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Historical Experience and the Theory of Permanent Revolution


Therefore the petty bourgeois intelligentsia which led the national liberation movements on the second half of the twentieth century has not played an independent role in conformity with the predictions of Trotsky, and has marched along the way opened by the Soviet bureaucracy which had been an international power in the given international conjuncture. And in the case of conquering power it transformed himself to a ruling bureaucratic class. This fact is so obvious that, a few national liberation movements still continuing to exist in the last decade of the past century, have begun to get rid of all their “Marxist-Leninist” symbols, rhetoric and programs just after the collapse of the USSR. And now they are trying to become reformist parties inside the capitalist system by abandoning their existence as guerrilla organisations, to rediscover the way of “democracy” and to find a “democratic” solution under the patronage of “international public opinion”.


The revolution pursues its course together with its class. If the proletariat is weak, if it is backward, the revolution confines itself to the modest, patient and persevering work of the creation of propaganda circles, of the preparation of cadres, supporting itself upon the first cadres, it passes over to mass agitation, legal or illegal, according to the circumstances. It always distinguishes its class from the enemy class, and conducts only such a policy as corresponds to the strength of its class and consolidates this strength. [Trotsky, A Strangled Revolution and Its Stranglers, June 12, 1931]

1925-1927 Chinese revolution or the second Chinese revolution not only remained as a terrific defeat thanks to the efforts of Stalinist bureaucracy which was about to announce its dominance in Soviet state, but also was prevented from being discussed adequately and in detail on the part of world communist movement. For that reason, a “people’s war” strategy based on guerrilla warfare which was developed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) emerged before the world labour movement as a fait accompli.

Although a conflict broke out between China and USSR shortly after the victory of Maoist revolution, and a serious tension arose, it could not be hoped that this situation would make the official communist intellectuals, those advocators of Moscow, to proceed their “questioning” of Maoist revolution to the point as back as 1925-27 Chinese revolution. Such an attempt would immediately face Stalinist bureaucracy who betrayed the revolution of 1925-27 with its obviously Menshevik policy. Moreover, as Trotsky explained, this policy was not the Menshevism of 1905, but of 1917. It can be said that, because Trotsky was an enemy of Stalin, it was normal for him to think so. But what should we say of the fact that, during the period under consideration, one of the foremost theoreticians of Stalin was a famous Menshevik, Martynov. The inventor of the theory of “bloc of four classes”, which was being supported by Stalin and which, in spite of the whole allegedly disagreement with USSR bureaucracy, was treated with great affection by the Maoist leadership, was not but Martynov. While the writings of Trotsky could not find place in Pravda, Martynov’s articles filled the pages.[1] A more striking fact of those days can be seen in the following lines quoted from the newspaper of Mensheviks sent into exile (Sotsialistichesky Vestnik) about the policy of the leadership of Stalin:

“In principle” the Bolsheviks were also for retaining the “united front” in the Chinese revolution up to the completion of the task of national liberation. On April 10, Martynov, in Pravda, most effectively and, despite the obligatory abuse of the Social Democracy, in a quite “Menshevik manner” showed the “left” Oppositionist Radek the correctness of the official position, which insists on the necessity of retaining the “bloc of four classes,” on not hastening to overthrow the coalition government in which the workers sit side by side with the big bourgeoisie, not to impose “socialist tasks” upon it prematurely. [No.8, (April 23, 1927), p.4][2]

Here is the reason of hiding the events, facts and the whole experience of Chinese revolution from the world communist movement. The only supporters of the treachery policy of Stalinist bureaucracy which has pretended to be Bolshevik were the Mensheviks who were in exile then! Somehow Stalin and his company “in a quite Menshevik manner” were carrying out the thought of the famous Menshevik leader, Dan! But that’s not all. Of course, one has a lot of things to learn from his enemy too. Just listen how the Mensheviks of the time, with their class motives, know well to distinguish the genuine Menshevik essence from the spurious Bolshevik jargon:

If we strip the envelope of words that is obligatory for the theses of a communist leader, then very little can be said against the essence of the “line” traced there. As much as possible to remain in the Kuomintang, and to cling to its left wing and to the Wuhan government to the last possible moment: “to avoid a decisive struggle under unfavourable conditions”; not to issue the slogan “all power to the soviets” so as not “to give new weapons into the hands of the enemies of the Chinese people for the struggle against revolution, for creating new legends that it is not a national revolution that is taking place in China, but an artificial transplanting of Moscow sovietization” –what can actually be more sensible for the Bolsheviks now, after the “united front” has obviously been irremediably destroyed, and so much porcelain has been smashed under the “most unfavourable conditions”? [Sotsialistichesky Vestnik, no.9 (151), p.1][3]

For Stalin, who attempted to prove his Bolshevism by accusing Trotsky with Menshevism, Bolshevik jargon was really nothing but “words that is obligatory for the theses of a communist leader”. For Stalinist bureaucracy, the flag of Leninism signified nothing other than a red varnish used to cover the counter-revolutionary deceptions of himself.

As the pro-Moscow intellectuals, the populist petty-bourgeois revolutionary intellectuals has had their objective grounds for disregarding 1925-27 revolution. The realisation of the national liberation which is the main goal of the Maoist people war, played a tremendous role in considering this strategy as a given and ready-made model for the young revolutionary cadres, who grew in an atmosphere of national liberation struggles in the colonies especially after the Second World War. Thus the lessons and the experiences of the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 became reduced to an entirely unimportant matter for these revolutionary intellectuals. It is in fact a direct result of petty-bourgeois class attitude of these revolutionary intellectuals dazzled with the “brilliant” victory of 1949 Chinese revolution to ignore the causes and the effects of the defeat and the experiences of the “defeated” 1925-27 revolution. As a rule, all petty-bourgeoisie from the well-educated ones to most ignorant, once again followed the power and the ones who hold the power. In fact, to expect these petty-bourgeois intellectuals to be interested in proletarian struggle which was the essence of 1925-27 revolution would be as much futile as expecting the Devil to swear off.

