Two-stage theory

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The two-stage theory (or stagism) is the Marxist political theory which argues that underdeveloped countries, such as Tsarist Russia, must first pass through a stage of capitalism before moving to a socialist stage.[1] The two-stage theory was applied to countries worldwide which had not passed through the capitalist stage.

The discussion on stagism focuses on the Russian Revolution. However, Maoist theories, such as New Democracy, tend to apply a two-stage theory to struggles elsewhere. In the Soviet Union the two-stage theory was opposed by the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution.


In Marxist–Leninist theory under Stalin the theory of two stages gained a revival. More recently, the South African Communist Party and Socialist Alliance (Australia) have re-elaborated the two-stage theory, although the Socialist Alliance differentiates their position from the Stalinist one.[2]


Although the two-stage theory is often attributed to Marx and Engels, critics such as David McLellan[3] and others dispute that Marx and Engels envisaged the strict application of this theory outside of the actually existing Western development of capitalism.

There is no dispute that Marx and Engels argue that Western capitalism provides the technological advances necessary for socialism and the "grave diggers" of the capitalist class in the form of the working class. But critics of the two-stage theory, including most trends of Trotskyism, argue that Marx and Engels denied that they had laid down a formula to be applied to all countries in all circumstances. McLellan and others cite Marx's Reply to Mikhailovsky. Mikhailovsky, Marx says,

feels he absolutely must metamorphose my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into a historico-philosophic theory of the general path every people is fated to tread, whatever the historical circumstances in which it finds itself ... but I beg his pardon. (He is both honouring and shaming me too much.)

— Karl Marx, Reply to Mikhailovsky[4]

In the Preface to the Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto of 1882, Marx and Engels specifically outline an alternative path to socialism for Russia.[5]

In Russia, the Mensheviks believed the two-stage theory applied to Tsarist Russia. They were criticised by Trotsky in what became the theory of Permanent Revolution in 1905. Later when the two-stage theory re-appeared after the death of Lenin in the Soviet Union, the theory of Permanent Revolution was supported by the Left Opposition. The Permanent Revolution argues that the tasks allotted in the two-stage theory to the capitalist class can only be carried out by the working class with the support of the poor peasantry, and that the working class will then pass on to the socialist tasks and expropriate the capitalist class. The revolution cannot pause here, however, and must remain "permanent" in the sense that it must seek worldwide revolution to avoid isolation and thus move towards international socialism.

See also


  1. MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms, Stagism
  2. Doug Lorimer In Defence of Lenin's Marxist Policy of a Two-Stage, Uninterrupted Revolution Links | International journal of socialist renewal
  3. McLellan, David, The thought of Karl Marx, pp134ff
  4. Karl Marx, Selected Writings, ed D McLellan, (Oxford, 1977), pp 571 f. (1877) Text in MIA
  5. "Now the question is: can the Russian obshchina, though greatly undermined, yet a form of primeaval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher form of Communist common ownership? Or, on the contrary, must it first pass through the same process of dissolution such as constitutes the historical evolution of the West? The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development." Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Preface to Russia edition of 1882.