The Theory of Permanent Revolution

Published on Marx-and-Philosophy, book review by Alexander Marshall, October 8, 2011: Michael Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution, Haymarket Books, Chicago Illinois, 2010. 162pp., $15.00, ISBN 9781608460687

Of the many issues raised within orthodox Marxism since Marx’s own death, few have had the longevity, or produced as many arguments and internal divisions, as Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.  

Michael Löwy’s short book, an abridged version of an original text from 1981, gives an admirably concise, if partisan, overview of the emergence of the theory, and a new interview with Löwy at the very end of the book brings the text up to date by pursuing parallels between Trotsky’s theory of uneven development and current political movements in Latin America and the anti-globalism movement. For newcomers and experienced scholars alike, the book serves as an effective short introduction to both the emergence of the theory, and it’s longer-term consequences in the twentieth century.

Contrary to the picture often drawn of him as someone prone to philosophical determinism, Marx was in reality always anxious to emphasise the multi-linearity of historical development, and indeed even the possibility for civilization to relapse entirely into barbarism, as studies by both Kevin B. Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm have again recently re-emphasised … //

… In his conclusions, Löwy blames the ’stagist’ theories of Stalinism for most of the catastrophes that befell attempted Marxist revolutions in the twentieth century, from the early disastrous reverses in China, through to the Spanish Civil War, the era of Latin American ‘Popular Front-ism’, and the destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965 (the CIA on that occasion collaborating in the murder and disappearance of at least 500,000 persons). For Löwy, by contrast, the theory of ‘permanent revolution’ provides the best explanation for where revolutions were successfully carried out in countries which the ’stagist’ model would have assumed were still too backward: Russia, Cuba, China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia. The sweeping conclusions of the book will satisfy only convinced Trotskyites with their reasoning, but nonetheless offer an interesting insight into a byway of Marxism which a number of thinkers within the socialist movement endeavour to periodically revive even today. (full text).

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