The Permanent Revolution Today


In his booklet, Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution: A Leninist Critique (Resistance Books, Sydney 1998) Geoff Lorimer, leader of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), attacks Trotsky’s theory and the policies which arose from it as a grievous mistake. What Lorimer raises are not academic historical questions. Lorimer and the Australian SDP were, and still are, seeking to apply to the upsurges in the Far East today the same policies with which Stalin opposed Trotsky’s Marxist (and Leninist) internationalism in the 1920s. It was at this time that Stalin raised his ‘theory’ that Socialism could be built in one country.

Lorimer’s attack on Trotsky and on Trotsky’s theory repeats accusations that were made in 1923 by Stalin and his supporters. As the Soviet state degenerated bureaucratically and Stalinism arose on that degeneration, Trotsky conducted a struggle for Bolshevik principles. It was in the beginning of this struggle in the early 1920s, that the then leaders of the Soviet Communist Party — Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, known as the “troika” — deliberately exaggerated the differences between Lenin and Trotsky before the Russian Revolution.

They distorted the positions of Trotsky to divert discussion from the real issues of the development of and chauvinism. These were the issues that were worrying Lenin in the last period of his life. He was concerned with bureaucratic dangers in the Soviet Union and how Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet Communist Party were handling the national question. He particularly attacked the Great-Russian chauvinism of Stalin over Georgia. Lenin was preparing a struggle against Stalin and, just before he died, he suggested to Trotsky that they wage a joint battle.(1)

It was his own differences with Lenin that Stalin was covering up, then and later. As the gulf between Stalinism and Leninism grew wider and deeper in the 1920s and 1930s, so grew the slanders, distortions and lies about Trotskyism. In 1926, Zinoviev and Kamenev broke with Stalin and volunteered to make a public admission that Trotsky had been right all along when he warned the party against its bureaucracy. They revealed that the legend of Trotskyism, as a consistent anti-Marxist trend against “Leninism”, was deliberately manufactured in 1923. It was meant to obscure the real issues that divided Trotsky from the ‘troika’, and most sharply from Stalin.

The criminal character of Stalin’s revision of Marxism has been incontrovertibly proved by historical events in the collapse of the Stalinist regime in 1991, when the Soviet Union was eventually and tragically brought to an end by the ravages of a privileged bureaucratic caste. Trotsky’s 1938 warning was fulfilled:

Either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back to capitalism, or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to socialism.(2)


Stalin’s so-called theory of ‘socialism in one country’ was also indissolubly linked with an international policy that turned away from proletarian internationalism to an adaptation to national and bourgeois democratic forces. Stalin and his followers issued the guidelines of two-stage revolutions to the Chinese and other revolutions: first, the democratic revolution and then the socialist proletarian revolution. This was not a genuine alliance of opponents of semifeudal and colonial rule but was the cover for subordinating the working class organisations and their independent class policies completely to nationalist leaders and native capitalists.

In China, Stalin’s ‘guidance’ resulted in the tragedy of the Chinese Revolution of 1923-27, when the Stalinist leadership of the Communist International instructed the Chinese Communist Party to dissolve its independent organisation into the Kuomintang of Chiang-Kai-Shek.

Maurice Meisner, in a well-researched book, Mao’s China and After, describes the Kuomintang-Chinese Communist Party alliance against the old regime of tyrannical war-lords thus: “Beneath the façade of the revolutionary rhetoric of the time, the concept was reduced to include no more than the Kuomintang were willing to accept”. Meisner goes on to give the essence of the alliance:

Only lip service was paid to the ideal of a democratic republic; indeed, it was implicitly assumed from the beginning that China’s new political order would be essentially a military one. And quite explicitly excluded, or at least postponed, was a social revolution in the countryside. China’s “bourgeois-democratic” revolution, in short, was to achieve no more than purely nationalist goals...And for the leaders of the isolated and beleaguered Soviet Union, being driven inexorably to Stalin’s doctrine of “socialism in one country” and now deeply involved in internal Chinese politics, a nationalist revolution that would yield a friendly Chinese regime was the overriding aim.(3)


The policy had tragic results, which consolidated the dictatorship of Chiang-Kai-Shek, shattered the Chinese Communist Party, and pushed back an enormous mass movement in towns and countryside. Meisner describes the terrible debacle in 1927:

The break came when Chiang Kai-Shek had acquired the military power (and the financial backing of the higher bourgeoisie of Shanghai) to destroy the mass movement — and to cast off his Russian patrons and Communist allies...

In an orgy of counterrevolutionary violence, Chiang turned his Soviet-built army to the task of destroying all radical mass organisations as well as the Chinese Communist Party. Trade unions and student organisations were annihilated in the cities, but nowhere was the slaughter greater than in the suppression of peasant associations in the countryside. Organisations that had mobilised tens of millions of peasants were brutally smashed, and within a few months bad vanished from the political scene, leaving few traces of the great agrarian revolution that had risen so swiftly, promising to transform the Chinese countryside.


