A call for the revolutionary
Melbourne Revolutionary Marxists
regroupment of the Australian left
By Bob Gould
This survey of the Australian left was produced in 1975 by a
group, basically two or three people, who had been involved in
socialist politics in Melbourne. It was published anonymously, but it's
generally understood that it was mainly written by two people, one of
whom became a union official for a time, while the other became a quite
extraordinary oral historian, who over a number of year conducted about
100 interviews with communists and socialists, and deposited this
important set of interviews in the Australian National Library.
Despite its mildly pretentious tone, this small pamphlet is of
intrinsic historical interest. Many of the issues it raises remained
problems for the Australian far left for the subsequent 30 years, up to
the present time. Obviously, some things have changed. Some of the
organisations have disappeared, particularly the Socialist Labour
League, which after several years of intense activity, including
publishing a bi-weekly newpaper for some time, imploded in 1985, about
the same time that the British Workers Revolutionary Party collapsed.
Bob Pitt's thorough political
biography of WRP leader Gerry Healy
explains most of the reasons for the collapse of the SLL/WRP current.
The remnants of the SLL were subsequently incorporated into the
Socialist Equality Party, and the newspaper Workers News was
closed and incorporated in the World Wide Socialist Website.
The Socialist Workers Action Group went on to become the
International Socialist Organisation, growing somewhat larger later on.
But it went through several splits and reunifications and subsequent
further splits, and the ISO tradition in Australia is now divided into
three groups: Socialist Alternative, the ISO and the latest split-off,
which produces a magazine, Solidarity. Some analysis of the ISO current
is available in histories by Phil
Ilton and Tom
The Communist Party, which loomed so large in this document,
destroyed by its shift to the right during the period of the Hawke
government's wages and incomes accord, and in the early 1990s it
completely disappeared as a public political formation. It has been
replaced by its cashed-up ghost, the Search Foundation, and the former
Socialist Party of Australia, also mentioned in the survey, has taken
over its name.
Some of the groups mentioned in this survey have disappeared,
others have emerged, such as the Socialist Party/Militant Group,
Workers Liberty, Workers Power, the Workers League, Socialist Democracy
and the Freedom Socialist Party. All these groups are very small and
are connected to international currents in much the way described in
the 1975 survey.
The political problem that the authors of this document
which was the absence of cross-group discussion between the different
traditions, persisted for the whole period since 1975, and still
persists, despite the conjunctural existence of an electoral
arrangement between some of the groups in the Socialist Alliance.
The Democratic Socialist Party, (known as the Socialist
League in the 1975 survey), later initiated a regroupment project, the
Socialist Alliance, which now is increasingly taking the form of a
rebadged DSP, with the other affiliated groups either pushed aside or
carried along for the ride.
The regroupment called for by the authors of this document was
not taken up by other left groups.
A call for the revolutionary regroupment of the Australian
The post-war boom of capitalism came to an end in 1968-69 with
stubborn recession in the United States and some European countries.
The relative decline in productivity of labour in the US brought to a
head the ongoing dollar crisis, forcing the Nixon administration to
aggressively react in defence of the international interests of US
capitalism. His announcement on August 15, 1971, of a 10 per cent
surcharge on imports into the US, and the renouncing of the
convertibility of the US dollar into gold, threw the parities of the
major currencies into the melting pot. World trade was disrupted,
plunging all other countries, including Australia, into recession,
thereby synchronising the economies of the major capitalist nations and
any subsequent upturn.
Inflation, the product of Keynesian economics, had reached a
where it was no longer a stimulant to economic growth. It had become a
fetter on profitability and was causing social turmoil. The short-lived
“boom” of 1973-74 occurred simultaneously in all capitalist countries,
causing in each an acute shortage of raw materials, finished products
and labour power, and was accompanied by an even higher rate of
inflation. National governments countered with a credit squeeze, and,
with a prod from the oil crisis resulting from the Yom Kippur war,
world capitalism plunged once again into a recession, this time the
worst since the Great Depression. Plagued with the twin problems of
inflation and a fallen average rate of profit, it is finding it
difficult to recover.
The surge in inflation since 1970 has drawn different social
responses in different countries, but generally it has caused political
polarisation and increased social unrest. In Australia, workers made
good the wage squeeze of 1972 (enforced by unemployment and the union
bureaucracies' electoral support for the soon-to-be-elected ALP) by
massive industrial activity, throughout the second half of 1973 and the
first half of 1974. The sudden onset of the current recession, and its
serious nature, with the highest unemployment since the 1930s, has
brought a virtual halt to the widespread strike movement, which
nevertheless is incessantly being goaded by inflation. The wage
indexation schemes of the Labor government
have caused further confusion and hesitancy.
The current recession is the most serious for capitalism since
war. The fall in the average rate of profit during the long post-war
boom, together with uncertain economic prospects, inhibits investment
in new productive capacity, preventing investment-led expansion.
Governments trying to contain inflation by cutting spending can only
deepen the slump. Unemployment, and declining living standards of
wage-earners mean that consumer demand will not stimulate economic
Capitalists are always union bashers and always cry poor, but
levels of inflation and the fallen average rate of profit dictate that
capitalism must now seriously attempt to slash the living standard of
the working class to raise the rate of exploitation and thereby
profits. The recent futile Metal Trades Campaign and the lockout in the
Melbourne building industry are examples of this new level of
determination. Wage indexation and the Labor government's backtracking
on all social reforms are the other side of the coin. Held back by
caution due to the present economic climate, and by a reluctant union
leadership, strikers are suffering significant defeats, whilst the
divided revolutionary left stands nonchalantly on the sidelines as if
these defeats will not have lasting effects on workers' attitudes and
The response of the different classes and strata in society to
current recession is different to that in the earlier stages of the
crisis beginning in 1969. Following on from the Vietnam War, the
initial reaction, on both sides, was increased interest and involvement
in politics, and increased social polarisation. With galloping
inflation, but with job security still not really threatened, the mood
of blue and white collar workers moved to the left. Enough dislocation
of the social fabric was caused by the increased militancy for
neo-fascist groupings to sprout.
In the current phase of the crisis, the downturn is much more
serious, with unemployment the highest since the Depression, inflation
marking time, and the economy refusing to pick up steam. Now the
working class is hesitant, and strikes are much more tentative than
before. It is entering popular consciousness that the economic system
is foundering, and the initial response is to draw conservative
conclusions and to pull back and wait and see. The belief in bourgeois
ideas and institutions has not been undermined, even though people are
worried by the seriousness of the situation. We are passing through a
period where the mood of workers is one of wary watchfulness. This
general mood makes the threats of the bourgeoisie that much easier to
realise. When self abnegation does not bring respite, but only a
decline in living standards, workers will become restless again, this
time strengthened knowing that restraint has no other effect than to
In this situation the revolutionary left is helpless. Every
workers are showing that they are prepared to struggle, but being
divorced from them the left can offer little assistance. Divided into
sects, each with a handful of members, it can have little effect on the
attitudes and activities of workers. What is needed is a full frontal
attack on the rationale of capitalism, and an organisation strong
enough to make itself heard. As the crisis in capitalism deepens, the
impotence of the left becomes more obvious, and the need for a
revolutionary leadership more urgent.
The foremost objective factor obstructing the growth of the
revolutionary left in Australia is the present acute degree of
fragmentation isolating the members of the various groups from one
another. For socialists seeking to base themselves on the revolutionary
potential of the working class, not just in theory but also in
practice, this fragmentation is a predicament that can no longer be
A critical history of the recent Australian left
Ten years have passed since the Vietnam War first jolted the
inactivity and indifference of political life in the Western world over
the previous two decades. When the Vietnamese stood up and defied the
imperialist bombs that rained on them they invoked dreams of
revolutionary optimism in representatives of a fresh generation
untrammelled by moods of defeat.
Today, the new revolutionary left that was born in Australia
fragmented in a plethora of sects. The following interpretative history
is an attempt to explain the process that produced them in order that
it may be possible to overcome this fragmentation. It is limited by
space and therefore necessarily generalised.
It was a process of crises and splits that brought the new
revolutionary left in Australia into being and provided the impetus for
its development. Each fragmentation took the movement to a higher
level. However, when the crystallisation of sects became general on the
left, fragmentation, which had previously been a stimulus to
development, turned into a fetter. Today, the left rests exhausted on a
plateau. Further fragmentation can only signify the impotence of the
revolutionary left in its present form.
Fragmentation has also affected the left of other capitalist
countries. But whereas in Europe and the United States most of the
revolutionary organisations have an ideology, a tradition and an
organisation that can be traced to the 1940s, or at least to the 1950s,
every left-wing organisation in Australia (with the exception of the
Communist Party and its offshoots), having had no Australian
predecessor, is of recent origin.
Eleven theses on derivative sects
The absence in Australia of a revolutionary Marxist tradition
the new generation of revolutionaries in a theoretical and practical
vacuum. They lacked an organisation present in Australia capable of
satisfying their needs. Thus, the various ready-made finished programs
held out overseas proved to be an irresistible temptation for those
demanding an immediate solution.
There is nothing inherently wrong in a adopting a political
that has originated overseas. Capital and labour are both
international, and a Marxist program must necessarily be so. But each
existing “international” maintains that it is the embodiment of
internationalism, and, on this basis, is given devoted, unquestioning
loyalty by its adherents in Australia.
