Transition Period from Capitalism to Socialism

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Transition Period from Capitalism to Socialism


a particular period of history, beginning with the conquest of political power by the working class and ending with the building of socialism, the first phase of communist society. Marx wrote: “Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19, p. 27).

The transition period is a result of the special conditions of the rise and development of the communist mode of production. In the transition from feudalism to capitalism, bourgeois production relations developed within feudalism, where they existed in the form of an economic structure (uklad). This was possible because both systems had the same economic basis—private ownership of the means of production. The economic basis of the comunist mode of production, public ownership of the means of production, cannot grow spontaneously out of private property. It can emerge only as a result of the abolition of all forms of private ownership of the means of production and their transformation into the property of society as a whole.

The transition to socialism is associated with the class struggle. Whether the transition is peaceful or violent, it cannot be accomplished through isolated reforms. A socialist revolution is necessary to bring radical changes in the social and economic system.

The present epoch is essentially a period of worldwide transition from capitalism to socialism. The emergence and development of the socialist system are based on objective economic laws, independent of human will. All of the countries that are building socialism are subject to the same fundamental laws concerning the formation of socialist society. For example, in carrying out the proletarian revolution and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat in one form or another, the toiling masses are led by the working class, the vanguard of which is the Marxist-Leninist party. Other fundamental laws of the formation of socialist society include the alliance of the working class with the peasantry and other strata of the toiling masses, the elimination of capitalist property and the establishment of public ownership of the means of production, the gradual socialist transformation of agriculture, and planned development of the economy, aimed at building socialism and raising the workers’ standard of living. Also among the fundamental laws of the formation of socialist society are a socialist revolution in ideology and culture and the creation of a substantial intelligentsia devoted to the working cass, to all toiling people, and to the cause of socialism. The principal laws of the formation of socialist society also include the elimination of national oppression and the establishment of equality and fraternal friendship among nations; the defense of socialist gains from attacks by foreign and domestic enemies; and the solidarity of the working class in each country with the working classes of other countries (proletarian internationalism).

Marxism-Leninism emphasizes the existence of certain basic laws governing the building of socialism and the necessity for Marxist-Leninist parties to follow these laws in their practical activities. At the same time, Marxism-Leninism points out that it is obligatory to give comprehensive consideration to the national characteristics of each country while building the new social system.

After the conquest of state power, the main task confronting the proletariat is the establishment of a socialist economy and the economic foundation for the new society—socialist ownership of the means of production. The proletariat uses its political power to socialize the means of production in two fundamental ways: by expropriation of the expropriators and by voluntary unification of small-scale commodity producers into collectives, with organizational, material and financial support from the socialist government. The expropriation of the expropriators is accomplished by nationalization, which gives the proletarian state control over the most important sectors of production and spheres of circulation. The key industries, the main levers for economic influence on the entire development of the country, are concentrated in the hands of the working people.

The basic principles of economic policy in the transition period were first formulated in Lenin’s plan for building socialism in the USSR. This plan suggested that Russia’s economic and technological backwardness could be overcome by socialist industrialization, the elimination of the capitalist economic structure, the socialist transformation of small-scale peasant agriculture, a cultural revolution, and the achievement of a high standard of living for all the working people.

The new social system requires a corresponding material and technical basis. In a number of his works Lenin emphasized that the only possible material basis for socialism is large-scale industry incorporating the latest advances in science and technology. Socialist industrialization provides for the technological reconstruction of all branches of the economy and for continuous improvement in the material and cultural level of the population. Moreover, it implies the creation of new, socialist production relations. Socialist industrialization is also associated with the development and strengthening of the position of the working class in socialist society and the establishment of firm ties between city and countryside in production relations. The solution of the task of establishing the material and technical basis for socialism varies depending on the country. The specific character of this process is determined by the level of economic development, the natural resources, the level of skills of the working class and of all the toiling people, and the extent to which the country participates in the international division of labor.

In industrially developed countries that have chosen the socialist path, the main task is to rationalize the existing industrial structure to conform with socialist production relations and with the requirements for establishing the material and technical basis for socialism. The international socialist division of labor within the framework of the world socialist system makes possible the development of specialization, as well as close cooperation and coordination among different countries.

One of the primary economic laws of the transition period is the socialist transformation of agriculture, which entails the establishment of state agricultural enterprises and the unification of small-scale peasant farms (where they exist) into producers’ cooperatives. Lenin worked out the basic principles for the socialist transformation of agriculture (seeCOOPERATIVE PLAN OF V. I. LENIN and COLLECTIVIZATION OF AGRICULTURE IN THE USSR). The socialist transformation of agriculture signifies a tremendous revolution in the mode of production and way of life of millions of toiling people. This revolution is connected with the extirpation of bourgeois production relations in agriculture, the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, and the elimination of the last exploiting class, the kulaks. The historical process of the socialist transformation of agriculture has taken place in the USSR and other socialist countries.

