Marxist Theory

Q. Why is it only the working class which can develop a collective, socialist consciousness?

A. It is precisely the social nature of capitalist production, the collective nature of production, that brings workers together in a common struggle. The working class, unlike the petty bourgeoisie (small business people, small land holders, intellectuals isolated form the masses), develops a collective consciousness and that is precisely why Marxists base themselves on the working class. It is the only class that can develop such a consciousness, precisely because of its position in production. Of course, without organization, as Marx explains, the working class is only raw material for exploitation. That is why the bourgeois constantly attacks the trade unions and labor organizations, hoping to reduce the proletariat to an atomized state. But the whole experience of the class struggle invariably compels the workers to get organized. By contrast, the individualism of the petty bourgeoisie is the result of its role as a class of small producers, small business people, professionals and the like, who are indeed isolated from each other and compete against each other. Even before going into business, as students, they compete against each other in exams. While the working class must certainly draw broad layers of the petty-bourgeoisie behind it by linking their troubles with the fight against capitalism, the petty-bourgeoisie simply cannot play an independent role in the struggle for socialism.

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Q. What is Trotsky's Theory of the Permanent Revolution?

A. The theory of the permanent revolution was first developed by Trotsky as early as 1904. The permanent revolution, while accepting that the objective tasks facing the Russian workers were those of the bourgeois democratic revolution, nevertheless explained how in a backward country in the epoch of imperialism, the "national bourgeoisie" was inseparably linked to the remains of feudalism on the one hand and to imperialist capital on the other and was therefore completely unable to carry through any of its historical tasks. The rottenness of the bourgeois liberals, and their counterrevolutionary role in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, was already observed by Marx and Engels. In his article The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-revolution (1848), Marx writes:

"The German bourgeoisie has developed so slothfully, cravenly and slowly that at the moment when it menacingly faced feudalism and absolutism it saw itself menacingly faced by the proletariat and all factions of the burgers whose interests and ideas were akin to those of the proletariat. And it saw inimically arrayed not only a class behind it but all Europe before it. The Prussian bourgeoisie was not, as the French of 1789 had been, the class which represented the whole of modern society vis-a-vis the representatives of the old society, the monarchy and the nobility. It had sunk to the level of a kind of social estate, as distinctly opposed to the crown as to the people, eager to be in the opposition to both, irresolute against each of its opponents , taken severally, because it always saw both of them before or behind it; inclined to betray the people and compromise with the crowned representative of the old society because it itself already belonged to the old society; ". (K. Marx, The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-revolution, in MESW, vol. 1, p. 140-1.)

The bourgeoisie, Marx explains, did not come to power as a result of its own revolutionary exertions, but as a result of the movement of the masses in which it played no role: "The Prussian bourgeoisie was hurled to the height of state power, however not in the manner it had desired, by a peaceful bargain with the crown but by a revolution". (K. Marx, The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-revolution, MESW, vol. 1, p. 138.)

Even in the epoch of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Europe, Marx and Engels mercilessly unmasked the cowardly, counterrevolutionary role of the bourgeoisie, and emphasised the need for the workers to maintain a policy of complete class independence, not only from the bourgeois liberals, but also from the vacillating petty bourgeois democrats:

"The proletarian, or really revolutionary party," wrote Engels, "succeeded only very gradually in withdrawing the mass of the working people from the influence of the democrats whose tail they formed in the beginning of the revolution. But in due time the indecision weakness and cowardice of the democratic leaders did the rest, and it may now be said to be one of the principal results of the last years' convulsions, that wherever the working class is concentrated in anything like considerable masses, they are entirely freed from that democratic influence which led them into an endless series of blunders and misfortunes during 1848 and 1849." (F. Engels, Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany, MESW, vol. 1, p. 332.)

