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

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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)

** Total US Economic and Military Aid, 1948-2012. (Includes US loans but excludes estimates of the economic impact of the US military occupation.)

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

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U.S.A. became Imperialist, what about NZ, South Africa and Australia?

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Arising out of our analysis of the reasons for the emergence of China and Russia as new imperialist powers, a few other questions have arisen. If China and Russia can, why not Brazil, India, even South Africa? The answer is that semi-colonies cannot accumulate enough surplus value to become economically independent of existing imperialist powers. However, there may be one category of semi-colonies that could break out of this trap, or so some of the ‘left’ thinks. These are the European settler colonies. We think we can prove them wrong.

The epoch of imperialism arose in the late 19th century as the main European powers expanded beyond their borders to embark on colonial exploitation to escape the limits to capital accumulation. Marx in Vol 3 of Capital explained the need to find cheaper land, raw materials, and labour power to escape the limits of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF).

At the time Lenin wrote his pamphlet, Imperialism –The Highest Stage of Capitalism, in 1915 he envisaged a world economy in the process of being divided among all the imperialist powers into rival “spheres of interest”. Competition to expand further would mean more wars unless the workers of the world rose up and overthrow their imperialist ruling classes.

Given this battle to re-divide the world by the imperialist powers, none of the colonies would be able to break free of dependency upon imperialism short of socialist revolutions. Failing that, they would remain colonies, semi-colonies or ‘neo-colonies’. Their political independence was rendered inoperative because of their economic dependency.

European Settler Colonies

One category of colonies, European Settler colonies, may be the exception to this rule. They seem to have more real political sovereignty and control over the economy than other semi-colonies. Thus the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and Israel are often held up as countries that were able to make the transition from settler colony to imperialist powers (if relatively small), while the vast majority of colonies that were not settled by Europeans, remained trapped in neo-colonial dependency.

Yet if we look at these countries, only the US was able to become a major imperialist power. The fate of the others is less clear cut. The reason for this is that the US had a complete national revolution where it broke its ties of political and economic dependence on its former colonial master, Britain. It could impose tariffs on British goods and protect local manufacturers until they were big enough to compete. It also had a Civil War that eliminated the barriers of backward pre-capitalist modes of production.

All the other countries settled by Europeans, however, did not have wars of independence against their colonial masters (except in Latin America where the wars of independence fell short of economic independence from European capitalist powers). While they had a limited self-government that enabled them to protect their domestic economies, this was insufficient to prevent imperialism from retaining a large share of national surplus-value and limiting national capital accumulation. Nevertheless, some argue that they were sufficiently ‘decolonised’ in the 20th Century to achieve economic independence and become minor imperialist powers.

We can test the proposition that political ‘decolonisation’ in the 30 years between the Great Depression and end of the post war boom enabled the former settler colonies to resist economic ‘recolonisation’ during the neo-liberal years from the 1970s to the present. That is, to what extent did national economic development enable these countries to become sufficiently ‘independent’ so as to resist neo-liberal ‘recolonisation’?

We can test this fairly easily in the case of the weakest states, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. These settler colonies very early became part of an imperial division-of-labour where they produced raw materials for export and imported finished goods from the imperialist motherland. Tariff protection enabled a degree of domestic manufacturing but this always remained relatively limited mainly based on ‘branch plants’ owned by imperialist capital and financed by imperialist banks. In other words, the ‘decolonisation’ process was largely illusory as surplus value was siphoned off by imperialism leaving these countries relatively underdeveloped and economically dependent.

NZ, South Africa and Australia

There is no question that NZ was very quickly ‘recolonised’ from the early 1970s as domestic capital sought to modernise and compete internationally. The ‘neo-liberal’ counter-revolution during the Fourth Labour Government 1984-89, virtually destroyed the basis of economic protectionism built up over 40 years within 5 years.  

NZ’s Global Links gives a good picture of the surplus-value siphoned out of NZ by international finance capital. Ignoring this overwhelming evidence most of the left in NZ says that NZ is a small imperialist power on the basis of its predatory role in the South Pacific and historic high living standards.

In the case of South Africa, we have written about its dependence on imperialism, Anglo-American historically, but now increasingly that of China. We reject any notion that South Africa is imperialist by any conception.

Nor is it ‘sub-imperialist’ in the terms of the BRIC intelligentsia which adds to South Africa’s semi-colonial dependence, measure of ‘independence’ earned by a share of the surplus for performing a ‘subcontracted’ role as manager of imperialist affairs in the whole of Africa.

Australia, however, is viewed by many on the left as a minor imperialism. This includes ourselves (CWG NZ) since the 1990s. Australia’s protected manufacturing allowed a weak national bourgeois fraction to emerge, alongside the traditional pastoral and mining bourgeoisie. Australia was more resilient than NZ to neo-liberal deregulation as it was not dependent on protected manufacturing alone and could sustain growth in the late 80s and 90s due to its booming mining industry.

However, the neo-liberalisation of Australia under Hawke and Howard saw this national bourgeoisie largely swallowed up by international finance capital. And while NZ banks were all Australian owned, the big four Australian banks became controlled by HSBC, JPMorgan, Citigroup and BNP Paridas as the shareholders.

As one commentator puts it:
“Both commercial and mining companies’ ownership are dominated by HSBC Nominees, JP Morgan Nominees, and Citibank Nominees as the top three shareholders of most companies. If one examines company directorships there is a tight cross-linking across commerce, banking and mining in Australia today. Commerce, banking and mining are now part of an oligopoly.”

We conclude that Australia developed behind protectionist barriers for the period from the 1930s to 1980s yet failed to achieve economic independence. Its national bourgeoisie remained weak and dependent on international finance capital. The hallmark of imperialism is the TRPF and the over-accumulation of capital that must be exported to gain access to cheap land, raw materials and labour power.

