The origins of permanent revolution

Posted in PaulHampton's blog on Thu, 29/09/2011 - 20:45,

Review of Richard Day and Daniel Gaido, Witnesses to Permanent Revolution, (Haymarket 2011)

Permanent revolution was one of Leon Trotsky’s outstanding contributions to Marxism. Permanent revolution defined Trotsky’s Marxism throughout his life: from his earliest leadership of the Petrograd Soviet in 1905 at the age of 26, to his central role in the 1917 Russian revolution, through to his fight against Stalinism and his assessments of revolutions in China, Spain and elsewhere. In many respects, to be a Trotskyist is to accept the basics tenets of permanent revolution.

What is permanent revolution?

Permanent revolution has been called a theory, a process, a concept, an idea, a viewpoint, a formula, a bogie, a strategy and a tactic. It was described as a perspective by Trotsky in some of his last articles, and I think the term ‘perspective’ best captures the wide sweep of his position. Permanent revolution covers a clutch of propositions stretching from theoretical and empirical assessments of the social relations of particular social formations within the world capitalist economy, through to the political conclusions, the strategy and tactics of the working class and its revolutionary party in particular historical situations.

At the level of abstract theory, permanent revolution follows from the uneven and combined development of class societies under global capitalism. Trotsky argued that the entire history of humanity is governed by uneven development. In the modern world it meant that capitalism developed in different social formations that were at various stages of development, with different ecological, geographical, historical and social conditions. These peculiarities would affect the form capitalism took, as well as the form of the state and other social relations.

Uneven development was widely accepted by other Marxists. However one of Trotsky’s distinctive contributions was the concept of combined development, which arose out of uneven development. Combined development involved the potential “privileges of backwardness”, whereby the “whip of external necessity” forced certain states, by borrowing technologies, methods and ideas of more advanced societies, to skip stages, make “tiger-leaps” and thereby “level out” if not catch up, their competitors. It was a process of “drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of the separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms” (History of the Russian Revolution, Vol I, 1980 p.5-6).

In Russia in 1905 and again in 1917, Trotsky found the empirical grounds for uneven and combined development, which enabled him to grasp the dynamics of the Russian revolution and therefore to draw out the full political conclusions from the analysis. The arguments were set out a across a number of different books, such as Results and Prospects (1906), The Year 1905 (1908), Third International after Lenin (1928), Permanent Revolution (1929) and the History of the Russian Revolution (1930), along with articles and pamphlets such as In Defence of the Russian Revolution (1932) and Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution (1939).

Trotsky’s basic arguments for permanent revolution can be summarised thus:

1) The Russian social formation. The permanent revolution perspective started from the assessment that Russia emerged into the twentieth century as a semi-feudal, semi-Asiatic mode of production exploiting largely the peasantry and headed by an absolutist state.
2) Russia’s place in global capitalism. Inserted into world capitalism as a backward social formation, it was compelled by economic and military competition with the Western European powers to introduce capitalist industry, funded largely by foreign finance capital. These contradictions unleashed democratic and revolutionary forces against tsarism, which were coming to a head at the turn of the century.
3) Nature of Russian bourgeoisie. Trotsky argued that the liberal bourgeoisie was too weak and the peasantry too scattered and heterogeneous to play the leading role.
4) Nature of Russian peasantry. Trotsky argued that it was too heterogeneous and too dispersed to play an independent political role. It would either follow the bourgeoisie or the workers.
5) Hegemony of the Russian proletariat. However the development of capitalism in Russia had also concentrated the working class in huge factories in the major cities, making the working class uniquely placed to lead the revolution.
6) Marxist leadership. The Russian working class, because it was led by Marxists schooled in the European and especially German Social-Democratic movement, would lead the revolution against the tsar and would be faced with the tasks of previous bourgeois revolutions, such as introducing a functioning bourgeois-democratic republic, land reform, national self-determination.
7) Workers’ government. The Russian working class would overthrow absolutism using its own methods (such as political mass strikes) and create its own organisations (such as unions and Soviets). This meant the working class socialists would form a majority Social-Democratic workers’ government and set about implementing this democratic programme.
8) Dictatorship of the proletariat leading the poor peasantry. However this socialist workers government would also have to implement working class demands, such as unemployment relief, the eight hour day etc because of its social base. As such the workers government would be compelled by the logic of the class struggle to go further and alter the social relations – effectively the working class would begin to break the capitalist relations of production and make a socialist revolution.
9) International interdependence. Therefore, the working class in Russia would not only come to power before its counterparts in Europe, but it would also be the first to overthrow capitalism and create a workers’ state. Such an outcome would spur the efforts of workers and their socialist parties in other countries to make their own socialist revolutions. Such an international revolutionary wave and coming to power of the working class across Europe (and the rest of globe) would ensure that socialism would begin to be constructed.

