The need for a revolutionary leadership: 1933
This pamphlet was originally published by The Workers Party (Left Opposition) of Australia in Balmain, Sydney – 1933. This edition, published by Militant in Parramatta in September 1996 includes additional explanatory notes by Hall Greenland and Paul True.
This is the first publication of the group that came to be known as the Balmain Trotskyists. When this pamphlet first hit the streets, the Russian Revolution was only a decade and a half old. But in that short space of time things had begun to go terribly wrong.
Defeats of subsequent revolutionary movements in Europe and China had led to a movement of reaction, personified by Stalin, setting in within Russia itself. One of the later consequences of this process was the murder of many of the revolutionaries (who’d actually led the Russian revolution in the first place), by Stalin’s apparatchiks and gangsters, who were steadily taking control of the Communist Party.
The two outstanding leaders to have emerged from the revolutionary movement, Lenin and Trotsky, formed a bloc to try and hold back the reaction. But having been ill for two years, Lenin died in 1924, and it was essentially Trotsky, who from that point on led the fight against this reaction, or Stalinism as it came to be known.
But it was not just ‘Russian thing’. Because of the enormous authority of the Soviet Union within the world communist movement, this reaction (with varying degrees of slander and violence) was mirrored in every Communist Party throughout the world, including Australia.
And likewise throughout the world, opposition had sprung up inside the Communist movement against the policies and methods of Stalinism – with varying degrees of coherence – it was a period of enormous confusion.
These people referred to themselves as the “Left Opposition”. But because the leading figure was Leon Trotsky, they came to be known in political terminology as “Trotskyists”.
One such group existed in Australia, in the inner Sydney waterfront district of Balmain (see Hall Greenland’s introduction).
But it’s perhaps a little misleading to apply the title ‘Balmain Trotskyist’ to this particular document, because at the time it was produced their analysis of events was certainly not in accord with Trotsky’s.
This pamphlet is probably most accurately described as a transitional document of a group emerging from a Stalinist and sectarian background, into what subsequently became a Trotskyist view of things, but they were clearly groping their way. There are many errors in their analysis, it lacks clarity and some of their predictions proved to be plainly wrong.
For instance they expected the Communist Party to decline. They also greatly underestimated the potential of the Minority Movement, which underwent spectacular growth and laid the basis for the Communist Party’s powerful future base in the trade unions.
On a theoretical level, their understanding of the dangers of the mad ‘social-fascism’ line then being pushed by the Communist Party is a little muddy to say the least, indeed there are clear elements of sectarianism in their own thinking.
But it is easy to have a perfectly rounded analysis 60 years down the track. It’s not so easy with events swirling around you, particularly given the cataclysmic nature of those times – with fascism on the rise and the blight of Stalinism spreading like cancer over the international revolutionary movement.
(It should also be borne in mind that this was a different world. Ordinary workers – particularly if they were unemployed, as most of these people were -would be lucky to have a radio, they certainly didn’t have telephones, let alone televisions with international satellite connections, faxes, modems etc. So they were very isolated in today’s terms).
But whilst they were wrong on a number of things, they were quite right on others, most importantly their denunciation of the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ that Stalin suddenly began advocating shortly after Lenin’s death in 1924.
Of all the heresies that the Trotskyists (in Australia) were said to be guilty of, this was the most unforgivable, their Number One crime – they were pilloried and ridiculed by the Communists at the time, yet how resoundingly right history has proven them to be.
But it poses the question, “If you give latitude to the Trotskyists for political errors shouldn’t the same latitude be extended to the Australian Communists?”
The nightmare of Stalinism had not at this stage been revealed fully, certainly in the isolated Australia of 1933. Indeed many thousands of this country’s best activists were attracted to the Communist Party for decades to come. So yes, I believe they should be given some latitude. But surely that only makes the Trotskyists all the more remarkable for their insight so early on.
But it’s interesting now, some 60 years later, with Stalinism in tatters, and a majority of those young people in Australia gravitating in a revolutionary direction, being either in, or around, groups that have emerged from the Trotskyist school of thought.
Because even amongst these different groups there’s a surprisingly profound ignorance of the origins of the Trotskyist movement in Australia (let alone amongst the wider labour movement or the population generally!)
Hopefully this and other planned publications will rectify this state of affairs. Having said that, for people new to this stuff it’s not recommended as the first thing to read.
It was clearly written for activists at the time, dealing with what are now long-forgotten events and demonstrations, so for people unfamiliar with the political circumstances, large parts of this pamphlet will be difficult to follow.
To properly explain all the references to the people and events mentioned would turn the pamphlet into a sizeable volume. Therefore, as background, it’s strongly suggested that readers consult the writings of Trotsky himself covering this period, or for an excellent summary, Ted Grant’s Rise and Fall of the Communist International – (there is also a suggested reading list at the end of the pamphlet.)
Furthermore, some of the incidental stuff is of little importance 60 years later, but if you start editing it down, the question then arises – where do you draw the line? Considering also that in most cases the people reading this would be to some degree familiar with the background, a specialist audience so to speak, I thought the best option was to put in the whole lot.
But for all its roughness this is an enormously interesting historical document, reprinted now for the first time since its original publication in 1933 – this is how Australian Trotskyism originated.
The Old and the Bold make a stand
This manifesto was authored by three men: Arthur Marshall, Professor John Anderson and Jack Sylvester (pictured above with his wife Dora). Each of them was witch-hunted out of the Communist Party during 1932 and this is their ‘goodbye’ note.
Arthur Marshall, a 40 year-old New Zealander, came to Sydney from Victoria on the run from police after instigating what turned into a semi-insurrectional riot by unemployed workers in Ballarat. In Sydney he advocated a new leftist revolution inside the Party along the lines of the 1929 overturn of the old ‘right wing’ leadership. The leadership promptly expelled him and branded him the chief “Trotskyist police agent” on the local scene – a role he was never to play.
The crimes of John Anderson (who was professor of philosophy at Sydney University) were ideological. He defended the right of people like Marshall to expound their dissident views inside the Party and he advocated a revolutionary marxism open to evolution and development. This departure from monolithic Stalinism invoked an anathema from the Party leaders: Anderson, who was never a Party member, but a close supporter, was henceforth an ideological pariah for the Party faithful.
Jack Sylvester had more standing inside the Party than these two. He was one of the founders of the Unemployed Workers Movement, its acknowledged leader in its heyday, and a charismatic character. He clashed with the Party leaders when they wound up the Unemployed Workers Movement in early 1932 and defended both Marshall and Anderson inside the Party.
The breaking point for Sylvester came when the Party leaders failed to support an extraordinary series of protests by the unemployed in Glebe in October, 1932. The Morts Dock and White Bay units in Balmain (where Sylvester lived) both condemned the Party leaders for cowardice and sectarianism. These members, including Sylvester, were summarily expelled in January 1933.
At this point the dissidents began to discuss forming another political organisation. This process was accelerated by the arrival in Australia of copies of the US Trotskyist paper, The Militant. (This paper was founded in 1929 and it had taken four years to turn up in Sydney.) The paper suggested that the local shortcomings were part of an international phenomenon.
But this manifesto, The Need For A Revolutionary Leadership, was fuelled by more than political and philosophical dissent. It had a moral and emotional dimension, due to the Eatock affair.
During the October days in Glebe, two police sergeants had been severely beaten with their own batons. Four men were convicted of assaulting the first sergeant, three were sentenced to two months gaol and one to six months. In the second case, one man was acquitted and the other found guilty and given two years. In both cases the longest sentence was given to one and the same person. It was Noel Eatock, a 21 year-old Aborigine.
There can be no doubt that Eatock was framed by the police. Equally clear was that the Party leaders went on strike as far as the defence of Eatock was concerned. Moral outrage was added to political critique and dawning understanding of the degeneration of the official revolutionary movement based in Moscow.
Hopefully this background will help you understand this super-activist, leftist and crusading tract. Its authors, and the workers which endorsed it, were more anti-Stalinist than Trotskyist – and certainly Trotsky would have bridled at the argument (Anderson’s hand can be seen in this) that the Communist International had been deformed from the beginning by Moscow’s domination.
In the larger historical scene it was a statement from independent-minded socialists who were in many ways pre-Bolshevik as well as anti-Stalinist. (‘The Old and the Bold’, an 18 year-old friend of Jack Sylvester’s, Edna Stack, called them.) Spain was to be the last stand of this tradition which could trace its roots back to 1848. But that is another story.
