History of the DSP Part II: The 1980s - Our break with Trotskyism, and the processes of socialist renewal
History of the DSP Part II: The 1980s - Our break with Trotskyism, and the processes of socialist renewal By John Percy
IntroductionIn yesterday's talk I outlined the basic fundamentals of our political position that we developed in the 1960s and preserved through the '70s and '80s.
Before going into detail on the major changes in our positions over the last 10 years, it's worth recapitulating those important elements of the party's program that have remained the same, the basic pillars that haven't changed, those features that have distinguished our political theory and practice throughout our party's existence. I listed these yesterday, but just to remind comrades:
1. Our basic revolutionary perspective. We have carved out our political space in Australia by defending a revolutionary perspective in opposition to the reformist, class collaborationist outlook of the Labor party and those in the Communist movement who have been infected by this position.
2. We have maintained our critique of Stalinism. We have continued to defend a vision of socialism as democratic and anti-bureaucratic. Although we have abandoned Trotskyism, and relinquished some of the theoretical positions of Leon Trotsky, Trotsky's analysis of Stalinism still stands us in good stead.
3. We are still very much an internationalist party. We don't belong to an international organisation, but we have an international political perspective, and put great store by the solidarity we can offer to revolutionaries around the world, and value the lessons we can learn from them.
4. We maintain a mass orientation. That is, we know that a successful socialist transformation of Australian society requires the active participation of the vast majority, of workers, farmers, women, and other oppressed layers, and that our party's role is to participate in all the struggles of the oppressed, learn from them, and help lead them.
5. We have always been a serious, dedicated activist party, and we don't just dabble with the important goals that we have set ourselves. We try to give 100 per cent commitment and effort to the task in hand. And we've built a team and an organisation that can think independently and flexibly to carry out these tasks. This flows from our understanding of the party question, our clear recognition of its absolute necessity, its centrality in the struggle for socialism.
6. We have always had a central orientation to young people, and we've been successful in relating to and winning new layers of radicalising young people to socialist politics. And we've also been willing to give young revolutionaries real responsibility for leading the struggle.
7. We have also always been a democratic party, in which the entire membership has opportunities, through organised discussions of all kinds, to determine the party's policies and activities and which is governed by majority rule. That is, after a discussion in which all points of view within the party can be aired, the decisions adopted by majority vote are the decisions implemented by all members of the party, including those who may disagree with those decisions.
8. We have always been a centralised party, in which the elected leadership bodies are empowered to speak and act in the name of the membership. Decisions made by the elected national leadership bodies, beginning with our national conferences, determine policies and activities for the party as a whole. This is why it's so important, every time a leadership is elected, for it to be done democratically, and consciously. The ability of the leadership bodies to make decisions for the party and which will be loyally implemented by all members, including those with minority views, is only possible because of the democratic way the party selects its leadership.
The SWP at the end of the 1970sBy the end of the 1970s our party had consolidated itself and felt quite self-confident. We were Trotskyists, and in 1978 had been recognised as a section of the Fourth International, the main grouping of Trotskyists around the world (and the most sensible and least sectarian, to give it its due). We took our politics and our participation in the Fourth International seriously. We participated in the Fourth International's internal debates (however misguided and abstract some of these might have been). And we sent comrades to the Fourth International centre in Europe, and to New York to work on Intercontinental Press, the Fourth International's news magazine in English published by the US SWP.
Following an initiative in 1978 by the US SWP to make a drastic push to get the majority of their membership into basic industry, and to urge this course on the rest of the Fourth International, we quickly followed suit, enthusiastically.
The ``turn to industry'' had some correct motivations. We, like most of the other groups in the Fourth International that had grown or developed out of the 1960s and '70s, had a membership that was primarily student in its origins, and tended to get white-collar jobs. We recognised the key role of the industrial working class in making a socialist revolution in the developed capitalist countries, and we recognised the need for revolutionary parties to develop a strong base among industrial workers. For a revolution to be successful in a country like Australia we will need that base.
But the tactic of immediately getting the big majority of our members into jobs in basic industry was also based on some incorrect perspectives. It was predicated on rapidly looming battles between labor and capital. It was posed as an urgent necessity, i.e., we had to get into industry quickly in order to lead these struggles that were just around the corner. Well, this prediction was false. There were some important but isolated labor struggles, but there was no fundamental, overwhelming trend toward a big upsurge in such struggles. Rather, the opposite was the case. Certainly, the capitalists stepped up their offensive against workers in basic industry, with big layoffs during the 1982-83 recession, but thanks to the near total capitulation of the labor bureaucracy, the working class was demobilised in the face of this offensive. Rising working-class discontent has not yet taken the form of big industrial battles, but is expressed through electoral disillusionment with Labor.
