In the late twenties, the economic conditions in the capitalist world showed all the evidence of acute crisis. The Communist International analysed the factors which were evidence of crisis and which were leading to intensification of it. The Communist International called on the Communists to intensify their struggle and to maintain and assert their independence of social democracy. Specifically in Australia now the struggle in the Communist Party manifested itself in a struggle for or against parliamentary electoral support for the labor party. Actually this was a non-revolutionary basis, as the argument proceeded within limits imposed by the bourgeoisie itself, i.e., within the limits of parliamentary politics. Still the assertion of the independence of the Communist Party has a progressive side. It at least kept the way open for revolutionary advance, whereas identification with the labor party was only another form of the liquidation of the Communist Party. The struggle was a part of the growth of the Communist Party.
The economic crisis in Australia in the years after 1929 led to an acute intensification of class struggle. The British finance capitalists made a savage assault on the living conditions of the Australian workers and working people. Mass unemployment became a feature of life. The physical forces of the enemy came much more to the fore. Open force and violence were used almost continuously against the workers and working people. Bankrupted small and not so small farmers and small and not so small businessmen swelled the ranks of the oppressed.
At the same time the picture of socialist Soviet Russia, free from the economic crisis which engulfed the capitalist world, powerfully stimulated socialist ideas in the working class. The Communist Party in Australia grew in numbers as a reflection of this intensified class struggle. Its call to make the rich pay was taken up in a mass way. Its participation in the many, many struggles of the workers and working people showed a greater understanding of uniting the revolutionary forces. It led many struggles of the workers, the unemployed and the struggling and dispossessed farmers. Its ideology was now more linked with the actual political tasks of the revolution in Australia. It more clearly identified the enemies of the people. Circumstances compelled the study of the classics of Marxism-Leninism with Australian problems in mind. Such for example were questions of Marxist political economy to explain why there was economic crisis, Marxist teachings on the state to explain the force and violence of the ruling class as arising from the nature of the state as the apparatus of one class to suppress another and so on. All these were features of growth.
On the other hand, reliance upon parliamentary solutions with Communist election campaigns, legalism, general acceptance and repetition of Marxist-Leninist truth with insufficient integration of that truth with the actual conditions of Australia, showed the still great room for ideological building of the Party. This particularly showed itself in the key revolutionary questions of who was to hold state power and how the state power of the imperialists was to be destroyed. The systematic propagation of the need for the complete overthrow of imperialist domination of Australia, of the need for ideological political and organisational preparation for armed struggle against that domination, were not grasped. Workers’ defence corps to meet the challenge of violence were an important step forward. They represented at least in embryo some understanding of violence. In truth, masses of workers were very receptive to revolutionary ideas. Central to those ideas is the arming of the anti-imperialist people to meet force with force. In retrospect it is easy to see for example the great importance of arming the unemployed. The Communist Party had to develop a lot yet in this regard.
The actual relationship between the many partial struggles and the revolutionary struggle was as yet insufficiently explained.
The idea of revolutionary break from imperialist domination as a necessary step in the struggle for socialism was not understood. In other words, the struggles for jobs and for better living standards tended to become things in themselves rather than as important in themselves but even more important as steps in the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of imperialism in Australia (because imperialism in Australia gave rise to crisis) and its replacement by people’s democratic dictatorship.
The Communist Party did not struggle sufficiently to unite the forces that could be united. Its approach was greatly handicapped by lack of ideological clarity on the central issue of the struggle for the political power, state power, of the revolutionary anti-imperialist forces led by the working class, revolutionary people’s democratic dictatorship.
