Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Support the cause of the Bhutanese refugees!

Please endorse the appeal!

The Vice-Chancellor
University of Calcutta


We have come to know from media reports that the University of Calcutta has invited the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, to deliver the convocation address scheduled to be held on 5 October 2010.

You are perhaps aware that there are about 108,000 Bhutanese people living in seven refugee camps in Nepal and about 20,000 more are living as undocumented refugees in India, most of them in West Bengal.

The Bhutanese authorities have not allowed a single refugee to return. Moreover, the treatment of the Bhutanese government towards the rest of the people of Nepali origin and other ethnic minorities, who still live in Bhutan, suggests that the basic rights of this community cannot be guaranteed. The UNHCR camps at Jhapa, Nepal, fall terribly short in both material and psychological aspects of civil life. Already, the community has grown into the second generation, and maybe the third, and there is visible dearth of space, with its natural accompanying problems. There is little scope for the refugees to be involved in any productive work. Frustration and restlessness due to the lack of livelihood is acute among the younger generation. The young women in these camps are in a particularly vulnerable situation, and there are disturbing reports of gender-based violence and trafficking.

We would therefore request you to please forward this appeal to the Bhutan king to ensure the refugees’ right to return and protection of the life and livelihood of the ethnic minorities in Bhutan.

Yours sincerely,

Name Designation University/College/Institute
Santosh Bhattacharya Former Vice-Chancellor University of Calcutta
Shubhendhu Dasgupta Former Member of Faculty, 
Dept of South & South Asian Studies
University of Calcutta
Ronobir Samaddar Director Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group
Meher Engineer Former Director Bose Institute, Kolkata
Amit Bhattacharyya Professor of History Jadavpur University
Kunal Chattopadhyay Professor of Comparative Literature Jadavpur University
Immanuel Ness Professor,
Department of Political Science
Brooklyn College,
City University of New York
Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay Professor of Film Studies Jadavpur University
Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay Faculty Member Indian Statistical Institute
Mohiuddin Ahmed Former Visiting Professor and Co-Director, Inter-Asia NGO Studies (MAINS),
Sungkonghoe University, Seoul, Korea
Ruchira Ganguly-Scrase Associate Professor, Sociology,
Convenor,Asia-Pacific Studies, Faculty of Arts
University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia
Steve Edwards Senior Lecturer in Art History Open University, UK
Soma Marik Associate Professor of History RKSM Vivekananda Vidyabhavan, Kolkata
Siddhartha Guha Roy Associate Professor Vivekananda College
Francis Adaikalam Lecturer & Coordinator,
Dept. of Social Work 
Loyola College, Chennai
Maqbool (Max) Babri Visiting Professor Lahore University of Management Sciences
Sourin Bhattacharya Former Professor in Economics Jadavpur University
Keya Dasgupta Faculty Member Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Bodhisattva Kar Faculty Member Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya Faculty Member Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Dipankar Das Reader in Economics Jaipuria College
Indranil Chakraborty Researcher Simon Fraser University, Canada
Sudeshna Banerjee Reader in History Jadavpur University
Manas Ghosh Lecturer in Film Studies Jadavpur University
Subhajit Chatterjee Lecturer in Film Studies Jadavpur University
Shubhankar Roy Chowdhury Researcher Scholar in Film Studies Jadavpur University
Sanjib Acharyya Reader, Dept. Of Mechanical Engineering Jadavpur University
Dipten Misra Lecturer, Dept. Of Mechanical Engineering Jadavpur University
Salil Biswas Former Lecturer Heramba Ch College
Pranab Kumar Nayak Former Lecturer Kandi Raj College
Jishnu Dasgupta Assistant Professor Serampore College
Achan Mungleng Independent Researcher  
Kumar Rana Researcher  
Sujato Bhadra Associate Professor in History Sibpur Deenabandhu College
Subrata Sarkar Principal, College of Nursing RG Kar Medical College

An early response at the following email address/telephone would be highly appreciated:

Kunal Chattopadhyay
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Ph# +91 98313 98301

Resisting the Radical Right: Political Mobilisations the Only Way

The following article was written for uploading in our website on 28th September. Owing to certain technical difficulties we were unable to do so. Despite the fact that we have now the verdict out, the article is being placed before our readers. An article or a statement on the implications of the verdict will follow in a few days.

Administrator, RS

Resisting the Radical Right: Political Mobilisations the Only Way

Soma Marik

Reading newspapers and watching the television news channels, one might get the impression that with the High Court verdict, at most after a final appeal to the Supreme Court to change the verdict, the tangle over Ayodhya will be over. Such a constitutionalist view is utterly false. Even a look at the title suits show that political motives form the core of the cases. The three-judge Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has to answer, among others, the following questions: Did a temple exist at the disputed site before 1528 when Mir Baqi constructed the Babri Masjid? Was Ayodhya really the birth place of Lord Ram and is there evidence to show that Hindus have been worshipping at this place for a long time? Was Ram Lalla’s appearance inside the mosque was indeed a miracle? Can one go to court to decide on history? Can one go to courts, based on law built by human reason, to seek guidance over whether there are truly things beyond reason?

This has serious implications for the practice of history. Barring simple chronology (with even that under the occasional question, as with the death of Subhas Chandra Bose) unanimity will not even be found in text books. Was the Reign of Terror good or bad, and why was it initiated? French historians have debated this for two centuries with unflagging zeal. If courts dictate unanimity and enforce them legally, we will be facing a destruction of basic freedom of ideas and expression, and academic views could soon become as dangerous as heresy was in the Christian middle ages.

The entire Ram Janmabhoomi agitation was part of a grand design of a radical right force to mobilize in order to march to power. Some of its more sophisticated defenders have been saying of late, that it was not ‘fascist’ or some sort of radical right, because it did not take power as thoroughly as it might have liked. This is to misunderstand, or deliberately sow confusion, about the radical right, a phenomenon very different from the traditional right with its conservatism backed by reliance on state violence as the legitimate form of force. This is why, certain scholars originally trained in Stalinist, top-down Marxism, even discovered back in the early 1990s elements of laudable subaltern assertion of identity in the first kar-seva movement and even in the speeches of Sadhvi Rithambara.

In fact, the radical right uses techniques of mobilization, but in a different way than the radical left. In the present case, the invocation of History was aimed at creating a mobilization that would overcome lower class, or lower caste unity. Hence the focus, not on some specific wrong done to some Hindus, but a wrong done for all time to all Hindus for which all Muslims must atone or be punished. According to the myth created, the Babri Masjid was constructed exactly where Rama was born, by destroying a temple, under instructions from Babar. From that very period, Hindus have fought valiantly to rescue this sacred place. RSS run schools teach the story of this spurious “freedom struggle” in a catechism form. But it proved impossible to ‘liberate’ Rama Janmabhoomi even at the end of the British rule. And so, on the night of 22-23 December 1949, Ram Lalla appeared in his own place in order to remind Hindu society of its sacred national task.

Using Goebbelsian techniques, numerous pamphlets have peddled seeming details of the struggle for the soul of Hindutva -- like Ram Janmabhoomi Ka Rakta Ranjit Itihas by Ramgopal Pandey, or Ayodhya ka Prachin Itihas by Acharya Gunduji Sharma. On one hand there was a bid to prove that Ayodhya was the historic Ayodhya, but a second line of argument was to be developed by Justice Deoki Nandan, the secretary of the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti. The author comments that the existence of an ancient Ram temple in Ayodhya is an historical truth beyond controversies. How can one debate about God? If one does, one will be condemned.

Neither archaeological nor literary sources actually provide any link between the present day Ayodhya and the mythical Ayodhya of the treta age. The excavations of B.B. Lal and A.K. Narain (done independently) show that the oldest layer of the present Ayodhya does not go back further than the 7th Century B, C. And if we are to take the myth as history, the treta age was thousands of years in the past – way beyond 7th Century B.C. Lal would change his stance only after the am temple movement had gathered steam, and publish certain dubious claims in an RSS journal, not in any academic journal.

Till the rise of the Ramanandi community in the 18th century, Ayodhya was not a centre of any Ram cult. There is no reference to a temple and its destruction.  Babar’s memoirs are silent on this. It was Beveridge, the translator of Babarnama, who added a comment that he must have ordered such a destruction – a Christian western coloniser assuring us that they know how Muslims and Hindus must have behaved under various circumstances, and the evidence be hanged. Neither Tulsidas, writing less than a century later, expresses sorrow over such a momentous event. Nor does Badauni, the orthodox Muslim, critical of Akbar’s liberalism, shower praise for this alleged act.
The “disputed structure” was an indisputable masjid till the mob pulled it down on 6th December, 1992. Even after independence, it had been used as a mosque. Till a week or so prior to 22nd December, 1949, Muslims had prayed there. But then, by the morning of 23rd December, the idol was smuggled into the mosque. The mosque was promptly declared a “disputed structure” and by order of the district magistrate K.K. Nayar, the Hindus were allowed entry into the Chabutara for purposes of worship but the right of the Muslims to offer namaaz in the over 400 years old masjid was taken away. For his valour, K.K. Nayar was later picked up by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the direct predecessor of the BJP, to become one of its MPs.

It was the RSS and its network that turned the issue into the central plank of so called Hindu nationalism. The Ram Temple destroyed by Muslims became the symbol of the oppression of Hindus, as well as evidence of their being “emasculated”. To become truly manly, to ensure a Hindu awakening, reclaiming the Ram Temple was a mobilisation strategy. The very existence of the Hindus as an entity comes to depend on the battle for Hindutva. Ram became a crucial element in this battle. As historian Neeladri Bhattacharyya pointed out, the programme of Hinduisation is a project to create an artificial “Hindu essence”. This was to consolidate a macho and offensive communal spirit. The RSS pamphlet,  “Angry Hindu”? Yes, Why Not?” gives an answer. It depicts toleration as a symptom of weakness, exploited by the Muslims to destroy the great culture and civilisation of ancient India. So the time has come to stand up and resent. Not “womanly tolerance”, but manly aggressiveness is required. Hence riots, mass rapes of women and then murdering them.

The VHP-RSS has already proclaimed a twin track strategy. If the verdict says the land legally belongs to the Hindutva claimants, they want a temple there. It matters nought that to do so they smashed a centuries old mosque. And if the verdict goes against them, they are gearing up for another round of right wing mobilisations – Bharat bandhs, other campaigns. The aim is, in either case, again mobilise people on the basis of religion, but for political purposes that involve the capture of power and the subversion of a pluralist democracy.

Bypassing the debates over whether the RSS-VHP-BJP can be called fascist or not, we can agree that they are a brand of radical populist right. Such politics cannot be countered purely constitutionally. The German Social Democrats voted Hindenburg for President, hoping that this traditionalist would keep Hitler out. A year later, Hindenburg would call Hitler in as Chancellor, and a few further months down the SPD was illegalised. From the 1980s, the rise of new mass rightwing chauvinist nationalisms across Europe have been successfully checked only where anti-racist counter mobilisations have been carried out. The court case will solve very little. No modern democratic society can be based on a foundation of revenge for real or imagined insults of the past. In 1857, the British, after their victory, murdered very large numbers of innocent Indians. An Indian nationalism today, that seeks to situate India in the world by calling for the genocide of present day English people, would be rightly attacked. So why should it be different when the attack is on Muslims – Indian Muslims who are thus pushed outside the identity of Indian-ness at that?

Venezuelan elections: affirming the Bolivarian revolution

Venezuelan elections: affirming the Bolivarian revolution

The National Assembly elections held in Venezuela on September 26 have produced a clear mandate for continuing and deepening the Bolivarian revolution being led by socialist President Hugo Chavez.

Of the 165 deputies elected, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 95 (60% of the National Assembly) and the right-wing Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) won 60 (40%). Both the PSUV-allied Communist Party and the opposition Fatherland for All (PPT) won three seats. While the official count has yet to be announced, President Chavez has reported that the PSUV and its allies received 5,422,040 votes while the opposition alliance received 5,320,175 votes.

The elections were also an important victory for the revolution because they showed, once again, that the capitalist media's constant portrayals of the Venezuelan government as "dictatorial" are absurd. There was a historic level of participation in these Assembly elections, with 66.45% of eligible voters exercising their right to vote - a far greater proportion than in any national election in the United States.

International observers - including participants in the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network's brigade to Venezuela in September - reported that the process was conducted peacefully and thoroughly democratically. Even the opposition, which has repeatedly claimed "electoral fraud" since Chavez was elected president in 1998, has acknowledged that the election was free and fair.

The opposition abstained from participating in the last (2005) Assembly elections. This gave pro-Chavez legislators147 seats, a huge majority that was inevitably going to decrease with the opposition deciding to contest this election.

While the PSUV and its allies did not achieve the two-thirds of seats needed to have an absolute majority in the parliament, the results clearly show that the majority of the population prefers the anti-capitalist and socialist path. In the words of Venezuela's vice-president, Elias Jaua, the result "will enable Commander Hugo Chavez to continue governing, giving power back to people and building the path to socialism".

The broader social-political context in which the majority of people voted for the revolution underlines the strength of the Venezuelan poor's desire for the radical change that Chavez represents. Just in the last 12 months, the Chavez government has faced:

* the impacts of the global financial crisis;

* widespread sabotage of basic services and infrastructure, especially by the agriculture capitalists;

* a constant propaganda assault by the 75-80% of Venezuelan mass media controlled by opponents of the revolution;

* massive amounts of funding for the opposition provided by the United States; and

* escalating military aggression by the US, including the threat of war.

A report commissioned by the National Endowment for Democracy and published in May 2010 by the Spanish Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue revealed that this year alone, international agencies - most particularly the US government agency USAID - are investing between $40-50 million in anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela. A large part of those funds have been channelled to the opposition MUD.

There is no doubt that the right wing will use its new positions in parliament to escalate its efforts to stall, sabotage and undermine the revolutionary process. Their goal is to undermine the leadership of Hugo Chavez (the next presidential election is in 2012) and roll back the significant changes in favour of the majority in Venezuela.

These gains were recently outlined by Venezuela's ambassador to the United Nations, Jorge Valero, when he reported to the plenary session of the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals on September 21. He pointed out that Venezuela is one of the tiny number of countries that has achieved the majority of the Millennium Development Goals, including:

* Between 1999 and 2009, 60% of all of Venezuela's revenues have been invested in social programs.

* Between 1998 and 2009, the level of poverty was reduced, from more than 49% to 24.2%. Levels of extreme poverty decreased dramatically, from 29.8% in 2003 to 7.2% in 2009.

* The UN's Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean has recognised that Venezuela is the country that has most diminished inequality in that region.

* Between 1998 and 2009, unemployment fell by more than 50%, to 6.6%.

* In 2005 the revolution eradicated illiteracy, an achievement recognised by UNESCO.

These are precious steps forward for the people of Venezuela, who will not give them up without a fight. The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network offers its full solidarity to that ongoing struggle, and congratulates the courageous people of Venezuela for their election victory. In the words of President Chavez, it is a victory that makes it possible to "continue deepening Bolivarian and democratic socialism ... continue strengthening the revolution".

Viva people's power!

Viva the Bolivarian revolution!

Viva Chavez!

A statement by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network

September 29, 2010


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The battle for control of our bodies

The battle for control of our bodies

Editorial for CSE news bulletin

By Sunita Narain

They say you are what you eat. But do we know what we are eating? Do we know who is cooking and serving us the food we take to our kitchens and then into our bodies? The more I dig into this issue it becomes clear that our world of food is spinning in directions we know nothing about.

Take honey. A sweet preserve we take for granted that it comes from bees, which collect it from the nectar of flowers. We pick up the bottle from a local shop, believing the honey was collected naturally, is fresh and certainly without contaminants. In most cases, we think that small farmers produced it or it was collected from the wild and packaged by large companies. We consume it as a natural tonic against the chemical assaults of the modern world.

But little do we know how the business of honey has changed. Nobody explains us that the culture of food is linked to biodiversity. And this is further connected with the business—and not pleasure of food. But mess with biodiversity and you mess with food. The ubiquitous bee is one such instance. Some decades ago, leading scientific institutions in India sold the idea of introducing the European bee (Apis mellifera) into the country. This prolific honey producer bee took over the business, virtually replacing the humble but more adapted Indian bees (Apis cerana and Apis dorsata) from our food.

At the same time, the business of honey moved away from small producers, collecting honey from the wild and cultivating it in natural conditions. It became a highly organised business, controlled by a handful of companies that handle all aspects of the trade—from the supply of queen bees to the paraphernalia of bee-housing, from feeding and disease control to linking up with producers across different states. It is an outsourced business, run by franchisees whose job is to find places, like the apple farms of Himachal, where there is nectar for bees.

We have lost the biodiversity of the bee—largely Apis mellifera now makes our honey—and we have lost the diversity of the business. Business is now about commerce, not food. But nature has its way of getting back at us. The European bee is showing signs of overuse across the world. In the US and Europe there is worrying news about honeybee colony collapses—bees are disappearing from colonies. This is in turn is hitting crop production as bees play a critical role in pollinating food crops across the US—a service, officially billed at some US$ 20 billion annually. The trade in pollinator bees involves carting bee colonies across the county, where crops need their service. But now there is evidence that such overwork, combined with the use of nasty new pesticides, new diseases and immune-suppressed bees, is destroying bees.

In India, things are no different. The dependence on an introduced species and emphasis on overproduction means the overworked bees are susceptible to diseases. The creatures are immune-suppressed and not adapted to local conditions. So, the answer is to feed bees antibiotics mixed liberally in sugar syrup. The bee makes honey and with it comes the lethal dose of antibiotics.

When the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) checked honey, it found cocktail of antibiotics—mostly banned and prohibited in food. It found everything from the commonly used Ampicillin, Enrofloxacin, Ciprofloxacin, Erythromycin to the strictly banned Chloramphenicol in honey made and packaged by the biggest and the most known. Any doctor will tell you these antibiotics in food are bad, because they not only have health impacts but also make disease-causing bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Over-exposure to antibiotics is not just leading to super-bugs in hospitals. We are also getting small doses of antibiotics through food. Because of this doctors want us to be careful with antibiotics. It is also because of this that food regulators say there should be no—or minimum and controlled— antibiotics in our food.

This is where the equation between big businesses and food gets murky. CSE’s laboratory checked two foreign brands bought from our local store. We know Europe has banned Indian honey for having these antibiotics. They did this because they say they care about their health.

Good. But then who cares about our health? Both brands we checked had high levels of antibiotics. The health-conscious companies, in this case from Australia and Switzerland, do not check antibiotics in products they export to our world. It is about double-standards and it stinks. But why should they care for our health, when our government does not? The same government, which makes strict standards for exported honey, does not care about what we use domestically. There are no standards for antibiotics in Indian honey.

This is the age of big and powerful business taking over our kitchen, because we have complicit food regulators. The recently set up Food Safety and Standards Authority has been dead on entry. Do not be surprised. Be angry. This is not a business we should allow for takeover. It is about us. Our bodies. Our self.

Read this online: http://downtoearth.org.in/node/1908
Post your comments at: http://cseindia.org/node/1732

In Defense of Permanent Revolution

Ernest Mandel

In Defense of Permanent Revolution

A Reply to Doug Jenness

Written: 12 December, 1982
Source: Intercontinental Press, August 8, 1983 (Vol. 21, No. 15)
Transcription/Markup: Martin Fahlgren & D. Walters in 2009 for the Marxists Internet Archive
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Comrade Doug Jenness’ article “Our Political Continuity with Bolshevism” (International Socialist Review, April 1982) opens a new stage in the debate on revolutionary strategy for the less developed countries. In his first contribution, [1] Comrade Jenness limited himself to coming up with a “new reading” of Lenin’s writings. Now, he has moved to a direct attack on Trotsky and the theory of permanent revolution — often explicitly, sometimes by feigning a polemic with me.

A False Method

Comrade Jenness’ article examines the vital problem of revolutionary strategy for the less developed capitalist countries by means of a thoroughly false method. Instead of looking at real revolutionary processes as they developed from the Russian revolution of 1917 until today, studying the way social classes acted during all these revolutions, the strategies followed by the various parties and political currents that influenced or led these revolutions, the results of these strategies — the victories or defeats that ensued — he essentially concentrates on a study of the texts, an examination of what Lenin, Trotsky, Marx and other authors wrote on the question. This method is not materialist. It is dogmatic.

The error in Comrade Jenness’ method is not just dogmatic. His dogmatism is also scholastic — he selects quotations to try and demonstrate a preconceived thesis. He can’t be bothered with reading these works to find out what the authors really thought on a given topic. This is obvious from a large number of cases.

1. Basing himself on a quotation taken out of context from a polemical article written by Trotsky in 1933, The Class Character of the Soviet State, Comrade Jenness attributes to Trotsky (on page 35 of his article) the idea that the workers state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, was not created in Russia starting from the 1917 October revolution, but only from autumn 1918, or even 1921, or later still. There is no basis for such a supposition.

In that article, Trotsky was in fact polemicizing against those who want to apply absolute (and therefore false) norms to the definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat so as to deny the existence of a workers state in the USSR in 1933. With fine irony, he shows how such arguments lead to absurd conclusions. He tells them: if we were to follow your use of absolute norms, then the dictatorship of the proletariat would not have existed after October 1917, it would not have existed in 1918, nor in 1920, and it would not even have existed during the NEP. In other words, since you deny that it exists under Stalin, it never could have existed. But Trotsky unravels this argument to its absurd conclusion, not because he agrees with it, but because he rejects it. For the very paragraph Doug Jenness took the quote from ends with these words, which Comrade Jenness omitted to quote:

“To these gentlemen, the dictatorship of the proletariat is simply an imponderable concept, an ideal norm not to be realized upon our sinful planet” (Leon Trotsky, Writings 1933-1934, 1972, p. 106).

In the same article, Trotsky explicitly states:

“The dictatorship of the proletariat was established by means of a political overturn and a civil war of time years.”


“So long as the forms of property that have been created by the October revolution are not overthrown, the proletariat remains the ruling class” (op. cit., p. 104 — our emphasis).

He defended without fail, until the end of his life, the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat was indeed achieved by the socialist revolution of October 1917.

2. Comrade Doug Jenness states (p. 36):

“using the scientific criteria for a workers state that Marxists have used since the 1930s, based on our analysis of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet workers state — a workers state did not come into existence in Russia until at least the autumn of 1918, as Trotsky explained in the 1933 article.”

