Leon Trotsky

The Permanent Revolution

1. The Enforced Nature of
This Work, and Its Aim

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive, a subarchive of the Marxists’ Internet Archive, by Sally Ryan in 1996.

The demand for theory in the party under the leadership of the Right-Centrist bloc has been met for six successive years by anti-Trotskyism, this being the one and only product available in unlimited quantities and for free distribution. Stalin engaged in theory for the first time in 1924, with the immortal articles against the permanent revolution. Even Molotov was baptized as a ‘leader’ in this font. Falsification is in full swing. A few days ago I happened upon an announcement of the publication in German of Lenin’s writings of 1917. This is an invaluable gift to the advanced German working class. One can, however, picture in advance what a lot of falsifications there will be in the text and more especially in the notes. It is enough to point out that first place in the table of contents is given to Lenin’s letters to Kollontai in New York. Why? Merely because these letters contain harsh remarks about me, based on completely false information from Kollontai, who had given her organic Menshevism an inoculation of hysterical ultra-leftism in those days. In the Russian edition the epigones were compelled to indicate, even if only ambiguously, that Lenin had been misinformed. But it may be assumed that the German edition will not present even this evasive reservation. We might also add that in the same letters of Lenin to Kollontai there are furious assaults upon Bukharin, with whom Kollontai was then in solidarity. This aspect of the letters has been suppressed, however, for the time being. It will be made public only when an open campaign against Bukharin is launched. We shall not have to wait very long for that. [1] On the other hand a number of very valuable documents, articles and speeches of Lenin’s, as well as minutes, letters, etc., remain concealed only because they are directed against Stalin and Co. and undermine the legend of ‘Trotskyism.’ Of the history of the three Russian revolutions, as well as the history of the party, literally not a single shred has been left intact: theory, facts, traditions, the heritage of Lenin, all these have been sacrificed to the struggle against ‘Trotskyism,’ which was invented and organized, after Lenin was taken ill, as a personal struggle against Trotsky, and which later developed into a struggle against Marxism.

It has again been confirmed that what might appear as the most useless raking up of long-extinct disputes usually satisfies some unconscious social requirement of the day, a requirement which, in itself, does not follow the line of old disputes. The campaign against ‘the old Trotskyism’ was in a reality a campaign against the October traditions, which had become more and more cramping and unbearable for the new bureaucracy. They began to characterize as ‘Trotskyism’ everything they wanted to get rid of. Thus the struggle against Trotskyism gradually became the expression of the theoretical and political reaction among broad non-proletarian and partly also among proletarian circles, and the reflection of this reaction inside the party. In particular, the caricatured and historically distorted counterposition of the permanent revolution to Lenin’s line of ‘alliance with the muzhik’ sprang full-grown in 1923. It arose along with the period of social, political and party reaction, as its most graphic expression, as the organic antagonism of the bureaucrat and the property-owner to world revolution with its ‘permanent’ disturbances, and the yearning of the petty-bourgeoisie and officialdom for tranquillity and order. The vicious baiting of the permanent revolution served, in turn, only to clear the ground for the theory of socialism in one country, that is, for the latest variety of national socialism. In themselves, of course, these new social roots of the struggle against ‘Trotskyism’ do not prove anything either for or against the correctness of the theory of the permanent revolution. Yet, without an understanding of these hidden roots, the controversy must inevitably bear a barren academic character.

In recent years I have not found it possible to tear myself away from the new problems and return to old questions which are bound up with the period of the 1905 Revolution, in so far as these questions are primarily concerned with my past and have been artificially used against it. To give an analysis of the old differences of opinion and particularly of my old mistakes, against the background of the situation in which they arose – an analysis so thorough that these controversies and mistakes would become comprehensible to the young generation, not to speak of the old-timers who have fallen into political second childhood – this would require a whole volume to itself. It seemed monstrous to me to waste my own and others’ time upon it, when constantly new questions of enormous importance were being placed on the order of the day: the tasks of the German Revolution, the question of the future fate of Britain, the question of the interrelationship of America and Europe, the problems broached by the strikes of the British proletariat, the tasks of the Chinese Revolution and, lastly and mainly, our own internal economic and socio-political contradictions and tasks – all this, I believe, amply justified my continual putting-off of my historico-polemical work on the permanent revolution. But social consciousness abhors a vacuum. In recent years this theoretical vacuum has been, as I have said, filled up with the rubbish of anti-Trotskyism. The epigones, the philosophers and the brokers of party reaction slipped down ever lower, went to school under the dull-witted Menshevik Martynov, trampled Lenin underfoot, floundered around in the swamp, and called all this the struggle against Trotskyism. In all these years they have not managed to produce a single work serious or important enough to be mentioned out loud without a feeling of shame; they did not bring forth a single political appraisal that has retained its validity, not a single prognosis that has been confirmed, not a single independent slogan that has advanced us ideologically. Nothing but trash and hack-work everywhere.

