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Review of China Mieville’s: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

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OCTOBER

Commenting on the many works on the Russian Revolution, China Mieville describes his book as: “… a short introduction for those curious about an astonishing story, eager to be caught up in the revolution’s rhythms. Because here it is precisely as a story that I have tried to tell it.”  This captures the purpose but also the vivacity of the book which is like a beautifully written film-script told by invoking the living flesh and blood individuals and life and death events that made 1917 such a world-historic year 100 years ago. Mieville tells the ‘strange story’ well but leaves himself open to criticism that he blames the Bolsheviks for ‘mistakes and crimes’ (such as the ‘one party state’, War Communism, censorship, ‘one-person management’, and Kronstadt). Not as necessary means to an end (desiderata), but the result of ‘weakness’. That these ‘failures and crimes’ were explained at the time as a consequence of the counter-revolution is not properly addressed, leaving the book somewhat lacking as a guide to revolution today. Nonetheless, for those who are wanting an inspiring, page-turning account of the most important event in human history, October is it.

 

1

No Halfway House

The story begins with a prehistory of the years before 1917 as the struggles against reactionary Tsarism test the various revolutionary currents. In particular, for the Bolsheviks who reject the standard Eurocentric Marxist dogma that after the Tsar would come the rule of Russian capitalists. It is the experience of the 1905 revolution that convinces the Bolsheviks (the majority of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party) to break with the Menshevik (minority) line that the bourgeoisie must lead the fight against the Tsar.

The Bolsheviks, by contrast, contend that in the context of pusillanimous liberalism, the working class itself must lead the revolution, in alliance not with those liberals but with the peasantry, taking power, in what Lenin has called a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.

The book then weaves a story of the development of the revolution, month by month, from the opening February Revolution to the closing October Insurrection. February ends the Tsarist rule as when 100,000s of women and men strike in their factories, joined by mutinous and sailors, to take to the streets demanding ‘bread’ and ‘peace’. “This is not a mutiny, comrade admiral, shouted one sailor. “This is a revolution.” The power vacuum is filled by a desperate scramble in the Duma (Tsarist ‘parliament’) to create a “Provisional Committee” for a Bourgeois Parliament, and by a “Temporary Committee” for a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. Hence the arrival of “dual power” shared by the bourgeoisie in the Provisional Government and the workers in the Soviet!

The revolution can now go nowhere other than forward to victory, or back to defeat. There is no ‘half-way house’. In the months that follow, the struggle for power zig-zags between both classes as the bourgeoisie resist the call for “All Power to the Soviets”. In March, the workers and soldiers have the power but not the leadership to use it effectively. The Bolsheviks are caught off guard. Even Lenin in Switzerland worried he might not live to see the revolution. Workers and soldiers spontaneously demand the formation of a ‘provisional revolutionary government’ along the lines of Lenin’s slogan for a Workers’ Government to carry through the bourgeois revolution.

But the leading Bolsheviks in Russia are not ready for power and prefer that the Soviets support the bourgeois provisional government provided it meets a list of democratic demands. This was the Menshevik position. Soviets would force the Provisional Government to ‘take power’ and go to a Constituent Assembly or bourgeois parliament. Only the soldiers, rejecting the ongoing war, resist handing over their armed power to the bourgeoisie without a fight and demand that the Soviets, not the bourgeoisie, should control the army! Trotsky later refers to this ‘Order No 1 as “a charter of freedom for the revolutionary army”. The Soviets, even the Bolshevik leadership, are lagging behind the revolutionary masses.

The question of the Bolshevik failure of leadership is raised dramatically by Lenin from exile. In early March, he writes a series of “Letters from Afar” proving that despite his absence he was in touch with the masses. These letters re-affirm old positions, most urgently against ‘defence of the fatherland’, as the Provisional Government continues the war. Some Bolsheviks think that the bourgeois republic should defend itself from German imperialism. Lenin points out that ‘revolutionary defencism’ is a crime. Russian imperialism, aligned to French and British imperialism, is engaged in an inter-imperialist war. More ‘shocking’ is Lenin’s total rejection of any support for the bourgeois Government which is on the side of imperialism against the revolutionary masses. The ‘first stage of the revolution will not be its last’. The workers must take power in order to complete the bourgeois revolution. The anti-war mood grows and soldiers are chaffing under the weak Bolshevik policy in the Soviets ‘conciliating’ with the bourgeois-imperialist Provisional Government.

Meanwhile Stalin, Kamenev etc arrive in Petrograd and take-over Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper. On March 15, they condemn the slogan, ‘Down with war’, and argue,

Our slogan is to bring pressure to bear on the Provisional Government so as to compel it to make, without fail, openly and before the eyes of world democracy, and attempt to induce all the warring countries to initiate immediate negotiations to end the world war. Till then let everyone remain at his post.

In case there is any doubt, “post” means, “answering bullet with bullet and shell with shell.”

March ends with another sort of bombshell. Lenin arrives in Petrograd with his famous ‘April Theses’. The Bolshevik ‘old guard’ is lagging behind the revolutionary masses and has to be straightened out. The scenario, of Lenin meeting the welcoming crowds at the Finland Station, is well told. Lenin stuns the conciliating Bolshevik leaders.

What Lenin demanded was continual revolution. He spoke briefly to those present. Scorned ‘watchfulness’ as a position on the Provisional Government. He denounced the Soviet’s ‘revolutionary defencism’ as an instrument of the bourgeoisie. He raged at the lack of Bolshevik ‘discipline’. His comrades listened in stricken silence.

The next day Lenin intervenes at a Bolshevik-Menshevik meeting to discuss unity. He presents his 10-point ‘April Theses’.

Lenin’s April Theses

In summary, Lenin says that:

…for now, the order of the day was to explain the imperative of a struggle to take power from the government, and to replace any parliamentary republic with a ‘Republic of Soviets’.

Mieville vividly describes the reactions all round. Shock, horror, bewilderment, anger, among the leaders, who write off Lenin’s ‘personal opinions’ as ‘anarchism’, ‘schematism’, ‘Blanquism’. They reject Lenin’s new line that the bourgeois revolution can only be completed by going on to the socialist revolution. But when Lenin takes his Theses to the mass meetings of the rank and file workers, soldiers and peasants, his program resonates with the revolutionary masses. They know that the revolution has to be completed, or suffer the counter-revolution. It is socialism or death. Lenin is accused of swallowing Trotsky’s permanent revolution, which, though not mentioned by Mieville, Lenin has defended as far back as 1905.

Between the minimum and the maximum program (of the Social Democrats) a revolutionary continuity is established. It is not a question of a single “blow”, or of a single day or month, but of a whole historical epoch. It would be absurd to try to fix its duration in advance.

The masses are on the march whatever the Bolsheviks say, so Lenin is in fact, marching in step with the masses by fixing the duration of the ‘historical epoch’ in advance, from February to the socialist insurrection. The timing depending on the Bolsheviks winning the majority of workers, soldiers (peasants in uniform) and poor peasants in the Soviet. To prepare for the insurrection the Bolsheviks must gain a majority in the Soviets against the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SR: the big peasant-socialist party). Despite the bankruptcy of the Provisional Government, and the growing anger of the ranks, the Soviets, under their Menshevik and SR majority continue to collaborate with the prime minister, Kerensky. From May to as long as it takes, the task of those who back Lenin, is to prepare for power, by continually checking the balance of forces so as to judge when the time is ripe for the insurrection.

May and June were months when the impatient masses, particularly the soldiers, wanted to flex their arms and stage demonstrations against the Government. In June, responding to pressure from below, the Bolsheviks boycott the Soviet rally for the Constituent Assembly to ‘finish’ the bourgeois revolution. Instead they ‘test the water’ by organizing protests demanding the end of the Provisional Government.  The result is as huge rally behind banners calling for “Peace! Land! Bread!”.

Sunday’s demonstration, wrote Gorky’s paper, Novaya zhizn, revealed the complete triumph of Bolshevism among the Petersburg Proletariat.

The Bolsheviks then try to restrain further armed demonstrations which the Soviets vow to squash, until they have won the majority in the soviets.

July brings a more serious test of the balance of dual power. Mass protests and street fighting lead to a clamp-down by the Government. The Bolshevik leadership was in jail (notably Trotsky) or in hiding (Lenin in Finland). From July to September, Lenin along with Trotsky in the leadership, continually assess the balance of power to decide the timing of the insurrection. First, in August, the counter-revolutionary coup of General Kornilov is defeated by the revolutionary masses. September sees Lenin in exile constantly badgering the Bolshevik leadership to boycott the ‘compromisers’ attempts to steer the revolution back to the Constituent Assembly and ‘bourgeois democracy’ – the fateful halfway house. Finally, in October the Bolsheviks win a majority of the Soviets and under the ‘legal’ cover of the impending Second Congress of Soviets on the 20th, plan the insurrection. As Trotsky says in Lessons of October, it is the refusal of the Petrograd Garrison to obey Kerensky’s order to go to the front on the 10th of October that kicks-off the armed insurrection, and sets the scene for the “ultimate fate of state power”.

2

Insurrection builds over weeks, days and hours 

Picking up the Mieville’s story in the month October, the pace of the revolution speeds up, and events are counted in weeks, then days, and finally, approaching the 25th and the Second Congress of Soviets, hours. As Trotsky says of that time: events are “measured not by the long yardstick of politics, but the short yardstick of war.”  The Bolsheviks always judge events in terms of the impact of class struggle on a revolutionary situation. Events rush forward and come to a climax as they are forced to a head-to-head of the two classes in a fight to the death. Dual power now reaches a stalemate and can only be broken by proletarian revolution or bourgeois counter-revolution.

As the climax builds during October, events are driven by the approaching war and the militancy of the masses, impatient for peace, land and bread. The Bolshevik Central Committee (CC) fails to keep pace with the masses, while the Mensheviks and SRs scheme to draw the Soviets into a Pre-Parliament as a precursor to the Constituent Assembly. Meanwhile, chaos reigned as the Germans threaten Petrograd and the counter-revolution builds. Lenin in hiding, fumes at the inaction. It is time for deeds not words. On September 29 comes what Mieville calls the “bombshell.” Lenin sends a ‘declaration of war’ to the Bolshevik Central Committee and tenders his resignation from the CC.

In view of the fact that the CC has even left unanswered the persistent demands I have been making for such a policy [take power now!] ever since the beginning of the Democratic Conference, in view of the fact that the central organ [Pravda] is deleting from my articles all references to such glaring errors on the part of the Bolsheviks…I am compelled to regard this as a subtle hint that I should keep my mouth shut, and as a proposal for me to retire. I am compelled to tender my resignation from the Central Committee, which I hereby do, reserving for myself freedom to campaign among the rank and file of the party at the Party Congress.

No response. On October 1 Lenin sends another message, this time including the Executives of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. He weighs up the situation. The peasants and workers are rising up, there are mutinies in the German ranks, while growing support for the Bolsheviks gives them a mandate. Therefore, the postponement of the insurrection to the 2nd Congress of Soviets is “positively criminal”. The Moscow and Petrograd committees get the message despite the efforts of the CC. They do not endorse Lenin’s demand for immediate insurrection, though in Petrograd, they agree to take action to strengthen the Bolsheviks military preparations.

While the CC is determined to risk waiting for the 2nd Congress they are being pressured by the Bolshevik ranks to boycott the Pre-parliament as a counter-revolutionary threat to the insurrection. This mass pressure is inflamed on 7 October by the order of Kerensky’s Chief of Staff, General Polkovnikov, to transfer a large part of the Petrograd garrison to the front, now fast approaching the city. That night the Pre-Parliament re-convenes. On the previous day the Bolshevik CC had voted for a boycott. Trotsky stands up to make an “emergency” statement. “Petrograd is in danger, All power to the Soviets. All land to the people!” In the commotion that followed, 53 Bolsheviks rose as one and walked out.  That same night, Lenin returned to Petrograd.

Military Revolutionary Committee formed

October 9, the Petrograd Soviet meets. The Menshevik Broido moves to prepare for the garrison to transfer to the front as a compromise with the Provisional Government. Trotsky responds with a damning rejection of compromise. “Down with Kerensky”, for immediate peace and soviet power, calling on the garrison to prepare for battle against both Germans and the Kornilovites. When the motion is put to a packed plenum of workers’ and soldiers’ delegates Trotsky prevails and the Soviet gives its blessing to the formation of the Military Revolutionary Committee to prepare for the insurrection. Mieville says that Trotsky later refers to this decision as the ‘silent’ revolution. But Trotsky is more forthcoming in Lessons of October:

From the moment when we, as the Petrograd Soviet invalidated Kerensky’s order transferring two-thirds of the garrison to the front, we actually entered a state of armed insurrection. Lenin who was not in Petrograd, could not appraise the full significance of this fact. So far as I remember there is no mention of it in all his letters during this period. Yet the outcome of the insurrection of 25 October was at least three-quarters settled, if not more, the moment that we opposed the transfer of the Petrograd garrison; created the MRC (16 October); appointed out own commissars in all army divisions and institutions; and thereby completely isolated not only the general staff of the Petrograd zone, but also the Government. [Italics ours]

As of 9 October, however, the majority of Petrograd Bolsheviks are not persuaded that the insurrection should happen before the 2nd Congress. And the CC is in two minds. The next night, 10th October, the CC meets, and Lenin makes his first appearance in Petrograd since July. He argues passionately for immediate insurrection; the peasants and workers are ready and waiting for the Bolsheviks to lead them; the counter-revolution is imminent. Lenin’s resolution: “recognizing that an armed uprising is inevitable and the time fully ripe, the CC instructs all party organisations to be guided accordingly and to consider and decide all practical questions from this viewpoint”, is passed. But no date for the insurrection is set.

The CC’s decision is communicated to Bolshevik workers and soldiers who enthusiastically back the preparation for insurrection. A full session of the Petrograd Soviet on 16 October is convened to confirm the formation of the MRC. Trotsky defends it against angry charges from the Menshevik Broido, that the MRC was a Bolshevik ruse to seize power. Trotsky declares the MRC is an organ of the Soviet, not the Bolsheviks, created to prepare the defence of the revolution from the counter-revolution. The MRC is confirmed by the Soviet.

But the Bolshevik ranks are not yet convinced that an immediate insurrection would prevail. At a Petrograd Committee meeting of delegates from the city, doubts and fears that the revolutionary ranks were not ready come from the Bolshevik Military Organization – a hotbed of militant soldiers and sailors. The meeting votes down an immediate insurrection 11 to 8. In view of this news, the CC is urgently reconvened on the same day. Again, Lenin demands immediate insurrection; the masses are not unready but waiting; they trust the Bolsheviks and demand action not words! The usual objections were raised, all effectively claiming that the workers are not ready. Lenin did not insist on a timeline, while Zinoviev held out for the 2nd Congress (which had been postponed from the 20th to the 25th). Lenin won, 19 for, 4 abstentions and 2 (Kamenev and Zinoviev) against.

Though Lenin had used the threat to resign from the CC and go to the ranks these were an essential aspect of internal party democracy. When Kamenev tenders his resignation from the CC, unlike Lenin, he does not raise his opposition inside the wider party. He breaks party discipline and publishes the CC decision to prepare for revolution in Gorky’s newspaper the next day (17 October):

At the present the instigation of an armed uprising before and independent of the Soviet Congress would be an impermissible and even fatal step for the proletariat and the revolution.

Lenin reacts angrily: “a shocking, damaging transgression of party discipline” and demanded Kamenev’s resignation. The moderates and right of the party leadership fall into line. Larin and Riazanov attack the CC line as “premature”. Stalin objects to Kamenev’s resignation and resigns himself from the editorial board. All these threats of resignation are ignored or rejected by the CC. Chudnovsky reports that the Bolsheviks have no support base on the Southern Front. A meeting of 200 soldier delegates opposes coming out, as does the Peter and Paul Fortress. Stalin exclaims, “our whole position is contradictory!”

In reality the party leadership is split only over the question of timing; whether the urgency of the revolution is outweighed by the ‘legal’ cover of waiting for the 2nd Congress. The real contradiction is that of antagonistic class interests. Those for insurrection (Bolsheviks and Left SRS) represent the proletariat and the poor peasants whom they know are ready and waiting for the right time. Those who want to delay the insurrection on the basis that the ‘workers are not ready’ do so in the hope of winning support in the Soviet for the Constituent Assembly. They (Mensheviks and SRs) represent the utopia of a bourgeois socialist democracy (half way house).

MRC turns words into action

Lenin finds the way to resolve Stalin’s “contradiction” when, on his return to Petrograd, he realizes that the MRC representing the majority of the Soviet, is actually a front for the Bolshevik CC, and the key to the insurrection. It is taking responsibility for organizing and preparing for the seizure of power. While ‘defending’ Petrograd, it is upping the momentum for an insurrection sooner rather than later. On the 20 October the CC endorses the MRC and instructs “all Bolshevik organisations [to] become part of the revolutionary center organized by the Soviet.”

On 21st October, Trotsky opens the MRC Garrison conference. He wins support for a declaration calling on the 2nd Congress to ‘take power’. The Don Cossacks cancel the next day’s procession to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the liberation of Moscow from Napoleon’s occupation and declare that they would oppose the ‘counter-revolution’. At midnight, a MRC delegation meets Polkovnikov and asserts its right to veto Headquarters orders. He refuses – “we won’t recognize your Commissars”. In the early hours of the 2nd the garrison acclaims a MRC resolution to take full responsibility for the defence of Petrograd. “Long live the Garrison!”

Next day, the 22nd, is Petrograd Soviet Day. At mass meetings throughout the city, Bolshevik speakers rally support. Sukhanov reports that Trotsky’s speech: “Petrograd is in danger, workers and soldiers must defend the city”, generates a “mood bordering on ecstasy.”  Meanwhile, the counter-revolution is also building. Polkovnikov orders troops from the Northern front to the city. Kerensky goes for the kill demanding that the MRC reverses its declaration of power “Long Live the Garrison” or face suppression.

23rd October. The MRC appoints its Commissars and declares a veto over all military orders. MRC delegates go to Peter and Paul to win its support. A debate between the Commander, SRs and Mensheviks vs the Bolsheviks goes on from 12 noon to 8pm, changing venues to the Modern Circus, the scene of Trotsky’s most famous 1905 speeches. Finally, a vote is taken on the dance floor; for the MRC move to the left; those against, move to the right. Overwhelming victory! Or is it? Are the soldiers too far ahead of the Soviet leadership and even the ‘moderate’ Bolsheviks who are holding out against jumping immediately from the bourgeois to the socialist revolution? Later that night a pre-congress meeting of Petrograd delegates to the 2nd Congress endorses the MRC role in defence of the Congress. But Menshevik and other delegates demand that the MRC withdraw its “veto” of Headquarters orders, or, be derecognized by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet! The MRC “reverses its declaration” of veto power!! But these are only words, roll on the action.

Early hours of 24th October. As Mieville puts it: “The MRC had blinked. Kerensky struck.”  But a “strange army” of cadets, members of the Women’s Death Battalion, horse artillery, assorted Cossacks, bicycle units and war wounded, is was the best he can offer. The Bolsheviks are aroused from sleep by Trotsky’s call to arms, “Kerensky is on the offensive!” The CC decides to answer attack with counter-attack. The pretext is the clownish smashing of the Bolshevik press by the ‘strange army’ (along with two right-wing presses!) which Trotsky seizes on to justify an armed response “because the Soviet…cannot tolerate suppression of the free word”. But this is a counter-demonstration only, proportionate to Kerensky’s panic jab. Later that day, Trotsky, speaking to the Bolshevik delegates gathering for the 2nd Congress, re-affirms that there will be no insurrection ahead of the Congress, for there is no need to arrest the Government when it is falling itself. “This is defence, comrades. This is defence.”

Meanwhile, Kerensky’s collapsing regime retreats to the Winter Palace. It is surrounded by the guns of the revolution waiting for the order to fire. On the afternoon of the 24th, Headquarters orders all bridges closed except for the Palace Bridge. But by the evening two of the main bridges are back in the hands of the revolution, along with the telegraph office. Yet just down the road on the Nevsky Prospect, middle class burghers promenade unaware a new world in birth. The dual power is wobbling. Lenin is still pushing hard to tip the balance toward immediate revolution. “We must not wait! We may lose everything! …The Government is tottering. It must be given the death blow at all costs.” In whose name? “Let the MRC do it”, he writes in an urgent message.

But the MRC, though controlled by the Bolsheviks, is a Soviet institution and that is not yet controlled by the Bolsheviks. The question of insurrection can be solved only by force of arms on the streets. The Mensheviks and SRs in the moribund Pre-Parliament try to compromise with Kerensky. A ‘Committee of Public Safety’ is formed to remove Kerensky and move toward the CA. At the same time the Left SRs and Bolsheviks are in the streets taking power in easy steps and meeting little resistance. The Pre-parliament’s compromising words dissolve like hot air when armed sailors from Helsingfors take the Telegraph Agency. Then around 9 pm the Pavlovsky Regiment barricades the Troitsky Bridge, and the MRC Commissar in charge, Osvald Dennis incredulously ignores the MRC command to pull down the barricade.

Insurrection Day

Lenin can stand it no longer. He takes off for the Smolny to play an active part in the revolution. He enters around midnight disguised in a wig with his face bandaged, both of which he has to remove before being recognized. But words still try to smother actions in the Soviet. In the All-Russian Executive Committee, the Mensheviks take up the Pre-parliament proposal for a Committee of Public Safety route to the CA.  The Left SRs and the Menshevik-Internationists push for a Soviet Government comprising a socialist coalition (themselves). But now the Reds are also on the move. The urgency of events and Lenin’s constant demands, are forcing the MRC onto the offensive.

