Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E. F. Hill

Looking Backward: Looking Forward


To turn to another aspect of the development of the former Communist Party of Australia. We have said that after the 1890 Maritime Strike the idea of the trade unions being represented in parliament received great impetus and the Australian labor party emerged as a parliamentary party. The conception arose of an industrial wing of the workingclass movement constituted by the trade unions and a political wing constituted by the parliamentary party and the apparatus to support it, i.e. A.L.P. branches organised on an electoral basis. In the development as it actually occurred, the former Communist Party of Australia in fact closely paralleled this process.

In its early formative years, it had no strong positions in the trade unions and no appreciable apparatus for parliamentary elections. Nonetheless it was a great force in Australia because primarily it acted as a crystallising focus for the powerful upsurge of revolutionary ideas released by the Russian Revolution, because of its courageous and persistent popularisation of the victories achieved in the building of socialism in the U.S.S.R., and because it initiated and participated in important mass campaigns of the workingclass. In the years of the great economic crisis following 1929, it made great progress because of its focus for revolutionary ideas, its continued popularisation of the achievements of socialism in the U.S.S.R. (where it was clear there were no conditions of economic crisis) and, of extreme importance, the patent failure of the Australian labor party in the conditions of economic crisis to discharge any of the tasks of a workingclass party and, on the contrary, its clear demonstration that it was a party of capitalism. With that went a corresponding exposure of the reformist (A.L.P.) orthodox trade union leaders. In those circumstances, the workers turned to the former Communist Party. Its mass support grew immensely and, as we have pointed out, its members over a period of years were elected to many leading trade union positions. We have traced something of the rise and fall of that process.

Let us make a few comments on the parliamentary position. As the mass support of the former Communist Party grew, so the idea of actual Communist representation in parliament grew. Lenin had advanced the theoretical and tactical basis of this particularly in his classic work “Left-Wing Communism.” In the years of economic crisis, and even more so in the years of the victories of the Soviet Army, Communist parliamentary candidates secured quite appreciable electoral votes and in the State of Queensland, a Communist was elected to parliament.

Because of the weakness of Marxism-Leninism, because of the pressure in Australian conditions of trade union politics, and because of other bourgeois influences, the former Communist Party of Australia ended up taking an almost similar course to that of the labor party. It had two main preoccupations, namely (1) the trade unions, and (2) the parliamentary elections. In fact, its organisation and policy developed to fit into that, to give expression to it. Thus it developed with what is virtually an industrial wing and a political wing; the trade unionists on the one hand, and on the other, those devoted to the political struggle as it was conceived – running of parliamentary campaigns and participation in various mass campaigns which have also a parliamentary emphasis. As we have seen with the rise to leading positions in the trade unions, Communist organisation in the factories largely collapsed as effective bodies because they were conditioned and bounded by trade union considerations, trade union politics.

Locality Communist Party branches established to coincide roughly with parliamentary boundaries became an important form of organisation just as with the A.L.P. Though these local branches did conduct activity from time to time on municipal questions, education or kindergarten facilities and on international questions of war and peace, the maximum activity was generated at the time of a parliamentary election. The parliamentary illusion interfered with the adoption of correct tactics. Hence this activity is conditioned by money raising and selling of the Party press. These things in themselves are necessary and laudable enough and the activity is devotedly carried on by sincere and honest people. But it is a soul destroying process to subordinate activity to parliamentarism because it is directed to a completely blind alley – it has no possible conceivable hope of success and it is a denial of Marxism-Leninism. It suits the ruling class. It fits in with bourgeois policy and it accommodates the Communist Party to capitalism as an aspiring parliamentary party.

Just as we started with first principles in discussing the question of trade union politics and their relation to Marx-ism-Leninism, so we must start with first principles in relation to parliament. Marxism-Leninism takes the view, derived from an examination of history, of practice, that parliament is a specific historical device, institution, of the capitalist class to maintain the rule of capital. It is that and nothing else, and every single parliament in Australia serves that purpose. Australia is no exception.

All Australian experience shows that parliament has served at all times and in all conditions the capitalist class. Before we turn to quote from the classics of Marxism-Leninism, let us say that experience in Australia amply confirms Marx, Engels and Lenin in their analysis of parliament. In the case of the one Communist ever elected to parliament in the Queensland parliament, the electoral laws were amended to ensure that he would be excluded. That is not to contradict at all our previous statement that it suits the ruling class to accept the Communist Party’s portrayal of itself as an aspiring parliamentary party, but it does not necessarily suit them to have the Communists actually in parliament (although that too may come.) It does not suit them because the very name Communism and the very existence of a Communist Party striving for Marxism-Lenin-ism carries with it potential threat. In fact, the amendment of electoral boundaries to exclude Communists occurred in France to reduce radically the French Communist Party’s parliamentary representation. In the Indian state of Kerala, a Communist government which enacted only mild reform and was elected within the parliament was displaced by the ruling class. In San Marino, a tiny republic in Europe, the ruling class refused to tolerate a Communist-led government, even though that government did not in any way interfere with capitalism.

