The Program must set out what we stand for. It must accurately describe the world we live in, especially in Australia, where we do our work. It has to present our strategy for social development – the issues we see as important for the development of the struggle to achieve our aims, and the social forces we identify, especially those we consider as having an objective interest in progressive social change. It must show we are a scientific socialist organisation.
The Program cannot contain every detail, but should outline where we stand, which factors are important in assessing issues and processes. The Program is a long-lasting document, describing basic trends and establishing the principles from which we approach issues, briefly explaining social processes, guiding us in further activity.
Presentation of the Program
Throughout the period of the pre-Congress discussion we stressed the need to keep our Program accessible, understandable by the many non-party people who will read it. I think we have largely succeeded in this aim, without losing scientific accuracy or complexity.
Use of Program in everyday work - Program for Party activists
The spirit and content of the Program makes it a responsibility for Party members to strengthen their connections and involvement with the struggles of the Australian people for progressive social change.
Our Program is one for an active party – a party of activists. Not a party of activists without theory, but a party which does have a strategy for progressive social change, with the goal of a socialist society.
The Draft Program calls on us to replace declarations of where we stand with actual work and involvement, to really win others to our position. Paragraph 3.79 says: “It is not sufficient to state the aim of establishing a socialist Australia as the way to solve economic, political and social problems inherent in the capitalist system. It is also necessary to estimate the process of change, the nature of the transition from capitalism to socialism in Australia and to understand the issues and the class forces involved in such a change.”
Where are we now?
The current international scene is marked by economic crisis, instability, growing conflict, an upsurge in nationalism, racism and extreme right-wing forces. The collapse of the socialist states in Eastern Europe, especially the Soviet Union, has allowed the imperialist powers to gain the upper hand. The world is now a more dangerous place with the US going full steam ahead to implement its New World Order, to gain what it can for the crisis ridden capitalist system.
We are living through the most far-reaching political and economic changes in Australia we’ve witnessed this century. OECD policies, the policies of the transnationals, are being applied to the Australian economy, restructuring it to such an extent that it’s almost unrecognisable compared with twenty years ago.
Economic controls have been thrown to the wind by governments; privatisation is an everyday occurrence; trade union membership is at an all-time low; the growth of part-time, casual and contract work is out-pacing the growth of full-time jobs; enterprise agreements, without unions, and individual work contracts are now on the agenda; government spending on social welfare has been reduced compared to needs, and “user pays” is rife. There is widespread corruption, environmental devastation and massive unemployment. The proportion of manual and unskilled workers is declining. Every workplace is harnessing the results of the STR. Every day Australia’s role in our region confirms the imperialist nature of our foreign policy.
Our Program gives us a sketch of the problems we face.
But the Program also gives us a strong sense of the breadth of issues – the economy, democracy, peace, the environment – all taken up by the people to build a better life. It gives us our place in the world. Paragraph 4.1 says: “Around the world, millions upon millions of people take action on a great variety of issues. This is a positive factor of great historical importance, for it is the people, above all working men and women, who make history. Their activities and struggles are the motor for many of the political and economic changes which take place in society and are the guarantee of social progress.”
It is this perspective which imbues us with the historical optimism to carry the struggles forward.
And there are many struggles we have to be involved in: for jobs, for real wage rises, for the defence of the public sector against privatisation. The struggle to defend democratic rights is taking on increasing importance. Our comrades are involved in the union movement, the peace movement, in struggles for migrant rights, working to build links with farmers, for the protection of the environment and many more.
All these struggles should involve our party, because they involve the working class, farmers, intellectuals, small business people, Aboriginal people, migrants, women, youth. All these struggles bring the people into conflict with imperialism and monopoly. They need to be developed and co-ordinated into one mighty movement for a new way of life in Australia. This will put the achievement of the first stage of our Program on the agenda.
Paragraph 3.68 states “The first stage in the process of transition to socialism is directed against state-monopoly capitalism, aiming to weaken the power of monopoly and to extend the democratic rights and participation of the people. Australia is now in the initial stage of this process.”
When we reach a very advanced stage of this process we’ll be intensely involved in the real struggle for a new type of government. What we call a Government of People’s Unity will really be on the agenda. We’ll be in the midst of the battle to have such a government elected.
A number of weaknesses were identified in the original draft, including the absence of substantive sections on unemployment, women, the environment, all areas of concern to masses of people. The new draft has remedied this.
The last section has policies on immediately important issues, but also presents a brief precis of our philosophical position, the principles which guide our policies in each area. Activists are daily faced with questions about the way forward for their struggle, which is consistent with party policy. If a party member cannot turn to their own program to answer these questions, then the program fails to guide the work of the party.