THE NEED FOR A REVOLUTIONARY LEADERSHIP
The working class movement in Australia is faced with the increasing acuteness of the struggle, a worsening of conditions, and the dangers of fascism and war. These conditions call for an active and intelligent revolutionary lead. This manifesto endeavours to show that such a revolutionary lead does not come, and can no longer be expected to come, from the Communist Party, which, in its frantic efforts to retain legality, evades the struggle at every point.
The bureaucracy of the Communist Party makes it impossible for a revolutionary opposition to function any longer within the Party; the slightest evidence of militant activity and the stirring up of mass actions is made the occasion for expulsion and a campaign of abuse.
Only by the formation of a new party can a lead be given to the masses. The Workers’ Party calls on the masses for active struggle, and already, in associating itself with the Eatock Defence Committee, is organising revolutionary mass action. The case of the Workers’ Party is here presented to all militant workers as a rallying ground for struggle.
The contents of this document are an elaboration of the decisions arrived at during a conference held by various groups on the 13th, 14th and 21st of May 1933.
While realising that this analysis is incomplete, more especially in view of recent momentous happenings in the International arena, this is a defect that the Provisional Secretariat of the Workers’ Party (Left Opposition) proposes to remedy at an early date by the publication of further pamphlets.
The crushing of the German working class organisations under the heel of fascism, brought about by the criminal failure of the Communist International to give a decisive lead to the German Party; the pandering to pacificism at the World Congress Against War in Amsterdam; the statements of the Soviet Delegation at the World Economic Conference; add further proof to the contention that the teachings of Lenin have been distorted by the present Stalinist bureaucracy into a utopian theory of establishing Socialism in one country, with a consequent sacrifice of international revolutionary struggle.
In the near future we will endeavour to present to the workers of Australia, a complete and full analysis of the international situation up to date, in order that a correct ideological basis may be laid for the development of a real revolutionary movement in this country.
THE PRESENT POLITICAL SITUATION
The world wide character of the crisis has undoubtedly intensified the conflict among the several big capitalist powers and Soviet Russia, over a redistribution of the sources of raw materials and of the available markets.
Already the capitalist world has been neatly divided among the capitalist powers of Great Britain, USA, France and Japan. All countries are either directly controlled by, or under the dominance of, one or the other of these great powers.
Japanese imperialism, owing to its late growth, its lack of resources (coal, iron ore), and the far reaching effects of the depression on primary and secondary industry, feels more than the other powers the need for new sources of raw material. Japanese imperialism is the aggressive force that menaces peace, and extends its influence over China as the most logical outlet for its restricted development.
But here Japanese imperialism comes into conflict with Soviet Russia. The influence of the Soviet in Manchuria, the half-interest in the Chinese Eastern Railway, are obstacles to Japanese progress. The policy of the Soviet Government is claimed to be one of non-aggression, but that of Japan must be the opposite. Having gained control of Manchuria, the next step is into Siberia. At what stage war breaks out is to be determined by the extent to which the Soviet Government is willing to retreat before Japanese imperialism.
ON WHAT BASIS WILL THE CAPITALIST POWERS UNITE AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION?
With the exception of Japan, it cannot be said that any of the great powers are menacing Soviet territory. As far as conflict of trade is concerned, Russia has shown herself only too willing to provide a market for the product of heavy industries from the capitalist countries.
Certainly conflict exists owing to the need for Russia to pay for these imports by primary products when the world’s markets are already glutted with foodstuffs. But the main trade of the Soviet is carried on with the central European countries which need Russian exports.
True, Russian oil comes into competition with the English and American product, but if the possibility of building a self-contained socialist state in Russia is correct, then conflict will tend to die out as the need for trade with the capitalist countries becomes less.
The only basis on which the capitalist powers would be forced into uniting against the Soviet Union, would be by the development of the international revolutionary movement to such an extent as to become a menace to world capitalism.
The utilisation of the vast resources of the Soviet Government for building the Communist Parties in the capitalist countries would undoubtedly, in view of the present crisis, have caused an extraordinary growth in the revolutionary movement the world over, to a degree that might precipitate an attack on the Soviet Union.
But this is not the policy of the Communist International. The policy of the CI is that of “socialism in one country.” The Soviet workers declare through their government that they will not interfere in the “internal affairs of the capitalist countries.” Assistance of the Soviet workers in the struggle of the German workers for instance, would undoubtedly result in a rupture of the Trade Agreement between the two countries, and consequently be detrimental to the Second Five Year Plan.
It is this contradiction between the line of “socialism in one country” and the aim of socialism in all countries followed by the Communist Parties, that is responsible for the retarded growth of the Communist Sections in the capitalist countries, and for the development of ‘left-opposition parties’.
EFFECTS OF THE CRISIS WITHIN THE BRITISH EMPIRE
While the maintenance of tariff barriers in Australia, Canada etc, against British manufacturers indicates the conflict between these parts of the Empire, there have nevertheless been strenuous attempts to provide greater cohesion (Ottawa etc).
In Australia the influence of British imperialism remains dominant. The struggle of the local financial and manufacturing interests – (struggle between the Lang government representing NSW manufacturing interests and the Federal Government representing the interests of British imperialism and the big primary producers) – has resulted in a temporary victory to British imperialism, but not without making concessions to the local capitalists in order to win their support – (maintenance of tariff).
We have witnessed a hardening of the power of British financial interests in Australia, a greater unity against the workers, and a definitive drive for more power to the Federal Government.
The greater portion of Australia’s trade is carried on with Great Britain. British capital is heavily invested in Australian Government concerns. We can then expect that Australia will remain bound to the British empire, and that through the development of the crisis, will come a weakening of the power of the small manufacturer, and through the greater centralisation of capital a more planned economy, with an end to both free competition and parliamentary influence on industry. This will mean eventually sweeping aside democratic traditions and customs – the introduction of fascism.
INCORRECTNESS OF THE THEORY OF SOCIAL FASCISM.
Recent events have shown that organised social democracy has now become an obstacle to the development of fascism – (Attacks upon social democratic organisations in Germany, antagonisms towards the Labor Party by fascist elements in Australia.)
While it is correct to state that, for a period, the social democratic parties and the trade unions in a number of countries assumed the role of open supporters of the capitalist state, the situation is now altered.
Supporting the theory that it was possible to reform capitalism in the interest of the workers, the social democratic parties in the early stages of the present crisis acted logically enough as a bolster for capitalism. It is true that there was a tendency for the Labor Party and the trade unions to play an increasingly important part in the capitalist state apparatus, but such a situation could only be fraught with grave danger to capitalism.
The failure of the Labor Party to relieve the effects of the crisis upon the workers brought about an increasing disillusionment among them that would have eventually resulted in movements menacing the capitalist state itself. Also, the petit-bourgeois and small manufacturing elements supporting the Labor Party soon lost confidence in the ability of that party to protect their interests, and were forced over to the support of the UAP.
In NSW the Labor Party lost office because social democracy had by that time shown that it was no longer capable of stabilising the system, and that it had become, in effect, a menace to the further maintenance of capitalism.
While it was correct to say that social democracy paved the way for fascism, in as much as a social democratic regime has in a number of countries preceded the introduction of forms of open bourgeois dictatorship – it was incorrect to believe that the mass social democratic organisations of the workers could be gradually hardened into permanent organs of the capitalist state.
The fact that the Labor Party now lacks support from many considerable sections of the bourgeoisie, and the fact that the basis of reformism has now been destroyed – (owing to the crisis making it impossible, in the main, for capitalism to grant any new concessions to the workers without menacing the system) – forces the leadership of the Labor Party and the trade unions to make the choice; either of fighting for the continuance of social democracy (which is becoming more and more discredited daily, and yet is an obstacle to the development of fascism), or of openly linking up with the UAP. Lyons and others chose the latter course, Lang and Garden the former.
This is not to suggest that we can expect a different line from the Labor Party leaders from that previously followed. They will still fulfill the role of misleading the workers by advocating constitutional action against fascism and for the saving of democracy , and as such, constitute a brake upon the revolutionary struggles of the workers.
THE REASON FOR THE SLOWING DOWN IN THE TEMPO OF THE ATTACK AGAINST THE COMMUNIST PARTY.
The intensive propaganda against the Party prior to the last elections, the activities of the New Guard and the subsequent framing of the anti-communist legislation, was partially due to an attempt to influence large sections of the petit-bourgeoisie, industrialists, and the backward sections of the workers against the Lang administration which was detrimental to imperialist interests, and partially as a preparation for coming attacks on the working class.
That the drive against the Party was temporarily dropped was, and is, due to its continual retreat before the capitalist offensive, and to the absence of any large spontaneous strike movements, or movements under the control of the social democrats.
