Anti-monopoly democracy — a transitional stage

BY:Timothy V. Johnson| February 1, 2024
Anti-monopoly democracy — a transitional stage


Lenin on Transitional Forms

In 1920, recognizing the temporary restabilization of the capitalist system, V.I. Lenin pointed out that Communist Parties in advanced capitalist countries faced a difficult task. Lenin stated that,

All efforts and all attention should now be concentrated on the next step … That step is: the search after forms of transition or the approach to the proletarian revolution.1

Since Lenin voiced this profound statement, the international Communist movement has sought a series of transitional forms, changing with each change in objective conditions, to reach the proletarian revolution. The proposals for workers’ governments, popular front governments, people’s democracies and anti-monopoly democracies by the Communist movement have all been attempts to implement Lenin’s concept of a “transitional form.”

The essence of the concept of “transitional forms” derives from the relationship between the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism. Lenin continually emphasized that the struggle for democracy cannot be counterposed to the struggle for socialism. He noted:

It would be a radical mistake to think that the struggle for democracy was capable of diverting the proletariat from the socialist revolution or of hiding, overshadowing it, etc … The proletariat cannot prepare for its victory over the bourgeoisie without an all-round, consistent and revolutionary struggle for democracy.2

The key notion in Lenin’s statement is that the struggle for socialism can only come about through a revolutionary struggle for democracy. Implicit within this notion is the formulation of objective and subjective factors in the development of a revolutionary situation.

Briefly, objective factors concern the crisis of capitalism and subjective factors include the level and degree of class consciousness within the working class. Lenin recognized that the proletariat comes to see the necessity of socialist revolution through their own experiences, not from abstract theories. Consequently, if the degree of class consciousness is at a low level, then exhortations from the Communists to “fight for socialism” are ineffective because revolution is not on the immediate agenda. This is an important aspect of Leninism that Trotskyists, neo-Trotskyists, and other purveyors of petit-bourgeois ideology seem not to understand. That is, whether socialist revolution is on the immediate agenda is not something decided at the whim of the class conscious forces, but is determined based upon the subjective and objective conditions.

Lenin made note of this in his defense of the resolution of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, where he stated:

…the question of the “conquest of power” in general, etc., does not at all come into the picture. Was the Congress right in eliminating this and similar questions? Undoubtedly it was, because the political situation in Russia does not by any means turn such questions into immediate issues … Party Congresses should take up and decide not issues which this or that writer has happened to mention opportunely or inopportunely, but such as are of vital importance by reason of the prevailing conditions and the objective course of social development.3

If properly understood, Lenin’s words cannot be used to buttress the right-wing revisionists’ approach of singly being concerned with democratic gains and consigning all discussion of socialist aims to the distant future. Lenin clearly stated:

One should know how to combine the struggle for democracy and the struggle for the socialist revolution, subordinating the first to the second … Don’t lose sight of the main thing (the socialist revolution): put it first … put all the democratic demands, but subordinating them to it, coordinating them with it.4

Thus, Communists in advanced capitalist countries are faced with the task of attempting to expand and advance democracy, while at the same time consistently pointing out that democratic gains will not alter the essence, the exploitative nature, of capitalist society. The Marxist-Leninist method of combining the democratic and socialist struggles takes the programmatic form of the minimum and maximum program.

The maximum program is, of course, socialism and a government of the working class and its allies. The minimum program speaks to the general democratic tasks that can be accomplished without the complete abolition of the capitalist state. The minimum program is a necessity for the reasons stated above. In explaining this point Lenin states,

… the resolution, by making implementation of the minimum program the provisional revolutionary government’s task, eliminates the absurd and semi-anarchist ideas of giving immediate effect to the maximum program, and the conquest of power for a socialist revolution. The degree of Russia’s economic development (an objective condition) and the degree of class consciousness and organization of the broad masses of the proletariat (a subjective condition inseparably bound up with the objective condition) make the immediate and complete emancipation of the working class impossible … If any worker asks us at the appropriate moment why we should not go ahead and carry out our maximum program we shall answer by pointing out how far from socialism the democratically-minded people still are.5

Lenin demonstrated his mastery of the dialectic of minimum and maximum programs in the course of the Russian Revolution. In his pamphlet entitled, “The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It,” written on the eve of the October Revolution, Lenin still put forward a minimum program.

