Encuentro Trotsky II on line – Trotsky em Permanência – 2 a 6 agosto de 2021

Sympósio Temático 9,  August 6, Sao Paolo, Brasil

1. Humanity passes through a great inflection point of history. Forty years of finance capital globalization after 1980 were interrupted by two tremendous global shocks: the still unresolved global capitalist crisis that erupted in 2008 and the still unfinished Covid 19 pandemic in 2020.

 Both events in their diversity are unified in their source. The protracted post 1980 finance capital globalization process has globalized all the inner contradictions of capital and imploded in 2008. The same process led to such a gigantic destruction of ecosystems and of the social metabolism between nature and society that produced an “epidemic of epidemics” culminating now with the humanitarian catastrophe of the pandemic, a prelude for a life threatening, and approaching climate change catastrophe. Decaying Capitalism proves to be incompatible with the most urgent needs of the actual life process itself.1[1]See Savvas Michael-Matsas, The Post Covid World, Moscow Economic Forum 2021,International Political Economy Congress, May 27-29, 2021 and The death agony of “free market” and Socialism, in Non Capitalist Mixed Economies (Theory, History and Future), Conference organized by Karl Polanyi Center, Eszmélet Journal and Social Theory College in Budapest, 23-26 June, 2021.

2. Global problems need global solutions -and Capitalism cannot provide them. The “invisible hand of the market” was completely paralyzed to confront he challenges of the post 2008 crisis and of the pandemic, and to provide a successful solution and an exit from them, despite the extraordinary “heterodox” measures taken by central banks and governments. The enhanced role of the State intervention in 2008//09 and particularly in 2020/21, as a holding operation, delayed the fall to the abyss but it does not succeeded to overcome neither the global capitalist crisis nor the ravages of the pandemic. On the social economic level, the intervention by central banks and governments exacerbated the crisis of over-indebtedness, financial instability, further zombification of non sustainable companies and banks, rising inflationary pressures- and deepening enormously all social inequalities within and between countries, especially the abysmal gulf between Global North and the impoverished and starving Global South, where the two thirds of humanity lives. In relation to the pandemic, the destruction of public health services by forty years of neo-liberalism, competition between the voracious Big Pharma, vaccine egoism and nationalism of the ruling classes in America and Europe, generalized subordination of health and survival of the life of workers to the needs of survival and profit of capitalist economy produced an unfinished humanitarian disaster.

On a historical level, the contradiction between the Nation State itself and Globalization in crisis reached its climax, precisely because the world character of the division of labor, of productive forces, of the global interconnectedness of social economic life clashes with the limits of capital and the national State. The Nation State is totally unable to give global solutions to the most urgent global problems such as universal vaccination, or, health protocols to eradicate the pandemic on world scale, or to plan and implement urgent measures against climate change.

Thus a multiform structural crisis of the State becomes manifest in social conflicts and political regime crises in one country after another. All specific characteristics, the particular combination of forms of oppression in its historical formation in each country (brutality of repressive forces, systemic racism, patriarchy, ethnic, religious, sexual discrimination etc), come in the forefront, sharpening all social conflicts, destabilizing the political situation and intensifying the crisis of governability.

The impasse provokes social polarization, explosions of mass anger and popular rebellions, from the center of global capitalism, the US, with the gigantic Black Lives Matter movement mobilizing 25 million people in the streets after George Floyd’s murder to the Latin American volcano and the Middle East in flames.  

From the other side, the systemic impasse produce the rise of Far Right and fascist tendencies and it exacerbates national and imperialist antagonisms, escalating the imperialist war drive, now openly targeting, as “strategic competitors” of US imperialism, China and Russia.

3. The very advanced globalized character of the contradictions driving history today, their uneven and combined development on a world scale make more actual than ever Leon Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution.

Trotsky’s theory, vindicated in historical practice during the last century, has, nothing to do with the vulgar Stalinist distortions about “simultaneous revolution in all countries” or of “exporting socialist revolution”, of “ignoring uncompleted democratic tasks of historical development” etc.

From the other side, it should not be ossified into a supra-historical mechanical formula or reduced to one of its aspects, more often, only in relation to the uninterrupted transition from democratic to socialist revolution in underdeveloped countries in the periphery of capitalism.

