February 2000: Either A 'Socialist Revolution Or A Make-Believe Revolution: A Rejoinder to Doug Lorimer

The Activist - Volume 10, Number 2, February 2000

By Phil Hearse

"The International of Crime and Treason [i.e., the counter-revolutionary co-ordination of imperialism - PH] has in fact been organised. On the other hand, the indigenous bourgeoisies have lost all their capacity to oppose imperialism -- if they ever had it -- and they have become the last card in the pack. There are no other alternatives: either a socialist revolution or a make-believe revolution." -- Ernesto Che Guevara, Message to the Tricontinental 1967. (my emphasis)

"You must struggle for the socialist revolution, struggle to the end, until the complete victory of the proletariat. Long live the socialist revolution!" -- V.I. Lenin, Speech at the Finland Station on arrival back in Russia, April 1917

Doug Lorimer's reply to my critique ("Permanent Revolution -- A Reply to Doug Lorimer") of his pamphlet attacking permanent revolution(1) starts off by denying that the pamphlet represents an attempt to outline the DSP's policy in relation to revolution in the semi-colonial and dependent countries. But right away, Lorimer carries out a major retreat in relation to that policy, as I shall explain below.

His claim that the pamphlet does not pertain to contemporary DSP policy calls for suspension of disbelief among his readers of quite spectacular proportions. In the introduction to his pamphlet comrade Lorimer says (he even repeats it in his reply):

Any attempt to build an international movement that is really based, as Cannon put it more than fifty years ago, on "genuine Marxism as it was expounded and practised in the Russian revolution and the early years of the Communist International" cannot avoid dealing with the misrepresentations of Bolshevik theory and policy made by Trotsky in the 1920s and '30s.

Why could such a rebuilt international Marxist movement "not avoid" this task? There are three possible interpretations of this statement. It could mean that Lorimer thinks a renewed revolutionary socialist movement will be a history debating club. It could mean that he has the sectarian notion that agreement on all aspects of revolutionary history is vital. Or it could mean that to be "really based" on "genuine Marxism" it has to reject permanent revolution, not for reasons of historical accuracy but for reasons of contemporary policy. In other words, Lorimer's statement is either totally bizarre, or he thinks that rejecting permanent revolution is vital for the building of a movement based on "genuine Marxism". On balance, I opt for the latter interpretation, which is how most other readers will have seen it.

Lorimer now says: "It's true that the basic conclusion I make in my pamphlet is that the Leninist theory and policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution is superior to Trotsky's permanent revolution theory as a guide to action in countries where Trotsky thought his theory has general applicability, i.e., as Trotsky put it in his 1928 pamphlet The Permanent Revolution, `countries with a belated bourgeois development' in which the peasantry constitutes `the majority of the population'". (my emphasis - PH).

This statement, as it stands, is untrue. Lorimer actually came to the conclusion that "Lenin's theory" was superior as a guide to revolutionary action, full stop. The qualification about countries with a peasant majority -- ie the section I have highlighted in the above quote -- was nowhere made in Lorimer's pamphlet. Indeed, as I pointed out in my critique, the fact that most "Third World" countries are not today "peasant countries" was nowhere referred to in Lorimer's pamphlet.

No matter. The important thing is that Lorimer now recognises that the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry", which he defends against permanent revolution, does not apply to countries where the peasantry is not a majority. Excellent. This immediately poses the question -- what general political approach should revolutionaries take today in the majority of semi-colonial and dependent countries dominated by imperialism, where the peasantry is not a majority? Apart from quoting a passage from the DSP program (of which more below), Doug Lorimer doesn't tell us(2).

The DSP rejected permanent revolution as a strategy for the countries dominated by imperialism in the name of the "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry". Now we find out that this doesn't apply to most Third World countries. This confirms my allegation that the "democratic dictatorship" is a "degenerating research program"; it confirms that the DSP theory of Third World revolutions is in disrepair and in need of major structural reform. No wonder Lorimer doesn't want to discuss it further.

This concession by Lorimer can now be added to the admission in his pamphlet that the "revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" which he defends is a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In fact, Lorimer's denial about the function of his pamphlet takes up about 15% of his reply. The other 85% concerns Russia, with a short detour on Spain. Thus Lorimer's reply does not take up much of what I argued. It does not contain any of the following words and phrases which I discussed: China, Mexico, Brazil, class structure of the Third World today, Indonesia, Philippines, South Africa, Deutscher, Mandel, South African Communist Party, Geras, L”wy, Liebman, democratic and national tasks in the era of neoliberal globalisation, Pakistan, Chiapas, ANC, E.H. Carr. On all this, silence. His reply does however contain 39 quotes from Lenin, an increase of 6 on Lorimer's Lenin quotient over his much longer original pamphlet (or in relative terms an increase of 410%).