*  *  *

Maoism has been presented as the latest version of Marxism by Maoists and it has enjoyed a general acceptance in communist movement due to its influence on the “third world”. Maoist influence has found a broad net of friends: the old Soviet bureaucracy and its supporters, petty-bourgeois nationalist movements, Stalinist populism and even some sections of revolutionary Marxist movement, which had adapted themselves to the petty-bourgeois leftism.

We can call this broad common tendency generally as Third Worldism. This tendency, on the one hand, assumes a character of mitigating the conscience of the academicians of the advanced countries, and on the other hand, it is embodied in the personality of half-intellectuals and of populist revolutionaries as a petty-bourgeois nationalism based on a usage of hollowed Marxist ideas. A number of ideas, such as placing the revolutions in colonies, semi-colonies and backward countries in general at the centre of world revolution, raising the struggle against colonialism to the level of anti-imperialist struggle; that the imperialism is some sort of colonialism, and the imperialism consciously holds the peripheral countries in a backward state; understanding the national independence as an economical independence, considering socialism as an economic development model, have a good credit rating as the cornerstones of this current. Stalinism, as the most completed and most superior sort of petty-bourgeois socialism, has very quickly evolved toward reformism in the labour movement of the Western world, whereas in backward countries where it found a very much suitable ground for its petty-bourgeois nature, fusing with populism, created a rather sui generis understanding.

It is very important to overcome the theoretical confusion reproduced at a more intellectual level by some “revolutionary Marxist” circles who adapted themselves to the Third Worldism and hoodwinked by these movements. Here, we only touch briefly on the matters such as; why and how in backward countries had the petty-bourgeois leaderships entered a road which led to the liquidation of capitalism; what kind of problems arise in relation to the permanent revolution and where does the solution of these problems lie in our opinion. But first of all, it is necessary to take a glance at how in Trotskyist movement had this question been attempted to solve.

Degeneration of the Fourth International

Trotsky considered the Soviet bureaucracy as a parasitic caste within working class and concluded that in so far as the Soviet Union maintains the “gains” of October revolution such as the state ownership of the means of production, a planed economy and a monopoly on foreign trade, it must be considered as a degenerated workers’ state. Although Trotsky made some warnings especially in his last years by pointing out some different development lines, the position defended by the Fourth International (FI) after Trotsky’s death and even today did not change.

Soon after Trotsky’s death, the fact that USSR, as one of the victors of the Second World War, invaded Eastern Europe and laid the foundation of its own copies in these countries was not only saluted as a progressive step by FI but also seen as the proof of its capability of playing a revolutionary role. And this view has been carried to the point of defending the necessity of liquidation of the organisations of FI and joining into the Stalinist CPs. FI has disintegrated theoretically, politically and organisationally in these debates. The problem beneath the disintegration was once again the problem of degenerated workers’ state. Trotskyist movement divided in the theoretical plane into two main current; majority maintained that the USSR was a degenerated workers’ state, and the minority maintained it was a state capitalist country.

The Yugoslav and Chinese revolutions deepened further the confusion and the theoretical questions piled up before the Trotskyist movement. This time, the problem to be faced was not that of social transformation dictated from above by the Soviet Red Army. On the contrary, in these countries, revolutions took place on the basis of mobilisation of armed partisan detachments from below. This fact raised inevitably a serious theoretical question: How these states which has emerged from a revolution and attacked capitalist property must be called?

The sections of Trotskyist movement that defend the idea of degenerated workers’ state called these states too as workers’ states just like the USSR. Because, these states too had begun to establish the state property on the means of production, directed their way towards a planned production rather than a capitalist one and established a state monopoly on foreign trade. But the question was not only a question of the naming of these states. People Republic of China had been called as a workers’ state and this appraisal put inevitably another question on the agenda: if the Chinese republic was a workers’ state, then the Chinese revolution would have to be called as a proletarian revolution, i.e. a permanent revolution. And for the sake of consistency, they did so. Chinese revolution should have been a permanent revolution in which proletariat established its own hegemony, because the petty-bourgeoisie could not play an independent role and the vanguard role of this revolution had to be taken on by the proletariat. However, the debate, which proceeds with theoretical considerations up to this point, just at that point, become a question related to concrete facts of the world of realities. In reality, urban proletariat did not play a considerable role in the Chinese revolution. The main motor force of the revolution was People’s Liberation Army controlled by CCP and whose body was the peasantry. In this way, we are confronted with a proletarian revolution, in which proletariat did not participate neither directly nor indirectly, in which none of the methods of proletarian struggle played a decisive role, in which soviet-type organisations as an organ of insurrection and of power by no means appeared… and consequently a proletarian state as a product of it. At first, this strangeness was rejected. However, what was rejected was not the theoretical approach that didn’t match the facts of the real world, but precisely the concrete reality itself. They suggested that Chinese Communist Party was not a peasant party, and in the same way the People’s Liberation Army, too, was not a peasant army! They shouldn’t have been so, because no peasant party could play such an independent role! CCP was a workers’ party although a bureaucratised one, and insofar as the control of the army was in its hands, the peasants who constituted the body of this army should be considered as a case of peasantry following the proletariat! Thus, for the sake of loyalty to two main theses, i.e. the thesis of the theory of the permanent revolution on petty-bourgeoisie and the idea of degenerated workers’ state, they falsified not only the concrete reality, but also continued to esteem the counter-revolutionary Stalinism. The same non-serious and anti-Marxist approach has been continued to defend for the other revolutions arose in backward countries after the Chinese revolution. But the ineffectiveness of the proletariat in some of them was so sticking out like a sore thumb that this approach was attempted to strengthen with a number of new inventions. Just see the leader of Cuban revolution in your mind, Fidel Castro, unlike Mao who spent his years with a Stalinist jargon, was not a communist during the years of armed struggle. He realised that he was a Marxist-Leninist only after a several months following the capture of the power by a revolution! They attempted to respond this bizarre with the terms of the dynamics of permanent revolution or the process of permanent revolution. These “dynamics and processes” preaches that, in the imperialist epoch, every revolutionary leadership, who desires to solve truly the national democratic tasks, will inevitably have to enter the way of permanent revolution independent of its own class nature, of its aims and its methods. Once these dynamics discovered, they have been applied retrospectively to the revolutions China and Yugoslavia. Some regimes established by revolutions were “degenerated workers’ states right from the beginning”, some were merely “deformed workers’ states”, and some were “products of genuine socialist people’s revolutions.” But all of them somehow “carried out a permanent revolution unconsciously”!

