The ALP and the fight for socialism
The formation of the ALP
A party of the trade union bureaucracy
A liberal bourgeois party
The ALP in office -- a capitalist government
When and why capitalism favors Labor governments
Why the ruling class prefers conservative party governments
Reforms and reformism
The further cooption of the labor movement during the postwar capitalist boom
Recent changes in the ALP
The Labor left
The false perspective of reforming the ALP
An anti-capitalist political alternative
The working class and progressive movements of labor's allies
Support for all progressive breaks with Labor reformism
The role of Marxist organisation
A revolutionary transitional approach to the problem of the ALP
The need for tactical flexibility
Building a revolutionary current in the ALP
United front campaigns
Our attitude to ALP governments
Socialist electoral campaigns
United front electoral campaigns
Trade unions are the decisive arena
The formation of the Australian Labor Party reflected an advance in working-class consciousness - the recognition that existing governments were used by the employers as weapons in the class struggle and that the labor movement needed its own political party to win governmental power in order to advance its interests against those of the capitalists.
The ALP was formed as a result of the defeat of the mass strike wave of the early 1890s. In the wake of that defeat, trade unionists realised that even to win major industrial struggles against the employing class they had to fight on the political as well as the economic level. They realised that parliament, the police, and the army were arrayed against them and they sought to change this through the formation of their own political party.
In the 1890s, the various state trades and labor councils began endorsing parliamentary candidates, and their early successes led rapidly to the formation of the ALP.
As a party created by the trade unions, the ALP necessarily reflected the unions' strengths and weaknesses. In the 1890s the Australian trade union movement embraced only about one-fifth of the workforce, primarily the more privileged, skilled workers.
The different British settler states that formed the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 had shared in the British Empire's superprofits from the exploitation of its Asian colonies. These superprofits enabled the emerging independent Australian capitalist class to convert accidental divisions within the working class into more lasting ones - to foster an aristocracy of labor among the better-paid, skilled sections of the working class.
Basing themselves on these workers, a conservative layer of officials consolidated at the head of the unions. Placing defence of their own social privileges, particularly the security of their positions, before the long-term (and even in many cases the short-term) interests of the mass of workers, this labor bureaucracy shared the ideological outlook of the urban middle classes - shopkeepers, professionals, etc - particularly their desire for class peace. The union bureaucracy sought to harmonise the interests of labor and capital, which meant in reality supporting the social status quo.
The affiliation of most Australian trade unions to the ALP gives the Labor Party a predominantly working-class membership. This fact has often contributed to the illusion that the ALP is a working-class party. However, a political party is most fundamentally characterised not by the social composition of its membership, but by its real political program and practice.
From this standpoint - the only correct one for Marxists - the ,ALP is a liberal bourgeois party. It seeks to create a more humane capitalism by reconciling or weakening class conflicts. It represents the working class only within the context of a more fundamental loyalty to Australian capitalism.
This fact dictates that the ALP's attempts to reconcile class conflicts are achieved through the subordination of workers' interests to those of the capitalist ruling class. The pro-capitalist program of the ALP confines the party's actions within the limits set by capitalist property relations, and provides a guarantee against mass pressures pushing the party onto a revolutionary course.
The class-collaborationist outlook of the union bureaucracy has been powerful within the ALP since its inception. While formally a party of the unions, the ALP is directly the party of the union bureaucracy, which controls the selection of delegates to conferences, most of the full-time apparatus, the bulk of the party finances, etc. The union leaders who initiated the formation of the ALP did not see it as an instrument for mobilising workers against capitalism. Rather, they saw the ALP as a vehicle for putting labor representatives into the bourgeois parliaments of each state (and later the Commonwealth).
The union bureaucracy regards political action in the same way as it does industrial action - purely as a means of bargaining for reforms within the capitalist system. It shares with the Labor parliamentarians a fundamental allegiance to so-called democratic capitalism, even when its different base forces it to engage in partial struggles against the employers.
Like other liberal bourgeois parties, the ALP regards the institutions of the bourgeois democratic state, particularly parliament, as the primary arena and instrument for harmonisation of class interests and bringing about changes it considers desirable. It concentrates on convincing workers that their needs can and must be met through parliament and other institutions of the capitalist state, such as the arbitration system, rather than through their own organisation and collective activity.
When the political climate is suitable, the leaders of the ALP sometimes argue openly that workers' interests can be advanced only in alliance with the interests of capital, but the same argument is advanced more consistently and insidiously through the ALP's emphasis on parliament as the highest expression and limit of politics.
