The transition period

Mr. Fred Montague, M.P., replies to our Criticism.

48, Lucerne Road, Highbury Park, N.5.
August 10, 1928.

To the Editorial Board, THE SOCIALIST STANDARD.

Dear Sirs,
As the next issue of The Social Democrat will be almost entirely a Conference number and it will be impossible for me to comment until later, perhaps you will be able to give me space for a few words upon your interesting statement.
(1) It is true that I hold a fundamentally different view, whether false or not. I do believe that Capitalism in its later stages represents a transition period. Slavery and Feudalism did in similar stages. I fail to see in what way this view conflicts with Marx.
The conception of society as an organism in process of modification does not seem to me to be unphilosophical or contrary to fact. To be Socialists, least of all to belong to the working-class, whether Socialist or not, is not to be outside existing society because Capitalism has not yet come to its natural demise. Workers are this society, and will not be able to make another until economic conditions are ready.
(2) How can it be said that the Capitalist class are in control of political machinery and the armed forces except by consent of the working-class? The workers have political power, and who but the workers compose the armed forces. Why use language reminiscent of “Bastille” psychology and characteristic of the slave complex ? It is unreal rubbish.
(3) I agree that when there is a Socialist majority of an effective kind (remembering that bare majorities can have only bare power) the transition will assume a different character. Of course. But I reject the notion that (apart from possible revolutionary upheaval which, in itself, would be merely political, could not create Socialism by magic, and would probably come, if at all, prematurely) there is some inevitable break of continuity, because the workers vote one way instead of another.
(4) Your reply to Mr. Phillips (par. 3) seems to me to give the S.B.G.B. case away. If Capitalists, for the sake of avoiding “industrial and administrative chaos,” will refrain from blocking the way to Socialism whilst the transition period is taking place after the workers elect a Socialist majority to Parliament, why assume that everything done now to avoid industrial and administrative chaos must necessarily block the way?
(5) A period of transformation means a period, short or long, where one form of society exists in diminishing area side by side with another form in ascending area. A Socialist Government would have to admit the dual fact and legislate for economic stability. The fault of your analogy about Krupps and about war administration is that in those cases there was no change of Capitalist economic machinery or control. You will agree.
The only (though important) difference that crosses on ballot papers will make to economic evolution is that, for the first time the workers will take charge of the evolutionary process and direct existing collectivist tendencies into definitely Socialist channels. Well, we all want that. The difference between us is that you regard the advent of a Socialist Government as an entirely new economic departure, whilst I consider that the conscious awakening of the workers will be, like birth, a stage of existence, not origin in vacua. I do not believe in special creation.
(6) In answer to Mr. Phillips you say the Capitalists are not prepared to pay any price. That is as true now as it will be when Parliament has a majority of Socialists. They are beginning not to pay the price of competition. They will not pay the price of social services that are not “profitable.” They will let the nation “buy” industries that have ceased to “pay.” All very accurate.
But if a national railroad service is necessary and Capitalists cannot and will not deliver the goods, what is there unsocialistic about nationalising the railways? Is it that national taxation will be burdened with interest on the bonds? Since when has it been “Socialistic” to hold that taxation matters to the workers? I am not interested in Nationalisation on the ground that it will “pay,” but on the ground that, since “Rationalisation” is the only alternative I prefer to have economic machinery in the hands of the Parliament you and I want the workers to control.
Why should not Nationalisation benefit the workers under Capitalism? Unless you hold that the “Iron Law” is a cast-iron law, and wages don’t matter, whose is the fault if public servants of the working-class are not better paid and more secure? I know many cases in the municipal form of the principle where the workers are better off. On the other hand, if no workers can be better off they cannot be worse off, for a real iron law must be pretty rigid at both ends. In which case Nationalisation cannot injure the workers.
(7) Nationalisation, you say, will cause unemployment. More efficiency, less work. Three cheers for inefficiency ! Is that Socialist policy? Good God, does the absence of Nationalisation in the coal industry “find work”? If keeping the workers employed in non-efficient Capitalist concerns instead of setting unemployed men to work to produce new wealth for their own consumption and new demand-power in the nation is Socialist, I have been at sea all my life. Can you say that workers could not insist upon the latter being done and might it not be done before your financial secretary or ours gets buried in the subscriptions of the working class? If not, why not?
One point more. I was not a recruiting agent. I did not ask other people to do even what I thought it proper to do myself.
Yours sincerely,

