The Permanent Revolution debate is a useless, phony debate

Armand Diego causebellum at
Mon Jul 7 22:11:50 MDT 2003

> From: "Jose G. Perez" <jg_perez at>

> Subject: The Permanent Revolution debate is a
> useless, phony debate
> I was there at the launch of this current debate on
> the Theory of Permanent Revolution in the
Trotskyists movement when Jack Barnes presented to the
SWP Political Committee some of the ideas and then an
> outline of the talk that was to become "Their
> Trotsky and Ours" in the early 1980s.

This would probably come to a shock to you and other
former members of the US SWP that can't get out of
their system their experience in that party:

The international Trotskyist movement, in most their
variances, did not give a damn about Jack Barnes, his
"Their Trotsky and Ours" and the alleged "debate" on
PR in the SWP.

Most Trotskyists around the world shrugged their
shoulders at the news, stated that they expected such
nonsense from Barnes for years and moved on to the
next point on the agenda.  The "debate" only had some
very limited impact in the anglo-saxon sections,
mostly linked to the SWP then... draw your own
conclussion about the demographics.

In that sense, you're right: the debate about PR in
the US SWP *was* (Not is) phony, nonsense, useless and
most revolutionary Marxists did not pay attention to


> Insofar as it concerns PR, apart from the rather
> obvious commonplace that a lot of people who called
themselves Trotskyists were sectarian idiots who
thought making a revolution was like making a cup of
instant coffee (in Maurice Bishop's inspired phrase),
> never, ever understood what all the shouting was
about. I still don't.

For obvious reasons, the problem was not about how
difficult is to make a revolution as compared to a cup
of coffee - as most people in the US can't make a
decent cup of coffee either - but the fact that those
who used to control the Marxist officialdom until the
90s insisted in passing every cup of coffee they brew
for a socialist revolution or, worse, for a socialist
society.  Barnes just tried to accomodate them.

> I had become aware that, first, this was not
> Trotsky's "theory" of permanent revolution. Clearly
not. It was Marx's theory, except, of course, that he
got it from the Jacobins, and I suspect that they, in
> turn, were influenced by some of Cromwell's folks.

A funny speech, but barely a sounding fact in the
above-paragraph.  Marx DID start some thinking about
the question of PR but never became a theory.
Cenrtainly you're confused about the positions of Marx
in Germany attributing them a character of PR
theorizing. The Jacobins? Never mind, Jose.  Trotsky
AND Marx clarified the Marxist understanding of the
Jacobins who, by the way, were not at all into PR.
The Cromwell's mention is also funny, but barely
amounting to more than the burning of some churches if
that is what you re referring to.

> The core of the "theory," the central idea is simply
> this: that the most
> plebeian, dispossessed classes participating in a
> truly popular (popular
> as in made by the people, not popular as in a Gallup
> poll) will not want
> the revolution declared over and done with, but
> continuing, because as
> each successive privileged strata comes to the fore,
> the solution to the
> problems of that strata does not solve the problems
> of the French
> sans-culottes, of the Argentine descamisados, of the
> Cuban humildes.

Wow! This is really revealing as to the discussions in
the SWP if this is accurate. Marx, Lenin and Trotsky
NEVER started from any and all layers of society, but
SPECIFIC ones - like, let's say, the proletariat, or
the bourgeoisie, etc - and really never dissolved the
character of any revolution in its "popular" content -
That is to say a de-classed formulation.  No wonder
there was such a confusion inside the SWP as described
by you.

> You see this tendency in *every* great revolution
> and revolutionary
> process; it is a commonplace so much so that it is
> part of the culture,
> and reflected in novels and songs.

Not Marx or Lenin, and certainly not Trotsky.  The old
man insisted on the OPPOSITE - it is the conservative
character of the working class which make revolutions
possible, not its revolutionary character.  The mass
movement instinctive tendency is to find the
resolution of their problems WITHIN the system - as
they understand what a revolution  requires - and only
when such solutions are not possible, the working
class appeal to the revolutionary road. (LT: History
of the Russian Revolution).

> The essence of that approach or stance is to
> represent, not a certain
> solution or system or program, but a certain layer
> of the population,
> the oppressed, the exploited, the dispossessed, the
> wretched of the
> earth. To try to develop *their* organization,
> *their* self-confidence,
> so that they can become the ruling class.

