4. The Theory of The Permanent Revolution
Monty Johnstone devotes no fewer than eight pages of his work (about a quarter of the whole) to an “exposure” of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, to which he counterposes Lenin’s idea of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”. These theories were first advanced in 1904-5, and received a striking confirmation on the basis of the revolutionary experiences of 1905. We have already seen the importance of the ideas in the debates in Russian Marxism before 1914. Monty Johnstone devotes not a sentence to all this. He evidently considers that the average Young Communist Leaguer is “not interested” in the ideological struggles of the formative years of Bolshevism. In this, we differ from Comrade Johnstone. We do not confine our analysis to “highly selective, potted” quotations, torn from their contexts, because we are sure that all serious Young Communist League and Communist Party members, and all thinking members of the Labour movement generally, want to know the truth about these questions. What exactly were the differences all about?
Monty Johnstone portrays the question as though the main difference was between the positions of Lenin and Trotsky. He hastily skates past the position of the Mensheviks, and thus presents the whole discussion in an entirely false light. Let us examine the three positions and see in what relation they stood to each other.
All three tendencies agreed that the coming revolution would be a bourgeois-democratic revolution, i.e. a revolution produced by the contradiction between the developing capitalist economy and the semi-feudal autocratic state of Tsarism. But the mere general admission of the bourgeois nature of the revolution could not answer the concrete question of which class would lead the revolutionary struggle against autocracy. The Mensheviks assumed by analogy with the great bourgeois revolutions of the past, that the revolution would be led by the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats, whom the workers’ movement would support.
Lenin, on the other hand, mercilessly criticised the Mensheviks for holding back the independent movement of the workers and poured scorn on their attempts to curry favour with the “progressive” bourgeoisie. Already in 1848, Marx noted that the German bourgeois “revolutionary democracy” was unable to play a revolutionary role in the struggle against feudalism, with which it preferred to do a deal out of fear of the revolutionary movement of the workers. It was at this point that Marx himself first advanced the slogan of “Permanent Revolution”.
Following in the footsteps of Marx, who had described the bourgeois “democratic party” as “far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals”, Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being an ally of the workers, would inevitably side with the counterrevolution.
“The bourgeoisie in the mass,” he wrote in 1905, “will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, towards the autocracy, against the revolution, and against the people, as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it ‘recoils’ from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!)” (Works, vol. 9, p. 98)
What class, in Lenin’s view, could lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution?
“There remains ‘the people’, that is the proletariat and the peasantry. The proletariat alone can be relied on to march on to the end, for it goes far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the forefront for a republic and contemptuously rejects stupid and unworthy advice to take into account the possibility of the bourgeoisie recoiling.” (ibid.)
Whom are these words directed against? Trotsky and the Permanent Revolution? Let us see what Trotsky was writing at the same time as Lenin:
“This results in the fact that the struggle for the interests of all Russia has fallen to the lot of the only now existing strong class in the country, the industrial proletariat. For this reason the industrial proletariat has tremendous political importance, and for this reason the struggle for the emancipation of Russia from the incubus of absolutism which is stifling it has become converted into a single combat between absolutism and the industrial proletariat a single combat in which the peasants may render considerable support but cannot play a leading role.” (Results and Prospects, p. 198)
“Arming the revolution, in Russia, means first and foremost arming the workers. Knowing this, and fearing this, the liberals altogether eschew a militia. They even surrender their position to absolutism without a fight just as the bourgeois Thiers surrendered Paris and France to Bismarck simply to avoid arming the workers.” (ibid., p. 193)
On the question of the attitude to the bourgeois parties (as we have already seen) the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky were in complete solidarity as against the Mensheviks who hid behind the bourgeois nature of the revolution as a cloak for the subordination of the workers’ party to the bourgeoisie. Arguing against class collaboration, both Lenin and Trotsky explained that only the working class, in alliance with the peasant masses, could carry out the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.
Following the entirely false account in Deutscher’s Prophet Armed Monty Johnstone reproduces all the old nonsense that Trotsky’s views on the permanent revolution derived from Parvus, the famous German Social Democrat, whose slogan “No Tsar but a workers’ government”, Lenin criticised on a number of occasions. At no time was any such slogan put forward by Trotsky, who, time and again, both before and after 1905, pointed out the bourgeois democratic nature of the revolution.
The point at issue in the debates in Russian Social Democracy was not the nature of the revolution (no one disputed that) but which class would lead it. On this question, two clearly defined trends crystallised in Russian Social Democracy: on the one hand, the Mensheviks, who, repeating like the litany that the revolution was “bourgeois”, sought to compromise the Marxist movement by agreements with the “liberals”; on the other hand, those who pointed to the weakness, cowardice and treachery of the bourgeoisie and demanded independent action by the masses, under the leadership of the only consistent revolutionary class, the proletariat – if necessary against the bourgeoisie. These were the famous Two Tactics of Social Democracy which Lenin deals with in his pamphlet from which Monty Johnstone quotes, and which he mangles beyond recognition.
Johnstone really scrapes the bottom of the barrel, when he drags up the old slander that Trotsky’s theory ignored the role of the peasantry in the revolution. Johnstone repeats the distortion of Stalin that Trotsky in 1905 “simply forgot all about the peasantry as a revolutionary force, and advanced the slogan of ‘No Tsar, but a workers’ government’, that is the slogan of a revolution without the peasantry.” (Stalin, Works, vol. 4, p. 392)
Stalin, and now Monty Johnstone, “simply forgot” about the slogan which Trotsky actually advanced in 1905. Neither Tsar nor Zemtsi (i.e. liberals), but the People! i.e. a slogan embracing the workers and peasants. The leaflet in which this occurs is to be found, along with numerous appeals to the very peasantry which Trotsky “forgot”, in Trotsky’s Collected Works (vol. 2, p. 256) which were printed in Russia after the October Revolution.
