Stalinism: Its Origin and Future. Andy Blunden 1993
1968 was an amazing year. It began with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in January which exposed to the whole world the possibility that the US would be defeated.
In that same month, another dramatic series of events was unfolding in Czechoslovakia, events which would prove to be of equally epoch-making significance.
Following the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 the political revolution in Europe receded. Comprehensive health and social welfare systems were set up and rent and the price of basic commodities were kept low. The extreme hardships experienced before, during and after the war were gone, but the all-pervasive social and political control of the Stalinist apparatus made politics something in which one was ill-advised to take an interest.
The movement which became known as the Prague Spring originated with attacks on the Czechoslovak Stalinist President Antonin Novotny at the Writers Union Congress in June 1967. The initiative of the intelligentsia was followed by escalating student demonstrations. Novotny found no support in the Communist Party or the Army, and in January 1968 Novotny was replaced as First Secretary of Party by Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak with the reputation of being a supporter of Khrushchev’s policies. Dubcek’s reform program was adopted on 5 April, with an emphasis on increased political freedoms.
Over the next four months Dubcek worked hard to convince the Soviet Union that Czechoslovakia would remain within the Soviet bloc and that there would not be a return to capitalism. The rising enthusiasm for change in Czechoslovakia continued to alarm the Soviet leaders however, and on 20-21 August Soviet troops invaded. Dubcek called upon the people not to resist; he was arrested and taken to Moscow, but was not formally removed from office until April 1969, when he was replaced by Husak, another Czechoslovak CP leader who also had a reputation as a liberal. Dubcek was expelled from the Party in 1970.
In contrast to the Soviet invasion of Hungary 12 years earlier, the invasion of Czechoslovakia did not meet armed resistance. Dubcek told the masses to stay at home, and the Czech and Slovak working class watched more or less passively as the Russians straightened out Czechoslovakian affairs.
Dubcek’s experiment in ‘Communism with a human face’ came to an end after six months. Like the previous uprisings in Poland and Hungary, the Prague Spring found its leadership in ‘reformists’ within the ranks of the Communist Party and, at least nominally, declared its support for socialism. Dubcek himself was a creature of the Stalinist bureaucracy. He had spent his childhood and youth in the USSR and was a Party member since returning to Czechoslovakia in 1938. He was not a ‘dissident’. He was supported by the majority of his fellows in the bureaucracy.
In contrast to the uprisings of the mid-1950s however, which had been led by the urban working class and supported by the intelligentsia, the reform movement of 1968 was located in the intelligentsia, and received only passive support from the working class; its program, emphasising personal and intellectual freedom, reflected its class base. This same change was also reflected in an uprising in Poland.
‘On the last day of January 1968, the government stopped a theatre production. ...The closure produced a spontaneous street demonstration by Warsaw students, which was broken up by police.
‘After a month of rising tension, in which the authorities answered student and intellectual protest with abuse, threats and anti-Semitic leaflets, on 8 March a mass meeting in Warsaw University was broken up by bus-loads of Party-organised thugs. ... The March revolt led to the arrest of 1,200 students in Warsaw alone, and to the sacking of the professors and lecturers who had supported them. ...
‘While the mass of ordinary Poles watched bewildered, the Party and the entire administration plunged into a prolonged hysteria of purges, anti-Semitic slander, and a general onslaught on the creative intellectuals.
‘The most striking result of 1968, however, was a change in the nature of opposition in Poland. In March, the student movement had stuck closely to the ideals of 1956. In their leaflets and programme papers, the students had insisted on their loyalty to socialism. With eloquent logic, they had called for liberal reforms within the system, even sending a pathetic appeal to Gomulka in the illusion that he could not be aware of the police repression they were enduring. They wanted an end to censorship, a decentralising reform of the economy, academic liberty. They pleaded that nationalism is alien to us. The attribution to the student movement of anti-Soviet slogans is baseless ... They promised that they stood on the ground of socialism, we defend social control over economic decisions.
‘They failed to win any active working-class support, in spite of their carefully socialist messages to factories and their appeals to the bond between workers and students. Some workers, instead, were among those who came in buses to chase them off the Warsaw University campus. The March protest left the Polish intellectuals isolated in their moment of crisis. And a whole tradition of intellectual opposition – that sceptical, Marxist, anti-clerical tradition which skirmished for freedom and tolerance between the Goliaths of Church and Party dogmatism – died under the clubs of the police in March’. 
The events in Czechoslovakia and Poland took place simultaneously with a wave of student protests which swept the capitalist world in the (northern) summer of 1968, the French general strike, the run on gold set off by de Gaulle’s selling of the dollar, and the devaluation of the dollar against gold by President Nixon in August 1968. In other words, this new crisis for Stalinism came at a time of unprecedented social and economic crisis for capitalism.
