[Book] Lenin, Trotsky and the Theory of the Permanent Revolution


The collapse of the Soviet Union and the so-called socialist states of Eastern Europe, followed by the transition of China to a capitalist economy, confirm the essential correctness of both Lenin’s and Trotsky’s appraisal that the Russian Soviet state they established would inevitably be defeated if there were no socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries. These world-changing events also validate Trotskyist claims that the Soviet bureaucracy not only failed to produce socialism in Russia, but even to ensure its own continued existence.

Trotsky and Lenin were the acknowledged leaders of the world’s first socialist revolution in October 1917. This book seeks to show, by studying Lenin’s own writings, that the October Revolution followed the trajectory predicted by Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution (ToPR), and argues that in early 1917 Lenin broke with his previous goal of a revolutionary bourgeois Russian state, and from April onwards adopted a permanentist policy that was, to all intents and purposes, identical with Trotsky’s.

Amazingly, the author has found no systematic analysis of Lenin’s published writings that attempts to show the transition of his ideas to congruence with the ToPR. This analysis limits itself to texts available in English, so that each and every reference can be checked for authenticity by the reader. This is considered legitimate and desirable; the belief that a researcher can produce a more accurate translation of the original than those available smacks of arrogance, while references to one or other of the various editions of Lenin’s Collected Works in Russian appears ‘academic’ in the worst sense since most of the editions referred to were edited and produced after the bitter faction fights of the 1920s and 30s were over, and the Stalinist wing of the bureaucracy was in control. The more recent access to secret archives of the CPSU after the fall of the Soviet Union has contributed nothing qualitatively new to our knowledge of the development of Lenin’s ideas in the period up to 1921 because Stalin and the future rulers of the USSR added little or nothing to the discussions at the time.

While this book is based on events in Russia that took place before 1921, the author considers the ToPR to remain highly relevant today, and that any serious attempt to revive consideration of it is worthwhile. In a great many of the countries in the Middle East, in Asia, in Africa and in Latin America, the essential tasks of the bourgeois revolution - democratisation, secularisation, and the solution of the agrarian question, have not been accomplished, and will not be accomplished without a permanentist perspective. Nevertheless, it is not within the scope of this book to examine whether the ToPR has been further verified by the history of the 20th century, positively as in the revolutions in, say, Cuba (1959) and China (1949), and negatively by the demise of the Soviet Union (1991). Nor does the book attempt to discuss any limitations of Trotsky’s analysis, but instead restricts itself to the one revolution which Trotsky most definitely led to victory - the Russian Revolution.

The Russian, Eastern European and Chinese bureaucracies are no longer an ideological and financial prop for a tirade of lies against Trotsky, Trotskyists, and the ToPR. This makes it much easier to have an objective discussion and reach a new audience for the proposition that Lenin adopted a permanentist orientation in 1917. However, for two generations the Soviet bureaucracy, founded on the basis of opposition to the Theory of Permanent Revolution, held state power in its hands, meaning that its class collaborationist ideas have been long and widely promoted on a world scale by the various national Communist Parties, and have entered the consciousness of many revolutionaries. Most recently, the failure of President Chàvez in Venezuela to take power through a popular, socialist revolution, was a consequence of this non-Leninist tradition. It is thus, timely to re-investigate and re-discover Lenin’s actual politics in 1917 and, hopefully, participate in their re-invigoration.

This book demonstrates that Lenin, in 1917, threw aside his stagist approach to the Russian revolution, as expressed in the Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry (RDDPP), and adopted a more permanentist approach; that the agrarian problem in semi-feudal Russia could only be solved by a revolution that placed all state power in the hands of the proletariat. In particular it shows that:

In April 1917 Lenin replaced his perspective that the Russian socialist Revolution would follow the socialist revolution in western Europe, with the core concept of the ToPR, that the international socialist revolution could begin in semi-feudal Russia before it began in the west,

During 1917, Lenin replaced the Constituent Assembly as the governmental goal of the Russian Revolution with Commune-type Soviets that would immediately take the first steps towards socialism,

From August 1917 Lenin explicitly argued that the Russian Revolution could solve the land question only if all state power were in the hands of the proletariat,

In October Lenin demanded that the Bolsheviks alone lead the armed uprising and, in direct contrast to his previous perspective in which a revolutionary government with a majority of SDs was not only undesirable but ‘impossible’, justified a Bolshevik-only government as the legitimate expression of Soviet rule.

After October 1917 Lenin consistently presented the October Revolution as a socialist revolution, and the regime that resulted from it the dictatorship of the proletariat,and by reviewing and criticising alternative interpretations the book demonstrates that the arguments underpinning the claim that the post-October 1917 regime in Russia was the RDDPP until at least the summer of 1918, are fatally flawed on a number of levels.

The first chapter introduces the two main protagonists, Lenin and Trotsky, briefly gives their backgrounds, and outlines their interaction from the 1903 Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) to the outbreak of the 1905 Revolution.

Chapter 2 charts the experiences of the two men during the first Russian Revolution, and explores how those experiences influenced the development of the two theories: the RDDPP, and the ToPR.

Chapter 3 further investigates the origins and content of the Bolshevik programmatic slogan of the RDDPP. The chapter discusses the slogan itself, attempts to identify what was new in it and what elements Lenin retained in common with his Menshevik opponents. Importantly, the outcomes Lenin expected from the implementation of the slogan are given. Chapter 4 does the same for Trotsky’s ToPR.

Chapter 5 argues that in the period February to October 1917, Lenin’s strategy for the Russian Revolution passed from the stagist position of 1905, to a position that was, in all essence, identical to the ToPR.

Chapter 6 reviews Lenin’s writings from April 1917 to October 1917 and shows he was working consciously and deliberately towards a proletarian revolution that would transfer all state power to the proletariat and initiate the first steps towards socialism. It also shows that from the October Revolution to the summer of 1918, Lenin consistently described that revolution as a socialist, proletarian revolution with a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government resting on the dictatorship of the proletariat. The works of authors who propose alternative interpretations are examined and rejected as non-rigorous.

Chapter 7 examines the demand for a Constituent Assembly - one of the ‘three pillars of Bolshevism’ - in the context of the October Revolution, and compares the scenario envisaged by Lenin for the RDDPP with actual events.

Chapter 8 concludes that Lenin, as much as Trotsky, is the author of the proposition that in the epoch of imperialism, in a backward, semi-feudal economy, the agrarian problem can be solved only after the proletarian revolution and the beginning of the dictatorship of the proletariat.