Anarchism / Marxism debates

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Aug 23 07:59:54 MDT 1999

>that is, as a precondition for socialism. (Just as an aside:
>who is to say that Marx new better than Lenin about the
>nature of Russian society?)

This for me is a fascinating question. I think the answer is definitely
Marx. To expand on what I wrote a few days ago  on the subject, Lenin was
Plekhanov's disciple in the 1890s. His book on the development of
capitalism in the Russian countryside was written under the strong
influence of Plekhanov as part of an "orthodox" Marxist attack on the
remnants of populism, which by this time had degenerated into reformism. So
it was progressive to answer the populists by undercutting their main
ideological defense, that the agrarian communes could serve as a
springboard for socialism. If Lenin could prove--and he did--that
capitalism had already destroyed them, then another class basis for
socialism must be found, namely the urban working class.

The only problem is that Plekhanov's orthodoxy--which was basically
Kautskyist orthodoxy--saw Russia as by necessity undergoing a prolonged
capitalist stage before socialist revolution was attempted. In 1909 Lenin
writes an article arguing that Russia could not be the site of a Paris
Commune type revolution, because it had not had its "1789". This was not
just Bolshevik orthodoxy, but socialist orthodoxy in general. There were no
differences between Lenin and Martov on this key question, just one of
emphasis. Lenin tended to discount the role of the liberal bourgeosie and
saw Marxist participation in a post-Tsarist government as having a radical
Jacobin character.

The only exception to this orthodoxy came from Trotsky, who strongly
influenced by Parvus, argued in favor of "permanent revolution" which
stated that the democratic revolution would quickly transform itself into a
socialist revolution. This in fact was the same argument made by Marx
during the German revolution of the 1860s. He even used the term "permanent
revolution" to describe a possible dynamic in which German workers and
peasants would sweep past the democratic tasks and overthrow the Junkers
and liberal bourgeoisie in one process.

After Trotsky was exiled from the USSR, he promoted his idea of permanent
revolution but actually wrote very little about the colonial world. He was
preoccupied with fascism and thermidor in the USSR and the only place in
which the theory was applied, although indirectly, was in Spain which
Trotsky saw as a replay of the Russian revolution. He saw the Spanish
republic as a Kerenskyist phenomenon and advocated its overthrow by workers
and peasants in October, 1917 terms. The only problem, however, is that
sectarianism had taken hold of the Trotskyist movement at its birth
virtually prevented the Spanish section from getting a hearing. The
imperfect (in Trotskyist terms) POUM did get a hearing, but was wiped out
by fascist arms and Stalinist betrayal.

So in general terms, the theory of permanent revolution still makes sense.
If you wait until the democratic revolution is consummated, you will never
have socialism. In doing some background research on Colombia, I stumbled
across the most amazing article by the head of the Uruguayan CP in 1961.
Attempting to "draw the lessons" of the Cuban revolution, he states that
the possibility for "democratic revolutions of national liberation" were
now more possible than ever. This is just a Stalinist buzzword for
supporting the liberal bourgeoisie.

The Stalinist and Trotskyist movement, which represented reformist and
sectarianist methodologies respectively, wended their way through the 20th
century. In every country, they enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. The CP's
were massive organizations leading powerful mass movements, but stopping
short of socialist revolution--South African being a prime example. And in
every case, South Africa included, there were tiny Trotskyist parties just
like in Spain (can't even remember their name, can we?) "making the record"
like Russell Grinker does about their perfidious betrayal.

I am proposing a break with this dialectic, which would seem to be
facilitated by the collapse of the USSR. It is high time that Marxists put
this tradition behind us and think more creatively about the tasks that
confront us. To see everything through the prism of October 1917 does not
really help us at all. That is one of the main reasons I stress studying
Mariategui, even though his works in print are somewhat difficult to come
by. It is not widely known, but Latin American Marxism has a powerful
Mariateguist tradition that was felt in Farubundo Marti's peasant revolt in
El Salvador in 1931, the Cuban revolution and Sandinista Nicaragua. There
is no "secret" to Mariateguism. It is simply Marxism applied to the
national framework of the class struggle, which was basically all
"permanent revolution" was about. Our curse was to have been the heirs of
an inner-party struggle of Russian Communism which led to an international
organization--the Comintern--and its dialectical opposite--the Fourth
International--which both stifled independent, creative Marxist thought for
several generations. It is now time to turn the page.

Louis Proyect


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