The Chinese Communist Party was virtually wiped out. In 1924, the Communist Party had 500 members; at the end of 1925, its membership was 20,000. By 1927, at the time of the Shanghai defeat, it had a membership of 58,000 and its auxiliary organisations among students and peasants were much larger. By the end of 1927, no more than 10,000 remained.

It is this two-stage theory that is so dangerous today. In its call for an international conference for January 2000, the SDP declared that it was meant to bring together “Marxist parties around the world” and “all those activists engaged in struggles for liberation and freedom.” As the conference showed, there is a rising number of these ‘activists’ from fresh generations of anti-capitalist fighters who are part of a new wave coming up from workers and oppressed peoples of the world.

They are, however, facing old problems of the struggle for the emancipation of humanity that show themselves in new forms. Here the questions of theory and practice in the struggle for the leadership of the Communist International so many years ago have a vital importance today. There is also a need to study and understand the lessons of the class processes and leadership in the revolutions in the former colonial and semi-colonial countries in the post Second World War period during which, the conservative bureaucratic machines of Stalinism and Social Democracy were tested out on a grand scale.
In his history of the DSP, John Percy, one of its leaders, declares:

The Nicaraguan revolution toppled our Trotskyist theory, that socialist revolutions were one stage affairs, and vindicated the two-stage strategy of revolution developed by Lenin.


The opposite is true! Historical reality proved in Nicaragua that the Theory of Permanent Revolution is a necessary strategic guide for those building revolutionary leadership today. Such proof can also be found in other national revolutions, which broke up the old empires. The history of the post war world further underlines the truth of the Theory of the Permanent Revolution. It gives us an invaluable strategical guide by showing that, if the working class does not take the lead of the national or democratic struggles and carry them forward into a socialist revolution through the dictatorship of the proletariat, then it must stop half way and be distorted. Furthermore, if the revolution is not developed outside its own frontiers and linked with the world revolution, sooner or later reaction must triumph. Today, this is an incontestable conclusion if we study the development of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Cuba and Nicaragua.

The Permanent Revolution today is also an important strategical guide in the heartlands of imperialism. In Britain, for example, the decay of capitalism fuels a struggle against national oppression not only in Ireland but also now, in Scotland and the question of a two stage theory arises there.

To carry forward a successful struggle to end capitalism it is necessary for those forces which are already beginning to show themselves in various tendencies and currents in the world to be absolutely convinced on the central role of the working class, its internationalism, and the necessity of its independent political and revolutionary organisation.

This is the essence of the theory of the Permanent Revolution and also of the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International. We cannot develop the international vanguard and an authoritative International with real roots in the working class world-wide unless we take issue and conduct a theoretical and political struggle against all tendencies that minimise the role of the working class and destroy the confidence of revolutionaries in it.

Let us emphasise that the Bolshevik Party, the Left Opposition and the most consistent fighters for Trotskyism and Marxism were those who developed a struggle against these tendencies. The International Workers League, of which the ISL is a section, stands firmly on that programmatic basis. The decline of imperialism, the division of the world by a handful of enormously wealthy and powerful groups of capitalists means that there has been no period when international questions which are an intrinsic part of Trotsky’s theory were posed so sharply as they are today.


Why this Attack on Trotsky?

Although Stalinism has collapsed, the essential basic ideology of Stalinism, its nationalist theory of “socialism in one country” is carried on by groups like the DSP. They discourage the independence of the working class and adapt to bourgeois nationalism.

It is no accident therefore that the DSP utilised Lorimer’s attack on the Theory of Permanent Revolution in preparation for their international conference in January 2000. This, they declared, was meant to bring together “Marxist parties around the world” and “all those activists engaged in struggles for liberation and freedom”.

A great number of those who came were from the Far East where fresh generations are taking the road of struggle. In the inevitably uneven development of international struggle, it is understandable that there is confusion and a testing out of ideas. We are of the opinion that a new International will be built by such forces, with principled anti-capitalist positions~ but not necessarily supporting the Fourth International. However, the International cannot be built without Marxist-Leninist internationalism. In the struggle for this Trotskyism has made, and will make, an invaluable contribution. Trotskyism was built on the foundation of a principled and consistent opposition to the theory of ‘socialism in one country” and a principled Marxist-Leninist approach and policy towards national bourgeois and petty bourgeois leaders, going back to the time of Marx. An international world party can have no firm foundation without this.

