THE 'DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT AND PEASANTRY', VIETNAM AND
I think much of the Trotskyist movement has perpetuated a great historical
fiction with the assertion that Lenin "came over" to Trotsky on the
permanent revolution in the April Thesis. Both the April Thesis and the
actual course of the Russian revolution were far more in conformity with
Lenin's views since 1905.
Simon Kennedy gives a reasonable account of Lenin's views in 1905:
"It was clear to him, unlike the Mensheviks, that the Russian bourgeoisie
did not have the will to establish a 'modern' capitalist country. There
would be no French-style bourgeois revolution in Russia. So he looked to
other forces to do it for them, and came up with the proletariat and
peasantry. The bourgeoisie was so weak that the proletariat and peasantry
would have to establish a dictatorship to be sure of keeping power."
He then notes that Lenin believed that while the workers would lead the
revolution it would be limited to a bourgeois democratic revolution, because
workers would need the experience of democracy to organise themselves and
because the bourgeois stage cannot be skipped over.
He then claims "Trouble was, it didn't turn out this way," because "there
was no long period of democratic bourgeois republic in 1917 or 1918."
Not there wasn't a long period, which in fact was most unfortunate, and
nothing to do with Lenin's plans, but rather to do with the intervention of
14 imperialist armies and the sabotage within that situation by the
bourgeoisie, forcing Lenin to temporarily (until 1921) proceed much more
quickly in Autumn 1918 with the onset of 'stage 2'. But first let's clear up
a possible point of confusion:
"The regime installed in February achieved none of the tasks that are
associated with the bourgeois revolution, not even the most basic."
Absolutely, that was a bourgeois republic, the type Lenin had been arguing
against, and polemicising with the Mensheviks against, since 1905.
"These were addressed after the Bolshevik seizure of power. Indeed the new
government went out of its way to avoid any socialist measures."
Absolutely, the new government after October 1917 was the "revolutionary
democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" that Lenin had
long advocated to complete these tasks, and so Simon is very correct to
point out that it "went out of its way to avoid any socialist measures."
For example, in April 1918, when about 3 percent of Russian industry had
been nationalised, Lenin called for halt to expropriation of capital. "We
have only just started the transition to socialism, we have not yet done the
decisive thing in this respect ... (which) is the organization of the
strictest and countrywide accounting and control of production and
distribution of goods ... we have not yet introduced accounting and control
in those enterprises and in those branches and fields of the economy that we
have taken away from the bourgeoisie ... if we continue to expropriate
capital at the rate at which we have been doing it, we should certainly
suffer defeat." He criticised the 'Left Communists' who advocated
'determined' expropriation, as "the difference between socialisation and
simple confiscations is that confiscation can be carried out by
'determination' alone, without the ability to calculate and distribute
properly, whereas socialisation cannot be brought about without this
ability" ('Left-Wing Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality',
Collected Works, Volume 27)
Thus Simon points out that the Trotskyist talk of 'combining' socialist and
bourgeois measures immediately after the seizure of power does not apply to
this experience, but claims also that "Lenin's 1905 notion of a stable
democratic state went out the window too."
"Stable." Is that Lenin of 1905? He may have accidentally dropped that word,
but it is surely contradicted by the rest of what he wrote in 1905.
Following what Simon says on the peasantry in 1918 (I'll get to that later),
he adds: "Now Lenin says 'to attempt to raise an artificial Chinese wall'
between the socialist and bourgeois revolutions 'means to distort Marxism
However, it was in * 1905 * that Lenin had already, long ago, claimed that
there is "no Chinese wall" between the first, democratic, and second,
socialist, stage of the revolution. He did not invent that in 1917 or 1918.
Moreover, at that time, 1905, he asserted that the Bolsheviks stand for
"uninterrupted revolution", that the two "stages" of the revolution, while
distinct, are connected by ongoing revolutionary development by which the
first stage at some point grows over into the second stage. It does not
sound very "stable" and it sounds very much like Lenin in the April Thesis
or in Autumn 1918. I haven't got it all in front of me to quote from but
anyone reading Lenin in 1905 will find it all.
