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25418Re: The DSP and the Third Period

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  • glparramatta
    Jan 18 3:56 PM
      --- In GreenLeft_discussion@yahoogroups.com, srcsra@s... wrote:
      > Further on the discussion about tactics of independently organised
      socialists towards the ALP and the "Third
      > Period" of Stalinist tactics towards social democracy, Bob Gould
      argued people should read Trotsky on the
      > struggle against fascism in Germany, the key issue in the period of
      Stalinist sectarianism (1928-1933).

      All really interested in this thread, and who wish to understand the
      DSP's undistorted attitude to the ALP, should make the effort to read
      the 1987 ``Labor and the Fight for Socialism'' and related documents
      at http://www.dsp.org.au/dsp/ALP/index.htm

      Here's the inroduction:


      For nearly 100 years the Australian Labor Party has dominated labor
      movement politics in this country. For all of that time it has been
      the main obstacle to the advance of the socialist movement.

      Though socialists helped to found the ALP and have always been active
      within it, and though most of the more politically conscious workers
      have traditionally given it their support, the ALP has never been a
      working-class party. Today it remains, as it always has been, a
      liberal bourgeois party.

      The ALP is Australia's oldest continually existing party, and has
      become the Australian capitalist ruling class's second party of
      government, being entrusted with management of the state machinery in
      all of Australian capitalism's most serious crises this century.

      Labor has governed federally for about 24 of the 87 years since
      federation in seven terms of government, ranging in length from four
      months to eight years and three months.

      The first two federal Labor governments were not very significant,
      lasting only four months and eight months respectively. The first
      long-term Labor government came to office in 1910, at a time when the
      other capitalist parties were not making a very good fist of forging a
      single national state out of the six former British colonies that had
      federated in 1901. In the decade since the creation of the
      Commonwealth of Australia, these parties had not even been able to
      create one of the cornerstones of a unified nation-state - a single

      Prime Minister Andrew Fisher's ALP government proved its value to the
      capitalist class as a whole by standing apart from the more
      short-sighted capitalist factions. It set up the Commonwealth Bank and
      stopped the private banks issuing their own currencies.

      The Fisher government started building the Transcontinental Railway as
      part of an attempt to quieten separatist agitation in Western
      Australia. It introduced compulsory military training for young men
      over the age of 14. In this, it was pursuing one of the constant ALP
      concerns of the early years of this century - the establishment of an
      independent Australian military force - another essential pillar of
      the capitalist state. Fisher's government also broke the deadlock on
      the site for the national capital and began planning Canberra. It
      separated the Northern Territory from South Australia.

      Through Fisher's government, the ALP proved itself to be a capitalist
      party different from those more directly controlled by various
      competing factions of the capitalist class. Labor demonstrated that it
      was capable of standing above the squab bling vested interests that
      dominated the other parties.

      The ALP showed that it was capable of serving the interests of the
      Australian capitalist class as a whole, particularly during times of
      severe crisis when dissension within the ruling class tended to
      paralyse the other bourgeois parties. For that reason, it was chosen
      to govern through most of both world wars, and to inflict the savage
      wage cuts demanded by the ruling class in the early stages of the
      1930s depression.
      From Whitlam to Hawke

      In the early 1970s, as the Vietnam War and the exhaustion of the long
      wave of economic expansion that followed World War II again
      destabilised capitalist politics, the ALP was called on to end
      Australia's involvement in Vietnam and lay to rest the mass antiwar

      It was also called upon to open trade with China in an attempt to
      balance the loss of Australia's traditional markets due to increasing
      international competition. Labor was also to carry out other economic
      reforms necessary to prepare Australian capitalism to weather a new
      period of long-term downturn in the world capitalist economy.

      But panicked by the dramatic slump in profits caused by the first
      recession in the new, post-boom period, the ruling class quickly lost
      confidence in Labor's ability to deal with the crisis, and
      orchestrated the ouster of the Whitlam Labor government through the
      constitutional coup of November 11, 1975.

      The permanent rise in unemployment resulting from the 1974-75
      recession and the weak recovery that followed it enabled the Fraser
      Liberal-National government to use the wage-freeze indexation system
      established under Whitlam to gradually erode real wages.

      For five years, it also slashed spending on health, education and
      social welfare without serious labor movement resistance. However,
      ruling class confidence in the coalition was eroded by the collapse of
      the centralised wage-fixing system at the end of 1981. Adding to this
      loss of confidence was the rise in wages as a proportion of gross
      domestic product in the year that followed, and the Fraser
      government's inability to arrest the decline in Australian industry's
      international competitiveness.

