The people’s movement and work within the Left There are various interpretations of the Left. It is part of our Marxist-Leninist training and culture to identify a genuinely revolutionary Left which is based on confidence in the working class, practises the mass line, promotes communist ethics based on service to the people and adheres to fundamental beliefs about the nature of the state, the danger of imperialist war and the great unlikelihood of a peaceful, parliamentary transition to socialism. It is important that we uphold the ideology of genuine Marxism-Leninism against revisionism, which seeks to take the revolutionary content from Marxism, and deviations of both an ultra-Left and Rightist nature. It is also important that we are able to work effectively within the people’s movement which will invariably bring us into contact with those with whom we have ideological, political and organisational differences.
This is not to avoid openly acknowledging the differences we have with other organisations and groups for the sake of being accepted within the movement. It means that we should judge other organisations in the mass movement on the basis of their actions, on whether what they are doing is helping to unite the movement and assisting it to raise the level of understanding of its participants and to raise the level of struggle. Without prejudging people and labelling them, we should work with others where we can while any who attempt to control, split and weaken the movement should be identified and isolated.
We look to work with other individuals and organisations who are genuine in their support for the movement, who do not want to advance their own factional interests at the expense of the unity of the movement, who will not continually try to put a dampener on struggle or subordinate the movement to a mainstream social democratic party and to bourgeois parliamentarism. So long as they can be seen by their actions to be interested in uniting, interested in strengthening the movement and interested in raising the level of struggle then we should unite with them, work with them, talk with them and not ourselves divert the mass movement into self-defeating sectarianism and factionalism.
Our hopes for the future of the people’s movement are firmly based around Australian youth. Young people should make more political mischief. They should definitely trouble the rich. They should enact the great truth of Marxism that it is right to rebel against reactionaries, that defiance of arbitrary and oppressive authority is a good thing. They should repudiate the values of capitalism and imperialism and rediscover the communist virtues of fighting self and serving the people.
And yet, young people are not easily drawn to disciplined and demanding commitments such as characterise Communist organisation. We will struggle for some time to win more than a few supporters among the youth. In the absence of a genuinely revolutionary situation, the revolutionary movement has few practical opportunities to attract young people to its side. They are more inclined to be caught up in movementism and spontaneity. Thus, from time to time, phenomena such as the Occupy movement capture their imagination and arouse excitement and passion. Or they drift towards seemingly revolutionary groups which, in the absence of patient nurturing in the science of Marxism-Leninism, place on their shoulders unrealistic demands to “sell the paper” and “get to the meeting”; as a result they all too quickly burn out and fall away from the movement. Our responsibility is to facilitate the involvement of young people with our Party to the extent that it is now possible to do so, whilst preparing ourselves for future growth in this area as the contradictions of capitalism and imperialism intensify in the direction of an actual revolutionary situation.
Unions, the working class and the ALP Our standing amongst the more advanced sections of the workers is reasonably good. We have some good comrades very active in their union or involved in campaigns supported by the union movement. Partly this derives from our long-standing Marxist-Leninist attitude towards trade unionism as a bourgeois ideology and towards the Labor Party as a party of capitalism.
At the same time, we have been at the forefront of the work towards an independent working class agenda and we have had some success in winning support for a position of pressuring and placing demands on the Labor Party rather than supporting it and relying on it. Certainly the ACTU has gone further than it has in the past in stating in its Campaign Operational Plan 2014-2015 that in respect of the next federal election, “We will not be campaigning for the election of an ALP Government, we will be campaigning for an independent agenda or vision for our country.” There will be vacillation and backsliding in relation to this but it gives us a platform for advancing our minimum demands and a useful reference point for further mass work aimed at preventing people’s struggles from being diverted into the quicksand of parliamentarism.
Trade unions are the basic organisations for the defence of the interests of the working class, but they are also bound in a thousand and one ways to capitalism through the institutions they work in, the rules by which they are bound, the properties they own and the investments they have. Some are affiliated to the ALP, others are not. Some have leaderships more committed to the class struggle than others; indeed, some are now so corporatized that any concept of struggle is completely alien to them. And then there are the many workers now sitting outside trade union organisation, either as long-term unemployed, or as so precariously employed that contact with the relevant union is near impossible to make, or employed under shonky sub-contracting arrangements that encourage them to see themselves as their own boss and therefore in no need of trade union protection.
