Trotsky on 1905 and Permanent Revolution
“Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution”
Translated from the Russian by George Saunders
[Trotsky’s original intention was to include the material covered
in this essay in his biography of Lenin, which he began during his exile in
[This is a new translation of Trotsky’s essay—an essay that fundamentally addresses his and Lenin’s pre-1917 conceptions of the revolution, what they had in common and how they differed. In doing this translation, I have consulted two other versions: the first, probably by Joseph Vanzler (pen name, John G. Wright), was published sixty years ago, in 1945, in the magazine New International; the second version, by Charles Malamuth, appeared as an appendix to Trotsky’s Stalin (Harper, 1945).
The revolution of 1905 was not only the “dress rehearsal of 1917”; it was also the laboratory from which all the basic groupings of Russian political thought emerged and where all the tendencies and shadings within Russian Marxism took shape or acquired their outlines. The center of the disputes and differences was naturally occupied by the question of the historical character of the Russian revolution and its future paths of development.
In and of itself this war of conceptions and prognoses does not relate directly to the biography of Stalin, who took no independent part in it. Those few propaganda articles which he wrote on the subject are without the slightest theoretical interest. Scores of Bolsheviks, with pens in hand, popularized the very same ideas and did so much more ably.
A critical exposition of the revolutionary conception of Bolshevism should, in the very nature of things, have entered into a biography of Lenin. [However, that did not come about.]
Theories have a fate of their own. In the period of the first revolution and after it, up to 1923, when revolutionary doctrines were being elaborated and put into practice, Stalin generally held no independent position. But beginning in 1924, the situation changed abruptly. An era of bureaucratic reaction opened up, with drastic reevaluations of the past. The film of the revolution began to run backward. Old doctrines were subjected to new appraisals or new interpretations. Quite unexpectedly, at first sight, the center of attention was focused on the conception of “permanent revolution” as the fountainhead of all the alleged blunderings of “Trotskyism.” For a number of years, the criticism of this conception constituted the main content of the theoretical—sit venio verbo (if one may use that term)—work of Stalin and his collaborators. It may be said that the whole of Stalinism, taken on the theoretical plane, grew out of the criticism of the theory of permanent revolution, as it was first formulated in 1905. For this reason, an exposition of the theory of permanent revolution, as distinct from the theories of the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, cannot fail to enter into this book [Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence], even if in the form of an appendix.
The development of
The idealist democrats, chiefly the Narodniks, superstitiously refused to acknowledge that the coming revolution would be bourgeois [that is, a capitalist revolution]. They labeled it “democratic,” seeking through this neutral political formula to mask its social content—not only from others but also from themselves. But in the struggle against Narodism, Plekhanov, the founder of Russian Marxism, established as long ago as the early 1880s that Russia had no reason whatever to expect a privileged path of development, that like other “profane” nations, it would have to pass through the purgatory of capitalism and that precisely along this path it would acquire the political freedom indispensable for the further struggle of the proletariat for socialism.
Plekhanov not only separated the bourgeois revolution as a historical task from the socialist revolution—which he postponed to the indefinite future—but he depicted entirely different combinations of forces for each of these “stages” [the “bourgeois stage” and the socialist one]. Political freedom was to be achieved by the proletariat in alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie. Then after many decades, and on a higher level of capitalist development, the proletariat would carry out the socialist revolution in direct struggle against the bourgeoisie.
Lenin, in turn, wrote the following at the end of 1904: “To the Russian intellectual it always seems that to acknowledge our revolution as bourgeois is to deprive it of color, to degrade and debase it…For the proletariat [in contrast to the intelligentsia] the struggle for political freedom and for the democratic republic in bourgeois society is simply a necessary stage in the struggle for the socialist revolution.”
“Marxists are absolutely convinced,”
Lenin wrote in 1905, “of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution.
