Economic struggle above democracy

Ian Donovan of Revolution and Truth replies to ‘Trotskyite economism or revolutionary democracy?’ (Weekly Worker July 30)

My critique of the ‘Revolutionary Democratic Communist’ platform has evidently struck a raw nerve, judging by Jack Conrad and Dave Craig’s lengthy attempts to refute its central points. Their replies only underline the convergence of the tendencies represented by these comrades, despite their different origins in Stalinism and Cliffism, how the Stalinoid methodology of Jack Conrad complements comrade Craig’s ‘democratic’ caricature of Leninism. Given his non-Stalinist background, one wonders what comrade Craig thinks of the title ‘Trotskyite economism or revolutionary democracy?’ under which his reply was published. No doubt he will feel some embarrassment that this title includes the infamous Stalinist swearword ‘Trotskyite’, with its overtones of Stalin’s Short Course. Jack Conrad can not deal seriously with Trotskyism without revealing his ingrained anti-Trotskyist prejudice.

One of the most insidious aspects of Stalinism was the manufacturing of a cult of Lenin, his elevation to virtual sainthood, the mummification of his body and all. Jack has not broken from this. The CPGB have often accused ‘Trotskyites’ of quoting Trotsky as if he was a god. Yet here are comrades Conrad and Craig quoting Lenin’s words as holy writ, about matters far removed from the questions at stake in this discussion. Comrade Conrad refers to himself as a ‘Leninist’ - indeed, the predecessor publication of the Weekly Worker was titled The Leninist. So why does he not refer to himself as a ‘Leninite’, in the same manner in which he dismisses ‘Trotskyites’? Because for Jack Lenin is a secular god, whose words, irrespective of context, are the ultimate trump-card in discussions with ‘Trotskyites’. Thus he states on the subject of bourgeois-democratic revolution:

“Indeed, comrade Donovan seems convinced that the democracy in an ‘advanced bourgeois democracy that is today’s Britain’ resulted from what he calls the ‘bourgeois-democratic revolution’: ie, a historically necessary and predetermined stage between feudal and capitalist society. No doubt Lenin too took the bourgeois democratic revolution as axiomatic. But he never let a bad theory get in the way of a good revolution. His thought was rich and dialectical, his revolutionary will was unequalled. Fixed categories were an anathema. Hence the ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution in Russia would in his programme be carried out against tsarism and the bourgeoisie by an alliance of the proletariat and peasantry.”

Jack is on dangerous ground, in this explicit defence of the strategy of the ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. Firstly, however, his statement that Lenin’s revolutionary will was “unequalled” cannot go unchallenged. How does one measure revolutionary will? Was the will of Lenin, who had the opportunity to lead the revolution (and did it splendidly) in a period of revolutionary upswing, greater than those such as Trotsky who struggled against the stream in the face of the greatest defeats in history, which Lenin did not live to see? I think not, and comrade Conrad’s gushing phraseology is alien to genuine Leninism.

In order to lead the October Revolution, Lenin had to abandon his theory of the ‘democratic dictatorship’, the aim of which was a provisional revolutionary government of workers and radical peasant parties that would inaugurate the unfettered development of capitalism in Russia. Lenin advocated a bourgeois-democratic revolution of a special type, in which the role of revolutionary government of the Jacobin type (clearing out the medieval barriers to capitalist development) would be played by the ‘democratic dictatorship’, while only after a whole stage of capitalist development would socialist revolution become materially possible. In 1905 he wrote:

“The democratic revolution is a bourgeois revolution. The slogan of a Black Redistribution, or ‘land and liberty’ - this most widespread slogan of the peasant masses, downtrodden and ignorant - is a bourgeois slogan. But we Marxists should know that there is not, nor can there be, any other path to real freedom for the proletariat and the peasantry, than the path of bourgeois freedom and bourgeois progress. We must not forget that there is not, nor can there be, at the present time, any other means of bringing socialism nearer, than complete political liberty, than a democratic republic, than the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry…” (Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Peking, p123).

