Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32. No. 25. October 9, 1969
The Confusions of 'Socialist Action'
The Confusions of 'Socialist Action'
The appearance of a left-wing news-sheet which promises to appear fortnightly is welcome.
The nature and calibre of Socialist Action may perhaps be discussed on the basis of the two issues so far out.
Socialist Action describes itself as a "bulletin of revolutionary Marxism. It will contain articles of comment on current events, political analysis," etc. (No. 1, p. 1). Phrases like "from a Marxist point of view", on a Marxist analysis, occur in the text.
There is no indication that the opinions of the contributors may not be those of the editors or their organisation. Many of the articles are editorial in tone.
The impression is given that Socialist Action gives the authoritative analyses of "the New Zealand Socialist Action League ... an organisation of Marxist Leninists in New Zealand who support the Fourth International ..." (No. 1, p1).
If this impression is correct, then it is surprising to find very substantial inconsistencies in Socialist Action from issue to issue, from article to article, and even from paragraph to paragraph.
The Socialist Action League seems uncertain of its line on at least three major topics, the Labour Party, Fascism, and Nationalism.
Fascism is discussed in an article entitled "The Threat of Fascism: Present or Future?" (No. 2, p2).
The article gives a definition of Fascism. "A typical Fascist movement needs to have a mass base and this requires a seemingly new ideology with plenty of radical and at times left sounding rhetoric (the "Socialism" in Hitler's National Socialism). Generally too, a Fascist movement needs some charismatic leader like Hitler or Mussolini to personify the tendency".
The article refers to recent events in Auckland. "The recent Police raids upon the premises of a number of organisations in the Auckland area has raised the question in many people's minds that the ruling class in this country has taken the first step towards a fascist solution of the problems facing it."
Socialist Action talks about a People's Voice article which "proceeds to speak of the Police use of fascist methods and proceeds to say "this growth of Fascist methods is inevitable as monopoly capitalism becomes more exposed and unpopular ..."
On the basis of its own definition of Fascism Socialist Action disagrees with People's Voice. Socialist Action goes on ". . . as yet at any rate there is no evidence of a new Fascist style coming into the open. To cry "Wolf" too often leads we all know where."
Curiously enough, however, the same issue of Socialist Action (No. 2. p5) has an article on John A. Lee. This article identifies John A. Lee as a Fascist.
After pointing out the dependence of John A. Lee's ideas in the 1930's on the Social Credit theories at Major Douglas, the article goes on:
"Marxist leninists do not need to be told that both in Italy and in Germany the theoreticians of Fascism made ample use of Major Douglas's theories to develop their own critique of capitalism (which turns out to be no critique at all). The similarity of Lee's NZ position to these odious doctrines is not merely the coincidence of one single facet. A European left-winger who came to Kiwiland at the beginning of the war attended one of Lee's public addressed on the recommendation of a Labour Party friend and was at a loss to see any difference between Lee and the Fascists of his own native country."
Now this is a strange to do when two articles resting "on a Marxist analysis" or written "from a Marxist point of view" manage to recognise Fascism in a New Zealand Labour politician of the 1930's. yet deny that the New eZaland ruling class in 1969 gives any evidence of Fascism.
But the issue is more complicated yet.
The article on Fascism goes on to say: "in this connection it is well to remember that just before the Nazis look power in Germany they successfully fooled most of the German people by a provocation that they carried out (the burning of the Reichstag building)."
The same article considers that the "irresponsible" actions of the PYM (e.g. the Molotov cocktail affair) constitute a provocation with similar consequences.
"Certainly they have provided a windfall for the ruling class who for the first time brought one of their top American friends to a meeting in Auckland only and—Oh Happy Coincidence!—just before he gets there, the PYM provides just enough evidence of an 'assassination' plot to be blown up by the publicity boys into a scare story that seems to have fooled the majority of people in this country. And again immediately after the reference to the Nazis and the Reichstag. Socialist Action goes on: "when ultraleftists in New Zealand say irresponsible things they are doing the work of the reactionaries for them."
Now here is another curious to do. Socialist Action could find no evidence of a new Fascist style coming into the open at Auckland. Nevertheless, they see a similarity in recent events at Auckland to events immediately before the Nazis took power in Germany.
It is surely curious that Socialist Action finds its evidence of the imminence of Fascism at Auckland not in the actions of the ruling class but in those of ultraleftists.
The article on John A. Lee goes on to say that the left-wing European "heard Lee back up his quasi-Fascist economic theory with a strong plug for Kiwi nationalism (himself against the 'outsider' leaders of the L.P.)"
It would seem then that nationalism is discreditable in the view of Socialist Action.