In “The Impending Catastrophe” Lenin argues for the creation of a revolutionary-democratic state, based upon an alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry. His proposed program included nationalization of the banks and other reforms carried out in a revolutionary democratic manner. He points out:

We can not be revolutionary democrats in the twentieth century and in a capitalist country if we fear to advance towards socialism.6

He further states that the revolutionary-democratic government,

…will still not be socialism, but it will no longer be capitalism. It will be a tremendous step towards socialism, a step from which, if complete democracy is preserved, there can no longer be any retreat back to capitalism, without unparalleled violence being committed against the masses.7

Here Lenin captures the essence of the minimum program. That is, that it is not only a step forward for democracy but, more importantly, it is a step toward socialism. Referring to the minimum program, in another context, he stated,

…we must outline … a program of action that will conform with the objective conditions of the present period and with the aims of proletarian democracy. This program is the entire minimum program of our Party, the program of the immediate political and economic reforms which, on the one hand, can be fully realized on the basis of the existing social and economic relationships and, on the other hand, are requisite for the next step forward, for the achievement of socialism.8

Thus, as late as October 1917, Lenin still sought the “transitional form” to the Russian proletarian revolution. Of course, as conditions developed, Lenin dropped the demand for a transitional form and saw the possibility of proceeding directly to the proletarian revolution. But, such was Lenin’s mastery of the dialectics of the revolutionary process, that even this was not antithetical to his teaching. Much earlier he had stated,

bear in mind that the struggle for the main thing may blaze up even though it has begun with the struggle for something partial.9

Since the time of the October Revolution, [the] Communist movement has consistently attempted to implement Lenin’s teachings on the struggles for democracy and socialism, the minimum and maximum programs, class alliances and transitional forms.

The United Front Against Fascism

The first elaboration of Lenin’s concept of transitional forms by the Communist movement was in the 1920s. In an attempt to unify the workers’ movement and combat the rising tide of fascism, the Communist International worked out the tactics of the united front. The united front strategy, briefly stated, was an attempt to rally the entire working class into action against fascism. As such, its only point of political unity was anti-fascism.

At the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, the possibility of the creation of workers’ governments was discussed. These would be governments based on the united front and would function as coalition governments. Some forces in the Comintern attempted to treat the concept of “workers’ governments” as if it were synonymous with the dictatorship of the proletariat. The criticism of this tendency pointed out that,

…the slogan of the workers’ government followed directly from the tactics of the united front, making it easier to draw the masses into the struggle, and that it should be regarded as a possible form of transition to the dictatorship of the proletariat.10

It is useful to keep in mind that at the same time that the Comintern was developing the policy of united front and the transitional forms that grow out of it, there was also work, theoretical and practical, being done on the national liberation movements. A similar strategy was devised there concerning a united anti-imperialist front and the national democratic revolution. Historians of this period have asserted that,

The tactic of the united anti-imperialist front in the East was closely bound up with the slogan of the united workers’ front in the West.11

In the 1930s, the Comintern began to develop the concept of the popular front. Largely a reaction to the fascist takeover in Germany and the consolidation of the fascist dictatorship in Italy, the popular front line recognized that the middle strata of society could be mobilized against fascism and monopoly capital. The Comintern’s analysis of the fascist victories demonstrated that the places where fascism was victorious were the places where the fascists had won over the middle strata. Therefore, the struggle to combat fascism and move the level of general social development forward lay in uniting with the democratic forces in the middle strata, including the petit-bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, and some sections of non-monopoly capital.