The impact of the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring on the Communist Parties around the capitalist world was severe. The capitalist countries were being swept by an upsurge of youthful and working class protest in which the Communist Parties were in danger of being totally side-lined. The spectacle of Soviet tanks putting down students, writers and popular Communist leaders in Czechoslovakia seemed to put paid to any hope that the Communist Parties could present themselves as credible leaders of the rising protest movements in the West.
In the years following the Sino-Soviet split, and the subsequent dumping of Khrushchev by the CPSU, a gradual process of differentiation had been taking place in the Communist Parties around the world. Given that the official policy of each of the Communist Parties was for a ‘national road to socialism’ this was hardly unexpected.
As Trotsky wrote in November 1928:
‘It is not a question of old differences, which can only interest historians and specialists now, but rather, perspectives for tomorrow. There are only two possible courses: one toward international revolution, the other toward reconciliation with the native bourgeoisie. The right-wing was consolidated in the work of defaming the theory of permanent revolution. Under cover of the theory of socialism in one country, it is marching toward reconciliation with the native bourgeoisie so as to guard itself against any convulsions’.
This process of differentiation was brought to a head when the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. Amid outrage from the world’s bourgeois press, the Communist Party in each country was obliged to put its position on the invasion.
The French expressed ‘surprise and disapproval’; the Italians considered the invasion ‘unjustified’, the Canadian, British and Australian CPs opposed it. The CPs of the US, Greece, Chile, Cyprus, Syria supported the invasion, as did the East European governments and Cuba, except Rumania, which criticised the invasion.
A new split in the world Stalinist movement was under way.
In Australia, the CPA had been defending dissidents in the USSR, and hailed Dubcek’s appointment as a victory over bureaucracy. The Czech renaissance shows the way for us said Laurie Aarons in Tribune in April 1968:
This is the ‘cultural revolution’ which is utterly and completely invincible. There will be no H G Wells society; there will be however, a free cultured mankind – much more wonderful than William Morris ever dared to dream.
Following the invasion, Tribune declared:
‘We cannot agree to the pre-emptive occupation of a country by another, on the alleged threat from outside, particularly when such action is taken without prior notification to the government and CP of Czechoslovakia. ... It is hard to believe that [the Soviet leaders] realise the damage they cause to their own standing and the image of socialism throughout the world by acting in this way’.
The new split in the world Communist movement threatened to seriously weaken the Soviet Union’s network of support in the West, and the Soviets started work right away to organise their supporters inside the various national parties. Eric Aarons recalled:
‘Representatives of the CPSU in Australia began to intervene more directly, ...By now they were so alarmed about the trend of events in the CPA that Stenin, a diplomat who had responsibility in this area, began to cultivate Claude Jones ... hinting that he should set out to replace Laurie as general secretary, and offered to support him in his venture. He cited CPA deviations, and also hinted that there were too many Jews in the leadership ...’.
The letters column of Tribune now became a public vehicle for debate as the world-wide division of the Stalinist movement manifested itself in the CPA. E V Elliot, later to become a leader of the SPA (Socialist Party of Australia), wrote:
‘The five Warsaw Pact nations applied the principles of Marxism-Leninism in entering the socialist state of Czechoslovakia to defeat imperialism’s handmaiden, counter-revolution and to guard and strengthen the socialist states’.
The new split in the Stalinist movement was a factor in the events in France which were to have repercussions across the world. And these events were in turn to be an important factor shaping the new tendency emerging within the Stalinist movement.
The events which inspired the world-wide student revolt began in the prestigious Sorbonne University when students clashed with University authorities and then the police over educational issues. The revolt spread to the Universities in the working class areas and school students. After lobbying of auto plants by students, the organised working class came out in support of the students’ demands. A general strike was called. The demands had by then escalated to a broad political critique of capitalist society. De Gaulle brought tanks to the edge of Paris.
With the future of Europe in their hands, and the most far-reaching youth movement Europe had ever seen, united in struggle with the entire French working class, the Stalinist-controlled CGT met with the government. The Stalinist leaders soon emerged and announced that the strike had been settled in exchange for a ten per cent wage increase! Facing a revolt on the part of militant workers and youth, the Stalinist union officials marshalled their supporters and enforced compliance with the CGT’s orders to return to work.
The betrayal of the June 1968 General Strike by the French Communist Party provided a valuable political lesson to a new generation of French workers and student radicals, but in the meantime it dealt a death-blow to the movement which had inspired and continued to inspire millions.
Many people saw the growing prospect of a US defeat in Vietnam, the events of May/June in France and the crisis of capitalist economy as evidence supporting the basic tenets of Communism. Others however were drawing quite opposite conclusions.