The situation is clearer still today. The national bourgeoisie in the colonial countries entered into the scene of history too late, when the world had already been divided up between a few imperialist powers. It was not able to play any progressive role and was born completely subordinated to its former colonial masters. The weak and degenerate bourgeoisie in Asia, Latin America and Africa is too dependent on foreign capital and imperialism, to carry society forward. It is tied with a thousand threads, not only to foreign capital, but with the class of landowners, with which it forms a reactionary bloc that represents a bulwark against progress. Whatever differences may exist between these elements are insignificant in comparison with the fear that unites them against the masses. Only the proletariat, allied with the poor peasants and urban poor, can solve the problems of society by taking power into its own hands, expropriating the imperialists and the bourgeoisie, and beginning the task of transforming society on socialist lines.

By setting itself at the head of the nation, leading the oppressed layers of society (urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie), the proletariat could take power and then carry through the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution (mainly the land reform and the unification and liberation of the country from foreign domination). However, once having come to power, the proletariat would not stop there but would start to implement socialist measures of expropriation of the capitalists. And as these tasks cannot be solved in one country alone, especially not in a backward country, this would be the beginning of the world revolution. Thus the revolution is "permanent" in two senses: because it starts with the bourgeois tasks and continues with the socialist ones, and because it starts in one country and continues at an international level.

The theory of the permanent revolution was the most complete answer to the reformist and class collaborationist position of the right wing of the Russian workers' movement, the Mensheviks. The two stage theory was developed by the Mensheviks as their perspective for the Russian revolution. It basically states that, since the tasks of the revolution are those of the national democratic bourgeois revolution, the leadership of the revolution must be taken by the national democratic bourgeoisie. For his part, Lenin agreed with Trotsky that the Russian Liberals could not carry out the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and that this task could only be carried out by the proletariat in alliance with the poor peasantry. Following in the footsteps of Marx, who had described the bourgeois "democratic party" as "far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals", Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being an ally of the workers, would inevitably side with the counter-revolution.

"The bourgeoisie in the mass" he wrote in 1905, "will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, and against the people as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it 'recoils' from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!). (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 98.)

What class, in Lenin's view, could lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution? "There remains 'the people', that is, the proletariat and the peasantry. The proletariat alone can be relied on to march on to the end, for it goes far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the forefront for a republic and contemptuously rejects stupid and unworthy advice to take into account the possibility of the bourgeoisie recoiling" (Ibid.)

In all of Lenin's speeches and writings, the counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeois-democratic Liberals is stressed time and time again. However, up until 1917, he did not believe that the Russian workers would come to power before the socialist revolution in the West--a perspective that only Trotsky defended before 1917, when it was fully adopted by Lenin in his April theses. The correctness of the permanent revolution was triumphantly demonstrated by the October Revolution itself. The Russian working class--as Trotsky had predicted in 1904--came to power before the workers of Western Europe. They carried out all the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and immediately set about nationalising industry and passing over to the tasks of the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie played an openly counterrevolutionary role, but was defeated by the workers in alliance with the poor peasants. The Bolsheviks then made a revolutionary appeal to the workers of the world to follow their example. Lenin knew very well that without the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, especially Germany, the revolution could not survive isolated, especially in a backward country like Russia. What happened subsequently showed that this was absolutely correct. The setting up of the Third (Communist) International, the world party of socialist revolution, was the concrete manifestation of this perspective.

Had the Communist International remained firm on the positions of Lenin and Trotsky, the victory of the world revolution would have been ensured. Unfortunately, the Comintern's formative years coincided with the Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia, which had a disastrous effect on the Communist Parties of the entire world. The Stalinist bureaucracy, having acquired control in the Soviet Union developed a very conservative outlook. The theory that socialism can be built in one country--an abomination from the standpoint of Marx and Lenin--really reflected the mentality of the bureaucracy which had had enough of the storm and stress of revolution and sought to get on with the task of "building socialism in Russia". That is to say, they wanted to protect and expand their privileges and not "waste" the resources of the country in pursuing world revolution. On the other hand they feared that revolution in other countries could develop on healthy lines and pose a threat to their own domination in Russia, and therefore, at a certain stage, sought actively to prevent revolution elsewhere.