This is a theory of stages: first a bourgeois-democratic revolution (though due to the cowardice of the bourgeoisie, carried out in a novel way by the proletariat and the peasantry) laying the basis for capitalist development under ‘democratic’ conditions to ‘bring socialism nearer’. The ‘democratic dictatorship’ was thus synonymous with ‘bourgeois freedom and bourgeois progress’. In other words, with a bourgeois-democratic republic. Lenin held this position until the outbreak of the February revolution of 1917, when it was proved wrong. Wrong, because a bourgeois republic had been achieved, and yet the main democratic questions that affected the peasantry were unsolved, with the support for the status quo of the ‘democratic’ representatives of the peasantry. This proved to Lenin that it was impossible to solve the democratic questions by means of a ‘democratic’ dictatorship - thus he wrote the April Theses, setting a course for the establishment of something rather different from the ‘democratic dictatorship’ - the overthrow of the bourgeoisie - in order to begin socialist tasks straightaway, side by side with democratic tasks. When Lenin returned to Russia and began advocating this strategic change in the programme of the Bolsheviks, many of his comrades (who still adhered to the ‘democratic dictatorship’) believed he had simply gone mad!

Indeed, Lenin “never let a bad theory get in the way of a good revolution”. But the ‘theory’ concerned was the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. What was established in November 1917 was a proletarian class dictatorship, supported by the peasantry, whose aim was the wholesale uprooting of capitalism in the cities, concurrently with carrying out democratic tasks. Lenin did not develop a theory to replace the ‘democratic dictatorship’. But in practice, he had embraced the permanent revolution, that had earlier been formulated by Trotsky and Parvus in 1906:

The proletariat in power will stand before the peasantry as the class which has emancipated it. The domination of the proletariat will mean not only democratic equality, free self-government, the transference of the whole burden of taxation to the rich classes, the dissolution of the standing army in the armed people and the abolition of compulsory church imposts, but also recognition of all revolutionary changes (expropriations) in land relationships carried out by the peasants. The proletariat will make these changes the starting point for further state measures in agriculture.

“… The very fact of the proletariat’s representatives entering the government, not as powerless hostages, but as the leading force, destroys the borderline between maximum and minimum programme; that is to say, it places collectivism on the order of the day. The point at which the proletariat will be held up in its advance in this direction depends on the relation of forces, but in no way upon the original intentions of the proletarian party.

“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 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.

“Left to its own resources, the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counterrevolution the moment the peasantry turns its back on it. It will have no alternative but to link the fate of its political rule, and hence, the fate of the whole Russian revolution, with the fate of the socialist revolution in Europe. That colossal state-political power given it by a temporary conjuncture of circumstances in the Russian bourgeois revolution it will cast into the scales of the class struggle of the entire capitalist world. With state power in its hands, with counterrevolution behind it and with European reaction in front of it, it will send forth to its comrades the world over the old rallying cry, which this time will be a call for the last attack: Workers of all countries, unite!” (Leon Trotsky Results and Prospects).

As a prediction of the actual course of the revolution, these passages are far superior to Lenin’s ‘democratic dictatorship’. Thus the main organiser of the insurrection was Trotsky, while ‘old Bolsheviks’ like Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev (who adhered to Lenin’s old schema) played a marginal role, and at worst broke discipline (in the latter two cases) and denounced the plans to seize power. So when Jack recommends the approach to ‘democratic’ questions of the ‘democratic dictatorship’, against ‘economistic Trotskyites’, he is behaving as a Stalinist-trained philistine. The thought of both Trotsky and Lenin developed through contradictions before 1917, notably in Trotsky’s case with regard to what kind of party was necessary to carry out the permanent revolution. In Lenin’s case, there was non-linear development on the nature of the party and the revolution itself. These happened at different times and over different events, but neither of these great Marxists should be treated as infallible.

Comrade Conrad then underlines that the RDCT platform, with its ‘revolutionary democratic’ emphasis, is closely linked to third campism. He refers to Max Shachtman and Tony Cliff as ‘post-Trotsky revolutionaries’. Does he also think Karl Kautsky was a ‘revolutionary’? For Kautsky was the real originator of the social democratic theories of an ‘exploitative’ USSR, and in terms of political profile, his career runs parallel with the others. While Kautsky only maintained token opposition to World War I on social-pacifist grounds and later supported the anti-Bolshevik cause in the 1918-21 civil war, Shachtman’s theory of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ led him to support US imperialism’s invasion of Cuba in 1961, since western ‘democracy’ was allegedly better than totalitarian ‘bureaucratic collectivism’. Cliff supported British troops being sent into Northern Ireland in 1969, and later, in a manner reminiscent of Shachtman, supported the Afghan ‘holy warriors’ backed by the west against ‘bureaucratic state capitalism’ in the 1980s. I do not consider such positions ‘revolutionary’, and if that is the way Jack is heading it is no wonder he is eager to make overtures to Sean Matgamna (another hero of the ‘third camp’), hailing his marginal, pale pink stance over the Irish ‘peace process’ as “principled”, etc. As Steve Riley noted, this points to a “disturbing uncommunist future” (Weekly Worker July 30). This is particularly visible when Jack opines that “… workers refused to lift a finger to save the Soviet Union. It ‘isn’t worth fighting for’, they said.” Thus, though he refrained from answering my point that the PCC’s new position implied that it was correct to support Solidarnosc, others may be disturbed by this remark.