Australia has failed to do this on its own account. Its national finance capital is dominated by EU, US and now also increasingly by Chinese finance capital. In the key growth sector of mining, the three largest “Australian” corporations, BHP Billiton is 75%, Rio Tinto 80%, and Xtrata 100% foreign owned. The monopoly rent from mining has therefore been largely siphoned off by international finance capital.

So the excess flow of FDI into Australia over OFDI flowing out of Australia reflects the dominant share of super-profits accruing to the international finance capital of the major banks and corporations. This dominance was demonstrated by the defeat of the Rudd Resource Super Profits tax that gifted $billions to the foreign owners of the mining industry.

The OECD says that Australian federal revenue from mining profits is the lowest in the world. The foreign shareholders get about half of the “value added”: “For every $100 in value added by the mining industry, state governments get $6 and employees get $20. This leaves a profit of $74. Of that amount, the federal government gets $14, foreign shareholders get $48, and Australian resident shareholders get $12.” It seems then that far from breaking out of semi-colonial dependency into mini-imperialism, Australia has been increasingly ‘taken over’ by international finance capital and Chinese monopolies.

Australia as “sub-imperialist”?

Various left groups call Australia small, minor, mini, regional, or junior imperialism. Their method is empirical in toting up the foreign investment figures and pointing to Australia’s ‘policing’ role in partnership with Britain or the US.

Ashley Lavelle, in “Who Owns Australia”, 2001, argues against the radical nationalist line that Australia is being taken over by foreign investors. Australia is an “advanced capitalist economy” as only 25% of Australian firms are owned and controlled by foreign capital. This means that the main enemy is not foreign capital, but the Australian ruling class. In the two main sectors of the economy we find 9% penetration in mining and 30% penetration in finance. Even in 2000 this is enough concentration of finance capital to dominate the Australian economy.

The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) joins the pack yapping at the economic nationalists heels. It claims that Australia is a “small, regional imperialist power”, a “junior partner of Washington” with its own “sphere of influence” such as Melanesia and East Timor.

Sandra Bloodworth of the International Socialist Organisation, writing in 2004, says Australia is a minor but “regional imperialist power”. Australia joined the war on terror in support of the USA and acted to fulfil its ‘regional’ policing role in the South Pacific, for example in the Solomon Islands. Australia profits from investments in this region, e.g. in Papua New Guinea mining and owns 50% of Fijian business. Another left group accuses Australia of mini-imperialism in exploiting and oppressing East Timor and seizing its oil resources in the Timor Sea.

Tom Bramble of Socialist Alternative writing in the Marxist Left Review, 2012, “Australian Imperialism and the rise of China” aligns himself with other left academics who speak of Australia and Canada as ‘secondary’ imperialisms. Bramble recognises the rise of imperialist China has major consequences for Australian trade and its relationship with the US. But China has been imperialist for some time according to the state capitalists like Bramble.

Yet Australia’s dependence on the US and increasingly China, does not cause him to challenge the prevailing Australian Cliffite (state capitalist) and DSP view on Australian junior imperialism. He does not question Australia’s obvious subordinate role to UK and US finance capital and as an exporter of minerals to China. He fails to register the significance that the Australian mining industry is largely foreign owned, increasingly favouring China. Or that Australia’s regional policing role has been overtaken by its integration under Gillard and Abbott as a forward base for the US military.

The Northite ICFI (WSWS) writing in 2014 sees Australia as imperialist despite its political subservience to US imperialism. WSWS argues that after the Global Financial Crisis and the 2010 ‘coup’ to remove Labour Prime Minister Rudd (because he was in favour of US and China friendship and the resource tax), Australia has been drawn completely into the US “pivot to Asia”.

The Abbott Gov’t is even closer to the US. The result is Australia coming under direct domination by the US dictating a militarist foreign policy and an austerity domestic policy which it calls a ‘counter-revolution’. The Shorten Labor Party is also committed to war and austerity. But for the WSWS Russia and China are not imperialist, and Australia despite its dependence on the US remains a minor imperialist power.

It’s clear that while the case made for Australia’s economic independence is very weak, most of the left regard Australia as a junior partner of US capital on the strength of its imperialist policing role. Therefore, we can file the various labels for Australian minor imperialism under ‘sub-imperialist’ which is the vogue term on the BRIC left to mean a minor power that serves imperialism and is paid in a share of the subcontracted colonial tribute.

We have argued that the label “sub-imperialist” is meaningless since it represents a distributional definition of oppression which looks at shareholdings on stock markets and living standards but ignores the fundamental reality that the bulk of surplus-value produced is expropriated by international finance capital at its source, even if some of it flows back as kickbacks to the Australian capitalist class. A good example of a kickback for Australia’s military bloc with the US is Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton licence to mine public land in the US.

Reviewing the evidence of ‘takeover’ we think that we were wrong to get taken in by the flash statistics of economic independence when foreign ownership of the key economic sectors has always been British and increasingly US. With China being welcomed to buy up more mining interests and privatised state assets by the Rudd Government it seems that Australia’s economic dependence must increase. While some of the ‘left’ have noted the growing influence of China and US, this influence is not taken to its logical conclusion.

Australia’s political sovereignty is up for sale with the US FTA and the impending TPPA. China now has a FTA with Australia and is moving to invest heavily. Australia’s independent ‘policing’ role has been overtaken by US bases in Darwin and subordinated to RIMPAC in the military containment of China. It is the sausage in the sandwich as the hegemonic US and the rapidly rising China flex their muscles to contest control of the Asia Pacific region.

Our conclusion is that for all Australia’s so-called “sub-imperialist” role as South Pacific “police” of Britain and US has always been a form of dependency and is now clearly exposed by the growing rivalry between China and US imperialism. Even hard bitten liberal journos can see that this rips the Australian political elite apart as its ruling class tries to serve two imperialist masters at the same time.

The political consequences of this reality are that Australian workers have the task of kicking out their own ruling class that acts as a client of the US and China, to take the leadership of the struggle to win national independence from both US and Chinese imperialism, and create a Socialist Republic of Australia within a Socialist United States of Asia Pacific! 

