RSP Program report
By Doug Lorimer
[The following report was presented to the June 5-6, 2010 RSP National Committee plenum. The report and proposed amendments were referred by the NC to the written PCD.]
Comrades, at the founding congress of the RSP I presented a report motivating a proposal to drop from the Program of the RSP the idea of “transitional demands”. At this NC meeting, I am presenting a specific set of amendments to the RSP Program in line with that motivation for consideration during the pre-congress discussion, and for vote at the Second RSP Congress.
In the congress report, I pointed out that the proposal to drop the term and concept of “transitional demands” is an important programmatic issue that deserves serious consideration, not because large sections of our existing program are devoted to it or because we are faced with a level of class struggle and radicalisation where party agitation on so-called transitional demands might win us large numbers of new members and propel any significant section of the working class to a higher level of struggle. I pointed out that its importance for us today lies in educating ourselves and the vanguard elements that we can influence outside the party in a consistent Marxist-Leninist approach to imbuing the working class with revolutionary socialist politics. The more successful we are in doing that, the more will we advance toward our goal of building a mass revolutionary socialist party armed with the correct, that is scientifically grounded, strategic line and tactical options.
Trotsky on ‘transitional demands’
I pointed out that the idea of “transitional demands” has largely been inherited by us from the Trotskyist movement that we originated from. In 1938, Trotsky drafted a programmatic document for the founding congress of the Fourth International, a document that subsequently became known among Trotskyists as the Transitional Program, in which he wrote: “It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”
In a May 19, 1938 discussion with a leadership delegation from the US Socialist Workers Party, Trotsky defined what he meant by “transitional demands”, stating: “Not one of our demands will be realised under capitalism. That is why we are calling them transitional demands. It creates a bridge to the mentality of the workers and then a material bridge to the socialist revolution. The whole question is how to mobilise the masses for struggle.” But when Trotsky came to present what might be thought of as concrete examples of “transitional demands”, he referred to them as both demands ― i.e., specific calls for measures to be implemented by the capitalists or their government ―and as slogans encapsulating what Marxists advocate the working class itself implement in a revolutionary crisis to challenge capitalist power in both the workplace and the nation as a whole. I cited as an example Trotsky’s statement in the Transitional Program that “The slogan of soviets … crowns the program of transitional demands”, noting that soviets are not organisations revolutionary socialists demand that the capitalist rulers create. Rather, they are organisations of struggle and power that we seek to have the working masses themselves create. As Trotsky himself explained in the Transitional Program, “Soviets can arise only at the time when the mass movement enters into an openly revolutionary stage. From the first moment of their appearance, the soviets, acting as a pivot around which millions of toilers are united in their struggle against the exploiters, become competitors and opponents of local authorities and then of the central government.”
I went on in my congress report to note that Trotsky, contrary to his May 1938 statement, acknowleged that the slogan of soviets was realisable, at least temporarily, under capitalist rule. In the Transitional Program, he pointed out that their realisation under capitalist rule would give rise to a situation of dual power, as had occurred in Russia in 1917. This was how he posed it in the Transitional Program: “Two regimes, the bourgeois and the proletarian, are irreconcilably opposed to each other. Conflict between them is inevitable. The fate of society depends on the outcome. Should the revolution be defeated, the fascist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie will follow. In the case of victory, the power of the soviets, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist reconstruction of society.”
The organisation of soviets, as I pointed out in a PCD article prior to the congress was only one example of Trotsky confounding “transitional slogans” (i.e., slogans summing up steps, measures, tasks Marxists advocate be carried out by the working class in order to challenge and overturn capitalist rule and the domination of capitalist property relations) with demands (i.e., reforms Marxists advocate the working class seek to have the capitalist rulers implement). Thus, in a April 1938 discussion with a US SWP delegation, Trotsky argued that “we must have a program of transitional demands, the most complete of them is a workers’ and farmers’ government”. I noted that presenting the idea of a “workers’ and farmers’ government” as a demand to be addressed to and realised by the capitalist rulers would be a reformist deception, reinforcing workers’ illusions in bourgeois politicians, rather than educating them in the necessity, as Lenin put it in 1917, “to depend entirely on their own strength, their own organisation, their own unity, and their own weapons”.
In the congress report, I pointed out that in his May 1938 discussion with the US SWP leadership delegation, Trotsky claimed the concept of a “program of transitional demands” was not his invention but was “derived from the long experience of the Bolsheviks”. However, neither before. nor during, nor after 1917 did the Bolsheviks carry out propaganda and agitation for a program of “transitional demands”, demands that the capitalist rulers should implement measures transitional to socialism. I pointed out that this did not mean that the Bolsheviks did not struggle for reforms. In the midst of the first inter-imperialist world war, for example, Lenin argued that, “Socialists do not refuse to fight for reform. Even now, for example, they must vote in parliament for improvements, however slight, in the condition of the masses, for increased relief to the inhabitants of the devastated areas, for the lessening of national oppression, etc. But [Lenin added] it is sheer bourgeois deception to preach reforms as a solution for problems for which history and the actual political situation demand revolutionary solutions.”
