The Magnetism of Permanent Revolution

by Celia Hart


[This paper was presented on September 10, 2004, in Havana, Cuba, at a workshop entitled “The Utopia That We Need,” sponsored by the Bolívar Martí Faculty and the José Martí Cultural Society. The translation from Spanish to English for CubaNews by Ana Portela has been edited extensively for Labor Standard. Notes have been added to assist in the understanding of a text that is often difficult to follow—poetical and rhetorical in the tradition of Latin American revolutionary writing from Simón Bolívar through José Martí. The original Spanish text, following the Ana Portela translation, may be viewed here.

[A report about the September 10 workshop was recently posted on the Internet, as follows:

Cuban Communists open debate on Trotsky, Permanent Revolution, and socialism in one country.

For a few months now a debate has been taking place in left-wing magazines, websites, and also workshops and debates in Cuba and outside of the island on the question of Trotsky, permanent revolution, and socialism in one country.

The debate was opened with an article by Celia Hart called “The Flag of Coyoacán, which raised the question of the need for a reappraisal of the figure of Leon Trotsky. Celia Hart is a member of the Cuban Communist Party and daughter of revolutionary heroes Haydée Santamaría and Armando Hart (more on who is Celia Hart here).

[Note: Haydée Santamaria was one of the first two women who fought with Fidel Castro’s guerrillas in the Sierra Maestre (the other was Celia Sanchez). Haydée’s brother, Abel Santamaria, headed the urban underground of the anti-Batista July 26 Movement and was brutally murdered by Batista’s thugs. Haydée later headed the Casa de las Americas in Havana; she committed suicide in the 1980s. Armando Hart, also an admirer of Trotsky, was a leader of the anti-Batista student movement, and was prominent in the post-Batista revolutionary government, including as head of the ministry of education and the ministry of culture. Today he heads a government institution devoted to José Martí. An English-language edition of a book by Armando Hart on José Martí is reported to be forthcoming soon from Ocean Press.—G.S.]

Celia then wrote another article on the question of the permanent revolution and socialism in one country called "Socialism in one country and the Cuban Revolution - A contribution from Cuba” (http://www.marxist.com/Latinam/cuba_celia_hart100504.html). This article created a healthy polemic on the Spanish revolutionary website Rebelión (www.rebelion.org), unfortunately only available in Spanish.

Alan Woods replied to the polemic in a three-part article: “The Celia Hart Controversy - Stalinism or Leninism?” (http://www.marxist.com/Theory/celia_hart_controversy.html)

[Most recently,] as part of all this debate, Celia Hart spoke at a workshop in Havana on Monday [September 10], organized by the Martí Bolivar Faculty and the José Martí Cultural Society. [The workshop was] on the subject “The Utopia We Need.” Her speech can be found here: “The Magnetism of Permanent Revolution”. At this workshop she also defended a paper by Alan Woods: “Socialism is not utopian but a necessity” and one by Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski on the subject “Socialist Revolution and the Unity of Latin America”(only available in Spanish). These papers all raised the issue of the need for an open debate among Communists coming from different traditions on the question of the strategy for revolution in Latin America and the best way to defend both the Cuban and the Venezuelan revolutions.

Celia Hart has also further raised the issue of Trotsky in an article commemorating his assassination in August [August 20, 1940]: “Marginal Notes on the Crime”  and discussed the issue of revolutionary strategy for Cuba and Venezuela in an interview called: Cuba, Venezuela, Latin America: Is the revolutionary spark spreading?”

I think that this debate is relevant for revolutionaries in other parts of the world, particularly those coming from a Communist Party tradition.

    Comradely, Jordi Martorell

[Celia Hart’s text includes references to Sir Thomas More (also called “Saint” Thomas More; he was canonized in 1935). Thomas More was a prominent figure in sixteenth-century British political and religious life (he was beheaded for opposing King Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church and establishment of the Anglican Church, or Church of England). Thomas More is perhaps best known for his book describing an ideal community, which required a great deal of conformism from its members. He gave the name Utopia to this community that he envisioned, and that name became the title of his book Utopia (published in 1516; the name was derived from Greek, meaning “not a place,” or “no such place”; topos is the ancient Greek word for “place”; u means “not”). Thomas More’s method of envisioning an ideal social, economic, and political system was carried further in the early nineteenth century by such “utopian socialists” as Robert Owen, Fourier, and Saint Simon, whose ideas were superseded by the scientific socialism first fully expounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the nineteenth century, and developed further in the twentieth century by such figures as Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky.—George Saunders]


The island of the Renaissance man, Thomas More, is unattainable. Luckily we live in a world that will always be perfectible, and luckily human beings are the most nonconformist under the rays of the sun. But the concept of a utopia will continue to be indispensable for modifying reality and will continue to be a driving force for justice.

According to José Ingenieros, the concept of a utopia has a mysterious expediency about it. [Note: “Expediency” here has the meaning “suitability of the means to the attainment of an end.”] It is also [Ingenieros says] a sacred ember, and if you lose this expediency [the suitability of the means toward achieving your end, the ideal you are aiming for] you become pure human trash. Above all, humanity needs to create expedient systems, systems that point in the direction necessary to reach a good [desirable] destination.

The best and simplest analogy I can find is magnetism. In ferromagnetic materials, a special form of interaction occurs between adjacent atoms called: attraction by exchange. When an external magnetic field is applied, the atoms are magnetized in the direction of that field. After the removal of this external charge, the system remains magnetized with a permanent ferromagnetism (permanent magnets, for example).

[Note: A “permanent magnet” is defined by the Merriam Webster Third International Dictionary of the English Language as “one that retains its magnetism after the magnetizing force has been removed.”]

However, if the temperature rises above a certain level, called the Curie temperature [or Curie point], the magnetic interaction disappears. Ferromagnetism is an “ordered” state, in which entropy [the tendency toward disorder and disorganization] is reduced. The main parameters are: applied magnetic field, the magnetization that the system attains, and the temperature that induces disorder in the system.

In society we must find a sufficiently large field to apply to our “atoms” so as to have a permanent magnetism, achieving a collective and international event, just like the atoms in the reduced world of the magnet, struggling always against the temperature that disrupts the order. It’s simple.

However, not all the elements in the periodic chart are orderly [or susceptible to magnetism], regardless of the field you apply or the lowering of the temperature. There are paramagnetism and diamagnetism, etc.

[Note: Paramagnetic substances have little or weak susceptibility to a magnetizing force; diamagnetic substances have negative susceptibility to magnetism; they are repelled by both poles of a magnet.]

There are atoms that are not found to be ferromagnetic; they line up with the field, but when removed from the field they become disorderly; also, there are atoms that never orient themselves. Don’t waste time on them, because you will never achieve ferromagnetism. Our task is to count on those that can attain orientation, to count only on them; to orient ourselves and construct a permanent magnet.

This analogy allows me to place the proletariat in the transition group of Iron (elements capable of lining up), assuming a suitable temperature [and despite] present natural differences, the many currents that separate us—our infinite nonsense, for example. Magnetism is the revolution that will decidedly be permanent; it is also the external field that, undoubtedly, shapes the political parties that spark the class struggle.

And what about our destination? The destination is in the stars.

Someone said once that victories are only an excuse to oil the rifles and continue forward. Che didn’t say it. But he did it!

To what extent is the revolution permanent? (Is it perhaps an aberrant idea advocated by the fighter who was killed by Stalinism in Coyoacán, like so many others?) Is “permanent revolution” perhaps a rhetorical device meant to handicap the proletariat from taking power, as many believe? We have lived this farce for decades. Permanent revolution does not mean a simultaneous revolution all at once, everywhere in the world. In fact, the man who headed the Red Army after the 1917 revolution in Russia was Leon Trotsky. He was also the first to predict that the revolution in Russia would be a proletarian revolution. The permanent revolution is the only viable means of realizing the socialist revolution on an international scale. And this is the only scale on which the socialism that we need can be developed. And socialism is what we need, far more than the lost island of Saint Thomas More.

There are three reasons that explain why the socialist revolution must be permanent. First, in underdeveloped countries the road to democracy necessarily goes first through a dictatorship of the proletariat and not the other way around, as had been thought. Second, once in power a socialist revolution begins to go through various transformations for an indefinite period. The many revolutions [within a socialist revolution], such as economic, scientific, educational, etc., develop in such a manner that the socialist revolution is always changing, never achieves equilibrium. Third, the socialist revolution necessarily has an international character. That is to say, a socialist revolution does not end with the dictatorship of the proletariat and does not end at national borders.

[Note: The above paragraph by Celia Hart is a summary or paraphrase of a passage in Trotsky’s 1929 preface to his book Permanent Revolution, in which he states: “To dispel the chaos that has been created around the theory of permanent revolution, it is necessary to distinguish three lines of thought that are united in this theory.” See Permanent Revolution (New York, 1969), pp. 131–133.]

The concept of permanent revolution, for which Leon Trotsky was so harshly criticized by some people, was also a scientific discovery, like ferromagnetism, and above all a manual for action. It seems that these words do not roll easily off the tongue and are too big for the heart. The theory of permanent revolution contains the Lenin school and is the most consistent Marxism.

My revolution, the Cuban revolution, is an unprecedented beacon [of permanent revolution], perhaps even without knowing that Leon Trotsky had rigorously expounded these concepts. From José Martí, passing through Julio Antonio Mella [key leader of the Communist movement in Cuba in the 1920s and 1930s], El Che, and Fidel Castro, Lenin is still alive in America! Our homeland today holds forth the banners of the permanent revolution in three points. The battle of ideas, where there is no end to our educational and cultural plans; the oath of Baragua, where, in the midst of countless hardships, we declared our determination to fight imperialism to the end; and in the Bolivarian revolution [in Venezuela], where thousands of Cuban physicians, teachers, technicians are participating as a small part of that people. We are a classic example of a revolution that is permanent in time and space. It is brilliantly led by Fidel Castro. Whether [in this process] Leon Trotsky was read or not is not important.

And what about capitalism? What final destination did all those clowns offer who spoke of the end of history, to make us stay in front of the TV like donkeys? They proposed the crudest form of materialism [crass consumerism and the corporate-dominated “market”], to build who knows what. I don’t believe that this sorry state of affairs [highly industrialized, “consumerist” corporate capitalism], in which we are incapable of sustaining the air we breathe, is truly a serious proposition. I still don’t understand how many more opportunities they are going to have to offer us before we understand that these conservatives generate nothing but absurd wars, terrorism, and misery.

It will take a long time, assuredly, the necessary time, to activate the external magnetic field and begin to wake from the dream that the crisis of the left condemned us to (that bent downward or upward, but never leftward), but there is no alternative, no conciliatory middle road.

No, socialism is not inevitable. Our alternative is socialism or barbarism, in the words of Friedrich Engels and Rosa Luxemburg. And we mean socialism, not that bumbling caricature that Stalinism designed [with the idea of building “socialism in one country,” separate from the rest of the world]. Is it right to say that Stalinism only lasted 70 years, whereas capitalism has lasted for hundreds? No, not at all. There are still no explanations of why Stalinism lasted so long. But the comparison [between Stalinism and capitalism] is not valid; imperialism and its economic actions did not make capitalism in only one country. From Columbus to Coca Cola they have known how life is won. Capitalism, up to the present, has been consistent about its depraved global mission.

Socialism has been one of the broadest ideals in the world. In spite of its failures and its converts who go to talk in congresses about any convoluted term, but not of revolution, of the proletariat taking power. Those who have already become pure human trash, to use Ingenieros’s phrase. And all this is to avoid being too rigidly “committed.” To avoid being committed to whom?

I recently read a vital article by James Petras about Venezuela and the August 15 referendum. The revolutionary government of President Chávez only has to be faithful, to be “committed” to one of the social classes that went to the ballot boxes at dawn on that August 15.

Petras wrote: “In truth, the referendum was mainly based on a clear class and race division. Union leaders who were not tied to the opposition noted that more than 85% of the working class and poor workers voted for the president, while early reports of voting in the wealthy neighborhoods gave a lower percentage of 80%. A similar process of polarization by class and race was obvious in the extraordinary participation in the polls and in the percentage of poor Afro-Venezuelans who increasingly voted for Chávez (71% of the electorate voted, an unprecedented number). Undoubtedly the president’s success, closely linked to the programs of social assistance and class identity, were the basis of the electoral behavior.”

[See Petras’s article, also posted in this section of the Labor Standard web site.—The Editors]

Then it is clear to whom [to which class] we must be committed in Venezuela. I say “we” fully aware that it is absurd to think that the Chávez government is the only one responsible for what occurs in that country. We are all connected. What happens in Panama, Colombia, London, Australia is the responsibility of all revolutionaries of the world.

Internationalism is not a sentiment of goodness or merciful complacency. Internationalism is the only route by which those parties [that support the revolution can] make the revolution last. And without a lasting revolution, let’s make paper flags for Christmas; because without that, we’ll never be able to build socialism. In trying, we have tried too much.

I say more: The desires of the French revolution, the social justice of the left wing social democracies, and even the gospel will now only be defendable from positions of class struggle. The mysterious expediency that Inginieros spoke about as a means for mobilizing people in struggle is for us a necessary objective. The utopia we need is one that will let us stand up in history with a Project. And the only viable Project is the socialist revolution.

