Permanent revolution

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In Marxist political thought, permanent revolution denotes the uninterrupted development from a democratic to a socialist revolution in semi-feudal or backward capitalist countries (or in colonies or semi-colonies) as well as the international expansion of this process.

Concept history

The expression appears for the first time in Karl Marx 's youth writings and is probably due to a phrase used by the Jacobins of the revolutionary popular assembly "in permanence".

The first text in which the expression “permanent revolution” became a bearer of strategic political significance was the address written by Marx from the central authority to the League of Communists in March 1850. Here, Marx calls for “permanent revolution” in order to achieve the revolutionary goals “Which alone guarantees the elimination of bourgeois-capitalist class rule and the national delimitation of the movement.

After the revolutionary unrest in Russia in 1905, the term was given a new programmatic meaning. With Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring , it became the key term for social democracy .

The term acquired a central meaning in the work of Leon Trotsky . He expanded the term to a systematic concept that connects various strategic and political aspects with one another. The permanent revolution comprises three "inseparably connected parts of a whole":

  1. the need for an immediate transition from democratic to socialist revolution
  2. the sequence of different socio-economic transformations that “do not allow society to come into equilibrium”
  3. the international character of the socialist revolution, the national beginning of which can only be assessed as a revolutionary initial stage.

Josef Stalin labeled the theory of the permanent revolution against Trotsky as a “variety of Menshevism ”. In Mao Tse Tung's doctrine of the revolution , the concept was again methodically and systematically applied. There it describes the progress from one economic, political-ideological or technical stage of development to the next.


In his “Address to the Central Authority”, Marx tried to draw the lessons from the failed German revolution of 1848/49. In his assessment, in contrast to the French Revolution of 1789, the bourgeoisie was no longer ready to consistently realize the democratic and national goals of the bourgeois revolution and preferred to make pacts with the monarchist reaction for fear of the demands of the workers. The interest and task of the working class, on the other hand, is "to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes are ousted from rule, state power is conquered by the proletariat and the association of the proletarians is not only in one country, but has progressed so far in all ruling countries around the world that the competition of the proletarians in these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians ”.

Marx argued for the independent political organization of the working class, which had to break free from its role as the left appendage of the bourgeois democrats in order to fight together with them for the common goals, but to go beyond them as soon as the conservative self-restraint of the revolution could be overcome .

This strategy in no way corresponded to the balance of power that actually existed in Germany in 1850: the revolution that had begun in 1848/49 had already been defeated and the German proletariat was too weak to take on a leading role. Nonetheless, this document is considered to be "an astonishing anticipation of the social and political dynamics of the October Revolution of 1917".


For Trotsky, the theory of permanent revolution was one of the defining concepts behind his practical work in the years before the October Revolution , which he developed in exchange with Alexander Parvus . It was an essential part of his revolutionary concept , which should be transferable to all backward countries worldwide.

With the “theory of permanent revolution” he wanted to distance himself from the positions of the “moderate” (Mensheviks) and radical Russian social democrats (Bolsheviks).

After Trotsky, the “moderate” Social Democrats clung to the traditional notion of separate “stages” in the revolution. After that, tsarism must first be overthrown by the bourgeoisie before the proletarian revolution can take place through the workers' party. The “radical” Social Democrats, on the other hand, did not trust the bourgeoisie to really bring the overthrow of tsarism to an end. Rather, they assumed that the bourgeoisie would make a pact with the reaction out of fear of the mobilizing proletariat, and therefore demanded a joint “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”. This was linked with the expectation that the peasantry would produce its own political party with which the Workers' Party would be able to form a coalition government after the fall of tsarism.

Trotsky, along with very few other Social Democrats, took the third position, that only the conquest of political power by the workers and poor peasants, supported by the mass of the oppressed rural population, would allow the complete and sustainable solution of the tasks of the bourgeois revolution. Trotsky thereby recognized the role of the peasants in the revolution, but stressed that their most important demands (such as agrarian reform) could only be met by a working class in power.

In his book Results and Perspectives (1905/06) Trotsky gave the "theory of permanent revolution" a uniform written form for the first time. In this treatise he analyzes the nature of tsarist Russia , the relationship between the different forces of the impending Russian revolution , the general form of society and taking into account the various bourgeois revolutions since 1789. Trotsky summed up that the national bourgeoisie in the course of the capitalist genesis of its own had lost its progressive role and foresaw that it would necessarily assume a passive to counter-revolutionary role in a backward country like the then tsarist empire , which was facing the fulfillment of the tasks of the democratic revolution ( land reform , creation of parliamentary democracy, etc.) , as the experiences of 1905 and 1917 proved.

In his view, the working class should be the only consistently oppositional force to take the lead and at the same time initially animate the general struggle of the peasantry , while the revolution would later find its pillar in the countryside in the village poverty. The revolution would take place in two phases:

  1. The phase of final victory over the feudal structures through a large-scale land reform, through the trivialization or social annihilation of the nobility and other feudal estates as well
  2. The phase of the proletarian revolution, which is characterized by the abolition of private ownership of the means of production , the gradual nationalization of the land, the monopoly of foreign trade and other branches of the economy.

According to Trotsky, all of this applies only on the assumption of a world revolution ; if this did not happen, every revolution led by the working class would be doomed to failure.


Web links


  1. Michael Löwy: Article Permanent Revolution ; in: KWM , Vol. 6, p. 1002
  2. Marx / Engels: Address of the central authority to the federal government from March 1850 , MEW Vol. 7, p. 254 ( online )
  3. ^ JF Maas: Revolution, permanent ; in: HWPh , Vol. 8, p. 989
  4. H. Tetsch: The Permanent Revolution. A contribution to the sociology of the revolution and the criticism of ideology 1973, p. 84
  5. Cf. Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution (1930, ND 1965), p. 29
  6. See JF Maas: Revolution, permanente , p. 989
  7. ^ JW Stalin: The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists (1924); Works 6 (Berlin-Ost 1950), p. 329
  8. JF Maas: Revolution, permanente , p. 990
  9. Karl Marx: Address of the central authority to the federal government from March 1850 , MEW 7, p. 248.
  10. ^ Karl Marx: Address of the central authority to the federal government from March 1850 , MEW 7, p. 254
  11. Michael Löwy: Article Permanent Revolution ; in: KWM , Vol. 6, p. 1003.
  12. See Kurt Lenk : Theorien der Revolution , p. 182
  13. ^ Leon Trotsky: The Russian Revolution - Copenhagen Speech. Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution , Berlin, pp. 33ff
  14. Cf. Manuel Kellner : Against capitalism and bureaucracy - on the socialist strategy in Ernest Mandel . Neuer isp-Verlag, Karlsruhe / Cologne 2009, p. 338