Building the party, building alliances
by Janice Hamilton
As one comrade outlined in the previous edition of the Australian Marxist Review, our party’s documents demand that the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) build left and progressive alliances and working class unity, but I do not agree “that the overwhelming number of party members see such concepts as abstract and cannot grasp how they can be put forward in practice”, as the comrade put it.
My branch is an example of how a party organisation and party members can build left and progressive alliances and make alliances successful in the broad left movement in a region and also bring together several participating organisations.
Since its establishment in 2003, the CPA South Coast Branch set out to build alliances with other left and progressive organisations. Some of the work had already been accomplished and the branch membership rose from four to eight in a few months. But that was not enough. The branch had to become known in the community and we set out to build an alliance with other local progressive organisations.
Two of our members were active in a small group supporting two progressive independents who were elected to represent Ward One on the Wollongong City Council (WCC). Wollongong is an industrial city one hour’s drive, south of Sydney. The main issues of concern were development without ratepayer consultation, lack of community services such as community centres, the need for repair of roads etc.
Our two party members, working in the Active Community Team, helped to achieve the election of the two councilors to the WCC in 2004 by having a joint ticket under the banner of “A United Wollongong”. Later on they assisted the campaign of Michael Organ, the first Green candidate to be elected to the Federal House of Representatives.
They were also successful in approaching local councilors to support WCC motions against the war in Iraq and against the Howard Government’s industrial relations offensive. Other branch members were involved in working with the Illawarra Greens on environmental issues such as the community picket at Sandon Point1 (which has been reported in The Guardian over a number of years). The branch had members involved in the left-leaning local community centre management committees, as well as in trade unions.
The branch executive decided to build such ties by arranging informal meetings with the various groups. It has to be said that our discussions and the assistance already given in various campaigns were just a starting point. The next step was to figure out ways in which our branch and the organisations we were cooperating with could help each other.
Some branch members were already participating in the picket at Sandon Point, but due to dwindling numbers on the picket it was obvious that more assistance was required. Branch members took on the role of what was known on the picket as a “picket monster” (a person who would call people to fill spots on the picket roster). A branch member was allocated the job of working with the Sandon Point organisers and continued to do this work until recently, when the picket tent was destroyed by fire and the picket was abandoned.
The branch also assisted the Greens and Active Community Team by inviting these groups onto the branch’s community radio program, “Struggle Street, ”2 to provide them with some air time that the mainstream media wouldn’t give.
In response to such cooperation and assistance, members of the branch executive were invited to meetings of the groups previously mentioned, to speak and give feedback on a variety of issues of concern which were happening locally, nationally and internationally.
We spoke on how the CPA was contributing towards a mobile hospital in Iraq and how their members and supporters could join us in contributing to benefit the people of Iraq, to name just one issue.
So instead of the relationship being one-sided, it started to build so all organisations were receiving the benefits of mutual progressive co-operation.
The three organisations began running a stall at local festivals and each organisation would contribute something to the stall whether it be equipment, things to sell such as food, or information on each of our organisations.
All three organisations agreed that we would promote our alliance as well as the organisations in it so no one organisation would get any more benefit than the others.
Building the party
By now readers are probably asking themselves, how this has benefited the party. Well, to cut it short, the branch has increased its membership from four at the time of its formation to its current membership of twelve. At one stage we had fourteen. Four members were transferred to establish the Cootamundra / Riverina Branch in December 2005, but the branch’s membership is continuing to grow. We receive at least two enquiries a week about joining, some of those from members of other organisations in the alliance.
The branch has also benefited from an increased knowledge of the workings of the other organisations and we have learnt to work within a sometimes limited framework, while extending the boundaries to take the alliance beyond what is expected. It has been an education lesson for both us and the other organisations. Members of the other organisations have come to know more about Marxism-Leninism and to make a class analysis. This was not the case before.
We have also managed to dispel some of the ruling-class myths that communism is the ultimate evil or alternatively, “is dead”.
The activism of the alliance and the branch’s own members led to the realisation that the general community was very non-political.
While there was anger at the Carr and now Iemma State Government and at the Howard Federal Government, there was very little understanding as to why things that happened locally were the result of policy decisions made by these two tiers of Government.
For example, just after the Cronulla riots a group of high school students, who had just got their Higher School Certificate results, were having a small peaceful party on a local beach. The youths were breaking no laws, they were just playing their music a little loud. The police patrolling the area arrested the group under new legislation which was implemented to stop so-called “riotous behaviour”. Parents of the youths and the community at large were outraged at what had occurred but had no concept of why this had happened or what to do if it happened again.
Our Branch President, in discussions about this event with members of the local Greens, suggested that the alliance should hold a series of forums on national and international issues which were of concern to the local community.
Flowing from the above-described event and our discussions, our alliance has established what has become known as “Sedition by the Sea” forums. Each week the alliance, along with other community representatives has a different topic to discuss. The first began with a lively talk on the anti-terror laws of the Howard and Iemma Governments. About forty-five people attended.
All the organisations are involved in running the forums, whether it be providing speakers, organising a free lunch and morning tea, or handling the publicity to promote each forum.
Our alliance has just had a forum discussing the challenges facing the community under Howard’s WorkChoices legislation at which Socialist Party of Aotearoa Chairperson Brendan Tuohy was the guest speaker. He informed us about New Zealand’s experience with very similar legislation. This forum was also well attended with about twenty-five participants. It was smaller than usual because a number of the alliance participants were involved with a Sandon Point protest arranged for the same time.
In the coming weeks forum topics will deal with the New World Order, Young People in Education and Work, Racism and Environmental Sustainability. We will also be having a forum dealing with empowerment of the community and how to organise to fight against the neo-conservative ruling class on a local level.
The CPA South Coast Branch is hoping that the alliance and the resulting forums will be just the beginning and that as we get more active other organisations will join us.
As Lenin continually reminds us: “Without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary movement.”