The key concepts of the popular front were posited by Georgi Dimitrov in his address entitled, “The Fascist Offensive and Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class Against Fascism,” which was delivered at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. In addition to stating that the popular front must rest upon a strong united front of the working class, Dimitrov declared:

…we recognize that a situation may arise in which the formation of a government of the proletarian united front of an anti-fascist Popular Front will become not only possible but necessary in the interest of the proletariat. And in that case, we shall advocate the formation of such a government without the slightest hesitation.12

Dimitrov also states that,

Fifteen years ago, Lenin called upon us to focus all our attention on “searching out forms of transition or approach to the proletarian revolution.” It may be that in a number of countries the united front government will prove to be one of the most important transitional forms. “Left” doctrinaires have always avoided this precept of Lenin’s. Like the narrow-minded propagandists that they were, they spoke only of “aims,” without ever worrying about “forms of transition.”13

Although Popular Front governments did come to power in France, Spain, and Chile in the 1930s, they did not serve as transitional forms because of the balance of class forces in each situation. However, in all cases, whether they actually came to power or not, the popular front strategy served as a tremendous tool in the fight to defeat fascism.

Trotskyists and neo-Trotskyists have been the greatest slanderers of the popular front strategy with their accusation that the Comintern “took revolution off the agenda.” In large part, their confusion stems from their unwillingness to recognize the struggle for transitional forms. In addition, they err in thinking that, as was stated above, the question of whether revolution is on the agenda is decided solely at the whim of the conscious forces, as opposed to being based on a materialist assessment of the objective and subjective conditions.

People’s Democratic Governments

The fourth transitional form is called people’s democracy. The people’s democracies had their origin in the formation of national fronts (national variants of popular fronts) in the fight against fascism. These national fronts included the working class, the peasantry, the petit-bourgeoisie and a section of the middle bourgeoisie. Upon the defeat of fascism a democratic state was constructed in which the working class held considerable power. Through the leading role of the Communist Parties, the bourgeois elements were eventually isolated and people’s democracy was transformed into working-class power.

Countries that followed the transitional form of people’s democracy included Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. In the aftermath of the defeat of fascism, the Communist Parties in these countries sought out the transitional forms that Lenin spoke of and succeeded in transforming them into working-class rule.

Hungary provides an excellent example of how Marxist-Leninist parties have utilized the concept of transitional forms. Having played a leading role in the fight against fascist Germany and the reactionary Horthy regime, in 1942 the Hungarian Communist Party helped organize the Hungarian Front. The Hungarian Front was a coalition of anti-fascist forces and included the Communists, the Social Democrats, the peasantry, the petit-bourgeoisie, and sections of the non-monopoly bourgeoisie. As one Hungarian historian has stated, the Hungarian front,

…was a continuation, or more precisely, a more developed form, of the people’s front concept which had been established in the second half of the 1930s.14

Upon the complete liberation of Hungary, these same forces held a popular election and built a coalition government. The Communist Party organized a Left coalition within the government to help push for radical reforms. At the Third Congress of the Hungarian Communist Party, in 1946, they proposed a program for the further democratization of Hungarian society.

The Congress laid down the major economic aims as state control of the banks, nationalization of the production of agricultural machinery, village ownership of mills, and further restrictions on the class of rich peasants. The Congress also put forward proposals for a Three Year Plan of reconstruction, and for the development of small peasant farms.15

The Communist Party’s program for the reconstruction of Hungary exhibits an excellent understanding of transitional forms. It proposed a set of measures that would qualitatively advance and extend democracy, create more favorable terrain for the class struggle to unfold, build and strengthen the proletariat’s class alliances, and, most importantly, involve the masses of working people in struggle.

The Party’s proposals were eventually adopted by the government. This initiated a long struggle between the working-class forces and the forces of the petit-bourgeoisie and middle bourgeoisie. While some of the struggle took the parliamentary form, the Communist Party also organized mass actions by the workers.

Summing up this period of Hungarian history, one historian has remarked that,

…historians have come to the conclusion that the whole period of Hungarian development between 1945 and 1948 has to be viewed as a specific form of revolutionary transformation to a people’s democracy.