Of course, in the real world Lorimer's pamphlet is part of the DSP's attempt to educate its members and contacts, domestically and internationally, against permanent revolution as a policy and strategy for today. If it were purely a matter of setting the historical record straight, then the very publication of the pamphlet is inexplicable. It would be a matter of no more than, surely, an article in a theoretical magazine or a submission to the magazine Revolutionary History. The DSP membership would have the right to ask, if the pamphlet only is about the Russian experience with no contemporary implications, why their hard-won financial resources are being wasted on a long pamphlet with such a secondary objective(3).

Lorimer's denial of the contemporary relevance of his arguments in favour of the "democratic dictatorship" theory leads him to totally ignore my criticism of an important article by a DSP member, and this is -- to say the least -- very surprising.

The undefended article

Near the beginning of my critique of Lorimer's pamphlet, I take up what I regard as the mistakes in an article in Green Left Weekly by DSP member James Vassilopoulos on revolutionary strategy in Indonesia. The article argues for a necessity for a two-stage revolution, based -- explicitly -- on "Lenin's theory" on Russia. It argues for an alliance of the working class and the peasantry to achieve the "national-democratic" revolution, and argues that the majority of the rural population in Indonesia are "land-owning peasants". It further argues that the relevance of the experience of Russia for Indonesia is that the proletariat is not the majority of the workforce, and that an alliance with the urban and rural poor plays the role -- mutatis mutandis -- of the worker-peasant alliance in Russia.

Now this article is attacking another tendency (the ISO) in the name of the DSP. I refuse to believe that it was not read by central DSP leaders before publication, and does not reflect the DSP's policy for Indonesia and similar countries. Indeed, Green Left Weekly subsequently published a letter of fulsome praise for the article by comrade Malik Miah, a member of the US group Solidarity (of course his letter was his individual opinion). But comrade Lorimer does not rise to James' defence. Indeed he doesn't mention it at all! The reason for this is very clear.

I pointed out that the article contradicts its own evidence on the class structure of Indonesia. The article says there are 46 million rural labourers and 16 million land-owning peasants. It claims that, at least before the Asian financial crash of 1997 in which many Indonesian workers lost their jobs, there were 86 million employed workers out of a total population of around 200 million. My conclusion was that (a) Indonesia cannot possibly fit into the category of countries with a peasant majority and (b) that the centre of an alliance for revolutionary change would have to be the proletariat and "semi-proletarians" directly exploited by capital, and that therefore national and democratic objectives of the revolution would inevitably be directly linked with anti-imperialist, ie anti-capitalist, objectives. On all this, Lorimer does not reply.

So I will ask Doug Lorimer again. Do you think that (your version) of Lenin's strategy for Russia applies to Indonesia? If you think that your account of Lenin's policy (the "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry") has only relevance for countries with a peasant majority, why did the DSP publish an article trying to apply it to Indonesia, which does not have a peasant majority? Was it not because the DSP has a general strategic approach to revolutions in the Third World based precisely on the "democratic dictatorship" theory?

The DSP's position on revolutions in the dominated countries

In my critique, I argued that in the epoch of neoliberal globalisation, more than ever the countries exploited by imperialism need to break the hold of imperialist finance capital if they are to achieve real national liberation -- a crucial task of the national-democratic revolution. This, I argued, means that there can be no "national-democratic" revolution -- i.e., a revolution which solves the tasks of the national democratic revolution -- which is not simultaneously anti-imperialist and thus anti-capitalist. This of course is a basic proposition of the permanent revolution theory. Lorimer does not directly reply to this point (but see below). I repeat: if you do agree that the completion of the national democratic revolution means anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist measures, then you have really just baptised permanent revolution with another name, and the argument is about words.

Lorimer's elliptical references to these issues do not clear up the matter. But he argues:

Nowhere in his polemic, however, does Hearse cite a single document by the DSP or by any DSP member that actually argues that because in Russia the Bolshevik alliance with the Left SRs was key to cementing a worker-peasant alliance, the DSP holds the view that the urban and rural poor in semi-colonial capitalist countries today cannot be brought under the leadership of a revolutionary Marxist party. Nor does he cite a single DSP document in which it is argued that an alliance between the workers and the petty-bourgeois and semi-proletarian sections of the urban and rural poor in any semi-colonial country can be forged on the basis simply of "national and democratic demands". The "DSP theory" that Hearse criticises is entirely his own invention.

This argument (although obviously contradicted by the article referred to above) I regard as a step forward in repairing the DSP's position. The implication is clear. A worker-peasant alliance needs to go beyond national and democratic tasks, and (logically) this means adopting anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist demands. A government formed on the basis of the victory of such an alliance would therefore be a "workers and peasants government", under the political hegemony of the proletariat, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat. You cannot separate this idea from the basic postulates of permanent revolution with a credit card. Except for doctrinaires, the two ideas are identical.

