The ALP, the Nuclear Disarmament Party and the 1984 elections
By Jim Percy
[Based on a report to a September 1984 plenum of the national committee of the Socialist Workers Party]
When our national executive began thinking about preparing a Labor Party resolution early in 1984, we thought that we'd probably take what we had from our 1981 conference resolution [The World Capitalist Crisis and the Coming Australian Socialist Revolution], restructure it, tidy it up, change some formulations, expand it. Basically we thought we'd be involved in a polishing process. But a couple of events changed our thinking on this.
Firstly, the new situation in the labor movement impinged more and more on our consciousness. In particular, the party began to discuss the effects of the July 1984 national conference of the Labor Party. The discussion about that event intersected with the more flexible tactical approach we've developed in recent years.
It intersected with other aspects of the rethinking we've been doing as a party over the past five years. That was a very fortunate intersection. Like the adjustment of our line on the trade union question, we got to this question in the nick of time.
If we hadn't done so, we could be going very far off the rails right at this moment.
This report, then, will concentrate on some proposed changes in our line, and on some of the mistakes we think we've made in the past. It will briefly take up our work in relation to the Labor Party today, and will then look at the federal elections and what we should be, or already are, doing in regard to them.
The dual nature thesis
There are many mistakes in what we've said about the Labor Party in the past. Some of them are just questions of emphasis, but I want to go over them in some detail because they illustrate dangers we could fall into, or were already falling into.
To begin with, looking at our general analysis of the Labor Party, there is what I'll refer to, for the sake of shorthand, as the dual nature thesis.
Let me read from the 1981 resolution so that comrades can refresh their memories a little, though I think it's like a catechism for a lot of us who have read this thing too many times:
So from the beginning the Labor Party had a dual character: It was based on the main proletarian mass organisations, the trade unions - but it had an opportunist leadership with a bourgeois program.
Later on in the resolution we said:
So the ALP as a Social Democratic party is a bourgeois workers party. That is, it has a dual class nature. Because it is based on the unions, it is a working class party, but its program is bourgeois and its leadership is petty bourgeois.
We said there were two sides to the question, and that the tension between these two sides was reflected in ongoing fights within the Labor Party. But we implied that these two sides were balanced internally. There was a tendency for us either to give equal weight to the two sides or to jump from one side to another, depending on what we wanted to do. This approach was rather mechanical. It led us to put the wrong stress on each aspect, and to try to divide one from the other. When we wanted to talk about tactics, we talked about the ALP's working-class base, and when we wanted to discuss the need for a revolutionary alternative, we talked about the program.
Our approach became rather artificial and one-sided. Marxist dialectics doesn't consist of simply posing two sides of a question. We must try to develop a synthesis.
To give the 1981 resolution its due, it did attempt to do this. It did try to analyse the fundamentals of the Labor Party question by insisting that program was the key question. Because the ALP has a bourgeois program, in the final analysis it is not our party. In the final analysis, we must replace it. Fundamentally, we're opposed to it.
But while saying that, we nevertheless tried to maintain a Chinese Wall between that and the other view in the resolution - the view that the creation of the Labor Party was a historic step forward.
The ALP was founded by the trade unions and remains based on them today. In the 1981 resolution, that aspect still conditioned our tactics towards the ALP, and that made our tactics somewhat rigid. Because tactics relate to immediate action and practice, this aspect tended to become the dominant theme of our overall approach.
Let's look at the different aspects in more detail. Is the program of the Labor Party key? There's a bit of a problem in ranking the different aspects of the Labor Party question. I think the reason we've always stressed the program, apart from the obvious fact that what people put in their program has a real importance in the class struggle, is that the movement founded by Leon Trotsky, and from which our party originated, has always considered formal programatic questions far more important than what a party does - its function, its history, its role today, how people react to it.
Of course, we should make all the necessary points about the bourgeois program of the ALP, but perhaps what needs more stress is the inevitable role the ALP will play in the class struggle today. The question of program can be a little abstract when far more apparent are the open attacks that the Hawke government and the state Labor governments are leading against the working class today.
As well, there was a bit of a contradiction in what we said about the question of program. We said program was key, and therefore we were in fundamental opposition to the ALP. But then we said we must call for a vote for the Labor Party, in spite of its program.
We permitted ourselves to call for a vote for it, in spite of its program, and then we jumped to the other side of the formula for a justification. We said it was okay to vote Labor because the historic step forward embodied in the composition of the Labor Party allowed us to cast a pro-working-class vote.
We said that the ALP is a working-class party, based on the trade unions. We quoted something Trotsky wrote in 1926 about the British Labour Party: The Labour Party "is a priceless historical achievement which even now can never be nullified." Therefore, despite its bourgeois program and our fundamental opposition to the ALP, we've always managed to justify a vote for it as a pro-working-class vote.
We've never felt completely comfortable with this approach. We talked about the historic step forward, but then we also said, as we did in our 1976 resolution:
Today, however, the ALP is an obstacle to the further progress of the working class. . . the Social Democratic program and leadership of the party are an obstacle to the development of revolutionary consciousness in the Australian proletariat. . . It is a barrier across the road which prevents further progress. [Towards a Socialist Australia, pp. 110-111]
So we've never been quite comfortable with the historic-stepforward view of the Labor Party. This is clear in our attempts to reconcile this view with the obvious fact that the ALP represents the main obstacle to working-class political action today.
Perhaps the biggest problem with our 1981 approach is its timelessness. In 1895 or 1900 or 1905, the emergence and development of the Labor Party really did represent a big step forward for the working class. The problem is, things have moved on.
The power and the weight of the labor bureaucracy, and its relative separation from the ranks of the trade unions, is far greater today than it was in the 1920s or 1930s. This change is due to the long post-World-War-II capitalist boom, which enabled the imperialist bourgeoisie in this country and other advanced capitalist countries to dole out larger crumbs from their superprofits and thus to recruit steadily more reliable agents in the labor movement.
While this factor has declined since the end of the long boom in the mid-'70s, its effects are still with us. We see this reflected in the growing support of the bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries for the Labor and Social Democratic parties. This has been a particularly marked trend since the 1960s and '70s. The capitalist class is more comfortable with those parties to day, and there are good reasons for that.
There are apologists for Social Democracy who regard this as a growing strength of the labor movement. They say the labor movement is getting stronger because there are more Social Democratic governments. But the record of these governments says that's not the case.
How much of the supposedly dual nature of the Labor Party remains today? Let's look at what we mean when we say, "based on the trade unions." Lots of comrades have pointed out how indirect this foundation is today. Firstly, very few union representatives in the Labor Party are democratically elected by the ranks. Most are chosen by union leaderships.
The ALP's relationship to the ranks of the union movement is very indirect. If you don't recognise that and if you overemphasise the question of the trade union base of the Labor Party, you can miss the fact that the ALP represents the trade union bureaucracy, not the working class. That's a step towards the view that the Labor Party is some sort of genuine workers' party, albeit a flawed one. That, in turn, can lead to a slide away from the view that the fundamental attitude of revolutionaries towards the ALP is one of opposition.
