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Marxist Expression of Romanticism
Critique of Trotsky's Theory
of Permanent Revolution

(From 'The Study fo Scientific Communism' No.28 1970)

Written by Hiroyoshi Hayashi
Translated by Roy West

  1. The Theory of Permanent Revolution and Historical Materialism
  2. "Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletaria and Peasantry"
  3. "Permanent Rvolution" and "Socialism in One Country"
  4. Marxism and Intellectual Romanticism


What is Trotsky's theory of "permanent revolution" ? Let's ask Trotsky first. He wrote:

It [theory of permanent revolution] pointed out that the democratic tasks of the backward bourgeois nations in our epoch led directly to the dictatorship of the proletariat and that the dictatorship of the proletariat puts the socialist tasks on the order of the day. In that lay the central idea of the theory. (*1)

Trotsky's theory of revolution tells us that the agrarian question, which forms the foundation of bourgeois democratic revolution, can never be solved under the rule of the bourgeoisie, and only be resolved under the proletarian dictatorship. It also tells us that by this fact the democratic revolution develops permanently and un- interruptedly transforms itself into a socialist revolution. Certainly, it is true that under the rule of the bourgeoisie, the agrarian question is either not solved at all, or solved only on the surface. Even today [1970], this is the case in the majority of economically backward countries in Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world. But Trotskyism characteristically draws the conclusion that proletarian governments will inevitably be formed in these backward countries and will "uninterruptedly" (permanently) develop into socialism.

To evaluate Trotsky's theory, we need to look at the debate in Russia at the time concerning the character of the Russian Revolution and consider the position of Trotsky's theory within this debate. In pre-revolutionary Russia, the Marxists and Narodniks held different views on the nature of the coming revolution. The Narodniks (and later the Social-Revolutionaries) rejected the Marxists' view that capitalism was unavoidable in Russia, and instead advocated an immediate socialist revolution. But this represented the confusion of peasant land partition for socialism. They regarded an agrarian revolution as a socialist revolution, and viewed the remaining agricultural collectives in Russia as the embryo of communism.

The Marxists, on the other hand, defined the coming revolution as a democratic revolution, which meant that they recognized its bourgeois character. Because the main content of the revolution would be the overthrow of feudal power and agrarian revolution, it necessarily had to have an overall bourgeois nature (or more precisely a peasant or petty bourgeois character). They maintained that the revolution in Russia could not jump over this nature to directly become socialist.

From the standpoint of Marxism, no other conclusion could have been reached. Real socialism can only be achieved through the struggles of the working class, since only this class is an intrinsic enemy of capitalism, which grows along with capitalist development to become the most fundamental and consistent opponent, or "gravedigger", of capitalism. The peasantry, on the contrary, is an organic part of bourgeois society, its inevitable companion, as petty commodity producers. On the one hand, the peasants share common interests with the workers as producers and can rise up against the exploitation of capital, but as commodity producers they also share a common interest with the bourgeoisie. The peasants opposed feudal land ownership, not for the sake of socialism, as the Narodniks mistakenly thought, but because they wanted a "just" capitalism, i.e. exchange without exploitation. Therefore, a revolution whose main content consists of the revolutionary struggles of the peasantry cannot be considered a proletarian socialist revolution. This was the basic view of the Marxists, but within this camp two positions emerged regarding what tactics the working class should take within the coming democratic revolution.

The Mensheviks argued that since the coming revolution was a bourgeois revolution to sweep away czarism and feudal power, it should be carried out under the hegemony of the bourgeoisie, while the workers should only play a subordinate role. According to this logic the conclusion was inevitably drawn that the proletariat should shed its revolutionary line so as to not frighten the bourgeoisie, and they proposed support for the moderate demands for a constitution. In short, the Mensheviks concluded that since the revolution was bourgeois, the liberal bourgeoisie, not the proletariat, should lead it.

Lenin also recognized that the coming revolution would be a bourgeois revolution. But he concluded that the increasingly reactionary bourgeoisie, which was becoming allied with feudal forces, had neither the ability nor the will to lead the revolution, and therefore the bearers of the revolution would be the workers and peasants. He emphasized that instead of an incomplete, top-down legalistic reform approach led by the liberal bourgeoisie, a thorough, bottom-up revolutionary struggle of the workers and peasants was clearly in the interests of the proletariat.

Trotsky was in agreement with the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in terms of his rejection of Narodnism, but he opposed them for adding the "restriction" of the modifier "bourgeois" to the definition of revolution in Russia. In this sense, Trotsky felt there was no essential difference between the two tendencies. His idea that the revolution would bring the proletariat to power had nothing in common with the Narodniks, but his claim that such power would inevitably proceed to "socialist" revolutionary change, brought Trotsky close to the Narodnik fantasy of an immediate socialist revolution. Lenin made the following comments against Trotsky's brand of utopianism:

Finally, we wish to say that by making it the task of the provisional revolutionary government to achieve the minimum programme, the resolution thereby eliminates the absurd, semi-anarchist ideas that the maximum programme, the conquest of power for a socialist revolution, can be immediately achieved. The present degree of economic development in Russia (an objective condition) and the degree of class consciousness and organization of the broad masses of the proletariat (a subjective condition indissolubly connected with the objective condition) make the immediate, complete emancipation of the working class impossible. Only the most ignorant people can ignore the bourgeois character of the present democratic revolution; only the most naive optimists can forget how little as yet the masses of the workers are informed of the aims of socialism and of the methods of achieving it. And we are all convinced that the emancipation of the workers can only be brought about by the workers themselves; a socialist revolution is out of the question unless the masses become class-conscious, organized, trained and educated by open class struggle against the bourgeoisie. In answer to the anarchist objections that we are delaying the socialist revolution, we shall say: we are not delaying it, but taking the first step in its direction, using the only means that are possible along the only right path, namely, the path of a democratic republic. (*2)

