Michael Lowy on Trotsky's Results and Prospects

  1. blake 3:17
    blake 3:17
    The Marxism of Trotsky’s "Results and Prospects"

    A decisive break with the mechanical Marxism of the 2nd International
    Michael Löwy

    Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, as sketched for the first time in his essay Results and Prospects (1906), was one of the most astonishing political breakthroughs in Marxist thinking at the begining of the XXth century. By rejecting the idea of separate historical stages - the first one being a « bourgeois democratic » one - in the future Russian Revolution, and raising the possibility of transforming the democratic into a proletarian/socialist revolution in a « permanent » (i.e. ininterrupted) process, it not only predicted the general strategy of the October revolution, but also provided key insights into the other revolutionary processes which would take place later on, in China, Indochina, Cuba, etc. Of course, it is not without its problems and shortcomings, but it was incomparably more relevant to the real revolutionary processes in the peripheria of the capitalist system than anything produced by « orthodox Marxism » from the death of Engels until 1917.


    In fact, the idea of permanent revolution appeared already in Marx and Engels, notably in their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, from March 1850, while the German Revolution of 1848-50 - in an absolutist and backward country - still seemed to unfold. Against the unholy alliance of the liberal bourgeoisie and absolutism, they championed the common action of the workers with the democratic parties of the petty bourgeoisie.

    But they insisted on the need of an independent proletarian perspective : “while the democratic petty bourgeoisie want to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible...it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far - not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world - that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers”. [1]

    This striking passage contains three of the fundamental themes that Trotsky would later develop in Results and Prospects : 1) the uninterrupted development of the revolution in a semi-feudal country, leading to the conquest of power by the working class ; 2) the need for the proletarian forces in power to take anti-capitalist and socialist measures ; 3) the necessarily international character of the revolutionary process and of the new socialist society, without classes or private property.

    The idea of a socialist revolution in the backward periphery of capitalism - although not the terms “permanent revolution”- is also present in late Marx writings on Russia : the letter to Vera Zassoulitsch (1881) and, together with Engels, the preface to the 1882 Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto : “If the Russian revolution sounds the signal of a proletarian revolution in the West so that each complements the other, the prevailing form of communal ownership of land in Russia may form the starting point for a communist course of development”. [2]

    With the exception of Trotsky, these ideas seem to have been lost to Russian Marxism in the years between the end of the XIXth century and 1917. If we leave aside the semi-Marxists in the populist camp, such as Nicolaion, or the “legal marxists”such as Piotr Struve, there remain four clearly delimited positions inside Russian social-democracy :

    I) The Menshevik view , which considered the future Russian revolution as bourgeois by its nature and its driving force would be an alliance of the proletariat with the liberal bourgeoisie. Plekhanov and his friends believed that Russia was a backward, “Asiatic”and barbarous country requiring a long stage of industrialism and “Europeanization”before the proletariat could aspire to power. Only after Russia has developed its productive forces, and passed into the historical stage of advanced capitalism and parliamentary democracy would the requisite material and political conditions be available for a socialist transformation.

    II) The Bolshevik conception also recognized the inevitably bourgeois-democratic character of the revolution, but it excluded the bourgeoisie from the revolutionary bloc. According to Lenin, only the proletariat and the peasantry were authentically revolutionary forces, bound to establish through their alliance a common democratic revolutionary dictatorship. Of course, as we know, Lenin changed radically his approach, after the April Theses of 1917.

    III) Parvus and Rosa Luxemburg, while aknowledging the bourgeois character of the revolution in the last instance, insisted on the hegemonic revolutionary role of the proletariat supported by the peasantry. The destruction of Czarist absolutism could not be achieved short of the establishment of a workers’ power led by social-democracy. However, such a proletarian government could not yet transcend in its programmatic aims the fixed limits of bourgeois democracy.

    IV) Finally, Trotsky’s concept of permanent revolution, which envisaged not only the hegemonic role of the proletariat and the necessity of its seizure of power, but also the possibility of a growing over of the democratic into the socialist revolution.

    Full article: http://www.internationalviewpoint.or...hp?article1118
  2. Die Neue Zeit
    Die Neue Zeit
    "A decisive break with the mechanical Marxism of the 2nd International"

    That's the line that has been promoted by Gramsci, Korsch, and Lukacs and that has affected Trotskyists since then.

    Since you quoted a Trotskyist article:

    Of course, as we know, Lenin changed radically his approach, after the April Theses of 1917.
    He did, but his own conception of PR was still distinct from Trotsky's. He took the Kautsky road with regards to the peasantry.

    It's interesting that you mention the Parvus-Luxemburg stance, because this was indeed German Social Democracy's majority view of the Russian situation.

    Here's another link on the origin of PR:

    http://www.fifthinternational.org/co...ent-revolution
  3. A.R.Amistad
    A.R.Amistad
    In fact, the idea of permanent revolution appeared already in Marx and Engels, notably in their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, from March 1850, while the German Revolution of 1848-50 - in an absolutist and backward country - still seemed to unfold.
    Marx even states at the end of the Manifesto that the communists in Poland should work together with the agrarian reformists, which by default would mean a democratic workers' and peasants' revolution, not a bourgeois one. This is also probably where Lenin took the idea of stressing the unity between industrial and agricultural workers (peasantry included.)
  4. AmericanRed
    AmericanRed
    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob Richter
    "A decisive break with the mechanical Marxism of the 2nd International"

    That's the line that has been promoted by Gramsci, Korsch, and Lukacs and that has affected Trotskyists since then.
    Are you saying there was NO mechanical Marxism in the 2nd Int'l, Jacob? That's a bit of a stretch. There are passages in Kautsky which ARE "mechanical" (I can't go looking for them this second, will look later). Gramsci et al. weren't responding to nothing. And Gramsci's take is pretty sophisticated, no?
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