Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) Socialist Education Series - The "Transition Period" Between Capitalism & Socialism

The question of the "transition period" between "capitalism and socialism" is not to be confused with the question of socialism as a social system between capitalism and communism which was the official doctrine of the Russian Communist Party and its supporters in the West.

The latter question was opposed by Socialist Studies as having no grounds in the theory of Marx and Engels. They used the terms "socialism" and "communism" interchangeably. Nowhere did Marx and Engels argue that there was an intermediate social system between the abolition of the wages system and the establishment of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

What was described as "socialism" in Russia was no more than State capitalism. The oppressive machinery of government existed to be used against the working class who were forced to live on wages and salaries and who were exploited, in the Marxian sense, at the point of production by producing more social wealth than they received in wages and salaries.

However Marx and Engels did have views on the transition between capitalism and Socialism. However, there views were largely concentrated on the question of production and distribution.

Set out below are a few of the views on the transition period expressed by Marx, Engels and Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991). It should be observed that the views of Engels changed between 1875 and 1891. This is to be expected because the need for a transition period and its length depended upon several factors, including the development of society's powers of production and the growing political maturity of the working class.

In his CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME, Marx divided Communism into a first phase and a higher phase.

The first phase would in Marx's view last for a considerable time because time would be needed to allow for the productive forces of society to be expanded "proportionally with the multiform development of the individuals of whom it is made up".

Only in the higher phases of Communism would "society inscribe upon its banners: "from everyone according to his capacities, to everyone according to his needs".

In his "SOCIALISM-UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC", written in about 1880, Engels made his statement that after the dispossession of the capitalist class:

"State interference in social relations becomes in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself: the government of persons is replaced by an administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The State is not "abolished". It dies out (George Allen and Unwin edition, 1892, p. vii).

This indicates that at that time Engels' view was that the transition period would take a considerable time, but not as prolonged as Marx had indicated in 1875.

In 1891, Engels had reached the conclusion that if a transition period is needed at all it would be short (see 1891 appendix to Marx's WAGE-LABOUR AND CAPITAL).

Having described the division of capitalist society into a small, extremely rich capitalist class and a working class "Hardly, or not at all protected against extreme want", Engels wrote:

"Such a state becomes every day more absurd and unnecessary. It should be removed, it can be removed. A new order of society is possible in which the present class differences will be a matter of the past and where -perhaps after a short, not quite satisfactory, but morally very useful transition period - by means of designed utilication and further improvement of the existing vast productive power of all members of society, with equal obligation to work, will be given, in equal degree and in constantly growing abundance, the means to live and enjoy life, to develop and exercise all physical and intellectual capacities".

When Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) was established in 1904 it produced an Object and set of principles binding on all members of the party.

The sixth principle discussed the question of the machinery of government. The principle read:

"That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic".

Note, this passage did not talk of the machinery of government being "immediately abolished". What the passage said was that the machinery of government would be "converted" from an instrument of minority class power protecting private property ownership into "the agent of emancipation". This process had a time element but what time it would take from conversion, use as the agent of emancipation to dismantlement would be based on the conditions of the time.

In January 1946 an article by MacClatchie, "The Transition Period", made the case for the immediate establishment of Socialism after the capture of political power and the dispossession of the capitalist class.

The article contained the following:

"We have absorbed what Marx and his co-workers gave to the world from their painstaking studies and we have added a good deal ourselves from our studies since Marx, seventy years ago, criticised the GOTHA PROGRAMME. We have profited from the development that has gone on since his day. One of the most important things we have learnt is that the mass of the people are essentially reasonable, once they understand a problem. For example, workers will put up with considerable hardship and privation during strikes if they are convinced that the strike is necessary".

The article rejected the idea that distribution in a socialist society would need a system of "labour tickets". The article stated:

"This the transition period will not be another social form but only the difficult time of re-organising production and distribution on a socialist basis, settling down to Socialism".

Finally it is important to stress the purpose of the working class gaining political control. This was set out in the pamphlet "OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, 1975).

A passage in the pamphlet argued that:

"It is necessary for a socialist working class to gain political control, but only for the purpose of dispossessing the capitalist class and opening the way for the community as a whole to take over the means of production and distribution and democratically using them for the good of all".

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: |