Leon Trotsky

The Permanent Revolution

4. What Did the Theory of the Permanent
Revolution Look Like in Practice?

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

In his criticism of our theory, Radek adds to it, as we have seen, also the ‘tactic derived from it’. This is a very important addition. The official Stalinist criticism of ‘Trotskyism’ on this question prudently limited itself to theory ... For Radek, however, this does not suffice. He is conducting a struggle against a definite (Bolshevik) tactical line in China. He seeks to discredit this line by the theory of the permanent revolution, and to do this he must show, or pretend that somebody else has already shown, that a false tactical line has in the past flowed from this theory. Here Radek is directly misleading his readers. It is possible that he himself in unfamiliar with the history of the revolution, in which he never took a direct part. But apparently he has not made the slightest effort to examine the question through documents. Yet the most important of these are contained in the second volume of my Collected Works. They can be checked by anyone who can read. And so, let me inform Radek that virtually throughout all the stages of the first revolution I was in complete solidarity with Lenin in evaluating the forces of the revolution and its successive tasks, in spite of the fact that I spent the whole of 1905 living illegally in Russia, and 1906 in prison. I am compelled to confine myself here to a minimum of proofs and documentation.

In an article written in February and printed in March, 1905, that is, two or three months before the first Bolshevik Congress (which is recorded in history as the Third Party Congress), I wrote:

‘The bitter struggle between the people and the Tsar, which knows no other thought than victory; the all-national insurrection as the culminating point of this struggle; the provisional government as the revolutionary culmination of the victory of the people over their age-old foe; the disarming of the Tsarist reaction and the arming of the people by the provisional government; the convocation of the constituent assembly on the basis of universal, I equal, direct and secret suffrage – these are the objectively indicated stages of the revolution.’ (Collected Works, Volume II, Part I.)

It is enough to compare these words with the resolutions of the Bolshevik Congress of May, 1905, in order to recognize in the formulation my complete solidarity with the Bolsheviks on the fundamental problems.

Nor is this all. In harmony with this article, I formulated in Petersburg, in agreement with Krassin, the theses on the provisional government which appeared illegally at that time. Krassin defended them at the Bolshevik Congress. The following words of Lenin show how much he approved of them:

‘I share entirely the views of Comrade Krassin. It is natural that, as a writer, I gave attention to the literary formulation of the question.The importance of the aim of the struggle has been shown very correctly by Comrade Krassin, and I am with him completely. One cannot engage in struggle without reckoning on capturing the position for which one is fighting ...’ (VI, p.180 [1])

The major part of Krassin’s extensive amendment, to which I refer the reader, was embodied in the Congress resolution. That I was the author of this amendment is proved by a note from Krassin, which I still possess. This whole episode in the history of the Party is well known to Kamenev and others.

The problem of the peasantry, the problem of drawing the peasantry close to the workers’ soviets, of co-ordinating work with the Peasants’ League, engaged the attention of the Petersburg Soviet more and more every day. Is Radek perhaps aware that the leadership of the Soviet devolved upon me? Here is one of the hundreds of formulations I wrote at that time on the tactical tasks of the revolution:

‘The proletariat creates city-wide “soviets” which direct the fighting actions of the urban masses, and puts upon the order of the day the fighting alliance with the army and the peasantry.’ (Nachalo, No.4, November 17 [new style, November 30], 1905.)

It is boring, and even embarrassing, let me confess, to cite quotations proving that I never even talked of a ‘leap’ from autocracy into Socialism. But it can’t be helped. I wrote the following, for example, in February, 1906, on the tasks of the Constituent Assembly, without in any way counterposing the latter to the soviets, as Radek, following Stalin, now hastens to do in regard to China in order to sweep away with an ultra-leftist broom all traces of yesterday’s opportunist policy:

‘The liberated people will convoke the Constituent Assembly by its own power. The tasks of the Constituent Assembly will be gigantic. It will have to reconstruct the State upon democratic principles, that is, upon the principles of the absolute sovereignty of the people. Its duty will be to organize a people’s militia, carry through a vast agrarian (land) reform, and introduce the eight-hour day and a graduated income tax. (Collected Works, Volume II, Part I, p.349)

And here is what I wrote, in 1905, in an agitational leaflet, specifically on the question of the ‘immediate’ introduction of socialism:

‘Is it thinkable to introduce socialism in Russia immediately? No, our countryside is far too benighted and unconscious. There are still too few real socialists among the peasants. We must first overthrow the autocracy, which keeps the masses of the people in darkness. The rural poor must be freed of all taxation; the graduated progressive income tax, universal compulsory education, must be introduced; finally, the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat must be fused with the town proletariat into a single social democratic army. Only this army can accomplish the great socialist revolution.’ (Collected Works, Volume II, Part 1.)