No matter how small a proportion of workers there are now covered by and members of unions, the mere fact of union representation in the workplace is anathema to the big corporations seeking to squeeze the last drop from the workers. Unions are under all-round attack from peak employer bodies and from the two main parliamentary parties. The reality is that unions have lost massive ground over the last three decades and are now bound and circumscribed by rules and regulations that would not be out of place in the most repressive regimes around the world. The right to strike has essentially been lost, the threat of individual work contracts is re-emerging and it is now illegal to identify a scab as a scab!
We must be in the front ranks of the defence of rights at work, and in defence of the right to have and belong to a union. We must not let the unions, for all the shortcomings we see in them, be further carved up by the multinationals and their agents. That means preparing workers for real struggle and not just courtroom struggle, for endurance of real suffering and sacrifice and not just running down the union cheque-book. It means identifying and nurturing leaders of the John Cummins variety who will accept that “…it is an occupational hazard for union officials to be arrested and perhaps go to gaol”. It means promoting leaders who will embody the spirit of the O’Sheas and Gallaghers, who will embody the spirit John expressed when he said “Jailing could have left me suitably chastened to grovel…but I am convinced I’ve done nothing wrong. How can it be a crime for a union official to serve his members?” If a rank-and-file worker like Ark Tribe can embody that spirit then so too should a larger number of paid union officials. And they will. Come the times, come the comrades.
Our key tasks In the following section we identify some of the key tasks around which members will need to unite and carry forward.
Party building: We have continually striven to position ourselves as the vanguard organisation of the Australian proletariat. That is a huge task made harder by the fact that our membership has seen no substantial growth for quite a few years. If we don’t have members in each of the major industries capable of influencing the content of the demands put forward by workers in those industries, capable of influencing the course of struggles that arise within those industries, capable of lifting the ideological and political awareness of workers in those industries, then we cannot be the vanguard we aspire to be.
The Party must never hide its face. It can have a public face through a small group of identified leaders, and through its publications and website but it also needs a face through individual members revealing their connection to the Party when the time is right and with the right people. All comrades must exercise initiative in being the face of the Party at the level of the workplace and the community when and where conditions permit. We need to develop confidence in approaching people to join the Party.
Merely having a website and placing our wisdom on the platform of an assortment of internet search engines is not a development in the direction of practical leadership of the class struggle. We must have a membership that grows within the working class. This means that our existing members must be active recruiters of new members. We must absolutely not be held back by a general practice of non-disclosure of membership. The reasons for the adoption of our organisational principle of general non-disclosure of membership are to protect our members from surveillance by the state and harassment and threat by its agents, and to ensure that there are no barriers to the effectiveness of the mass work conducted by members, barriers that can arise if one prematurely and inappropriately declares oneself to be a Communist.
We must also work to build the Party as a genuinely national organisation and have representation not only in the capital cities but in regional centres as well. The strength and cohesion of the centre is a return on investments made in the responsibilities given to the parts. This requires the centre to have confidence in the sections and the parts; it means encouraging initiatives to be taken in the writing and dissemination of agitational materials relevant to particular states, territories and regions.
Building the Party also requires adherence by all to the principle of democratic centralism. Democracy and centralism are a unity of opposites. Centralism can only provide unity of purpose to the Party if it is based on genuine democracy within the Party.
Under democratic centralism, the minority is subordinate to the majority. This does not mean that the majority is always right, that a majority opinion determines the correctness of a policy or line. But it does provide for the orderly conduct of discussions and acts to prevent the degeneration of the Party into a debating society that does nothing but endless navel-gazing. It is incumbent on the majority to respect the right of the minority to criticise the line or policy with which they disagree and for both to allow practice to reveal what is right and what is wrong with a policy or line.
Under democratic centralism, the lower level of organisation is subordinate to the higher level. This does not mean that a higher level of organisation can act arbitrarily or without accountability to the membership. Lower levels of Party organisation have the right to supervise the work of those with higher levels of responsibility up to and including the recall of elected delegates to higher levels of organisation if they act contrary to the wishes of those who elected them.
Under democratic centralism, the individual is subordinate to the organisation. This does not mean that comrades lose the capacity to act and think independently, that they should passively wait for someone to tell them what to do, that they should fear taking the initiative and deciding for themselves how to work in a particular place of employment or community group. Quite the contrary. But neither does it give individual comrades the right to divorce their actions from the organisation, to fail to report on initiatives they have taken and the results that come from these, to fail to observe Party discipline while acting only on their own behalf, doing what they like and pulling away from the organisation and its centralised guidance. Such comrades need to take note of what Comrade Mao Zedong wrote in Combat Liberalism.
