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Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ not the answer

14 Mar

An advocate of Trotskyism on the quiz progam ‘Mastermind’ predictably insisted that it was democratic, whereas what existed in the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries after Lenin died and Stalin took over wasn’t.

The problem with this statement, of course, is that both Trotskyism and so-called ‘Stalinism’ have their basis in the very same Marxist-Leninist theories. Since these theories are seriously flawed, the end result of any version of Marxism-Leninism is likely to be the same, i.e. an imperfect Socialism, corruption, a new bureaucratic ruling class and dictatorship by them over the masses.

Leon Trotsky differed from Joseph Stalin in two main areas: Trotsky advocated world revolution, whilst Stalin after Lenin’s death claimed it was possible to build Socialism in one country, and Trotsky also advocated ‘permanent revolution’ so no new bourgeoisie or ruling class could emerge.

In actual fact, of course, Soviet-style Socialism eventually spread to encompass a third of the world’s population, and even the early period of Stalin’s attempt to build ‘Socialism in one country’ was really international since the Soviet Union was a federation of many countries itself. Even today, though the former Soviet republics have become independent, the Russian Federation itself contains many countries and nationalities. So spreading Socialism to more than one country did not help to democratize it or make it more successful in the long-term.

As to ‘permanent revolution’ in order to achieve this it is necessary to get the masses actively interested and involved in political activity. Since this didn’t happen in most Socialist states, it was remarkably easy for careerists, opportunists and even criminal elements to infiltrate the ruling political party and other organs of State power and impose a bureaucratic dictatorship which was then almost impossible to overthrow. When it was finally overthrown at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s in many countries, the Socialist base of the economy was overthrown as well, but the former bureaucratic ruling class largely clung on to power. So the upheavels of 1989/1991 were largely a failure since they jettisoned the Socialist baby and just kept the dirty bathwater, the worst of possible scenarios. This just shows how politically immature the masses were, even after decades of Socialism, imperfect as it was.

Surely they should have learnt that keeping the corrupt leaders who deformed and distorted Socialism was not the answer, and that keeping Socialism but making it more democratic was what was needed.

Marxism-Leninism (both Trotskyist and ‘Stalinist’ varieties) preaches the democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which in practice means the leading role (i.e. dictatorship) of the Marxist-Leninist Party. Now the only way to make this democratic is for the masses to join in their millions and actively participate in inner-party democracy, thus insuring that no careerists or opportunists can take over. If this had happened in any of the Socialist countries they would be well on the way to the stateless society of Communism proper, where the State itself withers away and the masses govern themselves as a classless society with no artificial regulators. This theory failed because of the apathy and political immaturity of the masses, and this is one of the main flaws in Marxist-Leninist theory. Trotsky would never have gotten his ‘permanent revolution’. Instead careerists, opportunists and criminal elements would have taken over just as in the post-Lenin Soviet Union and other Socialist states, and a bureaucratic dictatorship would have been the result.

The only Socialist country to try anything like Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ was Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution, when ironically enough, Stalin was praised alongside Mao, Lenin, Marx and Engels as one of the 5 Marxist-Leninist giants. Poor old Trotsky was a non-person there, as in all the other Socialist countries.  Yet Mao launched the Red Guards as a sort of ‘permanent revolution’ against bureaucracy. All it amounted to was brutal bullying, murders and a strengthening of the dictatorship of the Communist Party which, after Mao’s death, soon dropped most pretenses of being even Socialist let alone building Communism, and which has now re-introduced capitalism on a large scale, opened the economy to Western multi-nationals, but still retains the bureaucratic dictatorship exercised thru the Communist Party and the State organs. ‘Permanent Revolution’, like China’s ‘Cultural Revolution’, would similarly just result in bullying, murders, and ultimately chaos and failure and eventually a new clique of bureaucratic dictators out to further their own interests.

The basic flaw in Marxism-Leninism is its blind faith in the ability of the masses, or of the proletariat, to take control of the Party and other organs of State power, to hold on to it and develop a people’s democracy which nobody can overthrow. This could only work if the vast majority of the proletariat were politically aware and mature enough to become actively involved on a day to day basis, thus preventing corrupt elements from taking over. Whether you call this ‘participating in inner Party democracy’ or ‘permanent revolution’ makes no difference whatsoever, if it ain’t gonna happen it ain’t gonna happen. And when it does, like with China’s Red Guards, all you are likely to get is a band of thugs out to bully and humiliate others but not actually achieving anything but an even more brutal dictatorship and ultimately corruption on an even greater scale.

Why did China’s Red Guards fail to weed Socialism of corrupt elements and make it more democratic? Partly because they were organized from the top, by Mao himself, and took his ‘little red book’ of quotations as their bible. But also because they never amounted to a majority of the population, did not represent the proletariat or the masses as a whole, and because, sanctioned by Chairman Mao himself, they became drunk and corrupted by power and the opportunity to bully and humiliate whoever they chose to see as ‘enemies of the people’. This is clearly not the way to democratize society, nor to further Socialism, and Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ is so similiar in theory it is unlikely to be any more successful.

The only answer, as I see it, given the political apathy (immaturity if you like) of the masses, is to preserve genuine multi-party democracy and free elections with rival candidates/parties within the confines of a Socialist State governed by a Socialist Constitution. This would enable a government which became too bureaucratic or corrupt to be voted out in a General Election and replaced by another Socialist party, who might well wish to try a different brand of Socialism. In this way, as with bourgeois democracies, although the masses aren’t actively involved in political activity on a day-to-day basis, at least they have the ability to throw out a corrupt government and vote in an alternative.

Should they decide to become politically active, of course, they can join any of the political parties existing, or start one themselves. There is nothing in theory to stop a multi-party Socialist State eventually developing into a politically mature classless society, in which the broad masses are actively involved in the political organizations, nor in them forming a coalition and governing society as one united, democratic front. Once this level of political commitment was achieved and sustained, then it should be possible to prevent a new bureaucratic ruling class emerging. However theory is one thing, actually getting such a high level of political activity and commitment from the broad mass of people in society is another matter entirely, and in my view unlikely to happen for at least the foreseeable future.

It can all be summed up in one simple phrase – ‘evolution not revolution’. Things have to happen gradually and democratically. Violent revolutions rarely, if ever, achieve and sustain their original aims. The very process of one group or class rising up and overthrowing another violently sets the pattern for brutality and dictatorship, and ultimately the new ruling group or class becomes just as corrupt as the old one.  Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ will never change this, it would just continue the pattern.

In politics the ballot box is always preferable to the bullet, and evolution to revolution. The great advances in living standards and conditions in the Western world came about, not thru violent revolution, but thru parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity. Not least the class struggle exercised non-violently (for the most part) thru the trade union movements in various countries. Ultimately this is where proletarian power lies – the ability to withhold their labor. Without labor, nothing can be produced, and without labor even money and gold would eventually lose their value since there would be no goods, property development or services to purchase. This is perhaps the nearest thing to Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ which has worked over and over again – workers’ solidarity and the willingness to withdraw their labor to achieve albeit limited objectives. Again, a case of ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’.

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