      During the 1982-83 recession, the ability of the union movement to
      defend real wages and to win reductions in working hours led decisive
      sectors of big capital to turn back toward the ALP, which through its
      wage-freeze prices-incomes accord with the ACTU offered the promise of
      a mechanism to contain real wage growth during the upturn in the
      capitalist business cycle that was already under way internationally
      by mid-1982.

      In March 1983 the ALP was recalled to office under the newly installed
      leadership of former ACTU president Bob Hawke. It immediately set
      about institutionalising the 12-month "wages pause" imposed by the
      Fraser government in late 1982.

      It also went to work on the task of restoring Australian capitalism's
      international competitiveness through extensive industry
      restructuring. When the economic recovery, which began in Australia in
      the middle of 1983, ran out of steam in 1986 the Hawke government
      responded with a drive to impose the deepest cuts to working people's
      living standards since the 1930s.
      The ALP and the unions

      The trade unions played a central role in the establishment of the
      ALP, though they weren't the sole force. In the 1890s, the formation
      of the ALP represented an important political step forward by the
      trade union movement. It reflected the realisation that working people
      and trade unionists needed their own political arm. But the ALP never
      became that.

      In his 1923 work, How Labor governs, Vere Gordon Childe points to the
      diversity of the ALP's initial supporters, who included "democrats and
      Australian nationalists," small farmers, prospectors and mining
      proprietors, small shopkeepers, the Catholic Church, and "perhaps
      certain business interests - notably the liquor trade." Childe added:

      The heterogeneous elements supporting the Labor Party have naturally
      led to serious conflicts of interest, The democrats do not necessarily
      sympathise with the aims of unionism, and may very well be opposed to
      state interference with private enterprise. Nationalism is
      diametrically opposed to that internationalist sentiment which is
      characteristic of the socialist movement. The militarist policy, which
      the White Australia ideal has forced on the Labor Party, is
      distasteful to many industrialists [ie unionists].

      In The ALP, A short hlstory, published in 1981, Brian McKinlay quotes
      the words of one of the first ALP members of the NSW parliament:

      We were a band of unhappy amateurs, . . made up somewhat as follows:
      Several miners, three or four printers, a boilermaker, three sailors,
      a plasterer, a journalist, a draper, a suburban mayor, two engineers,
      a carrier, a few shearers, a tailor and - with bated breath - a
      mineowner, a squatter and an MD.

      So, from the very beginning, the unions were by no means the only
      force in the ALP. But even had they been, that was no guarantee of the
      ALP's commitment to socialist policies.

      When the Fisher government fell in 1913, V.I. Lenin, the leader of the
      Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, observed:

      What sort of peculiar capitalist country is this, in which the
      workers' representatives predominate in the upper house, and until
      recently did so in the lower house as well, and yet the capitalist
      system is in no danger?

      The Australian Labor Party does not even call itself a socialist
      party. Actually it is a liberal bourgeois party, while the so-called
      Liberals in Australia are really conservatives.

      Capitalism in Australia is still quite youthful. The country is only
      just taking shape as an independent state. The workers are for the
      most part emigrants from Britain. They left when the masses of British
      workers were Liberals. . .

      The leaders of the Australian Labor Party are trade union officials,
      everywhere the most moderate and capital-serving element, and in
      Australia altogether peaceable, purely liberal.

      In Australia the Labor Party has done what in other countries was done
      by the Liberals, namely, introduced a uniform tariff for the whole
      country, a uniform land tax and uniform factory legislation. (V.I.
      Lenin, In Australia, Collected Works [Progress Publishers, Moscow],
      Vol. 19)

      Thus, well before the great World War I split in the inter national
      socialist movement, Lenin regarded the ALP as a bourgeois party,
      representing above all the conservative, pro-capitalist layer of
      officials gathered at the head of the trade union movement.

      After the increasingly reformist Social Democratic parties betrayed
      the Marxist internationalist heritage by each supporting the
      imperialist government of its own country at the beginning of World
      War I, Lenin characterised these parties as "bourgeois labor parties,"
      that is, "organisation[s] of the bourgeoisie." He later said that the
      British Labour Party existed only "to systematically dupe the workers."
      Socialists and the ALP

      While the ALP is such a hourgeois labor party, many Australian
      socialists have mistakenly interpreted this to mean that the ALP is
      fundamentally a working-class party, even if a degenerate one, and
      that socialists should therefore automatically urge workers to vote
      for it, and should support continued trade union affiliation to it.

      The widely held view that the ALP is the political arm of the labor
      movement, as distinct from the industrial arm represented by the
      unions, carries with it the idea that socialists are obliged not only
      to call for a vote for Labor, but to see it as the fundamental
      organisational framework for their political activity.