Stalin’s Problems of Leninism constitutes a codification of this ideological garbage, an official manual of narrow-mindedness, an anthology of enumerated banalities (I am doing my best to find the most moderate designations possible). Leninism by Zinoviev is ... Zinovievist Leninism, and nothing more or less. Zinoviev acts almost on Luther’s principle. But whereas Luther said, ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.’ Zinoviev says, ‘Here I stand ... but I can do otherwise, too.’ To occupy oneself in either case with these theoretical products of epigonism is equally unbearable, with this difference: that in reading Zinoviev’s Leninism one experiences the sensation of choking on loose cotton-wool, while Stalin’s Problems evokes the sensation of finely-chopped bristles. These two books are, each in its own way, the image and crown of the epoch of ideological reaction.

Fitting and adjusting all questions, whether from the right or the left, from above or below, from before or behind – to Trotskyism, the epigones have finally contrived to make every world event directly or indirectly dependent upon how the permanent revolution looked to Trotsky in 1905. The legend of Trotskyism, chock-full of falsifications, has become to a certain extent a factor in contemporary history. And while the right-centrist line of recent years has compromised itself in every continent by bankruptcies of historic dimensions, the struggle against the centrist ideology in the Comintern is today already unthinkable, or at least made very difficult, without an evaluation of the old disputes and prognosis that originated at the beginning of 1905.

The resurrection of Marxist, and consequently Leninist, thought in the party is unthinkable without a polemical auto-da-fé of the scribblings of the epigones, without a merciless theoretical execution of the Party-machine ushers. [2] It is really not difficult to write such a book. All its ingredients are to hand. But it is also hard to write such a book, precisely because in doing so one must, in the words of the great satirist Saltykov, descend into the domain of ‘ABC effluvia’ and dwell for a considerable time in this scarcely ambrosial atmosphere. Nevertheless, the work has become absolutely unpostponable, for it is precisely upon the struggle against the permanent revolution that the defence of the opportunist line in the problems of the East, that is, the larger half of humanity, is directly constructed.

I was already on the point of entering into this hardly alluring task of theoretical polemic with Zinoviev and Stalin, putting aside our Russian classics for my recreation hours (even divers must rise to the surface now and then to breathe a draught of fresh air) when, quite unexpected by me, an article by Radek appeared and began to circulate, devoted to the ‘more profound’ counterposition of the theory of the permanent revolution to Lenin’s views on this subject. At first I wanted to put Radek’s work aside, lest I be distracted from the combination of loose cotton-wool and finely chopped bristles intended for me by fate. But a number of letters from friends induced me to read Radek’s work more attentively, and I came to the following conclusion: for a smaller circle of persons who are capable of thinking independently and not upon command, and are conscientiously studying Marxism, Radek’s work is more dangerous than the official literature – just as opportunism in politics is all the more dangerous the more camouflaged it is and the greater the personal reputation that covers it. Radek is one of my closest political friends. This has been amply witnessed by the events of the latest period. In recent months, however, various comrades have followed with misgivings the evolution of Radek, who has moved all the way over from the extreme Left Wing of the Opposition to its Right Wing. All of us who are Radek’s intimate friends know that his brilliant political and literary gifts, which are combined with an exceptional impulsiveness and impressionability, are qualities which constitute a valuable source of initiative and criticism under conditions of collective work, but which can produce entirely different fruits under conditions of isolation. Radek’s latest work – in connection with a number of his actions preceding it – leads to the opinion that Radek has lost his compass, or that his compass is under the influence of a steady magnetic disturbance. Radek’s work is in no sense an episodic excursion into the past. No, it is an insufficiently thought-out but no less harmful contribution in support of the official course, with all its theoretical mythology.

