Australasian Spartacist No. 219
RSP and SAlt, Old-Style Opportunism
"Death of Communism" Lash-up
Late last year two dyed-in-the-wool reformist groups, John Percy’s Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Mick Armstrong’s Cliffite Socialist Alternative (SAlt), announced their intention to fuse at SAlt’s upcoming Easter “Marxism” conference in Melbourne. Loftily they proclaim this “new kind of left unity” to be an example of revolutionary regroupment. Far from it. Their phrase-mongering can’t disguise that the dissolution of the moribund RSP into the more sizeable SAlt is nothing more than a rotten union between two variants of social-democratic opportunism. Based on lowest common denominator politics, it is a practical expression of reformists imbibing of the bourgeoisie’s “death of communism,” in this period of reaction since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state.
SAlt’s political origins go back to the late Tony Cliff, who broke from Trotskyism in 1950, refusing to defend the Soviet Union, China and North Korea against imperialism in the Korean War. Bowing to the prevailing anti-Soviet hysteria, Cliff’s claim that the Soviet Union was “state capitalist” served as the “theoretical” justification for his capitulation to the British bourgeoisie and then-ruling Labour government. SAlt, a stridently anti-communist Cliffite outfit, was formed here in 1995 after its founding cadre were expelled in a clique fight from the International Socialist Organisation (ISO, now Solidarity). Falling in behind “democratic” Australian imperialism, SAlt prides itself on its visceral hatred of all countries where capitalism has been overthrown (see Spartacist leaflet “Socialist Alternative: Cheerleaders for Capitalist Counterrevolution,” 4 March 2008).
For their part, many of the RSP’s cadre were leading the pseudo-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) back in the 1970s-80s. In 1984, capitulating to the anti-communist pressures of Cold War II, they dumped the “Trotskyist” label (having never in fact been Trotskyist), and renounced Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution—the program confirmed by the 1917 Russian Revolution. This allowed them to more easily cosy up to various petty-bourgeois and bourgeois nationalist forces around the world. One of the SWP’s hallmarks had long been its uncritical cheerleading for the Stalinist Castro regime in Cuba. In the same year they dumped “Trotskyism,” SWP cadre and now RSP leader, Allen Myers, despicably praised the Vietnamese Stalinists’ 1945 murder of the heroic Vietnamese Trotskyists, who led a workers insurrection against the reimposition of French imperialist rule in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) at the end of World War II.
The RSP was formed in 2008 after its cadre were expelled from the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP, a direct descendant of the SWP) as the DSP moved to liquidate into the sub-reformist, green-nationalist Socialist Alliance (SA) (see “Anti-Communist Opportunists Fall Out: DSP Endgame; RSP Same Old Game,” ASp No. 208, Autumn 2010). Cynically attacking the DSP for abandoning a party perspective, the RSP claimed the wretched heritage of their DSP/SWP forebears. They thought that cheerleading for Hugo Chavez’s bourgeois-nationalist regime in Venezuela, which they claimed was the product of socialist revolution, would be their ticket to some popularity on the left, just as the SWP’s cheerleading for the Nicaraguan petty-bourgeois nationalist Sandinista regime had been in the 1980s. But the RSP’s paeans to the mythical “Bolivarian Revolution” got little support in today’s post-Soviet world and they fell flat on their faces.
Admitting to “low levels of activity, and quite extensive demoralisation,” the RSP leadership decided that they could do worse than hitch their cart to SAlt—if nothing else, at least this crowd didn’t appear to be shrinking. In any case, the decision was increasingly being made for them, with a stream of quits and a number of RSPers/ex-RSPers joining SAlt towards the end of last year. The whole thing so much resembled rats fleeing a sinking ship that one had to wonder whether anyone would still be aboard by the Easter fusion.
SAlt ludicrously declares this lash-up to be “a relatively new initiative on the left, not just in Australia but internationally.” Having so far failed in attempts to build international ties, no doubt SAlt’s leadership hope that unity with the RSP, which has some connections in Southeast Asia, will boost their outfit’s international credibility. Such ambitions have nothing to do with forging a Leninist international as their parochial basis for unity, “a socialist program for Australia today,” makes clear. If nothing else, they can spruik the merger to their relatively youthful and activist membership as evidence of continued growth, and peddle the illusion that SAlt is something other than the bureaucratic organisation that it is, hostile to workers democracy.
