The Afghan Tragedy, part 3: Militant (the Socialist Party) on the "Third World"

Submitted by dalcassian on 10 July, 2011 - 2:27

Militant (the Socialist Party) on the "Third World".

Click here to read whole text as pdf
The picture of the Third World presented in such articles as Grant's 1978 piece on 'the colonial revolution' is as follows.

Capitalism means nothing but stagnation. The inevitable way forward, once the local middle class has 'tired' of capitalist stagnation (Grant's term), is for that middle class to create 'proletarian Bonapartism'. This 'proletarian Bonapartism' is totalitarian and brutal, but progressive: it develops industry and society.

Such are the prospects for the great majority of the world's population - all except those who live in the most developed countries. Even countries such as Portugal are candidates for a 'proletarian Bonapartist' stage. Working-class socialist revolution is for the few.

This picture - segmenting the world into economically progressive 'proletarian Bonapartism' and stagnant capitalism - blots out a large part of reality. Militant (implicitly at least) denies even the theoretical possibility of state capitalism: so what about Egypt, or Algeria, or many other countries where social structures have been substantially changed, and industry expanded on the basis of a very high level of nationalisations? Have all the struggles in those countries been much ado about nothing?

And in fact in many Third World countries - from South Korea through the Ivory Coast to Brazil - capitalism has developed industry and society very fast. The record is one of hideous human suffering but certainly not of stagnation. Even India or Pakistan, for example, have seen industrial growth since independence far outstripping Britain's in the 19th century.

Within this development there are substantial struggles, on many issues. Sizeable working classes now exist in many Third World countries; in terms of objective social weight they are better placed to make socialist revolutions than were the Russian workers in 1917.

But worse. Aside from its factual inaccuracy, Militant's vision is so Eurocentric as to be almost racist.

They endorse 'proletarian Bonapartism' as the best available next stage for most of humanity. Yet they do not engage themselves actively in the struggle to install this 'proletarian Bonapartism', as the Russian Mensheviks before 1917 actively fought to get the bourgeois democratic revolution which they saw as the best development possible for backward Russia. No: at most Militant expresses satisfaction after the event at the good results to be expected from 'proletarian Bonapartism'. At the same time they dissociate from it, describing its viciously repressive methods, and venomously denouncing those Trotskyist 'sects' who actively support the movements for ''proletarian Bonapartism'.

The basic idea is that nothing very much at all can be expected from the great mass of humanity; that most of the world's people (not just the Afghan peasants and nomads) are fated to be mere objects for boots and bayonets; and that it doesn't matter very much, for in due course the socialist revolution will come through the legislation of Enabling Acts and nationalisation decrees in countries such as Britain (or the political revolution in the USSR), and will 'usher in an epoch of unprecedented abundance'' .

Despite the routine expressions of indignation in Militant's articles about the terrible social conditions in the Third World, their attitude to the mass of workers and peasants suffering those conditions is that of the philosopher on a watchtower.


'The Russian bureaucracy and their Afghan supporters are in effect carrying through the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution in that country', says Woods - though they are doing it in a 'distorted', Bonapartist fashion. The same idea is expressed by Grant in his 1978 article: the 'proletarian Bonapartist' regimes 'carry out in backward countries the historic job which was carried out by the bourgeoisie in the capitalist countries in the past'.

They are alluding and making comparisons - Grant explicitly - to Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, according to which the tasks of a bourgeois democratic revolution in a backward country (land reform, civil liberties, a democratic republican state, national independence) can be carried out by the working class and peasantry in a combined movement, led by the working class, which does not stop at bourgeois-democratic tasks but goes on to install working-class power and overthrow capitalism.

Woods' allusion is intended to put the events in Afghanistan and the Russian invasion in the historical framework of the theory of permanent revolution, as a sort of special variant of it. But this is a very strange variant indeed.