Promoting an independent working class agenda: This has been a cornerstone of our mass work for the past ten years and has certainly resonated with the more class conscious and militant sections of the working class. It reflects a weariness with the cycle of hope-betrayal-despair that attaches to the Labor Party and a determination to define the interests of workers against the parliamentary opportunism of social-democracy. We said in 2012 that such an independent agenda need not be a “formal document to which various organisations must commit, but there should be a central core of demands that are put forward in various ways”. In November 2013 we said it was time for progressive-minded people to “give that agenda something of a more concrete shape, so that when we talk of our agenda there is a common understanding of basic principles and shared objectives”.
It should be noted that following Turnbull’s accession to the Prime Ministership, the ACTU wrote him a congratulatory letter and asked to meet with him to discuss a number of issues. This was significant in two ways: firstly it served as a public declaration of the ACTU’s having its own voice and of its capacity to act independently of the ALP; and secondly it put out as a public agenda those issues which we have by-and-large been championing through our mass work in our respective unions and community organisations. Now we all know that the ACTU has a long history of betrayal of the workers’ movement and names like Monk, Hawke, Crean, Kelty and Ferguson point to the essentially bourgeois ideology of trade unionism, but at the present time we can see the reflection of what we would call an independent working class agenda in those matters raised for discussion with Turnbull (even where some are couched in reformist, social-democratic terms). Those items were:
Protecting and creating local jobs for all Australians through investing in local industries, such as ship building and manufacturing;
Protecting our rights at work and moving to stop attacks on penalty rates, the minimum wage and other rights such as paid parental leave;
Halting the passage of free trade agreements that clearly trade away the interests of Australian workers and our sovereign rights;
Supporting universal access to health care by maintaining the integrity of Medicare;Investing in our children’s future by protecting access to and the quality of education, in particular reversing your government’s position on $100,000 university fees and promising to fully fund Gonski reforms;Halting further cuts to public services and public sector jobs, and ensuring there are enough public sector workers to deliver the services our communities need and rely on;
Ensuring all Australians have a decent retirement;
Ensuring we have a tax system that is fair; and
Ending the wasteful and politically motivated Trade Union Royal Commission.
One of our tasks should be to ensure that in our unions and community organisations we give these items a more specifically anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist ideological perspective, that we take them as a basis for discussions and mass work and as a springboard for raising the level of political understanding in the working class and the community.
Another task is to identify opportunities for the involvement of the workers themselves in the raising of these demands; that is, opportunities for practical political activity by workers and community activists. Only in the context of practical struggles can the leading role of the working class be unleashed; leadership by the the diversion of struggle into the quicksand of parliamentarism.
A third task is to expand the agenda, to link these essentially economist, living standards-based demands to wider issues of doing away with financial and jail-time penalties for exercising the right to strike, of smashing the coercive Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC), of opposition to imperialist war, of calls for the removal of all US bases on Australian soil, of support for Aboriginal peoples’ rights to self-determination and land rights, of calls for nationalisation of key industries, of opposing fascist state measures and state repression…the list goes on.
Opposing subservience to US imperialism: This needs to be identified separately as a key task because it is the bridge between the immediate demands of an independent working class agenda and the realisation of the first stage of the Australian revolutionary movement. Our focus must be on placing the question of opposing US imperialism before the people at every opportunity. If US imperialism dominates every aspect of our lives, then opposition to US imperialism must be our focus everywhere. Over time we should ensure that our influence extends beyond our own party and the couple of mass organisations in which we work, and which do have an anti-imperialist focus, into other mass organisations where there is potential to develop a much more sharply anti-imperialist perspective. There are a range of republican, cultural, ethnic, women’s and farmers’ organisations in which we have little current involvement.
