Report on RSP Program amendments

By Doug Lorimer
[This report was presented to the RSP Congress December 20, 2010.]

Comrades have now had six months to consider the specific amendments to the RSP Program that I presented at the June-6 NC plenum. These proposed amendments and (an accompanying report motivating them) have been available in the party’s internal bulletin since the beginning of the pre-congress discussion in June. As no-one has raised any objection to them, I will not repeat here the argumentation presented at the June NC report on them.

At the first RSP congress some 18 months ago I presented a report motivating replacing the term and concept of “transitional demands” with the term and concept of transitional slogans in that report I noted that there is an important programmatic issue that deserves serious consideration, not because large sections of our existing program are devoted to it or because we are faced with a level of class struggle and radicalisation where party agitation on so-called transitional demands might win us large numbers of new members and propel any significant section of the working class to a higher level of struggle. I pointed out that its importance for us today lies in educating ourselves and the vanguard elements that we can influence outside the party in a consistent Marxist-Leninist approach to imbuing the working class with revolutionary socialist politics.

This can be seen if we examine the political miseducation that the left-reformist Socialist Alliance peddles through its paper Green Left Weekly on the issue of bank nationalisation. In a November 6  article headed “Nationalise the banks to save the future” Socialist Alliance national convener Peter Boyle argued that the four big Australian banks are using “the collective savings of our society (and bad debts the public may one day be expected to ‘socialise’) in a totally irresponsible way. Instead of directing these funds to the urgently needed transition to renewable energy, to public transport, health, housing and education, they are directed to expanding dirty coal and other fossil fuel industries, to enriching mining magnates, and to destructive speculative ventures.” According to Boyle, “Our society cannot afford to have these decisions carried out on the basis of what makes the big four the most profit. This is why, as socialists, we say: nationalise the banks and democratically run them in the community interest.” He goes on to write: “This may sound extreme, but just two years ago governments in several major capitalist economies rushed to temporarily nationalise banks to save the capitalist system from itself. These governments are now making their people pay for this by cutting social services and cracking down on wages and conditions. If banks can be nationalised to save capitalism from itself, surely they can be nationalised to ensure our collective survival?”

Boyle’s argument contains no explanation that the banks are required by the laws of the capitalist state to seek to maximise wealth for their shareholders, which means seeking to maximise their profits at the expense of working people. He presents a left-populist argument for bank nationalisation appealing for the banks to be “run the community interest”, as if the Australian community was not divided into antagonistic classes, with a minority capitalist ruling class exploiting a majority class of wage workers.

Boyle’s argument for bank nationalisation perfectly reflects the social outlook on what Marx in his 1852 pamphlet The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte described as that of the petty-bourgeois democrats. Marx observed that during 1848, a “coalition of between petty bourgeois and workers had been formed, the so-called Social-Democratic party”. Marx went on in its pamphlet to observe that “because he represents the petty bourgeoisie – that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted – [he] imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally. The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people’s rights; what interests them is the people’s interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes.” Today the petty-bourgeois democrats present themselves as the champions of the “community interest”.

What is completely left out of Boyle’s call for bank nationalisation is the issue of which class’s interests would be served by such a measure. And that of course depends on the class character and politics of the government that does the nationalising – something Boyle says about absolutely nothing about. There is no way that nationalisation, that is, government ownership and administration, of the banks can be made to serve the interests of working people without the prior existence of a working people’s government. A government headed by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, or by Tony Abbot and Joe Hockey, for example, would only nationalise the banks in order to save the capitalist system, and then make working people ─ not “their people” as Boyle puts it (“their people” are their capitalist rulers) ─ “pay for this by cutting social services and cracking down on wages and conditions”. That’s what we’ve just seen in Ireland.

But Boyle’s article completely glosses over this crucial question, and presents his readers with a left-liberal utopian fantasy in which simply through the nationalisation of the banks and without a revolutionary change in the class character and politics of governmental power, bank funds could be directed “to the urgently needed transition to renewable energy, to public transport, health, housing and education”. This sort of left-reformist propaganda has now become stand fare for the SAllies, [Socialist Alliance –KV] internally rationalised by those of them who still regard themselves as “Leninists” as an application of the “transitional method” and of “transitional demands” to the process of raising working people’s socialist consciousness, when it in fact lowers such consciousness by peddling petty bourgeois-democratic deceptions.

The amendments that are delegates are being asked to vote on at this Congress are aimed at giving our party a clear programmatic guide to the authentic Marxist-Leninist application of the transitional method of imbuing the working class with revolutionary socialist consciousness.

RSP Internal Discussion Bulletin Volume 3, No 1A, January 2010