Leon Trotsky

The Permanent Revolution

Introduction to
the First (Russian) Edition

(Published in Berlin)

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

This book is devoted to an issue which is intimately linked with the history of the three Russian Revolutions. But not with that history alone. This issue has played an enormous role in recent years in the internal struggle in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; it was then carried into the Communist International, played a decisive role in the development of the Chinese Revolution and determined a whole number of most important decisions on problems bound up with the revolutionary struggle of the countries of the East. This issue has to do with the theory of the permanent revolution, which, according to the teachings of the epigones of Leninism (Zinoviev, Stalin, Bukharin, etc.) represents the original sin of ‘Trotskyism’.

The question of the permanent revolution was once again raised in 1924 after a long interval and, at first sight, quite unexpectedly. There was no political justification for it; it was a matter of differences of opinion which belonged to the distant past. But there were important psychological motives. The group of so-called ‘old Bolsheviks’ who had opened up a fight against me began by counterposing themselves to me as the ‘Bolshevik Old Guard’. But a great obstacle in their path was the year 1917. However important may have been the preceding history of ideological struggle and preparation, nonetheless, not only with regard to the party as a whole but also with regard to different individuals, this whole preceding preparatory period found its highest and categorical test in the October Revolution. Not a single one of the epigones stood up under this test. Without exception, they all at the time of the February 1917 Revolution adopted the vulgar position of democratic Left Wingers. Not a single one of them raised the slogan of the workers’ struggle for power. They all regarded the course toward a socialist revolution as absurd or – still worse – as ‘Trotskyism’. In this spirit they led the party up to the time of Lenin’s arrival from abroad and the publication of his famous April Theses. After this, Kamenev, already in direct struggle against Lenin, openly tried to form a democratic wing of Bolshevism. Later he was joined by Zinoviev, who had arrived with Lenin. Stalin, heavily compromised by his social-patriotic position, stepped to the sidelines. He let the party forget his miserable articles and speeches of the decisive March weeks and gradually edged over to Lenin’s standpoint. This is why the question automatically arose: What had any of these leading ‘old Bolsheviks’ got from Leninism when not a single one of them showed himself capable of applying independently the theoretical and practical experiences of the party at a most important and most critical historical moment? Attention had to be diverted from this question at all costs and another question substituted for it. To this end, it was decided to concentrate fire on the permanent revolution. My adversaries did not, of course, foresee that in creating an artificial axis of struggle they would imperceptibly be compelled to revolve it around themselves and to manufacture, by the method of inversion, a new world outlook for themselves.

In its essential features, the theory of the permanent revolution was formulated by me even before the decisive events of 1905. Russia was approaching the bourgeois revolution. No one in the ranks of the Russian Social Democrats (we all called ourselves Social Democrats then) had any doubts that we were approaching a bourgeois revolution, that is, a revolution produced by the contradictions between the development of the productive forces of capitalist society and the outlived caste and state relationships of the period of serfdom and the Middle Ages. In the struggle against the Narodniks and the anarchists, I had to devote not a few speeches and articles in those days to the Marxist analysis of the bourgeois character of the impending revolution.

The bourgeois character of the revolution could not, however, answer in advance the question of which classes would solve the tasks of the democratic revolution and what the mutual relationships of these classes would be. It was precisely at this point that the fundamental strategical problems began.

Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Martov and, following them, all the Russian Mensheviks, took as their point of departure the idea that to the liberal bourgeoisie, as the natural claimant to power, belonged the leading role in the bourgeois revolution. According to this pattern, the party of the proletariat was assigned the role of Left Wing of the democratic front. The Social Democrats were to support the liberal bourgeoisie against the reaction and at the same time to defend the interests of the proletariat against the liberal bourgeoisie. In other words, the Mensheviks understood the bourgeois revolution principally as a liberal-constitutional reform.