Two issues are involved here: first Woods' substantive view that Stalinism is the necessary next stage for most of the world; and second his presentation of this scenario as a working-out (albeit 'distorted') of Trotsky's perspective of permanent revolution.


In the Russian Revolution of 1917, where Trotsky's theory was strikingly born out by events, the proletariat took the lead of the peasant masses in the struggle against reaction and backwardness, carried out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, and in the same movement took power, eliminated the bourgeoisie, and established a workers' democracy. Woods' formula might be called the theory of 'international proletarian Bonapartist permanent revolution'. The historical protagonist in Trotsky's permanent revolution is the working class. But in Woods' 'international proletarian Bonapartist permanent revolution' the protagonist is first the Afghan 'communist' middle class and the top army and air force officers. When they fail, the hero's role falls to... the totalitarian Stalinist bureaucracy.

Where the working-class instrument in making permanent revolution for Trotsky was a revolutionary working-class party based in democratic soviets, for Woods the instrument is a savagely undemocratic, hierarchical foreign army which makes the revolution by subjugating - if it can - the rural masses. It appears among them as a bitterly resented and hated foreign invader.

(And not only among the rural masses. Woods asserts falsely that the towns are solidly with the invaders; but that was not true even in 1980. One of the results of the invasion was the alienation of the masses in the towns and even of sections of the PDP - the Khalq faction).

But if the invaders win the war - though five years later they are further from winning than they were when Woods was stabilising Militant's line on the Russian occupation - if they win, what happens then?

The scenario is as follows. A foreign military machine conquers the country. It organises, beginning from an initially tiny basis of support, a replica of the totalitarian Russian political regime. It carries out reforms from above, manipulating the population (for example, land redistribution under such a regime is no more than a transitional stage to collectivisation with or without consent). At the same time, unless miraculously the regime proves to be different in Afghanistan from what it is in Russia, it will - even after the initial conquest is completed - oppress, massacre, jail and deport as many of the Afghans as necessary. The norm for this regime is that the population has no civil rights. Every attempt by workers to organise - in backward Afghanistan or advanced Poland - is stamped on.

What has this got to do with permanent revolution? Nothing whatever! Here permanent revolution is only an - unintendedly - ironic phrase to point up the contrast between Trotsky's programme and what is likely to happen in Afghanistan. It brings out the contrast between permanent revolution and socialism on one side, and what exists in the USSR on the other.


Woods' attempt by allusion to link what Militant is supporting in Afghanistan with the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution in underdeveloped countries points up something else too: that Militant possesses all the key ideas of Marxism and Trotskyism - workers' state, permanent revolution, democracy, socialism - in a decayed and corrupted form. The terminology is used as rags and tatters to dress up a set of politics which owe little to Marxism and Trotskyism and far more to Stalinism and Fabianism.

Woods rightly locates the pre-invasion dynamic in the backwardness of the country and the self-defined mission of the officer caste to modernise in face of the feebleness of Afghan capitalism and its bourgeoisie. He accepts that the PDP/officer caste symbiosis was only possible on a programme of transforming that caste and associated sections of the middle class into a ruling elite of the Russian bureaucratic type.

Yet he argues that their 'revolution' was nevertheless 'a step forward in comparison to the previous situation'. In fact it proved impossible for the PDP and the army to make that 'step'; and even if they had succeeded, it would be a programmatic betrayal for Trotskyists to support such a formation, rooted in the existing state and pitted against the masses.

The PDP/officer regime was radically distinct from the sort of movement that existed in Vietnam and China, where Stalinist forces led masses against reaction and imperialism. In Afghanistan first there was an attempt to impose a Stalinist police state from above and now there is an attempt at foreign subjugation of the entire people.

