Leon Trotsky

The Permanent Revolution

2. The Permanent Revolution is Not a ‘Leap’
by the Proletariat,
but the Reconstruction of the Nation
under the Leadership of the Proletariat

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

Radek writes:

‘The essential feature that distinguishes the train of thought which is called the theory and tactic (observe: tactic, too. – L.T.) of the “permanent revolution” from Lenin’s theory lies in mixing up the stage of the bourgeois revolution with the stage of the socialist revolution.’

Connected with this fundamental accusation, or resulting from it, there are other no less serious accusations: Trotsky did not understand that ‘under Russian conditions, a socialist revolution which does not grow out of the democratic revolution is impossible’; and from this followed ‘skipping the stage of the democratic dictatorship’. Trotsky ‘denied’ the role of the peasantry, which is where ‘the community of views of Trotsky and the Mensheviks’ lay. As already said, all this is intended to prove, by means of circumstantial evidence, the incorrectness of my position on the fundamental questions of the Chinese Revolution.

To be sure, so far as the formal literary side is concerned, Radek can refer here and there to Lenin. And he does that; everybody has ‘at hand’ this section of the quotations. But as I shall presently demonstrate, these contentions of Lenin in regard to me had a purely episodic character and were incorrect, that is, in no sense did they characterize what my real position was, even in 1905. In Lenin’s own writings there are quite different, directly contrary and far better grounded remarks on my attitude on the basic questions of the revolution. Radek did not even make the attempt to unite the various and directly contradictory remarks of Lenin, and to elucidate these polemical contradictions by a comparison with my actual views. [1]

In 1906, Lenin published, with his own foreword, an article by Kautsky on the driving forces of the Russian Revolution. Without knowing anything about this, I also translated Kautsky’s article in prison, provided it with a foreword and included it in my book In Defence of the Party. Both Lenin and I expressed our thorough accord with Kautsky’s analysis. To Plekhanov’s question: Is our revolution bourgeois or socialist? Kautsky had answered that it is no longer bourgeois, but not yet socialist, that is, it represents the transitional form from the one to the other. In this connection, Lenin wrote in his foreword:

‘Is our revolution bourgeois or socialist in its general character? That is the old schema, says Kautsky. That is not how the question should be put, that is not the Marxist way. The revolution in Russia is not bourgeois, for the bourgeoisie is not one of the driving forces of the present revolutionary movement in Russia. But neither is the revolution in Russia socialist.’ [2]

Yet not a few passages can be found in Lenin, written both before and after this foreword, where he categorically calls the Russian Revolution bourgeois. Is this a contradiction? If Lenin is approached with the methods of the present critics of ‘Trotskyism’, then dozens and hundreds of such contradictions can be found without difficulty, which are clarified for the serious and conscientious reader by the difference in the approach to the question at different times, which in no way violates the fundamental unity of Lenin’s conception.

On the other hand, I never denied the bourgeois character of the revolution in the sense of its immediate historical tasks, but only in the sense of its driving forces and its perspectives. My fundamental work of those days (1905-06) on the permanent revolution begins with the following sentences:

‘The Russian Revolution came unexpectedly to everybody but the Social Democrats. Marxism long ago predicted the inevitability of the Russian Revolution, which was bound to break out as a result of the conflict between capitalist development and the forces of ossified absolutism ... In calling it a bourgeois revolution, Marxism thereby pointed out that the immediate objective tasks of the revolution consisted in the creation of “normal conditions for the development of bourgeois society as a whole”. Marxism has proved to be right, and this is now past the need for discussion or proof. The Marxists are now confronted by a task of quite another kind: to discover the “possibilities” of the developing revolution by means of an analysis of its internal mechanism ... The Russian Revolution has a quite peculiar character, which is the result of the peculiar trend of our whole social and historical development, and which in its turn opens before us quite new historical prospects.’ (Our Revolution, 1906, article Results and Prospects, p.224 [3])

‘The general sociological term bourgeois revolution by no means solves the politico-tactical problems, contradictions and difficulties which the mechanics of a given bourgeois revolution throw up.’ (Ibid., p.249 [4]

Thus I did not deny the bourgeois character of the revolution that stood on the order of the day, and I did not mix up democracy and socialism. But I endeavoured to show that in our country the class dialectics of the bourgeois revolution would bring the proletariat to power and that without its dictatorship not even democratic tasks could be solved.

In the same article (1905-06) I wrote:

‘The proletariat grows and becomes stronger with the growth of capitalism. In this sense, the development of capitalism is also the development of the proletariat toward dictatorship. But the day and the hour when power will pass into the hands of the working class depends directly not upon the level attained by the productive forces but upon the relations in the class struggle, upon the international situation and finally, upon a number of subjective factors: the traditions, the initiative, readiness to fight of the workers.

