The Transitional Program and its use today


This was prepared as a discussion lead-off for a day school of the Ohio chapters of Socialist Alternative. Page numbers refer to the American SWP’s edition of the program, which I highly recommend.



The Transitional Program is the founding document of the 4th International, also called the Trotskyist international, and though it was written and adopted 80 years ago this year, still serves as a beacon for our movement today. Though much has changed since that time, the basic premise of the problem that the program seeks to solve still exists, in a discussion before the first congress of the 4th international, the most prominent member Leon Trotsky said “The whole Transitional Program must fill the gaps between consciousness today and soviets tomorrow” (101).

We face the same dilemma of being in a decidedly pre-revolutionary period. The objective factors–the economic conditions–for socialist revolution are present: there is both a high level of development, but a failing return on new measures and innovations meant to solve the problems of the stagnating system. Thus, like in the 1930’s we find ourselves in a time of crisis that ought to be ripe for a revolutionary movement.

But we also know that the subjective factors for revolution are not there. The working class, the agent of revolution, knows neither the root cause of the problems they face, nor the way to solve those problems. Mass movements like Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, the West Virginia teachers strike, and the Gun Control student march spring up in response to oppression symptomatic of capitalist exploitation. But the root cause is deliberately obscured and are rarely taken up in a serious manner by these movements, so they get suppressed, co-opted or ignored and die out.

The Transitional Program seeks to bridge the gap between the pre-revolutionary consciousness and revolutionary conditions through an escalating series of demands that begin at the level of mass consciousness as we encounter it and points toward revolutionary conclusions.

In this way, the program seeks to solve the second issue that is really the root of the gap: the historic crisis of revolutionary leadership. Betrayals by Stalinists, petty bourgeois opportunists, naive ultra leftists and retrograde fascists have lead to the brakes being pumped on various revolutionary movements. It is our job to be more effective leaders in those movements when they arise, and the Transitional Program offers a framework for intervention that continually pushes those movements forward, neither halting them nor moving them backwards.

I’ll cover three parts today:

  1. I’ll offer a brief historical background to contextualize the 4th international and the Transitional Program.
  2. I’ll talk about the program itself, the types of demands it raises and what we can learn from the document directly.
  3. I’ll talk about the usefulness of the program in our time and what parts we can keep and what parts we need to change for the 21st century.

I hope to clarify the program’s purpose and usefulness to underline the necessity for us to utilize the methods laid out in it as the starting point in our approach to revolutionary politics.

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Remarks preparted for meeting on the privitization of the north block of the Cincinnati library.


It was recently announced that the board of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have plans to sell off the north building of the main downtown library and consolidate the services housed in that building in the older southern space. This has rightly caused concern among librarians and cardholders a like. On August 22th the Cincinnati DSA held an event on this move as the beginning of a campaign to save the north building and protest the anti-democratic makeup of the board. I was invited to speak as a member of Socialist Alternative on the history of 3CDC who is overseeing the sale. My speech is included below. You can see a video of my talk on the facebook page of the Cincinnati’s branch of Socialist Alternative.

My name’s Ben Stockwell with Socialist Alternative.

I want to thank the DSA for having us speak tonight. I think it’s really important that we’re having this conversation, especially at the library.

Socialist alternative has branches across the country, and we have been involved in similar campaigns about the use of public money and public spaces before. We led the “block the bunker” campaign in Seattle, which successfully stopped a police bunker from being built in favor of over hundreds of units of affordable housing instead.

This divest–invest framework is something that we should be thinking about as we move forward in the fight against privatization, police brutality and for the public good.

I want to dedicate my contribution to Tom Dutton, a community activist, who died just a few months ago. Tom was a fighter for our side all his life. As a professor at Miami who, each year, brought students down to learn about gentrification in OTR and help organize a fight back. Tom was always willing to help, any active struggle, and he would be here tonight if he was still with us.