I pointed out that during the revolutionary situation in Russia in 1917, the Bolsheviks carried out propaganda for a program of measures to combat the impending famine in Russia, measures such as the nationalisation of the banks, abolition of commercial secrecy, the nationalisation of the capitalist marketing syndicates, and workers’ control of production, i.e., workers’ supervision of the capitalist management of industry. But the Bolsheviks did not put these measures forward as demands upon individual capitalists or their Provisional Government, as measures that the working people should pressure the capitalist rulers to implement. Rather, the Bolsheviks stressed over and over again in their propaganda and agitation that the realisation of these measures would only serve the working people’s interests if political power were transferred from the Provisional Government to a working people’s government, a government based upon the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies. Furthermore, they argued that the implementation of these measures by a working people’s government would constitute “steps toward socialism”.
In 1917 the Bolsheviks combined propaganda for the transitional measures they advocated, with agitation for the workers, soldiers and peasants to effect a revolutionary transition to a working people’s government. They summed up their immediate program of action to combat the impending wartime famine, to end imperialist Russia’s participation in World War I and to abolish Russia’s semi-feudal landed estate system with two agitational or mobilising slogans: “Bread, peace and land!” and, most importantly, “All power to the soviets!”
Comintern and transitional slogans
In an earlier NC report, I pointed out that in his report on the resolution “On Tactics” to the Communist International’s Third Congress, held in 1921, Karl Radek, speaking for the Bolshevik-led Comintern executive committee, singled out two slogans that the Communist parties should conduct propaganda and mass agitation for in an ascending revolutionary tide. The first was “workers’ control of production”. Radek pointed out that “one must try to lead all struggles over wage rises, over working hours, against unemployment towards the intermediate aim of control over production, not towards the system of production, control effected by the government, by passing a law, which the proletariat has then to respect, that the worker does not steal, and the capitalist has to watch that the worker works. Control over production means education in proletarian struggle, all factory organisations to be subject to elections, their local and district-wide connection on the basis of industrial groups in the proletarian struggle.”
Radek named “the arming of the proletariat, the disarming of the bourgeoisie” as the second slogan, drawing the following general conclusion: “One could mention even more slogans of that type. I will not do so. They grow out of the practical struggle. What we say to you, give to you as a general slogan, as a general orientation is, not to counterpose yourselves to the proletariat in all the struggles, which the masses undertake, but to sharpen, to extend the struggles of the masses for their practical necessities, and to teach them to have greater necessities: the necessity to conquer power.”
These two slogans, by their nature, were conceived of as conveying tasks to be accomplished by the working class in a revolutionary situation, not demands to be addressed to capitalist governments. I pointed out that, if fought for by a mass revolutionary movement and partially realised, even before the working class had conquered political power, they would weaken capitalist rule in the workplaces and the bourgeois state power, and provide the workers with organisations capable of carrying out a revolutionary struggle for power ― factory committees and a workers’ militia. The partial realisation of these measures against the resistance of the bourgeoisie, and the attempt to extend them, would pose the question of power in its full extent. They were thus “transitional slogans”, conveying the key tasks to be accomplished by the workers in making a transition from “struggles of the masses for their practical necessities” to the struggle for power.
I also noted that the resolution “On Tactics” adopted by the same Comintern congress mixed up the idea of such “transitional slogans” with the concept of “demands” to be addressed to the capitalists and their governments. However, at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in November 1922, the Russian delegation (consisting of Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Radek and Bukharin) issued a statement that that sought to clarify this. It declared: “The dispute over how the transitional demands should be formulated and in which section of the program they should be included has awakened a completely erroneous impression that there exists a principled difference. In light of this, the Russian delegation unanimously confirms that the drawing up of transitional slogans in the programs of the national sections and their general formulation and theoretical motivation in the general section of the program cannot be interpreted as opportunism.” (My emphasis.)
When the draft program of the Comintern was presented to the Sixth Comintern Congress in 1928 it made no mention of “transitional demands”. Bukharin was the main leader of the Comintern responsible for writing the Comintern’s program. Trotsky wrote a lengthy critique of the draft program, centred on its promotion of the Stalin-Bukharin theory of “socialism in one country” [See http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1928/3rd/index.htm]. He also criticised the section of the draft dealing with “The Fundamental Tasks of Communist Strategy and Tactics”, not so much for what it contained, but for what it left out, i.e., an assessment of the opportunist errors imposed by the Comintern leadership on various Communist parties during the previous six years.
