Workers' Voice mailing list
October 2, 2016
RE: A reply to some supporters of the permanent revolution
1. Reply to redrave: The reality of the Syrian uprising vs. the illusions of the permanent revolution
2. Redrave's polemic against the Communist Voice Organization
3. A list of some CVO articles on the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising
A polemic has appeared against the Communist Voice Organization's position on Syria. It was written by the Communist Workers' Group of Aotearoa/New Zealand, which is a Trotskyist group which calls its website "red rave". By putting forward absurdly unrealistic scenarios for Syria, it inadvertently shows how useless the theory of "permanent revolution" is in dealing with the struggle against the dictator Assad. Redrave denounces as "unconscious Assadists" all those who "support the Syrian revolution", but don't see the democratic struggle in Syria as a socialist revolution.
So at a time when there's a major fight in the left over the attitude to the dictator Assad and whether to support the democratic movement in Syria, redrave says that all those who don't agree with the Trotskyist theory of "permanent revolution" are really "unconscious Assadists". That's an astonishing feat of sectarianism. As those who read the Detroit Workers' Voice list know, the DWV list has reprinted statements from Syrian and American activists denouncing the US-Russian deal and opposing the Assad dictatorship. We have indicated where we have disagreements with these statements, but despite our disagreements we have welcomed statements from Terry Burke, from prominent Syrian intellectuals, and from a number of American activists. Redrave, however, would regard them all as "unconscious Assadists".
Redrave insists that the Syrian uprising is a socialist movement. It writes that "There can be no victorious bourgeois national revolution anymore unless it is a permanent or socialist revolution."
But anyone who looks seriously at the situation in Syria knows that even a successful overthrow of Assad will not lead to socialism. It would be of immense importance; it would spread political life throughout Syria; and it would change the Middle East. It would open the way for class struggle. But socialism itself isn't imminent in Syria, or any country at this time.
Redrave, however, insists that one can see "Permanent Revolution in the flesh" in Syria, arguing that workers' soviets are being built there. It exaggerates beyond measure the nature of the committees and local groups that exist in opposition-run areas of Syria, saying that "These are not institutions of bourgeois democracy but of workers' democracy. They are the result of proto workers communes that if joined up would be the basis for an embryonic workers' state. … That is why our program in Syria is … armed workers soviets everywhere!"
The Syrian people have shown tremendous initiative in building local committees, militias, and groups. They have done so despite half a century of enforced political passivity under the Ba'ath dictatorship. They have continued to struggle despite incredible hardships. These are heroic actions of the Syrian people, which will never be forgotten.
But the local groups aren't soviets. They are groups that deal with the immediate necessity of the democratic uprising, and have a mixed class character. Only people with their eye's closed, people drunk on abstract dogma, can see this as the spread of armed workers' soviets. The theory of "permanent revolution" encourages this wild speculation. It leaves no room for considering what these committees really are, what their immediate tasks are, or even what is the specific role of socialists in this situation.
Redrave goes on to talk about what it thinks is the true immediate perspective for the Syrian struggle. Based on the theory of "permanent revolution", it looks forward to the Syrian uprising doing such things as the following:
* "fight(ing) the Arab and Kurd national revolutions as one workers' revolution".
* "…the workers and peasants … split(ting) decisively from their treacherous bourgeois and petty-bourgeois class leaders and join(ing) forces with workers and peasants of the whole MENA [Middle East and North Africa]."
* "….Iraqi, Egyptian, Palestinian, Kurd, and Iranian workers and peasants ... tak(ing) the lead in their own national revolutions against imperialism, and turn(ing) them into victorious socialist revolutions."
* A revolutionary bloc in Syria forming that "could unite not only all Arabs in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but the whole of MENA".
* "A permanent revolution in which the Arab workers and peasants unite across the whole of MENA to form non-sectarian, democratic, socialist republics in a socialist federation with the Kurd and Iranian revolutions."
All this is supposed to be possible right now if only the Syrians have the right orientation and leadership. This shows the non-serious rhetoric which is encouraged by the theory of "permanent revolution". In reality, the day of the socialist revolution will come, but it's not today. It's not revolutionary to denounce those who are fighting hard today, because they can't accomplish impossible feats. This holds back the movement, rather than helping it forward.