Togliatti’s Italian Communist Party began to abandon fundamental positions of Marxism as early as 1956. In the wake of Khrushchev’s speech, the Italians wanted to put distance between themselves and Stalin, and find a perspective and an image more acceptable to Italian bourgeois society. The Italian Communist Party supported the repression of the Hungarian Uprising, but in 1968 they did not hesitate to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. They soon became convinced that the road to success lay through bourgeois respectability. With some justice, the Italians claimed their ‘historic compromise’ with the Christian Democrats to be no more than an application of the Popular Front policy of the Comintern in the 1930s. Untroubled by its inability to win over the youth being radicalised by the events of the 1960s, the Italian Communist Party remained confident that so long as it fared well in elections to the Chamber of Deputies, it had nothing to fear from its left flank.
Manuel Azcarate, International Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party, said that Euro-communism originated in the wake of the May/June events in Paris (‘it was bringing to the surface fresh social forces ... technicians, scientists, intellectuals, professional men’) and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia:
‘the Soviet invasion made the Western Communist parties realise with unprecedented force and urgency that they had to separate themselves off from the Soviets by rejecting the Soviet model ... and to carry out a genuinely Marxist critique of the East European societies as well’. 
The following statement by Jean Ellenstein, a Eurocommunist in the French Communist Party, is the epitome of Euro-Stalinist ideology. She judged that:
‘The 22nd Congress of our Party, at which the dictatorship of the proletariat was voted out of the party programme, was a turning point in our entire orientation ... not a mere formality. Our task is now to re-work the whole concept of the state, power and revolution. ... contrary to the Leninist conception of revolution, revolution in the West European countries, and especially in France, can only be peaceful, democratic, legal and gradual.
‘It will consist of a series of reforms which will modify economic conditions, social relations and transform people’s consciousness – a cultural revolution, French-style. Some of this is already taking place ...’
According to the Communist Party of Australia’s Eric Aarons:
‘The old, certainties were crumbling; no new model of a communist party, one suitable to our conditions and which we could emulate, existed. We were obliged to rely on our own interpretation of Marxism, and our own analysis of the conditions in which we worked. ... Our once-strong base among workers such as wharfies, miners, seamen and others was eroding’. 
And in the decade that followed 1968, Communist Parties, completely disoriented by their Stalinist heritage, thrown without any defence into the milieu of debate in the bourgeois environment of the ‘Left’ in their native country, more or less completely unravelled ‘Marxism’. It was but a short step for the French Communist Party, from abandoning the dictatorship of the proletariat, to discovering that the working class did not exist at all; from abandoning defence of the Soviet Union to supporting the French nuclear deterrent.
While many of the national Communist Parties abandoned defence of the Soviet Union under the banner of euro-communism, minorities within these parties recognised this turn as inevitably leading to an abandonment of the fundamental principles underlying the existence of Communist Parties. As a result, as each of the euro-communist parties headed off on their own national road, a series of splits occurred in which ‘pro-Moscow’ parties emerged in opposition to euro-communism.
In Australia, the dispute over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia developed into a faction fight in which both sides were able to accuse the other of ‘splitting’. By June 1971, the ‘pro-Moscow’ SPA had been launched on the foundation of a continuation of the practice of following the line from Moscow through thick and thin.
The split took place in the context of a burgeoning anti-war and student protest movement and a mushrooming movement in the working class, so it also reflected a conflict over how Stalinism could gain control over this movement. 
Chile had enjoyed 112 years of Constitutional government. Salvador Allende had been a founder of the Chilean Socialist Party, a Deputy 1937-45 participating in the Popular Front government in 1938, was briefly Minister for Health, a Senator 1945-70 and had twice run for President. In September 1970, Allende was elected President of Chile on his third try.
The Australian Communist Party observed in Tribune, on September 23 1970: ‘we are now about to see the peaceful road to socialism’.
Allende, who faced a hostile legislature, proposed to peacefully ‘open the road to socialism’, with nationalisation of Chile’s vital copper mines. In the face of furious bourgeois opposition, including the strike by the National Confederation of Lorry Owners, he drew back. In order to pacify an increasingly threatening military, Allende invited the army into his Cabinet. Responding to army pressure, he disarmed the militant copper miners. As a million workers marched in the streets of Santiago, demanding arms, on 11 September 1973 Allende was overthrown in a CIA-organised army coup led by General Pinochet. Allende died gun-in-hand defending the Presidential Palace, leaving hundreds of thousands of Chilean workers to the torture chambers of one of Latin America’s most brutal dictatorships.
Right up until the day Pinochet strafed the Presidential Palace, the European Stalinists were celebrating Allende’s program as proof of the validity of the parliamentary road to socialism.
