Moissaye J. Olgin


Counter-Revolution in Disguise

The Revolution and the Peasantry

THAT ingenious theory about the impossibility of Socialism in a single country has been misnamed “the permanent revolution”. The term is misleading, like many other quasi-Marxist terms used by Trotsky. It is the exact opposite of what Marxism understands under permanent revolution. Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” is an attempt at explaining why a revolution in a single country must fail from within even if it is not crushed from without. The explanation is that the proletariat has no allies in a socialist revolution within the country where such a revolution takes place. In particular, Trotskyism tries to prove that the peasant masses do not represent a revolutionary reserve, and that therefore a revolution in a single country is bound to succumb to the counter-revolutionary forces, which also include the peasantry, unless aid comes from a victorious revolution in other countries. Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” is thus an expression of the disbelief in the ability of the proletariat to carry with it in the revolution the broad masses of the other exploited and oppressed classes of the population.

The Marxian theory of revolution is based just on this conception of the proletariat being the leader of all the exploited and oppressed in the revolution. Hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution is the foundation of the Marxian understanding of revolution. It found its classical expression as early as 1850 in a piece of writing by Marx and Engels entitled Appeal of the Central Committee to the Communist League.

In that document, which was addressed to one of the first revolutionary working-class organizations in Europe, Marx and Engels pointed out the tasks of a revolutionary workers’ party in a revolution such as took place in various countries of Europe in 1848, namely, in a revolution against the feudal system. The authors, having in mind the interests of the working class and being fully aware of the fact that a bourgeois democratic revolution, i.e., a revolution establishing a bourgeois democracy, can never satisfy the real demands of the workers, nevertheless did not see the workers as isolated from all the other forces in the revolution. They formulated the task of the workers in the following way: Together with the petty-bourgeois democrats against the old system; against the petty-bourgeois democrats, together with the village poor when the former wish to entrench themselves and become the ruling power in the State. The document continues:

“While the democratic bourgeois wish to terminate the revolution as quickly as possible with the view to confine themselves at best to the realization of only these demands [the demands of the petty bourgeoisie], our interests and our tasks consist in making the revolution permanent until all more or less property-owning classes have been removed from power, until the proletariat has conquered State power, until the union of the proletarians not only in one country, but in all leading countries of the world, has developed to such an extent, that competition between the proletarians of those countries has ceased and at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians. What we are concerned with is not a change in private property, but the abolition of private property, not softening class contradictions, but abolishing classes, not improving existing society, but founding a new society.” [Our emphasis—M. J. O.] (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. VIII, p. 483.)

We have here, in a remarkably clear form, the meaning of a permanent revolution as understood by Marx and Engels. We, the Party of the proletariat, say Marx and Engels, are not interested in terminating the revolution, that is to say, the bourgeois-democratic revolution. We are interested in making it a permanent revolution, that is to say, in making it pass from one stage to the other, from a bourgeois-democratic revolution to a socialist revolution, from a revolution that tries to improve existing society, to a revolution that founds a new society, from a revolution in which the bourgeoisie is the dominant power and holds the means of production to a revolution where the proletariat is in power and nationalizes all means of production, from a class society to a classless society. Marx and Engels also point out the desirability of a permanent revolution, from a class society to a classless society. But while the bourgeois-democratic revolution is in progress, the workers must not forget that they are the leaders of all the exploited.

“As in the first French revolution, the petty bourgeois will give over the feudal estates to the peasants as free property, i.e., they will wish to retain the rural proletariat and create a petty-bourgeois peasant class. . . . The workers must counteract this plan in the interests of the village proletariat and in their own interests. They must demand that the confiscated property should become State property and should be transformed into workers’ colonies that are cultivated by the village proletariat organized in associations and utilizing all the advantages of large-scale agriculture. Under conditions where bourgeois property relations are being shaken, the principle of public ownership will thus be placed on a firm basis. As the democrats unite with the peasants, so the workers must unite with the village proletariat.” (Ibid., p. 487.)

We have here the sketch of an alliance of the workers with the other exploited and the defense of the interests of the latter in the revolution.

The theory and practice of the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution were developed and perfected in the Russian Revolution by the Bolsheviks with Lenin.

Absolutism reigned in Russia. The system was semi-feudal. Power was in the hands of the landed aristocracy and a powerful bureaucracy. The Tsar considered himself the foremost landowner. When capitalism developed in the last quarter of the 19th century, Tsarism reluctantly yielded a few governmental positions to the representatives of the wealthy manufacturers and bankers. A new industry with a modern proletariat had come into being, but strong remnants of feudalism reigned in the village. The peasants did not even possess the full right to choose their place of living. The landlords had privileges over the peasants reminiscent of those under serfdom. The broad masses of the population, workers, peasants, lower middle class of the cities, had almost no political rights. Time came when the revolution appeared inevitable. It was in the interests of the workers and of the other exploited masses that the working class should take the lead—the hegemony—in the revolution. This is what the Bolsheviks fought for.

What shall the working class demand of the coming revolution?, they asked. What is its task in the revolution? The Socialists of the Menshevik brand (social-reformists) believed that the only thing the revolution could accomplish was the establishment of a democracy after the English or French pattern. The Mensheviks said the workers should content themselves with constitutional liberties and participation in a bourgeois parliament. This they thought was the maximum anybody could wish under the given conditions. As to the introduction of socialism, they relegated this to the dim and distant future; if ever they thought of socialism, they saw it coming—by degrees, of course, and without violent upheavals—in perhaps a hundred or two hundred years after the bourgeois-democratic revolution. In fact, they never thought of socialism in connection with the revolution that was the order of the day.

Quite different was the attitude of the Bolsheviks with Lenin at their head. As early as 1894, in winding up his treatise, Who Are the “Friends of the People”? in which he defines the role of the proletariat and its party, Lenin says:

“When its [the proletariat’s] advanced representatives will have assimilated the ideas of scientific socialism, the idea of the historic rôle of the Russian worker, when these ideas will have become widespread, and there will be created among the workers stable organizations which transform the now sporadic economic warfare of the workers into a conscious class struggle,—then the Russian worker, rising at the head of all the democratic elements, will throw down absolutism and lead the Russian proletariat (hand in hand with the proletariat of all countries) on the straight road of open political struggle to a victorious Communist revolution.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. I, p. 194.)

We have here a complete outline of the theory of the permanent revolution. The proletariat is marching at the head of the other democratic elements towards a bourgeois-democratic revolution; together with these elements it overthrows absolutism and establishes a bourgeois democracy; it does not stop at that, however, but continues fighting until it overthrows the capitalist system and establishes Communism.

This is the Leninist formulation of the permanent revolution. It consists of two elements: First, the proletariat is leading the other elements of the exploited; the proletariat is “the only and the natural representative of the toiling and exploited population”; second, the revolution passes from the first to the second stage, from its bourgeois-democratic to its socialist stage.

This approach to the permanent revolution implied the idea of a revolutionary alliance between the city workers and the peasants.

Lenin’s Bolshevik argument, as formulated more than once during 1905 and in subsequent years, runs as follows: The liberals, representing the bourgeoisie, are in favor of the revolution, but in an inconsistent, selfish and cowardly manner. As soon as its narrow selfish interests are satisfied, the bourgeoisie as a mass will turn its back to the people, to the revolution, and will join hands against them with autocracy. Who then will remain? The proletariat and the peasantry. Even when we deal with a democratic revolution only, it is clear from the very outset that the proletariat alone is capable of bringing such a revolution to its logical conclusion, because the proletariat goes much further than that. The proletariat alone is the unwavering and unyielding element in the revolution. The peasantry is unstable, because it contains semi-proletarian and petty-bourgeois elements. But the instability of the peasantry differs radically from the instability of the bourgeoisie. The peasantry is interested not so much in constitutional guarantees for private property as in taking away from the landowners the land, one of the mainstays of private property.

Lenin therefore taught that it was the task of the proletariat to unite with the peasantry in order as far as possible to drive forward the bourgeois-democratic revolution. This, he said, could be accomplished by uniting with the peasantry as a whole. As soon as the bourgeois-democratic revolution is accomplished, the proletariat, in alliance with the semi-proletarian elements of the peasantry, i.e., with the poorest peasants, he said, will be able to carry through the abolition of capitalism, thereby overcoming the resistance of the bourgeoisie and the richer peasants.

The plan was sound. It was in accordance with the social forces as they existed in Russia and in full harmony with the doctrine of Marx and Engels.

In order that the transition from a bourgeois-democratic revolution to a socialist revolution might be possible, Lenin said, power must not be allowed to pass into the hands of the bourgeoisie at all. In other words, even in the bourgeois-democratic revolution the bourgeoisie must not be allowed to become the ruling class. Power must pass into the hands of the victorious workers and peasants who establish the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. As soon as the proletariat is strong enough, as soon as conditions are favorable, it proceeds to the next stage, to a socialist revolution. It establishes the dictatorship of the proletariat.

We thus have in Lenin’s conception two stages of the revolution: (1) the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, and, immediately following it, (2) the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Why the former? Because it is necessary to break the resistance of the landowners, the rich bourgeoisie and the Tsar’s officialdom and for that you need an alliance with all the peasants. “Without the (revolutionary-democratic) dictatorship it is impossible to break this resistance, to repel the counterrevolutionary attempts.”

“But of course this will be, not a socialist, but a democratic dictatorship. It will not be able to touch upon the foundations of capitalism (without a whole series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development). At best it will be able to introduce a fundamental redivision of land property in favor of the peasantry, to carry through a consistent and full democratism up to and including a republic, to eradicate all Asiatic slave features not only from village life, but also from factory life, to make the beginning of an earnest improvement of the situation of the workers and of raising their standards of living, and, last but not least, to transfer the revolutionary conflagration to Europe. Such a victory will by no means make our bourgeois revolution a socialist revolution; the democratic overthrow will not immediately reach beyond the framework of bourgeois social-economic relations; nevertheless the significance of such a victory will be gigantic for the future development both of Russia and of the whole world. Nothing will so much arouse the revolutionary energy of the world proletariat, nothing will so much shorten the road that leads to its full victory as this decisive victory of the revolution that has begun in Russia.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. VIII, pp. 62-63.)

Will there be a long interval between the first and the second stage of the revolution? Of course, delays are possible; defeats are sometimes unavoidable. At the time when the above lines were written (July, 1905) the outcome of the then developing revolution was far from certain. Lenin himself stressed the fact that he was “not inclined to senseless optimism on this score”, that he realized “the tremendous difficulty. of this task”. However, he said, “we must wish for victory and know how to show the real way to it”. This way, as pointed out by Lenin, was an immediate transition from the bourgeois-democratic revolution to the socialist revolution.

“From the democratic revolution we will immediately begin, just in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the conscious and organized proletariat, to pass over to the socialist revolution. We stand in favor of the permanent revolution [Our emphasis—M. J. O.]. We shall not stop midway. . . . Without lapsing into adventurism, without being unfaithful to our scientific conscience, without running after cheap popularity, we can and do say only one thing: We will, with all our power, help the entire peasantry to carry through the democratic revolution, in order that we, the Party of the proletariat, may be the easier enabled to pass, as quickly as possible, to a new, higher task—the socialist revolution.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. VIII, pp. 186-187.)

Help the entire peasantry carry through the democratic revolution! The meaning and content of the democratic revolution for the Bolsheviks consists in abolishing, in relation to the peasantry, all remnants of feudalism. Once this is accomplished, once power is in the hands of the proletariat and the peasantry as a whole, once the resistance of the formerly ruling classes has been broken, once the proletariat has, in the process of the revolution, grown stronger and better organized, the road is open to the socialist revolution. The road will be travelled by the proletariat in alliance, not with the peasantry as a whole, because the rich peasants will naturally be against the socialist revolution, but in alliance with the semi-proletarian elements of the population.

Here is Lenin’s classic formula:

The proletariat must carry through, to the very end, the democratic revolution by attaching to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush by force the resistance of autocracy and to paralyze the instability of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution by attaching to itself the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population in order to crush by force the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyze the instability of the petty bourgeoisie.” [Lenin’s emphasis] (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. VIII, p. 96.)

We have dwelt at length on the Leninist theory of permanent revolution, because only on this basis is it possible to judge Trotsky’s perversion of the theory of permanent revolution. The Trotsky thing is in substance a negation of the proletarian revolution. He clings to it, thinking that this is his own contribution to the science of revolution, but in reality it is a piece of Menshevism garbed in “revolutionary” phrases. He stated his “theory” in the following way:

“The Russian proletariat, finding itself in possession of power—even if this were only a consequence of a temporary combination of forces in our bourgeois revolution—will meet with organized hostility on the part of world reaction, and with readiness for organized support on the part of the world proletariat. Left to its own forces, the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry will turn away from it [Our italics—M. J. O.]. Nothing will remain for it but to link up the fate of its political domination, and consequently the fate of the entire Russian revolution, with the fate of a socialist revolution in Europe. That colossal State political power which it gets from the temporary combination of forces in the Russian bourgeois revolution, the working class will thrust upon the scales of the class struggle of the entire capitalist world. With State power in its hands, with the counter-revolution behind its back, with the European reaction in front of it, it will issue to its brothers the world over the old battle-cry, which this time will be the battle-cry of the last attack, ‘Workers of the world, unite!”’ (L. Trotsky, Summing Up and Perspectives, 1906.)

The style is dramatic, but the contents, defeatist. If one is to assume that the working class of Russia is alone, that it has no allies, then it cannot get into possession of State power at all. If one is to assume that by some miracle it has gained power but that European reaction is in front of it and nine-tenths of the population behind its back are hostile, then of what avail can be the battle-cry? Revolutions, even when conditions are ripe, take time to develop. The battle-cry of the proletariat that is beset by enemies may not immediately arouse the workers of other countries. Moreover, a similar class situation prevails in some other countries as well. There, too, the peasantry forms a large part of the population. There, too, according to Trotsky, the workers must have the counter-revolution behind their back and the world reaction in front of them. A revolution, according to Trotsky, is an impossibility in a single country.

To take an example nearer home. In the United States’ we have an industrial proletariat (in manufacturing, mining and transportation) which forms a large section but by no means the majority of the population. There are tens of millions of small and middle farmers, small traders, petty-bourgeois intellectuals—a huge part of the people. It follows from Trotsky’s “original” idea that the workers could not have the support of these millions in a revolution against capitalism, that they would inevitably unite with the exploiters against the revolutionary proletariat. It follows that there could be no hope for a revolution under any circumstances.

The champion of what he calls “permanent revolution” champions permanent defeat.

The Bolsheviks knew that in Russia, as in any other capitalist country, the proletariat was the only consistently revolutionary class, and they worked to secure its hegemony in the revolution. Yet they also knew that the peasants were an inexhaustible reserve of revolutionary energy. And their estimate proved true. Leading the land-hungry peasants—in uniforms as soldiers or without uniforms as semi-serfs—was it possible for the proletariat to accomplish the February, 1917, revolution. Leading, not the peasantry as a whole, but the poorest peasants who were both against the capitalists of the cities and against the capitalists of the village, i.e., the rich peasants (kulaks), and with the middle peasantry neutralized, was it possible for the proletariat, with the Bolshevik Party as its vanguard and “All power to the Soviets” as its slogan, to accomplish the October, 1917, revolution which established the dictatorship of the proletariat. Leading the millions of the poorest peasants who willingly joined the Red Army to defend the conquests of the revolution, was it possible for the proletariat—with the Bolsheviks at its head—to win the civil war and secure the final victory of the revolution.

History has eloquently refuted Trotsky’s “permanent revolution”. Yet he never relinquished this stupid concept, which, by the way, is not even his own invention: it was first advanced by a Social-Democrat by the name of Parvus, who later turned violent social-patriot during the World War. Its basic idea that the peasantry as a whole is counter-revolutionary is a Menshevik conception.

Years pass. Revolutions come and go. First the 1905 revolution, then the period of counter-revolution, then the period of upswing, then the February revolution, then the October revolution. Huge masses of peasants are drawn into the revolution and give it that mass character which is requisite for victory. Collectivization of agriculture is introduced, the kulaks are liquidated as a class, the difference between middle and poor peasant disappears due to common membership in the collective farm. But our pessimist still holds fast to “his” idea of the peasantry being ultimately hostile to the revolution.

He learns nothing.

In 1909 he foresees a situation where the workers in power, once undertaking to introduce a number of socialist measures, would inevitably come into conflict with the peasants. “The conflict,” he says, “must end either by the workers being chastised by the peasant party or by the latter being removed from power.” (Article entitled, “Our Controversies”, reprinted in his book, 1905, p. 285). It doesn’t enter Trotsky’s mind that the proletariat may introduce such measures as would elicit the support of the large masses of peasantry and thus ensure a united march toward socialism.

Again, in 1915, in the Paris paper, Nashe Slovo, he emphasizes the fact that one must not cherish “exaggerated hopes concerning its [the peasantry’s] revolutionary role”, (Ibid., p. 255.)

Again, in 1922, after five years of dictatorship of the proletariat so replete with the experiences of peasant masses supporting the revolution, he writes a preface to a collection of his articles which is published under the general title, 1905, in which he says:

“It was during the interval between January 9 and the general strike of October, 1905, that the views on the character of the revolutionary development of Russia, which came to be known as the theory of the ‘permanent revolution’, gradually crystalized in the author’s mind. This somewhat complicated term represented a rather simple idea. . . . The revolution would not be able to solve its immediate bourgeois problems except by placing the proletariat in power. And the latter, upon assuming power, would not be able to limit itself to the bourgeois framework of the revolution. On the contrary, precisely in order to secure its victory, the proletarian vanguard would be forced in the very early stages of its rule to make deep inroads not only into feudal property but into capitalist property as well. In this the proletariat will come into hostile collision, not only with the bourgeois groupings which supported the proletariat during the first stages of revolutionary struggle, but also with the broad masses of the peasants who were instrumental in bringing it into power. The contradictions in the situation of the workers’ government in a backward country with an overwhelming majority of peasants can be solved only on an international scale, on the arena of the world proletarian revolution.” (L. Trotsky, 1905, Preface.)

Trotsky still clings to his “simple” idea to this very day. This idea has made Trotskyism the vanguard of counter-revolution. Need one argue against it? The lessons of history are clear enough. Not only would the conquest of power and the repulsion of the capitalists and landlords have been impossible for the proletariat of Russia without the aid of millions and millions of peasants, but the upbuilding of socialism would not have been possible either. Socialism, said Stalin, is not something peculiar to the towns alone. Socialism is an organization of economic life that can be established only by Cooperation of industry and agriculture on the basis of socializing the means of production. Socialism is impossible without union between industry and agriculture. Agriculture means not only land and implements, but, in the first place, peasants, living millions of peasants.

When the proletariat under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party expropriated the manufacturers and bankers in the early stages of the socialist revolution in Russia, who was it that formed its armed force? The Red Army in which the peasants formed a large part. When the rebellions of the kulaks against the Soviet power on the Volga and in many other districts of Russia had to be quelled in 1918-1920, who did it? The same Red Army in which the poor and middle peasants were numerically strong. When the proletariat began to “dekulakize” the rich peasants with the introduction of collectivization in the villages, who was its main support and who were its allies? Its main support were the poorest peasants in whose interests it was to carry out such expropriation. Its allies were the middle peasants. Suppose there were an attack upon the Soviet Union—who would be in the first ranks of defense? The Red Army, which consists of workers and collective farmers.

What is there to the Trotsky “peculiarity” of the permanent revolution? It is an exploded idea. It is counter-revolution of a “peculiar” kind. It is in contradiction to widely known and undisputed facts. It is in contradiction to Lenin’s understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“The dictatorship of the proletariat [says Lenin] is a special form of class alliance between the proletariat, the vanguard of the toilers, and the numerous non-proletarian strata of the toilers (the petty bourgeoisie, the small craftsmen, the peasantry, the intelligentsia, etc.), or the majority of these; it is an alliance against capital, an alliance aiming at the complete overthrow of capital, at the complete suppression of the resistance of the bourgeoisie and of any attempts, on their part, at restoration, an alliance aiming at the final establishment and consolidation of socialism.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. XXIV, p. 311.)

Trotsky’s theory sounds “revolutionary” only to the uninformed. It implies that the share-croppers of the South in the U.S.A. will turn against the workers the moment they begin, after the seizure of power, to take away the mines and mills from the capitalists of, say, Alabama; that the tenant farmers of the Middle West will join the armies of Morgan and Ford to fight the taking over by the workers of the automobile plants, railroads and banks; that the large mass of the small citizenry of New York will turn against the workers introducing socialist measures in this world metropolis. This is what the blind fail to notice in Trotsky’s “variety of Menshevism”, as it was called by Stalin.

  *  *  *  

Trotsky does not stop at this “peculiarity”, however. This is only his base, his starting point. He draws from it “peculiar” conclusions, each more fantastic than the other. What follows from a wrong premise is a number of counter-revolutionary conclusions which make up the main features of Trotskyism:

l. The basis is: The impossibility of socialism in one country;

2. Hence—the assertion that what is going on in the Soviet Union is not socialism;

3. Hence—the conclusion that what is being built in Russia is “national socialism”;

4. Hence—the conclusion that the “national socialist” government of the Soviet Union is “Thermidorian”, i.e., counter-revolutionary, and stands in the way of the world revolution;

5. Hence—the assertion that the Communist International, which is dominated by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which is the party of “national socialism”, is blocking the way of the world revolution;

6. Hence—the conclusion that the crying need of the world proletariat is to build a “fourth international” to be led by the “great strategist” of the revolution, Leon Trotsky.

7. It follows from the above that support of intervention and the killing of Soviet leaders are revolutionary acts.

As you see, there is logic in these ravings. They all follow with iron-clad necessity from the fountainhead of the Trotskyite denial of socialism in a single country. That they do not happen to tally with historic facts is not the Trotskyites’ fault.

Next: 6.  The Soviet Union