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3319Developing class consciousness - from the ALP to the revolutionary party

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  • Gould's Book Arcade
    Nov 18, 2003
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      Developing class consciousness - from the ALP to the revolutionary party

      [Extract the resolution "The Labor Party and the Crisis of Australian
      Capitalism", adopted by the Socialist Workers Party in 1976]

      Introduction, by Bob Gould
      The Boyle-Paperclayman response to my recent post [on Greenleft_Discussion]
      about the ALP is getting more hysterical, incoherent, and also untruthful in
      a number of factual matters. I will respond to several of these factual
      inaccuracies in a later post. However, it strikes me as potentially very
      useful to post the following extract from one of the DSP leadership's own
      documents, from the period before they made their great change to the
      current 'third period' orientation toward the labor movement, which they
      have prosecuted in various ways since 1984-85.

      This extract has some stylistic weaknesses, which go with the territory, so
      to speak, notably its overly pontifical tone. This stylistic idiosyncrasy
      comes initially from Cannon and the US-SWP, and is a kind of imitation of
      Comrade Trotsky on a bad day. A style old hands in the revolutionary
      movement are familiar with.

      Despite these stylistic weaknesses, however, it was a pretty useful
      documents, because it canvassed all the contradictions inherent in the grip
      of social democracy on the labor movement and the working class in
      Australia. It is directed at the task faced by socialists in trying to
      prosecute the socialist struggle in a principled way in the conditions of
      the Australian labor movement. In the subsequent thirty years or so, the
      labor movement has shifted significantly to the right, quantitatively, but
      not qualitatively. In this sense all the objective features of the grip of
      laborism on the workers movement addressed in this document still exist. The
      movement has shifted to the right, but nevertheless the structural grip of
      laborism is on the working class is basically intact.

      The DSP, and the whole far left, is now dramatically weaker, than the far
      left in 1977 when the document was written. The disappearance of the CP,
      which was far the largest current of the far left in 1977 (and, to a lesser
      extent, the dramatic decline of the SLL which was also influential then),
      hasn't led to any qualitative, or even significant numerical, increase in
      size of the other groups.

      I'm reliably informed that this document was written by D.H. who is still a
      significant leader in the DSP, with significant input from the DSP General
      Secretary, the late Jim Percy, who took the initiative for the writing of
      the document. When the DSP made its turn, pragmatically, away from this
      orientation to the workers movement, it was driven by the rise of the
      Nuclear Disarmament Party. This turn away from the orientation outlined in
      the document, was justified by a yabber yabber 'reinterpretation' of Lenin,
      in which the argument that the central thing about Lenin's book Left Wing
      Communism and the struggle conducted by Lenin and the Bolsheviks to orient
      small communist organisations to the broad labor movement, was no longer
      important. The new account held that the central thrust of Leninism related
      to the ideology of political parties, and that therefore, any tactical
      orientation to mass workers organisations was a deviation. This 'rereading'
      of Lenin to justify a fundamentally sectarian orientation in conflict with
      the actual practice of the Bolsheviks and the Comintern in the 1920s, is the
      DSP leadership's major claim to a significant 'development' of Marxist

      In fact, Left Wing Communism and Trotsky and Lenin's speeches at the
      relevant Comintern congress, address in detail the question of the
      subjective ideology of political parties, in tension with the sociology of
      mass labor organisations, and the document here is a pretty well straight
      reproduction of this dialectical approach of the Bolsheviks. It stands in
      stark contrast to the current strategic orientation of Boyle and Co. which
      we've had a vintage expression of in the last few days, which essentially
      involves what Lenin tartly dubbed "scalding scoundrels", as a substitute for
      strategy. Its pretty clear that the DSP leadership's 1984-85 'rereading' of
      Lenin was a pragmatic falsification to justify a tactical turn, and that
      this major break from the method of the Bolsheviks has become substantially
      worse as the self-indulgent family atmosphere in the DSP increases.

      I make this challenge to John Percy, Doug Lorimer, Peter Boyle and
      Paperclayman - please explain in detail where the specific faults of the
      analysis presented in this document lie, as you now reject it. Address the
      document concretely.

      Developing class consciousness - from the ALP to the revolutionary party

      [Extract from Section III of the resolution "The Labor Party and the Crisis
      of Australian Capitalism", adopted at the fourth national conference of the
      Socialist Workers Party (forerunner of the Democratic Socialist Party),
      January 24-28, 1976, and published in Towards a Socialist Australia: How the
      labor movement can fight back, Documents of the Socialist Workers Party,
      Pathfinder Press, Sydney, 1977, pp. 81-132. This excerpt pp. 110-119.
      Prepared for OzLeft, November 2003]

      The Australian Labor Party - an obstacle to social change

      The Australian Labor Party is the mass party of the Australian working class
      and represents both its strengths and weaknesses. With its formation the
      working class took a big step forward towards breaking with the political
      parties of the bourgeoisie. Today, however, the ALP is an obstacle to the
      further progress of the working class.