The question that is now posed is this: if Lenin's theory of Russia does not apply to countries without a peasant majority, then what political strategy does? The problem is this: you cannot argue -- for reasons I alluded to in my polemic against the "sub-imperialism" thesis -- that there are those countries (with a peasant majority) in which the "democratic dictatorship" idea applies, and those (without a peasant majority) in which there will simply be a socialist revolution, analogous to that in the imperialist countries. Because all the semi-colonial and dependent countries exploited by imperialism still face the centrality of national and democratic tasks, and as I explained, often have land reform as a central issue, even if the peasantry is not a majority. Even if the proletariat and the urban and rural semi-proletariat is the huge majority in a semi-colonial country (as in Indonesia), an alliance with the poor peasants to fight for the national and democratic revolution is still required. Of course this will not be an alliance with the "peasant bourgeoisie", which often doesn't exist (and where it does, as in China and India, is often a key part of the ruling class bloc(4)).

The worker-peasant alliance in countries like -- inter alia -- Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Indonesia, South Korea, Argentina etc., will involve centrally national and democratic demands, but intertwined with working class, i.e., socialist and proletarian demands, from the beginning. The conquest of power by such an alliance would be the dictatorship of the proletariat, not a "democratic dictatorship". The completion of the tasks of the national-democratic revolution would inevitably impinge on the power and prerogatives of capital, and bring the revolution into sharp conflict with imperialism.

That doesn't mean, once more and yet again, the instantaneous nationalisation of the means of production, or all the basic means of production. As I explained in my critique it is a basic postulate of Marxism that the working class will seize power, and then "by degrees" socialise the means of production, the tempo depending on a series of circumstance including the level of the productive forces, the cultural level of the labouring masses, and other factors.

The general ideas outlined here are often called "permanent revolution". If Doug Lorimer doesn't like the name then there is no need to insist on it.

Lorimer refers us to a section of the DSP program, and invites me to comment on that, as representing the "real position". The section contains much that is in total conformity with permanent revolution. It says:

However the mere winning of formal political independence by the oppressed nations cannot end their national oppression since this stems from imperialist control of their economic life.

The indigenous capitalist class, while favouring steps to improve its position in relation to imperialism, is unwilling to lead a consistent struggle against imperialist domination because of its dependence on foreign capital...

This is absolutely correct.

The complete and lasting attainment of the goals of national liberation in the Third World can only be carried out by an anti-imperialist movement based on an alliance of the working class and the peasantry, that transfers power to a revolutionary-democratic government and destroys the capitalist state apparatus.

While bourgeois nationalist forces may be part of such a movement, historical experience has shown that the national liberation movement will not succeed if these forces enjoy political hegemony within it, or if the revolutionary-democratic forces subordinate the mobilisation of the worker-peasant masses to the goal of maintaining bourgeois nationalists within the anti-imperialist alliance.

The creation of a revolutionary-democratic government resting on the mobilised power of the worker-peasant masses can open the possibility of bypassing the "normal" process of capitalist development through the growing over of the national-democratic revolution into a socialist revolution. The possibility of pursuing a non-capitalist path of development in a Third World country, and the pace of transition from purely national-democratic tasks to the tasks of socialist construction, is dependent upon a number of factors, in particular:

  • The level of consciousness, mobilisation and organisation of the working people, particularly the working class and the poor, semi-proletarian majority of the peasantry.

  • The level of socio-economic development already attained in the country prior to the coming to power of the workers and peasants' government. The more backward the socio-economic structure, the longer will be the national-democratic stage, the greater will the need be to employ capitalist economic measures (free market for small commodity producers, concessions to foreign capitalist investors, etc.) while developing a state-capitalist sector (private capital operating on state contracts, joint ventures between the workers' state and foreign capital, etc.), and a strictly socialised sector (enterprises owned and operated by the workers' state).

  • The amount of technical assistance, economic aid and trade that can be obtained from industrially advanced socialist states.

While imperialism continues to dominate the most developed sectors of the world economy the task of constructing socialism in any underdeveloped country will be extremely difficult, being subject to the constant threat (or actuality) of imperialist military intervention, economic blockade, and counter-revolutionary pressure. The ability of a workers' state in an underdeveloped country to advance along the road of constructing socialism therefore depends on advances in the world revolutionary process, above all on victorious socialist revolutions in the more industrially developed countries. On the other hand, revolutionary victories in the underdeveloped countries can provide a powerful impetus to the development of mass anti-capitalist movements and consciously revolutionary forces in the imperialist heartlands.

Two initial comments on this passage. First, the section which outlines the possibility of bourgeois nationalist forces being part of an alliance which overthrows the capitalist state -- even if they are in a subordinate position -- is unrealistic (especially today). If they support the overthrow of the bourgeois state, they are no longer bourgeois nationalists. Bourgeois nationalism (as again I explained in my critique) has lost all its radical charge since the 1950s and 1960s. In many countries -- Venezuela and Mexico come to mind -- populist bourgeois nationalism of the Chavez/C rdenas type is the main obstacle to working class independence and genuine anti-imperialism. Anyone who doubts this should watch the evolution of the situation in Venezuela, and they will get some nasty shocks in the next period. As I insisted in my critique, conjunctural and tactical alliances with forces of bourgeois nationalist origin are inevitable in the "Third World". Strategic alliances for the joint conquest of power are not, indeed are potentially disastrous.

