Introduction to the Indonesian edition of The Permanent Revolution

The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky is one of the most important Marxist books of the last century. The International Marxist Tendency is producing an Indonesian edition of this book, scheduled to be published in January. We publish here the introduction written by Alan Woods.

All theories, programmes and policies sooner or later find expression in practice. The theory of the Permanent Revolution, which is one of the most important developments of Marxist theory, was strikingly confirmed, in a positive sense, by the October Revolution. It has been confirmed in a negative sense on innumerable occasions since then. The most terrible example of this was the massacre of one and a half million Indonesian Communists in 1965.

Trotsky first developed this wonderfully profound and important theory as early as 1904. What does the theory state? The permanent revolution, while accepting that the objective tasks facing the Russian workers were those of the bourgeois democratic revolution, nevertheless explained how in a backward country in the epoch of imperialism, the "national bourgeoisie" was incapable of playing a progressive role.

The reason is that the weak bourgeoisie of tsarist Russia was inseparably linked to the feudal landowners on the one hand and to imperialist capital on the other and was therefore completely unable to carry through any of its historical tasks (agrarian reform, the modernization of society, democracy, the national question, etc.). This idea was put to the test the following year in the first Russian Revolution, when the bourgeois Liberals represented by the Kadet Party betrayed the revolution and went over to the autocracy.

There were already historical precedents for this. Even in 1848-9, during the epoch of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Europe, Marx and Engels mercilessly unmasked the cowardly, counterrevolutionary role of the bourgeoisie, and emphasised the need for the workers to maintain a policy of complete class independence, not only from the bourgeois liberals, but also from the vacillating petty bourgeois democrats. Marx stressed this idea in numerous articles at the time, such as The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-revolution (1848). In fact, it was Marx who originally put forward the idea of the Permanent Revolution at that time. But it was Trotsky who, taking his starting point from Marx, developed the idea into a worked-out theory applicable to present-day conditions.

Leninism and Menshevism

Before the First World War there were intense debates in the Russian Social Democracy about the perspectives for the Russian Revolution. The Mensheviks, who were the opportunist wing of the Russian workers' movement, developed the two-stage theory as their perspective for the Russian revolution. They argued that, since the tasks of the revolution are those of the national democratic bourgeois revolution, the national democratic bourgeoisie must take the leadership of the revolution. They postponed the socialist revolution to a dim and distant future and subordinated the workers to the Liberals. The theory of the Permanent Revolution was the most complete answer to the reformist and class collaborationist position of the Mensheviks.

What was Lenin's position? On the main political question (the relation of the worker's party to the bourgeoisie) he stood close to Trotsky and fought against the Mensheviks' class collaborationism. Lenin agreed with Trotsky that the Russian Liberals could not carry out the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and that this task could only be carried out by the proletariat in alliance with the poor peasantry.

Following in the footsteps of Marx, who had described the bourgeois "democratic party" as "far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals", Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being an ally of the workers, would inevitably side with the counter-revolution: "The bourgeoisie in the mass" he wrote in 1905, "will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, and against the people as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it 'recoils' from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!)." (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 98.)

What class, in Lenin's view, could lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution? "There remains 'the people', that is, the proletariat and the peasantry. The proletariat alone can be relied on to march on to the end, for it goes far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the forefront for a republic and contemptuously rejects stupid and unworthy advice to take into account the possibility of the bourgeoisie recoiling." (Ibid.)

In all of Lenin's speeches and writings, the counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeois-democratic Liberals is stressed time and time again. However, up until 1917, he did not believe that the Russian workers would come to power before the socialist revolution in the West ‑ a perspective that only Trotsky defended before 1917, when it was fully adopted by Lenin in his April theses.

The October Revolution

The Russian working class ‑ as Trotsky had predicted in 1904 ‑ came to power before the workers of Western Europe. They carried out all the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and immediately set about nationalizing industry and passing over to the tasks of the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie played an openly counterrevolutionary role, but was defeated by the workers in alliance with the poor peasants. Thus, the October Revolution itself triumphantly demonstrated the correctness of the permanent revolution.