The Draft Program before us does not fail in this task. It is a real guide for action.
For example, in the area of unemployment. What does the party say causes unemployment? The Program tells us: exploitation, which leads to overproduction; restructuring, including the introduction of new technology intended to reduce the number employed; multi-skilling; speed-ups; cuts in working conditions; exporting of jobs to cheaper production zones; government policies to reduce government spending. We don’t blame the victims or reduce the causes to government policy alone.
Following this, we have a number of policies, both immediate and longer-term.
Similarly with other issues. There are some issues such as wages, the sections on intellectual and professional workers, small business and public transport, which I think could be developed more in this section, but that will have to wait for another time.
Nonetheless, this section is a good outline of immediate issues and should be used by all as a regular reference.
There are some important strategic points in our Program which I would like to discuss.
• Emphasis on our work in Australia
The Program puts the emphasis on our job here. This is a significant change for us. The Program we adopted at our 6th Congress in 1988 begins with a look at Our Epoch, imperialism and State-Monopoly Capitalism, The General Crisis of Capitalism, The World Revolutionary Process, and other topics, taking one third of the Program, before it makes any detailed analysis of Australia.
The balance in our new Program has radically changed. In an article in May this year, Gus Hall from the CPUSA gave some rationale for this shift.
He said: “For parties in the capitalist world, the one-sidedness of a focus on socialism without the class struggle exposes a very significant flaw in tactics. It assumes that workers, and people generally, will move toward revolution and socialism based on what happens in some other country. This is a false concept, no matter how positive foreign developments are, at one moment or another.
“Workers join trade unions, and people join the struggle, and the Communist Party, based on their own self-interest; they join because Communists have solutions to the problems they face, problems that cannot be solved under capitalism. Developments in other countries, including socialist countries, are not the basis for solving the problems they face.”
• Building the Political Alternative
Paragraph 3.8 says: “It is necessary to build a left oriented, politically progressive force, strong enough to challenge and break the two-party monopoly. This alternative must be the aim of and arise out of the demands and mass actions of the working people.” Building a political alternative is not just a matter for election time. Working with other left/progressive forces has to become part and parcel of our daily work.
The objective basis for such an alternative is there throughout the year. Paragraph 3.14 reminds us “There are already a large number of issues on which there are similar or identical policy positions held by a number of existing political parties, independents, trade unions, other public organisations and single issue mass movements.”
The aim of such a left/progressive coalition is stated in paragraph 3.16: “Its aim must be to win government so that its policies can be implemented. It must not see itself as merely a ginger group pushing existing governments to implement better policies.”
• New Democratic Economic System
The focus of the Program is on the necessity to build a political alternative, which is the embryo of a Government of People’s Unity. It is under such a government that a New Democratic Economic System (NDES) can be struggled for and built. The new Program develops our party’s thinking, begun at the 4th Congress, when the concept of the NDES was introduced.
The NDES is not yet socialism. It is a stage in the transition to socialism.
It is important for us to realise that the changes envisaged in the NDES must be struggled for over a long period of time.
Electing a new type of government – a Government of People's Unity as we call it – is not an automatic guarantee we’ll have extensive structural change.
Our new Program says in paragraph 3.22 “These changes will take a considerable time to bring about and cannot be implemented simultaneously. As more and more of them are introduced and consolidated, the present dictatorship of capital will be replaced by the power of the working people, expressed through a popular government.”
The class struggle, the battle for demands, rights, and ultimately, for power, continues through the stage of the NDES.
How do we see the NDES differing from socialism?
A Government of People’s Unity will be elected on a program of far-reaching demands. To build the NDES it will have to restructure society, politically and economically in favour of the people’s forces, that is the working class and its allies.
The imperialist opposition, the monopolies, are still there, with their grip on the economy and the state apparatus. Every reform, every progressive measure will have to be fought for and won, and defended!
The original Draft Program over-estimated the stage of development at which the NDES would be introduced. It talked of the people’s movements taking power. Some of this has been recognised and corrected in the draft before us. There is still more work to be done in this direction.
The NDES is, in a sense, a stage of the class struggle in which the people’s forces are struggling in coalitions and alliances which will become increasingly politically united.
There will be successes and setbacks, but most importantly there will be much learned about how to advance the program of the Government of People’s Unity, how to fight the resistance of imperialism and monopoly, and, what is needed to secure the gains made. The struggles the people fight in building and consolidating the NDES will really put the need for socialism on the agenda.