      The resolution in this pamphlet, The ALP and the fight for socialism,
      was adopted by the Socialist Workers Party at its eleventh national
      conference, held in Canberra in January 1986. In it, the SWP argues
      the opposite point of view: That while it may be necessary to vote for
      the ALP as a lesser evil against the Liberals or Nationals, the only
      way to really defend working-class interests is to break politically
      with the ALP in every arena, including the electoral and industrial

      The SWP argues that the trade unions should disaffiliate from the
      Labor Party and throw their weight behind the construction of a new
      political party genuinely dedicated to defending working-class interests.

      In 1986, this was a new approach for the SWP, which had previously
      held that the ALP was a party with a dual nature: A party that was
      pro-capitalist in its program and leadership but working-class in its
      membership and support. This made it mandatory for socialists to vote
      for it and to support trade union affiliation to it.

      Experience under the Hawke government and its four state counterparts
      made that view untenable and led the SWP to rethink its approach to
      the ALP. The conclusions of this process of rethinking are summarised
      by the second document in this pamphlet - The ALP, the Nuclear
      Disarmament Party and the Elections, which is an abridged version of a
      report presented by SWP national secretary Jim Percy to the party's
      national committee in October 1984.

      The Hawke Labor government has proven just as savagely anti-union and
      anti-working-class as the Liberal-National government before it, and
      the emergence of the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the second half of
      1984 demonstrated that a break from the ALP could be progressive even
      if it did not in volve the ALP's traditional trade union base.

      While limited to activity on the electoral plane, the NDP nevertheless
      made a very favorable impact on Australian politics, strengthening the
      left and providing a rallying point for disillusioned activists
      leaving the ALP. Of course, that impact would have been even greater
      had even a few unions thrown their weight behind the NDP.

      The ALP's shift to the right has created an electoral vacuum to the
      left. This was already apparent in the NDP's strong performance in the
      1984 federal elections. In the time since that election, this
      political vacuum has opened up even more, as the Hawke Labor
      government has moved politically closer to the conservative parties,
      adopting more and more of their policies.

      In the 1987 elections, an impressive range of progressive alternative
      candidates sought to take advantage of the electoral opportunities
      created by Labor's right-wing course, and a new NDP senator was
      elected while Jo Vallentine held her seat as an independent senator
      for nuclear disarmament.

      The liberal-capitalist Australian Democrats, squeezed out of much of
      their traditional territory by Labor's move rightward, also attempted
      to fill the vacuum on the left.

      The third document in this pamphlet, - SWP policy in the 1987 federal
      election - is based on a report presented by SWP national executive
      member Doug Lorimer to a meeting of the party's Sydney branch on June
      30, 1987. Lorimer explains why the SWP decided for the first time in
      its history to call for a vote for the Democrats ahead of the ALP.

      For as long as the ALP has existed, some socialists have chosen to
      work within it, and some without. The SWP believes there are times for
      both courses of action, and at present the appropriate course is to
      work from without - to encourage an organisational break with the ALP
      and the formation of a new party.

      That doesn't rule out joint activity with ALP left-wingers who don't
      accept this course, and who prefer to continue working inside the ALP.
      But such joint activity should not rule out the need for socialists to
      explain that working within the ALP is a rather futile activity for
      leftists at present.

      For a good 10 years, the ALP left has known little but defeats, and
      that has led most of the left forces to leave the ALP. At the very
      least, that indicates a rather poor immediate future for the ALP left.
      But more importantly, it points to a more fundamental political
      weakness. If the ALP left regards its commitment to the ALP more
      highly than its commitment to progressive social change, and refuses
      even in the present circumstances to consider a break, it imprisons
      itself within the capitalist political framework of the ALP, and by
      doing so automatically concedes the fight to the right wing.

      The union movement's great step forward of the 1890s was only ever a
      partial success. Seeking a political party that would fight for
      working-class interests, the unions and their allies succeeded only in
      creating capitalism's party of reform - the one that would step in
      during times of crisis and carry out measures that could head off
      social upheaval, so ensuring the maintenance of capitalist rule.

      The early years of the party were marked by struggles between those
      who wanted a genuinely working-class party (however mistaken they may
      have been in their conceptions of what sort of party that should be)
      and those who didn't. By the time the Fisher government came to office
      in 1910, the working-class activists had lost that fight. When the
      mass anticonscription struggles broke out during World War I the main
      initiative had to come from outside the ALP - largely from the
      socialist revolutionaries of the Industrial Workers of the World.

      Today's socialists must recognise that the great step forward of the
      1890s has become the great obstacle of the 1980s, and be prepared to
      take all the steps - political and organisational - that flow from
      that recognition.

      Steve Painter

      November 1987
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