Furthermore, more sophisticated but equally erroneous attacks on Trotsky and permanent revolution as being “a generalization of conditions in the East in 1917 but inapplicable in the West, a mechanical extension of war of movement or war of maneuver, of frontal attack” etc advanced by Antonio Gramsci have also to be rejected.

Gramsci, in a well known note in his Prison Notebooks considers the “political concept of the so-called “Permanent Revolution”, which emerged before 1848 as a scientifically evolved expression of the Jacobin experience form 1789 to Thermidor”. It corresponds to an early, still immature and “fluid” capitalist society and State. “In the period after 1870 […] the Forty-Eightist formula of the “Permanent Revolution” is expanded and transcended in political science by the formula of ‘civil hegemony’ 2 2Antonio Gramsci, Q13,#7, in Selections from the Prison Writings Lawrence and Wishart 1971, p.242-243 .

In reality, we argue, the Concept of Permanent Revolution reflects bourgeois modernity, evolving and maturing throughout its entire historical development. From the epoch of bourgeois ascent, when, in the Great French Revolution “the world struggle of the bourgeoisie for domination, for power, and for undivided triumph found its classical expression.33Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects, 1906. and the Jacobin call for Révolution en permanence to the apogee and turning point of capitalism, in the middle of 19th century with the European Revolution of 1848 and the 1850 Address by Marx and Engels, till the imperialist epoch of capitalist decline and Trotsky’s theoretical re-elaboration of Permanent Revolution in the 1905 Russian Revolution, its vindication in 1917 and its later developments in the struggle against Bukharin’s and Stalin’s doctrine of “socialism in a single country”.

To use Lenin’s dialectical materialist reading of Hegel’s Logic, what it was, in the early period a Begriff, a Concept among radical Jacobins such as Saint-Just, it evolves later, by Marx and Trotsky, reaching a highest level and acquiring a much richer content as the “unity of Begriff and Reality44V.I,. Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, vol. 38 of Collected Works, Moscow-Progress 1972, p.170.with the apogee and the decline of capitalism.

The driving force, the fundamental contradiction giving a permanent character to the revolutionary process in Modern Times is accurately grasped and profoundly formulated by Marx in his Grundrisse. Capital as self-expanding value tends to overcome all external barriers and internal limits with which permanently clashes: “The universality towards which it irresistibly strives encounters barriers in its own nature, which will, at a certain stage of its development, allow it to be recognized as being itself the greatest barrier to this tendency, and hence will drive towards its own suspension5 5K. Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin 1973, p. 410..

Modernity, the irresistible tendency to universality born by capitalism and clashing, often violently with its finite limits, reaches a historical point when it becomes incompatible with the capitalist conditions that generated it. A transitional epoch begins to overcome capitalism, the last antagonistic form of class society, towards universal human emancipation, world communism.

Trotsky understood at early 20th century that human society has entered this transitional epoch, and on this epochal world change he based, already in 1905, the Marxist conception of the Permanent Revolution. Permanent Revolution becomes the dialectical self- reflection of the epoch.

In June 1905, Trotsky wrote: “Binding all countries together with its mode of production and its commerce, capitalism has converted the whole world into a single economic and political organism. Just as modern credit binds thousands of undertakings by invisible ties and gives to capital an incredible mobility which prevents many small bankruptcies but at the same time is the cause of the unprecedented sweep of general economic crises, so the whole economic and political effort of capitalism, its world trade, its system of monstrous state debts, and the political groupings of nations which draw all the forces of reaction into a kind of world-wide joint-stock company, has not only resisted all individual political crises, but also prepared the basis for a social crisis of unheard-of dimensions. Driving all the processes of disease beneath the surface, avoiding all difficulties, putting off all the profound questions of internal and international politics, and glossing over all contradictions, the bourgeoisie has managed to postpone the denouement, but thereby has prepared a radical liquidation of its rule on a world-wide scale.66L. Trotsky, Foreword to F. Lassalle’s Address To the Jury, quoted in Results and Prospects op.cit.

These prophetic words elucidated the world historic epochal change at the beginning of the 20th century, whose a first crucial moment was the 1905 Russian Revolution and manifested itself most powerfully in October 1917.

