Revolution or War n°8

(Biannual - September 2017)

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Internal Debate on the Period of Transition between Capitalism and Communism

Against those who wait for the sudden “Revolution” and who conceive it thus as an “event” instead of seeing it as a political process, the Communist Left has always put forwards, in the tradition of Marx and Engels, the conception of the inevitability of a period of transition between capitalism and communism. As well, the Communist Left has rejected as a counter-revolutionary conception the revisionist position according to which it suffices to infiltrate the bourgeois state from inside to set in motion a gradual change in society. Historically these political currents, which have always represented the influence of the bourgeois ideology upon the proletariat, were in particular Anarchism and the Social Democracy.
Our tradition thus takes over the political lessons that the communist parties and organizations of the past were able to draw from the history of the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution in particular. These lessons can be simplified to some points of importance:
- between the capitalist society and the communist society, there will be a period of transition which can’t be other than the Dictatorship of the Proletariat;
- the revolutionary proletariat does not use the bourgeois state but destroys it from top to bottom to substitute it by a proletarian state, a Commune state or a half-state, which is to disappear with the abolition of the social classes;
- the fate of the revolution is not linked to the development of an economy of the period of transition but to the development of the world revolution.
These points are class frontiers which are the common heritage of the whole Communist Left, in particular the “Italian” tradition, and which enable us to define the revolutionaries from the different kinds of capitalist lefts.
So, the aim of these theses [1] will be to go further than these three “class frontiers” mentioned above and to study more deeply the question of the period of transition within the framework of our political tradition, that is the Communist Left. We have no claim to know all, even less to be right on everything, nor to set up here definitive positions. But we have the firm conviction to be part of a debate within a political tradition that still exists, against all odds, and that this debate is part of the process of formation of the world communist party.
Finally, these theses are just a starting point for the discussion and the debate in our organization and, we hope, more widely within the Communist Left. For this, the text attempts to pose the basic of discussion. There are thus questions which are not necessarily dealt with here but that will be for sure in future contributions as the discussion will develop.

Draft Thesis on the Period of Transition

Thesis #1

The goal of the Communist movement is the abolition of the social classes and the state which appeared historically as mediator between the different classes of the successive modes of production (ancient, asiatic, feudal, capitalist). The function of the state is thus double: it must at first ensure that the inescapable conflict between the antagonistic social classes does not come to the point where the society tears to pieces, that is that it ensures the order through the use of violence. Nevertheless, this “social order” ensured by the state is a society divided into social classes whose interests are fully contradictory since one class exploits another one. In other terms, the state – whatever the type appeared in history whether as the monarchy by divine right or the modern democratic state – is an organ for maintaining the class exploitation and domination.

Thesis #2

As the proletariat is fully dispossessed within the capitalist society, its revolution does not aim to establish a new society of exploitation based on new class formations but to, on the contrary, abolish the society of class and its institutions, in particular the state. Indeed, this is unlike the nascent bourgeoisie under feudalism whose economic activity within feudalism could enable it to slowly establish itself within the feudal mode of production despite its limitations and its hindrances. Thus while the bourgeois revolution only ratified and removed the constraints to a process already under way, the proletariat does not possess anything, no power and no privilege, which could enable it to establish a new class domination. Thus, the proletarian revolution is the abolition of all classes.

Thesis #3

Between the bourgeois society and communism there is a period of transition during which, again unlike the bourgeois revolution, the proletariat must first and foremost conquer the political power. The conquest of the political power enables the proletariat to ensure its domination and willingness upon the society. Indeed, the present ruling class won’t give up its privileges without a fight. The political power makes it possible to prevent any attempt of bourgeois restoration and enables the proletariat to initiate economic and social changes to society that the abolition of capitalist society requires. This period of transition is none other than the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Thesis #4

The conquest of political power by the proletariat is not to be confused with the conquest of democracy, of a parliamentary majority, in brief with the conquest of the bourgeois state. Within the bourgeois state apparatus, it is only possible to modernize and reorganize the capitalist society. Historically, this has always been the final aim of the capitalist left (Social-democracy and Stalinism) and has always served the interests of capital in general against the proletariat. As such, these reorganizations only increased the contradictions of capitalism while postponing momentarily its fall.

Thesis #5

The conquest of the political power by the proletariat, thus the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat, above all implies the destruction of the bourgeois state and the institutions which are linked to it (permanent army, bureaucracy, police, etc.). In its place, the revolutionary proletariat will establish a “Commune state”, a half-state, which is not called to perpetuate itself, unlike the other types of states of humanity’s history, but must on the contrary extinguish with the abolition of the classes.

