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The Reality of the Permanent Revolution

The concept of the permanent revolution has been around for over a century and a half in various forms and in action through history for a lot longer. Briefly, the idea of the permanent revolution holds that whatever is invented or conceived by one person or region can be applied already formed in the minds of others and in other regions without having to go through all the previous steps. Materialistically, we see this when First Nations people got fire arms that replaced tomahawks, spears and bow and arrows. They did not have to go through all the steps to make them from scratch, getting them already formed and ready to use. For the modern era, we can trace the idea to Marx and Engels, which was later adopted and developed by Parvus and Trotsky. The ideas differ as to what Marx meant and how Parvis and Trotsky developed it further. The theory, idea and reality of the permanent revolution has evolved through the period through the Russian Revolution, Chinese, Korean, Cuban and even the Iranian revolution. Marx and Engels began the development of the idea by stating;

Marx first used the phrase in the following passage from The Holy Family (1844). He wrote:

Napoleon presented the last battle of revolutionary terror against the bourgeois society which had been proclaimed by this same Revolution, and against its policy. Napoleon, of course, already discerned the essence of the modern state; he understood that it is based on the unhampered development of bourgeois society, on the free movement of private interest, etc. He decided to recognize and protect this basis. He was no terrorist with his head in the clouds. Yet at the same time he still regarded the state as an end in itself and civil life only as a treasurer and his subordinate which must have no will of its own. He perfected the Terror by substituting permanent war for permanent revolution . He fed the egoism of the French nation to complete satiety but demanded also the sacrifice of bourgeois business, enjoyments, wealth, etc., whenever this was required by the political aim of conquest. If he despotically suppressed the liberalism of bourgeois society — the political idealism of its daily practice — he showed no more consideration for its essential material interests, trade and industry, whenever they conflicted with his political interests. His scorn of industrial hommes d'affaires was the complement to his scorn of ideologists. In his home policy, too, he combated bourgeois society as the opponent of the state which in his own person he still held to be an absolute aim in itself. Thus he declared in the State Council that he would not suffer the owner of extensive estates to cultivate them or not as he pleased. Thus, too, he conceived the plan of subordinating trade to the state by appropriation of roulage [road haulage]. French businessmen took steps to anticipate the event that first shook Napoleon’s power. Paris exchange-brokers forced him by means of an artificially created famine to delay the opening of the Russian campaign by nearly two months and thus to launch it too late in the year.”(1)


Marx's most famous use of the phrase 'permanent revolution' is his March 1850 Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League.(2) His audience, the proletariat in Germany, faced with the prospect that 'the petty-bourgeois democrats will for the moment acquire a predominant influence' – i.e. temporary political power. He enjoined them:

While the democratic petty bourgeois want to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible, achieving at most the aims already mentioned, 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, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far – not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers.”(2)

Marx is concerned that throughout the process of this impending political change, the petty-bourgeoisie will to ensnare the workers in a party organization in which general social-democratic phrases prevail while their particular interests are kept hidden behind, and in which, for the sake of preserving the peace, the specific demands of the proletariat may not be presented. Such a unity would be to their advantage alone and to the complete disadvantage of the proletariat. The proletariat would lose all its hard-won independent position and be reduced once more to a mere appendage of official bourgeois democracy.” (2)

Trotsky's conception of Permanent Revolution is based on his understanding, drawing on the work of fellow Russian Alexander Parvus, that in 'backward' countries the tasks of the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution could not be achieved by the bourgeoisie itself. This conception was first developed in the essays later collected in his book 1905 and in his essay Results and Prospects, and later developed in his 1929 book, The Permanent Revolution. Russia had no significant bourgeoisie or working class, being mainly a peasant run economy managed by the Tsarist monarchy and his military police state. This was the basis of the understanding of Parvus and Trotsky who were first hand witnesses to Russian history of the period. This was the practical basis of the theory of the permanent revolution as demonstrated in that unfolding revolution. It was to emerge in history again and again in differing forms.

