Communist Intervention discussion article, 9 August 1991,
by Andy Blunden

On the Class Nature of the Soviet Union

The state is the instrument by which a class exercises public political power over another class and society generally in the struggle for control of economic life. A social class has its fundamental roots in the relations of production (otherwise it is not a class at all), but it needs at certain times at least, an instrument of violence in order to maintain social relations in a condition conducive to its own social dominance.

An economy is characterised by the predominant mode of production, which in general, changes only slowly. State power, in general, passes from one class to another suddenly, by means of civil war.

State power passed to the working class in Russia on November 5, 1917. Commodity production was not abolished until the mid-1930s, and even then, the social norms were predominantly bourgeois. As a rough guide, we could say that the social/class nature of the state determines the direction of movement of the economy.

Capitalism is the economic system in which the commodity relation becomes all-pervasive. The commodity relation can be found in any society barring the most isolated tribespeople or the far distant future socialist society. The existence of wage payment (first introduced in England in 1381) is by no means proof of capitalist production. Indeed wage payment is only truly such where there is both a real labour market, and free labourers offering labour power for sale. Payment of cash wages to slaves does not stop them being slaves.

Capitalism has existed in the Soviet Union since the War only on the margins, but has grown with the expansion of the black market, drug trade, etc., and foreign trade. This does not mean that socialism existed. There is nothing in Marxist theory that forces us to adopt a stupid either-else approach to economic systems. It was neither capitalist nor socialist, it was a deformed-planned economy, or a statified command economy.

While it is a general rule that state power passes from one class to another by means of civil war (or invasion by the state of another class across a national border), this is not the whole truth today. Under conditions when the influence of the state is all-pervasive, the state becomes itself an arena of struggle, just like the economy in a capitalist country. This is true to a small degree under any conditions, but in the USSR for instance, this is the predominant character of the state just now. I think we have to say that the Hungarian workers' state has been conquered by the bourgeoisie, and the Red Army left by train a few months ago.

The class nature of the state generally predominates over the political nature of the office-holders in the state. In the period immediately following World War Two, the Red Army policy in Eastern Europe was for the re-establishment of capitalism; nevertheless, Red Army occupation led to the abolition of capitalism in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, Gorbachev intended to defend socialism with his policies of glasnost, etc., but in the end had to recognise that he was in fact re-introducing capitalist social relations.

Even the conclusion that the USSR is returning to capitalism (i.e. the direction of change of the economy is towards capitalism) does not prove that the Soviet state is a capitalist state, for the social and economic level of the USSR is below that of capitalist Europe (despite contradictory elements arising from the residual benefits of nationalised property relations). The Soviet state is an arena of struggle. Personally I believe that the bourgeoisie is near to victory and the proletariat far from victory in that struggle taking place within the Soviet state. The proletariat has no conscious representatives or leaders having the aim of doing this. Only the Red Army generals who remain as hostile to the working class as they are to drug peddlers, etc., and are now just as likely to do a deal with the US (as Ceausescu did) or drop an H-bomb on Moscow, as defend the Russian workers.

Thus, the Soviet state is still a workers' state, deformed, disintegrating and unstable, but the only means of opposing its capture by the bourgeoisie is to call for workers to organise to lay hold of the state or elements of it. The Stalinist elements within the Soviet state who are opposing this process of conquest by the bourgeoisie cannot play any progressive role and the working class can only lay hold of elements of the state by expelling these reactionary Stalinist elements.

How reactionary Stalinism is is irrelevant to the class nature of the State, far less the character of the economy. The exploitative character of the economy is irrelevant as regards the class nature of the state. The repressive nature of the regime is immaterial to whether the economy is capitalist or not. The evidence of a state having overthrown capitalist property relations is insufficient to disprove the fact that the regime is politically reactionary. Evidence of a regime having re-introduced capitalist property relations does not prove that the state is a capitalist one.

Our policy should be this:

The State

• From the time of the revolution till recently the USSR was a workers state. In its early days it was immature and in its later days it was degenerated.

• The states of Eastern Europe were deformed workers states being extensions of the USSR politically, socially and economically. The other states created by national and social struggles led by Stalinism, also created deformed workers states, although here the process was less direct. In the case of China for instance the army was a peasant army led by Stalinists as part of the workers movement internationally.

• Some of the states of Eastern Europe (Hungary, (East) Germany) are already capitalist states. In East Germany the state has been absorbed into an existing capitalist state; in Hungary a former deformed workers state has been transformed into an instrument of the bourgeoisie. In these cases the national question has been an important feature. Others are in transition.

• The USSR-state is still in an arena of struggle, and Stalinism is in general capitulating before the march of the rising bourgeoisie. But the process is not yet complete.

• We must call upon workers to organise independently of Stalinism and independently of the bourgeois parties, and they should seek to lay hold of elements of the Soviet state before it falls into the hands of the bourgeoisie and becomes a tool to be used against workers in the imposition of capitalist property.

The economy

• The economies of Eastern Europe and Russia are in transition. Capitalism is rising chiefly through the rise of the ‘black market economy’ and partly by the penetration of foreign capital, and an alliance of both.

• The return to capitalism will be far from smooth and elements of statification will remain probably for the foreseeable future. The cultural and economic level is in the main below that of the developed capitalist countries.

• Workers should make the demand for workers' control paramount. Privatisation must be opposed vigorously. In general privatisation will mean giving away state assets. Whatever the form of ownership however, workers control and serving the needs of the working class are paramount.

• Foreign trade is essential. Workers need to demonstrate that workers' control is the only viable means of building international trade, and vigorously oppose foreign capitalist ownership being imposed as a condition for foreign trade or investment.


• The social base of Stalinism is the bureaucracy of a workers state. With the collapse of these deformed workers states the political soil of Stalinism is destroyed and they will wither. So long as workers' organisations exist in a capitalist world, Stalinism will continue to exist, but they are immeasurably weakened. Now is the time of Trotskyism.

• The reformist bureaucracy is also weakened by the collapse of Stalinism. The collapse of Stalinism is undoubtedly a boost for imperialism itself however, and the revolutionary forces are still very small.