• Our attitude to the ALP
This has always been a point of fervent discussion in the party. The recent discussion in the Guardian, prompted by work in elections, reminded us again of the importance and contentious nature of this issue.
We recognise the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as being the major political and ideological influence in the working class. These days it receives much support from business, the middle class and professionals, but still, over 70 per cent of its membership is working class.
This Draft Program makes a very important point in paragraph 5.34 “However, the social origin of the members and supporters of a party do not determine its character. It is the party's ideological position which is the determining factor.” This sweeps aside the old description of the ALP as being “a two-class party”.
Our Program defines the ALP as a social-democratic party. It seeks government not to change the system, but to administer capitalism. It rejects the need for class struggle and under the right-wing leadership, in government for the last decade, has done everything to bury it.
Any social reforms the ALP (either the membership or government) seeks to bring about are conceived of solely as reforms to capitalism and many changes are brought about through compromises with capitalism and concessions to the system.
The ALP, especially in government, claims to represent all people, not just, and lately not mainly, the working class. The ALP, as a party, is permeated with the hope that social justice can be combined with private enterprise. This allows the openly right-wing forces to introduce and implement many anti-working class policies. ALP governments carry out openly pro-business policies, which are presented, however, as policies to benefit the nation, to revive the economy. The many sections which support the ALP (the trade union leaders, many working class people etc) have been carried along by this rhetoric.
Disillusionment and frustration among ALP members and supporters is growing, and is a major factor in the increasing breakdown of the two-party system.
We cannot tar all in the ALP with the same brush, even though the present right-wing leadership have a tight grip on the party and policy. Some in the ALP are committed to reforms in the interests of the people. There is a common basis for us to work with such people, in many progressive struggles. If the left/progressive movement does not win such people to a better understanding and a better political position they will remain forever with their hopes of a better capitalism.
• The role of the Socialist Party
I think Chapter 6 on “The Role of the Socialist Party” is a succinct outline of the party’s character and tasks.
We seek to apply Marxist-Leninist theory to our work in Australia. We base ourselves on the working class and we recognise the class struggle as the motivating force for change.
We are an independent party, responsible for our own work and at the same time we are an internationalist party, part of the international communist and workers movement. This is an important statement at a time when nationalism is rife and has done so much damage to some communist parties, especially in former socialist countries.
Why should we value these characteristics of our party? Because they allow us to effectively achieve our aims. Paragraph 6.7 states: “It is our aim to develop the Socialist Party into a party capable of helping to educate, organise, lead, unite and fight together with all politically progressive forces in building a broad people’s movement with the working class as its core.”
That’s what we’re about! We are confident communists can play a decisive role, if guided by Marxism. In order to do this each and every member has to be closely connected with the people. We can’t give leadership from afar. If we don’t have party activists among the people, if we’re not in the thick of things, helping to build the mass movements, if people don’t see us or hear from us, then we will not fulfill what our program demands from us.
Paragraph 6.12 is a most important paragraph which should guide every one of us. “The Socialist Party of Australia seeks to establish its political leadership by winning support for its policies and the respect earned by its members for their commitment and activities in the struggles of the working people. Winning acceptance for SPA policies depends much on our ability to work democratically side by side with others, arguing our position while respecting the views of others and, at each stage, helping to unify the politically progressive and socialist forces.”
The role of the Guardian is central to this process and the Program obliges all party members to distribute our paper to “develop a wide readership amongst working class and progressive people.”
There are some new sections in the Program. We have a section “Changes in the composition of classes” to recognise some of the major changes flowing from the Scientific and Technological Revolution (STR). The intellectual component of many jobs is increasing, demanding a more highly educated workforce. The growing need for skilled and semi-skilled workers has drawn a large number of rural workers and petty bourgeoisie into the workforce. This effects the class consciousness of the working class.
Another new section is “The Developing Countries”. Developing countries are important. Over seventy per cent of the world’s population live in these former colonial countries. They are exploited as a massive source of wealth by imperialism. Transnationals control almost forty per cent of their industrial production. Their relationship with the advanced capitalist world is one of massive financial dependence, brought about by their exploitation. The major problem is the so-called “debt crisis”.
One way imperialism has contributed to distorting the economies in these countries is by involving them in the arms race, another tentacle of their dependence on imperialism. The arms race and underdevelopment are two sides of the same coin. There is a chapter on the Asia-Pacific region in our Program. This region is full of developing countries and is the fastest growing arms importing region in the world, accounting for close to one third of the world’s arms imports.
