Kostas Mavrakis, ON TROTSKYISM Problems of theory and history




Chapter 2


In May 1904 Trotsky had just been excluded from the editorial board of ‘Iskra’ at Plekhanov’s insistence. He continued, nevertheless, to collaborate with the Menshevik journal. At this time he made his way to Munich where he met the Russian social democrat, Alexander Helphand, whose nom de plume was Parvus. He was to remain with him until February 1905 and to fall strongly under his influence. Like him, while his sympathy went to the Mensheviks, he was to claim the role of arbiter, judge and pacifier of the two factions of the Russian Social Democratic Party, and in order to do this he was to keep himself apart from both sides. The ‘theory’ of the permanent revolution in its essential traits is due to Parvus. He was the first person to set out some of the ideas which continue to structure Trotskyist thought up to the present day.

In a series of articles entitled ‘War and revolution’ he argued that the national state, the birth of which corresponded to the needs of industrial capitalism, was henceforth superseded. The development of a world market shattered this compartmentalisation by accentuating the interdependence of nations.

At the beginning of the 1905 revolution Parvus wrote a preface to Trotsky’s book ‘Our Political Tasks’ in which he argued: ‘The Provisional Revolutionary Government of Russia will be a workers’ democratic government . . . As the Social Democratic Party is at the head of the revolutionary movement . . . this government will be social democratic . . . a coherent government with a social democratic majority.’

Trotsky was to conclude quite naturally that such a government could not but carry out a specifically social democratic policy and would therefore immediately commit itself to the road of socialist transformation. In this he was as much opposed to the Mensheviks who, arguing the bourgeois-democratic character of the revolution, supported the big liberal bourgeoisie who were seeking a compromise with Tsarism, as to the Bolsheviks who, while distinguishing the democratic stage from the socialist stage, considered that the proletariat had to mobilise the peasantry in order to take up the leadership of the democratic revolution and to carry out its tasks radically, which by no means implied that social democracy would be in a majority in a government set up after a victory of the people.(1)

At first sight it may seem that Trotsky’s theses are left-wing, those of Martov right-wing and those of Lenin centrist, but extremes converge and Martov agrees with Trotsky on more than one point. As we shall see further on, Lenin devoted an article to refuting the ideas of Trotsky which Martov had adopted on his own account.

Trotsky, the eloquent tribune, was accepted as the head of the Petrograd Soviet by the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks precisely because he represented only himself and did not impede them in the pursuit of their policies. This was so true that, while both sides polemicised a great deal among themselves, afterwards they hardly ever bothered to refute his ideas.

Before going on to discuss the ‘permanent revolution’ in the basis of an analysis of the concrete situation in 1905, let us recall that Trotsky was not long to remain proud of having been Parvus’s disciple. The latter revealed himself a social chauvinist in 1914, and in addition an arms dealer and shady speculator. That is why Trotsky traced his theory back to Marx although he did not dare to deny his debt to Parvus.

It is true that Marx uses the term ‘permanent revolution’, particularly in ‘The Class Struggles in France’, but what he says about it is at such a level of generality that it cannot be relied upon to confer the palm of orthodoxy on Parvus and Trotsky, nor on Lenin and Mao. The former and the latter agree with Marx while differing among themselves. Besides, Marx was aware of the relatively general and abstract character of his definition of the permanent revolution since he apologises for not having the space to develop it.(2) It was only after 1905 that a differentiation occurs among those calling themselves Marxist over this concept. In any case, the reference to Marx is deceptive, for in the passages where the words ‘declaration of the permanent revolution’ appear, what is at issue is more reminiscent of the cultural revolution in China than the tactics advocated in 1905 by Trotsky. The latter explicitly invoked Lassalle, who had drawn from the events of 1848-9 the unshakable conviction that ‘no struggle in Europe can be successful unless, from the very start, it declares itself to be purely socialist’.(3) If Parvus is the father of Trotskyist theory, Lassalle is its grandfather. The notion of the permanent revolution peculiar to Parvus and Trotsky was an attempt to respond to the problems posed by the 1905 revolution. In what follows I shall endeavour to study the concrete situation at that time.


(A summary of ‘Que faire?’, pp. 16-24, UJC (M.L.) pamphlet no. 3, Paris, 1967, translated as ‘What Is To Be Done?’)

In 1905 the imminent revolution had to accomplish bourgeois democratic tasks, that is, to sweep away the Tsarist state and social basis – feudal property – which were holding back the development of capitalism. However, the bourgeoisie could not lead this revolution, given its alliance with the landowners and its infiltration into the state apparatus which it was gradually transforming from within. Hence the obvious paradox: the bourgeoisie had no interest in the bourgeois revolution; it inevitably preferred a compromise with Tsarism. In the countryside, however, the rural bourgeoisie, fettered as it was by feudal relations, had not developed freely. All the categories of peasants which were beginning to differentiate themselves still had a common interest in the overthrow of Tsarism.

The proletariat and the peasantry were thus the principal revolutionary forces at this time. An alliance between these two classes was necessary to overthrow Tsarism in a revolutionary way. The proletariat had to lead this alliance: it alone had the organisational ability which made its hegemony possible and necessary. For the proletariat to lead the revolution meant: to win over the peasantry, to rely on the revolutionary initiative of the peasant masses, to prevent the bourgeoisie from gaining the leadership of the peasant movement and defeating it by an incomplete and bureaucratic agrarian reform (decreed from above). The slogan of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry expressed this alliance and this hegemony. Furthermore, proletarian leadership, guaranteeing the consistency of the revolution (its radical character), would institute the conditions that would prepare the socialist revolution. This slogan made it possible for the Bolsheviks to participate in a provisional revolutionary government which would exercise this dictatorship. Which parties would be long-term members of this government? This was an abstract question in the following sense: only practice could resolve the question, only the real development of the revolution could provide the elements of an answer. This precise question lost its meaning after the defeat of the revolution and the appearance of a new alignment of class forces. The point is essential. The slogan ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ corresponded adequately to the objective situation of the 1905 revolution. It expressed with total accuracy the immediate tasks of the proletariat: the organisation of the peasants for the achievement of their joint dictatorship. It did not leave room for any ‘riddle’ (Trotsky). A slogan corresponds to the tasks of the moment. Like all slogans, the Bolshevik slogan in 1905 was an instrument of agitation and propaganda; it showed the workers the principal path that the revolution had to follow: the organisation of the peasants for the conquest of consistent democratic power; it oriented the proletarian revolution and freed the initiative of the peasantry. Trotsky, on the other hand, proposed to the proletariat that they should take over state power and afterwards make use of it to rouse the peasants: ‘Many sections of the working masses, particularly in the countryside, will be drawn into the revolution and become politically organised only after the advance-guard of the revolution, the urban proletariat, stands at the helm of the state.'(4)

In 1917 the second revolution triumphed in the midst of imperialist war. The latter had accelerated social development. Capitalism had been transformed into state monopoly capitalism. In the countryside the process of differentiation had made headway.

The Tsarist agrarian reform of Stolypin had strengthened the rural bourgeoisie. The war had united workers and peasants in uniform. It was mutinous soldiers who overthrew the Tsarist government. The revolution of February 1917 led to the installation of a dual power: on the one side, the provisional government representing the imperialist republican bourgeoisie; on the other, the soviets. These differed from the soviets invented by the masses in 1905 in that: (a) they had arms; (b) there were soviets of soldiers (mainly peasant conscripts), as Russia was at war.