The revolutionary left in most capitalist countries seems
respond to the historic needs of the proletariat in a period of
deepening capitalist crisis. This, in part, reflects the inadequacy of
the programs of the various left-wing organisations. If existing
programs are inadequate in their countries of origin, obviously they
will be more so in countries of adoption.
In Europe, and in the United States, the theory and practice
mentor organisations are a product of their own experience and
development and can be modified as circumstances dictate. Each
Australian sect, however, embraced its imported program as an act of
faith. This act froze each into a carbon copy of its original, unable
to progress unless its parent does.
In each sect, the individuals who can most faithfully recite
imported doctrine assume the prestige of the international body and
become the local leadership. A leadership that is the embodiment of the
imported program can only proclaim it, not question it. The reflected
glory is used to overawe members. Those who do not submit can only be
Each Australian revolutionary sect can only reproduce the
developed by its mentors overseas. Moreover, each of the finished
programs is inadequate. Each sect is therefore unable to overcome the
historically based backwardness of theory and practice in Australia,
and is unable to develop theory and practice for, and a knowledge of,
the Australian terrain where it will be tested.
Each carbon-copy sect must defend its imported ideas and
externally as well as internally. Because its ideas are borrowed, each
sect can only reiterate to other equally informed, but equally closed
minds, well-known ideas that each knows have been fully debated in
international forums without either side having admitted it was wrong.
Sects based on unquestioning loyalty to imported programs can only
perpetuate their isolation from each other. None has the intellectual
freedom to admit that areas of its own program are wrong, and that
areas of another are correct.
The imported programs have required several decades to become
“finished”. Foisted onto the Australian left, they introduced the
international internecine factional warfare into the Australian
context, magnifying differences here that were often merely tactical
(given the common backwardness and immaturity of the left) or the
products of regionalism; they prevented common actions that may have
brought revolutionaries together in spite of these superficial
differences; they prevented a bona fide theoretical debate on the left
that may also have contributed to revolutionary unity.
9. Because each “international” has anointed itself
proletarian vanguard on the strength of its “correct” program, each
derivative sect finds it legitimate to appoint itself the embryo of the
revolutionary party in Australia.
Most of the sects accept the strategical necessity of
But each arrogantly demands, as a prerequisite, the acceptance of its
own imported program. At the international level, however, the
differences between the creators of the finished programs continue to
magnify with the passing of time.
Revolutionaries, and their organisations, necessarily take
mature. Even if the imported finished program did express the needs of
the proletariat, some time would be required in Australia before there
were the necessary revolutionary skills to realise it. These skills
will not be established by a diktat from afar.
The importers of the finished program are not sufficiently
theoretically developed to critically judge it, nor are they
sufficiently practically experienced to judge it in application. Hence,
though a sect may possess the most developed theoretical products of
the human brain, overawing many with whom it comes into contact, its
membership has not necessarily internalised the method that constructed
the now gobbled-up formulae in the first place. The program has an
ideological character — its adherents are unable to concretely analyse
The practice of the sect is the result of a diktat from afar.
is not a guide to practice, whilst its practice cannot correct or
modify theory. Theory and practice both remain ossified and barren.
Nonetheless, so compelling is the fantasy world of the importers of
finished programs that they believe that their practice, though
fruitless, could not be otherwise.
The rebirth of the left
Vietnam: The spark
The Vietnam War plunged into the tranquil waters of Australian
when Menzies announced conscription in November, 1964. For the first
time in 20 years it became possible for many to cast off the blinkers
of Cold War mythology and develop a sustained critique of capitalism.
So conservative and monolithic was the Communist Party, which exercised
a near-absolute hegemony over those opposed to capitalism, that it was
from within an ALP milieu that the combustible material of the new
revolutionary alternative first began to accumulate. The ALP adopted a
stance against the Vietnam War that was far to the left of the
Communist Party and the long-established peace movement. For the
following two years, the new radicals organised in ALP-sponsored groups
such as the Vietnam Day Committee (VDC) and the Youth Campaign Against
Conscription (YCAC), and placed their bets on Labor.
Calwell's defeat on November 28, 1966, in-the Vietnam
a decisive turning point for the new movement. It confirmed Whitlam and
the Labor Right in their course, but it also steered most of the new
youth activists to the left. The election had exposed parliamentarism
as a useless vehicle for radical causes. The new movement began to
grope for revolutionary alternatives to the time-honoured institutions
of the bourgeoisie.
The first fragmentation: from reform to revolution
The search for a revolutionary course in the absence of a
tradition in Australia, and of a national revolutionary organisation,
led to the first of the many fragmentations that took the new
revolutionary left forward. No longer united behind ALP slogans, the
new movements in Melbourne and Sydney seized upon different ideologies
proffered by international bodies, which inevitably obscured the common
social base and goals of the two parallel movements and magnified what
were at that time merely superficial differences. Before long the
ideologies had become paramount and their practitioners held them in
In Sydney, it was the imported ideas of international
organisations, previously unknown except to a lonely handful, that won
acceptance among most revolutionaries. In Melbourne where Ted Hill's
“Marxist-Leninists” had become a pole of attraction since splitting
from the CPA three year earlier, it was the slogans of Mao's Cultural
Revolution that took hold.
Melbourne: The rise and fall of Maoism
In Melbourne, the most revolutionary minded of the new
been most influenced by their actual experiences. Only those ideas that
seemed to explain these experiences were adopted. Their ideology,
therefore, was nothing more than a patchwork of simple Leninist truths.
Student protesters had borne the brunt of Johnston's security
men in October 1966. The Little Red Book
seemed to offer the best explanation of state power; and, at its height
the Chinese Cultural Revolution seemed to offer an attractive model of
communism, especially for those students who had experienced it at
first hand. Also, China had given strong verbal support for wars of
national liberation, particularly Vietnam.
The new revolutionaries in Melbourne were constrained at
demonstrations in 1967 by the old Peace Chiefs. They undertook
spectacular initiatives on campus, however. Their aid to the National
Liberation Front broke through the bounds of legitimate dissent and
inflamed Monash University, soon to witness the first Australian
experiments in student power.
The French May of 1968 popularised the notion of students
a vanguard detonator of working class struggle. Even before they had
established links with workers' organisations, radical students were
acting in the name of a worker-student alliance. The adventure of the
1968 July 4 demonstrations — the first really violent demonstration in
Australia in recent years — seemed to confirm the belief, then widely
held among revolutionaries, that violent confrontations with the police
would bring students and workers together, expose the real nature of
the state and start a prairie fire.
In February 1969, the broad alliance of campus revolutionaries
established The Bakery
as a centre for the newly formed Revolutionary Socialists (Rev Socs)
organisation. There, those with a penchant for activism soon became
impatient with theorising and turned a full circle into the bosom of
the old left. In January 1970, they formed the Worker-Student Alliance
(WSA) in sympathy with the Communist Party of Australia
(Marxist-Leninist), the local Maoist organisation.
WSA reached its peak together with the antiwar and student
movements. But, by the end of 1971 these movements had begun to
decline. Then, in 1972, China delivered two shocks: the Nixon visit to
China and Bangla Desh. As Chinese foreign policy moved openly to the
right, WSA followed, and, despite some internal dissension, the red
flag of the organisation, which had become an embarrassment to a
movement opting for collaboration with the patriotic bourgeoisie, was
replaced by the Eureka flag.
Today, student Maoism is on the wane in Australia. The
anti-Trotskyist violence of student Maoists at LaTrobe University is
the final flurry of an empire in retreat. Student Maoism in Australia
has become an anachronism: it belonged with the peace marches and the
conservative limbo of the mid-1960s, from which it liberated so many —
this much at least we owe to Albert Langer, the Plekhanov of the
The student Maoists had created from nothing a political base
which others could build. They had been unable to complete the process
themselves. Their particular ideology reflected, albeit in a partial
way, the objective position, hopes and aspirations, not of the working
class but of a section of the student population.
The political moods of the student milieu tend to be
can be explained in part by the rapid turnover of the student
population, but more generally by the position of students in society.
Students are outside the exploitative process of production and are
motivated primarily by their emotional and intellectual needs. Although
they may react explosively to certain issues, and to the contradictions
of bourgeois ideology, a radical movement based on students will
decline or even disappear if the original motivating issue subsides.
This is what has happened on Australian campuses following the end of
Australian involvement in the Vietnam War. Student Maoism declined not
merely because of these general reasons, but also because of its own
theoretical and practical limitations. It isolated itself from the mass
of students; it failed to develop a coherent orientation to the working
class and it succumbed to petty-bourgeois, nationalist ideology.
The revolutionary antiwar movement in Sydney: Resistance
The social base of this movement was similar to that of the
equivalent movement in Melbourne: students and radical youth who
revolted with moral outrage against the war, and against the personal
effects of conscription.
