Problems of the Period of Transition (December 1974)
We consider this text to be a tool for further work and not a complete and final statement. Certain positions are simply affirmed, others are traced in outline. However we are convinced that it can constitute a basis for a correct discussion of ‘the period of transition'.
In German Ideology Marx wrote:
"The revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all that muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew."
However the proletarian insurrection, the confrontation with and armed assault upon bourgeois power, while being indispensable necessities, are only the first, inevitable steps of a dynamic process which must in the end lead to the triumph of communism, of the classless society in which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."
The proletarian revolution is a "political revolution whose essence is social. The revolution is a political act. Socialism cannot be realized without revolution. It necessitates this political act to the extent that it needs to destroy and to dissolve. But it throws off its political envelope from the beginning of its organizing activity, as soon as it pursues its own goals, as soon as it reveals its essence." (Marx, 1844)
The political act is, therefore, the victorious eruption of a class born and forged within the very entrails of capitalism. The affirmation of this class, which in emancipating itself, will emancipate the whole of humanity.
The proletariat constitutes itself as the new ruling class through the revolution, not in order to establish new relations of oppression by one class over another, but to suppress "all the inhuman conditions of life of the existing society and which it suffers in its own condition".
The overthrow of bourgeois power is not yet communism, but only the first step in a more or less long and difficult process.
"Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat." (Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme)
In the history of the communist movement of the proletariat, two occasions have arisen in which the bourgeois state has been overthrown and the proletarian dictatorship established: the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution.
These two experiences were defeated, the first directly by force of arms in a generalized massacre, the second in bloodbaths no less important but less ‘visible; in a slow degeneration of the initial objectives, their potential smothered by the absence of a revolution in the West: condemned to take on tasks which were not their own, the combativity of the proletariat saw itself reduced to a more and more passive resistance: in the case of Russia, it was a slow reflux (and thus less obvious than the defeat of the Commune) carried out the name of communism (and this was the greatest tragedy of all), which led to the shame of Stalinism.
"It was easy to make the revolution in Russia. It was more difficult to continue it." (Lenin)
The resolution of the Russian ‘enigma', the reasons for its degeneration, led groups of revolutionaries to try to resolve the problems posed by the ‘period of transition, but they were too closely connected with the experience of Russia (where the question of proletarian power and of the way to communism could be posed and not resolved).
Contrary to what as revolutionaries, Lenin and Trotsky thought, it was impossible for the revolution to dig itself in for years, - decades: the dictatorship of the proletariat derives from the combativity of the class or it represents nothing. Kronstadt and the agitation in Petrograd were the first signs of the split which was set up between the immediate demands of the class and a still proletarian power which tried to resist them.
The drama of the Russian revolution cannot be understood outside the context which condemned to impotence the Bolshevik Party and a Lenin who had once written State and Revolution and who was now forced to admit:
"The machine is getting out of the hands of those who are wielding it: one could say that there is someone in the saddle guiding this machine, but that the latter is following a direction other than that which was wanted, being guided by a secret hand, an illegal hand. God alone knows to whom it belongs, perhaps to a speculator or a private capitalist, or both together. The fact is that the machine is not going in the direction desired by the one who is supposed to be running it, and sometimes it goes in the opposite direction altogether." (Political Report of the Central Committee to the Party, 1922)
"Only the struggle will decide, in the last analysis, how far we will be able to advance, only the struggle will decide what part of this great task, what part of our victories we will definitely be able to consolidate. He who lives through it will see." (For the IV Anniversary. of the October Revolution, 1921)
The whole course of events in Russia led people to speak of a ‘Workers' State' or a ‘proletarian state'. It is necessary to point out that in the twenties these terms were synonymous with the "dictatorship of the proletariat". The proletarian state which was discussed at that time was a:
"New apparatus completely different from the contemporary state, not only because there is no longer any need for a distinction between the representative apparatus and the executive apparatus as in the bourgeois state, but above all because of the fundamentally different structure of the two, itself a consequence of the opposition between the historic tasks to be carried out, tasks which have been decisively clarified by the proletarian revolutions from the Paris .Commune to the Russian republic of soviets." (Il Communista, February, 1921)
Subsequently these ‘synonymities' became autonomous to the point where one could speak of ‘taking the place of the class' and of a class which didn't ‘understand' all that ‘was done in its own interests'. The writings on the withering away of the Commune-State took on a sinister ring in the face of the growth of this anonymous force representing the power of capital.
Marx, after the Paris Commune, left us with some memorable words in which he expressed, in the best possible way, the essence and the nature of the communist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. We must return to him in order to lay the basis of our perspective.
Marx, correcting what he had written twenty-five years before, wrote:
"The working class cannot content itself with taking over the state machine as it is, in order to make it serve its own ends. In fact the state is bourgeois as such and not simply because its cogs are in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The state is not a neutral, but a class instrument. However what makes an apparatus bourgeois is not the bourgeois origin of the personnel who command it, but its own nature as an apparatus opposed to the rest of society." (Marx, The Civil War in France)
The communist revolution, in the course of its affirmation, gives life to institutions which are different from those of the bourgeoisie by their very nature, such as the Commune and the soviets.
The Commune was: "The political form, discovered at last, in which the economic emancipation of labour could be worked out." The class struggle did not finish with the political victory of the class: "The Commune does not do away with class struggles,..... it creates the rational medium in which that class struggle can run through its different phases in the most rational and human way ... It begins the emancipation of labour, its great goal." (Ibid)
The class from whom power has been appropriated cannot be abolished by decree: it survives; it tries to reorganize itself politically. The proletariat will not share power with anyone, it will exercise its dictatorship in order to fight all those who are opposed to the measures which undermine economic privilege.
The first step of the proletarian dictatorship towards the abolition of wage labour will consist (in the obligation of all to work (generalization of the proletarian condition), and in the simultaneous reduction of labour time. This is already the end of the separation between manual labour and intellectual labour.
The advancement of this process in real, material terms is vital for the proletarian power; the strengthening of the latter is at once the premise and the guarantee of progress towards the final goal: communism. -
"Communism as the positive transcendence of private property, of human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (ie human) being - a return become conscious and accomplished within the entire wealth of previous development. This communism is..... the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution." (Marx, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts)
On the basis of what we have just said, we criticize:
- the position according to which it is the party which takes power and is confuse with the state because of its possession of a clear vision of the revolutionary perspective, etc etc.;
- the position which speaks of the proletarian state as an instrument, as an expression of the class, but which conserves all the characteristics of the state and where only the name and the leadership have changed;
- the position according to which, alongside the proletarian dictatorship a state is necessary, a provisional compromise in a society divided into antagonistic classes.
We advocate, after the destruction of bourgeois power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the dictatorship of the victorious working class which appropriates by force all rights of other classes and which admits no mediations of any kind, a political and social moment which lives and nourishes itself in the coming to consciousness of greater and greater masses.