Lev Trotsky

In 1921


Main works: 1) "Results and Perspectives", 1905, 2) "The Permanent Revolution", 1929 3) “What Is the USSR, and Where Is It Going?” (“Revolution Betrayed”), 1936

The idea of permanent revolution, first conceived by Trotsky in 1902, published in 1905, and again formulated in 1929, in polemic with Radek, boils down to 3 statements:

  1. A "democratic" revolution grows into a "socialist" revolution. This implies that all revolutions have definite stages that they have to pass through. Thus, a "democratic" stage, as for example we see currently in the Arab world, must pass to a socialist stage. Otherwise, this revolutionary wave will be defeated, and a counter-revolutionary wave - something akin to Pinochet in Chile in 1973 - will follow. 
  2. A social revolution is tied to revolution in "industry, technology, knowledge, family, ethics", etc. Since the latter revolution is permanent – for there is a continuous progress in development of knowledge - the former revolution must be permanent too.
  3. Any national revolution is a part of an international one. As there are no separate "national" productive forces, so there are no separate "national" social revolutions. Any revolution started on a national arena continues on the international one. 


Trotsky, in the center, with members of his opposition.

After the 1917 revolution, and after the onset of Stalinism, ​Trotsky has posed the question: "What is the USSR?" 

Trotsky has criticized the Stalinist assertion that the USSR is "socialism". He has created a new category - "a transitional state", which is one between capitalism and socialism, and which may go either way. The very concept of “transition” captures the essence of the present epoch, which is one of transition from capitalism to socialism.

Trotsky has developed Marxist methodology for analyzing a transitional state. The principal sections of his analysis of the USSR are:

1.    a brief economic history of the transitional society 

2.    a detailed description of the economy as it is in the present

3.    the social differentiation, the role of the women, the family, the children and education, the culture of the society

4.    the internal politics of the state, including the state of its army

5.    the external politics of the state

This approach gives us a key to how to investigate the cluster of transitional states, which we have at present. It can also be used to investigate imperialist and third world states. In fact, this approach implies a portion of the theoretical program of what must be done by contemporary revolutionaries.

Trotsky has also criticized those whom we would call today "state capitalists". These are people, who, on the one hand, call themselves "Trotskyists", and on the other, assert that the former USSR represents "state capitalism". Against these people Trotsky has pointed out that:

1.    the bureaucracy has no formal way in which to divide up the material benefits which it obtains as the ruling caste in the society.

2.    The bureaucracy can not transmit its privileges to its posterity; hence the privileges do not amount to private property.

The soviet state has been set up after 3 years of a civil war; hence, it makes sense to assert that to unravel it, to destroy its system of social relationships, it would take another civil war, with a negative result for the cause of socialism, i.e. one completely destroying the existing army, the militia, the security forces and the administrative apparatus. Those who assert that it is possible to unravel the state, completely change its nature, through a series of reforms, are really modern-day reformists, i.e. not revolutionaries.

On the basis of his 1936 analysis of the USSR, Trotsky has outlined 2 possibilities for the country: either it is going to go towards capitalism, or it is going to go towards a political revolution which will sweep away the ruling bureaucracy, as a parasite and a cancerous growth. 

The reality has turned out to be more complicated. The USSR has split into a number of republics, and some of the republics are closer to the socialist path, while others are used by imperialist interests to destroy socialism, the former unity between republics of the USSR. 

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