Comrade Doug Jenness does not produce the shadow of a proof that Trotsky or other revolutionary Marxist authors have supposedly modified, “since the 1930s”, the definition of the October revolution as establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the other hand, we could quote numerous documents written after the 1933 article which state exactly the opposite:

  • In The Workers State, Thermidor, and Bonapartism, written in 1934, Trotsky stated: “October 1917 completed the democratic revolution and began the socialist revolution….”
  • The Revolution Betrayed, written in 1936, starts with the following sentence: “Owing to the insignificance of the Russian bourgeoisie, the democratic tasks of backward Russia — such as the liquidation of the monarchy and the semifeudal slavery of the peasants — could be achieved only through a dictatorship of the proletariat.”
  • In Ninety Years of the Communist Manifesto (October 1937), he wrote: “Marx later counterposed the state of the Commune type to the capitalist state. This ‘type’ later took the very much more graphic form of the Soviets.”
  • In the Transitional Program, written in 1938, Trotsky wrote: “The power of the soviets, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
  • In his article From a Scratch to the Danger of Gangrene, dated January 24, 1940, Trotsky spoke of “the social foundations (of the USSR) established by the October revolution.”
  • Many authors who are members of the SWP hardly express things differently. In his preface to The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, published in 1973, Joseph Hansen wrote this, concerning the conception of the Russian revolution defended by Trotsky: “He” [Trotsky] did this in his theory of the permanent revolution, which correctly predicted, twelve years in advance, the course taken by the October 1917 revolution.”
  • Comrade Dick Roberts wrote in the September 1973 issue of International Socialist Review: “In October, after the Bolsheviks won a majority inside the Soviets, Trotsky and Lenin led a socialist revolution against the provisional government, overthrowing it and establishing a proletarian dictatorship.”
  • And Comrade Doug Jenness himself, writing in 1970, stated: “Although Lenin was in total accord with Trotsky’s analysis that the capitalist class could not lead the Russian Revolution, before 1917 he believed that the revolution would be ‘democratic’ rather than socialist, i.e., that it would not go beyond the bounds of bourgeois democracy. In addition, his justified emphasis on the importance of the peasantry in the Russian Revolution led him, in describing the dynamics of the revolution, to put forward an intermediate formula ascribing to the peasant allies of labor a joint leadership role they were unable to assume. He called for a ‘democratic dictatorship of the working class and peasantry’ and not in Trotsky’s correct formulation, a dictatorship of the working class supported by the peasantry” (Doug Jenness, “Introduction” to Leon Trotsky on the Paris Commune, N.Y.: Pathfinder, 1970).

3. On Page 37 of his article, Comrade Doug Jenness suggests that Lenin in his polemic with Kautsky (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky) had implied, or even explicitly stated (”Things have turned out just as we said they would”), that the proletariat marched alongside the peasantry as a whole in the democratic revolution, and then with the poor peasants alone, in the socialist revolution. But Lenin does not at all say that in his 1918 pamphlet. In fact, he states the contrary. For he is referring to the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry after the conquest of power by the proletariat in October 1917, that is, after the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and not at all in the course of a so-called democratic revolution in February–March 1917, or some time prior to the October socialist revolution. Comrade Doug Jenness seems to have forgotten even the title of Lenin’s pamphlet, which is The PROLETARIAN [proletarian and not bourgeois-democratic!) Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. But here are some exact quotes:

Page 413: “Finally, between August and September 1917, that is before the proletarian revolution in Russia (October 25/November 7, 1917)……

Page 430: “… the power of the soviets, that is the dictatorship of the proletariat in its given form.

Page 437: “He [Kautsky] does hot say that in these theses (of December 26, 1917, on the Constituent Assembly) the question was treated … in relation to the break which emerged in our revolution between the Constituent Assembly and the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Page 480: “However, a state of the Commune type, the soviet state, tells the truth openly and without ambiguity to the people, and explains to them that it is the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry” (our emphasis in all these quotations; translated from the French).

The list of quotations could be extended further. But what would be the use?

4. Furthermore, Comrade Jenness suggests in his article (pp. 37-38) that Lenin maintained after April 1917 that his 1905 positions were confirmed by the course of the Russian revolution of 1917. Apart from the fact that the quotations transcribed by Doug Jenness do not say that at all, but refer only to particular aspects of Lenin’s position of 1905 and not to the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants”, Comrade Doug Jenness eliminates a little detail throughout this passage. In 1905, Lenin said: “But of course it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 56).

By contrast, after his April 1917 Theses, Lenin never again used the formula “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants”, (why?) but referred many times to the Russian revolution as establishing (or having established) the dictatorship of the proletariat (the power of the soviets). His entire book State and Revolution is given over to this issue.

The Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited People, written by Lenin on January 4, 1918, and submitted by the Bolshevik fraction to the Constituent Assembly — a document which, for the Bolsheviks, had an historical importance, since it was meant to be the proletarian “counterpart” to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of the great French bourgeois revolution — begins with the following words:

“Russia is hereby proclaimed a Republic of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies. All power centrally and locally is vested in these Soviets” (Lenin, CW, Vol. 26, p. 423). We already know that for Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks, soviet power was synonymous with the dictatorship of the proletariat. Further on, point 5 of this Declaration states:

“To insure the sovereign power of the working people, and to eliminate all possibility of the reestablishment of the power of the exploiters, the arming of the working people, the creation of a socialist Red Army of workers and peasants, and the complete disarming of the propertied classes are hereby decreed”, (Idem, p. 424).

Is there any other state than a workers state, the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, that can decree the disarmament of the bourgeoisie, the arming of the workers, the formation of a socialist army?

The Soviet Constitution adopted in July 1918, before the nationalizations of the factories, established preferential voting rights specifically for the proletariat, and stipulated in article 23:

In the interests of the working class, the Soviet Socialist Federal Republic shall deprive of their rights individuals and groups of individuals who use [hem to the detriment of the socialist revolution.”

The program of the Bolshevik party, adopted in 1919, begins with the following words:

“The October revolution in Russia established the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The A.B.C. of Communism, a popular presentation of this program, written by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, stated:

“The proletariat, which took power in October 1917….”

The first congress of the Communist International, which met in 1919, adopted Lenin’s theses on “Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, which state:

“The form of the dictatorship of the proletariat which is already being practically worked out, that is the power of the soviets….”

“… what defines the power of the soviets is that all soviet state power, the whole state apparatus has a single and permanent basis, the mass organization of the classes that were oppressed by capitalism, that is the workers and semiproletarians….”

The point is clear: Comrade Doug Jenness can only establish an alleged “continuity” with the 1905 positions of Bolshevism on strategy for the Russian revolution by first junking the whole continuity of the positions of Lenin, the Bolshevik Party, the Communist International, Trotsky, the Left Opposition, and the Fourth International, from April 1917 until today.

5. Comrade Doug Jenness protests against my statement (although it is taken literally from Trotsky) that one of the reasons for the differences between Lenin and Trotsky from 1905 to 1916 was the fact that Lenin expected that a victory of the Russian revolution under “the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants” would inaugurate a long period of capitalist development in Russia, the economic and social prerequisite for the later victory of the socialist revolution (the old thesis of the whole Russian Social-Democracy first formulated by Plekhanov and reasserted in the Party program drafted jointly by Lenin and Plekhanov, which only Trotsky had challenged in 1905-1906).

To support his point, Doug Jenness quotes the famous sentence from Lenin’s 1905 pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, a sentence in which Lenin asserts that one should not erect a Chinese wall between the democratic and socialist revolutions. In our opinion, this sentence refers not to the victory of the socialist revolution (i.e. the seizure of power by the proletariat) but to the beginning of the struggle for the seizure of power. The whole context demonstrates this. At any rate, Comrade Doug Jenness’ quote is selective to the point of being scandalous. For the fact is that in the same pamphlet, Lenin writes exactly what Mandel (and Trotsky before him) claimed he did concerning the possibility of a capitalist development of Russia as a result of the victory of the democratic revolution:

“… under the present social and economic order this democratic revolution in Russia will not weaken but strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie . .” (Lenin, CW, Vol. 9, p. 23).

“Finally, we will note that the resolution, by making implementation of the minimum programme the provisional revolutionary government’s task, eliminates the absurd and semi-anarchist ideas of giving immediate effect to the maximum programme, and the conquest of power for a socialist revolution. The degree of Russia’ s economic development (an objective condition), and the degree of class-consciousness and organisation of the broad masses of the proletariat (a subjective condition inseparably bound up with the objective condition) make the immediate and complete emancipation of the working class impossible” (Idem, p. 28, emphasis added).

We should add that this “maximum programme” scarcely mentions classless society and gives the “complete emancipation of the proletariat” the meaning of the establishment of … the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. What does that mean? It means that the democratic reforms in the political system, and the social and economic reforms that have become a necessity for Russia, do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism” (Idem, p. 48 — emphasis added).

“In countries like Russia the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class is, therefore, most certainly interested in the broadest, freest, and most rapid development of capitalism….”

“That is why a bourgeois revolution is in the highest degree advantageous to the proletariat” (Idem, p. 45-50 — emphasis in original).

A few months later, Lenin wrote Socialism and the Peasantry and stated even more clearly:

“Bourgeois in its social and economic essence, the democratic revolution cannot but express the needs of all bourgeois society” (Idem, p. 307).

“The mass of the peasants do not and cannot realise that the fullest `freedom’ and the ‘justest’ distribution even of all the land, far from destroying capitalism will, on the contrary, create the conditions for a particularly extensive and powerful development of capitalism” (Idem, p. 309 — emphasis added).

Similarly, in his 1905 article entitled “The Petty-Bourgeoisie and Proletarian Socialism”, he stated:

“In Russia, just as was the case in other countries, it is a necessary concomitant of the democratic revolution, which is bourgeois in its social and economic content. It is not in the least directed against the foundations of the bourgeois order, against commodity production or against capital… Consequently, full victory of this peasant movement will not abolish capitalism: on the contrary, it will create a broader foundation for its development, and will hasten and intensify purely capitalist development. Full victory of the peasant uprising can only create a stronghold for a democratic bourgeois republic within which a proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie will for the first time develop in its purest form” (Idem, p. 440 — emphasis added).

Lenin’s article on “The aim of the struggle of the proletariat in our revolution”, written March 9-21, 1909, is sometimes quoted to make the opposite point: it does discuss the proletariat as “the guide”, “the leader” of the revolution, “drawing the peasantry in behind it”. The same article gives an important role to soviets along with participation in the revolutionary government (Lenin, CW, Vol. 15).

But an objective review of the context clearly shows that what is being discussed is still the role of soviets in a democratic, non-socialist, non-permanent revolution, that is, in a situation in which the social and economic foundations of capitalism have not been shattered but rather are being intentionally fostered.

This follows clearly from a comparison of the stated article with another one Lenin wrote, a few months later, and entitled Some Sources of the Present Ideological Discord (November 28, 1909). This article states with no possible uncertainty or misunderstanding:

“. . the bourgeois development of Russia is now a foregone conclusion but it is possible in two forms — the so-called ‘Prussian’ form (the retention of the monarchy and landlordism, the creation of a strong. i.e.. bourgeois, peasantry on the given historical basis, etc.) and the so called ‘American’ form (a bourgeois republic, the abolition of landlordism, the creation of a farmer class, i .e.. of a free bourgeois peasantry, by means of a marked change of the given historical situation). The proletariat must fight for the second path as offering the greatest degree of freedom and speed of development of the productive forces of capitalist Russia, and victory in this struggle is possible only with a revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” (Lenin, CW, Vol. 16.. pp. 87-88 —emphasis added).

“The proletariat must put its stake on democracy, without exaggerating the latter’s strength and without limiting itself to merely ‘pinning hopes’ on it, but steadily developing the work of propaganda, agitation and organisation, mobilising all the democratic forces — the peasants above all and before all — calling upon them to ally themselves with the leading class, to achieve the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ for the purpose of a full democratic victory and the creation of the best conditions for the quickest and freest development capitalism” (Idem, p. 94 — emphasis added).

Unless one assumes Lenin contradicted himself not only between March and December 1909, but also inside the very article he wrote in March 1909 (which contains formulations of the same type as that of December 1909), there is no room for doubt. The revolutionary government he speaks of, as well as the soviets, are in his eyes formations akin to those of the Jacobins of 1792-93, and of the Jacobin clubs, i.e., bodies meant to carry out a bourgeois-democratic revolution, to open the road not to expropriations, but to the take-off of capitalism.

In light of all these quotes — and many others could be added both from 1905 and from the period stretching to 1916[2] — it is a genuine falsification of Lenin’s positions to claim that the great Russian revolutionary did not, in 1905, foresee a lengthy capitalist development in Russia (as occurred in other countries which underwent a bourgeois revolution, i.e., Great Britain, the United States, France, etc.) or only foresaw it in agriculture. Lenin says: a purely capitalist development, the rule of Capita]; how could they possibly exist if capital was destroyed in industry and banking?

6. No doubt, the algebraic formulas of the Bolsheviks in 1905 allowed for interpretations that imply support for the bourgeois provisional government of February–March 1917, although other interpretations were also possible. Hence the need for rearming the party after the outbreak of the February 1917 revolution. Hence the historically decisive function of Lenin’s April Theses, which we emphasized in our first article.[3]

Comrade Doug Jenness systematically plays down the importance of the turn represented by the April Theses. He even goes so far as to deny that there was a real turn, and heavily emphasizes instead the continuity. He quotes a passage from Marcel Liebman’s book Leninism Under Lenin dealing with the allegedly correct position of Shliapnikov and other Bolshevik leaders prior to Lenin’s return to Russia. It so happens Jenness is mistaken even in this minor detail. But that is not the main point.

The main point, once more, is that Jenness has Liebman say exactly the opposite of what he actually said. Here is what Liebman actually writes on the “turn” of the April Theses:

“Thus the difference between Lenin and the Bolshevik leadership in Russia was deep-going and wide-ranging…. In the last analysis, all these political disagreements were derived from a more important cause. Lenin saw differently from his chief supporters the fundamental problem that faced the Russian labour movement in 1917, and which was bound up with the very nature of the revolution in progress. The entire tactic adopted by the Bolshevik leaders in Russia, with its caution, moderation and concern for unity with the Mensheviks, reflected a belief that the Bolshevik leaders shared with the Right-wing Socialists. As they saw it, the fall of Tsarism was the first victory in the bourgeois revolution, which must be followed up by other successes, and in this way consolidated, without there being any question of going beyond the limits of such a revolution and undertaking socialist tasks… This was an opinion Lenin had held for a long time and that only the 1905 revolution led him to question albeit without replacing it with a sufficiently elaborated new perspective” (Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin, London, Merlin Press, 1975, p. 127).

7. Because he systematically downplays the turn represented by the April Theses, Doug Jenness must distort the facts, the historical truth. He keeps mum about the first vote of the St. Petersburg party committee which rejected the April Theses 13 to 2 with one abstention,[4] and of the Moscow and Kiev party committees which did likewise. Nor does Doug Jenness mention that Lenin himself proclaimed: “Old Bolshevism must be abandoned!” (Lenin, CW, Vol. 24). “Old Bolshevism” obviously meant the 1905 positions on the nature of the revolution and revolutionary strategy — positions Doug Jenness now wants to uphold against Lenin’s advice, rather than abandoning them. Nor does he utter a word about the fact that all the interpretations of the April Theses until the mid-20s, that is, until the victory of counterrevolutionary Stalinist monolithism, unanimously considered the Theses represented a decisive turn.

Here is what Stalin himself — who scarcely needed additional attention drawn to the event, since he was among its main instigators — wrote as late as 1926:

“[The party] adopted a policy of Soviet pressure on the provisional government on the question of peace, and did not immediately decide to take the step that would have carried it from the old slogan of dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, to the new slogan of power to the soviets . . this was a profoundly mistaken position” (On the Opposition).

8. Comrade Doug Jenness reproaches us with having stated that Trotsky discovered the law of uneven and combined development, which he claims is intrinsic to historical materialism (p. 47). But the quote he produces to back up his contention refers to the law of uneven development, that Marx obviously knew. The law of uneven and combined development is a second law. It was, indeed, discovered by Trotsky. Let us examine the following quote and ask ourselves whether Marx, Plekhanov, or Lenin, ever wrote anything of the kind (at least Lenin before 1917):

“Russia entered the road of proletarian revolution not because its economy was the ripest for socialist transformation, but because that economy could no longer develop on capitalist foundations. The socialization of the means of production had become the necessary condition above all to lift the country out of barbarism: such is the law of combined development for backward countries” (The Revolution Betrayed; translated from the French — emphasis added).

“Russia’s evolution is characterized above all by its lateness. A historical lag does not mean, however, a mere repetition of the evolution of advanced countries, with a delay of one or two hundred years, but gives birth to an entirely new, ‘combined,’ social formation in which the latest achievements of capitalist technology and structure take root in the social relations of feudal and prefeudal barbarism, transform them and subordinate them, thereby creating an original relationship between classes” (Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution; translated from the French — emphasis added).

Moreover, we would like to know whether Comrade Doug Jenness will reject the testimony of the following witness, as well as what the witness himself now thinks of his rather definitive assertions of 1973:

“Trotsky himself made prodigious theoretical contributions to Marxism in his celebrated theory of the permanent revolution, in his formulation of the law of uneven and combined development, and in his program for the regeneration of workers democracy in an unhealthy workers state” (George Novack, “Introduction” to The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973 — our emphasis).

9. Doug Jenness protests against Mandel’s assertion (which is really Trotsky’s) that Lenin went over to Trotsky’s pre-1917 position on the strategy of permanent revolution (p. 46). But he keeps mum about the fact that, as early as the April Theses, Lenin speaks of the need for a workers government in Russia. He keeps mum about Joffe’s testament which states Lenin explicitly told Joffe that Trotsky had been right on the question of permanent revolution. Did Joffe lie about this on the eve of his suicide?

Jenness remains silent on Trotsky’s 1927 statement that:

“Upon our group’s arrival in Petrograd, comrade Fedorov, then a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee, welcomed us in its name at the Finland station and in his speech of welcome posed sharply the question of the next stages of the revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist course of development. The reply I gave was in full accord with Lenin’s April Theses which, for me, flowed unfailingly from the theory of the permanent revolution. As comrade Fedorov told subsequently, the fundamental point of his speech had been formulated by him in agreement with Lenin, or, more accurately, at Lenin’ s direction” (Leon Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification, p. 5 — emphasis added).

Did Trotsky lie? Moreover, where did Comrade Doug Jenness fetch the assertion that Trotsky had become “Leninist” on the question of revolutionary strategy for Russia the moment he joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917? Doug Jenness produces not the slightest shred of evidence, not a single document, not a single quote, to support his contention, which is false from A to Z. The truth is that from 1904 to his death in 1940 Trotsky did not change his position one iota on the applicability of the theory of the permanent revolution to Russia. He only extended it, subsequently, beginning in 1927, to other less developed capitalist countries — as did the Fourth International, and as did the SWP (that is, its founding nucleus, the Communist League of America, when it joined the International Left Opposition).[5]

The Nub of the Issue

On this question of the theory of the permanent revolution, Doug Jenness manages to pile confusion upon contradiction upon deplorable mistake. Yet it revolves around a single and central problem: under what government, in what state, could the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the revolution on the agenda in Russia, be accomplished? What flowed from this in terms of the inevitable dynamic of the revolution?

The Mensheviks said: because the tasks of the revolution are bourgeois-democratic, only a bourgeois government and a bourgeois state can accomplish them. Any attempt by the working class to take power “prematurely” would lead to a revolutionary setback and a catastrophe for the revolution.

Trotsky answered: in the imperialist epoch, given the extent of capitalist development in Russia and the weight of the proletariat on the one hand, and the close intertwining of land ownership and capitalist property on the other, the bourgeoisie will inevitably go over to the camp of counterrevolution. If the bourgeoisie maintains its hegemony within the revolution, the revolution will be defeated.

The only class capable of leading the revolutionary process is the proletariat. To do so, it must ally with the poor peasantry, and win the support of the majority of the peasantry (the majority of the nation). But it can do so only by destroying the bourgeois state and dominating the government. In this endeavor, lest it demoralize itself and thereby cause a defeat of the revolution, it cannot limit itself solely to implementing the revolutionary-democratic tasks of the revolution; it must simultaneously begin to resolve the socialist tasks (not all of them, and not instantly, of course, but at least some of them).[6] By the same token, any notion of a “two-class” government, not to mention a “two-class state”, is a complete utopia. The tasks of the national-democratic revolution will be accomplished by the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat allied to the poor peasantry, that is, by the destruction of the bourgeois state and the citation of a new type of state, the state of the Commune, the state of the Soviets, the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only the proletariat and its decisive predominance ‘within the government can guarantee the revolution will move forward to victory. Every other strategic line of march will lead the revolution to defeat.

Prior to 1917, Lenin had adopted an intermediate position in between these two clearly counterposed positions. His outlook fluctuated over the years. Trotsky was therefore right to characterize it as based on an algebraic formula. Like Trotsky, Lenin rejected any notion that the bourgeoisie, or a coalition government with the bourgeoisie, could realize the tasks of the national-democratic revolution in Russia. Like Trotsky, he held that these tasks could only be accomplished against the bourgeoisie. But, unlike Trotsky, he did not specify, prior to April 1917, that their accomplishment also required the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus, that is, not the establishment of a bourgeois-democratic republic (see the 1905 quotations mentioned above), but the dictatorship of the proletariat, the rule of the soviets. The reason for his hesitation was that he did not exclude the hypothesis of a revolutionary government in which the proletariat would not be hegemonic, in which the proletariat and peasantry would have equal weight, or even one with a peasant majority.

True, Lenin, under the direct impact of the 1905 revolution – especially in 1906 — shifted his position closer to Trotsky’s, even spoke of the proletariat with the poor peasantry alone,[7] and mentioned a rapid transition to the “socialist phase” of the revolution. But, following the victory of the counterrevolution, he basically reverted to the 1905 formulations: bourgeois-democratic republic; development of capitalism in Russia; shift of the workers party into the opposition as soon as the democratic revolution triumphed.

What was the nub of this difference? It had nothing to do with any “underestimation” of the peasantry by Trotsky. That is a legend of the. Thermidorians, the epigoner of Lenin, passed on and amplified by the various anti-Trotskyist Stalinist and post-Stalinist factions (including the Maoists), a legend which Comrade Doug Jenness now suddenly wants to make his own, although the SWP combated it all along the fifty years of its existence. Trotsky always emphasized the decisive role of the peasants in the Russian revolution, given the predominant weight of the peasantry in the active population. Like Lenin, he rejected the putschist, “Blanquist”, notion of a revolution supported only by a minority of the masses of the people (the working-class minority). Like Lenin, he emphasized the need for a broad soviet organization of the peasantry.

