We propose to examine some sides of the history of the last 20-odd years of the slogans “Elect a Labor Government” and “Elect Communists” put forward by the former Communist Party, and the light they reveal on its politics, ideology and its organisation.
First let us look at the concept “Elect Communists.” We commence by saying that that slogan, put forward as it has been put in the context of the peaceful transition to socialism, means saying elect Communists to parliament so that the Communists can legislate for Communism through the institution of capitalism, parliament, supported by a big mass movement outside parliament. We say that is an impossibility and in complete conflict with all that Marxism-Leninism teaches. Yes, we will be told by the former Communist leaders that in his time Marx conceived that this could occur in Britain, but they conceal what Lenin had to say on this matter when he challenged the interpretation that Marx emphasised the idea of gradual development in contradistinction to the seizure of power and so on:
As a matter of fact, exactly the opposite is the case. Marx’s idea is that the workingclass must break up, smash the ’ready-made state machinery’ and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.
On April 12, 1871, i.e. just at the time of the Commune, Marx wrote to Kugelmann:
If you look at the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire, you will find that I say that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it (Marx’s italics), and this is essential for every real people’s revolution on the Continent.
And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting.
The words, ’to smash the bureaucratic-military state machine,’ briefly express the principal lesson of Marxism on the tasks of the proletariat in relation to the state during a revolution. And it is precisely this lesson that has been not only completely forgotten, but positively distorted, in the prevailing Kautskyan ’interpretation’ of Marxism.
As for Marx’s reference to The Eighteenth Brumaire, we quoted the corresponding passage in full above.
It is interesting to note two particular points in the above quoted passage in Marx’s argument. First, he confines his conclusions to the Continent. This was natural in 1871, when England was still the model of a purely capitalist country, but without militarism and, to a considerable degree, without a bureaucracy. Hence, Marx excluded England, where a revolution, even a people’s revolution, could be conceived of, and was then possible, without the condition of first destroying the ’ready-made state machinery.’
Today, in 1917, in the epoch of the first great imperialist war, Marx’s exception is no longer valid. Both England and America, the greatest and last representatives of Anglo-Saxon ’liberty’ in the sense that militarism and bureaucracy are absent, have today plunged headlong into the all-European, filthy, bloody morass of bureaucratic-military institutions to which everything is subordinated and which tramples everything under foot. Today, both in England and America, the ’essential’ thing for ’every real people’s revolution’ is the smashing, the destruction of the ’ready-made state machinery’ (brought, in those countries, between 1914 and 1917, to general ’European’ imperialist perfection.) (Lenin: em>Selected Works, 12 Vol. Edn., Vol. 7, pp. 36-37).
Since Lenin published that in 1917 has the position reverted to what it was in Marx’s day? On the contrary, the standing army, the whole repressive State apparatus, has been greatly strengthened, thus indeed further substantiating all that Lenin said. In Australia the secret police have been developed and extended, the standing army strengthened, repressive legislation greatly extended, the whole State apparatus strengthened, etc.
The slogan “Elect Communists” moreover has been put forward in conditions where it is known in advance to any even casual observer of the facts that no Communist would be elected or stood the remotest chance of being elected to parliament. What then does it mean? It means first of all misrepresenting to the masses that a Communist can be elected. It means in the circumstances in which it is put forward that parliament is the correct place to achieve the whole programme of the Communist Party. This involves perpetuating, strengthening, the illusions in parliament, for if the Communists put forward such a slogan then the workers influenced by the Communist Party must conclude, can only conclude, that parliament is a desirable institution and not an institution for the express purpose of assisting in perpetuating their exploitation.
If the objective conditions in a given election opened real possibilities of electing Communists it would be quite correct and indeed obligatory for Communists to stand and be elected to parliament in order to assist in the exposure of parliament itself. This is so because it is necessary to convince the workers that parliament has “become historically obsolete.” Although it is clear to Marxist-Leninists that it is historically obsolete, it is not yet clear to the masses and Marxist-Leninists in parliament can assist in making it clear. It follows, to paraphrase and then quote Lenin, that parliament is not yet politically obsolete “and that participation in parliamentary elections and in the struggle in parliament is obligatory for the Party of the revolutionary proletariat, precisely for the purpose of educating the backward strata of Us own class, precisely for the purpose of awakening and enlightening the undeveloped, down trodden, ignorant peasant masses. As long as you are unable to disperse the bourgeois parliament and every other type of reactionary institution, you must work inside them, precisely because in them there are still workers who are stupefied by the priests and by the desolateness of village life; otherwise you run the risk of becoming mere babblers.” (Lenin: “Left Wing Communism,” Little Lenin ed., pp. 41-42).