In the Vanguard of Capitalist Counterrevolution
With the spectacle of long-time cadre of the Fidelista Percyites dutifully lining up to be allowed in the doors of the hardened Stalinophobic Cliffites, some leftists have asked how these two groups can reconcile their seemingly major differences. As Solidarity helpfully pointed out, only four years ago the RSP referred to the “utter bankruptcy” of SAlt’s “state capitalist theory” while in a 2003 letter to the ISO, the SAlt leadership declared it was impossible to unite with the then Percy-led DSP because of “the DSP’s Stalinist politics.” However, the union not only illustrates the depth of reformist desperation in today’s reactionary climate, but it also underscores that there are no fundamental differences between the two brands of reformism on offer.
While they may have “theoretical” differences over Cuba or Vietnam, in practice both groups have always stood together on the imperialist side against the degenerated and deformed workers states when it counted. Both hailed Polish Solidarność, which spearheaded capitalist counterrevolution throughout Eastern Europe. In the name of capitalist democracy, and tailing the anti-Soviet Hawke Labor government at home, they cheered the 1991 counterrevolutionary coup in Moscow by Boris Yeltsin. This event opened the floodgates of capitalist counterrevolution leading to the destruction of the Soviet Union. Sure, Percy & Co. did not join the Cliffites to hail the CIA-funded Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin cutthroats against the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the early 1980s. However later that decade they joined the same imperialist chorus demanding the pull-out of the Red Army, whose intervention had posed the possibility of the liberation of Afghan women from pre-feudal servitude.
Today, even as the U.S., Japanese and Australian imperialists ramp up military and other pressure against the Chinese deformed workers state, the RSP fully agree with the Cliffites that the People’s Republic of China is a capitalist state, promoting anti-China sentiment amongst workers. In contrast to these reformists, we Trotskyists fought to the last in defence of the USSR and East European bureaucratically deformed workers states against capitalist counterrevolution. Today we stand for the unconditional military defence of the Chinese, North Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cuban deformed workers states. Within this framework we fight for workers political revolution to oust the ruling Stalinist castes which undermine the workers states, and to establish regimes based on soviet democracy and a proletarian internationalist program for world revolution.
Pro-imperialist Cheerleading: From East Timor to Libya
You would think that a fundamental starting point for any group in this country who says it is for socialism would be opposition to the Australian capitalist ruling class and its depredations abroad. However, in 1999, not only did Max Lane and other RSP cadre lead marches demanding the Australian imperialist military occupation of East Timor, to this day they consider these “troops in” mobilisations a high point of struggle. While SAlt are fond of claiming that they opposed sending Australian troops, in reality they enthusiastically joined the “troops in” marches with placards proclaiming “East Timor—Blood on Howard’s hands.” Tailing the “left” Laborite union tops, SAlt also promoted the chauvinist union bans against Indonesia, which in SAlt’s own words were “aimed at encouraging the Australian government to send in troops” (Socialist Alternative, October 1999). (See “Social Chauvinists and Shameless Opportunists,” ASp No. 195, Winter 2006.)
In 2003 during the imperialist bombardment of Iraq, SAlt and the current RSP leaders once again refused to take a side against the Australian imperialist military and stand for the military defence of neocolonial Iraq. Instead they helped build popular-frontist “anti-war” coalitions with “peace lovers” from all classes to appeal to the bourgeoisie for an end to the war. Today, amidst the turmoil in North Africa and the Near East, SAlt have been unabashed in supporting imperialist-backed oppositions in Syria and Libya, and promote the Egyptian Cliffite group, the Revolutionary Socialists, who until recently promoted the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood. While the RSP have so far baulked at embracing the Syrian opposition, they stood united with SAlt and SA in backing the murderous Libyan “rebels” in the name of the so-called “Libyan revolution.” Along with a whole gamut of other reformists, both groups have cheered the supposed “Arab revolutions.”
What unites these class-collaborationist opponents of revolutionary Marxism is their opposition to an independent proletarian axis, which stands opposed to imperialism and all bourgeois nationalism and religious backwardness. The liberation of the oppressed masses in neocolonial countries like Egypt requires proletarian seizure of power and its extension throughout the region to the imperialist centres. This is the program of permanent revolution, which outlines that in countries of belated capitalist development, the local bourgeoisie is too weak and tied to imperialism to relieve the many-layered oppression and backwardness characteristic of such countries.