Lenin explains in his ‘April Theses’ that the revolutionary situation presented specific features in relation to that of 1905. Democratic dictatorship became a reality in the soviets, although incompletely, since their power co-existed with that of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The immediate task was how to shift all power to the soviets. Hence the slogan put forward by the revolutionary democrats. Concretely, this revolutionary democracy had to resolve the agrarian question (an identical task in principle in 1905 and 1917) and tasks which were already socialist in the towns. It was the imperialist war which put these tasks of socialism on the agenda. The 1917 revolution was therefore a proletarian revolution which had to take the socialist road after carrying out the democratic tasks.

Trotsky rewrites history. He isolates two moments: 1905 and 1917; he disregards the period that separates them (an episode no doubt of little use to his argument); and this is what the history of Bolshevism becomes. According to him, in 1905, Lenin formulated ‘a hypothesis’: revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. This hypothesis depended on an ‘unknown’: the political role of the peasantry. October 1917 reduced the unknown and Lenin’s hypothesis (which envisaged the possibility of a peasant party with a majority in the revolutionary government) was invalidated since it was the dictatorship of the proletariat alone which triumphed’ On the contrary, it was Trotsky’s ‘prognosis’ that was confirmed.

October 1917 did not invalidate July 1905. The Leninist slogan was correct at that time because it corresponded to the tasks of the moment and was an adequate instrument of agitation and propaganda. The new Leninist slogan was correct in 1917 because it corresponded to the new tasks of the moment (war, differentiation in the countryside, development of monopoly capitalism, the current practical development which produced this unforseeable concrete form of dual power). Trotsky’s construction presupposes the identity of conditions in 1905 and 1917: indeed, in order to find in 1917 the confirmation of what he said in 1905, Trotsky has to assume that nothing changed between the two moments. Such is the basis of Trotskyist abstraction. The result: Trotsky is forced to falsify the meaning of Lenin’s 1917 texts. Lenin said in fact that democratic dictatorship was realised to some extent in 1917 (in the form of the soviets). Trotsky pretends to believe that if democratic dictatorship was achieved it was in the form of Kerensky’s imperialist regime: If the democratic dictatorship had only been realised in our country in the form of Kerenskyism, which played the role of errand-boy to Lloyd George and Clemenceau, then we should have to say that history indulged in cruel mockery of the strategic slogan of Bolshevism.(5)

This is false. Lenin regarded the soviet form as the achievement democratic dictatorship.

Trotsky tries in vain to dress Leninist theory in his cloak, relying on the apparent coincidence between his slogan in 1905 and Lenin’s in 1917. Lenin did not hesitate to describe ‘All power to the soviets!’ as the slogan, not of socialism, but of ‘advanced revolutionary democracy’; he did not allow himself to play with words and abstractions. The dictatorship of the proletariat was not an abstraction for him and he did not hesitate after the revolution to explain how the Soviet state was a workers’ and peasants’ state.

By common consent of Trotsky and his successors the ‘permanent revolution’ is not a dated quarrel. Its importance lies in its current value. As a general theory formed on the basis of the lessons of October, it should constitute the universal path of Bolshevism. The ‘colonial[‘] revolutions – China yesterday, and Vietnam today – should demonstrate it brilliantly. The Trotskyists have acquired a stupefying theoretical ease in reducing specific experiences to applications of the theory of the permanent revolution. This ‘ease’ must be explained: it results from the very content of the theory. It was formed by reducing the concrete modifications in the Russian situation; it has developed in the same way.

Let us take the example of China: for nearly twenty years the Chinese Communist Party mobilised the masses with the slogans of New Democracy, and the struggle against imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism. The victory of this new type of democracy, which accomplishes the radical agrarian revolution under the leadership of the proletariat, opens up the road to socialism. To achieve this victory, it was necessary to distinguish accurately the stages of the revolution: the fundamentally economic bourgeois stage and the socialist stage; to prepare in the first the conditions for the second. All this supposes a firm leadership of the struggle, which is capable at every moment of winning the largest possible number of allies by its slogans, and of isolating the principal enemy. The Trotskyists contemplate the result – socialist China – and make the following subtle remark: the revolution did not halt, it developed continuously. In short, it is quite clearly a permanent revolution.

For twenty years the ‘Stalinist’ slogan was inadequate: it contained an ‘algebraic’ unknown, as Trotsky said about the Leninist slogan of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. Its solution is ‘arithmetic’, the socialist revolution. He who can do more can also do less. Once one has made the socialist revolution (the maximum) one will at the same stroke have made the democratic revolution (the minimum).

From the fact that, at a determinate stage, the democratic revolution is transformed into a socialist revolution, the Trotskyists deduce that the socialist revolution is democratic in the first place. This little game of reciprocity exalts their revolutionism. Clearly, it is bankrupt, for it is necessary to prepare the stage in which the revolution is transformed; which supposes that the stages are distinguished. This is a particular condition for freeing the peasants’ initiative.

The agrarian revolution is a primordial task in countries dominated by imperialism. The process of the subordination of the landowning class to imperialism gives a new concrete meaning to the thesis: the agrarian revolution is basically a national revolution. Strategically, the Vietnamese example outstandingly bears this out: the principal enemy of a consistent democratic revolution is imperialism. A concrete imperialism: the American one, in Vietnam. The first stage of the uninterrupted revolution is therefore national democratic. Delivering blows at the same enemy as the world proletarian revolution, it forms a part of this revolution. This provides the best guarantee for the necessary leadership by the proletariat without which the national democratic revolution will not be consistent and cannot be transformed into a socialist revolution. This necessary leadership is not inevitable, as is shown by the victory of a non-democratic national revolution in Egypt or Algeria. Trotsky excluded all possibility of a revolutionary national victory led by the democratic petty bourgeoisie.(6) Life gives the lie to Trotskyist formalism.

Proletarian leadership pre-supposes the liberation of the revolutionary initiative of the peasants as they set out for the conquest of power – and not after the workers’ seizure of power (Trotsky’s thesis). This leadership assumes methods of peasant organisation for the conquest of power. Baldly denying the peasants’ ability to organise an ‘independent party’, Trotsky excluded the possibility of organising them for the seizure of power. To recognise this condition clearly is to acknowledge the revolutionary democratic composition of the power to be won. The Trotskyists are unable to recognise the necessity (the correctness) of a democratic government (the NLF thesis) arising out of the ruins of the old, feudal and colonial or neo-colonial state apparatus. To recognise the necessity to devise forms of leadership which free the initiative of the peasant masses is to make possible the people’s war and its infinite capacity for revolutionary creativity.


Defining the general orientation of the struggle, the objective to which all the efforts of the social democrats had to be directed, Lenin declared in ‘Two Tactics’: ‘the only force capable of gaining a “decisive victory over Tsarism” is the people, i.e. the proletariat and the peasantry . . . the “decisive victory” . . . means the establishment of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.’ The task of this dictatorship is to accomplish ‘the changes urgently and absolutely indispensable to the proletariat and the peasantry’, that is, the Party’s ‘minimum programme’. ‘But of course’, Lenin added, ‘it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship. It will be unable (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism.'(7)

What does Trotsky say on the subject? The very fact of the proletariat’s representatives entering the government, not as powerless hostages, but as the leading force, destroys the borderline between maximum and minimum programme; that is to say, it places collectivism on the order of the day . . . For this reason there can be no talk of any sort of special form of proletarian dictatorship (or dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry).(8)

A few pages earlier, he has stressed: ‘The whole problem consists in this: who will determine the content of the government’s policy, who will form within it a solid majority?'(9) This is why Lenin could plausibly attribute to him the slogan, ‘No Tsar but a workers’ government’, which adequately sums up his position.(10) Expounding on the resolution of the 3rd Congress of the RSDLP, Lenin declared, on the contrary:(11)

The resolution deals with a provisional revolutionary government only, and with nothing else; consequently, the question of the ‘conquest of power’ in general, etc., does not at all come into the picture . . . because the political situation in Russia does not by any means turn such questions into immediate issues. On the contrary, the whole people have now raised the issue of the overthrow of the autocracy and the convocation of a constituent assembly. Party congresses should take up and decide not the issues which this or that writer has happened to mention opportunely or inopportunely, but such as are of vital political importance by reason of the prevailing conditions.