Around 2 am, MRC Commissar Dennis is ordered to reinforce the barricade he has refused to remove, and extend that barricade to the grounds of the Winter Palace.  MRC Commissar Faerman leads a party to take the electric power station and cut-off supply to Government buildings. Commissar Kadlubovsky’s squad take the post office. The Sixth Engineers take the Nikolaevsky Station behind the Winter Palace. At 3.30 am the cruiser Aurora appears in the Neva near the Nikolaevsky Bridge just south of the Palace. The Garrison is on alert and more armed Reds are heading for Petrograd from Kronstadt and Finland.

Dawn on the 25th. Revolutionary guards meet no resistance in taking the Engineers’ Palace, the Petrograd State Bank, the main telephone exchange, and in freeing prisoners from the jails. Later that morning the Kronstadt revolutionary sailors set off in a squadron of destroyers and patrol boats decked with the banners of revolution. In the Smolny Lenin hastily drafts a proclamation in the name of the MRC:

To the Citizens of Russia. The Provisional Government has been overthrown. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison. The cause for which the people have struggled – the immediate proposal of a democratic peace, the elimination of the landlord estates, workers’ control over production, the creation of a soviet government – the triumph of this cause has been assured. Long live the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ revolution!

11 am. As the proclamation is being pasted up all over the city, Kerensky devoid of any military backing, wangles a US embassy car to flee the city.

Mid-day. The Pre-parliament, beloved by the compromisers as the road to the CA, is put out of its misery by revolutionary guards who enter the Mariinsky Palace and order the deputies out onto the street. The Kronstadt forces arrive and the Admiralty and its high command is stormed. By noon the deadline set for taking the Winter Palace is passed. The next deadline 2pm, the scheduled opening of the 2nd Congress is also missed. But the delegates already assembled demand to know what is being done in the Soviet’s name.

At 2.35 pm Trotsky opens an emergency session of the Petrograd Soviet: “On behalf of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I declare that the Provisional Government no longer exists”. Big cheers. More cheers when Lenin appears briefly: “Long live the world socialist revolution!” he exclaims before departing.

The dual power situation has been resolved, but for the task of tidying-up the Ministers of the Kerensky Government. More useless deadlines come and go – 3,4, 6pm. Lenin sends off a barrage of notes to the MRC demanding they finish the job. Without waiting for the order, at 6.15pm, Commissar Blagonravov of the Peter and Paul fortress delivers an ultimatum to the Winter Palace. He gives them 20 mins to surrender or suffer shelling from the Fortress and the Aurora. It turns out that the Peter and Paul guns are deemed unworkable. By 8pm most of the troops defending the Winter Palace are fading away and journalists, like John Reed, and all and sundry, can enter the Palace at will. It is not until 9.40pm that Blagonravov organizes a signal to the Aurora to fire. A resounding blank sets off a long boom.

2nd Congress Opens

The Congress delegates will not suffer further delays. Around 11pm the Second Congress of Soviets is officially opened in the Assembly Hall of the Smolny. While the revolution is being decided on the streets by Red Guards, the Congress continues its class war within. Of a total of 670 delegates, 300 are Bolsheviks; 193 SRs (most of which are Left SRs); 68 Mensheviks and 14 Menshevik-Internationalists. Without the left SRs the Bolsheviks do not have a majority. The Menshevik Dan speaking for the outgoing presidium, immediately attacks the insurrection in the name of the Soviet. A new presidium reflecting the new composition of delegates is elected. 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Left SRs. The Mensheviks refuse to take up their 3 positions. The 1 M-I position is left empty -pending events.  Then from offstage another boom sounds, this time from Peter and Paul, starting  a barrage of live shells and the “endgame” at the Winter Palace.

At the Smolny the Soviet indulges in some theatre of the absurd. Against the sound of gunfire, the Menshevik-Internationalist Martov, calls for a ‘ceasefire’ and a ‘cross-party, united, socialist, government! Who will be in this ‘cross-party’ popular-front SUG? Mensheviks and SRs only? Then the Left SRs and Bolsheviks endorse Martov’s motion. Why not, if victory is imminent, merely waiting on the arrest of the Govt Ministers? The victory of the revolution will determine who is in the Soviet Government. Support for the motion is unanimous. Then as the guns boom on, reality intrudes upon the theatre.

The Duma [parliament] is split between the pro-Government Kadets, Mensheviks, and Right SRs marching to defend the Winter Palace, and the Bolsheviks and Left SRs marching to join the Soviet. In the Smolny the Mensheviks in the Congress arouse themselves.

A criminal political venture has been going on behind the back of the All-Russian Congress … The Mensheviks and SRs repudiate all that is going on here, and stubbornly resist all attempts to seize the government.

When they hear of the Duma decision from the arriving Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks and SRs call for the Soviet to join the march to the Winter Palace. The left mocks and condemns them. They then act on their words and leave the Soviet and the fate of the SUG to the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. Now there is a true Soviet majority of workers, soldiers and poor peasants.

Then Martov (leader of the M-I) who has stayed behind, criticizes the Bolsheviks for anticipating the vote of Congress and moves again for his half-way house SUG. Trotsky responds:

A rising of the masses of the people requires no justification. What has happened is an insurrection, and not a conspiracy. We hardened the revolutionary energy of the Petersburg workers and soldiers. We openly forged the will of the masses for and insurrection, and not a conspiracy. The masses of the people followed our banner and our insurrection was victorious. And now we are told: renounce your victory, make concessions, compromise. With whom? I ask: with who ought we to compromise? With those wretched groups which have left us or who are making this proposal? But after all we’ve had a full view of them. No one in Russia is with them any longer. A compromise is supposed to be made, as between two equal sides, by the millions of workers and peasants represented by this congress, whom they are ready, not for the first time or the last, to barter away as the bourgeoisie sees fit. No, here no compromise is possible. To those who have left and to those who tell us to do this we must say: you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out. Go where you ought to go: into the dustbin of history!

Martov, amid overwhelming applause and cheering, utters a curse, “one day you will understand the crime in which you are taking part”, and leaves in search of his dustbin. The Left SRs are not yet ready to join the other SRs in their dustbin. But when they try to revive Martov’s ‘compromise’ proposal arguing that the Bolsheviks do not represent the majority of the peasantry nor the army, they come up against the Bolshevik majority in the Soviet. The Bolshevik reply is brief and pointed: how do you compromise with those who walked out of the Soviet?

2am, 26th October. The Winter Palace, the dustbin of Tsarism and now of the Provisional Government, falls over itself. The Bolshevik Antonov leads the MRC Red Guards to arrest the remaining few members of the Kerensky cabinet, then escorts them to the safety of confinement in the Peter and Paul. The news reaches the Soviet at 3am. An anti-climax, compounded by the continued comic opera of the semi-exiled M-I’s reviving their pathetic demand for a SUG to include the ‘compromisers’. The fitting finale of the Second Congress is being orchestrated by Lenin from elsewhere in the Smolny. He drafts a resolution declaring victory to the Revolutionary Government:

“To all Workers and Peasants”. The revolution will deliver peace, land, bread and national self-determination. But not unless all attempts at armed counter-revolution are defeated. “Soldiers, Workers, Employees! The fate of the revolution and democratic peace is in your hands!” At 5am the resolution becomes the ‘will’ of the Soviet and the dawn breaks to welcome a new Government, the first workers’ state, and a new society. Yet all remain precarious until the counter-revolution is defeated.

3

Epilogue: After October

The October insurrection was not the end of the story but the beginning. For Lenin the insurrection was the easy part; building socialism was the hard task. At the victorious Second Congress, late on the 26th, Lenin declares: “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.” The first steps are to nationalize the land and stop the war. “But” says Mieville:

the war is not ended, and the order that will be constructed is anything but socialist. Instead the months and years that follow will see the revolution embattled, assailed, isolated, ossified, broken. We know where this is going: purges, gulags, starvation, mass murder. October is still ground zero for arguments about fundamental, radical social change. Its degradation was not a given, was not written in the stars.

Mieville doesn’t go far beyond October to assess the historic impact of the revolution and its fate, other than to rehearse the main reservations about its success.

The story of the hopes, struggles, strains and defeats that follow 1917 has been told begore and will be again. That story, and above all the questions arising from it – the urgencies of change, or how change is possible, of the dangers that will beset it – stretch vastly beyond us. These last pages can only offer a fleeting glance.

Here Mieville’s strength as a story teller comes undone as he rehearses a familiar list of arguments but without a full balance sheet of all the forces that determined the outcome of the revolution. True, ‘lessons’ are beyond the brief of the ‘story’ of October, but since it ventures forth in that direction, we need to critique its shortcomings, to re-affirm the ‘lessons’ we take from October for today.

Did the Bolsheviks hijack the revolution to create a one-party state?

Mieville is concerned about the ‘hard-line’ that the Bolsheviks should form a ‘one-party’ state.

The pro-coalition All-Russian Executive Committee of the Union of Railway Workers demands a government of all socialist groups. Neither Lenin nor Trotsky, both hard-line on the question, attend the resulting conference: those Bolsheviks who do – Kamenev, Zinoviev and Milyutin – agree that a socialist coalition is the best chance for survival.

Why are Lenin and Trotsky “hard-line” on this question? ‘Socialism’ since Marx’s time is not unique to the proletariat. Bourgeois and petty bourgeois ‘socialism’ is not the same as proletarian ‘socialism’. It depends which class benefits from that ‘socialism’. The Bolsheviks were the only party representing the vanguard of the proletariat. The Mensheviks represented moderate workers and petty bourgeois whose internationalism fell well short of a proletarian revolution to overthrow the Provisional Government and stop the war.

Mieville chides the Left Mensheviks for walking out of the Soviets and handing the majority to the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. He says:

The Left Mensheviks, committed anti-war internationalists, have a case to answer, with their walkout in October 1917. Coming straight after the congress voted for coalition, this decision shocked and upset even some of those who went along with it. ‘I was thunderstruck,’ said Sukhanov, of an action he never ceased to regret. ‘No one contested the legality of the congress… [This action] meant a formal break with the masses and the revolution.

Mieville is misleading himself and his readers if he thinks that the Left Mensheviks who stood for a ‘socialist coalition’ in the Constituent Assembly could complete the bourgeois revolution and win peace, land and bread in the face of imperialist war and threat of invasion. At the first test, they could not even fight to defend their majority in the Soviet, and walked out at the critical point, “isolating themselves from the masses and the Revolution”. They wrote themselves off as a revolutionary force. Their better members became Bolsheviks. Their worst became enemies of the revolution.

The closest the Soviet Government came to being a ‘socialist coalition’ was in early 1918. In January the Left SRs (who had split with the Right SRs) joined with the Bolsheviks in the new Soviet Government. This was a socialist coalition of poor peasants, soldiers and workers. Together they closed down the CA dominated by the SRs representing petty bourgeois peasants who opposed the revolution. That is why Lenin asked the Cossacks to close down the CA to test their support for the revolution. Then in March the Left SRs resigned from the government because they opposed signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. They wanted to continue the ‘revolutionary war’ to defend the new workers and peasants state.

Why did the Left SRs and the Bolsheviks fall out of this treaty? Representing poor peasants and soldiers, the Left SRs were exposed to the reactionary position of the peasantry in general whose world view was limited to private land ownership. The Left SRs saw fighting Germany as the necessary defence of their national class interests. ‘Peace’, land and bread could only be defended by victory over the imperialist invader. On the other hand, the proletariat (workers who are active in class struggle) and the vanguard Party which represents its universal and historic class interests (a la Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto) do not see the revolution in national isolation. The defence of the new workers state had to be subordinated to the interests of the international proletariat.

For until the world socialist revolution breaks out, until it embraces several countries and is strong enough to overcome international imperialism, it is the direct duty of the socialists who have conquered in one country (especially a backward one) not to accept battle against the giants of imperialism. Their duty is to try to avoid battle, to wait until the conflicts between the imperialists weaken them even more, and bring the revolution in other countries even nearer. Lenin in “Left-wing” Childishness, May, 1918.

The Bolsheviks were divided (what’s new?) with some siding with the Left SRs. Lenin and Trotsky argued for a negotiated peace to stop the destruction of Russians resources needed to build socialism. The ‘revolutionary war’ would lead to the destruction of the revolution. Trotsky argued for peace negotiations to gain time to allow workers and soldiers in the warring imperialist countries to strike and mutiny and make their own revolutions. Critical time was needed to build Bolshevik parties in these countries to win workers from the treacherous social democrats and Kautsky’s centrist United Socialists.  Ultimately, the Bolshevik leadership approached the question of peace as reducing the impact of the war on the ability of Soviet Russia to extend the revolution internationally. But in the event this effort fell short of the end of the war by some months and the German invasion of the Ukraine forced the Soviet Government to sign the Treaty on March 3rd.

The civil war followed immediately in May and the Left SRs then turned on the Bolsheviks over peasant resistance to state requisitions to feed the revolution. Was deserting the revolution rather than feeding it justified? In July the Left SRs assassinate several leading Bolsheviks and in August make an attempt on the life of Lenin. There was no prospect of restoring a ‘socialist coalition’ across the clear class line now drawn between those who fought to defend the revolution and those who sided with the counter-revolutionary attack on the Bolsheviks.

At every point where the fate of the revolution is in the balance the Bolsheviks prove themselves able to mobilise the masses to defend the revolution. Those who claim to represent workers but who turn their backs on the revolution cannot then whine that they were ‘hijacked’ by a one-party Bolshevik state.

The question of whether an isolated, backward, soviet Russia could have avoided ‘state capitalism’ is answered by Lenin well before the revolution. Replying to the charges in the Left Communist journal Kommunist in May, 1918, that the Bolsheviks are betraying the revolution by going back to ‘state capitalism’, Lenin writes:

It has not occurred to them [Left Communists] that state capitalism would be a step forward as compared with the present state of affairs in our Soviet Republic … It is not state capitalism that is at war with socialism, but the petty bourgeoisie plus private capitalism fighting together against both state capitalism and socialism. The petty bourgeoisie oppose every kind of state interference, accounting and control, whether it be state capitalist or state socialist. “Left-Wing” Childishness

In order to make the ‘transition’ from capitalism and socialism Russia needs state capitalism to develop the forces of production to prepare for socialism. This requires state ‘interference’ – hiring capitalist owners, appointing ‘one-man’ managers etc to direct production in industry. Then after the failure of the German revolution, it was necessary to ‘retreat’ to the NEP. The peasants dream of becoming rich had to be harnessed to increase productivity on the land to feed the industrial workers who were building socialism. Without ‘peace’ there was no possibility of developing the land – nationalised by the revolution – and providing ‘bread’. Hence ‘war communism’ was part of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ necessary to mobilise the forces of production to defend the revolution. Without it, the new workers and peasants’ state would have been further decimated by war and starved into submission.

Was Russia ready for revolution?

Was the revolution “historically necessary”? Mieville says that by October 1918 the Mensheviks come around to this position. In fact, it was only a few ‘internationalist’ Mensheviks wanting to rejoin the Soviet Government to fight the civil war and influence the outcome. Their object was to increase the pressure on the Bolsheviks from within to steer the revolution back to the bourgeois Constituent Assembly.

Meanwhile, the majority of Mensheviks remained hostile to the Government and sided openly with the imperialist counter-revolution. They claimed that the Bolsheviks had hijacked the bourgeois revolution by excluding all non-Bolshevik parties from the Soviet government. They fought on the side of the Whites in the Civil War 1918-1920. When in 1921 the Kronstadt garrison rebelled against the Bolsheviks and declared for the Constituent Assembly –  without the Bolsheviks – they were on the side of the rebels. Clearly, the Mensheviks were hostile to the bourgeois revolution ‘going over’ immediately to socialist revolution (permanent revolution) and sought to replace the Soviet Government with the Constituent Assembly (halfway house).

Did Lenin think the socialist revolution was ‘historically necessary’? Of course. Without Soviet power the bourgeois revolution would have fallen to the counter-revolution. But Mieville states wrongly that: “Lenin startlingly claims as ‘incontrovertible’ that Russia had not been ‘ready for revolution’”.

In fact, Lenin is not referring to ‘revolution’ but ‘socialism’. Lenin is stating that Russia is ready for socialist revolution, because the bourgeoisie are too weak to overcome the fact that “the objective premises for socialism do not exist in our country”. He actually says:

The development of the productive forces of Russia has not attained the level that makes socialism possible. All the heroes of the Second International, including, of course Sukhanov, beat the drums about this proposition. They keep harping on this incontrovertible proposition in a thousand different keys, and think that it is the decisive criterion of our revolution. (emphasis ours) Our Revolution, 1923.

Here, Lenin is merely repeating the position that the Bolsheviks have held for a decade. The overthrow of the Tsar would bring the bourgeoisie to power, but they would be incapable of completing the bourgeois revolution to create the conditions for socialism. This was the historic task of the proletariat. The Mensheviks refused to accept that the bourgeoisie could not play this role and would inevitably acted as a prop for this counter-revolutionary class. This explains their class-collaboration with the bourgeoisie to ‘push it leftwards’.

The Bolsheviks, however, knew that the bourgeois revolution must be completed by the working class by means of the proletarian revolution (land reform, national self-determination, peace).  From as early as 1905, despite other differences, Lenin (uninterrupted revolution) and Trotsky (permanent revolution) understood this continuous revolution to be necessary. How long this transition would take (‘a whole historic epoch’) would be decided by the class struggle under the specific concrete conditions. The proletariat would take over the historic role of the bourgeoisie, and leading the peasantry would set up a ‘democratic dictatorship’. However, after the February revolution, the Bolshevik leadership in Russia, notably Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev, interpreted this to mean the proletariat leading the bourgeoisie in a ‘socialist coalition’ in the Provisional Government.

Lenin’s return in April junked any compromise between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (which also included capitalist peasants). This would be a treacherous popular front with the class enemy that was too weak to rule except in alliance with the Tsarist restorationists and foreign imperialism.  It was necessary that the proletariat, leading the poor peasants, would take power from the craven bourgeoisie, declare peace, and force-march the development of state capitalism. April’s slogan “All power to the soviets” became October’s, “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.”

Misreading Lenin

As if the ‘uninterrupted’ or ‘permanent’ revolution was not part of the Bolshevik program for over a decade, Mieville interprets Lenin’s clear explanation of this necessary act as a subjective adventure in a ‘hopeless situation’.

He [Lenin] wonders pugnaciously, however, whether a people ‘influenced by the hopelessness of the situation’ could be blamed for ‘fling[ing] itself into a struggle that would offer it as least some chance of securing conditions for the further development of civilization that were somewhat unusual’.

Mieville agrees that:

Russia had no choice but to act, on the chance that in so doing they might alter the very parameters of the situation. That things might thereby improve. The party’s shift after Lenin’s death, from that plaintive, embattled sense that there had been little alternative but to strive in imperfect conditions, to the hope of Socialism in One Country, is a baleful result of recasting necessity as virtue.

This interpretation misreads history seriously. The Bolshevik’s program did not leave things to “chance” or “hope”. As Marxists they understood what they were up against and the prospects for success. They were on the side of history against all those who sought to destroy the revolution internally and externally. If they failed to ‘construct the socialist order’, it was not because of anything that the Bolsheviks did, or failed to do, despite many errors and mistakes as Lenin always acknowledged. It was because the enemies of the proletariat in the working class and petty bourgeois conspired with the bourgeoisie and the surviving feudal ruling class to smash the European revolutions that could have rescued the ‘embattled’ Russian Revolution.

Here’s the full passage Mieville cites from Our Revolution above:

But what if the situation, which drew Russia into the imperialist war that involved every more or less influential West-European country and made her a witness of the eve of the revolution maturing or partly already begun in the East, gave rise to circumstances that put Russia and her development in a position which enabled us to achieve precisely that combination of a “peasant war” with the working-class movement suggested in 1856 by no less a Marxist than Marx himself as a possible prospect for Prussia?

What if the complete hopelessness of the situation, by stimulating the efforts of workers and peasants tenfold, offered us the opportunity to create the fundamental requisites of civilization in a different way from that of the West-European countries? Has that altered the basic relations between the basic classes of all the countries that are being, or have been, drawn into the general course of world history?

If a definite level of culture is required for the building of socialism (although nobody can say just what that definite “level of culture” is, for it differs in every West-European country), why cannot we begin by first achieving the prerequisites for that definite level of culture in a revolutionary way, and then, with the aid of the workers’ and peasants’ government and the Soviet system, proceed to overtake other nations? (emphasis ours).

Here Lenin, in replying to the Menshevik Sukhanov, is directing his remarks to all the “petty bourgeois democrats” who are stuck in the old dogma that Russia is “not yet ripe for socialism”. There is nothing ‘plaintive’, or unexpected, about the prospect of having a proletarian revolution in Russia to advance the ‘culture’ of Europe where the revolution has been aborted by the treacherous betrayal of social democracy. It could have been taken directly from Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto where they argue that communists represent both the historic and international interests of the proletariat. If the Bolsheviks were ‘embattled’ this was following an imperialist invasion and occupation of parts of Russia during the civil war which laid waste to large tracts of the country. Meanwhile, the ‘cultured’ European petty bourgeois democrats, and their Russian counterparts, taking advantage of their bourgeois freedoms, did nothing, or actively conspired against the revolution as ‘premature’.

Talking of ‘civilization’ and ‘culture’ Lenin means that capitalism and its culture is the high point of civilization – so far. But this culture is ‘ruling class culture’ which will inevitably destroy the gains of capitalist civilization unless overthrown and replaced by a ‘proletarian culture’. The proletarian culture represents its class interests and is expressed scientifically by the Marxist method – dialectics. Lenin rips into the petty bourgeois democrats. They are ‘faint-hearted pedants’, have failed to understand ‘revolutionary dialectics’, are ‘cowardly reformists’, and cannot understand that the West-European path of development is not the only road to revolution. They refuse to understand that backward countries dominated by the European ruling classes do not have the luxury of realizing socialism unless they declare independence from imperialism and from social-imperialist fake socialists!