The above-characterized political function of the present struggle against ‘Trotskyism’ naturally does not in any way signify that within the Opposition, which took shape as the Marxist buttress against the ideological and political reaction, internal criticism is inadmissable, in particular criticism of my old differences of opinion with Lenin. On the contrary such a work of self-clarification could only be fruitful. But here, at all events, a scrupulous preservation of historical perspective, a serious investigation of original sources and an illumination of the past differences in the light of the present struggle, would be absolutely necessary. There is not a trace of all this in Radek. As if unaware of what he is doing, he simply falls into step with the struggle against ‘Trotskyism,’ utilizing not only the one-sidedly selected quotations, but also the utterly false official interpretations of them. Where he seemingly separates himself from the official campaign, he does it in so ambiguous a manner that he really supplies it with the twofold support of an ‘important’ witness. As always happens in a case of ideological backsliding, the latest work of Radek does not contain a single trace of his political perspicacity and his literary skill. It is a work without perspective, without depth, a work solely on the plane of quotations, and precisely for this reason – flat.

Out of what political needs was it born? Out of the differences of opinion that arose between Radek and the overwhelming majority of the Opposition on the questions of the Chinese Revolution. A few objections are heard, it is true, to the effect that the differences of opinion on China are ‘not relevant today’ (Preobrazhensky). But these objections do not merit serious consideration. The whole of Bolshevism grew and definitely took shape in the criticism and the assimilation of the experiences of 1905, in all their freshness, while these experiences were still an immediate experience of the first generation of Bolsheviks. How could it be otherwise? And what other event could the new generation of proletarian revolutionists learn from today if not from the fresh, still uncongealed experiences of the Chinese Revolution, still reeking with blood? Only lifeless pedants are capable of ‘postponing’ the questions of the Chinese Revolution, in order to study them later on at leisure and in ‘tranquillity’. It becomes Bolshevik-Leninists all the less, since the revolutions in the countries of the East have in no sense been removed from the order of the day and their dates are not known to anybody.

Adopting a false position on the problems of the Chinese Revolution, Radek attempts to justify this position retrospectively by a one-sided and distorted presentation of my old differences of opinion with Lenin. And this is where Radek is compelled to borrow weapons from another’s arsenal and to navigate without a compass in another’s channel.

Radek is my friend, but the truth is dearer to me. I am compelled once again to set aside the more extensive work on the problems of revolution in order to refute Radek. Questions have been raised that are far too important to ignore, and they have been raised point-blank. I have a threefold difficulty to overcome here: the multiplicity and variety of errors in Radek’s work; the profusion of literary and historical facts over twenty-three years (1905-28) that refute Radek; and thirdly, the short time that I can devote to this work, for the economic problems of the USSR are pressing to the foreground.

All these circumstances determine the character of the present work. This work does not exhaust the question. There is much that remains unsaid – in part, incidentally, because it is a sequel to other works, primarily the Criticism of the Draft Programme of the Communist International. Mountains of factual material which I have assembled on this question must remain unused – pending the writing of my contemplated book against the epigones, that is, against the official ideology of the era of reaction.

Radek’s work on the permanent revolution rests on the conclusion:

‘The new section of the party (The Opposition) is threatened with the danger of the rise of tendencies which will tear the development of the proletarian revolution away from its ally – the peasantry.’

One is first of all astonished by the fact that this conclusion concerning a ‘new’ section of the party is adduced during the second half of the year 1928 as a new conclusion. We have already heard it reiterated constantly since the autumn of 1923. But how does Radek justify his going-over to the main official thesis? Again, not in a new way: He turns back to the theory of the permanent revolution. In 1924-25, Radek more than once intended to write a pamphlet dedicated to proving the idea that the theory of the permanent revolution and Lenin’s slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, taken on an historical scale – that is, in the light of the experience of our three revolutions – could in no case be counterposed to each other but were, on the contrary, essentially the same. Now, after having thoroughly examined the question ‘anew’ – as he writes to one of his friends – Radek has reached the conclusion that the old theory of the permanent revolution threatens the ‘new’ section of the party with nothing more or less than the danger of a breach with the peasantry.

But how did Radek ‘thoroughly examine’ this question? He gives us some information on this point:

‘We do not have at hand the formulations which Trotsky presented in 1904 in a preface to Marx’s Civil War in France and in 1905 in Our Revolution.’

The years are not correctly stated here, but it is not worthwhile to dwell upon this. The whole point is that the only work in which I presented my views more or less systematically on the development of the revolution is a rather extensive article, Results and Prospects (in Our Revolution, Petersburg 1906, pp.224-86). The article in the Polish organ of Rosa Luxemburg and Tyszko (1909), to which Radek refers, but unfortunately interprets in Kamenev’s way, lays no claim to completeness or comprehensiveness. Theoretically this work is based upon the above-mentioned book Our Revolution. Nobody is obliged to read this book now. Since that time such great events have taken place and we have learned so much from these events that, to tell the truth, I feel an aversion to the epigones’ present manner of considering new historical problems not in the light of the living experience of the revolutions already carried out by us, but mainly in the light of quotations that relate only to our forecasts regarding what were then future revolutions. Naturally, by this I do not want to deprive Radek of the right to take up the question from the historico-literary side also. But in that case, it must be done properly. Radek undertakes to illuminate the fate of the theory of the permanent revolution in the course of almost a quarter of a century, and remarks in passing that he ‘has not at hand’ precisely those documents in which I set down this theory.

