Workers Vanguard No. 1069
29 May 2015
Australia: Fighting for a Revolutionary Perspective
Class Struggle and the 1975 Ouster of the Whitlam Government
The following article is reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 225 (Autumn 2015), newspaper of the Spartacist League of Australia.
This year marks 40 years since the Labor government led by Gough Whitlam was dismissed by the English Queen’s representative, the then governor-general, Sir John Kerr. The ouster of Whitlam in November 1975 brought to a head a political crisis that was developing in this country during a decade of intensifying social and class struggle. From the mid-1960s, unfolding social revolution in Vietnam sparked massive protests against the Vietnam War and conscription and, combined with powerful proletarian actions, ignited youth and other layers of the population to take up broader struggles, including the fight for Aboriginal rights. Women were propelled into the fight for equal pay and abortion rights, against the deep male chauvinism characteristic of Australian capitalist society.
Today’s left-inclined workers and youth, who have come to politics in a world shaped by capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and one-sided class war against workers and oppressed, would find it useful to study the lessons of this period of heightened struggle. Four decades ago, with the proletariat demonstrating an instinctive desire to fight against the capitalist rulers and threatening to break out of the confines of bourgeois parliamentarism, the social-democratic misleaders in the trade unions and ALP [Australian Labor Party] adapted to the prevailing mood and stood far to the left of today’s very right-wing ALP regimes. However, the purpose of such left-wing posturing by the leadership was to co-opt the more advanced and restive layers of the proletariat and behead any challenge to capitalist stability and profits. While some declared themselves socialists and even communists, in reality these misleaders constituted a left-reformist layer within the workers movement, whose actual program was limited to ameliorating the worst excesses of capitalist rule. As a consequence they were all the more dangerous an obstacle to the historic interests of the working class.
The turmoil of this period created openings for our small Trotskyist group, then known as the Spartacist League of Australia and New Zealand (SL/ANZ), to connect with advanced workers and seek to raise their political consciousness through revolutionary propaganda and intelligent tactics. A key element of our intervention was to debunk the lie promoted by Laborites of all stripes that workers can achieve their needs through the parliamentary road. As Lenin wrote in his seminal work, The State and Revolution (1917), “To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism....” Through hard political combat we fought to win the best elements among the left and proletariat to the perspective of building an internationalist revolutionary Marxist party to fight for socialist revolution.
Whitlam’s ALP Enlisted to
Rein in Proletarian Struggles
The Whitlam Labor government came to office in 1972. Not only was this a period of heightened proletarian struggle in Australia but also internationally. These years saw mass working-class upheavals shake France in 1968, Italy in 1969 and Portugal in 1974-75. The absence of genuine revolutionary Trotskyist leadership and the betrayals by the pro-Moscow Stalinist Communist parties and social democrats resulted in these struggles being defeated.
In Australia, this period saw the biggest upsurge in trade-union unrest since World War I. Class struggle exploded with intensity in 1969, with a near general strike in Victoria. The struggle was ignited over the jailing of Victorian Tramways Union official and supporter of the Maoist Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) [CPA(ML)], Clarrie O’Shea, for defying the government’s anti-strike penal powers and refusing to pay Arbitration Court fines. It saw 200,000 workers walk off the job in Victoria and 150,000 in NSW [New South Wales state] the day after O’Shea’s imprisonment. Ultimately over one million workers in all states struck to demand the release of O’Shea. A Sun-Herald correspondent reported that “Demonstrations I have seen accompanying the strikes have been the most intense since the coal strike in 1949.” A general strike was only averted when O’Shea was released from prison after his fines were anonymously paid. The workers’ actions succeeded in shelving the penal powers for a decade. This victory combined with the radical-sounding anti-imperialist rhetoric of the CPA(ML) attracted many youth, then breaking to the left of the ALP, to the Maoists who were also leading the most militant wing of the anti-war movement.
From the mid-1960s strikes began to take on a political colouration. The New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers Federation solidarised with the struggles of oppressed groups such as prisoners, gays, women and Aborigines. On several occasions CP [Communist Party of Australia] and CPA(ML)-led maritime unions struck to defend opponents of the Vietnam War caught in the crosshairs of state repression. The Seamen’s Union refused on occasions to ship armaments and ammunition to Vietnam thus concretely impeding the imperialist war against the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese workers and peasants. This war ended in 1975 with the defeat of the imperialist forces and their South Vietnamese puppet regime by the troops of the North Vietnamese Army and southern peasant-based National Liberation Front (NLF), leading to the overturn of capitalist rule in South Vietnam and the formation of a unified workers state, albeit bureaucratically deformed from inception by the rule of a parasitic nationalist Stalinist caste.
