The Democratic Socialist Party: A response to David Glanz

The Activist - Volume 13, Number 7, August 2003
By Doug Lorimer, National Executive

[The following article will appear in a forthcoming issue of the International Socialist Tendency’s international discussion bulletin. It is a reply to the IST bulletin article on the DSP by David Glanz.]

There were a considerable number of misrepresentations of our party’s positions in David Glanz’s article in the IST discussion bulletin. In this response we will take up only the most politically important of these.

While he describes the DSP as "Australia’s largest Marxist party", Glanz also claims that we have "in practice broken decisively" from the "concepts of the self-activity and self-emancipation of the working class", i.e., from Marxism. "Socialism and liberation," he adds, "could come from above, whether through the action of armies, guerillas or the party."

We do not believe that socialism and the liberation of the working class can come from "armies, guerillas or the party" acting separately from the organisation of the proletariat into the ruling class. Like Marx, we believe that socialism can only come through the working class acting "from below" (taking action in the workplaces and the streets), and "from above", i.e., acting as a state power, as the proletariat organised as the ruling class. As Marx himself explained: "To convert social production into one large and harmonious system of free and co-operative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realised save by the transfer of the organised forces of society, i.e., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves." Indeed, it is the recognition of the latter requirement - achieved through the smashing of the bourgeois state power by the centralised coercive force of the mass mobilisation and organisation of the working class - that distinguishes Marxism from all varieties of bourgeois politics. As Lenin observed in The State and Revolution: "Those who recognise only the class struggle are not yet Marxists; they may be found to be still within the bounds of bourgeois thinking and bourgeois politics... Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat."

Two-stage revolution

Glanz devotes considerable space in his article to criticising the DSP’s rejection of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution in favour of Lenin’s policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution in capitalistically underdeveloped countries.

Before he begins his criticism, however, Glanz argues that the DSP’s position is not a result of sincerely held theoretical conviction, but is motivated by an intention "to give left cover to parties breaking with the form, but often not the content, of Stalinism" in the post-1991 period. He offers no evidence to back up this, frankly, scurrilous accusation.

Glanz goes on to examine the DSP’s position, as set out in Doug Lorimer’s 1998 book Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution - a Leninist critique. He claims that "Far from seeing two stages of the revolution as ‘uninterrupted’, which evidently Lorimer means following in close sequence, Lenin expected the democratic stage to lead to a lengthy period of capitalist development." As supposed proof of this he cites a quotation from Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (July 1905) in which Lenin argues that the worker-peasant democratic revolution "will not be able (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) [N.B. revolutionary, not capitalist economic, development] to affect the foundations of capitalism" and that the "democratic revolution will not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships" (i.e., it will be a bourgeois revolution). Glanz further claims that in April 1917 Lenin abandoned this perspective in favour of the view that the "worldwide socialist revolution has already dawned," and therefore, the DSP’s claim that there is a "continuity in Lenin’s theoretical position from 1905 to 1917 and beyond" is false.

The arguments raised by Glanz have already been answered at length in the two replies to Phil Hearse published in Links magazine - numbers 16 and 17. We will not attempt to repeat them here, but simply pose a few questions for Glanz and other IST members to consider.

Firstly, if Lenin believed in 1905 that the worker-peasant democratic revolution had to lead to a "lengthy period of capitalist development," thus postponing the socialist revolution in Russia for decades, why did he write the following in Two Tactics?

The complete victory of the democratic revolution will mark the end of the bourgeois revolution and the beginning of a determined struggle for a socialist revolution... The more complete the democratic revolution, the sooner, the more widespread, the cleaner, and more determined will the development of this new struggle be.

Why did he also write the following in November 1905?

[F]rom the democratic revolution we shall at once, and precisely in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the class-conscious and organised proletariat, begin to pass to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half-way... We shall bend every effort to help the entire peasantry achieve the democratic revolution, in order thereby to make it easier for us, the party of the proletariat, to pass on as quickly as possible to the new and higher task - the socialist revolution.