Much of this section of the Comintern program was a reiteration of the key ideas approved at the first four Comintern congresses. Taking account of the statement issued by the Russian delegation at the Fourth Congress, this section of the program contained an elaboration of the issue of “transitional slogans”. While it is a little lengthy, I think it is useful to quote it.
“In determining its line of tactics, each Communist Party must take into account the concrete internal and external situation, the co-relation of class forces, the degree of stability and strength of the bourgeoisie, the degree of preparedness of the proletariat, the position taken up by the various intermediary strata, etc., in its country. The Party determines slogans and methods of struggle in accordance with these circumstances, with the view to organising and mobilising the masses on the broadest possible scale and on the highest possible level of this struggle.
“When a revolutionary situation is developing, the Party advances certain transitional slogans and partial demands corresponding to the concrete situation; but these demands and slogans must be bent to the revolutionary aim of capturing power and of overthrowing bourgeois capitalist society. The Party must neither stand aloof from the daily needs and struggles of the working class nor confine its activities exclusively to them. The task of the Party is to utilise these minor everyday needs as a starting point from which to lead the working class to the revolutionary struggle for power.
“When the revolutionary tide is rising, when the ruling classes are disorganised, the masses are in a state of revolutionary ferment, the intermediary strata are inclining towards the proletariat and the masses are ready for action and for sacrifice, the Party of the proletariat is confronted with the task of leading the masses to a direct attack upon the bourgeois State. This it does by carrying on propaganda in favour of increasingly radical transitional slogans (for Soviets, workers’ control of industry, for peasant committees, for the seizure of the big landed properties, for disarming the bourgeoisie and arming the proletariat, etc.), and by organising mass action, upon which all branches of Party agitation and propaganda, including parliamentary activity, must be concentrated. This mass action includes: strikes; a combination of strikes and demonstrations; a combination of strikes and armed demonstrations and finally, the general strike conjointly with armed insurrection against the State power of the bourgeoisie. The latter form of struggle, which is the supreme form, must be conducted according to the rules of war; it presupposes a plan of campaign, offensive fighting operations and unbounded devotion and heroism on the part of the proletariat. An absolutely essential condition precedent for this form of action is the organisation of the broad masses into militant units, which, by their very form, embrace and set into action the largest possible numbers of toilers (Councils of Workers’ Deputies, Soldiers’ Councils, etc.), and intensified revolutionary work in the army and the navy.
“In passing over to new and more radical slogans, the Parties must be guided by the fundamental role of the political tactics of Leninism, which call for ability to lead the masses to revolutionary positions in such a manner that the masses may, by their own experience, convince themselves of the correctness of the Party line. Failure to observe this rule must inevitably lead to isolation from the masses, to putschism, to the ideological degeneration of Communism into ‘leftist’ dogmatism, and to petty bourgeois ‘revolutionary’ adventurism. Failure to take advantage of the culminating point in the development of the revolutionary situation, when the Party of the proletariat is called upon to conduct a bold and determined attack upon the enemy, is not less dangerous. To allow that opportunity to slip by and to fail to start rebellion at that point, means to allow the initiative to pass to the enemy and to doom the revolution to defeat.
“When the revolutionary tide is not rising, the Communist Parties must advance partial slogans and demands that correspond to the everyday needs of the toilers, and combine them with the fundamental tasks of the Communist International. The Communist Parties must not, however, at such a time, advance transitional slogans that are applicable only to revolutionary situations (for example workers’ control of industry, etc.). To advance such slogans when there is no revolutionary situation means to transform them into slogans that favour merging with the capitalist system of organisation. Partial demands and slogans form generally an essential part of correct tactics; but certain transitional slogans go inseparably with a revolutionary situation. Repudiation of partial demands and transitional slogans ‘on principle’, however, is incompatible with the tactical principles of Communism, for in effect, such repudiation condemns the Party to inaction and isolates it from the masses.”
As I said earlier, this is largely a re-statement of the orthodox Leninist position on the applicability of transitional slogans to communist strategy and tactics.
The resolution “On Tactics” adopted by the Third Comintern Congress made an important observation about the left-social-democratic and centrist calls for capitalist states to nationalise key industries. It stated that the “demand advanced by the centrist parties for the socialisation or nationalisation of the most important branches of industry is equally a deception because it is not linked to a demand for victory over the bourgeoisie. The centrists want to divert the workers from the real, vital struggle for their immediate goals by holding out the hope that industrial forms can be taken over gradually, one by one, and that ‘systematic’ economic construction can then begin.”