It therefore follows that I did differentiate somewhat between the democratic and socialist stages of the revolution, long before Radek, tailing after Stalin and Thaelmann, began lecturing me on this subject. Twenty-two years ago, I wrote:

‘When the idea of uninterrupted revolution was formulated in the socialist press – an idea which connected the liquidation of absolutism and feudalism with a socialist revolution, along with growing social conflicts, uprisings of new sections of the masses, unceasing attacks by the proletariat upon economic and political privileges of the ruling classes – our “progressive” press raised a unanimous howl of indignation.’ (Our Revolution, 1906 [2])

First of all, I should like to call attention to the definition of the uninterrupted revolution contained in these words: it connects the liquidation of medievalism with the socialist revolution through a number of sharpening social clashes. Where then is the leap? Where is the ignoring of the democratic stage? And after all, isn’t this what actually happened in 1917?

It is noteworthy, by the way, that the howl raised by the ‘progressive’ press in 1905 over the uninterrupted revolution can in no wise be compared with the hardly progressive howling of the present-day hacks who have intervened in the affair after a brief delay of a quarter of a century.

What was the attitude of the then leading organ of the Bolshevik faction, Novaya Zhizn, published under the vigilant editorship of Lenin, when I raised the question of the permanent revolution in the press? Surely, this point is not devoid of interest. To an article of the ‘radical’ bourgeois newspaper Nasha Zhizn (Our Life), which endeavoured to set up the ‘more rational’ views of Lenin against the ‘permanent revolution’ of Trotsky, the Bolshevik Novaya Zhizn replied (on November 27, 1905) as follows:

‘This gratuitous assumption is of course sheer nonsense. Comrade Trotsky said that the proletarian revolution can, without halting at the first stage, continue on its road, elbowing the exploiters aside; Lenin, on the other hand, pointed out that the political revolution is only the first step. The publicist of Nasha Zhizn would like to see a contradiction here ... The whole misunderstanding comes, first, from the fear with which the name alone of the social revolution fills Nasha Zhizn; secondly, out of the desire of this paper to discover some sort of sharp and piquant difference of opinion among the Social Democrats; and thirdly, in the figure of speech used by Comrade Trotsky: “at a single blow.” In No.10 of Nachalo, Comrade Trotsky explains his idea quite unambiguously:

‘“The complete victory of the revolution signifies the victory of the proletariat”, writes Comrade Trotsky. “But this victory in turn implies the uninterruptedness of the revolution in the future. The proletariat realizes in life the fundamental democratic tasks, and the very logic of its immediate struggle to consolidate its political rule poses before the proletariat, at a certain moment, purely socialist problems. Between the minimum and the maximum programme (of the Social Democrats) a revolutionary continuity is established. It is not a question of a single ‘blow’, or of a single day or month, but of a whole historical epoch. It would be absurd to try to fix its duration in advance.”’

This one reference in a way exhausts the subject of the present pamphlet. What refutation of the entire subsequent criticism by the epigones could be more clear, precise and incontrovertible than this refutation contained in my newspaper article so approvingly quoted by Lenin’s Novaya Zhizn? My article explained that the victorious proletariat, in the process of carrying out the democratic tasks, would by the logic of its position inevitably be confronted at a certain stage by purely socialist problems. That is just where the continuity lies between the minimum and the maximum programmes, which grows inevitably out of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is not a single blow, it is not a leap – I explained to my critics in the camp of the petty bourgeoisie of that time – it is a whole historical epoch. And Lenin’s Novaya Zhizn associated itself completely with this prospect. Even more important, I hope, is the fact that it was verified by the actual course of development and in 1917 was decisively confirmed as correct.

