Actuality of the theory of the permanent revolution
Actuality of the theory of the Permanent revolution and the Law of Unequal and Combined Development,
THESIS XXXIX of "The Transitional Program Now" by Nahuel Moreno (1980).
Just as we should claim more than ever the Transitional Program and Trotskyism, we also should claim the theory of the permanent revolution. We should however distinguish carefully between the theory and the written text of the Theses of the permanent revolution. In some aspects, those Theses are superseded. And the sooner we recognise that, the sooner will we be able to fight revisionism better.
The Theses don't take into account the political revolution. They couldn't take it into account since, at the time of their redaction, the historical reality didn't yet involve the existence of a bureaucratised workers' state. But today, that new reality is an essential part of our policy and theory of the permanent revolution. The political revolution is part of the world socialist revolution, together with the formal democratic tasks, the tasks of democratic content and the February revolutions. The democratic tasks, the February revolutions, the political revolutions are part of the socialist revolution. This combination of tasks not only happens on a world-wide scale but also at the level of each country, be it backward or not, be it imperialist or a bureaucratised workers' state. Therefore, one expression of the political revolution, the struggle against the counterrevolutionary bureaucratic apparatuses, happens inside the advanced capitalist countries. The same applies for the democratic tasks.
Something similar happens with the category of bourgeois democratic revolutions, which we find at the beginning of the Theses of the permanent revolution. There are no more bourgeois democratic revolutions since there is no more ruling feudalism in the actual world, but only distinct degrees of capitalism and of imperialist ruling. Yet there are two distinct types of socialist revolution: the unconscious, of February, conducted or recovered by reformist parties; and the conscious, of October, conducted by Trotskyist parties. That doesn't mean to negate the fundamental importance of the democratic tasks.
That's why, also in the bureaucratised workers' states themselves, there will be February revolutions, that open the way as a prologue to the October revolution, as a previous stage to the transformation of the Trotskyist parties in mass parties. All that are problems that we have tried to clear in the present theses, and that should be incorporated into the theory of the permanent revolution.
But the Theses, not the theory, made an incorrect evaluation of the dynamics and of the transformation of the bourgeois democratic revolution into socialist revolution in the backward countries. The Theses categorically state that the bourgeois democratic revolution, and even more the socialist revolution, can only be carried through by a communist, Leninist, revolutionary party, based on the revolutionary organisation of the proletariat itself. The Theses have as their fundamental axis the process of transformation of the bourgeois democratic revolution into a socialist revolution, of expropriation of the bourgeoisie and imperialism by a social subject, the proletariat, and by a political subject, the revolutionary communist party. The Theses categorically state that only the working class, headed by a revolutionary communist party may carry through the bourgeois democratic revolution and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie through a socialist revolution. And that happened to be wrong. We should recognise it so. The “Transition Program” itself changes a little bit the categorical statements of the Theses with its theoretic !“improbable variant”. We should recognise that petty bourgeois parties (among them the Stalinist ones), forced by the circumstances, have been urged to break up with the bourgeoisie and imperialism in order to carry through the democratic revolution and the beginning of the socialist revolution, expropriating the bourgeoisie and giving rise this way to new bureaucratised workers' states.
It is necessary to incorporate into the theory of the permanent revolution, the recognition of the generalisation of the February revolutions, the combination of the February revolutions with the October revolution and the fact that the February revolution may arrive at expropriating the bourgeoisie and at starting the socialist revolution; what the bureaucratic leaderships cannot do is to continue the socialist revolution. That incorporation of the February revolution, that recognition of the fact that the February revolutions themselves may go beyond what is stated in the Theses of the permanent revolution, doesn't render void the theory; it rather proofs the theory more than ever.
The theory of the permanent revolution is much more ample than the Theses written by Trotsky at the end of the twenties; it is the theory of the international socialist revolution that combines distinct tasks, stages and types of revolutions on the way towards the world revolution. Reality has been more Trotskyist and permanent than the previsions of Trotsky himself and of the Trotskyists. It has produced unexpected combinations: despite the failures of the subject (in some revolutions the proletariat hasn't been the principal protagonist) and of the subjective factor (the crisis of leadership, the weakness of Trotskyism), the world socialist revolution has obtained important triumphs; it has arrived at the expropriation of the national and foreign exploiters in many countries, although the conduction of the mass movement continued to be in the hands of the opportunist and counterrevolutionary apparatuses and leaderships.