The Sydney Trotskyists, divided between the Australian
Marxists (ARM) — the Australian section of Michel Pablo's international
grouping — and a loose grouping headed by Bob Gould who were
sympathetic to the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, also
suffered under the weight of the backwardness of Marxist theory in
Australia, and of isolation from the working class. Nevertheless, the
Gould group began to make its presence felt in 1967. Unlike the
revolutionaries in Melbourne, this group was not constrained in the
streets or still absorbed in an ALP-led body like the Vietnam Day
Committee. By building upon the remains of the ALP antiwar campaign in
Sydney it was able to outstrip the Peace Establishment (and the CPA),
establish a radical antiwar body (the Vietnam Action Campaign) under
its own control, and a broad off-campus youth organisation (Resistance)
with headquarters where the VAC had just opened a bookshop, the Third
World. Within a very short period, a Trotskyist group had established
its hegemony over almost the entire far left in Sydney. Development in
this city would have to occur through further fragmentation within the
Trotskyist movement. For the meantime, this was prevented by an
eclecticism and softness that enabled the Resistance leaders to
accommodate the political ideas of potential rivals both within and
without the movement. It is worth noting that no “New Left” of
socialist inspiration got off the ground in Sydney.
An interlude: the Revolutionary Socialist Alliance
For a moment both the dominance of Resistance and the vanguard
of the Maoists appeared to be threatened by the venture of another
Sydney-based Trotskyist organisation. The Australian Revolutionary
Marxists sponsored the formation of a Revolutionary Socialist Alliance
(RSA), whose founding conference in Sydney in January 1969, drew 120
revolutionaries from all states, and whose influence within the left
The RSA represented a response to the campus revolt and an
to universalise the central strategic demand of student power —
"self-management" — for every other social layer, including the
workers. The RSA hoped to be able to synthesise the demands of the
various single-issue movements, and in the name of a working class
orientation, bridge the chasm between the radical movements in the
In 1969, however, the young revolutionary left was too
create a viable revolutionary socialist alliance. The objective
possibility of achieving links with the workers certainly existed
within the reach of the RSA. But the members themselves either did not
see links with workers as a priority or were not sure of how to achieve
them other than by the artificial raising of the slogan of
self-management at every opportunity. Thus the RSA was not able to
develop a coherent strategy for revolution in Australia. It succumbed
as soon as its own limited perspective and set of demands were
accommodated by another force — the Communist Party of Australia.
The predicament of the Communist Party of Australia
In late 1968, the Communist Party of Australia found itself
from the new force of student radicals as a whole, who, though divided
over the question of revolutionary strategy, had become a revolutionary
nucleus that threatened to relieve the CPA of its ostensible raison
d'etre. Already France had shown how isolated from them the Communist
The new movements in the various states were linking up.
Society for Democratic Action (SDA) had finally become a force in its
own right after nestling beneath the CPA wing since its inception. It
had established ties with the Monash Labor Club and the Sydney RSA.
Denis Freney's propaganda for RSA directed at CPA militants had had
some effect in interesting them in the concept of self-management,
forcing the CPA to itself adopt a position on the question. In
Melbourne, the Monash movement had established dual power with the
Peace Chiefs in the antiwar movement, and the Bakery had already become
the most active radical centre.
The Left Action Conference: a storm in a teacup that drenched
In Sydney, in April 1969, the Communist Party of Australia
a Left Action Conference. The conference was perhaps the most decisive
turning point in the development and fragmentation of the far left. At
the same time it was much ado about nothing. When contrasted with the
which occurred only a month later, and upon which it had no effect, the
conference pales into insignificance.
The Prague invasion had given the Communist Party leadership
opportunity to create the impression that it had broken with its past
and that de-Stalinisation might also lead to the party becoming
revolutionary. By the time the Left Action Conference had arrived, the
CPA had managed to refurbish its image.
The conference was all that the CPA desired. It was one that
masqueraded as an attempt to unite the left — it had the very opposite
effect. It resulted in the most serious fragmentation that had so far
occurred. The CPA staved off a threat to replace it as the main radical
force and reasserted its claim to be the party with whom all radicals
had first to come to terms. Previously they had been prepared to unite
against it; now there were conflicting attitudes.
The aftermath of the Left Action Conference
Futher fragmentation of the new revolutionary left
The fragmentation following in the aftermath of the Left
Action Conference occurred along the following lines:
- (a) By knocking its ideological feet from under it, the
Left Action Conference dealt the final blow to the RSA and it
disintegrated soon after. Denis Freney, its chief spokesperson, joined
the CPAin April the following year.
- (b) The conference confirmed the suspicions of the
members of the Monash Labor Club about the motives of the CPA in
sponsoring the conference. The seduction of their recent allies by the
CPA hardened the new converts to "Marxism-Leninism" in their attitude
to the rest of the left.
- (c) In Brisbane, the Revolutionary Socialist Alliance
(RSA ex-SDA) severed its ties with the now obvious "Marxist-Leninists"
in Melbourne and temporarily reunited with the new-look CPA.
- (d) The differences between the main Sydney movement
(Trotskyists) and the main Melbourne one (Marxist-Leninists) were
becoming clearer, and they went their separate ways.
- (e) Back in Melbourne, WSA established itself in
January 1970 upon the ruins of a once-unified Melbourne movement, now
polarized into "Marxist-Leninists" and others (some of whom remained
"loose Maoists"). Those unprepared to unquestioningly adopt
"Marxism-Leninism" had to clarify their ideas. One section of the
movement however, the “New Left”, had begun to develop its ideas in
opposition to the crude theories of the Maoists as far back as 1967. It
counterposed the Gramscian notion of "counter-hegemony" to the Maoists'
explanation for the basis of capitalist power in modern societies: the
naked violence of the state apparatus. Now the CPA had driven a further
wedge into this fissure. In its traditional tailist fashion, it donned
the “New Left” garb itself and embraced those whose attitude had warmed
to its “new-look” program. One group associated with the “New Left”
founded the journal Intervention in the part of 1971. Another
ultimately joined the CPA, forming a Left Tendency in 1973.
The first approximation to Trotskyism
The only current on the radical left in Australia which was
relatively unaffected by the outcome of the Left Action Conference was
the Trotskyist movement at Resistance. In 1969 it went from strength to
strength, building the antiwar movement in that city by drawing in
hundreds of high school students and radical youth. Eclecticism and
organisational wishy-washiness allowed it to assume hegemony of the far
left in Sydney, but there was a limit to how long such methods could
work. By 1970 Resistance was surrounded by hostile radical forces in
other cities who were beginning to adopt tighter programs and
organisations. In February, a faction fight ensued that resulted in the
eclipse of the old leader Gould and a frenzied scrimmage for the Third
The new leadership took the reins under a standard that
nothing more than an attempt to establish the same youth orientation
and the same political methods on a higher level, ie a tighter
organisational footing. The fight was waged not against Gould's
political guidelines, but rather his failure to implement them. The new
organisation, the Socialist Youth Alliance, made great play of the
program that the new leader, Percy, had witnessed at first hand in the
United States and had imported into Australia on his own return. This
finished program could be so facilely adopted because, unlike
revolutionary workers' organisations, sects and organisations based on
the radicalisation of youth do not require the development of theory
and practice. They rest content with the panacea of dogma. Gould had
created the youth movement — it was the task of others to build upon it.
The Queensland left
It wasn't until relatively late, in 1970, that the
that had been creating schisms in other states finally hit the new
revolutionary left in Brisbane. When it did, a movement that had been
the model of unity was reduced to splinters.
In contrast with other states, an original antagonism between
new radical forces and the conservative left did not exist in
Queensland. A handful of New Leftists formed the Society for Democratic
Action (SDA) on the Brisbane campus in August 1966, and in 1967
launched a campaign,against a State Traffic Act that had prevented them
from demonstrating against the Vietnam War. Not only the student body,
but workers too, were mobilised to destroy the Act. The same year, SDA
established a discotheque (FOCO) at the Trades Hall, with the
co-operation of the Trades and Labour Council and the Young Socialist
League (ex-Eureka Youth League), the Communist Party youth
organisation. So slight, at first, were the political differences
between these bodies that their joint project to contact the youth of
Brisbane remained viable throughout 1968.
But by the Left Action Conference, SDA had moved to the
left. The French May and the invasion of Czechoslovakia had convinced
it of the importance of self-management. It changed its name in April
1969 to the Revolutionary Socialist Students' Alliance (RSSA) and
formed an off-campus adjunct, the Revolutionary Socialist Alliance
(RSA). At the Left Action Conference, the RSA's ideas were acclaimed.
The Communist Party decided to sponsor an investigation of
self-management and a Socialist Humanist Action Centre (SHAC) in its
The Left Action Conference also overwhelmingly endorsed Brian
Laver's SDA motion calling on the whole left to support the military
victory of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, and to adopt this
as its policy in the antiwar movement. When Laver attempted to actually
put this policy to the crowd at the first Moratorium the following
year, he was muzzled and bridled for half an hour by a battery of
Communist and Labor dignatories. Not long afterwards, the Socialist
Humanist Action Centre was closed down. The shattering of its alliance
with the Communist Party in 1970 forced the new revolutionary left in
Brisbane, until then united in the RSA and the RSSA, to reconsider its
whole strategy. Late that year, the first of a series of crippling
splits occurred. The RSA split into the Socialist Union, which was
short-lived, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party. The programmatic
crisis encouraged the search for panaceas, and for the all-encompassing
"total perspective" of a finished program. The tendency developed for
revolutionaries to seize upon the finished programs of international
organisations that seemed to offer a solution to the problems of the
Brisbane left. Further fragmentation, and the crystallisation of sects,
occurred on this basis. Early in 1971, the Revolutionary Socialist
Party itself split. The majority of the organisation, clinging
religiously to the simplicity of the slogan of self-management, had
accepted the anarchist ideas of the Solidarity Group in Britain. They
eventually formed the Brisbane Self Management Group (SMG). The
minority of the RSP had adopted the finished program of the Fourth
International and split as Trotskyists to form the Labor Action Group.
