on the Theory of "Permanent Revolution"
3 to Volume III of The History of the Russian Revolution)
In the Appendix to the first volume of this history we gave extended
excerpts from a series of articles written by us in March 1917 in New York,
and from our more recent polemic articles against Professor Pokrovsky.
In both cases the matter concerned was an analysis of the moving forces
of the Russian, and partly also of the international, revolution. It was
upon the basis of this problem that the fundamental principled groupings
had crystallised themselves in the Russian revolutionary camp ever since
the beginning of the century. In proportion as the revolutionary tide rose,
they acquired more and more the character of a strategic programme, and
then finally a directly tactical character. The years 1903 to 1906 were
a period of intensive crystallisation of political tendencies in the Russian
social democracy. It was at that time that our work, Summaries and Perspectives
was written. It was written in sections and for different purposes. An
imprisonment in December 1905 permitted the author to expound more systematically
than before his views on the character of the Russian revolution and its
prospects. This collected work appeared as a book in the Russian language
in 1906. In order that the excerpts from it given below may take a proper
place in the mind of the reader, we must remind him again that in 1904-5
no one of the Russian Marxists defended, or even uttered, the thought of
the possibility of building a socialist society in a single country in
general, and particularly in Russia. This conception was first expressed
in print only twenty years later, in the autumn of 1924. In the period
of the first revolution, as also in the years between the two revolutions,
the dispute concerned the dynamics of the bourgeois revolution, and not
the chances and possibilities of a socialist revolution. All the present
partisans of the theory of socialism in one country, without a single exception,
were during that period confining the prospects of the Russian revolution
to a bourgeois-democratic republic, and until April 1917 they were considering
impossible not only the building of national socialism, but also the conquest
of power by the proletariat of Russia before the dictatorship of the proletariat
should be inaugurated in more advanced countries.
By "Trotskyism," in the period from 1905 to 1917, was meant that revolutionary
conception according to which the bourgeois revolution in Russia would
not be able to solve its problems without placing the proletariat in power.
Only in the autumn of 1924 did "Trotskyism" begin to mean the conception
according to which the Russian proletariat, having come to power, would
not be able to build a national socialist society with its own forces alone.
For the convenience of the reader we shall present the dispute schematically
in the form of a dialogue in which the letter T signifies a representative
of the 'Trotskyist" conception, and the letter S means one of those Russian
"practicals" who now stands at the head of the soviet bureaucracy.
T. The Russian revolution cannot solve its democratic
problem, above all the agrarian problem, without placing the working class
S. But does not that mean the dictatorship of the proletariat?
S. In backward Russia? Before it happens in the advanced capitalist
T. Exactly so.
S. But you are ignoring the Russian village-that is, the backward peasantry
stuck in the mud of semi-serfdom.
T. On the contrary, it is only the depth of the agrarian problem that
opens the immediate prospect of a dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia.
S. You reject, then, the bourgeois revolution?
T. No, I only try to show that its dynamic leads to the dictatorship
of the proletariat.
S. But that means that Russia is ripe for the building of socialism?
T. No, it does not. Historic evolution has no such planned and harmonious
character. The conquest of power by the proletariat in backward Russia
flows inexorably from the correlation of forces in the bourgeois revolution.
What further economic prospects will be opened by the dictatorship of the
proletariat depends upon the domestic and world conditions under which
it is inaugurated. It goes without saying that Russia cannot arrive at
socialism independently. But once having opened an era of socialist transformation,
she can supply the impetus to a socialist development of Europe and thus
arrive at socialism in the wake of the advanced countries
S. We must acknowledge that Trotsky "even before the revolution
of 1905 advanced the original and now especially famous theory of Permanent
Revolution, asserting that the bourgeois revolution of 1905 would go directly
over into a socialist revolution and prove the first of a series of national
revolutions." (The quotation is from the notes to the Complete Works
of Lenin, published during his life.)
S. And so you deny that our revolution can arrive at socialism?
T. I think, as before, that our revolution can and should lead to
socialism after having acquired an international character.
S. You do not believe, then, in the inner forces of the Russian revolution?
T. Strange that this did not prevent me from foreseeing and preaching
the dictatorship of the proletariat when you rejected it as Utopian.