Mirroring the development of a defeatist wing of the American ruling class, who were spooked by spiralling defeats particularly after the North Vietnamese/NLF’s 1968 Tet Offensive, sections of the Australian ruling class were also increasingly looking for a way to extract themselves from that losing war. Suffering humiliating routs on the battlefield, the bourgeoisie were doubtless concerned that the military victories of the Vietnamese forces were having a radicalising effect on the proletariat at home. By 1971 the number of working days lost to strike activity in Australia had risen to over three million—over 400 percent higher than in 1967. That same year, a Sydney Morning Herald editorial warned that “in parts of Australia...we are approaching a situation intolerably close to industrial anarchy.” Significantly, shop stewards committees, which embraced immigrant worker militants, were playing a more prominent role somewhat independent of the older, more conservative Australianborn leaders who made up the majority of union officialdom.
The Australian capitalist class resolved that measures needed to be taken to contain proletarian struggles. The deeply conservative Liberal/Country Party Coalition, which had been in power for 23 years [mainly under prime minister Robert Menzies], was at that time incapable of doing so and moreover stood in the way of modernisation. Thus a decisive section of the Australian capitalist rulers, including media magnate Rupert Murdoch, promoted the reformist Whitlam-led Labor Party in the 1972 federal elections.
From its formation in the 1890s, the ALP has been a bourgeois workers party: a party based on the mass of organised workers but led by the pro-capitalist tradeunion bureaucracy and their parliamentary counterparts, whose role is to act as political police for the bourgeoisie in the labour movement. In his June 1913 article “In Australia,” Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin described the leaders of the ALP as “trade union officials, everywhere the most moderate and ‘capitalserving’ element....” Through this mech-anism, in times of crisis, such as the two world wars of last century, the ALP has served the ruling class by presiding over the capitalist order and keeping the working class in check.
No less in the 1970s, it was Whitlam’s job to lull the workers and when necessary discipline them in order to return to capitalist business as usual. It helped that he was a known quantity. Whitlam earned kudos from the bourgeoisie for purging the “Socialist Left” from the Victorian branch of the ALP in 1970. Devoted to bourgeois parliamentarism, Whitlam made it clear in the lead up to the 1972 elections that taxes on the wealthy would not rise and that he had no intention to nationalise anything. Whitlam was also an enthusiastic and eloquent purveyor of the reformist illusion that the capitalist state could be reformed to meet the interests of the masses. He was aided in his efforts to hoodwink workers by the misleaders in the trade-union bureaucracy.
Refurbishing the Image of Australian Imperialism
With the ALP under pressure from its proletarian base, the bourgeoisie was prepared to concede, for a time, some concrete reforms in order to placate workers and the oppressed. In his book A Secret Country (1989), John Pilger captures the whirlwind of change that accompanied Whitlam’s ascension to power:
“Conscription was ended immediately and the last Australian troops were ordered home from Vietnam. Young men imprisoned for draft evasion were freed unconditionally. The Federal Government assumed responsibility for Aboriginal health, education and welfare and the first land rights legislation was drafted....
“Equal pay for women was introduced. Wages, pensions and unemployment benefits rose. A national health service was established, open to all. Spending on education was doubled and university and college fees abolished. Censorship was ended and the divorce laws reformed, with the establishment of the world’s first ‘family courts.’ Legal aid became a universal right. A range of cultural initiatives for Aborigines, women and immigrants were encouraged and funded; ‘access’ and ethnic radio networks were set up.”
Notorious for its official White Australia policy, Australia had long been viewed with distrust by Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries. By the midto-late 1960s “White Australia” was an impediment to Australian business interests, not least with Japan, the growing imperialist economic powerhouse in the region. Thus, Whitlam helped to end the ALP’s explicit embrace of “White Australia,” one of its founding tenets. And he sought to modernise insular Menzies-era Australian capitalism, including through acting with greater “independence” from its U.S. big brother vis-à-vis moves to engage in Asia. Formal independence was granted to Papua New Guinea and immigration for Asian and Pacific islanders was liberalised. Whitlam also gave diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China. These mainly cosmetic moves were designed to project a more tolerant and multiracial Australia in order to promote the interests of Australian imperialism.
