In the great economic crisis of the 1930’s labor governments in Australia revealed themselves clearly as anti-workingclass. At the dictation, even public dictation, of the capitalist class, labor governments reduced wages and attacked the workingclass in all ways, including with police violence. In the trade unions many officials who were members of the A.L.P. supported the labor governments. Some showed their corruption and lack of ability. Amongst the workers there was widespread disillusionment with the A.L.P. and with the orthodox trade union leaders. Looking for a lead on economic questions and for emancipation from unemployment, evictions, wage reductions, speed up, the workers failed to get it from the A.L.P. or from the orthodox trade union leaders.
On the other hand, the Communist Party of Australia correctly analysed that what was happening was that the capitalist class was using the economic crisis to intensify exploitation and that the workers must struggle against it. It was a focus for socialist ideas. It popularised the achievements of socialism in the U.S.S.R. However, even though it was a Communist Party its emphasis was on the economic demands of the workers as ends in themselves. It emphasised their trade union demands, the demands of the unemployed for work, for an adequate dole and so on without finding the way to link the whole struggle, the whole experience of the workers, to the revolutionary struggle for socialism and just as importantly without organising the Communists effectively amongst the workers. It saw its task in terms far too much of having Communists elected to leading trade union positions and leaving it at that.
The predominant insistence upon the idea of electing Communists into the leadership of the trade unions and leaving it at that, contributed to the isolation of the Communists because the hard day to day contact with the vast middle and backward sections of the workers was not carried out. Again such an idea was based upon the wrong assumption that the trade unions themselves are vehicles of the revolution and trade union leaders, its leaders. The correct view that the revolutionary party, namely the Communist Party, is the leader of the workingclass and that the workingclass must take up all the problems of the oppressed was blurred.
It did not sufficiently attend to the problems of all other strata of the population – the farmers, the ruined small capitalists, the public servants, nor react sufficiently to all the evil manifestations of capitalism. But certainly and correctly it paid great attention to the economic demands. Its weakness lay in failing to give them their correct overall place in the whole struggle against capitalism and to use the situation to extend Marxism-Leninism ideologically, politically and organisationally. Its weakness lay in its lack of revolutionary ideology. Its striving and desire were towards revolution, but it was held back by its environment.
With the economic crisis there occurred the rise of Hitler and the armed aggression of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. Abyssinia was attacked in 1935, the Spanish Civil War with Nazi and Italian Fascist intervention occurred in 1936-1939, and there was a succession of internal attacks upon the German, Italian and Japanese people, coupled with extended external aggression by the imperialists of those countries. Monopoly capitalism in those countries had thrown off the cloak of democracy and resorted to open terrorist dictatorship. In that situation, again the A.L.P. leaders and their counterparts in the trade unions gave no leadership to the workers. On the other hand, the Communists in Australia raised the slogan “Against War and Fascism,” were energetic in support of the Spanish people, against the aggression of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, against the Munich Treaty of 1938 and so on.
In these conditions, the workingclass in Australia did make a big turn to the Communists. With the failure of the A.L.P. and the A.L.P. trade union leaders, Communists began to be elected to the leadership of the trade unions. The workers saw in the Communists people who were not corrupt, who were courageous, determined and bold enough to lead the struggle of the workers. In the period of the economic crisis and throughout the ’thirties, Communists in the workshops and amongst the unemployed had demonstrated their capacity for leadership in the workers’ struggles. Moreover, they were by comparison with the A.L.P. well organised, and commonly organised on the basis of opposition to the corrupt trade union leadership in their industry. Largely the then factory organisation of the Communists was directed at removing corrupt and inefficient trade union leaderships and replacing them with incorrupt and efficient leaderships. That task was crowned with great success. When in the years of World War II the victories of the Soviet Army again turned Australian workers towards the Communists, the whole process was accelerated. Thus by the end of World War II in 1945, many members of the Communist Party occupied important leading trade union positions throughout Australia. In fact, too, the workingclass and working people had developed through their participation in the anti-fascist struggle and through the leadership of the Communist Party a great consciousness of the struggle against capitalism.
Now the question is – how did the Communist Party discharge its revolutionary job of lifting the trade union consciousness of the workers into revolutionary consciousness? What influence did it have on the trade unions and what influence did the trade unions have on it?