Here a clear distinction needs to be made between our opposition to the de-nationalisation, that is, privatisation, of economic activities or social services undertaken by the capitalist state and our opposition to the left-reformist call for capitalist nationalisation as a solution to the problems faced by the working class. We oppose privatisation because it is invariably a means by which capitalist governments attack the limited concessions that the working class has won from its past struggles with the capitalist class. But in doing so, we seek to raise the level of class consciousness and organisation of working people by conducting propaganda explaining that without the seizure of political power by the working people, statisation of industries, or the banks, or of social services such as education or health care cannot be made to meet the real needs of working people. Under capitalist rule, such statisation is essentially a means of making working people as a whole pay for the unprofitable activities that the capitalist class as whole needs for the maintenance of its system of private profit accumulation.
Perhaps a further amendment along these lines should be considered during the PCD. The existing proposed amendments are being presented along with this report in order to give discussion in the party about our approach to “transitional demands” and transitional slogans a clear focus.
Proposed amendments to RSP Program
1. Amend paragraph in Part III. Socialist Strategy and Tactics, Section 1. The conscious character of the movement for socialism, sub-section “The main tasks of socialist strategy and tactics”, reading:
“11. In the course of mass struggles, the party advances demands that relate to the immediate problems facing working people but which challenge the power of the capitalists to control the lives of working people and the wealth they create, and which point to the need for working people to take political power into their own hands. Through the struggle for such transitional demands, the working class can develop its understanding of the need to overthrow capitalist rule and the means of doing so.”
11. The party puts forward demands that relate to the immediate needs of the working class and seeks to organise mass campaigns to fight for these demands regardless of whether they are compatible with the continuation of the capitalist system. When a revolutionary situation is developing, the party conducts agitation for transitional slogans (such as “For workers’ control of production!”, “For workers’ self-defence guards!”) that aim to lead the working people, on the basis of their own experience, into an offensive struggle to challenge the power of the capitalists to control the lives of working people and the wealth they create, and which point to the need for working people to take political power into their own hands. An absolutely essential condition for this form of mass action is the organisation of the broad masses into militant units which, by their very form, embrace and set into political action the largest possible numbers of working people (such as revolutionary councils of working people’s delegates), and intensified revolutionary work among the ranks of the capitalist-officered military forces. Such mass action includes political strikes; a combination of strikes and mass street demonstrations; and finally, a mass-supported armed insurrection against the state power of the capitalist class, aimed at replacing it with a working people’s government based on the armed organisation of working people.
2. Delete paragraph in Part IV. Socialist Solutions to the to the Crisis of Capitalism, Section 4. Defending living standards and working conditions, reading:
“While maintaining its support for struggles centred on immediate demands aimed at defending and improving workers' existing living standards and working conditions, the party also advocates transitional demands that provide a bridge from such struggles to a generalised offensive against the capitalist system.”
3. Amend sentence in Part IV. Socialist Solutions to the to the Crisis of Capitalism, Section 4. Defending living standards and working conditions, reading:
“The employers and their lawyers will undoubtedly claim that all these demands are unrealisable, and would drive them out of business. Workers should not be intimidated by such arguments. Realisability or unrealisability is a question of the relationship of forces, which can only be decided by struggle. In order to expose the bosses' lies and threats of bankruptcy, the unions should demand that the bosses open their books to inspection by the workers.”
The employers and their lawyers will undoubtedly claim that all these measures are unrealisable, and would drive them out of business. Workers should not be intimidated by such arguments. Realisability or unrealisability is a question of the relationship of forces, which can only be decided by struggle. In order to expose the bosses' lies and threats of bankruptcy, the unions should seek to force the bosses to open their books to inspection by the workers.
4. Amend paragraph in Part IV. Socialist Solutions to the to the Crisis of Capitalism, Section 4. Defending living standards and working conditions, reading:
“In contrast to such capitalist nationalisation schemes, the party demands that all state enterprises be operated as public services, with profit subordinated to this aim. To avoid capitalist abuses in the management of nationalised enterprises, and to safeguard the interests of working people, all aspects of their administration should be subject to rigorous supervision by workers' committees, and be open to public scrutiny.”
In contrast to such capitalist nationalisation schemes, the party advocates the creation of a working people’s government under which all state enterprises are operated to meet the collective needs of the working people.”
5. Amend paragraph in Part IV. Socialist Solutions to the to the Crisis of Capitalism, Section 4. Defending living standards and working conditions, reading:
“Through such measures, national conferences of workers' control committees will be able to draw up an inventory of the resources of the country and a national economic plan to meet the needs of working people. To put such a plan into effect, however, it will be necessary to nationalise the monopolies in order to break the capitalists' domination of the economy.”
Through such measures, national conferences of workers' control committees will be able to draw up an inventory of the resources of the country and a national economic plan to meet the needs of working people. To put such a plan into effect, however, it will be necessary for a working people’s government to nationalise the monopolies in order to break the capitalists' domination of the economy.
[From the RSP Internal Discussion Bulletin Volume 2, No 4, June 2010]