permanent revolution

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permanent revolution

(MARXISM) TROTSKY's conception of a REVOLUTION leading from a ‘democratic revolution’ to a ‘socialist revolution’ in a continuous process. The theory was developed by Trotsky in response to the 1905 revolution in Russia. He argued, against the orthodox Marxist interpretation, that the coming revolution in Russia would not first be a bourgeois revolution ushering in democracy and unfettered capitalism. The Russian bourgeoisie was too weak to confront successfully the landed aristocracy and Czar. Therefore the democratic revolution could only be defended by the proletariat leading the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie into a socialist revolution.

Later, in the 1930s, Trotsky widened the theory to apply to colonial or neocolonial societies where the indigenous bourgeoisie involved in political movements for national independence and democratization is seen as compromised by its links to imperialist powers. The theory was linked to Trotsky's conception of combined and UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT, which assumes that not all societies pass through the same stages to achieve either capitalism or socialism.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Permanent Revolution


The idea of permanent, or uninterrupted, revolution was advanced by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto (1848) and in the “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League” (1850). The founders of Marxism asserted that if the proletariat had sufficient strength, influence, organization, and an independent political position, it could make the transition from the bourgeois democratic revolution to the socialist revolution and the establishment of proletarian power. “While the democratic petit bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible, … it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dominance, until the proletariat has conquered state power” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 7, p. 261). By “permanence” Marx and Engels meant a regular succession of stages in the revolutionary process. They warned that “at the beginning of the movement, the workers cannot yet propose any directly communistic measures.” Furthermore, the workers “are not able to achieve their own class interests without going completely through a lengthy revolutionary development” (ibid., pp. 266, 267).

Under the new historical conditions of the age of imperialism, Lenin developed the idea of uninterrupted revolution into the theory of the transformation of the democratic revolution into a socialist revolution. “From the democratic revolution,” Lenin wrote, “we shall at once, and precisely in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the class-conscious and organized proletariat, begin to pass over to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half-way” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 11, p. 222).

Lenin rejected the outline proposed by the opportunist leaders of the Second International and the Russian Mensheviks, according to which the victory of the bourgeois revolution is inevitably followed by a more or less prolonged period of capitalist development. In the epoch of imperialism, when the world capitalist system is ripe for a socialist revolution, revolutionary democratic transformations constitute an objective threat to capitalism. Monopoly capitalism unites with the most reactionary forces on a platform of hostility toward all revolutions. For precisely that reason, Lenin emphasized, “we cannot be revolutionary democrats in the twentieth century and in a capitalist country if we fear to advance toward socialism” (ibid., vol. 34, p. 190).

The idea of the hegemony of the proletariat is the cornerstone of the Leninist theory of the transformation of the democratic revolution into a socialist revolution. The proletariat acts as the driving force behind the continuous development of the democratic revolution and behind the stage-by-stage transition to the solution of increasingly radical tasks and to the creation of the conditions for a socialist revolution. The result of the victory of a democratic revolution is the establishment of a revolutionary democratic type of power, which serves as an instrument for continuously deepening the democratic revolution and transforming it into a socialist revolution. Based on conditions in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, Lenin defined the class content of this type of power as a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.

After World War II democratic revolutions in a number of European and Asian countries were transformed into socialist revolutions. In several countries the democratic and socialist transformations were closely interwoven and, in essence, constituted two stages in a single revolutionary process (seePEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION).

The Marxist-Leninist theory of uninterrupted revolution is important because it discloses the lawlike connection between the socialist revolution and various types of people’s democratic movements and revolutions. Furthermore, it makes it possible to find the proper forms and methods for the transition to the socialist revolution, in conformity with the specific conditions in a particular country.

Marx’ idea of permanent revolution was given a distorted interpretation in the Trotskyist theory put forward by A. Parvus and L. Trotsky during the Revolution of 1905–07. This distorted theory became the Trotskyist platform for the struggle against Leninism. In the Trotskyist theory, the idea of the uninterrupted succession of stages in the revolutionary process was replaced with a subjectivist conception that arbitrarily confused all the stages and ignored the logical connection between them. The bourgeois democratic character of the revolution is denied in this theory, and the adventuristic idea of an immediate transition to the socialist revolution is advanced (ibid., vol. 17, p. 381). Trotsky’s position, which disregarded the idea of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, was summarized in the slogan “No tsar, but a workers’ government.”

Exposing the eclecticism of the Trotskyist theory, Lenin observed: “From the Bolsheviks, Trotsky’s original theory has borrowed their call for a decisive proletarian revolutionary struggle and for the conquest of political power by the proletariat, while from the Mensheviks it has borrowed ‘repudiation’ of the peasantry’s role” (ibid., vol. 27, p. 80). By rejecting the Marxist-Leninist strategy of class alliances of the proletariat with the peasantry and other nonproletarian strata of the toiling people, the Trotskyist theory essentially closed the path to the formation of the mass political army of the socialist revolution. It undermined internal developmental factors, as well as the possibility of victory for the socialist revolution. In Trotsky’s theory the permanence of the revolutionary process and the fate of the socialist revolution in each country were made to depend on external factors, on the victory of the world revolution. On the basis of these mechanistic views, the Trotskyists came out against the Leninist theory that socialism could be victorious first in a single country. This led them to adopt an orientation contrary to Marxism—the idea of “exporting,” or artificially instigating, revolution.

The Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution is among the ideological sources of contemporary conceptions of petit bourgeois revolutionism, including Maoism, one of whose characteristic features is a lack of faith in the ability of the working class to unite the masses of the toiling people around itself, in order to carry out the tasks of socialist construction. This attitude permeates the adventuristic politics of Maoism, a petit bourgeois tendency. Such ideas are in contradiction to Marxism-Leninism and the practical experience of the world revolutionary movement.


Leibzon, B. M. Melkoburzhuaznyi revoliutsionizm. Moscow, 1967.
Leninskaia teoriia sotsialisticheskoi revoliutsii i sovremennost’. Moscow, 1972. Chapter 6.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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