THE REASON FOR THE GROWTH OF AN OPPOSITION WITHIN THE PARTY.
The development of an opposition, which has taken place almost spontaneously in widely separated areas and without any co-ordination between individuals, and the extraordinary growth of numerous factions and groupings within the Party, has been due to the development of attacks against the workers and from a confusion arising from a condition never before experienced by the workers of this country.
The increased radicalisation of the workers has resulted in a revolt on the part of the ‘leftists’ against obvious right wing opportunism. On the other hand, the political confusion existing among the petit-bourgeois elements has been reflected within the Party in the formation of vacillating and hesitating groups.
A factor that is not insignificant, is the desire of opportunists who have gained some measure of economic security in less troublous times – in the Party and fraternal organisations – to maintain a peaceful existence.
It cannot be denied that the existence of factionalists within the party offers a golden opportunity to agents-provocateurs to weaken the movement. The opportunity for agent-provocateurs to gain admittance, and distort the line of the Party is enhanced by the expulsion of many experienced members, and the ease with which new members are allowed to gain important positions.
THE PRESENT POSITION OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY.
What is the matter with the Communist Party? Why is it, that at a time when the when the discontent of the workers is expressed more openly, and they show an increasing willingness to struggle, that the influence of the Party is on the wane?
Why is there such a great disproportion between the Party’s organisational and ideological influence?
In the following pages we will attempt to answer these questions, and show by a clear analysis of the situation, that the struggles of the workers are being retarded owing to the opportunist errors committed by the leadership of the party that professes to develop and lead these struggles.
We will also attempt to show by a comparison of the tactics of the Central Committee of the Communist Party with the objective situation, how and why the Party has failed to win the leadership of the masses, and what could be achieved by concrete leadership and fearless mass work.
In order to present our case as clearly as possible, we will first of all deal with:
THE LOSS OF INFLUENCE BY THE PARTY
The number of votes cast for Communism in the State elections of NSW can, to a certain degree, be taken as an indication of the ideological influence o the Party.
While the Party polled approximately 13,000 votes in the aggregate, we can only take about 9,000 of these from which to formulate an accurate analysis of the influence of the Party.
That is to say, that in order to arrive at a true estimation of the Party’s ideological influence, we can only make a comparison between the votes obtained in those electorates that were contested in both elections – 1930 and 1932.
For instance, the 1540 votes polled by the Party candidate in Nepean cannot be taken into consideration as no Labor candidate stood for that electorate. The following table will show the increase and decrease in the electorates that were contested at both elections:
ELECTORATE 1930 1932 GAIN LOSS %GAIN %LOSS
Annandale 362 172 – 190 – 52%
Arncliffe 204 153 – 51 – 25%
Auburn 198 112 – 86 – 43%
Balmain 233 386 153 – 65% –
Bankstown 192 287 95 – 49% –
Botany 167 153 – 14 – 8%
Georges River 147 198 51 – 34% –
Glebe 166 346 180 – 108% –
Hurstville 132 134 2 – 1% –
King 277 313 36 – 13% –
Kogarah 145 135 – 10 – 6%
Lakemba 140 136 – 4 – 2%
Marrickville 89 124 35 – 39% –
Newtown 224 204 – 20 – 8%
Paddington 272 281 9 – 3% –
Parramatta 122 166 44 – 36% –
Phillip 296 330 34 – 11% –
Redfern 224 160 – 64 – 28%
Ryde 96 182 86 – 89% –
Bulli 331 375 44 – 13% –
Cessnock 1200 807 – 393 – 32%
Hamilton 325 175 – 150 – 46%
Illawarra 231 318 87 – 37% –
Hartley 400 276 – 124 – 31%
Kurri 816 1582 766 – 93% –
Newcastle 176 331 155 – 86% –
Sturt 685 629 – 56 – 8%
Waratah 183 291 108 – 59% –
TOTALS 8163 8875 Apparent Increase 712 or 9%
(Note: These figures are the final published in the Sydney Morning Herald – 13/6/32. They do not include postal votes.)
It is significant that where the Party has been established for a long period, as in places like Newtown, Redfern, Annandale, Auburn, Lakemba, and Kogarah (Sydney), Cessnock, Hamilton and Hartley (Coalfields) that actual losses are recorded. It is no argument to say that the Party vote was greatly increased in certain country areas, for the Party had not been established long enough in these areas for its opportunist line to be recognised.
LOSS OF INFLUENCE IN FRATERNAL ORGANISATIONS.
Party influence in the fraternal organisations is also on the wane. The Unemployed Workers Movement (UWM) which once embraced thousands of workers is now out of existence, and has not been replaced by another mass organisation or by Party fraction work in the existing social democratic organisations. Nor has any real attempt been made to set up unemployed committees on a mass scale.
Other fraternals, the Workers International Relief, League Against Imperialism, International Labour Defence and Minority Movement are stagnating. The membership of the Friends Of The Soviet Union is declining and the Pastoral Workers Union has but a small membership in spite of good objective conditions for development. Other fraternals which have existed on paper only cannot be considered.
PARTY’S OFFICIAL REPORTS SHOW DECLINE OF INFLUENCE
The greatest proof of the Party’s declining influence is contained in the Organisation Report of the District Committee submitted to the October Conference 1932. In this report it was stated that the strength of the Party in No.1 District was 1040, and the combined strength of the fraternals 1080, which figure includes Party members.
The Organisation Report at the Xmas Plenum showed a membership of 800 Party members in the No.1 District, and since that date the figures for No.1 District have declined still further. It must be remembered also, that only a small percentage of the Party membership is ever really active.
While the decline of the ideological influence among the masses is very apparent, nevertheless, the influence still remaining is gradually being lost owing to the Party’s failure to organisationally crystallise that influence.
The organisational weakness of the Party is exposed by the fact that only a few hundred of the votes cast for Communism have been won to membership of the Party. If we examine the figures of some of the more industrialised areas, we shall find definite proof of this.
ELECTORATE VOTE INCREASE STATE OF PARTY AND FRATERNALS
GLEBE 346 108% Only about 10% in Party or fraternals
BALMAIN 386 65% Party membership about ten. Only WIR under Party influence
LEICHHARDT 313 247% A very small unit exists augmented by members from other areas. No fraternals
BANKSTOWN 287 49% No Party activity. No fraternals.
Such areas as Drummoyne and Marrickville with Communist votes of 115 and 124 respectively, are allowed to remain dormant. Similar conditions can be said to exist to a greater or lesser degree throughout the State, and indeed throughout the whole of Australia.
The falling off in the numbers attending demonstrations is a further proof, not only of waning influence, but of organisational weakness. On May 1st 1932, the official Party check showed 1700 marchers. On May 1st 1933, a careful check gave the number as 800. (About the number of Party members in No.1 District according to the report of the Xmas Plenum.)
Despite being banned, the demonstration on August 1st 1932 was well attended, but owing to the confusion brought about by the lack of an organised plan, and the failure of the leaders to lead, nothing was achieved, and the Party lost prestige in the eyes of the workers.
On November 7th 1932 the change of plan at the last moment also caused confusion, and the demonstration was a fiasco. The failures of August 1st and November 7th were reflected in the attendance on International Unemployed Day, February 27th 1933, which although better organised around popular demands, only succeeded in attracting a few hundreds of workers.
WORK IN UNITS
While the number of factory units is said to have increased, the only work they indulge in is organising study circles and selling papers. At intervals a lot of whitewash is spread around in the form of slogans etc, but no real mass work is undertaken. The Socialist competition supposed to have been completed on April 1st 1933, set the task of organising new factory units and increasing the sales of the Red Leader and Workers Weekly. The suggestion of an improvement in mass work cannot enter into a competition of this nature.
WEAKNESS IN VARIOUS STRUGGLES
In the struggles that have occurred, Glass Workers, Wool Workers, Textile Workers, the Party has not been able to exercise any appreciable influence. Indeed so divorced from the struggle was the Minority Movement that the Glass Workers strike had been on for two days before the MM knew about it! And this despite the fact that their central office was only a short distance from the scene of the trouble. When the Young Communist League (disguised as the MM) eventually appeared on the scene, the strikers repudiated them.
The organisational weakness of the Party was never more apparent than during the Questionairre struggle. The campaign was not planned, and the sporadic outbreaks which occurred in several districts (Coalfields, Lithgow, Broken Hill, Glebe) were not coordinated.
At the height of the campaign, when there was an opportunity of extending it, the Party vacillated, and the enthusiasm of the unemployed for the struggle was allowed to abate. A plan of campaign put forward by a lower Party organ advocating the organising of a series of synchronised meetings throughout the metropolitan area to break down police concentration, was termed “adventuresome” by the leadership of the Party, and those who put it forward were dubbed “anarchists”.
