Published: The Australian Communist, No. 138, November-December 1986.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The struggle to unify the working class as a fighting force and to establish a working class party that would scientifically concentrate leadership of the working class, has been a continuing struggle since the middle of last century. The establishment of the supremacy of Marxism as the working-class ideology developed as a product of objective conditions properly interpreted by Marx and Engels and developed by Lenin. These classic writers and thinkers showed the working class both as the product of capitalism and as the grave digger of capitalism.
In his early writings, Lenin, himself an intellectual who identified with the working class, described the process. He demonstrated the position of the, working class, its historical destiny and he showed how Marxist theory came through an examination of capitalism by Marx and Engels. He showed the vital position of consciousness in guiding the working class.
In a passage from One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, he said: “In its struggle for power the proletariat has no other weapon but organisation. Divided by the rule of anarchic competition in the bourgeois world, ground down by slave labour for capital, constantly thrust back to the ’lower depths’ of utter destitution, savagery and degeneration, the proletariat can become, and will inevitably become, an invincible force only when its ideological unity round the principles of Marxism is consolidated by the material unity of an organisation which unites millions of toilers in the army of the working class” (emphasis added). This statement was made in 1904.
There is a great deal of other of Lenin’s writings at the time to a similar effect.
The social facts of capitalism were and are that capitalism is a system which inevitably causes bitter competition amongst the capitalists. Monopoly capitalism, far from abolishing inter-capitalist competition, makes inter-monopoly’ competition more fierce. On the other hand, while competition among the workers for jobs, wages, etc., still exists, it is not and never has been as intense as that between capitalists. Competition within the working class has an inherent tendency to diminish. Capitalism brings the workers together in its great factories through the socialisation of the process of production and private monopoly appropriation. Added to the “normal” operation of capitalism to bring the workers together is consciousness among the workers of the need for unity. This is expressed in trade unionism, political parties formed in and by the working class, and their highest expression, in the Communist Party. The evolution of the trade unions, of political parties within the working class and their ultimate expression in Marxist parties reflects ever-growing political consciousness of the working class.
Consciousness of the need for unity and of developing a Marxist party become a decisive factor in the struggle for social-ism and in the search for the correct way to socialism. So in Australia, that development of unity arises from the very conditions of capitalism. Consciousness of it goes through its own processes, the origin of it based in the objective development of capitalism.
In Australia, it is a matter of observation that the interests of the people tend to come together and to find common enemies. Broadly the aims of the people are for peace, for democratic liberty and for decent living standards. The struggle for peace, for democracy, for decent living standards, arise from objective conditions. The minds of the people reflect these objective conditions in different ways and lead to different actions. However, there emerges in all of them either a single common enemy or enemies who have close connections with each other. In each of the people’s struggles there are, of course, differences – sometimes differences that appear to be far-reaching – but the tendency is to find that the enemies are common or have close connections with each other. As a simple illustration, it is the same police who arrest the peace activist, the activist in a democratic rights struggle, the striker or the picketer. The same multinational or local monopoly capitalist opposes peace activity, environmental protection, workers’ struggle. A thread common to all monopoly capitalist thinking and action is keeping down wages, (in the search for profits), anti-trade unionism and anti the rights of workers. Simply as a matter of every day experience the overall common interests of the people must influence the thinking both of participants and the many who witness events.
If to this process is added overall systematic consciousness that the process itself is going on, then the way to assist it to develop and flourish can be found. It can be demonstrated that an aggregation and unity of people with a generally common aim is more effective than if the generally common aim is pursued by different groups who see a separate interest as the main thing.
Communist unity is better than Communist division. If circumstances and processes of capitalism in Australia are properly understood and interpreted, then it can be seen that the objective processes and circumstances drive by their own motion to greater unity of the working class and thereby greater unity of parties of the working class. The thinking, consciousness of those who understand the process must be by the compulsion of events towards an overall common view. The classic Marxist writers, given their training as intellectuals, arrived at the recognition that there were basic socio-economic laws in capitalism. It is wrong to think that Marx, Engels and Lenin alone and unaided arrived at the views they expressed. There were a significant number of others who arrived at conclusions similar to those of Marx, Engels and Lenin and independently of them. This was because the objective nature of capitalism and its history were reflected in their minds and they thus saw the general social laws. What marked these three off was their qualitatively higher accuracy of reflection and their systematic exposition of it. But the English Chartists such as Jones and Harney or the German Dietzgen in many ways got close to conclusions similar to those of Marx. Their mental reflection was not as accurate as that of Marx and Engels nor was their capacity as great. But the materialist conception of history compels an examination of the objective processes and their interpretation by people. Part of this is the role of the individual in history. There can be no individuals in history who actually make that history. The people make it in given social circumstances. Their making of it is influenced by their own thought and some thought has more influence than others because it more accurately reflects the social process and shows what is to be done. So Marx, Engels, Lenin and so on were not Gods who made history. They interpreted and influenced.