Secondly, if Lenin abandoned this "stageist" perspective in 1917, why did he write the following in November 1918?

[I]f the Bolshevik proletariat had tried at once, in October-November 1917, without waiting for the class differentiation in the rural districts, without being able to prepare it and bring it about, to ‘decree’ a civil war or the ‘introduction of socialism’ in the rural districts... this would have been a Blanquist distortion of Marxism, an attempt by theminority to impose its will upon the majority; it would have been a theoretical absurdity, revealing a failure to understand that a general peasant revolution is still a bourgeois revolution, and that without a series of transitions, of transitional stages, it cannot be transformed into a socialist revolution in a backward country.

Why did Lenin say the following, in his report on work in the countryside to the March 1919 Bolshevik party congress?

In October 1917 we seized power together with the peasants as a whole. This was a bourgeois revolution, in as much as the class struggle in the rural districts had not yet developed. As I have said, the real proletarian revolution in the rural districts began only in the summer of 1918. Had we not succeeded in stirring up this revolution our work would have been incomplete. The first stage was the seizure of power in the cities and the establishment of the Soviet form of government. The second stage was ... to single out the proletarian and semi-proletarian elements in the rural districts and to ally them to the [urban] proletariat in order to wage the struggle against the bourgeoisie in the countryside. This stage is also in the main completed.

Glanz argues that during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, "the DSP unequivocally supported the stageist strategy of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC), arguing that the fight for socialism could begin only after the democratic revolution - which would unite all victims of apartheid regardless of class". He then adds: "Today, the DSP’s Green Left Weekly carries accounts of the campaigns against the SACP-backed ANC government and its neoliberal agenda without acknowledging any embarrassing contradiction." It’s true we supported the struggle against the apartheid system, but the apartheid system was abolished in South Africa some years ago - thus placing the direct struggle for a socialist revolution on the historical agenda in that country. Since we never promised that the ANC or the SACP was going to lead a proletarian revolution against the apartheid system or lead the struggle for a socialist revolution in South Africa once apartheid was abolished, we are at a loss to understand why Glanz thinks we should be in any way "embarrassed" in reporting on - and supporting - campaigns against the capitalist ANC government and its post-apartheid neoliberal agenda.

Glanz goes on to claim that under the influence of the DSP’s theory, the Indonesian PRD "orients more to the urban poor than the workers". This is not true. After all, the best known leader of the PRD in Indonesia is Dita Sari, the leader of the FNPBI trade union organisation. He further claims that "then PRD chair Budiman Sudjatmiko expressed support in 2000 for Gus Dur’s government - effectively giving backing to one bourgeois politician against the ‘fake reformers’." Is Glanz claiming that it is impermissible under anycircumstance for Marxists to back one set of bourgeois politicians against another? Does he now think it was wrong for the Socialist Alliance to back - to call for a vote for - the bourgeois politicians of the Australian Greens against the bourgeois politicians of the Labor Party - the "fake reformers" - in the last Australian federal election?

Glanz states that the "working class in Indonesia is today a much larger proportion of the population than it was in Russia in 1917", though he does not claim it is a majority of Indonesia’s population. He then asks: "If the workers in Petrograd and Moscow could undertake a seizure of power then, how much would that be true in Jakarta and Surabaya today?" Of course, the working class in Jakarta is vastly less class-conscious and organised than the working class was in Petrograd in 1917. That’s the fundamental reason why the working class in Jakarta cannot seize power today. But Glanz also seems to have overlooked the fact that the Bolshevik workers were only able to seize power - and, more importantly, hold on to it - in Petrograd when they had won the support of the organised section of the peasantry, i.e., the peasants in uniform, who comprised the bulk of the ranks of the Russian imperialist army. In November 1917, power was not seized in Petrograd and Moscow by the workers alone, but by the soviets of workers’ and (peasant) soldiers’ deputies.

Glanz claims that "the DSP’s position serves only to confuse revolutionaries in the poor world, orienting them away from the working class and towards the urban poor or the peasantry in the name of the ‘democratic revolution’. Such ‘Leninism’ can only distort the development of genuine Leninist groups in countries such as Indonesia." Does he think that "genuine Leninist groups" in the capitalistically underdeveloped countries should only seek to politically organise the working class? That they should not also seek to politically organise the semi-proletarian urban poor or the peasantry? Does he think that Lenin was wrong to argue in 1905 that the "urban and industrial proletariat will inevitably be the nucleus of our Social-Democratic Labour Party, but we must attract to it, enlighten, and organise all who labour and are exploited, as stated in our programme - all without exception: handicraftsmen, paupers, beggars, servants, tramps and prostitutes - of course, subject to the necessary and obligatory condition that they join the Social-Democratic movement and not that the Social-Democratic movement join them, that they adopt the standpoint of the proletariat, and not that the proletariat adopt theirs"?

Labor Party

The next section of Glanz’s article is an examination of the DSP’s analysis of and approach to the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He notes that at our 1986 party congress, we "adopted the position that the ALP was a bourgeois party and began arguing that unions should disaffiliate from it." He adds that "the DSP was able to quote one of Lenin’s very few comments on Australia, in which he called the ALP, in 1913, a liberal bourgeois party." He claims: "In reality, the ALP was founded by the union bureaucracy and continues to be heavily influenced by it" - the implication being that Lenin was unaware of this, an implication reinforced by his footnote comment that "Lenin clearly did not follow Australian politics closely. In reality, the ALP was virtually identical to the British Labour Party, which Lenin urged British Communists to enter in the 1920s."

In fact, Lenin was quite well aware that the ALP had been founded by the trade union bureaucracy. He wrote: ‘[I]n Australia the Labour Party is the unalloyed representative of the non-socialist workers’ trade unions. The leaders of the Australian Labour Party are trade union officials, everywhere the most moderate and ‘capital-serving’ element, and in Australia, altogether peaceable, purely liberal." Furthermore, in his speech to the second congress of the Comintern on "Affiliation to the British Labour Party", Lenin characterised this party as a "thoroughly bourgeois party":

Of course, most of the Labour Party’s members are working men. However, whether or not a party is really a political party of the workers does not depend solely upon a membership of workers but also upon the men that lead it, and the content of its actions and its political tactics. Only this latter determines whether we really have before us a political party of the proletariat. Regarded from this, the only correct, point of view, the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers with the aid of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns.

Glanz goes on to argue that the "DSP also bases its position on an uncritical reading of Lenin’s theory of the labour aristocracy; it interprets reformism within the working class as a consequence of imperialist super-profits, rather than an expression of the life experience of workers under a system they resent but feel powerless to overthrow." We recognise, as Lenin did (see What Is To Be Done?), that reformism is the spontaneous outlook of workers under capitalism. However, this does not explain the domination of the mass organisations of the working class in the imperialist countries - the trade unions - by a consolidated, relatively stable political trend that is not simply reformist, but class-collaborationist, in its outlook - that believes that the interests of capitalists and workers can be harmonised through the institutions of the "democratic" capitalist state.

One of the chief expressions of class collaborationism in the working class movement consists of workers who politically support their "own" bourgeoisie against other workers around the world. This goes far beyond "an expression of the life experience of workers under a system they resent but feel powerless to overthrow," as Glanz puts it. The consciously class-collaborationist section of workers does not resent the capitalist system. To the contrary, while seeking reforms within it which will advance their sectional interests, they are politically loyal to their own bourgeoisie’s imperialist "democratic" capitalism. Thisconsciously pro-capitalist reformism is an expression of the life experience of a section of workers who have derived economic benefits from collaboration with their capitalist masters - above all, relatively secure conditions of employment and good wages.

The class-collaborationist outlook of a sizeable minority of relatively privileged workers - the labour aristocracy - provides a stable base for the domination of the trade unions by a stratum of petty-bourgeois careerists - the trade union bureaucracy - who subordinate the long-term (and even the immediate) interests of the mass of workers to the sectional interests of the labour aristocracy and to preserving the stability of imperialist "democratic" capitalism.

