Leon Trotsky

The Permanent Revolution

5. Was the ‘Democratic Dictatorship’
Realized in Our Country? If so, When?

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

Appealing to Lenin, Radek contends that the democratic dictatorship was realized in the form of the dual power. Yes, occasionally – and furthermore, conditionally – Lenin did put the question this way; that I admit. ‘Occasionally?’ Radek becomes indignant and accuses me of assailing one of the most fundamental ideas of Lenin. But Radek is angry only because he is wrong. In Lessons of October, which Radek likewise submits to criticism after a delay of about four years, I interpreted Lenin’s words on the ‘realization’ of the democratic dictatorship in the following manner:

‘A democratic workers’ and peasants’ coalition could only take shape as an immature form of power incapable of attaining real power – it could take shape only as a tendency and not as a concrete fact.’ (Collected Works, Vol. III, part 1, p.XXI [1])

With regard to this interpretation, Radek writes: ‘Such an interpretation of the content of one of the most outstanding theoretical chapters in the work of Lenin is worth absolutely nothing.’ These words are followed by a pathetic appeal to the traditions of Bolshevism, and finally, the conclusion: ‘These questions are too important for it to be possible to reply to them with a reference to what Lenin occasionally said.’

By this, Radek wants to evoke the image of my treating carelessly ‘one of the most outstanding’ of Lenin’s ideas. But Radek is wasting indignation and pathos for nothing. A little understanding would be more in place here. My presentation in Lessons of October, even though very condensed, does not rest upon a sudden inspiration on the basis of quotations taken at second hand, but upon a genuine thorough study of Lenin’s writings. It reproduces the essence of Lenin’s idea on this question, while the verbose presentation of Radek, despite the abundance of quotations, does not retain a single living passage of Lenin’s thought.

Why did I make use of the qualifying word ‘occasionally’? Because that is how the matter really stood. References to the fact that the democratic dictatorship was ‘realized’ in the form of the dual power (’in a certain form and up to a certain point’) were made by Lenin only in the period between April and October 1917, that is, before the actual carrying out of the democratic revolution. Radek neither noticed, understood, nor evaluated this. In the struggle against the present epigones, Lenin spoke extremely conditionally of the ‘realization’ of the democratic dictatorship. He did so not to give a historical characterization of the period of the dual power – in this form it would be plain nonsense – but to argue against those who expected a second, improved edition of the independent democratic dictatorship. Lenin’s words only meant that there is not and will not be any democratic dictatorship outside of the miserable miscarriage of the dual power, and that for this reason it was necessary to ‘rearm’ the party, i.e., change the slogan. To contend that the coalition of the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries with the bourgeoisie, which refused the peasants the land and hounded the Bolsheviks, constituted the ‘realization’ of the Bolshevik slogan – this means either deliberately to pass off black as white or else to have lost one’s head entirely.

With regard to the Mensheviks, an argument could be presented which would to a certain point be analogous to Lenin’s argument against Kamenev: ‘You are citing for the bourgeoisie to fulfil a “progressive” mission in the revolution? This mission has already been realized: the political role of Rodzianko, Guchkov and Milyukov is the maximum that the bourgeoisie is able to give, just as Kerenskyism is the maximum of democratic revolution that could be realized as an independent stage.’

Unmistakable anatomical features – rudiments – show that our ancestors had a tail. These features suffice to confirm the genetic unity of the animal world. But, to put it quite candidly, man has no tail. Lenin demonstrated to Kamenev the rudiments of the democratic dictatorship in the regime of the dual power, warning him that no new organ should be hoped for out of these rudiments. And we did not have an independent democratic dictatorship, even though we completed the democratic revolution more deeply, more resolutely, more purely than had ever been done anywhere else.

Radek should reflect upon the fact that if in the period from February to April the democratic dictatorship had actually been realized, even Molotov would have recognized it. The party and the class understood the democratic dictatorship as a regime which would mercilessly destroy the old state apparatus of the monarchy and completely liquidate manorial landed property. But there was not a trace of this in the Kerensky period. For the Bolshevik Party, however, it was a question of the actual realization of the revolutionary tasks, and not of the revelation of certain sociological and historical ‘rudiments’. Lenin, in order to enlighten his adversaries theoretically, illuminated splendidly these features which did not attain development – and that is all he did in this connexion. Radek, however, endeavours in all seriousness to convince us that in the period of the dual power, that is, of powerlessness, the ‘dictatorship’ did exist and the democratic revolution was realized. Only, you see, it was such a ‘democratic revolution’ that all Lenin’s genius was required to recognize it. But this is just the thing that signifies that it was not realized. The real democratic revolution is something that every illiterate peasant in Russia or in China would easily recognize. But so far as the morphological features are concerned, it is a more difficult thing. For example, despite the lesson provided by Kamenev in Russia, it is impossible to get Radek to finally take note of the fact that in China too the democratic dictatorship was likewise ‘realized’ in Lenin’s sense (through the Kuomintang); and that it was realized more completely and in a more finished form than was the case in our country through the institution of dual power. Only hopeless simpletons can expect a second and improved edition of ‘democracy’ in China.

If the democratic dictatorship had only been realized in our country in the form of Kerenskyism, which played the role of errand boy to Lloyd George and Clemenceau, then we would have to say that history indulged in cruel mockery of the strategic slogan of Bolshevism. Fortunately, it is not so. The Bolshevik slogan was realized in fact – not as a morphological trait but as a very great historical reality. Only, it was realized not before, but after October. The peasant war, in the words of Marx, supported the dictatorship of the proletariat. The collaboration of the two classes was realized through October on a gigantic scale. At that time every ignorant peasant grasped and felt, even without Lenin’s commentaries, that the Bolshevik slogan had been given life. And Lenin himself estimated the October Revolution – its first stage – as the true realization of the democratic revolution, and by that also as the true, even if changed, embodiment of the strategic slogan of the Bolsheviks. The whole of Lenin must be considered. And above all, the Lenin of after October, when he surveyed and evaluated events from a higher vantage point. Finally, Lenin must be considered in a Leninist way, and not in that of the epigones.

The question of the class character of the revolution and its ‘growing over’ was submitted by Lenin (after October) to an analysis in his book against Kautsky. Here is one of the passages over which Radek should reflect a bit.

‘Yes, our revolution (the October Revolution – L.T.) is a bourgeois revolution so long as we march with the peasantry as a whole. This has been clear as clear can be to us; we have said it hundreds and thousands of times since 1905, and we have never attempted to skip this necessary stage of the historical process or abolish it by decrees.’

And further on:

‘Things have turned out just as we said they would. The course taken by the revolution has confirmed the correctness of our reasoning. First, with the “whole” of the peasantry against the monarchy, the landlords, the mediaeval regime (and to that extent, the revolution remains bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic). Then with the poorest peasants, with the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited, against capitalism, including the rural rich, the kulaks, the profiteers, and to that extent the revolution becomes a socialist one.’ (XV, p.508 [2])

That is how Lenin spoke – not ‘occasionally’ but always, or, more accurately invariably – when he gave a finished and generalized and perfected evaluation of the revolution, including October. ‘Things have turned out just as we said they would.’ The bourgeois-democratic revolution was realized as a coalition of the workers and peasants. During the Kerensky period? No, during the first period after October. Is that right? It is. But, as we now know, it was not realized in the form of a democratic dictatorship, but in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. With that there also disappeared the necessity for the old algebraic formula.

If the conditional argument of Lenin against Kamenev in 1917 and the rounded-out Leninist characterization of the October Revolution in the subsequent years are uncritically juxtaposed, then it follows that two democratic revolutions were ‘realized’ in Russia. This is too much, all the more since the second is separated from the first by an armed uprising of the proletariat.

Now contrast the quotation just made from Lenin’s book, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, with the passage from my Results and Prospects where, in the chapter on The Proletarian Regime, the first stage of the dictatorship and the prospects of its further development are outlined:

‘The abolition of feudalism will meet with support from the entire peasantry as the burden-bearing estate. A progressive income tax will also be supported by the great majority of the peasantry. But any legislation carried through for the purpose of protecting the agricultural proletariat will not only not receive the active sympathy of the majority, but will even meet with the active opposition of a minority of the peasantry.

‘The proletariat will find itself compelled to carry the class struggle into the villages and in this manner destroy the community of interest which is undoubtedly to be found among all peasants, although within comparatively narrow limits. From the very first moment after its taking power, the proletariat will have to find support in the antagonisms between the village poor and the village rich, between the agricultural proletariat and the agricultural bourgeoisie.’ (Our Revolution, 1906, p.255 [3])

How little all this resembles an ‘ignoring’ of the peasantry on my part, and the complete ‘antagonism’ between the two lines, Lenin’s and mine!

The quotation from Lenin adduced above does not stand alone in his works. On the contrary, as is always the case with Lenin, the new formula, which illuminates events more penetratingly, becomes for him the axis of his speeches and his articles for a whole period. In March 1919, Lenin said:

‘In October 1917 we seized power together with the peasantry as a whole. This was a bourgeois revolution, inasmuch as the class struggle in the rural districts had not yet developed.’ (XVI, 143 [4])

The following was said by Lenin at the party congress in March 1919:

‘In a country where the proletariat was obliged to assume power with the aid of the peasantry, where it fell to the lot of the proletariat to serve as the agent of a petty-bourgeois revolution, until the organization of the Committees of Poor Peasants, i.e., down to the summer and even the autumn of 1918, our revolution was to a large extent a bourgeois revolution.’ (XVI, p.105 [5])

These words were frequently repeated by Lenin in different variations and on divers occasions. Radek, however, simply avoids this cardinal idea of Lenin’s, which is decisive in the controversy.

The proletariat took power together with the peasantry in October, says Lenin. By that alone, the revolution was a bourgeois revolution. Is that right? In a certain sense, yes. But this means that the true democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, that is, the one which actually destroyed the regime of autocracy and serfdom and snatched the land from the feudalists, was accomplished not before October but only afterOctober; it was accomplished, to use Marx’s words, in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasant war – and then, a few months later, began growing into a socialist dictatorship. Is this really hard to understand? Can differences of opinion prevail on this point today?

According to Radek, the ‘permanent’ theory sins by mixing up the bourgeois stage with the socialist. In reality, however, the class dynamics so thoroughly ‘mixed up’, that is, combined these two stages, that our unfortunate metaphysician is no longer in a position even to find the threads.

Certainly, many gaps and many incorrect contentions can be found in Results and Prospects. But after all, this work was written not in 1928, but considerably before October – before the October of 1905. The question of the gaps in the theory of the permanent revolution, or, more correctly, in my basic arguments for this theory at that time, is not even touched upon by Radek; for, following his teachers – the epigones – he attacks not the gaps but the strong sides of the theory, those which the course of historical development confirmed, attacks them in the name of the utterly false conclusions which he deduces from Lenin’s formulation – which Radek has not thoroughly studied or thought out to the very end.

Juggling with old quotations is in general practiced by the whole school of epigones on a quite special plane which nowhere intersects the real historical process. But when the opponents of ‘Trotskyism’ have to occupy themselves with the analysis of the real development of the October Revolution, and occupy themselves with it seriously and conscientiously – which happens to some of them from time to time – then they inevitably arrive at formulations in the spirit of the theory which they reject. We find the dearest proof of this in the works of A. Yakovlev which are devoted to the history of the October Revolution. The class relationships of old Russia are formulated by this author, today a prop of the ruling faction [6] and undoubtedly more literate than the other Stalinists, and particularly than Stalin himself, as follows :

‘We see a twofold limitedness in the peasants’ uprising (March to October 1917). Raising itself to the level of a peasant war, the uprising did not overcome its limitedness, did not burst asunder the confines of its immediate task of destroying the neighbouring landowner; did not transform itself into an organized revolutionary movement; did not surmount the character of an elemental outbreak that distinguishes a peasant movement.

‘The peasant uprising taken by itself – an elemental uprising, limited in its aim to the extermination of the neighbouring landowner – could not triumph, could not destroy the state power hostile to the peasantry, which supported the landowner. That is why the agrarian movement is capable of winning only if it is led by the corresponding urban class ... This is the reason why the fate of the agrarian revolution, in the final analysis, was decided not in the tens of thousands of villages, but in the hundreds of towns. Only the working class, which was dealing the bourgeoisie a mortal blow in the centres of the country, could bring the peasant uprising to victory; only the victory of the working class in the city could tear the peasant movement out of the confines of an elemental clash of tens of millions of peasants with tens of thousands of landowners; only the victory of the working class, finally, could lay the foundations for a new type of peasant organization which united the poor and middle peasantry not with the bourgeoisie but with the working class. The problem of the victory of the peasant uprising was a problem of the victory of the working class in the towns.

‘When the workers dealt the government of the bourgeoisie a decisive blow in October, they thereby solved in passing the problem of the victory of the peasant uprising.’

And further on:

‘... The whole essence of the matter is this, that by virtue of the historically given conditions, bourgeois Russia in 1917 entered into an alliance with the landowners. Even the most left factions of the bourgeoisie, like the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries, did not go beyond arranging a deal favourable to the landowners. Therein lies the most important difference between the conditions of the Russian Revolution and the French Revolution which took place more than a hundred years earlier ... The peasant revolution could not triumph as a bourgeois revolution in 1917. (Exactly ! – L.T.) Two roads were open to it. Either defeat under the blows of the bourgeoisie and the landowners or – victory as movement accompanying and auxiliary to the proletarian revolution. By taking over the mission of the bourgeoisie in the Great French Revolution, by taking over the task of leading the agrarian democratic revoIution, the working class of Russia obtained the possibility of carrying out a victorious proletarian revolution.’ (The Peasant Movement in 1917, State Publishing House, 1927, pp.x-xi, xi-xii)

What are the fundamental elements of Yakovlev’s arguments? The incapacity of the peasantry to play an independent political role: the resultant inevitability of the leading role of an urban class; the inaccessibility for the Russian bourgeoisie of the role of leader in the agrarian revolution; the resultant inevitability of the leading role of the proletariat; its seizure of power as leader of the agrarian revolution; finally, the dictatorship of the proletariat which supports itself upon the peasant war and opens up the epoch of socialist revolution. This destroys to the roots the metaphysical posing of the question concerning the ‘bourgeois’ or the ‘socialist’ character of the revolution. The gist of the matter lay in the fact that the agrarian question, which constituted the basis of the bourgeois revolution, could not be solved under the rule of the bourgeoisie. The dictatorship of the proletariat appeared on the scene not after the completion of the agrarian democratic revolution but as the necessary prerequisite for its accomplishment. In a word, in this retrospective schema of Yakovlev’s, we have all the fundamental elements of the theory of the permanent revolution as formulated by me in 1905. With me, it was a question of a historical prognosis; Yakovlev, relying upon the preliminary studies of a whole staff of young research workers, draws the balance sheet of the events of the three revolutions twenty-two years after the first revolution and ten years after the October Revolution. And then? Yakovlev repeats almost literally my formulations of 1905.

What is Yakovlev’s attitude, however, to the theory of the permanent revolution ? It is an attitude that befits every Stalinist functionary who wants to retain his post and even to climb to a higher one. But how does Yakovlev, in this case, reconcile his appraisal of the driving forces of the October Revolution with the struggle against ‘Trotskyism’? Very simply: he does not give a thought to such a reconciliation. Like some liberal Tsarist officials, who acknowledged Darwin’s theory but at the same time appeared regularly at communion, Yakovlev too buys the right to express Marxist ideas from time to time at the price of participating in the ritualistic baiting of the permanent revolution. Similar examples can be adduced by the dozen.

It still remains to add that Yakovlev did not execute the above-quoted work on the history of the October Revolution on his own initiative, but on the basis of a decision of the Central Committee, which at the same time charged me with the editing of Yakovlev’s work. [7] At that time, Lenin’s recovery was still expected, and it never occurred to any of the epigones to kindle an artificial dispute around the permanent revolution. At any rate, in my capacity as the former, or, more correctly, as the proposed editor of the official history of the October Revolution, I can establish with complete satisfaction that the author, in all disputed questions, consciously or unconsciously employed the literal formulations of my proscribed and heretical work on the permanent revolution (Results and Prospects).

The rounded-out evaluation of the historical fate of the Bolshevik slogan which Lenin himself gave shows with certainty that the difference of the two lines, the ‘permanent’ and Lenin’s, had a secondary and subordinate significance; what united them, however, was most fundamental. And this foundation of both lines, which were completely fused by the October Revolution, is in irreconcilable antagonism not only to the February-March line of Stalin and the April-October line of Kamenev, Rykov and Zinoviev, not only to the whole China policy of Stalin, Bukharin and Martynov, but also to the present ‘China’ line of Radek.

And when Radek, who changed his judgment of values so radically between 1925 and the second half of 1928, seeks to convict me of not understanding: ‘the complexity of Marxism and Leninism’, then I can reply: The fundamental train of thought which I developed twenty-three years ago in Results and Prospects, I consider confirmed by events as completely correct, and, precisely because of that, in agreement with the strategical line of Bolshevism.

In particular I fail to see the slightest reason for withdrawing anything of what I said in 1922 on the permanent revolution in the foreword to my book The Year 1905, which the whole party read and studied in innumerable editions and reprints while Lenin was alive, and which ‘disturbed’ Kamenev only in the autumn of 1924 and Radek for the first time in the autumn of 1928.

‘Precisely in the period between January 9 and the October strike’ (it says in this foreword) ‘the author formed those opinions which later received the name: “theory of the permanent revolution”. This somewhat unusual name expressed the idea that the Russian revolution, directly confronted by bourgeois tasks, could in no case halt at them. The revolution would not be able to solve its immediate bourgeois tasks except by putting the proletariat in power ...

‘This appraisal was confirmed as completely correct, though after a lapse of twelve years. The Russian revolution could not terminate with a bourgeois-democratic regime. It had to transfer power to the working class. If the working class was still too weak for the capture of power in 1905, it had to mature and grow strong not in the bourgeois-democratic republic but in the illegality of Third-of-June Tsarism.[8] (L. Trotsky, The Year 1905, Foreword).

I want to quote in addition one of the sharpest polemical judgments which I passed on the slogan of the ‘democratic dictatorship’. In 1909, I wrote in the Polish organ of Rosa Luxemburg:

‘While the Mensheviks, proceeding from the abstraction that “our revolution is bourgeois” arrive at the idea of adapting the whole tactic of the proletariat to the conduct of the liberal bourgeoisie, right up to the capture of state power, the Bolsheviks, proceeding from the same bare abstraction: “democratic, not socialist dictatorship”, arrive at the idea of the bourgeois-democratic self-limitation of the proletariat with power in its hands. The difference between them on this question is certainly quite important: while the anti-revolutionary sides of Menshevism are already expressed in full force today, the anti-revolutionary features of Bolshevism threaten to become a great danger only in the event of the victory of the revolution.’

To this passage in the article, which is reprinted in the Russian edition of my book The Year 1905, I made the following annotation in January 1922:

‘As is known, this did not take place, for Bolshevism under the leadership of Lenin (though not without internal struggle), accomplished its ideological rearmament on this most important question in the spring of 1917, that is, before the seizure of power.’