‘It is possible for the workers to come to power in an economically backward country sooner than in an advanced country ... To imagine that the dictatorship of the proletariat is in some way dependent upon the technical development and resources of a country is a prejudice of “economic” materialism simplified to absurdity. This point of view has nothing in common with Marxism.

‘In our view, the Russian Revolution will create conditions in which power can pass into the hands of the workers – and in the event of the victory of the revolution it must do so – before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get the chance to display to the full their ability to govern.’ [5]

These lines contain a polemic against the vulgar ‘Marxism’ which not only prevailed in 1905-06, but also set the tone of the March 1917 conference of the Bolsheviks before Lenin’s arrival, and found its crassest expression in Rykov’s speech at the April conference. At the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, this pseudo-Marxism, that is, philistine ‘common sense’ debauched by scholasticism, constituted the ‘scientific’ basis of the speeches of Kuusinen and many, many others. And this, ten years after the October Revolution!

Since I have not the possibility of setting out here the whole train of thought of Results and Prospects, I should like to adduce one more summary quotation from my article in Nachalo (1905):

‘Our liberal bourgeoisie comes forward as a counter-revolutionary force even before the revolutionary climax. At each critical moment, our intellectual democrats only demonstrate their impotence. The peasantry as a whole represents an elemental force in rebellion. It can be put at the service of the revolution only by a force that takes state power into its hands. The vanguard position of the working class in the revolution, the direct connection established between it and the revolutionary countryside, the attraction by which it brings the army under its influence – all this impels it inevitably to power. The complete victory of the revolution means the victory of the proletariat. This in turn means the further uninterrupted character of the revolution.’ (Our Revolution, p.172)

The prospect of the dictatorship of the proletariat consequently grows here precisely out of the bourgeois-democratic revolution – in contradiction to all that Radek writes. That is just why the revolution is called permanent (uninterrupted). But the dictatorship of the proletariat does not come after the completion of the democratic revolution, as Radek would have it. If that were the case it would simply be impossible in Russia, for in a backward country the numerically weak proletariat could not attain power if the tasks of the peasantry had been solved during the preceding stage. No, the dictatorship of the proletariat appeared probable and even inevitable on the basis of the bourgeois revolution precisely because there was no other power and no other way to solve the tasks of the agrarian revolution. But exactly this opens up the prospect of a democratic revolution growing over into the socialist revolution.

‘The very fact of the proletariat’s representatives entering the government, not as powerless hostages, but as the leading force, destroys the border line between maximum and minimum programme; that is to say, it places collectivism on the order of the day. The point at which the proletariat will be held up in its advance in this direction depends upon the relation of forces, but in no way upon the original intentions of the proletarian party.

‘For this reason there can be no talk of any sort of special form of proletarian dictatorship in the bourgeois revolution, of democratic proletarian dictatorship (or dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry). The working class cannot preserve the democratic character of its dictatorship without overstepping the limits of its democratic programme ...

‘The proletariat, once having taken power, will fight for it to the very end. While one of the weapons in this struggle for the maintenance and the consolidation of power will be agitation and organization, especially in the countryside, another will be a policy of collectivism. Collectivism will become not only the inevitable way forward from the position in which the party in power will find itself, but will also be a means of preserving this position with the support of the proletariat.’ (Results and Prospects, p.258 [6])

Let us go further:

‘We know a classic example (I wrote in 1908 against the Menshevik Cherevanin) of a revolution in which the conditions for the rule of the capitalist bourgeoisie were prepared by the terrorist dictatorship of the victorious sans-culottes. That was in an epoch when the bulk of the urban population was composed of petty-bourgeoisie of the artisan and tradesman type. It followed the leadership of the Jacobins. The bulk of the urban population in Russia is composed today of the industrial proletariat. This analogy alone points to the possibility of a historical situation in which the victory of the “bourgeois” revolution will prove possible only through the conquest of revolutionary power by the proletariat. Does the revolution thereby cease to be bourgeois? Yes and no. This does not depend upon the formal designation but upon the further development of events. If the proletariat is overthrown by a coalition of bourgeois classes, among them also the peasantry it has liberated, then the revolution will retain its limited bourgeois character. Should the proletariat, however, prove able and find it possible to set in motion all the means of its political rule in order to break through the national framework of the Russian revolution, then the latter can become the prologue to the world socialist cataclysm. The question: what stage will the Russian Revolution attain? permits naturally only a conditional reply. Only one thing is absolutely and indubitably correct: the mere characterization of the Russian revolution as bourgeois tells us nothing about the type of its internal development and in no case signifies that the proletariat must adapt its tactics to the conduct of bourgeois democracy as the sole legal claimant to state power.’ (L. Trotsky, The Year 1905, p.263)