Perhaps some people will think that the euphoric, other-worldly assessments of redrave are just the musings of some small isolated group, which few other Trotskyists would share. But that's not so. Back in 2011, when the Arab Spring broke out, one after another of those Trotskyist groups which supported the uprising wrote similar assessments. In articles I wrote at that time, such as "Against left-wing doubts in the democratic movement", I quoted a number of major Trotskyist groups in this vein. They may have come from different Trotskyist tendencies then redrave, but when it came to "permanent revolution", they were just as wild then as redrave is now.
For example, back then the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) was enthusiastic about the mass upsurge, but stressed that "permanent revolution" meant that nothing significant could be accomplished unless there was a socialist revolution. Thus it wrote that the next step in Egypt was "a conscious struggle for the working class to seize power". With regard to Tunisia, LRP exaggerated the nature of the local councils and held that "the working class and poor have already taken steps towards overthrowing the ruling class and building a government of their own." Meanwhile Spark was more realistic about how far the working masses had come. Nevertheless, it wrote that unless there was a "genuine revolution" (its term for socialist revolution) in the Arab Spring, the entire struggle will have been useless, since it will have served "only to get rid of a handful of elderly dictators who would have died anyway, and to give the imperialist powers the opportunity to cover up the dictatorships with parliamentarian cloaks." (1)
The fact is that the theory of "permanent revolution" makes it impossible to accurately access what type of struggle is taking place. With regard to the Arab Spring and the struggle against Assad, it left Trotskyists with four alternatives:
1) When a Trotskyist group was enthusiastic about a mass struggle in the Arab Spring, it would generally have a euphoric view of what was possible at this time and call for the socialist revolution. At this time, the group would back up its stand by talking about the "permanent revolution". Well, it's true that there will eventually be a new wave of socialist revolutions in the world. But it was utter fantasy to believe that socialism was imminent during the Arab Spring. One has to analyze seriously the class forces to see what's possible, and "permanent revolution" doesn't allow it. It has a one-size-fits-all analysis: socialism is supposedly always imminent in any mass uprising, if only there is revolutionary leadership.
2) When a Trotskyist group saw that the struggle was facing major setbacks in the Middle East and North Africa, and that socialism wasn't imminent, then the theory of "permanent revolution" would force it to either denounce the struggle or lose interest in it. Some groups would simply stop writing on this or that struggle, rather than explain why the struggle hadn't gone according to "permanent revolution". The Spartacist League went even further. It couldn't see any possibility of permanent revolution in Libya, so, although it said Qaddafi was a "butcher of his 'own' citizens", it gave him "military support" anyway. (2)
3. Some Trotskyists have simply ignored the theory of "permanent revolution" when writing about Syria. This is especially so for those who have written valuable material in defense of the democratic uprising. Ignoring "permanent revolution" allows them to deal with the actual circumstances in Syria, rather than simply repeating mechanical dogmas.
4. Some pro-Trotskyist activists who support the Syrian uprising want to jettison the theory of "permanent revolution". The book Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution reproaches the large section of the left that has betrayed the Syrian people. It's an anthology, and the first chapter, entitled "Socialism and the Democratic Wager", was written by Assad an-Nar. This seems to be a pseudonym for a group of activists who still adhere to a Trotskyist framework, but can't reconcile "permanent revolution" with their support for the Syrian uprising. Assad an-Nar writes that "After Trotsky's death Permanent Revolution was falsified by reality. … As a coherent current Trotskyism disintegrated, since clinging to Permanent Revolution in defiance of the real world led either to a denial of the reality of the anti-colonial revolution or the ascription of socialist properties to many unlikely candidate social formations (often authoritarian)."
Revolutionaries need to examine the concrete situation and particular features of every struggle. "Permanent revolution", however, contemptuously regards such assessments as "stageism"; it replaces realistic analysis with a dogma that is repeated year after year, for every uprising, no matter how times the analysis fails, no matter in how many countries the analysis fails, no matter how many times even the Trotskyist group involved has had to back off on the predictions of "permanent revolution". The truth is that the Trotskyist theory of "permanent revolution" can't deal with the situation facing democratic uprisings which aren't going to continue to a socialist revolution. For this reason, "permanent revolution" has been a complete bust with respect to the Arab Spring and other democratic movements around the world.
