Question on Stagism for Lou

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Apr 11 06:49:11 MDT 2002

>I can agree that this piece is flawed. I was looking around their website (I
>couldn't find the article) but instead I found - Lenin's two-stage strategy
>of revolution (see under A history of the DSP Part 2). What do you make of
>this? It seems very similar to the stuff the US SWP put out on the same
>subject. I have to agree with a lot of their criticisms of the traditional
>Trotskyist positioning and thinking.

It is not just similiar, it is exactly what the SWP was saying. After these
two groups cut all ties to each other, they continued to shared a belief in
the superiority of the two-stage strategy. I have never been able to figure
out why this is such a superior theory. After all, when Lenin submitted the
April Theses to the Bolshevik central committee, it was rejected because it
violated the two-stage strategy. If Lenin had froze to death on that German
train--who knows--there might not have been a Bolshevik revolution.

>The question to me of stagism or permanent revolution is that they are both
>non-dialectical ways of analysing situations - it's like trying to fit the
>huge variety of concrete situations into a particular model. These
>generalised rulebooks which work absolutely everywhere seem to me to be a
>parody of the sort of analysis we need to be doing.

Trotsky never wrote much about permanent revolution after 1917. He never
intended for it to be a formula. If you read his articles on China or
Spain, they are mostly concerned with the question of inter-class
alliances. For his epigones, the theory has turned into a kind of mantra to
be trotted out on all occasions. It can become ludicrous. For example, when
Kabila rose to power in Zaire (now Congo), every Trotskyist sect and
individual on the planet (except in the Congo itself) began calling for
permanent revolution, soviets and all the rest. This was done without a
class analysis of the Congo, which would have required a serious
examination of the role of the informal sector, ethnic divides, etc.
Whatever else you want to say about Trotsky, his writings on permanent
revolution were deeply imbued with Russian reality.

>Prioritisation of the achievement of 'National Democratic' objectives can be
>a very vague term and could almost be used to justify anything. At the same
>time, Permanent Revolution theory can lead to the worst forms of
>'ultra-leftism'. I don't think that there could be a simple theory which
>would apply in all cases. What's the difference between Nicaragua or the
>USSR - what is the correct way to analyse both?

Absolutely. This is from my article on Nicaragua at:


A close examination of Nicaragua before the revolution would reveal that it
had some unusual characteristics for a Central American country.

In the first place, Nicaragua was not a "banana republic" like other
Central American nations, including Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica. It
had minor banana production, but this reflects a more significant fact:
Nicaragua's economy was not based on plantation agriculture. As a result,
it did not have the corresponding exploiter and exploited classes
associated with this form of property ownership. The plantation bourgeoisie
typically has a huge economic investment in land and labor. Foreign capital
often has ties to this sector of the capitalist class. Since Nicaragua
lacked a capitalist class of this type in significant proportions, it also
lacked the type of labor force that is associated with plantation
agriculture. This type of agricultural workforce has similarities to the
industrial proletariat concentrated in large-scale enterprises. This
concentration in factory or plantation gives workers a strong
organizational tradition, as well as political and trade union experience.
Such was the case in Cuba.

The other important characteristic of Nicaraguan agriculture is that the
farmers and ranchers had a weak presence in agro-industry, commerce and
finance. This contrasts with El Salvador which had overlapping ownership
between agricultural production and the rest of the economy. In contrast,
the Somoza family and its hangers-on owned and controlled the non-land
based sectors of the economy in Nicaragua: the mills, the banks, the export
houses, etc. Since they were thieves and extorters, this led to severe
conflicts with all agricultural producers, rich and poor. The Somocistas
were a "kleptocracy" like the Duvaliers in Haiti or the Marcos's in the
Philippines. The tensions between the Somoza family and agricultural
producers as a whole was one of the main factors that led to the Sandinista

In 1979, the first year of the Sandinista revolution, the government
confiscated 2 million acres of the Somoza family and its cronies. These
were mostly modern farms dedicated to export crops or cattle ranching. Of
even greater importance was the fact that the state nationalized the
financial system and took over the export of agricultural goods. This broke
the strangle-hold of the Somocistas and allowed the state to foster
agricultural development in ways beneficial to the producer. The Sandinista
government was liberal in the extension of credit to the farmers. By the
end of 1980, for example, credit had more than doubled. Preferential
treatment was given to small farmers organized in credit and service co-ops.

