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New International, June 1939


N. Origlasso

Australia Cognita

From New International, Vol.5 No.6, June 1939, pp.185-187.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE ARTICLE BY Stan Bollard entitled The Paradox of Australian Capitalism, which appeared in The New International for February, is characterized by an irritating slovenliness and lack of precision, by unsubstantiated and contradictory assertions, and by a seeming endorsement of contentions incompatible with Marxism.

The inescapable conclusion arising from his “study of the history and development of the Australian Labor party” is that while reformism is now “coming to the end of its tether”, nevertheless the workers must thank reformist politics for the reforms of the last fifty years. Says he: “The continual expansion of capitalist industry over the past fifty years has enabled reformism to win substantial concessions for the workers.” What a “fascinating” and “unique” set-up we have! Marxists in other lands must be pardoned for their naiveté in believing that “the history of all recorded societies is the history of the class struggle”, and that in an expanding capitalism the manifestations of this struggle (strikes – and the threat of them, unrest, demonstrations) convince the unwilling capitalist class of the advisability of granting reforms in preference to unbalancing the social equilibrium they find so profitable – whereupon the reformist leaders take to themselves the mantle of saviors of the people.

But Bollard himself destroys the illusion he has created. We read: “the trade union bureaucrats ... do not always succeed in heading the workers into the dead end of compulsory arbitration: the press is constantly full of reports of strikes in a wide range of industries.” It is also true that strikes have been prevalent for the last fifty years. But every strike is inherently in contradiction to reformist ideology and constitutes a leap away from reformism. Thus we must decide whether reforms are produced by the workers’ struggles – or by reformism. Those who deny that the former is correct should denounce as ill-advised and useless the struggles of the last fifty years, and not record them simply as events without meaning.

It will be sufficient to deal with but one instance where Bollard distorts history to make out a case for reformism, viz., the two referenda on conscription of October 20, 1918, and of November 7, 1917. In summing up “the results of fifty years of reformism”, he says: “the powerful Labor parties have also enabled many militant struggles to be waged in an atmosphere of legality. One such struggle was the great conscription battle ...” The truth is that on the announcement of the first referendum the small band of IWW members began to address meetings of thousands of workers. As a result of the mass pressure, the Labor Party bureaucracy split; one section stood with the Labor renegade Billy Hughes for conscription, while the other (mainly second-rankers) swung to anti-conscription. To be ignorant of the real history of the anti-conscription struggle and of the Australian labor movement in general is not in itself a crime. But what can be said for the “Marxist” who, abiding in such ignorance, has the temerity to offer his own “history” as good coin to familiarize Marxists with the “virtues” of reformism in Australia?

The necessity to deal with this vulgar appreciation of Australian labor history arises not solely from what is stated in Bollard’s article, but even more from the unstated conclusions which arise therefrom. These conclusions are that we must not castigate reformist politics as being treacherous to the interests of the workers. Is not reformism good for gaining reforms? And do not the reformists openly and avowedly proclaim their reformism? To attack the reformist leaders for their class-collaboration ideology and politics, to oppose their “passive resistance”, “folded arms” tactics in strikes is leftist! This, in practise, is the present political system of the Bollards. We are sufficiently modest to refrain from warning our American comrades of the fruitlessness of such an interpretation of history.

In dealing with the “White Australia” policy, the author finds the chauvinistic race and color prejudices unfortunate and to be fought against. But we are allowed to assume that “the fear [of the Australian workers] that if other than white workers were admitted to Australia the local capitalists would use cheap labor to smash their hard-won conditions” is consistent with their own interests. Apart from the inconsistency of Bollard’s talk of “their hard-won conditions” (has he not already claimed that reformism won these conditions for the workers?) and the fact that the Australian workers also fear the immigration of white workers, this misdirection of working-class hostility must be combated by Marxists. Our work includes the task of showing the workers that there is definitely no solution for their problems except through the revolutionary struggle against capitalism – that the absolute cessation of all immigration would not alter the plight of the Australian workers, since Australia cannot be divorced from world economy and the world market, where cheaply produced commodities exert their influence on the Australian workers’ living standards.

