[Marxism] Fwd: Before Lenin: Bolshevik Theory and Practice in February 1917 Revisited | Historical Materialism

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Tue Feb 28 02:02:14 MST 2017

Louis Proyect wrote: 
>  I may or may not deal with Eric's article per se but I wrote a critique
> of  Lih here that is germane to the discussion:
> https://louisproyect.org/2015/08/15/lars-lih-and-lenins-april-theses/

I read Proyect's critique of Lih. It has some notable points, such as raising 
 again the question of permanent revolution. Proyect speaks to this as 

>To start with, it is questionable whether permanent revolution was
> any kind of theory. I always regarded it as an analysis of the class
> dynamics of the Russian revolution and not something that could 
> be applied universally. In fact, Trotskyism turned [it] into a formula 
> that was always invoked in order to establish its own purity just as 
> it is doing now with respect to Greece. It says that unless nations 
> follow through with socialist measures, the goals of the
> bourgeois-democratic revolution (land reform, democratic rights,
> national independence, etc.) will not be guaranteed. For me
> this has always been something of a tautology, amounting to
> a statement that unless there is a revolution there will
> be no revolution.

Unfortunately, this passage is contradictory. It starts by asserting that 
permanent revolution is "not something that could be applied universally", 
and ends by asserting that it is "something of a tautology", which would mean 
that it is true universally.

Proyect asserts that
 >It says that unless nations 
> follow through with socialist measures, the goals of the
> bourgeois-democratic revolution (land reform, democratic rights,
> national independence, etc.) will not be guaranteed.

But the question isn't whether the gains are permanent. The question is 
whether democratic movements and revolutions are still of extreme interest to 
the socialist proletariat, even in the situation where these movements aren't 
going to be immediately followed by a socialist revolution . A revolutionary 
theory faces the problem of judging whether an uprising could lead to 
workers' power, which is much more than simply undertaking some "socialist 
measures". The question is whether it is true, as permanent revolution 
asserts, that  all meaningful uprisings must either lead to workers' power, 
or end up accomplishing nothing.

So what does history show? The theory of permanent revolution was completely 
bankrupt with respect to the Arab Spring. It was clear even in 2011 that the 
uprisings of the Arab Spring, even if they were victorious, were not going to 
lead to workers' power. Yet the Arab Spring deserved socialist support.
Now, I don't agree with everything Assar an-Nar says, but some of what he 
writes about permanent revolution in "Socialism and the Democratic Wager" in 
the book "Khiyana: Deash, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution" 
is right on target. Indeed, it is notable that he feels compelled to argue 
fiercely in favor of the "democratic wager" because he is writing for a 
milieu that is heavily influenced by Trotskyism and permanent revolution and 
hence has trouble understanding the role of the "democratic wager". He 
denounces various forms of Stalinism, which is important to do, but he is 
clearly also  writing against much of the Trotskyist creed. He writes:

 >...Permanent Revolution suggested that there were either two
>  alternatives: socialist revolution led by the working class or
> Tsarist counterrevolution." (p. 11) 

And an-Nar says:

>We believe that this 'useless dogma' has become a substitute 
>for analysis and leads to catastrophism: the erroneous view 
> that there are only two courses in any historical situation--either
> proletarian revolution or counterrevolution. Evidently this is not
> the case for most history since 1917. On the other hand, it may lead
> to the false conclusion that there is an automatic pattern of
> radicalisation and that history is necessarily on our side. It leads 
> most obviously to repeated efforts to make reality fit our theory 
> instead of using theory to explain reality." (p. 14)

Among other things, an-Nar is furious that the theory of permanent revolution 
had something to do with "the leftist misreading of the army coup [in Egypt] 
as the 'next wave' of the revolution", as the Egyptian Revolutionary 
Socialists did briefly.

But also it is one of the sources for denigrating the Syrian uprising, which 
is why an-Nar feels compelled to discuss it. Indeed, back at the start of the 
Arab Spring, a number of Trotskyist groups proudly and zealously applied the 
theory of permanent revolution to the Arab Spring and asserted explicitly and 
emphatically  that these struggles would either lead to workers' power, or 
else they would accomplish nothing. Given the course of the struggle, this 
gave rise to disillusionment or worse.  Those among the Trotskyists who 
presently do good work defending the Syrian uprising generally discreetly 
leave "permanent revolution" aside in writing about the struggle.  But if one 
is silent about a mistake, it may never be corrected. 

An-Nar stresses the need to look into the concrete features of revolutionary 
struggles. He writes about 

>the confusions of the left today faced with very different kinds of 
>democratic revolution that those that were debated in the early part
> of the C20th .

He doesn't seem to be aware of the full sweep of the earlier debates about 
revolution, which was broader than the oversimplified picture put forward in 
Trotskyist doctrine. But this is his polite way of disassociating from some 
of the Trotskyist doctrine. And he is definitely right that we must take 
account of revolutionary experience  since the early 20th century, and we 
must carefully examine current class and economic developments. 

>Instead the left has fallen into the trap of either totally dismissing the
>actually existing revolutions--conceived simply as part of some
>neoliberal, geopolitical plot--or on the other hand, explaining 
>the setbacks and contradictions in terms of older scripts and
>theoretical schema which can be seriously misleading about the
>character of the social and political forces today. (p.8) 

There may well be those who try to drown him out by shouting "Menshevik, 
Menshevik, Menshevik" or "Stalinist, Stalinist, Stalinist", as if it were the 
Mensheviks and Stalinists who supported revolutionary movements. But other 
activists may find it liberating to see that the theroetical straitjacket 
denounced by an-Nar is starting to unravel.<>


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