A summary of the afternoon session
Slothjabber’s presentation brought up many important questions and contributions from participants such as:
If the proletariat controls the state, are they exploiting themselves? Adam Smith says the state exists to protect the wealth and property from others. Do capitalists still exist? S argued that in a sense the workers will be exploiting themselves... The law of value, wage-labour, production for exchange continue to exist in the transition period.
How important is the phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’?, given that historically the word ‘dictatorship’ has been defined differently to how it is currently conceived.
The presentation seems to be talking in terms of‘stages’ managed by the class (or their representatives!). I think of it as a process (as opposed to distinct ‘stages’). If the revolution is to spread, it has to be an attack on the economy. Of course, it is a political struggle too. But both at the same time. By chipping away at the economy, by undermining the wage economy and wage labour, we can begin a process. So the idea of a fixed transition: first political, then economic, rather than a continual process, is inaccurate.
There is not an administrative solution to the Period of Transition. It is a matter of class consciousness. The soviets existed for years, though they were empty of content. All will depend on the capacity of the proletariat to retain control over its own activity. The problem for us is that even when the bourgeoisie is overthrown, the proletariat will still be faced a majority of other non-exploiting classes. How does the proletariat relate to them? In a hospital: we'll still need the consultants after the revolution. There must be some form of compromise with the needs of these elements. The state is an instrument of class rule, yes, but also an instrument of all society. If the workers create that state, how do they retain their purity from other classes in society? By the barrel of a gun? Or by mediation? And if the latter, then the state is not the most revolutionary part of society.
A large part of the proletariat are engaged in work which will be obsolete in communist society such as retail workers whose jobs exist on the premise of there existing a class who seek to make a profit by selling the products of our labour. Naturally communist society is not based on buying and selling for profit so these jobs, although proletarian, become obsolete to society. How can workers engaged in this sector of the economy be integrated into communist society?
We can't build a new society in the shell of the old, but we can build class consciousness through struggle: occupations, strikes, insurrections etc... A long period of struggle can lead to the proletariat creating its own institutions of governance such as workers’ councils. But if councils are just workplace-based, what about lots of people who don't fit into this but have been in struggle?
We should also consider the impact of the revolution upon popular culture, it is not just a matter of socialising the means of production but socialising life itself, eliminating social alienation and developing feelings of solidarity. The workers’ revolution will entail an overthrowing not just of contemporary politics and economy but will also bring about a moral revolution of sorts.
There exists a difference of opinion between the SPGB and the ICC on the Period of Transition. The SPGB believe that the PoT will not be as prolonged or chaotic as others think, the context of Marx believing that there will be a prolonged PoT was that capitalism had not yet fully developed worldwide, thus some temporary measures were needed to produce a modern economy which could cater to everybody’s needs. The SPGB argue that because we now have the productive capabilities to cater to everybody’s needs and the democratic institutions to achieve power it will be possible to have a swift, peaceful transition to communist society.