Leon Trotsky

The Permanent Revolution

8. From Marxism to Pacifism

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

What is most alarming, as a symptom, is a passage in Radek’s article which, to be sure, seems to stand apart from the central theme that interests us, but which is intimately bound up with this theme by the uniformity of Radek’s shift toward the present theoreticians of centrism. I refer to the somewhat disguised advances he makes toward the theory of socialism in one country. One must dwell on this, for this ‘side-line’ of Radek’s errors can surpass all the other differences of opinion in its further development, revealing that their quantity has definitively turned into quality.

Discussing the dangers that threaten the revolution from without, Radek writes that Lenin ‘.... was conscious of the fact that with the level of economic development in Russia in 1905 this [the proletarian] dictatorship can maintain itself only if the Western European proletariat comes to its aid’. (My emphasis – L.T.)

One mistake after another; above all, a very crude violation of the historical perspective. In reality Lenin said, and that more than once, that the democratic dictatorship (and not at all the proletarian) in Russia would be unable to maintain itself without the socialist revolution in Europe. This idea runs like a red thread through all the articles and speeches of Lenin in the days of the Stockholm party congress in 1906 (polemic against Plekhanov, questions of nationalization, etc.). In that period, Lenin did not even raise the question of a proletarian dictatorship in Russia before the socialist revolution in Western Europe. But it is not there that the most important thing lies for the moment. What is the meaning of ‘with the level of economic development of Russia in 1905’? And how do matters stand with the level in 1917? It is on this difference in levels that the theory of socialism in one country is erected. The programme of the Comintern has divided the whole globe into squares which are ‘adequate’ in level for the independent construction of socialism and others which are ‘inadequate’; and has thus created for revolutionary strategy a series of hopeless blind alleys. Differences in economic levels can undoubtedly be of decisive significance for the political power of the working class. In 1905, we could not raise ourselves to the dictatorship of the proletariat, just as, for that matter, we were unable to rise to the democratic dictatorship. In 1917 we set up the dictatorship of the proletariat, which swallowed up the democratic dictatorship. But with the economic development of 1917 just as with the 1905 level the dictatorship can maintain itself and develop to socialism only if the Western European proletariat comes opportunely to its assistance Naturally, this ‘opportuneness’ cannot be calculated a priori; it is determined in the course of development and struggle. As against this fundamental question, determined by the world relationship of forces, which has the last and decisive word, the difference between levels of development of Russia in 1905 and in 1917, however important it is in itself, is a factor of the secondary order.

But Radek does not content himself with the ambiguous reference to this difference of levels. After referring to the fact that Lenin saw the connection between the internal problems of the revolution and its world problems (well, now!) Radek adds:

‘But Lenin did not sharpen only the concept of this connection between the maintenance of the socialist dictatorship in Russia and aid from the Western European proletariat, as it was excessively sharpened by Trotsky’s formulation, namely, that it must be state aid, that is, the aid of the already victorious Western European proletariat.’ (My emphasis – L.T.)

Frankly, I did not trust my eyes when I read these lines. To what end did Radek require this worthless weapon from the arsenal of the epigones? This is simply a shamefaced rehash of the Stalinist banalities which we always used to make such thorough game of. Apart from everything else, the quotation shows that Radek has a very poor notion of the fundamental landmarks of Lenin’s path. Lenin, unlike Stalin, not only never contrasted the pressure of the European proletariat upon the bourgeois power to the capture of power by the proletariat; on the contrary, he formulated the question of revolutionary aid from without much more sharply than I. In the epoch of the first revolution, he repeated tirelessly that we should not retain democracy (not even democracy!) without the socialist revolution in Europe. Generally speaking, in 1917-18 and the years that followed, Lenin did not consider and estimate the fate of our revolution in any way other than in connection with the socialist revolution that had begun in Europe. He asserted openly, for example: ‘Without the victory of the revolution in Germany, we are doomed.’ He said this in 1918, that is, not with the ‘economic level’ of 1905 ; and he had in mind not future decades, but the period immediately ahead, which was a matter of a few years, if not months.