Jack Conrad lambastes me for having “such difficulty with the derisive term ‘bureaucratic socialism’ when we attach it to the Soviet Union. It is, comrade, a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron, which, yes, accurately describes the paradoxical reality of the Soviet Union under Stalin and onwards. In the name of socialism the bureaucracy ruled.” And Conrad goes on:

“It is taken for granted, if not gospel, [by Trotskyites like comrade Donovan - ed] that the Soviet Union was a form of workers’ state. Yet by his own admission democracy was completely absent. The comrade is thereby drawn inexorably to dismiss or downplay the centrality of democracy and self-activity for the whole socialist-communist project. Where Marx and Engels declared that ‘the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves’, comrade Donovan considers that, initially at least, another social force can substitute … The theory of deformed workers’ states underlines the point. ‘Socialism’ was, according to our Trotskyite comrades, brought to eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cambodia, etc not by the self-activity of the workers themselves. It followed either the tank tracks of Stalin’s Red Army or the car-tyre sandals of peasant party armies.”

Oh, the zeal of the neophyte! This has been the staple of Cliffism for 50 years. ‘Bureaucratic socialism’ was indeed a contradiction in terms, but it is outrageous to contend that ‘Trotskyists’ had anything to do with such fallacies. Jack may have characterised the Soviet Union, China, etc as ‘bureaucratic socialism’, but no Trotskyist ever did. When he states that according to Trotskyists “socialism” was brought about by Russian tanks and “peasant party armies”, he is projecting his own Stalinist understanding onto those who opposed him at the time. Indeed, he still doesn’t really understand why Trotskyists opposed ‘socialism in one country’, otherwise he could not attribute to Trotskyists the fallacies of his own former ‘world communist movement’.

It is understandable why comrade Conrad should, given his origins in ultra-hard-line Stalinism, express sensitivity about “the centrality of democracy and self-activity for the whole socialist-communist project”. Here the neophyte is talking again. But Trotskyists have always been well aware of the centrality of the working class, its class consciousness and its irreplaceable role in socialist revolution. However, that never led us to abandon the defence of gains of the working class, however deformed and damaged they were or are. Under socialism (the lower phase of communism), class-based social antagonisms no longer exist and the only social inequalities are in the sphere of ‘bourgeois right’: ie, distribution between the associated producers on the basis of individual inequalities in labour power, these not being totally overcome until the division of labour is transcended in the higher stage of communism.

In this regard, ‘bureaucratic socialism’ (Jack’s earlier, euphemistic term for Stalinism) is an oxymoron. But a workers’ state is not socialism, and even the most healthy will be separated from socialism by decades. Such states can degenerate due to isolation, blockade, backwardness, etc, because the only way even the ‘lower phase of communism’ can be reached is through the joint efforts of the victorious proletariat of several advanced countries: ie, the international proletarian revolution. In the absence of this, other, similar bureaucratically ruled workers’ states were created by nationalistic guerrilla movements, often in ‘communist’ clothing, in some backward countries. These were led by sectors of the petty bourgeoisie, who as a result of a political vacuum created by the absence of a class conscious labour movement, and alienated from the bourgeoisie’s ‘comprador’ dictatorships, saw a role as ‘liberators’ of their nations, as a petty bourgeois bureaucracy based on a collectivised economy. These anomalies were only possible because of the boost that the existence of the USSR had given to anti-imperialist struggles during the post-World War II conjuncture, where Stalinism was strong and the independent forces of the working class were weak. They were by-products of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. But they were never ‘socialist’.

A bureaucratised workers’ state is no more a contradiction in terms than a bureaucratised trade union. The job of revolutionists is to fight to cure the deformations, to mobilise the working class to oust the bureaucrats, not abandon these states because they are not ‘democratic’ enough. To attribute to Trotskyists the idea that ‘socialism’ was created by the Soviet Army or Castro, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, etc is to reveal philistinism about the Trotskyist movement, worthy of the most ignorant Cliffite novice: ‘You don’t think it’s capitalist? Therefore you must think it’s socialist!’ As some in the CPGB realise, this leads away from revolutionary politics.

