WeeklyWorker

15.05.2020
They elected Labour, not the Tories

The importance of being programmed (part 2)

The so-called transitional method relies on economism and spontaneity. Jack Conrad makes the case for Marxist politics

Tony Cliff distinguished himself from orthodox Trotskyism in the aftermath of World War II because he was able to recognise both Stalin’s palpable success in creating an empire in eastern Europe and the palpable reality of the long economic boom in the west. Events had beached Trotsky’s 1930s expectations. Stalinism did not collapse with the Nazi invasion. Nor was capitalism in its “death agony”.1 In fact, it was the Trotskyites who were spiralling into crisis. As Cliff wittily put it, guided by Trotsky’s Transitional programme they were like people trying to find their way round the Paris metro using a London tube map.

Cliff readily admits how “excruciatingly painful” it was to face up to the reality that Trotsky’s prognosis had not come true.2 But come true it had not. Cliff, therefore, reluctantly concluded that the Transitional programme had been refuted “by life” and that reformism was enjoying a second spring.3 In the fourth volume of his Trotsky biography, Cliff argued that its demands, such as a sliding scale of wages, were adopted in response to a “capitalism in deep slump” and therefore “did not fit a non-revolutionary situation”. He concluded:

The basic assumption behind Trotsky’s transitional demands was that the economic crisis was so deep that the struggle for even the smallest improvement in workers’ conditions would bring conflict with the capitalist system itself. When life disproved the assumption, the ground fell from beneath the programme.4

In the 1950s at least, Cliff was no fool.

Nonetheless, his blasé attitude towards programmes can be judged by what might appear to be the glaring exception. Namely the International Socialists’ programme of the early 1970s. Cliff, and industrial organiser Andreas Nagliatti, took the lead with a giveaway article entitled: ‘Main features of the programme we need’.5 Drafts were discussed over several meetings of the IS national committee.

The underlying motivation behind the programme move seems twofold. First, induct the growing body of recruits into the belief-system of the organisation. Second, draw lines of demarcation. The IS had just suffered two jarring faction fights. First with Sean Matgamna’s Workers Fight group, then the Right Opposition (the origins of today’s Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism and the pro-Brexit Party Institute of Ideas and Spiked). Both factions showed an unwelcome attachment to Trotsky’s Transitional programme.

As Ian Birchall recounts, the draft programme was mainly the work of Chris Harman and Duncan Hallas, though others made contributions. It ran to some 15,000 words. Far, far too long. Programmes should be precise, succinct and easy to remember. More like an extended presentation of the IS credo, then. Originally it consisted of 17 sections: (1) Introduction; (2) The crisis of British capitalism; (3) The capitalist system; (4) Imperialism; (5) Socialism, the working class and the workers’ state; (6) Internationalism and the internationals; (7) The Russian Revolution, Stalinism and state capitalism; (8) Workers’ control; (9) The trade unions; (10) Unemployment; (11) Social welfare; (12) Education; (13) Women; (14) Youth; (15) Racialism; (16) The revolutionary party; (17) Ireland. Two other sections were added: (18) the Common Market and (19) The international company.

Submitted to the 1973 IS conference, the draft was remitted to the NC for further consideration. A job given over to a sub-committee consisting of Cliff, Hallas and Birchall. “However, Cliff, without consulting the sub-committee, let alone the NC”, passed it on to the (new) industrial organiser, Roger Rosewell, who “turned it into a pamphlet” (The struggle for workers power 1973). Incidentally, Rosewell, a pathetic figure, dropped out of the IS soon after and quickly moved to the right. He joined the Social Democratic Party, serving on its industrial committee, worked for the free-market Aims for Industry outfit and wrote leaders for the Daily Mail.

Anyhow, showing the importance attached to programme, the September 1974 conference took just 30 minutes to debate and agree the whole thing … and then nothing more was heard of it!

The unstated justification was presumably some vague, or garbled, version of Marx’s “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes”. Needless to say, the late 1960s-early 1970s was a time of rapid forward movement. There was Vietnam, student revolts, women’s liberation, black power and a huge upsurge in trade union militancy. Then came the Portuguese revolution. We appeared to be winning one thrilling victory after another. That bred courage, determination and a brimming sense of confidence. Obviously, overconfidence too.