Capitalism in Australia is largely imperialism in Australia. Historically it commenced with British imperialism in Australia. The relations of production, that is the relation of men to the means of production are that there is a class which owns and controls the means of production (factories, mines, land, etc.) and a class which does not own those means of production but is dependent upon the owners. This class owns only its capacity to labour, its labour power, which it sells to the owners who make profit from it. The decisive owners of the means of production were primarily British imperialists or local capitalists dominated by British imperialists. Imperialism permitted no local growth of a capitalism to rival its own in Australia and tried to shut out its imperialist rivals. But Britain’s own imperialist position had been seriously weakened in World War I while that of U.S. imperialism had been greatly strengthened. U.S. imperialism moved more energetically than hitherto to establish its imperialism in Australia. Imperialism exploited not only directly the workers but indirectly all sections of the people by, for example, buying raw materials cheap and selling dear the products made from them, in selling its commodities dear and in a thousand other ways. The actions of imperialism in Australia created the basis for uniting all the anti-imperialist forces. The early struggles against the colonial autocracy had been necessarily directed against British imperialism. Not only were they at a fairly early stage of development but they were largely led by sections of Australian capitalists who were not so concerned to throw off the imperialist domination completely but were more concerned to get better terms from the imperialists. “No taxation without representation”, a cry so much heard in the struggles (not only in Australia) against imperialist domination, was a progressive cry but it was the cry of the local capitalists who wanted a say in the control of Australia. The October Revolution put directly on the agenda of the world revolution the entire question of capitalism and in countries like Australia the entire question of the complete ending of imperialist domination. The struggle for that could not be led by the capitalist class because capitalism has no future nor can it build up a new “independent” capitalism against the imperialist powers. It is only the working class which can unite the other anti-imperialist sections of the people (including patriotic capitalists) in the struggle against imperialism. That struggle has been and will be resisted with armed force by the imperialists and their local collaborators. No parliamentary solution is possible, no trade union solution is possible. Only revolutionary anti-imperialist armed struggle against imperialist arms offers the solution.
The essence of the betrayal of the working class by social democracy (ALP) and the adaptation of the working class to capitalism lies in the denial of the need for violence by the working class and its allies to counteract the force and violence of the imperialists and their local collaborators.
The idea of solutions through parliament, through the trade unions, through “peace” penetrated the Communist Party. This critical question runs right through the history of the Communist Party in Australia.
This was a period of the first decisive linking of the Communist Party with the mass of Australian workers. It faced the Party with new problems. It grappled with the tasks of solving them.
1933 saw the rise of Hitler to power in Germany. The bourgeois democratic pretence of rule was cast off in Germany. That left naked force as the weapon of government by big business in Germany. At the same time, German big business launched a campaign of expansion and military aggression. Within all the capitalist countries this had a big effect on the ruling class. The problem for the ruling monopolies was always what was the most effective method of rule over the exploited workers and working people. Deception, particularly the deception of bourgeois democracy, with the real weapon of force kept more in the background, is preferable. Deception however wears thin and the deceived masses are apt to take seriously the democratic declarations upon which it rests and then to kick over the traces when the real sham is revealed.
Capitalism by its own inexorable laws, one of which is that the oppressed do struggle, reaches crisis, breaks down. The development of crisis has its ups and downs and the process is by no means clearcut. But the world wide depression had occurred in conditions where capitalism was already in general crisis. This general crisis, shown by break down in capitalism’s ideological political and economic stability, had set in in World War I. The economic depression of the thirties was an acute deepening of this crisis. It frightened the capitalist class, shook its confidence. Its chief fear was the rise of the working class. Hence the ever present trend to resort to open force against the workers gained impetus. In other words, the capitalists in all circumstances rely on deception and force but in accordance with changes in the circumstances, the emphasis shifts from one to the other.
It would be a great mistake to overlook the foundation upon which this emphasis shifts. Lenin in his book “The State and Revolution” pointed out that “the forms of bourgeois states are extremely varied, but in essence they are all the same: in one way or another, in the final analysis, all these states are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.” (Selected Works, 12 Vol. Edn., Vol. 7, p.34.)
