A Marxist critique of the theory of Deflected Permanent Revolution

2) Cliff’s “Deflected Permanent Revolution”: A Marxist Critical Appraisal

Let’s go now to Cliff’s contributions on the evaluation of the postwar revolutions. In his critique of Trotsky’s theory Cliff invalidates some of the theses he first outlined and then he develops new elements to complete or revise the theory in light of the Chinese and Cuban revolutions and the post-war situation, formulating a new one, that of the Deflected Permanent Revolution.

{module Deflected PR – part 2}

The central idea is that the postwar revolutions do not lead to socialism but to “state capitalism” because they “deflect”, almost hopelessly.

Why didn’t the working class lead the postwar revolutions?

The main criticism made openly by Cliff to Trotsky’s theory starts with one basic postulate and ends in a more or less complete abandonment of the original theory and its political conclusions. According to Cliff’s own words: “Once the permanent revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes doubtful, the whole structure collapses.

His main criticism is focused on Trotsky’s claim that only the working class can be a revolutionary class or subject, and carry out both the democratic and socialist revolutions. If he admits Trotsky’s characterization of the reactionary role of the bourgeoisie, he criticizes Trotsky for seeing in the working class the “permanent” revolutionary subject of the semi-colonial and colonial world:

“While the conservative, cowardly nature of a late-developing bourgeoisie (Trotsky’s first point) is an absolute law, the revolutionary character of the young working class (point 2) is neither absolute nor inevitable. The reasons are not difficult to appreciate. The prevailing ideology in the society of which the working class forms a part is that of the ruling class; in many cases the existence of a floating, amorphous majority of new workers with one foot in the countryside creates difficulties for autonomous proletarian organisations; lack of experience and illiteracy add to their weakness. This leads to yet another weakness: dependence on non-workers for leadership.” (Cliff, Deflected Permanent Revolution)

Contrary to Cliff’s misreading, Trotsky never said that the working class would be a permanently revolutionary subject. But let’s evaluate without fear Trotsky’s mistake, because in this postulate he was wrong. What Trotsky says is that in the colonial world, the working class is the only class that can fulfill the democratic revolution because of its social composition on the one hand and because of the historical difficulties of organization of the peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie on the other, especially given the very heterogeneous social conditions these two latter sectors encompass and their divergent political views:[1]

As all modern history attests – especially the Russian experience of the last twenty-five years – an insurmountable obstacle on the road to the creation of a peasants’ party is the petty-bourgeoisie’s lack of economic and political independence and its deep internal differentiation. By reason of this the upper sections of the petty-bourgeoisie (of the peasantry) go along with the big bourgeoisie in all decisive cases, especially in war and in revolution; the lower sections go along with the proletariat; the intermediate section being thus compelled to choose between the two extreme poles.” (Trotsky, Permanent Revolution)

Trotsky is saying the proletariat will carry out the revolution from a historical point of view, but mostly for negative reasons or by exclusion: because it is the only class organized to do so and because he saw the difficulties in organizing the peasantry as a unified political subject.

The point is not to justify everything Trotsky said, because he was wrong in this: there were other classes or sectors that led the Chinese and Cuban revolutions. Trotsky’s theoretical error was one of historical perspectives and assessment, and he was wrong in raising to the level of theory the question of the subject of the democratic revolution. He also wrongly assumed that the working class in other colonial countries would be able to form a party like the Russian one and dispute the leadership of the democratic revolution. As Moreno said, “the two subjects of Trotsky, social and political, failed to historical call, did not arrive on time.” (Moreno, cadres school in Argentina, 1984) Well, that’s not entirely true, in one revolution the social subject, the working class has arrived. It was in Bolivia in 1952. But Cliff doesn’t mention the Bolivian revolution in 1952, which itself was carried out by the working class, i.e. he avoids taking into account the revolutions that do not help him to criticize Trotsky.