All this is not to say that everything we've previously said about the Labor Party has been wrong. One thing we've always said remains true: That any radicalisation in the labor movement as a whole - in the trade unions, in the other mass movements - will be reflected in the Labor Party, because of its trade union base and because it is seen by many as a vehicle for social change.
Take the example of the Labour Party in Britain. The political upheaval surrounding the miners' strike has been reflected in the Labour Party. That's also true of other types of parties, such as the Democratic Party in the United States. Any radicalisation in the United States is always reflected in the Democratic Party, because the US ruling class presents the Democratic Party as the party of reform.
That illusion is one of the means the US ruling class uses to absorb some of the discontent among workers or Blacks or women, to channel it back into the capitalist political system and therefore to contain and diffuse it. The ALP plays essen tially the same role here.
In general, instead of our rather timeless, mechanical counterposition of the two aspects of the ALP, we need an analysis of the actual role of the Labor Party today, and of how it's perceived by the masses. A mechanical view of the supposedly dual nature of the ALP abstracted from the real development of the class struggle and the ALP's role in it can lead to a lot of errors about the Labor Party.
A one-sided stress on the composition of the Labor Party can lead to schemas and tactical errors. Perhaps this general problem relates to a more general problem of tactics that we're beginning to grapple with: That is the attempt to found our tactics on rigid class definitions in an attempt to guarantee ourselves mechanically against the perils of opportunism.
This is a big preoccupation of Trotskyists in general, and as we've moved away from Trotskyism we've had to come to terms with it. There are plenty of worse examples than ourselves. Some people and organisations were even more rigorous than us, and found many more evil things that could be done and therefore found many more ways of abstaining from the class struggle.
Even Trotskyists who we regarded as free of the worst of this schematism were in fact affected by it. This is something we quoted from James P. Cannon, the founding leader of the United States Socialist Workers Party, in our 1981 resolution:
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.
Enables, even requires, he says.
We then went on to paraphrase the idea again, after going through our argumentation. We said:
So it is quite principled for revolutionists to call for a vote for a reformist labor party, providing we make it crystal clear that we are calling for a vote not on the basis of the program of the labor party but in spite of this program.
What's the purpose of such a tactic? Or, to take things back a step further, what's permissible and not permissible when considering tactics? I think any tactic is permissible if it helps to develop class consciousness, if it helps to win workers to the revolutionary party, to the idea of socialism. That's a very general statement, but do we really want to go further than that? Certainly, we can learn a lot from studying history, but the past is only a guide to the present.
What will help workers to develop class consciousness? We have to figure it out. There's no rigid set of rules that can tell us what's permissible and not permissible, what will work and what won't work. On this we must be very pragmatic.
In the past, we've said that it's permissible to orient to the Labor Party in the way we did because of its union base. Because the ALP had that working-class composition, we said we could do just about what we wanted, within certain limits. We could get our feet wet. We could get into the class struggle.
But often when you say a particular tactic or set of tactics is permissible, what you really mean is that only this tactic or set of tactics is permissible. All other tactics are impermissible.
The ALP's base
To get the trade union base of the Labor Party in perspective, it modifies what happens in the Labor Party. It's a factor but it's not the only factor, It's something we take account of, but it doesn't determine whether we can or can't pursue a particular tactic.
We created a lot of problems for ourselves by ramming together the two contradictory aspects of the Labor Party in a synthesis that didn't quite work. That led to a good deal of con fusion in what we said about the Labor Party. Here's one paragraph, for example:
So we put our criticism of the program and leadership of the Labor Party in the context of support to the party as a party of the working class opposed to all the bosses' parties. This is not a contradictory position since it is precisely its bourgeois program that prevents the ALP from really defending the class interests of the proletariat against the bosses.
I think in some ways that's probably one of our most confused paragraphs. There's nothing very profound about the view that when there's something wrong with a formation you try to expose it.
For example, the Reagan administration claims it's for democracy in El Salvador. How do we reply? We try to expose this claim as fraudulent: "You say you're for democracy and justice, but your actions in supporting the military dictatorship show the opposite. If you were really for democracy you would stop intervening there and let the people decide their own affairs. That's what real support for democracy would mean." That's the normal method of politics.
Ronald Reagan says he's for peace, we say: "You're putting the missiles in Europe, you're not for peace." The ALP leaders say they're for a nuclear-free Pacific, so we reply: "Good, but if you were serious about it you'd ban visits by US nucleararmed warships. The fact that you don't do that shows that you're not really for a nuclear-free Pacific."
More generally, with regard to the Labor Party we use this approach to demonstrate the contradiction between the ALP's pro-capitalist program and practice and the real interests of its working-class supporters.
The problem is, our "context of support" formulation implies political support to the Labor Party. It implies that we're making criticisms of something we genuinely support, rather than something we implacably oppose.
If we do support the ALP, what sort of support are we talking about, and what aspect of the ALP do we support? Do we support the base, perhaps? Does the ALP's union base make it in some way superior to other bourgeois political formations? What does that mean? In the end it only creates illusions in the Labor Party.
Having got into this mess, we try to wriggle out of it by quoting Cannon, who always tacked to a fairly left line on this question:
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.
That's a good journalistic phrase, but it doesn't clarify things totally. The problem is that support is an ambiguous word. How should we say it? Lenin said communists should support the Labor Party like the rope supports the hanged man. That's the tradition Cannon was trying to stick to. We should too. But we have to formulate it a little differently. We can't just quote Lenin's phrase. That helps us to understand what our stance should be, but it's not very transitional. It doesn't relate very well to the existing consciousness of broad masses of workers today.
So we have a problem in saying just what we want to say about the Labor Party at election times. How we do it will de pend on the extent of working-class illusions in the Labor Party. This approach is not just relevant to the Labor Party. It is relevant in dealing with any bourgeois institution about which large numbers of workers hold illusions.
Because there are illusions in parliament, we don't say, as some British ultralefts did in 1970, "Piss in the polling booths." We don't adopt the anarchists' slogan : "Vote Guy Fawkes, the only man to enter parliament with honest intentions."
We've never allowed ourselves the luxury and indulgence of that approach. We say it's good that there are democratic rights, but we also explain in a more detailed way what's wrong with bourgeois democratic institutions such as parliament.
How we address the Labor Party question is important tactically. None of us thinks that we should put out a leaflet with Lenin's phrase in it today, even though that phrase expresses a general approach with which we agree.
Even proceeding on the basis of Lenin's approach, we've managed to create a lot of difficulties for ourselves in regard to the Labor Party. By focusing on an attempt to draw out the difference between the base of the party and its program, we've created a good deal of confusion.
Political wing of the labor movement?
When we made a special tactical orientation to the Labor Party because of its base, we ended up with confusion about what the Labor Party is. We overemphasised the supposedly working-class side of the ALP to the exclusion of the fact that it is fundamentally a bourgeois party.
