Degenerated workers' state
In Trotskyist political theory the term degenerated workers' state has been used since the 1930s to describe the state of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 after Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

's consolidation of power in or about 1924. The term was developed by Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 in The Revolution Betrayed
The Revolution Betrayed
The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? is a book by the Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, published in 1937, analyzing and criticizing Stalinism and the post-Lenin development in the Soviet Union....

and in other works, but has its roots in Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

's formula that the USSR was a workers' state with bureaucratic
A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials of a governmental or organization who implement the rules, laws, and functions of their institution, and are occasionally characterized by officialism and red tape.-Weberian bureaucracy:...


The Trotskyist definition

The Soviet state of the period between the 1917 October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

 and Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

's consolidation of power, was held to be a genuine workers' state, as the bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

 had been politically overthrown
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

 by the working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

 and the economic basis of that state lay in collective ownership
Common ownership
Common ownership is a principle according to which the assets of an enterprise or other organization are held indivisibly rather than in the names of the individual members or by a public institution such as a governmental body. It is therefore in contrast to public ownership...

 of the means of production
Means of production
Means of production refers to physical, non-human inputs used in production—the factories, machines, and tools used to produce wealth — along with both infrastructural capital and natural capital. This includes the classical factors of production minus financial capital and minus human capital...

. Contrary to the predictions of many socialists such as Lenin, the revolution failed to spread to Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and other industrial Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

an countries (although there were massive upheavals of working people in some of these countries), and consequently the Soviet state began to degenerate. This was worsened by the material and political degeneration of the Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n working class by the Civil War
Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War was a multi-party war that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed to the Soviets, under the domination of the Bolshevik party. Soviet forces first assumed power in Petrograd The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) was a...

 of 1917–1923.

After the death of Lenin in 1924, the ruling stratum of the Soviet Union, consolidated around Stalin, was held to be a bureaucratic caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

, and not a new ruling class, because its political control did not also extend to economic ownership. The theory that the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers' state is closely connected to Trotsky's call for a political revolution
Political revolution
A political revolution, in the Trotskyist theory, is an upheaval in which the government is replaced, or the form of government altered, but in which property relations are predominantly left intact...

 in the USSR, as well as Trotsky's call for defense of the USSR against capitalist
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...


As the wording implies, a degenerated workers' state is a state where the working class has succeeded in seizing power from the bourgeoisie and the means of production taken into social ownership, but where subsequently, power has been usurped by an undemocratic and unaccountable bureaucracy: the revolution has degenerated.

Trotsky explained the term thus:

Perhaps this is a workers’ state, in the last analysis, but there has not been left in it a vestige of the dictatorship of the proletariat
Dictatorship of the proletariat
In Marxist socio-political thought, the dictatorship of the proletariat refers to a socialist state in which the proletariat, or the working class, have control of political power. The term, coined by Joseph Weydemeyer, was adopted by the founders of Marxism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in the...

. We have here a degenerated workers’ state under the dictatorship of the bureaucracy.

The term "degenerated workers' state" is commonly used to refer only to the Soviet Union.

The term deformed workers' state
Deformed workers' state
In Trotskyist political theory, deformed workers' states are states where the bourgeoisie has been overthrown through social revolution, the industrial means of production have been largely nationalized bringing benefits to the working class, but where the working class has never held political power...

 was coined by Trotskyists of the Fourth International
Fourth International
The Fourth International is the communist international organisation consisting of followers of Leon Trotsky , with the declared dedicated goal of helping the working class bring about socialism...

 to describe those states, like the Soviet satellite states
Eastern bloc
The term Eastern Bloc or Communist Bloc refers to the former communist states of Eastern and Central Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact...

 of Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 as well as China, which are or were based upon collectivised means of production, but in which the working class never held direct political power. The two terms are therefore similar as they both describe states where the bourgeoisie no longer holds power, where the means of production has been socialised and where an unaccountable bureaucratic elite now holds the political reigns, where they differ is in the history of how this situation has arisen - the bureaucratic degeneration of a genuine workers' democracy, as in Russia, or the creation of a deformed workers state resulting from the overthrow of bourgeois rule and ownership by some force other than the mass action of the organised working class, such as an invasion, a guerrilla army or a military coup.

Trotsky always emphasised that the degenerated workers' state was not a new form of society, but a transitional phase between capitalism and socialism (and closer to capitalism) that would inevitably collapse into one form or the other. He argued however that whether this downfall led to the restoration of workers' democracy or to capitalist restoration would depend on whether the movement to overthrow the dictatorship of the bureaucracy was led by the organised working class:

"The inevitable collapse of the Stalinist political regime will lead to the establishment of Soviet democracy only in the event that the removal of Bonapartism comes as the conscious act of the proletarian vanguard. In all other cases, in place of Stalinism there could only come the fascist-capitalist counter-revolution" Trotsky (1935)


Besides the supporters of the Soviet Union holding the belief that the state was a healthy workers' state, the theory has been criticised from within the Trotskyist movement, and by other socialists critical of the Soviet Union. Among the disputed issues are the relationships between a workers' state (of any type), and a planned economy
Planned economy
A planned economy is an economic system in which decisions regarding production and investment are embodied in a plan formulated by a central authority, usually by a government agency...

. Some tendencies tend to equate the two concepts, while others draw sharp distinctions between them.

Among Trotskyists, alternative but similar theories include state capitalism and bureaucratic collectivism
Bureaucratic collectivism
Bureaucratic collectivism is a theory of class society. It is used by some Trotskyists to describe the nature of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, and other similar states in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere .- Theory :...


Related terms

Another theoretical term used by some Trotskyists, most notably Ted Grant
Ted Grant
Edward "Ted" Grant , 9 July 1913 in Germiston, South Africa – 20 July 2006 in London) was a South African Trotskyist who spent most of his adult life in Britain...

, to describe the dictatorial rule of bureaucracies in such degenerated or deformed workers' states is proletarian bonapartism.

See also

  • State capitalism
  • Bureaucratic collectivism
    Bureaucratic collectivism
    Bureaucratic collectivism is a theory of class society. It is used by some Trotskyists to describe the nature of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, and other similar states in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere .- Theory :...

  • State socialism
    State socialism
    State socialism is an economic system with limited socialist characteristics, such as public ownership of major industries, remedial measures to benefit the working class, and a gradual process of developing socialism through government policy...

  • New class
    New class
    The "New Class" model, as a theory of new social groups in post-industrial societies, gained ascendency during the 1970s as social and political scientists noted how "New Class" groups were shaped by post-material orientations in their pursuit of political and social goals...

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