At the same time, limits were placed on the private agricultural sector.
Farmers were denied access to foreign exchange. The state enforced social
legislation regulating working conditions and wages. It protected the
freedom to form unions, the first time in Nicaraguan history.

A new wave of land confiscation took place between the years 1981 and 1983
under the auspices of a new agrarian law. The state expropriated some farms
because the owners had abandoned them. In most cases, it seized the
property the owners were not exploiting the land according to minimum
standards set by law. These reactionary farmers were in effect organizing
economic sabotage. Nearly three-quarters of a million acres were
distributed to campesinos who gained titles either individually or through
cooperative ownership.

Farmers and ranchers were enthusiastic supporters of these reforms. On
April 26, 1981, ranchers and farmers who supported the revolution founded
the Union Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos (UNAG). This union would act
to defend the interests of small and medium sized producers, the bulk of
Nicaraguan farmers. This group supported the revolution whole-heartedly.
Contras singled out UNAG leaders for assassination .

Provision of state financial support to middle- layer producers, land
distribution to the poorer peasants, and a full offering of new social
services never available before (medical care, literacy, etc.) should have
guaranteed a solid base of support to the new government. This indeed was
what took place. Support for the revolutionary measures of the Sandinista
government was solid and widespread. It accounted for the substantial
electoral victory of Daniel Ortega in the first Nicaraguan presidential
elections since the overthrow of Somoza. This was the state of affairs
until the contra war began to destabilize the Nicaraguan economy.

Accusations that the Sandinistas betrayed socialist possibilites for
Nicaragua must be weighed against the realities of the Nicaraguan political
economy. Nicaragua had no industry to speak of. However, the capitalist
class--such as it was--was concentrated in the agricultural sector. To put
it bluntly, Nicaragua was a country of the petty bourgeoisie. In the
cities, the proletariat was far outnumbered by self- employed artisans. In
the countryside, the bulk of the population lived on small to medium sized

Who then should have been expropriated?

Should the UNAG members have been expropriated? Clearly not, since they
were strong supporters of the revolution. Should it have been those farmers
who were dragging their feet and not producing up to par? As has been
stated, laws existed to deal with them. These laws were enforced and their
land was confiscated.

Let us take at face value the idea that socialism is incompatible with the
large-scale private ownership of land for commodity production. If the goal
is to move away from this form of property relationship and to one that is
more conducive to collective action and consciousness, how fast should this
process take place? How long did it take the Soviet government to liquidate
the Kulaks? Was this what Lenin would have advocated had he been alive in
the late 1920s? What would Lenin have proposed for Nicaragua in 1979?

Generally, I am opposed to quoting Lenin in the way that Christian sect
members quote chapter and verse of the bible, but it is interesting to note
what Lenin had to say about the rich peasantry when he wrote the
"Preliminary Draft These on the Agrarian Question" for the Comintern in 1920:

"However, the expropriation even of the big peasants can in no way be made
an immediate task of the victorious proletariat, because the material and
especially the technical conditions, as well as the social conditions, for
the socialization of such farms are still lacking. In individual and
probably exceptional cases, those parts of their land which they rent out
in small plots or which are particularly needed by the surrounding
small-peasant population will be confiscated: the small peasants should
also be guaranteed, on certain terms, the free use of part of the
agricultural machinery belonging to the big peasants, etc. As a general
rule, however the proletarian state must allow the big peasants to retain
their land, confiscating it only if they resist the power of the working
and exploited people."

The Sandinistas mixed-economy was entirely consistent with the policies and
outlook of revolutionary socialism. Outcries that they squandered the
opportunity to become "socialist" are not based on an understanding of
Nicaraguan reality. The tempo of the Nicaraguan revolution was dictated by
the level of development of the Nicaraguan working-class materially and in
its consciousness. As more and more of the population became
proletarianized, the possibilities would increase.

How does the theory of permanent revolution apply to Nicaragua. Did the
Sandinistas espouse a 2-stage theory similar to Stalin's? What would a
revolutionary leadership in Nicaragua that "understood" permanent
revolution have done differently? Liquidate the peasantry? Would this have
hastened the arrival of socialism? Was socialism possible at all?

These are the sorts of questions that Marxists have to pose when discussing
Nicaragua. I want to try to explain why "theories" that are not deeply
woven together with social and economic reality on a continual basis can
rapidly turn into dogma. In my concluding post, I will examine Sandinista
errors and their role in the collapse of the Nicaraguan revolution.

Louis Proyect
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