The struggle against these ideas of the DSP, which is developing as a modern centrist current, has a very real relevance for revolutionary socialist practice today. Internationalism remains platonic unless it is consummated in building a world party. This the DSP repudiates. Through the weaknesses and betrayals of its leadership, the working class has gone through a period where its international revolutionary organisation has been at the weakest that it has ever been. Capitalism has been able to continue despite its decay, and it now threatens both civilisation and the earth itself. Yet never has there been a wider recognition amongst the masses that capitalism is an international form of exploitation.

This is particularly true of the Far East where the working class is experiencing the sharpest effects of the structural crisis of world capitalism. This is the context for Lorimer’s attack on Trotsky’s greatest contribution to Marxism: his struggle against Stalinism, his fight for internationalism and struggle to resolve the crisis of working class leadership. At the centre of the Theory of Permanent Revolution is the necessity to make the revolution permanent in the under-developed countries through extending it.
It was this that guided the strategy of Lenin in the 1917 Russian Revolution. Today’s attack on Trotsky and his theory of Permanent Revolution goes hand in hand with refuting the struggle for the organisation of a new workers’ International.


Marx and Engels and the Permanent Revolution

It was Marx and Engels who first introduced the premises of the theory and laid them out before, during and immediately after the revolutionary events in Germany in 1848—9. Four years before the German revolution, Marx and Engels had already arrived at their main thesis: that the class that should assume the mission of freeing the German people and of changing the social order was the proletariat. It would fight together with the democratic bourgeoisie but would carry forward its own revolutionary aims.

In 1850, Marx and Engels wrote The First Address of the Central Committee of the Communist League in Germany, giving the lessons of the 1848 revolution, which by then had been defeated. They drew lessons about the workers’ demands and the need for their independent organisation and they declared the international nature of the revolution: is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far - not only in one country but in all leading countries of the world - that competition between the proletariats of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of prod action are concentrated in the hands of the workers.


He declared: “There is no doubt that during the further course of the revolution in Germany, the petty bourgeois democracy will for the moment acquire a predominant influence.” He then posed the question: “…what should be the attitude of the proletariat, and in particular the League of Communists towards them?” He drew very definite conclusions:

They must simultaneously establish their own revolutionary workers’ governments either in the form of local executive committees and councils or through workers clubs or committees, so that the ~ not only immediate lose the support of the workers but find themselves from the very beginning supervised and threatened &y authorities behind which stand the whole mass of the workers. In a word, from the very moment of victory the workers’ suspicion must be directed no longer against the defeated reactionary party but against their former ally, against the party which intends to exploit the common victory for itself.

Marx and Engels ended their address with the declaration:

But they themselves [the workers] must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be mislead by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organised party of the proletariat. Their battle-cry must be, The Permanent Revolution.(4)


So it was Marx and Engels who first used the term ‘permanent revolution’ half a century before Trotsky. It conveyed the conclusion that the working class was in a permanent struggle for hegemony among the classes involved in the democratic revolution in Germany. By the end of the century, Germany had been united under the Prussian state by the Bismarkian “revolution’ and emerged as a leading capitalist country. Capitalism had entered its imperialist epoch. However, bourgeois democratic revolutions remained unaccomplished in a large part of the world, while class antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat had greatly increased since Marx’s time.

Thus in the enormous and extremely backward empire of feudal Russia the relationship of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie (who saw the revolution solely in terms of democracy) became an important problem for thinking revolutionaries. The burning question was: what was the role of the working class in the coming bourgeois democratic revolution?


Trotsky’s theory


Trotsky produced his theory of Permanent Revolution in the first decade of the twentieth century. It was concerned with countries, such as Russia, where capitalism and a working class had already developed in a semi-feudal, or colonial society, dominated by imperialism. For their liberation, these countries were facing an anti-imperialist, anti-feudal revolution.
The native capitalist class, because of its links with other exploiting classes, could not lead its own revolution through to the end and establish an independent bourgeois democratic republic. Above all, it could not lead a revolution for a radical redistribution of land to the advantage of the peasantry.

The only class capable of leading the peasantry and solving the tasks of the bourgeois revolution was the working class. However, argued Trotsky, the working class would not be able to stop at the limits of the bourgeois democratic revolution. Having reached power, the proletariat would be compelled to encroach even more deeply upon the interests of private property in general, that is, to take the road of socialist measures.

He insisted that a workers’ government would have no alternative but to secure the revolution by taking action against capital. The barrier between the minimum and the maximum programme would disappear immediately the proletariat came to power (that is to say the minimum programme of bourgeois democratic demands and the maximum programme of demands laying the basis for socialism).

For Trotsky, the only class capable of leading the peasantry and solving the tasks of the bourgeois revolution was the working class. He said that in its alliance with the peasantry~ the working class must take the lead, because of the difficulties of peasant organisation owing to its petty-bourgeois consciousness based on individual ownership. If the working class did not take the lead of the bourgeois democratic revolution and carry it forward in building the basis for socialist transformation that revolution would stop half way and be distorted. Furthermore, if the revolution was not made permanent by its development outside its frontiers with revolutions in other countries, eventually, reaction must triumph.