I must confess that in the old days, before we reassessed these things, I
had great trouble trying to figure out what the difference between Lenin's
"uninterrupted revolution" and Trotsky's "permanent revolution" was, and why
the latter was so superior. I now understand the difference was that Lenin's
theory was far superior.
"It is clear from this reasoning that when Lenin used the 'democratic
dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry' slogan in 1905 he had a quite
different usage to the one of 1917. Unfortunately, he never admitted this,
as far as I know."
There was nothing to admit, that's why he never admitted it. It is even more
far-fetched for Trotskyists to assert (which Simon is not doing) that Lenin
came over to Trotsky in the April Thesis but never admitted it. He rightly
never believed there was any reason to "admit" any such thing.
Simon further claims:
"Indeed Lenin after 1917 begins to explain things very differently. The
revolution was bourgeois he explains, only insofar as the working class had
to keep an alliance with the whole of the peasantry. This was a tactical
consideration. The block was formed in order to peel off the poor peasants
from the wealthy ones. He now talks of 'a dictatorship of the proletariat
and poor peasants'. Very different."
"If the delay is only tactical, a device to realign short-term politics, not
an unavoidable stage of historical development, then the thinking behind the
1905 slogan falls. In fact the whole purpose of the slogan, to replace the
bourgeoisie as the agent of the bourgeois revolution is pointless. The
seizure of power is in order to move quickly to the socialist
"The immediate aim of the dictatorship is socialism, not a republic. The
block with the peasantry is just one of convenience, to win over the poorer
layers. As soon as they thought they had sufficient support in the
countryside the Bolsheviks introduced socialist changes."
Yes the Bolsheviks did move quicker than they had planned to both to carry
out far-reaching nationalisations and to set up "poor peasants' committees"
to fight the "kulaks" and begin the "socialist transformation" in the
countryside. But does any body really doubt that these measures were forced
on the Bolsheviks by the civil war and foreign intervention? Was "war
communism" simply the next stage of the revolution, or was it not a near
disastrous short-cut forced on them against their better judgement, which
had to be partially reversed in 1921? Yes the 'stage' was shorter than
envisaged, * but that is a bad thing,* the longer it could have been, the
better, and the NEP really needs to be brought back into this equation.
The crucial question here is that of the peasantry, as it would be in any
country with a big majority peasant population (ie Russia then, China and
Vietnam later, Nicaragua in the 1980s, but not so much Cuba 1959-60). What
happened to the 'kombedy' (poor peasants' committees)?
Despite superficial appearances, not much changed in reality after 1918 in
the peasant world, except war-necessitated requisitioning. According to
Siegelbaum, (Soviet State and Society between Revolutions, Cambridge Uni
Press, 1992, p43-44), the 'poor peasant committees' had been a failure;
there had been no second stage of the revolution in the countryside. I think
this is probably correct, judging both by what happened next and what has
happened elsewhere in the world. Peasant society actually has a great deal
of resilience. It was highly unlikely that, just following the land reform
of late 1917, that capitalism had been unable to take hold, develop
productive forces, create social differentiation and provoke rural worker
class consciousness for struggle against an agricultural bourgeoisie all in
eight months. Whatever grievances poor peasants still had with their rich
neighbours, according to Sieglebaum, "they viewed as a family affair
(sometimes literally) to be sorted out in the village." He may be
exaggerating, but it also rings true of many peasant societies.
Lenin had already given up on these poor peasant committees long before the
NEP, instead encouraging peasants to join 'artels' (agricultural
associations) and 'communy'. In 1919 he said of the earlier policies that
"we had to hurry ... to make the most desperate efforts ... nothing is more
stupid than the very idea of applying coercion in economic relations with
the middle peasant." The "middle peasant became more the core of his
economic and political strategy in the countryside, once again, correctly.
And of course in 1921, the NEP fully legalised the peasant market. Of course
the Bolsheviks did not reverse the decisive nationalisation of late 1918,
even if they had preferred them to have taken place more slowly originally.
But what did he say about rural capitalism under the NEP?
Lenin viewed the development of rural and generally petty capitalism under
the NEP as positive in Russia's backward conditions: "This capitalism is
essential for the broad masses of the peasantry and for private capital ...
