"The Permanent Revolution" and "Socialism in One Country"

Two seemingly different ideologies developed amongst the Bolsheviks after the death of Comrade Lenin, though one, the Permanent Revolution, had already been theorised and even partly proven true by 1917.

The Permanent Revolution, as elaborated by Leon Trotsky, is the idea that expounds how a Socialist Revolution can occur in a backward country (with the Proletariat assuming the duties that would have been performed had the Bourgeoisie seized control much earlier). All Marxist thinkers prior to 1917, including Lenin, believed that a Socialist Revolution could only occur in an advanced country  (in a country like Russia the overthrow of the monarchy, the establishment of democracy, and the development of the nation, was the immediate goal). Trotsky was alone in believing otherwise, and proved it true when he orchestrated the revolution in Russia that was, in fact successful. Lenin reversed his position in early 1917, and enthusiastically approved of Trotsky and his theory (a position which was opposed by Stalin, amongst others).

Socialism in One Country, as formulated by Stalin, is based upon Lenin’s work. Lenin, in his work: On the Slogan for a United States of Europe, made the statement that Socialist victory is possible in one nation:   “Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world — the capitalist world — attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states.”  We must consider that Lenin was making the point that a world Socialist Revolution might originatein several or even in one capitalist country (Marx and Engels envisioned a spontaneous revolution of the world Proletariat happening at once).”  We must also consider that, prior to 1917, the basis of the revolution was the overthrow of the Czar – the Socialist Revolution would come later.
Lenin stated in 1918: “I know that there are, of course, sages who think they are very clever and even call themselves Socialists, who assert that power should not have been seized until the revolution had broken out in all countries.  They do not suspect that by speaking in this way they are deserting the revolution and going over to the side of the bourgeoisie. To wait until the toiling classes bring about a revolution on an international scale means that everybody should stand stock-still in expectation. That is nonsense.”

But is this an indictment of the Permanent Revolution, and an endorsement of Socialism in One Country?

No.  Lenin was merely saying that, due to uneven development, the notion that the world would erupt in a massive, spontaneous, revolution was unrealistic.

Lenin stated, also in 1918: “The absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany we shall perish.”  Clearly he understood the need for the Revolution to become worldwide, step by step.

So, what is to be considered the “true” Marxist-Leninist position?  I think a combination of both theories, as they actually do complement one another.

Many Communists will disagree, stating fervently that one position, or the other, actually represents the culmination of Leninist thought.  I assert, however, that these people are acting based upon the conflict of personality between Trotsky and Stalin, and not the actual content of the theory.

Trotsky was proven right on two points:  a Socialist Revolution could be successful in a backward country, and that the Revolution would not last unless Socialist Revolutions were successful in the rest of the world.. So, given that no other Socialist Revolution was successful until 1924 (in Mongolia), and that the Russian Revolution ultimately collapsed, what conclusions can be drawn?

The obviously conclusion is that both Stalin and Trotsky were correct.

A differentiation must be drawn between a Socialist Revolution, and Socialist Construction and Production.  The Socialist Revolution in Russia did succeed, and under Lenin’s NEP Socialist Construction was proceeding (according to some much too slowly).  The intentional attempt to speed up Socialist Construction in Russia led ultimately to the demise of the Soviet Union.

Stalin himself differentiated between the idea of Socialist Construction being successful in one country, and Socialism being ultimately successful throughout the world.  In his Response to Comrade Ivanov, Stalin stated: “Can the victory of Socialism in one country be regarded as final if this country is encircled by capitalism, and if it is not fully guaranteed against the danger of intervention and restoration?
Clearly, it cannot, This is the position in regard to the question of the victory of Socialism in one country.
It follows that this question contains two different problems :

1. The problem of the internal relations in our country, i.e., the problem of overcoming our own bourgeoisie and building complete Socialism; and
2. The problem of the external relations of our country, i.e., the problem of completely ensuring our country against the dangers of military intervention and restoration.

We have already solved the first problem, for our bourgeoisie has already been liquidated and Socialism has already been built in the main. This is what we call the victory of Socialism, or, to be more exact, the victory of Socialist Construction in one country.” 

According to Stalin, Socialism could work in one country, but that Capitalism would be an ever present danger.  The ultimate victory of Socialism would happen only internationally, with the support of the world Proletariat (“only by combining the serious efforts of the international proletariat with the still more serious efforts of the whole of our Soviet people“). The possibility of the eventual failure of Socialism was built into Stalin’s theory, by Stalin himself.

It can be seen that Stalin’s theory contains Trotsky’s theory within it. 

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