extracts from ellis hillman’s ‘the nature of the stalinist parties’

note by David Black: The Nature of the Stalinist Parties – a document of several thousand words – was published in the internal discussion bulletin of the Socialist Review Group in May 1951, with five sections:

1 The Importance of the Nature of the Stalinist Parties for our Movement

2 The Classical Trotskyist Position

3 The Stalinist International as the Instrument of the State-Capitalist Bureaucracy

4 The Social Composition Of The Stalinist Parties

5 Political Conclusions


Hillman concluded that the SRG could make no impact on the membership of the Stalinist British Communist Party, which he sought to show was becoming increasingly petit-bourgeois. Therefore, he argued, the SRG should concentrate on building in the Labour Party. In practical terms, as Ian Birchall has suggested, Hillman was more in tune with Shachtmanite ‘Third Campism’ than James/Boggs/Dunayevskaya. The ‘immovability’ of the CP membership proved to be a temporary phenomenon; but it was only shaken up by world events (especially Hungary) rather than pressure from the Far Left. As regards Dunayevskaya, I should point out that her later analysis (from 1953 onwards) was markedly different to that of ‘State-Capitalism and the World Revolution’ (1950). The latter, in my view, while important, was wrong on a lot of things (such as the national question), and inadequate on others (especially philosophy).

The following text consists of the introduction, plus two extracts: one from section 1 and one from section 3.


The Secretariat of our Party has commissioned me to write an International Discussion Bulletin which will attempt to re-evaluate our attitude to the Stalinist Parties in the light of our analysis of the Russian regime as a totalitarian state-capitalist structure. It is important that all members of the party realise that the character of the three internal Bulletins that are being written is quite different from that of the Bulletins issued in the old movement. For a start, the RCP had both a fixed analysis of Russia and a series of perspectives that flowed from such an evaluation fully worked out. In the second place, the RCP carried over uncritically the whole body of Trotsky’s analyses and perspectives and “laid” it on the membership. The tendency which we are trying to build has emphatically rejected both the Fourth International’s semi-Stalinist analysis of Russia **and** the leadership cult which was at least partly responsible for the crack-up of the RCP inside the Labour Party. This particular Bulletin does not represent the fixed viewpoint of any particular person or grouping but rather it is written as a provisional statement of the viewpoint of the writer, a statement that will no doubt be modified in the ensuing discussion on the subject.


Our own recent experience with the mushroom-like growth of the WIL[Workers International League] and the RCP [Revolutionary Communist Party] (1941-49) as a result of the war-time fusing of the Stalinist and right-wing bureaucracies in the labour movement and the consequent polarisation of the anti-war forces around the ILP and the Fourth International could hardly have been more revealing. The crystallisation of a Trotskyist tendency inside the Labour Party today has been shown to be the only feasible and durable form of growth that can be envisaged in this present period. The Labour Party offers opportunities for left-wing polarisation moving in our direction which two decades of trailing behind the CP had failed to produce. The Stalinist rank and file is not indoctrinated with Marxism nor is any conscientious attempt made to theoretically equip the members of the organisation. The CP leadership smothers any independent development of its rank and file by teaching its members to accept loyally the decisions arrived at by the Politbureau (i.e. ultimately with the Politbureau of the CPSU):

“whatever the policy of the Soviet Union it is always in the interests of its people and the working people of every other country in the world” (Harry Pollitt, ‘Looking Ahead’ p42)

The CP rank and file is trained to regard the loyal super-activist who asks no questions as the best and most militant comrade. The policy of involving the rank and file in continual demonstrations, Daily Worker sales, the collection of signatures for the “Peace Petition” is quite deliberate. It diverts the Stalinist militant from theoretical matters by separating the functions of the Politbureau, Central Committee and District Committes in descending orders of importance. The party organisation decides, develops and works out the theory, the perspectives and applications of the particular ruling, and the rank and file carries out the decisions unquestioningly with the maximum expenditure of energy. On such a basis, in such a totalitarian atmosphere it is *impossible* to break the stranglehold of the centipede grip of the CP organisation on its members, except by the mass mobilisation of the proletariat on a mass basis under the roof of the mass parties of the working class. The free, independent and spontaneous development of the revolutionary current within the Labour Party can alone smash the Stalinist movement.

The Johnson-Forest [James- Dunayevskaya] document, “State-Capitalism and the World Revolution” (published in August 1950) accurately describes the situation we are faced with, as a consequence of the contemporary unfolding of the Stalinist movement as a movement aspiring to world domination.

“The Stalinists are not class collaborationists, fools, cowards, idiots, men with ‘supple pines’, but conscious aspirants for world power. They are deadly enemies of private property capitalism. They aim to seize the power and take the place of the bourgeoisie. When they support a war or do not; support the bourgeoisie or do not support, they know exactly what they are doing. The bourgeoisie also knows. In fact, everyone, including most of the workers, knows this except orthodox Trotskyism.

But the Stalinists are not proletarian revolutionists. They aim to set up power by help, direct or indirect, of the Red Army and the protection of Russia and the Russian state. That is the reason they follow the foreign policy of the Kremlin – it is clear naked self-interest.”


He who controls the state machine controls the economy. The Party machine which is now evolving today is no longer the blind instrument of economic classes in society. The party machine constitutes a model of the type of the changing society it subsists in, or is rooted in. The Labour party, for instance, reflects, by and large, the capitalist relations in a bourgeois democracy. This is true, whether the Labour Party is actually yielding state power or is in ‘opposition’ to His Majesty’s Government. Similarly, the Stalinist parties reflect not merely by and large, but *absolutely* the state capitalist relations within the USSR, as expressed in the construction and make-up of the Stalinised Bolshevik party. A careful study of the Stalinist Party in the USSR reveals the totalitarian political nature of its edifice and the complete identity of form and nature that can be established between the Big Brother party and the satellite parties in both Eastern Europe and outside.

It is perhaps opportune at this point to refer to the two great theoretical works produced by the Johnson-Forest tendency in the SWP, “The Invading Socialist Society” (1947) and “State-Capitalism and the World Revolution” (1950). Here for the first time in the history of the Trotskyist movement, a serious departure for re-orientation of the Fourth International has been indicated. It is no exaggeration to say that comrades Johnson-Forest’s last work, “State-Capitalism and the World Revolution”, is of a theoretical level at least the equal of Trotsky’s last works and a logical and fruitful development of them. The works on the state-capitalism thesis that have been written so far have become obsolete since. Comrades Johnson-Forest have succeeded in correlating the *political structure* of the Stalinist parties with the economic foundations of State-capitalism, and have thus rendered an invaluable service to the elucidation of new tactics and strategies flowing from our defeatist position in espect of the USSR. It is essential that the Johnson-Forest document be studied in conjunction with this particular section as some of the conceptions to be developed may strike the reader as rather startling.