Thesis #6

The proletariat will inescapably resort to violence and to authority during the revolution to break the bourgeois institutions, oppose the bourgeois counter-revolution and ensure at least the neutrality of the middle strata. Nevertheless violence within the proletariat must be avoided as possible.

Thesis #7

From the political point of view, the dictatorship of the proletariat will establish the destruction of the permanent armies and the general arming of the proletariat (red army) as first measures. The traditional liberties of the modern democratic regimes will be abolished for the bourgeoisie; essentially the freedom of press, the right to vote, the freedom to pursue economic activities, etc. Obligatory work will be enforced for the idlers, that is for the bourgeoisie.

Thesis #8

The workers’ councils are historically the organs of the proletarian insurrection. Other forms of struggle can be associated to them, for instance the strike committees or other forms of political power that history will produce. The important point is that these forms of organization set themselves as proletarian power against the bourgeois state. In other terms, there are no absolute forms of organization. On the other hand, these must permanently enable the expression of the communist program, otherwise they have no more use for the proletariat and pass to side of the bourgeois state. The best example of this remains the workers’ councils during the German revolution of 1919 that, under the leadership of Social Democracy, laid down their arms and restored political power to the bourgeoisie.

Thesis #9

Even though abolished for the rest of civil society, democracy can be utilized in the workers’ councils to expose and settle the inescapable divergences within the class in regards with the revolutionary process. Nevertheless, we can’t make democracy a principle. It cannot be an antidote to bureaucracy and opportunism. The famous measures of the Paris Commune (workers’ wage for the state employees, revocability, etc.) are necessary but not sufficient. The only proletarian antidote against the danger of degeneracy is the faithfulness to the communist program whose responsibility belongs to the class party, and the ever-widening geographical extension of the revolution.

Thesis #10

The party being both the political organ of the class and its militant vanguard, it is clear that its members will assume front-rank political functions in the various organs that the revolution will set up. According to this conception, the debate to know whether the party or the class takes the power becomes artificial. Nevertheless, the party does not make the revolution in place of the class. It is the vanguard of the class. Thus, it must constantly work for the spreading of class consciousness within the proletariat and at the same time assume its role of political leadership within the organs of the revolution, such as the workers councils.

Thesis #11

The state of the period of transition has no proletarian character. On the contrary, like all other kinds of states, it keeps a clearly conservative character. This is due to the double function of the state. Firstly, it ensures the proletariat’s political domination over the bourgeoisie. But secondly, and from this it derives its conservative character, it tends to maintain order. Yet, the period of transition, as its name shows, is transitory. Thus there is no order to maintain or classes to ensure the mediation for the interest of a ruling class. On the contrary, the more the revolution spreads, geographically, economically and socially, the more the struggle of the classes increases until the abolition of the classes.

Thesis #12

The proletariat must make sure to maintain political control over the “Commune-state” and to distrust it. This distrust is expressed above all in the full autonomy that the communist party must keep in relation to the state. Indeed, a party-state fusion must be definitively prohibited since thereby the “logic of the state” would ultimately prevail over the communist program in case the revolutionary movement slows down. The party would be voided of its revolutionary content as occurred in Russia in the 1920s.

Thesis #13

The workers’ councils and the strike committees are not state organisms strictly speaking. First and foremost, they are organs of insurrection and later, when the political power will be conquered, they’ll become the basis for new common institutions of the communist society. For its part, the “half-state” will only be in charge of the repression and violence and will be administrated according to the principles of the Paris Commune (workers’ salaries, revocability, etc.) by “state employees” chosen by society. It won’t hold any political autonomy and will constantly be controlled by the proletariat. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not identify itself with the state of the period of transition, the latter being one aspect of the former whose bad sides [2] must be absolutely limited.

Thesis #14

The period of transition is not a mode of production. It is a society in transition between capitalism and communism. The development of the revolution is not measured by the degree of improvement of the period of transition or by the rapidity of the construction of socialism, but first and foremost by the extension of the revolution at the international level. All the class energies must overcome the first territorial limits of the revolution and focus towards the international. The international spreading of the revolution is the premise for the economic and social changes that will lead to the abolition of the classes.

Thesis #15

To accelerate the extension of the revolution at the world level, the tactic of the revolutionary war is to be avoided since it tends to substitute the natural antagonism of the bourgeois society, proletariat vs bourgeoisie, with the antagonism between the bourgeois states vs the “proletarian state”. But, as we have seen above, the interests of the revolution are not totally identifiable with the interests of the state of the period of transition. The main enemy of the proletariat in a given country is not such or such other “imperialist ruling bourgeoisie” but directly its own “national” bourgeoisie.

