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Workers Unite! The Historic Task of the Working Class is to overthrow Capitalism and fight for World Socialism!

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(1)  Workers Unite to defeat the Pandemic!

The sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic has exposed global capitalism as irretrievably rotten. For decades revolutionaries have warned that capitalism had outlived its use by date, that it must destroy the forces of production, including the working class, to survive.

Capitalism could no longer produce profitably without destroying both the value of workers’ wages and of material wealth (variable and constant capital). From the end of the post-war boom in the 1970s and the beginning of the long structural crisis that still continues today, we saw workers resist all attempts by capitalism to restore the rate of profit back to the level of the post-war boom period.

The neo-liberal counter-revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, aimed at devaluing workers’ labour power and state-owned assets to restore profits, failed. The reformist left claimed that the problem was not capitalism, but neo-liberalism itself, an aberration that could be cured by parliamentary democracy. At the same time, the Menshevik lefts of Stalinism engaged in destroying workers property in the Soviet Union to restore capitalism, and turned themselves with Marxist phrases into Eurocommunists or social democrats.

Then came the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, where overnight central banks abandoned the free market and bailed out the parasitic private banks. So, the reformists turned their attention to the banks as the big bogey. Intellectual priests like Chomsky continued to preach that true capitalism had not been tried yet, so ‘vote Democrat’ to control the banks. They got Obama, who proved that the only capitalism that he could try was the same old capitalism with a black face.

After ten more years of stagnation capitalism was clearly in a terminal crisis. It had not recovered the rate of profit required to stimulate productive investment. It was still gambling its surplus capital in existing values and buying up its own shares to create fictitious capital (bidding up the prices of their own stocks with the taxpayers’ bailout monies). Despite years of austerity, military adventures abroad, and tame unions at home, workers still resisted the destruction of their labour power.  And still the Mensheviks (reformist parties around the world and outfits like the DSA in the US that pretend to be ‘Marxists’) agree with academic Marxists that they could fix profits with re-branded forms of Keynesianism, i.e. deficit spending schemes.

Over the same period the threat of climate change became clearer. We warned that the continued destruction of nature by capitalism would lead to human extinction. There was now no question that capitalism was in a terminal crisis. Devaluing labour to restore profits cannot work when the human species is extinct.

Of course, the deniers blamed science for inventing a mythical Anthropocene. But after 600 years of plunder, nature’s fight back was now melting the polar ice, warming the oceans and killing thousands of species. The perpetrator was not the anonymous ‘man’ of the Anthropocene but the social relations of the capitalocene. There was no doubt then that capitalism had to go. Naturally, the social democratic left reinvented the green revolution while the Mensheviks debated how to build ‘new deal’ popular fronts to nationalise the big polluters. See Climate Crisis: From Capital to Commune.

Today, with the explosion of the pandemic we have further evidence that capitalism is so rotten that it destroys the conditions of its own existence. The capitalocene now allows viruses to jump species and wipe out millions of humans. Yet up pops the reformist left to cheer on the draconian measures taken by capitalist regimes to bail out the bankrupt bosses as the true coming of the bastard Keynes. Of course, it has nothing to do with Keynes. The key to Keynes is that of boosting demand and consumption through full employment and state subsidies to wages. As Michael Roberts points out this is a bailout of capital much bigger than the Great Depression of the ‘30’s, and the subsidies going to workers are no more than the value of a miserable dole and many will not qualify for even that. Read Michael Roberts’ A war economy?

Keynes is now dead after a long run. Capital cannot afford to boost consumption in the working class if the conditions for profitability do not exist. In the current world situation China has become the leading imperialist power, not because it introduced Keynesian policies to impossibly escape the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (LTRPF), but because it has developed the most advanced state monopoly capitalist regime. Of course, to compete with China, the declining imperialist powers of the West must follow the same course.

Having abandoned Marx, the fake Trotskyists in the West are in a rapture over state spending as if Marx has risen from the grave as the corpse of Keynes. They throw around the words, ‘socialism’ and ‘revolution’, but never in conjunction. They find a niche in the market for their brand of revisionism – capitalism has not yet exhausted its capacity to develop the forces of production – it can find alternative sources of value, if value is required at all, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to restore profitability. Advised by themselves, of course. Read Roberts’ UNAM 3 – the robotic future.

Meanwhile, the bosses, fearing workers’ opposition to their draconian measures to combat the coronavirus, even the spectre of anti-capitalist uprisings, justify locking up the working class behind curfews, states of emergency and ‘lockdowns’ to maintain ‘social stability’. Once again, the gravediggers of the working class, the democratic and Menshevik left, are called upon by capitalism to suck workers into popular fronts with the bourgeoisie to strangle the development of workers revolution. All those who reject the LTRPF speak of crises as caused by a failure of neo-liberal policy settings.  They end up in the bourgeois camp advising reforms that correct for the wrong policies and steer capitalism towards some peaceful, evolutionary socialism in the never-never.

For example, the Internationalist Leninist-Trotskyist Fraction (FLTI) for all its boisterous language of class war always fails to pose the question of power except rhetorically. It’s program never exceeds that of syndicalism or some half-way house like national workers’ assemblies. The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), equally demonstrative in leading the revolutionary communist vanguard to the insurrection, invariably sells its literature in the shadow of the popular front;  most recently in an open letter to the Workers Left Front (FIT) of Argentina, a bloc of fake Trotskyists acting as the left wing of the bourgeoisie in parliament (Congress).  For Leninist Trotskyists, Menshevik/Pabloite groups such as these fail to pass the test of raising Trotsky’s ‘crowning’ demand that sums up the transitional program – The Workers’ Government.

However, the credibility of those who do not pose the question of power today, is shot among the townships, favelas, barrios, shanty towns and villages of the semi-colonial world where workers left to starve or beaten to death by bosses’ regimes left, right and centre, have nothing to lose in resisting these attacks. They face loss of jobs and forcible relocation where resistance is met by the force of police and military. Those who are outside the formal economy are even worse off with no means of support or defence. They are angry about their treatment and spontaneously resist the curfews, ‘lockdowns’, and evictions which condemn them to poverty and death.

Capitalism is rotten, the ruling class is divided over how to solve its terminal crisis, though it remains united in trying to make the workers and oppressed pay for their crisis. Workers locked down in disease, poverty and oppression will not die without a fight and rise up against their class enemy. The only element lacking to turn these uprisings everywhere into socialist revolutions, is an international Leninist-Trotskyist Party and Transitional Program.

(2)  Pandemic as compounding crisis

We understand Terminal Crisis to be the compounding of economic crash, climate change and pandemic. There are feedback loops among them, as the drive for profits to avoid or mitigate crashes exacerbates climate change which creates the conditions for pandemics. The pandemics then in turn compound the severity of the crash and accelerate the terminal crisis. It puts capitalism into the ICU without any PPE. Therefore, the program we need has to address all aspects of the crisis, their interactions, and their effects on the class struggle. In particular the impact they have upon the working class in its widest sense as the only class that can resolve the terminal crisis of rotten capitalism in the interests of workers and humanity as a whole. We cannot develop a scientific program for international revolution without such a theoretical starting point.

It is clear from the above that capitalism has failed to restore the conditions for profitability since the 1970’s: not by means of labour austerity, nor by the privatisation of resources. The effect of climate change has not helped as opposition to fossil fuels and capitalist growth dependent on them has strengthened in the working class and petty bourgeoisie. The explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic and the panic it has created is an opportunity for capitalism to break workers resistance with a counter-revolutionary offensive that can resolve the crisis for capitalism. But it also poses a threat to capital, a revolutionary coup de grace even. Yet for the revolution to defeat the counter-revolution, we must understand the enemy and not play into its hands.

If the exit from the terminal crisis is an historic defeat for the proletariat, it would be of the same order that Trotsky foresaw regarding the outcome of World War 2, an historic defeat for humanity. It would signal the arrival of a new society, no longer capitalist, but a Bonapartist dictatorship ruled by a new bureaucratic class. This outcome would render Marxism redundant and the proletariat no longer the historic agent of socialist revolution. Trotsky naturally refused to accept such a defeat, and fought to prevent it until his assasssination by Stalin’s agent. Had he survived the war, he would have continued to support the Soviet Union unconditionally against the capitalist imperialist powers, who always saw it as the main enemy. Today it is up to us, as Leninist Trotskyists, following the historic defeat of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism, to fight for the victory of the socialist revolution against that historic defeat of humanity! Read Leon Trotsky: The USSR in War (1939).

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was a clear warning of capitalism’s inevitable death drive, the exhaustion of the failed neo-liberal free market counter-revolution, and a move toward the strong corporate state, the archetypal regime which characterises state monopoly capitalism in the epoch of imperialism. It is no accident then, that the success of China’s rapid rise as an imperial power was due to its centralised state monopoly capitalist form, and that this form has been increasingly adopted by Western imperialist powers to compete with China, albeit unevenly and chaotically due to the inertia of liberal democratic institutions and ideology. The political instability of bourgeois democratic rule has pushed capitalism towards Bonapartism and fascism, with the object of finally removing the proletariat as the revolutionary class from the world stage.

The current crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic, is that opportunity. China’s state monopoly capitalist regime shows the way. First, 40 years (starting in 1978) of super-exploitation of its workers reintroduced the law of value to rescue the bureaucratic plan. This was the necessary platform for its emergence as an imperialist power spreading across the world. China rapidly caught up with the old imperialist powers. However, unlike the 2008 GFC when China rescued world capitalism and gave it a momentary breathing space, today it is not able to avoid the global crash itself, let alone carry the rest of the capitalist world through that crash.

What it did, however, was provide an example of how to prolong capitalism’s death agony for others to follow; the model of centralised power in the authoritarian monopoly capitalist state form. This enabled China’s ‘authoritarian’ method of containing and defeating the COVID-19 epidemic. It demonstrated to China’s imperialist rivals that in facing the terminal crisis of capital, bourgeois democracy was a luxury that they could not afford. China’s experience of other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS provided it with the confidence to apply the ‘authoritarian’ lockdown of Hubei province to isolate the virus at source. Similarly, other smaller monopoly state capitalist regimes in the region, including Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam, were highly efficient in containing the spread of the epidemic based on their experience and central state interventions. The fact that Russia, a restored state monopoly capitalist regime failed to act quickly in the same manner, needs to be explained.

By comparison with China and the smaller Asian states mentioned above, the imperialist powers in the US bloc, and the EU as a whole, trapped in the chaos of the dysfunctional global market, responded to COVID-19 badly. The neo-liberal dogma stopped them from immediately adopting the Chinese model. They took some time to adjust to the prospect that the pandemic offered the opportunity to rescue bankrupt banks and corporates and at the same time afford to lockdown the working class without risking the collapse of capitalism. This was most clearly demonstrated in the reluctance of the two semi-Bonapartist powers in the West, the US and UK to lockdown workers, and shock the economy into a depression. Bolshonaro in Brazil went further, and still rejects COVID-19 as more than “a little flu”, demanding that workers return to work in ‘business as usual’.

Thus the most right-wing semi-Bonapartist regimes, the US and UK, were the last to move due to the heightened inter-imperialist political rivalry between the US and China. Trump’s incipient Bonapartism emerged in his first term as a desperate attempt to stop US decline in relation to China by rallying his populist ‘troops’ behind a white supremacist chauvinist racist national flag. This reached a hysterical high in his determination to blame China for the “Wuhan Flu” rather than congratulate it for slowing down its global spread!

All the EU ‘liberal democracies’, from Italy to the UK, in transition to Bonapartist regimes, were in varying degrees caught like startled clowns with their pants down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Totally unprepared by the anarchy of market forces for the onslaught of a virus carried by ships and planes loaded with middle-class tourists, they failed to screen, test and quarantine the spread of infection until it was too late. The panicked emergency control measures they rushed into place downloaded the whole cost of the pandemic onto the lives of working people already suffering from decades of declining public health and welfare provisions. While businesses got massive bailouts touted as in the ‘national interest’, the working people got mass sackings and ‘lockdowns’ and very little compensation for lost wages or other subsistence earnings.

As the pandemic spread to the semi-colonial world, its effects were even more chaotic and destructive of the lives of the working masses. Lagging behind the imperialist powers, but also subjected to middle-class international travelers carrying the virus, these semi-colonial countries, already in economic recession, were devastated. Iran had shown early what happens when a brutal clerical dictatorship already subjected to sanctions was prepared to sacrifice the people rather than risk the economy further. So, when Brazil, South Africa and India, to name only the most important cases, rush to catch-up with the virus, this means draconian curfews and lockdowns that force the masses into quarantine without jobs, income, adequate housing or the medical resources to prevent the spread of the virus.

(3)  Pandemic as opportunity to manage depression

This is how the COVID-19 pandemic spread, compounding the terminal crisis of capital.  What opportunities did this offer the ruling class? There are those, not confined to Trump, who hold China responsible for the pandemic. Other online conspiracies claim that the virus was engineered by Chinese scientists as part of a biological warfare program. It is patently absurd. Previous corona viruses in Asia can be traced to the living conditions, travel of migrants and tourists or the habits of workers who augment their diet with wild animals sold in wet markets. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime may have a biological warfare program, but trade in wild animals for food is not part of it. This practice is illegal and the state tries to stamp it out. There are equally absurd conspiracies from the opposing camp that attribute the pandemic to US or Israeli bio-chemical warfare. Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who thinks that one cause of the pandemic was the introduction of ‘gay marriage’, probably takes the prize.

More damaging to the workers internationally is the conspiracy put up by some on the self-professed Trotskyist left. For example the RCIT attributes the measures adopted by imperialist and semi-colonial powers that ‘lockdown’ the working masses to a deliberate counter-revolutionary strategy to finally defeat and destroy the revolutionary potential of the international proletariat. It labels those who do not share their view as the ‘lockdown left’ for accepting lockdowns as necessary to fight the pandemic and therefore siding with the bourgeoisie in shutting down business with huge loss of jobs.  We reject this type of un-Marxist conspiracy theory since there is a good Marxist explanation for the adoption of these ‘lockdown’ measures to deal with the pandemic. See RCIT’s COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive.

The COVID-19 is not the first pandemic in the history of capitalism. Pandemics, like other threats to the health and safety of the working class, are caused by capitalism and pose a risk to its conditions of existence. The working class has struggled over centuries to force the capitalist class-in-general to introduce health and safety measures which benefit workers’ lives, even though it also benefits bosses’ profits.  Of course, individual capitalists always try to avoid the costs of these reforms, and in its terminal decline neo-liberal capitalism has succeeded in taking back many of these gains. This is reflected in the draconian attacks on public health as a short-term drain on falling profits during the neo-liberal counter-revolution. The response of the working class historically, so long as it is forced to work for capital to subsist, is to defend health and safety laws as matters of life and death.

In the current pandemic, health and safety principles demand the isolation of workers from conditions in the workplace and in public life that threaten their lives. At the same time, it demands that workers resist measures in the name of ‘public health’ that leave them destitute in living conditions that exacerbate the pandemic. Therefore, Marxists do not reject public health ‘lockdowns’ on principle because of a loss of jobs and income. Instead we put the lives of workers first, and demand fully funded public health, healthy and safe living conditions in employment, and a living wage for employed and unemployed. Moreover, since capital in a terminal crisis of its own making cannot afford these reforms, we advance a transitional program to fight for workers to take control of their living conditions, which must take that struggle all the way to the overthrow of capitalist social relations.

The China model of combatting the pandemic did not impose unusually draconian controls over workers compared to the ones that bourgeois democratic regimes have themselves used under war-time ‘blitz’ conditions. The “authority” of the Chinese monopoly capital state is based on a ‘class’ social contract in which workers’ lives are protected so that capital can continue to exploit them. The Marxist program in that situation defends the democratic right of workers for life today, because that enables us to fight to overthrow the exploitative, oppressive and alienated social relations tomorrow.