We must organise things in such a way as to make possible the customary
operation of capitalist economy and capitalist exchange, because it is
essential for the people" (Political Report to the 11th Party Congress,
Collected Works, vol. 33, p279). This formulation regarding peasant and
petty capitalism in the transition era is strikingly similar to what he
wrote in 1905.
However, he was aware of the danger of its further development into
full-blown capitalism, noting that "small production engenders capitalism
and the bourgeoisie continuously" (Left-Wing" Communism, An Infantile
Disorder, Chapter II). The task was "to find the correct methods of
directing the development of capitalism into the channels of state
capitalism, and to determine how we are to hedge it about with restrictions
to ensure its transformation into socialism". One way of doing this was to
encourage voluntary cooperatives. However, he had no illusions that this was
going to be a rapid process, he believed "a whole historical epoch" of NEP
was necessary to organise the basis for socialism (On Cooperatives, 1923).
Thus when we take into account the fact that the Bolsheviks were forced to
go faster than planned in 1918, with near disastrous consequences, and we
also take into account the NEP (not simply some unique kind of retreat in
some unique circumstances as many believe), we understand that the Lenin of
1905, of the April Thesis, of Autumn 1918 and of 1921 were not so different,
except that concrete circumstances obviously change.
It is interesting that we have often quoted Lenin in 1918 (in The
proletarian Revolution and the Rengade Kautsky) as claiming that things
"have turned out exactly as we had predicted", going on to explain the two
stages of the revolution, first with "the whole of the peasantry" against
the landlords, and at a later stage with the poor peasants against the
agricultural bourgeoisie. This surely shows that Lenin did not think he had
'gone over' to permanent revolution in April 1917. However, Lenin is not
exactly right in saying "exactly", as Simon points out, because it was
quicker than expected. In my opinion, Lenin got a little carried away with
the forced changes of late 1918, and later, even by 1919, had admitted as
much. The reintroduction of rural petty capitalism in 1921 is more
appropriately the point at which Lenin could have said "exactly as we had
What then of Lenin's formulations in 1905 "a long period of capitalist
development" that Simon points to? This does seem unclear at first, or
rather abundantly clear that Lenin advocates years of capitalism. Of course,
firstly, we need to read Lenin as a whole, and work out how these statements
go together with his other statements from the same period, from the same
book, about "uninterrupted revolution", of "stages of revolutionary
development", of the "growing over" of the first into the second revolution
and of there being "no Chinese Wall" between them, in 1905.
I think again the key here is understanding Lenin's deep concern about the
role of the peasant majority, where his writings are far superior to
Trotsky's, and understanding his description of rural capitalism from the
time of his Development of Capitalism in Russia. Where he says the
'democratic dictatorship' will open the way for the rapid development of
capitalism, he says this capitalism will take the "European" rather than
"Asiatic" form. It is unclear what this means, but I think "Asiatic" refers
to what was happening in Russia with the consolidation of large holdings as
former feudal lords turn bourgeois, and "European" refers to some idealised
western development from the petty production of peasants following a land
reform. This is very imprecise to say the least. But to give a clue,
elsewhere he writes:
"The pivot of the struggle is the feudal latifundia which are the most
conspicuous embodiment and the strongest mainstay of the survivals of
serfdom in Russia. The development of commodity production and capitalism
will certainly and inevitably put an end to those survivals. In that respect
Russia has only one path before her, that of bourgeois development" (thus
firstly note that Lenin is referring to Russia's "bourgeois development" in
relation to the countryside).
"But there may be two forms of that development. The survivals of serfdom
may fall away either as a result of the transformation of landlord economy
or as a result of the abolition of the landlord latifundia, i. e., either by
re form or by revolution. Bourgeois development may proceed by having big
landlord economies at the head, which will gradually become more and more
bourgeois and gradually substitute bourgeois for feudal methods of
exploitation. It may also proceed by having small peasant economies at the
head, which in a revolutionary way, will remove the "excrescence" of the
feudal latifundia from the social organism and then freely develop without
them along the path of capitalist economy.
"Those two paths of objectively possible bourgeois development we would call
the Prussian path and the American path, respectively."
