Classes and Parties in Their Attitude to Religion and the Church

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 6, June (4) 17, 1909. Taken from Marxists Internet Archive.

The debates in the Duma on the Synod estimates, then on the restoration of rights to persons who have left holy orders and, finally, on the Old-Believer communities, have provided very instructive material characterising the attitude of the Russian political parties towards religion and the Church. Let us make a general survey of this material, dwelling mainly on the debates on the Synod estimates (we have not yet received the verbatim reports of the debates on the other questions mentioned above).

The first and most obvious conclusion that emerges from the Duma debates is that militant clericalism in Russia not only exists, but is clearly gaining ground and becoming more organised. On April 16, Bishop Metrophanes stated: “The first steps in our Duma activities pursued the explicit end that we who have been honoured by the votes of the people, should here in the Duma stand above party divisions, and form a single group of the clergy, which should throw light on all sides from its ethical point of view…. What is the reason why we have failed to achieve this ideal situation? … The fault for this lies with those who are sharing these benches with you [i. e., with the Cadets and the "Left"], namely, those clerical deputies who belong to the opposition. They were the first to lift their voice and say that this was neither more nor less than the emergence of a clerical party, and that this was extremely undesirable. Of course, there is no such thing as clericalism among the Russian Orthodox clergy–we never had a tendency of that kind, and in seeking to form a separate group we were pursuing purely ethical and moral ends. But now, gentlemen, when, as a result of this discord introduced in our brotherly midst by the Left deputies, there followed disunity and division, now you [i. e., the Cadets] blame it on us.”

Bishop Metrophanes in his illiterate speech let the cat out of the bag: the Left, don’t you see, are guilty of having dissuaded some of the Duma priests from forming a special “moral” (this term is obviously more suitable for hoodwinking the people than the word “clerical”) group!

Almost a month later, on May 13, Bishop Eulogius read in the Duma “the resolution of the Duma clergy”: “The overwhelming majority of the Duma Orthodox clergy considers”… that in the interests of the “leading and dominant position of the Orthodox Church” neither freedom of preaching for the Old-Believers, nor the unauthorised functioning of Old- Believer communities, nor the using of the title of priest by Old-Believer clergymen, are permissible. “The purely moral point of view” of the Russian priests stands fully revealed as clericalism pure and simple. “The overwhelming majority” of the Duma clergy, in whose name Bishop Eulogius spoke, probably consisted of 29 Right and moderately Right priests in the Third Duma, and possibly also included 8 priests belonging to the Octobrists. The opposition had probably been joined by 4 priests belonging to the Progressist and Peaceful Renovation groups and one belonging to the Polish-Lithuanian group.

What is then the “purely moral and ethical point of view of the overwhelming majority of the clergy in the Duma” (the June-the-Third Duma, one should add)? Here are a few excerpts from the speeches: “All I say is that the initiative for these [i.e., Church] reforms must come from within the Church, not from without, not from the state and, of course, not from the Budget Commission. After all, the Church is a divine and eternal institution, its laws are immutable, whereas the ideals of state life, as we know, are subject to constant modifications” (Bishop Eulogius, April 14). The orator recalled “a disturbing historical parallel”: the secularisation of Church property under Catherine II. “Who can vouch that the Budget Commission, which this year expressed the desire to put them [the Church funds] under state control, will not express next year the desire to deposit them in the State Treasury, and then fully to transfer their management from the Church authorities to the civil or state authorities?… The Church statutes say that since a bishop is entrusted with Christian souls, then all the more should Church property be entrusted to him…. Today before you [deputies of the Duma] stands your spiritual mother, the holy Orthodox Church, not merely as before representatives of the people, but also as before its spiritual children” (ibid.).

This is pure clericalism. The Church is above the state as the eternal and divine is above the temporal and earthly. The Church cannot forgive the state for secularising Church property. The Church demands a leading and dominant position. In its eyes the Duma deputies are not only–or rather not so much–representatives of the people as “spiritual children”.

These are not officials in cassocks, as the Social-Democrat Surkov called them, but feudalists in cassocks. Defence of the Church’s feudal privileges, outspoken support of medievalism–that is the essence of the policy pursued by the majority of the Third Duma clergy. Bishop Eulogius is by no means an exception. Gepetsky also vociferates against “secularisation” which he calls an intolerable “wrong” (April 14). The priest Mashkevich fulminates against the Octobrist report for seeking “to undermine the historic and canonical foundations on which our Church life has rested and must rest … to push the life and activities of the Russian Orthodox Church off the canonical path on to the path where … the true princes of the Church–the bishops–will be obliged to give up almost all their rights, inherited from the apostles, to secular princes…. This is nothing but … an encroachment on somebody else’s property and on the rights and possessions of the Church…. The speaker is leading us towards the destruction of the canonical order of Church life; he seeks to subordinate the Orthodox Church and all its economic functions to the Duma, an institution composed of the most diverse elements in our country, of religious creeds both tolerated and not tolerated” (April 14).

The Russian Narodniks and liberals have long been comforting themselves, or rather deceiving themselves, with the “theory” that in Russia there is no basis for militant clericalism, for a struggle of “the princes of the Church” with the temporal power, and so forth. Our revolution has dispelled this illusion, as it did a number of other Narodnik and liberal illusions. Clericalism existed in a hidden form, so long as autocracy existed intact and inviolate. The all- powerful police and bureaucracy concealed from the gaze of “society” and the people the class struggle in general, and the struggle waged by the “feudalists in cassocks” against the “base rabble” in particular. But the first breach which the revolutionary proletariat and peasantry made in the feudalist autocratic regime laid bare what had been hidden. As soon as the proletariat and the advanced elements of the democratic bourgeoisie began to make use of the political liberty, the freedom to organise the masses, which they had won at the end of 1905, the reactionary classes, too, reached out for independent and open organisations. Under absolute autocracy they did not organise, and did not come out too much in the open, not because they were weak, but be cause they were strong; not because they were incapable of organisation and political struggle, but because at that time they did not yet feel any real need for independent class organisation. They did not believe in the possibility of a mass movement against the autocracy and the feudalists in Russia. They fully relied on the knout being sufficient to keep the rabble down. But the first wounds inflicted on autocracy compelled the social elements which supported it and needed it to come out into the open. It was no longer possible to use only the old knout in fighting masses that had been capable of causing the events of January 9, the strike movement in 1905, and the October-December revolution. It became necessary to build up independent political organisations; it became necessary for the Council of the United Nobility to organise Black Hundreds and engage in the most irresponsible demagogy; it became necessary for “the princes of the Church–the bishops”–to organise the reactionary clergy into an independent force.

A typical feature of the Third Duma, and of the Third Duma period of the Russian counter-revolution is, indeed, that this organisation of the reactionary forces has come out into the open, has begun to develop on a nation-wide scale, and has demanded a special Black-Hundred bourgeois “parliament”. Militant clericalism has shown its true colours; and from now on Russian Social-Democracy will have to act again and again as an observer of, and participant in, the clashes between the clerical and the anti-clerical bourgeoisie. If our general task is to assist the proletariat to unite into a special class, capable of separating from bourgeois democracy, one component of this task is the use of every means of propaganda and agitation, including the rostrum of the Duma, to explain to the masses the distinctions between socialist and bourgeois anti-clericalism.

The Octobrists and Cadets who have come out in the Third Duma against the extreme Right, the clericals, and the government, have eased this task for us immensely by providing an object-lesson of the attitude of the bourgeoisie to wards the Church and religion. The legal press of the Cadets and the so-called Progressists is at present devoting special attention to the question of the Old-Believers, to the fact that the Octobrists as well as the Cadets have taken a stand against the government, and to the fact that they have, albeit in a small way, “adopted the course of reform” promised on October 17. What interests us most is the principle involved in this question, i.e., the attitude of the bourgeoisie in general, including the elements who claim the title of Democratic Cadets, towards religion and the Church. We must not allow a relatively minor question–the Old-Believers’ conflict with the dominant Church, and the conduct of the Octobrists who are tied up with the Old-Believers, and are partly even dependent on them financially (Golos Moskvy [2] is said to be financed by the Old-Believers)–make us lose sight of the root question, that of the interests and policy of the bourgeoisie as a class.

Take a look at the speech delivered by Count Uvarov, an Octobrist in his general views, but who has left the Octobrist group. Speaking after the Social-Democrat Surkov, he started by refusing to deal with this question from the standpoint of principle, as the workers’ deputy had done. Uvarov merely attacks the Synod and the Procurator-General for their unwillingness to give the Duma any information on certain Church revenues and on the expenditure of parish funds. Kamensky, the official spokesman of the Octobrists, approaches the question” from the same stand point (April 16), and demands that parishes should be revived “for the purpose of strengthening the Orthodox faith”. Kapustin, the so-called “Left-wing Octobrist”, elaborates on this idea. “If we turn to the life of the people,” he ex claims, “to the life of the rural population, we observe today, here and now, a sad fact: religious life is tottering, the greatest and sole foundation of the people’s moral principles is tottering…. What can replace the concept of sin, what can replace the dictates of conscience? Surely, they cannot be replaced by the concept of class struggle and the rights of this or that class. That is a tragic concept which has taken root in our everyday life. Therefore, if religion is to survive as a foundation of morality, if it is to be within reach of the whole population, it is necessary that the bearers of this religion should enjoy the proper authority….”

The spokesman of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie wishes to strengthen religion, he wishes to enhance the influence of religion on the masses, realising that it is inadequate and out of date, realising even the harm caused to the ruling classes by “officials in cassocks”, who are lowering the authority of the Church. The Octobrist is fighting against the excesses of clericalism and of police tutelage in order to strengthen the influence of the Church on the masses, in order to replace at least some means of addling the wits of the people, which are too crude, too out of date, too threadbare to achieve their object, by more refined and improved means. Police religion is no longer adequate for be fuddling the masses: give us a more cultured, more up-to- date, more skilful religion, one that will be effective in a self-governing parish–that is what capital is demanding of the autocracy.

And the Cadet Karaulov fully subscribes to this same point of view. This “liberal” renegade (who gradually “evolved” from the Narodnaya Volya [1] to the Right-wing Cadets) screams his protest against the “denationalisation of the Church, understanding this to mean the exclusion of the masses of the people, of the laity, from the building of the Church”. He finds it “shocking” (literally so!) that the masses are “losing faith”. He raises an outcry, quite in the style of Menshikov [3], because the “immense intrinsic value of the Church is being depreciated … to the great detriment not only of the cause of the Church, but of that of the state as well”. He qualifies as “words of gold” the loathsome hypocrisy of the zealot Eulogius on the theme that “the task of the Church is eternal, immutable, hence, it is not possible to link up the Church with politics”. He protests against the alliance of the Church with the Black Hundreds for the sole reason that the Church may, “with greater might and glory than today, fulfil its grand and holy mission in a Christian spirit of love and freedom”.

Comrade Belousov did well to have a good laugh at these “lyrical words” of Karaulov’s from the Duma rostrum. How ever, such ridicule is very far from being adequate. It had to be made clear–and at the first convenient opportunity this should be done from the Duma rostrum–that the stand point of the Cadets is absolutely identical with that of the Octobrists, and merely expresses the efforts of “cultured” capital to bamboozle the people with religious narcotics by more refined methods of Church deception than the ones now practised by the rank-and-file Russian priests who are still living in the past.

To keep the people in spiritual bondage, there must be the closest possible alliance of the Church and the Black Hundreds, said the “wild landlord” and the old Derzhimorda [4] through their spokesman Purishkevich. You are wrong, gentlemen, retorts the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie through their spokesman Karaulov: with such methods you will only make the people turn away from religion for good. Now let us go about it in a more clever, more artful, more ingenious way: let us remove the too stupid and crude agent of the Black Hundreds, declare war on “denationalisation of the Church”, and inscribe on our banner Bishop Eulogius’s “words of gold” to the effect that the Church is above politics. Only in this way shall we be able to fool at least some of the backward workers, and especially of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry, and be able to help the renovated Church to fulfil its “grand and holy mission” of retaining the masses of the people in spiritual bondage.

Our liberal press, not excluding the newspaper Rech, has concentrated of late on censuring Struve and Co. for their authorship of the symposium Vekhi. But Karaulov, the official spokesman of the Cadets in the Duma, has done a superlative job of exposing all the vile hypocrisy of these remonstrances, and these repudiations of Struve and Co. What Karaulov and Milyukov conceal, Struve reveals. The liberals blame Struve only for having imprudently blurted out the truth, for showing his hand too openly. The liberals, who censureVekhi and go on supporting the Cadet Party, are most shamelessly deceiving the people–condemning imprudently outspoken words, and going on doing the very things that go with those words.