I want to point out right here that Lenin, as has become particularly clear to me now in reading his old articles, never read my basic work mentioned above. This is probably to be explained not only by the fact that Our Revolution, which appeared in 1906, was soon confiscated and that all of us shortly went into emigration, but also perhaps by the fact that two-thirds of the book consisted of reprints of old articles. I heard later from many comrades that they had not read this book because they thought it consisted exclusively of reprints of old works. In any case, the few scattered polemical remarks of Lenin against the permanent revolution are based almost exclusively upon the foreword by Parvus to my pamphlet Before the Ninth of January; upon Parvus’s proclamation No Tsar! which remained completely unknown to me; and upon internal disputes of Lenin’s with Bukharin and others. Never did Lenin anywhere analyse or quote, even in passing, Results and Prospects, and certain objections of Lenin to the permanent revolution, which obviously have no reference to me, directly prove that he did not read this work. [3]

It would be rash to suppose, however, that this is just what Lenin’s ‘Leninism’ consists of. But this seems to be Radek’s opinion. In any case, Radek’s article which I have to examine here shows not only that he did ‘not have at hand’ my fundamental works, but also that he had never even read them. If he did, then it was long ago, before the October Revolution. In any case he did not retain much of it in his memory.

But the matter does not end there. It was admissible and even unavoidable in 1905 or 1909 to polemicize with each other over individual articles that were topical then and even over single sentences in isolated articles – especially under the conditions of the split. But today it is impermissible for a revolutionary Marxist, should he want to review retrospectively this tremendous historical period, not to ask himself the question: How were the formulas under discussion applied in practice? How were they interpreted and construed in action? What tactics were applied? Had Radek taken the trouble to glance through merely the two books of Our First Revolution (volume II of my Collected Works), he would not have ventured to write his present work; at all events, he would have struck out a whole series of his sweeping contentions. At least, I should like to hope he would.

From these two books Radek would have learned, in the first place, that in my political activity the permanent revolution in no case signified for me a jumping-over of the democratic stage of the revolution or any of its specific steps. He would have convinced himself that, though I lived in Russia illegally throughout 1905 without any connection with the emigrants, I formulated the tasks of the successive stages of the revolution in exactly the same manner as Lenin; he would have learned that the fundamental appeals to the peasants that were issued by the central press of the Bolsheviks in 1905 were written by me; that the Novaya Zhizn (New Life), edited by Lenin, in an editorial note resolutely defended my article on the permanent revolution which appeared in Nachalo (The Beginning); that Lenin’s Novaya Zhizn, and on occasion Lenin personally, supported and defended invariably those political decisions of the Soviets of Deputies which were written by me and on which I acted as reporter nine times out of ten; that, after the December defeat, I wrote while in prison a pamphlet on tactics in which I pointed out that the combination of the proletarian offensive with the agrarian revolution of the peasants was the central strategical problem; that Lenin had this pamphlet published by the Bolshevik publishing house Novaya Volna (New Wave) and informed me through Knunyants of his hearty approval; that Lenin spoke at the London Congress in 1907 of my ‘solidarity’ with Bolshevism in my views on the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie. None of this exists for Radek; evidently he did not have this ‘at hand’ either.

How does the matter stand with Radek in relation to the works of Lenin? No better, or not much better. Radek confines himself to those quotations which Lenin did direct against me but quite often intended for others (for example, Bukharin and Radek; an open reference to this is found in Radek himself). Radek was unable to adduce a single new quotation against me; he simply made use of the ready-made quotation material that almost every citizen of the USSR has ‘at hand’ nowadays. Radek only added a few quotations in which Lenin elucidated elementary truths to the anarchists and Socialist-Revolutionaries on the difference between a bourgeois republic and socialism – and thereupon Radek depicts matters as if these quotations too had been directed against me. Hardly credible, but it is true!