That participation is directed to lifting up the movement ultimately to remove parliament altogether. Speaking of Russian experience Lenin said: “The conclusion which follows from this is absolutely incontrovertible; it has been proved that participation in a bourgeois democratic parliament even a few weeks before the victory of a Soviet Republic, and even after that victory, not only does not harm the revolutionary proletariat but actually makes it easier for it to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments deserve to be dissolved, facilitates their dissolution, and facilitates the process whereby bourgeois parliamentarism becomes ’politically obsolete.’” (Lenin: “Left Wing Communism,” Little Lenin ed., p. 43).
In giving this advice it is well to remember Lenin’s further advice to the Communists: “You must not sink to the level of the masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class. That is incontestable. You must tell them the bitter truth. You must call their bourgeois democratic and parliamentary prejudices – prejudices. But, at the same time, you must soberly observe the actual state of class consciousness and preparedness of the whole class (not only of the Communist vanguard) of all the toiling masses (not only of its advanced elements).”
What then is the now fully developed error of the former Communist Party? Its error is that it starts from precisely the opposite standpoint to that of Lenin. It starts from the standpoint of approval and maintenance of parliament whereas Lenin starts from the standpoint of rejection and ending of parliament. It starts from the standpoint of electing Communists to carry out a given programme of reforms within the system of capitalism and then going on to socialism, whereas Lenin starts from the standpoint of exposing parliament itself as an institution designed for the very purpose of maintaining capitalism. There is the world of difference between these views.
But the position of the former Communist Party could not be clearer. For the concept of electing Communists is part of its reconciliation with the ideology, politics and organisation of the Australian labor party. As we pointed out in connection with the trade unions, the former Communist Party sees the socialist objective of the A.L.P. and its own socialist objective as constituting the underlying basis of socialist unity. In this regard, its idea is unity of the former Communist Party with the Australian labor party. In essence the former Communist Party is corning to be at one with the Australian labor party even as to the stated form of method, i.e. through parliament. Though stated in more radical terms the programme of the former Communist Party of Australia does not really depart from the traditional standpoint of reformist parties.
In reality when the former Communist Party raises the dual slogans of “Elect Communists” and “Return a Labor Government” it is saying – we know that the labor party already has a strong electoral following and is certain to continue to have substantial electoral following and representation; it has a programme of reform and a programme of socialism to be achieved through parliament. We know that we the Communists have little electoral support, but we will nonetheless seek to elect Communists who will support the reforms of the A.L.P. and the introduction of socialism, because we too have a programme of legislating for socialism through parliament.
Hence the peaceful transition to socialism turns out to be adoption of the labor party with its affiliated unions as the vehicle for socialism supported and, if you like, pushed by the former Communist Party. There can be no middle road. Such an approach is pure and simple reformism, revisionism, a complete travesty of all that Lenin taught on the nature of reformism, of the A.L.P. itself, of the state and of the very question of parliament. Proof beyond any question of the truth of our statement is to be found in Mr. Aarons’ booklet “Labor Movement at the Crossroads” (1964). In that booklet, Mr. Aarons conceals the reality of the labor party in all its anti-workingclass actions, in all the exceedingly rich history of social democracy subjected to such searching analysis and brilliant elucidation by Lenin, in favor of putting forward all the relatively few statements of the 1964 leader of the A.L.P., Calwell, which in words approach a progressive standpoint.
He left out every single reactionary statement made by Mr. Calwell, of which there are thousands: left out the fact that Mr. Calwell was a participant in the Chifley government, whose record we have commented on.