To be Continued: The USA and Canada

Written by raved

June 11, 2015 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Russia, China, and the Unfinished Permanent Revolution

with one comment

Facing a chronic global crisis of capitalism and intensifying inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and China blocs, the most urgent task facing revolutionaries today is to provide program for a new Trotskyist international that can lead workers in the struggle to defeat nationalism and imperialism and to the victorious socialist revolution. At a public meeting in London on 11 April 2015 the question of Russia and China as imperialist powers is being debated by the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International (LCFI) and the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT). We of the Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC) argue that the centrist method of both tendencies cannot provide the answers workers need. We argue that both the LCFI and RCIT revise Lenin on imperialism and nationalism. In summary, both turn Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution into a petty bourgeois program adapting to bourgeois democracy.

Centrism and Social Imperialism

Centrism as we understand it is a tendency on the revolutionary left that vacillates between the Marxist program and opportunist adaptation to the bourgeoisie. It functions to divert workers from revolutionary consciousness and action. In our view the material roots of post-war centrism in the Trotskyist movement are the petty bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries. This is what we define as social imperialism. While it originates in the imperialist countries, it becomes expressed in the semi-colonies as national Trotskyism. Social Imperialism is fundamentally the political program of the imperialist labour aristocracy adapting to imperialism on the material basis of relatively privileged living standards. National Trotskyism is the reverse side of this coin, the political program of the semi-colonial petty bourgeoisie who adapt to bourgeois nationalism on the basis of material rewards flowing from the defence of the popular front regimes.

As Trotsky lamented in the years just before his death, the crisis of Marxism was reflected in the abandonment of dialectics, and its substitution by empiricism and pragmatism. These latter are idealist philosophies that reflect the surface reality of capitalism, the alienated exchange relations which in the imperialist countries are expressed as relatively high living standards. Both the LCFI and RCIT originated in tendencies that broke from Trotsky’s dialectic method as a result of their materialist roots in the imperialist petty bourgeoisie. Neither tendency has recognised nor completely broken with these historic roots as we will show.

In the case of Socialist Fight, its roots are in the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) under Healy. In reacting against Pabloism which liquidated the party into Stalinism, Healy liquidated the proletarian party into social democracy in the imperialist countries, and the radical parties of the national bourgeoisie in the semi-colonies. While the Pabloites adapted to the labour bureaucracy oriented to the Soviet Union, the Healyites adapted to the anti-communist Labour Parties and anti-communist ‘Third World’ populist leaders.

Below we show that Socialist Fight’s program today represents this particular brand of social imperialism, adapting to Bonapartist dictators such as Gaddafi, Assad and Putin as the enemies of US imperialism. It subordinates workers to Anti-imperialist United Fronts (AIUF) with bourgeois leaders in league with imperialism.[i] It is even worse when it regards Russia and China as oppressed states (semi-colonies or sub-imperialist) and calls for an AIUF against US imperialism! This for us explains why the LCIF social imperialist method continues to reinforce national Trotskyism upon the Latin American members of the LCFI and the Parity Committee so that popular front regimes like that of the PT in Brazil are defended as part of an AIUF with Russia and China against US imperialism.

In the case of the Austrian Revolutionary Communist Organisation for Liberation (RKOB) the mother section of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), its historical roots were in a factional split from the state capitalist Cliffite tendency in Britain in 1975. In summary, our position is that the factional split with the Cliffites in 1975 which led to the formation of the LRCI in 1989 was an incomplete break with Cliffism. Its programmatic statement on the workers states The Degenerated Revolution in 1982 defined degenerated workers states as a “dual state” with workers property relations in contradiction with bourgeois norms of distribution which were the basis of the bureaucracy’s privileges.

This meant that when put to the test by Yeltsin in 1991, the League for the Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) backed bourgeois democracy represented by Yeltsin against the Stalinist dictatorship opposed to Yeltsin. According to The Degenerated Revolution, political revolution was a struggle against the bureaucracy’s defence of bourgeois distribution relations leading to overthrow of workers production relations. Under the pressure of imperialist public opinion against the Stalinist bureaucracy the LRCI blocked with the pro-imperialist restorationist Yeltsin against the Stalinist military command instead of blocking with workers in the defence of workers property against both Yeltsin and the military.[ii]

While coming from different traditions, in breaking from Trotskyism and the transitional (or dialectic) method, both tendencies, in adapting to social imperialism, end up in the camp of imperialism. This is evident because the revolutionary agency of the working class is always subordinated to the petty bourgeois program. It is always conditioned by the mechanistic or schematic method of the popular front in which sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie guide workers through the struggles for bourgeois democracy, in particular national self-determination. For both tendencies national self-determination as a bourgeois democratic right is always ‘progressive’ even if it is a counter-revolutionary ‘democratic dictatorship’ of imperialism.

National Self-Determination

We see social imperialist adaptation as a fundamental break from permanent revolution which states that in the epoch of imperialism bourgeois democratic rights can only be won and defended by proletarian revolution – that is by ‘workers’ democracy’. In other words the democratic revolution in the epoch of imperialism can no longer be spoken of as the ‘bourgeois national democratic’ revolution. The formation of new capitalist nation states can only serve the interests of bourgeois imperialism and the unfinished tasks of that revolution cannot be realised other than by the proletarian revolution.[iii]

So the LCFI regarded Gaddafi’s rule in Libya as a genuine expression of self-determination against imperialism despite Gaddafi’s role in serving US imperialism and emerging Chinese imperialism. The LCFI denied the agency of the rebels fighting Gaddafi as an agent of imperialism by painting them as CIA agents or jihadists. Today the rebels are fighting both the US puppet Hefter and the newly branded Islamic State (IS) in Libya. The logic of this has escaped the LCFI because it cannot imagine that Arab and other masses in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are capable of carrying through permanent revolution against both imperialism and against the reactionary Islamic jihadists who are the agents of imperialism. One key aspect of social imperialism is its Eurocentrism, expressed today as Islamophobia.