As for the participation of the social democrats in the provisional revolutionary government, the 3rd Congress had only decided that it could be entered, ‘subject to the alignment of forces and other factors which cannot be exactly predetermined’.(12) We see that Lenin was by no means inclined to make ‘prognoses’ or to build castles in the air. His sole preoccupation was to formulate the slogans which met the tasks of the moment by pointing out ‘the essential, the general’.

Trotsky later explained: ‘I came out against the formula “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”, because I saw its shortcoming in the fact that it left open the question of which class would wield the real dictatorship.'(13)

This argument is correct if Trotsky meant by it that Lenin did not fix in advance the composition of the government ‘which must exercise the democratic dictatorship’.(14) But it is false if he was suggesting that Lenin did not speak of the hegemonic role of the working class. The Bolshevik leader expressed his view on the subject more than once in ‘Two Tactics’: ‘We intend to guide . . . not only the proletariat, organised by the Social Democratic Party, but also this petty bourgeoisie, which is capable of marching side by side with us.'(15) And also: ‘The proletariat must be class conscious and strong enough to rouse the peasantry to revolutionary consciousness, guide its assault, and thereby independently pursue the line of consistent proletarian democratism.'(16)

However, when Martov took up an idea of Trotsky’s, Lenin made it clear that ‘The question of the revolutionary classes, however, cannot be reduced to a question of the “majority” in any particular revolutionary government’.(17)

Trotsky’s criticisms are therefore devoid of any basis. By holding fast to the prospect of a homogeneous social democratic government he overestimated the level of the Russian workers’ political consciousness while underestimating the revolutionary potential of the peasant masses, who in 1905 were not yet differentiated.

In April 1917 the situation was profoundly different. Lenin observes ‘the deeper cleavage between the agricultural labourers and the poor peasants on the one hand and the peasant proprietors on the other’.(18) He emphasises ‘a struggle for influence within the Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies’.(19)

The formula of ‘the democratic dictatorship’ was outdated in 1917 for two reasons:

1. It was realised in a way in the soviets: ‘The Soviet is the implementation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the soldiers; among the latter the majority are peasants. It is therefore a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.'(20)

2. Under the leadership of the petty bourgeoisie the soviets had ceded power to the provisional government, that is, to the bourgeoisie.

In the particular conjuncture of 1917 it was against the political representatives of this petty bourgeoisie that the principal blow had to be struck, for it was deceiving the masses and consolidating the rule of the imperialist bourgeoisie. We know that Stalin generalised this particular case, while Mao has followed the opposite (and general) principle of winning over the intermediary forces while isolating the diehard reactionaries.

The Trotskyists claim that Lenin ‘tacitly’ went over to Trotsky’s point of view in April 1917.(21) Lenin had already given them the lie in texts such as the following, which dates precisely from April 1917: ‘Trotskyism:”No Tsar but a Workers’ Government”. But it is in two parts. The poorer of the two is with the working class’;(22) and also this one which dates from 1918: Things have turned out just as we said they would. The course of the revolution has confirmed the correctness of our reasoning. First with the whole of the peasants against the monarchy, against the landlords, against the medieval regime (and to that extent the revolution remains bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic). Then, with the poor peasants, the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited against capitalism . . . and to that extent the revolution becomes a socialist one.(23)

It is plain what credence is to be given to the legend hawked about by the Trotskyists that in 1917 Lenin was converted to Trotskyism and recognised that he had been mistaken in distinguishing the democratic stage from the socialist stage. As we have just shown, things were quite different. This is why they are forced to attempt to confer some credibility on their thesis by going even further along the road of falsification and fabricating a Lenin denying the ‘interpenetration’ (transcroissance) of one stage into the other. Thus Isaac Deutscher’s readers are informed: ‘His (Lenin’s) policy was based firmly on the premiss that the Russian revolution would confine itself to its anti-feudal objectives.'(24)

Anyone who takes the trouble to check this will find that Lenin said exactly the opposite in ‘Two Tactics of Social Democracy’:

The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry has a past and a future. Its past is autocracy, serfdom, monarchy and privilege . . . Its future is the struggle against private property, the struggle of the wage-worker against the employer, the struggle for socialism.(25)

Having introduced a first untruth into the minds of his unsuspecting readers, Deutscher makes them accept all the more easily a second (the important one for him) which seems to follow naturally: ‘In 1917 . . . Lenin changed his mind. In all essentials the thesis of the permanent revolution (though not, of course, its somewhat bookish nomenclature) was adopted by his party.'(26)

Thus, to declare Trotsky correct, we must attribute to Lenin a crude opportunist error in 1905 which then enables us to falsify Lenin’s positions in 1917 in the opposite direction. Finally, let us admire the ‘of course’ which saves Deutscher from having to explain to us why Lenin did not take over the term ‘permanent revolution’ if it were true that it corresponded to a scientific concept. Was Lenin afraid of Marxist terms; was he afraid of Marxist works?

All the false and nonsensical Trotskyist constructions are summarised in a short note of Ernest Mandel’s:

Between 1905 and 1917 the Bolshevik Party was educated in the spirit of achieving the ‘democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants’, i.e. in the spirit of a formula with its eye on the possibility of a coalition between a workers’ party and a peasant party . . . Only in 1917 did he (Lenin) realise that Trotsky had been correct back in 1905 when he predicted that the agrarian question could only be solved by the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialisation of the Russian economy.(27)

Lenin has long since refuted this interpretation of his political line in 1905 by showing that the problem of class alliances cannot be reduced to that of alliances between parties – which completely undermines Trotsky’s objection that there could not be an independent peasant party:

A ‘coalition’ of classes does not at all presuppose either the existence of any particular powerful party, or parties in general. This is only confusing classes with parties . . . The experience of the Russian revolution shows that the ‘coalitions’ of the proletariat and the peasantry were formed scores and hundred of times, in the most diverse forms, without any ‘powerful independent party’ of the peasantry.(28)

Mandel could have disputed this argument of Lenin’s. He decided that it was more prudent to pass it over in silence, hoping that his readers would not come across it in Lenin’s voluminous works. In fact, Mandel not only claims that Lenin’s policy was wrong, he falsifies this policy by arguing that it presupposed a coalition between parties. Mandel also repeats the old Trotskyist confusion between socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, between the character (the social content) of the stages and the class nature of the power.(29) This is what enables him to conclude that, after the ‘April Theses’, there was no better Trotskyist than Lenin.


With his pretension to be a better Leninist than Lenin, Trotsky vehemently denied that he wanted to ‘skip over the peasantry’ or that he underestimated its revolutionary potential. He accused Lenin of having criticised him on this point without having read his work. In reality, in the chapter of ‘Results and Prospects’ devoted to relations between the proletariat in power and the peasantry, he openly showed his contempt for the latter.(30) A few quotations will prove it: Many sections of the working masses, particularly in the countryside will be drawn into the revolution and become politically organised only after the advance-guard of the revolution, the urban proletariat, stands at the helm of the state. Revolutionary agitation and organisation will then be conducted with the help of state resources. (pp. 202-3)

In such a situation, created by the transference of power to the proletariat, nothing remains for the peasantry to do but to rally to the regime of the workers’ democracy. It will not matter much even if the peasantry does this with a degree of consciousness no larger than that with which it usually rallies to the bourgeois regime. (p. 205)

Alluding to Lenin’s policy, he also wrote: ‘Lenin now proposes that the proletariat’s political self-limitation should be supplemented with an objective anti-socialist “safeguard” in the form of the muzhik as collaborator or co-director’.(31) In fact, according to Lenin, the proletariat ‘can become a victorious fighter for democracy only if the peasant masses join its revolutionary struggle’.(32)

Let us note first of all that the chapter from which we have taken the first two quotations is entitled ‘The proletariat in power and the peasantry’. Trotsky says nothing about the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry with a view to taking power. We can summarise Trotsky’s ideas before 1917 on this subject as follows: The proletariat emancipates the peasantry and conducts agitation and organisational work within it after the seizure of power.