If we don't recognise those facts, we let the way open to the revisionist interpretations that lean on them in order to negate the classist and political character of the theory of the permanent revolution. So, a complete revisionist theory, the substitutionism of Deutscher, has appeared: the communist parties are the symbol of the working class; hence, the Theses have been confirmed since the communist parties have seized power and - factually - were revolutionary parties; even if the working class didn't take part in the revolutionary process, the Stalinist parties did reflect it; Trotsky was wrong because he didn't point out that a class may be reflected by its party and because he wasn't aware of the fact that many communist parties were revolutionary. With that criticism of the Theses, one aims at ratifying the written Theses. We disagree, we say it were February revolutions, that means, workers' and popular revolutions with opportunist leaderships that, urged by the pressure of the mass movement, have been forced to advance beyond what they liked, expropriating the bourgeoisie.
The SWP is engaged in another attack against the Trotskyist theory of the permanent revolution. According to that new theory of the SWP, neither the proletariat nor Trotskyism is any more absolutely necessary for a continuous development of the permanent revolution. At most they are one element among others. The new theory of the permanent revolution, of the actual conduction of the SWP, is the theory of the unitary progressive movements of the oppressed, not of the proletariat and Trotskyism. Any movement of the oppressed - if it is unitary and ranges over all of them, even belonging to different classes - is on its own increasingly permanent and conducts unavoidably to the national and international socialist revolution, without class differentiation or political differentiation. That concept has been expressed particularly regarding the blacks' movement and the women's movement. All women are oppressed, as all blacks are; if one obtains a movement of those oppressed sectors as a whole, that mobilisation will not stop and it will conduct them through distinct stages towards making a socialist revolution.
For the SWP, the socialist revolution is a combination of distinct multitudinous movements - without class differences - of similar importance: the movement of the blacks, of women, of workers, of youth, of old people, that arrive in a nearly pacific way at the triumph of socialism. If all women are marching together, they represent 50 % of the country; if the same happens with the youth (70 % in some Latin American countries), with the workers, the black and the peasants, the combination of those movements will provoke the bourgeoisie to be confined in a little hotel, since it will be the adult, male, white bourgeois that will be opposed against the permanent revolution. It is the theory of Bernstein, combined with the permanent revolution: all is in the movement, the class and the parties are nothing. That theory falls down rapidly in an anti classist humanism, which claims the praxis to be the fundamental category, as opposed to the class struggle as the fundamental motor of history.
The SWP says we should look at what is doing the Government of National Reconstruction of Nicaragua to know what about, since they belong to the movement that tumbled Somoza. So, they apply their revisionist, not classist and not political concept of the permanent revolution. Facing the SWP, we should claim more than ever the classist and Trotskyist character of the permanent revolution. No bourgeois or reformist sector will follow us in the permanent revolution. In some exceptional conjunctures young bourgeois and workers, bourgeois and workers women, opportunist and revolutionary blacks may be marching together, when the action doesn't make an attempt on the bourgeoisie and private property; but such a common march will be exceptional and not permanent. We go on with an intransigent defence of the essence of the theory as well as of the written Theses themselves of the permanent revolution: only the proletariat, headed by a Trotskyist party, may conduct consequently up to the end the international socialist revolution, and hence the permanent revolution. Only Trotskyism is able to impulse the permanent mobilisation of the working class and its allies, principally of the working class. The only element we add is that the objective force of the world revolution, combined with the crisis of leadership of the world proletariat and the crisis without issue of imperialism, has allowed for the national February revolutions to advance much beyond the forecasts of the Theses: petty bourgeois parties have seized power and started the socialist revolution. But those parties, when building bureaucratised workers' states of national type, when imposing their program of pacific coexistence and of socialism in only one country, paralyse the permanent revolution.
In that sense, the Theses were only wrong for some countries in the point about the station where came to a stop the process of permanent revolution conducted by petty bourgeois - inclusive Stalinist - parties; but they were right in stating that anyhow the process comes to a stop if it is not conducted by a Leninist communist party, say, by a Trotskyist party. While the Theses thought it was impossible to overcome the bourgeois limit, or even the feudal limit, reality has shown that those limits could be overcome by the pressure of the mass movement and, unwillingly, by the petty bourgeois parties of its leadership.
The theory of the permanent revolution is enriched with the most extraordinary research tool and instrument of political and theoretic elaboration furnished by Trotskyism: the theory of unequal and combined development. The impulse of the mass movement, combined with the crisis of revolutionary leadership has been at the origin of combinations not foreseen in detail (and which could not have been foreseen) by our movement. But those combinations not only confirm that the process of permanent revolution exists; it is so powerful as to originate those combinations; and they confirm more than ever the theory of the unequal and combined development as the greatest theoretic conquest of revolutionary Marxism in the actual century.
* Nahuel Moreno was founder of International Workers League - Fourth International (IWL-FI). Official website: http://www.litci.org/
Website of "Marxism Alive" (IWL-FI publication): http://www.marxismalive.org/