L. Trotsky

What Is a Revolutionary Situation?

The Decisive Importance of the Communist Party

(November 1931)

Written: 17 November 1931.
Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 36 (Whole No. 95), 19 December 1931, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2013. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

(The points enumerated below represent a summary of the views of comrade L.D. Trotsky. It is the outcome of a discussion between comrade Trotsky and comrade Albert Glotzer, member of the National Committee of the Communist League of America (Opposition), who has been visiting with comrade Trotsky for a number of weeks. Comrade Glotzer, in forwarding these views for publication, points out that they arose in connection with the situation in England and the false views expressed by some English comrades (Ridley and Chandu Ram) who declare their support of the Left Opposition. Comrade Trotsky has been too busy recently to be able to devote the time necessary for. the formulation of complete and thorough views on the British situation (an article on The Tasks of the Opposition in England and India by comrade Trotsky did however appear in The Militant last week (12-12-31); but nevertheless the points presented below in draft form offer a good basis for the discussion of a very important question, namely: What constitutes a revolutionary situation? – Ed.)


1. For an analysis of a situation from a revolutionary point of view, it is necessary to distinguish between the economic and social premises of a revolutionary situation and the revolutionary situation itself.

2. The economic and social premises for a revolutionary situation begin, generally speaking, at that moment when the productive powers of the country are going, not up but down, that is diminishing; when the specific weight of a capitalist country on the world market is systematically lessened and when the incomes of the classes are likewise systematically reduced; when unemployment becomes, not a conjunctural event of fluctuation, but a permanent social evil with the tendency to growth. All the foregoing characterize the situation in England completely, and we can affirm that the economic and social premises for a revolutionary situation exist there, in this form, and are always becoming more and more acute. But we must not forget that the expression, revolutionary situation, is a political term, not alone sociological. This explanation includes the subjective factor, and the subjective factor is not only the question of the party of the proletariat. It is a question of the mentality of the whole class, foremost, of course, of the proletariat and the party.

The Beginning of a Revolutionary Situation

3. The revolutionary situation, however, begins, only from the moment that the economic and social premises of a revolution produce a break in the mentality of society and its different classes. What must be produced in this way for creating a revolutionary situation?

  1. In every situation which we must analyze, it is necessary to distinguish three classes of society; the capitalists, the middle class or petty bourgeoisie, and the proletariat. Those changes in the mentality of these classes in order to characterize a revolutionary situation are very different for every one of these classes.
  2. That the economic situation is very acute, the British proletariat know very well, far better than all theoreticians. But the revolutionary situation begins only at the moment when the proletariat begins to search for a way out, not on the basis of the old society but along the path of a revolutionary insurrection against the existing order. This is the most important subjective condition for a revolutionary situation. The acuteness of the revolutionary feelings of the masses is one of the most important measures for the ripeness of the revolutionary situation.
  3. But a revolutionary situation is one which must, in the next period, permit the proletariat to become the ruling power of society, and that depends in England, less than in any other country, but also there to a degree, on the political thoughts and feelings of the middle class; the revolutionary situation would be characterized by the loss of confidence of the middle class in all the traditional parties (including the Labor Party, which is reformist, i.e., a conservative party), and its turn of hope to a radical, revolutionary change in the society (and not a counter-revolutionary change, viz., a fascist change).
  4. Both the changes in the mentality of the proletariat and the middle class correspond and develop parallel to the change in the mentality of the ruling class which sees that it has not the means to save its system, loses confidence in itself, decomposes and splits into factions and cliques.

The Changing Outlook of the Classes

4. It cannot be foreseen or indicated mathematically at what point in these processes that the revolutionary situation is totally ripe. The revolutionary party can only establish that fact by its struggles, by the growth of its forces through its influence on the masses, on the peasants, and the petty bourgeoisie of the towns, etc., and by the weakening of the resistance of the ruling classes.

5. If we adapt these criteria to the British situation we can see:

  1. That the economic and social premises, as has been stated, are existing and becoming more effective and acute.
  2. The bridge, however, from these economic premises to the psychological results, has not been crossed. For the revolutionary situation in England it is not necessary for great changes in the economic conditions, which are already unbearable, to come about. What is necessary is a new adjustment of the mentality of the different classes to this unbearable, catastrophic situation in England.