But the key is to understand why the working class failed or was unable to lead these major revolutions and why, as Cliff has a point remarking this wrong prognostic. Why the working class didn’t lead these revolutions? What conclusions can be drawn from this change and these revolutions? From our point of view Trotsky was wrong not because his theory was globally wrong but because he didn’t foresaw that throughout the twentieth century the Russian Revolution would be an exception and not a rule of history and did not anticipate the depth of a crisis of leadership that would only aggravate. The fact that the working class has passed to the background after the war was not a matter of fate but a product of the counterrevolution after the Second World War and the misleading of the Comintern (and its policy of class alliance), it was not due to an impossibility of the Third World working class to organize.

But Cliff has another interpretation. He says that there are several factors that explain this non revolutionary character of the working class: objective and subjective ones. That is he makes a new theory of it, of the non-revolutionary character of the class, almost reversing Trotsky´s mistake instead of correcting it. On the one hand, he says, there are different objective circumstances in the Third World that limit seriously the capacity of the working class to lead: stronger ideological pressures, a different process of class formation and therefore “a dependence on non-workers for leadership,” that is to say a dependence on intellectuals. Cliff will even develop this dependency of the working class on intellectuals in the non-advanced countries into an “historical law”:

The importance of the intelligentsia in a revolutionary movement is in direct proportion to the general backwardness-economic, social and cultural-of the masses from whose midst it arises.”  (Cliff, Deflected Permanent Revolution)

On the other hand, this different objective situation makes it almost impossible for the working class to organize. And to this pessimistic framework, Cliff adds at the end a subjective one:

The last, but by no means least factor determining whether the working class in the backward countries is actually revolutionary or not is a subjective one, namely, the activities of the parties, particularly the Communist Parties, that influence it. The counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism in backward countries has been dealt with too often to need repetition here.” (Cliff, Deflected Permanent Revolution)

We agree with Trotsky that the determining factor of the working class is the subjective one (its capacity to organize in a revolutionary party) which means that it would be possible for the working class to lead these revolutions if it breaks from the conservative Communist Parties and creates Bolshevik ones ready to fight for a workers government in agreement with the peasantry. But that’s not what the theory of Deflected Permanent Revolution says, for Cliff focuses his explanation mainly in objective factors. What for Cliff is one factor amongst others, for Trotsky was the core of the problem, that of organization.

Cliff’s mechanicism

But Cliff’s analysis has another little problem. With the same analysis the Russian Revolution can’t be explained, as in pre-revolutionary Russia the proletariat was a minority and the role of the intelligentsia was important. Many of these objective conditions apply. So what are the real differences between Russia in 1917 and the colonial world in the postwar period? For us it is only the role of Stalinism and the crisis of leadership, that is, a subjective problem. For Cliff, the difference lays on the nature of capitalism in the postwar period: there is a new economic development that changes the objective factors and the class dynamics of imperialism do not apply anymore. But he doesn’t state it clearly in his theory, because he would then have to justify it.

This is very clear in the IST’s political orientation after the war. As if Cliff truly believed the subjective factor was the determining one, he would have called for the working class to organize in a party independently of the Communist Party, with a truly revolutionary program – this is what Trotsky attempted to do with the foundation of the 4th International, to insist that the problem of the world revolution was not a problem of theory, or of different class formation and class dynamics, but a problem of organizing the proletariat in a revolutionary organization, independent from the national bourgeoisies and with a correct program. That is, to dispute the consciousness of the working class by building a political alternative to Stalinism that still has revolution on the agenda. That was the reason for the failure of the workers’ revolution in Bolivia that the IST ignored.[2]

But his group had not real policy for revolutionaries in the Third World, which was implicitly considered as hopeless. Cliff instead theorizes why the working class cannot lead the revolution anymore and is dependent on new social forces. The question we still make to the IST comrades is: Is the working class able to lead the revolution in the “backward” countries and the big obstacle is a question of organization (subjective) or is the working class unable to lead because of different historical process of class formation, ideological pressure and dependency on other classes (objective)? If one thinks the main factor is subjective, one calls for the working class to organize independently and starts building a party to dispute the leadership of these processes, maintaining the mobilization of the masses and posing the issue of workers’ power when it’s possible. That’s what our current made in the postwar period, for sure, with errors.