The real difference lay elsewhere. Trotsky rejected the idea that the peasantry could form a political party, a political force, that was truly independent, both of the bourgeoisie and proletariat. Yet, willy nilly, a government must be composed of political parties, or of groups acting as de facto parties. For Trotsky, “a coalition government” of workers and peasants parties could only lead to the victory of the revolution if the latter followed the leadership of the proletariat in moving towards the smashing of the bourgeois state apparatus, that is, if they were not bourgeois peasant parties but peasant “parties” or “groups” that were satellites of the proletariat. For Lenin until 1916, the possibility of genuine peasant parties, independent of both the bourgeoisie and proletariat, was not excluded. Hence the imprecise nature of his formulas on the government and the state that would lead the revolution to victory.

But beginning in 1917, Lenin resolved this question in the same way as Trotsky. We see the following:

“A mass Social-Democratic movement has existed in Russia for twenty years (if one takes the great 1896 strikes as its beginning). One can see over this great time period, through two powerful revolutions, through the whole political history of Russia, that the same essential question was raised: will the working class lead the peasants forward, towards socialism, or will the liberal bourgeois take them backwards towards a reconciliation with capitalism?” (V.I. Lenin, CW, Vol. 25, September II, 1917, p. 303; translated from the French).

“Our experience taught us — and this is confirmed by the development of all the revolutions of the world, if one considers the present epoch, that is, the last one hundred and fifty years — that this was so everywhere and always; all attempts by the petty-bourgeoisie in general, and by the peasants in particular, to become aware of their own strength, to lead the economy and politics in their fashion, led to a failure. Either they were placed under the leadership of the proletariat, or under that of the capitalists. There is no middle ground. Those who dream of a middle term are but dreamers, empty-dreamers” (”Speech to the Congress of Transport Workers”, March 29-30, 1921; translated from the French — our emphasis).

Dictatorship of the Proletariat or ‘Two-Class Government’: the Historical Balance Sheet

The real criterion for judging the problem of permanent revolution is not, of course, what Trotsky, or Lenin, or whoever, wrote in 1905, 1906, 1909, 1917, or 1921. It is what actually happened in history. The balance sheet, here, is clear and illuminating. Wherever the historical tasks of the national-democratic revolution as a whole — above all the agrarian question — were accomplished, this was due to the fact that the proletariat, with the support of the poor peasantry, had previously taken power, smashed the bourgeois state, and built a state of a new type, that is to say, the dictatorship of the proletariat, even though this may have taken place in a highly bureaucratized form and under the leadership of an extremely bureaucratized workers party (except in Cuba). Wherever the bourgeois state was preserved, the solution of the national-democratic tasks of the revolution remained in abeyance. In fact, the counterrevolution eventually won out, even though sometimes in a “diluted” form, as in Algeria. But it often was not that diluted: remember Iraq, Egypt, Bolivia at the end of the 1950s and in 1971. And many times it meant counterrevolutionary bloodbaths: China in 1927, Indonesia, Iran after Mossadegh, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Turkey, to mention only a few instances.

But nowhere, in no historical case, was there something in between: a country that would have experienced a broad popular revolution in which millions of workers arid peasants actively participated, which led neither to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat nor to a victory of the counterrevolution, but to the implementation of a thoroughgoing land reform under a “two-class” regime or government in which the working class and peasantry would have shared roughly equal power, that is, with no clear and definite proletarian hegemony.

Is this what happened in the Yugoslav revolution? Then, where was the “independent peasant party” or “independent mass organization” in the 1945 Yugoslav government? Is this what happened in the Vietnamese revolution? Then when and where did we see such “independent” peasant formations appear in the Vietnamese revolutionary government, formations comparable in weight to the VCP? Did it happen in the Cuban revolution? Where and when were such “peasant formations” comparable in weight to the July 26 Movement, part of the Cuban governments of 1958, of 1960, or 1961? Has this happened even in the Nicaraguan revolution? Where can we find such “representatives of the peasantry” in the Revolutionary Directorate or governments that have ruled since Somoza was overthrown, to say nothing of representatives comparable in weight to the Sandinistas?

Comrade Doug Jenness refers to the case of the coalition government which existed in Soviet Russia between December 1917 and March 1918. He considers the Bolshevik–Left SR government was the very mode) of the “workers and farmers government” without clear proletarian hegemony, that is, without the dictatorship of the proletariat. This gets him entangled in some chronological problems. According to him, the dictatorship of the proletariat was only established in October 1918.

Yet the Left-SRs only left the government in March 1918. What then was the purely Bolshevik government from March to October 1918? A “workers and peasants government” without peasants? Or could the “governmental representatives of the peasantry” have infiltrated the very ranks of the Bolshevik Party itself?

The real problems are far more serious. First of all, the Left-SRs never had equivalent weight with the Bolsheviks, whether in the government or the Executive Committee of the Soviets. Bolshevik hegemony was clearly established everywhere. Moreover, the Left-SRs never represented “the peasantry as a whole”. Otherwise, how could one explain the split within the SRs? What would the Right-SRs, who had an absolute majority of peasant votes in the Constituent Assembly, have represented? Finally, one has to resort to extraordinary acrobatics to portray the Left-SRs as a “peasant party”. This was a party which advanced the dictatorship of the proletariat, the rule of the soviets, the elimination of capitalist private property (including in the countryside) and wage slavery (including in the countryside). Can Comrade Doug Jenness produce a single other instance, anywhere in the world, where a “peasant party” had a program and an orientation of that kind?

In order to fit the real historical process into his preconceived schema, Comrade Doug Jenness is forced to uncover “representatives of the peasantry” inside … the workers parties (or the bureaucratized and petty-bourgeoisified workers parties) themselves, that is, to move from the revisionist formula of “two-class government” to the even more revisionist formula of “two-class parties”. This emerges clearly from his reference to the Chinese revolution:

“(It’s ironic that Mandel, more than three decades after the Chinese revolution, should still be defending the view that there cannot be peasant parties and peasant organizations and that a peasant revolution cannot play any independent role in a social revolution. In China a peasant army headed by a peasant party and with a petty-bourgeois Stalinist leadership made a revolution that opened the door to historic conquests, however badly deformed, of the Chinese proletariat — that is, the establishment of the Chinese workers state.)”

A social revolution means that state power passes from one class to another amidst tumultuous events including the smashing of the state apparatus of the old ruling class and the formation of a new state that serves as the instrument for the rule of another class. Comrade Jenness would have us believe that this event did not take place in 1949, in full view of the entire world, but only in 1953 or 1954, when no one noticed, except a few Trotskyist theoreticians. He would have us believe that the People’s Republic of China, established in 1949 by a revolutionary government, was a bourgeois state led by a “ government” (or in the best of cases, by a “workers and peasants government under peasant hegemony”, since the army was “peasant”.

But he runs into a slight problem: it was this state and this government that, without any break in continuity, destroyed not only capitalist private property but even peasant private property! When, then, was there a change in the Chinese Communist Party, or in the Chinese army, between 1949 and 1954? Is not the idea of a “peasant” party and a “peasant” army that destroy peasant property, pushing things a bit far from the standpoint of Marxism? Is this not turning dialectics into gross sophistry?

Moreover, if we moved, without a new revolution, from the bourgeois state of 1949 to the “dictatorship of the proletariat” of 1953, does not this mean that we can pass from the one to the other by peaceful, gradual means? Are we not then beginning to rerun the whole “reformist scenario”, to borrow a formula from Trotsky? Does not that mean abandoning the whole Marxist theory of revolution after abandoning that of the state?

Comrade Doug Jenness’ error obviously arises from the fact that he confuses the largest social component of a party or an army with its actual structure, including its command structure, the objective role it plays in society, and the class interests it serves historically. If we look at the class composition of an imperialist army, it is mainly proletarian. Yet no one can seriously doubt that it is a bourgeois army, because of its command structure, because of the role it has played and still plays as an instrument that defends the bourgeois state and the interests of the bourgeoisie, even when there are “bourgeois workers parties” in the government, as in Great Britain under the Labour government or in France under the Mitterrand-Mauroy regime. Likewise, despite its predominantly working-class social composition, the Peronist party of Argentina is a bourgeois party. Likewise also, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, not to mention the Chinese Communist Party, which have been the historical instruments of the destruction of capitalist property and peasant property, can only be considered a “peasant” army or party by emptying Marxist class analysis of all its substance.

Thus the case of China confirms most resoundingly Trotsky’s prediction and the verdict of the Russian revolution. The peasantry, although capable of mobilizing by the millions, and by the tens of millions, in the course of a revolutionary process such as the Chinese, is incapable of playing, at least on a national level, a political role independent of both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Its colossal revolutionary forces are centralized either under bourgeois leadership — in which case the revolution heads for certain defeat — or under proletarian leadership (even though it may be extremely bureaucratized, as in China) and in that case, and that case only, the victory of the revolution is possible.

In China, it was the Chinese CP, a bureaucratized proletarian party, a petty-bourgeoisified workers party if you wish (we decidedly prefer the first formula over the second), a party that had inscribed the dictatorship of the proletariat in its program and that had charted a course towards establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat in fact if not in theory,[8] a party that was able to centralize and unify under its command — and not under the command of some “independent peasant force” or other — the immense revolutionary potential of the peasantry. This is what allowed the Chinese revolution to be victorious through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Why is the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the smashing of the bourgeois state apparatus, of the seizure of political power, so decisive for the future of a people’s revolution in a less developed capitalist country? From the intertwining of the interests of landowners and capitalists, of the “national” bourgeoisie and imperialism, of the compradore bourgeoisie and the industrial bourgeoisie, of usurers, bankers, and finance capital, which is characteristic of the less developed capitalist countries’ economy, there follows that, as the popular revolution unfolds, as the mass mobilizations extend, as their anger deepens and their militancy sharpens, the masses threaten “to take their destiny into their own hands”, that is, to implement themselves the expropriation of landowners, usurers, imperialist properties, and even some “national bourgeois” sectors.

The bourgeoisie is perfectly aware of this. It strives, doubtless through all sorts of maneuvers, including alliances with opportunist workers parties (sometimes disguised as “peasant parties”), to postpone the time of reckoning. But the moment of the beginning of its expropriation gets inexorably closer, because of the very logic of the mass movement, whatever learned (that is, hemming and hawing) tactic the conciliationist leaders of the workers movement may use.

This is why the entire fundamental strategic orientation of the bourgeoisie in the revolution is to prepare a counterrevolutionary coup o disarm, or to smash, the masses. This was the case in France in 1848 and 1871. This was the case in Spain in 1931-37. It was so in China in 1925-27 and in 1946-49. It was so, too, in many other revolutions. It was so in Russia in 1917-18. The fundamental line of the Russian bourgeoisie was not the bourgeois-democratic revolution, not the Constituent Assembly, but Kornilov, Krasov, Denikin, Koltchak, Wrangel.

To foil this strategy, it is necessary to arm the workers and peasants, to centralize their armed power, that is, to establish their political power, that is, to constitute a dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor peasantry. The irony of history makes the survival of the bourgeois state in the epoch of imperialism (and already before then) the main obstacle to the implementation of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.

Comrade Doug Jenness managed the feat of writing 35,000 words on the problem of the permanent revolution without saying a single word to answer this burning question in all twentieth century revolutions. We have entered this debate in defense of the theory of the permanent revolution with passion, neither out of some filial piety towards Comrade Trotsky, nor out of some “obstinate traditionalism” toward the program of the Fourth International, but because one hundred years of historical experience confirms that the real revolutionary processes of our century actually are permanent revolution processes.

It follows that one cannot cast the lessons of the theory of permanent revolution overboard without causing the defeat of millions and tens of millions of workers and peasants. We discuss this question with passion because it concerns the life and blood of our class, not just some written formulas in books. The sharpest clarity is needed on this question lest the proletariat, the poor peasants, and their vanguards, be drawn into a bloody trap, under the guise of apparently confused formulas that actually spell doom for the revolution.

What we are speaking of is the strategic orientation that revolutionaries must adopt to move towards smashing the bourgeoisie’s power and state, that is, towards the dictatorship of the proletariat, and not of the agitational slogans to be used on the road to power. That kind of confusion was promoted by the Thermidorian epigones of Lenin after 1923, and revived by the various Stalinist and post-Stalinist factions, until, alas, Comrade Doug Jenness took his turn at it.

No sensible person, beginning with Trotsky, ever said that one could establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, take power, by mobilizing the masses under the slogan of “dictatorship of the proletariat” or “workers government”, independently of the concrete social, economic, political, and military situation of a given country at a given’ moment.

The famous slogan “Down with the tsar; for a workers government” never was Trotsky’s slogan, neither in 1905 nor in 1917. By contrast, opportunist leaderships, on the grounds that slogans should be flexible and appropriate to carefully analyzed concrete situations, have led innumerable revolutions to their doom, by refusing to chart a course towards the conquest of power and the destruction of the bourgeois state when this was possible.

The pretext of the “stage” of “the coalition with the peasantry as a whole”, without the previous destruction of the bourgeois state, was also used on innumerable occasions, including by the opportunist leadership of the Sri Lankan LSSP, which claimed to be Trotskyist, when it presented its alliance with the bourgeois SLFP as an alliance “with the peasantry”. This is the deadly opportunism to which the vacillations of Comrade Doug Jenness on the dictatorship of the proletariat have now opened the way.

There is no state that is neither a bourgeois nor a workers state, and there cannot be. The revisionist Kautsky believed that between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat there stood a coalition between the two. For revolutionary Marxism, between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat, there is a phase of dual power, that is, of struggle to the death between the old ruling class and the new class aspiring to rule.

This dual power can take the most diverse and unforeseen forms. Each new living revolution generally reveals another variant, as is the case with the current revolution in Nicaragua. This struggle to the death does not stop with the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It may continue with a civil war despite the existence of the power of a workers state. The dictatorship of the proletariat, once established, may even subsequently be overthrown, as was the case in Hungary in 1919. But in all of these cases we are dealing with antagonistic forms of state power pitted one against the other, not property forms pitted one against the other. Dual power ends either when the organs of proletarian power, or when the remains of bourgeois political power, have disappeared on the level of the state (the army, police, judiciary, constitution, law and administration). Moreover, this does not exclude the possibility that they may later revive; but “reviving” is precisely different from “surviving”. The former implies that they previously disappeared.

Any revolutionary Marxist knows this since 1917. It was definitively clarified in Lenin’s State and Revolution and the documents of the first four congresses of the C.I. But Doug Jenness has now smeared a thick layer of confusion over it. He writes:

“Lenin and other Bolsheviks at this time used many different formulations to characterize the soviet government: ‘workers and peasants government’, ‘socialist republic of soviets’, ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry’, ‘people’s government’, and so on” (p. 34).

We should stress that we are not dealing with different formulations. If one leaves out the formula “government of the people”, which is never found in any document of the slightest programmatic importance, all these formulas are synonymous. The Transitional Program explicitly asserts: “For the Bolsheviks, the workers and peasants’ government formula was used prior to the October revolution as a synonym for dictatorship of the proletariat.” Will Comrade Doug Jenness claim that Comrade Trotsky was deliberately or unconsciously falsifying history when he asserted this in 1938?

We do not challenge the fact that if one goes through Lenin’s writings, one can find in 1917-1918 ambiguous and even contradictory formulas. But only a sophist would rip one or two paragraphs in a polemical text out of their context and place them on an equal footing, or even above, the dozens of quotations from programmatic texts and theoretical writings that assert exactly the opposite. The correct method is to reinterpret these few slips of the pen in the light of the theoretical continuity embodied by all the Communist programmatic documents from 1917 to 1923, and the revolutionary Marxist ones from 1917 until today.

We know of many revolutions that were lost because a counterposition was deliberately created between, on the one hand, the need to mobilize the peasantry, the importance of democratic demands, the “bourgeois-democratic nature of the tasks of the revolution”, and, on the other hand, the need to orient towards the seizure of power by the proletariat allied to the poor peasantry. Doug Jenness’ ambiguous formulas reintroduce this counterposition, albeit only in undertones, into the ranks of our movement, which until now had been most effectively armed on the programmatic level against the danger of turning democratic demands, or “the democratic stage of the revolution”, into a “noose tied around the neck of the proletariat”, as the Transitional Program put it. We know of no revolution that was lost because it prematurely entered on the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Lenin, of course, cannot be made to bear the least responsibility for any policy of revolution by stages that implies an alliance with the bourgeoisie, or with bourgeois parties, or with bourgeois parties coming forth as “representatives of the peasantry as a whole” during the course of a broad popular revolution. The historical continuity is rather that of the Mensheviks, of Martynov, of the Thermidorian epigones of Lenin (Stalin-Bukharin), and then of the various Stalinist and post-Stalinist factions of the “international Communist movement”. Nevertheless, Lenin’s algebraic formulas of 1905, and 1906-1916, did leave the door ajar to erroneous interpretations of that type. Trotsky had resoundingly slammed that door shut; Doug Jenness is tugging it open again. It is a sad business, a sorry business.

At the same time, while the utmost clarity on the question of the theory of the permanent revolution, especially on the need for the conquest of power by the proletariat allied to the poor peasantry, is indispensable for a revolution to be victorious in a less developed capitalist country, it is by no means sufficient to that end. You still need a favorable relationship of forces: a sufficient weakening and decomposition of the ruling classes, a sufficient revolt and mobilization of the popular masses. You need a revolutionary vanguard, that is, a party, with sufficient strength, with sufficient roots in the masses, with already some sufficient level of political authority — gained in the period before the revolution — with a sufficiently concrete and rich analysis of all the objective conditions of the country, of all the social and political forces at hand, with sufficiently refined tactics, to succeed in bringing the majority of the nation together around the goal of conquering power. At any rate, no one, beginning with Marx and Lenin, ever tried to enumerate the conditions guaranteeing a revolutionary victory. That was not the point; the point was to reject the strategies that guaranteed defeat in light of the rich and tragic revolutionary experience.

Finally, when we say that between 1905 and the April Theses of 1917 Trotsky was right over Lenin on the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, of the theory of the permanent revolution, we are by no means saying that Trotsky was a better revolutionary than Lenin, or that we are Trotskyists rather than Leninists. Trotsky was wrong against Lenin on many questions prior to the Russian revolution of 1917: not only on the question of organization, which was essential, but on that of electoral tactics, on that of unity with the Mensheviks beginning with the second split, on revolutionary defeatism during the First World War. Today no revolutionary Marxism exists, and no revolutionary Marxism can exist, based solely on the continuity of the political and strategic positions of a single source, be it Trotsky or the Bolsheviks of 1905.

Revolutionary Marxism today integrates what was essential in Marx and Engels, a good number of the advances made by the Second International, the theory of organization and most of the tactical choices and theoretical contributions of Lenin and the Bolsheviks prior to 1917 (e.g., his theory of imperialism and his theory of the state), the theory of the permanent revolution of Trotsky, a good deal of the political contributions (not all of course) of Rosa Luxemburg and the German Socialist Left, the main documents of the first four congresses of the Communist International, some of the theoretical advances of other non-Russian Communist leaders between 1919 and 1923, some of the main theoretical conclusions to be drawn from the victories (Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, Cuba) and defeats of the world revolution since 1918, the Trotskyist theory of the bureaucratic degeneration of the USSR and of the necessary antibureaucratic political revolution, the Trotskyist theory of fascism.

How could it be otherwise? How could a supporter of historical materialism think that revolutionary strategy had already been entirely worked out in 1905-1906, that is, even before the first revolutionary victory had been consolidated and without any knowledge of the three dozens of revolutions that have occurred since 1905?

Comrade Doug Jenness asks a rhetorical question: “Mandel argues that Lenin came over to Trotsky’s pre-1917 strategy for the Russian revolution, while Trotsky came over to Lenin’s view of party organization. But this is not true. In fact, it makes no sense at all. How can a historical materialist explain this supposed complete dichotomy between program and strategy, on the one hand, and their organizational expression, on the other?”

This is rather strange: historical materialism, according to Doug Jenness, would entail a correspondence between an organization’s strategy and program on the one hand, and the organization itself on the other. We always thought rather that historical materialism asserted a correspondence between an organization’s links with a given class (or fraction of class), i.e., the social interests in which it is rooted objectively on the one hand, and its program and strategy on the other. What is distinctively Lenin’s, his main contribution to Marxism, is his conception of the organization, his organizational theory and practice that have become part of the revolutionary Marxist program. This was the decisive question on which Lenin was right against Trotsky.

But, in 1905, at the time Lenin formulated his theory of the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants”, the “organizational expression” of that conception was a tiny group of 2,000 revolutionaries. It is precisely the excessive narrowness of this group, its lack of real experience in a popular revolution, that was one of the factors (not the only one of course) that made for the ambiguous and algebraic character of his strategic conception. In 1905, the building of the party had begun; it was far from completed. To complete it, not only was the historic experience of the revolution of February 1917 necessary. There also bad to be the mobilization, self-activity, and self-organization of the Russian proletariat on a qualitatively higher level than occurred in 1905. Above all, there had to be a massive influx of militant vanguard workers into the Bolshevik Party, which jumped, in the course of a few weeks, from 15,000 to nearly 100,000 members (the figure most commonly mentioned is 80,000). In many ways it was a new organization, in which the proletarian component weighed incomparably more than in 1905, that helped Lenin in the highly charged aura of the revolution to overcome the errors and reticence of the old Bolshevik cadres who were products of 1905 and not 1917. Their correct organizational conception and the education of the intermediate cadres in uncompromising class independence finished the job. That is the materialist, Marxist, nonhagiographic explanation of what happened to the Bolshevik Party in April 1917.

We obviously never spoke of a “total dichotomy” between the Bolshevik program and the Leninist conception of the organization. We did speak of that program’s lack of clarity on one single question: the nature of the state and government that could lead the Russian revolution to victory. The program was correct on all other questions, particularly in its rejection of any class collaboration with the bourgeoisie. It was the source of generally correct tactics. What was involved was therefore a partial, not a total, dichotomy. It is neither surprising nor unique in history.