The Rate of Development

6. The economic change of society is very slow and is measured by centuries and decades. But when the economic conditions are radically changed, a transformation of the retarded psychological factors can be produced very quickly. However, quickly or slowly, such changes must inevitably be effected in the mentality of the classes. Only then can we find a revolutionary situation.

7. In political terms it signifies:

  1. That the proletariat must lose its confidence not only in the conservatives and liberals, but also in the Labor Party. It must concentrate its will and its courage for revolutionary aims and methods.
  2. That the middle class must lose its confidence in the big bourgeoisie, in the lords, and turn their eyes to the revolutionary proletariat.
  3. That the rich classes, the ruling cliques, rejected by the masses, lose confidence in themselves.

8. These phenomena will inevitably come. However, they do not exist today. They can come in a short period of time, through the acute crisis. They can arrive in two or three years, or perhaps in a year. But this is a perspective and not a fact today. We must base our policy on the facts of today and not of tomorrow.

The Decisive Importance of a Matured Communist Party

9. The political conditions of a revolutionary situation are developing more or less parallel and simultaneously, but this does not signify that they all become ripe at the same moment – therein is the danger of the British situation of tomorrow. In the ripening political conditions, the most retarded is the revolutionary party of the proletariat. It is not excluded that the general revolutionary change of the proletariat and the middle class, and the political decomposition of the ruling class, will develop more quickly than the ripening of the Communist Party. It signifies that it does not exclude after tomorrow a genuine revolutionary situation without an adequate revolutionary party. It would be, to a certain degree, a reproduction of the situation in Germany in 1923. But to affirm that England is in such a situation today is absolutely false.

10. We say that it is not excluded that the development of the Party can remain retarded in relation to the other elements of the revolutionary situation – but that is not in any case inevitable. On this question we cannot make exact prognoses, but the question is not merely a question of prognosis. It is a question of our own action.

11. How much time will the British proletariat need in the present state of capitalist society to break up its connections with the three bourgeois parties? By a correct policy of the Communist Party, it is entirely possible that its growth will take place in proportion to the bankruptcy and decomposition of the other parties. It is our aim, it is our duty to realize this possibility.

What Is Coming?

CONCLUSIONS: That explains sufficiently why it is totally false to affirm that England is now between Democracy and Fascism. The era of Fascism begins seriously after an important and, for a certain time, decisive victory of the bourgeoisie over the working-class. But the great struggles in England are not behind us, rather ahead of us. As we discussed in another connection, more probably the next political chapter in England, after the decomposition of the national government and the conservative government which will probably succeed it, will be a liberal-labor reformistic era, which can, namely in England, become in the near future more dangerous than the spectre of Fascism. We called that period, conditionally, the British Kerenskiade.

But it is necessary to add that the Kerenskiade is not obliged to be in every situation, in every country, as weak as the Russian Kerenskiade. The weakness of the Kerenskiade there was a result of the great power of the Bolshevik Party. We see now, for example, in Spain, that the Kerenskiade – the coalition of the liberals and the “socialists” – is by no means so weak as it was in Russia, and this is the result of the weakness of the Communist Party; and, thereby, becoming a great danger to the Spanish Revolution. The Kerenskiade signifies for us the employment of reformist, “revolutionary”, “democratic”, “socialist” phrases; certain secondary democratic and social reforms, while at the same time carrying on repressions against the Left wing of the working-class.

This method is contrary to the method of Fascism, but it serves the same aim. To condemn the future Lloyd Georgeiade to a weakness, is only possible when we foresee it approaching, when we are not hypnotizing ourselves with the spectre of Fascism which is further away than Lloyd George and his instrument of tomorrow – the Labor Party. The danger of tomorrow can become the reformist party, the bloc of the liberals and the socialists; the Fascist danger is only in the third or fourth stage away. Our struggle to eliminate the Fascist period, to eliminate or reduce the new reformist period signifies for the Communist Party the struggle for the winning of the working-class.

Kadikoy, Nov. 17, 1931


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Last updated on: 24.2.2013