The Revolution Betrayed
The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? (Russian: Преданная революция: Что такое СССР и куда он идет?) is a book published in 1937 by the exiled Soviet Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. This frequently reprinted work analyzed and criticized the course of historical development in the Soviet Union following the death of V. I. Lenin in 1924 and is regarded as Trotsky's primary work dealing with the nature of Stalinism. The book was written by Trotsky during his exile in Norway and was originally translated into French by Victor Serge. The most widely available English translation is by Max Eastman.
Lev Davidovich Bronshtein (1879-1940), best known by the pseudonym Leon Trotsky, was one of the top leaders of the October Revolution of 1917 which brought a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (the Bolsheviks) (RSDLP) to power in Russia. Trotsky had long been one of the leading Marxist revolutionaries in Imperial Russia, sentenced to exile in a distant part of Siberia for his activities against the regime.
After a period of European exile, Trotsky returned to Russia during the abortive 1905 Russian Revolution, where his electric oratory made him a leading figure in the St. Petersburg Soviet until his arrest in December of that year. Another escape to Western Europe followed. Over the next decade Trotsky moved from support of the Menshevik wing of the RSDLP to advocacy of unity of the warring factions in 1913 with the establishment of a formal organization called the Interdistrict Organization of United Social Democrats, commonly known as the "Mezhraiontsy."
The virtual collapse of the old regime during the latter part of World War I helped to motivate the Mezhraiontsy to make amends with their Bolshevik rivals, headed by V. I. Lenin, and early in 1917 Trotsky returned from exile in New York City by way of Canada to join forces as a member of the Bolshevik party's governing Central Committee. Trotsky was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the November 7, 1917 (October 25, 1917 O.S.) seizure of power from the Russian Provisional Government headed by Alexander Kerensky, taking over as head of the Petrograd Soviet early in October and building that institution's Military-Revolutionary Committee into a revolutionary fighting force.
Following the successful overthrow of the Kerensky government, Trotsky was named the first People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR of Soviet Russia. In April 1918, Trotsky was named People's Commissar for War and the Navy, in which capacity he helped to construct the Red Army that would defend the new regime against forces seeking a restoration of monarchism in the Russian Civil War.
Lenin's retirement from active political life in the aftermath of a series of strokes in 1923 followed by his death in January 1924 ushered in an interregnum during which several leading candidates jockeyed for supremacy. Lenin's longtime associate and Communist International chief Grigory Zinoviev, Moscow party leader Lev Kamenev, nationalities expert and party organization secretary Joseph Stalin, and military leader Trotsky represented the leading contenders for party and state primacy. The eloquent Trotsky was identified by the three other leading contenders to the throne as a most serious political threat and a temporary alliance was formed by the trio against Trotsky.
Over the next several years Trotsky and his supporters were successively marginalized and isolated by the evolving Soviet leadership group, with Trotsky vilified as a political oppositionist and his supporters atomized by political and police pressure. This process was accentuated by successive exiles of Trotsky, first in 1928 to the remote city of Alma Ata in Soviet Central Asia followed the next year by Trotsky's physical expulsion from the Soviet Union to Turkey.
Although separated from his dwindling band of committed followers in the USSR, Trotsky continued to function as an opposition political leader from exile throughout the rest of his life. This ongoing political activity against the regime headed by Joseph Stalin led to ongoing political pressure by the Soviet government against a series of host countries in which Trotsky had sought exile.
The writing of The Revolution Betrayed
In the spring of 1935 a beleaguered Leon Trotsky formally sought political asylum in the Scandinavian kingdom of Norway with an appeal to the Labour Party government in power. The Norwegian response was slow, and only in early June was Trotsky at last notified that his request had been granted and that he was to proceed to the Norwegian embassy in Paris to obtain a visa. Norwegian politics intervened before Trotsky was able to obtain this document, however, and the visa approval was revoked by the time Trotsky arrived at the embassy on June 10. French police, suspecting a ruse by Trotsky to obtain residence in Paris, from which he had been banned, immediately ordered Trotsky out of the city. Trotsky's planned voyage to Norway was abruptly cancelled.
