1940s >> 1948 >> no-528-august-1948

Must There Be A Transition Period?

The word “Socialism” has been used by so many people to mean so many different things that, to most workers, it has no clear meaning. We have heard of “National Socialism,” “Christian Socialism,” “Guild Socialism,” “State Socialism,” and a number of other varieties. The fact is, of course, that none of these things are Socialism at all. They are all conditions of Capitalism, or experiments within Capitalism, to which the name Socialism, with a suitable adjective, has been applied. The result has been to sow confusion. Hence, the Socialist finds that he must devote much of his time to explaining what Socialism is not, before he can make clear what it really is.

Not all of those who have. contributed to this confusion have done so with malice aforethought. Many are quite convinced that Nationalisation is Socialism or that the sermon on the mount was a Socialist lecture. Others will claim with conviction that the condition that prevails in Russia is Socialism or that workers’ control of industry is another variety.

One thing is common to all these confusion mongers. Without exception they do not understand the operation of Capitalism and, in consequence, they do not appreciate what Socialism implies. They do not agree that it is necessary for the majority of workers to understand and desire Socialism before it can be established. They consider that it is only necessary for a sufficient number of people to support the political party that advocates their particular brand of so-called Socialism to put that party into power. The party can then start serving out Socialism slice by slice. From the time that the party takes power until the last slice is handed out is a period that they consistently refer to as the “transition period.”

We are told that we cannot have Socialism overnight. There must he a period between Capitalism and Socialism is the argument. Then, the problems created by Capitalism are paraded and we are informed that this transition period is necessary in order to solve these problems before we can have “Complete Socialism.”

The Communists have been driven to substitute the word Communism for Socialism and then to explain away the present stage of Capitalist development in Russia as Socialism, this being, they claim, the transition period between Capitalism and Communism.

The Labour Party idea is that, with political power they can reform Capitalism, step at a time, until it is such a benevolent system to all members of society that it is nothing short of Socialism. On the strength of this they call themselves Socialists.. The step by step process is, for them, the transition period.

The Trotskyites. and others who would set themselves up as the revolutionary vanguard of the Working Class, attempt to so popularise themselves that the workers will, sooner or later, at the ‘‘psychological moment,” put them in a position of power. They will then establish the rule of the Working Class, more popularly known as The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. During this period of dictatorship (which would in reality be the dictatorship of their party) all the transitional problems would he ironed out.

These are the main points that lie behind the arguments, and the drawn-up plans for a transitional period. Not one of them is tenable if we recognise the fundamentals of Capitalism and Socialism.

Capitalist society is based upon private ownership of the means and instruments of production and distribution of the amenities of life. From this ownership comes the relationship of wage-labour and capital. Those who own, invest their wealth with a view to making profit. That is capital. Those who do not own must sell their ability to work for a wage—wage-labour. And from this condition of affairs flow poverty, unemployment, overwork, wars and all the subsidiary problems. Whilst the private ownership remains, these problems will follow naturally from it. There is no means of abolishing the effects whilst the cause remains. Attempts to do so are like trying to bail out an overflowing bath with a spoon whilst the tap is still running. The first necessity is to turn off the tap—remove the cause.

The first essential, then, is to abolish private ownership of the means of production. This is a legal ownership. The law guarantees both the ownership and the privileges that are derived from it. To trespass on another’s property, to damage another’s property, to steal another’s property, to in any way infringe on another’s property rights, will bring the law on to the trespasser, the thief or the infringer. Government, national and local, passes the laws, and the police force, the judges and the jailors, the soldiers, the airmen and the sailors, these all attend to the enforcement. Ownership of property is legal. The majority of the Working Class accepts and upholds this legality. It respects property rights.

Whilst the majority of the workers are prepared to support a system based on private property we shall have capitalism in some form or another. Whatever trimmings may be used to decorate it, whatever bluff may be used to hide it, whatever name may be used to disguise it, it will still he Capitalism. Industry can be Nationalised and it can be called “State Socialism,” poverty can be levelled out and it can he called Christian Democracy, the state can control almost every aspect of living and it can he called the transition to Communism, but if the ownership of the means of life is in the hands of a section of the community, the remainder will he a subject and exploited class.

How to change this? Parliament is the institution that attends to the law-making and controls the law- enforcing machinery. Political parties are organisations forgiving expression to class interests by striving to gain control of the law-making and enforcing machinery in order that the laws may be favourable to the class that is represented by the particular party. When the workers recognise the need to abolish this system of class ownership they must organise in a political party for this purpose. When they thus gain control of the governmental machinery they can, at a stroke, wipe out legal ownership. The claiming of property rights in the means of production and distribution can be rendered illegal. It will not require a transition period to do that.

With the machinery that was used to enforce recognition of lawful ownership taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by a working class that understands and wants Socialism, the Capitalist system is finished. There are then no longer owners of the means of. production to employ workers for wages. The relationship of wage-labour and capital is ended. Capitalism is dead. Socialism is established.

Organisations, such as Trade Unions, Stock Exchanges and Banks, which arose essentially to serve the needs of Capitalist society will dissolve immediately. New forms of organisation for the administration of society will be substituted. Other social institutions will also be adapted to the new economic basis.

All barriers to the solution of such problems as housing, unemployment, malnutrition, poverty and a host of others, will have been removed. Socialist society can then tackle the job unfettered by the claims of property, of profit and of class interest.

The technical process of production will continue to evolve, freed from the retarding forces of reactionary, Capitalist interests. Industry will continue but without wage-labour, without capital and without employers and employed.


Today production is social but distribution is not. It is necessary to harmonise production and distribution by making the wealth produced available freely to society as a whole. Standing in the way of this are the reactionary interests of the Capitalist class. The revolutionary act of dispossessing the capitalists and placing the means of production in the hands, and under the democratic control of society, will allow of this harmonising and social evolution to go forward at an accelerated pace.


The act of severing the bonds that keep the working class in subjection as an exploited, wage-earning class is practically instantaneous. When it is accomplished new productive processes that are stifled by capitalism, will be freed. Labour saving machinery that today serves to intensify the labours of the workers, will really be labour saving. Poverty will disappear. Housing schemes will no longer be subject to the dictates of capital. Social services will not have to be adjusted to the cost that a ruling class is prepared to pay. The solution to all will be real and permanent.


No clique of intellectuals will ever be able to shepherd the working class, via a transition period, to Socialism. A working class that knows its class status, that understands and desires Socialism, knows that “The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.”


A warning to fellow workers. Those who talk to you of transition periods do not credit you with sufficient ability to understand and act in your own class interest. They seek to lead you. They want your un-class-conscious support in order that they may gain political power. Whether they know it or not, if they get that power they will have to use it to operate Capitalism. That is what their transition period will turn out to be; Capitalism, with them in the saddle. You will have exchanged one bunch of exploiters for another. And it will be a case of “out of the frying pan into the fire.”


W. Waters