Thus, when Marx spoke of parliament as a specific institution of the capitalist class, he spoke of something which his examination then showed to be true and which has been amply confirmed and substantiated by all subsequent history, including Australian history.

When Marx said that a parliamentary election gave the people the opportunity to decide once every few years which member of the ruling class would misrepresent them in parliament, he did not make a colorful emotional statement, but he made a scientifically accurate statement which is borne out absolutely by all Australian experience.

Lenin summed this all up in State and Revolution when, in speaking of the Paris Commune, he said:

The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time. . . “Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for the workmen and managers in his business.

Thanks to the prevalence of social-chauvinism and opportunism, this remarkable criticism of parliamentarism made in 1871 also belongs now to the ’forgotten words’ of Marxism. The Cabinet Ministers and professional parliamentarians, the traitors to the proletariat and the ’practical’ Socialists of our day have left all criticism of parliamentarism to the anarchists, and, on this wonderfully intelligent ground, they denounce all criticism of parliamentarism as ’anarchism’!! It is not surprising that the proletariat of the ’advanced’ parliamentary countries, disgusted with such ’Socialists’ as Messrs. Scheidemann, David, Legien, Sembat, Renaudel, Henderson, Vandervelde, Stauning, Branting, Bissolati and Co. (all reformist leaders akin to the A.L.P. leaders), has been more and more often giving its sympathies to anarcho-syndicalism, in spite of the fact that the latter is but the twin brother of opportunism.

But for Marx, revolutionary dialectics was never the empty fashionable phrase, the toy rattle, which Plekhanov, Kautsky and the others made of it. Marx knew how to break with anarchism ruthlessly for its inability to make use even of the ’pig-sty’ of bourgeois parliamentarism, especially at a time when the situation was obviously not revolutionary; but at the same time he knew how to subject parliamentarism to genuine revolutionary proletarian criticism.

To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to misrepresent the people in parliament is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics.

But since we are discussing the question of the state, and if parliamentarism is to be regarded as one of the institutions of the state from the point of view of the tasks of the proletariat in this field, what is the way out of parliamentarism? How can it be dispensed with?

Again and again we must repeat: the lessons of Marx, based on the study of the Commune, have been so completely forgotten that any criticism of parliamentarism, other than anarchist or reactionary criticism, is quite unintelligible to the present-day ’Social Democrat’ (read present-day traitor to socialism).

The way out of parliamentarism is not, of course, the abolition of the representative institutions and the electoral principle, but the conversion of the representative institutions from mere ’talking shops’ into working bodies.

’The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.’

’A working, not a parliamentary body’ – this hits the nail on the head in regard to the present-day parliamentarians and the parliamentary ’lap dogs’ of Social Democracy! Take any parliamentary country, from America to Switzerland, from France to England, Norway and so forth – in these countries the actual work of the ’state’ is done behind the scenes and is carried on by the departments, the government offices and the General Staffs. Parliament itself is given up to talk for the special purpose of fooling the ’common people.’ This is so true that even in the Russian republic, a bourgeois-democratic republic, all these sins of parliamentarism were immediately revealed, even before a real parliament was created. The heroes of rotten philistinism, such as the Skobelevs and the Tseretellis, the Chernovs and Avksentyevs, have managed to pollute even the Soviets with the pollution of disgusting bourgeois parliamentarism and to convert them into mere talking shops. In the Soviets, the Right Honourable ’Socialist’ Ministers are fooling the confiding peasants with phrasemongering and resolutions. In the government itself a sort of permanent quadrille is going on in order that, on the one hand, as many Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks as possible may get near the ’pie,’ the lucrative and honourable posts, and that, on the other hand, the ’attention of the people’ may be engaged. Meanwhile, the real ’state’ business is being done in the government offices, in the General Staff. (Lenin: em>Selected Works, 12 Vol. Edn., Vol. 7, pp. 43-45).

Thus the primary job of Communists is to tear the mask from this parliamentary deception, to explain to the workers, to the working people by concrete examination of their own experience of parliament right here in Australia, that it is nothing but deception. Lenin wrote for the workers and working people. He wrote for the Communists to arm them with revolutionary theory, and an essential part of that theory is this examination of the role of parliament and its exposure by experience and by propaganda and agitation as an institution of the ruling class. It is absolutely essential that all Communists carry out that exposure.

