[Marxism] unity on the left in Australia

Graham Milner gkmilner at bigpond.com
Tue Feb 5 19:17:08 MST 2013

> Graham,
> I am a member of the ISO in the US. I am asking the following question
> because I am interested in the elasticity or otherwise of the conception 
> of
> 'programme'. You wrote:
> "Adherence to a doctrine such as 'state capitalism' in its Cliffite form
> should not prevent or impede membership of a united, revolutionary
> socialist organisation, but 'brushing under the carpet' differing concepts
> and ideas about the socialist programme is not a viable option."
> What is your understanding of the relationship between a discussion of
> cliff-ite state capitalism (or other versions of state capitalism,
> bureaucratic collectivism, or degenerated workers' state) and "the
> socialist programme." In what way do debates about the former have bearing
> on the latter?
> -aaron a.

Dear Aaron,
                  I would argue that the historical experience of the 
international left and labour movements on the one hand, and the current 
requirements for a socialist programme of the left on the other, cannot be 
put in watertight compartments.  Back in the early 1970s, when I joined 
Resistance, the organisation of Australian socialist youth in Sydney, I 
learned from a talk given by the person who was at that time 
national-secretary of Resistance that the Marxist, or socialist, programme 
was more than the Transitional Programme of the world movement that 
Resistance identified with politically - ie. the Fourth International, 
founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938.   At that time Resistance and its parent 
organisation the Socialist Workers League tended somewhat to fetishise that 
programme drafted by Trotsky, and attempted to utilise it in a rather 
timeless and ahistorical way.

But the national-secretary of Resistance, whom I have mentioned, pointed out 
that the socialist, or Marxist,  programme includes the whole corpus of 
programmatic material since the dawn of revolutionary socialism as a 
doctrine and a movement in the earlier 19th century.   I have often 
remembered what was said here.   It means that the 'Manifesto of the 
Communist Party', and for that matter the whole corpus of Marx's and Engels' 
writings, as well as the vast output of scientific socialist material 
published since the last century, is all part of the movement's programme. 
The core of Marxist doctrine is historical materialism, which is itself the 
product of the application of materialist dialectics to understanding the 
evolution of human society.   Thus, it is impossible to avoid looking at the 
past and assessing the past experience of the working-class movement if one 
is attempting to draw up a socialist programme designed for contemporary 
conditions.   It is quite clear from a reading of the history of the Russian 
Revolutions in the early part of the 20th century that the Russian Marxist 
left was deeply concerned with historical analogies, particularly with 
respect to the earlier Great French Revolution and the bourgeois-democratic 
transformations of the 19th century.

Any socialist programme worthy of the name must concern itself with the 
lessons of the past, and there should be no attempt in my opinion to brush 
under the carpet the requirement for dealing with the difficult questions 
facing revolutionary socialists concerning the events of the 20th century in 
particular.   I don't believe that we can avoid thrashing out these issues: 
the questions arising from these issues will always be asked by those who 
approach the socialist left with a view to getting involved - they will be 
looking for answers, and we must be equipped to provide them. 

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