October 31, 2017


In this article, Tony Clark examines Lenin's theory of the world revolutionary process. He describes its confirmation in the development of the revolution until the ascendancy of revisionism in the international communist movement brought about reversals for socialism.

Clark argues that Lenin's theory has been confirmed but that the revolutionary storms building up today will be global in extent and that we will be faced, not with the perspective of socialism existing in a few countries for many years, but with world revolution.

The nature of the world revolutionary process has been the source of many disputes throughout the whole history of Marxism. Indeed, the split between Marxism and anarchism and later between Marxism and social opportunism involved questions about the nature of the revolutionary process. In more recent times this same dispute in a new form continued between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism.

By world revolutionary process is meant the general content of all the stages that lead to the negation of the old and its replacement by the new, from an international standpoint.

Before Lenin, all those who claimed adherence to Marxism were quite clear about the general nature of the world revolutionary process. Marxists held that since the advanced capitalist countries were materially ripe for socialism, the proletariat in these countries would settle accounts with their own bourgeoisie and then proceed to liberate the colonially oppressed nations. Social Democratic parties were launched in the advance countries to blaze the trail to socialism.

Today it is clear that this old Marxist perspective was not realised, at least in the century just passed. It was the rise of imperialism in the 19th century that led Marxists to re-examine their understanding of the nature of the world revolutionary process. Imperialism had given the capitalists in the advanced countries additional room for manoeuvre. The bourgeoisie in large measure was able to tame the proletariat, or a significant layer of it and buy off its leaders. In other words, the ruling class ruled indirectly through a labour bureaucracy resting on a privileged stratum within the working class. The working class was thus split into a relatively privileged minority and the masses of unprivileged workers.

Lenin saw this split in the working class between a privileged minority of workers and the mass of unprivileged proletarians as crucial in the formulation of revolutionary policy. Marxists, he argued, should base themselves on the unprivileged masses in the advanced countries. However, imperialism also led to the exploitation of the oppressed nations; consequently the working class in the imperialist states must support the struggle of the anti-imperialist masses in the colonial countries. Thus for Marxism-Leninism, the struggle for socialism in the advanced capitalist countries was integrally bound up with the struggle for national liberation. It was the duty of Marxists everywhere not only to struggle for working class liberation, but also to champion the struggle for the freedom of those countries oppressed by imperialism. In other words, fighting for socialism aids the national liberation struggle and the latter aids the struggle for socialism.

Thus for Marxism-Leninism the struggles of the oppressed masses in the countries enslaved by imperialism brings the world closer to socialism. The two struggles, the social and the national, were inextricably bound up with each other. It was this view that formed the basis for an understanding of the world revolutionary process in the imperialist epoch. This was the epoch of proletarian revolution and national liberation. For Lenin, understanding the relationship between the proletarian revolution and the national liberation struggles was central to grasping the nature of the world revolution today. Lenin came to the conclusion that imperialism would break at its weakest links. These weak links were to be found in the less developed capitalist countries.

In those countries oppressed by imperialism, the national bourgeoisie could play a limited progressive role in the anti-imperialist national revolution. The task of communists in this situation was to unite all those who could be united, all the peoples and classes who opposed imperialism into an anti-imperialist united-front. In simple terms, the working class would enter an alliance with the national bourgeoisie against foreign imperialism. This was in keeping with Marxism-Leninism, which teaches that communists must learn to make alliances even with temporary, unreliable and vacillating allies. In these oppressed countries the transition from the national revolution against imperialism, to the socialist revolution against capitalism would begin at a certain stage, which would depend on the internal and external balance of class forces after the imperialist occupying power had been defeated. Attempts to jump over the stage of the national revolution, or ignoring its importance would lead to the strengthening of the position of imperialism which would seek to form an alliance with the national bourgeoisie to crush any moves towards socialism. It is this very teaching, which Trotskyists ignore, seeking to impose their own understanding of the concept of permanent revolution on the world revolutionary process. For Marxist-Leninists, the point of transition from the national democratic revolution to the socialist revolution did not depend on abstract schemas but on the strength of the working class and the balance of internal and external class forces.