Some of Whitlam’s reforms, such as no-fault divorce and relatively free health care and education, greatly benefited working people. However, as is always the case under capitalism, reforms are only ever a pallid and highly reversible glimpse of what will be achievable once workers have overthrown the capitalist system. As we wrote at the time: “While significant, these changes hardly touch the real needs of the masses and in fact disarm them by helping to prepare the way for the very harsh measures Whitlam will be forced to institute for the benefit of Australian capitalism” (“Capital’s Labor Trustee: Australian Labor Party Elected,” WV No. 17, March 1973).
Comes to an End
With the onset of a sharp global economic downturn in 1974 capitalist rulers around the world made efforts to increase the rate of exploitation of the proletariat. This recession was also marked by rising unemployment and spiralling inflation, accelerated by the October 1973 OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) cartel’s decision to raise crude oil prices by 70 percent. The market price for oil soon quadrupled and the effects were felt in Australia by early 1974 as escalating transport costs filtered through the economy. Inflationary pressures sparked proletarian struggles for higher wages. Already in 1973 Whitlam had attempted to rein in wages by putting forward a referendum for state control of wages and prices. This referendum was resoundingly defeated not least due to widespread opposition from the working class.
Forced to an early federal election in May 1974, the ALP was re-elected with a slightly reduced majority. The Labor caucus attempted to revive their standing amongst workers through electing “left” leader and prominent anti-war campaigner Jim Cairns as deputy prime minister. While that year’s September budget delivered a few paltry social welfare reforms it did nothing to arrest the growing unemployment and erosion of wages caused by inflation. Whitlam, with the connivance of then ACTU [Australian
Council of Trade Unions] head Bob Hawke and other prominent union leaders, continued to push for wage restraint while arguing that some reforms would have to be wound back. Despite deep-set illusions in the ALP, many unions rejected the Laborite tops’ messages of restraint and cutbacks, and fought to defend the wages and living standards of their members. Working days lost to strike activity in 1974 were double that of 1971. In 1974-75 workers’ struggles succeeded in offsetting inflation as average wages grew by 28.7 percent. Faced with growing unemployment, inflation, a strike wave, and a decline in popularity, by late 1974 the ALP government’s failure to protect profits by holding down wages led it to adopt an anti-strike campaign, with the minister for labour accusing unions of “bloody-mindedness” and causing “near anarchy.”
But for the bosses it was too little, too late. Ultimately the Whitlam government’s inability to stymie working-class struggles would become its epitaph. As we wrote in Australasian Spartacist No. 25, November 1975:
“Although the ALP tops have been ever more slavish in boot-licking devotion to business and profit it has not been enough. Wage indexation has not produced the results required. The bosses have increasingly resorted to lockouts, provoked strikes, attempted speedup, and attacked union rights in a campaign of attrition against union strength. For the bosses the time has come for the government to put its foot down; but the Labor Government’s strategy of restraining the working class through the sell-out union bureaucrats has not been effective enough. The L/NCP [Liberal/National Country Party coalition], uninhibited by any ties to the unions, will be prepared to launch a crackdown on the unions at every opportunity. Finally, in recession conditions the ruling class cannot afford even the ALP’s piddling reforms.”
The CIA and British intelligence services played a role in Whitlam’s ouster (see “The CIA, the Queen’s Agent and the Man Who Got in the Way: Gough Whitlam, 1916-2014,” [WV No. 1061, 6 February]). On the face of it this might seem odd since Whitlam had long proven himself a staunch defender of the U.S./Australia alliance, signed in 1951 during Cold War I against the Soviet Union. Whitlam’s loyalty to this counterrevolutionary alliance included backing the construction of the U.S. spy base at North-West Cape in 1963, congratulating the then Indonesian president Suharto after he had overseen the mass slaughter that destroyed the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965-66, and backing the war in Vietnam. On the right wing of the ALP, he only switched his position and called for troops out of Vietnam in 1968, when it became obvious that the imperialist forces were losing. While the Whitlam government in 1972 was one of the first in the West to recognise the People’s Republic of China, this measure was entirely in keeping with imperialist interests, occurring shortly before the sealing of the anti-Soviet U.S./China alliance.