It was right for Trotskyists to support the Vietnamese and Chinese Stalinists against reaction and imperialism. But even in such cases it is a to-be-or-not-to-be question for working-class politics that we do not accept that the establishment of a totalitarian Stalinist state is inevitable, even if we think it probable. We fight in the last ditch against the establishment of Stalinist totalitarianism, exerting whatever influence we have to warn - and organise - the masses against it and to tell them what it will mean for them and for any hopes they may have for freedom or socialism. If a Stalinist system triumphs nevertheless - and of course we knew that all the circumstances were such in China and Viet­nam that the victory of Mao or the Vietnamese CP would certainly mean the establishment of a Stalinist dictatorship - then we do not hail that triumph, or the regime that embodies it, as a victory.

We recognise it as a defeat for the working class, even if it is also a defeat for imperialism and capitalism. We prepare to continue the struggle in the new circumstances.

There is no parallel in Afghanistan with the support we would give to Stalinist-led movements as in China and Vietnam. Socialists in Afghanistan would oppose the reaction, but not as partisans of the PDP/officer regime. Since the invasion the struggle has become one between the occupying forces and almost the entire people of Afghanistan.


Nowhere and not in any circumstances - whether we were critically supporting the Vietnamese Stalinists against the USA or precariously trying to maintain a guerrilla base in Afghanistan against the hostile reactionaries and the PDP regime or the 'Red' Army - would we accept the establishment of a necessarily totalitarian state of the Stalinist bureaucracy as part of our programme. For to do so would be to write our own self-obliteration into the programme.

Yet that is exactly what Militant does, and that is why Woods coyly alludes to Trotsky's permanent revolution. He doesn't openly call it a variant of permanent revolution, because that would be too glaringly to emphasise that the carrying through of the 'tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution' is merged not with socialism but with what Militant calls a 'proletarian Bonapartist' state. But his position depends on the notion that somehow, and in some way, the war of the Russian Stalinist totalitarian state to subjugate the peoples of Afghanistan is a 'distorted' working-class struggle.

He tells us that our attitude to the invasion must not be determined by 'sentimental considerations' but 'first and foremost by class considerations'. Which class forces, he demands, stand behind the present Kabul regime, and which behind the Mujaheddin rebels? Putting his shoulder and full weight to an open door, he proves that the rich stand behind the rebels - and considers the matter settled, as if you can derive a class characterisation of the Kabul regime and of Russian Stalinism by negative deduction from the nature of their opponents.


The rebels have next to nothing in the towns, says Woods triumphantly (though falsely). 'The new regime can count on the support of the small working class that exists, plus the great majority of the students, intellectuals and functionaries'. Woods does not present his evidence for thinking that this is actually how it is. He knows that it is so for it is ordained in the schemes that it is so. He probably still knows it five years later, when even the Russian 'embassy' comes under rocket fire and the Russians do not even have secure control of the towns, nor of parts of Kabul.

'The struggle in Afghanistan'', writes Woods, 'is essentially a struggle of the towns against the countryside, of civilisation against barbarism, of the new society against the old''. Stalinism is the progressive next stage, the bearer of civilisation.

Citing facts about the rebels burning schools, Woods declares that the victory of these 'reactionary gangsters' 'would lead to a terrible bloodbath and an orgy of violence and destruction which would plunge Afghanistan back into the dark ages'. He lists the traditional cruelties and mutilations used by the rebels; he is completely silent about the napalm and the Russian tanks and bombers. The 'historical mission' of the rebels is 'about as 'progressive' as that of Genghis Khan' - unlike the mission of the army of the Russian totalitarian bureaucracy whose barbarism with napalm and bombs against the Muslim villagers he excuses and forgives.

And no starry-eyed enthusiast for the conquering armies of capitalism was ever so 'optimistic' as Alan Woods. After the brutal disregard comes the consoling cant. The future - after the invading army has completed the subjugation, buried the dead, and re-built the bombed villages - is bright and hopeful.