Trotsky would later argue that the difference between Lenin and himself only concerned individual elements related to tactics, rather than an essential difference. However, there was a fundamental difference between them. In other words, whereas Lenin argued that the coming revolution, due to objective and subjective conditions, could not avoid having a bourgeois character, Trotsky claimed it would have to have a proletarian nature. Of course, Lenin recognized that the working class would take the leading role in the democratic revolution, while Trotsky accepted that the proletarian government would first solve the democratic tasks. At a glance, it seems that the sole difference between them is that Lenin placed more emphasis on the socio-economic content of the revolution, while Trotsky put more weight on its political process. This difference, however, is not simply a matter of where to place the emphasis, but concerns the fundamental methodology of Marxism.

Both Lenin and Trotsky were opposed to the Menshevik's scholastic Marxism according to which the coming revolution would be a democratic one, and thus the task of the bourgeoisie, not the working class. Lenin drew the conclusion that the workers should actively complete the democratic revolution, and that it would be in their interests to sweep away the feudal relations and the political superstructure. Trotsky, on the other hand, took exception to the idea that the revolution was "bourgeois". Lenin was more persistent than Trotsky in his emphasis that the revolution in Russia would be a bourgeois one due to material and social conditions. Lenin highly valued the revolutionary struggles of the peasantry, because he regarded the coming revolution as bourgeois, and therefore saw these struggles of the radical bourgeoisie as the principle content of the revolution. Formally speaking, the proletariat would stand at the front of the revolution and lead the peasantry, but the content of the revolution would be determined by the struggles of the petty bourgeois peasants who made up the great bulk of the Russian population. This is the reason that Lenin said that the characteristic of the Russian revolution was that it was proletarian in method, but bourgeois in content. Trotsky, on the other hand, put greater emphasis on the political process of revolution:

The general sociological term bourgeois revolution by no means solves the politico-tactical problems, contradictions and difficulties which the mechanics of a given bourgeois revolution throw up. (*3)

This is very characteristic! According to Trotsky, the fact that the coming revolution was a bourgeois revolution would not restrict political tactics at all. But isn't it the opposite? Since the character of the revolution was bourgeois, the prospect was a "democratic government" of the workers and peasants, not a socialist government.

Trotsky denounced the Bolsheviks as "counter-revolutionary" for forcing the workers who had grabbed power to "restrict themselves to a bourgeois revolution". He emphasized that the working class would inevitably move onto the "socialist" tasks upon the seizure of power. For Trotsky, socialism is reached not from the socio-historical conditions, but from the political dynamics of a democratic revolution. He argued that workers seize power according to the "dialectics" of political struggle within the democratic revolution, and naturally can not help moving onto the "socialist" tasks once they have already gained power. He denounced as "counter-revolutionary" anyone who opposed this logic or recognized the bourgeois limits of the revolution as a whole.

Trotsky thus emphasized the political process of a democratic revolution, but if his idea is taken one-sidedly, it becomes a dogma incompatible with Marxism. He stressed that a proletarian dictatorship develops from a bourgeois democratic revolution. Here we can see that the concepts of bourgeois and proletarian revolutions have already become mixed up and rendered ambiguous. Lenin strictly eliminated such confusion. When he spoke of a democratic revolution or peasant revolution, this unconditionally referred to a bourgeois revolution of some particular form. He opposed even the slightest attempt to render ambiguous the historical and social content of what he called a "democratic revolution". From his Marxist viewpoint, he opposed the Socialist-Revolutionaries' "people's revolution" and abstract views of "democratic revolution" (a revolution neither bourgeois nor proletarian).

Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution as an "uninterrupted" development from a democratic revolution to a socialist revolution, leads to confusion between bourgeois and socialist revolutions, and is a Narodnik-like theory essentially identical to Stalin's theory of "the extension and transformation of revolution". Trotsky argued that the term "bourgeois revolution" does not provide any solution to political and tactical problems, that no scholastic opposition can be made between bourgeois and proletarian revolutions, and that the borderline between the maximum program (socialist demands) and the minimum program (demands within the framework of bourgeois society) program loses meaning. But he forgot about the objective and subjective conditions for the achievement of these two revolutions.

Some people may attempt to refute our view by saying that the October Russian Revolution was actually realized as a "proletarian socialist revolution", and Trotsky was correct in this respect. There are certainly those who would point out that the Bolsheviks also called it a "socialist revolution", and that the party in power was the working class party of the Bolsheviks, while petty bourgeois parties (revolutionary peasant parties, etc.) were irrelevant. Still, one cannot abstractly define the October revolution as a "proletarian socialist revolution" by ignoring it real content. What determines the character of a revolution is not the subjective views of the revolutionary party, but the historical content of the social change achieved.