What does this mean? This means that those democratic transformations which
have become indispensable for
“We cannot leap over the bourgeois democratic framework of the Russian revolution,” Lenin insisted. “But we can extend this framework to a colossal degree,” that is, establish much more favorable conditions within bourgeois society for the future struggle of the proletariat. Within these limits Lenin followed Plekhanov. The bourgeois character of the revolution served both factions of the Russian Social Democracy [Bolsheviks and Mensheviks] as their starting point.
It is quite natural that under these conditions, Koba (Stalin), in his propagandistic writings, did not go beyond the popularizing formulas that constituted the common property of Bolsheviks as well as Mensheviks.
“The Constituent Assembly,” he wrote in January 1905, “elected on the basis of equal, direct, and secret universal suffrage—this is what we must now fight for! Only such an Assembly will give us the democratic republic, so urgently needed by us for our struggle for socialism.” The bourgeois republic as an arena for a protracted class struggle for the socialist goal—that is his perspective.
In 1907, i.e., after innumerable
discussions in the press both in
“That our revolution is bourgeois, that it must conclude by destroying the feudal and not the capitalist order, that it can be crowned only by the democratic republic—on this, it seems, all are agreed in our party.”
Stalin spoke not of what the
revolution begins with, but of what it ends with, and he limited it in advance
and quite categorically to “only the democratic republic.” We would seek in
vain in his writings for even a hint of any perspective of a socialist
revolution in connection with a democratic overturn. This remained his position
even at the beginning of the February revolution in 1917, before Lenin’s
The Menshevik View
Axelrod, and the leaders of Menshevism
in general, the sociological characterization of the revolution as bourgeois
was valuable politically above all because it prohibited in advance any danger
of provoking the bourgeoisie by the specter of socialism and “repelling” it
into the camp of reaction. “The social relations of
It is precisely at this point that the
basic disagreement between the two factions began. Bolshevism absolutely
refused to accept the notion that the Russian bourgeoisie was capable of
leading its own revolution through to the end. With infinitely greater power
and consistency than Plekhanov, Lenin advanced the
agrarian question as the central problem of the democratic overturn in
“Nationalization [of the land] is a
bourgeois measure,” he insisted at the Unity Congress. “It will give an impulse
to the development of capitalism; it will sharpen the class struggle,
strengthen the mobilization [intensify the utilization] of the land, cause an
influx of capital into agriculture, lower the price of grain.” Notwithstanding
the indubitable bourgeois character of the agrarian revolution, however, the
Russian bourgeoisie remained hostile to the expropriation of landed estates,
and precisely for this reason it strove toward a compromise with the monarchy
on the basis of a constitution on the Prussian pattern. To Plekhanov’s
idea of an alliance between the proletariat and the liberal bourgeoisie Lenin counterposed the idea of an alliance between the proletariat
and the peasantry. The task of the revolutionary collaboration of these two
classes he proclaimed to be the establishment of a “democratic dictatorship,”
as the only means of radically cleansing
The victory of the revolution, he wrote, can be crowned “only by a dictatorship because the accomplishment of transformations immediately and urgently needed by the proletariat and the peasantry will evoke the desperate resistance of the landlords, the big bourgeoisie, and the tsarist regime. Without the dictatorship it will be impossible to break the resistance and repel counterrevolutionary attempts. But this will of course not be a socialist dictatorship, but a democratic dictatorship. It will not be able to touch (without a whole series of transitional stages of revolutionary development) the foundations of capitalism. It will be able, in the best case, to realize a radical redistribution of landed property in favor of the peasantry, introduce a consistent and complete democratic system, going so far as the establishment of a republic, rooting out all Asiatic and feudal features not only from the day-to-day life of the village but also of the factory, beginning to seriously improve workers’ conditions and raise their living standards and, last but not least, carry over the revolutionary conflagration to Europe.”
