Theories on the class nature of post-capitalist states

Theories on the class nature of post-capitalist states

Note:  What follows is a compilation of links exploring the differing theories on the class nature of post-capitalist societies.  Different wings of Trotskyism refer to these societies as either deformed/degenerated workers’ states, state capitalist or bureaucratic collectivism.

My position has been an “orthodox” Trotskyist view — that these societies are deformed or degenerated workers’ states.

I’ve been reading Cliff’s state capitalism theory. I don’t find Cliff completely convincing but Cliff’s work has challenged my thinking on this question.  To some degree this is a question of what to put on the death certificate of failed social/political experiments.  However, when considering events in Cuba, China and Vietnam, the penetration of capitalist relations into these societies is increasing to the point that the designation of “workers’ state” is stretched beyond recognition.  What do we say about these states?  How do we defend the gains workers and farmers have made in the face of this rising tide of imperialist domination?

The question of how we analyze the former Stalinist states (USSR, Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia) is also crucial. What is the role of the former bureaucratic ruling elites in the transition to capitalism?  What is the role Russia plays in relation to former Soviet republics and in former satellite states? How should we see the situation in Ukraine for instance? But that’s a separate post.

questions occur–

1. What constitutes a healthy workers’ state?

2. If the working class is expropriated politically what does it mean for the designation workers’ state?  Stripped of real workers’ control, what does it mean to call a society a workers’ state?

3. Is it state capitalism or something else?  I think Cliff makes a good argument about the transition from a workers’ state to state capitalism but  the term “capitalism” regarding the USSR, China, Cuba etc.  doesn’t work. I tend to think the term “hybrid” state/economy may be useful.

4.  How do we approach imperialist threats against Cuba, etc?

A “healthy” workers’ state, it would seem to me, would have to meet certain standards beyond the formula of nationalized property and state monopoly over international trade. The most essential is the political and economic rule of the working class through workers councils. Real limits on the political role of technicians and managers are necessary as well. (which was true in the early USSR)

What happened in Russia (civil war, scarcity, underdevelopment, etc) led to a dual process of the workers state using the former state bureaucracy to run things and the cream of the revolutionary working class being integrated into the state structure, where their consciousness was influenced by exposure to the bureaucracy /and/ the perks involved.   Christian Rakovsky wrote about this differentiation, where a communist with access to a car or better apartment is shaped by this experience.  The class that made the revolution was decimated by civil war and integration into the ruling party/state structure. The workers remaining in what was left of functioning industry were in the majority newly minted workers from the countryside.

What happened in the USSR was a process of political expropriation of the working class to the point where the first five year plan completed the transition from a workers’ state to something else. “State capitalism” as a descriptive doesn’t work for me. I do think Cliff makes some really excellent points about the nature of the USSR and the soviet-like states that were formed in eastern Europe after the war.  The notion that a workers’ state could be brought into being without the mass participation of the oppressed and exploited presents a challenge to Marxist theory.

All this said, the survival or degeneration of the Soviet state depended on the success of revolutions in more developed capitalist countries.  This is not a farfetched possibility; there were revolutionary upsurges in Germany, Hungary and Italy, as well as a short-live soviet republic in Bavaria. It was the view of the early Communist International that the revolution was a world process and that socialism in one country was an impossibility. The same remains true when considering the Latin American revolutionary process. The revolution in Cuba cannot survive without the spread of socialist revolution to the mainland and globally.

If these societies were already “capitalist” (state or otherwise) how do we explain the situation in China and Vietnam, where we have increasingly capitalist economies coupled with a bureaucratic state structure? How do we understand the “reforms” in Cuba that threaten the gains of the revolution?

I have been a defender of the Cuban revolution and come from a tradition that has seen Cuba as a basically “healthy” workers state but lacking the organs of workers democracy.  The truth being the party/state really calls the shots. The working class in Cuba, while sometimes “consulted,” does not really rule Cuba.

What to say about the increasing penetration of Cuba by international capitalist interests?  How do we explain the Mariel port development?  It seems to me that Cuba has taken the first steps down the same road as China and Vietnam  and this puts the gains of the revolution  in peril.

Without the direct democratic rule of the workers and farmers of Cuba themselves, through institutions of socialist democracy, the revolution will be lost. This requires building a new communist party and a revolutionary overthrow of the bureaucratic state.  J Leslie




In Defense of Marxism, Trotsky (book)

Revolution In Hungary and The Crisis Of Stalinism statement of SWP-US National Committee 1957

Class, Party, and, State and The Eastern European Revolution SWP Education fro Socialists

Bureaucratism or Workers’ Power Ted Grant and Roger Silverman


Theories of the USSR in light of its collapse Barry Sheppard (LINKS)


State Capitalism- Pro and Con

The Nature of Stalinist Russia Tony Cliff

Russia:   How the Revolution was Lost  Chris Harman

The theory of bureaucratic collectivism:  A critique  Tony Cliff

The Theory of “State Capitalism” Ernest Mandel

Against the Theory of State Capitalism Reply to Comrade Cliff  Ted Grant

Cuban Revolution

Cuba: the acid test Joseph Hansen

Is Cuba “State Capitalist?”  Larry Seigle

The Chinese Revolution

The Chinese Revolution Vol 1   The Second Chinese Revolution and the shaping of the Maoist outlook  pdf file

The Chinese Revolution Vol 2 The Maoist Project Tested in the Struggle for Power pdf file

China, Vietnam, Cuba (capitalist restoration)

Capitalism’s Brutal Comeback in China  FSP resolution

China: Has capitalism been fully restored?  CWI

Capitalist restoration in China Liu Yufan, International Viewpoint

Crisis and class struggle in China David Whitehouse, International Socialist Review

Socialism and the market: China and Vietnam compared By Michael Karadjis

The Necessity of Gangster Capitalism: Primitive Accumulation in Russia and China  Holmstrom and Smith


The Future of the Cuban Revolution  Sam Farber, Jacobin

Cuba’s reforms and the danger of capitalist restoration  RedPhilly

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