Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E. F. Hill

Looking Backward: Looking Forward


The development of capitalism, and with it the working-class, was inexorable. World War I saw an enormous development of industry (e.g. the establishment in 1915 of an iron and steel industry) and a concentration and centralisation of capital in Australia. Likewise it saw a great development of trade unionism.

The High Court accorded with the new position of the Commonwealth as a central governmental authority which was much more powerful after World War I by reason of the changes just mentioned. High Court decisions of 1920 expressed a new legal doctrine which reflected the new power of the Commonwealth Government.

Now what of the politics and demands of the trade unions? After 1890, the demands of the trade unions continued to be demands within the framework of capitalism made on the employer and the capitalist states. The trade unions’ parliamentary activity was largely lobbying with members of the parliamentary parties. The movement towards parliamentary representation through what became the Australian labor party was greatly intensified.

At no stage did the demands go beyond reforms to be achieved within capitalism. Of course, the capitalists fought bitterly to make the minimum concessions. They vigorously resisted strikes and poured forth abuse and warnings of disaster if this or that gain were made by the workers. Thus one may say that until the end of World War I very little had been done in Australia, except in very primitive ways, to change the situation created by what is a law of capitalism: namely, that the workers by themselves can never generate anything more than trade union consciousness (based upon an acceptance of capitalism). However, the idea had been implanted in the workingclass, and developed, of seeking parliamentary representation.

This itself was an important development for it reflected, even though in a primitive and confused form, a recognition of the class oppression of the capitalist state machine. Essentially however it never went beyond the confines of capitalism. It was a certain historical step forward but contained within itself its own dangers. If the workers devoted their attention exclusively to demands that accepted capitalism as permanent, and accepted capitalist institutions as the means to realise those demands, then there were the means for their continual enslavement. They could never get beyond capitalism.

To carry the argument further, if they were to accept parliament as the institution to carry through the reforms, then they were perpetuating the illusion that parliament is a democratic institution to carry out the will of the people rather than what it really is. Parliament is an instrument for the deception of the people and provides them with what Marx said was the opportunity to choose once every few years “which member of the ruling class will misrepresent the people in parliament.” The more far-sighted capitalists and their theoreticians, though they may have resisted this or that demand, could see advantages in this very development. From their standpoint, what had happened? The workingclass had developed trade unions: this had proved impossible to prevent; hence what to do – make the best of it – resist what you can – concede what you are compelled to concede and as to parliament, well after all, so long as we own the parliament, as we do, it does no harm to allow the workingclass at least to appear to be represented: it can even be a great advantage because it spreads illusions that parliament is not really our institution but is really a people’s institution. The educated representatives of the propertied classes who emerged to perpetuate capitalism, to advance ideas in defence of capitalism, were not slow to see this and not slow to develop “labour” theoreticians to expound appropriate ideas amongst the workingclass.

Therefore, like all other workingclasses, the Australian workingclass by its own efforts developed only trade union consciousness. Moreover, it was a workingclass largely immigrant in origin, composed of English migrants. As late as 1913, Lenin said:

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 labour 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.” (Lenin: “In Australia.”)

With the assistance of ideas from the outside (that is, from the ruling class), the Australian workingclass developed a parliamentary party to give expression to trade union politics. Therefore the labor party was born as a capitalist party and it served capitalist interests extending beyond the mere trade union demands of many of its founders. The workingclass by its own consciousness could not and did not demand a political party which went beyond expressing trade union demands. Thus in Australia in the birth of the trade unions and the birth of the A.L.P., there was always an acceptance of bourgeois ideology, bourgeois politics. Historically it could not be otherwise. To repeat, the A.L.P. was born as a party of capitalism accepting all aspects of capitalism but demanding reforms within capitalism and using capitalist institutions to achieve those very reforms. The question simply never arose of ending capitalism. If there was an acceptance of this position, i.e. trade union demands, then that position was necessarily self-perpetuating. Practically no effort was made to attain scientific socialist consciousness and necessarily the politics which emerged must have been bourgeois politics.