Less than a month before the coup, the Chilean Communist Party stated:
‘In Chile, where an anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly and anti-feudal democratic revolution is now under way, we have essentially retained the old state machine ... The armed forces, observing their status of a professional institution, take no part in political debate and submit to the lawfully constituted civilian power. ... the working class will gain full power gradually’. 
In a country which had enjoyed such a long period of constitutional rule (although the CP was banned for a period), it is undeniable that communists had to work through the parliamentary process. However, what is the use of 150 years of the experience of revolutionary struggle, passed on to future generations through the theoretical work and writing of revolutionaries, if the lessons of this history are ignored?
The Chilean bourgeoisie, the Chilean military and US imperialism clearly demonstrated their hostility to Allende’s government. The Chilean workers were ready to fight and there was a substantial left-wing in Chile who was prepared to lead that fight. However, Salvador Allende and those who supported his government and opposed the independent mobilisation of the working class successfully prevented the Chilean working class from defending itself and leaving it defenceless against the 1973 coup.
The distorters of Marxism in the ‘euro-communist’ movement must bear a heavy responsibility for providing the theoretical cover for the leadership of the Chilean Socialist Party to ignore and dismiss the lessons of history, and the reality that was staring them in the face – the capitalist state is an instrument of violence, maintained for the purpose of protecting capitalist property!
In the early days of the anti-war movement in Australia, the Communist Party was fairly well placed. The old anti-nuclear movement was one of their fields of activity, although the CPA put forward the multi-lateral disarmament line, rather than the more radical uni-lateral line. The offspring of CPA members were passed through the Eureka Youth League, and knew more about socialism and protest than most of their contemporaries. The CPA members in the more militant unions such as the wharfies had had experiences such as the banning of cargo for the Korean War.
However, as soon as the movement really began to take off in 1968, the CPA found itself being rapidly overtaken.
In order to survive McCarthyism, the CPA had adapted itself to a very conservative political milieu. The CPA went into the movement against the Vietnam War supporting the NLF with the slogans Peace Now and Withdraw the Troops. Resistance, the anti-war youth movement based in Sydney initiated by the Trotskyist, Bob Gould, and led by Jim and John Percy, organised militant demonstrations under the slogan Victory to the NLF. The slogan of Victory connected much better with the mood of the youth. It also reflected the real issues in the War: Who would win: imperialism or the national liberation forces? It was not a question of whether or not there would be peace.
The young people that built the anti-war movement independently and in opposition to the CP got their political education from a small number of Trotskyists of the old generation – Bob Gould, Issy Wyner, Nick Origlass and others, and through international contacts with the Trotskyist movement in the US and Britain. The Communist Party did however attract many young people who came to the Communist Party in the early stages in search of an education in Marxism and Communist principles. Most soon became disillusioned in the lack of these very principles in the CP and turned to more radical alternatives.
The CP’s method of work in the anti-war movement was ‘popular front-ism’, bloc-ing with everyone to the right of them, ostensibly with the aim of building the broadest possible movement. In fact, despite having the enormous advantage of being the fraternal party of the Vietnamese Communist Party, the CPA found itself polarising the anti-war movement with itself situated in the most conservative wing.
The Maoists, whose strength was in Melbourne, achieved a much higher profile and represented a much more militant line, and for a time commanded the leadership of a very large student movement against the war. On the whole, the Maoists were identified with the tactic of seeking the maximum confrontation with the police as the essence of the anti-war struggle.
In the early 1970s, changes which had been building up in the social relations of production in the advanced capitalist countries during the post-World War II period led to the birth of a new women’s liberation movement.
The need of capitalism to socialise the labour of women and the changing labour-requirements of industry, called into question the legitimacy of patriarchy in bourgeois society. Women became conscious of the oppression under which they laboured and found the means to fight it.
New political conditions were created in the first instance by the progress of the national liberation struggles against imperialism. This struggle was taken up in the struggle of black people in the USA against their racial oppression. The critique of the Civil Rights movement combined with the struggle of people oppressed in the ‘Third World’ to focus attention on the illusory and deceptive character of the supposed freedom of life under bourgeois democracy.
These ideas struck a chord among women in the revolutionary movements, who then began to make a critique of women’s oppression under capitalism. This critique made an immediate connection with masses of women, and the movement has swelled into an irrepressible force that has made, and continues to make sweeping and lasting social changes in almost every country in the world. It has made a major contribution to the conditions for socialist revolution.
In the main, the women who pioneered this movement were women of the revolutionary left. In the US, particularly members of the SDS, and also the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP); in Britain, important pioneers were members of the International Socialists such as Sheila Robotham or of the International Marxist Group (IMG).