You say that civilization is necessary for the building of socialism. Very good. But why could we not first create such prerequisites of civilization in our country as the expulsion of the landowners and the Russian capitalists, and then start moving towards socialism? Where, in what books, have you read that such variations of the customary sequence of events are impermissible or impossible? Napoleon, I think, wrote: “On s’engage et puis…on voit.” Freely rendered this means: “First engage in a serious battle and then see what happens.” Well, we did first engage in a serious battle in October 1917, and then saw such details of development (from the standpoint of world history they were certainly details) as the Brest Peace, New Economic Policy, and so forth. And now there can be no doubt that in the main we have been victorious. (emphasis ours) Our Revolution.

4

Conclusion: October Today

At the time Lenin wrote Our Revolution, in January 1923, the situation was difficult but not ‘hopeless’. Capitalism in its imperialist ‘final stage’ had exhausted its ‘historic mission’ to prepare the way for socialism and was destroying the forces of production including the lives of millions of workers. The war had mobilized armed workers in the struggle to re-partition the world but this had created the objective conditions for proletarian revolution. All that was needed to turn this revolutionary situation into victorious revolution was the class-conscious proletariat and a vanguard party to lead it. The German revolution had been betrayed by social democracy, yet failed ultimately because there was no Bolshevik-type mass party capable of leading it to victory. The result was that the European proletariat was now confronted with a rising fascist movement.

The Russian Revolution had survived the civil war but at a huge cost. The revolutionary proletariat was weakened, Lenin was on his sickbed, and Stalin was moving to concentrate power in the bureaucracy. But there was not the slightest suggestion that Lenin was viewing the situation in Russia as more than a ‘tactical retreat’ (NEP) necessary to construct the socialist order, nor his view of the upwards trajectory of the international revolution. Towards the end of his life, Lenin began to turn to the East for new revolutions that would follow Russia’s lead. In his ‘Last Will and Testament’ he called on Trotsky to remove Stalin and the bureaucracy from power and re-arm the revolution in the cause of international revolution.

Against all his detractors who paint Lenin as an authoritarian, or even ‘dictator’, who substitutes his ‘will’ for that of the proletariat, the party even, Trotsky, in Lessons of October, sums up Lenin’s role in forcing the pace of revolution with his constant interventions, particular the letters from exile he bombards the CC with:

All these letters, every sentence of which was forged on the anvil of revolution, are of exceptional value in that they serve both to characterize Lenin and to provide an estimate of the situation at the time. The basic and all-pervasive thought expressed in them is – anger, protest, and indignation against a fatalistic, temporizing, social democratic, Menshevik attitude to revolution, as if the latter were an endless film … When things have reached the point of armed insurrection, events are to be measured not by the long yardstick of politics, but b6 the short yardstick of war. To lose several weeks, several days, and sometimes a single day, is tantamount under certain conditions to the surrender of the revolution, to capitulation. Had Lenin not sounded the alarm, had there not been all this pressure and criticism on his part, had it not been for his intense and passionate revolutionary mistrust, the party would probably have failed to align its front at the decisive moment, for the opposition among the party leaders was very strong, and the staff plays a major role in all wars, including civil wars. (Our emphasis)

Mieville’s ‘strange story’ is well told, but his interpretation of events is limited by his inclination to attribute “failures and crimes” to the Bolsheviks (and in particular Lenin) who took responsibility for that revolution, rather than those global players who worked to destroy it, and sought to excuse their own marginal or counter-revolutionary role. Yet as we have argued here, the Bolsheviks could not be ‘blamed’ for the ‘one-party’ state without putting bourgeois democracy ahead of proletarian democracy. For that ‘one party’ was the only one that represented the ‘historical’ and ‘international’ interests of the revolutionary class – the proletariat.

The construction of socialism in Russia always depended on a victorious German revolution, betrayed by the petty bourgeois ‘culture’ of social-democracy in league with fascists. ‘State capitalism’ was not a betrayal of the revolution but a Marxist grasp on the reality that a Workers State in a backward country must take advantage of the latest technical developments of capitalist production to create the pre-conditions for socialism. The Bolsheviks were not to blame for the mistakes and shortcomings of the revolution. We put that blame where it belongs, on the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois counter-revolutionaries.

Without the Bolsheviks, and without Lenin, there would have been no socialist revolution. Russia would have become a semi-colony of France and Britain, and there would be no ‘lessons of the October’ to inspire and guide revolutionaries for another century towards the only solution for the survival of civilization, the international socialist revolution. The main lesson that we must take from October, today, is to promote Marxism and build the Bolshevik party and program as our guide in making that global revolution.

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Written by raved

October 23, 2017 at 7:10 am

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ResgatandoLenin

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Grupo de Trabalhadores Revolucionários

“Os comunistas desdenham de ocultar suas visões e objetivos. Eles abertamente declaram que seus objetivos só podem ser alcançados pelo derrubamento à força das condições sociais existentes. Que a classe dominante trema perante a Revolução Comunista! O proletariado nada tem a perder além de suas correntes. Tem um mundo a ganhar.” Manifesto Comunista

Lenin ou Kautsky?

Hoje nós vivenciamos um retrocesso/recuo massivo do Leninismo na esquerda. Sob o ataque vindo da crise mundial, a classe trabalhadora e os oprimidos movem-se para a esquerda em oposição aos seus efeitos – austeridade, precarização, desemprego massivo e repressão política – lançando-se a Primavera Árabe, manifestações, ocupações e lutas armadas contra os ditadores burgueses. As massas estão famintas por ideias de como desafiar e vencer o capitalismo. Mas ainda não há um partido revolucionário de massas para tanto. A esquerda revolucionária move-se no sentido de apresentar essa direção.

No entanto, essa esquerda tem medo…

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Written by raved

August 9, 2017 at 2:16 am

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John Mulgan: A Modern Greek Tragedy

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Situations Vacant

Review of Vincent O’Sullivan’s

Long Journey to the Border: A Life of John Mulgan

Penguin Books 2003

John Mulgan

Introduction

John Mulgan has a big name in New Zealand. He is portrayed in the literary culture and even the popular culture as a national hero. His reputation is larger than life because of the ‘mystery’ of his death, an irony given that he must have viewed his suicide without sentimentality.

His only novel ‘Man Alone’ has been a set text in schools and universities for decades. Its hero, Johnson, stands for basic values such as toughness, self-reliance, and the independence of the ‘common man’ of action and few words. That title is taken from Hemingway’s To Have and To Have Not: “a man alone ain’t got no fucking chance”. For Mulgan it means that human freedom and democracy has to be grounded in the individual self-reliance and resilience of agricultural communities…

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Written by raved

May 6, 2017 at 2:16 am

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Hands Off Aleppo: Victory to the Syrian Revolution!

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syria-peace-plan

While the breaking of the siege of Aleppo is a victory for the revolution, its fate is up in the air because its defence has been weakened by Operation Euphrates Shield which has diverted troops away from its defence. Aleppo is at risk because parts of the FSA (Free Syrian Army) have been redirected to support Turkey’s intervention in the North which has the backing so far of both Russia and U.S. Now the proposed ceasefire is designed to isolate and smash the revolution in Aleppo.

The primary objective of the U.S. and Russia is to destroy the Syrian revolution which is a force for reviving the Arab Revolution. The war against Islamic State is a mere pretext to destroy the FSA fighters and the YPG fighters and stopping them from creating Arab, Kurd and Turkmen autonomous regions in the North. That, not a tame bourgeois Kurdistan at the beckoning of both the U.S. and Russia, is what the Turkish bourgeoisie fears.

We can see the current developments in the North and the South as evidence that elements of the FSA leadership are selling out the revolutionary fighters in the hope of forming a bourgeois Sunni state that emerges from a repartition of Syria by the Great Powers. It will be a major setback for the revolution if the FSA ranks fall for this class collaboration with U.S. and Russia to divide and rule Syria.

The only way to defeat the imperialists and all their stooges is for the FSA ranks and YPG (Kurd Peoples’ Protection Units) ranks to throw out their bourgeois commanders and unite their democratic forces to build a revolutionary workers’ federation that allows for ethnic and religious freedom. To back such a front, internationalist workers need to fight their imperialist rulers at home!

Ethnic Cleansing for Partition

In the South the rebel leadership has agreed to evacuating Darayya and transferring the population to Idlib which is under rebel control. The leadership claims its hands were forced as Assad demanded the fighters leave or he would target the civilians.

By itself it could be seen as a tactical withdrawal from an impossible situation. There have been previous evacuations and further evacuations are demanded by Assad. The UN is now backing the plan to create a rebel free territory from Damascus to the sea. We can see the logic behind these deals to remove rebel control from the South to form a geographic area ruled by the existing regime.

In the North the U.S. and Russia have backed the intervention of Turkey to fight ISIS and YPG alongside FSA factions. The U.S. however opposes Turkey’s intervention extending to ethnically cleanse Kurds from Syria (East of the Euphrates). The interests of Turkey and the U.S. will collide here. Turkey wants the military allies of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) to be expelled from Syria, whereas the U.S. wants the Syrian Kurds (YPG led-Syrian Democratic Front-SDF) to form part of a Kurdistan client state in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey is the wild card here because its main interest is to prevent any Kurd nation that could lead to secession of the predominantly Kurdish regions of South East Turkey. This interest it shares with Russia and China and their local proxies, Iran and Iraq. Turkey is already offside with the U.S. because Erdogan blames it for supporting the coup attempt. So either the U.S. is prepared to give up its plan to create a larger Kurdistan, or Turkey is going to move away from the U.S. and NATO further into the arms of Russia and China.

From the standpoint of the revolution any capitulation to any imperialist power is a serious setback. The FSA has long been pulled in the direction of using its militias as bargaining chips to negotiate a peace. We have opposed all these negotiations as futile and defended those in the FSA leadership that reject any deal with the Assad regime. Now we hear that in the South rebels who refuse to give in to Assad are being ordered to stop fighting and evacuate. At the same time FSA elements are collaborating with Turkey against the SDF.

Our position is that the FSA is in danger of compromising with imperialism while fighting alongside Turkey to defeat the US backed SDF which has recently attacked FSA positions in an attempt to create an autonomous Kurdish state in Northern Syria. We have always supported Kurdish national rights but not as part of a deal with imperialism to attack the Syrian revolution as we saw when the SDF joined Assad’s siege of Aleppo. However, if the FSA response is part of a military bloc with Turkey and Russia against the U.S. backed SDF then revolutionaries cannot be part of this imperialist military bloc any more than we can support an imperialist ceasefire.

Unlike most of the fake anti-imperialists in the West, we do not see the role of the U.S. bloc and Russia/China bloc in the Syrian revolutionary war as progressive on either side. To understand why the two imperialist blocs are fighting in Syria we need to understand its significance as a geopolitical hotspot contested by both blocs.

Syria: Geopolitical Hotspot

Against much of the left, we regard Russia and China as imperialist powers that have formed a bloc with a number of semi-colonies such as Brazil, India and South Africa. This bloc also includes Iran and the current Iraqi regime. While often labelled ‘emerging’ powers, in our view Russia and China have emerged in the last 20 years as new imperialist powers. As such they dominate and oppress the semi-colonies in their bloc just as the U.S. bloc includes a number of imperialist powers that dominate and oppress the semi-colonies in their bloc.

The U.S./NATO bloc includes all the European imperialist powers in its ‘coalition’ to “defeat ISIS”. It also includes its local allies, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Despite much speculation that the US includes Iran, Turkey and Egypt it its bloc, the truth is that Iran is closely linked to the Russia/China bloc. Turkey has been denied entry to the EU and is currently on a course towards the Russia/China bloc. Egypt, long a U.S. client state, is under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi negotiating a free-trade pact between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union, comprising Russia and several ex-Soviet states.

The Russia/China bloc has strengthened during the period of the war. The U.S. position was originally to remove Assad and find a ‘democratic’ alternative but it held back from active intervention along the lines of Libya. However, the resistance to Assad refused to capitulate to a new pro-U.S. leadership and has fought Assad to a standstill.

The two main facts about the resistance are that first, it is not significantly funded by the U.S. or its proxies. They are Syrian fighters many of whom defected from the Syrian army, not foreign ‘terrorists’. The ‘terrorists’ are the Assad regime and all the foreign mercenaries from Hezbollah to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Moreover, the U.S. blocked the provision of Surface to Air Missiles (SAMS) to the rebels fearing a revolution that would not stop at overthrowing Assad but spark an armed Arab uprising from Tunisia to Bahrain to kick out imperialism and its dictators.

Second, the resistance has become strengthened by Islamic currents such as al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) designated by Russia and the U.S. as ‘terrorists’ because they want an ‘Islamic State’. Yet this is a state defined by Fateh al-Sham as a non-sectarian Islamic republic. It is because the revolution is an authentically Syrian national democratic revolution against imperialism that it continues to win popular support and control large areas of the country refusing to sign a cease-fire deal that would allow Assad to stay in power.

That is why in mid 2015 Russia intervened militarily to break the back of the popular revolution in defence of its Syrian ally, and the U.S. has been forced to collaborate with it against both the ISIS and against the revolution. Unlike the Russians who have their own troops on the ground, plus major foreign forces such as Hezbollah, the Iranian national guards, and the Iraqi Shiite militias to name the most important, the U.S. bloc has few troops on the ground other than the proxy PYG led SDF. The Russian bloc has seized the advantage and stolen a march on the US bloc forcing it to collaborate in a fight that benefits Russia and its allies but poses big risks for the US bloc.

The U.S. has already acquiesced in a deal with Iran and accepts Iran’s control of the Iraqi regime. The U.S. has now publicly accepted that Assad can stay for now. But this agreement lasts only so long as the two parties can agree on who is a “terrorist”. As we have seen the current collaboration between the two blocs to defeat all “terrorists” may breakdown over the question of whether or not the Kurds are defined as “terrorists”. Russia has changed its position from regarding the Kurds as allies of Assad, to that of ‘terrorists’. The big question is will the U.S. pull back from its goal of a Kurd nation in Syria and Iraq, or pursue it in a trade off for the partition of Syria and Iraq to rewrite the Sykes/Picot ‘agreement’ with a new Kerry/Lavrov ‘agreement’ to repartition the Middle East between the two imperialist blocs?

For those ‘Trotskyists’ who reject the position that Russia and China are imperialists we ask how do they explain the role of Russia in the Syrian war? Is Putin no more than Obama’s “hitman”. To argue as the FLTI does that Russia is a sub-imperialist power (a state that is more than a semi-colony but less then imperialist), along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, cannot account for the advances made against US interests in the Middle East which favour Russia. Can a sub-imperialist Russia advance its bloc’s interests in the region (boosting Iran in Iraq and Syria, pulling Turkey away from NATO towards Russia, with China joining in training Assad’s troops, and India affirming the legitimacy of Assad’s regime) without significantly limiting US hegemony as a rival imperialist power?

For real Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyists, this can only mean that the rivalry between the two big imperialist blocs today is a continuation of the ‘Great Game’ between Britain and Russia for control of Eurasia before the First Imperialist War of 1914-1918. If the imperialists are allowed to win, to smash the Syrian and Arab revolutions and force a re-partition of the Middle East along the Kerry-Lavrov proposals, then this will be a defeat for the world revolution as a result of more bloody wars and even a Third (and last) World War.

Epoch, Crisis, War and Revolution

The geopolitical stakes are high in Syria because the success of the revolution represents a victory for the Arab and World revolution. Alternatively if the revolution is defeated by imperialism and its client states, this would be a major setback for the Arab and World revolution. Of course for that to happen it must be over the dead body of the Syrian Revolution. This forces all those who profess to be revolutionaries to come out in defence of the Syrian Revolution and provide material aid on all four major fronts:

· (1) recognising that the regime is fascist and must be overthrown and not appeased by fake imperialist deals including ceasefires and/or the partition of Syria;

· (2) opposing the bourgeois factions masquerading as the FSA leadership against the revolution and replacing this leadership with those fighters committed to defeating Assad and all the imperialist interventions in Syria;

· (3) fighting the jihadists who want to usurp the national rights of Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds to form a reactionary bourgeois Islamic State;

· (4) exposing and defeating the fake left that sides directly or indirectly with the Assad regime and/or with Russian imperialism as defending ‘democracy’ against ‘terrorism’.

There is no question that for revolutionaries the fate of the Syrian Revolution is a fundamental test of their politics and program. What is at stake is the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Those who claim to be Trotskyists have to step up and put their program to the test so workers can recognise who are revolutionaries and who are treacherous enemies of the revolution. Who is for or against Permanent Revolution? What do we mean by permanent revolution?

The short definition of Permanent Revolution is that the bourgeois democratic revolution cannot be completed except as a socialist revolution. Hence the bourgeois democratic revolution does not represent a stage necessary to prepare for socialism. The national democratic revolution becomes a continuous, uninterrupted, and hence permanent revolution until it becomes an international socialist revolution.

How do Trotskyists advance the national democratic revolution (Arab Revolution) by means of Permanent Revolution? We base ourselves on the transitional method (dialectics) and the Transitional Program (Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International). Without an internationalist Trotskyist Leninist party there is no revolutionary leadership and no testing of revolutionary theory in the struggle. This situation was summed up by Trotsky in the 1930s as the “crisis of revolutionary leadership”! Today this crisis is that of the failure of the 4th International to build a revolutionary international party.

What we prize is the legacy of Bolshevism, Leninism and Trotskyism, embodied in Trotsky’s method and program up to 1940. We begin with our understanding that we are still living in the epoch of imperialism, the epoch of crises, wars and revolutions. Capitalism is objectively overripe for revolution, lacking only a class conscious proletariat to lead the socialist revolution to victory.

Today after successive crises, wars and revolutions in the 20th century which marked capitalism’s continuing decline, all previous revolutions have succumbed to counter-revolution due to the crisis of leadership. We face a current situation in which global capitalism faces its terminal crisis. Unless we build a new communist international first, this crisis will mean the end not only of capitalism but also of human civilisation.

In response to this crisis the Arab Spring in 2011 represented the refusal of the Arab masses to pay for capitalism’s terminal crisis. The reopening of the national democratic revolution in MENA included the Syrian uprising and the five year long revolutionary war. The Syrian revolutionary war is the advance guard of the Arab Revolution. That is why we insist that it is a definitive test of all those who claim to lead workers to socialist revolution.

This revolution exposes all those self-proclaimed Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyists who fail this test and objectively end up in the trenches of the class enemy. They can be categorised roughly into two groups. Those who support Assad as an anti-imperialist when he is a stooge of both U.S. and Russian imperialism, and those who reject Assad as anti-imperialist but fall into the Menshevik dogma that Arab workers as not ready for socialism and must fighting alongside the national bourgeoisie to complete the national democratic revolution to prepare the conditions for socialist revolution.

In the first group are the Blind Assadists who regard the workers as ‘not ready’ for even the struggle for bourgeois democracy because they have been replaced by imperialist backed jihadists. They blatantly deny the existence of a popular national revolution in Syria. The most influential are those who say that the ‘rebels’ are no different to the ‘jihadists’ funded by U.S. proxies, Saudia Arabia, Turkey, etc. Hence they draw the conclusion that the Assad regime is waging a just anti-imperialist war against US imperialist proxies. These Blind Assadists include the cryptostalinist RT socialists who back ‘anti-imperialist’ Russia defending the Assad regime against the US-backed ‘rebels’.

In the second category are the Unconscious Assadists; those who recognise and support the Syrian revolution but do not see the working class as capable of socialist revolution without first exhausting the limits of bourgeois democracy. This grouping includes Mensheviks, Maoists and Trotskyist centrists, though their positions are far from identical. The Menshevik/Maoist view is that in the epoch of imperialist decay the bourgeois national democratic revolution must be completed before socialist revolution is possible. A good example is the US organisation Communist Voice.

Joseph Green of Communist Voice rails against Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution as denigrating the struggle for bourgeois democracy. Yet Trotsky did not reject bourgeois democratic demands such as the right to national self-determination, merely by rebranding them ‘transitional demands’. He rejected the Menshevik division between the ‘minimum’ and ‘maximum’ program as substituting a pre-ordained stageism for the dialectics of workers taking the fight for immediate democratic demands that would be met inevitably by imperialist repression, all the way to the socialist insurrection. We will see below whether it is Leon Trotsky or Joseph Green who is right in the case of the Syrian Revolution.

For Permanent Revolution!

Our task is to expose those who reject or revise Permanent Revolution. For us there can be no stage in the national democratic revolution where fighting for bourgeois democracy dictates in advance the defence of bourgeois parliament. For the proletariat, the defence of bourgeois democracy is justified only when it advances the socialist revolution. Whether or not workers defend bourgeois parliament is a tactical question that depends on the balance of class forces, that is, the advance or retreat of the revolution.

Where the revolution is thrown back or has been defeated as in China in 1927 the retreat to bourgeois parliament becomes a tactic to rally the proletarian forces to prevent the closing of the road to revolution. When the revolution is advancing or where the proletariat has not been defeated, as in the Russian Revolution in 1917, Permanent Revolution requires the raising of revolutionary demands of workers power, insurrection and the overthrow of the bourgeois state including the disbanding of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly.

In Syria after 5 years of civil war where the armed revolution is in control of large parts of Syria, the revolution has not been defeated. Against all that U.S. and Russian imperialism and their proxies can throw at it, the revolution survives. Do we call for a peace deal with imperialism to partition Syria that betrays that revolution? No! Already the revolution has built new institutions based on popular democracy to administer the territory it occupies.