As PM [Prime Minister], Whitlam first clashed with the U.S. administration after the U.S. carried out the bombing of Hanoi and the port of Haiphong in late 1972. Having been elevated to power on a wave of opposition to the war in Vietnam, Whitlam felt impelled to protest this barbaric war crime which killed some 1,600 people. His comments coincided with waterfront union bans against U.S. shipping. Despite Whitlam’s assurances that his government was by no means anti-U.S., his dissent sparked a furious response from Washington. It was also revealed later that the CIA had become concerned by Whitlam’s meddling with the U.S. government’s highly secretive Pine Gap “communications” base near Alice Springs. Shortly before his sacking, Whitlam accused National Country Party leader, Doug Anthony, of being tainted by CIA money. He also claimed that Anthony’s friend, Richard Stallings, who supervised the construction of Pine Gap, had been a CIA agent, the obvious implication being that there was more to Pine Gap than “communications.” Later revelations exposed Pine Gap as an anti-Soviet spy base, which was key to longstanding U.S. plans for a nuclear first strike against the USSR. The question of the bases underscored the importance of our internationalist Trotskyist fight “at home” for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union, a degenerated workers state, against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution. Revelations also pointed to the CIA filtering funds to the Liberal and Country Parties as well as infiltrating some unions, with CIA money linked to the virulently anti-Communist National Civic Council of B.A. Santamaria and right-wing union officials associated with it.
Alongside the growing economic instability, these factors, combined with the ALP Attorney-General Lionel Murphy’s police raid on ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] headquarters in early 1973 and the links of some Labor lefts to unions influenced by the CPA or its Maoist and pro-Moscow Stalinist spin-offs, were a cause of deep suspicion to both the U.S. and Australian ruling classes and their intelligence services. The pretext for Whitlam’s sacking was a series of “scandals” surrounding his government. The most spectacular was the so-called “loans affair” where the government attempted to raise a U.S. $4 billion loan for resource-based infrastructure projects from sources in the Middle East. The Opposition seized on this to claim government financial impropriety. It gave the L/NCP coalition, led by Malcolm Fraser, the trigger to use their numbers in the Senate to block the federal budget on 16 October 1975, thus denying the government financial supply. The “crisis” was resolved on 11 November when Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who had links with not only the British monarchy but also ASIO and the CIA, used the supposedly moribund “reserve powers of the crown” to withdraw Whitlam’s commission and install Fraser as the caretaker prime minister.
Proletarian Outpouring Against Whitlam’s Dismissal
Following the blocking of supply and Whitlam’s subsequent dismissal there was a tremendous outpouring of proletarian rage. Mass protests occurred. At different points docks across the country were shut down, rail networks were sporadically at a standstill, and building sites were idle. Storemen, meatpackers, miners, clothing workers, journalists, printers, teachers, office and carworkers, shipbuilders, metal and manufacturing workers all walked off the job at different points and often together. Their protests were joined by students.
Almost a week after blocking supply, Fraser called a public demonstration to rally support behind the L/NCP coalition. Outnumbered by a counter-demonstration of Labor supporters, Fraser was forced to retreat into parliament house without finishing his speech. There were multiple calls for a general strike by unions across a wide range of industries. The ACTU refused to take up these calls. Massive union shop stewards meetings, representing hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers, were held in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Proletarian outrage was immense. But this wasn’t just about the ousting of the Whitlam government. It was about the workers seeking to defend their organisations and livelihoods against an avowedly right-wing, union-busting government that was hell-bent on stripping back Whitlam’s reforms. As NSW State Secretary of the Federated Engine Drivers Union, Jack Cambourn, put it, “we are not going to strike to save [Gough], we are going to strike to save ourselves.”
The bourgeoisie and their pro-capitalist Laborite representatives in the union movement were becoming increasingly fearful. Former Liberal Party leader, Bill Snedden, later opined that “the peace of the country was threatened and there could have been an insurrection.” Immediately after Whitlam’s sacking there was a clear consensus across the bourgeois political spectrum that despite the manner of Whitlam’s removal it was vital to restore faith in the parliamentary system. From the day of his dismissal Whitlam played a prominent role in channeling anger into the ballot box. Speaking from the steps of federal parliament Whitlam called on an angry crowd of supporters who had spontaneously gathered there to “maintain your rage...until polling day.”
With so many workers in the unions and in ALP branches straining to take allout strike action, the Laborite misleaders worked frantically to contain the movement in safe parliamentary channels. At a press conference immediately after the dismissal ACTU leader Hawke insisted that Whitlam had “no alternative but to accept this amazing decision.” He argued against a national strike, counselling that it “could unleash forces in Australia which we’ve never seen before.” Showing his absolute devotion to bourgeois rule Hawke infamously implored workers to “cool it,” declaring “we are on the edge of something terrible happening.”
Proletarian militancy was at its height in Victoria. Defying Hawke’s calls for restraint, some 30 left-wing unions in Melbourne unanimously voted for a halfday general strike on 14 November. Preexisting fissures between the hardened anti-communist right wing and left wing in the labour movement were widening. Enter prominent CPA supporter and Metal Workers union official in Victoria, John Halfpenny. Widely popular for his leftsounding rhetoric, Halfpenny announced the decision to strike, declaring that if Hawke says “‘do nothing’ he will be swept aside by the angry mood of the people.” Less than 24 hours later this highly skilled traitor covered for Hawke saying that the ACTU president had “clarified” his call to “cool it” as simply opposing indefinite strikes. Thus Halfpenny sought to put himself at the head of the struggle in order to derail it. With workers champing at the bit to take mass action Halfpenny declared, “We didn’t create this crisis. Far from trying to disrupt society the slogans are to return to stability.”
Despite Hawke and Halfpenny’s calls for restraint and stability, on 14 November 400,000 workers struck in Victoria with 30-40,000 workers and students rallying in Melbourne’s City Square. Hawke and other Labor leaders addressed the rally and it was left to Halfpenny to tell the angry crowd to leave before peak hour to avoid disrupting transport home! Here in the persons of Hawke and Halfpenny you had the right and left wings of Laborite reformism coming together to pour cold water on the militancy of workers and stabilise capitalist rule. Even so, some 15,000 reportedly refused to disperse instead marching to the stock exchange. Against the sell-out Labor-loyal tops, an internationalist Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party with deep roots in the proletariat could have had a decisive impact.
Such a Leninist party will be built in this country by splitting the working-class base of the ALP from the pro-capitalist leadership, centrally through the political fight to replace the social-democratic union misleaders with a class-struggle leadership of the unions linked to a revolutionary workers party. In the process the most advanced layers of the proletariat will be broken from Laborite nationalism, loyalty to the capitalist state, and illusions in parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy, and won to the communist program and party.
The Fight for
In the tumultuous events around Whitlam’s dismissal, thousands of workers across the country were pushing for extra-parliamentary actions while simultaneously rallying behind the ALP, which they viewed as their political representation in the hallowed halls of parliament. In opposition to the Labor traitors and their left hangers-on, just prior to Whitlam’s dismissal we warned:
“Whitlam, Hawke and their reformist and centrist fellow travellers want the working class to believe that what is at stake is not a class conflict but the undemocratic character of the Senate and/or the Governor-General, the violation of constitutional conventions, etc. The abolition of the Senate and that vestigial remnant of past British imperialism, the Governor-General, would make the parliamentary system marginally more democratic; but in essence the vaunted ‘democracy’ of Parliament is pure sham and no number of reforms can change it. The bourgeoisie controls social wealth and Parliament serves its needs, as the political organ for working out how best to maintain and reinforce its class rule. It is democracy for the capitalists, and they will never allow it to be used against their basic interests.
—“For a General Strike to Keep the Liberal Union Bashers Out!” Australasian Spartacist No. 25, November 1975
Following Whitlam’s dismissal, we headlined “Whitlam/Hawke Sabotage Workers’ Defence” (Australasian Spartacist No. 26, 25 November 1975). Putting forward the call for a defensive general strike to kick Fraser out, we also raised a series of demands based on the Transitional Program, the founding document of Trotsky’s Fourth International. In the face of growing unemployment and the government’s attempts at a wage freeze we called to “Smash the indexation wage freeze and Labor budget cuts!” and demanded “an immediate 35-hour week at full pay for all workers and a full, unconditional cost-of-living adjustment to all wages!” Against the Laborite fraud of channeling workers’ struggles into the capitalist courts we called to “Abolish the arbitration system!” Emphasising that the capitalist rulers’ stranglehold on society and exploitative rule must be broken by taking industry out of their hands we demanded: “Open the books of the corporations! Workers control of hiring! Nationalise basic industry and financial institutions under workers’ control—no compensation!” We declared, “Not the bosses’ parliament but a workers’ government!”
Linking workers’ desire to get rid of the Fraser government with the need for a workers government, alongside the call for a defensive general strike we also prominently raised the slogan, “For an ALP/ACTU government pledged to expropriate the capitalist class!” This slogan sought to confront workers with the perspective of a government that was both socially and structurally at variance with a bourgeois parliamentary regime—i.e., based exclusively on the organisations of the workers movement and incorporating wholesale (extra-parliamentary) defensive organisations of the working class. This demand, along with the call for a general strike, sought to exacerbate the contradictions between the aspirations and objective interests of the working class, centrally organised in the trade unions, and the policies and actions of their misleaders.