But in the same issue (No. 2. p4) we read: "In the Congo it was mainly Belgian support that enabled Tsombe to overthrow Lumumba (whose nationalist aspirations conflicted with the interests of Belgian capitalism)."
And in issue No. 1. p3 we read: "It is not too much to say that the struggle in Ireland together with the struggle of Scots and Welsh nationalists will have quite a lot to do with the not too distant Second English Revolution."
Here again is a curious to do. In John A. Lee's case nationalism 'is a bad thing', but in the case of Lumumba, the Irish, the Scots, and the Welsh, it is working against capitalism and for revolution. If it is good to this extent it is odd that it is so discreditable to Lee.
The same article on Ireland has no trouble in recognising "near-Fascists like Major Bunting who was responsible for this attack." ie saying that "People's Democracy, the organisation that directed the wave of protest demonstrations that brought Ulster to the brink of civil war was riddled with Trotskyists and their sympathisers who believe in worldwide revolution." (quoted in Socialist Action.)
It seems Trotskyists are attacked by near-Fascists, but nothing of the sort is the case for the PYM.
It is the view of Socialist Action that New Zealand has no "near-Fascists like Major Bunting".
Socialist Action is most seriously in trouble when it tires to define its attitude to left-wing organisations.
The Socialist Action League people think of themselves as "radicals and revolutionaries". They say (No. 2. p1): "The General Election provides a good opportunity for radicals and revolutionaries to educate large number of people, and the S.A.L. is taking as full an advantage of this as it is able."
The S.A.L. also think of themselves as "serious leftists" (No. 2. p3).
The S.A.L. does not consider PYM serious leftists. Of PYM it says (No. 2. p5): "... ideologically, they make no specific demands on their members whose positions range from vague left radicalism through all shades of the left to anarchism."
On p2 the PYM is characterised as not "an openly left political group."
It is curious then that "the PYM has been guilty of Ultraleftism of the sort characterised by Lenin as an infantile disorder." (No. 2. p2). S.A.L.'s analysis of PYM docs not suggest that PYM is to the left of S.A.L., but it seems it is.
Nevertheless. Socialist Action says of the Wellington PYM: "We do however welcome the Wellington PYM and hope that it prosners in every way. We will approach each of its actions and statements on the basis of its merits, and give is full, conditional, or nil support, depending on how we judge them, in the light of our principles." (No. 2. p 5).
In the light of Socialist Action's statement about support for PYM. the attitude of Socialist Action to the Labour Party is curious.
In Socialist Action No. 1 there is an article says: "From being an out and out workers' party in the time of Harry Holland. Labour has become the party of the more backward the more petty-bourgeois worker, and of the petty-bourgcois himself."
Very well. then. The S.A.L. is running a candidate for Wellington Central. Says Socialist Action (No. 2, p.1):
"This move arises from the failure of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Kirk) to reply to a letter sent to him by the S.A.L. on Sept. 16. which sought his personal assurance that if the Labour Party becomes the next Government with himself as Prime Minister the NZ troops in Vietnam will be withdrawn within 40 days of his assuming office In a second letter the League emphasised that if such an assurance were to be given then it would actively support the campaign of the Labour candidate for Wellington Central to the best of its ability."
It seems then, that in the night of their principles the S.A.L. will give their active support conditional only on the Vietnam undertaking to "the party of the more backward, the more petty-bourgeois, worker, and of the petty-bourgeois himself."
This seems a curious attitude for "radicals and revolutionaries" who hold positions far "from vague left radicalism". Revolutionary Marxism, it seems, supports the Labour Party in all issues but Vietnam.
Of John A. Lee Socialist Action could say (No. 2. p5): "The heart of the matter is that he certainly is not now and never was a leftist in any real sense of the word and it would be ludicrous to suggest that he had any remote affinity to Socialism in the Marxist Leninist sense."
On their showing in the first two issues of Socialist Action one may wonder whether the Socialist Action League is much behind John A. Lee.
Let me conclude by pin-pointing the mistakes obvious in Socialist Action 1 and 2.
First, the writers in Socialist Action are not in any sense proficient exponents of Marxist analysis. On the contrary, they demonstrate ignorance of Marxism.
Secondly, the writers of Socialist Action may not even be radicals or revolutionaries They demonstrate a tendency to reformism and quietism.
Thirdly, the attack on Lee is not Marxist at all, but simply a smear.
Fourthly, the attacks on the PYM and People's Voice are unjustified and ill-considered in their form. Socialist Action is bickering with other leftists and needlessly.
Fifthly, the Socialist Action League's attitude to the Labour Party is both unprincipled and opportunistic.