In other words here is the Permanent Revolution in the flesh. To defend the immediate bourgeois rights to live and of freedom of expression, workers, poor farmers, street vendors etc., have created workers rights through their armed struggle against “democratic” imperialism and their Syrian dictator Assad!

These are not institutions of bourgeois democracy but of workers’ democracy. They are the result of proto workers communes that if joined up would be the basis for an embryonic workers’ state. We do not defend the gains made, or respect the loss of life in the revolution so far, by retreating to even the most advanced bourgeois democracy, the ‘constituent assembly’. In Syria voting for bourgeois rights has been replaced by taking them arms in hand against the bombs and mercenaries of self-proclaimed ‘democratic’ imperialism. That is why our program in Syria is not for a Constituent Assembly but armed workers soviets everywhere!

The situation is critical. Aleppo is our Paris Commune. But we cannot win if the revolution is co-opted by one or other imperialism and their client states in the region. At the moment part of the FSA leadership is collaborating with Turkey while the YPG leadership is collaborating with the U.S. These rebel forces have been co-opted by Turkey under agreement of both Russia and the U.S. to remove the IS and the YPG from northern Syria. The planned outcome is a divided Syria along the lines of Russia/Assad/Iran aligned regime in the West and U.S./Jordan/Saudi aligned regime in the East.

The survival of the Syrian revolution for 5 years has forced the hand of both imperialist blocs to engage in a new redivision of MENA that reflects the geopolitical confrontation between the two rival blocs. While they are currently collaborating in smashing both the Arab and Kurd revolutions by dividing them and buying off their leaderships, these popular revolutions can defeat both imperialism and its client dictators by turning the tables in the war.

To do this we have to fight the Arab and Kurd national revolutions as one workers’ revolution. This is about class not nation. Turkey is carrying the can for U.S. and Russia to divide and defeat the workers’ revolution and create stable pro-imperialist statelets ruled by their bourgeois clients. There can be no victorious bourgeois national revolution anymore unless it is a permanent or socialist revolution. And socialist revolution in one country cannot survive unless it is international.

That is why the Arab and Kurd national revolutions cannot succeed unless the workers and peasants who do the fighting split decisively from their treacherous bourgeois and petty bourgeois class leaders and join forces with workers and peasants of the whole MENA. It is necessary for the ranks of the rebels to throw out the FSA and YPG leaders who are collaborating with the U.S. and Russia. It is necessary for Iraqi, Egyptian, Palestinian, Kurd, and Iranian workers and peasants to take the lead in their own national revolutions against imperialism, and turn them into victorious socialist revolutions.

They must reject the partition of Syria, Kurdistan and Iraq along sectarian lines, and fight for unity along working class lines. We must appeal to Turkish workers to reject Erdogan’s deals with Russia and the U.S. and join forces with the Arab and Kurd masses. We must oppose a new Sykes/Picot in the form of a Kerry/Lavrov deal and fight for a victorious Arab revolution hand in hand with a Kurd Revolution. If the FSA and PYG stopped fighting one another over who controls north Syria and formed a revolutionary bloc, they could unite not only all Arabs in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but the whole of MENA against the deals being made by Russia and the U.S. to divide and defeat these two revolutions.

We want a permanent revolution in which the Arab workers and peasants unite across the whole of MENA to form non-sectarian, democratic, socialist republics in a socialist federation with the Kurd and Iranian revolutions.

Workers internationally must join this revolution, not only in MENA but also in their own countries. We have to fight on the four fronts internationally. Since it is clear that the Syrian and Kurd revolutions would have already succeeded without the intervention of imperialism and its client dictators, our main task, especially in the imperialist countries, is to defeat imperialism at home! The U.S./NATO bloc would be immobilised by militant working class opposition to imperialism at home. Russia and China would be immobilised by their own workers and peasants rising up to overthrow their imperialist regimes.

The world is on the brink of disaster. Facing its terminal crisis, capitalism can only survive by killing workers everywhere and destroying the ecosphere. For workers to survive, capitalism must die. Workers can do this only by organising internationally across the defunct borders of the bourgeois nation state; by arming themselves to defend their class against capitalist counter-revolution; by using their armed class power to overthrow and replace dying capitalism with a new socialist system.

This revolution has begun in Syria. We are at the crossroads; take the right fork and the revolution will be defeated and make the demise of our species that much harder to stop, take the left fork, it becomes a call to arms for workers everywhere to fight for socialism and the survival of our species.

China and the Socialist Future

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Yeu Yuen Shoe Strike (Nike Adidas) over unpaid pensions 2014

Class Struggle in China

China’s current role as the world’s leading industrial nation is the result of its unique history as an former empire, a British colony, a ‘socialist’ republic and today, a new imperialist power. It is the most dynamic capitalist society today having emerged out of a centralised bureaucratic state ‘socialism’. This makes China’s role in the world unique but not exceptional. While China is recognised as being a ‘leader’ in growth, in consumption, and in new technology, to keep this leadership it cannot jump over the capitalist laws of history.

China’s slowdown proves that it not immune to these laws. It is not a panacea for global capitalism’s decline. China is now facing its own capitalist crisis of overproduction which it cannot resolve without attacking the 1 billion Chinese workers. And despite its past defeats those workers cannot survive without fighting for a genuine socialist revolution. That is why China, more than any other the country, is where capitalism’s past and future manifests itself as a fundamental clash between the proletariat and the capitalist ruling class.

We can dispense with those pseudo theories that explain China’s rise as something to do with ‘market socialism’. This is a futile attempt to both recognise the truth that the capitalist market exists in China, yet somehow claim it serves the goals of ‘socialism. The reality is that the restoration of the capitalist market could not coexist with ‘socialism’ in its bastardised bureaucratic form of state ownership of property in China. It had to destroy those aspects of Chinese society that owe anything to ‘socialism’. First, it had to defeat the working class as the class that grew up under bureaucratic ‘socialism’. Far from advancing under ‘market socialism’ the workers met with an historic defeat.

The restoration of capitalism was a huge defeat for the millions of workers. Hao Qi says:

“During the country’s transition to capitalism, as the bonus-centered incentive system could not sustain itself, enterprises needed the existence of a reserve army to discipline workers and a segregated labor market to divide and conquer the working class. A continuous influx of migrant workers and the 30 million laid-off workers from the state-owned sector jointly expanded the reserve army of labor within a few years in the 1990s. The reserve army significantly depressed the power of the working class as a whole, and the segregation of the labor market also weakened the solidarity of the working class. This is why we have witnessed the major decline of labor’s share since the early 1990s.”

However according to the same writer the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 reversed that decline:

“There is a new turning point for the Chinese working class. After the outbreak of the global capitalist crisis, labor’s share in China began to recover. Along with this fact, one can also observe that the nominal wage level has grown faster than nominal GDP since 2008, and in 2012 China’s working-age population decreased for the first time in the reform era, which implies that the reserve army of labor will shrink in the near future. More importantly, there is a developing workers’ struggle for a decent living wage that is sufficient to afford the cost of living in the urban areas. The new generation of migrant workers who were mostly born in the 1980s and ‘90s insists on living in the urban areas. This has led to struggles for higher wages. Workers’ struggle for a larger share of the national income will eventually end the high-profit era for capitalists and thus open up a new era for the Chinese economy.” ibid

In sum, this ‘optimistic’ view of the labor movement in China is that it has recovered from its early defeats of the 1990s and has emerged ‘empowered’ and capable of increasing the share of labor. It argues that rising numbers of strikes and successes in improving wages and conditions will lead to higher consumption and overcome China’s economic problems. How realistic is this view?

Critics have argued that the ‘empowerment’ thesis is ‘false optimism’ and not backed by the reality. Strikes have in fact declined since the massive labor militancy in the early days of capitalist restoration in the 1990s. They question the claim that the reserve army of migrant workers flooding to the cities is slowing significantly and reducing downward pressure on wages. The rural reserve army is still 300 million strong. More important is the crisis which forces capital to increase the rate of exploitation of wage labor. There is a trend towards precarization of work, with shorter hours, atomization of the workforce, worsening conditions, employer corruption of unions etc. Even the purported ‘victory’ of rising wages reflects central government policy of boosting consumption rather than union power.

Whatever the evidence that the record number of strikes is linked to growing class conscious labor movement can we draw the conclusion that Chinese workers are any better or worse prepared than in other capitalist countries to fight back against the effects of a major economic crash on their lives? That would be to ignore the historical differences between the West and the East.

Just as the recent rapid rise of China as a major imperialist power is unprecedented (the last major power to emerge as imperialist was the USA before the First World War!) relative to the rest of the capitalist world, so we have to look at the developing class struggle in China in the same light.

Class struggle in China is conditioned by its history as an pre-capitalist empire for millennia, a capitalist colony for over a century (from the Opium war of 1840), then by a national revolution that broke from global capitalism from 1949 to the 1990s, followed by the restoration of capitalism and the rise of a new Chinese imperialism. This unique history has important implications for our understanding of China and global capitalism today.

What makes China different? 

 To explain the impact of the past on China today and on the prospects for a socialist future, we have to explore what makes China’s road to capitalism different from the West. Since China today is clearly capitalist the class struggle between the working class, poor peasants and the capitalist ruling class is like that of all capitalist states. However, there are important differences in the development of capitalism in China.

The First Chinese Revolution in 1911 led by the new bourgeois class overthrew the Qing dynasty. But because Chinese development was retarded by imperialism, no powerful national bourgeoisie had emerged capable of leading the democratic revolution in China. It was an already historically redundant class caught between the massive peasantry and the rising industrial proletariat on the one side, and the occupying imperialist powers on the other side.

The weak national bourgeoisie feared the peasants and workers more than the imperialist exploiters and sided with the latter. This fear was well founded as it was the workers and poor peasants who defeated Japan and the Kuomintang army in 1949, proving once again after Russia in 1917 that ‘backward’ countries in the epoch of imperialism can only become independent of imperialism through socialist revolution.

This unique history is the big difference between China and the West. In the West capitalist development in the 19th and 20th centuries occurred over centuries on the basis of the plunder of the colonial world including the plunder of the ancient Chinese empire. Modern imperialism allowed these nations to accumulate huge wealth and bribe large sections of the working class with colonial super-profits to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie as politicians in the reformist parties and bureaucrats in the labor unions.

Trotsky pointed out that this accounted for the success of the revolution in Russia and its failure in Europe. The strength of reformism in Europe tied workers to the parliamentary system whereas in Russia, a backward capitalist country under a Tsarist dictatorship, bourgeois democracy was yet to be born. The socialist revolution overtook the bourgeois democratic revolution and incorporated its tasks as part of the ‘permanent revolution’.

However, for the Bolsheviks, a successful workers revolution in a backward country could not lead to socialism in one country. Russia’s isolation and economic backwardness created the conditions for the emergence of a bureaucracy under Stalin after 1924. The Stalinist bureaucracy reverted to a Menshevik “two-stage” theory that ‘backward’ (colonial or semi-colonial) countries had to follow the example of the Western countries and go through a bourgeois democratic stage to prepare the conditions for socialism. In the absence of a Russian bourgeoisie Stalin reverted to the old Bolshevik formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and the peasants” in which the workers and all the peasantry would complete the bourgeois revolution in the absence of a revolutionary bourgeoisie.

According to his unreconstructed Menshevik cynicism that the proletarian revolution was premature in Russia, Stalin turned this theory into the “bloc of four classes” i.e. a national front of the proletariat, peasantry, petty bourgeois intelligentsia, and national bourgeoisie, to bring about the ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution. This would allow the Soviet Union to form alliances with ‘democratic’ capitalist countries to buy the time necessary to build ‘socialism in one country’.

Against this Menshevik theory, the Bolshevik concept of Permanent Revolution was defended by the Left Opposition between 1923 and 1928 in an effort to win the leadership of the CCP to lead the poor peasants against the national bourgeoisies, including the rich peasants (kulaks), and the imperialist bourgeoisies. So the ‘permanent revolution’ must start off as a bourgeois democratic revolution against imperialism but immediately pass over to the socialist revolution against the bourgeoisie.

Theory/program of ‘permanent revolution’

Karl Marx originated this theory after the failure of the bourgeois revolutions in Europe in 1848. Henceforth the bourgeoisie was incapable of completing its own revolution to extend bourgeois rights to the masses (as we saw when Napoleon revoked the freedom of the slaves in Haiti) and that historic task was now that of the proletariat as part of the world socialist revolution.

Marx foresaw that the colonial world would not need to follow mechanically copy the stages of growth of capitalism in the West. Once the West extended is rule over the whole world (coming to its full force as imperialism in the late 19th century) the colonies could complete their national democratic struggle for independence only by means of socialist revolution.

In 1850 Marx talking about ‘backward’ China wrote:

“Chinese socialism may, of course, bear the same relation to European socialism as Chinese to Hegelian philosophy. But it is still amusing to note that the oldest and most unshakeable empire on earth has, within eight years, been brought to the brink of a social revolution by the cotton bales of the English bourgeoisie; in any event, such a revolution cannot help but have the most important consequences for the civilized world. When our European reactionaries, in the course of their imminent flight through Asia, finally arrive at the Great Wall of China, at the gates which lead to the home of primal reaction and primal conservatism, who knows if they will not find written thereon the legend: “République chinoise Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” Review: January-February, 1850

Just as in Europe where the reactionary bourgeoisie was suppressing ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ for fear of the working class, in China the Taiping uprising in 1850 against the British invaders proved to Marx that that the working class had the potential lead the peasants to overthrow not only imperialism but also its own weak pro-imperialist bourgeoisie and complete the bourgeois revolution as the socialist revolution. Thus Marx anticipated the prospect of ‘socialist revolution’ (even if ‘bourgeois’ at the start) led by workers and peasants completing the bourgeois revolution as ‘permanent revolution’ in backward capitalist countries.

Such an eventuality was first proven correct in Soviet Russia. The Bolsheviks moved quickly to complete the bourgeois revolution avoiding the death trap of the bourgeois Provisional Government between February and October 1917. They took over the program of the party of poor peasants, the Social Revolutionaries, for ‘land to the tiller’, to win them to the revolution. They expropriated foreign capitalists, repudiated the foreign debt, and formed the Red Army to defeat the military invasions of the imperialists. Even when widespread starvation caused by the Civil War forced the Bolsheviks to allow the rich peasant Kulaks and capitalists to profit from agriculture and trade, these enterprises were under the control of the workers state.

However, just as in Russia where permanent revolution was aborted by global capitalism and the Stalinist bureaucracy after 1924, in ‘backward’ China the CCP, as part of the Comintern dominated by Stalin, also adopted the Menshevik program of the Bloc of Four Classes and the two-stage revolution. The first ‘democratic’ stage of the revolution required a bloc of workers, peasants, intellectuals and ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie. This bloc would require the CCP to subordinate itself to Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist army and expose it to repression.

Trotsky and the Left Opposition from 1923 onwards opposed Stalin’s Menshevik theory as part of his betrayal of Bolshevism and his program for “socialism in one country” and fought against this policy in the CCP. They condemned Stalin’s treacherous role in the smashing of the Second Chinese revolution in 1927 when the bourgeois general Chiang Kai Chek unleashed his army to massacre the CCP leaders and the militant rank and file in Shanghai and Canton.

After the betrayal of the Second Chinese Revolution the CCP was led by Mensheviks like Mao who retreated from the cities to a peasant war of national liberation against Japan and the nationalist Kuomintang. Following its military victory in 1949 the CCP tried to negotiate with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie only to find it had fled into the imperialists’ camp. The CCP had to amend Stalin’s bloc of Four Classes to a bloc of Three Classes led not by the workers but by the petty bourgeois CCP leadership. The result was the formation of a bureaucratic centralised state apparatus run by the CCP to complete the ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution but taking state power in the name of workers and peasants.

Capitalist property was expropriated and the market replaced by the plan administered by a bureaucratically deformed workers’ state. The CCP intelligentsia promoted itself as the state manager of ‘socialist’ property but in reality the workers and peasants had no say in how the state was run or the planning process itself. There was no workers democracy that could replace the bureaucracy and move China towards a genuine socialism. China as a bureaucratically deformed ‘workers’ state was stuck in limbo between its capitalist past and its socialist future. Its fate would be decided either by a political revolution in which workers overthrew the bureaucracy and took power directly to implement genuine socialism, or the defeat of the workers by the parasitic bureaucracy to restore capitalism under the ideology of “market socialism”.

Was the Chinese revolution ‘socialist’?

Was this the socialist revolution Marx spoke of? No, because the workers did not lead the poor peasants to the seizure of power. The struggle for national independence was led by a bureaucratic Stalinist party forced by the desertion of the bourgeoisie to base itself on the workers and poor peasants as a parasitic caste feeding off their labor.

After the revolution the bureaucracy had to industrialise to develop the forces of production to meets the needs of both the rural and industrial workforce as well as provide a surplus for the parasitic caste. The poor peasants who had formed the ranks of the national army were rapidly subordinated by the growth of industry and the rise of the urban working class.

The peasantry had no future as an independent class. The peasantry’s aspirations are limited to the horizon of petty capitalism or to private capitalist land ownership. The state blocked these aspirations by collectivising the land. So the fate of the peasantry was to become a rural labor force and a reserve army of labor to serve the needs of industry.

This change in rural society follows from the need to develop agricultural productivity to cheapen the wage goods of industrial workers and to create a surplus army of landless peasants who could migrate to the cities as a reserve of cheap labor. Thus wages in industry were driven down by migrant labor whose low wages were supplemented by subsistence goods in the countryside.

While this bureaucratically deformed workers state appears to bourgeois intellectuals as no more than a new ‘socialist’ elite administering the old centralised state of the ‘middle empire’, it was in reality now under the overall determining influence of the global capitalist economy. Rebuffed by the bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy had to forcibly collectivise the agricultural labor of the old peasant family farmers to meet the needs of the industrial working class and generate a surplus.

But the bureaucracy could not claim the surplus as private property without stoking a political revolution of peasants and workers challenging its rule. It was necessary to resort to corruption and abuse of the norms of ‘socialism’ to maintain its privileges.

The bureaucratic plan led to the Chinese economy stagnating and a declining surplus. Because this threatened the material basis of the bureaucracies privileges by 1978 the party embarked on the first market reforms to increase output. The CCP had increasing difficulty justifying its reforms in terms of ‘socialist’ norms of freedom and equality to the masses which had the power to resist them. It stretched the concept of ‘socialism’ inventing “market socialism” to sell the restoration of ‘capitalism’ to the masses.

However, increasing opposition to ‘market socialism’ as market reforms to restore capitalism threatened the rule of the bureaucracy. The defeat of the 1989 uprising of Tienanmen Square that arose as a protest against growing corruption and enrichment of the party leadership at the expense of freedom and equality, was an historic defeat for the working class and marked the tipping point in the restoration process. The CCP Congress in 1992 for the first time recognised that the economy was now based on the market (law of value) rather than state planning.

Thus the inherent class contradiction of Chinese ‘socialism’ (between the bureaucracy as agent of global capitalism, and the peasants and workers) was resolved with the historic defeat of workers by the bureaucracy determined to convert itself into a capitalist class. The concessions to workers under the bureaucratic state – labor protection in the nationalised SOEs, peasant property, labor rights etc – were removed or subordinated to demands of capitalist profit. All the old ‘socialist’ protections of workers and peasants rights became increasingly eliminated.

Unable to escape the global crisis of capitalism which is now enveloping China, the Chinese working class is facing millions of redundancies as inefficient firms are closed down. They have to fight for the most basic demands, for the ‘iron rice bowl’ for jobs and a living wage etc for their survival. These struggles are leading to more strikes and occupations which will pose the necessity of taking control of industry. At the same time the struggle of rural collectives in the villages exposed to corruption and exploitation for decades remains the basis for the survival of the 300 million rural reserve army of labor.

Industrial workers and rural workers can only resolve China’s capitalist crisis in their own class interests by seizing power, overthrowing the Chinese bourgeoisie and replacing the capitalist state with a Workers and Farmers’ State able to implement a socialist plan. The only ‘new era’ in the age of global capitalist decline and terminal crisis in which workers can win a living income will be the new socialist era. So how do we get there? And what would it look like?

A Transitional Program for China

Immediate demands
1. Return to the Rice Bowl! Jobs for all and a living wage! Free, universal health, education and social welfare!

2. Defend the collective land rights of villages! For a state rural bank to fund cooperatives!

3. Build fighting, democratic unions! Form strike committees! For workers occupation of industry, and workers and farmers’ councils!

4. For a mass independent workers and working farmers political party to put up candidates against the CCP!

5. For a world party of socialist revolution based on the revolutionary program of the communist internationals including the 1938 Transitional Program!

Democratic demands
1. Reject all historic oppression today! Full equality to all without discrimination by race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability etc!

2. China is not returning to its “middle kingdom”, it is a modern, capitalist empire! No to Chinese great power chauvinism!

3. Against Chinese imperialism! In any war with other imperialist powers we are for workers turning their guns on their own ruling class!

4. Reject colonial oppression! For the right of self-determination for oppressed peoples and nations!

5. No to false Stalinist and Maoist national/popular fronts with the national bourgeoisies against imperialism!

Socialist Demands
1. Reject capitalist restoration under the guise of ‘market socialism’. Down with the CCP and its new Red Capitalist class! Down with the billionaires!

2. For the political general strike and workers insurrection! For a popular army, workers’ and peasants’ militias!

3. For a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government based on soviets everywhere! For the immediate expropriation of the private property of Chinese and foreign capitalists!

4. For a workers plan based on soviets to plan production for need! From each according to the ability, to each according to their need!

