Australian Labor Party

Steve Painter and Rose McCann spainter at optushome.com.au
Tue Sep 24 19:44:13 MDT 2002


I sent this one in rich text the first time, apologies -- Steve Painter.

The Australian Labor Party: Bob Gould responds to Doug Lorimer

Doug Lorimer's response is useful. He makes a dismissive remark that I can't
have read Lenin because he presents an extract from Lenin's Speech to the
Comintern on August 6, 1920, from which he announces he took the
formulation. (The full text of this speech is available at
http://www.marx2mao.org/Lenin/SCCI20.html -- last item in the file).

This in itself is an important step, because in the introduction that I
criticise Doug doesn't make any direct ascription to Lenin, he just presents
the formulation, in an oracular kind of way, as if he might have written it
himself.

Doug's a difficult man for me to get at, because he's primarily an
inner-party man. He's the editor of Green Left Weekly, and obviously writes
most of the editorials, but they don't have a byline. Along with Dave
Holmes, he's a major driving force in the DSP's publishing program, for
which I have a great deal of respect.

Doug writes many of the introductions, which often give a rather slanted
angle, to reprints of the classics of Marxism. But if you take the
introductions with a grain of salt, making these classics available at
lowish prices to an Australian audience fills a gap, and for that I'm very
grateful to the DSP.

Publishing a moderately priced Australian edition of Struggle for a
Proletarian Party by Jim Cannon may seem like a pretty exotic venture, but
being in some ways myself a similar sort of exotic to the people in the DSP,
I applaud this bold publishing initiative.

Doug is regarded in DSP circles as the major authority on doctrinal
questions, and Doug's use of this quote in the way he does goes to the heart
of the difference between me and the DSP, on how to approach Lenin.

I believe that the way the DSP made the turn, from a united front, and/or
entrist tactic towards Laborism, to a total "exposure" posture, was that the
strong, boisterous personality, who was dominant in the DSP until his
untimely death, the late Jim Percy, decided on a change of tack, and he
looked to Doug Lorimer and a couple of other young theorists, to provide a
justification, and the obvious way to go for this justification was to
invoke the authority of Lenin, using Lenin extremely instrumentally.

That approach to Lenin, was presented as "ditching the old Trotskyism", in
response to some kind of lightning bolt from heaven to go back to Lenin.
Ever since, the DSP has presented Lenin as a kind of immutable doctrinal
force, by selecting such quotes as suit its current tactical purposes, and
attempting to batter opponents into the ground with these quotes, and with
the DSP's appropriated authority, as the "Leninists".

I can understand the concern of Louis Proyect, sorcerer of this list, that
this discussion between myself and others, including Doug, should not
degenerate into the old kind of madness, in which Doug and I, both of whom
know a bit of Lenin, (despite what Lorimer says about me), lob quotes at
each other. We could do that for quite a long time, and it might even be
informative, but in practice it would tend to drive us all mad.

When approaching Lenin, or quoting him, context is all-important. Doug
Lorimer has in this instance dragged, screaming, so to speak, a paragraph
out of the whole speech. It's one of the few paragraphs in the whole speech
that could be used to suit his immediate purpose.

The speech by Lenin is in favour of the British Communist Party affiliating
to the British Labour Party. It is mainly a polemic against the ultralefts,
Willie Gallagher and Sylvia Pankhurst, who regarded any association with the
British Labour Party as original sin -- a bit like the DSP does now.

This particular speech is a model of Lenin's way of proceeding in these
matters. In the paragraph that Lorimer quotes, Lenin demarcates Marxism and
the Marxists sharply from the betrayals of Social Democracy, and he then
uses this demarcation as a buttress to his main aim in the speech, which is
to draw honest ultralefts into the orbit of Marxism. He pays particular
attention to the honest anarcho-syndicalists who were rallying to the
Comintern, but he then goes on to lecture them in his discursive way about
"what day it is", in relation to tactics towards mass workers' organisations
dominated by reactionary leaders.

He's trying to carry the ultralefts along with him, and he's quite properly
ticking off the tendency of the leaders of the British Socialist Party, to a
certain adaptation to Labourism. These BSP leaders had pretty thick skins,
tended to accept Lenin's tutelage, and most of them went on to become major
leaders in the British CP.

My personal reaction to this particular speech of Lenin's is a reinforcement
of my enormous respect for the totality of Lenin's thought and practice, and
their dialectical aspect. Currently, the reactionary philistine, Martin
Amis, who fancies himself as a fashionable stylist, attacks Lenin's alleged
lack of literary style, to make some sort of inane construction, that Lenin
was a political barbarian because of his lack of "literary style".