Lorimer quotes Lenin as arguing that it is sometimes compulsory to be in government with representatives of the "petty bourgeoisie" (i.e., the peasantry). That is a very different matter.

Second, the passage from the document quoted by Lorimer as the DSP position obviously makes no differential assessment of strategy of countries with different class structures; ie no acknowledgement of the new DSP position that the "democratic dictatorship" does not apply in countries without a peasant majority.

The passage makes the following claim: "The complete and lasting attainment of the goals of national liberation in the Third World can only be carried out by an anti-imperialist movement based on an alliance of the working class and the peasantry, that transfers power to a revolutionary-democratic government and destroys the capitalist state apparatus." It then talks about the difficulties and possibilities of such a "revolutionary-democratic" government making the transition beyond the "national democratic" stage. And then talks about the possibilities of a workers state advancing towards "socialist construction". Is the DSP program, talking about a "revolutionary democratic government" and a "national democratic stage" in a workers state? If so, then once again there are no fundamental differences between this and permanent revolution. Because permanent revolution argues that the completion of the national-democratic revolution cannot only take place, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., a workers' state.

Doug Lorimer's referring us to this passage from the DSP program thus does not solve the dilemma, it only re-poses it anew. If the passage is a (badly-worded) restatement of the "democratic dictatorship" thesis, then by Lorimer's own admission, it doesn't apply to most of the "Third World" today. If not, then, despite some errors, it is heading in a "permanentist" direction. Being an optimist, I would prefer to believe the latter interpretation.

The socialist revolution, Russia and Spain

Doug Lorimer claims I have a Trotskyist "affliction", namely thinking that Trotsky had a clearer and more definite idea about the necessity for a proletarian dictatorship than Lenin had. He argues:

Hearse's claim that it was the Bolsheviks' policy for the democratic revolution to be led by both the workers and the peasants is not an accidental "slip of the pen". Trotskyists have a peculiar phobia about acknowledging that it was the Bolshevik view that the democratic revolution would by led by the workers; that the workers would politically lead the peasant masses in carrying the democratic revolution to victory. To do so would undermine their claim that the chief merit of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution over Lenin's policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution is that Trotsky was clear in affirming the need for proletarian leadership in the democratic revolution, while Lenin was allegedly unsure about what the relationship would be between the proletariat and the peasantry in the revolutionary alliance that carried out the democratic revolution.

In which case it is a bit inexplicable why Lenin never used the phrase "proletarian dictatorship" or "proletarian dictatorship supported by the peasantry", but "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry". Or why Doug Lorimer says in his pamphlet:

It would be a special form of proletarian state power in a bourgeois-democratic revolution, a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. (his emphasis).

Lorimer waxes ironic about my statement that the seizure of power by the working class is the socialist revolution, and insists: no it's not, the nationalisation of the means of production is the socialist revolution. According to him, the seizure of power by the working class just creates the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is logically distinct from the socialist revolution per se. In support of his thesis he quotes Trotsky, and argues that what Trotsky says is basically the same as Lenin's view:

The fact is that the dictatorship of the proletariat does not at all coincide mechanically with the inception of the socialist revolution. The seizure of power by the working class occurs in definite national surroundings, in a definite period, for the solution of definite tasks. In backward nations, such immediate tasks have a democratic character: the national liberation from imperialist subjugation and the agrarian revolution, as in China; the agrarian revolution and the liberation of the oppressed nationalities as in Russia. We see the same thing at present in Spain, even though in a different combination. Lenin even said that the proletariat in Russia came to power in October 1917 primarily as an agent of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The victorious proletariat began with the solution of the democratic tasks, and only gradually, by the logic of its rule, did it take up the socialist tasks... This is precisely what Lenin called the growing over of the democratic revolution into the socialist.

I think the views outlined here by Trotsky are one-sided and partial -- i.e., wrong. (Of course if this was the sum total of what Trotsky said on the matter, then Lorimer -- since he agrees with it -- would not have written his pamphlet). Naturally, I don't agree with everything that Trotsky or Lenin said. What is wrong with Trotsky's formulation here is his argument that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not the inception of the socialist revolution. "Inception" has only one definition in the Oxford English dictionary: beginning. It seems to me obvious that the conquest of power by the working class, the dictatorship of the proletariat, is the "inception" (although of course not the completion) of the socialist revolution. The nature of the state is determined by, well, the nature of the state. That's why the DSP program talks about the situation after the destruction of the capitalist state apparatus by the armed workers and peasants as a "workers state" (this may have been a Freudian slip, but if so it was an accurate one). Evidently, after the workers (or the workers supported by the peasantry and semi-proletarians) have seized state power, they then face the task of moving towards the socialisation of the means of production, and this will be carried out at a faster or slower pace depending on circumstances. But this is part of a single, uninterrupted or permanent process, i.e., the process of the socialist revolution. Lorimer's insistence that the seizure of power by the working class and the socialisation of industry are two separate "stages" with a different class political character (the first bourgeois-democratic and the second socialist) is an absolutely arbitrary, false and mechanical imposition of a schema on reality(5).