Apart from the petty-bourgeois democrats of Nasha Zhizn, it was mainly the Mensheviks who in 1905, and particularly in 1906 after the defeat of the revolution had begun, spoke of the fantastic ‘leap’ over democracy to socialism. Among the Mensheviks it was especially Martynov and the late Yordansky who distinguished themselves in this held. Both of them, be it said in passing later became stalwart Stalinists. To the Menshevik writers who sought to hang the ‘leap to socialism’ on me, I expounded, in a special article written in 1906, in detail and in popular style, not only the error but also the stupidity of such a contention. I could reprint this article today, almost unabridged, against the criticism of the epigones. But it will perhaps suffice to say that the conclusion of this article was summed up in the following words:

‘I understand perfectly – let me assure my reviewer (Yordansky) – that to leap, in a newspaper article, over a political obstacle is far from the same as surmounting it in practice.’ (Collected Works, Volume II, Part 1, p.454.)

Perhaps this will suffice? If not, I can continue, so that critics like Radek will not be able to say that they did not have ‘at hand’ the material on which they pass judgment so cavalierly.

Our Tactics, a small pamphlet which I wrote in prison in 1906, and which was immediately published by Lenin, contains the following characteristic conclusion:

‘The proletariat will be able to support itself upon the uprising of the village, and in the towns, the centres of political life, it will be able to carry through to a victorious conclusion the cause which it has been able to initiate. Supporting itself upon the elemental forces of the peasantry, and leading the latter, the proletariat will not only deal reaction the final triumphant blow, but it will also know how to secure the victory of the revolution.’ (Collected Works, Volume II, Part 1, p.448)

Does this smack of ignoring the peasantry? In the same pamphlet, by the way, the following idea also is developed:

‘Our tactics, calculated upon the irresistible development of the revolution, must not of course ignore the inevitable or the possible or even only the probable phases and stages of the revolutionary movement.’ (Collected Works, Volume II, Part 1, p.436)

Does this look like a fantastic leap?

In my article, The Lessons of the First Soviet (1906), I depict the prospects for the further development of the revolution (or, as it turned out in reality, for the new revolution) in the following manner:

‘History does not repeat itself – and the new Soviet will not have once more to go through the events of the fifty days (October to December 1905); instead, it will be able to borrow its programme of action completely from this period. This programme is perfectly clear. Revolutionary co-operation with the army, the peasantry, and the lowest plebeian strata of the urban petty bourgeoisie. Abolition of the autocracy. Destruction of its material organization: in part through reorganization and in part through the immediate dissolution of the army; destruction of the bureaucratic police apparatus. Eight-hour day. Arming of the population, above all of the proletariat. Transformation of the soviets into organs of revolutionary urban self-administration. Creation of soviets of peasants’ deputies (peasant committees) as organs of the agrarian revolution in the localities. Organization of elections to the Constituent Assembly, and electoral struggle on the basis of a definite programme of action for the people’s representatives.’ (Collected Works, Volume II Part 2, p.206)

Does this look like skipping over the agrarian revolution, or underestimation of the peasant question as a whole? Does this look as though I was blind to the democratic tasks of the revolution? No, it does not. But what then does the political picture drawn by Radek look like? Nothing at all.

