Documents in: Bahasa Indonesia Deutsch Español Français Italiano Japanese Polski Português Russian Chinese Tagalog
International Communist League
Home Spartacist, theoretical and documentary repository of the ICL, incorporating Women & Revolution Workers Vanguard, biweekly organ of the Spartacist League/U.S. Periodicals and directory of the sections of the ICL ICL Declaration of Principles in multiple languages Other literature of the ICL ICL events

Subscribe to Workers Vanguard

View archives

Printable version of this article

Workers Vanguard No. 944

9 October 2009

The Economic Crisis and the Transitional Program


Johannesburg, South Africa
6 September 2009

Dear comrades,

Having just read the article “The California Budget Crisis and the Bankruptcy of American Capitalism” in WV No. 941 (28 August), I have a criticism of the programmatic answer we offer for the current economic crisis. The article gives a compelling picture of the massive attacks being meted out by the dual capitalist parties that run the state government. However, the presentation of transitional demands is deficient in that the article never makes the point that a revolutionary workers government, expropriating the capitalist class as a whole, would proceed to build a planned economy. The workers government is defined—twice—as one in which “those who labor rule,” and expropriation is raised in the last paragraph. But the fundamental economic task of a workers state—the development of a socialized, planned economy based on a perspective of international proletarian revolution, i.e., a world socialist order—is not. Thus, the article raises the demand for public works but does not provide the link made in Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Program between such programs and the need for comprehensive economic planning.

This could leave readers with a narrow understanding of the task of a workers government and of socialism as a program to seize the existing wealth of the capitalists and use it to provide quality health care, housing, etc. In both South Africa and the U.S., this would certainly be a start in reconstructing society in the interests of the masses. But it is not the fundamental answer to the periodic wrenching economic crises wrought by the anarchic system of capitalist production or to overcoming scarcity.

In this period of ideological reaction, we have the task of defending the most basic tenets of revolutionary Marxism—not least, the need for a planned economy—against bourgeois spokesmen and their tails on the reformist left, which has increasingly renounced any allegiance to the October Revolution and any defense of the workers state it created, as well as the remaining deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. As a case in point, today’s Johannesburg Sunday Times reported that Trevor Manuel, formerly Finance minister and now Planning minister for the Tripartite Alliance government under Jacob Zuma, has released a policy paper that “warned against a communist-style of planning, saying centralisation of decision-making could cripple the state” and cited “China’s communist Great Leap Forward policy and the Soviet Union’s planned economy as examples of planning ‘gone terribly wrong’.” This comes from a spokesman for a government that includes the South African Communist Party, which we should not expect to make any defense of socialist planning.

I don’t think that the California article was the place to get into how Stalinist bureaucratic rule gave central planning a bad name (to put it mildly). But I do think that in any substantial article dealing with the current economic crisis we should speak to the need for a planned economy. This is not only a fundamental, necessary component of our program, but it has potential popular appeal given the attacks on the working class, blacks, immigrants and the poor coming down thanks to an economic system based on the drive for private profit and not social need.


* * *

7 September 2009

To the Editor:

“In the United States, where a man who owns a million is referred to as being ‘worth’ a million, market concepts have sunk in deeper than anywhere else.” —“Marxism in Our Time”

“In any event, whoever has not overcome the habit of uncritically accepting the ready-made ideological reflections of economic development, whoever has not reasoned out, in the footsteps of Marx, the essential nature of the commodity as the basic cell of the capitalist organism, will prove to be forever incapable of scientifically comprehending the most important and the most acute manifestations of our epoch.”—“Marxism in Our Time”

The reason I write is to comment on a sentence in the very fine lead article in WV No. 941 [28 August]. Near the end of that article one finds this: “While the capitalist rulers bray that Marxism has proved to be a ‘failed experiment,’ they cannot eliminate the class struggle, which is born of the irreconcilable conflict of interests between labor and capital.” This is undoubtedly correct—as far as it goes. But the question still remains—either socialism or barbarism. And what of Marxism? From the anarchist “left” through the entire political spectrum to the extreme right, if there is one point upon which all these “fine ladies and gentlemen” agree, it is that genuine Marxism (a.k.a. Trotskyism) and a workers’ government (the dictatorship of the proletariat) are historically irrelevant as the solution and resolution to the class struggle of labor against capital. And they have been quite vocal and strident about this, especially since the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers’ state.

Furthermore, the Bolshevik-Leninist party—the essential instrument and only means of successfully destroying capitalism and its State through leading the workers’ (socialist) revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the gateway to constructing the socialist order—is likewise poo-pooed by these oh-so “learned” anti-Marxists of all stripes.

Nothing could be further from the truth than the shrill babblings of these assorted anti-Marxists. The current crisis of American (and world) capitalism proves beyond any doubt that Marx was and continues to be right. We understand this, but the most advanced workers and youth, as yet, do not. Therefore, Marx’s ideas must be patiently explained over and over and over again.

As a friendly suggestion, I would like to put forward the following point:

I think that it might prove useful, if only through the device of a running commentary (incorporating updated statistics and trends), to present a more contemporary version of “Marxism in Our Time” by Trotsky (1939). Trotsky did something similar in his 1937 work “Ninety Years of the Communist Manifesto.” If one declares that Karl Marx was right (and he most certainly was and is), then one should make clear to the most advanced workers and youth, point for point, exactly how and where, in a systematic presentation. As J.S. noted in his excellent article on the united front [“The United Front Tactic: Its Use and Abuse”] (WV No. 941), the “...perspective should be to produce more and better propaganda...explaining many complex ideas to the few.” There are more than a few in the SL/US and the ICL(FI) who are capable of producing such a work.

Additionally, I have found it useful to re-read Trotsky’s 1932 Copenhagen speech “In Defense of October” and his work “Stalinism and Bolshevism” (1937).

Best fraternal wishes,
Mike W.


Workers Vanguard No. 944

WV 944

9 October 2009


No to Imperialist Sanctions!

Down With U.S./Israeli Threats Against Iran!


Stop Vendetta Against Roman Polanski!

Free Him Now! No Extradition!


Bosses’ Rules: A Losing Game

MTA Moves to Scrap Arbitration Ruling, Transit Workers Seethe

Break with the Democrats! For a Fighting Workers Party!

New York City


From the Archives of Marxism

Martin Widelin: Martyred Trotskyist Leader in World War II German Underground


The Economic Crisis and the Transitional Program



Slavery and the Origins of American Capitalism

Part Three


Franz Mehring

On Race as a Social Construct


Cops Rampage at G20 Protests

Drop All Charges Against Pittsburgh Protesters!

(Young Spartacus pages)


Anti-Abortion Witchhunt in Australia

Full Access to RU486 Now! For Free Abortion on Demand!

(Women and Revolution pages)



Down With Age of Consent Laws! Government Out of the Bedroom!

Free Helen Goddard!


Workers Vanguard Subscription Drive