Traditionally, Trotsky has been credited for this sweeping assessment and audacious political conclusions, not least because he not only theorised it in advance but actively took part in the shaping of precisely this history in both 1905 and 1917. The publication of Richard Day and Daniel Gaido’s book, Witnesses to Permanent Revolution does not detract from this assessment of Trotsky’s innovation. However it does locate Trotsky’s contribution within the wider Marxist tradition. In doing so it enriches our understanding of what permanent revolution is, and what it is not. This is important because ‘permanent revolution’ has suffered, first at the hands of the Stalinists, but also at the hands of “Trotskyists” too. The cleansing of permanent revolution from these excrescences is vital part of Marxist renewal in the current period.


The first virtue of the book is that it allows the English reader to read some of Trotsky’s first formulations of permanent revolution from 1905. Most of the widely available books by Trotsky in English were both written after the events and with the benefit of hindsight and personal experience. The translations in this book indicate the brilliance of Trotsky’s synthesis forged in the heat of a revolution and add to our appreciation of his Marxism. Of the five texts by Trotsky in this volume, the first ‘Up to the Ninth of January’, ‘After the Petersburg Uprising: What Next?’ and ‘Introduction to Ferdinand Lassalle’s Speech to the Jury’ have not appeared in English in full before, although parts are in Olgin’s collection Our Revolution (1918) and in Deutscher’s anthology, Age of Permanent Revolution (1964).

The first article, ‘Up to the Ninth of January’, was written before the massacre of 9 January 1905 that sparked the revolution. However it was only published, along with a preface by Parvus, later that year. Starting from the common Russian Social-Democrat position, that “the Russian revolutionary movement will triumph as a workers movement or not at all” and on the basis of the raging strike movement of southern Russia, Trotsky came to the conclusion that tsarism would be overthrown by a general strike. He agreed with Parvus that “if the revolution’s prime mover is the working class, adopting the decisive methods of a general strike and an uprising, then the result, in the event of the revolution’s victory, must be the transfer of power to the workers” (2011 p.276). In ‘After the Petersburg Uprising: What Next?’ (20 January 1905), Trotsky reiterated his argument that the principal actor was the proletariat. When the workers began by launching a strike, they banded themselves together, put forth political demands, went into the streets and won the enthusiastic sympathy of the entire population (2011 p.341-42).

Trotsky explicitly set out his distinctive contribution, arguing for a workers’ government that would be compelled to take socialist means and make a socialist revolution, in his ‘Introduction to Ferdinand Lassalle’s Speech to the Jury’ (July 1905). The theme of the article was that the Russian bourgeoisie, like that of Germany in 1848, arrived too late to make its own revolution, leaving it to the working class to organise its own provisional workers’ government. Trotsky concluded:
“The class which is capable of winning this battle will have to fight it, and will then have to assume the role of a leading class – if Russia is to be truly re-born as a democratic state. These conditions, then, lead to the hegemony of the ‘fourth estate’. It goes without saying that the proletariat must fulfil its mission, just as the bourgeoisie did in its own time, with the help of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie. It must lead the countryside, draw it into the movement, make it vitally interested in the success of its plans. But, inevitably, the proletariat remains the leader. This is not the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’, [i.e. Lenin’s formula] it is the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry. And the proletariat’s work will not, of course, be confined within the limits of a single state. The very logic of its position will immediately throw it into the world arena” (2011 p.443-444).

