Permanent Revolution and the struggle for Working People\’s Democracy in Africa
Permanent Revolution and the struggle for Working People’s Democracy in Africa
By Abbey Trotsky
Africa is a continent with a population of approximately 1 billion; it is also the world’s second most populous continent, accounting for 15 percent of the global population. It is a continent that leads the world in strategic minerals (rare minerals absolutely vital for industry), possessing 80 percent of the world’s platinum, 49 percent of its palladium, 55 percent of its chromium and 45 percent of its vanadium, along with large untapped oil reserves among others.
Its fertile fields have the potential to feed not only itself, but also many other countries. Its forests have enough timber to build homes for much of the world. Moreover, Africa’s massive rainforests have the potential for maintaining or destroying the equilibrium of the earth’s atmosphere and ecology. For example, massive deforestation could deplete the world’s ozone layer and adversely affect earth’s climates.
If the continent’s economic decline can be reversed, a prosperous, vibrant Africa, with its population of 1 billion, would become a huge market of consumers for products and services. A talented, educated populace would provide a skilled workforce, driving African economies capable of contributing on the world stage, thus reducing-and possibly even eliminating-the need for aid.
Africa already contributes internationally in many fields of human endeavor-and its contributions would be even more significant if the potential of its peoples and lands were fully unlocked.
In the midst of all these enormous potential for greatness inherent in the Africa continent, the Bourgeois democracy and its representative class that constitute government across Africa countries have not only failed but proved incapable to resolve various problems that are militating against the prospect for greatness of the Africa continent.
Take for instance, many Africa countries still battle with the problem of how to: carry out a thoroughgoing land reform, purge the countryside of feudal and semi-feudal remnants, unify the country and solve the national question, and break with the domination of foreign imperialism. At the same time the democratic rights like right to participate in electoral contest, right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association; trade union rights, possible for the working people are limited.
Worthy to note that, many of these problems that still confront Africa countries today were largely, but not completely, resolved long ago in Europe following the bourgeois democratic revolutions conducted by then emerging European Bourgeois classes against the dominating rule of then feudal lords. The question therefore, is that, why is it that various local representatives of bourgeois class across African countries today lack the aspiration and capacity to replicate the kind of role played by the European counterpart years ago?
Secondly, is there any other class in the society that is historically favoured to complete the task of democratic revolution especially when it is obvious that the bourgeois class across African countries are incapable to complete this task.? How would such a class go about it to ensure a successful prosecution of the task?
These questions and many others were answered by Leon Trotsky, the co-leader of Lenin during the October 1917 socialist revolution, in his famous theory of permanent revolution which he formulated in 1905, at a critical period that Russia was confronted with similar problems Africa countries face today.
The main content of this theory; its relevance to the working people struggle against all forms of problems under which Africa countries groan today and how to successfully conduct this struggle remain the focus of this paper.
AFRICA AND THE WORKING PEOPLE TODAY
Many countries in Africa are blighted with backwardness, mass poverty and restricted access to basic needs of life today flowing from the failure of members of bourgeois class to complete capitalist-democratic revolution in their respective Africa country.
The situation in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer is aptly described by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Its representative in the country, Daouda Toure, correctly noted that “for almost a decade now, Nigeria has been recording consistently a high economic growth rate that has not produced commensurate employment opportunities and reduction in poverty among its citizens.” He continued: “Available statistics suggest that the incidence of poverty in Nigeria had indeed worsened between 2004 and 2010” (The Nation, Lagos, 29 August 2012).
South Africa is the second most unequal country in the world. This is despite “black economic empowerment” driven by the ANC government in post-apartheid South Africa. In Angola, two-thirds of the population live on less than â‚¬1 ($1.25) a day and only 25% of children are enrolled in primary schools (Guardian, London, 18 November 2011).
This is the country which was the world’s fastest growing economy, beating China into second position, in the decade to 2010.
The situation in Ivory Coast is not fare better. Despite the fact the country is the world highest producer of cocoa which today use for chocolate accounting for 40% of the global output; a major exporter of coffee and timber with increase in its crude oil production and high deposit of gold and diamond in the north, one quarter of the population of 25million people live in abject poverty, below 1.2dollar per day. The situation in the health sector is so bad that 14.2 of every 1000 persons die of malaria. The morbidity rate is between 50% and 60%
All these problems and many others under which African countries groan today are symptomatic of lack of thoroughgoing land reform, inability to purge the countryside of feudal and semi-feudal remnants, failure to unify the country and solve the national question, inability to break with the domination of foreign imperialism and limited democratic rights.