The anti-Marxist nature of Jack’s ‘new thinking’ is shown by the explanation that he gives as to how the USSR was “exploitative”:

“… the bureaucracy did not socially reproduce themselves as a ruling stratum primarily through bribery, corruption and other illegal means. These were vital, though secondary features of the system. The social formation and the bureaucracy rested upon the surplus product systematically pumped out by the workers. Unlike capitalism this was achieved through political, not economic means.”

A remarkable inversion of basic Marxism! In the last analysis, notwithstanding all kinds of complex mediations, every class society rests on an economic base, except, it appears this one, where exploitation was through “political, not economic means”. Jack is fond of quoting Lenin. However Lenin, as is well known, believed that “politics is concentrated economics” and there is no way that Lenin (or Marx, or Engels, or Trotsky) would have argued that an exploiting class could reproduce itself by “political, not economic means”. Jack, like Kautsky and Cliff before him, in the absence of evidence that the driving force of the bureaucracy was ‘economic’ exploitation, re-invents ‘exploitation’ in a manner that is divorced from economics, and turns Marxism on its head.

Comrade Conrad is grasping at straws. He says that the driving force of the bureaucracy was ‘exploitation’, while at the same time flirting with the ideas of Hillel Ticktin - that there was no mode of production in the USSR. Of course, Ticktin’s theory that the Soviet economy was based on the production of ‘waste’ is a means of writing off the USSR as a retrogression from capitalism, and hence another form of third campism. Yet it is true that the Soviet Union under the bureaucracy was not representative of a distinct mode of production, certainly not a socialist one (even the capitalist mode of production was not really born until the advent of large-scale industry in the 19th century, despite the predominance of bourgeois property relations during the preceding period of manufacture). To believe otherwise is to endorse the theory of socialism in one country. Rather, the bureaucracy’s role in raising the economic level of the country was limited to the period of the importation of basic capitalist technologies, based on coal, iron, steel and the like - at a time when more sophisticated technologies were beginning to eclipse them in the capitalist world - and their application on a nationwide scale by means of the socialised property forms.  In other words, despite the progressive property relations, in terms of ‘mode of production’ the Soviet state was engaged in dragging itself up to the level of advanced capitalism - a task that was objectively impossible without the spread of revolution to advanced countries, to which the bureaucracy was a hostile obstacle. Once the Soviet economy confronted the need for more advanced technologies, the bankruptcy of the bureaucracy was revealed. Its political despotism was no substitute for economic forms of exploitation and led to its collapse, along with the socialised property that it leeched off.

Comrade Conrad gives a long and obfuscatory lecture on the supposed lack of role of the bourgeoisie in the bourgeois revolutions of the past:

“There have certainly been bourgeois revolutions - that is, revolutions led by middling elements. England 1642 and France 1789 are classic examples. However, it would be profoundly mistaken to imagine that what was in both cases a bourgeois class-in-formation was a class of industrial capitalists or that their victory was over feudalism and directly ushered in capitalism.

“Those who led the English revolution were commercial farmers, well off gentlemen and the lesser nobility. In France it was lawyers and office holders. They did not overthrow feudalism. That society was long dead. As a system in western Europe feudalism originated in the collapse of the Roman empire before invading Germanic barbarians and had given way to centralised kingdoms and commercial trade by the 14th century - fief and vassalage characterised a military society where the elite were bound by ties of ‘personal’ fidelity” (my emphasis).

He cites the unification of Germany by Bismarck, the importation of capitalist industry by the tsarist state, etc. Of course, if the feudal system were already “dead” (as opposed to just having outlived any progressive role), one wonders why the aristocracy was able to fight back after Cromwell, why there had to be another semi-revolution in 1688 for the bourgeoisie to establish mastery over the political system, why even then it had to compromise, etc.  One wonders why aristocratic reaction against the bourgeois republic in France survived to the eve of the 20th century, nearly erupting into civil war over the Dreyfus case.