As for the tendency of state capitalism led by Tony Cliff. Because he didn’t consider the USSR as a workers’ state, he didn’t fall into contradictions mentioned above. However he too was confronted with another question. If the revolutions that took place in the countries like China was able to solve some or the entire national democratic tasks, that placed before these countries, and resulted in a social system which was a kind of capitalism, then this would mean that the fundamental arguments of the theory of permanent revolution such as these tasks can only be solved by the working class, and the petty bourgeoisie is not able to play an independent role, were refuted. According to Cliff, in a situation in which the proletariat, the genuine subject of revolution, does not take part on the political arena, a deflection occurs in the process of permanent revolution leading to “state capitalist formations”. He called this deflected permanent revolution. To him these revolutions in backward countries can be understood with this point of view although there were some exceptions. Exceptions, too, could be understood only by a comparison with this model.

So, the general frame of the problem is clear. On the one side, there is an anti-Marxist approach followed from the arduous efforts of reconciling the concept of degenerated workers’ state with the revolutions in backward countries, and on the other side, there are a number of strangeness followed from the efforts toward reconciling the state capitalism with these same revolutions.

Falsification of historical reality and ignored views of Trotsky

In order to declare the regimes followed from the national liberation struggle in backward countries as workers’ states, either the class nature of these revolutions had to be consciously distorted or dynamics of permanent revolution independent from the leadership of these revolutions had to be discovered. FI has frequently resorted to both ways till present. Mandel, one of the most prominent figures of FI, calls CCP as a workers’ party. Furthermore, a non-Stalinist workers’ party! And Mandel condemns FI for sectarianism because of its attitude of not to accept the People Republic of China (PRC) as a workers’ state right after the Chinese revolution. This approach has got nothing to do with the Chinese reality and with Trotsky’s approach in 1930s. The truth is that, Trotsky’s assessments reveal the true nature of CCP not only without hiding anything but also with genius prediction about the future of this party. And the fact that the articles that include such assessments published in a more available form only as late as 1976 is very suspicious. Let us sum up briefly Trotsky’s views on the class nature of CCP.

First of all, CCP was a proletarian party in view of both its class composition and its work within the proletariat during its first period of 1921-27. But the terrific defeat, caused by the betrayal of Stalinism, crushed and dissolved its cadres. At the end of 1926, 66 percent of the party members were workers, but it decreased to 8 percent at the end of 1927, to 3 percent in 1929 and to 1.6 percent in 1930. And CCP had no connections in cities and city proletariat after then. In 1949 the Maoist CCP announced an ultimatum to the workers of cities when it seized the cities, demanding them to keep quite.

In spite of this concrete reality, one can find very little thing in Trotskyist literature about Trotsky’s assessments on CCP, with a number of critical remarks on Trotsky’s “lack of sufficient information on CCP!” But Trotsky’s views doesn’t seem to be inadequate. In October 1928 when the process of becoming a peasant party had just started, Trotsky wrote that:

After the decisive defeat suffered by the revolution in the cities, the party, for a certain time, can still draw tens of thousands of new members from the awakening peasantry. This fact is important as a precursory sign of the great possibilities in the future. But in the period under consideration it is only one form of the dissolution and the liquidation of the CCP, for, by losing its proletarian nucleus, it ceases to be in conformity with its historical destination.[4]

“To be in conformity with its historical destination”! The fact that FI doesn’t put forward the necessity of such a party for a revolution to become a permanent revolution in the beginning is a great irony for an organisation which claims to be the official follower of Trotsky! What Trotsky meant with “great possibilities” was a peasant war under the leadership and guidance of proletariat. Peasant war in China wasn’t the kind. One of the most important points in Trotsky’s assessment is the danger of liquidation of the party’s proletarian nature. This danger became a fact in a very short time. One year after these sentences, Trotsky said the following about the CCP entered a guerrilla war:

But what is the perspective opened up by this uprising of the today isolated Chinese communists in the absence of war or revolution? The perspective of a terrific debacle and of an adventurist degeneration of the remnants of the Communist Party. In the meantime, it must be said openly: Calculations based upon guerrilla adventure correspond entirely to the general nature of Stalinist policy.[5]

After 1930, Trotsky has considered peasant movements led by CCP as a peasant war. And until his death he hasn’t give up this qualification. According to him, without a genuine communist leadership and without the participation of industrial centres, creating a Soviet regime was absolutely impossible. Again in November 1930, Trotsky explained that appearing of communists at the head of a peasant war couldn’t change the concrete reality.