Bollard describes Australia as “one of the most paradoxical semi-independent countries in the world; it acts as a junior partner of British imperialism, for which it could be said to manage a branch office ...” Inasmuch as this characterization rejects both the view that Australia must be regarded as a colonial country in the narrow sense of that term, and the opposite assertion that Australia has in fact achieved independent status, we can accept it. But this does not warrant bracketing Australia with the metropolis imperialisms in preference to classifying it as colonial in the broad sense of the term. When the Fourth International poses the term “sub-capitalism” as being applicable to countries such as Mexico, it does so from the recognition that the terms “colonial” and “semi-colonial” need amplifying and distinguishing sub-headings for particular non-metropolis countries, and not because of any belief that the orientation of the Fourth International in Mexico is essentially different from that in the “classical” colonial countries, i.e., support of the national struggle against imperialism. In contradiction to the metropolis imperialisms, there are a wide variety of countries in which the national struggles against their imperialist exploiters are progressive (India, China, Mexico, Ireland, pre-October Russia, etc.). In the case of Russia, the October revolution repudiated the imperialist creditors and established tariff autonomy. We do not overlook the importance of the racial factor in national struggles. But it is only relative, not decisive. Who will deny that an Australian race is developing? And, in any case, was not the American revolution made by the progeny of English sires?

But Bollard, having categorized Australia as quoted above, having actually asserted the necessity for a national revolution, utilizing a quotation from Lenin in support – proceeds blithely to ignore the implications of this estimate, and proclaims that the problems of the Australian workers “are those same life-and-death issues which confront the workers of the United States and of the advanced Western European countries”. Here we see the utter confusion so characteristic of his effort. It seems that, having reiterated four times (with varying degrees of conviction) that the Australian bourgeoisie will not carry out the national revolution, he concludes that “while an Australian national revolution cannot be ruled out as a perspective for the future, it can be definitely ruled out in the present epoch”, and that the Australian workers have the same tasks as those in the United States. Every conclusion incorrect!

In the first place, since the socialist revolution necessarily brings to conclusion the national revolution, the former must also be “ruled out” in the present epoch! Yet further on this, too, is contradicted by the assertion that “the Australian workers must carry out a dual revolution”, apparently in this epoch. Can it be possible that Bollard imagines “epoch” to mean a month or a year?

Every Marxist recognizes that in this epoch no national bourgeoisie will carry out the national revolution, the important reason (not stated by Bollard) being that it dare not set the masses in motion, since such a revolution would call sharply into question their own “rights” of exploitation. Bollard cannot understand that the national revolution can and does proceed despite and against the wishes of the national bourgeoisie. But such is his confusion that he actually supplies evidence of this very fact. Says he: “When the Lang Labor Government of New South Wales launched its repudiation movement [it] was probably the nearest approach to a national liberation movement in Australia ...” It is pertinent to note that Lang’s “anti-British bondholder” propaganda at that time (1932) had tremendous popular support, reflected in the greatest specifically political demonstration ever witnessed in Australia, when workers from miles around marched to Moore Park, Sydney. That Lang capitulated ignominiously to the bondholders’ representative, Governor Game, is another question.

With the development of the new economic crisis, this anti-imperialist note will be heard more and more. At present, the metal unions in Sydney which carry out ship-repair work have decided to boycott the repair of all ships owned by Australian companies if and when such companies import ships built overseas instead of building them locally. The struggle to implement such a boycott must needs proceed against the Australian capitalists, and will tend to reveal them in fact as saboteurs of the development of Australia, as agents of British imperialism. Need we remark that the reformist union leadership is now engaged in making such provisos as they hope will render the threatened boycott innocuous. But again, this is another question.

If we are to avoid sectarian sterility, we must listen attentively amongst the masses for the rumblings of the approaching anti-imperialist storm; at every opportunity we must intervene to push this movement forward. As was seen in the case of Lang, we will be fighting the national bourgeoisie at every step. This perspective does not exclude, but complements, the everyday struggle against Australian capitalism. In practise, the emphasis will shift from one to the other at different stages. We must not “pass up” the struggle against Australian capitalism (on the lines suitable in big capitalist countries) while we wait for manifestations of anti-imperialism among the masses; but neither must we discard the national revolution because the self-interest and cowardice of the bourgeoisie makes it a non-starter on this road. It is precisely because the national bourgeoisie will not move one inch on this road that there is no basis for temporary united action with it.

