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Lenin's Marxist Policy of a Two-Stage revolution- Doug Lorimer

Lenin's Marxist Policy of a Two-Stage revolution- Doug Lorimer

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09/10/2012

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In Defence of Lenin's Marxist Policy of a Two-Stage, Uninterrupted Revolution
By
Doug Lorimer 
Phil Hearse's 'DSP theory' Phil Hearse's polemic against my pamphlet proceeds from a fundamentally false assumption, i.e., that it "attempts [to give] ageneral strategic view" of revolution in "the semi-colonial and dependent semi-industrialised countries". He alleges that mypamphlet presents Lenin's policy of carrying out the proletarian revolution in semi-feudal Russia in two stages (a bourgeoisdemocratic and then a socialist stage) "as a general schema for the 'Third World' today". Nowhere in the pamphlet do I makesuch a claim.It's true that the basic conclusion I make is that the Leninist theory and policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution issuperior to Trotsky's permanent revolution theory as a guide to action in countries where Trotsky thought his theory hadgeneral applicability, i.e., as Trotsky put it in his 1928 pamphlet
The Permanent Revolution
, "countries with a belatedbourgeois development" in which the peasantry constitutes the "majority of the population".[1] 
all 
semi-colonialcountries
today 
. Hearse, on the other hand, gives the impression, though he does not explicitly state this, that he thinksTrotsky's theory of permanent revolution does provide such a "general schema".The aim of my pamphlet, contrary to Hearse's allegation, was not to set out a "general schema" for revolution in all semi-colonial countries today. It was, as I explicitly stated in the introduction, to discuss where and how Trotsky's theory differedfrom Lenin's policy for carrying out a socialist revolution in
semi-feudal Russia
. That's why I stated in the introduction: "I havelimited the discussion of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution to those aspects of his theory which differ from the theoryand policy of Leninism" and that I would concentrate on "the innumerable distortions of Lenin's views on the
question of theclass dynamics of the Russian revolution
made by … Trotsky himself".Hearse criticises my pamphlet for not "attempting to reassess Lenin's and Trotsky's theories in the light of historical andcontemporary experience". This criticism is misconceived for two reasons. The first is that I
do
attempt to assess "Lenin's andTrotsky's theories" in the light of 
historical 
experience the experience of the October Revolution (which was the crucial test of both theories, since both of them were formulated specifically as guides to action for the
Russian
working class). Secondly,before a
scientific 
attempt can be made to reassess either of these theories in the light of 
contemporary 
experience, it isnecessary that their actual
content be understood 
. My pamphlet was a contribution to the latter task.Unfortunately, Hearse's polemic against my pamphlet repeats every one of the distortions of Lenin's policy that Trotsky made,though often with his own particular twist. In responding to Hearse's criticisms, I am therefore forced to again take up the taskof refuting these distortions.
 
Before the October Revolution, neither Lenin nor Trotsky presented their views on the class dynamics of the Russianrevolution, and what this meant for Marxist policy, as having applicability to any country other than Russia. It was only after October that they argued, as Lenin put it in his 1920 essay
"Left-Wing" Communism an infantile disorder,
that certain"features of our revolution have a significance that is not local, or peculiarly national, or Russian alone, but international".[2] Thus Lenin, for example, in his November 1918 polemical work
The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky,
madethe point that "a general peasant revolution is
still 
a bourgeois revolution, and that
without a series of transitions, of transitional stages
, it cannot be transformed into a socialist revolution in a backward country".[3]Hearse clearly disagrees with this proposition, though he does not specifically criticise Lenin's November 1918 restatementof it, preferring instead to criticise a presentation of it made 13 years earlier in Lenin's July 1905 pamphlet
Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution
. The thrust of these passages is that the complete ("decisive") victory of thedemocratic revolution in Russia can be achieved only through replacement of the tsarist state with a revolutionarydictatorship of the workers and peasants a government that is based upon institutions that arise out of an armed insurrectionof the workers and peasants and that uses the military force of the armed workers and peasants to suppress the counter-revolutionary resistance of the landlords, the capitalists and the commanding personnel of the tsarist army.Lenin points out that the immediate task of this revolutionary worker-peasant state power will be to complete the democraticrevolution by realising "the changes urgently and absolutely indispensable to the proletariat and the peasantry", i.e., toestablish consistent and full democracy, to bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favour of the peasantryand to lay the foundations for a thorough improvement in the working conditions of the workers and their standard of living.The realisation of these changes, Lenin explains, will "not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social andeconomic relationships", i.e., they will not
immediately 
begin to replace capitalist commodity relations in the sphere of 
 
production with the centrally planned production and distribution of producer goods. Hence, their realisation willnot
immediately 
transform the revolution from a bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution. That task will require a "seriesof intermediary stages of revolutionary development".[4] According to Hearse, in
Two Tactics
Lenin argued that the workers and peasants should strive for "the establishment of abourgeois republic by revolutionary means, against the resistance of the bourgeoisie itself". Furthermore:
 