Vulnerability of Lenin’s Position
Lenin’s conception represented an enormous step forward insofar as it proceeded not from constitutional reforms but from the agrarian overturn as the central task of the revolution and singled out the only realistic combination of social forces for its accomplishment. The weak point of Lenin’s conception, however, was the internally contradictory idea of “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.” Lenin himself underscored the fundamental limitation of this “dictatorship” when he openly called it “bourgeois.” By this he meant to say that for the sake of preserving its alliance with the peasantry the proletariat would in the coming revolution have to forego the direct posing of socialist tasks. But this would signify the renunciation by the proletariat of its own dictatorship. Consequently, the gist of the matter involved the dictatorship of the peasantry, even if with the participation of the workers. On certain occasions Lenin said just this. For example, at the Stockholm Congress [that is, the same “Unity Congress” of 1906 mentioned above], in refuting Plekhanov, who came out against the “utopia” of seizing power, Lenin said: “What program is under discussion? The agrarian. Who is assumed to seize power under this program? The revolutionary peasantry.” Is Lenin mixing up the power of the proletariat with that of the peasantry? No, he says, referring to himself: Lenin sharply differentiated the socialist power of the proletariat from the bourgeois democratic power of the peasantry. “But how,” he exclaimed again, “is a victorious peasant revolution possible without the seizure of power by the revolutionary peasantry?” In this polemical formula Lenin revealed with special clarity the vulnerability of his position.
The peasantry is dispersed over the surface of an enormous country whose key junctions are the cities. The peasantry itself is incapable of even formulating its own interests inasmuch as in each district these appear differently. The economic link between the provinces is created by the market and the railways, but both the market and the railways are in the hands of the cities. In seeking to tear itself away from the restrictions of the village and to generalize its own interests, the peasantry inescapably falls into political dependence upon the city. Finally, the peasantry is heterogeneous in its social relations as well: the kulak stratum naturally seeks to swing the peasantry toward an alliance with the urban bourgeoisie, while the lower strata in the villages pull toward the side of the urban workers. Under these conditions the peasantry as such is completely incapable of conquering power.
True enough, in ancient
Attitude Toward Liberalism
The attitude toward the liberal bourgeoisie was, as has been said, the touchstone of the differentiation between revolutionists and opportunists in the ranks of the Social Democrats. How far could the Russian revolution go? What would be the character of the future revolutionary Provisional Government? What tasks would confront it? And in what order? These questions with all their importance could be correctly posed only on the basis of the fundamental character of the policy of the proletariat, and the character of this policy was in turn determined first of all by the attitude toward the liberal bourgeoisie.
Plekhanov obviously and stubbornly shut his eyes to the fundamental conclusion of the political history of the nineteenth century: Whenever the proletariat comes forward as an independent force the bourgeoisie shifts over to the camp of counterrevolution. The more audacious the mass struggle, all the swifter is the reactionary degeneration of liberalism. No one has yet invented a means for paralyzing the effects of this law of the class struggle.
“We must cherish the support of nonproletarian parties,” repeated Plekhanov during the years of the first revolution [1905–07], “and not repel them from us by tactless actions.” By monotonous preachments of this sort, this philosopher of Marxism indicated that the living dynamics of society were to him a sealed book. “Tactlessness” can repel an individual, especially a sensitive intellectual. Classes and parties are attracted or repelled by social interests. “It can be stated with certainty,” Lenin replied to Plekhanov, “that the liberals and landlords will forgive you millions of ‘tactless acts’ but will not forgive you a summons to take away the land.” And this referred not only to the landlords. The upper echelons of the bourgeoisie are bound up with the landowners by the unity of property interests, and more narrowly by the banking system. The upper elements among the petty bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia are materially and morally dependent upon the big property owners and the owners of medium-sized properties. They are all afraid of an independent mass movement.
And yet, in order to overthrow the tsarist system, it was necessary to rouse tens upon tens of millions of oppressed people to a heroic, wholehearted, self-sacrificing revolutionary assault that would stop at nothing. The masses can rise to the high level of making an insurrection only under the banner of their own interests and consequently in the spirit of irreconcilable hostility toward the exploiting classes, beginning with the landlords. The “repulsion” of the oppositional bourgeoisie from the revolutionary workers and peasants was therefore an inherent law of the revolution itself and could not be avoided by means of diplomacy or “tact.”