The truth is that capitalism, a system of generalised commodity production qualitatively more dynamic than previous systems of economy, is capable of ‘permeating’ earlier and more static social formations and altering the economic interests of some members of older ruling classes. The bourgeoisie won them over economically, or compelled them to adopt its methods in a desperate attempt to survive. But how does this prove that feudalism was already dead? Comrade Conrad’s fantasising about the Levellers and radical sans culottes is anti-materialist – their struggles were anticipations of the struggles of a class that was only being born, the proletariat, and could not have been more at that time. Jack’s purpose is to obliterate the qualitative distinction between the bourgeois-democratic revolution that made the bourgeoisie into the economically and politically dominant class, and the proletarian revolution whose task is to destroy the class rule of the bourgeoisie. The religious citation of Lenin, from a period where he had not clarified the relationship between bourgeois and proletarian tasks in the Russian revolution (let alone any other part of the less advanced world, such as China, where the ‘democratic dictatorship’ was later revived by Stalinism, in a debased form, with tragic consequences for the Chinese proletariat) does not clarify the relationship of democratic and ‘economic’ demands in a revolutionary programme today.

There is a vital difference between the place of democratic demands in a bourgeois revolution and a proletarian revolution. It is really quite simple - in a bourgeois-democratic revolution, obviously democratic demands predominate, aimed at smashing pre-capitalist obstacles to the development of capitalism and thereby to the growth of the proletariat. But it is different where both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are fully developed as the dominant classes in society. In such a situation, democratic demands play only a secondary role to the proletariat’s ‘economic’ class demands, whose ultimate expression is the demand for the ‘economic’ expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Comrades Conrad and Craig scream that this is ‘economism’, but in doing so they turn Marxism on its head. Comrade Conrad lets slip more than is wise when he writes of

“the CPGB’s championing of democracy under capitalism as the way forward to socialism (which we view not as completely distinct from capitalism, rather as a transition - socialism, especially to begin with, retains many features of capitalism).”

And comrade Craig backs him up:

“What is at issue here is not simply this or that wording, but a fundamentally different approach to politics. It is the difference between a revolutionary democratic and an economistic method. Our historical reference point is international revolutionary social democracy. Bolshevism was not simply a Russian trend, whose methods were peculiar to tsarism. The words ‘revolutionary’ and ‘democracy’ were not some strange deviation from Marxism. On the contrary, they captured an essential aspect.”

I have earlier dealt with the ‘democratic dictatorship’. But it is interesting that comrade Craig sees his reference point as “international revolutionary social democracy”. One assumes he means the Second International before 1914. It would be interesting to know which sections of the Second International apart from the Bolsheviks comrade Craig sees as being “revolutionary”? The German? Well, that party proved its mettle in August 1914. The Luxemburgists? Well, comrade Craig has spent considerable time digging out quotations from Lenin attacking “imperialist economism” which as a trend was closely associated with the rigidities of Luxemburgism on the national question. So he does not seem to rate them much. So who? The Bulgarian Tesnyaks were also rigid and ‘economistic’ in comrade Craig’s terms, which is why were known as ‘narrow’ socialists. Is he talking about Engels? Well this is stretching things a bit - he died just as these questions were beginning to become disputed in the imperialist epoch. That doesn’t leave much! Trotskyists, while not rejecting everything that was done by the Second International, see as their fundamental ‘historical reference point’ the first four Congresses of the Communist International, and then the struggle of the Left Opposition against Stalinism, culminating in the struggle to found the Fourth International. We are not uncritical of these ‘reference points’ but regard them as products of a qualitatively superior revolutionary experience than the centrist, heterogeneous pre-1914 social democracy (from which Bolshevism became a revolutionary left split). But it is not surprising, if the comrades are coming together on the basis of pre-1914 social democracy as their ‘reference point’, that comrade Conrad can espouse “democracy under capitalism as the way forward to socialism” as a ‘revolutionary’ strategy. I hope I will not be accused of being ‘economistic’ when I point out how Karl Kautsky would have welcomed this formulation.

In his definitions of ‘economism’ comrade Craig is playing with words. He criticises my statement that economism is the “separation of economic and political struggle” and instead recommends Lenin’s What is to be done? definition of Russian economism as “lending the economic struggle itself a political character”. There is no contradiction, since, as Lenin explained:

“… As a matter of fact, the phrase ‘lending the economic struggle itself a political character’ means nothing more than the struggle for economic reforms. And Martynov himself might have come to this simple conclusion had he only pondered over the significance of his own words. ‘Our Party,’ he says, turning his heaviest guns against the Iskra, ‘could and should have presented concrete demands to the government for legislative and administrative measures against economic exploitation, unemployment, famine, etc’… Concrete demands for measures - does not this mean demands for social reform? Again we ask the impartial reader, do we slander the [economists] … by calling them concealed Bernsteinians when they advance, as their point of disagreement with the Iskra thesis, about the necessity of fighting for economic reforms?