Instead of pursuing a revolutionary policy based on class independence, as Lenin had always advocated, they proposed an alliance of the Communist Parties with the "national progressive bourgeoisie" (and if there was not one easily at hand, they were quite prepared to invent it) to carry through the democratic revolution, and afterwards, later on, in the far distant future, when the country had developed a fully fledged capitalist economy, fight for socialism. This policy represented a complete break with Leninism and a return to the old discredited position of Menshevism--the theory of the "two stages".

Taken from: Marxism and the Struggle Against Imperialism

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Q.  What are the elements required for proletarian (workers') democracy?

A. Socialism is democratic or it is nothing. From the very first day of the socialist revolution, there must be the most democratic regime, a regime that will mean that, for the first time, all the tasks of running industry, society and the state will be in the hands of the majority of society, the working class. Through their democratically-elected committees (the soviets), directly elected at the workplace and subject to recall at any moment, the workers will be the masters of society not just in name but in fact. This was the position in Russia after the October revolution. Let us recall that Lenin laid down four basic conditions for a workers’ state—that is, for the transitional period between capitalism and socialism:

  1. Free and democratic elections with right of recall of all officials.
  2. No official must receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.
  3. No standing army but the armed people.
  4. Gradually, all the tasks of running the state should be carried out by the masses on a rotating basis. When everybody is a bureaucrat in turn, nobody is a bureaucrat. Or, as Lenin put it, "Any cook should be able to be prime minister."

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 Q.  What Do Marxists Think About Terrorism?

A.  Marxism has always waged a struggle against the methods of individual terrorism (hijackings, bombings) as well as against state terrorism (the imperialist bombing of Iraq, Yugoslavia, etc.). Acts of individual terror do little but alienate the mass of the people from the cause you are supposed to be promoting. Bombing a market place where women and children are killed does not make the average working Joe too sympathetic to your cause. Our power and strength are in our numbers, not in individual acts.

While we can all certainly sympathize with people being frustrated by the oppressive conditions they live under, these methods have nothing in common with Marxism, and have historically proven to be impotent at bringing about any serious change. Take for example the terrorist acts of the PLO in Israel/Palestine in the last decades. These bombings and hijacking did nothing for promoting working class unity between Jews and Arabs against their common oppressor – the ruling class which keeps them divided in order to continue to oppress them. The ruling classes in the Middle East do not want real peace, they just want the tension lessened so that they can continue with their business without interruptions. If there were actual "peace" then the workers of all ethnicities and religions would unite against the ruling class. The terrorist methods of the PLO got the Palestinian people nowhere. It was only with the Intifadah (uprising) of the masses of Palestinians that the Israeli ruling class feared the movement and began to give concessions. This is why we need to condemn individual terrorism.

Another example is the current war in Chechnya. The real reason for the war is that the Russian military is sick of being humiliated by the West since the fall of the USSR (10 years ago NATO would never have bombed Russia’s ally Serbia!). They want to make an example of the Chechen people – to show the other peoples of the former republics (especially in the Caucuses and the Caspian Sea region which is rich in oil, gas, etc.) what happens if they mess with Russia. But what was the excuse given for the war? To fight terrorism. There were some bombings of working class apartments allegedly instigated by Chechen terrorists (though it was more probably done by the ruling class itself as an excuse for the war), and this is the excuse used to raze a whole country. Whether the Chechens bombed those apartment buildings or not, the point is that individual terrorism does not promote cultural and ethnic unity, but rather gives the ruling class an excuse for further repression.

In addition, it is not very comforting to think about the heightened border security (another indication of growing isolationism and nationalism in the U.S.) and police/FBI presence due to the supposed "terrorist" plots around the Millennium. It is entirely possible that there are some plots, and we would oppose these acts of terror, but the government is using the hysteria over this possibility to slowly reduce our civil liberties. They are using it as an excuse to perhaps begin a tracking system for all foreign nationals who visit this country! This is scary, and yet the press (which is a mere mouthpiece for the ideas of the ruling class) gives these stories front page billing.  If a socialist group were to commit an act of terrorism the ruling class would use that as an excuse to shut down our websites, newspapers, meetings, etc.