We start off from the proposition we have already made that a trade union leader, however efficient, is not, merely because he is an efficient trade union leader and even though he is called a Communist, a revolutionary leader, a Marxist-Leninist, a Communist. Indeed the environment in which he lives and works is all against his being a revolutionary leader. And that is through no fault of his own. Day in and day out, probably seven days a week, he is preoccupied with trade union problems – wages, hours, conditions, victimisation, workers’ compensation, etc. Just as the worker works and travels to and from work long hours and so gets little time to devote to pursuits, including political pursuits, outside his work, and has little energy to think out the whole range of social problems, so the trade union leader works in an atmosphere that exudes trade union politics.
He works metaphorically in a veritable sea of trade union politics. Only the strongest of Marxist-Leninists can be expected to resist this. Inevitably numbers of Communists who become trade union officials become also trade union politicians. Instead of seeing all aspects of the struggle, all strata of the population, all cases of oppression, victimisation, etc., they see only the particular economic demands of their particular workers or of the workers as a whole, i.e. their outlook is limited by the economic struggle, dominated by the economic struggle. That means bourgeois politics, politics based upon an acceptance of capitalism. In its turn, it opens the way for direct unity with the capitalist class itself, for corruption.
In the first place some of those, even many of those, who became Communist trade union officials were not Communists and were not even striving to become Communists at all. They knew little or nothing of Communism, Marxism-Leninism. Some joined the Communist Party precisely because they could see that the Communists were coming into the leadership of the trade unions and thus good jobs could be obtained by being a Communist. Others were honestly seeking to master Communism, Marxism-Leninism. Some were good Communists or striving to become so, and continued in that position.
But it is our contention that the trade union leaders who belonged to the former Communist Party have largely become adapted to capitalism. They have been one of the factors in the degeneration of the old Communist Party of Australia into a purely reformist, revisionist organisation and its desertion of even striving for revolutionary principles. Many Communists in the trade unions, however well intentioned they were and are, have succumbed to trade union politics and have abandoned revolutionary socialist politics. Nor in most cases did they do that by wicked design. They did so because of shortcomings in understanding Marxism-Leninism, and included in that, a failure to understand the problem of the trade unions itself.
Worship of the trade union struggle, worship of the trade union leaders are a feature of the history of the former Communist Party of Australia. That, as Lenin has said, is quite wrong, because logically, theoretically and borne out by practice, it does not further the struggle to overthrow capitalism. On the contrary, it can strengthen capitalism.
So these Communists who were trade unionists almost necessarily bore with them the mark and influence of trade unionism which they carried into the former Communist Party. The leaders of the former Communist Party did not work to lift the consciousness of these workers beyond trade union consciousness. In the very strong trade union environment in Australia, very strong Marxist-Leninists are required to handle the trade union politics that are continually, spontaneously being generated. If that work is neglected or not understood, inevitably trade union politics become supreme.
It has been commonly said of the former Communist Party of Australia that one of its great strengths has been its close connections with the trade unions. Yes, that is a source of strength, but it is also a source of weakness. It is a question of struggle. Which will prevail: revolutionary socialism, Marxism-Leninism on the one hand, or trade union politics, economism, reformism, revisionism on the other. They are both eternally present. The A.L.P. reflects, represents, extends and systematises trade union politics. Marxism-Leninism reflects, represents, revolutionary socialism. Within the A.L.P. some workers become revolutionary, i.e. they abandon the ideology and politics of the A.LP., but because it is a bourgeois party supported by the bourgeoisie, it cannot be changed into a workingclass party.
Within all Communist Parties there is an eternal struggle between revolutionary politics and bourgeois politics. This is the contradiction within the essence of the Communist Party. In the conditions of the strength of trade unionism in Australia, the spontaneous generation of trade union politics was a big factor in influencing the course of the internal struggle in the former Communist Party of Australia. Unless counteracted, uniess taken full account of, unless a proper assessment was continually made of the great importance of the trade unions and the correct Marxist-Leninist approach to them, the spontaneous trade union politics sooner or later must have been victorious.
In practical terms, the Communists in the trade unions without any doubt played a positive role in strengthening the organisation of the trade unions and against the corruption of those whom they replaced. There are many specific instances of this. Their leadership shone in bright contrast to that of some of their predecessors. They led many very good struggles of the workingclass and struggles that extended in some cases beyond the mere economic interests of the workers, as e.g. the stand by Australian unions in support of Indonesian independence.