…power took the form of a revolutionary democratic dictatorship by the working class and peasantry, thus ensuring the gradual transformation of the people’s democracy into the dictatorship of the proletariat.”16

The end of World War II witnessed the growth and development of the socialist camp. The countries of Eastern Europe that took the transitional form of people’s democracy were a significant force in that growth and development. In addition, the revolution in China opened up a new era of national liberation revolutions in the colonies and former colonies.

Anti-Monopoly Democracy

However, just as the socialist camp was strengthened, a section of imperialism was also strengthened. The United States emerged from World War II as the chief bulwark of imperialism. Additionally, in virtually all of the advanced capitalist countries there occurred steps toward a merger of the governmental machinery and the monopoly corporations.

This phenomenon, state monopoly capitalism, has been defined as,

…a stage of development of imperialism as the latter enters a period of the general crisis of capitalism. Highly concentrated industry and highly centralized capital … constitute the economic basis of state-monopoly capitalism. Forms of state monopoly capitalism are state ownership of a part of the means of production, state participation in the process of commodity circulation both as buyer and seller, state capital investment, state regulation and programming of the economy, and participation of the state in the economic expansion of the monopolies abroad.17

Looking at the development of state monopoly capitalism only exposes one side of the phenomenon. The old maxim “where there is oppression, there is resistance” is true in this case also. That is, the growth of state monopoly capitalism superimposes an additional contradiction on the basic and fundamental capital-labor contradiction that exists in all capitalist societies. Just as the working class is spontaneously drawn into struggle against the capitalists, the masses of people are spontaneously drawn into struggle against the monopolies.

Keeping in mind Lenin’s words on transitional forms, the Communist movement studied this new development and concluded that the minimum program for Communist Parties in advanced capitalist countries must be centered around the creation of an anti-monopoly front. The anti-monopoly front would seek to build alliances with all class forces that have a material basis to oppose monopoly capitalism. However, the basis of the anti-monopoly front, in order for it to be genuinely effective, would have to be the working class.

The strategic goal of the anti-monopoly front would be the development of anti-monopoly democracy, a concept similar to people’s democracy. The program of anti-monopoly democracy is aimed at curbing the power of the monopolies through a series of radical democratic reforms, such as the nationalization of the banks and major industries. These nationalizations, in order to be effective, must be democratic nationalizations aimed at increasing the political power of the anti-monopoly forces, particularly the working class.

The declaration of the 1969 International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties stated:

In the course of anti-monopolist and anti-imperialist united action, favorable conditions are created for uniting all democratic trends into a political alliance capable of decisively limiting the role played by the monopolies in the economies of the countries concerned, of putting an end to the power of big capital and of bringing about such radical political and economic changes as would ensure the most favorable conditions for continuing the struggle for socialism. The main force in this democratic alliance is the working class. These objectives can be achieved, above all, by diverse forms of powerful mass action by the working class and the broadest sections of the population. While making use of all possibilities of parliamentary activity, Communists emphasize that the mass movement of the working class and of all working people is the decisive factor in the struggle for democracy and socialism.18

Anti-monopoly democracy, as a form of transition, bears all of the stamps of the historic Leninist concepts of the interrelation of the struggles for democracy and socialism, minimum and maximum programs, and class alliances. Reiterating the relationship between democracy and socialism, the 1969 meeting went on to point out:

“Communist and Workers’ Parties do not counterpose the fight for deep-going economic and social demands and for advanced democracy to the struggle for socialism, but regard it as a part of the struggle for socialism. The radical democratic changes which will be achieved in the struggle against the monopolies and their economic domination and political power will promote among the broad masses awareness of the need for socialism.”19

Communists view anti-monopoly democracy, not as a historically inevitable stage, but as a minimum program with which to draw the masses of workers into the struggle. Communists neither underestimate the difficulties in attaining anti-monopoly reforms nor underestimate the intensity of the struggle to transform anti-monopoly measures into socialist measures. As Yuri Krasin states:

…anti-monopoly democracy is not a smooth, paved road that at once leads to socialist aims. Anti-monopoly democracy spells out a struggle for the aims of Communists, not the attainment of these aims.20