Labor Action split in turn not long afterwards between those who
remained loyal to Ernest Mandel's Fourth International, and those who
were won during the course of 1971 to Gerry Healy's Fourth
International. The latter, a small minority, joined the Socialist
Labour League at that organisation's founding conference in December
1971. The Mandelite majority became the Brisbane branch of the
Socialist Workers' League when they joined the SWL in January 1972. But
unable to accept ideas originating with the SWP in the United States,
they split from the SWL the following August to form the Communist
Sects developed more rapidly and dramatically in Queensland,
throughout 1971 and 1972 they mushroomed in every state, becoming the
general form of a new phase in the process of the fragmentation of the
revolutionary left. The student and antiwar movements boiled to a peak
with the Moratoriums, and then rapidly subsided. At first, the radicals
who had built these mass movements found themselves isolated, atomised
and suffering from the general crisis of perspective into which the
left had been plunged. When they began to coalesce, they did so in
The emergence of sects
The decline of the mass movements and the emergence of sects
The relative economic stability of the long post-war boom,
accustomed both blue and white collar workers to job security and
personal consideration, has gradually undermined the "depression
mentality" that in an older generation of Australians produced an
attitude of slavish subservience to employers (and other authorities).
At the same time, post-war capitalism required the systematic
inculcation in the population of the values of a consumer society. The
potential created by the relative economic prosperity for the
self-cultivation of the individual was incompatible, however, with a
mindless consumer mentality.
Thus, after a certain period of "boom" conditions, there was
increasingly strong reaction against the inhumanity of capitalism. A
number of responses have developed based on a refusal to accept that
society should be regulated by production requirements and that the
profit motive should take priority over human considerations. The
antiwar movement was the first. It popularised the idea of collective
protest activity. It involved thousands of innocents and led many of
them to conclude that the solution to such specific issues was an
overall one: the destruction of the social system as a whole. In the
antiwar movement, as it passed its zenith, there appeared seekers of a
total perspective and the organisational means to realise it. At this
point, the crystallisation of sects became the pattern of development
of the revolutionary left.
There has been one important exception to the proliferation of
in this period: the womens' movement. But in an outline history of this
size it would not have been possible to do justice to a movement so
diverse, complex and heterogeneous as Womens' Liberation.
The sects were not produced by ideas alone, but also by social
forces. Their peculiarities are explained by the fact that they came
into being as a result of differing responses to the various social
forces. Some responded to the issues that cam e to the fore during the
post-war boom, while others responded to the end of this boom — the
capitalist economic crisis.
The first approximation to Trotskyism continued: the
Socialist Youth Alliance
The Socialist Youth Alliance (SYA) became the first sect to
among the discontented of the antiwar movement in Sydney when it
scooped the pool with a split in Resistance in the winter of 1970. The
new organisation maintained the Resistance tradition, however, by
involving itself solely in single-issue campaigns which, because
workers can become involved in them only as citizens, have by their
very nature excluded the proletariat as a class. Within these various
"mass movements", SYA has avoided the task of raising the participants
from a sectoral consciousness (consciousness of one particular form of
oppression) to a revolutionary Marxist consciousness, ie of
transforming radicals into revolutionaries. Nor does it try to give
these movements a working class orientation. SYA attempts to justify
its failure to orient to the working class by claiming that the working
class is not a fruitful field to recruit in. It starts, not with the
needs of the class struggle but with what it short-sightedly conceives
as its own ends.
But the single issues upon which SYA and its fraternal
the Socialist Workers' League (SWL), have based themselves have begun
to assume less importance beside economic problems and the movement of
the working class in response. In a period of working class upsurge, a
group that has always paid lip-service to the historic mission of the
working class must make at least token efforts at involvement in
workers' struggles, if only so that it may pursue in good conscience
its primary commitment elsewhere. This does not mean, however, that
SWL/SYA's work in the class is of a communist character. On the one
hand, when directed at the rank and file, it is spontaneist, on the
other, it attempts to apply pressure to move the trade union
bureaucracy to the left.
Capitalism in crisis and the spontaneous upsurge of working
In 1968-69, the United States and some European countries
experienced a long recession. The ongoing crisis of the US dollar
forced the US to act. On August 15, 1971, Nixon announced a 10 per cent
surcharge on imports, and the reneging on the convertibility of the
dollar into gold: acts that threw the parities of international
currencies into the boiling pot and disrupted world trade. All
countries were plunged into recession. The Lucky Country was swept into
the mainstream of the world economy, giving it its highest rate of
unemployment since 1961.
In Australia, inflation also began to accelerate, along with
trend in other capitalist countries. In early 1971 official recognition
was given to inflation and Hawke obligingly diverted working class
discontent for the time being with the farce of "fair prices — fair
profits" to be attained at Bourke's ACTU store.
By 1972, the working class had begun to react to the rapid
of its living standards. Strikes were transformed from twenty four or
forty eight hour stoppages into ones extending for a number of weeks.
Although working class militancy was goaded by the escalating
inflation, it was hindered in the early part of 1972 by the effects of
unemployment, and in the latter half by the schemes of union
bureaucrats manoeuvring for the return of a Labor government.
Nevertheless, 1972 marks the beginning of the recent surge of working
Prior to this, those issues that dominated the attention of
such as Vietnam, were of the kind that inspired a moral response, and
the radical movement reflected this. Since then, the community has been
preoccupied with economic problems, and the revolutionary groups that
have emerged since are all a product of this changed social situation.
The Socialist Labour League
Some of those who had been radicalised by the antiwar
who were looking for a “total perspective", also attempted to come to
grips with the new reality. The Socialist Labour League was the first
sect to crystallise from the ranks of these. It was formed in December,
1971, with branches in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
In Sydney, a study group, Workers' Action, disenchanted with
single-issue youth vanguardist fixation of Resistance and others in
that city, formed in late 1969 and devoted itself to coming to grips
with Marxist theory. Before long, it became weary of its ambitious
study program and made a leap of faith, importing the finished program
of the Socialist Labour League in Britain.
The Melbourne branch of the SLL derived from a split in the
group: an assorted lot of individuals associated with the Victorian
Labour College. The other splinter formed the embryo of the Marxist
Workers' Group, later the Socialist Workers' Action Group (SWAG — see
below). In Brisbane, the SLL attracted only a small minority of the
Labour Action Group, whose majority joined the SWL.
The Socialist Labour League held to three articles of faith:
capitalist crisis, an orientation to the working class, and the need to
build a revolutionary party. When only a handful on the Australian left
believed in these things, but paid no more than lip-service to them,
the SLL set out to make them a reality, thrusting them in the face of
all the disbelievers. This marked a step forward for the Australian
left, awakening others to these forgotten truths.
The Healyites themselves have fallen far short of their worthy
and now thrash about in the wilderness running kiddies' functions.
There is a world crisis in Healyism and it may not be long, with or
without a shove from Gerry Healy himself, before the Australian SLL
goes the way of its mentors in Britain and the United States.
The Socialist Workers Action Group
Melbourne's Socialist Workers' Action Group (SWAG) originated
1972 as a study circle composed of former Tocsin members. A large
proportion of its members since have been students, and it has
concentrated on the campus. In assessing individual events and
advancing relevant strategies for students, SWAG has had success.
SWAG's trade union work, mainly white collar so far, has been
spontaneist and economist, however. It has perhaps failed to
differentiate between students and workers. When students act, they
often read, question and develop an understanding by themselves.
Workers, on the other hand, rarely transcend trade union consciousness
if their trade union struggles are conducted simply as trade union
struggles. Currently, SWAG is moving hesitantly towards involvement in
blue collar areas. If this is to be explained by the increasingly
strong influence that the International Socialists in Britain has had
upon the group, SWAG's blue collar work will be spontaneist and
SWAG has evolved without a codified program, so that although
been able to drift in its practice towards Marxism-Leninism, it has not
been forced to grapple with basic Leninist concepts. For as long as it
was not frozen to a definite program, SWAG's future was open &$151;
it could develop a truly Marxist program or attach itself to any one of
an infinite variety of fads. After being repelled for so long by the
imported programs of other sects however, SWAG at this late hour has
succumbed to, and imported, the program of the International
Socialists. If this process is not nipped in the bud, SWAG's ideas will
have become as ossified as those of the other sects.
The Communist League
In the late 1960s, differences began to develop within the
Secretariat of the Fourth International between the European-based
majority and the minority led by the Socialist Workers Party of the
United States. A central question in the dispute was that of
orientation. The majority stressed the importance of an orientation' to
the working class whilst the SWP insisted upon a strategy based on
single-issue campaigns largely divorced from the working class. In most
countries a tenuous unity was maintained, but not so in Australia.
Those who could no longer accept the SWP's orientation as an
appropriate response to the new reality of the working class upsurge
split to form yet another sect, the Communist League, in August 1972.