ALP governments work within the framework of the bourgeois power incorporated in the capitalist state - its parliamentary institutions, its courts, army, police, and civil bureaucracy. ALP governments come to office with the con sent of the capitalist class and administer the capitalist state machine. They defend capitalist property relations and seek to promote the accumulation of capitalist profits.
ALP governments are in no sense workers' governments. On the contrary, they are capitalist governments. This fact is mere ly a reflection of the bourgeois character of the Labor Party itself.
Important sections of the capitalist class usually favor the election of the ALP to office during periods of crisis, such as economic depressions or wars. The reasons for this are twofold:
Because the ALP is based upon the trade union bureaucracy rather than directly upon the employing class, the ALP is better able to pursue policies that meet the collective needs of the capitalist class. It is less susceptible than the Liberal or National parties to pressure from sectional interests within the capitalist class.
Because of its ties with the trade union bureaucracy, the ALP is able to perform specific services for capital more effectively than could a bourgeois party lacking that base. This attribute becomes particularly useful to the capitalist class when it needs to derail working-class resistance to drastic cuts in living standards.
At the same time, however, the pressure of the party's working-class base - refracted through the formal domination of the ALP's structures by the trade union bureaucracy - can come into conflict with the pro-capitalist course of the ALP's parliamentary leadership. This conflict is often reflected in fights within the ALP about particular aspects of its platform, about control of the parliamentary caucus by the party machine, and even about the control of a Labor cabinet by the parliamentary caucus.
Struggles to include progressive policies in the platform, and to have the ALP's parliamentary representatives bound by party conference decisions, are a reflection of the efforts of the ALP's working-class base to make the party serve their in terests. Under this pressure, the party's leaders may be forced to go somewhat further than capital considers necessary in granting reforms or concessions.
Furthermore, to the extent that workers have high expectations of an ALP government, the Labor Party's election to office may encourage them to raise demands that would not be made of a government of the conservative parties. The ruling class's traditional preference for the conservative parties is mainly due to two factors:
The greater uncertainty and instability often associated with Labor Party governments because of the pressure from the party's base.
The capitalists' suspicion of, and hostility to, Labor's ties with the unions.
To maintain both its mass support and the subordination of workers to capitalist parliamentarism, ALP governments must be seen to legislate at least partially in the interests of workers - at least of sections of the working class, if not of the class as a whole.
Revolutionaries initiate or support struggles for reforms not only to seek immediate improvements in the conditions and level of organisation of the working class and its potential social allies, but also as part of a larger strategy aimed at developing the strength and self-confidence of the workers for the struggle to overthrow capitalism.
Through the struggle for immediate reforms, and particularly the struggle for fundamental anti-capitalist structural reforms (transitional demands) such as workers' control of production, the working class can gain an understanding of the need and means to replace capitalism with socialism.
But for the ALP, reforms are a means of preventing class conflict from developing into revolutionary struggle. It is therefore a reformist party in two senses:
Reforms are a means by which the ALP subordinates the working class to its class enemy.
Reforms to the existing system of capitalist domination are the most that can be attempted or achieved by an ALP government.
The ALP's reformism institutionalises bourgeois hegemony over the working class, which Australian imperialism has maintained thanks to its membership in the exclusive club of the most-favored capitalist states. Workers' struggles, including the struggle to create their own political party, are prevented from developing to their full potential by the timely granting of partial concessions. This is made possible by the ruling class's ability to dole out some of its imperialist superprofits when necessary. When a bourgeois ALP government is able to pose as the instrument for obtaining such con cessions, the result is a reinforcement of parliamentarist illusions and the diversion of workers from the path of consistent class struggle.
Because the revolutionary approach to winning reforms is based on class-struggle mobilisations of the workers and their allies, and does not subordinate the struggle for reforms to what the capitalists or their state regard as compatible with bourgeois power and profitability, this approach is far more likely to succeed than the ALP's method of appealing to the goodwill of the capitalist rulers.
Changes within the ALP in recent decades have undermined the potential dangers of a Labor government even to short term capitalist interests.
From the late 1940s until the early 1970s, a long period of accelerated growth in the world capitalist economy enabled the capitalist class to provide a steady increase in working class
living standards, and thus created a climate favorable to the generalisation of class-collaborationist attitudes, including in creasing union reliance on the goodwill of the capitalist state, and particularly the arbitration system.
In these conditions, the majority of workers did not resist the conservative officials' consolidation of their hold on the unions. Nor did they resist the increased subordination of the unions to the state-controlled industrial relations system, itself a creation of ALP governments.
