Arrigo Cervetto

Lenin and the Chinese Revolution

Source: Internationalism. Journal of Marxist Analysis;
First Published: éditions Science Marxiste, Marxist Science Publications;
Translated: from the Italian, © Éditions Science Marxiste.

Five of Lenin’s writings on China

Before and after the XXII Congress, we highlighted the problem of Sino-Russian relations and all their innumerable repercussions. This problem undoubtedly has a historical significance that transcends the ongoing debate and assumes the aspect and role of a long-term trend.

The task of revolutionary Marxism is to identify, study, and describe this trend, and not that of making prophecies about the immediate future; and it is precisely in carrying out this task, in the faithful application of Marxist analysis, that a clear boundary line is drawn, separating us from every species and subspecies of opportunism. For us, revolutionary theory leads to revolutionary strategy. It is by following this line in the Marxist-Leninist tradition that we will continue our orientation and clarification battle regarding a whole series of problems that the Sino-Soviet conflict has brought to the fore, albeit in a somewhat confused way, but which, objectively, have been maturing since the first half of the twentieth century. In their general aspects, these problems are not new for Marxism. Indeed, Marx and Engels dealt with them constantly and ingeniously, providing an extremely valid historical, social, economical and political guideline in their writings, which Bruno Maffi1 has recently diligently collected and annotated in his book India, China, Russia.

In the era of imperialism, Lenin carried on the Masters’ work in his analysis of the East, formulating a strategic vision of it that is extremely valid in its key points and that will constitute the general line with which we have to deal with the Asian problems today.

There are a number of fixed reference points in his “Eastern” analysis. Besides testifying to the great importance he attached to the East, they demonstrate that his interest was neither fleeting nor tied to any specific episode, but that it was an organic constant of his work. Among his writings, we recommend five articles (written in 1908, 1912, 1921, and 1923) that cover a time span of fifteen years, and in which we find a strict continuity of theoretical coherence and a consequent political and strategic development. Hence, these are not occasional observations, or even brilliant predictions, i.e. theses that, because of their transitory nature, can be detached from the whole of a theoretical work and manipulated in a quotation-based sleight of hand. On the contrary, the observations, predictions, judgements, and even terms, form a whole and, years later, are repeated, reasserted, and expanded until they form a dialectic of reassertion and in-depth analysis. In the article “Inflammable Material in World Politics”, published in Proletary in August 1908, Lenin identifies Asia as one of the driving forces of the international revolution.

The class-conscious European worker now has comrades in Asia, and their number will grow by leaps and bounds.

Why? What historical forces have triggered this movement?

By their colonial plunder of Asian countries, the Europeans have succeeded in so steeling one of them, Japan, that she has gained great military victories, which have ensured her independent national development. There can be no doubt that the age-old plunder of India by the British, and the contemporary struggle of all these “advanced” Europeans against Persian and Indian democracy, will steel millions, tens of millions of proletarians in Asia to wage a struggle against their oppressors which will be just as victorious as that of the Japanese.

With masterly skill, Lenin links himself to the thesis argued by Marx in his 14 June 1853 New York Daily Tribune article. Marx had said:

Whether the “contact of extremes” be such a universal principle or not, a striking illustration of it may be seen in the effect the Chinese revolution seems likely to exercise upon the civilized world.

European capitalism, which had reached its imperialistic extreme, was generating the opposite “extreme” of Asian revolution, of the formation of the Asian proletariat, and of national wars of independence. Lenin does not stop at the petty bourgeois philistinism that maintains that there are limits that the national struggle for freedom must not exceed. He points to Japan and her “great military victories, which have ensured her independent national development” as one of the models that had been “steeled” by the imperialist colonial plunder.

Japan’s independent national development was the result of war against its Russian oppressor. It was the model of a war of national independence, and not an imperialist war. And yet Japan already had political independence; indeed, as Lenin observed in his 1916 clash with Rosa Luxemburg over the nations’ “right to self-determination”, it was precisely political independence that allowed their capitalist development. Lenin maintained this in the face of those who underestimated or did not recognise the importance of the oppressed nations’ struggle to gain political independence. I agree, said Lenin, that there is economic dependence, as well as the economic and financial domination of imperialism over politically independent countries, too. However, political independence and the creation of a national state are the first crucial steps in the struggle against economic dependence on imperialism, and constitute the first means of state intervention in the creation of a national market.

The progressive role of revolutionary war

Pointing to Japan and her “great military victories” as an example of a victorious struggle against oppressors, Lenin draws a clear borderline between Marxists and opportunists. For us revolutionaries, there is a fundamental difference between imperialist war and war of national independence. It is from this difference that the position of the working class vanguard derives: defeatism and the transformation of imperialist war into civil war in the imperialist nation; alliance with the working masses of the oppressed nation.

But the struggle for national independence is not limited to freeing the national territory occupied by the colonial power. To ensure “independent national development”, a development that would allow it to have real economic independence, the young independent state has to use military force to hit the imperialism that threatens it, has to take is capacity to counterattack beyond its borders, has to use violence to disrupt the enemy’s encircling strategic bases, and has to develop its own revolutionary war. Only through this dynamic will the “struggle against their oppressors” become just as victorious “as that of the Japanese”, says Lenin. Using this as a yardstick, it is possible to measure the degree of development and the strength of young Asian capitalism, just as, in times gone by, the capacity and strength of Jacobin capitalism were measured not so much by the defense of the borders of revolutionary France, but by the invasion of Belgium, so that the sans-culottes armies could crush the royalist conspiracy of reactionary Europe from behind its back.

Japan would become capitalist, and, as such, Lenin would include it among the world’s imperialist states when it had reached internal capitalist maturity, had become the ally of the white powers in the First World War so as to participate in the carve-up of the world market, and had occupied regions of Asia, not to wage a revolutionary war against Western imperialism, but to plunder and exploit them as a colonial and capitalist power — when, in short, it had participated in the struggle to carve up the Asian market. At a certain degree of development, Japan’s young capitalist forces became imperialist. It was not the military form of their development that characterized them. but rather the opposite: it was the quantitative (capitalist concentration, capital surplus, and capital exports) and qualitative (monopolistic capitalism and imperialism) aspect of their development that characterized their military trend.

It is necessary to have a clear idea of the Marxist conception of the nature of war to be able to analyze the Eastern question in all its aspects, especially now that the problem of war has become a key problem in China’s position, not so much because of the pseudo-aggressiveness of the Chinese protest, as because of the relative weakness with which China backs this protest. For a number of reasons, we believe that China has not yet reached its 1905, and that it is highly debatable whether it will be able to reach it in the near future.

The factors that contributed to the aggressiveness of the Japanese 1905 are now all working against China; and perhaps — we should add — China has not yet succeeded in completing all the cycle of industrial and capitalist development that Japan completed relatively undisturbed. Or perhaps the problem is more complex and regards many of the aspects dealt with by Trotsky in his theory of “permanent revolution” applied to China, i.e. the impossibility of carrying out a democratic-bourgeois revolution. However, without dwelling now on issues that we will deal with later, we think that a first element in weighing up the situation could be found in a modern-day application of the Leninist conception of revolutionary war in Asia: today, this stage has not yet been reached. At the moment, China is not only unable to fight its Battle of the Pacific, its Tsushimas or its Port Arthurs, but it is not even able to liberate Formosa. To understand some of the causes of this situation we need to study the Chinese movement in greater depth and to return to Lenin.

Chinese Narodism: false socialism that brings about real capitalism

In his 1908 article, after having expressed a very clear opinion on India, where “the proletariat has already developed to conscious political mass struggle”, Lenin says that, as regards the [Chinese] revolutionary movement against the medieval order, … “nothing definite can yet be said” about it, given the lack of information; however, there can be no doubt about the vigorous growth of the “new spirit” and the “European currents” that are stirring in China, especially since the Russo-Japanese war; and consequently, the old-style Chinese revolts will inevitably develop into a conscious democratic movement.

In fact, “European [and Japanese] currents” — and not national traditions, as certain European petty bourgeois intellectuals and the disciples of Mao Tse-tung theorize — made the transition inevitable.

In 1912, in his article “Democracy and Narodnism in China”, published in Nevskaya Zvezda in July, Lenin could comment on the programme and ideology of the Chinese democratic movement, the programme of Sun Yat-sen, and began to do so by defining Sun Yat-sen as the “enlightened spokesman of militant and victorious Chinese democracy”. And he added:

A progressive Chinese democrat, he argues exactly like a Russian. His similarity to a Russian Narodnik is so great that it goes as far as a complete identity of fundamental ideas and of many individual expressions. [...] Let us now consider, with Sun Yat-sen as an example, the “social significance” of the ideas generated by the deep-going revolutionary movement of the hundreds of millions who are finally being drawn into the stream of world capitalist civilisation.

“Finally being drawn into the stream of world capitalist civilisation”: this is how Lenin explains the “Western” secret whereby Russian Narodism scaled the Great Wall of China and spoke Chinese.

Does that mean, then, that the materialist West has hopelessly decayed and that light shines only from the mystic, religious East? No, quite the opposite. It means that the East has definitely taken the Western path, that new hundreds of millions of people (underlined by Lenin) will from now on share in the struggle for the ideals which the West has already worked out for itself.

The East takes the Western path

Hundreds of millions of people take the Western path: this is the essence of what Lenin finds in the East’s reawakening and its democratic revolution. In class terms, this means making the class struggle international, global. Lenin does not seek the roots of the Chinese movement or of its Narodnik ideology in the “Eastern” tradition: he seeks, and finds them, in the “Western” process of class formation in China.

The chief representative, or the chief social bulwark, of this Asian bourgeoisie that is still capable of supporting a historically progressive cause, is the peasant.

Its bourgeois leadership and the historical tendency to create conditions favorable to the development of a capitalist economy constitute the objectively progressive aspect of the movement. The fact that this movement is based on the overwhelming majority of peasants, and, moreover, that this majority no longer objectively adopts the traditional forms of revolt, but prefers capitalist objectives, gives a strong democratic impulse to the Chinese Revolution. It is from these general conditions that the particular nature of Chinese Narodism, i.e. of the transplant of Narodism into China, springs.

Lenin writes:

But the Chinese Narodnik combines this ideology of militant democracy, firstly, with socialist dreams, with hopes of China avoiding the capitalist path, of preventing capitalism and, secondly, with a plan for, and advocacy of, radical agrarian reform. It is these last two ideological and political trends that constitute the element which forms Narodism – Narodism in the specific sense of that term, i.e. as distinct from democracy, as a supplement to democracy.

At this point, Lenin gives us an example of dialectical application: he says that the Chinese Narodniks are subjectively socialists because they oppose the oppression of the masses and have borrowed their ideas of liberation from Europe and America, “where emancipation from the bourgeoisie, i.e. socialism, is the immediate task”; he then goes on to say that, due to the objective conditions of China, the exploitation Narodism is fighting cannot but be “only one specific, historically distinctive form of this oppression and exploitation, namely, feudalism”; hence, the subjectively socialist and democratic programme of the Chinese Narodniks turns in practice into a “programme for the abolition of feudal exploitation alone”.

