Tony Cliff

The Nature of Stalinist Russia


The Fourth International has constantly repeated that the Stalinist bureaucracy could not stand the trial of an imperialist war or a proletarian revolution. The Second World War rained hammer blows at the Stalinist regime; and in its train, with the destruction of the German military machine, a vast revolutionary wave swept over Europe. The Stalinist bureaucracy triumphantly stood the trial of war, and then not only withstood the revolutionary wave, but succeeded, with the aid of its agents the Red Army and the ‘Communist’ parties, in suppressing it. This, and the rise of the ‘New Democracies’, impels us to review the analysis of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state. Research into the question has led us inexorably to the conclusion that there is an unbridgeable antagonism between the definition of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state and fundamental elements of Marxism, such as, to take one example, the self-mobilisation and self-conscious action of the masses as a necessary element for the socialist revolution. We have come to the conclusion that the definition of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state contradicts all the fundamentals of Trotskyism itself – the theory of the permanent revolution, the Marxist-Leninist theory of the state, the principles of the October Revolution.

For more than ten years Lenin held to the slogan of ‘the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’, which to many Bolshevik leaders had been the A to Z of Bolshevism, until the overriding historical event of the February Revolution led him irrevocably to discard the slogan. Similarly, today there are more than a few Trotskyists who see the A to Z of Trotskyism in the definition of Russia as a workers’ state and the political conclusions derived therefrom. After probing into the problem we have come to the conclusion that not only is this conception not the A to Z of Trotskyism, but, quite the contrary, is an element foreign to it. That it has been able for so long to remain an integral part of the conceptions of the Fourth International results from the fact that the historical experience of workers’ states in general is very limited (only in Russia did the proletariat succeed in holding power fbr any length of time), that the overthrow of the Russian proletariat did not lead to the restoration of the old regime, and that the development of Russian economy and politics has been very complicated. just as it became necessary to discard the slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ after the Bolshevik Party had existed for 14 years, so has it now become necessary to renounce the theory of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state. This is a necessary prerequisite for the reorientation and rearming of the Fourth International. Indeed, without taking such a step the Fourth International loses its reason for existence.

In the following document some chapters are brought from the manuscript of a book on the Russian question. We hope that during 1948 a second document will be published which will deal with an analysis of the nature of the Stalinist parties, and the perspectives and tasks of the Fourth International. In the same document we shall try to evaluate the different tendencies existing inside the Fourth International.

If this document contains a large number of quotations, they have been brought in order to prove that the conclusions of the analysis are rooted in the teachings of the great Marxist teachers. They warn us against two dangers: firstly, the danger of frozen orthodoxy which is simply a repetition of some formulations that have already been thrashed to death; secondly, the danger in analysing a new phenomenon of losing the threads of Marxism altogether The first approach cannot lead us through the labyrinth of reality as it has no dynamism and does not recognise its complexity; the second approach makes one lose one’s way inside this labyrinth.

November 1947


Translator’s note

This document was ready for translation in November 1947, but owing to technical difficulties it could not be finished until now. It is regrettable that this should have been the case as the document now appears too late to be circulated to the members before the World Conference. Since November only a few minor changes have been made to the document.

30 March 1948


Last updated on 5.1.2004