Lenin, as a consistent Marxist, even subjectively speaking did not simplistically evaluate the October revolution as a socialist revolution. He was careful on this point, and hardly ever called for socialist power to be established in the period between the February and October revolutions. He explained that the workers' and peasants' soviets should seize political power in order, not to directly "introduce" socialism, but to solve realistic tasks (peace, the agrarian question, and economic construction) which history had assigned to the workers. He also denounced Trotsky's view of a workers' state as "jumping over" the peasantry, and called instead for the construction of a workers' and peasants' soviet state (not a proletarian socialist state). Lenin did declare on the day of the victory of the October revolution that a period of world socialist revolution had begun, but it is clear from the fact that Lenin did not immediately agree to the nationalization of industry, that this did not mean that the Russian state could directly move towards socialism.

Lenin understood the October revolution as the beginning of a bourgeois revolution in Russia. But in the period of "wartime communism" and civil war, he said that "the revolution becomes a socialist one" to the extent that "the poor peasants, with the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited"(*4) rise up against capitalism. He also said that the revolution had become socialist on the grounds that committees of poor peasants had been formed during the civil war in the period from summer to autumn in 1918. It was in this period that Trotsky's illusion of a "direct development to socialism" seemed to have been realized. However, Lenin bid farewell to this fantasy from the time of the trade union debates of 1920-21 and the Kronstadt rebellion. He recognized that "wartime communism" had been a temporary method prompted by civil war, and that the attempt by a petty bourgeois country like Russia to move at once to communist distribution had been a "mistake" and a "severe defeat".(*5) This "overextension" was corrected by NEP, which recognized the inevitability of capitalist relations in the countryside. The Russian Revolution revealed that although a proletarian party may be driven to power according to the "dialectics" of political struggle, the overall petty bourgeois limits could not be overcome. Despite its subjective intentions, the "proletarian state" could not avoid making concessions to the demands of the petty bourgeoisie (peasantry), and otherwise its power would have collapsed. From the end of 1920, a peasant rebellion led by the Socialist-Revolutionary Antonov, spread under the slogan: "abolish the grain requisitions" (i.e. abolish "wartime communism"), and in March 1921 there was the Kronstadt uprising. This demonstrated that without concessions to the bourgeois demands of free commerce for the peasants, the "proletarian" state would have collapsed just like the Jacobin dictatorship of the French Revolution. The Bolsheviks, on the foundation of Marxism, were well aware of the nature of the Russian Revolution, which they had discussed frequently, and were thus able to make this adaptation. The Bolsheviks didn't follow the lead of the Jacobins who adhered to abstract dogmas and collapsed, but their "proletarian character" only existed only in abstraction and was inevitably transformed.

Moreover, post-revolutionary Russia emerged not simply as a petty bourgeois state, but as a petty bourgeois state in the period of highly developed capitalism. Therefore, capitalism didn't develop spontaneously on the basis of the dissolution of the petty bourgeoisie, but rather was forcibly carried out under state hegemony, and the petty bourgeois state rapidly gave way to state capitalism. It can be said that this objective necessity created the "workers' and peasants' state". The Stalinist bureaucracy was born and grew as a new ruling class to carry out this historical transformation. In order to carry out their historical mission of forcibly transforming a backward petty bourgeois country into a centralized industrial state, they were aggressive, crude, uncultured, and lacked any consistent ideology or principle. In order to achieve their purposes, they didn't hesitate to employ any dirty method, and they had nothing in common with communists. If they can be called communists, then we could call Bismarck or Louis Bonaparte communists as well.


In a debate with Stalinists, Trotsky, defended his theory of permanent revolution, by explaining that he had opposed Lenin's thesis of a "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" because he "saw its shortcoming in the fact that it left open the question of what class the real dictatorship would belong to"(*6) Trotsky claimed that Lenin's thesis could only be realized if it meant a proletarian dictatorship which led the peasants.

When Lenin spoke of a dictatorship of the workers and peasants, this was inseparably connected to the idea of a dictatorship within a democratic revolution (bourgeois or "people's" revolution). Trotsky, however, didn't mention this point, and one-sidedly reduced the question to that of the hegemony within the dictatorship. If Russia had been facing a "socialist" revolution, instead of a democratic revolution, the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry would not have even been a question, even if the peasants had rallied to the side of the revolution. Instead, the term dictatorship of the proletariat would have been employed. But since the coming revolution was a democratic one, whose central content was a peasant revolution, the expression dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry was used. According to Lenin's thesis, in the coming revolution the workers and peasants held a common interest in sweeping away feudal power and thoroughly carrying out an agrarian revolution, and could thus form an alliance. This expressed the fact that the revolutionary government had to consider the interests not only of the workers but also of the peasants. To the extent that this government had to consider the class interests of the peasantry, it is a ridiculous abstraction to speak of it as a "true" proletarian dictatorship.

Trotsky starts from the abstract dogma that in any economically backward country, the process of a democratic revolution can give birth to a "proletarian dictatorship". His claim is abstract because it basically ignores the subjective revolutionary struggles of the peasants. The revolutionary struggles of the peasantry in a democratic revolution cannot be simply dissolved into support for proletarian power. To say that the historical tasks facing such countries are "national democratic (and Trotsky doesn't fully consider the significance of this) means that the main content of the revolution is the struggle of peasants for land reform. It is a meaningless abstraction to ignore the subjective revolutionary struggles of the peasantry and say that only proletarian dictatorship can solve the agrarian problem. It is not coincidental that the theory of permanent revolution was unable to evaluate the Chinese Revolution as a peasant revolution, and was decisively bankrupted. The state which emerged out of the Russian Revolution cannot be simply called a "proletarian state". In the trade union debated, Lenin criticized Trotsky for speaking of a "workers' state":

May I say that this is an abstraction. It was natural for us to write about a workers' state in 1917; but it is now a patent error to say: "Since this is a workers' state without any bourgeoisie, against whom then is the working class to be protected, and for what purpose?" The whole point is that it is not quite a workers'' state. That is where Comrade Trotsky makes one of his main mistakescours is not actually a workers' state but a workers' and peasants' state. (*7)

Trotsky abstracted a workers' state from the fact that a workers' party or a Marxist political party assumes state power. But isn't this abstraction meaningless? When the interests of the petty bourgeoisie have to be taken into consideration, to dare to abstract a "workers' state", leads to either the falsehood that the interests of the petty bourgeoisie are identical to the interests of the workers, or to one's own ruin from an inability to understand the true interests of the working class and the social and class content of revolutionary change. Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution was thus a mistaken standpoint which would have led to the destruction of the Bolsheviks. This was the same mistake the Social-Revolutionaries had formerly made of mistaking an agrarian revolution for a socialist one, i.e., misunderstanding the real historical tasks of revolution in Russia. Trotsky defended his opposition to the concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in the following way:

Indeed, such a coalition presupposes either that one of the existing bourgeois parties commands influence over the peasantry or that the peasantry will have created a powerful independent party of its own, but we have attempted to show that neither the one nor the other is possible. (*8)

Lenin, on the other hand, while expecting a strong revolutionary peasant party to appear, said that the coalition of the proletariat and peasantry does not presuppose "the existence of any particular powerful party, or parties in general", as Trotsky held, and that this idea only confuses "classes with parties".(*9) Lenin recognized that a coalition of the proletariat and peasantry, i.e. a workers' and peasants' state, was possible in the form of a Bolshevik government.

Stalin and the Stalinists' repeatedly denounced Trotsky for ignoring the peasantry or calling for a "revolution without peasants", and this was of course inseparably linked to their one-dimensional distortions and shameful lies. Nevertheless, this criticism was not without basis. Indeed, by linking bourgeois and proletarian revolutions, and calling for the establishment of proletarian power to develop uninterruptedly from the former to the later, Trotsky failed to fully understand the significance of the revolutionary struggles of the peasantry in the Russian Revolution. Of course, Trotsky did not "jump over" the question of agrarian revolution, but he did leave its solution for the proletarian dictatorship and stressed that peasants could not play an "independent political role". For Trotsky, the peasantry was an object to be emancipated by the workers, not a strong subject in the revolution. Trotsky described the peasants as an object which the workers incidentally freed on their way to advancing the revolution from the democratic to the socialist stage, and he warned that the peasants would appear as a reactionary class and begin to obstruct proletarian power as soon as the revolution moved onto the socialist stage.

In his debates with the Stalinists, Trotsky emphasized that his slogan of proletarian dictatorship did not deny the struggles of the peasantry. But he said that, "conditions for the dictatorship of the proletariat grew out of the inability of the peasantry to solve its own historical problem with its own resources and under its own leadership"(*10). This clearly does represent an "underestimation" of the peasants' struggles within the Russian Revolution. By contrast, Lenin recognized the great possibility and historical significance of the peasants' revolutionary struggles at a certain historical stage. In other words, he realized that the peasants had the ability to solve their own historical tasks by themselves (even when allied with the proletariat). Instead of Lenin's slogan of the "dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry", Trotsky advocated a "dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry"(*11). But Trotsky admitted that the dictatorship could not maintain the support of the peasantry indefinitely. In other words, the dictatorship had to advance towards the socialist tasks, but here it would clash with the peasantry. Ultimately, however, Trotsky clung to the abstraction of a workers' state.

The core of Trotsky's theory of revolution is the belief that the victory of the agrarian revolution depends solely on the victory of the proletariat in the urban areas, and that the peasants cannot play an independent historical role. However, can we really say that the peasantry is a class that can only play a passive role? Of course, it is highly likely that the peasantry, as a petty bourgeoisie, will be either passive or hostile towards a socialist revolution. But in the Russian Revolution, the peasants had a life or death interest in the outcome. Trotsky fuses bourgeois and proletarian revolutions, and consequently, as a logical inevitability, he comes to the conclusion that the peasants cannot play a subjective role. Despite Trotsky's view, the significance of the revolutionary struggles of the peasantry in bourgeois revolutions has been completely demonstrated historically, even in "classical" bourgeois revolutions.

Even assuming the victory of the peasant revolution is ultimately connected or secured by the victory of the workers in the cities, the role of the peasants as the subject of revolution is clear, and without these revolutionary struggles an agrarian revolution could never succeed. Needless to say, the proletariat cannot act as proxy for the peasantry, to carry out a peasant, or petty bourgeois revolution. Moreover, without the rebellion of the peasantry in the countryside, the proletariat would have been unable overthrown czarism and feudal power in the major cities (in the 1848 revolution in Germany, victory was unattainable because the absence of peasant rebellion meant the foundations of feudal power remained intact). The Bolshevik government, established through the October revolution, would have been unable to win the civil war against the counterrevolutionary forces and interventionist armies without the revolutionary struggles of the peasantry. Since the peasant revolution was the primary aspect of the Russian Revolution, we cannot ignore its historical significance. In this sense, the Bolshevik government did not "create" the peasant revolution, but only gave it official recognition.

In order to fight against Stalin, Trotsky described himself as a disciple of Lenin, and tried to prove that his theory of permanent revolution was essentially the same as Lenin's strategy. But despite Trotsky's explanations, the following passage of Lenin shows the difference between the two men:

From the Bolsheviks Trotsky's original theory has borrowed their call for a decisive proletarian revolutionary struggle and for the conquest of political power by the proletariat, while from the Mensheviks it has borrowed "repudiation" of t t peasantry's role. The peasantry, he asserts, are divided into stratum, have become differentiated; their potential revolutionary role has dwindled more and more; in Russia a "national" revolution is impossible; "we are living in the era of imperialism", says Trotsky, and "imperialism does not contrapose the bourgeois nation to the old regime, but the proletariat to the bourgeois nation."

Here we have an amusing example of playing with the word "imperialism". If, in Russia, the proletariat already stands opposed to the "bourgeois nation", then Russia is facing a socialist revolution (!), and the slogan "Confiscate the landed estates" (repeated by Trotsky in 1915, following the January Conference of 1912), is incorrect; in that case we must speak, not of a "revolutionary workers'" government, but of a "workers' socialist" government! The length Trotsky's muddled thinking goes to is evident from his phrase that by their resoluteness the proletariat will attract the "non proletarian (!) popular masses" as well! Trotsky has not realized that if the proletariat induce the non-proletarian masses to confiscate the landed estates and overthrow the monarchy, then that will be the consummation of the "national bourgeois revolution" in Russia; it will be a revolutionary- democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry! (*12)

Finally, let's look at the rebuttal to Lenin's criticism that Trotskyists are putting forward today. Their criticism of Lenin, of course, is directed at his "two-stage theory of revolution", i.e. his theory of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. They argue that responsibility for the opportunism of the "old Bolsheviks" in February 1917 lies with Lenin's strategy. Let's see if it is in fact correct to call Lenin's theory of revolution a "two-stage theory of revolution". Here we only take up the claim that Lenin's theory of "the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" was responsible for the opportunism and vacillation of the old Bolsheviks who insisted that the revolution should be confined within a "democratic" revolution, expected the provisional government of the landlords and bourgeoisie formed in February to adopt non-imperialist policies, conditionally supported this government, and advocated unification with the Mensheviks.

In fact, it is nonsense to say that the indecision of the "old Bolsheviks" towards the provisional government arose from Lenin's thesis. Lenin advocated a "revolutionary" democratic government of the workers and peasants, not a bourgeois liberal government incapable of implementing any measures for the people. Lenin was consistently against a coalition of the bourgeoisie and workers (i.e. the workers tailing after the bourgeoisie), and this is why he struggled bitterly against the Mensheviks. From this fact alone, it is clear that Leninism was not the cause of the "old Bolsheviks" tailing the provisional government. According to Trotsky's dogma, the opportunism of the "old Bolsheviks" (Stalin, Kamenev and others) after February was due to their inability to "foresee a socialist revolution" or understand "the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat" as a result of the damage caused by Lenin's thesis. The logic that a revolutionary standpoint can be maintained by abstractly talking about the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that a position advocating democratic dictatorship will lead to opportunism, is easily negated by the fact that Trotsky himself, an advocate of proletarian dictatorship, fell into opportunism by joining the Mensheviks from the time of the Second Congress in 1903. In the case of Trotsky, an abstract theory of proletarian dictatorship was inseparably connected to his conciliatory opportunism.

After the February Revolution, Kamenev, who Trotsky criticized, held the position that the Bolsheviks should join the petty bourgeois block of the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries since the period was one of bourgeois revolution, and this could ensure that the bourgeois revolution would be carried through out by keeping in check the bourgeois government (the provisional government). But was this the outcome of Lenin's thesis? The pedantic scholar Tsushima Tadayuki claims that Kamenev "was based on Lenin's position". But this in fact was nothing but the rehashing of traditional Menshevism. In fact, the "old Bolsheviks" were so confused by the new phase of the class struggle after February they fell into Menshevik opportunism. This had nothing to do with a "shortcoming" in Leninism. Trotskyists like to talk about the rearmament of the Bolshevik party with the "April Theses", and depict a great change or turn in Leninism. However, although Lenin's truly revolutionary position was partially altered by reality, it remained consistent. Only those who are unable to grasp this fact can place the blame on Leninism for the vacillation of "old Bolsheviks". This attempt by Trotskyists has certainly not been successful, and we must reject this stupid dogma.


Trotsky attempted to patch up the holes in his utopian theory by claiming that although conditions did not exist for socialism within the single country of Russia, they did exist on a worldwide scale, particularly in Europe. Thus, a proletarian revolution in Russia could only be freed from its own self-contradictions through proletarian revolution in Europe. However, was it indeed possible to overcome the internal contradictions which beset the Russian Revolution by means of a shift to the realm of world revolution? Was the transition from a petty bourgeois Russian state to socialism really a question of simply relying on world revolution?

Trotsky seemed to say that the "proletarian state" in Russia should not take any measures to move towards socialism because this was out of the question. But this view seems all the more peculiar considering that he called the Russian government a proletarian state. He thought this government should tackle the socialist tasks, but felt that without a "world revolution" nothing could be done. Thus, everything hinged on "world revolution", and in the meantime no consistent policies could be adopted. For Trotsky, NEP was not a necessary policy for the workers' and peasants' state, but just a temporary measure or maneuver to gain time for the victory of world revolution and maintain the alliance with the peasantry. Trotsky opposed Stalin's theory of "socialism in one country" on the basis of this abstract "world-ism". He wrote:

Marxism proceeds form world economy, not as a sum of national parts, but as a mighty, independent reality, which is created by the international division of labor and the world market, and, in the present epoch, predominates over the national markets. The productive forces of capitalist society have long ago grown beyond the national frontier. The imperialist war was an expression of this fact. In the productive-technical aspect, socialist society must represent a higher stage compared to capitalism. To aim at the construction of a nationally isolated socialist society means, in spite of all temporary successes, to pull the productive forces backward even as compared to capitalism. To attempt, regardless of the geographic, cultural and historical conditions of the country's development, which constitutes a part of the world whole, to realize a fenced-in proportionality of all the branches of economy within national limits, means to pursue a reactionary utopia. (*13)

Trotsky claimed that Marxism starts with the world economy". However, his understanding of a "world economy", which abstracts out the fact that the class conflict is first framed by the state, leads to the cosmopolitanism of the bourgeoisie, not the internationalism of the proletariat. Trotsky thus views the fundamental contradiction of capitalism not as the contradiction between productive power and the relations of production, i.e. the contradiction between the socialization of production and private ownership, but as the contradiction between productive power and national boundaries, and even goes so far as to explain imperialism from this idea. However, does the fact that industries in individual countries have increasingly become dependent on the world market really mean that the productive power of capital has spread beyond the national boundaries? Is the exportation of capital, which characterizes imperialism, actually this sort of problem? By abstracting out the relations of production (class conflict), this way of reasoning leads in the mistaken direction of seeking to overcome national boundaries rather than crushing the rule of capital. Trotsky's theory of "world revolution" seems to place priority on the abolition of national boundaries instead of the abolition of bourgeois relations of production! As a result, he goes on to claim that without world revolution and the abolition of national boundaries, a state, no matter how advanced its capitalism, cannot build socialism.

If we take England and India as the opposite poles of capitalist types, we must state that the internationalism of the British and Indian proletariat does not at all rest on the similarity of conditions, tasks and methods, but on their inseparable interdependence. The successes of the liberation movement in India presuppose a revolutionary movement in England, and the other way around. Neither in India, nor in England is it possible to construct an independent socialist society. Both of them will have to enter as parts into a higher entity. In this and only in this rests the unshakable foundation of Marxian internationalism. (*14)

His justification here for the mutual dependency of Britain and India is very strange. This relationship was not simply one of India's dependence on British industry and Britain's dependence on Indian raw materials. Rather, this was a relationship between an imperialist country and its colony. The relationship between the two nations was not just a question of "world economy" or mutual dependency, but a relationship between an exploiting, ruling nation and an exploited, ruled nation. If one abstracts a relationship of mutual dependency between these two countries, this is nothing but the Second International's glorification of imperialism.

The Second International opportunists concealed the imperialistic exploitation of colonies by means of abstractions such as the idea that incursions of capital actually modernized the colonial areas. In reality, however, the imperialistic relationship between Britain and India could never have directly led to socialist relations. The socialist combination between nations can only be achieved through cooperative effort to bring nations together on the standpoint of equality. Putting aside India, which had yet to attain capitalist development at the time and suffered under the weight of colonial oppression, can one really say that it was impossible for Britain to build "socialism in one country"? By "socialism in one country" we do not understand this as the ultimate goal for its own sake, but as an unavoidable temporary condition of a given proletarian state. We have no reason to declare that such "socialism in one country" is "impossible" or that we shouldn't start building this. Certainly, the productive power under "socialism in one country" would likely be forced to drop compared to the prior period of capitalism, but this to some extent unavoidable.

Moreover, this applies not only to "socialism in one country", but also to "proletarian power in one country", i.e. an isolated proletarian revolutionary government. According to Trotsky's logic, one would have to even oppose a given country attempting a proletarian revolution and fighting for its victory in advance of another country. This encourages a wait-and-see and dependent attitude and negativism among the proletarian revolutionary movement in every country. The history of class struggles and revolution up to now teaches us that proletarian revolutionary movements and the conditions for victory do not necessarily develop identically in each country. Imagine that the proletariat in a given nation or state, conditions allowing, is victorious in revolution before other countries and advances in the direction of socialism, thereby providing the best living example and propagating socialism for the working class throughout the world. This is something that should be heartily welcomed, not ignorantly denounced as "impossible".

Trotsky attacks "the theory of socialism in one country" as an attempt to achieve a "closed equilibrium" within the economic sphere of one country, or as a "reactionary utopia". However, socialism is not a question of the mutual dependency between states, but a historical form of social production and a question of relations between people within production. It is extremely doubtful that Trotsky was able to correctly understand scientific socialism. For instance, in an early work he identified socialism with "collectivism" and argued that the "technical requirements" for this were already present worldwide in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

Trotsky criticized Stalin as a "national chauvinist" for believing that the Soviet Union had everything necessary for building socialism in one country, and emphasized that socialism could not be built on a national basis. Even though Stalin's claim was connected to Great Russian chauvinism, Trotsky's criticism was vacuous. His "internationalism" was deduced from the global character of capitalism and the global development of productive power, and this led him to conclude that world revolution could only be achieved as "simultaneous" world revolution. In Japan, as well, followers of Trotsky have been engaged in barren debates for many years over whether "simultaneous" revolution is simply a theoretical problem or also actually "simultaneous" in practice, as well the temporal range of this term. Recently one of the factions of the former Bund (Communist League) has come up with the curious dogma of "world simultaneous revolution in one country".


It was difficult to apply Marxism in Russia. At the time, the class struggles of the workers had emerged along with the beginning of the rapid growth of capitalism, but the countryside was still dominated by feudalistic land relations and czarist absolutist rule. The Mensheviks concluded from this that since Russia faced a bourgeois revolution the bourgeoisie should lead the revolution, while it was sufficient for the working class to simply provide support. Marxism was thus changed from a theory of the workers' revolutionary struggles of into a theoretical means of subordinating them to the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, Trotsky, while recognizing the revolution as bourgeois, one-sidedly abstracted that the workers stood at the front of the revolution, and thus abandoned the historical philosophy of Marxism (historical materialism) in favor of the dream of leaping beyond the bourgeois limits of the revolution to socialism.

However contradictory to Marxist "principles" Lenin's thesis may appear to be, it was in fact the only application of Marxism to the reality of Russia. While standing firmly on the foundation of Marxist historical philosophy, Lenin at the same time preserved the revolutionary spirit of Marxism and the theory of the class struggles of the working class.

Lenin is often criticized as "two-stage theorist" on the grounds that he talked about "democratic revolution" and "the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" instead of directly raising the task of "socialist revolution" or "proletarian dictatorship". For instance, Kuroda Kanichi of the Revolutionary Communist League (Kakumaru-ha) claims that Lenin's methodology contained the "defect" of "mechanically applying historical materialism", while he recognizes the "superiority" in Trotsky's romanticist "methodology". According to Kuroda, Lenin's strategy lacked the principle of Marxism, i.e. the concept of proletarian dictatorship, and this resulted in the theory of "the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" which was incorrect in terms of "essence-theory". Kuroda goes on to arrogantly say that the basis of Lenin's theoretical mistake was that he "substituted" the "organizational-tactical question of alliances" for the essential question of power! What a garrulous, idealist intellectual!

Lenin certainly did not adopt the position of "the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" because he lacked the "essential" concept of the proletarian dictatorship or was unfamiliar with the "principles" of Marxism. He correctly corresponded the historical content of the revolution and the class character of the government determined by this to the historical development of society. This is a matter of course for a Marxist based on historical materialism. Lenin's strength was derived from his ability to understand the socio-economic content of the Russian Revolution and the concrete interests of the working class. The fact that Lenin was able to maintain a correct standpoint and lead the working class in the midst of a complex situation was not due simply to his "genius" or "practical ability", but was above all because he was faithful to the methodology of Marxism, which he was able to apply to reality, thereby profoundly understanding the nature of the revolution. In his The Peasant War in Germany, Engels wrote:

The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realization of the measures which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and the means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which don't emanate from the inter inter-relations of the social classes at a given moment, of from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practiced, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the classes for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost. (*15)

Trotsky was such an unfortunate "leader of an extreme party". His starting point was the "doctrine" of proletarian power to which he was "bound" He hoped for socialism in a situation where the material preconditions did not exist, and was often forced to resort to "phrases and promises". It was not merely chance that Trotsky wavered over many questions such as the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty and the trade union debates, which could very well have led to the political collapse of the Bolshevik government.

Lenin, on the contrary, minimized the danger of falling into error by making the material conditions the basis of his evaluation of the character of the revolution, the class content of the government and the policies to be implemented. If the Bolshevik government had not understood the petty bourgeois character of the Russian Revolution, it would have been submerged under a wave of peasant and bourgeois uprisings and perished.

Lenin was never a "two-stage theorist", not in the manner of Stalin's "growth and transformation" between the democratic stage and socialist stage of revolution, nor in Trotsky's "uninterrupted" development between the democratic and socialist stages of revolution under proletarian power. Trotskyists frame the question simply in terms of "one stage" or "two stages". For instance Tsushima Tadayuki and others argue that Trotsky was absolutely correct as a "one-stage theorist" to insist on the introduction of a proletarian dictatorship "from the beginning" in an economically backward country in order to achieve democratic changes, whereas the Stalinists betrayed Marxism and the revolutionary movement by committing the original sin of creating a two-stage theory! Moreover, they suggest that Lenin's tactics are ultimately to blame for this.

However, the basic question is not whether a revolution has "one stage" or "two stages", but the socio-class character of a revolution determined by the socio-economic material conditions. Trotsky's concept of a permanent (i.e. uninterrupted) development from the democratic revolution to socialism is in fact more appropriately called Narodnism, than Marxism, since he is ultimately saying that socialism was directly possible in Russia. The idea that there is no borderline between a democratic and a socialist revolution is incompatible with the Marxist conception of history, and this is why Lenin criticized this as a semi-anarchist view.

Trotsky superficially adopted the historical philosophy of Marxism, but he couldn't decisively bid farewell to Narodnik utopianism (the subjectivism and romanticism of calling for the immediate realization of socialism in pre-Revolutionary Russia). Of course, Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution cannot be equated with populism [jiminshugi] itself. He was a devoted adherent of populism in his early teens, but shortly after he converted to Marxism. Therefore, he recognized that the conditions for the immediate realization of socialism did not exist in Russia, supported the class struggle of the proletariat, and did not advocate the revolutionary struggles of the "people" (i.e. the peasantry). Nevertheless, Trotsky's methodology is Narodnik-like, in that it is romantic and subjectivistic. This was a Marxist expression of Narodnik romanticism.

One can sense a "people-worship" in Trotsky's proletarianism similar to that of the Narodniks. His worship of the proletariat and abstract workerism prevented him from fully grasping the significance of the peasants' revolutionary struggles within historical reality, just as Rosa Luxembourg was unable to understand the historical significance of the national liberation struggles in the colonies.

While Trotsky accepted Marxism in words and recognized the absence of the conditions for socialism in Russia, he was still strongly influenced by the romanticism of the Narodnik call for the immediate realization of socialism. But whereas the Narodniks' romanticism was based on the historical class struggle of the peasants' revolutionary movement against feudal land ownership, Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution was a pure intellectual romanticism unconnected (and unable to connect) with the historical struggles of any class. Ultimately it was impotent and utopian. It should be perfectly clear that Trotsky's tailing after the Mensheviks or the fact that he was only able to organize a small circle of intellectuals [Mezilionts] who vacillated between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, was not simply the result of a "mistaken theory of organization", as New Left intellectuals claim.

Trotskyists are unable to provide a Marxist appraisal of the thought of Lenin and Trotsky, and are satisfied with the miserable eclecticism that they "shared the truth". This is the idea that Lenin accepted Trotsky's revolutionary strategy when he issued his "April Theses", while Trotsky finally parted ways with the Mensheviks and joined the Bolshevik, thereby making their collaboration possible. In other words, "Trotsky was correct in strategy, while Lenin was correct in organization." This is the common conclusion among the New Left, from Tsushima Tadayuki to the Revolutionary Communist League (Chukaku-ha). However, we cannot accept this eclectic form of logic. We cannot mechanically detach theories of strategy and organization from each other, and argue that Trotsky was correct on the one hand and Lenin on the other. Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution is inseparable from his semi-Menshevist standpoint, just as Lenin's political theory is connected to his revolutionary "theory of organization".

From the historical fact that the proletariat can stand at the front of a democratic revolution, Trotsky and his followers abstracted the proletarian character from the revolutionary government established through the political struggles in a democratic revolution, and called this the dictatorship of the proletariat. They then reasoned that because the proletarian dictatorship had been established, problems related to a socialist revolution are raised. They call this is a "one-stage", not a "two-stage", revolution. However, to one- dimensionally deduce a proletarian nature from the revolutionary government in a democratic revolution, leads to a mistaken standpoint that could even destroy the government itself, and did in fact cause damage (Trotsky's mistakes in the Brest-Litovsk Treaty negotiations, the trade union debates and factional struggle with Stalin, were not accidental but closely connected with the non-Marxist character of his theory of permanent revolution).

It is fundamentally important for the leaders of any revolution to correctly understand the class character of the revolution and revolutionary government. The theory of permanent revolution, which was unable to provide a correct understanding, represents a reactionary, petty bourgeois intellectual utopianism. It is clear that Trotsky's view of history was not Marxist, but rather romanticist subjectivism (in this respect Narodnik-like). Herein lies the fundamental reason why Trotsky was defeated by the Stalinists. This was not simply a question of his method of factional struggle or his "theory of organization". Lenin also concluded that Trotsky's "major mistake is that he ignores the bourgeois character of the revolution and has no clear conception of the transition from this revolution to the socialist revolution" and that this "major mistake leads to those mistakes on side issues."(*16)

* * * * * *

An interesting recent phenomenon is the use of Trotskyism to justify populism [jimin-shugi]. The Maoist Marxist-Leninist League (ML League) are employing Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution to defend their view that the Chinese Revolution was, directly speaking, a socialist revolution, and they argue that the 1949 "new democratic revolution" was "essentially a proletarian revolution". In other words, they hold the view that a proletarian government emerged (i.e. the government led by the Chinese Communist Party) from the national-democratic revolution against feudalism, the Red Army was a proletarian army although being composed of peasants because it was led by the Communist Party, and the victory of "anti-imperialist national liberation struggles" could only be ensured as an "uninterrupted revolution that extended into a proletarian revolution".

This is not the Stalinist (or Maoist) "two-stage theory of revolution", but the Trotskyist "one-stage theory of revolution". But the very fact that Trotskyism can be made use of to justify Stalinism (Maoism) shows that despite the difference between "one-stage" or "two-stages", both theories share a Narodnik-like identity. Whether it is a theory of a democratic revolution that "extends" into a socialist revolution (Stalinism) or a proletarian government within a democratic revolution that later advances to socialism (Trotskyism), both boil down to the same utopian idea that socialism is something that can be forcefully created by political means alone. This is the reason that we reject both the Stalinist "two-stage" and the Trotskyist "one-stage" theories for confusing the historical philosophy of Marxism with a subjectivistic and romantic conception of history. Leninism, as a Marxist method, is incompatible with Stalinism and Trotskyism.

1. Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution (New York: Pioneer, 1931), p. xxxiv.
2. Lenin, Two Tactics, pp. 19-20.
3. Trotsky, Results and Prospects, (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969), p. 67.
4. Lenin, Collected Works vol. 28, p. 300.
5. Lenin, Collected Works vol. 33, pp. 62-3.
6. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, p. xxix.
7. Lenin, Collected Works vol. 32, p. 24.
8. Trotsky, Results and Prospects, p. 74.
9. Lenin, Collected Works vol. 15, p. 371.
10. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, p. 46.
11. Ibid., p. 50.
12. Lenin, Collected Works vol. 21, p. 419.
13. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, pp. ix-x.
14. Ibid., p. xiv.
15. Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, in The German Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 103-4.
16. Lenin, Collected Works vol. 15, p. 371.

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