The class-collaborationist politics of the trade union bureaucracy and the labour aristocracy is effected through their loyal support for and active involvement in the Labor Party. Again, this goes far beyond mere reformism (seeking labour representation in the bourgeois parliament in order to win legislative reforms in the interests of the working class) to anenthusiastic willingness to take responsibility for politically administering the capitalist system, including - if their capitalist masters deem it necessary - using the bourgeois state machinery to suppress the anti-capitalist current within the working class movement.

Glanz claims that the "DSP’s hostility to Labor and organisations over which it has influence has led to some appalling positions" adding: "In 1987, the DSP called for a vote for the Democrats (a split from the conservative Liberal Party) ahead of a vote for Labor, a position it occasionally takes." It is true that in 1987 we called for a vote for the Democrats ahead of the ALP - because at that time the Democrats opposed the neoliberal policy consensus that existed between the Labor government and the Liberal-National opposition - a fact that was openly recognised by the capitalists. In a June 30, 1987 editorial, Murdoch’s Australiannewspaper observed:

"Compared with the gulf that once divided them, the major parties now agree in essence on what is wrong with the economy... Both government and opposition accept the need for reduced public spending and encouragement of business, although they disagree on the means whereby these policies should be put into effect." The editorial attacked the Democrats for making "a deliberate appeal to voters who do not accept the general consensus that, one way or another, public spending should be cut." A fuller explanation of our stance in the 1987 election is available in our 1988 pamphlet Labor and the Fight for Socialism, which also contains our 1986 document on the ALP (

According to Glanz: "The DSP continues in a timeless fashion to raise the demand for unions to disaffiliate from Labor." While we are opposed to the affiliation of trade unions to the ALP we have not raised this as an immediate course of action for any union to implement unless it has become an issue of topical discussion within that union.

Glanz states that, although our party "claims adherence to the concept of the united front, the DSP’s orientation to social democracy helps explain its approach to campaign work more broadly, where it prefers to operate through tight party fronts in which it needs to make no compromises with forces to its right." This, again, is not true - we do not prefer to operate through any "tight party fronts".

He goes on to write: "This is also a reflection of its approach of ‘socialism from above’ - if revolutionary change can be achieved by the party rather than by the class, then the party represents the class and there is no need to build collaborative campaigns." Where have we ever advocated such absurdly non-Leninist ideas?

Glanz claims: "Given these positions, the DSP has little interest in the accelerating crisis of social democracy. While it does not go so far as to claim that reformism is dead, its dismissal of Labor in the 1980s means that it has nothing to say to ALP supporters and voters who are only now breaking with lifetimes of loyalty." He adds that our party’s "positions are, however, full of pragmatic contradictions - it calls for a vote for Labor only as a ‘lesser evil,’ yet no conservative government has smashed unions as effectively and abruptly as Labor did in the 1980s; it denies that Labor is fundamentally different from the Liberals, but hobnobs with militant union officials who hold ALP cards, and it argues that Labor is a bourgeois party, yet those breaking from it are breaking with reformism." So, apparently, we do have something to say to ALP supporters and voters.

It’s true that we do not consider the ALP to be fundamentally different from the Liberals (Tories), i.e., we consider it to be a pro-capitalist party, though one that is controlled by the union bureaucracy. As our 1986 document states:

While formally a party of the unions, the ALP is directly the party of the union bureaucracy, which controls the selection of delegates to conferences, most of the full-time apparatus, etc....

The affiliation of most Australian trade unions to the ALP gives the Labor Party a predominantly working-class membership. This fact has often contributed to the illusion that the ALP is a working-class party. However, a political party is most fundamentally characterised not by the social composition of its membership, but by its real political program and practice.

From this standpoint - the only correct one for Marxists - the ALP is a liberal bourgeois party. It seeks to create a more humane capitalism by reconciling or weakening class conflicts. It represents the working class only within the context of a more fundamental loyalty to Australian capitalism.

Contrary to Glanz’s assertion, we do not believe that those breaking from the ALP areautomatically breaking with reformist politics. Again, our 1986 document states:

The ALP is an obstacle that must be removed if the working class is to achieve the level of political consciousness and action that can enable it to seriously challenge capitalist rule in this country. Accomplishing this task involves transforming the political outlook of the working class by breaking its allegiance to the reformist ideology embodied in the Labor Party and building a credible anti-capitalist alternative.

In the absence of such a credible alternative to the left of the ALP, disillusionment or anger with Labor’s betrayals tends to drive many workers to support the conservative parties or to adopt a posture of political apathy...

Revolutionaries therefore place a high priority on helping to develop such a political alternative - a broadly based party that consistently counterposes defence of the interests of workers and their allies to the illusions of class peace fostered by the ALP and the trade union bureaucracy.

It is true that we call for the election of a Labor government as a "lesser evil" to the election of a government of the conservative parties. But it is not true that we believe a Labor government cannot be a greater evil for the immediate interests of the working class. As our 1986 document explains:

While it is often necessary for workers to choose the lesser of two evils, it is also necessary to understand that both are evils and that the real need is for a struggle to create a genuine alternative.

Particularly in periods of capitalist crisis, a Labor government can often be a greater evil in terms of the immediate interests of the working class. In such periods, the reforms of a Labor government are usually outweighed by the role of the government in demobilising the working class and carrying out attacks in other, more important, areas.

Often Labor can carry out measures that would provoke serious resistance if they were attempted by conservative governments.

Moreover, no reforms introduced by an ALP government will solve the fundamental problems facing the working class. A revolutionary government is necessary to tackle these problems at their roots. To achieve such a government it is necessary to break workers’ illusions in Labor reformism and to win them to a revolutionary, anti-capitalist perspective.

Only within this framework can the election of a Labor government always be considered a lesser evil than the election of a conservative government. When the ALP is in office, its bourgeois character is more evident to wide layers of working people than when it is out of office and its leaders can make demagogic promises of reforms in the interests of working people.

Why do we seek to "hobnob", i.e., work with, militant unionists, including those who hold ALP cards? Our 1986 document explains:

The Labor Party’s overwhelming dominant political position within the Australian labour movement makes it an inescapable and fundamental problem for socialists in this country. Failure to solve this problem will eventually undermine all the other successes of a revolutionary organisation...

Whatever the exact course of events, because the ALP is the political instrument of the trade union bureaucracy, the decisive arena of struggle against Labor reformism will be the trade union arena.

In the long run, revolutionaries will not be able to defeat the influence of Labor reformism over decisive sections of the working class without defeating the class-collaborationism of the trade union bureaucracy through consistent struggle to transform the unions into class-struggle instruments...

Because the ALP is the political instrument of the union bureaucracy, the liberation of the unions from this bureaucracy’s control will confront militant unionists with the need to break with the ALP and build a new political instrument.

Socialist regroupment

Glanz claims that the "DSP has been seeking regroupment since it broke with the Fourth International" and that its "approach is a classic example of Tony Cliff’s ‘stopped clock’ - right twice a day but useless the rest of the time". It’s true that we have had a "perennial interest in regroupment", i.e., that we recognise that the construction of a mass revolutionary workers’ party in Australia will not come simply through the linear growth of our own organisation and since the mid-1980s we have been open to working with other forces on the Australian left to develop, as our 1986 document on the ALP states, "a broadly based party that consistently" fights for the "defence of the interests of workers and their allies."

But a little later on, Glanz notes that the "possibility" of left regroupment "dried up through much of the 1990s," i.e., our approach was not a "stopped clock"; we did not pursue regroupment when there were no other forces on the left that were interested in seeking to build such a broadly based, left-wing party.

He claims that we see our participation in the Australian Socialist Alliance (SA) as "a step towards a united revolutionary party." That’s true. In fact, everything we do is aimed at helping to build a mass revolutionary party. Does Glanz think revolutionaries should do things that hinder the building of such a party?