If we change "European" in 1905 to "American" and "Asiatic" in 1905 to
"Prussian" I think we can understand what Lenin is talking about when
referring to the 'democratic dictatorship' opening the way to the rapid
development of 'capitalism' in the countryside, ie where the overwhelming
majority of the Russian population lived.
Incidentally, what did Lenin say in the April Thesis that has convinced a
century of Trotskyists that he had adopted the permanent revolution but
simply never admitted it out of vanity? For example, John Saxe asserts that
"Lenin's coming over to Trotsky's theory represented an important shift, and
if it weren't for Stalinism it would have been an historic shift for
revolutionaries throughout the third world to break from the
stagist theory." Really? Stalin's Menshevik stagism of course has nothing to
do with Lenin's stagism, but I'm tempted to say "lucky there was no such
historic shift" to sectarian "anti-stagism".
Lenin in April 1917 said the "democratic dictatorship of workers and
peasants" had come into being in the form of the Soviets of workers,
soldiers and peasants, but that their reformist leaderships were voluntarily
ceding power to a bourgeois dictatorship. He therefore called on these
Soviets, ie the democratic dictatorship, to take power, ie to establish the
"democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants."
Louis also claims that Lenin "never explained in any kind of detail why he
to publish the April Theses, which effectively overthrew past Bolshevik
wisdom (his Central Committee-stuck in the past--voted against them),
but this was not really necessary." The fact that a wing of 'Old Bolsheviks'
in early 1917 interpreted Lenin's theory in an obviously anti-Leninist way
(ie giving support to a * bourgeois * govt, not a workers and peasants
dictatorship), says nothing necessarily about the theory. Stalinists claim
the entire corpus of Marxism and Leninism, so logically you would have to
say all this Marxism and Leninism needs to be thrown out the window based on
the logic of these conclusions about what the Old Bolsheviks in early 1917.
As Trotsky outlines in his History of the Russian Revolution, much of the
'worker-Bolshevik' membership had a very different view from some of these
Ilyenkova claimed that "Trotsky had the benefit, being younger and less tied
to those who waged the struggle against Narodnik populism. He was able to
from the experience of the 1905 revolution and the emergence of organs of
proletarian rule to the thesis that the democratic revolution would, of
be led by the proletariat."
No, Lenin had made abundantly clear in 1905 that the democratic revolution
would be led by the proletariat, the difference was whether they would form
a government with 'the whole of the peasantry' or just with 'poor peasants'
or 'agricultural proletariat' as Trotsky thought, and whether there would of
necessity be an extended period of peasant petty capitalism, or whether the
proletariat had to immediately begin trying to institute rural "socialism",
a highly idealist notion.
Ilyenkova also states that "we've got Bukharin, Trotsky, Preobrazhensky and
by extension Parvus and Luxemburg all lining up in support of a general
theory of the developmental trajectory of the colonial and semi-colonial
sector of the world economy. As the old timers used to say, "With the April
Theses Lenin became a Trotskyist and Trotsky became a Leninist."
Lenin certainly did not "become a Trotskyist" but Ilyenkova's point is that
these leaders understood the international nature of the world economy and
hence the socialist nature of the world revolution, if I can summarise like
that. But surely so did Lenin. He always insisted that there could be no
fully developed socialism in backward Russia without socialist revolution in
a number of advanced capitalist countries. He figured that Russia's
democratic revolution would help provoke socialist revolution in the west,
and the more successful it was in the west, the greater would be the
possibilities for Russia's revolution to "grow over" into the second stage.
But you cannot force the west to have socialist revolutions; if they do not,
to what extent can one backward country proceed to socialist revolution?
Even if it could be argued that Russia was, yes, backward, but also highly
industrialised in parts, so had some potential to do it alone, as a general
theory for the developing world, 'permanent revolution' advocates this
disastrous ultraleft course for any poor backward country regardless of
socialist revolution in the west.
This in fact is a key contradiction of Trotskyism - the contradiction
between carrying out 'permanent revolution' even in one country, even in a
backward one, and recognition that socialism can only be achieved
internationally. It is precisely recognition of the latter that should
restrict the former, unless there is socialist revolution in a number of
advanced countries that may be able to help.