This can lead to the view that it's fundamentally a workingclass party, and that it's the political wing of the labor movement, or the political expression of the trade unions. Lenin himself had to deal with such erroneous ideas.
In 1920, at the Second Congress of the Communist International, Lenin took up the view of one of the British affiliates of the Comintern, the British Socialist Party, which claimed that the British Labour Party was "the political expression of the workers organised in the trade unions." Lenin replied:
Of course, most of the Labour Party's members are workingmen. However, whether or not a party is really a political party of the workers does not depend solely upon a membership of workers but also upon the men that lead it, and the content of its actions and its political tactics. Only this latter determines whether we really have before us a political party of the proletariat. Regarded from this, the only correct point of view, the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers... [Lenin on Britain (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1973), pp. 460-61]
If we take the approach against which Lenin was polemicising, we can make all sorts of errors. We can begin to regard a Labor Party government as some sort of workers' government rather than a bourgeois government. Some Canadian Trotskyists around Ross Dowson made that error in the early 1970s.
Dowson elevated the union base aspect of the Canadian labor party - the New Democratic Party - above the party's fundamentally bourgeois nature. This led him to think that the union base of parties like the ALP, the New Democratic Party, or the British Labour Party, made them somehow more working class than the European Social Democratic parties. He even floated the idea that because of this union base, governments headed by parties like the ALP were not fully bourgeois governments, but workers' governments of some kind. In the end he and his supporters liquidated themselves into the Canadian Social Democracy.
Another error is to think that the strategic goal of socialists is to reform the Labor Party, not to remove it. That leads to a slide away from the view that an independent, revolutionary socialist party is necessary. This can take the form of advocacy of the tactic of deep entry into the Labor Party.
This tactic involves revolutionaries abandoning any perspective of building an independent revolutionary organisation outside the Labor Party, and functioning completely within the framework of the Labor Party for a long period of time.
Such a tactic can cut revolutionaries off from radicalising forces, including radicalising workers, outside the Labor Party. It can lead to political adaptation to the Labor Party milieu. If treated as the only long-term approach, entrism can become a strategy that undermines understanding of the need for an independent revolutionary party.
But not only those who openly advocate deep entry into the ALP are plagued by this outlook. In fact, most of those who regard themselves as socialists in this country have this posi tion in one form or another.
They think they can act through the ALP to win socialism - if only they could get rid of the right wing. In this view, anyone who advocates building an independent socialist party is sectarian. In reality, this is.nothing more than adaptation to the framework of bourgeois politics in this country.
Other, subsidiary errors have flowed from our overemphasis on the union base of the ALP. When the Sydney branch dis cussed the ALP question recently, one comrade raised the affiliation of the four NCC-influenced unions in Victoria. He argued that we should support these affiliations as a matter of principle - the supposed principle of strengthening the ALP's union base. No one else supported that view, but it was a product of the schematic view of what the Labor Party is and must be.
Whether unions should affiliate or disaffiliate is a tactical question, not a principled question. It's a tactical blunder of the first order to make it a principle. You can't define what you should do about such a question on the basis of some belief in the sanctity of the ALP's union base. You have to decide what will help to move the political situation forward, what will help workers to develop class consciousness, what will help to defeat the right wing. These are the only real considerations.
We also fell into another error: A schematic view of how opposition to the Labor Party will develop. Because we stressed the union base so much, we assumed that any major new radicalisation would first be reflected in the unions and that would then affect the Labor Party. If you like, that's our preferred model. That's how we'd like things to happen.
We would be in our element if there had been a fightback in the unions, and if there was a class-struggle left wing developing in the unions and spreading into the Labor Party as well. That would mean that opposition to uranium mining would still be ALP policy, and there would be no NDP.
It would be much better to have a revolution according to the classical model rather than all the inferior models that we have to live with. But that's not the way things are happening.
Our schema about how the radicalisation would develop came from a mistaken view of what the ALP's base represents today. We were fortunate that the emphasis on that didn't lead us to drag our feet when something began to happen that didn't fit our preconceived notions.
Before dealing with our electoral tactics I want to discuss the question of our governmental slogan. It is necessary to understand the errors we made on this question, and how they relate to our errors on election tactics.
We've been rethinking the question of our governmental slogan as a result of the impinging reality I mentioned before - the events surrounding the Labor Party national conference and the emergence of the NDP.
These events made us rather uncomfortable with our governmental slogan. I think most comrades have been dis contented with our governmental slogan. Not many really liked it. But we've persisted with our governmental slogan for so long because none of the people who don't like it have ever found a better one. We've made plenty of attempts to do so, and we've had numerous discussions about it.
The last time the discussion came up on the national executive, our dilemma went something like this: How do we pose a governmental slogan today? Should we call for A Labor government with socialist policies? People would think we're crazy. Here's the Hawke government, and we're going to say "Labor with socialist policies." There was one proposal, made in a fairly light-hearted manner: For a Labor government with Labor policies. But in the end we thought the most we could do with that would be to put it on a badge or a car sticker.
As the discussion proceeded, we realised what we'd been doing wrong with the idea of a governmental slogan. We needed to look at our basic criteria.
First of all, our slogan must be accurate. It must express the fact that our aim is a workers' and farmers' government - a government based on the independent organisation and mobilisation of the workers and their allies, and not on the institutions of the bourgeois parliamentary state. Our aim is a government that defends and advances the interests of the workers and their allies, not those of big business.
Our governmental slogan must say that. It must have that sort of accuracy. That's why we now reject past slogans, such as Vote Labor and prepare to fight, or Vote Labor and fight for socialist policies, etc. Those slogans didn't sum up the sort of government we advocate.
As well as being accurate, our governmental slogan must be transitional. It must relate to the existing political con sciousness of the broad masses of workers. That's why we tried to relate our governmental slogan to the Labor Party question. Rather than a Socialist Workers Party government, we called for A Labor government with socialist policies. We tried to relate the workers' and farmers' government concept to the existing consciousness of the broad masses of working people who vote Labor.
A third conclusion we drew is that any slogan we put forward must be realistic. Is a call for a Labor government with socialist policies realistic? I think it hasn't been realistic for quite a long time, but in the 1984 elections it would be so out of touch it would sound a little crazy.
In the past, comrades worried that our governmental slogan didn't differentiate us from the Labor Party. A lot of people thought the Labor Party was a socialist party, and therefore our slogan didn't differentiate us. That's certainly not the problem this year.
The fact that our slogan wasn't fully in touch didn't make it completely non-transitional. The main problem was that it only addressed one aspect of the question. It addressed the question of the Labor Party, but it did so in such a way that people thought, "Well, that's not really very likely."
Propaganda and agitation
It's very difficult to come up with a governmental slogan that meets all of the criterea we want it to meet. It's easy enough to propagandise for a workers' and farmers' govern ment in the small print by explaining what sort of policies we need, and what our sort of government would do. We will con tinue to do that. We're not proposing to drop the idea of ex plaining what sort of government we need. But we are propos ing that we drop the search for an agitational slogan that meets all of our criteria today.
