Leon Trotsky

The History of the Russian Revolution

Volume Three: The Triumph of the Soviets

Appendix No.3

Historic References on the
Theory of “Permanent Revolution”

In the Appendix to the first volume of this history we gave extended excerpts from a series of articles written by us in March 1917 in New York, and from our more recent polemic articles against Professor Pokrovsky. In both cases the matter concerned was an analysis of the moving forces of the Russian, and partly also of the international, revolution. It was upon the basis of this problem that the fundamental principled groupings had crystallised themselves in the Russian revolutionary camp ever since the beginning of the century. In proportion as the revolutionary tide rose, they acquired more and more the character of a strategic programme, and then finally a directly tactical character. The years 1903 to 1906 were a period of intensive crystallisation of political tendencies in the Russian social democracy. It was at that time that our work, Summaries and Perspectives was written. It was written in sections and for different purposes. An imprisonment in December 1905 permitted the author to expound more systematically than before his views on the character of the Russian revolution and its prospects. This collected work appeared as a book in the Russian language in 1906. In order that the excerpts from it given below may take a proper place in the mind of the reader, we must remind him again that in 1904-5 no one of the Russian Marxists defended, or even uttered, the thought of the possibility of building a socialist society in a single country in general, and particularly in Russia. This conception was first expressed in print only twenty years later, in the autumn of 1924. In the period of the first revolution, as also in the years between the two revolutions, the dispute concerned the dynamics of the bourgeois revolution, and not the chances and possibilities of a socialist revolution. All the present partisans of the theory of socialism in one country, without a single exception, were during that period confining the prospects of the Russian revolution to a bourgeois-democratic republic, and until April 1917 they were considering impossible not only the building of national socialism, but also the conquest of power by the proletariat of Russia before the dictatorship of the proletariat should be inaugurated in more advanced countries.

By “Trotskyism,” in the period from 1905 to 1917, was meant that revolutionary conception according to which the bourgeois revolution in Russia would not be able to solve its problems without placing the proletariat in power. Only in the autumn of 1924 did “Trotskyism” begin to mean the conception according to which the Russian proletariat, having come to power, would not be able to build a national socialist society with its own forces alone.

For the convenience of the reader we shall present the dispute schematically in the form of a dialogue in which the letter T signifies a representative of the ’Trotskyist” conception, and the letter S means one of those Russian “practicals” who now stands at the head of the soviet bureaucracy.


T.: The Russian revolution cannot solve its democratic problem, above all the agrarian problem, without placing the working class in power.
S.: But does not that mean the dictatorship of the proletariat?
T.: Unquestionably.
S.: In backward Russia? Before it happens in the advanced capitalist countries?
T.: Exactly so.
S.: But you are ignoring the Russian village – that is, the backward peasantry stuck in the mud of semi-serfdom.
T.: On the contrary, it is only the depth of the agrarian problem that opens the immediate prospect of a dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia.
S.: You reject, then, the bourgeois revolution?
T.: No, I only try to show that its dynamic leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
S.: But that means that Russia is ripe for the building of socialism?
T.: No, it does not. Historic evolution has no such planned and harmonious character. The conquest of power by the proletariat in backward Russia flows inexorably from the correlation of forces in the bourgeois revolution. What further economic prospects will be opened by the dictatorship of the proletariat depends upon the domestic and world conditions under which it is inaugurated. It goes without saying that Russia cannot arrive at socialism independently. But once having opened an era of socialist transformation, she can supply the impetus to a socialist development of Europe and thus arrive at socialism in the wake of the advanced countries


S.: We must acknowledge that Trotsky “even before the revolution of 1905 advanced the original and now especially famous theory of Permanent Revolution, asserting that the bourgeois revolution of 1905 would go directly over into a socialist revolution and prove the first of a series of national revolutions.” (The quotation is from the notes to the Complete Works of Lenin, published during his life.)