Radek entirely avoids those old declarations in which Lenin, very cautiously and very sparingly but with all the greater weight, recognized my solidarity with Bolshevism on the basic questions of the revolution. Here it must not be forgotten for an instant that Lenin did this at a time when I did not belong to the Bolshevik faction and when Lenin was attacking me mercilessly (and quite rightly so) for my conciliationism – not for the permanent revolution, where he confined himself to occasional objections, but for my conciliationism, for my readiness to hope for an evolution of the Mensheviks to the left. Lenin was much more concerned with the struggle against conciliationism than with the ‘justice’ of isolated polemical blows against the ‘conciliator’ Trotsky.

In 1924, defending against me Zinoviev’s conduct in October 1917. Stalin wrote:

‘Comrade Trotsky fails to understand Lenin’s letters (on Zinoviev – L.T.), their significance and their purpose. Lenin sometimes deliberately ran ahead, pushing into the forefront mistakes that might possibly be committed, and criticizing them in advance with the object of warning the party and of safeguarding it against mistakes. Sometimes he would even magnify a “trifle” and “make a mountain out of a molehill” for the same pedagogical purpose.... But to infer from such letters of Lenin’s (and he wrote quite a number of such letters) the existence of “tragic” disagreements and to trumpet them forth means not to understand Lenin’s letters, means not to know Lenin.’ (J. Stalin, Trotskyism or Leninism, 1924 [4]).

The idea is here formulated crudely – ‘the style is the man’ – but the essence of the idea is correct, even though it applies least of all to the disputes during the October period, which bore no resemblance to ‘molehills.’ But if Lenin used to resort to ‘pedagogical’ exaggerations and preventive polemics in relation to the closest members of his own faction, then he did so all the more in relation to an individual who was at the time outside the Bolshevik faction and preached conciliationism. It never occurred to Radek to introduce this necessary corrective coefficient into the old quotations.

In the 1922 foreword of my book The Year 1905, I wrote that my forecast of the possibility and probability of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia before it was achieved in the advanced countries was verified in reality 12 years later. Radek, following not very attractive examples, represents matters as though I had counterposed this prognosis to Lenin’s strategical line. From the foreword, however, it can be clearly seen that I dealt with the prognosis of the permanent revolution from the standpoint of those basic features which coincide with the strategic line of Bolshevism. When I speak in a footnote of the ‘rearming’ of the party at the beginning of 1917, then it is certainly not in the sense that Lenin recognized the previous road of the party as ‘erroneous’ but rather that Lenin came to Russia – even though delayed, yet opportunely enough for the success of the revolution – to teach the party to reject the outlived slogan of the ‘democratic dictatorship’ to which the Stalins, Kamenevs, Rykovs, Molotovs and others were still clinging. When the Kamenevs grow indignant at the mention of the ‘rearming,’ this is comprehensible, for it was undertaken against them. But Radek? He first began to grow indignant only in 1928, that is, only after he himself had begun to fight against the necessary ‘rearming’ of the Chinese Communist Party.

Let me remind Radek that my books The Year 1905 (with the criminal foreword) and The October Revolution played the role, while Lenin was alive, of fundamental historical textbooks on both revolutions. At that time, they went through innumerable editions in Russian as well as in foreign languages. Never did anybody tell me that my books contained a counterposing of two lines, because at that time, before the revisionist volte-face by the epigones, no sound-thinking party member subordinated the October experience to old quotations, but instead viewed old quotations in the light of the October Revolution.

In connection with this there is one other subject which Radek misuses in an impermissible manner: Trotsky did acknowledge – he says – that Lenin was right against him. Of course I did. And in this acknowledgment there was not one iota of diplomacy. I had in mind the whole historical road of Lenin, his whole theoretical position, his strategy, his building of the party. This acknowledgment certainly does not, however, apply to every single one of the polemical quotations – which are, moreover, misused today for purposes hostile to Leninism. In 1926, in the period of the bloc with Zinoviev, Radek warned me that Zinoviev needed my declaration that Lenin was right, as against me, in order to screen somewhat the fact that he, Zinoviev, was wrong as against me. Naturally, I understood this very well. And that is why I said at the Seventh Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International that I meant the historical rightness of Lenin and his party, but in no case the rightness of my present critics, who strive to cover themselves with quotations plucked from Lenin. Today I am unfortunately compelled to extend these words to Radek.

With regard to the permanent revolution, I spoke only of the defects of the theory, which were inevitable insofar as it was a question of prediction. At the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI, Bukharin rightly emphasized that Trotsky did not renounce the conception as a whole. On the ‘defects’ I shall speak in another, more extensive work, in which I shall endeavour to present the experiences of the three revolutions and their application to the further course of the Comintern, especially in the East. But in order to leave no room for misunderstandings, I wish to say here briefly: Despite all its defects, the theory of the permanent revolution, even as presented in my earliest works, primarily Results and Prospects (1906), is immeasurably more permeated with the spirit of Marxism and consequently far closer to the historical line of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, than not only the present Stalinist and Bukharinist retrospective wisdom but also the latest work of Radek.

