Labor “lefts” must form a workers’ government!
Fight for a socialist program!
Join the SLL!
Every class-conscious worker is confronted by a decisive question: What is the way forward for the working class in a situation of deepening economic crisis where the Labor government is carrying out the dictates of the bankers and big business?
The capitalist Labor government has attacked living standards, cut government services and used the apparatus of the capitalist state to deal major blows against the trade unions.
Aided by these attacks and the continual retreats of the trade union bureaucracy, employers, from the Peko Wallsend company at Robe River in the Pilbara down to the smallest firm, have launched an offensive against hard-won trade union rights and conditions in the name of changing “work practices.”
In every major industrial dispute, workers are faced with a struggle against the capitalist state, as employers use savage antiunion laws which have been left on the books by the Labor government.
The Labor government itself led the way in this offensive through the deregistration and carve-up of the Builders Labourers Federation.
When the working class undertook industrial and political action in 1982-83 against the Fraser government, it did so in order to bring to power a Labor government to defend its class interests.
Yet the Hawke government has gone far beyond the attacks on the working class initiated by the Liberals. Its program is to unload the economic crisis of the capitalist system onto the backs of the working class by forcing down living standards and crippling the trade unions.
In 1982, when the movement of the working class in response to the rapid development of slump and the destruction of thousands of jobs every week made it impossible for the trade union bureaucracy, despite all its efforts, to continue to prop up the Liberals, powerful sections of the ruling class turned to the Labor Party reformists.
Ever since the formation of the Labor Party in the 1890s, the ruling class has promoted the growth of a privileged stratum—the Labor and trade union bureaucracy—upon whom it depends to maintain its power, especially in times of major economic and political crisis.
The role of the Labor leadership is to bind the working class to the capitalist system and its state and prevent it from taking political power.
In 1914, it was the Laborites who dragged the working class into World War I on behalf of British imperialism.
From 1929 to 1932 the ruling class relied on the Scullin government to impose the Great Depression, while NSW Labor Premier Jack Lang turned the mass movement which erupted after his dismissal back to the ballot box.
Once again in World War II, with the collapse of the Menzies government, the ruling class relied on the Curtin and Chifley governments to conduct the imperialist war.
While the ruling class found it necessary to remove the Whitlam government because of its inability to contain the wages movement which took place after the ending of 23 years of Liberal rule, it depended on the Labor and trade union bureaucracy to prevent the development of a general strike in response to the Governor General’s coup of November 11, 1975.
Now the ruling class is again relying on the Laborites. While Labor governs, the capitalist class still rules and the Labor government is one of the instruments of its rule as it begins the task of destroying all the historical gains of the working class.
The political crisis which faces the working class is a crisis of leadership which can only be resolved through the conscious building of the revolutionary party.
The Labor and trade union bureaucracy rests on the working class. But it expresses the class interests of the bourgeoisie, not those of the working class, which is faced with the task of taking political power and ending capitalist rule.
The working class has to make a conscious leap in the political struggle which it carries out. It cannot confine itself to bringing in a Labor government and then applying pressure to try to win some reforms. Those days are gone because the world capitalist system is on the brink of an economic catastrophe.
Nor can the working class renounce politics and turn to nonpolitical trade union militancy because basic political problems are raised in every trade union struggle.
No longer can lasting concessions be won by the pressure of industrial action on employers. In every serious industrial dispute, which more often take the form of a struggle to defend past gains rather than make new ones, employers use antiunion laws and initiate legal action in the courts. At every point workers are faced with Labor government intervention on the side of the employers.
The attacks of the Labor government and the capitalist state mean that the issue which has to be fought out and decided in the class struggle is which class is to be the political master in the house.
All the problems confronting the working class can only begin to be resolved through the conscious struggle for a program which has as its goal the conquest of political power—the replacement of the capitalist state by a workers’ state.
The ruling class has a very definite political program around which it fights for its class interests. The working class requires nothing less.
Under conditions of impending economic collapse, in order to preserve its profit system, based on the private ownership of the means of production, the ruling class demands the scrapping of even minor reforms and the destruction of all the historical gains of the working class.
The parasitism and decay of the capitalist system is expressed in the domination of the banks and finance capital. Under the so-called reregulation policy, they press for the scrapping of “inefficient” sections of industry and the further destruction of jobs, the cutting of wages, the breaking of the strength of the trade union movement through the “freeing” of the labor market and the elimination of so-called restrictive work practices.
This is the program which the ruling class delivers to the Hawke-Keating leadership of the Labor government and demands it carry out. It directs the policies of the Laborites through the big business organizations, which sit on government advisory bodies such as EPAC, the Treasury Department, the columns of the capitalist press and above all the money markets.
This was seen most clearly at the time of the August Budget when the right-wing cabal led by Hawke and Keating, which determines the policies of the government, drew up expenditure plans not according to the needs of the working class, but in line with the dictates of the money markets.
The size of the deficit was decided in consultation between Hawke and Keating and the Governor of the Reserve Bank on the basis of what would satisfy the money markets. What has been the outcome?
Millions of workers and their families struggling to pay off a home face usurious interest rates in order to conciliate the banks and money dealers; pensioners and other social welfare recipients are falling further behind the rate of inflation because of the bankers’ demands that spending be cut; basic government services in areas such as health, housing and education are being reduced; and the entire working class is to have its living standards reduced still further under the two-tier wage system in order to meet the demand of the capitalist class for increased profits.
But the policies of the Labor government, drawn up by a tiny minority of bankers, money market speculators, big business chiefs and Treasury officials, are opposed by virtually the entire labor movement—rank and file members of the trade unions, members of Labor Party branches and millions of working class Labor voters.
How is the right-wing leadership of the Labor government able to continue carrying out the dictates of the ruling class in defiance of the interests of the entire labor movement?
The examination of this question—the political mechanics of the Labor government—will make clear the political struggle which must now be taken forward by the working class.
The ruling class is able to direct its attacks against the working class through the Labor government, in opposition to the entire labor movement, because the political agents of the ruling class—the Hawke-Keating right wing—are allowed to remain in the government and the Labor Party by the Labor “lefts” who refuse to drive them out.