It was the failure to impose the China solution when there was plenty of advance warning of a pandemic that left China’s imperialist rivals resorting to panicked, confused and draconian blanket curfews, economic shutdowns, and punitive lockdowns of the working people. This was the result of the chaos of the market, not a capitalist conspiracy.

The chaos was an expression of the fact that the ruling classes in the West were divided between those who resisted lockdown as damaging the economy, and those who recognised the need for a short, sharp shock to restore the conditions for profit. That is, to use the pandemic as an opportunity to induce and manage a depression to restore the rate of profit. This explains why the most rotten of imperialist powers vacillated while the virus spread. Trump and Johnson both took the laissez faire view of parasitic speculative capital of allowing the virus to spread to create a ‘herd immunity’. That is, to let the market rip instead of let the market R.I.P. Both were overruled by productive capital fractions who recognised the compounding effects of the pandemic for the survival of capitalism. Yet in both the UK and the US the vulture capitalist fraction of the bourgeoisie championed by Trump and Johnson is still pushing for the return to ‘business as usual’ ahead of the shutdown of business and lockdown of workers. Trump openly rallies his fascist base against the lockdown state Governors, while Johnson allows ‘herd immunity’ to prevail by underfunding attempts to isolate and halt the pandemic.

This division in the ruling class explains why the semi-Bonapartist regimes in the West did not attempt to fight the pandemic and impose authoritarian shutdowns and lockdowns following the China model. Bonapartist rule has to dispense with bourgeois democracy to carry out its task of counter-revolution. But it can only dispense with democracy when it has the power to do so. These regimes were under pressure to increase surveillance and repression against the rise of militant workers’ movements. For example, Macron was in trouble getting the Yellow Vests and unions off the streets, and Boris Johnson too had a problem with a divided country and the threat of the breakup of Britain. It was the pandemic which induced the economic crash overnight that presented the semi-Bonapartists with the opportunity to attack workers to restore public order in the name of public health. Here was the opportunity to rescue capitalism from its terminal crisis as the supposed ‘cause’ rather than ‘symptom’.

The factions of the ruling class that most represented the interests of productive capital, that is capital-in-general, seized the time to use the state to induce and manage a depression to restore the conditions for the return to profitability.  The analogy to war is apposite, as it was not the Great Depression but WWII that followed that destroyed the massive amounts of capital to create the conditions for a post-war boom. That is, it was war that cut costs at all costs; that destroyed capital value by getting rid of surplus fixed capital and drastically cutting the value of wages. Only by destroying sufficient amounts of surplus capital in this way were the conditions for a return to profitable production restored.

To replicate the conditions of depression and war these semi-Bonapartist regimes, have to remove the democratic barriers to more centralised state power in order to catch up with China. Thus, the Western imperialist powers and their semi-colonial client states have seized on the pandemic as the opportunity to force the pace to rescue bankrupt banks and corporates, and to restructure production able to compete with China. They also forced their semi-colonial client states to seize the opportunity of the pandemic as the pretext to restructure their corrupt, crony dependent economies and simultaneously use the army to lock up the class enemy.

Marxists understand that this is the only course for the imperialist ruling classes facing the terminal crisis. Having failed to revive global capitalism by bailing out business in the GFC, the conditions for profitability were not restored and the global market stagnated. In desperation the declining imperialist powers began to retreat behind protectionist borders to save their national capitals. We saw the rise of autarchy, the centralised power of national state monopoly capital, which calls forth national leaders who personify national capital-in-general. Trump and Johnson are the most flamboyant personifications of Bonapartism today. The pandemic shocked this process into overdrive as the semi-Bonapartists realised that the state must step in to nationalise business in the name of capital-in-general and close the borders to rescue dying capitalism. This is ‘business as usual’ in the new normal.

Therefore, capitalism in terminal crisis, bankrupt, debt ridden, fearing the historic threat of a rising working class which refuses to pay for the terminal crisis, seizes the opportunity arising out of its own destruction of nature, as an escape route. But there is no way out. Its feeble attempt at counter-revolution is a black swan song, and will fail to bring it a new lease on life so long as revolutionaries seize their opportunity to act decisively to overthrow rotten capitalism and build survival socialism.

(4)  Transition from Terminal Crisis to Workers’ State

The transitional program to defeat capitalism’s opportunist counter-revolution is based on the transitional method which applies the dialectic of the revolutionary party developing class consciousness of workers through their active subjective struggle to transform the objective situation from that of rotten capitalism into that of survival socialism. It begins with demands to change the immediate reality of a pandemic, itself the symptom of terminal crisis and climate change, which puts workers’ health and lives at stake, to defending their basic rights to life, to liberty and to health from bourgeois government attacks, and then on to the formation of organs of workers’ power to resist state power, and finally onto the political general strike and the socialist insurrection to smash the state and found the Workers’ and Oppressed Government.

The terminal crisis is first and foremost determined by capitalism’s inability to resolve its long-term Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (LTRPF.) Read Is the “World in Crisis” terminal?  But there is no chance that the terminal crisis can be resolved even by a state-induced and managed depression. It cannot destroy enough value, constant and variable to allow a return to profitable production and a new period of rising accumulation. Why? Because the conditions for its existence are being destroyed by climate change and ecological destruction. These conditions are not external to capitalism, but internal. Capitalism is in the last analysis, a contradiction between society and nature that is embedded in capitalist social relations. It is the proletariat as a natural force of production (labour power) that is being destroyed and it is the proletariat as part of nature that resists that destruction that will bring capitalism to its end. That is why Marxists speak of capitalism destroying itself as its internal contradiction explodes and creates the conditions for its replacement by socialism.

Therefore, our transitional program recognises that there can be no solution to the terminal crisis of capitalism short of socialism. The program begins with the most immediate demands to allow the working class to survive today so that it can advance the struggle to overthrow rotten capitalism to allow the working class to survive tomorrow. There can be no backing off that objective, no half-way houses, no electoral deals. Either capitalism dies or we do.

Some of those immediate demands will vary depending on what is necessary to advance the class struggle in different countries. But as the struggle develops, so will the capacity of the working class to unite around internationalist socialist demands for organs of struggle, councils and militias, capable of splitting the ranks from the top brass in the army, initiating  insurrection, and leading to the founding of Workers’ States and federations or unions of Workers’ states.  Let’s look at what demands need to be raised in action programs that can be applied in this situation in the two major imperialist rivals, China and the US; and in the largest semi-colonies, Brazil, India and South Africa.


We start with China as it is the new imperialist power that is competing with the US for dominance of the world economy. As we have argued above, the characterisation of China as capitalist and imperialist is the key to understanding the objective world situation. First, for historic reasons China evolved as the most advanced state monopoly capitalist regime. This explains its rapid rise as the No 2 imperialist power. Second, these factors determine its relationship with the other imperialist states, in particular the US, but also the semi-colonies, including those within its sphere of interest as members of BRICS; Brazil, India and South Africa. These relationships also explain the significance of China’s influence in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the case of China, the model used to control the spread of the pandemic, the lockdown and quarantine, stopped the increase in infection within two months. It went from a peak, to a decline, and then to stable management. But the cost was heavy for workers who lost their jobs, and the informal sector (over 50%) of workers who rely on casual work or street vending. It is too early to say if the impact on China’s economy will be much less than other countries as a result of its success in containing the virus. Nevertheless, the impending global crash could see China’s economy slump to well below the 6% GDP growth of recent years. This is already raising fears of job losses and of heavy state clampdowns on protests.

The immediate demands to meet workers’ needs at this point would be for massive state spending to create jobs, a living wage, adequate health and housing against the impact of further epidemics and the coming depression. Democratic demands would be for rights to free speech, association, labour strikes, independent unions, independent political parties, minority rights etc. We expect the CCP one party state to resist these immediate and democratic demands making it necessary for a struggle for workers control of their living conditions, health, habitation, education, welfare etc. This raises the socialist demands for workers councils and self-defence committees to overthrow the CCP regime and the bourgeois state, followed by the founding of a Workers’ Government and Workers’ State.

There is no fragment of the original Fourth International of Trotsky left in mainland China capable of raising even a reformist program. Socialist Action, the Chinese section of the newly formed International Socialist Alternative (ISA –the majority of the former Committee for a Workers International), claims to stand on an orthodox Trotskyist program. That is contestable. One can hold the view that the Chinese revolution of 1949 led to the creation of a Deformed Workers’ State (DWS), but to claim it remains so today is to break from Marxism. Deng Xiaoping reintroduced a limited market to overcome the stagnation of the bureaucratic plan in 1978 and the Party sanctioned the return to the law of value in determining prices in 1992. One cannot explain China’s return to the global market as a new imperialist power as the result of the bureaucratic plan in a DWS. Nevertheless, the ISA program for China is for a political revolution, rather than a socialist revolution, in perhaps the second most powerful imperialist nation, after the US.

When the ISA calls for the end to the CCP dictatorship, it means the overthrow of the CP leadership in a political revolution that puts the workers in control of the Party. While it is not possible to reject entirely the fact that the state control of the economy is ‘state capitalism’ for the ISA, this does not constitute the restoration of capitalism which requires private ownership of the means of production. Stretching reality to fit a dogma that state ownership cannot be capitalist, contradicts Trotsky’s statement that the path to the restoration of capitalism in workers states will most likely take the form of state capitalism. By that definition the class character of the state is determined by the social relations it defends. China is therefore ruled by a bureaucracy that is a collective capitalist ruling over a state capitalist economy. Read the ISA’s China’s dictatorship ignites massive coronavirus backlash.

The fact that this is an alternative route to state monopoly capitalism with such success explains why it is something the Western powers seek to emulate. The common denominator is state monopoly capitalism crowned by a Bonapartist head of state which must be overthrown by social revolution. The program of the ISA that calls for ‘political revolution’ in China plays into the hands of the Bonapartists in the West who point to the CCP as ‘authoritarian’ whilst they represent the democratic will of the people. Would-be Bonapartist Trump makes a great play of demonising China at every opportunity as a justification for his own power grab at home. Both Chinese and US workers are sucked into the rivalry between the two powers that could easily develop into war. Such a contradiction between the ISA program and objective reality is a counter-revolutionary travesty of Leninism-Trotskyism.

Leninist-Trotskyists must reach out to Chinese workers and raise the full Transitional Program based on the correct characterisation of the Chinese state and link immediate demands to democratic demands for freedom of expression, assembly, self-organisation, self-defence, and ultimately to socialist demands for the political general strike, workers militias and for socialist revolution. In its relations with rival imperialist states we are for the defeat of both sides and for workers to turn their guns on their respective ruling classes. In relation to the semi-colonies, we defend them in any war with China. The program has as its crowning objective the Workers’ Government to expropriate the means of production and capitalist property without compensation, putting nationalised land under workers control, and the replacement of the law of value with the socialist plan. And because there can be no socialism in one country, we call for a Socialist Republic of China as part of an East Asian Federation of Socialist Republics! Read our January, 2012 “The Most Dangerous Class”: Chinese Workers and Farmers Confront Chinese Imperialism: For the Socialist Revolution! Draft statement for discussion.

(b) USA

We do not take Trump’s claim seriously, that because the COVID-19 came from China and arrived in the USA, China must take the blame. Even Trump’s political rivals at home reject this on the basis that the US failed to agree to jointly study the corona viruses in China, and failed to recognise China’s rapid containment of the COVID-19 epidemic. See Breaking With China Is Exactly the Wrong Answer – The Atlantic.

While this is true, Marxists do not separate the corona virus from the historic vector for viruses that is capitalism itself. Capitalism has a long history of introducing its viruses into the ‘new world’ including its early wars against China. US imperialism played a starring role in creating the conditions for corona viruses, notably in its support of the nationalists in the long civil war against the CCP that ended in the 1949 Revolution. And since then, as part of the Cold War against ‘communism’, the US has tried to ‘quarantine’ China against the spread of the Red Menace.

It turns out that the viruses that capitalism introduced to the ‘new world’ are coming home to roost in the USA where the global contradictions of dying capitalism are concentrated and centralised and ready to explode. The Terminal crisis begins and ends in the USA. Meanwhile the pandemic which it refuses to take responsibility for, accelerates the terminal crisis, and gives China an opening to take the global leadership from the US. Read the Guardian’s US awol from world stage as China tries on global leadership for size.

The rush to Bonapartism in the West to compete with China’s ascendency is most evident in the US which has the most to lose. If Trump is re-elected we can expect a further grab for power that will not stop at Bonapartism but descend into the abyss of fascism. It will meet China’s economic power with military power in local and regional wars where the two blocs compete for control of what remains of the earth’s natural resources. Any of these wars can easily end in a catastrophic global war.

For the International Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency (ILTT), US imperialism in decline expresses the fundamental contradiction between dying capitalism and nature in extremis. Everywhere, the US is riven by its extreme effects. Our action program for the US captures this exploding global contradiction manifested in the biggest and most rotten imperialism of all. Our rivals lack this perspective of the US because they are tainted by social imperialism or its flipside, national Trotskyism, that blinds them to that reality. Read Russia, China, and the Unfinished Permanent Revolution.

Our action program for the US, COVID-19 Pandemic and Capitalist Economic Crisis: A Class Struggle Workers Action Program, states:

“The post-WWII U.S. hegemony of the last 70 years, arising from the redivision of the capitalist world after the devastation of the second inter-imperialist world war and built off of the super-profit accumulation from the exploitation of the semi-colonies/colonies, is coming to an end. American capitalism was sustained by a capitalist ideology rooted in the middle class and infecting large swaths of the working class. In particular, it was the labor aristocracy and bureaucracy who directly benefited from the imperialist profit-grabbing and who in unions such as the UAW, engaged in anti-China chauvinism rather than the international class struggle needed as American plants were closed and jobs moved offshore by Wall Street for cheaper labor. Down with anti-Chinese chauvinism and ‘Buy American’ protectionism!! Anti-Chinese chauvinism dovetails with Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Latin American prejudice campaigns! These blame games are the harbingers of fascism, the latent political content of the Make America Great (White!) Again campaign.”

And the material basis of this social chauvinism/imperialism is retailed in the unions and the Democratic Party:

“The pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy presided over the decimation of the unions as they pushed the team management schemes that tied workers to management on the shop floor. This class collaboration was historically prepared in the political sphere binding the unions to the capitalist Democratic Party, robbing the working class of both its political independence and the ability to use class struggle methods to defend and advance the historic gains and interests of our class.  Down with labor/management peace schemes! For class struggle to defeat anti-labor laws such as Taft-Hartley! Defeat the Popular Front with the capitalist parties! We fight for the  political independence of the working class.”

And as rotting capitalism collapses in on itself in the US where Trump with Republican backing cannot solve the terminal crisis, nor China’s challenge for hegemony, without exposing the bankruptcy of capitalist rule, all this makes it clear that world socialism’s time has come.

“The U.S. is number one in the number of COVID-19 cases, due to the deliberate criminal neglect of the Trump administration and the Democratic and Republican Congress.  And the death rate is rising. It was the pandemic and the economic impact that tipped the world capitalist economy into turmoil, into a crisis that was already brewing as the capitalists have been unable to restore their rate of profit since the economic crisis of 2008, despite the working class being driven yet further into poverty.  The dominance of U.S. imperialism on the world stage is faltering, as the U.S. is not able to turn on a dime as it did in WWII to fight the war on COVID-19. This is due to the deindustrialization under the ‘logic of globalization’ (imperialism). The supply chains trace back to areas in China closed by COVID-19. And China itself is a competing, rising imperialist power challenging U.S. hegemony.  Only under rational, cooperative, centralized social economic planning on a world scale, a socialist world economy, can pandemics of this magnitude be effectively contained or the looming catastrophe of climate change be halted and reversed. And the working class is the only social class capable of democratically building and managing such an economy. The capitalist ruling classes and governments, the defenders of capitalism, have proven themselves utterly bankrupt as stewards and rulers of society.”