5. For a Federation of Socialist Republics of the Asia-Pacific!

Reply to RCIT on Permanent Revolution, Bourgeois Democracy and Social Imperialism

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Introduction

The RCIT (Revolutionary Communist International Tendency), in response to our article ‘Russia, China and the Unfinished Permanent Revolution”, claims that we, the Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC), don’t understand Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. On the contrary we do understand it and apply it as he did himself. It is the RCIT that tries to turn Permanent Revolution into a pseudo-Trotskyist cover for its adaptation to social imperialism. Social Imperialism is the democratic petty bourgeois policy that imperialism can be progressive if reformed by the mobilisation of the proletariat. We will show that beginning with its semi-Cliffite method, the RCIT’s fetishism of bourgeois democracy is a chronic form of centrism, in reality objectively part of the permanent counter-revolution which we as revolutionaries are pledged to expose and defeat.

The RCIT’s main argument against the LCC is that we are ultra-lefts who claim that “nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat”:

“Desperately searching for a theoretical hook on which to base their notions, the LCC looks to Trotsky who wrote the following in his book on the permanent revolution:

With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.

From this fundamental insight of Trotsky the LCC derives … that nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat. Poor pedants! From Trotsky’s statement that “the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation” (our emphasizes) in the “countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries” the LCC distortedly concludes that not even one single aspect of belated capitalist development can change in any country, at anytime, anywhere in the world!” (RCIT ibid)

We agree with Trotsky’s quote. We say nothing about capitalist development being impossible short of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. What we do say is that in the epoch of imperialism capitalist development is based on state monopoly finance capital which develops the forces of production unevenly, accumulating super-profits in the imperialist states, and under-developing the forces of production in the semi-colonies. Even imperialism is capable of making big changes as it ravages what is left of nature, but these are mainly destructive of the forces of production, and do not add up to the qualitative change from semi-colony to imperialism.

This is entirely consistent with Lenin’s theory of imperialism and Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. It is exactly why Trotsky explained that the completion of the bourgeois revolution is impossible except as part of the socialist revolution. Following Lenin, we argue that semi-colonies are not economically independent of imperialism and cannot accumulate sufficient capital to become imperialist themselves. Therefore, only Russia and China could make this transition, having escaped semi-colonial servitude by making socialist revolutions and remaining economically independent after the restoration of capitalism. And that is why we don’t agree that South Korea and Israel are new imperialist powers. We see them as US dependencies, whose economic growth is subsidised in order to maintain them as armed outposts of US imperialism.

We think that the RCIT has a fetish of ‘bourgeois democracy’ that is inseparable from its view that imperialist super-exploitation and oppression of semi-colonies can under “exceptional circumstances” allow them to become imperialist. By ‘fetish’ we mean Marx’s view that capitalist production relations are inverted as exchange relations misrepresenting value as inherent in commodities rather than as socially necessary labour time. This fetishism is reproduced in the capitalist state creating the illusion that it is separate from society and hence is not determined by society.

If you believe that semi-colonies can become imperialist then you must subscribe to the illusion that bourgeois democracy can be used by the proletariat in the imperialist countries to moderate the drive for super-profits enabling the semi-colonial masses to can carry through a national revolution that wins economic independence from imperialism short of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Hence capitalist state-centred fetishism underlies the illusion that bourgeois democracy today is still capable in ‘exceptional’ circumstances of being ‘progressive’, that is, social imperialism. Finding such ‘exceptional circumstances’ is no more than selecting isolated ‘facts’ that confirm the RCITs pre-existing bourgeois democratic fetish.

We can see this empiricist method in operation when the RCIT promotes the illusion that bourgeois democracy, even when expressed in popular fronts, or popular front parties, are a ‘lesser evil’ to Stalinism in Russia and Yugoslavia, military dictatorships in Thailand and Egypt, and fascism in Brazil. We will prove below, that Marx, Lenin and Trotsky never confused ‘bourgeois democracy’ with ‘workers democracy, and so never saw one form of class rule, the bourgeois democratic dictatorship, as capable of smashing another form, bourgeois reactionary dictatorship, whether it be the Prussian Army in 1871 or German and Spanish fascism in 1933. The RCIT is in danger of becoming a Menshevik apologist for the bourgeois popular front as a part of the ‘democratic revolution’ and a necessary stage in capitalist development preparing the conditions for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In this article we argue that the key to understanding the counterrevolutionary role of Menshevism is the concept, program and strategy of Permanent Revolution. Conceived by Marx in 1850, continued in the transitional program of Lenin and Trotsky, it is the strategy of the historic struggle of the proletariat to break through the ideology of bourgeois democracy by means of workers democracy and to complete the permanent revolution with the abolition of classes and the birth of communism.

From bourgeois to proletarian ‘permanent revolution’

According to Trotsky the Permanent Revolution has three aspects: the proletarian revolution would complete the bourgeois revolution; the permanent revolution would continue through the development of socialism to communism; third, the permanent revolution is an international revolution. These aspects are united in Marx’s conception of Permanent Revolution:

“The permanent revolution in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without; that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in the complete liquidation of class society”. (L. Trotsky The Permanent Revolution, Pathfinder edition, p. 130. Introduction)

Trotsky acknowledges that Marx applied the concept to the bourgeois revolution in France to signify the struggle of the French bourgeoisie to prevail against Napoleon. To counter Napoleon Bonaparte’s illusion that his state stood “above” bourgeois society and was free to draw on the national treasury, the bourgeoisie conspired to create a grain shortage, delaying Napoleon’s Russia campaign by two months and causing its defeat. This was a victory in the ‘permanent revolution’ of the bourgeoisie over Napoleon’s ‘permanent war’ as an intolerable expense to the economy. However, the bourgeoisie soon had to resort to the ‘Bonapartist’ state standing “above” society in order to suppress the unruly national proletariat. This marked a decline of the progressive bourgeoisie into its opposite, a reactionary bourgeoisie.

The failure of the bourgeois revolutions of 1848 was proof of the beginning of the end of the progressive bourgeoisie in Europe. The Prussian bourgeoisie feared the proletariat more than the feudal Junkers, signalling to Marx that the time for the proletarian revolution had begun. While the feudal regime remained in place and Prussian capitalism remained backward, only the proletarian revolution could develop the forces of production. As Trotsky puts it:

In 1848 a class was needed that would be able to take charge of events without and in spite of the bourgeoisie, a class which would not only be prepared to push the bourgeois forward by its pressure but also at the decisive moment to throw its political corpse out of the way…The proletariat was too weak, lacked organization, experience and knowledge. Capitalism had developed sufficiently to render necessary the abolition of the old feudal relations, but not sufficiently to bring forward the working class, the product of the new industrial relations, as a decisive political force.” (‘Results and Prospects’, in The Permanent Revolution, p. 56-57, ibid)

The failed bourgeois revolutions of 1848

The RCIT quotes the example of the revolutions of 1848 against us, claiming it proves we don’t understand Permanent Revolution:

“Let us give yet another example which unmasks the LCC’s wooden, mechanistic way of thinking. In his book, Trotsky illustrated his concept of permanent revolution with the case of Germany. There he explained that the failed bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1848 resulted in the absence of democracy:

The concept of the permanent revolution was advanced by the great Communists of the middle of the nineteenth century, Marx and his co-thinkers, in opposition to the democratic ideology which, as we know, claims that with the establishment of a ‘rational’ or democratic state all questions can be solved peacefully by reformist or evolutionary measures. Marx regarded the bourgeois revolution of 1848 as the direct prelude to the proletarian revolution. Marx ‘erred’. Yet his error has a factual and not a methodological character. The Revolution of 1848 did not turn into the socialist revolution. But that is just why it also did not achieve democracy. As to the German Revolution of 1918, it was no democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution, it was a proletarian revolution decapitated by the Social Democrats; more correctly, it was a bourgeois counter-revolution, which was compelled to preserve pseudo-democratic forms after its victory over the proletariat.”” (RCIT ibid)

Marx recognised that the failure of the bourgeois revolution in Prussia in 1848 to bring about bourgeois democracy did not lead directly to the proletarian revolution. That is a fact. But Marx also said that while the failure of the bourgeois revolution did not immediately turn into a successful proletarian revolution, it was the prelude to the ‘permanent revolution’:

“Although the German workers cannot come to power and achieve the realization of their class interests without passing through a protracted revolutionary development, this time they can at least be certain that the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated. But they themselves must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat. Their battle cry must be: The Permanent Revolution.” (‘Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,’ March 1850. The Revolutions of 1848, p. 330, Pelican edition)

In the same address to the Communist League in 1850, Marx writes the ‘petty bourgeois democrats’ try to limit the proletarian revolution to the reforms conceded by the bourgeoisie rather than “make the revolution permanent.” Bourgeois ‘democracy’ then is already counter-revolutionary, holding back rather than advancing the permanent revolution:

“While the democratic petty bourgeois want to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible, achieving at most the aims already mentioned, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. Our concern cannot simply be to modify private property, but to abolish it, not to hush up class antagonisms but to abolish classes, not to improve the existing society but to found a new one.” (Marx, ibid, p. 323) [Our emphasis]

Here Marx is stating clearly that to “make the revolution permanent” it is necessary to “abolish private [capitalist] property”. Implicit in his statement is his view that this requires the end of bourgeois democracy which is premised on the reproduction of private property. During the 1840s, Marx in his ‘Early Writings’[i] formulated his concept of the capitalist state as derived from the fetishised reality of exchange relations, where the private interests of individuals as buyers and sellers of commodities becomes represented as the ‘general interest’ in a state form standing above society. Bourgeois democracy then functions to reproduce capitalist property and the class contradiction between labour and capital, by masking that contradiction in the ideology of national unity. Social Democracy is merely the incorporation of that ideology into the program of Social Democratic parties.

The RCIT does not realise that Trotsky is making the same point when he refers to the German counter-revolution of 1918. The ‘democratic petty bourgeoisie’ (the Social Democrats) used the “pseudo-democratic forms conceded” by the bourgeoisie to mask the counter-revolution as the ‘victory of the permanent revolution’. The failure of the revolution was due to the failure of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) to win the masses from reactionary ‘bourgeois democracy’ to the revolutionary ‘proletarian democracy’ of the armed insurrection and dictatorship of the proletariat. Following Marx, Trotsky is pointing out that it is the petty bourgeois democrats who paint the “pseudo-democratic forms” as the victory of the permanent revolution to mask the bourgeois counter-revolution. To prove that Marx and Trotsky are one on this question we need to go back to the Paris Commune and the first major test of permanent revolution.

Lessons of the Paris Commune

If the failed revolutions taught Marx and the First International that it was time for the proletarian revolution, the Paris Commune drowned ‘bourgeois democracy’ in the blood of the Communards. The Paris Commune proved that the revolution that failed in ‘backward’ Prussia had also been accompanied by a retreat in the great French Revolution. Such was the fear of the rising proletariat on the part of the French ruling class that it found its expression in the Second Empire of Louis Bonaparte who came to power in a coup d’état in December, 1851, and installed himself emperor. In July, 1870, Bonaparte declared war on Prussia against much popular opposition in France. He was defeated soon after at Sedan, when his army surrendered, and two days later a Republic was declared in Paris with massive support across France. However the National Assembly of the Republic was dominated by bourgeois and petty bourgeois, who rushed to make an armistice and negotiate peace with Prussia, so as to conspire to defeat the workers Commune of Paris.

“Armed Paris was the only serious obstacle in the way of the counter-revolutionary conspiracy. Paris was, therefore, to be disarmed…The seizure of her artillery was evidently but to serve as a preliminary to the general disarmament of Paris, and, therefore, the revolution of 4 September. But that revolution had become the legal status of France. The Republic, its work, was recognized by the conqueror in the terms of the capitulation. After the capitulation it was acknowledged by all the foreign powers, and in its name the National Assembly had been summoned. The Paris Workingmen’s revolution of 4 September was the only legal title of the National Assembly seated at Bordeaux, and of its executive.” (Marx, The Civil War in France, pp.198-9, Part 2)

Marx and the 1st International declared support for the Republic and its defence against the Prussian army. The thrust of its position was to defend the Republic against both Prussian and the reactionary National Assembly:

“Let the sections of the International Working Men’s Association in every country stir the working classes to action. If they forsake their duty, if they remain passive, the present tremendous war will be but the harbinger of still deadlier international feuds, and lead in every nation to a renewed triumph over the workman by the lords of the sword, of the soil, and of capital. Vive la republique”. (‘Second address of the General Council’, p.186)

Thiers[ii] could not overthrow the legitimate Republic that replaced the Second Empire of Louis Bonaparte without making a reactionary military alliance with Bismarck. The armed workers of Paris, supported by the 1st International, had to defend a bourgeois republic against a French royalist reaction backed by the Prussian state. But they could only defend the republic as a Workers Republic. As a result of the experience of the Commune, Marx and Engels drew the conclusion that the Workers Republic had to smash the bourgeois state and create the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, or suffer defeat.

Thus the bourgeois ‘permanent revolution’ had turned into its opposite, the ‘permanent counter-revolution’, conceding French national sovereignty to the Prussians to impose the bourgeois dictatorship in its most naked form with the slaughter of the Communards. Better a national defeat for France than the defeat for private property! Yet from the ashes of the heroic Commune the proletariat emerged for the first time on the world stage of ‘permanent revolution’:

“If the Commune was thus the true representative of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the truly national government, it was at the same time, as a working men’s government, as the bold champion of the emancipation of labour, emphatically international. Within sight of the Prussian army, that had annexed to Germany two French provinces, the Commune annexed to France the working people all over the world.” (Class Struggles in France, p. 216 Part 3) [Our emphasis]

Marx’s conclusion, and subsequently that of Lenin and Trotsky, was that after 1871 the epoch of the proletarian ‘permanent revolution’ had opened. The material forms of revolutionary ‘workers democracy’ that arose in the Commune to defeat the reactionary ‘bourgeois democracy’ of the National Assembly, that is, direct representation, right of recall, workers councils, workers militias, etc., were now an example to be held up internationally. Henceforth, the ‘permanent revolution’ was the strategy that transformed the unfinished bourgeois tasks of the national revolution, agrarian reform, the bourgeois republic, and so on, into socialist tasks, where nations became the workers socialist republics, agrarian reform became peasant communes on nationalised land, and bourgeois democracy became the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Moreover, it becomes clear that the concept of the strategy of permanent revolution reflects Marx’s transitional method that the minimum program for the bourgeois republic must be combined with the maximum socialist demands for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in a transitional program.

Marx Critiques the Gotha Program

The defeat of the Paris Commune coincided with the beginning of the transition of world capitalism from its competitive stage to the monopoly capitalism of the imperialist epoch. This led to a period of several decades of economic growth in Europe where the export of capital began to produce super-profits in the colonies giving rise to high living standards in the top layers of the proletariat in the imperialist countries. As a result, these layers called by Engels ‘bourgeois workers’, and Lenin, the ‘labour aristocracy,’ began to identify their economic interests with imperialism. This was reflected in the divisions in the International, and the emergence of a majority backing Lassalle at Gotha in 1875.

The Gotha Program was a retreat from the Marxist program to the petty bourgeois national socialism of Lassalle. It was a retreat from the permanent revolution of the Commune on the question of socialism, internationalism and communism. First, Marx critiqued its adaptation to the Prussian state, putting bourgeois democratic demands on the police state of Bismarck for graduated taxes, free education, and state aid for workers cooperatives. The overthrow of labour exploitation was replaced by the utopia of a “free state” regulating wages, taxes and funding education, welfare and employment. This ‘free state’ was the same state that had recently helped put down the Commune.

Second, Marx asks:

“And to what is the internationalism of the German workers’ party reduced? To the consciousness that the result of their efforts ‘will be the international brotherhood of peoplesa phrase borrowed from the bourgeois League of Peace and Freedom and which is intended to pass as an equivalent for the international brotherhood of the working classes in the joint struggle against the ruling classes and their governments. Not a word, therefore, of the international role of the German working class! And this is how it is meant to challenge its own bourgeoisie, which is already fraternally linked with the bourgeoisies in all other countries, and Herr Bismarck’s international policy of conspiracy!” (‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, The First International after Marx, p.350. Part 1) [Our emphasis]

Third, its program is confined to the ‘present national state’ which means ‘their own state, the Prusso-German Empire’, and doesn’t speak of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat or the transition from socialism to Communism. Marx states:

“…Between capitalist and communist society lies a period of revolutionary transformation from one to the other. There is a corresponding period of transition in the political sphere and in this period the state can only take the form of a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” (ibid, p. 355) [Our emphasis]

It is clear by 1875, that in Marx’s conception, permanent revolution is a process, not a sudden leap over the bourgeois revolution, and completed only when the proletarian revolution is complete. That is, it is a strategy, which is more or less continuous and uninterrupted, except by advances and retreats, and complete only when socialist society culminates in communist society. Lenin and Trotsky would speak of an ‘epoch’ of the permanent revolution in 1905. The permanent revolution would extend for an indeterminate ‘epoch’ and would be completed only when the revolution in Russia had unified its three aspects, finishing the bourgeois revolution as socialist revolution, incorporating that into the international socialist revolution, and making the transition to communism.

1905 and “The Permanent Revolution”

The RCIT claims that we do not understand Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, and quote from The Permanent Revolution.

Desperately searching for a theoretical hook on which to base their notions, the LCC looks to Trotsky who wrote the following in his book on the permanent revolution:

With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.

From this fundamental insight of Trotsky the LCC derives … that nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time without the dictatorship of the proletariat. Poor pedants! From Trotsky’s statement that “the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation” (our emphases) in the “countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries” the LCC distortedly concludes that not even one single aspect of belated capitalist development can change in any country, at anytime, anywhere in the world!” (RCIT, ibid)

Do we say: “That nothing can change in any semi-colonial country at any time, without the dictatorship of the proletariat”? We have already rejected this as untrue. We agree with Trotsky and consistently argue for his conception of the Permanent Revolution. The RCIT seems to think however, that up to the present day capitalism under “exceptional circumstances” can develop the forces of production in semi-colonies even if this leads to “incomplete” and “pseudo” solutions to its historic tasks. Well, we have pointed out that the bourgeoisie has had more than a century in which to continue with its historic mission in opposition to the already existing proletarian permanent revolution. Since 1850 its “mission” is clearly a permanent counter-revolution to suppress the permanent revolution!

More critical at this point in our argument is that the RCIT seems to think that because capitalism developed the forces of production in imperialist Russia in 1905 that this refutes our argument that semi-colonies cannot become imperialist after the First Imperialist War. They imply that if it could happen in Russia in 1905, why not in this same imperialist epoch could we not expect new imperialisms to arise “in exceptional circumstances” in the former workers states of Russia and China and the capitalist semi-colonies such as South Korea and Israel right up to the present?

Why not? For the very reason that Trotsky and Lenin knew that in 1905 imperialist Russia was a hybrid, a combination of modes of production, in which to develop the forces of production further the bourgeoisie had to be overthrown. Not because it was an “exception” from other imperialisms, but because it represented the extreme contradiction between advanced finance capital and backward Russia that was determined by the laws of state monopoly capital. Russia was a hybrid conjunction of the Tsarist feudal state and parasitic finance capital to create the conditions for maximum super-exploitation and hence maximum state oppression. Far from an ‘exceptional’ case opening the way for future ‘exceptional’ cases, Russia for Lenin and Trotsky expressed the extreme contradictions of imperialism and its decay as a system. The contradiction between its feudal backwardness and modern capitalist industry meant it was the ‘weak link’ in the imperialist chain that would be the first to fall to permanent revolution and start a chain reaction to bring an end to capitalism as a mode of production.

All three aspects of the ‘permanent revolution’ were put to the test in Russia in 1905 when Trotsky published his theory of The Permanent Revolution. Trotsky took Marx’s concept and applied it to Tsarist Russia. He argued that Russia had developed in a belated and uneven way so that the bourgeoisie was even weaker than those of France and Germany in 1848. The working class was concentrated in the cities in modern industry recently developed by French and British finance capital and more politically advanced than French and British workers! The urban proletariat was prepared by Tsarist reaction and modern industry sufficiently to lead the poor peasant masses in a Permanent Revolution to complete the bourgeois tasks in a proletarian revolution.

The reception was mixed. The Mensheviks took their centrist position for a bourgeois revolution led by the bourgeoisie. Lenin agreed with Trotsky that, despite important differences over whether it would be necessary to share power with the peasants in the early stages of the revolution, the revolution would be led by the proletariat to overthrow the Tsar and would have to proceed ‘uninterrupted’ to the socialist revolution. Lenin took Trotsky’s side stating that the permanent revolution was not ‘a single blow’ or ‘leap’, and while uninterrupted, would take a “whole historical epoch” which could not be predicted in advance. Despite attempts by the reformists to exaggerate the split between Lenin and Trotsky on the question of Permanent Revolution, Lenin quotes Trotsky in November, 1905, to express his agreement with him. Trotsky recounts this episode in The Permanent Revolution quoting Lenin:

““Comrade Trotsky said that the proletarian revolution can, without halting at the first stage, continue on its road, elbowing the exploiters aside; Lenin on the other hand, pointed out that the political revolution is only the first step. The publicist of Nasha Zhizn would like to see a contradiction here…The whole misunderstanding comes, first, from the fear with which the name alone of the social revolution fills Nasha Zhizn; secondly, out of the desire of this paper to discover some sort of sharp and piquant difference of opinion among the Social Democrats; and thirdly, in the figure of speech used by Comrade Trotsky; “at a single blow”.