The following quote from Leon Trotsky from the article "Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism" puts it very eloquently:

"In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission. The anarchist prophets of the ‘propaganda of the deed’ can argue all they want about the elevating and stimulating influence of terrorist acts on the masses. Theoretical considerations and political experience prove otherwise. The more ‘effective’ the terrorist acts, the greater their impact, the more they reduce the interest of the masses in self-organisation and self-education. But the smoke from the confusion clears away, the panic disappears, the successor of the murdered minister makes his appearance, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only the police repression grows more savage and brazen. And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusionment and apathy."

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Q. What do Marxists think about Guerrillaism?

A. It is not in the tradition of Marxism to support a movement of peasant war separate and apart from the movement of the working class, which is decisive. The efforts and work of Marxists should be largely concentrated in the cities and among the proletariat. Always of course, under all conditions, the struggle of other oppressed classes must be supported by Marxists.

Guerrillaism as Lenin has explained is the method of the lumpen proletariat and of the peasants. While it is somewhat understandable for the guerrilla movements to develop in countries where there is virtually no proletariat, there can be no justification whatsoever for urban guerrillaism! In most countries in the world today the proletariat makes up the vast majority of the population. India for example has more industry than her former colonial master Britain. Peasant wars even if victorious can only lead to the victory of Bourgeois Bonapartism (Dictatorship) or Proletarian Bonapartism (Stalinism). They can never result in the victory of a socialist revolution in the classical form which requires a conscious movement by the proletariat. Urban guerrillaism tries to replace the movement of the proletariat by students, lumpens and even some de-classed workers and is absolutely against all the teachings of Marxism. Invariably it has ended in disaster. That has been the experience in Latin America and in other continents.

The task of Marxists is not merely to overthrow the capitalist regime, but to prepare the way for the socialist future of mankind. The destruction of capitalism and landlordism in the colonial countries is an immense step forward which raises the level of all mankind. But precisely because of the helplessness of the peasantry as a class to rise to the future Socialist tasks, it nevertheless can only succeed in raising new obstacles in its path. The victory of the peasant war, given the relationship of forces in the world and the crisis of capitalism and imperialism in the underdeveloped countries can result in a form of deformed workers' state (Stalinism). It cannot result in the conscious control by the workers and peasants of industry, agriculture and the state.

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Q. What is the basic role of the state and the police in society?

A. The state apparatus, armed bodies of men, the police, the army, and their appendages the courts and so on, are tools for the oppression of one layer of society by another, usually of one class over another (for example the capitalist class oppresses the working class). At a certain stage in the social evolution of humanity, the state came into being as a result of the division of society into classes. Once it became possible to produce a surplus above the needs of the producers then it became possible for a minority to free itself from the need to labor, living instead off the surplus produced by the majority. Inevitably however such a small minority required a special force to keep the majority in order, and thus the earliest forms of state apparatus were born out of the division of society into classes. This earliest class division between slave owners and slaves, has been replaced by other forms of class division (feudal lords and serfs under feudalism, capitalists and workers under capitalism). But even to the present day under capitalism it was always only a minority who could live off the surplus produced by the majority. Capitalism has played a progressive role in building up the economy through investment to a point where it would be possible for the first time to do away with this archaic class division. Since the task of socialism is precisely to abolish that division, the state itself should increasingly whither away, passing from the government of people to the administration of things before disappearing altogether.

In his masterpiece on Stalinism, The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky explained that wherever there are shortages there is want. Wherever there is want there are lines, wherever there are lines you need police to keep order, and the police will find themselves at the front of the line. The police, as instruments of state repression, inevitably abuse their privileged position. Under socialism, there will be no separate police force or standing army, but rather the armed people - if everyone is a policeman, then no one is really a policeman - sort of like a big neighborhood watch.

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