For Lenin, on the contrary, the revolutionary mobilisation of the peasantry is a condition of victory. The peasantry rallies to the proletariat with more or less as much fatalism and ignorance of its own interests as when it supports a reactionary regime.

According to Lenin, ‘The proletariat cannot count on the ignorance and prejudices of the peasantry as the powers that be under a bourgeois regime count on and depend on them’.(33)

For Trotsky there was no question of making concessions to the peasantry in order to ensure that the contradiction between it and the proletariat remained secondary, because he did not distinguish, in fact, between the democratic stage and the socialist stage of the revolution.(34) Rather, he considered that the transition to the socialist stage presupposes a conflict between the two classes. Lenin’s definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat makes it obvious how anti-Leninist this position is:(35) The dictatorship of the proletariat is a special sort of class

alliance between the proletariat (the vanguard of the workers), and the non-proletarian strata of those who labour (petty bourgeoisie, small employers, peasants, intelligentsia, and so forth) . . . for the complete overthrow of capitalism . . . for the definitive inauguration and consolidation of socialism.

In a country like Russia the ‘non-proletarian strata of those who labour’ were mainly the broad peasant masses. For Lenin, the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia was therefore a particular form of the class alliance between the proletariat and the working peasants and we know that before his death one of his main concerns was the strengthening of this alliance. Here, on the contrary, is what Trotsky wrote in 1922, in the preface to his ‘1905’: Precisely in order to guarantee its victory, the proletarian vanguard in the very earliest stages of its rule would have to make extremely deep in roads not only into feudal but also into bourgeois property relations. While doing so it would enter into hostile conflict not only with all those bourgeois groups which had supported it during the first stage of the revolutionary struggle but also with the broad masses of the peasantry with whose collaboration it – the proletariat – had come into power.


While formally declaring himself in agreement with Lenin about the law of uneven development, Trotsky never accepted all its implications, especially the following:

1. With wars breaking out among the imperialist countries for the division of the world, the revolution can triumph first in a relatively backward country (the weakest link) such as Russia, thanks to the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, and can hold out, notably on account of the violent contradictions between its enemies.

2. This revolution is not necessarily the immediate prelude to world revolution but the latter will continue as it began with new victories in particular countries (where capitalism is weak) for a long historical period. The uneven ripening of the conditions for a revolutionary explosion excludes its simultaneous occurrence in every country.

From as early as 1906, Trotsky reckoned that a revolution in Russia would lead to an intervention of the European powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary in particular. This war would inevitably lead to a revolution in these countries and step by step to the triumph of world socialism.(36) This mechanism is one of the aspects of the permanence of the revolution.

It was also necessary for the revolution to go immediately beyond the borders of Russia in another sense. For Trotsky, the revolution will be global or not at all. In fact, if it remained isolated in a predominantly agricultural country it would succumb very quickly to the blows of external intervention or internal counter-revolution.(37)

Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialistic dictatorship.(38)

Left to its own resources, the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry turns its back on it. It will have no alternative but to link the fate of its political rule, and, hence, the fate of the whole Russian revolution, with the fate of the socialist revolution in Europe.(39)

Trotsky did not believe that it would be possible to maintain workers’ power in Russia without external aid, especially because he was convinced that the logic of the proletariat’s revolutionary action would lead it into conflict with the peasantry.

He returned to this question in 1917 in his pamphlet ‘Program of Peace’ (republished in 1924 in the collection ‘The Year 1917’). He declared in it that ‘a victorious revolution in Russia or England is inconceivable without revolution in Germany and vice versa’. To avoid any ambiguity he specified moreover that: ‘It would be futile to expect . . . for instance, that revolutionary Russia could hold its own in face of a conservative Europe’.(40)

In 1926 he again recalled the position he held in October 1917: ‘it was clear to us that the victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible without the international world revolution’.(41)

During the two years that followed the seizure of power, Lenin may have feared lest foreign intervention crush the young Soviet republic.(42) Later, his fears and doubts were allayed, whereas Zinoviev made a dogma of them five years after at the time of his dispute with Stalin over the possibility of building socialism in one country. As for Trotsky, he proved to be remarkably obstinate in error. In 1922 he no longer spoke of an impending ‘inevitable’ defeat of the proletarian power in the absence of a revolution in Europe, but he expressed the same idea in a more cautious form: ‘The contradiction between a workers’ government and an overwhelming majority of peasants in a backward country could be resolved only on an international scale, in the arena of a world proletarian revolution’.(43)

In the same year, Trotsky wrote in the postscript to his pamphlet ‘Program of Peace’: ‘A genuine advance of socialist economy in Russia will become possible only after the victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of Europe.’

History having decided, comment is unnecessary – more especially as Trotsky provided the best one in 1939 in his ‘Transitional Program’, in which we read: ‘The nationalisation of the means of production, a necessary condition for socialist development, opened up the possibility of a rapid growth of the productive forces.’

While being very proud of his ‘prognoses’, Trotsky constantly altered his conception of the permanent revolution. 1905, 1917, 1922, 1929, 1939 – these dates mark not the stages of a deeper knowledge of the laws of revolution but the contortions of a ‘theoretician’ striving to make something stand up in a schema undermined, breached and ground to dust by inconsiderate opponents and merciless historical events.

When, at the beginning of 1925, the dispute over socialism in one country broke out between Zinoviev and Kamenev on the one hand and Bukharin on the other, Trotsky kept apart from it. He seems even not to have been aware of anything for a year. He himself said later that he was caught unawares by the formidable conflict dividing the majority and the minority at the 14th Congress in December 1925. He distrusted Zinoviev, who had been the most virulent of his opponents and whom he considered to be the leader of the right wing. He did not believe his differences with Stalin to be serious. However, Zinoviev’s argument coincided with his own to a certain extent (except on the question of the alliance with the peasantry) and that is why Stalin had already refuted it in advance in the so-called ‘literary’ debate at the end of 1924.

Given Trotsky’s argument that ‘the safety (of the proletarian state) rests solely on the victory of the proletariat in the advanced countries’, Stalin concluded that, according to his opponent, ‘there is but one prospect left for our revolution: to vegetate in its own contradictions and rot away while waiting for the world revolution’. He opposed to ‘this permanent hopelessness’ Lenin’s ideas on the construction of socialism in one country. Lenin said, among other things:(44) Socialism is no longer a matter of the distant future or an abstract picture . . . difficult as this task may be, new as it is . . . and numerous as the difficulties may be that it entails, we shall – not in a day but in a few years – all of us together fulfil it whatever the cost, so that NEP Russia will become Socialist Russia.

Lenin also said:(45)

Indeed the power of the State over all the large-scale means of production, political power in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of the proletariat with many millions of the small and very small peasants, the assured proletarian leadership of the peasantry etc – is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society . . . out of co-operatives, out of co-operatives alone, which we formerly ridiculed as huckstering and which from a certain aspect we have the right to treat as such now, under NEP? Is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society? It is still not the building of socialist society but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for it.