The only possible logic to Lorimer's idea is that immediately after the seizure of power in semi-colonial and dependent countries, tasks of the national democratic revolution need to be solved. That is true, but doesn't tell you the class nature of the revolution, or the class nature of the state. As I explained in my critique, today more than ever the tasks of the national-democratic revolution cannot be solved without independence from imperialism, and this involves actions against both imperialist capital and its local representatives, ie the domestic bourgeoisie. This means that it's absolutely inevitable that the revolution will necessarily combine socialist and "national democratic" measures, tasks of the socialist revolution with those of the national democratic revolution. In the epoch of imperialism it could not be otherwise, because without anti-capitalist measures, tasks of the socialist revolution, the national democratic tasks cannot be solved. This notion of a "combined" (i.e., permanent, uninterrupted) revolution of course is not a deviation from "orthodox Marxism" or historical materialism; it is only a deviation from the mechanical version of historical materialism dominant in the Second International and Stalinist textbooks, which insist on rigid, counter-posed "stages". It is precisely based on the theory of combined and uneven development, which was the theoretical underpinning of Trotsky's permanent revolution theory, and of one of the major expositions of that theory -- namely Trotsky's monumental History of the Russian Revolution (which Lorimer inexplicably praises for its "incomparable Marxist exposition"). The "tasks" of different historical periods, of different revolutions, can in the real world be combined. Why not? History advances by leaps and bounds and the "skipping" of stages. I asked Lorimer in my critique: do you agree with the theory of combined and uneven development? He did not reply (and with good reason).

Russia: how the revolution opened the way for capitalism and bourgeois rule (according to Lorimer)

In my document I recalled the incident in the Russian Central Committee when Bukharin was trying to prove the continuity of Lenin's strategic policy through quotations. Trotsky interjected: "there are many quotations which prove the opposite" and Bukharin replied that he was aware of that, but was choosing the quotations which suited him, not Trotsky. Lorimer now tries a different approach. He just says that he is aware of that, but everything that Lenin said was correct, so he is going to defend every quotation, no matter how mutually contradictory. The most blatant example of this is in relation to Lenin's statements on the character of the revolution in Two Tactics (1905). Lenin says: "Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. What does this mean? It means that the democratic reforms that become a necessity for Russia do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, clear the ground for the wide and rapid, European and not Asiatic, development of capitalism; they will, for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class." (Collected Works volume 9, p 48)

and again:

[The victory of the revolution can be achieved by] "only a dictatorship because the accomplishment of transformations immediately and urgently needed by the proletariat will evoke the desperate resistance of the big landlords, bourgeoisie and czarism...But this of course will be a democratic and not a socialist dictatorship. It will not be able to touch (without a whole series of transitional stages of revolutionary development) the foundation of capitalism. It will be able, in the best case, to realise a radical redivision of landed property in favour of the peasantry, introduce a consistent and full democratism up to instituting the republic, root out all Asiastic and feudal features not only from the day-to-day life of the village but also the factory, put a beginning to a serious improvement of workers conditions and raise their living standard, and last but not least, carry over the revolutionary conflagration to Europe."

Lorimer has three replies to my assertion that this is not what happened in the Russian revolution. They are (a) the revolution did bring the bourgeoisie to power (b) it did provide for the rapid development of capitalism and (c) it is wrong to interpret the above passages as implying a program for a bourgeois republic. Lorimer in his reply says:

Lenin's argument here is simply a restatement of an elementary precept (sic) of historical materialism and Marxist economic theory, ie that complete elimination of the remnants of feudalism in Russia (the destruction of the tsarist autocracy and semi-feudal landlord system) would create the optimum economic conditions for the development of capitalism, especially in the countryside, where 80% of Russia's population lived... This comment of Lenin's is also as elementary as it is correct.

Moreover: "Hearse poses the following question to me: `Is this what happened in 1917? That the revolution made it possible for the first time to rule as a class?' My answer to this question is very simple: while this was not the aim of Lenin's policy, it is what actually happened in 1917. Or does Hearse deny that the initial phase of the workers' and peasants' democratic revolution in Russia in 1917 -- the February Revolution -- enabled a transfer from the semi-feudal aristocracy to the political representatives of the big bourgeoisie, organised in the Provisional Government?"

This reply by Lorimer is absurd. When Lenin says that the revolution will make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule for the first time as a class, he evidently means that it will be possible for them to establish their social dictatorship, ie "rule as a class". Nine and a half months of provisional government, with a situation of dual power, is not the bourgeoisie ruling as a class, ie establishing its social dictatorship. In any case, Lenin does not say "briefly" or "for a historically insignificant period of time, after which they will be ejected by a proletarian upsurge".

Equally, when Lenin argues that "the democratic reforms that become a necessity for Russia do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, clear the ground for the wide and rapid, European and not Asiatic, development of capitalism" he seem to me to be saying that the revolution will not undermine capitalism or bourgeois rule, but will create the basis for a European development of capitalism. This is exactly what did not happen in 1917.

