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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From bourgeois to proletarian ‘permanent revolution’

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

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

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

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

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

The failed bourgeois revolutions of 1848

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons of the Paris Commune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marx Critiques the Gotha Program

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

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

Second, Marx asks:

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

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

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

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

1905 and “The Permanent Revolution”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War, Revolution and Counter-revolution

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

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

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

Bolshevism wins in Russia but loses in Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germany: From disguised to open popular front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Imperialist War: revolution and counter-revolution.

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

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

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

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

German “bourgeois democracy” in 1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subcontracting Imperialism: South Korea and Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China and Indo-China

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

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

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

1989-91: the ‘democratic counter-revolution’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Permanent Revolution to Bourgeois Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

 

LCC, 13 June, 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Rebooting Lenin

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The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”  Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party.

 

Lenin or Kautsky?

Today we are facing a massive retreat from Leninism on the left. Under attack from the global crisis the working class and the oppressed are moving to the left in opposing its effects – austerity, ‘precarity’, mass unemployment and political repression – and launching Arab Springs, riots, occupations and armed struggles against bourgeois dictators.  The masses are hungry for ideas on how to challenge and overcome capitalism. Yet there is no revolutionary mass party to turn to. The ostensible revolutionary left moves to offer this leadership. However this left is afraid to be identified with what is perceived as a failure of 20th century socialism and communism. It runs a mile from the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’. To appease the radicalised masses most of the left is re-inventing its Marxism along the lines of the Chavista 21st century socialism, or the broad Marxist party of the 2nd International ‘democratic socialism’ associated with Karl Kautsky. It either renounces Bolshevism as an historic dead-end, or attempts to make the Bolsheviks and Lenin in particular, no more than Russian Kautskys.  Trotsky is also a target because he renounced his conciliation with the Mensheviks and Kautsky to join Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917. Trotsky stands or falls with Lenin.

As we will see with bourgeois professors professing Marxism, the WSJ Roubini interview, TIME magazine cover story ‘Rethinking Marx’ , Hugo Chavez painted as ‘Marxist’ with links to Cuba and China, the left has no credibility unless its stakes a claim to the Marx franchise. So is this Marx with or without Lenin? That is the question. How do we know? Who was the real Lenin? Was he the heir of Marx and a proponent of fusing theory and practice, or was he a renegade from ‘authentic’ Marxism rather than the ‘renegade Kautsky’?  Was the Marxist party a vanguard party in Marx’s sense of not being ‘separated from the working class’?  Was the ‘democratic centralism’ Lenin practiced democratic or was it a precursor to Stalin’s dictatorship. Was Lenin responsible for the degeneration of today’s political sects and their isolation from the masses? It sounds confusing but it’s not really. We don’t have to ‘rediscover’ or ‘reload’ Lenin, his history is written by the Bolshevik Revolution.

Without the Bolsheviks and their undisputed leader Lenin, there would have been no Russian revolution so the left as we know it today would not exist. The history of the 20th century would be very different. Marxism would not have been kept alive in the 20th century and remain a powerful class ideology today. There would be no Marx revival, symbolic or real. But because the Bolsheviks and Lenin did exist they and he will continue to inspire the masses today in the belief that socialist revolution is not only possible but necessary.  If we do not defeat the all out attack on Lenin and Bolshevism, reactionaries ranging from centrists who claim to be Marxists (the new batch of Mensheviks) to reformists and anarchists, in the name of ‘democracy’, horizontalism, of ‘not taking power’, and so on, will lead new layers or revolutionaries back into the swamp of reformism, reaction and climate catastrophe. Against all anti-Leninists our task is to Reboot Lenin. This means restoring Lenin as the leading champion of Marx (and Engels) in the 20th century.

For Marx Program came first

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.” Manifesto of the Communist Party

The Communist Manifesto competed in the workers movement of its time with the rival programs of the Bakuninists, Proudhonists and the Blanquists. For Marx the program was a fusion of scientific theory and socialist practice. Marx’s critique of capitalism revealed its laws of development and provided a programmatic guide to the development of the proletariat as the revolutionary class.   Marx was almost alone as the drafter of Communist program and of developing that program on the basis of class struggle. In his 18th Brumaire of Louise Bonaparte written 4 years after the Manifesto, Marx revealed the class interests of the bourgeoisie which despite its factions united to maintain its class rule by concentrating state power in the figure of a Bonapartist dictator.  But as the Bonaparte personified state power as ‘above classes’, he also represented its fallibility, as the state became ripe for ‘smashing’ and replacement by a proletarian state –the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”.

This development of the Marxist program was based on Marx’s observations derived from his theory of the class nature of the state as the state of the ruling class. But as a guide to revolutionary practice it had to be tested in the class struggle with the active collaboration of the members of the party. Unless the Marxist program won the support of a majority of politically active workers there could be no revolution. Its first major test came with the Paris Commune of 1871.

Marx wrote later in a Letter to Krugelmann during the days of the Paris Commune:

If you look at the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire you will find that I say that the next attempt of the French revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is essential for every real people’s revolution on the Continent. And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting. What elasticity, what historical initiative, what a capacity for sacrifice in these Parisians! After six months of hunger and ruin, caused rather by internal treachery than by the external enemy, they rise, beneath Prussian bayonets, as if there had never been a war between France and Germany and the enemy were not at the gates of Paris. History has no like example of a like greatness [Our emphasis]

Marx had written 20 years earlier at the conclusion of the 18th Brumaire “…when the imperial mantle finally falls on the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue Napoleon will crash from the top of the Vendome Column”. This was now put into practice by the Communards as they took steps to ‘smash the state’.