In the formative years of their theory, their lives were difficult and their ideas came in for much abuse. Within the working class itself there was acute struggle about whose ideas would prevail. This was so with Lenin. Marxist ideas prevailed because facts proved them correct. Then of course people who had followed them tended to say, we told you so and Marx, Engels and Lenin tended to receive a certain adulation, even in some cases, elevated to God-like stature. They themselves repudiated it. Perhaps their repudiation was not taken with sufficient seriousness.
The debate about ideas in the formative years of Communist Parties was particularly fierce. There are passages in the correspondence of Marx and Engels and passages in their writings and those of Lenin that seriously attack others because those others had wrong ideas. Marx particularly was personally abused. Lenin’s Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky drips with vituperative adjectives. All this was scarcely avoidable. These men were fighting within the workingclass movement for the supremacy of scientific socialism. It was a matter of life and death. And of course the capitalists at all times are vigilant to smash ideas injurious to capitalism. Many objective and subjective factors entered into it all. For illustration, there can be taken the instance of higher paid workers under capitalism; such workers are comfortable and are not readily receptive to ideas that might disturb their comfort even though in the long term the whole capitalist basis for their comfort will disappear. Even the capitalists themselves, if they were motivated by logic, would give it all away because their social system is doomed. But the immediate stimulus is not logic; it is response to the immediate environment. The environmental conditions amongst the workers themselves and amongst other sections of the people differ. Thus the stimuli in the immediate sense vary greatly. This is the effect of the particular method of getting a living in the epoch of capitalism. Logic shows that it is to the interests of all to allow humanity to develop to its highest and that means Communism. But logic doesn’t prevail. As was pointed out, the stimulus of the immediate environment of a given person or group of persons is predominant. Experience shows that it is very difficult for people to emancipate themselves from that environment, whatever it is. And the whole of the ideology, politics and organisation of capitalism is to preserve it.
The Marxists do or should escape from the prison of immediate social environment.
They look at the situation as a whole. One thing they must take into account is the divisions within capitalist society and the influence of living environmental factors. It would be good to be able to abolish by decree or declamation or declaration, divisions in the working class. It would be good to be able to declare an independent Australia on the road to socialism. It can’t be done because it is simply philosophical idealism, it takes no account of the facts that have arisen.
Marxist thought, scientific thought, shows that that thought can play an immense part in social development when human beings who are Marxists achieve unity of their theory with social practice. The compulsion of the method of getting a living on the development of unity in the working class impel the Marxists to think of how to further the compulsions, how to use theory to speed up the process.
This thought, theory, must contend with that degree of disunity in the working class that capitalism engenders. It must contend with the divisive tactics of capitalists; part of consciousness is that each class discusses its tactics of struggle. It must contend with capitalist ideology and so on. It exists in a sea of deeply entrenched class division where all the seeming advantages are in the hands of the capitalist class. One of that class’s weapons is the existence of division among those who would earnestly serve the struggle to end capitalism.
Earlier in this article, attention was directed to the struggle to achieve the recognition of the supremacy of Marxism as the working class ideology. In fact it is supreme and always has been but the struggle for its recognition in the working class as supreme was a different matter. That struggle took the form of competition with ideologies derived from other sections of the population. In the first place, the competition was with direct capitalist ideology. Then this or that issue in the working class or petty bourgeoisie or some other section gave rise to ideas which were claimed to be the supreme idea. A simple example is the single tax on land associated with Henry George. Then in their polemics, Marx and Engels contended with ideas from the petty bourgeoisie and associated with names like Proudhon, Lasalle, Duhring and others. By the time of Engels, opportunism, reformism, revisionism, which had some connection with Marxism but was really its antithesis, had become systematised. Hence Lenin fought a long battle with its exponents and particularly with Kautsky. All these tendencies linger on. They regenerate in one form or another. As capitalism advances, it creates more and more issues upon which people protest. Examples lie in war, in nuclear weapons, in the environmental field, in racial discrimination, in unemployment, in the deepening pressure on the working class through the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, in the denial of democracy. Struggle of the people against old and new issues develops. Some people quite naturally see the solution of a single issue as crucial. One-issue parties or groups grow up. Mass movements develop over nuclear weapons or over this or that environmental question or on some other matter. Consciousness of the people calls, into being a bigger struggle.