On this foundation, the capitalist class in the early thirties shifted its emphasis from bourgeois democratic deception to violence. Hitler’s Nazism showed the process at work. At the same time the process was followed in other countries including Australia. Hitler’s way to power was paved by the German social-democrats. In Australia, the labor party social democrats carried out violent suppression of the working class on behalf of the capitalist class. The labor party subscribed to the British imperialist dictated Premiers’ Plan which was an all-round attack on the living conditions of the workers in order to shift the burden of crisis on to the workers and it resorted to violence to suppress the opposition of the workers. It did not wholly abandon deception. Indeed an essential part of the deception was the very fact that this party bore the name “labor” and had connections in the working class, yet was a party of capitalism.
Within Australia as the thirties wore on, the ruling circles not only resorted more to internal violence but associated themselves with the policy of appeasement towards Hitler, Mussolini and Japanese militarism promoted by the British, French and U.S. imperialists. The aim of this policy was to direct the imperialist expansion of the German monopoly capitalists against the socialist Soviet Union. Such an aim had the idea of destroying socialism in the Soviet Union and thereby attacking the workers of the world and of weakening the imperialisms that were contending with British, French and U.S. imperialism to carry on their own activities.
In those circumstances, in Australia the Communist Party raised the slogan of “against war and fascism.” That was a correct slogan. Under it great mass activity was aroused. Many workers and other patriotic Australians took part in anti-fascist and anti-war activities. “Boycott Japanese Goods” became a mass slogan. Strikes against sending war materials to Japan occurred. Demonstrations against representatives of the fascist powers reached a high level. The Party played a heroic part in all this activity. However its ideological, political and organisational position had very serious shortcomings. The problem remained of putting Marxist-Leninist ideology and politics in command of its activities.
The question of building the Communist Party is in the first place an ideological question. Unless the Party upholds Marxist-Leninist ideology, imbues itself and its members with Marxism-Leninism and propagates it among the workers and working people, it is doomed to be ineffective in its work. Included in ideology is the action and will of men. The concept of ideology as the Party saw it at that time was too much dominated by some study of Marxist-Leninist classics divorced from the actual struggle. There was insufficient analysis and investigation of Australia’s own conditions so that those conditions could elucidate and at the same time be elucidated by the general principles of Marxism-Leninism.
Thus, for example, the nature of the Australian ruling class’s suppression of the workers and working people, and resistance to violence by the violence of the workers and working people was a key question. The ideas of the struggle against war and fascism were good. They were also capable of misunderstanding. Correct Marxism-Leninism demanded an all round understanding.
If the question of struggle against fascism is limited to ending fascist forms of suppression then the alternative is return to bourgeois democracy. There is little doubt that the Communist Party was influenced by such ideas. The struggle against fascism was seen as a thing in itself. Return to bourgeois democracy was the logical outcome. This overlooked the essential character of capitalism – all capitalist states are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and fascism is the highest development of the extreme violence of that dictatorship.
Accordingly the struggle against fascism involved overthrowing the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Certainly the defence of democratic rights undertaken by the Communist Party in Australia was correct. The question remains – to what end should the workers struggle to defend democratic rights? Is it struggle to defend these democratic rights as ends in themselves when they conceal what is inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or is the aim to defend democratic rights as part of the process of arming and leading the oppressed people to overthrow the source of the whole problem – the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie –and in Australia the winning of national independence from imperialist dictatorship.
Furthermore, since fascism was the open resort to violence against the oppressed, it provided even better material to educate the Communists and workers in the role of force and violence in the class struggle. The advent of fascism and fascist tendencies was really an expression of intensifying of the class struggle. Fascism arose as the product of the economic crisis of capitalism. The lines of class struggle became clearer, the role of force clearer. Hence the Communists had more actual Australian material to use in getting an understanding of the critical nature of guns in the suppression of the people and an understanding that the gun can only be defeated by the gun.