Trotsky did not argue that the working class could immediately introduce socialism, as the Stalinists (and now Lorimer) alleged. Like Rosa Luxemburg (see below), he believed that the Russian Revolution would realise “in the particular affairs of absolutist Russia the general results of internationalist capitalist development.” He gave a clear summary of this in 1929 in his Introduction to the first Russian edition of his book, Permanent Revolution:

‘But do you really believe,’ the Stalins, Rykovs, and all the other Molotovs objected dozens of times between 1905 and 1917, ‘that Russia is ripe for a socialist revolution?’ To that, I always answered: ‘No, I do not. But world economy as a whole, and European economy in the first place, is fully ripe for the socialist revolution. Whether the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia leads to socialism or not, and at what tempo, and through what stages, will depend upon the fate of European and world capitalism’.

Rosa Luxemburg and Permanent Revolution

It was not just Trotsky who at that time talked about Permanent Revolution. Rosa Luxemburg (one of the leaders of the German Social Democratic Party) also developed this theory, although her contribution is now not very well known. Immediately after the 1905 revolution in Russia she wrote:

In the great French revolution the still wholly underdeveloped internal contradictions of bourgeois society gave scope for a long period of violent struggles, in which all the antagonisms which first germinated and ripened in the heat of the revolution raged unhindered and unrestrained in a spirit of reckless radicalism. A century later the revolution of the German bourgeoisie, which broke out midway in the development of capitalism, was already hampered on both sides by the antagonism of interests and the equilibrium of strength between capital and labour, and was smothered in a bourgeois-feudal compromise, and shortened to a brief miserable compromise ending in words. Another half century and the present Russian revolution stands at a point of the historical path which is already over the summit, which is on the other side of the culminating point of capitalist society, at which the bourgeois revolution will again be smothered by the antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat, but will expand into a new lengthy period of violent social struggles, at which the balancing of the account with absolutism appears a trifle in comparison with the many new accounts the revolution itself opens up. The present revolution realises in the particular affairs of absolutist Russia the general results of internationalist capitalist development, and appears not so much as the last successor of the old bourgeois revolutions as the forerunner of the new series of proletarian revolutions of the West. The most backward country of all, just because it has been so unpardonably late with its bourgeois revolution, shows ways and methods of further class struggle to the proletariat of Germany and the most advanced capitalist countries. . . The German workers should look upon the Russian revolution as their own affair, not merely as a matter of international solidarity with the Russian proletariat, but first and foremost, as a chapter of their own social and political history.


In the writings of Rosa Luxemburg the emphasis was clearly on the evolution of the world relations of capitalism, and the conception of the uninterrupted ‘growing over’ (the term which Lenin used later), of the democratic into the socialist revolution.


Lenin and Trotsky


Before 1917, Lenin and Trotsky had differences over the coming revolution in Russia. It is the false Stalinist version of these differences that Lorimer uses in his booklet. His theory was accepted as a valuable contribution to Marxist theory after the experience of the Russian Revolution up to the attack on Trotsky in 1924 by Stalin. Trotsky, in a collection of his writings on the Permanent Revolution, quotes the editors of the second part of Volume XIV of Lenin’s collected works, declaring:

Even before the 1905 revolution he (Trotsky) advanced the original and especially noteworthy theory of permanent revolution, in which he asserted the bourgeois revolution of 1905 would pass directly over into a socialist revolution, constituting the first in a series of national revolutions(5)


Trotsky points out that this second part of Volume XIV was published while Lenin was still alive and “Thousands and tens of thousands of party members read this note. And nobody declared it to be false until the year 1924.” The important historical truth is that before 1917, Lenin and Trotsky had agreement over the leading role of the working class. In that respect, they were both in opposition to the Mensheviks. (Until 1917, when the Bolshevik Party was formed, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks were the two major wings or factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party).

Together with the majority of Russian Marxists, including the Mensheviks, they saw the revolution developing as a bourgeois democratic revolution with the working class fighting for democratic rights, agrarian revolution and the ending of feudal land ownership and feudal barbarism in the countryside. Lenin declared that the working class, together with the peasantry could take this revolution no further than the end of feudal relations and the institution of a bourgeois democratic republic, which was necessary before the working class could develop the conditions for a social revolution.

The famous pamphlet that gives Lenin’s position is Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, which was written just before the revolution of 1905. It was published in July of that year, a few weeks after the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin that began the revolutionary uprising.

At this time, Lenin did not believe that the coming revolution would be socialist. He considered that there had to be a development of capitalism and of the working class to make that possible. He wrote — with a sideswipe at Trotsky — that it was an absurd semi-anarchist idea, to believe

...that the maximum programme, the conquest of power for socialist revolution can be immediately achieved.