Let us quote again from Lenin: “Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the workingclasses themselves in the process of their movement the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ’third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above class ideology). Hence to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the workingclass movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology ... for the spontaneous workingclass movement is trade unionism . . . and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social Democracy (read Communism or Marxism-Leninism) is to combat spontaneity, to diver the workingclass movement from this spontaneous, trade unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy” (read Communism or Marxism-Leninism) (Lenin: What is to be Done).

Thus the development of the Australian workers has resulted in a position where they had enslaved themselves to the bourgeoisie and this had become very strongly entrenched.

In 1917, the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin of revolutionary scientific socialism received a tremendous world impetus from the victory of the revolutionary Russian workers in establishing their own state power.

Throughout the imperialist war of 1914-18, the workers in the capitalist countries including Australia had become increasingly dissatisfied and increasingly restive. In 1917, a general strike, for example, occurred in N.S.W., sparked off by a system of speed-up in the N.S.W. railways. Such was the unrest amongst the workers that before long thousands were involved. Again all the limitations of trade union politics operated: no challenge to capitalism: simply rectify our grievances and we will return to our wage slavery. Naturally the mere act of striking constituted a certain challenge to capitalism. However, now there were beginnings of scientific ideas being introduced because the imperialist war had caused a world-wide resurgence of revolutionary socialist ideas, particularly after the old socialists of the 2nd International had betrayed socialism by their very support of the imperialist war.

Whereas the European social democrats had at the Basle conference in 1912 declared their unequivocal opposition to imperialist war and their determination to call on the workers to overthrow capitalism in the event of imperialist war, such sentiments had not affected the Australian labor party leaders nor secured any hold on the Australian workingclass. At the outbreak of the war in 1914, the European social democrats betrayed their own resolution, but no Australian labor party leader could be said in the same way to have betrayed that resolution or any similar resolution because at that time the politics of the workers were almost wholly bourgeois politics.

The logic of them was expressed by Andrew Fisher, Australian labor party leader, when he pledged Australia to the last man and the last shilling in support of the war.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 profoundly influenced the whole of socialist thinking and profoundly influenced the whole of the workingclass of the world. Though Australia was far away, it profoundly influenced the Australian workers and the theoreticians of the Australian workers. The ideas that gave rise to the Russian Revolution had not been trade union politics, had not been politics generated by the workingclass by its own efforts. They were ideas developed by Marx, Engels and Lenin himself, all educated representatives of the propertied classes, taken to the workingclass. Once these ideas had been made the property of the advanced section of the workers, the workers were party to their development and extension.

Marxism-Leninism in the hands of the workingclass is an all-powerful weapon. The laws of society, the world outlook of Marxism-Leninism, discovered and expounded by the founders of Marxism-Leninism and grasped by the workingclass, are the greatest possessions of the working-class. The workingclass in possession of that weapon develops and extends it; integrates it with the concrete conditions of the given country, preserves it from all alien trends. Marx said: “Theory becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law.)

The process of theory becoming a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses is spectacularly demonstrated by the great proletarian cultural revolution in China. The thought of Mao Tse-tung, the highest development of Marxism-Leninism, has gripped millions of Chinese people. Armed with it they are consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat and uprooting the remnant capitalist influences. These influences persist within the top leadership of the Communist Party. China’s Khrushchov indicates this. But with Mao Tse-tung’s thought the people and the dictatorship of the proletariat and its chief arm, the People’s Liberation Army, are all-powerful.

But it is a continuous struggle in the workingclass as to which will win: Marxism-Leninism or reformist, bourgeois politics. Hence the workers must study Marxism-Leninism, must struggle for it, must struggle to make it grip the masses. Once the theories of Marxism-Leninism had been discovered and expounded by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, it by no means followed that educated representatives of the propertied classes were the sole repositories of Marxism-Leninism. On the contrary, Marxism-Leninism is the property of the workingclass and educated representatives of the propertied class participate in the struggle to develop and defend Marxism-Leninism only in so far as they identify their position with that of the workingclass . Hence there is no question of a handful of so-called intellectuals being the custodians or developers of Marxism-Leninism. The custodians and developers of Marxism-Leninism are the workers and those who have identified their position with that of the workers.