Having taken power and expropriated the landlords and capitalists, the Bolsheviks made a revolutionary appeal to the workers of the world to follow their example. Lenin knew very well that without the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, especially Germany, the revolution could not survive isolated, especially in a backward country like Russia. What happened subsequently showed that this was absolutely correct. The setting up of the Third (Communist) International, the world party of socialist revolution, was the concrete manifestation of this perspective.

Had the Communist International remained firm on the positions of Lenin and Trotsky, the victory of the world revolution would have been ensured. Unfortunately, the Comintern's formative years coincided with the Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia, which had a disastrous effect on the Communist Parties of the entire world. The Stalinist bureaucracy, having acquired control in the Soviet Union developed a very conservative outlook.

The theory that socialism can be built in one country is an abomination from the standpoint of Marx and Lenin. Initially, this was even recognized by Stalin himself. As late as February 1924, in his Foundations of Leninism, Stalin summed up Lenin's views on the building of socialism in these words:

"The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a proletarian government in one country does not yet guarantee the complete victory of socialism. The main task of socialism - the organization of socialist production - remains ahead. Can this task be accomplished, can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained, without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible. To overthrow the bourgeoisie the efforts of one country are sufficient - the history of our revolution bears this out. For the final victory of Socialism, for the organization of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient. For this the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.

"Such, on the whole, are the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution."

There is not the slightest doubt that this passage indeed represented the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution, which nobody had ever questioned. Yet before the end of 1924, Stalin's book had been revised, and the exact opposite put in its place. By November 1926, Stalin could assert the following:

"The party always took as its starting point the idea that the victory of socialism in that country, and that task can be accomplished with the forces of a single country."

This represents a fundamental revision of Marxism-Leninism. What it really reflected was the mentality of the bureaucracy, which had had enough of the storm and stress of revolution and sought to get on with the task of "building socialism in Russia". That is to say, they wanted to protect and expand their privileges and not "waste" the resources of the country in pursuing world revolution. On the other hand they feared that revolution in other countries could develop on healthy lines and pose a threat to their own domination in Russia, and therefore, at a certain stage, sought actively to prevent revolution elsewhere.

Instead of pursuing a revolutionary policy based on class independence, as Lenin had always advocated, they proposed an alliance of the Communist Parties with the "national progressive bourgeoisie" (and if there was not one easily at hand, they were quite prepared to invent it) to carry through the democratic revolution, and afterwards, later on, in the far distant future, when the country had developed a fully fledged capitalist economy, fight for socialism. This policy represented a complete break with Leninism and a return to the old discredited position of Menshevism ‑ the theory of the "two stages".

The permanent revolution today

The situation is clearer still today than in 1917. Since the Second World War, all the so-called "third world" has passed through a period of uninterrupted social convulsions. The achievement of formal independence, although welcomed by the Marxists, did not solve the problems of the former colonial nations. As long as they remained on a capitalist basis, no way forward was possible. They remained enslaved to the advanced capitalist countries. Instead of direct military-bureaucratic rule we had indirect domination through the mechanism of the world market and international trade.

The national bourgeoisie in the colonial countries entered into the scene of history too late, when the world had already been divided up between a few imperialist powers. It was not able to play any progressive role and was born completely subordinated to its former colonial masters. As in tsarist Russia, the weak and degenerate bourgeoisie in Asia, Latin America and Africa is too dependent on foreign capital and imperialism, to carry society forward. It is tied with a thousand threads, not only to foreign capital, but with the class of landowners, with which it forms a reactionary bloc that represents a bulwark against progress.

Whatever differences may exist between these elements are insignificant in comparison with the fear that unites them against the masses. Only the proletariat, allied with the poor peasants and urban poor, can solve the problems of society by taking power into its own hands, expropriating the imperialists and the bourgeoisie, and beginning the task of transforming society on socialist lines.