These are the similar problems being confronted by Russia in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Russia had not completed the capitalist-democratic revolution: thoroughgoing land reform, purging of the countryside of feudal and semi-feudal remnants, unification of the country, the solution of the national question, and freedom from the domination of foreign imperialism. At the same time there was no democracy – the right to vote for a democratic parliament, a free press, trade union rights, etc. This system was crowned by the brutal, autocratic, age-old tsarist state.
The question of how to complete the capitalist-democratic revolution which had long been generally completed by the bourgeois classes in Europe years before this time remained the major issues bothering the then young Russian workers’ movement.
Different theories were actually tested in a bid to resolve the issue of incomplete capitalist-democratic revolution. These were tested out in practice in the three Russian revolutions of 1905-1907, the February revolution of 1917 and the October 1917 revolution itself. The latter of these theories is the theory of permanent revolution. This is the theory, which for the first time in history brought the working class to power in backward country like Russia. This single event continues to retain its essence up till today as long as human history is concern.
THE THEORY OF PERMANENT REVOLUTION
The theory of permanent revolution was formulated in 1905 by Leon Trotsky; a co-leader to Vladimir Lenin during the October 1917 revolution in Russia, though, it was Karl Marx who first spoke about the ‘permanent’ character of revolution drawing lessons from the 1848 revolutions. He wrote in 1850: “It is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions.”
Having studied this, Trotsky brilliantly anticipated the October 1917 revolution through the formulation of his theory of permanent revolution. At first, the theory revealed the inability of the bourgeois class in economically underdeveloped countries like many Africa countries today to complete the task capitalist-democratic revolution like their counterpart in the economically developed country did years ago.
In explaining the reason for the inability, the theory revealed that, the belated development of the class of the capitalists in the backward countries which was also revealed in 1848 by the German capitalists, who did not press through the German revolution at that stage because they were already fearful of the then relatively small working class using the revolution to push forward its own demands. Thus the German bourgeoisie were unable to complete the historic task of unifying the many different small German states, something which was later done by the reactionary Prussian feudal, military and bureaucratic caste.
Owing to this belated development, the capitalist invested in land and the landlords invested in industry and both were united, particularly in the modern era, to bank capital. Therefore any thoroughgoing bourgeois-democratic revolution would come up against the opposition not just of the landlords but also the capitalists themselves and their political representatives, the liberal capitalist parties.
The situation in Africa continent today is not different! The capitalist imperialist corporation from the main advanced capitalist countries like UK, USA, France, Japan, Germany, Italy etc bank on the weakness of members of Africa capitalist class and take over the control of the main lever of the economy. To them they are not concerned about the fate of working people. In so far as there are natural resources to be exploited for super-profit, Africa is a bed of roses. This drive to super-exploit Africa explains why the continent, which is rich in natural resources and fertile lands for agriculture, is dominated by multinationals and run on the basis of capitalist neoliberal policies to benefit the imperialist west.
The lack of, or primitive state of, necessary infrastructure has meant that Africa is still largely dependent on exports of primary commodities and only accounts for an abysmal 2% of world output. The so-called ‘investors’ are mainly interested in commodity and extractive industries which, although driving growth, create few jobs. This failure to develop manufacturing explains why Africa, a classic example of jobless growth, cannot emulate the role of China as an engine of global capitalism despite its huge population and growing urbanisation. On the contrary, capitalism will continue to leave the continent prostrate.
In a world economy dominated by imperialism the local bourgeois class, are left with no other choice than to see being power as an opportunity to loot most of the resources that are left in Africa, after losing some to unfair trade and debt repayment and then stashed away in private foreign accounts in Europe and North America. This is made possible through Neoliberal capitalism, which entails privatisation and deregulation, thus gives more leverage to Africa’s political leaders to loot their treasuries since they are not committed to use the resources to provide infrastructure and the basic necessities of life.
It is in the light of this undoubted weakness of the capitalist class in the economically weaker countries that, that Trotsky in the theory concluded, that it is the working people in an alliance with the poor peasant that is capable of completing the task of democratic revolution in the backward countries.
