Franz J.T. Lee, January, 2005
What is contemporary permanent revolution for Venezuela?
The Theory of Permanent Revolution is an historical discovery, an armed weapon of global class struggle, of world emancipation. Beyond doubt, in the era of globalization, we are living in the epoch of permanent world revolution.
Whether we like it or not, the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela is part and parcel of the historic struggles of international permanent revolution.
It is not pure chance that President Chavez bought Trotsky's famous work, "The Permanent Revolution" in Madrid. As leading political figure of the Bolivarian Revolution, logically, sooner or later this had to happen.
Ever since the French Revolution (1789), the Praxis and Theory of Permanent Global Revolution has become the historical result of international, dialectical, social processes of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles. Without scientific and philosophical knowledge of socialist revolution, it is impossible to understand, to apply Trotsky's famous, still valid, dialectical laws of even, uneven and combined development in contemporary revolutionary processes.
During the 20th century, as task of the "Fourth International," the above had to do with the dialectical coordination of the three main sectors of global, permanent revolution: even industrial development in metropolitan countries, the uneven development in "Third World" or "backward" countries, where the national, or even nationalist, democratic revolution was still on the order of the day, and combined, conflicting processes in socialist countries, where "the revolution was betrayed" (Trotsky), corrupted by Stalinism.
Hence, for the sake of urgent, theoretical guidance, enabling us to elevate the current philosophical deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution towards more profound, precise and incisive degrees of emancipatory efficiency and efficacy, we will summarize, somehow in necessary detail, the living ABC of world permanent revolution, as it was elaborated by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, within the concrete, contemporary, world realities, that currently are approximating their zenith of historical realization, that is, of productive, reformist destruction, and of creative, revolutionary construction.
Concerning the theory of socialist revolution.
Marx evolved his theory of revolution in the years 1840-1844, and it was intended to be a program for the bourgeois-democratic revolution, then overdue in Germany. Germany’s historical time lag as compared with her Western-bourgeois neighbors (England, France) offered the German Revolution a unique historical chance not only to make up for the „political emancipation“ that had been brought about by the Jacobin revolution in France, but even to surpass it in a "human emancipation“ which would go so far as to overcome the contradiction between citoyen and bourgeois.
In clarifying the question of the subject of such a revolution Marx not only crossed the line from a radical bourgeois-ideologist to a theoretician of the socialist revolution but also from utopian to scientific and philosophic socialism, which alone is susceptible of designing the bridge of praxis that must of necessity link the criticism of the present with the realizable utopia of the future, and of actuating the "alliance of thinking and suffering men“ that will liberate human society from the shackles of the bourgeois mode of production, and hence from the class system on a world scale.
Important for the Latin American Bolivarian Revolution ... and this has nothing to do with copying, exporting or importing any "obsolete" social or socialist ideas and practices ... is the scientific identification of the social classes in revolutionary conflict, of those in Venezuela who make and think the revolution, the class struggle, and those who eternally seek to reproduce their age-old privileges, lies, corruption, bureaucracy, treachery and reformism, those who decelerate and ideologize the social forces of change.
According to Marx, in his time, in Europe, especially in Germany, two parties were bound to find themselves in a temporary alliance prompted by the revolution, although they would differ in their basic attitude towards that revolution:
A petty-bourgeois one (the counter-revolution) that aims at getting it done and over with, and a proletarian one (the revolution) that keeps pushing it forward "until all more or less propertied classes have been squeezed out of authority, executive power has been wrested from them by the proletariat, and the associations of proletarians not only in one country but in all leading countries of the world are so far advanced (...) that at least the decisive forces of production will be concentrated in the hands of the proletariat“ (Marx/Engels, "Address of the Central Authority to the League“, March 1850).
Hence, as early as 1850, we can note very clearly some remarkable similarities and surprising coincidences when we compare the Marxian Socialist Revolution and the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution: the politico-economic reasons for the counter-revolution of the "opposition" and the practical-theoretical core of global "permanent revolution" in real, true Marxism.
This Marxian postulation of permanency for the proletarian or workers' revolution ... which at the same time was the common platform of the League of Communists and the Blanquists ... contains the following scientific and philosophic criteria of a socialist revolution:
a) Achievement of the hegemony of the proletariat, by means of its party or parties, in the historically retarded bourgeois revolution;
b) Establishment of a proletarian dictatorship, i.e. seizing control of executive power with a view to the expropriation and reorganization of the means of production;
c) Internationalization of the revolution to bring about co-operation among the proletarian dominated, most highly developed ("dominant“) societies in order to prevent "communism“ from merely becoming a generalized form of indigence and want which would invariably entail new types of inequality, the formation of classes, and the setting up of a machinery of repression vis-a-vis the majority of the people.