Under present-day conditions, the tasks of the bourgeois (democratic) revolution in backward countries cannot be solved on the basis of capitalist property relations. The weak bourgeoisie of the ex-colonial countries is too inextricably bound up with international finance capital to carry the nationalist revolution through to the end. Nor can they compete with their advanced industrial competitors for world markets. As a result, there is a constant deterioration of their economic status in relation to the advanced capitalist countries.

The ruining of the economies of backward countries creates conditions of acute and permanent social crisis. On the one hand the old self-contained peasant society is steadily undermined, on the other hand, the capitalist class is unable to put across its forms on the whole of society. The rise of military police states all over the "third world" is merely an expression of the inability of the colonial bourgeoisie to solve the problems of their own revolution. Only through the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, in alliance with the poor peasants, can the backward countries begin to solve their economic and social problems.

By setting itself at the head of the nation, leading the oppressed layers of society (urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie), the proletariat could take power and then carry through the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution (mainly the land reform and the unification and liberation of the country from foreign domination).

However, once having come to power, the proletariat would not stop there but would start to implement socialist measures of expropriation of the capitalists. And as these tasks cannot be solved in one country alone, especially not in a backward country, this would be the beginning of the world revolution. Thus the revolution is "permanent" in two senses: because it starts with the bourgeois tasks and continues with the socialist ones, and because it starts in one country and continues at an international level.

Role of the Communist Parties

The Menshevik-Stalinist theory of two stages has played a criminal role in the development of the revolution in the colonial world. Wherever it has been applied in the colonial world, it has led to one catastrophe after another. In the 1920s, following Stalin's theory of the "bloc of four classes", the young Chinese Communist Party was forced into the ranks of the national bourgeois Kuomintang which then proceeded to liquidate physically the Communist Party, the trade unions and the peasant soviets during the 1925-27 Chinese revolution. The reason why the second Chinese revolution took the form of a peasant war in which the working class remained passive was to a large extent determined by the crushing of the Chinese proletariat as a result of Stalin's policies, which Trotsky characterised as "a malicious caricature of Menshevism."

In Iraq in the 1950s and 1960s, the Communist Parties were mass forces able to call demonstrations of a million people in Baghdad. They could easily have taken power. But instead of pursuing a policy of class independence and leading the workers and peasants to the taking of power, they looked for alliances with the "progressive" bourgeoisie and the "progressive" sections of the army. The latter, having taken power on the backs of the Communist Parties, then proceeded to eliminate them by murdering and jailing their members and leaders. The people of Iraq paid a terrible price with the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, and all the subsequent horrors of war and foreign occupation.

In Sudan, the same process happened not once but twice. In 1967 the Sudanese Communist Party was able to call a demonstration of two million in Khartoum. But the leaders of the Sudanese Communist Party adopted the policy of a "Patriotic Alliance" with the "progressive" bourgeoisie. What was the result? It was the dictatorship of Nimeiri, the crushing of the Communist Party and the victory of reaction in Sudan, with the most tragic consequences. However, all these catastrophes pale in insignificance when compared with the massacre of the Communists in Indonesia in 1965.


Indonesia was no exception to the general rule. Despite its vast productive potential, it remained poor and backward. At one time, Indonesia was a rice-surplus area; by 1965 it had to import 150,000 tons of rice every year. The once flourishing tin and rubber export industries had dwindled away and the Indonesian economy was heavily in debt to the world banking community, especially to US bankers. Each year, the budget deficit doubled. The figure for this in 1965 was around 1,000 billion Rupiahs. The Rupiah had sunk to a hundredth of its legal value, as the result of the chronic inflation which in the six years prior to the coup caused the cost of living to increase by 2,000 %.

In spite of the economic collapse, the State was spending 75% of the budget on arms (1,000 million US dollars a year). With the economy sliding downhill fast, Sukarno was forced to nationalize increasing numbers of foreign enterprises. To do this, he was obliged to lean on the support of the PKI - a process that did not go unnoticed in Washington.