From the same article:

‘Our revolution, which is a bourgeois revolution with regard to the immediate tasks it grew out of, knows, as a consequence of the extreme class differentiation of the industrial population, of no bourgeois class capable of placing itself at the head of the popular masses by combining its own social weight and political experience with their revolutionary energy. The oppressed worker and peasant masses, left to their own resources, must take it upon themselves to create, in the hard school of implacable conflicts and cruel defeats, the necessary political and organizational preconditions for their triumph. No other road is open to them.’ (Ibid., pp.257-268)

One more quotation from Results and Prospects must be adduced on the most violently assailed point – on the peasantry. In a special chapter, The Proletariat in Power and the Peasantry’, the following is said:

‘The proletariat, in order to consolidate its power, cannot but widen the base of the revolution. Many sections of the working masses, particularly in the countryside, will be drawn into the revolution and become politically organized only after the advance-guard of the revolution, the urban proletariat, stands at the helm of state. Revolutionary agitation and organization will then be conducted with the help of state resources. The legislative power itself will become a powerful instrument for revolutionizing the masses ...

‘The fate of the most elementary revolutionary interests of the peasantry – even the peasantry as a whole, as an estate, is bound up with the fate of the revolution, i.e., with the fate of the proletariat.

’The proletariat in power will stand before tire peasantry as the class which has emancipated it. The domination of the proletariat will mean not only democratic equality, free self-government, the transference of the whole burden of taxation to the rich classes, the dissolution of the standing army in the armed people, and the abolition of compulsory church imposts, but also recognition of all revolutionary changes (expropriations) in land relationships carried out by the peasants. The proletariat will make these changes the starting point for further state measures in agriculture. Under such conditions, the Russian peasantry in the first and most difficult period of the revolution, will be interested in the maintenance of a proletarian regime ("workers’ democracy") at all events not less than was the French peasantry in the maintenance of the military regime of Napoleon Bonaparte, which guaranteed to the new property owners, by the force of its bayonets, the inviolability of their holdings ...

‘But is it not possible that the peasantry may push the proletariat aside and take its place? This is impossible. All historical experience protests against this assumption. Historical experience shows that the peasantry are absolutely incapable of taking up an independent political role.’ (Ibid., p.251 [7])

All this was written not in 1929, nor yet in 1924, but in 1905. Does this look like ‘ignoring the peasantry’, I should like to know? Where is the ‘jumping over’ of the agrarian question here? Is it not time, friends, to be somewhat more scrupulous?

Now let us see how ‘scrupulous’ Stalin is on this question. Referring to my New York articles on the February 1917 Revolution, which agree in every essential with Lenin’s Geneva articles, this theoretician of party reaction writes:

‘... Trotsky’s letters “do not in the least resemble” Lenin’s letters either in spirit or in conclusions, for they wholly and entirely reflect Trotsky’s anti-Bolshevik slogan of “no Tsar, but a workers’ government”, a slogan which implies a revolution without the peasantry.’ (Speech to the Party fraction in the All-Union Central Committee of the Trade Unions, November 19, 1924.)

Remarkable is the sound of these words on the ‘anti-Bolshevik slogan’ (allegedly Trotsky’s): ‘No Tsar – but a workers’ government.’ According to Stalin, the Bolshevik slogan should have read: ‘No workers’ government, but a Tsar.’ We will speak later of this alleged ‘slogan’ of Trotsky’s. But first let us hear from another would-be master of contemporary thought, less illiterate perhaps, but one who has taken leave forever of any theoretical scruples – I speak of Lunacharsky:

‘In 1905, Lev Davidovich Trotsky inclined to the idea: the proletariat must remain isolated (!) and must not support the bourgeoisie, for that would be opportunism; for the proletariat alone, however, it would be very difficult to carry through the revolution, because the proletariat at that time amounted to only seven to eight per cent of the total population and victory could not be won with so small a cadre. Thus, Lev Davidovich decided that the proletariat must maintain a permanent revolution in Russia that is, fight for the greatest possible results until the fiery sparks of this conflagration should blow up the entire world powder-magazine.’ (Vlast Sovyetov [The Power of the Soviets], No.7, 1927, On the Characterisation of the October Revolution, by A. Lunacharsky, p.10)

The proletariat ‘must remain isolated’ until the fiery sparks blow up the powder magazines ... How well many People’s Commissars write who are for the moment not yet ‘isolated’ in spite of the threatened position of their own little heads. [8] But we do not want to be too hard on Lunacharsky; from each according to his abilities. In the last analysis, his slovenly absurdities are no more senseless than those of many others.