Well, by the time of the November 1979 World Congress of the Fourth International we were a growing party, we'd carried out the fusion of the two groups, the SWP and the CL, we were enthusiastic about the turn to industry and were well on the way to carrying it out. We'd become the main lieutenants of the US SWP, a small but respected party in the Fourth International. But we were also strong enough, and capable enough, of starting to think for ourselves a lot more.
The impact of the Nicaraguan revolutionThe Nicaraguan revolution of 1979 was decisive in shifting our perspectives. The Nicaraguan revolution toppled our Trotskyist theory that socialist revolutions were one stage affairs, and vindicated the two-stage strategy of revolution developed by Lenin.
We'd explained every revolution since 1949 as a rare exception, but the reality of Nicaragua's revolution unfolding in front of us couldn't be explained away with convoluted formulations. I'll elaborate on the theoretical ramifications of this in more detail later on.
The Nicaraguan revolution jolted us into a re-examination of our attitude to the Cuban revolution as well. This shouldn't have been necessary our current in the Trotskyist movement had initially distinguished itself by adopting a positive attitude to the Cuban revolution. It was the event that helped unite the European and US-led factions in the Trotskyist movement, and was the event that demarcated the Fourth International off from diehard sectarians like the Healyite current, who refused to recognise the Cuban revolution as a socialist revolution. And in the early years of our movement in Australia we totally identified with the Cuban revolutionaries and Cuba. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were our heroes, we carried Cuban flags, wore Che badges, organised demonstrations in support of Cuba, read Granma and Tricontinental magazine avidly.
But during the 1970s, like most of those in the Fourth International, we ceased to follow developments in Cuba closely and began to assume that they were adapting to Stalinism, particularly after they gave public support to the Soviet bureaucracy's crushing of the democratisation process in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and after they dropped their public criticisms of the reformist politics of the Latin American Communist parties in the wake of the failure of Che Guevara's guerilla warfare strategy in Bolivia in 1967.
Following the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution, both the US SWP and ourselves changed our positions on Cuba. The Cuban leadership's unequivocal support for the Nicaraguan revolution demonstrated that they had not abandoned their revolutionary internationalist outlook. Along with the US SWP, we took a fresh look at the Cuban revolution. We argued that the Fourth International should recognise the Cuban CP as a revolutionary organisation, as genuine revolutionaries (as is rather obvious to anyone not blinded by sectarian Trotskyist blinkers).
In 1982 we wrote our major document on Cuba, The Cuban Revolution and its Extension. We amended and updated it in 1984, taking into account developments such as the tragic defeat of the Grenadan revolution, the consolidation of the Nicaraguan revolution, and the growth of the revolutionary struggle in El Salvador. We also incorporated into it our increased understanding of the Leninist strategy of revolution in the underdeveloped countries. We submitted it for a vote at the 1985 World Congress of the Fourth International.
This document is still essential reading for comrades.
Breaking with the US SWPThe US SWP refused to support our resolution on Cuba, initially without any good reason at all, because they must have agreed with most of it, but just because it was written by us, and we had differences with them on other issues. Later they had an excuse in that it was also sponsored by Peter Camejo, whom they had forced out of their party, and who was now collaborating with us.
Politically, the main difference that emerged between them and us on Cuba was that we clearly recognised that the Castro leadership were revolutionary Marxists even before taking power in Cuba, while the US SWP wouldn't come at that.
The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 was another world event that forced us to think things out more for ourselves. A few months after the Nicaraguan revolution, Soviet troops went in to Afghanistan to block a US-organised war to topple a radical regime in Kabul. Our response was prompt to give strong support to the Soviet and Kabul government forces in the Afghan civil war (Our quick response allowed us to make amends, perhaps, for the abstentionist position we took earlier when Vietnam overthrew the murderous Pol Pot regime).
We had campaigning headlines on Direct Action covers, and our sales actually increased. We published a very good pamphlet, in large quantities, The Truth About Afghanistan and the Crisis of Imperialist Domination.
Initially the US SWP held a similar political position to ours, but it didn't campaign on the issue, and then in August 1980 it did a 180-degree switch, condemning the Soviet intervention as ``counterrevolutionary'' and calling for an immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops (while at the same time claiming they stood ``unconditionally'' on the side of the Soviet/Afghan government forces in the civil war). Other sections of the Fourth International aligned with the US SWP obediently followed suit. We politely disagreed, said no, we think the original analysis still holds and has been confirmed by events, and put our reasons down in print in a 100-page document, Debate on Afghanistan Where the new line of the American SWP goes wrong. It was written by Allen Myers, and adopted by our Political Committee in January 1981, firstly for the benefit and education of our own members, but also to argue our case with the US comrades. We shipped off 400 copies to New York it wasn't until some time later we learned they were never made available to their members!