For Lenin, as explained previously, the rise of imperialism had transformed the nature of the world revolutionary process. Not only would the chain of imperialism tend to break at its weakest links, but also the uneven economic and political development of capitalism made it possible for the transition from capitalism to socialism to begin in several or one capitalist country taken singly. This would inevitably raise the question of the relationship of such a country or countries, which had begun the transition to socialism, to all the others. Where Marxist-Leninists spoke of the victory of socialism in one country, this position was distorted by the Trotskyists with the argument that Stalinists believed in 'isolated' socialist development, cut of from the world economy. This idea is refuted by Soviet experience, where the Soviet Union sought to establish diplomatic and certain trading relations with capitalist powers. Confusing the beginning of the transition to socialism with the end, they, the Trotskyists, argued that socialism was only possible on the basis of world economy.

The view, or theory, that it was possible for socialism to begin in one, or several countries and eventually spread to the others was integral to Lenin's theory of the world revolutionary process. While Trotsky became the most well known protagonist arguing against the Leninist view from the standpoint of ultra-leftism (pseudo-leftism), it is important to remember that opposition to socialism in one country as part of the world revolutionary process began, firstly, on the right, opportunist wing of the Second International. After the outbreak of the imperialist war in 1914, the agents of imperialism in the labour movement, the opportunist, social chauvinist leaders, rallied the working class to support the imperialist slaughter, instead of rallying the masses for social revolution. Thus, their naked opportunism was clear for all to see. To cover up this nakedness and exonerate their criminal betrayals as accomplices of the bourgeoisie, they seized upon the fig-leaf argument that 'socialism is international or it is nothing'. This argument is repeated by pseudo-left elements today. The opportunists argued that socialism was not possible in one country but must more-or-less occur simultaneously in all countries, particularly in the advanced countries. Only this would justify the struggle for socialism in any country. The revisionists wanted to hide behind this spurious 'Marxist' orthodoxy to conceal their shameless betrayals of the working class and socialism. Since in the view of the opportunists, socialism was impossible in one country, they denied that there had been any betrayals of socialism and the working class in 1914. The argument that socialism was impossible in one country and that to suggest otherwise constituted a grave revision of Marxism were the arguments which Trotsky and his followers sought to bring into the international communist movement as soon as Lenin was out of the way in 1924.

The right-opportunist, Menshevik argument that socialism was impossible in one country, used as an excuse for betraying the working class, was given a pseudo-left twist by Trotskyists and led them to adopt the absurd position that defending socialism in one country represented a betrayal of world revolution. Thus, the right-opportunists opposed socialism in one country from the right while the Trotskyists opposed it from a pseudo-left platform.

'the development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in the various countries. It cannot be otherwise under the commodity production system. From this, it follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois for some time'. (V. I. Lenin: The War Programme of the Proletariat. In: C. W. Vol. 29; p.325)

Presented here in unambiguous terms is a fundamental aspect of the Leninist theory of the world revolutionary process, a theory in complete contradiction to Trotsky's theory of this process, which denies the possibility of socialism in one country as part of the world revolution. As we said, Lenin's theory also raised the question of the relation of socialism in one country to those countries that had not yet gone over to socialism. The position, which the Bolshevik leadership arrived at, was that a socialist country would seek to establish peaceful coexistence with non-socialist states. This would lead to diplomatic and certain trading relations with the non-socialist world. This policy was indeed pursued by the Soviet Union and belies the argument, preached by the pseudo-left, that Stalin believed in 'isolated' socialist development.

For instance, the 'where we stand' column in the British Socialist Workers Party newspaper, at the time of writing this article, states that

'The experience of Russia demonstrates that a socialist revolution cannot survive in isolation in one country. In Russia, the result was state capitalism, not socialism'.

However, in fact, the Russian revolution did not seek to survive in 'isolation' as the pseudo-left claim. The revolution had support in many countries, and, as explained above sought to establish relations with other countries, not to mention that after the Second World War the revolution was extended into several other countries. However, the Marxist-Leninist policy of peaceful co-existence between states with different social systems was eventually distorted by the post-war Soviet revisionists, who had gathered around Nikita Khrushchev after the death of Stalin in 1953. The Khrushchevites sought to impose their particular revisionist interpretation of peaceful co-existence on the international communist movement. Where for Marxist-Leninists peaceful co-existence was a relation between states, the Soviet revisionists wanted to extend this policy to mean peace between exploited and exploiter classes within states, and peace between oppressed and oppressor nations in international relations. This approach was summed up clearly by Khrushchev when he argued that peaceful co-existence should be made into the

'...basic law of life of the whole of modern society'. (N. S. Khrushchev: speech at the UN General assembly, September 23. 1960)

Since Khrushchev wanted to make peaceful co-existence 'the basic law of life of the whole of modern society', it was clear that this represented the abandonment of Marxism for reformist socialist opportunism.