The strengthening of the union bureaucracy inevitably had its parallel in the strengthened hold of the most pro-capitalist elements within the ALP leadership. Parallel with these developments there was a shift in the composition of the party's local branches with a decline in the relative numbers of workers and an increase in the relative weight of middle class elements.
This shift in the social composition of the branches is reflected in the changed social composition of the ALP's parliamentary leadership. Formerly, the typical Labor parliamentarian was a worker who had become part of the trade union bureaucracy and used his union base to secure preselection. But today, the typical Labor parliamentarian is likely to be a former arbitration commission lawyer or an academic. Present-day Labor politicians are more often people who feel a closer affinity with big business and less embarrass ment about openly serving its interests.
The ALP's left wing, which is largely influenced by academic and middle-class leftism in the absence of a recent tradition of militant working-class struggle, has increasingly taken on the role of apologist for the ALP's subservience to capital.
Since the mid-1970s, the ALP has moved sharply rightward. This shift corresponds to the changed needs of Australian capital resulting from the onset of the world capitalist economy's fourth long-term depression caused by a decline in the long-term rate of profit.
The slower rate of capital accumulation since the mid-1970s has reduced the capitalist rulers' ability to contain social unrest by granting concessions to working people. In fact, capitalism has embarked on a drive to take back many of the social and economic gains won in earlier periods of greater prosperity, and to substantially reduce working-class living standards to offset the decline in the rate of profit.
From 1972-75, The Whitlam Labor government attempted to accommodate the changed needs of capital, particularly through the Hayden budget of August 1975. But the dominant sections of the capitalist class did not consider that the Whitlam government could impose the austerity measures they wanted rapidly enough or decisively enough.
The Whitlam government's failure to defend workers' living standards and jobs during the 1974-75 recession caused widespread disillusionment with the ALP. This led important sections of the ruling class to believe that the ALP could be defeated by the Liberal-National coalition if it could force Whitlam to the polls. The Kerr-Fraser coup of November 1975 was the result.
However, the coup provoked spontaneous outbreaks of working-class protest. The Labor reformists, more fearful of the consequences of a sustained working-class mobilisation against the coup than of losing office in a parliamentary elec tion, campaigned to demobilise the ALP's supporters and to channel any protest back into the parliamentary arena.
In this framework, the conservative parties were able to capitalise on widespread working-class disillusionment and anger with the Whitlam government's pro-capitalist policies, and to win a landslide victory in the December 1975 federal election. This experience demonstrated once again that the ALP's subordination to capitalist parliamentarism is a dead end for the working class.
Since the defeat of the Whitlam government, Australian capitalism has encouraged the ALP leaders to reduce working class expectations of a Labor government and to deepen the unions' integration with, and subordination to, the capitalist state. This has necessarily involved an erosion of the democratic rights of the membership in order to prevent organised opposition to the leadership's right-wing course. Even in regard to electoral campaigns, this has entailed a deliberate demobilisation of the party ranks and the working class generally, and an increased reliance on the bourgeois media.
In its own way, the official Labor left assists in this process of demobilisation, seeking to convert actions by the ALP ranks or actions outside the party into mere instruments of pressure in internal factional struggles.
The right-wing course of the ALP in recent years (most clearly symbolised by the Hawke government's wage-freeze ac cord with the ACTU and its attacks on militant sections of the union movement such as the Builders Labourers Federation), combined with the total failure of the Labor left to challenge this right-wing course, will make it increasingly difficult for the ALP to make even tactical, demagogic left turns when it is out of office.
Traditional left wing formations and individuals in the ALP have usually failed to gain dominance within the party because they have succumbed to the pressures created by the ALP's political domination of the organised working class.
Above all, the traditional ALP left fears isolation from the ALP, which it tends to identify with the working class. It has no perspective of going beyond the ALP. Its attempts to give the party more progressive policies therefore take place in the overall framework of the ALP's parliamentarist, pro-capitalist role, and are inevitably subordinated to that role. What appears realistic to the ALP left is circumscribed by what the right can be forced to accept without splitting away or expelling the left.
Since the leadership is seen as an objective limitation on what may be fought for, the traditional ALP left is always under strong pressure to see the key to changing the ALP in the replacement of the existing right-wing leadership by more progressive leaders. This shifts the focus of ALP left politics still further towards the ground of the right, giving priority to unprincipled factionalism and opportunist deals.