As a political animal, I have a different view to Amis. Lenin's discursive
and pedagogical style in these speeches, is a very useful way to develop a
dialectical approach to political practice, even if the route seems a little
circuitous. Dialectics in Marxist politics can be a very useful thing, and
Lenin was a master of that craft.

Lorimer's use of this paragraph, seizing it out of context, to try to
present it as a justification of a tactic that is in fact the opposite of
the clear intention of the whole speech, is the core issue dividing myself
and the DSP in these matters.
There is a very considerable literature about Lenin, Trotsky and the united
front tactic in the Comintern, at the first four congresses and up to the
period about 1927.

In response to Lorimer's treatment of this paragraph, I would exhort the
serious people following this discussion, to do a bit of reading about the
context. Read the whole of the speech that Lorimer butchers, at the link
provided above.

Lenin's contribution to this debate was in Left Wing Communism and a number
of speeches to Comintern congresses. It's also on pages 174-5 of the
malicious Richard Pipes book, "The Unknown Lenin", document 111, Letter to
Radek, in which Lenin clearly spells out that an immediate task of the
British Communists is to campaign in a vigorous and practical way for the
election of a Labour government in Britain.

On page 410 of Robert Service's critical biography of Lenin, Service
describes the events in the following way: "Parties belonging to the
Comintern, he declared, should break with opportunistic kinds of socialism
that rejected the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat; but
simultaneously he demanded that British Communists should affiliate
themselves to the British Labour Party. His argument was that British
Communism was as yet too frail to set up an independent party. He got his
way at the expense of mystifying the Comintern congress and irritating the
British delegate, Sylvia Pankhurst, communist and feminist."

In this document Lenin, in his inimitable way, makes very practical
proposals, which Pipes tries to present as some kind of immoral intervention
in British politics. Richard Pipes is a serious philistine.

Trotsky also played a major part in these debates, in speeches to Comintern
congresses in favour of the united front tactic, and Lenin made a point of
publicly identifying himself in support of these speeches of Trotsky.

These speeches of Trotsky are in "The First Five Years of the Communist
International" (Pathfinder Press), and these issues are described carefully
and at length by Isaac Deutscher in "The Prophet Unarmed" (pp 59-69, Oxford
University Press edition).

In these speeches Trotsky is at great pains to emphasise that the separation
of the Communists and Marxists from the Social Democrats should not be used
to justify opposing a strategic united front with Social Democracy.

The ultralefts that Trotsky and Lenin were arguing with, tried to use
extracts from Lenin in exactly the way Lorimer uses them, and they were
sharply called to order, particularly by Trotsky in one speech.

As I said in the previous post, it's the dialectical element in Lenin's
pedagogical approach to the development of the Marxist movement that's clear
from any reasonable overview of the period, not Lorimer's one-sided emphasis
on the betrayals of Social Democracy, which he tries to buttress by
wrenching a piece out of this one speech and giving it the opposite
emphasis.
As the Comintern degenerated, after Stalin's grabbing of political power in
the Bolshevik Party, the experience of the imposition of the Third Period is
of great interest and importance.

In the united front period the British Communists took the initiative along
with others to develop a left-wing movement in the British Labour Party,
which in part appealed to the indigenous traditions of British socialism, to
establish the authority and influence of this left-wing movement. Such a
tactical stance was not regarded as original sin. Something similar happened
in Australia.

As part of the imposition of the Third Period, Stalin chopped this promising
initiative in the British Labour Party into small pieces. This experience is
discussed in detail in the book: "Essays on the History pf Communism in
Britain" by Woodhouse and Pearce (New Park, 1975) in the chapter on the
Communist Party and the Labour Left, starting on p179. It's also discussed
in Hugo Dewar's "Communist Politics in Britain: the CPGB from its Origins to
the Second World War (Pluto Press, 1976). (I have copies of both these books
for sale in my shop.)

It's also discussed in a more recent book, The British Communist Party and
Moscow 1920-43 by Andrew Thorpe (Manchester University Press, 2000). The
imposition of the third period in Australia has been documented thoroughly
in articles in Australian "Labour History" magazine and the "Australian
Journal of Politics and History", by Barbara Curthoys and an article by
Beris Penrose in "Labour History".

(To my list of works important for a realistic balance sheet of Lenin's work
and practice that I gave in the previous post, I'd like to add Angelica
Balabanof's rather irritable "Impressions of Lenin" -- Michigan University
Press, 1964.)

In deference to the legitimate uneasiness of Louis Proyect about overdoing a
historical approach, I intend, after this post, to desist for a while from
further historical material in favour of analysis of contemporary sociology,
which I canvassed in the previous post, and which is still in the works.

I'd also like to address to Doug Lorimer, locally, this proposal: why not
have a face-to-face public discussion of these issues in say, at least
Sydney and Melbourne, in any location, framework or environment you might
suggest!

Bob Gould


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