The period of transition

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Part I Political


The State

First, a few qualifying remarks. Historically speaking the State has appeared as an organ of class rule though, as Engels wrote in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (Moscow, 1968, p.65), it often appeared as standing above society, as a mediator between classes:

"The State was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering together of it into a visible embodiment. But it was this only in so far as it vas the State of that class which itself represented for the time being, society as a whole."

Thus, as soon as the State becomes "the real representative of the whole of society" (our emphasis), as soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection, then the State "renders itself unne­cessary".

However, it is an anarchist fallacy to suggest that out of the destruc­tion of the bourgeois State can communism appear automatically. The proletariat must first destroy the bourgeois State apparatus and set up its own form of class rule. In this respect alone the proletarian State will be no different from any other state in history. In other respects the dictatorship of the proletariat will be markedly different from other forms of State. Quantitatively speaking it will be the first State in his­tory to express the historical interests of a majority over a minority and qualitatively speaking the proletariat will as a class has no speci­fic form of property which they wish to defend. It is this last differ­ence which explains why the proletarian State is "no longer a State in the proper sense of the word". (Marxism and the State, Lenin, page 29). The proletarian State remains to oppress all elements who wish to res­urrect bourgeois property relations. At the moment of their dissolution and final defeat the dictatorship of the proletariat will have ceased to exist.

Thus, only the proletariat and its democratic organs, the soviets, can superintend this transformation. Nowhere, to our knowledge, in the writ­ings of Marx, Engels or Lenin, do they conceive of any other possibility. Indeed in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, and in State and Revolution they effectively deny that any alternative such as a "free people's State" or popular front is conceivable. True, Lenin (quite understandably though erroneously in the terms of' 1917) calls for an alliance between proletariat and peasantry (State and Revolution, pp. 46-47) but still concludes that the State must remain "the proletariat organized as the ruling class" (quoting the Communist Manifesto, p. 48). Nor has the experience of the proletariat in the last sixty years provided us with any reason to doubt this idea. Indeed, if anything, we have seen development which have thrown the balance even more in favour of the proletariat. Here one thinks of the peasantry, an analysis of which is wade in the next section.

The Peasantry

The question of the proletariat's relationship to the vital area of rural production has always been a particularly vexing one. The Russian Revolution (1917-21) is an example of the problem though its lessons must be placed in true historical perspective. Lenin was always looking over his shoulder at the huge masses of the Russian peasantry. In The State and Revolution, he suggests that an alliance of the peasants and workers will form the basis of the new society though under the dictatorship of the proletariat. But in fact Lenin and the Bolsheviks could not have established communist relations of production in Russia alone. The Russian workers, like any other sector of the world proletariat, needed the world revolution if they were to achieve their goal. Thus, the Land Decree of November 1917 was not a step towards communism but an attempt to capture the support of the muzhiks to aid the struggle for survival of the soviet regime. Only a perspective of world revolution could prevent this from being considered completely counter-revolutionary and with the failure of the world revolution this was fully revealed. Let us be clear on the lesson. If the same situation of any proletariat surrounded by huge mass of peasantry were to recur today the proletariat in that area would still be doomed without a world revolution. However, this need be no cause for despondency amongst revolutionaries.

With the modern techniques of capitalist food production, with the increased concentration of the bulk of the world's food production in the highly developed capitalist agriculture - with the consequent existence of a proletariat as in any other industry - in a global revolutionary situation there will be no strategic need to satisfy the land hunger of the peasant for the expropriation of the capitalist agricultural units will secure the basis of existence for the world proletariat. The rural proletariat of these areas will thus be simply part of the soviet structure like any other former wage workers under capitalism.

The question of an isolated proletarian revolution in a ‘lesser developed economy' in advance of the world revolution remains for us an unlikely ­occurrence. Our view sees the development of the crisis amongst several ‘advance' capitalist countries at approximately the same time. The proletariat in these areas will then able to assist the various proletarian salients in the lesser capitalist countries. Should one of these salients find itself in an isolated position, then we must be realistic and realize the possibilities. If the larger imperialist powers are not already experiencing a profound crisis then it will be crushed militarily. Further, in many areas the local peasantry (even if negotiations were successful) cannot produce enough of the basic food requirements of the urban areas; and we must recognize that the proletariat here will not be taking over an economy representing a significant power in the capitalist world market. Hence the further escalation of the world crisis as a result of their activity would be very remote. Thus, the world proletarian revolution may not arrive in time to save an isolated proletarian outbreak in such a country. If this means that we must conclude that the revolution can only be successful through the early collapse of the capitalist heartlands (USA, USSR, Europe) into the dictatorship of the proletariat then unfortunately we cannot shrink from it. The alternative of advocating ideological concessions to other strata in any country would lead to confusion for the world proletariat and ultimately to counter-revolution.

In the advanced capitalist countries the question of the peasantry scarcely exists for each capitalist farmer employs rural proletarians. In Britain, for example, there are 329,000 rural proletarians. With help from the soviets to which they would be affiliated they would carry out the expropriation of farmlands and begin the integration of agriculture into the socialist economy.

When a significant peasantry did exist the proletariat would obviously establish with them levels and goals of production within a framework laid down by the proletariat. But no concessions can be made to petty bourgeois forms of property. The proletariat on the other hand, would actively encourage the peasants to form their own organizations which would eventually become the basis for the collectivization of agricultural production. Here we must recognize that certain tasks of the per­iod of transition mat take longer than others and this could be one issue which ensures the maintenance of the vigilance of the dictatorship of the proletariat for at least a generation.

Part II (Economic)

The first part article on the period of transition has already dealt with the questions of the State and the political forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat; in that article only incidental comments were on the economic formulations of these forms. Now in this article we deal with their content, and only incidentally with the concrete political issues. This form of presentation is not because we feel they are two separated issues; on the contrary, as was made clear in part I, we are speaking about equally vital, interrelated aspects of a total transformation.

Economically, as well as politically, the so-called transition period is opened for the working class when one or more capitalist states are overthrown by the revolution, and is not closed until the inauguration of a global communist system of production and distribution according to needs; but as it nears communism it shares less and less residues of capitalism, but its duration is obviously no short period, but of at least a generation. Neither is it a static system, and its "defects inevitable in the first phase of communist society" (Marx) are generally overcome.

The idea that production in the proletarian bastion should be directed towards a communist ‘war economy' is confusionist. Although there is certainly armed struggle and even pitched battles during communist revolution, there is no possibility of the workers engaging and defeating capital in a global civil war; on this terrain the defeat of the proletariat would be short and the curtain-raiser for barbarism. This emphasizes all the more that the communist revolution must storm more or less simultaneously several capitalist states, including the militarily dominant imperialist powers, or else go down in defeat. Certainly workers in any one area must intervene to help adjacent communist uprisings, but the creation of the first steps of a communist economy are a more potent weapon and help than any amount of military support given by one group of workers to another.

Here the relationship of any one proletarian power to the still existent world market must be investigated, and the inseparability of the politics and economics of the transition period re-iterated. Communists must press in the mass organs of the class for the ending of all economic relationships between the isolated areas where the workers have taken power, and the bourgeois world market. Firstly this is because at a time of world crisis this move will deepen such a crisis by withdrawing markets and raw materials from still existing sections of the world bourgeoisie. The impact of the cessation of oil exports by a revolutionary Russia, or food exports by a Soviet America would be powerful impulses to the spread of the communist revolution, and help force the issue to the point of resolution on a world scale. Here economic tactics hasten the political progress of the revolution.

On the other hand only dreamers would imagine that the capitalists would accept to trade with a proletarian dictatorship without thus capitulating politically to world capital. For example, in return for trade would be demanded compensation for expropriations in the workers' bastions, taming of branches of the communist movement outside the revolutionary areas, diplomatic recognition and exchanges etc, in fact all that was seen in Russia in 1920 onwards when NEP and foreign trade went hand in glove with frontism, return to legality of the Communist Parties, suppression of the Russian proletariat as an element in the labour power of the world market, etc. the lesson of the Russian revolution is that the communist movement is a struggle for all or nothing, communism cannot be introduced by stealth or defended by compromises, or maneuvers to ‘gain time'. On this question the advocation of any other policy than that we have outlined is a class line which divides communists from those who today apologize for counter-revolution in the past, and its re-enactment in the future.

So far we have treated the question of the period of transition ‘internally' with regard to the areas where the bulk of the proletariat are concentrated and which constitute perhaps 30% of the world's population. During the course of revolutionary upheaval itself, any outbreaks which occur in the less developed areas of world capitalism must receive all material and political support from the rest of the proletariat, since the working class is an international class, and has the same interests and tasks world-wide. But we have no faith in the ‘communist' aspirations of the peasantry of these areas, in fact even where we see state capitalist agriculture in the third world, there will in all probability be a parcellation of land among the aspirant peasantry, with a return to subsistence or small commodity agriculture. And there are the additional dangers of deproletarianization of semi-proletarianized groups of workers (eg. in Africa). Any enclaves of power within these areas, created by industrial or plantation workers, must be integrated into the political and economic framework of communism, and serve as the toehold of communism within the areas of the small commodity producers.

In contradistinction to the situation in Russia in 1917-21, this sea of small producers poses no great danger to the efforts to socialize the economy; the working class will not be dependent on these areas for food production, in fact quite the reverse is the case. And these producers are in no wise able to organize themselves politically and militarily to the proletarian power, a fact resulting from their atomized class nature, and one which communists should accept gladly, not try to overcome by urging that they be ‘represented' in the State of the period of transition. But the workers must have a policy towards these sections, since they just abandoning them (apart from humanitarian consideration), would mean that a renewed cycle of primitive accumulation would start in these areas, and then within a period of time they would pose a militancy and political threat to the building of communism. These strata must be involved in the communist economy, without forcing them to collectivize, which is impossible given their huge numbers. Apart from the ideological weapon of propaganda for communism, and humanitarian aid to these areas, the main tactic which impels them into communism is economic, and another reason why the accounting of the social product must be in labour-time.

The Councils must insist that exchange, economic relations between the communized sector and the small commodity producers be taken out with the monetary framework and based on equivalent hours of labour; on this there can be no compromise. To example, if a tractor taken 100 hours of labour to produce, and a ton of jute 10 hours, then 10 tons of the latter are exchanged, or more strictly bartered for a tractor. This form of exchange will need peasant cooperative on the level of distribution, but these are not political organs. Given differences in productivity of labour such an exchange is actually very favourable to the peasants, and the form of exchange is flexible in that it allows the proletariat to further favour those peasant sectors who wish to collectivize, by for example exchanging the hypothetical tractor for only 7 tons of jute. This in turn helps these groups to raise their agricultural output and productivity, and is a clear validation of the superiority of communist agriculture. On these bases the integration of the small producers, politically and economically, into the proletariat and humanity, can take place.

Revolutionary Perspectives

January, 1975