The present degree of economic development of Russia (an objective condition) and a degree of class consciousness and organisation of the broad masses of the proletariat (a subjective condition indissolubly connected with the objective condition) makes the immediate complete emancipation of the working class impossible. Only the most ignorant people can ignore the bourgeois character of the present democratic revolution.(6)


Thus, at that time, it was his conviction that only after the bourgeois revolution, could the working class evolve the organisation and consciousness needed for the proletarian revolution.

The Mensheviks in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party agreed with this. However, they were part of the right-wing in the big division in the international movement between opportunism and reformism on the one hand, and Marxist principles and revolution on the other. They advocated leaving the leadership in the coming Russian Revolution in the hands of the liberal bourgeoisie with the perspective that the workers’ party would become a “left opposition” in the future democratic state. Lenin attacked them for capitulating to the liberal capitalists.

In 1907, in an introduction to a collection of Marx’s letters to Ludwig Kugelmann, he summarised the Menshevik position in the following way:

From the fact that, in essence, the revolution is a bourgeois revolution they draw the shallow conclusion that the bourgeoisie is the driving force of the revolution, that the tasks of the proletariat in this revolution are of an auxiliary and non-independent nature, that the proletarian leadership of the revolution is impossible!

The aim of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the revolution was a government of workers and peasants, a revolutionary democratic-dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”. This government would carry out a programme giving democracy to the masses of workers and peasants, instituting a republic in which capitalist enterprises would continue under the control of the workers’ and peasants’ government which would nationalise the land and distribute it, introduce the eight hour day, and end trade union restrictions.

Lenin’s conclusions on the coming revolution were firmly grounded on Marxist principles, including the independence of the working class, internationalism and the development of the anti-capitalist revolution in Europe. There was a unity of Lenin and Trotsky against the Mensheviks in that both placed the emphasis on the working class as the only consistent revolutionary force, and the only one that could unite the peasantry.


Lenin in February 1917


In February 1917, Lenin and Trotsky were united against the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary conciliationist leaders, who had handed power to the representatives of capitalists and the old regime. They both had the firm conclusion that the soviets had to take the power. This was in line with Trotsky’s theory. Lenin, for his part, whilst still in exile in Switzerland, reacted, in the first weeks of February, with the demand of ‘All power to the Soviets’. Immediately he stepped off the train in Petrograd when he returned to Russia at the end of March, he began his sharp struggle that swung the Bolshevik party behind his policy.

To call for power to the Soviets, and to attack the conciliators and their illusions in the democratic revolution was no great step at all for Lenin. He had worked over the experience of Soviets in the 1905 revolution where they were thrown up spontaneously by the masses. He responded to the realities of the war and development of world relations, and their effect on the consciousness of workers and peasants in uniform and the tasks that were posed.

In 1922, while Lenin was still alive, and with the heat of the revolution and the bitter struggle of civil war still fresh, Karl Radek wrote about what the Soviets and the war crisis of imperialism meant:

The new factor, which the Marxist analysis bad not foreseen, was the form by which the working class spontaneously organised itself as a revolutionary agent. Alongside political parties and alongside trade unions, Soviets instinctively rose. During the days of October 1905, at the time of the great shaking of Tsarism by the general strike, in some cities the Soviets were the organs of power, and the bourgeoisie had to capitulate before them in many places.

The revolution of February 1917 picked up again the thread of the first revolution of 1905. A rapid victory was only possible in February 1917 because the revolution of 1905 had already worked the terrain in Russia. The opportunists of the Second International who bad explained after the defeat of 1907 that the Russian Revolution had been futile... once more appeared in the light of events of 1917 to be short sighted.

The Russian popular masses were to begin the revolution of 1917 with a store of political concepts which had been reinforced and sharpened by two and a half years of experience of war; they were therefore to push the revolution straight away much further than the bourgeoisie wished to tolerate; the arrest of the Tsar, the checkmating of the installation of the regency, and the proclamation of the republic were not the least important results of the work of the first revolution. At the same time, the worker and soldier masses spontaneously began to form Soviets of Workers and Soldiers. The peasants initiated them in the countryside and these mass organisations, formed spontaneously, became, even before being conscious of the fact that they were, the constituent organs of proletarian power, the organs, which would take power ... the bourgeois Provisional Government from the first day of its existence had to complain about “double government”, for the soviets of workers and soldiers not only grabbed control over the bourgeois Provisional Government, but even part of the executive power.(7)


In February 1917, the workers, soldiers and peasants built on their memories of these flexible and democratic organisations. Lenin clearly now saw the Soviets as the instrument through which the working class and the peasantry could end Tzarism and clear away the feudal rubbish, creating the basis for the evolution of a socialist state. The soviets united the working class and the peasantry, with the working class in the leadership.

