Anarchism / Marxism debates

David Welch david.welch at
Mon Aug 23 14:09:38 MDT 1999

Well in terms of revolutions achieved, Lenin would seem to be at least one
up on both the populists and Marx. Moreover Lenin's writings attacking the
populists were not just an attack on populism as reformism but a
demonstration (on the basis of Marx's theory) that capitalism could
develop in the era of imperialism.

If peasant communes could serve as a springboard for socialism then why
didn't they? I'm sure Russian peasants didn't need Marx to tell them they
could have a revolution. It would seem that a revolution requires mass
political parties, increasing literacy and the ability to produce and
distribute printed materials, the development of native intellectuals and
so forth. All of which are the products of capitalism, even in the form of
imperialism domination.

I don't fault Lenin for not being able to predict the exact course of the
Russian revolution, if there had been a 1789 in Russia (which was by no
means unthinkable) and the working class had been unable to take power
then I would see no problem with the vanguard party pushing for both
revoltuionary-democratic and economic reforms. In the event it proved both
possible and necessary for the workers and peasants to take power

The course of October refutes the idea of "sweeping past the democratic
tasks" as the Bolshevik party realised when they rejected Trotsky's plans
for labour armies and military discipline in factories as well as for
liquidating the kulaks too early (and finally rejected Trotskyism
wholesale). In fact it was nearly twenty years until socialism was
achieved in the USSR.

On Mon, 23 Aug 1999, Louis Proyect wrote:
> 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.

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