In the same article, we read the sentence: ‘With most of the population organised in co-operatives, socialism . . . will achieve its aims automatically.’

Trotsky did his utmost to interpret this text in a sense favourable to his theses. According to him, when Lenin said ‘We have all that is necessary and sufficient for the construction of socialism’, he was referring to the first political fruits. It would also be necessary to solve the problem of the culture that the Russian people lacked. Culture presupposes a ‘certain material base’. Therefore, (according to Trotsky’s Lenin), we need the victorious European proletariat to come to our aid with its superior technology.(46)

This is an absolutely unwarranted deflection of Lenin’s arguments. In fact, in his article, Lenin was far from denying that the Russian people could raise the level of their culture and technology by their own efforts, otherwise he would have written ‘all that is necessary but not sufficient’.

Trotsky was very careful not to enter into a polemic on this question during Lenin’s lifetime. When such a polemic did break out in 1925 between Zinoviev on the one hand and Stalin and Bukharin on the other, Stalin was easily able to prove that his view rigorously conformed to Lenin’s ideas. In ‘On Co-operation’, Lenin defined what he meant by socialism: ‘Given social ownership of the means of production, given the class victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, the system of civilised co-operators is the system of socialism.'(47)

It seems that by ‘building a complete socialist society’ Stalin understood fundamentally the same thing, i.e. ‘victory over the capitalist elements in our economy’, in the strict sense (linked to the private ownership of the means of production). As often as not Zinoviev did not attribute any other meaning to the ‘final’ victory of socialism and neither did Trotsky to the ‘completion of the construction of socialism’ which they denied was possible in one country. Taking up Lenin’s formula again, Stalin argued against them that it was possible to construct ‘the complete socialist society’ in the USSR. He denied, however, that this victory could be ‘final’, that is, guaranteed against external intervention as long as the proletariat had not taken power ‘in at least a number of countries’.(48)

In ‘Leninism’, Zinoviev exercises his sleight of hand on quotations from Lenin. He does not distinguish between the final victory of socialism in so far as it implies the abolition of classes, the abolition of the state and the transition to communism on the one hand, and socialism as ‘the transition from a small, isolated, individual, market economy to a big collective economy’, as Lenin said, on the other. The Bolshevik leader did not believe that the former was possible without the world victory of the revolution but he held that it was possible to construct socialism in one country in the second sense, since for him Russia possessed ‘all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society’, which he defined as ‘Soviets plus electrification throughout the country’, or ‘the system of civilised co-operators’.

According to Ernest Mandel, ‘all Trotsky stated . . . was the fact that a fully-fledged socialist society, i.e. a society without classes, commodities, money and state, could never be accomplished within the boundaries of a single state’.(49) We have seen that until 1918 Trotsky denied ‘that a revolutionary Russia . . . could hold its own in the face of a conservative Europe’; that, later, he did not believe that the socialisation of the means of production or the advance of a socialist economy were possible in one country. It was only after 1929 that historical experience forced him occasionally to come close to the position which Mandel attributes to him. Even then, it is quite simply false to say that this is ‘all Trotsky stated’. Let me provide even more proof. If we place ourselves in the framework of this controversy (1925-6) we can conclude:

1. that Stalin’s position largely conformed to Lenin’s views;

2. that it was confirmed in practice when the kulaks and the nepmen were liquidated as classes after 1928 and that consequently enormous progress was made on the economic and cultural levels;

3. that Stalin went further than Lenin and erred in arguing that the victory of the proletariat in several countries was enough to enable one to speak of a final victory of socialism.(50) .In his book ‘The Permanent Revolution’ (1928-31), Trotsky once again beat a retreat. He set up his line of defence on positions which Zinoviev had earlier prepared for him. He was content from then on to deny the possibility of a final construction of socialism in one country. Events decided against him very rapidly, for it was clear (given the context) that his ‘final socialism’ was identical to Lenin’s ‘complete socialism’; that is to say, with the measure of socialism realised under Stalin. Let us look, therefore, at what Trotsky wrote at the time when the First Five-Year Plan was already being carried out:(51)

To aim at building a nationally isolated socialist society means, in spite of all passing successes, to pull the productive forces backward even as compared with capitalism. To attempt, regardless of the geographical, cultural and historical conditions of the country’s development which constitutes a part of the world unity, to realise . . . all the branches of economy within a national framework, means to pursue a reactionary utopia. If the heralds and supporters of this theory nevertheless participate in the international revolutionary struggle (with what success is a different question) it is because, as hopeless eclectics, they mechanically combine abstract internationalism with reactionary utopian national socialism.

Let the reader judge for himself: did the Five-Year Plans pull the productive forces backward even as compared with capitalism? Did the geographical, historical and cultural conditions prevent the realisation of all the branches of the economy within a national framework? The Trotskyists have never told us what they think about this example of their mentor’s ‘prognoses’. The most interesting thing about the passage that we have just quoted is that it offers us a striking example of the complete about-turns in which Trotsky, the rigid critic of Stalinist zigzags, was adept. In this passage he declares that internally the Soviet leaders were reactionary utopians but that internationally they participated in the revolutionary struggle. Some years later he was to argue the opposite: that as a degenerated workers’ state, the Soviet Union presents a two-fold character: it is progressive internally as it maintains socialist relations of production and develops the productive forces; it is reactionary internationally as it systematically betrays all revolutionary struggles.

In ‘The Permanent Revolution’, Trotsky formulated another ‘prognosis’ which is extremely embarrassing for his disciples, who continue to denounce the evils of socialism in one country: ‘The theory of the kulak growing into socialism and the theory of the ‘neutralisation’ of the world bourgeoisie are . . . inseparable from the theory of socialism in one country. They stand or fall together.'(52)

We consider contemporary Trotskyists to be more qualified than ourselves to comment on this text, which we shall leave to them to think about.

However, it is necessary to emphasise a curious argument of Trotsky’s in this new dispute. After ‘Pravda’ had written that ‘the final victory of socialism, guaranteed against the intervention of the capitalist camp effectively (demanded) the triumph of the proletarian revolution in several advanced countries’, he claimed to prove that this was absurd, for if it were possible to build socialism in the USSR its final victory in that country and even in the world would ‘ipso facto’ be achieved because

The example of a backward country, which in the course of several Five-Year Plans was able to construct a mighty socialist society with its own forces, would mean a death blow to world capitalism, and would reduce to a minimum, if not to zero, the costs of the world proletarian revolution.(53)

Here the reader will recognise the Khrushchevite argument. When the USSR has caught up with the USA in ‘per capita’ production of consumption goods, the peoples of the world will choose socialism and vote accordingly. The only difference is that Khrushchev thought this overtaking possible given the Soviet Union’s faster rate of growth, whereas Trotsky thought it impossible. For both the link between the cause (economic success of the USSR) and the effect (more or less peaceful world revolution) is identical. This coincidence reflects a common theoretical basis. Neither of them realised that the development of contradictions in those partial totalities, in concrete social formations, is fundamentally explained by the action of internal causes and not by external influences.(54)

In fact, Trotskyism is characterised particularly by the tendency to attribute an undue significance to the unity of the world market which is supposed to constitute the objective basis for proletarian internationalism. One of the obstacles to the building of socialism in one country is supposed to be the pressure of cheap commodities produced in the advanced capitalist countries; capitalism’s ability to subordinate all the other modes of production, even the socialist mode of production, if its technical basis is insufficiently developed at the start. ‘But, in elaborating the theoretical prognosis of the October Revolution, I did not at all believe that, by conquering state power, the Russian proletariat would exclude the former Tsarist empire from the orbit of the world economy’.(55)

This, however, is what happened. The USSR lived in semi-autarchy for several decades. The impetuous industrial development of the USSR during the 1930s, at the very time of the great crisis, shows that the economy of a country under the dictatorship of the proletariat in which the means of production and foreign trade are nationalised, is no longer subject to the repercussions of the cyclical fluctuations of the world market nor any longer ruled by the economic law of capitalism (profit maximisation), but develops according to its own fundamental law.