IS membership shot from under a hundred to a few thousand. Most recruits were students and young workers. Cliff must have thought he was about to meet his destiny. In 1977 the Socialist Workers Party was founded amidst much exhortation about how it was “vital to build the organisation quickly”.6 A revolutionary moment was just around the corner and membership would soon leap to the giddy tens of thousands.

With the advantage of hindsight, it is plain to see that Cliff was badly mistaken. But then so was this writer. I too thought that capitalism was facing its final crisis. Not because of the declining rate of profit, but because of the rising tide of working class combativity (well, that and what I called, as a callow youth, the socialist countries and the movements for national liberation). It is easy to scoff. By the late-1970s the capitalist offensive was already in full swing. Yet what happened was not predetermined. There were plenty of unrealised moments and strategic possibilities. Not proletarian revolutions in Germany, France or Italy, that is for sure - objective and subjective circumstances entirely ruled out any such outcome. But we could have done better. A lot better. However, my purpose in criticising past efforts - and I trust that this is clear - is to learn from them.

Bogus

Perhaps the best way to do this is to show that the more recent past has forgotten the vital lessons of the less recent past. A less recent past when it was seriously possible to envisage proletarian revolution in Germany, France or Italy. We come back to programme.

For their own peculiar reasons, the founders of the SWP - a new ‘party’, remember - rejected the idea of adopting a programme. Not only an updated version of Trotsky’s Transitional programme, but an updated version of the minimum-maximum programmes of classical Marxism too: ie, the programmes of the German Social Democratic Party, the French Workers’ Party and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Instead the SWP was to be built through hunch, a self-perpetuating central committee, a target-fulfilling regime of centrally appointed organisers, chasing after recruits and a bogus history.

SWP members were told that the minimum-maximum programme inevitably led to that fateful vote for war credits by the SDP Reichstag fraction in August 1914. The same minimum-maximum structure is blamed for the supposed accommodation shown towards Russia’s provisional government and the ‘defencists’ by Kamenev and Stalin when they took over editing Pravda in the spring of 1917 - in Cliff’s account an accommodation cut short by Lenin’s return from Swiss exile and his “complete break” with the old programme.7

An unsupportable narrative.8 All one needs do is read the volumes of Lenin’s Collected works, from the summer of 1905 onwards, to appreciate that. As a matter of fact, Lenin pugnaciously defended and, of course, where necessary adjusted the minimum programme. It mapped out a road under conditions of tsarist autocracy, which would culminate in a democratic republic, born of a popular revolution. Economically the minimum programme did not envisage Russia going beyond capitalist commodity production. Nevertheless, at the level of regime, Russia was to be ruled by the working class in alliance with the peasant masses. State power in the form of the revolutionary democratic (majority) dictatorship (rule) of the proletariat and peasantry was the bridge which united the minimum and maximum sections of the programme.

The Bolsheviks were committed to using the salient of state power to help spark the socialist revolution in the countries of advanced capitalism. With the aid of the socialist west, Russia could then embark on the transition to socialism (the first stage of communism) without the necessity of a second, specifically socialist, revolution. The workers’ and peasants’ revolution against tsarism would thereby - given the right internal and external conditions - be made permanent. The revolution would then proceed uninterruptedly from the tasks of political democracy to the maximum programme and the tasks of leaving behind commodity production, the wages system and class divisions.

The fall of the tsar in February 1917 and the emergence of a dual-power situation - a bourgeois provisional government (class content being determined by politics, not personnel), alongside which stood the workers’ and peasants’ soviets - caused Lenin to adjust - not, as Cliff erroneously contended, carry out a “complete break” with - the minimum programme.9 Eg, the revolutionary dictatorship (rule) of the workers and peasants was concretised in the slogan, ‘All power to the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets`.

Trotsky’s latter-day disciples - Cliff included - have woefully misrepresented the history of Bolshevism. In so doing they stupidly provide the excuse they need to reject, as a matter of supposed principle, the minimum section of the party programme: ie, a logically presented series of demands fought for under the socio-economic conditions of capitalism, which, in the course of the struggle for them, form the workers into a class that is ready to seize state power.

