Communist Party of Australia

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Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 29May 1992

Modern Liquidationism

by Peter Symon

Liquidationism has once again become a trend in a number of communist parties. It is not a new problem and arises when difficulties and stagnant periods are experienced by the revolutionary movement.

Liquidationist elements became dominant in the leadership of some of the ruling parties of some socialist states. The consequences were the liquidation of the parties or their transformation, the victory of counter-revolutionary forces and moves to liquidate socialism and restore capitalism.

Sections of the membership in a number of the parties in the capitalist and third world countries were affected by the setbacks to socialism and the defeats suffered by the parties in a number of the socialist countries. The difficulties confronting communist parties in these countries and the existence of opportunist and compromising trends also contributed to a resurgence of liquidationism.

Lenin, and before him Marx and Engels, waged struggles against those who, on one pretext or another, sought to liquidate or transform the revolutionary organisations of their time.

It is only in moments of candor that the liquidationists say openly that their aim is to bury their parties. More often, their first declarations are calls for “renewal” and “change”.

They make use of undoubted weaknesses which are to be found in all parties. There are always examples of dogmatism and sectarianism which can be easily converted into seemingly valid complaints and criticisms that often cover up other equally dangerous errors.

A statement of the Initiative Group which emerged just before the 25th Convention of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), held in December 1991, declares:

“We need, a fresh approach to the developing left and progressive currents in the trade union movement. This should be part of a new approach to the problem of organising the unorganized and building multi-racial, multi-national class unity ... A kind of simplistic interpretation of a class approach has led us to pay scant attention to the very dynamic women’s movement ... It does not serve the best interests of our movement to respond to new developments and unexpected turns of events with name-calling ... “

The statement of the Initiative Group is headed An Initiative to Unite and Renew the Party.

As long ago as 1967, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) declared that the party was “seeking to widen its contribution to the labour movement and the left by deeper marxist theoretical study and analysis of Australia’s social reality and problems and by developing realistic policies and activity in all spheres of life and thought”.

Taken at their face value, these statements sound laudable. Who can be against renewal or blind to change? The necessity for change is inherent in the dialectical development of society.

At the time of this statement, the leadership of the CPA actually argued against liquidationism. Some “claim that the CPA should be dissolved or restricted to educational work and that its members should join the Labor Party. However, such a step would weaken rather than strengthen the influence of marxist ideas ... ” Subsequent developments proved that the CPA had already at this time set its foot on the path towards organisational liquidation, a step which it finally took in 1991.

The real question is how the party should be renewed, on what ideological basis, by adopting which organisational principles? The question about what is to be changed has also to be specifically answered.

In this respect, the Initiative Group of the US makes only vague suggestions with calls to “democratise our Party” and to “update our concept of socialism”. Their statement leaves one wondering how precisely this should be done.

Associated with calls for “renewal”, liquidationism in Australia took the form of downgrading the role of the working class. This appears to be the second step in the liquidationist process.

“To look for a ‘leading class’ among these strata (those owning no means of production - PS) in the classical way that the bourgeois class held leadership ... is to try to apply a model which does not fit”. (E Aarons, Philosophy for an Exploding World, p 127. See footnote)

In justification, it is claimed that the working class has been incorporated into the production process and is, therefore, no longer interested in revolutionary change.

The changes in the composition of the working class and, in particular, the decline in the proportion of blue collar workers relative to the total number of the working class are also used in this argument.

It was argued by the CPA leadership that the revolutionary movement will not be “the workers” or “the intellectuals” or any other stratum as such, but the revolutionary minded elements from among them all that must make themselves into a social force. “Any competition within this force should not be for leadership in the sense of the primacy of one group over another ... “ (E Aarons, Philosophy for an Exploding World, p 126-127) **

This contained not only an approach which downgrades the role of the working class but accepts ideological pluralism within the party and relegates the role of a revolutionary working class party based on scientific socialism. And that is the inevitable consequence of the liquidationist trend in today’s communist movement.

Simultaneous with the downgrading of the role of the working class goes an upgrading of the role of “youth” and the “intellectually trained” who are seen as the “new” leading core of the revolutionary movement. It is from this source that the leading cadres are to be found both for the party and other working class organisations.

