Monday, July 18, 2011

Chavez, Trotsky, And Permanent Revolution

Chavez appears at public event, FOX News

Ailing President Hugo Chavez appeared cheerful here Thursday at an event to celebrate the bicentennial of Venezuelan independence, where he said that the socialist revolution he had led for 12 years is "eternal."

Dressed in a military uniform, Chavez made a brief televised speech in which he said that the cancer from which he is suffering had made him feel "a million times more love" for his people and for himself and he repeated that he is convinced he will win this "battle" against the often fatal disease.

Chavez returned to Venezuela on July 4 after undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in Cuba, and since then he has adhered to a strict recovery plan, which he said on Wednesday has now entered a new phase during which it could be necessary for him to have radiation treatments and chemotherapy.

The Venezuelan leader swore that he will continue doing "everything that I may need to do" to win this "difficult" battle.

"I swear it a million times: I will live, we will live, for the fatherland, for life," he exclaimed.

"Our revolution that is now beginning the 21st century was born to transform itself into the eternal revolution, into the permanent revolution, into the perpetual revolution," he shouted.


Uneven and combined development affects not only the shape and pace of advance of the means of production of a society, but also the class structure. In the Russian case it meant a small and weak domestic capitalist class, heavily penetrated by external financiers, a colossal and repressive bureaucracy, and a freshly formed and small, but potentially powerful, urban working class.

This had implications for the coming Russian Revolution. The largest social group, the peasantry, lacked the cohesion or commonality of interest necessary to lead a revolution. It could play a revolutionary role only insomuch as it could connect to a revolutionary class in the cities. The bourgeoisie would not play a revolutionary role, because it feared and was antagonistic towards the working class that it oppressed and exploited.

This posed a problem for the country’s socialist movement, which was divided between its Bolshevik and Menshevik factions. For the Mensheviks, the coming revolution would be bourgeois in character. Therefore it would be made by the “democratic bourgeoisie”. Workers might assist as part of a democratic coalition of forces, but could at best act as a kind of ginger group assuring certain rights for workers in the ensuing democratic regime.13 The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, recognised the need for a militant struggle by workers. In their formulation there would be a “revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” which would drive the revolution through. The proletariat would, according to this rather vague scenario, limit itself to the tasks appropriate to a bourgeois revolution.14 This formulation persisted until 1917, when, in the course of the revolution, Lenin won the Bolshevik Party (which Trotsky had by then joined) to a perspective remarkably similar to that of permanent revolution.15

For Trotsky the solution to the problems faced by Russia—an agrarian revolution to resolve the land question, the overthrow or Tsarism and the introduction of democracy, and so on—could only be brought about by workers. This struggle might begin with tasks common to the bourgeois revolutions of the past (the English Revolution of the 17th century or the French and American revolutions of the 18th), “but the principal driving force of the Russian Revolution is the proletariat, and that is why, so far as its methods are concerned, it is a proletarian revolution”.16 Faced with this, “the proletariat is driven by the internal progress of events towards hegemony over the peasantry and to the struggle for state power”.17 Having established a workers’ state, it was implausible to suggest that the workers would accept a self-denying ordnance and stop at purely “democratic” or “bourgeois” tasks. On the contrary, they would use their power to wrest economic, social and political control from the old ruling class.18

In other words, the revolution could pass directly over into a social revolution leading towards the establishment of socialism and becoming “permanent”.19 However, having made such a revolution the working class would face a potentially hostile mass of peasantry, who, having taken control of their land in alliance with the workers, would now have quite different interests. This would mean the eventual overturning of the revolution unless the workers could prove that socialism offered greater potential than private capitalist agriculture. But that meant accessing far greater material and cultural resources than were available in Russia. Successful revolution would again run up against the limits of the pre-requisites for socialism.

For Trotsky, the pre-requisites did not exist on the national terrain. He insisted on the international nature of revolution because the prerequisites only existed on a world scale. Russia must provide the prologue for the European, and ultimately the world, revolution.
As capitalism is an international system, connected both through imperialism and the world market, crises provoking revolutionary situations were likely to be regional or global in scale. The other dimension to the “permanence” of the Russian Revolution was, therefore, that revolutions would have to follow in major European countries. The revolutionary wave that followed 1917 was confirmation of the viability of Trotsky’s theory; the ultimate defeat of this wave, which paved the way for Stalinist counterrevolution, was, in a negative sense, also a confirmation.

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