In the foregoing paragraphs we have briefly outlined the facts showing the loss of influence and organisational weakness of the Party. We will now proceed to deal with the cause of those weaknesses.
While the fundamental cause must be traced to the political errors of the Party leadership, with which we shall deal later, their immediate cause can be discovered within the Party itself, and can be dealt with under the heading of:
THE ABUSE OF DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM
The weakness of the Party in mass work is only a reflex of inner Party weaknesses. The abuse of democratic centralism by the present leadership, which has taken the form of a complete stifling of criticism, that has developed in the Party membership a “fear complex” that retards initiative and makes for apathy in the lower Party organs.
Honest criticism is met with cries of “disruption” and “agents provocateur”, and those who have the temerity to stand up to their statements are summarily expelled and branded as anti-working class.
At No.4 District Conference in 1932, criticism of the Exam. Boards recommendations, although invited, was termed disruption and the gag applied (King and Higgins). At the Party Plenum held in Sydney during Xmas 1932, the criticism presented by the Melbourne delegates was termed “disruptive” and its withdrawal demanded under pain of expulsion.
At the Section Conference held in No.1 District in 1932 the cut and dried nature of the proceedings was evident. The Exam. Boards, picked by the Section Committee under the supervision of the DC*, were composed of strong supporters of the DC. Any potential opposition was intimidated by questions being put as a demand for those against to state their disapproval. Those speaking in opposition were shut down and their criticism distorted by the DC representatives.
At the DC Conference held in Melbourne in February 1933 to deal with Jackson* and Co., the working of a fraction in support of the Central Committee was evident, and worked successfully by the simple method of eliminating known Jackson supporters from the Conference.
The resolution passed by the Port Melbourne Section in July 1932 was responsible for the expulsion of those who supported it. Similar resolutions passed by the Ballarat Section at the same time were only rescinded under the threat of expulsion.
A criticism of the Central Committee prepared by the Morts Dock Unit (Sydney), was responsible for the expulsion of Sylvester and numerous others in Balmain who supported it. Other prominent members of the Party – Wilson (South Sydney), Batty (Parramatta), Eatock (Bankstown) and Hitchins (South Coast), were expelled for criticism of the leadership made at unit meetings and conferences.
A similar condition exists in the Young Communist League of Australia with L.Short (Sydney) and Dick Eatock (Bankstown) being particular examples of how critics of the leadership are dealt with.
On the other hand, plenty of criticism is allowed as long as it does not damage the prestige of the leading organs. The reports at Conferences and Plenums of the Party team with self-criticism. W.Orr, who has at Conferences and through the Workers Weekly indulged in scathing and correct criticism of the Party failures, stops short when it comes to doing anything to overcome the mistakes he is criticising, and is thus guilty of the worst form of opportunism.
“Right-opportunism” is a favourite cry of the leadership in order to whitewash their own brand. Examples of this are the expulsions of Jackson and Co as “right-opportunists” and criticism of “right-opportunism” in South Australia (Workers Weekly, May 5th 1933).
“Left-opportunism” is also severely condemned by the leadership, itself guilty of some of the most glaring leftist errors under the influence of the Communist International representative (Bankstown and Newtown evictions, attack on Trades and Labour Council delegates, etc)
RESONSIBILITY FOR ERRORS PLACED ON INDIVIDUALS
When it becomes absolutely necessary for mistakes to be admitted, they are fastened on to individual members.
Moxon has been accused of numerous errors including errors in the early days of unemployed agitation in Melbourne, although he was under the control of the Politbureau of the party at all times.
Shaylor and Wilson. These comrades were charged with mistakes in No.4 District, although not publicly. Wilson was accused of being responsible for the mistakes on the waterfront and was withdrawn. (Since when the International Seaman’s Club has been closed down.)
McKenzie. Was accused of turning the Unemployed Workers Movement into an organisation for fighting the class struggle through the capitalist courts.
Jackson and Co. After the expulsion of these comrades the mistakes of District 4 were placed on their shoulders.
Tripp and Co. Were made to take the blame for the failure of the Friends Of The Soviet Union demonstration on November 7th 1932.
The fact that the deputation to the Government “took too much time” is said to be the reason that the arrangements for the demonstration on February 27th (International Unemployed Day) were not carried out. As a matter of fact, all the mistakes of the Party can be traced to the opportunism which manifests itself in the Central Committee to adequately combat opportunism throughout the whole Party.
THE LINE OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE HAS CHANGED FROM A “LEFT-SECTARIAN” TO A “RIGHT OPPORTUNIST” LINE.
From the period of 1929 to the last State elections of June 1932, the line of the Party was marked by rigid sectarianism. In their propaganda work among the masses, the individual Party members were overbearing and insulting.
This sectarianism was very apparent in the fraternal organisations. The Unemployed Workers Movement was regarded as a section of the Party, and lecturers sent around the UWM halls and meetings were mostly Party members, their subjects were unconnected with the needs of the workers, and indeed did not deal with any concrete questions at all but the class struggle in the abstract.
The same conditions existed in other organisations, which at that time were termed auxiliaries. The Party fractions worked mechanically and overcame the arguments of their opponents by branding them as “social fascists” and “anti working class”.
To show how this sectarian line was supported by the Central Committee, reference can be made to the article appearing in the Workers Weekly on May 6th 1932, wherein it was stated that certain expelled members of the Party should not be allowed to enter the halls of the fraternal organisations.
About the time of the NSW elections of June 1932 the results of this sectarianism became apparent in the attacks that took place on Party candidates by social democratic supporters (Millers Point, Surry Hills, Auburn).
Nowadays great pains are taken to show that the fraternal organisations are not connected with the Party. The members of the Anti War Executive are spoken of as “Misters” instead of “Comrades” (Workers Weekly May 5th 1933). The Workers Sports Federation develops merely as a bourgeois sports club in which no mention of Communism is allowed. The Party platform in the Referendum campaign was open to all as long as they were prepared to oppose the Referendum proposals of the government. It was not demanded that they should support the Party attitude towards the referendum.
At the Anti War Conference held in the Adyar Hall on April 8th 1933, pacifist speeches went unchallenged and were echoed by a leading Party member, Nugent, who said that “war was a question for humanity, not the working class alone”.
The Party cooperates-operates with, yet fails to attack, the opportunist Chapman of the ARU, and Campbell of the ALP Glebe breakaway section, and others of the same type. The Party has ceased to oppose the opportunism of the Labor Party leaders through the columns of the Workers Weekly. We are told in the issue of May 5th 1933, “That a successful committee has been formed in the Referendum campaign composed of equal representation from the CP and the ALP”.
APPOINTMENT OF RIGHT OPPORTUNISTS TO LEADING POSITIONS
One of the most outstanding examples of the opportunism of the Central Committee has been the appointment to leading positions of members with comparatively little experience in the struggle. With the important task of building the Party in the industries, and the need for gaining the confidence of workers in the everyday struggles, we would expect to find those who had proved themselves occupying the leading positions. But not so!
Party members who have distinguished themselves in actual struggles, eviction fights, demonstrations and industrial activities are passed over, and preference given to petit bourgeois types (Aarons, Devanney, Nugent etc).
In No.4 District, proletarian types like Jackson, Andrews etc, are replaced by individuals like Burns and O’Day. These are only examples. Throughout the whole Party there has been a decided move to fill all important posts with right opportunists, of whom there are any number owing to the conditions under which the Party has grown.
The foregoing is a brief analysis of the present position of the Party and its weaknesses, but in order to arrive at a complete understanding of the fundamental cause of these weaknesses, and their relation to the international revolutionary situation in general, it is necessary to deal exhaustively with the political errors of the Central Committee and their relationship to the Communist International.
THE POLTICAL ERRORS OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF AUSTRALIA AND THEIR RELATION TO THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL
The political errors of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia must be studied in relation to its general political line. This line will be understood, not by accepting the statements of policy issued through the Workers Weekly or made by leading Party members, but by examining the concrete work of the Party in all spheres of activity over a sufficient period of time to ensure that our observations are generally correct.
(1) THE PRESENT LINE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF AUSTRALIA
The Central Committee, as has been shown in the foregoing, has swung from a left-sectarian to a right-opportunist line. This means the acceptance of the indefinite stabilisation of world capitalism. The previous over-estimation of the crisis, which was responsible for an exaggerated and distorted application of the line of independent leadership of the workers, and the extent to which the Labor Party was regarded as responsible for the introduction of fascism, isolated and discredited the Party among workers, and provided a basis for the extraordinary growth of defeatism amongst the membership, when the revolutionary wave, expected to begin in Germany and end in Australia, failed to materialise.