The RCIT was on the right side in Libya in supporting the revolutionary agency of the rebels. They called for the defense of Gaddafi from NATO, like the LCFI, but did not call for the rebels to form an AIUF with Gaddafi against NATO, unlike the LCFI, since Gaddafi was attacking the revolution. Only the revolutionary brigades can open the permanent revolution against both imperialism and its national dictator. Like the LCC they called for the revolution to fight on two fronts, against Gaddafi, and against NATO and its stooge the National Transitional Council. The permanent revolution has since stalled in Libya but so has imperialism which is unable to defeat the resistance and find a new bourgeois regime that can replace Gaddafi. This stalemate can only be overcome and the permanent revolution completed in Libya with the revival of the Arab revolution led by the workers’ and poor peasants’ armed resistance in Syria and Palestine, supported by internationalist workers.

However, the RCIT’s slavish application of the bourgeois democratic schema as progressive can be seen in Egypt when the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dismissed the Muslim Brotherhood, elected to power on a reactionary constitution that defended the military regime. The Muslim Brotherhood was a weak Islamic bourgeoisie of the bazaar seeking to replace the dominant military fraction. The RCIT called this dispute between two fractions of the bourgeoisie a coup against ‘bourgeois democracy’ and an ‘historic defeat’ for the working class when the election of the Muslim Brotherhood did nothing to advance the interests of the working class. This was proven by the millions of workers who marched against it. Such ‘bourgeois democracy’ was in reality a reactionary bourgeois regime seeking to appease imperialism and imposing a theocratic barrier to revolution. Its removal meant that the SCAF was now seen openly as the power base behind the Mubarak regime and that it had always been the dominant fraction of the national bourgeoisie.

What the national revolution in MENA proves beyond question is that democratic rights are only in the interest of the working class if they actually advance the struggle for proletarian revolution. In the current crisis of imperialism there is no bourgeois democratic halfway house that workers must defend since the very act of doing so is to take the side of the counter-revolution. The same applies to the semi-colonial struggles elsewhere in the world. We will concentrate here on the struggles in Latin America since in this continent, in our view, Trotskyism is in a much stronger position against Stalinism and Social Democracy than in Asia and Africa. The barrier to revolution on this continent is renegade Trotskyism!

Latin America

In Latin America the permanent revolution was subordinated to national self-determination. The fate of permanent revolution can be captured in one word – populism. The impact of the social imperialism on the 4th International after Trotsky’s death was to abandon permanent revolution and lock ‘national Trotskyism’ into the left wing of the popular front. The IEC sent SWP member Sherry Mangan to Argentina in 1941 to unify the different Trotskyists groups. He succeeded in creating a united organisation but his ‘eclectic’ method of downplaying national oppression as a ‘secondary question’ only confused the understanding of the program of permanent revolution. The Argentine Trotskyists continued to be split between those reducing the national question to socialist revolution, and those succumbing to national Trotskyism and joining popular fronts with bourgeois nationalists like Peron.[iv] This explains why most Latin American Trotskyists put the national struggle against US imperialism before class politics. In one country after another, the working class has entered popular fronts with alien classes to fight imperialism, inevitably facing defeat at the hands of military, usually inspired or backed by the US. The Trotskyist program of the working class leading the struggle for national independence requires class independence from those classes that are in alliance with imperialism.

Most of the Latin American tendencies remain more or less trapped in national Trotskyism insofar as the main enemy is not capitalism but the United States. We discovered this first hand in the internal fight we had in the Fraccion Leninista Trotskista Internacional (FLTI) in 2009-10 over the question of Chinese imperialism. While we proved that China was accumulating capital despite its semi-colonial exploitation by the established imperialist powers we could not convince the FLTI that it was possible for an ex-workers state to become imperialist. We put this down to the incomplete break of the FLTI in its founding section the Democracia Obrera (LOI-CI) of Argentina with the national Trotskyism of Moreno. This was the inverted social imperialism of US pseudo Trotskyism which presents a unipolar world in which US hegemony is an insuperable barrier to semi-colonies emerging as rival imperialist powers.

We can see why it is easy for the LCFI to form a Liaison Committee with groups that see the world as dominated by only one imperialist power, and are blinded to the huge impact that Russian and Chinese imperialism is having on Latin America, in particular the restoration of capitalism in Cuba. The LCFI continues the tradition of social imperialism in ‘colonising’ Latin American groups that adapt the semi-Pabloite version of the AIUF in which a section of the semi-colonial national bourgeoisie is defended as the ‘lesser evil’ against US imperialism. Permanent Revolution for these groups means an alliance with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie and running left cover for the popular front.

LCFI in Latin America

The LCFI has recently formed a Parity Committee (PACO) with a number of left groups in Brazil. The LCFI plays the leading role as its positions on Libya, Syria, Ukraine, etc., are adopted by the PACO. We are proposing here that the social imperialism of the LCFI is finding a corresponding echo in the incomplete break with national Trotskyism of these groups. Let us quote the Coletivo Lenin (CL) on the members of the PACO who are now producing a common journal. We will then run through the positions on the important questions that relate to permanent revolution vs national Trotskyism.

“The FDT, Press organ until then the comrades of the Communist League, comes to 22 and five years of existence, it is now journal Joint Committee, an international alliance of organizations and militant communist workers, composed of the Communist League, Lenin Collective, Resistance Revolutionary People, Marxist space and also by the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International, which comprises the Socialist Fight (Socialist Struggle), the UK, and the Militant Tendency Bolshevik, Argentina.”
The Communist League is a founding member with Socialist Fight of the LCFI. It leads the PACO in Latin America. The statement put out by the PACO on the mobilisation of the March 15th pro-coup demonstration against the PT states:

“As signaled since 2014, there is a coup movement in all Latin American countries that make up commercial and political alliance with the Russian-Chinese bloc. The Yankee and European imperialism are on the offensive over the resumption of spheres of influence and territory lost in the 2008-2009 crisis to the Eurasian block; and to resume its market positions and prevent the political and economic rise of China, has been focusing on manufacturing coup d’états and civil wars, as seen in Ukraine, Middle East, Paraguay and Honduras. In this context, the coup in Brazil would be a way to resume the geopolitical space in Latin America.”

