Against “Socialism In One Country”

Internationalism is a fundamental cornerstone of Marxism. However, it is a cornerstone which has been perverted and done away with by many contemporary Marxists- most prominently, Marxist-Leninists and Marxist-Leninist-Maoists. So, what is the principle and why is it fundamental? Why is it to the detriment of the objective goals of the Marxist movement that so many contemporary Marxists have perverted this ideal? In this essay I will explain the difference between true internationalism and socialism in one country, I will explain why internationalism is tactically superior as well as more consistent with Marxist thought, and I will go over common arguments in favor of socialism in one country and demonstrate their lack of logical and empirical credibility.

What is Socialism In One Country?

First, it is important that I distinguish between the positions of internationalism and socialism in one country. The international revolution quite simply can be defined as a simultaneous non exportative international revolution (though to be clear, when I use the word simultaneous I what I mean is that many countries would be working together co operatively to wage revolution at the same time, I am not positing that everywhere in the world would see revolution at the exact same time.) Socialism in one country, on the other hand, is a theory which basically asserts that revolution and the establishment of socialism should first occur in one country, and then that one country should act as a base for the revolution and export revolution elsewhere, supporting other revolutions when they arise, acting as a shimmering light of hope for socialism which would encourage those in other nations to revolt and turn to socialism, etc.