This defeatism now characterises the whole line of the Party, since the policy is, that it should function as a portion of a united front with the fraternal organisations and the ALP, in which its independent identity will be obscured. While verbally maintaining an opposition to fascism the Central Committee is here adopting a reformist line.
The acceptance of the indefinite stabilisation of world capitalism means the acceptance of the indefinite partial stabilisation of Australian capitalism and thus of the approach of a period in which it will be possible to win small concessions from the capitalists. At the same time it means in practice, in spite of denials, the inevitability of fascism in Australia and other countries.
The sinking of the independence of the Party and the capitulation to fascism follows directly from the line of socialism in one country, which is accepted, not only by the Central Committee but by the Communist International, and which is only possible with a continued stabilisation of capitalism.
Any immediate and sudden deepening of the crisis is, on this view out of the question, and it is implied that the best thing that the Australian and other parties can do for the time being, is to enlighten the workers concerning the conditions in the Soviet Union. That this is generally accepted by the Communist Party is shown by the following facts:
(A) The prominence given to Friends Of The Soviet Union propaganda in the Workers Weekly.
(B) The important place given to the Friends Of The Soviet Union in Party work.
(C) The fact that without exception, the students returning from the Soviet Union have only one idea of assisting the revolution, and that is by spreading propaganda about the conditions in Russia.
(D) The setting up of anti war committees to support the peaceful development of the Soviet Union, without any connection with local struggles.
The policy of the Central Committee thus has as its two main features a verbal demand for a united front against capitalism and an actual decline to a reformist position. This vacillating and defeatist policy is connected, as has been shown, with the subordination of the world revolution to the building of socialism in one country, and is further exemplified in the Party’s attitude toward illegality.
(2) THE OVER-ESTIMATION OF THE ILLEGALITY DANGER
The policy of the Central Committee in regard to illegality has also combined an actual retreat from struggle with a pretence at maintaining a revolutionary front. It has resulted:
(A) In the isolation of the leadership from the rank and file (childish conspiratorial work being indulged in, such as the hiding of prominent members of the Central Committee instead of the building of an alternative leadership of the Party composed of comrades unknown to the authorities as leading Party members.)
(B) In a frantic campaign of expulsions in order to maintain a “united Party Front” against the attacks of the bourgeoisie.
(C) In the almost complete dropping of independent work (united front meetings instead of Party Meetings).
(D) In a complete denial of bolshevik self-criticism and democratic centralism.
The Central Committee took up the attitude that the Party was entering a period of crisis when it was necessary to maintain an iron discipline, and unswerving loyalty and confidence in the Central Committee was demanded. Actually this demand for loyalty was a demand to allow the Central Committee to “protect” itself and the Party from the bourgeoisie, by watering down Party policy!
It can be understood that in a period of crisis, when a revolutionary party is being attacked from all sides and being driven underground, it would be necessary for instructions to be issued without the rank and file of the Party fully understanding the reasons for such instructions.
Moreover, except for the purpose of deciding the best manner of putting them into effect, such instructions would be carried out without discussion.
But such a position is only possible with a leadership which has gained experience in the struggle; that has the confidence of the rank and file; and that maintains contact with it however difficult this may be; and continually takes into consideration the experience and opinion of the lower organs of the Party and of individual members.
What will be the result, when a leadership long isolated from the struggle; lacking courage; that has failed to win the confidence of the workers …or even have contact with any considerable section of them in the days of legal development of the Party – finds itself confronted with the possibility of illegality?
An over-estimation of the danger!
A mechanical attempt to apply a very theoretical knowledge of illegal work!
A decided tendency to liquidate the Party in order to provide an excuse for saving their own skins!
Complete isolation of the higher from the lower organs!
Hysterical appeals for “loyalty”, and the branding of the critics of their spineless actions as provocateurs and renegades!
(3) THE INCORRECT POLICY IN REGARD TO THE FRATERNAL ORGANISATIONS
A: The liquidation of the Party by means of the fraternal organisations.
Whatever role they are supposed to fulfill in theory, experience in Australia shows that the building of the fraternal organisations (in their present form) checks the growth of the Party, particularly in industry. They create organisational confusion and bureaucracy, cause the maintenance of social democratic forms of organisation etc.
Only one fraternal organisation, the Unemployed Workers Movement (UWM), can be said to have gained real mass support or to have been born out of struggle. In fact, from the ranks of the UWM have come the majority of the members of the Party, and it has supplied the forces for the building of the other fraternal organisations.
With the exception of the Friends Of The Soviet Union, which will be dealt with later, all the other fraternal organisations – Workers Defence Corps, Workers International Relief, League Against Imperialism etc, have existed as mechanically set up propaganda groups.
These organisations have seldom extended from their centres, which have provided safe harbours for opportunists and place-seekers. We find that, when the fraternal organisations are functioning, their activities overlap and that little independent work is left for the Party.
At a time when the energy of the Party should have been turned in the direction of establishing itself in the factories and among the unemployed, it was wasted in the formation of fraternal organisations.
When the fraternal organisations were first set up, they were regarded merely as appendages of the Party, and were mechanically controlled by the Party fraction. Now it is the policy to deny the identity of the Party with the fraternal organisations, without however, deceiving anyone or making for the building of the fraternal organisations by such opportunism.
The very nature of their organisation makes it impossible for the fraternal organisations to become anything but isolated sects, with no contact with the workers and therefore no connection with the struggle.
The setting up of these organisations is an example of mechanical instructions from the Communist International mechanically repeated by the various Communist Parties. Their centralised form and detachment from the masses reflect corresponding features, not only in the Communist Parties, but in the Communist International, which has never taken sufficient account of the conditions of movement in each country.
B: Friends Of The Soviet Union (FOSU)
This organisation has in Sydney and Melbourne gained a fairly large following. This does not mean that such justifies a separate organisation to spread “the truth about the Soviet Union”. The reason for its rapid development is found in the curiosity of workers, regarding conditions in the Soviet Union, a curiosity that remained unsatisfied until the formation of the FOSU.
Lecturers recently returned from Russia were speaking on a popular subject, and so could get a good hearing. The Five-Year Plan was something new, something to be discussed even by the bourgeoisie.
Furthermore, the FOSU provided a haven for those worn out and romantic revolutionaries, whose idea of the class struggle was dwelling in a golden daydream about the building of socialism in Russia, ready to applaud the achievements of the Russian workers, but not ready to do anything for socialism in their own country.
The failure to connect the propaganda of the FOSU with local struggles, has led inevitably to the falling away of the popular interest which was at first around. The second Five-Year Plan, despite the claims made for it, is obviously exciting less interest than the First.
This is because it can not be shown that the Russian workers are fighting alongside the rest of the world’s workers for a common object. The relationship of the internal and foreign policy of the Soviet Union to the world revolution, has not been demonstrated. We have merely had exposures of the wicked bourgeoisie who wish to sabotage the Soviet industry and destroy international peace.
Even these exposures have not been put in a form readily understandable by the average worker. The FOSU thus appears as a non-revolutionary organisation – a provider of popular lectures – and as such is bound to decline still further.
C: The Minority Movement (MM)
The question might be raised as to why the MM has stagnated, when, as distinct from the other fraternals, it was supposed to be based on industry and to be in the forefront of the class struggle. It is enough to say that the MM has failed to play a decisive part in any struggle, although its line has often been adopted spontaneously by the workers.
The MM reflects all the evasion of struggle shown by the Communist Party. It has suffered, and still suffers, from excessive centralism, and has been mechanically set up from above. It has been an ineffective substitute for the working of Party fractions in the factories (the latter being, as Piatnitsky shows, the settled policy of the bolsheviks), and has merely provided Party members with an excuse for evading struggle on the job.
D: The Unemployed Workers Movement (UWM) and the United Front
If the line laid down by Piatnitsky had been followed in the building of the UWM, many errors would have been avoided. Piatnitsky said that in countries where the Red Trade Unions (and the MM) are closely connected with the Party, there the unemployed organisations should be entirely apart and free.
The MM in this country is, and always has been identified with the Party. Yet we have the spectacle of the Party openly building the UWM and then proclaiming it far and wide as “a component part of the MM”. Well known members of the Party were placed in control and changed whenever the Party thought fit without any consideration for the views of the rank and file of the UWM. Was it any wonder that the organisation became labelled “communist” and developed sectarianism?