Undoubtedly it is true that “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes”. Nonetheless, in the midst of the some of biggest jumps and boldest leaps in world history, the Bolsheviks gave over valuable time and effort to reconsider their programme.

The April 1917 conference of the RSDLP agreed to revise the programme in eight particular areas: (1) Evaluating imperialism; (2) Amending the clause on the state: ie, a demand for a “proletarian-peasant republic”, which does away with the standing army, the police and the bureaucracy; (3 and 4) amending what was out of date in the political programme; (5) Completely changing parts of the economic programme; (6) Revising the agrarian programme; (7) Inserting a demand for the nationalisation of certain syndicates; (8) Adding an analysis of the main trends in modern socialism.10

The programme was put on the agenda for the planned October 1917 congress. Various Bolshevik leaders produced drafts, counter-drafts, pamphlets and/or articles. Naturally all openly published. For our purposes, the most informative is Lenin’s ‘Revision of the party programme’ published in the journal Prosveshcheniye Nos 1-2. Here he writes opposing the “very radical” but “really very groundless” proposal of Nicolai Bukharin and Vladimir Smirnov to “discard the minimum programme in toto”.11

These comrades claimed that the division of the programme into minimum and maximum sections was outdated, because Russia was now about to begin the transition to socialism. The minimum programme was therefore redundant. Lenin strongly objected:

[W]e must not discard the minimum programme, for this would be an empty boast: we do not wish to ‘demand anything from the bourgeoisie’, we wish to realise everything ourselves, we do not wish to work on petty details within the framework of bourgeoisie society.

This would be an empty boast, because first of all we must win power, which has not yet been done. We must first carry out measures of transition to socialism, we must continue our revolution until the world socialist revolution is victorious, and only then, “returning from battle”, may we discard the minimum programme as of no further use.12

And there was always the possibility of defeat, of having to conduct an organised retreat. Discarding the minimum programme would be “equivalent to declaring, to announcing (to bragging in simple language) that we have already won”.13

Even after the October revolution Lenin repeated the same essential argument. Against those who wanted to write a programme purely based on soviet power and the transition to full socialism, he warned that it is “a utopia to think that we shall not be thrown back”.14 Hence the continued relevance of the minimum programme and the possibility of having to use “bourgeois parliamentarianism”, etc.

Clearly, Lenin took programme very seriously. He took the minimum section of the programme very seriously too. It can certainly be argued that the Bolsheviks led the working class to victory in October 1917 not in spite of their minimum programme, but because they had a minimum programme. Indeed, if, for some strange reason, the Bolsheviks had refused to equip themselves with a minimum programme, they could never have succeeded. Doubtless, that is why, Lenin said the following:

It is therefore ridiculous to discard the minimum programme, which is indispensable while we still live within the framework of bourgeois society, while we have not yet destroyed that framework, not yet realised the basic prerequisites for a transition to socialism, not yet smashed the enemy (the bourgeoisie), and even if we have smashed them we have not yet annihilated them.15

Until the left learns to take the minimum programme seriously once again, it is surely doomed to muddle, to flounder, to endlessly repeat the same mistakes.

Productive forces

Let us now turn to Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional programme - otherwise known as The death agony of capitalism and the tasks of the Fourth International. Trotsky became convinced that capitalism was more than just decadent and moribund. Capitalism faced immediate extinction. As a system, it could no longer develop the productive forces - an idea he took, of course, from Marx’s well known preface to A contribution to the critique of political economy (1859):

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or - this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms - with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins the period of social revolution.16

Marx’s preface might appear to run against the grain of much of what he wrote elsewhere - it can, after all, be read in the sense that it is the means of production, not the class struggle, which constitute the locomotive of history. Still, such an assessment, coming from Trotsky, that capitalism had turned into an absolute fetter was perfectly understandable - given the Wall Street crash, the great slump, soaring unemployment, the coming to power of Nazi gangsters and the fragmentation of the world economy into rival, antagonistic zones.