But everyone knows that words and reality are two entirely different things. An ounce of reality, the concrete study of concrete things, is worth a million words. A concrete study of Mr. Calwell’s concrete reality would quickly show just where he has stood and stands. At this very moment he stands for the subordination of Australia to U.S. imperialism. Everyone with an ounce of Marxism-Leninism knows that it is precisely in the capacity to deceive the workers and toiling people with words that the danger of the social democrats including the A.L.P. lies. Under a mass of promises and words they conceal their real role as the servants of capital. Mr. Aarons’ booklet is a brilliant substantiation and illustration of what we have said, for it not only does what we have said it does, but in no single place does it ever go beyond the confines of parliament in putting forward the solution of the problems of capitalism or the transition to socialism. It proceeds on the assumption that parliament is the institution. Mr. Aarons reveals clearly where his revisionist clique has ended up. It has ended up seeking reconciliation with the A.L.P. to legislate for socialism through parliament.
As Lenin said, and history has proved, that is betrayal of the workingclass. In present-day conditions it is reconciliation of the former Communist Party with the pro-U.S. imperialist policy of the A.L.P. (Mr. Aarons’ pamphlet should be studied far and wide because it is the best possible teacher by negative example.)
If the former Communist Party has that standpoint, it follows that its organisation will be designed to achieve either parliamentary representation or more gingering up of the Australian labor party. That is what has happened. Its apparatus is subordinated to this, is conditioned by it, its newspapers likewise, its trade union position and in practice its subordination of all other forms of mass work to the parliamentary struggle, through electing Communists and supporting the A.L.P.
The bourgeoisie continually seeks to foster the idea that the only politics are parliamentary politics. This is in reality the sheerest nonsense. Parliamentary politics are deception: they are the form and not the substance of politics. Accepting this form as the substance is a very serious mistake indeed.
Of course, too, the workers who are misled by the A.L.P. are of vital importance to the Communists. The Communists are above all concerned to win the workers for Communism. They must take full account of the influence of the A.L.P. on many workers. Patient, hard work is required. The workers are turning away from the A.L.P.; they will increasingly turn away. Divisions appear in the A.L.P. The lower officials revolt against the leaders. Unity with the workers, assistance to the lower officials are vitally important tasks of the Communists. The A.L.P. is not a homogeneous body. Its hold on the workers must diminish. Correct Communist mass work will ensure the workers get correct leadership. As we have said, the study of contradictions is vital.
It is not true to say that the former Communist Party has become concerned only with trade union politics and parliamentary elections because of course it maintains an interest in pacificism and various other activities. It is completely true to say however that its predominant concern is with trade union politics and parliamentary elections subordinate to the A.L.P.
Moreover, the correct or partially correct Marxist-Leninist approach in the history of the Communist movement in Australia meant that the Communists in fact over the years since 1920 inspired and led many, many mass movements of great importance. It is these splendid traditions of genuine Communist devotion to the workingclass that the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) inherits and carries on.
The wrong work of the revisionists results in fact in real sectarianism, that is, the reduction of the former Communist Party into a sect in the true sense of the term, isolated from the masses and revolving in an ever-narrower circle. Let us just make this comment: if you are raising the slogan of “Elect Communists” and conditioning your work on this slogan in objective conditions where it has no earthly hope of realisation, you are frustrating your members and deceiving the workers. Most workers realise rapidly that it is a fantasy and therefore regard its exponents as fantastic people. Moreover, as capitalism has succeeded in using this very error of the former Communist Party to identify the Communists and its supporters for future victimisation if need be, and as capitalism has a highly developed system of victimisation of Communists, it uses this mistake to improve its lists of workers for future victimisation. Thus the worker who may indeed readily turn to Communism if a less crude approach is adopted, is going to turn away from those who wantonly expose him to victimisation, particularly when he knows full well that his victimisation is not going to serve the cause for which he stands. There are many far more effective ways of winning adherents to Communism. The test of these things however is practice. Practice has proved that the former Communist Party leadership has created the conditions where its members revolve in an ever-narrowing sect knowing few beyond that sect, thus denying mass work in its true sense and in the sense Lenin explained in “Left Wing Communism.” It is a sect unfortunately harnessed to an impossible and utterly wrong idea of electing Communists and returning a labor government and legislating for socialism.
This is extremely dangerous nonsense which can gain nothing for the workers. It can only deceive them and in the process readily expose them to reprisals from the capitalist class. Moreover it is utter deception of the workingclass and toiling people. It has really nothing at all in common with Communism, Marxism-Leninism. Marxism-Leninism is scientific. It must face the problems of Australia’s path to socialism, ideologically, politically and organizationally.