What was Lenin’s attitude towards the peasantry in the revolution? He argued that the peasantry should be mobilised by the workers in order to carry through the democratic, anti-feudal tasks. The moment the workers begin to press forward to socialism, the class antagonisms begin to assert themselves, the reactionary Bonapartist tendencies among the peasantry, which Lenin repeatedly warned against, would be turned against the proletariat. In a country where the overwhelming majority of the population consisted of peasants the struggle for socialism would encounter the most serious and determined opposition from the wealthier strata of the peasantry. Yet, according to Monty Johnstone, Lenin, in 1905 already envisaged the “growing over” of the democratic revolution in Russia to socialism:
“Whilst in this period Lenin spoke of the beginning of the struggle for socialist revolution following a ‘complete victory’ of the democratic revolution, with the ‘achievement of the demands of the present-day peasantry’, and undoubtedly [!] did not expect the socialist revolution to follow within eight months of its precursor, he considered the main factor determining the point of transition from one to the other to be ‘the degree of our strength, the strength of the class conscious and organised proletariat’. History proved that he was right to reject Trotsky’s strategy which envisaged essentially [?] a leap [?] from Tsarism to October, skipping February. [!]” (Cogito, p. 13)
Monty Johnstone is wriggling uncomfortably on a hook cast by himself to trap Trotsky! The assertion that the theory of permanent revolution consists “essentially” of a “leap” from Tsarism to the socialist revolution, without any intermediate phase is arrant nonsense which proves only that Monty Johnstone has either not bothered to read Trotsky, or else is back to his old “objective, scientific” methods. We would like to ask Monty Johnstone, apart from anything else, wherein lies the “permanent”, “uninterrupted” nature of the revolution if all that is involved is… a “leap” from Tsarism to socialism?
Not satisfied with distorting Trotsky’s position in 1905, Monty Johnstone tries to have a go at Lenin, as well! He makes him say things in crying contradiction to his own analysis, reducing the leader of October to a buffoon. On the one hand, Johnstone repeats ad nauseam that Lenin regarded the revolution as bourgeois (to no avail, since, everyone except the Stalinist epigones of Lenin, is agreed on this). On the other, he attributes to Lenin in 1905 the idea that the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” would “grow over” into the dictatorship of the proletariat! Let us see what Lenin actually did say on the question of the class nature of the “democratic dictatorship”:
“But of course it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship. It will be unable (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism. At best, it may bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favour of the peasantry, establish consistent and full democracy, including the formation of a republic, eradicate all the oppressive features of Asiatic bondage … lay the foundations for a thorough improvement in the conditions of the workers and for a rise in their standard of living, and – last but not least – carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe.” (Works, vol. 9, p. 57)
Lenin’s position is absolutely clear and unambiguous: the coming revolution will be a bourgeois revolution, led by the proletariat in alliance with the peasant masses. The best that can be expected of it is the fulfilment of basic bourgeois-democratic tasks: distribution of land to the peasants, a democratic republic, etc. This, of necessity, since any attempt to “affect the foundations of capitalism” would necessarily bring the proletariat into conflict with the mass of peasant small proprietors. Lenin hammers the point home: “The democratic revolution is bourgeois in nature. The slogan of a general distribution, or ‘land and freedom’ is a bourgeois slogan.” (ibid., p. 112)
And for Lenin, no other outcome was possible on the basis of a backward, semi-feudal country like Russia. To talk about the “growing over” of the democratic dictatorship to the socialist revolution is to make nonsense of Lenin’s whole analysis of the class correlation of forces in the revolution.
In what sense did Lenin refer to the possibility of socialist revolution in Russia? In the above quotation from Two Tactics, Lenin asserts that the Russian revolution will not be able to affect the foundations of capitalism “without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary developments.” Monty Johnstone quickly butts in to fill in the missing link for Lenin: the prerequisite for the transition from the democratic to the socialist revolution is: “the degree of our strength, the strength of the class conscious and organised proletariat”, and adds that history proved Lenin right. History indeed proved Lenin right, Comrade Johnstone, but not for something which he did not say. Let us dispense with the interpreting service of Monty Johnstone, and let Lenin speak for himself.
Lenin continues the above quotation as follows; the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia will:
“last but not least carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe. Such a victory will not yet by any means transform our bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution; the democratic revolution will not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships, nevertheless, the significance of such a victory for the future development of Russia and for the whole world will be immense. Nothing will raise the revolutionary energy of the world proletariat so much, nothing will shorten the path leading to its complete victory to such an extent, as this decisive victory of the revolution that has now started in Russia.” (ibid., p. 57)
Lenin’s internationalism here stands out boldly in every line. It is an internationalism, not of words, but of deeds – a far cry from the holiday speeches of the present day Labour and Stalinist leaders. For Lenin, the Russian revolution was not a self-sufficient act, a “Russian Road to Socialism”! It was the beginning of the world proletarian revolution. Precisely in this fact lay the future possibility of the transformation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution to the socialist revolution in Russia.
Neither Lenin, nor any other Marxist, seriously entertained the idea that it was possible to build “socialism in a single country”, much less in a backward, Asiatic, peasant country like Russia. Elsewhere Lenin explains, what would be ABC for any Marxist, that the conditions for a socialist transformation of society were absent in Russia, although they were fully matured in Western Europe. Polemicising against the Mensheviks in Two Tactics, Lenin reiterates the classical position of Marxism on the international significance of the Russian revolution:
“The basic idea here is one repeatedly formulated by Vperyod [Lenin’s paper] which has stated that we must not be afraid … of Social Democracy’s complete victory in a democratic revolution, i.e. of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, for such a victory will enable us to rouse Europe; after throwing off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, the socialist proletariat in Europe will in its turn help us to accomplish the socialist revolution.” (ibid., p. 82, our emphasis)
This is the crux of Lenin’s prognosis of the coming revolution in Russia: the revolution can only be bourgeois-democratic (not socialist) but, at the same time, because the bourgeoisie is unfit to play a revolutionary role, the revolution can only be carried out by the working class, led by the Social-Democracy, which will rouse the peasant masses in its support. The overthrow of Tsarism, the uprooting of all traces of feudalism, and the creation of a republic will have a tremendously revolutionising effect on the proletariat of the advanced countries of Western Europe. But the revolution in the West can only be a socialist revolution, because of the tremendous development of the productive forces built up under capitalism itself, and the enormous strength of the working class and the labour movement in these countries. Finally, the socialist revolution in the West will provoke further upheavals in Russia, and, with the assistance of the socialist proletariat of Europe, the Russian workers will transform the democratic revolution, in the teeth of opposition from the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolutionary peasantry, into a socialist revolution.
Comrade Johnstone shakes his head furiously. “That is not Leninism, but Trotskyism! You have distorted Lenin’s meaning!” Not at all, Comrade Johnstone. The meaning is quite clear. Let Lenin speak for himself:
“Thus, at this stage, [after the final victory of the “democratic dictatorship”] the liberal bourgeoisie and the well-to-do peasantry plus partly the middle peasantry organise counter-revolution. The Russian proletariat plus the European proletariat organise revolution.
“In such conditions the Russian proletariat can win a second victory. The cause is no longer hopeless. The second victory will be the socialist revolution in Europe.
“The European workers will then show us ‘how to do it’, and then together with them we shall bring about the socialist revolution.” (Works, vol. 10, p. 92)
Here and on dozens of other occasions Lenin expressed himself with the utmost clarity that the victory of “our great bourgeois revolution … will usher in the era of socialist revolution in the West.” (Works, vol. 10, p. 276, our emphasis) No matter how he twists and turns, and tries to put words into Lenin’s mouth, Monty Johnstone cannot alter the fact that, in 1905, Lenin not only rejected the idea of the “building of socialism in Russia alone” (the very idea would not have entered his head), but even the possibility of the Russian workers establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat before the socialist revolution in the West.
Lenin and Trotsky
What were the differences between Lenin’s ideas and those of Trotsky’s? As we have seen, both agreed on the fundamental questions of the revolution: the counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie; the need for the workers and peasants to carry through the democratic revolution; the international significance of the revolution, and so on. The differences arose from Lenin’s characterisation of the revolutionary-democratic government which would carry through the tasks of the revolution as the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”.
Trotsky criticised this formulation for its vagueness; that it did not make clear which class would exercise the dictatorship. Lenin’s vagueness was intentional. He was not prepared to say in advance what form the revolutionary dictatorship would take. He did not even preclude the possibility that the peasant elements would predominate in the coalition. Thus, from the outset, the formula “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” bore an intentionally algebraic character – with a number of unknown quantities to be filled in by history. In Two Tactics, Lenin explained that:
“The time will come when the struggle against the Russian autocracy will end, and the period of democratic revolution will have passed in Russia, it will then be ridiculous even to speak of ‘singleness of will’ of the proletariat and peasantry, about a democratic dictatorship, etc. When that time comes we shall deal with the question of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, and speak of it in greater detail.” (Works, vol. 9, p. 86)
To this idea of Lenin, Trotsky replied that at no time in history had the peasantry ever been able to play an independent role. The fate of the Russian revolution would be decided by the outcome of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat for the leadership of the peasant masses. The peasantry could either be used as an instrument of revolution or of reaction. At all events, the only possible outcome of the revolution was either the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, which would fall into the arms of Tsarist reaction, or the dictatorship of the proletariat, in alliance with the poor peasantry.
A revolutionary government, in which the workers predominated under the banner of Marxism, could not stop half way, confining itself to bourgeois tasks, but would necessarily pass from the tasks of the democratic revolution to the socialist. In order to survive, the revolutionary dictatorship would have to wage war against reaction within the country and externally. Thereafter, Trotsky agreed with Lenin, the victory of the Russian revolution would provide a tremendous impetus to the socialist revolution in the West, which would come to the aid of the Russian workers’ state and carry through the socialist transformation.
This, then, was the heinous crime of Trotsky and his theory of the permanent revolution in 1905! This it was, according to Monty Johnstone, that put him “outside the party”… to predict in advance what actually happened in 1917: to explain that the logic of events would inevitably place the working class in power! Not even Lenin was prepared to commit himself on this question in 1905, as we have seen.
Of all the Marxists, Trotsky alone foresaw the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia before the socialist revolution in the West:
“It is possible [wrote Trotsky in 1905] for the workers to come to power in an economically backward country sooner than in an advanced country … In our view, the Russian revolution will create conditions in which power can pass into the hands of the workers … and in the event of the victory of the revolution it must do so … before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get the chance to display to the full their talents for governing.” (Results and Prospects, p. 195)
Did this mean, as Monty Johnstone asserts, that Trotsky denied the bourgeois nature of the revolution? Trotsky himself explains:
“In the revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century, the direct objective tasks of which are also bourgeois [our emphasis], there emerges as a near prospect the inevitable, or at least the probable, political domination of the proletariat. The proletariat itself will see to it that this domination does not become a mere passing ‘episode’, as some realist philistines hope. But we can even now ask ourselves: is it inevitable that the proletarian dictatorship should be shattered against the barriers of the bourgeois revolution? Or is it possible in the given world-historical conditions, that it may discover before it the prospect of breaking through these barriers? Here we are confronted by questions of tactics: should we consciously work towards a working-class government in proportion as the development of the revolution brings this stage nearer, or must we at that moment regard political power as a misfortune which the bourgeois revolution is ready to thrust upon the workers, and which it would be better to avoid?” (Results and Prospects, pp. 199-200, our emphasis)
Are these lines of Trotsky really directed against Lenin, Comrade Johnstone? Or are they aimed at the “realist philistines”, like Plekhanov, who feared the consequences of the independent movement of the workers? And where, here, is the “leap” from Tsarism to the socialist revolution, which, Comrade Johnstone assures us, constitutes the crux of the theory of permanent revolution?
Trotsky’s prognosis of 1905 boils down to this: the bourgeoisie in Russia is incapable of playing a revolutionary role. Inevitably, the development of the revolution must, at some stage, result in the seizure of power by the workers, supported by a section of the peasantry. Only a workers’ and peasants’ government can solve the historical tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. But once in power, the proletariat will not relinquish it to the bourgeoisie or the petty bourgeoisie. It must consolidate its hold on power by passing from bourgeois-democratic tasks to socialist measures. In other words the revolutionary government, in Trotsky’s view, could take no form other than the dictatorship of the proletariat. It must carry on a ruthless fight against internal reaction, and, to do this it must rouse the socialist workers of the West to its support. Trotsky, like Lenin, defended the ideas of Marxist internationalism against the parochial arguments of the Mensheviks. To the opportunist thesis that the “conditions for socialism did not exist in Russia” and that therefore the revolution should be confined to bourgeois limits, Trotsky and Lenin emphasised that the conditions for socialism were fully mature on a world scale. Both these great Marxists conceived of the Russian revolution as merely the first link in the international socialist revolution.
The Permanent Revolution in Practice (1)
All the theories concerning the nature of the Russian revolution which had been advanced by Marxists before 1917 were necessarily of a more or less general and conditional nature. They were not blueprints or astrological predictions, but prognoses, intended to provide the movement with a guide to action, a perspective, which is the basic task of Marxist theory.
The correctness, or otherwise, of these theories can be gauged, not by a perusal of the polemics of 1905, but only in the light of what actually happened. Engels was very fond of the proverb, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”, while Lenin frequently cited the words of Goethe: “Theory is grey, my friend, but the tree of life is ever green”. For a Marxist, therefore, the proof of any revolutionary theory can only be the experience of revolution itself.
The experience of 1917 strikingly confirmed the prognosis of Lenin and Trotsky on the cowardly, counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie, as manifested in the actions of the Provisional Government, which came to power after the February revolution. It is characteristic of their profound grasp of Marxist method that both Lenin and Trotsky, independently of each other, immediately understood the significance of the Kerensky regime and the attitude which the workers should adopt towards it. Lenin, in Switzerland, and Trotsky, in New York, simultaneously came to the same conclusion, i.e. of the need for implacable opposition towards the bourgeois Provisional Government, and its overthrow by the working class.
What was the position of the “Old Bolsheviks” who played such an “important role” in the year 1917? Every single one of them advocated support for the Provisional Government. Of all the cadres of Bolshevism, who, in the words of Monty Johnstone, had “fitted themselves into the ranks” and “submitted themselves to collective discipline” for a whole period, not one stood up to the decisive test of events. We would ask Monty Johnstone: What was all the preparation of the last period for: What was the point of Lenin’s struggle for “thirteen or fourteen years” to build a “stable disciplined Marxist party” if at the crucial moment all the “old Bolsheviks” failed to rise to the occasion?
As early as 1909, Trotsky wrote:
“If the Mensheviks, starting from the abstraction, ‘our revolution is bourgeois’ arrive at the idea of adapting the whole tactics of the proletariat to the behaviour of the liberal bourgeoisie before the conquest of state power, the Bolsheviks, proceeding, from an equally barren abstraction, ‘a democratic, not a socialist, dictatorship’, arrive at the idea of a bourgeois-democratic self-limitation of the proletariat in whose hands state power rests. It is true, there is a very significant difference between them in this respect: while the anti-revolutionary sides of Menshevism are already displayed in full force now, the anti-revolutionary traits of Bolshevism threaten enormous danger only in the event of a revolutionary victory.” (Trotsky, 1905, p. 285)
Monty Johnstone, severing the last two lines of this passage, tries to use them as further proof of Trotsky’s hostility to Lenin’s position. In fact, with these words, Trotsky correctly anticipated in 1909 the crisis in the ranks of the Bolshevik Party in 1917, which resulted entirely from the anti-revolutionary interpretation by the “Old Bolsheviks” of Lenin’s slogan “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry“.
When Lenin presented his famous April Theses to the party, in which he called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government, they were published in his name alone: not one of the “leaders” of the party was prepared to associate his name with a position which ran directly counter to all the statements, manifestos, articles and speeches issued by them since the February revolution. The very day after the publication of Lenin’s theses Kamenev wrote an editorial in Pravda under the heading ‘Our Differences’, in which it was emphasised that the theses represented only Lenin’s “personal opinion”. The article ended with the following words:
“Insofar as concerns Lenin’s general scheme, it appears to be unacceptable, since it starts from the assumption that the bourgeois revolution is finished and counts on the immediate transformation of the revolution into a socialist revolution.”
Note these words well, reader: this is not Lenin arguing against Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, but the “Old Bolshevik” Kamenev indicting Lenin for the heinous crime of Trotskyism! The arguments of Kamenev and Co. in 1917 read like a parody of the words of Plekhanov at the Stockholm Congress of 1906: the proletariat is bound to take power in a proletarian revolution, but the revolution is bourgeois and therefore it is our duty not to take power! The wheel had gone full circle, and the “confusion” of the “Old Bolsheviks” manifested itself in 1911 in a return to the threadbare reformist ideas of the Mensheviks. The “algebraic equation” of Lenin laid itself open to such misinterpretation, while Trotsky’s “arithmetical” formula was quite precise.
Marx long ago noted that opportunism often attempts to cloak itself in the garb of outworn revolutionary slogans, slogans which have outlived their revolutionary usefulness. So it was in 1917 with the “Old Bolsheviks”, who attempted to use the slogan of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” as a mask to conceal their opportunism. It was in this context that Lenin wrote that:
“The Bolshevik slogans and ideas in general have been fully corroborated by history; but concretely, things have turned out differently than could have been anticipated (by anyone): they are more original, more specific, more variegated … ‘The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ has already become a reality. in a certain form and to a certain extent, in the Russian revolution.” (Quoted by Monty Johnstone, p. 11, Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 6, p. 33)
Monty Johnstone reproduces this passage, without explaining the context, in order to prove that Lenin continued to defend the idea of the “democratic dictatorship” in 1917. But the entire work from which the quotation is taken – Letters on Tactics – is a polemic against Kamenev and Co. designed to prove precisely the opposite! Monty Johnstone’s quotation is inaccurate. He joins two ideas together, which, in the original, are separated by a whole paragraph, which runs as follows:
“Had we forgotten this fact, we should have resembled those “Old Bolsheviks” who have more than once played so sorry a role in the history of our party by repeating a formula meaninglessly learned by rote instead of studying the specific formula and new features of actual reality.” (ibid., Lenin’s emphasis)
This little paragraph which Johnstone “accidentally” left out of the middle of his quotation puts the whole matter in a nutshell. Lenin tried to explain to the “Old Bolsheviks” that the slogan of the “democratic dictatorship” was not some “super-historical formula” to be incanted at every junction, regardless of the actual development of the class struggle.
Lenin repeatedly emphasised that there is no abstract truth, but only concrete truth. To attempt to seek salvation in the reiteration of a slogan which had outlived its usefulness was to break with the method of Marxism, and to retreat from the imperative tasks of the revolution to barren scholasticism. The concrete realisation of the “democratic dictatorship” which history had actually thrown up was a capitalist government, waging an imperialist war of annexation, incapable of solving, or even of seriously posing, a single one of the fundamental tasks of the democratic revolution. The algebraic formula of the “democratic dictatorship” had been filled by history with a negative content.
By a series of twists and turns, Monty Johnstone tries to explain that the Kerensky government represented a realisation of the bourgeois democratic dictatorship, as foreseen by Lenin in 1905. But just a minute, Comrade Johnstone! What were the tasks of the democratic dictatorship outlined by Lenin in Two Tactics? First and foremost, a radical solution of the agrarian problem, based on nationalisation of the land; second, a democratic republic based on universal suffrage and a Constituent Assembly; replacement of the standing army by the armed people. To these must be added, in the conditions prevailing in 1917, the immediate conclusion of a democratic peace. Is that not so, Comrade Johnstone? But then, if the Kerensky government was the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” (i.e. the government of the bourgeois-democratic revolution), how is it that not one of these basic tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution were solved by it, or could be solved by it?
Monty Johnstone, tying himself and his readers in knots, argues that the February revolution was the bourgeois-democratic revolution (and that “Trotsky does not attempt to deny this”), but at the same time, that it could not solve a single one of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Indeed, Comrade Johnstone, Trotsky would not attempt to deny this. Both Lenin and Trotsky understood that the Kerensky government could not seriously tackle these problems; but that was precisely because it was a government of the bourgeoisie, not of the workers and peasants. Only the dictatorship of the proletariat, in alliance with the poor peasants, could begin to solve the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia.
By a most peculiar mode of reasoning (to put it politely) Monty Johnstone argues that:
“The February revolution of 1917 was not the proletariat fighting the bourgeois nation as foreseen by Trotsky, but the overthrow of Tsarism by a bourgeois revolution carried through by the workers and peasants, that Lenin had foreseen. Power did not pass into the hands of a workers’ government. It was shared between Soviets (councils) of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, representing the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry [!] (the bulk of the soldiers were peasants) and the capitalist Provisional Government to which it was voluntarily [!!] surrendering its supremacy.” (Cogito, p. 11)
This is fine indeed! The February revolution was a bourgeois revolution carried out by the workers and peasants who then proceeded “voluntarily” to hand over their supremacy to the capitalists. But the question is: how did the workers and peasants come to hand over power “voluntarily”, to the bourgeoisie, which, “as foreseen by Lenin”, was bound to play, and did play, a counter-revolutionary role? The answer is given by Lenin himself. In answer to those elements who asserted that the proletariat had to obey the “iron law of historical stages”, could not “skip February”, had to “pass through the stage of the bourgeois revolution”, and who thereby tried to cover up their own cowardice, confusion and impotence by appealing to “objective factors”, Lenin replied scornfully.
“Why don’t they take power? Steklov says: for this reason and that. This is nonsense. The fact is that the proletariat is not organised and class conscious enough. This must be admitted: material strength is in the hands of the proletariat but the bourgeoisie turned out to be prepared and class conscious. This is a monstrous fact, and it should be frankly and openly admitted and the people should be told that they did not take power because they were unorganised and not conscious enough.” (Lenin, Works, vol. 36, p. 437, our emphasis)
There was no objective reason why the workers – who held power in their hands – could not have elbowed the bourgeoisie to one side in February 1917, no reason other than unpreparedness, lack of organisation and lack of consciousness. But this, as Lenin explained, was merely the obverse side of the colossal betrayal of the revolution by all the so-called workers’ and peasants’ parties. Without the complicity of the Mensheviks and SRs in the Soviets, the Provisional Government could not have lasted even for an hour. That is why Lenin reserved his most stinging barbs for those elements among the Bolshevik leadership who had got the Bolshevik Party itself into tow with the Menshevik-SR bandwagon, which had confused and disorientated the masses, and deflected them from the road to power.
In attempting to discredit the position of Trotsky, which was now identical with that of Lenin, Monty Johnstone merely repeats all the old nonsense which Kamenev and Co. used against Lenin in 1917. His attempts to maintain the slogan of the “democratic dictatorship” in opposition to the permanent revolution is so transparently dishonest as to verge on the comical. Thus, the very work from which he tries to scrape quotations in defence of this slogan – Letters on Tactics – is precisely the one in which Lenin finally buried it once and for all:
“Whoever speaks now of a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ is behind the times, has consequently gone over to the side of the petty bourgeoisie and is against the proletarian class struggle. He deserves to be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiques (which might be called the archive of ‘old Bolsheviks’).” (Lenin, ‘Letters on Tactics’, Selected Works, vol. 6, p. 34)
Referring to the power of the working class, and the impotence of the Provisional Government, Lenin pointed out:
“This fact does not fit into the old scheme. One must know how to adapt schemes to facts, rather than repeat words regarding a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ … in general words which have become meaningless.” (Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 6, p. 35)
“Is this reality covered by the old-Bolshevik formula of Comrade Kamenev, which declares that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is not completed? No, that formula is antiquated. It is worthless. It is dead. And all attempts to revive it will be in vain.” (ibid., p. 40)
All Monty Johnstone’s efforts are in vain. Lenin himself completely discarded the slogan of the “democratic dictatorship” in April, 1917. Those who clung to it did so with the intention, not of defending “Leninism” against “Trotskyism”, but in order to cover their own ignominious capitulation to Menshevik reformism. And if, in 1917, Lenin could heap so much scorn upon those who tried to revive the “dead…meaningless…antiquated” formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”, what have we to say about Monty Johnstone and the leaders of the so-called Communist Parties, who fifty years later continue to use and abuse the slogan for their own cynical and anti-revolutionary purposes?
The Permanent Revolution in Practice (2)
If the references to the theory of Permanent Revolution in Lenin’s works prior to 1917 are scant, the references after that are non-existent. Trotsky’s book on the Permanent Revolution was published in Russia and translated into many languages (including English) by the Communist International during Lenin’s lifetime, without a word of protest or criticism from Lenin or the mythical “Majority of the Central Committee”. However, in the Complete Works of Lenin, published by the Soviet Government after the revolution, there appears a note on Trotsky which contains the following passage:
“Before the Revolution of 1905 he advanced his own unique and now completely celebrated theory of Permanent Revolution, asserting that the bourgeois revolution of 1905 would pass directly to a socialist revolution which would prove the first of a series of national revolutions.”
Here without any Johnstone twists and turns the theory of Permanent Revolution is quite accurately described. It was “especially celebrated” after the October Revolution because in it, the events of 1917 had been accurately predicted, in advance.
On pages 14-15 of his article, Monty Johnstone attempts to discredit the theory of permanent revolution by his usual method of “balanced” snippets of quotations:
“Strange to relate, nowhere in any of Lenin’s writing and speeches in the period from April 1917 till his death (they take up twenty-three of the fifty-five volumes of the new Russian edition) has it been possible to find so much as a hint that Lenin was aware of his ‘conversion’ to Trotsky’s view of ‘permanent revolution’ – and Lenin was never afraid of admitting past mistakes. On the other hand, we do find Trotsky on more than one occasion admitting the converse. Thus the 1927 Platform of the Left Opposition … reproduces the declaration of Trotsky and his associates to the Communist International on 15 December, 1926: ‘Trotsky has stated to the International that in those questions of principle upon which he disputed with Lenin, Lenin was right – and particularly upon the question of permanent revolution and the peasantry’. In a letter to the old ‘Left Oppositionist’ Preobrazhensky, who did not accept his theory, Trotsky admitted: ‘Up to February 1917, the slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry was historically progressive.’ And even in his Lessons of October he wrote that with his formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry Lenin had been attacking the question of an advance towards the Socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasants in a ‘forcible and thoroughly revolutionary way’ – in complete contradiction to his 1909 statement that: ‘the anti-revolutionary features of Bolshevism threaten to become a great danger … in the event of a victory of the revolution’.” (Cogito, p.s 14-15)
Johnstone’s argument concerning the absence of comment in Lenin’s works after 1917 on the question of the permanent revolution condemns itself. Lenin was always scrupulous on matters of theory. He would never have allowed a theoretical question on any important issue to remain unresolved. If he wrote no polemics against the theory of permanent revolution after 1917, if he permitted the publication of Trotsky’s works on this question without comment, and approved a note in the official edition of his Collected Works expressing agreement with this theory, it could only be because, after the issues had been settled by the October Revolution, he was broadly in agreement with Trotsky on this question. It was not a question of Lenin being “converted” by Trotsky, as we have already explained. After 1917, former differences between them on the appraisal of the Russian Revolution (differences which, in any case, were of a secondary nature) ceased to have any but a purely historical significance. As for Trotsky’s alleged “mistakes”, Trotsky was always prepared, not merely to admit his errors, but to explain them (which certainly cannot be said of the Communist Party leaders of today!) We have already shown how Trotsky explained his mistake on the question of the Bolshevik Party. But so far as the theory of permanent revolution is concerned, Trotsky’s only “crime” for which the Stalinists can never forgive him – was that his theory was brilliantly confirmed by events.
In reality, what Monty Johnstone and the other Communist Party “theoreticians” are attacking, under the guise of criticizing the theory of the permanent revolution, is the revolutionary essence and method of Bolshevism itself. In 1924 “Trotskyism” was cynically invented by Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin to serve the interests of their clique struggle against Trotsky. In this they gained the powerful support of the State and Party bureaucracy, which saw in this the end of the turmoil of the Revolution and the beginning of a period of peace and “order” in which they could enjoy the privileges which they were stealthily acquiring. Stalin’s espousal of the “theory” of Socialism in One Country was something which Kamenev and Zinoviev, who had been educated in the spirit of Lenin’s internationalism, could not stomach. They broke with Stalin – but the damage had already been done. The bureaucracy adhered all the more strongly to the Stalin faction and the “theory” of Socialism in One Country. Their indignant and malicious attacks upon “Trotskyism” and “permanent revolution” were merely the expression of their repudiation of the revolutionary traditions of Bolshevism which conflicted with their material interests.
As to the quotation from the Platform of the Left Opposition – Johnstone knows that this document was not a personal statement of Trotsky’s views, but those of the entire Left Opposition – including Kamenev and Zinoviev. While there was agreement on the fundamental questions in the struggle against Stalinism – industrialisation, collectivisation, workers’ democracy, internationalism, etc – on other questions Kamenev and Zinoviev still held a different position. The passage on the permanent revolution quoted by Monty Johnstone is one of several which Trotsky opposed, but was out-voted in the Opposition by Kamenev and Zinoviev. For the sake of unity on the fundamental platform against Stalin, Trotsky concurred with this. His own writings provide a consistent defence of the theory, which Kamenev and Zinoviev were unwilling to accept, partly because of the role they had played in October on the question of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”.
Concerning the quotation from the letter to Preobrazhensky, the reader will see that there is absolutely no contradiction between the position advanced in this letter and the theory of permanent revolution. Trotsky always considered Lenin’s position to be progressive, and close to his own, as against that of the Mensheviks. This is expressed very clearly in the Lessons of October: Monty Johnstone quotes (with his customary “conciseness”) from this pamphlet, but he does not explain why it was written, when it was written, or what is in it. The work was written in 1923, after the defeat of the revolutionary movement in Germany, largely due to the bungling of Stalin and Zinoviev.
Trotsky explains in this pamphlet the inevitability of a crisis of leadership in a revolutionary situation because of the enormous pressure of bourgeois “public opinion” even on the most hardened revolutionary leadership. Engels had explained that it sometimes takes decades for a revolutionary situation to build up, and then two or three decades can be summed up in a few days; if the revolutionary leadership fails to take advantage of the situation then it might have to wait another ten, twenty years for a like situation to arise. Recent history is full of such examples, although one would not think so from the work of Monty Johnstone or the lore of the Communist Parties which even discovered and espoused the “Menshevik Road to Socialism”.
Trotsky explains the behaviour of the German Communist Party leaders and of the Stalin-Zinoviev leadership as a substitution of Menshevism for Bolshevism, in the manner of February, 1917. And as in 1917, the opportunists justified their position by paying lip service to outmoded theories – including the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”. Opportunists are never short of some convenient “theory” or other to excuse their cowardice: thus the Communist Party “theoreticians”, to explain away the sell-out in France in May 1968, fell back upon the distortion of Engels’ Introduction to the Class Struggles in France, which has been used to discredit revolutionism by the Social Democratic revisionists for eighty years!
In order to throw into sharp relief the imposing features of Comrade Johnstone’s fearless “objectivity”, let us quote in full what Trotsky says in The Lessons of October about the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”:
“Lenin, even prior to 1905, gave expression to the peculiar character of the Russian revolution in the formula ‘the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. This formula, in itself, as future development showed, could acquire meaning only as a stage towards the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry. Lenin’s formulation of the problem, revolutionary and dynamic through and through, was completely and irreconcilably counterposed to the Menshevik pattern according to which Russia could pretend only to a repetition of the history of the advanced nations, with the bourgeoisie in power and the social democrats in opposition. Some circles in our party, however, laid stress not on the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in Lenin’s formula, but upon its democratic character as opposed to its socialist character. And, again, this could only mean that in Russia, a backward country, only a democratic revolution was conceivable. The socialist revolution was to begin in the West, and we could take to the road of socialism only in the wake of England, France and Germany. But such a formulation of the question slipped inevitably into Menshevism, and this was fully revealed in 1917 when the tasks of the revolution were posed before us, not for prognosis but for decisive action.
“To hold, under the actual conditions of revolution, a position of supporting democracy pushed to its logical conclusion of opposition to socialism as ‘being premature‘, meant, in politics, a shift from the proletarian to a petty bourgeois position. It meant going over to the position of the left wing of national revolution.” (The Essential Trotsky, p. 122)
What happened in Russia in 1917? According to Monty Johnstone the February Revolution marked the completion of the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution. The October Revolution marked the socialist stage. But, on the one hand, the February Revolution did not solve any one of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic phase. On the other hand the socialist revolution initially began with the bourgeois-democratic measures, notably the agrarian revolution. Monty Johnstone masks his own confusion (and deepens that of his readers!) by desperately seizing on isolated quotes from Lenin – arbitrarily and quite incorrectly juxtaposing bleeding chunks from Lenin’s writings of 1905 with his polemics against the “Old Bolsheviks” in 1917! We would ask Comrade Johnstone: how can a bourgeois-democratic revolution be completed, when it has not dealt with the most fundamental questions before it?
How could the Bolsheviks mobilise support for the socialist revolution on the basis of bourgeois democratic slogans: (“Peace, Bread, Land”)?
In an apogee of exasperation, Monty Johnstone blurts out:
“It required the October Revolution, establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, to carry out those bourgeois democratic tasks which had not been tackled or completed between February and October.” (Cogito, p. 12)
Indeed it did, Comrade Johnstone! But that is precisely the nefarious theory of Permanent Revolution. In the October Revolution, the proletariat, in alliance with the poor peasants, first solved the basic problems of the bourgeois democratic revolution, then went on, uninterruptedly, to carry out socialist measures. Therein lies the “permanent”, uninterrupted nature of the Russian Revolution.
We might also ask Monty Johnstone which tasks had been “tackled or completed between February and October”? Not the distribution of land to the peasants. Not the establishment of a democratic peace. Not even the setting up of a genuine democratic system of government! The abolition of the monarchy? But even that was in abeyance: the original intention of the heroes of Russian “democracy” was to create a constitutional monarchy.
The bourgeois democratic “allies” of the working class, before whose “achievements” Monty Johnstone stands in religious awe were repeatedly flayed by Lenin, who openly mocked at their impotence:
“Those poltroons, gas-bags, vainglorious Narcissuses and petty Hamlets brandished their wooden swords – but did not even destroy the monarchy! We cleansed out all that monarchist muck as nobody has ever done before. We left not a stone, not a brick of that ancient edifice, the social-estate system (even the most advanced countries, such as Britain, France, and Germany, have not completely eliminated the survivals of that system to this day!), standing. We tore out the deep-seated roots of the social-estate system, namely, the remnants of feudalism and serfdom in the system of land ownership, to the last. ‘One may argue’ (there are plenty of quill-drivers, Cadets, Mensheviks, and Socialist Revolutionaries abroad to indulge in such arguments) as to what ‘in the long run’ will be the outcome of the agrarian reform effected by the Great October Revolution. We have no desire at the moment to waste time on such controversies, for we are deciding this, as well as the mass of accompanying controversies, by struggle. But the fact cannot be denied that the petty-bourgeois democrats ‘compromised’ with the landowners, the custodians of the traditions of serfdom, for eight months, while we completely swept the landowners and all their traditions from Russian soil in a few weeks.” (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 33, p.s 52-3)
The democratic rights which the workers won in 1917 were the results of their own struggles, not the “gifts” of the “petty Hamlets” of bourgeois parliamentarianism! As a matter of fact, under the cover of the “democracy” of the Provisional Government (exactly like the later Popular Front Governments in France and Spain) the reaction was preparing a bloody rebuff to the movement of the masses who had gone “too far”. The attempted counter-revolutionary coup of Kornilov in August-September 1917, with the support and encouragement of the bourgeoisie, signalised the bankruptcy of the whole rotten system of bourgeois democracy in Russia. In order to decisively defeat the forces of reaction and carry out the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution, it was necessary for the workers and peasants to snatch the reins of power from the trembling hands of the treacherous and vacillating “democrats”. That is a lesson which the “Communist” leaders of today still stubbornly refuse to learn; their “popular frontism” in Greece, in Spain, in France and elsewhere will pave the way for new and sanguinary defeats of the working class unless a decisive break is made with the rotten policies of Menshevik class collaborationism.
In the February Revolution, Tsarism had been overthrown precisely by the movement of the workers in the towns, who were then joined by the peasants in uniform. As for the bourgeoisie and its parties of “liberal democracy” – it played no role whatsoever. Real power was in the hands of the workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets. The Provisional Government hung in mid-air, deprived of any solid basis of support, other than that which the cowardly readerships of the Mensheviks and SRs were prepared to “voluntarily surrender” to it! What was necessary, as Lenin and Trotsky clearly understood, was for the workers and peasants to organise to convert this “dual power” (an abortion which resulted from the sell-out of the Mensheviks and SRs) into real workers’ power.
Marx and Engels had explained the cowardly, counter-revolutionary role of the German bourgeoisie in 1848 in terms of its fear of the working class movement which stood menacingly behind it in its struggle against feudalism and autocracy. The Russian bourgeoisie, sixty years later, was even more incapable of imitating the heroism of its class brothers of 1789. In the History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky explains that the belatedness of capitalist development in Russia ruled out the possibility of the Russian bourgeoisie playing a revolutionary role. On the one hand, taking advantage of the techniques learned from Western capitalism, Russian industry bore a highly concentrated character with a large number of workers thrust together in large numbers, under bad conditions, in the few towns, haunting the bourgeoisie with the spectre of a new Paris Commune in the event of a mass revolutionary upheaval.
On the other hand, the Russian bourgeoisie was heavily dependent for investment and credit on the purse strings of international capital:
“The social character of the Russian bourgeoisie and its political physiognomy were determined by the condition of origin and the structure of Russian industry. The extreme concentration of this industry alone meant that between the capitalist leaders and the popular masses there was no hierarchy of transitional layers. To this we must add that the proprietors of the principal industrial, banking and transport enterprises were foreigners, who realised on their investment not only the profits drawn from Russia, but also a political influence in foreign parliaments, and so not only did not forward the struggle for Russian parliamentarianism, but often opposed it: it is sufficient to recall the shameful role played by official France. Such are the elementary and irremovable causes of the political isolation and anti-popular character of the Russian bourgeoisie. Whereas in the dawn of its history it was too unripe to accomplish a Reformation, when the time came for leading a revolution it was overripe.” (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, vol. 1, p. 32)
And these features are not something peculiar to the Russian bourgeoisie: with minor differences, they are an accurate characterisation of the “national” bourgeoisies of every backward, semi colonial country. Lenin poured scorn on the Mensheviks for their class collaborationism – their “Popular Frontism” (for that is what it was, though the Mensheviks did not use the word) – their attempts to ingratiate themselves with the parties of so-called “liberal, bourgeois democracy”, under the pretext that the bourgeoisie was a “progressive” force in the struggle against autocracy. And what would he say if he could witness the even more blatant class collaborationism of the Communist Party everywhere in the world today: in Greece, in Spain, in Indonesia, in India? Nowhere has the “democratic” bourgeoisie played anything other than the most corrupt and counter-revolutionary role. Yet nowhere do the Communist Party leaderships pursue an independent, Leninist, class policy vis-à-vis the politicians of bourgeois democracy.
The Stalinist “theory” of “stages”, which has been incanted monotonously by the Communist Party “theoreticians”, including Monty Johnstone, is a crude and mechanical caricature of the ideas of Lenin. What has Monty Johnstone to say about the German revolution of 1918 or the Italian stay-in strikes of 1920? In the former case, the German workers seized power in a bloodless revolution, only to be sold out by their Social Democratic “leaders”, who, hiding behind the “bourgeois-democratic” nature of the revolution, “voluntarily surrendered” (!) power to the bourgeoisie! Was this, as the Social Democratic leaders claimed, the “democratic stage” of the German revolution, Comrade Johnstone? If so, why did Lenin denounce the Social Democratic leaders for betraying the socialist revolution?
A similar process took place in Italy in 1920, where the massive wave of sit-in strikes created a revolutionary situation: the failure of the socialist leaders to pose clearly the revolutionary way forward led to the defeat of the Italian workers and directly to the rise of Mussolini. Like the German Social Democratic leadership, they excused themselves on the grounds that the masses were “not ready” for socialist revolution. But if Lenin could bitterly attack the Italian Socialist leaders for failing to advance the revolutionary programme then, what would he have to say about the French Communist Party “leadership” in the general strike of May 1968, which was infinitely deeper and broader than the movement in Italy in 1920?
Opportunists of every stripe have always placed the responsibility for defeats at the door of the masses who are allegedly “unready” for socialism. But the history of the last fifty years shows time and time again the willingness of the working class to struggle and make heroic sacrifices to achieve a social transformation. “Why always blame the leaders?” ask the Communist Party “theoreticians” of 1968, echoing the indignant words of the Kautskys, Scheidemanns and Serratis in 1918-20. Having lost all faith in the ability of the working people to change society, the haughty bureaucrat is unable to conceive of any connection between his parliamentary cretinism and the failure of the masses, without a conscious revolutionary lead, to carry through their movement to a victorious conclusion.
What lessons have the Communist Party leaders drawn from all this? Monty Johnstone uses quotations from some of the polemics of Lenin. But he does not choose to quote from Lenin’s numerous polemics against the Mensheviks, who tried to tie the Russian proletariat to the “progressive”, “liberal” bourgeoisie. Why does he not quote Lenin’s innumerable attacks upon class collaborationism, his insistence upon the revolutionary workers and peasants as the only classes capable of carrying through the democratic revolution?
Apparently, in all of Lenin’s writings, Monty Johnstone sees only one long denunciation of the heresy of Permanent Revolution. He sees nothing relevant to the crass, Menshevik policies of Stalin in China in 1925-27. He sees nothing connected with the Cuban Communist Party which supported Batista as a “progressive anti-American force” in the thirties, and which denounced Castro as a “petit-bourgeois adventurer”, of the Iraqi Communist Party which hailed Kassim, as the Great Deliverer, till he began to shoot them down, and drive them underground! The Soviet comrades pursue a good neighbourly policy vis-à-vis the “progressive” Shah of Persia, which involves handing over political refugees to the firing squad. The Indonesian comrades, with their “Leninist” policy of a bloc of “workers, peasants, intelligentsia, national bourgeoisie, progressive aristocrats and all patriotic elements” grovelled before the “progressive” dictator Sukarno as a result of which half a million Communists were murdered without resistance. China and Russia vied with each other in praise of that “valiant anti-imperialist fighter” Ayub Khan, till he was overthrown by the Pakistani workers and peasants.
These are just a few samples of the “Leninist” orientation of the “Communist” Party leaderships today. Under the pretext of loyalty to the slogan of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”, they are everywhere pursuing a policy of class collaboration which is just what Trotsky called it, a “malicious caricature of Menshevism”.
Many comrades in the Communist Party and Young Communist League will have been confused by Monty Johnstone’s mental gymnastics on the Permanent Revolution. We hope that some of the points have been clarified here. The theory of the Permanent Revolution is not the complicated, arid theoretical question which Johnstone makes it out to be, but one which sums up the whole experience of the revolutionary movement in Russia of the October Revolution. Without a clear understanding of these questions, no Marxist will be able to find his bearings in the present world situation. The tragedies of Indonesia, of Greece, of Pakistan, will be repeated. It is up to all serious socialists to study the lessons of these events to prepare themselves theoretically for the future role they must play in Britain and internationally.