[Marxism] Re: Lenin, Trotsky and Permanent Revolution (was Bolivia Discussion)

Josh Saxe joshsaxe at gmail.com
Tue Jan 10 10:24:23 MST 2006

"However, the Trotskyist insistence that something LT wrote in 1905-6
is so superior to something VL wrote at the same time does lead to
splitting hairs in a way that encourages the kind of ultraleft and
sectarian errors we have seen among much of the Trotskyist movement
towards the unfolding revolution in Venezuela (far too slow, looking
too much like a ... "stage"!, when are they going to get on with the
real socialist tasks, if they continue at this rate it might look
dangerously like Lenin's more flexible view of the "uninterrupted"
stage of revolutionary development in 1905-6 than Trotsky's less
compromising and more "telescoped" formulations), and now with the
almost breathless tendency to rush to assure everyone who wants to
listen that Morales can only possibly be a betrayer."

Louis hit the nail on the head in his response to MK's
characterization of Lenin and Trotsky's respective positions on the
nature of the Russian Revolution but I wanted to add a few things.  In
my reading of it (a few years ago) Lenin saw the "democratic
dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" as more closely akin to
the 1793-4 stage of the French Revolution, in which a kind of radical
plebian coalition would take over the means of violence and "sweep
away the old rubbish" to clear the way for capitalism. He expected
this extremist dictatorship to be swept away quickly as were
Robespierre and Saint-Just to make way for more moderate bourgeois
forces.  That's part of the reason everyone thought he was so crazy,
advocating the virtual suicide of his organization before the altar of
history.  Anyways one good thing about his view was that, I think
amidst WWI, it evolved so that he saw the Russian _bourgeois_
revolution as a detonator for a Western European _socialist_
revolution - this socialist revolution would then help Russia towards
socialism as well once it had consolidated itself.  I remember his
writings on this stuff were always pretty vague and open to a lot of
questioning, but I don't think he ever theoretically distinguished
himself from this final position.

In my view, the idea that there exist "semi-feudal" countries or that
there are places where "basic democratic tasks" that need to be
completed before the "socialist stage" or whatever is quite useless. 
It's related to this idea that we can place countries and places on a
linear scale delimited on the one end by "barbarism" and the other by
"civilization" apart from the world system in which they are operating
which is where we should find the real teleologies.  The
nations-advancing-through-stages kind of thinking has been superseded
by world systems theory which points out that in fact what we have is
a single system of exploitation moving through time - world capitalism
- and its particular features in any of its regions, core, periphery
or semi-periphery, are reflections or parts even of the functioning of
the system as a whole.

Even Third World dictatorships are parts of this system - even unequal
exchange, imperialism, national bourgeoisie's bound hand and foot to
the financial institutions of imperialism.  Even the exclusion of
billions of people from literacy, the right to vote, the right to
proprietorship over the land they work, are part of the international
system not simply "hangovers from the feudal past" which need to be
swept away by the "bourgeois-democratic" "stage".

I don't think PR is wrong, but it is a bit anachronistic to apply it
to situations today.  Trotsky was talking first and foremost about
European countries that really did have old absolutist monarchies and
landed aristocracies that really did retain a grip on state
institutions and the economic levers of society.  He was talking about
the ways in which these societies had become economically and socially
reconfigured because of the incursions of imperialist finance capital
and the way that prevented the bourgeois revolution from happening in
ways analogous to the French Revolution.

We are living in a totally different world now.  Virtually all of the
ruling classes in the world are direct products of
capitalism-imperialism.  But what we do still have and what makes PR
continue to be relevant are demands for democracy in these countries,
demands for national liberation, discourse around "modernization",
demands of inclusion from people living on the margins of the system,
a whole set of "minimal" demands that it seems can be rationally
attained under the framework of the existing system.

This is what JB and others think can be achieved in the "democratic
stage" of the coming revolutions.  But it turns into the same old
reform vs. revolution debate - if people in the Third World could
really marshall the collective spirit to scare their rulers and the
international rulers into granting major concessions like JB laid out
in that list he made of the supposed "demands of the 'national'
movement in Bolivia" they would certainly have enough force there to
overthrow the system completely without settling for that list of
demands.  To achieve the "democratic demands" if they have any teeth,
or at least to hang onto them for more than a symbolic few years,
would require a socialist revolution.

And in cases where revolutionaries have settled for a list like that
in the place of undertaking an overturning of the system (take South
Africa), or Nicaragua, the really have not gotten it, or they have
gone on towards expropriating the ruling classes (Cuba, Vietnam,

One final comment.  The Bolivarian Revolution is not a social
revolution , it is a political revolution that's occurred within the
same old framework of a capitalist country under the thumb of
imperialism.  That's not to say the mass movement in Venezuela is not
making serious advances, but these are reforms within the same old
framework.  This is to say there has been no qualitative
transformation of social property relations (even in terms of
"bourgeois-democratic" land redistribution, which has not happened in
a serious way and does not appear will happen other than expropriating
idle land and rehabilitating unused land) or the nature and function
of the state apparatus.  Most importantly the selling of labor power
and the accumulation of capital by the local parasites and the
imperialists is still the motor force within the society.  Whatever
diplomatic defeats the U.S. has suffered in relation to Chavez they
still exist in a similar economic relationship to Venezuela - that of
an imperialist core country with surplus value from Venezuela flowing
in.  So the changes and movements in Venezuela, and their
accomplishments, are still far too small to be considered the
"democratic" stage of what will turn into a "socialist revolution". 
We can start talking about what some call the "democatic stage" when
Venezuela enters into a March-November 1917 period or a 1959-60 period
- when the state has been smashed, there is the real prospect of
expropriating whole social classes, and there is a whole different
configuration of forces.


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