But is that fair on Trotsky? Surely he has been maligned enough by ignorant
criticism, surely he was not an ultraleftist who did not understand the
necessity of proceeding cautiously and in relation to the actual class
forces? Surely he did simply advocate nationalise everything the first day
after the democratic and socialist revolution rolled into one? No, of course
not, Trotsky was an outstanding revolutionary, which is why he went along
with all the actual developments of 1917-18, did not advocate forcing the
pace earlier than Lenin was forced to, did not oppose NEP etc.
However, it is not Trotsky the revolutionary that is the problem, but
"Trotskyism" as interpreted by Trotskyists from some of Trotsky's less
fortunate writings. It may sound ironic, but Trotsky was fantastic, just not
very good on permanent revolution.
In Results and Prospects in 1906, he claimed that from the time of taking
power, the workers would have to begin provoking rural class war among the
peasantry, setting poor against "rich" peasants etc. For anyone familiar
with peasant economies in industrially backward countries, this was way off.
Such differentiation takes a long time and needs to take its own pace. In
many cases, some peasants work for others part of the year while keeping
their own land, because they also want the cash. Those they work for may
still be miserably poor. Often they may be their relatives. He claimed the
mass of peasants would rapidly turn against the workers state and form a
counterrevolutionary army. The tiny minority of workers would have to rule
in a state of siege, more or less, and if help did not arrive from socialist
revolutions abroad, they would be crushed. It was a sure strategy for
defeat. I'm not going to pull out quotes, reread 'Results and Prospects' and
you'll find these formulations. Fortunately he forgot about that at least
from 1917 to 1927. In the Joint Opposition statement of 1926 there is no
mention of such 'permanent revolution' while opposing Stalin's Menshevik
policy on China.
Unfortunately, he later claimed that imaginary Chinese "poor peasants" would
have to simultaneously fight imaginary "kulaks" (whoever they may be in
practice, however one could analyse that from so far away) at the same time
as fighting the landlords, foreign imperialists, local capitalists etc,
reverting to his worst formulations in Results and Prospects. This
ultraleftism led him to initially believe there was something good about the
catastrophic Canton workers' uprising as Stalinist Menshevism began evolving
into Third Period ultraleftism.
He saw the error of this, but then proceed to give similar bad advice to the
Vietnamese Trotskyists. In his 'On the Declaration by the Indochinese
Oppositionists' in 1930, Trotsky starts out correctly criticising an
ultraleft error they are making, as they seemed to be downplaying the
national, agrarian and democratic questions in their pursuit of socialist
revolution. He correctly says their statement that "every theory of class
collaboration is camouflage for the rule of the capitalist class" provides
grounds for misunderstanding, as "there is a certain kind of class
collaboration that we seek after with all our strength: that is the
collaboration between the proletariat and the * poor peasantry *, as well as
the most oppressed and exploited lower layers of the urban petty
Thus to Trotsky, only the "poor peasants" and "most exploited" lower layers
of the urban petty bourgeoisie could be allies of the proletariat * in the
democratic revolution * in a country as poor, backward and overwhelmingly
peasant in social composition as Vietnam. I hope all Trotskyists on the list
are able to see this fundamental error Trotsky was making here, whatever
their views on the April Thesis.
But is this just an academic difference, between alliance with "poor
peasants" and alliance with "the whole of the peasantry"? Not at all. The
tragic reality is that not the Trotskyists, but the more Mao-oriented
faction of the Vietnamese Communist Party, tried to implement "permanent
revolution", this alliance with only the "poor peasants", in the mid-1950s
land reform with near catastrophic consequences before the Ho-Giap wing of
the Party were able to end the chaos.
General-Secretary Truong Trinh, backed by Chinese advisors in Vietnam,
attempted a power play on the back of the energies unleashed by the land
reform. Much of the ultraleft chaos was no doubt due to the real energy of
the poorest peasants faced for the first time in their lives with power in
their hands. However, the role of the revolutionary party was to channel
this and avoid as far as possible Bela Kun or Pol Pot outcomes.