'As the social benefits of the revolution [ie the conquest] begin to become understood by the poor peasants,... the mass base for reaction will evaporate...' Moscow will eventually withdraw 'the bulk' of its troops (and of course Militant will approve their judgement and wait for it). 'Despite all the totalitarian deformations [!] the new regime will mark a big step forward for Afghan society. Industry will be built up rapidly... The growth of an industrial proletariat in Afghanistan will ultimately serve to undermine the base of bureaucratic rule and prepare the way for a new political revolution, and the establishment of a healthy workers' democracy in Afghanistan'.

Oh what dreams Militant could dream five years ago.


Militant, we have seen, views the events in Afghanistan through the prism of Ted Grant's own special theory - the theory of 'proletarian Bonapartism'.

Those words to describe the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia will be found in Trotsky (and in other writers, for example Isaac Deutscher, too). But Grant means something very special by 'proletarian Bonapartism'.

For Grant, 'proletarian Bonapartism' is the wave of the future in most if not all of the underdeveloped world. He believes that we should support it throughout the Third World. He means by it not just Stalinist states such as China, the USSR and Cuba. For Grant, Syria, Burma, South Yemen, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, and Benin are 'proletarian Bonapartism'.

Grant describes and defines states and regimes as identical to the Stalinist systems on the sole basis of the state ownership of industry, irrespective of the origins of those regimes or their dynamics. Militant's 'proletarian Bonapartism' is a 'profile' derived from the features which the Stalinist states 'in repose' have in common with a rather wide variety of state capitalist regimes.

What the theory lacks is any conception of the struggles whereby the Stalinist states have come into existence and their dynamic.

The East European states (other than Yugoslavia and Albania) were subjugated by Russian military power and assimilated to the Russian system. Apart from that, the only Stalinist-type states (that is, states identical to the USSR in basic structure) which have achieved any stability have had in common mass peasant (and sometimes working-class) mobilisation, under the leadership and control of militarised Stalinist parties.

The Stalinists, via the mass mobilisation, break the state machine, or at least the upper layers linked to the old ruling classes. They collectivise industry and the land, and radically root out the old ruling classes. As in 1928 in Russia, they eliminate all major competitors for the surplus product. The newly-created bureaucracy becomes the master of the state and the state economy. In this way a truly radical break is made.

Cuba is partly an exception, because it was not a Stalinist movement that led the revolution. But there too there was a mass mobilisation and a radical overturn. The new regime then settled over time into the Stalinist mould, under the pressure on one side of the US and on the other of the USSR, on which it became heavily dependent.

In a static snapshot these systems have much in common with the state capitalist regimes. What is the difference?

The general experience of regimes which have adopted statism purely from on top, without a radical social overturn, is that the collectivisation is unstable - a temporary expedient by the bourgeoisie. There has been no real replication of the existing Stalinist states.

The clearest example of such a state, and of how it is distinct from Stalinism despite having many things in common with it, is Egypt in the 1960s and '70s. In 1964 Grant wrote that ''With the model of Russia, China and now a whole series of states there is no doubt that the ruling petit-bourgeois officer caste in [Egypt] will support the complete nationalisation of the productive forces, stage by stage'. In other words Egypt was firmly on the road to 'proletarian Bonapartism'. In fact almost all of Egyptian industry had been nationalised by 1964. But so far as I know Militant never actually declared it a workers' state.

What happened? In the early 1960s the Nasser regime, which had taken power through an officers' revolt in 1952, nationalised almost all industry and finance. But large sections of the old ruling class were kept on. Stock exchange dealings in government compensation bonds continued, for example. Big construction companies, though formally nationalised, were in fact run by their former owners who drew large incomes from them. Eventually the old bourgeois ruling class reasserted itself and state control was relaxed. The army had acted as agent and caretaker for the bourgeoisie.

Grant and Militant are unable to distinguish between real Stalinist-type transformations and developments like that in Egypt in the late '50s and early '60s.

They see a fundamental trend - the autonomous movement of the productive forces - in the colonial revolutions of the Third World, manifesting itself everywhere. The forms differ, but the essence is everywhere the same: the trend towards proletarian Bonapartism.