Others have already mentioned 3cdc tonight, and I think the relationship between the library’s board and 3cdc should cause extreme concern.

I’ve found myself in many movements over the years–around housing, policing and gentrification–and almost inevitably we run into the bulwark of power that 3CDC represents. In many way, 3CDC–the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation–is just a facade for the larger workings of the capitalist class–the richest 1%–who control so much of our lives. They want to privatize and profit from everything.

Their ownership of the biggest companies in the city, their control of the enquirer and other media outlets, their direct line to the city government and all the various bureaucracies–give them so much power that we are regular people don’t have. At least not under the current system. And I think it’s a shame that again, we’re looking at potentially losing some of our power by ceding more public ground to big businesses.

I want to talk about some of the history of the lost ground tonights.

It’s important to start with a discussion of what gentrification looked like before 3CDC was formed and we also have to take a close look at the riots of 2001. It’s not immediately obvious, but the riots played a huge role in this history because, at a basic level, they disrupted the gentrification in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown that had been happening at a much smaller scale than we’re used to today. Groups like the OTR chamber of commerce and Downtown Cincinnati Incorporated – DCI –  had been working for decades to redevelop small portions, focused mainly on mainstreet in OTR.

The retaking of the neighborhood in 2001, by its mostly black and poor residents, scared the rich from investing more in the neighborhood. Just 5 years previously the headline “OTR is up for grabs” appeared in the Enquirer after a movement leader named Buddy Gray was murdered. The article predicted that “death would mean a gentrification blitz on the poor neighborhood.” And for a moment it was. But in April 2001, our side retook the streets and reclaimed the space for ourselves.

The uprising was about more than just police brutality, it was a fightback against the racist assault on the poor and working class in OTR and other neighborhoods. At its core, the fight was about the ability for everyone who lives in a space to have a say in how they live their lives–how their neighborhoods and cities function. The uprising was a collective “NO!” to the powers that be.

And it is by posing alternatives that change people’s daily lives and offering them the chance at a little bit more control in their lives, we can build these movements that have that power.


Back to the history of 3CDC:

In 2003, amidst a budget shortfall and a power move by developers, the planning department was shuttered and a few months later, 3cdc was established to oversee the redevelopment efforts in downtown. It’s a public private partnership–with the emphasis on the private.

From the beginning, 3CDC’s board consisted of the city’s most powerful and wealthiest individuals, with representation from P&G, 5/3 bank, Western and souther, the Enquirer, and Cintas and others. These board members and 3cdc’s employees and their developer partners are altogether unaccountable to the public.

The formation of 3CDC’s board represents, a re-consolidation of gentrification efforts after the riots. It was the ruling class’s attempt to realize their long term plans for the downtown area on a much larger and more ambitious scale than before. And they’ve been quite successful.

3CDC has overseen a lot of development projects, including many that forced poor residents out of their homes, people should look up the case of the metropole hotel–now the 21 century hotel–for one of the most egregious examples.

Their role has always served a dual purpose: it’s not just that they want to renovate a space to make it better, they want to have control over it, either by taking ownership directly, using federal funds for housing and other grants and convoluted leasing schemes to rip off the city, or simply by rebuilding the space in a way that prevents it from being used like it once was. Among the most important of these new uses is the turning of unprofitable public space into profitable private space.

This is essentially what has happened with Fountain square which was 3CDC’s first highly visible renovation project. In a complicated scheme, 3cdc paid the city for the space for $7.5 million for the space and pays $100 a year in rent on a 50 years lease. They have total control over the events that go on at fountain square. Anyone who has ever tried to have the most benign political event on fountain square knows about all of  the hoops they have to jump through to get a simple permit to use the space.

This process, like with the library, was shrouded in secrecy and public debate was actively stymied.

They had “listening sessions” and “town halls” but crucially, like on the library board, residents and workers have absolutely no vote–it’s all left up to the redevelopers and 3cdc’s board.