The ideas of Marxism-Leninism had been victorious in the Russian workingclass. They succeeded in a stern battle against trade union politics with their acceptance of capitalism. They succeeded against the theoreticians who arose to exploit and give system to those other politics, theoreticians also largely educated representatives of the propertied classes, but who had given themselves to the bourgeoisie to help perpetuate capitalism (e.g. Bernstein, Kautsky). In this country, “educated” people came to the fore in the labor party to develop and exploit these bourgeois ideas.

The Russian Revolution demonstrated that the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin were correct. Throughout the world, including Australia, these ideas profoundly influenced the workers and the social theoreticians who sought to serve the workingclass. The struggle began for them to grip the workingclass. In Australia, the battle was really joined between revolutionary scientific socialist ideas – Communism – Marxism-Leninism on the one hand and trade union politics, social democracy, reformism, on the other hand. In saying that, we do not mean to say that fully developed Marxist-Leninist ideas entered the fray. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that from that time, the struggle to bring Marxist-Leninist revolutionary scientific socialist ideas to the Australian workingclass commenced. The ideas competing against Marxism-Leninism for the minds of the workers were those of trade union politics and the political party to which they had given birth, namely, the Australian labor party. They were necessarily from the very beginning bourgeois ideas.

Left to themselves the workers organised in the trade unions could not generate anything but ideas limited by capitalism. When the capitalist class evolved theoreticians to take advantage of that, to provide a “theoretical” basis for the stirrings of the trade unionists, there was the systematic exploitation of trade union politics by the bourgeoisie for the express purpose of perpetuating the adaptation of the workingclass to capitalism. At a given stage, the capitalist class thus provides theoreticians for the workingclass and even from the workingclass to enslave the workers to capitalism. There are thus several aspects to this problem: the spontaneous natural growth of trade union organisation and consciousness, never of itself going beyond the limits of capitalism, but on the contrary, developing capitalist politics which constitute the soil for the bourgeoisie to provide theoreticians to take advantage of this and to rivet the shackles of bourgeois ideology on the workingclass.

What is the basis for the maintenance of trade union, reformist ideology? The capitalists look to the higher paid workers as the reservoir from which to recruit those who will serve them in the name of labour in the trade unions. Deliberately the capitalists pay more wages to certain sections of the workers. Deliberately they flatter, cultivate and foster certain trade union leaders and certain workers. In England, they even knight them, make them lords or earls, bestow honours on them. Occasionally they resort to crude bribery.

In Australia, they do not knight them or make them earls or lords, but they use a similar technique. Again they recruit “theoreticians” from the bourgeois intellectuals. They draw on the international “theoreticians” of social democracy: Kautsky, Bernstein, Ramsay MacDonald, and so on. Their “theoreticians” raise the cry of no politics in the trade unions or only A.L.R politics in the trade unions. What is the effect of this? If there are no politics in the trade unions, then it means that there are only bourgeois politics in the trade unions.

As we have already pointed out, the spontaneous natural development of the workingclass by itself reaches only trade union organisation and consciousness, and the very existence (a very important existence, of course!) of trade unions under capitalism is based upon the defence of the workers against the capitalists, i.e. the very acceptance of the idea of the permanence of the capitalists and the permanence of the workingclass. Lenin said: “But why, the reader will ask, does the spontaneous movement, the movement along the line of least resistance, lead to the domination of bourgeois ideology? For the simple reason that bourgeois ideology is far older in origin than socialist ideology, that it is more fully developed, and that it has at its disposal immeasurably more means of dissemination. And the younger the socialist movement in any given country, the more vigorously it must struggle against all attempts to entrench non-socialist ideology, and the more resolutely the workers must be warned against the bad counsellors who shout against ’over-rating the conscious element’ etc.” (Lenin: What is to be Done. 3 Vol. edition, Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 158).