Lenin had realised their power and recognised that they expressed a high “ . . .degree of consciousness and organisation of the masses.’ Here in the Soviets was the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” with the working class in the cities leading (as Trotsky had prophesied). The war had further welded peasants and workers together as soldiers and, as 1917 progressed, they grew more united in their opposition to the profiteering and slaughter.

The February Revolution had exploded in Russia as a result of the international contradictions of capitalism. The chain of capitalism~ as Lenin remarked, had broken at its weakest link. Those like Lenin, who were single-mindedly and firmly devoted to the defence of the February revolution, understood that it had to go further. This meant a government of Soviets making the revolution permanent with the assistance of the world working class.

In his April Theses, of 1917, with which he began the re-arming of the Bolshevik party, Lenin declared that the Russian working class might come to power first, before the European proletariat — but would still depend upon the revolutionary assistance of the latter. Lenin and Trotsky had reached a fundamental agreement that only the working class could unify the peasantry into a formidable force, and lead the revolution to the defeat of Tsarism, feudalism and reaction, and bring what the masses were demanding — Peace, Bread I and Land. They were united in placing the development of internationalism as the axis of their policy.

What were the stages?

Lorimer declares that Lenin had a theory of stages with regard to the Russian Revolution, which saw the February revolution as the first stage—a bourgeois democratic revolution. In fact, Lenin saw the “stage” after February as a regime of dual power. He defined it as that while he was still in exile in Switzerland, before his return in March 1917.

The inner dynamics of the Russian Revolution in February were moving towards a revolutionary state power, a dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry — totally in accordance with Trotsky’s understanding. The Soviets had the power in February. Their Menshevik and Social Revolutionary leaders handed it to the Provisional Government, and there followed a period of dual power.

1917 was dominated by the process, led by the Bolsheviks, to the seizure of all power by the soviets.

The first stage of the revolution in Russia, was described by Lenin writing in the second of his daily Letters from Afar, which were addressed to Pravda, the Bolshevik daily:

The February-March revolution was merely the first stage of the revolution ... Russia is passing through a peculiar historical moment of transition to the next stage of the revolution, or, to use Skobelev’s expression, to a ‘second revolution’.(8)


If Lorimer wanted to describe this as a stage then we would willingly agree that many revolutions in history have begun with this stage. Trotsky devoted a whole chapter in his History of the Russian Revolution to this “stage”, declaring that dual power was a distinct condition of social crisis, and went on to write that, “an illumination of it has never appeared in historic literature”.

He went on to declare that it was by no means peculiar to the Russian Revolution. In fact, in the French Revolution there was at times a dual power between the Jacobins and the sanscullotes of Pans. As Trotsky remarks:

It is not a constitutional but a revolutionary fact. It implies that a destruction of the social equilibrium has already split the state superstructure, It arises where the hostile classes are already each relying upon essentially incompatible governmental organisations
— the one outlived, the other in process of formation — which jostle against each other at every step of government. The amount of power that falls to each of the struggling classes in such a situation is determined by the correlation of forces in the course of the struggle.(9)


The revolutionary process was facing a government preparing the counter-revolution. Lenin saw the conquest of February as the removal of the Romanovs. The bourgeois liberals were the government, but the state was the old Tzarist state, and landlordism remained in the countryside. From his point of view the Provisional Government, or what he called the “Guchkov-Milyukov government” was “no more than an agent of the banking firm ‘England and France’, an instrument for continuing the imperialist slaughter.” In a lecture in Switzerland, while still in exile in March 1917, he said:

In 1917, a very exceptional conjuncture of circumstances made it possible to merge together the attacks of the most diverse social forces against Tsarism. First, Anglo-French finance capital, which more than any other dominates and robs the whole world, opposed the revolution in 1905 and helped the Tsar crush it (the 1906 loan). But it took a very active and direct part in the present revolution, organising the conspiracy of the Guchkovs, Milyukovs, and part of the army high command to depose Nicholas II or force him to make concessions.

He wrote then of ‘double power’ and declared in his lecture quoted above, that “we do not need a ‘ready made’ state machine, such as exists in the most democratic bourgeois republics, but direct power of the armed and organised workers That is the state we need”.

This conception of Lenin’s was as different to Stalin’s “two-stage” theory as it is to Lorimer’s. For Lenin the central important aspect was the dual power expressed by these two forces. The immediate questions for him were how to win the workers and peasants in this second pole of the dual power, and destroy the first power.


Permanent Revolution in the post-war world


No wonder that Lorimer gives confused statements on his “stages”. His confusion exists because he has never thought very deeply about the concrete development of the revolution. He has suffered from impressionistic conclusions on the revolutionary developments in the post-war and illusions in the apparent inevitable forward progress of African and Latin American revolutions and a theory that objective circumstances would overcome weaknesses of nationalist leadership.