Socialist perspectives are postponed until after "a whole series of transitional stages of revolutionarydevelopment" (and it is obvious that he did not mean by this the "few months" to which he referredin
Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 
).Hearse poses the question: "How can 'a few months', with Soviet power, a Bolshevik-led government and a regime of workers' control, be described as a 'stage' in any but the most doctrinaire accounts?" This question is rhetorically directedagainst the description that I gave in my pamphlet of the course of development of the proletarian revolution in Russia.Basing myself on the assessment that
Lenin
gave to the Bolshevik Party's eighth congress in March 1919, I explained thatthe revolution had passed through two stages: a bourgeois democratic stage (from November 1917 until June-July 1918)followed by the beginning of the stage of socialist revolution (July to November 1918). Here is what Lenin stated in the"Report on Work in the Countryside" adopted by the Bolshevik Party's eighth congress:
 
In October 1917 we seized power 
together with the peasants as a whole
. This was a bourgeois revolution, inas much as the class struggle in the rural districts had not yet developed. As I have said, the real proletarianrevolution in the rural districts began only in the summer of 1918. Had we not succeeded in stirring up thisrevolution our work would have been incomplete. The first stage was the seizure of power in the cities and theestablishment of the Soviet form of government. The second stage was one which is fundamental for allsocialists and without which socialists are not socialists, namely, to single out the proletarian and semi-proletarian elements in the rural districts and to ally them to the proletariat in order to wage the struggle againstthe bourgeoisie in the countryside. This stage is also in the main completed.[5]Hearse evidently regards Lenin's use of the word "stage" to describe the first period of the October Revolution the period inwhich the proletariat allied itself with the peasants in general to carry to completion the bourgeois democratic revolution asone of the "most doctrinaire accounts". Why? Is it because Lenin's description of the development of the October Revolutioncontradicts Hearse's view that "the working class, supported by the poor peasantry, seized power in a socialist revolution inOctober 1917, and first proceeded to solve the democratic tasks of the revolution, but
combined this with tasks of thesocialist revolution from the beginning 
" (my emphasis)?To describe as a "stage" a period of development the "few months" in which the measures carried out by the Soviet power did
not 
"overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships", might call Hearse's view into question. It mighteven force him to acknowledge that "a general peasant revolution is
still 
a bourgeois revolution, and that
without a series of transitions, of transitional stages
, it cannot be transformed into a socialist revolution in a backward country".Recognising this did not mean, as Hearse alleges, that "socialist perspectives" in Russia were to be "
 postponed until after 
a'whole series of transitional stages of revolutionary development'" had been carried out. Rather, it meant that "socialistperspectives" could be realised only
through the carrying out 
of a series of transitional steps. This should hardly be a novelconcept for Marxists. Isn't it exactly how Marx and Engels presented the strategic line of march of the proletarian revolution inour movement's first programmatic document, written more than 150 years ago? Here is what they wrote:
 
We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to theposition of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, tocentralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State,
i.e.,
of the proletariat organised as the rulingclass, and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves,necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirelyrevolutionising the mode of production.[6] Lenin's socialist perspective, i.e., his perspective for carrying out a
socialist revolution in semi-feudal Russia
, was nothingmore than a
specific application
of this strategic line of march in a backward country in which the peasantry constituted theoverwhelming majority of the population.The first step of the proletarian revolution in Russia was to "raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class" by establishingconsistent and full democracy, or, as Lenin put it in March 1919, "the seizure of power in the cities and the establishment of the Soviet form of government".The Russian workers, however, could not do this without an alliance with the majority of the population the poor, or semi-proletarian, section of the peasantry. But the immediate aim of the poor peasants was not the "centralisation of allinstruments of production in the hands … of the proletariat organised as the ruling class". Their immediate aim, which they
 