Zelda D’Aprano was a CPA member and an employee of the Meatworkers Union. In October 1969, Zelda chained herself to the doors of the Arbitration Commission building in order to draw attention to the fact that equal pay for women was being treated as a non-issue by both the trade unions and the government. D’Aprano organised this protest with the support of a couple of women friends who were politically inexperienced. They received no support from the CPA despite the fact that CPA members held leading positions in many of the unions that were supposed to be pursuing equal pay for their women members. In fact, D’Aprano was sacked from her in for a CPA-controlled union shortly after, when she criticised the contempt with which the union officials treated their own female staff.
With several other women, Zelda set up the Women’s Action Committee (WAC) with a program to fight for equal pay, social equality, equal education and abortion law reform.
‘No one could accuse the WAC of being a communist front as the communist women were noticeable by their absence’.
As the campaigns of the WAC widened and became more and more successful, D’Aprano came increasingly into conflict with CPA, particularly its male union and branch officials. Zelda eventually resigned the Party after twenty-one years of membership:
‘Taking the overall scene, the party did make a tremendous contribution to my life and being ... it was my university. ... Had I not worked for a communist in the ... Union, I may have remained an idealist, however, the experience gained by the attitude of the communists working in this office, plus the brutal dismissal by the leader, forced me to again think of further dimensions in life’.
Zelda D’Aprano’s experiences and her reactions were typical of those of many of the women who pioneered the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, and not only those in the Communist Party. Ann Curthoys  for instance was a life-long socialist and an anti-Vietnam War activist when she was recruited to the women’s movement in 1969. Ann Curthoys immediately became acutely aware of the patriarchy in the ‘New Left’ milieu, and became active as a feminist, setting up Mejane among other projects. Lynn Beaton was a member of the Socialist Labor League (SLL) before joining the ACTU’s Working Women’s Centre and pioneering work on the value of women’s labour and on sexual harassment.
The CPA did not take any significant role in creating the women’s movement of the 1970s. This is despite the fact that the CPA had provided the only avenue for women to organise around women’s issues for two generations previously. Joyce Stevens describes the attitudes of the CPA to women:
‘While communists condemned the stultifying nature of housework, thus inspiring many women to join in political action, it was nevertheless assumed that even when the housemaid became a socialist worker, the job would still be for women. This assumption was even more strongly held in respect to childcare. Without a struggle to change this division at a personal as well as public level, women and their work continued to be undervalued and segmented. Among party women, there were three main ways of responding to the pressures. Firstly, some party women aspired to stay single, or to marry and have only one child or no children, in order to devote themselves to political work. A very small number of these women were promoted into leading party positions. Secondly, there were women who worked primarily as the carers and nurturers of their children and husbands. Their party work was mainly at community or branch levels. Then there were a small number of women who made superwoman efforts to fulfil both a traditional and radical role.
‘Despite the contradictions in its own practice and the inability to develop a clearer theoretical perspective, the CPA did provide an image of women and their social activity that challenged prevailing social mores, and undoubtedly scared many women and men. The extent to which it could have taken this further, given the male-dominated nature of the party and the absence of a mass feminist movement, is a question for debate.
‘Nevertheless it can be said that the CPA lost touch with some of its own historic traditions in respect of the liberation of women and this, combined with the many heavy social pressures of the time in Australia, made the party an easy prey to the reverses that took place under Stalin’.
The CPA’s women’s organisation, the Union of Australian Women (UAW), came out only after the mass women’s movement had been initiated independently of the Party. Despite the advantage of being a women’s radical organisation with decades of experience behind them, the UAW never became a significant force in the women’s movement.
The Maoists were at first openly hostile to the women’s movement. Being in the leadership of the mass students’ movement in Melbourne, they were obliged to adapt themselves to the consciousness of this movement however, and learned to live with the women’s movement.
The first generation of leaders in the women’s movement came out of the left-wing parties, and came with a knowledge of Marxism. The women of the US SWP for instance, made an important contribution to the women’s liberation movement both theoretically and politically. These women later moved away from the left-wing parties due to their incorrigible sexism. They were later joined by a new generation of feminists who came straight to that position, without having passed through the left parties.
The failure to respond to this social change had a disastrous impact on the majority of revolutionary tendencies as well as on Stalinism. The split which resulted between revolutionary socialism and women’s liberation has been a great blow to both.
The political roots of this split can be traced back to the betrayal of women by Stalin in the mid-1920’s and referred to above. Revolutionary currents which had made a critique of Stalinism in many respects, generally accepted and continued Stalinism's betrayal of women. The impetus to change this came from women in the revolutionary left, but neither the Trotskyist movement nor any section of the Stalinist movement were able to give leadership to the women's movement.
