Permanent Revolution or Uninterrupted Revolution by Stages? By Kostas Mavrakis

Democracy and Class Struggle re-publishes this article as the “Monsieur Jourdains” of Trotskyism are active again conflating and confusing Permanent Revolution with Mao’s theory of Uninterrupted Revolution.

At a lecture and debate on the crisis of the international communist movement bringing together Pierre Cot, Lelio Basso, Isaac Deutscher and Jacques Vergès, Vergès’s reply to a listener who asked him about the ‘permanent revolution’ in China had the merit of infuriating Pierre Frank who hurled himself towards the platform, his face purple, his eyes popping and foam on hislips.

After him, Deutscher calmly explained that he had examined the Chinese and Trotskyist ideas of the permanent revolution very closely, that he had resorted to the strongest ‘theoretical lenses’, without, however, discovering the slightest difference between them.

We do not believe that lenses of great ‘separating power’ are necessary to see the opposition between certain aspects of these two theories unless one is suffering from a very advanced intellectual myopia.

I have shown above that Lenin did not ‘tacitly’ become Trotskyist in 1917.

I shall now go into the differences between the Chinese uninterrupted revolution and Trotsky’s permanent revolution.

Comparing these two concepts, we shall show that they are distinguishable and even opposed to one another.

That is why we designate them by different terms, dismissing philological quibbles as irrelevant to the question that the Chinese language possesses only a single expression for both concepts, or that in Russia a single word is translated sometimes by ‘stages’ and sometimes by ‘phases’.

(Trotskyists like speaking about ‘phases’ but not ‘stages’.)

For my part, I shall conform to the elementary logical principles stated by Pascal when he said

‘I never quarrel about a name as long as I am told what meaning is given it’.

In their translation into foreign languages the Chinese are always careful to use the expression ‘uninterrupted revolution’ (by stages) to avoid any confusion with Trotsky’s ideas.

1. Trotsky wrote:

It is nonsense to say that stages in general cannot be skipped. The living historical process always makes leaps over isolated ‘stages’ which derive from the theoretical breakdown into its component parts of the process of development in its entirety . . .

The third Chinese revolution . . . will not have a ‘democratic’ period . . . It will be forced . . . to abolish (from the start) bourgeois ownership in the towns and countryside.

In contrast, Mao argues that the revolution is at once uninterrupted and that it passes through determined stages. These stages can neither be leapt over, nor can the tasks of a stage be embarked upon before those of the preceding one have been accomplished:

Taken as a whole, the Chinese revolutionary movement led by the Communist Party embraces two stages, i.e. the democratic and the socialist revolutions . . . The second process can only be carried through after the first has been completed. The democratic revolution is the necessary preparation for the socialist revolution, and the socialist revolution is the inevitable sequel to the democratic revolution.

Mao emphasizes that it is necessary to understand both ‘the difference and the connection’ between these two stages. The Trotskyists saw the connection but not the difference, while the opportunists of the Chinese Right (Ch’en Tu-hsiu) saw the difference but not the connection.

Under the leadership of the Communist Party the Chinese people carried out the tasks of the democratic stage in a consistent and radical manner, thus ensuring the uninterrupted transition (the interpenetration, as Lenin said) of the revolution to the socialist stage.

2. The displacements of the principal contradiction are the objective basis for the distinction between the stages.

A different system of class alliances corresponds to each one of them. During the democratic revolution the party of the proletariat, supported by the fundamental masses of workers and peasants and regrouping under its leadership all the forces which can be united, especially the petty bourgeoisie and a part of the national bourgeoisie, carries to completion the struggle against imperialism, bureaucratic and comprador capital and feudalism.

This stage goes beyond the liberation of China (1949) to the completion of agrarian reform (1952), when the principal contradiction becomes that between the working class and the bourgeoisie. The revolution has entered its socialist stage, during which the proletariat is principally in alliance with the poor peasants and the lower stratum of the middle peasants.

For Trotsky, the principal contradiction remains the same during the whole period of the transition from capitalism to socialism: the capital/labour contradiction.

It follows that, for him, the bourgeoisie confronting the workers always and everywhere constitutes one reactionary mass.

This being true for the entire world it is also therefore true for China.

The Chinese Communists have been able to distinguish between two groups in the bourgeoisie of their country. One consisted of bureaucratic capital (the four great families who controlled the state apparatus) and comprador capital which acted as an intermediary between the international monopolies and the Chinese market.

This group was the instrument of imperialism and the ally of the landlords. The other comprised the middle or national bourgeoisie which displayed a revolutionary character on the one hand and a tendency towards compromise with the enemy on the other.

Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capital were crushing and stifling the middle bourgeoisie.

It had a vital interest in the elimination of semi-feudal relations in the countryside in order to enlarge the market, and in national independence to free it from imperialist dumping.

It follows that at certain times and to a certain extent it was able to participate in the revolution.

In other respects it was an exploiting class as it retained links with imperialism and feudalism and was economically and politically weak, so that there was a risk that it would go over to the side of counter-revolution, particularly after a period of successful popular struggle (for example 1927-31).

Even when it was an ally of the proletariat it remained hesitant and vacillating; hence the necessity to adopt towards it a policy of unity and struggle, that is, to criticize it in order to induce it to prove more steadfast in the anti-imperialist struggle.

Given the fact that China was a backward country it was necessary to maintain on the economic level a united front with the national bourgeoisie after the victory of the revolution. In the people’s democratic dictatorship then set up, this class constituted a part of the people.

The contradiction between it and the working class which it continued to exploit presented, in addition to an antagonistic component, a non-antagonistic component.

This means that in the concrete conditions in China this contradiction could be solved peacefully by a policy of unity, criticism and education.

This is, in fact, what was done. The national bourgeoisie ceased to exist as a class in 1966, after a fairly long transitional period.

It is hardly necessary to point out that, for the Trotskyists,any alliance with a fraction of the bourgeoisie, whatever the concrete conditions, is an abominable betrayal of principles, as is the formula ‘democratic dictatorship of the people’.

Trotsky had learned from Lenin that the stages of a revolution are distinguished by the nature of the socio-economic formations on its agenda, not by that of the political power.

In Russia, the democratic stage lasted from February 1917 to July 1918. Trotsky himself acknowledged that the period from November 1917 to July 1918 was democratic.

The Trotskyists today have forgotten this. Ernest Mandel does not understand that the democratic stage in China might have lasted until 1952, although the power established in 1949 was in its essence a dictatorship of the proletariat, for the latter had first to complete the democratic transformation before going on to socialist measures.

3. According to Trotsky:

in a country where the proletariat has power in its hands asthe result of the democratic revolution, the subsequent fate of the dictatorship and socialism depends in the last analysis not only and not so much upon the national productive process as upon the development of the international socialist revolution.

The reason for this is ‘The world division of labour, the dependence of Soviet industry upon foreign technology, the dependence of the productive forces of the advanced countries of Europe upon Asiatic raw materials’.

As I have shown, Trotsky was convinced that the dictatorship of the proletariat in an economically backward country would quickly be crushed by foreign intervention and internal counter-revolution unless help came from the victorious proletariat in one or several advanced countries.

For forty years history has daily contradicted this prognosis of Trotsky’s which he presented, moreover, in the mode of ‘That’s how it is’, with no explanation of either how or why.

The Chinese conceive the solidarity between their revolution and the world revolution quite differently:

  1. When they were still in the democratic and national liberation stage they were deeply conscious of the truth of the theory developed by Lenin and Stalin according to which, after the October revolution, ‘the liberation movements of oppressed nations play an integral part in the world socialist revolution’: because both have a common enemy, imperialism; because the leadership of the proletariat exercised through the Communist Party guarantees the transition to the socialist revolution after the complete victory of the democratic revolution; because the achievement of economic independence and ‘a fortiori’ the building of a socialist economy require relations of mutual assistance and solidarity with the socialist camp.
  2. The revolutionary struggles in the world undermine the rear of imperialism and are one of the factors that prevent it from attacking the socialist countries and contribute to its defeat when it ventures to do so. The Chinese communists have pointed out that the vast regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America dominated by imperialism are the nodal point at which the contradictions of the contemporary world converge, the storm centre where the revolutionary peoples have reaped numerous victories since 1945, where partisan armies are rooted in the masses and are becoming progressively stronger, and where, in the present circumstances, a people’s war has the best chance of victory. They have recalled what Stalin said in 1925.

The colonial countries constitute the principal rear of imperialism. The revolutionisation of this rear is bound to undermine imperialism not only in the sense that imperialism will be deprived of its rear, but also in the sense that the revolutionisation of the East is bound to give a powerful impulse to the intensification of the revolutionary crisis in the West. Lin Piao’s theory of the encirclement of the cities of the world (imperialist countries) by the countryside of the world (dominated countries) means just this.

Since 1963 the Chinese have said:

We believe that, with the . . . struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in Western Europe and North America, the momentous day of battle will arrive in these homes of capitalism and heartlands of imperialism. When that day comes, Western Europe and North America will undoubtedly become the centre of world political struggles, of world contradictions.

The signs heralding this great future struggle became clear in 1967-8. The revolt of the youth and the revolutionary awakening of the broad masses in the imperialist metropolises themselves are new, universal phenomena which mark the entry of the world into a new historical era. The Chinese immediately saw the significance of these great struggles and gave them enthusiastic support.
This turning-point in history must be connected with the war in Vietnam which has discredited reactionary ideologies (the Free World, American democracy, etc.) in the eyes of youth.

For its part the cultural revolution showed youth the way forward. The formula in which Mao Tse-tung summed up the numerous principles of Marxism-Leninism, ‘It is right to rebel’, has become the motto of revolutionary youth throughout the world.

Trotsky’s internationalism was based on the unity of the world market from which he deduced the necessary supremacy of the advanced capitalist countries. If he acknowledged that the imperialist chain could be broken at its weakest link, this could only happen, under pain of defeat, as an immediate prelude to the revolution in the more developed countries our preferences and that it generally progresses by its bad side.

His theory was therefore that of the strongest link. On this basis he formulated a pious wish; he hoped that the revolution would triumph very quickly in these countries, otherwise all would be lost.

The Chinese do not think that all is lost if the revolution is late in coming.

They know, in the meantime, that history does not ask for their internationalism to be based on the structuring of the system of international relations by the political class struggle on a global scale. They show that there are four fundamental contradictions, all equally important, which form a system (each one is present in the other three).

These contradictions oppose:

  1. The oppressed nations to imperialism and social-imperialism;
  2. The proletariat to the bourgeoisie in the capitalist and revisionist countries;
  3. The imperialists to each other and to social-imperialism;
  4. The socialist countries to the imperialist and social-imperialist countries.

At the moment, the first is the most explosive.

As for Trotsky, he granted an exorbitant privilege to the proletarians in the advanced countries in his idea of the world revolution. He understood neither the laws of revolution in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, nor did he concede that for a long time they could be in the vanguard of the struggle.

The Chinese communists know that it is the peoples of the advanced capitalist countries who will deliver the final blow to imperialism. They also know that the final victory of socialism and the transition to communism will only be carried out on a world scale but they cannot accept formulations such as this one: ‘The maintenance of the proletarian revolution within a national framework can only be a provisional state of affairs . . . The way out for it lies only in the victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries’.

They would even be tempted to invert the formula: the security of the proletariat in the advanced countries depends on the victory of the peoples dominated by imperialism. This inversion had already been executed by Marx. He wrote to Engels on 10 December 1869:

I long believed that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime through English working-class ascendancy . . . more thorough study has now convinced me of the exact opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland.

4. According to Mao Tse-tung, contradictions are the motor of history.

He has written:

The law of the unity of opposites is the fundamental law of the inverse. This law operates universally, whether in the natural world, or in human society, or in man’s thinking. Between the opposites in a contradiction there is at once unity and struggle, and it is this that impels things to move and change.

As Lenin had already pointed out in a note criticising Bukharin, contradiction and antagonism must not be confused. The former will exist in communist society. According to Mao, the development of these contradictions and their resolution will give rise to sudden qualitative changes, that is, to revolutions.

The revolutionary process will continue indefinitely. There will be no end to history.

Trotsky was totally unaware of this aspect of the theory of the uninterrupted revolution which is derived from the dialectical nature of the real.

In the debate cited at the beginning of this section, Vergès had no time to express himself as clearly as this, for the chairman allowed him only one sentence to reply to Frank and Deutscher. His reply was: ‘Marxist-Leninists are not the “Monsieur Jourdains” of Trotskyism.’

In fact, as Trotskyism has no hold on the real as a result of its original sin – the fact that it is cut off from the masses – its supporters console themselves by explaining others’ victories by an unconscious application of the only revolutionary doctrine: their own.

They do not bring about the revolution but are very fond of distributing praise and blame. When they approve of Marxist-Leninists it is because they supposedly practise Trotskyism without knowing it.

How else can they account for the logical scandal presented by their opponents’ revolutionary successes except by attributing them to the occult influence of their own ideas? ‘Since these mysteries are beyond us, let us pretend to shape them,’ they say, imitating Figaro.