This vision, and their urge to play at 'prophets' and to 'spot the trend' has led them repeatedly to make foolish and hasty judgements. They briefly hailed Portugal as a workers' state in 1975, and indicated that Iran was on that road in the early '80s.


Thus, analysing Afghanistan, Grant is the prisoner of his dogmas. He scans the horizon for 'empirical' confirmation of what he knows in his heart, and so decrees that the PDP regime was 'proletarian Bonapartist', and worthy of support. He would be wrong to support it if he was right in his assessment; and in fact the whole dynamic of events in 1978-79 derived from the PDP's failure to be what he calls a proletarian Bona­partist regime.

When Grant assimilates the pre-invasion Afghan regime to his proletarian Bonapartist scheme, then he, like the regime itself, mistook form for substance, government decrees for achievements, impotent middle-class aspirations to be a Stalinist bureaucracy for a society in which the old ruling class has been overthrown.


As far as I know there are two central documents putting forward Grant's position. The first, the 15,000-word-long 'The Colonial Revolution and the Sino-Soviet Dispute' was written in 1964. In fact it has little to do with Sino-Soviet dispute of the early '60s, and is a general statement of Grant's view of the colonial revolution - that is, of Grant's variant of the views common to himself and others in the early-'60s Pablo-Mandel 'International Secretariat of the Fourth International'.

This document is the major single item in a big collection put out for supporters of Militant in 1974 under the title 'The Colonial Revolution'.

The second central document was written 14 years later. It is the article 'The Colonial Revolution and the Deformed Workers States' already referred to, in Militant International Review, summer 1978.

I will analyse the main ideas in both articles. The second offers an opportunity for Grant to check what he wrote on the same subject 14 years earlier against the facts. We'll see what he makes of it.

In the early '60s Algeria, Cyprus, most the French and British colonies in Africa, and Malaya all won independence - some of them after long and bloody struggles. The Cuban revolution had triumphed in 1959. In Algeria and in other Third World countries - notably in Iraq, in Egypt and in Syria - there had been substantial nationalisations and land reforms carried through by radical-nationalist military-based regimes.

Generally the working class in the advanced capitalist countries was quiet, though there had been a general strike in Belgium in 1960-1.

The dominant notion in the Pablo-Mandel mainstream of the Trotskyist movement was that the 'world revolution' was 'on the rise', but its 'epicentre' was in the underdeveloped countries. Many would-be Trotskyists developed all sorts of illusions in this 'revolutionary process'. Pablo hailed the Ben Bella leadership of the National Liberation Front in Algeria as genuine revolutionary socialists; Juan Posadas, who took a large number of its Latin American members out of the ISFI in 1962, was wildly enthusiastic about the Maoist current generated by the Chinese-USSR dispute of the early '60s, arguing that Mao's verbal leftism really reflected his (Posadas') ideas. The whole ISFI did not yet call for a political revolution in China. In 1963 it united with the SWP-USA (which did call for a political revolution in China) on the basis of an evasive formula about the changes needed in China.

What did Grant make of it all? He accepted the notion that a process of world revolution was going on; accepted that systems like China's were its lawful products, greeted them; yet dourly portrayed them as totally repressing the working class.

After World War 2, says Grant, Stalinism was strengthened 'temporarily for a whole historical period'. Yet the world revolution was still going on. What did this strengthened Stalinism mean for it?

''In... history... there have been many methods of class rule... In a period where the revolution (apart from Czechoslovakia) has taken place in backward or undeveloped countries, distortions, even monstrous distortions in the nature of the state created by the revolution are inevitable'' so long as the metropolitan countries remain capitalist.

'The malignant power of the state and the uncontrolled rule of the privileged layers in the Soviet Union has served as a model for 'Socialism' in these countries'.

Bourgeois Bonapartism is a form of rule where the state rises above society 'only in the last analysis directly reflecting the propertied classes because of the defence of private property on which it is based'. Not only the bourgeoisie can have aberrant forms of rule. 'The proletariat is not a 'sacred cow' to which analogous processes cannot take place', says Grant elegantly.