The basic idea of Trotsky's theory (3) is that in Russia, the bourgeoisie would not carry out a thorough revolution which would institute political democracy and solve the land question. These measures were assumed to be essential to develop Russia economically. Therefore it was argued the future revolution must be led by the proletariat who would not only carry through the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution but would commence a struggle to surpass the bourgeois democratic revolution. This fact was born out in history as the USSR rose from virtually a feudal order to beat the dominant power, The bourgeois democratic led US into space in a span of a single generation.

Some people in the early days of the Russian revolution argued a “stagest” idea of revolution, in other words, that every region had to go through a bourgeois stage before going to a workers' or proletarian stage of the revolution. Trotsky argued that this was not necessary, that the working class could go into full blown communism without first going through a bourgeois stage, such as had happened in France in 1789-93. France was still in the bourgeois stage (and still is: 2012) when Russia had its revolution with communist objectives. Parvus and Trotsky saw that the bourgeois stage was unnecessary in the Bolshevik development, organizing the already established Soviets (workers councils) of the Russian Revolution after the Kerensky bourgeois provisional government failed and was overturned in the October revolution after his brief stay in power in 1917. This transformation was amazing considering that Russia was still primarily a peasant driven as opposed to a working class driven economy. The bourgeois and working classes were relatively small in comparison. There was insufficient time for the Kerensky government to consolidate a bourgeois state. Thus, Russia jumped directly into becoming a full blown workers state straight from Monarchy-feudalism without going through a bourgeois stage. This was also a historic first and represented a bold step into an expression of the hope of building the world's first true workers state. Earlier attempts at this occurred during the Paris Commune of 1871 that was brutally crushed from the outside by a united force of French and Prussian bourgeois forces that were formerly warring with one another. Locally, in France at least, there was a stagest development as France was under the rule of the bourgeoisie. The capitalist world attempted to intervene in the Russian revolution through war in an era called war communism from 1918 and 1924 without success. However, after Lenin's death, the capitalist world managed to cut deals with Stalin and the concept of “Socialism in one country” was the response in a trade off to end the war. This did not negate the permanent revolution of Russia, however, it did stop it there until 1949 under Mao Tse Dung in China. What has evolved through the dialectics of history is a process of combined and uneven development from region to region. In true form, dialectics has caused various forms of socialism to develop from the religious humanist and secular humanist bases. The Russian Revolution of October 1917 was a secular humanist state of workers councils in a country wide communist government run on a centralized democracy. Beginning in 1977, with mass protests against the Shah of Iran, the people eventually wound up in a religious humanist state headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini in Feb. 1979. This was not a democratic form due to being a theocratic state. But the working people and peasants achieved a state independent of imperialist capitalism and ran their own economy that was headed by the Ayatollah who had administrators (jurists) below him.

After the Russian revolution, insurrections broke out in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Central and South America. Each one had slightly different takes, such as the Stalin based Chinese revolution and the bourgeois based Cuban revolution. But each in its own way, proved not only the veracity of the permanent revolution, but that it turned out to be more dynamic in the unfolding of historical dialectics. It now appears that the reality of permanent revolution can erupt without going through stages and fully formed as a worker based state from just about any preexisting condition or state apparatus. In the case of Iran, the revolution apparently contained religious overtones as opposed of being totally secular is in many others. But Iran was to take a turn to what can be called a deformed religious workers' state with the Ayatollah as the supreme head, much as Stalin ruled the USSR for about 30 years.

