Australian Labor Party

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Thu Sep 19 15:59:25 MDT 2002

ben wrote:
> A question for Phil, who seems to have explored the issue of the Labour
> parties in some depth: Do you think they still do/can rest on a section of
> the working class?
> Personally I think that the working class support base for the ALP is vastly
> narrower than it was in, say, the 1960s, but it still exists. This section of
> workers is less and less tied to the unions but I think they still exist. I
> still think the ALP is fundamentally bourgeois (regardless of how many unions
> are affiliated). It is controlled by the outlook of the careerists in the
> unions, NGOs and parliament (and hangers-on) and a (now somewhat thin) layer
> of relatively comfortable workers (who in many ways, culturally at least, act
> like a part of the middle class). As Lenin commented, the opportunists are
> often better defenders of capitalism than the bourgeoisie themselves...

The term 'rest upon' is an interesting one.

The old orthodox Trotskyist argument for voting Labour was based on the
idea of Labour as "the mass party of the trade unions".  The orthodox
Trots declared that once this ceased to be the case they would cease to
back Labour.

Well, it ceased to be the case but the Trots, who had become so
comfortable backing Labour, didn't change their position.  They just
moved their goalposts.  Since it was no longer possible to argue that
LPs were either mass parties or mass parties based on the unions, they
started arguing that LPs 'rested upon' unions or 'rested upon' the
working class.

Well, the Democrats in the US 'rest upon' the votes of workers.  Even
Thatcher to a signficiant extent 'rested upon' the votes of a chunk of
workers.  National, the dominant Tory party in NZ since 1935, used to be
a mass organisation with 250,000 members and it received loads of
workers' votes, so it too 'rested upon' at least a section of the
working class.

So I would say that, yeh, sure, Labour parties 'rest upon' a section of
the working class - partly by historical accident and partly because any
substantial bourgeois political party 'rests upon' some kind of
significant woring class support.  (I might note here that in the south
of Ireland, the main bourgeois party, Fianna Fail, has practically
always had more workking class support than the Irish Labour Party.)

But, if are to follow Lenin's method, we should *at the very least*, ask
whether the criteria Lenin used to advocate British CP support for the
British LP - 'like a rope supports a hanged man' - still exist.  I would
say that not one of the criteria Lenin used exist any more.  LPs are not
new parties untested in government - they have now beein in government
on numerous occasions; they are not full of thousands of militant
workers and shop stewards who want socialism - they are full of
appalling middle class people who want to keep capitalism; etc etc etc.

We might here apply to the Labour-loyal Trotskyists (and Labour-loyal
Stalinists) the point made by Lenin that some people rote learn sogans
without ever comprehending the criteria for those slogans.

In any case, a chunk of the Trotskyist left has such an ingrained
Labour-loyalism that it literally doesn't matter what Labour parties do,
this kind of Trotskyist will merely shift the goalpost and come up with
some new rationale for continuing to support Labour.

And, again, I'd note that those Trotskyists who constantly invoke
Lenin's 1923 or 24 advice to the British CP - without bothering to ask
whether the criteria Lenin used are still in existence - *do not*
support Labour like a hanged man.  They are Labour's loyal opposition
and play the same role in relation to the LPs as the LPs play in
relation to the British monarchy and the Tory parties.  They do the
grassroots legwork that helps prop up the Labour Party and, at election
time, they are always among the most ardent activists sticking Labour's
capitalist election platform through people's letter-boxes.  They
support Labour like scaffolding supports a building, not like a rope
supports a hanged man.

You might find our work on the NZ Labour Party interesting.  Take a look
at 'revolution' #14, on our site:

It contains the most lengthy pieces we've run on the LP, although the
ones in that issue only trace the NZ LP up to the 1980s.  But in other
issues of the mag we have feature pieces on Labour's social composition
and so on these days.

There is absolutely nothng proletarian about the NZLP.

It is a tiny organisation, whose branch membership is made up of the
liberal middle class, whose leading MPs are academics, lawyers, business
managers and so on.  It gets over 90 percent of its funds from business
and the state.

It has hardly any union affiliations left.  The three unions that are
still affiliated organise a meagre 3 percent of the labour force, and 15
percent of the total trade union membership.  None of the ranks of these
unions have any real say in those affiliations, let alone in the LP
itself and the vast majority of members of these 'affiliated' unions do
not go to LP branch meeting sor be involved in the LP in any way, shape
or form.  Moreover, the bulk of these union members are in one union,
the right-wing Engineers Union whose leaders come from the same yuppie
stable as the people who control the LP.  The remaining union links with
Labour are therefore sings of the bourgeoisification of the trade union
leadership that has gone alongside the bourgeoisification of the LP.

Yet we have morons like the NZ Barnesites calling for a vote for Labour
in the uly elections here on the basis that this is a "class vote"!
(Needless to say, they did not call for a vote for the Anti-Capitalist
Alliance, or even for the genuinely social democratic Alliance party.)

> And Phil wrote:
> > BTW, one thing the Australian left really needs to develop is a left-wing
> critique of multiculturalism.  Otherwise when the whole Aussie ruling class
> goes multiculturalist (much of it already is), the Aussie left will still be
> running to catch up and wondering how on earth that happened.

> I'm not sure that it will be such a surprise. "Multiculturalism" prospered
> under 13 years of Labor government. The DSP started to analyse this in some
> depth when Hanson/One Nation first appeared. The discussion has fallen by the
> wayside a bit since events have moved on but I think we canvassed the issues
> then. Maybe we should revisit that again? I'll look up some of the
> documents...

One of the main problems with multiculturalism as practised by the
bourgeoisies in Oz, NZ and Britain is that it antagonises large sections
of the white working class *without doing anything for the oppressed*.
I've no problem with taking positions which backward white workers don't
like - it is absolutely essential to do this, in fact.  But these
positions *must actually advance the interests of the most oppressed*
and therefore be able to be explained to white, male workers and used to
develop their consciousness.  But stuff like multiculturalism is not
some progressive, anti-racist policy - it is the *bourgeois alternative*
to anti-racism.

We've written quite a bit on this in 'revolution'.  One of the things,
for instance, that intersts me is how the ruling class are able to keep
the lid on Maori and Pacific Island pverty in NZ and why we have never
had any kind of urban rebellion in the huge Maori and PI ghettoes in
South Auckland and Porirua.  The fact that we have quite a sophisticated
ruling class that has been able to embrace 'respect (for) cultural
diversity' and made multicculturalism the official policy is a big part
in this.  The oppressed have been fobbed off with 'respect' for
'culture' and 'difference'.  Makes for a much better/more effective form
of social control than batons and barbed wire.

Also has a really useful effect in dividing the working class along
'racialised' or, more specifically, 'cultural' lines.  This division is,
in the context of contemporary capitalism in NZ, much more effective
than the crude old racist method of divide and rule.  Meanwhile a large
chunk of the left here continues to chase after and fight the old  forms
of divide and rule which have long since been abandoned by the ruling
class and are now only promoted by the least sophisticated sections of
the petty-bourgeoisie grouped in or behind NZ First.  (Even the fact
that a large chunk of NZ First is Maori indicates that, even among the
older conservative elements, old-style racism doesn't hold

Philip Ferguson

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