by Vassilis Andreoulakis

by Mamta Patel



Vassilis Andreoulakis April, 1999



Leon Trotsky was born in Ukraine in 1879. At the age of 18 he had already demonstrated enormous intellectual abilities and already had some followers, a fact that encourage him to organize the Southern Russian Workers Union in 1897. Trotsky ended up in jail and then exiled. He remained in Siberia for 5 years, then escaped to Europe. There, he joined powers with Vladimir Lenin and other Russians that created the social-democratic party. Trotsky's abilities gave him a quick rise in the party. In 1905 he returned to Russia for the Revolution in St.Petersburg where he also became the chairman of the Workers Deputies. He was sent to Siberia again for 2 years until his escape in 1907.

The evolution of Trostky's theory of revolution is the set of ideas that is called Trotskyism. The theory had 4 broad stages. The first stage is the theory of permanent revolution. Trotsky believed that the major difference between an economically backward country and a more developed one, is that the workers in the first case can easily gain power. The cause of such a belief was due to the failure of the Russian bourgeoisie to meet its historic responsibilities (like in the booming economies of the West). Therefore, in the coming revolution, the bourgeoisie has to be supported by the peasantry. In addition, the work of the proletariat should not be confined within a single state for three reasons:

  1. The proletariat would only have peasant support if it stalled the socialist tasks of the revolution.
  2. When the peasantry stops supporting the proletariat, the European bourgeoisies will crash the Russian revolution.
  3. Russia was not ready for a socialist economy.

It is obvious that the theory has both national and international applications. However, the theory of permanent revolution presents as its most important point the fact that the Western socialists do not have to act first in order for change to occur in Russia. The strength of this theory was also its weakness, which was proved by Trotsky's acceptance of the Leninist "vanguard" Party in 1917. This marked the second stage of his theory of revolution: Prior to 1917, Trotsky had conceived that a world revolution can be a single process. In his writings he assumes that the bankruptcy of Russia will repeat itself in France as well as other Western countries, which will result in the transfer of power to the hands of the proletariat. One way or another, revolution would crash capitalism across Europe. His beliefs, however, proved to be overly optimistic. First of all, the activity of the Russian working class ceased after the February revolution and, secondly, it had no effect in Wester Europe.

By 1927, Trotsky was convinced about the necessity of "dictatorship over the proletariat." Thus began the third stage of his theory of revolution. Trotsky stated that the liberation of the colonies is attainable only in conjunction with the liberation of the working class in all the metropoles (Annam, Algiers, Bengal, but also Persia and Armenia). Opportunity of independence exists only if English and French workers gain power. After the defeat of the Chinese revolution(1925-27), however, Trotsky became convinced that national liberation could only be achieved with dictatorship of the proletariat over all the peasant masses. The theory of permanent revolution had now been universalized.

 Obviously, the original ideas in his theory had been stripped down and altered numerous times. The fourth and final stage of his theory began in 1933, where he considered Russia to be a degenerated workers state. He argued that the Soviet political structure can come back to life through bold reforms. He blamed Stalin for not reviewing the implications of his policies in Russia and abroad. He now suggested that the October revolution had been betrayed by Stalin. IN the end, it seems Trotsky abandoned Leninism and even maybe his theory of permanent revolution.


"Trotsky, Leon" Microsoft (R) Encarta (R) 97 Encyclopedia. 1993-1996 Microsoft Corporation

Molyneux, John. Leon Trotsky's Theory of Revolution. St Martin's Press, New York, 1981.

Trotsky, the Great Debate Renewed. Edited by Nicolas Krasso. New Critics Press Inc. St Louis, Missouri. 1972

Daniels, Robert. Trotsky, Stalin and Socialism. West View Press, Colorado. 1991


Mamta Patel



Leon Trotsky was born on November 7, 1879 in Yanovka, Ukraine. Trotsky was a communist theorist, a leader in Russia’s October Revolution in 1917 and later a commissar of foreign affairs and war in the Soviet Union. The main philosophies of Trotsky later became known as Trotskyism. Trotskyism can be defined as a Marxist ideology based on the theory of permanent revolution. Trotskyism was to become the primary theoretical target of Stalinism in Russian Communist circles in the 1920s and 1930s.

Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” said that, historically, an economic system had to be seen as a world system rather than a national one. All national economic development was affected by the laws of the world market, even though such regional factors such as location, population, available resources and pressure from surrounding countries made the rate of development different in each country. In Trotsky’s view the Russian Revolution, to be permanently successful, would have to depend on revolutions in other countries, particularly in western Europe. His theory also emphasized the hegemony of the working class over the revolutionary class because of their strategic position in industry and other advanced sectors of the economy.

In contrast to Trotsky’s ideas of permanent revolution was “Socialism in one country” attitude of national self-sufficiency and self-centeredness that became Stalin’s focus in 1924. It declared a world economic system as a combination of national systems, so that Socialism could be built in any single country without dependence on other revolutions.

The development of the Soviet Union’s productive forces was controlled by the Communist Party, which in the 1920s was becoming increasingly bureaucratized. Trotsky in 1924 launched an attack on the bureaucracy, the so-called Bolshevik Old Guard. He called for more democracy outside and within the party, which meant more dependence on the rank and file workers at their plants and within the party cells. He opposed the conception of a monolithic party and called for more freedom for various trends of though as long as they adhered generally to the party program.

Stalin, after consolidating his power exiled Trotsky and other opponents in 1929 from the territory of the Soviet Union. Trotsky was initially received by the government of Turkey and then was domiciled on the island of Prinkipo. Here he plunged into literary activity and completed his autobiography and his history of the Russian Revolution. In 1933 Trotsky secured permission to move to France. Soon after Trotsky was initially banished, Trotskyists intensified their attack on the Soviet bureaucracy; they referred to it as “Bonapartist”, meaning a rule based on the dictatorship of one man, and they also developed the concept of a “degenerated worker’s state”, a state in which the means of production have been nationalized but in which a bureaucratic regime rules.

With the rise of Fascism in Germany in the early 1930s and the subordination of Comintern to Stalin, Trotskyists advocated a “united front” with trade unions to fight Fascism and the development of a Trotskyist  Fourth International to replace the Comintern. In 1936, under Soviet pressure, Trotsky was forced to seek asylum in Mexico, where he settled in Coyoacan.

Trotsky was the object of two assassination attempts, presumably by Stalinist agents. The first unsuccessful attempt was a machine gun attack on his house. After Trotsky’s murder in 1940 in Mexico by Stalin’s agent Ramon Mercader, a small Trotskyist movement continued to exist. However, Trotskyism has since become a loose generic term for extreme revolutionary doctrines of various kinds, whose advocates are united only in their opposition to the “bourgeois” Soviet form of Communist Rule.

In my opinion, Trotsky was one of the most brilliant intellects brought to prominence by the Russian Revolution, outdistancing Lenin and other theoreticians both in the range of his interest and in the imaginativeness of his perceptions. He was a rousing public speaker, indefatigable worker and a decisive administrator. Had Trotsky been more successful in his endeavors, the character of the Soviet regime would almost certainly have been different, particularly in foreign and cultural policy.

  Works Cited

Molyneux, John. Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution. St. Martin’s Press, New York:  1981.

 Daniels, Robert. Trotsky, Stalin and Socialism. West View Press, Colorado: 1991.



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