That's because we're not even close to the stage of revolutionary crisis that would require us to concretise such a governmental concept and express it in a popular slogan. There's not that mass consciousness today, and we don't have sufficient political weight to use a governmental slogan as an agitational tool.
The essential problem is that there's not sufficient crisis, mobilisation, development of the class struggle. That's why we never felt comfortable with our slogan, even though it did reach some people.
We reached some people just because we talked about the Labor government and how we wanted a Labor government, but we never really set the world on fire. It will be some time before we find some slogan that relates our workers' and farmers' government concept to a concrete revolutionary institution or struggle the way the Bolsheviks were able to do in 1917.1
We could try to invent a name for what we mean by a workers' and farmers' government. That's what the Socialist Party of Australia attempts to do. Leave aside the debate about whether their slogan encapsulates the concept of a workers' and farmers' government. It's very similar. With their new democratic economic program, they're trying to find a way of popularising the idea of a different sort of government. They call for a government of people's unity.
We could try for something like that, but in the present circumstances such slogans can sound esoteric or totally abstract. For the moment, we can't find a concrete agitational slogan that meets our needs. There are good reasons for that: The class struggle in this country hasn't reached the point where workers are creating independent, revolutionary organs of struggle that we can use to concretise what we mean by a workers' and farmers' government.
So our governmental formula remains a propaganda slogan, and there's no need to concretise our general concept with a name any more popular than workers' and farmers' govern ment until the name emerges from the class struggle itself.
We're going to continue propagandising for the idea of a workers' and farmers' government, and we're also going to support the election of a Labor government. The trouble is, in the English language the word "support" is fairly ambiguous. It can be misunderstood to mean political support, or, in the case of the Labor Party, political confidence in it. Nevertheless, to simply say, "We're for the election of a Labor government," is a good way of indicating what we want to do at the moment.
That means we're calling for the election of a bourgeois government. And we've always said this in the past. We've un derstood this is one of the things this slogan meant. But we're also saying that we have no overall political confidence in the ALP, we give no political support to a Labor government.
At the same time, we also say that a Labor government will be better in immediate terms than a Liberal government. We say to workers that we'll be better off with a Labor govern ment.
We can say that providing we don't put a full stop there. If we put a full stop there, we've got an opportunist position that implies political confidence in Labor - that implies that we think Labor can really solve workers' problems.
We have to go on and say much more, because our electoral tactics must not only relate to what's happening now, but also should prepare us for the future. Failure to understand that can be the source of a lot of errors in the socialist movement, not just in this country, but all around the world.
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.
There's nothing new about all this. We put most of it in our 1981 resolution, and that section still reads pretty well, tacked on there at the end. To give us our due, our 1981 formulation is better than same others we've used in the past, and better than most you'll encounter around the left. It's still not uncommon to hear formulations like, "during election campaigns the ques tion of which class will rule is posed." That's still the most common Trotskyist explanation of why it's necessary to cast a "class vote" by voting Labor.
Our formulation is a little better. We say the question of government is foremost in workers' minds during election cam paigns.
The problem is that once you start to get into a discussion about what's happening that's different during elections, you're down the road of designing your tactics to be different during election campaigns. That is, some things are permissible most of the time, but not during election campaigns. In elections, you can't do things that you can do at other times.
You can start to argue that during elections the need for "independent working-class political action" must be posed in some way. And if you say that, you're implying that the ques tion of which class rules is posed, even if you continue to hold formally that parliament doesn't rule.
Putting things that way assumes that our electoral tactics must relate directly to the question of what sort of government is to be formed. So, in spite of any good statements against parliamentarism, about how the bourgeoisie really rules, you end up in the trap of parliamentarism.
In reality, the bourgeois parliament is just another forum in which we can present our ideas. That's all parliament is. We try to have advanced contingents in it, that's all. That was Lenin's viewpoint. And it's the right viewpoint.
This question is different from the question of what sort of government we want to see, and what sort of government we would support politically. We mixed the two by trying to make our governmental slogan meet the context of particular parliamentary elections - the needs of the parliamentary struggle in this country.
We certainly know what sort of government we really want, and it's not a bourgeois Labor government, or any sort of bourgeois government. It's a workers' and farmers' govern ment, a revolutionary government. But by trying to make our electoral tactics relate to that we confused the issue in our minds.
Trying to make our governmental slogan realistic in the context of bourgeois elections, we distorted our very approach to elections themselves, implying that the question had importance far beyond the real weight Marxists have given it in the past and that it required a special set of tactics.
This led us to draw a sharp distinction between alliances during elections and alliances at other times. Outside elections, we said it was permissible to be involved in multi-class alliances, but during elections we said this was impermissible.
We've often been involved in multi-class alliances in the past, as we are today. What was the Vietnam Moratorium Movement if not a rnulti-class alliance? Isn't People for Nuclear Disarmament a multi-class alliance? It includes forces from outside the labor movement, and individuals who are middle class in their social position and their political outlook. Even Don Chipp's Democrats are involved in PND.
We support rnulti class alliances like PND because they have an objectively anti capitalist dynamic. They mobilise peo ple around objectively anti-capitalist demands like stopping uranium mining, removing the US bases, and breaking the Australia--l.JS alliance.
But when it came to elections, we said we couldn't support multiclass alliances, even if they were based on some part of our program. When the Tasmanian Wilderness Society ran candidates on the single demand of stopping the construction of the Franklin River dam, we took the view that we couldn't support that campaign because the TWS was a multi-class formation, or a middle-class formation. We supported the ALP because, even though it supported building the dam, it had a "working-class base," and a vote for Labor was therefore a "pro-working-class vote."
Of course, this schematic tactical approach actually contradicts our overall strategy for revolution in this country: The strategic class alliance we advocate for the formation of a revolutionary government in this country.
We know that a workers and farmers' government in a semicolonial country can involve a tactical alliance with bourgeois forces, including at the governmental level. That's the form that the workers' and farmers' government took in Nicaragua after the Sandinista victory in July 1979.2
Because the immediate objective tasks of the Nicaraguan revolution were bourgeois-democratic tasks, there was an objective basis for the FSLN's tactical alliance with sections of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie. These sections of the bourgeoisie paid lip-service to agrarian reform, winning genuine national sovereignty, etc.
But in this country there are no sections of the bourgeoisie that would be part of a revolutionary government - some small farmers, family farmers, yes, but no sections of the bourgeoisie. That's because the tasks of the revolution are different here. There are no big bourgeois-democratic tasks like eradicating feudal survivals in the countryside, or winning genuine national sovereignty.
These tasks were completed a century or more ago, though not through a revolution. That's why we still have some minor feudal refuse like the monarchy. But there won't be a national democratic stage in the Australian revolution. The tasks con fronting a revolutionary government in this country will be directly socialist tasks, such as expropriating big capital and organising a planned economy, even if it does take a little time to carry through these tasks.