The presentation of the fight against fascism raises too the question of fascism itself. Fascism was conceived as a coup, a seizure of power by those we call fascists, and fascism has been described as the open terrorist dictatorship of the big bourgeoisie. However, ideas that at a given time bourgeois democracy would give way to this open terrorist dictatorship and that it was this process that had to be fought, were an oversimplification of the matter. Fascism is not a fundamental alteration of class rule. It is an alteration in the form of capitalist class rule, or better still an alteration in the way violence which is always present, is used. Fascist methods are used alongside bourgeois democratic methods. They are used together. Hitler did not abandon deceit of the masses.
The idea that fascism is some sort of revolution, some sort of new seizure of power affected the work of the Communist Party in Australia. This idea is based upon illusions about the nature of bourgeois democracy, i.e., that bourgeois “democratic” rights have some substance. In Australia, parliament and parliamentary elections still operated, the freedom of the press, speech, assembly, organisation, remained, “equality before the law” remained. Notwithstanding this, there was greater emphasis on outright violent suppression of the masses. For example, political provisions of the Crimes Act were greatly strengthened in 1932 and these provisions were aimed directly at the workers and their Communist vanguard. There were various bans and restrictions on revolutionary books, newspapers, etc. A whole range of political persecution was developed. Gangs of armed thugs were used to attack the workers. Thus there were the two features of bourgeois rule: “freedom” and violence, with the emphasis shifting to violence.
If therefore the sole concentration in struggle was on one or other of all these evidences of violence, then the implication was only “let us have freedom”, i.e., bourgeois freedom. The only correct approach was the mobilisation of all revolutionary anti-fascist forces against the imperialist dominators of Australia and their local collaborators as an essential step in the struggle for independence and in the end to overthrow the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. That involved a full appreciation of the need for the anti-fascist, anti-imperialist forces to be armed.
The demand for democracy involved not only defence of the formal freedoms (speech, press, organisation, etc.) but the need to give those freedoms real content, that is places for the anti-fascist, anti-imperialist forces to speak, printing presses, the substance of organisation. This was an entirely new content to the old democratic freedoms. At the root of this lay the expropriation of the main imperialist owned factories and land and the taking over of these by the anti-imperialist people.
The ruling circles in Australia moved to the emphasis of violence because of their fear of the Australian working class. They were acting in accordance with a world-wide trend in the ruling class. They sympathised, commonly openly, with Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese militarists. All this strengthened the anti-fascist sentiments of the Australian working people. It added emphasis to the need to fight for the conception and practice of armed struggle against the force and violence of the ruling circles.
The other side of the slogan – “against war”, also raised difficulties. The struggle against imperialist war is indeed correct. War however can only be destroyed by war. “We are advocates of the abolition of war, we do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.” (Mao Tsetung: Problems of War and Strategy. Selected Works, Vol. II, p.225.) Merely to be against war as such is pacifism. Pacifism disarms the workers and working people ideologically and materially. Reality is that war is an inevitable consequence of the competition between the imperialist powers.
In addition, the imperialists constantly strive to overthrow the socialist states. War is inevitable while imperialism lasts. War will not be prevented by slogans or words: it will only be prevented by working class seizure of power. In order to seize power and then be prepared to wage war, the workers and oppressed peoples must have arms. In the actual prosecution of struggle in Australia under the influence of the concept “against war and fascism”, there is no doubt that the Communist Party was greatly influenced by pacifist ideas. It did not sufficiently raise the banner of revolutionary struggle against imperialism itself. The task really was to rouse the masses to struggle against the threat of the then specific war and train them on that basis to understand imperialism and the revolutionary armed struggle to overthrow it.
The struggle was seen as the united front against war and fascism – a united front of the working class against war and fascism, and a wider front, called the People’s Front, against war and fascism. Involved in this was the idea of unity with the labor party and in the trade unions and in all mass organisations, against war and fascism. The idea was developed of unity from “above and below”, as it was called. This meant unity in the rank and file between Communists and labor party workers and non-party workers and at the same time an agreement with the labor party as such, for unity in the struggle against fascism and war.