S. But you none the less deny the socialist revolution in Russia?
T. Until April 1917 you accused me of rejecting the bourgeois revolution.
The secret of your theoretical contradictions lies in the fact that you
got way behind the historic process and now you are trying to catch up
and pass it. To tell the truth, this also is the secret of your industrial
The reader should have always before him these three historic stages
in the development of revolutionary conceptions in Russia, if he wishes
correctly to judge the actual issues in the present struggle of factions
and groups in Russian communism.
Escerpts from the Article of the Year 1905, "Summaries and Perspectives"
SECTION 4. Revolution and the Proletariat
The proletariat will grow and strengthen together with
the growth of capitalism. In this sense the development of capitalism is
the development of the proletariat toward dictatorship. But the day and
hour when the power will pass to the hands of the working class depend
directly not upon the level obtained by the productive forces, but upon
relations in the class struggle, upon the international situation, and
finally upon a series of subjective factors – traditions, initiatives,
preparedness for fighting. ...
In a country economically more backward the proletariat may come to power
sooner than in a country capitalistically advanced. ...
The idea of some sort of automatic dependence of the proletarian dictatorship
upon the technical forces and resources of a country is a prejudice derived
from an extremely over-simplified "economic" materialism. Such a view has
nothing in common with Marxism.
The Russian revolution, according to our view, will create conditions
in which the power may (and with the victory of the revolution must) pass
to the proletariat before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get a
chance to develop their statesmanly genius to the full.
Marxism is above all a method of analysis – not analysis of texts but
analysis of social relations. Is it tine in regard to Russia that the weakness
of capitalistic liberalism necessarily means a weakness of the labour movement?
The numbers of the industrial proletariat, their concentration, their
culture, their political weight, undoubtedly depend upon the degree of
development of capitalist industry. But this dependence is not direct.
Between the productive forces of the country and the political force of
its classes at each given moment various sociopolitical factors of national
and international character intervene, and they displace, and even completely
change the form of, the political expression of economic relations. Notwithstanding
that the productive forces of industry in the United States are ten times
higher than ours, the political rôle of the Russian proletariat,
its influence upon the policy of the country, and the possibility of its
coming influence upon world politics, is incomparably higher than the rôle
and significance of the American proletariat.
SECTION 5. The Proletariat in Power and the Peasantry.
In the event of a decisive victory of the revolution the
power will come into the hands of that class which played the leading rôle
in the struggle – in other words, into the hands of the proletariat. We
add at once as self-evident that this does not exclude the entry into the
government or revolutionary representatives of non-proletarian social groups.
... The whole question is, who will supply the content of the government
policy? Who will consolidate in the government a homogeneous majority?
It is one thing when representatives of the democratic layers of the people
participate in a government which is working-class in its majority. It
is another thing when representatives of the proletariat participate, in
the character of more or less respected hostages, in a definitely bourgeois-democratic
The proletariat cannot perpetuate its power without broadening
the base of the revolution. Many strata of the toiling masses, especially
in the country, will be first drawn into the revolution and acquire political
organisation only after the vanguard of the revolution, the city proletariat,
stands at the helm of state.
... The character of our socio-historic relations, which throws the whole
weight of the bourgeois revolution upon the shoulders of the proletariat,
will not only create enormous difficulties for the workers' government,
but will also, at least in the first period of its existence, give it priceless
advantages. This will express itself in the relations between the proletariat
and the peasantry.
The Russian revolution does not permit, and for a long time will not
permit, the creation of any sort of bourgeois-constitutional order which
might solve the most elementary problems of democracy. In consequence of
this the fate of the most elementary revolutionary interests of the peasantry-even
of the entire peasantry as a caste- is bound up with the fate of the whole
revolution-that is, with the fate of the proletariat. The proletariat in
power will appear to the peasantry as an emancipator class.
But perhaps the peasantry itself will crowd out the proletariat and
occupy its place? That is impossible. All the experience of history protests
against this assumption. It shows that the peasantry is completely incapable
of playing an independent political rôle.