The US SWP was always a little bit suspicious of us. There were never equal relations between us. We at first put it down to the fact that we were a very new party, just learning a lot of things. But even as we became a larger party, and played an increasing role in the Fourth International, they still treated us with less than 100 per cent candor. They suspected our origins probably, coming completely out of the youth radicalisation, and were a bit hesitant about our initiatives and our independence. They were right. We weren't just followers. One thing we'd already learned by that time (strongly pushed, ironically, by the early leaders of the SWP like James P. Cannon) was that you can't make a revolution if you don't develop an independent national leadership team.
The development of our own full-time party school in the 1980s played a very important role in our theoretical rethinking and the process of developing our own independent party.
The US SWP had set up their own leadership school, and invited us to send someone there for training. We were a little sceptical about it by that stage, but we sent one of our leading comrades, Dave Deutschmann to the first session of their school in 1980s. When he emerged as a factional agent of the US SWP leadership, we decided to decline any further invitations and to start up our own full-time school, which has been functioning since late 1980 with four-month or one-month sessions for 8-10 comrades at a time. It has certainly helped our thinking and learning process, giving the party as a whole a much fuller understanding of Marxism.
Other political issues that developed into differences with the US SWP, in addition to the question of Afghanistan, were the turn to industry, and building an independent leadership.
On Poland, in response to the suppression of Solidarnosc by the Polish Stalinists, we had a disagreement over whether we should participate in and build demonstrations protesting the crackdown. They decided it was wrong to unite in solidarity actions with anyone who didn't understand the need to defend the Polish socialist state against imperialism. This was a sectarian departure from our whole previous approach to defending democratic rights in the Stalinised states.
On Vietnam, we made some very fundamental reassessments of our past positions. Our party and Resistance had arisen in Australia out of the campaign against the Vietnam war, and had always had a positive attitude towards the Vietnamese revolutionaries. In addition to demanding the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam, the ending of conscription, and an end to US aggression, we also solidarised with the Vietnamese freedom fighters, produced National Liberation Front badges, flags, and posters, carried Ho Chi Minh's portrait on demonstrations, and chanted ``Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam is going to win!''
But as we consolidated our Trotskyist political positions, became integrated in the Fourth International and adopted more of their theory, we adopted some of their sectarian political positions (In some ways it was a case of the more theory, the less understanding, or at least the more wrong theory). The US SWP in 1973-74 published two long articles characterising the Vietnamese Communist Party as ``Stalinist'' and as basically having misled the Vietnamese revolution. At the time, we accepted their arguments. It was a real contradiction, at the same time as defending, and admiring, the Vietnamese revolutionaries, we had to try and fit them into a Stalinist mold.
In the 1980s, we did a lot of rethinking on this as well, and in October 1984 we adopted a report by Allen Myers that dumped our old view of the Vietnamese Communists as ``Stalinists,'' and made a positive assessment of their revolutionary strategy and practice (see the pamphlet, The Vietnamese Revolution and its leadership). We pointed out that part of our errors flowed from the schema that we had had Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution and once we developed a clearer understanding of Lenin's revolutionary strategy we could make better sense of the course followed by the Vietnamese CP in the struggle to liberate Vietnam. We also recognised that we had developed very arbitrary revolutionary standards, trying to fit the Vietnamese revolutionaries into them, and often were also just ignorant of the facts.
In the early 1980s the organisational degeneration of the US SWP was becoming increasingly clear, appearing more and more to be run by a clique, with a cult around one man, their national secretary, Jack Barnes. While the overwhelming majority of our party had little difficulty in accepting that Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution was inferior to Lenin's two-stage strategy, in the US there was considerable opposition and a major factional struggle. The Barnes leadership resolved it in a fairly undemocratic manner, by expelling a substantial proportion of the membership who still held to the traditional Trotskyist positions, and cancelled their 1983 convention. They had earlier expelled Peter Camejo, who'd developed similar views to us, and forced out others who subsequently regrouped around Camejo in the North Star Network.
The Barnes leadership declared war on our party, declaring it ``finished'' as a revolutionary organisation. We had to expel five members who were functioning as a disloyal secret faction on behalf of the US SWP. An extensive information bulletin containing all the material on this incident was published in December 1983. A full report on the evolution of the US SWP and our assessment of the causes of its political degeneration was presented by Doug Lorimer to our January 1984 National Committee meeting, subsequently published as the pamphlet The making of a sect.
There's an obvious link between our break with the US SWP and our thorough reassessment of Trotskyism and break with the Fourth International, and it raises some interesting questions. For example, how much did the fact of the degeneration of the US SWP have an influence on us taking this course, that is, if they hadn't gone off the rails, wouldn't we have been more likely to have stayed longer in the Fourth International, hacking away for our positions?