The fact that the communists, as the revolutionary and most self-sacrificing elements, appear at the head of the peasant movement and the armed peasant detachments, is quite natural in itself and is also exceptionally important in the symptomatic sense. But this does not change the fact that the Chinese workers find themselves throughout their vast country under the heel of the Chinese bourgeoisie and foreign imperialism. In what way can the proletariat realise “state hegemony” over the peasantry, when the state power is not in its hands? It is absolutely impossible to understand this. The leading role of the isolated communists and the isolated communist groups in the peasant war does not decide the question of power. Classes decide and not parties. The peasant war may support the dictatorship of the proletariat, if they coincide in point of time, but under no circumstances can it be substituted for the dictatorship of the proletariat.[6]

Is it possible to imagine a more heavy slap than the idea that the “classes decide and not parties”, to those people who claim that they themselves are able to start the process of social emancipation by substituting their own organisation in place of the revolutionary political struggle of the working class, while the proletariat doesn’t take its place in the political arena by its own class organisation, or to the others who mention that the socialist revolution can take place even without the proletariat. While dealing with the ideas that set forth by the Stalinist bureaucracy who supported the line of CCP by transforming the “successes” of CCP in countryside to its own source of pride, Trotsky states how CCP ceased to be a proletarian party:

What does the Communist Party represent? Quite unexpectedly we learn from this article that the Communist Party in the fall of 1930 numbered about “200,000 members”. … If in reality the party were to number fifty, forty, or even twenty thousand workers, after it had experienced the second Chinese revolution and had absorbed its lessons, we would say that this is a powerful force, and invincible; with such cadres, we can transform all of China. But we would also have to ask: Are these twenty thousand workers members of the unions? What kind of work are they linking up their organisations with the masses of the unorganised and of the rural periphery? And under what slogans?

… We can be certain that the lion’s share of these 200,000 –let us say from 90 to 95 percent– come from regions where the detachments of the “Red Army” are active. One has only to imagine the political psychology of the peasant detachments and the conditions under which they carry on their activity to get a clear political picture: the partisans, most probably, are almost all enrolled I the party, and after them the peasants in the occupied regions. The Chinese party, as well as the “Red Army” and the “soviet power,” has abandoned the proletarian rails and is heading toward the rural districts and the countryside.[7]

Statistical data we quoted above shows how Trotsky’s guess reflects the reality. But what is more important is that Trotsky, with his great experience, put forward the necessary questions to understand the class nature of a movement.

Mandel has defended that the leading cadres of the CCP and of the Peoples’ Liberation Army, was composed of proletarian and communist elements, although their body was made up of peasantry. Yet, for Trotsky, PLA was “peasant in composition and petty bourgeois in leadership”! But still, let us suppose for a moment that the situation was as Mandel asserted. Trotsky once again tells how this changes nothing:

But after all aren’t there communists at the head of the Chinese Red armies? Doesn’t this by itself exclude the possibility of conflicts between the peasant detachments and the workers’ organisations? No, that does not exclude it. The fact that individual communists are in the leadership of the present armies does not at all transform the social character of these armies, even if their communist leaders bear a definite proletarian stamp. And how do matters stand in China?

… It is one thing when a Communist Party, firmly resting on the flower of the urban proletariat, strives through the workers to lead a peasant war. It is an altogether different thing when a few thousand or even tens of thousands of revolutionists, who are truly communists or only take the name, assume the leadership of a peasant war without having serious support from the proletariat. This is precisely the situation in China.

… in China the causes and the grounds for conflicts between the army, which is peasant in composition and petty bourgeois in leadership, and the workers not only are not eliminated but, on the contrary, all the circumstances are such as to greatly increase the possibility and even the inevitability of such conflicts…[8]

Mandel states that, after 1937, tens of thousands of urban elements joined CCP, and he counts this as an indication that CCP “represents a social force which was proletarian in essence”.[9] Mandel wants to conceal that this participation was not but a result of the reaction of the urban petty bourgeois elements, and first of all the students, against the government of Chiang Kai-shek, which had done nothing serious in Sino-Japan war. The fact that there were also workers and, with the words of Trotsky, “a few thousand or even tens of thousands of revolutionists, who are truly communists or only use the name communist” among these participants, doesn’t change the reality even slightly.

The brilliant analysis and the predictions of Trotsky had been made seventeen years before the revolution of 1949, and they were verified exactly. Trotsky draws a conclusion from these incontestable assessments: “He who forgets about the dual nature of the peasantry is not a Marxist. The advanced workers must be taught to distinguish from among «communist» labels and banners the actual social processes.” Isn’t it obvious that who wasn’t able to learn this is FI?

“Dynamics of Permanent Revolution”

Assertions such as the dynamics of permanent revolution etc. which put forward by Mandel and his international current is incompatible with Marxism. Because Marxism doesn’t know a dynamic which works as a natural law independent of and other than the mutual struggles of classes, their own organisations and the class consciousness. Trotsky never talked about a dynamic of permanent revolution independent of a genuine revolutionary workers’ movement, a correct policy carried out by its internationalist communist vanguard party and, consequently, of conquest of power by the proletariat. Likewise while he was waging a polemic against the ideas put forward by Lominadze at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, Trotsky mentioned that in capitalist society every real revolution tends to become permanent and continued as follows:

The Chinese revolution contains within itself tendencies to become permanent insofar as it contains the possibility of the conquest of power by the proletariat. To speak of the permanent revolution without this and outside of it, is like trying to fill the cask of the Danaides. Only the proletariat, after having seized the state power and having transformed it into an instrument of struggle against all the forms of oppression and exploitation, in the interior of the country as well as beyond its frontiers, gains therewith the possibility of assuring a continuous character to the revolution, in other words, of leading it to the construction of a complete socialist society. A necessary condition for this is to carry out consistently a policy that prepares the proletariat in good time for the conquest of power. Now, Lominadze has made of the possibility of a permanent development of the revolution (on the condition that the communist policy be correct) a scholastic formula guaranteeing at one blow and for all time a revolutionary situation “for many years”. The permanent character of the revolution thus becomes a law placing itself above history, independent of the policy of the leadership and of the material development of revolutionary events.[10] [our emphasis]

According to Mandel, in “pragmatist leaderships” as the leadership of CCP, it should be looked to what they did rather than what they said. However, when these two contradict with each other, he skips over the necessity of making a Marxist analysis of this contradiction. In FI’s opinion, leadership of CCP was a hidden Trotskyist one, and it unconsciously carried out a permanent revolution! As for Tito, who was the leader of Yugoslav revolution, he supposedly was closer to Trotsky! P. Frank, one of the leading figures of FI, has gone so far to say that, in China there was a permanent revolution that didn’t necessitate proletarian uprisings in 1949. According to Frank, Maoist leadership “acknowledged only after 12 years that it managed a permanent revolution.”[11] According to Mandel, although the leaders of CCP, at the very beginning, proposed various views in relation to PRC such as the “bloc of four classes” etc., the acceptance of it by them as a dictatorship of proletariat in a short time, has meant that they in fact accepted quietly and unobtrusively the rightfulness of Trotsky.[12]

Light and anti-Marxist views of this kind cannot be related with Trotsky or Lenin. As stated above by Trotsky, the permanent character of a revolution depends on the conquest of power by the proletariat by means of its self-organisations. And insofar as a revolutionary Marxist leadership doesn’t lead the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses, this kind of revolutions can’t have a chance to be a victorious proletarian revolution. History, unfortunately, is not so generous to grant the “pragmatist leaderships”, who will recognise what they will have done only after 12 years, with the honour of solving an historical question as colossal as the emancipation of humanity, i.e. the victory of the proletarian revolution in a world wide scale. If this were the case, then there would be no need for revolutionary Marxists.

The possibility of a revolution to be permanent flows from the internal contradictions of an historical period opened by the political rule of the proletariat. The proletariat who seize the power to solve the democratic tasks, also finds itself, quickly and inevitably, in a position to solve its own class problems. The contradiction that flows from a situation that, while at the one hand he holds in his hand a Commune type state apparatus based on his self-organisation, in other words while he is organised as an armed force, on the other hand he maintains his position of being a waged slave in the sphere of economical relations, forces him ultimately to settle the account of bourgeois property. The proletariat, if he has a true leadership, will firstly enter a road of making profound breaches in this property, and then, in a short time, he will begin to liquidate the bourgeois property over the means of production. This is what must be understood from the permanence of revolution. The conquest of power by the proletariat doesn’t complete the revolution, on the contrary, only starts it. Thus, what brings the proletariat to the power is not the permanent character of a revolution; on the contrary, the precondition of a path of permanent revolution to be opened is the proletariat’s rising itself to the level of ruling class, that is, proletariat’s conquest of power by basing itself on its self-organisations.

Considering the 1917 Russian February revolution as a democratic and the October revolution as a socialist one is a distinctive view of the Stalinists. But the only thing that the February revolution carried out was the overthrowing of the Tsarist regime and substituting it with a powerlessness or a dual power. Democratic revolution in Russia had won a victory only after the Soviets, which led by Bolsheviks, held all the power to its own hands. The nationalisation of land, the recognition of the right of self-determination of the oppressed nations under the pressure of Tsarism, convening of a Constituent Assembly and the starting of the peace negotiations which was a specific problem of the Russian revolution, all of these were became possible merely with the October revolution. The revolution began assuming a permanent character just with the October. It must be remembered that the Soviet power did not liquidate the bourgeois property until the autumn of 1918, it limited itself with making deep breaches in it by means of workers’ control. But in spite of this, driven by the contradiction we mentioned above Russian workers proceed to nationalise spontaneously many enterprises, big or small, in every region of the country, to hold the management of these enterprises in their hands and to show bourgeoisie the door. As is always, law came after deed. The bourgeois property was liquidated first in deed, then officially, and after that the civil war broke out.

With such anti-Marxist theses, the theoreticians like Mandel has also dealt heavy blows to the idea of world revolution and internationalism, which constitute one of the most important cornerstones of the theory of permanent revolution. Although the proletarian revolution might start on a national scale, it can be completed only on a world wide scale. If we call the conquest of power by a petty bourgeois leadership a permanent revolution, then what is the difference between the perspectives of permanent revolution and of national revolution? The permanence of revolution describes not a phenomenon that can be grasped merely on a national scale, but a struggle that would continue on the international arena until the final and complete victory of socialism. With the words of Trotsky, the permanence of revolution, “in a newer and more modern sense”, carries also a meaning of its growing into an international revolution. Seen from this point, in contrast to all kind of petty bourgeois revolutionary perspectives of which historical borders and the political horizon is bounded with a national liberation, the proletariat puts before of him a perspective of social emancipation based on the liquidation of capitalism on the universal scale. As an isolated proletarian state in a country, will inevitably be overthrown sooner or later, so the proletarian revolution, which was isolated in a country, will lose its permanent character. Such a revolution can’t be named, in the real meaning of the word, as a victorious one. A revolution of this kind will only leave all in all a humble mark on the world labour movement as a very valuable experience, as Lenin said.

Has the theory of permanent revolution “deflected”?