Hence the first plank in the program around which the working class must fight to take political power is the demand that the agents of the capitalist class be thrown out of the labor movement.
It is not enough to expel the right wing. There must be a complete break from their capitalist program. The historic interests of the working class can be defended only through the implementation of a socialist program based on the nationalization of the banks and basic industries without compensation and under workers’ control.
All those who claim to oppose the policies of the Hawke-Keating leadership must be told: Throw them out! Form a workers’ government carrying out a socialist program!
The ranks of the labor movement—Labor Party branch members and trade unionists—must be mobilized around this struggle as well as the youth.
The Labor “lefts” make various criticisms of the policies of the right wing. Some, like former Queensland senator George Georges, resign in protest. Others, like Bill Hartley, are expelled.
On occasions the “lefts” will explain, quite correctly, that the right wing serve the interests of the banks and money markets and attack the working class.
But they refuse to put these words into practice by fighting to sack them and form a workers’ government on a socialist program.
The right wing has a systematic program drawn up for them by the capitalist class and the state. The “lefts” have no such program, only protests, and therefore the right wing remain in control despite the fact that there is virtually no base of support for their policies in the labor movement.
The “lefts” refuse to take up a fight for a socialist program because, like the right wing, they stand for the maintenance of the capitalist system.
They are part of the privileged stratum within the labor movement whose material interests are bound up with the administration of the capitalist system. Their ideology—piecemeal reforms, subservience to the parliamentary system, gradualism and above all opposition to socialist revolution—expresses their class role.
The “lefts” refuse to mount a struggle in the labor movement against the right wing, not because they fear being defeated but, on the contrary, because they do not want to be thrust into leadership under conditions where the working class is moving to the left.
A political struggle in the labor movement to demand that the Labor “lefts” break with the right wing, drive them out and take power in their own hands is therefore decisive in exposing their treacherous role and convincing the working class, on the basis of its own experiences, of the necessity to break with reformism and build the revolutionary party to lead the struggle for power and the establishment of socialism.
The trade union bureaucracy, led by the ACTU [Australian Congress of Trade Unions], plays a completely treacherous role. They are the industrial policemen of the policies of the Hawke-Keating right wing, working consciously to isolate and betray workers who undertake industrial action and openly collaborating with the state attacks carried out by the government.
None of the blows struck against the trade union movement—the sacking of the SEQEB [Southeast Queensland Electricity Board] workers, the fining of the meatworkers union, the continued use of Section 45D of the Trade Practices Act, the onslaught by Peko Wallsend—would have been possible but for the refusal of the trade union bureaucracy to lift a finger in defense of basic trade union rights.
But the open right wingers within the trade union leadership, such as Kelty, Crean and MacBean, would be powerless were it not for the fact that they are supported by the Labor “lefts,” the Communist Party Stalinists and the pro-Moscow Stalinists of the Socialist Party of Australia and the Association of Communist Unity.
Together with the “lefts” within the Labor Party, the trade union bureaucracy must be exposed politically.
The demand must be addressed to the leadership of every trade union: Fight for the ousting of the Hawke-Keating right wing and form a workers’ government on a socialist program.
The trade union leaders will declare that the unions cannot get involved in politics and that the leadership of the Labor Party is a question for the Labor Caucus in parliament.
Unions are already involved in politics—they built the Labor Party and have sustained it for almost a century to fight for the political interests of the working class.
Every worker must ask: Has the trade union movement sacrificed and struggled over decades to put its party into office only to have the government it forms serve the interests of the enemy class?
Of course not. Therefore the trade union movement must take the necessary action to end this situation.
Those who say “no politics” in the unions mean only that there should be no opposition to the right-wing politics of the Hawke-Keating leadership in the unions.
The issues of the leadership of the Labor government and the politics it carries out cannot be left in the parliamentary arena because parliament itself is part of the capitalist state. The fight must be taken up in the branches of the Labor Party and throughout the trade union movement—in union branches, at factory meetings and at mass meetings—for the calling of state ALP [Australian Labor Party] conferences and the convening of an emergency ALP national conference to demand the ousting of the Hawke-Keating right wing and for the formation of a workers’ government carrying out a socialist program.
No doubt the Labor “lefts” will oppose this struggle, claiming either that it is not possible to throw out the right wing or that such a struggle will only let the Liberals back in.
The claim that it is not possible to remove the right wing is a lie. The working class was able to oust the Liberal master and will prove more than capable of dealing with the Labor servant if it is given conscious leadership in a political struggle within the labor movement.
The way forward does not lie in abstaining or standing protest candidates to try to use the electoral process to give the right wing a jolt. They cannot be pressured to the left but must be removed, not through the electoral process, in which all classes participate, but by means of a concerted political struggle by the working class through its organizations.
The argument that such a struggle will only let the Liberals back in denies all the historical lessons derived from more than a century of class struggle.
The working class is able to win the support of other classes in the struggle against the capitalist class and its parties to the extent that it develops its independent strength and provides a political way forward.
The more the Labor right wing is able to weaken the working class, the more the Liberals are able to win support from the middle class for their program of attacks on the working class.
The most recent demonstration of this truth has been seen in Britain where the right-wing Wilson-Callaghan Labour government (1974-79) opened the door for the Thatcher Tory regime.
Rather than letting the Liberals back in, the fight to oust the Labor right wing and for a workers’ government carrying out a socialist program is the only way of keeping them out.
World Capitalist Crisis
The objective foundation for the program put forward by the Socialist Labour League—the mobilization of the working class for the struggle for political power—is the historic crisis of the world capitalist system.
The imperialist epoch, which opened in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I, leading directly to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the establishment of the first workers’ state, is, as Lenin defined it, the epoch of wars and revolutions, the highest and final stage of capitalism and the eve of the socialist transformation.
All the skeptics and revisionists, such as the promoters of the so-called Fightback conferences, who try to confine the working class to the lowest level of trade union struggle, deny the historic crisis of capitalism and rule out any upsurge in the working class leading to the struggle for power.