There is little to say about the conduct of the Trudoviks in the Duma during the debate on the questions under re view. As always, a noticeable difference was revealed between the peasant Trudoviks and the intellectual Trudoviks to the disadvantage of the latter, because of their excessive readiness to follow the Cadets. True, Rozhkov, a peasant, revealed in his speech his complete lack of political consciousness; he, too, repeated the Cadet platitudes about the Union of the Russian People helping not to reinforce but to destroy faith. He was unable to suggest any programme. On the other hand, when he began in his artless manner to tell the naked, unvarnished truth about the levies collected by the clergy, about the extortions of the priests, about how, in addition to charging money for conducting a marriage ceremony, they demand “a bottle of vodka, snacks, and a pound of tea, and sometimes things that I am even afraid to talk about from this rostrum” (April 16, verbatim report, p. 2259)–this was more than the Black-Hundred Duma could stand. A wild howl arose from the benches of the right. “This is scandalous, this is outrageous!” shouted the Black Hundreds, realising that this simple peasant’s speech about extortions, listing the scale of “fees” charged for religious rites, was more likely to revolutionise the masses than any amount of theoretical or tactical anti-religious and anti-Church declarations. Thereupon the band of diehard defenders of autocracy in the Third Duma intimidated their flunkey–the Duma Chairman Meyendorff–and compelled him to rule that Rozhkov must sit down (the Social-Democrats, joined by some Trudoviks, Cadets and others, handed in a protest against this action of the Chairman).

Although the speech delivered by the peasant Trudovik Rozhkov was extremely unsophisticated, it provided an excellent demonstration of the abyss dividing the hypocritical, deliberately reactionary defence of religion by the Cadets, and the primitive, unconscious, matter-of-fact religiousness of the peasant, whose living conditions give rise–against his will and unconsciously–to a truly revolutionary resentment against extortions, and to readiness for a resolute fight against medievalism. The Cadets are the representatives of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, which is intent on renovating and strengthening religion against the people. The Rozhkovs are the representatives of revolutionary bourgeois democracy, a democracy that is undeveloped, lacking political consciousness, downtrodden, lacking independence, disunited–yet frought with an all but inexhaustible reservoir of revolutionary energy in the fight against the landlords, the priests, and the autocracy.

Rozanov, a Trudovik intellectual, came close to the Cadets far less unconsciously than Rozhkov. Rozanov could mention disestablishment of the Church as a demand of the “Left”, but could not refrain from reactionary, petty-bourgeois phrases about “amending the electoral law in the sense that the clergy should be excluded from participation in the political struggle”. The revolutionary spirit, which finds a spontaneous outlet in a typical, average peasant when he begins to tell the truth about how he lives, vanishes in the case of a Trudovik intellectual, to be replaced by hazy and sometimes actually vile phrases. For the hundredth and thousandth time we see the truth confirmed that only if they follow the proletariat’s lead will the Russian peasant masses be able to overthrow the oppressive and killing yoke of the feudal-minded landlords, the feudalists in cassocks, the feudal-minded supporters of the autocracy.

The Social-Democrat Surkov, representing the workers’ party and the working class, was the only person in the Duma to raise the debates to the truly high level of principle, and said without beating about the bush what the attitude of the proletariat is towards the Church and religion, and what should be the attitude in this matter of all consistent and vigorous democrats. “Religion is the opium of the people…. Not a farthing of the people’s money to these murderous enemies of the people who are drugging the people’s minds”–this straightforward, bold and outspoken battle-cry of a socialist resounded like a challenge to the Black- Hundred Duma, and met with the response of millions of proletarians, who will spread it among the masses and who will know how to translate it into revolutionary action when the time comes.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Notes

[1] See Note 99.–Ed.

[2] Golos Moskvy (Voice of Moscow)–a daily newspaper, organ of the Octobrists– a counter-revolutionary party of the big industrial bourgeoisie and big landlords. Published in Moscow from 1905 to 1915.

[3] Menshikov, M. 0. (1859-1919)–a reactionary journalist, one of the editors of the Black-Hundred newspaper Novoye Vremya (New Times).–Ed.

[4] Derzhimorda–the name of a policeman in Gogol’s comedy The Inspector-General typifying an insolent, brutal bully and oppressor.

Socialism and Religion

Published: Novaya Zhizn, No. 28, December 3, 1905. Taken from Marxists Internet Archive

Present-day society is wholly based on the exploitation of the vast masses of the working class by a tiny minority of the population, the class of the landowners and that of the capitalists. It is a slave society, since the “free” workers, who all their life work for the capitalists, are “entitled” only to such means of subsistence as are essential for the maintenance of slaves who produce profit, for the safeguarding and perpetuation of capitalist slavery.

The economic oppression of the workers inevitably calls forth and engenders every kind of political oppression and social humiliation, the coarsening and darkening of the spiritual and moral life of the masses. The workers may secure a greater or lesser degree of political liberty to fight for their economic emancipation, but no amount of liberty will rid them of poverty, unemployment, and oppression until the power of capital is overthrown. Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people, over burdened by their perpetual work for others, by want and isolation. Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters just as inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death as impotence of the savage in his battle with nature gives rise to belief in gods, devils, miracles, and the like. Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze, in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man.

But a slave who has become conscious of his slavery and has risen to struggle for his emancipation has already half ceased to be a slave. The modern class-conscious worker, reared by large-scale factory industry and enlightened by urban life, contemptuously casts aside religious prejudices, leaves heaven to the priests and bourgeois bigots, and tries to win a better life for himself here on earth. The proletariat of today takes the side of socialism, which enlists science in the battle against the fog of religion, and frees the workers from their belief in life after death by welding them together to fight in the present for a better life on earth.

Religion must be declared a private affair. In these words socialists usually express their attitude towards religion. But the meaning of these words should be accurately defined to prevent any misunderstanding. We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned. But by no means can we consider religion a private affair so far as our Party is concerned. Religion must be of no concern to the state, and religious societies must have no connection with governmental authority. Everyone must be absolutely free to profess any religion he pleases, or no religion whatever, i.e., to be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule. Discrimination among citizens on account of their religious convictions is wholly intolerable. Even the bare mention of a citizen’s religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated. No subsidies should be granted to the established church nor state allowances made to ecclesiastical and religious societies. These should become absolutely free associations of like-minded citizens, associations independent of the state. Only the complete fulfilment of these demands can put an end to the shameful and accursed past when the church lived in feudal dependence on the state, and Russian citizens lived in feudal dependence on the established church, when medieval, inquisitorial laws (to this day remaining in our criminal codes and on our statute-books) were in existence and were applied, persecuting men for their belief or disbelief, violating men’s consciences, and linking cosy government jobs and government-derived incomes with the dispensation of this or that dope by the established church. Complete separation of Church and State is what the socialist proletariat demands of the modern state and the modern church.

The Russian revolution must put this demand into effect as a necessary component of political freedom. In this respect, the Russian revolution is in a particularly favourable position, since the revolting officialism of the police-ridden feudal autocracy has called forth discontent, unrest and indignation even among the clergy. However abject, however ignorant Russian Orthodox clergymen may have been, even they have now been awakened by the thunder of the downfall of the old, medieval order in Russia. Even they are joining in the demand for freedom, are protesting against bureaucratic practices and officialism, against the spying for the police imposed on the “servants of God”. We socialists must lend this movement our support, carrying the demands of honest and sincere members of the clergy to their conclusion, making them stick to their words about freedom, demanding that they should resolutely break all ties between religion and the police. Either you are sincere, in which case you must stand for the complete separation of Church and State and of School and Church, for religion to be declared wholly and absolutely a private affair. Or you do not accept these consistent demands for freedom, in which case you evidently are still held captive by the traditions of the inquisition, in which case you evidently still cling to your cosy government jobs and government-derived incomes, in which case you evidently do not believe in the spiritual power of your weapon and continue to take bribes from the state. And in that case the class-conscious workers of all Russia declare merciless war on you.

So far as the party of the socialist proletariat is concerned, religion is not a private affair. Our Party is an association of class-conscious, advanced fighters for the emancipation of the working class. Such an association cannot and must not be indifferent to lack of class-consciousness, ignorance or obscurantism in the shape of religious beliefs. We demand complete disestablishment of the Church so as to be able to combat the religious fog with purely ideo logical and solely ideological weapons, by means of our press and by word of mouth. But we founded our association, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, precisely for such a struggle against every religious bamboozling of the workers. And to us the ideological struggle is not a private affair, but the affair of the whole Party, of the whole proletariat.

If that is so, why do we not declare in our Programme that we are atheists? Why do we not forbid Christians and other believers in God to join our Party?

The answer to this question will serve to explain the very important difference in the way the question of religion is presented by the bourgeois democrats and the Social-Democrats.

Our Programme is based entirely on the scientific, and moreover the materialist, world-outlook. An explanation of our Programme, therefore, necessarily includes an explanation of the true historical and economic roots of the religious fog. Our propaganda necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism; the publication of the appropriate scientific literature, which the autocratic feudal government has hitherto strictly forbidden and persecuted, must now form one of the fields of our Party work. We shall now probably have to follow the advice Engels once gave to the German Socialists: to translate and widely disseminate the literature of the eighteenth-century French Enlighteners and atheists.[1]

But under no circumstances ought we to fall into the error of posing the religious question in an abstract, idealistic fashion, as an “intellectual” question unconnected with the class struggle, as is not infrequently done by the radical-democrats from among the bourgeoisie. It would be stupid to think that, in a society based on the endless oppression and coarsening of the worker masses, religious prejudices could be dispelled by purely propaganda methods. It would be bourgeois narrow-mindedness to forget that the yoke of religion that weighs upon mankind is merely a product and reflection of the economic yoke within society. No number of pamphlets and no amount of preaching can enlighten the proletariat, if it is not enlightened by its own struggle against the dark forces of capitalism. Unity in this really revolutionary struggle of the oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth is more important to us than unity of proletarian opinion on paradise in heaven.

That is the reason why we do not and should not set forth our atheism in our Programme; that is why we do not and should not prohibit proletarians who still retain vestiges of their old prejudices from associating themselves with our Party. We shall always preach the scientific world-outlook, and it is essential for us to combat the inconsistency of various “Christians”. But that does not mean in the least that the religious question ought to be advanced to first place, where it does not belong at all; nor does it mean that we should allow the forces of the really revolutionary economic and political struggle to be split up on account of third-rate opinions or senseless ideas, rapidly losing all political importance, rapidly being swept out as rubbish by the very course of economic development.

Everywhere the reactionary bourgeoisie has concerned itself, and is now beginning to concern itself in Russia, with the fomenting of religious strife–in order thereby to divert the attention of the masses from the really important and fundamental economic and political problems, now being solved in practice by the all-Russian proletariat uniting in revolutionary struggle. This reactionary policy of splitting up the proletarian forces, which today manifests itself mainly in Black-Hundred pogroms, may tomorrow conceive some more subtle forms. We, at any rate, shall oppose it by calmly, consistently and patiently preaching proletarian solidarity and the scientific world-outlook–a preaching alien to any stirring up of secondary differences.

The revolutionary proletariat will succeed in making religion a really private affair, so far as the state is concerned. And in this political system, cleansed of medieval mildew, the proletariat will wage a broad and open struggle for the elimination of economic slavery, the true source of the religious humbugging of mankind.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Notes

[1] See Frederick Engels, “Flüchtlings-Literatur”, Volksstaat, Nr, 73 vom 22.6.1874.

The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion

Published: Proletary, No. 45, May 13 (26), 1909. Taken from Marxists Internet Archive.

Deputy Surkov’s speech in the Duma during the debate on the Synod estimates, and the discussion that arose within our Duma group when it considered the draft of this speech (both printed in this issue) have raised a question which is of extreme importance and urgency at this particular moment. An interest in everything connected with religion is undoubtedly being shown today by wide circles of “society”, and has penetrated into the ranks of intellectuals standing close to the working-class movement, as well as into certain circles of the workers. It is the absolute duty of Social-Democrats to make a public statement of their attitude towards religion.

