Leon Trotsky, The
Permanent Revolution ï…œ
Leon Trotsky, e Permanent Revolution
Leon Trotsky (1879â€“1940), whose original name was Lev
Davidovich Bronstein, was one of the chief gures in the
Russian Revolution of 1917. Ater years spent in exile
agitating in favor of Russian communism, he put his ideas
into practice as one of the leaders of the Bolshevik
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Revolution. Ater falling out with Stalin, he was expelled
from the Russian Communist Party in 1927 and forced into
exile once again. ere he wrote prolically about the
meaning of the Russianâ€”and Frenchâ€”revolutions.
Leon Trotsky, e Permanent Revolution and Results and
Prospects (New York: Merit, 1969), 52, 54â€“56, 70â€“71.
History does not repeat itself. However much one may
compare the Russian Revolution with the Great French
Revolution, the former can never be transformed into a
repetition of the latter. e 19th century has not passed in
Jacobinism is now a term of reproach on the lips of all
liberal wiseacres. Bourgeois hatred of revolution, its hatred
towards the masses, hatred of the force and grandeur of
the history that is made in the streets, is concentrated in
one cry of indignation and fearâ€”Jacobinism! We, the
world army of Communism, have long ago made our
historical reckoning with Jacobinism. e whole of the
present international proletarian movement was formed
and grew strong in the struggle against the traditions of
Jacobinism. We subjected its theories to criticism, we
exposed its historical limitations, its social
contradictoriness, its utopianism, we exposed its
phraseology, and broke with its traditions, which for
decades had been regarded as the sacred heritage of the
But we defend Jacobinism against the attacks, the calumny,
and the stupid vituperations of anemic, phlegmatic
liberalism. e bourgeoisie has shamefully betrayed all the
traditions of its historical youth, and its present hirelings
dishonor the graves of its ancestors and scof at the ashes
of their ideals. e proletariat has taken the honor of the
revolutionary past of the bourgeoisie under its protection.
e proletariat, however radically it may have, in practice,
broken with the revolutionary traditions of the
bourgeoisie, nevertheless preserves them, as a sacred
heritage of great passions, heroism and initiative, and its
heart beats in sympathy with the speeches and acts of the
What gave liberalism its charm if not the traditions of the
Great French Revolution? At what other period did
bourgeois democracy rise to such a height and kindle such
a great lame in the hearts of the people as during the
period of the Jacobin, sans-culotte, terrorist,
Robespierrian democracy of 1793?
What else but Jacobinism made and still makes it possible
for French bourgeois-radicalism of various shades to keep
the overwhelming majority of the people and even the
proletariat under its inluence at a time when bourgeois
proletariat under its inluence at a time when bourgeois
radicalism in Germany and Austria has closed its brief
history in deeds of pettiness and shame?
What is it if not the charm of Jacobinism, with its abstract
political ideology, its cult of the Sacred Republic, its
triumphant declarations, that even now nourishes French
radicals and radical socialists like Clemenceau, Millerand,
Briand and Bourgeois, and all those politicians who know
how to defend the mainstays of bourgeois society no worse
than the dull-witted Junkers of Wilhelm II by the Grace of
God? ey are envied hopelessly by the bourgeois
democrats of other countries; and yet they shower
calumnies upon the source of their political advantageâ€”
Even ater many hopes had been destroyed, Jacobinism
remained in the memory of the people as a tradition. For a
long time the proletariat spoke of its future in the language
of the past.In 1840, almost half a century ater the
government of the “Mountain,” eight years before the June
days of 1848, Heine visited several workshops in the
faubourg of Saint-Marceau and saw what the workers, “the
soundest section of the lower classes,” were reading. “I
found there,” he wrote to a German newspaper, “several
new speeches by old Robespierre and also pamphlets by
Marat issued in two-sous editions; Cabet’s History of the
Revolution; the malignant lampoons of Carmenen; the
works of Buonarroti, e Teachings and Conspiracy of
Babeuf, all productions reeking with blood. . . . As one of
the fruits of this seed,” prophesies the poet, “sooner or later
a republic will threaten to spring up in France.”