Lenin posed the question in an altogether different manner. For Lenin, the liberation of the productive forces of bourgeois society from the fetters of serfdom signified, first and foremost, a radical solution of the agrarian question in the sense of complete liquidation of the landowning class and revolutionary redistribution of landownership. Inseparably connected with this was the destruction of the monarchy. Lenin attacked the agrarian problem, which affected the vital interests of the overwhelming majority of the population and at the same time constituted the basic problem of the capitalist market, with a truly revolutionary boldness. Since the liberal bourgeoisie, which confronts the worker as an enemy, is intimately bound by innumerable ties to large landed property, the genuine democratic liberation of the peasantry can be realised only by the revolutionary co-operation of the workers and peasants. According to Lenin, their joint uprising against the old society must, if victorious, lead to the establishment of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’.

This formula is now repeated in the Communist International as a sort of supra-historical dogma, with no attempt to analyse the living historical experiences of the last quarter-century – as though we had not been witnesses and participants in the Revolution of 1905, the February Revolution of 1917, and finally the October Revolution. Such a historical analysis, however, is all the more necessary because never in history has there been a regime of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’.

In 1905, it was a question with Lenin of a strategical hypothesis still to be verified by the actual course of the class struggle. The formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry bore in large measure an intentionally algebraic character. Lenin did not solve in advance the question of what the political relationships would be between the two participants in the assumed democratic dictatorship, that is, the proletariat and the peasantry. He did not exclude the possibility that the peasantry would be represented in the revolution by an independent party – a party independent in a double sense, not only with regard to the bourgeoisie but also with regard to the proletariat, and at the same time capable of realising the democratic revolution in alliance with the party of the proletariat in struggle against the liberal bourgeoisie. Lenin even allowed the possibility – as we shall soon see – that the revolutionary peasants’ party might constitute the majority in the government of the democratic dictatorship.

In the question of the decisive significance of the agrarian revolution for the fate of our bourgeois revolution, I was, at least from the autumn of 1902, that is, from the time of my first flight abroad, a pupil of Lenin’s. That the agrarian revolution, and consequently, the general democratic revolution also, could be realised only by the united forces of the workers and the peasants in struggle against the liberal bourgeoisie, was for me, contrary to all the senseless fairy tales of recent years, beyond any doubt. Yet I came out against the formula ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’, because I saw its shortcoming in the fact that it left open the question of which class would wield the real dictatorship. I endeavoured to show that in spite of its enormous social and revolutionary weight the peasantry was incapable of creating a really independent party and even less capable of concentrating the revolutionary power in the hands of such a party. Just as in the old revolutions, from the German Reformation of the sixteenth century, and even before that, the peasantry in its up-risings gave support to one of the sections of the urban bourgeoisie and not infrequently ensured its victory, so, in our belated bourgeois revolution, the peasantry might at the peak of its struggle extend similar support to the proletariat and help it to come to power. From this I drew the conclusion that our bourgeois revolution could solve its tasks radically only in the event that the proletariat, with the aid of the multi-millioned peasantry, proved capable of concentrating the revolutionary dictatorship in its own hands.

What would be the social content of this dictatorship? First of all, it would have to carry through to the end the agrarian revolution and the democratic reconstruction of the State. In other words, the dictatorship of the proletariat would become the instrument for solving the tasks of the historically-belated bourgeois revolution. But the matter could not rest there. Having reached power the proletariat would be compelled to encroach even more deeply upon the relationships of private property in general, that is to take the road of socialist measures.

‘But do you really believe,’ the Stalins, Rykovs and all the other Molotovs objected dozens of times between 1905 and 1917, ‘that Russia is ripe for the socialist revolution?’ To that I always answered: No, I do not. But world economy as a whole, and European economy in the first place, is fully ripe for the socialist revolution. Whether the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia leads to socialism or not, and at what tempo and through what stages, will depend upon the fate of European and world capitalism.