Social-Democracy bases its whole world-outlook on scientific socialism, i. e., Marxism. The philosophical basis of Marxism, as Marx and Engels repeatedly declared, is dialectical materialism, which has fully taken over the historical traditions of eighteenth-century materialism in France and of Feuerbach (first half of the nineteenth century) in Germany–a materialism which is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion. Let us recall that the whole of Engels’s Anti-Dühring, which Marx read in manuscript, is an indictment of the materialist and atheist Dühring for not being a consistent materialist and for leaving loopholes for religion and religious philosophy. Let us recall that in his essay on Ludwig Feuerbach, Engels reproaches Feuerbach for combating religion not in order to destroy it, but in order to renovate it, to invent a new, “exalted” religion, and so forth. Religion is the opium of the people–this dictum by Marx is the corner-stone of the whole Marxist outlook on religion [1]. Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organisation, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class.

At the same time Engels frequently condemned the efforts of people who desired to be “more left” or “more revolutionary” than the Social-Democrats, to introduce into the programme of the workers’ party an explicit proclamation of atheism, in the sense of declaring war on religion. Commenting in 1874 on the famous manifesto of the Blanquist fugitive Communards who were living in exile in London, Engels called their vociferous proclamation of war on religion a piece of stupidity, and stated that such a declaration of war was the best way to revive interest in religion and to prevent it from really dying out. Engels blamed the Blanquists for being unable to understand that only the class struggle of the working masses could, by comprehensively drawing the widest strata of the proletariat into conscious and revolutionary social practice, really free the oppressed masses from the yoke of religion, whereas to proclaim that war on religion was a political task of the workers’ party was just anarchistic phrase-mongering [2]. And in 1877, too, in his Anti-Dühring, while ruthlessly attacking the slightest concessions made by Dühring the philosopher to idealism and religion, Engels no less resolutely condemns Dühring’s pseudo-revolutionary idea that religion should be prohibited in socialist society. To declare such a war on religion, Engels says, is to “out-Bismarck Bismarck”, i. e., to repeat the folly of Bismarck’s struggle against the clericals (the notorious “Struggle for Culture”, Kulturkampf, i.e., the struggle Bismarck waged in the 1870s against the German Catholic party, the “Centre” party, by means of a police persecution of Catholicism). By this struggle Bismarck only stimulated the militant clericalism of the Catholics, and only injured the work of real culture, because he gave prominence to religious divisions rather than political divisions, and diverted the attention of some sections of the working class and of the other democratic elements away from the urgent tasks of the class and revolutionary struggle to the most superficial and false bourgeois anti-clericalism. Accusing the would-be ultra-revolutionary Dühring of wanting to repeat Bismarck’s folly in another form, Engels insisted that the workers’ party should have the ability to work patiently at the task of organising and educating the proletariat, which would lead to the dying out of religion, and not throw itself into the gamble of a political war on religion [3]. This view has become part of the very essence of German Social-Democracy, which, for example, advocated freedom for the Jesuits, their admission into Germany, and the complete abandonment of police methods of combating any particular religion. “Religion is a private matter”: this celebrated point in the Erfurt Programme (1891) summed up these political tactics of Social-Democracy.

These tactics have by now become a matter of routine; they have managed to give rise to a new distortion of Marxism in the opposite direction, in the direction of opportunism. This point in the Erfurt Programme has come to be interpreted as meaning that we Social-Democrats, our Party, consider religion to be a private matter, that religion is a private matter for us as Social-Democrats, for us as a party. Without entering into a direct controversy with this opportunist view, Engels in the nineties deemed it necessary to oppose it resolutely in a positive, and not a polemical form. To wit: Engels did this in the form of a statement, which he deliberately underlined, that Social-Democrats regard religion as a private matter in relation to the state, but not in relation to themselves, not in relation to Marxism, and not in relation to the workers’ party [4].

Such is the external history of the utterances of Marx and Engels on the question of religion. To people with a slapdash attitude towards Marxism, to people who cannot or will not think, this history is a skein of meaningless Marxist contradictions and waverings, a hodge-podge of “consistent” atheism and “sops” to religion, “unprincipled” wavering between a r-r-revolutionary war on God and a cowardly desire to “play up to” religious workers, a fear of scaring them away, etc., etc. The literature of the anarchist phrase-mongers contains plenty of attacks on Marxism in this vein.

But anybody who is able to treat Marxism at all seriously, to ponder over its philosophical principles and the experience of international Social-Democracy, will readily see that the Marxist tactics in regard to religion are thoroughly consistent, and were carefully thought out by Marx and Engels; and that what dilettantes or ignoramuses regard as wavering is but a direct and inevitable deduction from dialectical materialism. It would be a profound mistake to think that the seeming “moderation” of Marxism in regard to religion is due to supposed “tactical” considerations, the desire “not to scare away” anybody, and so forth. On the contrary, in this question, too, the political line of Marxism is inseparably bound up with its philosophical principles.

Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion as was the materialism of the eighteenth-century Encyclopaedists or the materialism of Feuerbach. This is beyond doubt. But the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels goes further than the Encyclopaedists and Feuerbach, for it applies the materialist philosophy to the domain of history, to the domain of the social sciences. We must combat religion–that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion, and in order to do so we must explain the source of faith and religion among the masses in a materialist way. The combating of religion cannot be confined to abstract ideological preaching, and it must not be reduced to such preaching. It must be linked up with the concrete practice of the class movement, which aims at eliminating the social roots of religion. Why does religion retain its hold on the backward sections of the town proletariat, on broad sections of the semi-proletariat, and on the mass of the peasantry? Because of the ignorance of the people, replies the bourgeois progressist, the radical or the bourgeois materialist. And so: “Down with religion and long live atheism; the dissemination of atheist views is our chief task!” The Marxist says that this is not true, that it is a superficial view, the view of narrow bourgeois uplifters. It does not explain the roots of religion profoundly enough; it explains them, not in a materialist but in an idealist way. In modern capitalist countries these roots are mainly social. The deepest root of religion today is the socially downtrodden condition of the working masses and their apparently complete helplessness in face of the blind forces of capitalism, which every day and every hour inflicts upon ordinary working people the most horrible suffering and the most savage torment, a thousand times more severe than those inflicted by extra-ordinary events, such as wars, earthquakes, etc. “Fear made the gods.” Fear of the blind force of capital–blind because it cannot be foreseen by the masses of the people–a force which at every step in the life of the proletarian and small proprietor threatens to inflict, and does inflict “sudden”, “unexpected”, “accidental” ruin, destruction, pauperism, prostitution, death from starvation–such is the root of modern religion which the materialist must bear in mind first and foremost, if he does not want to remain an infant-school materialist. No educational book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labour, and who are at the mercy of the blind destructive forces of capitalism, until those masses themselves learn to fight this root of religion, fight the rule of capital in all its forms, in a united, organised, planned and conscious way.

Does this mean that educational books against religion are harmful or unnecessary? No, nothing of the kind. It means that Social-Democracy’s atheist propaganda must be subordinated to its basic task–the development of the class struggle of the exploited masses against the exploiters.

This proposition may not be understood (or at least not immediately understood) by one who has not pondered over the principles of dialectical materialism, i. e., the philosophy of Marx and Engels. How is that?–he will say. Is ideological propaganda, the preaching of definite ideas, the struggle against that enemy of culture and progress which has persisted for thousands of years (i. e., religion) to be subordinated to the class struggle, i. e., the struggle for definite practical aims in the economic and political field?

This is one of those current objections to Marxism which testify to a complete misunderstanding of Marxian dialectics. The contradiction which perplexes these objectors is a real contradiction in real life, i. e., a dialectical contradiction, and not a verbal or invented one. To draw a hard-and-fast line between the theoretical propaganda of atheism, i. e., the destruction of religious beliefs among certain sections of the proletariat, and the success, the progress and the conditions of the class struggle of these sections, is to reason undialectically, to transform a shifting and relative boundary into an absolute boundary; it is forcibly to disconnect what is indissolubly connected in real life. Let us take an example. The proletariat in a particular region and in a particular industry is divided, let us assume, into an advanced section of fairly class-conscious Social-Democrats, who are of course atheists, and rather backward workers who are still connected with the countryside and with the peasantry, and who believe in God, go to church, or are even under the direct influence of the local priest–who, let us suppose, is organising a Christian labour union. Let us assume furthermore that the economic struggle in this locality has resulted in a strike. It is the duty of a Marxist to place the success of the strike movement above everything else, vigorously to counteract the division of the workers in this struggle into atheists and Christians, vigorously to oppose any such division. Atheist propaganda in such circumstances may be both unnecessary and harmful–not from the philistine fear of scaring away the backward sections, of losing a seat in the elections, and so on, but out of consideration for the real progress of the class struggle, which in the conditions of modern capitalist society will convert Christian workers to Social-Democracy and to atheism a hundred times better than bald atheist propaganda. To preach atheism at such a moment and in such circumstances would only be playing into the hands of the priest and the priests, who desire nothing better than that the division of the workers according to their participation in the strike movement should be replaced by their division according to their belief in God. An anarchist who preached war against God at all costs would in effect be helping the priests and the bourgeoisie (as the anarchists always do help the bourgeoisie in practice). A Marxist must be a materialist, i. e., an enemy of religion, but a dialectical materialist, i. e., one who treats the struggle against religion not in an abstract way, not on the basis of remote, purely theoretical, never varying preaching, but in a concrete way, on the basis of the class struggle which is going on in practice and is educating the masses more and better than anything else could. A Marxist must be able to view the concrete situation as a whole, he must always be able to find the boundary between anarchism and opportunism (this boundary is relative, shifting and changeable, but it exists). And he must not succumb either to the abstract, verbal, but in reality empty “revolutionism” of the anarchist, or to the philistinism and opportunism of the petty bourgeois or liberal intellectual, who boggles at the struggle against religion, forgets that this is his duty, reconciles himself to belief in God, and is guided not by the interests of the class struggle but by the petty and mean consideration of offending nobody, repelling nobody and scaring nobody–by the sage rule: “live and let live”, etc., etc.

It is from this angle that all side issues bearing on the attitude of Social-Democrats to religion should be dealt with. For example, the question is often brought up whether a priest can be a member of the Social-Democratic Party or not, and this question is usually answered in an unqualified affirmative, the experience of the European Social-Democratic parties being cited as evidence. But this experience was the result, not only of the application of the Marxist doctrine to the workers’ movement, but also of the special historical conditions in Western Europe which are absent in Russia (we will say more about these conditions later), so that an unqualified affirmative answer in this case is incorrect. It cannot be asserted once and for all that priests cannot be members of the Social-Democratic Party; but neither can the reverse rule be laid down. If a priest comes to us to take part in our common political work and conscientiously performs Party duties, without opposing the programme of the Party, he may be allowed to join the ranks of the Social-Democrats; for the contradiction between the spirit and principles of our programme and the religious convictions of the priest would in such circumstances be something that concerned him alone, his own private contradiction; and a political organisation cannot put its members through an examination to see if there is no contradiction between their views and the Party programme. But, of course, such a case might be a rare exception even in Western Europe, while in Russia it is altogether improbable. And if, for example, a priest joined the Social-Democratic Party and made it his chief and almost sole work actively to propagate religious views in the Party, it would unquestionably have to expel him from its ranks. We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party, but must deliberately set out to recruit them; we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offence to their religious convictions, but we recruit them in order to educate them in the spirit of our programme, and not in order to permit an active struggle against it. We allow freedom of opinion within the Party, but to certain limits, determined by freedom of grouping; we are not obliged to go hand in hand with active preachers of views that are repudiated by the majority of the Party.

Another example. Should members of the Social-Democratic Party be censured all alike under all circumstances for declaring “socialism is my religion”, and for advocating views in keeping with this declaration? No! The deviation from Marxism (and consequently from socialism) is here indisputable; but the significance of the deviation, its relative importance, so to speak, may vary with circumstances. It is one thing when an agitator or a person addressing the workers speaks in this way in order to make himself better understood, as an introduction to his subject, in order to present his views more vividly in terms to which the backward masses are most accustomed. It is another thing when a writer begins to preach “god-building”, or god-building socialism (in the spirit, for example, of our Lunacharsky and Co.). While in the first case censure would be mere carping, or even inappropriate restriction of the freedom of the agitator, of his freedom in choosing “pedagogical” methods, in the second case party censure is necessary and essential. For some the statement “socialism is a religion” is a form of transition from religion to socialism; for others, it is a form of transition from socialism to religion.

Let us now pass to the conditions which in the West gave rise to the opportunist interpretation of the thesis: “religion is a private matter”. Of course, a contributing influence are those general factors which give rise to opportunism as a whole, like sacrificing the fundamental interests of the working-class movement for the sake of momentary advantages. The party of the proletariat demands that the state should declare religion a private matter, but does not regard the fight against the opium of the people, the fight against religious superstitions, etc., as a “private matter”. The opportunists distort the question to mean that the Social-Democratic Party regards religion as a private matter!

