Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 3


Permanent Revolution

La Teoría de la Revolución Permanente
Centro de Estudios y pubilicaciones León Trotsky (CEIP), Buenos Aires 2000, pp. 606

THIS extensive Spanish collection of Trotsky’s writing on Permanent Revolution includes, besides Results and Perspectives and Permanent Revolution, articles published from 1904 to 1940 from Trotsky’s other works, reminding us of how central the concept was to his political thought. The book draws heavily on Trotsky’s polemics with the Stalinist bureaucracy over the policies pursued by the Communist International, especially in China. The editors have collected and translated familiar works, mainly from French and English publications, but have also found material until now available only on the Internet, for example letters to Radek on the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang, written in 1926. Reading these extracts in a single publication shows the development of the concept of Permanent Revolution, from observations on the failed revolution of 1905 to the sabotage of the Spanish Revolution in 1936. The editors, rightly, see Permanent Revolution as a theory/programme which produced victory in 1917, and when not applied, as in China and Spain, brought disaster. No selection on the topic can be fully comprehensive. A case could be made for the inclusion of the chapter Peculiarities of Russia’s Development from the History of the Russian Revolution, but that would make the book unwieldy: it already has 606 pages, plus biographical notes.

Trotsky argued that in undeveloped countries the bourgeoisie was incapable of carrying out the tasks once accomplished by its equivalents in the advanced countries, and that the ‘orthodox’ Social Democratic leaders were utopian in expecting the bourgeoisie to do so, thereby bequeathing them the conditions to introduce socialism. He demonstrated how the bourgeoisie in economically and politically backward countries was incapable of repeating the achievements of their British and French predecessors. Nowhere has it carried out the instructions of the ‘Marxist’ pedants.

The tasks of the bourgeois revolution could not be reduced to a tick list: they differed according to place and circumstance, but generally consisted of eradicating autocracy and feudal vestiges, introducing representative government, national unification and democratic rights. Land redistribution was essential in countries where the impoverished peasants were excluded from civilised life. Given the understandable reluctance of the bourgeoisie to attack the traditional land-owning autocracy and put itself at the mercy of an emerging working class, the Social Democratic perspective was a fantasy. Although Trotsky’s early writings, 1905 and Results and Prospects were specifically about Russia, the theory was later extended as the Stalinist bureaucracy adopted its own version of Social Democratic theory: building socialism in a single country. In China, India and Spain it confided in a weak bourgeoisie, which had no wish to challenge the old order.

The very helpful editorial notes are confined to an examination of Trotsky’s works, and do not ask how the theory’s validity is affected by events in the six decades after his death. That would take another book. Such a work might examine how Marxists should assess the partial modernisations and achievement of limited independence and economic development carried out in semi-colonies by military figures such as Nasser and Perón. Nor do we yet have a Marxist analysis of societies such as those in the former Soviet Union which have regressed to a lower level of social and economic development.

John Sullivan

Updated by ETOL: 22.10.2011