In general, Labor leftism is a reflection of the nervousness of a wing of the union bureaucracy about relations with the masses. The traditional ALP left remains weak and is defined by a lack of ideological cohesion. In the end, it acts as a cover for the more consistently and openly pro-capitalist elements that dominate the ALP.
Because the Labor left values its allegiance to the ALP more highly than its support to progressive policies and movements, and refuses under any circumstances to break with Laborism, it is unable to combat the pro-capitalist course of the ALP right and is forced to capitulate to it at every decisive turn.
The refusal of the traditional ALP left to countenance a break with the ALP in the end means that the Labor left dis enfranchises itself. As the Nuclear Disarmament Party showed during the 1984 federal elections, even a relatively small left wing party outside the ALP can be more effective than the traditional Labor left in forcing the ALP right to make concessions to progressive movements.
Rather than being a force within the ALP that champions the demands and interests of the labor and other progressive social movements against the pro-capitalist right wing, the traditional Labor left is (particularly when Labor is in government) an objective tool of the ALP right within these movements. It seeks to moderate the movements' demands and struggles so as not to embarrass the Labor government and weaken its support within the ruling class.
Moreover, in the context of the present long-term capitalist depression, the Labor left's traditional perspective of creating a more humane capitalism has become even more clearly utopian than it was during the previous period of relative capitalist prosperity. In order to appear realistic and to avoid jeopardising the ALP's ruling-class support, the Labor left has by-andlarge accepted the capitalists' austerity drive.
Socialists who understand the central role of the working class in the struggle for social change have sometimes drawn the erroneous conclusion that the ALP, regardless of its actual political role, is inherently progressive merely because of its links with the trade unions.
Even socialists who acknowledge the ALP's pro-capitalist role often hold that the party is the "political arm of the labor movement." They often claim, falsely, that the ALP's pro capitalist program is simply a reflection of the existing level of political understanding within the organised working class.
Such a view assumes that the ALP is an empty vessel that can be filled with any political content - pro-capitalist or pro-socialist - depending on the level of political consciousness among the workers organised in the trade unions. From this standpoint, the task of socialists is to transform the ALP into a revolutionary party - to preserve the formal unity of the working class through the ALP's political hegemony over it while giving this hegemony a new, socialist content.
But form and content cannot be isolated and dealt with separately in that fashion. Working-class unity - a far higher degree of unity than exists in the ALP - is a precondition for socialist revolution. But unity can be either progressive or reactionary, depending on its basis and the uses to which it is put. The existing working-class unity within the ALP is founded on the perspective of maintaining capitalism, and therefore must be broken down before a progressive, pro-socialist unity can be built.
A socialist strategy cannot be based on the utopian perspective of transforming the liberal bourgeois ALP into a proletarian socialist party. The parliamentarist, reformist perspective that has dominated the ALP from its inception makes it an obstacle to further steps towards the development of working-class political consciousness and action.
The ALP is an obstacle that must be removed if the working class is to achieve the level of political consciousness and action that can enable it to seriously challenge capitalist rule in this country. Accomplishing this task involves transforming the political outlook of the working class by breaking its allegiance to the reformist ideology embodied in the Labor Party, and building a credible anti-capitalist alternative.
In the absence of any credible alternative to the left of the ALP, disillusionment or anger with Labor's betrayals tends to drive many workers to support the conservative parties or to adopt a posture of political apathy. This was the experience under the Whitlam Labor government, and the same outcome is being prepared today by the Hawke government and its state counterparts.
The refusal of the Labor left to break with the pro-capitalist ALP program and leadership and to help build a credible anti-capitalist alternative not only does nothing to save ALP governments from inevitable electoral defeat, but also helps to prepare defeats for the working class at the hands of ALP governments.
These defeats, which are invariably a product of the deliberate demobilisation of the working class by the Labor reformists, are the worst sort: Defeats that usually occur without a fight and therefore produce nothing but demoralisation and confusion. Such defeats are inflicted with the assistance of the Labor left as well as the right, in the name of retaining ruling class support for Labor governments.
Only the creation of a serious anti-capitalist alternative, necessarily founded on a complete break with Labor reformism, can minimise such defeats and open the way to working class victories in the struggle against the bosses' attempts to make working people pay for the capitalist crisis.
Revolutionaries therefore place a high priority on helping to develop such a political alternative - a broadly based party that consistently counterposes defence of the interests of workers and their allies to the illusions of class peace fostered by the ALP and the trade union bureaucracy.