Engels and Lenin completely endorsed — aside for a few details — German Social-Democracy’s Erfurt program. They endorsed even more wholeheartedly that party’s conception of organization; Lenin explicitly drew his inspiration from it. And yet, by 1908, the party’s strategic conception of power was completely deficient — infinitely more so than the Bolsheviks’ in 1905 — to say nothing of its clear failings on the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We know the price humanity had to pay in 1914 and 1918-1919 for this “partial deficiency”. History thus delivered its scathing answer to the simplistic and mechanistic theses on the automatic “correspondence” between the general program, the general education of the cadre, the organizational conceptions, and the current tactics on the one hand, and the ability to orient correctly in a revolutionary situation, that is, the precise strategy for power, on the other.

Dictatorship of the proletariat and peasant war

Comrade Doug Jenness further weakens his case by referring to the problems of “peasant war”, that is, to the concrete fashion in which the worker-peasant alliance was achieved in the course of the Russian revolution (and later in the course of the Yugoslav, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban, and Nicaraguan revolutions, with the inevitable variations in each case, variations that, on balance, turned out to be minor). This set of problems involves several distinct questions:

1. When did the peasant risings that led to the takeover of the land by the peasants actually take place?

2. What layers of the peasantry participated in them?

3. What social class wielded political power when the agrarian revolution was implemented?

4. What was the concrete political form of the worker and peasant alliance?

There were peasant risings before the October revolution. One could, perhaps, characterize these risings as “risings of the peasantry as a whole”. These risings were obviously supported by the Bolshevik Party although it played only a minor, if not a negligible, practical role in them. But these were scattered risings that, while they prepared the ground for the October revolution, while they undermined the social and political bases of the Provisional Government’s power, of the bourgeoisie’s power, and of the landowners’ power, which had the support of the Mensheviks and Right-SRs, neither attacked it nor overthrew it. Only indirectly, through the soldiers’ soviets, did the peasants participate in preparing and carrying out the October 1917 revolution. It would be difficult to contend that the majority of soldiers’ soviets represented “the peasantry as a whole”. How then could one account for the minority, yet rather important, segments of these soviets that continued to support the Right-SRs before, during, and after October?

The real peasant risings, the real “peasant war”, the real conquest of the land by the peasants, took place after the October revolution, under the military and political protection, and with the active aid and collaboration of the soviet power, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is the concrete way in which the worker and peasant alliance was achieved in Russia.

The Bolsheviks, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the power of the soviets, were able to conquer power because they promised the peasants the land. They were able to stay in power because they kept their promise. With the support of the working class alone, that is, of a small minority of the toiling population, it was impossible (”putschist”) to conquer and stay in power in Russia. Trotsky never advocated such nonsense, contrary to the diehard Stalinist slander to which Comrade Jenness is beginning to make concessions.

At the November-December 1917 All-Russian Congress of Peasant Soviets, a very significant minority emerged that opposed transferring power to the soviets and the October revolution, a minority based mainly among the Right-SRs.

Was this merely a political difference, or did this division also reflect divergent social interests, namely roughly the difference of interests between the rich peasants, the kulaks, the rural bourgeoisie, the more prosperous middle peasants, on the one hand, and the agricultural workers, the poor peasants, and the most impoverished middle peasants, on the other? We staunchly subscribe to the second interpretation, which is also supported by Marcel Liebman’s book to which Comrade Doug Jenness refers, once again very “selectively”.

In the Ukraine (where a large fraction of Tsarist Russia’s peasantry lived), in Georgia and elsewhere, the question of the peasants’ attitude was closely tied, from the outset, to the national question. This applied even more to Finland and Poland. It is beyond doubt that in all these regions, the majority of the peasantry, that is, the whole rich peasantry and a good share of the middle peasantry opposed the October revolution, albeit for nationalist reasons, and at first supported counterrevolutionary governments often directly backed by imperialism (German in most cases, British and French in the others). (It later changed positions, but that is another story.)

The kulak uprisings took place prior to the nationalization of industry and were not mainly the result of “fear” of seeing “their land collectivized”. They were class reactions to the measures taken by the soviets to confiscate their food stocks in the immediate economic interest not only of the workers and toilers of the cities, but also of the poor peasants who were often threatened by famine as a result of the disorganization of transportation especially.

We have now arrived at the heart of the matter. The differentiation between poor peasants and rich peasants does not occur after “a prolonged development of capitalism in the countryside” supposedly set off by the victory of the revolution. This differentiation occurs roughly prior to the revolutionary victory itself. It is written into the particular pattern in which capitalist, semi-capitalist, and precapitalist relations of production and exchange interconnect in the villages of the countries affected by permanent revolution.

In Russia in 1917 the opposition between the rich and the poor, between the exploiters and the exploited, no longer pitted semi-feudal landowners against “the peasantry as a whole”. Rather, it pitted landowners, substantial traders-usurers, rural bourgeois and rich peasants against poor peasants and the less-well-to-do middle peasants. Recognizing that there were many remains, vestiges, of precapitalist exploitation, including serfdom, in Russia, which the rich peasants were interested in fighting as much as the poor peasants, is one thing. But it is another to claim that it was possible for the poor peasants to rise, without simultaneously rising both against these various forms of serfdom, against the bloodsucking usurers, and against the capitalist exploiters who were all driving them to starvation, to claim that the poor peasants were in a position to “distinguish” stages: first with the usurers (since they are capitalist) against the semi-feudal nobility; then with the agricultural and industrial workers against the rural bourgeoisie.

Such “peasant wars”, drawn from an abstract theoretical schema that does not take the law of uneven and combined development into account, have never existed since World War 1, with the possible exception of extremely backward countries. At any rate there were no such wars in Russia, Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, nor in the innumerable cases of popular revolutions that ended in defeat. In every single one of these cases, the differentiation and latent and sometimes open civil war within the village, erupted in the first stage, from the onset, of the revolutionary process. They were rooted in the social and economic reality of the village produced by the imperialist epoch (let us repeat, except in the most backward countries, but, as Trotsky specified, the theory of the permanent revolution does not apply there anyway due to the nearly total lack of an industrial proletariat).

Let us take a typical case from today’s world, that of India. At this time, there is no revolutionary situation in that country. The political rule of the Indian bourgeoisie appears to be stable at the national level. The workers movement is going through a temporary ebb rather than an impetuous rise. And yet, at the level of the Indian village, a latent and sometimes open civil war is slowly and inexorably rising with the underground force of a mighty volcano, and pitting the poor peasants (many of whom belong to the pariah castes) against the rich peasants who are organizing genuine terrorist armed groups to prevent the poor peasants from defending their immediate class interests. Will Comrade Doug Jenness, mechanically aping Lenin in 1905-1906, claim that the Indian proletariat should first march together “with the peasantry as a whole”? Or will he claim that Indian capitalism is today much more highly developed than Russian capitalism was in 1917, and that that is the reason why “the situation has changed”‘?

But if the differentiation between poor peasants and rich peasants is not the result of a learned political strategy of “revolution by stage”, but the product of the social and economic reality of the village in the most important semi-colonial countries, not to mention the less developed imperialist countries, then any attempt to compel the poor peasants and agricultural workers, their natural allies, to limit themselves to a struggle for “democratic, anti-feudal, and anti-imperialist” goals, at any “stage” of the revolutionary process will mean in practice compelling them to trample underfoot their own immediate material interests.

The difference between such a “strategy” and that of the permanent revolution is therefore by no means that the advocates of the latter “underestimate the peasantry”. Quite the contrary, it is that its opponents refuse, in practice, to mobilize the poor peasants and the majority of the laboring peasants, and to encourage their self-organization in soviet-type organs, because they fear that such a mobilization will substitute for the utopian and unrealistic alliance of the working class with “the whole peasantry”, the real and feasible alliance of the working class with the poor peasantry, an alliance that is sealed on the backs not only of imperialism and the semi-feudal forces, hut also of the urban and rural bourgeoisie including the rich peasantry.

Only if one limits the goals of the national-democratic revolution to purely political goals, as the Mensheviks did in 1905-1906. can one hope for any kind of “political alliance” with the peasantry as a whole. As soon as one broaches the problem of achieving the historical goals of the national-democratic revolution as a whole — and that is what the theory of the permanent revolution is about; it never claimed that none of the goals of the national-bourgeois revolution could be achieved without a dictatorship of the proletariat; it only asserts that they cannot be achieved as a whole, overall — one has to grant the agrarian revolution the highest priority among the goals of the revolution, and one has to conclude that in the imperialist epoch, such a revolution can no longer be achieved by a mobilization of the peasantry as a whole, but requires a spontaneous development of the class struggle between rich and poor in the countryside, which does not mean, obviously, a class struggle for or against socialism in the countryside, or for or against the collectivization of the land. Indeed, it matters little to a rich peasant-trader-usurer whether the poor peasant wants to cancel his debts because he is a “supporter of socialism”, or “simply” to escape from unbearable poverty. What does matter to him is the danger of losing his property, his fortune, and even his life. This is the basis on which he will react.

We say that we are here at the very heart of the debate around the theory of the permanent revolution. For it is around this problem of the prior, inevitable, social and economic, differentiation within the peasantry that the question of the organized political forces and of the nature of the state set up by the revolution is posed from the Marxist, materialist, point of view. The vacillations of the petty-bourgeoisie, the petty commodity producers, i.e., of the peasantry, that Lenin so often refers to, are reflected in concrete events by two diametrically opposed types of political behavior.

Either the “peasant parties” (which are, at any rate, in nine cases out of ten, bourgeois parties with bourgeois leaderships), and especially the peasant mass organizations, follow the rural and urban bourgeoisie and, as soon as the poor peasants mobilize and organize for their own class goals, they will turn to counterrevolutionary behavior on the same pattern as the urban bourgeoisie. In this case, the counterrevolution is victorious (the victory of the counterrevolution in Bolivia, after the 1952 revolution, was due in great part to the alliance of the peasant organizations with the MNR). Or else, the class struggle deeply penetrates the countryside; the poor and less well-off middle peasants mobilize and organize to defend their own immediate interests, in which case the worker and peasant alliance can march forward towards victory. But it can only get there if the exploiters of the cities and country are unable to drown the “peasant war” in blood, that is, if their army is unhinged, cut to pieces, beaten back, that is, if the proletariat and poor peasants are armed, that is, if the state is a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat (or, what amounts to the same thing, if the civil war between the decomposing bourgeois state and the newly developing workers state has reached the stage where the latter is a e to effectively protect the poor peasants against the bloodthirsty repression of the ruling classes).

When the parties that lead the workers refuse to take power, they are displaying not some “more profound understanding of the peasant question”, but a lack of understanding of the social and economic reality of the village which leads to the “peasant war” being smashed. The peasant war can only win under the protection of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In the light of this analysis, it is now possible to tackle the question of “stages” within the process of permanent revolution. These “stages”, to which Trotsky refers in his Permanent Revolution, have to do with the sequence in which the concrete goals of mass mobilizations emerge. This is a practical question, a matter of “concrete analysis of a concrete situation”.

The revolutionary process (the stormy mobilization of the masses) may be triggered by an issue arising in the struggle against imperialism, by the question of national independence, by one of the particular aspects of the agrarian question, by a “national minority” question, by an issue in the struggle against dictatorship (release of political prisoners), or even by the problem of famine, of sharing existing supplies (after all, that is how the February revolution began in Russia in 1917). Any attempt to establish, in advance, a political hierarchy of issues of this type and to deduce it from a general definition of the “stage of development” of these countries, would be totally inoperative. In this field, events will always bring forth unforeseen variants.

Moreover, although it may tremendously upset the schematic thinkers, it is perfectly possible for a permanent revolution process to be triggered in an already partly industrialized underdeveloped country by the spark of a “typically” working-class demand. The question of the nationalization of the mines played no small role in setting off the Bolivian revolution of 1952. It was not a “purely” anti-imperialist demand; the same is probably true of the nationalization of the Suez canal in Egypt.

But what sets these “stages” within the permanent revolution process apart from the stages so dear to the Menshevik-Stalinists and their imitators, is that at no stage of the process do the political demands rule out of the struggle and mobilizations and self-organization of the masses of workers and peasants, their immediate material and historic social and economic interests. These masses can only be forced into such a schema by blocking, by smothering, and by repressing their own mobilizations, that is, let us repeat it once again, those of the workers as well as of the exploited peasants. These are the stakes of the real political choice.

Political alliance, “class” alliances, “anti-imperialist united fronts”, yes, occasionally, punctually, for well-defined goals to be struggled for, and with strict compliance to the ride “march separately, strike together”, we do not exclude these. But not at any price. Not at the price of putting a brake on the mobilization of the workers and poor peasants for their own interests, and on their self-organization to this end, even if this means that in real life the “anti-imperialist united front” will fall apart, because the “national” and (or) rural bourgeoisie prefers to capitulate to imperialism, to dictatorships, to “semi-feudalists”, etc., rather than allowing itself to be surrounded by the surging flames of the peasant war and workers strikes with factory occupations, which are a deadly threat to it.

We are now in a position to answer another sarcastic remark of Comrade Doug Jenness which demonstrates once more that he often does not even realize what the discussion is about. He writes:

“The October revolution, Lenin says, created the foundation for the ‘most perfect’ development of capitalism in the countryside. (Mandel cannot deny this without breaking with Marx and Lenin.)”

Let Marx and Lenin rest in peace. Let us rather examine the problem both in light of the facts, that is, of historical experience, and from the theoretical point of view.

The facts show that there was not “the most perfect development of capitalism in the countryside” (remember that Lenin is speaking of a development “on the American pattern”), neither after the October revolution, nor after the victory of the Yugoslav revolution, nor after the victory of the Chinese revolution, nor after the victory of the Cuban revolution, let alone the Vietnamese. In all these cases what occurred was mainly a development of petty commodity production with an embryo of capitalist agriculture, and not “the most perfect development of capitalism in agriculture”. Whoever does not understand that “the most perfect development of capitalism” implies a massive development of farm machinery and a massive development of the agricultural proletariat, has not understood much about capitalism according to Marx.

Where was there a private accumulation of capital in the hands of the Russian, Chinese, Yugoslav, or Cuban kulaks after the revolution on a scale that would have allowed them to massively purchase agricultural machinery which was, at any rate, not available in those countries? Lenin, who understood Marx, obviously meant to say: the nationalization of the land could serve as the point of departure for the most perfect development of capitalism, provided that a whole series of additional conditions were fulfilled, at the top of which the condition that the dictatorship of the proletariat not exist, would have a prominent place. Doug Jenness’ simplistic shortcut transforms that correct observation into utter nonsense.

In fact, because we understand the law of uneven and combined development, we understand that the nationalization of the land under the regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat could lead to “the most perfect development of capitalism in the countryside” (to agribusiness, because that is what we are talking about), only on condition that the workers state had supplied the kulaks with massive deliveries of farm machinery and authorized them to hire millions of farm hands to be exploited by them. But long before such a process could have come to fruition, it would have dealt a deadly blow to the dictatorship of the proletariat, it would have destroyed it. This would have been verified in the economic field (because the private accumulation of capital would have gotten the upper hand over “socialist primitive accumulation”, and the law of value would have prevailed in Russia as a result of the links between the world market and the kulaks), and in the social field: the proletarianized and pauperized poor peasants would have revolted against the kulaks, and if the state had not supported them, the worker-peasant alliance would have been shattered.

This is why Lenin could peremptorily proclaim as early as 1917: “Do the SRs fool themselves, do they fool the peasants when they admit and spread around the idea that transformations of that magnitude are possible without overthrowing the dominance of capitalism, without placing all state power in the hands of the proletariat, without the peasants’ supporting the most vigorous measures of the proletarian power against the capitalists…. The transition of political power to the proletariat, that is the main thing” (”Workers and Peasant,’ September 1917, CW Vol. 25, p. 308; translated from the French).

What a far cry from the “democratic republic” and “the rapid development of capitalism in the European-style” of 1905! The person who persists today, against all the evidence, in placing a “continuity” sign between the two sets of analyses, suffers from the worst kind of blindness, the blindness of those who refuse to see.

Paradoxically, even in a bourgeois state, the “most perfect development of capitalism in the countryside” can no longer be reproduced in the imperialist epoch in the less developed countries despite many more or less consistent, and more or less limited, land reforms. Here too, the cause lies in the law of uneven and combined development: the inextricable overlap of agriculture and industry, of agriculture and credit, of usurious and banking capital and finance capital, of national and international capital, of the bourgeois state and capitalist agriculture, of the semi-colonial and (or) dependent bourgeois state and the international imperialist system. At bottom, the problem is that “the most perfect development of capitalism in the countryside” precisely requires an American-style overall capitalist development in all its complexity. But, in the epoch of imperialism, “a second America is no longer possible”. Doug Jenness started off by accepting this assertion — that only the theory of the permanent revolution can account for in all its dimensions — as a commonplace. But, a minute later, he implicitly rejects it.

This is why even the initial successes of the “green revolution” in the countryside of the most evolved dependent countries (Mexico, South Korea, some parts of India) have not led to “the most perfect development of capitalism in the countryside”, but to a partial, hybrid, combined, mongrelized, simultaneous development of development and underdevelopment that keeps these countries far below the conditions of the laggard imperialist countries, not to mention Western Europe, Canada, Australia or the United States.

The question of the self-limitation of the proletariat

In the section of his article which is an open polemic against Comrade Trotsky, Doug Jenness reproaches him with the prediction that a “two-class” government would run the risk of repressing or limiting the struggle of the proletariat for its own objectives (p. 41). He peremptorily asserts that the “two-class government” established in October 1917, far from acting as a brake on the workers demands, including that of seizing the factories and expropriating the capitalists, actually helped the proletariat to achieve them. Trotsky’s prediction is therefore allegedly mistaken.

This “refutation” is meaningless. We have already established that according to Lenin and all the programmatic documents of the Bolshevik Party and the C.I., the government that rose to power through the October insurrection was not “a two-class government”, but the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was so not only in a “general historic” sense, but also in a concrete and immediate sense.

The workers were armed. The bosses were disarmed. The workers exercised power through their soviets. The bosses were bullied, despised, insulted (read the details in Victor Serge’s The Year One of the Russian Revolution) and chased from their villas, mansions and apartments by the workers, before being legally expropriated (how “anarchistic” this magnificent workers revolution was, to use an insult Doug Jenness is fond of, but which Comrade Lenin looked upon rather as a compliment in his State and Revolution).

Obviously, under these conditions, no one in Russia could put a brake on or limit the workers demands. The fact that the Bolsheviks had to revise several times the calendar they had projected for the various nationalizations, under the impact of the battering ram of the spontaneous workers mobilizations, is nowhere mentioned by Doug Jenness although it is a fact recognized by all serious historians. The fact that Lenin and the Bolsheviks complied without the slightest hesitation, cheerfully, that they preferred a thousand times the real revolutionary process to preestablished schemas, testifies to their admirable revolutionary fiber, a fiber we never called into question.

But Comrade Doug Jenness is careful not to ask the question which arises logically from his way of tackling the problem of “class alliances”. What happened in every single case where the leaders of the revolutionary process actually allowed themselves to be drawn into a “two-class government” that could only be a coalition government with the bourgeoisie, since no “peasant party” independent of the bourgeoisie and proletariat ever appeared on the scene of history? What happened even in those cases where the parties leading the revolutionary process, while breaking in practice with the bourgeoisie (and its “peasant parties”), tried to express their political orientation through the old formulas of the revolution by stages? In every single case, there were attempts, often successful unfortunately, to limit the mobilizations, the self-organization and the self-activity of the proletariat and poor peasants, against their will, insofar as these mobilizations did not correspond to the preestablished schemas.

In the worst cases, the result was not only a repression of the masses, but the defeat of the revolution as a consequence of the demoralization caused by that repression. In the best of cases, the result was the emergence of workers states highly bureaucratized from the outset as a result of the lack of self-organization of the masses. Disastrous consequences ensued for the solution of the problems, difficulties and conflicts, that inevitably arise on the road to socialism; the transitional society born under these auspices was “blocked” and unable to move forward towards socialism; this in turn had no less disastrous consequences on the consciousness of the international proletariat and the dynamic of the world revolution, which itself boomeranged back and further worsened the tension and waste afflicting the bureaucratized transitional societies.

About all this, Comrade Doug Jenness keeps mum. Comrade Trotsky had no small merit in perceiving, as early as 1905, most of these problems that, together with those of the permanent revolution, overshadow twentieth century history. That one could reproach him today with such farsightedness instead of admiring it, is good cause for dismay.

We have already drawn attention to Comrade Doug Jenness’ rather selective method of “reading” Lenin. It consists in drawing one or two quotations from a book of 100 to 150 pages in order to “demonstrate” a preconceived thesis, without wondering why the book contains twenty quotations that say the opposite and whether, therefore, one ought not first seek to ascertain the overall opinion of the author as it emerges from the work as a whole. But Doug Jenness attempts to enlist even the works of Marx on behalf of his preestablished thesis. This is only possible thanks to an even more “selective” reading of the works of Marx and Engels.

In this instance, what is alarming and marks a further slippage towards a broader and more complete revision of Marxism, is the fact that he repeats in 1982 one of the last paragraphs of the Communist Manifest°, written before the revolution of 1848, as if it were still politically valid today, as if the Bolsheviks had applied it not only in 1905 but even in 1917, without even explaining what political-strategic thesis is implied in the passage, without asking whether the prediction was borne out by reality in 1848 and whether Marx and Engels continued to uphold it.

What does the passage at hand say? That Germany is on the eve of the bourgeois revolution; that this bourgeois revolution will triumph under the leadership of the bourgeoisie; that it will be the immediate prelude to the proletarian revolution.

Of these three predictions, only the first was verified. The other two were disproved by events. The German revolution was not victorious, and could not be victorious precisely because it remained under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. Nor was it the prelude to the proletarian revolution. The concrete experience of the German and French revolutions of 1848 led Marx and Engels to drastically revamp their revolutionary strategy. In the Address to the Central Committee of the League of Communists, written in March 1850, Marx and Engels summarized their balance sheet of the 1848 revolution thus:

“We have already said, in 1848, that the German liberal bourgeoisie would come to power and immediately turn their newly acquired power against the workers. You saw how the business was carried out. The bourgeoisie could not achieve this goal without an alliance with the feudal party that had been brushed aside in March, and even without abandoning power, in the last analysis, to that feudal absolutist party” (Marx-Engels, Selected Works; translated from the French).

The historical sequence therefore was not: victory of the bourgeois revolution leading to the beginning of the proletarian revolution, but beginning of the bourgeois revolution leading to a victory of the counterr6olution. The bourgeois’ fear of the proletariat got the upper hand over its desire to do away with the semi-feudal remnants.