The revolutionary government necessary to create such a socialist state in this country will require a multi-class alliance.
It will be a government resting on the support, mobilisation and participation not only of the working class, but also of the rural and urban middle classes. That's the strategic alliance necessary to carry through a revolution here. Of course, this alliance must be around a program that is anti-capitalist in its basic thrust.
That, in general, should be our approach to all alliances we seek to form, whether they're electoral alliances or alliances for extraparliamentary action. The NDP is a multiclass alliance, with many middle class elements in it.
Even some individuals from the big bourgeoisie support it. But like the Moratorium campaign and PND, the NDP has an objectively anti-capitalist program, or to put it more precisely, the NDP's political program is one we fully support. The NDP represents a leftward break with the policies of the Australian ruling class and its parties - including the ALP.
This is a key difference between the NDP and the Democrats. The Democrats are a middle-class party in social composition, but we couldn't form an elf ctoral alliance with them today because they do not help :o promote such a political break. The framework of their policies is the same as Labor's, even if they make some left noises about nuclear dis armament.
Like the Labor Party, they support anti-union laws. Like Labor, they support a stronger Australian imperialist "defence" force. This affects even the anti-nuclear policies on which they try to differentiate themselves from Labor. Rather than call for removal of the US bases, they call for them to be placed under the control of the Australian ruling class. In the end, like Labor, they support the Australia-US alliance, and are therefore just as prowar as Labor.
We were taken down a slippery slope by the mistake of mix ing up our election tactics with the question of what sort of government we want. We thought we had to use elections to post the question of a revolutionary, working class government.
We kept asking how we could call for a vote that was at least symbolic of this goal, or that would at least be indicative of a step towards it, We said it could be done either by calling for a vote for a revolutionary program - ie for our own candidates - or a vote for the ALP on the basis of its workingclass composition.
Today, though, it's very difficult to use elections to present the need for a revolutionary government, even symbolically. That's partly because of our size and partly because of the nature of the Labor Party. Those are the two main problems we face.
How can we advocate a pro-working-class vote on the basis of program? We really had a good shot at it in the 1983 elec tions. We went all out and ran 48 candidates. We did what we could. We campaigned vigorously for a working-class program. We know that not many workers voted for us. Overwhelmingly, they voted for the ALP. Was this a class vote? According to our 1981 resolution it was. Here's one of the most contorted paragraphs in the whole document:
So it is quite principled for revolutionists to call for a vote for a reformist labor party providing we make it crystal clear that we are calling for a vote not on the basis of the program of the Labor Party but in spite of this program. What a vote for the Labor Party represents for us is a vote for the working class base of the Labor Party, for that aspect of the Labor Party that represents a step forward for the working class on the road of political action independent of the bourgeoisie and its parties. So we can call for a vote for Labor even where the question of government is not posed. . .
We say what a vote for the Labor Party represents for us. That's a wonderful way of looking at the world: Millions of workers vote for the Labor Party, and we say what their vote means. No matter why they did it, for us it represents another part of our schema. It helps it to fit together, so that's what it must be.
There's no doubt that when workers began to vote for the Labor Party 80 or 90 years ago, it represented more of a class vote than it does today. But what does it represent today? Ask workers why they vote Labor and what answers do you get? "Well, it's better than the bloody Liberals." "Oh well, my family has always voted Labor." "Well, I voted Liberal last time." How often do they say: "Well comrade, I'm glad you asked me this. Our class took a historic step forward with the formation of the Labor Party. It's a priceless historic acquisition even to day. So I voted Labor, despite its capitalist program, because it has a working-class base, and this enabled me to cast a vote for independent working class political action."
Today there are fewer illusions about what a vote for the Labor Party represents. Not many workers think: "That's our party; it's going to do this and do that." It's more and more: "They've betrayed us." That process has been developing for a long time. The most we can say is that it's very unclear what a vote for Labor represents. But our schema allowed us to pretend to pose the question of a class vote in the framework of the elections.
Was this a good electoral tactic? Was it what we should have been doing in elections? Was our key task in elections to call for a vote for the Labor Party because 95 years ago it was a historic step forward from which nothing can ever detract?
That's the most important thing we can do? Isn't it more important to encourage motion in a progressive direction, to get the biggest number of workers to break to the left, towards progressive politics, rather than simply swinging back and forth between the Liberals and Labor, from one form of disillusionment to another?
If there's a chance to do that, isn't that a better road? Isn't it better that some workers get rid of one or two illusions? Isn't that vital? Isn't that the best thing we could encourage at the moment?
This is just a political judgment to some extent. We look at politics and we see the Hawke Labor government totally domi nant in the labor movement. Then it goes a little too far. It offends many of its supporters - artists, peace marchers, workers. It creates a furore and the beginning of a political break. We have to make a political judgment: Is this good or bad'? Does it help or hinder?
The answer of this report is that it helps, and therefore we want to encourage that break. That doesn't mean we give a blank cheque to the NDP. But we do stress the direction and the motion: It's healthy, it's something we want to encourage. Our criterion is politics today,' not politics at the time of the shearers' strike in 1891.
What is happening in the class struggle today? That's the question we ask when we want to formulate our tactics. And our answer to that question is based on a number of elements, on an understanding of the impact of this on the whole of the labor movement, the whole milieu in which we operate. That's how we should develop our politics and our tactics, not from the timeless criteria we've been trying to use.
Why vote for Labor?
That still leaves the problem of the Labor Party. If we're not going to call for a vote for it because of its base or because of its program, on what basis do we call for a Labor Party government?
Let's go back to Lenin and to Trotsky, and to our 1981 resolution. In fact, the resolution is quite good on this.
Let's begin with Lenin's view. This is from Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder:
At present British Communists very often find it hard even to approach the masses and even to get a hearing. If I come out as a Communist and call upon them to vote for Henderson against Lloyd George, they will certainly give me a hearing. And I shall be able to explain in a popular manner, not only why the Soviets are better than a parliament and why the dictatorship of the proletariat is better than the dictatorship of Churchill (disguised with the signboard of bourgeois `democracy'), but also that, with my vote, I want to support Henderson in the same way as a rope supports a hanged man - that the impending establishment of a government of the Hendersons will prove that I am right, will bring the masses over to my side, and will hasten the political death of the Hendersons and Snowdens just as was the case with their kindred spirits in Russia and Germany. (Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 88)
Very direct. Whether that's a dialogue you could have with an Australian worker - the part about the hanged man and so on - is something we could argue about, but the point is sim ple. Why did Lenin call for a vote for Henderson, the British Labour Party leader, in 1920? To get a hearing, simply that.
Because of the continuing illusions, we continue to call for a vote for the Labor Party. We continue to go through this experience. It's very simple. Lenin didn't raise anything at all relating to our old position: Well, it's a question of the Labor Party's working class base and so on.
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.
