[Marxism] What kind of party do we need?

Shane Hopkinson swhopkinson at gmail.com
Fri Dec 28 20:04:54 MST 2012

Instead of analysing what Marx and Lenin did or were supposed to have done.
We know Marx & Engels built very broad organisations – and Lenin saw
Kautsky and the German Party as a model until 1914. The Bolsheviks were a
faction of the Russian Labour Party (which it was assumed would be like the
German Party but obviously this couldn’t happen under conditions of
illegality). The final split only happening in 1912. This was a debate
between *revolutionaries* about strategy. Everyone agreed with Marx that
Russia had to go thru a capitalist stage of some kind – being largely
agrarian – with differences over how this would come about. The Mensheviks
being the orthodox ones in saying that Russia would have to go thru a
bourgeois stage lead by the bourgeoisie – and Lenin (late in the day)
coming over to realisation that Kerensky would not carry thru the reforms
he promised and that the bourgeois revolution would have to be carried thru
by the Communists (as Trotsky has suggested years before even tho he sided
with Mensheviks in 1903). Perhaps they were all wrong and Russia was not
fairly described as capitalist at all with 350 million peasants or maybe
the notion of a 'bourgeois revolution' isn't all that useful. Maybe in the
end Stalin carried out the bourgeois revolution under Party control as
China appears to be doing. In any case there's lots of rethinking that
could be done which only bears indirectly on the question of 'what is to be
done' in Australia in 21st Century.

So having got that clear [image: :-)] we can ask what would these men say
about our present situation her in Australia. Faced with an advanced
capitalist nation with parliamentary democracy as the norm in which
Conservatives (as the Liberal Party) represent business and the Australia
Labor Party (ALP) represents 'workers', at least unionised ones are seen as
a the only legitimate electoral options. The ALP of course has radical
roots – produced by the working class out the defeat of the 1890s Great
Strikes. It is one of the oldest labour parties in the world and one of the
first to govern (in minority in 1904 before winning the 1910 election) on a
program of Laborism – which amounted to a colonial liberalism designed to
deliver pragmatic (ie ‘practical’ in the positive sense) reforms for
working class people (socialists and other radicals being fellow
travellers). Mostly Australia has been governed by the Conservatives.

Since the 1980s the ALP has become increasingly hollowed out with
membership falling dramatically so power resides largely in a professional
(dare I say it) cadre force of those with a history in the broad labour
movement – as lawyers or union leaders – with rank and file largely
excluded and leaving the party in droves since the failure of the Accord
under Hawke/Keating and its neoliberal agenda and factions ceasing to be
vehicles for alternative platforms so much as mechanisms of sharing party
positions. The influence of unions has decreased along with the decline in
union numbers more generally. Membership numbers are hard to ascertain
probably between 30000 (down from three times that in 1980s) and the
federal popular vote has been declined to an historically low 38% in the
last election (with crushing defeats at state level),

Many of the Left regrouped around the Green’s social liberalism – opposed
to neoliberalism - but portrayed by the Media as radical extremists intent
on wrecking the economy. The Greens have about 10000 members (up from 1500
a decade ago) and attract around 10-15% of the popular vote (largely from
ALP’s left flank and concentrated in inner-city electorates).

I assume much the same is true on the Conservative side (though they have
always been less reliant on rank and filers). Many in National/Country
Party (a smaller conservative party often allied with the Liberal Party)
claiming that the Party has been taken over and looking to some alternative
like ‘One Nation’ or rural independents like Bob Katter (whose father left
the ALP and joined the anti-communist  Democratic Labour Party in the 1950s
split in the ALP). Katter is an agrarian conservative (eg opposed to gay
marriage) who maintains aspects of 1950s ‘socialism’ (opposed to key
aspects of neoliberalism, opposed to Coles/Woolworth food monopoly) and
populist white nationalist views (which took about 17% of vote from the ALP
in the last state election here in Queensland).

The far-left is split among the alphabet soup of small groups each
defending its ‘program’ or insisting that the problem is one of leadership
in the working class (presumably it would be different with them in
charge). They each have a few hundred members (at best) – mostly organised
around campuses but with a broad range of activities. Their activists play
small but key roles in demonstrations and provide backbone of support for
key protest issues. They have had some electoral success at a local council
level but, when standing in state or federal elections which not all do,
get sub 1% of the vote.

Historically the far-left including the Communist Party of Australia (CPA)
worked with the ALP in some form. It was understood that working people saw
the ALP, rightly or wrongly, as their party and that attacks on it from
outside were counterproductive. Many earlier Trotskyists in Australia took
it for granted that they would be members of the ALP since this was the
most likely place to find an audience for their ideas. Even in the early
fights with the CPA the Trotskyists preferred to stay in the CPA until they
were expelled (often physically) since working from ‘outside’ was much more
difficult. I am not suggesting an entrist strategy for the ALP (or the
Greens) but it has been the orthodoxy for the far-left for most of the last

So where does that leave us? I don’t think quote Marx and Lenin is much use
in current conditions but its certainly not clear to me that either man
would be suggesting that the far-left be the place to start in re-building
the anti-capitalist movement.

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