Norwegian authorities demanded that Trotsky obtain a permit for reentry into France before a visa for travel to Norway would be granted. Finally, after a burst of correspondence and negotiation, the demand for an unobtainable French re-entry permit was dropped and Trotsky was allowed a limited six month visa to enter Norway. As was the case with the terms required previously by the French government, the Norwegian government reserved for itself the right to determine Trotsky's place of residence and to exclude him from the capital city of Oslo. He arrived on June 18, 1935.
The Revolution Betrayed was completed and sent to the publisher on August 4, 1936, immediately prior to the sensational public announcement of the first of three great public Moscow Trials generated by the secret police terror known to history as the "Great Purge" (Ezhovshchina). When Trotsky became aware of the trial, which would ultimately end in the execution of Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and other prominent Soviet political figures, a short postscript was tagged on to his introduction in which Trotsky claimed that his current book constituted "advance exposure" of the Stalin regime's effort at "deliberate mystification."
The Revolution Betrayed has been characterized by historian Baruch Knei-Paz as Trotsky's "major work on Stalinism" and constituted the chief primary source for a chapter length summary of Trotsky's thinking on bureaucracy in a seminal 1978 intellectual survey.
In the view of Knei-Paz, the subtitle chosen by Trotsky for The Revolution Betrayed — "What is the Soviet Union and where is it going?" — accurately summarized the author's intent behind the book. Trotsky was preoccupied with the question of whether the emerging bureaucratic political and economic formation in the USSR constituted a new social model not encompassed previously by Marxist doctrine. Knei-Paz asserted that while Trotsky insisted that the Soviet system did not constitute any such new social and economic system, in reality the analysis he presented in The Revolution Betrayed was, in fact, "ambivalent."
The book is a wide-ranging critique of the USSR and its rulers, and advocates a new political revolution to overthrow the Stalinist dictatorship and bring about a socialist democracy. It opens by praising the positive economic advances of the USSR since the death of Lenin, citing growth in electrical power, agricultural output, industry, etc. It then proceeds to describe the limits on this economic advance, the nature of the new ruling elite, and predicts the ultimate downfall of the Soviet Union as a result of Stalinist rule. It places an emphasis on a Marxist method of analysis, and makes several key observations and predictions, some of which would only be borne out many decades later.
The first few chapters examine the "zigzags," as Trotsky describes them, in the policy pursued by the Party, citing rapid panicked changes in policy as a direct result of a lack of democracy. Trotsky highlights the most important of these 'zigzags' in the field of economic policy, criticizing Stalin and Bukharin's policy of at first opposing voluntary collectivization and increasing privatization of land and then of an abrupt U-turn to break-neck industrialisation and forced collectivisation, which Trotsky brands "economic adventurism" that carried "the nation to the edge of disaster". Trotsky then discusses labor productivity and criticizes the uselessness of the Stakhanovite movement and "shock brigades."
Trotsky then analyzes the "The Soviet Thermidor" (Thermidor is a reference to the later stages of the French Revolution, when conservative forces took hold of society). He analyzes the triumph of Stalin, the separation of the party from Bolshevism, and the rising bureaucratic stratum. The importance of this chapter lies in Trotsky's observation that the ruling stratum in the USSR are neither capitalists nor workers, but rather a section of the working class alienated from its class roots, influenced both by the bureaucracy left over from the Tsarist era and the de-politicization of the working class.
Trotsky refers to Stalinism as a form of "Bonapartism," drawing a comparison with the French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte and his capture of the French state after that country's revolution. Just as Bonaparte brought back the trappings of the aristocracy and imprisoned capitalists despite presiding over a new capitalist social system, Stalin imprisons workers and behaves like a Tsar despite failing to overturn the gains of a planned economy and nominal public ownership. At the same time, Trotsky writes that this ruling stratum impoverishes the rest of society, asserting that "a planned economy requires democracy just as the human body requires oxygen"; without democracy, he predicts economic stagnation.