      But because it does represent today the political con-sciousness of the
      Australian working class and because we strive to represent that
      consciousness in the future, orientation to the ALP is the axis of our work.

      Dual nature of the ALP

      The ALP, like its counterparts in Germany, Britain, Canada, New Zealand etc
      is a thoroughly contradictory phenomenon. Even the phrases by which Marxists
      commonly refer to it are contradictory. "Social Democratic labor party" or
      "bourgeois workers party."

      The ALP is a labor party, that is, the mass party of the Australian working
      class. In its origins, composition and organisation it is the party of the
      trade unions. As a class party, it represents an historic advance for the
      Australian proletariat
      It is the only political mass organisation of the Australian working class.
      As the present expression of the political class Consciousness of the
      working class it represents the elementary understanding that parallel to
      the economic struggle of the trade unions, a political struggle must be
      conducted against the parties of the bosses.

      At the same time, the ALP is a Social Democratic party. There is nothing
      whatsoever progressive about this aspect of the ALP. On the contrary, the
      Social Democratic program and leadership of the party are an obstacle to the
      development of revolutionary consciousness in the Australian proletariat.
      Social Democratic reformism is not a necessary stage in the development of
      working class consciousness or even a detour on the road to the
      revolutionary party: It is a barricade across the road which prevents
      further progress.

      The program and leadership of the ALP are in contradiction with the
      composition of the party. In its composition the ALP is a proletarian
      organisation, based on the trade unions. Such independent organisation of
      the class to fight for its interests is progressive. But from its beginning,
      the party has had a purely parliamentary and class-collaborationist
      perspective. This reformist outlook means that the ALP cannot satisfactorily
      defend even the immediate interests of the working class, to say nothing of
      its historical goals. This contradiction is summed up in the phrase
      "bourgeois workers party": the ALP is working-class in its composition, but
      bourgeois in its program.

      The ALP is the party of the Australian trade unions. But it is the party of
      the unions as they are, not as they ought to be. It is the party of unions
      which at the present time come much closer to being "secondary instruments
      of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers
      and for obstructing the revolution" than "instruments of the revolutionary
      movement of the proletariat." To put it another way, the ALP is based on the
      organised working class, but does not represent it: what it represents is
      the union bureaucracy.

      Social Democracy is a petty-bourgeois ideology grafted on to the workers'
      movement. Reflecting the unrealisable dreams of the petty bourgeoisie and
      the labor aristocracy, which are caught in the middle of the conflict
      between capital and labor, Social Democracy preaches a
      class-collaborationist utopia in which the irreconcilable conflict between
      capitalists and workers is compromised and harmonised - under the direction,
      naturally, of the petty-bourgeois politicians of the Social Democracy. The
      ALP leaders, like the union bureaucrats, do not see themselves as champions
      of the working-class in its battles with the employers. They see themselves
      as mediators of the conflict.

      The ALP is thus in a state of perpetual tension between the contradictory
      poles of its dual nature. On the one hand, it is based on the organised
      working class and has the allegiance of the overwhelming majority of the
      class; on the other it serves the bourgeoisie.

      Principled opposition and tactical flexibility

      Our approach to the ALP is conditioned by this contradiction. Firstly, we
      are clear that the Labor Party is not our party because it is not the party
      that can bring about socialism. Here is how James P. Cannon put the matter
      when discussing the British Labor Party and his comments apply equally to
      the ALP:

      "But then the question is raised - the fact that the question is raised
      shows some confusion on the question of the labor party - comrades ask:
      'Well, what is the British Labor Party?' If we judge it by its composition
      alone, we must say it is a 'workers' party' for it is squarely based on the
      trade union movement of Great Britain. But this designation 'workers' party'
      must be put in quotation marks as soon as we examine the program and the
      practice of the party. To be sure, the formal program and the holiday
      speeches mutter something about socialism, but in practice the British Labor
      Party is the governing party of British imperialism. It is the strongest
      pillar holding up this shaky edifice. That makes it a bourgeois party in the
      essence of the matter, doesn't it? And since 1914, haven't we always
      considered the Social Democratic parties of Europe as bourgeois parties? And
      haven't we characterised Stalinism as an agency of world imperialism?

