Socialism in One Country

Socialism in One Country (Russian: социализм в одной стране, tr. sotsializm v odnoi strane) was a theory put forth by Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin in 1924 which was eventually adopted by the Soviet Union as state policy.[1] The theory held that given the defeat of all the communist revolutions in Europe in 1917–1923 except Russia, the Soviet Union should begin to strengthen itself internally. That turn toward national communism was a shift from the previously held position by classical Marxism that socialism must be established globally (world communism). However, proponents of the theory argue that it contradicts neither world revolution nor world communism. The theory was in opposition to Leon Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution.


The defeat of several proletarian revolutions in countries like Germany and Hungary ended Bolsheviks' 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 Vladimir Lenin's idea that revolution in one country is insufficient. Lenin died in January 1924 and by the end of that year in the second edition of the book Stalin's position started to turn around as he claimed 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 Soviet Union adopted socialism in one country as state policy after Stalin's January 1926 article On the Issues of Leninism. 1925–1926 signaled a shift in the immediate activity of the Comintern (the Communist International) from world revolution towards a defense of the Soviet state. This period was known up to 1928 as the "Second Period", mirroring the shift in the Soviet Union from war communism to the New Economic Policy.[2] In his 1915 article "On the Slogan for a United States of Europe", Lenin had written:

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.

In 1918, Lenin 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.[3]

After Lenin's death, Stalin used these quotes and others to argue that Lenin shared his view of socialism in one country. Grigory Zinoviev and Leon Trotsky vigorously criticized the theory of socialism in one country. 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[4] 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. At the Seventh Congress in March 1918, Lenin explained:

Regarded from the world-historical point of view, there would doubtlessly be no hope of the ultimate victory of our revolution if it were to remain alone, if there were no revolutionary movements in other countries [...] I repeat, our salvation from all these difficulties is an all Europe revolution [...] At all events, under all conceivable circumstances, if the German revolution does not come, we are doomed.

However, proponents of socialism in one country assert that though initially optimistic about the prospect of a communist revolution in Germany (which eventually never came), Lenin had strongly opposed banking solely on Western European revolutions to come to the rescue of the beleaguered Russian communists that too at such a definite and early date. They assert that Lenin had advocated a more pragmatic path for the revolution and its pilot, the R.C.P (B), that was based on building a close alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry (the proletariat being in the lead) and construction of complete socialism in Russia whilst patiently awaiting and aiding the class struggle to first mature around the world before a proletarian revolution on a worldwide scale is made plausible.

To support this assertion, they quote Lenin's own words at the selfsame Seventh Congress in March 1918:

Yes, we shall see the world revolution, but for the time being it is a very good fairy-tale, a very beautiful fairy-tale—I quite understand children liking beautiful fairy-tales. But I ask, is it proper for a serious revolutionary to believe in fairy-tales? There is an element of reality in every fairy-tale. If you told children fairy-tales in which the cock and the cat did not converse in human language they would not be interested. In the same way, if you tell the people that civil war will break out in Germany and also guarantee that instead of a clash with imperialism we shall have a field revolution on a world-wide scale, the people will say you are deceiving them. In doing this you will be overcoming the difficulties with which history has confronted us only in your own minds, by your own wishes. It will be a good thing if the German proletariat is able to take action. But have you measured it, have you discovered an instrument that will show that the German revolution will break out on such-and-such a day? [...] If the revolution breaks out, everything is saved. Of course! But if it does not turn out as we desire, if it does not achieve victory tomorrow—what then? Then the masses will say to you, you acted like gamblers—you staked everything on a fortunate turn of events that did not take place, you proved to be unequal to the situation that actually arose instead of the world revolution, which will inevitably come, but which has not yet reached maturity[5]

They also cite his 1918 "Letter to American Workers" in which he wrote:

We are banking on the inevitability of the world revolution, but this does not mean that we are such fools as to bank on the revolution inevitably coming on a definite and early date.

Joseph Stalin

Stalin presented the theory of socialism in one country as a further development of Leninism based on Lenin's aforementioned quotations.

In his 14 February 1938 Response to Comrade Ivanov, formulated as an answer to a question of a "comrade Ivanov" mailed to Pravda newspaper, Stalin splits the question in two parts.[6] 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 the socialist society has for the most part been indeed constructed. The second side of the question is in terms of external relations and 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.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

On the question of socialist construction in a single country, Friedrich 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 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, Principles of Communism, 1847

However, a year later Karl Marx and Engels claimed:

The Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationalities. The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.

—Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848

In 1882, Marx and Engels wrote:

If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.

—Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, preface to the Russian edition, 1882

The slogan was parodied in the novel Moscow 2042, where "Communism in one city" was built.

See also


  1. Stalin, Joseph (December 17, 1925). "October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists". Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
  2. Duncan Hallas. The Comintern. "Chapter 5".
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. V.I Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 27. pp. 101–09.
  6. Stalin, Joseph (1938). "On the Final Victory of Socialism in the U.S.S.R." Marxist Internet Archive. Retrieved December 16, 2016.

Further reading

  • Ruth Fischer; John C. Leggett (2006). "Socialism in one country". Stalin and German Communism: A Study in the Origins of the State Party. Social Science Classics (2nd reprint ed.). Transaction Publishers. pp. 471–496. ISBN 0-87855-822-5. 
  • The Theory of Socialism in One Country; Max Shachtman. 
  • Concerning questions of Leninism
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