Critique Of Socialism In One Country

Crucial to Marxism is the idea that the class struggle is universal. Once the meaningless and arbitrary barriers of race, nationality, etc have rightfully fallen from consideration, the one truly universal, truly unifying identity is class. This identity is not of little significance- the struggle between classes is, furthermore, the objectively observable driving force of history. The international revolution is, then, the natural and direct expression of this fundamentally universal struggle- for this reason, the international revolution is the only form of organization which correctly reflects the objective conditions of the class struggle. Because the international proletariat is unified in a struggle against the international bourgeoisie, the revolutionary expression of this struggle should be one of the international proletariat, unified in a central organization, against the international bourgeoisie. Socialism in one country, by taking on an exportative character, defies this internationalist principle, and therefore incorrectly expresses the objective conditions of the class struggle by taking on an inherently exportative character. Friedrich Engels clearly argued for this internationalist position, writing in the principles of communism “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 civilised 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 civilised countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them is 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 civilised countries (…) It is a universal revolution and will, accordingly, have a universal range”. Lenin too, understood the dangers of a socialist state in isolation, claiming “It is an absolute truth that without a German revolution we are doomed – perhaps not in Petrograd, not in Moscow, but in Vladivostock, in more remote places to which perhaps we shall have to retreat … At all events, under all conceivable circumstances, if the German revolution does not come, we are doomed.” (Lenin to the seventh congress of the Russian communist party in March 1918). Lenin furthermore went on to state “we shall perish unless we are capable of holding out until we receive powerful support from workers who have risen in revolt in other countries” (Lenin, at a session of the Moscow soviet). On the note of Lenin, there seems to be a very prominent myth among Marxists-Leninists as well as Maoists that Lenin supported socialism in one country- this is not true. The quote which is typically used to support this claim is 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 one capitalist country alone.” (Lenin, on the slogan for a united states of europe.) Lenin was, in this quote referring to the socialist republic as specified later in the paragraph; the socialist republic is the dictatorship of the proletariat (as stated in Lenin’s speech to the third all russia congress of soviets). Furthermore, It’s very widely known that Lenin frequently used the term socialism loosely and incorrectly in his early years due to a complete lack of translated works from the west. He makes it very clear that he was referring to the dictatorship of the proletariat in this quote, for example when he talks about the “victory of socialism” in reference to the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. Another quote which is often used to support this claim is when Lenin asserted that “Revolution is not only possible on a world scale”, (Lenin, speech to the third all Russia congress of soviets). Yes, no supporters of internationalism argue that revolution has to happen everywhere in the world at the same time, to say this quote supports socialism in one country is a straw man and a conflation. It’s also worth noting that in this same exact speech Lenin directly stated that the transition from capitalism to socialism could never be accomplished without the international proletariat, quote, “We are far from having completed even the transitional period from capitalism to socialism. We have never cherished the hope that we could finish it without the aid of the international proletariat.” This assertion by Lenin clearly discredits the claim that he supported socialism being established in one country. The Marxist-Leninist’s tendency to quote this speech merely goes to show that they do not care to read the source of the quotes they miss cite to make their poor arguments. Furthermore, as demonstrated in the first few quotes I cited, Lenin was clearly intelligent enough to understand the dangers of a socialist state in isolation. There are many reasons one socialist state cannot exist in isolation- for example, in order to be successful a nation must successfully participate in the international market- this is completely incompatible with the goals of socialism, and impossible given that to do so would require willing co operation of the international bourgeoisie in the propagation of the success of socialism. Furthermore, given the chaotic nature of modern imperialistic conflict, in order to survive and flourish as a nation you must have support from foreign powers- again, assuming that an isolated socialist nation, or even a few, could achieve this assumes the international bourgeoisie’s willing participation in the propagation of socialism. To see the results of a socialist state in isolation, we merely have to look at the degeneration of the USSR for this very reason- The isolation of Russia gave birth to the growing separation between the workers and the state apparatus: this is exemplified by the forceful suppression of the workers in the case of the Kronstadt workers revolt by the party which was supposed to represent them. In part, this inevitable degeneration stems from the fact that under the implementation of socialism in one country, the focus shifts from the liberation of the international proletariat to the rapid development of the “socialist” country in question- such efficient and swift development, in large part, requires a large degree of authoritarianism, causing a tear within the dialectical relationship between the party and the workers that is crucial to the success of any revolutionary movement. On the USSR and the inevitability of the degeneration of an isolated revolution, the international communist current writes “Within the all important context of the international retreat and the isolation of the Russian revolution the very grave errors of the bolsheviks played their role. These errors must be related to the experience and struggle of the class itself. The error or positive features of a class organization do not fall from the sky or just happen to develop arbitrarily. In the broadest sense they are the reflection of the consciousness of the proletariat as a whole. The Bolshevik party was forced to evolve both theoretically and politically by the upsurge of the Russian proletariat in 1917 and the promise of international events in Germany and elsewhere. The party also reflected the isolation and decimation of the proletariat in the period of the growing victory of the counter revolution. Whether we deal with the Bolsheviks or the Sparticists or any political organization as a whole, faced with the new tasks of the period of decadence following the first world war, their incomplete understanding provided the groundwork for grievous political errors. Because there is no possibility of socialism in one country, the question of the degeneration of the Russian revolution is above all a question of the international defeat of the working class.” We can see therefore through what mechanism isolation poisons the theoretical foundation of the revolution as well. Moreover, similar to what Engels argues, all societies which today comprise global capitalist society are, given the current material conditions, inextricably linked and interconnected to one another- they are, by all means, components of a totality, entirely dependent on the activity of one another. The revisionist view, that which considers different countries atomized independent agents thus justifying the view that they must see revolutions at different times and that revolution can realistically take place in countries by themselves in an isolated fashion, is therefore based on a fundamentally undialectical analysis of the current material conditions. Global capitalist society is a totality, and totalities in which every component are dependent upon one another ought to be tackled in their totality- this basic dialectical observation directly contradicts the revisionist theorists who tout the theory of socialism in one country. There also seems to be this idealistic and completely ignorant idea among Marxist-Leninists as well as Maoists that if a socialist state was developed in one country, it would act as a shimmering light of hope which will show the glory and success of socialism, driving other countries to follow their lead- this notion is so shallow minded and un-marxist it should embarrass anybody who uses this as a legitimate argument. This argument completely disregards the roll of ideology in shaping the thoughts of the masses. Essentially, ideology is a false consciousness which exists within the masses to be reproduced in order to propagate bourgeois power structures. In assuming the capability of the people to, on their own, recognize a successful socialist country and decide they want socialism now, the revisionists assume a level of ideological autonomy which just doesn’t exist in modern bourgeois society. Furthermore, it’s these same revisionists who posit that the USSR was an example of a successful socialist utopia- it is at this point that the revisionist has trapped themself in their own inconsistency- for, if the USSR truly was a successful socialist Utopia, given the fact that most Americans were still (and still are) propagandized to hate the USSR, this must prove my point that even if there is a successful socialist state, the roll of ideology prevents the people from realizing it. In order to deny the argument that ideology would not play this roll and prevent this from happening, the revisionist must concede that the USSR was not an example of successful socialism- once this admission is made, an honest look into why this is very quickly and obviously reveals the cause to be the isolated state of the revolution- this logical series of realizations shatters the entire ideological foundation of our revisionist subject. Furthermore, besides this notion being discounted by the realization of the roll of ideology, we can further discount this argument by pointing to the fact that it relies on the premise that a socialist state in isolation can be a successful glimmer of hope. This premise, however, is invalidated by reasons presented earlier: a socialist state in isolation leads to degeneration because of the dependence on foreign military powers, the necessity of performing well in the international market, the tear in the dialectical relationship between the people and those that represent them which is the result of the tendency towards extreme and rapid development which is inherent to the theory of socialism in one country, the poisoning of the theoretical foundation of the reflection of the class consciousness of the people which is the direct result of isolation and a direct cause of degeneration, etc. The detriments faced by a revolutionary state in isolation are too many to count. The theory of socialism in one country is therefore not the path to socialism, it is the path to the degeneration of the workers movement. The international revolution, on the other hand, is the objective expression of the conditions of the class struggle, is based on a dialectical analysis which understands global capitalist society as a totality and understands the need to address it as such, is tactically superior in its realization of the dangers of an isolated revolutionary state, etc.