In No 10 of Nachalo, Comrade Trotsky explains his idea quite unambiguously:

“The complete victory of the revolution signifies the victory of the proletariat”, writes Comrade Trotsky. “But this victory in turn implies the uninterruptedness of the revolution in the future. The proletariat realises in life the fundamental democratic tasks, and the very logic of its immediate struggle to consolidate its political rule poses before the proletariat, at a certain moment, purely socialist problems. Between the minimum and the maximum programme (of the Social Democrats) a revolutionary continuity is established. It is not a question of a single “blow”, or of a single day or month, but of a whole historical epoch. It would be absurd to try to fix its duration in advance.””” [Our emphasis] ibid p. 210)

In his speech to the Fifth Party Congress in 1907 Trotsky explains why the proletariat is ready to play the role in the Russia of 1905 of the sansculottes in the French revolution. Capitalism has not grown as in Europe but been introduced from above by imported British and French finance capital funding state loans to set up modern industry.

“As a result of this process there appeared among us as the main force in the towns, at the moment of the bourgeois revolution, an industrial proletariat of an extremely highly developed social type. This is a fact. It cannot be disputed, and must be taken as the basis of our revolutionary tactical conclusions…As the petty bourgeoisie urban democracy in the Great French Revolution placed itself at the head of the revolutionary nation, in just the same way the proletariat, which is the one and only revolutionary democracy in our cities, must find a support in the peasant masses and place itself in power – if the revolution has any prospect of victory at all.”  (‘Speech at the Fifth Party Congress’, London, 1907, ibid p. 217)

For Trotsky, the epoch of Permanent Revolution now included Russia in 1905 with the first of three revolutions, when already the Petersburg Soviet characterised itself as proletarian! He and Lenin had no truck with the Mensheviks who thought that Russia’s backwardness meant that the proletariat had to play the historical role of ‘assisting’ the bourgeoisie to take power and complete its bourgeois revolution to prepare the conditions for the socialist revolution.

If we understand Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution correctly as an application in a particular capitalist country of Marx’s more general formulation, we can see that it is true to Marx. Trotsky is at one with Marx:

“The permanent revolution in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without; that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in the complete liquidation of class society”. (ibid p. 130)

To repeat: the Permanent Revolution finishes the bourgeois revolution. It does not stop at the “democratic stage” because bourgeois democracy is counter-revolutionary. It has to be smashed by proletarian “revolutionary democracy” which continues the transition from socialism to communism and finally succeeds as world communism. For Lenin and Trotsky Permanent Revolution was a class strategy as understood by Marx. It had begun in the mid-19th century when the bourgeois revolution was already in decline. By 1905 in Russia the Permanent Revolution was part of the program of the revolutionary Marxists against the ‘evolutionary’ Marxists. It was now a part of the subjective reality in the program of the revolutionary party developing the theory and practice of Marxism in the epoch of decaying imperialism, facing war, revolution and counter-revolution. Included in the concept of permanent revolution is the end of “democracy,” no longer bourgeois democracy, but “revolutionary proletarian democracy,” which is abolished along with the “liquidation of class society” in communist society.

War, Revolution and Counter-revolution

The onset of the imperialist epoch in the late 19th century marked the qualitative change from the progressive bourgeoisie developing the forces of production in the epoch of competitive capitalism to a reactionary bourgeoisie now parasitical on the forces of production, monopolising and destroying those forces. The majority of the 2nd International represented the rise of the labor aristocracy adapting to social imperialism. This was the current of ‘evolutionary’ socialism critiqued by Marx and Engels in the Commune and the Gotha Program. This was the program of the democratic petty bourgeois who believed that the workers could transform the capitalist nation state by relatively peaceful, parliamentary means. Against the ‘evolutionary’ socialists were the minority ‘revolutionary’ socialists, who since 1871 had rejected the program of bourgeois democracy as reactionary, and stood on the transitional program of permanent revolution. The workers’ struggle for ‘democracy’ necessitated the ‘smashing of the bourgeois state’ and the imposition of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

The First Imperialist War was proof of this in the extreme, as the imperialists went to war using their workers as cannon fodder and their parliamentary bourgeois democracies to provide war credits. After the historic 4 August 1914 betrayal of the majority of the 2nd International, the flag of Permanent Revolution was kept aloft by the Bolsheviks of 1905 who formed the core of the tiny Zimmerwald Left against the betrayal of the SPD majority and Kautskyite centre. The imperialist defence of the nation was at the expense of other nations, proving that capitalism had now outstripped the national state as a progressive force in developing the forces of production. Now the bourgeois nation states and nationalist ideology were in a reactionary retreat from the bourgeois revolution and transmitting its imperialist ideology into the ranks of the workers via the petty bourgeois democrats and the betrayals of Social Democracy.

The Zimmerwald Left position was to keep alive the program of permanent revolution. It called on workers to turn the imperialist war into a civil war, uniting the proletariat across national borders to overthrow the imperialist nations ruled by feudal remnants in league with the imperialist bourgeoisie and their reformist agents in the working class. Utopian? No! The Bolsheviks knew that imperialist war had both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary aspects. The experience of war by the working classes proved to them that bourgeois democracy was a fraud and their instinct even without a revolutionary party and program was to refuse to fight imperialist wars. After 3 years of mutual destruction, the Russian workers in uniform rejected imperialist war for civil war, as did the German workers in uniform who mutinied after 4 years of slaughter.

Bolshevism wins in Russia but loses in Germany

Put to the test in 1917 the February Revolution proved that the proletariat was advanced and that the bourgeoisie was weak, frightened of the proletariat, and conspiring with the remnants of Tsarist reaction to smash the revolution. The Mensheviks continued to support the bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class. The Old Bolsheviks around Stalin, Kamenev, etc., were ready to support the popular front government as the lesser evil to the Tsarists and imperialists. Only Lenin and Trotsky were in agreement on the Permanent Revolution. They shared the same dialectical or transitional method. Both saw that the Permanent Revolution combined the minimal and maximum program in what would later become for Trotsky the Transitional Program. The workers would take power on the basis of soviet majorities, rapidly complete the bourgeois tasks by forming a socialist republic with a national army that would complete the civil war; fight imperialism with weapons and with diplomacy to advance the revolutions everywhere, especially in Europe; adopt land reform to win over the poor peasants, and when convinced that they had won over the Kulaks (middle peasants), abolish the Constituent Assembly.

But the Permanent Revolution in Russia was not finished. It had to spread to Europe, in particular Germany; otherwise it would succumb to counter-revolution. It had to advance its international aspect in order to advance its socialist aspect. As we know the imperialists called off their war and ganged up on the Soviet Union so there were more retreats than advances. The isolation of the Permanent Revolution in the Soviet Union with the defeat of the German revolution set back the international revolution. The lesson of the Permanent Revolution in Russia had been that either workers took power, or the bourgeois popular front would usher in the fascist counter-revolution. In Germany, the rotten role of Social Democracy and the Kautsky centrists combined with a weak Communist Party led to the isolation and defeat of the armed workers uprisings.

We come back to the RCIT on its view (above) that even after the counter-revolution in Germany in 1918 the defence of the “incomplete and pseudo” forms of bourgeois democracy is part of the permanent revolution. We have already shown that we agree with Marx that 1848 marked the failure of a bourgeois revolution and the opening of the permanent revolution. And this was confirmed by a growing Bonapartist reaction and the Prussian army’s bloody repression of the Paris Commune in 1871. Now we are asked by the RCIT to swallow that, after the First Imperialist War for super-profits and the defeat of the German revolution, the proletariat should defend bourgeois democracy in its “pseudo-democratic forms” in the Weimar Republic. Perhaps the RCIT mean the right to vote for the same ‘disguised popular front’ that put the noose around the workers necks. Perhaps the RCIT is referring to a posthumous right to vote for the proletarians slaughtered at the hands of the Freikorps and the fascists. Is the RCIT saying that such ‘pseudo-democratic’ concessions would obligate revolutionaries to “defend bourgeois democracy” in the Weimar Republic against the fascists?

Broué quotes from the resolution on the united front tactic at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, specifically about the “Workers Government” in Germany in 1918-19:

“In 1918-1919, Germany had experienced a ‘Social-Democratic workers’ government’. These were not revolutionary workers’ governments, but ‘disguised coalitions between the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolutionary workers’ leaders’: “These ‘workers’ governments’ are tolerated in critical periods by the enfeebled bourgeoisie, in order to deceive the proletariat about the true class character of the state, or even to divert the revolutionary offensive of the proletariat and gain time with the help of corrupted workers’ leaders. Communists must not take part in such governments. On the contrary they must pitilessly        demonstrate to the masses the real character of these false ‘workers’ governments’. In the period of capitalist decline, in which our main task is to win the majority of the proletariat for the revolution, these governments can objectively contribute to the process of decomposition of the bourgeois regime.””   (Quoted in P. Broué, The German Revolution, p. 672 Chapter 34 ‘The Development of the Tactic’)

Such a ‘disguised coalition’ we would call a ‘popular front’ today. We would not have supported such a ‘workers’ government’ against fascism in Germany. The SPD was in a coalition with the army to put down workers risings, and the army was constitutionally independent of the Government. Nor in 1923 when the KPD wasted time debating joining a ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD and the bourgeoisie (to expose the ‘popular front’ to the SPD workers!) while a showdown on the streets was rapidly building between revolutionary workers and the fascist shock troops. The defeat of the revolution in Germany in 1923 can be attributed in the last analysis to the ‘subjective’ weakness of the KPD, but was mainly due to the ‘objective’ role of the SPD in popular front regimes with the reactionary bourgeoisie, to ‘deceive’ and ‘divert’ the workers, and ultimately tie their hands before the rise of fascism that would end in the historic defeat of the international proletariat with Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933.

Since 1850 the Marxist strategy of ‘making the revolution permanent’ was marked by both revolutionary advances and counter-revolutionary retreats. The historic victory of the Three Russian Revolutions culminating in the October Revolution now met with a historic defeat in the German October. As a consequence of the isolation of the Soviet Union, the Stalinists deepened the counter-revolution in Russia, as well as in China, Germany and Spain. Nonetheless, despite the Stalinists counter-revolutionary role in alliance with imperialism, the existence of workers property in the Soviet Union as the most advanced victory of the Permanent Revolution dictated that the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union was to become the central platform of the Left Opposition and the Transitional Program.

Permanent Revolution vs Counter-revolution in China, Germany and Spain

The next major development in the Permanent Revolution was the widening international confrontation between it and the counter-revolution. It was first put to the test in China 1925-27. Here the Stalinists recast the line of the Mensheviks in 1917 as the bloc of four classes; workers, peasants, intellectuals, and the ‘democratic’ national bourgeoisie against the landlords and imperialists. This time the Communists were trapped in the popular front and wiped out by the ‘democratic’ bourgeois General Chiang Kai Shek who was also made an honorary member of the Comintern by Stalin –another instance of the popular front acting as jailer of workers awaiting the executioner.

Germany: From disguised to open popular front

Germany was another defeat for the international working class. As we saw, the failure of revolution in Germany in 1923 did not resolve the crisis for the ruling class. The Weimar Republic went from the ‘disguised popular front’ of the SPD and the army in 1919 to an open popular front in 1923 and then a succession of Bonapartist presidents with the power to directly suppress the workers until its final fall to Hitler in 1933. The SPD could no longer string out its popular front with Bonapartism to pacify the working class and prevent the rise of fascism. The depression that began in 1929 proved it could not fulfil this task, but it still continued to suck up to the Bonapartist regime. The Stalinized KPD took an ultra left line and sabotaged a united front between the KPD and SPD against fascism. Even worse, it backed the fascists in the “red referendum”. In August, 1931, Trotsky sounded the alarm:

“Were this theory to entrench itself in the German Communist Party, determining its course for the next few months, it would signify a betrayal on the part of the Comintern of no lesser historical proportions than the betrayal of the Social Democracy on August 4, 1914, and at that, with much more frightful consequences. It is the duty of the Left Opposition to give the alarm: the leadership of the Comintern is driving the German proletariat toward an enormous catastrophe, the essence of which is panicky capitulation before fascism!”(Germany, Key to the International Situation, Section 31)

Trotsky sees that the victory of fascism in Germany will be a defeat for many of the accumulated historic victories of Permanent Revolution. It will lead to war with the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany representing the imperialist world. “The crushing of the German proletariat by the fascists would already comprise at least half of the collapse of the Soviet republic.” The Left Opposition (Bolshevik Leninists) held up the banner of Permanent Revolution and campaigned to save the world revolution in Germany. While the Stalinists said Social Democracy must be defeated before fascism can be defeated, Trotsky points out that this cannot be done in time when the fascists are at the point of taking power. It is necessary to oppose social democracy politically but demand a military united front with them against fascism. For those who think that social democracy is no different from fascism, Trotsky points out that:

“In the course of many decades, the workers have built up within the bourgeois democracy, by utilizing it, by fighting against it, their own strongholds and bases of proletarian democracy: the trade unions, the political parties, the educational and sport clubs, the cooperatives, etc. The proletariat cannot attain power within the formal limits of bourgeois democracy, but can do so only by taking the road of revolution: this has been proved both by theory and experience. And these bulwarks of workers’ democracy within the bourgeois state are absolutely essential for taking the revolutionary road. The work of the Second International consisted in creating just such bulwarks during the epoch when it was still fulfilling its progressive historic labor.” (Trotsky What Next?Democracy and Fascism’, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany’ p. 158-9, Pathfinder edition.)

These historic “bulwarks” of ‘workers democracy’ within capitalism are the victories of the Permanent Revolution and “essential for taking the revolutionary road”. They are “strongholds” and “bases” of the united front.[iii] Trotsky insists that the formation of soviets are on the agenda, “…since the soviets, in themselves, represent the highest form of the united front in the revolutionary epoch, therefore their inception must be preceded by the policy of the united front in the preparatory period.” Trotsky summed up the Bolshevik-Leninist position: “Only on the basis of the united front, only through the mass organizations, can the KPD conquer the leading position within the future soviets and lead the proletariat to the conquest of power.” [iv]

Hitler staged the Reichstag fire in February, 1933, on the pretext of a communist revolution to then make his coup d’état. The SPD cowered before Hitler while the KDP was isolated and impotent. Trotsky called the defeat the worst defeat of the proletariat in history, as the Nazis set about smashing working class “strongholds” and “bases”. By July, 1933, Trotsky was forced to conclude that the Comintern had betrayed the German and world’s workers and that the Left Opposition could no longer reform the Comintern or the Soviet state. A political revolution would be necessary to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and restore workers democracy to power in the Soviet Union. The Left Opposition now had the task of building a new revolutionary international to overcome the historic defeat of the Permanent Revolution, to restore the “bulwarks of workers democracy”, in particular the defence of workers property in the Soviet Union. A fundamental principle of its Transitional Program would be the ‘unconditional defence of the Soviet Union.’

“Only the creation of the Marxist International, completely independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy and counterposed politically to it, can save the USSR from collapse by binding its destiny with the destiny of the world proletarian revolution.” (‘It is Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew.’ The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p. 425, ‘The USSR and the Comintern’)

Spain: Stalinism as the ‘shadow’ of the popular front

Spain was like a laboratory of the Permanent Revolution vs the Permanent Counter-revolution. Stalinism again blocked with the bourgeoisie in the popular front government where it was the ‘shadow’ of the bourgeoisie, since most bourgeois had gone over to the fascists. Stalin took on the role of keeping the popular front respectable to demonstrate to the imperialists they did not need fascism to manage capitalism. To demonstrate the moderation of the Republic, Stalin executed the leaders of the centrist POUM and the anarchists, who, despite being part of the popular front could not guarantee the support of their ranks. Spain was a major defeat for the Permanent Revolution as the weak bourgeoisie collaborated with its ‘shadow’ Stalinism as a ‘left-fascist’ regime inside the republic to smash the revolution in advance of the fascists!

We agree with Trotsky’s application of Permanent Revolution in Spain. Trotsky in Lessons of Spain: Last Warning spells out the program of Permanent Revolution and the failure of the POUM and the anarchists to implement it. It meant fighting fascism independently of the Republican army, at the same time calling for the ranks in the Republican, Stalinist and anarchist unions and militias to break from the popular front. That is our position, whereas the RCIT in numerous examples (Yeltsin, Kosovo, Thailand, Egypt) calls for armed independence of workers, but does not call for the break from the bourgeois popular fronts, or popular front parties, to establish that independence, as a pre-condition of the defeat of fascism.

Trotsky on the other hand states clearly that only the proletarian revolution can defeat fascism:

 “The Spanish revolution once again demonstrates that it is impossible to defend democracy against the methods of fascist reaction. And conversely, it is impossible to conduct a genuine struggle against fascism otherwise than through the methods of the proletarian   revolution. Stalin waged war against “Trotskyism” (proletarian revolution) destroying democracy by the Bonapartist measures of the GPU. This refutes once again and once and for all the old Menshevik theory, adopted by the Comintern, in accordance with which the democratic and socialist revolutions are transformed into two independent historic chapters, separated from each other in point of time. The work of the Moscow executioners confirms in its own way the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution.” (Lessons of Spain: Last Warning ‘Stalin confirms in his own way the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution’) [Our emphasis]

This is the basis of our criticisms of the RCIT, which defends bourgeois popular front regimes or parties on the basis that they are a ‘lesser evil’ to fascism (or military Juntas or dictatorships). In fact, Trotsky says, no doubt drawing on the lessons of ‘October’ in both Russia 1917 and Germany 1923, that the Popular Front coming to victory in Spain would be “nothing but a different form of military dictatorship on the backs of the workers and peasants.

Even a complete military victory of the so-called republican army over General Franco, however, would not signify the triumph of “democracy.” The workers and peasants have twice placed bourgeois republicans and their left agents in power: in April 1931 and in February 1936. Both times the heroes of the Popular Front surrendered the victory of the people to the most reactionary and the most serious representatives of the bourgeoisie. A third victory, gained by the generals of the Popular Front, would signify their inevitable agreement with the fascist bourgeoisie on the backs of the workers and peasants. Such a regime will be nothing but a different form of military dictatorship, perhaps without a monarchy and without the open domination of the Catholic Church.”  (ibid The Denouement’) [Our emphasis]

In the epoch of imperialism, the popular front is the jailer for the fascist executioner. The proletariat has to break out of jail to stop the execution!

The Second Imperialist War: revolution and counter-revolution.

The Second Imperialist War was a continuation of the First. Like the First, it had revolutionary and counter-revolutionary aspects. The defeats of the workers in Germany before the Stalinist bloc with Hitler, and the Stalinist popular fronts in France and Spain, proved that Stalinism, in the absence of workers property, was the ‘fascism’ of the left. The flag of Permanent Revolution was held high by the 4th International founded in 1938, just months before the final defeat of the Spanish Revolution. The imperialists, who failed to stop Permanent Revolution advancing in Russia at the end of the First Imperialist War, embarked on the Second, with the immediate aim of destroying Germany and its allies and preventing it from expanding its sphere of influence.

But the real enemy remained the Soviet Union and the threat of ‘communism’ in the West. This was an acknowledgement by all the imperialist bourgeoisies, that their mortal enemy was the survival of workers property. Despite the existence of Stalinism as the ‘fascism’ on the left, the unconditional defence of workers property was the main principle of the Permanent Revolution and of the Transitional Program of the 4th International. The Bolshevik stand against imperialist war was an integral part of the strategy of Permanent Revolution, which meant that where an imperialist power was supplying the Soviet Union in the fight against fascism workers did not campaign to blockade or sabotage the aid to the Soviet Union, while refusing to renounce the necessity to turn imperialist war into civil war at home.

The Trotskyists split between those for whom the Stalinists’ political character as ‘fascists’ made them no different to the Nazis, and those who defended workers property in the Soviet Union unconditionally despite the Stalinists. Among the latter there were those who wavered towards the Stalinist/imperialist line that the Nazis were the main enemy. So there emerged pro-Stalinist and anti-Stalinist currents within Trotskyism. This left Trotsky almost alone in adhering to the Bolshevik Leninist program that had been forged out of Marx’s strategy into the weapon of the Permanent Revolution in Russia. With Trotsky’s assassination the 4th International suffered a decline and fall within the space of ten years that left the world’s workers without a revolutionary communist international.

The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the war in Europe with 20 million dead. It was workers’ property that forged the Red Army and the resistance, not the Stalinist caste, which had purged the best generals before the war. Fascism rose up to suppress the revolutionary potential of the Permanent Revolution in the First Imperialist War because the popular front and Bonapartist regimes proved insufficient. Yet it was the Permanent Revolution in its degenerated Stalinist form that defeated fascism. In the process of defeating the German army, the Soviet Union created the satellite states in Eastern Europe, which prompted the US to form NATO and embark on the Cold War to isolate the Soviet sphere and force it into submission. As part of this global struggle, China and then Indo-China fought national revolutions that became Permanent Revolutions with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the creation of Degenerate Workers States. We will deal with the counter-revolutionary aspect of the post-war settlement before discussing the revolutionary extension of Permanent Revolution in China and Indochina.

German “bourgeois democracy” in 1945

The RCIT claims that bourgeois democracy existed, however imperfect, in post-1945 [West] Germany:

“However, it would be pure nonsense to claim that after World War II Germany was still without a bourgeois democracy (irrespective of all the democratic deficiencies which, in general, are characteristic of bourgeois democracy as a form of capitalist dictatorship). Again, in the LCC’s mindset, this post-1945 bourgeois democracy in Germany is an irresolvable mystery. Based on their misunderstanding of Trotsky, they would have to deny that bourgeois democracy exists in imperialist Germany, since otherwise Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is false!” (RCIT, ibid)

The RCIT knows that bourgeois democracy is a form of capitalist dictatorship. And there is no doubt that bourgeois democracy was restored in the 1945 post-war settlement. The point however, is that it could only be restored on the basis of an historic defeat of the German working class as a result of two imperialist wars, the Great Depression and finally the partition of Germany. Such bourgeois democracy is a bulwark of the counter-revolution. The defence of such bourgeois democratic forms is out of the question. Communists do not participate in elections (post 1989) on the basis of the post-war German Democratic Republic (GDR) constitution, except to use them as a forum for revolutionary propaganda to smash all workers illusions in bourgeois democracy by means of permanent revolution. The same applies to elections in the German Federal Republic (GFR.)