We can see here clearly that the PACO is endorsing the line of the LCFI that Russia and China are sub-imperialist states, yet at the same time the US and EU is prepared to unleash coup d’états to regain “spheres of interest and territory lost …to the Eurasian bloc.” With the current threats of coups in Venezuela and Brazil we can see how easily the default position of social imperialism and national Trotskyism pressures workers back into supporting the popular front.

But how does imperialism lose spheres of interest to the “Eurasian bloc” without Russia and China emerging as imperialist rivals?
The short answer from the LCFI seems to be that the threat to the US is not coming from newly emerging imperialist states, but a global anti-imperialist bloc of states commonly referred to as the BRICS but clearly centred on the “Eurasian Bloc” of Russia and China. The US is determined to impose its hegemony totally in the spheres where this bloc has some influence. Politically, since the leading BRICS are “sub-imperialist” they must be defended against the US bloc. This leads to a position of defense of Russia and China in wars with the US – the basic LCFI line.

This global AIUF leads to a return to national Trotskyist popular front politics nationally as a ‘lesser evil’ to US imperialism. This is confirmed by the Joint Statement of the Communist League (LCFI) and Coletivo Lenin (PACO) calling for a vote for the PT in the second round of the Presidential Elections. The LCFI justified this position in a recent article about the defection of one of its members, Laurence Humphries, to the RCIT:

“Laurence’s final complaint is that the Liga Comunista and the Coletivo Lenin (whom he does not mention) advocated a vote for Dilma Rousseff, the Workers Party leader, against Aécio Neves in the Presidential election and the RCIT man in Brazil wanted us to cast a null vote. Considering that the masses would have faced a direct agent of US imperialism if Neves had won as opposed to a victory for Dilma which maintained at least a measure of national independence and defence of workers’ rights (as in the Yeltsin, Putin dichotomy above) it is criminally irresponsible not to take the principled anti-imperialist united front stance that they did.”

Furthermore, on the question of the threatened coup d’état, the PACO statement calling for mobilising on the streets on March 13th (against March 15th) says the power of workers in the streets is necessary because the PT and PCdoB Government do not have the power to resist further austerity or to defeat a coup. There is no statement that in this ‘united front’ against a coup d’état revolutionaries have a duty to condemn the popular front for trapping workers in parliament and preparing the way for fascism. For example it accuses the fake left of Unified Socialist Workers Party (PSTU), Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL,) etc. for a ‘political error’ in its ‘third way’ policy of abstaining from the March 13th protest against the coup. Yet in protesting the coup threat it fails to call on those with illusions in the PT to demand that it break from the popular front. It is waiting for the “conditions to mature” for those with illusions in the “bourgeois and manipulative” policies of the government to break from the PT. The danger is that “mature conditions” may not arrive before the popular front death trap springs on the workers. Thus the popular front is depicted as the ‘lesser evil’ and not a trap that must be ‘sprung’ by the proletariat before it can be snap shut by a fascist coup d’état.

How is it that other groups have joined the LCFI in the PACO around this line which adapts to the popular front? Let’s take the example of the Coletivo Lenin which began its life in 2007 with the Manifesto of the Collective Luiza Mahim. It became the Coletivo Lenin in 2009 when it produced a program under the influence of the IBT.[v] The Coletivo Lenin’s new program (2011 to today) reflects a break from the IBT’s ultra-left position on the national question but runs the risk of an opportunist swing back to national Trotskyism. As we have seen the concept of “sub-imperialism” extended from Brazil, India, etc., to Russia and China by the LCFI means calls for revolutionary defence of the BRICS in wars with US imperialism.

This leads to an adaptation to the popular front at home in defence of BRICS and/or Bolivarian ‘socialism’. Thus as noted above, the Coletivo Lenin advocated a vote for the PT in the second round because it was the lesser evil to the Brazilian right backed by the US against the BRICS and Bolivarian bloc. We conclude that because Coletivo Lenin refuses to accept the reality that Russia and China are, or can be, imperialist rivals to the US led bloc, the LCFI is continuing to ‘colonise’ Latin American comrades as national Trotskyists – today in a worldwide popular front with the BRICS bloc against US imperialist hegemony. The LCC began its existence in a split with the FLTI precisely over this question in 2009/10 and we have continued to argue that unless Latin American comrades recognise Russia and China as imperialist, they will remain trapped in national Trotskyism as the subordinate inversion of pseudo Trotskyist social imperialism.

RCIT in Latin America

In Latin America what we see is the method of the LRCI/LFI inherited by the RCIT. We argued above that this semi-Cliffite method fetishises ‘bourgeois democracy’ so that the concept of permanent revolution becomes stageist in practice. It defends popular front parties against military dictatorship in Egypt and Thailand. The workers must go through the democratic stage in preparation for the socialist stage. The Workers States still have a ‘dual state’ state form of bourgeois distribution relations on top of workers property! Therefore political revolution in defence of workers property requires the overthrow of Stalinism by bourgeois democracy! The LRCI held that the counter-revolution was not complete in the ‘Moribund’ workers states until workers property was replaced by capitalist market relations. Imperialism bombs Yugoslavia and creates new nation states in Bosnia and Kosovo!

This is social imperialism. The workers lead the fight against feudalism and imperialism but they do so by reproducing the fetishised social relations of bourgeois democracy as a precondition for socialist revolution.