Another important question remains to be dealt with. Bollard says: “Secondary industry ... can only hope to expand for a few more years at the most, and then a severe internal crisis will develop.” Again: “but an end to this constant upsurge in Australian economy can be anticipated within a few years.” We will leave aside his identification of “secondary industry” with “Australian economy”. Nowhere in his article can be found the slightest argument to justify these ex cathedra assertions. On the contrary, the only statement bearing on this question is in conflict with them, viz.: “The life-blood of capitalist economy in this country is the returns from export of primary products such as wool, wheat, butter, metals, etc., which are steadily declining.” The present position, in fact, is that the severe fall in export price levels, combined with the expenditure of £A70,000,000 on armaments, is already having its effects. Industrial share prices are declining, internal consumption is shrinking, unemployment is increasing, the latest Government loan is a failure, and higher taxation next June is announced by Treasurer Casey.

The Communist League of Australia, in examining last December the perspectives of Australian capitalism, recognized the importance of the fall in world prices for wool, wheat, etc., the resultant dwindling of the internal market, and the utopianism of the idea of offsetting this by expanding manufactures per medium of capturing foreign markets for same. Here our thesis recognized another factor. We quote:

However, another factor must be considered in determining what the next period holds for Australian capitalism. Both British and American capitalism are alive to the strategic importance of Australasia in the approaching imperialist war in the Pacific – a realization which impels them to make these regions a strong southern outpost able to provide the essentials for a modern war on the grand scale. Thus we witness a most exhaustive survey of New Guinea and New Zealand in search of oil, and a certain inflow of overseas capital to establish industries without which Australian capitalism would be handicapped in wartime.

Having due regard to all the factors operating, we conclude that the present temporary stabilization of Australian capitalism (occurring in the milieu of the epoch of capitalist decay on a world scale) will not immediately be transformed into a precipitate decline of the economy: Rather will we see a period of convulsive fluctuations within the national economy, marked by uncertainty and misgivings among the ruling class and its political representatives, with the aggregate of unemployment steadily increasing.

But this continuance of the temporary stabilization will not be of long duration. The huge, uneconomic spending on the war machine severely strains the national economy. This expenditure, financed in the final analysis by direct and indirect taxation on the working masses, speeds on its course with seven-league boots the nemesis of capitalism – the dwindling market.

Capitalism in the next period offers growing unemployment, increasing insecurity, and lowering of the general standard of living, the drive to a new world war, and more authoritarian methods of government.

Bollard’s emphasis on his view of upsurge of Australian economy for a few more years is not accidental. It constitute? wishful thinking to bolster his incorrect idea that the Program of Transitional Demands of the Fourth International is not applicable to an economy which is in cyclical upswing. Starting from this incorrect premise, the opponents of the Transitional Program cling to the story of economic upsurge (albeit toppled by reality at each step) as the basis for their opposition.

Before concluding, let us briefly correct a few more of Bollard’s mis-statements:

  1. The Federal Government (a coalition of the United Australia Party and the United Country Party, and led by the ex-Labor politician J.A. Lyons) is not dominated by the UAP. On the contrary, all the dominating is being done by the UCP (the party of landed and exporting interests closely allied with British imperialism). The UAP is divided, the majority aligning itself with Treasurer Casey (who, significantly enough, recently was made a Privy Councillor), alongside the UCP.
  2. “The Federal Labor Party ... poses an untenable isolation policy” (untenable for whom is not stated). The impression left from the whole paragraph is that “isolation” is preferable to “collective security” – not that they are equally pernicious from a working-class point of view.
  3. “The bourgeoisie will be [our emphasis] forced to attack the greatest gain of the Australian worker, his standard of living.” Comment is superfluous here!
  4. “The Australian worker possesses a great historical tradition.” This is precisely what the Australian worker lacks!

In the critical situation which approaches, the Australian working class will need a scientific revolutionary vanguard. The Communist League, despite the confusion of centrist vaporers, will continue its task of gathering together this vanguard on the basis of the program of the Fourth International. After a reading of Bollard’s article it is necessary to reemphasize the essential pre-condition for fruitful participation in the vanguard: Learn to think !

SYDNEY, March 27, 1939

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