The Question of Iran in the Context of the Permanent Revolution:

The public has been misled concerning the Iranian revolution to believe that it was a reaction move toward medievalist ideology instead of moving forward in history to a workers' socialist controlled government and economy. It started as a combined peasant-worker-religious mass demonstration against the monarchy. It ended with the Ayatollah Khomeini in the seat of power. There are two very important facts that suggest that Iran moved forward in its revolution instead of returning to the past in reaction in total. Prior to 1977, Iran was a protectorate of the west with a puppet dictatorship that existed as a colonial state under capitalist imperialist interests. Between 1977 and 1979 there were uprisings and mass protest against the corrupt puppet dictatorship. The first wave beginning was a move to a socialist workers' state. But, since the revolution in 1979, the Iranians moved to create a socialist workers' state that included the ideas of religion under Islam. Iran moved into the technological age as witnessed by the use of computers, missiles, universal education, peaceful nuclear power and interest free economics. The Iranian revolution chased out the IMF centred banking system managed by the Rothschild bankers and replaced it with an Islamic based interest free national banking system. After the Iranian revolution, another reality of a capitalist based war drive with the help of Saddam Hussein, was launched in an eight year long offensive against Iran. This serves as another proof that Iran had gone through a peasant and workers' revolution, only with a religious overtone as opposed to secular such as seen in most other peasant and workers' revolutions. Those with an Islamic belief far outnumbered the secular Muslims. Iran then endured a US backed war via Iraq in the 1980s that failed to destroy the new Iran. Iran successfully repelled western invasion and continued to develop technologically. It then came under attack for its alleged development of WMD and was placed under a watch, then sanctions and blockades. Iran's form of the permanent revolution had religious connections. This accords with other such revolutions where liberation theology under Biblical guidelines helped to define the economy. Only two other countries are now under strict trade sanctions; North Korea and Cuba and this fact tells us a lot. Libya, until recently was another state functioning independent of the international bourgeois order and was working to create a united Africa. For this, Libya was invaded and the government under Gaddafi was smashed and Gaddafi himself butchered cruelly, which was filmed. Libya is now under the domination of the IMF and capitalist interests.

Getting into the heart of a matter that has been under censorship and misinformation by the west, we attempt to get an inside look at Iran from the outside through obscuring propaganda. The Ideology of the Iranian revolution was born under the oppression that was from the colonial exploitation of the country by US and UK capitalists. In the interim period of "disaffected calm" the budding Iranian revival began to regard and undermine the idea of Westernization as progress, (but progress for who) and that was the basis of the Shah's secular regime, formed the ideology of the 1977 -79 revolution. Jalal Al-e-Ahmad's idea of Gharbzadegi; that Western culture was a plague and an intoxication to be eliminated; Ali Shariati's vision of Islam as the one true liberator of the Third World from oppressive colonialism, neo-colonialism, and capitalism; (4) and Morteza Motahhari's popularized retellings of the Shia faith, all spread and gained listeners, readers and supporters, particularly among the religiously inclined.

Most importantly, the Ayatollah Khomeini preached that revolt, and especially martyrdom, against injustice and tyranny was part of Shia Islamic faith, (5) and that Muslims should reject the influence of both liberal US based capitalism and USSR based communism with the slogan "Neither East, nor West: Islamic Republic!" Secretly, away from public view, the Ayatollah developed the ideology of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist) as the form of government that Muslims would be ruled by. According to this system, everyone required "guardianship," in the form of rule or supervision by the leading Islamic jurist or jurists with the Ayatollah at the head. Accordingly, such rule was ultimately "more necessary even than prayer and fasting" in Islam, as it would protect Islam from deviation from traditional sharia law, part of Shia and in so doing eliminate poverty, injustice, and the "plundering" of Muslim land by foreign non-believers.(6). However, poverty and injustice remained after the 1979 form of the revolution, but it was not under the western influence of the US. This fact became apparent under sanctions that started to erode the value of the Rial in 2012. Iranians live under a theocratic dictatorship in the current period that has some of the elements of socialism as dictated by the Islamic faith, but it is not a pure socialist state. The permanent revolution brought some of the forms of socialist life to Iran, but under the dictate of the jurists and supreme authority of the current Ayatollah.