These were the essential features of the theory of the permanent revolution at its origin in the early months of 1905. Since then, three revolutions have taken place. The Russian proletariat rose to power on the mighty wave of the peasant insurrection. The dictatorship of the proletariat became a fact in Russia earlier than in any of the immeasurably more developed countries of the world. In 1924, that is, no more than seven years after the historical prognosis of the theory of the permanent revolution had been confirmed with quite exceptional force, the epigones opened up a frenzied attack against this theory, plucking isolated sentences and polemical rejoinders out of old works of mine which I had by then completely forgotten.

It is appropriate to recall here that the first Russian revolution broke out more than half a century after the wave of bourgeois revolutions in Europe and thirty-five years after the episodic uprising of the Paris Commune. Europe had time to grow unaccustomed to revolutions. Russia had not experienced any. All the problems of the revolution were posed anew. It is not difficult to understand how many unknown and conjectural magnitudes the future revolution held for us in those days. The formulae of all the groupings were, each in their own way, working hypotheses. One must have complete incapacity for historical prognosis and utter lack of understanding of its methods in order now, after the event, to consider analyses and evaluations of 1905 as though they were written yesterday. I have often said to myself and to my friends: I do not doubt that my prognoses of 1905 contained many defects which it is not hard to show up now, after the event. But did my critics see better and further? Not having re-read my old works for a long time, I was ready in advance to admit to defects in them more serious and important than really were there. I became convinced of this in 1928, when the political leisure imposed upon me by exile in Alma-Ata gave me the opportunity to re-read, pencil in hand, my old writings on the problems of the permanent revolution. I hope that the reader, too, will be thoroughly convinced of this by what he reads in the pages that follow.

It is nevertheless necessary, within the limits of this introduction, to present as exact as possible a characterization of the constituent elements of the theory of the permanent revolution, and the most important objections to it. The dispute has so broadened and deepened that it now embraces in essence all the most important questions of the world revolutionary movement.

The permanent revolution, in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without: that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in the complete liquidation of class society.

To dispel the chaos that has been created around the theory of the permanent revolution, it is necessary to distinguish three lines of thought that are united in this theory.

First, it embraces the problem of the transition from the democratic revolution to the socialist. This is in essence the historical origin of the theory.

The concept of the permanent revolution was advanced by the great Communists of the middle of the nineteenth century, Marx and his co-thinkers, in opposition to the democratic ideology which, as we know, claims that with the establishment of a ‘rational’ or democratic state all questions can be solved peacefully by reformist or evolutionary measures. Marx regarded the bourgeois revolution of 1848 as the direct prelude to the proletarian revolution. Marx ‘erred’. Yet his error has a factual and not a methodological character. The Revolution of 1848 did not turn into the socialist revolution. But that is just why it also did not achieve democracy. As to the German Revolution of 1918, it was no democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution, it was a proletarian revolution decapitated by the Social Democrats; more correctly, it was a bourgeois counter-revoIution, which was compelled to preserve pseudo-democratic forms after its victory over the proletariat.

Vulgar ‘Marxism’ has worked out a pattern of historical development according to which every bourgeois society sooner or later secures a democratic regime, after which the proletariat, under conditions of democracy, is gradually organized and educated for socialism. The actual transition to socialism has been variously conceived: the avowed reformists pictured this transition as the reformist filling of democracy with a socialist content (Jaurès); the formal revolutionists acknowledged the inevitability of applying revolutionary violence in the transition to socialism (Guesde). But both the former and the latter considered democracy and socialism, for all peoples and countries, as two stages in the development of society which are not only entirely distinct but also separated by great distances of time from each other. This view was predominant also among those Russian Marxists who, in the period of 1905, belonged to the Left Wing of the Second International. Plekhanov, the brilliant progenitor of Russian Marxism, considered the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat a delusion in contemporary Russia. The same standpoint was defended not only by the Mensheviks but also by the overwhelming majority of the leading Bolsheviks, in particular by those present party leaders, without exception, who in their day were resolute revolutionary democrats but for whom the problems of the socialist revolution, not only in 1905 but also on the eve of 1917, still signified the vague music of a distant future.