The text of ‘Social Democracy and Revolution’ (25 November 1905) has previously been published in English in the Journal of Trotsky Studies (1995). It was the first occasion on which Trotsky uses the term ‘permanent revolution’, [permanentnaya revolyutsiya] or at least its semantic equivalent ‘uninterrupted revolution’ [nepreryvnaya revolyutsiya]. Trotsky wrote:
“Overcoming the mighty resistance of the autocratic state and the conscious inactivity of the bourgeoisie, the working class of Russia has developed into an organised fighting force without precedent. There is no stage of the bourgeois revolution at which this fighting force, driven forward by the steel logic of class interests, could be appeased. Uninterrupted revolution is becoming the law of self-preservation for the proletariat.
“The vanguard position of the working class in the revolutionary struggle; the direct link it is establishing with the revolutionary countryside; the skill with which it is subordinating the army to itself – all of these factors are inevitably driving it to power. The complete victory of the revolution signifies the victory of the proletariat.
“The latter, in turn, means further uninterrupted revolution. The proletariat is accomplishing the basic tasks of democracy, and at some moment the very logic of its struggle to consolidate its political rule places before it purely socialist problems. Revolutionary continuity is being established between the minimum and the maximum programme. It is not a question of a single ‘blow’, a day, or a month, but of an entire historical epoch. It would be absurd to try to fix its duration in advance” (2011 p.455).

The final text by Trotsky, ‘Foreword to Karl Marx on the Paris Commune’ (December 1905) was previously published in English by Pathfinder in 1970. Here Trotsky used the expression “a revolution in Permanenz”. By this he meant, “The proletariat is the sole force leading the revolution and the principal fighter on its behalf. The proletariat seizes the entire field and is never satisfied, nor will it ever be satisfied, by any concession; through every respite or temporary retreat, it will lead the revolution to the victory in which it will take power (2011 p.511).

Trotsky explicitly called on the Russian working class to take power. He wrote: “The first tasks that the proletariat will face immediately upon seizing power will be political ones: to fortify its position, to arm the revolution, to disarm the reaction, to extend the base of the revolution, and to rebuild the state... Abolition of the standing army and police, arming of the people, elimination of the bureaucratic mandarinate, introduction of elections for all public servants, equalisation of their salaries, and separation of the church from the state – these are the measures that must be implemented first, following the example of the Commune” (2011 p.513).

This was explicitly the rule of the working class leading the poor peasants. For Trotsky, “the peasantry is completely incapable of an independent political role”, it would follow either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. But “the proletariat in power will stand before the peasantry as the class that emancipates it”. As for Lenin’s idea of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’, Trotsky considered it “incapable of being realised, at least in any direct and immediate sense” (2011 p.514-517).

In these texts, it is possible to see how the basic postulates of permanent revolution emerged in Trotsky’s thought. During his imprisonment in 1906, Trotsky was able to take the daring sweep, and brilliance of these ideas, together with his direct, concrete experience of leading the revolution, to produce the first synthesis of permanent revolution.

Origins of permanent revolution

However the most path breaking aspect of the book is the way it puts permanent revolution into the context of wider Marxist thought at the turn of the twentieth century. What emerges from this collection is that permanent revolution, far from being an exceptional or fringe perspective, was in fact the mainstream view of the most advanced Marxist thinkers in Europe a century ago. Drawing out the origins of permanent revolution helps locate its assumptions and presuppositions, and therefore the foundations of our world view.