The degeneration of the US SWP had an impact on us in several ways. It forced us to look more closely at the problems of Trotskyism. The US SWP had a generally correct orientation to Nicaragua and the Cubans on paper, but their practice was still often sectarian, for example, in their abstention from the solidarity campaign. They were able to recognise the revolutionary developments in Central America, unlike some Trotskyists, but they were still fighting for the Trotskyist mantle in the Fourth International, fighting to establish that they had the ``revolutionary continuity'' from Trotsky.
Seeing their degeneration at close quarters perhaps some of us reacted a little like ``there but for the grace of God go us...'' We'd seen the phenomena of other weird sects laying claim to the mantle of Trotskyism, both within the Fourth International Nahuel Moreno of Argentina, and without Gerry Healy, Juan Posadas, James Robertson (the Spartacists). Up close to the US SWP, perhaps we didn't initially see the same phenomenon developing, just noting bits and pieces. When it struck us that here was another full-blown example of Trotskyist cultism, we were repulsed.
And perhaps if they hadn't degenerated like that, we would have been more hopeful of reforming the whole of the Fourth International, and would have stayed in there longer. But no doubt it was for the better we'd wasted enough time on that perspective already.
Our final decision to leave the Fourth International was made at our NC meeting in August 1985, and ratified at our 11th National Conference in January 1986. In addition to the political disagreements that we had developed with the majority of the Fourth International, and our feeling that we were unlikely to be able to convince them to change their positions, we felt the necessity to cut our links with the Fourth International in order to make it easier to develop relations with other revolutionaries around the world.
In the 1920s, the Communist movement in many countries was given political direction and clarity by the successful Russian Revolution. The revolutions since World War II have played the same role, especially the Cuban, Vietnamese and Nicaraguan revolutions. The key problem with the Fourth International was its failure to respond to new revolutions, to new revolutionaries, and that was at the heart of our decision to leave the Fourth International. They continued to believe that a mass revolutionary international movement would come into being through the winning of new revolutionary forces not only to the programmatic views but also to the organisational form of the Fourth International. We disagreed with that perspective.
Key political issues in our break with TrotskyismThe main political document where we settle our account with our Trotskyist past was The Struggle for Socialism in the Imperialist Epoch. The draft was first adopted by our National Executive in July 1984, approved by our National Committee in October, and finally adopted at our 10th National Conference in January 1985. Like our Cuban resolution, we also presented this for a vote in the Fourth International at its 1985 World Congress.
It's a very comprehensive document. We included in it all our new thinking up to that point, and although our political ideas have continued to develop in the last six years, it's well worth while comrades' getting a copy and studying it.
In coming to grips with the mistakes of Trotskyism, the document focussed on two major political errors.
Firstly, ``an underestimation of the role of national liberation struggles within the worldwide fight for socialism, in particular a programmatic error of downgrading the anti-imperialist united front and the democratic stage of revolution in the semicolonial countries, from which flow a sectarian attitude towards national liberation movements; this error was largely responsible for the delay by the majority of the Fourth International in recognising the creation of a workers and peasants' government in Nicaragua in July 1979;''
Secondly, ``an overestimation of the place, within the tasks confronting the workers states and within the world revolution, occupied by political revolution against the ruling castes in the bureaucratised socialist states.''
Now on both of these key areas we've become even clearer in our understanding in the intervening years, but the important thing to note is that we were now on the right track (We should also note that the document was written to try and win support for our position within the Fourth International, so the formulations reflected this).
In addition to the main programmatic reorientations that the document proposed, it also began an analysis of the foundation of some of the political errors, looking at the ``circle spirit'' that prevailed in the Trotskyist movement, the isolation from mass struggles, and the resulting fetishisation of particular programmatic questions.
The document looked at the history of the Trotskyist movement, recognising some of the objective difficulties in the 1930s and 40s, the dominance of Stalinism and Social Democracy within the workers' movement. But the document points out that ``objective difficulties alone cannot account for the fact that the Fourth International remains very much a minority current after four decades of rise in the world revolution'' since World War II:
Without overlooking or detracting from the many real achievements of the International and particular sections, it must be said that as a current the Fourth International has not yet overcome the vices of the ``circle spirit'' against which Trotsky often warned. There is an inescapable pressure on small, isolated groups to retreat into the endless elaboration of the written program as a substitute for active involvement in the class struggle. Particular points of the program that set the group apart from other currents or the labor movement as a whole can then be elevated above their real importance that is, they become sectarian fetishes serving to reinforce the group's isolation. The only way out of such a vicious circle appears to be the sudden junking of the program in pursuit of shortcuts. Moreover, the particular programmatic ``points of honor'' are themselves likely to include mistakes of greater or lesser importance to the degree that they were developed in isolation from the class struggle; such mistakes become self-perpetuating in that they prevent the group from intervening in struggles and thereby deprive it of the possibility of checking and correcting its program in practice.The document continued by pointing out that these pressures have been multiplied by the very way the Fourth International was formed, not as the result of the growth of mass revolutionary parties, but as the first international revolutionarty organisation ``constituted exclusively on the basis of agreement of the cadres with a precise program, strategy and tactics'' (as a 1954 Fourth International document put it).