The Bonapartist regime of Sukarno was riddled with corruption. In the midst of mass privation, low wages and a huge housing problem, Sukarno and his elite lived like kings. Under his direction, huge sums were lavished on prestige buildings like the Hotel Indonesia in Jakarta where, to quote the Sunday Times, "Three million people, mostly poor, live [...] in low buildings [...] mostly falling apart." Sukarno occupied a white mansion - formally the residence of the Dutch governor - surrounded by sumptuous furniture and expensive works of art. "Its three splendid state-rooms are museum-like in scope and feeling. Each is lavishly draped, carpeted and furnished. Each is hung with a fragment of Sukarno's extensive collection of heroic canvasses."

The poverty and hardships of the masses led to an extraordinarily rapid growth of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Nowhere in the "Third World" did the workers' movement make such rapid strides in the previous decade as in Indonesia. The PKI, which had virtually ceased to exist after the abortive coup of 1948, became the third largest Communist Party in the world - only the Chinese and Russian Parties being larger.

Menshevik policy of the PKI

The total membership of the PKI was three million. It had the support of ten million trade unionists and organized peasants. Most important of all, it claimed the allegiance of 40 percent of the Indonesian army. The Bolshevik Party in 1917 did not have such a powerful base. In February the Bolsheviks had only 8,000 members in a vast country of 150 million people. Yet in only nine months Lenin and Trotsky led the Bolshevik Party to the conquest of power. By contrast, the PKI, despite its colossal strength, led the Indonesian workers and peasants to a bloody defeat. Why?

In the Sino-Soviet dispute, the PKI was aligned with Peking, and maintained close contact with the Chinese Stalinists. A revolutionary combination, one might think. But one would be wrong. The policy of the PKI was one of blatant class collaboration. The PKI leadership subordinated itself to the "progressive" bourgeois Bonapartist Sukarno. After 1948 all traces of revolutionary ideology were systematically deleted from the Party Programme. Thus the 1962 Programme and Constitution of the PKI outlined the Party's task as the establishment of a "people's democratic state". This had nothing in common with socialism.

This "peoples' democratic state" would be a "democracy of a new type", based, not upon the working class, but on a bloc of workers and peasants with a motley collection of "allies", including "the urban petty bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, the national bourgeoisie (!), the advanced aristocratic elements (!!), and patriotic elements in general (!!!)". From this, it was difficult to extract any positive conclusion concerning the class nature of the "peoples' democratic state" since the above was simply a list of all classes and strata in Indonesia. This meant that the "revolutionary" Peking-oriented Programme of the PKI was simply the maintenance of the status quo.

Instead of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the PKI referred to the "authority" of the "people" - a meaningless formula. In 1955 the PKI advocated a national coalition, and offered to water down its already insipid programme to a list of entirely non-communist aims. The PKI leadership's chief theoretician, Aidit advocated the Menshevik-Stalinist theory of "stages", which postpones the question of the socialist revolution to the far distant future:

"When we complete the first stage of our revolution which is now in progress, we can enter into friendly consultation with other progressive elements in our society and, without an armed struggle' lead the country towards socialist revolution. After all, the national capitalists in our country are both weak and disorganized. At present, in our national democratic revolution, we are siding with them and fighting a common battle of expelling foreign economic domination from this soil''.

Aidit's argument condemns itself. If the national bourgeoisie is so weak and disorganized, all the more reason to sweep them aside and set up a workers and peasants ' government. As a matter of fact, as Lenin pointed out a hundred times, it is precisely the weakness of the national bourgeoisie that makes them a reactionary stumbling block in the path of the democratic revolution in backward countries. They doubt their ability to control the forces unleashed by the national democratic movement itself, they equivocate, and finally they are driven into the arms of reaction out of fear of their own working class. For this reason it is entirely reactionary to attempt to separate mechanically the democratic and socialist phases of the revolution in backward countries. Either the democratic revolution ''grows over'' into the dictatorship of the proletariat, or it succumbs to the hammer blows of reaction.

The so-called "Leninist" position of Aidit and the other PKI leaders was identical to that of the Mensheviks against whom Lenin waged a relentless struggle right up to 1917. The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat was relegated by them to a distant (and therefore safe) future - fifty, a hundred, or even three hundred years hence, First we complete the "first stage'' then, when this is "completely attained", we "enter into friendly agreements'' with those who might be interested in the ''second stage''. However, events were posed altogether differently by history.

The "September 30th Movement"

Decades of Menshevik policy of two-stage theory adopted by the leadership of PKI finally destroyed the Party and along with it the whole workers and peasants movement in Indonesia at a stroke. It brought about the physical annihilation of the Communist movement in Indonesia, which at that time was the third largest Communist Party in the world after the Soviet Union and China, and a subsequent sharp shift in the political landscape in Indonesia and throughout Southeast Asia. The event that triggered this catastrophe was the so-called September 30th Movement in 1965.

Washington was determined to overthrow Sukarno and annihilate the PKI. It regarded the prospect of a Communist government in Indonesia as a doomsday scenario. In a 1965 speech, Richard Nixon justified the bombing of North Vietnam as a means of safeguarding Indonesia's "immense mineral potential." As John Roosa writes in his book Pretext for Mass Murder, the latest historical account of the September 30th Movement:

"The ground troops that started to arrive in Vietnam in March 1965 would be superfluous if the Communists won a victory in a much larger, more strategic country. A PKI takeover in Indonesia would render the intervention in Vietnam futile [...] McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser to Kennedy and Johnson, has also affirmed that Vietnam was no longer of vital interest ‘at least from the time of the anti-Communist revolution in Indonesia.'"

Sukarno's moves against foreign enterprises, his non-aligned foreign policy (assertively displayed at the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference), his repeated denunciation of Western imperialism, and his increasing dependence on the PKI convinced the State Department to enter into close alliance with reactionary officers like the virulently anti-Communist general Nasution. From 1958 to 1965, the United States trained, funded, advised, and supplied the anti-communist section of the Indonesian army.

However, as declassified U.S. government documents reveal, the right-wing generals realized that they could not stage an old-fashioned coup against Sukarno and the PKI - for Sukarno was too popular and the PKI had mass support. Earlier attempts to break up Indonesia into smaller states ("communist" and "non-communist zones") - on the lines of Korea and Vietnam - failed miserably. If anything they strengthened Sukarno and the PKI because their lines on US imperialism were confirmed in the eyes of the masses.

For these reasons an open coup was not an option in Indonesia. For a right-wing coup to succeed, it would have to be disguised and presented as an effort to "save" President Sukarno. By 1959, the US National Security Council had recognized that any open attack against the PKI had to be "politically justifiable in term of Indonesia self- interest" and the PKI had to be driven "into a position of open opposition to the Indonesian [Sukarno] Government."

In March 1965 Howard Jones, the US Ambassador in Jakarta (1958-1965) told a closed-door meeting of State Department officials in the Philippines: "From our viewpoint, of course, an unsuccessful coup attempt by the PKI might be the most effective development to start a reversal of political trends in Indonesia." The trick was to provoke PKI to undertake a rash action that could serve as a pretext for its suppression.

The trap was laid and the PKI leaders fell for it. The PKI leaders, instead of rousing the masses to fight the reactionaries, attempted to launch a palace coup by murdering the leading right-wing generals. I wrote an article about the events in Indonesia in Perspectives, October 1965, a few weeks after the victory of the counterrevolution. In this article I explained how instead of publishing full details of the right wing plot, instead of mobilizing the masses in a general strike and appealing to its supporters in the army to disarm their officers and join hands with the workers for the overthrow of the whole rotten regime, the PKI leadership entered into a conspiracy to murder the reactionary generals - a conspiracy so secret that other than Aidit none of the PKI CC members were aware of it.

Six generals were killed but Nasution escaped. With Suharto and the rest of the right-wing officers, they called out their troops, unleashed a virulent anti-communist media propaganda, and mobilized students demonstration (partly paid for by the US embassy). The palace revolution collapsed like a house of cards. The false policies of Aidit and the PKI leadership placed three million Communist workers and peasants at the mercy of a bloody reaction. The Daily Telegraph, with some insight, analyzed the situation in an editorial of October 12th, entitled The civil war in Indonesia:

''It is plain from the events of the past ten days in Indonesia that it is not another palace coup that has rocked Dr Sukarno's Republic, but a spreading civil war. The land of confrontation is confronting itself. The three heads of this dragon, Moslem, nationalist, Communist, are biting at each other, and fighting has spread from Java to Sumatra. The long smoldering rivalry of forces over which Dr Sukarno presided for so long has burst into flame. If the army suspected a Communist coup, it was clearly surprised by its sudden ruthlessness and disorganized by the loss of its six murdered generals. Now it is clear that Dr Sukarno is in Army protection, that he has countenanced its campaigns against the Communist guerrillas and finally abandoned the pretence that his Nassakom or United Front still exists.''

The so-called civil war was entirely one-sided. Instead of pursuing a vigorous offensive against reaction which even now, at the 11th hour, could save the Party, the PKI leadership relied upon their alliance with the "progressive bourgeois" Sukarno. While Communists struggled with the mobs of reaction, the PKI continued to be represented in Sukarno's cabinet, supporting his demagogic appeals for "national unity", a return to the old stability, etc. To the bitter end, they clung to Sukarno, but in the whole course of the struggle Sukarno and his Cabinet were impotent.

Tens of thousands of honest militant members of PKI who were confused and disoriented by the lack of leadership from their Party handed themselves over to the reactionaries, believing, as their leaders had told them, that Sukarno would protect them. However, the Bonapartist Sukarno was already reduced to a figurehead and no longer in power. In this way, tens of thousands of PKI members practically handed themselves over to the mobs of reaction like lambs going meekly to the slaughterhouse.

The government was suspended in mid-air. The real political struggle had passed into the streets. Nasution mobilized the forces of Moslem reaction. The PKI headquarters in Jakarta were stormed and burned by a mob of several thousand youths, shouting ''Kill Aidit". Mobs roamed the streets, sticking up posters reading "Crush the Communists". A mob outside the American Embassy chanted "Long Live America". A mass rally of 500,000 demanded action against all who participated in the "September 30th Movement". The result was the massacre of at least one and a half million Communists.

The CIA played an active role in this mass murder. The so-called champions of democracy in Washington, London and Paris fell over themselves in their indecent haste to recognize the regime of butchers. The criminal role of imperialism is very clear. But the imperialists could never have achieved such an easy victory had it not been for the disastrous policies of the PKI leadership. Where the state power is openly challenged in a civil war, all possibilities of "moderation", of a ''middle way" vanish in thin air. But the PKI leadership was not even capable of calling a general strike. They behaved like the Social Democratic and Stalinist leaders in Germany in 1933 - and they paid the same price.

Where the working class is defeated without putting up a fight it has a most demoralizing effect and paralyses the masses for a whole period. The 1965 defeat ushered in a whole period of vicious militarist reaction. It also had a crippling effect on the morale of the workers and peasants of Malaysia. Not for nothing did the Daily Telegraph editorial express evident satisfaction at the counterrevolutionary orgy in Indonesia. As a postscript, the Indonesian experience also served to expose the "revolutionary'' phrase-mongering of the Chinese Stalinists. The only reaction of the Chinese bureaucracy to the upheavals in Indonesia was a message of "cordial greetings" to Sukarno when he finally emerged from hiding.