But how, according to Trotsky, must ‘the proletariat remain isolated’? Let us adduce one quotation from my pamphlet against Struve (1906). At that time, by the way, Lunarcharsky praised this work immoderately. In the chapter that deals with the Soviet of Deputies, it is stated that while the bourgeois parties ‘remained completely on the sidelines’, away from the awakening masses, ‘political life became concentrated around the workers’ Soviet. The attitude of the petty-bourgeois city masses toward the Soviet (in 1905) was manifestly sympathetic, even if not very conscious. All the oppressed and aggrieved sought its protection. The popularity of the Soviet spread far beyond the confines of the city. It received “petitions” from peasants who suffered injustices, peasants’ resolutions poured into the Soviet, delegations from village communities came to it. Here, right here, is where were concentrated the thoughts and sympathies of the nation, of the real and not the falsified democratic nations’.

In all these quotations – their number can easily be increased two-, three-, and tenfold – the permanent revolution is described as a revolution which welds together the oppressed masses of town and country around the proletariat organized in soviets; as a national revolution that raises the proletariat to power and thereby opens up the possibility of a democratic revolution growing over into the socialist revolution.

The permanent revolution is no isolated leap of the proletariat; rather it is the rebuilding of the whole nation under the leadership of the proletariat. That is how I conceived and interpreted the prospect of the permanent revolution, beginning with 1905.

Radek is also wrong with regard to Parvus [9] – whose views on the Russian Revolution in 1905 bordered closely on mine, without however being identical with them – when he repeats the stereotyped phrase about Parvus’s ‘leap’ from a Tsarist Government to a Social Democratic one. Radek actually refutes himself when, in another part of his article, he indicates, in passing but quite correctly, wherein my views on the revolution actually differed from those of Parvus. Parvus was not of the opinion that a workers’ Government in Russia could move in the direction of the socialist revolution, that is, that in the process of fulfilling the democratic tasks it could grow over into the socialist dictatorship. As is proved by the 1905 quotation adduced by Radek himself, Parvus confined the tasks of the workers’ government to the democratic tasks. Then where, in that case, is the leap to socialism? What Parvus had in mind even at that time was the establishment of a workers’ regime after the ‘Australian’ model, as a consequence of the revolution. Parvus also juxtaposed Russia and Australia after the October Revolution, by which time he himself had already long since taken his stand at the extreme right of social reformism. Bukharin asserted in this connection that Parvus had ‘thought up’ Australia after the fact, in order to cover up his old aims with regard to the permanent revolution. But that is not so. In 1905, too, Parvus saw in the conquest of power by the proletariat the road to democracy and not to socialism, that is, he assigned to the proletariat only that role which it actually played in Russia in the first eight to ten months of the October Revolution. In further perspective, Parvus even then pointed to the Australian democracy of that time, that is, to a regime in which the workers’ party does indeed govern but does not rule, and carries out its reformist demands only as a supplement to the programme of the bourgeoisie. By an irony of fate the fundamental tendency of the Right-Centrist bloc of 1923-28 consisted precisely in drawing the dictatorship of the proletariat closer to a workers’ democracy of the Australian model, that is, in drawing closer to the prognosis of Parvus. This becomes all the clearer when it is recalled that the Russian petty-bourgeois ‘socialists’ of two or three decades ago continually depicted Australia in the Russian press as a workers’ and peasants’ country which, shut off from the outer world by high tariffs, was developing ‘socialist’ legislation and in that way was building socialism in one country. Radek would have acted correctly had he pushed this side of the question to the foreground instead of repeating fairy tales about my fantastic leap over democracy.


1. I recollect that when Bukharin at the Eighth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International cited the same quotations, I called to him: ‘But there are also directly contrary quotations in Lenin.’ After a brief moment of perplexity, Bukharin retorted: ‘I know that, I know that, but I am taking what I need, not what you need.’ There is the presence of mind of this theoretician for you! – L.T.

2. Preface to Kautsky’s pamphlet The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution, Dec. 1906; 4th edition, XI, 372.

3. See Results and Prospects, [Introduction].

4. See Results and Prospects, Revolution and the Proletariat.

5. See Results and Prospects, Revolution and the Proletariat.

6. See Results and Prospects, The Proletarian Regime.

7. See Results and Prospects, The Proletariat in Power and the Peasantry.

8. The russian word rendered in the preceding passage as ‘sparks’ also means ‘little heads’.

9. It should be remembered that at that time Parvus stood at the extreme left of international Marxism. – L.T.

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Last updated on: 14.4.2007