S.: And so you deny that our revolution can arrive at socialism?
T.: I think, as before, that our revolution can and should lead to socialism after having acquired an international character.
S.: You do not believe, then, in the inner forces of the Russian revolution?
T.: Strange that this did not prevent me from foreseeing and preaching the dictatorship of the proletariat when you rejected it as Utopian.
S.: But you none the less deny the socialist revolution in Russia?
T.: Until April 1917 you accused me of rejecting the bourgeois revolution. The secret of your theoretical contradictions lies in the fact that you got way behind the historic process and now you are trying to catch up and pass it. To tell the truth, this also is the secret of your industrial mistakes.

The reader should have always before him these three historic stages in the development of revolutionary conceptions in Russia, if he wishes correctly to judge the actual issues in the present struggle of factions and groups in Russian communism.

Excerpts from the Article of the Year
1905, Summaries and Perspectives

Section 4
Revolution and the proletariat

The proletariat will grow and strengthen together with the growth of capitalism. In this sense the development of capitalism is the development of the proletariat toward dictatorship. But the day and hour when the power will pass to the hands of the working class depend directly not upon the level obtained by the productive forces, but upon relations in the class struggle, upon the international situation, and finally upon a series of subjective factors – traditions, initiatives, preparedness for fighting ...

In a country economically more backward the proletariat may come to power sooner than in a country capitalistically advanced ...

The idea of some sort of automatic dependence of the proletarian dictatorship upon the technical forces and resources of a country is a prejudice derived from an extremely over-simplified “economic” materialism. Such a view has nothing in common with Marxism.

The Russian revolution, according to our view, will create conditions in which the power may (and with the victory of the revolution must) pass to the proletariat before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get a chance to develop their statesmanly genius to the full.

Marxism is above all a method of analysis – not analysis of texts but analysis of social relations. Is it true in regard to Russia that the weakness of capitalistic liberalism necessarily means a weakness of the labour movement?

The numbers of the industrial proletariat, their concentration, their culture, their political weight, undoubtedly depend upon the degree of development of capitalist industry. But this dependence is not direct. Between the productive forces of the country and the political force of its classes at each given moment various sociopolitical factors of national and international character intervene, and they displace, and even completely change the form of, the political expression of economic relations. Notwithstanding that the productive forces of industry in the United States are ten times higher than ours, the political rôle of the Russian proletariat, its influence upon the policy of the country, and the possibility of its coming influence upon world politics, is incomparably higher than the rôle and significance of the American proletariat.

Section 5
The Proletariat in Power and the Peasantry.

In the event of a decisive victory of the revolution the power will come into the hands of that class which played the leading rôle in the struggle – in other words, into the hands of the proletariat. We add at once as self-evident that this does not exclude the entry into the government or revolutionary representatives of non-proletarian social groups ... The whole question is, who will supply the content of the government policy? Who will consolidate in the government a homogeneous majority? It is one thing when representatives of the democratic layers of the people participate in a government which is working-class in its majority. It is another thing when representatives of the proletariat participate, in the character of more or less respected hostages, in a definitely bourgeois-democratic government. The proletariat cannot perpetuate its power without broadening the base of the revolution. Many strata of the toiling masses, especially in the country, will be first drawn into the revolution and acquire political organisation only after the vanguard of the revolution, the city proletariat, stands at the helm of state.

... The character of our socio-historic relations, which throws the whole weight of the bourgeois revolution upon the shoulders of the proletariat, will not only create enormous difficulties for the workers’ government, but will also, at least in the first period of its existence, give it priceless advantages. This will express itself in the relations between the proletariat and the peasantry.

The Russian revolution does not permit, and for a long time will not permit, the creation of any sort of bourgeois-constitutional order which might solve the most elementary problems of democracy ... In consequence of this the fate of the most elementary revolutionary interests of the peasantry – even of the entire peasantry as a caste – is bound up with the fate of the whole revolution – that is, with the fate of the proletariat. The proletariat in power will appear to the peasantry as an emancipator class.

But perhaps the peasantry itself will crowd out the proletariat and occupy its place? That is impossible. All the experience of history protests against this assumption. It shows that the peasantry is completely incapable of playing an independent political rôle.

