Bourgeois workers parties

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Thu Sep 12 15:50:25 MDT 2002

Jose wrote:

> But we should take note that the social-democratic parties of Lenin's time
> and those of our times are quite different. They play different roles in the
> bourgeois political system. Their roots in motion by working people towards
> independent class political action are now quite remote, and their role as
> open instruments of bourgeois rule long-since completely consolidated. It
> has been decades since the ruling class considered placing administration of
> their joint affairs in the hands of these worthies as an idea that was
> beyond the pale. I think when these parties become incorporated into a
> bourgeois shell game of a two-party system, or a three-party or a
> however-many-party system, which in fact happened long ago, this marks a
> very important change. They *now* have significantly more in common with
> parties like the American Democrats than they did in Lenin's time.

Nice one, Jose.

There is a very bad tendency amongst a lot of 'orthodox' Trotskyists to
continue to act as if the LPs are the same now as they were when Lenin
gave his advice to the British CP to support Labour 'like a rope
supports a hanged man'.

The British, Australian and NZ Labour parties have moved on over the
past 80 years and have now all been in government, in some cases for
substantial periods of time, administering capitalism.

One of the things that strikes me about the NZ leftists who vote Labour
at election time, call on others to do so and argue Labour is a
'bourgeois workers party' is that *none* of them have *ever* done any
empirical investigations into the LP and its evolution over the decades.
 While we get labelled 'ultraleft sectarians' for opposing votes for
Labour, we (and our allies in the pro-Mao Workers Party) are the only
people to actually present detailed empirical data on the actual
structure, membership and financing of the NZ LP.

In the NZ case, the vast bulk of unions have disaffiliated from Labour.
There are only three unions still affiliated - one is the notorious
right-wing engineers union, which is run by yuppie professionals and
consistently supports right-wing policies in the union movement and LP.
Then there are two much smaller unions affiliated.  These affiliated
unions organise about 3 percent of the labour force and are affiliated
on the basis of a tiny handful of union bureaucrats (and the union tops
here are increasingly yuppies who go into unions as a career).  The
social composition of the *actual branch membership* of the LP is
predominantly middle class professionals.  The last few presidents of
the LP have been millionaires.  Of the leading ten Labour politicians,
as represented on their party list for the elections, nine are
academics, managers and a farmer.  One is a trade union bureaucrat (and
he's number 10).  The vast bulk of Labour funding - about 90 percent at
least - is from business and the state.  In the 1999 election, which
Labour won, they only got $100,000 less from business than National;
this election (July 2002) they got hundreds of thousands of dollars more
in business donations while National was 'cash-strapped'.

Today, there are maybe a couple of hundred working class members of the
LP.  Indeed, the working class began dropping out of the LP in large
numbers in the 1930s, after Labour first got into power in 1935.  That
first Labour government lasted until 1949, by which time a significant
number of worker-members had dropped out.

Labour in NZ today is a liberal-bourgeois party.  Its social composition
is overwhelmingly the liberal middle class and its politics are about
administering capitalism.  In the 1980s it was economically to the right
of the National Party, and carried out the most extreme form of
neo-liberal economic policy of any First World country.

It may well be the case that these changes have not gone so far in the
Australian Labor Party, but I think that the argument that these kinds
of parties are basically the same as they were in Lenin's day is really
just sterile dogma.

Anyone can find a niche in the LPs and it is no doubt still possible to
get a few 'left' motions passed here and there - after all the liberal
middle class is perfectly capable of voting for progressive paper
resolutions - but, as Jose notes, the same is true for the Democrats in
the US.  All these parties are means of administering capitalism and
containing dissent.  They are also *not* necessary battlegrounds.  They
need to be fought from *outside*.

I have my share of disagreements with the DSP and my doubts about, shall
we say, the staunchness of the politics of the Socialist Alliance in
Australia.  But I wish them both well.  If there is a chance of the SA
developing into a significant force and *even beginning* to lay the
basis for a serious challenge to Labor, then good luck to them.

Philip Ferguson

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