As Engels puts it:

From the outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not manage with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.

Engels describes this process as the “shattering of former state power and its replacement by a new really democratic state”. (Engels, Introduction to The Civil War in France.)

The Commune was a watershed that tested the Marxist program in the throes of civil war and proved that the smashing of the state and its replacement by a workers state was necessary to complete the proletarian revolution, and to defend it from the bourgeois counter-revolution. The failure to smash the state would inevitably mean defeat. The program proved its superiority in practice over the Proudhonists, Blanquists, and the Anarchists in front of the world working class. All had a program that would lead to defeat. The Proudhonists had no conception of organising the proletariat as a class to smash the state and take power. The Blanquists organised as a conspiratorial elite separate from the proletariat. The Anarchists thought that capitalist exploitation derived from its state power and once the state was smashed the proletariat did not need a state to defend its class rule. (Engels, Introduction to  The Civil War in France)

Marx found two weaknesses in the Commune in its failure to implement the Dictatorship of the Proletariat fully. Despite forming a popular militia, it failed to march on Versailles to take advantage of the enemy retreat.  “They did not want to start a civil war, as if that mischievous abortion Thiers had not already started a civil war with his attempt to disarm Paris!”  .“The Central Committee surrendered its power” to the Commune too soon. [Letter to Krugelman].

In The Civil War in France Marx explains that the Central Committee (made up of a Blanquist majority and Proudhonist minority) was not prepared for an insurrection and tried to compromise with the bourgeois regime. It lacked a firm Marxist leadership and did not understand the necessity to take power.  That is why it failed to march on Versailles.

Lenin writing on the Commune comes to the same conclusion – the absence of a Marxist party in the leadership meant the reformists prevailed:

But two mistakes destroyed the fruits of the splendid victory. The proletariat stopped half-way: instead of setting about “expropriating the expropriators”, it allowed itself to be led astray by dreams of establishing a higher justice in the country united by a common national task; such institutions as the banks, for example, were not taken over, and Proudhonist theories about a “just exchange”, etc., still prevailed among the socialists. The second mistake was excessive magnanimity on the part of the proletariat: instead of destroying its enemies it sought to exert moral influence on them; it underestimated the significance of direct military operations in civil war, and instead of launching a resolute offensive against Versailles that would have crowned its victory in Paris, it tarried and gave the Versailles government time to gather the dark forces and prepare for the blood-soaked week of May. [Our emphasis]

Even in defeat the Commune proved the fundamental correctness of the Marxist program; only the working class organised by a Marxist vanguard was capable of smashing the state and introducing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (the “really new democratic state”).

20 years later in his Introduction to The Civil War in France, referring to the ‘opportunism’ trend in the 2nd International, Engels concluded:

Of late, the Social Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. [Our emphasis]

Though the Marxist program was proven correct in by the Commune, the International Workingmen’s Association (the ‘First International’) did not survive long. In the ebb in the class struggle that followed, two Marxist tendencies emerged both drawing on the Paris Commune, one to advance to revolution and the other to retreat to reformism. In the Second International the revolutionary wing came to be associated with Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg. The reformist wing was associated with Bernstein and Kautsky.  Both trace their Marxist credentials back to the Commune and the revised Communist Manifesto. (Karl Korsch, Introduction to the Critique of the Gotha Program)

Lenin and Trotsky: Kautsky and the Paris Commune 

It is no accident that both Lenin and Trotsky went back to the Paris Commune and Marx and Engels for guidance during and after the Bolshevik seizure of power. Lenin did so to get to the roots of the Kautsky’s ‘centrism’ and betrayal of revolution in Russia and Germany. Trotsky did so during the height of the civil war in response to Kautsky’s attack on the ‘Red Terror’. They both traced the ultimate split in the Marxist movement over the question of the proletariat’s ‘authority’ to impose a Dictatorship of the Proletariat back to the Paris Commune.

Engels writing in the immediate aftermath of the Commune’s defeat in 1873 put his finger on the fear that held back the proto-Mensheviks from the military seizure of power:

Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is an act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part of the population by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon, all of which are highly authoritarian means. And the victorious party must maintain its rule by means of the terror which it arms inspire in the reactionaries. Would the Paris Commune have lasted more than a day if it had not used the authority of the armed people against the bourgeoisie? Cannot we, on the contrary, blame it for having made too little use of that authority?  [On Authority]

Both Lenin and Trotsky follow Marx and Engels’ view that the leaders of the Communards made “too little use of that authority” and “stopped halfway” (Lenin’s phrase) because they lacked a Marxist leadership and were still influenced by petty bourgeois socialism (Proudhon’s reforms, Blanqui’s adventurism) and Bakunin’s petty bourgeois hostility to the proletarian dictatorship. They shared the view that conditions were not ripe for revolution, but that once the armed workers were forced to defend Paris from the Prussian and French armies, it was necessary to pursue the civil war to the end. They agreed with Marx and Engels that the failure to do this was due to the absence of Marxist majority in the Central Committee of the National Guard.

In drafting The State and Revolution, Lenin traces Kautsky’s break from the Marxist program back to the Commune. While Marx and Engels amended the Manifesto to incorporate the “smashing of the state” and the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, Kautsky is opposed the “destruction of state power” and instead speaks of “shifting the balance of forces within state power”.

