Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, Winter 1955


Editor’s Note

On Trotsky: Two Conceptions Of Socialism


From Fourth International, Vol.16 No.1, Winter 1955, p.27.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Leon Trotsky formulated the essential features of his theory of the permanent revolution before the events of the first Russian Revolution (1905) had brought their decisive confirmation. As a youth, he made the fullest, systematic exposition of the theory in 1905-06 in a number of essays written, as he put it, “in sections and for different purposes,” which were then published as a book, Summaries and Perspectives. Subsequent systematic treatment came in The Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern (1928); The Permanent Revolution (1929); and Two Conceptions, written as a preface (1930) to the German and English editions of the 1929 book, and reprinted here in a revised translation by John G. Wright.

Stemming directly from Marxism, Trotsky’s theory takes as its starting point social relations as they have evolved historically, as they exist today. For Trotsky, as for his Marxist teachers, the material base is constituted by the relations of production.

These are worldwide in character. As Marx taught, the world economy, the world market is “the basis and vital element of capitalist production.” Developing within a national framework, the productive forces tend to, and do, become supra-national, i.e., international, in nature.

One cannot begin to understand the dynamic of modern industry (technology) in any other light. Worse yet, every attempt to by-pass this basic and vital world system of relations, to which all the other relations are subordinated as parts are to the whole, leads to the disease of mechanistic thinking which can end with burial in the cemetery of vulgar “economic” materialism.

The correlation of classes and class forces today cannot be grasped except as they have been shaped by this overriding, imperious reality of world-economy, of world productive forces, world division of labor and the dynamics resulting therefrom.

Whatsoever the world-economy is ripe for, that is what stands on the agenda of each nationail segment of this international whole. Here we come to the direct application of Trotsky’s theory to the colonial and semi-colonial world-sector of capitalism embracing the major part of our planet and of the humans living on it. For all these countries – Eastern Europe, Asia (including Japan), Africa and Latin America – the dynamics of the socialist transformation of society combines and interpenetrates with the dynamics of belated bourgeois revolutions. This world reality was foreseen by none, neither by Marx nor Enigels nor by Lenin, that is, the Lenin of the pre-1917 days. Trotsky alone saw it.

The basic Trotskyist proposition in regard to colonial and semi-colonial countries is that they cannot solve, belatedly, their democratic tasks, above all the agrarian problem (more accurately, the agrarian revolution), in any way except through the methods of the proletarian revolution. To put it differently, once started, the revolution cannot be halted indefinitely within the framework of capitalist relations. Immediately, incipient forces are generated that break through the outlived social fetters. Trotsky’s correct formulation reads: The dynamics of a belated bourgeois revolution inexorably leads to the proletarian dictatorship; this is historically determined by the correlation of class forces in colonial and semi-colonial countries confronting their belated bourgeois revolutions. This dialectic, together with the forecast drawn from it for Russia by Trotsky, was confirmed by the October 1917 Revolution; it war accepted by Lenin and his party; it served as the basis for Soviet construction, under Lenin and Trotsky; it became the line of the first four Congresses of Lenin’s International.

The question is posed almost automatically: How are these anti-capitalist revolutions in the colonies related to the socialist revolutions in the metropolises of the West? This central problem of our epoch was likewise solved by Trotsky.

“The permanent revolution, in the sense which Marx attached to the conception,” he wrote on Nov. 30, 1930, “means a revolution which makes no compromise with any form of class rule, which doesn’t stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against the reaction from without, that is, a revolution whose each successive stage is anchored in the stage before, and which can terminate only in the complete liquidation of all class society.”

Such a lofty flight of creative thought has not been common in the evolution of the human mind. Among the few comparable modern achievements, one may cite Georg Hegel, systematizer of the dialectic method at the turn of the 19th century; next, Hegel’s two disciples, who transcended their teacher, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. founders of scientific socialism and creators of the materialist dialectic; and, finally, at the turn of the 20th century, V.I. Lenin, architect of the Russian Revolution, continuator of Marx-Engels’ theoretical work.

Events keep confirming to the hilt, as they will continue to do, this remarkable theory of Marxism.

Leon Trotsky
Two Conceptions of Socialism

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on: 2 April 2009