Leon Trotsky



The class-political groupings in the Russian Revolution have come out with unparalleled clearness, but equally unparalleled is the confusion which prevails in the field of our ideology. The belated character of Russia’s historical development permitted the petty bourgeois intelligentsia to adorn itself with the peacock’s feathers of the loveliest Socialist theory. Yet these fine feathers will answer no other purpose than to cover its withered nakedness. The fact that the Social-Revolutionists and Mensheviks did not assume power early in March, nor on May 16th [1] , nor on July 16th, has nothing at all to do with the “bourgeois” character of our Revolution and the impossibility of putting it over “without the bourgeoisie”. It is due to the fact that the petty bourgeois “Socialists”, being completely enveloped in the meshes of Imperialism, are not yet capable of per-forming one-tenth of the work that the Jacobins accomplished a century and a quarter ago. Chattering about the defence of the Revolution and of the country, they will nevertheless surrender to the bourgeois reaction one position after the other. The struggle for power, therefore, becomes the first and the foremost problem of the working class, and we shall find the Revolution simultaneously pesting itself completely of its “national” and its bourgeois raiment.

Europe, we shall see a tremendous backward sweep, in the direction of a strong imperialist regime, most probably culminating in a monarchy; the Soviets, the land committees, the army organizations, as well as many other things, will go to pieces, and the Kerensky and Tseretellis will pass into the discard. Or, the proletariat, dragging with it the semi-proletarian masses and pushing aside its leaders of yesterday (in this case also the Kerensky and Tseretellis go into the discard), will establish the regime of the workers’ democracy. The further successes of the proletariat will then depend first and foremost on the European, particularly on the German Revolution.

Internationalism in our eyes is not an abstract notion, existing only to be betrayed at every moment (that is for Tseretelli and Chernov), but an immediately dominant, profoundly practical principle. Permanent, decisive successes are not conceivable for us without a European Revolution. We cannot therefore purchase partial successes at the price of such procedures and combinations as may put obstacles in the path of the European proletarian movement. Just for this reason an uncompromising opposition to the social-patriots is for us the condition sine qua non [2] of all our political work.

“International comrades!” cried one of the speakers at the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, “postpone your Social Revolution for another fifty years!” Needless to say, this well meant advice was greeted with the self-complacent applause of the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists.

It is just at this point, in the matter of their relation to the Social Revolution, that the difference between the various forms of opportunist petty bourgeois utopianism, on the one hand, and proletarian Socialism, on the other, becomes important. There are not a few “internationalists” who explain the crisis in the International as a temporary chauvinist intoxication due to the war, and who believe that sooner or later the former condition will be restored, and the old political parties will again take up the old path of the class struggle, of which they have lost sight for the moment. Childish and petty hopes! The war is not an external catastrophe, destroying the equilibrium of capitalist society against the uprising of the expanding forces of production in this society, against the restrictions of the national boundaries and the forms of private ownership. Either we shall see continued convulsions of the forces of production, in the form of repeatedly recurring imperialist wars, or we shall see a socialist organization of production: that is the question History is placing before us.

Similarly, the crisis in the International is not an external, irrelevant phenomenon.

The Socialist parties of Europe were formed at a time of comparative capitalist equilibrium and of a reformist adaptation of the proletariat to national parliamentarism and the national market. “Even in the Social-Democratic Party” wrote Engels in 1877, “petty bourgeois Socialism has its defenders. Even members of the Social Democratic Party who recognize the fundamental concepts of scientific socialism and the practical nature of the demand that all means of production should pass over into social ownership, declare that the realization of this demand is a possibility of the remote future, the precise time of which is practically impossible to determine.” [3] Thanks to the long drawn out character of the “peaceful” period, this petty bourgeois Socialism actually became dominant in the old organization of the proletariat. Its limitations and its insolvency assumed the most offensive forms, as soon as the peaceful accumulation of contradictions gave way to a tremendous imperialist cataclysm. Not only the old national governments, but also the bureaucratized Socialist parties that had grown up with them, showed that they were not equal to the demands of further progress. And all this might have been more or less foreseen.

“The task of the Socialist Party”, we wrote twelve years ago, “consisted, and still consists, in revolutionizing the consciousness of the working class, as the development of Capitalism has revolutionized social relations. But this labour of agitation and organization has its internal difficulties. The European Socialist parties – particularly the most powerful of them, the German – have already at tamed a certain conservatism, which is all the stronger where the most numerous masses have embraced socialism, and where the organization and discipline of these masses is the most advanced. In view of this, the Social Democracy, as an organization expressive of the political experience of the proletariat, may, at a given moment prove to be an immediate obstacle on the path of an open struggle between the workers and the bourgeois reaction. In other words, the propagandist-Socialist conservatism of the proletarian party may, at a given moment prevent the straight fight of the proletariat for power.” (Nasha Revolutsia, 1906, p.285) [4]

But if the revolutionary Marxists were far from being fetishists with regard to the parties of the Second International, no one could foresee that the destruction of those giant organizations would be so cruel and so catastrophic.