But if one believes that the class has lost its revolutionary potential, the one showed by the Russian Revolution, then one makes a theory to explain this lack of potential. It is clear that Cliff does the second thing, without wanting to be honest and acknowledge the full implications of his reading of post-war political dynamics.

What are the implications of Cliff’s new thesis of the neo-colonial and colonial world for the revolutionaries at that time?

The first conclusion Cliff draws is that because the working class has lost its revolutionary potential, the task of the socialist revolution is very likely out of the table, given that there are so many objective factors in the way to socialism. The new class dynamics will bring into the picture different classes (intellectuals), which will “deflect” revolutions towards “state capitalism” regimes, since according to him “totalitarian state capitalism becomes an attractive target for intellectuals.” What to do then? What must the revolutionaries do in the “backward” countries where these revolutions occur? And in the imperialist countries? Should they support them? Cliff proposes the following guide for political action:

First, for the workers in the emergent nations: having failed to carry out the permanent revolution, to lead the democratic revolution on to socialist rails, to combine the national and social struggles, they will now have to fight against their “own” ruling class (and Nehru proved no less harsh when incarcerating striking workers than the British Raj). The industrial workers will nevertheless become more and more ready for the socialist revolution. Under the new national regimes they experience an increase in numbers and hence, in the long run, in cohesion and specific social weight.

For revolutionary socialists in the advanced countries, the shift in strategy means that while they will have to continue to oppose any national oppression of the colonial people unconditionally, they must cease to argue over the national identity of the future ruling classes of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and instead investigate the class conflicts and future social structures of these continents. The slogan of “class against class” will become more and more a reality. The central theme of Trotsky’s theory remains as valid as ever: the proletariat must continue its revolutionary struggle until it is triumphant the world over. Short of this target it cannot achieve freedom.” (Cliff, Deflected Permanent Revolution)

In this huge portion of the world, the Third World, Cliff assumes that the working class has no conditions to lead any democratic revolution. What should be done if an anti-imperialist revolution begins? The 4th International proposed to the working class in the neo-colonial world to organize as soon as possible into revolutionary parties to intervene in the democratic revolution with a system of combined demands attempting to unite the other classes (like the Russian Bolshevik party did). But what should revolutionaries do in such a revolution according to Cliff?

Basically the opposite of what the Fourth International said. For Cliff revolutionaries in the Third World should only pay attention to the development of capitalism and focus on industrial sectors awaiting for a change in the objective situation that would put back the working class at the center and reactive it as revolutionary subject. And in the imperialist countries? We must be opposed “in principle”, or formally, to imperialist domination, but it’s not worth to participate in a true defense of these revolution, since the revolution “will deflect” anyway. Cliff says that revolutionaries “must cease to argue over the national identity of the future ruling classes of Asia, Africa and Latin America,” so for the IST it is exactly the same if a Cuban worker is exploited by a Cuban or an American boss, the same if an Egyptian is dominated by an English bourgeoisie or by one from his own country. What does that mean? That struggles for national liberation, unless they are led by the working class with a socialist program, not only should not be supported, but is not worth to intervene, as they will keep the capitalist framework. Instead of wasting time in fighting for the leadership of democratic/anti-colonial revolutions to take power, to form a worker government and raise the need for socialism, the revolutionary socialists should concentrate on the economic struggle of “class against class” and abandon for a while the fight for political power.

For the whole postwar period, the struggle for democratic reforms and against imperialist domination is again disconnected from the fight for socialism. The articulation between February and October can’t happen again. That is, we return with Cliff to the reformist scheme of “stageism” without saying so. And that’s because Cliff hopes that the development of capitalism will increase the number of industrial workers, i.e. that under imperialism, contrary to the definition of Lenin, the “backward” countries will be able to develop its productive forces and lay the foundations for a national economy. Then, when more industrial workers exist, it’ll be easier for socialists to fight for socialism.

Yet we are not only back again to the same reasoning that the Mensheviks held before 1917 in Russia and put them out of the possibility to lead: the stageist conception of history and the awaiting for the capitalism to become ripe, but the IST, in practice, without saying openly, eliminates from the revolutionary program the principled struggle for self-determination of peoples. As for revolutionary socialists it is important whether a country lives under colonial domination or not, this fight never goes to a secondary plane. That error, our current could never make; coming from countries that have been colonized, we would not have thought to be indifferent to these struggles. Or if it had, we would have ceased to exist. Let us briefly recall what Lenin said in regard to these types of positions, it was just the opposite:

Recognition of internationalism in word, and its replacement in deed by petty-bourgeois nationalism and pacifism, in all propaganda, agitation and practical work, is very common, not only among the parties of the Second International, but also among those which have withdrawn from it, and often even among parties which now call themselves communist. (…) Petty-bourgeois nationalism proclaims as internationalism the mere recognition of the equality of nations, and nothing more. Quite apart from the fact that this recognition is purely verbal, petty-bourgeois nationalism preserves national self-interest intact, whereas proletarian internationalism demands, first, that the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a world-wide scale, and, second, that a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital.” (Lenin, Draft thesis on national and colonial questions, 1920)

Lenin, Trotsky and the Communist International in its early years defended opposed tasks to those posed by the IST:

“Therefore the first and most important task in those countries that are already completely capitalist and have workers’ parties that really do represent a vanguard of the proletariat, is to combat the petty-bourgeois pacifist distortions of the conceptions and policies of internationalism.

In relation to those states that have a more backward, predominantly feudal, patriarchal or peasant patriarchal character, special attention must be paid to the following points:

“a) All Communist Parties must support the revolutionary liberation movements in these countries by their deeds. The form the support should take must be discussed with the Communist Party of the country in question, should such a party exist. This obligation to offer active assistance affects – in the first place the workers of those countries on which the backward countries are in a position of colonial or financial dependence.” (Second Congress of the Third International, Theses on the National and Colonial Question)

Real framework of Cliff’s explanation: a change in the objective situation (new economic development and new social forces)

It would be wrong to end here our criticism on Cliff’s position. There is more to uncover the hidden theoretical elements behind this capitulation. Besides abandoning the theory of Permanent Revolution and minimizing the banner of the struggle for self-determination, Cliff is going to put forward a different theoretical framework to understand the Chinese and Cuban revolutions that did not unfold like the Russian one. What is this new theory about? The first element of the Deflected Permanent Revolution theory is that, according to Cliff, there has been a change in the economic structure of capitalism, which is lightly mentioned:

A concatenation of national and international circumstances makes it imperative for the productive forces to break the fetters of feudalism and imperialism. Peasant rebellions take on a deeper, broader sweep than ever before.” (Cliff, Deflected Permanent Revolution)

We will not fully develop this new theoretical element here, because Cliff does not develop it either what he means by this mysterious “concatenation of national and international circumstances” that point at a new economic course, other than the one of wars and revolutions. Cliff and Kidron will develop more this key idea through their thesis of the Permanent Arms Economy to correct or replace main features of imperialism as outlined by Lenin. We will just point out two issues. Firstly, Cliff wrongly asserts that the “productive forces” will develop, what goes against the Lenin’s theory of the decadence of capitalism under imperialist rule. Moreover, if the productive forces in China and Cuba developed partially was precisely because they expropriated the imperialism, because they broke with capitalist oppression, and not, as Cliff suggests, because capitalism boosted it.

Cliff states that there can be a development of productive forces within imperialism; therefore that capitalism can go back to a “reformist” moment where it still can, with a new leadership (here State Capitalism), develop humanity- even with contradictions.

This is a new proposal that, in fact, is not so new. That capitalism in its imperialist era continues to develop the productive forces of mankind is unfortunately a thesis that Mandel also accepted in the postwar and that our current disagreed.[3] But above all, this is what the triumphalist discourse of bourgeois “progress” and “development” repeats to exhaustion.

The second element of the new theory is the introduction of a new class or social force (with special revolutionary potential in the Third World alone) to explain these revolutions. What Deflected Permanent Revolution ends up actually arguing for is not so much an alternative explanation of the real process of the revolutions that took place in China and Cuba (as we will see later) but the end of the class dynamics of the imperialist epoch showed by Trotsky. Cliff and the IST argues that we have entered a new period after WWII where we have a “new kind” of revolutions and class relations, qualitatively different from the ones that happened in the early 20th century, revolutions with a new course for class struggle in the colonial world, because we have a new classes or social sectors, that are neither the bourgeoisie, nor the peasantry, nor the working class, that lead these revolutions towards “state capitalism”: the “State” and the “intelligentsia”.

The importance of the intelligentsia in a revolutionary movement is in direct proportion to the general backwardness-economic, social and cultural-of the masses from whose midst it arises.” (Cliff, The Deflected Permanent Revolution, 1963)

Cliff seems to imply that because of the different historical process of class formation in the colonial and neo-colonial world, the working class in these countries is less able and less ready to lead- and by that it is implied it is less educated than the European proletariat, and therefore more relying on the intellectual sector of the middle class. It is difficult to take seriously this argument and to separate what in this argument will flow from scientific evidence and analysis from what is just the result of Eurocentric prejudice and arrogance. Because the working class does not go to the bourgeois school does not mean it is not able to develop politically, as it is struggle and organization, which develop the working class in that direction. And if Cliff does not bring any proof to back this generalization (besides his reading of the Chinese and Cuban revolutions), we can add that in Bolivia, in one of the most “backward” countries in the world, the working class was actually leading the revolution.

Finally Cliff goes on to explain that the “totalitarian” character of these revolutions not was a result of the class dynamics of the process, i.e. a counter-revolution, the role of imperialism, etc., but for an almost natural lean of the intelligentsia towards totalitarianism.

It is not difficult to see that the lean new theory Cliff is proposing to replace Permanent Revolution begins to raise more questions than it can answer.

But even more puzzling for a Marxist is to see that “State” is understood as a “social force” of its own, disregarding the class character of the State. What does Cliff mean then when he says that in the colonial world the State is a new social force? Is he talking of Bonapartism, the moment in which Marx says that the State “appears” to acquire an independent role to deal with the rise of the fights? No, Cliff proposes the idea that the state is a revolutionary social force. It could only mean that Cliff is conflating the State with the specific group of employees that make the State function. But we know that the State is an instrument of class oppression, that of course, as an apparatus can acquire according to the context and the type of regime a relative independence, which is not always directly controlled by a class, but that structurally any state has a class character and defends the interests of the dominant class is society. How can it be revolutionary, i.e. self-destructive? Moreover, the state bureaucracy does not have a class interest in itself; it serves the interest of a class with its own economic basis. That is the central thesis Lenin defends in State and Revolution drawing on Marx and Engels work that we will not repeat here. How can Cliff believe that the employees or servants of the State bureaucracy, as he claims it is the case in China, could develop a consciousness and a revolutionary project of their own, separate from the class dynamics in the country?

Yet, it is not so puzzling if one put the theory of the Deflected Permanent Revolution together with the one of “State Capitalism” that argues that the State bureaucracy has an interest of its own, which is different from the interests of the social classes that fight each other (be it the working class, the peasantry, the petty-bourgeoisie or the bourgeoisie.)

Ironically we do not have to speculate much here what is the fate of this new theory of “new revolutionary classes”, the IST theorists showed it themselves.

In 1978, Nigel Harris, one of the most prominent theorists of the IST tradition, published a book called The Mandate of Heaven, Marx and Mao in Modern China where he concluded the need to abandon the Marxist method of analysis to understand the Chinese revolution. Harris is considered one of the key theoreticians of the ISL of the postwar period, he was part of the editorial board of International Socialism from 1959 to 1971, and had numerous articles published in the magazine in the subsequent years too. The conclusion of his book is quite telling with what regards the method to analyze revolutionary processes:

The State was not a Bonapartist clique, balancing between classes. It had its own independent power, far greater than that of landlord and capitalist. It eliminated them in part to tighten its control of the other two classes for its own independent purpose – national accumulation. In sum, then, it seems Marxism is wrong, invalid in the light of Chinese experience. Parties do not embody the interests of particular social classes, themselves the products of the social division of labour rooted in the material foundations of society. The State does not necessarily embody a particular class (or survive only temporarily by playing one class off against another) (…) Clearly, Marxism is incapable of a coherent account of the Chinese revolution and of the People’s Republic. The theoretical assumptions contradict the known reality. A “non-class” force, representing the national interest, came to power in an isolated backward country (that is, before capitalism had created the material prerequisites for socialism).”  (Nigel Harris, The Mandate of Heaven, p. 261-262)

“State Capitalism” as an outcome of the Permanent Revolution?

Finally we come to the third theoretical inconsistency of the theory of Deflected Permanent Revolution by Cliff. After the erroneous assertion that under imperialism the productive forces can be developed in the Third World countries and the theory of the new revolutionary classes, he comes to the “state capitalism” outcome of the revolutions. This was, chronologically, one of the first elaborations developed by Cliff to understand Stalinism, departing from the Trotskyist formulation of “deformed workers’ state.” To Cliff state capitalism is the result of all the processes of permanent revolution in the postwar period:

Those forces which should lead to a socialist, workers’ revolution according to Trotsky’s theory can lead, in the absence of the revolutionary subject, the proletariat, to its opposite, state capitalism. Using what is of universal validity in the theory and what is contingent (upon the subjective activity of the proletariat), one can come to a variant that, for lack of a better name, might be called the “Deflected, state capitalist, Permanent Revolution”. (Cliff, Deflected Permanent Revolution)

The problems with the idea of “State Capitalist revolution” are multiple. There are, again, more questions than answers. We can’t approach them all here. What we do want to emphasize is that the IST doesn’t clarify what were these revolutions from this characterization. According to Cliff they were not democratic because they led to totalitarianism. With the characterization of “state capitalism” it seems to imply that they were pro-bourgeois revolutions. But of what kind? Hadn’t capitalism existed in China and Cuba before these revolutions? What else has changed with the revolution? Has the government, the regime or the state changed? According to Cliff, it seems that these revolutions haven’t qualitatively changed the political regime or the economic structure, as we have capitalism and oppression at both poles of the equation. Does Cliff mean that the Chinese and Cuban revolutions changed nothing? What was worse?

Cliff presents the “state capitalism”, the result of a revolution, as “the opposite” of socialism. But isn’t our current capitalist system the opposite of socialism? Isn’t socialism the negation of capitalism? How can one have a revolution that is the negation of the negation? The new theory, far from explaining the connection between “state capitalism” and the process of revolution, based on the class dynamics of the revolution, proceeds more with abstract and inventive formulas to describe complicated social processes.

3) Conclusion

The conclusion that Cliff draws from his analysis of the Chinese and Cuban revolutions can be summarized as follows:

1) The development of the productive forces under capitalism weakens imperialism in the colonial and semi-colonial countries and creates the objective conditions for revolutionary change (an assertion that the IST has never developed with evidences or arguments);

  1. Whilst Trotsky believed that the working class was the only class capable of acting on these conditions and bringing about revolution, he was wrong to think this because the proletariat in the colonial countries is too backward and underdeveloped;
  2. Therefore, a new social force must emerge to carry out these revolutions, and, according to Cliff, the Chinese and Cuban cases show that the ‘revolutionary intelligentsia’ will be that force;
  3. But, because only the proletariat can build socialism, and because the proletariat can’t play anymore a revolutionary role in the semi-colonial and colonial world, these revolutions can only result in a new, distorted form of capitalism, namely ‘state capitalism’.

Cliff is right to point to Trotsky’s error in assuming that only the working-class could accomplish the democratic revolution, as history showed that other forces could defeat imperialism. This is an error that needs to be corrected in the theory. But he is wrong in claiming that this is the heart of the theory on which its entire validity and coherence rests, and substituting for the theory of Permanent Revolution another theory, the one of “State Capitalist Revolution” od Deflected Permanent Revolution, one that steps away from Marxism, as Harris himself clearly acknowledge.

Therefore, it would have been more honest if Cliff openly proposed to abandon the theory of Permanent Revolution altogether instead of pretending that in his view there was only a simple “deflection”. IST’s analysis, far from updating the theory, is a new theory with wrong historical and economic basis in our opinion and also with a wrong method of analysis. The theory not only is inaccurate, but it is not a clear guide for political action. The conclusions of the Deflected Permanent Revolution had disastrous effects for any of those who follow the British SWP: its defeatist worldview of the post-war state declared that the socialist revolution and the need of the proletariat to fight for state power were out of the table for 2/3 of the world’s working class, and recommended to the revolutionary socialist to abstain from fighting for the leadership of these anti-colonial democratic revolutions with the hope of organizing the proletariat in the future. They abstained from having a policy to intervene in the biggest events of the class struggle in the second half of the twentieth century.

The only remaining question is how has our current reviewed and adjusted the Theory of Permanent Revolution in light of the postwar revolutions? Moreno summarized and explained that change in his Transition Program Now:

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. (…)

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.” (Moreno, Transition Program Now, 1980)



Tony Cliff, The Deflected Permanent Revolution (1963)

Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Scientific and Utopian (1880)

Duncal Hallas, Trotsky’s Marxism (1979)

Nigel Harris, The Mandate of Heaven, Marx and Mao in Modern China (1978)

Michael Lowy, The politics of combined and uneven development. The theory of permanent revolution (1981)

Ernest Mandel, Revolutionary Marxism Today (1979)

George Novack, Democracy and Revolution (1971)

Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution (1930)

Leon Trotsky, In Defense of October (1932)

Nahuel Moreno, Transition Program Now, 1980


[1] Additionally, Trotsky does not completely reject Lenin’s position that the democratic revolution will be carried out, not by the proletariat as a leading force, but by an equal political partnership of the proletariat and the working class. What Trotsky clearly argues is that this is not impossible theoretically, it is just impossible concretely that the peasantry, for its heterogeneity, and the working class will manage to build together the necessary party to take power:A democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, as a regime that is distinguished from the dictatorship of the proletariat by its class content, might be realized only in a case where an independent revolutionary party could be constituted, expressing the interests of the peasants and in general of petty bourgeois democracy – a party capable of conquering power with this or that degree of aid from the proletariat, and of determining its revolutionary programme. (Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution)

[2] The working class and its leading sector, the miners, did everything they could, but again and again, the leadership failed. The first and most glorious chapter for these revolutionaries was 1952. The workers defeated the army, formed their own militia and created their own body power: the Central Obrera Boliviana (Bolivian Workers Central). Had they succeeded, this great proletarian revolution would have changed the history of Latin America and of Trotskyism and the Fourth International, because the Bolivian POR was co-leading (though a minority) that process. (Alicia Sagra, A long struggle for a workers way out for the revolution)

[3] Our current has already criticized this adaptation of Marxist political economy to the bourgeois one, which is to identify the concept of productive forces with the bourgeois “economic growth”, ignoring that the Marxist concept of productive forces also includes work (human activity) and nature, which are measured at the international level, and that imperialism destroys more than it produces. The productive forces can only be considered to develop in the postwar period if choosing to focus solely on the quantitative production and consumption in advanced countries, ignoring the wasted and destroyed forces everywhere. For that we have the bourgeois economics that measures what matters to the capital. See the seventh chapter of Moreno’s Scandalous Document.