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Socialism in One Country was a thesis put forth by Joseph Stalin in 1924, elaborated by Nikolai Bukharin in 1925 and finally adopted as state policy by Stalin. The thesis held that given the defeat of all communist revolutions in Europe from 1917–1921 except in Russia, the Soviet Union should begin to strengthen itself internally. Though promoted at the time as an ideology of necessity, not core belief, the theory came to define the course of political construction within the Soviet Union throughout its history. Today the expression is largely used as one of approbation since its thesis is held to be antithetical to Marxist Socialism by Trotskyists and others.



The defeat of several proletarian revolutions in countries like Germany and Hungary ended Bolshevik hopes for an imminent world revolution and began promotion of "Socialism in One Country" by Stalin. In the first edition of the book Osnovy Leninizma (Foundations of Leninism, 1924), Stalin was still a follower of Lenin's idea that revolution in one country is insufficient. But by the end of that year, in the second edition of the book, his position started to turn around: the "proletariat can and must build the socialist society in one country". In April 1925 Nikolai Bukharin elaborated the issue in his brochure Can We Build Socialism in One Country in the Absence of the Victory of the West-European Proletariat? The position was adopted as the state policy after Stalin's January 1926 article On the Issues of Leninism (К вопросам ленинизма).

1925-6 signaled a shift from the immediate activity of the Comintern, the Communist International, from world revolution towards a defense of the Soviet state. This period, up to 1928, was known as the "Second Period", mirroring the shift in the USSR from war communism to the New Economic Policy.[1]

In his 1915 article "On the Slogan for a United States of Europe", Lenin stated the following: "...Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world ...". Again, in 1918, he wrote, “I know that there are, of course, sages who think they are very clever and even call themselves Socialists, who assert that power should not have been seized until the revolution had broken out in all countries. They do not suspect that by speaking in this way they are deserting the revolution and going over to the side of the bourgeoisie. To wait until the toiling classes bring about a revolution on an international scale means that everybody should stand stock-still in expectation. That is nonsense.” (Speech delivered at a joint meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Moscow Soviet, 14 May 1918, Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 9.).

After Lenin's death, Stalin used these quotes and others to argue that Lenin shared his view of Socialism in One Country.

The theory of Socialism in One Country was vigorously criticized by Zinoviev and Trotsky. In particular, Trotskyists often claimed, and still claim, that Socialism in One Country opposes both the basic tenets of Marxism and Lenin's particular beliefs [2] that the final success of socialism in one country depends upon the revolution's degree of success in proletarian revolutions in the more advanced countries of Western Europe.

Those who consider Stalin (as well as Mao Zedong) as the proper ideological descendants of Marx, Engels and Lenin, often countered Trotsky's arguments then, and continue to do so today, by saying that the Trotskyist view is basically the same as asking the world's working class to "wait" while socialism is constructed in the most powerful and industrialized nations first, before even attempting socialist revolution in non-industrialized areas, even if class tensions are at a good point for revolution in the latter. Anti-revisionists, as they refer to themselves, still insist they want world revolution, but they are willing to see revolution begin in socially and economically "backward" areas first and to have those areas stabilize themselves and grow, rather than to, as they see it, willingly deny the concept of unevenness in development by expecting rapid world spreading of the revolution or expecting it would happen in the most advanced and industrialized countries first.

Trotskyists would call this a complete distortion, pointing out that until 1917, Trotsky was the only major Marxist in the entire world who argued that a socialist revolution could happen in Russia before the West. Until February 1917, even Lenin believed that this was impossible. His April Theses of that year signal his acceptance of the Trotskyist position. Tellingly, Lenin's change of course was opposed by Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin, who all clung to the old idea of the 'democratic dictatorship' as opposed to socialist revolution. The convergence of Lenin's with Trotsky's position is further demonstrated by his enthusiastic approval of Trotsky joining the Bolshevik party later that year and by the October Revolution itself, a socialist revolution in a backward country, organized by Trotsky. Trotskyists argue that this Stalinist argument mixes up the socialist revolution, which Trotskyists always agreed could happen in backward countries first, with socialist construction, which no Marxist had ever claimed could work in an isolated backward country, before Stalin's change of mind in 1924.

Adding confusion to the debate, support for the Trotskyist position can also be found in words of Lenin as in 1918: "The absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany we shall perish." Followers of Trotsky often contend that indeed the workers state built by the Bolsheviks did perish and that the bureaucratic degeneration and ultimate collapse of projects attempting or claiming to build socialism in the USSR, Eastern Europe, China and elsewhere had failures built in from the time of "Socialism in One Country." - Moreover, Trotskyists also hold that the ideological stance of "Socialism in One Country" led to the muzzling of class struggle by Communist parties in countries outside the USSR in the interests of not antagonizing "democratic" allies of the Soviet Union during the Popular Front era, thus hampering the possibilities of revolution in the industrialized west.

Relation to Leninism

Stalin claimed that his theory of "Socialism in one country" is a further development of Leninism. In his February 14, 1938 Response to Comrade Ivanov ("Ответ товарищу Иванову, Ивану Филиповичу"), formulated as an answer to a question of a "comrade Ivanov" mailed to Pravda newspaper, Stalin splits the question in two parts. The first side of the question is in terms of the internal relations within the Soviet Union: whether it is possible to construct the Socialist Society by defeating the local bourgeoisie and fostering the union of workers and peasants. Stalin quotes Lenin that "we have everything necessary to construct the complete socialism" and claims that despite the claims of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev ("who later became spies and fascist agents", in Stalin's words), the socialist society has for the most part been indeed constructed. The second side of the question is in terms of external relations: whether the victory of the socialism is final, i.e., whether capitalism cannot possibly be restored. Here Stalin cites Lenin that the final victory is possible only on the international scale and only with the help of the workers of other countries.

In other words, Stalin draws a line between the "victory of socialism or the victory of socialist construction in one country" and the "ultimate victory of socialism" stating that the latter problem cannot be solved only by internal efforts.

On the question of socialist construction in a single country, Engels wrote:

"Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?
No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others. Further, it has co-ordinated the social development of the civilized countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them the great struggle of the day. It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries—that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany. It will develop in each of the these countries more or less rapidly, according as one country or the other has a more developed industry, greater wealth, a more significant mass of productive forces. Hence, it will go slowest and will meet most obstacles in Germany, most rapidly and with the fewest difficulties in England. It will have a powerful impact on the other countries of the world, and will radically alter the course of development which they have followed up to now, while greatly stepping up its pace. It is a universal revolution and will, accordingly, have a universal range." – Friedrich Engels, The Principles of Communism, 1847

To this day, the debate over "Socialism in One Country" vs "Permanent Revolution" rages within the Communist movement.


  1. ^ Duncan Hallas The Comintern, chapter 5
  2. ^ The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government by V.I. Lenin (1918). Lenin' Collected Works 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pages 235-77

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