Traditions, Lessons & Socialist Perspectives
By Jim Percy
New Course Publications $6.95
Reviewed by Dick Nichols
Former Democratic Socialist Party leader Jim Percy died of cancer in October 1992 at, the tragically early age of 43. His last two years coincided with the "death of communism" in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which produced large-scale desertions from the socialist cause worldwide. In Australia this flight to the right led to the demise first of the Communist Party of Australia and then of its offshoot, the New Left Party.
Inevitably, these were also difficult days for the DSP. The challenge was complex: to understand why perestroika and glasnost had disappointed hopes of socialist renewal; to withstand the wave of renegacy that was engulfing entire sections of the left; and to reaffirm in the specific conditions of the day that the struggle for a democratic, egalitarian and environmentally sustainable alternative to capitalism means building a party of the type first developed by Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Bolsheviks.
Nor was this simply a task of theoretical reaffirmation, of defending a sacred flame. The job had to be done in the specific Australian conditions of Labor's Accord, which had suffocated the union movement, and in the context of several frustrated attempts by the DSP to build a bigger, more influential left with other forces in the 1980s.
Traditions, Lessons & Socialist Perspectives, a collection of four talks by Jim Percy, shows how comprehensively he met that challenge. They present clear and thorough analyses of nearly all the thorny questions of socialist politics today.
Was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc a defeat or a victory? For Jim Percy it was both. Yes, the world balance of forces had swung in favour of imperialism, but "actually existing socialism" had wreaked such political havoc with the political consciousness of workers East and West that only a "revolution in the revolution" could have saved it.
The Stalinist system had to be cleared out of the way if the socialist movement was to make gains in the longer run, especially in the heartlands of advanced capitalism.
Does the "end of communism" mean the end of revolution, in particular the era opened up by the Russian Revolution of 1917? Only if we can point to a capitalism that is steadily improving life for the mass of the world's people.
The odd tiger economy aside, the conditions of life for the working majority are stagnant or declining. Poverty, hunger, disease and ignorance stalk the South and increasingly set foot in the North. And capital's insatiable appetite for expansion is undermining the very habitability of our planet.
But why a Leninist party? For the simple reason that no other political instrument can do the job of leading the mass of working people to power. The mass movements, including the trade unions, are powerful forces for radicalisation and a genuine socialist party will always seek to build them. But only a party made up of conscious socialist activists can provide leadership in action, develop mass anti-capitalist consciousness and point out the line of march of the movement. Such is the lesson of countless working class and popular struggles.
How should such a party operate in the Australia of the 1990s? Much of Traditions, Lessons & Socialist Perspectives is devoted to how the DSP should be built in relation to the struggles of the day: what alliances it should seek to build, and how it should determine its line of work and achieve effective political interventions.
This rich and nuanced discussion also covers how the much abused concept of "democratic centralism" should actually work in a revolutionary organisation, dispelling the common prejudice that membership of a party like the DSP involves a surrender of individual aspirations and freedom.
Traditions, Lessons & Socialist Perspectives is rich in inspiration and guidance for all those dedicated to the struggle for the democratic socialist alternative to capitalism. It is available in Resistance Bookshops.