Preliminary reactions to "Revolution in the Air"

ben benj at
Wed Aug 7 17:10:11 MDT 2002

Peter Frase <pefrase at> wrote
> Thanks, Lou, for your clarification--I think I understand better what your
> beef with Max is. This stuff all went down a decade or more before I was
> born, so I can't really comment on it. I'll send your post to Max and
> forward any replies he cares to write.
I'm very fond of a LOM pamphlet co-authored by Max Elbaum from the early
1980s, "The Labour Aristocracy: the material basis for opportunism in
the labour movement". If you're writing to him let him know he's got a
'fan' over in Australia! The few of LOM's writings that I've read all
seemed pretty good to me. Not enough to judge the whole group by
perhaps, but I wouldn't put them in the same boat as the CPUSA. As far
as I have been able to see they had a fairly good general line against
the opportunist aspects of Stalinism. And I liked Crossroads magazine,
although it was probably ahead of its time in some ways.


> My question is this: why was anti-revisionism a growth industry in the
> 1970s, while US Trotskyism was beginning its long death spiral? No amount
> of hand-waving at "ultra-leftism" can dismiss this fact--surely it can't
> all have been Jack Barnes' fault. I tend to agree with Max that it was
> because the New Communist Movement combined some very good ideas with some
> admittedly very bad ones.

The Maoists in Australia (CPA-ML) are an interesting comparison. They
were pretty big on campus, especially in their centre in Melbourne,
during the 1970s. They began to unwind after Beijing became more and
more opportunist. But a lot of them went into the unions, particularly
the Builders' Labourers' Federation where they inherited a base in their
1963 split with the CPA. They led this union (in Victoria at least)
until the 1980s, when a Labour government smashed it. Some of them went
to the right, working for the union bureaucracy; one former BLF
organiser and CPA-ML member has even made it to become the Premier of
the state of Tasmania. On the other hand, the BLF tradition has
survived, Victorian construction workers are by far and away the best
organised and most militant in the country, and their current union
inherited the extremely democratic structure of the BLF.

But the contemporary construction militants have nothing to do with the
CPA-ML. It's a tiny clandestine rump peddling some variation on the
"bloc of four classes" line that says Australia is an oppressed nation.
By comparison, the Trotskyists in Australia have lasted quite well
(albeit abandoning Trotskyism along the way).

Elbaum's book sounds interesting. I'll have to save my sparse dollars to
buy it. And curse Verso once more for being so damn expensive.

Ben Courtice
"In a football match, everything is complicated by the presence of the
opposite team" -- Jean-Paul Sartre
my homepage:

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