The full text including the action program can be found in: COVID-19 Pandemic and Capitalist Economic Crisis: A Class Struggle Workers Action Program.


Brazil’s historic role as a semi-colony in the capitalist world economy determines its economy and politics. Once dominated by US imperialism it is now caught up in the rivalry between declining US imperialism and rising Chinese imperialism over control of energy and other basic resources. The Brazilian ruling class is also divided by this rivalry as ‘junior partners’ in sharing the surplus value pumped out by both imperialist powers. China as the most advanced state monopoly imperialist regime is extracting what remains of Brazil’s natural resources to produce superprofits. The bourgeois fraction associated with China’s ventures has built up China as Brazil’s No 1 trading partner, joined BRICS, and signed off on joint venture energy and infrastructure projects. Politically it is represented by the Workers Party (PT) popular front until the rise of Bolsonaro. As elsewhere where it invests, China presents it’s imperialist relationship with its partners as “win-win” venture capitalism.

A second bourgeois faction is aligned to US imperialism sharing in its investments and is associated with the rapacious US policy of Trump ‘vulture capitalism’ that quarries nature to death in order to squeeze another decade out of the earth to arrest US terminal decline. The bourgeois fractions that partner with the US include the most backward that still live with a white settler mentality as if defending the frontier of civilisation. They are the big landowners, the parasitic financiers who want to privatise all state assets, and the small bourgeoisie who want to destroy the nature reserves and kick the indigenous people out of the Amazon. One section of the army command that aligns with these interests backs these policies. They all joined in the US influenced Bolsonaro ‘coup’ against the PT.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of Bolsonaro’s ability to rule Brazil in the interests of the US fraction only. He does not have majority support and has backed off much of his radical slash and burn of the welfare system and privatisation of state owned corporations. But his crazy “little flu” stand on the pandemic has put him offside not only with most people, but with most of the state governors who are imposing lockdowns, and many bourgeois and military figures. This compounded crisis has disqualified Bolsonaro ruling as a Bonaparte, strutting above the classes and claiming to represent the people. Now he is a buffoon whose power has been quietly transferred to the army command which will try to find a new candidate to fill the vacancy for a Bonapartist figurehead.

For the ILTT, the bankruptcy and instability of the Brazilian ruling class is evidence that semi-colonial capitalism cannot solve the terminal crisis of capitalism. Only the revolutionary working class can solve this crisis by overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist world.

The GTR (Grupo de Trabalhadores Revolucionaros) of Brazil meets this crisis full on with its action program Economic crisis, coronavirus: the Popular Front paving the way for fascism and the need for the Revolutionary Party.

“The instability of the Bolsonaro government, the accusations and disputes between sectors of the bourgeoisie, the attacks it has been suffering from the media are consequences of the enormous political, economic and social crisis of the capitalist chaos that we have arrived at. The reformist left that wants Bolsonaro’s downfall via impeachment, with an alliance with bourgeois sectors, inside the capitalist system, only affirms their reformism and promises that they can improve capitalism. You can not!

All they will do is to feed fascism, the only way for the bourgeoisie to “resolve” the crisis.

Workers, General Strike to guarantee social isolation, overthrow Bolsonaro and expropriate hospitals, factories and banks and take actions to fight the epidemic and the economic crisis! In the face of capitalist chaos, humanity requires socialism in order to survive!

Bolsonaro is unlikely to sustain himself for long. The tanks on the street will not be to guarantee isolation and contain the pandemic, but to ensure that workers pay the price of the crisis with their blood! Down with the reformist left that ties us to the bourgeoisie and illusions in capitalism!

The Popular Front is paving the way for fascism!

The bourgeoisie cannot escape this crisis without attacking the working class. The reformist and traitorous left like the PT (Workers Party) that joins bourgeois sectors and the reactionary media Rede Globo to create illusions in capitalism and supporting bundles of public money to save banks and large companies, are paving the way for dictatorship and fascism, because that is the only real way out for the bourgeoisie to make workers pay the price of the crisis.

Time for workers to break out of reformism!

For a revolutionary party and for workers organized in committees to take control measures against the epidemic and the economic crisis, taking the factories and expropriating the bourgeoisie!

No public money for banks and large companies! Money for workers and to save lives!

The pandemic is a catalyst for a depression in the world economy that has already been announced by the flustered economists of academia. Bolsonaro’s government is yet another, after Dilma’s, which is unable to resist the terminal crisis of capitalism.

Doria, Caiado, Rede Globo, army generals and all bourgeois sectors rising against Bolsonaro are only concerned with how to maintain “stability” at a time when capitalism needs to allocate public money to save banks and large companies at the expense of the blood of the working class!

Bolsonaro mobilized the middle class with rallies  all over the country. Bourgeois sectors, Globo (major corporate media), army high command  and politicians in congress mobilizing against Bolsonaro. We are on the brink of fascism with a coup or civil war.

Unions, trade unions, left-wing parties that continue to join with the sectors of the bourgeoisie to create illusions, that there is a way out of the crisis inside capitalism, leaving the working class in their passivity,  attests  to their betrayal and paves the way for fascism.

It is necessary for the workers’ organizations, their unions and central to mobilize the class from the base, with committees by local work for the general strike and for a revolutionary and socialist outcome out of this crisis, expropriating the bourgeoisie and the banks, with a workers’ government!

In the face of capitalist chaos, we need socialism to survive!

We urgently need a revolutionary workers’ party to say what is necessary: ​​to end capitalism!

The current chaos must serve as an awareness that the capitalist system is the cause of economic crises, wars and pandemics!

Lenin during the civil war in 1919 said that typhus was laying low the Red Army and holding back the development of socialism!

Fight for a working class government based on workers’ councils and a working-class militia to carry out the revolutionary reorganization of a socialist society!

Build  workers’ “crisis committees”, build a working class movement to take control of this crisis, to nationalize all the big banks and big industries without a penny of compensation for the bourgeoisie, under democratic control of the workers!

We need national assemblies of workers deputies to centralize social planning to determine who should work, under what conditions, provide safety equipment and what should be produced and where it should be distributed!

No money to save the failed bourgeoisie! Rescue package for workers and healthcare!

Defeat the reformist and traitorous left that creates illusions in this failed system and tries to manage the capitalist crisis!



India is the richest and most populous semi-colony in the world, with a national bourgeoisie divided into two main political fractions, the secular Western-oriented Congress Party, and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) an extreme Hindu nationalist party under Prime Minister Modi. Modi has promoted a Hindutva (Hindu fascist) movement to create a one party state where he, as a jumped up Bonapartist, claims to rule all India. He looks to China for economic cooperation, but at the same time fraternises with Trump. Though India is a member of the BRICS, it fears China’s growing influence in Asia and does not participate in the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Therefore Modi’s regime is caught in an impasse between the two major imperialist powers which both download their costs of the global crisis onto India. He has no option but to internalise the crisis by staging adventures such as his re-partition of Kashmir, and reviving the internal ‘partitions’ of caste, religion and nationalism to pass on the costs of the crisis to the working masses. He used constitutional reform to create a gulf between the Hindus and Muslims second only to the partition of 1947. This creates an internal partition which denies Muslim citizenship rights and fans Hindu mob violence to turn Muslims into stateless persons. The massive protests against this racist mobilisation drew big crowds onto the streets and bloody fights between Hindus and Muslims. Of course, there is no effective political opposition to the BJP from the liberal bourgeoisie of the Congress Party, nor the reformist Communist Party (CPI) which forms a popular front with the Congress Party to provide cover for Modi’s movement towards fascism.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic added another dimension to India’s economic crisis. Even while Modi was raising an internal partition against Muslims he was denying the existence of the threat of a pandemic. His method of dealing with it was the opposite of that of China. The Government ignored the threat of the pandemic for months and then rushed through an emergency 21 day lockdown with four hours notice. This threw millions of migrant workers out of their informal jobs and forced them to walk long distances to their home villages. As a result many millions, hounded by the police and military, were displaced, quarantined under a curfew and exposed to the virus.

In this chaotic situation, the Transitional Program must be used to reverse and overcome these national and sectarian partitions between workers and fuse them into one international united proletariat!

Immediate demands of workers are for democratic rights to health and safety, and to mobilise to break the curfew/quarantine which isolates and traps workers so they cannot organise to fight for jobs, wages etc. Under the current state emergency where the police are deployed to repress workers who break the curfew, these immediate demands for workers to organise to meet their most pressing needs must rapidly escalate into demands for self-organisation and self-defence that will in turn trigger socialist demands for the seizure of power. Only the transition to power can rescue workers from destruction at the hands of fascism!

The only party that argues for the Transitional Method and Program in the Trotskyist tradition is the WSP (Workers Socialist Party of India). It’s aim is to rebuild the 4th International in the tradition of the short-lived Bolshevik Leninist Party of India (BLPI) before it capitulated to the Pabloism of the Fourth International after WW2. Its ultimate objective is to restore the unity of the South Asian region, destroyed by Partition, to create a Socialist Federation of South Asia.

The WSP recognises that the crisis in India is extreme and developing rapidly so there is a short step from the most immediate to more advanced socialist demands and this was expressed initially in their calls to workers to break the curfew and occupy the streets. However, since the displacement of millions of working people returning home and the deploying of the police to attack those who break the lockdown, the WSP no longer demands mass demonstrations, but rather the formation of workers committees that can organise to prepare for workers’ organs of power, the fall of the Government, and the installation of a Workers’ Government and socialist plan.

WSP Statement on the Coronavirus Pandemic (25 March, 2020)

“Corona pandemic has taken over our world by surprise and fear. Countries, one after the other, are falling to it’s deadly trap. There is tragic devastation- deaths, illness and economic depression, and even more than that- the widespread scare and fear. Amazingly, this is happening in the 21st century- in the era of computers and robotic science, in the era of abundance of resources and immense proliferation of all material forces.

To be sure, the virus itself is no pandemic. It is nothing more than any other virus. What has made it deadly, is the inability of our generation, first to foresee it’s advent, then to prevent it’s development, then to control its spread and finally to counter it with an antidote. To be short, there has been a whole series of failure after failure, from beginning to the end, that has made the virus so deadly.

Needless to say that these failures are the failures of capitalism. They are failures of capitalism in as much as for long they have continued to accumulate inside it’s belly before the final explosion. Capitalism has not only failed to develop the human cognizance to answer the challenges of contemporary times but has itself become the chief hurdle to the development of human wisdom and intelligence. It must come as no surprise to anyone who keeps even the least pace at the world around them that the profit orientation of capitalism has turned all resources- human and natural- away from the socially driven research and innovation in science and technology. Since long back, profits have become central to all scientific development and research.

Division of the world and it’s resources into rival nation-states, ruled by nationally organised gangs of capitalists and profiteers, has immensely impeded the evolution of viable and effective global strategies to counter these challenges. Capitalist national states, the regulators of all economic life and the chief defenders of profits and private property ensuing from them, that still keep our planet divided into rival territories, have been the main roadblocks to barricade and retard the development of science and knowledge as a whole.

Their austerity programs for social expenditure, that go hand in hand with huge military budgets allocated for upkeep of armed forces and piling up weapons of mass destruction to damage and destroy each other, the worst hit was public education and health. They have retarded human cognizance, knowledge and wisdom, pushing it to a level where it is rendered completely unable to respond to the challenges of our times. These sectarian state partitions, prevented the world from rising in time in unison against the coming pandemic having global dimensions. To the global spread of the disease, the answer was too little and too late.

When Covid-19 corona virus first appeared in a Wuhan market, the callous Chinese bureaucracy focussed upon suppressing the news till there was a huge outbreak of the disease going beyond all control. While Chinese cities kept falling to the outbreak, other countries remained in slumber till they got their own dose. Disastrous virus spread has come on the back of the scientific myopia of ruling elites and the callousness of their national governments alongside their fatal failure to see the spectacularly foreseeable.

Corona is no natural epidemic as is popularly perceived. It is man made disaster- a disaster emerging out of the failure of our generation completely disarmed by capitalism- materially and intellectually. Even now, the minimal efforts being advanced by the sectarian national states, rooted in turn in private property and oriented to profits, with a very backward corresponding consciousness, are abysmally insufficient to tackle the dreadful virus spread. No effective war upon the challenges like Covid-19 is possible on the outworn basis of capitalism. Only a socialist unification of the world would present us with the opportunity and arm us fully for the first time in history, to rise up to the challenges of our era.

After zero response to corona spread for more than two months which proved fatal, the perplexed Modi government has rushed recklessly for a countrywide curfew, an insane surgical strike upon billions of working people, again! Not caring a hoot for or respecting any law, the police are beating everyone found moving. There are off the record orders for this indiscriminate brutal repression.Working people must fight it back! During the curfew, the economic-political situation is deteriorating so fast that after 21 days, if Modi wants, he will not be able to finish it. He will move it forward and finally call the army for suppression!

The only effective way to fight and avoid Corona epidemic is to take over not only all hospital and pharmaceutical companies, but also banquet halls, sairagāhōṁ, clubs and hotels.

It is certain that the capitalist government of the capitalists will not do this. So, with the help of crores (crore = 10 million) of working people, the working class should immediately take over the government as well as the hospitals and pharmaceutical companies!

Long live the socialist revolution!

“Organise Workers’ Committees! Sideline the failed bourgeois Governments!” (30 March 2020)

WSP informs us that these workers’ committees will be the basis for organising the working class organs of power such as defence committees, making appeals to the ranks of the armed forces to disobey orders and join the workers committees, and to stage the insurrection and form a Workers’ Government!


South Africa today is a living example of a semi-colony that cannot escape the clutches of imperialism short of a socialist revolution. Some of its socialist intellectuals claim it is sub-imperialist but this is a pipe dream. Its attempts at national liberation were aborted by imperialism co-opting the ANC and its military wing so that the long overdue end of apartheid would peacefully transition via ‘truth and reconciliation’ into the Republic today ruled over by a comprador Black Bourgeosie. Today these one-time institutions of national liberation have turned into  institutions of class rule on behalf of imperialism to oversee the exploitation and oppression of the working people. South Africa’s mineral and agricultural wealth produced by its mainly Black proletariat is siphoned off by imperialism, in particular UK, US and Chinese imperialism.

The conversion of the ANC from national liberator to national oppressor was not quite total. The national liberation struggle of the ANC was led by the SACP, a Stalinist party whose objective was to create a republic with its own ‘road to socialism’ that remained capitalist but aligned as an ally in defence of the Soviet Union. It was no accident that it was the demise of the Soviet Union that allowed the ANC and the white ruling class to compromise on sharing power in the post-apartheid capitalist republic. The ANC ‘Freedom Charter’ was now a relic used as a fig leaf over its pact with the imperialists. Since 1994 the rise of a Black bourgeoisie in business with the white bourgeoisie oversaw the neo-liberal counter-revolution in which the working masses have suffered increasing poverty and misery in the mines, on the land, and in the reserve army of labour.

The ANC affiliated COSATU unions subordinated the working class under these conditions of worsening exploitation in the service of imperialism which now included the growing influence of China. South Africa joined the BRICS and welcomed Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the economy.

The massacre at Marikana in 2012 marked a turning-point when widespread rank and file disillusionment with the ANC and COSATU saw moves on the part of a number of unions to break from COSATU. The metalworkers union NUMSA broke from the ANC and SACP in 2013 and called for a new workers party. It was expelled from COSATU in 2014. Since then it has rejected other left parties like the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) and WASP (Workers and Socialist Party – a section of the ISA – International Socialist Alternative.) At the time our tendency critiqued NUMSA for remaining trapped in illusions in the reformist Freedom Charter, when that could only degenerate into a ‘Red’ bourgeois “South African road to ‘market’ socialism” under subordination to imperialist China.