Richard Day and Daniel Gaido, the editors of the collection, provide well-researched and thoughtful introductions and notes to the texts, which enable the reader to follow the way in which the main ideas of permanent revolution coalesced. They rightly begin with an exposition of Marx and Engels use of the expression “Revolution in Permanence” throughout their lives, especially around the experience of the 1848 revolutions, when the bourgeoisie were unwilling and the working class unable to seize power from the old aristocratic ruling classes.

Although, Marx and Engels did discuss some themes in the later permanent revolution debate, including skipping stages, alliances and forms of government, they did not anticipate some of the daring elements of Trotsky’s synthesis. They did not have a “coherent and systematic” theory of permanent revolution – the ideas appear in chrysalis form, “as a series of brilliant but unsystematised intuitions”. This was because although the lived through and charted the era in which the bourgeoisie ceased to play a revolutionary role, they also understood the immaturity of the proletariat during their time, which was overcome only fleetingly towards the end of their lives (Löwy 2010 p.8, p.101).


In 1899, at the height of the revisionist controversy, Franz Mehring defended the Marx and Engels’ version of permanent revolution from 1848 (2011 p.457). In November 1905, he argued that the Russian revolution was distinguished from the great French revolution by “its leadership by the class-conscious proletariat”. The revolution’s “moving force” was “a proletariat that has understood the ‘Revolution in Permanence’” that Marx and Engels “formerly preached in the wilderness” (2011 p.460). However Mehring said that the working class lacked the power “to skip the stages of historical development and instantly to create a socialist community out of the despotic tsarist state”.


In 1902, Rosa Luxemburg reviewed Mehring collection of Marx and Engels’ writings. She spoke of their “peculiar conception” of the March revolution, “the hope in a so-called ‘revolution in permanence’”, but she did not yet recognise it as a distinctly new policy (2011 p.24). In February 1905, Luxemburg was the first to refer in the West-European socialist press to a “revolutionary situation in permanence” in Russia in her article, ‘After the First Act’ (4 (2011 p.365). In December 1905, she described the revolution as being “formally bourgeois-democratic, but essentially proletarian-socialist”, it was, “in both content and method, a transitional form from the bourgeois revolutions of the past to the proletarian revolutions of the future” (2011 p.526). In her 1907 speech to the Russian Social-Democratic conference, she emphasised the leading role of the proletariat, the weakness of the bourgeoisie, the incapacity of the peasantry and the international significance of the Russian revolution. However at no point did Luxemburg call for the dictatorship of the proletariat.


Trotsky explicitly acknowledged the contribution made by Parvus to developing the permanent revolution perspective; this book publishes two of his outstanding contributions. Parvus wrote some seminal Marxist articles in the decade before the 1905 revolution, intervening in the revisionism debate as well as helping to shape the emerging view of imperialism. But it was his preface to Trotsky’s article, known as ‘What Was Accomplished on 9th January?’ (January 1905), which was his main contribution towards the permanent revolution perspective. Parvus wrote:

“What are the tasks of the Social-Democratic party?... It must develop a political force that will be able not just to overthrow the autocracy, but also to take the lead in this revolutionary development.
“The only such force is the proletariat, organised as a unique class.
“Placing the proletariat at the centre and the head of the revolutionary movement of the whole people and the whole of society, Social Democracy must simultaneously prepare it for the civil war that will follow the overthrow of autocracy—for the time when it will be attacked by agrarian and bourgeois liberalism and betrayed by the political radicals and the democrats.
“The working class must understand that the revolution and the collapse of autocracy are not the same thing, and that, in order to carry through the political revolution, it will be necessary to struggle first against the autocracy and then against the bourgeoisie” (2011 p.266-267).

The first act of the Russian revolution had placed “the proletariat at the centre of politics and united around it all of society’s liberal and democratic forces... Then Social Democracy will face a dilemma: either to take upon itself responsibility for the provisional government or else to stand aside from the workers’ movement”. Parvus argued that “only the workers can complete the revolutionary upheaval in Russia. A Russian provisional government will be a government of workers’ democracy. If Social Democracy stands at the head of the revolutionary movement of the Russian proletariat, then this government will also be Social-Democratic... It will be an integral government with a Social-Democratic majority” (2011 p.269-271).