Obviously, also here, a trans-historical coincidence of social and revolutionary objectives can be detected.
At the beginning of the past century Bolsheviks and left-wing German Social Democrats (Marxists) discovered once more the "topicality of the revolution.“ The Russian Revolution of 1905 raised the problem of the character of this revolution not only for the Russian Social Democrats but also for the Second International in its entirety.
Also, now, at the very latest, we have to define the real, true character of the Bolivarian Revolution vis-á-vis capitalist, imperialist, corporate World Fascism in the making.
At the turn of the 20th century, in Russia, three options were developed:
a) the Menshevik,
b) the Bolshevik,
c) that of the inspirer of the first Petersburg council of workers’ deputies, Leon Trotsky.
The following also indicates the homogenous, uneven and unified social streams within all revolutionary movements, especially the dialectical dynamics between the revolution itself and its counter-revolution.
According to Menshevik theory, the task of the Russian Revolution was restricted to toppling the tsarist regime and establishing a bourgeois-democratic republic, in the framework of which Russian capitalism would then expand freely, while Russian social democracy (the Marxists) would by means of its opposition and powerful organization protect the Russian workers from the worst forms of exploitation. In their opinion a socialist revolution would not be feasible in Russia, given its uneven development, since a highly developed capitalism would be the necessary pre-condition for any revolution.
Which sector in the Bolivarian Revolution has a similar position?
Lenin’s formula for the Russian Revolution up to World War I was that of the "democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants.“ His interest was mainly directed to the classes known to be incubating the revolution, hence its most likely protagonists. 100 million landless peasants would break out of their semi-serfdom and fight for the distribution of land; 5 million urban workers would support the peasant war by using the strike weapon in the cities, with the socialist objectives in mind.
The result would be a revolutionary coalition between workers’ and peasants’ parties since the Russian bourgeoisie, in consequence of the special characteristics of Russian development, would be unable to play an independent political role. The bourgeois revolution, being consummated by peasants and workers would henceforth take on a proletarian character, at least in the cities, by virtue of the forms of struggle adopted. Besides, the Russian revolution would be the signal for the "purely“ proletarian revolution in Western Europe to erupt.
In this case, a sine qua non for a successful Russian Revolution, was permanent revolution in all global sectors. It was a prelude to Trotsky's position. As we know, so often repeated by President Chavez himself, this principle can directly be applied to the current Bolivarian Revolution.
However, Trotsky went a step further than Lenin, by predicting in 1905/1906, that the coalition assumed by Lenin would of necessity quickly be followed by the hegemony of the urban proletariat since in view of the inherent weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeoisie, the impoverished class of peasants, scattered and traditionally incapable of organization as it was, would be bound to come under the leadership of the urban proletariat.
Once they had seized control, the urban workers, mindful of where their class interests lay, would have no option but to crack open the horizon of bourgeois-capitalist institutions, economic as well as political, and "to put collectivism on the agenda.“ We could also call this "cooperativism," the left wing of the current Bolivarian Revolution.
This would bring them into conflict with the interests of the potential petty-bourgeois class of peasants. Without support from the proletarian revolution in the - capitalistically speaking - most highly developed countries, the proletarian revolution would not be able to hold its own in backward Russia. The fate of the Russian workers’ revolution would be decided by social struggles on an international scale.
Is this perhaps our position of social revolution? Are we, here in Latin America, currently the vanguard of this permanent revolution?
During the time of World War I, Lenin drew closer to Trotsky’s position and upon his return from exile propagated the second, proletarian-socialist revolution ("April theses“). The events of 1917 in Russia fully confirmed Trotsky’s prognosis made in 1905.
The Bolshevik seizure of power in October/November was doubtlessly accompanied by the optimistic expectation that the socialist revolution would not fail to spread internationally within a short time, as evidenced by the manifestos and debates of both the first Comintern congresses and the party congresses of the Russian Communist Party (RCP) as well as the writings of revolutionary leaders.
The factional struggles within the RCP and the Third International from 1923 to 1929 basically centered upon the question as to how the first isolated workers’ state should „correctly“ conduct its internal and external policies in the interest of both the Russian and the international proletariat.
In what was a clear breach of the Bolshevik tradition of 1917-1923 Stalin in 1924 inaugurated a new version of a nationally restricted communism.