The theory of the permanent revolution, which originated in 1905, declared war upon these ideas and moods. It pointed out that the democratic tasks of the backward bourgeois nations lead directly, in our epoch, to the dictatorship of the proletariat and that the dictatorship of the proletariat puts socialist tasks on the order of the day. Therein lay the central idea of the theory. While the traditional view was that the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat led through a long period of democracy, the theory of the permanent revolution established the fact that for backward countries the road to democracy passed through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus democracy is not a regime that remains self-sufficient for decades, but is only a direct prelude to the socialist revolution. Each is bound to the other by an unbroken chain. Thus there is established between the democratic revolution and the socialist reconstruction of society a permanent state of revolutionary development.

The second aspect of the ‘permanent’ theory has to do with the socialist revolution as such. For an indefinitely long time and in constant internal struggle, all social relations undergo transformation. Society keeps on changing its skin. Each stage of transformation stems directly from the preceding. This process necessarily retains a political character, that is, it develops through collisions between various groups in the society which is in transformation. Outbreaks of civil war and foreign wars alternate with periods of ‘peaceful’ reform. Revolutions in economy, technique, science, the family, morals and everyday life develop in complex reciprocal action and do not allow society to achieve equilibrium. Therein lies the permanent character of the socialist revolution as such.

The international character of the socialist revolution, which constitutes the third aspect of the theory of the permanent revolution, flows from the present state of economy and the social structure of humanity. Internationalism is no abstract principle but a theoretical and political reflection of the character of world economy, of the world development of productive forces and the world scale of the class struggle. The socialist revolution begins on national foundations – but it cannot be completed within these foundations. The maintenance of the proletarian revolution within a national framework can only be a provisional state of affairs, even though, as the experience of the Soviet Union shows, one of long duration. In an isolated proletarian dictatorship, the internal and external contradictions grow inevitably along with the successes achieved. If it remains isolated, the proletarian state must finally fall victim to these contradictions. The way out for it lies only in the victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries. Viewed from this standpoint, a national revolution is not a self-contained whole; it is only a link in the international chain. The international revolution constitutes a permanent process, despite temporary declines and ebbs.

The struggle of the epigones is directed, even if not always with the same clarity, against all three aspects of the theory of the permanent revolution. And how could it be otherwise, when it is a question of three inseparably connected parts of a whole? The epigones mechanically separate the democratic and the socialist dictatorships. They separate the national socialist revolution from the international. They consider that, in essence, the conquest of power within national limits is not the initial act but the final act of the revolution; after that follows the period of reforms that lead to the national socialist society. In 1905, they did not even grant the idea that the proletariat could conquer power in Russia earlier than in Western Europe. In 1917, they preached the self-sufficing democratic revolution in Russia and spurned the dictatorship of the proletariat. In 1925-27, they steered a course toward national revolution in China under the leadership of the national bourgeoisie. Subsequently, they raised the slogan for China of the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants in opposition to the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They proclaimed the possibility of the construction of an isolated and self-sufficient socialist society in the Soviet Union. The world revolution became for them, instead of an indispensable condition for victory, only a favourable circumstance. This profound breach with Marxism was reached by the epigones in the process of permanent struggle against the theory of the permanent revolution.

The struggle, which began with an artificial revival of historical reminiscences and the falsification of the distant past, led to the complete transformation of the world outlook of the ruling stratum of the revolution. We have already repeatedly explained that this re-evaluation of values was accomplished under the influence of the social needs of the Soviet bureaucracy, which became ever more conservative, strove for national order and demanded that the already-achieved revolution, which insured privileged positions to the bureaucracy, should now be considered adequate for the peaceful construction of socialism. We do not wish to return to this theme here. Suffice it to note that the bureaucracy is deeply conscious of the connection of its material and ideological positions with the theory of national socialism. This is being expressed most crassly right now, in spite of, or rather because of, the fact that the Stalinist machine of government, under the pressure of contradictions which it did not foresee, is driving to the left with all its might and inflicting quite severe blows upon its right wing inspirers of yesterday. The hostility of the bureaucrats toward the Marxist Opposition, whose slogans and arguments they have borrowed in great haste, is not, as we know, diminishing in the least. The condemnation of the theory of the permanent revolution, and an acknowledgment, even if only indirect, of the theory of socialism in one country, is demanded, first and foremost, of those Oppositionists who raise the question of their re-admission into the party for the purpose of supporting the course toward industrialization, etc. By this the Stalinist bureaucracy reveals the purely tactical character of its left turn which goes along with retention of its national-reformist strategical foundations. It is superfluous to explain what this means; in politics as in war, tactics are in the long run subordinated to strategy.