Hence the task before the young socialist movement in Australia in the period after World War I was to struggle vigorously against all attempts to entrench non-socialist ideology in the workingclass, to fight with all its strengtth against the line of least resistance.

In 1920, the Communist Party of Australia was formed from various groups which had been reaching after Marxism-Leninism. It had the purpose of struggling for Marxism-Leninism and to bring Marxism-Leninism to the Australian workers. It was a Marxist-Leninist party, even though it had many shortcomings.

But what were the circumstances of that struggle? Australian capitalism was still developing. True it suffered the economic ups and downs of capitalism, but historically it was developing and developing Australia as a nation. The trade unions were increasing in membership and moving towards creating a central leadership. In 1927, the Australian Council of Trade Unions was set up as a single trade union centre for the whole of Australia. Today this Australian Council of Trade Unions embraces all the important Australian trade unions with the exception of some important white collar organisations.

As the trade unions developed and strengthened, so too did the tendencies to trade union politics develop, i.e. the natural spontaneous development was towards trade union politics for the reasons we have already advanced. Affiliated to the Australian labor party as the main unions were, there arose the concept of an industrial wing and a political wing, i.e. the industrial wing constituted by the trade unions and confining itself specifically to the economic demands of the workers through trade union activity, and on the other hand the political wing constituted by the Australian labor party with the avowed job of looking after in parliament the interests of the workers. This concept itself was an expression of trade union politics which accepted the permanence of capitalism. Its very life and existence lay in the permanence of capitalism. Each “wing” supported the other and operated in self-perpetuation of trade union politics. It had the blessing and co-operation of the capitalist class, because that class could see that the whole situation was entirely to its advantage. By fostering trade union politics, bourgeois politics, reformist politics, and a political party to perpetuate them, it was fostering a political party to serve itself. The last thing the capitalists wanted was a revolutionary party, revolutionary politics. If they could have a party which spoke in the name of the workers yet was a party of capitalism, they could ask no more. After all, the lessons of the Russian Revolution of 1917 were far from lost on the capitalist class.

The capitalist class summed up the experiences of the Russian Revolution, the Australian capitalist class no less than others. Nor were the lessons lost on the leaders of the A.L.P., who served the ruling class. They were quick to realise the tremendous influence and appeal socialism now had on the workingclass. So they inserted into the labor party programme the socialist objective for the very first time. The fact that the A.L.P. had never previously had such an objective is powerful evidence substantiating our reasoning that it never was a party even with nominal workingclass objectives. In other words, it did not even claim to be a party against capitalism. Really it gave conscious political expression to the spontaneous generation of trade union politics from the Australian workers, that is, no challenge to capitalism, permanence of capitalism and development of capitalism.

When in 1921 the Australian labor party adopted the socialist objective (vaguely worded at that) it did so as an act of deception of the workers. Many workers genuinely wanted socialism; they instinctively responded to its appeal. Capitalism on a world scale was increasingly challenged by socialism not only in Russia. In Germany, Hungary, France, England, etc., the ideas of socialism exercised a powerful influence under the example of the Russian Revolution. The capitalist class was bound to take this into account and it did so in various ways. Examples are (1) it sought to crush the Russian workers, (2) it sought to appease the workers by concessions, (3) it sought to achieve its ends by political diversion and by deception. It used all means and used them simultaneously. Part of this in Australia was the insertion into the A.L.P. programme of the socialist objective. In view of the misuse by modern day “Communist” revisionists of this socialist objective of the A.L.P. (by asserting the essential unity of the programmes of the Communists and the A.L.P. – see L. Aarons “Labor Movement at the Crossroads”), it is vitally important to remember the setting in which it was introduced into the A.L.P. programme.