Marx had already elaborated a crisis theory in Capital. Hilferding and Lenin contributed with studies of finance capital, imperialism and the “last stage of capitalism”. Rosa Luxemburg had argued that, with the complete division of the world and the absence of an ‘external’ market, capital accumulation becomes impossible. Eugen Varga linked the underconsumption of the masses with capitalist collapse. Henryk Grossmann developed a ‘declining rate of profit’ crisis theory. In Britain John Strachey gave the theory a ‘wages push’ spin. Suffice to say, Marxists and semi-Marxists believed in an impending Zusammenbruch (collapse, breakdown, ruin).

Bourgeois pessimism too was rife following World War I. Eg, Oswald Spengler - a German nationalist, Nietzschean and anti-democrat - authored the hugely influential The decline of the west (1918-22). He argued that western civilisation had entered its winter. Its soul was dead and the age of Caesarism had begun.

For Trotsky, capitalism was disintegrating. Spain, Abyssinia, China were for him but heralds of a general conflagration. Nor did the large-scale introduction of new consumer goods, means of transport and technologies, such as vacuum cleaners, telephones, cars, aeroplanes and electronics, change his assessment: “Mankind’s productive forces stagnate”.17 All that got Germany, the US, Japan, Britain, Italy and France - the main capitalist powers - moving economically in the late 1930s, putting the unemployed back to work. It was preparation for the slaughter of another world war, when 50 million were to die.

Conditions for socialism, said Trotsky, were not only ripe, but overripe. Without a global socialist revolution all the gains of civilisation stood in danger. The main problem being not so much the consciousness of the masses: rather the opportunism, the cowardice, the treachery of the ‘official’ communists and social democrats: “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership”.18 But, whereas the parties of ‘official communism’ and social democracy each counted their ranks in the tens and hundreds of thousands, even the millions, Trotsky’s forces were in comparative terms isolated, untrained and miniscule. Perhaps a couple of thousand worldwide. A problem Trotsky solved, at least in his own mind, by falling back on what Marxists call the ‘theory of spontaneity’.

The class struggle is pictured as following its own elemental course. Beginning with narrow, trade union-type economics, moving without grand plan or design, strikers are propelled, through their own interests, their own experience, their own creativity, to the most revolutionary conclusions. Central committees, editorial boards, elected representatives, national congresses, agreed programmes - all that shite can be bypassed: that is, if the masses are roused and kept in motion through clear slogans and easy-to-grasp demands. That was the contention of Leon Trotsky in Our political tasks (1904) and Rosa Luxemburg in The mass strike (1906).

By ‘spontaneous’ we mean not a mass action that comes without an initiator, without thought, as if from nowhere. That is simply impossible. No, we mean a politically unaware mass action, a mass action not guided by the Communist Party and its programme. Of course, no Marxist would decry a spontaneous strike wave over economic conditions. But the historic task of the party is to overcome spontaneity, to raise what begins as a purely economic struggle between employees and employers into a conscious political struggle. Hence a problem arises when some on the left - even those claiming to be Marxists - show no wish to lift the struggle, want to restrict it, or are quite content to leave it at the level of trade union-type economics.

That amounts to economism or strikism - a form of politics that attaches no importance to the divisions and disputes on the organised left, that plays down or ignores constitutional issues and demands, that shows no understanding of the necessity of forming the working class into a class that can lead, or neutralise, the middle classes and split, even envisage buying off, sections of the capitalist class. We, by contrast, emphasise politics, overthrowing the existing constitution and establishing a government. Needless to say, a CPGB government, including a coalition government with CPGB participation, would be committed to carrying out in full our minimum programme … and then proceeding to the tasks of the maximum programme. If circumstances ruled that out, we would bide our time as a party of extreme opposition. So, the minimum programme readies for the highest goals, and meanwhile draws tight boundaries.

Consciousness

What the Trotsky of 1938 lacked in terms of organised forces in the real world he made up for with a reliance on the elementary movement of the working class. Hence this formula: the nature of the epoch “permits” revolutionaries to carry out economic struggles in a way that is “indissolubly” linked with the “actual tasks of the revolution”.19 Catastrophism is combined with economism.