The question that was discussed both by Lenin and Trotsky was how the tasks, which are standing before the backward countries and belong historically to the category of bourgeois democratic tasks, would be fulfilled. Neither Lenin nor Trotsky ever defended that the proletariat could fulfil these tasks spontaneously and with a low level of consciousness and organisation. In order to carry out these tasks successfully, it was and is necessary for the proletariat to organise both syndically and politically, to have its part in the arena of political struggle on the basis of its independent class interests and of course under the leadership of its independent vanguard party, to reach a certain level of experience and political maturation by passing through a series of various struggles, partial rebellions and lastly maybe revolutions that end with a defeat. That is why, although it ended with a defeat, the Russian revolution of 1905 has been considered as a rehearsal of October revolution by the Marxists. And they argued that without this rehearsal, the October revolution could never be achieved. In the same way, neither Lenin nor (in contrast to Tony Cliff’s argument) Trotsky ever mentioned a role of revolutionary leadership of proletariat that is assured and self-contained. Such a role of leadership exists merely as a potential, and it can be acquired only and only with an organisation and by means of the struggle.

Even in his early Results and Prospects Trotsky had put the problem of the conquest of the power not as a necessity, a natural law independent of class struggle, but as a probability which flows out of the character, inner connections and the method of the class struggle. What lies under this probability is that in the epoch of imperialism proletariat is the unique force capable of bringing a complete and genuine solution to the tasks of bourgeois democratic revolution.

This fundamental proposition of Trotsky was absolutely verified. The bourgeois democratic tasks that stand before the backward countries experiencing a belated capitalist development can be summed up in three categories: the question of democratic republic and political liberties, the land question, the question of national independence and national unity. When we look at the countries which liquidated the capitalist production relations such as China, Vietnam, Cuba etc. on the on side, or which entered, partly through reconciliation and partly struggle, in a capitalist course of development such as Turkey, India etc. on the other side, we see that all the national revolutions in the 20th century has not been able to solve these questions in a consistent and complete way. All of these revolutions achieved mainly the task of national independence and unity, but one or both of the other two tasks remained unresolved. Although the revolutions that took place in the countries that we have placed in the first category such as China, Cuba etc. have solved the land question in a period of time by means of nationalisation, the questions of democracy and of political-syndical liberties remained as they were and, worse still, the masses under the regime of bureaucratic dictatorship was deprived even of their most basic democratic rights. As for the revolutions that took place in the countries which we have placed in the second category such as Turkey, they, in no way whatsoever, touched the question of agrarian revolution and they didn’t take the necessary steps in the question of democracy and of political liberties, which could be expected from a bourgeois democratic revolution from a historical point of view. As a result, usually authoritarian and totalitarian regimes have emerged in these countries of second category.

So, as long as the proletariat does not come to power, one can talk about the solution of these tasks only in part and only as a caricature, but never as a genuine, complete and total solution. In this context, “the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.[13] This means that there was also another solution which was not, in Trotsky’s words, “complete and genuine”, and in Lenin’s words, “not carried to the end”. This was the case in the examples we’ve mentioned above. In fact Trotsky has never defended at all that the “complete and genuine” solution was feasible for every country. On the contrary, while Stalinism has divided countries into two categories as the mature and immature countries for socialism, Trotsky explained that no countries, taken alone, could be mature for socialism. And then instead of this classification he proposed another division: backward countries mature for a proletarian dictatorship, and immature for it. The most important aspect of this division is that, it excludes such mechanical considerations which consider each country as an isolated whole and make deductions just on the basis of lifeless economical data, and considers them in conjunction with the world capitalism and the class struggle waged on an international scale, with the dynamics of class struggle within these countries, with the level of development of political consciousness and of organisation of the proletariat, and with the assessment of the mutual positions of the classes. Trotsky stated without leading to any confusion that there were, despite all this, countries that were not yet mature for the dictatorship of proletariat and mentioned that just for this reason these countries were not yet ready to a complete and genuine solution of the tasks of bourgeois democratic revolution: “A backward colonial or semi-colonial country, the proletariat of which is insufficiently prepared to unite the peasantry and take power, is thereby incapable of bringing the democratic revolution to its conclusion.[14] This is not a pre-determinable matter. In order for the proletariat to play a role of political leadership in a backward country, there is obviously a threshold level of capitalist development that should be reached by that country. In a backward country in which the capitalist production relations have not yet become the dominant one and have not got hold of the nerve centres of economic life (this is not at all a matter of 50 percent plus one), in which the cities have not been the decisive factor in the political and cultural life of society; in a country, the proletariat of which has not yet shaped even as a class-for-itself and did not have an experience of struggle and organisation at all, talking about a revolutionary proletarian movement is a fantasy. But still, nobody can precisely determine such a threshold in advance. The sole criterion for solving this problem is not but the struggle:

The concrete, historical, political, and actual question is reducible not to whether China has economically matured for “its own” socialism, but whether China has ripened politically for the proletarian dictatorship. These two questions are not at all identical. They might be regarded as identical were it not for the law of uneven development. This is where this law is in place and fully applies to the interrelationship between economics and politics. Then China has matured for the dictatorship of the proletariat? Only the experience of the struggle can provide a categorical answer to this question. By the same token, only the struggle can settle the question as to when and under what conditions the real unification, emancipation, and regeneration of China will take place. Anyone who says that China has not matured for the dictatorship of the proletariat declares thereby that the third Chinese revolution is postponed for many years to come.[15]

In other words, there is not a necessity such that the backward countries have to cope with the bourgeois democratic tasks, lest these tasks stand before these countries. Nor the proletariat must a priori be mature enough to cope with those tasks. Thus Tony Cliff’s argument that Trotsky always presupposed a proletariat capable of playing a revolutionary role under all conditions is groundless. No. The theory of permanent revolution has not “deflected”, on the contrary, all the fundamental propositions of it were verified.