The political immaturity of the masses of young people thrown into struggle in the 1960s made it possible for the crude political methods and revolutionary posturing of the Maoists to have a certain appeal. However, at the end of the ‘cultural revolution’, China began its rightward turn, not only denouncing ‘soviet social-imperialism’ as the main enemy, but going all out for friendship with the USA. As an instrument of Chinese foreign policy, the CPA(M-L) duly embraced the new line with a rapid about-face reminiscent of the zig-zags of the CPA in the 1930s. With the force of a state apparatus behind them Mao’s thoughts achieved universal approval in China, but in the context of student movement in Australia, they were less successful.
Unfortunately, a significant section of young people were miseducated by the Maoists in Melbourne. Many of them later went into the trade union movement, and continued the practices of combining unashamed opportunism with rampant adventurism in the workers’ movement.
In the early 1970s, the federal leadership of the BLF intervened in the NSW branch to get rid of the CPA leadership of the state branch. CPA(M-L) leader, Norm Gallagher, supported this move against his CPA rivals. In alliance with national building industry employers, Gallagher got control of the NSW branch. The ‘bloc of four classes’ theory provided the theoretical cover for this unprincipled manoeuvre to defeat agents of ‘Soviet social-imperialism’.
The Mundey (CPA) leadership in NSW had been engaged in an innovative campaign of ‘Green Bans’, in which industrial bans by builders labourers were used to save historic buildings from demolition and such like. While Mundey himself has now crossed to the right-wing, the Green Bans, and the movement which surrounded them, was a progressive development. It brought broader social questions into the life of the union, and at the same time demonstrated to sections of the middle class and youth involved in this movement, the value of turning to the working class to resolve social problems.
It was a policy very appropriate for the times in which a gap had opened up between the leadership of the workers’ movement and the radical youth. Communism was born in Australia in the conjunction between the anti-war movement and industrial unionism during World War One. Stalinism had of course been responsible for this gap due to its misleadership of the women’s movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement.
The Green Bans campaign was causing considerable frustration for the employers, and Gallagher did them a service. This unholy alliance was the beginning of a process which led to the almost total isolation of the Maoist leadership of the Victorian BLF from the rest of the trade union movement.
Drawing on Maoist ‘guerilla-ism’, the BLF began to use the stopping of concrete pours as a strategy. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as a tactic, but it was used as a permanent and regular feature. It depended for its effectiveness on the action of just a small group, and the passive support of the rest. No other union in the industry had such a weapon in its hand, or used it to the same extent, and the practice contributed to their isolation.
At the same time, the BLF leadership was able to make deals with employers, offering early finishes and no-strike provisions in exchange for increased hourly rates. There is no doubt that the under-paid and exploited members of the BLF made very significant gains under Gallagher’s leadership; the BLF was admired by many workers, and enjoyed considerable loyalty from its members.
However, it is one thing to adopt a policy of self-isolation as a country of 1000 million people. A small building union in Victoria was not a sufficient basis for such wilful self-isolation.
After the election of the Hawke government in 1983, and his corporatist summit with business and union leaders (Gallagher went, but arrived late), the ALP leadership and the employers made a pact to get rid of the troublesome maverick Gallagher. The right-wing ALP government of John Cain in Victoria acted, with the assistance of the ‘Moscow-line’ leadership of the rival BWIU (Building Workers Industrial Union). The union office was raided by police, the union de-registered, and Gallagher charged with personal corruption, and misuse of funds, with allegations about ‘Libyan gold’.
Verbal protests from Trades Hall leaders, some petitions and demonstrations and many court challenges were all to no effect. The BLF was decimated. The smashing of the BLF was blatantly used as a ‘warning shot’ to a number of other unions contemplating a challenge to the corporatist Accord between the trade unions, employers and the ALP government.
The pro-Moscow SPA staunchly opposed Accord-politics in their propaganda. However, this political opposition was not matched by the actions of SPA members who were senior officials in a number of crucial unions – the Waterside Workers, the BWIU, the Seamen and the Miners. Without the support of these unions, the Accord was dead on the drawing board. In the event, the SPA’s opposition turned out to be (in Mao’s phrase) a ‘paper tiger’.
The CPA however played a central role in the establishment of the Accord.
The CPA attempted to re-establish its credentials by vigorously shedding its ‘Stalinist’ image. ‘Stalinist’ in inverted commas, because for the CPA Stalinism meant simply the cult of the individual, and slavish adherence to the Moscow line. The Aarons wing vigorously studied the literature coming out of the New Left and adapted itself to the bourgeois-radical milieu. They succeeded in establishing a limited base amongst the more conservative layers of youth, especially academics and aspiring labour and trade union officials.
Still a significant force in the trade union bureaucracy in the late sixties and early seventies, the Stalinists were instrumental in keeping the anti-war movement separated from the trade union movement in the late 1960s. The demand for trade union action against the war was promoted exclusively by the Trotskyists, and was vigorously opposed by the Stalinists, who saw it as ‘premature’, ultra-left, and generally threatening to their position in the bureaucracy.
The fundamental tragedy of the upsurge of the working class and youth in the late sixties and early seventies was that the young people of this generation were almost oblivious of the history of revolutionary struggle of previous generations. The degeneration of the Communist movement was such that the majority of young people at that time regarded Communism as a conservative ideology belonging to some bye-gone era. And the best that Stalinism could offer to allay such an impression was to adapt to the latest bourgeois theory from the ‘New Left’ intelligentsia.
The movement of the 60s and 70s facilitated the building of a range of political formations to the left of Stalinism. It did also allow the recruitment of a new generation into Stalinism, at a time when Stalinism was fragmenting. But the Stalinist monolith was shattered, and the Stalinists now faced a whole range of competitors to their left. The disintegration of the CPA continued into the 1980s.
Following from decisions of the CPA Congress in 1982, prominent CPA member, Laurie Carmichael, then Assistant Secretary of the ACTU, played the most significant role in formulating and ‘selling’ the Accord to the trade unions after Bob Hawke’s election in March 1983. The Accord supposedly delivered price restraint, increases in the social wage and lower inflation in exchange for ‘discounting’ wage rises below the inflation rate. Estimates vary from 17 to 25% as to the net cut in real wages that has resulted from a decade of operation of the Accord. The price restraint measures never materialised, although the rise of unemployment to the highest level since the Great Depression did reduce inflation.
But most harmful of all was the practice of negotiating the Accord between a handful of representatives of the ACTU Executive and the ALP Cabinet. The deal was then forced down the throats of the entire union movement, with the total suppression of all independent wages struggle. Over a decade, this contributed to a drastic erosion of the base of the trade union movement. As unemployment began to climb and the employers went on the offensive, the unions then found themselves seriously weakened.
By this time, the CPA which had initiated the Accord was dissolving into oblivion. In 1984, Socialist Forum was set up in Victoria, grouping inside the ALP the right-wing of the Socialist Left faction and ex-members of the CPA. Similarly, the Sydney-based Communist Unity. The New Left Party, later known simply as the Left Network, was another attempt of ex-CPA-ers to re-organise in the milieu in which they found themselves – one more or less remote from socialism or working class politics.
Economically and socially, the USSR and the countries under its sway were in decline. This decline had to reflect itself in a decline in the influence of the USSR in the capitalist world.
With the decline in influence and material support of the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, the character of Stalinism as the politics reflecting the interests of the bureaucracy of a workers’ state, had inevitably to be weakened on the international arena.
In the countries fighting for their national liberation against imperialism, the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies still wielded authority by virtue of the fact that these movements depended upon the workers’ bureaucracies for material support against imperialism.
In the countries of Eastern Europe, the state rested directly upon the Red Army, but was increasingly held in contempt by the masses.
In countries such as Portugal and Spain before the collapse of fascism in 1974 and 1975, the total suppression of the political life of the working class made it impossible to by-pass the Communist Parties sustained by the USSR. But as soon as the removal of the fascist terror allowed integration with the rest of Europe, the Second International was able to establish a respectable Social Democratic Party in Portugal almost overnight, and the Spanish Socialist Party, founded only in 1975, won parliamentary power in 1982, and has held it since. The Spanish Communist Party, a mass party before its defeat in the Civil War, received only 9% of the vote in the 1977 elections, and evolved rapidly into the Euro-communist camp.
In Western Europe, the Euro-communist parties rapidly became little more than rival social democratic parties. Only differences in style remained. The French Communist Party still paid nominal homage to Marxism, but a Marxism quite unrecognisable as such; and this combined with remnants of some of the worst features of their Stalinist heritage, including opportunism to the point of accommodating to racism, and support for French imperialism in Algeria.
In the countries such as Britain and Australia where a pro-Moscow split had occurred, the pro-Moscow entity remained intact but marginalised, while the ‘euro’ entity partially and gradually disappeared into the Labour Party, generally situating itself towards the right-wing of social democracy.
The decline of the USSR since the 1950s reduced the political and material support offered by the Soviet bureaucracy to a low level. Membership of the world Stalinist movement offered little.
The trade union and labour bureaucracy offered a superior material base, especially given the upsurge of workers’ struggles in the 1960s and 70s. The entry of masses of middle-class youth into radical politics also opened the possibility of the construction of mini-bureaucracies to the left of Stalinism which could rival those supported by the authority of the workers’ state bureaucracies.