We must repeat that the A.L.P. was the product of trade union politics, which involved acceptance of capitalism. Without any question at all it was a party of capitalism and did not pretend to be anything else. It accepted itself as a party of capitalism and it carried out policies of capitalism as, e.g. during World War I it played a full part in support of the imperialist war. It played a big part in creating a unified Australia. It was on to that party with that background that the socialist objective was grafted. It would have been strange indeed if that mere act had transformed a well-entrenched capitalist party into a socialist workers’ party, strange indeed! It would have had no precedent in history. Subsequent events have made abundantly clear that it did not convert the A.L.P. into a workers’ socialist party at all. Investigation proves that conclusively. Both as a matter of logical theoretical reasoning and as a matter of cold hard fact, it left it as a party of capitalism. What clearer proof could there be than that the A.L.P. leaders have constituted the government in the Commonwealth and in every single State, yet capitalism under their rule has remained intact and developed. In any conditions of crisis the A.L.P. has dramatically and openly demonstrated itself as an anti-socialist and anti-workingclass force.

But alongside this development went on the struggle of the Communist Party of Australia to bring Marxism-Leninism to the Australian workers. It genuinely strove to bring Marxism-Leninism to the Australian workers. Despite its own imperfect ideas of Marxism-Leninism, there can be no doubt that its founders were genuine seekers after Marxism-Leninism and genuinely strove to extend it. They initiated and participated in important mass struggles. By 1926, their position and the international success of Communism so alarmed the ruling class that it inserted into the Commonwealth Crimes Act political provisions specifically aimed at the Communist Party – testimony to the fact that the Communist Party of Australia alarmed the ruling class with its ideas of revolutionary scientific socialism.

Hence there were two main trends in the Australian workingclass – the development of trade union politics and as a product, the A.L.P., and on the other hand, the development of the revolutionary movement under the leadership of the Communist Party of Australia.

Let us digress a little. The strengthening of the trade unions was a very important factor in the life of the Australian workingclass and of the Australian people. Without the trade unions, without their struggle, as Marx put it, the workers would be reduced to broken wretches.

In Value, Price and Profit, Marx said:

These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the workingclass ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches, past salvation. I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.

At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the workingclass ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady.

They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never-ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economic reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: ’A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: ’Abolition of the wages system’!”

Organisation of the workers in itself is important. In Left Wing Communism, Lenin said:

Trade unions represented enormous progress for the workingclass at the beginning of the development of capitalism as the transition from the disunity and helplessness of the workers to the rudiments of class organisation. When the highest form of proletarian class organisation began to arise, viz, the revolutionary party of the proletariat (which does not deserve the name until it learns to bind the leaders with the class and with the masses into one single indissoluble whole), the trade unions inevitably began to reveal certain reactionary traits, a certain craft narrowness, a certain tendency toward becoming non-political, a certain inertness, etc. But the development of the proletariat did not, and could not, anywhere in the world, proceed otherwise than through the trade unions, through their interaction with the party of the proletariat . . .(Lenin, Selected Works, 12 Volume Edition, Vol. 10, pp. 90-91.)

It is impossible to minimise the importance of the great growth and great strength of the Australian trade unions.

Every Communist, every Marxist-Leninist, is proud of the Australian trade union movement and is proud that the Communists paid and pay close attention to it. Every Communist will continue to have that pride and give to the trade unions their rightful place. To give the trade union movement its rightful place, it is necessary to restate the principles of Marxism-Leninism. Practice of those principles alone can put an end to capitalism. It is essential to win the victory of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary politics over trade union politics.

The point however is to analyse the political trends that developed and to understand that unless a correct Marxist-Leninist understanding of and stand in relation to the trade unions is achieved, then the workingclass must inevitably remain shackled to capitalism, shackled to bourgeois politics, to reformist politics. The conflict is not at all between the trade unions and Communism. It is between the system of political ideas known as trade unionism or trade union politics and Communism. The system of political ideas known as trade unionism must be defeated, because trade union politics are bourgeois politics. If the Marxist-Leninists allow the field to be dominated by the bourgeoisie, whether in an open or concealed form, then they are not carrying out the behests of Lenin. They are leaving the field to the capitalist class, they are taking the line of least resistance.