Thomas Bell

Implications of the Transition Period

Source: The Communist Review, July 1922, Vol. 3, No. 3.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE characteristic difference between the Communist International and the Second and the Two and a-half Internationals is not only a question of the former being more active in pursuing the fundamental aims of the proletariat than the latter. It is, besides, a question of the direction of activity. The Third International, despite the fears and sneers of its opponents, who have not the courage to take their rightful place in one or other of the camps of the yellow internationals, has but one single aim. That aim is the extension and promotion of the world revolution. The Third International, for example, has never concealed its object in working within the labour organisations, industrial or political. And as Comrade Radek rapped home to Vandervelde and Macdonald at the Berlin Conference, there is nothing new in the creation of the Communist nuclei in the trade unions, political labour parties, or any other proletarian organisation. The Second International uses similar methods. But what the leaders of the Second International really object to is not the principle of the nuclei, but their aim. The yellow leaders want conciliation, progressive constitutional action, negotiation, and compromise. They want industrial harmony and social peace in a world torn by class conflict and struggle around economic interests. The Third International, understanding the class struggle, rejects none of the foregoing methods. On the contrary, while using them, it would subordinate them or make them auxiliary to the fundamental objective of the world revolution. It is this direction of communist activity the yellow leaders object to, and not merely its mechanics. Failure to keep this in mind is responsible for the tendency, even in some Communists, to hesitate and feel uncertain whenever it is proposed at any time to alter the tactics of our movement.

It is not to be denied that the tactics of the new economic policy in Russia, with its concessions to capitalists, and even preparedness of the Soviet Government to acknowledge the pre-war debts, has been disquieting for many loyal Communists. So have the tactics of the United Front by the Communist International. Indeed, but for that loyalty in many cases, e.g., in France and Italy, there would have been active opposition and disruption in the Communist ranks. But as the congresses of the Third International have revealed from time to time, there need be no occasion for hesitation, lest the Communist International becomes an opportunist outfit, i.e., opportunist in the sense of the Second International. The relentless criticism without regard to national frontiers of the parties affiliated is a sufficient safeguard. Those who imagine the “voice of Russia is the voice of God” overlook the fact that the experience of the Russian Revolution is the treasured property of the world’s proletariat, and not to be trifled with. Only a proper understanding of the implications of the Transition Period in the petty bourgeoisie begin to lift its head, naturally the bourgeoisie in Europe thinks Communism has failed, and Russia is returning to capitalism. Had the appearance of this new phenomena been a spontaneous growth in the teeth of government opposition, there might have been some grounds for bourgeois rejoicing. But since this policy is the deliberate and conscious effort of the proletarian government itself to overcome the problem of dislocated industry, it makes all the difference in the world. The bourgeoisie can extract all the comfort they can out of the new situation. The Soviet Government is under no illusion.

By giving the incentive to trade and profit, not only is the government relieved from the burden of sabotage and slacking, but the very efforts and activity of these profiteering elements in a measure helps in the process of economic reconstruction. Just as in capitalist countries the workers are organised by the bourgeoisie in the interests of capitalism, so the organisation of the petty bourgeois and anti-Communist elements are now being organised in the interests of the workers’ republic.

Are there any dangers in these methods? Of course there are!

The economic wealth in the hands of the petty industrialists will certainly increase, but the accumulated power and strength of the State industry and the general economic power of the workers’ government can never be overtaken.

In the industries there are and will be wage disputes, strikes and lock-outs.

But whereas in England or America the government opposes the labour unions as inimical to the interests of capitalism, in the workers’ republic the unions will have the support of the Soviet government, and labour organisation actively encouraged. Shop committees inspired by the tireless Communists will defeat the private capitalists. And as the State industries grow, and the economic wealth of the State increases, the labour conditions in these State institutions, largely determined by the labour unions, will always be a pattern for the workers in the petty industry to model their conditions upon.

