Misrepresentation of Trotsky's Transitional Programme

A letter to the Communist Party of Great Britain

The following letter appeared in the 17 June issue of the CPGB's Weekly Worker in a slightly edited form.

I note Tina Becker's reference to Trotsky's Transitional Programme in her article on the new Die Linke programme in the 3 June issue of the Weekly Worker. Becker claims that:

'At the time of writing his Transitional programme Trotsky thought capitalism was on the point of final and complete collapse. He mistakenly believed that all that was necessary was to defend existing wages, conditions and rights. A spontaneous movement to do so would lead to the clash of class against class and pose point blank the question of state power.'

While this may accurately describe the reformist perspectives of many of those who claim to stand in Trotsky's tradition, it is a gross distortion to claim that this has anything to do with the revolutionary perspective of the Transitional Programme itself. I am left wondering if Becker has even read the document. If she had done so she would have perhaps noticed that Trotsky clearly explains that the method of the Transitional Programme is based on transcending the crass economism she ascribes to him:

'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.


'The Fourth International does not discard the program of the old "minimal" demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the frame-work of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective. Insofar as the old, partial "minimal" demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism — and this occurs at each step — the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old "minimal program" is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution.'

Trotsky's document does not simply defend the 'existing wages, conditions and rights' that workers have won under capitalism but advances a battle plan for the proletariat — made conscious of its historic tasks with the assistance of a revolutionary party — to reconstruct society along fundamentally different, i.e., socialist, lines. In the face of mass unemployment and declining income, for instance, Trotsky did not advocate a mere defensive posture but put forward the perspective of full employment and a sliding scale of hours and wages. It is not defence of the status quo but struggle on the basis of a transitional programme that by necessity poses the question of power:

'If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands, inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. "Realizability" or "unrealizability" are in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.'

For a serious treatment of the real political basis of the Transitional Programme, see the IBT's edition of this important work at www.bolshevik.org/tp, particularly the introduction, which discusses its relevance to the work of revolutionaries both in times of crisis and of relative social peace.

HaPe Breitman
International Bolshevik Tendency

Posted: 17 June 2010