Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E. F. Hill

Looking Backward: Looking Forward


Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. Lenin said this more than half a century ago. In this booklet we have been concerned with errors in the past. Basically they can all be traced to errors in revolutionary theory, ideology. The critical question before the Australian workers and working people is to build a strong, Marxist-Leninist Party – strong ideologically politically and organisationally. In discussing the question of such a party, Lenin posed several questions: “ . . .how is the discipline of the proletariat’s revolutionary party maintained? How is it tested? How is it reinforced? First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its tenacity, self-sacrifice and heroism. Second, by its ability to link up, maintain the closest contact, and – if you wish – merge, in certain measure with the broadest masses of the working people – primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses of working people. Third, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by the vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from their own experience, that they are correct.” (Left-Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder).

This lays the foundation of the spirit of the revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. There must be a revolutionary party to carry into effect revolutionary theory and to lead the masses to the overthrow of capitalism. That revolutionary party and movement are not the trade unions nor trade union officials. Although no-one puts it in the blunt terms of our last sentence, reality has been that this was one of the root ideas of Communists in Australia.

To fail to see the trade unionism and parliamentarism of which we have spoken in past pages as bourgeois politics is political subjectivism, lack of investigation, lack of study in its real sense (and that real sense is not academic study). Subjectivism means substituting wishes for facts. People can hotly deny they are subjective but still remain subjective. By subjectivism we do not mean personal reaction, personal resentment nor any similar vulgarisations but political subjectivism. Political subjectivism is a failure to recognise political, social, facts because of preconceived political ideas. These ideas in Australia commonly took the form of repetition of quotations from Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and the attempt arbitrarily to impose them on facts. But the facts must come first and ideas second. Then ideas can correctly influence facts. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, in short, Marxism-Leninism, teaches the pre-eminence of facts, of nature, of society. All ideas have their primary source outside man’s mind. They come from the outside. Of course men’s minds accurately reflecting facts and their movement, can profoundly influence them. But still facts are first.

The central fact of politics in Australia (as anywhere else) is the fact of state power. State power is owned, held, wielded, (whatever you like) by the Australian monopoly capitalists and they in turn have subordinated themselves to the U.S. imperialists. This state power is the crux of the question of politics in Australia. Around this question every other question centres.

The essence of revolutionary struggle in Australia is to win state power for the Australian working class and working people. In Marxist-Leninist terms, this is the struggle to overthrow, smash the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat. The content of the revolution in Australia is socialist.

That is to say, there are no pre-capitalist forms of social system in Australia to be overcome. There is only the capitalist form.

The struggle for working class state power in Australia is therefore the central task of Australian revolutionaries. Every other task is directed to the achievement of state power. Though particular struggles may at the moment seem remote from the revolutionary seizure of state power nonetheless the task of the revolutionaries is to assist the people to draw the correct revolutionary lessons from their experience.

It is not within the province of this booklet to discuss all aspects of revolutionary struggle. But it is very important to advert to it precisely to get rid of the domination of ideas of trade unionism and parliamentarism. In the end the revolutionary struggle will be determined in armed conflict between the reactionaries (whose whole system rests upon force and violence) and the workers and working people resisting that force and violence and overwhelming it with their own force and violence. An examination of reality shows that that is the only real perspective. Trade unionism and parliamentarism deny that reality. They are at best pious hopes of earnest people and at worst and much more importantly a powerful weapon of deception in the hands of the reactionaries. If this reality is denied the working class is disarmed in advance.

Accordingly the revolutionary party must be crystal clear on the nature of society in Australia. It is a dictatorship of the capitalist class but it operates under a facade of democracy. Its real arm of power is the army supported by the police both open and secret. Orthodox trade unionism and parliamentarism are part of the capitalist weapons, All this is carefully concealed under the cloak of democratic rights of which trade unionism and parliamentarism are manifestations. Still reality remains reality.

In saying all this we do not mean that the ideas of trade unionism and parliamentarism can be destroyed over night, in one blow as it were. It requires protracted struggle. But destroyed they must be.

The problem is to maintain the closest contact with the masses of working people and provide correct political leadership which recognises that the masses learn basically from their own experience. Then the authority and leadership of the revolutionary party will be established. It will not be established by proclamation (basically by good speeches and articles, though they have a place) but by actual experience and example in struggle. This is a very very many sided task. It requires attention to absolutely every facet of struggle. “The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history” (Mao Tse-tung: On Coalition Government). This is a profoundly important idea. Sometimes people think it is trite. But the errors dealt with in previous pages included a non-recognition of this profoundly important idea and substituted for it the idea that a handful of Communists acting in a closed left circle or left bloc could make history and make it by a bit of crude self proclamation and propaganda. It failed to recognise that “the masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge” (Mao Tse-tung). Boundless confidence in the masses of people is one of the distinguishing hallmarks of a revolutionary party. To shut oneself away from them and preach a few lofty words of so-called principle is sectarianism – to act as a pure sect.

