It comes to this: in late years the former Communist Party of Australia embarked upon a path which in the end in Lenin’s terms “took the line of least resistance.” It bowed to the bourgeois ideology spontaneously generated by the trade unions, laying the basis for the penetration of other bourgeois ideas, all of which acted and reacted upon each other so that it ended up as no more than a party seeking to legislate through parliament for socialism and uniting with the Australian labor party for that purpose.
In the period of the ’thirties the organisation of the Communist Party was greatly extended, but it was never closely knit because the ideology and politics were never correctly developed. It flowed from that that correct organisational forms were not fully worked out. The expansion of organisation and members finally came to be seen only in terms of the trade unions and parliamentary elections.
What Lenin said in “What is to be Done” will bear repetition again:
For the secretary of any, say English, trade union always helps the workers to carry on the economic struggle, he helps them to expose factory abuses, explains the injustice of the laws and of measures that hamper the freedom to strike and to picket (i.e. to warn all and sundry that a strike is proceeding at a certain factory), explains the partiality of arbitration court judges who belong to the bourgeois classes, etc., etc. In a word, every trade union secretary conducts and helps to conduct ’the economic struggle against the employers and the government.’ It cannot be too strongly maintained that this is still not Social Democracy (read Communism), that the Social Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all of these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and every one the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.
We cannot deal fully with these questions now. We have been concerned with two trends – trade unionism and parliamentarism. Suffice it to say that both of these questions, trade unions and parliamentary elections, are a vital part of the politics of Marxism-Leninism, but they are only a part. They are subordinate to Marxism-Leninism and not its masters. Life is far more extensive and complicated than the trade unions or parliamentary elections.
In 1913, Lenin wrote on the Australian labor party. His article was a brilliant characterisation of the situation in Australia and although it will make a lengthy quotation we set it out in full:
The parliamentary elections took place in Australia recently. The Labor Party, which had the majority in the Lower House, having 44 seats out of 75, suffered defeat. Now it only has 36 seats out of 75. The majority has passed to the liberals, but this majority is very unstable, because in the upper house, 30 out of 36 seats are occupied by Labor.
What a peculiar capitalist country is this in which Labor predominates in the Upper House and recently predominated in the Lower House and yet the capitalist system does not suffer any danger! An English correspondent of a German Labor newspaper recently explained this circumstance, which is very often misrepresented by bourgeois writers.
The Australian Labor Party does not even claim to be a socialist party. As a matter of fact it is a liberal-bourgeois party, and the so-called liberals in Australia are really Conservatives.
This strange and incorrect use of terms in naming parties is not unique. In America, for example, the slave owners of yesterday are called Democrats, and in France, the petty bourgeois anti-socialists are called ’Radical Socialists.’ In order to understand the real significance of parties one must examine, not their labels, but their class character and the historical conditions of each separate country.
Australia is a young British colony.
Capitalism in Australia is still quite young. The country is only just beginning to take shape as an independent state. The workers, for the most part, are emigrants from England. They left England at the time when liberal-labor politics held almost unchallenged sway there and when the masses of the English workers were Liberals. Even up till now the majority of the skilled factory workers in England are Liberals and semi-Liberals. This is the result of the exceptionally favourable, monopolist position England occupied in the second half of the last century. Only now are the masses of the workers in England beginning (slowly) to turn towards Socialism.
And while in England the so-called ’Labor Party’ represents an alliance between the socialist trade unions and the extreme opportunist Independent Labor Party, in Australia, the Labor Party represents purely the non-socialist trade unionist workers.
The leaders of the Australian Labor Party are trade union officials, an element which everywhere represents a most moderate and ’capital serving’ element, and in Australia it is altogether peaceful, and purely liberal.
The ties between the separate States of Australia in united Australia are still very weak. The Labor Party has to concern itself with developing and strengthening the country and with creating a central government.
In Australia the labor party has done what in other countries was done by the Liberals, namely, introduced a uniform customs tariff for the whole country, a uniform Education Act, a uniform Land Tax and uniform Factory Acts. (This is not quite accurate; there are not even yet uniform Education or Land Tax Acts.)
Naturally, when Australia is finally developed and consolidated as an independent capitalist state the conditions of the workers will change, as also will the Liberal Labor Party which will make way for a Socialist Labor Party. Australia serves to illustrate the conditions under which exceptions to the rule are possible. The rule is: a socialist Labor Party in a capitalist country. The exception: a liberal Labor Party which arises only for a short time as a result of conditions that are abnormal for capitalism.
Those Liberals in Europe and in Russia who try to ’preach’ to the people that class war is unnecessary by pointing to the example of Australia, only deceive themselves and others. It is ridiculous to think of applying Australian conditions (an undeveloped, young country, populated by Liberal English workers) to countries in which a state and capitalism have long been established.
Lenin said that the non-socialist labor party would give birth to a socialist labor party. The former Communist Party of Australia was born as a socialist labor party in 1920 but in its relative infancy in 1962 its leadership was usurped by the revisionist Aarons clique. The task now is to continue the work for a genuine Marxist-Leninist Party.
If the workers are to advance and develop a genuine Marxist-Leninist Party, it is of the utmost importance to dispose of the legacy of the past, to settle accounts with the past, to understand what went wrong. As we have spent so much time on the trade unions and on parliamentary elections, it is necessary to add a little more in the effort to put them in their correct perspective.
Both of these questions are indeed fundamentally important in considering any question of socialism in Australia. What the Marxist-Leninists must do is to understand them correctly, win the advanced workers for an understanding of them, and put forward correct concepts for all the toiling people.
One very clear revelation of what this has meant to the revolutionary movement in Australia has been the great weakness in developing an agrarian struggle, the alliance of the workers and toiling farmers. This is but a reflection of the shortcomings of trade union politics, non Marxist-Leninist politics.
In fact, the Australian workers historically in big numbers as we have demonstrated have turned to Communism. They have done this in the economic crisis of the 1930’s and in the war period. We have demonstrated how the former Communist Party has finally failed them and dissipated the workers’ support. Indeed one can say it has actually strengthened the position of the A.L.P. for, as we have pointed out, it withdrew all criticism of the A.L.P. and offered it support even where it repudiated that support. Yet it will be answered, “Well, what was the correct thing to do?”
Given the 42 years of its existence before it collapsed as a Communist Party in 1962, had the Communist Party devoted itself to cultivating deep going Marxist-Leninist ideology, i.e. ideology selflessly devoted to the interests of the working class, imbued with the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, cultivating it in its members, indulged in criticism and self criticism in a fully sympathetic and understanding way to correct errors and eliminate bourgeois ideology, then Communism would have greatly developed. That was not done sufficiently energetically or correctly. But it did result in the development of Marxism-Leninism, which is being carried on by the Communist Party of Australia (M.L.). That party is carrying forward the task of building an organisation capable of operating in all conditions and not being led astray to expose itself and all its members to the secret police because of the conditions of legality. That party is consolidating Marxism-Leninism ideologically, politically and organisationally. The masses of Australian workers and working people have developed enormously in political maturity. Before it finally turned revisionist the former Communist Party played a big part in that development.