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
- The Theory of Permanent Revolution and Historical Materialism
- "Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletaria and Peasantry"
- "Permanent Rvolution" and "Socialism in One Country"
- Marxism and Intellectual Romanticism
1. THE THEORY OF PERMANENT REVOLUTION AND HISTORICAL MATEREALISM
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 , 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
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
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
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
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
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.
2. "DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT AND PEASANTRY"
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"
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'
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 mistakescours 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"
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.
3. "PERMANENT REVOLUTION" AND "SOCIALISM IN ONE COUNTRY"
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
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".
4. MARXISM AND INTELLECTUAL ROMANTICISM
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
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
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
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.
2. Lenin, Two Tactics, pp. 19-20.
3. Trotsky, Results and Prospects, (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969),
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.