“The Nature of Stalinist Russia”, 1947
Cliff has repeated the thesis of state capitalism in Soviet Russia, which before him was put forward first by Karl Kautsky, then by (Austrian "Marxist") Otto Bauer, and then by the opposition in the Socialist Workers' Party, USA, in late 1930's.
Arguments of Cliff represent a series of sophisms. Some of these sophisms are:
1. A state not under the control of workers cannot be a workers' state. However, Trotsky, in a polemic against the opposition in SWP (USA), has noted that a rule of a class is not always exercised through its direct influence. For example, the rule of the feudal lords has been exercised through a monarchy; the rule of capitalist class has been exercised through the fascist dictatorship, or through the government by "socialist" or "labor" parties. Two recent examples of the last are Germany (the social-democrats in power) and Britain (the Labor party in power). Yet, in spite of the Laborists being in power, no one calls England "a workers state". Similarly for the USSR, only with the opposite sign
2. Cliff asserts that if capitalists came to power in the USSR, they could readily use the existing state apparatus, such as the militia, the state security agencies, and the army. On what basis is such an assertion made? Even though the existing state apparatus of the republics of the former USSR is corrupted, the bureaucrats, by-and-large, adopt a negative posture towards the capitalist class. An example of this can be seen in the widely known hostility adopted by the West towards the prime-minister of Russia Vladimir Putin.
3. Cliff asserts that state forms of property, which dominated in the USSR, do not mean non-capitalist relations. However, we can reply to this by pointing out that for state companies and organizations the main goal of functioning is production of a thing (for example, a missile), or offering a service (for example: a medical treatment), not obtaining a profit. If, in the present period, some state companies function with a goal of obtaining a profit (for example, apartment building companies), they represent a corruption of the original purpose they were created for. People now running these companies syphon the profits for their own private use. However, the biggest state companies, such as the United Power Systems, still run on no profits, even though their heads are super-rich oligarchs.
4. Cliff asserts that the countries of Eastern Europe have gotten a social system similar to the USSR. Hence, either all of these countries are "workers' states" or they are all “state capitalist”, as Cliff believes. Cliff asserts that the countries of Eastern Europe cannot be called "workers states" as there was no workers' revolution in them. However, there was such a revolution in Russia, which has brought this revolution to the countries of Eastern Europe. The USSR has installed "friendly" governments and social systems in the countries of Eastern Europe, similar to its own, and subservient to itself. In this, it is similar to Napoleon who has brought the French revolution to other countries of Western Europe and created "Code Napoleon" which has governed other countries of Europe throughout XIX century.
Arguments of followers of Cliff are used today to justify aggressive politics towards Russia, for example arguing for NATO intervention in the war in Chechnya.