The Sliding Scale of Wages As the First Transitional Demand

In 1938, Trotsky outlines his vision of the transitional program, which would meet the minimum demands already held by the workers with the call for socialist revolution that would overthrow the bourgeoisie, instead of searching for ways to appease them. Due to historical peculiarity, and knowing that we could choose any of the minimal demands in existence to work with, the first transitional demand he outlines turns out to be as he calls it the, “Sliding scale of wages.”

The period of capitalist development of the state in Trotsky’s time, its “increasing absurdity,” is defined by the dual pressing conditions of mass unemployment and high prices of commodities, which all of the basic needs of life have began to be realized in the form of. Therefore, the Fourth International demands employment and decent living conditions for all.

We stand neither on the side of the economists’ monetary inflation or stabilization - in our own present day affairs represented by Republican and Democratic policies of financialization, the two sides of capitalist ideology. The Republicans, historically at least, have tried to manage the economy largely through producing adjustments to the inflation, which is seen to correspond with a normal growth rate of the economy. Anything large changes in the inflation rate outside of these bounds would probably have resulted from some form of emergency circumstances occurring, which would need to be dealt with otherwise. The Democrats propose that we provide minimal provisions for social welfare of certain oppressed demographics, and that financialization will need to be practiced in accord with these concerns, through further “stabilization”. Even these historical differences are now beginning to collapse into one.

“collective agreements should assure an automatic rise in wages in relation to the increase in price of consumer goods.”

The expected brutality of World War II fought between the major imperial powers called for full wartime mobilization of the economy in regard to the needs of the national army. Culture and industry were required to be all in, and major industries were nationalized to carry out directly planned production by the government, and which left the workers faced with major rationing of consumer goods.

“right to employment … sliding scale of working hours … On this basis all the work on hand would then be divided among all existing workers in accordance with how the extent of the working week is defined.”

This logic would make sense on its own but it will be fought against by capitalists in terms of its providing for the organization of the working class, as with any other force the workers might try to apply against the system.

“The average wage of every worker remains the same as it was under the old working week. Wages, under a strictly guaranteed minimum, would follow the movement of prices. It is impossible to accept any other program for the present catastrophic period.”

The employed aren’t going to find this side of the agreement satisfying. It doesn’t matter if the average hour of pay remains the same, what people consider is the total pay.

Through the clever propaganda of capitalists, workers are made to be interested in their total reimbursement as opposed to equitable average hourly wage at a lower total number of hours worked.

“Property owners and their lawyers will prove the “unrealizability” of these demands.”

He then proceeds to talking about the power of the trade unions in making democratic decisions, their weakness under capitalism, how they can inform the factory committees that should be formed, how they will explain the debits and credits of society, the share of the national income expropriated by the capitalists, to expose the behind the scenes deals of the banks in the struggle against unemployment.

There will be a call for public works, workers control will be a school for planned economy, preparing itself for direct management of national industry.

The pandemic calls for a communist wartime economy, it is already happening in other places but not in the US, in the heart of Empire with the greatest concentration of capital. It overwhelmes the ability of bourgeoisie political parties to direct social affairs against the determinations of the market.

Lenin and Trotsky in this time from 1920-1940 abandoned the theory of the labor voucher that would be in accordance with production based on labor time planning in the place of markets and ongoing adherance to the law of value.