Marx and Engels drew two strategic conclusions from this which had not been present in the Communist Manifesto: firstly, that the proletariat must form itself into an independent political party with its own specific tactics even before the bourgeois revolution breaks out and before the “revolutionary” role of the bourgeoisie and democratic petty-bourgeoisie comes to an end, and this in spite of the bourgeois character of the revolution; and secondly, the implementation of the strategy known as “permanent revolution”, for it is in the Address to the League of Communists that this term is used for the first time by the founders of Marxism.

One should not forget that the Communist Manifesto calls upon Communists to join workers parties only in Britain and the USA, which remained outside the revolution of 1848. In the two main countries of that revolution, France and Germany, the Communist Manifesto explicitly advocates that Communists join petty-bourgeois parties (the party of Louis Blanc in France, the democrats in Germany) and not set up independent parties of the working class. Here is the balance sheet of this tactic drawn up by Marx and Engels in the March 1850 Address.

“A great part of the members [of the Communist League] directly involved in the revolutionary movement, thought that the time of secret societies had passed and that it was sufficient to operate openly and publicly. The different districts and locals relaxed their relations with the Central Committee and let them gradually come to rest. While the democratic party, the party of the petty-bourgeoisie, organized thus more and more in Germany, the workers party lost its solid basis, remained organized in only a few localities, for purely local purposes, and thereby got in the general movement completely under the domination and leadership of the petty-bourgeois democrats. One must put an end to this situation; the independence of the workers must be established” (Marx-Engels Werke, Vol. 7; translated from the French).

Underlying this strategic turn, there also was the experience of the class struggles in France, of the June 1848 insurrection of the French proletariat, of the bloody clash between the bourgeoisie and proletariat in the very course of the revolution, before it had completed its tasks, before an institutionalized “democratic republic” had been born. Here also, life, the class struggle, historical experience, demonstrated that the bourgeoisie had become politically reactionary and counterrevolutionary long before it had fulfilled its historic economic tasks. To deny this “break” in the thought of Marx and Engels, to proclaim that the Marx and Engels of June 1848, of 1850, of 1871, stood “in the political continuity” of the aforementioned paragraph of the Communist Manifesto, and to add on top of that that the Lenin of State and Revolution and of the October revolution stood “in continuity” with this paragraph, amounts to turning Marx and Lenin into half-Mensheviks, or even vulgar Mensheviks; it amounts to treating the true history of revolutionary Marxism with intolerable flippancy.

In the course of the German revolution of 1918-1919, a Left Social-Democratic leader (it did not take much to be “to the left” of Noske!) wrote a pamphlet entitled “How to Lose a Revolution”. In it, he counterposed the “scientific “, balanced , correct, well-thought-out position of the Communist Manifesto to the insane, in fact, the “anarcho-Blanquist”, position of the Marx who supported the June 1848 insurrection of the Paris proletariat. The latter had no chance of succeeding “since” the bourgeois revolution had not yet been entirely completed, “since” capitalism had not yet “exhausted all its economic potentialities”. As a result, the only possible outcome of this “insane” insurrection was to drive the bourgeoisie into the arms of the counterrevolution.

The Menshevik (correction: Left Social-Democratic) author of this pamphlet had not yet understood, seventy years after the event, that the fact that the French bourgeoisie had gone over to the camp of the counterrevolution in France, was not the result of the “insane insurrection” of the Paris proletarians, but quite clearly that of the inexorable maturation of the class contradictions between Capital and Labor, given the development of capitalism, of the workers consciousness, and of the workers movement. The workers insurrection was a response to this evolution of the bourgeoisie and not its cause. The name of this genuine supporter of the “self-limitation of the proletariat in the democratic revolution” was Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein: you have heard of him, haven’t you? And of the kind of revisionist logic that led Bernstein to his conclusion?

Theoretical roots of the errors of Doug Jenness

How was it that comrades educated for decades in revolutionary Marxist theory and traditions could “founder” and sink towards such deeply erroneous positions? We see essentially three causes, all interrelated, that illustrate yet another time in the history of the Marxist movement the terrible “objective dialectic of ideas”, a logic over which Doug Jenness and his cothinkers seem to have lost all conscious control: “Du glaubst du schiebst und wirst geschoben” (”You think you push, and you are pushed”), as was put so neatly by that great dialectician who went by the name of Goethe.

It all began with the present leaders of the Socialist Workers Party’s faulty understanding of the way in which Trotsky and the Fourth International had used the criterion of the nationalization of the means of production as the basic criterion showing the USSR remained a workers state, despite the monstrous bureaucratic dictatorship that held sway over it. For Trotsky, that nationalization was the decisive residual element, that is, as he often put it, what survived from the October revolution. But he never dreamed of reducing the conquests of October, and still less the nature of the October revolution to this nationalization alone, and to consider as “less important”, or “less decisive”, the destruction of the bourgeoisie’s state power and the creation of the new power of the soviets.

For Trotsky, as for Lenin, as for Engels, as for Marx, what is decisive in a social revolution is the transfer of power from one class to another, and not the instant and complete abolition of a given form of property. The Communist Manifesto already stated explicitly:

“We’ve already seen that the first stage of the workers revolution is the formation of the proletariat as the dominant class, the conquest of democracy.

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest little by little all capital from the hands of the bourgeoisie, to centralize all the instruments of production in the hands of the state, that is, of the proletariat organized as the ruling class, and to increase as fast as possible the amount of productive forces” (translated from the French — our emphasis).

The new theoretical problem with which Trotsky and all revolutionary Marxists were confronted beginning in the 1930s was that of a state that was born out of an undeniable victory of the proletarian revolution, but in which “the proletariat organized as a class” no longer wielded political power, no longer enjoyed “political supremacy”, and where proletarian democracy no longer existed. Could one still speak of a workers state under those conditions, despite the dictatorship of the bureaucracy? Yes, answered Trotsky, insofar as the nationalization of the means of production and the’ monopoly of foreign trade born of the October revolution still survived. It was a new criterion for a new problem, that of the class nature of a bureaucratically degenerated workers state. It was by no stretch of the imagination a new “scientific criterion for the creation of a workers state” to be applied by Marxists to all workers states.

Driven by the will to “systematize” this wrong criterion for the definition of all workers states — which they had already applied to all the victorious socialist revolutions, including by the absurd denial that the Paris Commune was a dictatorship of the proletariat — the SWP leaders who share Comrade Jenness’ current ideas began to revise the whole Marxist theory of the state. They began to identify “state” and “society”, forgetting that the state is, by its very Marxist definition, a set of apparati, of bodies of specialized men (mainly, but not exclusively, “armed men”) that take over functions previously exercised by society as a whole, and this in the interest of a ruling class.

The class nature of a state is determined by answering the following question: “what class interests do these special apparati fundamentally serve on the scale of history?” and not by the question: “what property forms are developed or preserved in the immediate period under the rule of this state?” The state of the absolutist monarchy was a semi-feudal state, despite the fact that semi-feudal landed estates may have declined or even disappeared in this or that country, in one or another period. Yet there is no doubt that, on the whole, this state continued to defend the interests of the semi-feudal nobility and upper clergy, and that if it had not existed, or after it had been destroyed by a bourgeois revolution, the fate of these social classes would have qualitatively worsened.

Similarly, in the epoch of capitalism’s decline, the bourgeois state can nationalize not unimportant sectors of the means of production (not only under nationalist-populist regimes in the semi-colonial countries, but also in the imperialist countries, both under parliamentary-democratic regimes and under authoritarian and fascist regimes), and still remain a bourgeois state. If it did not exist, the breadth of the nationalizations would be far greater, the interests of the bourgeoisie as a class would be damaged definitively and comprehensively, rather than partially and temporarily.

This theoretical error is especially serious for revolutionaries in semicolonial countries, because it can lead them to completely false conclusions on the class nature of certain states that seem, at first sight, to have nationalized the means of production as, or more, extensively than the USSR under the NEP, yet remain bourgeois states. This is demonstrated by the entire subsequent evolution of Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Syria, the People’s Republic of the Congo, that belonged in that category; an vents will unfortunately confirm that, barring new upheavals, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Yemen should be classified in the same category.

Comrade Doug Jenness uses a strange argument to justify this revision of the Marxist theory of the state: since the October revolution did not “immediately” abolish private property of the large means of production, it allegedly preserved the bourgeois state, since this state (that is, the ruling soviets!) acted to “protect” and even “defend” that property. In other words: if you bring a knife to the throat of a fascist mass murderer who brutally assaulted you after slaughtering several other people, yet do not immediately cut it, in order to check if he has an accomplice who might attack you from behind (you “only” cut it a quarter of an hour “later”), you are “protecting” him, you are “defending” him, you are “saving his life”. The knife that cuts the throat becomes a “protecting knife”. Truly irresistible “logic!”

Right from the moment they seized power the Bolsheviks proclaimed their intention of socializing the Russian economy. On December 25, 1917, Lenin already wrote in ‘his article “How to Organize Competition”:

“The lackeys of the money-banks, the mercenaries of the exploiters, the gentlemen among the bourgeois intellectuals tried to scare the people away from socialism, whilst it is precisely capitalism that condemns them to forced labor, to a barracks-like existence, to excessive and monotonous work, to a life of famine and direst poverty. The first step towards the emancipation of the workers from this forced labor, is to confiscate the estates of the landowners, to introduce workers control, the nationalization of the banks. The next steps will be: the nationalization of factories and enterprises, the compulsory centralization of the whole population in consumers’ cooperatives that will serve at the same time as distribution cooperatives, the introduction of state monopoly over trade in wheat and other basic necessities” (CW, Vol. 24; translated from the French).

A state that proclaims that intention, from the moment of its creation, and carries it out without the slightest new revolution or internal transformation; a state that, a few weeks later, proclaims “the socialist homeland threatened”, and ends that February 21, 1918, appeal with the words “Long Live the World Socialist Revolution” (p.312-313), allegedly is a “bourgeois state” led by a “two-class government?” Need we emphasize once again the absurdity of such “conclusions” that provide sufficient ground, in and of themselves, to condemn Comrade Jenness’ entire sophistry as devoid of the slightest theoretical and political value?

The third theoretical error, which is connected to the previous two, was a false, because excessively simplistic and mechanistic, conception of the leadership of a revolutionary process that ended with the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Comrades who share Doug Jenness’ opinion are, by the same token, locked in an antinomy: either the dictatorship of the proletariat was established under the leadership of a party, and then this party must be a revolutionary Marxist party; or there is no revolutionary Marxist party and then, either there is no dictatorship of the proletariat or it was established despite and against the leading party, “under the pressure of the masses”.

This error first led to a systematically sectarian attitude toward the Yugoslav, Chinese, and Vietnamese CPs that were falsely labelled as “Stalinist parties”, which also led to long delays in recognizing the emergence of new workers states. That attitude was associated with a scholastic and dogmatic conception of “Stalinism” that reduced it to “theoretical conceptions”, independently of the real links which may have existed with the Soviet bureaucracy, and more importantly, independently of these parties’ real political practice and objective role in the revolutionary process of the class struggle. All this led to a crassly spontaneist conception of the Yugoslav, Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions, in which the role the CPs of those countries played in preparing and leading the overthrow of capitalism was completely denied (vestiges of these conceptions are still found — but for how long? — in Comrade Doug Jenness’ article, with regard to the Chinese CP).

For more than two decades we systematically warned the comrades leading the SWP of the dangers in such a sectarian and dogmatic position that, moreover, had failed the test of history, but to no avail. Black and white are not the only colors just as “counterrevolutionary Stalinism” and “revolutionary Marxism” are not the only alternatives. There are intermediate categories. There was the Paris Commune, established without a “revolutionary Marxist” leadership, under a leadership that included some Marxists (a minority), Proudhonists, Blanquists, and others. There was the dictatorship of the proletariat established in 1919 in Hungary, under a mixed leadership including Left Social-Democrats and Communists. The dictatorship of the proletariat as established in Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, and Cuba by pragmatic revolutionary leaderships that had a revolutionary practice but a theory and program that was adequate neither to their own revolution, nor especially to the world revolution.

The fact that they carried out a socialist revolution — a fact that is infinitely more important than their lack of an adequate theory — means that it would be the height of sectarianism to call them “counter-revolutionaries”. To call them “Stalinists” would amount to giving Stalinism entirely new merits. However, the fact that they did not and still do not have an adequate overall program for constructing a socialist world means that calling them “revolutionary Marxists” would be entirely out of place. They are pragmatic revolutionaries, we would say “left centrists” from a theoretical point of view, without giving the slightest pejorative coloration to that term. But the lack of a correct program is not a tiny little wart on a face radiating with beauty. It is a serious deficiency, which has negative practical consequences both for their intervention in the world revolution and for the construction of socialism in their own country.

The sectarian-dogmatic position first began to crumble under the hammer blows of the Cuban revolution, then of the Nicaraguan revolution. However, Doug Jenness’ cothinkers remained locked in their “black or white” simplistic outlook, and simply reversed their position within the same antinomy they had created. The generalization of the concept of the “workers and farmers government” as something other than the dictatorship of the proletariat, and its extension even to the October 1917 revolution, is the instrument with which the reversal will be “systematized”.

The slogan for a “workers government” or for a “workers and farmers government” (in countries where the peasants are still an important part of the working population) is an indispensable transitional slogan. It crowns all the transitional demands. Its pedagogic, propaganda, and sometimes agitational function, is to bring the masses through their own experience, and starting from their really given level of consciousness, to pose in practice the question of overthrowing the bourgeois government, to take all the power, and destroy the bourgeois state.

This is why it is an eminently algebraic slogan whose concrete formulation depends on a series of conditions that vary from one country to another and from one conjunctural situation to another: the acuteness of the class struggle; the level of mass mobilization; the seriousness of the bourgeoisie’s political crisis; the extent (and precise forms) of self-organization of the masses; the amount of confidence they still retain in their traditional organizations; the emergence, or non-emergence, of genuine revolutionary parties with mass influence, even though still real minorities, etc.

But it is a necessary slogan, not a necessary stage in the revolutionary process, not an alleged intermediate stage between the bourgeois state (the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie) and the workers state (the dictatorship of the proletariat). In practice, it turned out not to be necessary, and it turned out that it had no actual concretization (except as synonymous to the dictatorship of the proletariat) in Russia, in Yugoslavia, in Vietnam, or even, in our opinion (but this is no longer controversial inside the FI), in China. When it is concretized as something different from the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is only, as specified both by the Resolution on Tactics of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International and the Transitional Program, because the (or one of the) leading parties of the revolutionary process believes that it should not immediately push its break with the bourgeoisie to the end (or else cannot immediately push it to the end because of the extremely backward nature of the country).

We are speaking, of course, of a political break, of a break with the institutions of the bourgeois state and their destruction, and not of “immediate and total” elimination of private property that no sensible person, beginning with Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, ever though was a precondition for establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Moreover such a “total elimination” exists nowhere on earth. Even today in the USSR, 65 years after the October revolution, 6-8% of the means of production, and some 25% of agricultural production are still private.

In the past, all those who were not Trotskyists were counterrevolutionaries. Now, all those who are not counterrevolutionaries are revolutionary Marxists (you can bet that it will not be long before Doug Jenness attributes that virtue first to the Vietnamese CP, and then, who can say, also to the Chinese CP). In the past, getting enthusiastic about the victorious Yugoslav, Chinese, and Vietnamese revolutions was “capitulating to Stalinism”. Now, expressing the slightest criticism of the Cuban, Nicaraguan, and even Vietnamese leadership, has become “sterile sectarianism”. Either uncritical support or sectarian rejection: the comrades who agree with Doug Jenness cannot escape this dilemma. Yet its solution is quite simple: combining total support for the revolutionary process with justified criticism of its leadership every time it acts against the interests of the (”national” or “international”) proletariat.

After accusing us of “opportunism” towards the living revolutions, the comrades who agree with Doug Jenness now accuse us of “sectarianism” towards their leaders. Both accusations are false.

But since the world revolution forms a whole (albeit a whole structured by three deeply interrelated sectors), the increasingly clear adaptation of the comrades who agree with Doug Jenness to the pragmatism of the leaderships that led real revolutions since World War II cannot save them from the pitfall of sectarianism. It is in fact leading them to increased sectarianism towards all sectors of the world revolution and the world mass movement that do not fit into the simplistic schema of “campism” based on states: increasing sectarianism towards Solidarnosc militants; increasing sectarianism towards the activists of the Labour Party left; increasing sectarianism towards the activists of the mass antiwar movement; increasing sectarianism towards the trade union left struggling against capitalist austerity; increasing sectarianism towards the proletariat confronting so-called “anti-imperialist” bourgeois governments, etc.

The source of this increasing sectarianism (combined with opportunism towards the Fidelista current) is still the same: the inability to judge a movement above all in relation to the objective consequences of its political practice in the class struggle; the systematic substitution of a dogmatic-idealist criterion to this Marxist, materialist criterion, namely, the attitude of the leaders of this movement towards a political question determined to be “central” (without the slightest theoretical justification): previously it was the question of “Stalinism”; now it is the question of “the defense of the USSR”.

This is not the place for a review of the trajectory of the Nicaraguan revolution. Our movement has already done so in several documents; it will continue to do so at the Twelfth World Congress. But one thing is sure: nothing in the real course of the Nicaraguan revolution confirms the existence of some two-class “power”, “government” or “state”, or worse yet, of a revolutionary government that would destroy the bourgeois state apparatus while maintaining — a bourgeois state.

There can be dual power between the power of two antagonistic classes in a situation where history has not yet settled the question of which class, which power, has defeated the other. But there cannot be a “two-class government” in the sense that it would be neither under the hegemony of the proletariat, nor under that of the bourgeoisie.

In obfuscating this decisive question, the comrades who agree with Doug Jenness are entering, without being aware of it, the path that leads to justifying some of the main revolutionary defeats of the twentieth century. Precisely the same line of argumentation was used to justify the course that led to defeat in Spain in 1936 and to defeat in Chile in 1973, to mention only two examples. If, at the level of real power, there is an “intermediate solution” between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat, pray tell us why workers parties could not exercise genuine power in the framework of a “truly weakened” bourgeois state. The whole of Leninism is being poured down the drain despite all the oaths to continuity …

From abandoning permanent revolution to abandoning the antibureaucratic politlcal revolutlon?

Three years ago, in our article on “The Twenty-One Theoretical Errors of Comrades Clark, Feldman, Horowitz, and Waters” (dated September 15, 1979, and published in Intercontinental Press combined with Inprecor, Vol. 19, No. 16, p. 456, May 4, 1981), we predicted that the leading comrades of the SWP who agree with Comrade Doug Jenness’ ideas would consummate an explicit break with the theory of the permanent revolution. Now that course is appearing more clearly. We still have to find out what its practical political consequences will be; (fortunately!) the SWP leadership has not yet elaborated them fully.

Today, we will be so bold as to venture a second prediction: if Comrade Jenness and his “cothinkers” do not stop in time their advance down this revisionist path, they risk being drawn, unawares and unwillingly, at least at this time, into gradually abandoning the Marxist theory of the Soviet bureaucracy, and especially into abandoning our strategy of antibureaucratic political revolution, in favor of some meek perspective of “gradual democratization” of these states, and worse yet, “democratization from above”.

What is the basis for this prediction?

First of all, a fundamental fact of the international workers movement. The Communist movement has only given birth to two fundamental ideological currents that lasted a long time and were present everywhere: the Stalinist current and its byproducts, and the revolutionary Marxist current, that is, mainly the Trotskyist current. Between these two currents, there is no space for a stable, lasting current, not even an “authentically Leninist” one, for the simple reason that Lenin stopped writing in 1923. Over the last sixty years, innumerable phenomena of great historic importance took place for which Lenin’s works only provide a few points of reference, but no proposals for overall solutions that can be verified or invalidated in the light of experience.

More than Lenin’s writings is therefore needed to find one’s way around. Let us mention the following items to be remembered: the question of fascism; the question of the bureaucratic degeneration of the USSR; the question of the relationship between socialist democracy and the economic problems of building socialism; the question of the strategy for power in the semi-colonial countries; the question of nuclear weapons; the place of workers management in the fight against bureaucracy; the question of the connection between the decline of capitalism and the strategy for workers power in the imperialist countries, etc.

Under these circumstances, it is not by chance that, as Trotsky himself wrote:

“We can say that all of Stalinism considered at the theoretical level, issued from a critique of the theory of the permanent revolution as it was formulated in 1905” (Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution).

A critique of the theory of the permanent revolution”, “all of Stalinism”: let Comrade Doug Jenness and his cothinkers ponder the fateful meaning of that analysis by Trotsky. Since 1923, in the history of the Communist movement, in the history of the revolutionary movement, every turn against the need for a direct seizure of power by the proletariat has always begun with an attack on Trotskyism.[9]

The denial of the theory of “socialism in one country” (that is, the theory that says that the construction of socialism not only can, but must, begin in each country where the socialist revolution has already been victorious, but that it cannot be completed there) is part and parcel of the theory of the permanent revolution. As it were, the interconnection between the international revolution and a victorious revolution in one or several countries implies also an interconnection between the process of bureaucratization of these workers states and the defeats of the international revolution, an interconnection which flows from the same source as the theory of the permanent revolution: a correct judgment on the relationship of forces between social classes on the eve of, during, and after the revolution, both within the less developed countries and on an international scale. The same lack of understanding of the key role of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the proletariat in insuring the victory of the revolution in those countries lies at the root of the lack of understanding of the key role of the proletariat in clearing the way for the elimination of the obstacle of bureaucratic dictatorship, an obstacle on the path of both the international revolution and the construction of socialism.

Wherever one may look for the solution, be it in the economic, social, political or cultural field, it always involves a strengthening of the objective and subjective weight of the proletariat in the revolution and in the state (which is linked to a beginning withering away of the state). International extension of the revolution; accelerated industrialization; the broadening of socialist democracy; the return to genuine soviets; real democracy within the party; soviet party pluralism: all these proposals, this whole strategic line, this whole revolutionary Marxist “counter-project” set against the strategy inspired by the material interests of the bureaucracy, rest on a single internal logic: the qualitative increase of the weight and power of the proletariat in the society and the state, establishing, extending, and generalizing the power of the workers councils (soviets).

It must be understood that the socialist revolutions that were victorious after World War II took a particular form, different from that of the October revolution, above all because – aside from the subjective, historical factors — of the fundamental fact that in the countries where they were victorious, the urban proletariat was not the majority class and did not have sufficient weight to impose its own forms of action and specific forms of self-organization and make them hegemonic within the revolutionary process. But this is no longer the case in today’s world, in all the imperialist countries, in most of the semi-industrialized dependent countries, and in all the bureaucratized workers states. This is the reason why any proletarian revolution in a large country, and especially any victorious proletarian revolution, including an antibureaucratic political revolution, will lead to the formation of workers councils whose rule is the unifying goal that brings together all the various aspects of our world revolutionary strategy.

This is the link between the second and third fundamental theses of the theory of the permanent revolution and the theory of the antibureaucratic political revolution, since a self-reform of the bureaucracy is excluded as all of history has shown since 1923. It is enough to quote Stalin’s famous outcry, “These cadres will not be eliminated short of a civil war”. Insert “bureaucrats” instead of “cadres” and you have understood the inevitability of the political revolution.

Finally, since the elimination of the bureaucracy, of its monopoly over power, is impossible without a revolution, as confirmed most recently by the Polish events, because for the bureaucracy this monopoly over power (”the leading role of the party”) is the source of enormous material privileges which the bureaucrats cherish as the apple of their eye, the question of political revolution now concerns over one-third of humankind, almost one-third of the world proletariat. Any subordination of the political revolution to some alleged “priority” of the “anti-imperialist struggle”, associated with a parallel subordination of the uncompromising defense of the proletariat’s own interests in the semi-colonial and dependent countries to the same alleged “priority” of the “anti-imperialist objectives”, reduces more than half the world proletariat to the role of auxiliary (in the best cases), or victim, of the alleged “struggle between the two camps”, which are no longer real class camps, but camps made up of states and governments independently of their concrete relations with the real proletariat.[10]

From then on, the unity of the world proletariat, the dialectical unity of the three sectors of the world revolution which expresses this unity, is broken. From then on, the orientation towards the real world revolution which can only be this dialectical unity, is postponed to better days, if not till Doomsday (The day when imperialism will have been defeated? How? Without a victory of the international proletariat?). When one abandons the theory and practice of the permanent revolution, that is the only alternative path which remains open.

Is the problem merely an attempt to “adapt our language” to “facilitate a dialogue” with the Castroist and Sandinist comrades? After all, “workers states”, “bureaucratically deformed workers states”, “bureaucratically degenerated workers states”, “bureaucratized workers states”, this is the “jargon of sectarians”: no one should be expected to make head or tail of this hokus pokus. Why not use “current language”, “common language”, when we speak with the “new revolutionary vanguards”, and simply say “socialist” states, even if we have to specify that the bureaucracy exists, etc.

But remember that the beginning revision of the theory of permanent revolution had also begun with a simple change in formulas. Then carne the revision of the content, and it all ended up with the current rejection of both the formula and the content. This is cause for further thought.

Moreover, the possibility of a regeneration of the CPs is already being raised, albeit (for the moment) only for Central America. But why stop there? What about the CPs of the rest of Latin America? What about those of Africa (the South African ANC, notoriously CP-led, is already projected by some as an emerging “revolutionary leadership”)? What about some Arab countries? What about Vietnam? What about Ireland? Are not we slowly evolving towards envisaging the possibility of a regeneration (“democratization”) of ruling parties of the bureaucracy in Eastern Europe too?

All moot or even slanderous speculation? Let’s hope so. But we noticed that in the Militant of October 1, 1982, Comrade Ellen Kratke wrote:

“Many [workers] know there’s a struggle going on in the world between two economic systems, capitalism and socialism.”

So, an “economic system of socialism” already exists, even if it is a “socialism” with a money economy, a market, large-scale commodity production, wage-labor and many other “niceties” like “socialist” firing of strikers and “socialist” bans on strikes, “socialist” censorship of communist ideas and bookstores, “socialist” internment of oppositionists in psychiatric clinics, etc. So, “socialism in one country” is possible after all?

Just a slip of the pen? Again, let’s hope so. But let’s note that Comrade Doug Jenness is the editor of the Militant and has accustomed us generally to much more “Leninist vigilance”.

The reason we are provoking Comrade Jenness in this way is neither because of some hostility nor because of some desire to paint the devil on the wall, as a German proverb puts it. It is because it is the duty of the Fourth International, of all revolutionary Marxist cadres and activists, to pull the alarm signal, to solemnly warn that a scratch is about to turn gangrenous. Our polemic has only one goal: to save the Socialist Workers Party for revolutionary Marxism, for the American revolution, for the world revolution. But it will be saved only if it stops the march of some of its leaders towards a break with Trotskyism in time This is also how the “outside world” that watches us and observes us, has assessed the evolution of Comrade Doug Jenness and his cothinkers, as is obvious from the following quote from the formerly pro-Stalinist and still anti-Trotskyist American weekly, The Guardian: “The SWP has been quietly dropping overboard some of its Trotskyist baggage” (July 14, 1982).

December 1, 1982


1. It appeared in the International Socialist Review inserted in the Militant, Vol. 45, No. 42, November 13, 1981.

2. “The international proletariat undermines capital in two ways: by transforming Octobrist capital into democratic capital, and by transplanting it among the savages — by chasing Octobnst capital from its home. This broadens the basis of capital and brings it closer to its doom. In Western Europe, there is already almost no Octobrist capital left because all capital is democratic. Octobrist capital migrated from England and France towards Russia and Asia. The Russian revolution and the revolutions in Asia are the struggle to chase Octobrist capital and replace it with democratic capital” (“Letter from Lenin to Gorky”, January 3, 1911, p. 14, Lenin Briefe 1910-1911, Berlin 1967; translated from the French).

3. Ernest Mandel, “Nature and Perspectives of the Russian Revolution”, International Socialist Review, inserted in the Militant, April 1982.

4. This figure is quoted by the very official History of the USSR, by Aragon, Vol. 1, p. 51. Liebman mentions three votes in favor of Lenin’s Theses.

5. The first programmatic document of the International Left Opposition, of which the Communist League of America led by James P. Cannon was part and parcel, stated: “Rejection of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry formula as a specific regime different from the dictatorship of the proletariat drawing the peasant masses, and the oppressed masses in general, behind it. Rejection of the anti-Marxist theory of the peaceful transformation of the democratic dictatorship into a socialist dictatorship” (”The International Left Opposition, its tasks, its methods, February-1933”, The Congresses of the Fourth international, Vol. 1, p. 62; translated from the French).

6. The Cuban leaders themselves clearly state that the national-democratic tasks overlapped and intertwined with the anticapitalist tasks in the twentieth-century Cuban revolution. They are therefore more “Trotskyist” than Comrade Doug Jenness: “The content of our revolution which, in the colonial period, could not go beyond the limits of a national liberation movement based on the liberal principles of the last century, necessarily had to shift, by virtue of the capitalist development of our country and the emergence of the working class, towards a revolution that was also social. To the task of freeing the nation from imperialist domination, was added inevitably, thenceforth, the task of liquidating the exploitation of man by man in our society. These two objectives were already part of our historical process since the capitalist system that oppressed us from the outside as a nation, oppressed us and exploited us from the inside as workers, and since the social forces that could free the country from the inside from oppression, that is to say the workers themselves, were the only forces that, on the external plane, could support us against the imperialist power that was oppressing the nation” (Fidel Castro, Balance Sheet of the Cuban Revolution, Report to the First Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, December 1975; translated from the French — our emphasis).

7. See Lenin, “The crisis of Menshevism”, CW, Vol. 11, December 1906: “Latin states that the disturbances in the countryside cannot be stopped. Did he prove it? No. He took no account whatsoever of the role of the peasant bourgeoisie which is systematically corrupted by the government. He gave little attention to the fact that the ‘reliefs’ obtained by the peasantry…intensify the break among the rural population between the counterrevolutionary rich and the poor masses” (translated from the French).

8. At the time, the Chinese CP wanted to defend at all cost Mao Tse-tung’s erroneous theory on “new democracy” and persisted in denying what it had done in 1949, that is, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat with the support of the peasantry. Later on, it rectified its theoretical position, and now states that from October 1949 onwards, the dictatorship of the proletariat has existed in the People’s Republic of China. See the new Statutes adopted at the 1977 Congress: “The state established after victory in the new-democratic revolution was a People’s Republic under the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

9. Let us add that almost all the arguments used by Comrade Doug Jenness against Comrade Trotsky come down to us in a straight line from the polemic of the Thermidorian epigones of 1923-1928, from the polemic of neo-Stalinists like Mavrakis (On Trotskyism) or can be found in the Soviet bureaucracy’s pamphlet written by M. Basmanov, Contemporary Trotskism: Its Anti-Revolutionary Nature, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972.

10. The non-Marxist nature of “campism” is revealed most clearly in its assessment of China. During China’s military conflict with Vietnam, some campists even called it a “fascist country” or “fascist government”. China had become “hegemonic”, “reactionary”, or even “imperialist” for the apologists of “campism”. Yet the relations of production in China and the nature of the state are identical to those of the USSR. Does the conjunctural alignment of a state in the game of diplomacy determine its social nature, and not its social and economic foundations? Was not this the erroneous method of the Shachtmanites at the time of the Stalin-Hitler Pact?


From http://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1982/dec/permrevo.htm

The Path of Naxalbari

The Path of Naxalbari: An Appraisal

Kunal Chattopadhyay

In this essay, the discussion will remain mostly confined to the original Maoist movement in India, between the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, and focused not on narratives[1] but in terms of the relationship between this movement and classical Marxism.

To begin with, we need to understand that the early history of communism in India went through a rupture. The Meerut Conspiracy Case dealt the emerging communist party a sharp blow. By the time the fragmented party had reassembled, the Communist International had come under the complete grip of Stalin and Stalinism, and it had baneful effects on the CPI.[2] This did not mean the CPI achieved nothing. But it meant that the revolutionary-democratic traditions of classical Marxism were distorted in a number of crucial ways, and that later conflicts within the major currents of the Indian communists remained locked within Stalinist parameters. In the case of Bengal/West Bengal, I would argue, an additional component was the influence of the revolutionary nationalist tradition. The very significant number of revolutionary nationalists (the “terrorists”) who became converted to communism in jail accepted certain political ideas (not mere political independence, but social change through revolution), certain philosophical views (materialism, atheism), but they brought their own prejudices. Notably, their rejection of Gandhism had been based on a simple counterposition of violence and non-violence, and therefore the equation of revolution and violence was sometimes carried over. Equally important was the top down approach of the revolutionary groups, and the seamless manner in which this merged with, and provided an indigenous basis for the acceptance of Stalinist vanguardism, which replaced Lenin’s real concept of building a class vanguard that would be in constant dialogue with the mass of workers, by the imagery of transmission belts and commands or instructions from above being implemented by those lower down.

Classical Marxism:

There are many things that one can learn from classical Marxism.[3] For an assessment of any movement claiming to be Marxist, however, we need to begin by looking at the core political components. Repeatedly, Marx and Engels argued that “the emancipation of the working classes is a task of the working classes themselves”. This was the central plank of their politics. In the rules of the International Working men’s Association written by Marx, he argued that the goal of workers’ societies was “the protection, the advancement and complete emancipation of the working classes.”[4] As Marik points out, in the Third Thesis on Feuerbach, Marx “opposed the idea of educators from outside teaching the masses, pointing out that any ‘educator’, that is socialist theorist, must oneself learn the meaning of socialism through revolutionary practice. In other words, socialist theory as the ideological change in human beings could only be continuously developed through revolutionary practice which would also change the material circumstances.”[5]

The concept of working class self-emancipation meant that the revolution was not going to be a process where a small number of wise people would dominate the masses and decide what would be good for them. This was the principal tradition of the socialist/communist currents of the period, however, and Marx and Engels stood out by their break with this tradition. This also made inevitable their next key point. This was the nature and role of the revolutionary party. They did not mean to ignore the need to build a revolutionary party by hiding behind the talk of working-class self-emancipation. But they saw the revolutionary party as comprising the most militant and aware members of the working class. And while they did not deny the role of elements from other classes, they made it clear that the communist party could not be made up chiefly of such elements. Such a generalized picture, of course, does not give us the full complexity of their views. But they did go on to elaborate their positions by, on one hand, developing analyses of concrete situations, and on the other hand, by presenting critiques of other socialisms. Thus, in a number of critiques of the theorists of conspiracy and insurrection, they showed that conspiracy kept out the masses of workers, but not the police. And in a telling comment, they dubbed advocates of such methods the “alchemists of revolution”. For their own part, they laid stress on two key issues – the creation of independent working class political action including working class participation in elections, and the development of socialist theory within independent working class parties. In an 1850 essay, Marx argued that secret organizations led by professional conspirators could not draw in the broad masses of the proletariat in their organizations:

These conspirators do not confine themselves to the general organization of the revolutionary proletariat. It is precisely their business to anticipate the process of revolutionary development, to bring it artificially to crisis point, to launch a revolution on the spur of the moment . . . they are the alchemists of the revolution . . . and have the profoundest contempt for the more theoretical enlightenment of the proletariat about their class interests.[6]

Thus Marx was explicitly counterposing a scientific theory of a communist party, capable of explaining theory and organising the proletariat for struggles, to the pre-scientific (“alchemical”) party which advocated substitutionism and was contemptuous about developing real class-consciousness.[1]

In discussing the strategy of revolution for backward countries (of particular interest for us), Marx and Engels came to argue, by looking at Germany, that the bourgeoisie was utterly incapable of leading a genuine democratic revolution. If it triumphed, it would enter into a deal with the landlords and the semi-absolutist monarchy. So the task was to build a bloc of the working class, the peasants, and the petty bourgeois democrats, and within that, to strive to create working class hegemony.[7] This was summed up in the famous Address of the Central Authority to the Communist League, where they talked about a “revolution in permanence”. An added point of great significance, very often ignored, is that their revolutionary strategy involved a struggle for consistent democracy, and that this meant, not repudiating the gains made by liberal-democracy, but extending it far beyond anything liberalism could achieve.[8]

Communism in India and the Maoist Revolutionaries:

If we look at these founding premises of classical Marxism, communism in India appears utterly unlike it. A distorted reading of Lenin resulted in equating Leninist party building with party-led substitutionism.[9] From the late 1920s, the Comintern doctrine of Socialism in One Country served to turn communist parties into organizations defending Soviet foreign policy. Moscow dictated flip-flops, like an ultraleft line of 1928-1934, followed by class-collaboration dressed as anti-imperialist unity (the Dutt-Bradley thesis). And the campaign against “Trotskyism” meant a general imposition of a two-stage theory of revolution, according to which the first stage would be carried out in alliance with the progressive bourgeoisie.

Though the Comintern was disbanded in 1943, Moscow’s control and influence remained crucial for a long time. Between 1951 and 1964, debates within the CPI, while couched in theoretical rhetoric about national democratic revolution versus peoples’ democratic revolution, really involved a search for bourgeois allies either within the Congress or outside it. The post-1964 evolution of the CPI(M) confirms this.[10] However, in the early 1960s, many militants assumed that the fact that CPI(M) leaders upheld Stalin against Khruschev and talked of Peoples’ Democratic Revolution made them revolutionaries. So they sided with CPI(M). This also meant that radicals tended to see Stalin as a bastion of revolution, instead of being the leader of a bureaucratic political counter-revolution. The CPI(M) was thus formed as a party composed of class-collaborationist Stalinists, along with Maoist radicals also infused with Stalinist ideas. The left reformism was soon unmasked, between 1966 and 1969. Mass radicalism was harnessed for electoral gains. In 1967, the CPI(M) proved as willing to join hands with bourgeois oppositions to form a coalition government in West Bengal as the CPI. It was at this point that the revolutionaries, or those who wanted to be revolutionaries, decided to split with the reformists. There were differences over the pace and tactics (Nagi Reddy versus Charu Mazumdar, for example). But by the time the CPI(ML) was founded, the principle that had won was to present two alternatives as the strategic poles in communism. The draft constitution of the party said: “To overthrow the rule of the above [defined in the previous paragraph – K.C.] enemies of the people, the CPI(ML) places the path of armed struggle before the Indian people.”[11] Parliamentary work was viewed as an entirely strategic option, and rejected en bloc.[12] The strategy of “peoples’ war” was to be based on the path shown by Lin Piao, that is, relying on the peasantry, building base areas, consistently developing armed struggle and using the villages to surround the cities and ultimately capture them. That which, in China, was a compulsion caused by the defeats suffered in the cities, was turned into a voluntarily accepted strategy in the Indian case.[13]

We will return to the fundamental flaw involved here later. But I would like to begin with a positive note. The party documents, the writings of several outstanding leaders of this current, or the party papers, like Deshabrati (Bangla), Liberation, all showed a refreshing return to the concept of class struggle. Ever since the dismissal of the 1957 Kerala government, the underlying content of the inner-party debate in the CPI was whether the “progressive bourgeoisie” were in the Congress or in the bourgeois opposition parties, and who should be the allies in the bid to form governments. This has of course been the recurrent debate in the mainstream Stalinist left all the way to the present. Prakash Karat’s Third Front was an attempt to patch together a bloc of regional forces, in opposition to the line advocated by others, such as Sobhanlal Datta Gupta in Mainstream.[14] Stripping aside the veil of theory and polish, the Maoists of the 1960s revealed that debate for the opportunistic struggle for loaves and fishes by bureaucratic leaders that it really was. And by raising the slogan, “Never forget class struggle”, they made class struggle a reality, in a way it had not been for a considerable period.

In the same way, it was the Maoist current that made internationalism a real, revolutionary force. The Chinese Communist Party, when it inspired splits in many countries, had the aim of building its own support base. But in order to fight Moscow, it had presented a mixed ideological bag. On one hand, it appeared as a fervent champion of Stalin.[15] But on the other hand, it also highlighted the class collaborationist politics pursued under Moscow’s pressure, even though it (falsely) exonerated Stalin from such practices. The combination of all this was to promote a more militant form of internationalism than clapping because the Soviet Union had launched the sputnik before the USA. Recovering the old traditions of the communists, Charu Mazumdar called for active internationalism. Similar to Che Guevara’s call to build “two, three, many Vietnams” was the statement. “Chairman’s China may be attacked – speed up the Indian revolution”. This was not a call for diplomatic manoeuvring to help the chosen fatherland. This was, or could be understood as, proletarian internationalism at its best, and left a lasting imprint. Many radicals who have moved a long distance from Maoism, have this starting point for their understanding of proletarian internationalism. The struggle of the proletariat for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism cannot be secured within one country. Capitalism itself cannot function in one country but must spread its tentacles across the world. A higher system than capitalism cannot be built on a lower economic level. The idea that superior relations of production can be built on a low level of productivity and maintained there is an illusion.  So even if unintentionally, Maoism brought back the idea of world revolution and international socialism.

Another important achievement was to critique the nature of “progress”. This involved certain major oversimplifications. But a basic discourse shift happened around this time, because the Maoists asked, in effect, whether it was the task of communists to be cheerleaders for capitalist development, on the ground that capitalism was “progressive” compared to feudalism?[2] This once more overturned a growing consensus among the mainstream Stalinist parties, that if the capitalists were progressive, or if the capitalist state took a progressive role, then the task of communists was to simply support it.  Of course, few parties wrote texts that expressed their ideas so crudely. But this was precisely the achievement of the Maoists – to blast though the verbiage and expose the linear, undialectical concept of progress and the resulting class-collaborationist political tasks, including supporting the “progressive” foreign policy of the Indian state.

The Contradictions of Maoism:

The key contradiction of Indian Maoism flowed from its inability to break the shackles of Stalinist substitutionism. Who will play the leading role in the revolutionary process? Formally, all “Marxists” begin by answering, “the working class”. But then, for the Social Democracy, the role of the working class is exhausted by voting for the socialist party periodically. For the Stalinists, the party represents the working class. The voice of the party is the voice of the working class for all practical purposes. Whether “revolutionary” or “reformist”, parties of Stalinist orientation agree that the party is the conscious section of the class, not because it continuously replenishes itself by recruiting the best, most militant elements of the working class and ensures a continuity of proletarian leadership, but because by self-proclamation and definition, the party is the vanguard of the class.  By accepting the Chinese CP’s leadership, including its glorification of Stalin, the CPI(ML) was opening itself to the same errors. The programme of the party said that “the working class can and will exercise its leadership over the Peoples’ Democratic Revolution though its political party”, the CPI(ML).[16] This assumed that the working class has only one political party. Moreover, the working class does not have any other organisational forum through which it can express its viewpoint. This suspicion hardens, when we also read that the working class will play its vanguard role by sending its class conscious vanguard elements to organise and lead the armed struggles of the peasants.[17]In other words, the central task of the party was seen as organising an agrarian armed revolution. In a country with its rich working class history, decades of patient communist work among the workers, the development of trade unions, this was an utterly destructive line. About the cities, Charu Mazumdar had only vague hopes, not a political strategy. The Political-Organisational Report adopted by the first Congress of the CPI(ML) asserted that through the process of building the party, the revisionist line had been defeated. One aspect of this revisionist line was the building of mass movements and mass organisations for economic demands.[18] In addition, it was claimed that the armed struggle of the peasants was inspiring the workers and the petit bourgeoisie.[19] In other words, the leading role of the working class was a token genuflection to the canons of Marxism. Majumdar’s speech on that occasion said that building the party means the development of armed class struggle.[20] (missing out the “armed” was tantamount to instant degeneration). About the cities, he just expressed the hope that a revolutionary tide would come among the workers, not only in Calcutta, but everywhere.[21] How it would come, by withdrawing revolutionary cadres from the mass movements and organisations, was left totally unexplained. Revolutionaries who opposed giving up the trade unions had already found themselves being ignored, then pushed out. Parimal Dasgupta in Bengal, Purnendu Majumdar in South Bihar (now Jharkhand) had to go their own ways. Further articles by majumdar showed the real content of his strategy. Thus, the article ‘A Few Words About Guerilla Action’, reveal that ctually it was a petty bourgeois led peasant action, and had nothing to do with the working class.[22] Another article by Majumdar, ‘To the Working Class’, repudiated general strikes as ineffective, repudiated economic struggles in the name of opposing revisionism, and simply exhorted workers to participate in armed peasant struggles.[23]Indeed, he argued that it was not possible for workers to defend themselves with trade unions, so the party should not build or bother about trade unions, but only build secret party organizations among the workers.[24] Bloodshed and barricade fighting were envisaged, but without struggles that would really enhance the consciousness of the working class – unless exhorting them to read Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung and attacking the revisionists count as real struggles.[25]

Why did Marx and Engels stress the historic role of the working class and why did they insist on protracted learning processes through participation in concrete struggles?[26] Two points are made here. The first is again the basic Marxist strategy, that the emancipation of the working classes is a task of the working classes themselves, not handed over to a group of self-proclaimed revolutionaries even if they drape the Collected Works of Marx and Engels over their bodies.