Up until 1949, there had been many great struggles of Australian trade unionists led by Communists. It is necessary only to refer to the struggles of the coalminers going back into the ’thirties, and after the war, the steel workers, meat workers in Queensland, transport and metal workers in Victoria. All this represented the high point of Communist-led struggles. It is to be noted that the predominant concentration was on economic issues as such, i.e. trade union politics. But the question from a Marxist-Leninist standpoint is – did these struggles, the basis for which arose spontaneously in the unrest of the workers, result in Communist, Marxist-Leninist, revolutionary consciousness, ideology, politics and organisation being raised? Did they take full account of what Lenin said: “The spontaneous workingclass movement is by itself able to create (and inevitably does create) only trade unionism, and workingclass trade unionist politics is precisely workingclass bourgeois politics. The fact that the workingclass participates in the political struggle, and even in the political revolution, does not in itself make its politics Social Democratic (read Communist – Marxist-Leninist) politics.” (Lenin: What is to be Done, 3 Volume Edition, Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 203).
Did they take full account of what Lenin said: “Trade union organisations, not only can be of tremendous value in developing and consolidating the economic struggle, but can also be a very important auxiliary to political agitation and revolutionary organisation.” (Lenin: p. 220). Or did they see, as Lenin enjoined us to see, that the economic struggle was part of but subordinate to the general revolutionary struggle. Of course, Lenin said: “The workers’ organisations for the economic struggle should be trade union organisations. Every Social Democratic (Communist) worker should as far as possible assist and actively work in these organisations.” But the question still remains: Did the former Communist Party, as a political party independent of the trade unions and the individual Communist trade union leaders, see these struggles not as ends in themselves, important though those ends may be, but as an essential part of the task of raising the whole consciousness of the workers and all working people towards revolutionary consciousness, ideology, politics and organisation? Or did they, in their giving leadership and effective leadership to many of these struggles, in fact strengthen capitalism because the struggles were seen as an end in themselves and side by side with them all the issues that affected all other strata of the population adversely were not taken up?
Now let us look at two examples. The Victorian transport strike of 1946 resulted in quite substantial wage increases for certain Victorian transport workers. It was a very good, solid struggle and it was well led from a trade union point of view. But it was seen by the former Communist Party as the most important aspect of political struggle, as the main thing. It was a trade union struggle and Communists in the trade unions and in the leadership of the trade unions were duty bound to exercise all their influence and activity in supporting that struggle. That was very good. But there is another side to it. The Communists were also bound to work during the struggle (as at all times) to lift the consciousness of the workers towards a revolutionary socialist understanding, to strengthen the Communist Party itself ideologically, politically, organisationally. The Communist Party as such had the job of not seeing or presenting this struggle as the be-all and end-all of the revolutionary struggle. Neither from the former Communist Party as such nor from the Communists in the struggle was the question of social revolution or the nature of capitalism really raised at all in persistent, appropriate, patient mass work. These matters were only raised as a passing agitational point because the Communist Party was heavily influenced by trade union politics.
As the result of the strike struggle, wage increases were granted by the Arbitration Court. That was good, but it also had its negative side because, as Lenin said, economic concessions (or pseudo-concessions) can be in fact a weapon of the ruling class. If the struggle goes no further than to raise and even realise an economic demand, it even strengthens capitalism and the capitalist institutions such as the arbitration machinery.
The second example is that of the metal strike in 1947 which centred about wage increases for metal trades workers. Again it was a very successful struggle which Communists did support and were bound to support. It resulted also through the arbitration machinery in quite important wage increases. Those wage increases were presented by the former Communist Party as the be-all and end-all of the struggle. The victory over the employers was very good: the workers counterbalanced the constant pressure of the employers to force the price of labour power below its value.
But it too had the aspect of strengthening capitalism because the former Communist Party and the Communist trade union officials failed to work assiduously to explain the shortcomings of trade union politics and failed to enhance the revolutionary consciousness and organisation of the masses. Above all the Communists should have been with the masses of the workers. In this regard the position of avowed Communist trade union officials is of secondary importance.
At all times the most important question is the integration of the Communists with the masses. The masses must be to the Communist what the water is to the fish. That is an arduous and difficult job and it does not mean neglecting economic and trade union struggles. On the contrary, it means enhancing them by understanding clearly that just to succumb to the politics that emanate from the trade unions, from the workers even in struggle, is to succumb to politics bounded by capitalism – to take the line of least resistance.