He next discusses everyday life in the Soviet Union, economic inequality and the oppression of the new proletariat. He links the increasing conservatism in the treatment of women and the family directly with the rise of Stalinism, and compares it to the period before the revolution. From here he discusses foreign policy and the Soviet military: The failure to defeat fascism, the re-institution of ranks and the loss of a militia, and closes by examining the future of the Soviet Union.
One of the key predictions made by Trotsky is that the USSR would come before a disjuncture: either the toppling of the ruling bureaucracy by means of a political revolution, or capitalist restoration led by the bureaucracy. This prediction was made at a time when most commentators, capitalist and Stalinist, predicted the continued rise of Soviet power. As Allin Cottrell and Paul Cockshott would later write in their 1992 book Towards a New Socialism, Trotsky's prediction proved prescient. Lack of economic democracy coupled with computer technology that (at the time) was not yet advanced enough to cybernetically plan the economy led to economic stagnation in the 1960s and 1970s. Leading members of the ruling party (who were overwhelmingly from the more privileged stratum of Soviet society) responded to the stagnation by promoting capitalist reforms in the 1980s, rather than expanding more democratic forms of socialism. This was followed by the full embrace of capitalism a decade later without any apparent ideological discomfort amongst former party members, who became the new economic oligarchs in post-Soviet Russia while living standards of the Soviet proletariat fell precipitously in the 1990s.
- For official accounts of Trotsky's early activity, Siberian exile, and escape, see Max Eastman, Leon Trotsky: The Portrait of a Youth. (New York: Greenberg, 1925) and Leon Trotsky, My Flight From Siberia. Malcolm Campbell, translator. (London: Carl Slieger, 1977).
- For Trotsky's activity in the St. Petersburg Soviet, see Gerald D. Suhr, 1905 in St. Petersburg: Labor, Society, and Revolution. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989; pp. 338-345, 362-366, and 398-402 passim.
- Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, "Trotsky," in Edward Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, and William G. Rosenberg (eds.), Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997; pg. 190.
- Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, "Trotsky," pg. 191.
- The best survey of Soviet high politics in this period remains E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia: Volume 4: The Interregum, 1923-1924. (London: Macmillan, 1954) and A History of Soviet Russia: Volume 5: Socialism in One Country, 1924-1926: Volume 1. (London: Macmillan, 1958).
- Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky: 1929-1940. London: Oxford University Press, 1963; pg. 290.
- Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, pg. 291.
- Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, pg. 292.
- Leon Trotsky, "Introduction," to The Revolution Betrayed. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1937; pg. 4.
- Baruch Knei-Paz, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1978; pg. 381; fn. 39.
- Knei-Paz, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky, pg. 385.
List of English-language editions of The Revolution Betrayed
- Sources: Louis Sinclair, Trotsky: A Bibliography: Volume 2. Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1989; pp. 1281-1282; ABEBooks.com; OCLC WorldCat.
- New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1937. —308 pages.
- London: Faber and Faber, 1937. —Includes I Stake My LIfe. 312 pages.
- New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1945. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- New York and London: Pioneer Publishers, 1957. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- New York: Pioneer Press, 1964. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- New York: Merit Publishers, 1965. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- London: New Park Publishers, 1967. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- New York: Merit Publishers, 1969. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- New York: Merit Publishers, 1970. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- London: New Park Publishers, 1973. —334 pages.
- New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- New York: Pathfinder Press, 1983. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- New York: Pathfinder Press, 1987. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- Detroit: Labor Publications/Mehring Books, 1991.
- Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004.
- New York: Pathfinder Press, 2004. —Facsimile of 1st American edition.
- The Revolution Betrayed, Marxists Internet Archive, www.marxists.org/