The need for throwing into gear the lagging process of industrialization in Russia was not in itself a matter for factional dispute. The problem arose about the ways and means to be adopted in its implementation, this being the import of the economic controversy between Preobrashenski and Bukharin.
The Third International had been created as an instrument for spreading the socialist revolution. The question open for debate among the factions was that of the policy of alliances in highly as well as underdeveloped countries. It would seem that Stalin comparatively early considered the chance of spreading the international revolution quite minimal (cf. his letter of August 1923 to Zinoviev on the chances of the Communist revolution in Germany, in which he counsels "soft-pedalling“).
The following is an excellent example of counter-revolutionary ideology and practice.
In China (1925-1927), as later in Spain (1931-1939) the Stalinist faction, through the mechanism of the Comintern, enforced its own conception, predicated on the necessity of fostering a revolutionary phase which initially was to be bourgeois-nationalist in outlook. This meant that the Communist parties of both countries were not supposed to pursue independent Communist policy but to restrict themselves merely to lending critical support to the national revolutionary movement (Kuomintang or Popular Front as the case might be) unless they were impelled to enter into alliances with those organizations calling for the total abandonment of their own principles.
Stalin thus elevated the old formula of the "democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants“, to which he had subscribed as editor of Pravda as late as in spring 1917, to the status of a program for the Communist International. This resulted in defeats for the revolutionary classes and the parties representing them. Lenin’s reproach of "Menshevism“ here applies, at least with regard to the concept that a revolution in backward countries has to be conducted in stages.
Just as at the beginning of the century Bolshevism and Menshevism had confronted each other, so later Stalinism and Trotskyism emerged as the enemy brothers of the late ‘Twenties and ‘Thirties.
In total opposition to the whole Marxist tradition Stalin, in defending his internal policy in autumn 1924, proclaimed the thesis of the possibility of achieving Socialism in a single Country (Russia).
By postulating that even if no further revolutions were forthcoming Russia would be able to achieve Socialism/Communism under its own steam, Stalin thus made a national communist virtue out of an imposed autarchic necessity. As early as 1928 Trotsky called this a "theory of empty promises,“ an "opiate for the people.“
Obviously, this could never be the position of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Within the framework of Marxist theory, Socialism, Emancipation in fact, means surplus production and overcoming the scarcity of foodstuffs by international co-operation among all planned economies of the globe. Only in such a context is there any sense in speaking of the "withering away“ of the State, the abolition of social inequality, and the disappearance of social classes.
Concerning workers' struggles in the epoch of fascism, ever since the German working class had conceded victory to Hitler without a struggle when he rose to power in 1933, Trotsky, in his criticism of the policy and theory of the Third International, put the responsibility for the political „errors“ committed (Germany 1923) and the "betrayal of proletarian interests“ (Germany 1933 and Spain 1936-1939) squarely at the doorstep of the emergent bureaucratic Stalinist clique in the first workers’ state, motivated by social self-interest. They ushered in the counter-revolution.
Now, for all of us, a very important lesson, a very serious warning!
Since 1928 this clique had usurped the political power of the workers’ soviets and built up an enormous machinery of oppression; it acted as a self-appointed trustee of the nationalized means of production and busied itself with perpetuating its status as the privileged caste.
Ever since, both on the ideological or theoretical level and in their practical or organizational approach the revolutionary programs of the Stalinist-Menshevik faction on the one hand, and of the Trotskyite persuasion on the other, have confronted one another in "developing" as well as in "highly developed" countries.
The Trotskyites pose the question of revolutionary objectives and of the classes likely to achieve them.
However, finally, concerning social revolution in "Third World" countries, let us note:
Trotsky was convinced that there is not a single developing country in which the local bourgeoisie or oligarchic upper class is susceptible of really solving the problems of the bourgeois, democratic, capitalist revolution (increase of private property, distribution of land, true sovereignty, total national independence, a parliamentary republic, etc.) and consequently that henceforth the achievement and defense of traditionally bourgeois revolutionary aims has to be entrusted to poor peasants with a proletarian leadership, who in consonance with the logic of the internal and external political situation ... like it happened later in the Russian, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions ... will utilize their power, once it is attained, for enforcing far-reaching emancipatory objectives.
Among others, these are the historic lessons that President Chavez will encounter while studying Trotsky's "Permanent Revolution" ... we suggest that all our Bolivarian patriots, the vanguard of global, permanent revolution, should do likewise.