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The Theory of Permanent Revolution
and American Imperialism

The Conflict Between Proletarian Internationalism and Stalinist National Reformism

(August 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 34 (Whole No. 130), 20 August 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The United States has held the dominating position in the world chain of capitalism ever since the world war. Prior to the world war American capitalism struggled to obtain this position. Now the American imperialists must wage a constant struggle to maintain and extend this power against the onslaughts of the other capitalist nations. This new position places greater responsibilities upon the United States in the maintenance of world capitalist conditions.

The contradiction between socialized production and capitalist appropriation, between production for a world market, and national boundaries, lie at the bottom of the contradiction between the international responsibilities and internal needs of the American imperialists. The international responsibilities of American capitalism can only be properly fulfilled on the basis of the solution of the internal needs. On the other hand, the American imperialists can only solve the internal difficulties confronting than on the basis of world capitalism.

The solution of this contradiction is not possible under the rule of the American capitalists or any other capitalists. At the bottom, it is the same contradiction which brought on the last world war and now has developed to greater proportions, endangering the proletariat of the world and the Soviet Union. The real solution of this problem can be had only on the basis of the proletarian world revolution.

The imperialist struggle for the re-division of the earth is the central problem of the American imperialists, to which a other problems are subordinated. But within this imperialist problem there is contained another contradiction of a more menacing character. Each delay in “solving” the question of the re-division of the earth enlarges the prospects of the extension of the October revolution, of the social revolution. On the other hand, each step toward the “solution” of the problem of the re-division of the earth sets into motion the forces of the social revolution. This clearly reveals the present stage of capitalism as the decay stage.

Although a solution for capitalism is not possible, a breathing spell for some imperialists by obtaining markets, by establishing Fascism in Germany, by smashing the Soviet Union is possible. A lease of life for capitalism depends as much upon the action or rather, inaction of the proletarian vanguard as it dotes upon the action of the leading imperialists.

The American imperialists are as much concerned with the world revolution as the Communists are, but for opposite reasons. Therefore, the intervention of the U.S. dollar, for economic or military purpose, to hold in check the October revolution has been a major task of the American Imperialists since 1917. The danger of the extension of the October revolution is a life and death matter for world capitalism and the United States representing the dominating factor. This compels Wall Street to proceed in a fashion altogether contrary to the lingering “isolationist” ideology of the 19th century.

The burning question of the capitalists is the opposite side of the burning problem of the proletariat. Our problem is the understanding and application of the theory of the Permanent Revolution. Theirs – the defeat of the Permanent Revolution.

The word permanent, like the word dialectic or imperialism or a whole series of other words are used in the political sense and not in the bourgeois dictionary sense. The theory of the permanent revolution has nothing in common with the old Bucharin concept, which on the basis of the October revolution, estimates that a mounting wave of revolutions, one right on top of the other, would sweep capitalism from the earth in one straight line. The theory of the Permanent Revolution does not consider as “permanent”, the time element in the series of revolution. The theory of the Permanent Revolution considers the development of the revolution from country to country, in their interrelationship, regardless of ebbs and flows, PERMANENT until the class problems of the proletariat are SOLVED. Let us follow the process of the class struggle, explaining the meaning of the Permanent Revolution and its relation to American imperialism.

The most important Marxian concept today, repeated by Stalinism in dead form but not understood in living reality, is the Lenin formula, “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolution.” In 1917, Lenin and Trotsky filled this formula with reality by applying the theory of the Permanent Revolution to the weakest link in the capitalist chain. Other weak links of the capitalist chain followed, in Italy, in Germany 1918, in Hungary, in Finland, in Bulgaria, in Germany in 1923 and in China, but all were drowned in the workers’ blood. Weak links and favorable objective situations but – wrong policies.

The vanguard fighters already know the role social democracy played in these revolutions. It is the task of the Left Opposition to explain the role Stalinism played in these revolutions since 1923. History will look to Stalinism for an answer. And the question can only be answered upon the basis of the application of the theory of the Permanent Revolution. Stalinism as a bud and now as the flower of the reaction against October did not then, nor does it now, understand the theory of the Permanent Revolution. Stalinism has merely usurped the heritage of the October Revolution, which is the first fruit of the theory of the Permanent Revolution.

There are reasons for the one successful revolution and the many failures that followed. The determining factor in the problem was not the objective condition which was the most favorable, but the vanguard and its policies or lack of policies. The major defeats of the proletariat and the Communist vanguard commenced with the 1923 revolution in Germany. Up to that time the Russian revolution under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky was consolidating itself, the International was building a world party, and the workers were in motion against world capitalism. Upon the defeat of the 1923 revolution the American dollar propped up decay capitalism, and Stalinism replaced Marxism in the Communist International. The theory of socialism in one country replaced the theory of the Permanent Revolution, national reformism replaced internationalism.

The theory of the Permanent Revolution may be outlined in the following manner:

“First, it embraces the problem of the transition of the democratic revolution into the socialist. This is really the historic origin of the theory. The conception of the permanent revolution was set up by the great Communists of the middle of the 19th century, by Marx and his adherents, in opposition to the democratic ideology which, as is known, presumed that all questions should be settled peacefully, in the reformist or evolutionary way, by the erection of the ‘rational’ or democratic state. Marx regarded the bourgeois revolution as the direct introduction to the proletarian revolution.”

“The second aspect of the ‘permanent’ theory already characterizes the socialist revolution as such. For an indefinitely long time and in constant internal struggle all social relations are transformed. The process necessarily retains a political character, that is, it develops through collisions of various groups of society in transformation. Outbreaks of Civil War and foreign wars alternate with periods of ‘peaceful’ reforms. Revolutions in economy, technique, science, the family, morals and usages develop in complicated reciprocal action and do not allow society to reach an equilibrium. Therein lies the permanent character of the social revolution as such.”

“The international character of the social revolution which constitutes the third aspect of the theory of the permanent revolution, results from the state of economy and social structure of humanity. Internationalism is no abstract principle, but a theoretical and political reflection of the character of world economy, of the world development of productive forces, and the world scale of the class struggle. The social revolution begins on national grounds. But it cannot be completed on these grounds.

“In an isolated proletarian dictatorship, the internal and external contradictions grow inevitably together with the growing successes. Remaining isolated, the proletarian state must finally become a victim of these contradictions. The way out for it lies only in the victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries. Viewed from this standpoint, the national revolution is not a self-sufficient whole! It is only a link in the international chain. The international revolution presents a permanent process in spite of all fleeting rises and falls.” [1]

What is the relation of American imperialism to this theory, or to be more exact, the continuation of the Russian revolution to the world revolution? The United States as the strongest link of world capitalism struggles to prevent the proletarian revolution from absorbing the world, no matter where the civil war breaks out. World capitalism, which includes American Imperialism as the dynamo of the system of reaction, intervenes in every class struggle between the exploiters and exploited.

The weak links of the capitalist chain must be smashed. The October revolution must be extended. The iron ring of the world capitalists (with the backing of the American dollar) around the Soviet Union must be broken. The extension of the October revolution means to fight, not only the national bourgeoisie, but to fight world capitalism and particularly the economic pressure of American imperialism.

The break-down of capitalism, in the economic and political crisis stays the hands of world capitalism in their fight against the world proletariat and the revolutionary workers fighting the capitalists on the “weak link”. The intervention of the imperialists in support of the capitalists of the “weak link” only becomes effective when the vanguard of the proletariat does not present a policy based on a Marxian revolutionary theory. In Russia, with Lenin and Trotsky, the correct revolutionary theory and action held at bay the world capitalist intervention. But the non-Marxian revolutionary theory of Stalinism, for a series of revolutions, since 1923 did not enable the proletariat to hold in check the counter-offensive of the imperialists.

Only after the defeat of the German revolution in 1923 were the world imperialists successful in their intervention through the Dawes Plan and then the Young Plan. And likewise, in every other revolutionary situation, the world capitalists intervened at the start but were only successful to the degree that the policies of the vanguard deviated from Marxism, from the theory of the Permanent Revolution. Correct theory and correct action is no guarantee to victory but only through the Marxian policy and action can the proletariat gain power.

American imperialism in its “peace role” stands as the bulwark against the extension of the October revolution. We expect nothing else from America and fight accordingly. Today we have another problem. Stalinism is a new growth of revisionism, poisoning the Marxian stream with the theory of socialism in one country. A theory which stifles and checks the action of the Communist parties in the struggle to extend the October revolution.

To extend the October revolution, means to understand the relation of American Imperialism to world capitalism and world economy. To extend the October revolution means to reject the Stalinist revisionist theory of socialism in one country and all that flows from it. To extend the October revolution means in the first place, to arm the vanguard with the Marxian theory of the Permanent Revolution.


1. All quotations from L.D. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, New York 1931.

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