A. It was not because the working class actively ruled in any day-to-day sense. Trotsky said that the bureaucracy was “in the full sense of the word the sole privileged and commanding stratum in the Soviet society”. When Stalin invaded Poland, Trotsky wrote that this amounted to making the people of eastern Poland “semi-slaves” of Stalin, and of the USSR itself he wrote: “Semi-starved workers and collective farmers among themselves whisper with hatred about the spendthrift caprices of rabid commissars...”
b. It was not because the Russian state — even in Russia proper, let alone the Russian state ruling over oppressed nations like the Ukraine — represented the working class. Trotsky advocated the smashing of the state machine, its root-and-branch destruction, and the building of a working-class semi-state, based on democratic soviets from which the former bureaucrats would be excluded.
c. It was not just because Russia had a nationalised economy. It was not that a nationalised economy was automatically or implicitly socialist. The nationalised property was owned by the state which, as Trotsky said, was “owned” by the bureaucratic autocracy.
d. It was not because being a (degenerated) workers’ state was inseparable from being economically progressive. Since 1937 Trotsky had argued that the USSR was progressive because, in contrast to world capitalism, it developed the economy, and he separated that argument from the question of whether it was a workers’ state.
“The antagonism between feudalism and capitalism and the decline of the former has been determined precisely by the fact that the latter opened up new and grandiose possibilities for the stagnating productive forces. The same applies to the USSR. Whatever its modes of exploitation may be, this new society is by its very character superior to capitalist society. There you have the real point of departure for Marxist analysis!”
e. In Trotsky’s last months, the argument was not even that Russia was definitely progressive. He said at the end that it was only conditionally progressive. The nationalised property was progressive on condition that the workers made a new (“political”) revolution.
f. It was not because Russia was not imperialist. While insisting that it would cause political confusion to use the same term, “imperialism”, for predatory monopoly capitalism and the Stalinist system, Trotsky plainly said that Russia was imperialist in the broad sense of the word.
“History has known the ‘imperialism’ of the Roman state based on slave labour, the imperialism of feudal land-ownership, the imperialism of commercial and industrial capital, the imperialism of the Czarist monarchy, etc. The driving force behind the Moscow bureaucracy is indubitably the tendency to expand its power, its prestige, its revenues. This is the element of ‘imperialism’ in the widest sense of the word which was a property in the past of all monarchies, oligarchies, ruling castes, medieval estates and classes”.
g. It was not because the long-standing Marxist programme of self-determination for nations and freedom from colonialism had no application within the USSR. In 1939 Trotsky came out in support of independence for the Ukraine and, implicitly, for other such oppressed nations within the USSR. By doing so he implicitly defined the USSR, within its 1939 borders, as itself an empire, relating to the oppressed nationalities as Tsarism had.