In Trotsky’s words of 1928, 25 years before the adoption of national-road-to-socialism programs by the Communist Parties of the world: ‘There are only two possible courses: one toward international revolution, the other toward reconciliation with the native bourgeoisie.’
The fragmentation of the Communist Parties of the West witnessed the pursuit of alternative bases of support: the trade union bureaucracy, the state, the municipal and Labour Party bureaucracy, the young people attracted to a variety of social movements, or academia. This is not to imply that Communist Party members went on a ‘shopping expedition’. It was of course not a conscious process, but most positively unconscious.
The fragmentation of Stalinism that took place during the 1960s left:
The material basis for the international unity of a working class party is the historical destiny of the working class as the vehicle for Socialism. Such a party can exist and retain its international cohesion only to the extent that it is able to reflect this historical mission of the world proletariat.
Having its social base in the bureaucracy of deformed workers’ states, Stalinism is quite unable to retain this international unity. The bureaucratic centralist methods by which Stalinism attempted to maintain international unity were always doomed to failure. No amount of appeals for centralism could overcome this tendency to fragmentation.
What we have witnessed during this period is the working out of the internal contradiction in the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ pointed out by Trotsky in 1928, and referred to above, in reference to the split between the Chinese and Soviet Communist Parties.
Just as the Comintern was wielded by Stalin as an instrument of Soviet foreign policy, under the policy of ‘socialism in one country’, the bourgeoisie began to ‘take hold’ of the world’s Communist Parties and to wield them as an instrument against the Soviet Union, so to speak. That is to say, the pressure that imperialism exerted upon the national communist parties, adapting them to its own perspectives, was transmitted back to the ‘centre’.
The Bolshevik Party, which enjoyed the support of the masses of the Soviet Union through the cruel years of Civil War, became in Stalin’s hands the instrument for the execution of the leaders of the Revolution. Millions of workers across the world rallied to the cause of the October Revolution, but the Comintern was transformed into the vehicle for the ‘national road to socialism’, the very antithesis of the October Revolution.
The failure of the Communist Parties in the advanced capitalist countries is based at the theoretical level on the theory of ‘socialism in one country’.
Socialism could not be built within the Soviet Union. Socialism could arrive in Russia only by way of the world revolution. It followed therefore that the perspective of ‘catching up and overtaking capitalism’ and ‘proving’ the superiority of Socialism must inevitably redound upon itself. For in reality, life in the USSR provided if anything a negative example, at least for workers in the advanced capitalist countries, who were themselves able to win considerable social gains against capitalism. The prospect of a peaceful transition to Socialism in the advanced capitalist countries on the basis of this ‘proven’ superiority of ‘Socialism’ was thus doomed from the beginning.
One the other hand, parties guided by the Soviet bureaucracy and seeking a national road to Socialism by means of methods learned from their Soviet or Chinese mentors, were bound to fail. They were bound to fail simply because socialist revolution cannot be made on the basis of double-talk, bureaucratic-centralist toadying and self-serving revision and distortion of Marxist theory.
Socialism would not be built within the borders of an isolated USSR or China. So long as the working class of the capitalist countries were misled by Stalinism, nor could it arrive by means of the world revolution, so long as Stalinism dominated the workers’ movement in the West.
The perspective with which the Russian Revolution was made, set out succinctly in Lenin’s April Theses was one of world revolution. The capture of state power in Russia could only serve the working class to the extent that it hastened and facilitated the progress of the world revolution. Stalin’s betrayal meant not only failing to progress the world revolution, it also meant isolation and decline for the Soviet Union. This was a vicious circle.
When the post-war boom crashed, and the running crisis of the past 25 years brought on to the scene forces from which a revolutionary movement could have been built, Stalinism blocked the path of this movement. The heritage of the October Revolution had been almost totally extinguished, surviving only in a marginalised Trotskyist movement.
Isolated from the world economy, the USSR and the East European countries under its sway, stagnated and declined. The aphorism of Marx: Law can never be higher than the economic structure and the cultural development of society conditioned by that structure, expresses the inevitability of a political and social decline in the Soviet Union.
The source of the decline in Stalinism as an international political current was in the decline of the Soviet Union, which in turn had its origin in the failure of the Revolution in Europe in the early 1920s, due to the betrayals of Social-Democracy and the inability of the Bolsheviks to build a new International before they were themselves overtaken by the degeneration of the Soviet Union.
The decline of Stalinism as an international political current subsequently became a factor in the isolation and decline of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the USSR.
But, invested with state power and the instruments of repression in the USSR, the Soviet bureaucracy held on to power and the semblance of authority, as its feet gradually began to turn to clay.