About this web site

The purpose of this web site is to contribute to Marxist theory as part of our effort to change the world. We are committed to a fundamental transformation of the relations between people, one that historically has been championed by the modern socialist movement inaugurated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels with the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848. Much has happened in the world since then and the socialist movement in the 21st century is obliged to reflect on and absorb a rich history of struggle if it is to once more become a living force in the life of society. In taking a sweeping overview of this history, one painted with a very broad brush, one can say that the history of the socialist movement has been, with a few notable exceptions, a history of defeats and betrayals. Victories have been few and far between and in no case was any victory permanent. The Russian Revolution and its eventual demise is without doubt the single best example of this dialectic of defeat.
We reject the approach of radicals who ignore this history of defeats and think it is sufficient to cheer on whatever movement comes along. (It is more appropriate to note that they are actually affected by this history in ways they do not understand. The defeats of the 20th century reinforce the ideological assumption that victory is beyond the bounds of possibility.) This practice or radicals lasts until such movements are inevitably defeated, whether through internal decay or external force. After writing the appropriate tributes to the heroism of these movements they are promptly forgotten while the search for the next movement to absorb their attention gets going in earnest. Such an approach all but guarantees failure for it never comes to terms with the causes of these defeats. Instead history is seen as series of struggles and it is the struggle itself that is celebrated. This attitude undoubtedly provides solace to those involved in supporting these struggles – a solace rarely found among the main actors when the fighting is over. Occasionally small gains can even be won in these struggles, but the goal of a fundamental transformation of society remains more elusive than ever. This kind of radicalism, typified in the United States by Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn, is the modern equivalent of the reformist turn of a section of the German Social Democratic Party at the end of the 19th century. The slogan of that reformist turn was,
“The movement is everything, the final goal nothing”. It is an equally appropriate slogan for radical politics in the 21st century.
Yet another expression of this anti-theoretical impulse was evident in the Occupy Wall Street movement. That movement resonated with millions of workers when it raised the issue of social inequality at a moment in history when the contrast between capital and labor has been sharper than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It gave voice to the anger and frustration of millions who saw their way of life under attack while billionaire bankers were bailed out courtesy of the tax payers. But those who provided the ideological foundation of the Occupy movement proved singularly unable to transform that wellspring of popular anger into a coherent political movement. Anarchist theoreticians instead depicted the absence of a coherent program and a conscious political movement as some kind of positive virtue. The model of a leaderless movement that refused to define itself programmatically could not sustain the energy released by the initial Occupy actions. Given this theoretical void it was inevitable that a significant segment of Occupy activists would become co-opted into Democratic Party politics.  The global demonstrations against climate change that were held in September 2014 are following in the same footsteps as OWS and they are likely to end in the same cul-de-sac.

Our approach is different. We stand with those who came before us in saying that ‘without revolutionary theory no revolutionary movement’.
However we equally reject the approach of those groups on the left who have turned that slogan into an empty shell that they use to proclaim their infallibility. If there is one lesson that Marxists should have learned from the experiences of the last century it is that dogmatism is the mortal enemy of the revolution. It is simply not possible to bring about a successful revolution by relying on old formulas memorized by rote. We stand with Trotsky when he said,
‘Dialectic training of the mind, as necessary to a revolutionary fighter as finger exercises to a pianist’
We take that statement to mean that the Marxist movement is crippled without its philosophical core and that philosophical core is dialectics. Like much else in the lexicon of Marxism the term ‘dialectics’ has been much abused. In the hands of Stalinist scholasticism an appeal to ‘dialectics’ became an apologia for the twists and turns of a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy. But just because the term has been abused by some is no reason to abandon it. We take the development of a genuine dialectical philosophy as the critical weapon that the working class requires in the struggle for socialism. And that is primarily what this web site has been concerned with and will continue to pursue.
Among the important theoretical contributions of the permanent-revolution web site we can point to the following:
  1. A critique of Plekhanov’s fatalistic theory of history The dialectical path of cognition and revolutionizing practice
  2. A reconsideration of the revolutionary implications of utopian vision in the Marxist tradition: To know a thing is to know its end
  3. Marxism and “value-free” social science: Marxism Without its Head or its Heart, Chapter 3
  4. Marxism and American pragmatism Marxism Without its Head or its Heart, Chapter 4
  5. A Marxist critique of the Enlight
  6. ent and postmodernism – “the real dialectic of the Enlightenment”: Marxism Without its Head or its Heart, Chapter 6
  7. The relationship of mass psychology to revolution – an assessment of the Freudo-Marxists Marxism Without its Head or its Heart, Chapter 10
  8. Psychoanalysis and the ‘empty place’ of psychology within Marxism
  9. Gender and materialism
  10. Dialectics vs. positivist reductionism in the philosophy of science:
    Downward Spiral, Chapter 5A defense of teleology against the vulgar Marxists: Downward Spiral, Chapter 6
  11. Marxism and the history of science, philosophical issues: Downward Spiral, Chapter 6
  12. An assessment of the contributions of the dialectical biologists:
  13. An assessment of the Frankfurt School: Downward Spiral, Chapter 1, pages 23-29
  14. A reassessment of the materialism vs idealism controversy in the history of philosophy:Downward Spiral, Chapter 2, pages 44-53
  15. On the vulgar critique of vulgar materialism
  16. Excerpts from Trotsky’s ‘Philosophical Notebooks’ and an assessment of Trotsky as a Marxist theoretician: Foreshadowing In Defense of Marxism: Trotsky’s Philosophical Notebooks
  17. A critique of a caricature of dialectics and the mangling of the history of philosophy: A Charlatan Exposed
  18. Publication and comments on a seminal essay by Trotsky on Nietzsche:
This is far from an exhaustive list but should give one the highlights of the theoretical material we have covered. Furthermore, we make no apologies for the polemical style in which much of this theoretical material is presented. Those polemics arose from a very specific set of historical circumstances and while a more expository style may have been preferable in some cases, it is also true that it was the impulse of the polemical battle that made much of this theoretical work possible in the first place.
A word about our origins...