If it wasn’t enough that there isn’t representation and voting from the public on 3cdc’s board, the motion to lease the space to 3cdc was approved in a special meeting of the planning commission and then passed in “emergency” session of city council. It’s perfectly clear at this point that these emergency sessions of council are held to block public debate on controversial issues–like they did when they tried to sell off the parking meters a few years ago–Citybeat has a great article about this that came out a few years ago.

Washington Park has a similar story. Notably, we can just look at the differences in the use to see what the vision of 3cdc is. They removed a school, a pool, and basketball courts. Residents of OTR were blocked from attending meetings, and in one case, only Josh Spring from the homeless coalition was let in to speak, and the rest of the people who came with him were kept out. The management lease for the park is, I think, up in another 70 years, so just about everyone in this room will be dead before we get the space back.

In lieu of talking more about Washington park, I want to plug Tom Dutton again, who wrote extensively about the project, dating back to 10 years before they broke ground. He made connections between the privatization of the paces and how that enclosure always circles back around to the profit motive not public good.

Even if they promise that nothing will change, the scale of the project and the time it takes to complete them destroys any expectation that thing will return to normal

Zeigler park up on Sycamore street is the latest example. People should keep an eye on rents and amenities around the park, and ask themselves: who is this for? Just weeks after the park opened, residents surrounding the park received letters from their landlord informing them of an immediate rent increase–specifically citing the park renovation as the cause.

This is a model they’ve gotten really good at, and something that they are beginning to expand out of the urban core–Cranley likened them to “marines arriving on the beachheads.” Group slike 3cdc, which are controlled by the city’s top 1%, are seen as the leaders in reshaping each and every neighborhood in the city always in the image of the richest citizens.

I know in Northside where I have lived for the last 5 years, we’re starting to see huge changes–especially the transformation from a working class to an upper class neighborhood–that are only possible because of the success of 3cdc down here.

These redevelopment projects are like cataclysms, to borrow a term from noted urbanist Jane Jacobs, they destroy the space and its meaning.

And This library project represents the latest move by 3cdc to steal from the public wealth and take away control from the people. It would be one of the greatest losses we’ve faced. But it doesnt have to be this way.

And this is where I think we need to take a cue from the movements surrounding the events of the riots in 2001, at least in terms of the numbers and ambition. We need to get the largest amount of people involved, including the librarians here at the main branch and all the other branches, who have already expressed their dismay at what is occurring.

The library is a crucial public space, that we need to protect with everything we have. It’s one of the only institutions in this city that offers space for meetings like this anymore.

With that, I want to give the full support of Socialist Alternative to the demands that are being raised tonight:

  • for the immediate stop to the selling of the north block of the library,
  • for the enfranchisement of the public and the librarians with actual voting power–and they should be in the majority–not just in the daily running of the library but the strategic planning of the entire library system.
  • This democratic demand opens the door too a more ambitious program that can challenge the power structure of our society

That means taxing the rich, some of whom are members of the libraries board, so we can build more libraries and schools and hospitals, and pay everybody that works there a good wage.But we should set our sights higher.

As a socialist, I understand that it’s not the corporate boards or the foundation heads who are the agents of change in our society–a broad multiracial working class movement is the that can fundamentally transform society for the needs of the masses instead of the profits of the few.

Ultimately, we have to put our political faith in each other and the majority of working people in this society to take democratic control over public resources.

This fight to defend the library from private hands is about our right to the city. The right to our public spaces and the democratic control of resources in the public interest. To borrow a phrase from library board member Michael Moran–this is where we should “plant our flag”

Everyone here needs to stay involved and join Socialist alternative or the DSA–you can sign up for more information at our table in the back, or talk to me or Vince or someone else after.

I look forward to working with the DSA and everybody else in this room as we continue this fight.

Thank you.

Hypernormalization in a Prismatic reality.


How to fight it.