The road to building such a political alternative lies along the line of seeking unity among all who are willing to break with Labor reformism and to encourage the most broadly based action in defence of the interests of workers and their allies.
No other class or social group can substitute for the working class in overthrowing capitalism. But it is also true that to achieve the overthrow of capitalism and to build socialism the working class must win the support of non-proletarian sections of the population whose objective interests would be served by the elimination of various aspects of capitalist exploitation and oppression.
Over the past two decades, movements such as the Aboriginal, peace, feminist, and environmental movements, have had an increasing impact on the consciousness of broad layers of the working class, and have generated struggles with objectively anti-capitalist aims and dynamic.
As the class struggle deepens, and increasing numbers of workers radicalise, these movements can expect to find grow ing support within the organised labor movement. This, in turn, will enable these movements to enlist the social power of the working class in aid of their struggles, and help to further develop the anti-capitalist political consciousness of the working class.
There is no reason to suppose that the Australian working class will follow any particular pattern or model in developing revolutionary consciousness. Socialists must therefore be alert to new or unexpected events that can assist such development. A case in point was the rapid rise of the Nuclear Disarmament Party during the 1984 federal election campaign.
Because of the highly bureaucratised character of the Australian union movement and the success of the ALP-ACTU prices and incomes accord in holding down industrial struggles, a movement with the potential to produce a significant break to the left of Labor reformism began not in the unions but in the ALP branches and in the leftist middle class milieu usually sympathetic to Labor. While its activities were limited to the electoral arena, the NDP was a positive development.
The spectacular development of the NDP was the reflection and outcome of several years of mass mobilisation around the anti-nuclear issue. This example demonstrates that it is political action by broad masses of people that creates the basis for political breaks with Labor reformism.
In the process of developing a consistent anti-capitalist alternative to the ALP, even a small Marxist organisation can play a decisive role.
Such a revolutionary organisation can bring to the process of creating a new anti-capitalist party the accumulated lessons of more than 130 years of anti-capitalist struggle, summarised in Marxist theory. It can provide a network, based on a politically coherent outlook, for the collective thinking necessary to weld the diverse elements breaking with Labor refor mism into a mass, anti-capitalist alternative - a mass revolutionary party. These qualities are also the ones necessary to chart the way forward for the working class and its allies in the complex and difficult struggle to overthrow capitalism and construct a new, socialist society.
An independent revolutionary organisation is needed not only to win and train cadres who reach revolutionary views outside the context of the ALP, but also to assist the process of political clarification and formation of a revolutionary current within the Labor Party.
At most, socialists within the ALP can propagandise for revolutionary policies. But even the possibilities for such propaganda are increasingly circumscribed by the right-wing, anti-democratic course of the ALP leadership. Within the ALP, it is impossible to explain openly the need for a break with Laborism and the need for a new and revolutionary party.
Even though small in size, an independent revolutionary organisation like the Socialist Workers Party can tell the whole truth to ALP members dissatisfied with the course of the ALP leadership. Even more importantly, it can demonstrate the revolutionary Marxist alternative through its practical activity and initiatives in the class struggle.
For these reasons, we reject the view, shared to one degree or another by most socialists in the ALP, that the construction of a revolutionary party organisationally and politically in dependent of the Labor Party must be postponed into the in definite future.
It is undeniable that many members and leaders of the future mass revolutionary party will come from the ALP. But that mass revolutionary party cannot be the product of an exclusive focus on a single tactic, whether that tactic is work within the ALP or any other.
At the present level of development of the Australian labor movement, revolutionaries are a tiny minority. There is no a priorijustification for the assumption that the necessary accumulation of revolutionary cadres at any particular time can proceed most rapidly within the ALP. Today, the main political motion to the left of Labor reformism is to be found outside the ALP.
ALP hegemony is an objective fact that cannot be overcome or bypassed by wishful thinking or simply by counterposing a small socialist organisation as an alternative leadership. It will require a patient, consistent, long-term political approach and activity to convince masses of workers that their political needs can be met only by a revolutionary party and program.
Regardless of whether it works within or outside ALP structures, the political activity of a revolutionary organisation must be directed towards undermining the hold of Labor reformism over the working class.
Undermining and eventually defeating ALP hegemony will require the ability to deal with this hegemony in its real and specific forms - that is, the ability to relate to working-class consciousness at its present level and to help it develop by pos ing the need for realistic actions in the interest of working people.
To the extent that the revolutionary party is able to become directly involved in the struggles of the working class and its allies, the propaganda and agitation of a revolutionary party will be more closely attuned to the real level of working-class consciousness, and therefore more capable of modifying that consciousness.