The VCP leadership drew up clear outlines. Only the property of landlords
was to be distributed, a temporary alliance was to be made with rich
peasants who however would have to give up some of their land, the land of
middle peasants would not be touched and a firm alliance would be made with
them. While landlords' land would be redistributed, only those who had
collaborated with the French would be punished; those who had helped the
revolution would not be. Landlords and rich peasants, following
redistribution, would still be entitled to an equal plot with everyone else.
This accorded with the realities on the land. It is difficult enough in a
situation where everyone is poor to distinguish 'poor', 'middle' and 'rich'
peasants, even if it may seem easy to some revolutionaries in New York or
Paris. The categories cut across families. Often young couples have little
land but older people have more as they accumulate through life. People
often work for each other. Without either "a long period of capitalist
development" or a successful gradual, voluntary rural cooperatisation
movement, "permanent revolution" in these circumstances is fiction.
However, for ambitious bureaucrats aiming for quick power, or for the
Chinese advisors aiming to exert control over their independent-minded
Vietnamese Communist neighbours, falsely harnessing the energies of the
"most exploited and oppressed" against their fellow exploited and oppressed
was a useful strategy. It was precisely the "most oppressed" in rural areas
with no possibility of background in revolutionary strategy that were
potentially useable. Every single one of the VCP's regulations were actively
violated, ripping rural society apart. In particular, the brutal attack on
the middle peasantry (ie, defined as those with enough of their own land to
not have to work for others, but also not employing others) caused deep
wounds, and in particular struck at the class from which much of the VCP
revolutionary leadership had derived from, in particular many were village
teachers and other skilled people who were essential to the revolution.
Ho, Giap and others in the leadership continually called for the excesses to
end, but it took a year and a half to reassert power. In the meantime, some
areas had erupted in uprising against the 'land reform' excesses, and
protesting peasants even made their way to the National Assembly. Eventually
it was brought under control, Truong Trinh was removed from his post, and a
'rectification campaign' attempted to restore what could be restored, which
unfortunately could not include several thousand lives. Of course it may be
said that Ho, Giap and others were after all from better off rural classes
and rural intellectuals anyway, so perhaps they were merely defending their
"class interests" against the "really oppressed"? Perhaps, but it would be
an incredibly short-sighted and stupid argument.
Following the 1975 victory in the south, the VCP initially, like the
Bolsheviks in 1917-18, attempted to stem a too rapid nationalisation of
everything, as they realised they would lose a whole layer of petty
bourgeois experts as well as provoke massive capital flight and the workers
would need time to understand how to manage their firms. Like Lenin in April
1918, the VCP even often had to argue against workers who were spontaneously
'nationalising' outside the government plan. I know Trotskyists will see
this as proof positive of the VCP "Stalinists" "betraying" the workers, but
Lenin did exactly the same in early 1918 and consistency is a virtue. Again,
however, like the Bolsheviks, actual events forced the pace. The owners of
some 70 percent of capitalist industry had fled in 1975, so the
poverty-stricken, shambolic state apparatus emerging out of decades of war
was forced to take them all over immediately.
The things got worse as the US, China and Pol Pot's reactionary clique
stepped up pressure on Vietnam. The inability of the poverty-stricken state
to pay decent prices for peasant produce allowed the big private traders to
monopolise peasant grain surpluses. The VCP launched into a major
ultraleftist error, if forced by circumstances, when it 'nationalised'
domestic trade in the south in 1978, expropriating thousands of large,
medium and small private trading concerns. The result was complete chaos,
with catastrophic drops in peasant grain deliveries to the state in 1978-79,
leading to famine. The problem is, you can't just 'confiscate'. You need
something to replace it with. The state at that time was in no position to
provide an efficient means of paying peasants or getting deliveries from
them, or getting manufactured goods back to the peasants (especially in the
context of the arch-treacherous cut-off of Chinese aid, mostly of needed
consumer goods, in 1978). The peasants simply stopped either producing or
selling to the state at miserable prices; the legal private traders simply
transformed themselves into black market private traders and got on with the
necessary work. Within a couple of years the VCP saw its error, reopened
avenues for private traders while also greatly increasing the state price,
and the first half the 1980s saw an agricultural boom.