“Revolutionary social democracy always included, and now includes, the fight for reforms as part of its activities. But is utilises ‘economic’ agitation for the purpose of presenting to the government not only demands for all sorts of measures, but also (and primarily) the demand that it cease to be an autocratic government. More, it considers its duty to present this demand to the government, not on the basis of the economic struggle alone, but on the basis of all manifestations in general of public and political life. In a word, it subordinates the struggle for reforms, as the part to the whole, to the revolutionary struggle for liberty [my emphasis] and socialism …” (What is to be done?  Peking, pp76-77).

Here is comrade Craig’s ridiculous schema, based on applying Lenin’s views on autocracy and seemingly impending bourgeois revolution in Russia in 1902, to bourgeois-democratic, thoroughly capitalist, Britain in 1998. To substantiate his accusation of  “economism”, he would have to demonstrate that my main activity is simply calling for social reform, for “government measures against economic exploitation, unemployment,” etc. That will be hard, since in my view while it is completely principled to call for capitalist governments to implement particular ‘economic’ reforms (such as a minimum wage) or ‘political’ reforms (such as the abolition of a discriminatory age of consent for gays), the main task of revolutionaries today is to combat any concept that the working class can really achieve its objectives without the revolutionary dissolution of the bourgeois state.

For comrade Craig the situations regarding the monarchy in tsarist Russia and Elizabeth II’s Britain are qualitatively the same, and we need a ‘democratic’ revolution to achieve “liberty and socialism” (in that order). The theory of the ‘democratic dictatorship’ is very visible in the above-quoted passage, three years before that theory was fully elaborated. To be blunt - in tsarist Russia the bourgeoisie was tied to, and a slave to, the state of a pre-capitalist despotism that was using the bourgeoisie and bourgeois economic methods to preserve its own, historically doomed power against its foreign capitalist rivals. In Britain today, however, the monarchy is an appendage and a tool of the bourgeoisie, and while the demand for its abolition is an important democratic demand, in itself it has no revolutionary content, since it leaves the main oppressors still in power as a class, with only the forms of capitalist power shifted around a bit. In this context, comrade Craig insults the intelligence of his readers when he pontificates that I divide

“the world into two types of countries - good and bad. Bad countries lack democracy. Here the struggle for democracy would be a good thing. Ian fully supports the importance of the struggle for democracy there. But Britain is a good country. It is advanced, not backward. We already have computers and the internet, not like tsarist Russia …”

This is degrading political polemic to the level of the Teletubbies. In 1917, “computers and the internet” did not exist, in either Britain or backward Russia, whereas today they are available to elites in semi-colonies, as well as the imperialist countries! In countries where capitalist development has been stunted by imperialist domination and the survival of older forms of class society, often resulting in unique ‘combined’ forms of exploitation and oppression, the permanent revolution retains its full force, and democratic questions will play a fundamental role. However, such questions will only be solved by the proletariat in power. In advanced capitalist countries with bourgeois-democratic regimes, where the dominant classes are the fully developed bourgeoisie and proletariat, it is utter nonsense to say that the ‘struggle for democracy’ is the main axis of the class struggle. The fact that the CPGB and RDG cannot see the difference between the two goes a long way to explaining their scandalous position of equating the Nato powers with Iraq in the 1991 war, and thus refusing to take a side with Iraq.

In conclusion, it is necessary to understand more about the context in which Lenin was writing, and the limitations of his understanding. Lenin was right about much: in particular his contribution on the revolutionary party (which evolved through contradictions, though a process of political struggle and a degree of ‘trial and error’); his leadership of the struggle against the social patriotism that destroyed the Second International; and of course, his indispensable contribution to the building of the Bolshevik Party (even if he did not often understand the importance of his own actions in this regard). But his understanding of the revolution in Russia was often flawed, and for comrades to quote material that contained flaws when it was written, to justify their own practice today, is obfuscatory. Comrade Conrad makes much of the draft programme that the CPGB produced several years ago and counterposes this to my “Trotskyite economism”, and indeed a Trotskyist critique of this document is overdue.

However, I think before comrades Conrad and Craig in future put pen to paper, it would pay them to study a bit more about the real course and driving forces of the Russian Revolution, and engage in schematic out-of-context citation a little less.