The October 1917 revolution prevented the bourgeoisie from establishing its power, or its social rule as a class. It is in any case far from certain that the bourgeoisie would have been able to stabilise its rule, even if the October revolution had not occurred. The likelihood is that a new rapprochement with the forces of the autocracy would have taken place, the outlines of which were evident in the failed Kornilov putsch. (This is indeed one of the points in the debates with the "new revisionist" school of historians who claim that the Bolshevik revolution was an illegitimate historical interruption to the process of creating a "normal", stable and European-type of bourgeois democracy).

Lorimer's replies on these points fail completely to make an overall historical judgement about the meaning and significance of the October revolution, apparently because every last word of Lenin's texts has to be defended. From his point of view it would have been possible to make a much better case. Lorimer could have argued that you have to judge the overall sweep of Lenin's writings, not just this or that article (although of course Two Tactics was a key text for the Bolsheviks, one of their main programmatic statements). He could have agreed that there were tensions and contradictions in Lenin's position, but the overall thrust was that it was necessary to establish a "special form of proletarian dictatorship" in Russia (even if he didn't use the words proletarian dictatorship). He could have, but he doesn't: not only because every last word of Lenin has to be defended, but because the more you stress those aspects of Lenin's writings which could imply the way to the worker-peasant upsurge ending in a proletarian dictatorship, the closer Lenin's strategic approach seems to Trotsky's and the permanent revolution.

Lorimer is outraged that I suggest that the meaning of these passages from Two Tactics is that the Bolsheviks will fight for a bourgeois republic. Well, the text says -- does it not? -- that the revolution will be able "in the best case" to "introduce a consistent and full democratism up to instituting the republic" -- in Lorimer's translation it says "including instituting a republic". This is the sole reference to the type of political regime. Lenin argues that this would enable the improvement of the workers' living standards, and opposes any agnosticism towards the national-democratic revolution he proposes. Lenin was quite right that the working class had every interest in overthrowing the autocracy and the remnants of semi-feudalism, even if that meant instituting a more-or-less prolonged phase of capitalism. And that this would indeed create much better conditions for working class struggle. Of course. Trotsky would not have disagreed with these sentiments. Any agnosticism towards the gains of the national-democratic revolution would have been totally ultra-left. But what precisely Two Tactics doesn't have is a clear notion of the uninterrupted -- permanent -- character of the revolution. That the overthrow of the czarist and semi-feudal regime will be directly linked with the dictatorship of the proletariat and the coming to power of the working class. Lorimer goes to extraordinary pains to prove that black is white, because he cannot stomach the idea that on this question Trotsky had a clearer, more precise and more prescient conception of the revolution than Lenin.

One final point about the contemporary applicability of all this. In the passages which Lorimer quotes Lenin explains that the revolution will be bourgeois in its "economic and social essence". Of course, I disagree that the revolution, even in the immediate post-October situation was bourgeois in its economic and, especially, social "essence". But in any case, where exactly in the world today is Doug going to explain that the workers and peasants suffer from "too little" capitalism; that socialists advocate the freest and most complete development of capitalism, which is bourgeois in its "economic and social essence"? Try that in Indonesia, China, Brazil or Mexico, and see what kind of response you get from workers' and peasants' organisations.


In my critique I argued that the great proletarian revolutionary uprising in Spain against the military-fascist putsch in June 1936 combined elements of the national democratic and the socialist revolutions. I argued that the socialisation of enterprises in the great urban centres and collectivisation of the land in many areas, were tasks of the socialist revolution, not of the (bourgeois) national-democratic revolution. Lorimer now concludes that this is because I have an "anarchist" conception of socialist revolution. Rather, he argues, these were not actions of the socialist revolution, because they did not involve the nationalisation of industry. He says:

Contrary to what Hearse implies here, I do not think these actions were "ultra-left". But nor do I agree with him when he claims they amounted to the "socialisation" of the ownership of the means of production... For the working class in Catalonia in 1936-37 to have even begun the socialisation of the ownership of means of production, they would have had to have first done what the Russian workers did on October 25 (November 7), 1917, i.e., raise themselves to the position of ruling class by effecting a revolutionary transfer of political power from the bourgeois republican government to a workers and peasants' government... Without the expropriation of factories, mines, banks, railways, etc., by a proletarian state power, the seizure of the factories by individual groups of workers amounted, not to socialisation, but rather, as Morrow put it, to "syndicalist capitalism" -- "a form of producers' co-operatives, in which the workers divided the profits" and in which "real planning was impossible".

The identification of the factory takeovers in Catalonia as the "socialisation" of industry was how the anarchists conceived of the socialist revolution. The spontaneous working-class revolt in Catalonia went down to defeat in large part because the workers' anarchist and POUMist leaders in practice rejected the Marxist perspective on how to achieve working-class power in favour of carrying out a Menshevik, i.e., class-collaborationist, policy in relation to the bourgeois republican government. As Trotsky correctly observed in January 1937: "The present policy of the POUM leadership is that of Martov, not of Lenin. And for victory, the policy of Lenin is needed."

