Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.


Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 68September 2018

“Left” errors – opportunism in “revolutionary” camouflage

Stalin was once asked by a foreign journalist where the greatest threat to Soviet power came from – left errors or right ones. He replied that it came from the ones they were paying least attention to. At a speech to the executive committee of the Communist International held in Moscow in 1926, he had this to say on the topic:

This idea of equity, of striking at the Rights and “ultra-Lefts” with equal intensity under all conditions and circumstances, is childish. It is one that no politician can entertain. The question of the fight against the Rights and “ultra-Lefts” must be regarded not from the standpoint of equity, but from the standpoint of the demands of the political situation, of the political requirements of the Party at any given moment ...

It should not be forgotten that Rights and “ultra-Lefts” are actually twins, that consequently both take an opportunist stand, the difference between them being that whereas the Rights do not always conceal their opportunism, the Lefts invariably camouflage their opportunism with “revolutionary” phrases.

Stalin made a timeless and utterly valid point. Both “left” and right errors, if allowed to determine the policy of the Party, actively disarm the working class politically and ideologically. Lenin devoted considerable energies during his whole uniquely active political life to combatting the open opportunism of the right – the Mensheviks and other unstable political forces. In later life, he was obliged to devote additional energies to combatting the “left” in the domestic and international Communist movement. Ironically, a lot of the “left’s” impatience and utterly inappropriate tactics drew inspiration from the epoch-making events of 1917 while completely ignoring the actual tactics of the Bolsheviks in leading revolutionary change in Russia.

Right opportunism is still by far the greatest danger to the Communist movement in Australia and countries with a similar political landscape. The modern Australian labour movement has always been under the sway of social democratic ideas that never challenged the control of capital. Decades of increased ideological attack and efforts to marginalise socialist ideology have taken place following the introduction of the Hawke Labor government’s Wages and Incomes Accord in 1983.

The ideological assault has been accompanied by a legislative one, particularly following the election of the Howard Liberal government in 1996. The cumulative effect of all these changes has been devastating on the Australian working class’ expectations for progressive change. This is reflected in and worsened by the attitude of trade union leaderships committed to the narrow electoral strategy of the Australian Labor Party.

Every now and then, hopes for a change of direction in social democratic parties are fanned. UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, would-be US Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and, recently, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have all fanned hope for a renewal of social democracy. Right opportunism has had an injection of hope for its failed political project.

If anybody needs a reminder of the real nature of this renewed interest in “socialism” from this source, a read of the US democratic socialists credo should suffice:

A Democratic Socialist is not a Marxist Socialist or a Communist. A Democratic Socialist is one who seeks to restrain the self-destructive excesses of capitalism and channel the Government’s use of our tax money into creating opportunities for everyone.

Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically – to meet public needs, not make profits for a few.

A Democratic Socialist does no want to destroy private corporations, but does want to bring them under greater democratic control. The government could use regulations and tax incentives to encourage companies to act in the public interest and outlaw destructive activities such as exporting jobs to low-wage countries and polluting our environment. Most of all socialists look to unions to make private business more accountable.

While the goals of curbing the excesses of corporations and strengthening unions are worthy ones and some progress is possible to a limited extent under capitalism, the idea of “greater democratic control” over private corporations to any significant degree is fanciful. It ignores the reality of capitalist ruling class power. “Democratic socialists” have no intention of angering that beast or pressing for true, democratic working class power over the economy or society.

So, while we know where this sort of thinking leads us (we’ve landed in our current predicament as a result of over a century of it in Australia), the current surge of “democratic socialist” notions promises more distraction from genuine socialist ideas and the possibility of action flowing from them. The defeat of this thinking is a major objective for the Communist Party of Australia as it seeks to inject more challenging analysis and action into the ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign.

“Left” errors

While right errors are more common and more dangerous to the labour movement in Australia at the moment, “left” errors are also diverting many from taking up the appropriate ideological and political approach. The internet has provided an audience for these dated and sterile notions. To see just how dated they are, a read or re-read of Lenin’s “ ‘Left-Wing’ Communism an Infantile Disorder” is recommended.

Lenin wrote the essay in 1920 about the “left-wing” tactics of some in the European Communist movement. Their petty bourgeois recipe for a short, direct route to a soviet republic? No participation in reactionary trade unions, no participation in bourgeois parliaments and “no compromises”, in fact pretty much the opposite of the tactics used by the Bolsheviks to lead the workers to state power.

On their road to victory the Bolsheviks had to “tack” (Lenin’s word), enter alliances with the Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and, for a short period, the bourgeois group around Peter Struve. They worked in reactionary trade unions and other organisations where the masses of workers were organised. To achieve their aims, they worked in a principled way combining legal work (for which the “lefts” had contempt) and illegal work.

The “lefts” in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK were having none of that. Soviet power had made bourgeois parliaments and reactionary trade unions irrelevant, they said. Supporters of the Bolsheviks must withdraw immediately from those organisations, form revolutionary trade unions and (somehow) go directly to Soviet power in their respective countries. They opposed “leaders” who they said were separated from the masses, regardless of the merit of their leadership, in favour of the “masses” with whom they had even less connection. This attitude didn’t stop them from throwing up a batch of alternative, unauthentic leaders of their own, however.

Lenin pilloried these ideas. Writing about the “lefts” attitude to participation in bourgeois parliaments, he wrote:

We must not regard what is obsolete to us as something to a class, to the masses. Here again we find the “Lefts” do not know how to reason, do not how to act as the party of a class, as the party of the masses. You must not sink to the level of the masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class. That is incontestable. You must tell them the bitter truth. You are in duty bound to call their bourgeois democratic prejudices for what they are – prejudices. But at the same time, you must soberly follow the actual state of the class-consciousness and preparedness of the entire class (and not just its communist vanguard), and of all the working people (not only their advanced elements).