The split was led by those who had previously been members of the
Brisbane group, Labour Action. It siphoned off from the SWL those
concerned with developing a working class orientation, so that once
again the SWL/SYA was saved from the jaws of temptation.
But all was not well with the new organisation. It took the
of the Fourth International as dogma and applied them to Australia
uncritically. In particular, it took the Fourth International's
analysis of the emergence of a new vanguard (ie a broad layer of
anti-capitalist elements to the left of Stalinism and Social Democracy)
and tried to find such a phenomenon in Australia. Since there are very
few workers in Australia who fit this description, the Communist
League's search for the new vanguard has tended to lead it away from
the working class and towards campaign politics. It was possible for it
to have a formal orientation to the working class but to continue to
have a practical one to other strata. As the crisis in capitalism has
deepened and the workers have pushed other groupings from the centre of
the political stage, the contradiction between the Communist League's
program and its practice has become obvious, leading to demoralisation.
And so slender are the CL's real differences with the SWL that it has
not hesitated to endorse a recent proposal of the SWL for the rapid
fusion of the two organisations, a fusion that will be arranged on the
basis of the politics of the larger organisation (the SWL).
The Spartacist League
The Spartacist League is a fully imported model without a
predecessor in the Australian left. Only when the shores of New Zealand
appeared not-so-green, did it set out on its pilgrimage to the
seemingly lush revolutionary fields of Australia.
Not learning the lesson of its failure in New Zealand, that
unmodified imported program of "building the party from the top down"
had become even more irrelevant with the decline of the youth
mobilisations of the 1960s and the antiwar movement, the Spartacist
League's only impact in Australia has been to attract hostility. Its
perspective is an anachronism in a period of deepening working class
Because it possesses the mentality of the sect fully blown,
Spartacist League will certainly not grow — although its fanaticism may
enable it to exist indefinitely, and parasitically, on the periphery of
the class struggle (unless, of course, there is another migration to
still greener pastures).
Workers' control: the instant panacea
Ideas of workers' control had circulated on the Australian
after the French May of 1968. With the working class upsurge many were
prompted to acknowledge at long last the need for an involvement in
workers' struggles. Workers' control ideas became popularised on a
broader scale. The left has always faced the difficulty of bridging the
chasm between itself and the working class and of turning workers'
struggles in an anti-capitalist direction; most converts to workers'
control embraced it as the ready-made solution.
In the meantime, militants in New South Wales put their
workers' control into practice. At Harco Steel, and at the Sydney Opera
House site, they experimented with a new tactic — the work-in. Against
this background, a Workers' Control Conference was convened at
Newcastle in Easter 1973. The conference was the first large and
representative gathering of the Australian left since 1971. It
ponderously gnawed at the elusive trilogy of Workers' Participation,
Workers' Control and Workers' Self-Management, and genuflected to the
Green Ban, which had put workers' control on the tongue of the man in
the street and Jack Mundey into the hearts of the populace.
The organisation that had done most to publicise the
interpretation of workers' control and that benefited most from,the
short-lived workers' control movement, was the Communist Party .
However, only two months after the oratory of the Communist Party's
Laurie Carmichael had becalmed the workers' control conference into an
attitude of awesome respect, it was being used to cajole back to work
the striking Ford workers at Broadmeadows, who were to show such a
healthy disrespect for bourgeois property.
Workers' control can expose the domination of one class by
As far as the CPA and some others are concerned, workers' control
revolves around the psychological aspects of alienated labour, seen as
merely another form of inhumanity. In the case of the Green Bans of the
CPA's then-captive NSW Branch of the Builders' Labourers, workers'
control became a showcase for the refined sentiment of
environmentalists, rather than being based on the class interests rests
of workers. It came as no surprise that Gallagher and his little band
of thugs were so easily able to overthrow the originally fearsome NSW
The old reformist left: metamorphosis or last gasp?
The Communist Party dons its human face
Only once has the Communist Party been a force in Australian
political life: during the second imperialist war, when patriotism was
at a premium. In the years that followed, it became obvious to some
Communists that a repetition of the golden success of the war years
would follow only if the party cut the umbilical cord that tied it to
However, it wasn't until the implications of the
the Stalinist world monolith could no longer be ignored that the party
began to adjust by seeking an independent way, an “Australian road to
socialism”. The first breakthrough for those Australian communists who
had advocated this “polycentrism” was achieved in Victoria when, into
the void left by Ted Hill's rigid and intransigent stalwarts, crept a
leadership of the most pragmatic inclination, the “Italian liners”.
In the 1930s, reformist social democracy embraced a new
Marxist Humanism (inspired by the works of the young Marx), to
counterpose an “ethical message” to both the sordid realities of
capitalist life and to the socialist revolution. With the mass
communist parties becoming an integral part of European society after
World War II, Stalinism itself permanently assumed a reformist
character. The Italian Communist Party in particular, began elaborating
upon the ideology of Marxist Humanism to legitimise its new role,
distorting the ideas of its founder, Gramsci and twisting his notion of
hegemony into an excuse for an “ethics revolution”.
Soon the national leadership of the Australian Communist
under Laurie Aarons, was itself espousing the ideas first introduced
into the party by the pacesetters in Victoria. And when it became clear
to the party leadership that many from the New Left student
intelligentsia, for whom Stalinism represented nothing more than
theoretical ossification, were prepared to believe that the CPA may
have begun to develop in a revolutionary direction, the drive against
“conservative” Stalinist ideas within the Communist Party accelerated.
Eventually, some revolutionaries of the New Left joined the party.
Those who formed the Left Tendency however, were soon forced to take
issue with the ideological foundations of Marxist Humanism.
The reality behind the human face
The effect of Marxist Humanism is to blunt the razor edge of
class struggle with moral protest consisting of an appeal to the
“conscience of humanity”, which is nothing more than an appeal to the
ruling (class) opinion. The philosophy that is spontaneously generated
(and therefore bourgeois) within workers' control, women's liberation,
gay liberation, environmentalism and other movements that have emerged
in recent years, is assimilable into Marxist Humanism. Therefore, once
the philosophy of Marxist Humanism had become the vogue with the
Communist Party leadership, the party found that it could adapt to the
new movements and make inroads into them. These important human issues
require a class response: from the Communist Party they got a
The clock strikes and a Cinderella Communist Party turns back
into a Russian pumpkin
The Communist Party's fortunes steadily declined throughout
post-war period. The odium that it had aroused in Australia during the
Cold War by its close identification with Moscow remained as strong an
obstacle in the period of detente. It was one with which a frustrated
party leadership had to contend if the CPA was ever to become popular.
The invasion of Czechoslovakia, which was too much for even the CPA to
swallow, provided the innovators within the leadership — Aarons, Taft,
Sendy — , with the opportunity to broadcast their determination to be
Although it had disowned the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the
leadership did not embark on a fundamental reappraisal of the nature of
the Soviet Union and of the material basis of Stalinism. Hence it did
not (and was not able to) analyse its own avowedly Stalinist past from
the point of view of Marxism. The leadership itself had been trained in
the Soviet Union and the Peoples' Republic of China. It had been
nurtured in the womb of the Australian party in the heyday of its
orthodoxy. Although the party began to distance itself from the Soviet
Union, its break, being merely organisational, was not absolute. The
leadership did not polemicise within the party against the ruling
bureaucracy of the Soviet Union to challenge, or weaken, the loyalty to
the USSR of the long standing members (the overwhelming majority of the
membership). The CCCP tried to exploit this loyalty to outmanoeuvre the
renegade group, and detach the membership from it. It split the
Communist Party, forming a new outpost of the Kremlin (the Socialist
Party of Australia), although this took with it only a minority.
Moscow then threatened to banish the CPA from “the world
movement” if it did not disclaim its description of the Soviet Union as
“socialist-based”. This was too much for many of the remaining members,
who, while being prepared to support a degree of independence from the
Soviet Union, were not prepared for an outright break. Into the breach,
as leaders of a new right wing, stepped Taft and Sendy, polycentrists
of the 1950s now with an opposite orientation. They used the issue and
the feeling of loyalty to the Stalinist Mecca to restructure the
leadership in their own favour, but also to prevent the emerging
general orientation typified by Jack Mundey from going beyond
“reasonable” bounds. Aarons continued unrepentant, and a split appeared
inevitable. But in mid-1974, at the party's National Congress, the
faction surrounding Aarons capitulated and the seemingly irreconcilable
factions easily discovered common ground.
The future of the Communist Party is in the hands of its
leadership. This leadership is in firm control and will not be
replaced. It retains its longstanding methodology. Now, whenever it
does eschew the trusted formulae of the past, it can only lapse into
one form or another of populism. The Communist Party will therefore
remain immune to revolutionary logic. It has failed every practical
test of its much vaunted “leap from the past”. In September 1973, when
a savage coup burst over the Chilean revolution, the Communist Party
persisted in its apology for Allendism. Today, with the fate of the
Portuguese revolution still undecided, the CPA continues to defend the
indefensible — the practice of the Portuguese Communist Party. It is
also generous in its praise of the electoral opportunism of the
Japanese and French parties, and of the “historic compromise” of the
Italian Party. It welcomes the USSR's recent attempt to bind the
European Communist parties together once again in what can only be an
effort to forestall, for as long as possible, the impending
continent-wide upheavals. This year, at the most critical moment for
builders' labourers defending themselves against Gallagher, the CPA,
unable to organise significant defence at the best of times, acted to
defuse the awkward situation in the BLF for the sake of peaceful
coexistence within the trade union bureaucracy.
Although the precise direction of the Communist Party is
one thing at least is a foregone conclusion: that in the vortex of a
deepening social and economic crisis, the Communist Party will be
buffeted from pillar to post. Once again transparently reformist, it
will find it impossible to masquerade as a serious revolutionary force.
Nor will it be able to split those to its left as it has done so
successfully in the past.
The Socialist left: a short-lived rejuvenation
For a brief period beginning late in 1970, a split of
potentially far greater importance loomed — in the Labor Party.
To win acceptability among the burgeoning suburban middle
satisfy the media barons, Gough Whitlam had long led a campaign within
the Labor Party to have appointed a leadership more amenable to his
extreme opportunist style — in particular to break the influence of
left wing unions upon the Victorian Central Executive of the party, the
last remaining embarrassingly left wing stronghold in the ALP. Whitlam
became parliamentary leader in 1967. He de-emphasised Vietnam,
restructured the Federal Executive to include parliamentary leaders,
and then, preparing for the kill, finally stage-managed a confrontation
with the VCE over state aid to private schools, which culminated in his
intervention into the Victorian branch to purge the executive in
The Victorian Branch had been the one most affected by the
split. Leaders of the Trade Union Defence Committee had gained firm
control of the State Executive, but although including a number of
self-confessed revolutionaries, they did little in the next 15 years to
involve the rank and file of the branch. Against Whitlam's far greater
bureaucratic resources, their customary wheeling and dealing was found
wanting, and no-one was more surprised than they when a left wing
protest newsletter, Inside Labor, began to circulate amongst
the rank and file and meet with a response. Caught up in a groundswell
of protest against the intervention, they were forced to participate in
the formation of a left wing faction, the Socialist Left, defending
traditional ALP socialist policies. But under the dead weight of this
traditional ideology, and unable to envisage a life outside of their
political home, they avoided an expulsion or a split at all costs and
thus were able to produce only a piecemeal program. The widespread rank
and file support that had thrust them forward was soon frittered away.
When the then existing Trotskyist fragments flooded into the
Socialist Left in 1971 to recruit, the Socialist Left leaders,
theoretically at sea and politically embarrassed by the proffered
programs of the Trotskyists, began to promote the bureaucratisation of
their organisation. Before long the Socialist Left had become a
sclerotic caricature of its former self. For the 1972 elections, its
leaders closed ranks behind Whitlam, and after bound themselves even
more securely to him, sullenly acknowledging his “good” deeds and
keeping quiet on the others. Soon however, as if it wasn't frustrating
enough to win by a whisker in the cliff-hanger 1974 election and remain
bedevilled by a hostile senate, the government found itself at the
mercy of a world economic recession. Then, fulfilling Gough Whitlam's
long ambition and marking the final consolidation of his hold over the
party machine, Labor at last wrote into its constitution a commitment
to private enterprise at its Terrigal Conference in January 1975.
Almost immediately afterwards, Whitlam promoted his co-thinkers to the
powerful positions in the ministry, displacing such Labor stalwarts as
Cairns and Cameron. Thus, in quick succession, he was able to achieve
what would have been unthinkable when the government had first been
elected, and gain absolute control of the parliamentary party. When
Whitlam has been most vulnerable however, and through each crisis —
Terrigal, the ministry reshuffle, and the “loans affair” — the
Socialist Left bureaucrats have stood helplessly on the sidelines,
immobilised in manoeuvre and machination. Their reaction to the 1975
Budget of the Whitlam government was no different.
Many revolutionaries joined the ALP because there was nowhere
to go. Seeing the Communist Party as irrelevant, they believed that
there was at least something to be gained by promoting their own
politics within a party based on the trade unions and with an electoral
base in the working class. As a result of Whitlam's campaign to remodel
the party, however, the ALP has been transformed from a federation of
relatively autonomous state branches into a centralised national party,
its policy being formulated by specialist committees and being
determined at the level of Federal Executive and Federal Conference.
The day when a rank and filer could conceivably influence policy has
long passed. Even if Whitlam was to be banished following a federal
election defeat, the centralisation of power would simply be
transferred to new hands, probably Hawke's. Although such a party
crisis might result in the scattering of authority to some extent, the
centralisation would remain intact. This situation makes working inside
the ALP untenable for individual revolutionaries.
The panorama of the Australian left reveals a grim situation.
mummified Communist Party is bad enough, but for an alternative we are
expected to choose from among a multiplicity of impotent sects. And yet
the need for a genuine mass-based revolutionary party in Australia has
never been more urgent.
The fragmentation that produced the sects took the
left as a whole another step forward, invoking revolutionary needs of
the most demanding order: the need for an implantation in the
proletariat, the need for an understanding of the crisis afflicting
world capitalism, and the need for a genuine mass-based revolutionary
The sects of themselves, with their limited theoretical and
practical capacity, have been unable to satisfy these needs. The
revolutionary left is again at an impasse. If it is to continue to go
forward, it will have to change its very nature. Revolutionaries will
have to dispose of the outmoded form of sects in which they have been
working and prepare for a further qualitative leap: revolutionary
regroupment. To regroupment, the attitude of the sects themselves is
inimical. It will have to proceed in spite of them.
The principles of a revolutionary regroupment
The importance of the building of a revolutionary communist
a constant concern of revolutionaries. Nevertheless, there are periods,
such as the present in Australia, when the urgency is especially sharp,
the situation on the left particularly critical, and the opportunities
for building a revolutionary party unusually favourable. To face up to
the demands that the class struggle places on revolutionary socialists
in this country, we call for a revolutionary regroupment of the
Many people sympathetic to revolutionary politics remain
outside the organised tendencies. Among the divided, squabbling groups
to the left of the Communist Party of Australia, and the Australian
Labor Party, they see no clear alternative. A serious and sincere
effort for revolutionary unity on a principled basis could draw many
comrades, who will otherwise be lost to the movement, into
revolutionary work. These potential members of a revolutionary party
are so confused, or repulsed, by the doctrinal wars of the sects, and
disappointed with the irrelevance of these minuscule organisations,
that they will justifiably join none of them. The sects have therefore
been unable to revolutionize the thousands that are being
radicalised by the social and economic crises and the flux of ideas
that these crises have produced. Regroupment, on the other hand, would
provide the possibility of fruitful theoretical discussion and
clarification alongside practical collaboration. It could have a
significant practical effect on the balance of forces.
The peculiarity of the Austraian left
Those peculiar features of the Australian revolutionary left
distinguish it from the left of most other advanced capitalist
countries — its impoverished theoretical condition, its recent origin,
and its derivative nature — do not represent an insuperable obstacle to
a revolutionary regroupment. In fact, for these very reasons,
regroupment may be easier here than elsewhere.
In Europe, and in the United States, where the finished
the sects have originated, the revolutionary organisations will not
readily discard, or question, the programs that they themselves have
taken so long to evolve. The renowned international leaders have great
personal and organisational influence in their own countries. They are
skilled and experienced, and their authority and prestige is enormous:
recruits to their own national organisations will be directly
influenced by them. These organisations are larger and better organised
than their derivative organisations in Australia, and hence have
greater sway over their members.
In Australia, the renowned international leaders will not be
present. The regroupment debate, because it will be conducted by
fallible mortals, will at least be open to question. Because the
program of the derivative sects here is imported and secondhand, it may
so much more easily become the object of critical scrutiny. Also, the
sects in Australia are very young and small. The leadership of an
Australian sect will find it more difficult to convince
revolutionaries, both members and non-members, that their own
particular group holds in its hands the fate of the Australian
revolution. In Australia, the overwhelming necessity of regroupment
should be more obvious.
The development in Australia of an abundance of derivative
Trotskyist and Maoist sects has prevented the development of one or two
much larger organisations. At the same time, as a result of a justified
unpreparedness to accept these derivative sects at their face value, a
number of independent groups, wary of the dangers of importing a
finished program, have been established. Although these groups may be
spontaneist, economist or theoreticist, they too are a process, and
after several years of existence have begun to question themselves.
Internationalism: the reality and the fetish
The struggle in Australia is not more important than, nor can
separated from, the struggle elsewhere. Therefore a revolutionary
proletarian organisation cannot be built in Australia in isolation from
the fight to build a revolutionary proletarian international.
International organisations and tendencies certainly exist.
however, is adequate or authoritative enough to qualify as the
Proletarian International. None can claim that its international
program is the program of the Proletarian International; each expresses
at most only a portion of the truth. The Proletarian International must
be built, both on an international and a national level. This is not to
deny however, that some, at least, of the existing international
organisations and tendencies will make an important contribution to
building the international.
There are two conflicting theories of how to build the
at the national level in Australia. The theory supported by each
“international” is that its own offshoot will, by linear growth and on
the basis of its “correct line”, triumph over every other claimant. As
none of the “internationals”, in their countries of origin or
elsewhere, have been able to achieve this, it is unlikely to occur here.
The alternative view of internationalism, which each of the
would denounce as “Australian particularist”, is that only a
revolutionary party rooted in the Australian working class could claim
to be a legitimate part of the future Proletarian International.
Revolutionaries in Australia have small resources and are not able to
create the revolutionary international by themselves. It is in building
a serious internationalist cadre in Australia, and by overcoming the
acute fragmentation of the revolutionary left, that they can make a
practical contribution to its formation.
The internationalism of the derivative sects is abstract: each
the truism of proletarian internationalism as its starting point but
can do nothing more than mouth the ideas of its “international”.
The idea that the proletarian international party can be built
otherwise than on the basis of real national sections rooted in the
working class is a mystification of proletarian internationalism. He or
she is no internationalist who proclaims an abstract internationalism
while shirking or botching the duties of an internationalist in the
immediate arena — the class struggle in Australia — and among the
immediately accessible battalions of the international proletariat.
Political guidelines for a principled regroupment
It took a decade to fragment the revolutionary left in
suggest that any one blueprint or “correct” programmatic statement
could overcome this fragmentation would be absurd. Only a principled
The debate that we have in mind is one that puts the needs of
regroupment before sectional interests. It would establish a framework
in which positive steps could be taken to overcome mutual isolation and
proceed towards programmatic agreement. Programmatic agreement is not
reached mechanically by the exhibition of finished programs. There are
certain stages through which it must pass, and certain preconditions:
theoretical clarification and practical collaboration conducted in an
atmosphere of mutual respect; emphasis on reaching agreement on the
principles of revolutionary socialism before considering specific
The following series of such guidelines is our own suggestion
the principles of a revolutionary regroupment. It is not proposed in a
spirit of the lowest common denominator and therefore does not blur the
fundamental distinction between revolutionary socialism and other
political trends. Nor is it so narrow as to exclude at the outset
everyone but ourselves. There are a host of theoretical and practical
questions that have not been covered, but we would prefer to contribute
our own ideas on these more specific questions only after a framework
for theoretical clarification and practical co-operation has been
established. It would be foolhardy to refuse to unite until agreement
is reached on every dotted i and crossed t.
- 1. A commitment to the basic guiding ideas of Marxism,
the historic necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the
impossibility of socialism in one country, the need for proletarian
- 2. An active involvement with the struggles of the
working class, recognising that the emancipation of the working class
must be the act of the workers themselves. An orientation to the rank
and file recognising the fundamental role of the labour bureaucracy as
labour lieutenants of the capitalist class. A fight for workers'
democracy in the trade unions, and for the complete independence of the
unions from the capitalist state. A recognition of the need for a
communist leadership in the unions, achieved only through open, harsh
struggle against the reformist, Stalinist, and neo-Stalinist leaders,
exposing them when they prove unable or unwilling to act upon viable,
alternative communist strategies for action.
- 3. For the working class to become an effective
fighting force both in the economic class struggle within capitalism,
and in the broader class struggle to overthrow it, workers must
organise themselves into their own class organs. Strike committees and
shop committees representative of the rank and file are a more
effective means of waging the economic struggle. They are a direct
response to exploitation at the point of production, and therefore tend
to be a more volatile form of organisation. In taking up every issue as
it arises they develop an authority among their constituents, allowing
them to express in the factories, not only the wider economic needs of
the class, but its political needs also. To develop workers' power
further, shop committees should be unified on a locality basis
(soviets) and workers' self-defence corps (militias) organised for the
practical defence of occupations and picket lines, economic and
political demonstrations, etc. By their very nature, these rank and
file organs can, in periods of deep social crisis, transform themselves
into organs of dual power.
- 4. A commitment to the building of a Leninist working
class combat party, struggling ideologically, politically and
culturally for communist consciousness.
To turn towards the working class is the essential,
wisdom of proletarian revolutionaries. The day to day working class
struggle, even in a crude syndicalist form, is the raw material of
communism. BUT the recurring economic and political struggles of the
working class cannot of themselves, spontaneously, produce a
revolutionary class consciousness. The task of Communists is to build
an organisation possessing this consciousness, capable of disseminating
it, and capable of integrating itself into the proletariat, and of
learning from it, whatever its level of struggle.
Narrow trade unionism and workerism — the tendency seeking
confine the attention of the working class to its own immediate
economic struggles and the political struggles arising directly from
them — must be combated. The revolutionary socialist struggle is an
all-sided one in which each partial struggle is related to the overall
perspective. In any period less than one of giant revolutionary
upsurge, the organic struggles of the working class remain trapped
within the limits imposed upon an “interest group” bargaining within
the capitalist system. In the revolutionary upsurge itself, as the
proletariat demands serious political answers, a party that has
previously based itself on passive accommodation to existing trade
unionist struggles will be left floundering.
- 5. United Front activity, anti-fascist committees and
solidarity committees, etc, should be initiated and supported.
Revolutionary organisations can be of value to the working class only
by seeking to develop the widest possible activity, with the most
precise, practical policies, not by proclaiming their own organisation
to be “the alternative” and crying “join us”.
- 6. The Australian Labor Party, in the opinion of quite
a large section of the Australian working class, is a party that
represents the interests of workers. These workers can be said to
possess a degree of class consciousness. However, if they identify with
the Labor Party, it is not because they think it is socialist. The vast
majority of Australian workers are, at this stage, unable to see beyond
existing society. Generally speaking, they only see the ALP as a party
ready to grant special benefits to workers. It therefore has a strong
political and ideological hold over them. This will be broken only when
it is demonstrated that Labor not only does not rule in the immediate
interests of the working class (but in the class interest of the
bourgeoisie) but also that workers' immediate and class interests can
only be served by the overthrow of bourgeois rule. It is not enough to
denounce the Labor Party from the sidelines. Demands must be pressed on
its leadership, and on Labor governments.
Any attempt to relate to the problem of the Labor Party is
however, if it fails to recognise that the basic raw material of
socialism is found not in lists of demands, or in literary exposures,
but in the independent activity of the working class itself. In that
activity, tremendous strides forward can be made in times of crisis:
years of political education can be telescoped into days.
- 7. Communist internationalism does not counterpose
itself to the struggle of oppressed nations for national rights of
self-determination and independence, any more than the communist
program is counterposed to the fight to preserve democratic rights.
Revolutionaries, on the contrary, must champion and aid, by all means
possible, the fight of oppressed nations against imperialism,
particularly against our own imperialism (as in Niugini).
- 8. In Australia, racism and xenophobia are among the most
important ideological weapons of the capitalist class.
White capitalist society has destroyed the communities,
the way of
life, and the culture of Australian black people. White workers must
actively and unconditionally support their cause.
Migrants have been imported since the Second World War as
and supposedly compliant labour reserve for jobs that were becoming
unacceptable to Australians. As highly oppressed strata, migrant
workers will be in the foremost ranks of our revolutionary forces.
Australian workers must strive for unity of the class, and overcome the
cultural and language barriers that are used to divide the workforce,
by fighting racist or nationalist discrimination, by supporting the
rights of migrant workers to organise into ethnic groups, and by
assisting them in their fight against specific and additional burdens.
- 9. Only in the last analysis does capitalism rule by
coercion, or because it controls the state, and the means of production
of the necessities of life. Capitalism is able to survive everyday life
because the mass of people “spontaneously consent” to the totality of
capitalist culture. Capitalism establishes itself culturally in their
minds as the natural order of things.
Communists do not wait until only after the “revolution”
succeeded before announcing their intention of changing lives. Only if
it is able to demonstrate that it has workable cultural alternatives to
offer in every area of their own experience will communism cease to
mean tyranny or reform-from-above to the mass of people and become real
for them, demonstrate its practicality and necessity as an alternative
existence, and on the basis of this trust involve the masses in a
conscious and unremitting struggle for a new life.
Advanced capitalism has thrown social relations and the
value system of the bourgeoisie into crisis. Thus, in recent years
there has been an increasingly strong reaction against the cultural
imperatives of Australian capitalism. People from all walks of life
have become involved in movements against specific cultural aspects:
the work ethic, the 40-hour week and alienating labour, consumerism
(the creation and satisfaction of profitable, artificial needs), the
rape of the environment and the disruption of the ecological balance,
the division between town and country, the ugliness of urban living,
the anti-social nature of suburban life, the motor car and freeways,
the destructive nature of the nuclear family, the repression of
sexuality, the oppression of women and sex role conditioning,
militarism and nuclear energy, and the ideologies of the sciences,
psychiatry, education and the arts. The counterculture is a rebellion
and therefore a fertile area in which the ideas of both the left and
the right are able to germinate. At present, there exist within the,
counterculture, and alongside the elements of a revolutionary culture,
values that are either merely the inverse of those originally rejected
(the primacy of self-liberation, mysticism and “the soil”) are
irrationalist and therefore the germs of new right wing philosophies,
or basically reformist, assuming that politics is useless and that the
power of alternative ideas and values alone will be able to transform
the existing society.
The posing of alternatives by the counterculture has
unparalleled opportunity for the articulation of a revolutionary
cultural alternative. But the development of sects and the preference
of revolutionaries for comforting finished programs, meant that a
knowledge of many of the needs, experiences and problems of the masses
became the property of movements within the counterculture.
