‘Hegemony’ in the English translation of Trotsky’s ‘1905’

Trotsky 1905

Leon Trotsky’s 1905 is a brilliant work that vividly describes the First Russian Revolution in 1905-06. At the same time, it explains the peculiarities of Russian historical development and thus laid the base for his theory of permanent revolution. It was first published in German under the title of Rußland in der Revolution (Russia in the Revolution) in Dresden in 1909,[1] and, after the 1917 Russian Revolution, was republished at the beginning of 1922 under the title of 1905 with three appendices.[2] This book was translated into several languages and widely circulated in Europe at the time.[3] Immediately after publication of the first Russian edition, a famous Soviet historian, Pokrovsky, harshly criticized the book. Trotsky harshly refuted this criticism in his article ‘On the Special Features of Russia’s Historical Development’ in Pravda on July 1 and 2, 1922. He published the second edition of 1905, adding this article[4] and another one (his speech in the fifth Party Congress), in the same year.

The second edition was first translated into English and published in 1971.[5] It was republished with a new introduction in 2016.[6] This English translation is brilliant as a whole, but it has a problem. Trotsky repeatedly used the term “гегемония” (hegemony) through 1905. For example:

In this revolution without a revolutionary bourgeoisie, the proletariat is driven, by the internal progress of events, towards hegemony over the peasantry and to the struggle for state power.[7]

The further growth of the revolutionary hegemony of the proletariat spread the strike to the law courts, the chemists’ shop, the rural administration offices and the town dumas. The October strike was a demonstration of the proletariat’s hegemony in the bourgeois revolution and, at the same time, of the hegemony of towns in an agricultural country.[8]

The October days showed that in revolution the hegemony belongs to the towns and, in the towns, to the proletariat.[9]

These quotes strikingly show that Trotsky’s concept of hegemony shares much similarity with that of Lenin and of Gramsci, and that the later Stalinist claim of Trotsky’s neglect towards peasantry was a sheer fabrication. The hegemony of the proletariat over the peasantry (subjective hegemony) and the hegemony of cities over a whole country (structural hegemony)[10] ― this dual hegemony made it possible for a small minority, the proletariat, to seize state power in the course of the bourgeois revolution.

However, somehow the translation of this book often rendered the Russian word “господство” (“domination” or “rule”) into hegemony as well.[11] Yet “господство” and “гегемония” are related but deeply different concepts, at least in terms of the way Trotsky used them. A specific and crucial significance of the latter is predicated on this difference. Hegemony works first of all in civil society or in the fields of politics distinct from the state, and hence is related to “consent”. In contrast, the concept of господство’ mainly relates to the state, or the whole of society. One class can and has to acquire hegemony before reaching “господство” in a country (as Trotsky put it “towards hegemony over the peasantry and to the struggle for state power”). On the contrary, one class can maintain its “господство” by force or outright dictatorship even after losing its hegemony. Therefore, translating “господство” as hegemony can lead to misunderstanding its core meaning.

For example, in Chapter 24, “The Proletariat and the Russian Revolution: On the Menshevist Theory of the Russian Revolution”, first published in 1908 (one of three appendices in the first edition of 1905), we read the following in the English edition:

In the French Revolution the conditions for the hegemony of a capitalist bourgeoisie were prepared by the terrorist dictatorship of the victorious sans-culottes.[12]

But, here it is a question not of achieving the hegemony of the capitalist bourgeoisie, because the bourgeoisie probably already had it, but of acquiring a state-based dominance of the capitalist bourgeoisie by terrorism. And, in fact, the original Russian of this hegemony is “господство”.[13]

Also, in the same chapter, we read the following:

But if the proletariat succeeds in using all means to achieve its own political hegemony and thereby breaks out of the national confines of the Russian revolution, then that revolution could become the prologue to a world socialist revolution.[14]

The original Russian of this hegemony is also “господство”, and moreover, “all means to achieve its own political hegemony” is not quite the proper translation. When more suitably translating the original Russian phrase, it would be translated as “all means of its own political rule”.[15] What Trotsky discusses here is what, after seizing state power, the proletariat should do by using all (political and economic) means in its hands as a political ruler. Furthermore, the original Russian of hegemony that turns up in the following phrase of the same chapter is also “господство”; “they [scholasticists] like to prove the ‘untimeliness’ of the political hegemony of the proletariat”. [16] Here, Trotsky is again discussing the seizure of state power and control of it by the proletariat, not of the hegemony of the proletariat.

In Chapter 25, “Our Differences: The Year 1905, the Reaction, and Revolutionary Prospects”, first published in 1909, we can read the following paragraph (citing from Trotsky’s article in July 1905):

The class which is capable of winning this battle will have to fight it, and will then have to assume the role of a leading class ― if Russia is to be truly re-born as a democratic state. Theses conditions, then, lead to be the hegemony of the “fourth estate” [the proletariat] [17]

This paragraph is important in relation to the concept of hegemony, so we have to carefully consider it. The first sentence says that the proletariat will have to assume the “role of a leading class”. It appears to be talking about hegemony. But this first sentence does not have the word hegemony. The word turns up in the second sentence in the English text. When looking at the original Russian text, we find that the original Russian of the “leading class” in the first sentence is “гегемон” (hegemon) and that “hegemony” in the second sentence is “господство”. That is, Trotsky insists here that the proletariat at the beginning will have to assume the role of a hegemonic or leading class (i.e. гегемон), and then, only after succeeding in that, will it be able to achieve its own domination or rule over the state.[18] Again, the distinction of “гегемония” from “господство” is crucial.