When the sectarianism of the Party had so impregnated the UWM that most of the social democratic members had been driven away in disgust, and the ALP leadership had taken the opportunity of declaring it a “banned” organisation, the Party decided to abolish it and set about building a loose form of organisation on the line of the united front as conceived by the Central Committee.
The way in which this was carried out is another instance of the arrant stupidity with which they approach all problems concerning the rank and file of the fraternals. Despite the fact that the UWM was widely advertised as a “non-Party” organisation under rank and file control, the decision to abolish it came from above……from the Communist Party!
No attempt was made to call a national conference of the UWM to decide the matter – no attempt was even made to aquaint the remaining branches of this decision, instead, the executive committee of the UWM was deliberately sabotaged by the Central Committee and put out of existence, while the leadership of the unemployed was mechanically transferred to the “United Front of Employed and Unemployed” set up under the guidance of S. Moran at 107 George St. West.
The whole significance of the united front tactic was lost to the Party leadership. Instead of following the line laid down by Piatnitsky, who advocated that where the organisational machinery existed among the unemployed, that machinery should be used as a basis for the building of the united front; we find the Party setting up the “united front” as a parallel organisation to the UWM.
All the mistakes made by the Party in the UWM were repeated and magnified in their application of the united front tactic. Comrade Moran, a prominent Communist candidate at the time was mechanically placed in the leadership. The Workers Weekly came out with columns of material about the new organisational form of the unemployed.
Regardless of the fact that the theory at the time was for a united front from below, national committee, state and district councils were set up from above, without any concrete mass work being done among the workers to gain support for the new organisational form.
The consequence was that various Councils etc were set up representing only a very small section of the unemployed, and the organisation was more sectarian than ever.
Later it was suddenly discovered that the “united front” was a “tactic”, and much rationalising was indulged in regarding the incorrect application of the united front from below. But instead of abolishing the so-called State Committee of the United Front of Employed and Unemployed and getting down to the concrete work of forming unemployed committees around the ration dumps etc, (building from below) they once more mechanically changed the name of the organisation to the State Unemployed Council, and carried on as before – building from above.
Through the criminal errors of the Party leadership, the unemployed today are in a state of disorganisation more chaotic than ever before. They have gone back to the days prior to the formation of the UWM, and the members of the few existing organisations are confused and bewildered as to what is being done. So thoroughly has the unemployed movement been disrupted that it could be said, without exaggeration, that paid agents of the bourgeoisie could have done no better!
(4) GROWTH OF BUREAUCRACY
The most damning indictment that can be levelled at the Central Committee is their dishonesty of criticism; their adoption of correct resolutions and theses yet their refusal to put them into effect, even to the extent of sabotaging the desire of the rank and file to apply the instructions and directives sent out to them.
A few examples of this dishonest criticism are:
(A) Criticism of right opportunism and bureaucracy
(B) Talk of factory organisation
(C) Talk of the need for struggle
The machinery of the Party makes it possible for a leadership of right opportunists to maintain control under the cloak of “correct” resolutions and directives. The Party organisation is not only over-centralised, but has created such a variety of organisational forms that the main activity of the membership has become that of maintaining an organisational routine.
Mechanical directives from the centre filter through finally to the units without having received any concretisation on the way. Until recently (though an attempt is now being made to correct this) there has been a multiplication of departments, which instead of making for a “division of labour”, merely make for a lack of co-ordination of activities, most of the time of the active Party functionary being spent in attending useless meetings, at which precisely the same questions are brought up.
This overestimation of the role of the apparatus has resulted in the Party machinery becoming an obstacle in the way of further progress, an unhealthy growth that, while preventing the independent activity of the Party, must eventually react upon itself and destroy the Party.
The formation of the fraternals still further intensifies the position, makes for hosts of functionaries, stupid duplication of work, and numerous offices, until, when carried to its logical conclusion we find that the whole movement turns within its own radius instead of spreading out amongst the workers. But long before this process is complete, decay has already set in and the machine begins to tumble under its own weight.
Why is it, it may be asked, that this over-estimation of the role of the apparatus has not been overcome by the pressure of the rank and file of the Party, when so many become sick of endless meetings and soon realise that something is wrong? The answer lies in the undemocratic centralism developed within the Party.
The machinery of the Party tends to create a special kind of bureaucrat who is a product of his environment and training, and who cannot see any other need than that of attending to the functions of the machine that has created him.
Therefore, revolts on the part of those whose experience in mass work has developed their initiative and understanding are easily suppressed, because criticism is only allowed if it will not damage the machine – only if it will not menace the power of the bureaucrats.
The Central Committee enforces obedience without discussion. For this reason the leading positions in the Districts and Sections must be filled by those who are distinguished by one thing only – a blind acceptance of directives from above!
Gradually, as the mistakes become evident, those Party members who are capable of thinking for themselves, realise that the fault lies with the Central Committee, and so they are slowly eliminated from all positions or expelled from the Party to make way for newer and more subservient elements. Thus in time the main activity of the leadership becomes directed toward preserving a gradually weakening structure, for without weakening the structure they must surely be overthrown.
All this involves the denial of inner Party democracy. Had Party democracy been observed, had it been possible for criticism of the leadership to be made by lower organs of the Party, if questions were allowed to be discussed fully before a decision was made, then we would not have had the weakening of the movement through the growth of factions, and the expulsions of numerous Party members.
Instead of a violent and long suppressed revolt that splits the Party in two, and must eventually result in the formation of a new Party, the change would have come about more gradually and naturally.
The bureaucracy of the Party reflects the bureaucracy of the Communist International, and indeed, was largely brought about – along with the transition from left-sectarianism to right-opportunism – under the influence of the CI representative.
From the Communist International also, formal instructions are sent out without sufficient understanding of the special problems of each area, and without provision for the development of initiative on the part of the sections, and thus for the concrete carrying out of the instructions.
In the Communist International, as in the Communist Party of Australia, no congress is held, discussion on fundamental issues is not carried through the sections, no local contributions to method or theory are allowed for, and divisions in the organisation (especially the position of expelled members) are explained to the sections either inadequately or not at all.
It is to be emphasised, that the Bolshevising of the sections can only take place if there is local initiative, and not by the mere laying down of conceptions, lines of action, and forms of organisation from above.
(5) OPPORTUNISM AND THE MECHANICAL LEAD FOR STRUGGLE
A: Failure in mass work
The mass work of the Party is characterised by consistent opportunism, expressed in a dependence upon the spontaneous upsurge of the masses. Instead of giving a lead, of calling for struggle, the Party line is to leave the question for the workers to decide.
Notable examples are the Questionnaire struggle and the line of the Pastoral Workers Industrial Union. Instead of an intensive campaign against the Dole Questionnaire to culminate in a demand that the paper should not be signed; a picketing of the dumps on the first day; and a continuation of the agitation if the first round failed to rally mass support – instead of this line of organised resistance, the workers were merely asked to burn the forms, and it was pointed out at the same time, that if sufficient could not be organised to do this nothing would be done. “The militants shall not be victimised” it was stated. Naturally, such a suggestion of defeat in the beginning of the campaign prevented the possibility of success and gave an opportunity for Garden to attack the leaders of the agitation.
The Pastoral Workers Industrial Union (PWIU) under the leadership of Norman Jeffrey, has twice approached the question of a strike in the pastoral industry (1932-33) by circularising the various centres, asking for the opinion of the shearers in question. The intention was of course to call a strike should the majority decide that way. What an opportunistic substitute for the work of energetically preparing a campaign under the leadership of the PWIU with a definite call to action.
Another form of this opportunism is shown by the substitution of deputations to the government for local mass work around immediate demands. Outstanding examples are the deputations on February 27th 1933 (International Unemployed Day) and the deputation of the Workers International Relief on May 17th 1933.
In both cases a list of immediate demands was presented and gracefully received by the government. The organisers admit that nothing can be gained by such a procedure, but say, “We must first convince the workers that deputations are no good, and then we will take other action.”
This is in spite of the fact that the vast majority of the workers are unaware that a deputation is taking place, and therefore are not likely to be disillusioned when nothing results, nor are they likely to rally to a call for struggle given by those who so lack confidence in the workers and in their own revolutionary line, as to not only support, but to organise around a line of action they know to be futile.
On the previous International Unemployed Day (1932), weak tactics were also employed. Two thousand responded to the call for a demonstration, and speeches were made to them in the Sydney Domain whilst a deputation waited on the government. The government refused to see the deputation, and the workers, when this was reported to them, desired to demonstrate before Parliament House. No lead was given them, however, by the leading Party members present, they merely advised the workers to go back to their respective districts and organise.
