Bureaucratic Collectivism, State Capitalism, and the Marxist Theory of the State

  • Paul Bellis


Between August 1939 and April 1940 a major schism developed within the Socialist Workers’ Party, the U.S. Section of the Fourth International, over the F.I.’s characterisation of the Soviet Union (‘the Russian Question’). The two principal opponents of the ‘orthodox’ position, as represented by Trotsky himself and in the S.W.P. by the leadership around James P. Cannon, were Max Shachtman and James Burnham. They argued that, in the context of the Nazi-Soviet Pact signed on 22 August 1939, it was necessary for the International to re-evaluate its analysis of the Soviet social formation, at the same time rejecting the official political line of ‘unconditional defensism’. According to Burnham, the U.S.S.R. had now to be regarded as being ‘not a workers’ and not a bourgeois state’.1


Social Formation State Apparatus Political Practice Sodal Formation Socialist Society 
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  1. 10.
    The dichotomy ‘socialism or barbarism’ derives from Luxemburg’s The Junius Pamphlet, which itself invokes Engels’ Anti-Dühring: see Mary-Alice Waters (ed.), Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (New York, 1970, repr, 1971), p. 269.Google Scholar
  2. 16.
    Carchedi has encapsulated this relationship, so central to Marxist theory, in the dictum that: ‘the determinant instance … determines the determined instances … in the sense that the former calls into existence the latter as a condition of its own existence’. (Guglielmo Carchedi, On the Economic Identification of Social Classes, London, 1977, p. 143).Google Scholar
  3. 20.
    Hindess and Hirst argue that if mercantile capital ‘controls through its monopoly interdiction of circulation the reproduction of the means of production’ it follows that ‘a limited social division of labour and the commodity relations corresponding to it provide the foundation for class relations’. (Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst, Mode of Production and Social Formation, London, 1977, p. 66) This thesis rests, however, on a radical reformulation of the concept of relations of production.Google Scholar
  4. 24.
    For I.S.’s own account of these events see Ian Birchall, ‘History of the International Socialists, Part I: From Theory into Practice’, International Socialism, no. 76 (1976), pp. 16–24, together with the collection of documents in OIS. For a very different view, see John Walters, ‘Some Notes on British Trotskyist History’, Marxist Studies, vol. II, no. I (1969/70), pp. 45–8, and Cynthia Baldry, ‘The Debate in the F.I. on the Class Nature of Russia and Eastern Europe, with particular reference to the British Section, 1945–1951’, unpublished B. Phil. Dissertation, University of Liverpool, 1972.Google Scholar
  5. 25.
    See T. N. Vance, The Permanent War Economy, Berkeley, 1970. The work consists of a compilation of articles from the Shachtman Group’s Journal Labor Action.Google Scholar
  6. 28.
    Cited in SCR, p. 184. The article is included in Leon Trotsky, Writings, 1935–1936, New York, 1970, pp. 37–9, and in DFI, pp. 101–7. The relevant section reads as follows:Google Scholar
  7. 29.
    See also, in this context, Leon Trotsky, The New Constitution of the U.S.S.R., in Writings, 1935–1936 (New York, 1970), pp. 91–6; and RB, pp. 260–4 and 271–2.Google Scholar
  8. 33.
    Leon Trotsky, The Fourth International and the Soviet Union, in Writings, 1935–36 (New York, 1970), pp. 37–9, and DFI, pp. 101–7.Google Scholar
  9. See also the articles War and the Fourth International (Leon Trotsky, Writings, 1933–1934 (New York, 1972), pp. 299–329)Google Scholar
  10. On the Eve of World War Two (Leon Trotsky, Writings, 1938–1939 (New York, 1969), pp. 33–6); The U.S.S.R. in War (IDM, pp. 3–26); and see RB, pp. 227 and 231–2.Google Scholar
  11. 34.
    See also IDM, pp. 163–4 and 217–8, and the article The World Situation and Perspectives, in Leon Trotsky, Writings, 1939–40, 2nd edn (New York, 1973), pp. 139–57.Google Scholar
  12. 36.
    See Pierre Frank, ‘Evolution of Eastern Europe’, in Class, Party, and State and the Eastern European Revolution (S.W.P., New York, 1969), pp. 47–53.Google Scholar
  13. 37.
    See, e.g., Joseph Hansen. ‘What the Discussion on Cuba is About’, in The Nature of the Cuban Revolution, (S.W.P., New York, 1969).Google Scholar
  14. 38.
    See Joseph Hansen, The Workers’ and Farmers’ Government (New York, 1974), pp. 33–8.Google Scholar
  15. 39.
    But for a different view see Cliff Conner, ‘From World War Two to the Cold War’, in Towards a History of the Fourth International, Part I: Three Contributions on Postwar Developments (S.W.P., New York, 1973), pp. 3–9.Google Scholar

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© Paul Bellis 1979

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  • Paul Bellis

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