They oppose the conscious preparation of the working class for this struggle and instead prop up the trade union and Labor bureaucracy.
The long drawn-out postwar boom, in which the working class was able to win concessions through trade union struggle, can only be understood in relation to the whole imperialist epoch.
Forty years ago imperialism faced a resurgent working class in the advanced capitalist countries while the East was ablaze with national liberation struggles. It undertook a conscious retreat to avert the danger of losing power in the socialist revolution.
That retreat has ended and the policies of class compromise are everywhere replaced by fundamental attacks on the working class.
The historic attacks being carried out by the ruling class and the Labor government are not an aberration but are a direct product of the world crisis of the capitalist system and its impact on the Australian economy.
Australian capitalism is completely dependent on the world market. During the postwar economic boom the expanding markets of Europe and Japan provided an outlet for raw material exports, such as wool, wheat and meat and, increasingly, from the end of the 1960s, for iron ore and coal, particularly to Japan.
These exports were the material basis for the concessions made to the working class during the postwar period.
The economic basis of the postwar boom was the relative strength of US capitalism over its rivals. This strength has been exhausted and this historic fact changes the class relations in every capitalist country. It is in such conditions of great historic shifts that the opportunity and necessity for the working class to take power will emerge.
In 1985, for the first time since World War I, the US became a net debtor nation and is now the largest debtor country in the world with more than $300 billion owed to creditors around the world.
The Reagan administration, which came to power promising to “balance the budget,” has run up record deficits, half of which are being covered by foreign creditors.
The historic crisis of US capitalism is expressed in the ever-growing trade deficit, which is expected to reach $180 billion for 1986. Despite the continued devaluation of the dollar, the trade deficit for November 1986 alone was $19 billion—a record.
Its political crisis is seen in the Iran-contra scandal, which has revealed the enormous dangers to the democratic rights of the working class contained in the existence of the “fourth arm” of government, made up of fascists, gunrunners and hired killers, operating out of the basement of the White House.
During the postwar boom, US imperialism championed a regime of free trade based on the relative superiority of its industry and agriculture. Today, the economic decline of the US is leading to the development of global trade war.
The US administration warns the European Community that it will take tough action to wipe out $400 million worth of European exports and impose duties of 200% on agricultural products. European ministers warn that they will not buckle and answer that such threats will not go without a reply.
The US in turn states it will “answer in kind” any retaliation. Conferences are called at which all the major trading nations agree that free trade must be maintained, warn of the dangers of protectionism which helped spark the Great Depression, and then plan the next step in the trade war.
The growing trade war is the product of the deepening crisis of the capitalist system. The market for agricultural products has already slumped with overproduction in both Europe and America.
The 30% cut in the value of the US dollar over the past year has completely failed to revive US manufacturing industry which continues to fall further behind its European and Japanese rivals.
The cut in the dollar’s value, while it has failed to restore lost markets for US manufacturers, has, however, had a major impact on Japanese industry.
Steel production forecasts have been cut from 100 million tonnes a year to 90 million tonnes following losses of $1.15 billion by the five largest blast furnace steel mills for the six months to the end of September. Plans are in hand to reduce the work force of 180,000 by 30,000.
This means a further cut in the export market for iron ore and Japanese buyers have already told their Australian suppliers they can expect cuts of at least 10%.
The historic shift in the economic position of Australian capitalism, which financed concessions to the working class from export revenue, is expressed in the balance of payments deficit, now running at around $14 billion per year, and the decline in the terms of trade index, measuring the ratio of export to import prices.
The foreign debt has escalated to more than $80 billion and will soon top the $100 billion mark. At least one-third of export revenue is taken up simply to service foreign debt repayments, many of which have been incurred by firms to finance takeover battles and other forms of speculation.
The value of the Australian dollar has plummeted in the past two years and now stands below US 65 cents—half what it was at the beginning of the decade.
But despite the plunge in the dollar’s value, employment in manufacturing industry, supposedly made more competitive by the fall in the currency, continues to decline following the sacking of tens of thousands of workers in 1982.
The car industry, which formed a major part of manufacturing industry in the postwar boom, is experiencing a major crisis with sales at their lowest level for 21 years.
Despite all the incentives offered by the Labor government and the cuts in real wages under the prices and incomes Accord, there has been virtually no investment in manufacturing industry in the past three years, deepening the long-term decline which began at the end of the 1960s.
While industry stagnates, the banks make record profits. The past period has seen an enormous growth of financial parasitism. Industry is starved of funds but billions of dollars are mobilized, sometimes in a matter of hours, for stock market speculation and takeover battles.
Stock market speculation, foreign currency deals and takeover battles completely divorced from production are manifestations of the decay of the capitalist system and the clearest indications of an impending collapse.
The only source of profit is the surplus value which is extracted by exploiting the living labor of the working class. The enormous expansion of fictitious capital, which is not backed by real capital used to extract surplus value, but which nevertheless claims its profit share, combined with the narrowing of the real base of the economy is preparing the conditions worldwide for a financial catastrophe.
It is under these conditions that the Labor Party “lefts” issue a bankrupt call for a return to the control and regulation of the banks which operated during the postwar boom.
This policy has been thoroughly exposed by events. When the Hawke government attempted to maintain the last vestige of bank controls—the 13.5% ceiling on home-loan interest rates—the banks simply declared that no money would be made available for housing at that rate of interest, forcing the government to back down.
During the last major dollar crisis on July 28, investors simply withdrew their cash forcing the government to withdraw the minor regulations it had introduced a month earlier.
There can be no return to the system of controls and regulations of the postwar boom because of the fundamental changes which have taken place in the world financial system.
According to one recent study: “The dealing-rooms of the financial centers have taken off. On any one day an average of $150 billion, and as much as $250 billion, worth of foreign exchange is traded around the globe, double the volume of five years before. Less than 10% (only 5%, according to some calculations made by the Federal Reserve in the USA) reflects the real requirements of companies that actually need foreign currency to pay bills and to pay for goods. The rest is pure trading—by banks, by corporations and by institutions managing their foreign currency portfolios, positioning themselves on the market, rebalancing their assets and liabilities constantly on the screens of their trading rooms.” (Adrian Hamilton, The Financial Revolution, p. 51)
The call by the Labor “lefts” for the reimposition of controls and regulation of the banking system is an attempt to blind the working class in the face of the historic tasks which confront it.