This view which also corresponded to that of Lenin differed fundamentally from the Mensheviks (the original minority in the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party) who believed the task of the working class in economically undeveloped countries such as Russia at that stage was to tail-end, give ‘critical support’, to the liberal capitalists in completing ‘their’ revolution. The Mensheviks held this view because they considered the liberal capitalists to be the main agents of the capitalist-democratic revolution.
However, the weakness of Lenin’s formula was who would be the dominant force in such an alliance: the working class or the peasantry? Trotsky, in his response to this weakness, pointed out that history attests to the fact that the peasantry had never played an independent role. Scattered in the countryside with scarce access to the culture of the towns – with their literature, theatres, large collected populations – the peasants were always destined to seek for a leader in the urban areas. They could support the bourgeois, which would mean ultimately the betrayal of their own interests.
Trotsky’s idea of ‘combined and uneven development’, explains how working class particularly in underdeveloped countries combined its extreme backwardness in relations on the land – feudal, semi-feudal, etc – with the latest word in technique in industry largely through massive imperialist intervention from economically developed countries like France and Britain to achieve higher level of awareness.
This process which culminated in the development of a young and dynamic working class revealed how working class organised in large industry, disciplined by the factory or the workplace, alongside archaic economic and cultural forms is able to develop the necessary social cohesion and, ultimately, the necessary consciousness, to attract the entire oppressed strata of society behind itself in a struggle to carry through a socialist overturn. Undoubtedly, where the working class is a minority in society, a classical working class uprising could be “supplemented” by a “second edition of the peasant war” â€“ a movement of the peasants, even including elements of guerrillaism.
Trotsky went further in the theory of the Permanent Revolution to reveal that the working class will not only take a lead in the alliance but also dictate the direction and the extent the alliance will go in a bid to resolve enormity of the problems under which the society groans. This is how the theory arrives at the idea of dictatorship of the proletariat which opponents of Marxism in their bid to discredit the idea have mistaken for military rule or bonapartist ‘dictatorship’ over the masses.
The theory further argues that the alliance of the workers and peasants will be led by Marxist party to form a workers government called Workers democracy and interruptedly move to socialist revolution which entails among other things that the commanding height of the economy has to be nationalised and placed under the democratic control and the management of the elected representative of the workers and peasants.
Without a more or less rapid victory of the proletariat in the advanced countries the workers’ government in any backward country will not survive. Left to itself the regime must either fall or degenerate! To safeguard the workers democracy against either internal degeneracy or external counterrevolution, victory of proletariat on both the continental and international scale must be encouraged. But this does not mean that this world movement cannot start in a small country. Lenin once commented that the Russian revolution saw imperialism broke at “its weakness link”, despite the country’s weakness the October revolution had a huge international effect.
Today in Africa a revolution starting in a small country can, with an internationalist appeal to workers, youth and the poor in other countries, rapidly gain support throughout the continent. This would be essential to prevent or defeat any counter-revolutionary attacks.
This is the essence of Trotsky’s ‘Theory of the Permanent Revolution’.
This was conceived by both Marx and Lenin as a state that will diametrically opposed to bourgeois democracy in which the majority were repressed by an exploiting minority. It is an organic form of direct rule of the working people over the entire society in which masses will fill all post-administrative, judicial and educational- by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, subject to the right of recall at any time by electors. All elected officers, high or low will only be paid the wages received by other workers.
According to Lenin, the Workers democracy will become a semi-state, right from the first day of the revolution which would “wither away” as the ruminant of capitalism. Towards achieving this, the Bolsheviks elaborated four main fundamental principles to safeguard the workers democracy against “place hunting and careerism”. These are:
1 No official was to receive a wage higher than that of the average skilled workers, plus necessary expenses to be strictly audited by the workers’ organisations. The working class has no need of careerists seeking material privileges but demand devoted self-scarifying service from its vanguard.
2 Administrative duties were to be rotated amongst the widest strata of the population to prevent the crystallisation of an entrenched caste of bureaucrats.
3 All working people were to bear arms to protect the revolution against threat from any quarter, internal or external.
4 All power was to be vested in the soviets. The composition of the soviets, lay delegates elected from their workplaces and subjected to instant recall, obliged delegate to report back to mass meetings of their workmate on the issues under discussion, and thus ensure maximum mass participation.