An important task for a Communist party is to enhance its responsibilities in the field of proletarian internationalism. If US imperialism is a world-wide phenomenon, then opposition to US imperialism must be developed through appropriate links to organisations and movements and persons outside our own country who are also struggling against US imperialism. To a certain extent, our ability to develop such ties has been constrained by the absence of paid public leaders who can attend international conferences and speak on our behalf or maintain personal ties with leading international figures. We will make slow progress in developing those ties as we are unlikely to have public full-time operatives anytime soon; nevertheless, all members must rise to the occasion and have a firm internationalist outlook and know-how and on what issues to engage workmates and friends in discussions about the world-wide crimes of US imperialism and how the struggles of peoples of various countries and regions interact with and support our own. At the same time, we do not want to encourage revolution-by-tourism whereby comrades try to involve themselves in everybody’s struggles but their own. This afflicts some people and some organisations on the Left where the low level of struggle in one’s own country makes more intense struggles elsewhere seem rather romantic and attractive. Ho Chi Minh’s advice remains absolutely true: if you want to help people such as the Vietnamese at the height of their struggle against US imperialism, then make revolution in your own country. We must remain grounded in our own circumstances and lift the level of struggle here as an expression of real internationalism.
Applying Marxism-Leninism through conscientious study and investigation: All people have their own approaches to learning and their own preferred ways of finding out about things. Many are coloured by their own past exposures to different types of learning at school, at university, as an apprentice and so on. Some develop an aversion to reading or have been conditioned to think that “study” is beyond them. Workers in particular are sometimes resistant to reading (and writing): schools that have failed to develop them as readers leave them feeling inadequate and ashamed; one of the legacies of schooling is that reading never seemed relevant - it was tedious and a waste of time.
For a revolutionary, reading is a discipline like having a job, and getting up early every morning to get to the job. It’s just something that time has to be found for. Workers are skilled at hands-on tasks, but workers’ leaders need to develop theoretical understanding of the way capitalism works and of the way socialism can be achieved. All Party members need to put time aside to read the classic works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong and our own Ted Hill to see how these people approached the problems of their day and applied a theoretical perspective to them. In that respect, study for a Communist goes beyond familiarity with a text and aims at developing the ability to use the methods of successful past revolutionaries to deal with the current situation. It aims to give each of us the skill to develop a correct line in relation to unforeseen, unpredictable and unprecedented developments. Studying for us is not for the sake of intimidating others with a bunch of useless quotes but of developing a quiet confidence about our work, of knowing the teachings so as to use the method.
In order to apply what we learn from Marxist-Leninist theory we need to know the circumstances and situation in which we will seek to use it. All current phenomena grow out of the past, but take on their own peculiar characteristics and many-sided attributes in the present. We can’t make assumptions about social phenomena without properly investigating them, without finding out what caused them, without knowing how workers and others are responding to them and what they want done about them.
We should strive to be first-rate experts, not so much in the teachings of Marxist authors as in the areas of daily life to which we aim to apply the methods of Marxism that we refine through our study. That means struggling against left-bloc lifestyles by having wide social connections and being receptive to information and arguments from a wide range of sources, hardly any of which will be presented from a proletarian Marxist perspective.
Effective Party activists must have interpersonal communication skills of a high order. Perhaps the most important skill as a communicator is the ability to listen to others. Listening is not a passive activity, but an essential foundation for engaging with others in meaningful ways. Listening is an essential component of investigating people’s concerns, problems, ideas and visions. A good listener has enough personal assurance, based on knowledge of Marxist theory and investigation of circumstances, not to need to hear his or her own voice nor seek the limelight, but rather, to give others the chance to develop and grow politically and ideologically.
Conclusion Comrades, in the coming three years, we can expect to see more of financial instability and crisis; more of the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands while the majority experience precarious work, under-employment and unemployment, and the bankruptcy and ruin of small businesses; more privatisation and the theft of services from the people; more evidence of stress in people’s lives (drugs, petty crime, domestic violence, suicide and self-harm, psychological disorder and mental sicknesses); more damage to the environment and its eco-systems; more violent conflicts instigated or manipulated by imperialism and reactionary forces; and more attempt to restrict our freedoms and erode our rights and liberties.
We are communists because we do not have confidence that these problems can be resolved by parliamentary reforms; because we don’t believe in dealing with each problem in isolation; because we see the inter-connectedness of all social, political, economic and ideological problems with the economic base of capitalism characterised by private ownership of the means of production and the private appropriation of the fruits of social labour power. We are communists because we look outside the square of the capitalist mode of production and see not just a preferable alternative, but an alternative that is an objective necessity given the operation of the economic laws of motion embedded in class society.
Our ideology is a correct reflection of social being, but its correctness alone is insufficient for the tasks that lay ahead. We need to increase our numbers, to build the party, to find ways of relating our politics, organisation and ideology to the experiences of our more advanced workers, and through them to the people of our suburbs and regional centres.
Let us hope that we can discuss some successes in relation to this at our next Congress!