By this I do not at all want to say that my conception of the revolution follows, in all my writings, one and the same unswerving line. I did not occupy myself with collecting old quotations – I am forced to do so now only by the period of party reaction and epigonism – but I tried, for better or for worse, to analyse the real processes of life. In the 12 years (1905-17) of my revolutionary journalistic activity, there are also articles in which the episodic circumstances and even the episodic polemical exaggerations inevitable in struggle protrude into the foreground in violation of the strategic line. Thus, for example, articles can be found in which I expressed doubts about the future revolutionary role of the peasantry as a whole, as an estate, and in connection with this refused to designate, especially during the imperialist war, the future Russian revolution as ‘national,’ for I felt this designation to be ambiguous. But it must not be forgotten here that the historical processes that interest us, including the processes in the peasantry, are far more obvious now that they have been accomplished than they were in those days when they were only developing. Let me also remark that Lenin – who never for a moment lost sight of the peasant question in all its gigantic historical magnitude and from whom we all learned this – considered it uncertain even after the February Revolution whether we should succeed in tearing the peasantry away from the bourgeoisie and drawing it after the proletariat. I will say quite in general to my harsh critics that it is far easier to dig out in one hour the formal contradictions of another person’s newspaper articles over a quarter of a century, than it is to preserve, oneself, if only for a year, unity of fundamental line.

There remains only to mention in these introductory lines one other completely ritualistic consideration: had the theory of the permanent revolution been incorrect – says Radek – Trotsky would have assembled a large faction on that basis. But that did not happen. Therefore it follows ... that the theory was false.

This argument of Radek’s, taken as a general proposition, does not contain a trace of dialectics. One could conclude from it that the standpoint of the Opposition on the Chinese Revolution or the position of Marx on British affairs, was false; that the position of the Comintern with regard to the reformists in America, in Austria and – if you wish – in all countries, is false.

If Radek’s argument is taken not in its general ‘historico-philosophical’ form, but only as applied to the question under discussion, then it hits Radek himself. The argument might have a shade of sense had I been of the opinion or, what is still more important, had events shown, that the line of the permanent revolution contradicts the strategic line of Bolshevism, stands in conflict with it, and diverges from it more and more. Only then would there have been grounds for two factions. But that is just what Radek wants to prove. I show, on the contrary, that in spite of all the factional polemical exaggerations and conjectural accentuations of the question, the basic strategical line was one and the same. Where, then, should a second faction have come from? In reality, it turned out that I worked hand in hand with the Bolsheviks in the first revolution and later defended this joint work in the international press against the Menshevik renegades’ criticism. In the 1917 Revolution I fought together with Lenin against the democratic opportunism of those ‘old Bolsheviks’ who have today been elevated by the reactionary wave and whose sole armament consists of their baiting of the permanent revolution.

Finally, I never endeavoured to create a grouping on the basis of the ideas of the permanent revolution. My inner-party stand was a conciliationist one, and when at certain moments I strove for the formation of groupings, then it was precisely on this basis. My conciliationism flowed from a sort of social-revolutionary fatalism. I believed that the logic of the class struggle would compel both factions to pursue the same revolutionary line. The great historical significance of Lenin’s policy was still unclear to me at that time, his policy of irreconcilable ideological demarcation and, when necessary, split, for the purpose of welding and tempering the core of the truly revolutionary party. In 1911, Lenin wrote on this subject:

‘Conciliationism is the sum total of moods, strivings and views which are indissolubly bound up with the very essence of the historical task set before the Russian Social Democratic Party during the period of the counter-revolution of 1908-11. That is why, during that period, a number of Social Democrats, starting from quite different premises, fell into conciliationism. Trotsky expressed conciliationism more consistently than anyone else. He was probably the only one who attempted to give this tendency a theoretical foundation.’ [5]

By striving for unity at all costs, I involuntarily and unavoidably idealized centrist tendencies in Menshevism. Despite my thrice-repeated episodic attempts, I arrived at no common task with the Mensheviks, and I could not arrive at it. Simultaneously, however, the conciliationist line brought me into still sharper conflict with Bolshevism, since Lenin, in contrast to the Mensheviks, relentlessly rejected conciliationism, and could not but do this. It is obvious that no faction could be created on the platform of conciliationism.