But in addition to the usual opportunist distortion (which was not made clear at all in the discussion within our Duma group when it was considering the speech on religion), there are special historical conditions which have given rise to the present-day, and, if one may so express it, excessive, indifference on the part of the European Social-Democrats to the question of religion. These conditions are of a twofold nature. First, the task of combating religion is historically the task of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, and in the West this task was to a large extent performed (or tackled) by bourgeois democracy, in the epoch of its revolutions or its assaults upon feudalism and medievalism. Both in France and in Germany there is a tradition of bourgeois war on religion, and it began long before socialism (the Encyclopaedists, Feuerbach). In Russia, because of the conditions of our bourgeois-democratic revolution, this task too falls almost entirely on the shoulders of the working class. Petty-bourgeois (Narodnik) democracy in our country has not done too much in this respect (as the new-fledged Black-Hundred Cadets, or Cadet Black Hundreds, of  Vekhi[5] think), but rather too little, in comparison with what has been done in Europe.

On the other hand, the tradition of bourgeois war on religion has given rise in Europe to a specifically bourgeois distortion of this war by anarchism–which, as the Marxists have long explained time and again, takes its stand on the bourgeois world-outlook, in spite of all the “fury” of its attacks on the bourgeoisie. The anarchists and Blanquists in the Latin countries, Most (who, incidentally, was a pupil of Dühring) and his ilk in Germany, the anarchists in Austria in the eighties, all carried revolutionary phrase-mongering in the struggle against religion to a nec plus ultra. It is not surprising that, compared with the anarchists, the European Social-Democrats now go to the other extreme. This is quite understandable and to a certain extent legitimate, but it would be wrong for us Russian Social-Democrats to forget the special historical conditions of the West.

Secondly, in the West, after the national bourgeois revolutions were over, after more or less complete religious liberty had been introduced, the problem of the democratic struggle against religion had been pushed, historically, so far into the background by the struggle of bourgeois democracy against socialism that the bourgeois governments deliberately tried to draw the attention of the masses away from socialism by organising a quasi-liberal “offensive” against clericalism. Such was the character of the Kulturkampf in Germany and of the struggle of the bourgeois republicans against clericalism in France. Bourgeois anti-clericalism, as a means of drawing the attention of the working-class masses away from socialism–this is what preceded the spread of the modern spirit of “indifference” to the struggle against religion among the Social-Democrats in the West. And this again is quite understandable and legitimate, because Social-Democrats had to counteract bourgeois and Bismarckian anti-clericalism by subordinating the struggle against religion to the struggle for socialism.

In Russia conditions are quite different. The proletariat is the leader of our bourgeois-democratic revolution. Its party must be the ideological leader in the struggle against all attributes of medievalism, including the old official religion and every attempt to refurbish it or make out a new or different case for it, etc. Therefore, while Engels was comparatively mild in correcting the opportunism of the German Social-Democrats who were substituting, for the demand of the workers’ party that the state should declare religion a private matter, the declaration that religion is a private matter for the Social-Democrats themselves, and for the Social-Democratic Party, it is clear that the importation of this German distortion by the Russian opportunists would have merited a rebuke a hundred times more severe by Engels.

By declaring from the Duma rostrum that religion is the opium of the people, our Duma group acted quite correctly, and thus created a precedent which should serve as a basis for all utterances by Russian Social-Democrats on the question of religion. Should they have gone further and developed the atheist argument in greater detail? We think not. This might have brought the risk of the political party of the proletariat exaggerating the struggle against religion; it might have resulted in obliterating the distinction between the bourgeois and the socialist struggle against religion. The first duty of the Social-Democratic group in the Black-Hundred Duma has been discharged with honour.

The second duty–and perhaps the most important for Social-Democrats–namely, to explain the class role of the church and the clergy in supporting the Black-Hundred government and the bourgeoisie in its fight against the working class, has also been discharged with honour. Of course, very much more might be said on this subject, and the Social-Democrats in their future utterances will know how to amplify Comrade Surkov’s speech; but still his speech was excellent, and its circulation by all Party organisations is the direct duty of our Party.

The third duty was to explain in full detail the correct meaning of the proposition, so often distorted by the German opportunists, that “religion is a private matter”. This, unfortunately, Comrade Surkov did not do. It is all the more regrettable because in the earlier activity of the Duma group a mistake had been committed on this question by Comrade Belousov, and was pointed out at the time by Proletary. The discussion in the Duma group shows that the dispute about atheism has screened from it the question of the proper interpretation of the celebrated demand that religion should be proclaimed a private matter. We shall not blame Comrade Surkov alone for this error of the entire Duma group. More, we shall frankly admit that the whole Party is at fault here, for not having sufficiently elucidated this question and not having sufficiently prepared the minds of Social-Democrats to understand Engels’s remark levelled against the German opportunists. The discussion in the Duma group proves that there was in fact a confused understanding of the question, and not at all any desire to ignore the teachings of Marx; and we are sure that the error will be corrected in future utterances of the group.

We repeat that on the whole Comrade Surkov’s speech was excellent, and should be circulated by all the organisations. In its discussion of this speech the Duma group demonstrated that it is fulfilling its Social-Democratic duty conscientiously. It remains to express the wish that reports on discussions within the Duma group should appear more often in the Party press so as to bring the group and the Party closer together, to acquaint the Party with the difficult work being done within the group, and to establish ideological unity in the work of the Party and the Duma group.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Notes

[1] See K. Marx, Contribution to the Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right. Introduction. (K. Marx and F. Engels, On Religion, Moscow, 1957, p. 42.)

[2] See F. Engels, “Flüchtlings-Literatur. II. Das Programme der Blanquisten”.

[3] See F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow, 1959, pp. 434-37.

[4] This refers to F. Engels’s preface to K. Marx’s pamphlet The Civil War in France (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1958, p. 479).

[5] Vekhi (Landmarks)–a Cadet collection of articles by N. Berdayev, S. Bulgakov, P. Struve, M. Herschensohn and other representatives of the counter-revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie, published in Moscow in 1909. In their articles on the Russian intelligentsia these writers tried to discredit the revolutionary-democratic traditions of the best representatives of the Russian people, including Belinsky and Chernyshevsky; they vilified the revolutionary movement of 1905 and thanked the tsarist government for having, “with its bayonets and jails”, saved the bourgeoisie from “the popular wrath”. The writers called upon the intelligentsia to serve the autocracy. Lenin compared the programme of the Vekhi symposium in point of both philosophy and journalism with that of the Black-Hundred newspaper Moskovskiye Vedomosti, calling the symposium “an encyclopaedia of liberal renegacy”, “nothing but a flood of reactionary mud poured on democracy”.

Why Revolutionary Marxists should not support Islamic fundamentalists – Part Two

By Maziar Razi — reproduced from the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency

Chris Harman sides with reactionary Islamic Fundamentalists

If Tony Cliff parts from the basic ideas of revolutionary Marxism and revises Trotsky’s permanent revolution, Chris Harman, by extending Tony Cliff’s deviation, sides with counter-revolutionary Islamic fundamentalists. This position potentially places the SWP leadership in a united bloc with reactionaries.

Chris Harman discusses the theoretical root of his support for the Islamic Republic of Iran and fundamentalism:

“As Tony Cliff put it in a major piece of Marxist analysis, if the old ruling class is too weak to hang on to power in the face of economic crisis and insurgency from below, while the working class does not have the independent organisation to allow it to become the head of the movement, then sections of the intelligentsia are able to make a bid for power, feeling that they have a mission to solve the problems of society as a whole”

“The intelligentsia is sensitive to their countries’ technical lag. …In a crumbling order where the traditional pattern is disintegrating, they feel insecure, rootless, lacking infirm values. Dissolving cultures give rise to a powerful urge for a new integration that must be total and dynamic if it is to fill the social and spiritual vacuum that must combine religious fervour with militant nationalism. They are in search for a dynamic movement which will unify the nation and open up broad vistas for it, but at the same time will give themselves power…”

Chris Harman concludes:

“Although these words (by Tony Cliff) were written about the attraction of Stalinism, Maoism and Castroism in Third World countries, they fit absolutely the Islamist intelligentsia around Khomeini in Iran. They were not, as many left wing commentators have mistakenly believed, merely an expression of ‘backward’, bazaar-based traditional, ‘parasitic’, ‘merchant capital’. Nor were they simply an expression of classic bourgeois counter-revolution. They undertook a revolutionary reorganisation of ownership and control of capital within Iran even while leaving capitalist relations of production intact, putting large scale capital that had been owned by the group around the Shah into the hands of state and parastate bodies controlled by themselves — in the interests of the ‘oppressed’, of course, with the corporation that took over the Shah’s own economic empire being named the Mustafazin (‘Oppressed’) Foundation.” (emphasis added).

“The interesting thing about the method by which the group around Khomeini ousted their opponents and established a one party regime was that there was nothing specifically Islamist about it. It was not, as many people horrified by the religious intolerance of the regime contend, a result of some ‘irrational’ or ‘medieval’ characteristic of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. In fact, it was very similar to that carried through in different parts of the world by parties based on sections of the petty bourgeoisie. It was the method used, for instance, by the weak Communist Parties of much of Eastern Europe to establish their control after 1945. And a prototype for the petty bourgeois who combines ideological fervour and personal advance is to be found in Balzac’s Père Goriot–the austere Jacobin who makes his fortune out of exploiting the shortages created by the revolutionary upheaval.”

“The victory of Khomeini’s forces in Iran was not, then, inevitable, and neither does it prove that Islamism is a uniquely reactionary force against which the left must be prepared to unite with the devil (or rather, the Great Satan) of imperialism and its local allies. It merely confirms that, in the absence of independent working class leadership, revolutionary upheaval can give way to more than one form of the restabilisation of bourgeois rule under a repressive, authoritarian, one party state. The secret ingredient in this process was not the allegedly ‘medieval’ character of Islam, but the vacuum created by the failure of the socialist organisations to give leadership to an inexperienced but very combative working class.” (The prophet and the proletariat, Chris Harman, International Socialism Journal, issue 64, Autumn 1994)

Following Tony Cliff’s revision of the permanent revolution, Chris Harman absurdly compares Khomeini’s regime to “weak communist parties in East Europe” or Jacobins! By doing so, Chris Harman shows that not only is he clueless about the history and class nature of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran, but he also misrepresents Tony Cliff’s deviated position.

All this is not at all surprising if one looks briefly at another major error in the ideas developed first by Tony Cliff and later built on by his followers. Cliff drew the conclusion that the degeneration of the Soviet Union had led to the establishment of “state capitalism”, and later applied this to Eastern Europe and other regimes where capitalism had been abolished and a planned economy had been put in its place.

Having stated that these regimes were just another form of capitalism, it appears clear why they see no fundamental difference between a regime such as that in Cuba and the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran. Here one can also begin to see why they develop illusions in the Islamic regimes. Thus they look at the superficial aspects that could lead one to see Castro’s Cuba and Khomeini’s Iran in the same light. As they both have come into conflict at various times with US imperialism then there must be some similarity between them. Instead of looking at the essential aspect of the way the economy works, they look at the outer trappings.

Genuine Trotskyists have always defended the planned economy of the Soviet Union in the past and what still remains of it in Cuba today. They fought the Stalinist degeneration, the bureaucracy with all its monstrous features, while defending the centrally planned state owned economy. In Iran the system cannot be compared to that of the former Soviet Union, but if – as the SWP thinks – the Soviet Union was merely a variant of capitalism one can understand how easy it is to fall into the blunder of seeing in the stabilisation of capitalist relations under Khomeini a similar process to what happened under Stalin. It is like confusing oil with water. The two are very different. Down this road one can see how the process of prettifying Islamic fundamentalism can start.

Reactionary role of clergy ignored by Chris Harman

Unlike Chris Harman’s belief, Khomeini’s clique has been part and parcel of the ruling class in Iran for decades. Neither the IRI’s leaders, nor its social base have been formed by the “intelligentsia“! The main bulk of the leadership have been big landlords (like Ali Akbar Rafsanjani – the president of the IRI for two terms, and one of most influential and prominent figures today); and the social base of the regime was formed mainly by discontented shanty towns dwellers, urban petty bourgeois and the peasant migrants, etc. Given the predominance of the urban petty bourgeois and the peasant migrants in the early stages of the mass movement, the call of the clergy for “Islamic Justice”, “Islamic economics”, “Islamic army”, and “Islamic state” could immediately find a willing mass base.