Opportunism is also shown by the adoption of indefinite slogans, and the issuing of confused and contradictory directives. While creating an impression that a lead has been given, these tactics continually sabotage any possibility of struggle.
The slogan, “Against 48 hours – strike!” put forward some months ago, was so confusing that the average worker could not understand it. Instead of a positive lead, following a clear analysis of the position, and a review of the work already done, the April 1933 issues of the Workers Weekly came out with a negative slogan, “Don’t Work 48 Hours!”.
When following a “left” lead, the Glebe agitation against the Questionnaire developed unexpected mass support, everything that could be done to sabotage the struggle was done by the Party leadership. Contrary directives were sent out. Calls to support the Thursday night meeting (October 27th) were made and cancelled at the last moment by the DC Secretariat, who apparently vacillated when faced with concrete struggle, and attempted to prevent the meeting being held.
It was obvious that the best way to call off the meeting (if they realised that the meeting was an incorrect move) was to come to the place of assembly and cancel it. This they failed to do, but adopted the opportunist tactic of attempting to alienate mass support by notifying units and sections at the last moment of cancellation.
However, this belated change of front did not succeed in preventing the workers from rallying, and so the Party members (now in opposition) who were present, knowing nothing of the last minute decision, carried on until the meeting was smashed up by the police.
On the following night (October 28th) a mass meeting assembled at the Glebe Town Hall. This meeting, which was much larger than that of the previous night, was resentful of the terrorist tactics of the police, and could have been utilised to raise the struggle to a higher plane. Once more however, the Party leadership vacillated, and when told to move on by the police, led the retreat to the Post Office corner and held a “tolerated” meeting, from which, disgusted with the timidity of the leaders, the workers soon drifted away. Thus, what should have been a mere incident in the struggle, terminated in an inglorious climax.
The campaign of sabotage has continued with the clumsy handling of the Eatock “frame-up” (loss of funds, petition forms with only Payne and Moran’s names etc, declaring of mass united front committees “bogus”).
Taking recent work as a whole, there has not been the same tendency as before to issue periodical calls for action without taking any definite steps to see that the campaign is developed. Rather, the tendency now is to drag in the tail of the workers struggles, and instead of making any improvement in Party mass work, to drop even a pretence of mass work.
B: The Eatock Case
This case bids well to go down in the annals of the revolutionary movement as one in which the Party surpassed itself in exposing its bureaucracy, sectarianism and opportunism. Briefly, the facts of the case are these:
Noel Eatock, a member of the Opposition was awarded two and a half years imprisonment for the part he was alleged to have taken in the Glebe Questionnaire struggle of October 1932. This sentence is the heaviest that has been inflicted on a class-war prisoner since the IWW “frame-up” in 1917.
Despite the fact that this sentence marked the beginning of the new fascist methods being adopted by the government, nothing was done by the Party or the International Labor Defence (under the control of the Party) to develop mass support around this case.
For seven months nothing was done in the way of setting up Defence Committees to fight for the release of Eatock. Certainly the need for these committees was stressed in the Workers Weekly and Red Leader mechanically at intervals, but the only activity of the Party and the International Labor Defence (ILD) was to appeal for cash presumably for the payment of legal expenses and the upkeep of the apparatus.
Owing to the vacillation and sabotage of the Party when the Glebe struggle was at its height, the resentment of the workers was allowed to abate as shown in the previous section. This made the task of reawakening interest in the case much more difficult, especially as no concrete attempt had been made during the struggle to set up a mass Defence Committee.
As the struggle occurred in Glebe, it was obvious that Glebe should form the centre of the campaign around the release of Eatock and other comrades who were arrested and gaoled with him. Working upon this assumption, (in an absence of a lead from the ILD) the Glebe Unemployed Association decided to organise a welcome home to comrades Payne, Moran and Southee, who had been arrested at the same time as Eatock, but who, having received only short sentences, were soon to be released.
This welcome home was a huge success with more than 550 workers attending. Volunteers were called for to form a mass Eatock Defence Committee, and the motion for the setting up of this committee was seconded by the National Secretary of the ILD.
Thirty three workers offered their services and held their first meeting a few days later. About three Party members were on the Committee and put forward an argument that the ILD National Committee be recognised as the controlling body and that all cash collected be forwarded to them.
After discussion this was rejected by the mass committee, because, as was pointed out by various members, it was the duty of the ILD to work as part of a united front committee, and by virtue of its superior ability and example, gain ideological control.
It was also pointed out that as the ILD had failed to organise any mass support around the case during the seven months at its disposal, it could hardly expect to mechanically take control of a committee that had been set up without any assistance from the ILD.
When this decision had been reached by the mass committee the sectarian attitude of the Party members became manifest in their refusal to take any further part in the proceedings. Instead of remaining on the committee and working as a fraction and attempting to prove that their line was correct, they acted like pampered and spoilt children.
The following week a slanderous article appeared in the Red Leader describing the Eatock Defence Committee as bogus and anti-working class, and stating that members of it were police agents.
This article was based upon a resolution that was carried at a “stacked” meeting of the Central Committee of the ILD. Whereas previously the ILD Central Committee was composed of only a few members, on this occasion no less than 13 Party members were present, presumably for the purpose of ideologically controlling the 5 non-Party members who were there!
Comrade Moran, under instructions from the Party, sabotaged the Defence Committee’s appeal to the Trades and Labour Council and reiterated the allegations of Red Leader before the Council.
Collection lists sent out by the Committee were confiscated by Party members and the money sent in to the ILD central office. Members of the Glebe and Balmain ILD locals were instructed to withdraw from the Defence Committee, and expelled because they refused to do so.
Comrade Sharkey, a leading member of the Party, stated at Balmain on May 21st 1933 that, “The reason that the Eatock Defence Committee had been declared anti-working class was because there was a police agent in its ranks.” Because a member of the Committee made an appeal for Eatock from the platform of Donald Grant in the Domain on Sunday June 4th 1933, a vicious attack was launched against the Committee from the ILD platform, the Defence Committee being taunted with speaking from a “social fascist” platform.
It is very clear from the foregoing that the Central Committee has no desire that Eatock should be released. We cannot admit that they are so incapable, so politically backward as to misunderstand the line of the International Red Aid. There must be other and deeper reasons for their apparent stupidity. It is no mere petty spite against individuals that compels them to smash a committee that they fail to control mechanically, rather it is the inherent fear of struggle, based upon opportunism, that forces them to swing further and further to the “right” in their frantic attempts to avoid anything in the nature of concrete action.
It is well known to the Central Committee that certain expelled members of the Party on the Eatock Defence Committee are putting forward a line of mass struggle, and are actively organising a mass demonstration around the case.
So the Central Committee must hurry along with its work of sabotage in order to avoid the repercussions that might centre around themselves resulting from this demonstration. However, so futile are their tactics in dealing with the position, that this case alone may become the pivot around which the leadership of the Party will whirl to destruction.
Day by day, as the persistent work of the Eatock Defence Committee becomes more apparent, the hypocrisy of the Central Committee becomes clearer to the rank and file of the Party and the militant workers. Harassed on all sides, they are driven into making the most feeble statements in defence of their attitude.
Comrade Sharkey’s statement at Balmain is a fair example. To say that it is necessary to declare a mass committee anti-working class because there is a police agent on it would be humorous if it were not tragic – We will not produce proof that this man is a police agent. If you will not accept our assertion without proof then we will declare you anti-working class! This is the inference that can be taken from these statements.
Thirty three workers are declared anti-working class because they have not sublime faith in the infallibility of the leadership of the Communist Party. And so the Party withdraws its docile members from the mass campaign!
What majestic isolation!
What an opportunistic method of evading the struggle!
Logically, the bourgeoisie have only to place an agent of the police on every committee or fraction set up by the Party in order to cause the Party members to retire horror stricken from the scene.
While taunting the Eatock Defence Committee with using the platform of Donald Grant they obviously forget that they themselves are seeking to form a united front with the same Donald and the Party to which he belongs, and their infantile jealousy because the Eatock Defence Committee succeeds where they fail, is unbecoming to say the least of it, among revolutionaries.
Above all, their insincerity is shown by the fact that while the Eatock Defence Committee is organising around a definite plan of action, they, the Central Committee, are doing nothing but vent their spleen against the only mass committee set up.
The sudden activity of the Party and the International Labor Defence in the Eatock case is an admission of their previous criminal neglect, and is a direct reflection of the activities of the Eatock Defence Committee.
