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Shachtmanism is a critical term applied to the form of Marxism associated with Max Shachtman. It has two major components: a bureaucratic collectivist analysis of the Soviet Union and a third camp approach to world politics. Shachtmanites believe that the Stalinist rulers of Communist countries are a new (ruling) class, distinct from the workers and rejects Trotsky's description of Stalinist Russia as being a "degenerated workers' state".

Max Shachtman described the USSR as a "bureaucratic collectivist" society. Although Shachtmanism is usually described as a form of Trotskyism, both Trotsky and Shachtman were careful to not describe Shachtman's view as Trotskyist.



Shachtmanism originated as a tendency within the US Socialist Workers Party in 1939, as Shachtman's supporters left that group to form the Workers Party in 1940. The tensions that led to the split extended as far back as 1931. However, the theory of "bureaucratic collectivism," the idea that the USSR was ruled by a new bureaucratic class and was not capitalist, did not originate with Shachtman, but seems to have originated within the Trotskyist movement with Bruno Rizzi.

Although the split in the SWP was not only over the defence of the Soviet Union, contrary to popular mythology among some latter day Trotskyists, that was a major point in the internal polemics of the time. Furthermore, it should be noted that some members of the French Section of the Fourth International around Yvan Craipeau also held this analysis.

Currents influenced by Shachtman

Regardless of its origins in the SWP, Shachtmanism's core belief is opposition to the SWP's defence of Soviet Union. This originated not with Shachtman but Joseph Carter and James Burnham, who proposed this at the founding of the SWP in 1938. C L R James referred to the implied theory, from which he dissented, as Carter's little little pill. The theory was never fully developed by anybody in the Workers Party and Shachtman's book, published many years later in 1961, consists earlier articles from the pages of New International with some political conclusions reversed. Ted Grant has alleged that some Trotskyist thinkers, including Tony Cliff, who have described such societies as "state capitalist" share an implicit theoretical agreement with some elements of Shachtmanism.[1] Cliff, who published a critique of Shachtmanism in the late 1940s,[2] would have rejected this allegation.


Left Shachtmanism, "Third Camp Trotskyism"

Left Shachtmanism, influenced by Max Shachtman's work of the 1940s, sees Stalinist nations as being potentially imperialist and does not offer any support to their leadership. This has been crudely described as seeing the Stalinist and capitalist countries as being equally bad, although it would be more accurate to say that neither is seen as occupying a more progressive stage in the global class struggle.

A more current term for Left Shachtmanism is Third Camp Trotskyism, the Third Camp being differentiated from capitalism and Stalinism. Prominent Third Camp groupings include the Workers' Liberty grouping in Australia and the United Kingdom and by the International Socialist predecessor of Solidarity.

The foremost left Shachtmanite was Hal Draper a writer who worked as a librarian at the University of California, Berkeley and became influential with left wing students during the Free Speech Movement.

Social Democratic Shachtmanism

Social democratic Shachtmanism, called "Right Shachtmanism" by detractors, later developed by Shachtman and espoused by the Social Democrats USA, holds Stalinist nations to be worse than Western capitalism. As a result, adherents will often side with the U.S. government in international conflicts against Stalinist groups, such as the Vietnam War, and countries with governments seen as being under the influence of Stalinism, such as Cuba. This viewpoint was popularized within Shachtmanism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Neo-conservative Shachtmanism

Social Democratic Shachtmanism inspired the transition of some former leftists into the Neoconservative movement, which espoused militant anti-Soviet foreign policy.


  1. ^ Ted Grant: "The Marxist theory of the state (Once more on the theory of 'state capitalism')", Appendix to Russia: From revolution to counter-revolution.
  2. ^ Tony Cliff: "The theory of bureaucratic collectivism: A critique" (1948) at

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