The point Chris Harman should realise is that, if the bourgeoisie is in power and the state is a bourgeois state, then obviously the fundamental question, according to Marx, Lenin and Trotsky is the destruction of that state and replacing it with a workers’ state which can carry out the bourgeois democratic tasks. By this logic, any bourgeois state is utterly reactionary and must be toppled by a revolution. But the SWP argues to the contrary and believes that any “enemy” of imperialism in any underdeveloped country, in the absence of revolutionary proletariat, is objectively “progressive” and is potentially a positive step in the process of growing over to the socialist phase.

It is obvious that, if the class character of the state has already become bourgeois (unlike the character of the national bourgeoisie over 100 years ago), then it follows by definition that it has a social base within the bourgeoisie and is therefore also actively supported by at least the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie. Today, in any of the underdeveloped capitalist countries, in the event of a revolutionary crisis which could threaten bourgeois class rule, one must expect to find in the camp of counter-revolution not only the entire bourgeoisie, but also the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie, and some of the so called “intelligentsia” are no exception to this rule.

In the Iranian revolution of 1979 precisely this scenario took place. The entire resources of the international and national bourgeoisie, orchestrated by the CIA, were mobilised to transfer power to Khomeini as the representative of the capitalist clergy, to safeguard and save the bourgeois state. The shock troops of the counterrevolution were made up of this layer, i.e. the petty bourgeoisie.

What Chris Harman misses completely in his analysis of the IRI, is the fact that it is well documented that long before the February 1978 insurrection, important sections of the army, the secret police and the bureaucracy lined up behind Khomeini. US imperialism also intervened directly to bring about a negotiated settlement between the chiefs of the armed forces and the bourgeois-clerical leadership, not to mention many of the biggest bourgeois entrepreneurs who gave Khomeini huge sums of money to organise his “leadership”.

Given the broadness of the mass movement and its radicalism, the only way that the bourgeois counter-revolution could have succeeded in defeating the revolution was by “joining” it. This could have been possible only by supporting a faction within the opposition to the Shah that could ensure a degree of control over the masses. This was one of the most (if not the most) important factors in placing Khomeini at the head of the mass movement.

The reasons why the Shiite clergy, especially Khomeini’s faction, was well suited for this task should be obvious. The clergy has always been an important institution of the state, well trained in defending class society and private property. After all, the Shiite hierarchy has been the main ideological prop of the state. Khomeini himself had come from a faction which had already proven its loyalty to the ruling class by helping it in the 1953 coup.

It was also the least hated instrument of the state, because it was not a structural part of what it was supporting. Unlike the Catholic Church, it had always kept its distance from the state. Especially because of the post-White Revolution period of capitalist development, the clergy had been relegated to a secondary position. Indeed, because of this, a growing faction within the hierarchy had been forced into a position of opposition to the Shah’s regime. This could now be utilised as a passport inside the mass movement.

Given the weakness of the bourgeois political opposition, which was not allowed to operate under the Shah, the clergy, with its nationwide network of mullahs and mosques, provided the strong instrument-cum-party necessary for “organising” and channelling the spontaneous mass movement. It could also provide the type of vague populist ideology needed to blunt the radical demands of the masses and to unite them around a veiled bourgeois programme.

To deny, therefore, even today, as the SWP leadership does, that Khomeini’s counter-revolutionary drive coincided with its efforts to place itself at the leadership of the revolution, is to go against all the facts now known to millions of Iranians themselves. To deny also that from the beginning it was helped in these efforts by the ruling classes and their imperialist backers is to misunderstand the main course of events in the Iranian revolution.

It is, therefore, a total mystification to characterise the Iranian revolution as a popular anti-imperialist revolution led by “petty bourgeois “intelligentsia” or to state that “They [the regime] undertook a revolutionary reorganisation of ownership and control of capital within Iran“. This interpretation completely misses out the specific counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie and its political tool within the revolution.

The political and economic crisis of the 1976-78 period, which set the scene for the mass unrest, was made up of different and contradictory factors. Alongside the mass movement of protests against the Shah’s dependent capitalist dictatorship, there were also important rifts inside the bourgeoisie as a whole, both within the pro-Shah sections and between the pro and anti-Shah sections.

These bourgeoisie oppositions to the Shah’s rule were transformed as the revolutionary crisis grew and deepened: there was, firstly, a movement for the reform of the Shah’s state from within the top “modernist” bourgeoisie, which favoured the limitation of the Royal Family’s absolute powers and was for a certain degree of rationalisation of the capitalist state. The requirements of further capitalist development themselves necessitated these reforms.

This faction had already formed itself within the Shah’s single party (rastakhiz – Resurgence) before the revolutionary crisis. It had the support of an important section of the technocrats and bureaucrats inside Iran, and of influential groups within the US establishment. As the crisis deepened, this faction became increasingly vociferous in its opposition to the Shah. It began to use the threat of the mass movement as leverage in its dealings with the Shah. The ousting of Hoveida’s government and the formation of Amouzegar’s cabinet was a concession to this faction. The development of the mass movement was, however, pushing other bourgeois oppositionists to the forefront.

This faction knew that, in order to ride the crisis out, it had to hide behind bourgeois politicians less associated with the Shah’s dictatorship. In no other way could it hope to enjoy a certain degree of support inside the mass movement. The re-emergence of the corpse called the National Front and the rise of newly created bourgeois liberal groupings, (e.g. the Radical Movement) were linked to this trend.

There was also an opposition to the Shah from within the more traditional sectors of the bourgeoisie (the big bazaar merchants and the small and medium sized capitalists from the more traditional sectors of the industry).

The White Revolution and the type of capitalist growth which followed it had also enriched these layers. Nevertheless, they were more or less pushed out of the main channels of the state-backed capital accumulation and hence out of the ruling class.

The structural crisis of Iranian capitalism in the mid-1970′s had resulted in the sharpening of the attacks by the Shah’s state on these layers which still had control over a section of the internal market. This hold had to be weakened, to allow the monopolies to resolve their crisis of overproduction. The consumer goods oriented and technologically dependent industrialisation meant a strong tendency for bureaucratic control of the internal market through the state.

To these layers, opposition to the Shah’s rule was a matter of a life and death struggle. They could in no way be satisfied with the type of reforms that were being proposed by the other factions. They demanded a more radical change within the power structures. Whilst the reformist factions vehemently opposed any radical change that could shake up the power of the ruling class as a whole, this faction’s interests were in no way harmed by demanding no less than the removal of the Shah’s regime.

As the mass movement grew, it became obvious that this faction could decisively outbid the others. Through the traditional channels of the bazaar economy, it could draw on the support of the urban petty bourgeoisie and the enormous mass of the urban poor linked to it. This faction had, in addition, many links with the powerful Shiite hierarchy. Ever since the White Revolution, the traditional bourgeoisie and the Shiite clergy had drawn closer and closer together.

An important lesson drawn by a section of the bourgeoisie after its defeat in 1953 was precisely that, without an Islamic ideology and without the backing of the mullahs, it could never ensure enough mass support to enable it to pose as a realistic alternative both to the Shah and to the left. Bazargan’s and Taleghani’s Freedom Movement represented this trend. This “party” was now offered an opportunity to save the bourgeoisie in its moment of crisis.

The formation of Sharif Emami’s cabinet represented a move by the Shah’s regime to also include this faction in whatever concessions it had to give. “The government of national conciliation” as it called itself, could, however, neither satisfy the two bourgeois factions, nor quench the mass movement which by now had gathered a new vitality because of the gradually developing general strike.

Throughout this period, Khomeini was popular because he appeared to be consistently calling for the overthrow of the Shah. But at the same time he was preparing to reach an agreement with the regime. In fact it was precisely in this period that, with the help of powerful forces within the regime itself, Khomeini’s “leadership” was being established over the mass movement. By September 1978, a certain degree of control was exercised which could have allowed a compromise at the top. What put a stop to this was the developing general strike.

The stage was thus set for the opening of the pre-revolutionary period of September 1978 to February 1979, marked by the further isolation of the Shah’s regime, demoralisation of the army and the police, the radicalisation of the masses and the complete paralysis of the entire bourgeois society because of the very effective general strike.

US imperialism and the pro-Shah bourgeoisie were now forced to go a lot further in giving concessions to the mass movement. The removal of the Shah from the scene and the establishment of the Bakhtiar government was in its time and in itself a very radical concession by the dictatorship. It was hoped that in this way the reformist faction, which was already made to look more acceptable, would be strengthened and thus force the more radical faction into a compromise. It was, however, already too late for such compromises. The mass movement was becoming extremely confident of its own strength and the prevailing mood was that of not agreeing to anything less than the complete ousting of the Shah. Furthermore, any politician who tried to reach a compromise with the Shah, immediately lost all support. In fact, even the National Front was forced to renounce Bakhtiar.

This explains the so-called “intransigence” of Khomeini’s stand. By denouncing Bakhtiar (with whom his representatives in Iran were nevertheless holding secret negotiations) and supporting the mass movement, he was strengthening his own hand vis-à -vis both factions of the bourgeois opposition. He was forcing the more popular figures within these factions to accept his “leadership” and preventing them from reaching any compromises without his involvement.

The military circles and the imperialists were also by this time prepared to give up a lot more. There was a growing restlessness within the army. The pro-Shah hard liners were preparing for a coup against Bakhtiar. This would have completely finished off the army and with it the last hope of the bourgeoisie in maintaining class rule.

It was becoming obvious that a compromise had to be reached with Khomeini. And that was exactly what took place. Secret negotiations between Beheshti and Bazargan on the one side and the heads of the army and the secret police on the other side were held in Tehran. The arbiter was the US representative General Huyser, whose job was to ensure that the army would keep its side of the bargain. Major sections of the ruling class had been pushed by the course of events, and the encouragement of the Carter administration, to accept sharing power with the opposition. What was hoped was a smooth transition from the top to a Bazargan government.

Bazargan had emerged as the acceptable alternative because he was the only one who could bring about a coalition involving both major bourgeois factions, whilst at the same time being more associated with the, by now, more powerful Khomeini leadership. Khomeini was also forced to accept such a deal because this provided the best cover for the clergy’s own designs for power.

At that time the clergy could not make any open claims to political power. Khomeini, to alleviate the fears of the bourgeoisie, and to keep his own options open within the mass movement, was constantly reassuring everybody that once the Shah was gone he would go back to Qom and continue with his “religious duties”. Khomeini was thus allowed to return to Iran from exile and his appointed provisional government was preparing to take over from Bakhtiar.

The February insurrection was, however, not part of the deal. Some of the now staunch supporters of the Shah within the chiefs of the armed forces who opposed the US backed compromise, tried to change the course of events by organising a military coup. This resulted in an immediate mass response and insurrection, which was initially opposed by Khomeini. But his forces had to join in later, because otherwise they would have lost all control over the mass movement and with it any hope of saving the state apparatus.

The only way to divert the insurrection was therefore to “lead” it. The army chiefs and the bureaucracy were prepared to give their allegiance to Khomeini and his Revolutionary Islamic Council, since this alone could save them from the insurrectionary masses. It was thus that the Bazargan’s Provisional Revolutionary Government, as it was called, replaced Bakhtiar’s. The blessings of Khomeini, therefore, ensured the establishment of a new capitalist government over the head of the masses. In this way, it is obvious that what appeared as “the leadership of the Iranian revolution” basically played, from the beginning, the role of an instrument of bourgeois political counter-revolution, imposed from above in order to roll back the gains of the masses and to save as much of the bourgeois state apparatus as was possible under the given balance of social forces. The ruling class was as yet in no position to resort to further repression.

Khomeini was, however, not offering all these services to play second fiddle. He was simply preparing for the takeover of all power at a more favourable moment. He represented a faction of the clergy that had been bent on establishing a more direct role for the Shiite hierarchy ever since the Mosadegh period. This faction, in cooperation with the then head of the secret police, made a move in the early 1960s for power, but failed. History was now providing it with an opportunity that it could not allow to slip away, especially given the fact that the bourgeois class was extremely weakened and hardly in a position to put up any resistance. The latter, with the approval of the imperialist master, had called on the clergy to save it in its moment of dire need by sharing power. What followed next in the post-revolutionary period can only be understood if the designs of the clergy for power are taken into account.