Thesis #16

The programs of 1848 in Germany and 1917 in Russia proclaiming the necessity of state capitalism (centralization of the economy by the state according to the Communist Manifesto and state ownership according to The State and the Revolution [3], was a transitory program adapted to countries little developed from the capitalist point of view while waiting for the world revolution. Since 1871, it is outmoded for Western Europe according to Marx, but was still justified in countries like Russia in 1917 where, despite a very concentrated proletariat, the rest of the national economy was almost at the first stage of capitalism. The development of a state capitalism under the control of the communist party awaiting for the world revolution aimed to develop and industrialize the economy.

Thesis #17

Thus, the mystery of the nature of the USSR is simply resolved. The USSR was a society in a period of transition during which the class party established a state capitalism awaiting for the extension of the revolution to other countries. So there has never been any socialist economic basis (for instance the nationalizations) or socialist conquests to preserve as Stalinism and Trotskyism argued, their function being ultimately to give a “workers’” endorsement to a system which was no more. The only proletarian content in USSR was thus the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is the workers councils with, acting in their rank, a party having a clear vision of the process of the world revolution. Once this party rejected its fundamental principle while adopting the counter-revolutionary principle of socialism in one country, it only remained in USSR a state capitalism led by a party having passed to the other side of the barricade.

Thesis #18

Today, most of the geographical areas of the world are industrialized and developed. The “state capitalism” program is fully obsolete. This means too that the state of the period of transition must not assume an economic function. The land, the factories, etc. need not be nationalized by a “proletarian state” but must be directly socialized by the community. Nevertheless the Commune-state remains indispensable to repress the bourgeoisie and so enable the socializations.

Thesis #19

The risk of an antagonism between the proletariat and the state, as in Kronstadt or St Petersburg during the 1921 strikes, becomes small given that the half-state does not assume a role of economic management as it does in the case of the state-owner [4] advocated by Lenin in The State and the Revolution.

Thesis #20

The first economic-social measure that the dictatorship of the proletariat will take is to drastically reduce the duration of the working day. This measure can be realized through the setting to work of the idlers (essentially the ruling class) and through the reorientation of the parasitic jobs associated with the new middle classes (advertising, insurance, management, police, public services, etc.). The reduction in the working day will allow the proletariat to devote itself to other activities, for instance to political militantism. In the period of transition, the principle of the labour vouchers [5] will be temporarily put forwards to replace the salary and the money. At the same time, the socialization of the production and distribution and the extension of the collective institutions will enable the spreading of free distribution, thus making the labour vouchers useless in the superior phase of communism.

Thesis #21

With the extension of the world revolution, the development of the economic and social transformations will be verified above all in the extension of the satisfaction of the proletariat’s needs. Indeed, there is no competition between capitalism and the first stage of the communist society. Communism does not have to be more democratic or more productive than capitalism. These are capitalist criteria which won’t be able to describe how the communist society functions. The only criteria that counts is the satisfaction of the proletariat’s needs.

Thesis #22

The period of transition and the Commune-state that is associated to the former have played their historical role when the society has come to be able to function according to the principle from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” and “the administration of the human beings” associated to the democratic bourgeois state is replaced by “the administration of things”. Then, the state extinguishes and the era of liberty opens up for humanity.


Bibliographie :

- The Civil War in France, Marx (as well as Engels’ Preface)
- Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx
- Anti-Durhing, Engels
- The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels
- The State and Revolution, Lenin
- Thesis of Rome, Communist Party of Italy
- Parti-État-Internationale, Bilan (French)
- Problèmes de la période de transition, Bilan (French)
- Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, Group of Internationalist Communists (1930)
- Les internationalistes hollandais sur le programme de la révolution prolétarienne, Bilan (French)
- Thèses sur la nature de l’État et la révolution prolétarienne, Gauche Communiste de France (French)
- The Period of Transition from Capitalism to Communism, International Communist Current



[1. Having utilized the format “thesis”, we think more appropriate not to make direct references to historical texts of the Communist Left. That being said, this does not mean that the thesis do not come within the scope of this tradition. The reader can refer to the bibliography at the end of the text for the theoretical and political affiliation.

[2. “In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another () an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy” (Engels, Postscript to the Introduction on the 20th Anniversary of the Paris Commune, March 18th 1891,

[3. “Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.” (Engels and Marx, Communist Manifesto).

[4. “Accounting and control, that is mainly what is needed for the ’smooth working’, for the proper functioning, of the first phase of communist society. All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state, which consists of the armed workers. All citizens becomes employees and workers of a single countrywide state syndicate (Lenin, The State and Revolution).

[5. To deepen the notion of the labour certificates, one can read the Critique of the Gotha Program by Marx, the Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution by the Group of International Communists (GIC) and above all the criticism of this text in the journal Bilan of the Italian Left fraction.