Has the petty bourgeoisie played an independent role?

In the countries in the second category we mentioned above, the national liberation movements have resulted in the emergence of independent bourgeois states, and the liquidation of pre-capitalist relations have spread in a process of evolution, the tempo of which depends upon the degree of integration of these countries to the world market. For this reason, we can say that the democratic revolutions in those countries could be completed only in an evolutionary process. And this verifies the theory of permanent revolution in a negative way. In those countries, we cannot, at any rate, talk about an independent role played by the petty bourgeois leaderships of the national liberation movements. It can be said that this kind of leaderships, at most, laid the groundwork for the success of the big bourgeoisie.

As for the countries in the first category, one can see that the national liberation movements have concluded not with the independent bourgeois states, but with the establishment of bureaucratic dictatorships in the kind of USSR. It is obvious that these states were not workers’ states. But it is also so much obvious that these were not a bourgeois state either. Now, this is where the problem begins. In this case, the only alternative remained in our hand seems to be that those states would be in a petty bourgeois character. Nevertheless this conclusion openly contradicts with the fundamental proposition of Marxism that the petty bourgeoisie cannot play an independent role.

The peasantry” said Trotsky, “followed in all decisive moment either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. The so-called peasants’ parties can hide this fact but cannot abolish it.” However, we know that, Trotsky was considering the CCP and the army under its control as an organisation the body of which was made up of  peasants and the leadership was composed of petty bourgeois elements. And the revolution of 1949 took place just under the leadership of this organisation! Then, how could it be that this peasant party under the name of CCP played an independent role from both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, took the power and even fifty years after still holds the state power?

The heart of the answer lies in the Soviet bureaucracy which had already established its rule in the USSR. “The short twentieth century” cannot be understood outside the October revolution and the Stalinist dictatorship that emerged from the liquidation of this revolution by a counter-revolution. The October revolution deviated, even though temporarily, the march of capitalism from its own path in the twentieth century. The economic policies based on the attempts to regulate capitalism, the social policies to develop a “social state” (“the welfare state”) etc. in advanced countries cannot be thought independent from the existence of the USSR. In the same way, a series of phenomena –relative decrease in colonial pressure of advanced capitalist countries on the backward countries, de-colonisation policies, condoning more or less to the national liberation revolutions taken place in the backward countries– cannot be considered independent from the emergence of USSR in the world arena as an international power (although, of course, this wasn’t the only and the decisive factor). The existence of the USSR represented an additional coercive factor in order capitalism, which had already entered the stage of imperialism, to develop an integrated and de-colonised world market and on this basis an integrated capitalist world economy. Especially in the atmosphere of cold war grown after the Second War; the attempts to cool the hot class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and the liquidation temporarily of the revolutionary workers’ movement or at least reducing it to a marginal existence in the advanced capitalist countries led the revolutionary intelligentsia of the backward countries to an absolute necessity of making an ideological choice between the world under the leadership of USSR and the world under the leadership of USA.

Now, the “exceptional role” played by the Chinese petty bourgeois revolutionists, is explainable not with the internal dynamics of the Chinese revolution, but instead with the appearance of Soviet bureaucracy at the international arena as an independent third social class different from both the world proletariat and the world bourgeoisie. In his writings on Chinese revolution Trotsky stated time and again that, if we took into account the given low level of development of China, the possibility of the social content of Chinese revolution to go beyond the frame of capitalism could only be thinkable in connection with the course of class struggle on the world scale.

Considering the same international factor, it can be said that, together with the policy of forced collectivisation and rapid industrialisation, which begun in the first years of 1930s soon after the establishment of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s rule in the USSR, a “socialist” development model have become a subject increasingly discussed even in the bourgeois academic world. After the Second War, together with the emergence of the USSR as a victor and a superpower, this model has proved its reliability and its strength especially in the eyes of petty bourgeois intelligentsia. This model, the ideological, political and the organisational frame of which already sketched by the Stalinist Soviet bureaucracy represented a new solution for the emancipation from the colonial pressure, the national oppression and humiliation, the economic and cultural backwardness, and consequently for the modernisation, industrialisation and development especially in the eyes of the nationalist intelligentsia of backward countries. Moreover, the one party dictatorship presented as the superstructure of this model of development has coincided with the intrinsic characteristics, with the indistinguishable parts of the nature of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia such as careerism, inclining to feel himself as a part of society while on the other hand humiliate it to the end, the desire to distinguish himself continuously as an elite stratum, the drive to gain material and social privileges in payment for the “sufferings” he bore, and finally the passion to show himself proudly off before the society as a messiah. In fact for the petty bourgeois intelligentsia, the concrete existence of the USSR as a power challenging the Western world represented a Kaaba, to which he could turn his face. Trotsky explains very well those drives of the petty bourgeois leaders and of the “commanders” in the following lines:

Among the Communist leaders of Red detachments there indubitably are many declassed intellectuals and semi-intellectuals who have not gone through the school of proletarian struggle. For two or three years they live the lives of proletarian struggle. For two or three years they live the lives of partisan commanders and commissars; they wage battles, seize territories, etc. They absorb the spirit of their environment.