The Russian bourgeoisie will surrender all revolutionary positions to the proletariat. It will have to surrender also the revolutionary leadership of the peasantry. In the situation which will be created by a transfer of power to the proletariat the peasantry will have nothing left to do but adhere to the régime of workers’ democracy. Granted even that they will do this with no more consciousness than they have in adhering to the bourgeois régime! But whereas every bourgeois party after winning the Votes of the peasants makes haste to use its power in order to rob them and deceive them of all their hopes and faith in promises, and then when worst comes to worst yields its place to another capitalist party, the proletariat, relying upon the peasantry, will bring all its forces into play to raise the cultural level of the village and develop in the peasantry a political consciousness.

Section 6
The Proletarian Régime

The proletariat can come to power only while relying upon a national awakening, upon a universal popular inspiration. The proletariat will enter the government as a revolutionary representative of the nation, as the recognised leader of the people in their struggle with absolutism and feudal barbarism. But having come to power, the proletariat will open a new epoch – an epoch of revolutionary legislation, of affirmative politics – and here the preservation of its rôle as recognised spokesman of the nation is by no means guaranteed.

Each day will deepen the policy of the proletariat in power, and more and more define its class character. And therewith the revolutionary bond between the proletariat and the nation will be broken. The class dismemberment of the peasantry will appear in political form. The antagonism between its constituent parts will increase in the same degree that the policy of the workers’ government defines itself and from being a general democratic policy becomes a class policy.

The destruction of feudal serfdom will have the support of the entire peasantry as a burdened caste ... But legislative measures In defence of the agricultural proletariat not only will win no such active sympathy from the majority, but will come up against the active resistance of the minority. The proletariat will find itself obliged to carry the class struggle into the country, and thus destroy that community of interests which is undoubtedly to be found in every peasantry, although within comparatively narrow limits. The proletariat will be obliged, in the very earliest moments of its rule, to seek support in opposing the rural poor to the rural rich, the agricultural proletariat to the peasant bourgeoisie.

Once the power is in the hands of a revolutionary government with a socialist majority, at that moment the difference between minimum and maximum programme loses both its significance in principle and its directly practical significance. A proletarian government cannot possibly restrain itself within the limits of this distinction.

Entering the government not as impotent hostages but as a ruling power, the representatives of the proletariat will by this very act destroy the boundary between minimum and maximum programme. That is, they will place collectivism on the order of the day. At what point the proletariat will be stopped in this direction depends upon the correlation of forces, but not at all upon the original intentions of the party of the proletariat.

That is why there can be no talk of any special form of proletarian dictatorship in a bourgeois revolution, namely a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat (or of the proletariat and the peasantry). The working class cannot guarantee the democratic character of its dictatorship without transgressing the limits of its democratic programme. Any illusions on this point would be absolutely ruinous.

Once the party of the proletariat takes the power, it will fight for it to the end. While one means of waging this struggle for the preservation and perpetuation of its power will be agitation and organisation, especially in the country, another means will be a collectivist policy. Collectivism will become not only an inevitable inference from the position of the party in power, but also a means of preserving its position while relying upon the proletariat

*   *   *

When the idea was formulated in the socialist press of an uninterrupted revolution, linking up the liquidation of absolutism and of civil serfdom with a socialist revolution, thanks to multiplying social clashes, uprisings of new layers of the masses, unceasing attacks of the proletariat upon the political and economic privileges of the ruling classes, our “progressive” press raised a unanimous howl of indignation.

The more radical representatives of that same democracy ... not only considered fantastic the very idea of a workers’ government in Russia, but also denied the possibility of a socialist revolution in Europe in the coming historic epoch. The necessary “premises” are not yet at hand. Is this true? It is not, of course, a question of setting the date of a socialist revolution, but of giving it a place in the actual historic perspective ...

(Here follows an analysis of the general premises of a socialist economy and the proof that at the present time – the beginning of the 20th century – these premises, if you take the question on a European and world scale, are already at hand.)

... Within the closed boundaries of separate states a socialist production could not in any case be introduced – both for economic and political reasons.