The “existing consciousness” of workers is not only the point of departure; it is now to all intents and purposes regarded as unproblematic. Though in ‘normal times’ most are not subjectively revolutionary - ie, educated in Marxism - workers are objectively revolutionary simply because of capitalist collapse. But in the ‘end times’ no longer was it necessary through the patient work of education, mobilisations and ever more powerful organisation to win the masses to see the need to “change forthwith the old conditions”. The fight over wages and hours - putting in place safeguards against the corrosive effects of inflation, and state-funded job creation - were painted in revolutionary colours.

Trotsky reasoned that, in general, there can be no systematic social reforms or raising of the masses’ living standards. Objective circumstances therefore propelled the masses - or so he reasoned - to overthrow capitalism, simply because, every time the system made one concession, it was forced to take back two. It was in an advanced state of putrefaction. Therefore, he concluded, the simple defence of existing economic conditions, through demanding a “sliding scale” of wages, hours, etc, would provide the means needed to launch a final, apocalyptic collision with capitalism.

Frankly, it does not surprise me to read Trotsky’s sympathetic biographer, Isaac Deutscher, characterising the Transitional programme as “not so much a statement of principles as an instruction on tactics, designed for a party up to its ears in trade union struggles and day-to-day politics and striving to gain practical leadership immediately”.20 But, no, it is more than that: the trade unionism of the American SWP is presented as eschatology.

Trotsky insisted that, if the defensive movement of the working class was energetically promoted, freed from bureaucratic constraints and after that nudged in the direction of forming picket line defence guards, then, pushed towards demanding nationalisation of key industries, it would, one step following another, take at least a minority of the class towards forming soviets and then, finally, to the conquest of state power. Or, as Trotsky put it, playing with both religion and Marx (on the Paris Commune), they would “storm not only heaven, but earth”.

Organising the working class into a political party and patiently winning over the majority was dismissed as the gradualism that belonged to a previous, long-dead age: competitive capitalism. Now, with the final collapse of capitalism imminent, the meagre, inexperienced, squabbling forces of Trotskyism would lead the masses, almost by stealth, in their elemental movement, through a series of preset transitional demands, which, taken together, serve as a kind of ascending stairway.

After four or five years, maybe 10, they might flock to join the Fourth International in their millions. Winning state power and ending capitalism internationally will, though, be something they, the masses, become aware of only on the higher of the transitionary steps - not quite, but almost, socialism by conspiracy. In essence, Trotsky, from a position of extreme organisational weakness, reinvented Mikhail Bakunin’s general strike ‘road to socialism’. This time though it is the Trotskyite cadre who secretly control this, that or the other front operation; who use protest campaigns, demonstrations and strikes to achieve the (hidden) aims of the Fourth International.

Except that nowadays the Fourth International comes in a bewildering variety of splits and splinters. In Britain we have the Socialist Workers Party, Counterfire, Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Resistance, Red Flag, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Workers Revolutionary Party, Socialist Appeal, Socialist Action … and then there are the countless groups of one. Sects produce yet more sects, down to the point of social gravel. Not class parties.

Action

No matter how we excuse Trotsky in terms of how things appeared on the eve of World War II, there is no escaping from the fact that he was wrong in method and periodisation. Trade union struggles are not hegemonic; without communist leadership they tend towards sectionalism: they do not lead, in and of themselves, to socialist consciousness. Nor was the 1930s economic downturn final, terminal. As Lenin repeatedly stressed, unless the working class acts to take power, capitalism will always find a way out.

What appeared to be the end point was converted into a temporary phase. World War II saw full employment, rationing, central direction of production and all manner of scientific and technical innovations: the computer, the jet engine, splitting the atom, etc. And after World War II, yes because of a gouging devaluation of capital, there followed the long boom. There were substantive social reforms too: the NHS, a massive extension of council housing, social security, widespread nationalisation and a sustained growth in living standards. Of course, it could not last. Capitalism and crisis go hand in hand. Nonetheless, especially in western Europe, reformism - in all its varieties - was given a new lease of life. ‘Official communism’ too.

Trotsky’s epigones either refused to acknowledge the post-World War II long boom, or, when they finally did admit the truth, they dogmatically stuck to what they talmudically call the transitional method. That meant giving everyday trade union strikes and struggles a revolutionary aura. Economism combined with eschatology … but it just looked plain dumb. To most they appeared little different to evangelical Christians declaring ‘the end is nigh.’ The object of pity or humour.

The SWP might appear to be different. In some ways it was. It boasted of being programmeless (that despite its Socialist Review Group and International Socialist antecedents). The SWP did not try to navigate the Paris metro using a London tube map - maps were arrogantly discarded! That left the leadership free to chase every fad or fancy. Gaining the recruits needed to build the full-time apparatus is what counted. And again and again, the SWP found itself promoting popular fronts - although, because of the need to keep up the appearance of Marxist orthodoxy, that could never be publicly admitted.

Yet, two years before his death, Tony Cliff suddenly decided that the times were ripe to adopt a programme. With much fanfare, in September 1998, the SWP’s ‘Action programme’ appeared in Socialist Worker (like the 12-point transitional programme of the SRG and the 15,000 word programme of IS, now almost totally forgotten).21

A glossy brochure and attempts to garner support and finance from local branches of trade unions, trades councils, Labour Party wards, etc followed. Naturally, that fell flat. But - and this is important - there was no serious debate within the SWP’s ranks, culminating in a national conference vote, before the launch decision was made. In fact, Cliff pre-empted the annual conference by a good three months. Delegates were presented with a fait accompli. Cliff’s hunch overrode any pretence of democratic norms. Note the fundamental difference between the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the SWP in 1998. The Bolsheviks not only treated their programme with profound respect: their conferences and congresses were sovereign.

The ‘Action programme’ consisted of little more than a trite list of left-reformist nostrums: stopping closures and the nationalisation of failed concerns; a 35-hour week with no loss of pay; a £4.61 minimum wage; ending privatisation; repealing the anti-trade union laws; state control over international trade in order to curb speculation; an increase in welfare spending and slashing the arms bill; full employment, so as to boost aggregate economic demand. In other words, a late-1990s version of early-1950s SRG economism.

So, still no Cliffite strategy for achieving working class hegemony by fighting for extreme democracy, breaking the hold of the trade union and labour bureaucracy, championing women’s, gay and youth rights, winning over, or neutralising, the middle classes - above all, no game plan for putting into power a revolutionary government and overthrowing the rule of capital on a global scale.

Chris Harman, John Rees and Alex Callinicos were tasked with providing ‘theoretical’ justification. In truth it amounted to intellectual prostitution. They backed the ‘Action programme’ with extraordinarily tenuous stories about rapidly mounting levels of discontent. In any class society, it should be noted, discontent is a permanent feature of society. Then there was the ‘inventive’ fielding of quotes culled from Comintern’s ‘Theses on tactics’ agreed at its 3rd Congress in June 1921 and Trotsky’s 1934 ‘A programme of action for France’.22 But the boldest claim was that the SWP’s ‘Action programme’ was premised on essentially the same conditions which prompted Trotsky’s Transitional programme. A claim made by Cliff himself.23

Despite working class organisation, confidence and self-activity being at an extraordinary low ebb and revolutionary consciousness being almost non-existent, Cliff decreed that the pursuit of even the most minimal demands is all that is needed to see the back of capitalism. Cliff implied that Britain and other core imperialist powers had entered a deep crisis, which made revolution imminent: “Capitalism in the advanced countries,” he wrote, “is no longer expanding and so the words of the 1938 Transitional programme that ‘there can be no discussion of systematic social reforms and raising the masses’ living standards’ fits reality again.”24 As Cliff once said about the periodisation of Trotsky’s epigones - pure self-delusion.

Leave aside “systematic social reforms”. According to the Office of National Statistics, “Unlike the 1970s and 1980s, real household disposable income per head grew almost continuously through the 1990s and 2000s, irrespective of recessions.”25 Well, till we reached the global financial crisis of 2007-08. After that things really did change.

Comintern

Undaunted by the realities of the 1990s, Alex Callinicos, doing his master’s bidding, quotes Comintern’s ‘Theses on tactics’, as if it was a repudiation of the minimum programme per se, while simultaneously claiming it as a pretext for the ‘Action programme’, which is in actual fact nothing more than a minimalist programme of the reformist type - crucially not going beyond the existing constitution.26 The question of state power is, of course, entirely absent. Anyway, let me reproduce Callinicos’s quote from Comintern:

The communist parties do not put forward minimum programmes which could serve to strengthen and improve the tottering foundations of capitalism. The communists` main aim is to destroy the capitalist system. But in order to achieve their aim the communist parties must put forward demands expressing the immediate needs of the working class. The communists must organise mass campaigns to fight for these demands, regardless of whether they are compatible with the continuation of the capitalist system.

The communist parties should be concerned not with the viability and competitive capacity of capitalist industry or the stability of the capitalist economy, but with proletarian poverty, which cannot and must not be endured any longer ... In place of the minimum programme of centrism and reformists, the Communist International offers a struggle for the concrete demands of the proletariat which, in their totality, challenge the power of the bourgeoisie, organise the proletariat and mark out the different stages of the struggle for its dictatorship.27

Clearly the target of Comintern is not the minimum programme as such. We have already discussed Lenin’s steadfast defence of the minimum programme even after the October Revolution. Rather what Comintern had in its sights was the minimum programme of “socialisation or nationalisation” put forward by centrists and reformists. Their immediate programme was to be achieved peacefully in an attempt to ameliorate the conditions of workers, boost demand and thereby stabilise society.28 As the resolution explicitly states, the understanding that capitalism cannot bring about the “long-term improvement of the proletariat” does not imply that the workers have to “renounce the fight for immediate practical demands until after it has established its dictatorship”.29 Quite the reverse.


  1. L Trotsky The transitional programme New York NY 1997, p111.↩︎

  2. T Cliff Trotskyism after Trotsky London 1999, p14.↩︎

  3. T Cliff Neither Washington nor Moscow London 1982, p117.↩︎

  4. T Cliff Trotsky Vol 4, London 1993, pp299-300.↩︎

  5. Internal Bulletin January 1973. In those far-off days this publication came out all year round. It was not confined to the two months prior to the annual conference. Incidentally, my information here comes from a short article authored by Ian Birchall - ‘The programme of the International Socialists 1972-1974’ (May 2013).↩︎

  6. T Cliff. ‘Why we need a socialist workers party’ Socialist Worker January 8 1977.↩︎

  7. T Cliff Lenin Vol 2, London 1976. p124.↩︎

  8. See J Conrad, ‘Marxism versus holy script’ Weekly Worker January 10 2019 for my last rejoinder to the bogus version of Bolshevik history.↩︎

  9. T Cliff Lenin Vol 2, London 1976. p124.↩︎

  10. VI Lenin CW Vol 24 Moscow 1977, pp280-81.↩︎

  11. VI Lenin CW Vol 26 Moscow 1977, p169.↩︎

  12. Ibid p171.↩︎

  13. Ibid p171.↩︎

  14. VI Lenin CW Vol 27 Moscow 1977, p136.↩︎

  15. VI Lenin CW Vol 26, Moscow 1977, p171-72.↩︎

  16. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 29, London 1987, p262.↩︎

  17. L Trotsky The transitional programme New York NY 1997, p111.↩︎

  18. Ibid p112.↩︎

  19. Ibid p114.↩︎

  20. I Deutscher The prophet outcast Oxford 1979, pp425-26.↩︎

  21. Socialist Worker September 12 1998.↩︎

  22. See A Callinicos International Socialism No81, winter 1998; and J Rees Socialist Review January 1999.↩︎

  23. See T Cliff Trotskyism after Trotsky London 1999, p82.↩︎

  24. Ibid pp81-82.↩︎

  25. The same source reports: “Between 1998 and 2009 earnings grew on average at a faster rate than inflation”; and that “Household net wealth more than doubled in real terms between 1987 and 2009, from £56,000 to £117,000 in 2008/09 prices” (J Beaumont [ed] ‘Income and wealth’ Social Trends No41, London 2010, p2).↩︎

  26. See International Socialism No81.↩︎

  27. A Alder (ed) Theses, resolutions and manifestos of the first four congresses of the Third International London 1980, pp285-86.↩︎

  28. Ibid p285.↩︎

  29. Ibid p285.↩︎