Theses on Revolution and Counter-Revolution

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 1926

First Published in English: Fourth International, Vol.2 No.8, October 1941, pp.251-252.
Source: In Defense of Marxism, checked against The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology, Laurel Edition, August 1964, USA, (pp.141-145).
Collection(s): Fourth International

Introduction by In Defense of Marxism,[edit source]

On November 26, 1926, at the height of the struggle of the Left Opposition with the Stalin-Bukharin “block”, Trotsky jotted down in his diary a series of reflections on the meaning of the unfolding events, the flux and reflux of revolution, and the ascendancy of the Stalinist reaction. The following “;theses” express the quintessence of his analysis. They have so far appeared in print only once, in the Fourth International, October 1941, and in the anthology The Age of the Permanent Revolution, which has long been out of print.

Several of the sections were not translated and published in the above two printings, however, the full text is available in The Challenge of the Left Opposition, 1925-1926, 1973, Pathfinder Press, New York.

1. Revolutions have always in history been followed by counterrevolutions. Counterrevolutions have always thrown society back, but never as far back as the starting point of the revolution. The succession of revolutions and counterrevolutions is the product of certain fundamental features in the mechanics of class society, the only society in which revolutions and counterrevolutions are possible.

2. Revolution is impossible without the participation of the masses. This participation is in its turn possible only when the oppressed masses connect their hopes for a better future with the idea of revolution. In a sense the hopes engendered by the revolution are always exaggerated. This is due to the mechanics of class society, the terrible plight of the overwhelming majority of the popular masses, the objective need of concentrating the greatest hopes and efforts in order to insure even the most modest progress, and so on.

3. But from these same conditions comes one of the most important – and moreover, one of the most common – elements of the counterrevolution. The conquests gained in the struggle do not correspond, and in the nature of things cannot directly correspond, with the expectations of the broad backward masses awakened for the first time in the course of the revolution. The disillusionment of these masses, their return to routine and futility, is as much an integral part of the post-revolutionary period as is the passage into the camp of “law and order” of those “satisfied” classes or layers of classes that had participated in the revolution.

4. Closely bound up with these processes, parallel processes of a different and, to a large measure, of an opposite character take place in the camp of the ruling classes. The awakening of the broad backward masses upsets the ruling classes from their accustomed equilibrium, deprives them of direct support as well as confidence, and thus enables the revolution to seize a great deal more than it is later able to hold.

5. The disillusionment of a considerable section of the oppressed masses in the immediate conquests of the revolution and – directly connected with this – the decline of the political energy and activity of the revolutionary class engender a revival of confidence among counterrevolutionary classes – both among those overthrown by the revolution but not shattered completely, as well as among those which aided the revolution at a certain phase, but were thrown back into the camp of reaction by the further development of the revolution [...]

20. It would be wrong to ignore the fact that the proletariat today (1926) is considerably less receptive 10 revolutionary perspectives and to broad generalizations than it was during the October revolution and in the ensuing few years.

The revolutionary party cannot passively adapt itself to every shift in the moods of the masses. But it must not ignore alterations produced by profound historic causes either.

21. The October Revolution, to a greater extent than any in other in history, aroused the greatest hopes and passions in I the popular masses, first of all, the proletarian masses.

After the immense sufferings of 1917-21, the proletarian masses have considerably improved their lot. They cherish this improvement, hopeful of its further development. But at the same time their experience has shown them the extreme gradualness of this improvement which has only now brought them back to the pre-war standard of living. This experience is of incalculable significance to the masses, especially the older generation. They have grown more cautious, more skeptical, less directly responsive to revolutionary slogans, less receptive to major generalizations. These moods, which unfolded after the ordeals of the civil war and after the successes of economic restoration, and have not yet been undone by new shifts of class forces – these moods constitute the basic political background of party life. These are the moods which bureaucratism – as an element of “law and order” and “tranquillity” #8211; banks on. The attempt of the opposition to pose new questions before the party ran up against precisely these moods.

22. The older generation of the working class, which made two revolutions, or made the last one, beginning with 1917, is now nervous, exhausted, and, in large measure, fearful of all convulsions bound up with the perspectives of war, havoc, famine, epidemics, and so on.

A bogie is being made out of the theory of the Permanent Revolution precisely for the purpose of exploiting the psychology of a considerable section of the workers, who are not at all careerists, but who have put on weight, acquired families. The version of the theory which is being utilized for this, is of course in no way related to old disputes, long relegated to the archives, but simply raises the phantom of new convulsions – heroic “invasions,“ violations of “law and order,” a threat to the attainments of the reconstruction period, a new period of great efforts and sacrifices. Making a bogie out of the Permanent Revolution is, in essence, speculation upon the moods of those in the working class, including party members, who have grown smug, fat, and semi-conservative.

24. The young generation, only now growing up, lacks experience of the class struggle and the necessary revolutionary temper. It does not explore for itself, as did the previous generation, but falls immediately into an environment of the most powerful party and governmental institutions, party tradition, authority, discipline, etc. For the time being this renders it more difficult for the young generation to act an independent role. The question of the correct orientation of the young generation of the party and of the working class acquires a colossal importance.

25. Parallel with the above indicated processes, there has been an extreme growth in the role played in the party and the state apparatus by a special category of old Bolsheviks, who were members or worked actively in the party during the 1905 period; who then, in the period of reaction left the party, adapted themselves to the bourgeois regime, and occupied a more or less prominent position within it; who were defensists, like the entire bourgeois intelligentsia, and who, together with the latter, were propelled forward in the February revolution (of which they did not even dream at the beginning of the war); who were staunch opponents of the Leninist program and of the October Revolution; but who returned to the party after victory was se- cured or after the stabilization of the new regime, about the time when the bourgeois intelligentsia stopped its sabotage. These elements ... are, naturally, elements of the conservative type. They are generally in favour of stabilization, and generally against every opposition. The education of the party youth is largely in their hands.

Such is the combination of circumstances which in the recent period of party development has determined the change in the party leadership and the shift of party policy to the right.

26. The official adoption of the theory of “Socialism in one country” signifies the theoretical sanction of those shifts which have already taken place, and of the first open break with Marxist tradition.

27. The elements of bourgeois restoration lie in: a) the situation of the peasantry, who do not want the return of the landlords but are still not interested materially in socialism, (hence the importance of our political ties with the poor peasants); b) the moods of considerable layers of the working class, in the lowering of revolutionary energy, in the fatigue of the older generation, in the increased specific weight of the conservative elements.