Section 8
A Workers’ Government in Russia and Socialism.

We have shown above that the objective premises of a socialist revolution have already been created by the economic development of the advanced capitalist countries. But what can be said in this respect about Russia? Can we expect that the transfer of power to the Russian proletariat will be the beginning of a transformation of our national economy upon socialist principles?

The Parisian workers, as Marx said, did not demand miracles of the Commune. Now, too, you cannot expect instantaneous miracles of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The state power is not omnipotent. It would be absurd to imagine that the proletariat has only to receive the power and it will replace capitalism by socialism with a few decrees. An economic structure is not a product of the activity of the state. The proletariat can only employ the state power with all its might in order to promote economic evolution in the direction of collectivism, and shorten its road.

The socialisation of production begins in those branches which offer the least difficulties. During the first period socialised production will take the form of oases united with private industrial enterprises by the laws of commodity circulation. The broader the field already seized by socialised industry the more obvious will be its advantages, the solider will the new political régime feel, and the more bold will be the further industrial undertakings of the proletariat. In these undertakings the proletariat will be, able to, and will, rely not only upon the national productive forces, but also upon international technique, just as in its revolutionary politics it will rely not only upon the experience of national class relations, but also upon the whole historic experience of the international proletariat.

The proletarian régime will be compelled from the very first to undertake the solution of the agrarian problem, with which is bound up the fate of the immense mass of the population of Russia. In solving this problem, as in solving all others, the proletariat will take as its point of departure the fundamental effort of its economic policy: to conquer as large a field as possible for the organisation of socialist industry. And the forms and tempo of this policy rn the agrarian problem will have to be determined both by those material resources in the command of the proletariat, and by the necessity of so deploying its activities as not to push possible allies into the ranks of the counter-revolution.

But how far can the socialist policy of the working class go in the industrial conditions of Russia? Only one thing can be said with certainty. It will run into political obstacles long before it comes up against the technical backwardness of the country. Without direct state support from the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and cannot convert its temporary rule into a prolonged socialist dictatorship ...

Political “optimism” may take two, forms. It may exaggerate its own forces and the advantageous aspects of the revolutionary situation, and set itself tasks whose solution is not permitted by the given correlation of forces. But it may, on the other hand, optimistically set a bound to its revolutionary tasks beyond which the logic of the situation will inevitably push us.

We may set a bound to all the problems of the revolution by asserting that our revolution is bourgeois in its objective aims, and therefore in its inevitable result, and we may thus shut our eyes to the fact that the chief agent of this bourgeois revolution will be the proletariat, and the proletariat will be pushed toward the power by the whole course of the revolution ...

You may lull yourself with the thought that the social conditions of Russia are not yet ripe for a socialist economy, and therewith you may neglect to consider the fact that the proletariat, once In power, will inevitably be compelled by the whole logic of its situation to introduce an economy operated by the state.

The general sociological definition, “bourgeois revolution,” does not by any means solve those politico-tactical problems, contradictions and difficulties which will be put forward by the mechanics of the given bourgeois revolution.

Within the framework of the bourgeois revolution at the end of the 18th century, whose objective task was to establish the rule of capital, a dictatorship of the Sansculottes proved possible. In a revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. which is also bourgeois in its immediate objective tasks, there appears in the near perspective the inevitability, or at the very least the probability, of a political rulership of the proletariat. That this rulership shall not prove a mere passing “episode,” as certain realistic philistines hope-the proletariat itself will see to this. But it is not too early now to pose the question: Must this dictatorship of the proletariat inevitably be shattered against the boundaries of the bourgeois revolution? May it not, upon the given world-historic foundations, open before itself the prospect of a victory to be achieved after shattering these limited boundaries?

(Here follows a development of the thought that the Russian revolution may, and in all probability will, unleash a proletarian revolution in the west, which in its turn will guarantee the socialist development of Russia.)

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It should be added that during the first years of the existence of the Communist International the above-quoted work was officially published in foreign languages as a theoretic interpretation of the October revolution.

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Last updated on: 125 December 2014