It is not difficult to see the affinity with Parvus’ ideas and those of Trotsky. However there were important differences, which emerged during their collaboration during 1905. Parvus wrote ‘Our Tasks’ (13 November 1905) that “the revolution in Russia creates a special connection between the minimum programme of Social Democracy and its final goal”. However, “this does not imply the dictatorship of the proletariat, whose task is a fundamental change of production relations in the country, yet it already goes beyond bourgeois democracy”. He was quite explicit: “We are not yet ready in Russia to assume the task of converting the bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution, but we are even less ready to subordinate ourselves to a bourgeois revolution”. Instead, Parvus argued that “Our task is to expand the limits of the bourgeois revolution by including within it the interests of the proletariat and by creating, within the bourgeois constitution itself, the greatest possible opportunities for social-revolutionary upheaval” (2011 p.493).

Trotsky was also clear about the differences. In Permanent Revolution (1929), he wrote: “Parvus was not of the opinion that a workers’ Government in Russia could move in the direction of the socialist revolution, that is, that in the process of fulfilling the democratic tasks it could grow over into the socialist dictatorship... Parvus confined the tasks of the workers’ government to the democratic tasks. Then where, in that case, is the leap to socialism? What Parvus had in mind even at that time was the establishment of a workers’ regime after the ‘Australian’ model, as a consequence of the revolution... In 1905, too, Parvus saw in the conquest of power by the proletariat the road to democracy and not to socialism” (1969 p.187).


The biggest revelation for me in this collection was about the ideas of David Ryazanov, which have previously largely been ignored in relation to permanent revolution. Ryazanov’s ‘The Draft Programme of Iskra and the Tasks of Russian Social Democrats’ (1903) was the first Russian text to introduce “revolution in permanentia” into Russian Social-Democratic literature. The work was remarkable because it anticipated permanent revolution in almost every detail and sketched a preliminary theory. Day and Gaido argue that he was “the first Marxist to translate the burden of ‘backwardness’ into the historical possibility of permanent revolution. That insight alone earns him a place alongside Leon Trotsky as one of the outstanding visionaries of the first Russian revolution”. Ryazanov “systematically explored the ‘peculiarities’ of Russian history”. He noted that “unlike Europe, Russia had seen the rise of a native social-revolutionary tradition coincident with the emergence of capitalism; because capitalism was in large part financed by capital imports, and, to that extent, transplanted from Europe, the domestic bourgeoisie was too weak to support an effective liberal opposition to the autocracy; and the combination of accelerating capitalism with impotent liberalism necessarily left the organised workers responsible for Russia’s revolutionary future” (2011 p.75, p. 616).

Ryazanov was also a participant in the events of 1905, where he advocated a permanentist perspective. In ‘The Next Questions of our Movement’ (September 1905), he wrote: “In concentrating all its efforts on completing its own tasks, it [the working class] simultaneously approaches the moment when the issue will not be participation in a provisional government, but rather the seizure of power by the working class and conversion of the ‘bourgeois’ revolution into a direct prologue for the social revolution”. He added: “Our motto must be the revolution in Permanenz (uninterrupted revolution) – not ‘order’ in place of revolution, but revolution in place of order ( 2011 p.473, p.474).