In the beginning, the clergy did not have the necessary instruments for exercising power. The Khomeini faction did not even have hegemony inside the Shiite hierarchy. Many clerical heads opposed the participation of the clergy in politics. It could not rely on the existing institutions in the state either, since they were entirely unsuitable to clerical domination. Amongst other reasons, the bureaucracy itself was all opposed to clerical rule anyway. Even the Prime Minister designate, who was the most “Islamic” of all the bourgeois politicians, resisted any attempts by the mullahs to dominate the functions of the state. A period of preparation was thus necessary.

With the direct backing of Khomeini, this faction first organised a political party, the Islamic Republican Party. This was simply presented as one newly formed party among others. Later on, however, this party squeezed out all the others and later replaced the Shah’s single party. Through the networks of pro-Khomeini mullahs, it established an entire organisation of neighbourhood committees and Pasdaran units supposedly to help the government to keep law and order and to resist the monarchist counter-revolution.

Revolutionary Islamic Courts were also set up to punish the Shah’s henchmen. These courts quickly executed a few of the most hated elements of the old regime, but only in order to save the majority from the anger of the masses. The Imam’s committees, the Pasdaran Army and the Islamic Courts, rapidly replaced the Shah’s instruments of repression.

All these moves were initially supported by the bourgeoisie, which realised that it was only through these measures that it could hope to finish off the revolution and begin the “period of reconstruction.” The newly created “revolutionary institutions” were serving the Bazargan government well, constantly reassuring it of their allegiance to it. Later on, however, they became instruments of the clergy in ousting the bourgeois politicians from the reins of power and indirectly dominating the state apparatus.

Khomeini also forced an early referendum on the nature of the regime to replace the Shah: monarchy or the Islamic Republic? Despite the grumbling of the bourgeois politicians, they had to accept this undemocratic method of determining the fate of the state, because the other alternative was the formation of the promised constituent assembly. The election of such an assembly during that revolutionary period would of course have posed many threats to bourgeois rule.

The referendum was thus held and of course the majority voted for the Islamic Republic. The mullahs knew that the masses could not very well vote for the monarchy! It was later claimed that, since 98 percent of the people had voted for an Islamic Republic, hence the constituent assembly must be replaced by an assembly of “experts” (khobregan) based on Islamic law. The small assembly, which was therefore packed with mullahs, had of course a majority who suddenly brought out a constitution giving dictatorial powers to Khomeini as the chief of the experts.

The clause of velayat-e faghih (the rule of the chief mullah) was resisted by the bourgeois politicians, but the clergy pushed it through by a demagogic appeal to the anti-imperialist sentiments of the masses and through the controlled mass mobilisations around the US embassy. The masses were told that now that we face “this major threat from the Great Satan” we must all vote for the Islamic Constitution. With an almost 40% vote, this became nevertheless the new constitution.

Hence, Khomeini’s clerical faction co-operated with the various bourgeois groupings in joint efforts by the ruling class to prevent the total destruction of the bourgeois state and in diverting and suppressing the Iranian revolution, whilst at the same time, always strengthening its own hand and trying to subordinate other factions to its own rule. It used its advantageous position within the mass movement to bypass the bourgeois state whenever it suited its own factional interest. But it was also forging a new apparatus of repression that was being gradually integrated into the state as the competition with other factions was being resolved in its favour.

Contrary to the deviated analysis of the SWP leadership, at that time Ted Grant had a clear understanding of the nature of the Khomeini leadership and the role that it played and side with masses of people. This is what he wrote at the time:

“It is probable that Khomeini will come to power. All the pleas of Bakhtiar that the state cannot allow the Church to play a direct and commanding role in politics will be in vain.

“But once having come to power the futility of the reactionary and medieval ideas of abolishing interest while not altering the economic oasis of society will be shown to result in chaos. Maintaining intact commercial and industrial capital while abolishing interest or usury is entirely utopian. Even in medieval times, when the doctrine of both the Christian and Muslim church was against usury, nevertheless it continued to exist in many forms. It would have disastrous consequences while capitalism remained, on the economy of Iran, and inevitably would have to be abandoned.

“Khomeini has declared that he does not wish to establish a reactionary military dictatorship or to establish a semi-feudal dictatorship. It is this element in their programme where the Mullahs have claimed to stand for freedom and democracy, which has been a powerful source of attraction to the mass of the middle class, and of course to sections of the workers as well.

“But the utopian programme of Khomeini can in no way solve the problems that face the Iranian people at the present time.

“Khomeini has made it clear that he will accept nothing less than the abolition of the monarchy. The Regency Council which has been set up by the Bakhtiar government will not be able to maintain control, or to keep the seat warm for the Shah. Even the abdication of the Shah would no longer be sufficient. Now it is a question of the abolition of the monarchy.”

And again:

“Support for Khomeini will melt away after he forms a government. The failure of his programme of a Muslim theocratic republic to solve the problems of the Iranian people will become apparent.

“The masses of the people have their aspirations not only for democratic rights but for higher standards of living. The trade unions in Iran will have an explosive growth. Already they are mushrooming as workers feel the elementary need for organisation. They will attain a mighty scope in the period that lies ahead. Just as in Portugal, where 82% of the working class is now organised in trade unions, so similar results will be achieved in Iran in the coming months and years. Possibly the majority and even the bulk of the working class in Iran will become organised.

“Capitalist democracy under modern conditions with the crisis of capitalism on a world scale cannot establish itself for any length of time in Iran. The workers have already learned and will learn even more in the course of the developing struggle. If the masses are defeated and a capitalist Bonapartist military dictatorship is established it would not be stable, as we have seen with the Latin American capitalist military-police dictatorships, and the dictatorship in Pakistan.

“Even in the worst resort, reaction would prepare the way for revenge on the part of the masses, at a not too distant date. It would be 1905 in Russia over again.

“But such a denouement is not at all necessary. If the forces of Marxism succeed in gaining support in Iran, then it could result in a brilliant victory on the lines of the revolution in Russia of 1917.” (The Iranian Revolution, Ted Grant, February 9, 1979)

Unfortunately the Marxists were too weak and could not play the role envisaged by Ted Grant. The Stalinists tail-ended the Khomeini regime, creating illusions in his democratic and progressive credentials rather than exposing him for what he was. Had there existed a powerful Marxist alternative things would have turned out very differently. In 1979 the Iranian workers could have come to power, providing the spark for revolution eastwards across the whole of the Middle East and westwards into Pakistan and India and beyond.

Chris Harman, on the other hand, in his The prophet and the proletariat and the rest of the SWP leadership subsequently misrepresent the history of the 1979 revolution in Iran and the class nature of the Khomeini regime. By doing so, they have gone even further than Tony Cliff in revising Trotsky’s ideas on permanent revolution. They have also added confusion upon confusion by totally misunderstanding first the nature of the Soviet Union and consequently the nature of such regimes as that created under Khomeini and that still survives today. Thus they mislead their own supporters and anyone who comes under the influence of their theories and thereby betray the interests of Iranian and international working class.

Conclusion

The main political dangers of the SWP’s position are as follows:

Firstly, the SWP discredits the fundamental ideas of Trotskyism, Leninism and Marxism by revising the theory of permanent revolution.

Secondly, the SWP will be forced to present the repressiveness of this regime as a secondary issue. Thus, in practice, it will side with a reactionary regime which has brutally eliminated the leaders of democratic movements of workers, students and women. With such a position any SWP supporters in Iran (fortunately there are none at the moment) would end up collaborating with a semi-fascist regime against the genuinely progressive forces.

Thirdly, the supporters of the SWP in Europe end up by forming united fronts with supporters of Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and this would make it practically impossible for progressive forces in opposition to the present Iranian regime to enter into any activities with them. That is why the SWP is under constant attack by the genuine currents of opposition to the regime in Iran and cannot recruit even one progressive person to its organisation or ideas.

Fourthly, the SWP will be used by Hezbollah activists in Europe and within the Islamic Republic of Iran to their own advantage to undermine the just struggles of the Iranian working class and socialists in Iran. Thus the SWP does a disservice to all genuine socialists struggling against Islamic fundamentalism. Attempts will be made to identify genuine socialists within the opposition to this dictatorial regime with the mistaken positions of the SWP and thus the credibility of all socialists is put at risk.

For these reasons, the SWP leadership (or other organisations with a similar line of intervention in Europe and North America) should be exposed and isolated. So long as they side with or support the most reactionary regimes in modern history (under any pretext) genuine revolutionary Marxists should not enter into any joint activities with them.

December 2008

[This article is based on the interventions of comrade Maziar Razi at the IMT World Congress, in Barcelona, August 2008. The article has been written for Marxist.com.]

Part 1

Why Revolutionary Marxists should not support Islamic fundamentalists – Part One

By Maziar Razi — reproduced from the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency

Introduction

The question of Islamic fundamentalism has been one of the central tactical issues facing Marxists over the past few decades. In fact the origin of this dilemma and discussion dates back to three decades ago and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) in February 1979.

Those on the “left” who argue the need to support the Islamic fundamentalists, in general, and the IRI regime, in particular, fall into three categories. Firstly, there are confused so-called lefts (anarchists and radical petty bourgeois trends); Secondly, there are governments, that although in their own countries have carried out important radical reforms, such as Venezuela, or have even carried out radical social transformations, such as Cuba, have established diplomatic and economic ties with the IRI and Hezbollah seeking some kind of third front, an “anti-imperialist” alliance; Thirdly, there some so-called Trotskyists and their allies (e.g., the Socialist Workers Party “SWP” and Respect in Britain) who have a flawed analysis about Islamic fundamentalism.

The first two categories have based their position in regards to the fundamentalists on “the enemy of our enemy is our friend” theory. That is to say, that they are either not sure about the class nature of these Islamic trends, and support them at face value (apparently as they are showing resistance to imperialists policies); or they are well aware of the reactionary nature of fundamentalism but for the sake of diplomacy and strengthening the “anti-imperialist bloc” they pursue a very dubious position by siding with a reactionary and semi-fascist state and its allies (for which they will pay a big price once the essential errors of this diplomacy are exposed internationally).

The purpose of this article is to deal mainly with the third variant, which is best expressed by the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) of Britain. This is an organisation that claims to be “internationalist” and “Marxist”. We have to state quite clearly that the position adopted by the British SWP is based on a deep-rooted and theoretical misconception. Therefore their views have to be analysed in more detail. They claim that the defence of a reactionary regime, such as the Iranian, is justified on the basis of “Trotskyism”. In reality they have abandoned genuine Trotskyism and with it the essence of the permanent revolution.

The SWP does the unthinkable

On the basis of a false theoretical justification (which will be dealt with in this article), the SWP is de facto acting as a “spokesperson” of a reactionary regime in Europe. Their main slogans in anti-war demonstrations have included, “We are all Hezbollah now!” In their newspapers they support the Islamic Republic of Iran without highlighting the level of repression against workers and students which is unprecedented in recent history. Only when forced do they admit that workers are being repressed. Their approach to this has more to do with bourgeois diplomacy than with a genuinely revolutionary Marxist approach. They have watered down their criticisms of the regime for the sake of unity with a whole series of dubious Islamic fundamentalist groups. This process of adaptation became accentuated particularly in the SWP’s collaboration with George Galloway in the formation of the Respect party in Britain. We will look into this later.

In 1994 Chris Harman wrote a lengthy document, The Prophet and the Proletariat, in which he attempted to defend a Marxist position on the question of Islamic fundamentalism. Harman explained that, “many of the individuals attracted to radical versions of Islamism can be influenced by socialists – provided socialists combine complete political independence from all forms of Islamism with a willingness to seize opportunities to draw individual Islamists into genuinely radical forms of struggle alongside them.” So far, so good.

It was in that same document that Harman wrote an oft-quoted piece:

“On some issues we will find ourselves on the same side as the Islamists against imperialism and the state. This was true, for instance, in many countries during the second Gulf War. It should be true in countries like France or Britain when it comes to combating racism. Where the Islamists are in opposition, our rule should be, “with the Islamists sometimes, with the state never’.”

Here Harman was already on a slippery road to opportunism, for although at the time he attempted to maintain a more balanced approach, it clearly indicated the tendency that was to develop later, as he confused the “Islamists” with the people governed by the Islamists. It is one thing to be with the working people of Iran against imperialism, it is another to side with the regime itself. Instead, more and more, as time has gone by the SWP has in practice played down the reactionary nature of “Islamism”.