      "Our fundamental attitude towards such parties is the same as our attitude
      toward a bourgeois party of the classical type - that is, an attitude of
      irreconcilable opposition." (See "Summary Speech on Election Policy" by
      James P. Cannon in Aspects of Socialist Election Policy [New York: SWP
      National Education Department Education for Socialists bulletin, March,
      1971], p. 30.)

      So our attitude to the ALP is the same as it is to the Stalinists or any
      other opponent tendency: They are obstacles that will have to be overcome on
      the road to building the mass revolutionary party. But unlike the Stalinist
      parties in this country, the ALP has a progressive aspect - its mass
      working-class base. This fact does not alter our goal of removing the ALP as
      an obstacle to the socialist revolution, but it dictates a different set of
      tactics to accomplish that goal. To quote Cannon again:

      "But the composition of such parties gives them a certain distinctive
      character which enables, and even requires, us to make a different tactical
      approach to them. If they are composed of workers, and even more, if they
      are based on the trade unions and subject to their control, we offer to make
      a united front with them for a concrete struggle against the capitalists, or
      even join them under certain conditions, with the aim of promoting our
      program of 'class against class.'"

      Cannon goes on to define what our approach would be to such a party if it
      developed in the US:

      "We would oppose such a 'bourgeois workers' party' as ruthlessly as any
      other bourgeois party, but our tactical approach would be different. We
      would most likely join such a party - if we have the strength in the unions
      they couldn't keep us out - and under certain conditions we would give its
      candidates critical support in elections. But 'critical support' of a
      reformist labor party must be correctly understood. It does not mean
      reconciliation with reformism. Critical support means opposition. It does
      not mean support with criticism in quotation marks, but rather criticism
      with support in quotation marks." (p. 31.)

      So our orientation to the ALP aims to exploit the contradictions within it
      in order to clear the party out of our way. We intervene in the ALP in order
      to sharpen the conflict between the working-class base on the one side and
      the bourgeois program and petty-bourgeois leadership on the other. Our aim
      is to make the contradiction between the party's base and program blindingly
      clear to the ranks of the working class, which is another way of saying that
      we have to expose the ALP leaders as the craven servants of capital that
      they are.

      None of this implies a sectarian attitude towards the ALP. On the contrary,
      the slightest hint of sectarianism could cut us off from the ranks of the
      party whom we want to reach. Our uncompromising criticisms of the ALP's
      rotten program and treacherous leadership are always presented in the
      context of our support to the ALP as a party of the working people in
      opposition to the bosses.

      The two sides of our orientation are not contradictions which somehow have
      to be made to coexist, but logical corollaries. It is precisely its
      bourgeois program that prevents the ALP from really defending the class
      interests of the proletariat against the bosses.

      Our tactical approach towards the ALP can take a multitude of forms and
      depends only on what is most effective. We can carry out fraction work
      within the party. We can seek to involve elements of the party or the party
      as a whole in united front-type activity, e.g. the anti-war movement. We can
      at times urge people to join the ALP and urge the strengthening of its union
      base. Any combination of tactics is acceptable providing we maintain our
      programmatic independence.
      Trotsky summarised our approach to work with a labor party when discussing
      the American Socialist Workers Party and US labor party: "In relation to the
      labor party in all stages of its development the SWP occupies a critical
      position, supports the progressive tendencies against the reactionary, and
      at the same time irreconcilably criticises the half-way character of these
      progressive tendencies." (See "The Program of the Labor Party" by Leon
      Trotsky in The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, p. 242.)

      In general our method of exploiting the contradiction between the base and
      the program of the ALP is to demand that the ALP leaders act as most workers
      still believe them to be - their representatives. We demand that the ALP act
      like a working-class party by defending working-class interests. The aim is
      not only to persuade the ranks that a particular proposal is desirable, but
      to put the onus on the ALP (and the union) leadership for failing to carry
      it out. Thus, for example, after the dismissal of the Labor governmen6t, we
      did not - like the CPA and the "Trotskyist" sects - call for a general
      strike in the abstract or demand that the workers down tools because we told
      them to; we demanded that the ALP and the unions call a general strike.

      Virtually any demand which is in the interest of the working class or other
      oppressed layers and which seems reasonable to the masses can serve the
      purpose of exposing the ALP leadership and sharpening the contradictions
      within the party. It is not necessary to catalogue such demands here; our
      draft program contains numerous such examples.

      Labor to Power! For a workers government!

      There is another important weapon in the arsenal that revolutionary Marxists
      have developed for use against mass reformist parties in the working-class
      movement. This is the demand that such parties take state power and for a
      workers or workers and farmers government.