Meanwhile the majority of the rank and file Communists in the Red detachments unquestionably consists of peasants, who assume the name of Communist in all honesty and sincerity, but who in actuality remain revolutionary paupers or revolutionary petty proprietors. In politics he who judges by denominations and labels and not by social facts is lost. All the more so when the politics concerned is carried out arms in hand…

The commanding stratum of the Chinese “Red Army” has no doubt succeeded in inculcating itself with the habit of issuing commands. The absence of a strong revolutionary party and of mass organisations of the proletariat renders control over the commanding stratum virtually impossible. The commanders and the commissars appear in the guise of absolute masters of the situation and upon occupying cities will be rather apt to look down from above upon the workers. The demands of the workers might often appear to them either inopportune or ill-advised.

Nor should one forget such “trifles” as the fact that within cities the staffs and offices of the victorious armies are established not in the proletarian huts, but in the finest city buildings, in the houses and apartments of the bourgeoisie; and all this facilitates the inclination of the upper stratum of the peasant armies to feel itself part of the “cultured” and “educated” classes, in no way part of the proletariat.[16]

This mood of so-called Chinese communists, expressed above can be generalised directly to all petty bourgeois revolutionists in the backward countries. History proved a million times that Trotsky was not at all mistaken in his prognosis.

When Trotsky formulated in 1906 that the petty bourgeoisie had before it two choices of following either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat, there was not a phenomenon such as the Soviet bureaucracy yet. In his The Permanent Revolution, where he elaborated and developed his approach, the USSR had not yet become a world power. However, even when the Soviet bureaucracy appeared with all its magnificence, Trotsky considered this bureaucracy as a stratum of the working class. This has been the incorrect idea! The problem finds a solution if the Soviet bureaucracy is considered as an independent state-class, although it lacked a stability on a world-historical scale under the circumstances of the existing world capitalism and was a reflection of the old Asiatic tradition extending to the twentieth century rather than being a new world-historical social system. This temporary sui generis historical phenomenon laid down the basis of a petty bourgeois mobilisation (we call it Stalinist populism) which is a sui generis phenomenon in the twentieth century, too. Hence no need to say that the petty bourgeoisie has overcome its political impotence intrinsic in his nature. And we can reach a scientific assessment of the events of the past century without resorting to falsifications of the historical facts as Mandel did or of the theory of permanent revolution as Cliff did. Because there were not only two paths which could be followed by the petty bourgeoisie. The USSR and the path represented by it introduced a new third alternative.

Essentially there is no basic difference between the case of engagement of petty bourgeois revolutionary leaderships to this road more or less before the conquest of power in the countries such as China, Yugoslavia and Vietnam etc. (in all these, the leader of the movement was the official CP) and the case of entering this road only months after capturing the state power in the others such as Cuba, Nicaragua etc. In both cases, the fundamental decisive factor was that the staying of the “national” bourgeoisie away from the national liberation movement owing to fear from the mobilisation of the masses, the inability of proletariat to play a leading role because of its weakness and its lack of organisation, and the remaining of the choice of “the development model” presented by the USSR as the only one.

Therefore the petty bourgeois intelligentsia which led the national liberation movements on the second half of the twentieth century has not played an independent role in conformity with the predictions of Trotsky, and has marched along the way opened by the Soviet bureaucracy which had been an international power in the given international conjuncture. And in the case of conquering power it transformed himself to a ruling bureaucratic class. This fact is so obvious that, a few national liberation movements still continuing to exist in the last decade of the past century, have begun to get rid of all their “Marxist-Leninist” symbols, rhetoric and programs just after the collapse of the USSR. And now they are trying to become reformist parties inside the capitalist system by abandoning their existence as guerrilla organisations, to rediscover the way of “democracy” and to find a “democratic” solution under the patronage of “international public opinion”. To relate this transformation to the “renegade” leaders shows only how alien are those people who are unable to grasp the true nature of these leaderships to Marxism. These leaderships have betrayed neither to their proletarian and Marxist attributes, which they never had, nor to their petty bourgeois nature. The only thing to which they betrayed is at most the immature dreams of the people who embroidered them with all sorts of attributes they did not have. To relate this transformation to the great change in international balance of forces and to the disappearance of the political and military role played by Soviet bureaucracy on the world arena would be a more realist, more materialist and more scientific approach. The approaches of both FI and Tony Cliff, just because of their inability to grasp the true nature of the USSR are also incapable of understanding the nature of the national liberation movements taken place under the its ideological banner (or of another Stalinist Kaaba such as China, Cuba or Albania), of grasping the narrow nationalist horizon of these movements and of making correct predictions about the evolution before this kind of movements in the new period we have just stepped in.



[1]     Whoever read a little bit Lenin’s writings knows how Lenin waged a ruthless struggle against Martynov.

[2]     Quoted by Trotsky, “The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin” (May 7, 1927), On China, Pathfinder Press, 3rd Edition, p.165

[3]     Quoted by Trotsky, ibid, pp.196-7

[4]     Trotsky, “The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress”, On China, p.347

[5]     Trotsky, “What Is Happening in China?”, On China, p.424

[6]     Trotsky, “A Retreat in Full Disorder”, On China, p.486

[7]     Trotsky, “What Is Happening in the Chinese Communist Party?”, On China, pp.512-3

[8]     Trotsky, “Peasant War in China and the Proletariat”, On China, pp.525-7

[9]     E. Mandel, Revolutionary Marxism Today, New Left Review Editions, London, 1979, pp.157-8

[10]    Trotsky, “The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress”, On China, p.349

[11]    P. Frank, “The Theory of Permanent Revolution”.

[12]    E. Mandel, Trotsky As An Alternative.

[13]    Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, chapter 10, p. 276.

[14]    Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, chapter 10 (emphasis added)

[15]    Trotsky, “Summary and Perspectives of the Chinese Revolution”, On China, ibid, p.324

[16]    Trotsky, “Peasant War in China and the Proletariat”, On China, p.525 and 526