Sam Levy 1965

Permanent Revolution Since 1945: An Examination of Trotsky’s Thesis in the Light of Contemporary Events in the Underdeveloped World

Source: A Socialist Current pamphlet, also numbered in the Socialist Current magazine series, Volume 10, no 10, December 1965. Although credited to Frank Rowe, Ted, Sam Levy and Morry Sollof, Ted Crawford states that the pamphlet was largely the work of Sam Levy.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Many socialists who see little possibility of the workers in the advanced capitalist countries overthrowing the present social system and instituting a transition to socialism, find the ‘underdeveloped world’ of today a source of hope. The very turbulence of the political climate in many of the countries which make it up leads them to believe that it is there that the epoch-making changes of our time are going to be made.

Trotsky’s theory of ‘Permanent Revolution’ and his book with the same title is often referred to, rather than quoted, in support of this thesis. Yet Trotsky’s theory was developed in a different period to that of today. He was primarily concerned with the problems of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, and, as far as we know, few attempts have been made seriously to relate his theory to the ‘colonial revolution’ as it exists today. That is the purpose of this admittedly short pamphlet.

Because Trotsky’s book was written as a polemical document in the internal struggle within the Russian Communist Party in the late 1920s, he summarised his main ideas in a chapter towards the end of the book. It is this chapter (Chapter 10) which we reprint below and which is followed by our own critique. [1]

The main line of reasoning implicit throughout Trotsky’s thesis has in fact stood up quite well to the acid test of subsequent events. The colonial revolution is today a reality instead of something intellectually visualised, and we see clearly that the home-brewed capitalist class in the majority of the ex-colonial territories has indeed proved itself incapable of carrying out the basic political tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, that is to say, the creation of a stable national state and the solution of the agrarian question. Other forces have had to come on to the scene to do this work, or, at least, to have a shot at it.

Politically, we see this situation reflected in the manner in which one after another of these countries has been turned into one-party ‘guided democracies’ (or some such similar euphemism) run by cliques that are electorally responsible to no one other than the factions of which they are composed. The most obvious examples of this trend can be found in the Arab Middle East, where the only procedure for changing the government of the day is that of the coup d'état and ‘Leaders of the Opposition’ are often remunerated with long stretches of imprisonment or a slug of lead in the back of the neck. However, less dramatically perhaps, the same trend is evident in most of Africa and in the majority of the once-foreign-occupied Asian countries.

Parliament: It may be objected that this is a rather superficial approach to the matter, looking at the outward, legal forms rather than assessing the content. But the failure of parliamentary institutions to take root among many newly-independent states does reflect something, for such institutions were not deliberately created to ‘fool the workers’ (whatever the more cliché-minded types in the socialist movement may think to the contrary). For one thing, Parliament and even the bourgeoisie in Britain were in existence before the rise of the modern industrial working class.

Parliamentary institutions, and their continental equivalents, were the instruments forged by the emergent bourgeoisie in its struggle for state power, and, however inadequate these institutions may be today as command structures in the advanced industrial countries where the state increasingly intervenes in a complex manner in the economy, they are the only vehicle through which the bourgeoisie as a class can express its dominance in society in political terms. Authoritarian regimes, whether of the military dictatorship or the fascist kind, inevitably result in the suppression of the rights of the bourgeoisie to argue, discuss and decide the political questions of the day which affect the conditions in which their economic interests operate. Dictatorships, even if they consciously operate in the interests of capitalist society as a whole, nevertheless imply the expropriation of the political rights of the bourgeoisie and often the overriding of the economic interests of sections of that class. The examples in twentieth-century Europe where such flights from parliamentary institutions have taken place have all reflected the weakness of the bourgeoisie (Spain 1936), loss of nerve by that class (Germany 1933) or a combination of both (Italy 1922).

As the opening narrative in a current imported-from-the-USA television series, Slattery’s People, puts it neatly: ‘Democracy is a particularly bad form of government, but I ask you never to forget, all the others are so much worse.’ And this is a bourgeois point of view!

The Weakness: However, and to revert to the main theme, because of the economic and social weakness of the bourgeoisie in most of the ex-colonial territories, there is little alternative in capitalist terms to the authoritarian, bonapartist regimes which we see emerging there. The local capitalist class is generally in no position even to provide for its own economic growth, quite apart from confidently asserting its ability to take the political decisions demanded of a ruling class.

The weakness of this bourgeoisie flows from both internal and external factors. The key to the dilemma is the question of capital accumulation, which, in the majority of these countries, is extremely, almost insolubly, difficult. In Africa and Asia, for example, the very low productivity in agriculture arising from a shortage of capital among the peasantry, whether tenant or freeholding on a subsistence standard of living, and further institutional obstacles rooted in their historic past, such as tribal systems of land tenure, parasitic landlordism or an equally unproductive rural money-lending stratum, all result in a small demand for cheap, mass-produced consumption goods and therefore little inducement to invest in secondary industries.

Comprador Class: Where a prosperous peasantry has come into existence, as in parts of Uganda, the Kenya highlands, Ashanti and the Malay peninsula, it has done so by virtue of its links with international capitalism and the production of cash crops for export, such as coffee, cocoa and rubber. There is no demand for these types of commodities in the nearby urban centres, at least not for internal consumption, a complete contrast with eighteenth-century Europe where the countryside provided the food and raw material supply of the developing towns and in turn supplied a profitable market for their manufactures. In any event, these particular types of crops are sharply limited to certain restricted regions, because of their climatic and other environmental needs, and so provide no solution to the problems of underdevelopment as a whole. In addition, because they are linked with an international market such crops may create an institutional obstacle in the form of a comprador class which may oppose industrial development where this would mean a siphoning off of resources from their sector of the economy.

Town and Country: Generally the towns, often the one principal town, the capital, are sharply divorced from the countryside both economically and socially. The town tends to be an extension of the urban and industrial West by virtue of the fact that it can only exist on income derived from three main sources in various combinations. These are the proceeds from its role as a channel in the export of whatever cash crops the peasantry does produce or money parasitically siphoned off from government sources which, in turn, may be acquired from mineral royalties, if the country is lucky enough to process exploitable resources, or from ‘aid’ made available in the last analysis by the sale of votes in the ‘rotten borough’ of Manhattan. Indeed, for some of the ex-French colonies attendance at the UN is virtually their only export-oriented activity.

Within these urban centres the main industrial activity that does develop, apart from ones connected with communications, such as locomotive repair shops, is geared almost exclusively to the local urban market of white-collared workers, petty traders and a fringe element around these, all of which tend to acquire Western consumption patterns. Typical industries therefore are breweries, Cocoa Cola bottling plants, cigarette-making factories and cement and brick works. These last named provide the basis for the real estate speculation which tends to be rampant around these centres and for the erection of government administration buildings. Real estate, incidentally, provides a far more profitable outlet for funds that are accumulated than investment in small industries which demand expertise as well as capital and are often very risky. Where local capital participates with foreign firms on a so-called ‘50-50 basis’ in a big brewery, cement factory or the like, the necessary funds are often derived from accumulations of the top administrators.

A Possibility: Now, it is theoretically possible for these comprador and associated activities to result in capital accumulation taking place in the urban centres and, in the long run, to overflow into the countryside and establish the basis for a capitalist market there. There is certainly a tendency for this to take place at a very slow tempo, and given a fairly long period isolated from the effects of political and economic happenings in the rest of the world, such a development could very well reach fruition. But the embryo capitalist class in these countries is in competition with its thoroughly established opposite numbers in the industrially advanced states; it is inconceivable, for instance, that the creation of a motor-car industry could take place in the same manner as in early twentieth-century Europe, that is to say by the gradual development from a small workshop mode of production to a mass producing industry, in the face of cheaper and more efficient overseas competitors. What is more, the terms of trade are generally tending to operate against the underdeveloped countries, due to a variety of reasons, and thus it becomes even more difficult to accumulate the capital necessary to initiate industrial development. Even where successful industrial growth is taking place, and this is generally in the semi-underdeveloped countries and not the underdeveloped ones proper, the big undertakings are owned, often in conjunction with local ‘sleeping partners’, by giant foreign enterprises, which in turn further thwarts the development of a local capitalist class as distinct from a salariat. The situation generally, and in this respect in particular, is completely different from that which faced the industrial late starters in the nineteenth century, Germany and the USA for example, for, while foreign capital and credit was employed, industrial ownership and control, as opposed to ownership of utilities, such as railways, gasworks and port installations, was always vested in the local capitalist class (even if some of this ‘local’ bourgeoisie were immigrants from Caledonia). Present-day foreign aid from government sources to the underdeveloped countries also tends to go into utilities, but there is no corresponding initiative from a local capitalist class for the reasons previously outlined.

The State: This, then, is the economic basis and social pattern, necessarily oversimplified, of the bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped world, and, as we have suggested earlier, its economic and social weakness expresses itself in the last resort in the emergence of bonapartist political forms in the majority of these countries, instead of parliamentary-democratic ones. However, it would be wrong to conclude from this argument that this substitution of ruling élites for the ‘normal’ interplay of the capitalist market and traditional bourgeois political institutions takes place because the state apparatus can in fact undertake the tasks of economic development which the abortive, at best dwarfish, capitalist class there is obviously quite incapable of doing.

It may well be that the state in these countries is able to mobilise resources more effectively than any conceivable combination of home-grown, individual capitalists, that goes without saying, but the size of the problem, the fact, for example, that the resources of many of the African states do not match up to the assets of some industrial corporations in the advanced countries, makes it unlikely that the bureaucracies which are taking over can do more than better their own countries’ position vis-à-vis that of other countries in the same economic plight. This is because, though they can to some extent ‘industrialise’ to supply part of their own internal market with consumption goods, they cannot hope to compete outside this insulated framework with the vast resources of skill, labour and capital available to the giant corporations overseas who, additionally, are generally operating with a bigger and more developed home market at their disposal. Finally, in contrast to the nineteenth century, lower wage costs, the one competitive advantage enjoyed by employers in the underdeveloped countries, become decreasingly important, almost irrelevant, in the field of the highly capitalised modern growth industries of today.

Common Markets: Theoretically of course, ‘super-states’ or common markets (countries comprising, say, the Arab world or Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Zambezi) would be an answer to the problem of markets at least. But the snag with this ‘solution’ is that such super units are extremely difficult things to create by agreement even in the industrialised countries, and in the underdeveloped ones rivalries tend to be keener if anything. Naturally, there is an economic reason underlying this fact and, equally naturally, the economic ‘cause’ is magnified politically by the actions of the bureaucracies themselves. The economic motivation flows from the fact that, while the economies of the advanced countries are at any rate partly complementary to each other, those of many of the underdeveloped ones are directly competitive. That is to say, the more coffee Colombia can sell to the United States the less Brazil is able to export to that market (and vice versa), and the same applies to Uganda and Kenya and to a large number of other states engaged in the production and export of primary products.

Political Vacuum: Thus, we see that overall the opportunities for effective action by the bureaucracies in these countries is rather limited and consequently the emergence of these bonapartist forces cannot be attributed to the positive economic role which they are able to undertake. The emergence of these bureaucracies is a reflection of the absence of a capitalist class capable of acting in a political manner. In other words, while the economic weakness of the bourgeoisie in these countries is the material basis for these bonapartist forces, the appearance of the latter on the scene takes place not for strictly economic reasons, but to fill a political vacuum created by the lack of a stable and well-founded ruling class.

The glaring exception to our analysis, and it is an exception which embraces a population as large as that of all the bonapartist-run states in Africa and the Middle East put together, is India. It is an exception for the basic reasons, firstly, because parliamentary institutions and corollaries (elected local governments, the right to form organisations of a political or economic character, a free, capitalist-owned press, etc.) provide the basis for the administration of the country, and, secondly, because something of an indigenous capitalist class exists and is indisputably the ruling class of that country. To that extent, neither our general thesis nor Trotsky’s prognosis can be applied literally in this case.

India Survives: Of course, parliamentary institutions owe their being to the existence of this bourgeois class and not the other way round. Therefore the question is why the Indian bourgeoisie, almost alone, has had the strength and capacity to support the political institutions most appropriate to its class. The most striking difference between India and the rest is the sheer size of the Indian market, which may lack depth but has extent. This market is itself the product of the territorial unity imposed over a period of 100 years by colonial occupation backed up by an integrated transport system, the nineteenth-century railways. No other colonial area of such a size was administered so consistently over such a period of time as a single unit as the Indian sub-continent. This same historical experience, which provided an economic basis for the Indian bourgeoisie, also created a certain cultural and social unity within that class, and this, in turn, enabled the political elements of this bourgeoisie to lead and maintain its leadership of the struggle for national independence, for Congress after all was always very much the instrument of the bourgeoisie despite the peasant wing, led by Gandhi, which was always its puppet and of which little has been seen since Independence.

The ability of the Indian capitalist class to survive the amputation of that part of the sub-continent now known as Pakistan is itself a testimony to its intrinsic strength. But it would be a rash man who would lay even money on the continued functioning of bourgeois-democratic institutions in India ten years hence or even the political unity of that country. For the social unity of the bourgeoisie is being increasingly threatened by communal rivalries which spring from the vested interests of the vernacular-speaking petit-bourgeois and functionary strata in the different linguistic areas which lead the local peasantry. The struggle for jobs and land fuelled by religious bigotry and language chauvinism threatens Indian unity and even the very existence of the all-India bourgeoisie, because the latter certainly appears to lack the strength to destroy these reactionary forces and may be defeated by them. Parliamentary institutions therefore are not quite as soundly based there as they may seem to be, and something similar may be said of the Indian bourgeoisie’s economic basis.

Latin States: Latin America, too, does not appear at first sight to approximate to the model which we have built to explain the present state of the underdeveloped world, not because its parliamentary institutions are marginally more widespread and stable than those in Africa and Asia as a whole, but because secondary industry is developing rapidly in certain areas. Closer examination reveals, however, that the industrial expansion is practically confined to four countries, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and Brazil, which all have had different, but very peculiar, historical experiences. Mexico has certainly experienced a bourgeois-national transformation, but, significantly, this occurred before our time in the period of 1911-25 when the institutional barriers to land reform were broken, and moreover, even then, this transformation had to be consolidated under a bureaucratic, one-party set-up which still continues. Venezuela, where industry is much less developed than in the other three countries, but where it is growing fastest, is utterly dependent on the revenues of one primary product, oil, which accounts for some 80 per cent of its exports, and which is all foreign owned (no prizes are given for guessing by whom). This in itself precludes the growth of an independent, national big bourgeoisie. Both Brazil and Argentina were originally frontier lands whose agriculture from the beginning was capitalist and export oriented, whether of a plantation or ranch type, and to this extent they are similar to the United States itself. They also experienced, like the United States, an enormous wave of immigration and capital investment from 1880 to 1914. However, lacking the natural resources or even more importantly the rich internal market of the United States, and suffering the handicap of being 20 years behind the latter, they failed to achieve ‘economic take-off’ in the 1920s and paid the price for this failure when commodity prices collapsed in the 1930s, which practically destroyed the basis for their economies. Though technically and socially advanced by African and Asian standards and by general Latin American ones, they suffer today from severe bonapartist trends, reflecting the weakness of their bourgeoisie. In all four of these countries, the most modern industries, if not always entirely foreign-owned, are almost entirely overseas controlled. Their exports of manufactures are exceedingly small and uncompetitive.

Conquistadors: The rest of the Latin American republics, with the partial exception of Chile and Uruguay, show a pattern of development strikingly similar in economic terms to that of Africa and Asia, though their general economic level is rather higher. In their case, however, due to a peculiar historical experience which began with the ‘conquistadors’, the forms of tribalism and communalism common on the older continents were broken down and a semi-feudalistic system of land tenure was imposed. As a result the forms of bonapartism thrown up in Latin America reflect the deeply entrenched, highly reactionary, pre-bourgeois-rooted ruling classes rather than the conditions of a partial class vacuum typified by the bureaucratic, one-party states frequent in Africa. Uruguay managed to create a prosperous economy based on primary products and a commercial bourgeoisie, but lacks industry of the kind possessed by Argentina and Brazil, while Chile falls into a category in between that of the ‘frontier’ and ‘Andean Indian’ republics. Both of these countries are politically stable by Latin American norms (Uruguay has not had a coup d'état since the early days of the century). But the fragile base of their economies makes them ill-fitted to withstand the winds of unfavourable economic trade conditions, and the political unrest in other parts of the sub-continent is now beginning to blow with some force.

Backwaters: Lastly, and to conclude this catalogue of ‘exceptions’ which overall tend to prove the rule rather than invalidate it, mention must be made of a couple of places in the underdeveloped world where the local capitalist class is doing very well, growing apace and fulfilling its basic economic task of capital accumulation: Puerto Rico and Hong Kong. A study of these two backwaters would be an interesting, entertaining academic exercise but would contribute little to an understanding of trends in the underdeveloped world in general. It is sufficient to note here that the capitalist class in neither of these appendages (respectively of the US and the UK) wants either national independence or a chance to carry out the bourgeois-nationalist political task of nation building. Their present prosperity and economic place in the sun largely rests on the fact that they function in territories which are colonies and not ex-colonies of bigger powers.

Workers’ Role: One would hope that the evidence which we have produced in the first part of this critique substantiates our contention at the outset that Trotsky was right when he argued that the bourgeoisie in the colonial countries would be incapable of carrying out the historic tasks of its class. However, when one turns to the second main pillar of his argument on this theme, his prognosis concerning the manner in which these tasks could be fulfilled, it would seem to most people that he could not have been more wrong. For Trotsky not only argued that it would be possible for the small, but historically important, proletariat in these countries to complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution in the course of its own revolution, but he also contended that this would be the only way in which the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, in particular the solution of the agrarian problem, could be resolved. Moreover, he further argued that the working class in these countries would have to play the leading role in relation to the peasant masses, and to that extent the vanguard party of the working class (which to Trotsky at that time still meant the Communist Party) would itself reflect the leading role of the class. Yet the one common denominator in all the various revolutions and upheavals that have taken place in the past decade or so of colonial revolution has been the absence of the working class as a significant political force.

Main Force: In the Chinese revolution it was the peasant armies created in the borderlands between Russian, Japanese and Kuomintang control that finally destroyed the rotten, old regime. It is true that the Communist Party cadres who built and led this military force often had their own social origins in the towns, having been either workers or, more often, intellectuals. But the Chinese Communist Party had physically divorced itself from the urban centres by the strategy which it adopted after the defeats it suffered at Shanghai and Canton in the late 1920s. The decision to embark on guerrilla warfare, followed even more decisively by the ‘Long March’ into the wilderness of the far North-West (1933-36), meant that for roughly 20 years the Chinese Communist Party was based primarily on the countryside, and, for most of the time, on a remote segment of it. Consequently, the town proletariat did not and could not play the leading role in the destruction of the old order, nor any significant role at all, despite the fact that the Chinese working class had seemed in the middle 1920s to be potentially the most revolutionary force in Asia.

And Algeria: Something similar can be said about the even more recent Algerian war of independence. Again, the struggle was launched and fought for the most part in the countryside. Again, the revolutionary armed forces were recruited almost overwhelmingly from the ranks of the peasantry. And again, all this despite the fact that the Algerian town proletariat too had previously looked like being the country’s main revolutionary stratum. In Algeria the process of the ‘neutralisation’ of the urban working class went further. Firstly, the old political and industrial organisations of the class (those around Massali Hadj) were pushed by events and the enmity of the new, middle-class, revolutionary leaders (of the FLN) into running their own, separate ‘Liberation’ movement. Later, elements in this movement, who were already being ‘gunned down’ by the new ‘Front’, began to adopt a ‘neutral’ or even ‘coexistence’ position in relation to the French occupying power. Meanwhile, there was an increased efflux of Algerian workers going to France to work, partly stemming from the conditions resulting from the war in Algeria itself and partly as a consequence of the economic boom in France, which acted as a magnet for these workers.

Cuba Also: The Cuban revolution is yet another example of the same trend of non-participation by the town proletariat in the business of destroying the old set-up, though, in this instance, the class relationships perhaps appear to be somewhat modified by the fact that a considerable section of the Cuban rural population were not peasants at all but landless, wage-earning agricultural labourers. However, the fact remains that the urban working class proper did not really come into the picture until the ‘Fidelista’ forces from the countryside actually took over the towns, or were on the point of doing so, and it is significant that the revolt began precisely in an area where the plantation economy didn’t operate and which was in fact inhabited mostly by peasants. What is more, some of the old industrial and political organisations of the urban proletariat were to some extent or other actually loosely allied to the Batista dictatorship until quite late in the day, and, ironically enough, one of these was the original, local Communist Party.

One can also instance the example of the Egyptian revolution, in which the new middle-class leaders, in the shape of a clique of army officers, were able to overturn the old regime and destroy the effendi stratum of the local bourgeoisie, which was the comprador agent of foreign interests, without even going through the exercise of mobilising the peasantry. Perhaps the most striking of all, however, are the examples of the many new African states which came into independent existence with the agreement of the old regime, which in turn simply packed its political bags and went back home without putting up a real fight.

Of course one cannot equate Ghana with China, or Egypt with Cuba, either in terms of the overall character of the respective revolutions or from the angle of the social and political orders which have since emerged from them. But in each case, and in every example previously mentioned, the country in question has at least achieved its political independence from the imperialist power or powers which once either physically occupied it or held it in some more indirect form of tutelage. And this has happened in a manner which Trotsky certainly didn’t foresee and in circumstances which Trotsky implicitly ruled out. It has happened without the intervention of the urban proletariat as a class.

The Distinction: Nevertheless, despite this stressed-at-some-length common denominator, a clear distinction can and should be drawn between the four ‘Stalinist'-type states in the underdeveloped bracket – China, North Korea, North Vietnam and Cuba – and the rest of the ‘emergent’ nations who can be collectively characterised as capitalist states. At first sight, this may seem to be a rather sweeping sort of statement, if not an absolutely dogmatic one, for, after all, many of the ex-colonial countries labelled as ‘capitalist’ have in fact similar kinds of political superstructures and even similar forms of property relations in parts of their economies to the ‘Stalinist four’, and, additionally, few of them have easily recognisable, entrenched capitalist classes on the advanced, Western world pattern (to revert for a moment to the main theme of the first part of this critique).

In Egypt, for example, much of the country’s admittedly limited industrial capacity is under state ownership in one form or another, while in Burma, to take another case, the nationalised sector of the economy not only embraces most types of industrial and commercial activity but even some kinds of petty retailing as well. Or again, Algeria, under Ben Bella’s regime, acquired a ‘Workers’ Self-Management’ law as an integral part of its Constitution, which, incidentally, is more than China has got.

Conscious Copying: Actually, it is not really surprising that many of the underdeveloped states in the ‘capitalist’ category have outward trappings resembling those of their Stalinist counterparts, because, for one thing, a good deal of conscious copying has been indulged in by some of the leaders of some of these states. In fact, the present situation in this particular respect forcibly reminds one of the pre-war wave of political trouser-stealing, when every reactionary, would-be dictator seized on the paraphernalia and jargon of fascism and decked out his own thugs in shirts of various sombre hues, irrespective of whether or not the social basis for a fascist movement proper really existed in his particular country. In our time, it is socialist symbols and rhetoric and Stalinist organisational forms that are being taken over and appropriated, admittedly, in most instances, by men who are certainly not ‘reactionary’ in any historical sense or vis-à-vis the old colonial powers, but who, on the other hand, are neither socialists nor the creators or ‘protectors’ of the transitional economic foundations of a socialist society. In Cambodia there is even a ‘Royal Socialist Youth Movement’.

Sheer imitation, conscious or otherwise, is, however, about the least important factor making for the surface similarities between the Stalinist group of underdeveloped states and many of the ‘capitalist’ ones in the same economic category. In fact, the trend towards imitative borrowing of Stalinist organisational models by some of the leaders of states in this last category itself flows from the existence of certain actual likenesses in internal set-ups, which, in turn, act as an inducement to copying proper. So, in this respect, imitation is more of a symptom than a reason or a cause, though it still has the effect of heightening the overall impression of sameness of the states in question.

Likenesses: The actual likenesses referred to are most obvious on the political plane. Both the four ‘Stalinist’ states under scrutiny and most of the ‘capitalist’ ones in question have what can be perhaps best described as ‘bureaucratic’ type regimes. They have one-party political set-ups, they are dictatorships of one kind or another. But this does not mean or imply that the basic character of the states termed ‘the Stalinist four’ is the same or similar to the others, or that the distinction drawn here and earlier on is an arbitrary and meaningless one. Far from it: history is rich in examples (if that is the right phrase) of states based on radically different social systems which, nevertheless, had broad similar political superstructures, and, again, of states with identical basic class structures which yet had opposite sorts of political set-ups. Nazi Germany, for instance, was a capitalist state with an economically functioning capitalist class, just like Britain then and now. At the same time, unlike Britain but just like Russia under Stalin and since, Germany was then ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship, yet Russia had no capitalist class or stock exchange to go with it, and Nazi Germany did. Actually, the political superstructure of a country gives no real clue to the basic character of the society within it, to the basic class relationships. All that the existence of a bureaucratic or dictatorial regime does tell one is that the dominant economic class in that society (the capitalist class in Nazi Germany or the working class in Russia) has lost its political powers to a clique. As a measurement of the condition of a given society this can be quite informative, for it is an indication of abnormality and invites enquiry as to the reasons for such manifestations. But on its own, and without a parallel identification of the kind of basic social system operating in the country in question, the knowledge that the state apparatus is in the hands of bonapartist-style political forces doesn’t lead anywhere. It is like trying to diagnose an ailment in a dinosaur by its body temperature without knowing what that ought to be in the first place.

However, before pursuing further this particular line of reasoning, before attempting to substantiate the argument that there is a basic difference between the two groups of underdeveloped states being discussed, it is perhaps necessary, firstly, to look once more at the similarities between them, this time in the economic field, if only finally to dispose of this particular red herring.

Economic Field: The fact that many of the underdeveloped states, defined here as ‘capitalist’, have economies dominated by a nationalised sector, at least as far as industry is concerned, leads many people to believe that these states are either ‘socialist’ to some degree or other or are similar at least in their make-up to the Stalinist group. Yet nationalisation itself is neither a socialist property form nor a criterion as to whether or not a country is heading in the general direction of socialism. Nationalisation generally means state ownership and consequently everything depends in this context on what the character of that state happens to be, whether it is a capitalist state defending in general the property relations of capitalism or whether it is some sort of ‘workers’ state’ bent on breaking down those property relations. Lenin, incidentally, didn’t regard Bolshevik Russia’s economy of the early 1920s as ‘socialist’ because industry in general was state-owned. On the contrary, he argued that, because capitalist property relations, and even remnants of pre-capitalist ones, remained the norm in the country as a whole, the state-owned industrial sector couldn’t be regarded as more than ‘state capitalist’ at best. But he also argued, at the same time, that the ‘workers’ state’ in Russia could utilise state ownership as a transitional property form in its struggle against capitalism both in Russia and on a world scale.

Weaknesses: It is true that state ownership is contrary to the whole ethos of capitalism, that, ideally, the whole of a capitalist economy should be in the hands of private capitalists and combinations of private capitalists. To that extent, the appearance of nationalisation in countries with a specifically capitalist-oriented state structure reflects the weaknesses of the capitalist class, which, for one reason or another, is unable to manage certain sectors of the economy. This is certainly the case in most of the underdeveloped countries labelled here as capitalist, just as it is the case even in advanced industrialised countries like Britain where the state-owned sector of the economy accounts for just under 20 per cent of the Gross National Product. But weaknesses on the part of the capitalist class, relative to the capitalist ideal norm, or even the puny character of the capitalist class by any standards in many of the underdeveloped capitalist countries, doesn’t mean that capitalist property relations have generally ceased to exist or are on the point of doing so. Since industry in many of these countries comprises only a fragment of the total economy, a wholly state-owned industrial sector can often account for a lesser percentage of the total GNP than the state sector does in Britain, France and other Western European states, and, consequently, the overall property relations remain either those of a capitalist character or, more often than not, a combination of capitalist and pre-capitalist forms. In fact, the failure to eradicate the remnants of pre-capitalist property relationships in the countryside is one of the most distinguishing differences between those ('capitalist’) countries and the four underdeveloped states of the Stalinist bloc.

Historic Task: It was earlier argued that the creation of an independent national state and the carrying out of the agrarian revolution were, according to Marxist theory, the two principal historic tasks of the bourgeois-democratic, that is capitalist, revolution. It was also argued, and one would hope demonstrated, in the first part of this pamphlet, that most of the underdeveloped states in the ‘capitalist’ category had signally failed to complete the second of these: property relations in the countryside have often remained a bastardised mixture of pre-capitalist forms, elements of feudal-style practices, subsistence farming, etc, in various conflicting combinations, with a monetary structure overlaid on top, which, in turn, is generally in some distorted and elementary form, such as that represented by the money-lending fraternity.

Now the point here is not that ‘feudalism’ or some other pre-capitalist social structure is operating in a classic mode in the agricultural sectors of these economies or that some of these states are semi-feudal in character or some such thing. On the contrary, the old, pre-capitalist property relations were breaking down, even in the countryside, long before most of these states achieved political independence, that is, during the period of occupation by the colonial powers that had arrived on the scene. Nor is it being argued that the continued existence of a hybrid cocktail of antiquated property forms in the rural areas is because some of the leaders of some of these states have not taken sufficiently vigorous measures on an administration level to eradicate them, though this is a factor in a few instances. The real point is that, even where governments have made some sort of legislative and executive attempts to bring to an end, say, the systems of land tenure based on the sharing of the crop with the landlord or labouring on the landowners’ estate in lieu of rent, etc, the new property relations of capitalism have been slow in developing.

In fact, the immediate effect of land reform, the breaking up or scaling down of the great estates and the distribution of some of the land involved to landless peasants, has often been to extend the system of subsistence farming in the areas concerned, and this, if anything, has had the further effect of further retarding the development of a money economy and capitalist property relations in those areas.

Rural India: Rural India provides an excellent case-study of the problem, despite the fact that the country as a whole is something of a showpiece for capitalist development and bourgeois-democratic institutions in the underdeveloped world. Ideally from a capitalist standpoint, the breaking up of the ‘Zamindari'-type estates should be followed fairly quickly by the rise of a ‘kulak’ class of wealthy farmers, employing labour in a capitalist manner and producing for the market. But this can only happen as a general process and in a reasonably rapid way if a large number of small, subsistence and semi-subsistence type farmers sell their holdings to the better-off peasants who will constitute this stratum. And that can only happen if industry in the cities, etc., is expanding sufficiently fast to require a constant stream of immigrants from the rural areas. Otherwise the subsistence farmer stays on his plot, even when that means slowly starving or going to the money-lender and postponing starvation, often actual starvation, until next year. Even starvation, however, and perhaps much to the regret of academic bourgeois economists, doesn’t solve this problem of rural capitalist development. The birth-rate among the peasantry just above the starvation level more than keeps pace with the premature deaths in other families, and a further fragmentation of holdings occurs as one generation is replaced by the next in this hitherto just-above-the-line layer.

Widespread subsistence farming, together with farming of a semi-subsistence character, where the family cash income derived from the sale of produce may amount to no more than £10 a year, also means that the possibilities for capital accumulation in the countryside are severely limited and production techniques as a consequence tend to be ossified on an extremely primitive level, perpetuating the seemingly unbreakable cycle of abject poverty and occurring bouts of famine proper. The capital which is available is in the towns and, since speculation in urban property is far more profitable than investment in agriculture, it stays there or migrates into Swiss bank accounts. This situation, in turn, effectively checks the development of a capitalist ‘market’ in the rural areas, except in a rudimentary and generally parasitic form. The peasantry simply don’t have the money to buy the industrial produce of the cities in any quantity, and the two-way trade that does take place between the rural and urban areas, as a result, goes through a whole chain of intermediaries with disastrous results in times of food shortages and stagnatory effects on the whole economy in ‘normal’ ones.

This is nothing more than the bare bones of the ‘agrarian problem’ in just one underdeveloped country and it is a far from complete skeleton at that. But it does give some idea of the size of the problem which is common, in one form or another and with some differences outside the confines of Asia, to all the ‘emergent states’ in the capitalist category who have achieved national independence with this dilemma as a part of their heritage, that is, the majority of them. And, as has been said before, none of these new states has been able to solve its rural problem, one of the two main historic tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, or show any evidence of being able to do so in the foreseeable future.

In Contrast: In contrast, in China, North Korea and North Vietnam, the Stalinist states in the Far East, the ‘agrarian revolution’ has been carried out. Every serious bourgeois economist agrees that in China, where the problem was infinitely greater than in the other two, or in India for that matter, the semi-feudal system of land tenure has been completely eradicated. Not only has ‘landlordism’ (and ‘landlordism’ in the Asian sense) been smashed, but, simultaneously, through the collectivisation of agriculture on a vast scale, the economically stagnatory fragmentation of holdings has also been brought to an end. Of equal importance, the creation of large agricultural units of production has made possible a distributive system between the urban and rural areas which is at least far superior to the rudimentary chain-of-intermediaries set-up common to India and most of the underdeveloped countries in the capitalist bracket, particularly those in Asia. The fourth underdeveloped Stalinist state, Cuba, has not been mentioned in this context until now simply because Cuba, prior to Castro’s take-over, never had this sort of complicated, pre-capitalistic system of land tenure. The US-owned sugar plantations which existed there have, of course, been expropriated since.

This statement of fact about what the Asian Stalinist states, and in particular China, have achieved in forms of the ‘agrarian revolution’ doesn’t mean that socialists need to, or should, justify the manner in which some of these things were done. On the contrary, all the evidence available points to the conclusion that the forced collectivisation campaigns, the squeezing of the peasantry to pay for the paranoiacally ambitious industrial and military programmes, the colossal blunders stemming from bureaucratically conceived and dogmatically applied central plans, etc., were not only un-socialistically inhuman but also wasteful in human and material resources as well. As much, if not more, could have been achieved over the time-span in question, the old structure could have been broken down just as effectively, by methods which brought the mass of the population into the business of active planning, instead of relegating them to the role of acting on orders from above.

Indeed, it is precisely because of the bureaucratic and monolithic character of the Chinese and other Stalinist regimes, which finds its reflection in just those sort of ‘excesses’, that supporters of the ideas of Leon Trotsky (such as Socialist Current) designated those states as deformed workers’ states instead of ‘workers’ states’ pure and simple.

The Determinant: But the deformed, bureaucratic character of the political superstructure of the Stalinist states doesn’t alter the fact that the class relationships in those states are different to those of the capitalist bloc, no more than the deformed, bureaucratic character of the political superstructure in states like Ghana alters the fact that such countries are based on the class relationships of capitalism. For it is not just a question of the exact kind of property relationships that currently exist in the agrarian sectors of the countries’ economies, even though the agricultural sectors may be the biggest ones in terms of the population involved. More important, from the standpoint of determining the basic character of the country in question, is the kind of property relations and class relationships which are evolving in the country as a whole, and, in particular, in the urban centres which are the ‘wave of the future’. By that measurement, it can be said with certainty that, although the present property relations in the agrarian sectors of many of the underdeveloped countries in the capitalist category are pre-capitalistic to some extent or other, the character of the state in all these countries is capitalist and what is struggling to emerge (be it unsuccessfully) in the countryside is nothing else but capitalism. On the other hand, the character of the state in the countries of the Stalinist group, including the four underdeveloped ones, is distinctly non-capitalist, by any measurement, and the property relations that are evolving are even more obviously so.

Not Hamstrung: There is no capitalist as such, no stock exchange, and economic development plans do not have to be formulated ‘so as not to interfere with the delicate market mechanising of a free economy’, as in the case of Britain’s so-called National Plan, from which this gem of a quote is taken). In addition, though nearly all the Stalinist states, with the possible exception of out-of-this-world Albania, do trade with the capitalist countries, none of their economies is sufficiently integrated with the international market of capitalism to be dependent upon it. The contrast between the four underdeveloped Stalinist states and the rest of the ‘emergent’ countries in this respect is particularly striking, since the latter are continually forced to take into account conditions in the international market and are quite often hamstrung in their development by it. And this contrast is itself an indirect reflection of the difference in social systems.

Trotsky’s Thesis: Perhaps, for the purposes of this critique, it is unnecessary to labour the question of the detailed differences further. What is relevant here is the fact that there are two fundamentally different groups of underdeveloped states with fundamentally different kinds of class relationships and that one of these groups of states has proved conclusively from the positive angle that Trotsky was right when he argued that the historic tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and in particular that one relating to the ‘agrarian question’, could only be fulfilled in the economically backward countries in our times by going beyond bourgeois property and class relationships. And this despite the fact that in these ‘workers’ states’ the working class is deprived of its political rights by the bureaucracies which are superimposed on them, despite the fact that these states are politically deformed and lack much of the drive which healthy workers’ states would have, yes, and despite the fact that the bureaucrats who run these states, Stalin’s heirs and successors, will foam at the mouth at any suggestion that what has been accomplished in the countryside in their states is a living proof of a thesis of Leon Trotsky.

However, neither the distinction drawn between the two groups of underdeveloped states nor the proof of Trotsky’s thesis on the need to go beyond the relationships of capitalism in order to accomplish its historic tasks, answers in itself the question raised earlier as to why the working class has played no more than a passive role in the struggles for national independence, etc, in either group of countries, in sharp contradistinction to the prognosis of Trotsky on the subject. In a sense the business of categorising the two sorts of underdeveloped states has been a tangent away from the main theme, but a necessary one, because the kind of new national states which have come into existence in the backward areas of the world in the last two decades owe a large part of their character to this lack of working-class leadership, and, at the same time, some of the political forces involved in the creation and subsequent evolution of these states represent a fair slice of the reasons for its inactivity. In other words, the tangent was included in order to provide a general background (or foreground) for a more detailed examination of what really went wrong in this respect.

Again India: Now, as most people in politics are only too well aware, and it has been stated or implied in this critique several times already, the general trend in the underdeveloped world has been for the struggles for national independence to be carried out by political or military-style organisations led by middle-class politicians, with bonapartist states being the outcome of the process in the great majority of the new states, including the Stalinist ones. The one important exception to the trend, and this too has been indicated already, is India. Here, if anywhere, the working class was put to the test, for, though it was numerically small in relation to the total population, then as now, it was comparatively long-established, fairly homogeneous and had behind itself a tradition of political struggle, both in defence of its own, immediate interests and also in relation to that very fight for national independence which, at the crunch, it failed to lead. India is undoubtedly the best starting point for an enquiry on this score.

There are two main reasons why the Indian working class failed to supplant the bourgeoisie as the leaders of the struggle in its final stages. Firstly, there is the fact that even in India, and despite the struggles of the 1930s and 1940s, independence was ultimately conceded partially by default: that while a tremendous revolutionary potential existed among the Indian working class, before things reached a climax the British state apparatus had already announced its intention of withdrawing from the field. The decision to concede independence partly stemmed from the weaknesses of the British capitalist class and its state machine after the enervating years of war. But the prospect of a bitter and bloody struggle with forces welling up from below, with the Indian working class in particular, which seemed inevitable in the end, also contributed to the British government’s decision to do a deal with the Indian bourgeoisie and to do it then Naturally, the British state apparatus attempted to get the best deal possible in terms of ‘British interests’ in general, that is commercial capitalist interests, and also in relation to its own ideas about ‘Imperial Defence’ interests, the balance of power in Asia, etc. The creation of a separate Muslim state, that is now known as Pakistan, is a reflection of the fact that it was a deal: the Indian bourgeoisie were simply neither strong enough nor courageous enough to fight for the creation of a unified sub-continent. Only the working class of this great peninsula would have been in a position to cut across the artificial boundaries of politics tied to religious creed, to have created a united front based on class interests and class goals; that is, if it had been leading the fight instead of being led.

Working Class: The second reason for the failure of the Indian working class to fulfil the role ascribed for it by Trotsky is somewhat more complicated, and, in order to understand it, it is necessary to realise initially that the term ‘working class’, in and of itself, is nothing more than an abstraction as far as politics are concerned. A working class has to be conceived, not only in relation to the industrial and social conditions which give it consciousness as a class, but also in relation to its level of consciousness and its relationship to political parties. The parties which it throws up, in particular those which attract and lead the most conscious section of it, are often of decisive importance in crucial periods, because they often determine whether the working class acts or doesn’t. While the working class, from an historical long-term standpoint, is the only social body able fundamentally to change society and at the same time create the alternative, stable social organism of the new society, because of its internally contradictory and unwieldy structure, it can only act decisively through an instrument like a party. The working class in fact goes through various phases of conscious development and in the process often through allegiances to various parties, and while, from an historical angle, the role of the individual party can be exaggerated, from a short-term standpoint it can be decisive. When we realise that crucial and revolutionary periods occur only infrequently, that they are exceptional, the question of which party the mass of the working class gives its support to at certain times is underlined in its importance.

Passive: In India, the major party of the working class was the Communist Party. But that party, during the crucial period of the war years and just after, before the ‘Cold War’ broke out, was collaborating with the British Imperial government while the bourgeois nationalist politicians of the Congress Party, on the other hand, were not only waging a struggle against British rule but going to jail for it too. The consequent demoralisation and confusion among the best elements in the Indian working class resulted in the bourgeois nationalists having it all their own way, with most workers tail-ending their own, local exploiters in opposition to the foreign oppressors.

Yet, though on the surface this Indian road to independence through the national bourgeoisie looks like an almost classic nineteenth-century affair, in fact it was not. On the one hand, independence in India was conceded without a bloody struggle to the bitter end. In fact, the former occupiers of the country and their senior partner in the ‘free world’ of capitalism, the US government, have since gone out of their way to prop up the new rulers of the country, its former enemies, with loans, subsidies and gifts of all sorts and are doing so to this very day. This in itself is a far cry from the nineteenth century, when struggles for national independence were waged against the odds and, where successful, were the basis for a virile private-ownership capitalism and a dynamic capitalist class. And again, and on the other hand, the very manner in which the Indian working class almost passively tail-ended the bourgeois nationalists in the final stages of the independence struggle is also quite unlike the nineteenth century, when the workers and petty artisans bore the brunt of these kinds of struggles on behalf of the bourgeoisie. This, curiously enough, confirmed a key proposition in Permanent Revolution: the one that national independence in the colonial territories could not be brought about by the native bourgeoisie with the mass, active support of the working class. The twin conditions for a successful bourgeois outcome to the independence struggle in India was that this independence should be obtained by agreement with the foreign occupying power and its bourgeoisie and that the working class should not play more than a semi-passive role in the ultimate stages.

Apathy: It is precisely this question of apathy among the working class, and more often than not the fact that the working class in many of the underdeveloped countries is so small as to be non-existent for practical political purposes, which has largely determined the general pattern and character of the independence struggles in the underdeveloped world as a whole. The armed struggles for national liberation, etc., reflect the lack of working-class participation and leadership as much as the instances where independence has been conceded around a table in a committee room in the SW1 district of London. Whereas in Russia in Tsarist times the terrorist movements against the oppression of the old order reached an impasse and were incapable of bringing about the downfall of the existing state apparatus, despite the fact that the terrorist movements had a long tradition and contained within themselves some of the best people in Russian society, in the underdeveloped world of today terrorist-type movements are often the harbingers of a successful revolution. In one country after another, the national liberation struggle has taken the form of small, terrorist-style squads operating in inaccessible parts of the country, gradually enlarging their activities to the level of full-scale guerrilla movements in the countryside generally, with the struggle coming to the towns only later and usually taking the form of acts of terrorism, often acts of individual terrorism, and with the object being as much to create the situation where the mass of the population is compelled to ‘choose’ between the terrorists and the foreign occupiers as it is to damage or destroy those occupiers directly. Yet this struggle, which seems more in character with the pre-working-class era than the contemporary one, has generally been successful where similar types of onslaughts against the Tsarist regime in Russia never got beyond the first stage of individual assassination and never gathered mass support. The reason for this difference in outcomes is that, in Russia, a small, but closely organised, working class appeared on the scene and through the parties to which it gave its allegiance, particularly the Bolshevik Party, it put its stamp on history, whereas the opposite is the case in the countries where contemporary movements of revolt have been successful. In these countries, the working class was either too small to be effective or almost non-existent, or, again, virtually immobilised by circumstances, as in the case of Algeria where it emigrated to France.

In China: Actually, the first of the modern, post-war revolutions was the Chinese Revolution and this has, with modifications, become the accepted pattern of struggle in other countries, even where the conditions and circumstances were not the same. Because the Chinese Communist Party had built itself an independent base in the wild north-west borderlands of China in the days following its defeat in the towns in the late 1920s, it was able to organise a peasant army which was not dependent on the working class, and, by creating first a state and military machine in the borderlands, was able to take over the rest of the country in the period following World War Two. What the working class in the big towns did or did not do, and there were some struggles taking place there at various times, didn’t basically affect the outcome under these circumstances. In the past too, the Chinese peasantry, in common with peasants in other countries, including those in the West, were used as soldiery by local warlords and the like in bids to bring about the downfall of the reigning Emperor. But these kinds of ‘insurrections’, even where they were successful, didn’t alter the social structure in the country or the general class and property relations. All that happened was that the composition and relations within the ruling class underwent some changes of a personal character, with, perhaps, some alteration in the political superstructure now and again. The Chinese Communist Party, on the other hand, used the descendants of these same peasants, not merely to change the government, but as a battering ram to destroy the old order in its entirety. What has been established since, as we have seen before, is neither a variant of the old semi-feudal set-up, nor some kind of capitalist society, but instead the transitional forms of a new society which is neither feudal nor capitalist.

Dominant Class: But, though the Chinese peasantry provided the manpower to overthrow the old regime, the new social set-up which is being created is not one in which the peasantry have become the new socially dominant class. The Stalinist regime in China doesn’t even ‘rest’ (for its support) on the peasantry. On the contrary, it has been the consistent policy of the new regime to do everything possible to break down the peasantry as a class and to transform them into a rural proletariat. The ‘collective farm’ and its extension the ‘commune’ are a sort of half-way house in this process of turning petty ‘land-owners’ of allotment-size plots into straight wage earners. The class on which the Stalinist regime in China rests is precisely the class which did not provide the main manpower in the final stages of the struggle against the old regime, the urban working class. Not only is this class acclaimed as the new ruling class by China’s leaders, not only is it elevated above the peasantry by means of a higher standard of living and fringe benefits of a welfare state character which the peasantry doesn’t enjoy, but it is in fact the dominant social class in Chinese society. For the bureaucracy is not itself a class, but a stratum or caste which acts in a parasitic fashion on the main dominant class, in much the same way as the Nazi bureaucracy in Germany was not a class in itself but a clique which was imposed on the existing ruling, capitalist class.

Look Alike: Here, incidentally, one finds a significant difference between the Stalinist kind of class orientation and that of regimes like that of Nasser in Egypt, which often look so much alike judged only by the form of political superstructure. However much Nasser and some of his imitators in other bonapartist bourgeois states talk about their particular brands of ‘socialism’, the fact is that they go out of their way to preserve the hierarchal set-up in the villages which are generally based on the wealthier peasants and the smaller of the real landowners of the locality. In fact, they attempt to utilise this element as a prop for their regimes.

Bonapartist: The rapidity with which the Chinese Communist Party leaders switched their base from the peasantry to the workers, no sooner had the former occupied the towns for them, is a reflection of two things about the Communist Party: its roots and its leaders’ attitude. Despite the long period of separation from the main centres, the Communist Party remained a working-class party by virtue of its traditions, birth, history and basic philosophy. But the long years of isolation from the working class, together with the fact that it had built a state apparatus of its own in the borderlands which became interwoven with the party machine itself, had the effect of distorting the whole pattern of the Chinese Communist Party’s actions and outlook, transforming it in the process from a fairly normal, though somewhat bureaucratic, workers’ party (as it was in the late 1920s) into a bonapartist workers’ party. It was precisely this bonapartist character, reflected in the fact that the workers had no direct or even indirect influence in it, that gave the Chinese Communist Party its manoeuvrability: the ability to play off successively the richer peasants against the absentee landlords, the middle peasants against the richer ones and so on in a completely cynical and essentially bonapartist way. The Stalinist victory over the Kuomintang in 1949 certainly proved that it was possible for the social revolution to be carried out without the leadership and the core of the struggle being that of the working class itself. But such a ‘working-class’ conquest of power could only take place under conditions where, among other things, the old regime was so rotten that it required only a substantial violent blow to destroy it and, at the same time, the type of regime which emerged from such a distorted conquest of power could not be other than bureaucratic.

A Model: Naturally the Chinese Revolution has become something of a model for other underdeveloped countries, for, apart from anything else, many of the conditions which made it possible for the Chinese Stalinists to attain power in the way they did also operate or operated in these other countries. The very rottenness of the foreign-dependent status quo regimes, or the extreme weakness of the colonial ones, has meant that substitute forces, the army, the peasantry organised by middle-class elements from the towns, and so on, have been able to overthrow the old order, which would otherwise have been only possible if the working class had actually taken the lead. The fact, to take the more extreme example of some of the former British colonies, that independence has often been granted around the conference table without even an armed struggle or, to take Kenya, after one which was militarily and politically of a very low order, is itself a reflection of these comparatively easy conditions of today which Trotsky certainly didn’t foresee.

More Violent: Nevertheless, the Stalinist conquests of power in the underdeveloped world have been far more violent affairs and have involved far greater degrees of mass struggle than those which have resulted in bonapartist-type ‘capitalist’ states. This is not an accident, for what the Stalinists sought to achieve was fought against far more fiercely internally and externally, and this, in turn, created the conditions for even greater mass participation of the peasant populations. The only instance where this kind of mass participation took place outside of the Stalinist revolutions was that of Algeria and part of the consequences of that struggle was that for a time Algeria had a foot in both world camps. This effect was not due to the peasantry becoming a ‘vanguard class’ or something of that description. In fact the peasantry showed in various ways in the period immediately after the end of the Algerian war that it was worn out and completely apathetic, that it didn’t care which of the various nationalist factions ran the country as long as there was no more fighting. But the very bitterness and prolonged character of the struggle against the French resulted in the leadership moving further and further to the left, but in an essentially bonapartist fashion. The final ousting of Ben Bella by the army, which had put him into power in the first place, indicates just how bonapartist and fragilely based this leftward movement was.

Our Epoch: It would be unreal, however, to seek the explanation of the successes of the colonial revolution, both in its Stalinist aspects and in its bonapartist bourgeois ones, simply on the level of the internal conditions in the countries concerned or in relation to the circumstances in which the former occupiers or rulers found themselves when they quit. All previous revolutions, certainly since the great French Revolution one and a half centuries ago, have had to maintain the new orders which they have thrown up against active military opposition from surrounding countries after its own native reactionaries had been defeated. The coming into existence of the present Russian state, with its growing strength, has altered the whole pattern of world politics, and not least in this respect. The very fact that there are now two contending power blocs based upon two different social systems, which is the dominant feature of our epoch, has been of decisive influence on both the Stalinist-led revolutions and the colonial struggles for national independence in general. The Chinese Communist Party almost certainly wouldn’t have achieved the conquest of power in the first place without the existence of the USSR. In all probability, the Chinese Revolution would have been destroyed in a long and fruitless war in which the United States government would have thrown in everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink. But even if the civil war had resulted in ‘success’ for the Chinese Communist Party, even if its leaders had been able to set up an alternative government to that of Chiang Kai-Shek, it is absolutely definite that they would not have been able subsequently to create and maintain a planned economy of the type defined: not alone in the world and in a country ten times more backward than Tsarist Russia on top of it. Whatever Mao may think to the contrary, a semi-artificial workers’ party of a bonapartist type, like the Chinese Communist Party, would have been rapidly absorbed by the milieu around it, the new state itself would have reverted to some sort of bourgeois one at best, but for the existence of a counter-weight to the north and west, in the form of a planned economic system covering one-sixth of the globe.

Basic Conflict: This general proposition applies with equal force to the other and weaker newly-independent states: and not just to the other three Stalinist states either, but to almost all of those in the capitalist category as well. If it had not been for the existence of the struggle between the power blocs, a struggle between groups of states based on two different kinds of social systems and much more bitter and intractable because of it, few, if any, of these states, with the just possible exception of India, would have even seen the light of independence day. In none of the former colonial countries characterised here as capitalist were the foreign occupiers actually thrown out, in most cases they simply withdrew, in face of nationalist movements that were hardly capable of raising real ‘civil disorders’. Even in the case of Algeria, the French finally withdrew rather than go on fighting, they certainly were not thrown into the sea. And, in general, the considerations which made for the decisions to withdraw were either directly or indirectly tied up with the politics of the ‘Cold War’. For one thing, the great confrontation in Europe in the 1950s obviously inhibited the governments of the major capitalist powers from tying down men and resources in the colonies, while the prospect that ‘the other side’ might intervene in any serious struggle that might break out in these territories, extending in that sense both the area and the intensity of the confrontation, edged them step by step towards a deal with the colonial nationalist leaders. And, again, there was the pressure which the United States government put on its ‘allies’ among the European colonial powers to ‘decolonise’, which itself largely stemmed from political considerations associated with the ‘Cold War’, and which was successful in its effects largely because those powers were themselves tied to the American government as a result of the confrontation. Moreover, the existence of that other side, the knowledge that there was a bloc of states in conflict with the colonialist ones and on a footing of equality with the latter, itself engendered a ‘wind of change’ among the nationalistically-inclined segments of the relatively small middle classes in the colonial territories, some of whom a few years earlier wouldn’t have thought much beyond a humble petition to the Governor. And one could go on and on and on... detailing factor after factor in the success of what is generally termed the ‘colonial revolution’ and which can be directly or indirectly attributed to the power bloc conflict.

However, it is an irony of history that, while the working class of these newly independent states played no major role in their establishment, the existence of a degenerated workers’ state in Russia, and the world-wide struggle resulting from its existence, has not only made possible the independence of these states but has also provided for their maintenance since. The loans, subsidies and ‘aid’ of one kind or another which both sides in the power bloc struggle to compete with one another to donate to them, or at least to those in the ‘capitalist’ category, often make the difference between whether or not the state in question is able to undertake some sort of economic development and in some cases whether or not the country concerned will even survive as an independent entity. Few of the new states can generate sufficient usable capital internally to pay for the kind of economic infrastructure required for industrial development in this day and age, and about a dozen of them, like The Gambia and Mauritania, are so weak and artificial that they can’t even pay for the expense of running a government apparatus unaided. If it was not for this East-West conflict, and the considerations of politics associated with it on both sides, little of this ‘aid’ would be forthcoming, for most of it comes from the governments of the big powers, principally those of the USA and the USSR.

Trotsky: Trotsky, of course, never visualised that the ‘Colonial Revolution’ of our time would take place in a kind of geographical and political no man’s land between two contending power blocs, or that one of these blocs would be led by a degenerated workers’ state in Russia which would practice a similar kind of big-power politics, militarily, politically and diplomatically, to that of its adversaries. Consequently, Trotsky never visualised either that one of the results of this ‘Colonial Revolution’ would be the creation of dozens of states manoeuvring between the power blocs and at least a dozen actually dependent for survival on the continuation of two antagonistic groupings and a continuous struggle between them. When Trotsky was writing Permanent Revolution, he was thinking mainly in terms of China, India, etc.; states with some sort of economic and geographical basis for nationhood, and states with, at least, a recognisably, if relatively small, working class of an urban character. The neutralisation of the Indian and Chinese working class is also something which he didn’t foresee, because he never foresaw the particular twist which the degeneration of the Russian Revolution itself was to give to history in the years ahead.

Validated: But, as has been shown already, Trotsky’s main thesis concerning the inability of the bourgeoisie in the backward areas to carry out the bourgeois revolution has been validated up to the hilt. And so too has his argument that the completion of the two main historic tasks of the bourgeois revolution would require going beyond the framework of bourgeois society. And even his assessment of the role of the working class in the underdeveloped countries, casting them in the role of the leaders of the struggle in those countries, and in particular of the struggle in India and China, has not been completely blown to bits. The ‘Permanent Revolution’ is far from at an end even in those two countries and certainly not in the majority of the other ones. All the underdeveloped states in the capitalist bracket are unstable and suffer to varying degrees from the incompleteness of the revolutionary process. The four Stalinist states are, of course, also affected by the distorted form of their revolutions, though in their case the ‘incompleteness’ is largely on the political plane and the economic crises which do occur from time to time, like the one resulting from the so-called Great Leap Forward in China and the subsequent but less publicised retrenchment that followed, are economic symptoms of the political contradictions within those states and not, as in the other backward countries, the other way round. But both the Stalinist group of underdeveloped states and their counterparts in the capitalist orbit share the fact that they are impermanent, transitional forms of states and are marked as such by their internal contradictions. They all owe their existence in one way or the other to the power bloc struggle which, in turn, is itself a transitional phenomenon and cannot be conceived as anything else outside the realm of science fiction.

In fact, the ‘emergent’ states will have to go through a second revolutionary phase, in which the developing working class in the larger units is the only possible vanguard, before their internal contradictions are resolved. While the need for this is most obvious in the case of the underdeveloped states in the ‘capitalist’ category, it also applies with just as much force to those defined here as ‘Stalinist’. But whether it is a matter of breaking down the old mish-mash of antiquated property relations or of throwing off a stultifying and bonapartist bureaucracy and its apparatus, the task is a revolutionary one in every sense of the term. Neither parasitic strata, in either group of countries, will go voluntarily and without a fight.

Breakthrough: However, the real problem for socialists and for the working class as a class internationally is the problem of achieving a revolutionary breakthrough in the advanced, industrialised countries, among which today Russia is included, together with the states of Eastern Europe. For, even if one or more of the underdeveloped countries was to throw up a healthy workers’ state of the kind which on paper could set about completing the revolutionary process in the backward area of the world, as things stand at the moment it couldn’t get far.

Socialism can’t be built in isolation in the least developed parts of the world, certainly not in face of the terrible problems of capital accumulation besetting all the underdeveloped countries and with the ‘wealth gap’ between the industrially advanced states and the rest continually widening, as it is doing. Trotsky, let it be said, clearly recognised the essence of this problem, as can be seen in Chapter 10 of Permanent Revolution with which this pamphlet commenced. In addition, it may well be that unless the working class in the advanced countries makes a revolutionary breakthrough soon, nobody, not even the population of the underdeveloped states, is going to get very far along that road. The big power conflict could end disastrously and a breakdown of society on a world scale is not a good basis for a workers’ state of any kind, not even a deformed one. Though one of the really significant movements of our time, the Colonial Revolution in itself will, in fact, turn out to be an historic blind alley unless a much more world-shaking movement takes place in the advanced countries. This is what those who substitute in their thinking the ‘activists’ in the underdeveloped world for the working class internationally fail to understand.


1. This chapter is not reproduced here, it can be found at < > – MIA.