Thus 'proletarian Bonapartism': 'The State raises itself above society and becomes a tool of the bureaucracy in its various forms, Military, Police, Party, 'Trade Union' and Managerial' which is the 'privileged' and 'sole commanding' stratum. 'In the transition from capitalist society to Socialism the form of the economy can only be State Ownership of the means of production, with the organisation of production on the basis of a plan.'

And this state ownership, and a plan of some sort, are for Grant necessarily a workers' state, whatever the political dynamics - though 'Only the democratic control of the workers and peasants can guarantee such a transition [to socialism]. That is why Political Revolution in these countries is inevitable before workers' democracy is

instituted as an indispensable necessity if the state is to 'wither away ', but such 'transition regimes' can only be deformed workers' states - because the economy of these states is based on Nationalisation of the means of production - the operation of the economy on the basis of a plan.'


So 'monstrous distortions' are inevitable in 'the state created by the revolution', because of backwardness and the strength of Stalinism. But what is the motive force of this revolution?

'The explanation for the way in which the revolution is developing in the colonial countries lies in the delay and even over-ripeness of the revolution in the West, on the one side, and the deformation of the revolution in Russia and China on the other side. At the same time it is impossible to continue on the old lines and the old pattern of social relations. If, from a historical point of view, the bourgeoisie has exhausted its social role in the metropolitan capitalist countries... it is even more incapable of rising to the tasks posed by history in the colonial areas of the world.

'The rotten bourgeoisie of the East and the nascent bourgeoisie of Africa are quite incapable of rising to the tasks solved long ago by the bourgeoisie in the West. Meanwhile, the bourgeois-democratic and national revolution in the colonial areas cannot be stayed. The rise in national consciousness in all these areas imperatively demands a solution to the tasks posed by the pressure of the more developed countries of the West.'

'Thus we see the same process at one pace or another, in all the colonial countries. At the moment, the process is becoming marked in the Arab countries, which have been in a state of ferment for the last decade... The monotony with which such tendencies appear in all these countries is striking...

'The bourgeoisie is so weak and impotent that they are incapable of resistance. The officer caste which carried out the revolution [in Egypt], with the sympathy and support of the masses undeniably, did so because there was no perspective of modern development for the nation under the old system. There are no forces capable of resisting such change. Imperialism is too weak... The bourgeois system in these areas is so effete and prematurely decayed that it can offer no perspective of development...'

'Under conditions of slump, there will be a veritable landslide in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the direction of social revolution, in this peculiar form... There are no forces of resistance in the old system in these countries. Thus the magnificent movement of history takes place on the peripheral weak links of the capitalist system. All mankind in a sense benefits from these changes. But it would be a horrible betrayal to see in these regimes, the authentic visage of Socialism'.

Thus the motive force of revolution is defined more negatively than positively. Negatively, it is the decay and impasse of the old order. Positively, it is nothing more precise than the needs of ''development', the tasks posed by history', 'the magnificent movement of history'.

''In the process of the permanent revolution', writes Grant, 'the failure of the bourgeoisie to solve the problems of the capitalist democratic revolution under the conditions of the capitalist society of modern times is pushing towards revolutionary victory'. Pushing whom? Towards a revolution made by whom?

The theory of distorted permanent revolution here is peculiar. Trotsky talked of the bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries being tied to the landlord class and to imperialism, and being afraid of the mobilisation of the working class, and therefore not fighting seriously for bourgeois democracy. The working class in those countries could therefore take the lead in the fight for bourgeois-democratic measures like land reform, civil liberties, national independence. In that sense one class - the working class - would carry out the historic tasks of another, the bourgeoisie.

Grant also talks of one class carrying out the tasks of another. What he describes, however, is some force of no precise class identity coming forward to substitute for a historic class. Sometimes - as in the passage above - this 'proletarian Bonapartist' force is described as substituting for the bourgeoisie. In nationalising industry, however, it is deemed to be substituting for the working class.