So the Trotskyist movement's isolation from the masses was converted into a virtue. This was a common theme in the Trotskyist movement. Often it was accompanied by a ritual assertion of the need to develop links with the mass movement, to end that isolation. But the fact that the international organisation was set up in this way inevitably led to political mistakes and the imposition of these generalised errors on all its national parties. The process of universalising the tactics to be followed all around the world began. In the 1950s the Fourth International made the tactic of complete immersion in the mass reformist parties the Social Democratic or mass Stalinist parties a universal tactic. In the late '60s, a new universal tactic was adopted for its Latin American sections, guerilla warfare. In 1979, another universal tactic, the ``turn to industry,'' was adopted.
The Comintern under Stalin also had this supercentralist approach to an International, leading to the subordination of most of the Communist parties to the diplomatic needs of the Soviet bureaucracy. But where in the case of the Third International it led to tragedy, in the case of the Fourth International it became a farce, a centralised world organisation built on nothing but small propaganda groups united around a written program.
So in the founding programmatic document of the Fourth International, the Transitional Program, Trotsky could state that ``today there is not another revolutionary current on the face of the planet, worthy of the name.'' Think what it means to say that in 1938. The few thousand people in the Trotskyist movement were the ``only revolutionaries'' in the world. And in the following 10 years there were big revolutions and they weren't led by the ``only revolutionaries.'' We didn't really lose that sort of view of ourselves until 1979. Most Trotskyists still have it. The International Socialists are a bad case of this sectarian madness.
So the written program was elevated to our distinguishing feature. The implication was that it's a finished program. But in reality, that's not how a program is developed at all. Our Struggle for Socialism resolution pointed this out, and noted that among the key problems of the Fourth International had been:
a view of program abstracted from the practice of parties, which leads to judging other currents by their words rather than their deeds and thus to the view that the Fourth International is the only Marxist revolutionary current;So in addition to important lessons we learned about specific aspects of our political program and theory, we also learned some valuable lessons about the nature and role of the program itself during the 1980s. As our new program document (The Program of the Democratic Socialist Party) stresses at the start, a program ``can never be a finished work. Marxism... is not a dogma fixed for all time and circumstance, but a guide to action. The revolutionary program must be constantly developed and tested in the light of the living experiences of the working-class movement, and all who are struggling for social progress.''
Lenin's two-stage strategy of revolutionWell, if any programmatic position has been thoroughly tested and been found correct in the light of the living experiences of the working-class movement, it must be Lenin's two-stage strategy of revolution in the industrially backward countries. But for decades, in spite of experience after experience to the contrary, the Trotskyist movement, and our party in its infancy and adolescence, counterposed Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. This is the first of the two major errors that we had to overcome to break from our Trotskyist past.
I've mentioned already how it was the Nicaraguan revolution that shocked us out of this position. But for the majority of the Fourth International, desperately clinging to their unique program, their raison d'etre, their shibboleth, they wouldn't budge.
A phrase you'd hear time and again in the Trotskyist movement after every revolution that takes place, was ``this revolution confirms Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution.'' It was rather peculiar, you'd have thought it more sensible to say that, in regard to Nicaragua, for example, the revolution confirmed the Sandinista theory of revolution. And doing that would lead you to study the basic theory that has guided the Sandinistas, the Cubans, and the Vietnamese Lenin's writings on the Russian Revolution. We incorporated this understanding in our Struggle for Socialism document:
The course of the colonial revolution continues to confirm the validity of the Marxist strategy developed by Lenin as a guide to revolution in the underdeveloped countries during the imperialist epoch. This strategy is based on four basic premises:This contrasts with our previous positions, and the positions of Trotskyists (though not of Trotsky from 1917 to 1924), that wouldn't contemplate the suggestion of possible stages in the revolutionary process. Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution does not give a correct formulation of the class alliances and dynamics of the revolutionary process in those countries where national democratic tasks were still to be carried through. The theory has led to ultraleft and sectarian political positions. In the cruder versions of permanent revolution theory, such as that espoused by the IS, the Spartacists, etc., it was workers' revolution now, a socialist revolution immediately, or else it was a ``betrayal.'' In the more sophisticated versions, it was recognised that on the basis of bourgeois democratic tasks (e.g., the struggle for national sovereignty, agrarian reform, etc.) revolutionary forces could come to power. But if they didn't begin to rapidly move toward the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, then they were ``inconsitent, petty-bourgeois, revolutionaries'' (e.g., the Cubans) or adherents of the Stalinist ``bloc of four classes'' theory (e.g., the Vietnamese).
Well, the Nicaraguan revolution forced us to relook at Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. We recognised that the Sandinistas were Marxist revolutionaries whose tactics in power were generally correct, and were based on the lessons of the Russian Revolution. When, through our party school, we also relooked at the experience of the Russian Revolution, we quickly concluded that Trotsky's theory of (one-stage) permanent revolution was a false strategy for revolution in the backward countries.
Our new program document incorporates the results of our rethinking on this question;
... the complete and lasting attainment of the goals of national sovereignty and democracy in the Third World can only be carried out by an anti-imperialist government, based on an alliance of the working class and the peasantry, that destroys the old capitalist state apparatus and seeks to consistently carry through a national-democratic revolution.
The struggle for socialist democracy in Stalinised statesThe second major error central to the Trotskyist world view was tackled in our Struggle for Socialism resolution also. This was the Trotskyist view that correcting the errors and mistakes made in the Soviet Union in the course of constructing socialism has equal weight in the worldwide struggle for socialism with the fight against imperialist capitalism.
We recognised a real problem of Stalinophobia within the Trotskyist movement that is, a hatred and fear of Stalinism so intense that it distorted your political judgment and your attitude to the world class struggle. For example, the reason we, (and the Trotskyist movement), failed to learn from the Vietnamese revolution the lessons that we subsequently learned from the Sandinistas was our Stalinophobia we didn't think the Vietnamese Communists could teach us anything because we thought they were Stalinists.
In our Struggle for Socialism document we continued to see the need for an anti-bureaucratic political revolution as ``a precondition for a real reform of the [Soviet] state... The fight for reforms and the political revolution are transitionally linked because real and lasting improvement in the situation of the workers and peasants require an end to the bureaucracy's material privileges and monopoly of political power.'' But we continued: ``The political revolutions required in the bureaucratised socialist states are qualitatively different from the social revolutions that constitute the way forward for workers and peasants in the semicolonial and imperialist countries.''
In his report to the August 1985 National Committee meeting motivating our decision to disaffiliate from the Fourth International, Doug Lorimer expanded on this question. He pointed out that ``In a bureaucratised socialist state, the repressive apparatus has a dual role and character. It is used to defend the social conquests of the proletariat, the new socialist forms of property, against imperialism, and it is used by the bureaucratic oligarchy to protect its material privileges and monopoly of political power against the working class.'' And he outlined further on how the error of the Fourth International flowed from their failure to understand the anti-imperialist axis of the world revolution, including the anti-imperialist axis of the struggle to make the bureaucratised socialist states better and stronger instruments of the workers in opposing imperialism, through the radical democratisation of the institutions of these states.
Against the Stalinophobic views of the Trotskyists, we defended the original ideas of Trotsky on the nature and dynamic of the anti-bureaucratic revolution in the Stalinised states. That is, we rejected the view that had become increasingly dominant within the Trotskyist movement that a process of democratisation in the Soviet Union and other bureaucratically ruled socialist states could only be initiated from below. This view was based on an increasing tendency to regard the bureaucracy as a monolithic formation hostile to any political change that threatened its interests as a privileged ruling stratum. Such a view was never held by Trotsky.
Thus, even before the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, we had started to leave open the possibility that the process of democratic reform in these countries might actually be initiated from within the ruling Communist party. While a historical example of such a process had manifested itself in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Trotskyist movement had categorically ruled out such a process.
We had begun to take notice of people like dissident Soviet historian Roy Medvedev. In contrast to most Trotskyists, who had very little first-hand information about the actual situation within Soviet society and the CPSU, Medvedev provided very interesting information on the different currents within the bureaucracy. We used his 1970 book On Socialist Democracy extensively at our party school from an early stage.
So we were able to break out of a narrow framework that would have prevented us recognising and welcoming wholeheartedly such a major development as perestroika and glasnost, and to take a positive attitude toward anti-bureaucratic, democratic socialist forces that emerged out of the Stalinist parties.
Developing our industrial tacticsI've already mentioned the criticism we made of prescribing the turn to industry as a universal tactic for all parties in the Fourth International, irrespective of their size and the political and social situation they faced. But we carried out the turn enthusiastically and thoroughly, and did succeed in getting the vast majority of our membership industrial jobs. We suffered a number of organisational and political consequences as a result. We lost a considerable chunk of our membership for a start, which shouldn't have happened. And we disoriented the party politically, missing out on some political opportunities, since the turn was based on a prediction of big battles between the industrial working class and the capitalists.
But we pulled back from compounding these errors along the lines of the US SWP, which after a while decided that the turn was more than a temporary tactic, but a permanent feature of their political activity, a strategy. They argued the need for ``deepening'' the turn, making it ``permanent,'' which if interpreted literally means you go round in circles in their case the ever smaller circles of a group turning itself into a sect.
In 1982, at our July NC meeting, we recognised that we had completed the turn. We also recognised that political activity was not just focussed on the industrial working class. We stepped up our activities in solidarity with Central America, for example, and were active in the growing anti-nuclear campaigns. In contrast, the US SWP was adopting an increasingly abstentionist position in conjunction with its turn. In May 1981 they abstained from a big demonstration of 100,000 people in Washington on Central America, on the grounds that what was needed instead was a ``working class anti-war movement.''
Furthermore, the US SWP had adopted a rigid and sectarian approach to tactics within the union movement, and were trying to impose this line on the rest of the Trotskyist movement, at least on their allies around the world. We had this fight out within our own party. Firstly, they insisted that comrades in industry should abstain from accepting job delegates positions. And secondly they made it a principle that we shouldn't stand in union elections for full-time positions. Although we never adopted those positions, it's worth mentioning to highlight the positions we have adopted on trade union tactics, and the rich experiences we've had in the unions.
We adopted a specific resolution on ``Revolutionary strategy and tactics in the trade unions'' at our 9th National Conference in January 1983. As a result of our experiences in the 1980s, we were able to further develop our views on trade-union work. These were summarised in Dick Nichols' report to our October 1987 NC meeting published in the pamphlet New Right Trade Unionism. Again, this is another document that all comrades should be familiar with, and it helps provide the link to our new party program as it applies to the trade unions.
Our rethinking on the ALPHowever, the most important programmatic change that our party has undergone in the 1980s, after the major changes relating to our abandoning of Trotskyism (permanent revolution, the fetishisation of the Fourth International, and the rejection of a schematic view of political revolution in the socialist states) is our changed understanding of the nature of the Australian Labor Party. The documents explaining our position are collected in the pamphlet Labor and the Fight for Socialism as well as in our new program document.
The Labor Party question is the most vital question for Australian socialists to be clear on. It has dominated labor movement politics in this country for 100 years. Although socialists played an important role in the early years of 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 bourgeois party. It 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. Lenin recognised its nature and role way back in 1913, characterising the ALP as a liberal bourgeois party. In the early 1920s he characterised the British Labour Party, a party very similar to the ALP, as an ``organisation of the bourgeoisie'' whose role was ``to systematically dupe the workers.''
But, unfortunately, many Australian socialists have been duped into thinking that, because of the affiliation of most of the trade unions to it, the ALP despite its liberal-capitalist politics, is fundamentally a working-class party, 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.
We didn't escape the influence of these misconceptions. Not only were we influenced by the prevailing view on the left, but we suffered in our early years from inheriting a Trotskyist schema prescribing ``entry'' into the Labor Party as a universal, timeless tactic. So it took us some time to work through these wrong positions. But once we saw ourselves as outside the framework of the Fourth International, and once we developed further our habits of more independent political thinking, looking to all past lessons and overseas experiences, we developed a more Leninist analysis of the ALP.
The conclusions of this process of rethinking are summarised in two documents. The first is ``The ALP, the Nuclear Disarmament Party, and the Elections,'' which is an abridged version of a report presented by Jim Percy to our October 1984 National Committee meeting. The second, ``The ALP and the Fight for Socialism,'' is a resolution adopted by the party at its 11th National Conference in January 1986.
In these documents we argue 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 arenas. We asserted 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. This was a break with our previous position, which 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. We had concluded that it was mandatory for socialists to vote for it and to support trade union affiliation to it.
Well, the experience of Labor governments in recent years has provided overwhelming confirmation of the correctness of our current position, and our new program reflects this line.
This change in our analysis of the nature of the ALP was also accompanied by another change in our electoral tactics. The Trotskyist movement had established a principle that socialists shouldn't call for a vote for any bourgeois party in parliamentary elections. Having returned to Lenin's view of the ALP as a liberal bourgeois party, we had to confront this ``principle.'' Lenin, of course, never held that it was impermissible for socialists to call for a vote in a parliamentary election for a bourgeois party. After all, he argued in 1920 for the British Communists to call for a vote for the Labour Party, which he decribed as an ``organisation of the bourgeoisie'' in order to enable the British Communists to get a hearing for their criticisms of the Labour Party from the millions of workers who had illusions in it. He said that the British Communists should support the capitalist politicians who controlled the Labour Party, ``like the rope supports a hanged man.''
In his report on ``The ALP, the NDP and the 1984 elections'' Jim Percy took up this question:
In considering our electoral tactics, we firstly must be clear as to what elections represent. The first steps are easy. We know what a bourgeois parliament is. We know that the bourgeoisie does not rule through parliament. We know that elections are a fake and a fraud, and that bourgeois democracy is a sham...He went on to note that in the Trotskyist movement it's not uncommon to hear formulations like, ``during election campaigns the question of which class will rule is posed'' and therefore socialists should only advocate a vote for working-class parties, a ``class vote.'' Since Trotskyists consider the ALP a working-class party, because of its base in the trade unions (in reality, in the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracy), then it was permissible to call for a vote for it. By calling for the election of the ALP while criticising its bourgeois program, you were supposedly calling for the working class to take power.