But why the working class? Marx’s reply was that capitalism reproduced itself by exploiting alienated labour. The historical tendency of the struggles of the workers goes far beyond the tendency of peasant struggles. The poorest of peasant, as a peasant, wishes for a little bit of land, a space, however illusory, within the existing system. The worker realizes that the existing system gives to workers only wages. The separation of direct producer from the means of production can only be overcome by the socialization of production, by workers management of publicly owned property. Secondly, as a class who occupy a concentrated position in capitalism, workers can stop the economy functioning, Finally, objectively, as collective producers, the working class has the power to create an exploitation free society. A rejection of this meant that the revolutionary aspirations of the large number of cadres who went to the new party and groups were wasted.

The Greatest “Socialist” Myth of the Twentieth Century:

The contradictions of Maoism also meant that the Maoist forces in India, whether the CPI(ML) or those outside it, had a complicated and mistaken view of “socialism”. For them, the Soviet Union was “social imperialist”, while China was “socialist”. Having accepted that despite the little blemish here and thee, Stalin and the Stalin era had meant the construction of socialism, they ended up accepting the view that abolition of private ownership constituted socialism, without any serious discussion on the essential need for workers’ democracy. On the other hand, since they condemned the Soviet Union as “social imperialist”, the line of the political party at the helm was seen as the crucial factor between socialism and capitalism. Finally, an utterly idealist attitude, following the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, was taken about the nature of class struggle under socialism. Rotten apples in the superstructure were supposedly capable of overturning a basically sound base.

A correct understanding of the fate of the Russian revolution had been among the most important issues in deciding a revolutionary line anywhere, throughout most of the twentieth century. Socialist democracy, the meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the transition from capitalism and the economic issues involved, all have implications for the future of revolutionary movements elsewhere. Here, the Maoist revolutionaries failed, because they were unable to question the basic arguments of Stalinism. One party rule remained unquestioned. Only if the party turned bad, the country changed from socialist to capitalist. The role of soviets, or analogous forms of institutions was ignored. Bourgeois democracy was not to be extended by socialism, rather, bourgeois democracy was to be simply rejected.

This made the difference between the CPI(ML), or the other Maoist organisations, on one hand, and the CPI(M) on the other, a difference based on the will of the cadres, and nothing more. The revolutionary struggle was begun in 1967 (taking the announcement of “Spring Thunder” as the beginning). Yet the working class that had grown up already was ignored. The reality of bourgeois democracy in India was brushed aside. For certain Maoist groups, like the CPI(Maoist) they continue to be basically irrelevant. As a matter of fact, this meant a refusal to engage with the objective reality of India, and to impose an utterly illusory line.  Of course, reality proved stronger than the utopian illusions. The experience of China, or even of Russia, in both of which countries there was little or no real civil society, and where the ruling class ruled almost entirely through force, do not provide all the lessons for revolutionary strategies in countries where there have existed some form of bourgeois hegemony.  At the same time, by removing all revolutionary cadres from a number of areas, the struggle to establish the hegemony of the revolutionary forces was given a go by. It was assumed that the example of rural armed struggle would replace concrete struggles in working class areas.  Moreover, this was based on an extremely deformed reading of a few passages of What Is To Be Done?, according to which the party injects class consciousness from outside and the working class by itself can only develop bourgeois consciousness.

The assumption that only the most exploited were revolutionary, meant the exclusion of the organised workers, those having a little better pay or working conditions. This of course ignored the reality that they had obtained those slight gains because of militant struggles, not because the ruling class was buying them up through bribes.

If ultraleftism of a very old kind was behind these mistakes (after all, Lenin had criticised exactly these errors – boycotting elections, boycotting unions, and so on – in Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder), inability to look sufficiently into the shortcomings of Stalinist communism was at the root of another set of mistakes. Notably, special oppression remained originally ignored. Even later, it was often not theoretically discussed, so measures taken were sometimes ad hoc. Gender, caste, indigeneity, were not taken as important markers. The party programme simply mentioned that the Peoples’ Democratic State would, inter alia, “abolish the caste system, remove all social inequalities... and guarantee equality of status to women.”[27] That class unity in reality could not be forged till these inequalities were addressed in the revolutionary process and within the working class received no recognition. A big part of the Communist movement, including its revolutionary wing, was extremely suspicious of feminism, seeing in it a bourgeois or petit bourgeois current, even though in India, feminism had a strong socialist component right from the beginning in the early 1970s. Neither the party, nor its struggles, were often gendered. At the same time, the Maoist movement did provide an impetus for many young women as well as men.[28] As Kalpana Sen points out, the inspiration provided by the movement was immense. Till the mid-sixties, in most women’s colleges, there were no directly elected unions. Girls nominated by the authorities ran the unions. The militant student-youth movement of the mid to late 1960s changed that picture. Women also took part in the ideological struggles around the Naxalbari peasant struggles. They fought in the jails, put up red flag, and confronted the jailers. Moreover, the path of Naxalbari meant challenging existing values in a way that the mainstream left had not been doing for a long time. Among these was a rebellion against domestic discipline and conservatism. That so many young women came to the new party was because, in Sen’s words, “the opportunity to breathe in free air”.[29] Failure to identify patriarchy as a distinct enemy to be combated may have limited the endeavours of these cadres. But the call to immediately join the revolution was something that enabled them to overcome in practice many of the constraints of patriarchy. So if the CPI(ML) did not provide all the solutions, nor did it stand as a force of traditional conservatism.

In the same way, the formal position of the party talked only about class, in an abstract way. But the struggle to bring in poor peasants, after the end of the first phase, meant entering into new terrains. The focus on the landless peasants led to a recognition of the complex interrelationship between caste and class in India. However, while the far left (both Maoists and Trotskyists) were grappling with the complexities of caste-class relations, for the mainstream Stalinist left caste was simply semi-feudal remnant that would be overcome with the development of capitalism, till the Mandal Commission Report implementation forced them into some kind of awareness (even then limited to electoral purposes).[30]

The major problem that the legacy of the original path of Naxalbari left was however its rejection of the rality of bourgeois democracy and the need to work out a new strategy to fight for revolution in a country where a bourgeois democracy does exist. An idealisation of bourgeois democracy does no good. It is a very restricted democracy. Yet even that, by providing certain apparent alternatives, keeps a grip on masses. Secondly, the legacy of Stalinism, its distorted democratic centralism where the leadership has too little accountability to the party ranks, also has been a major problem. Moreover, the legacy of Stalinism has meant a legacy of the two-stage theory of revolution and popular frontism, or alliances with bourgeois partners, as revealed by the Trinamool-supporting Naxalites of 2009. Finally, if workers who demand democracy, or party members who form tendencies over ideological conflicts, are immediately branded capitalist roaders, or thrown out of the party, then one will forever split into two, two will never unite into one. Not “revolutionary authority”, but workers democracy is the answer here. But in order to carry this task to the end, to turn to revolutionary Marxism, one has to subject the path of Naxalbari to a more thoroughgoing critique, without giving up its revolutionary inspiration.


[1] Das Gupta, B. (1974) The Naxalite Movement. Calcutta: Allied Publishers; Johri, J.C. (1972). Naxalite Politics in India. New York: The Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies; Ram, M. (1971). Maoism in India. Bombay: Vikas Publications; Franda, F.M. (1971), Radical Politics in West Bengal. London: The MIT Press; Jawaid, S.(1979) The Naxalite Movement in India. New Delhi: Associated Publishing House; Basu, P. (2000), Towards Naxalbari (1953-1967) an account of inner-party ideological struggle. Calcutta: Progressive Publishers; Banerjee, S. (1980). In the wake of Naxalbari a history of the Naxalite movement in India. Calcutta: Subarnarekha.

[2] Datta Gupta, S. (2006). Comintern and the Destiny of Communism in India : 1919-1943 : Dialectics of Real and a Possible History. Kolkata: Seribaan.

[3] For a single volume survey of the main tenets of classical Marxism and the Bolshevik tradition, see Marik, S. (2008). Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy. New Delhi: Aakar. Marik’s book has the added benefit of a systematic gendering of the account. For a more massive study of Marx and Engels, see Draper, H. (1972-2005). Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, (5 volumes). New York: Monthly Review Press. See further LeBlanc, P. (2007). Marx, Lenin, and the Revolutionary Experience; Studies of Communism and Radicalism in the Age of Globalization. New Delhi: Aakar.

[4] K. Marx, ‘Provisional Rules of the International’, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works (hereafter MECW), vol 20, Moscow, 19xx, p.15. For a full discussion of the principle of self emancipation in Marx and Engels see S. Marik, Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses..., pp.36-42.

[5] S. Marik, Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses..., p. 38.

[6] K. Marx, ‘Review:Les Conspirateurs, par A. Chenu; ex-capitaine des gardes du citoyen Caussidière. Les societes secretes; la prefecture de police sous Caussidière; les corps-francs. La naissance de la Republique en fevrier 1848, par Lucien de la Hodde’, in MECW:10, p. 318

[7] See on this Lowy, M. (2005). The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx. Chicago: Haymarket. See also Marik, S. Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses..., chapter 4. My brief discussion is to be found in Chattopadhyay, K., ‘Marx and the Origins of Permanent Revolution’, Jadavpur University Journal of History, vol.X, 1989-90.

[8] When I say very often ignored, I mean by on one hand the liberal anti-communists, and on the other the Stalinists. For studies that do stress this, see apart from Draper and Marik, Nimtz, A. Jr. (1999). ‘Marx and Engels -- The Unsung Heroes of the Democratic Breakthrough’, Science and Society, 63(2) 203-231.

[9] See Lih, Lars T. (2006). Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? In context. Brill, Leiden and Boston: Historical Materialism Book series; Paul Le Blanc (Ed), (2008). Revolution, Democracy, Socialism. Selected Writings, V.I. Lenin. London: Pluto Press., and my review of Lih in EPW for the distortions involved.

[10] On this, see Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, ‘The Left Front and the United Progressive Alliance’, http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/News&AnalysisInternational/News&AnalysisIntTheLeftFrontAndTheUnitedProgressiveAlliance.html (accessed 18 July 2009); and Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, ‘The Elections and Left Wing Politics in India’, International Socialist Review, Issue 66, July-August 2009, pp.44-54.

[11] ‘Draft of the Constitution of the CPI(ML)’, in Suniti Kumar Ghosh, Ed, The Historic Turning-Point: A Liberation Anthology, vol. II, Calcutta, 1993, p.319.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Maoism, neither in China nor in India, has studied seriously the relationship between the defeats suffered by the Second Chinese Revolution and the historical specificities of the Third Chinese Revolution. For examinations of the Second Chinese Revolution, see Isaacs, H.R. (1938). The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution.The Chinese Revolution: I: The Second Chinese Revolution and the shaping of the Maoist Outlook London: Secker and Warburg. For an assessment by a revolutionary Marxist of the relationship between the Second Chinese Revolution (1925-27) and Maoism that is quite sympathetic to Maoism, see Rousset, P. and II: The Maoist Project Tested in the Struggle for Power. Amsterdam: International Institute of Research and Education.

[14] Datta Gupta, S (2009). ‘The Left’s Exit: Notes for Consideration of All Concerned’, Mainstream: vol. XLVII, No. 23, 33-35.

[15] For an aggressive, but not inaccurate Marxist critique of Maoism’s revival of the Stalin cult, see Kerry, T (1964).  ‘Maoism and the Neo-Stalin Cult’, International Socialist Review, vol. 25, No.2, Spring 1964, 55-59. For a more sympathetic, though critical assessment, see Maitan, L (1976). Party, Army, Masses in China. New Jersey: Humanities Press. For an organisational assessment, see Fourth International (1965). ‘The Sino-Soviet Conflict and the Crisis of the International Communist Movement’. International Socialist Review, vol. 27, No.2, Spring 1966, 76-85.

[16] Programme of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), in S. K. Ghosh (Ed.), The Historic Turning Point, vol II, p. 15.

[17] Ibid.

[18] ‘Political-Organizational Report Adopted at the Party Congress’, in Ibid, p. 19

[19] Ibid.

[20] Charu Majumdar, ‘On the Political-Organizational Report’, in ibid, p. 23.

[21] Ibid, p.25.

[22] Charu Majumdar, ‘A Few Words About Guerilla Actions’, in ibid, pp. 68-73.

[23] Charu Majumdar, ‘To the Working Class’, in ibid, pp. 82-84.

[24] Charu Majumdar, ‘Our Party’s Tasks Among the Workers’, in ibid, 84-88.

[25] Ibid.

[26] See MECW: 10, pp. 626-29 for a speech by Marx. For a later report by a former supporter of Marx on his strategy, see W. Blumenberg, ‘Zur Geschichte des Bundes der Kommunisten Aussagen des Peter Gerhardt Roser’, International Review of Social History, 9, 1964, pp. 81-122.

[27] Programme of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), in S. K. Ghosh (Ed.), The Historic Turning Point, vol II, p. 16.

[28] For West Bengal, some of this complexity is captured in Sen, K (2001). ‘ Paschimbanglay Naxal Andolane Meyera’, in M. Chattopadhyay (Ed.) (2001). Eso Mukta Karo: Narir Adhikar O Adhikar Andolan Bishayak Probondho Sankalon, Kolkata: Peoples’ Book Society: 159-186.

[29] Ibid, 166.

[30] The Inquilabi Communist Sangathan (Indian Section of the fourth International) had taken a stand supporting OBC reservations before V.P. Singh unpacked the Mandal Commission report. The CPI(ML) led by Santosh Rana, Vaskar Nandy and others was analyzing the complexities of caste, and campaigning for dalit rights, for a long time. Other ML groups also tried different strategies, including bringing in more dalit or OBC forces into the party and into the leadership. By contrast, the mainstream left in West Bengal, ruling the province for decades, has an abysmal record of either implementing constitutional provisions, or transforming the outlook of basic class forces on the caste question.

Maoism and the Neo-Stalin Cult

Tom Kerry


Kerry was a veteran leader of the Socialist Workers' Party, the leading US Trotskyist organisation for a long time. This article was an intervention when Maoism was presenting itself as a revolutionary alternative to Khruschevism, and aims to show that ultimately, both variants are tied to Stalinism. The sarticle is taken from the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online.

Maoism and the Neo-Stalin Cult

(Spring 1964)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.2, Spring 1964, pp.55-59.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

WITH THE publication of the recent Chinese indictment entitled: The Leaders of the CPSU are the Greatest Splitters of Our Times, the split between Peking and Moscow becomes definitive. The full text of the statement is published in the Feb. 7 issue of Peking Review. The text goes beyond the title by characterizing the Khrushchev leadership as the greatest splitters of all time, by asserting that “the leaders of the CPSU are the greatest of all revisionists as well as the greatest of all sectarians and splitters known to history.”

The statement purports to be a historical review of splits and splitters from the time of Marx and Engels up to the present day. Its central thesis had been previously projected in a speech by Chou Yang, vice-director of the Propaganda Department of the CPC Central Committee, delivered on Oct. 26, 1963 to a scientific gathering at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. To wit: That “revisionism” arose to plague Marx and Engels at the very dawn of the socialist movement. So it was at the beginning and so it will continue to the very end.

Chou Yang argues that inasmuch as every thesis must have its antithesis, the promulgation of the Marxist revolutionary doctrine [thesis] inevitably gave rise to its opposite [antithesis] revisionism. Not only were the founders of scientific socialism fated to combat revisionism but Lenin too, in his day, was compelled to enter the lists against the revisionists. And, according to the dialectic of Chou, such was the fate not only of Marx, Engels and Lenin, but “of Stalin too.”

“This phenomenon may seem strange,” Chou Yang opines. “How can certain people who had previously been supporters of revolutionary scientific socialism degenerate into counter-revolutionary anti-scientific revisionists? Yet it is not at all strange. Everything tends to divide itself in two. Theories are no exception, and they also tend to divide. Wherever there is a revolutionary scientific doctrine, its antithesis, a counter-revolutionary, anti-scientific doctrine, is bound to arise in the course of the development of that doctrine. As modern society is divided into classes and as the difference between progressive and backward groups will continue far into the future, the emergence of antitheses is inevitable.”

With all due apologies to Chou, a nagging question still persists in thrusting its way to the fore: What is the criteria for determining who is and who is not a “Marxist-Leninist?” Chou has a ready answer. The Khrushchev leadership has repudiated Stalin. “To repudiate Stalin completely,” Chou affirms, “is in fact to negate Marxism-Leninism, which Stalin defended and developed.”

According to the Maoist schema of historical development the split was inevitable from the beginning. However, it is still necessary to fix the exact moment in time and the precise issue which signalled the dialectical transformation of Khrushchevite Marxism-Leninism into its opposite, revisionism. The time and issue are pinpointed in comment number two on the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU, entitled On the Question of Stalin (Sept. 13, 1963). It reads as follows:

“Stalin died in 1953; three years later the leaders of the CPSU violently attacked him at the 20th Congress, and eight years after his death they again did so at the 22nd Congress, removing and burning his remains. In repeating their violent attacks on Stalin, the leaders of the CPSU aimed at erasing the indelible influence of this great proletarian revolutionary among the people of the Soviet Union and throughout the world, and at paving the way for negating Marxism-Leninism, which Stalin had defended and developed, and for the all-out application of a revisionist line. Their revisionist line began exactly with the 20th Congress and became fully systematized at the 22nd Congress. The facts have shown ever more clearly that their revision of the Marxist-Leninist theories on imperialism, war and peace, proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, revolution in the colonies and semi-colonies, the proletarian party, etc., is inseparably connected with their complete negation of Stalin.” (My emphasis)

The aspect of the Sino-Soviet dispute about which this article is especially concerned is the attempt to revive, regenerate and reconstitute the “Stalin cult” on a world scale. The working class of all countries—I repeat, all countries—have paid a heavy price for the virus of Stalinism that has for so long poisoned the wellspring of Marxist thought and revolutionary socialist action. Millions of worker-militants who flocked to the liberating banner of Leninism in the aftermath of the Bolshevik-led Russian October revolution were corrupted, debauched and cruelly betrayed when the Stalin faction seized the power, strangled the workers’ and peasants’ Soviets, emasculated Lenin’s party and extended its malignant sway over the international communist movement.

To begin with, it is a gross exaggeration to assert that the heirs of Stalin now occupying the Kremlin have “completely negated Stalin.” For their own reasons and their own interests they have been constrained to lift but one tiny corner of the veil that has for too long shrouded the countless crimes committed by the genial butcher who defiled the name of Lenin and besmirched the proud banner of Bolshevism. Stalin was no Marxist-Leninist. He was a murderer of Marxist-Leninists—including some thousands of devoted Stalinists. The Chinese do a great disservice to their own cause in the struggle against the Khrushchev brand of “revisionism” and to the regeneration of Bolshevik-Leninism by attempting to lead a movement back to Stalin. For nothing in the revisionist views today advocated by Khrushchev were not at one time or another in the past promoted and advocated by Stalin.

* * *

THERE is today a growing mood of discontent and opposition to the flagrantly opportunist policies and practices of the Khrushchev leadership being manifested in Communist party formations throughout the world. A number of splits have already taken place and more are looming on the horizon. The questions raised by the Sino-Soviet dispute have been an important ingredient in this ferment. In their Feb. 7 document, Peking openly calls for an extension of these splits and encourages, promotes and supports the “schismatics.”

The back-to-Stalin gambit is designed to channelize the opposition to Kremlin “revisionism” within strictly defined limits governed by the needs and interests of the Maoist bureaucracy; to circumvent untrammeled discussion of the many basic issues raised in the dispute by insisting on establishing and maintaining the hierarchical order of progression—Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin-Mao. If successful it can only serve to substitute a Mao cult of infallibility for the now defunct Stalin cult in which all disputed questions of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice will be subject to the ipse dixit of the cult leader.

This tendency is already to be observed in the groups that have split off from the various Communist parties and embraced Maoism. In this country, for example, a small group which split from the American Communist party several years ago, after coyly flirting with Maoism for a period, has finally plumped for Peking as against Moscow. It modestly calls itself the Progressive Labor Movement. In the recently published winter issue of its magazine, Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, there appears a programmatic statement by the National Coordinating Committee of PLM which purports to meet the need of the American working class for a “revolutionary theory.”

We are informed in an editorial note that:

“During the past year the Progressive Labor Movement has been discussing the [Sino-Soviet] debate concerning correct Marxist-Leninist theory for our movement and for the international movement.”

We are availing ourselves of this opportunity to comment on those aspects of the “debate” that concern us here: Stalin and Stalinism. In making their Great Leap from Moscow to Peking the leaders of PLM faithfully parrot the Maoist line on the merits and demerits of Stalin. Along with Peking they flay Khrushchev for downgrading Stalin in his 20th Congress speech bcause:

“It did not place both his enormous contributions and his serious errors in their actual historical context, but offered instead a subjective, crude, total negation of a great Marxist-Leninist and proletarian revolutionist.”

In an almost verbatim paraphrase of the Chinese statement On the Question of Stalin, the PLM article draws a balance sheet of Stalin’s assets and liabilities and concludes that on balance, Stalin’s contributions are “primary” and his errors, “secondary.” What precisely were these errors?

“In the matter of Party and government organization, Stalin did not fully apply proletarian democratic centralism. He was in some instances guilty of abrogating it. There was a great development of centralism without the absolutely essential corresponding growth of proletarian democracy. This appears to have fostered an inordinate growth of bureaucracy which often resulted in reliance on administrative ‘diktat’ rather than the full participation of the party membership and people in making and carrying out policy.” (Emphasis added to underscore the method of introducing qualifying phrases intended to minimize Stalin’s “errors.”)

But let’s continue—the worst is yet to come! The PLM statement then plunges into a learned dissertation on “contradictions,” lifted bodily from Mao, to explain why Stalin fell into the “error” of presiding over the monstrous frame-up trials and purges which converted the Soviet Union into a veritable chamber of horrors.