Within the working class the striving to Marxism pushes forward. Marxism is a system of thought (it includes recognition that action is vital). It is all-embracing. It is not single issue. It sees the need for the development of overall struggle. It recognises the common origin of struggle, the fact that the enemy to all people’s struggle is common and lies in capitalism itself and the monopolists to which it gives rise. It recognises people learn fundamentally from experience. That learning is going on and gradually, sometimes rapidly, the working class and all struggling people will recognise the basic need to end capitalism and the monopolists to which it gives rise. This is ideal – the over-all recognition by the working class that Marxism shows that it is the working class that is the leader of all struggle. Its historical destiny is that of the grave-digger of capitalism.
Within Australia (and in other countries, but this study is concerned fundamentally with Australia) more than one Party has arisen to serve the people in the name of Marxism or Communism. The original Communist Party had its birth attributed to October 30, 1920. Both before and after its birth, there were other groups or Parties which claimed Marxism. Basically this arose both from the reflections of contradictions and competition, in the working class, a natural part of capitalism and subjective shortcomings in people. Those subjective shortcomings were imposed by capitalism and also by the variation in the natural capacities of human beings. From 1920 to about the mid-’fifties, the Communist Party of Australia was largely acknowledged as the decisive Party of Communism. In its own ranks, there had been quite acute struggle. The interpretation of social conditions in the world and in Australia, conditions of the working class in Australia, position of other sections of the population, attitudes to the Labor Party and the trade unions and so on, were matters of debate and differences of opinion among the Communists. This too reflected contradictions outside the Communist Party. It led to contradictions within the Communist Party. Most of those contradictions in the Communist Party were contradictions (differences or problems, if you like) amongst Communists, within the striving for Communism. If they were recognised as that, they could be resolved. If they were characterised as antagonistic contradictions as some were, they led to divisions and expulsions. Of course it is possible within a Communist Party that antagonistic contradictions can arise where there is division between Marxism and capitalist ideology. That is a different matter. But in general, contradictions of that kind did not mark the Communist Party.
It would be idle to deny that adverse influences from capitalism affect Communists in Australia. Of course they do. The striving for success of the capitalist is reflected in ambition amongst Communists. Sometimes the Communist Party seems to offer a career to a person. Within the Communist Party, occasionally people want to “advance” personally in order to satisfy ambition rather than to be a Communist to serve the people. Gossip, slander, intrigue, all characteristic of capitalism, penetrate the minds and organisation of Communism. By, and large, the decisive advance of Communism goes on despite these negative: features. The negative features are subordinate and the compulsion and consciousness to build a Marxist Party overcome the negative. This too reflects the reality of capitalism and the developing and striving of the working class to end the system where in its socialised production, it is robbed by individual appropriation, private ownership.
The violent polemics and abuse that played a part in Marx, Engels and Lenin’s day retain a lingering influence. As explained above, they had historical roots. They were not and never intended to be a style of work. Even in their own day, they were probably exaggerated in the heat of battle. Of course, wrong ideas required identification and scientific repudiation. It was part of the process of life-giving Communism coming into being. Then this tradition was carried on in aspects of the Communist International formed in 1919 and in the work of Stalin. Both the Comintern (which will be used rather than both words) and Stalin, made tremendous contributions to Communism. These were, in the main, positive. There were negative. The Comintern visualised a world Communist Party. This overstepped by far the actual conditions in the world. It led to single decisions, a single line, being imposed on a country when that line was just not appropriate. It led to insufficient national examination of the actual conditions in a country. It had other defects. Perhaps it suffices to mention only one (there are others). That one is that it developed an authoritarianism one line directed by its leaders. Within its constituents it tended to develop the leading person (usually a member of the Comintern executive) as an authoritarian and repository of all Communist wisdom. This whole outlook was carried on by Stalin. Shades of difference were magnified into major deviations. This style of work affected or infected the Communist Party of Australia. Contradictions within a Communist Party were elevated to the level of contradictions between the working class and the capitalist class. Contradictions among the people and among Communists are not antagonistic contradictions. They can and should be resolved in ways quite different from antagonistic contradictions.
The whole conception of an exclusive, correct, party with a leader whose pronouncements are correct by virtue only of the fact of leadership is simple philosophical idealism. A Communist Party of its nature must have defects, and leaders of their nature must have defects. This must be recognised. It is a secondary matter, provided the Party and its, leadership retain their conscientious striving as Communists to serve the people. Part of this is the correct handling of contradictions among the Communists. A dominant non-questionable position of a Communist leader, whether or not occupying the leading position, is just not correct. That does not mean a leader must be challenged or questioned or viewed with suspicion. There must be leaders but they must be thoroughly integrated among the Party members and people in such a way that they know all the main views on any given question and recognise and respect those views as having shades of difference. Collectively all that must be taken into account. Very rarely is it necessary on an important political question for any leader whoever he is, to act unilaterally. In practice, influences of the Comintern and Stalin, of authoritarianism linger on. There is authority and authority. There is arbitrary authority and there is collective authority, properly based authority. There cannot be non-leadership in the Communist Party nor a flaccid amorphous drifting about. The tendencies to arbitrary authoritarianism and flaccid amorphous drifting about both exist. They reflect the external conditions of capitalism – authoritarianism in the ruthless capitalist, and amorphous flaccid petty bourgeois or drop out or student life.