In the ‘Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR’ (p. 333), Stalin emphasised that after the Second World War the socialist camp appeared, ‘so that we now have two parallel world markets confronting one another’.

The monopoly of foreign trade retained by proletarian power does not allow capitalism to become an integral part of the production of a country which is building socialism, or thereby to eat away the nascent socialist relations of production by virtue of its temporary technical superiority.

Trotsky’s internationalism was really only a refusal to acknowledge the discontinuities of the world sociological space: distinct social formations, national particularities, unevenness in the development of the objective and subjective conditions for revolution and, finally, the possibility of a relatively separate socialist market contemporaneous with the capitalist market.

However, on the practical level and only if we consider the immediate perspectives, he apparently agreed with Stalin that the construction of the economic basis of socialism in the USSR should not be subordinated to the vicissitudes of proletarian struggles in the advanced capitalist countries. Thus one might think he is picking an artificial quarrel with him, assuming him in the wrong from the start. In fact, it was nothing of the sort. As conceived by Trotsky, industrialisation was only a ‘sort of emergency measure until the advent of international revolution saved the situation’,(56) hence its vague and abstract character. This is all the more true since, as we have just seen, he considered ‘a genuine advance of socialist economy in Russia’ before ‘the victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of Europe’ to be impossible.

Trotsky and his disciples have presented the thesis of socialism in one country as an expression of a narrow outlook, indeed of a messianic nationalism (Trotsky made analogous complaints about the Bolshevik Party before 1917) and even as proceeding from a deliberate wish to betray the world revolution. A reading of Stalin does not corroborate this accusation. Just one quotation will suffice:(57)

While it is true that the final victory of Socialism in the first country to emancipate itself is impossible without the combined efforts of the proletarians of several countries, it is equally true that the development of the world revolution will be the more rapid and thorough the more effective the assistance rendered by the first Socialist country to the workers and labouring masses of all other countries.

He follows this immediately by quoting a text from ‘On the Slogan of a United States of Europe’ in which Lenin advocated armed intervention by the first socialist state to aid the people against their oppressors! The revisionists and Trotskyists are in league to hide these aspects of Lenin’s and Stalin’s thought. The least one can say about them is that they call into question the usual idea of socialism in one country.

One would surmise that Stalin, who made so many mistakes in the construction of socialism in the USSR, is not free from all blame as leader of the International. Let us be more precise: he was not always capable of a correct combination of reinforcement of the socialist bastion and support for revolutionary peoples. We shall deal with this question later. Investigations and historical research are required to determine what were Stalin’s mistakes in this domain. The answer to this type of question has no connection with an examination of the thesis of socialism in one country which, as we have sufficiently demonstrated, is compatible as such (on the theoretical level) with the boldest and most intransigent internationalism. Besides, it is noteworthy that Stalin, who was its promoter, ‘later showed himself rather prudent and reserved in its accreditation’,(58) given that it was taken up by Bukharin who attached it to his idea of the construction of socialism ‘at a snail’s pace’. Stalin, on the contrary, soon came to emphasise the first term of the formula, ‘socialism in one country’, on the eve the attack on the kulaks and the First Five-Year Plan.

The thesis according to which it was possible ‘to build a complete socialist society’ by counting on the forces of the USSR alone was explicitly presented by Stalin as necessary with a view to encouraging the people to commit themselves to this construction. For him it therefore had a practical value.

The process of the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and the cultural revolution in China have led us to a more rigorous conception of the advance towards communism. We know that for Marx the latter comprises two stages: the lower is characterised by the principle, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’. A certain inequality thus survives, along with the bourgeois right which is its corollary. In the ‘higher phase’ of communist society(59) after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

By that time the state will have withered away, social classes will have disappeared along with the three fundamental inequalities bequeathed by capitalism: the differences between manual and mental labour, town and country, and agriculture and industry. A profound transformation in outlook, customs and ideology will have eradicated egoism and individualism.

It is certain that the transition to the higher stage of socialism, communism, will only be able to take place on a world scale after the elimination of capitalist encirclement. This question (different from that debated in the 1920s) must be connected to the problematic of the class struggle after the suppression of private ownership of the means of production. Trotsky (like Stalin), hardly suspected it, and then only very confusedly.

If we have said that Stalin was correct to think that it was possible to construct socialism in one country, we cannot go along with him when, in his report to the 18th Congress (1939), he envisaged the transition to communism in one country. He even argued in it that the state would survive ‘in the period of communism’, ‘if capitalist encirclement is not liquidated’. In 1946 Stalin reiterated this thesis according to which ‘communism in one country is perfectly conceivable particularly in a country such as the Soviet Union’.(60) On this point, Mao has expressed a diametrically opposite point of view: the transition to communism, he has said, will only be realisable after several generations when ‘the division of labour which is at the basis of class division’ (Engels) has been eliminated and when the state has consequently ‘withered away’ (Engels).

In ‘Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR’, Stalin set out three conditions which must be fulfilled to prepare the transition to communism:

1. continuous expansion of production with priority for the means of production;

2. replacement of commodity circulation by a system of product-exchange which will raise collective-farm property to the level of national property (collective farmers will no longer be able to sell their surpluses on the market but will ‘receive products in much greater quantities from the State’);

3. cultural advancement so that members of society ‘are not tied all their lives, owing to the existing division of labour, to some one occupation’. For this, it is necessary, ‘to shorten the working day . . . that housing conditions should be radically improved, and that real wages of workers . . . should be at least doubled’.(61)

Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the last two conditions in fact amount to the first one. In short, to move to communism it is enough to increase production!

As for the elimination of the three differences bequeathed by capitalism, Stalin interpreted Marx and Engels’s doctrine somewhat freely. We read in his last work, for example:(62)

The ground for antithesis between town and country, between industry and agriculture, has already been eliminated by our socialist system. This, of course, does not mean that the effect of the abolition of the antithesis between town and country will be that ‘the great towns’ will perish. (Engels, ‘Anti-Dühring[‘]) Not only will the great towns not perish, but new great towns will appear.

Stalin quoted Engels in order to contradict him. In fact, here is what we read in ‘Anti-Duhring’: ‘It is true that in the great towns civilisation has bequeathed us a heritage which it will take us some time and trouble to get rid of. But it must and will be got rid of.’ (p. 352.)

In fact, Stalin denied that it was possible to make ‘all’ the differences between industry and agriculture, between manual and mental labour disappear because he did not think that the division of labour could be overcome. He declared: ‘The essential distinction between mental and physical labour . . . the difference in their cultural and technical levels, will certainly disappear. But some distinction, even if inessential, will remain, if only because the conditions of labour of the managerial staffs and those of the workers are not identical’.(63)

Even if the cultural and technical level of the workers is very high, can we consider the distinction maintained between management personnel and workers ‘insignificant’?

With such ideas it was impossible for Stalin to prepare the conditions for the transition to the higher stage of communism as the Chinese are doing even now. However, Stalin tackled the problem with at least the minimum of seriousness, which is precisely not the case with the present leaders in the Soviet Union who, since the 22nd Congress (1961), under Khrushchev, boast of constructing full-scale communism there. It is well known that in 1957 Molotov, the last of the ‘Stalinists’, opposed the thesis of the final completion of socialism in the USSR which was proclaimed by Stalin as early as 1936 in his report on the Draft Constitution. Today the Chinese insist on the necessity for a people who want to construct socialism to rely above all on their own forces. This formula can be considered as an avatar of ‘socialism in one country’ which the Chinese only rarely mention. In a certain sense it fulfils the same function: ‘on s’engage et puis on voit’.(64) Rely on oneself, not on others. It is true that the Chinese situate the complete realisation of socialism further away than Stalin did in 1926. ‘In five or ten generations or even more’, they have written. In fact, they know, as Lenin did, that the nationalisation of the means of production is not enough.

With the clarity and rigour that distinguishes him, Mao Tse-tung has recently defined the Marxist-Leninist position on this subject. He poses the problem correctly and thus puts paid to an old controversy:(65)

We have won great victories. But the defeated class will still struggle. These people are still around and this class still exists. Therefore, we cannot speak of final victory. Not even for decades. We must not lose our vigilance. According to the Leninist viewpoint, the final victory of a socialist country not only requires the efforts of the proletariat and the broad masses of the people at home, but also involves the victory of the world revolution and the abolition of the system of exploitation of man by man over the whole globe, upon which all mankind will be emancipated.Back in 1962, Mao had said: (66)

The next 50 to 100 years or so, beginning from now, will be a great era of radical change in the social system throughout the world, an earth-shaking era without equal in any previous historical period. Living in such an era, we must be prepared to engage in great struggles which will have many features different in form from those of the past. At the end of his life the old fighter, who has just carried off his greatest victory, reveals to us the prospective thunder and lightning of future revolutionary storms. Once again he invites us to throw off our illusions and to prepare ourselves for the struggle. New vanguards will be forged in the flames of their struggle, new developments in Marxism-Leninism will spring from their practice. This call and this message are directed to the entire world. China is a fragment of the international revolutionary movement and at the same time its principal Red base.

The Chinese consider that Stalin’s thesis that it is possible to construct socialism in one country is an important contribution to the development of Marxism-Leninism. Is any other proof necessary to show that adherence to this thesis does not imply opposition to world revolutions?


At a lecture and debate on the crisis of the international communist movement bringing together Pierre Cot, Lelio Basso, Isaac Deutscher and Jacques Vergès, Vergès’s reply to a listener who asked him about the ‘permanent revolution’ in China had the merit of infuriating

Pierre Frank(67) who hurled himself towards the platform, his face purple, his eyes popping and foam on his lips. After him, Deutscher calmly explained that he had examined the Chinese and Trotskyist ideas of the permanent revolution very closely, that he had resorted to the strongest ‘theoretical lenses’, without, however, discovering the slightest difference between them.(68)

We do not believe that lenses of great ‘separating power’ are necessary to see the opposition between certain aspects of these two theories unless one is suffering from a very advanced intellectual myopia. I have shown above that Lenin did not ‘tacitly’ become Trotskyist in 1917. I shall now go into the differences between the Chinese uninterrupted revolution and Trotsky’s permanent revolution.

Comparing these two concepts, we shall show that they are distinguishable and even opposed to one another. That is why we designate them by different terms, dismissing philological quibbles as irrelevant to the question that the Chinese language possesses only a single expression for both concepts,(69) or that in Russia a single word is translated sometimes by ‘stages’ and sometimes by ‘phases’. (Trotskyists like speaking about ‘phases’ but not ‘stages’.) For my part, I shall conform to the elementary logical principles stated by Pascal when he said ‘I never quarrel about a name as long as I am told what meaning is given it’. In their translation into foreign languages the Chinese are always careful to use the expression ‘uninterrupted revolution’ (by stages) to avoid any confusion with Trotsky’s ideas.

Trotsky wrote: It is nonsense to say that stages in general cannot be skipped. The living historical process always makes leaps over isolated ‘stages’ which derive from the theoretical breakdown into its component parts of the process of development in its entirety . . . (70)

The third Chinese revolution . . . will not have a ‘democratic’ period . . . It will be forced . . . to abolish (from the start) bourgeois ownership in the towns and countryside.(71)

In contrast, Mao argues that the revolution is at once uninterrupted and that it passes through determined stages. These stages can neither be leapt over, nor can the tasks of a stage be embarked upon before those of the preceding one have been accomplished:(72)

Taken as a whole, the Chinese revolutionary movement led by the Communist Party embraces two stages, i.e. the democratic and the socialist revolutions . . . The second process can only be carried through after the first has been completed. The democratic revolution is the necessary preparation for the socialist revolution, and the socialist revolution is the inevitable sequel to the democratic revolution.

Mao emphasises that it is necessary to understand both ‘the difference and the connection’ between these two stages. The Trotskyists saw the connection but not the difference, while the opportunists of the Chinese Right (Ch’en Tu-hsiu) saw the difference but not the connection.

Under the leadership of the Communist Party the Chinese people carried out the tasks of the democratic stage in a consistent and radical manner, thus ensuring the uninterrupted transition (the interpenetration, as Lenin said) of the revolution to the socialist stage.

2. The displacements of the principal contradiction are the objective basis for the distinction between the stages. A different system of class alliances corresponds to each one of them. During the democratic revolution the party of the proletariat, supported by the fundamental masses of workers and peasants(73) and regrouping under its leadership all the forces which can be united, especially the petty bourgeoisie and a part of the national bourgeoisie, carries to completion the struggle against imperialism, bureaucratic and comprador capital and feudalism. This stage goes beyond the liberation of China (1949) to the completion of agrarian reform (1952), when the principal contradiction becomes that between the working class and the bourgeoisie. The revolution has entered its socialist stage, during which the proletariat is principally in alliance with the poor peasants and the lower stratum of the middle peasants.

For Trotsky, the principal contradiction remains the same during the whole period of the transition from capitalism to socialism: the capital/labour contradiction.

It follows that, for him, the bourgeoisie confronting the workers always and everywhere constitutes one reactionary mass. This being true for the entire world it is also therefore true for China.

The Chinese Communists have been able to distinguish between two groups in the bourgeoisie of their country. One consisted of bureaucratic capital (the four great families who controlled the state apparatus) and comprador capital which acted as an intermediary between the international monopolies and the Chinese market. This group was the instrument of imperialism and the ally of the landlords. The other comprised the middle or national bourgeoisie which displayed a revolutionary character on the one hand and a tendency towards compromise with the enemy on the other. Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capital were crushing and stifling the middle bourgeoisie. It had a vital interest in the elimination of semi-feudal relations in the countryside in order to enlarge the market, and in national independence to free it from imperialist dumping. It follows that at certain times and to a certain extent it was able to participate in the revolution. In other respects it was an exploiting class as it retained links with imperialism and feudalism and was economically and politically weak, so that there was a risk that it would go over to the side of counter-revolution, particularly after a period of successful popular struggle (for example 1927-31).

Even when it was an ally of the proletariat it remained hesitant and vacillating; hence the necessity to adopt towards it a policy of unity and struggle, that is, to criticise it in order to induce it to prove more steadfast in the anti-imperialist struggle. Given the fact that China was a backward country it was necessary to maintain on the economic level a united front with the national bourgeoisie after the victory of the revolution. In the people’s democratic dictatorship then set up, this class constituted a part of the people.(74) The contradiction between it and the working class which it continued to exploit presented, in addition to an antagonistic component, a non-antagonistic component.

This means that in the concrete conditions in China this contradiction could be solved peacefully by a policy of unity, criticism and education.(75) This is, in fact, what was done. The national bourgeoisie ceased to exist as a class in 1966, after a fairly long transitional period. It is hardly necessary to point out that, for the Trotskyists, any alliance with a fraction of the bourgeoisie, whatever the concrete conditions, is an abominable betrayal of principles, as is the formula ‘democratic dictatorship of the people’.