As a result of the socialist socialization of the means of production, the socialist economic structure is established. The main economic structures of the transition period are socialism, small-scale commodity production, and capitalism.

The socialist structure is a higher type of economy than capitalism. It develops on the basis of social ownership of the means of production, includes state and cooperative socialist enterprises of both the city and the countryside, and from the very beginning plays the leading role in the economy of the transition period. The small-scale commodity-producing structure consists primarily of peasant agriculture, handicrafts, and cottage industry, which are based on individual labor rather than on the exploitation of wage labor. Gradually, the small-scale commodity-producing structure is transformed into a socialist structure through the formation of cooperatives. In addition to the three fundamental structural elements, which are found in all countries making the transition from capitalism to socialism, some countries may have other, nonfundamental structural elements, such as the patriarchal economy and state capitalism.

The multifaceted economic structure of society during the transition period corresponds to its class structure. After the conquest of power, the working class is transformed from an exploited class into the ruling class. The other fundamental class of the transition period is the peasantry. The revolutionary changes carried out by the socialist state radically change the peasantry’s condition, putting an end to the processes by which the middle peasants are “wiped out,” leveling peasant fortunes and attenuating social differences in the countryside (oseredniachivanie,) and alleviating and then completely eliminating the problem of agrarian overpopulation. Having lost its power and the basic means of production, the bourgeoisie ceases to be the ruling class. By means of economic policies aimed at the socialist transformation of the economy, the socialist state ensures the creation of the conditions necessary for the complete elimination of the bourgeoisie.

Antagonistic classes continue to exist during the transition period; therefore, the class struggle between them persists. Only the balance of class forces and the forms of the class struggle change. The transition period is marked by the struggle between dying capitalism and rising socialism, based on the principle of “which will prevail?” The contradiction between socialism and capitalism—the fundamental contradiction of the transition period—is overcome in the course of the class struggle, the intensity of which depends on the internal and international situation during socialist construction. The transition period is also characterized by contradictions between the advanced political system and the backward economy and technology inherited from the old order, as well as by contradictions between large-scale, integrated socialist industry and small-scale, fragmented peasant agriculture. All of these contradictions are overcome by the proletarian state’s economic policies, a collection of measures designed to ensure the victory of socialism.

An important aspect of Lenin’s plan for building socialism is its rationale for using commodity-money relations to establish the proper economic ties between the different economic structures, especially between socialist industry and small-scale peasant farming, in order to strengthen the economic alliance between the working class and the peasantry and ensure the victory of socialism over capitalism. The system of measures adopted for these purposes was known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). Lenin’s plan, which provides the basis for socialist construction in every country that has chosen to develop toward socialism, has been further elaborated and made more specific in the policy decisions of the Communist and workers’ parties.

The development of Marxist-Leninist theory is associated with a continuous and intense struggle against right and “left” opportunism on the fundamental problems of the transition period.

In the USSR the right opportunists favored blunting the edge of the class struggle and renouncing the policy of liquidating the kulaks as a class. They preached the theory of the “kulak sliding into socialism.” The Communist Party rejected this capitulationist view and provided for the socialist transformation of agriculture on the basis of a mass movement for the collectivization of peasant farms. The right opportunists favored the continuation of the old proportions in the national economy and opposed the purposeful development of heavy industry. Modified versions of these views are still held by some right-wing Social Democrats, as is evident in their claims that it is possible for capitalism to pass over into socialism by means of reforms, and in their theories of “people’s capitalism” and the “state economy.” The revisionists deny the general laws of socialist construction and emphasize national characteristics.

The “left” opportunists, particularly the Maoists, ignore the laws of social development and assert that it is possible to bypass the phase of socialism and move directly into communism by establishing “people’s communes” and by rejecting the principle that the people must be given a material incentive in socialist construction.

The practical experience of socialist construction in the USSR and other socialist countries has confirmed the correctness of Marxist-Leninist doctrine on the transition period.


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Engels, F. Anti-Duhring. Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. “Ocherednye zadachi Sovetskoi vlasti.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36.
Lenin, V. I. “Ekonomika i politika ν epokhu diktatury proletariata.” Ibid., vol. 39.
Lenin, V. I. “O kooperatsii.” Ibid., vol. 45.
Lenin, V. I. “O prodovol’stvennom naloge.” Ibid., vol. 43.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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