Only the expropriation of the banks and financial institutions can provide the basis for workers’ control and the establishment of a planned socialist economy. For this to be achieved the working class must be mobilized around a program to conquer political power.
Coupled with the call for the reregulation of the banks and financial institutions is the demand raised by sections of the trade union bureaucracy for increased tariff protection.
This program too must be rejected. It seeks to tie the working class to a section of the employers who are not seeking to defend jobs but to preserve their profits in conditions of trade war.
Protectionism only fuels the fires of trade war which leads directly to war itself. The trade union bureaucrats who promote it play the same political role as those “labor lieutenants of capital” who acted as recruiting sergeants in both imperialist wars—siding with their “own” bourgeoisie against the international working class.
Protectionism seeks above all to divide the international working class, to set the Australian working class against the young proletariat of the South East Asian region.
It puts forward the reactionary perspective that there is some national, Australian solution to the crisis of capitalism when in fact the working class can come to power only by developing the closest unity with the toiling masses throughout Asia and internationally.
A workers’ state established in Australia would come under immediate attack from US imperialism, which intervened in 1975 to help bring down the mildly reformist Whitlam government.
This does not mean that imperialism, which is facing a rising movement of the masses worldwide, cannot be defeated, but that the struggle of the working class in Australia is inseparably linked to the struggle against imperialism, especially in the Asian region.
Opposition to protectionism does not mean that the working class aligns itself with other sections of the ruling class which advocate “free trade.” In the epoch of imperialism, when the economy is dominated by giant financial institutions and multinational corporations, the era of free trade has gone for good.
In opposition to all the policies of the ruling class and their advocates in the trade union and labor movement, the working class must fight for an independent program. Only the expropriation of the banks, financial institutions and major industries can defend jobs and living standards.
Those trade union leaders who attempt to introduce the poison of economic nationalism into the workers’ movement should be sent packing and told to take up a political fight to clear out the agents of the capitalist class from within the labor movement, fight for the sacking of the Hawke-Keating right wing and demand the “lefts” form a workers’ government to carry out a socialist program.
Political Lessons Must be Drawn
The depth of the economic crisis of Australian capitalism is not only expressed in economic statistics but can be gauged from the magnitude of the betrayals carried out by the trade union bureaucracy over the past four years and particularly since February 1985, which saw the beginning of the slide of the dollar and the deepening of the balance of payments crisis.
Driven on by the crisis of capitalism, the ruling class has launched an offensive against all the basic rights of the trade union movement.
The bureaucracy, however, has refused to lift a finger against these attacks and capitulated at every turn, leading to a stepping up of the attack by the ruling class.
What the bureaucracy fears above all else is that a major industrial struggle would bring a rapid intensification of the financial crisis, leading to a direct clash between the working class and the Labor government.
All the efforts of the bureaucracy have been directed to preventing such a development since the Labor government came to power almost four years ago.
The prices and incomes Accord, under which the bureaucracy has functioned as the industrial policeman of the Labor government, was drawn up to “stabilize” the capitalist system after the slump of 1982 had provoked a movement in the working class which led to the bringing down of the Fraser government.
With the collapse of the Liberals, the bourgeoisie had to rest on the Labor right wing which in turn relied on the trade union bureaucracy to shackle the working class.
The Accord has not just been an instrument of wage cutting—real pay levels have been cut by at least 7%—but has been the vehicle for savage attacks against the trade union movement.
The first target was the BLF [Building Laborers Federation], not because of any alleged corruption of the federal secretary Norm Gallagher, but because of the militancy of its members in defense of their wages and conditions.
From the beginning of the 1970s, the BLF had been the pacesetter for the winning of improved wages in the building industry, which were then fought for by other sections of workers.
The attack on the BLF, culminating in the carve-up of the union in NSW and Victoria, was an attack on the entire working class aimed at enforcing wage cutting.
When the leaders of the BWIU [Building Workers Industrial Union] and other sections of the trade union bureaucracy openly collaborated with the police to force workers to quit the BLF, they were carrying out the logic of the Accord, spelt out in the final communique of Hawke’s economic summit, convened before parliament had even met after the election of March 1983, which called for the “suppression” of independent wage claims.
The sacking of the SEQEB workers in February 1985 by the Bjelke-Petersen government marked the beginning of what has become a continuous offensive by the ruling class, not just against wages, jobs and conditions, but against the existence of trade unions themselves.
The SEQEB workers were sacked after going on strike in support of a basic trade union demand—the defense of their jobs against the use of outside contractors.
There were spontaneous moves to support them from within the trade union movement. But industrial action was ended on February 21 when the Queensland Trades and Labor Council ordered the lifting of all bans and the ending of power blackouts which were threatening to paralyze the Bjelke-Petersen government.
After the ACTU and TLC [Trades and Labor Council] had ordered the lifting of all bans, Queensland Labor leader Warburton announced the “settlement” on television to give the impression to workers taking support action that the SEQEB men had won a victory.
The February 21 betrayal was ordered by ACTU Secretary Kelty, acting on behalf of the Hawke government.
Hawke’s intervention was sparked by a plunge in the value of the dollar on world currency markets, amid fears that a continuation of industrial action would lead to a complete loss of confidence.
Despite the February 21 betrayal, the SEQEB workers refused to surrender and in late April 1985 forced the ACTU to organize a limited blockade of Queensland.
The Labor government once again intervened, securing the lifting of the blockade in early May by promising the passage of legislation to reinstate the SEQEB men.
The legislation was completely worthless and both the Labor government and ACTU leaders knew it.
The second betrayal of the SEQEB workers had immediate consequences. Realizing that the ACTU was in full retreat, Mudginberri abattoir owner Jay Pendarvis and his reactionary backers, including the Westpac bank, the National Farmers Federation and the Bjelke-Petersen government, decided to prosecute the meatworkers’ union and sue for damages.
The outcome of this case was the imposition of a fine of almost $1.8 million on the union without a finger being lifted by the ACTU and trade union bureaucracy.
This further capitulation led directly to the next onslaught—the attack on basic trade union rights and conditions by Peko Wallsend at Robe River in the Pilbara in August which has now led to threats of fines and damages claims against trade union representatives.
The experiences of the trade union movement, particularly over the past two years, make clear that the “strength” of the “New Right”—in reality the biggest employers and not a “maverick” section as the trade union bureaucracy tries to claim—is entirely the product of the capitulation led by the ACTU.
The crucial role of the “lefts” was revealed in the Victorian nurses’ strike at the end of last year.
They headed off spontaneous moves for support action by other sections, such as power workers in the Latrobe Valley, and opposed the demand raised by nurses for the sacking of Premier Cain and Health Minister White, fearing a victory for the nurses would lead to action by other public sector workers.
Victorian metal workers’ union secretary John Halfpenny, who is in the leadership of the Socialist Left faction of the ALP, played the key role in fighting to bring the nurses under the control of the ACTU.
Ever since February 1985, the trade union bureaucracy has been acutely aware of the fact that the ever-present dollar crisis means that a major industrial conflict could provoke a financial crisis, leading to a direct intervention by the Labor government.
This is what the bureaucracy fears most of all because the capitalist system is never in greater danger than when the working class, in conditions of extreme financial instability, undertakes a struggle against a Labor government which forms the main prop of capitalist order.
The trade union bureaucracy, a privileged layer within the labor movement, has a direct interest in maintaining the capitalist system.
Nothing fills it with greater fear than the prospect that the struggles of the working class should threaten the stability of capitalist rule.
On November 11, 1975, immediately after the sacking of the Whitlam government when the working class was poised to undertake a political general strike, the then ACTU president Hawke spoke for the entire trade union bureaucracy, then and now, when he warned against “the unleashing of forces the like of which we have never seen” and turned workers to the ballot box.
Like every great social crisis, the value of the Canberra Coup was that it revealed in a way not possible in normal times the real position of every political trend.
Hawke elaborated the guiding principle of the Labor and trade union bureaucracy—the defense of capitalist rule at whatever cost against the working class.
This is why the trade union bureaucracy today refuses to defend any of the basic rights of the working class. It fears, correctly, that under conditions of deepening financial crisis such struggles would rapidly escalate.
The vital political lesson which must be grasped from these experiences is that the most decisive preparation for such struggles, which will erupt in spite of all the efforts of the bureaucracy, is the fight for a political program through which the working class advances its struggle to take political power and establish socialism.
Trotskyism, Stalinism and Centrism
The program of the Socialist Labour League for the taking of power by the working class is the product of the historic struggle waged by the International Committee of the Fourth International against a petty bourgeois tendency in the leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party, the former British section of the ICFI, which fought to liquidate Trotskyism.
From the early 1970s, the WRP leadership—G. Healy, M. Banda and C. Slaughter—progressively abandoned the program of the Trotskyist movement to resolve the crisis of proletarian leadership and pursued an increasingly opportunist course, leading eventually to a capitulation to British imperialism.
Having broken from Trotskyism, they attack the ICFI, claiming that the struggle for its theory, program and principles leads to “isolation.”
Healy openly advocates opportunism, attacking the ICFI for “whiter than white socialism,” that is, adherence to the theories and principles of Marxism defended and carried forward by the Trotskyist movement.
Banda, whose adaptation to Maoism was never fought in the old WRP leadership, has gone over to Stalinism, denouncing Trotsky’s struggle against the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy and hailing Stalin himself as the “proletarian Bonaparte.”
Slaughter and his supporters, including the so-called Communist League in Australia, are regrouping with the Pabloite revisionist forces which broke from the Trotskyist movement in the 1950s and 1960s by adapting either to Stalinism or petty bourgeois forces in the colonial and semicolonial countries.
Whatever their differences, Healy, Banda and Slaughter are united in their opposition to Trotskyism and its struggle for the political independence of the working class.
The successful struggle by the ICFI to break the domination of the Trotskyist movement by this petty bourgeois clique is the anticipation of a struggle by the working class against its domination by the reformist, Stalinist and centrist organizations which represent the pressure of imperialism on the workers’ movement.
In their role of propping up the capitalist system, the reformists are aided by the various counterrevolutionary Stalinist organizations, all of which oppose socialist revolution and seek to subordinate the working class to one or other sections of the capitalist class and the state.
Stalinism was the product of the isolation of the first workers’ state, the USSR, which led to the defeat of the revolutionary forces, led by Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition, by the growing state and party bureaucracy.
But the fight for Bolshevism was continued in the founding of the Fourth International by Leon Trotsky and has been taken forward since 1953 by the ICFI against revisionist tendencies emerging from within its ranks which have sought to liquidate it.
The ideology of Stalinism—the theory of “socialism in one country,” “peaceful coexistence” and the “parliamentary road to socialism”—expresses its abandonment of the Leninist perspective of world socialist revolution and its adaptation to imperialism.
The Stalinist organizations in every country, including the Communist Party of Australia, passed over to the defense of bourgeois order more than 50 years ago.
Today, the CPA Stalinists, who ended their allegiance to the Moscow bureaucracy in 1968 only to adapt more openly to the Australian capitalist class, support the attacks by the capitalist labor government on the working class.
These attacks would have been impossible but for the assistance of the CPA Stalinists who were the architects and chief proponents of the corporatist prices and incomes Accord.
Following the long-established Stalinist line of the “parliamentary road to socialism,” leading CPA Stalinist Laurie Carmichael called for collaboration with the capitalist state under the Accord and led the attack within the union movement against those who claimed that unions should put forward independent wage claims.
The CPA Stalinists in the metal unions played a central role in supporting the Labor government’s unionbusting operation against the BLF.
In a major statement issued on June 11, 1986, the CPA made it clear it opposes the fight for socialism. Advocating a series of economic measures similar to those advanced by the Labor “lefts,” the CPA said its program was put forward “within the context of Australian politics today and therefore is not a program for socialism.” This means that its sole purpose is to tie the working class to the capitalist system.