[In the 1905 revolution] each passing month confirmed Lenin’s appraisal of liberalism. Contrary to the best hopes of the Mensheviks, the Cadets [i.e., Constitutional Democrats, the main party of Russia’s capitalists] not only did not prepare to take their place at the head of the “bourgeois” revolution, but on the contrary they found their historical mission more and more in the struggle against it.
After the crushing of the December
uprising [i.e., the armed uprising of the workers in Moscow in 1905] the
liberals, who occupied the political limelight thanks to the ephemeral First Duma, sought with all their might to justify themselves
before the monarchy and explain away their insufficiently active counterrevolutionary
conduct in the autumn of 1905, when danger had threatened the most sacred foundations
of “culture.” The leader of the liberals, Milyukov,
who conducted the behind-the-scenes negotiations with the
By the “illusions of Trotskyism” the liberal leader understood the independent policy of the proletariat, which attracted to the Soviets the sympathies of the bottommost layers in the cities, and of the soldiers and peasants, and in so doing caused “educated” society to be “repelled.” The evolution of the Mensheviks unfolded along parallel lines. They had to justify themselves more and more frequently to the liberals, because they had ended up in a bloc with Trotsky after October 1905. The explanations of Martov, the talented publicist of the Mensheviks, came down to this: it was necessary to make concessions to the “revolutionary illusions” of the masses.
Stalin’s Part in the Dispute
the political groupings took shape on the same principled basis as in
The refutations of Lenin, while
correct in essence, simplify the problem on one point. Zhordania
did not “forget” about the peasants and, as may be gathered from the hint of
Lenin himself, could not have possibly forgotten about them in the
On the question of the attitude toward
the liberals, Stalin stood on Lenin’s side during the years of the first
revolution. It must be stated that during this period even the majority of
rank-and-file Mensheviks were closer to Lenin than to Plekhanov
on issues relating to the “oppositional” bourgeoisie. A contemptuous attitude
toward the liberals was the literary tradition of intellectual radicalism. One
would, however, seek in vain for an independent contribution from Koba on this question, for an analysis of social relations
Higher than this Koba did not rise. Two and a half years later, repeating Lenin almost literally, he wrote: “The Russian liberal bourgeoisie is anti-revolutionary. It cannot be the motive force, nor, all the less so, the leader of the revolution. It is the sworn enemy of the revolution, and a stubborn struggle must be waged against it.” However, it was precisely on this fundamental question that Stalin was to undergo a complete metamorphosis in the next ten years and was to greet the February revolution of 1917 as a partisan of a bloc with the liberal bourgeoisie and, in accordance with that, as a champion of uniting with the Mensheviks into one party. Only when Lenin arrived from abroad [in April 1917] did he put an abrupt end to this “independent” policy of Stalin, which Lenin called a mockery of Marxism.
On the Role of the Peasantry
saw in the workers and peasants simply “toilers” and “the exploited,” who are
all equally interested in socialism. Marxists regarded the peasant as a petty
bourgeois who is capable of becoming a socialist only to the extent to which he
ceases materially or spiritually to be a peasant. With the sentimentalism
peculiar to them, the Narodniks perceived in this
sociological characterization a moral slur against the peasantry. For two
generations the main struggle between revolutionary tendencies in
“We support the peasant movement,” wrote Lenin in September 1905, “to the extent that it is a revolutionary democratic movement. We are preparing (right now, and immediately) for a struggle with it to the extent that it will come forward as a reactionary, anti-proletarian movement.” The entire gist of Marxism lies in this twofold task. Lenin saw the socialist ally in the Western proletariat and partly in the semi-proletarian elements in the Russian village, but never in the peasantry as a whole. “From the beginning we support to the very end, by means of all measures, up to confiscation [of the land],” he repeated with the insistence peculiar to him, “the peasant in general against the landlord, and later (and not even later but at the very same time) we support the proletariat against the peasant in general.”
“The peasantry will conquer in the bourgeois-democratic revolution,” he wrote in March 1906, “and with that it will completely exhaust its revolutionary spirit as the peasantry. The proletariat will conquer in the bourgeois-democratic revolution and with that it will only unfold in a real way its genuine socialist revolutionary spirit.”
“The movement of the peasantry,” Lenin repeated in May of the same year, “is the movement of a different class. This is a struggle not against the foundations of capitalism but for purging all the remnants of feudalism.” This viewpoint can be followed in Lenin from one article to the next, year by year, volume by volume. The language and examples vary; the basic thought remains the same. It could not have been otherwise. Had Lenin seen a socialist ally in the peasantry, he would not have had the slightest ground for insisting upon the “bourgeois” character of the revolution and for limiting “the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” to purely democratic tasks. In those cases where Lenin accused the author of this book of “underestimating” the peasantry he had in mind not at all my nonrecognition of the socialist tendencies of the peasantry but, on the contrary, my inadequate—from Lenin’s viewpoint—recognition of the bourgeois-democratic independence of the peasantry, its ability to create its own power and thereby prevent the establishment of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat.
The reevaluation of values on this
question was opened up only in the years of Thermidorian
reaction, the beginning of which coincided approximately with Lenin’s illness and
death. Thenceforth the alliance of Russian workers and peasants was proclaimed
to be, in and of itself, a sufficient guarantee against the dangers of
restoration and an immutable guarantee that socialism could be realized within
the borders of the
It is, of course, possible to raise
the question whether or not the classic Marxist view of the peasantry has been
proven erroneous. This subject would lead us far beyond the limits of the
present review. Suffice it to say here that Marxism has never invested its
estimation of the peasantry as a nonsocialist class
with an absolute and static character. Marx himself said that the peasant
possesses not only superstitions but the ability to reason. In changing
conditions the nature of the peasant himself changes. The regime of the
dictatorship of the proletariat opened up very broad possibilities for
influencing the peasantry and reeducating it. The limits of these possibilities
have not yet been exhausted by history. Nevertheless, it is now already clear
that the growing role of state coercion [against the peasantry] in the
Trotsky and Parvus in the 1905 Revolution
We have analyzed above the points of departure of the two main factions in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. But alongside of them, already at the dawn of the first revolution, a third position was formulated, although it met with almost no recognition during those years. Still, we are obliged to present it here with the necessary completeness, not only because it found its confirmation in the events of 1917 but especially because seven years after the October revolution, this conception, after being turned topsy-turvy, began to play a completely unforeseen role in the political evolution of Stalin and the whole Soviet bureaucracy.
At the beginning of 1905 a pamphlet
by Trotsky was issued in
The introduction to my work was written by Parvus, a Russian émigré, who had succeeded by that time in becoming a prominent German writer. Parvus was an exceptionally creative personality capable of becoming infected with the ideas of others as well as of enriching others by his ideas. He lacked internal equilibrium and sufficient love for work to give the labor movement the contribution worthy of his talents as thinker and writer. He undoubtedly influenced my personal development, especially in regard to the revolutionary socialist understanding of our epoch. A few years prior to our first meeting Parvus passionately defended the idea of a general strike in Germany; but the country was then passing through a prolonged industrial boom; German Social Democracy had adapted itself to the regime of the Hohenzollerns; and the revolutionary propaganda of a foreigner met with nothing but ironical indifference.
On the second day after the bloody
The few days that we then spent
“The political radicalism of
“The peasants will be drawn into the movement in ever larger masses. But they are capable only of increasing the political anarchy in the country and, in this way, of weakening the government; they cannot compose a tightly welded revolutionary army. With the development of the revolution, therefore, an ever greater amount of political work will fall to the share of the proletariat. Along with this, its political self-consciousness will broaden, and its political energy will grow…
“The Social Democratic Party will
be confronted with the dilemma: either to assume the responsibility for the
Provisional Government or to stand aside from the workers’ movement. The
workers will consider this government as their own regardless of how the Social
Democracy conducts itself…The revolutionary overturn in
“The Social Democratic Provisional
Government will not be able to accomplish a socialist overturn in
In the heat of the revolutionary
events in the autumn of 1905, I once again met Parvus,
this time in
This conclusion was not shared by me. The Australian democracy grew organically from the virgin soil of a new continent and at once assumed a conservative character and subjected to itself a young but quite privileged proletariat. Russian democracy, on the contrary, could arise only as a result of a grandiose revolutionary overturn, the dynamics of which would in no case permit the workers’ government to remain within the framework of bourgeois democracy. Our differences, which began shortly after the revolution of 1905, resulted in a complete break between us at the beginning of the world war, when Parvus, in whom the skeptic had completely killed the revolutionist, ended up on the side of German imperialism, and later became counselor and adviser to the first president of the German republic, [the right-wing Social Democrat] Ebert.
The Theory of Permanent Revolution
Beginning with the pamphlet Before the Ninth of January, I returned more than once to the development and justification of the theory of the permanent revolution. In view of the importance which this theory later acquired in the ideological evolution of [Stalin,] the hero of this biography, it is necessary to present it here in the form of exact quotations from my works in 1905-06:
“The core of the population of a modern city, at least in cities of economic and political significance, is constituted by the sharply differentiated class of wage labor. It is precisely this class, essentially unknown during the Great French Revolution, that is destined to play the decisive role in our revolution…In a country economically more backward, the proletariat may come to power sooner than in an advanced capitalist country. The assumption of some sort of automatic dependence of proletarian dictatorship upon the technical forces and resources of a country is a prejudice derived from an extremely oversimplified ‘economic determinist’ form of materialism. Such a view has nothing in common with Marxism…Notwithstanding that the productive forces of industry in the United States are ten times higher than ours, the political role of the Russian proletariat, its influence on the politics of our country, and the possibility of its coming influence on world polities is incomparably higher than the role and significance of the American proletariat…
“The Russian revolution, in our view, will create conditions in which the power may (and with the victory of the revolution must) pass into the hands of the proletariat before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get a chance to develop their ‘statesmanlike genius’ to the full…The Russian bourgeoisie is surrendering all the revolutionary positions to the proletariat. It will have to surrender likewise the revolutionary leadership of the peasantry. The proletariat in power will appear to the peasantry as an emancipator class…The proletariat, basing itself on the peasantry, will bring all its forces into play to raise the cultural level of the village and develop a political consciousness in the peasantry…
“But perhaps the peasantry itself will crowd out the proletariat and occupy its place? This is impossible. All the experience of history protests against this assumption. It shows that the peasantry is completely incapable of playing an independent political role…From what has been said it is clear how we regard the idea of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.’ The gist of the matter is not whether we consider it admissible in principle, whether or not we find this form of political cooperation ‘desirable.’ We consider it unrealizable—at least in the direct and immediate sense…”
The foregoing already demonstrates how erroneous is the assertion, endlessly repeated in later years, that the conception presented here “leaped over the bourgeois revolution.”
“The struggle for the democratic
The question, however, was this: Exactly what forces and methods were capable of removing those obstacles?
