The Period of Transition - Preface

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The Period of Transition from Capitalism to Socialism


This pamphlet is the first in a series which the ICC plans to publish on the period of transition to socialism. It contains articles which have already appeared in our press (but are no longer available in suff­icient numbers) and internal discussion doc­uments from within our organisation. The texts selected represent only a small minor­ity of the documents which circulated in the ICC. They give a good idea of the key issues in the debate and of the international dimen­sion of discussion within the organisation. For this pamphlet we have chosen texts from France, Belgium, Great Britain, Italy and the US. The texts defend divergent points of view: there are contributions defending the position finally adopted by the ICC in 1979 and others which disagree partially or wholly with this position. For all the militants of the proletarian camp everywhere in the world, who wonder whether open and honest polemics are possible within a polit­ical organisation, we hope this pamphlet will speak for itself.

The collective thought of the ICC on the period of transition is based on the prin­ciples of our political platform. The con­clusions we have reached after 10 years of discussion have their point of departure in the platform which defines our political activity:

·          the defence of marxism as the most coher­ent expression of the workers’ struggle against capitalism the rejection of anarchist theory;

·          the need for a proletarian revolution against capitalism; the rejection of econ­omic self—management theories as long as -the power of the capitalist state remains intact; the rejection of all forms of reformist ‘gradualism’;

·          the rejection of the idea that any ‘soc­ialist’ states or so—called ‘degenerated workers’ states’ exist today; the defence of the analysis of state capitalism, which is the form capitalism tends to take all over the world in its decadent phase;

·          the defence of the necessity of workers’ councils, unitary organisations of the proletariat, the only organs of the revol­utionary power of the proletariat;

·          the rejection of any political party taking power “in the name of the working class”; the defence of the role of the party within the workers’ councils;

·          the rejection of violence as a way to decide issues within the working class;

·          the rejection of “socialism in one country”; any proletarian gain in one country is bound to fail or degenerate without a generalisation and internationalisation of the struggle; the period of transition must be world—wide or it is con­demned to failure.

These brief remarks on the platform give an idea of the general orientation of our studies. The ICC does not close its eyes to the symptoms of degeneration within the Russian revolution and the Bolshevik Party even before Stalin came to the fore. The difficult questions raised by the tormented period from 1917 to 1923 must be dealt with by revolutionaries today without taboos or quasi—religious awe of ‘tradition’.

However, we do not feel that merely point­ing to the economic backwardness of Russia and the problems this brought for the revol­ution can provide us with the essential lessons to draw: no country no matter how econ­omically developed it is can maintain the life of a proletarian revolution in isol­ation.

We are convinced that the Russian revol­ution marks the definitive bankruptcy of the conception of a political party taking power in the name of the workers. Therefore, we have no illusions about any modern, ‘new— look’ versions of the practice of a state party. Any attempts in the direction of a party taking state power will inevitably end up with fatal and counter-revolutionary results as the proletarian experience in Russia shows.

At the heart of all these questions is the problem of the relation between the state which will inevitably arise in the period of transition and the working class. The plat­form of the ICC emphasises “the complexity and seriousness of the problem posed by the relationship between the organised working class and the state of the period of trans­ition”. It asserts that “in the coming period the proletariat and revolutionaries cannot evade this problem, but must make every effort to resolve it”. The platform does not go any further than this, but in 1979 the ICC adopted a resolution on this issue (see the last section—of this pamphlet).

The resolution asserts that: “On the immediate level the proletariat will have to oppose the encroachments and the pressure of the state .... On the historic level, the necessary disappearance of the state in communist society which is a perspective which marxism always defended, will not be result of the state’s own dynamic, but the fruit of the pressure mounted on it by the proletariat in its own movement forward, which will progressively deprive it of all its attributes as the progress towards a classless society unfolds. For these reasons, while the proletariat will have to use the state during the transition period, it must retain a complete indep­endence from it. In this sense, the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be confused with the state. Between these two there is a constant relation of force which the proletariat will have to main­tain in its favour: the dictatorship of the proletariat is exerted by the working class itself. through its own independent armed unitary organs — the workers’ councils. The workers’ councils will participate in the territorial soviets (in which the whole non-exploiting population is represented and from which the state struc­ture will emanate) without confusing them­selves with them, in order to ensure its class hegemony over all the structures of the society of the transitional period”.

The resolution ends with the explanation of the antagonism between the proletariat and the state by saying: “This is why we cannot talk of a ‘socialist state’ or a ‘workers’ state’ during the period of transition.”

The resolution took years of elaboration and discussion before it was adopted; it was not voted on lightly or precipitously. A draft resolution was presented and dis­cussed at the International Congress of 1977, but it was only two years later, when the organisation had reached a profound enough understanding, that a resolution was finally adopted.