Hence the lesson: It is impermissible and fatal to break or weaken a political line for purposes of vulgar conciliationism; it is impermissible to paint up centrism when it zig-zags to the left; it is impermissible, in the hunt after the will-o’-the-wisps of centrism, to exaggerate and inflate differences of opinion with genuine revolutionary co-thinkers. These are the real lessons of Trotsky’s real mistakes. These lessons are very important. They preserve their full force even today, and it is precisely Radek who should meditate upon them.

With the ideological cynicism characteristic of him, Stalin once said:

‘Trotsky cannot but know that Lenin fought against the theory of the permanent revolution to the end of his life. But that does not worry Trotsky.’ (Pravda, No.262, November 12, 1926 [6])

This is a crude and disloyal, that is, a purely Stalinist caricature of the reality. In one of his communications to foreign Communists, Lenin explained that differences of opinion among Communists are something quite different from differences of opinion with the Social Democrats. Such differences of opinion, he wrote, Bolshevism had also gone through in the past. But ‘... at the moment when it seized power and created the Soviet Republic, Bolshevism proved united and drew to itself all the best of the currents of socialist thought that were nearest to it ...’ (XVI, p.333 [7])

What nearest currents of socialist thought did Lenin have in mind when he wrote these lines? Martynov or Kuusinen? Or Cachin, Thälmann and Smeral? Did they perhaps appear to him as the ‘best of the nearest currents’? What other tendency was nearer to Bolshevism than the one which I represented on all fundamental questions, including the peasant question? Even Rosa Luxemburg shrank back at first from the agrarian policy of the Bolshevik government. For me, however, there was no doubt about this at all. I was together with Lenin at the table when, pencil in hand, he drafted his agrarian law. And our interchange of opinions hardly consisted of more than a dozen brief remarks, the sense of which was about the following: The step is a contradictory one, but historically it is absolutely unavoidable; under the regime of the proletarian dictatorship and on the scale of world revolution, the contradictions will be adjusted – we only need time. If a basic antagonism existed on the peasant question between the theory of the permanent revolution and Lenin’s dialectic how then does Radek explain the fact that without renouncing my basic views on the course of development of the revolution, I did not stumble in the slightest over the peasant question in 1917, as did the majority of the Bolshevik leadership of that time? How does Radek explain the fact that after the February Revolution the present theoreticians and politicians of anti-Trotskyism – Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Rykov, Molotov, etc., etc. – adopted, to the last man, the vulgar-democratic and not the proletarian position? And once again: Of what and of whom could Lenin have spoken when he referred to the merging of Bolshevism and the best elements of the Marxist currents nearest to it? And does not this evaluation in which Lenin drew the balance sheet of the past differences of opinion show that in any case he saw no two irreconcilable strategic lines?

Still more noteworthy in this respect is Lenin’s speech at the November 1 (14), 1917, session of the Petrograd Committee. [8] There the question was discussed, whether to make an agreement with the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The supporters of a coalition endeavoured even there – very timidly, to be sure – to hint at ‘Trotskyism’. What did Lenin reply?

‘Agreement? I cannot even speak seriously about that. Trotsky has long ago said that unity is impossible. Trotsky understood this – and since then there has been no better Bolshevik.’

Not the permanent revolution but conciliationism was what separated me, in Lenin’s opinion, from Bolshevism. In order to become the ‘best Bolshevik’, I only needed, as we see, to understand the impossibility of an agreement with Menshevism.

But how is the abrupt character of Radek’s turn precisely on the question of the permanent revolution to be explained? I believe I have one element of explanation. In 1916, as we learn from his article, Radek was in agreement with ‘permanent revolution’; but his agreement was with Bukharin’s interpretation of it, according to which the bourgeois revolution in Russia had been completed – not only the revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie, and not even only the historical role of the slogan of the democratic dictatorship, but the bourgeois revolution as such – and the proletariat must therefore proceed to the capture of power under a purely socialist banner. Radek manifestly interpreted my position at that time also in the Bukharinist manner; otherwise he could not have declared his solidarity with Bukharin and me at one and the same time. This also explains why Lenin polemized against Bukharin and Radek, with whom he collaborated, having them appear under the pseudonym of Trotsky. (Radek admits this also in his article.) I remember also that M.N. Pokrovsky, a co-thinker of Bukharin’s and a tireless constructor of historical schemas which he very skillfully painted up as Marxism, alarmed me in conversations I had with him in Paris with his dubious ‘solidarity’ on this question. In politics, Pokrovsky was and remains an anti-Cadet, which he honestly believes to constitute Bolshevism.