The pro-Moscow Socialist Party of Australia has tried to present a more “left” face. Proclaiming opposition to the Accord, but never fighting to mobilize the working class against it, the SPA has called for the Labor government to nationalize the banks and other key areas of the economy.
But a major statement issued on July 2, 1986 made it clear the SPA Stalinists were simply advancing another version of the “parliamentary road.”
The statement made no demand for the ousting of the Labor right wing and merely stated that the working class would support the Hawke government if it moved to nationalize the banks and sought additional constitutional powers, via a referendum, to carry out this policy.
In other words, according to the SPA, socialism can be introduced provided it is approved by the Labor right wing and the capitalist state—that is, never.
The other pro-Moscow Stalinist organization, the Association of Communist Unity, led by officials of the Building Workers Industrial Union, revealed its politics in the attack on the BLF.
The BWIU leadership collaborated with the Labor government and with the police who were brought onto building sites to force workers out of the BLF.
The Maoists of the CPA (Marxist-Leninist), who claim sections of the bourgeoisie can play a “progressive” role in the fight for Australian “independence,” are opposed to the taking of power by the working class.
Therefore they capitulate to the attacks of the capitalist state. Gallagher and other Maoist officials in the BLF leadership endorsed the prices and incomes Accord and refused to break from it even when it became clear it was the main vehicle for the attack on members of their union.
In Victoria, the Maoist BLF leadership, which had gained some credibility in the eyes of militant workers, refused to call a single mass meeting to fight the attack and on the eve of the only mass meeting which was called in Sydney, Gallagher advised members to sign over to the BWIU.
For all its militant-sounding slogans, such as “Dare to struggle, dare to win,” the BLF leadership, because it had no independent political program for the working class, proved incapable of defending the union and capitulated without a fight.
The role of the various centrist and revisionist organizations is to provide a political cover for the reformists and Stalinists. Denying the revolutionary role of the working class and ruling out any upsurge in its struggles, they seek to imbue it with their own poisonous middle class skepticism.
The complete degeneration of the Pabloite revisionist organizations is expressed most clearly by the Socialist Workers Party which, until 1984, was affiliated with the revisionist United Secretariat of the Fourth International.
Reflecting the swing to the right by former “radical” sections of the petty bourgeoisie, which have adapted to capitalist rule by blaming the working class itself for the crisis of leadership, the SWP has denounced Trotsky, openly defended the counterrevolutionary crimes of Stalinism and abandoned the last vestiges of a Trotskyist program.
Seeking to divert the most class conscious workers from the political tasks which confront them—the exposure of the centrists and Labor “lefts” who form the main prop for the right wing—the SWP has called for militants in the unions to have their organizations disaffiliate from the Labor Party and join the SWP in the organization of a “new party,” which, they say, should not have the word “Communist,” “Socialist,” “Worker” or “Revolutionary” in its name.
The SWP completely accepts the political domination of the right wing in the labor movement and maintains there should be no fight against it.
According to a major statement on the “new party”: “Rarely before has the real relationship between the ALP and the unions been so clear. The ALP leaders and the top union officials are not controlled by their base, they control it. And they do so in the interests of big business.
“There is no way out of this situation that does not involve a political break by the unions—a painful decision to recognize that Labor is finished as a union party and to begin again to build an independent political voice.” (Direct Action, December 10, 1986)
Completely writing off the ranks of the Labor Party and the trade union movement before a real struggle has begun, the SWP gives the right wing powers they do not possess.
The SWP maintains there is “no way out” other than a break by the unions from the ALP. Of course they know that the trade union bureaucracy is not going to adopt this policy.
They are advocating that politically conscious workers should put forward this demand instead of fighting for the unions to which they belong and which are affiliated to the Labor Party to demand the ousting of the right wing.
No policy could be of greater assistance to the Labor “lefts” and the trade union bureaucracy. The last thing they want to confront is a politically active membership demanding they end their support for the Hawke-Keating right wing by translating their words of criticism into action.
Recent experiences in the Victorian ALP make clear that contrary to the picture painted by the SWP, the right wing remains in the saddle only because the Labor “lefts,” such as Halfpenny and Hand, oppose any struggle to unseat them.
Last June, Hawke’s address to the nation, in which he demanded still more “sacrifice” by the working class and the scrapping of wage indexation, was unanimously opposed by the Victorian state ALP conference and condemned as carrying out the policies of the banks.
Such was the opposition in the ranks of the labor movement that members of Hawke’s own faction in the unions and the branches voted in favor of a resolution drafted by the Socialist Left.
But the right wing knew it had nothing to fear because the “lefts” had no intention of going beyond protests.
They halt at this point because they know that a political fight to oust the right wing would arouse the ranks of the Labor Party and the unions who would press forward with their own demands for an end to the capitalist policies of Hawke and Keating.
Faced with this prospect, in a situation where they have no alternative program, they opt to leave the right wing in control, accepting their domination as necessary, just as they accept the maintenance of the capitalist system as necessary.
Then the SWP say they are correct—there is no way of removing the right wing.
The circumstances surrounding the expulsion of Bill Hartley from the Labor Party are another vivid exposure of the political relationships in the Labor Party.
Hartley, who was expelled by the ALP national executive for defending the BLF and opposing the state attacks organized by Premier Cain, has never been charged, let alone expelled, by the Victorian branch.
Yet he is out of the Labor Party because the “lefts” who control the Victorian branch accept the decision of the national executive.
Hartley, who has now formed the Industrial Labor Party, likewise accepted this decision in practice by making no demand on the Socialist Left faction, of which he was a member, to defy the national executive decision.
Such is the opposition to the job-cutting policies of the Hawke government that left-wing-controlled unions were forced to put forward Halfpenny to head the party’s Victorian Senate ticket, demoting right wing Industry and Commerce Minister Button to third position.
This move was endorsed by the branch selection committee but overturned within hours by the national executive.
It is entirely within the power of the leadership of the Victorian branch to issue a Senate ticket with Halfpenny in top position. But the “lefts” oppose such a step because it would deepen the struggle against the right wing.