The ICC did not ‘invent’ the question of the relationship between the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat in the period of transition. During and after the Russian experience revolutionaries tried to draw the lessons of the failure and degeneration. The comrades of the left communist movement were the most active in this effort: in Russia itself (see the International Review, Nos 8 and 9, ‘Left Communism in Russia 1918—1930’); in Germany and Holland with the KAPD (see the work of J. Appel with Canne-meyer and Pannekoek soon to be entirely translated into French after 50 years, ‘Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution’); in the Italian left in exile (see their public­ation Bilan - we hope to publish some of their articles on the period of transition in future pamphlets). Despite the weakness of these organisations in their time, the years which separate us from these efforts have practically wiped them out of the collective memory of the workers’ movement. Today’s militants come to Lenin’s State and Revolution without even knowing about the exist­ence of later studies.

The discussions in the ICC began around a text published in Internationalisme (1945-1952), ‘Theses on the Nature of the State and the Proletarian Revolution’ adopted by the Gauche Communiste de France in 1946 (reprint­ed in this pamphlet). The text comes directly out of the tradition of the Italian left and defends certain positions which are not shared by the ICC: the document speaks of a party taking power and considers that unions are still organisations with a proletarian nature both within capitalism and in the post-insurrectionary period. During its subsequent political evolution, after the writing of this text, the Gauche Communiste de France corrected these positions; it then defended the taking of power by the workers’ councils and recognised that unions had become the organs of the capitalist state in the period of decadence. These points do not in any way diminish the value of these ‘theses’ which assert the need for the work­ing class to defend itself against the state in the period of transition either through strikes or other class actions if necessary.

The ‘Theses’ were presented as a contrib­ution to the conference on the period of transition organised by Revolution Inter­nationale in France in 1972. The second text in this pamphlet, ‘The State, the Proletarian Revolution and the Content of Socialism’, was also presented at this conference. It speaks against the idea “of a state in the hands of the proletariat but whose nature remains anti—socialist” and opposes certain aspects of the ‘Theses’. The third text, ‘Problems of the Period of Transition’ (Taly) summ­arises in a general way the thought of RI at that time.

The article, ‘Problems of the Period of Transition’ (MC) was presented at the Inter­national Conference in 1975 (where the ICC was officially constituted as a unified international organisation). The text later appeared in the International Review No 1. As with all the texts dating from this period, it tries to clarify the general framework of the debate. The next text, which appeared in the same issue of the International Review, raises some disagree­ments with the previous text and defends the idea that the state in the period of trans­ition is simply identical to the workers’ councils.

State and Dictatorship’, written a year later, also defends the conception of a ‘workers’ state’ but in a more open and clearly-defined way.

The State and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, a text presented at the Second Congress of what had become the section of the ICC in France, is a recapitulation of the efforts of the workers’ movement on this question and defends the position which was later adopted by the organisation.

The ‘internal’ documents which follow were written in 1976 and 1977. Through these texts one can see how the debate in the organisation went from the general level to the more specific question of the state.
    In a second pamphlet we hope to publish the texts and articles written from 1978 to 1980. These contributions essentially deal with the question of the origin and evolution of the state in class societies as well as the role of violence in the revolution.

The question of the state in the period of transition and the relationship between it and the proletariat organised in workers’ councils has not yet been definitively dec­ided by historical experience. We cannot consider the position adopted by the ICC as a ‘class line’ dividing the defence of the bourgeois order from the interests of the proletariat. Agreement on the resolution adopted by the ICC is not a criterion for membership in our organisation. However, we are absolutely convinced that revolutionaries must become aware of the vital importance of this question and debate it openly and thoroughly. It is our generation’s task to draw the lessons of the past. What is the content of socialism? How should the prolet­ariat best organise itself and society to attain this goal? These are the crucial questions for the workers’ movement of today and tomorrow. The relationship between the workers’ councils and the state will be a life and death question for tomorrow’s victory.

We realise that this pamphlet is not easy to read; the style of the texts written for internal debate is often awkward and expresses the complexity of the question and our own limitations. We have no illusions about the ability of our organisation or any other group to entirely clarify this question on their own in isolation. The movement of revolutionary thought requires the confront­ation of ideas in order to go forward on such essential theoretical questions. The ICC has always tried to spark such a debate in the revolutionary milieu. Perhaps we have had some measure of success because Communist Programme, Battaglia Comunista, the Communist Workers’ Organisation among others, have responded with oral and written criticisms of our analyses on these questions. But this is far from enough. This pamphlet is an effort towards a dialogue with all those individuals and groups for whom marxism is not a dogma, for whom the theory of the workers’ struggle is a living reality. It is a contribution to a debate which should be carried on in the revolutionary milieu all over the world. As it was in the past, today in this period of confrontation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, “there is no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory” (Lenin).


April, 1981