Moreover, there is nothing ‘exceptional’ about the restoration of bourgeois democracy. The RCIT want to explain every instance of the survival of bourgeois democracy as the result of “exceptional circumstances”:

“In reality, of course, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, understood dialectically, is in harmony with the contradictory historical process of class struggle; it is only the LCC’s distorted caricature of this theory which rams its head against the wall. Exceptional historical circumstances – first and foremost the counter-revolutionary defeat of the working class by fascism, the abortion of the revolutionary crisis in Europe and a number of Asian countries by the Stalinist parties, the agreement between imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracy to establish a reactionary new world order, and finally the post-war boom in 1950s and 1960s – facilitated the creation of conditions in which imperialism could solve, in a distorted manner, one or another of the unresolved democratic tasks.” (RCIT, ibid) [Our emphasis]

The RCIT forgets that, as part of the “counter-revolutionary defeat of the working class etc…which facilitated the creation of conditions in which imperialism could solve, in a distorted manner, one or other of the unresolved democratic tasks”, these counter-revolutions were all made possible by bourgeois democracy, in particular by the popular fronts in one or other form, where Social Democracy collaborated with the bourgeois military and/or fascism to effect these counter-revolutions. These are not “exceptional circumstances” but a series of historic defeats that follow from the victories of the permanent counter-revolution over the permanent revolution that necessarily reflect the balance of class forces between the revolutionary proletariat and the reactionary bourgeoisie. If “counter-revolutionary defeats” are exceptional, the RCIT may as well claim that capitalism itself is “exceptional.”

We will now show how the RCIT’s “democracy” in post-war Western Germany was part of the permanent ‘counter-revolution’, and that the ‘new imperialists’ in the post WW2 period were part of that counter-revolutionary settlement. We saw that in 1918 the defeat of the revolution was at the hands of a ‘disguised coalition of Social Democracy and the bourgeoisie.’ The objective content of ‘bourgeois democracy’ was bourgeois reaction. The imperialists’ collaboration with Social Democracy prevented the Permanent Revolution from becoming a European and even global revolution. When the “pseudo-democratic forms” of counter-revolution in the bourgeois republic failed to stem the tide of revolution, this forced the bourgeoisie to appoint the former wartime Army Chief of Staff, Hindenburg, as Bonapartist president in an attempt to ‘balance’ the classes. This failed when Hindenburg finally made Hitler Chancellor, and Hitler then appointed himself dictator.

What was left of bourgeois democracy in Germany after the Second Imperialist War? NATO drew the line between Permanent Revolution and Permanent Counter Revolution. Germany was divided and the West stood for imperialist counter-revolution against the Stalinist ‘degenerated Permanent Revolution’ in the East. Germany was the most important plug in the dyke to sustain, so the Marshall Plan was necessary. West Germany had to be able to absorb the GDR and reunify on a capitalist basis and sustain a front line status. Today the independence of Germany is clearly displayed as it navigates and projects its power and leverage in the EU, NATO and beyond.  Germany of course, never ceased being imperialist. Twice defeated, its bourgeoisie remained in power; its labor aristocracy elevated under conditions of US military occupation.

A fundamental task of the bourgeois revolution is national self-determination. Since 1871 the bourgeoisie have expressed national self-determination as national aggrandisement at the expense of others’ national rights. The partition of Germany in 1945 was a ‘pseudo-democratic’ form of defence of the GDR from “communism.” The task of the international proletariat was to fight for the subjective program of Permanent Revolution, to expose the ‘disguised popular fronts’ of bourgeois governments with Social Democracy, to reunite Germany as a healthy workers’ state, overthrowing the Stalinist regime in the East and the imperialist regime in the West. The “democracy” we stood for in 1945 is straight out of the Transitional Program. For the unconditional defence of East Germany occupied by the Red Army as an extension of the Soviet Union by means of political revolution and world revolution, and the revolutionary unification of Germany as a socialist republic in a socialist united states of Europe.

Subcontracting Imperialism: South Korea and Israel

The RCIT makes a lot of the apparent development of the ‘Asian Tigers’, Taiwan and Republic of Korea (ROK) as capable of emerging as ‘new imperialists’. In fact it cites the ROK as an example of a new imperialist power to disprove our claim that no new imperialist powers could have arisen from semi-colonial status since WW1. We agree that these countries have developed large international corporations that export capital. If that were the only basis on which to determine imperialism, the RCIT might have a case. But other semi-colonies such as Brazil and India also have considerable Outbound Foreign Direct Investment (hereafter OFDI) and yet remain dominated by imperialism. However, in the case of Taiwan and the ROK capitalist development is the direct result of their national oppression as militarily divided and occupied forward bases of US imperialism resulting from its war against China and the DPRK.

Taiwan was formerly Formosa and part of China until Chiang Kai Shek with his Kuomintang entourage defeated by the Revolution of 1949 then retreated to Formosa and founded the bourgeois Republic of China as a puppet of the US. Similarly, the ROK was split off from the North at the 38th parallel by a ceasefire that still remains in existence. South Korea like Taiwan is the result of an imperialist partition of an existing nation in the ‘UN’ sponsored war against the DRPK. These are puppet military outposts of US imperialism. The militarisation of the ROK economy saw the USAID administration overseeing the planning of the economy, in particular the export growth strategy under the Park dictatorship in the 60s and 70s. The US still retains command of both its forces and ROK forces in the event of war arising from its intensifying rivalry with China.

Taiwan and the ROK are therefore not politically, militarily or economically independent bourgeois nations, let alone imperialist nations. Their economies are heavily subsidised by US as virtual security colonies of the US. ROK for example pays the annual equivalent of the cost of one destroyer towards maintaining the 28,500 US occupation forces. Without this special status as US military bases there could be no rapid growth of national capital. While the large Taiwanese and ROK conglomerates are today global multinationals, they could arise only with the aid of massive US economic and military subsidies and control over state planning that made their development possible.

Israel too fits this characterisation of a puppet regime. Israel is not the answer to Jewish national democratic rights since it occupies and oppresses Palestine. It is an armed Zionist state created by Anglo-American imperialism as a gendarme in the Middle East. Since its origins made it dependent on imperialism its finance capital is intertwined with Anglo-American capital and has no separate national existence. Israel’s OFDI as an indicator of imperialism must be offset against decades of heavy military subsidies, military transfers to say nothing of the black box budgets for ‘intelligence’ and military integration with the US military. Israel could not have made a transition from settler-colony to imperialist state for the reason that it cannot escape its subordination to external finance capital. If we subtracted Israel’s dependence on US foreign policy that treats it as a special ‘gendarme’ of US imperialism, then Israel would no longer have the security status that guarantees its high economic performance. In other words we think Israel began as an armed Settler state with Anglo-US finance capital backing, and remains so today.

Israel and the ROK: Comparing FDI and OFDI Stock with Total US Aid

FDI Stock OFDI Stock Total US Aid
Israel 74 74 120*
ROK 156 202 78**

Sources: OECD FDI in figures April 2014 in US$ billions

* Total US foreign aid to Israel 1949-2014 in US$ billions (includes loans) https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/U.S._Assistance_to_Israel1.html

** Total US Economic and Military Aid, 1948-2012. (Includes US loans but excludes estimates of the economic impact of the US military occupation.) https://eads.usaid.gov/gbk/data/country_report.cfm

The national independence of the ROK and Israel (say nothing of the democracy) would be laughable if the truth of the material cost to the masses weren’t so brutal and sustained. Military and economic subservience may have diminished to some extent but even Israel knows which direction its nuclear bombs are obliged to point and under whose watchful eye they are allowed their “independence”. The ROK also knows damn well that without US imperialism in their corner they are just days away from singing praises to the “Great Leader”. As part of the post-war imperialist settlement with the Stalinists, the primary task in West Germany, ROK and Israel was to elevate and sustain a labor aristocracy committed to the anti-communist task. In the ROK and Israel a semi-colonial bourgeoisie with a counter-revolutionary backbone was selected or elevated itself among the candidates. In all three some social gains were needed to advertise the ‘free market’ to those just across the borders in the DWSs and were reeled out (as least to the chosen ones) and held aloft as propagandist’s examples of how democratic imperialism is benevolent with those who owe their very existence to its sustained military prowess. These states are sustained as military bulwarks based on concessions to a client bourgeoisie and a labor aristocracy (a seat at the imperialist table for the 2nd International, i.e. GFR and Israel) as long as they are committed to their counter-revolutionary role.

China and Indo-China

It was the Permanent Revolution surviving in workers property in the Soviet Union that was internationalised in China and Indo-China as revolutions that overthrew the bourgeoisie and completed the bourgeois revolution in the East. However, as largely peasant revolutions led by Stalinist bureaucracies trained under Stalin in Moscow, the proletariat was never in power. There was never a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Like the Eastern European states, although not as direct extensions of the Soviet Union, China and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam were ‘degenerate’ at birth. Nevertheless, these states were post-capitalist and represented an advance in the Permanent Revolution as a distorted form of ‘workers democracy’ in the bureaucratised workers councils and peasant communes.

Conversely, the imperialist determination to surround, divide and isolate these Degenerate Workers States (DWSs) in the name of ‘bourgeois democracy’ could not but be a reactionary attack on ‘workers democracy.’ China and Indo-China expropriated the bourgeoisie but could not deepen their Permanent Revolution to advance workers democracy and build socialism because of their isolation from the international working class. That means, as always, that the limits of the permanent revolution are set by the balance of international class forces between revolution and counter-revolution.

This brings us to the last significant retreat in the Permanent Revolution, the world-historic defeat of workers property in the DWSs from 1989 to 1991. While capitalist property was restored and with it a new bourgeoisie, this counter-revolution was incomplete as it failed to destroy the legacy of the unfinished Permanent Revolution. That legacy was the economic independence of Russia and China in the lifetime of the DWSs that advanced the forces of production beyond that possible in a capitalist semi-colony. That means that the legacy of the workers states was not wiped out by the restoration of capitalism and imperialism was not able therefore to reduce the former workers states to the status of semi-colonies. As a result, the Cold War ended not as an outright victory for US imperialism and its allies because they were not able to break up and plunder the former workers states and destroy their capacity to accumulate capital in their own right. Only then can we properly understand why the rise of Russia and China as imperialist states was possible, and that capitalist semi-colonies cannot complete their bourgeois revolution without the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. As we have seen above, Taiwan, South Korea and Israel are not independent imperialist states, but proxies of Anglo-US imperialism.

1989-91: the ‘democratic counter-revolution’

1917 marked the most historic advance in Permanent Revolution. Despite all setbacks, from Germany 1917-23 and 1933 and the defeats of depression and war, revolution expanded as workers property in the post-war DWSs. So long as workers property remained, the major gain of 1917 was undefeated. Trotsky made unconditional defence of the Soviet Union the fundamental plank of the 1938 program. But the 4th International failed to survive as a healthy international. And the Stalinist bureaucracy could not sustain growth, as the failure of planned production not under the democratic control of the workers inevitably led to economic stagnation. Both Stalinism and pseudo-Trotskyism succumbed to restoration via the democratic road. By the late ‘80s a bourgeois restorationist faction of the bureaucracy was introducing market reforms and bourgeois democratic reforms. Another faction based on the military command recognised the need to restore capitalism but opted for the slow ‘Chinese’ road. Now unconditional defence of the Soviet Union and workers property required the political overthrow of both wings of the bureaucracy.

Trotsky in the ‘30’s had foreseen the possibility of capitalist restoration taking the form of a ‘democratic counter-revolution’; that the main factor in the defeat of workers resistance to capitalist restoration would be their acceptance of the illusions of bourgeois democracy.

“Trotsky did not and could not foresee the actual way in which the bureaucratized workers’ states were destroyed fifty years later. Trotsky predicted correctly that if restoration would take place in his time (1930’s), it could succeed primarily with the brutality of fascism and civil war. But, brilliantly, he did not exclude in his writings the possibility that capitalism would be restored principally by the instruments of bourgeois” democracy”. At that time (the 1930’s), the Soviet masses were willing to give their life for socialism. Illusions in bourgeois democracy were barely in existence. But to succeed in its restorationist project, bourgeois democracy needs to get active support from some sectors of the broad masses – this was out of the question in the 1930’s. It was clear that the masses would not have tolerated bourgeois democracy and they were willing to actively resist restoration… The betrayal of the working class by social democracy and Stalinism in Western Europe brought about one the quietest decades of the class struggle (the 1980’s). This combined with the total capitulation of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the East, convinced imperialism and is agents to proceed with the creation of bourgeois parliaments and elections as the safest way to take state power. Thus the creation of such bourgeois bodies was a central step in the restorationist process.” (Introcor, Special Issue, LO Fete, 1993)

In the Spring of 1990 the first major test of unconditional defence of the DWSs was the re-unification of Germany. The LRCI demands were correct; unconditional defence of the GDR, political revolution in the East and socialist revolution in the West, and reunification of Germany as a socialist republic in a socialist united states of Europe. To win, workers must build workers’ councils and workers’ militia and convoke a “…congress of workers’ councils as the organ of state power of a German Workers’ Republic!” There was no mention of bourgeois parliaments or political parties to contest elections except to fight them with the institutions of ‘workers democracy’:

“If however, the bureaucracy is obliged to call parliamentary elections then we call for   workers to call prior mass meetings to select their candidates and to hear the candidates of all parties. The workers should demand annual elections and deputies who are recallable by their constituents. They should demand of all candidates a pledge to defend statified and planned property. By these means the fraud of bourgeois parliamentarism can be exposed, its dangers minimised and the principles of the system of workers’ councils fought for.” (‘The Political Revolution in East Germany’, Trotskyist International, 4, Spring, 1990)

Of course the outcome was decided by the betrayals of the Stalinists to imperialism and the pseudo-Trotskyists incapable of unconditional defence of the DWS. Despite the LRCI’s correct line, there was no revolutionary party with influence on the masses able to offer a revolutionary alternative to the ‘democratic counter-revolution.’ In October, 1990, the new East German section of the LRCI condemned the cynical use of bourgeois democracy by the imperialists and the Stalinists to fool the workers:

“The speed of the reunification and the brutal form of the Anschluss of the GDR, which contradicted the democratic pretences of the Federal Republic’s own constitution, has forced   the helpless and confused left to the sidelines of events…[the PDS] proposed alternative to Kohl’s unification of the two states – a referendum on the draft constitution drawn up by the Round Table – was trapped completely within the logic of bourgeois parliamentarism.” (‘Germany, united fatherland…’ Trotskyist International, 5, autumn, 1990, not online)

Why then, after such a spirited fight for workers democracy against bourgeois democracy in the German reunification, did the LRCI abandon the central plank in the Transitional Program in Russia a year later to align itself with a bourgeois restorationist faction of the bureaucracy lead by Boris Yeltsin? To explain this we develop the argument that we first put forward as the Proletarian Faction in the LRCI in 1995 to explain why instead of fighting the democratic counter-revolution, the LRCI joined it.

For all Dave Hughes’ knowledge of the Soviet Union, the break from Cliffism to orthodox Trotskyism in the mid-1980s proved incomplete. The Degenerated Revolution, which resulted from Hughes’ analysis of the workers states contained a basic flaw hidden in its method. The Soviet Union was conceived as an isolated DWS in which the main contradiction was between the Stalinist bureaucracy and workers’ (statified) property. For Trotsky the main contradiction was between workers property and global capitalism. The bureaucracy was a secondary or mediating contradiction and thus could be removed by a political revolution. This contradiction was represented in the separation of a ‘bourgeois state form’ and ‘statified property’.

The flaw in method emerged when the crisis of the workers states in E. Europe blew up in the late ‘80s. This disoriented the LRCI as the road to restoration proved not to be ‘civil war’ but “peaceful counter revolution.” The LRCI faced up to this fact with the German Anschluss, but lost its way in the Soviet Union when it confused bourgeois democracy and workers democracy. The LRCI began to talk of “democracy” in the abstract when describing the mobilisation of workers organisations against the Stalinist bureaucracy, suppressing the fact that behind this “democracy” was the main enemy, imperialism.

The IEC Resolution on the world situation in July, 1990, (section on “The Death Agony of Stalinism in the degenerated workers’ states”) refers to the “coming revolutionary crisis” in the USSR:

“The USSR is moving rapidly towards a revolutionary situation. This is shown by the mounting economic shortages, the mushrooming of independent workers’ organisations and the results of the Spring 1990 local elections which saw wholesale defeats for party candidates…[t]he oppressed nationalities, the civil rights activists and the working class have all taken action in defiance of [Gorbachevs] decrees. The workers are fighting for their democratic rights, for free trade unions, freedom of assembly, the right to strike, for improvements in wages, for greater equality, and against bureaucratic corruption. The foundation of an independent miners’ union and of the Confederation of Labour representing millions of Soviet proletarians, opens a whole new phase of the crisis.” [Our emphasis]

Already a year before the Yeltsin coup, we see that the LRCI ‘contradiction’ between Stalinism and statified property is manifest as workers fighting for bourgeois rights against the Stalinists. This is not the continuation of the permanent revolution by means of workers democracy – that is, workers organs of struggle independent from capital, but bourgeois ‘free’ trade unions, right to strike, equality, etc., of capitalist democracy; not workers democracy, but the ‘democratic counter-revolution’ independent from the Stalinist bureaucracythe now familiar democratic imperialist program of the ‘colour revolutions’. What we see here is the secondary contradiction displacing the main contradiction in an historic showdown within the ‘bourgeois’ state apparatus between fascism (Stalinist dictatorship) and democracy (workers control) disguised as the defence of workers property.

In the IEC Resolution on East Germany in July, 1990, we also find the LRCI leadership redefining Trotsky’s ‘unconditional defence of the Soviet Union’ as a conditional defence:

“Within the strategy of political revolution a vital distinction had to be drawn between defence of the post-capitalist property relations –obligatory for all Marxists – and illegitimate defence of the bureaucratic state apparatus, which was the principle enemy of the working class within the GDR; failure to make this distinction lay at the heart of the impotence of the left wing opponents of the state. It led the majority of those who genuinely wanted to prevent the restoration of capitalism into identifying mass mobilisations against the regime principally as attacks upon the property relations. By the same token, it also led them to see in the state apparatus a potential means of defending those property relations.” [Our emphasis]

The LRCI’s origins in the Cliffite tendency come back to the surface. For Trotsky ‘unconditional defence’ meant despite the bureaucracy, not against it. The bureaucracy is not the ‘main enemy’. This is a caricature of Trotskyism. As soon as you say the Stalinists are the main enemy you make ‘democratic imperialism’ the “lesser evil” to the Stalinist dictatorship. Then you begin to swim with the tide of workers who also see the Stalinists as the main enemy and begin to adapt to bourgeois democracy as the means of defeating the Stalinists. The failure of the left to fight for workers democracy is the failure of revolutionary leadership to stand firm on ‘unconditional defence’ as the main plank of the permanent revolution. Having only recently broken from state capitalism, the LRCI reverted to its flawed method, bending under the pressure of democratic imperialism and the influence on the E. German masses against the ‘main enemy’ Stalinism, subordinating ‘workers democracy’ to ‘bourgeois democracy.’ The logical endpoint of this Anschluss in the LRCI program was its capitulation to Yeltsin’s restorationist popular front in August, 1991.

The International Secretariat Resolution “The USSR at the Crossroads” adopted in February, 1991, already made clear that Yeltsin is moving to rally the pro-market forces in the Soviet Union..:

“Although the radical marketisers are excluded from the inner Bonapartist clique around Gorbachev, they still have positions of mass influence. Yeltsin and company were able to mobilise mass demonstrations in Moscow and other cities against the clampdown in Lithuania. Middle ranking officers and senior commanders in the army have expressed support for Yeltsin. He remains the most well known and popular alternative figure to Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s plebiscite on preserving the USSR and accepting the new Federation proposals will be a major trial of strength. Yeltsin’s own referendum for a popularly elected Russian and all-Union Federation is aimed at mobilising mass support and giving himself a “democratic mandate” to defy Gorbachev. Together with the Baltics, the western borderland republics and the Caucasus, the Russian Federation still presents a major obstacle to the conservatives.” [Our emphasis]

Nevertheless “Independent class forces will be obliged to defend…their democratic freedoms…alongside Yeltsin…”

“The final outcome will rest upon the attitude of the masses in general and the soldiers in particular. The working class has no interest in the triumph of either side in this debate between bureaucrats. Its historic and immediate interests lie in the preservation and extension of democratic freedoms and the nationalised and planned property relations. Independent class forces will be obliged to defend these liberties alongside Yeltsin and company, whilst not for one minute supporting the Yeltsinites’ seizure of power. On the other hand independent class forces are obliged to defend the statified economy alongside the conservatives whilst not for one minute abandoning the objective of overthrowing them.” (ibid. [our emphasis])

In the event of the conservatives’ coup 6 months later in August, the LRCI stood alongside Yeltsin defending ‘bourgeois democracy’ while refusing to back the coup because it was directed at the bourgeois democracy of the pro-market forces! The only position for revolutionaries in that situation was to defend the Red House in a workers’ united front to restore workers democracy by rebuilding the soviets independently of both the bureaucracy and the restorationists to defend workers property unconditionally. The RCIT continues to defend the LRCI position of a ‘conditional’ defence of workers’ property, that condition being that it will not bloc with Stalinists to defend workers’ property, while it will bloc with the bourgeois democrats aligned to imperialism! The fact that the LRCI saw the demise of Stalinism as a victory opening the road for workers to defend workers property explains its characterisation of the period as a “revolutionary period, counter-revolutionary phase.” For them, there was no world-historical defeat so long as the ‘main enemy’ was defeated, and the proletariat could live to fight for political revolution. For the LRCI and RCIT today bourgeois democracy was and is the ‘lesser evil’ to Stalinist ‘fascism’ and not a betrayal of permanent revolution.