Lenin dozens of times: If we have held out ‘the reason ... was that a fortunate combination of circumstances protected us for a short time from international imperialism’ (for a short time! – L.T.). And further: ‘International imperialism could not under any circumstances, on any condition, live side by side with the Soviet Republic ... In this sphere conflict is inevitable.’ And the conclusion? Isn’t it the pacifist hope in the ‘pressure’ of the proletariat or in the ‘neutralization’ of the bourgeoisie? No, the conclusion reads: ‘Here lies the greatest difficulty of the Russian Revolution ... the necessity of calling forth an international revolution.’ (XV, 126 [1]) When was this said and written? Not in 1905, when Nicholas II negotiated with Wilhelm II on the suppression of the revolution and when I advanced my ‘sharpened’ formula, but in 1918, 1919 and the following years.

Here is what Lenin said, looking back, at the Third Congress of the Comintern:

‘It was clear to us that without the support of the international world revolution the victory of the proletarian revolution [in Russia – L.T.] was impossible. Before the revolution and even after it, we thought: Either revolution breaks out in the other countries, in the capitalistically more developed countries, immediately, or at least very quickly, or we must perish. Notwithstanding this conviction, we did all we possibly could to preserve the Soviet system under all circumstances, come what may, because we knew that we were working not only for ourselves but also for the international revolution. We knew this, we repeatedly expressed this conviction before the October Revolution, immediately afterward, and at the time we signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. And, speaking generally, this was correct. In actual fact, however, events did not proceed along as straight a line as we expected.’ (Minutes of the Third Congress of the Comintern, Russian edition, p.354 [2])

From 1921 onward, the movement began to proceed along a line that was not so straight as I, together with Lenin, had expected in 1917-19 (and not only in 1905). But it nevertheless did develop along the line of the irreconcilable contradictions between the workers’ state and the bourgeois world. One of the two must perish! The workers’ state can be preserved from mortal dangers, not only military but also economic, only by the victorious development of the proletarian revolution in the West. The attempt to discover two positions, Lenin’s and mine, on this question, is the height of theoretical slovenliness. At least re-read Lenin, do not slander him, do not feed us with stale Stalinist mush!

But the plunge downward does not stop even here. After Radek inventing the story that Lenin considered adequate the ‘simple’ (in essence, reformist, Purcellian) aid of the world proletariat, while Trotsky ‘exaggeratedly demanded’ only state aid, that is, revolutionary aid, Radek continues :

‘Experience showed that on this point, too, Lenin was right, The European proletariat was not yet able to capture power, but it was strong enough, during the intervention, to prevent the world bourgeoisie from throwing substantial forces against us. Thereby it helped us maintain the Soviet power. Fear of the labour movement, along with the antagonisms in the capitalist world itself, was the main force that has guaranteed the maintenance of peace during the eight years, since the end of the intervention.’

This passage, while it does not sparkle with originality against the background of the exercises written by the literary functionaries of our time, is nevertheless noteworthy for its combination of historical anachronisms, political confusion and the grossest errors of principle.

From Radek’s words it would follow that Lenin in 1905 foretold in his pamphlet Two Tactics (this is the only work to which Radek refers) that the relationship of forces between states and classes after 1917 would be such as to exclude for a long time the possibility of a large-scale military intervention against us. In contrast to this, Trotsky in 1905 did not foresee the situation that would necessarily arise after the imperialist war, but only reckoned with the realities of that time, such as the mighty Hohenzollern army, the very strong Hapsburg army, the mighty French Bourse, etc. This is truly a monstrous anachronism, which becomes even more complicated by its ridiculous inner contradictions. For, according to Radek, my principal mistake consisted precisely of the fact that I did put forward the prospect of the dictatorship of the proletariat ‘with the level of development of 1905’. Now the second mistake becomes plain: I did not consider the prospect of the dictatorship of the proletariat put forward by me on the eve of the 1905 Revolution in the light of the international situation which arose only after 1917. When Stalin’s usual arguments look like this, we don’t wonder about it, for we know well enough his ‘level of development’, in 1917 as well as in 1928. But how did Radek fall into such company?

Yet even this is not yet the worst. The worst lies in the fact that Radek has skipped over the boundary that separates Marxism from opportunism, the revolutionary from the pacifist position. It is a question of nothing less than the struggle against war, that is, of how and with what methods war can be averted or stopped; by the pressure of the proletariat upon the bourgeoisie or by civil war to overthrow the bourgeoisie? Radek has unwittingly introduced a fundamental question of proletarian policy into the controversy between us.

