We investigate bifurcation and stability of nonuniform current states at a voltage-controlled current instability. We consider a model which exhibits bulk negative differential conductivity due to Bragg scattering of hot electrons. The system is described by balance equations for momentum and energy densities of the carriers. These transport fields are coupled to Maxwell's equations. The uniform stationary current state is unstable against long-wavelength dielectric relaxation modes at a critical field. We find that the softening of these modes gives rise to a family of periodic travelling waves and to a solitary solution (dipole domain). We show that the periodic travelling waves are unstable, wheras the dipole domain can be stabilized by coupling the sample to a suitable external circuit, if the static impedance of the sample in the domain state is negative. The model describes therefore a discontinuous nonequilibrium transition to a large amplitude domain state. © 1979 Springer-Verlag.