The Transitional Programme

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Leon Trotsky was a key figure in the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 and later went on to become leader of the Red Army. He also formed the left opposition against Stalin. He was exiled in February 1929, however he continued to oppose the policies of Stalin which were highly repressive and led to the deformed workers’ state which Soviet Russia descended into.

One of Trotsky’s key works, the Transitional Programme: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International has remained a key text of many Socialists since it was first published in 1938. This is for a number of reasons.

It is firstly useful as a historical document as it lays out some of Trotsky’s reflections on some of the challenges and conditions the Bolsheviks faced during and immediately after the revolution of October 1917. It also goes on to look at some of the developments in Russia and across Europe right up to the rise of fascism.

Even though the Transitional Programme was written 75 years ago there are a lot of similarities that can be drawn between the political and economic landscape of the 1930’s and today especially when looking at the rise of fascism in Greece right now and the economic turmoil faced by much of the Western World.

The Bourgeoisie or ruling classes face a crisis of Capitalism as it becomes more and more clear that Capitalism is displaying contradictions which will never be overcome unless there is a revolutionary change in the way we organise our economy.

The austerity measures and dismantling of the welfare state are ideologically driven attacks on the proletariat or working-classes of Britain to squeeze profits out of public services by privatising them. This is an attempt to keep extracting profits as a means to keep Capitalism going which Trotsky highlights create the prerequisites to a Proletarian Revolution. This is because, as we’re seeing in contemporary society Capitalism enters into what Trotsky highlights as a blind alley. One need only look at the rising unemployment figures, the dips into recession and the lowering of living standards to see that Capitalism is not sustainable.

Trotsky’s Transitional Programme highlights some of the problems faced by the Russian Proletariat which we can certainly appreciate today such as the crisis of Proletarian leadership. While we can see that the Trade Union movement is the most likely vehicle for a mass movement of working-class people due to their democratic and organised structure, we do not take an uncritical approach to Trade Unions.

As highlighted in the recent Falkirk incident whereby Unite influenced a Labour candidate selection and have subsequently been turned over to the police, there is a problem of Proletarian leadership. This is due to Trotsky’s notion of petty-bourgeois cowardice being exhibited in Len Mcluskey’s unwillingness to break away from a party that clearly no longer represents the class-interests of working-class people.

Trade Unions also face the problem that their leadership is generally bureaucratic in nature and trade union leaders are on wages which are closer to that of the bosses than the workers. To be the leader of a trade union which has no disputes is the easiest job in the world because effectively there is nothing to do, this coupled with their high pay often puts Trade Union leaders on opposing sides to Trade Union members when it comes to the class struggle.

I, myself have been witness to the bureaucracy of my Unite union which at best suggests incompetence and at worst suggests bureaucratic sabotage. However, that will only change by affecting change from below within the union and the formation of rank and file organisations such as the National Shop Stewards Network which can levy pressure on the leadership.

The transitional programme is also certainly worth reading as it goes into detail about the problems of famine faced by the Bolsheviks, the criticisms of the idea of Socialism in one country and also goes into detail about the formation of workers’ councils or to use the Russian; Soviets.

The other part of the Transitional Programme which is makes it a key read for any member of the Socialist Party is the Transitional Method which Trotsky developed, which the Socialist Party has adopted.  You will sometimes hear the Socialist Party being referred to as a “Trotskyist” Party and it is because we use the Transitional Method as a means to help develop the consciousness of working-class people.

Trotsky discussed the idea of a Minimum/Maximum programme and its limitations when looking at the contradiction between the objective maturity of conditions for a socialist revolution and the immaturity of the Proletariat. If one was to run out into the street shouting “Emancipate the Proletariat” most people would think one had gone mad. Likewise, if Socialism is put forward as a way to oppose the bedroom tax it probably would not get very far either as most people would not be aware of the relevance of a Socialist transformation of society unless they are educated in political theory.

It is for this reason that Trotsky developed the transitional method, to bridge the gap between the everyday struggles of workers and the goal of the Socialist Revolution. Within this framework, there are three kinds of demands that the transitional method consists of.

These are immediate demands, democratic demands and transitional demands. Immediate demands are just that, demands that can be made presently in everyday class-struggle. A good example of an immediate demand would be a call for the scrapping of the bedroom tax.

Then there are democratic demands. These challenge the accountability and openness of bourgeois democracy. A call for the opening of the books and an end to Capitalist business secrets would be an example of this kind of demand.

Finally, there are transitional demands; these are demands which would attack the bases of the bourgeois regime and expose the contradictions of Capitalism which the bourgeoisie would be unable to satisfy without relinquishing a degree of their power and wealth.

With reference to the example of the bedroom tax, calling for the building of more social housing could be considered as a transitional demand. This is because it is based in the everyday struggle of working-class people but calls upon the ruling class to build more housing which would eat into their closely guarded profits, thereby exposing the failures of Capitalism and demonstrating to working-class people their class position and need for education, organisation and mobilisation as a class against a class that is already organised and mobilises against their interests.

It is also worth noting that these demands have no set definition as an immediate or democratic demand can quickly become a transitional demand in the right circumstances. For example, demanding that the Capitalists open their books could create a great deal of anger when the obscenity of their profit extraction is juxtaposed to the meagre wages earned by the exploited Proletariat.

By putting forward a mixture of these demands Socialists can chip away at the hypocrisies of the likes of New Labour who have compromised themselves by trying to reform Capitalism. It is also by putting forward transitional demands that we expose the economic wealth and power of the bourgeoisie and by working as a vanguard party willing to struggle on the front-lines with all working-class people, we can embolden working-class people not just to defend the morsel of bread which the ruling classes want to deprive them of but to demand peace, land bread and power to the soviets!

If you would like to read the Transitional Programme, which I strongly recommend you do you can purchase it from here:

 

http://leftbooks.co.uk/epages/950002679.sf/en_GB/?ObjectID=2333802

 

Alternatively you can buy it from your local branch of the Socialist Party. Here is a list of branches to find a branch near you:

 

http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/17104/15-07-2013/socialist-party-branches

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2 Comments

  1. Oi, my copyright’s expired. I’ve been dead for a while now you know. Try http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/index.htm

    • Thanks for this Lev. You can of course read the Transitional Programme for free although the version I have advertised contains a 20 page introduction written by Peter Taaffe which applies the transitional method to current events. Also, by buying it from the Socialist Book shop it has the added bonus of providing a little bit of financial support to help us with our campaign work. Thanks for the link!


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