Magnanimously, but very ambiguously, Radek draws a line between my 1905 position, which he distorts, and the position of the Mensheviks, without suspecting that he is himself repeating three-fourths of the Menshevik criticism; even though Trotsky, to be sure, employed the same methods as the Mensheviks, Radek explains jesuitically, his aim was nevertheless different. By this subjective formula, Radek completely discredits his own approach to the question. Even Lassalle knew that the end depends upon the means and in the final analysis is conditioned by it. He even wrote a play on this subject (Franz Von Sickingen). But what is it that renders my means and that of the Mensheviks one and the same? The attitude towards the peasantry. As evidence, Radek adduces three polemical lines from the above-cited 1916 article by Lenin, observing in passing, however, that here Lenin, although he names Trotsky, was in reality polemicizing against Bukharin and against Radek himself. Besides this quotation from Lenin which, as we have already seen, is refuted by the whole content of Lenin’s article, Radek makes reference to Trotsky himself. Exposing the emptiness Of the Menshevik conception, I asked in my 1916 article: If it is not the liberal bourgeoisie that will lead, then who will? After all, you Mensheviks do not in any case believe in the independent political role of the peasantry. So then, Radek has caught me red-handed: Trotsky ‘agreed’ with the Mensheviks about the role of the peasantry. The Mensheviks held it impermissible to ‘repulse’ the liberal bourgeoisie for the sake of a dubious and unreliable alliance with the peasantry. This was the ‘method’ of the Mensheviks; while mine consisted of brushing aside the liberal bourgeoisie and fighting for the leadership of the revolutionary peasantry. On this fundamental question I had no differences with Lenin. And when I said to the Mensheviks in the course of the struggle against them: ‘You are in any case not inclined to assign a leading role to the peasantry, then this was not an agreement with the method of the Mensheviks as Radek tries to insinuate, but only the clear posing of an alternative: either the dictatorship of the liberal plutocracy or the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The same completely correct argument put forward by me in 1916 against the Mensheviks, which Radek now disloyally tries to utilize against me also, had been used by me nine years earlier, at the London Congress of 1907, when I defended the theses of the Bolsheviks on the attitude toward non-proletarian parties. I quote here the essential part of my London speech which, in the first years of the revolution, was often reprinted in anthologies and textbooks as the expression of the Bolshevik attitude toward classes and parties in the revolution. Here is what I said in this speech, which contains a succinct formulation of the theory of the permanent revolution.

‘To the Menshevik comrades, their own views appear extremely complex. I have repeatedly heard accusations from them that my conception of the course of the Russian revolution is oversimplified. And yet, despite their extreme amorphousness, which is one of the forms of complexity, – and perhaps just because of this amorphousness – the views of the Mensheviks fall into a very simple pattern comprehensible even to Mr. Milyukov.

‘In a postscript to the recent published book, How Did the Elections to the Second State Duma Turn Out? the ideological leader of the Cadet Party writes: “As to the left groups in the narrower sense of the word, that is, the socialist and revolutionary groups, an agreement with them will be more difficult. But even here again, there are, if no definite positive reasons, then at least some very weighty negative ones which can to a certain extent facilitate an agreement between us. Their aim is to criticize and to discredit us; for that reason alone it is necessary that we be present and act. As we know, to the socialists, not only in Russia but throughout the world, the revolution now taking place is a bourgeois and not a socialist revolution. It is a revolution which is to be accomplished by bourgeois democracy. To supersede this democracy ... is something no socialists in the whole world are ready to do, and if the country has sent them into the Duma in such great numbers, then it was certainly not for the purpose of realizing socialism now or in order to carry through the preparatory ‘bourgeois’ reforms with their own hands ... It will be far more advantageous for them to leave the role of parliamentarians to us than to compromise themselves in this role.”

‘As we see, Milyukov brings us straight to the heart of the question. The quotation cited gives all the most important elements of the Menshevik attitude toward the revolution and the relationship between bourgeois and socialist democracy.

‘“The revolution that is taking place is a bourgeois and not a socialist revolution” – that’s the first and most important point. The bourgeois revolution “must be accomplished by the bourgeois democracy” – that’s the second point. The socialist democracy cannot carry through bourgeois reforms with its own hands, its role remains purely oppositional: “Criticize and discredit.” This is the third point. And finally – as the fourth point – in order to enable the socialists to remain in the opposition, “it is necessary that we (that is, the bourgeois democracy) be present and act.”

‘But what if “we” are not present? And what if there is no bourgeois democracy capable of marching at the head of the bourgeois revolution? Then it must be invented. This is just the conclusion to which Menshevism arrives. It produces bourgeois democracy, its attributes and history, out of its own imagination.

‘As materialists, we must first of all pose the question of the social bases of bourgeois democracy: upon what strata or classes can it rest?

‘As a revolutionary force the big bourgeoisie can be dismissed – we all agree on this. Even at the time of the Great French Revolution, which was a national revolution in the broadest sense, certain Lyons industrialists played a counter-revolutionary role. But we are told of the middle bourgeoisie, and also and primarily of the petty bourgeoisie, as being the leading force of the bourgeois revolution. But what does this petty bourgeoisie represent?