On the other hand, since the Communists form the backbone of the whole State apparatus in the workers’ and peasants’ government, the organisation of the workers’ committees under the influence of the Communists will be directed against the greed of private enterprise. In this way the power of the petty industry to acquire unrestricted exploitation of the working-class will be controlled

One thing is now beyond dispute, as was established at Genoa—there is no question of handing back the factories, workshops, or industries generally to the former capitalist owners. Nor is there any question of extending to them the political franchise. But even if the latter should take place, what chance has any anti-government group or party against the political machinery of the State apparatus and accumulated experience of the last few years of organised State propaganda?

As with labour organisations and petty bourgeois property, so with the Press. In England or America the capitalist government tolerate the weak Press of the labour movement. They counteract labour agitation by means of their subsidised newspapers and business organs. In Soviet Russia the situation is reversed. The enormous resources of the workers’ government, will always be superior to the efforts of private enterprise, and will be turned against any attempts of the petty bourgeoisie to poison the minds of the working class.

Thus, just as Communism in capitalist countries has to face the whole weight and power of the capitalist government, so the dangers from the petty bourgeois side will be met in Soviet Russia by the entire power of the proletarian State.

In conjunction with all this, it must never be forgotten that as the economic and productive resources of the government recovers and progressively increases, so the whole psychology of the workers’ outlook will be shaped and fashioned in accordance with the aims of the proletarian State. But above all and most important of all, we have to reckon with the Communist Party.

In the transition period the Communist Party is bound to be the most active section in the State, forming, in fact, the backbone of the State apparatus. Accordingly, there is attracted to its ranks all the petty bourgeois grafters and professional elements, who think, because of the close identification of the party with the State apparatus, that the party card will be a stepping stone towards a place in the administrative machine. This is a danger that undoubtedly had to be faced if the achievements of the revolution were not to be lost. It was seen that if things were allowed to drift, not only would there take place a change in the personnel of the party but an entirely different psychology that might become favourable to the bourgeoisie would arise.

Without any auditing or stocktaking it is conceivable for the party to get overloaded with such elements. This was shown to be actually the case at the last “cleaning out” that took place. Nearly 100,000 such elements were effectively combed out and now the balance is safely on the side of the workers and poorer peasants. This cleaning out process has come to stay. By stipulating conditions of probationary membership that render it difficult for the petty bourgeois elements to enter the party, while at the same time making it easy for the workers who are increasingly attracted to it, any tendency to weaken the revolutionary aims of the party are put in check.

After demonstrating its capacity to defeat the militarist opposition of the imperialists, and as shown at Genoa its ability to turn the weapons of the capitalist diplomacy against themselves and withstand the attacks of the allied imperialists, the proletarian Government has earned the confidence of the masses. At the same time keeping in mind the tremendous energy that is presently absorbed in the defence of the military front and in grappling with the problem of the Famine, we have but to imagine these resources set free to be devoted to the work of economic re-building of the industries and the problem of fighting the petty bourgeoisie and the concessionaires fades into thin air.

The implications of the transition period therefore calls for more than a mere superficial reading of the appearance of certain forms of capitalism and dilletante attempts to explain their historical content. To fully grasp the significance of the transition period we must bring to our aid the dialectics of Marxism which does not seek refuge from difficulties behind niceties or high-sounding phrases, but takes the material to hand and fashions it to the wants of the proletarian masses. The outer-breastworks of capitalism have been broken through by the Russian proletariat. The transition period is a period of giving and taking, retreating and advancing that is bound to go on until the world proletariat is finally safe from the grip of the bourgeoisie.

The Communist revolutionary seeks no cut and dried Utopia. He seeks no end short of removing the bugbear of capitalist exploitation from the economic life of the masses.

Above all he recognises that supplementary to our understanding, the Transition Period is a test on the loyalty and faith of the communist revolutionary, not only in the Third International but in Soviet Russia as the vanguard of the proletarian revolution.