The book also makes a strong case that Karl Kautsky was the first innovator of permanent revolution, both in terms of the origins of the theory and it development, as well as the use of the term – prefiguring much that Trotsky would later synthesise. He was the first West-European Marxist to employ the theory of permanent revolution in connection with events in the Russian Empire (2011 p.42). In his article, ‘The Slavs and Revolution’ (1902) Kautsky made the first move by arguing that the bourgeoisie was no longer a revolutionary class, the working class was the revolutionary force and that the Russian movement was an inspiration for Western Europe, particularly in Germany where “flabby philistinism and sober-minded politicking” were beginning to spread (2011 p.64). In ‘To What Extent is the Communist Manifesto Obsolete?’ (1903) reiterated these arguments and posed the basic permanentist position: “The strengthening of the working class, and its elevation to a position that would enable it to conquer and retain political power, can no longer be expected from a bourgeois revolution that, in becoming permanent, grows beyond its own limits and develops out of itself a proletarian revolution” (2011 p.179). Note this is the likely origin of the “growing over” metaphor used by Lenin and Trotsky during later debates.

Kautsky’s most significant intervention before the revolution was probably his article ‘Revolutionary Questions’ (February 1904). First, he prefigured the conception of uneven and combined development, as against a mechanical, unilinear scheme. He wrote: “Each nation follows a different course of development, stands at a different stage, is influenced by its neighbours, etc. The general tendency of development in all nations is and must be the same, the particular course of development followed by each nation is different, and each faces the most diverse eventualities” (2011 p.211). He also argued for combined development: “Society as a whole cannot artificially leap over particular stages of development, but the backward development of some of its constituent parts can indeed be accelerated by the proximity of more advanced parts” (2011 p.219). To illustrate the point politically, Kautsky argued that Russia was “much closer to revolution than Germany” and warned that “the revolutionary force of the Russian proletariat” should not be underestimated, because the “hot-house” conditions of foreign-backed Russian industry. The Russian workers were “the advocate of the vital interests of the whole nation so that in its struggle against the government it faces almost no opposition from other classes” (2011 p.214-215),

Kautsky also gave tactical advice on forthcoming revolutions, advocating the political mass strike. He wrote that in a political strike, “The government would feel the ground slip away from under its feet, and state power would fall to the class that knew how to maintain longest its organisational unity in the crisis; the class whose composure and self-confidence most impressed the great, indifferent masses, and whose prudent use of force disarmed its opponents: that is, the proletariat educated by Social Democracy” (2011 p. 238). He also argued (rather perversely, that awareness of instruments like the mass strike might be enough “to induce a declining class to come to an agreement peacefully with an opponent that has become overwhelming” (2011 p. 247).

Kautsky also prefigured one of Trotsky’s most distinctive contributions, arguing that a workers’ government would be forced out of necessity to introduce socialist measures: “Wherever the proletariat has conquered political power, socialist production follows as a natural necessity even where the proletariat has not arrived at a socialist consciousness. Its class interests and economic necessity force it to adopt measures that lead to socialist production... If the proletariat has political power, then socialism follows as a matter of necessity” (2011 p.199). However he also conceded that “a revolution in Russia cannot establish a socialist regime at once. The economic conditions of the country are not sufficiently developed for that”. The best it can do “is to bring about a democratic government behind which would be a strong, impetuous and progressive proletariat that would be able to demand important concessions” (2011 p.216-17).

Importantly, Kautsky perspective was not fatalist – workers’ victory was not inevitable:
“The world is not so purposely organised as to lead always to the triumph of the revolution where it is essential for the interest of society. When we speak of the necessity of the proletariat’s victory and of socialism following from it, we do not mean that victory is inevitable or even, as many of our critics think, that it will take place automatically and with fatalistic certainty even when the revolutionary class remains idle. Necessity must be understood here in the sense of the revolution being the only possibility of further development. Where the proletariat does not succeed in defeating its opponents, society will not be able to develop further; it must either stagnate or rot.
Examples of states that decayed because they needed a revolution and were not in a position to produce a revolutionary class are frequent in history...” (2011 p.223).