Two things are clear from what has been presented above. This is that the Marxist-Leninist theory of the world revolutionary process has been distorted by both the pseudo-left or ultra-left elements, on the one side, and on the other, by right, revisionist elements. The ultra-left elements, who are mostly pro-Trotsky, deny Lenin's theory that socialism in one country was possible as part of the world revolutionary process, and falsely claim that the Stalinists were advocating 'isolated socialist development', when in fact the Soviet Government strove for diplomatic and trading links with other countries. The rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Union would not have been possible without these links. On the other hand, the new revisionists in the communist movement (usually referred to as the "Modern Revisionists") distorted the Marxist-Leninist policy of 'peaceful co-existence' into a reformist doctrine of class peace within nations and peace between oppressed and oppressor nations, a line which the Khrushchevite, Soviet revisionists, sought to impose on the international communist movement. (Interestingly, it is important to note here that the pseudo-left elements who follow Trotskyism make no difference between Leninist and revisionist peaceful co-existence, not to mention that in the later stage on the Marxist-Leninist anti-revisionist movement the difference between the two was often blurred by some communists; in some cases Leninist peaceful co-existence being rejected per se).

We have outlined the basic components of Lenin's theory of the world revolutionary process. These are

A) That the imperialist chain will tend to break at its weakest links first.

B) That imperialism splits the working class into a privileged minority who politically serve the bourgeoisie and the majority of the working class who objectively represent the social revolution

C) That the struggle for national liberation in the countries oppressed by imperialism, that is, in the colonial-type countries, is bound up with the struggle for socialism both in the oppressed countries and in the imperialist metropolises. That in the colonial-type countries the struggle is first directed mainly against foreign imperialism, that at the national democratic stage of revolution, an alliance is formed with the more progressive section of the national bourgeoisie, which at a certain stage is transformed into a struggle against the bourgeoisie for socialism.

D) That Marxism-Leninism views uneven development as an absolute law of capitalism (capitalism being generalised commodity production) this made socialism possible in one country as part of the world revolutionary process.

E) That in the initial stages, i.e., at the beginning of the transition from capitalism to socialism, the question of the relations of socialist with non-socialist countries would be raised and that this would be one of peaceful co-existence, a policy which was subsequently distorted in a reformist direction by the Khrushchevite revisionists. At the same time, the Trotskyists saw no difference between Leninist and revisionist peaceful co-existence, a mistake that was replicated at the latter stage of the anti-Khrushchev struggle by some communists.

The next thing we need to look at in general outline relates to the present stage of the political situation: how will the world revolutionary process develop in the near future? The concept world revolutionary process is a general term indicating the main political movements leading to a negation of the present state of affairs. In the previous paragraphs we have shown what these are: the class struggle in the advanced countries and the national liberation struggles in those countries oppressed by imperialism, which at a certain stage can develop into the struggle for socialism. We have avoided the Luxembourgist conclusion that the national liberation struggle in the oppressed countries are obsolete. The Marxist-Leninist reply to Luxembourgism is that the question is not whether the national liberation struggles are obsolete but whether the masses in the oppressed countries have outgrown nationalism and whether the struggle for national liberation can weaken imperialism.

The world revolutionary process today will unfold on a far higher level of development of capitalism than has been the case in the past. Although the dominant feature of capitalism is still characterised by uneven developed as is shown in the huge differences between the rich and the poor countries, it is nevertheless a fact that capitalism is an even more inter-connected whole than previously. While we can continue to assume that the imperialist chain will continue to break first at its weakest links, we can also be reasonably certain that the chain reaction on the imperialist countries will follow with a devastating swiftness. Today the contradictions between imperialism and the masses find its sharpest and most violent expression in the region of the Middle East. This is a region of essential strategic importance for imperialism due to its enormous reserves of oil. The Middle East threatens to embroil imperialism in a political crisis of global proportions of a magnitude unseen before in history. Striving for world domination, the recent invasion of Iraq by the US led imperialist coalition has brought to the fore mass opposition to the imperialist agenda on a global scale. These masses, increasingly being politicised by what promises to be the greatest systemic crisis of world capitalism, are the forces that will sweep away imperialism and its running dogs in every country. Marxist-Leninists must ideologically prepare these masses for the coming unprecedented crisis ahead.


April 22, 2003.