Permanent Revolution

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Permanent revolution is a plan for the overthrow of capitalism throughout the world, as envisioned by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky in 1905.

History of permanent revolution

Marxist theory from the days of Karl Marx had stated that the socialist revolution would automatically happen some years after capitalism and the bourgeoisie had triumphed over feudalism. It would happen when the industrial proletariat, organized by the party, overthrows capitalism in advanced industrial states. The revolution, according to this theory, could not happen in undeveloped countries like Russia in 1905 because they had not yet reached the proper stage of development.

Yet the left hoped to start a revolution in Russia—it almost succeeded in 1905 and did succeed in 1917. Trotsky was there to adjust Marxist theory to real life. He argued for an immediate seizure of power everywhere in order to telescope the bourgeois and socialist revolutions into one seamless sequence. That was "permanent revolution." Trotsky maintained that revolution would spread worldwide after the international proletariat's aid to the Russian workers, who in turn would 'export' the revolution abroad.

Joseph Stalin had an opposing viewpoint. Stalin's thesis on socialism in one country, launched in 1926, brought Trotsky into conflict with the Bolshevik leadership, eager to exploit his real and alleged divergences from Marxism–Leninism. Trotsky broke with Stalin by 1928 and was expelled from Russia. Before he was murdered at Stalin's command in 1940 Trotsky preached "permanent revolution" as a rallying cry for the anti-capitalist far left. His ideas caused considerable disruption in the Communist movement. In China Mao Zedong adapted Trotsky's ideas to his need to base a revolution on he peasantry.

Paleoconservative historians in recent years have alleged that Neoconservatives believe in the Trotskyite Permanent Revolution because most of them came out of the Trotskyite cause in the 1930s. That is false. There are four fundamental flaws in the paleoconservatives' attack: most of the neoconservatives were never Trotskyites; none of them ever subscribed to the right-wing Socialism of Max Shachtman; the assertion that neoconservatives subscribe to 'inverted Trotskyism' is misleading; and neoconservatives advocate democratic globalism, not permanent revolution.[1] Thus very few neoconservatives ever were Trotskyites, and even those discarded permanent revolution when they rejected all forms of Communism.[2]

Further reading

  • James, C.L.R. World Revolution 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International. New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1937.
  • King, William F. "Neoconservatives and 'Trotskyism'." American Communist History 2004 3(2): 247-266
  • Thatcher, Ian. "Leon Trotsky and 1905" History Review, Sept 2005, Issue 52, pp 21–25, in EBSCO
  • Trotsky, Leon. The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology ed. by Isaac Deutscher (1965); primary sources
  • Van Ree, Erik. "Socialism in One Country: A Reassessment." Studies in East European Thought, June 1998, Vol. 50 Issue 2, p77-117


  1. See King (2005)
  2. Irving Kristol for a while was a Trotskyite. As he noted, "I’ve been a neo-something: a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-liberal, a neo-conservative and, in religion, always a neo-orthodox, even while I was a neo-Trotskyist and a neo-Marxist."