a response to Cliff’s text, which has to do with the claim of a different method and a solid theoretical basis.
|Go to Part 2: Cliff’s “Deflected Permanent Revolution”: A Marxist Critical Appraisal|
 To further analyze the Chinese Revolution see: Moreno, Las revoluciones China e Indochina(1973); Toledo y Margarido, “China 1949: Una revolución en el país más poblado de la Tierra”, Marxismo Vivo n. 22, (2009), Shu-tse and Evans: The Chinese Communist Party in Power. (1980 )
 See the dossier on Cuba at Marxismo Vivo- Nueva Época, n. 1 (2010), in particular Balance Cubano, SWP, p. 7.; Moreno, Los estados obreros burocratizados. El caso de Cuba, Thesis XX of Transitional Program Today, 1980, in: marxists.org/archive/moreno; Hernández, Martin, Revolución y contrarrevolución en Cuba.
 See for example Leo Zeilig, Tony Cliff: Deflected permanent revolution in Africa, International Socialism, no. 126,(2010), which sparked a controversy with Neil Davidson and raised a reaffirmation of Cliff’s theory in a subsequent article by the same author The relevance of permanent revolution: A reply to Neil Davidson, International Socialism, no. 131, (2011). Or see the practical use of the “Deflected Permanent Revolution” made today by the IST to analyze current revolutions like Syria, The Syrian Crucible, by Jonathan Maunder, in International Socialism, no. 135 (2012).
 This analysis of “deflected permanent revolution” has not been deepened from a theoretical point of view in the following decades by the IST, but Cliff’s text is taken as a constant reference. So we are going to focus on Trotsky and Cliff’s texts.
 See text on www.marxists.org
 By “backward” we don’t mean to make any value judgment, it has more to do with the standards of “development” and “progress” set by the logic of capital, which organizes hierarchically the material reality, giving an impression of linearity, still we need to depart from the concept created by capitalism to critique them. Of course, Marxist political economy undoes all those categories, starting with the critique of the value category. The theory of uneven and combined development is implicitly a critique of the bourgeois view of linear development and progress that supposedly accompanies the development of capitalism.
 Trotsky’s speech pronounced in Copenhagen (Denmark) on 27 November 1932.
 Trotsky establishes a correlation: the more fragile and more foreign is the national bourgeoisie of the colonial or semi-colonial countries, i.e. the more it is dominated by imperialism and the weaker is its economic foundation, more reactionary it is in the process of democratic struggle: But the inability of capitalist society to survive in an historically backward country was expressed precisely in the fact that the peasant insurrections did not drive the bourgeois classes of Russia forward but on the contrary, drove them back for good into the camp of reaction. If the peasantry did not want to be completely ruined there was nothing else left for it but to join the industrial proletariat. This revolutionary joining of the two oppressed classes was foreseen by the genius of Lenin and prepared for him long before.Had the agrarian question been courageously solved by the bourgeoisie, the proletariat of Russia would not, obviously, have been able to arrive at the power in 1917. But the Russian, bourgeoisie, covetous and cowardly, too late on the scene, prematurely a victim of senility, dared not lift a hand against feudal property. But thereby it delivered the power to the proletariat and together with it the right to dispose of the destinies of bourgeois society.(Trotsky, In Defense of October, 1932)
 See the chapters “Tasks and forces of bourgeois revolutions” and “Achievements and limitations of the bourgeois revolutions” in Democracy and Revolution, originally published in English by the American SWP (section of the Fourth International) in 1971.
 “But, side by side with the antagonisms of the feudal nobility and the burghers, who claimed to represent all the rest of society, was the general antagonism of exploiters and exploited, of rich idlers and poor workers. It was this very circumstance that made it possible for the representatives of the bourgeoisie to put themselves forward as representing not one special class, but the whole of suffering humanity. Still further. From its origin the bourgeoisie was saddled with its antithesis: capitalists cannot exist without wage-workers, and, in the same proportion as the mediaeval burgher of the guild developed into the modern bourgeois, the guild journeyman and the day-laborer, outside the guilds, developed into the proletarian. And although, upon the whole, the bourgeoisie, in their struggle with the nobility, could claim to represent at the same time the interests of the different working-classes of that period, yet in every great bourgeois movement there were independent outbursts of that class which was the forerunner, more or less developed, of the modern proletariat. For example, at the time of the German Reformation and the Peasants’ War, the Anabaptists and Thomas Münzer; in the great English Revolution, the Levellers; in the great French Revolution, Babeuf.” (Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, 1880)
 In the sixth chapter of Permanent Revolution, “On the Skipping of Historical Stages”, Trotsky explains this leap in the revolution that has to do with dialectical logic and the theory of combined and uneven development of capitalism:It is nonsense to say that stages cannot in general 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. It may be said that the first distinction between a revolutionist and a vulgar evolutionist lies in the capacity to recognize and exploit such moments.What specifically was the “skip” that occurred between the February Revolution and October? The bourgeois parliamentarism, which the linear scheme said it would “naturally” follow the development of the manufacturing industry and the penetration of capitalism in the countryside. That did not happen in Russia: One stage or another of the historical process can prove to be inevitable under certain conditions, although theoretically not inevitable. And conversely, theoretically ‘inevitable’ stages can be compressed to zero by the dynamics of development, especially during revolutions, which have not for nothing been called the locomotives of history.(…) For example, in our country the proletariat ‘skipped’ the stage of democratic parliamentarianism, granting the Constituent Assembly only a few hours, and even that much only in the back yard. (Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution)
 Trotsky says that is precisely the revolutionary processes that show the dialectic nature and not the linear one of development, and that has to do with the relationship of the subjective factor to the objective dynamics:The dialectic of the historical ‘stages’ is relatively easy to understand in periods of revolutionary ascent. Reactionary periods, on the contrary, naturally become epochs of cheap evolutionism. Stalinism, this gross ideological vulgarity, the worthy daughter of the party reaction, has created a cult of its own of progress by stages, as a cover for its political tailism and haggling over rags.