In 1924-25, Radek apparently still lived upon ideological recollections of the Bukharinist position of 1916, which he continued to identify with mine. Rightly disillusioned with this hopeless position, Radek – on the basis of a fleeting study of Lenin’s writings – as frequently happens in such cases, described an arc of 180 degrees right over my head. This is quite probable, because it is typical. Thus, Bukharin, who in 1923-25 turned himself inside out, that is, transformed himself from an ultra-left into an opportunist, constantly attributes to me his own ideological past, which he palms off as ‘Trotskyism’. In the first period of the campaign against me, when I still forced myself occasionally to read Bukharin’s articles, I would frequently ask myself: Where did he get this from? – but I soon guessed that he had glanced into his diary of yesterday. And now I wonder if the same psychological foundation does not lie at the bottom of Radek’s conversion from a Paul of the permanent revolution into its Saul. I do not presume to insist upon this hypothesis. But I can find no other explanation.

Anyway, as the French saying goes: the wine is drawn, it must be drunk. We are compelled to undertake a lengthy excursion into the realm of old quotations. I have reduced their number as much as was feasible. Yet there are still many of them. Let it serve as my justification, that I strive throughout to find in my enforced rummaging among these old quotations the threads that connect up with the burning questions of the present time.


1. This prediction has in the meantime been fulfilled. – L.T.

2. In 1909 Lenin did indeed quote my Results and Prospects in an article polemicizing against Martov. It would not, however, be difficult to prove that Lenin took over the quotations at second-hand, that is, from Martov himself. This is the only way that certain of his objections directed at me, which are based upon obvious misunderstandings, can be explained.

In 1919, the State Publishing House issued my Results and Prospects as a pamphlet. The annotation to the complete edition of Lenin’s works, to the effect that the theory of the permanent revolution is especially noteworthy ‘now’, after the October Revolution, dates back to approximately the same time. Did Lenin read my Results and Prospects in 1919 or merely glance through it? On this I cannot say anything definite. I was then constantly traveling, came to Moscow only for short stays, and during my meetings with Lenin in that period – at the height of the civil war – factional theoretical reminiscences never entered our minds. But A.A. Joffe did have a conversation with Lenin, just at that time, on the theory of the permanent revolution. Joffe reported this conversation in the farewell letter he wrote me before his death. (See My Life, New York, pp.535, 537. [3]) Can A.A. Joffe’s assertions be construed meaning that Lenin in 1919 became acquainted for the first time with Results and Prospects and recognized the correctness of the historical prognosis contained in it? On this matter I can only express psychological conjectures. The power of conviction of these conjectures depends upon the evaluation of the kernel of the disputed question itself. A.A. Joffe’s words, that Lenin had confirmed my prognosis as correct, must appear incomprehensible to a man who has been raised upon the theoretical margarine of the post-Leninist epoch. On the other hand, whoever reflects upon the evolution of Lenin’s ideas in connection with the development of the revolution itself will understand that Lenin, in 1919 had to make – could not have failed to make – a new evaluation of the theory of the permanent revolution, different from the ones he had pronounced desultorily, in passing, and often manifestly self-contradictory, at various times before the October Revolution, on the basis of isolated quotations, without even once examining my position as a whole.

In order to confirm my prognosis as correct in 1919, Lenin did not need to counterpose my position to his. It sufficed to consider both positions in their historical development. It is not necessary to repeat here that the concrete content which Lenin always gave to his formula of ‘democratic dictatorship’, and which flowed less from a hypothetical formula than from the analysis of the actual changes in class relationships – that this tactical and organizational content has passed once and for all into the inventory of history as a classic model of revolutionary realism. In almost all the cases, at any rate in all the most important cases, where I placed myself in contradiction to Lenin tactically or organizationally, right was on his side. That is just why it did not interest me to come forward in favour of my old historical prognosis, so long as it might appear that it was only a matter of historical reminiscences. I found myself compelled to return to this question only at the moment when the epigones criticism of the theory of the permanent revolution not only began to nurture theoretical reaction in the whole International, but also became converted into a means of direct sabotage of the Chinese Revolution. – L.T.

3. London edition, pp.456, 458.

4. Stalin, Works, English edition, VI, 355.

5. The New Faction of Conciliators or the Virtuous, 4th edition, XVI, 227; Selected Works, English edition, IV, 93.

6. Stalin, Works, English edition, VIII, 350.

7. Greetings to the Italian, French and German Communists, 4th edition, XXX, 37.

8. As is known, the voluminous minutes of this historic session were torn out of the Jubilee Book by special command of Stalin and to this day are kept concealed from the party. – L.T.

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