The Struggle for Democracy in the Imperialist Countries Today

The Marxist Theory of Permanent Revolution and its Relevance for the Imperialist Metropolises

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), August 2015



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1. A Brief Recapitulation of the Three Aspects of Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution


2. On Unevenness in the Imperialist Countries


3. Lenin and Trotsky on the Permanent Revolution in the Imperialist Countries

4. General Considerations on the Question of Democracy in the Imperialist Countries

5. On “Transitional Revolutionary-Democratic Demands” in the Present Period

6. The Slogan Calling for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly

7. The Democratic Program for Permanent Revolution in the Imperialist Countries

The Democratic Program in the “Backward” Emerging Imperialist Powers: China and Russia

The Democratic Program in the Old, Decaying Imperialist Powers: Northern America, EU and Japan

8. The Slogan of the Constituent Assembly: Bolshevism versus Revisionism

Ultra-Left Rejection: The Sectarian Tradition of the Spartacists

The Criticism of Imperialist Economism: Alan Woods and the Right-Centrist IMT

The Opportunist Application: The Right-Centrist Tradition of Nahuel Moreno (LIT-CI, UIT-CI)


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Note from the Editorial Board: The following essay is a pre-publication of a chapter which was written for a forthcoming book by Michael Pröbsting on Imperialism and the Great Powers today. The RCIT plans to publish the book later this year.



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The theory of permanent revolution is a central component of the Marxist program in the epoch of imperialism and as such it is relevant for each country of the world. Trotsky made it very clear that without this theory revolutionaries are incapable of understanding the character of the class struggle dynamic and therefore will not succeed in deriving from it the required strategic tasks. In a letter to an opponent, in 1931 he wrote:

But this theory [of permanent revolution, Ed.] gives us a unique and correct starting point in the internal dynamic of each contemporary national revolution and in its uninterrupted connection with the international revolution. In this theory the Bolshevik-Leninists have a fighting formula imbued with the content of the gigantic events of the last thirty years. On the basis of this formula, the Opposition is combating and will combat the reformists, the centrists and the national communists in a decisive manner. One of the most precious advantages of this formula is that it slices like a razor through the ideological ties with all kinds of revisionism of the epigones.[1]

A crucial misunderstanding of most Marxists is that they consider the strategy of permanent revolution as only relevant for countries of the South. In this chapter we will show that this view is false. In fact the strategy of permanent revolution is the programmatic reverse side of the coin of the Law of Uneven and Combined Development. And since this law is relevant not only for the semi-colonial countries but also for the imperialist metropolises, as we have shown in a preceding chapter, permanent revolution constitutes a crucial strategy for the rich countries too.

While Trotsky wrote about the theory of permanent revolution mostly in the context of the revolutionary tasks in so-called “backward” countries – either backward imperialist countries like Russia before 1917 or colonial or semi-colonial countries – he was at the same time unambiguously clear that this theory also applies to advanced imperialist countries. In the early 1930s he pointed to the example of Germany in the times of the Weimar Republic – at that time one of the most advanced imperialist countries.

Now the problem of the permanent revolution unfolds before us on the arena of the Iberian peninsula. In Germany the theory of the permanent revolution, and that theory alone, stands counterposed to the theory of a “people’s revolution.” On all these questions the Left Opposition has expressed itself quite categorically.[2]

Equally, Trotsky saw the struggle against fascism in imperialist Italy as part of the program of permanent revolution: „As to the problem of the anti-fascist revolution, the Italian question, more than any other, is intimately linked to the fundamental problems of world communism, that is, of the so-called theory of permanent revolution.[3]

Likewise he referred to the strategy of permanent revolution in relation to the liberation struggle of the Black minority in the United States: “Weisbord is correct in a certain sense that the ‘self-determination’ of the Negroes belongs to the question of the permanent revolution in America.[4]

These few quotes already demonstrate that Trotsky considered the theory of permanent revolution as highly relevant for all countries in the world – including imperialist societies – even if he did not elaborate on this issue more in depth.

[1] Leon Trotsky: Another Letter to Albert Treint (1931), Trotsky Writings 1930-31, Pathfinder Press, New York 1973, p. 319

[2] Leon Trotsky: A Letter to Albert Treint (1931), Trotsky Writings 1930-31, Pathfinder Press, New York 1973, p. 314

[3] Leon Trotsky: Problems of the Italian Revolution (1930); in Trotsky Writings 1930, p.223

[4] Leon Trotsky: The Negro Question in America (1933); in: Leon Trotsky: On Black Nationalism and Self-Determination, Merit Publishers, New York 1967, p. 25.