We return to make a passing comment on whether or not the workers in those struggles would respond to education, would respond to Marxism-Leninism, would grapple with the wide social problems of socialist revolution, would strengthen their revolutionary party. This must be answered unhesitatingly, yes, they would. All experience proves this to be true. The response to direct socialist agitation and propaganda during a strike struggle is always enthusiastic. In itself that can be very fleeting. But what the former Communists failed to do was to present the correct perspective, to develop revolutionary consciousness and organisation and to work hard, patiently – persistently amongst the masses – not merely or even mainly the trade union officials working among the masses. And working among every section, stratum of the masses, not merely the workers. On the contrary, they passively let it run as a purely trade union struggle, the product of which left to itself is trade union, bourgeois politics. They failed to act as revolutionaries at all and this arose out of the environment of the Australian trade union movement which daily, hourly, gives rise spontaneously to trade union, bourgeois politics.
The former Communist Party bowed to that spontaneity despite all that Lenin wrote on it. Bowing to that spontaneity is rendered all the more easy – the line of least resistance, Lenin called it – by the fact that the ideologists of the labor party give conscious impetus to the bourgeois politics that flow from the spontaneous movement. In the competition between the ideology of revolutionary socialism and reformism, the least slackening of vigilance by the revolutionaries means that the eternally besieging bourgeois ideology penetrates the fortress. Furthermore, the predominant emphasis upon the trade union leaders who were Communists strengthened the wrong idea that the Communists see the trade unions as vehicles of the revolution.
The lessons of these struggles were summed up in the former Communist Party, but in retrospect it is easy to see that the conclusions drawn were largely wrong because they were summed up from the standpoint of trade union politics and not from a revolutionary standpoint at all. The real assessment should be for all Communists, not only the trade union leaders nor the Communist trade unionists involved, how did the given struggle assist or hinder the workers in breaking from the bourgeoisie politically, ideologically and organisationally and in building the revolutionary party? How did it assist all the toiling people to do that? How did it fit into the struggles of all other strata of the population?
How did it itself raise the problems of the other strata of the population? How did it extend revolutionary organisation?
In retrospect it was perfectly correct for the workers to struggle and for the Communists to give leadership in the struggle. But the struggle, for various reasons, the main one of which was that it proceeded from the standpoint of trade union politics, actually strengthened bourgeois influence in the working class.
Absurd, you may say, but reflection will show that it is not absurd. It strengthened illusions about the Arbitration Court even though it was correctly pointed out that the Arbitration Court simply registered gains that had already been won. That is one example.
It strengthened illusions about the capitalist class, that it will be reasonable under enough pressure. It strengthened illusions about the labour governments of the day because they were the governments which made concessions. Whereas if the struggle had been presented and the presentation fought and organised for as but part, and even only a small part, of the preparation for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, as taking place along with many other struggles and injustices of other sections of the people in which the workers must intervene, then the spontaneous forces could have been counteracted and the energy, enthusiasm and determination of the workers directed into correct channels. Moreover, such a presentation takes full account of the possibility of defeat of the workers on their economic demands, an ever-present danger, and one of which full account must be taken. It is then seen as part of the necessary experience of the workingclass in the struggle for state power.
Long, sustained and hard work is necessary to explain all this, all the time to the workers, and genuine organisation of the revolutionaries linked by a million ties to the workers is required – working day in and day out protected by correct organisational methods from the scrutiny of the employer and the secret police. The Communists must explain to the workers all these issues, get them to read Lenin’s “What is to be Done,” be persistent, resolute; win the advanced workers to do the same work, taking full account of the level of each worker, but having confidence thai given the correct approach he can be won.
It is the height of absurdity to expect that a Communist Party can do all this by making a few passing references to socialism and Communism. It can publicly advocate the ideas of Communism, but many, many workers are going to be careful about having anything to do with it because “contamination” with it means victimisation or possible victimisation, or that is how it is seen. To fail to take account of this is the most arrant sectarianism and is to skip over necessary stages in the development of the workingclass and to isolate the Communists. In his very great book, Left Wing Communism, Lenin paid detailed attention to this very matter.
In addition to the direct public Communist agitation and propaganda which present legal conditions make possible, even more important is painstaking, patient work among the masses – and not the crude methods of endangering the livelihood of the workers. Revolution, Marxism-Leninism, is a science and it requires a scientific approach, proceeding from the actual level of the workers, which varies from advanced to backward. All too much damage has been done by the modern day revisionist Communist sectarians who in many cases because they wear the name Communist but are not Communists at all, are no more than decoys by which the employers and secret police can compile lists of the good honest militant workers. The revolutions in Russia and China were won by the application of scientific methods and not by such sectarian methods as persisted in by the modern Communist revisionists.
