The USSR emerged from the second world war enormously strengthened in relation to rival powers. Most of Eastern Europe had been overrun by Stalin’s armed forces and was being remoulded in the Russian image. The idea that, in spite of everything, the Stalinist bureaucracy was still carrying on the tradition of the October revolution was gaining ground even amongst those, like the Trotskyists, who had previously believed that Stalinism was the grave-digger of that revolution.
The sharp polarisation produced. in the working class movement by the cold war, the division between supporters of “the socialist camp” and those of “the free world”, helped to push many on the left towards support, if critical support, for Stalinism. Trotsky had called the bureaucracy the organ of the world bourgeoisie in Russia; his one-time follower, Isaac Deutscher, saw “Stalin, still waving the flag of socialism in one country ... carrying revolution into half a dozen foreign countries.”
What revolution? Essentially the proletarian revolution, said Deutscher and the many many others who felt the gravitational pull of Stalinism at that time. The proletarian revolution in a distorted form, yes indeed, but the proletarian revolution nonetheless. But a proletarian revolution imposed from above without or against a working class? A proletarian revolution imposing political structures akin to fascism? If so, marxism is a utopian dream.
Cliff wrote his book in 1947. It was a weapon in the struggle to preserve and develop the authentic revolutionary marxist tradition amid the corrosive and demoralising tides of cold war opinion, pro-Moscow and pro-American alike, that swept across the working class movement in that period. Its significance today is different but no less vital.
In his critique of Stalinist Russia, Cliff was compelled to go back to Marx and Lenin to re-examine the nature of capitalism and of socialism, to elucidate the similarities and differences of a bourgeoisie and a workers’ state and to refine Trotsky’s account of the causes of Stalinism. This work is of permanent value. The conclusion that the USSR represents a form of state capitalism was in no way novel. It was a view that had often been advanced before, commonly in association with ultra-left ideas. Cliff’s achievement was to free it of these associations and to root it firmly in the central traditions of marxism.
This book was first distributed, in duplicated form, in June 1948, as The Nature of Stalinist Russia. An amended version was published as Stalinist Russia, A Marxist Analysis in 1955. In 1964 it appeared as the first part of a larger work, Russia: A Marxist Analysis. The current edition is taken from the 1955 edition without change, except for minor, typographical corrections.
Last updated on 22.10.2002