“Stalin,” we are informed, “erred in confusing two types of contradictions which are different in nature. Thus, he did not differentiate between contradictions involving the Party and the people on the one hand and the enemy on the other, and contradictions within the Party and among the people. Consequently, he did not employ different methods in handling these different types of contradictions. Stalin was right to suppress the counter-revolutionaries. If he had not he would have been derelict in his defense of the Soviet State. Thus, many counter-revolutionaries deserving punishment were duly punished. But, because contradictions within the Party and among the people were not recognized as something totally different, something natural and even essential to the Party’s theoretical growth and development, no Communist method of principled inner-Party struggle, proceeding from unity through struggle to a higher unity, was developed. Many innocent people, or people with differences which could have been worked out in the course of principled ideological struggle, were wrongly killed.” (My emphasis)

Unfortunately, people who were “wrongly killed” are just as dead as those killed “rightly.” When Stalin was alive all were indiscriminately dubbed “counter-revolutionary” and summarily executed. Those who now deplore such “secondary errors” were among the first to applaud Stalin’s frightful atrocities as evidence of his not being “derelict in defense of the Soviet State.”

Who now is to decide which were the innocent and which the guilty? Who is to judge? As an aftermath of Khrushchev’s 20th Congress speech on the Stalin cult a few of the “wrongly killed” were “rehabilitated” and a few of Stalin’s crimes were disclosed. A few more rehabilitations and disclosures at the 22nd Congress. Instead of pressing for a full disclosure of all the facts of Stalin’s crimes and the rehabilitation of all of Stalin’s victims, the Maoists demand that Khrushshev call a halt to the “attack on Stalin.”

* * *

UNDER compulsion to settle accounts with their own Stalinist past, the authors of the PLM statement, present us with a bowdlerized condensation of the history of the American Communist party. We are informed that the CPUSA was cursed with “revisionism” from its very inception. We are further enlightened by the assertion that the one golden era of the American CP was the period following the expulsion of the Lovestoneite leadership in 1929 encompassing the early years of the Great Depression. In the entire history of the CP one doughty warrior against “revisionism” is singled out for special commendation: William Z. Foster.

To buttress this contention a companion piece to the PLM statement appears in the winter issue of Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, a eulogy of Foster on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of his birth, written by one Fred Carlisle. The PLM message to the American working class urging the need for a “revolutionary theory” is thus simplified: On the international arena: Back to Stalin. On the American scene: Back to Foster!

Before proceeding further we must comment on the outrageous jargon that is the hallmark of Stalinism and which has now been spiced by the turbid Maoism of the Chinese. Words which had previously been endowed with a precise definition in the Marxist vocabulary have been transformed into verbal abstractions capable, as the occasion demands, of being invested with the most diverse meanings. The term “revisionism” is a case in point. To Marxists, revisionism has been associated with the name of its most prominent advocate, Eduard Bernstein, author of a book entitled Evolutionary Socialism. Bernstein’s attempt to divest Marxism of its revolutionary content was designed to provide theoretical justification for the adaptation to capitalist parliamentarism of the right-wing bureaucracy, especially the trade-union bureaucrats, who became a power in the Second (Socialist) International during the prolonged period of imperialist expansion and “prosperity” in the latter part of the 19th century up to the outbreak of World War I.

The classic manifestation of revisionism was known as Millerandism, after Alexandre Millerand, a French lawyer and socialist deputy in parliament who in 1898 accepted an appointment as Minister of Commerce in the cabinet of the capitalist government. Millerandism became synonymous with parliamentary coalitionism. Millerand was the first Socialist to accept a ministerial portfolio in a capitalist government. His action engendered heated debate in the socialist movement of that time, which was divided into right, left and center. The left wing rejected coalitionism as a betrayal of socialism. The right wing chided Millerand only because he had not consulted the party. The center (Kautsky) introduced a motion at the International Congress held in Paris, in 1900, typical of centrist straddling, “allowing that socialists might, as an exceptional measure of a temporary kind, enter a bourgeois government, but implicitly condemning Millerand by saying that such action must be approved by the party.”

This compromise paved the way for the later coalition policy of the Social Democracy during and after the outbreak of the First World War. The lessons of the struggle in the Second International against coalitionism constituted an important ingredient influencing Lenin’s views on the nature of the revolutionary socialist party. Later, with the formation of the Third (Communist) International, a conscious and deliberate barrier was erected against the infiltration of reformist socialist and centrist muddleheads by the imposition at the Second Congress in 1920 of the 21 conditions for affiliation.

The People’s Front Variety

In the hey-day of Stalinism, coalitionism was dignified by the name “people’s front” and was consecrated as the official policy of all sections of the Communist International at the Seventh World Congress in 1935.

Lenin considered coalitionism a betrayal of socialism and fought against it the whole of his political life. To him it was the epitome of revisionism and he wrote his polemical work, State and Revolution, as a refutation of the parliamentary cretinism of the coalitionists, and in the process elaborated and refined the revolutionary essence of Marxism. Upon his return to Russia in April 1917, Lenin threatened to split with those Bolsheviks, including Stalin, who favored participation with the Mensheviks in the coalition government established after the February revolution.

One question: Do the Marxist-Leninists of PLM consider people’s frontism, the most odious form of coalitionism, as revisionist? They don’t say! However, they do extol William Z. Foster as the “best” of the fighters against the “revisionism” of the American CP; Foster, who preached and practiced people’s front coalition politics to the day of his death. And what of Mao? Can they find anywhere in his voluminous writings a forthright condemnation of people’s frontism? I don’t think so!

In China, coalitionism was first imposed by Stalin in the revolution of 1926-27. It there took the form of the Stalin-Bukharin formula of “the bloc of four classes,” under which the Chinese Communist party was subordinated to the rule of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang. Under this formula, the Chinese workers and peasants were first disarmed and then butchered by the troops of Stalin’s erstwhile ally, Chiang Kai-shek. As a result of this experience, Chen Tu-hsiu, then leader of the CPC, broke with Stalinism along with a number of other prominent leaders. All of whom were expelled from the Stalintern as “counter-revolutionists.”

It was only after the Seventh World Congress of the CI enthroned the People’s Front as the prevailing “universal truth” of Marxism-Leninism that Mao Tse-tung was elevated to the position of party leader.

The Dialectic of Revisionism

According to the Maoist dialectic in which everything, including theory, divides in two—not three or four but exactly in two — the tendencies in the world socialist movement are neatly separated into two compartments: revisionism and Marxist-Leninism. Revisionism is elevated to the status of an abstract category in which the term assumes a generic character in which is subsumed all that is not accorded the sovereign title of Marxism-Leninism. Reformism, sectarianism, dogmatism, opportunism, ultra-leftism, each or all are included or may be inferred in the general term. What is revisionism today can become Marxist-Leninism tomorrow and vice versa. It has become, par excellence, a cult term. Only the initiates who are privy to the thought of the cult leader can be sure of what it means at any given moment. Instead of a precise word defining a specific tendency it has been transformed into an epithet to smite those bold or foolhardy enough to question or disagree with the latest revelation of the “leader.”

From time to time differences of interpretation may arise between even the most devoted disciples that might lead to serious doctrinal disputations. The system cries out for a final arbiter around whom must be draped the aura of infallibility. Just as the Catholic church requires its pope to interpret holy scripture, so does every bureaucratic formation in the labor movement require its “pope” to resolve disputes that arise as a result of the inevitable conflict of interest between individuals and groups within the bureaucracy. To submit such disputes to the democratic process of discussion and action by the masses would endanger the existence of the bureaucracy as a whole. The bureaucrats fear this course as the devil fears holy water. With the hothouse growth of the Soviet bureaucracy after Lenin’s death, Stalin was elevated to the position of supreme arbiter of the parvenu bureaucratic caste and invested with the divine afflatus of infallibility.

In this sense the Chinese are correct in twitting Khrushchev about his indiscretion in seeking to place sole blame on Stalin for the crimes committed during his reign. There is, however, method to Khrushchev’s madness. His condemnation of the “cult of the personality” is calculated to absolve the bureaucracy of all responsibility for Stalin’s crimes. His task is greatly facilitated by the fact that once the supreme arbiter is firmly esconced upon this lofty perch the illusion is created that the “personality” has achieved complete independence from the bureaucratic machine that created him and that it is the man who manipulates and rules over the machine instead of the other way around. Khrushchev attacks the “cult of the personality” in order to conceal the ugly visage of the “cult” of the bureaucracy which continues to rule as before.

* * *

LET us scrutinize, in the light of this brief historical review, the tendentious analysis of the Marxist-Leninists of PLM of what went wrong with the American CP, when it happened and what to do about it.

“From the earliest days of the communist movement in the United States to the present,” we are informed, “revisionism and its political manifestation, class collaboration, has been the chronic weakness.”

Not so. While the PLM theoreticians are prone to use the term “revisionism” in the generic sense indicated above, in this instance they define its concrete political manifestation as “class collaboration.” In the “earliest days” of the American CP class collaboration was decidedly not its “chronic weakness.” In the period following the Russian revolution of 1917 the dividing line between the various tendencies in the socialist movement on an international scale was their attitude toward the October revolution.

The revisionists who preached and practiced the doctrine of class collaboration were solidly lined up in hostile antagonism to the Bolshevik revolution. The earliest CP’s, both in this country and abroad, were formed almost without exception out of splits over this question in the various parties of the Social Democracy. In this country the several Communist parties were established as a result of a split in the American Socialist party led by the left wing. The left wing split-off from the SP, together with the foreign language federations, comprised the cadres of communism which then split into contending parties each seeking recognition from the Communist International.

Disease of Ultra-Leftism

The basic weakness was not class collaboration but ultra-leftism. The tendency toward ultra-leftism was not at all peculiar to this country but was a malady that afflicted a number of the early communist groups in Europe. In fact, it was precisely against this desease that Lenin polemicized in his now famous pamphlet: Ultra-Leftism: An Infantile Disorder. Class collaborationists were not welcome in the Communist International of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s day.

But let’s proceed with our perusal of the PLM statement for a clue to this bowdlerized version of history.

“After the expulsion [in 1929] of Lovestone,” we are told, “the party developed a militant pragmatic approach which appealed to workers during the depression and produced a mass base for the CP.”

In the article by Carlisle, eulogizing Foster, we are instructed that:

“During the 1929-33 years of deepest crisis,” the American CP “came closer to being a correct Marxist-Leninist program for the US than anything that had been developed during the past 70 years.”

This is incredible! The years singled out for special approbation by PLM encompass what has gone down in history as the “Third Period.” The Sixth World Congress of the CI was held in 1928 under the aegis of the Stalin-Bukharin bloc. Bukharin headed the right-wing tendency in the CPSU which included such prominent leaders as Tomsky and Rykov. For the whole period prior to 1928 the Stalin bureaucracy proceeded on the Bukharin formula of a casual romp to socialism in which “socialism” would be established “at a snail’s pace.” The slogan at the time was: Kulak enrich thyself! The Left Opposition, under the leadership of Leon Trotsky, had repeatedly warned that the differentiation among the peasantry in the villages under the Stalin-Bukharin policy was strengthening the grip of the Kulak (rich peasants) on the peasant economy and solidifying their political control over the middle and poor peasantry.

The program of the Left Opposition presented an extensive criticism of the Stalin-Bukharin line and elaborated an alternative program of planned industrialization in the economic sphere and a restoration of workers’ democracy in the Soviets and the party. Needless to say, the program, of the Left Opposition was suppressed and the adherents of the opposition were slandered, expelled, jailed, and, in Trotsky’s case, exiled from the Soviet Union. This did not forestall the development of the crisis predicted by the Left Opposition. It erupted soon after the Sixth Congress when the Kulaks engineered a strike against the Soviet government which threatened to starve the cities into submission and brought the Soviet regime to the very brink of disaster.

Recoiling in panic from the spectre of capitalist restoration spearheaded by the Kulaks, Stalin responded with a sharp turn to the left. In startling contrast to the previous line, Stalin decreed the immediate liquidation of the Kulaks, the “forced march” to collectivization and the first of his series of five-year plans of rapid industrialization. These edicts were carried out in an atmosphere of virtual civil war. The Stalin-Bukharin program adopted at the Sixth Congress was quickly jettisoned.

Stalin broke with Bukharin, who was retired in disgrace, and proceeded to purge the Bukharinists from their positions of leadership in the various sections of the Comintern. In this country Jay Lovestone was tagged as the scapegoat because he was identified with the Bukharin line. Although commanding a majority at the March 1929 convention of the American CP, Lovestone was summoned to Moscow where he was detained while the Stalin machine engineered a switch in leadership. Characteristic of Stalin’s machinations, Foster, who was then the most prominent leader of the CP, was sidetracked, and a political nonentity by the name of Earl Browder was tagged as leader of the CP. Being absolutely dependent on Moscow for his authority, Browder was considered a more pliable instrument of Stalinist manipulation and Foster was shunted aside. Foster never forgave Browder for this humiliation.

To buttress his “left turn” in the Soviet Union, Stalin proclaimed the advent of the “Third Period” which was to herald the end of capitalism on a world scale. In the world outside the Soviet Union the tactics of the Third Period rested on the twin pillars of the theory of “social fascism” and the “united front from below.”

The theory and practice of “social fascism” was a patent absurdity. Lenin had previously characterized the reformist Social Democrats as social chauvinists, or social patriots, etc. His intention thereby was to pillory the reformists as socialist in words, but national chauvinists in deed; or socialist in word, but bourgeois patriots in deed. But what could the epithet “social fascism” mean? That the Social Democrats were socialist in word and fascist in deed? But the Hitlerite fascists aimed at destroying the Social Democrats by smashing the independent unions upon which they were based, and made no bones about it. Germany was the major arena in which the battle was to be fought out. According to the theory of “social fascism,” the Social Democracy, which commanded the support of the majority of the German working class, was the “main enemy.”

The Third Period tactic of the “united front from below” was another of Stalin’s unique contributions which wreaked havoc in the world labor movement. The tactic of the united front was worked out and codified at the Third World Congress of the CI which convened in Moscow from June 22 to July 12, 1921. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of the Bolsheviks, the post-war wave of revolutionary actions subsided after a number of serious defeats. The slogan advanced after the October revolution of the “conquest of power,” was amended because of the change in the objective situation. The Comintern modification was summed up in the slogan “the conquest of the masses.” That is, to win for the Communist parties the allegiance of a decisive section of the working class in preparation for the next revolutionary wave.

The Social Democrats still commanded the support of a considerable section of the European working class. The tactic of the united front was designed to unite the workers in action against capitalist reaction and for the defense of their interests. The tactic was devised to compel the leaders of the Social Democracy to enter united front actions on concrete issues in defense of the interests of the working class as a whole. In the process of such actions it was considered that the non-communist workers would be won over to the Communist parties as they became convinced of the treacherous nature of their reformist leaders. To forestall the expected attempt of the Social Democrats to limit and derail the united front actions, it was insisted that each organization maintain its independence. As Lenin phrased it: We march separately but strike together.

Stalin took this concept and gave it his own twist—which converted it into its opposite. If the Social Democracy and fascism were “twins,” as he insisted, a united front agreement with the leaders became impossible. To get around this dilemma Stalin concocted the “united front from below.” That is, the workers adhering to the parties of the Social Democracy were called upon to break with their leaders and join in actions organized and led by the Communist parties. But if they were prepared to go that far, why bother about applying the circuitous tactic of the united front? It didn’t make sense. The result was that there was no united front at all. On the contrary, in the name of the “united front from below” the Stalinists preceded to split the labor movement down the middle.

American Version of Third Period

In this country, and others, the Third Period lunacy became a hideous caricature. Worker militants, members of the Communist party together with their supporters, were yanked out of the existing trade unions and herded into pure “revolutionary” paper organizations under the leadership of the CP acting through the front of the Trade Union Unity League. The trade-union bureaucrats were tickled pink. At one fell swoop they had gotten rid of their most militant opposition elements. Needless to say, the paper unions of the TUUL were 100 per cent “revolutionary”—and 100 per cent impotent.

In this country the Third Period idiocy made little difference one way or another. It was in Germany, the key to the whole international situation, that it exacted a heavy toll. By splitting the organized German working class, the “theory” of social fascism and the tactic of the “united front from below,” paved the way for Hitler’s march to power. So complete was the demoralization of the German workers that Hitler’s hordes seized the power without a struggle.

The victory of Hitler in Germany marked the end of the so-called Third Period. It led to a sharp rightward swing in which the “united front from below” was transmuted into the “people’s front” at the Seventh World Congress of the CI in 1935. If anything, the “people’s front” line was an even crasser mutilation of Lenin’s united front tactic.

Third Period Stalinism can be aptly characterized as “infantile leftism” gone berserk. And it is this aberration that PLM now advocates as a model for building a “new” Marxist-Leninist revolutionary communist movement in this country. This, they contend, was the “heroic” period of the American CP. This view goes far to explain the pronounced tendency toward irresponsible adventurism which characterizes their activity. You can never give birth to a movement — progressive or otherwise—by propounding and following a course of infantile leftism, but you can spawn a numerous crop of victims, which is just about what the Stalinist Third Period line accomplished.

The PLM statement, cited above, attributes the development by the American CP of its Third Period line to “militant” pragmatism. I must confess that the distinction between “militant” pragmatism and the non-militant variety, as philosophical categories, eludes me. The implication is that under the leadership of Foster, the American CP arrived at their line independent of the Kremlin. Unfortunately for the authors of the statement, Foster says otherwise. In his History of the Communist Party, published in 1952, Foster relates that during a discussion in the CI on the “American question,” following the March 1929 convention, Stalin criticized both the majority [Lovestone] and the minority [Foster] for their “fundamental error in exaggerating the specific features of American imperialism.”

“It would be wrong,” the Kremlin sage observed, “to ignore the specific peculiarities of American capitalism. The Communist Party in its work must take them into account. But,” he quickly added, “it would be still more wrong to base the activities of the Communist Party on these specific features, since the foundation of the activities of every Communist Party, including the American Communist Party, on which it must base itself, must be the general features of capitalism, which are the same for all countries, and not its specific features in any given country.”

Under this formula, Stalin cemented his monolithic control over all sections of the CI. Policy originated in Moscow. And woe betide those who pleaded “specific peculiarities” to warrant an exception being made for their own section. From then on every twist and turn in Kremlin policy was religiously echoed in every section throughout the world, special national “peculiarities” to the contrary notwithstanding. Foster got the message. When it came to twisting in conformity with the latest edict from Stalin he was without a peer. This earned for him in the radical movement the appellation, William “Zig-zag” Foster. This is the peerless fighter against “revisionism” whom the PLM statement commends to: “Young radicals [who] can learn from and emulate the devotion to the working class and socialism of such outstanding communists as William Z. Foster.”

Page From CP History

In his panegyric on Foster the self-avowed Marxist-Leninist, Fred Carlisle, explains that the main authority upon whom he relies for an evaluation of Foster is Foster himself. He neglects to add that whole sections of his eulogy were lifted bodily from Foster’s History of the Communist Party, for which the original author is not credited. “Foster’s historical analyses of these struggles,” Carlisle affirms, “are quite helpful, being more accurate and objective than other available sources.” Irony itself stands disarmed before such monumental naivete. At any rate, among the many examples of Carlisle’s historical scholarship, we select one which raises an important question—Lenin’s concept of democratic centralism as contrasted with that of Stalin-Foster.

“In 1928,” we are enlightened, “James P. Cannon was expelled form the CP for supporting Trotsky’s left-deviationist doctrine. Upon his return from the sixth world congress of the Comintern, which had turned down an appeal from Trotsky in exile, Cannon began clandestinely distributing Trotskyite materials. Though Cannon had been a member of their group, Foster and Bittelman preferred the charges against him of disseminating Trotskyite propaganda, advocating withdrawal from existing trade unions, abandoning the united front and fomenting disruption. Eventually about 100 of Cannon’s followers were also expelled and, under Cannon’s leadership, formed an opposition league which later became the Socialist Workers Party, affiliated to the Fourth International.”

The charge of “clandestinely” circulating “Trotskyite materials,” is supposed to convey the impression that Cannon was engaged in some sneaky, underhanded, criminal activity, warranting the most drastic penalty. Precisely what was the nature of this contraband which the sly Cannon was “clandestinely” distributing to leaders and members of the American CP? The slander that it consisted of “propaganda advocating withdrawal from, the existing trade unions,” and “abandoning the united front,” etc., characteristic of the Stalin-Foster Third Period insanity, is downright ludicrous. The “materials” actually consisted of Trotsky’s article, Criticism of the Draft Program, which had been presented for the consideration of the delegates to the Sixth World Congress and which they were bureaucratically deprived of reading because it was suppressed by the Stalin-Bukharin machine. The article, which came into Cannon’s possession through accident, was later published serially in the first issues of The Militant, then the American organ of the Left Opposition.

Does our learned historian even bother to ask himself the question why Cannon found it necessary to distribute such materials “clandestinely?” Cannon was a member of the top political committee of the CP; he had gone to Moscow as a delegate of the American CP to the sixth congress. Wasn’t he entitled to submit whatever materials he possessed pertinent to the decisions of that congress in a discussion presumably called for that express purpose? But, no! By that time the Stalin pogrom against Trotskyism raged throughout the communist movement. Trotsky’s views were distorted, mutilated, or suppressed by the Stalin bureaucracy. The most effective theoretical weapon in the arsenal of the bureaucracy was the mailed fist—and they wielded it with abandon. And all of this, of course, in the name of “democratic centralism.”

A Deadly Affliction

As he did with so many of Lenin’s contributions, Stalin twisted the Leninist concept of democratic centralism into its opposite, bureaucratic centralism. Under Lenin’s concept of democratic centralism, as practiced in his lifetime, all a minority was obliged to do was to accept the decisions of the majority after democratic discussion and debate, leaving to the unfolding events to determine who was right and who wrong. Stalin gave this concept just one little twist and converted it into bureaucratic law that a minority must agree with the majority.

It is a psychological impossibility to expunge from one’s head views, opinions, and thoughts which might be at variance with the views, opinions, and thoughts of others. The practice of bureaucratic centralism inevitably led to the obscene spectacle of individuals driven to public confession of their “errors” in order to avoid summary expulsion or worse. All of this was embellished and dignified under the heading of “self-criticism” which, as practiced by Stalinism, could be more accurately defined as self-flagellation.

Trotsky once aptly characterized Stalinism as “the syphilis of the labor movement.” To urge upon the American workers a return to Stalin-Foster is to counsel a course which could only induce an aggravated case of locomotor ataxia. And that is one affliction we would not wish on our worst enemies.