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Date: Fri, 10 Mar 1995 23:02:38 -0500 (EST)
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Lenin and the Australian Labor Party

Roger Clarke continues a debate, 10 March 1995

Frank Noakes' letter (GLW #171) introduced a refreshingly reasonable note into our discussion of the ALP Left. His remark that Lenin lived long ago and far away is a fitting comment on the way that Lenin has been dragged into this discussion. Lenin has been used (so the saying goes) as a drunk uses a lamp-post - for support rather than illumination.

Jim McIlroy (GLW #171) claims it is an accurate description of the ALP to say that it is a liberal capitalist party. He also claims, for the second time, that he quotes these words from Lenin. In fact, Jim's quotation is merely his own (inaccurate) paraphrase of Lenin's article (Collected Works, Vol. 19, pp 216-217). Lenin's article was written when it was still possible to claim that Australia was an undeveloped young colony. Even quoted accurately, Lenin's article does not establish what type of party the ALP is today.

The (1994) objectives of the ALP begin: The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary [sic!] to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields. The ALP is indeed a broad church! Nevertheless, this vague democratic socialism does distinguish the ALP from private enterprise parties. Imagine trying to propose a similar objective for the Liberal party!

The current socialist objective was not part of ALP policy in 1913, when (as Lenin noted) the ALP did not even call itself a socialist party. The ALP now inconsistently combines the profession of hopes for socialism in the future with the practice of class collaboration in the present. The term social democratic is widely used on the left to refer to all such parties. Jim's term liberal capitalist is far more appropriate for parties like the Australian Democrats.

Jim, quite rightly, attempts to explain the pro-capitalist stance of the ALP, not by the undeveloped nature of Australian capitalism, but by influences that have affected all the social democratic parties of the developed capitalist countries. Jim quotes the statements of the Communist International in 1919. These statements are relevant to the issue, but they are highly problematic. From these quotations, it can be seen that the Comintern endorsed Lenin's theory that, in the years before 1914, a labour aristocracy had been bought off by crumbs from the enormous profits of the bourgeoisie in the wealthiest countries.

Expositions of Lenin's theory do not make it clear why the labour aristocracy settled for crumbs. For example, Zinoviev's pamphlet The Social Roots of Opportunism says (p36): They sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. They retard the erection of a new order in society which will of necessity free them, the `aristocrats' themselves, from wage slavery. They become a tool of reaction.

According to Zinoviev, the labour aristocrats are still wage slaves. This implies they have the same class interest as other workers in ending wage slavery. The problem is to explain why a section of workers would actively support capitalism, or would allow themselves to be represented by a labour bureaucracy that was hostile to socialism. Many workers (not only aristocrats) did support imperialism in 1914; but the term bought-off (Lenin even used the word bribed) implies that the support from better organised workers was for calculated monetary reasons rather than primarily motivated by false consciousness.

The Communist International of 1919 was a courageous attempt to form revolutionary working class parties. Unfortunately, the Communist movement was always struggling to develop tactics that were appropriate for Western Europe, where the social democratic parties retained mass support among workers. Lenin did argue against infantile leftism, but without clearly recognising that some of the tactics he deplored had their source in the idea that combating social democracy was a simple matter of exposing agents of the capitalist class.

After Mussolini's march on Rome in 1922, the problem of how to combat social democracy became tied to the question of how to combat fascism. Lenin and Trotsky had been insisting on united front tactics, not just as a method of opposing the far right, but as a method of winning the support of rank and file social democrats.

They encountered strong opposition from the Italian Communist Party, led at that time by Amadeo Bordiga. Bordiga thought that the demand for a united front with the social democrats was a sign of the degeneration of the Communist International itself. Fascism, he thought, was just another bourgeois regime that would soon collapse.

The Italian Communist Party (but not Bordiga) did come to formally accept the recommendations of the Comintern, but hostility to the social democrats (and to the centrists) remained strong. To the Communists (not just the Italians) the social democrats were the left-wing of the bourgeoisie, not the right-wing of the workers' movement.

In 1924, Zinoviev described the social democrats as the left-wing of fascism and Stalin made his notorious assertion that social democracy and fascism were not antipodes but twins. It got worse. In 1929, the Comintern alleged that, in Germany, every member of the social democratic parties, and every active member of the trade unions, was directly bribed by the bourgeoisie! Nonsense on this scale was new, but there was some continuity with earlier Comintern attitudes towards social democracy and the labour aristocracy.

Trotsky, in his History of the Russian Revolution, stated: the national policy of Lenin will find its place among the eternal treasures of mankind. Lenin also contributed other treasures, but his notion of a bribed aristocracy of labour is not one of them. Placing Lenin on a pedestal, regarding all of his writings as of equal merit, devalues Lenin's best work.

In Australia today, organised skilled workers are finding that (in a world that has diverged from Lenin's 1916 model of imperialism) there are not many crumbs on offer. It was the aristocratic airline pilots who attempted to break the shackles of the Accord, only to be opposed by the Labor government and the ACTU - all in the name of defending low-paid workers against the sectional greed of the pilots!

Ironically, the DSP supported the pilots; but the clearest support for the pilots came from the ISO, who were not encumbered with the notion of a bought-off aristocracy of labour.

Lenin combined firm principle with (generally) sober analysis and tactical flexibility. Yet the Leninist DSP inflexibly supports campaigns for independence in unions that are affiliated to the ALP - a distinctly non-Leninist stance of no politics in the union! It is easy enough to make the point that, while the ALP supports present government policies, affiliation to the ALP is poor value for money. The same point could also be made about the membership fees of many unions, given their current leadership; but socialists don't therefore say: Resign from the union!

If the criterion of successful work within unions is advancing the interests of rank and file unionists, then supporting or opposing affiliation to the ALP has to be decided on a case by case basis. The sort of union independence that we desperately need, is independence from the pro-capitalist mind set of the ALP government. If this can be achieved within an ALP affiliated union, it could be useful to retain the option of opposing pro-capitalist policies from within the ALP itself. Why rule out this possibility, right from the start of any campaign?

Jim makes a surprising concession with his statement: Working inside the ALP may well be a subsidiary tactic as the class struggle develops and this engenders political differentiation inside the Labor Party. It does not make sense to say that working in the ALP is doomed to failure today, but maybe not tomorrow. The development of the class struggle is a prerequisite for the success of any tactic; why not prepare for this development now?

Jim's concession is inconsistent with his claims that the ALP is a liberal capitalist party and that the ALP represents only a bought-off labour aristocracy; if these claims were true, there would be no reason for socialists to work inside the ALP. If the DSP's tactical flexibility becomes something more than an empty promise for the future, it will be because they have reconsidered their crude analysis of the ALP.