In Spain, after the successful defeat of the military-fascist putsch by the workers in many proletarian centres, a situation of overlapping dual power was created. On the one hand, the country was divided between those areas where the fascists had conquered and those areas where they had not -- a form of territorial dual power. On the other hand, in many proletarian centres the power was in the hands of the workers' militias: the militias, generally organised by the parties, was the only usable military power confronting the fascists. It was this dual power that the right-wing republicans and their Stalinist shock troops moved to crush. In a certain sense it was initially not even a real "dual power" in the republican areas, at least at a military level, because it was after all the army which had led the putsch, and in the republican areas the army remnants had disintegrated. The reconstruction of a regular army, and the destruction of the militias, was the key act in the Stalinist-led counter-revolution (as any one who has seen Land and Freedom knows).

Of course, the transition to the victory of the socialist revolution would have required the building of a revolutionary party, or alliance of revolutionary parties, on the whole territory of the republic and its mobilisation of the working class, including the revolutionary militias, to seize power. This was a prerequisite of the defeat of the military-fascist rebellion; the victory of the revolution in the republican areas, and the carrying of that revolution into the fascist-dominated areas. The complete nationalisation of industry would have required the victory of the revolutionary alliance, at least in the republican areas.

Now Doug Lorimer's critique of what I said is mostly beside the point. I didn't say there was a successful socialist revolution in Spain. If there had been, the world today would be a different place (for example, it's not at all certain that the second world war would have taken place, at least not in the form that it did). What I said was that the revolutionary uprising involved measures of socialisation, i.e., anti-capitalist measures, from the beginning. That's because the revolution was not just a national-democratic revolution. The occupation of the factories and their running by the workers; the control of major cities by the revolutionary militias; and the collectivisation of the land -- these things are not part of the national-democratic revolution, they are part of the socialist revolution. Or is Doug Lorimer going to say that the seizure of the factories and the collectivisation of the land "doesn't touch the foundations of bourgeois property"! It was the Stalinists who tried to insist that the revolution was bourgeois-democratic, and not a socialist revolution -- and that this "stage" could not be skipped.

Doug should now tell us: is the historian Fernando Claudin, former leader of the Spanish CP, right when he argues that the Comintern team in Spain, led by Togliatti, tried to force the revolution back into "a bourgeois-democratic straightjacket" from the spontaneously socialist and proletarian character it had assumed?

The only point that Doug is left with making is that the victory of the workers and peasants would have created a "workers and peasants government" and only subsequently would the state-wide nationalisation of the means of production ensued. How this differs from permanent revolution you would need a million-dollar computer to work out.

Lastly, I note that Lorimer is a strong partisan of some of the most sectarian and unbalanced things that Trotsky ever wrote, namely his attacks on the Catalonian POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification: I refer readers for example to his article "The Culpability of Left Centrism" in the Pathfinder collection of Trotsky's writings on Spain). The POUM made mistakes, but to argue that the revolution went down to defeat "in large part" because of the lack of clarity of the POUM (and the anarchists) is totally unbalanced. The POUM was a (regional) revolutionary party, which -- in common with the other revolutionary forces -- was smashed up, its militias destroyed and some of its its leaders butchered by the Stalinist-led counter-revolution. That was the fundamental reason for the defeat of the revolution, not the "Menshevik" policies of the POUM.(6)

Conclusion: agreement and differences between the DSP and permanent revolution

Comrade Lorimer, in effect, accuses me of a frame-up. He argues that I have invented a "DSP theory" of revolution in the "Third World" which I want to "saddle" the DSP with -- ie the theory of the "democratic dictatorship", as applied, according to him, by Lenin in Russia. Now he says he only thinks this theory is "superior" to permanent revolution in countries where the peasantry is a majority, i.e., a minority of semi-colonial and other countries dominated by imperialism.

I of course have no wish to saddle the DSP with anything. They saddled themselves with an untenable and unworkable theory, based on a partial and tendentious interpretation of Lenin, and the experience of the Russian revolution. It now seems they are in full retreat on this point, and I of course welcome that.

Doug Lorimer can't get away with quoting an outdated document as the DSP position, when it does not comment on, or is unclear on, key issues. The exact differences of the DSP with permanent revolution as a practical policy for today and the future are now unclear. On two key points they seem to be moving towards "permanentist" positions:

1. Lorimer now insists that the "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" he now advocates is a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This means he thinks the solution to the national and democratic tasks of the revolution in "backward" countries requires the proletarian dictatorship, ie the political rule of the working class supported by the poor peasants and "semi-proletarian" strata. This is exactly what permanent revolution (and Trotsky) says. The only residual differences therefore are (a) will this proletarian dictatorship necessarily be an alliance with the so-called "peasant bourgeoisie"? And (b) is it possible that measures of the socialist revolution, ie anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist tasks, can be combined with national-democratic tasks or must the revolution, by a self-limiting regulation, necessarily limit itself -- in the first "stage"- to national-democratic tasks. I have explained here and in my original critique why I think that in this more-capitalist-than-ever world, the two sets of tasks will be necessarily combined.

