Peter Binns & Duncan Hallas

The Soviet Union
State Capitalist or Socialist?


From International Socialism (1st series), No.91, September 1976, pp.16-27.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


The Communist Party has published a pamphlet, The Soviet Union – State Capitalist or Socialist? [1] by David Purdy, subtitled A Marxist Critique of the International Socialists.

Purdy claims, and he is right, that “the view one holds of the Soviet state has repercussions for revolutionary political practice” (p.10). He further claims that those who reject the view that the USSR is socialist tend to “moralism, utopianism. economism, workerism, insurrectionism and so on” (p.10).

Indeed, Purdy devotes the fourth and final section of his pamphlet to Some implications for political practice. That is as it should be. For we are not debating “theology”, as some well-meaning but misguided folk believe. We are discussing matters which take us to the very heart of revolutionary socialist politics today.

Purdy’s politics, the politics of the Communist Party, are left reformist - and not so very left at that. It is natural enough that he should attack the International Socialists, the major force on the revolutionary left in Britain, as “voluntarist” and “insurrectionist” and claim that IS “completely over-emphasises the repressive functions of the state in the advanced bourgeois democracies” (p.44). One of the main aims of his butchery of the marxist theory of the state with respect to Russia is the defence of the parliamentary road to socialism in Britain and the whole reformist practice that flows from it. [2]

Equally natural is his attempt to save as much as possible of the mythology of the “Socialist Camp” whilst conceding, for the benefit of those Labour Party and trade union “lefts” and bourgeois “progressives” that the CP is wooing so assiduously, that all is not well in the USSR, that there are “deformations”, unfortunate spots on the socialist sun.

This is in line with the trend in various rightward-moving European CPs to disengage from too close an identification with the Kremlin oligarchy. “For a long time Moscow was the womb of the Communist movement. Now we have grown up,” said Santiago Carillo, General Secretary of the Spanish party, at the Berlin conference of European parties in June. “Communism has lost the character of a Church with a Pope.” [3] John Gollan’s Socialist Democracy: Some Problems (to which we replied in IS 87) and the continuing discussion of it in Marxism Today, is part of the same tendency.

Yet there are very big contradictions in any serious attempt to defend the Gollan-Purdy position. Thus, there is not a single direct argument to be found anywhere in Purdy’s fifty odd pages for the view that socialism exists in Russia today. It is simply assumed that state ownership of the means of production regardless of the nature of the state, equals socialism. But this is precisely the point at issue.




1. The Soviet Union – State Capitalist or Socialist by David Purdy, Communist Party, London 1976, 40p. All page numbered references in the text above are to this pamphlet.

2. Purdy himself carries this so far as to call for conditional support for “pay restraint”. Writing in the CP journal Comment, (26.6.76), he says “To continue to deny that the rates at which money wages increase have any significant causal connection with the rate of inflation is not just in flat defiance of the evidence. It also offends against popular intuition of the nature of the inflation process and damages the left’s public credibility.” He goes on to advocate that the CP should support “pay restraint” in return for an “extension of public control over the private sector via government sponsored planning agreements”. This line was repudiated by Ben Ramelson and, more emphatically, by Bill Ward in the next issue.

Incidentally, when a similar nostrum, the Hughes-Alexander “Socialist Wages Policy”, was put forward by a section of the “New Left” in 1959, Eric Heffer wrote: “they demonstrate their complete break with marxism and revolutionary politics ... The economy is capitalist. Capitalist laws apply and will certainly continue to apply even in the event of a Labour government, certainly if it merely buys shares in the various industries and fails to expropriate the owners. The British state is a class state, created by and for the British ruling class.”! (Socialist Review, Mid-April 1959)

3. Quoted in the Guardian, 30.6.76.


Last updated on 24.2.2008