by Vic Williams
The Communist Manifesto looks forward to socialism, to the working class forces involved and the final aim. It does not see the struggle as one culminating act, but a continuing struggle.
The Manifesto sees the first step in the revolution as the conquest of power “to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.”
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie ...
The aim is a socialist government but the path to it is a long and difficult one, and as the revolutionary struggles developed in different countries, the Marxist parties looked for allies to the working class among different classes and forces.
Lenin saw the value and the necessity of working with the forces of the bourgeois democratic revolution and the peasantry against the Czarist autocracy. The newly formed Communist Parties (in the 1920s) had to work out new steps in the class struggle, to look for allies among the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie and set out to make them part of a revolutionary movement.
But it was in the period of the unprecedented economic and political crises of the 1930s, with the development of fascism and preparations for new imperialist wars, that the international Communist parties were forced to work out new and more specific forms of struggle.
Wilhelm Pieck, the German Communist Party leader, speaking at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International held in 1935, outlined some of their problems and difficulties.
In the main, the Communist parties were comparatively young, inexperienced, short in numbers and insufficiently influential among the workers and the people. They did not have much influence on the spontaneous struggles of the trade unions and the unemployed.
The slogan “class against class” strengthened the Communist Parties, but when also interpreted as “class struggle” or “class collaboration with the bourgeoisie” and used to condemn the Social Democrats and the unions they controlled, it alienated them from possible allies.
The Red International of labour unions organised by Communist Parties played a role in attacking reformist trade union bureaucracy, but went too far in instructions to exclude Social Democrats and union leaders from committees of action on the grounds they were strikebreakers.
The French Communist Party was one of the first to achieve a united front with Social Democrats. When fascist bands marched on the streets of Paris in 1934, the Communist Party called the workers to oppose fascism with a political demonstration and a political general strike four days later. This massive movement of communist and social democratic workers forced the French Socialist Party leaders to consent to a united front with the Communist Party and laid the basis for united anti-fascist actions by the whole organised labour movement.
George Dimitrov’s historic speech at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International summed up the experiences and discussion of the Communist Parties on how to achieve a united front against war and fascism. He described fascism in power as “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.”
That definition showed the very wide possibilities of finding opposition to fascism.
Dimitrov saw the starting point and main content of the united front as the defence of the immediate economic and political interests of the working class. The calls to action and forms of struggle should fit in with the capabilities of the people and the organisations concerned. Such joint actions must aim to shift the burden of the crises onto the shoulders of the ruling class. Actions were vital for the defence of the rights of workers and for the protection of democratic liberties.
Dimitrov said Communists should seek united actions on demands put forward by Social Democrats and develop mass actions with them locally as a means of building towards greater united action, moving from short term to long term agreements, even to the forming of a United Front government. But there was no fixed pattern.
He examined the conditions under which such a government could come to power.
First, the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie must already be sufficiently disorganised and paralysed so that the bourgeoisie cannot prevent the formation of a government of struggle against reaction and fascism;
Second, the broadest masses of toilers, particularly the mass trade unions, must be in a violent state of revolt against fascism and reaction, but are not yet ready to rise in insurrection, to fight under Communist Party leadership for the achievement of Soviet power;
Third, the differentiation and leftward movement in the ranks of Social Democracy and other parties participating in the united front must already have reached the point where a considerable proportion of them demand ruthless measures against the fascists and other reactionaries, struggle together with the Communists against fascism, and openly come out against the reactionary section of their own party that is hostile to the Communism.
Dimitrov quoted Lenin as calling for Communists to “search out forms of transition or approach to the proletarian revolution”. He said that united front governments could prove to be one of the most important forms. However, such a government cannot bring a solution, for it is not in a position to overthrow the class rule of the exploiters and for that reason cannot finally eliminate the danger of fascist counter-revolution. Consequently it is necessary for Communists to prepare the class forces and allies for the socialist revolution.
Dimitrov would have been very interested in the developments in South Africa today.
There the state apparatus had been disorganised and partly paralysed. The defeats of the South African army in Angola put cracks in the military foundation; the Spear of the Nation (the armed wing of the ANC) widened them; the boycotts, strikes, and disobedience further disorganised the police and other state forces. The mass trade unions were in a state of revolt but not ready to rise in insurrection.