The history of the colonial and semi-colonial countries in the postwar period, decisively refutes the essentially Menshevik two-stage theory (first, the democratic revolution and then the proletarian) and underlines in a negative way the correctness of the strategy which flows from the Theory of Permanent Revolution.

After World War II, the conclusions of Trotsky’s theory became of central importance for tactics and strategy in the imperialist empires. The struggle for colonial freedom gathered strength as a powerful independent force in the world arena in this period. However, the bourgeois and petty bourgeois leaderships were unable to ‘carry the democratic revolutions to the end. In large areas of the globe, in Africa, Latin America and the Far East, former colonies of great powers which achieved their political independence, remained in various degrees of semi-colonial status. In many of them, particularly in Africa, the populations in the past two decades have been descending into an abyss of hunger and misery.

Their economies are dominated by transnational combines and the imperialist institutions — International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation. They are subordinate to the economies of the leading imperialist nations, as the suppliers of raw materials or manufacturing with cheap labour. The central reality of this imperialist epoch, which was proved by the Russian Revolution and whose truth has been underlined in the national and proletarian struggles since, is that the winning of national independence can only be temporary, can only be unstable and distorted, until the struggle extends to the victory of the working class.

Nowhere under the leadership of the petty bourgeois nationalist forces have the questions of national independence and development of national freedom been resolved. The struggles were led by forces some of whom paid lip service to socialism, many were close to Stalinism, but nowhere were they led by the forces of proletarian internationalism and thus their revolution was distorted, destabilised and open further to imperialist exploitation. The truth lies in Trotsky’s summary:

Colonial and semi-colonial countries are backward countries by their very essence. But backward countries are part of a world dominated by imperialism. Their development therefore, has a combined character; the most primitive economic forms are combined with the last word in capitalist technique and culture. In like manner are defined the political strivings of the proletariat of the backward countries: the struggle for the most elementary achievements of national independence and bourgeois democracy is combined with the socialist struggle against world imperialism. Democratic slogans, transitional demands and the problems of the socialist revolution are not divided into separate historical epochs in this struggle, but stem directly from one another.


While the US SWP, out of whose tradition the DSP developed, broke with Trotskyism, the very processes that Trotsky analysed and the conclusions in his theory were being abundantly proved.

In the framework of its post-World War II agreements with the capitalist powers at Yalta and Potsdam, the counter-revolutionary policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy enabled European and US capitalism to survive the post-war revolutionary upsurge. Imperialism was not only able to rebuild the capitalist states in Europe, but entered a long post-war boom. Then, from the 1970’s it exerted financial, economic, and military pressure upon the workers’ states, which acutely sharpened the difficulties and distortions of their economies arising from their bureaucratic degeneration and distorted planning, and brought them to stagnation and collapse. The course on which Stalinism set out, to build socialism in a single country, led to failure and calamity.


Internationalism, or Socialism in One Country?

The DSP is the biggest of the revolutionary socialist groups in Australia. It began as a collection of young students who became the Socialist Workers League (SWL) in the 1970s. This was a section of the Fourth International led by Pablo and Mandel, commonly known as the United Secretariat (Usec), and it became closely linked with the US SWP, led by Jack Barnes. Together they broke from the Usec in the early 1980s with differences over Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Theory of Permanent Revolution. Later in the 1980s the SWL split with the SWP. It became the DSP. In John Percy’s history of the group (to be found on their web site) he puts their difference with the SWP as follows:

Politically, the main difference that emerged between them and us on Cuba was that we clearly recognised that the Castro leadership were revolutionary Marxists even before taking power in Cuba, while the US SWP wouldn’t come at that.

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 was another world event that forced us to think things out more for ourselves. A few months after the Nicaraguan revolution, Soviet troops went in to Afghanistan to block a US-organised war to topple a radical regime in Kabul. Our response was prompt — to give strong support to the Soviet and Kabul government forces in the Afghan civil war.


The DSP claims to have “carved out” its “political space in Australia by defending a revolutionary perspective in opposition to the reformist class collaborationist outlook of the Labour Party and those in the Communist movement who have been infected by this position.” Its policies and programme are, however, an eclectic amalgam, paying Trotsky platonic tribute at times, but rejecting the heart of Trotskyism and Trotsky’s principled struggle.

Trotsky summed up the vital question at stake when he declared that the difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism was that between Permanent Revolution and Socialism in One Country. To begin with national programmes and not a world programme is to be deliberately blind to the experiences of post war revolutions. A real conscientious principled organisation that has unity of revolutionary theory, strategy and practice, has to have much more than propaganda pledges like the one of the SDP. Percy states that they have a “recognition” that “the biggest challenge in the struggle for international solidarity is to win the working class away from the racist, nationalist ideology that still binds many workers to their imperialist bosses.”

