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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX сentury

THE TWO RUSSIAN REVOLUTIONS, and once again, on the Theory of Permanent Revolution

THE TWO RUSSIAN REVOLUTIONS, and once again, on the Theory of Permanent Revolution

By Raya Dunayevskaya/Founder of Marxist-Humanism

...The [Russian] Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 have forever enshrined Trotsky's great historical role. The same two Revolutions, however, tell a very contradictory story about the theory with which Trotsky's name will likewise always be connected as he is the creator of the 20th century version of the theory of the Permanent Revolution. The expression, "contradictory story," is not a reference to the critiques of that theory, mine included.(1 )...

Recently, in restudying the 1905-07 Revolution as turning point in Rosa Luxemburg's life, the 1907 London Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party became crucial, not just in regard to her views, but to those of Lenin and Trotsky--and, for that matter, all other tendencies in Russia, as it was that united Congress of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks that, for once, all tendencies attended. [Leon Trotskky was there as an independent.]

...Let's begin at the beginning, with Trotsky's participation in the 1907 Congress which revolved around the 1905 Revolution.

Let's remember that this [Congress] occurs after Trotsky had reached the highest point of activity with the General Strike led by the St. Petersburg Soviet, which he headed. Not only was that a highpoint of revolution. It became the highest point of Trotsky's theoretical development, as he drew from it what later became known as the theory of Permanent Revolution. Absolutely no one, including Lenin and Luxemburg, matched the leap in cognition which proclaimed that backward Russia, involved in a bourgeois revolution, could be the one not only to have the revolution before the advanced countries, but in Absolutist Russia--to reach for socialism "in an unbroken chain." That expression, "unbroken chain," which referred concretely to the 1905 Russian Revolution--and not just the concept of permanent revolution which Marx had developed in his 1850 Address to the Communist League(2)--was the issue in dispute.

It is Trotsky's original projection, which was later to become known as the theory of Permanent Revolution but which was not on the agenda of that 1907 Congress because Lenin's proposal to discuss "The Present Moment of Revolution" was defeated by the Mensheviks--with Trotsky's help. Here is what Trotsky said in that dispute:

"What I want is that the Congress, from beginning to end, be political, that it be a gathering of revolutionary representatives of the Party, and not a club, be it of doubtful or even non-doubtful Marxists, bent on general discussions. I need political directives, and not your general philosophical deliberations about the character of the present moment of our revolution... Give us a formula for action! That's what I need." (3)

When the Congress got down to discussing the one "general," i.e., theoretical, question--the relationship of Social-Democracy (as Marxism was then called) to bourgeois parties... Trotsky did not present a resolution different from the one the Bolsheviks presented, though he tried to amend that one. Indeed, he reproduced his speech in the 1922 edition of 1905 precisely to show that he opposed the Mensheviks and voted with the Bolsheviks.(4 )Yet in the years immediately following the Congress he wrote a whole series of articles attacking the Bolsheviks as well as the Mensheviks. The major one (and the one he was proud enough to reproduce in the 1922 edition of his 1905) was the article that had been published in Luxemburg's paper in 1909. Here is how it concluded:

"...while the anti-revolutionary aspects of Menshevism have already become fully apparent, those of Bolshevism are likely to become a serious threat only in the event of victory." (p. 316)

As if that were not a fantastic enough statement to make in 1909 in "predicting" the future revolution, Trotsky in 1922--that is to say, nearly five years after Lenin had led the greatest revolution in history--superciliously footnoted the 1909 statement as follows:

".Note to the present edition. This threat, as we know, never materialized because, under the leadership of Comrade Lenin, the Bolsheviks changed their policy line on this most important matter (not without inner struggle) in the spring of 1917, that is, before the seizure of power. (Author)." (p. 317 ftn.)

* * *

The point is what did happen in those intervening 12 years [between 1905 and 1917]? As we already saw, in 1907 he did not wish to discuss the nature of the present moment of the revolution. In 1909 he published the above cited criticism of Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. In 1910 he followed it up with the article in Neue Zeit, where the first point Trotsky made was: "Theory cannot replace experience." (5, 6)

As if 1905 meant, not the greatest experience ever--be it for him or the Russian proletariat and peasantry, as well as for the world working class--but only factional disputes between "Economists," Mensheviks and Bolsheviks; as if Russian Marxism arose merely out of fighting a "primitive ideological viewpoint" (i.e., the Narodniks), Trotsky reached the following conclusion regarding those factional disputes between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks: the differences arise out of "the process of adaptation of Marxist intellectuals to the class struggle, i.e. the political immaturity of the Russian proletariat." What such argumentation betrays, I would say, is that it isn't only the "nature" of the peasantry about which Leon Trotsky had a low opinion; it is the proletariat which he considered backward--"politically immature." Trotsky's logic, however, led him to accuse the Bolsheviks, Lenin especially, of "ideological fetishism," "sectarianism," and "intellectual individualism."

...Further to separate both action and organization from theory, not to mention reducing the concept of organization to "apparatus," he adds that, of course, to achieve unity of disparate tendencies: "what is needed is the re-organization of the party apparatus."

Those who say that--since that was the period climaxed by the infamous "August Bloc" which Trotsky acknowledged was a "fundamental error," and since he accepted Lenin's characterization of him as "conciliationist"--Trotsky's joining of the Bolshevik Party, like his revolutionary activities in 1917, "eliminated all differences," show they understand nothing of either theory or organization. The whole point of Marxist theory, and organization to correspond, is that they are inseparable from the goal--the revolutionary road to a classless society. If one creates a theory of revolution but thinks a "Party" can reach the end of that long trek without that theory, he is, indeed, underestimating what theory is. That is the only reason Trotsky could have written that "theory cannot replace experience." It is the only reason he could have failed to put his theory on that 1907 Agenda and refused to discuss any theory of the "nature of the present moment or revolution"--and then proceeded to try to unite all tendencies, not by forging a theoretical basis for a revolutionary party, but by proposing the "reorganization of the Party apparatus."

* * *

The point here is not so much whether Lenin or Trotsky was right in this or that dispute. Rather, the amazing fact is that Trotsky, the creator of the theory of Permanent Revolution, was practicing not just organizational but theoretical conciliationism--and the theoretical conciliationism was not only against "others" but against himself. In a word, not a single serious point Trotsky made in 1905 was either developed or related to anything he did in those 12 long years between 1905 and 1917.

How, then, did the question of his theory mature when, finally, in 1917 a proletarian revolution did, indeed, succeed and was led by Lenin and himself? The November 1917 Revolution remains the highest point of proletarian revolution and is magnificently retold in The History of the Russian Revolution.(7 )This book is a landmark of historical writing by one who was both a leader of a revolution and an historian of it. All the Appendices in the history of 1917 are expressions of Trotsky's view of his theory of the Permanent Revolution. That is natural enough. What isn't natural is some rewriting of history in the Appendices, especially as it relates to Lenin and the theoretic division between the two on Lenin's slogan, "the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry," which is almost always abbreviated by Trotsky as just "bourgeois-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry." To prove how that kept the Bolsheviks from understanding the course of 1917, he shows how hard Lenin had to work "to rearm the Party."

That, in part, is true but the whole truth is that it was not the theory of Permanent Revolution that "rearmed the Party," but Lenin's famous April Thesis. To try to claim that the April Thesis somehow implied Lenin's conversion to Trotsky's theory is to skip entirely Lenin's philosophic-dialectic reorganization which, far from bringing him closer to Trotsky, led to the most fundamental dispute between them over Lenin's slogans--"Defeat of your own country is the lesser evil"; "Transform the imperialist war into civil war." It was not Leon Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution, but the dialectics of revolution that led Lenin both to the April Theses and to the writing of State and Revolution, as well as to putting conquest of power on the agenda of the Bolshevik Party. And it was then that Trotsky joined Lenin, not Lenin Trotsky.>>

* * *

Above all, what stands out is Trotsky's failure to grasp the totally new theoretical point of departure on that question which Lenin introduced in the Theses on the National and Colonial Questions at the Second Congress of the Communist International. Trotsky's reference to that thesis is limited to the context of his fight with Stalin--internationalism vs. nationalism--and not the pivotal point of the revolutionary live force of the peasantry, of the national question, and of the perspective that, since world revolution has not come via Berlin, "then perhaps" it can come via Peking. That new point of departure in theory was not grasped, much less developed, by Trotsky.

His attempt, retrospectively, to credit the 1917 Revolution's success to his theory of Permanent Revolution, was not, of course, at the bottom of the Trotsky-Stalin struggle that ensued after the death of Lenin. No. More objective causes are at the root--the new stage of world capitalism, reflected in Stalin's revisionist capitulation to the capitalistic impulse as he moved in the opposite direction of the workers' demands. But, of course, Stalin took advantage of the specific dispute over the additions to the 1922 edition of Trotsky's 1905 as he began his usurpation of the mantle of Lenin.

