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Lenin and the Permanent Revolution

by Taimur Rahman

One of the things that I have realized while talking to Trotskyists is that their understanding of Marxist theory specifically with respect to the bourgeois democratic revolution is actually very weak.

They all think that Lenin came around to the view of permanent revolution in April 1917. This is actually completely incorrect and is obvious to anyone that has read Lenin in any detail.

The major confusion in this regard is because Trotskyists do not understand what the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution means? They think it means the establishment of a bourgeois government. But this is completely incorrect.

When Marxist-Leninists write that society is at the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution, what we mean is that the task of destroying pre-capitalist economic relations has not yet been completed by the development of a nascent capitalism.

Meaning, landlords continue to dominate the countryside and feudalism or other pre-capitalist modes of production are widespread in society.

 

What is the bourgeois-democratic stage? It is nothing other than the necessity of land reforms and the break up of the large estates of the landlords.

Can such a stage be jumped? Can we proceed to the collectivization or socialization of large estates without giving land to the tiller?

Anyone who has worked in the peasantry understands that the peasants want land. Their first demand is not for the socialization of the landlords property but for its distribution among poor and landless peasants.

But when land is distributed among the poor, this is not socialism. No, because land continues to be private property (now the private property of the poor peasant). If land is private property, it inevitably gives rise to commodity production and also wage labour.

Hence, land reforms do not create socialism but are the central feature of the bourgeois democratic revolution. They create a new form of capitalism. They create petty-commodity production and on a vast scale (which in fact is the historical roots of capitalism).

But is it necessary that only the bourgeoisie can undertake such a land reform? No. If it is strong enough, the party of the proletariat can take power and institute land reforms.

This is where Lenin and the Menshiviks disagreed. The Mensheviks said that the bourgeois democratic revolution can only be carried out “under the leadership of the bourgeoisie.”

Whereas Lenin said that the bourgeois democratic revolution (i.e. land reforms) can also be carried out by the party of the proletariat.

Lenin never ever stated that the bourgeois democratic stage (i.e. land reforms) does not exist or does not need to be carried out. That is absurd and ridiculous and can only lead to the destruction of the worker peasant alliance.

Also, Lenin never upheld the view that the permanent revolution was inevitable or that if it didn’t happen everything short of it was “bureaucratic”. What Lenin argued was that if the proletariat was strong enough they could pass from the stage of bourgeois democracy to the proletariat stage WITHOUT INTERRUPTION.

Trotsky on the other hand, did not understand that land reforms in the context of a society dominated by landlords was in fact a revolutionary measure. His view was that the peasantry was a reactionary force of capitalism. That the urban proletariat ALONE was a revolutionary class.

That is why he felt that in the absence of a revolution in the West (where the proletariat was a bigger part of the population) the revolution in Russia would fail. Hence, he stated that socialism in one country could not be built because the peasants are reactionary.

In conclusion, Lenin did not agree with the theory of permanent revolution because the central axiom of this theory is that the proletariat will be forced to overstep the limits of the bourgeois democratic revolution BECAUSE THE PEASANTRY IS REACTIONARY. Please read Trotsky carefully. I have read this theory over and over again.

Lenin’s theory of uninterrupted revolution states that the proletariat will surpass the bourgeois stage in the measure of its strength. Moreover, Lenin had been arguing this position since 1898 when he wrote the Development of Capitalism in Russia (a very important book to read to understand Lenin’s view of the peasantry).

Lenin differed from Menshiviks not over the necessity of the bourgeois democratic revolution, nor over the fact that Russia stood at the stage of a bourgeois revolution. But that the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the revolution could only be carried out by the bourgeoisie. Lenin argued that they could be carried out equally by the proletariat.

This is why the Mensheviks accused Lenin of “forcing the hand of history”. This is what Stalin also upheld and this is what all communists around the world have upheld.

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2 Responses to "Lenin and the Permanent Revolution"

  1. Geral United States Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    You should read the debates Lenin was having with Roy from India in 1920.

  2. rajesh tyagi India Safari  Android 2.3.6 GT-N7000 Build/GINGERBREAD says:

    what a idiotic explanation of the differences between lenin and mensheviks on the one hand and lenin and trotsky on the other! To my surprise the man who proposes to write on such a delicate issue, does not understand either trotsky’s or lenin’s view on peasantry or bourgeois democracy…

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