So it's no accident that redrave was led astray by "permanent revolution". Other Trotskyist activists haven't done any better then redrave in applying "permanent revolution" to Syria.
Finally, Redrave makes several particular arguments that deserve being mentioned.
Redrave complains that I have denounced "Trotsky's Permanent Revolution as denigrating the struggle for bourgeois democracy." Redrave says this isn't true because it and Trotsky do use the term "democratic". True, but the point is that "permanent revolution" says that a democratic struggle won't accomplish anything if it doesn't lead immediately to socialist revolution. That's what it means to denigrate the democratic struggle.
Redrave claims that I hold that "the bourgeois national democratic revolution must be completed before socialist revolution is possible." But I never said that. Redrave is just repeating a century-old polemic among the Trotskyists, which has nothing to do with the position of the Communist Voice Organization. If, instead, one examined the situation in Syria, one would see that, among other things, the working class and the revolutionary movement in Syria are just as disorganized as they are elsewhere around the world. Even if Assad had been overthrown immediately, the working class was not in a position to lead a revolution for socialism. This is a matter of an assessment of the class forces and political realities involved, not of waiting until there is a perfect bourgeois democracy.
Redrave denounces "stageism", and this leads it to ignore that different struggles have their own particular character. Redrave can only imagine two particular "stages" or characterizations of a struggle: either "bourgeois national democratic revolution" or socialist revolution. There are many more concrete situations than that. But Redrave doesn't even have a vocabulary that would allow one to discuss the concrete situation in Syria.
It's long past time when the dogmas and jargon of Trotskyism should
be rejected. It's not only Stalinism, but Trotskyism that is bankrupt
with respect to the Arab Spring.
(1) "Against left-wing doubts about the democratic movement" by Joseph Green, "Communist Voice" #46, November 2011 at http://www.communistvoice.org/46cLeftWingDoubts.html. See the section "Dreams of immediate socialist revolution" for the references to the LRP and Spark. (Return to text)
(2) Ibid., the section
support' for Qaddafi". (Text)
Redrave's polemic against the CVO, which I have replied to above, is
found in its article "Hands off Aleppo! Victory to the Syrian
Revolution!". The entire text can be found at
http://redrave.blogspot.co.nz/2016/09/hands-off-aleppo-victory-to-syrian.html. Below are excerpts that contain the polemic against the Communist Voice Organization:
The short definition of Permanent Revolution is that the bourgeois democratic revolution cannot be completed except as a socialist revolution. Hence the bourgeois democratic revolution does not represent a stage necessary to prepare for socialism. The national democratic revolution becomes a continuous, uninterrupted, and hence permanent revolution until it becomes an international socialist revolution.
...The Syrian revolutionary war is the advance guard of the Arab Revolution. That is why we insist that it is a definitive test of all those who claim to lead workers to socialist revolution. This revolution exposes all those self-proclaimed Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyists who fail this test and objectively end up in the trenches of the class enemy. They can be categorised roughly into two groups. Those who support Assad as an anti-imperialist when he is a stooge of both U.S. and Russian imperialism, and those who reject Assad as anti-imperialist but fall into the Menshevik dogma that Arab workers as not ready for socialism and must fighting alongside the national bourgeoisie to complete the national democratic revolution to prepare the conditions for socialist revolution.
In the first group are the Blind Assadists who regard the workers as 'not ready' for even the struggle for bourgeois democracy because they have been replaced by imperialist backed jihadists. ... The most influential are those who say that the 'rebels' are no different to the 'jihadists' funded by U.S. proxies, Saudia Arabia, Turkey, etc. Hence they draw the conclusion that the Assad regime is waging a just anti-imperialist war against US imperialist proxies. ...
In the second category are the Unconscious Assadists; those who recognise and support the Syrian revolution but do not see the working class as capable of socialist revolution without first exhausting the limits of bourgeois democracy. This grouping includes Mensheviks, Maoists and Trotskyist centrists, though their positions are far from identical. The Menshevik/Maoist view is that in the epoch of imperialist decay the bourgeois national democratic revolution must be completed before socialist revolution is possible. A good example is the US organisation Communist Voice.
Joseph Green of Communist Voice rails against Trotsky's Permanent Revolution as denigrating the struggle for bourgeois democracy. Yet Trotsky did not reject bourgeois democratic demands such as the right to national self-determination, merely by rebranding them 'transitional demands'. He rejected the Menshevik division between the 'minimum' and 'maximum' program as substituting a pre-ordained stageism for the dialectics of workers taking the fight for immediate democratic demands that would be met inevitably by imperialist repression, all the way to the socialist insurrection. We will see below whether it is Leon Trotsky or Joseph Green who is right in the case of the Syrian Revolution.
For Permanent Revolution!
Our task is to expose those who reject or revise Permanent Revolution. For us there can be no stage in the national democratic revolution where fighting for bourgeois democracy dictates in advance the defence of bourgeois parliament. For the proletariat, the defence of bourgeois democracy is justified only when it advances the socialist revolution. Whether or not workers defend bourgeois parliament is a tactical question that depends on the balance of class forces, that is, the advance or retreat of the revolution.
...Already the [Syrian] revolution has built new institutions based on popular democracy to administer the territory it occupies. In other words here is the Permanent Revolution in the flesh. To defend the immediate bourgeois rights to live and of freedom of expression, workers, poor farmers, street vendors etc., have created workers rights through their armed struggle against "democratic" imperialism and their Syrian dictator Assad!
These are not institutions of bourgeois democracy but of workers' democracy. They are the result of proto workers communes that if joined up would be the basis for an embryonic workers' state. We do not defend the gains made, or respect the loss of life in the revolution so far, by retreating to even the most advanced bourgeois democracy, the 'constituent assembly'. In Syria voting for bourgeois rights has been replaced by taking them arms in hand against the bombs and mercenaries of self-proclaimed 'democratic' imperialism. That is why our program in Syria is not for a Constituent Assembly but armed workers soviets everywhere! ...
To do this we have to fight the Arab and Kurd national revolutions as one workers' revolution. This is about class not nation. Turkey is carrying the can for U.S. and Russia to divide and defeat the workers' revolution and create stable pro-imperialist statelets ruled by their bourgeois clients. There can be no victorious bourgeois national revolution anymore unless it is a permanent or socialist revolution. And socialist revolution in one country cannot survive unless it is international.
That is why the Arab and Kurd national revolutions cannot succeed unless the workers and peasants who do the fighting split decisively from their treacherous bourgeois and petty bourgeois class leaders and join forces with workers and peasants of the whole MENA. It is necessary for the ranks of the rebels to throw out the FSA and YPG leaders who are collaborating with the U.S. and Russia. It is necessary for Iraqi, Egyptian, Palestinian, Kurd, and Iranian workers and peasants to take the lead in their own national revolutions against imperialism, and turn them into victorious socialist revolutions.
They must reject the partition of Syria, Kurdistan and Iraq along sectarian lines, and fight for unity along working class lines. We must appeal to Turkish workers to reject Erdogan's deals with Russia and the U.S. and join forces with the Arab and Kurd masses. We must oppose a new Sykes/Picot in the form of a Kerry/Lavrov deal and fight for a victorious Arab revolution hand in hand with a Kurd Revolution. If the FSA and PYG stopped fighting one another over who controls north Syria and formed a revolutionary bloc, they could unite not only all Arabs in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but the whole of MENA against the deals being made by Russia and the U.S. to divide and defeat these two revolutions.
We want a permanent revolution in which the Arab workers and peasants unite across the whole of MENA to form non-sectarian, democratic, socialist republics in a socialist federation with the Kurd and Iranian revolutions.
[End of excerpts from redrave's polemic] <>
For links to articles dealing with the theoretical issues raised above, see "On the democratic uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East" at http://www.communistvoice.org/00ArabSpring.html.
For some of the more recent articles on the DWV list about Syria, see
* "American activists denounce the US-Russian deal" at
* "The statement of 150 Syrian writers, artists, and journalists against the US-Russian deal" at http://www.communistvoice.org/DWV-160924.html.
* "The policies that led to the Syrian civil war" by Frank Arango, Seattle Communist Study Group, at http://www.communistvoice.org/DWV-160924.html.
* "Terry Burke exposes the apologists for the Assad dictatorship" at
* Book Review: "Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the
Syrian Revolution" by Phil West, Seattle Communist Study Group, at
* "Assad's regime of murder" by Pete Brown, Detroit Worker's Voice,
* "Support the Syrian people against the Assad dictatorship" at
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Posted on October 4,
with a typo corrected.