Does Radek want to say that I ‘ignore’ not only the peasantry but also the pressure of the proletariat upon the bourgeoisie, and have taken into consideration the proletarian revolution exclusively? It is hardly to be assumed that he will defend such an absurdity, worthy of a Thaelmann, a Semard or a Monnosseau. At the Third Congress of the Comintern, the ultra-lefts of that time (Zinoviev, Thalheimer, Thaelmann, Bela Kun, etc.) advocated tactics of putschism in the West in order to save the USSR. Together with Lenin, I explained to them as popularly as possible that the best possible assistance they could render us would be systematically and in a planned way to consolidate their positions and prepare themselves for the capture of power, instead of improvising revolutionary adventures for our sakes. At that time, regrettably enough, Radek was not on the side of Lenin and Trotsky, but on the side of Zinoviev and Bukharin. But Radek surely recollects – at any rate, the minutes of the Third Congress recollect it – that the essence of the argument of Lenin and myself consisted precisely of assailing the irrationally ‘sharpened formulation’ of the ultra-lefts. After we had explained to them that the strengthening of the party and the pressure of the proletariat are very serious factors in internal and international relations, we Marxists added that ‘pressure’ is only a function of the revolutionary struggle for power and depends entirely upon the development of this struggle. For this reason, Lenin delivered a speech at the end of the Third Congress, at a big private session of the delegates, which was directed against tendencies to passivity and waiting upon events, and closed with approximately the following moral: Engage in no adventures, but, dear friends, please do not tarry, for with ‘pressure’ alone we cannot last long.

Radek refers to the fact that the European proletariat was not able to take power after the war, but that it prevented the bourgeoisie from crushing us. I also had more than one occasion to speak of this. Nevertheless, the European proletariat succeeded in preventing our destruction only because the pressure of the proletariat coincided with the very grave objective consequences of the imperialist war and the world antagonisms aggravated by it. It is impossible to say which of these elements was of more decisive significance: the struggle within the imperialist camp, the economic collapse, or the pressure of the proletariat; but the question cannot be put in that way. That peaceful pressure alone is inadequate was demonstrated too clearly by the imperialist war, which came in spite of all ‘pressure’. And finally, and this is most important, if the pressure of the proletariat in the first, most critical years of the Soviet Republic proved to be effective enough, then it was only because at that time for the workers of Europe it was not a question of exerting pressure, but of struggling for power – and this struggle repeatedly assumed the form of civil war.

In 1905, there was neither a war nor an economic collapse in Europe, and capitalism and militarism were in full-blooded frenzy. The ‘pressure’ of the Social Democrats of that time was absolutely incapable of preventing Wilhelm II or Franz Josef from marching into the Kingdom of Poland with their troops, or, in general, from coming to the aid of the Tsar. And even in 1918, the pressure of the German proletariat did not prevent Hohenzollern from occupying the Baltic provinces and the Ukraine, and if he did not get as far as Moscow then it was only because his military forces were not adequate. Otherwise, how and why did we conclude the Brest peace ? How easily yesterday is forgotten! Lenin did not confine himself to hope for ‘pressure’ by the proletariat, but repeatedly asserted that without revolution in Germany we should certainly perish. This was correct in essence, although a greater period of time has intervened. Let there be no illusions; we have received an undated moratorium. We live, as before, under the conditions of a ‘breathing-space’.

A condition in which the proletariat is as yet unable to seize power, but can prevent the bourgeoisie from utilizing its power for a war, is a condition of unstable class equilibrium in its highest expression. An equilibrium is called unstable precisely when it cannot last long. It must tip toward one side or the other. Either the proletariat comes to power or else the bourgeoisie, by a series of crushing blows, weakens the revolutionary pressure sufficiently to regain freedom of action, above all in the question of war and peace.

Only a reformist can picture the pressure of the proletariat upon the bourgeois stale as a permanently increasing factor and as a guarantee against intervention. It is precisely out of this conception that arose the theory of the construction of socialism in one country, given the neutralization of the world bourgeoisie (Stalin). Just as the owl takes flight at twilight, so also did the Stalinist theory of the neutralization of the bourgeoisie by the pressure of the proletariat arise only when the conditions which engendered this theory had begun to disappear.

The world situation underwent abrupt changes in the period when the falsely interpreted postwar experience led to the deceptive hope that we could get along without the revolution of the European proletariat by substituting for it ‘support’ in general. The defeats of the proletariat have paved the way for capitalist stabilization. The collapse of capitalism after the war has been overcome. New generations have grown up that have not tasted the horrors of the imperialist slaughter. The result is that the bourgeoisie is now freer to dispose of its war machine than it was five or eight years ago.

As the working masses move to the Left, this process will undoubtedly, as it develops further, once more increase their pressure upon the bourgeois state. But this is a two-edged factor. It is precisely the growing danger from the side of the working class that can, at a later stage, drive the bourgeoisie to decisive steps in order 90 show that it is master in its own house, and to attempt to destroy the main centre of contagion, the Soviet Republic. The struggle against war is decided not by pressure upon the government but only by the revolutionary struggle for power. The ‘pacifist’ effects of the proletarian class struggle, like its reformist effects, are only by-products of the revolutionary struggle for power; they have only a relative strength and can easily turn into their opposite, that is, they can drive the bourgeoisie to take the road to war. The bourgeoisie’s fear of the labour movement, to which Radek refers so one-sidedly, is the most substantial hope of all social-pacifists. But ‘fear’ of the revolution alone decides nothing. The revolution decides. For this reason, Lenin said in 1905 that the only guarantee against the monarchist restoration, and, in 1918, against the restoration of capitalism, is not the pressure of the proletariat but its revolutionary victory in Europe. This is the only correct way of putting the question. In spite of the lengthy character of the ‘breathing-space’, Lenin’s formulation retains its full force even today. I, too, formulated the question in the very same way. I wrote in Results and Prospects in 1906:

‘It is precisely the fear of the revolt of the proletariat that compels the bourgeois parties, even while voting monstrous sums for military expenditure, to make solemn declarations in favour of peace, to dream of International Arbitration Courts and even of the organization of a United States of Europe. These pitiful declamations can, of course, abolish neither the antagonism between states nor armed conflicts.’ (Our Revolution, Results and Prospects, p.238 [3])

The basic mistake of the Sixth Congress lies in this, that in order to save the pacifist and national-reformist perspectives of Stalin-Bukharin, it ran after revolutionary-technical recipes against the war danger, separating the struggle against war from the struggle for power.

The inspirers of the Sixth Congress, these alarmed builders of socialism in one country – in essence, frightened pacifists – made the attempt to perpetuate the ‘neutralization’ of the bourgeoisie through intensified ‘pressure’ methods. But since they couldn’t help knowing that their leadership up to now in a series of countries had led to the defeat of the revolution and had thrown the international vanguard of the proletariat far back, they endeavoured first of all to jettison the ‘sharpened formulation’ of Marxism, which indissolubly ties up the problem of war with the problem of the revolution. They have converted the struggle against war into a self-sufficient task. Lest the national parties oversleep the decisive hour, they have proclaimed the war danger to be permanent, unpostponable and immediate. Everything that happens in the world happens for the purpose of war. War is now no longer an instrument of the bourgeois regime; the bourgeois regime is an instrument of war. As a consequence, the struggle of the Communist International against war is converted into a system of ritualistic formulas, which are repeated automatically on every occasion and, losing their effectiveness, evaporate. Stalinist national socialism tends to convert the Communist International into an auxiliary means of ‘pressure’ upon the bourgeoisie. It is just this tendency, and not Marxism, that Radek helps with his hasty, slovenly, superficial criticism. He has lost the compass and has got into a strange current that may carry him to far different shores.

Alma-Ata, October 1928


1. Speech on the Question of War and Peace, 7 March 1918, 4th edition, XXVII, pp.69-70. Selected Works, English edition, VII, 288.

2. Verbatim Report of the 3rd Congress of the Communist International, Petrograd 1922, Lenin’s speech of 5 July 1922, 4th edition, XXII, 456. Selected Works, English edition, IX, p.227.

3. See Results and Prospects, Europe and Revolution.

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