The social and economic problems of these nations means their people suffer enormous poverty, astronomical rates of unemployment and widespread starvation. The extremes of wealth and poverty found in developing countries have given rise to struggles for social justice, in the main, struggles for sovereignty and genuine economic independence.
The Third World has taken on an added importance with the decline of many former socialist countries. The anti-imperialist character of the struggles in many of the developing countries is a crucial factor, if not in the world’s balance of forces, then certainly in the various regions of the world.
That is why in our own region, the Asia-Pacific area, Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Indonesia for example, is so important in maintaining imperialist domination of this area. The independence struggles of the people of Bougainville, Fiji and East Timor are important struggles deserving of support by the progressive movement in Australia, including our party.
The section on the environment is much improved in this Program. It’s not new for us to deal with environmental protection. What is new in the Program is the specific recognition of the many environmental issues, and specific policy points to deal with each problem. This gives us a better understanding of environmental protection and regeneration.
Paragraph 11.171 says: “The environmental struggle raises consciousness about humanity’s relationship with nature, stresses social responsibility and the need for democratisation of decision making about environmental issues.” Above all it raises the question of property – ownership and control of the earth’s resources.
The working class movement has to be much more concerned with the many issues affecting the air we breath, the water we drink and the land we live on. Some of our comrades have been active in environmental struggles, against toxic waste dumps and toxic waste incinerators, but not nearly enough of us. The Program will be a valuable guide in this work.
How does the Program assess the crisis in the former socialist countries?
The section on socialism gives an outline of the achievements of socialism and it is correct that we recognise them.
We can no longer talk of the “countries of the socialist world” as we did in our previous Program, but we do say in paragraph 10.15 that “The political map of the world is now vastly different and in many ways better than at the turn of the century. These changes are due to the victories of the socialist revolutionary movements and to the struggles of the working people everywhere.”
In assessing the crisis in the former socialist countries, our Program reflects the theses we adopted at our Special Congress in October 1990.
There are many reasons for the crisis. The erosion of real working class power; underdeveloped socialist democracy; bureaucratic over-centralisation in the economy; failure to comprehensively take advantage of the STR; distorted application of egalitarian concepts; going to far too soon; underestimating the danger from imperialism; confusion on the role of the party; limited, and in some cases, fragmented development of Marxist-Leninist ideology.
Many mistakes resulted which caused mass dissatisfaction. Imperialism took advantage of these in its attempts to destroy socialism. In assessing the crisis in the socialist countries we should never forget the importance of our Marxist-Leninist ideology. We will be guilty of this if we underestimate the negative role, the mistakes and in some instances, the crimes, of both right revisionism and left sectarianism.
Does the Program re-affirm our socialist stand?
There were some expressions of opinion that the original Draft Program did not make sufficiently clear our stand for socialism. It is stated in unmistakably bold terms in this draft. The opening paragraph of the Program says “The Socialist Party of Australia has as its aim the establishment and development of a socialist society in Australia.”
Paragraph 1.25 describes what we understand by socialism, namely “ ... the public ownership of the means of production, the planning of economic development and the elimination of the exploitation of labour for private profit. Socialism ends the domination of the capitalist class as the ruling class ... ”
We underline this position in paragraph 1.30 with the fundamental Marxist-Leninist proposition that the period we live in is that of the transition from capitalism to socialism. In Chapter Ten we re-affirm that socialism is not dead, and that the world needs more socialism, not less.
The latter half of Chapter Ten, on Socialism, answers common questions as to how we see a socialist society in Australia.
But it must be stressed that what is on the political agenda now is given priority in our Program. We have to show that we recognise our objective reality. We will not achieve a socialist society without the struggle to build the New Democratic Economic System. Our dialectics demands this!
We can argue theoretically about the need for socialism but our arguments should centre on the practical benefits socialism would bring to people in Australia. In practice, for most people, the continuing relevance of socialism will be judged by our relevance, whether we in our work have something to say about today’s problems. Do we have solutions? Do we organise struggle?
This has been shown time and again in practice. And where we win credibility and leadership on a particular issue, over a period of time, people will listen to what we have to say on more general issues. There are no shortcuts!
The period we are in is a difficult one for the party. These are depressed economic times and there is much ideological pressure on party members. There are dangers from the growing reactionary policies of governments of all shades.
Yet this has been a period of learning and re-learning, and what we have learned we have tried to reflect in our Program. This is a period of immense opportunity for our party because whichever way we turn there is some form of struggle taking place.
I am confident that our Program is historically relevant, is a valuable guide to action and will help to make the Socialist Party of Australia a party of activists!