The organisational product then of the subjectivism of which we have spoken is sectarianism. In Australia it expressed itself in the Communists failing to maintain the closest contact with the masses, failing “to merge in a certain measure” with the masses. It expressed itself in the trade unions by believing that a few Communists holding trade union official positions could win revolutionary power. Almost the very reverse is true. The primary task of the Communists in this sphere in Australia is to work as ordinary workers, ordinary trade unionists. There they must participate in, promote struggles in accordance with the understanding and experience of the workers, step by step assisting the development of revolutionary consciousness. Mao Tse-tung put all this brilliantly when he said that the revolutionary party “should teach every comrade to love the people and listen attentively to the voice of the masses; to identify himself with the masses wherever he goes and, instead of standing above them, to immerse himself among them; and according to their present level, to awaken them or raise their political consciousness and help them gradually to organise themselves voluntarily and to set going all essential struggles permitted by the internal and external circumstances of the given time and place.” (“On Coalition Government” Selected Works Vol. III, 315-316.) And again “If we tried to go on the offensive when the masses are not yet awakened, that would be adventurism. If we insisted on leading the masses to do anything against their will we would continually fail. If we did not advance when the masses demanded advance, that would be Right opportunism” (A talk to the Editorial Staff of the Shansi-Suiyuan Daily, Selected Works, Vol. IV, 243).

The denial of the proposition that avowed Communists should become trade union leaders in the way promoted by the former Communist Party sounds to some heretical. But there is indeed ample experience to demonstrate its utter incorrectness and the immense harm it does. Many Communists have become such leaders. In that position they must of necessity assist in administering the capitalist state. Only an exceptionally strong person can withstand the process of adaptation to capitalism involved in that. In Australia there are some prime and choice examples of what happens. Revisionist trade union officials are the most abject time-servers. There is no need to mention names – they are well known. But even this is the subsidiary side of the question. The main side is that such a person is of equal necessity cut off from the mass of trade unionists. His “authority” is based upon false foundations. The really devoted capable Communist will work with the masses, will not eternally aspire to be one of these old line trade union officials. But only adherence to the revolutionary party will ensure such correct behaviour.

What has happened in Australia has been political subjectivism, organisational sectarianism and the following of a stereotyped form of “working class leadership”.

The subjectivism lies in the quite wrong and arbitrary failure to understand the bourgeois nature of trade unionism and parliamentarism. These ideas did not come from investigation of reality. They expressed themselves in organisational forms of a sect – self sufficient Communist bands. They worshipped quotations and forms without bothering to ask about, inquire into, investigate reality. Everything went, including the conduct of strikes, according to a set form rather than investigation of real people and real conditions and a release of the immense ideas and initiative of real people.

In outstanding classics of Marxism-Leninism “Reform Our Study,” “Rectify the Party’s Style of Work,” “Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing,” Mao Tse-tung dealt with these 3 critical enemies of correct revolutionary thought. Those enemies are subjectivism, sectarianism, stereotypes. The importance of these writings cannot be over-exaggerated. They are in our opinion without question the very highest development of Marxism-Leninism on these matters. They carry into the actual practice of the revolutionary movement basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and develop them. To us in Australia, the recurrence of the word “study” in their titles might suggest that they are concerned with academic study. This is not so. They are not. They are concerned with study, investigation of reality and what to do about it. Only strict adherence to their principles (and they are very shortly and clearly stated) can overcome the errors of the past and show the way ahead.

In previous pages we have referred to the question of the united front. This was conceived of as some sort of formal agreement between the labour party and the Communist Party. It became a complete stereotype. This misunderstanding was again an error of subjectivism. The real question involved is mass work – how to win the masses to struggle to overthrow capitalism, how to be with the masses. The united front basically means the accumulation of large numbers of friends around the Communist Party, it means relying on the masses. It is completely opposed to the left blocism (closed doorism as the Chinese call it) of the past. In explaining that united front tactics and closed-door tactics are diametrically opposed Mao Tse-tung said: “The former requires the recruiting of large forces for the purpose of surrounding and annihilating the enemy.

The latter means fighting single handed in desperate combat against a formidable enemy. (On tactics against Japanese Imperialism, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 162.)

Accordingly in Australia we must vigorously combat the errors of trade unionism and parliamentarism. Failure to see them as bourgeois weapons is the product of subjectivism, sectarianism and worship of sacred cows (stereotypes). We must build up the revolutionary thought of Mao Tse-tung, the highest development of Marxism-Leninism. Mao Tse-tung summed up the experience of the Chinese revolution in inspiring terms. He said: “A well disciplined Party armed with the theory of Marxism-Leninism, using the method of self-criticism and linked with the masses of the people; an army under the leadership of such a Party; a united front of all revolutionary classes and all revolutionary groups under the leadership of such a Party – these are the three main weapons with which we have defeated the enemy” (“On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship” Selected Works, Vol. IV, 422).