The founding of the ‘workers party’ that NUMSA called for in 2013 came to fruition in April, 2019, when the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party (SRWP) was formed on a ‘Marxist-leninist’ program by mobilising outside parliament. But the content of its program remains the Stalinist two-stage road to socialism in which the first stage is accomplished in the bourgeois parliament. Yet in the 2019 general election the party scored less than 15,000 votes nationally, surely a strong temptation to join popular fronts in future elections. So it was no surprise that the new party was hailed by the reformist left including the fake-Trotskyist WASP and Pabloite Brazilian PT, further signs of its Stalinist/Menshevik heritage. And even the Spartacist splinter group,  the ‘Internationalist’ was prepared to give the SRWP ‘critical support’, no doubt in the hope that its untested program would be steered by the Chinese “deformed workers’ state”, into a ‘win-win’ deal for workers.

Our tendency sees the SRWP entering the political arena as a reformist party at a critical time with a stageist Stalinist ‘minimum-maximum’ program to keep the masses tied to parliament when they are under attack by world imperialism and the national bourgeoisie. The critical test of the SRWP’s program, the pandemic, has arrived after a year of its existence. What the masses need now is a revolutionary party and program to expose the dangers of a reformist program and to advance the struggle for socialist revolution. From the standpoint of Trotsky’s transitional method and program, we critically examine two SRWP statements on fighting the pandemic, going through its more general statements as well as its specific demands.

Critique of SRWP program on the pandemic that appears on its official facebook page.

“Every crisis discards the conventionalities, tears away the outer wrappings, sweeps away the obsolete and reveals the underlying springs and forces.” Vladimir Lenin, On Self-Determination, 1916

This is a classic statement of the two stage ‘minimum-maximum’ program. Lenin is quoted invoking the authority of Bolshevism, or, “Marxism-Leninism”.

“After Covid-19, there can be no going back to Capitalism’s brutal economy of inequality.”

Correct as a general statement about crises. And the pandemic is a crisis.

“With the contradictions of the capitalist system being laid bare, we as the working class have the responsibility of arresting the status quo and ensuring that the way forward is socialism and not barbarism.”

It seems the proletariat must play a role in this and not leave it to history.

“While in the immediate term governments must be pressured to provide all the necessary materials and means for humanity to emerge victorious from the scourge of Covid-19 (such as larger cash payments to working class and poor individuals and families), we must pursue a far more decisive class struggle of smashing the host cell of the neoliberal order. As the working class, we have to amass our forces to the enemy’s centre of gravity – capitalism and imperialism.”

To get to socialism, fIrst workers must fight to overcome the scourge of Covid-19, and “emerging victorious” they then must smash capitalism and imperialism.

The minimum program here is the concrete actions to fight the pandemic e.g. cash for working class and poor families. These are reforms won from the government by mobilising the masses. They do not require workers to organise to smash capitalism and imperialism. The smashing happens after the victory against Covid-19.

“Capitalism always seeks and finds ways of reshaping itself and shed-off its old skin, which would have been wounded from the time of crisis. Its defeat will therefore not come as a result of magical forces. The working class must organize – trade unions must organise the unorganized workers, social movements, working class student formations and all the progressive forces must unite to put capitalism where it belongs – in a dustbin of history.”

If there is any doubt as to this being a stageist program here we find the second stage elaborated as an ongoing struggle by the working class to put capitalism into the dustbin of history. But it is to be organised by the trade unions and not by a revolutionary mass party around a political program. This is essentially a syndicalist program.

The SRWP is a workers’ party based on the unions, specifically NUMSA, so we can give it credit for responding to pressure from the masses to found the party. Yet if the workers party is not won over to a transitional program, its min-max program will lead to defeats at the hands of capitalist imperialism. The transitional program is based on the method that mobilises around immediate demands by demonstrating that even the most minimal demands cannot be won except by a successful socialist revolution.

We will demonstrate this method by critiquing the ‘action program’ and comparing each immediate demand with a transitional demand.  Of course this means rejecting the minimalist statement at the start.

“Key demands we continue to make for a new, just arrangement of the South African political economy”.

Reforms to make ‘just’ the SA political economy will require a socialist revolution. We soon see that the ‘key demands’ fall short of advancing workers to socialism.

1.  Abolish extreme income inequality through a universal basic income grant based on a social scientific analysis of people’s needs.

This is a demand put on the capitalist state but it cannot be fought for with class struggle methods. Trotsky posed demands for wages to be put on the capitalist employers, backed by organised labour, and based on a sliding scale to keep pace with inflation calculated by workers’ prices and wages committees. In the same way workers would determine their needs collectively not individually making use of ‘social scientific analysis’ only if needed.

2. Introduction of a wealth tax and solidarity tax to fund programmes to eradicate unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Like Point 1, this is a demand on the state to redistribute income to the unemployed, poor etc. Workers are mobilised only to elect a government that can pass such legislation. Trotsky’s method was to demand employers agree to a sliding scale of hours, reducing hours without loss of pay until there were jobs for all. Poverty and inequality are met under point 1.

3. Implementation of a general anti-avoidance tax act to halt base erosion, profit shifting and the loss of the country’s resources to illicit financial flows.

Another demand on the state, this time to stop ruling class tax avoidance. Trotsky demanded that bosses’ open their books to the workers so they could calculate the rate of profit and where profits ended up. Again, this is imposed on the bosses by class struggle and not by voting for reformist political parties in bourgeois governments. (see next point)

4. Restructuring of personal income tax to ensure that those who can pay more make more contributions to the fiscus.

This appeals to the state to make the rich pay more. It doesn’t even demand a graduated tax which would mean the rich paid at a higher rate. On the tax question in general Trotsky did not call for workers to demand income redistribution from the bourgeois state as it diverted class struggle away from production relations to distributional relations. However under a Workers’ Government in a Workers’ State, taxation of the rich was a policy to redistribute income determined by the plan under socialist social relations.

5. Free and adequate provision of quality housing, water, electricity, health services, education and all other basic services necessary for a healthy and happy human life.

This is a key demand in responding to the pandemic lockdown of the working masses. Yet it states only the urgent needs of workers under lockdown and that they can do no more than get the state to meet these needs. It doesn’t mobilise workers to self-organise to occupy and requisition these basic services. Like workers committees on prices, wages, hours of work, Trotskyists demand that all these services come under workers control through committees that plan, requisition, and distribute housing, health, transport, water, electricity, education etc.

6. Abolish the current poverty national minimum wage and replace it with a living wage linked to the actual cost of production of the life of a worker and their family.

See point 1 above. A living wage can be won only by class struggle and determined by workers’ committees on wages and prices. Workers know how much their lives cost, and have the power to win a living wage.

7. Nationalise all strategic industries particularly the mines, the land and commercial farms, the banks, the big factories and the big business.

Demanding that the bourgeois state ‘nationalise’ capitalist and imperialist property (even without compensation) is to convert private property of individual capitalists into the collective property of the capitalist class in general. Trotsky’s transitional demands are to occupy and expropriate capitalist property (not private property outside capitalist production) which means without compensation since the value that is being expropriated was that expropriated from the working class over generations.

8. Integration of all nationalised industry into a democratic socialist plan of production for human need and not for profit.

Nationalised property cannot be integrated into a socialist plan unless it is socialised by a workers’ government for that purpose. Adding the words ‘democratic socialist’ does not change capitalist social relations.

9. Nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, and transform it from a profiteering apparatus to a central accounting department.

Same as 7 and 8 above. While the Reserve Bank is officially privately owned, it’s function is already nationalised on behalf of all capitalists since the state decides monetary policy and pays off debt with future taxation originating as the surplus-value of the working class. The socialist demand is for a Workers’ Government to expropriate the private banks and create one central workers’ bank.

10.The imperialist institutions such as the World Bank must cancel structural adjustment programs imposing debt/loan, and the debts of all developing countries.

The only way that South Africa can cancel its debt is for workers to take power as a Workers’ Government and renounce all debt owed to imperialist and national banks and financial institutions.

“We will abolish inequality by abolishing capitalism and all its social and cultural institutions. Only through decisive socialist revolutionary action, will humanity have a chance to survive.”

Yes! But we need a transitional program to mobilise workers’ power and Workers’ Governments in the whole of Southern Africa as part of a federation of socialist republics, in a world federation of socialist republics! ehe RSWP  position on the pandemic  along with the FTI and any

We also critique the Statement on Working Class Struggles in the era of Covid-19 issued by the national chairperson Irvin Jim on April 7, 2020

Jim reports that the time has come to break the “negotiated settlement” with the government that has delivered nothing since 1994 but worsening immiseration of the black masses. He concludes:

“This negotiated settlement has run its course. It will never deliver to the bulk majority, who are black and African and who remain economically marginalized. It is our advice as a vanguard Party, to the leadership of the ANC and the current government that it is impossible to continue to supervise the poverty of our people and the working class on behalf of imperialism and capitalism. [our emphasis, ed. note] We therefore join together with all other working-class formations, trade unions and federations in the call for an immediate implementation of the following demands for the rest of the year:

Private hospitals to be nationalized and open to all.

Testing and treatment for coronavirus must be free.

Cutting interest rates down to zero for the duration of the pandemic and create stimulus packages for the economy.

Basic income grants must be made available for the poor.

Guaranteed paid leave for all workers who have been placed on quarantine, or short time/layoff because of the temporary shutdown of plants.

A moratorium on job losses across all sectors of the economy.

All home loan and rent payments including all debt repayments must be suspended until after the pandemic has been dealt with

Food parcels must be provided for all those on self-isolation or quarantine in our townships and informal settlements.

It must be mandatory for all companies to adhere to the World Health Organization standards of cleanliness in the workplace. Workers who are forced to work and who are exposed to the public, e.g. garage workers, cashiers, waiters etc, all workers in the service industry must be provided with safety masks, sanitizers and gloves while on duty by the employer. This must be enforced with severe penalties for those who fail to adhere.

Stop all evictions with immediate effect.

Ensure all communities across South Africa have access to clean and quality water. Yet, whilst we work to secure the immediate survival of our class, we know this is a short-term strategy. In the long term, only a full-scale war on capitalism, where we unite and organize, wielding ourselves as the working class into a political force, can we liberate ourselves and all of humanity from this system that prioritizes profit over people.

The gigantic division between those who have and those who do not – between those who have the resources to survive the virus and those who live in the most vulnerable, risky conditions – has long existed. However, these contradictions have been sharply highlighted, exposed and laid bare for the world to see through the rapid spread of COVID-19.

The state must deliver all the basic social and economic conditions for the survival of our people now. In Section 27 of the Constitution, the guarantee for health care, food, water and social security for all, is the long-called-for mandate by the people. We must be unrelenting in our call for justice, equality and safety of the people. [our emphasis, ed. note]

Ultimately, we know that it is up to us all to begin to break the system of inequality and build a new one. Let us take this time to organize ourselves to defend the working class. Let us guard against stigmatization of people suffering not only from Covid-19, but from poverty, unemployment, homelessness. Let us lead in ensuring that our communities get what they need, that they are fed, our elders and most vulnerable cared for: physical distancing combined with social solidarity!”

This official statement from the SRWP confirms our view that the party is responding to pressure from below to transmit that pressure on the ANC led government for a ‘new settlement’ where the government must ‘deliver’ the list of demands presented. The party is ‘advising’ the government to do this on behalf of the working people at a time when that government is committed to serving the interests of imperialism and the national bourgeoisie facing a global terminal crisis.

It is possible that mass pressure can force the hand of the government to nationalise private hospitals, keep workers in jobs, provide emergency support, clean water and health and safety conditions. These have been won in the past. But to achieve these today at a level necessary to meet the needs of workers at a time of a terminal crisis would threaten capitalist’s survival and be met with state repression. Under the pandemic workers are being attacked for breaking curfews or protesting without making any demands! Workers face defeat unless they mobilise, build workers’ councils and self-defence organisations capable of defending their class from defeat.

This cannot happen without workers’ organising to fight for these demands independently of the government to build the unity, power and confidence of workers to take control of the economy. Workers have the power to occupy and take control of private hospitals. They have the power to take control of health and safety in combating the virus. They can back the health workers to occupy and manage hospitals and health clinics and hotels suitable for physical isolation. They can organise committees to provide food, water, and other essential services by seizing surpluses being destroyed by the lockdown. They have the power to organise defence committees that maintain the security of these workers organisations against the repressive forces of the state.

With these transitional demands based on Trotsky’s Transitional Program, the international party of socialist revolution can lead workers to build the power to gain control of the economy that bridges the gap between the minimum program and the maximum program that exists in the SRWP program. If workers are expected to beg the government for their immediate needs they will never develop the class consciousness and class power to cross that bridge and take the power that makes the maximum demand of socialist revolution possible.

It is necessary for class conscious workers to build that independent party, based on the Transitional Program to fulfill their historic task of leading the masses to the overthrow of the capitalist system and the fight for a socialist world!

Forward to the Permanent Revolution!




Written by raved

April 28, 2020 at 2:30 am

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Climate Crisis: From Capital to Commune

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While most capitalists still deny that climate change is anything to do with them, increasingly the world is now facing up to the truth of climate change. Yet most don’t understand the cause and therefore cannot grasp the solution. The default position of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and climate science in general is that the problem is Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). And the solution is to make that abstract ‘man’ human again. We argue that ‘man’ is not to blame; it is capitalism. So we should at least be talking of the Capitalocene. Yet what is understood by capitalism today makes all the difference as to what we do about it. We argue that capitalism cannot be reformed. It has to be overthrown and replaced with the Commune.

What is Capitalism?

If capitalism is mentioned as the cause of climate change, it is as an aberration on the part of elites, or capitalists, who are out of step with nature. Capitalism can be corrected if it is rescued from deniers like Trump. One can vote for a government that will act on climate change. So, the typical ‘anti-capitalist’ corrective is to focus on the elites and advocate ‘democratic’ and ‘non-violent’ means of providing a new leadership that can apply the technical fixes to solve the problem. Or abandon technology as if that, rather than the capitalist who owns and uses it as a means of production, is the problem.

But that ignores that capitalism is more than market and exchange relations. Capitalism presents itself as a system of market exchange which invert and obscure production relations. Workers do not see that their labor power produces value when capitalist ideology preaches that value is determined by market supply and demand. The extraction of surplus value from workers at the point of production is trivialised as workers and bosses fighting over a ‘fair share’ in the distribution of incomes.

This fetishism is the basis of bourgeois ideology which ignores class exploitation during production and mythologises ‘capitalist man’ as the free individual who buys and sells on the market. Marx’s critique of bourgeois political economy proved that value is created during the production of commodities which is then realised by their sale in the market. Value is not created by supply and demand driven prices of commodities, say oil, that can be regulated by the state.

For example, the fossil fuel industry produces value by using human labour to extract fuels. Therefore, regulating the market to shut down the fossil fuel industry cannot work because it retains ownership of its capital assets including labour, and has the power to manipulate political policy in its defence. Revolution is necessary to expropriate capitalist assets and redirect them into sustainable production. But to understand this, we need a social science that “tells the truth” about capitalism and its “war on nature” and what we need to do to overthrow capitalism.

It is not good enough to extrapolate from climate science to the bourgeois ideology of fetishized capitalism. Climate science has recognised the bio-physical problem of what happens when the atmosphere heats up rapidly with terrible consequences for life on the planet. But bourgeois ideology makes the cause of AGW abstract ‘man’. This assumes there is ahistorical, universal man, rather historical man shaped by the socio/economic relations, or production relations, that characterise specific historical societies, or modes of production, that determine how ‘man’ relates to nature.