Our Reply
(1) Mr. Montague says that “Capitalism” in its later stages represents a transition period,” and he writes of Capitalism’s “natural demise.” This view conflicts both with fact and with the Marxian view of social development. Capitalism, administratively and socially, has always been adjusting itself to developments of new productive methods, and the rise of new sections of the Capitalist class, but this is not transition to Socialism. Capitalism, with ever new adjustments, will go on indefinitely unless and until the working-class decide to terminate it. Waiting for Capitalism to “come to its natural demise” and in the meantime assisting the Capitalists to reform Capitalism is not work for Socialists.

(2) Mr. Montague dismisses as “unreal rubbish” the notion “that the Capitalist class are in control …. except by consent of the working-class.”

This is interesting, but has nothing to do with our case.

Mr. Montague knows perfectly well that we have never denied that the workers consent to Capitalist control and vote for Capitalism at each election.

The point of importance (and this Mr. Montague conveniently ignores) is that the Capitalists are in control, and therefore the reforms they introduce are Capitalist remedies for Capitalist problems.

(3) The very definite break of continuity after the workers gain control for Socialism will be that, for the first time, an attack will be made on the private property basis of Capitalism.

Was there not a definite break of continuity in the Southern States of the U.S.A. when slavery was made illegal and replaced by wage-labour?

(4) We have not said that everything done by the Capitalist class “must necessarily block the way” to Socialism. What we have said is that while the Capitalist class are in control they will decide what shall and shall not be done. The pressure of their system, not the pleadings of “Labour” representatives, compels them to actions which sometimes work out to our benefit as well as theirs.

(5) It has already been pointed out that Socialism is international, and the conception of Socialism and Capitalism existing in “areas” “side by side,” is quite foreign to Socialism.

If the change over from the production of munitions to the production of machinery can be carried out by the workers under Capitalism, we still fail to see why similar transformations should present special difficulty after the workers are in control. Mr. Montague fails to enlighten us.

We quite agree that the awakening of the workers is a gradual process, but their conquest of power is equally obviously a definite new departure.

(6) We asked Mr. Montague to defend his support of Nationalisation, which he agreed is “only another form of Capitalism.” Our opposition was stated to be on the ground that “it will not benefit the workers under Capitalism.” Instead of showing that the workers would be better off under Nationalisation, Mr. Montague first says that he prefers to have “economic machinery in the hands of the Parliament you and I want the workers to control”—but the point is that the workers at present do not control Parliament, and the proposition Mr. Montague has to defend is the advocacy of State-ownership by a Parliament in control of Capitalist parties.

He then uses the flimsy argument that he knows some municipal employees who are “better off.” As he gives no particulars, nor any explanation of his basis of comparison, no answer is possible. I would, however, refer him to the explicit statement of the Civil Service Industrial Court which last year arbitrated on Post Office wages, that it accepted the principle of basing wage rates on those paid in outside industry.

Lastly, does Mr. Montague really think that we ought to support any reform the Capitalists choose to advocate, provided it is not positively harmful to the workers? If Nationalisation leaves the workers no better and no worse off than now, that is a sufficient reason not to waste efforts on it; efforts which might be devoted to the achievement of Socialism.

(7) Mr. Montague asks if “inefficiency” is Socialist policy. It is not. Have we ever said it was?

What he persistently fails to recognise is that the economic evils of the working-class are due to their wage-slave position in Capitalist society. Mr. Montague misleads the workers by persuading them to believe that Nationalisation will solve their problems. Our alternative to advocating either private or State Capitalism is to advocate Socialism. Mr. Montague’s alternative to advocating private Capitalism is advocating State Capitalism, coupled with such nonsense as “setting unemployed men to work to produce new wealth for their own consumption,” as if such a thing were possible with the Capitalist class still in control of the means of production.


(Socialist Standard, September 1928)

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