The Russian bourgeoisie will surrender all revolutionary positions to
the proletariat. It will have to surrender also the revolutionary leadership
of the peasantry. In the situation which will be created by a transfer
of power to the proletariat the peasantry will have nothing left to do
but adhere to the régime of workers' democracy. Granted even that
they will do this with no more consciousness than they have in adhering
to the bourgeois régime! But whereas every bourgeois party after
winning the Votes of the peasants makes haste to use its power in order
to rob them and deceive them of all their hopes and faith in promises,
and then when worst comes to worst yields its place to another capitalist
party, the proletariat, relying upon the peasantry, will bring all its
forces into play to raise the cultural level of the village and develop
in the peasantry a political consciousness.
SECTION 6. The Proletarian Régime.
The proletariat can come to power only while relying upon
a national awakening, upon a universal popular inspiration. The proletariat
will enter the government as a revolutionary representative of the nation,
as the recognised leader of the people in their struggle with absolutism
and feudal barbarism. But having come to power, the proletariat will open
a new epoch – an epoch of revolutionary legislation, of affirmative politics
– and here the preservation of its rôle as recognised spokesman of
the nation is by no means guaranteed.
Each day will deepen the policy of the proletariat in power, and more and
more define its class character. And therewith the revolutionary bond between
the proletariat and the nation will be broken. The class dismemberment
of the peasantry will appear in political form. The antagonism between
its constituent parts will increase in the same degree that the policy
of the workers' government defines itself and from being a general democratic
policy becomes a class policy. The destruction of feudal serfdom will have
the support of the entire peasantry as a burdened caste. ... But legislative
measures in defence of the agricultural proletariat not only will win no
such active sympathy from the majority, but will come up against the active
resistance of the minority. The proletariat will find itself obliged to
carry the class struggle into the country, and thus destroy that community
of interests which is undoubtedly to be found in every peasantry, although
within comparatively narrow limits. The proletariat will be obliged, in
the very earliest moments of its rule, to seek support in opposing the
rural poor to the rural rich, the agricultural proletariat to the peasant
Once the power is in the hands of a revolutionary government with a
socialist majority, at that moment the difference between minimum and maximum
programme loses both its significance in principle and its directly practical
significance. A proletarian government cannot possibly restrain itself
within the limits of this distinction. Entering the government not as impotent
hostages but as a ruling power, the representatives of the proletariat
will by this very act destroy the boundary between minimum and maximum
programme. That is, they will place collectivism on the order of the day.
At what point the proletariat will be stopped in this direction depends
upon the correlation of forces, but not at all upon the original intentions
of the party of the proletariat.
That is why there can be no talk of any special form of proletarian
dictatorship in a bourgeois revolution, namely a democratic dictatorship
of the proletariat (or of the proletariat and the peasantry). The working
class cannot guarantee the democratic character of its dictatorship without
transgressing the limits of its democratic programme. Any illusions on
this point would be absolutely ruinous.
Once the party of the proletariat takes the power, it will fight for
it to the end. While one means of waging this struggle for the preservation
and perpetuation of its power will be agitation and organisation, especially
in the country, another means will be a collectivist policy. Collectivism
will become not only an inevitable inference from the position of the party
in power, but also a means of preserving its position while relying upon
* * *
When the idea was formulated in the socialist press of an uninterrupted
revolution, linking up the liquidation of absolutism and of civil serfdom
with a socialist revolution, thanks to multiplying social clashes, uprisings
of new layers of the masses, unceasing attacks of the proletariat upon
the political and economic privileges of the ruling classes, our "progressive"
press raised a unanimous howl of indignation.
The more radical representatives of that same democracy ... not only
considered fantastic the very idea of a workers' government in Russia,
but also denied the possibility of a socialist revolution in Europe in
the coming historic epoch. The necessary "premises" are not yet at hand.
Is this true? It is not, of course, a question of setting the date of a
socialist revolution, but of giving it a place in the actual historic perspective.
(Here follows an analysis of the general premises of a socialist economy
and the proof that at the present time – the beginning of the 20th century
– these premises, if you take the question on a European and world scale,
are already at hand.)
... Within the closed boundaries of separate states a socialist production
could not in any case be introduced-both for economic and political reasons.
SECTION 8. A Workers' Government in Russia and Socialism.
We have shown above that the objective premises of a socialist
revolution have already been created by the economic development of the
advanced capitalist countries. But what can be said in this respect about
Russia? Can we expect that the transfer of power to the Russian proletariat
will be the beginning of a transformation of our national economy upon
The Parisian workers, as Marx said, did not demand miracles of the
Commune. Now, too, you cannot expect instantaneous miracles of the dictatorship
of the proletariat. The state power is not omnipotent. It would be absurd
to imagine that the proletariat has only to receive the power and it will
replace capitalism by socialism with a few decrees. An economic structure
is not a product of the activity of the state. The proletariat can only
employ the state power with all its might in order to promote economic
evolution in the direction of collectivism, and shorten its road.
The socialisation of production begins in those branches which offer
the least difficulties. During the first period socialised production will
take the form of oases united with private industrial enterprises by the
laws of commodity circulation. The broader the field already seized by
socialised industry the more obvious will be its advantages, the solider
will the new political regime feel, and the more bold will be the further
industrial undertakings of the proletariat. In these undertakings the proletariat
will be, able to, and will, rely not only upon the national productive
forces, but also upon international technique, just as in its revolutionary
politics it will rely not only upon the experience of national class relations,
but also upon the whole historic experience of the international proletariat.
The proletarian régime will be compelled from the very first
to undertake the solution of the agrarian problem, with which is bound
up the fate of the immense mass of the population of Russia. In solving
this problem, as in solving all others, the proletariat will take as its
point of departure the fundamental effort of its economic policy: to conquer
as large a field as possible for the organisation of socialist industry.
And the forms and tempo of this policy rn the agrarian problem will have
to be determined both by those material resources in the command of the
proletariat, and by the necessity of so deploying its activities as not
to push possible allies into the ranks of the counter-revolution.
But how far can the socialist policy of the working class go in the
industrial conditions of Russia? Only one thing can be said with certainty.
It will run-into political obstacles long before it comes up against the
technical backwardness of the country. Without direct state support from
the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power
and cannot convert its temporary rule into a prolonged socialist dictatorship.
Political "optimism" may take two, forms. It may exaggerate its own
forces and the advantageous aspects of the revolutionary situation, and
set itself tasks whose solution is not permitted by the given correlation
of forces. But it may, on the other hand, optimistically set a bound to
its revolutionary tasks beyond which the logic of the situation will inevitably
We may set a bound to all the problems of the revolution by asserting
that our revolution is bourgeois in its objective aims, and therefore in
its inevitable result, and we may thus shut our eyes to the fact that the
chief agent of this bourgeois revolution will be the proletariat, and the
proletariat will be pushed toward the power by the whole course of the
You may lull yourself with the thought that the social conditions of
Russia are not yet ripe for a socialist economy, and therewith you may
neglect to consider the fact that the proletariat, once In power, will
inevitably be compelled by the whole logic of its situation to introduce
an economy operated by the state.
The general sociological definition, "bourgeois revolution," does not
by any means solve those politico-tactical problems, contradictions and
difficulties which will be put forward by the mechanics of the given bourgeois
Within the framework of the bourgeois revolution at the end of the 18th
century, whose objective task was to establish the rule of capital, a dictatorship
of the Sansculottes proved possible. In a revolution at the beginning of
the 20th century. which is also bourgeois in its immediate objective tasks,
there appears in the near perspective the inevitability, or at the very
least the probability, of a political rulership of the proletariat. That
this rulership shall not prove a mere passing "episode," as certain realistic
philistines hope – the proletariat itself will see to this. But it is not
too early now to pose the question: Must this dictatorship of the proletariat
inevitably be shattered against the boundaries of the bourgeois revolution?
May it not, upon the given world-historic foundations, open before itself
the prospect of a victory to be achieved after shattering these limited
(Here follows a development of the thought that the Russian revolution
may, and in all probability will, unleash a proletarian revolution in the
west, which in its turn will guarantee the socialist development of Russia.)
It should be added that during the first years of the existence of the
Communist International the above-quoted work was officially published
in foreign languages as a theoretic interpretation of the October revolution.