2. Doug Lorimer now says that the "democratic dictatorship" theory is only superior to permanent revolution in countries with a peasant majority. He (and the DSP) now have to say why permanent revolution cannot apply in the many dominated countries which do not have a peasant majority.

Of course it doesn't matter much if Lorimer and the DSP adopt the words "permanent revolution". And it doesn't much matter if they stick to their idiosyncratic interpretation of the Russian revolution. The insistence on a particular series of concepts for this kind of historical assessment can only draw artificial divides, particularly if it becomes a matter of using different words for the same thing.

The important question is what strategy is going to be advocated in "Third World" countries, in other words, what policy revolutionary marxists are going to take towards the revolutions of the 21st century. In this category -- revolutionary marxists -- I of course include the DSP. As I argued in my original critique, there is no evidence that the DSP has advocated actions, or taken positions, in the class struggle which would lead to the subordination of the proletariat and its allies to the bourgeoisie and imperialism. New forces are coming forward towards revolutionary positions in countries where, because of repression or Stalinist/Maoist disorientation, the revolutionary traditions have been submerged, dispersed or distorted. In the inevitable dialogue between Marxists and the newly-emerging forces it has to be pointed out that the revolution of the 21st century will be -- as Che Guevara put it in his historic 1967 message to the Tricontinental on the eve of his death in combat -- "a socialist revolution or a make-believe revolution".


The following is a list of books and articles referred to in this article and its predecessor. References to works by Lenin and Trotsky appear in the text, and are thus excluded here.

Broui P., and Temime E., The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain.

Carr, E.H., The Bolshevik Revolution, volumes 1, 2, 3. Also: The Interregnum, Russia 1923 (all MacMillan/Penguin).

Deutscher, Isaac, The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, The Prophet Outcast (the Trotsky triliogy). All Oxford University Press.

Geras, Norman, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg (see especially the chapter: "Between the Russian Revolutions".) Verso 1976.

Liebman, Marcel, Leninism Under Lenin (Merlin).

L”wy, Michael, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development (Verso); Fatherland or Mother Earth? (Pluto-IRRE); "Globalisation and Internationalism", Monthly Review, volume 50 no. 6, November 1998.

Lowentin, R.C., "Farmer as Proletarian", Monthly Review, July/August 1998.

Mandel, E., Revolutionary Marxism Today (New Left Books 1978). Trotsky, a Study in the Dynamic of his Thought (NLB 1978).

Orwell G., Homage to Catalonia (Penguin).


1. "In Defence of Lenin's Marxist Two-Stage theory of Revolution". The original pamphlet was: Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution -- a Leninist Critique. Resistance Books. 1998.

2. One possible approach that Lorimer could adopt to answer this question would be to say that there is no general strategic approach one can have to revolutions in the dominated countries, that it all depends on the concrete circumstances, that we can't have "general schemas" etc. In which case, why does the "democratic dictatorship" approach in countries with a peasant majority apply? And why can revolutionary organisations have a general strategic approach which is applicable in the imperialist countries? And why does the DSP program, which Lorimer quotes (see below) outline a general strategic approach for the Third World? Of course no overall strategy can provide all the detailed tactical answers. That's why I wrote in my critique: "There are no cook-book recipes which give precise tactical advice..."

3. Doug Lorimer claims that "before a scientific attempt can be made to reassess either of these "theories" (ie permanent revolution and the "democratic dictatorship" -PH)in the light of contemporary experience, it is necessary that their actual content be understood'. So after dozens of books, and hundreds of articles and documents on this self-same issue, it is still necessary to await yet another discussion on Russia before we can assess their contemporary usefulness?!

4. In India the "peasant bourgeoisie" are landlords with holdings of 40-50 hectares, by international standards a small quantity. But they are a bulwark of reaction, and their position is linked with the caste system. An alliance with the "whole peasantry" is a utopia in India.

5. If the character of the social relations of production in the immediate aftermath of revolution is the key question for judging its class political character, then it is a bit inexplicable why Marxists refer to the events in England (1640-9) and France (1789-95) as "bourgeois" (ie capitalist) revolutions. Generalised commodity production (the very definition of capitalism) did not exist in either country until decades after the victory of the revolution. It is this fact that has led the various "revisionist" schools to challenge the assertion that the French revolution was a bourgeois revolution. The revisionists have an extremely formalised and unhistorical view -- just like Lorimer on Russia. The key question is: what set of social relations does a particular revolution defend and promote historically? To apply Lorimer's approach to the bourgeois revolutions, we would have to assume a two stage revolution: first the anti-feudal, anti-monarchical revolution, and then only after that the capitalist revolution. Of course, by definition no precise date could be put on the exact advent of generalised commodity production.

6. Of course, the DSP co-operates today with parties way to the right of the POUM.

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