The employment of university graduates as researchers and industrial advocates in the trade union movement of Australia is a very marked feature nowadays. It is not long before such appointees move into the Executives and policy making bodies of the trade unions even though many have not had any work experience in the industry concerned and no direct experience of class struggle.

These characteristics of the liquidationist trend, in the form they took in Greece, are summed up in the Theses for the 14th Congress of the Communist Party of Greece (CPG):

“ ... the overall social composition of the Party was neglected and began to deteriorate ... This was at the expense of the promotion of cadres from the working class, both its traditional core and its new dynamic sections. The increased needs of the Party led objectively to the promotion of cadres with their educational level as the basic criterion.” (Theses, 14th Congress of CPG, English edition, p 34)

At the same time, attempts are made to downgrade Marxism-Leninism and to present it as one among a number of relevant ideologies.

The CPG comments: “In the place of scientific socialism they propose an assortment of so-called new left-wing theory, with its main feature being a blend of conflicting ideas borrowed from the theory of the classics, social democracy and bourgeois thought and ideology.”

In rejecting the idea that the collapse of specific regimes in the socialist countries means the decline of communist theory and ideology, the CPG says that “he theory of scientific socialism draws its strength and vitality from the fact that it expresses the interests of the working class and the true needs of all working people. The transformation of the theory into a system of doctrines and stereotypes which do not correspond to evolving reality is contrary to its founders' creative spirit and to the inherent requirement of the theory itself for constant development.” (Theses, 14th Congress of CPG, English edition, p 42-43)

The 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), held in 1986, declared:

The most important source of the Party’s strength and Invincibility Is the Indestructible Ideological and organisational cohesion of the Party ... the CPSU is invariably guided by the time tested Marxist-Leninist principles of proletarian, socialist Internationalism”. (emphasis in the original)

However, the draft program prepared for the 29th Congress – which was to have been held at the end of 1991 but was never convened – replaced Marxism-Leninism “by taking on board the entire gamut of socialist and democratic ideas produced by this country and the rest of the world”.

In a climate of denigration and criticism, it is not difficult to drop the term Marxism-Leninism or scientific socialism in favour of small “m” Marxism, and then to drop any reference at all to Marxism.

The reason for this down-grading of Marxism-Leninism arises from the real ideological position of the liquidationist trend. It derives from petty-bourgeois and reformist ideology which are in turn derivatives of idealism and metaphysics. This ideology underpins the class rule of the bourgeoisie.

“Liquidationism is a deep-seated social phenomenon, indissolubly connected with the counter-revolutionary mood of the liberal bourgeoisie, with disintegration and break-up in the democratic petty bourgeoisie. The liberals and petty-bourgeois democrats are trying in thousands of ways to demoralise the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party (communists - PS), to undermine and overthrow it, to clear the ground for the sort of legal workers’ associations in which they could achieve success,” wrote Lenin as long ago as 1909. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 16, p 100)

At best the liquidationists preserve an eclectic of bits and pieces of Marxist phrases. One much used term among the liquidationists is “creative marxism”. The very essence of Marxism is creative with an essential element of dialectics being the recognition of constant change in all things.

It is often at this point that those who are criticised start complaining about “name calling” and claim they are really interested in “discussion”, “dialogue” and “a creative development of our theory, policies and practice to take the new developments into account”.

Once again, who can be against discussion? However, the realities are somewhat different as the factionalism and pre-convention manoeuvring of the Initiative Group in the USA showed. CPUSA Chairman Gus Hall said of developments in that Party:

“A year or so ago, I proposed that we put more emphasis on finding the path to consensus. We have tried many ways, many times to find the way to unity through consensus. But this has not resulted in any decrease in factional activity ... As time went by, the factional activities moved more and more outside of the Party structure ... After coming to the conclusion that they could not win their opposition views within the Party’s collectives or by majority rule, they decided to organise a factional campaign outside the Party’s structure in order to win a base in the membership ... In the name of ‘new thinking’ and ‘change and renewal’ and under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of discussion and debate’, every form of pressure and coercion has been used.” (Report by Gus Hall to the 25th Convention of the CPUSA, p 34-37)

The Communist Party of Greece had similar experiences. Their Theses (p 40) say:

“The effort made by the majority in the CC to deal with the problems by means of persuasion and the creation of a climate of trust with the other forces in the Coalition proved to be ineffective. The developments which followed confirm that the way in which the Coalition then evolved and its confrontation with the CPG had been pre-determined and did not depend on how the whole matter was handled”.