These two quotations have been subjected since 1924 to a furious barrage of criticism. Now, after a delay of four years, Radek has also joined in with this criticism. Yet, if one reflects conscientiously upon the quoted lines, it must be admitted that they contained an important prognosis and a no less important warning. The fact does remain that at the moment of the February Revolution the whole so-called ‘old guard’ of the Bolsheviks held the position of the bald counterposing of the democratic dictatorship to the socialist dictatorship. Out of Lenin’s ‘algebraic’ formula his closest disciples made a purely metaphysical construction and directed it against the real development of the revolution. At a most important historical turning point, the top leadership of the Bolsheviks in Russia adopted a reactionary position, and had Lenin not arrived so opportunely they could have knifed the October Revolution under the banner of the struggle against Trotskyism, as they later knifed the Chinese Revolution. Very piously, Radek describes the false position of the whole leading party stratum as a sort of ‘accident’. But that has little value as a Marxist explanation of the vulgar democratic position of Kamenev, Zinoviev, Stalin, Molotov, Rykov, Kalinin, Nogin, Milyutin, Krestlusky, Frunze, Yaroslavsky, Ordjonikidze, Preobrazhensky, Smilga and a dozen other ‘old Bolsheviks’. Would it not be more correct to acknowledge that the old, algebraic Bolshevik formula contained certain dangers within it? Political development filled it – as always happens with an ambiguous revolutionary formula – with a content hostile to the proletarian revolution. It is self-evident that if Lenin had lived in Russia and had observed the development of the party, day by day, especially during the war, he would have given the necessary correctives and clarifications in time. Luckily for the revolution, he arrived soon enough, even though delayed, to undertake the necessary ideological rearmament. The class instinct of the proletariat and the revolutionary pressure of the party rank and file, prepared by the entire preceding work of Bolshevism, made it possible for Lenin, in struggle with the top leadership and despite their resistance, to switch tire policy of the party to a new track in ample time.

Does it really follow from this that today we must accept for China, India and other countries Lenin’s formula of 1905 in its algebraic form, i.e., in all its ambiguity; and that we must leave it to the Chinese and Indian Stalins and Rykovs (Tang Ping-shan, Roy and others) to fill the formula with a petty-bourgeois national-democratic content – and then wait for the timely appearance of a Lenin who will undertake the necessary correctives of April 4? But is such a corrective assured for China and India? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to introduce into this formula those specific corrections the necessity for which has been demonstrated by historical experience both in Russia and in China?

Does the foregoing mean that the slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry should be understood simply as a ‘mistake’? Nowadays, as we know, all ideas and actions of man are divided into two categories : absolutely correct ones, that is, those that comprise the ‘general line’, and absolutely false ones, that is, deviations from this line. This, of course, does not prevent what is absolutely correct today from being declared absolutely false tomorrow. But the real development of ideas knew also, before the emergence of the ‘general line’, the method of successive approximations to the truth. Even in simple division in arithmetic it is necessary to experiment in the selection of digits; one starts with larger or smaller digits, and then rejects ah but one in the process of testing. In ranging the target in artillery fire, the method of successive approximations is known as ‘bracketing’. There is absolutely no avoiding the method of approximation in politics as well. The whole point is to understand in time that a miss is a miss, and to introduce the necessary corrections without delay.

The great historic significance of Lenin’s formula lay in the fact that, under the conditions of a new historical epoch, it probed to the end one of the most important theoretical and political questions, namely the question of the degree of political independence attainable by the various petty-bourgeois groupings, above all, the peasantry. Thanks to its completeness, the Bolshevik experience of 1905-17 firmly bolted the door against the ‘democratic dictatorship’. With his own hand, Lenin wrote the inscription over this door: No Entrance – No Exit. He formulated it in these words: The peasant must go either with the bourgeois or with the worker. The epigones, however, completely ignore this conclusion to which the old formula of Bolshevism led, and contrary to this conclusion they canonize a provisional hypothesis by inserting it into the programme. It is really in this, generally speaking, that the essence of epigonism lies.


1. Lessons of October, US edition, 1937, p.37. The version given in the English edition of Lessons of October, 1925, p.35, is inadequate.

2. The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918, 4th edition, XXVIII, 276. Selected Works, English edition, VII, pp.190 and 191.

3. See Results and Prospects, The Proletarian Regime.

4. 8th Congress of the RCP: Report on Work in the Countryside, 4th edition, XXIX, 180. Selected Works, English edition, VIII, 171.

5. 8th Congress of the RCP: Report of the Central Committee, 4th edition, XXIX, 137. Selected Works, English edition, VIII, 37.

6. Yakovlev was recedntly appointed People’s Commissar of Agriculture of the USSR. – L.T.

1. Excerpt from the minutes of the session of the Organization Bureau of the Central Committee of May 22, 1922, No.21: ‘To instruct Comrade Yakovlev ... to compile a textbook on the history of the October Revolution under the editorial supervision of Comrade Trotsky.’ – L.T.

8. On June 3 (16), 1907 the coup d’état which formally inaugurated the triumphant counter-revolution.

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