Many people who come into contact with the Socialist Party often ask “what’s the difference between you and the other socialist groups?” While there are many important political differences, there are also differences in our areas of work, our approach and the way that we explain ideas and interact with workers.
We believe that one of the most important political documents written was Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Programme. This document is more than just a political programme. It is in essence a whole method for socialists to use in the struggle to abolish capitalism and replace it with democratic socialism.
In our view the working class is the only force in society that can perform the task of carrying through a socialist transformation of society. But how do we convince the majority of working class people of the need for socialist ideas and of the correct methods to change society? In the Transitional Programme Trotsky shows how the problems of working-class people should be approached.
Socialists fight for immediate reforms, or minimal demands, but the day-to-day problems of unemployment, casualisation, low pay etc are linked to the socialist transformation of society by a series of intermediate demands or transitional demands.
The transitional programme is a bridge from today’s level of consciousness to the prospect of changing society. Therefore the most important step on that bridge is the first one. The first demands have to reach the actual experience of working class people to make the rest of the demands relevant.
It is no good having the purest programme for socialist revolution if the mass of working people do not bother to read it because it is out of touch with the reality of their lives.
Virtually all the political, economic and social problems that we face are caused by capitalism: low pay, unemployment, expensive and inadequate housing, bad health, racism and war all flow from this system.
This basic truth is obscured by the media, the politicians and the capitalist system itself. It is not enough, therefore, for socialist organisations to simply proclaim socialism and wait for the workers to support it. Marxists must struggle side by side with workers and link those struggles on “bread and butter issues” to the wider struggle to change society. Only in this way will Marxists get the ear of the working class.
We propose demands that help to alleviate the basic problems that the working class face but also point in the direction of fundamentally changing society through the working class taking over, replacing capitalism with a democratically planned economy.
These demands, transitional demands, act as a bridge between answering the immediate problems of working people and the socialist transformation of society, the ultimate solution to all the separate issues.
Transitional demands advocated by Marxists are always met with howls of opposition from the right wing of the labour movement and much of the left. Many in the Labor Party and Greens for example denounce the Socialist Party for putting forward what they say are impossible demands that could never be realised.
Transitional demands are not impossible, they can be fought for here and now by the working class, through mass struggle. But if gains made by struggle are to be held onto, society must be changed to put them beyond the grasp of capitalist counter-reforms.
One of the Australian working class’s great achievements was when building workers were the first in the world to win an eight hour day in 1856. This was a massive step forward in terms of workers having enough time in their life for things apart from work.
But from the very beginning bosses have sought to undermine this achievement, chipping away at its foundations by resisting pay rises, trying to get people to work harder or to do many hours of unpaid overtime. This has gone so far that from being the first country in the world to achieve the eight hour day we are now the hardest and longest working class in the advanced capitalist world!
The Socialist Party calls for the immediate introduction of a 35 hour week without a loss in pay. This will share out available work and give people the much needed social time they deserve. Why should some people work such long hours when others are struggling to find enough work to live?
This transitional demand leads on to the idea of the possibility of introducing even shorter working hours and forces people to question the unplanned and undemocratic nature of the entire capitalist system.
The Transitional Programme is a programme for socialist change which is rooted in the current consciousness of the working class. It is a document of its time dealing with the main issues that faced the working class of the day. That is why the method that Trotsky describes is much more important than the actual demands he put forward.
The Transitional Programme demonstrates the method that Marxists have used to point the way to socialism from Marx himself to the Socialist Party and our sister parties organised around the Committee for a Workers’ International today. It is this approach that has led to us playing an important role in many community and industrial struggles around the world, including in Australia.
As The Transitional Programme points out, leaders of the labour movement (and some left groups today) focus on immediate issues, separating them from the need for socialist change while talking about socialism maybe in the dim and distant future.
Transitional demands link the two together, starting from today’s solutions and pointing to a future where society is run by working-class people to meet the needs of all.
By Socialist Party reporters