      This tactic is not at all the same as merely calling on the reformist party
      to take over the government of the capitalist state. In 1917, the Bolsheviks
      were able to expose the ultimately pro-capitalist programs of the Mensheviks
      and Social Revolutionaries by calling on them to "take the power" even
      though reformists already headed the Provisional Government. The Bolshevik
      demand meant: Break with the capitalist state and form a government based
      upon your majority in the Soviets. The Bolsheviks raised this demand because
      they realised that in order to form a government based on the Soviets, the
      reformists would have had to contradict their programmatic allegiance to the
      bourgeois state.

      What the Bolshevik's demand would have created if the Mensheviks and Social
      Revolutionaries had yielded to it has been referred to in the Trotskyist
      movement as a workers and peasant's government or workers' government
      depending on the class composition of the country concerned. Such a
      government is neither a capitalist government nor the dictatorship of the
      proletariat, but an extremely unstable and short-lived phenomenon that can
      arise when the capitalist state has been severely weakened but not destroyed
      and the workers and their allies have not yet, for whatever reason,
      established a dictatorship of the proletariat. Such a government is
      independent of the bourgeoisie and will therefore be overthrown by the
      capitalists at the first opportunity if it does not first abolish the power
      of the capitalists by establishing a workers state. The importance of the
      demand for a workers government for us at the present time lies in its
      propagandistic and agitational use. Trotsky explained this in the
      "Transitional Program" :

      "The central task of the Fourth International consists in freeing the
      proletariat from the old leadership, whose conservatism is in complete
      contradiction to the catastrophic eruptions of disintegrating capitalism and
      represents the chief obstacle to historical progress. The chief accusation
      which the Fourth International advances against the traditional
      organisations of the proletariat is the fact that they do not wish to tear
      themselves away from the political semi-corpse of the bourgeoisie. Under
      these conditions the demand, systematically addressed to the old leadership:
      'Break with the bourgeoisie, take the power!' is an extremely important
      weapon for exposing the treacherous character of the parties and
      organisations of the Second, Third and Amsterdam Internationals." (The
      Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, p. 94.)

      And further:

      "The agitation around the slogan of a workers'-farmers' government preserves
      under all conditions a tremendously educational value. And not accidentally.
      This generalised slogan proceeds entirely along the line of the political
      development of our epoch (the bankruptcy and decomposition of the old
      bourgeois parties, the downfall of democracy, the growth of fascism, the
      accelerated drive of the workers toward more active and aggressive
      politics). Each of the transitional demands should, therefore, lead to one
      and the same political conclusion: the workers need to break with all
      traditional parties of the bourgeoisie in order, jointly with the farmers,
      to establish their own power." (p. 95.)

      The development of the class struggle in Australia has not yet produced
      soviets, which would considerably simplify the task of presenting the demand
      for a workers' government. Nevertheless, we have developed slogans which
      express the same essence as the Bolsheviks' demand that the Mensheviks and
      Social Revolutionaries "take the power." Naturally, the best opportunity for
      the present to advance such slogans is provided during election campaigns,
      when the question of government is foremost in the minds of workers and the
      other oppressed.

      Election tactics

      In the 1972 and 1974 elections, we put forward the slogan, "Vote ALP! Fight
      for Socialist Policies!" This was a concrete expression in the given context
      of the slogan "For a Workers Government." It meant: for a government by the
      mass party of the working class, but one not committed to the bourgeois
      program of the ALP - a government independent of the bourgeoisie.

      By using this tactic of critical support we are using Lenin's method:
      "Support them in order to force them to take office so that the masses will
      learn by experience the futility and treachery of their program, and get
      through with them."
      In 1975, the growth of our organisation and the development of its cadres
      made it possible for us to advance the same idea in a more concrete - and
      therefore more effective - form. By running our own candidates, we could
      pose more directly to the ranks of the working-class base of the ALP and its
      bourgeois program. By putting forward our own candidates on a clear program
      of transitional demands, while calling unmistakably for the return of a
      labor government, we gave workers the opportunity and encouragement to
      oppose the reactionary policies of the ALP without abandoning the one
      progressive aspect of the ALP, its character as the mass party of the
      working class in opposition to the parties of the bosses.

      We think that Trotsky expressed this correct approach of a small formation
      towards the mass Labor Party in his discussions on the Independent Labor
      Party in Britain in 1935. Trotsky was asked:

      "Question: Was the ILP correct in running as many candidates as possible in
      the recent General Elections, even at the risk of splitting the vote?