In July 1905, Kautsky wrote ‘The Consequences of the Japanese Victory and Social Democracy’, which explicitly developed a permanentist perspective. Kautsky used the term “revolution in permanence” seven times in the article, in the context of the hegemonic role of the working class and the international significance of the revolution. Kautsky further expanded on uneven and combined development, arguing that “the distinguishing mark of Japan, and the root of its power, is that the country was able to leap over an important stage of development... Japan took possession of the technique and knowledge of the highest stage of capitalism”. Japan’s example “will now serve as a model and the Japanese themselves will become the teachers not only in science and technique, which the Chinese can learn directly from the Europeans, but also and especially in military affairs”. Kautsky also anticipated an important arguments later found in Lenin’s Imperialism, including the idea of a new epoch because the “the entire world has already been divided up and no capitalist nation can expand by any means other than at the expense of its confrùres”, the importance of capital export and the labour aristocracy (2011 p.395, p.398, p,400).

After the Russian revolution had been repressed, Kautsky wrote two key articles which summed up his conclusions. Both ‘The American Worker’ (February 1906) and ‘The Driving Forces of the Russian Revolution and Its Prospects’ (November 1906) can be read as supporting Trotsky’s permanent revolution, even if they do not go as far as his bold political conclusions. In ‘The American Worker’, Kautsky argued that there was no mechanical correspondence between the level of economic development and the prospects for workers revolution. In the US (and Britain), the productive forces were highly developed, but its labour movement was weak. By contrast, Russia was a backward economy but had a highly advanced labour movement. Germany occupied an intermediate position (2011 p. 616).

In ‘Driving Forces’, Kautsky reiterated the sociological prerequisites for permanent revolution: foreign-driven capitalist development in absolutist Russia “resulted only in the development of a strong proletariat but not a strong capitalist class” (2011 p.594). His most strident conclusion, contrary to the Menshevik view, was that the age of bourgeois revolutions was over, including for Russia and that the workers movement was approaching “completely new situations and problems for which no earlier model is appropriate... neither a bourgeois revolution in the traditional sense nor a socialist one but as a quite unique process which is taking place on the borderline between bourgeois and socialist society” (2011 p.607). Day and Gaido are right to conclude that Kautsky’s argument “lent more support to Trotsky’s formula of ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat leaning on the peasantry’ than to Lenin’s ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and he peasantry’” (2011 p.44).

What emerges from these texts is that in many respects Kautsky broke much of the new ground of what has become permanent revolution. The authors have certainly put paid to the “stereotypical and mistaken view of Kautsky as an apostle of quietism and a reformist cloaked in revolutionary phraseology” (2011 p.569).


One of our principal discoveries in this book is that Leon Trotsky, “while certainly the most famous and brilliant proponent of permanent revolution, was by no means its sole author” (2011 p.xi). This does not undermine the novelty or distinctiveness of Trotsky’s contribution. In particular, during and after the 1905 revolution, beyond the contribution of anyone else, he drew out the central political conclusions. These were principally that a workers’ government would have to go beyond the bounds of a democratic republic and implement its own class demands; and second that this would mean attacking capitalist social relations and creating a workers’ state, in advance of the socialist revolution in the West.

What the book does is to show that Trotsky’s permanent revolution perspective was not “heretical” or “iconoclastic hypothesis” – in fact it expressed the findings of the finest Marxists of the period, thought through to their logical conclusions. This is important both for our evaluation of classic Marxism, especially during the Second International (which emerges more positively) and for the later fight against Stalinism. Part of Stalin’s drive for socialism in one country and his neo-Menshevik strategy in the Chinese revolution involved painting Trotsky as the outlier in the history of the Russian and wider movement. Trotsky rebutted that view at the time. He is further vindicated in the light of these early documents.

Most of all, permanent revolution was vindicated not only by the events of 1905 – but also more significantly by the 1917 revolutions. Again the Russian workers shock the old regime until it fell and it was the dual power of the workers’ soviets that provided the platform for the seizure of power in October 1917. Probing the roots of permanent revolution shows how revolutionary socialists can by analysing reality both foresee the shape of current and future struggles and formulate the key tasks so that workers win those battles.

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