There have been “broad parties” aplenty in the past claiming to represent workers, or broader classes, or “progress” in general – parties that are sometimes mass, mostly with electoral ambitions, but with programs that are social democratic, or left liberal, sometimes “all-inclusive”, but non-Leninist and non-Marxist. Such parties are not able to bring about fundamental social change; they cannot break the state power of the capitalist class. For that we need a revolution. We know a revolutionary party is necessary to carry that out, a Leninist party.
The program of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, which used to be the program of the Democratic Socialist Party, is very clear on this question:
The working class cannot as a whole or spontaneously acquire the political class-consciousness necessary to prepare and guide its struggle for socialism. For this, it is indispensable to develop a party uniting all who are struggling against the abuses and injustices of capitalism and who have developed a socialist consciousness and commitment to carrying out revolutionary political activity irrespective of the conjunctural ebbs and flows of the mass movement…ultimately, only a revolutionary socialist party that has deep roots in the working class, that is composed primarily of workers, and that enjoys the respect and confidence of the workers, can lead the oppressed and exploited masses in overthrowing the political and economic power of capital. The central aim of the Revolutionary Socialist Party is to build such a mass revolutionary socialist party in Australia.[i]
The DSP has now ditched this program, and dissolved itself into the Socialist Alliance “broad party”, with a non-revolutionary program.
Such broad parties can and do develop outside the initiative of revolutionaries. Then it’s just a normal, standard, tactical question as to what approach revolutionaries should have towards such a party. Sometimes it’s correct to intervene, sometimes it’s not.
Of special interest to us, however, is when revolutionary Marxists elevate such broad parties into a special case, thinking that they might somehow be the replacement for revolutionary parties, or think that revolutionaries have to create such broad parties if they don’t exist, or dissolve their forces permanently into such parties.
This is what has been happening in the last 15 years or so among the Marxist left in advanced capitalist countries, so that it has become an issue in itself, the “broad party” question. It has been taken up by a number of Trotskyist currents, certainly the Fourth International, which unfortunately generalised, as it tends to do, and developed an overall strategy of “building anti-capitalist parties” in Europe,[ii] and tended to promote such tactics in other countries. The British Socialist Workers Party has also investigated this perspective, and it has been adopted by some of the parties that follow its lead, organised in the International Socialist Tendency.[iii]
This article looks at the experience of the “broad party” tactic/strategy as implemented by revolutionary socialists internationally in recent decades.[iv]
The political context
The generalised push for “broad parties” hasn’t just come out of the blue. It is related to both a crisis of political perspective due to retreats and defeats, for example the final collapse of the Soviet Union, and a mis-estimation of upsurges, the anti-globalisation movement for example, giving some false hopes.
1. The last two decades have been very much under the shadow of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the final unwinding of the gains of the Russian Revolution. There were defeats in Eastern Europe; the Chinese Revolution was unravelling in a capitalist direction; Cuba’s economy suffered special problems. The old Communist parties were dwindling before; now they declined further.
2. This was a period of imperialist cockiness, bragging about the “end of history”. The bourgeoisie was increasingly confident and aggressive; neoliberalism was rampant. Many unions and workers’ organisations were weakened or even totally smashed by this onslaught. The social democratic leadership dominant in many countries demonstrated their utter uselessness, capitulating further, or even leading the neoliberal charge.
3. This period also saw the rise of the Greens. The Green parties’ politics varied. They represented a growing environmental consciousness, and often became a political vehicle that attracted people on a range of left liberal issues. They soaked up some of the break from the more traditional “workers’ parties”, Communist parties, Social Democracy, Labor parties. Increasingly as they have consolidated, they have settled into more right wing positions.
4. This has also been a period of impressive campaigns against globalisation around the world, from the Seattle demonstration in 1999 through multiple demonstrations in Europe, and the World Social Forums initiated in Brazil and hosted in other countries also. These indicated a radicalisation of sorts, and for a while seemed a hopeful development, but politically these movements also exhibited a confusion about or hostility to the need for building revolutionary parties, with the anti-party strictures of the World Social Forum, and the NGOs and right wing parties in control.
The initial motivation when the DSP launched the Socialist Alliance in 2001 was that the tide had turned, that we were looking ahead to a period of upsurge from the end of the 1990s. The DSP experienced some growth, and was buoyed by the successful S11 mobilisation in Melbourne, surrounding Crown Casino, venue of the World Economic Forum in 2000. We looked to some seemingly successful broad parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party. The 2001 DSP Congress, 3-7 January in Sydney, still projected building an explicitly revolutionary party.[v] But soon after we’d noticed the International Socialist Organisation’s conference held in Melbourne later that month,[vi] taking note of the English Socialist Alliance and the British SWP’s participation in it and elections. We were waiting to see if the ISO here would follow the line of the SWP before tossing up the proposal for a Socialist Alliance. The Socialist Alliance was launched with meetings in Melbourne on 6 March and in Sydney on 10 April. At the DSP National Committee in April, Peter Boyle said we were “looking at the Socialist Alliance as more than an electoral tactic”. [vii]
Adopting this tactic was dependent on that upsurge, the possibility of Read the rest of this entry »