In Australia, splits occurred in the Communist Party. These splits reflected reality and the interpretation of that reality in different ways. It is not the present purpose to examine that.
At the present time there are at least four main parties or groups which strive for Communism. In the formative stage of each there was much abuse and counter-abuse. Some of it was of a purely personal character and had little to do with politics, let alone ideology. It too was influenced by the past history of Communism and the type of polemics of the founders of Communism carried on by the Comintern and Stalin.
If the origins of the disputes are left on one side for the time being, it can be seen that the developments of capitalism have compelled a search for agreement among Communists. A recognition of this was voiced by the Communist Party of Australia (ML) in 1980. Too little was done about it by the CPA(M-L). In more recent times there have been wide-ranging exchanges amongst Communists of different organisational adherence.
In the discussions there has been an earnest striving to reach common ground. There has been no abuse and therefore no counter-abuse. There are naturally differences. Some of them have their historical origin or are affected by the historical features referred to earlier. Nor have the discussions precluded the positive exposition of the views of one or other of the participating Parties. Struggle of the working class on the critical issues has been the dominant theme. The CPA(M-L) recognises that there must be one Marxist Party of the working class and that it as a Party is not the exclusive repository of all Marxist wisdom. It recognises that the process of achieving a single Marxist revolutionary process requires patient and persistent work that takes account of history and of the present. It has expounded its own views which on a number of questions differ from others. It has not attacked any Other Party or person associated with another Party. It can be added in a general sense that it extends this to being very careful about attacking anyone personally except the real enemies of the people. In its relations with other Parties in these discussions, there have been no difficulties. This is so though some of the participants have in the past abused each other personally. Just to reflect on this for a moment shows its futility. Where did it get? It may have given a glow of satisfaction to the deliverer and given a flash of anger, either momentary or lasting, in the receiver and counter-attack by the receiver. It did not serve the people. It reflected the bitter antagonistic competition of capitalism and carried over into the Communist movement practices which have lost historical validity. This is not to argue for a liberal tolerance of anti-Marxist views or under cover of “freedom of criticism” permit attacks on Marxism.
Questions such as “is there Marxism?” have no place in such discussion. There is undoubtedly Marxism. Its materialist dialectics, all embracing as they are, are clear enough. The particular Marxist solution of a given problem is a different matter. In mutual discussion the CPA(M-L) certainly recognises shades of difference and the contribution made by others.
On controversial questions it has frankly stated its views. One such example is the view of some that it is possible to form a new left mass party either because of a mass turning away from the Labor Party or because Communism (at least by name) has not proved attractive. There is no reason for rancour about these differing views. Nor is there any reason why the CPA(M-L) should attempt to impose its views on the other Parties nor have views imposed on it. There have been amicable discussions where the CPA(M-L)’s spokesmen have expounded the view that the situation will not sustain a new Party in either direction, but it may be that the situation over a comparatively long period will develop and require a mass party based on general independence and sovereignty issues. A Marxist Party would still exist and we would hope that over a period a single Marxist Party. However there is an enormous amount of work to be done on the latter question. The alternative to the Labor Party is a matter of there being still more experience by the people of the negative features of parliament and of the Labor Party leaders.
In the struggle for left unity, the CPA(M-L) has expounded the view that there should be no exclusions to participation in the process. This includes those in the Labor Party minded this way and distinguished figures who have been excluded from the Labor Party. There are some who say this or that person should be excluded or pilloried because he is a “bastard” or some other such characterisation. We may share such a view of a particular person but we are concerned with the working class and the people around it. It is obvious in, many cases that numbers of workers and other progressive people do not share the view that the designated person is a bastard. Moreover this type of characterisation is reminiscent of the past. Within the working class movement it should play no part. There is a brotherhood of workers. They are bound together by capitalism. Wrong ideas of a designated person can normally be combated by appropriate positive exposition correct views. Even within Parties this type of thing occurs. The CPA(M-L) should wage a resolute campaign against it. It may be it is embracing the parson’s role but the parson is wrong in his basic philosophy and even that wrongness needs careful substantiated correction.
The CPA(M-L) also has explained that it is opposed to any form of ganging up of groups or persons against other groups or persons. Errors of the past and recriminations about them should be put on one side. Principled patience, tolerance, persistence, are all required in building upon the very good relations that have already grown up. The further development of it can only enhance the building of a united front of the working class and other sections of the people for peace, democratic rights and decent living standards. It is a case of devoted activity and dedication to the cause of uniting all who can be united.