      "Answer: Yes. It would have been foolish of the ILP to have sacrificed its
      political program in the interests of so-called unity, to allow the Labour
      Party to monopolise the platform, as the Communist Party did. We do not know
      our strength unless we test it. There is always a risk of splitting and
      losing deposits, but such risks must be taken. Otherwise we boycott
      ourselves." (See "Once Again the ILP: An Interview with Leon Trotsky" in
      Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-1936) [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970], p.

      The revolutionary thrust of our election campaign strategy can be
      highlighted by contrasting it to that of the CPA, which managed to
      opportunist and sectarian simultaneously. The CPA campaign was opportunist
      because it put forward no real programmatic differences with the ALP. It was
      sectarian because putting forward its own candidates without expressing
      political differences could only mean: "Vote for our candidate over the ALP'
      s because he or she represents our organisation instead of theirs; we are
      better than the ALP but we won't tell you why."

      Trotsky also pointed out that we run in elections against the Labor Party
      not to expose this or that individual candidate who is particularly
      reactionary but to expose the party as a whole. There is no fundamental
      distinction between different shades of Social Democrat. Nor do we urge a
      vote for Labor on the basis of some or another aspect of its program:

      "Revolutionists never give critical support to reformism on the assumption
      that reformism, in power, could satisfy the fundamental needs of the
      workers. It is possible, of course, that a Labour government could introduce
      a few mild temporary reforms. It is also possible that the League [of
      Nations] could postpone a military conflict about secondary issues - just as
      a cartel can eliminate secondary economic crises only to reproduce them on a
      large scale. So the League can eliminate small episodic conflicts only to
      generalise them into world war.

      "Thus, both economic and military crises will only return with an added
      explosive force so long as capitalism remains. And we know that Social
      Democracy cannot abolish capitalism.

      "No, in war as in peace, the ILP must say to the workers: 'The Labour Party
      will deceive you and betray you, but you do not believe us. Very well, we
      will go through your experiences with you but in no case do we identify
      ourselves with the Labour Party program.'" (p. 70.)

      Some have argued that the ALP is already exposed and to run in elections
      only gives credibility to parliamentary democracy. In these circumstances we
      should urge a boycott, they say. Trotsky's answer was:

      "It is argued that the Labour Party already stands exposed by its past deeds
      in power and its present reactionary platform. For example, by its decision
      at Brighton. For us - yes! But not for the masses, the eight million who
      voted Labour. It is a great danger for revolutionists who attach to much
      importance to conference decisions. We use such evidence in our propaganda -
      but it cannot be presented beyond the power of our own press. One cannot
      shout louder than the strength of his own throat.

      "As a general statement of principle, a revolutionary party has the right to
      boycott parliament only when it has the capacity to overthrow it, that is,
      when it can replace parliamentary act6ion by general strike and
      insurrection, by direct struggle for power. In Britain the masses have yet
      no confidence in the ILP. The ILP is therefore too weak to break the
      parliamentary machine and must continue to use it. As for a partial boycott,
      such as the ILP sought to operate, it was unreal. At this stage of British
      politics it would be interpreted by the working class a certain contempt for
      them: this is particularly true in Britain where parliamentary traditions
      are still so strong." (p. 70.)

      Of course, in running in elections we in no way fall prey to the trap of the
      Social Democrats who see parliament as the decisive arena of struggle and
      the way to win reforms for the working class. We take our stand along the
      lines of the resolution of the Second Congress of the Comintern on "The
      Communist Attitude to Parliamentary Reformism":
      "In face of imperialist devastation, plunder, violation, robbery and ruin,
      parliamentary reforms, devoid of system, of consistency and of definite
      plan, have lost all practical significance for the working masses .

      "Parliament at present can in no way serve as the arena of struggle for
      reform, or for improving the lot of the working people, as it was at certain
      periods of the preceding epoch. The centre of gravity of political life at
      present has been completely and finally transferred beyond the limits of
      Parliament." (See Aspects of Socialist Election Policy, p. 5.)

      Any candidates who are successful in election contests will act as "scouting
      parties" for the working class and use the parliamentary bodies as a forum
      to propagate the ideas and demands of socialism.

      Where and when we run our own candidates in the future will depend on our
      strength, the gains that can be made, and considerations of a similar
      nature. The growth of our organisation will increasingly make it possible
      for us to run our own candidates and thus pose concretely our program
      against the program of the ALP.

      Gould's Book Arcade
      32 King St, Newtown, NSW
      Ph: 9519-8947
      Fax: 9550-5924
      Email: bob@...
      Web: www.gouldsbooks.com.au
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