The question has long ago gone beyond the specific sphere of the struggle against ‘Trotskyism’. Gradually extending itself, it has to-day embraced literally all the problems of the revolutionary world outlook. Either permanent revolution or socialism in one country – this alternative embraces at the same time the internal problems of the Soviet Union, the prospects of revolution in the East, and finally, the fate of the Communist International as a whole.

The present work does not examine this question from all these sides; it is not necessary to repeat what has been already said in other works. In the Criticism of the Draft Programme of the Communist International[1], I have endeavoured to disclose theoretically the economic and political untenability of national socialism. The theoreticians of the Comintern have kept mum about this. That is indeed the only thing left for them to do. In this book I above all restore the theory of the permanent revolution as it was formulated in 1905 with regard to the internal problems of the Russian revolution. I show wherein my position actually differed from Lenin’s, and how and why it coincided with Lenin’s position in every decisive situation. Finally, I endeavour to reveal the decisive significance of this question for the proletariat of the backward countries, and thereby for the Communist International as a whole.

What charges have been brought against the theory of the permanent revolution by the epigones? If we discard the innumerable contradictions of my critics, then their entire and truly vast body of writing can be reduced to the following propositions:

  1. Trotsky ignored the difference between the bourgeois revolution and the socialist revolution. Already in 1905 he considered that the proletariat of Russia was directly faced with the tasks of a socialist revolution.
  2. Trotsky completely forgot the agrarian question. The peasantry did not exist for him. He depicted the revolution as a matter of single combat between the proletariat and Tsarism.
  3. Trotsky did not believe that the world bourgeoisie would tolerate for any length of time the existence of the dictatorship of the Russian proletariat, and regarded its downfall as inevitable unless the proletariat of the West seized power within a very short period and came to our assistance. Thereby Trotsky underestimated the pressure of the Western European proletariat upon its own bourgeoisie.
  4. Trotsky does not in general believe in the power of the Russian proletariat, in its ability to construct socialism independently; and that is why he has put and still puts all his hopes in the international revolution.

These motifs run through not only the numberless writings and speeches of Zinoviev, Stalin, Bukharin and others, but they are also formulated in the most authoritative resolutions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist International. And in spite of that, one is compelled to say that they are based upon a mixture of ignorance and dishonesty.

The first two contentions of the critics are, as will be shown later on, false to the very roots. No, I proceeded precisely from the bourgeois-democratic character of the revolution and arrived at the conclusion that the profundity of the agrarian crisis could raise the proletariat of backward Russia to power. Yes, this was precisely the idea I defended on the eve of the 1905 Revolution. This was precisely the idea that was expressed by the very designation of the revolution as a ‘permanent’, that is, an uninterrupted one, a revolution passing over directly from the bourgeois stage into the socialist. To express the same idea Lenin later used the excellent expression of the bourgeois revolution growing over into the socialist. The conception of ‘growing over’ was counterposed by Stalin, after the event (in 1924), to the permanent revolution, which he presented as a direct leap from the realm of autocracy into the realm of socialism. This ill-starred ‘theoretician’ did not even bother to ponder the question: What meaning can there be to the permanency of the revolution, that is, its uninterrupted development, if all that is involved is a mere leap?