The former Communist Party committed the very errors which Lenin criticised in Left Wing Communism. Lenin attacked the Communists of the ’twenties who wanted to create separate “pure” Communist organisations in the trade union movement and elsewhere. It is true that the former Communist Party did not create separate organisations. In practice it did something essentially similar. It created in the trade unions an exclusive left bloc. The existence of the left bloc cut the Communists off from great masses of workers. After all, the advanced workers are always a minority. You cannot possibly successfully appeal to the vast mass of backward and middle workers from an exclusive left Communist bloc. That was the very principle that Lenin dealt with. In order to maintain contact with all the workers the Communists must have their members at every level of the workers and amongst all the workers. If a person is identified as a member of the exclusive left Communist bloc his effectiveness is immediately reduced. If, on the other hand, he works patiently and persistently and builds up his friends, contacts, winning them carefully to Communism, enlisting some who in turn will do the same, then he is doing effective Communist work. Though he may achieve none of the publicity accorded Communist trade union leaders, his work is more important.
The capitalist class and its servants, the A.L.P. leaders and trade union leaders, resort to every foul means to keep the Communists from the masses. The exclusive left Communist bloc assists the capitalist class. But the Communists must at all costs be with the masses. They must defeat the capitalists despite all difficulties. Nor must they succumb to legalism and thereby create the exclusive left bloc which isolates them. Though the trade unions in Australia by and large permit Communist membership, nonetheless (and because of this) the former Communist Party isolated itself and its members from vast sections of the workers. Lenin’s principles are fully applicable. In Left Wing Communism, he urged the Communists to be with the masses, there to work for Communism, to go to any length to do so. Every word of Left Wing Communism is fully applicable to Australia. In Chapter VI, Lenin dealt particularly with mass work in the trade unions. He said: “Under tsarism, until 1905, we had no ’legal possibilities’; but when Zubatov, the secret service agent, organised Black Hundred workers’ assemblies and workingmen’s societies for the purpose of trapping revolutionaries and combating them, we sent members of our Party to these assemblies and into their societies. (I personally remember one such comrade, Babushkin, a prominent St. Petersburg working man, who was shot by the tsar’s generals in 1906.) They established contacts with the masses, managed to carry on their agitation and succeeded in wresting the workers from the influence of Zubatov’s agents.” (To this Lenin added this footnote: “The Gomperses, Hendersons, Jouhaux and Legiens [reformist leaders akin to our A.L.P. and reformist trade union leaders. –E.F.H.] are nothing but Zubatovs, differing from our Zubatov only in their European dress, in their outer polish, in their civilised, refined, democratically sleek manner of conducting their despicable policy.”) Then Lenin goes on in the body of the text:
Of course, in Western Europe, which is particularly saturated with inveterate legalist, constitutionalist, bourgeois-democratic prejudices, it is more difficult to carry on such work. But it can and must be carried on systematically. (Lenin: Selected Works, 12 Volume edition, Vol. 10, pp. 95-96.)
Another feature of the problem of organisation is that, as we pointed out earlier, the Communists came to the leadership of the trade unions backed by Communist organisation, the main aim of which was to win the leadership of the given union. It was based in the workshops but having achieved the objective of winning the given union leadership, it largely collapsed as an effective organisation. That organisation collapsed because it was an organisation not with a revolutionary objective but dominated by trade union politics, and when the aim of electing the leadership in the union was achieved, it had served its purpose. Moreover, the persons elected to the leading positions were never too keen about maintaining and strengthening the organisation because even though those elected may have been unconscious of it, organisation in the workshops always has revolutionary potentialities and it can easily disturb the peaceful and privileged position of a trade union official who has succumbed to bourgeois politics.
Again, the given official was and is always studied by the employers and by the secret police – his strengths, his weaknesses, whether or not he drank, gambled, his personal behaviour, whether or not he was open to flattery and so on and so forth. The ruling class is quite scientific about this. They make a very careful study. They go to work as soon as the given Communist attains any prominence. Their aim is to adapt the Communists to the ruling class. It must be said immediately that in this narrower sense, in addition to their having succumbed to trade union politics, several of Australia’s trade union officials from the former Communist Party are in one way or another adapted to the ruling class. There are those who gamble excessively; those who drink excessively; those whose behaviour leaves them open to blackmail and divulging confidences, but their basic weakness is purely and simply that they do no more than reflect trade union politics.
The trade union leaders who have embraced modern revisionism are the quintessence of time servers. Everywhere they are most respectable and willing servants of the capitalist class. In no way are they distinguishable from the old line reformists and opportunists. If there is any distinction it is in favour of the latter who do not add to their treachery the word “Communist.”