As members of the German Communist Party have stated,

We do not delude ourselves into believing we can “stroll over” to socialism. After all, it would be pure utopia to imagine that the monopolies, which still have political and economic power and control the courts, police and army, will refuse to use these instruments in the most brutal way to maintain their power. This is why we refuse to regard even the stage of the struggle for anti-monopoly democracy as an idyll. It will be a period of bitter class strife.21

In other words, Communists can not merely talk about democratic aims, they must consistently propagandize about the necessity for socialism while concretely organizing the masses around a democratic program. Gus Hall spoke of the pressures of right errors in mass work when he pointed out:

When involved in mass movements there are always pressures for Communists to act and even talk like good old plain progressives, to talk like good anti-monopoly fighters, like good democrats, like good trade unionists … like good liberals.

Now there is nothing wrong with talking and acting like good trade unionists or progressives. It becomes a weakness if our activities are limited to that level. We have more to say about reforms than reformists do. For us tactics are related to strategic objectives.22

Trotskyism vs. Democratic Unity

The policy of anti-monopoly democracy has been under consistent attack by the Trotskyites and neo-Trotskyites. To attack the Communist movement today they simply parrot the same counterfeit arguments used historically by Trotskyites. The Trotskyite analysis of the anti-monopoly front is based partly on deliberate distortions and partly on their own ultra-Left notions of Marxism-Leninism.

M. Basmanov, in his work entitled Contemporary Trotskyism: Its Anti-Revolutionary Nature, has made a thorough critique of current Trotskyite notions of the anti-monopoly front. Their basic critique has three important areas that must be discussed: 1) their absolutization of violence, 2) their position on class alliances, and 3) their refusal to recognize transitional forms. Any critique of the Trotskyite position must first iron out the misconceptions and distortions, then point out the errors in the Trotskyite position.

On the Trotskyite distortion of the possibility of peaceful development and the anti-monopoly front, Basmanov comments:

Utterly false are the Trotskyite claims that the Communists entertain hopes that the bourgeoisie will one day “hand over power to the people amiably and without resistance.” As is well known, the bourgeoisie does not give up power without a struggle. In any case — whether the course of revolution is peaceful or not — certain measures of coercion will be needed to crush bourgeois resistance.23

By distorting the Communist position on peaceful development, the Trotsyites attempt to provide a justification for their own absolutization of violence. Leninists have always made it clear that the decision to utilize one form of struggle over another is a tactical question that is dependent upon the balance of class forces. Communists have no illusions about the bourgeoisie. As Basmanov stated above, Communists call upon the workers to be prepared for all forms of struggle, peaceful and non-peaceful.

Trotskyites have historically refused to recognize the necessity of class alliances. As Basmanov states,

The objective role of Trotskyism as the handmaid of the monopoly bourgeoisie is evident in its attempt to discredit the idea of a united anti-monopoly front. It rejects the unification of anti-monopoly forces as passionately as Trotsky opposed the Popular Front, when he announced that, “in every coalition the leadership is inevitably seized by the … propertied class” … Trotskyites allege that the policy of setting up an anti-monopoly front “postpones the tasks of socialist revolution.”24

Such is the Trotskyite lack of understanding of the dialectics of the revolutionary process that they automatically assume that any alliance of the proletariat with non-proletarian class forces is bound to end in the hegemony of the latter.

In short, Trotskyites assume that revolution is always on the agenda and therefore any minimum program is “postponing the task of socialist revolution.” Gus Hall delivered a cogent response to these views when he stated:

“Theoreticians of this brand maintain that the Communists call for postponing the struggle for socialism until the democratic struggles are won. But this is sheer nonsense. The fact is that the development of the anti-monopoly coalition as a political force is impossible without the development of a powerful Left, without simultaneously advancing the class consciousness of the workers and building a socialist-conscious contingent within their ranks. The very process of radicalization is the necessary foundation for developing the anti-monopoly movement. The fight for socialism thus develops within the heart of the democratic struggles. The two are inseparable. The task before us is that of mastering the art of making socialism a real, living issue within the context of the democratic struggles.”25