“It is possible for all the questions of the revolution to be confined to a limited framework by the assertion that our revolution is bourgeois in its objective aims, and therefore in its inevitable results, and it is possible consequently to shut one’s eyes to the fact that the chief agent of this bourgeois revolution is the proletariat, and the proletariat will be pushed toward power by the whole course of the revolution…You may lull yourself with the thought that the social conditions of Russia are not yet ripe for a socialist economy—and consequently you may neglect to consider the fact that the proletariat, once in power, will inevitably be pushed by the whole logic of its situation toward management of the economy by the state…Entering the government not as impotent hostages but as a ruling power, the representatives of the proletariat will by this very act destroy the boundary between minimum and maximum program, i.e., will place collective ownership on the order of the day. At what point the proletariat will be stopped in this direction will depend on the relationship of forces, but not at all upon the original intentions of the party of the proletariat…
“But it is not too early now to pose the question: Must this dictatorship of the proletariat inevitably be shattered against the framework of the bourgeois revolution? Or may it not, on the basis of the existing worldwide historical conditions, open before itself the prospect of victory to be achieved by shattering this limited framework?…One thing can be stated with certainty: Without direct state support from the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and cannot convert its temporary rule into a prolonged socialist dictatorship…”
From this, however, a pessimistic
prognosis does not follow, not by any means: “The political emancipation led by
the working class of
In regard to the degree to which international Social Democracy would prove capable of carrying out its revolutionary task, I wrote in 1906:
“The European socialist parties—above all, the mightiest among them, the German party—have developed a conservatism of their own. As greater and greater masses have rallied to socialism and as the discipline and degree of organization of those masses has increased, that conservatism has grown stronger. Because of this, Social Democracy as an organization embodying the political experience of the proletariat may become at a certain moment a direct obstacle for the workers on the road toward open confrontation with bourgeois reaction…”
I concluded my analysis, however, by expressing the assurance that the “Eastern revolution will imbue the Western proletariat with revolutionary idealism and engender in it the desire to ‘start speaking Russian’ to the class enemy.”
The Three Views Summed Up
Let us summarize.
following in the wake of the Slavophiles, proceeded from
the illusion that
Marxism was concentrated on proving that the historical paths of
The Menshevik view, stripped of episodic encrustations and individual deviations, can be reduced to the following: The victory of the Russian bourgeois revolution is conceivable only under the leadership of the liberal bourgeoisie and must hand over power to the latter. A democratic system will then make it possible for the Russian proletariat to catch up with its older Western brothers on the road of the struggle for socialism with incomparably greater success than before.
Lenin’s perspective may be briefly
expressed in the following words: The belated Russian bourgeoisie is incapable
of leading its own revolution to the end! The complete victory of the
revolution through the medium of the “democratic dictatorship of the
proletariat and the peasantry” will purge the country of medievalism, invest
the development of Russian capitalism with American tempos, strengthen the
proletariat in the city and country, and open up broad possibilities for the
struggle for socialism. On the other hand, the victory of the Russian
revolution will provide a mighty impulse for the socialist revolution in the
West, and the latter will not only shield
The perspective of the permanent
revolution may be summed up this way: The complete victory of the democratic
These terse formulations reveal with equal clarity both the homogeneity of the last two conceptions, in their irreconcilable contradiction to the liberal-Menshevik perspective, and the very fundamental difference between them on the question of the social character and the tasks of the “dictatorship” that was bound to grow out of the revolution.
The frequently repeated objection
of the present
[Note by G. S.—Lenin’s position in April 1917, in light of the conditions that existed then, which were different from 1905, was to call not just for a “democratic dictatorship” in Russia, but for a proletarian dictatorship based on the Soviets, which would begin to take socialist measures and would be the beginning of a worldwide socialist revolution.]
A political prognosis cannot pretend to the same exactness as an astronomical one. It is sufficient if it correctly indicates the general line of development and helps people orient themselves in the actual course of events—events in which the basic line inevitably diverges to the right or to the left. In this sense it is impossible not to recognize that the conception of the permanent revolution has fully passed the test of history. In the first years of the Soviet regime, no one denied this; on the contrary, it was acknowledged as a fact in a number of official publications. But when on the quiescent and ossified summits of Soviet society the bureaucratic reaction against October began, it aimed its fire against this theory from the very start—a theory that more completely than any other reflected the first proletarian revolution in history and at the same time clearly revealed its incomplete, limited, and partial character. Thus, through a process of repulsion [against the theory of permanent revolution], there arose the theory of socialism in one country, the basic dogma of Stalinism.