The permanent revolution web site began in 2005 as little more than a repository for several documents that we published as part of a polemic with David North and the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). We acknowledged as much in one of the early documents posted on our web site in 2006,
“…we only set up the web site – www.permanent-revolution.org – after it became clear that neither North nor anyone else in the IC leadership had any intention of responding to us. For the record, the site’s only purpose is to provide a forum for debate and discussion for members and supporters of the IC, and for that reason we have made no effort – whether by external links or by promoting the site’s existence on search engines – to broadcast our criticisms of the IC to a wider audience.” (http://permanent-revolution.org/polemics/mwhh_ch01.pdf page 4.)
While we were very critical of the recent course of the ICFI and their online journal the World Socialist Web Site (wsws), we were still at that time convinced that the ICFI represented the continuity of the work begun by Trotsky when he founded the Fourth International in 1938. Our analysis of the ICFI, particularly as it was expressed in the work of their long-time leader, David North, led us to believe that decades of neglect of theoretical questions had seriously disoriented the ICFI and it was fast becoming an abstentionist sect. We had both spent many decades as members and supporters of the ICFI and felt that the rich history of the ICFI, despite its troubling degeneration in the 1970s and 1980s, still provided a reservoir of theoretical work that could be tapped in the 21st century as part of the struggle to reorient the movement.
The web site thus initially featured polemics with the ICFI and documents relating to those polemics. Much theoretical ground was covered in this material which we believe will prove to be of lasting interest long after the immediate issues surrounding the polemics are forgotten.
After pursuing this polemic for a number of years – some say for far too long – we came to the conclusion that the ICFI was incapable or reforming itself and was therefore dead as a revolutionary movement. The reasons behind this conclusion are discussed in the final chapter of our series, ‘Downward Spiral’.
http://permanent-revolution.org/polemics/downward_spiral_ch08.pdf , pages 207-208.) Subsequent events have confirmed that the ICFI has become a sterile sectarian outfit.
Therefore the focus of this web site has changed. We are looking for a hearing from a broader public. While there may be individuals who are stuck in the SEP and have lots of questions,  the culture of the SEP strongly discourages giving voice to those questions. That is why we see that in National Conference after National Conference of the different groups comprising the ICFI a “unanimous” adoption of resolutions. And these unanimous resolutions are proudly trumpeted in the pages of the WSWS; as if a movement where the leadership is never challenged is something to be proud of! We wish to address those who are not satisfied with the intellectual strait-jacket imposed by the SEP and other sterile sectarian outfits. Unlike the WSWS, whose “Readers comments” section is carefully sanitized to exclude any genuine criticism other than those coming from selected straw-men, we welcome informed comments and criticism.
We are convinced that a new revolutionary movement must be built from the ashes of all the failed attempts of the past century. This task takes on critical urgency as the world once more enters into another economic crisis the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression. Capitalism once again reveals itself to be a huge failure, spreading misery and death throughout the world. It must be put out of its misery. That task requires a conscious leadership now more than ever. We are dedicating this web site to that effort.