 In response to the majority text (In defense of Leninism, in defense of the Fourth International), written by Mandel, Moreno published A Scandalous Document (In response to “In defense of Leninism, in defense of the Fourth International), which is also known among the members as The Party and the Revolution or El Morenazo since it delves into key issues of theory.
 The Marxists characterize the class struggle and perspectives from these two criteria: 1) The first is objective: What are the classes that face each other? What are the allied classes? What is the nature of the state that is being attacked, 2) and a subjective: What is the level of consciousness and organization of each class? Which of these classes is in better condition, from the political point of view, to win?
 As Trotsky pointed out in the Transitional Program: The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.
 Bolshevism is characterized by using all means and tactics to serve the strategy of building the party and mobilize the workers to take power. Other tendencies of the labor movement are characterized by the opposite: to confuse strategy with tactics and raise the latter to a permanent strategy. The history of Bolshevism is a constant struggle to impose appropriate means and tactics at every moment of the class struggle. Bolshevism fought the terrorists, but knew how to use terror, fought against the economicists, but was able to use unionism; fought against the parliamentarians, but knew how to use parliament; fought against anarchists, but destroyed the bourgeois state; fought the guerrilla men, but knew how to make guerrilla; fought the spontaneists but knew how to direct the spontaneous mobilization of the mass movement. And why they did all this? To construct the Bolshevik party and mobilize the masses to take power. (Moreno, A shocking document ( In response to “In defense of Leninism, in defense of the Fourth International) – 1973)
 Since the early twentieth century, Trotsky was intrigued by this fundamental change, the role of social forces in history: “The question for us is the class dynamics of the Russian Revolution” (Results and Prospects, 1907), and developed his thought further when analyzing the experience of the Russian Revolution:The proletariat took power together with the peasantry in October, says Lenin. By that alone, the revolution was a bourgeois revolution. Is that right? In a certain sense, yes. But this means that the true democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, that is, the one which actually destroyed the regime of autocracy and serfdom and snatched the land from the feudalists, was accomplished not before October but only after October; it was accomplished, to use Marx’s words, in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasant war – and then, a few months later, began growing into a socialist dictatorship. Is this really hard to understand? Can differences of opinion prevail on this point today? According to Radek, the ‘permanent’ theory sins by mixing up the bourgeois stage with the socialist. In reality, however, the class dynamics so thoroughly ‘mixed up’, that is, combined these two stages, that our unfortunate metaphysician is no longer in a position even to find the threads.(Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution)
 It is exactly the same method used to “interpret”, i.e., to discard the Transitional Program.
 Since its founding, the IWL recognized both Trotsky’s and the Fourth International’s forecast errors for the war. Not only it acknowledged, but explained them with the same theory that the IST ended by throwing away, linking them to the real crisis of leadership and contradictions in the imperialist epoch:Our party, inclusive of Trotsky, didn’t foresee that the crisis of leadership of the world proletariat would continue without an onset of solution for over four decades. Hence, it neither did foresee the colossal development, influence and flourishing of the bureaucratic counterrevolutionary apparatuses, principally of Stalinism, nor the extreme weakness, the propagandistic character that our International would continue to have, despite the colossal revolutionary upswing of these four decades. Neither has been foreseen the possibility of a crisis with a revisionist character, as the one that happened in the beginnings of the fifties and that disintegrated our International for over nearly thirty years.We feel that the lack of that prevision is inherent in the Marxist law that reality is always richer than any scheme: the latter is superseded by the former. Yet, specifically, the founders of our International made a mistake in making an analogy between this after-war and the former one. We did believe that in this immediate after-war we would have a repetition, corrected and amplified, of what happened in the former one. Then, a Marxist revolutionary party – the Bolshevik – came to power through the October revolution and the Third International was founded, which began having mass influence and overcoming the crisis of leadership. There is no reason to put in doubt the anecdote, several times reported by Joe Hansen, that Trotsky was thoroughly convinced that in the immediate after-war our International would be so full of multitudes and would have so many spontaneous revolutionary mass parties that we as Trotskyist would be in minority, since the majority of those revolutionary parties would have another ideology. Nothing shows better that this was the outlook, as the firm forecast of Trotsky that by 1948 millions would be following the Fourth International. That analogy and those forecasts have been erroneous, and one should recognise it. (Moreno, The Transitional Program Now, 1980)