I think it's the extent of the illusions that dictates the tactics and the language we should use. But 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.
Then there's Trotsky's view. This was quoted in the 1981 resolution:
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.'
We think that's the same approach as Lenin's. We think that's the correct approach. That's all we need to say about why we're going to support the Labor Party: Because there are illusions. Because we want to get a hearing. Because we want to explain what's wrong with the Labor Party, and why the accord's no good.
There's another thing in what Trotsky says. He admits "it is possible of course that the Labour government could introduce a few mild temporary reforms." This is an important factor to take into account because it brings up the terrible question of lesser evilism.
How do we approach the problem of lesser evilism in bourgeois elections? Can we say there is a lesser evil? I think what Trotsky said indicates what we can do. We can say "Yes, there will be a few mild, temporary reforms." Yes, sometimes.
But the problem is that the working class will still be weakened unless it makes a move to the left, unless it begins to reject the whole program of the Labor Party. If we only say it doesn't matter whether Labor or the Liberals are elected, millions of workers won't listen, because workers obviously sense the difference. It can be a real difference in life.
Earlier this year, I was talking to a Black comrade in the United States, a former member of the US SWP. He described an SWP campaign in Atlanta, in which there was also a Black Democratic candidate for mayor. He said:
Well, you know, we said, `A Black Democrat, won't do any good, he'll introduce capitalist austerity, won't make any difference.' But I was a bit uncomfortable with that, because once this Black mayor was elected, what happened was what we said was going to happen - they introduced all the capitalist austerity measures and so on and so on. But you know, in Atlanta there used to be some 30 Blacks killed by the cops every year. That stopped, and Black workers knew that. And then there was a lot of money spent in government projects, and the city government passed a law that said that every second worker hired would have to be Black. That wouldn't have happened under the previous administration. So there was a real difference in life.
We have to relate to that. If we don't find a way of explaining it, we're in trouble. We won't get a hearing. Workers will think we're crazy. There are illusions because there is a lesser evil. We can argue the point about the details, but that's why there are illusions. We mustn't identify with those illusions and increase those illusions, but the illusions must be the starting point of our dialogue.
So, our dialogue must go: "Sure, Labor is better than the Libs, but in the end they're going to betray you. They're going to carry out the same basic policies as the Libs - war, austerity and so on. We think our program is the only thing that's really useful, but you don't support it yet. You think Labor will make a real difference. Okay, we'll go through the experience of another Labor government. We'll help Labor to get elected. But the problem is to break with this whole method of politics. The program of the Labor Party is against your interests. Here's the record." With a dialogue along those lines we'd be getting closer to explaining what we need to explain.
So while it's correct to point to the basic similarity between Labor and the Liberals, it would be a mistake for us to say there's no difference. That would be the wrong tactical ap proach. It would prevent us getting a hearing for our opposi tion to the Labor Party.
But it would also be a mistake to limit our electoral tactic to figuring out which is the lesser evil - to fail to call for a development of politics beyond that. That's the approach of the Labor lefts.
They refuse to make any break with the perspective of Laborism. According to them, The fight is only within the Labor Party. Or at best: "We can use the mass movement to put pressure on the right wing in the Labor Party." Then there's another side to this left reformist approach: "Oh, don't stand against us. We're on the left. It's not our fault. You can't be in a revolutionary party. That's just a sect." Or today: "You can't support the NDP, it's only a single-issue party."
Our line is totally different. The Labor Party is an obstacle. Leave aside the tactical tone of what we say about it, our aim is to remove it, not to strengthen it.
Sometimes, when we take that approach, we might be accused of conceding an advantage to the right. That is a problem. It's something the Labor lefts harp on. But I think it's a general rule that there's always a risk that any new political motion can temporarily help the right.
When we attack the accord, some workers may think we're attacking the Labor government from the right. That's a risk. If we attack the government on uranium mining and call for a vote for the Nuclear Disarmament Party, that could threaten the Labor government. There is always that risk. In any new motion there's the risk of dividing the left forces.
What if this leads to the downfall or overthrow of the Hawke government? Well, that abstracts from the question of how this happens. Suppose there was massive political motion that real ly did hinder the Hawke government's project, and there were big developments outside the Labor Party, and the Labor government fell. That would be positive if it strengthened the left and helped to restructure the labor movement.
The worst outcome of a period of Labor government is the fall of the government because it has demoralised masses of workers and driven them back to the right. That's what we have to point out to the Labor lefts. Until they understand that, and are prepared to fight the right wing, even at the risk of Labor losing office, they'll remain politically hostage to the right. They'll continue to cave in every time the right argues that fighting for left policies will cost Labor votes.
Labor will lose votes anyway as workers become disillusioned with the effects of pro-capitalist policies.
The Labor left
What's needed is a new type of left wing, one that knows how to stick to its principles. The existing Labor and trade un ion left has helped to prepare the way for the present right-wing domination of politics. It has done so by supporting the class collaborationist prices-incomes accord.
It has opened the road through its own move to the right. The betrayal on uranium mining at the 1982 ALP conference cleared the way for Hawke's complete victory in 1984. Some of the Labor lefts see such shifts as clever tactics, and a way to increase the influence of their faction. The 1984 conference showed how wrong they are.
One clear lesson, for Labor Party activists as well as those outside the ALP, is that you can't beat the Labor Party unless you're prepared to split from it. There's always a danger that will help the right, but it's the only way to prepare for the future. That's the lesson we have to drive home again and again. If you're caught in the Labor Party bind, you have nowhere to go, and your only appeal is to a different faction and to the same old numbers game.
Today, we're seeing the beginnings of a split in the Labor Party. In its effect, this is a split even if it only takes the form of a bleeding process - a process of large numbers of people dropping out of the Labor Party.
We welcome the fact that many people have drawn the conclusion that the ALP is a dead end, and that the NDP offers the beginnings of a way forward. We welcome the fact that so many people are trying to find their way around the obstacle of Labor Party reformism.
At the same time, we're trying to build a bridge to other genuine left-wingers, both inside and outside the Labor Party. Many Labor left-wingers have nowhere to go except in our direction. We must encourage alliances with such people.
There's often a problem with the attitude of socialists to the Labor Party. They try to put all their eggs in one basket. But our approach should be concrete. What's happening? What are the other options? What are the other opportunities today?
The British Trotskyist movement is probably the one from which we can learn most about how not to proceed. For in stance, the Militant group had one tactic -- deep entry in the Labour Party. It stayed in through 20 years. As a result, it mis sed the whole youth radicalisation, it missed the movement against the Vietnam War.
On the other hand, the British International Socialists took a sectarian stance towards the Labour Party throughout the '70s and as a result they been unable to have much influence on the development of the Labour Party left wing.
We're trying to see what is moving, to be flexible, to respond at any moment. We don't have a long-term historical view that we must do it only this way or only that way.
At present, the real conservative push in this country is the Hawke project. Hawke and-the other right-wing ALP and trade union leaders are attempting with some success to transform the labor movement into a tool of the ruling class. They've already persuaded most of the union officialdom to act as wage cops against their members. They're also pushing to make the ALP even more independent of its legendary working-class base. They're out to ensure that the right wing is totally dominant inside the ALP. They're removing any con stitutional avenues for the expression of left-wing criticism inside the Labor Party, and they're driving the left out.
In some ways, they're transforming the ALP into a larger version of the defunct Democratic Labor Party. It's perhaps not coincidental that Hawke's base is the NSW ALP machine, which is dominated by NCC-influenced union officials who stayed in the ALP after the 1955 split. Now the Hawke faction has brought the NCC-influenced union bureaucrats into the Victorian branch. These are officials who supported the DLP in the 1950s and '60s.
We must be sharply critical of the Labor Party at a time like this, and that's what we've been doing since Hawke came to power. But we still haven't done enough to develop our counterarguments to what the Hawkes and Haydens say.
The problem is this: The fake left cannot develop arguments against the right-wing leadership. That was crystal clear at the ALP national conference. They have no way of doing it because they accept most of the right wing's premises.
To see the right wing's arguments you don't have to read the Radical,the official magazine of the NSW ALP machine. That's not the paper they use any more. They use the bourgeois media entirely. An article by Alan Ramsey in the September 21-27, 1984, National Times illustrated this.
It was about Peter Barron, an ALP numbers hack on Hawke's staff. Anyway, Barron is supposed to be a hotshot, and this is his line:
Look, the NSW branch gives the Labor Party a lot of stability and a lot of professionalism. They're much harder than most of the other state ALP branches. And they're about winning. 1 mean, they don't have a bad track record at it, do they? And I think that for the ordinary Joe. NSW is a better place to live because of it.
No, obviously 1 don't think they're too pragmatic but I do think they're overburdened with the tag. I mean, if you believe that something is silly because it would be electorally suicidal then you'd be off your head if you didn't say so and you didn't fight it. But because NSW is somewhat of the slower. steady school rather than accepting that a few policy decisions at an ALP conference can change the world, because they tend to face realities, then they're always being branded as pragmatic.
How do the Labor lefts counter that? They don't! There is no counter to that line within the framework of Labor refor mism. The only way to counter that is to say: All that means is that you will only do what the bourgeoisie will allow you to do. You're about winning parliamentary elections. But what's the real meaning of parliamentary elections? Simply that the bourgeoisie is deciding who they'll have run the government for them. Fundamentally, that all that's involved.
What Labor does in government is decided not by the ALP, nor is it decided by the unions, nor even the voters. It's decided by big business. We have to stress that. The Labor right wingers admit it in their everyday practice. That's how parliamentary politics works today.
This is all conditioned by the ruling class, by the big-business media, not by the objective needs of the working class. That's left out of Peter Barron's picture about the lot of the "ordinary Joe." For the Hawkes and Barrons of this world, what the "ordinary Joe" wants, and more importantly, what they're prepared to do for the "ordinary Joe," is what the ruling class will let them do. And today that isn't much.
In fact, what the bosses want the Labor leaders to do (and they're more than willing to oblige in exchange for the plush seats on the treasury side of parliament) is to kick the "ordinary Joe" in the teeth - to cut wages, to do away with jobs, to slash social services etc, so that profits can increase.
Labor's strategy for winning government is based not on mobilising the working class, but on getting the backing of the bosses. They want to reform capitalism, not abolish it. So they have to prove to the real power brokers - the "captains of industry" - that they'll manage the system better than the Liberals. That's the pitch in their election campaigns.
If ever the ALP left is to be worth anything, it will have to break decisively with that view. It will have to break with the view that in order to win government, it is first necessary to get favorable coverage in the media - because favorable coverage in the media comes only when you've proved to the bosses that you're on their side, and that you'll do whatever is needed to keep the capitalists' profits coming in. The only kind of left that plays by those rules is a thoroughly housebroken one - one that is really only a cover for the right wing.
Nuclear Disarmament Party
That's the context that makes the formation and growth of the Nuclear Disarmament Party so refreshing. The break with the Labor Party represented by the NDP reflects a deep anger with Labor's betrayals.
We risked not understanding this fully because of our dogmatism about the base of the Labor Party. We would have missed the importance of these developments had we not been prepared to shift on this question.
What are we going to do about all this?
Firstly, we need to know more about what's happening around the country. We've heard a number of reports in dicating that it's very uneven. But one thing is clear: The Wilderness Society commissioned a poll, and apparently it revealed that 1$ per cent of people will vote for an antinuclear candidate or will consider doing so. Whether that actually happens on election day still remains to be seen, but even so it shows that something very big is happening.
In some places the NDP meetings have been relatively modest. But nevertheless, 50 or 100 people turn up, trying to figure out how to put something together. This represents an opportunity for us to work with other people. It allows us to make contact with people who we can talk politics with.
The NDP's three demands are a very good starting point: Stop uranium mining, repudiate the contracts; US bases out; no nuclear-armed ships or planes. We can unite with others in struggle around these issues. There is absolutely no contradic tion between us loyally building the NDP and continuing to build the S W P.
So, the proposal is that we give our number one vote to the NDP in the Senate and our second preference to the Labor Party.
SWP election campaign
As well as calling for a vote for the NDP, we also want to run our own SWP candidates. We can expect that during these elections a lot of people will draw the conclusion that we need socialism, and will go looking for a soCialist party to join.
Building a party is not, and cannot be, a plunge all on one tactic, although we may have to change course if the NDP or some similar development opens up big possibilities we hadn't foreseen. But nothing we see today says that. The NDP is a very important development, but there's still a lot of confusion in it and no one, including the founders and candidates of the NDP, knows what they have started or where it is going.
There's no contradiction between us running in some seats and the NDP running in the Senate. In the seats in which we're standing, we should distribute NDP literature along with our own. So there's no technical contradiction.
But there's more to it than that. We're going to be work in the NDP campaign. We're going to approach the activists and say, "We'll take some NDP leaflets, we'll help get the word out." Some NDP members and antinuclear activists may also get interested in our campaign through this process.
We always try to run our own candidates because it opens up chances to talk about the need for socialism and the need to build a revolutionary party. A lot of people are interested in having those conversations with us.
Our campaign won't be primarily about winning votes, though it will be interesting to see if we can increase our vote in this political climate. But that's one of our less important con cerns. Our main concern is the use we make of the elections to get our ideas around. We don't want to drop our own cam paign unless it really gets in the way of united action with other forces. At the moment it doesn't. It complements everything we're doing.
What we're proposing is quite a new electoral approach for our party. As yet, we don't quite know the scope of' these new developments. That will be tested in life.
We're a coherent force, even if not a big force. In comparison to what other left forces came through the Â°70s with, we've come a long way. Nevertheless, we're still at the stage of looking for a way to break through the ceiling that small socialist parties sooner or later run up against.