‘The Jacobins based themselves upon the urban democracy, which had grown out of the craft guilds. Small masters, journeymen, and the town population closely bound up with them, constituted the army of the revolutionary sansculottes, the prop of the leading party of the Montagnards. It was precisely this compact mass of the city population, which had gone through the long historical school of the craft guilds, that bore upon its shoulders the whole burden of the revolution. The objective result of the revolution was the creation of “normal” conditions of capitalist exploitation. The social mechanics of the historical process, however, produced this result, that the conditions for bourgeois domination were created by the “mob”, the democracy of the streets, the sansculottes. Their terrorist dictatorship purged bourgeois society of the old rubbish and then, after it had overthrown the dictatorship of the petty-bourgeois democracy, the bourgeoisie came to power.

‘Now I ask – alas, not for the first time! – what social class in our country will raise up revolutionary bourgeois democracy, put it in power, and make it possible – for it to carry out gigantic tasks, if the proletariat remains in opposition? This is the central question, and I again put it to the Mensheviks.

‘It is true, in our country there are huge masses of the revolutionary peasantry. But the Menshevik comrades know just as well as I do that the peasantry, regardless of how revolutionary it may be, is incapable of playing an independent, much less a leading political role. The peasantry can undoubtedly prove to be a tremendous force in the service of the revolution; but it would be unworthy of a Marxist to believe that a peasant party is capable of placing itself at the head of a bourgeois revolution and, upon its own initiative, liberating the nation’s productive forces from the archaic fetters that weigh upon them. The town is the hegemon in modern society and only the town is capable of assuming the role of hegemon in the bourgeois revolution. [3]

‘Now, where is the urban democracy in our country capable of leading the nation behind it? Comrade Martynov has already sought it repeatedly, magnifying-glass in hand. He discovered Saratov teachers, Petersburg lawyers, and Moscow statisticians. Like all his co-thinkers, the only thing that he refused to notice was that in the Russian revolution the industrial proletariat has conquered the very same ground as was occupied by the semi-proletarian artisan democracy of the sansculottes at the end of the eighteenth century. I call your attention, Comrades, to this fundamental fact.

‘Our large-scale industry did not grow organically out of the crafts. The economic history of our towns knows absolutely nothing of any period of guilds. Capitalist industry arose in our country under the direct and immediate pressure of European capital. It took possession of a soil essentially virginal, primitive, without encountering any resistance from craft culture. Foreign capital flowed into our country through the channels of state loans and through the pipelines of private initiative. It gathered around itself the army of the industrial proletariat and prevented the rise and development of crafts. As a result of this process there appeared among us as the main force in the towns, at the moment of the bourgeois revolution, an industrial proletariat of an extremely highly developed social type. This is a fact. It cannot be disputed, and must be taken as the basis of our revolutionary tactical conclusions.

‘If the Menshevik comrades believe in the victory of the revolution, or even if they only recognize the possibility of such a victory, they cannot dispute the fact that in our country there is no historical claimant to revolutionary power other than the proletariat. As the petty bourgeois urban democracy in the Great French Revolution placed itself at the head of the revolutionary nation, in just the same way the proletariat, which is the one and only revolutionary democracy of our cities, must find a support in the peasant masses and place itself in power – if the revolution has any prospect of victory at all.

A government resting directly upon the proletariat, and through it upon the revolutionary peasantry, does not yet signify the socialist dictatorship. I shall not here deal with the further prospects before a proletarian government. It may be that the proletariat is destined to fall, as did the Jacobin democracy, in order to clear the road for the rule of the bourgeoisie. I want to establish only one point: if the revolutionary movement in our country, as Plekhanov foretold, triumphs as a workers’ movement, then the victory of the revolution is possible only as the revolutionary victory of the proletariat – otherwise it is altogether impossible.

‘I insist upon this conclusion, most emphatically. If it is assumed that the social antagonisms between the proletariat and the peasant masses will prevent the proletariat from placing itself at the head of the latter, and that the proletariat by itself is not strong enough to gain victory – then one must necessarily draw the conclusion that there is no victory at all in store for our revolution. Under such circumstances, an agreement between the liberal bourgeoisie and the old authorities is bound to be the natural outcome of the revolution. This is a variant the possibility of which can by no means be denied. But clearly this variant lies along the path of the revolution’s defeat, and is conditioned by its internal weakness. In essence the entire analysis of the Mensheviks – above all, their evaluation, of the proletariat and its possible relations with the peasantry – leads them inexorably to the path of revolutionary pessimism.

‘But they persistently turn aside from this path and generate revolutionary optimism on the basis of – bourgeois democracy.

‘From this is derived their attitude to the Cadets. For them the Cadets are the symbol of bourgeois democracy, while bourgeois democracy is the natural claimant to revolutionary power ...

‘Upon what then do you base your belief that the Cadets will still rise and stand erect? Upon facts of political development? No, upon your own schema. In order “to early the revolution through to the end” you need the bourgeois urban democracy, you search for it eagerly, and find nothing but Cadets. And you generate in relation to them amazing optimism, you dress them up, you want to force them to play a creative role, a role which they do not want to play, cannot play and will not play. To my basic question – I have put it repeatedly – I have heard no response. You have no prognosis of the revolution. Your policy lacks any large prospects.

‘And in connection with this, your attitude to bourgeois parties is formulated in words which the congress should keep in its memory: “as the occasion may require.” The proletariat is not supposed to carry on a systematic struggle for influence over the masses of the people, it is not supposed to determine its tactical steps in accordance with a single guiding idea, namely, to unite around itself all the toilers and the downtrodden and to become their herald and leader. (Minutes and Resolutions of the Fifth Party Congress, pp.180-185)

This speech, which succinctly sums up all my articles, speeches and acts of 1905 and 1906, was completely approved by the Bolsheviks, not to mention Rosa Luxemburg and Tyszko (on the basis of this speech, we entered upon more intimate relations which led to my collaboration in the Polish journal). Lenin, who did not forgive me my conciliatory attitude toward the Mensheviks – and he was right – expressed himself upon my speech with a deliberately emphasized reserve. Here is what he said:

‘I merely wish to observe that Trotsky, in his little book In Defence of the Party publicly expressed his solidarity with Kautsky, who wrote of the economic community of interests of the proletariat and the peasantry in the present revolution in Russia. Trotsky recognized the admissibility and expediency of a left bloc against the liberal bourgeoisie. These facts are enough for me to recognize that Trotsky is drawing closer to our conceptions. Independently of the question of the “uninterrupted revolution”, there is solidarity here between us on the fundamental points of the question concerning the relationship to the bourgeois parties.’ (VIII, p.400 [4])

Lenin did not devote himself in his speech to a general evaluation of the theory of the permanent revolution, since I too, in my speech, did not develop the further prospects for the dictatorship of the proletariat. He had obviously not read my fundamental work on this question, otherwise he would not have spoken of my ‘drawing closer’ to the conceptions of the Bolsheviks as of something new, for my London speech was only a condensed restatement of my works of 1905-06. Lenin expressed himself very reservedly, because I did stand outside the Bolshevik faction. In spite of that, or more correctly, precisely because of that, his words leave no room for false interpretations. Lenin established ‘solidarity between us on the fundamental points of the question’ concerning the attitude toward the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie. This solidarity applies not to my aims, as Radek preposterously represents it, but precisely to method. As to the prospect of the democratic revolution growing into the socialist revolution, it is right here that Lenin makes the reservation, ‘independently of the question of the “uninterrupted revolution”.’ What is the meaning of this reservation? It is clear that Lenin in no way identified the permanent revolution with ignoring the peasantry or skipping over the agrarian revolution, as is the rule with the ignorant and unscrupulous epigones. Lenin’s idea is as follows: How far our revolution will go, whether the proletariat can come to power in our country sooner than in Europe and what prospects this opens up for socialism – this question I do not touch upon; however, on the fundamental question of the attitude of the proletariat toward the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie ‘there is solidarity here between us.’

We have seen above how the Bolshevik Novaya Zhizn responded to the theory of the permanent revolution virtually at its birth, that is, as far back as in 1905. Let us also recall how the editors of Lenin’s Collected Works expressed themselves on this theory after 1917. In the notes [5] to Volume XIV, Part 2, it is stated:

‘Even before the 1905 Revolution he (Trotsky) advanced the original and now especially noteworthy theory of the permanent revolution, in which he asserted that the bourgeois revolution of 1905 would pass directly over into a socialist revolution, constituting the first in a series of national revolutions.’

I grant that this is not at all an acknowledgement of the correctness of all that I have written on the permanent revolution. But in any case it is an acknowledgement of the incorrectness of what Radek writes about it. ‘The bourgeois revolution will pass directly over into a socialist revolution’ – but this is precisely the theory of growing into and not of skipping over; from this flows a realistic, and not an adventuristic tactic. And what is the meaning of the words ‘now especially noteworthy theory of the permanent revolution’? They mean that the October revolution has shed a new light on those aspects of the theory which had formerly remained in obscurity for many or had simply appeared ‘improbable’. The second part of Volume XIV of Lenin’s Collected Works appeared while the author was alive. Thousands and tens of thousands of party members read this note. And nobody declared it to be false until the year 1924. And it occurred to Radek to do this only in the year 1928.

But insofar as Radek speaks not only of theory but also of tactics, the most important argument against him still remains the character of my practical participation in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. My work in the Petersburg Soviet of 1905 coincided with the definitive elaboration of those of my views on the nature of the revolution which the epigones now subject to uninterrupted fire. How could such allegedly erroneous views fail to be reflected in any way in my political activity, which was carried on before the eyes of everyone and recorded daily in the press? But if it is assumed that such a false theory was mirrored in my politics, then why did those who are now the consuls remain silent at that time? And what is rather more important, why did Lenin at that time most energetically defend the line of the Petersburg Soviet, at the highest point of the revolution as well as after its defeat?

The very same questions, only in a perhaps sharper form, apply to the 1917 revolution. In a number of articles which I wrote in New York, I evaluated the February Revolution from the point of view of the theory of the permanent revolution. Ah these articles have now been reprinted. My tactical conclusions coincided completely with the conclusions which Lenin drew at the same time in Geneva, and consequently were in the same irreconcilable contradiction to the conclusions of Kamenev, Stalin and the other epigones. When I arrived in Petrograd, nobody asked me if I renounced my ‘errors’ of the permanent revolution. Nor was there anyone to ask. Stalin slunk around in embarrassment from one corner to another and had only one desire, that the party should forget as quickly as possible the policy which he had advocated up to Lenin’s arrival. Yaroslavsky was not yet the inspirer of the Control Commission; together with Mensheviks, together with Ordzhonikidze and others, he was publishing a trivial semi-liberal sheet in Yakutsk. Kamenev accused Lenin of Trotskyism and declared when he met me: ‘Now you have the laugh on us.’ On the eve of the October Revolution, I wrote in the central organ of the Bolsheviks on the prospect of the permanent revolution. It never occurred to anyone to come out against me. My solidarity with Lenin turned out to be complete and unconditional. What then, do my critics, among them Radek, wish to say? That I myself completely failed to understand the theory which I advocated, and that in the most critical historical periods I acted directly counter to this theory, and quite correctly? Is it not simpler to assume that my critics failed to understand the permanent revolution, like so many other things? For if it is assumed that these belated critics are so well able to analyse not only their own ideas but those of others, then how explain that all of them without exception adopted such a wretched position in the 1917 Revolution, and forever covered themselves with shame in the Chinese Revolution?

But after all, some reader may suddenly recall: What about your most important tactical slogan; ‘No Tsar – but a workers’ government’?

In certain circles this argument is deemed decisive. Trotsky’s horrid slogan, ‘No Tsar!’ runs through all the writings of all the critics of the permanent revolution; with some it emerges as the final, most important and decisive argument; with others, as the ready harbour for weary minds.