They claim that such a clash must be averted at all costs because it would bring about national executive intervention, leading to a right wing takeover of the branch.
Their real fear, however, is that a struggle against the national executive and its supporters would be taken forward in the party and in the ranks of the unions and, in order to prevent such a development, which took place after federal intervention in 1971, they capitulate to the right wing.
Like the SWP, the Communist League, which broke with Trotskyism last March when it split from the SLL to regroup with revisionist and centrist organizations, is opposed to a struggle to demand of the Labor “lefts” that they sack the right wing.
In the November editorial of its monthly magazine, Socialist Press, the Communist League calls for unions to break from the Accord and establish their independence from the state but raises no political demands.
An article published in the same edition claims the call issued by the Socialist Labour League for the sacking of Hawke and Keating “leaves the working class as bystanders again while their fate is decided by the ALP ‘lefts’.”
The political fate of the working class is already being determined by the Labor right wing, relying on the “lefts”.
In order to end this situation, the Socialist Labour League fights for the working class to establish its political independence, by demanding that the “lefts” sack the right wing and form a workers’ government carrying out socialist policies.
The Communist League says the “most pressing demand” is the independence of the unions from the capitalist state and that: “To establish the independence of the trade unions, the independence of the working class is to fight for class consciousness and to do so in the course of trying to solve the pressing problems of the day.”
The working class establishes its independence not through trade union militancy but in a political struggle against its reformist leadership, the main prop of the capitalist state, to take power. This is what the Communist League opposes.
The SWP goes one step further in its opposition to such a political struggle in the unions and the Labor Party by claiming that the ALP is “in no way a workers’ party”.
This assertion, which is advanced for the purpose of providing a “theoretical” justification for advocating disaffiliation of the unions, ignores the historical origins of the Labor Party, which was founded by the unions in the aftermath of the bitter strike struggles in the 1890s, and obscures the contradiction which is at the center of the political struggles of the working class.
The Labor Party is the creation of the working class through its mass organizations, the trade unions. The leadership, however, functions as the political agent of the capitalist class, while resting on the working class.
The ALP, therefore, is scientifically defined as a bourgeois workers’ party. This definition makes clear the objective basis for the tactical line pursued by the Socialist Labour League in its struggle to break the working class from its reformist leadership and build the revolutionary party.
It is absolutely necessary to expose the Labor Party leaders, both the right wing and the “lefts,” as agents of the capitalist class.
But this is not enough. It is also necessary to advance a program, corresponding to the development of the class struggle, through which the working class, on the basis of its own experiences, can come to the understanding that the only way it can achieve political power is not through parliament but through the socialist revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The program of the Socialist Labour League is based on the Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International, which summarizes the experiences of the first four Congresses of the Communist International held under Lenin’s leadership:
“Of all the parties and organizations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ and farmers’ government.
“On this road we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should in our opinion form the program of the ‘workers’ and farmers’ government.’
“Is the creation of such a government by the traditional workers’ organizations possible? Past experience shows, as has already been stated, that this is to say the least highly improbable.
“However, one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.), the petty bourgeois parties including the Stalinists may go further than they wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie. In any case one thing is not to be doubted: even if this highly improbable variant somewhere at some time becomes a reality and the workers’ and farmers’ government in the above-mentioned sense is established in fact, it would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.
“However, there is no need to indulge in guesswork. The agitation around the slogan of a workers’-farmers’ government preserves under all conditions a tremendous educational value. And not accidentally. The generalized slogan proceeds entirely along the line of the political development of our epoch (the bankruptcy and decomposition of the old bourgeois parties, the downfall of democracy, the growth of fascism, the accelerated drive of the workers towards more active and aggressive politics).
“Each of the transitional demands should, therefore, lead to one and the same conclusion: the workers need to break with all the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie in order, jointly with the farmers, to establish their own power.
“It is impossible in advance to foresee what will be the concrete stages of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses. The sections of the Fourth International should critically orient themselves at each new stage and advance such slogans as will aid the striving of the workers for independent politics, deepen the class struggle of these politics, destroy reformist and pacifist illusions, strengthen the connection of the vanguard with the masses, and prepare the revolutionary conquest of power.”
This the foundation of the program advanced by the Socialist Labour League: the mobilization of the working class around the demand that the Labor “lefts” sack the right wing and form a workers’ government carrying out socialist policies, to take forward the struggle for power.
Program of Socialist Policies
The Socialist Labour League fights for a program of socialist policies to put an end to the bankrupt and historically outmoded capitalist system of production.
The working class is engaged in a bitter struggle to defend all its past achievements. Under today’s conditions of deepening world economic crisis, in which the capitalist class threatens to plunge mankind into barbarism, these struggles must be consciously linked to the fight to mobilize the working class for the socialist revolution.
The program of the Socialist Labour League is the basis for a continuing political struggle in the working class to resolve the crisis of leadership and build the revolutionary party to lead the working class in the achievement of its historical task, the establishment of socialism. We say:
Nationalize the banks and basic industries without compensation and under workers’ control.
The anarchy of the capitalist system, resulting from the private ownership of the means of production, which has already destroyed vast areas of industry, now threatens to bring about a catastrophic financial collapse.
Open the books of the banks and major industries to reveal the real workings of the capitalist economy and establish the case for nationalization.
Neither “reforms” by the capitalist class to try to prevent a collapse, nor “sacrifice” by the working class can resolve the historic crisis of the capitalist system.
Only when the private ownership of the means of production is ended can conscious planning be undertaken. Only then can the means of production be developed consciously in accordance with human need instead of the requirements of profit.
Guarantee the right of every worker to a job with decent wages and conditions.
This right cannot be maintained under the capitalist system. Hundreds of thousands of workers have been sacked in the past period and every worker is under threat of losing his or her job. Unemployment is not a temporary phenomenon but has become a permanent feature of the economy.
Occupy factories threatened with closure and demand they be nationalized.
Combat unemployment through a program of public works to carry out socially useful projects. Cut the working week to at least 35 hours and lower if necessary, with no loss of pay or conditions, in order to make more jobs available.