This line of argument, of course, has nothing to do with a Marxist position. Bourgeois parliamentary elections never pose the question of which class is to govern society. The working class, as Marx explained 150 years ago, cannot take hold of the existing capitalist state machine and wield it for its own purposes. The only way the working class can take polkitical power is through ``smashing'' this state machine, and replacing it with elected bodies that it creates in the course of a revolutionary struggle against the capitalist state, as the Russian workers did in 1917 through their councils, or soviets.
When Lenin argued for the British Communists to call for a vote for the Labour Party in 1920, he did so for a very simply reason masses of workers had illusions in it. In his pamphlet ``Left- Wing'' Communism, an Infantile Disorder, Lenin wrote:
... the fact that most British workers still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys ... and have not yet had experience of a government composed of these people an experience which was necessary in Russia ... so as to secure the mass transition of the workers to Communism undoubtedly indicates that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should, from within parliament, help the masses of the workers see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice...As Jim noted in his report, ``Lenin's approach is very simple and very practical. His tactic is one that can be applied to any formation in which masses of workers have illusions.
``... the key thing is to get a hearing. In no case do we identify with Labor's program. While we call for a vote for Labor to get a hearing, we do nothing to increase the illusions. We do it because there are illusions. We try to cut across the illusions.''
Or as we put it in our program: ``Having the ALP in government is essential to the process of destroying the widely held illusions that the ALP is a working-class or progressive party. In office, the ALP forms capitalist governments, which can be clearly seen carrying out reactionary, anti-democratic policies.''
Our regroupment approachOnce we had broken with Trotskyism, and once we had corrected our analysis of the ALP, the way was open for our party to contemplate a much wider range of political options. The possibilities emerged for seeking different types of regroupments with other political forces, and for having a much more flexible tactical approach towards parliamentary elections.
Our history in the 1980s is distinguished by an impressive range of attempts to open out, to develop left unity, and build a political formation to pose an alternative to the ALP. Without going into a detailed history, I'll list the main events and developments.
We initiated and built the Karl Marx Conference in Melbourne at Easter, 1983, which brought together an extremely broad range of speakers and participants in a very prestigious event.
We initiated the Social Rights Conference in Melbourne at Easter, 1984, and built it jointly with the SPA and other forces opposed to Hawke's accord. A Social Rights Campaign flowed out of this.
We participated in the Fightback Campaign and conferences, a continuation of the thrust of the Social Rights Campaign that tried to mobilise union and other opposition to the accord.
In 1983-84 we attempted fusions with the Turkish comrades from Revolutionary Path, a small group of Trotskyists around the journal Socialist Fight, and a group of militant mineworkers in Tasmania.
We threw ourselves wholeheartedly into the Nuclear Disarmament Party campaign when that exciting opening came along in 1984.
In 1986 and 1987 we explored to the fullest extent the possibility of building a New Left Party together with the Communist Party of Australia when the leadership of the CPA started distancing themselves a little from Hawke's accord project.
In 1988 and 1989 we explored to the fullest the possibility of socialist unity with the Socialist Party of Australia.
And most recently we're exploring the possibilities of building Green electoral alliances in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and other cities.
It would be interesting to be able to provide more details of these events and projects, as well as some of our other achievements of the 1980s. Just listing them off like this, they all sound very exciting and varied. But there's not the time to be able to do them justice, and in any case, unlike the 1960s and '70s, many more comrades in the party today have lived through these events and taken an active part in them.
A party and a program for the 1990sBut all these efforts do serve to illustrate our maturing as a party. They show how we had built on our achievements in the 1970s and developed further politically.
They illustrate our tactical flexibility, our willingness to explore many different tactical approaches to building an anti-capitalist political alternative in Australia. In a hard political period, we left no opportunity unexplored. There was no really big break, as in New Zealand with the NewLabour Party, but we grabbed at any chance that came along to build a broad alternative to Laborism with a mass base.
They also illustrate once again our inclusive approach to building a revolutionary party. We've made many fusion and regroupment attempts throughout the 1980s, from small groups, to larger efforts like those with the CPA and SPA.
And they also illustrate once again the seriousness with which we take our political responsibilities. We gave all these party-building projects our best shot, we threw the party into them enthusiastically and wholeheartedly. We tested the opportunities out to the fullest.
I hope this brief overview of our political evolution in the 1980s will help comrades to a better understanding of our political program, and how we reached these positions. I hope I've succeeded in showing both the change and the continuity in our positions, thus putting our new program in a better context for comrades to fully understand it.
With a new name for our party, and a new program that better expresses our ideas, our methods and our goals, I think we can all look forward confidently and optimistically to the 1990s.
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