* * *

The nodal points of a serious revolutionary theory are rooted in self-activity of the masses who make the revolution, and the leadership's singling out of those live forces of revolution, not only as Force, but as Reason. And that holds true when facing either a concrete revolution or a counter-revolution. The 1917 Revolution was certainly a spontaneous mass outpouring. Its success can hardly be attributed to a single factor. Lenin's contribution was the greatest, but that doesn't mean that it was spotless--least of all in his concept of the party-to-lead, and especially so in the elitist way it was first spelled out in 1902.* That Trotsky bowed tothat in 1917 only further weighed down Trotsky's own great contribution to that revolution.

Whether the theory of Permanent Revolution was confirmed or unconfirmed in 1917 is not proven, as we showed before, by the mere repetition of the theory of 1905-06 in 1922. The real point at issue by the time of the writing of The History of the Russian Revolution in the early `30s was whether one has a theory to meet the challenge of the new stage of world capitalism--the Great Depression which brought on state-capitalism as a world phenomenon. Although Trotsky by the mid-1930s had fought the Stalin bureaucracy for a solid decade, had written The Revolution Betrayed>>, he denied the transformation of Russian into a state-capitalist society.(8 )And he ended up tailending Stalinism, calling for the defense of Russia as a "workers' state, though degenerate" at the very time, as we stated earlier, when the infamous Hitler-Stalin Pact had given the green light to World War II.

Which is why it becomes imperative to see the two revolutions, not weighed down with factional disputes, much less slanted to theoretical conclusions, but with eyes of today turned to future revolutions.


1. See chap. 4, "Leon Trotsky as Theoretician," and chap. 5, "The Thought of Mao Tse-tung," of my Philosophy and Revolution. See also my essay, "Post-Mao China: What Now?" in New Essays (Detroit: News & Letters, 1977).

2. [See especially the final paragraph of the Address... "But they themselves must do the utmost for their final victory by clarifying their minds as to what their class interests are, by taking up their position as an independent party as soon as possible and by not allowing themselves to be seduced for a single moment by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeois into refraining from the independent organization of the party of the proletariat. Their battle cry must be: The Revolution in Permanence."]

3. [From Minutes of the 1907 Fifth Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party, in , (Moscow: 1963), p. 49. (My translation.)]

4. Leon Trotsky, 1905 (New York: Vintage Books; Penguin Press, 1972). Page citations in the text are to this edition. Trotsky had reproduced one of his speeches at the 1907 Congress, as well as that part of the 1922 Preface to <1905> which is under dispute, in The Permanent Revolution (New York: Pioneer Pub., 1931). [See also my analysis of Trotsky on the peasantry in "Leon Trotsky as Man and Theoretician" in Studies in Comparative Communism, Spring/Summer 1977.]

5. "Die Entwicklungstendenzen der russischen Sozialdemokratie" , 9 September 1910.

6. [Lenin's article, "The Historical Meaning of the Internal Party Struggle in Russia" was in answer to and critique of this 1910 article"...] V. I. Lenin, (New York: International Publishers, 1943), 3:499-518.

7. See vol. I, appendix 2 to "Rearming of the Party"; vol. 3, appendix 2, "Socialism in a Separate Country?"; and vol. 3, appendix 3, "Historic References on the Theory of `Permanent Revolution'" in Leon Trotsky's .

8. See Part V, Section One ("Russian State Capitalism vs. Workers' Revolt"; "Stalin"; "The Beginning of the End of Russian Totalitarianism") in my Marxism and Freedom >pp. 212-257.

* Contrast what Lenin wrote in 1902 to what he wrote once the 1905 Revolution broke out: "The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social-Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness." ("Reorganization of the Party," in , 10:32) See also... Lenin's "Preface to the Collection 12 Years" in which he wrote that "What Is To Be Done? is a summary of Iskra tactics and Iskra organizational policy in 1901 and 1902. Precisely a `summary,' no more and no less...Nor at the Second Congress did I have any intention of elevating my own formulations, as given in What Is To Be Done?, to `programmatic"'level, constituting special principles..." (pp. in ibid., 13:102, 107).

["The transition to a democratically organized workers' party, proclaimed by the Bolsheviks in Novaya Zhizn in November 1905, i.e., as soon as the conditions appeared for legal activity--this transition was virtually an irrevocable break with the old circle ways that had outlived their day." (p. in ibid, 13:105)]



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