Waterboys for Pro-Capitalist Union Bureaucrats
Where the shared appetites of SAlt and RSP leaders become particularly transparent is in their role as waterboys for the “left wing” of the union bureaucracy. Unions are the proletariat’s basic defence organisations against the bosses’ attacks, but their Laborite leaderships act as labour lieutenants for the capitalist class in the workers movement. Today both the RSP and SAlt eagerly promote the West Australian Maritime Union leadership, which has been in the forefront of the chauvinist campaign to blame overseas workers, not capitalism, for unemployment (see “No to Nationalist Poison—For Proletarian Internationalism!” ASp No. 216, Winter 2012). In opposition to the bureaucracy’s toxic protectionism we stand for full citizenship rights for overseas workers, and fight for united class struggle, for jobs for all at union rates and conditions.
These reformists act to cover for the patriotic Labor-loyal union tops who in turn promote the ALP, whose role in office is to rule on behalf of the racist and exploitative capitalist rulers. To the extent they have any influence both the RSP and SAlt helped to put the current capitalist administration in office by calling in 2010 for votes to the social-democratic ALP and bourgeois Greens. In doing so they peddled the usual lesser-evilism which keeps the workers and oppressed tied to the existing Australian capitalist state and its parliamentary facade. Calling for class-struggle opposition and noting that no party stood in the interests of workers and the oppressed, we Spartacists issued the call for “No vote to Labor! No vote to the bourgeois Greens!”
For a Leninist-Trotskyist Bolshevik Party
Both groups have been at pains to declare that their respective heritages should not be allowed to get in the way of unity. According to the RSP’s recent “Perspectives” document (9 October 2012), the clincher behind the unity negotiations was that SAlt’s leadership convinced the RSP that there would be no requirement to function along democratic-centralist lines, and that they had no problem publishing the RSP’s “alternative viewpoints on Cuba, Vietnam or Syria.” Everyone will be allowed keep their own politics and continue to argue for them publicly. Suddenly SAlt members (and others) have discovered that they’ve never had to defend the party line! While SAlt are not demanding Percy & Co. swear by the bogus “theory” of “state capitalism,” SAlt’s new Statement of Principles prominently affirms their anti-communist equation of Stalinism with fascism. Meanwhile the upcoming “Marxism” conference has no advertised sessions on Cuba, Venezuela or anything else related to Latin America!
The RSP and SAlt’s long list of betrayals and the supposed “anything-goes unity” that underlies this “regroupment” obviously gives the lie to their rhetoric about building “a Marxist party with clear program and principles...” (“A new kind of left unity,” www.sa.org.au, 2 November 2012). To resolve the contradiction between rhetoric and action, the SAlt leadership simply state they “do not subscribe to the view that ‘Leninism’ demands a party publication that only puts the views of majorities,” claiming this is a “caricature” of Leninism and Bolshevism. Actually it is SAlt’s self-serving dross that has nothing to do with Leninism or Bolshevism.
Lenin fought to build the Russian Bolsheviks (initially a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party) as a disciplined organisation based on a revolutionary political program. Following the betrayal of the Social Democracy in World War I, Lenin concluded that a complete break with reformist and opportunist elements was necessary, not only in Russia but also internationally, raising the call for a new, Third International. The organisational practice of the Bolsheviks was based on the principle of democratic-centralism, combining freedom of internal debate with discipline and unity in action (see Spartacist pamphlet, Lenin & the Vanguard Party, 1978). As American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon explained:
“Democratic-centralism is the specific principle of a combat party, united by a single program, which aims to lead a revolution. Social Democrats have no need of such a system of organization for the simple reason that they have no intention of organizing a revolution.”
— “Letter to Duncan Conway” (3 April 1953), reprinted in Speeches to the Party (1973)
In a January Internet exchange between SA’s Chris Slee and the RSP’s Allen Myers over what makes a revolutionary party, for all their ostensible differences, both were at pains to affirm that the Russian Revolution is not their model. This points to a fundamental truth: all these actors are opposed to the building of the only type of party which has proved capable of leading the working class to smashing the capitalist state and establishing its own class dictatorship. The revolutionary internationalist vanguard Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin was uniquely able to rise to this task because of its irreconcilable struggle against all manner of class-collaborators and opportunists of its day.
Opportunists by nature embark on one unprincipled manoeuvre after another in pursuit of perceived short-term advantage. Inevitably such manoeuvres end in shipwreck. In the course of the struggle to forge a revolutionary Bolshevik-type party, the demise of reformist flotsam like the RSP will barely rate a footnote and SAlt’s “new kind of left unity” will just be another sordid episode in the reformist shell game. As Marxist revolutionaries we fight to systematically assemble, through public and internal political struggle, the international cadre who will form the core of future proletarian vanguard parties capable of leading the working class in new October Revolutions on the road to a classless communist future.