New times demand new organizations. In the baptism of fire, the revolutionary parties are now being everywhere created. The numerous ideological-political offspring of the Second International have not, it appears, been in vain. But they are passing through an internal purification: whole generations of “realistic” philistines are being cast aside, and the revolutionary tendencies of Marxism are for the first time being recognized in their full political significance.

Within each country the task is not so much to support an organization that has outlived itself, as to bring together the genuine aggressive revolutionary elements of the proletariat, who are already, in the struggle against imperialism, gravitating into the front ranks. On the international field, the task is not to coalesce and “conciliate” government – Socialists at diplomatic conferences (as at Stockholm! [5]) but to secure a union of the revolutionary internationalists of all countries and the pursuit of a common course of action in the Social Revolution within each country.

To be sure, the revolutionary internationalists at the head of the working class at present constitute, throughout Europe, an insignificant minority. But we Russians ought to be the last to take fright at such a state of affairs. We know how quickly, in revolutionary moments, the minority may become a majority. As soon as the accumulating resentment of the working class finally breaks through the crust of government discipline, the group of Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Mehring and their adherents [6] will immediately assume a leading position at the head of the German working class. Only a social-revolutionary policy can justify a division [?] in the organization but at the same time it makes such a division [?] inevitable.

The Menshevik Internationalists, those who are of like mind with Comrade Martov, in opposition to us, deny the social-revolutionary character of the political task. Russia, they declare in their platform, is not yet ready for Socialism, and our function is necessarily limited to the founding of a democratic bourgeois republic. The whole attitude is based on a complete rejection of the international problems of the proletariat. If Russia were alone in the world, Martov’s reasoning would be correct. But we are engaged in carrying out a world revolution, in a struggle with world imperialism, with the tasks of the world proletariat, which includes the Russian proletariat. Instead of explaining to the Russian workers that the destinies of Russia are at present inextricably bound up with the destinies of Europe, that the success of the European proletariat will assure us a swifter realization of a Socialist society, that on the other hand, a defeat of the European proletariat will hurl us back into a condition of imperialist dictatorship and monarchy, and finally into the status of mere colonies of England and the United States, instead of subordinating all our tactics to the general aims and objects of the European proletariat, Comrade Martov looks upon the Russian Revolution from a narrow nationalistic standpoint and reduces the task of the revolution to that of creating a bourgeois democratic republic. This formulation of the question is fundamentally false, for over it there hovers the curse of narrow-minded nationalism, which led to the downfall of the Second International.

By limiting himself, in practice, to a national outlook, Comrade Martov secures the possibility of living in the same camp with the social-patriots. He hopes, with Dan and Tseretelii, to pass through the “miasma”, of nationalism unharmed, for the latter will disappear with the war, and then he intends to come back, together with them, into the “regular” channels of the class struggle. Martov is bound to the social-patriots, not by a mere empty party tradition, but by their profoundly opportunist attitude on the Social Revolution, for they regard it as a remote goal, which should have no share in the formulation of the problems of today. And that is what separates them from us.

The struggle for capturing power is not, for us, merely the next step of a national democratic revolution. No, it is the fulfillment of our international duty, the conquest of one of the most important positions on the whole front of the struggle against world imperialism. And it is this standpoint that determines our relation to the so-called question of defending the fatherland. A temporary shifting of the front to one side or the other cannot halt and cannot turn aside our struggle, which is directed against the very foundations of Capitalism, which seems bent on the mutual imperialist destruction of the peoples of all nations.

A permanent revolution or a permanent slaughter! That is the struggle in which the stake is the future of man.

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1. On March 8th, the Revolution began in Petrograd. On the 11th, the Petrograd Soviet started functioning. On the 12th, the Provisional Executive Com mittee of the Duma was formed. In May there was a Cabinet crisis, caused by Miliukov’s resignation on the 15th.

2. Sine qua non: (Latin) Indispensable condition.

3. Engels – Preface to The Housing Question, Selected Works, Moscow Edn., Vol.I. p.498.

4. Trotsky – Results and Prospects, see The Permanent Revolution, New Park Edn., p.246.

5. The Stockholm Conference: Proposed by the Scandinavian Socialists to bring pressure on the warring nations for peace, did not take place. In April 1917, the Danish Borgbjerg extended the invitation to the Petrograd Soviets. The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries accepted but the Bolsheviks refused.

6. Group of Rosa Luxemburg et al.: The Left Wing, anti-war, elements of the German Social Democracy, led by Liebknecht, Luxemburg and Mehring, formed the International Group on 1st January 1916. This was later known as the Spartacusbund, and on 1st January 1919, emerged as the Communist Party of Germany.

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Last updated on: 9.12.2006