In Defense Of Internationalism- Responding To Arguments For Revisionism

To combat the Marxist view, revisionists argue that a simultaneous international revolution is idealistic- they point, for example, to the failure of the first international revolutionary wave as evidence of this. However, essential to Marxism is the assertion that material conditions are always changing. With changing material conditions so too should change our approach to achieving revolution. An examination of the material conditions of capitalism during the time of the first international wave is therefore necessary to honestly examine this issue. During the first international revolutionary wave capitalism was undergoing a period of extreme growth, and reform was a strong emphasis of the workers movements of the time. This made the revolutionary parties of that period very susceptible to opportunism and capitulation to the capitalist system.  Furthermore this opportunism was able to flourish because of flawed organizational structures within the communist parties and the lack of strong theoretical development within them. Therefore what we see is that this failure was not only circumstantial but could be prevented by stronger organizational structure and theoretically developed parties in future revolutions. Furthermore, appeals to the failure of the first international wave which Marxist-Leninists use to justify the necessity of socialism in one country fails to make the argument which they want it to make- if the initial failure of a revolutionary tactic immediately invalidates it, then the tactic of socialism in one country is by the same criteria invalidated, based on the objective failure of the implementation of this tactic to bring about the international socialist revolution, which, as even Stalin said, is the goal of socialism in one country. In fact, if failure in initial implementation is evidence of unworkability, the peddlers of this argument have trapped themselves as their logic clearly dismantles the efficiency of their own proposal- it is true, after all, that the number of times socialism has been established in one country in this manner and has failed to bring about the international communist movement (the objective goal of socialism, even to those who believe in this theory), far exceeds the number of simultaneous international revolutions which have failed to achieve this same goal. There is no communist who should by any means be persuaded by the argument “it has failed and therefore should be considered unworkable”, as it is objectively the case that the emergence of each new epoch is met with initial failure- the same is true for capitalism and feudalism alike, which failed in implementation several times before becoming the prevailing system. To further validate their revisionist ideas, Marxist-Leninists and Marxist-Leninist-Maoists posit the argument that because different nations evolve and develop at different rates and so on, these nations should naturally reach revolution at different rates- these revisionists posit that to view all nations as the same and subsequently to hold the view that they should all see revolution simultaneously, is unrealistic and doesn’t take into account the material conditions of each individual nation. This is, of course, demonstrably false. In fact, as stated earlier and supported by Engels, an overview of the objective conditions of global capitalism finds that the activities of each individual country are inextricably linked to one another. Such an argument which is posited by revisionists completely ignores the level of coordination of development which has accompanied the actualization of global capitalist society. In fact, all of the major crisis’ which instill within a population revolutionary potential, are inherently global. Take for example, the Great Depression, mass recession, mass displacement of workers due to technology, etc- these are the events which have historically led to revolutionary potential and class consciousness- all of these crisis’ are by their very nature global, and affect all countries. Moreover, the fact that countries develop at different rates does not in any way negate the interconnectedness of the international proletariat and the universal nature of the class struggle. Furthermore, even the most well off advanced countries, the ones which most posit are less likely to revolt because of their less severe conditions, have in the past had extreme revolutionary potential which very well could have been actualized given stronger, more theoretically developed and properly organized Marxist parties. Therefore, even if we grant this premise that countries are ready for revolution at different times, we can see empirically that this is no longer a relevant argument, because as we’ve seen, nations at every stage of development have at some point shown extreme revolutionary potential which given the right theoretical approach could have been actualized. We therefore see that the weakness of this argument is such that even granted an incorrect premise, it still fails to demonstrate its relevance and effectiveness given the current conditions of global capitalism.  Those who defend the tactic of “socialism in one country”, furthermore, often claim the theoretical superiority of their proposal by appealing to its “historical success”. They claim that because socialism in one country actually lead to the establishment of “socialism” in some nations, this means the tactic is more successful than internationalism. However, this is blatantly untrue. According to Stalin himself, the originator of this theory, the goal of socialism in one country, is the establishment of a global communist society- however, despite the establishment of “socialism” (more accurately these nations should be considered dictatorships of the proletariat, if even that) in one country on multiple occasions, this goal was never reached- a tactic which has continually failed to bring about its intended goal can hardly be praised for its “success”.


In conclusion, the Stalinist view of socialism in one country is impractical, shallow, undialectical, and contradictory of core Marxist principles. This egregious perversion of Marxism should be considered yet another trend in revisionism and rooted out as consideration in any serious Marxist movement. Socialism in one country is tactically unsound and incoherent, has demonstrated its self destructive nature several times throughout history, and is based on undialectical and unmarxist analysis. The International Revolution is by all means tactically and theoretically superior, and more consistent with Marxist thought and Marxist principles. This is perhaps why almost every serious Marxist thinker advocates for the international revolution- from Marx, to Engels, to Luxemburg, to Lenin, to Bordiga.

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