Lenin exclaims:

This is a complete wreck of Marxism!!  All the lessons and teachings of Marx and Engels of 1852-1891 are forgotten and distorted. “The military-bureaucratic state machine must be smashed”, Marx and Engels taught. Not a word about this. The philistine utopia of reform struggle is substituted for the dictatorship of the proletariat. [Lenin, Marxism on the State: preparatory Material for the book The State and Revolution. 78 [Not online]

Lenin goes on to point out that the old bourgeois state has to be replaced by a new proletarian state so that the proletariat as a class can “suppress the bourgeoisie and crush their resistance.” While the Commune immediately took on the form of a proletarian state by replacing the standing army with armed workers, it could not complete its task of workers democracy (in which all officials were elective, responsible and revocable) because it failed to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie. The Central Committee feared imposing the ‘terror’ of their class authority on the class enemy. It sought ‘compromise’ instead. As Trotsky found in Kautsky’s writings on the Commune, he agreed with the Central Committee!

Trotsky, onboard his military train in 1921 replying to Kautsky’s attack on Red Terror [the Red Army putting down counter-revolution ruthlessly], found Kautsky’s fear of the ‘authority’ of the proletarian dictatorship in Russia during the Civil War was already rooted in his fear of the ‘Red terror’ of the Civil War in France.  Kautsky could easily agree with Marx that in 1871 the revolution was premature because the conditions were not ripe and the workers unprepared. Yet when facing an actual civil war, instead of following Marx and Engels into battle to defeat the non-Marxist leadership and impose a strong central military command, Kautsky would have sided with the ‘compromisers’ who hoped to do a deal with Thiers by holding an election to make the Commune ‘legal’!

As Trotsky argues, Kautsky put the ‘democracy’ of the Commune ahead of the Central Committee’s military campaign to defeat the National Assembly:

In supporting the democracy of the Commune, and at the same time accusing it of an insufficiently decisive note in its attitude to Versailles, Kautsky does not understand that the Communal elections, carried out with the ambiguous help of the “lawful” mayors and deputies, reflected the hope of a peaceful agreement with Versailles. This is the whole point. The leaders were anxious for a compromise, not for a struggle. The masses had not yet outlived their illusions.

Nor had Kautsky , whose pacifist confusion would have done nothing to help smash those illusions. Trotsky ‘gets’ Kautsky:

When one considered the execution of counter-revolutionary generals as an indelible “crime”, one could not develop energy in pursuing troops who were under the direction of counter-revolutionary generals. [The Paris Commune and Soviet Russia],

In other words Kautsky was already a ‘centrist’. He quoted Marx in theory but then drew reformist practical conclusions. He put bourgeois democracy ahead of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, because the “workers were not prepared”. His centrism was to go unchallenged for decades by Engels and others in the 2nd International though Engels selected Bebel in his place as literary executor of Marx and Engels after the latter’s death.

Gotha Program abandons Marxist program

Four years after the defeat of the heroic C0mmunards which put the Marxist program to its first test in a revolutionary situation, Marx was forced to come to the defence of the Communist Manifesto in his Critique of the Gotha program in 1875.  Having dispensed with the Proudhonists who rapidly declined, and split with Bakunin in 1873, Marx was now facing a split with the German ‘Marxists’ the Eisenarchers, who at the unity congress with the Lassalleans turn out to be more followers of Lassalle than Marx.  Marx argued that the resulting United Workers Party of Germany abandoned the “Communist” program for that of Lassalle which ignored social relations, surplus-value, internationalism, and the class nature of the state, and “returned” to a reformist view of the German state redistributing ‘aid’ to workers on the basis of ‘equal right’. It was an “extremely disorganized, confused, fragmented, illogical and disreputable Programme”, and had it been perceived as such by the enemies of the proletariat, Marx and Engels stated they would have been forced to dissociate themselves from it. (cited in Korsch, Introduction to the Critique of the Gotha Program)

Marx writes in the Critique:

Since Lassalle’s death, there has asserted itself in our party the scientific understanding that wages are not what they appear to be — namely, the value, or price, of labor—but only a masked form for the value, or price, of labor power… And after this understanding has gained more and more ground in our party, some return to Lassalle’s dogma although they must have known that Lassalle did not know what wages were, but, following in the wake of the bourgeois economists, took the appearance for the essence of the matter. [Our emphasis]

Marx reveals here that against his own dialectic science, Lassalle’s theory is pre-Marxist ideology going back to Malthus and Ricardo.  Wages are the price of labor (not labor power) so the basis of exploitation is the underpaying of the exchange value of labor. This is the ‘appearance’ since the ‘essence’ of capitalist social relations of production ‘appear’ (are inverted) as relations of exchange. If exploitation occurs by paying labor less than its value, then it can be rectified by ‘equalising exchange’ through state aid. However, Marx had already proven scientifically that this cannot be the case in Capital, and more popularly in Wages, Prices and Profits. Exploitation occurs when the commodity labor power is bought at its value, and yet because it is the only commodity with a use value that can produce more than its own value, the capitalist appropriates a ‘surplus-value’. Hence the state cannot become the basis of reforms that guarantee the “undiminished proceeds of labour” by means of a “fair distribution” of income based on an ideal of “equal right”. It is necessary to overthrow the state and expropriate the expropriators!

Thus, Marx makes clear that the Gotha Program is a retreat from his Marxism to the petty bourgeois reformist utopia of a ‘vulgar socialism’:

Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labor power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again? [Our emphasis]

Lenin recognised that Marx’ Critique was a powerful analysis that developed the program of the Communist Manifesto on the transition from capitalism to communism. Not only did he critique Lassalleanism as a vulgar socialism tied to the German capitalist state, he showed how the capitalist state must be overthrown and give way to a period of transition to socialism (the Dictatorship of the Proletariat) that creates the conditions for communism and the withering away of the state.

“The whole theory of Marx is the application of the theory of development – in its most consistent, complete, considered and pithy form – to modern capitalism. Naturally, Marx was faced with the problem of applying this theory both to the forthcoming collapse of capitalism and to the future development of future communism…it is possible to determine more precisely how democracy changes in the transition…” (The State and Revolution Chapter 5)

Thus Marx in his Critique, destroys all possibility of a peaceful transition from bourgeois to proletarian democracy at the very time when German Social Democracy is opportunistically vulgarising Marxism into a reformist utopian program. First, Marx shows how bourgeois democracy is a formality for the big majority (the working class) because bourgeois democracy can only be a bourgeois dictatorship of the minority over the majority. Second, to bring about proletarian democracy the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is necessary to smash the bourgeois dictatorship.

“Only in communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists has been completely crushed, when the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e. when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relations to the social means of production), only then “the state…ceases to exist” and “it becomes possible to speak of freedom”. Only then will a truly complete democracy become possible and be realised…Only then will democracy begin to wither away.” (ibid)

Korsch spells the wider reasons why Marx and Engels took their critique so seriously:

“In the middle of the 1870s, then, Marx and Engels thought it was far more possible than they had ten years earlier for the socialist and communist movement in the advanced countries to return to the ‘old audacity’ of the 1847-8 Manifesto by exhibiting a ‘declaration of principles’. In any case, they thought that the movement had developed to an extent that any retreat from what was said in 1864 must appear to be an unforgivable crime against the future of the workers’ movement. Thus Marx himself says in the note accompanying his Critique of the Gotha Programme:there was no need to make a ‘declaration of principles’ when conditions did not allow it, but when conditions had progressed so much since 1864, it was utterly impermissible to ‘demoralize’ the party with a shallow and unprincipled programme.

This illustrates some of Marx’s preoccupations when writing the Critique of the Gotha Programme. He demanded from the ‘Declaration of Principles’ of the most advanced Socialist Democratic party as a minimum the same level of principle and concrete demands as he himself had been able to insert into another declaration of principles, ten years earlier. This had been drafted under much less favourable circumstances and was designed for the common programme of the various socialist, half-socialist and quarter-socialist tendencies in Europe and America. Wherever the Gotha Programme failed to meet this minimum condition, Marx considers it to have fallen below the level already reached by the movement. Hence, even if it appeared to suit the state of the Party in Germany, it was bound to harm the future historical development of the movement.”

Yet, neither Marx’s ruthless critique nor his development of the Marxist theory of transition to communism was understood. It was ignored and the Gotha Program emerged virtually unchanged in a rising tide of opportunism. The ‘vulgar’ Marxist program that mistook exchange relations for production relations was to lead to the betrayal of 1914, was adopted.  “Why retrogress”? Marx asked. Engels and Lenin provided the explanation later. The emergence of German imperialism could now afford to create a labor aristocracy bought off by rising living standards paid for by colonial super-profits. German Social Democracy was adapting to the formation of a labour aristocracy which voted for state reforms paid for by the super-exploitation of colonial workers and peasants. If the Gotha Program turned its back on the Communist Manifesto and founded German social-democracy as pre-Marxist ‘vulgar socialism’, was the Erfurt Program of 1891 any better?

 

Engels and Lenin critique the Centrist Erfurt Program of 1891

The Erfurt program in 1891 fails to break completely from the Gotha Program in its central aspects. It is a centrist program at best. Engels’s letter ‘On the Critique of the Social Democratic Draft Programme of 1891 (the Erfurt Programme)’ is a continuation of Marx and Engels critique of the Gotha Program. Engels was clearly prepared to continue the fight for the Communist program against the emerging opportunist German Social Democracy and its main theoretician, Karl Kautsky, while Kautsky delayed Engels critique for 10 years. He published for the first time Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program alongside his own Introduction to Marx’s: The Civil War in France in 1891 to publicly champion the lessons of programmatic development since 1947, yet his Critique of the Erfurt program was not published by Kautsky until 1901! The substance of Engels critique, like that of Marx at Gotha, was ignored. The gulf between the Communist Manifesto and the reformist German SPD, behind the hollow Marxist phrases, was growing wider.

Engels main critique is of the “opportunism” of the political demands:

These are attempts to convince oneself and the party that “present-day society is developing towards socialism” without asking oneself whether it does not thereby just as necessarily outgrow the old social order and whether it will not have to burst this old shell by force, as a crab breaks its shell, and also whether in Germany, in addition, it will not have to smash the fetters of the still semi-absolutist, and moreover indescribably confused political order… In the long run such a policy can only lead one’s own party astray. They push general, abstract political questions into the foreground, thereby concealing the immediate concrete questions, which at the moment of the first great events, the first political crisis, automatically pose themselves. What can result from this except that at the decisive moment the party suddenly proves helpless and that uncertainty and discord on the most decisive issues reign in it because these issues have never been discussed? … This forgetting of the great, the principal considerations for the momentary interests of the day, this struggling and striving for the success of the moment regardless of later consequences, this sacrifice of the future of the movement for its present may be ‘honestly’ meant, but it is and remains opportunism, and ‘honest’ opportunism is perhaps the most dangerous of all… [Our emphasis]

Kautsky evades the critique. He claims that Engels critique was of the first draft and not of his draft which was the one adopted. Yet a comparison of the two shows that Kautsky’s version does not reflect Engels critique of the political demands. Kautsky’s book Class Struggle, an extended commentary on his Erfurt draft, was published in 1892. It becomes the popular presentation of the Erfurt Program.  Do Engels criticisms still hold of Kautsky’s book?

Kautsky’s Class Struggle expounds ‘orthodox’ Marxist ‘economics’ from surplus-value to crises of overproduction which create the conditions for the transition to socialism. But there are no dialectics, only an evolutionary schema of capitalist development. The proletarian side of the class struggle is rendered ‘objective’ as the subjective agency of the proletariat is suppressed and replaced by the petty bourgeois socialist intelligentsia. Capitalist ‘development’ is expressed by Vulgar Marxist intellectuals who lecture the workers on their level of development. The transition to socialism is managed by a socialist bureaucracy that reforms the transition of the capitalist state into the socialist state.

From the recognition of this fact is born the aim which the Socialist Party has set before it: to call the working-class to conquer the political power to the end that, with its aid, they may change the state into a self-sufficing co-operative commonwealth.” [Our emphasis]

So for Kautsky “conquering political power means “change the state”. How? There is no armed insurrection or ‘smashing of the state’ but rather a relatively peaceful transition through the gradual take-over of the state or as Marx put it the “transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another” (18th Brumaire).  Therefore the political demands of Urfurt as presented by Kautsky for the transition to socialism fall far short of the Communist Manifesto and the critical development of the program in the period 1852- 1875 spanning the Commune to Gotha.

Lenin’s recognition that the Erfurt program was centrist did not come until after the great betrayal of 1914. From that point he went back searching for the material roots of the degeneration of German social-democracy. State and Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky were the result. In this process Lenin revisits Engel’s suppressed critique of Erfurt and in the process finds that Kautsky, the German leader who bases his authority on Erfurt, actually rejects all the decisive developments in the Marxist program since 1847. Referring to Kautsky, Lenin exclaims in marginal notes in his drafting of State and Revolution “This is as a complete wreck of Marxism...a step back from 1852-91 to 1847”! [Marxism on the State: Preparatory Material for the book The State and Revolution. Not online]

Why was Lenin taken in by Kautsky’s centrism for so long? The short answer is, first centrism itself, and second, Tsarism. It is the nature of centrism that it disguises its treachery in hollow phrases. While Engels chided the German Social-Democracy as ‘opportunist’ he thought this was an aberration probably resulting from self-censorship to avoid triggering Bismarck’s anti-socialist law. However, centrist opportunism is not exposed as a counter-revolutionary retreat from Marxism until it is tested in revolutionary conditions and is exposed by its treacherous actions. So the revolutionary phrases carefully qualified by vague euphemisms such as “conquering political power” in Kautsky’s program were not put to the revolutionary test of practice in Germany until 1914.

Second, developments in the SPD were not central to the class struggle that was developing in Tsarist Russia. The SPD was a legal party with millions of members, a large official apparatus, and many elected MPs in the Reichstag. Formally, it was standing on the Erfurt program and the “conquest of political power”.  In Russia however, the pressing task for the Marxists was the smashing of the Tsarist state bringing with it a whole set of challenges to the program and to the form of revolutionary party needed to overcome these challenges. The necessary debates over theory and tactics became the focus of the factional disputes and machinations in the RSDWP. This is evident in the fact that the RSDWP leaders while in exile in Europe conducted disputes in their own papers and congresses almost independently from the 2nd International parties in their host countries.

Currently a debate around whether the RSDWP was a Marxist party in the mould of the SPD of Kautsky, the ‘mother’ party in the 2nd International, or a party of a ‘new type’ as a result of Lenin winning a majority in 1902. The SPD was a ‘mass’ party but it was also a ‘broad’ party of Marxists, centrists, and reformists where the Marxist faction was marginalised by the centrists and were unable to defend the Marxist program of the dictatorship of the proletariat against the opportunists. This question was glossed over since workers were experiencing rising living standards via parliamentary reforms and the program was watered down by the reformist wing of Bernstein under the cover of Kautsky’s centrist wing. So while the reformist wing was critiqued by the centrist Kautsky at the same time he opens the door to the retreat from ‘smashing the state’.

Lenin asks: How, then, did Kautsky proceed in his most detailed refutation of Bernsteinism? He refrained from analyzing the utter distortion of Marxism by opportunism on this point. He cited the above-quoted passage from Engels’ preface to Marx’ s Civil War and said that according to Marx the working class cannot simply take over the ready-made state machinery, but that, generally speaking, it can take it over—and that was all. Kautsky did not say a word about the fact that Bernstein attributed to Marx the very opposite of Marx’ s real idea, that since 1852 Marx had formulated the task of the proletarian revolution as being to “smash” the state machine. (Lenin Chapter 6, State and Revolution)

In Russia the “task” of the RSDWP was not the working class “conquering political power” from the bourgeoisie, but that of leading all the oppressed masses in the overthrow of the Tsar. The RSDWP began as ‘broad’ party like the SPD but its Marxist faction (Bolsheviks) from 1902 dominated the opportunists (Mensheviks) and the conciliators (Centrists) in its militant defence and development of the Marxist program. The showdown between Marxist and opportunist factions came to the surface in Russia even before 1905 as theoretical differences on strategy and tactics had life or death practical consequences in combating the Tsarist autocracy.

 

Lenin and ‘What is to be Done?’

Unlike the SPD which could vote its representatives into Parliament, the Russian party faced a Tsarist autocracy. The immediate task was that of ‘political freedom’, that is the bourgeois revolution, in which the proletariat would be the leading class. Lenin’s conception of the party was not as a professional elite separated from the mass membership, but of both intellectuals and workers who took the Marxist program to the workers already organising against the Tsarist regime. The differences in the RSDWP didn’t arise over the program to overthrow of the Tsar but over the role of the proletariat in this revolution. For Lenin and the Bolshevik faction the proletariat must be independent of the bourgeoisie and lead all the oppressed classes. For the Mensheviks, like the centrists of the SPD including Kautsky, the proletariat was not capable of taking the place of the bourgeoisie in leading the bourgeois revolution alone.

Thus between 1902 and 1917, the main fight inside the RSDWP was between those who argued over whether that working class was ready or not to take the place of the bourgeoisie in overthrowing the Tsar.  The Bolsheviks thought it was ready, the Mensheviks thought that the workers would have to ‘compromise’ with the bourgeoisie.

On the question of the nature of the vanguard party, this is determined by the Marxist program in which the proletariat is the only revolutionary class capable of fusing Marxist theory and practice as the agency of revolution. Specific national conditions are the immediate concrete workings of this historic and international class dialectic.  The Tsarist regime oppressed not only workers but poor and middle peasants. It also oppressed elements of the bourgeoisie. Lenin argues that the working class will lead the revolution bringing behind it the poor and middle peasants. The rich peasants are becoming capitalist and they and the weak bourgeoisie cannot lead a revolution against the Tsar. Thus the proletariat will be ‘hegemonic’ in leading all the oppressed classes. For that to happen the Marxist party must include the vanguard of workers who have a ‘socialist consciousness’ and not those who are only ‘trade union’ conscious.

In What is to be Done (WITBD) Lenin famously says that this ‘socialist consciousness’ is brought from outside to the workers. Rather than an admission that the Marxist party is separate from the workers, the so-called ‘dictatorship of the Party’ criticised by Luxemburg and Trotsky, it’s the opposite. Both the workers movement and the Marxist intellectuals must ‘converge’ and ‘fuse’ for the revolution to happen.

That is why the Bolsheviks split organisationally from the Mensheviks in 1912, while the Marxists in the SDP failed to build a Bolshevik type faction until the KDP (Spartacists) in 1919. The party that would lead the overthrow of the Tsar and organise the socialist insurrection became a ‘mass’ Marxist party in which the members were in agreement with the Bolshevik program for Russia. Tragically, in Germany the Spartacists founded the KDP too late in 1919 but were ‘smashed’ by the SDP reformists and by Kautsky’s USDP who joined a popular front bourgeois government in the ‘peaceful transition to socialism’ that was neither peaceful nor a transition.

So in 1902 Lenin is already providing answers to the questions posed above: the RSDWP is not yet a vanguard party.  Its leaders and members are Marxists but there are differences on how to overthrow the Tsar. After 1905 the party fragments into numerous weak factions but around 1909 the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks reform and their differences deepen over strategy and tactics. A split looms and comes to a head over whether the working class will lead the overthrow of the Tsar or do so in a political coalition with the bourgeoisie. Lenin mobilises to reorganise the RSDWP on a Marxist program of a worker-led revolution, against Mensheviks and others who want a cross class coalition. The program comes first and the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks split in 1912.  From this point on both factions organise and meet separately presenting a clear choice for Russian workers.  They enter the period of rising struggles and prove to the masses which program is correct and which class will lead the revolution against the Tsar. This will happen first in 1914 when the Bolshevik faction becomes the core of the Zimmerwald Left and an embryonic new international. It will come to the ultimate test when the Bolsheviks convince Russian workers to make a revolution, and the Mensheviks side with the peasant petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie to oppose the revolution. This is democratic centralism in practice and it was tested in practice, and in its absence, with positive and negative results in the Russian and German Revolutions.

Some neo-Kautskyites today who want to recruit Lenin to the ‘broad’ party fail to grasp that while the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks did not form separate parties in 1912, they split as factions over a fundamental principle of the Marxist program.  The RSDWP that resulted contained two parties, except in name, the Bolsheviks standing on the principle of worker ‘hegemony’, the Mensheviks on ‘class conciliation’ (what is called today the popular front with the bourgeoisie) in the Russian revolution. Far from being a ‘broad’ party that tolerated all political differences, a split over this question was a matter of life and death. The failure to form the Bolsheviks as a separate political organisation would have wrecked its ability to implement democratic centralism and prevented it from rapidly developing its program and winning the masses support in the Soviets for a workers’ revolution. Even so, in the Bolshevik faction in April 1917 all the leadership apart from Lenin were conciliating with the Provisional Government – that is, proposing a popular front with the bourgeoisie! The situation was rescued by Lenin because he could appeal to the mass base of the Bolsheviks won to the faction/party since 1912 on a Marxist program, and convince them of the correct strategy and tactics. Had the RSDWP not split and stayed as a ‘broad’ party of Marxists and class collaborationists like Kautsky’s SPD the outcome would have been a defeat for the Russian revolution at the hands of Kerensky and Kornilov! The Russian and German revolutions are the ultimate testimony to this fact.