Lessons of the defeat

The question of the correctness or otherwise of the Stalinist-Menshevik theory on the Colonial Revolution is not academic but practical. The experience of Stalinist policies in a whole series of revolutions irrefutably proves their counter-revolutionary nature. For many decades the working class of the colonial and ex-colonial countries has demonstrated its colossal courage and revolutionary potential. Time and time again it has moved to carry out the revolutionary transformation of society.

In Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Chile, Argentina, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, the workers have shown that they wished to be the masters of society. If they failed, it is not because they could not have succeeded, but because they lacked the indispensable prerequisite for taking power: a truly revolutionary leadership. In every case, they beat their heads against a brick wall because the parties and leaders that they trusted to lead them to the socialist transformation of society became transformed into gigantic obstacles. Napoleon said: "defeated armies learn well". To Marxists the lessons of a defeat are, if anything, more important than those of victory.

The workers can learn by their mistakes, but only if these experiences are patiently analyzed and explained by the revolutionary vanguard. The revolutionary Marxists have a duty to explain the lessons of the events of 1965 in Indonesia to the labour movement.

What was the main difference between Russia in 1917 and Indonesia in 1965? The difference was not in the objective conditions. The objective situation in Indonesia in 1964-65 could not have been more favourable. The masses had defeated Dutch Imperialism. The Communists had the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class and peasantry. But a false policy and perspective were sufficient to bring about the total ruin of the revolution. If the October revolution proves the correctness of the permanent revolution in a positive sense, the Indonesian catastrophe furnishes us with a negative proof in the most terrible way.

The conclusion is inescapable. Without a revolutionary party, the potential power of the proletariat will remain just that ‑ a potential. The relationship between the class and the party is similar to that between steam and a piston box. But even the existence of the party is not enough to ensure success. The party must be led by men and women who are equipped with the necessary understanding of the tasks of the revolution, of tactics, strategy and perspectives, not only the national but also the international tasks.

In order to take power, it is not enough that the workers are prepared to fight. If that were the case, the working class could have taken power in all these countries long ago. It would have been easy, because they were in a far stronger position than the Russian workers in 1917. But they did not take power. Why not? Because the working class needs a party and a leadership. To deny this elementary fact of life is mere childish anarchism. Marx explained long ago that, without organization, the working class is merely raw material for exploitation. Despite its numerical strength and its key role in production, the proletariat cannot transform society unless it becomes a class "in-and-for-itself" with the necessary consciousness, perspectives and understanding.

To wait until the class as a whole possesses the necessary understanding of all that is required to take power and transform society is a utopian proposition which is tantamount to postponing the revolution indefinitely. It is necessary to organise the most advanced layers of the class, to educate the cadres, and imbue them with the perspective of revolution, not only on a national but on an international scale, to integrate them in the masses at every level, and to patiently prepare for the moment when the partial struggles of the masses become combined into a general revolutionary offensive.

The present economic crisis is a symptom that world capitalism has exhausted its potential for progress. And this is only the beginning of a revolutionary process that will unfold over a period of years. If a genuinely Leninist party existed, this could end in a proletarian revolution on classical lines. Despite all the defeats and setbacks, the workers and peasants of Indonesia will inevitably take the road of struggle time after time. The overthrow of Suharto was an indication of this fact. In one Asian country after another the workers, peasants and students will take to the road of struggle, because they have no alternative.

The Indonesian Revolution - which can only be socialist in character - is again on the order of the day. A revolution in Indonesia will shake the whole of Asia and have a profound effect on the workers and peasants of Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The formation of a socialist federation of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, will enable the national problem to be solved on an equitable basis. Only on the basis of a socialist planned economy can the immense productive potential of these countries be realized, creating the conditions for transforming the lives of the people.

The prior condition is that the working people take the power into their own hands. The workers and peasants of Indonesia have a marvelous history of struggle. The new generation of workers and youth will rediscover these traditions, arm themselves with the ideas of Marxism and lead the masses to the final victory. They will avenge their murdered martyrs, overthrow their oppressors and set about the task of the socialist reconstruction of society.

London, 17th December 2008

Read this introduction in Bahasa Indonesia.