From Permanent Revolution to Bourgeois Democracy

We have undertaken to trace the Epoch of permanent revolution beginning with Marx’s conception, including the three aspects isolated by Trotsky in his analysis, documenting the balance of forces for and against Permanent Revolution from 1871 through all the significant advances and retreats up to the present, and projecting its final victory in the future communism. We argued that from 1850 the task of developing the forces of production became the task of the proletariat. From that point the bourgeoisie became a reactionary class. In particular, bourgeois democracy was a reactionary class ideology that objectively formed a bulwark to revolutionary class consciousness and permanent revolution as the strategy of the proletariat playing its historic role as the revolutionary class capable of developing the forces of production.

We argue that the RCIT does not see the bourgeoisie as a completely reactionary class, and moreover does not see bourgeois democracy as a barrier to permanent revolution. In fact it argues that by defending bourgeois democracy the proletariat can “assist” the bourgeoisie to develop the forces of production. For us, this is the basis of Menshevism, where the proletariat plays an “auxiliary role” (in popular fronts) in completing the bourgeois democratic revolution to prepare the conditions for socialist revolution. Menshevism as a revisionist ‘evolutionary’ Marxism is a capitulation to social imperialism under pressure from the imperialist bourgeoisie.

The root of this revision is the RCIT conception of bourgeois democracy. We trace this to an incomplete split of the MRCI/LRCI from the state capitalist Cliffite SWP (Britain) in 1975. Trotsky explained that state capitalism was rooted in petty bourgeois Stalinophobia, which rejected dialectics and revived the split between state and society of bourgeois ideology. In the crisis of 1991 the LRCI reverted to its roots and blocked with the bourgeois restorationists against the Stalinist bureaucracy. The RCIT has never repudiated this betrayal by the LRCI and this is shown in its current defence of bourgeois democracy, reinforcing illusions in popular fronts and popular front parties.

We have seen that bourgeois democracy was only conceded by the bourgeoisie when forced by fear of socialist revolution to contain the revolution with “pseudo-democratic forms” that combined parliament backed by the bourgeois army. Bourgeois democracy traps the proletariat in the fetishised ideology of exchange relations, masking unequal production relations reproduced daily in the workplace and reinforced by the labour bureaucracy and Social Democracy inside or outside the popular fronts with the bourgeoisie and its “shadow” the Stalinists. Therefore, from the Paris Commune onward, to escape its exploitation, the proletariat has always sought to destroy the objectively counter-revolutionary bourgeois democracy by opposing to it a subjective workers democracy, implicitly and explicitly challenging the social relations that underpin the former with the strikes and occupations, councils, communes and armed insurrections of the latter.

However, this revolutionary subjectivity cannot transcend the reactionary objectivity of bourgeois democracy unless it becomes class-conscious. It has to break from fetishised bourgeois ideology that limits consciousness to the “class-in-itself” of labour subordinated to capital, to “class for-itself” as represented by the revolutionary party. Only the active intervention of the revolutionary party can transcend the bourgeois democratic and immediate demands of the old minimum program by means of the transitional method of the Transitional Program. That is why the strategy of Permanent Revolution is the method of the Transitional Program.

 

LCC, 13 June, 2015

 

[i] K. Marx, Early Writings, Introduction by L. Colletti. Pelican edition; Marx, Capital Volume 1, Chap 1 ‘Commodities’, Section on Fetishism of Commodities.

[ii] see Civil War in France,France capitulates and the Government of Thiers’.

[iii] “No common platform with the Social Democracy, or with the leaders of the German trade unions, no common publications, banners, placards! March separately, but strike together! Agree only how to strike, whom to strike, and when to strike! Such an agreement can be concluded even with the devil himself, with his grandmother, and even with Noske and Grezesinsky. On one condition, not to bind one’s hands.” (Trotsky, The Workers United Front against Fascism, ‘We Must Force the Social Democracy into a Bloc Against the Fascists’).

Trotsky refers to the Bolshevik policy towards Kerensky in 1917 where the Bolsheviks formed a military bloc with Kerensky against Kornilov, simultaneously exposing and splitting Social Revolutionary and Menshevik workers from its bourgeois leadership. Does this make Kerensky the “lesser evil”? No, the “democrat” Kerensky is no less a counter-revolutionary than the “reactionary” Kornilov but a military bloc can unite the workers against Kornilov and prove this fact to those who have illusions in the popular front government. In the event Kornilov was defeated, Kerensky was exposed as conspiring with Kornilov to smash the revolution, and shortly after the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Soviets to stage the insurrection.

[iv] “Verbal genuflections before the soviets are equally as fashionable in the “left” circles as the misconception of their historical function. Most often the soviets are defined as the organs of struggle for power, as the organs of insurrection, and finally, as the organs of dictatorship. Formally these definitions are correct. But they do not at all exhaust the historical function of the soviets. First of all they do not explain why, in the struggle for power, precisely the soviets are necessary. The answer to this question is: just as the trade union is the rudimentary form of the united front in the economic struggle, so the soviet is the highest form of the united front under the conditions in which the proletariat enters the epoch of fighting for power. The soviet in itself possesses no miraculous powers. It is the class representation of the proletariat, with all of the latter’s strong and weak points. But precisely and only because of this does the soviet afford to the workers of divers political trends the organizational opportunity to unite their efforts in the revolutionary struggle for power. In the present pre-revolutionary environment it is the duty of the most advanced German workers to understand most clearly the historical function of the soviets as the organs of the united front…The Social Democracy and the Communist Party divide in Germany the influence over the working class. The Social Democratic leadership does its best to repel the workers from itself. The leadership of the Communist Party strives with all its might to counteract the influx of the workers. As a consequence we get the formation of a third party and a comparatively slow change in the correlation of forces in favor of the Communists. But even if Communist Party policies were entirely correct, the workers’ need for a revolutionary unification of the class would have grown incomparably faster than the preponderance of the Communist Party within the class. The need of creating soviets would thus remain in its full scope. The creation of the soviets presupposes that the different parties and organizations within the working class, beginning with the factories, become agreed, both as regards the very necessity for the soviets and as regards the time and methods of their formation. Which means: since the soviets, in themselves, represent the highest form of the united front in the revolutionary epoch, therefore their inception must be preceded by the policy of the united front in the preparatory period.” (What Next: vital questions for the German Proletariat. Section 8Through the United Front to the Soviets as the Highest Organs of the United Front’)

The USA became imperialist, what about Canada?

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In Part One of this article we asked if the European Settler Colonies can break the rule and make the transition from dependent colonies or semi-colonies to imperialist powers. That ‘rule’ is that capitalist semi-colonies cannot make this transition because they “cannot accumulate enough surplus value to become economically independent of existing imperialist powers.” We have shown in a number of articles that the emergence of Russia and China as imperialist powers is an exception to the rule because they had national revolutions that overthrew their bourgeoisies and became economically independent of imperialism.
We stated however, that there was “one category of colonies, European Settler colonies, that appears to be the exception to this rule”. There was no question that the USA became imperialist, but what of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia and Israel? Unlike the US, none of these won wars of independence so how would it be possible to achieve “economic independence” from Britain and the US? While we argued that NZ, Australia and South Africa failed to become sufficiently economically independent to become minor imperialist powers, we left open the question of Canada. We will come back to the question of Israel in a future article.

Is Canada imperialist?

The situation in Canada is less clear cut and the ongoing debate over whether or not Canada is imperialist between economic nationalists and ‘internationalists’ is more vigorous than that in Australia. In many ways Canada is similar to Australia. Originating as a British colony after defeating the French and then holding off the ‘Americans’ the settlers occupied lands inhabited by ‘First Nation’ peoples and started built a new capitalist society. Like Australia, Canada had many of the features of a settler colony that created the conditions for capitalist development and it too had no war of independence.

However, unlike Australia, Canada developed under conditions which, in the absence of a war of independence, allowed a national bourgeoisie to emerge capable of becoming economically independent of the colonial power. The unique factor that explains this seems to have been the proximity of the American Revolution that threatened to spread into Canada. US revolutionaries made incursions into Canada and there was widespread support for the revolution on the part of a majority of settlers coming into Canada. The British state had to build a strong national capitalist regime in Canada to defend it from the revolutionary advances from the South. In doing so, this colonial regime kept firm control on the settlers and put down two rebellions by small farmers and an uprising by Metis (mixed race) in the mid 19th century.

Canadian historians generally agree on these colonial origins but differ on what happened next. Most argue that Canada ceased to be a colony controlled by Britain in the late 19th century but could not achieve economic independence as it fell under the dominance of the US as it embarked on its own imperialist expansion. The ‘dependency’ school of thought explains this as the result of a Canadian ruling class pre-occupation with trade and commerce so that the banks played a weak role in investing in domestic industry which had to rely on US investment. Investment of US finance capital in Canadian industry therefore established a division of labour in which Canada was a producer of ‘staples’ or raw materials, while its branch plant industry was dominated by the US. The result was that Canada became an economic dependency of the US rather than a developed industrial capitalist state or imperialist power.

Yet contrary to the ‘dependency’ theory, there is a rival school of thought that argues that Canada is imperialist. For example, Bill Burgess in the 2006 article, ‘Canada, Imperialist or Imperialized’ (CIOI) argues that the evidence today points to an independent finance capitalist class in Canada:

“Statistics Canada reports that the 25 largest enterprises in Canada in 1988 controlled 41% of the assets of all corporations in the country. As reported in Figure 1, the rate of Canadian control over the assets of this highly strategic group was an impressive 95%… When the ‘top 25’ ranking by assets is added to the ranking by revenues, 36 of the ‘top 44’ enterprises are Canadian-controlled. 90.2% of the revenues in this group are Canadian-controlled; only 8.8% are US controlled. The 44 enterprises account for 50% of the revenues of the largest 763 enterprises in Canada, and 42% of their assets. In other words, within the core group of corporate power in Canada, Canadians capitalist control is seven or eight or nine times greater than US capitalist control, and this does even include other important points of support like Canadian government policy.” [Emphasis in original]

However, proving that Canadian finance capital exists does not explain the why and how this finance capital emerged, a question which is not settled as we show below. A minority like Bill Burgess trace the formation of finance capital as the result of Canada’s early development. The majority including Todd Gordon in Imperialist Canada, see the rise of Canadian imperialism as occurring after WW2. Within the majority some like Jerome Klassen see it as a ‘new imperialism’ that emerged as part of the neo-liberal free trade era of CAFTA, NAFTA etc, and picked up speed in the period since 9/11. Nevertheless, both minority and majority agree that whatever its origins Canadian imperialism is ‘deeply integrated’ into US imperialist hegemony and plays the role of a ‘secondary imperialist’ power.

Origins of Canada’s Finance Capital

In terms of the theory that we advance about the rise of imperialist powers, we take the minority view on the emergence of finance capital. We argue that Canada could not have become imperialist unless the conditions for this had been established before WW1 and the redivision of the world into the spheres of influence by rival capitalist powers. Did these conditions exist in Canada? The general rule that a colony must wage a war of independence to win its economic independence from imperialism did not apply in this case. The opposite was true. Canada won its political independence from Britain as the result of its counter-revolutionary role on the side of the British against the American Revolution. In order for the British to prevent the American Revolution spreading to its colony it had to create a strong national bourgeoisie as a bulwark. But why would this lead to that classes’ economic independence from both the British and then the US empires?

As we have seen the dependency theorists argue that Canada didn’t win its economic independence from Britain and the resulting weakness of the Canadian bourgeoisie reflected its comprador role as the mercantile agent class of the British Empire. Such a weak bourgeoisie could not claim more than a merchant bankers’ share of the surplus-value produced in Canada. The lion’s share of super profits would be shipped off to Britain. The Canadian comprador state defeated settlers uprisings for independence on behalf of the British and without tariff protection industrial development remained ‘backward’. When Canada gained ‘self-governing’ status its comprador class then looked to US industrial capital investment in ‘branch plants’. This is widely known as the “Naylor-Clement” thesis after those who developed this idea within the ‘dependency’ camp.

And yet the evidence shows that these features of ‘dependency’, while significant, were a subordinate aspect of Canada’s economic development. Canadian banks invested heavily in the transport and energy infrastructure necessary for capitalist production. This proved that there was no split in the capitalist class between merchant bankers and industrialists. In fact, the big majority of Canadian capital was what Lenin later called ‘finance capital’ – the fusion of banking capital with industrial capital in large increasingly monopolistic enterprises. The rise of this finance capitalist class in Canada therefore occurred at the same time as in all the other imperialist powers. [Burgess, 142; CIOI, 2006]

How to explain the rise of finance capital?

What this proves, against both ‘dependency’ theorists, and ‘new imperialist’ theorists, is that Canada was already imperialist by World War I. What is doesn’t demonstrate is the specific circumstances that allowed a comprador class to transform itself into a class of finance capitalists. Burgess suggest an explanation lurking in the ‘Naylor-Clement’ thesis of a weak, divided bourgeoisie that proved in reality to be the opposite, a strong and united national bourgeoisie:

“Naylor and Clement argued that, first, there is an atypical division and rivalry between sectors of Canadian capital dating back into the 19th century. Second, they claimed that financial capital in Canada chose a continental alliance with US capital over a national alliance with indigenous industrial capital.” [Burgess, Thesis, 147]

As Burgess and others have explained, the Naylor/Clement thesis is based on the misunderstanding that merchant capital invested in building railways and canals was not industrial capital. Yet Canadian merchant banks which served Britain in Canada, employing British capital, were not merely building railways and canals to transport commodities to the British market, they were doing much more than that. They were laying down the infrastructure necessary for capitalist agriculture, forestry, and more important, manufacturing. The capital invested in this infrastructure was not merchant capital but bank and state monopoly finance capital. That is why the large family and state enterprises that were created at the time fused banking and industrial capital to concentrate investment and as a result became highly monopolised, giving rise to the finance capital typical of imperialism. [Burgess, Thesis, 142]

So perhaps the explanation we are looking for runs like this: the Canadian settler colony converted British merchant capital into industrial capital by extending the circuit of industrial capital from Britain to the colony and at the same time creating the conditions for capitalist production in Canada. The foundations for the rise of Canadian finance capital were laid by the state’s policy of developing domestic industry, contributing to the solution of Britain’s crisis of falling profits, and at the same time accumulating surplus-value in its own right. But how was this possible without a national revolution to win economic independence?

Burgess suggests that the policy of land settlement may have played an important role in the formation of industrial capitalism in Canada, but that more work needs to be done to prove this point. [Burgess, Thesis, 27-28] In the next section we put forward our interpretation of the importance of the land question in the settler colonies.

The Land Question

British imperialism in the early to mid 19th century was facing a crisis of falling profits at home caused by the high cost of raw materials due to the lack of capital investment in agriculture. The resulting stagnation, unemployment and poverty led to famines, epidemics and widespread social unrest. The political economist E.G. Wakefield promoted his ‘systematic colonisation’ as a solution. It would put a sufficient price on the sale of land in the colonies to prevent settlers from occupying ‘free land’ and at the same time use the proceeds of land sales to fund free immigration. It would solve the social problems in Britain as well as the underlying profitability crisis, by opening up new lands for capitalist agriculture to provide cheaper raw materials for industry at home, simultaneously creating a class of wage labourers. As a form of ‘primitive accumulation’, indigenous lands were expropriated by the state and sold to petty capitalist farmers, while denying migrant workers free access to land, forcing them to perform wage labor for a living. In short the denial of “free land” was necessary to ensure the separation of labor from the land to create “free labor” and capitalist development in the settler colonies.

Marx critiqued this policy as implemented by the Wakefield Scheme. In Australia and NZ the plan failed when workers escaped “free” labor for “free” land proving that capital and land cannot create value without labor power. In Canada, the colonial state controlled crown land directly, or indirectly through groups of wealthy families after 1812, and then through the Canada Company from 1825, all of which sold land at a relatively high price. So there was no “free” land to allow migrants to escape wage labour unless they crossed the border to adopt the “American” way. Of course the labor market was replenished by constant flows of migrants.

So while the Colonial government did not officially apply Wakefield’s “systematic colonisation” they achieved its main purpose. By creating the conditions for capitalist production, freehold land, free labour, and capital, the colonial elite became a national bourgeoisie in which banking capital and industrial capital could merge as finance capital. In completing this process by World War I, Canada was already joining the imperialist powers, large and small, that entered that war in the interests of increasing its own sphere of interest rather than that of either Britain or the USA.

Critique of ‘New Imperialism’

The most common view of Canadian imperialism today is that it emerged in the post-World War 2 period. We argue that such a theory ignores Marx and Lenin in settling the question of the origins of finance capital. If Canada was not already imperialist by World War I on what basis could it emerge thereafter? Like the ‘left’ in Australia that speaks of a small, secondary, or sub-imperialist Australia, the method used to arrive at this conclusion is empiricist. It argues that Canada during the epoch of imperialism can make the transition from a ‘dependent’ or semi-colonial country and emerge as imperialist in a world already divided and fought over by imperialist powers in two Imperialist wars. In other words existing imperialist powers can step outside the laws which govern monopoly state capitalism to donate super-profits to dependent countries so they can accumulate some of these super-profits on their own account and even redistribute them as a ‘socialist’ policy as the ANC claims in South Africa.

This view of imperialism as ‘bad policy’ is the inverse of the dependency theorists who claim that Canada’s ‘deep integration’ in the US security state disqualifies its imperialist status. For example Gowans argues that Canada cannot be imperialist because it doesn’t have its own military independent of the US. Klassen rebuts this view but opts for the term ‘secondary’ imperialist, to acknowledge that Canada, like many other imperialist powers (for example Japan) is subordinated to hegemonic US imperialism. Yet Klassen cannot explain how the US has allowed Canada to escape a semi-colonial fate since World War 2 other than by voluntarily subsidising Canadian imperialism with US super-profits. Here is empiricism in all of its glory: selecting facts to fit a preordained political position without reference to the origins of finance capital in Canada before World War I.

Are we empiricists? No. Imperialism arose from the crises of overproduction and exported capital to restore the rate of profit. Before the epoch of imperialism proper began in the late 19th century, British imperialism as the dominant power by the mid-19th century had a colonial policy of state monopoly capitalism that prefigured global imperialism. State monopoly capitalism is parasitic and destructive in extracting surplus-value and resorts to war to partition the global market.

We argue that British imperialism retained finance capital control of its colonies and semi-colonies except in the case of Canada where an independent capitalist class arose out of the counter-revolution against the American Revolution. In the epoch of imperialism, no capitalist colony or semi-colony has been able to make the transition from semi-colony to imperialist power since the redivision of the world economy by the imperialist powers in 1918. There are states like Israel and South Korea where modern industry has developed large multinational firms in the aftermath of World War 2 in 1945, but this would not have been possible were it not for their status as heavily subsidised special security states defending the interests of US imperialism.

Canada born of the first imperialist crisis?

We have argued here that the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Canadian Imperialism can only be understood by applying the theory of Lenin on imperialism. Lenin’s theory of imperialism means that after World War 1, when existing imperialist powers re-partitioned the world into their respective spheres of influence, no new imperialist powers could emerge. The export of capital from the imperialist countries created dependent colonies or semi-colonies which could only escape colonial super-exploitation and oppression by permanent revolution. We argue that attempts to find ‘new imperialisms’, such as that of the British settler colonies such as Australia reject Lenin for ‘social imperialism’. This is the prevailing view of the post-World War 2 Mensheviks who think that imperialism is the ‘bad’ policy of imperialist ruling classes that can be reformed without overthrowing capitalism.

In Part One of this article we argued that New Zealand and South Africa are clearly semi-colonies in terms of the dominant share of super-profits expropriated by the major imperialist powers. Australia is less clear cut combining both rich semi-colonial and imperialist aspects. We have gone back to our original position on the balance of the evidence showing that Australia’s dependence on the US and China makes it a semi-colony. However this analysis has shortcomings because we have not gone back to Lenin to explain ‘how’ and ‘why’ Australia failed to qualify as imperialist by World War I. In that sense we were still arguing on the empiricists terrain.

In the case of Canada we started with Lenin’s theory as necessary to explain Canadian imperialism today. This means extrapolating back from the early 20th century to the early 19th century to look for the origins of Canadian finance capital. Canada as a British colony developed an industrial economy as part of the solution to Britain’s crisis of overproduction as the “industrial workshop of the world”. Britain’s export of capital to Canada was still merchant capital in the early 19th century, but became industrial capital when invested in the capitalist production of commodities in Canada. The Canadian ruling class oversaw the development of domestic capitalism and monopolised ownership and control of means of production, accumulating and concentrating banking and industrial capital as finance capital in its big banks and enterprises. That is why we think that it is possible to show that Canada was imperialist by World War I and so eliminate both the ‘dependency’ theories and the ‘new imperialist’ theories of the post-World War 2 period.

If this analysis is correct it strengthens our argument that we can extrapolate the character of monopoly capital back in time in the British settler states, and show why and how the US and Canada, though taking very different paths, became imperialist while the other settler colonies did not. It also gives us more confidence that we are correct in developing Lenin and Trotsky to explain the exceptional emergence of Russia and China, which won their economic independence by overthrowing the imperialist and national bourgeoisies, and despite the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism, inherited the conditions that made it necessary for their belated capitalist development to become imperialism.

First published on redrave blog

Written by raved

June 11, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized