A Positive Programme for Indian Revolution

"Two-Stages" Theory of Revolution in the Third World : Need for its Evaluation


First Published : 1974
Publisher : C. G. Shah Memorial Trust
Transcription/HTML : Mike B. and Salil Sen for MIA, April, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

Lenin on Stages of Revolution

Lenin made a profound statement in his famous work. Proletarian Revolution and Renegade Kautsky :

"...beginning April 1917, long before the October Revolution, that is, long before we assumed power, we publicly declared and explained to the people: the revolution cannot now stop at this stage, for the country has marched forward, capitalism has advanced, ruin has reached unprecedented dimensions, which (whether one likes it or not) will demand steps forward, to Socialism. For there is no other way of advancing, of saving the country which is exhausted by war, and of alleviating the sufferings of the toilers and exploited.

"Things have turned out just as we said they would. The course taken by the revolution has confirmed the correctness of our reasoning. First, with the "whole' of the peasantry against the monarchy, against the landlords, against the mediaeval regime (and to that extent, the revolution remains bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic). Then, with the poorest peasants, with the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited, against capitalism, including the rural rich, the kulaks, the profiteers, and to that extent the revolution becomes a Socialist one To attempt to raise an artificial Chinese Wall between the first and second stage (Ed), to separate them by anything else than the degree of preparedness of the proletariat and the degree of its unity with the poor peasants, means monstrously to distort Marxism, to vulgarise it to substitute liberalism in its place. It means smuggling in a reactionary defence of the bourgeoisie as compared with the Socialist proletariat by means of quasi-scientific references to the progressive character of the bourgeoisie as compared with mediaevalism". (Italics in the original).

Since Lenin made this epoch-making generalization, about the character of revolution, stages of revolution and the driving force of revolution, in Russia in 1917, history has vindicated without exception the validity of this crucial Marxist theoretical observation, with regard to the bourgeoisie, not merely of advanced capitalist countries but also with regard to the bourgeoisie of all under-developed countries.

Whenever the proletarian vanguard in the form of a Marxist party has followed this path — either consciously or pragmatically by empirically correcting the errors in the process of struggle — ruin of unprecedented dimension caused by capitalism has been stopped and path of advancement taken. The history of all the countries where capitalist system has been abolished and a transitional economy based on non-capitalist socialist path has been launched has borne out the truth of Lenin's generalization. The section of the world comprised of the USSR, the People's Republic of China, Yugoslavia, East European countries, North Korea, North Viet Nam and Cuba etc. has convincingly established that the path of economic advance beneficial to the people, and unstrangled by the imperialist-capitalist shackles, can start only after making Socialist Revolution. The experience of these countries had proved that even the elementary bourgeois-democratic tasks, like agrarian problem, education and others which were resolved by the bourgeoisie in advanced capitalist countries through the democratic revolution can be resolved in colonial and semi-colonial countries only through Socialist Revolution and only when the society has taken to non-capitalist socialist path after the overthrow of capitalism.

Further, the experiences of the countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia which are characterized as Third World and which have taken to a "path of mixed economy" capitalist: development, led by the bourgeoisie have also proved by' their failure either to charter a path of independent economic development or to relieve the burdens on the people, the validity of Lenin's path-breaking generalization about the entire epoch. The experiences of last twenty-five years after World War II, wherein overwhelming majority of ex-colonial and semi-colonial countries have secured formal political freedom, wherein an effort to reshape the economy and society on the mixed economy capitalist path have been adopted, have increasingly established that even the elementary bourgeois democratic tasks cannot be fulfilled by the bourgeoisie, whatever be the category of the bourgeoisie that wields the power. Even in countries where the economy exhibits some growth in terms of production compared to that when they were under direct or indirect rule of the imperialist masters, the rate of growth is very slow, and that also on the basis of a massive and extensive exploitation and oppression of the local producers. Even this development is either coming to a dead end or is losing its initial limited momentum, even though propped up by outside assistance. In these countries, the economy is being transformed into a neo-colony of the aiding powers.

This truth has to be restated firmly and with clear sharpness today for a number of reasons.

(1) Communist parties claiming to follow Stalinist line before his death, but claiming after Krushchov's exposures to follow the Marxist-Leninist line are not acknowledging (in a large number of countries) the profound truth formulated by Lenin, and are really elaborating a massive sophistry by means of what Lenin characterised as "-quasi-scientific references to the progressive character of the bourgeoisie" as compared with mediaevalism and are thus "smuggling in a reactionary defence of the bourgeoisie against the socialist proletariat".

These parties are elaborating a complex group of arguments, are also weaving out a labyrinth of data and subtle defences to build up a Chinese Wall between two stages of revolution. They have even gone to the extent of proclaiming that peaceful transition to socialism via pressurising the progressive, national, anti-feudal, anti-imperialist, anti-comprador bourgeoisie to complete the National Democratic Revolution of People's Democratic Revolution is not only possible,, but is the immediate task of the Communist parties. According to these parties, the stage of development in the Third World is that of a National Democratic, or People's Democratic Revolution and not of Socialist Revolution. According to them the advance now is not to be towards the goal of socialism or the over throw of capitalism. In their view the stage of revolution does not depend only upon the preparation of the proletariat and the degree of its unity with poor peasants. These parties though some times refusing verbally, do in effect, therefore, erect a Chinese Wall between the first and the second stage of revolution i.e. between the Democratic and the Socialist stages. They, therefore, come to the conclusion that the proletarian parties have to concentrate today on completing the first phase of the revolution by pressurising the progressive bourgeoisie or by allying with them under the hegemony of the proletariat and on completing the National Democratic or People's Democratic by strengthening the progressive national bourgeoisie, and thereby assist the process of generating an independent economic development on bourgeois lines, free from the trammels of imperialist and feudal forces.

(2) There is a second reason for restating this truth formulated by Lenin. Communist parties in various countries of the Third World have elaborated their strategy and tactic of struggles on the assumption of their theory of two stages of revolution and have shaped their parliamentary and non-parliamentary movements on the basis of this fundamental postulate. These parties are elaborating their programmes of action, organizational manoeuvres, types of united fronts, and slogans for agitation on the assumption that the immediate tasks for the next stage of the revolution is to push the bourgeoisie — the progressive national bourgeoisie — towards completing the independent capitalist development, by elaborating the public sector, by coming in closer association with socialist countries, and by freeing economy, polity and social structure from the imperialist and feudal domination. The disastrous consequences of such a line for the exploited and toiling masses, based on "dual-economy" postulates and its significance in strengthening the bourgeoisie and thereby intensifying the capitalist exploitation and oppression of the toiling masses, are becoming more and more glaring. The strategy based on the thesis of two-stages revolution in weakening and disorganizing the fighting will of the exploited masses and channelizing the struggles of the masses into disastrous economism or unplanned anarchic outbursts have not been properly appraised.

(3) There is a third reason for restating the truth propounded by Lenin.

The experiences in all the countries of the Third World of Latin America, Africa and Asia where the bourgeoisie have secured formal political freedom from imperialist masters, and have organized the state machinery for developing their economy and social structure on the mixed-economy capitalist path, that is the path of economic development on the basis of "relying on the rich' i.e., on strengthening the propertied classes, is worth nothing. The bourgeoisie — whatever the hue — have invariably intensified the economic exploitation of the masses, have astutely evolved, the strategy of depending on foreign capital. If the resistance of the masses against their growing burden becomes more powerful, the ruling bourgeois class whether "progressive-national or reactionary-comprador" or their henchmen, have let loose a reign of terror. The ruling classes of the Third World have not hesitated to seek assistance from imperialist powers or even secure military-political aid from the "socialist" countries to suppress the militant class and mass movements in their own countries. The bourgeois ruling groups of a few of these countries have even openly embraced the imperialist powers, have invited them to protect them and have practically surrendered their political sovereignty to imperialist powers. They, have, in fact, left the governance of the country to the military-diplomatic arm of the imperialist bourgeoisie.

(4) There is a fourth reason for explicitly remembering the vital truth of Lenin's generalization.

During the last 25 years after the second World War, all efforts to reconstruct the economy and culture by the bourgeois national states in the Third World have proved that in the epoch of the declining phase of world capitalism, the weak, colonial bourgeoisie, even with the active help of their own national state, or even with assistance from "socialist" or imperialist countries, cannot carry out even the elementary bourgeois-democratic tasks. They cannot industrialize their countries at a rate which would relieve the burden on the agrarian sector ; they cannot develop at a tempo which would create conditions for a "take-off". They have neither the internal market, nor the external market to expand the economy at a buoyant rate even by the yard-stick of "capitalism. Under the present circumstances, they cannot simultaneously exploit their own labouring masses and generate purchasing power among them. They cannot undertake major industrialization projects even by resorting to large doses of foreign aid in a manner that would not increase the growing burdens on the people. They cannot resolve elementary problems like freeing the masses from semi-feudal forms of exploitation or solve the agrarian problem. The bourgeoisie of the Third World, product of belated, distorted colonial development have developed so "slothfully" and "cravenly" that while they felt the cramping effect of foreign capital and its direct and indirect political domination, "they were menacingly" faced by the proletariat and agrarian poor of their own countries on whose plunder they thrived. The colonial bourgeoisie were not capable of becoming heroic and truly revolutionary leaders and vanguard like the bourgeoisie of France and Britain in the 17th and 18th countries, who really formed the vanguard leaders of the anti-feudal democratic revolution. They always played a vacillating role, they wanted change, but basically by bargain and compromise. The colonial bourgeoisies, when they led the national independence movement against foreign imperialist rule, headed the mass and class movement only in order to divert this movement from the path of a thoroughgoing revolutionary struggle to the path of reformist oppositional pressure for bargaining. with the foreign rulers. The bourgeoisie in the colonial countries, in the epoch of world capitalist decline, do not symbolise the victory of a new social order, but represent a system which has become old and superannuated. It trembles before and is haunted by the spectra of the Socialist Revolution and communism. As Paul Baran has rightly pointed out and David Horovitz, Gundar Frank and other have ably expounded, propertied classes of all types, including the most progressive national bourgeosie in underdeveloped countries are instilled with "a mortal fear of expropriation and extinction". This fear has been driving all more or less privileged, more or less well-to-do elements in the newly independent Third World society in one "counter-revolutionary coalition". "In brief whatever differences and antagonism exists between various sections of domestic and foreign interests, they are generally subordinated and submerged on all crucial occasions by the overwhelmingly common interests of staring off socialism and of preventing and curbing socialist revolution. All of them, including the national bourgeoisie in underdeveloped areas, unite against the growing menace of communism and; therefore, generate a hybrid conservatism, which degenerates liberalism into anti-communism". The bourgeoisie of these countries are, therefore, denied the power of "solving the economic and political deadlock prevailing in the underdeveloped countries on the lines of a progressive capitalism."

Earnest Mandel, Hansen, Novack, Prof. Baran, Prof. Paul Sweezy, Prof. David Horovitz, Prof. Gundar Frank and a large number of eminent Marxists have pointed out that the countries comprising the Third World cannot be regarded as underdeveloped in the orthodox sense, that is in the sense of being at an earlier stage of development taken by advanced capitalism. On the contrary, their typical characteristic are not the characteristics of the immature stages of the newly developed capitalist societies, but of the combination of advanced and backward stages produced by partial penetration of capitalism in a backward semifeudal colonial society. "These economies are not dual (part capitalist, part feudal), as it sometimes suggested but "hybrid'. or "mutant'. Their problems stem not from failure to develop, but from a distorted development, one that leads not along a path to eventual self-sustained growth but to an economic cul-de-sac. Real growth, in these mutant economies cannot be achieved by organic, evolutionary processes within the basic existing structures (least of all by an influx of foreign capital), but only through a revolutionary transformation of the structures themselves and cutting of dependent and dependency-generating ties."

The findings of the UNO, the 4th International led by followers of Trotsky, Baran, Paul Sweezy, Gundar Frank and a host of Marxists, and even some of the critical bourgeois and petty bourgeois thinkers like Myrdal and others, have revealed the failure of the bourgeoisie of the ex-colonial countries to develop during the last 25 years to solve the economic and social-cultural problems. These studies have also proved that they cannot generate a self-sustained economic advance. These studies have further established that the national bourgeoisie of the Third World countries, because of the peculiarities as a result of their belated arrival on the historic scene, are not in a position to undertake the revolutionary tasks necessary to solve the urgent problems of national development within the confines of capitalist social framework.

Imperialist subjugation of these colonial countries have skewed the internal socio-economic formations of these weakened, industrially backward countries. It has altered the class structures in such a manner, that even after securing politcal freedom from imperialism formally and securing political reins of their countries, the national bourgeoisie (or any section of it) cannot lead the countries to the selfsustaining development and growth.

Self-sustained growth, economic and social advance, unfettered development of productive forces, and the rise in the standard of living of the masses would now become possible only when capitalism has been destroyed and a Marxist party of the proletariat backed by poor peasants, seizes power and launches the economy on the non-capitalist socialist path.

(5) There is a fifth reason for clearly grasping the profound impliation of Lenin's formulation. The Communist parties which propagate the theory of two-stage revolution are themselves unclear about the nature of the two stages of revolution. As rightly pointed out by Katheleen Gough in her recent article, "Imperialism and Revolutionary Potential in South Asia all the communist groups including the CPI, the CPM and the various Maoist groups in India, who postulate a " two-stage" revolution differ over the precise character of the stages, over which classes will bring the two stages to completion, and above all, about how, the stages are to be realized. As she emphatically asserts, the analyses formulated by these groups "seem imperfect, partly because there is no dual economy and partly because the seperation into two revolutionary stages is unnecessary and mechanical". She rightly points out "the time for an independent capitalist or even a "non-capitalist' (but non-socialist), stage is past — that bus has been missed ".


The lession of 25 years of bourgeois rule in the Third World has also vindicated the truth of Lenin's statement, which was formulated even earlier by Trotsky in his famous thesis of Permanent Revolution for the entire epoch. Neither National Democratic Revolution, nor People's Democratic Revolution, but Socialist Revolution is the task on the agenda of history, and that strategy and tactic derived on the basis of pseudo-scientific evaluation of colonial bourgeoisie as comprised of a section of progressive bourgeoisie and mortally in combat with feudal and imperialist forces are nothing but a monstrous distortion of Marxism and are leading to disastrous consequences for the exploited and toiling masses.

A methodical discussion on the theory of two-stages of revolution has, therefore, become urgent. I wish this discussion is started in India as it has profound implications for evolving a correct strategy and tactic for developing class and mass struggles in a country which envelops nearly one-fifth of world humanity.