shared with the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements of the peasantry (the rich and middle peasants), was to abolish theprivate, hereditary, ownership of land by the big landowners, by the semi-feudal nobility, and to convert farm land into acommodity.The Bolsheviks therefore sought to combine the
first step
of the
 proletarian
revolution (establishing and consolidating theproletariat's political supremacy over the capitalists) with a
general 
 
 peasant 
revolution. During this first period of developmentof the proletarian revolution in Russia, the revolution would therefore "not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeoissocial and economic relationships", i.e., it would
not yet 
be a socialist revolution in its
social content 
.To transform the democratic revolution in Russia into a socialist revolution, the proletariat would, in Lenin's view, have to useits political supremacy (once this was consolidated) to forge an alliance with the poor peasants to expropriate bourgeoisproperty in the cities and villages. This transformation of the social content of the revolution could be effected only by meansof a series of 
transitional measures,
i.e., a series of measures "which appear economically insufficient and untenable, butwhich, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order", and whichculminate in the centralisation of the decisive means of production in the hands of the proletarian state.
 
In his November 1918 pamphlet
The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky,
Lenin explained that this Bolshevikpolicy can be found outlined in his July 1905 pamphlet
Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution
.Hearse, however, accuses Lenin of deceiving his readers. According to Hearse, in
Two Tactics
Lenin limited the Bolsheviks'aims in the democratic revolution to "the establishment of a bourgeois republic by revolutionary means" and postponed anyperspective of a socialist revolution in Russia until after the "development of fully capitalist relations in agriculture, i.e.,bourgeois farmers and agricultural proletarians".Hearse cites a number of passages from
Two Tactics
as supposed evidence of his latter claim. One of these was directedagainst the Socialist Revolutionaries, who believed that a general peasant revolution that destroyed the semi-feudal landlordsystem would,
in and of itself 
, destroy capitalism in Russia:
 
Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. What does this mean?It means that the democratic reforms in the political system, and the social and economic reforms that havebecome a necessity for Russia, do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid,European, and not Asiatic [i.e., retarded], development of capitalism; they will for the first time, make it possiblefor the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.[7]Lenin's argument here is simply a restatement of an elementary precept of historical materialism and Marxist economictheory, i.e., that complete elimination of the remnants of feudalism in Russia (the destruction of the tsarist autocracy and thesemi-feudal landlord system) would create the optimum economic conditions for the development of capitalism, especially inthe countryside, where 80% of tsarist Russia's population lived.Lenin went on to point out that a "bourgeois revolution is a revolution which does not depart from the framework of thebourgeois, i.e., capitalist, socio-economic system", that it "expresses the needs of capitalist development, and, far fromdestroying the foundations of capitalism, it effects the contrary it broadens and deepens them" because it destroys all thepre-capitalist survivals that impede the spontaneous development of capitalist commodity relations, i.e., a market economy.But far from arguing that the working class should
limit 
its struggle to what was compatible with the establishment of bourgeois rule, Lenin argued in
Two Tactics
that the workers should seek to carry through the struggle for democracy inprecisely such a way as would
maximise
the prospects for creating a
 proletarian
democracy and the
overthrow of capitalism
in Russia. He wrote:
 
The complete victory of the present revolution will mark the end of the democratic revolution and the beginningof a determined struggle for a socialist revolution. Satisfaction of the present-day demands of the peasantry,the utter rout of reaction and the achievement of a democratic republic will mark the utter limit of therevolutionism of the [peasant] bourgeoisie, and even that of the petty bourgeoisie, and the beginning of theproletariat's real struggle for socialism. The more complete the democratic revolution, the sooner, the morewidespread, the cleaner, and the more determined will the development of this new struggle be. The slogan of a "democratic" dictatorship [of the workers and peasants DL] expresses the historically limited nature of thepresent [democratic] revolution and the necessity of a new struggle on the basis of the new order for thecomplete emancipation of the working class from all oppression and all exploitation. In other words, when thedemocratic bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie ascends another step, when not only the revolution but thecomplete victory of the revolution becomes an accomplished fact, we shall "change" (perhaps amid thehorrified cries of new and future Martynovs) the slogan of the democratic dictatorship to the slogan of asocialist dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the full socialist revolution.[8]After citing his supposed evidence from
Two Tactics
that Lenin's perspective was limited to completing the bourgeoisrevolution
so as to enable
the bourgeoisie to rule as a class, Hearse poses the following question to me: "Is this whathappened in 1917? That the revolution for the first time made it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class?" My answer to

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