This criticism naturally reaches its greatest profundity in the ‘Master’ of ignorance and disloyalty, when he says in his incomparable Problems of Leninism:

‘We shall not dwell at length (No indeed! – L.T.) on Comrade Trotsky’s attitude in 1905, when he ‘simply’ forgot all about the peasantry as a revolutionary force, and advanced the slogan of “No Tsar, but a workers’ government”, that is, the slogan of revolution without the peasantry.’ (Stalin, Problems of Leninism, pp.174-175 [6])

Despite my almost hopeless position in face of this annihilating criticism, which does not want to ‘dwell’, I should nevertheless like to refer to some mitigating circumstances. There are some. I beg a hearing.

Even if one of my 1905 articles contained an isolated, ambiguous or inappropriate slogan which might be open to misunderstanding, then today, i.e., 23 years later, it should not be taken by itself but rather placed in context with my other writings on the same subject, and, what is most important, in context with my political participation in the events. It is impermissible merely to provide readers with the bare title of a work unknown to them (as well as to the critics) and then to invest this title with a meaning which is diametrically opposed to everything I wrote and did.

But it may not be superfluous to add – O my critics! – that at no time and in no place did I ever write or utter or propose such a slogan as ‘No Tsar – but a workers’ government! At the basis of the main argument of my judges there lies, aside from everything else, a shameful factual error. The fact of the matter is that a proclamation entitled ‘No Tsar – but a workers’ government’ was written and published abroad in the summer of 1905 by Parvus. I had already been living illegally for a long time in Petersburg at that period, and had nothing at all to do with this leaflet either in ideas or in actions. I learned of it much later from polemical articles. I never had the occasion or opportunity to express myself on it. As for the proclamation I (as also, moreover, all my critics) neither saw it nor read it. This is the factual side of this extraordinary affair. I am sorry that I must deprive all the Thälmanns and Semards of this easily portable and convincing argument. But facts are stronger than my humane feelings.

Nor is this all. Accident providentially brought events together, so that, at the same time that Parvus was publishing abroad the circular, unknown to me, ‘No Tsar – but a workers’ government’, a proclamation written by me appeared illegally in Petersburg with the title: Neither Tsar nor Zemtsi [7], but the People! This title, which is frequently repeated in the text of the leaflet as a slogan embracing the workers and peasants, might have been conceived in order to refute in a popular form the later contentions about skipping the democratic stage of the revolution. The appeal is reprinted in my Collected Works (Volume II, Part 1, p.256). There also are my proclamations, published by the Bolshevik Central Committee, to that peasantry, which, in the ingenious expression of Stalin, I ‘simply forgot’.

But even this is not yet all. Only a short time ago, the worthy Rafes, a theoretician and leader of the Chinese Revolution, wrote in the theoretical organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union about the same horrid slogan which Trotsky raised in the year 1917. Not in 1905, but in 1917! For the Menshevik Rafes, at any rate, there is some excuse – almost up till 1920 he was a ‘minister’ of Petlyura’s, and how could he, weighed down by the cares of state of the struggle against the Bolsheviks, pay any heed there to what was going on in the camp of the October Revolution! Well, but the editorial board of the organ of the Central Committee? Here’s a wonder. One idiocy more or less ...

‘But how is that possible?’ a conscientious reader raised on the trash of recent years exclaims. ‘Weren’t we taught in hundreds and thousands of books and articles ...? ’

‘Yes, friends, taught: and that is just why you will have to learn anew. These are the overhead expenses of the period of reaction. nothing can be done about it. history does not proceed in a straight line. It has temporarily run into Stalin’s blind alleys.’


1. Speech at Third Congress of the RSDLP, On Amendments to Resolution on Revolutionary Government, 4th edition, VIII, 366; Lenin actually used Krassin’s party name, Zimin.

2. See The Proletarian Regime.

3. Do the belated critics of the permanent revolution agree with this? Are they prepared to extend this elementary proposition to the countries of the East, China, India, etc.? Yes or no? – L.T.

4. London Congress of the RSDLP: Concluding Remarks on the Question of attitude to Bourgeois Parties, 4th edition, XII, p.423.

5. Note 79.

6. Stalin, Works, English edition, VI, 382.

7. i.e. members of the local self-governing authorities, the zemstva, set up in the last period of Tsarist rule, with restricted powers and dominated by the liberal nobility.

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Last updated on: 14.4.2007