Part of it lies in working within parliament itself or where it is possible getting Communists elected so that from within the parliament they can expose the more effectively its very nature as an institution of the ruling class. Participation in an election by a Communist is primarily to expose parliament as an institution of the ruling class to deceive the people and thereby maintain the rule of capital. Lenin spoke of all this in Left Wing Communism:

. . . the Communist Parties must issue their slogans; real proletarians with the help of the unorganised and very poorest people, should scatter and distribute leaflets, canvass the workers’ houses and the cottages of the rural proletarians and peasants in the remote villages (fortunately there are not nearly so many remote villages in Europe as there are in Russia, and in England there are very few), they should go into the public houses, penetrate into the unions, societies and casual meetings where the common people gather and talk to the people, not in scientific (and not very parliamentary) language, not in the least to strive to ’get seats’ in parliament, but everywhere to rouse the thoughts of the masses and draw them into the struggle, to take the bourgeoisie at their word, to utilise the apparatus they have set up, the elections they have called for, the appeal to the country that they have made, and to tell the people what Bolshevism is in a way that has not been possible (under bourgeois rule) outside of election times (not counting, of course, times of big strikes, when in Russia a similar apparatus for widespread popular agitation worked even more intensively). It is very difficult to do this in Western Europe and America – very, very difficult – but it can and must be done, because generally speaking the tasks of Communism cannot be fulfilled without effort, and every effort must be made to fulfil the practical tasks, ever more varied, ever more connected with all branches of social life, winning branch after branch from the bourgeoisie. (Lenin: em>Selected Works, 12 Vol. Edn., Vol. 10, pp. 141-142).

Hence to have a Communist Party with its main preoccupation in parliamentary elections and putting forward candidates in the sense of their being elected to carry out a given policy, including the change to socialism, is in fact a contradiction of Marxism-Leninism. In the practice of the former Communist Party of Australia this error, the natural expression of the politics and ideology of which we have spoken before, has had a profound influence with many implications.

It is of course an essential part of the concept of the peaceful transition to socialism to which also the former Communist Party of Australia has become subordinated. This is the natural result of ideological and political factors examined before, together with other factors which it is not the present purpose to examine. The founders of Communism said many times that the Communists always desire peaceful change to socialism, but an examination of the facts of history shows that the capitalists always resist with force and violence any real threat to their system. The capitalist system itself is based on force and violence. To limit the perspective of the workingclass and working people in advance to peaceful change is to deny the facts of history. It is to say in effect that the facts of history are not facts at all. To go on and choose parliament as the institution through which the change to socialism will be achieved is to say we will use an institution of capitalism to destroy capitalism itself. If it were not tragic, it would be laughable. In any event, why choose parliament in preference to some other institution of capitalism? Why not choose the law courts or the governor-generalship, or the army, or the civil service? The choice is made because the former Communist Party of Australia has fallen victim to the very illusion cultivated by the capitalist class, namely that parliament is a people’s institution where the people really decide and really can make their own measures and that everything else, including capitalism itself and the social laws of capitalism, is subject to the supreme legislative power of parliament. The exact reverse of this is true. Parliament is the product of capitalism. The supreme legislative power of parliament is itself a bourgeois concept, part of bourgeois ideology, part of bourgeois legal doctrine.

Those who give this guarantee to the ruling class guarantee in advance that they will do all in their power to maintain the rule of capital, the permanence of capitalism and its institutions. History has shown throughout, including recent history, that the capitalist class has no intention whatever of ever allowing parliament to be used to abolish capitalism. The ruling class cannot even take the risk of allowing too many Communists even of the type of the former Communist Party of Australia to be in parliament or to get too many votes, because capitalism is in a precarious condition. The very word Communism (even though the capitalists be sure of the safety of some who use the name Communism) is full of menace in a world where capitalism is collapsing and where the workers at all times are in danger of throwing off illusions about the former Communists.

But the position of the former Communist Party of Australia requires still more concrete analysis. Up until 1962, an uneasy situation prevailed about this concept of the peaceful parliamentary path to socialism. Sometimes it was brought forward. Sometimes it receded into the background. For example, in 1959, and on the eve of the 81 Parties Conference in 1960 (the world conference of Communist Parties), the Political Committee of the former Communist Party resolved that to put the main emphasis on it was wrong. On the other hand, immediately following the 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U. in 1956, it was emphasised. One can say that there was confusion about the matter. In other words, what had characterised the former Communist Party throughout its history revealed itself on this the most critical of questions for all Marxist-Leninists, namely, weakness in Marxism-Leninism and the continuous clash between the genuine striving to Marxism-Leninism (manifested by the receding of such an idea into the background) and the pressure towards trade union politics, reformist politics (manifested by that idea being brought into the foreground).