We have to state clearly that the Islamic regime in Iran is a mortal enemy of the working class and youth. However, this does not just apply to the “Islamists” in Iran. Wherever Islamist regimes have come to power they have installed reactionary anti-working class regimes, and where they are not in power they play a reactionary role within the movement. In the past (see the Tudeh party in Iran at the time of Khomeini’s coming to power) it was the Stalinists who depicted the Islamic fundamentalists in a positive light. It is ironic that now a group that claims the mantle of Trotsky should be leaning in the same direction.

On the Iranian regime we can have no doubts about its reactionary and brutal nature. For what has the Iranian regime (this blood-soaked regime!) done to the workers and youth of Iran? In the past 30 years in power it has executed 50 times more socialists, communists and workers’ leaders than during the 37-year rule of the Shah and his CIA-trained hangmen and torturers! In 1987, during just two days, the regime executed more than 12,000 left-wing activists in prison. It has recruited 400,000 Basiji thugs from the villages and let them loose on women in Iranian cities. The regime’s thugs flog anyone who does not observe the “Islamic Dress Code” in the streets. They throw acid on women’s faces. They forcefully enter people’s homes to search for alcoholic drinks and music CDs. They have killed and imprisoned most of the leaders of the labour movement that is demanding the workers’ unpaid wages (for anything from 6-12 months) or basic trade union rights. The list is too long. Are these not the real issues that a “revolutionary” organisation should be concerned with?

The SWP in its publications admits that workers are arrested and so on, but it shies away from looking at the overall situation faced by the Iranian workers over a period of years. It allows itself to be sucked into the question of whether Iran has a right to develop Nuclear weapons

“So what is Iran doing wrong? As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is well within its right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes and has done so under the watchful eye of International Atomic Energy Authority.” (11 February 2006, Socialist Worker online)

They publish this as if the nuclear programme of the regime is purely for peaceful reasons, when it is clear that the Iranian regime is preparing to add itself to the list of nuclear powers, as a counterweight to the threats of US imperialism. Nobody should have any illusions about this. Of course, we cannot support the manoeuvres of western imperialism, in particular the USA, when they use Iran’s nuclear research as an excuse to lean on the regime and get it to act according to their interests. The task of dealing with the Iranian regime, and its nuclear research, belongs to the Iranian working class and no one else.

In another article we read:

“The Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s denunciations of Israel have proved popular in the Arab world. The Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah, Iran’s ally won even greater acclaim when it defeated Israel in last year’s war.” (21 August 2007, Socialist Worker online).

This may be a statement of fact, but surely the role of a “Marxist” critique should be to expose the demagogy of someone like Ahmadinejad and not to present him in positive light?

This kind of prettifying of the present Iranian regime (i.e. rendering a service to a reactionary regime), may explain why the Iranian authorities have given the green light to the SWP leaders’ books being translated and published in Iran! We have to remember that in Iran any independent writer, translator or publisher has to get the permission of Vezarat-e Ershad-e Eslami (the Islamic Guidance Ministry) before any book or magazine sees the light of day. This so-called ministry consists of some influential clergy who act as a censorship body (Mr Khatami, the ex-president of Iran, was a member of this ministry). Any book or article which does not correspond closely with the “Islamic” code of conduct is censored.

To the surprise of many socialists and Marxists in Iran who have witnessed severe censorship and even arrests and closure of their offices for publishing or translating any Marxist work — and in a country that has the highest level of censorship and repression against intellectuals and students in the world(!) – many books written by the SWP leadership have received permission from the Vezarat-e Ershad and have been published by official publishers. The major books by Alex Callinicos that have been translated and published in Iran are: Social theory: historical introduction; Against Postmodernism: a Marxist critique; Marxism and the New Imperialism; Trotskyism, Marxism and Philosophy; The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx, and An anti-Capitalist manifesto. Books by Chris Harman include: A people’s history of the world and Explaining the crisis: a Marxist re-appraisal. In addition, official reformist newspapers like Iran and Shargh have published many articles by these two gentlemen.

What this reflects is the following. While in their articles the SWP leaders continue to pay lip service to the need for socialism, Marxism and so on, in practice they make a whole series of opportunist concessions to the Islamic fundamentalists. Having given such “critical” or “moral” support to the IRI, the least the Iranian regime can do is allow the publication of some of the SWP’s works! It is clear that the regime sees no problem in this kind of so-called “Trotskyist” grouping. Meanwhile many genuine militants continue to be arrested, harassed and victimised.

One of the main leaders of the SWP, Alex Callinicos, gave an interview in October 2006 published here in which he said the following:

“To the extent to which they [the Islamists] translate words into action, as Hezbollah have against Israel, then, on this central issue they cannot be described as “ultra-conservative’. Of course, when it comes to social and economic issues the picture is different – the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, supports privatization in Egypt. But even here one has to be careful. Both the Brotherhood and Hezbollah have cultivated a popular base among the urban poor through their welfare programmes, something that one can’t imagine American Republicans or British Tories doing.”

Thus reactionary parties are presented as being better than the Tories in Britain or Republicans in the USA. Here we see how they are already making concessions to the “Islamists”, but this comes as no surprise if we read the following, by the same Alex Callinicos in April 2002, available here:

“…Of necessity, these movements unite a wide range of political forces in common action. The anti-capitalist movement prides itself on its unity in diversity (…)”

“The same pattern is to be found in many different countries. The Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe brings together liberals, trade unionists, civil rights campaigners and revolutionary socialists who are united by their opposition to the Mugabe regime. (…)”

“The best example is the Stop the War Coalition (StWC). As already noted, this brings together people of diverse politics around a very clearly defined set of issues — opposition to the ‘war on terrorism’ and to the associated attacks on civil liberties and on ethnic minorities. The very success of the StWC is a consequence of this narrowness of focus. Its initiators on both the revolutionary and the reformist left quite rightly resisted attempts to broaden it out or to divert it into other issues – for example, opposition to Islamist terrorism — that would have divided and paralysed the coalition.” [Our emphasis]

“The Anti Nazi League is another example of a classic united front. Its enormous success since its inception in 1977 has lain in the ANL’s single-minded focus on mass mobilisation against organised fascists. Attempts to transform it into a broad campaign against racism that, for example, opposes all immigration controls have always been rejected. Such a change would cut the ANL off from the very large numbers of people who believe, wrongly, that non-racist immigration controls are both possible and desirable but who are willing to fight the Nazis. An ANL with a broader anti-racist platform would have a much narrower base. Deprived of its focus on mass action against the Nazis, it would in all likelihood degenerate into yet another talking shop of the type that already litters the anti-racist scene in Britain.”

In the above quote we can see an important element that lies at the heart of the SWP’s opportunism towards Islamic fundamentalism. In order to create the widest possible base for any campaign they water it down to one element, which leads them into alliances with utterly reactionary forces.

Callinicos wrote on the Socialist Alliance in 2002 (when they still had big illusions in the Socialist Alliance, which has since then collapsed!):

“This explains the peculiarly hybrid character of the Socialist Alliance. It is hybrid programmatically in the sense that it leaves open the issue of reform and revolution. To adopt an explicitly revolutionary programme, as some groups within the Alliance argue, would be to slam the door on Labour Party supporters who have rejected Blairism but who have yet to break with reformism. Keeping left social democrats out of the alliance for the sake of revolutionary purity would leave potentially hundreds of thousands of disaffected Labour supporters to drift around waiting for the next revival of the Labour left, or (perhaps more likely) to withdraw into cynical apathy. Far better to draw them into common activity with revolutionaries within the Socialist Alliance, where they are much more likely to be won away from reformism.”

Here their opportunism emerges quite clearly. Callinicos explains how the SWP operate. Since then the Socialist Alliance collapsed but they continued with the same tactics inside Respect later on, making all kinds of concessions to Islamic fundamentalist prejudices. The most blatant example of this was what was later to emerge in Respect (before it split) when its main spokesperson George Galloway even came out against abortion to appease the reactionary religious bigots that were supporting him!

It is clear that the SWP’s position on this question degenerated further when they formed Respect together with other political forces, some of them clearly of a reactionary Islamic nature. They bent particularly to the extreme opportunism of George Galloway. What happened with Respect is a good example of where this kind of opportunist position can lead. In the end, when Respect split, the real Islamists stayed with Galloway and broke with the SWP! The SWP were left with very little as a result and in fact lost members to Galloway.

“Respect” appealed to the Muslims as if they were one homogeneous bloc and not as a minority with class divisions within it. Thus they pandered to Islamic prejudices in order not to frighten the more reactionary elements away. Thus the SWP became victims of their own opportunism. The SWP position is clearly that fundamentalist Islam, or political Islam as they call it, is an anti-imperialist movement which should be supported both in the Middle East and in the advanced capitalist countries. The way they present it in their texts reflects the fact that at the back of their minds they feel a certain embarrassment at adopting such opportunist positions. Their behaviour in practice is another matter.

The method is one whereby very diverse political tendencies, from socialists to reactionary Islamic fundamentalists, are brought together around one single issue, and the “socialists” refrain from raising issues that might disturb the sensitivities of the fundamentalists. Instead of winning Islamists to socialist ideas what we have here is socialists prettifying the fundamentalists and opportunistically adapting to them.

In trying to justify their position the SWP try to use the authority of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In the December 2003 issue of Socialist Review Dave Crouch wrote an article, “Bolsheviks and islam: religious rights’. This is an attempt to depict the present SWP’s opportunist adaptation to Islamic fundamentalism as a continuation of Bolshevik traditions.

Crouch reassures us that “atheism was never included in the Bolsheviks’ programme”, when in actual fact the programme of the Bolsheviks had a special section on religion and also dealt with anti-religious propaganda. The SWP leaders steer very clear of going into the question of religious beliefs and prejudices.

Theory of the permanent revolution

The question which has to be answered is this: what lies behind the justification of the SWP’s deviation or what is at the root of its position towards fundamentalism? The SWP considers itself as a Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyist internationalist organisation:

“Internationalism is at the heart of any genuine socialist politics. Capitalism is a world system, and can only be effectively challenged by an international revolutionary movement. The founders of the revolutionary socialist tradition played a leading role in such movements – Marx in the International Working Men’s Association, and Lenin and Trotsky in the Communist International.” (The SWP’s official web site).

“The central theme of Trotsky’s theory remains as valid as ever: the proletariat must continue its revolutionary struggle until it is triumphant the world over. Short of this target it cannot achieve freedom” (Permanent Revolution by Tony Cliff. First published in International Socialism Journal, first series, number 12, spring, 1963).

Before dealing with the SWP’s revision of the theory of permanent revolution and their stance in regard to Islamic fundamentalism, which is directly derived from this revisionist position, the actual concept of the permanent revolution has to be examined.

The theory of permanent revolution was originated by Trotsky based on the experience of the 1905 revolution (written in The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects), and became the basis of the October 1917 revolution in Russia which simultaneously abolished the semi-feudal semi-capitalist regime of the Tsar and expropriated the bourgeoisie and the landlords.

The actual living experience of the Russian revolution contradicted a belief that had been held by many Marxists up till then. Marxists such as Kautsky and Plekhanov believed that only advanced industrial countries were ready for socialist revolution. They argued that countries would achieve workers’ power in strict conformity with the stage to which they had advanced as a social formation and technologically. Backward countries could see their future image mirrored in the advanced countries. Only after a long process of industrial development and a transition through a parliamentary bourgeois regime could the working class mature enough to pose the question of socialist revolution. Lenin also saw the forthcoming revolution as bourgeois, but he went a step further than the others in understanding the reactionary nature of the Russian bourgeoisie before it had even come to power, and hence the need for an independent policy of the working class.

All the Russian Social Democrats – Mensheviks as well as Bolsheviks – believed that Russia was approaching a bourgeois revolution, resulting from a conflict between the productive forces of capitalism on the one hand, and autocracy, landlordism, and other surviving feudal structures on the other. However, the Mensheviks concluded that the bourgeoisie would necessarily lead the revolution, and would take political power into their own hands. They thought that the Social Democrats should support the liberal bourgeoisie in the revolution (form the left tendency of it), at the same time defending the special interests of the workers within the framework of capitalism by struggling to achieve social reforms and minimum demands.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks agreed that the revolution would be bourgeois in character and that its aim would not pass the limits of a bourgeois revolution.

“The democratic revolution will not extend beyond the scope of bourgeois social-economic relationships… This democratic revolution in Russia will not weaken but will strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie.” (Lenin: Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, 1905).

However, after the revolution of February 1917 Lenin discarded this view. In September 1914, he was still writing that the Russian revolution must limit itself to three fundamental tasks:

“the establishment of a democratic republic (in which equality of rights and full freedom of self-determination would be granted to all nationalities), confiscation of the estates of the big landowners, and application of the eight-hour day.”