We're looking for new tactics that will enable us to link up with broader forces. We don't think these new tactics will cause us many problems. Whenever we make a new move, there will always be some confusion and debate, some false starts and errors, but we're rather keen to find an opening. I think that's the spirit in which we approach the present situation.
We know that consciousness always lags behind reality. That's also true of ourselves. Nevertheless, I think we've done pretty well. We got on to the change in the political situation right after the ALP national conference, though we haven't necessarily followed it up as vigorously as possible everywhere. It always takes a while to reorient our cadres to a new situation and the outlook necessary to deal with it.
But the key thing is that we are able to find a way to work with other forces. The new situation offers a better opportunity to work with new forces than any we've had for quite a while. We want to put the party through this experience.
We hope these new developments will offer our party a way from a period of steady but rather slow growth to a period of more rapid growth. The new situation offers us more oppor tunities than we can possibly tackle, but that's the way out of a relatively isolated situation on the left. It can open up the next stage of building a strong socialist movement in this country.
Flexible, non-sectarian party-building approach
We've never had a propagandist approach to party-building. An ability to respond to new situations has been a vital part of the party-building approach that has enabled us to grow to our present size from an initial nucleus of 30 or 40 people. Our flexible tactical approach has been vital.
It hasn't been easy, but no other approach would have got anywhere at all. There was no great wave of radicalisation we could ride through the 13 years since our party was formed. Only our flexible party-building approach, which involves running our own candidates, which involves maintaining our own press, which involves having a correct orientation to the Labor Party, which requires an immersion in the mass movement, has enabled us to get where we are today. We are part of the real forces that have something to say and do about the situation facing the left.
Whatever mistakes we may have made, we have doggedly persevered in building a party that's genuine about its ideas. The importance of this isn't always understood by socialists on leftists who insist on sticking with the ALP no matter what.
The logic of that position is acceptance of the our-day-willcome view -- the comfortable view that because the political situation isn't ripe for socialism we should immerse ourselves in the labor movement for a long historical period, and one day just because we're there, the workers will turn to us for leadership. In this view, all that's necessary is an insistence on the correctness of our program and the betrayals of everyone else.
But such an approach involves abandoning the perspective of building a revolutionary party. Building a party requires immersion in the class struggle as it unfolds today. It requires orientation to the forces in motion today, rather than those we expect to be in motion some time in the indefinite future.
The leftists who refuse to go beyond the ALP even when the chance presents itself have a very different perspective. Rather than orienting to the NDP and the forces it is politicising and mobilising and helping to break leftward frarn Laborism, they argue that all socialists should simply remain in, or join, the ALP and focus their political work on the ALP.
They counterpose this to orienting to the NDP and the forces it is bringing into political action. But that approach in volves abandoning any perspective of building an independent revolutionary party.
Others, while saying there is a need to build a socialist party (either a new one or an existing one), also fetishise the ALP. But this only reveals that they ultimately don't agree with the Leninist position that the Labor Party is fundamentally a bourgeois party. In the final analysis, this is a sectarian posi tion. It involves a refusal to unite with the real forces that are in motion.
Anyone can talk about unity of the left or unity of the working class, and lots of people do. Even sects talk about unity. Sectarianism is not a matter of how many members you have or what you say about unity. Sectarianism is seizing on some schema and letting it lock you into a prescribed set of tactics, a list of rules about what you have to do - prescriptions and schemas that blind you to the opportunities and the tactics necessary to build a genuine and effective socialist party.
Saying that all socialists must be members of the ALP is just as sectarian as trying to pretend that the ALP can be ignored, or refusing to support forces that break with Laborism unless they immediately adopt a full socialist program. To build a real socialist party, one that is not a sect, we must be willing to work with anyone moving in the same direction, even if they may be going only a small part of the way. We have to actively seek whatever agreement is possible. That means seeking agreement with forces that are breaking in a progressive direction from Laborism, breaking with the politics of the ruling class. These are the forces that have the potential to renew the left and help it to overcome its isolation.
The 1984 election campaign, and our non-sectarian approach to the forces emerging in it, will provide us with a rich experience. It will enable us to take some steps forward and will put us in a far better position to understand the challenges and opportunities posed by the class struggle in the years ahead.
1. In 1917 the Russian Bolsheviks raised two agitational slogans: All power to the soviets! and Down with the capitalist ministers! while carrying out propaganda for a workers' and peasants' government. These two agitational slogans related their propaganda slogan to the concrete situa tion, in which the masses had formed institutions - the soviets (or councils) of workers', soldiers' and peasants' delegates. These had the potential to create a workers' and peasants' government. But the Russian Social Democratic reformists - the Mensheviks - and their allies in the peasant based Socialist Revolutionary Party had political hegemony in the soviets and used their position to support and participate in the capitalist-landlord Provisional Government.
The Bolsheviks sought to expose the Menshevik SR refusal to break with the capitalists and advance the masses' interests. They did this by calling on them to use their leadership of tile soviets to lake power from the provisional government and to create a workers' and peasants' government by expelling the members of the capitalist Constitutional Democratic party from the provisional government and constituting a government consisting only of representatives of the soviets. subordinate to, and based on the latter.
This approach proved very effective in breaking the Russian workers' illusions in the reformists and winning support away from them to the Bolsheviks.
The Bolsheviks' pre-1917 slogan of a workers' and peasants' government - or "revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" - could not be used in an agitational way. It was, as Lenin said in April 1917, only a description of "a relation of classes, and not a concrete political institution implementing this relation. . . ." ["Letters on Tactics," Collected Works, Vol 24, p 44]
It was an abstract, or algebraic, formula. It didn't describe a concrete institution that could form such a government. The soviets were just such an institution. The formation of the soviets enabled the Bolsheviks to con cretise their governmental formula, to move from propaganda for a workers and peasants' government to the plane of agitation, and in November 1917, to action for such a government.
2. When constructing the Junta of the Government of National Reconstruction, the Sandinista National Liberation Front included representaticcs of the bourgeois opposition to Somoza. It did this because these forces had a certain amount of credibility due to their active opposition to Somoza.
Including them in the revolutionary government, a government that acted to advance the interests of the workers and peasants, was a useful tactic to expose the contradiction between these figures' democratic rhetoric and their defence of capitalist privilege.
There was no immediate contradiction in doing this because the first tasks that confronted the Sandinista revolution were those that objectively promoted the development of indigenous capitalism in Nicaragua - destruction of landlordism through a radical land reform, elimination of imperialist exploitation of the country through a state monopoly of foreign trade, elimination of the monopolistic economic position of the Somoza family through the nationalisation of its holdings, raising the level of labor productivity through measures like the mass literacy campaign and the improvement of the social infrastructure of the country (eg, measures like a free national health system).
These steps were also of benefit to the masses, and combined with the promotion of mass organisation and mobilisation, helped to consolidate the masses' power, a power they are now using to eliminate capitalism in Nicaragua.
Submitted by DSPAdmin on Tue, 2006-08-08 06:04.