continuous revolution

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A phrase especially associated with Mao Zedong. In 1958 Mao, in an intra‐Party document, criticized Stalin and the Soviet party for having allowed the Soviet Union to drift into a state in which the institutions hastily created to bring the resources of society under communist control had been accepted as having permanent and universal validity. This was the consequence of a centralized command structure which suppressed political activity, and it was given ideological expression in Stalin's assertion that there were no contradictions in socialist society. Mao argued that the nationalization of industry and commerce and the collectivization of agriculture represented only the first step to socialism; the assumption of ownership and control achieved no more than the opportunity to transform the relations of production; hence his apparently perverse accusation that those of his fellow leaders who were content to operate the state sector by management methods inherited from capitalism were ‘following the capitalist road’. The same applied to the Soviet‐inspired use of state tractor stations to control the management of agriculture.

At the theoretical level, Mao insisted that dialectical materialism applied as much to socialist society as to the capitalist phase. Contradictions continued to exist, and were indeed the driving force—the only driving force—of progress towards a truly and effectively socialist system. He expressed this idea in his speech ‘How to Handle Contradictions Among the People’. The rectification movement of 1957, in which Mao widened the Hundred Flowers policy of permitting debate in scientific and academic affairs to include political criticism; the Great Leap, which sought to encourage full popular participation in the development process; and the Cultural Revolution, which was intended to open a dialogue on the basic issues of socialism, are all illustrations of his belief that revolution must be continuous, that if it is not going forward it is going backwards. The idea of continuous revolution implied that the function of the Communist Party was not to staff an authoritarian bureaucracy, but to enable and guarantee a process of development which gave a Marxist form to popular aspirations and to supervise a continuous process of change. Mao's continuous revolution should be distingished from Trotsky's ‘permanent revolution’, which was concerned with the situation before, not after, the achievement of socialist power, advocating that social democrats should not, following the bourgeois revolution, relax in the drive to achieve the social revolution.


Subjects: Politics.

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