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Permanent Revolution


"Permanent Revolution" was Leon Trotsky's explanation of how a communist revolution could occur in an industrially backward Russia. According to classical Marxism, only a society of advanced capitalism with a large working class was ripe for communist revolution. Russia met neither prerequisite. Further, Karl Marx conceived of a two-stage revolution: first the bourgeois revolution, then in sequence the proletarian revolution establishing a dictatorship for transition to communism. Trotsky argued that the two-stage theory did not apply. Rather, he said, Russia was in a stage of uneven development where both bourgeois and proletarian revolutions were developing together under the impact of the advanced West.

Trotsky predicted that once revolution broke out in Russia it would be in permanence as the result of an EastWest dynamic. The bourgeois majority revolution would be overthrown by a conscious proletarian minority that would carry forward the torch of revolution. However, a second phase was necessary: namely, the proletarian revolution in Western Europe ignited by the Russian proletariat's initiative; the West European proletariat now in power rescues the beleaguered proletarian minority in Russia; and the path is opened to the international communist revolution.

Trotsky's theory seemed corroborated in the 1917 Russian revolution. Tsarism was overthrown by a bourgeois Provisional Government in February which the Bolsheviks then overthrew in October. However, the second phase posited by Trotsky's theory, the West European revolution, did not materialize. The Bolsheviks faced the dilemma of how to sustain power where an advanced industrial economy did not exist. Was not Bolshevik rule doomed to failure without Western aid?

Usurping power, Josef Stalin answered Trotsky's theory with his "socialism in one country." Curiously, his recipe was similar to a strategy Trotsky earlier proposed, namely, command economy, forced industrialization, and collectivization. With the communist collapse in Russia in 1991 both Trotsky's and Stalin's theories became moot.

See also: bolshevism; marxism; socialism in one country; trotsky, leon davidovich


Trotsky, Leon. (1969). The Permanent Revolution. New York: Pathfinder Press.

Carl A. Linden

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