Perhaps the reason for the indifference of the Party leadership in this case may be found in the fact that members of the “Left Opposition” to the Russian Communist Party are being exiled and gaoled in the efforts of the Stalinist bureaucracy to establish socialism in one country at the expense of the world revolution.
C: Anti-war Conference April 8th 1933
This was a good example of a mechanical lead, a pretended call to the masses, but actually leading them away from the important issues of struggle (basic wage-cut, increased hours etc.).
Pacifist conferences were held in all centres, representative of only a very small section of the workers, which accomplished nothing save the carrying of a few useless resolutions condemning war.
These conferences of all peace-loving citizens were obviously organised on Communist International instructions, but were merely social democratic in character and had no organisational force. If they were intended to initiate an “all national exposure” (to use Lenin’s Phrase), they were doomed to failure, because they were not linked with any demands except the vague demand for peace.
There is a clear connection between this non-revolutionary pacifism, as well as the non-revolutionary activity of the Friends Of The Soviet Union, and the policy of socialism in one country.
Only the revolutionary strength of the movement on the ships and around the waterfront, in the industries and in the militia, will prevent Australian capitalism from participating in war – but this work has been wilfully neglected for years.
D: The attitude of the Communist Party towards the Crimes Act
The rank opportunism of the leadership of the Party is exposed very clearly in their conduct before the capitalist courts. A pathetic dependence on bourgeois “justice” was made manifest in the failure to organise mass support around the Devanny trial.
Again, in their oft repeated statement that on the result of the Devanny trial depended the legality of the Party, they deliberately misled the workers.
They were well aware at the time that the only issue was the liberty or otherwise of Devanny, but they attempted, by capitalising the Devanny trial, to convince the workers that the Communist Party was an immediate menace to Australian capitalism; while at the same time allowing all agitation around the Bankstown eviction case to lapse, since the Party, in its concern for legality, wished to cover up its adventurism in the eviction struggles.
The release of Devanny by the capitalist court was proof that the ruling class of this country realises the impotence of the Communist Party under a right-opportunist leadership. If the Communist Party had done anything to make itself a danger to capitalism in Australia, not only Devanny, but many other members of the Party would have been placed behind bars, even if it became necessary to manufacture the evidence required for the purpose.
There is again an obvious similarity between the legalistic attitude adopted in this and other cases, and the policy of peace between the Soviet Union and the capitalist world.
(6) THE APPEAL TO THE LABOR PARTY
This appeal (Workers Weekly April 21st 1933) shows in a striking way the opportunist, liquidationist and bureaucratic nature of the Central Committee line. There has been no suggestion of discussion throughout the Party before such an apparently momentous step is taken.
Actually, is the only logical step to take in view of the collaboration which has already occurred with the social democrats under the plea of the united front, and in view of their persistent dragging in the tail of the struggle.
But as a tactic, such action could only be correct when, after a period of independent and fearless leadership of the workers, the Party had convinced large sections of these workers that unity with the Labor Party was vitally necessary, and when it had itself such a mass following that the rank and file of the Labor Party would also demand co-operation, and would bring pressure to bear on their leaders with that end in view.
Then, any refusal by the leaders of the Labor Party would expose them before the masses, and in any case, real mass co-operation would be established.
Can it be said that such a situation exists today? The Communist Party is largely discredited among the workers, especially in New South Wales. Instead of flocking towards the Communist Party, radicalised workers who are disgusted with the ALP are talking of forming a new Labor Party!
If, as is so often repeated, “the Communist Party is the vanguard of the working class” and the workers had been convinced of this by a concrete application of the statement, would they not have instinctively swung over to the party that proved itself a real workers party? The attempted formation of a new party by the radicalised workers (Glebe breakaway from the ALP) is a definite proof that it is insufficient to merely talk about being the vanguard of the working class.
To propose unity with the Labor Party under these conditions, simply means a further step to the right, and a further sinking of the independent political role of the Communist Party. It is creating in the minds of the workers the idea that the Labor Party leaders are capable of leading mass struggle, and is a complete denial of the role of “social-fascism” as previously laid down by the Party.
It is obvious that if the programme of demands as published in the Workers Weekly of April 21st 1933 is accepted by the ALP leaders, the fight must continue right up to the overthrow of capitalism.
To say that, “We will agree not to attack the leaders of the ALP during the common action against the capitalist offensive”, thus means a complete renunciation of any further exposure of these reactionary leaders.
Moreover, the appeal for a common stand against fascism could only be effective if fascism was felt by the masses to be an immediate danger. Just as the catchcry of “social-fascism” was mechanically adopted by the Party without explanation or discussion, so this appeal will fail to arouse the masses owing to the neglect of the Party to educate the rank and file.
The Communist International appeal to the Second International, which is printed with the local appeal, and has obviously inspired it, is the best possible illustration of the opportunism of the Communist International itself.
The document contains no criticism of the Communist Party of Germany, no explanation of its failure to take effective action against Hitler. It is said for example that, “the Communist Party of Germany repeated its proposal for common action at the moment of the arrival of Hitler to power, and called on the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party and the executive of the CGT to organise the resistance to fascism, but, this time also, it was rejected.”
Despite its six million votes at the previous election, it would appear that the Communist Party of Germany had no resource at the moment of crisis except to call upon those whom it had denounced as “social-fascists”, and who, as it knew from long experience were incapable of organising the workers for struggle. The Communist International offers no criticism of this apparent inaction, and Pravda states that the Communist vote of four and a half millions at the subsequent elections, “is a worthy answer to fascism.”
The Communist International and its various sections show their opportunism by endeavouring to gain support for a united front on the basis of fascist attacks on the social democrats, whilst at the same time, concealing the errors of the Communist Party of Germany in the moment of crisis, and is a sure sign of the abdication of the Communist International as the vanguard of the revolution. It is obvious that this posthumous alliance can offer no advantage to either the Social Democratic Party bureaucrats or the masses to whom the Communist Party has failed to give a lead, for only a new record of independent leadership can secure future mass support.
It may be added, that even if mass co-operation is achievable in Germany where fascist terror is raging, the special appeal issued by the Communist Party of Australia to the NSW Labor Party would still be of no account politically. The leaders of the ALP have more to fear from the assistance of the Communist Party than from its opposition, and the rank and file of the Labor Party will not rally to a Communist Party which is divorced from the masses and gives no concrete lead.
The errors existing in the Communist International are ultimately traceable to the divergence of the policy of building Socialism in the USSR from the policy of World Revolution, a divergence which has been cloaked by the description of the USSR as “The Workers Fatherland”, though the workers in the capitalist countries are well aware that they have no control over it, and that it can be of no material benefit to them.
In the Communist International, throughout its history, there has been an overemphasis on Russian problems, and an attempt to apply Russian experience mechanically to other countries. There is no comparison between the pre-revolutionary position of the Bolshevik Party in Russia and the present position of the Communist International in the world, yet an attempt has been made to organise the latter in the same way, and to impose the same discipline.
The expectation of an early revolution led to many shortcomings being overlooked in the past, but this, in view of the failure to deal effectively with the fascist menace is no longer possible. A sounder basis than ever before must be laid in mass work, and the present opportunist defeatism – due to reaction from undue optimism – must be corrected on all fronts, by the development of initiative on the basis of continuous struggle.
THE POSITION OF THE WORKERS PARTY
We, the members of the Workers Party, (Left Opposition) believe that:
The past failure to combat right-opportunism in the Communist Party of Australia is responsible for the fact, that when the working class of this country is faced with the introduction of fascism, and a consequent worsening of conditions, the proletariat finds itself without an experienced revolutionary party capable of leading it in the struggle.
We unhesitatingly condemn the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) for failing to insist that its directions re the bolshevisation of the Party are properly carried out; for its support of the present right wing leadership of the Communist Party of Australia, composed mostly of right-opportunists censured by the ECCI in 1929; and for the super-centralism that has so stifled the initiative of the Party in this country, and in all sections of the Communist International.
The political basis for this failure can be traced to the contradiction that exists between the foreign policy of the Soviet Union (which dominates the Communist International), and the policy of World Revolution which the Communist International professes to uphold.
We declare that the main task of the Workers Party is to fight for the building of the revolutionary party in the factories and places of work; for the liquidation of the present social democratic forms of organisation, and for the fearless leadership of the mass struggles of the workers.
We also declare our determination to carry on, before the whole working class, a relentless struggle against all forms of opportunism both within and without the Communist Party.
Leon Trotsky: The Revolution Betrayed
Vladimir Lenin: Last Letters and Articles
Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin
Leon Trotsky: Challenge of the Left Opposition
Ted Grant: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International
Ted Grant and Alan Woods: Lenin and Trotsky – What they really stood for