Trotsky had learned from Lenin that the stages of a revolution are distinguished by the nature of the socio-economic formations on its agenda, not by that of the political power. In Russia, the democratic stage lasted from February 1917 to July 1918. Trotsky himself acknowledged that the period from November 1917 to July 1918 was democratic.(76) The Trotskyists today have forgotten this. Ernest Mandel does not understand that the democratic stage in China might have lasted until 1952, although the power established in 1949 was in its essence a dictatorship of the proletariat, for the latter had first to complete the democratic transformation before going on to socialist measures.

3. According to Trotsky:(77) in a country where the proletariat has power in its hands as the result of the democratic revolution, the subsequent fate of the dictatorship and socialism depends in the last analysis not only and not so much upon the national productive process as upon the development of the international socialist revolution.

The reason for this is ‘The world division of labour, the dependence of Soviet industry upon foreign technology, the dependence of the productive forces of the advanced countries of Europe upon Asiatic raw materials’.(78)

As I have shown, Trotsky was convinced that the dictatorship of the proletariat in an economically backward country would quickly be crushed by foreign intervention and internal counter-revolution unless help came from the victorious proletariat in one or several advanced countries. For forty years history has daily contradicted this prognosis of Trotsky’s which he presented, moreover, in the mode of ‘That’s how it is’, with no explanation of either how or why.

The Chinese conceive the solidarity between their revolution and the world revolution quite differently:

(a) When they were still in the democratic and national liberation stage they were deeply conscious of the truth of the theory developed by Lenin and Stalin according to which, after the October revolution, ‘the liberation movements of oppressed nations play an integral part in the world socialist revolution’: because both have a common enemy, imperialism; because the leadership of the proletariat exercised through the Communist Party guarantees the transition to the socialist revolution after the complete victory of the democratic revolution; because the achievement of economic independence and ‘a fortiori’ the building of a socialist economy require relations of mutual assistance and solidarity with the socialist camp.

(b) The revolutionary struggles in the world undermine the rear of imperialism and are one of the factors that prevent it from attacking the socialist countries and contribute to its defeat when it ventures to do so. The Chinese communists have pointed out that the vast regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America dominated by imperialism are the nodal point at which the contradictions of the contemporary world converge, the storm centre where the revolutionary peoples have reaped numerous victories since 1945, where partisan armies are rooted in the masses and are becoming progressively stronger, and where, in the present circumstances, a people’s war has the best chance of victory. They have recalled what Stalin said in 1925:(79)

The colonial countries constitute the principal rear of imperialism. The revolutionisation of this rear is bound to undermine imperialism not only in the sense that imperialism will be deprived of its rear, but also in the sense that the revolutionisation of the East is bound to give a powerful impulse to the intensification of the revolutionary crisis in the West. Lin Piao’s theory of the encirclement of the cities of the world (imperialist countries) by the countryside of the world (dominated countries) means just this.

Since 1963 the Chinese have said:(80)

We believe that, with the . . . struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in Western Europe and North America, the momentous day of battle will arrive in these homes of capitalism and heartlands of imperialism. When that day comes, Western Europe and North America will undoubtedly become the centre of world political struggles, of world contradictions.

 The signs heralding this great future struggle became clear in 1967-8. The revolt of the youth and the revolutionary awakening of the broad masses in the imperialist metropolises themselves are new, universal phenomena which mark the entry of the world into a new historical era. The Chinese immediately saw the significance of these great struggles and gave them enthusiastic support.

This turning-point in history must be connected with the war in Vietnam which has discredited reactionary ideologies (the Free World, American democracy, etc.) in the eyes of youth. For its part the cultural revolution showed youth the way forward. The formula in which Mao Tse-tung summed up the numerous principles of Marxism-Leninism, ‘It is right to rebel’, has become the motto of revolutionary youth throughout the world.

Trotsky’s internationalism was based on the unity of the world market from which he deduced the necessary supremacy of the advanced capitalist countries. If he acknowledged that the imperialist chain could be broken at its weakest link, this could only happen, under pain of defeat, as an immediate prelude to the revolution in the more developed countries. His theory was therefore that of the strongest link.(81) On this basis he formulated a pious wish; he hoped that the revolution would triumph very quickly in these countries, otherwise all would be lost.

The Chinese do not think that all is lost if the revolution is late in coming. They know, in the meantime, that history does not ask for our preferences and that it generally progresses by its bad side.(82) Their internationalism is based on the structuring of the system of international relations by the political class struggle on a global scale. They show that there are four fundamental contradictions, all equally important, which form a system (each one is present in the other three). These contradictions oppose:

(a) the oppressed nations to imperialism and social-imperialism;

(b) the proletariat to the bourgeoisie in the capitalist and revisionist countries;

(c) the imperialists to each other and to social-imperialism;

(d) the socialist countries to the imperialist and social-imperialist countries.

At the moment, the first is the most explosive.

As for Trotsky, he granted an exorbitant privilege to the proletariats in the advanced countries in his idea of the world revolution. He understood neither the laws of revolution in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, nor did he concede that for a long time they could be in the vanguard of the struggle.

The Chinese communists know that it is the peoples of the advanced capitalist countries who will deliver the final blow to imperialism. They also know that the final victory of socialism and the transition to communism will only be carried out on a world scale but they cannot accept formulations such as this one: ‘The maintenance of the proletarian revolution within a national framework can only be a provisional state of affairs . . . The way out for it lies only in the victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries’.(83)

They would even be tempted to invert the formula: the security of the proletariat in the advanced countries depends on the victory of the peoples dominated by imperialism. This inversion had already been executed by Marx. He wrote to Engels on 10 December 1869:

I long believed that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime through English working-class ascendancy . . . more thorough study has now convinced me of the exact opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland.(84)

4. According to Mao Tse-tung, contradictions are the motor of history.

He has written:(85)

The law of the unity of opposites is the fundamental law of the inverse. This law operates universally, whether in the natural world, or in human society, or in man’s thinking. Between the opposites in a contradiction there is at once unity and struggle, and it is this that impels things to move and change.

As Lenin had already pointed out in a note criticising Bukharin, contradiction and antagonism must not be confused. The former will exist in communist society. According to Mao, the development of these contradictions and their resolution will give rise to sudden qualitative changes, that is, to revolutions. The revolutionary process will continue indefinitely. There will be no end to history. Trotsky was totally unaware of this aspect of the theory of the uninterrupted revolution which is derived from the dialectical nature of the real.

In the debate cited at the beginning of this section, Vergès had no time to express himself as clearly as this, for the chairman allowed him only one sentence to reply to Frank and Deutscher. His reply was: ‘Marxist-Leninists are not the “Monsieur Jourdains” of Trotskyism.’

In fact, as Trotskyism has no hold on the real as a result of its original sin – the fact that it is cut off from the masses – its supporters console themselves by explaining others’ victories by an unconscious application of the only revolutionary doctrine: their own. They do not bring about the revolution but are very fond of distributing praise and blame. When they approve of Marxist-Leninists it is because they supposedly practise Trotskyism without knowing it. How else can they account for the logical scandal presented by their opponents’ revolutionary successes except by attributing them to the occult influence of their own ideas? ‘Since these mysteries are beyond us, let us pretend to shape them,’ they say, imitating Figaro.


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...."L’ineguaglianza dello sviluppo economico e politico è una legge assoluta del capitalismo. Ne risulta che è possibile il trionfo del socialismo all’inizio in alcuni paesi o anche in un solo paese capitalistico, preso separatamente...." Lenin -Sulla parola d’ordine degli Stati Uniti d’Europa-Pubblicato sul Sozial-Demokrat, n. 44, 23 agosto 1915.
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