Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution by Leon Trotsky

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Class I: An Introduction to the Transitional Program Then and Now

Required reading: “The Transitional Program—A Tool Kit for Radical 21st Century Organisers” by Alison Thorne in Freedom Socialist Bulletin # 22, pages 38-40*.

Supplementary reading: Introduction by Joseph Hansen to The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution,”Trotsky’s Transitional Program: Its Origins and Significance for Today,” pages 9-30.

Study questions

Why are you interested in studying the Transitional Program?

What movements/political organizing have you been involved in?

Pick one example from question #2 to discuss. What key demands have been raised? Do you think any of these demands are immediate, democratic or transitional demands?

Class II: Overcoming the Historical Crisis of Leadership

Required reading: Transitional Program, pages 111-115.

Supplementary reading: Introduction by Joseph Hansen to The Transitional Program, “Transitional and Democratic Slogans,” pages 31 – 37.

Study questions

The objective prerequisites for a socialist revolution

What does Trotsky mean when he talks about “a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat”?

“The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only ‘ripened’, they have begun to get somewhat rotten.” What does Trotsky mean by this metaphor? Why is the fruit of revolution rotting? What “catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind”?

The proletariat and its leadership

Why does Trotsky characterize the “old workers organizations” as having “treacherous politics”? What makes the politics of these organizations treacherous?

Trotsky criticized proletarian leadership of the period as having an “opportunist character”. To what extent does proletarian leadership today have an opportunist character? Give examples.
*Page numbers refer to Pathfinder Press, Third edition, 1977.
The minimum program and the transitional program

What were the conditions which made it necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find a bridge between present demands and the socialist program of revolution? Why was help required? Is it still required?

What is a transitional demand? Give some examples of transitional demands with contemporary relevance. Explain why each of these demands is transitional in character.

What is the concept of a minimum and maximum program as put forward by classical social democracy? Why is this concept flawed?

Why do Trotskyists continue to fight for minimal demands? What is the relationship between minimal and transitional demands?

Class III: Transitional Demands for Workplace Organizing

Required reading: Transitional Program, pages 115-126.

Supplementary reading: Electoral platforms from the Yolanda Alaniz and Heidi Durham 1991 Seattle City Council and Guerry Hoddersen 1998 State Representative election campaigns.

Study questions

Sliding scale of wages and sliding scale of hours

Explain the sliding scale of wages and working hours. What relevance does this demand have for us today?

Why does Trotsky dismiss claims that such demands are “unrealizable”? What is his response?

Trade unions in the transitional epoch

Why does Trotsky condemn “self isolation of the capitulationist variety from mass trade unions”? What role should revolutionaries play in unions?

Why does Trotsky condemn “trade union fetishism”? What are the limits of unionism?

Factory committees

Why do you think Trotsky cautions against “routine handling” of situations? What does this mean for how we might work? What is a factory committee? Why did Trotsky advocate this form of organization in 1938? Given the conditions in the trade union movement/workplaces in 2000 should we advocate factory committees now? Why/why not?

“Business secrets” and workers’ control of industry

Why is the abolition of business secrets the first step towards the actual control of industry?

What does Trotsky mean when he says “workers’ control becomes a school for a planned economy”?

Expropriation of separate groups of capitalists

Explain the difference between expropriation and nationalization. Why might we raise the call to expropriate a particular branch of industry but not the entire economy? Can you think of recent examples of when this may have been appropriate?

Expropriation of private banks and state-ization of the credit system

What are the benefits of the state-ization of credit? How can these benefits be fully realized?

The picket line/defense guards/workers’ militia/the arming of the proletariat

Why does Trotsky caution workers against relying on the “sacredness of democracy?” What does he counterpose?

Class IV: Workers, Farmers and War

Required reading: Transitional Program, pages 126-137.

Supplementary reading: Pre-conference discussion “For a workers and farmers government” by Trotsky in Transitional Program, pages 194-198.

Study questions

The alliance of the workers and the farmers

How does Trotsky explain the class position of farmers and the urban petty bourgeoisie? What relationship should the working class have with this class?

What program of action does Trotsky advocate for farmers and artisans and shopkeepers? How could we use these demands today given the much discussed but mis-characterized urban/rural divide?

The struggle against imperialism and war

Characterize the revolutionary struggle against imperialist war.

What do revolutionaries say about (a) disarmament; (b) pacifism; (c) anti-Semitism?

Should revolutionaries take sides in wars and, if so, what method is used to develop a position?
Workers’ and farmers’ government

Explain the two different uses of the term “workers’ and farmers’ government.” Which does Trotsky support and why?


What is a Soviet? How is it different from a trade union or a party?

Trotsky says that the call for Soviets “crowns the program of transitional demands”. When is it possible to raise this call?

Class V: Combining a Clear Program with Flexible Tactics

Required reading: Transitional Program, pages 137-146.

Supplementary reading: Radical Women Manifesto, pages 26-51.

Study questions

Backward countries and the program of transitional demands

Trotsky says the struggle in colonial and semi-colonial countries has a “combined character.” What does this mean and how does it manifest itself in a practical sense?

What are the dangers of failing to recognize the combined character of the struggle and confining struggle to democratic demands? Summarize Trotsky’s examples. Can you think of contemporary examples?

The program of transitional demands in fascist countries

What reason does Trotsky give for the failure to build a mass opposition to fascism?

Given the conditions, what approach did Trotsky advocate towards organizing in countries gripped by fascism? What relationship will exist between democratic and transitional demands?

The USSR and problems of the transitional epoch

What does Trotsky mean when he says the USSR “embodies terrific contradictions”?

In what way was Trotskyism a threat to the Kremlin bureaucracy?

What was the chief political task in the USSR at the time the Transitional Program was adopted? What approach did Trotsky recommend and what slogans did he advocate?

Compare and contrast the approach advocated by Trotsky in colonial and semi-colonial countries, fascist countries and the USSR.

Class VI: Turn to Young People and Women Workers

Required reading: Transitional Program, pages 146-152.

Supplementary reading: “A program of democratic and transitional demands for youth” in Transitional Program, pages 237-243.

Study questions

Against opportunism and unprincipled revisionism

Trotsky stresses that the Fourth International must be willing to “swim against the stream.” What is “the stream” he is referring to and why is this political boldness crucial?

Against sectarianism

What is sectarianism and how is it fuelled? Why does Trotsky call sectarians “sterile politicians”? Why do sectarians have no need for transitional demands?

What is the danger of sectarianism in the ranks of a revolutionary party? What is the purpose of a political program?

Open the road to the women worker! Open the road to the youth!

How did Trotsky propose to guard against careerism in the Fourth International? Why did he consider this necessary?

Why is it important to orient towards young people? What political benefits do young comrades bring to a revolutionary organization?

Trotsky calls on the Fourth International to “turn to the woman workers.” Why?

Under the banner of the Fourth International

From what “great events” did the Fourth International arise?

How does Trotsky respond to skeptics concerned about numbers?

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