Like other regions that separated from the colonial and neo-colonial rule of the emerging capitalist world imperialist order, Iran's economy came under increasing sanction like those of N. Korea, Cuba and any other region that dared to defy the imperialist mandate. North Korea went on to develop nuclear weapons. Cuba got locked into a time warp of the 1950s especially after the 1962 missile crisis when the USSR stationed nuclear weapons on Cuba. Cuba was placed under total blockade and sanction after October 1962 and it is still in place. Both N. Korea and Cuba were secular states with N. Korea leaning in the Maoist direction and Cuba being forced into the hands of the USSR Stalinist deformed workers' state. Iran managed to continue trade with other Muslim nations until the Arab spring and US lead imperialist takeovers. Trade with China and Pakistan continued but even this is drying up. But as almost all of these have come under capitalist imperialist domination, Iran has become increasingly isolated and now is more like the case of Cuba, but with the technological capabilities of N. Korea less the nuclear weapons despite propaganda to the contrary by the US, Israel and their allies. Iran does have nuclear power, a modern navy and missile capability as well as advanced computers. All three nations are under heavy capitalist sanctions and blockade. All three nations do not have an international bank ruled from afar by the Rothschild banking interest. Iran manages loans without interest. Iran also has resources like oil, its until recently, source of international trade income. It also has uranium and other minerals, resources that imperialists would like to appropriate for themselves.

The turn away from capitalism is obvious, but less so the turning away from communism unless one considers that communism up to this juncture had turned against religion, regarding it little more than superstition and an opiate used to sedate people as was viewed by Marx and Marxists. This idea has done little to stop religious based revolutions or movements and that is because the basic idea among the Biblical and Islamic beliefs includes all the ideas found in Marxist thinking, but including a belief in God and/or Allah. It has been said that religion is a personal thing and should be left that way and that church and state should be separate. When we recognize that the church in history has ruled like today's secular states then the common thread of ruling over an ignorant and controlled people becomes apparent. This common thread is what Marxists have seen and are against in both cases. But many Marxists (let us say the vulgar type) would like to place themselves as substitutes to the imperialist and neo-colonial and theocratic political regimes they seek to overthrow. This is more Stalinist in its approach than it is pure communism ruled by democratic workers' councils. The idea of the permanent revolution allows anyone to arrive fully formed into a democratic socialist order run by workers' councils in a world of combined and uneven development. Around the world since Dec. 18Th, 2010, a mass movement of workers, students and the unemployed has arisen to overthrow the existing corrupt political, monetarist and religious orders. It had its roots in the economic collapse that began with the Sub-Prime swindle in the US that went on to engulf the world. The revolt detonated in Tunisia on the day in question, leading to the Arab spring of 2010. Out of this came rebellions and occupations against Austerity across the world, but primarily in Europe in 2011. 2012 saw the intensification of these protests, with some regions separating or seeking to separate from the global economy such as Iceland and Spain.

The theory of the permanent revolution can be seen to operate in various forms throughout history and will continue to do so into the future. All it takes in all cases is some appropriate trigger event.


1. Engels, Frederick (1845). "Critical Battle Against the French Revolution (Ch. VI, part 3, § c)". The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism. Against Bruno Bauer and Company. Translated by Richard Dixon and Clement Dutts (1956).

2. Marx, Karl (March 1850), Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League

3. Trotsky, Leon (1931), "2. The Permanent Revolution is Not a ‘Leap’ by the Proletariat, but the Reconstruction of the Nation under the Leadership of the Proletariat", The Permanent Revolution

4. Mackay, Iranians (1996) pp. 215, 264–5.

5. The Last Great Revolution Turmoil and Transformation in Iran, by Robin WRIGHT.

6. Khomeini; Algar, Islam and Revolution, p.52, 54, 80

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Tags: Bourgeois, Bourgeoisie, Cuba, French, Iran, Iranian, Korea, N., Permanent, Revolution, More…feudal, order, revolution, state, theocracy, workers'


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