A strategy for defeating Labor reformism must therefore be based on an activist orientation to struggles by the workers and their potential allies, at whatever level they begin and wherever they occur. Only through active participation in the struggles of the working class and its allies can a revolutionary party demonstrate the relevance of its program and win a mass base.
The extent to which revolutionaries can effect a break with Labor reformism by sections of the working class and its allies depends on the overall level of struggle, for it is only through their own experience in struggle that broad masses of working people will see the need for such a break. Sound tactics, applied appropriately by revolutionaries, can facilitate such a break when mass struggles have prepared the conditions for it, but they cannot substitute for the role of such struggles.
Struggles by forces outside the organised labor movement will play an important role in politicising the working class, and can act as a catalyst for a working class break with Labor reformism.
Socialists must champion the progressive demands of all sectors of the exploited and oppressed, and must orient their political tactics towards forces that are in motion at any particular time. The struggle to overcome the ALP's hegemony within the organised working class thus requires great tactical flexibility of socialists.
Work within the ALP is at times a possible and legitimate tactic for socialists in their fight against Labor reformism. The aim of such work must be to build an anti-capitalist, antireformist current. Whether socialists employ such a tactic will depend on whether there are forces in the Labor Party that could develop in a progressive direction.
Also important in deciding whether or not socialists should join the Labor Party is the possibility at any given time for socialists to retain their full freedom to criticise the bourgeois leaders of the Labor Party and their freedom to carry on the work of propaganda, agitation and organisation in support of their own revolutionary workers' party.
It is not possible for socialists to join the ALP under these conditions today. This fact places serious limitations on work to encourage the formation of a revolutionary socialist current within the ALP, though these obstacles should not become an absolute barrier to such work.
The bosses' offensive against working class living standards has encouraged a spontaneous striving for unity within the labor movement. United action by the working class is desperately needed to defeat the bosses' attacks.
However, the reformist leaders of the ALP and the trade unions cynically seek to manipulate this desire for working-class unity in order to stifle any opposition to their classcollaborationist perspectives. The Labor reformists and the trade union bureaucracy preach unity in words, but vigorously oppose it, in action. The unity they want is a unity of passivity in the face of the capitalist offensive.
To the fake calls of the Labor reformists and union bureaucrats for working-class unity, socialist counterpose the need for a united front of anti-capitalist struggle.
Such unity can best be built through the broadest mobilisation in campaigns around specific issues or reforms. United front campaigns are a mechanism for advancing the interests of the working class and its allies, and for helping those who look to the ALP to recognise the need for anti-capitalist policies and class-struggle methods in order to defend their in terests.
Through such united front campaigns, socialists can turn workers' illusions in their present leadership against the ruling class by calling on the ALP to participate in united campaigns for specific progressive goals. The potential of such campaigns is demonstrated by the growth of support for the anti-uranium movement within the Labor Party, and the widespread anger, leading to the formation of the Nuclear Disarmament Party, when the 1984 ALP national conference dumped Labor's opposition to exporting uranium.
Parliamentarism is an important means by which the ALP subordinates the interests of the working class to those of capital. Electoral activity is therefore central to relations between the ALP and the working class, and is the main content of politics as understood by working people who are under the ALP's influence.
For these reasons, electoral campaigns present socialists with an opportunity to address workers at a time of heightened interest in political issues, and a challenge to do so in a manner that undermines parliamentarist illusions, rather than reinforc ing them.
The tactic of critical support for Labor against the conservative parties can be useful in advancing this goal. The aim of this tactic is to gain a hearing from workers so as to explain the need to break with Labor's parliamentarism and its reformist politics.
It is also a specific electoral application of the united-front tactic. That is, while not giving up our right to criticise the procapitalist politics of the Labor Party and to advocate our own anti-capitalist program, we offer to make an alliance against the conservative parties with those workers who have illusions in the ALP.
Critical support for ALP candidates does not mean political solidarity with Labor reformism. On the contrary, it is a weapon of struggle against it. We support the election of a Labor government in order to more effectively explain why the ALP and a government formed by it will not solve the fundamental problems of the working class and its allies, and why a revolutionary alternative is needed.
That is, we favor the election of an ALP government so that workers, through their own experience, will learn the correctness of our criticisms of the ALP.
A Labor government may introduce reforms that would not be granted by a government of the conservative parties, or it may less willing to attack the working class in the way a con servative government might. Usually, the conservative parties openly advocate savage attacks on working people's rights and living standards while Labor conceals its anti-worker program behind a platform of demagogic promises. Often, the defeat of the conservatives may cause the ruling class to proceed more cautiously with such attacks.