Our continent opens up a promising space. The words of the real possibility is a socialist confederation in this part of the world, as brilliantly explained by Comrade Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski, in this event [that is, at the same workshop]. He explained that it is a reality and is the most beautiful reality we could wish. Far away are the furies that scourged the Southern Cone with dictatorships. Of course, tomorrow [that is, September 11; the paper was presented on September 10] is another anniversary of the massacre in Santiago de Chile. President Allende fell like a hero under the claws of the most sanguinary terrorist system, which today is trying to defend itself and its millions [of dollars]. My Chilean brothers did not have the chance to make war on the White House for having planned the terrorist attack in their country. They had to swallow their dead, their disappeared, and the songs of hope. A few days ago, another accomplice of international terrorism was set free in the most shameful and cynical manner, an assassin of dozens of my compatriots. The indecency of the bourgeoisie is tearing away all its costumes of disguise. The capitalists’ lies, egotism, and irrational desire for money bring only suffering to the Earth [seen from space as a beautiful blue image]. They are all the same, Pinochet, Moscoso, the White House, the IMF, and the OAS. They do not even differ in the color of their hair.

The enemy is uniting. Let us do so also! They have nothing to offer our peoples. If we manage to free ourselves from the collapse of a European socialism that was merely a perversion, we have the island of utopia as an achievable dream. The struggle under Jacobin banners now sounds sweeter, more coherent, and more possible.

We have enough experience, comrades; what we are lacking is unity. Stalin, during the Second World War, comforted the Soviet comrades with the pathetic phrase of “Mother Russia” in an attempt to unite them. We don’t need that. Thanks to the Internet our struggle can be worldwide and united. I would found the International Solidarity Brigade.

We all need all of us, like atoms of a magnetized substance. I still don’t know today who suffers most—my children because of the economic blockade by the United States, or the children of a worker in the United States afflicted by the pestilence of their aberrant video games and pseudo scientists.

Fidel said in 1961: “We will see a victorious revolution in the United States before we see a counterrevolutionary victory in Cuba.” That Fidel is the same one who, in the midst of hunger fully designed by imperialism and the heirs of Stalin, declared: “Socialism or Death”—a slogan that all communists in the world should take up.

Undoubtedly, revolution in the United States would be socialist. [And there are protests and class struggle in the United States; it is not separate from the rest of the world.] Michael Moore has just renounced his Oscar nomination of Fahrenheit 9/11 as “best documentary” in exchange for the possibility that it will be shown on U.S. television. [See BBC news, September 7.] Who are the victims of terrorism, the Iraqis or the U.S. citizens that now have more than 1,000 dead?

“Sudden blows reveal the core of things,” as José Martí said.

And what happened on September 11, 2001? The events in New York are similar to events that occurred in Palestine or in Buenos Aires one December or Madrid, or Moscow or Chechnya. On any front the world overflows, and they still sit us down to wait for translators of the truth.

José Martí was a class fighter. It is tiring to try to give order to the world by refuting phrases that have been used repeatedly and that ignore, with utter lack of consideration, the truth of events. To say that José Martí was “a petty bourgeois democrat” is the same as saying the sea exists to contain the salt for our Sunday pasta. Martí founded the [Cuban Revolutionary] party fundamentally for the workers; it was the most radical revolutionary party of his time and place. The teachings of his predecessors were not in vain. Revolution was his constant word; the independence of Cuba was a mere event to oppose the class enemy that he was the first to describe. To be a Cuban was a mere detail of birth. He ended his days fighting for the emancipation of the world. His error was to die too soon. (It is an epidemic among revolutionaries.)

Mentioning Karl Marx in 1883, at the time of his death, Martí noted: “Karl Marx is dead. Because he took sides with the weak he deserves honor. But he who points to the damage and yearns with a generous desire to remedy the situation, but points to a soft remedy for the harm, does no good. It is horrific to throw some men against others.” A simple cup of coffee would have been enough for these two geniuses to come to an agreement. Marx proposed exactly this: “the only remedy for the harm”; and José Martí did this: he threw “some men against others.”

We communists really need to unite, and not in halls or congresses only, but in mass marches, in the banging of pots and pans, in Iraq, in Palestine. The communists must carry the impulse of the people in each battle against the injustices of the enemy. One by one and all at the same time. The political parties should act as an external magnetic field that orients the spinning of the atoms.

Trotsky said: “Only by studying the political processes among the masses themselves can we understand the role of the parties and the leaders, which we least of all are inclined to ignore. They [parties and leaders] constitute not an independent, but nevertheless a very important element, in this process. Without a guiding organization, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. Nevertheless, what moves things [the driving force] is not the piston or the box, but the steam.”

[Note: The quotation is from Trotsky’s November 1930 “Preface” to his History of the Russian Revolution, p. xix.]

And I say more: We need only one Communist Party in the world. “With all and for the good of all,” according to Martí. I hope I live to see it.

Despite everything, our differences are minimal in relation to the truth that makes us different from the enemy. If we talked with our dead, they would all point to the same road.

Let us plan the work with strength and optimism. We have the best weapons: They only have human waste: the stupid war, the lack of culture, the corruption and terrorism. We have the dream of the revolution.

Forward comrades! Socialism or Death!