Establish a sliding scale of wages, starting with the restoration of the real pay cuts which have been inflicted under the Labor government, together with automatic adjustments to compensate for inflation.
Defend the trade unions. They are basic defense organizations of the working class and must be completely independent of the capitalist state.
Repudiate the corporatist prices and incomes Accord, which has been used to shackle the working class in the face of attacks on jobs, wages and trade union rights. The trade unions must function not as organs of the bureaucracy for tying the working class to the state but as independent organs of struggle.
Guarantee the right to strike. Repeal all anti-union laws. Workers must have the legal right to strike without the threat of penalties.
Repeal all anti-BLF legislation. Workers have a right to belong to the union of their choice. Reinstate the sacked SEQEB workers.
The youth have the right to a future. What the capitalist system has in store for the rest of the working class is seen nowhere more clearly than in the situation presently confronting them.
Hundreds of thousands of young people, the next generation of the working class, have been consigned to permanent unemployment. Many more have been forced into deadend jobs, denied proper training.
Provide the youth with state-funded training facilities, under trade union control, not cheap labor schemes. Full apprenticeship training and technical education for all youth who want it. Free university education for all, with the provision of adequate living allowances. Full union rights for all young workers. They must not become a source of superexploitation.
Rescind all cuts to health, social welfare and education spending. Expand these facilities through the use of the confiscated profits of big business.
Abolish poverty. Under the Labor government poverty levels have increased, with the number on or below the poverty line standing at around 3 million. Three quarters of a million children are growing up in poverty.
No cuts to workers’ compensation. Guarantee the right to free universal health and hospital care. End the two-class health system by nationalizing the private health funds and hospitals which are already subsidized by the government.
Nationalize the drug companies and make prescription drugs available without charge. End the fee-for- service system which provides the basis for the massive plundering of the public health system by private medical businesses. Doctors and others who provide medical services should be paid a salary, commensurate with their skills and training, to work in a publicly-run health system, providing treatment to all who need it irrespective of income.
Expand education facilities, which are being progressively run down, with an injection of public funds. No state aid to private schools.
Institute a program of assistance to small farmers who are being devastated by the slump in world commodity markets.
The small farmer is being crippled by the exorbitant interest rates charged by the banks. His desperate situation makes him prey to ultrareactionary organizations such as the National Farmers Federation, which is nothing more than a front for major pastoral and agricultural interests.
The small farmers can be won to the side of the working class through the struggle for a socialist program. Nationalize the major pastoral firms and agribusinesses which are exploiting the economic crisis to drive the small farmer out of business. Provide low-interest loans and assistance in establishing cooperatives.
Establish a program of aid for the Aboriginal people and guarantee their rights. For almost 200 years they have been the victims of the most brutal oppression, first at the hands of British imperialism and then by the Australian capitalist class.
They have been cruelly betrayed by the Labor reformists, who are reversing even the minor concessions they achieved under Fraser.
Grant all Aboriginal land rights, no matter what mining or pastoral interests they affect. Provide emergency funds to Aboriginal communities and organizations to be used by them to uplift housing, health and education.
The whole capitalist system and its reformist agents are indicted by the fact that infant mortality rates among Aboriginal children are among the highest in the world. The Aboriginal people can never achieve justice under the capitalist system—their future is indissolubly linked to the struggle of the working class for socialism.
Defend women’s rights. Guarantee the right to abortion against state interference into the decisions of women, their families and doctors. Equal pay for equal work. Ban all discrimination on the grounds of sex. Provide free child-care services for all working parents.
Guarantee the right to decent housing. The conditions of the 1930s—evictions and forced sales—are starting to return. Rents are rising rapidly. In many working class families both parents are forced to work just to keep pace with interest payments on their mortgages, yet in some cases families end the year owing more to the bank than they did at the beginning.
While home-building is in decline, billions of dollars have been poured into luxury accommodation for the rich and for office blocks.
Implement a program to resolve the housing crisis through the nationalization of the banks and finance companies, the land sharks and developers as well as the major construction firms. Begin an emergency program of public housing to provide decent housing for all and expand employment.
Full support to all national liberation struggles. The struggle for power by the working class is indissolubly linked to the struggle of the masses in the colonial and semicolonial countries against imperialism.
End all military aid to the reactionary dictatorships in South East Asia. Recognize the PLO and other national liberation movements. Cut all investment, trade and other ties with the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Provide material and political support, including weapons, to the South African liberation movements and the black trade unions. Demand the release of all political prisoners.
Scrap all military pacts such as ANZUS. Close the war bases and facilities of US imperialism immediately. Ban all visits by US warships, conventional and nuclear. Expel the CIA and other intelligence personnel of US imperialism. Disband ASIO and the other secret police organizations. Close the uranium industry, and ban exports, with workers in this industry to be guaranteed reemployment in other industries.
Defend the Soviet Union and its nationalized property relations against imperialism, while extending support to the working class of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Defend China, Vietnam and North Korea against imperialism.
Socialism will only be achieved through a conscious political struggle in which the working class goes beyond economic struggles, combining the most militant defense of jobs, wages and trade union rights, with the advancement of a political program to take power, smash the capitalist state and replace it with a workers’ state, based on elected workers’ councils and a workers’ militia.
The most decisive preparation for the achievement of this task is the building of the revolutionary party. This flows from the nature of the socialist revolution as a conscious historical act.
In its struggle against feudalism, the bourgeoisie was able to develop its own ideology and then take political power on the basis of the economic power which it had built up under the old society.
The working class, however, has to take political power first in order to expropriate the bourgeoisie and secure its economic emancipation.
Because it does not own the means of production, the working class can neither build up socialist property within capitalism nor spontaneously develop socialist ideology.
Socialist consciousness is developed only through the struggle of the revolutionary party, whose cadre and members are trained in Marxist theory, developed and carried forward today only by the world Trotskyist movement, the International Committee of the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, of which the Socialist Labour League is the Australian section.
We say to every worker and youth who agrees with our program and perspective: Join the Socialist Labour League and fight consciously to prepare the working class to overthrow capitalism in the struggles ahead.