In a certain sense, they sound even more clarifying and prophetic now, in the 21st century. The last forty years, finance capital globalization, trying to escape from the global crisis following the collapse of the post-war international Bretton Woods Keynesian settlement, brought the “tendency to universality” to its extremes – and to the cataclysms of the first decades of 21st century, the global capitalist shock of 2008 escalating into a catastrophic life-threatening “perfect storm” in 2020.

4. The centrality given by Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution to the world character of the historical process in the imperialist epoch of capitalist decline does not reduce universality into an abstract, formal whole, homogeneous, emptied from any diversity, specificity, contradictions between parts, lifeless On the contrary, Trotsky sharply criticizes Stalin, Stalinist DiaMat/IstMat as well as the so-called “orthodox Marxism” of the Second International for such deadly formalism.

The primacy of the international over the national and the local in our epoch does not cancel the fundamental law of uneven and combined historical development, respectively representing the centrifugal and centripetal forces that deepen differences of historical level, sharpen their contradictions and simultaneously interconnect all contradictory parts and multiple temporalities into a single whole. Without the dialectics of combined and uneven development no Marxist theory of Permanent Revolution is possible.

Trotsky’s conception breaks from every linear conception of history, from all reformist gradualism or for “revolutions by stages”, mechanically separated.

5. It is from this dialectical vantage point that Permanent Revolution acquires all its vitality, actuality and urgency as theory, method, perspective, strategy and program for the organized workers vanguard in the current world historical situation, in the 21st century.

Undoubtedly, this global “perfect storm” of an unprecedented global capitalist crisis combined with a still uncontrolled pandemic and a catastrophic climate change plays an overall determining role affecting all social and political relations within and between countries. At the same time, it deepens unevenness and makes unbridgeable all inequalities everywhere, at the center, semi-periphery and periphery of capitalism, within and between countries, regions and continents.

The abyss separating Global North and Global South does not leave any space for illusions of national bourgeois elites in “emerging countries” for a “catching up” with advanced capitalist economies. At the same time, no “decoupling or de-linking” is possible in an insolubly interconnected world capitalist economy dominated by global finance capital and imperialism. The deadlock is absolute and the disasters endless: humanitarian disaster from pandemic and lack of vaccination or any health protocols, mass unemployment, spiraling inflation, starvation, new draconian measures by the IMF, corruption of the ruling classes, State repression, imperialist aggression and wars. Social despair and permanent destitution fuels a permanent state of rebellion as well as non stop gigantic waves of mass migration towards the Global North. But this time, the movement of migration is not directed to economically expanding centers but to metropolitan countries devastated by crisis and depression. Thousands of desperate migrants and their families meet death in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, in front of ‘Fortress Europe” or on the militarized borders of America. Those who finally enter, they are imprisoned in concentration camps or face State sponsored racial hatred and xenophobia.

A new nomadic proletariat emerges. It can find a future and emancipation only in solidarity and united struggle with the workers movement and proletarianized masses of the metropolitan countries as well as with the new industrial proletariat in urban centers in Asia, Latin America and Africa, the head of the struggling poor peasants of the countryside.

Class dynamics in the former colonial and semi-colonial countries vindicated the predictions of Trotsky and the prospects of Permanent Revolution. More than a hundred years of experiences has proved beyond any doubt the political bankruptcy of bourgeois nationalism, either secular or religious, while the division between oppressor and oppressed nations remains and intensifies as a structural characteristic of the imperialist epoch of declining world capitalism. Anti-imperialist struggle can be victorious and national liberation achieved by the socialist revolution of workers and poor peasants taking power and establishing Socialist Federations in their regions and Continents. No class collaboration with local corrupt bourgeois elites tail-ending imperialism but the world revolutionary class struggle is the road to national and social emancipation.

6. A particularly complex case involves countries of the former so called “actually existing Socialism”, first of all China and Russia, which are well on the road of capitalist restoration after 1989-91. Blocked in the contradictions of the restoration process, they are facing now an escalating imperialist military, economic and political pressure to impose on them, by all means, total subjugation, fragmentation, and a new kind of imperialist colonization under local comprador semi-fascist rule masquerading as a “democratic regime change”.

Restorationist regimes and oligarchs are neither able nor even willing to defeat the imperialist offensive. They seek an improbable compromise and an impossible accommodation with the aggressor enemy of their peoples, in the name of “international cooperation”, “multipolarity”, a “win-win agreement” etc, all avatars of the old failed formulas of “peaceful coexistence” and of bureaucratic “socialism in a single country”.

Without any support with restorationist regimes, oligarchs or Bonapartes, the international working class and its vanguard should not remain neutral in face of imperialist aggression but to fight to defeat it. It has to manifest solidarity in action supporting a political mobilization of the masses themselves in these countries to defeat imperialism. The anti-imperialist struggle to be victorious is necessary to not be trapped in a blind nationalism serving the ruling elites but to acquire a permanent character until the defeat of the capitalist restoration process itself, which opens the road to imperialism and colonization, the expropriation of oligarchs, for a socialist reconstruction of the economy under workers control, all power to genuine soviets without bureaucrats, full workers democracy, and an active internationalist policy of support to all revolutionary and liberation movements in the world.

7. The central thesis of Trotsky that the decisive, final victory of a world Permanent Revolution should be the overthrow of capitalism at its centers that control world economy and world social productive forces remains valid as ever.

At this advanced stage of capitalist decline in the 21st century, the decay of the imperialist core, especially in its very heart, America, becomes apparent, appalling, and sinister. The Hubris of 1991, when the “final and complete victory of capitalism” was celebrated after the demise of the USSR, and the Fury of the Empire was launched against former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq has already received two devastated blows by Nemesis in 2008 and 2020. The much vaunted irresistible “progress” of the advanced West seems more and more, as in the eyes of the Angelus Novus in the Theses on the Concept of History by Walter Benjamin as “a single catastrophe” heaping “wreckage upon wreckage77Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Concept of History, Thesis IX.

But this historical shipwreck, the latest episode in the Decline and Fall of the imperial West, creates generalized destabilization, polarization, radicalization, massive rebellions such as Black Lives Mater but also fascist insurrections such the invasion of US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Perhaps, fort the first time in the history of capitalism, there is an uneven but growing convergence of escalating confrontations both in the Global North and the Global South, from Washington DC to Bogota, Santiago de Chile or occupied Jerusalem. Any advance or retreat in any front internationally interacts with the other. But it is clear that no global problem can be solved without the overthrow of those who are guilty for them and keep the control of world productive forces. No solution to mass unemployment, hunger, homelessness, the “epidemic of epidemics” can be given without the expropriation of the expropriators. No solution to the climate change nightmare could be given by carbon pricing or taxes, only by an internationally coordinated socialist planning under workers control. Global solutions could not be provided by bourgeois national States, only by their abolition and the establishment of a world Commune.

To advance, the workers and oppressed need revolutionary organization and a Marxist leadership based on the dialectical-historical method and the lessons of all strategic experiences of the unfolding of the world socialist revolution from 1917 to today- including the lessons of the recent struggles, before and especially after the global crisis of 2008.

The myths of the “end of history”, of “the final and complete victory of liberal capitalism” etc. have been buried under the ruins of the on-going crisis. But historical disorientation following the collapses of 1989-1991 still ideologically dominates and spreads confusion and illusions. The world historical circle that started in 1917 is considered definitely closed and with it all prospects for revolution.

All kinds of substitutes to advance emancipatory politics have been searched either in fetishism of movements per se without challenging the existing political powers or to expectations from parliamentary electoralism and the formation of left reformist bourgeois governments. Vain hopes for a repetition of the political bankruptcy of the Syriza governmental experience in Greece or of Podemos in Spain and of Bloque de Esquerda in Portugal supporting social-liberal governments can lead only to new defeats and more demoralization.

The bold struggle of an organized workers revolutionary vanguard within the masses internationally to make the revolution permanent is not an abstract Utopia. As self-reflection of the deepest demands of the epoch, it is the only viable prospect to break down all the barriers strangulating the actual process of life – and change the world.

 Trotsky’s most valuable legacy is the weapon for the victory of the Permanent Revolution: the historically necessary, historically justified but historically not yet completed task to build the Fourth International88The EEK and the Fourth International, Resolution of the 17th Congress of the EE, 11-13 June 2021.    

27 July – 5 August 2021