Leon Trotsky

The Permanent Revolution

9. Epilogue

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

The prediction, or apprehension which I expressed in the concluding lines of the previous chapter was, as the reader knows, confirmed a few months later. The criticism of the permanent revolution only served Radek as a lever to push himself away from the Opposition. Our whole book proves, we hope, that Radek’s passage into the camp of Stalin did not come to us unexpectedly. But even apostasy has its gradations, its levels of debasement. In his declaration of repentance, Radek completely rehabilitates Stalin’s policy in China. This means plumbing the lowest depths of betrayal. It only remains for me to quote an extract from my reply to the declaration of penitence by Radek, Preobrazhensky and Smilga, which puts them on the black list of political cynics:

‘As befits all self-respecting bankrupts, the trio has not of course failed to take cover behind the permanent revolution. The most tragic experience of the whole recent history of the defeats of opportunism – the Chinese Revolution – this trio of capitulators seeks to dismiss with a cheap oath guaranteeing that it has nothing in common with the theory of the permanent revolution.

‘Radek and Smilga obstinately defended the subordination of the Chinese Communist Party to the bourgeois Kuomintang, not only up to Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’etat but also afterwards. Preobrazhensky mumbled something inarticulate, as he always does when political questions are involved. A remarkable fact: all those in the ranks of the Opposition who defended the subordination of the Communist Party to the Kuomintang turned out to be capitulators. Not a single Oppositionist who remained true to his banner bears this mark, which is a mark of notorious shame. Three-quarters of a century after the appearance of the Communist Manifesto, a quarter of a century after the founding of the party of the Bolsheviks, these ill-starred “Marxists” considered it possible to defend the keeping of the Communists in the cage of the Kuomintang! In his answer to my charges, Radek already then, just as in his letter of repentence today, tried to frighten us with the “isolation” of the proletariat from the peasantry in the event of the Communist Party’s withdrawing from the bourgeois Kuomintang. Shortly before that, Radek called the Canton government a peasants’ and workers’ government and thereby helped Stalin to disguise the subordination of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. With what are these shameful deeds, the consequences of this blindness, this stupidity, this betrayal of Marxism, to be covered? With what, indeed! With an indictment of the permanent revolution!

‘As far back as February 1928, Radek, who was already looking for pretexts for his capitulation, adhered promptly to the resolution on the Chinese question adopted by the February 1928 Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. This resolution brands the Trotskyists as liquidators because they called defeats and were not willing to consider the victorious Chinese counterrevolution as the highest stage of the Chinese Revolution. In this February resolution the course towards armed uprising and Soviets was proclaimed. For every person not entirely devoid of political sense and tempered by revolutionary experience, this resolution constituted an example of the most revolting and most irresponsible adventurism. Radek adhered to it. Preobrazhensky approached the matter no less ingeniously than Radek, only from the opposite end. The Chinese Revolution, he wrote, is already defeated, and defeated for a long time. A new revolution will not come soon. Is it worth while squabbling about China with the centrists? On this theme, Preobrazhensky sent out lengthy epistles. When I read them in Alma-Ata, I experienced a feeling of shame. What did these people learn in the school of Lenin? I asked myself over and over again. Preobrazhensky’s premises were diametrically opposed to Radek’s premises, yet the conclusions were the same: both of them were inspired by the great desire for Yaroslavsky to embrace them fraternally through the good offices of Menzhinsky. [1] Oh, of course, they did it for the good of the revolution. These are not careerists. Not at all. They are simply helpless, ideologically bankrupt individuals.

‘To the adventurist resolution of the February Plenum of the ECCI (1928) I already then counterposed a course towards the mobilization of the Chinese workers under democratic slogans, including the slogan of a Constituent Assembly for China. But here the ill-starred trio fell into ultra-leftism; that was cheap and committed them to nothing. Democratic slogans? Never. “This is a gross mistake on Trotsky’s part”. Only soviets for China – not a farthing less! It is hard to conceive of anything more senseless than this – by your leave – position. The slogan of soviets for an epoch of bourgeois reaction is a baby’s rattle, i.e., a mockery of soviets. But even in the epoch of revolution, that is, in the epoch of the direct building of soviets, we did not withdraw the democratic slogans. We did not withdraw them until the real soviets, which had already conquered power, clashed before the eyes of the masses with the real institutions of democracy. This signifies in the language of Lenin (and not of the philistine Stalin and his parrots): not skipping over the democratic stage in the development of the country.

‘Without the democratic programme – constituent assembly, eight-hour day, confiscation of the land, national independence of China, right of self-determination for the peoples living within it – without this democratic programme, the Communist Party of China is bound hand and foot and is compelled to surrender the field passively to the Chinese Social-Democrats who may, with the aid of Stalin, Radek and company, assume the place of the Communist Party.

‘Thus: although following in the wake of the Opposition, Radek nevertheless missed what was most important in the Chinese Revolution, for he defended the subordination of the Communist Party to the bourgeois Kuomintang. Radek missed the Chinese counter-revolution, supporting the course toward armed uprising after the Canton adventure. Radek today skips over the period of the counter-revolution and the struggle for democracy by waving aside the tasks of the transition period in favour of the most abstract idea of soviets outside of time and space. But in return Radek swears that he has nothing in common with the permanent revolution. That is gratifying. That is consoling ...

‘The anti-Marxist theory of Stalin and Radek means for China, India and all the countries of the East, an altered but not improved repetition of the Kuomintang experiment.

‘On the basis of all the experience of the Russian and Chinese Revolution, on the basis of the teachings of Marx and Lenin, tested in the light of these revolutions, the Opposition affirms:

‘That the new Chinese revolution can overthrow the existing regime and transfer the power to the masses of the people only in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat;

‘That the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”, in contrast to the dictatorship of the proletariat which leads the peasantry and realizes the programme of democracy, is a fiction, a self-deception, or what is worse still – Kerenskyism or Kuomintangism.

‘Between the regime of Kerensky and Chiang Kai-shek, on the one hand, and the dictatorship of the proletariat on the other, there is no half-way, intermediate revolutionary regime and there can be none. Whoever puts forward the bare formula of such a regime is shamefully deceiving the workers of the East and is preparing new catastrophes.

‘The Opposition says to the workers of the East: Bankrupted by the inner-party machinations, the capitulators are helping Stalin to sow the seeds of centrism, to throw sand in your eyes, to stop up your ears, to befuddle your heads. On the one hand, you are rendered helpless in the face of stark bourgeois dictatorship by being forbidden to engage in a struggle for democracy. On the other hand, there is unrolled before you a panorama of some sort of saving, non-proletarian dictatorship, which facilitates a fresh reincarnation of the Kuomintang in the future, that is, further defeats for the workers’ and peasants’ revolution.

‘Such preachers are betrayers. Learn to distrust them, workers of the East; learn to despise them, learn to drive them out of your ranks ! ...’


1. Menzhinsky was at that time the head of the GPU; Yaroslavsky was one of the heads of the Central Control Commission of the party and was especially active in attacking the Opposition and expelling many of its adherents from the party.

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Last updated on: 3.3.2007