Building alliances, building the future
by Tony Oldfield
For some considerable time, the Communist Party of Australia’s documents have called for a new type of government, a people’s government, for progressive and left unity and working class unity. There have been a number of attempts to reach agreement with other left groups, all with little real success.
The recent CPA 10th Congress adopted a Political Resolution and amended the party’s Program, both of which contain these demands and argue that alliances and unity are a necessary condition to move Australia forward in a left and progressive direction.
I contend that the overwhelming number of party members see such concepts as abstract and cannot grasp how they can be put forward in practice. I think the majority of the left in Australia and probably most of our own party comrades believe that change will come through some type of spontaneous uprising.
How do we change this idea?
Before we can win people to the idea of a people’s government and the necessary alliances which would be required, we need to bring the left and progressive movement out of the shadows.
For more than forty years now we have inhabited the periphery of Australian life, focussing mainly on the big issues, but often what could be described as “fringe issues” — anti-war struggles, anti-racism campaigns, democratic rights movements and so on. Most of the time, we lack any relevance to the everyday lives of the majority of people.
Yes, we raise substantial issues, but we are not seen as active around the smaller issues which are important to many people. We have been in a comfort zone, a self-imposed exile and for many, represent a form of political arrogance with many of us expressing disdain for political activity around local issues.
I don’t seek to counterpose the big political issues such as opposition to the war in Iraq, solidarity with refugees, international solidarity, opposition to the industrial relations legislation etc. to local and community work. I think it’s more a question of how do we gain credibility at a local level, a community level, in such a way that we’ll be listened to when we do raise the bigger political issues.
I would like to give some small examples of how my party branch is beginning to cross this bridge. Auburn Branch was formed just over two years ago as a result of a number of activists coming together over the invasion of Iraq and the formation of a local peace group to campaign against the war.
From the peace group we made a number of local contacts with anti-development residents’ groups and became involved in a local campaign to stop Vivendi, a French multinational, from building a waste dump in Auburn.
The Auburn Branch was able to mobilise quickly, producing a leaflet when it was needed, helping to organise a small protest at the closure of the local dental clinic, organise a street stall and petitioning.
The comrades began to earn credibility with other local community activists. A big break for the branch came when it was decided to organise a ticket of anti-waste-dump activists in the local council elections. A party comrade was chosen to lead the ticket in one of the two council wards.
The No Dump ticket became an alliance of Communist Party members, Greens, Turkish community activists and even small business people. An attempt was made to involve the Socialist Alliance but they declined, arguing it was more important for them to campaign on their program against war in Iraq and for refugee rights.
Needles to say, the election result showed which was the better strategy, with the Socialist Alliance receiving just over one hundred votes, whereas the No Dump ticket was successful in electing a councillor.
The campaigns were markedly different. Every day, the No Dump Group was on the streets, letterboxing, doorknocking, speaking to local business people. We approached and got coverage in both the ethnic and local media. Every week we produced a new leaflet on development issues, anti-corruption concerns and democratic rights. We produced leaflets in all the main community languages — Turkish, Chinese, Arabic and English. The other CPA branches in Sydney supported our work with letterboxing, turning out on Saturday morning stalls and helping on election day.
In contrast, the Socialist Alliance would campaign on a Saturday afternoon. A street stall and Green Left were the focus of their campaign. Their campaign issues were restricted to the war in Iraq and refugees.
The CPA has gained a legitimacy in Auburn, not often seen on the left. Our political opponents weighed in with a virulent anti-communist attack in the form of paid advertisements in the ethnic newspapers.
This tactic backfired. The Turkish program on SBS Radio was inundated with calls from sympathetic listeners and the Liberal Party candidate who initiated the advertisements, refused to respond to the SBS request for an interview.
Since the local council election, the party branch has produced a regular broadsheet called the Auburn Battler. It presents a mixture of local issues related to childcare, environment, development, the local council, health and hospitals, democratic rights, industrial relations, anti-monopoly and anti-imperialism.
The Battler is gaining a reputation as telling it as it is. It’s been quoted in the local newspaper and has been the centre of controversy at local council meetings. It is sought after by local community activists and even by our opponents.
The CPA Political Resolution says that the “Communist Party must, as a matter of priority, work to draw together all left and progressive parties and community organisations or elements in these organisations into a popular anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly democratic front transcending party and organisational boundaries. The aim of such a front is to build the widest possible unity of the people’s organisations. At the same time, the working class and revolutionary parties must retain their independence and ideological integrity.”
Our work in the Auburn area demonstrates that it is possible to work in such a manner and the real success of the branch has been to build local alliances, some formal, some informal, with a broad range of groups and individuals. Groups as diverse as the Residents Action Group, the No Dump Group, People for a Better Berala, the local Greens, members of the Turkish community and individual members of the local Labor Party and of course, the Communist Party, have developed productive working relationships.
Getting our hands dirty
Alliances mean getting our hands dirty. They mean working time and again with people we have big ideological differences with. But working in this way gives us a big opportunity to speak to a wider audience, an opportunity to argue our position and raise politics to a higher level.
In our campaigns we have worked with conservative and religious people as well as small business people. Our work with them has managed to advance their thinking. We have helped them to look at issues in a more progressive way.
I believe it is this type of branch work that can build foundations for bigger alliances. It is experiences of such work which can build confidence in our own comrades to argue for our vision of a new type of government, build our confidence to paint a picture of a better society which we can struggle for now. It will build our confidence to convince people that we must struggle together for a socialist future.