 

Bolshevism and the Russian and German Revolutions

In April 1917 Lenin proved that the RSDWP were really two long term factions in name only and in reality two separate parties. Moreover he proved that the Bolshevik ‘faction’ was not free of would-be Mensheviks in the leadership ready to ‘conciliate’ with the bourgeoisie. It was necessary to go to the mass membership of the RSDWP. He read his April Theses to the Bolsheviks and then to both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks together. Lenin goes outside the Party Leadership and addressed the Petrograd branch of the party directly. He won them to the socialist insurrection. (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, (HRR) Chap 15).

Again in October Lenin is in a minority of one in the Central Committee. He demands an insurrection and the Central Committee burns his letter. Accusing the Central Committee of ‘Fabianism’ he then goes to the Petrograd soviet and the Regional Conference of Northern soviets and speaking on his own authority demands “an immediate move on Petrograd”. (Trotsky, HRR, Chap 24.). Then when the Central Committee finally agrees to the insurrection, Zinoviev and Kamenev disclose these plans in Pravda, the Menshevik newspaper.  Lenin calls for their expulsion but is defeated on the Central Committee. This was how the Bolsheviks under Lenin’s leadership and organised as a de-fact0 mass vanguard party were able to not only survive a revolutionary crisis, but win the leadership of the workers and peasants, defeat the counter-revolution and make the first socialist revolution in history. Not so in Germany.

Not till August 4, 1914 was the theoretical bankruptcy of 2nd International put to the test and exposed as a ‘stinking corpse’ (Luxemburg cited in Lenin). The centrists around Kautsky and the Zimmerwald Left revolutionaries around Luxemburg and Liebknecht split to form the united SDP (USPD) but the left Spartakustbund faction in the USPD failed to break away to found an independent Bolshevik-type party until 1918. Only in 1917 did the paths of the Russian and German revolutions converge in a Marxist leadership that understood the revolutions must unite to succeed. But the German ‘old guard’ around Luxemburg lacked the experience in organising a mass base. Their reliance of on ‘spontaneity’ against Lenin’s ‘centralism’ meant that when the soldiers and sailors rose up against the Junker regime there was no Bolshevik-type democratic centralist party at its head to ‘smash the state’. Like Lenin, Luxemburg facing a revolutionary crisis in Germany, returned to Marx and Engel’s to draw the lessons about the ‘smashing of the state and refound the Communist program:

“…Down to the collapse of August 4, 1914, the German Social Democracy took its stand upon the Erfurt programme, and by this programme the so-called immediate minimal aims were placed in the foreground, whilst socialism was no more than a distant guiding star. Far more important, however, than what is written in a programme is the way in which that programme is interpreted in action. From this point of view, great importance must be attached to one of the historical documents of the German labour movement: the Preface written by Fredrick Engels for the 1895 re-issue of Marx’s Class Struggles in France.  It is not merely upon historical grounds that I now reopen this question. The matter is one of extreme actuality. It has become our urgent duty today to replace our programme upon the foundation laid by Marx and Engels in 1848. In view of the changes effected since then by the historical process of development, it is incumbent upon us to undertake a deliberate revision of the views that guided the German Social Democracy down to the collapse of August 4th. Upon such a revision we are officially engaged today….” (On the Spartacus Program [our emphasis]

Too late! The delay of the revolutionary Marxists in splitting from the USPD was fatal. It meant that they did not have time to build a Marxist vanguard and win a mass base before the revolutionary crisis came to a head. By the time the Spartacists founded the KPD in 1919, the SPD and USDP were collaborating in a Bourgeois government led by the SPD leader, Ebert. The revolution, its main social democrat leaders were murdered and its armed workers’ militia ‘smashed’ by the Freikorps.

So the problem of the party is not that Lenin abandoned the ‘broad’ party for an elitist party, but that without a revolutionary program tested in the struggle the vanguard party is sucked back into opportunism and conciliation with the bourgeoisie.  The problem is not therefore historic Bolshevik/Leninism but its absence. Russia and Germany are the test cases. The Bolsheviks won the masses in Russia because they split from the Mensheviks, but in Germany where they failed to split from the Kautskyites until too late, the revolution was defeated.

 
For both Marx and Lenin the vanguard party is the party of the Marxist workers not the party of non-Marxist workers. This was true even when the vanguard was no more than one; Marx on Gotha, Lenin on the April Theses. But at the same time the Marxist vanguard is obliged to fight to win the non-Marxists to the vanguard. But to do this the backsliding compromisers, opportunists, centrists, Mensheviks etc have to be defeated. This is what the Russian revolution proves. Like Marx confronting the retreat into Lassalleanism at Gotha, Lenin also finds himself alone in April 1917 carrying the banner of the Marxist vanguard.

As the crisis of war and revolution unfolded Lenin drew further conclusions. After 1914 he writes a series of articles and pamphlets he accuses Kautsky of reneging on the 1912 Basle Manifesto on war. (See Preface to …Renegade Kautsky). In his Imperialism written in 1915 Lenin shows that Kautsky’s opportunism explains his theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’. During the 1917 July Days when he is in hiding, he drafts the State and Revolution. He now shows that Kautsky abandoned the theory of ‘smashing the state’ in 1871. He “wrecks Marxism” and goes back to 1847.  Then in 1918 Kautsky’s condemnation of the Bolshevik revolution in his pamphlet ‘The Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ provokes Lenin’s brilliant The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, in which he sums up Kautsky in the phrase “How Kautsky turned Marx into a Common Liberal” by reducing the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ in the Paris Commune to ‘bourgeois (i.e. pure) democracy’ i.e. and electoral majority! The final nail in Kautsky’s coffin is that his centrism is exposed as the key to the defeat of the German Revolution. It is Kautsky and the USPD that delays the founding of the German KDP until it is too late, then takes responsibility for the state repression of the Communists, defeats the revolution and thus prevents the Russian revolution from spreading to the world.  Yet this is the Kautsky of the Erfurt program that the neo-Kautskyists like the CPGB wants to return to today!