p p g p
In 1848 the bourgeoisie was already unable to play a
comparable role.It did not want and was not able to
undertake the revolutionary liquidation of the social
system that stood in its path to power. We know now why
that was so.Its aim wasâ€”and of this it was perfectly
consciousâ€”to introduce into the old system the necessary
guarantees, not for its political domination, but merely for
a sharing of power with the forces of the past.It was
meanly wise through the experience of the French
bourgeoisie, corrupted by its treachery and frightened by
its failures.It not only failed to lead the masses in
storming the old order, but placed its back against this
order so as to repulse the masses who were pressing it
e French bourgeoisie succeeded in bringing of its Great
Revolution.Its consciousness was the consciousness of
society and nothing could become established as an
institution without rst passing through its consciousness
as an aim, as a problem of political creation.It oten
resorted to theatrical poses in order to hide from itself the
limitations of its own bourgeois world but it marched
e National Convention, as an organ of the Jacobin
dictatorship, was by no means composed of Jacobins alone.
More than thatâ€”the Jacobins were in a minority in it; but
the inluence of the sans-culottes outside the walls of the
Convention, and the need for a determined policy in order
to save the country, gave power into the hands of the
Jacobins. us, while the Convention was formally a
national representation, consisting of Jacobins, Girondins,
and the vast wavering center known as the “marsh” [Plain],
in essence it was a dictatorship of the Jacobins.
When we speak of a workers’ government we have in view a
government in which the working-class representatives
dominate and lead. e proletariat, in order to consolidate
its power, cannot but widen the base of the revolution.
Many sections of the working masses, particularly in the
countryside, will be drawn into the revolution and become
politically organized only ater the advance-guard of the
revolution, the urban proletariat, stands at the helm of
state. Revolutionary agitation and organization will then
be conducted with the help of state resources. e
legislative power itself will become a powerful instrument
for revolutionizing the masses. e nature of our socialhistorical relations, which lays the whole burden of the
bourgeois revolution upon the shoulders of the proletariat,
will not only create tremendous diculties for the workers’
government but, in the rst period of its existence at any
rate, will also give it invaluable advantages. is will afect
the relations between the proletariat and the peasantry.
In the revolutions of 1789â€“93 and 1848 power rst of all
passed from absolutism to the moderate elements of the
bourgeoisie, and it was the latter class which emancipated
the peasantry (how, is another matter) before revolutionary
democracy received or was even preparing to receive
power. e emancipated peasantry lost all interest in the
political stunts of the “townspeople,” that is, in the further
progress of the revolution, and placing itself like a heavy
foundation-stone at the foot of order, betrayed the
revolution to the Caesarist or old-regime absolutist
e Russian revolution does not, and for a long time will
not, permit the establishment of any kind of bourgeoisconstitutional order that might solve the most elementary
problems of democracy. All the “enlightened” eforts of
reformerâ€”bureaucrats like Witte and Stolypin are
nullied by their own struggle for existence. Consequently,
the fate of the most elementary revolutionary interests of
the peasantryâ€”even the peasantry as a whole, as an estate,
is bound up with the fate of entire revolution, that is, with
the fate of the proletariat.
e proletariat in power will stand before the peasants as
the class which has emancipated it. e domination of the
proletariat will mean not only democratic equality, free
self-government, the transference of the whole burden of
taxation to the rich classes, the dissolution of the standing
army in the armed people and the abolition of compulsory
church imposts, but also recognition of all revolutionary
changes (expropriations) in land relationships carried out
by the peasants. e proletariat will make these changes
the starting-point for further state measures in
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â€œLeon Trotsky, e Permanent Revolution,â€ LIBERTY,
EQUALITY, FRATERNITY: EXPLORING THE FRENCH
REVOUTION, accessed February 3, 2021,
is site is a collaboration of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
(http://chnm.gmu.edu/) (George Mason University) and American Social History Project
(http://www.ashp.cuny.edu/) (City University of New York), supported by grants from the
Florence Gould Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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