Much devoted work was given to put these ideas into practice. Once more the whole thing was clouded with misconceptions. The basic idea of a united front of all the revolutionary forces and groups and all people who can be united against the reactionaries is quite correct. But the Communist Party proceeded on certain assumptions that were contrary to the fact.
Reference has already been made to the misconceptions about struggle against war and fascism. This in itself was productive of errors. But the approach to the united front proceeded on the assumption that the labor party in Australia was a working class political party. Such an assumption is entirely wrong. The labor party is a party of capitalism and remains that. It is a parliamentary political party and parliament is an institution of capitalism. The labor party has held office in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and in the Commonwealth. Under it capitalism has thrived, foreign investment has been fostered and Workers have been imported (immigration) for exploitation. It has administered the capitalist state machine in an entirely orthodox way. For example, it was the founder of the secret police, key weapon against the workers. It has used police violence against workers, gaoled them, enforced their exploitation. Never has it been a party of the working class. Its acceptance of the “socialisation” plank in its programme in 1921 was a matter of deception of the workers. Accordingly, in talking about a united front with the labor party it was vital to make an estimate of the real character of the labor party and always to keep that real character as a party of capitalism in mind.
The Communist Party in its work for, and participation in such a united front, needed the clearest possible ideas of its own independent ideology, politics and organisation. The Communist Party was a party of the working class, a working-class party. Here being put before it was the task of united action with a party of the bourgeoisie. In such a proposition, by its very nature, lay a struggle by the bourgeoisie to impose its will on the workers through its labor party and on the other hand the struggle by the working class to impose its will on the participants in the united front through its Party, the Communist Party.
The class struggle never abates, its form obviously changes from time to time, but the class struggle itself necessarily intensifies. Being a party of capitalism, clearly enough the labor party used capitalist forms; it was an essential part of parliament. Certain Communist “theoreticians” ruled by political subjectivism, developed and assiduously peddled the theory that the labor party was a two class party. In doing that, they performed a service to the bourgeoisie. In the labor party’s relations with the trade unions it strove might and main to confine them within capitalism. Thus in the projected united front, the Communist Party was seeking united action with a capitalist party. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this in certain circumstances. It is possible in a given situation to have united action with the bourgeoisie or a section of it. But the maintenance of Communist independent ideology, politics and organisation, the maintenance of Communist independence and initiative is critical to the correct theory and practice of the united front. Mao Tsetung discussed the principles of such a united front in a speech to the Chinese Communist Party in November 1938. The appropriate part is published separately and entitled: “The Question of Independence and Initiative Within the United Front” (Selected Works, Vol. II, p.213). The criticism in it of the approach made by certain people in China to the united front fits the situation of the Communist Party in Australia. Mao Tsetung warned that unless independence and initiative are preserved, co-operation will turn into amalgamation.
The class struggle in Australia was of course reflected in the Communist Party. Bourgeois influences within the Communist Party lay in its adherence to parliamentarism and the influence on it of trade union politics and in its approach to fascism, war and the united front. Here now in this united front it was seeking united action with a party actually based upon parliamentarism and bourgeois politics. Unless therefore independence and initiative were properly maintained, such an arrangement and the struggle for it must of necessity strengthen bourgeois influences in the Communist Party.
In addition the Communist Party made concessions of a negative kind in order to woo the labor party (and other groups) that is, it lowered its political demands to fit them into those of the labor party (and other groups). The united front was seen only as a united front between the labor party and the Communist Party. In truth the Communist Party’s united front idea really means united action by all people who can be united on a proper programme of struggle. In those circumstances, the question whether or not the labor party as such would agree to a united front is a subsidiary question.
In its world perspectives, the united front had been conceived mainly as a problem in the countries of western Europe and North America and such offshoots as Australia. The main problem was presented as healing the breach in the working class movement. That breach was conceived of as the Social Democrats on the one hand and the Communists on the other, in Australia that between the labor party and the Communist Party. We have commented on the capitalist essence of the social democratic parties. Healing the breach is an idea based upon the assumption that the Social Democratic parties are parties of the working class. As we have demonstrated, that is just not so. They are parties wedded to parliament and all other capitalist institutions. The united front, as it was conceived, really involved struggle entirely within limits fixed by the bourgeoisie. Nor did it consider the vitally important questions of the colonial world and the relationship between the struggle in the metropolitan countries and the struggle of the oppressed people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. All this influenced the Communist Party in Australia. It limited proper struggle for the united front.
The central importance of the task of lifting up the anti-fascist struggle to embrace armed struggle was not considered, certainly not in Australia. The question of the working class’s struggle for political power must be all-sided. As there can be no real argument against the contention that the ruling circles maintain their rule by force and violence, it follows that the workers must be armed to meet and combat that force and violence. This is not to deny “legal” struggle, strikes, organising trade unions, etc. Lessons about the armed struggle and its relation to legal struggle were already rich from the Chinese revolutionary struggles, the Spanish revolutionary struggle and the Brazilian revolutionary struggle. These however were not studied so that a proper appreciation of the question in Australian conditions could be obtained. The Communist Party can only grow ideologically, politically and organisationally in conditions of actual struggle, peaceful and armed, and legal and illegal.
In this period too, the Communist Party in Australia paid great attention to parliament and to the trade unions. The nature of parliament we have already discussed. Criticism of it and struggle against it were very weak because by standing candidates in the orthodox way (even though there was a little criticism); by supporting the labor party, the Communist Party actually was in danger of strengthening parliamentarism. It did not sufficiently assess the situation nor assist the workers who were, as a result of depression experiences, increasingly understanding the real bourgeois character of parliamentarism. In any event, the Communist Party is a vanguard party integrated in the masses and it must lead. Hence its task was to find the way to present the question of struggle for arms, against parliamentarism, against trade union politics.
In the trade unions, the Communists did a great deal of work. It is imperative and quite correct to work in the trade unions and to work among the labor party influenced workers (and indeed amongst all workers). Again the matter must be approached from the standpoint of class struggle. Already it has been demonstrated that the labor party is a party of capitalism. There is a vast difference between the labor party leaders on the one hand, and the workers who are influenced by the labor party, on the other. Those workers are part of the working class. But when the question is asked which class do the labor party leaders serve, which class does the labor party organisation serve, the answer is the capitalist class and its imperialist masters.
There was and is a close relation between the labor party and the trade unions as they are constituted in Australia. In the thirties, the Communists began to obtain leading positions in the trade unions in somewhat different circumstances from those in the early twenties when Communists had leading positions in the trade unions. Again the question must be asked – trade unions for what and for whom, for which class? The ruling circles most certainly strove to use the trade unions for themselves, i.e., to serve the capitalist class. To that end they had adapted “labor lieutenants of capitalism”, (i.e. certain trade union officials who served capitalism) had built up an elaborate arbitration machinery, had assiduously fostered trade union politics. Their idea of the trade unions was to serve “peace in industry”, to adapt the trade unions to capitalism. The class struggle of the workers demanded that the trade unions be wrested from the capitalist ruling circles, that they be fighting organs of the working class.
The Communist Party in Australia had some appreciation of this problem. It grappled with it. But many of its leading members succumbed into the capitalist politics of trade unionism. Trade union politics deeply penetrated the Communist Party where in one form or another they had always been present. This strengthened other bourgeois influences in the Communist Party.
The thirties then saw an intensification of class struggle in Australia manifested by the ruling circles’ working more openly to violence and the workers and working people resisting the offensive. The drive to war raised the resistance of the workers. The Communist Party grew in numbers as a result of intensified class struggle. Within the Communist Party, Marxist-Leninist ideology dictated struggle against the ruling circles and against imperialist war but bourgeois influences largely determined the methods of struggle. Hence reconciliation with labor party ideology, parliamentarism, trade union politics all gained in the Party.