Let’s get rid of ‘Man’ and replace him with Human. Human’s relation to nature changes because humans are part of nature, capable of acting with nature or against it, i.e. their own ‘human-ness’. Therefore, human’s changing ‘nature’ is the result of historical change from non-class society when both Humanity and Nature are in union, to class societies where contradiction destroys that unity.

It follows that if ‘human nature’ is ahistorical, static, and unchanging, and is responsible for AGW, how can it change enough to reverse AGW and avoid human extinction? The impasse is broken once we understand how ‘human nature’ changes throughout history, shaped by the production relations that define what Marx calls historical ‘modes of production’[MOPs]. If Humans change historically, under different production relations, they can under some conditions cause AGW, yet under other conditions change to avoid its consequences.

These production relations embody the contradiction between humans and nature, and vary from complete unity in non-class society to rising contradiction in class societies to an existential contradiction in capitalist society. But before taking that discussion further we need to get rid of the flawed concepts of AGW and the Anthropocene.

From Anthropocene to Capitalocene

So, we have a climate science that has named the period in which ‘man’ causes AGW, but in the absence of a developed social science of climate change we are stuck with the unscientific abstraction of the Anthropocene. This concept may have shifted the blame from nature to ‘man-made’ climate change, but at the cost of failing to point us in the right direction for solutions. First it is not abstract ‘man’ (human) that created climate change, it is capitalist human. Let’s replace the wrong ‘man’ with the right ‘human’ to signify the universal qualities of humanity that are potential in the union of humans and nature. But where the contradiction between human and nature exists, this potential unity is yet to be realised. Let’s look at the history of this potential unity.

Pre-capitalist modes of production [MOPs] had historically specific ‘human natures’ corresponding to the Kinship, Domestic, Slave and Tributory MOP and their corresponding production relations. Kinship relations were the basis of cooperative production and the sharing of products among kin as equals. Domestic relations describe the unpaid domestic labour of women for the benefit of men (i.e. the Patriarchy). Slave relations drove the slave production and the extraction of the product by slaveowners. Tributory (including feudal) relations comprised peasant production and extraction of rent by landowners.

Where these modes have survived in the margins of capitalism, subordinated to capitalist production relations as ‘indigenous’ peoples, unpaid domestic labour, slaves, low paid or unpaid agricultural workers, and so on, they remain trapped in uneven and combined development where all these forms of labour are subsumed to, and extracted by Capital. Capital controls and exploits pre-capitalist labour forms as a subsidy to the costs of wage labour, thereby ‘combining’ and ‘underdeveloping’ these forms free from exploitation.

All of these specific historical ‘human natures’, Kinship, Domestic, Slave, or Tributory, and their subordination to Capital exhibit a fundamental unity, in relative harmony with nature. They vary in their degree of unity with nature, from relative unity in class-less societies, while the growing separation of humans and nature intensifies as we go from the exploitation of women, slaves, peasant production, to the advent of capitalism. Before capitalism, none of these MOPs threaten to disrupt the union of humanity with nature, there is no extreme contradiction between humans and nature, despite some extinctions and local climate changes, in their respective production relations with nature.

If Anthropocene means ‘man-made’ climate change, then these pre-capitalist producers share none of the blame! But equally while pre-capitalist unity with nature inspires a vision of a non-capitalist human future, any return to pre-capitalist production relations is not part of the solution to climate change. The unity between humans and nature of pre-capitalist production relations cannot meet the needs of 8 billion humans today who are already enmeshed in the global capitalist system. The reason that such modes survive today is because they serve a purpose in providing cheap labor and raw materials to counter the LTRPF in the ‘developed’ countries.

Marx in his analysis of capitalism, fully realised how pre-capitalist modes survived in the service of capital, and toward the end of his life considered the possibility of the Russian peasant commune ‘leaping’ from a kinship mode into socialism with its ‘commune-ism’ intact and avoiding the transition to capitalism. More than twenty years later, the young Lenin tested this proposition in his book on the Development of Capitalism in Russia. Lenin found that by the 20th century the commune was subordinated to feudalism and its growing incorporation into global capitalism. The commune could not hold out to more ‘advanced’ modes that penetrated its economic relations and diverted its labor to the feudal lords and capitalist bankers and industrialists.

Capitalism, for the first time in history, created the potential for the unity of humans and nature within the contradiction of its production relation. While Capital dominates nature to the point of destruction, at the same it time creates the embryo of socialism within it, in the form of human Labor, that can resolve this contradiction in the future Commune.

Our present predicament is one of extreme contradiction between humans and nature in which the unrealised potential of unity of the Commune is the key to post-capitalist production relations. While pre-capitalist production relations were adapted to relative ‘scarcity’, post-capitalist production relations must restore the unity of humans and nature by overcoming the ‘scarcity’ imposed by capitalism and creating ‘plenty’ as the pre-condition of the future Commune.

So, how do we develop a social science of climate change? How can humans stop climate change in time, or failing that, mitigate its destruction of the biosphere? First, we get rid of the ahistorical and dead-end concept of the Anthropocene. It fails to explain why ‘industrial’ (another abstract concept) society created by the anonymous ‘man’ took off and developed at the expense of nature. Bourgeois ideology has its Robinson Crusoe myth of the birth of capitalism, that stranded white man who enslaved his black man Friday, a tragi-comedy which glorifies the separation of humanity from nature.

It ignores the real culprit, the capitalist production relations that created the conditions for ‘industrialisation’. To the extent that it acknowledges capitalism as an historical society, it explains its development not as a specific mode of production, but rather the myth of ‘economic man’ driving the evolution of the market, as both ‘natural’ and ‘just’.

It follows that this mythology is a road block to ending capitalism. If ‘economic man’ can perform such wonders then surely Anthropogenesis can find new socio/technical fixes that make capitalist production lean, clean and green. Capitalism would be a good idea, says Chomsky, so let’s make it better and survive. This is the ideology that permeates the bourgeois social ‘science’ that traps the leaderships of social movements such as Extinction Rebellion within bourgeois history, law and politics.

This ‘science’ is antagonistic to the revolutionary social science we need to guide us towards a post-capitalist future. Because the Anthropocene has become an ideological alibi to free capitalism from the blame for climate change, our first step is to replace it with the Capitalocene. When that too, proves a barrier to revolution, we can open our eyes to new possibilities.

Capitalocene means ‘capitalist-made’

While capitalism made climate change it had to make the ‘capitalist human’ to make it happen. But what makes a capitalist human, and the ‘human nature’ specific to capitalism? The production relations between capital and labour. Like previous class societies, capitalism arose when an emerging class, the bourgeoisie, challenged the artificial scarcity of the old feudal production relations. The bourgeoisie were not concerned to solve the problem of scarcity for humans as such, but to accumulated the surplus labour of wage workers as their own private property.

Far from realising the potential of the unity of humanity and nature, the new production relations separated the producers from nature to an unprecedented degree, alienating workers from nature – that is their labor and means of production – exploiting nature to exhaustion. Capitalist development became possible only by exhausting nature so that the contradiction between humans and society grew to the point of destroying the very conditions for capitalist growth.

Unlike the Anthropocene which can be reformed by capitalism as solutions to AGW, the Capitalocene is defined by the antagonism between humans as nature, and capital as destroyer of nature. Marx understood that underlying the class struggle in the market between workers and capitalists there was a deeper contradiction between nature/labor and capital/society. He wrote about this contradiction as a metabolic rift to mean that the essential interdependence of nature and society was doomed to rupture when capital exhausted nature.

Its existence became the driving force of the fundamental laws of motion of capitalism. The separation of humans from nature under capitalism followed from the metabolic rift between labor as nature, and capital as destruction of nature. The resolution of this contradiction would be socialist revolution for nature against capital and new production relations in harmony with nature, realised in full under Commune(ism).

Kohei Saito, in his book Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism, shows that Marx from early in his study of Capital understood the metabolic rift as both the secret of capitalist development as well as the ultimate cause of its decline in the necessary destruction of the conditions for its existence. The Young Marx recognised this as a contradictory process as capitalist production for profit led to the inevitable exhaustion of nature as wage labor, land and other means of production [MP]. Workers sold their Labour Power [LP] as a natural productive force to Capital. Part of it, necessary labour [NL], was advanced to them as wages to pay for the reproduction of LP. The surplus-labour [SL] was expropriated by Capital as the basis of profits.

In consuming their own NL and forfeiting their SL, this production relation alienates workers from control of their own labour (nature). Workers’ alienation from nature includes alienation from the human self, from solidarity with other humans, and from capitalist society. As a result, the fundamental contradiction between nature and humanity sets up an historical class struggle between labour and capital to defend nature or destroy it. We can see already that the concept of the Capitalocene that does not entail this contradiction is as apologetic for Capital as the Anthropocene. Capital is an historically specific mode that created at its heart the working class as a productive force of nature, which far from carrying any blame for climate crisis, would become its ‘gravedigger’ and finally explode the contradiction in the socialist revolution.

Marx critiqued the political economists who failed to see that the Capitalist [MOP] was historically specific. They had an evolutionary theory of capitalism in which the market and the individual bourgeois entrepreneur freed Capital from ancient and feudal scarcity and could overcome any natural limits with technology, giving it everlasting life – an early expression of a utopian Capitalist scenario!

In rejecting this evolutionary myth, Marx first had to debunk bad theories of the natural limits to Capital. Malthus claimed that population limits were set by loss of soil fertility. Marx buried himself in the debates over Agricultural chemistry and physics to show that capitalist agriculture could overcome soil exhaustion and overpopulation in the short term, but only by plundering and exhausting nature in the long term.

Between the short-sighted Malthus and Ricardo, and the bourgeois utopians without limits, Marx credited the class struggle as setting the limits to capitalist production. Capital would plunder nature to raise profits until such time as the class-conscious proletariat would overthrow it. Marx’s Ecosocialism can be summed up thus: the contradiction between Nature and Capital sets the absolute limit which capitalism today has now reached posing two roads forward. Nature will destroy capitalism and with it, humanity, unless humanity, in the form of socialism embryonic within capitalism, is born and destroys the Capitalocene replacing it with the Commune.

From Capital to Commune

To overthrow the Capitalocene as the concrete embodiment of the destructive relation between nature and capital we have to get rid of the concept of Capitalocene imprinted with bourgeois ideology. It is not capitalism in general, vaguely defined, subject to abuses and aberrations, and open to state reforms, that causes CGW. It is Capital destroying Nature. Therefore, capitalist relations of exchange and distribution cannot be reformed as they are embedded in the underling production relations. And these production relations presuppose private property and the dispossession of the producers of their own means of subsistence which is enforced by the capitalist state apparatuses.

The state is not a class-neutral institution that can limit the political power of elite, with occasional, liberal or labour-type governments. Its citizens are fetishized bourgeois individuals who must obey the state as the ‘organizing committee’ of the ruling class. The state enforces bourgeois law which defends private property and ensures that political representation does not challenge capitalist rule, using its armed forces, its spies and its controls over the media to enforce that rule. There is no room for reforms in any of these institutions devoted to Capital. If the specific production relations of capital and all of its supporting institutions are committed to destroying nature, cannot be reformed, then they must be overthrown. But how?

This fundamental contradiction between nature and capital is not a timeless abstract force, but the historical flesh and blood class struggle. It is the contradictory unity of nature and capital that is the force for change. Under the specific economic relations of capital, humanity, as part of nature, is turned into its opposite, inhumanity, antagonistic to nature. The ‘young’ Marx may have generalised about humans alienated from nature, self, others, society.

But he doesn’t leave it there by just talking about or ‘interpreting’ capitalist society. In his Capital, he shows how the alienated producers become conscious of their ‘humanity’ and fight back against capital becoming the embryonic material force necessary to liberate nature. Let’s look at the transition whereby the class struggle of those who produce labour-value creates the embryo of socialism within capitalism itself.

As we saw, the origin of capitalism was made possible only by the plunder of pre-capitalist society. That disrupted the metabolic balance within these societies destroying their capacity to reproduce themselves. This plunder was continued by the colonial dependence of capitalism on their stolen land, labour and natural resources to further capital accumulation in the ‘homelands’. Capitalism harnessed these natural forces of production for private profit. And as competition to cut prices led to the never-ending search for cheaper inputs to maintain profits, capital became a global force exploiting and alienating nature to survive and grow. Not according to the evolutionary story of the ‘progress’ of European ‘civilisation’. But rather, the capital relation that separates producers from their means of subsistence, so that what they produce with their labour-power, value, becomes the private property of capital.

Marxist writers follow Marx in calling this destruction of nature the ‘metabolic’ or ‘ecological’ rift. But nature fights back in the form of the producers of value. Capital accumulation globalises the formation of a powerful force where labour harnessed to capital, as slave or wage-labour, is forced to resist capital, to avert its destruction and reclaim its essential ‘human nature’.

Here, then is the inescapable law-like emergence of the global social force of nature that must challenge the rule of capital to create the conditions for the Commune. Marx gave us many examples of the existence and development of the first stage of this embryo as ‘socialism’. From the resistance of indigenous society to conquest; the slave revolts, organised wage-labour and de-colonisation.

Today, Marx would recognise the continuity of all these struggles fusing with the contemporary uprisings of workers and the poor (the global producers) against austerity and the rise of fascism. And to clinch his argument, all these struggles are essentially united in the fight to defeat capital and restore the unity of society with nature, now becoming manifest in the growth of the global movements against climate catastrophe.

Of course, this force for change does not automatically end the historic rule of Capital. It has to overcome the limits of bourgeois ideology that resists Marx’s Ecosocialism and defends capital as a progressive force compared with socialism or communism. Various spurious ‘left’ voices combine to abort the embryo of socialism as incompatible with ‘democracy’. Yet it is the underlying contradiction now peaking historically as the threat of human extinction which teaches us that the dialectic ‘knows’ reality and dissolves the apologetics of capital.

Even so, this objective process is not capable of ending Capital without the subjective consciousness and actions of nature, class struggle, driving socialist revolution. The forces “not of our own choosing” that operate “behind our backs” now come out to the front and are recognised and understood. That knowledge becomes the program of the revolutionary party. Namely, the Marxist party that tests the program in action to resolve the contradiction between nature and capital as socialist revolution.

That revolution begins the transition to socialism but is only the first stage of Communism. The producers’ rule with their own class state to suppress counter-revolution. It lays the groundwork of workers’ democracy and a planned economy preparatory to the return to nature. But it falls short of ‘freedom’ from necessary labour and the conception of a classless and stateless Commune. Let’s look at the revolutionary transition that takes place when the socialist embryo becomes the newly born infant and develops within the post-capitalist conditions from scarcity to plenty as the precondition for communism and the Commune itself.

Commune: Union of Nature and Humanity

Marx never attempted to put forward a blueprint for communist society of the future beyond a few necessary conditions. He assumed that the socialist transition would create the conditions for communism. When workers “win the battle for democracy” and take state power, they become the ruling class to suppress reactionary classes. The transition to communism creates social ownership and planned production. Bourgeois norms remain until scarcity is overcome. For example, workers receive back the equivalent of their work. When the Commune is fully developed the norm becomes “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.

In the Communist Manifesto of 1848 Marx caustically compares bourgeois society with communist society. The Communist Mode of Production (Commune) abolishes private property for property in common. Classes are abolished and with them the class state. Likewise, all the political and cultural apparatuses of capitalism. For example, women are liberated from domestic slavery and prostitution. Nation states are abolished for the voluntary associations of peoples. “In the place of bourgeois society, with its classes, and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

The Commune remained an untested theory/program until 1871 and the Paris Commune. The working people of Paris rose up against the Government and created an embryonic workers state which lasted for two months before its military suppression. In the Civil War in France, Marx saw it as the first attempt to bring this theory to life through the practice of proletarian revolution. First the workers created a democratic administration – the Commune – and a militia to defend it. All public offices were filled by elected and recallable delegates, and paid no more than the average worker’s wage. All governmental functions were centralised in the Commune and backed by the armed people.

The failure to build on these foundations was explained by the isolation of the Commune within France and internationally, and the lack of a Marxist leadership. Yet the lessons learned reinforced the 1848 prescription for socialist revolution to be internationalist, to lead all other oppressed classes including the peasantry, and as a result of the lessons of the Commune, the necessity to smash the capitalist state (rather than take it over) in order to create the ‘proletarian dictatorship’.

Four years later in his Critique of the Gotha Program Marx had to defend the program from retreating under attack from bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces. For the ruling class, the legacy of the Commune, the organised and armed proletariat opening the road to socialist revolution, had to be suppressed. Notably, Bukharin rejected the Paris Commune as an attempt to form a new oppressive class state thus depriving the revolution of the military means of success. And Lassalle spoke Marxist phrases but in practice reduced the program to begging Bismarck for state aid – an early welfare state. In reply to both, Engels argued that the Commune was the embryo of the “community” or “commune” that prefigured the abolition of classes and the state under communism. Engels to August Bebel, March 18-28, 1875

Communism therefore is the theory/practice of realising the Commune, restoring the unity of humanity and nature. After the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution was its only serious test. The Bolsheviks saw themselves in continuity with the Jacobins and the Paris Commune.

The Russian revolution went much further. It had the revolutionary leadership but succumbed to international isolation as the revolutions in Europe, which lacked that leadership, were defeated, allowing fascism to flourish and to seal this defeat in blood. While the revolution brought a workers’ dictatorship to power, defeating the imperialist invasion and Civil War, it was at the cost of major economic setbacks. Hopes that the Soviet Union would benefit from revolution in Europe, failed as the damage caused by war, and an economy producing less than pre-war levels of ‘scarcity’ weakened the revolution.

Isolated, and surrounded by world capitalism, the economically backward state was unable to catch up with advanced capitalism and overcome ‘scarcity’ before being dragged back by the counter-revolution. This broke the pact with the peasantry who turned against the revolution. In the absence of ‘plenty’ the Bolsheviks had to rely on capitalist production and bourgeois rights to manage the economy. The embattled and weakened proletariat was exhausted and within the party Stalin formed an alliance between the peasantry and the rising bureaucracy. What began as a workers’ dictatorship against capitalism ended by the 1930s in a bureaucratic dictatorship of the party in alliance with the petty bourgeoisie making ‘peace’ pacts with imperialism.

But like ‘Paris’ 1871, ‘October’ 1917 vindicates the Bolshevik’s theory/program of the socialist transition to the Commune. Writing in 1924 as a direct attack on Stalin’s hijacking of the revolution after the death of Lenin, Trotsky spelled out the Lessons of October. In the epoch of imperialism capitalism had exhausted its historical mission. International socialist revolution was now top of the agenda. And no revolution could succeed if not international.

For that to succeed there must be an international communist party. Russia opened the road but succumbed to counter-revolution externally and internally. Yet the lessons of October remain as the guide to world revolution, then, and now.

Marxism as scientific socialism has taught us that the contradiction between nature and capitalist society must be resolved by the producers if it is to be overcome and the re-union with nature restored. No bourgeois theory of social change no matter how radical can achieve that because they fear the Commune. The proletariat is the only class with the interest in resolving that contradiction on behalf of all oppressed classes and peoples, humans and non-human species.

It must do this by becoming class conscious, building democratic soviets or councils and implementing the socialist program of smashing the bourgeois state, expropriating capitalist property, and beginning the transition to the Commune. Short of the Commune, there is no version of capitalism reinvented that can possibly mobilise the world’s producers to organise, act, and rescue nature from the capitalist system that must destroy the planet. Unless capitalism’s gravediggers rise-up we will all end up digging our own graves.

Kohei Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy Monthly Review, 2017

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Written by raved

October 30, 2019 at 10:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Is Greta Thunberg a sock puppet for green capitalism?

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Situations Vacant

Extinct ReblExtinction Rebellion (XR) represents a new movement against climate change that promises to become a revolutionary force for change. Why is the most inspiring leader of XR, Greta Thunberg, now subject to intensive criticism which claims she is a mere trophy for green capitalists who will exploit her power to rally the masses as consumers for not-for-profit capitalism. Cory Morningstar in “Wrong Kind of Green” argues that Greta is the creation of NGO’s and not-for-profit capitalism and is being used to sell sustainable capitalism. Is there any truth in this claim, or is it a conspiracy theory, the symptom of a bankrupt Left failure to credit how social movements can erupt without being ‘manufactured’ by elites? Is Greta a tool of reaction or a key to survival and liberation?

 Morningstar’s take on Greta is part of a wider world view shared by Morningstar and others who reduce…

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Written by raved

July 29, 2019 at 1:37 am

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Reclaiming Marx at 200

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Marx 200

Karl Marx at 200 returns to his home town Trier in 2018 courtesy of China

1 – “I am not a Marxist”

A famous dead white man indulges us by coming back from the grave on his 200th birthday for a bit of celebrity haunting. Why? Should we be impressed when the interest in Marx is on the rise among academics, students and journalists? Not only in the liberal bourgeois press such as the Guardian, or The Daily Blog, in myriad ‘left’ journals, like Jacobin, but also in the US colleges where The Communist Manifesto is the most read book in college libraries. Not only that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has held an official celebration and funded a statue of Marx erected in Trier, Germany, his home town, upsetting some of the locals.

Yet if Marx was alive today, I don’t doubt that he would react much as he did shortly before his death in 1883. “Just as Marx used to say, commenting on the French “Marxists” of the late [18]70s: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.”  This rebuff was the last of many times that Marx castigated various “self-proclaimed” Marxists for misrepresenting his ideas in their attempts to ‘improve’ or ‘update’ them. Let’s see why Marx found this necessary. But to do that we have to reclaim Marx from the grave robbers.

Any evaluation of Marx cannot be left to the superficial idea that “Marx was right” without setting out what it means to be “right”. It means knowing how he used the scientific method to understand capitalism and how he applied this knowledge in a program for revolutionary communism. His dispute with the French “Marxists” in 1883 was over their practical demand for wage increases, without making it clear that the struggle for higher wages must lead to the overthrow of the wage-system itself. Class struggle was not about adjusting to capitalist exploitation but developing the class consciousness needed to overthrow capitalism and arrive at communism. But how do we decide who was right on this and other questions?

To know who was, and is right today, the evaluation of Marx 200 years after his birth needs to be based on how well his ideas have been tested in practice and proven correct or not, rather than the ideas of ‘self-proclaimed’ Marxists, no matter how well intentioned. Here I am not dealing with anti-communists, hostile to Marxism. We can leave the aversion to Marx of people like Ana Stankovic to stew in its own juice.

We should also make passing reference to life President Xi Jinping whose celebration of Marx is grotesquely contradicted by ‘socialist’ China’s restoration of capitalism and rapid rise as the world’s second biggest economy and chief rival of US imperialism. Such blatant caricatures of Marxism are so grotesque as to be already headed for the dustbin of history.

More dangerous is the social/liberal left that pays its respects to Marx’s life work only to disarm him and inoculate workers against his revolutionary message. But most dangerous are the self-proclaimed Marxists of all shades, Stalinist, Maoist and fake Trotskyist, who drag his name in the mud rendering him a common liberal. How do we decide between Marx and anti-Marx? One example: the Anti-Capitalist blog does a good job deconstructing Yanis Varoufakis’ Introduction to a new issue of the Communist Manifesto which covers Marx with faint praise while trying to bury him -Yanis to Karl, with love.

Marxism vs pseudo Marxism

Marx considered himself to be a scientist whose critical ideas had to be put into practice by the class struggle to test and develop them. It was the class struggle that would prove his, rather than his political rivals and opponents, right or wrong. Remember the 11th thesis of the Theses of Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world… the point, however, is to change it.:

Marx’s critical theory of capitalism was of an historically limited form of society based on the exploitation of labour that must sooner or later exhaust its potential to develop the forces of production (using labour to increase productivity) as they were in contradiction with the social relations of production (capitalist ownership of the means of production). This would ultimately destroy the forces of production including throwing living labour out of work and necessitating a proletarian revolution to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism.

To activate his theory a program of action was necessary to represent and advance the interests of the proletariat. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 was the result. Here Marx and Engels described the overthrow of bourgeois rule by the revolutionary proletariat which would open the road to communism. Marx and Engels saw the Communist Party not as substituting for the proletariat, but as part of the proletariat, embodying the program and separated from other workers’ parties only by its program advancing the historical and international interests of the proletariat.

The first major test of Marx’s program came in 1871 with the Paris Commune when the working people of Paris rose up against the bourgeois government after the defeat of the Emperor Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon’s great-nephew) by the Prussians. Already by that time Marx was convinced that the proletariat has succeeded the bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class.  The failure of the 1848 attempts by European bourgeois classes to make their “French” revolution against their ‘ancient regimes’ collapsed in embarrassing deals with the feudal ruling classes.

This default on the part of the European bourgeoisie left the proletariat with the responsibility for completing the task of developing the forces of production in the name of socialism. For the first time Marx spoke of ‘the permanent revolution’ signifying that the proletariat had to step onto the stage of history and take over the task of the reactional bourgeoisie of completing the bourgeois revolution and creating the conditions for socialism. But how to do this: reform or revolution? It was the Paris Commune of 1871 that put the Marxist program and the various reformist programs to the test with a bloody ruling class vengeance.

The lessons of the Commune were clear. First, disproving the reformists it was proof that the bourgeois state had to be overthrown by proletarian armed force or it would physically wipe out all working-class opposition. Second, disproving the anarchists, the overthrow of the bourgeois state had to be replaced by an armed workers’ state to defend the revolution. The Marxist program was amended in the light of these lessons but the defeat of the Commune ushered in a period of capitalist reaction. The First international collapsed after bitter in-fighting with Bukharin and the anarchists. And Marx had to fight the retreat of ‘Marxists’ back to reformism, most notably at Gotha in Germany in 1875.

Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program” was an angry attack on those who followed Lassalle’s “falsification” of the Communist Manifesto. But it was largely futile and the Marxist party was only revived when the Second International was founded in 1889. Engels carried forward the defence of the program until his death in 1895. Then the task of defending and developing the program became that of the next generation of Marxists – in particular, Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky to name the most important. We can judge whether Marx would have disavowed or accepted these new leaders as worthy of real Marxism starting with their position on the lessons of the Commune, and then what they did to apply the theory and practice of Marxism in the 20th century.


2 – Marxism after Marx

For Marx, even the best theory, without the Party testing it in the class struggle, was worthless dogma. The fusing of theory and practice demands a program that is tested by the Communist Party in the class struggle. In his lifetime, the revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871 were the most important practical tests that produced lessons requiring revisions of the program. By 1850, the proletariat had succeeded the now reactionary bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class. The bourgeois revolution could be advanced only by the proletarian revolution – the permanent revolution.

The Commune put this to the test. Its defeat strengthened the bourgeois counter-revolution and the impact of reformism on the workers’ movement. It proved that the bourgeois state had to be smashed and replaced by a workers’ state. Failure to learn these lessons frustrated Marx and his Critique of the Gotha Program in 1875 was a declaration of his Marxism against those who revised it by succumbing to bourgeois reforms.

His statement made a few months before his death in 1883, that if the reformists called themselves Marxist then he “was not a Marxist”, leaves no doubt as to what his Marxism was right up to the end. His friend and political collaborator, Engels, continued the fight to defend Marx’s Marxism from all sides in the struggle to keep it alive in the face of the opportunist, reformist tendencies in the Second International.

Engels, friend and collaborator

After Marx’s death, Engels, his lifelong collaborator continued the fight to resolve this crisis. He was faithful to Marx’s Marxism, completing and publishing three of the unfinished volumes of Capital (Vols 2,3 and Theories of Surplus Value), in which Marx had fleshed out the foundations of his scientific theory so they could be understood and applied in practice to developing the Communist program. The importance of publishing these 3 volumes were that they demonstrated Marx’s method of moving from the abstract to the concrete.

Moving from the Vol 1. analysis of value which was ‘abstracted’ from the struggle over wages, prices and profits etc., Marx in Vol 2, showed how the production of value underlay the struggle over the distribution of value between Labour and Capital; and on to Vol 3 to show how crises that appeared on the surface of capitalist society as unstable ‘chaos’, were determined by the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (LTPRF). Engel’s major contribution was therefore to show how falling profits and not falling wages explained the ‘chaos’ of capitalism. Not only did this show that workers wage demands did not cause crises, rather it exposed the fact that capital could not exploit workers sufficiently to prevent recurring crises.

Therefore, workers had to understand Marx to recognize that capitalist crises could not be overcome; capitalism itself had to be overthrown. Engel’s determination to make Marxism comprehensible to ordinary workers, has seen him belittled as a ‘populariser’ of Marx. Yet Marx himself would have done much the same had he lived, as shown by his pride in the reception of the serialized Volume 1 in the French Edition making it accessible to workers.

To illustrate this point, after their critique of the Gotha Program, Marx and Engels intervened in the debate against Herr Duhring, a minor academic who launched a reformist socialist program, attacking Marx among others. Engels’ book Anti-Duhring, serialized in 1877/78, was as a response to this attack. It explodes Duhring’s “bumptious pseudo-science” as “sublime nonsense”. Marx contributed the chapter “From the Critical History” in which he takes his opponent apart as an “ignorant plagiarist”.

Engels’ pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, published in 1880 was a re-write of some sections of Anti-Duhring “suitable for immediate popular propaganda”. Marx clearly approved of these joint efforts since he wrote the Introduction to the French Edition praising it as “…an introduction to scientific socialism”. It proved very popular, selling 20,000 of the four German editions despite being banned under the Anti-Socialist Law, and was translated into 10 languages.

After Marx’s death Engels continued to intervene as the authority on Marx’s work in the debates that took place in the Second International.  First, his Postscript to a new edition of Marx’s The Civil War in France (1891) restated the lessons of the Commune. Second, his Foreword’ to the first publication of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, (1891) aimed at the German Social Democratic Party leadership which tried to suppress the publication of Marx’s Critique because it exposed their break from Marxism.  Third, Engels’ work popularised and defended Capital Vol 3 to explain crises, imperialism, colonialism, ‘bourgeois workers’, and the material roots of ‘social chauvinism’ in the Second International.

When Engels published Capital Vol 3 in 1894 it was clear that imperialism in the 1880s was the result of crises cause by the LTRPF forcing the export of capital to restore profits. This accounted for super-profits extracted from the colonies that raised living standards for the working class in the imperialist countries, creating a privileged labour aristocracy made up of “bourgeois workers” as Engels called them.

Colonial super-profits explained the material roots of the labour bureaucracy and social democracy – the political expression of a layer relatively privileged worker-officials in the trade unions and in parliament.  Lenin labelled the labour aristocracy “social chauvinist” and “social imperialist”, promoting “parliamentary socialism at home and imperialism abroad”.  Clearly, it was colonial super-profits that paid for ‘democracy’ in the imperialist countries.

These interventions were to lay the foundations for the next generation of Marxists whose task was to in effect to write Marx’s last three planned volumes – on The State, Foreign Trade, and the World Market and Crises – which accounted for the uneven and crisis-ridden expansion of world capitalism. They explain why the 2nd International degenerated into opportunism after Gotha and evolved into a reformist party with a bourgeois program. This opportunism was to lay the ground for what was to be the second crisis of Marxism, the betrayal of the proletariat by the majority of the Second International leadership on August 4, 1914.

Love Marxism, Love Leninism

After the death of Engels in 1895, the task of keeping Marxism alive fell to the next generation born in the late 19th century – notably Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg. To do that they had to develop Marxist theory as a guide to the class struggle in the new epoch of imperialism recognized at its outset by Marx and Engels. Marxism can only live when it is tested as a program of action by a Marxist party immersed in the struggles of the day. So, those who took over the leadership of the movement from Marx and Engels have to be evaluated as leaders who were capable of this task.

As mentioned above, we first need to assess their agreement with Marx and Engels on the major challenges to Marxism in their time – the Commune, and the Gotha Program.  Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg took a Marxist stand on these questions, and condemned the anti-Marxist position of Kautsky and others who opposed the Communards’ taking up arms to overthrow of the French regime, in favour of parliamentary compromises. However, it is notable that their critique of Kautsky did not become urgent until the shock betrayal of the 2nd International in 1914.

This betrayal proved beyond doubt that even the most revolutionary Marxists were taken by surprise by the power of the labour bureaucracy in the imperialist countries that sided with its own ruling classes calling on workers to pay for the war and give their lives fighting worker against worker. In their defence, the three leaders were in exile in Europe, in the US, or in jail, and isolated from the European sections of the International.

The death of Marx had created the first crisis in Marxism; the betrayal of the 2nd International was a second crisis that nearly claimed the life of Marxism itself. Joining with the exploiting class to kill one’s fellow workers was a total rejection of Marxism. It was putting bourgeois national chauvinism ahead of international working-class solidarity. It was junking every lesson learned in the history of class struggles, that declare to the world that the proletariat and bourgeoisie have nothing in common. There could be no argument to justify going to war in the interests of the bourgeoisie. There was only one course open to save Marxism and that was to declare the 2nd International dead and begin the task of building a new one.

Zimmerwald Left

Those on the anti-war left of the International met at Zimmerwald. The majority opposed the war but took a subjective, pacifist line in voting against the evils of war while voting to pay for it, in the Reichstag.  They were now reformists having succumbed to social imperialism – the view that imperialism abroad could be reformed by parliamentary socialism at home. The minority, the Zimmerwald Left, around Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, argued to turn imperialist war into class war in which workers would refuse to fight one another and turn their guns on their own ruling class. The 2nd International was pronounced dead and a commitment to building a new, third, international made by Russia emigres of the RSDWP. They all agreed that the betrayal of Social Democracy resulted from the creation of labour aristocracies (Engels’ ‘bourgeois workers’) bought off by colonial super-profits to promote social chauvinism at home in support of imperialist war. What to do?

The “three L’s” called for workers to mutiny and organise armed uprisings against the ruling classes in every imperialist country. Trotsky did not think that workers were ready for armed insurrection and called for workers to refuse to fight for their ruling classes. They disagreed on other aspects of Marxism too. Luxemburg and Trotsky, from right and left positions, rejected the Bolshevik Party as substituting for the proletariat.

Trotsky on the right saw the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks as unnecessary. He was known as a ‘conciliationist’ for advocating a united party. Yet at the same time Trotsky agreed with Lenin in rejecting the Menshevik two-stage theory –  that the bourgeois revolution had to be completed by a class alliance with the bourgeoisie, before the socialist revolution was possible in Russia.  They both agreed with Marx, that since 1850 the bourgeoisie was now a reactionary class. Therefore, the bourgeois revolution against the Tsar would have to be led by the proletariat as the revolutionary class, drawing in all other oppressed classes (poor peasants etc), and completed as the socialist revolution i.e., the uninterrupted, or permanent revolution.

Luxemburg from the left objected to Bolshevik democratic centralism as substituting for the spontaneous revolutionary consciousness of the masses. But from the right, however, her underconsumptionist theory of capitalist crisis ignored Marx’s law of “the tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall” (LTRPF) in Capital Vol 3. Since for her, falling profits was caused by underconsumption due to low wages, the spontaneous struggle for higher wages would bring about revolutionary class consciousness and the overthrow of capitalism.

Therefore, on the central question of the Party, both in their own way took one-sided views of democratic centralism against Lenin’s dialectical position which saw the party as the revolutionary vanguard leading the revolution. For him the Party was the subjective class conscious factor in the revolution, not spontaneous “trade union” consciousness – a barrier to revolutionary consciousness that must be overcome by the Party. Nor can the Party be united around a broad program that represents an objective, inevitable march from reform to revolution, without the subjective vanguard party intervening to signal the advances and retreats.

Not until the Russian revolution proved them wrong did Trotsky and Luxemburg come around to Lenin’s position. Trotsky joined Lenin in July 1917 and became one of the main leaders of the Russian revolution. Luxemburg withdrew her objection to the Bolshevik type party and belatedly formed the German Communist Party (KPD), but was betrayed by Social Democracy in 1919 and assassinated by fascist thugs, cutting short the life of a true revolutionary, and contributing to the defeat of the German Revolution.

The October Revolutions in Russia and Germany

Lenin, as the leading revolutionary Marxist, advanced Marxism, against all backsliding comrades (Trotsky as conciliator; Luxemburg as spontaneist and underconsumptionist) and hostile class enemies (Social Democracy), by re-asserting its premises, re-reading Hegel, re-affirming the dialectical method, and applying the theory of Capital Vol 2 and 3 to analyse the ‘concrete’ conditions in Russia (he read Marx on Sismondi to expose the petty bourgeois program of the Narodniks). He developed the theory of crisis in Vol 3 to explain the state of the world economy embedded in imperialism and war (Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism); the reactionary role of Social Democracy and Kautsky’s vacillating centrism (Renegade Kautsky etc); the class character of the State (State and Revolution); and applied it to a transitional program put into practice by the democratic centralist Bolshevik Party.

Lenin embodied Marx in fusing theory and practice in the democratic centralist party in which objective and subjective reality was united in practice. He used Marx’s dialectic method to defeat the objectivists and subjectivists whose role was to rely on old idealist formulae instead of the ‘art’ of revolution.  He routed the objectivists who treated the proletariat as a passive rather than active participant in revolution. Naturally, petty bourgeois upstarts substituted for the ‘backward’ proletariat in deciding when the workers would be ready for revolution. Lenin also denounced the subjectivists (anarchists and left communists) who argued that spontaneous proletarian class consciousness was sufficient to make the revolution, and that democratic centralism must necessarily lead to the Party substituting itself for workers democracy and opening the road to counter-revolution.

It follows that without Lenin in the leadership of a democratic centralist party there would have been no socialist revolution in Russia. It would have collapsed into objectivism or subjectivism; nor would Marxism have survived as a living political force on the powerful legacy of the Russian Revolution. In February 1917, the Bolshevik leadership was tied to the old dogma of Plekhanov etc., that Russia must have a bourgeois revolution to prepare the conditions for socialism. This was based on a doctrinaire application of Marx’s slogan that capitalism cannot be overthrown until it has completed its historic task and is no longer capable of developing the forces of production. Yet after 1850 Marx said that the bourgeoisie was no longer the historically revolutionary class and had to be overthrown by the proletariat as the new revolutionary class. So, if the pre-conditions for socialism still had to be created, that could only be done by the proletariat!

When it came to the concrete conditions in Russia this dogma was clearly out of touch with reality. The bourgeoisie was not strong enough to overthrow the Tsar and complete the bourgeois revolution. It was women textile workers that began the strikes in February that led to the overthrow of the Tsar. Only the industrial workers, combined with the poor peasants and soldiers could advance the revolution by overthrowing capitalism. Lenin challenged the doctrinaire leadership by going to the Bolshevik masses and convincing them that a socialist revolution was necessary to complete the bourgeois revolution especially in backward Russia now subordinated to French and British imperialism and fighting a war against German imperialism. In Russia 1917, the same mistake that saw the German bourgeoisie join forces with the feudal Junkers in 1848, had to be avoided at all costs. So like Marx in 1850, Lenin was affirming the validity of permanent revolution as the only way to take the bourgeois revolution forward to socialism in one continuous movement.

Permanent revolution was also put to the test by the failure of the German revolution. The first uprising in 1919 failed because of the Menshevik SPD formed a government with the ‘democratic’, ‘progressive’, but still warmongering, bourgeoisie. Then in 1921 the Communist Party (KPD) took part in a premature putsch that was easily suppressed. By 1923 a revolutionary situation had returned. The KPD was better prepared, but its leadership vacillated and failed to grasp the situation and prepare for insurrection on time, so the moment was lost. Having failed to make the revolution, the responsibility for the rise of fascism in Germany then became that of the KPD leadership, mainly because it had not learned the lessons of the Bolshevik revolution and built a strong, democratic-centralist party in time.

Left Opposition and Fourth International

With the failure of the German revolution, the most important condition for the success of the Russian revolution disappeared. The industrialization of the Soviet Union was setback by the backwardness and war devastation of both industry and agriculture. The Bolsheviks were forced to keep the revolution alive in an isolated, under-developed country without international support. The only way out was to fight for a democratic-centralized plan for industry and agriculture to develop the forces of production and survive until revolutions succeeded in Europe or Asia. For the Bolsheviks there was never the possibility of socialism being built in one country surrounded by global capitalism.

After the death of Lenin in 1924, the battle to claim his legacy was the key to the life and death struggle between the growing bureaucratization of the party and state apparatus under Stalin that appealed to the petty bourgeoisie and surviving bourgeoisie,  and the Left Opposition led by Trotsky, which insisted that workers’ democratic control of the soviets and of the Party regime were pre-conditions for planning production in industry and agriculture, allowing the forces of production to grow, reducing necessary labour-time, and making the building of socialism possible.

The record of the Bolshevik-Leninists from 1923 to 1933 was of a life and death struggle to challenge the Stalinists regimes break from ‘Leninism’ as it subordinated world revolution to popular fronts with the bourgeoisie around a Menshevik program for ‘national roads’ to socialism in defence of ‘socialism in one country.’ From the final betrayal of the German Revolution in 1923, to the Chinese Revolution, 1924/1927, the challenge of the LO was met with mounting repression, exile and execution of its militants. Among them was Trotsky expelled and exiled in 1927 until his assassination by Stalin’s agent in 1940.

The Left Opposition became an International Left Opposition (ILO) as an internal opposition inside the Comintern. It fought to restore workers democracy against the bureaucratic regime until 1933 when Stalin’s policy to appease fascism in Germany helped the Nazi’s come to power. This betrayal of the international communism was of the same order as the 4th of August 1914 had been for the 2nd International and forced the ILO to declare the Comintern dead, and call for the building of a new, Fourth, International.

From 1933 the ILO became the Bolshevik-Leninist tendency committed to building a new revolutionary international to take the leadership of the world revolution, fighting for political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and for socialist revolutions based on workers’ and peasants’ soviet governments everywhere. The Fourth International was formed in 1938 based upon a Transitional Program keeping the legacy of Marxism and Leninism alive, and dedicated to the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union, the political revolution and the international revolution.

Conclusion: The Short 20th Century

For Marxism after Marx, it is the onset of the epoch of imperialism that explains the inevitability of recurring crises, revolutions, counter-revolutions and wars. Arising out of WW1 the rise and fall of the Russian revolution became the ultimate test of the power of revolutionary Marxism. The British historian Eric Hobsbawn, talks of the “Short 20th Century” from the Russian revolution of 1917 to the restoration of capitalism in 1991, as shaping the fate of the modern world. Indeed, there is some truth in this. The October revolution proved that Marxism could keep the 19th century theory of Marx alive in the form of a revolution led by a Marxist party. Its success proved that a dying capitalism could be replaced by a socialist revolution. But was the rise of Stalinism to power the end of the road for Marxism?

No. The degeneration of the revolution also vindicated the living Marxism of the ILO. Neither the revolution nor the counter-revolution can be understood except as a partial and incomplete advance of the permanent revolution Marx spoke of in 1850. The proletariat made the revolution along with the poor peasants, against the counter-revolution of world capitalism and the united exploiting classes. While we can talk about the Russian revolution succumbing to counter-revolution as the culmination of the Short 20th century, it is only part of the larger historic dynamic of permanent revolution from the mid-19th century to today, and beyond.

For Marx permanent revolution did not mean only that the working class must to lead the exploited and oppressed classes to the revolution against all the exploiting and oppressing classes. It meant that the revolution could not be realized fully without the victory of the international revolution, and finally without the victory of world socialism and the prospect of a future communist, classless, and stateless, society. Not until then, will the Manifesto of the Communist Party and permanent revolution end up in the museum of class struggle. Until then, it is the task of Marxists to continue the fight for permanent revolution.


3 – Marx Today

Has Marxism survived Marx’s death and those who followed him claiming to be Marxists? Part one showed that Marx took exception to the term “Marxism” as not representing his views. Part Two argued that Lenin took responsibility for defending and developing Marxism within the second generation of Marxists. In the concluding part we ask: who would Marx recognise as Marxists today? To answer this question, it is necessary first to reprise the essentials of Marx and Lenin’s thinking as the litmus test of those who claim to be a Marxist today.

The legacy of Marx and Lenin

Marx’s method was to abstract from the surface appearances of capital as commodity exchange, to the essence of the commodity. In Vol 1 he dealt with the production of value as commodities, and in Vol 2, the circulation of commodities between production and consumption. By Vol 3 he was actually constructing a working model by introducing competition between capitalists to advance labour productivity which led in turn to the relative rise of constant capital, the LTRPT and recurring crises. Of course, Marx planned to write three further volumes on the State, Foreign Trade and World Market, to reconstitute the ‘concrete’ reality of ‘everyday life’. He was not fussed about failing to draft these volumes as others could apply the method and theory, complete the analysis, and explain the ‘many determinations’ of surface appearances as ‘actual’, and the basis for revolutionary practice.

Not only that, while he was producing Capital, he wrote many articles on the contemporary class struggle, notably India, the US, and the Civil War in France, in which class relations were exposed in their ‘many determinations’ e.g. the Commune, testing and requiring changes in the Communist program (e.g. smash the state). In that sense Capital was clearly a C19th work of social science where Marx not only developed his theory but saw it tested it in practice. The logic was: method (dialectics) > theory/program (Marxism) > practice (the Communist Party). It is clear that the objective of Marxism is to form an international communist party, grounded in democratic centralism, that develops the theory by applying it as a program to lead the organized class struggle to overthrow capitalism and impose the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.

Entering the C20th Lenin was the main continuator of Marx’s project. He studied Hegel to fully understand Marx’s dialectical method. He needed to explain the rise of imperialist nations and the implications for Marxist theory. Nor did he have to start from scratch to develop Marx’s theory. For example, he was not the first to argue that capitalism had made a transition from its competitive stage to one of state monopoly capitalism in the late C19th. Marx and Engels had laid the foundations.

Capitalism as an historic mode of production was progressive only so long as it developed the forces of production. The Vol 3 theory of crisis as one of falling profits explained why the export of capital was necessary to restore profits and why rival national capitals would be driven to the partition the world economy leading to the destruction of the forces of production.

Lenin took Marx’s theory in Vol 3 and condensed the contents of the unwritten volumes in his theory of Imperialism – the highest stage of capitalism. Only socialism could develop the forces of production beyond capitalism in its decline.  In particular, Lenin applied Marx’s theory of rent to the concrete political task of explaining how state-backed monopolies could extract super profits, manipulating the market and partially suppressing competition by diplomatic, political and military means. It was the theory of imperialism that allowed the main features of the highest stage of monopoly capital in the early C20th to be understood as the basis for the program of the Russian communists drawn into a major imperialist crisis and war.

So, we have the legacy of Marx in the C19th and that of his successor Lenin in the C20th to lay the foundations for C21st Marxism facing the terminal crises of the economy and climate change. Let’s see what Marxism today looks like. Again, we use the criteria of the continuation and development of the fundamental lessons of Marx and C20th Marxists as the basis for judging who stands for Marx today. Let’s evaluate these developments on the basis of fulfilling the demands of Marxist method, theory and practice.

On Dialectical Method

Marx took Hegel’s dialectical method and stood it on its feet. Instead of historical development enacting the will of God (idealism) it was the result of class struggle “the motor of history” (materialism). Here we have the unity of opposites, capital as a social relation between labour and capital, causing the contradiction between the social relations and the forces of production. In turn this contradiction drove the proletariat as the revolutionary subject to transcend that contradiction by means of social revolution. In place of Hegel’s idealist worship of God as the ‘subject’ of history, dialectics grounded in material life was the method of the revolutionary subject, the proletariat. Hence the term dialectical materialism.

In 1908, Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, defended Marx’s materialism against a current of Russian Marxism influenced by Machism, that rejected Marx’ premise that there existed a material reality independent of thought. Bogdanov and others retreated back toward Kant claiming that the premise of a material world was about an ‘unknown nothingness’ and was therefore ‘metaphysical’ or idealist. Lenin rubbished this, labelling it ‘empirio-criticism’ and a break from the ‘historical materialism’ of Marx and Engels. He argued that ‘being’ is not the product of ‘consciousness’ but the reverse.

“Materialism in general recognises objectively real being (matter) as independent of the consciousness, sensation, experience etc., of humanity. Historical materialism recognises social being as independent of the social consciousness of humanity. In both cases consciousness is only the reflection 0f being, at best an approximately true (adequate, perfectly exact) reflection of it. From this Marxist philosophy, which is cast from a single piece of steel, you cannot eliminate one basic premise, one essential part, without departing from the objective truth, without falling a prey to bourgeois-reactionary falsehood. (M&EC, Chapter 6, p 326).

Lenin concludes his polemic against empirio-criticism:

“The genius of Marx and Engels lies precisely in the fact that during a very long period nearly half a century, they developed materialism, further advanced one fundamental trend in philosophy, did not rest content with repeating epistemological problems that had already been solved, but consistently applied – and showed how to apply – this same materialism in the sphere of the social sciences, mercilessly brushing aside as rubbish all nonsense, pretentious hotchpotch, the innumerable attempts to ‘discover’ a ‘new’ line in philosophy, to invent a ‘new’ trend and so forth. The verbal nature of such attempts, the scholastic play with the new philosophical ‘isms’, the clogging of the issue by pretentious devices, the inability to comprehend and clearly present the struggle between the two fundamental epistemological trends – this is what Marx and Engels persistently tracked down and fought against throughout their activity.”  (M&E-C, 336)

Lenin’s philosophical critique of empirio-criticism established a firm dialectical materialist foundation for Russian Marxism and the method of the program of the Bolshevik party. However, it was the betrayal of the 2nd International in August 1914 that drove Lenin to an intensive study of Hegel to understand the philosophical basis of the opportunism of the international’s historical betrayal and provide the grounding for a new revolutionary international. The results were his ‘Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic’, included in Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, written between mid- 1914 and 1916.

He summarised dialectics as follows:

“Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical – under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, – why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another.” (Bk 1, 109)

“(1) Ordinary imagination grasps difference and contradiction, but not the transition from one to the other, this however is the most important.

2) Intelligence and understanding. Intelligence grasps contradiction, enunciates it, brings things into relation with one another, allows the “concept to show through the contradiction,” but does not express the concept of things and their relations.

(3) Thinking reason (understanding) sharpens the blunt difference of variety, the mere manifold of imagination, into essential difference, into opposition. Only when raised to the peak of contradiction, do the manifold entities become active and lively in relation to one another – they receive/acquire that negativity which is the inherent pulsation of self-movement and vitality.” (Bk 2, 143)

“If I am not mistaken, there is much mysticism and empty pedantry in these conclusions of Hegel, but the basic idea is one of genius: that of the universal, all-sided vital connection of everything with everything and the reflection of this connection – Hegel materialistically turned upside down – human concepts, which must likewise be hewn, treated, flexible, mobile, relative, mutually connected, united in opposites, in order to embrace the world. Continuation of the work of Hegel and Marx must consist in the dialectical elaboration of the history of human thought, science and technique.” (Bk 2, 146)

Lenin took this “dialectical elaboration” to new heights. The retreat from Marxism to empiricism in the 2nd International was explained at the level of method. Empiricism took surface appearances as reality and suppressed the contradictions that drove the class struggle. ‘Evolutionary socialism’, or Menshevism, was the result. Workers must collaborate with the bourgeoisie and use the state to legislate for socialism. Against this attack on Marxism, Lenin’s critique of Plekhanov, Kautsky, the role of the state, of the Mensheviks, and so on, ‘elaborated’ the theory/practice of the Bolshevik Party.

Therefore, there can be no question that Lenin and Marx were in complete agreement in their conception of the revolutionary party as the ‘vanguard’ developing class ‘consciousness’ in understanding and embracing the world as a contradictory ‘unity of opposites’. Armed with this Marxist program and practice, Bolshevism and the 3rd International until Lenin’s death in 1924 represented the highest expression of Marxism. Dialectical materialism enabled the party to create a program that was tested in practice culminating in a successful revolution.

Bolshevism vs Menshevism

Only correct method can lead to correct program and practice. Who can claim to follow Marx and Lenin on dialectics? Very few, including self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninists and Trotskyists. First among equals, Trotsky was critical in defending this continuity. The Lessons of October and the History of the Russian Revolution, condenses Bolshevism as living Marxism. After the death of Lenin and with the revival of Menshevism in the bureaucratic dictatorship of Stalin, the struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition kept dialectics alive until its defeat with the exile of Trotsky in 1927 and the death of other leading communists. From that point on the International Left Opposition survived as ‘Bolshevik-Leninists’ fighting the degenerating 3rd International under Stalin.

But method and theory do not amount to more than ideas unless united with revolutionary practice in a healthy communist international. Trotsky’s Bolshevik/Leninists fought to restore workers democracy in the USSR and in the Comintern until 1933 when Stalin’s policy of voting with the Nazi’s against the ‘social fascists’ (social democracy) in Germany helped bring Hitler to power.

For the Bolshevik/Leninists this amounted to a clear betrayal of the international proletariat as complete as August 1914. Trotsky immediately broke with the Comintern and called for a new revolutionary international which led to the foundation of the 4th International in 1938. Its Transitional Program is the most developed expression of Bolshevik/Leninism that survived Trotsky’s assassination by Stalin in 1940. Embodying dialectics, the transitional method of raising demands mobilised workers to fight for what they need immediately, so that they learned from their experience that class struggle must go all the way to socialist revolution to transcend the contradiction between labour and capital.

But the 4th International failed to materialize into a revolutionary international after the war capable of advancing the interests of the revolutionary proletariat – backsliding into ‘Pabloism’ under a petty bourgeois leadership adapting to Stalinism as a modern form of the old one-sided evolutionary Menshevism. Maoism was another expression of modern Menshevism as it was based on Stalin’s theory of ‘bloc of four classes’ – the popular front of workers, peasants, ‘progressive’ bourgeois and petty bourgeois, to strangle the proletariat.

Meanwhile most ‘Western Marxists’ in the C20th judged Bolshevism as an aberration if not abomination. And of course, they junked dialectics. Why? Because dialectics is the method of the revolutionary proletariat that requires an organized vanguard party to advance its class interests in socialist revolution. Against dialectics the method of Mensheviks is that of bourgeois logic – idealism, and its twin, empiricism. This creates a reactionary theory/program and the anti-Marxist substitution of the petty bourgeois for the proletariat as the historical agency of socialist revolution.

Menshevism and Western Marxism

Most of what passes for Marxism today is one or other form of Menshevism that goes back to the Paris Commune of 1871 and Gotha 1875. The subordination of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie in the name of the evolutionary socialism that led to the successive betrayals of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Internationals. Kautsky was a left-Menshevik, as was the majority of the ‘old’ Bolshevik leadership. Lenin split the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP) party to combat Menshevism and those who compromised with it (e.g. Trotsky for a period).

The split was necessary because Menshevism replaced the proletarian party with the petty bourgeois intelligentsia as the agent of revolutionary change (Marx’s ‘petty bourgeois socialism’). Mensheviks were against the October Revolution.  They conspired with imperialism to defeat the Revolution. Western, or Euro-Marxism is the direct descendant of Menshevism committed to the ‘failure’ of Bolshevism, and the retreat to the ‘half-way’ house of parliamentary socialism

C20th ‘Western Marxism’ is enlisted to the counter-revolution by suppressing dialectics and reviving evolutionary socialism. Lukacs defended Lenin and the revolution only to succumb to Stalin and the bureaucratization of the revolution. Gramsci defended Stalinism and the ‘long march through the institutions’ of the ‘Eurocommunist’ batch of Mensheviks. The Frankfurters from Adorno to Marcuse abandoned the proletariat for ‘revolutionary’ petty bourgeois intellectuals i.e. students. Why? because they substituted the contradiction between labour and capital as a living class struggle for the ‘contradiction’ between an abstract ‘nature’ and capitalist society. Sartre found the young ‘humanist’ Marx and ignored the late ‘determinist’ Marx. Althusser rejected the ‘humanist’ young Marx for the Marx of Capital, and the class struggle for ‘theoretical’ struggle. All broke with dialectics to end up in the camp of the Mensheviks.

So, what are we left with? Who is Marx, and what is Marxism, 200 years on? Our objective is to reclaim Marx at 200. What do we keep, what do we junk?

Academic and Post-Marxism

If we look at the self-proclaimed Marxists today what do they stand for, Marxism, or Post-Marxism?  Post-Marxists invariable revert to pre-Marxist doctrines to ‘improve’ on Marx. Remember Marx’s critique of the Gotha Program – ‘why revert’? he demanded. Academic Marxists reply ‘why not’. As a result, they revive the idealist reactions to Marxism of Marx and Lenin’s time for consumption today. Take Zizek’s return to the great ‘master’ (Lenin) to serve the Menshevik project. “To repeat Lenin is to repeat not what Lenin DID, but what he FAILED TO DO, his MISSED opportunities.” Zizek writes off the Party as made up of political elitists ‘outside’ the class struggle. And Lenin, repeated, ‘channels’ Zizek and becomes the substitute for the Party deciding what the revolutionary masses should do or not do.

Add the hybrids like Derrida who ‘repeat’ social democracy out of strange liaisons with post-structuralism and Marxism where social determination is outlawed. This born-again ‘Marxism’ rejects the proletariat as the historic gravedigger of capitalism for the idealist re-construction of the idealist ‘great leader’, the Young Marx, or the messianic Lenin who can inspire the masses to spontaneous world-historic events.

Academic Marxism is the factory that produces and reproduces modern Menshevism, cutting and pasting Marx and Lenin accordingly. For example, David Harvey has a reputation for reproducing Capital faithfully, yet rejects Marx’s theory of crisis for a surreptitious Keynesian underconsumption theory that can be corrected by parliamentary socialism. Even Michael Roberts who staunchly defends Marx crisis theory based on Capital 3 against Harvey, cannot in practice apply value theory to the real world when he fails to grasp the significance of the law of value in restoring state capitalism/imperialism in China for the global class struggle.

However, beyond the academy where Marxism is mostly far removed from the everyday politics, some celebrity ‘Marxists’ are attempting to bridge that gap with a call to return to communism as a real social movement. Let’s take the French Maoist Alain Badiou who argues that  today the Marxism we must build is a ‘communist movement’ as if that is distinct from the ‘Communist Party’. In his view, the ‘party-state’ has proven to be a barrier to communism, and is part of the failure of socialist revolutions. Therefore, the ‘communist movement’ must act to check the ‘communist party’ degenerating into the party-state. But is the ‘communist movement’ outside the Party capable of ‘checking’ and ‘correcting’ the democratic centralism of the ‘communist party’?

Is this the “new beginning for Marxism? No! Revolution is not possible without democratic centralism that unites all communists in the vanguard party. The problem of the failure of key 20th century revolutions in Russia and China to build socialism, let alone communism, cannot be overcome today by a ‘communist movement’ separate from the ‘communist party’. Why? Because since 1850 any proletarian political ‘movement’ itself is only possible as the result of the vanguard party fusing theory and practice in the  proletarian dictatorship of the workers’ state.  Only this realisation can spark a “ new beginning for Marxism”.

In sum, Western Marxism (and its Eastern Maoist analogue) is counter-revolutionary along with all other Menshevik and fake Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyist tendencies claiming to be followers of Marx. There is a failure of revolutionary leadership when the masses wallow in the swamp of social-imperialism, social democracy, crypto-Stalinism and ‘red-brown’ politics. The counter-revolution is not confined to the ‘West’ – the euphemism for imperialism – as the permanent counter-revolution to the international permanent revolution. The short C20th is a retreat from Marx that parallels and conspires with counter-revolution. The early C21st is a retreat from the 20th in toto and marks its lowest point yet – the bitter fruit of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and before long the DPRK.

The ‘crisis of leadership’ that Trotsky spoke of in the 1930s persists today and in the future until such time as new generations of Marxists take up the true legacy of Marx and Lenin and build a new Communist International capable of leading the workers of the world to socialist revolution to end capitalist destruction and climate collapse, and to build a future communist society.


Written by raved

December 21, 2018 at 12:02 am

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War Crimes for Idiots: The New Zealand SAS and the War on Terror

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Situations Vacant

SAS3 Part of the NZ SAS squad walking away from a firefight in Kabul, June 2011

17 years after 9/11 and the official launch of the War on Terror (WOT) NZ finds itself facing for the first time the undeniable proof that it was recruited by the US (“for us or against us”) as mercenaries in the US campaign to avenge itself against ‘Islamic Terrorism’. The occasion is not any actual current events in the WOT in Afghanistan, but the publication of the book Hit and Run by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson documenting Operation Burnham, the revenge raid against the killers of SAS Lieutenant O’Donnell led by the NZ SAS on two villages in the Tirgiran valley during the dead of night on March 22, 2010. The title of the book might have been ‘Hunt and Kill’ as that more accurately describes the nature of the SAS mission between 2002…

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Written by raved

February 10, 2018 at 9:25 pm

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

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



No Halfway House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenin’s April Theses

In summary, Lenin says that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Insurrection builds over weeks, days and hours 

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

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

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

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

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

Military Revolutionary Committee formed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MRC turns words into action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurrection Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2nd Congress Opens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Epilogue: After October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was Russia ready for revolution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misreading Lenin

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

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

Mieville agrees that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conclusion: October Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by raved

October 23, 2017 at 7:10 am

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Grupo de Trabalhadores Revolucionários

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

Lenin ou Kautsky?

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

No entanto, essa esquerda tem medo…

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Written by raved

August 9, 2017 at 2:16 am

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John Mulgan: A Modern Greek Tragedy

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Situations Vacant

Review of Vincent O’Sullivan’s

Long Journey to the Border: A Life of John Mulgan

Penguin Books 2003

John Mulgan


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

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

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Written by raved

May 6, 2017 at 2:16 am

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Hands Off Aleppo: Victory to the Syrian Revolution!

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

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

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

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

Ethnic Cleansing for Partition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria: Geopolitical Hotspot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epoch, Crisis, War and Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Permanent Revolution!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From bourgeois to proletarian ‘permanent revolution’

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

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

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

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

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

The failed bourgeois revolutions of 1848

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons of the Paris Commune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marx Critiques the Gotha Program

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

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

Second, Marx asks:

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

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

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

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

1905 and “The Permanent Revolution”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War, Revolution and Counter-revolution

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

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

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

Bolshevism wins in Russia but loses in Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germany: From disguised to open popular front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Imperialist War: revolution and counter-revolution.

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

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

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

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

German “bourgeois democracy” in 1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subcontracting Imperialism: South Korea and Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Total US foreign aid to Israel 1949-2014 in US$ billions (includes loans)

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

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

China and Indo-China

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

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

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

1989-91: the ‘democratic counter-revolution’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Permanent Revolution to Bourgeois Democracy

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

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

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

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

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


LCC, 13 June, 2015


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

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

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

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

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