 

The Party embodies the Program

For Marx the proletarian party is the Marxist party. The Gotha Program retreated from Marx’s method and his critique of Capitalism to Lassalle’s pre-Marxist exchange theory. The Erfurt Program restored the Marxist critique of Capital formally by returning to the production of surplus-value, but didn’t escape the Gotha Program in its reformist approach to the capitalist state. In the SPD the ‘broad’ party submerged the revolutionaries in a rising tide of opportunism. Engels critique was ignored as was Marx’s at Gotha. Kautsky vulgarised Marx, ignoring the laws of capitalist development, the crises of overproduction and the growing competition between the imperialist powers. The approaching imperialist war was something that could be stopped by a SPD majority in the Reichstag acting with ‘legality’! This had tragic practical consequences for millions of workers the world over 1000 times that of the Paris Commune. And this time it was done in the name of Marxism!

Today against the program and party of Kautsky, we need program and party of Marx. From Marx and Engels in 1847 to Lenin in 1924 the Marxist mass party was always based on workers who understood that to escape inevitable capitalist crises and imperialist wars they had to smash the bourgeois state and impose the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. If it fell short of that when its leadership adapted to imperialist super-profits and the labor aristocracy then it’s ‘party’ would end up being used by the bourgeoisie to destroy the revolution. Such a retreat into vulgar socialism was inevitable unless a Marxist vanguard was built capable drawing the important lessons of organising and arming the proletariat to smash the state and replace the crisis and war ridden capitalist system with socialism. The German Revolution was defeated because it lacked a revolutionary program and party. Marx and Engels fought to test and develop the communist program all of their lives against non-Marxist and then revisionist Marxist currents. Lenin and Trotsky took on the responsibility of defending and developing that program after Engel’s death. Lenin in particular took the lead in the fight against opportunism in the period before WW1. That is why the Bolsheviks under Lenin and later Trotsky, and not the German SPD under Kautsky and Co. was the only Marxist party to defeat reformism and centrism and make a revolution.

Let Lenin have the last word on Kautsky: “Kautsky takes from Marxism what is acceptable to the liberals, to the bourgeoisie (the criticism of the Middle Ages, and the progressive historical role of capitalism in general and of capitalist democracy in particular), and discards, passes over in silence, glosses over all that in Marxism which is unacceptable to the bourgeoisie (the revolutionary violence of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for the latter’s destruction). That; is why Kautsky, by virtue of his objective position and irrespective of what his subjective convictions may be, inevitably proves to be a lackey of the bourgeoisie.” (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky)

Who is the renegade, Lenin or Kautsky! The renegades of Marxism are those who abandon the program for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Most of what passes for the revolutionary left today are longstanding centrists known for their revolutionary phrases and reformist practice! They emerged out of WW2 with Stalinism intact and a ‘2nd world’ opposed to the imperialist 1st world. The Trotskyist Fourth International lacked roots in the working class and its efforts at keeping the Leninist/Trotskyist program alive founded on the long boom and reformism of Stalinist and Social democratic parties. Most revised Marx’s Capital into some form of exchange theory and drew the practical consequence of a minimal program of ‘equal rights’ via ‘state aid’. Thus most became adjuncts of social democracy, Stalinism, or 3rd World freedom fighters. The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and other former ‘degenerate workers states’ has deprived them of their defence of workers property. Some like the Spartacist family insist that hope lives on in China. Others liquidate into ‘anti-capitalist’ formations which are ‘broad parties’ including reformists and revolutionaries. Those who still pay lip service to Leninism (and/or Trotskyism), and those who are anti-Leninist, all end up on the same centrist swamp. They are a new batch of Mensheviks with minimum programs and petty bourgeois leaderships that they substitute for the Marxist vanguard.  For example, the Spartacists substitute the Maoist bureaucracy in China; the Morenoists substitute the trade union bureaucracy; the Cliffites, the student intellectuals; and the Woodites, populist demagogues like Chavez–all trapping the proletariat in popular fronts with the bourgeoisie.

Yet these petty bourgeois pretenders cannot suppress the class contradictions as they re-emerge in current and future crises, wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions. Revolutionaries have to act as a vanguard of hundreds and thousands to expose the centrists by building militant internationalist united fronts everywhere with demands that advance the workers cause and force the centrists to declare themselves as class traitors. In the process the embryonic vanguard will like Lenin’s Bolsheviks, converge, and fuse with the millions of rising militants to build a new world party of revolution. A Marxist revolutionary international will be reborn as the terminal crisis of capitalism exposes the new batch of Mensheviks as class traitors. Arising out of the ashes of historic betrayals and defeats of the 20th century marked by the first Bolshevik revolution will be the revolutionary Marxists based on the Leninist/Trotskyist program of 1938 who go into the working class to build the Marxist vanguard to make the second Bolshevik Revolution in the 21st century.

“The victory of communism is inevitable, Communism will triumph!” Lenin, ‘Greetings to the Italian, French and German Communists’. October 1919

Written by raved

April 3, 2013 at 12:07 pm