The Chinese Revolution was 'next to the Russian Revolution, the greatest event in human history' - ''as the document of the RCP [the British Trotskyist group in the 1940s, in which Grant played a leading role] proclaimed in advance', adds Grant proudly.

'The Chinese Revolution unfolded as a peasant war... led by ex-Marxists. Thus as in Eastern Europe the revolution from the beginning assumed a Bonapartist character, with the classical instrument of Bonapartism, the peasant army'.

Why didn't the Maoists fuse with the bourgeoisie, as Trotsky had expected? 'Because on the road of capitalist development there was no way forward for China'.

So the Maoists constructed 'a strong Stalinist state in the image of Moscow'. 'Just as bourgeois Bonapartism... in the last analysis defends the basis of the capitalist society, so in the same way, proletarian Bonapartism rests in the last analysis on the base created by the revolution, the nationalised economy'.

There is a curious logical trick here. The nationalised economy is 'proletarian' because it is 'created by the revolution'. But why is the revolution ''proletarian'? Because it creates nationalised economy.

The assumption is either that nationalised economy is ipso facto proletarian, however created; or - by a mechanical interpretation of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution - that no revolution in the modern world can be other than proletarian.

'The Stalinist leadership... where elements of proletarian action emerged spontaneously, met these with the execution of the leading participants'. But Grant is very optimistic about China. 'The Chinese revolution solved all those problems which bourgeois society was incapable of solving.'

Grant presents the Chinese Communist Party and its army as no more than a negative imprint of the impotence of the Chinese bourgeoisie. Yet consider the history.

After the bulk of the old Communist Party was broken up and slaughtered by Chiang Kai Shek in the 1920s, a faction took to the countryside. Basing themselves on the peasants, they took power in Kaangsi province in 1931. Harassed there by Chiang Kai Shek, they went on a Long March to the remote north-west and set up a regional state power there.

The Maoists built an army, fought the Japanese invaders after 1937, and manoeuvred with the Chiang Kai Shek government, with which they entered into an alliance without ever surrendering to its control and putting themselves at Chiang's mercy as the CP had done in the run-up to 1927. All the time they built up and conserved their strength. After 1946 they then fought a three-year civil war.

The Mao leadership was not a mere shadow of the pressures and forces around it. Its ideas and models were Stalinist, but nevertheless it was a conscious, active force whose deliberate and calculated efforts transformed its environment.

Grant fades all this out of the picture. At the same time he vastly exaggerates the impasse of Chinese society,

Of course China was backward. The bourgeoisie and the landlords were corrupt. The Chiang Kai Shek regime was rotten and incompetent. But societies do not just come to a line marked: 'Dead end - wait here for a deliverer'. If the Maoists had not mobilised, manoeuvred, and fought, then Chinese society would have continued in a different way. If what has happened in the non-Stalinist colonial world since the 1940s is any guide, and it must be, it would have developed substantially on a different, capitalist, basis.

The conscious factor was central in China and Cuba in securing one result, and equally central in Egypt or Syria in securing another. But Grant reduces it to naught by way of crude distortions of reality and the method of vulgar materialism. He sees politics as a mere impress of economic trends. Where Marx wrote 'Men make history, but under circumstances not determined by themselves', he might write 'Circumstances make history, but with men not chosen by themselves'. This vulgar materialism diminishes both the conscious role of political formations in history, and the importance of any other criterion than nationalisations for a workers' state.


Grant uses a very mechanical, indeed mystical, determinism, according to which 'needs of economic development' make history almost regardless of human activity.

'All history', he writes, 'has demonstrated that the peasantry by its very nature.. can never play the dominant role... It can support either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. Under modern conditions it can support the proletarian Bonapartist leaders or ex-leaders of the proletariat. However, in so doing, a distortion of the revolution is inevitable... on the lines of a military-police state'.