Again, the declassed formulation. Parties - if that
what you mean for organization - represents the
interests of classes, not layers that cut across
different classes (even if the membership may and many
times does). There are the classes that create those
organizations and, more importantly, the institutions
of class rule (soviets, assemblies, coordinating
> Now if you zip forward 90 years from the Manifesto
> to the Transitional
> Program, I contend that Trotsky's views on the set
> of strategic and
> tactical questions that have come to be known as
> "permanent revolution"
> are indistinguishable from those of Marx and Engels:

Only in the sense of general program, not on that of
political strategy as both Engels and Marx did not
have to deal with the First World War, the emergence
of imperialism - in fact colonialism is basically
ignored in the Manifesto - and the epoch was
substantially different: Marx and Engels lived through
the period of convulsive expansion of capitalism to a
world system through colonialism, Lenin and Trotsky
led the first victorious working class revolution in
an imperialist country.  Analogies, my friend, are
dangerous in this and other cases.

> The debate going on about "Permanent Revolution" is
> a phony basically
> because it is a debate about dogma, about a revealed
> truth, about a
> recipe.

That is possible what it was inside the SWP. Outside
it then and now is a discussion on theory, practice,
strategy and set of tactics... Those who usually claim
that Trotkyists are dogmatic, insist in selling the
surreal vision of a Socialist Soviet Union or a
Socialist Cuban where there were (USRR) and is (Cuba)
no more than intermediate societies. What is dogma is
not filling with a false content the remaining half
filled glass of a process and declaring it completely

> If Fidel had done what "permanent revolutionist"
> sectarians advocated,
> and proclaimed that the objective of the July 26
> movement was to
> establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and
> commence the building
> of socialism, then he would have failed, the result
> would have been
> exactly the same as what Engels said would have
> happened to him and Marx
> if they had founded a communist newspaper instead of
> a democratic one in
> May 1848.

Uhmmmmm..... the paper founded by Marx and Engels in
Germany was shut down, isn't it?  Didn't live long.
The fact is, the German reaction wouldn't have allowed
a democratic paper to exist anymore than it would
allow a socialist one to remain open. But, facts
aside, the PR theory was not about what Castro had to
say in Sierra Maestra or what he has to proclaim
himself - he never lied then... But what were the
*objective* tasks that flowed from the
political/social/economic situation of the Cuba of the
50s and 60s.

Such a caricature of those who defend PR is just the
mechanism of the sectarian combat, not of a serious
debate on theory.

In that sense, because the pressure of imperialism and
the opposition of most bourgeois elements in Cuba and
against the stated purpose of the M-26, the
democratic, anti-imperialist and anti-dictatorial
revolution was forced to *combine* democratic tasks
with some socialist revolutionary actions
(expropriation of imperialism and reactionary
bourgeois, urban housing laws, etc).

There you have the *inevitability* of combining
democratic and socialist tasks - that someone
challenged in this list - that the Cuban revolution
didn't deny but *confirmed* ...

But because those measures were incomplete, sometimes
made half way through and pragmatically implemented,
and because in 1961 the Cuban leadership decided from
above to join the USRR's network of countries and
adopted the foreign policy of the Kremlin - and never
truly developed the institutions of genuine workers'
power - the revolution remained "frozen" so to speak,
at certain point of its development.

> My theses will be that what the most useful way to
> understand he
> Militant's error is NOT to view them as an
> application of a "too
> leftist" Theory of Permanent Revolution, or of an
> ultraleft view of that
> theory, but something more concrete, an inability to
> understand the
> character of the revolution, having no feel for or
> identification with
> this movement for national liberation.

In this we have plenty of agreement. The Militant,
Barnes and the SWP never understood PR nor the nature
of the revolution - whether in Cuba or Nicaragua, by
the way - but as good American radical populist of
sorts they were pragmatic.  When those revolutionary
process were being fought they had a sectarian
approach but when the leaderships won, they became the
beacon of socialist revolution.

Two times wrong in two different moments of the
revolutionary process.  In other words, wrong before,
during and afterward ...

This is the pragmatism, by the way, that led them to
have, today, more or less the same position you and
other ex-members of the SWP - not all, of course --
have on Cuba and a number of other issues.

Of course the SWP, along the way, abandoned other
aspects of its militant left populism - like given the
cold shoulder to the mass antiwar movement ... but you
din't leave the SWP because of that, did you?

What I heard very often from many former SWPers is
resentment towards the internal regime - don't make me
wrong, I believe you guys when you say it was hell -
but that is barely followed through with a critical
assesment of the theoretical and social basis of such

In fact, minus Barnes and Co., you'd probably between
the parameters of membership.


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