The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.63/No.16           April 26, 1999 
The Transitional Program For Socialist Revolution  

The following excerpts are from the introduction by Joseph Hansen to The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution. The Transitional Program - originally titled "The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International" - was drafted by Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky in 1938 as the program for the founding congress of the Fourth International, the international organization of communist forces at that time. The book includes not only the text of the Transitional Program, but also transcripts of discussions and articles about it by Leon Trotsky.

In his introduction, Hansen explains the continuity of the Transitional Program to the Communist Manifesto drafted by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in 1847-48, and to the Bolshevik party and Communist International under the leadership of V.I. Lenin into the early 1920s.

The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution is copyright (c) 1977 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.

It thus fell to the Bolsheviks to revive the concept of transitional measures and to put it to use in Russia. Lenin's article "The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It," written in September 1917, illustrates his approach on this question.

In face of economic chaos and the worsening threat of famine resulting from Russia's involvement in the First World War, Lenin proposed five general measures:

A noteworthy aspect of these proposals is their reasonable nature. They are far removed from the declamations that ultraleft firebrands might have thought appropriate to the situation.... Propaganda of this kind dovetailed with the situation and had a powerful effect in winning the masses to the program of the Bolsheviks.

In power, the Bolsheviks were not given much opportunity to apply transitional measures. Faced with widespread sabotage by the capitalists and those under their influence, they had to proceed faster than they wished. One of the consequences was the necessity to make a retreat later on. This was undertaken under the New Economic Policy, which permitted an expansion of small-scale commodity production, particularly in the countryside.

The first four congresses of the Communist International, which codified and amplified the Bolshevik positions on many subjects, did not draw up a transitional program as such....

Despite the absence of theses or resolutions dealing specifically with transitional measures in a comprehensive way, the thinking of the Bolsheviks on this subject was nonetheless evident in the first four congresses. The "Theses on Tactics" adopted by the Third Congress refers to the "character of the transitional epoch" that makes it obligatory for all Communist parties to raise to the utmost their readiness for struggle. "Any struggle may turn into a struggle for power."

"The most important question before the Communist International today," the theses state, "is to win predominating influence over the majority of the working class, and to bring its decisive strata into struggle." ...

Workers' control of production was considered by the authors of the theses to be the key slogan:

Every practical slogan which derives from the economic needs of the working masses must be channelled into the struggle for control of production, not as a plan for the bureaucratic organization of the national economy under the capitalist regimes but through the factory councils and revolutionary trade unions. Only by building such organizations, linked together by industry and area, can the struggle of the working masses be organizationally unified and resistance put up to the splitting of the masses by social-democracy and the trade union leaders. The factory councils will accomplish these tasks only if they arise in the struggles for economic ends which are common to the broadest working masses.

The document takes up the charge that it is reformist to advance immediate or transitional demands:

Every objection to the putting forward of such partial demands, every charge of reformism on this account, is an emanation of the same inability to grasp the essential conditions of revolutionary action as was expressed in the hostility of some communist groups to participation in the trade unions, or to making use of parliament. It is not a question of proclaiming the final goal to the proletariat, but of intensifying the practical struggle which is the only way of leading the proletariat to the struggle for the final goal.... The revolutionary character of the present epoch consists precisely in this, that the most modest conditions of life for the working masses are incompatible with the existence of capitalist society, and that therefore the fight for even the most modest demands grows into the fight for communism.

The document takes up other tasks -the need to appeal to the unemployed ("in present circumstances the army of the unemployed is a revolutionary factor of immense significance"), the need to press for "joint action in the struggle for the immediate interests of the proletariat," the need to prepare to meet the attack of the capitalists with adequate defense organizations. The latter point is of special interest....

Three kinds of demands are advanced in the Transitional Program. It is important to understand what they have in common and wherein they differ.

Immediate demands involve the day-to-day defense and improvement of the standard of living of the masses; i.e., the issues that give rise to the most elementary form of defensive organization of the masses -militant unions. This is the ground level for revolutionists. Participation at this level of struggle is the prerequisite for everything else. Battles over the standard of living of the masses derive their current acuteness from the growing incapacity of capitalism on a world scale to guarantee even food to its wage slaves.

Democratic demands involve the defense and extension of the right to organize independently on both the economic and political levels. Democratic demands are of special importance in the struggle against the retrogressive tendency in modern capitalism to suppress democracy, set up totalitarian regimes, and crush the organizations of the masses. The logical extension of the proletarian struggle for democracy is the establishment of democracy in the economy itself.

Transitional demands are of a broader scope. They are based on the incapacity of capitalism to provide for the needs of the working class as a whole. They stress the feasibility of meeting those demands in a society constructed on a rational basis. On the economic level, transitional demands point toward the planned economy of socialism. On the political level, they center on the need for the workers to establish their own government. Concomitantly they outline the measures required to assure putting such a government in power against the reactionary resistance of the small minority holding a vested interest in the preservation of capitalism.

The three sets of demands express the objective needs of the working class in face of the economic, social, and political realities of the capitalist world....

Whether the struggle centers around immediate, democratic, or transitional demands, revolutionary Marxists promulgate methods of battle in which the proletariat is strongest; i.e., utilization of its strategic position in the economic system and mobilization of its numbers on a mass scale.

It should be observed that in the struggle for socialism, immediate, democratic, and transitional demands are but means to an end. In fighting for immediate demands, for instance, the workers gain organizational cohesiveness and battle experience of prime importance in more far-reaching struggles.

However, only as they gain consciousness of their interests as a class do workers take the goal of socialism as their own and begin utilizing the means open to them to achieve that goal....

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