Glanz goes on to claim that we are "reluctant to deal publicly with the question of reform or revolution, preferring to put forward general formulations about ‘class struggle’ politics." He makes this claim only two sentences after he has quoted from an article in the latest issue of Links magazine (no. 23) in which DSP National Secretary John Percy makes a lengthy - and public - argument for the need for a party with revolutionary politics (!

Glanz quotes a few sentences from this article, in which Percy explains that whether or not the Australian "Socialist Alliance becomes stronger, more visible and takes on more of the attributes of a broad socialist party rather than an alliance," we in the DSP - whether we function as the DSP or as an organised tendency in a broad socialist party - will continue to be guided by our "Leninist party perspective," i.e., that we will continue to argue that a Bolshevik-type revolutionary party is needed to lead a socialist revolution in Australia.

Glanz then adds: "The immediate problem with this orientation is … that it can distort the Alliance’s relationship with those breaking from Labor, but not from reformism. So while the ISO argues that the Alliance must remain a broad party, open to all those who identify with socialism, including most importantly those abandoning the Labor Party, the DSP is attempting in practice to pull the Alliance more in the direction of an activist, far left formation."

Anyone not familiar with the actual debate between the ISO and the DSP over the future of the SA would be hard-pressed to understand what Glanz is arguing here. He says the ISO argues that the Socialist Alliance "must remain a broad party, open to all those who identify with socialism" and that the ISO "continues to argue publicly for an independent revolutionary party while simultaneously building the Alliance." But he criticises us for arguing in favour of the SA "taking on more of the attributes of a broad socialist party" rather than an electoral alliance, while continuing to argue for the need for a revolutionary party!

The real difference between the ISO and the DSP on perspectives for the Australian Socialist Alliance was more accurately summed up in the following comments in the ISO National Executive document "What kind of Socialist Alliance do we want?" printed in ISOSpecial Internal Bulletin No. 1 (March 3, 2003):

Both we and the DSP want the Alliance to stand in elections, and both we and the DSP understand the need for activity on the ground between elections. But how that balance is understood is quite different.

The DSP, inspired by the success of the Scottish Socialist Party, think the Alliance can drive forward to a large and influential socialist party…

Our medium-term aim has to be to contain the damaging elements of their project until we are big enough to tilt the Alliance in our direction."

What was that direction? The document argued that the ISO wanted the SA "to be a place where revolutionaries and reformists (including those who don’t put labels on themselves) work together on the basis of what we have in common - anti-war, pro-union, anti-racism and anti-sexism, for public services rather than privatisation, for Medicare rather than military spending, etc." The document concluded with the statement that the ISO wanted the SA to be "a vehicle for the broadest left to put an alternative at elections and which provides a framework for active collaboration and working-class solidarity in between."

Nowhere in the document did it state support for the SA moving towards becoming a broad socialist party - "a broad party, open to all those who identify with socialism," as Glanz now puts it. In fact, right up to the second SA national conference in May - which voted by a 75% majority to move towards becoming a "single, multi-tendency, socialist party" which, while being open to all those who identify themselves as socialists, also welcomed "a strong revolutionary socialist stream as an integral part of our vision of a broad socialist party" - the ISO was opposed to such a perspective, counterposing to it a perspective of the Socialist Alliance operating as a united front between revolutionaries and reformists that prioritises election campaigns.

It is unclear to us just what the ISO’s perspectives in the SA are now. The May SA conference adopted a resolution stating, "We want the Alliance to become a single, multi-tendency socialist party," i.e., the SA is not yet such a party. Glanz says the ISO now argues that the SA "must remain a broad party, open to all those who identify with socialism." Is this a change in the ISO’s position or an attempt by Glanz to present the old position in a new, rhetorically pro-broad socialist party, wrapper?

(Some of the DSP publications from which David Glanz quoted might not be easily available to readers of the IST Bulletin, but many are available on the DSP web site:, including the brief history of the DSP, and the program of the DSP: For a more extensive record of the views of the DSP and the campaigns we’re involved in, you can search the web site ofGreen Left Further information on our tendency is also available on the web site of the socialist youth organisation