THEORY OF PERMANENT REVOLUTION AND ITS VALIDITY TODAY
The theory of permanent revolution brilliantly anticipated the October 1917 revolution. The working class took power in Petrograd, the seat of the revolutionary upheavals of the time, and Moscow. They then made an appeal to the rural masses, initiated ‘land to the tillers’, which won over the peasantry. But the dispossessed landlords joined hands with the capitalists, both the ‘liberal’ and reactionary wings, in an attempt to try to snuff out the Russian revolution.
The peasantry through the travails of the three-year civil war rallied behind the workers and their party, the Bolsheviks, because they came to understand in action that they were the only ones who would give them the land. Even the intervention of 21 imperialist armies, which reduced the revolution at one stage to the old province of Muscovy, around Petrograd and Moscow, could not stop the revolution triumphing.
The working class in alliance with the poor peasants did directly take power, or establish independent workers’ organisations â€“ soviets. This which signify the completion of democratic revolution leads uninterruptedly to the effort of encouraging the victory of proletariat in the Germany and other advanced capitalist countries at that period.
The theory of permanent revolution was also confirm though by inversion by emergence of Stalinism in Russia which is the stage of the triumph of the bureaucracy, with its system of repression, plunder and falsification – the ‘dictatorship of the lie’
The reign of Stalin following the death of Lenin backslide from the path of the international proletarian revolution. Thus, isolated revolution in a backward country like Russia with hundred million peasants, various nationalities, and a heritage of oppression, misery, and ignorance, consequently, the “vast masses” which, according to Lenin, decide the outcome of the struggle, became tired of internal privations and of waiting too long for the world revolution.
In the process, the bureaucracy won the upper hand and the first workers’ state â€“ on a lower economic basis and surrounded by imperialism â€“ suffer internal degeneration and transformed into the gendarmerie of Stalinism
The theory of permanent revolution has also been borne out by the outcome of the revolution in China, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and Cuba. But unlike Russia revolution, these revolutions were an affirmation of the correctness of Trotsky’s permanent revolution although in a caricatured form. A social revolution did indeed take place in China and Cuba (see ‘Cuba: Socialism and Democracy’ by Peter Taaffe) but, despite widespread popular support, the new states did not enjoy the soviets and workers’ democracy of the 1917 Russian revolution.
The Bonapartist clique led by Mao Zedong in the Chinese Revolution mobilised the peasants and was able to take power, balancing between the classes and constructing a state, but from the outset the regime was an image of Stalinist regime that succeeded the early, 1917 to 1923, period of a genuine workers state in Russia: the masses do not possess independent means of exercising control and power; there was and is no right of recall over officials, no election of officials, no clear limited wage differentials between those at the top and workers.
In Cuba, it is true that the revolution saw elements of workers’ control but not the full workers’ democracy of Russia. This limited the attraction of both revolutions – particularly to the working class internationally – which was not the same as the mesmeric effect of the Bolshevik revolution in the ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’.
The theory of permanent revolution still retains its full validity today in those countries which are kept in backwardness and poverty by capitalism through the perpetuation of feudal, semi-feudal, and archaic social and economic relations.
AFRICA AND PERMANENT REVOLUTION TODAY
Despite the terrorism, the nationalism and ethnic divisions, the potential power of the Africa working class has also been visible in the number of strikes, mass demonstrations. Africa has a rich history of repeated mass struggles against colonialism, and apartheid. More recently there have been struggles against corrupt, rotten regimes and for a better life, as exemplified by the mass uprisings in the Arab world, especially in North Africa, which claimed at least three long-serving dictators. January 2012 saw the biggest general strike and mass protest in the history of Nigeria against the increase in fuel prices.
Miners in South Africa, in their struggle for better pay and conditions, have almost brought the mining industry to its knees. Mining accounts for a huge part of the country’s wealth and is also a symbol of colossal social inequality between workers and bosses. The struggle of miners, in which DSM (CWI, South Africa) is playing a leading role, has helped put on the front burner the demand for the nationalisation of the mining industry, and also for a working and poor people’s political alternative to the ANC.
The continued anger of workers and youth in Europe, especially in Greece and Spain, against cuts and capitalist neoliberal attacks on jobs, wages, education and health care will continue to raise consciousness among the working people of Africa. This shows that the future of Africa is not in the hands of the mindless members of bourgeois class neither across Africa countries nor of American imperialism, but the mighty force of the Africa working class organised on socialist lines.
The best hope for achieving this is in the ideas and methods of Leon Trotsky married to the contemporary correct socialist analysis and programme of Africa. Genuine Trotskyism is destined to play a key role in the forthcoming battles of the Africa working class. And a vital aspect in the political armoury of the forces that will develop is the ideas and methods of Leon Trotsky, particularly his brilliant anticipation of the character of the revolution in the neo-colonial world, represented by the ideas of the permanent revolution, as outlined above.
This will require coming together of the most conscious revolutionary forces, who have understood the need to create the embryo of a combat party which can take on the task of mobilising, organising and educating the working masses with a view to unite the entire society in the struggle for the completion of the pending democratic revolution while moving interruptedly to socialist task both at the continental and international scale.
Similar to this was the position advanced by Lenin in his ‘Letters from Afar” in which he condemned even the slightest ‘critical’ support for the Provisional Government and demanded total class independence, both of the Bolshevik party and the working class. This call is relevant to Africa and other neo-colonial countries across the world today especially when the neo-colonial world has demonstrated more the intractability, the impossibility, of the bourgeois solving the accumulated problems of their regime. It is necessary for revolutionaries to study the lessons of the Russian revolution, especially the policies, different slogans and tactics the Bolsheviks used between February and October to win majority support amongst the working class and so be able to carry through a workers’ and peasants revolution.
While the Ivory Coast is not currently in the midst of a revolution the political and tactical questions are vital. For instance, all the existing political parties that will be participating in the October general election are bourgeois parties. The RDR is a bourgeois party whose social base is the Dioulas merchants, supported by the foreign imperialist bourgeoisie, similarly is the PDCI which also a bourgeois party of some national aristocracy, the national union and the stability represent the discussion between the classes, also supported by the foreign bourgeoisie.
The FPI is in, itself, a bourgeois party in the sense that it brings together the local petiti-bourgeoisie eager for economic emancipation and policy vis-a-vis imperialism. By Imperialism, it means the influence of the foreign bourgeoisie which occupies the key sectors of the economy and gives no room for development of the Ivorian national capital. That is the profound meaning of the struggle of the FPI.
However, the inability of years of rule of FPI under the leadership of Lauren Gbagbo who coincidentally one of the founding member of FPI to resolve various socio-economic crisis suffer by Ivorian working people is an indication that the FPI itself like other existing bourgeois parties in the country lacks the capacity to bring to an end the perpetuation of feudal, semi-feudal, and archaic social and economic relations that characterised the Ivorian society just like other Africa countries today.
Given this background, the task before the group in Ivory Coast gravitating towards Trotskyism as being represented by CWI in over 45 countries across the world today is to therefore maintain its political independent, struggle against illusions in bourgeois politicians and stress the need for independent working class action. While holding a friendly dialogue with those sections of workers and youth who may have hopes in bourgeois parties, it is necessary to raise the idea of the need for genuine working peoples’ candidates with a clear programme. This would be similar to the example of CWI section in Nigeria and South Africa that launched a campaign for an independent alternative mass working people political party to either the ANC in south Africa or PDP, APC and other bourgeois parties in case of Nigeria as a step towards building a socialist revolutionary party that could defeat capitalism in the continent.
In the face of the current organic world economic crisis of capitalism, which has compelled the ruling class to engage in a ferocious attack on living standards, the party will wage struggle for lasting reforms inevitably poses the question of the revolutionary transformation of society. In no way does this mean that important short-term gains by the working class are not possible but they are temporary and cannot have a lasting character, given the inevitable attempts by capitalism to take them back.
This is why such party has to continue to indissolubly connect the day-to-day demands of the working class with the idea of the socialist goal. Only this kind of independent pro-working people political party rest on the socialist programme has the potential and capacity to attract greater section of the working class and forge it alliance with the poor section of peasant through its day to day demands of the working class in the process to complete the democratic revolution and move uninterruptedly to the task of socialist reconstructing the society both at the continental and international scale.
The socialist reconstruction of the society will mean the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy which has to place under the democratic control and management by the elected representatives of the working people. Except this is done, the continuous existence of the bourgeois class as the ruler of the society will continue to plunge the respective countries that constitute the Africa into deeper social, political and economic crisis.