It is frustrating to see the misguided notions of these “lefts” acquiring a new audience almost 100 years after the publication of “ ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: an Infantile Disorder” and the emphatic, practical demonstration of their error by the building of the world’s first socialist state. But today it is possible to find a flickering existence of all these deviations on the internet. The Industrial Workers of the World is there as a shadow of its turn of the twentieth century self, calling on workers to abandon their reactionary trade unions. All sorts of characters and grouplets attack the CPA for participating in elections when we muster the resources and, supposedly thereby, “encourage bourgeois democratic illusions”. So much for the admiration of Bolshevik tactics!

The parade of Facebook “lefts” is not without its amusing side. One US-based “left” group, the Leading Light Communist Organisation (LLCO) puts forward the most “advanced” and “revolutionary” of these sterile platforms. A visit to their website is an invitation to escape reality and settle into another world of vicarious revolutionism. Point three of their ambitious (!) program summarises their outlook:

We want New Socialism on a global scale – the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the 21st century. The victory of People’s War may initially lead an anti-imperialist alliance of classes to topple the neo-colonial old powers across the Proletarian World, but there will be little momentum towards communism without a New Socialist proletarian dictatorship, leading with the revolutionary science of Leading Light Communism. The New Socialist regimes must unite and impose their hegemony, not only on the defeated neo-colonial lackeys of the Bourgeois World, but on the Bourgeois World as a whole. The Proletarian World must impose its dictatorship onto the Bourgeois World whether the Bourgeois World wants it or not.

No class struggle going on here!

According to the LLCO, the world is divided into the first world and the third world or, to be faithful to the texts, the “bourgeois world” and the “proletarian world”. The preference for this terminology rather than the more conventional one derives from the fact that the terms “first world” and “third world” come from Mao’s “Three Worlds Theory” in which the “First World” was comprised of the US and Soviet “superpowers”. Of these two, the chief enemy of the international working class was the USSR which, supposedly, was the most aggressive “imperialism”. It claimed (supposedly falsely) to be socialist and thus misled many workers. LLCO recognises Mao’s misguided practical support for US imperialism in this later period of his influence on the politics of the People’s Republic of China.

While not rejecting the genuine importance of Mao, the group prefers the even more dogmatic views of Lin Biao. Their site is full of the iconography of the Cultural Revolution and images of other people’s revolutions. It is the go-to site for revolutionary fantasists.

The seriously regrettable side of the groups minor impact is that it neutralises the enthusiasm of adherents in countries like ours for the class struggle going on around them. According to Leading Light Communists, there is no working class in the “Bourgeois World”. They experience no exploitation. There is no class struggle going on here. Of course, this would be news to people actually working and being robbed of the wealth they produce in countries like Australia! Leading Light Communists are encouraged to wait for the inevitable uprising in the “Proletarian World”, where conditions are allegedly rotten ripe for revolution.

One of the countries where the LLCO is apparently leading this uprising is Ghana.

Glory to our Ghanaian comrades and their leadership team! You have made such incredible progress in just one year. From your constant mass work, initiation of agricultural projects and rural education centres, your expansion into the Volta Region and neighbouring West African countries, and all around political education of the masses, it is awe-inspiring to see New Power sprouting from the seeds you planted back in 2016. You are true Leading Lights that are guiding humanity on the path to victory. Red Salute!

Readers may not be aware of this allegedly impressive insurgency in Ghana. Nobody else is aware of such a thing, either! In this parallel universe of web-based revolutionaries, LLCO Ghanaian comrades are conducting a much more impressive struggle than the New People’s Army of the Philippines, whose leaders have succumbed to defeatism and revisionism!

Speaking of leaders, the helmsmen of the LLCO are generally an anonymous mob. An exception was former leader Hector Luz who admitted to an Australian adherent, when questioned about some of his recent writings:

Like with all the Leading Light articles, I wrote that one high on heroin and probably cocaine. I am not totally sure, but I think I was in a hotel room. I am not sure but I think I was hanging out with Emily at the time, a crazy girl who won some hottest stripper in Denver contest at Diamond Cabaret. Is that what you were asking? ... We on the inside used to call it Leading Light Cartel Organisation before I got I arrested on those DF2s with all those ounces of heroine, cocaine, MDMA. That was our inside joke of course ...”

Another local adherent told the author that the main thing “revolutionaries” in Australia could do is to send money to insurgents supporting LLCO. An unlikely plan of local members is to open night clubs to make profits for their projects abroad. Supposedly, “Bourgeois World” suckers could be fleeced by taking advantage of their decadent weaknesses to this glorious end. The latest batch of “lefts” are a motley marginalised crew who, unfortunately, divert sincere people from joining the authentic organisations of the labour movement, chiefly the Communist Party.

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce,” as Marx once pointed out. So it is with the latest batch of “lefts” seeking to keep the working class from its historic tasks. The “lefts” in Lenin’s time may have been tragically misguided, the latest batch are farcically deluded.

Given the parlous state of the ideological position of main actors in the Australian labour movement, right errors remain the main danger to working class interests here. At the fringes, however, particularly among the youth for whom the internet is such a major feature of their social life, “left” errors are re-emerging in response. As Lenin noted in “ ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: an Infantile Disorder”, interest in things escapist and esoteric increases in times of defeat and retreat of the revolutionary movement. It happened in Russia following the crushing of the revolution of 1905. The Bolsheviks held firm to their convictions and the application of appropriate tactics. Australian Communists must do the same.

Cited Works List

Lenin, V I. Lenin Collected Works. Vol. 31, Progress Publishers, 1964

Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Progress Publishers, 1937

Stalin, J V. J.V Stalin Collected Works. Vol. 8, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954

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