In such circumstances the election of an ALP government may constitute a lesser evil. But it would be a mistake for socialists to favor the election of a Labor government ex clusively on such grounds. Such an approach would limit socialist electoral tactics to explaining which bourgeois govern ment - Labor or Liberal-National - is the lesser evil.
While it is often necessary for workers to choose the lesser of two evils, it is also necessary to understand that both are evils and that the real need is for a struggle to create a genuine alternative.
Particularly in periods of capitalist crisis, a Labor government can often be a greater evil in terms of the immediate interests of the working class. In such periods, the reforms of a Labor government are usually outweighed by the role of the government in demobilising the working class and carrying out attacks in other, more important areas.
Often Labor can carry out measures that would provoke serious resistance if they were attempted by conservative governments.
Moreover, no reforms introduced by an ALP government will solve the fundamental problems facing the working class. A revolutionary government is necessary to tackle these problems at their roots. To achieve such a government it is necessary to break workers' illusions in Labor reformism and to win them to a revolutionary, anti-capitalist perspective.
Only within this framework can the election of a Labor government always be considered a lesser evil than the election of a conservative government. When the ALP is in office, its bourgeois character is more evident to wide layers of working people than when it is out of office and its leaders can make demagogic promises of reforms in the interests of working people.
Such considerations do not apply to by-elections and other elections that do not affect the question of which of the bourgeois parties will form the government. In such elections, socialists weigh the question of calling for a vote for ALP can didates differently. In such circumstances, the most important question is whether calling for a vote for Labor will help or hinder the process of convincing workers of the need for a political break with Laborism. Will calling for a vote for the ALP candidate enable us to gain a wider hearing for our criticisms of Labor, or will it simply reinforce illusions that Labor is fundamentally better than the other bourgeois parties?
Moreover, even when we call for the election of a Labor government, this tactic should not be counterposed to the tac tic of calling for a preference vote to candidates standing on a platform to the left of Labor's. In fact, use of the latter tactic often offers the most effective means of highlighting the fact that we call for the election of a Labor government only as a lesser evil than the election of a conservative government.
Socialists, of course, support any measures of ALP governments that improve the conditions of the workers and their allies. Indeed, we also support genuinely progressive measures by governments of the conservative parties. But in no circumstances do we support bourgeois governments, whether Labor or Liberal-National, even when they carry out such measures. Similarly, socialists defend ALP governments against attacks from the right without expressing any political confidence in such governments.
To the degree that an ALP government bends to the pressure of the working class, the ruling class may conclude that a new government is needed. It may try to unseat the ALP government in order to install a government it considers better able to defend its interests. This is what happened to the Whitlam government in 1975. In that situation, we united in action with the ranks and supporters of the ALP to defend Whitlam from the attack headed by Kerr and Fraser.
This did not mean that we gave up our goal of replacing the bourgeois Labor government with a revolutionary government. Rather, it meant a change in the form of our opposition to the ALP government. Our opposition took the form of demands that the Labor reformists conduct a serious fight against the Kerr-Fraser coup by extending the mobilisations of workers into a general strike.
The return of the Whitlam government to office as a result of such a mobilisation would have created better conditions for the workers to fight against the pro-capitalist policies of that government. It would have created better conditions for in creased numbers of workers to understand the need to replace this government with a genuine workers' government.
To satisfy their fundamental (and often even their immediate) class interests, workers need to break with parliamentary reformism and, jointly with the exploited sections of the middle class - particularly working farmers --- establish their own government.
Such a government could only arise out of a period of deep social crisis and mass mobilisation, in which the masses of working people were drawn into direct political action chal lenging the economic and political power of the capitalist class.
In the context of such a mobilisation, working people would inevitably find it necessary to coordinate their struggles by creating a network of democratically elected committees in the factories, offices and neighborhoods. The centralisation of such a network of committees would create a popular power counterposed to the power of the capitalist state - a potential revolutionary government.
Experience in other countries - particularly Russia in 1917 - has demonstrated that in such a situation of deep popular mobilisation and self-organisation, agitation around the call for the reformist misleaders of the working class to form a govern ment based on the mass bodies of popular power can play a tremendous role in breaking working people's illusions in these misleaders.
In non-revolutionary periods, the usefulness of such an approach is far more limited. Nevertheless, one of the central aims of all our political propaganda (and agitation where appropriate) is to convince working people that their interests cannot be served by a capitalist government, and that they need to organise and struggle for political power.
Standing socialist candidates in parliamentary elections and calling for our preferences to flow to the ALP is one way of popularising our class-struggle program. Calling for the election of an ALP government makes it possible to counterpose key elements of the revolutionary program to the pro-capitalist policies of the ALP without alienating ALP supporters. At the same time, this approach enables us to appeal to militants who are prepared to break with Laborism.
Apologists for the ALP, both left and right, often raise the objection that standing socialist candidates in opposition to the ALP splits the working-class or left vote. Such objections are in reality pleas to allow ALP candidates to monopolise the working-class vote.
Such false unity does nothing to advance or defend the interests of the working class, and in the end amounts to an appeal to socialists to boycott themselves in favor of the bourgeois Labor Party.
In some circumstances, electoral campaigns that unite left forces broader than our own may provide a more effective example of the direction in which the labor movement should go. Our active involvement in, and support for, the NDP in the 1984 federal election was a variation on the tactic of standing our own candidates, and was completely complementary to it.
Our backing for such a campaign is not contingent on such groups presenting a full program for government. To impose such a condition would be to acquiesce in the illusion that Australia is ruled by parliament rather than the bourgeoisie through its banks, corporations and the top echelons of the capitalist state apparatus.
By bringing together forces breaking with Labor reformism, such united-front electoral campaigns can help to lay the basis for the experiences and discussions necessary to create a new, broadly based anti-capitalist party. We should therefore be alert to the possibilities for such campaigns, and whenever possible take the initiative to encourage their formation.
The Labor Party's overwhelmingly dominant political position within the Australian labor movement makes it an inescapable and fundamental problem for socialists in this country. Failure to solve this problem will eventually undermine all the other successes of a revolutionary organisation. The deepening of the class struggle in the years ahead will make this question even more important.
Whatever the exact course of events, because the ALP is the political instrument of the trade union bureaucracy, the decisive arena of struggle against Labor reformism will be the trade union arena.
In the long run, revolutionaries will not be able to defeat the influence of Labor reformism over decisive sections of the working class without defeating the class-collaborationism of the trade union bureaucracy through consistent struggle to transform the unions into class-struggle instruments. On the other hand, the fight to transform the unions will not be successful so long as the majority of the organised working class re mains politically imprisoned by Labor reformism.
Because the ALP is the political instrument of the union bureaucracy, the liberation of the unions from this bureaucracy's control will confront militant unionists with the need to break with the ALP and build a new political instrument.
Only through simultaneous struggle against the class-collaborationism of the trade union and ALP leaders can revolutionaries increase their influence among the working class and its allies, and eventually win political leadership of these forces.
For nearly a century, the ALP has successfully harnessed the working class to the chariots of bourgeois nationalism and parliamentarism. This success is due above all to objective factors - particularly the ability of the Australian imperialist bourgeoisie to grant small but real reforms when this seemed necessary to diffuse developing proletarian struggles.
With the exhaustion of the long postwar capitalist economic boom and the successes of anti-imperialist struggles in Latin America, Asia and Africa, the objective situation of the world imperialism system, and of Australian capitalism within that system, has evolved unfavorably for capitalism.
This evolution, which can be expected to continue until major class battles bring decisive victory to one side or the other in at least several major advanced countries, does not dictate any automatic weakening of the trade union bureaucracy, or of the ALP's hegemony over the working class. It does, however, reduce the capitalist class's ability to grant concessions and it thus reduces the Labor reformists' room for manoeuvre.
This changing objective situation has already created new opportunities for the revolutionary movement in Australia, and it will create even more in coming years. As a small revolutionary party seeking to help the working class to develop beyond the limits of Laborism, the Socialist Workers Party requires the utmost tactical flexibility and the closest attention to developments within and around the unions and the ALP.
It is particularly important to be on guard against arbitrary schemas about how the class struggle will or should develop, for these prevent revolutionaries from recognising new or unex pected opportunities to contribute to the class struggle. The task of Marxists is not to make speculative predictions about the future, but to help create it by building a revolutionary party in the daily struggles of the working class and its allies. This will undoubtedly require frequent shifts of emphasis and direction as the struggles themselves arise or subside.
With a combination of flexible tactics and inflexible adherence to the historical interests of the proletariat and its allies, revolutionaries can make real gains in the struggle to destroy the influence of bourgeois liberalism within the working class, and to build the mass revolutionary party necessary to lead the Australian socialist revolution.