There is a popular photo app called Prisma that takes a user’s smartphone photo and passes it through a series of filters and automatic rotoscoping to produce something between a Roman mosaic and a watercolor painting. This manipulation of reality creates works of art from what may otherwise be mundane, poorly composed photos–a boon for those of us who have never taken a good photo in their lives. “Artists beware! AI is coming for your paintbrush too…” warns a Techcrunch review quoted on the app’s website. But far from simply automating the jobs of artisans, something technology has done for centuries under capitalism, Prisma takes our drab reality and makes it appear as an image on a fun house mirror. This isn’t so much a They Live scenario where we are lied to directly (though that certainly happens), as it is a deliberate move on our part. We fracture the image in front of us, preferring a more compelling version, something that is ready made for sharing on the networked world of social media, and the curated lives we offer there.

Adam Curtis’s recent Hypernormalization posits that, more and more, our experiences are becoming uncoupled with the picture of the world that are presented by the media elites and governments and mediated by traditional systems of power. And we know this, but there is little we feel we can do, because any standards of behavior or mechanisms of power checking are completely undermined. Bankers break the law and do horrible things resulting in millions losing their jobs and homes, but they aren’t prosecuted. Cops shoot unarmed blacks in the back and plant evidence, all on camera, but face no jail time. Wars are waged on lies around terror or good western morals, but when the lies are exposed and the reports point to those responsible, the purveyors are let off and hailed as elder statesmen. And to all of us, the results come off as completely expected and normal; to have a chain of cause and effect would be the truly striking thing. Hypernormalization is our individual and collective attempt to make order of the barrage of nonsense–to accept not just the unacceptable, but the impossible.

For Curtis, who released his film in October, a figure like Donald Trump (and his electoral success) fits perfectly into this off-kilter bizarro-world. Trump called the bluff of the traditional elite and their pantomime grasp of power. He used the sheer confusion of the Prismatic apparatus to rise to power, making not a straightforward case for why he should become president, as exemplar of traditional state power Hillary Clinton tried to do, but via misdirection from the linear narrative of the election and sometimes a complete rejection of recent historical facts. Trump is the affirmation of this new disjointed reality, in a Gibsonian sense, he is the living avatar of the Tessier-Ashpool family who sleep while the twin algorithms of facebook and financial capitalism system drive up their profits with credit and clicks.

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Soapbox hosts Screening of “Condemned”


keithhighscansKeith LaMar has been on death row for 20 years. He spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement and has little contact with the world outside his cell. He is facing capital punishment for a crime he did not commit. LaMar is among the 5 prisoners sentenced to death after the Lucasville prison uprising in 1993, one of the largest prison rebellions in history. Like the other 5 prisoners, LaMar’s refusal to cooperate with state prosecutors and correctional officials, whose actions prior to the uprising escalated tension to the breaking point, led him to be singled out, given an unfair trial and convicted on unsupported witness testimony.

On Monday, “Condemned,” a film about LaMar’s case, was screened at Soapbox Books & Zines, a lending library in Northside. The documentary made by local filmmaker Barbara Wolf examines the flimsy evidence against LaMar and exposes an array of misconduct before, during and after his trial. For example, LaMar was convicted of a murder during the uprising that another person admitted to in earlier testimony. The state swept the admission under the rug in return for that individual’s cooperation. In another instance, a witness first testified that he didn’t know who LaMar was and that LaMar wasn’t active in the uprising, then later testified that he saw LaMar leading an apparent death squad that killed 5 inmates. The defense were never provided with any information about the dubious testimonies, a violation of LaMar’s constitutional rights.

LaMar’s is now in limbo. In November, a hearing of oral arguments was held in the 6th district court in Cincinnati to determine whether Keith will get a new trial in light of all the misconduct 20 years ago. By all accounts, the hearing went well, but LaMar was barred from attending to defend himself, the latest in decades of injustice. It may be as late as spring 2016 before a ruling is made. The hope is that LaMar’s original conviction will be thrown out, and the state will not attempt to retry allowing him to finally walk free.

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