Also, in the last paragraph of this chapter, there is a following passage:

The workers’ government will from the start be faced with the task of uniting its force with those of the socialist proletariat of Western Europe. Only in this way will its temporary revolutionary hegemony become the prologue to a socialist dictatorship.[19]

But, as is evident from the first sentence, it assumes that the workers’ government already exists. Therefore, again it is a question of the temporary political rule or domination of the proletariat, a rule whose precondition is the hegemony of the proletariat. In reality, the original Russian for “hegemony” in the above quote is “господство” not “гегемония”.

Finally, in Chapter 27, Trotsky’s polemic against Pokrovsky (one of the two latter added appendixes in the second edition), we see a following paragraph:

Their [the Mensheviks, Kamenev, and Rozhkov’s] point of view could be summed up as follows: the political hegemony of the proletariat must be preceded by the political hegemony of the bourgeoisie.[20]

But the Mensheviks, Kamenev and Rozhkov, had formally approved of the hegemony of the proletariat in the Russian revolution. It was the seizure of state power by the proletariat, and hence its political dominance, that they fiercely opposed. They insisted that the political domination of the bourgeoisie should precede the political domination of the proletariat. Of course, these two hegemonies in the above-mentioned quote are “господство” in the original Russian text.[21]

Conversely, we can find a case where, although the original Russian text includes “гегемония”, in the English translation it was missed out. Consider the following sentence in Chapter 24:

When it took over the industrial functions of an artisanal democracy, the Russian proletariat also had to take over its tasks, but not its methods or its means.[22]

The phrase “its tasks”, when translating the original Russian text into a more complete English sentence, could mean “its tasks including hegemony over the peasantry”.[23] It may just be an accidental error. But, in order to have an exact knowledge about Trotsky’s usage of hegemony, it is important to understand this fact.


[1] N. Trotzky, Rußland in der Revolution, Dresden: Druck und Verlag von Kaden & Comp, 1909. The Marxist Internet Archives says that the work was firstly published in “1907 as part of Our Revolution”, but this explanation is incorrect. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1907/1905/index.htm

[2] Лев Троцкий, 1905, Москва: Государственное издательство, 1922.

[3] L. Trotzki, Die russische Revolution 1905, Berlin: Vereinigung Internationaler Verlagnsanstalten G.M.B.H, 1923; L. Trotsky, 1905, Paris: Librairie de L’Humanite, 1923. Both of them are translated from the first Russian edition, but the French edition includes Trotsky’s speech to the Fifth Congress from the second edition. The main body of the German edition is basically the same as the 1909 edition, but with some revisions.

[4] Trotsky reprinted this article as an appendix in the first volume of The History of the Russian Revolution, though in a fairly abbreviated version.

[5] Leon Trotsky, 1905, London: Allen Lane, New York: Vintage Books, 1971.

[6] Leon Trotsky, 1905, with a new introduction by Ralph Schoenman, Chicago & Illinois: Haymarket Books, 2016. We will indicate pages of 1905 from this new book hereafter.

[7] Trotsky, 1905, p. 46. In the German edition, for that matter, this “гегемония” is “Führenschaft” (leadership) (Trotzky, Rußland in der Revolution, p.37; Trotzki, Die russische Revolution 1905, p. 50), while in the French edition, is hégémonie (Trotsky, 1905 (French), p. 55).

[8] Trotsky, 1905, p. 83. In the German edition, this “гегемония” is also Hegemonie (Trotzky, Rußland in der Revolution, p. 76; Trotzki, Die russische Revolution 1905, p. 81), and in the French edition is hégémonie (Trotsky, 1905 (French), pp. 88-9).

[9] Trotsky, 1905, p. 84. In the German edition, this “гегемония” is translated into Hegemonie (Trotzky, Rußland in der Revolution, p. 77; Trotzki, Die russische Revolution 1905, p. 82), and in the French edition is hégémonie (Trotsky, 1905 (French), p. 89).

[10] For the concepts of “subjective hegemony” and “structural hegemony”, see Jonathan Joseph, Hegemony: A Realist Analysis, London: Routledge, 2002.

[11] Trotsky, 1905, pp. 240, 241, 246, 260, 263, 266, 276.

[12] Trotsky, 1905, p. 240.

[13] In the German edition, this “господство” is its German equivalent Herrschaft (Trotzki, Die russische Revolution 1905, p. 214), and in the French edition is domination (Trotsky, 1905 (French), p.236). In the German edition “господство” is consistently Herrschaft and in the French edition is consistently domination.

[14] Trotsky, 1905, p. 241.

[15] In the German edition, this sentence reads ‘alle Mittel seiner politischen Herrschaft wirken zu lassen’ (Trotzki, Die russische Revolution 1905, p. 214)> In the French edition it reads ‘de mettre en oeuvre toutes les ressources de sa domination politique’ (Trotsky, 1905 (French), p. 237).

[16] Trotsky, 1905, p. 246.

[17] Trotsky, 1905, p. 260.

[18] In the German edition, Herrschers is used where “гегемон” appears, and Herrschaft for “господство” (Trotzki, Die russische Revolution 1905, pp. 227-8). In the French edition, hégémonie is used as “гегемон” and domination as “господство” (Trotsky, 1905 (French), p. 251).

[19] Trotsky, 1905, p. 266.

[20] Trotsky, 1905, p. 276.

[21] As I already mentioned, this piece is also, though in abbreviated version, included in appendix I of the first volume of Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution. Fortunately, this paragraph was not omitted in this appendix. Max Eastman correctly translated this “господство” as “rule” (Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, vol. 1, p. 464).

[22] Trotsky, 1905, p. 245.

[23] Троцкий, 1905 (first edition), p. 268. In the German and the French editions, this passage is translated without omission (Trotzki, Die russische Revolution 1905, p. 218; Trotsky, 1905 (French), p. 241).