Marxist internationalism, however, is not fulfilled only by propaganda or expressions of solidarity, very necessary though these may be. Internationalism is merely platonic if it is not marshalled to building the International — “the workers’ motherland” as Rosa Luxemburg called it. The DSP is opposed to the development of an International — a world party. However, you cannot be a real consistent and thorough fighter for revolutionary international solidarity in the struggle against capitalism unless you take the organisational conclusions that your international principles must be consolidated in an International dedicated, not just to a national, but to the world revolution.

How can you be an internationalist, if you fight only for a national party, and do not believe that the working class should have a world party? Your practice will be based on the belief that national interests are higher than the international interests of the working class. Of course, this brings you into support of the ideology that was taught in the Communist Parties, which justified the theory of “socialism in one country”, and which denied the heart of Leninist internationalism

Marx and Engels fought for the First International; Engels also fought for the Second; Lenin and Trotsky fought for the Third and Trotsky fought for the Fourth. They were not platonic internationalists. They fought for a world party and a revolutionary world programme.

The DSP fights internationally, for what? It leaves vague what it supports in the actual revolutionary programme on which Trotsky fought. But, in practice, it repudiates Trotsky’s struggle for Leninist proletarian internationalism and his struggle against “socialism in one country”. It repudiates Trotsky’s irrefutable conclusion about the task posed by our capitalist-imperialist world relations. In attacking r the national socialist content of the Draft Programme of the Comintern written by Stalin and Bukharin, he wrote in 1928:

In our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, i.e. of world economy and world politics under the hegemony of finance capital, not a single communist party can establish its programme by proceeding solely or mainly from conditions and tendencies of developments in its own country, This holds entirely for the party that wields state power within the boundaries of the USSR. On August 4, 1914, the death knell sounded for national programmes for all time.(10)


The essential nature of the present attack of the DSP on Trotskyism, and indeed their whole separation from Trotskyism, is an opposition to the principles of the proletarian internationalism of Bolshevism, of Lenin and of Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg.
The building of an International is the greatest question that faces the masses of the world, today. This is what the DSP repudiates in Trotskyism.

The DSP will make general statements about “globalisation” and the great power of multi-nationals. But this is what makes the proletarian internationalism proclaimed by the Communist Manifesto all that more essential! There are a great number of people who talk about “globalisation” today. E.g., the leaders of the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU), but they are for “globalisation with a human face”.

In the last decades of the century the verdict on “socialism in one country” has been delivered in the collapse of the Soviet Union, the degeneration of social-democratic parties, and the crises of the democratic revolutions in the former colonial countries. The counterrevolutionary activities of Stalinism at the end of the World War II allowed imperialism to rebuild itself on a world scale. The stage of the bourgeois democratic revolution in a period of the decay of imperialist-capitalism has been proved utterly wanting.

Understanding the struggle against capitalism and the struggle for a leadership capable of taking those struggles to socialism is only possible with a serious attitude to history and the great struggles of the past.


1. Lenin’s policies for the nationalities were a complete break with the Russian nationalism of the old Czarist regime and he clashed with Stalin and other Bolsheviks. The most severe clash was over Georgia. An invasion of Georgia was decided behind the backs of Lenin, Trotsky and the Political Bureau. In his last letters in December 1922, just before he died, Lenin attacked Stalin and the Peoples Commissars’ dealing with Georgia as Great Russian Chauvinists declaring: “I think that Stalin’s haste and his infatuation with pure administration, together with his spite against the notorious ‘nalionalist socialism’, played a fatal role here, In politics spite generally plays the basest of roles.” Lenin, Collected Works: Vol. 36. Progress Publishers, 1966. For a more extensive account see Leninism Under Lenin. Marcel Liebman. Merlin Press, 1985.

2. Transitional Programme in Documents of the Fourth International (The formative Years). Pathfinder Press, 1973.

3. Mao’s China and After. Maurice Meisner. The Free Press, 1986

4. Karl Marx the Revolutions of 1848. Penguin, 1976.

5. The Permanent Revolution, Results and Prospects (Granit, Berlin, 1930). New Park Ed. London, 1962.

6. Collected Works, Volume 9. Progress Publishers, 1978.

7. The Paths of the Russian Revolution. Written in 1922, republished in, In Defence of the Russian Revolution. Porcupine Press, 1995.

8. ‘Tasks of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in the Russian Revolution’. Report of a lecture in 1917. Lenin. Collected Works. Vol. 23. Progress Publishers, 1966.

9. History of the Russian Revolution. Leon Trotsky. Gollanz, 1936.

10. The Third International after Lenin. New Park Publications, 1974.