The dialectical movement of the social forces that are the motive power of history in the phase of imperialism and proletarian revolution is thus transcribed into Lenin’s profound materialistic conception: capitalism exports its extremes — capital and the socialist idea — to the Asian regions; by exploiting these extremes, the Asian revolt can finally turn into a democratic-bourgeois revolution. “Subjectively socialist” ideas make that revolution decidedly capitalist, providing it with all the strength and impetus it needs to realize capitalist development. Now that we find ourselves faced with vast “subjectively socialist” movements in Asia, Lenin teaches us how to analyze the social forces that move thanks to or in spite of ideologies, and how to judge them, not for “what formally may be economically incorrect”, but for what may all the same be “correct from the point of view of world history”.

It is too easy for a Marxist to make nonsense of an outdated ideology; it is too easy because it is not “Marxistically” correct. Lenin teaches us how to identify which social movement an ideology represents and into which economic and historical conditions it fits. Marxist judgment will stem from the structure-superstructure relationship, and not from an abstract, unilateral consideration of the ideological superstructure.

It is no coincidence that Lenin, deepening the concepts expounded about Chinese Narodism in the article “Two Utopias”, written in October 1912, i.e. three months after having written the one on China, but unpublished until 1926, would say:

We should remember Engels’s notable dictum (in the preface to The Poverty of Philosophy): What formally may be economically incorrect, may all the same be correct from the point of view of world history…

Engels expressed this profound thesis in relation to “utopian” socialism, which was “incorrect” when it stated that surplus value was unjust from the point of view of the laws of exchange, but “correct” from the point of view of world history, since it was the symptom, expression and precursor of the working class.

Lenin stresses that Engels’s profound thesis must be borne in mind when appraising the present-day Narodnik or Trudovik utopia in Russia (perhaps not only in Russia but in a number of Asiatic counties going through bourgeois revolutions in the twentieth century). Narodnik democracy, while fallacious from the formal economic point of view, is correct from the historical point of view; this democracy, while fallacious as a socialist utopia, is correct in terms of the peculiar, historically conditioned democratic struggle of the peasant masses which is an inseparable element of the bourgeois transformation and a condition for its complete victory.

In fifty years we shall have many Shanghais

We see that Lenin does not forget Engels’s profound thesis — which is the best synthesis of the history of the democratic-bourgeois revolutions and of the Narodnik democratism that permitted them and made them triumph — in identifying the essence of Sun Yat-sen’s Narodism:

From the point of view of doctrine, this theory is that of a petty-bourgeois “socialist” reactionary. For the idea that capitalism can be “prevented” in China and that a “social revolution” there will be made easier by the country’s backwardness, and so on, is altogether reactionary. And Sun Yat-sen himself, with inimitable, one might say virginal, naïveté, smashes his reactionary Narodnik theory by admitting what reality forces him to admit, namely that “China is on the eve of a gigantic industrial [i.e. capitalist] development”, that in China “trade [i.e. capitalism] will develop to an enormous extent”, that “in fifty years we shall have many Shanghais”, i.e. huge centers of capitalist wealth and proletarian need and poverty. But the question arises: does Sun Yat-sen, on the basis of his reactionary economic theory, uphold an actually reactionary agrarian programme? That is the crux of the matter, its most interesting point, and one on which curtailed and emasculated liberal quasi-Marxism is often at a loss. The fact of the matter is that he does not. The dialectics of the social relations in China reveals itself precisely in the fact that, while sincerely sympathizing with socialism in Europe, the Chinese democrats have transformed it into a reactionary theory of “preventing” capitalism are championing a purely capitalist, a maximum capitalist, agrarian programme!

In fact, Lenin goes on to explain, land nationalization, championed by Chinese Narodism, “makes it possible to abolish absolute rent, leaving only differential rent”. With the elimination of medieval relations in agriculture, this absolute rent passes to the state.

According to Marx’s theory, land nationalization means maximum freedom in buying and selling land, and maximum facilities for agriculture to adapt itself to the market. [...] Is such a reform possible within the framework of capitalism? It is not only possible but it represents the purest, most consistent, and ideally perfect capitalism. [...] The irony of history is that Narodism, under the guise of “combating capitalism” in agriculture, champions an agrarian programme that, if fully carried out, would mean the most rapid development of capitalism in agriculture.

The clarity of the Marxist method employed by Lenin is compelling. We find ourselves following a lesson in Marxism that provides us with all the elements we need to analyze the present Chinese structure, as well as the programme of Mao Tse-tung, without any scope for misunderstanding.

In the face of this writing of Lenin’s, all of Stalin and Mao’s pseudo-socialist theories on land nationalization are torn to shreds… as is that castrated pseudo-Marxism that believes it has discovered the moon when it discovers that Mao’s democratism is “as false as a socialist utopia” and, dazzled by this discovery, does not see its role as creator of an immense capitalist market. Revolutionary Marxism’s need to choose definitely does not lie in these discoveries or rejections. The choice is clear, and is pointed out by Lenin:

Lastly, the Chinese proletariat will increase as the number of Shanghais increases.

Hence, no need to choose, but a great need to analyze the issues raised by Lenin. Lenin asks himself what economic need has led China, one of the most backward agricultural countries in Asia, to implement one of the most advanced bourgeois agrarian programmes, and answers that the causes were two: the need to destroy feudalism in all its aspects, and the need to prevent national disintegration under the threat of its growing delay with respect to Europe and Japan. These are topical needs, as is topical the question posed by Lenin: will the Chinese Revolution achieve its aims? And to what extent?

It seems to us that one of the basic problems posed by Lenin’s question is essentially as follows: can the Chinese Revolution implement a “purely capitalist, a maximum capitalist, agrarian programme”? Generally speaking, we could answer in the affirmative, but this question cannot be isolated from another: in the present phase of imperialist decay, what relationship can there be between the rate of accumulation, and hence of industrialisation, and the “most rapid development of capitalism in agriculture” in China? Lenin warns:

In their bourgeois revolutions, various countries achieved various degrees of political and agrarian democracy, and in the most diverse combinations. The decisive Factors will be the international situation and the alignment of the social forces in China.

Lenin’s internationalism as the creative center of a global vision of social phenomena

Lenin identified the tendency towards the capitalist development of the Chinese Revolution, a development that because of the objective conditions of the country’s agriculture and the subjective conditions of the programme imposed by class maturity, tended to be “maximum capitalist”. Due to its imperialist phase, the uneven development of capitalism in the world determines sector-specific conditions in which there was a tendency to the maximum level of capitalist development in China’s rural areas.

In effect, it was the internationalization of capitalism that was causing, and at the same time influencing, this “irony of history”. It is both this concept — which theorises dialectics as the law of social force movement on a world scale, and which does not overlap it, but which extracts from it the analysis of trends and the formulation of strategy, the examination of situations and tactics — and this crucial point — in which the Marxist is distinguished from the pedantic sociologist — that demonstrate that Lenin was Marx’s successor, the great disciple that applied the science of Capital amidst the social storm unleashed by imperialism throughout the world.

It was not only a matter of discovering the laws of economic development in China — Kautsky did the same for Russia and the colonial world — nor was it only a matter of “description”: more than anything, it meant “interpreting” the trends of these laws of development. Hence the “qualitative leap forward” in, and the internationalist essence of, his thought. If we don’t understand the scientific basis of Lenin’s internationalist thought, we don’t understand anything, neither the October Revolution, nor his assessment of the Chinese Revolution, or his brilliant strategy that links both socialist and Asian revolutions to the crisis of the imperialist powers.

Lenin was an internationalist because his thought and actions were the creative center of an international vision of social phenomena, and because they succeeded — in an abstract-concrete dialectic — in embracing, splitting, and joining together again these social phenomena in all their universal linearity and in all their particular complexity, in all their interdependence and in all their particularity, and in all their “international” and “national” characteristics.

let’s see how he drew “international” conclusions from his analysis of the Asian revolutions in his 1908 article:

And this step forward of the whole of international socialism, along with the sharpening of the revolutionary democratic struggle in Asia, places the Russian revolution in a special and especially difficult position. The Russian revolution has a great international ally both in Europe and in Asia, but, at the same time, and for that very reason, [emphasized by Lenin] it has not only a national, not only a Russian, but also an international enemy. [...] The amount of inflammable material in all the advanced countries of the world is increasing so speedily, and the conflagration is so clearly spreading to most Asian countries which only yesterday were in a state of deep slumber, that the intensification of international bourgeois reaction and the aggravation of every single national revolution are absolutely inevitable.

Here then, clearly expounded, are some of the crucial points of Leninist strategy, which will be the foundations of the October Revolution and of the activity of the Communist International.

We shall see them developed in the 1915, 1921 and 1923 articles; we therefore think that it is useful to define them:

1) imperialist development leads not only to the explosion of revolution in Asia and its bourgeois-democratic content, but even sharpens the revolutionary democratic struggle;

2) the driving forces — the “inflammable material” — of the international revolution therefore increase speedily;

3) the class struggle front and conflict assume global dimensions;

4) the reaction of the international bourgeoisie intensifies, because it becomes an international reaction;

5) the aggravation of every single national revolution (in both the advanced countries and in Asia) is inevitable;

6) the “particularity” of ever single national revolution therefore consists – subsequent to the spreading of the front of the struggle and of its driving forces in its global interdependence, the international bourgeois reaction that it provokes, and its progressive aggravation;

7) precisely because, in this spreading of the revolutionary front, the Russian Revolution finds a great international ally both in Europe and in Asia, and precisely because it has the objective possibility, in forging these alliances, to boost the driving forces of the international revolution and to hit the whole of the imperialist battle formation, it can no longer have national limits, nor, by now, can any revolution, including the Asian. At this point, Lenin’s thought evolves to the tasks of the Russian Revolution, as he grasps the maturing of further “particularities” with the transition from the formula “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants” to that of “dictatorship of the proletariat”; the Russian Revolution is placed in a “special and especially difficult” position. In this case, too, we have an example of the Marxist definition of the “particularity” of a revolution, which demonstrates the counterrevolutionary content of the use that opportunism — social-democratic, Stalinist, “Khrushchevist”, or Maoist — makes of the terms “particularity”, “special conditions”, “national characters”, etc. The opportunism behind the notion of “particularity” always masks reformism, class collaboration, and the contraband of state capitalism under the socialist label. Opportunism explains and justifies every national or international policy and every political about-turn as alleged “special conditions” and “national particularities”.

Marxism certainly would not dream of denying “particularity”; indeed, for the first time in social thinking it elevated “particularity” from a crude empirical term to a scientific abstraction. Only Marxism is able to provide a scientific definition of the “particularities” of a historical phase and of a single moment in this phase. And this what Lenin does with masterly skill as he defines the particularities of the imperialist phase; but, unlike the opportunism of then and now, the analysis of “particularities” in his thought is not a reformist adaptation to “local” or “national” conditions, but exactly the opposite. For Lenin, the “particularity”, the “new aspect”, of the imperialist phase is the “internationalization of revolution”; the aggravation of every single national revolution derives from this objective fact. Today, fifty years after this Marxist discovery, we still have to hear of “national roads”, “democratic roads” and “peaceful roads”!