Where Lenin fundamentally differed from the Mensheviks was in his insistence on the independence of the labour movement from the liberal bourgeoisie and on the need to carry the bourgeois revolution through to victory against their resistance. In opposition to the Menshevik-sponsored alliance between the working class and the liberal bourgeoisie – Lenin called for an alliance of the working class with the peasantry. Where the Mensheviks expected a government composed of liberal bourgeois ministers after the revolution, Lenin envisaged a coalition comprised of the workers’ party and a peasant party, a “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasantry“, in which the peasant party would have the majority. The “democratic dictatorship” would establish a republic, expropriate the large landowners and enforce the eight-hour day. Thereafter the peasantry would cease to be revolutionary, would become upholders of property and of the social status quo, and would unite with the bourgeoisie. The industrial proletariat, in alliance with the proletarian and semi-proletarian village population, would then become the revolutionary opposition, and the temporary phase of the “democratic dictatorship” would give way to a conservative bourgeois government within the framework of a bourgeois republic.

Trotsky was as convinced as Lenin that the liberal bourgeoisie could not carry out any revolutionary task consistently, and that the agrarian revolution, a fundamental element in the bourgeois revolution, could only be carried out by an alliance of the working class and peasantry. But he disagreed with Lenin about the possibility of an independent peasant party, arguing that the peasants were too sharply divided amongst themselves between rich and poor to be able to form a united and independent party of their own.

In Results and Prospects in response to Lenin’s formulation he wrote:

“For this reason there can be no talk of any sort of special form of proletarian dictatorship in the bourgeois revolution, of democratic proletarian dictatorship (or dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry). The working class cannot preserve the democratic character of its dictatorship without refraining from overstepping the limits of its democratic programme. Any illusions on this point would be fatal. They would compromise Social Democracy from the very start.”

“…it will be clear how we regard the idea of a “proletarian and peasant dictatorship’. It is not really a matter of whether we regard it as admissible in principle, whether “we do or do not desire’ such a form of political co-operation. We simply think that it is unrealisable…All the experience of history,…shows that the peasantry is completely incapable of playing an independent role. The proletariat grows and strengthens together with the growth of capitalism. In this sense, the development of capitalism signifies the development of the proletariat toward the dictatorship. But the day and hour when the power passes into the hands of the proletariat depend directly not upon the state or the productive forces, but upon the conditions of the class struggle, upon the international situation, finally, upon a series of subjective factors: tradition, initiative, readiness for struggle …”

“In an economically backward country, the proletariat can come to power sooner than in the economically advanced countries. In 1871 it had consciously taken into its hands the management of social affairs in petty bourgeois Paris – in truth only for two months – but it did not for one hour take power in the robust capitalist centres of England and the United States. The conception of some sort of automatic dependence of the proletarian dictatorship upon the technical forces and resources of the country is a prejudice derived from an extremely over-simplified “economic” materialism. This view has nothing in common with Marxism. The Russian revolution, in our opinion, creates such conditions under which the power can pass over to the proletariat (and with a victorious revolution it must) even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism acquires the possibility to bring its state genius to a full unfolding.”

“The proletariat grows and strengthens together with the growth of capitalism. In this sense, the development of capitalism signifies the development of the proletariat toward the dictatorship. But the day and hour when the power passes into the hands of the proletariat depend directly not upon the state or the productive forces, but upon the conditions of the class struggle, upon the international situation, finally, upon a series of subjective factors: tradition, initiative, readiness for struggle …”

“The Russian revolution, in our opinion, creates such conditions under which the power can pass over to the proletariat (and with a victorious revolution it must) even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism acquires the possibility to bring its state genius to a full unfolding.”

The 1917 revolution in Russia proved all of Trotsky’s assumptions to be correct. The bourgeoisie was counter-revolutionary; the industrial proletariat was the revolutionary class; the peasantry followed the working class; the anti-feudal, democratic revolution grew over immediately into the socialist; the Russian revolution did lead to revolutionary convulsions elsewhere (in Germany, Austria, Hungary, etc.). And finally, alas, the isolation of the socialist revolution in Russia led to its degeneration and downfall.

But this concept of the permanent revolution, which was previously accepted by SWP, was revised by Tony Cliff.

Theory of the permanent revolution as revised by the Tony Cliff

Tony Cliff, the SWP’s main theoretician, summed up the theory of the permanent revolution as follows:

“The basic elements of Trotsky’s theory can be summed up in six points:

1-A bourgeoisie which arrives late on the scene is fundamentally different from its ancestors of a century or two earlier. It is incapable of providing a consistent, democratic, revolutionary solution to the problem posed by feudalism and imperialist oppression. It is incapable of carrying out the thoroughgoing destruction of feudalism, the achievement of real national independence and political democracy. It has ceased to be revolutionary, whether in the advanced or backward countries. It is an absolutely conservative force.

2-The decisive revolutionary role falls to the proletariat, even though it may be very young and small in number.

3-Incapable of independent action, the peasantry will follow the towns, and in view of the first five points, must follow the leadership of the industrial proletariat.

4-A consistent solution of the agrarian question, of the national question, a break-up of the social and imperial fetters preventing speedy economic advance, will necessitate moving beyond the bounds of bourgeois private property. “The democratic revolution grows over immediately into the socialist, and thereby becomes a permanent revolution.”

5-The completion of the socialist revolution “within national limits is unthinkable … Thus, the socialist revolution becomes a permanent revolution in a newer and broader sense of the word; it attains completion only in the final victory of the new society on our entire planet.” It is a reactionary, narrow dream, to try and achieve “socialism in one country”.

6-As a result, revolution in backward countries would lead to convulsions in the advanced countries.”

He then questions the relevance of the permanent revolution in this way:

“While the conservative, cowardly nature of a late-developing bourgeoisie (Trotsky’s first point) is an absolute law, the revolutionary character of the young working class (point 2) is neither absolute nor inevitable…up to now experience has shown both the strength of revolutionary urges amongst industrial workers in the emergent nations, and their fatal weaknesses. An automatic correlation between economic backwardness and revolutionary political militancy does not exist”.

“Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces. His third point is not realised, as the peasantry cannot follow a non-revolutionary working class, and all the other elements follow suit. But this does not mean that nothing happens…”

“Those forces which should lead to a socialist, workers’ revolution according to Trotsky’s theory can lead, in the absence of the revolutionary subject, the proletariat, to its opposite, state capitalism. Using what is of universal validity in the theory and what is contingent (upon the subjective activity of the proletariat), one can come to a variant that, for lack of a better name, might be called the ‘Deflected, state capitalist, Permanent Revolution.’”

“In the same way as the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia and that of 1925-27 in China were classic demonstrations of Trotsky’s theory, Mao’s and Castro’s rise to power are classic, the purest, and most extreme, demonstrations of ‘Deflected Permanent Revolution”.”

It is interesting to note the formulation that, “Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces.” Here the lack of a revolutionary leadership, a revolutionary party like Lenin’s Bolshevik party, is confused with the lack of “revolutionary nature” of the working class. Once one goes down this road utter confusion is the end result.

In conclusion Tony Cliff writes:

“For revolutionary socialists in the advanced countries, the shift in strategy means that while they will have to continue to oppose any national oppression of the colonial people unconditionally, they must cease to argue over the national identity of the future ruling classes of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and instead investigate the class conflicts and future social structures of these continents. The slogan of ‘class against class’ will become more and more a reality.” (Permanent Revolution by Tony Cliff. First published in International Socialism journal, first series, number 12, spring, 1963).

In a nutshell, Tony Cliff argues that, Leon Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution is outdated because the “revolutionary character of the working class is neither absolute nor inevitable… Once the constantly revolutionary nature of the working class, the central pillar of Trotsky’s theory, becomes suspect, the whole structure falls to pieces.” And a new force, the “intelligentsia” will “fill the social and spiritual vacuum“! And the task of “revolutionary socialists in the advanced countries” would be to “cease to argue over the national identity of the future ruling classes of Asia, Africa and Latin America“!

In other words, Tony Cliff very clearly announces the centrality of working class in the anti-capitalist movement as null and void! And shifts towards defending the petty bourgeoisie leadership such as Maoist or Stalinist “intelligentsia” in “Asia, Africa and Latin America”.

This “new” line is not only a break from the traditional Trotskyist position in the permanent revolution, but it is a revision of Marxism as well.

Trotsky’s theory was a development, application and expansion of Marx’s analysis of the 1848 revolution. Even before that revolution, the Communist Manifesto had predicted that because of the ‘advanced conditions’ and ‘developed proletariat’ of Germany, ‘The bourgeois revolution in Germany’ would be ‘but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution’. (Marx, Selected works, Vol 1, London, 1942, p 241). And after the defeat of 1848 Marx stated that, faced with the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to carry out the anti-feudal revolution, the working class had to struggle for the growth of the bourgeois revolution into the proletarian, and of the national revolution into the international revolution. In an address to the Central Council of the Communist League (March 1850) Marx said:

“While the democratic petty bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible and with the achievement at most of the above demands, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been displaced from domination, until the proletariat has conquered state power, and the association of the proletarian, not only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the world, has advanced so far that competition among the proletarians of these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians.”

And Marx ended his address with the phrase: ‘their (the workers’) battle-cry must be: the permanent revolution!’ (K Marx, Selected works, London, 1942, Vol III, pp 161-168.

Tony Cliff fails to understand that the struggle of Trotsky and Marx against the petty bourgeoisie in defence of the proletarian revolution was based on a long-term strategy and its objective perspective, and not a tactical issue for a short period. Tony Cliff’s interpretation of Trotsky’s permanent revolution is totally false.

Trotsky argued that because of the weakness and reactionary nature of the bourgeoisie in Russia, the belated bourgeois democratic tasks of the revolution (such as land reform, democratic rights, the question of forming a republic etc.), as well as the socialist tasks (such as workers’ control, planned economy etc,), both fall on the shoulders of the revolutionary proletariat. Indeed, during the Russian October Revolution the bourgeois democratic tasks were completed in a few months. But those socialists tasks related to the revolutionary transition of society into a socialist one (even though they did not eventually materialise) opened up an era of “permanent revolution”: not in the sense of the transition “from the democratic revolution to the socialist”, but in the sense of the revolutionary process of transition to socialism itself and the need for the expansion of the revolution internationally (based on two other aspects of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution).

In other words, what Trotsky meant was that the two sets of tasks (bourgeois democratic and socialist) will be achieved with one leadership (the proletariat). There is no Chinese wall between the first and second set of tasks. There is no change of leadership in carrying out these combined tasks. Furthermore, the theory of “uneven and combined development” indicates that the two sets of tasks facing underdeveloped countries must in fact themselves be combined historically. This means that, one cannot separate out the two types of tasks into two historical sets and then claim that the first set must be resolved completely before history is ready for the second set (as in the Stalinist two stage theory of revolution). In the epoch of imperialism achieving the belated democratic tasks needs the destruction of capitalist property relations.

Furthermore, when Trotsky talks about “bourgeois revolution”, what he means is that the tasks of the revolution are “bourgeois” (tasks that were traditionally achieved under the leadership of the bourgeoisie in the 18th and 19th centuries). Trotsky did not mean that this is a “stage” during which the bourgeoisie or an “intelligentsia” wing of it will remain in power (because of the weakness of the proletariat); and that the “communists” should defend it until the proletariat becomes stronger in the next stage! On the contrary, it means that what guarantees the accomplishment of the bourgeois democratic tasks is the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And if for whatever reason the proletariat is weak and not ready to take power the task of the revolutionaries is not to follow the dubious “intelligentsia”! The task of revolutionary Marxists is to patiently work towards strengthening the proletariat by daily intervention amongst them. The “get rich quick” policies, belongs to petty bourgeois and opportunist trends within the workers’ movement.

Tony Cliff like any other opportunist petty bourgeois tendencies within the workers’ movement, instead of helping the working class to achieve their historical and objective tasks, becomes tired of long term and patient class struggle and promotes illusions in the petty bourgeois “intelligentsia” leadership. Tony Cliff ends up by de facto denying the centrality of the workers’ perspective of carrying out a socialist revolution, by revising the theory of the permanent revolution. By doing so he in practice breaks with revolutionary Marxism.

December 2008

[This article is based on the interventions of comrade Maziar Razi at the IMT World Congress, in Barcelona, August 2008. The article has been written for Marxist.com.]

Part 2