We define ‘democracy’ today as concerned only with ‘workers democracy’. Lenin talked of the epoch of the bourgeois ‘national democratic’ revolution as the formation of states unifying national markets. In the epoch of imperialism where monopoly capital dominates, nations and the ideology of nationalism are reactionary forces that divide the international proletariat. National oppression in the imperialist epoch has only one historic solution, the socialist republic within a world-wide union of socialist republics. This was the goal of the Bolsheviks before the Russian Revolution was isolated and bureaucratised. It was the program of the healthy Fourth International while Trotsky lived. Unconditional defence of the Soviet Union as part of the world revolution would usher in the epoch of the ‘international proletarian revolution’.

In Latin America the RCIT method is for the AIUF against the US bloc and the Russia/China bloc against the default national Trotskyists position of a continental popular front with the Bolivarians and the BRICS against US imperialism. However, because of its social imperialist method of fetishising bourgeois democracy, the RCIT is pressured to adapt to the national Trotskyist popular front. So in its recent statement on the threatened coup d’état the RCIT Brazilian section did not call for opposition to the coup to defend bourgeois democracy to advance workers democracy.

Revolutionaries had to call for workers to mobilise against the coup, and against the popular front government. The clarion call of Trotsky in the Transitional Program was “break with the bourgeoisie!” The only way for workers to take advantage of bourgeois parliament in the epoch of imperialism is to use it as a revolutionary forum to break reformist workers from bourgeois parliament. This cannot be done while reformist parties are part of popular fronts with the bourgeoisie. There is no way to smash fascism without breaking workers from the popular front that strangles the workers struggle against fascism. This cannot be done in stages, first defending bourgeois democracy against the coup, and then second, smashing the popular front.

According to the RCIT:

“For workers, what is of least importance is the supposedly democratic formality; but what is essential for them is the political struggle and the class interests hiding behind appearances. From this perspective, what is at stake here and now is the replacement of a reformist Popular Front government with a government of bourgeois sectors most directly linked to the US and European imperialism. Thus, these sectors are, by their very nature, freer to abrogate more workers’ rights than the PT could possibly do. Among the objectives of the more right-wing sector are to: increase the profits from surplus value; lower workers’ pensions; privatize the only still partially state-owned banks (Bank of Brazil and Caixa Economica); lower the measly minimum wage of just 300 dollars; increase privatization of oil reserves in Pré-Sal Petróleo and consequently fully privatize Petrobras; deepen the anti-worker reforms of social security; cancel the major- and medium-importance rights achieved by organized labor (such as abolishing or decreasing the thirteenth salary paid in December as a Christmas bonus, unemployment insurance, maternity leave, etc.).”[Our Emphasis]

While the RCIT calls for independent workers mobilisation without giving any “political support” to the Government or appealing to the institutions of the state it does not insist that workers break from the popular front to build their independent struggle. It states that workers cannot remain neutral in a fight between the popular front and a right wing coup on the basis that the popular front is the ‘lesser evil’ because the program of the rightwing coup would be much worse than that of the austerity attacks of the Government on workers. Workers therefore must form a “united front” within an AIUF (actually ‘popular front’ of the Bolivarians and BRICS against US imperialism) against a coup before they can free themselves from the PT bloc and break with the bourgeoisie!

This position breaks with Trotsky’s permanent revolution where workers fight independently to defeat both imperialism and the treacherous national bourgeoisie that acts as its agent. The weapons of workers facing an imperialist backed coup are the workers councils, militias, the general strike and the insurrection. A military bloc with a popular front government against a right wing coup such as the Provisional Government in Russia 1917 must be based on the armed independence of the soviets only for the purpose of breaking the popular front because it was a death trap not merely a ‘lesser evil’.[vi]

Thus at the same time it is adapting to the practical defence of a “reformist popular front”, the RCIT tries to theoretically break the popular front by convincing Latin American comrades that Russia and China are imperialist powers. This is difficult, as the almost universal objection is that Russia and China are not, and cannot become, imperialist. Following Lenin they say that in the epoch of imperialism, no semi-colony can become imperialist. Today they now generalise that position in a non-Leninist fashion to include former workers states which have been defeated and restored as capitalist semi-colonies, or have perhaps become ‘sub-imperialist’ at most.

In a recent exchange with the Corriente Socialista Revolucionaria – El Topo Obrero -CSR (Venezuela) and Partido de la Causa Obrera PCO (Argentina) the RCIT argued the evidence that Russia and China were imperialist, and that there was no universal law against capitalist semi-colonies becoming imperialist. There were special conditions under which Russia and China were able to make a transition from former workers states to new imperialist state, but this was nothing exceptional. We commented on the RCIT letter:

…the argument loses clarity and force when you try to show that any country under special circumstances can become imperialist. This has the effect of over-riding the lawful necessity that a country must be ‘independent’ from imperialism to emerge as a new imperialist country. Of course ‘independence’ must mean ‘economic independence’ from semi-colonial exploitation. This is the sticking point for the LA [Ed.: Latin American] comrades who see that Japan was always independent and the other countries who were not, like the US had to fight wars of national liberation, or emerged like Norway and Czechoslovakia as small imperialists as fallout from the re-partition of the imperialist world then under way. But since WW1 no oppressed country has become imperialist except via the sui generis route of Russia and China.

The LA [Ed.: Latin American] comrades are correct therefore to say that with the onset of the imperialist epoch when the world is divided that countries without economic independence can only become so via permanent revolution. And this is our strongest argument. Since in both Russia and China the bourgeoisie was overthrown and independence from imperialism won (albeit that was not the Maoist’s intention) and this independence was not sacrificed by the capitalist counter-revolution.” [Personal communication]

In other words the Leninist theoretical objection of the comrades of the CSR and PCO (and also of the FLTI who made the same argument against us in 2009) is correct, that once the world economy is divided between imperialist powers, there is no prospect that any colony or semi-colony can break out of its dependent status except through permanent revolution. The last time any new imperialist powers emerged was during WW1 as the result of the military re-partitioning of the world. Japan was already imperialist before the war and increased its sphere of interest as a result of the war while Czechoslovakia declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, both as allies of the victorious imperialist powers.

The RCIT is therefore wrong to deduce that new imperialist powers could emerge since WW1 on the basis of:

“…an important shift in the production of capitalist value from the old imperialist countries of the North to the South. We have seen the economic as well as political and military decline of the leading imperialist power, the US, as well as that of Japan and the EU. Under such conditions, is it so surprising that new imperialist powers emerge and fill the void?”

This is fundamentally wrong on two counts. First, the shift in value production from North to South in the post WW2 period is a totally non-Marxist and non-Leninist conception of the world economy. This ignores that from the onset of the imperialist epoch value production in the ‘South’ was and still is largely owned by the finance capital of the ‘old’ imperialist powers of the ‘North’. Second, with the concentration and centralisation of capital in this epoch, it does not follow that the decline of some existing imperialist powers must call forth new ones. The imperialist powers will contest one another and the pecking order will change during and after wars, but no new imperialist powers have made the transition from capitalist semi-colony since WW1. We have argued this is the reason that the so-called ‘sub-imperialist’ powers in the BRICS such as India, Brazil and South Africa can never be more than privileged semi-colonies.

The point being missed here is that imperialism sets up relations between oppressor and oppressed states and that the extraction of super-profits does not allow the oppressed states to accumulate sufficient value to conduct anti-imperialist wars to assert their economic independence from the oppressor states except by means of permanent revolution.

Therefore, the rise of China and Russia as new imperialist powers does not break the rule of permanent revolution –it proves the rule! It is consistent with what Lenin and Trotsky wrote about both imperialism and workers states. Thus the Latin American comrades (not only them!) will only be convinced of this if they can be shown that Russia and China have become imperialist powers precisely because they opened the permanent revolution, through wars of independence from imperialism, and the overthrow of the national bourgeoisie to become ‘workers states’, albeit with incomplete permanent revolutions. The degeneration of the Russian revolution and the creation of bureaucratically degenerated states at birth after WW2 halted the permanent revolution, preventing it from completing its task of building healthy workers states. The failure to complete the permanent revolution led directly to the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism.

Russian and Chinese imperialism

The position of the LCFI on Russia and China is that they are sub-imperialist and must be defended against the US imperialist bloc. If you read the article by Socialist Fight on Russia it’s clear that it falls back on empirical evidence of who owns the flows of surplus value in and out of Russia. Its argument is that Russia (and by extension China) has not accumulated sufficient capital to require massive export of capital because US finance capital dominates these economies. This is a bald reference to Lenin’s theory where export of capital is the key feature of imperialism. On the other hand for the RCIT, Russia and China are imperialist on the same criteria, because Russian and Chinese state capitalism dominates the economy, not US finance capital. And, moreover, there is nothing stopping other states from following Russia and China providing the necessary conditions are present.

By the same token there is nothing in the LCFI method to prevent Russia and China becoming imperialist if the facts of ownership of surplus value change. It seems that the LCFI shares a similar analysis with the RCIT despite disagreeing over the results. Nations can become imperialist if conditions allow an over-accumulation and export of capital. The fact that they disagree on their conclusions come down to which empirical facts they select as critical in the outcome. This empiricist method is a feature of petty bourgeois Marxism and ignores the deeper dialectic and transitional method of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

Most importantly they are empiricist readings of Lenin’s theory of imperialism. We will show here how Lenin’s theory, correctly understood, allows us to claim that new imperialist countries cannot arise unless they have been able to escape the semi-colonial oppression of the existing imperialist countries to become economically independent. We will then prove that it is consistent with Lenin’s theory that only countries that have been able to meet those conditions since the First Imperialist War (WW1) are those that went through permanent revolution to become workers states.

In his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin drew heavily on Marx to theorise the transition from competitive capitalism to the epoch of imperialism in which the major developed capitalist economies were forced to counter the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF) by exporting capital to the colonial and semi-colonial world. This created a new form of state monopoly capitalism – or imperialism –that was parasitic upon the world economy growing at the expense of other nations, creating relations of dominance between oppressor and oppressed states, and ultimately acting to destroy the forces of production in depressions and wars.

This was the ‘iron law’ of Capital’s unwritten volumes on international relations and the world market as summarised as a “popular outline” 50 years later by Lenin. By this point, imperialism could only cannibalise itself through economic and military wars so that the oppressor states grew more centralised and concentrated and the oppressed states grew relatively weaker and deprived. The question of whether oppressed states could become imperialist therefore did not arise. The divided capitalist world could be re-divided but only among the strong, never the weak. Unless, of course, permanent revolutions forced the ‘redivision’ of the capitalist world by the creation of a socialist “sphere of influence.”

As we know, victorious socialist revolutions did overthrow the national bourgeoisies and break from imperialist economic control though not from imperialist political and economic encirclement and warfare. Isolated from the world market and the law of value, the workers states developed the forces of production beyond that possible for capitalist semi-colonies. However, because the workers states were forced to rely on their own resources and the resulting bureaucratic caste failed to plan efficiently, they did not develop the forces of production to the level possible with workers control of the socialist plans. Economic stagnation forced the parasitic caste to reintroduce the market and restore capitalism. But conversion of the bureaucracy into a state capitalist class did not allow Western imperialism to overturn all the gains of the workers state. Despite opening up to imperialist finance capital the ‘red bourgeoisie’ retained control over the economy and took advantage of investment and new technology to launch domestic capitalist production.

Thus there was no re-colonisation of the ex-Workers States to force them back to semi-colonial status. Not because like Russia they were never colonies, or were imperialist before the revolution, or like both Russia and China inherited strong centralised states and dominated former soviet republics or internal colonies, or because of the decline of the US, and so on. None of these conditions (or all of them together) is sufficient to allow new imperialist powers to emerge. They could equally have created the perfect conditions for the parasitic re-colonisation and breaking up of the former workers states by the existing imperialist powers! This indeed was the imperialists’ goal in numerous wars, hot and cold, to defeat the workers states from the 1917 Revolution until their collapse in the 1990s. And they succeeded with a vengeance in the former Yugoslavia.

No. The necessary condition was and is the unfinished permanent revolution that broke from imperialism to create a socialist ‘sphere of interest’ but which could not prevent the bureaucracy from staging a counter-revolution and turning itself into a class of state capitalists to exploit the developed forces of production (raw materials, technology, labour, etc.,) under the law of value and compete successfully in the world market. Now functioning as independent capitalist countries the accumulation of capital unleashed the laws of capitalist development including the over-accumulation of capital that required capital export and the emergence of new imperialist powers.


It is our view that the conditions that led to the emergence of Russia and China as new imperialist powers in the last two decades are consistent with Lenin’s analysis of imperialism 100 years ago. Lenin’s method was that of Marx’s Capital, completing the unfinished volumes made concrete in the heat of the First Imperialist War. Second, it is consistent with the fact that the Russian Revolution opened the revolutionary 20th century, ‘repartitioning’ the world economy by opening the permanent revolution, and creating a ‘Soviet’ sphere of influence. The ‘economic independence’ of the workers states that followed during the 20th century allowed them to survive the counter-revolutionary defeat of capitalist restoration so that the new bourgeoisies were able to transform Russia and China into new imperialist powers forming a counter-hegemonic bloc to the US hegemonic bloc. To repeat, not as a bloc of semi-colonies and sub-imperialist states that are a progressive alternative to US imperialism, but a rival imperialist bloc that in challenging US hegemony, conditions the course of revolution and counter-revolutionary struggles today.

The unfinished permanent revolution that succumbed to capitalist counter-revolution must be reopened on the basis of the historic gains that were not destroyed. In the workers states the forces of production leapt beyond those of capitalist semi-colonies before being halted by bureaucratically planned stagnation and the capitalist counter-revolution. The gains of the new forces of production have been forced back into the shell of the old decrepit capitalist relations driving an explosive contradiction today manifested in the heating up of the global rivalry between the two major imperialist blocs.

Permanent revolution against imperialism today must be led by the international proletariat capable of making the revolution to smash the imperialist powers and create a united states of socialist republics of the world. In the process our most important task is the formation of a new Leninist Trotskyist international that revives the dialectic method and program of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and eliminates the barriers of social imperialism and national Trotskyism and so advances to the victorious socialist revolution! Back to dialectics! Break with social imperialism and national Trotskyism!

March, 2015

Liaison Committee of Communists


[i] The Fourth Congress interpreted the AIUF as a temporary military alliance between communists and ‘national-revolutionary’ (bourgeois) forces in the colonies and semi-colonies. Trotsky argued that ‘national-revolutionary’ forces could include national dictators or fascists, provided they were in a military struggle against imperialism. However, to call for an AIUF with Gaddafi when he was attacking the popular revolution and appealing for peace with imperialism is a criminal travesty of revolutionary communism.

[ii] As we have been at pains to point out to the RCIT for some years now, this flaw in its method is reproduced in its program today. While revolutionary workers defend bourgeois democratic rights they do so only when that defence advances the interests of the socialist revolution. Yet the RCIT has a tendency to turn the permanent revolution into a slavish defence of bourgeois democratic rights, when that defence is clearly not in the interests of workers but serves the bourgeois counter-revolution. Defending bourgeois democracy against the Stalinist military was not an unconditional defence of workers property in Soviet Russia, nor in Yugoslavia. Today the RCIT regards Bosnia and Kosovo as expressing the national rights of national minorities when in reality these ‘nations’ were the creations of imperialism (NATO and the UN) in the enforced break-up of Yugoslavia. Here the Leninist support for national self-determination is turned on its head as the support for the creation of new NATO capitalist protectorates! (See the LCC letter to RCIT of June 2012)

[iii] Lenin’s position on the National Question was a tactic to break workers from nationalism to socialism. National oppression is a reality that must be overthrown on the way to socialism. Revolutionaries must defend the right to national self-determination to prove to nationally oppressed workers that national oppression is ultimately class oppression. It is a democratic demand in the Transitional Program that can only be realised by Permanent Revolution.

[iv] A similar thing happened in Indo-China when the IEC during WW2 did not insist that the Trotskyists break with the Stalinists and their popular front politics. The revolution would only happen in the colonies or semi-colonies if it first went through a democratic national revolution in which the Stalinist model of the ‘bloc of four classes’ would ensure a break from imperialism. The lesson of China where the proletarian vanguard was destroyed by the Kuomintang was lost. One could adapt to this Stalinist stageism by either tailing the Stalinists or by tailing the anti-communist national bourgeoisies.

[v] This program was an ultraleft swing away from the popular front to an ultra-left version of national Trotskyism. The Coletivo Lenin adopted the IBT position of dual defeatism in the Malvinas wars; Brazil as sub-imperialist; and dual defeatism in the Arab-Israeli wars; all reducing the national question (and national Trotskyism) to the schematic proletarian revolution. This was the IBT loyally applying its 1941 SWP-US social imperialism to Brazil. Against national Trotskyism and the popular front its answer was do not fight for national independence from US imperialism and challenge the US labor aristocracy to take sides, but have a proletarian revolution now.

[vi] The Bolsheviks offered to fight alongside the Kerensky popular front Provisional Government against Kornilov in August 1917 (Trotsky’s phrase was “use them as a gun rest”) only on the basis of their armed independence since they knew that Kerensky would prove himself to be in league with Kornilov. The Bolsheviks were already calling for all power to the soviets and there was no reference to the Provisional Government as ‘the lesser evil’ to Kornilov.

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June 11, 2015 at 10:46 pm

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