In summation, anti-monopoly democracy, the current line of the international Communist movement, is grounded in the Leninist understanding of the dialectics of the revolutionary process. K. I. Zarodov offered this trenchant summation of its historical continuity:

Notwithstanding all the qualitative differences in the fight for unity of the democratic forces in the various countries and in concrete international situations, we can trace the historical continuity of the process from the three Russian revolutions to the united fronts of the 1930s, from the wartime Resistance to the victorious popular democratic revolutions; from the formation of the socialist world system to the development and unity of national and international anti-imperialist fronts. The worker-peasant alliance, the popular and workers’ front, the anti-monopoly coalition — such are the main landmarks in the development of the strategy of class alliances of the proletariat elaborated by the great Lenin and implemented by the Communist Parties at different stages of the revolution.26

The Communist Party USA has set itself the task of fashioning a broad-based movement of democratic forces that can serve to curb the power of U.S. monopoly capital. The spontaneous motion against monopoly capital is plainly evident. The struggle of organized labor against contract concessions and plant shutdowns, the movement toward independent politics in the Afro-American community, the growing movement to organize the unemployed and unorganized workers, the growth of tenant associations, etc., are, objectively, motion against monopoly capital. What is needed is a broad-based coalition of these forces, an anti-monopoly coalition, that can serve to unite these disparate tendencies into one conscious and powerful whole.

1. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (CW), Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1962, Vol. 31, p. 92.
2. CW. Vol. 22, p. 144.
3. CW. Vol. 9, p. 25.
4. CW. Vol. 35, p. 267.
5. CW. Vol. 9, pp. 28-29.
6. CW. Vol. 25, p. 356.
7. CW. Vol. 25, p. 360.
8. CW. Vol. 9, pp. 27-28.
9. CW. Vol. 35, p. 268.
10. A. I. Sobolev, Outline History of the Communist International, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1971, p. 162.
11. Sobolev, p. 172.
12. Georgi Dimitrov, Selected Works, Sofia Press, Sofia, 1972, Vol. 2, p. 65.
13. Ibid., p. 70.
14. Henrik Vass, ed., Studies on the History of the Hungarian Working-Class Movement, 1867-1966, Akademiai Kiado, Budapest, 1975, pp. 289-290.
15. Zoltan Halasz, A Short History of Hungary, Corvina Press, Budapest, 1975. pp. 241-242.
16. Vass, pp. 11-12.
17. Boris Putrin, Political Terms: A Short Guide, Novosti Press, Moscow, 1982, pp. 82-83.
18. International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties, 1969, Peace and Socialism Publishers, Prague, 1969, P. 27.
19. Ibid., p. 24.
20. Yuri Krasin, “Lenin’s Concept of Hegemony in the Ongoing Class Struggle,” World Marxist Review, February 1983, p. 40.
21. Willi Gerns and Robert Steigerwald, “Anti-Monopoly Democracy and the Road to Socialism,” World Marxist Review, June 1972, pp. 63-64.
22. Gus Hall, Labor Up-Front, International Publishers, New York, 1979, p. 96.
23. M. Basmanov. Contemporary Trotskyism: Its Anti-Revolutionary Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, pp. 114-115.
24. Ibid., p. 107.
25. Gus Hall, “The Struggle Against Imperialism — the Common Task of the Communists and All Revolutionary Forces,” in Leninism and the World Revolutionary Working-Class Movement, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1971, p. 119.
26. K.I. Zarodov, “Communists in the Struggle for Democratic Unity,” World Marxist Review, August 1975, p. 110.

Images: (CPUSA); Revolutionary rally in 1917 Russia by Russian State Archive of Film and Photo Documents (public domain), colorized using; CPUSA at the Poor People’s Campaign 2022 rally in D.C. by People’s World (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED); CP and YCL at the End Fossil Fuels march by People’s World (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED)


    Timothy V. Johnson is the former director of the Tamiment Library and Wagner Labor Archives at New York University.

Related Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer