I work in a Civil Service office. Like many civil servants, I’m grossly underpaid for the work I do. Our department faces major job cuts; it’s getting rid of 5% of the work force over the next 12 months.
As people leave, their work mounts up for the rest of us, with the same targets and statistics to hit each month, but with fewer people to do the work. I come home more knackered every day, but the problems don’t just stop out of work.
My local council, North Tyneside, has the highest council tax rate in Tyne and Wear, but they are still cutting their budget by £18 million and plan to privatise as many council services as they can get away with.
I’m not the only one who’s angry about all this. I’m in a majority in my office who think that for the increasingly stressful work we do, we should be better paid. I’m in a majority who are angry with North Tyneside’s New Labour council. I’m in a majority who are worried about the job cuts and privatisation bonanza in the NHS.
I’m in a majority who don’t have access to a dentist, who have to use overdraft and credit to top up our pay at the end of each month and who get angry when they see rich idiots with more money than sense who’ve never done a day’s work in their lives while we slog our guts out for a relative pittance.
I’m in a minority, however, because I think the only way to redress this situation is to change the whole way that society is run, to fight for a socialist world.
The truth is that until the majority of my office feels the same way as me, and until this is repeated in offices, factories, shops and workplaces over and over, we aren’t going to achieve socialism. And I won’t get all my workmates onside just by ranting on about revolution all day.
The Transitional Programme by Leon Trotsky is, essentially, a handbook on how to build socialist consciousness, how to go about getting support not just for individual campaigns against issues that make us all angry, but how to link that with the bigger fight.
It’s not gospel, and, being written in 1938, a lot of what Trotsky writes about is dated. But what Trotsky offers us in The Transitional Programme is an indispensable tool kit. This is why today, after the second world war, after the fall of Stalinism, in a world that seems very different to the one that Trotsky was writing in, The Transitional Programme is still vital reading.
The root cause of many problems we face are the result of capitalism, of a society run to create obscene profits for a minority at the top, not in the interests of the billions of ordinary people across the planet.
Low pay, attacks on public services, undermining of our pension rights, war and racism all stem, fundamentally, from the economic base of capitalist society. That’s why, as socialists, it’s not enough to just campaign on these individual issues.
As well as fighting against the bosses’ attacks and for as many reforms as we can claw from them, we need to link this to the need to change society as a whole.
Trotsky shows the use of ‘transitional demands’, staging posts in consciousness firmly grounded in the day-to-day struggles of the working class, but pointing a way forward and demonstrating the need for socialist change.
By their very nature, these demands are inextricably linked to the period they come from. Some demands that Trotsky puts forward are not practical now, either because workers have won what is demanded or because of a change in the general political consciousness.
But it’s not the specific demands that are important about this text; it’s the method. Trotsky lays out clearly the method that Marxists have used from the time of Marx himself right through to the Socialist Party and CWI today.
We are currently involved, for example, in campaigns across the country to defend the NHS, one of the greatest victories won by the British working class through major struggle in the period after World war Two.
But Blair, Brown and their cronies are hell-bent on stripping away these reforms through privatisation and major job cuts. The Socialist Party doesn’t just campaign to end job cuts and privatisation.
We demand a reversal of the privatisation already brought in through the back door, but also we demand the nationalisation of the major pharmaceutical industries that make gross profits from people’s sickness. These demands lead on to the idea of removing capitalism from society all together.
With the correct approach, workers can be won over to socialist ideas by starting with today’s solutions and pointing to a future where society is run by working-class people to meet the needs of all.
The direct relevance and practicality of Trotsky’s theory makes The Transitional Programme important today. I would urge all socialists and trade unionists, to read this relatively short work, just don’t look at it as a set of commandments, but as a method and approach.
By Michael Garrett