Ultimately the purpose behind sharpening this inner differentiation would be to politically destroy the ALP through splitting it into its pro-capitalist and proletarian elements, the latter being organised or led by a Leninist party. Through our intervention we aimed to break workers and leftist youth from Laborism and bourgeois parliamentarism, pointing them in the direction of a fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat. As we explained at the time, the capitalist state machine—at its core the military, police, prison system and courts, “must be smashed—and replaced with a profoundly democratic workers state based on workers’ own organisations to expropriate the capitalist class.”
In putting forward the demand for a defensive general strike we wrongly, however, included in our propaganda the call to “restore the Labor Government” (and earlier, “to keep the Labor Government in power”). A political general strike, no matter how limited and defensive, necessarily would have challenged Laborite parliamentarism. Yet, the call to “restore the Labor Government” limited in advance the outcome of the general strike to re-establishing the widely discredited Whitlam government—at a time when the futility of parliamentary reformism had just been so devastatingly exposed. It gave a form of political support to a capitalist government, echoing the position of our reformist opponents, who masquerade as socialists and have a policy of strategic support to Labor and support bourgeois governments.
The call to “restore the Labor Government” thus ran counter to the entire revolutionary thrust of our intervention, including our demand “For an ALP/ACTU government pledged to expropriate the capitalist class!”, which is not without historical precedent in the revolutionary workers movement. For example, French and Greek Trotskyists raised similar calls in 1945-46 in the unstable conditions of post-war Europe. Also in this tradition, albeit under very different circumstances, was Lenin’s short-lived offer to the Russian Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SRs) in September 1917. If they agreed to form a government independent of the bourgeoisie and on the basis of their majority in the soviets, Lenin argued in “On Compromises,” the Bolsheviks would (for the moment) refrain from using revolutionary methods to oust them. The Mensheviks instead embraced the counterrevolutionary bourgeois forces leading to them being swept aside in the Bolshevik October Revolution, which created a victorious workers state.
In calling for a general strike and an “ALP/ACTU government” we were also guided by the tactics put forward by our U.S. comrades during the 1974 crisis in Britain. In “Why We Call for a General Strike in Britain Now” (WV No. 39, 1 March 1974), we argued for a limited, defensive general strike against the Heath Tory government’s attacks, concluding with the call, “Oust the Tory Government! For a Labour Party/TUC [Trades Union Congress] Government Pledged to a Socialist Program of Expropriating the Capitalist Class!”
As with the “ALP/ACTU” slogan, the “Labour Party/TUC” slogan was a way to propagandistically address the question of power. It sought to intersect the consciousness of the proletariat in motion, pointing to the need for a government of workers’ organisations and proletarian rule. As the article on the British crisis soberly explained, a general strike poses the question of state power and can easily lead to a revolutionary situation. Marxists do not play at revolution. The leadership of the British labour movement, like its counterpart in Australia, was consciously anti-revolutionary and would betray a general strike if it seriously challenged capitalist state power. Thus, taking account of the objective need for a general strike, the illusions workers still had in British Labourism, and the treacherous leadership of the working class, we explained:
“A general strike cannot at this point be organized in opposition to or over the heads of the TUC, the established union leadership. On the other hand it would be criminal for a revolutionary organization to accept, unchallenged, this leadership of the TUC—of proven, professional class collaborators—during a general strike. It is necessary to organize directing bodies for the general strike that would allow the masses to check and frustrate the policies of the TUC, that would go towards becoming a kind of dual power within the general strike movement.”
Similarly in Australia in 1975 there existed a basis to aggressively propagandise for widening the power and authority of the shop stewards committees to organise and deepen the strike movement, shifting the axis from the union tops to the most advanced and militant layers of the working class. This in turn could have opened the potential for higher forms of proletarian organisation such as broader workers councils or soviets.
In reviewing our intervention into the tumultuous events surrounding the fall of the Whitlam government, we of the Spartacist League of Australia, a section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), are fighting to politically arm the cadre of a future Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party, part of a reforged Fourth International. It is only when the international working class takes power and institutes a collectivised and planned economy on a global scale that a future of abundance, free from exploitation, racist oppression, women’s oppression and war, will be guaranteed. For a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia!