Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
Globalization and the International Working Class

The perspective of permanent revolution

Spartacist writes: “In a sense, North & Co. have recreated and adopted the Stalinist caricature of Trotskyism, that international socialist revolution means simultaneous revolutions in all major capitalist countries, both advanced and backward.” (emphasis in original). [1]

A simpler explanation is that Spartacist, in its defense of nationalism, has resurrected the same crude ideological methods employed by Stalinism in attacking Trotskyism and in particular the theory of permanent revolution.

Trotsky developed this conception based on a profound analysis of capitalism’s development in Russia and, above all, its relation with the world economy and the world class struggle.

Inherent in the theory of permanent revolution was a dialectical understanding of the combined and uneven development of capitalism. Russia, the most backward of the capitalist countries had, because of its relation to the world market and the penetration of foreign capital, brought into itself the most advanced forms of production and all of the social contradictions of modern capitalism.

Trotsky insisted that only the working class, leading the great mass of peasants and acting as the emancipator of this class, could carry out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution. Once victorious, the working class would have to establish its own dictatorship and embark on socialist measures which challenged the very foundations of bourgeois property.

Against those who dismissed this prognosis on the grounds that such a socialist revolution was impossible within the framework of Russia’s backwardness, Trotsky countered that taking isolated Russia as the framework was itself a fundamental error. The shape and fate of the Russian revolution would be determined above all by world conditions and the international class struggle.

A victorious revolution in Russia, he predicted, would send shock waves throughout the world provoking revolutionary struggles by the working class in the advanced capitalist countries. While Russia’s backwardness precluded the establishment of socialism within the confines of its isolated national economy, the objective conditions had emerged on a world scale for the liquidation of capitalism as a global system.

The survival of the Russian revolution would depend upon its being answered by victorious proletarian revolutions beyond its borders. Only the socialist revolution in the West could ultimately protect Russia from the threat of capitalist restoration and provide the means for the realization of socialism.

The power of Trotsky’s perspective stemmed precisely from its international axis. It started not from the peculiarities of Russia. Rather it comprehended the coming Russian revolution as an original combination of the conditions and features of capitalism as a world system.

The organic incapacity of the Russian bourgeoisie to carry out its own revolution, to secure democracy, agrarian reform and economic development within Russia, was itself a particular expression of a more general phenomenon which remains the fundamental contradiction underlying the crisis of world capitalism today. The forces of production developed by capitalism had, even by the beginning of this century, outgrown the limits of the nation state. The national-state form had already become an intolerable impediment to economic development. Under these conditions it was impossible to resolve the historic problems of Russia, or indeed any area of the globe, on a national basis.

Spartacist’s explanation of permanent revolution begins from an entirely different standpoint. It presents this world revolutionary conception merely as a theory, developed by Trotsky in relation to Tsarist Russia and later applied to the “Third World,” that revolutions could occur in the backward countries before they developed in the advanced ones.

The conclusions which follow from this nationalist distortion of permanent revolution emerge quite clearly in what Spartacist writes about Mexico. Recalling Lenin’s statement that Russia constituted the “weak link” in the imperialist chain, the Workers Vanguard article states that Mexico constitutes such a weak link in the present imperialist order. But while Lenin used this formulation to indicate that the Russian Revolution would be only the beginning of the world socialist revolution, Spartacist advances a very different prognosis:

“A popular upheaval in Mexico, toppling the neocolonial PRI regime, would have a powerful radicalizing effect on the millions of Hispanic workers in the US, many of whom retain strong family ties to Mexico or Central America.” [2]

They foresee not a socialist revolution by the Mexican working class, but rather a “popular upheaval” which would put an end to “the neocolonial PRI regime.” The choice of words is not accidental. Lenin and Trotsky correctly predicted that a victorious revolution in Russia would spark revolutionary struggles by the international working class. Spartacist has a very different prediction as to the impact of a similar event in Mexico. It foresees not an international movement of the working class, but rather a radicalization of Hispanic workers in the US alone, by virtue of their “strong family ties” to the region. In other words, it welcomes the prospect that such a revolution would merely strengthen nationalist sentiment among this layer.

Nation, race, ethnicity, these for Spartacist are the “concrete” determinants of political life. Internationalism and the independent struggle of the world working class are nothing more than abstractions.


Workers Vanguard, March 21, 1997


Workers Vanguard, March 21, 1997