We need to bear this Leninist thesis in mind, not only as regards the October Revolution, which is its most obvious confirmation — the demonstration of the scientific nature of Leninist analysis, which is exact prediction, since it is the objective study of the class movement and of its struggle on a global scale, and not, however inspired it may be, brilliant supposition. We need to bear it in mind also and above all as regards the Asian and, in particular, the Chinese revolution.

Lenin had identified the “particularity” of the development of the Chinese Revolution as development towards the most advanced capitalism. In these articles, he identifies another “particularity”, one that brakes and blocks this trend, that links “every single national revolution”, aggravating its development because it increases its range to an international level. We feel that this important aspect of Lenin’s theory about imperialism can make a major contribution to dealing with the problems posed by the development of the Chinese Revolution.

The imperialist crisis derives from the struggle between the old and the new powers

In his article on the United States of Europe, published in the Sotsial-Demokrat on 23 August 1915, Lenin, arguing that “a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary”, draws a sketch of the international scene which sums up his strategic concept, including the problem of the Asian revolution.

In his specific writings about the Asian, and the Chinese Revolution in particular, Lenin had analyzed their internal movement and its trends. Now his analysis turns to the co-ordination of their internal and external factors, to their balance and imbalance: the result is the analysis of imperialism and of the “particularities” that have sprung from imperialism, an international phenomenon, on a world, and hence national, scale.

Imperialism is capital that has become international and monopolist, [...] i.e. the export of capital and the division of the world by the “advanced” and “civilized” colonial powers.

This great division is followed by the subdivision on the part of four great powers — Britain, France, Russia and Germany — of about half of the Earth’s surface for colonial dominion over a population of half a billion. We should add to this imperialist division, says Lenin, the three Asian states — China, Turkey and Persia ... which may be called semi-colonies, (but which in reality are now 90 per cent colonies). [We shall thus see that] the world has been carved up by a handful of Great Powers, i.e. powers successful in the great plunder and oppression of nations: the four great European powers.

This is the first clear element, the first fact of the global situation, the first evident “general characteristic”, without which it would be a mere abstraction to speak about the Asian and Chinese Revolution. The second “characteristic” — or “particularity” or “new aspect” — lies in the fact that “Britain, France and Germany have invested capital abroad to the value of no less than 70,000 billion roubles”, from which they make a profit of three billion roubles a year.

We therefore have an economic phenomenon that characterizes the development of imperialism: capital exports. It is this phenomenon, even more than mere colonial possession, that characterizes the dynamic of imperialism, the relations between the great powers, and the general conditions in which revolutions are carried out in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. In the Leninist theory of imperialism, it is no coincidence that capital exports and imperialist extra profit, with its function as corrupter of the working class aristocracy and delayer of revolutionary crises in capitalist countries, play such a qualitatively important role.

It is not only a matter of seeing that, of the four powers that dominated the world and constituted the forces of imperialism, one, Russia, did not participate in capital exports, but was itself an importer. On the contrary, it is a matter of identifying the law of imperialist development, which is no longer only the colonial subdivision of the world, but which becomes above all financial domination, since it captures the market through capital exports; and of seeing, thanks to this analysis, how imperialism, a contradictory body of old and new groups, behaves, develops, determines new balances, provokes further conflicts and influences the course of colonial revolutions.

Only by analyzing imperialism as a dynamic, and not as a static, global phenomenon, could Lenin’s strategy see how the “chain” that links the world moves, and identify, time by time, as products of this movement and not only of national situations, the “stronger links” and the “weaker links” to hit, either alternatively or simultaneously — (“the Russian revolution has a great international ally both in Europe and in Asia”) — with the proletarian and Asian revolutions. Only because he was coherently Marxist could Lenin, moving in the opposite direction to that of past and present opportunists, find the universal “particularities” of the imperialist era. He was therefore able to formulate the “particularities” of revolutionary strategy, and to elevate it from mere spontaneity to conscious, theoretical and political guidance of the revolutionary crisis on a global scale.

The problem of the inevitability of war

The conscious guidance of revolutionary strategy implies not only the scientific knowledge of the trends of imperialist development and of its contradictory dynamic, or the knowledge of the economic and political forces that determine the division of the world and its inherent accords and conflicts. Above all, the conscious guidance of strategy implies awareness of the socio-economic mechanism according to which these capitalist forces move and in which direction they move. Once the intimate process of this mechanism is known and identified, its movement can also be known.

Revolutionary strategy is no longer only the art of insurrection, but becomes above all the methodological application of the analysis of the economic forces and their movement, to the point of determining objective situations in which the art of insurrection becomes possible and historically necessary.

Lenin clearly defines the methodological criterion for the analysis of the fundamental factor at the center of the movement of the imperialist forces:

A United States of Europe under capitalism is tantamount to an agreement on the partition of colonies. Under capitalism, however, no other basis and no other principle of division are possible except force. [...] No division can be effected otherwise than in “proportion to strength”, and strength changes with the course of economic development. Following 1871, the rate of Germany’s accession of strength was three or four times as rapid as that of Britain and France, and of Japan about ten times as rapid as Russia’s. There is and there can be no other way of testing the real might of a capitalist state than by war. War does not contradict the fundamentals of private property — on the contrary, it is a direct and inevitable outcome of those fundamentals. Under capitalism, the smooth economic growth of individual enterprises or individual states is impossible. Under capitalism, there are no other means of restoring the periodically disturbed equilibrium than crises in industry and wars in politics. Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists… but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America, who have been badly done out of their share by the present partition of colonies, and the increase of whose might during the last fifty years has been immeasurably more rapid than that of backward and monarchist Europe, now turning senile. Compared with the United States of America, Europe as a whole denotes economic stagnation. On the present economic basis, i.e., under capitalism, a United States of Europe would signify an organisation of reaction to retard America’s more rapid development.

The economic development of a single capitalist state with respect to that of the other capitalist states is therefore the fundamental factor of the movement of the imperialist forces and the objective base of the relationship between these forces. The rate of development and the degree of economic development become the methodological criterion for defining these power relations. In Lenin’s thought, the problem of balance and war loses every subjective, idealistic and moralistic evaluation and becomes the result of an objective, materialistic and dialectical evaluation. For past and present opportunists, there is no other choice (and they have made it both in the past and in the present) than to abandon every form of objective and rational evaluation of the problem of the relationship between imperialist forces and war, and to take refuge in the most hackneyed subjective and irrational formulas (“the will for peace”, “collaboration among the nations”, etc) contributing, as is their function, to yet again disarming the proletariat of its ideology, its scientific superiority if analyzing social phenomena, its possibility of intervention when the balance of the imperialist forces is shaken and of preventing it, via revolution, from being restored.

It is no coincidence that propaganda on the problem of war runs parallel to the imperialist maturity of the USSR and as Khrushchev’s ideology becomes the expression of a consolidated, capitalist-style, ruling class, overturns all the Leninist conception of the problem. This is done through adopting one of the most classic opportunistic methods: misrepresentation and falsification. The Leninist conception of the problem of war is deliberately mixed up with a generic conception of the inevitability of war, and is confined to an anti-Marxist irrational, and fatalistic conception of the inevitability of war. From what we have quoted above, it is quite clear that Lenin’s conception is, on the contrary, the most anti-fatalistic that has ever been conceived by the human brain. This is not due to any “instinctive” refusal of the fatality of war, but to the cognitive conquest of the inevitable, or determinate, process of the social phenomena of which war is only one aspect, and of the inevitability itself that the contradictions determining these phenomena will become the cause of revolutionary crises and the objective conditions for revolutionary movements.

War and revolution are aspects of the same “inevitable” phenomenon, since they are the product of the relations of capitalist production that have reached a particular historical level. Because of their development, they are bound to emerge on a global scale, and to emerge as “uneven economic and political development”.

War and revolution are therefore the contradictory aspects of the unevenness of economic and political development “as an absolute law of capitalism”. Fatalism is ignorance of the reality of real phenomena, and not the scientific knowledge of the laws that regulate this reality and these phenomena. To define the Leninist conception as “fatalistic”, after having completely deformed it, of course, into the “inevitability” of war (and of revolution, i.e. of the inevitability of the contradictions of imperialism, as we are seeking, through Lenin, to stress) means denying Marxism as a science and making it step back to before the Manifesto, to “utopian socialism”: this would emasculate it, and thus deprive the working class of its theoretical superiority.

The false Sino-Russian dilemmas

If we follow the heated Sino-Russian debate on the problem of war, we shall see that this emasculation has already reached a good point. On both sides and for motives of national politics — which, obviously, does not exclude that Russian national politics may be imperialist, and the Chinese anti-imperialist — they quote isolated parts and statements detached from Lenin’s theory, according to the typical Stalinist method, either to deny them or to confirm them.

The Leninist theory of imperialism is too organic to be dismembered and accepted only in isolated parts. If it undergoes such a revision, the result is bound to be a pseudo-Marxist theory, very close, although in a pejorative sense, to that version of Marxism provided by the learned Kautsky, in which, as Lenin demonstrated, its revolutionary essence had completely disappeared. What had remained was an innocuous kind of sociology, good for all uses, especially the vilest. The Russians and Chinese are doing much the same as regards Leninism; indeed, they are doing it in a much coarser way. Their false peaceful coexistence and war dilemmas correspond to their strongly divergent national development interests, and not to the international interest of the proletariat, which is wholly represented by the integral Leninist theory, since it is the acme of universal class consciousness.

The Leninist conception of imperialism represents the universal consciousness of the proletariat, not only because it presents itself historically as a unifying moment in the face of reformist and substantially bourgeois national interests, and not only because it is the scientific demonstration that international interests are the sole interests of an internationally exploited and oppressed class. It does so because the antagonism between the two fundamental classes of our era and the process that leads them to clash do not overlap the movement of the imperialist forces, but are conceived as one of their antithetical and revolutionary components.

The real might of an imperialist power whose accession of strength is four or ten times that of another lies, says Lenin, in its economic development. This, however, is nothing more than the development of its productive forces expressed by the capitalist relations of production, and development of its productive forces means development of the proletariat. A capitalist state becomes an imperial power and is able to test its real might in breaking the world balance and creating a new one, only in proportion as it has developed within itself its mortal enemy, the proletariat. The capitalist state exports not only its might but also, and above all, the class contradictions that created its economic development; indeed, it has imperialist might precisely because it has developed its class contradictions to the utmost. Only the incapacity of capitalism to resolve on its national market the contradictions between the productive forces and the relations of production, generated in its development, creates imperialist expansion and, with imperialism, class contradictions, which, basically, are constituted by the ceaseless class struggle, are exported and spread on a global scale.

Imperialism is the product of the capitalist crisis and the negation of its impossible peaceful development. It therefore follows that imperialism is at one and the same time the protraction of the capitalist crisis and the condition for its diffusion: the modern nature of the colonial revolution lies precisely in the consequences of this dual imperialist situation, and finds strength and weakness in it.

If, in this specific case, the Chinese Revolution assumes a bourgeois-democratic aspect and receives a radical impulse from both its historical need to wipe out feudalism and the positive effect that Japan’s military victory over tsarist Russia has on it, for the same reasons, it is bound to be determined also by the imperialist development of Japan and the United States.

Half a century later, we can fully appreciate the depth and the scientific nature, based on the extremely valid methodological criterion of the rate of comparative economic development, of Lenin’s analysis of the role that the new imperialist powers, Japan and the United States, would come to play.

Those who amuse themselves, with a childishness that is all the more vulgar the more it parades itself as sociological modernity, by choosing a number of Lenin’s statements, isolated and removed from their organic theoretical context, to demonstrate their groundlessness, should meditate on the great lesson that Lenin imparted in identifying the new imperialist powers and the struggle that would set them against the old, in a series of wars that would test their real might in re-establishing a new world balance and a new division of the globe.

We can no longer understand the history of our century unless we consider the imperialist expansion of Japan and thnited States. In the same way, we can no longer understand the two world wars and the post-World War II period without this expansion. We have reached a point in the development of the power relations between the imperialist powers in which another particular aspect of Lenin’s analysis — the one concerning the reactionary nature of the United States of Europe as an organisation “to retard America’s more rapid development” (the objection made at the time about the superiority of the European rhythms does not hold water in the face of tharxist assessment of total capital, i.e. invested capital, exported capital, and productive potential), and to jointly protect “colonial booty against Japan and America” — is fully confirmed by today’s ECM.

Why, then, should the outcome of thctober Revolution continue to be considered the only yardstick against which to measure Lenin’s strategic conception? Why should all its other aspects be swallowed up within this conception?

The Russian involution has confirmed Lenin’s analysis of imperialism

We feel that, in dealing with the problem of the October Revolution, people make a strained interpretation of Lenin’s thought, which then leads to a whole series of mistakes. The first: to believe that the October Revolution is the linchpin of all Lenin’s strategic conception. The second: to see, analyze, and evaluate imperialism and its development only from this narrow viewpoint. Third: to distort the analysis and evaluation of imperialism by introducing the process of the class struggle in Russia and the Stalinist counterrevolution into them in a disproportionate wayourth: to make all international development depend on Russian national development, even if this, obviously, had strong, undeniable international influences. Fifth: to lose, therefore, the capacity to measure the real international interdependences and the dialectical connection between national situations and the global situation.

In other words, people have ended up placing the Russian question and Stalinism at the center of the world, ie, they have ended up accepting, indirectly, the theory of the universal validity of Stalinism itself.

This has led to a theoretical consequence: the interpretation given to Leninist strategy, i.e. the thesis that it was above all a strategy of revolution in the backward countries, was false, because it was incorrect, or at least restrictive. In effect, both thocial Democrats and the Stalinists have ended up accepting this theory. In practice, both of them have tried to demonstrate the impossibility of a socialist revolution in the capitalistically mature countries, the former — through their own existence and the efficacy of their counterrevolutionary activity — upholding the capitalist system, and the latter proclaiming the possibility of “socialism in one country”, upholding “building socialism” in the USSR as the only valid alternative, but actually building a state capitalist economy.

Undoubtedly, the involution of thussian Revolution has had an enormous effect at the level of the liquidation of the international revolutionary vanguard, on the phenomenon of the social-democratization of the Western proletariat, the counterrevolutionary activity of Stalinism in Russia and other countries, the falsification of tharxist ideology, the course of the colonial revolutions, their delay and partial involutions, and particularly on the Chinese Revolution.

But the Russian involution follows, and does not precede, a global imperialist situation that led to the breaking of the “weakest link” in the chain, but which did not lead to the breaking of the “strongest links”.

This is the fundamental point of Lenin’s strategic conception, and it is on this point that we need to verify whether this conception is valid or not.

There are two ways to establish its validity. The first starts from the premise that the October Revolution confirms the strategic validity of breaking the weakest link in order to be able to break the chain. The second link — Germany — resisted because social democracy raised itself up as a counterrevolutionary barrier in defense of capitalism and crushed the revolutionary movement. Isolated Russia was bound to fall back into Stalinist involution.

The second way starts, in our opinion, from the same premise and accepts nearly all its implications. However, it sets the Russian Revolution, its course and its involution in the context of the more general law of a crisis in imperialist development, of which the involution of the Russian Revolution is a manifestation, and not the resolution. If this general law, the law of imperialist development, is valid, it follows that all of Lenin’s strategic conception is confirmed. This is what we maintain not only on the basis of the October Revolution, but, indeed, starting from its involution.

The involution of the October Revolution demonstrates, in fact, the validity of that law of imperialist development that we could call the law of imperialist accumulation, since it is a law that regulates the capitalist process of expanded reproduction and that determines its extremely violent crises (wars and revolutions).

As the outbreak of the October Revolution was the product and the confirmation of the irremediable crisis of imperialism in its process of global accumulation, so its involution ended up exacerbating this process, since it increased the productive forces of capitalism, accelerated the imperialist process, and provided fresh proletarian “inflammable material” for the world revolution.

Objectively, the Russian October, in its assault and inevitable involution, carried out the great revolutionary task of accelerating and expanding the process of imperialist accumulation. This confirms the economic law that forms the basis of Lenin’s strategy. We can say even more: whether victorious or defeated, the Russian Revolution confirmed this law, just as the victory or the defeat of the Paris Commune certainly could not invalidate the law of capitalist concentration discovered by Marx. Today, ninety years later, the validity of the law of capitalist concentration is patently clear and irrefutable. And yet almost fifty years went by before the capitalist concentration that had matured in imperialism determined the conditions for a second proletarian revolution! Meanwhile, right-wing and centrist revisionism cast doubts on the law of capitalist concentration and, which is more important, on whether this capitalist concentration could lead to a proletarian revolution. The by then rampant revisionism believed it had found confirmation of its thesis in the Russian Revolution and the lack of a European revolution. Revolution, it said, occurred in Russia and China, where capitalist concentration was little or non-existent, and not in the industrialized and highly capitalist West.

But if we return to Lenin’s thought, in its exact formulation and not according to Stalin and Khrushchev’s distorted vision of it, we can reply that revolution occurred in Russia and China precisely because the world was capitalistically mature, and because capitalist concentration on a global scale had reached its revolutionary breaking point. If capitalism had not reached its imperialist stage, we would not have had thussian and Chinese Revolutions and, above all, we would not have had them at their different qualitative levels, the former as a socialist revolution, and the latter as bourgeois-democratic. We would probably have had them at a lower historical level, respectively as bourgeois-democratic revolution and feudal peasantry revolution.

If this is perfectly clear in Lenin, it is also clear why these revolutions, determined by a given level of global development, were unable to develop these premises when this global level not only stabilized, but also found within itself fresh imperialist forces — such as Japan and the United States. Driven by their economic growth, they provided fresh impetus for the share-out of the market, a war solution to power relations, and the protraction of the general crisis.

If global imperialism, even in a huge crisis and at the cost of colossal destruction, has still found the strength to survive and expand, does this mean that Lenin’s judgment of the imperialist crisis is invalid? No way! The First World War ushered in the era of the imperialist crisis and of the proletarian revolutions. It was ushered in, and has not ended… a historical era does not last only one year. The October Revolution, closely linked as it was to the First World War, was the first product of that era. The fact that it ended with the contribution of fresh capitalist and imperialist forms to the world scene, with all that derives from that in the expansion and exacerbation of the struggle to carve up the market, is the demonstration that the era of the imperialist crisis and of the proletarian revolutions is about to use up all its resources and to draw near to its final solution.

If this had not happened, if Russia had not built its state capitalism and had not reached its present imperialist maturity, then all the Marxist theory about economic development would have demonstrated that it was no longer valid, and Lenin’s conception of revolution, based precisely on that theory, would have fallen apart.

Today, in that case, the proletariat would not have had a scientifically valid strategy for the Socialist Revolution in the capitalist countries. Instead, thanks to the Russian experiment (and, to a lesser extent, in view of its lower level of capitalist development, to thhinese) the international proletariat knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the strategy indicated by Lenin is the right one, and that the Socialisevolution is forged in the furnace of the imperialist crisis.

Hence, let us remove every subjectivist influence from our strategic conception, let us restore to it the purity that it has in Lenin’s thought. We shall then have the theoretical tool for the proletarian revolution in the most advanced capitalist countries, i.e. the only way to socialism in the “highest stage” of capitalism.

From this point of view, the real, objective base of the problem of opportunism also becomes apparent. Opportunism, in its current and violent counterrevolutionary form, is a manifestation of imperialism, its first defensive trench. By nature, it is the defensive line of capitalism that can best contain, curb, and erode the masses’ revolutionary movements, but it can do so only insofar as it props itself up on the capitalist structure it defends. In essence, the counterrevolutionary capacity of opportunism derives, with all its natural compromises, from how intense the capitalist crisis is. Opportunism is one of the solutions to the crisis, and precisely because of this, can only act when the crisis still has the possibility of finding capitalist solutions. Hence, the efficacy of opportunism can become a thermometer for taking the temperature of the capitalist fever.

Pointing to opportunism as the cause of revolutionary defeat therefore becomes a mere tautology: it is tantamount to saying that capitalism has been stronger than the proletariat. This is also the case when the cause of defeat is believed to lie in the absence, inadequacy, and mistakes of the revolutionary party.

The possibility of socialist victory in one country alone

Opportunism and the revolutionary party are undoubtedly interdependent phenomena whose mutual action in certain historical moments plays a very important role in the course of a revolutionary situation, but which, objectively, cannot be separated from the social reality in which they operate. In short, there are objective limits within which the revolutionary party can make the spontaneity of the masses take a “qualitative leap forwards”, and transform it into conscious rejection of opportunism and the political will to conquer power: but beyond these limits, the defeat of opportunism becomes pure wishful thinking.

Hence, there remains the need to attack opportunism implacably and to unmask it unceasingly, above all with a view to the development of our revolutionary party, its inner clarity, and its clear, unmistakable physiognomy in the eyes of the masses.

This dialectical opportunism-revolutionary party relationship is one of the basic keys to putting Lenin’s strategic conception into practice, since the action of our revolutionary party in its struggle against opportunism is, at the same time, the aim of our strategy and the result of the imperialist contradictions on which all of our strategy is based.

In fact, when Lenin defined the unevenness of economic and political development as “an absolute law of capitalism”, he reached his famous conclusion:

Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organizing their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against [emphasized by Leinin] the rest of the world — the capitalist world — attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states.

Stalinism built all of its opportunistic justification on this statement, but its attempt to falsify Lenin’s thesis and to use it for a tactic that was the exact opposite of what Lenin intended is glaringly obvious.

It is also glaringly obvious that, according to Lenin, the unevenness of the economic and political development of capitalism is not the objective condition for the building of socialism in one country, but the objective condition for the victory of the socialist revolution “even in one capitalist country alone”. This will arise “against the rest of the capitalist world” attracting to its cause the oppressed masses, and stirring uprisings even through armed force. “The building of socialism” in one country and “peaceful coexistence” with all “the rest of the capitalist world” my foot!

The unevenness of economic and political development is an absolute law that acts on a global scale and triggers crises, imbalances and rifts in the imperialist set-up. To carry out its international mission, to arise against the rest of the capitalist world, to wedge other proletarian and colonial revolutions into the crisis of imperialism, and to prevent this crisis from forming a new balance that would mean its end, the first socialist revolution exploits these crises and the objective fact that the imperialist powers cannot — racked as they are by their conflicts — find lasting unity in order to crush it (how many times will Lenin underline this as the main factor allowing the victory of the first socialist revolution!).

Only by playing this role is the victory of the socialist revolution possible, “first”, says Lenin — hence, as the beginning of an international movement and not as its conclusion — “in several or even in one capitalist country alone”. Russia’s involution has demonstrated the accuracy of this statement.

Furthermore, its most explicit validation lies in the fact that, to justify the counterrevolution. Stalinism distorted it and Khrushchev continually distorts it.

The imperialist war allowed the development of the revolutions in Asia

In his Marx His Times and Ours, Rudolf Schlesinger2 writes:

Near the end of his life, when the conditions of encircled Soviet Russia seemed difficult, Lenin went to the length of describing ultimate triumph as assured because Russians, Chinese anndians, taken together, formed the overwhelming majority of mankind. As early as in his criticism of Rosa Luxemburg’s Junius-pamphlet, written in I916, some skepticism as to the chances of a proletarian revolution in a prosperous imperialist country seemed to be implied in his remark that a formerly imperialist country, completely destroyed in preceding imperialist wars, might become the potential subject for national emancipation. Such remarks seem to indicate a conception of the ultimate historical decision as an upheaval of oppressed against oppressing nations.

In our case, however, it is not a matter of tracing these formal aspects, whether “Western” or “Eastern”. There is no way thaenin’s Marxism can be encapsulated in Schlesinger’s unilateral interpretations, which limit themselves — as we shall see when we quote the passages from Lenin that Schlesinger sums up — to schematising a sentence and straining its real meaning. We shall see, for example, what Lenin meant when he said that the triumph of socialism is now assured by the overwhelming majority of mankind. We shall also see that, for Lenin, the possibility of a proletarian revolution in a capitalistically mature country is the result of a series of factors and interdependences that need to be assessed at the level of international strategy. To reduce this assessment to skepticism means disregarding one of the linchpins of Lenin’s strategic conception: this amounts to being unable to judge it, especially in the case of refusal to accept it. This also goes for the theory of the demotion of an imperialist country to a dependent country.

We wished to quote this thesis of revisionist criticism of Marxism because, in the seriousness and authoritativeness of its author, it sums up an interpretation of Bolshevism and of the Leninist conception of the Asian revolutions that is all the rage, but which finds no correspondence in Lenin’s analysis. Schlesinger has dwelt on a number of formal aspects of Lenin’s statements, but he has not examined them in depth. Too serious to put forward the usual old theory of the Bolshevievolution as a backward country revolution, he has, however, accepted what it was founded on, even if he has remodeled it into issues that could make a strong impression if there was a trace of them in Lenin. The truth is that, if we read Lenin attentively, we will find “remarks” that go in a diametrically opposite direction to that indicated by Schlesinger. Indeed, if we go onto the level of the “formal aspects” chosen by Schlesinger, we will find a “Western” emphasis in Lenin’s thought about these issues.

In the second paragraph of his “Theses for a Report on the Tactics of the RCP”, at the Third Congress of the Communist International in June 1921, Lenin dealt with “The International Alignment olass Forces”, the problem of the anti-imperialist majority of the world population:

The masses of the working people in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe, were aroused to political life at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly by the revolutions in Russia, Turkeyersia and China. The imperialist war of 1914-18 and the Soviet power in Russia are completing the process of converting these masses into an active factor in world politics and in the revolutionary destruction of imperialism, although the educated philistines of Europe and America, including the leaders of thecond and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, stubbornly refuse to see this. British India is at the head of these countries, and there revolution is maturing in proportion, on the one hand, to the growth of the industrial and railway proletariat, and, on the other, to the increase in the brutal terrorism of the British.

We observe in Lenin, as he lashes out at the educated social-democratic petty bourgeois, the great importance that he attributes to the political awakening of the working masses in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, an awakening that he dates back to the beginning of the century and under the influence of no fewer than four revolutions. Lenin the “Great Russian” my foot! The definitive transformation of this political awakening into “an active factor in world politics” (i.e. into a factor that will intervene actively, and no longer passively, in determining the international political situation, and hence revolutionary strategy) is also due to the imperialist war of 1914-18 and the Soviet power in Russia. In this judgment there is something more than the refusal to attribute the “definitive transformation” of the Asian revolution to the Russian Revolution alone.

In our opinion, Lenin, in pointing to the imperialist war as one of the two factors determining the definitive transformation of the Asian revolutions, did not accept the “1789” version of the October Revolution for the East. The role played by the October Revolution as a “1789” for the East was therefore seen as secondary with respect to a strategy that had more advanced aims in thest. The historical course of the world revolution was decided in the West. It was the East that had to work “revolutionarily” for the West, and not vice versa.

Lenin’s thought is linear and confirms what he had already written, and would write, in his last article: it was thanks to the crisis of imperialism, to the war, that there had been the socialist revolution in Russia and the bourgeois-democratic revolutions in thast. The Russian, Turkish, Persian, and Chinese Revolutions were parallel manifestations of the same imperialist crisis, and of the same imbalance provoked by the uneven development of capitalism in the world and the irresistible struggle between the old and the new powers.

The socialist revolution was centered in the West

The great merit of Lenin’s strategy lies in seeing the East as, not only the scene for the anti-imperialist revolution, but also for war between imperialist states and nationalist states. This concept is made clear in Lenin’s article “Better Fewer, but Better”. Here, again, we see how Lenin’s international analysis is founded on the scientific study of the changes in the economic laws which govern the classes. As Marxiste view international politics as a science one in which political action is not determined by arbitrary tactics but is the blueprint for intervening in the objective workings of the world economy and class struggle. Lenin is the founder and main exponent of this concept, and his legacy has often been ignored or underestimated. Even the revolutionary movement has not always paid due notice to the works of Lenin, which form the main body of theoreticaarxism on the subject of international politics.

By examining Lenin’s thought on the revolution in Asia and China we gain a sound understanding of the principle elements of this science. The best example is from his interpretation of thsian revolution. In Lenin’s view this revolution could not shift the epicenter of the socialist revolution. This would remain in the West, for it was both capitalist and had a proletariat. The center of the socialist revolution would also have to be the center of the clash between the classes on an international scale, between capitalism and the working class. There is no doubt that at that time, the great majority of the proletariat was in the industrialized West. The location of the proletariat has witnessed big changes in the last forty years — today a large proportion of the proletariat lives in eastern Europe, in Asia, in Africa and in Latin America, but the core of the working class is still in the West. It remains the center of the socialist revolution until the proletariat becomes more advanced in other parts of the globe.

“Better Fewer, but Better”

Lenin’s last article, which was published in Pravda on 4 March 1923, was “Better Fewer, but Better”. It is his theoretical testament because it provides great insight into the problems of the revolutions in Russia and Asia. The article starts by theorizing the creation of a Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection — a revolutionary apparatus to control the activities of the state and the party — because, as Lenin is well aware, the party too has a bureaucracy. The last part of the article draws an interesting picture of the domestic and international situation. Here are the salient points:

We have destroyed capitalist industry and have done our best to raze to the ground the medieval institutions and landed proprietorship, and thus created a small and very small peasantry, which is following the lead of the proletariat because it believes in the results of its revolutionary work. It is not easy for us, however, to keep going until the socialist revolution is victorious in more developed countries.3

This was because the small peasantry had a low level of productivity. Furthermore, international events had “knocked back” Russia, and the general level of productivity of its workforce had fallen to pre-war levels. The imperialist powers were already halfway to realizing the objectives they had set themselves with regards to Russia:

Ther failed to overthrow the new system created by the revolution, but they did prevent it from at once taking the step forward that would have justified the forecasts of the socialists, that would have enabled the latter to develop the productive forces with enormous speed [...] socialists would thus have proved to all and sundry that socialism contains within itself gigantic force [and opened to humanity] extraordinarily brilliant prospects. The system of international relationships which has now taken shape is one in which a European state, Germany, is enslaved by the victor countries.4

In the last oenin’s quotes we encounter his thesis on the “semi-colonization” of Germany, we touched on this in our comments on Schlesinger. It is an important thesis for a thorough understanding of Lenin’s thoughts on strategy as a whole. The theory of German “semi-colonization” was adopted by the Komintern, and was the basis for tactics within Germany, and diplomatic policy with regards termany. In effect, the “semi-colonization” of Germany (the exact definition of which would require separate treatment) lasted until after the crisis, which makes Lenin’s views on this, one of the key factors of his strategy, particularly valid. The repercussions of the 1020 crash were to be devastating for Germany, and the subsequent recovery would be very slow. Germany’s “semi-colonial” status made it “the second weakest link in the imperialist chain” (Note thaermany was considered the second weakest link, and not China as those who support the idea that Lenin had a double strategy — the West and the Fast — seemed to think. They ignore that in Lenin’s analysis he realizes that thhinese revolution has insurmountable limits which mean that it cannot fulfill the key function of the German revolution).

The war thaenin predicted for 1925-1928 (“a war, say, in 1925, or 1928, between, sayapan and the USA. or between Britain and the USA, or something like that”,5 from his article “The Importance of Gold” of 7 November 1921) would have, in all probability, been transformed into a civil war in Germany. The German revolution would have benefited from the same fundamental factor which, according to Lenin, was at the root of the October revolution, namely: divisions among the imperialist power, which up until then had collectively exploited Germany. A war between the beneficiaries of Versailles, or between one of these and Japan over the division of the spoils in Asia, would have ended the unitary grip of imperialism on a destroyed and broken Germany. A Germany undergoing an economic crash, semi-colonized, and with a strong proletariat, could not objectively have become a belligerent imperialist power, however it was fertile soil for defeatism and revolution.

The War between the Imperialist Powers will break the grip on Germany

With the condition Germany was in 1923 it would certainly not have been ready for an imperialist war by 1925-1928. America, Britain and France, through a war among themselves or with Japan, would have had to loosen their grip on the German prey, and Germany would have looked to Russia. Russia would have finally ended its isolation and would have moved, with the Red army, in aid of the anticipateerman revolution.

The thesis of the “degradation” of an imperialist power is not, as Schlesinger argued, a rethinking of the increased role for Asian and national revolutions; but, aenin’s strategic interpretation of the German question highlights, it is exactly the opposite. Again, it is the East which objectively comes to the aid of the German proletariat. At any rate, “degradation” refers to the excess profits of imperialism. It is not a coincidence that:

Furthermore, owing to their victory, a number of states, the oldest states in the West, are in a position to make some insignificant concessions to their oppressed classes — concessions which, insignificant though they are, nevertheless heard the revolutionary movement in those countries and create some semblance of “class truce”.

The excess profit created during the imperialist phase is the cause of the revolutionary delay, a delay which is not inevitable. Indeed Lenin foresaw war because the phase of the proletarian revolutions had not yet ended in his view. In effect he was not wrong, but instead of war there came the Great depression. In Asia, Japan started its conquest of China, and in so doing attacks the market of thestern powers. The general lines of Lenin’s strategy were thus correct. The fact that the Soviet state veered towards nationalist tendencies meant that the means by which the strategy was to come to fruition was now absent. When, afteenin’s death, his strategic vision was starting to come to life in an interlocking series of international events, Russia and the international communist parties were marching in the opposite direction to that which he had indicated. The German communist party (KPD) would be led to its own suicide, not in the name of revolution but in that of so called “socialism in one country”. In China, centrifugal forces would lead the Chinese communist party to reinforce its nationalist and populist features and to abandon internationalism. The necessities of the Stalinist state would lead to a tactic of divide and rule in Germany and China. The two main columns of Lenin’s international strategy, without the internationalist cornerstone to keep them standing, would no longer be in a position to cooperate and coordinate their actions but follow the road to the blindest sort of particularism.

Lenin had relied on a revolution in Germany, not because he believed the German proletariat to be “the elect” (in the same way it is mistakenly viewed as “treacherous” today), but because the excess profits of imperialism could not delay the revolution in Germany in the same way that it could with the proletariat in the victor nations. The “corruption” of the proletariat in the victor nations would be swept away with the attack on these nations from the East. For the weight of the conservation of imperialism not to be born by the Germans the crisis had to degenerate into all out war. Only with this international war could the chain of imperialism be broken and the Russian proletariat — as Lenin wrote in another article — become truly internationalist. For the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia and Soviet power, which was limited and particular, could only be completed with the aid of other revolutions.

The East has definitively entered the capitalist phase

Asia is the third great component, after Russia and Germany, in Lenin’’s world view as outlined in the article. Lenin adds:

At the same time, as a result of the last imperialist war, a number of countries of the East, India, China, etc, have been completely jolted out of the rut. Their development has definitely shifted to general European capitalist lines. The general European ferment has begun to affect them, and it is now clear to the whole world that they have been drawn into a process of development that must lead to a crisis in the whole of world capitalism.6

Here we have other major elements in Lenin’s interpretation of the Asian question:

a) The imperialist war dragged the East on the road to development (it could not have exited feudalism alone), and its development was a function of the development of European capitalism

b) The links between these two systems was to be considered a major component of the dialectic of world capitalism

c) The process of fermentation (or formation of the classes, class conflicts etc. — although not a repetition of 1848, but certainly along the same lines as 1870 and 1917) was similar to that in Europe (therefore there are no Eastern particularisms, and there can be no skipping of the European historical phase. However, an “Asian road to capitalism” is possible, and it is possible that other countries and their classes do not undergo identical forms of development, and pay the same price paid by other countries and classes.)

d) Becausastern development had definitively conformed to European development, and a similar process has occurred in social fermentation, an interdependence exists which cannot but lead to a crisis in global capitalism as a whole.

In Lenin’s dialectic it is not merely the development of Eastern capitalism which would provoke the global crisis but the social nature of this development also. This would introduce a new dimension to the crisis, in a similar way to the progress class struggle in Europe. Class conflict would intensify and lead to the crisis of global capitalism- a crisis which would end excess profits in Britain and the “semi-colonization” of Germany, and create new global conditions for the proletariat. As we shall see, Lenin believed that with the Russians, Chinese and Indians onboard the victory of socialism would be assured. Certainty would derive from the inevitability of class conflict in the East.

It is probable that Lenin had become aware that class conflict, which was necessary for the transition to socialism, had until this time been restricted only to Europe; and therefore had been far too circumscribed for the final victory of socialism. Only now could he see the final victory for socialism — the East’s entry into the capitalist phase would assure this, and so assert, in an active and revolutionary manner and not as fatalistic determinism, the inevitability of socialism in theory and practice.

These considerations naturally lead to another fundamental question, one which cannot be fully treated in these pages: at what stage of capitalist development and development of class war in Asia, and other backward areas, will the objective conditions for international revolution become inevitable — a revolution that can check the forces of imperialism and impede opportunism from partially offsetting the crisis?

Lenin’s strategy offers us the tools to interpret the trends which create the conditions which are at the heart of the question. His hypothesis of 1923 is, in our opinion, the most complete attempt at an answer for the entire period, and not just a few years.

Imperialist Oppression Prevents the Revolution in Germany

In 1923 Lenin can only formulate his answer by first examining the situation in Russia. With extreme clarity he sets the problem:

Thus, at the present time we are confronted with the question — shall we be able to hold on with our small and very small peasant production, and in our present state of ruin, until thest-European capitalist countries consummate their development towards socialism? But they are consummating it not as we formerly expected. They are not consummating it through the gradual “maturing” of socialism, but through the exploitation of some countries by others, through the exploitation of the first of the countries vanquished in the imperialist war combined with the exploitation of the whole of the East.7

And he provides the first answer:

What tactics does this situation prescribe for our country? Obviously the following. We must display extreme caution so as to preserve our workers’ government and to retain our small and very small peasantry under its leadership and authority. We have the advantage that the whole world is now passing to a movement that must give rise to a world socialist revolution. But we are laboring under the disadvantage that the imperialists have succeeded in splitting the world into two camps; and this split is made more complicated by the fact that it is extremely difficult foermany, which is really a land of advanced, cultured, capitalist development, to rise to her feet. All the capitalist powers of what is called the West are pecking at her and preventing her from rising. On the other hand, the entirast, with its hundred of millions of exploited working people, reduced to the last degree of human suffering, has been forced into a position where its physical and material strength cannot possibly be compared with the physical, material and military strength of any of the much smaller West-European states.8

In practice, it is a case of maintaining worker power in Russia, not in order to build socialism but to “to retain our small and very small peasantry under its leadership and authority”9, in order to prevent the hiatus in global revolution from changing the internationalist and socialist course of the Russian revolution, and from reinforcing the national interests of the capitalism of the small peasantry. In order to maintain hegemony over the peasants their trust must be maintained. Lenin is conscious throughout of the importance of this, and he is also conscious of the obstacles. However, his consciousness is not born from the view that the alliance between workers and peasants is indispensable for the building of “socialism is one country”, as the Stalinists and Maoists, the worst by-products of such a strategy, would have you believe. The alliance between workers and peasants in Russia, under the hegemony of the workers, is in fact seen by Lenin as a necessary condition for the maintenance of worker power in view of the next revolutionary situation. Lenin goes as far as to state:

it is not easy for us, however, to keep going until the socialist revolution is victorious in more developed countries,10 and goes on to add that this is so because of the low productivity of the small peasantry.

Given the low agricultural productivity, the relationship between state industry and agriculture, which was in effect a trading relationship, suffered from a disequilibrium which Trotsky defined as the “price scissors”, a phenomenon which had the potential to shatter the confidence of the peasants and break the alliance. This concept was at the root of discussions over Preobrazhensky’s “theory of socialist primitive accumulation” and the disagreement betweeukhatn and Stalin.

“In this sense” the final victory of socialism is assured

For Lenin the issue of the peasants’ confidence is, again, connected to the development of international events. Lenin is aware that the revolutions in Germany and isia cannot, because of their innate weakness, have the impact necessary to safeguard Soviet power. Lenin asks himself:

Can we save ourselves from the impending conflict with these imperialist countries? May we hope that the internal antagonisms and conflicts between the thriving imperialist countries of the East will give us a second respite as they did the first time, when the campaign of the West-European counter-revolution in support of the Russian counter-revolution broke down owing to the antagonisms in the camp of the counter-revolutionaries of the West and the East, in the camp of the Fastern and Western exploiters, in the camp of Japan and the USA?

I think the reply to this question should be that the issue depends upon too many factors, and that the outcome of the struggle as a whole can be forecast only because in the long run capitalism itself is educating and training the vast majority of the population of the globe for the struggle.

In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact thaussia, India, China, etc., account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And during the past few years it is this majority that has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this sense there cannot be the slightest doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense, the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured.11

Lenin repeats “in this sense” twice so as not to be misunderstood. We have seen how this attempt at clarity has not been sufficient for the opportunists, who cannot accepenin’s underlying thesis on the final victory of socialism. In Lenin’s view the outcome of the struggle does not depend exclusively on the survival ooviet power in Russia, as Stalinists of all hues have proclaimed for years in order to justify their state capitalist led counter-revolution.

For Lenin, the survival of Soviet power is an extremely important factor which had to be defended at all costs, except that of presiding over its involution: But this is not all, what type of Marxist and internationalist would Lenin have been had he not envisaged world revolution even in the event of the military defeat of the October revolution?

The “second respite”, like the first, could be caused by the contradictions within the counter-revolutionary camp. This may, or may not, occur. However, the course of world revolution, its unstoppable march, is a product of the struggle for freedom of the majority of the world’s population.

This is an incontrovertible fact, and one which signifies the final victory of socialism — it does so because there can be no other outcome.

The possible outcomes for the Soviet state were numerous, and this proved to be the case. Iussia, counter-revolution, in the shape of Stalinism, was victorious and led to the liquidation of Soviet power and the revolutionary party. Nevertheless, the march of revolution in India and China. with its alternating successes and failures, continued and is continuing, and is indeed accelerating to the stage in which there will be a crisis in global imperialism, and the international proletariat will take the offensive.

Lenin had envisaged these stages clearly when he wrote:

But what interests us is not the inevitability of this complete victory of socialism, but the tactics which we, the Russian Communist Party, we the Russian Soviet Government, should pursue to prevent the West-European counter-revolutionary states from crushing us. To ensure our existence until the next military conflict between the counter-revolutionary imperialist West and the revolutionary and nationalisast, between the most civilized countries of the world and the Orientallv backward countries which, however, compromise the majority, this majority must become civilized.

Becoming civilized in this context means: developing a capitalist economy, ending feudalism and pre-capitalist economic systems, reaching mass production, creating a unitary state, and being in a position to attack the imperialisest and to organize a defence against the assault of counter-revolution.

This, then, was the third international scenario (to add to that of possible war between the old and new imperialist powers for the Asian marker and internal conflicts which would impede the creation of a counter revolutionary front againsussia), one which envisages the survival of Soviet power within the context of a global revolutionary strategy. In this construct there is no place for the building of socialism in one country, and peaceful coexistence. Not because these are unforeseen “novelties” but because they constitute the antithesis.

We, too, lack enough civilisation to enable us to pass straight on to socialism, although we do have the political requisites for it.12

How to preserve worker power until the imperialist crisis

We must maintain these political requisites, not to eliminate the potential for international development, but rather for these to become an active factor in bringing this development about. The revolutionary and nationalist war in the East will accelerate the crisis of imperialism and the socialist revolution.

Lenin hoped thahina would become civilized and become economically strong in time, that it would become a young nationalist-capitalist power. In Lenin’s view the pace of the economic development of the revolutionary and nationalist East sets the pace for the realization of the objective conditions for the crisis in imperialism and the proletarian revolution. The very existence of Soviet power is conditioned by this pace: if the East develops and goes to war with the imperialist west in time, Soviet power would be assured. But how must we interpret “in time”.

Studying development in the East after Lenin’s death we see that it was slow and that the East did not become civilized in time to save Soviet power. Objective conditions and opportunism in Russia. India and China, combined in a period of stagnation to allow the triumph of counter-revolution in Russia, and the slowing of the progress towards revolution in the East. Instead of a clear dividing line between East and West, alternating fronts have been created — among these, the alliance between Chinese and Indian nationalism and thestern imperial powers against Japan had a determining role. Stalinist policy contributed to the stunting of Asias development by imposing its nationalist interests, courting allies among the Western powers against Japan, and by building its sphere of influence in the Asian region. Mao Tse-tung’s movement, with its baggage of opportunism, was a nationlist reply to Russia’s abandonment of internationalism. A response which waged an inconsistent battle against the mercantile bourgeoisie linked to the Americans. Without Stalin, Mao Tse-tung would never have come to the fore in the Chinese movement.

However, limiting ourselves to such simple considerations means failing to appreciate that the causes of such political phenomena run much deeper. Lenin teaches this when he identified the semi-colonization of Germany as being the factor slowing revolution in Europe; and when he identified the extreme weakness of the East’s material and physical resources, which cannot possibly be compared with the physical, material and military strength of any of the much smalleest-European states, as the factor slowing the economic and military development of the East.

Lenin’s view in 1923 had been correct, and it would take many years before this weakness was, at least partially, overcome in China. Although we have not yet reached the clash between East and West. Lenin’s vision is becoming ever closer to becoming reality.

Lenin’s vision was not based on a dream, it was a solid scientific forecast which established a course of action which would have strengthened the capacity for Soviet power to resist. Stalinism managed to weaken this resistance, and ultimately destroy it.

We must strive to build up a state in which the workers retain leadership of the peasants, in which the retain the confidence of the peasants, and by exercising the greatest economy remove every trace of extravagance from our social relations.

We must reduce our state apparatus to the utmost degree of economy. We must banish from it all traces of extravagance, of which so much has been left over from tsarisussia, form its bureaucratic capitalist state machine. Will not this be a reign of peasant limitations? No. If we see to it that the working class retains its leadership over the peasantry, we shall be able, by exercising the greatest possible thrift in the economic life of our state, to use every saving we make to develop our large-scale machine industry, to develop electrification.13

Lenin continues by saying that this general plan links strategy with the functions of workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection.

This is what, in my opinion, “justifies the exceptional care, the exceptional attention” that we must devote to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection in raising it to “an exceptionally high level”. And this justification is that only by thoroughly purging our government machine, by reducing it to the utmost everything that is not absolutely essential in it, shall we be certain of being able to keep going.14

The conclusion of “Better Fewer, But Better” is that the greatest level of proletarian democracy is a necessity for a successful international strategy, and not just a vain aping of bourgeois democracy. These guidelines for the dictatorship of the proletariat in a period of harsh isolation, guidelines which were completely discarded by the Stalinist bureaucracy, are a precious contribution to the Marxist theory of the state.

Even in this case, Lenin’s theoretical thinking is not linked to immediate and circumscribed practicalities, or to “concrete” petty bourgeois empiricism whose vision is restricted to the end of its nose. It is the theoretical expression of political “practice” which embraces global phenomena and which uses worldwide trends to define tactics in Russia.

Decades of class struggle may pass, as will the dark period of counter-revolution and falsehood, but Lenin’s internationalist teachings, in his thought and in his analysis of the Asian revolutions, will remain as a solid legacy for the revolutionary generations that follow and continue his work.

1 Bruno Maffi (1900-2003) — an Italian politician and the leader of the International Communist Party.

2 Rudolf Schlesinger (1901-1969) — a notable academic, Marxist writer and one-time political activist.

3 Lenin, “Better Fewer, But Better”. Pravda (No. 49), March 4, 1923.

4 idem.

5 “The Importance Of Gold Now And After Complete Victory Of Socialism”. Pravda No. 251, November 6-7, 1921; Signed: N. Lenin; Published according to the Pravda text.

6 idem.

7 idem.

8 idem.

9 idem.

10 idem.

11 idem.




Publisher’s Appendix

Internationalism and the problem of the Stalinist counter-revolution

Lenin and the Chinese Revolution is a Leninist reading of one of the most important moments in the political life of the revolutionary class, and of its most significant political experience: the October revolution and the attempt to build a global party-strategy.

We are using the concept of party-strategy, which derives from Cervetto’s scientific analysis, because it synthesizes the main political elements of Lenin’s work. Some of the editorials from the April 2005 editions of our newspaper examine the new strategic phase of the current era of imperialism in greater depth. It is no accident that these articles have revisited the main themes of Cervetto’s work in Lenin and the Chinese Revolution. For in these we read how Cervetto disagreed with the view that Lenin’s thought was “focussed on the October revolution”.

The strategic vision of Lenin, the great revolutionary, is based “on the assessment of world capitalist development in the era of imperialism”. It is only by using Lenin’s interpretation, which explains the dynamics of international imperialism, that we are able to fully understand the political processes of the 1920s and 1930s, both in Russia and within the Communist International.

The Russian vanguard of the international proletariat came to power during the world crisis caused by the end of the first imperialist war. The establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, the weakest link in the imperialist chain, was a consequence of the defeat of the democratic dictatorship of the Russian bourgeoisie, represented by the Kerensky government. The Russian proletariat established its dictatorship in alliance with the peasants, which made up the great majority of the population in the ex Tsarist empire. Once in power, the Bolshevik party attempted to build a global communist party and created the Third International.

The strategic goal was to break the strongest links of the international bourgeoisie, especially German imperialism which had been defeated and weakened by the first world war. The function of the International, the global party of the proletariat, was to coordinate the different theatres of revolutionary activity-the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, the revolutionary attempts in Europe, and the democratic revolutions in Asia - to facilitate this goal. The creation of the International was the only effective way to centralize all the strategic opportunities and all the energies of the global proletariat in order to obtain this objective.

The objective of breaking the strongest links in the imperialist chain was not to be realised. Cervetto concludes that it is from this point onwards that involution overtook both the Russian and international proletariat. From the latter half of the 1920s the counter-revolution moved into full swing, and the Stalinist counter-revolution adopted the political shell of “national socialism”, as Trotsky so acutely observed.

Stalin’s theory of building socialism in one country, and the subsequent national roads to socialism, now form part of the detritus of history. It evolved into the cult of Stalinist Russia, a cult which was embraced by the satellite parties in Italy and France. Parties which brought to the table of the squabbling factions of the bourgeoisie control over swathes of the large factory workers and public sector employees.

We, Marxist revolutionaries, have fought against the political groups which support this ideology with organisation and with all our energies. Now we observe, with a sense of nausea, the new generation of fideistic chameleons that this ideology has hatched. Chameleons which have now changed their colour to match those who support greater European integration. All this does not render any less necessary an analysis of the theoretical struggle between the revolutionaries in the 1920s, and an understanding of the reasons behind the failed assimilation of the new strategic lessons elaborated by Lenin during the last years of his life.

Marxism is the science of change. This scientific synthesis, during the brief period under consideration, has formed the basis for the formation of thousands of militants. Militants who have been formed in circumstances which have been confused by the very speed at which change has occurred.

Lenin elaborated the strategy for the new political phase which followed victory in the October revolution. The global party, deprived of a sense of direction, has failed to assimilate Lenin’s strategy. It has become submerged by new and enormous tasks.

It is remarkable to note from a survey of history, how the very issues that Lenin had identified have been the ones to confront the international and Russian vanguards. The maintenance of revolutionary power in Russia, on the basis of an alliance with “peasants and small holders”, was to prove more difficult than was expected in 1921 for a number of reasons: the slower speed of development, the semi-colonization of Germany, the weaker than expected democratic-bourgeois struggle in Asia, and because the impending war between the powers for a new division of Asia was slow to materialize.

The international political cycle is measured in years: the years of potential revolutionary impetus were followed by the years in which international counter-revolution was consolidated. These times have been longer than Lenin had expected. The second world war started in September 1939, and not in the latter half of the 1920s as he had foreseen. The global party and its Russian section are therefore facing long times in which to organize the resistance to the extremely powerful counter-revolution of the dominant class. Only sixteen years divided the death of Lenin from the murder of Trotsky. It is a period during which the cycle of state capitalism manifested itself in the cities with all its particularities-as the state control of economic activity, and as state management of the means of production.

It is a phase in the struggle between the imperialist powers which has been characterized by extreme fluctuations in their alliances-Stalinism, fascism, democracy, the whole of the political shell of the imperialist era, are all influenced by changes in international events which accentuate the fideist nature of the mass parties.

This fideism in the particularities of the Russian ideology was reinforced during the phase in which Moscow offered itself up to the imperialist powers as a new social-imperialism. For us, internationalists, the task ahead is enormous and it is impossible to face without having complete mastery of the strategic link in the chain.

Lenin knew perfectly well how the Bolshevik party had developed during the revolutionary period and in the years of Soviet power. In 1922 he wrote:

If we do not close our eyes to reality we must admit that at the present time the proletarian policy of the Party is not determined by the character of its membership, but by the enormous undivided prestige enjoyed by the small group which might be called the Old Guard of the Party. A slight conflict within this group will be enough, if not to destroy this prestige, at all events to weaken the group to such a degree as to rob it of its power to determine policy.*

In Lenin’s view it would take little for the enormous undivided prestige of the old guard to crumble to the point where it would no longer have any influence on decision making.

And where was the importance of this enormous undivided prestige to be felt if not on internationalism, the key link in the revolutionary process, and the one to which the whole chain of political struggle depended? Lenin was well aware that the solution to eventual future problems could not lie in the nature of the party’s base. When the old guard did split many revolutionaries were distracted by the myth of the “base”. The break in the party happened where Lenin had envisaged the point of greatest tension to be: national interests and internationalist strategy.

The creation of the first Five Year Plan in the USSR was linked to the defeat of the International’s tactics in Great Britain in 1926, and in China in 1927. The growth in counter-revolutionary forces was to prove very fast indeed. The first Five Year Plan had already been realised by 1932, a year earlier than envisaged. At its base was a reneging of Lenin’s strategy of an alliance of the classes in Soviet Russia.

For Lenin, the objective was to consolidate the alliance between the industrial proletariat and the peasants by using all means to improve their standards ofliving. The proletariat in backward Russia had to hold on to power against the forces of capitalism and state capitalism. The poor peasants had to safeguard their improved conditions, arising from the alliance with the proletariat, against the small, medium and large-scale capitalists and state capitalism. The support and power of the poor peasants, the main allies of the proletariat, would be decisive when the time came to break with the rich and mid sized peasants and push ahead with the world proletarian revolution.

Only the proletariat, with the help of the global working class represented by the International, and the alliance with the poor peasants, was in a position to contain the growth of state capitalism. This would allow the full force of the Russian state to be placed at the service of international revolution.

How could the proletariat restrict state capitalism, a phenomenon that was the objective expression of the nationalist shell, the defence of the Russian state, and the manifestation of the drive towards the greatest concentration of the weak accumulation in heavy industry?

Cervetto’s interpretation ofLenin’s thought is very clear: if state capitalism crushes the proletariat, and crushes or hegemonizes the poor peasants, then the revolutionary party will no longer have the social base required to give organisational force to its internationalist strategy.

In Lenin’s view all the efforts to strengthen state capitalism must be subordinated to improving the living conditions of the workers, of the poor peasants, and maintaining the alliance with the mid sized peasantry. For in Russia, from the end of the civil war until the world revolutionary crisis, all classes would have to manouevre on the field of economics. A theatre of action which is more complex than the military theatre, where the party had already won the civil war. In this political struggle the party would have to gain the necessary experience.

Cervetto reiterates the fundamental points introduced by Lenin on the relationship between party, government by the soviets, and the workers’ movement.

The autonomy of the party from the Soviet state is beyond discussion, as the party is the basis for the internationalist strategy. For Lenin this is an obvious point, he goes on to argue that the proletariat should also have full autonomy in the economic struggle, that is in its ability to organize itself into unions. The unions must be independent from the state and must defend the living conditions of the working class. Lenin highlights the combating of waste and every form of bureaucratization as a means of finding the resources for industrial development.

In all of Lenin’s writings on internationalism there is no space for the treatment of, or support for, any economic measures which could lead to the breaking of the alliance between workers and peasants. This alliance would be decisive in the global crisis which was expected to take place in the near future. Without this alliance, a main pillar of the internationalist strategy-the use of the Soviet state in an internationalist context-would be destroyed. In the nationalist alternative, represented by Stalin and his clique, the above would no longer be an issue. The party is absorbed by the state and the nationalist strategy becomes the only strategy.

The International becomes an instrument of the Russian state, and not the other way around. In his Stalin’s article in Pravda of 2 June 1928, he strikes a polemical note in his exposition of the Five Year Plan:

Should we, perhaps, for the sake of greater “caution,” retard the development of heavy industry so as to make light industry, which produces chiefly for the peasant market, the basis of our industry? Not under any circumstances! That would be suicidal; it would undermine our whole industry, including light industry. It would mean abandoning the slogan of industrializing our country, it would mean transforming our country into an appendage of the world capitalist system of economy.**

We see here how Russian national interest, “national socialism” has definitively substituted internationalist strategy. The dynamics of Russian nationalism are apparent from this time onwards.

Cervetto observes how Russia could increase its influence in its foreign alliances by the participation of its satellite communist parties in their respective national governments. To facilitate this it utilized its supplementary weight - the ability to provide a new social imperialism which bound the proletariat to the ever changing alliances Russia decided to participate in. To this end, Stalinist Russia had to rely on an effective fideism, it had to manipulate the masses. It had to eliminate any tendency towards a necessary scientific study of the dynamics of the imperialist powers, of the struggle between bourgeois parties, on forms of government. This is all replaced by the simplistic labels of “progressive” and “reactionary”.

It had to physically eliminate every opposition.

This new social-imperialism was behind the creation of the unions sacrées deemed necessary to avoid a new October. Stalinism represented the social imperialism effectively nipped the internationalist ideal at the bud in the political phase which ended with the second world war.

Leon Trotsky emerged as a giant among the opponents to Stalinism, but he was a giant without a strategy. He became trapped by his mechanical adaptation of the French revolutionary model. In this conception, Stalinism was the Thermidor” of the Russian revolution which crushed the Bolsheviks, the equivalent of the Jacobins, and prepared the way for a counter-revolutionary military dictatorship, the equivalent of Bonapartism.

Trotsky predicted a militaristic Russia, supported by the peasants, which would lead to the return of private capitalism. Stalinism itself was not an expression of a new restored capitalism, as it was not the expression of socialism. It was the symptom of a phase of unstable equilibrium, exactly like the “Thermidor. This phase of unstable equilibrium could have resulted in Bonapartism or socialism in the USSR-for this reason the USSR was to be criticized, but also supported in the face of any attack by the great powers.

Trotsky failed to recognize the significance of state capitalism.

Writing in 1987 Cervetto noted:

Trotsky’s limit lies in his failure to elaborate a valid theory of capitalist development. This blinded him from seeing that a new phenomenon was affirming itself in Russian society-state capitalism. This prevented him from ever devising a strategy. His idea of a “degenerate workers’ state” was not sufficient to disentangle, let alone cut, the theoretical Gordian Knot represented by Stalinism.

Trotsky’s whole approach pushed him “to place the Russian question and Stalinism at the centre of the world”. He concluded that it was inevitable that the international bourgeoisie would attack Russia militarily, and that it was the duty of the international proletariat to defend the USSR should this happen. At the top of the agenda now, in Russia, was a “political” revolution, as the “social” revolution had already happened.

These, in effect, were the premises for the entryist tactics within the Stalinist parties, and when this approach was no longer suitable as a vehicle for repression, to their extension to the left wing of the socialist parties, and intermediate parties like the POUM in Spain.

Our historical analysis shows how, with Lenin’s premature death, there had not been sufficient time for his fundamental strategies to take concrete form within the International. Cervetto argues that Lenin would have needed at least three more years in order to define the tactical detail of the strategy he had outlined in “Better Fewer, but Better” in 1923.

The European and Russian revolutionaries did not progress from their experiences in the revolutionary cycle of 1917. The repetition of old strategies and tactics showed that there had been insufficient time in political terms for Lenin’s thought to be assimilated. The new post-revolutionary phase,during the inter-war years, saw a series of key political developments-from the popular fronts to the national fronts, to Stalinism within Russia-where the new Kornilovs and Kerenskys could work together. This occurred within the context of democratic states, and in those where the state absorbed the dominant party, like in Stalinist Russia, or in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

Already by 1936, in Spain, Stalinism was putting its counter revolutionary qualities, tried and tested in Russia and within the International, to the service of the imperialistic powers in order to disarm the proletariat. On 25 September 1939 Trotsky wrote:

If contrary to all probabilities the October Revolution fails during the course of the present war, or immediately thereafter, to find its continuation in any of the advanced countries; and if, on the contrary, the proletariat is thrown back everywhere and on all fronts-then we should doubtlessly have to pose the question of revising our conception of the present epoch and its driving forces. In that case it would be a question not of slapping a copy book label on the USSR or the Stalinist gang but of revaluating the world historical perspective for the next decades if not centuries: “Have we entered the epoch of social revolution and socialist society, or on the contrary the epoch of the declining society of totalitarian bureaucracy?”***

Trotsky could not conceive how the new imperialist war could:

not signal the decline of imperialism, but be a new, daring and contradictory leap forward in its global expansion.

Amedeo Bordiga wrote that Trotsky had had the enormous merit”, as early as in 1923, of having identified the tendency which Stalin personified. He went on to write that Trotsky did not recognize the “truth that both the left and right (in the Bolshevik party) were both abiding by Marxist principles”. The “centre”, which was Stalin’s group, defended the national interests of the Russian state, with every change in the interpretation of the foreign and domestic political situation.

According to Bordiga, the opposition to Stalin did not recognize “the extreme danger” inherent in the idea of building “Russian socialism” and was “late in identifying the enemy”.

Cervetto explains how both Bordiga and Trotsky viewed the concentration of capital as the reason behind the transformation of democracy into fascism. He observed how there was a “propensity” in both of them to see state intervention in the economy as the beginning of the end for the democracy. Bordiga, unlike Trotsky, excludes the tactical use of democracy against fascism. He concluded: the concentration of capital causes the centralization of politics, and therefore the transformation of democracy into fascism”.

We can see how Bordiga’s mechanistic view results in static, “unchanging” tactics, and the idea that these can somehow be prepared ahead of events. His “strategic optimism” leads him to theorize that the forces required, and the political solutions, are ever present in the revolutionary phase-all that is required is for the vanguard to stay loyal to the principles of revolutionary Marxism. This framework takes Bordiga far from the dialectic teachings of Lenin on the role of the party of cadres-the conscious organisation which acts during the revolutionary crisis in the interests of the international proletariat. A misunderstanding of the strategic analysis of Lenin is common to the thought of both Trotsky and Bordiga.

Were the errors of Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Smirnov - the best men of the vanguard of the Russian workers, the giants of internationalism, and all victims of the Stalinist counter-revolution - the reason behind the advance of counter-revolution in Russia and within the International?

Cervetto teaches us not to fall into the false consciousness of the primacy of politics. Cervetto defines Stalinism as the shell of “state capitalism which developed in conditions of autarchy”. Between 1928 and 1940 it was strengthened by the dramatic economic growth of the USSR, estimated at 8-9% per annum. The high rate of growth of the Slavic area and the contrasting “weakness of the physical and material forces of the East” has relegated international revolution to the long term. Cervetto notes that:

Lenin’s strategy was based on the long term. But a party-strategy had not been developed for the long term.

An examination of the problems faced by the great revolutionaries during this eventful and difficult political cyclewith the formation of a new social imperialist ideology-is something which every generation of internationalists can and must undertake with the aid of Cervetto’s analysis.

A further incentive comes from our duty to prepare for the strategic issues of the new phase in which we live. The history of the defeat of internationalism in the latter half of the 1920s is full of lessons for us, not least the one that history is not something which repeats, but something which requires study and continuous strategic elaboration.

Our class has attempted two great assault at the heights, in 1871 and in 1917, in which it took advantage of the contradictions and conflicts between states. In the first case, this took place in the capitalist era, whilst in the second it was during the age of imperialism. It has proved impossible to accelerate the birth of the new world before the old has had time to spread the rates of development of the old western world to Asia, and to the great majority of the world’s population. Rates of growth which have since been surpassed with arrogance and ease. As Lenin had predicted, the October revolution was only the start of a new age of development, crisis and imperialist wars.

The way India and China have caught up and have reached imperialist maturity is a sign that the last stand of this old society has started.

We, internationalists, reach this fateful appointment with a wealth of experience formed from 1848 onwards. Lenin refined these for the imperialist age, and this baggage of theoretical and political experience reaches us in the writings of Cervetto. We have a solid base from which to confront the tasks of the new strategic phase.

* V.I. Lenin, “Conditions for Admitting New Members to the Party”. Letters to V. M. Molotov, 24 & 26 March, 1922.

** J .V. Stalin. “On the Grain Front”. From a Talk to Students of the Institute of Red Professors, the Communist Academy and the Sverdlov University, May 28, 1928. First published: Pravda, No. 127, June 2, 1928.

*** Leon Trotsky, “The USSR in War. The Orientation Towards Revolution and the Regeneration of the USSR”. 25 September, 1939.