These are not arguments against “discussion” but to achieve party unity it is necessary to look beyond “good intentions”, “personalities” and “methods of work”.

Lenin, also dealing with the problems of liquidationism and party unity, wrote:

“ ... unification does not necessarily take place among ‘given persons, groups and institutions’, but irrespective of the given persons ... unity is inseparable from its ideological foundation, it can grow only on the basis of increasing ideological rapprochement ... not by accidental connection between particular polemical statements or this or that literary controversy, but by an internal, indissoluble link such as that which binds cause and effect.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 16, p 214)

Increasingly, the liquidationists challenge the “relevance” of the party. They bemoan its often small size and, in a number of countries, its undoubted relative isolation from the masses of the people. But isn't this a capitulation to the difficulties confronting every revolutionary party in a non-revolutionary situation and a defeatist response to the recent setbacks to the international communist movement and to socialism?

Some who are not able to cope with such difficulties leave the party, join social democratic parties or retire altogether from politics. Others try to find a solution in the transformation of the parties into what amounts to a left-social democratic or radical type petty-bourgeois party.

In Australia, this has taken the form of the New Left Party which was created by the remainder of the adherents of the Communist Party of Australia at the point of its liquidation.

In Greece, a similar form is to be seen in the Coalition of the Left and Progress. In Britain, the "Democratic Left” emerged from the ruins of the Communist Party of Great Britain at the time of its liquidation by the leadership.

In the USA, where the road to liquidation is only just beginning, the Initiative Group criticises the proponents of industrial-concentration and claim that the leadership of the Party “did not sufficiently appreciate the political potential of Jesse Jackson’s two presidential campaigns and the Rainbow Coalition.” (Crossroads January 1992, p 3)

For those who have been through long campaigns against liquidationism, the liquidationist essence of these first references are easy to recognise. They lead eventually to the liquidation of the party.

In each case, the new formations are an attempt to bring under one umbrella, either in the form of a new political party or in the form of a coalition, numerous left and progressive organisations and movements, not in coalition with the revolutionary party but against it, not on the basis of class politics but on the basis of reforms and conciliation. The concept involves devaluing the party’s role in favour of the movements created by the largely spontaneous struggles.

The former leaders of the Communist Party of Australia use the term “intervention” when talking about their strategy of change. But “intervention” (against the exploitation and oppression of the system of capitalism) in practice means no more than left/radical expressions and demands which go no further than reforms within the system of capitalism. This is how things have worked out in practice.

The Communist Party of Greece comments: “The group which has left the CPG has adopted the social democratic revisionist concept of the transition to socialism. Their view of socialist society has much in common with the theory of ‘popular capitalism’. In essence they defend the concept of a social system based on maintaining capitalist ownership of the main means of production, and the reconciliation of antagonistic classes. They elevate democracy from a form of political organisation to a static general principle”. (Theses, 14th Congress of CPG, English edition, p 44)

In the current situation, the consequences of liquidationism are not limited to the weakening or even destruction of a particular communist party. As the experience in several socialist countries shows, this trend opens the door to the political representatives of counter-revolution and leads to the liquidation of socialism as well.

Right revisionism and opportunism, born of the difficulties of the struggle, is these days not just a deviation but a terminal disease unless it is checked and defeated in time.

** E Aarons is the brother of L Aarons who was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia at the time the Party took the first steps on its liquidationist course. E Aarons wrote Philosophy for an Exploding World in 1972, offering a theoretical underpinning for the course being followed by the Party, including the assertion that “classical marxist” attempts at political analysis “fail because they keep within the framework of the primacy of ownership over all other social relations and the determination of consciousness by these ownership relations, while other vital aspects are ignored or minimised”. The CPA finally liquidated itself in 1991.

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