But what are these proletarian Bonapartist leaders themselves, positively? Grant's answer: they are what the nationalised property they create makes them.

He underlines his point: 'The most striking thing to demonstrate the correctness of this thesis is the events in Iraq. The Communist Party, through its cowardly opportunism and the policy of Khrushchev not to disturb the imperialists in this area, failed to take advantage of the revolutionary situation provoked by the fall of the old regime [in 1955]... Nevertheless the Kassem regime... was preparing measures of nationalisation. The recent [1963] coup of the army took place to prevent these measures. But now... this very caste... has itself now announced measures of nationalisation, which embrace all important industry and the banks'.

The Aref regime formed after 1963 did indeed nationalise most industry in Iraq. But for Grant the political events he describes do not show the state-capitalist nature of those nationalisations. On the contrary: they show that 'the process' is so strong that even if the Stalinists are defeated, even if the radical nationalists are in turn defeated, still the makers of 'the counter-revolutionary coup' will willy-nilly become instruments of Proletarian Bonapartism.


From one side the impasse of capitalism pushed society willy-nilly towards proletarian Bonapartism. From the other side - for Grant - the backwardness of the Third World, coupled with the existence of the USSR and the survival of capitalism in the metropolises, makes proletarian Bonapartism inevitable.

Other Trotskyists in the same international tendency (Pablo-Mandel) that Grant was then in had great, exaggerated, somewhat fantastic hopes that the Algerian revolution would deepen and follow Cuba. They saw Cuba as a relatively healthy workers' state; and indeed then and until late 1960s Cuba was far from being a hardened Stalinist state as it is today.

No such hopes or aspirations for Grant. He expresses hard, fatalistic conviction that the wave of the future can only be decades of deformed, totalitarian workers' states.

'Beginning as a national revolutionary war against colonial oppression, Algeria finds itself in an impasse . On the lines of capitalist society, there can be no solution of its problems. With the result, step by step, that Ben Bella and the FLN are being pushed in the direction of a 'Socialist solution'...'

This will be 'a Stalinist dictatorship of the familiar model'. There is no other possibility whatsoever.

'Even the victory of a Marxist Party, with the knowledge and understanding of the process of deformation and degeneration of Russia, China and other countries, would not be sufficient to prevent the deformation of the revolution on Stalinist lines, given the present relationship of world forces.

'Revolutionary victory in backward countries, such as Algeria, under present conditions, whilst constituting a tremendous victory for the world revolution and the world proletariat... cannot but be on the lines of a totalitarian Stalinist state'.

The only Third World countries for which any other possibility is even hinted at are India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) - and, in another passage, South Africa.

'In India and Ceylon... with a developed proletariat, it is possible that the bourgeois democratic revolution could be transformed into the Socialist revolution... The installation of a Workers' Democracy would be its crowning achievement.. However, in these countries... the firm establishment of a workers' democracy could only be an episode to be followed by deformation, or counter-revolution, in the Stalinist form, if it was not followed in a relatively short historical period by the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries'.

Then it hardly matters very much if Third World revolutions are immediately Stalinist; it saves time and energy for all concerned. The situation in Algeria - where the possibility of a workers' democracy emerging was indeed slight in 1964 - is made to stand for the whole Third World. The proletariat has been dropped from the whole calculation, the protagonist is the 'proletarian Bonapartist' social formation gathered around the army, or the CP, or the Ba'ath party, or whatever, and the working class is fated to suffer 'a totalitarian Stalinist state'.

Grant regrets the totalitarian suppression of the working class. He censures those Trotskyists who gloss up the Stalinist regimes. He looks forward to a political revolution at the next stage. But he is not impatient. For the spread of proletarian Bonapartism is part of the 'magnificent movement of history' which is sure eventually to produce world socialism. On a world scale, 'From the point of view of Marxism, no more favourable situation could be envisaged'.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.