The changed policies led to the Vietnamese NEP, known as Doi Moi, and since
then we have seen in rural areas what Lenin called "this capitalism (which)
is essential for the broad masses of the peasantry and for private capital
... We must organise things in such a way as to make possible the customary
operation of capitalist economy and capitalist exchange, because it is
essential for the people."
Coming to the Vietnamese NEP perhaps opens a whole new though closely
related issue, but I just want to explain why I dwelt on the 1978 fiasco.
The US SWP, who we were closely following at that time, believed that after
1975, "South Vietnam" was not yet a workers' state even though it fused with
North Vietnam. This reminds me of East Germany still being a workers' state
15 years after being fused with imperialist West Germany. Never mind that,
their point was that after 1975, not everything was yet nationalised. Fair
enough. They called this the "workers and peasants government", which more
or less means the "democratic dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry."
Fair enough (if we exclude the strange circumstances of it being in the same
country as the north Vietnamese workers' state). But the problem is, then
you have to look for the crucial "turning point" of when this state turns
into a workers state. In Russia it had been Autumn 1917, in China 1952-3,
North Vietnam 1958-9, in Cuba August 1960 etc. Fair enough. But therefore
they chose the ultraleft decision to nationalise * trading * capital in 1978
as the point at which a workers' state was created, even though most
capitalist * industry * had already been taken over in 1975. On the other
hand, those other Trots who disagreed with the SWP on this, and who believed
a workers' state had been created in 1975 (of course "despite" every
possible attempt of the "Stalinists" to allegedly avoid this), while they
did not see the same significance of 1978, nevertheless they agreed that
these ultraleft measures were a step forward (probably should have happened
The point here is that even for those who were moving away from 'permanent
revolution' or at least emphasising a transitional stage (workers and
peasants govt), the idea was that it had to be exceedingly short. This was
based on the fairly rapid transition in Russia 1917-18, as if this had been
the Bolshevik plan and not an unfortunate fact forced on them. Thus when
"Stalinist" regimes in China, Vietnam or elsewhere did not immediately set
up workers' states, for 'permanent revolution' Trotskyists this was evidence
of attempted 'betrayal', but then they were forced both by the class
struggle on one side and imperialist provocation on the other to come to
their senses and institute workers' states. The idea that the transitional
periods (China 1949-52/3, Vietnam 1954-58/9, south Vietnam 1975-78) were a
good and necessary thing was out of the question (though I don't know a lot
about China, it has been claimed that the Chinese CP in this period
suppressed workers' strikes etc - if so, this obviously was evidence of
anti-working class tendencies, but that should be distinguished from a
transitional stage in general; I'm not aware of such suppression by the
On the other, for those who recognised these as 'workers' and peasants'
governments', it had to be over with quick. The model, apart from Russia,
was Cuba, where a rather quick transition took place between January 1959
and August 1960. However, Cuba was largely proletarian at that time; Che
points out (I'm paraphrasing from Tablada) that the Cuban economy had been
far more 'socialised' by monopoly capital than had Russia, which had been
dominated by 'petty production' when Lenin introduced the NEP, which Che
thought was right for Russian conditions but not for Cuban.
This Cuban situation could not be applied to Vietnam, could not be applied
to Nicaragua in the 1980s. While we can criticise the Sandinistas for many
things, I don't think a very useful criticism is that they should have
proceeded faster to 'socialism'. It has been pointed out that they did not
fully carry out the bourgeois-democratic task of redistributing land to all
peasants, which may have been a serious error. In a recent post, Jose Perez
in fact claimed they were herding peasants into 'cooperatives' too quickly,
which actually sounds more an ultraleft error than an error of not going
I'm not sure of the balance between proletariat and peasantry in Venezuela
today, but I think some of the calls on Chavez to hurry up and nationalise
everything really are based on this misunderstanding of how important is the
building of really solid strategic support in rural areas, which Chavez has
been engaged in, without antagonising the local bourgeoisie to a greater
extent than necessary too early when you don't have the real political
resources to fight them, and such political resources surely involve a solid
support base in rural areas - even more so in countries where peasants are
the vast majority.