The major breakthrough was the unbanning of the SACP and the ANC. Each time the negotiations to end apartheid were stalled by the Government, massive demonstrations organised by the triple alliance forced the negotiations forward. The Government was knocked out, they knew they had to agree to elections; the elections were the count out. It is an unstable dual control. It has spread to the army with the inclusion of the soldiers of the Spear of the Nation; the police are balanced with moves for community police forums.
The debate in African Communist first quarter, 1997, between the SACP, the ANC and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) can be interesting reading with Dimitrov at one’s elbow.
The SACP Central Committee document looks at the two directions South Africa could take. One, the modernising of the National Democratic formation, to make it more competitive in the global stage, to stabilise and surpass the present crisis within a new capitalist order in the country. The old capitalists and the new emerging capitalist companies are driving in that direction.
The other, the thorough-going revolutionary transformation of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) under the leadership of the workers and the poor. It could also embrace a large majority of the middle strata and even sections of the emerging capitalists, a “patriotic bourgeoisie”.
The SACP points to real achievements by the broad NDR — “the work to adopt one of the most progressive constitutions in the world ... the dramatic curtailment of political violence ... the economy which in 1990 was heading for a major crash, has recovered with the ANC alliance, first before it took office and then in 1994 [when] the reform intensified and gathered pace.”
The organised trade unions spoke through COSATU. They quoted Marx: “We change the world but not under the conditions of our own choosing.” It made an analysis of the position of the people of South Africa, the international position with the financial domination by the major countries. It looked at the dual power; the elected ANC Government; the entrenched power of the apartheid era ruling class.
COSATU realises the danger of being only defensive; sees that it is necessary for the unions and the mass organisations to further mobilise the masses to carry out the Reconstruction and Development Program; for the state to be aligned with the progressive/worker dominated movement.
The ANC document worked out by senior ANC ministers and COSATU officials was more defensive, looking at the need to find stability in the face of World Trade Organisation and the world financial powers.
The SACP Deputy Chairman, Blade Nzimande, and the SACP Deputy General Secretary, Jeremy Cronin, both also prominent ANC members, criticised the ANC document where the goals of transformation are forgotten in a narrowminded pursuit of stability at all costs. It claims the ANC document sees the role of the state as a mediator between groups, between capital and labour.
COSATU as a whole and the SACP call for a state aligned to a progressive/worker dominated movement and mobilised mass formations. The struggle to change the nature of the state is a vital one for the future of socialism in South Africa.
It is likely that a long transition will be necessary. Dimitrov quoted Lenin on “the fundamental law of all revolutions” that for the masses propaganda and agitation alone cannot take the place of their own political experience, when it is a question of attracting really broad masses to the revolutionary vanguard without which victorious struggle for power is impossible.
The ANC, with a main aim of ending apartheid but not with a policy for socialism, is in somewhat the same position as Social Democracy with a considerable base in the trade unions. The SACP has established a sound united front with the ANC and COSATU and a mature and experienced party will ensure that, as much as possible, the alliance will be taken forward to a socialist South Africa.
How does the united front apply to Australia today? Can the Labor Party be involved? Does the CPA Political Resolution of 1997 put some doubt on the possibility?
It says: “Even though both major parties [Liberal and Labor] always claim that they are representing the interests of the Australian people as a whole, experience does not bear this out. Their first commitment is to the needs and demands of the big corporations.”
“ ... it (is) more imperative than ever to build in Australia an alternative political force (to Liberal and Labor?) which will be capable of establishing a new type of government."
While encouraging alternative political forces is essential, can such a government be established in Australia without sections of the Labor Party and the main trade unions under the influence of the Labor Party?
The SPA Program of 1984 says:
The corner-stone of correct revolutionary strategy requires the achievement of working class unity in action. The united front means the establishment of unity of action by all sections of the working class, in support of the economic and political interests of the workers ...
It means seeking the widest support and involvement of other working class activists, particularly ALP supporters, in carrying forward such united action ...
The SPA Program of 1992 says:
the Labor Party ... is, and will remain for some time, a main force in the political life of Australia. Its ranks include, at leadership and membership level many who express opposition to policies and practices of the party ...
Perhaps there would be advantage in revisiting Dimitrov and re-examining the possibilities for development of united fronts and people’s fronts in Australia and, as Dimitrov insisted, the indispensable role of Communists in these fronts.