As for the third accusation, it was dictated by the short-lived faith of the epigones in the possibility of neutralizing the imperialist bourgeoisie for an unlimited time with the aid of the ‘shrewdly’ organized pressure of the proletariat. In the years 1924-27, this was Stalin’s central idea. The Anglo-Russian Committee was its fruit. Disappointment in the possibility of binding the world bourgeoisie hand and foot with the help of Purcell, Radic, LaFollette and Chiang Kai-shek led to an acute paroxysm of fear of an immediate war danger. The Comintern is still passing through this period.

The fourth objection to the theory of the permanent revolution simply amounts to saying that I did not in 1905 defend the standpoint of the theory of socialism in one country which Stalin first manufactured for the Soviet bureaucracy in 1924. This accusation is a sheer historical curiosity. One might actually believe that my opponents, insofar as they thought politically at all in 1905, were of the opinion then that Russia was ripe for an independent socialist revolution. As a matter of fact, in the period 1905-17 they were tireless in accusing me of utopianism because I allowed the probability that the Russian proletariat could come to power before the proletariat of Western Europe. Kamenev and Rykov accused Lenin of utopianism in April 1917, and therewith they explained to Lenin in simple language that the socialist revolution must first be achieved in Britain and in the other advanced countries before it could be Russia’s turn. The same standpoint was defended by Stalin, too, up to April 4, 1917. Only gradually and with difficulty did he adopt the Leninist formula of the dictatorship of the proletariat in contradistinction to the democratic dictatorship. In the spring of 1924, Stalin was still repeating what others had said before him: taken separately, Russia is not ripe for the construction of a socialist society. In the autumn of 1924, Stalin, in his struggle against the theory of the permanent revolution, for the first time discovered the possibility of building an isolated socialism in Russia. Only then did the Red Professors collect quotations for Stalin which convicted Trotsky of having believed in 1905 – how terrible! – that Russia could reach socialism only with the aid of the proletariat of the West.

Were one to take the history of the ideological struggle over a period of a quarter-century, cut it into little pieces, mix them in a mortar, and then command a blind man to stick the pieces together again, a greater theoretical and historical jumble of nonsense could hardly result than the one with which the epigones feed their readers and hearers.

To illumine the connection of yesterday’s problems with today’s, one must recall here, even if only very generally, what the leadership of the Comintern, that is, Stalin and Bukharin, perpetrated in China.

Under the pretext that China was faced with a national liberationist revolution, the leading role was allotted in 1924 to the Chinese bourgeoisie. The party of the national bourgeoisie, the Kuomintang, was officially recognised as the leading party. Not even the Russian Mensheviks went that far in 1905 in relation to the Cadets (the party of the liberal bourgeoisie).

But the leadership of the Comintern did not stop there. It compelled the Chinese Communist Party to enter the Kuomintang and submit to its discipline. In special telegrams from Stalin, the Chinese Communists were urged to curb the agrarian movement. The workers and peasants rising in revolt were forbidden to form their own soviets in order not to alienate Chiang Kai-shek, whom Stalin defended against the Oppositionists as a ‘reliable ally’ at a party meeting in Moscow at the beginning of April, 1927, that is, a few days before the counter-revolutionary coup d’etat in Shanghai.

The official subordination of the Communist Party to the bourgeois leadership, and the official prohibition of forming soviets (Stalin and Bukharin taught that the Kuomintang ‘took the place’ of soviets), was a grosser and more glaring betrayal of Marxism than all the deeds of the Mensheviks in the years 1905-1917.

After Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’etat in April, 1927, a Left Wing, under the leadership of Wang Ching-wei, split off temporarily from the Kuomintang. Wang Ching-wei was immediately hailed in Pravda as a reliable ally. In essence, Wang Ching-wei bore the same relation to Chiang Kai-shek as Kerensky to Milyukov, with this difference that in China Milyukov and Kornilov were united in the single person of Chiang Kai-shek.

After April, 1927, the Chinese party was ordered to enter the ‘Left’ Kuomintang and to submit to the discipline of the Chinese Kerensky instead of preparing open warfare against him. The ‘reliable’ Wang Ching-wei crushed the Communist Party, and together with it the workers’ and peasants’ movement, no less brutally than Chiang Kai-shek, whom Stalin had declared his reliable ally.

Though the Mensheviks supported Milyukov in 1905 and afterwards, they nevertheless did not enter the liberal party. Though the Mensheviks went hand in hand with Kerensky in 1917, they still retained their own organisation. Stalin’s policy in China was a malicious caricature even of Menshevism. That is what the first and most important chapter looked like.

After its inevitable fruits had appeared – complete decline of the workers’ and peasants’ movement, demoralisation and breakup of the Communist Party – he leadership of the Comintern gave the command: ‘Left about turn!’ and demanded immediate transition to the armed uprising of the workers and peasants. Up to yesterday the young, crushed and mutilated Communist Party still served as the fifth wheel in the wagon of Chiang Kai-shek and Wang Ching-wei, and consequently lacked the slightest independent political experience. And now suddenly this party was commanded to lead the workers and peasants – whom the Comintern had up to yesterday held back under the banner of the Kuomintang – in an armed insurrection against the same Kuomintang which had meanwhile found time to concentrate the power and the army in its hands. In the course of 24 hours a fictitious soviet was improvised in Canton. An armed insurrection, timed in advance for the opening of the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, expressed simultaneously the heroism of the advanced Chinese workers and the criminality of the Comintern leaders. Lesser adventures preceded the Canton uprising and followed it. Such was the second chapter of the Chinese strategy of the Comintern. It can be characterised as the most malicious caricature of Bolshevism. The liberal-opportunist and adventurist chapters delivered a blow to the Chinese Communist Party from which, even with a correct policy, it can only recover after a number of years.

The Sixth Congress of the Comintern drew up the balance sheet of all this work. It gave it unreserved approval. This is hardly surprising, since the Congress was convoked for this purpose. For the future, the Congress advanced the slogan ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.’ Wherein this dictatorship would differ from the dictatorship of the Right or Left Kuomintang, on the one side, and the dictatorship of the proletariat on the other – this was not explained to the Chinese Communists. Nor is it possible to explain it.

Proclaiming the slogan of the democratic dictatorship the Sixth Congress at the same time condemned democratic slogans as impermissible (constituent assembly, universal suffrage, freedom of speech and of the press, etc.) and thereby completely disarmed the Chinese Communist Party in the face of the dictatorship of the military oligarchy. For a long number of years, the Russian Bolsheviks had mobilized the workers and peasants around democratic slogans. Democratic slogans played a big role in 1917. Only after the Soviet power had actually come into existence and clashed politically with the Constituent Assembly, irreconcilably and in full view of the entire people, did our party liquidate the institutions and slogans of formal democracy, that is, bourgeois democracy, in favour of real soviet democracy, that is, proletarian democracy.

The Sixth Congress of the Comintern, under the leadership of Stalin and Bukharin, turned all this upside down. While on the one hand it prescribed the slogan of ‘democratic’ and not ‘proletarian’ dictatorship for the party, it simultaneously forbade it to use democratic slogans in preparing for this dictatorship. The Chinese Communist Party was not only disarmed, but stripped naked. By way of consolation it was finally permitted in the period of unlimited domination of the counter-revolution, to use the slogan of soviets, which had remained under ban throughout the upsurge of the revolution. A very popular hero of Russian folk-lore sings wedding songs at funerals and funeral hymns at weddings. He is soundly thrashed on both occasions. If what was involved was only thrashings administered to the strategists of the incumbent leadership of the Comintern, one might perhaps reconcile oneself to it. But much greater issues are at stake. Involved here is the fate of the proletariat. The tactics of the Comintern constituted an unconsciously, but all the more reliably, organized sabotage of the Chinese Revolution. This sabotage was accomplished with certainty of success, for the Right Menshevik policy of 1924-27 was clothed by the Comintern with all the authority of Bolshevism, and at the same time was protected by the Soviet power, through its mighty machine of repression, from the criticism of the Left Opposition.

As a result, we saw accomplished a finished experiment of Stalinist strategy, which proceeded from beginning to end under the flag of a struggle against the permanent revolution. It was, therefore, quite natural that the principal Stalinist theoretician of the subordination of the Chinese Communist Party to the national-bourgeois Kuomintang should have been Martynov. This same Martynov had been the principal Menshevik critic of the theory of the permanent revolution from 1905 right up to 1923, the year when he began to fulfil his historic mission in the ranks of Bolshevism.

The essential facts about the origin of the present work are dealt with in the first chapter. In Alma-Ata I was unhurriedly preparing a theoretical polemic against the epigones. The theory of the permanent revolution was to occupy a large place in this book. While at work, I received a manuscript by Radek which was devoted to counterposing the permanent revolution to the strategic line of Lenin. Radek needed to make this, so to say, unexpected sortie because he was himself submerged up to his ears in Stalin’s Chinese policy: Radek (together with Zinoviev) defended the subordination of the Communist Party to the Kuomintang not only before Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’état but even after it.

To provide a basis for the enslavement of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, Radek naturally cited the necessity of an alliance with the peasantry and my ‘underestimation’ of this necessity. Following Stalin, he too defended Menshevik policy with Bolshevik phraseology. With the formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, Radek, following Stalin, once again covered up the fact that the Chinese proletariat had been diverted from independent struggle for power at the head of the peasant masses. When I exposed this ideological masquerade, there arose in Radek the urgent need to prove that my struggle against opportunism disguising itself with quotations from Lenin was derived in reality from the contradiction between the theory of the permanent revolution and Leninism. Radek, speaking as attorney in defence of his own sins, converted his speech into a prosecutor’s indictment of the permanent revolution. This served him only as a bridge to capitulation. I had all the more reason to suspect this since Radek, years before, had planned to write a pamphlet in defence of the permanent revolution. Still I did not hasten to write Radek off. I tried to answer his article frankly and categorically without at the same time cutting off his retreat. I print my reply to Radek just as it was written, confining myself to a few explanatory notes and stylistic corrections.

Radek’s article was not published in the press, and I believe it will not be published, for in the form in which it was written in 1928 it could not pass through the sieve of the Stalinist censorship. Even for Radek himself this article would be downright fatal today, for it would give a clear picture of his ideological evolution, which very strongly recalls the ‘evolution’ of a man who throws himself out of a sixth-floor window.

The origin of this work explains sufficiently why Radek occupies a larger place in it than it is perhaps his right to claim. Radek did not think up a single new argument against the theory of the permanent revolution. He came forward only as an epigone of the epigones. The reader is, therefore, recommended to see in Radek not simply Radek but the representative of a certain corporation, in which he purchased an associate membership at the price of renouncing Marxism. Should Radek personally feel that too many digs have fallen to his share, then he should at his own discretion turn them over to the more appropriate addresses. That is the private affair of the firm. For my part, I raise no objections.

Various groupings of the German Communist Party have come into power or fought for it by demonstrating their qualifications for leadership by means of critical exercises against the permanent revolution. But this entire literature, emanating from Maslow, Thalheimer and the rest, is on such a sorry level that it does not even provide a pretext for a critical answer. The Thaelmanns, the Remmeles and other incumbent leaders by appointment, have taken this question even a stage lower. All these critics have succeeded merely in demonstrating that they are unable to reach even the threshold of the question. For this reason, I leave them – beyond the threshold. Anyone interested in the theoretical critiques by Maslow, Thalheimer and the rest, can, after reading this book, turn to their writings in order to convince himself of the ignorance and dishonesty of these authors. This will be, so to speak, a by-product of the work I am offering the reader.

November 30, 1929


1. Included in The Third International After Lenin, published by Pioneer Publishers, New York.

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Last updated on: 3.3.2007