Correspondingly, a formal knowledge of the principles, strategy and
tactics of communism — the overall perspective without which the
counterculture can offer at best only reform — is today almost solely
possessed by the sects. A synthesis of these two aspects in a
reunification of revolutionary politics and revolutionary culture is an
essential task of the revolutionary Marxist left in Australia, and of
regroupment. It will be achieved only with the dissolution of the sects
and the appropriation of concrete knowledge by an alternative
revolutionary political party basing its activity on the needs of the
- 10. The subjugation of women has existed since before
the advent of class society. The values to which this has given rise
are infused through the culture in its entirety. Women's liberation
does more than protest against a specific variety of,oppression. It
involves the total transformation of all human relationships, a
cultural revolution to humanise the species. The liberation of women is
therefore impossible without socialism. But also, socialism is
impossible without the liberation of women. The struggle of women for
their liberation must be at the heart of any meaningful socialist
At the crux of women's oppression under capitalism is the
family life. This privatised sphere cut off from social production is
capitalism's most economic means of reproducing labour power. It is an
absolutely essential institution of ideological conditioning in all the
values of capitalism necessary to maintain its relations of production.
To maintain the family, capitalism has a vested interest in every
aspect of the patriarchal, sexist culture that has been bequeathed to
it, including the idea that the biological mother is essential to, and
fulfils herself in, the socialisation of children.
The radical womens' movement has challenged the
bourgeois (and leftist) separation of “private” and “public” spheres of
life and an exclusive preoccupation with issues such as equal pay,
divorce and abortion reform. It has analysed and articulated today's
crisis of family life, exposing sex roles, patriarchal authoritarianism
in all its forms and bourgeois ideologies of sexual repression,
including the theory that homosexuality is abnormal or sick. These
insights are necessary, but can be completed only within an historical
materialist framework. Marxists, although they respect the autonomy of
the women's movement, encourage the development within it of their own
ideas. They fight sexism (particularly that of male workers) and male
supremacism both in the broad class struggle and within the Marxist
Women who work in social production are doubly oppressed.
experience the flagrant contradiction between the role of motherhood
and the role of production. The socialisation of housework that will
eradicate the distinction between “private” and “public” spheres and
the oppressive burden of all women is a demand of most vital and
immediate necessity to women workers. They are therefore situated to
play a vanguard role.
- 11. The usurpation of power in the Soviet Union by a
bureaucracy (personified by Stalin) led to the subordination of the
needs of the proletariat internationally to this bureaucracy's own
national interests. Exploiting the great prestige of the first
successful workers' revolution, the bureaucracy reduced the communist
parties of the capitalist countries to mere servile instruments of a
nationalistic Soviet foreign policy, inflicting horrible defeats on the
proletariat in numerous countries: China, Germany, Spain, etc.
For this purpose Stalinism distorted the basic conceptions
revolutionary communism. Implicit in the counter-revolutionary theory
of socialism in one country — the ideological expression of the
material needs of the bureaucracy — were other no less
counter-revolutionary theories: that which turned the united front
tactic into a strategic alliance with bourgeois forces and the trade
union and political bureaucracies of the labour movement (popular
front), the theory of social fascism corresponding to the periods of
ultraleftism, the Stalinist version of social patriotism, and the
theory of the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist
Trotsky and the Left Opposition upheld the theory of
revolution and defended the strategical and tactical conceptions of
communism that had been codified at the first four congresses of the
Communist International. After concluding that the Communist
International had degenerated to such an extent that it had become
unreformable, the Trotskyists tried to build a new one. But in a period
when the working class had suffered a series of devastating defeats,
their attempt proved unsuccessful.
The Soviet Union, China and other similar societies have
common with the Marxist vision. These bureaucratic societies are not
socialist or on the road to socialism; nor do the workers (or the
“people”) hold economic and political power in them. They serve the
material interests of the ruling bureaucracies. Revolutionary
internationalists support the struggles of the working class in these
states against these bureaucracies up to and including their
revolutionary overthrow. This will involve the destruction of the
existing state machines and their replacement by organs of proletarian
democracy (representative workers' councils at all social levels)
running the economy according to a centralised plan, itself a result of
the collective will.
Revolutionary Marxists in Australia differ in their
analyses of the
precise nature of the bureaucratic societies. Hence, among the
participants in a revolutionary regroupment there would be basically
two conflicting practical attitudes towards war between the USSR (and
other Warsaw Pact countries) and the capitalist powers: unconditional
defence of the USSR or revolutionary defeatism against it. In the
concrete conditions of today, however, these questions are of more
theoretical than practical significance. But the economic and class
nature of the bureaucratic economies must be fully and honestly
discussed. The theoretical considerations are extremely important and
cannot just be shelved. However, they should not be the basis for
political demarcation in the present world conditions. A political
split on such a basis cannot be justified where there is sufficient
agreement on practical perspectives for Australia.
In the case of China, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and
however, we would expect unconditional, even if critical, support for
their defence against the advanced capitalist powers.
The above guidelines have drawn upon the regroupment
a British group, Workers Fight. We have had no contact with this
organisation, and at this point of time can see no reason why we might
in the future.
Towards revolutionary unity
The general attitude shown towards the political trend of the
11 points should give some indication of whether there is a basis for a
principled regroupment. Concretely, we propose that those supporting
their general thrust immediately take steps towards practical
collaboration coupled with an intensive process of political
clarification through debates, a joint discussion bulletin, etc, and
even more importantly, the publication of a joint fortnightly newspaper.
The orientation of a revolutionary newspaper should be towards
advanced workers — shop stewards and militants — to assist in their
development of a revolutionary class consciousness. To do this, it must
direct their attention to every facet of capitalism, exposing topically
and concretely its class divisions and the full extent of its
oppressiveness for the mass of the population, both in Australia and
internationally. The newspaper would not fulfil its task if it were to
report only those issues that involved the working class in its day to
day struggle with the employers and the government — although these
issues would occupy a significant amount of space. The newspaper must
also be able to contribute to the struggles of workers, and use these
struggles to develop class consciousness. It must also be of practical
use to advanced workers in their relations with other workers, by
conveying the principles of Marxism in a form that is lively,
interesting and intelligible, and not in interminable, jargonistic
tracts. The revolutionary newspaper is written to create a
revolutionary consciousness, not just among workers, but in all
potentially anti-capitalist sections of the population, and to assist
in the development of a movement uniting all the oppressed.
If it is regarded as essential, there should be a transitional
period in which independent publications are also maintained. But there
should be a fixed time limit to this: the aim is clearly not a
perpetual discussion club, but a definite unification on a Leninist
It is possible that debates following unification will
lead to new splits. Even this development would contain more
possibilities of progress than the simple multiplication of
self-satisfied sects, or of various groupings hesitating to take
political action until every theoretical question is resolved.
Unification would obviously have to allow the right to
tendencies and factions. But for theoretical clarification, these
tendencies or factions would have to be based on definite, spelled-out
political programs, not merely on previous associations. Otherwise we
would have no unification, but only a number of cliques loosely strung
together; no theoretical development, but only a sectarian polemic.
Moreover, the tendency for every difference of opinion to become a
cause for tendency or factional line-ups would have to be vigilantly
guarded against. Only those differences appearing persistent or
deep-going would warrant tendency or faction fighting. Nonetheless,
while we would be opposed to casual or light-minded factionalism, we
would oppose any bureaucratic attempt to lay down regulations as to
what kind of tendency and faction platforms would be permissible.
We call upon all serious revolutionaries to consider this
manifesto deeply, and give us your reply.
1. The Yom Kippur War, between Egypt and
one side and Israel on the other, was fought from October 6-26, 1973.
Egypt and Syria hoped to win back territory lost to Israel in previous
wars, in 1947-49, 1956 and 1967 (the Six-Day War). Although the
Egyptian-Syrian attacks were repulsed, the unexpected strength of the
Arab armies led Israel to hand back some territory in the Sinai to
2. The Whitlam Labor government, 1973-75.
response to the international recession of 1974-75, Labor introduced a
wage indexation scheme that held down wages, and proposed a wage-price
freeze, which was defeated in a referendum. For discussion of part of
this period see Rick Kuhn's Militancy
uprooted: labour movement economics 1974-1986.
3. The Bakery was the headquarters of the
Revolutionary Socialists, a socialist group that grew out of the
Vietnam antiwar movement in Melbourne. Most of its members later
evolved in a Maoist direction, forming the Worker Student Alliance, the
main personalities of which were Albert Langer, Darce Cassidy and Mike
Hyde. Some of the Rev Socs evolved towards Trotskyism. The building was
a former bakery in the inner suburb of Prahran.
4. In May 1969 Clarrie O'Shea, a Maoist and
secretary of the Tramways Union (Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees
Association), was jailed for refusing to pay $81,000 in fines imposed
by the courts on his union. The jailing led to four days of strikes
nationwide, until on the fifth day the fines were paid by an anonymous
donor, usually presumed to be a representative of large employers
affected by the strike.
5. Bourke's ACTU store, in central
a project of Bob Hawke as ACTU secretary. Hawke was strongly influenced
by the corporatist Israeli Histadruth trade union federation, which is
closely integrated with the Israeli state, and a large employer,
running numerous co-operatives and holding companies in areas such as
transportation and banking. The ACTU successfully used its link with
Bourkes to challenge and break price controls imposed on retailers and
the public by some large companies.