Congress Discussion Journal No 1, 1992
I welcome the inclusion of Rule 6 – Training and Education of Members – in our draft Constitution.
In the absence of any cadre training programs, we rely on the initiative and ability which members bring to the party when they join. Many other organisations have training programs to teach people how to carry out tasks.
Many of our new members are left in dark when it comes to learning what they’re supposed to be doing and how they should do it. I think this is the main reason why newer members are reluctant to take on responsibility. Eventually they become older members, still reluctant to take on responsibility. This is an obstacle to the party’s growth, to developing the party’s influence.
Members often become “typecast”, i.e. restricted to one type of party activity, because of lack of training which would give knowledge and confidence to take on greater responsibilities.
The need for cadre training was first raised in an extensive way in the SPA Fifth Congress Document in 1984. Unfortunately, very little has been done since then to develop cadre-training programs for party members.
The party relies on its cadres. “Party cadres play an extremely important role within the organisation at all levels. They serve to give an example to other members and prospective members, to give assistance to new members, to do special jobs for the party, to advance courageously party actions among the masses, to bear with difficulties in party work and so forth.” 1
There is a need to constantly develop new cadres. The ever expanding needs of the party demand this. There are many areas of work we need to become active in. We have to strengthen our existing party organisations, especially the branches, develop new leaderships and new branches.
There should be no artificial division between “party members” and “party cadres”. Every party member should be afforded the opportunity to develop. Rule 6 makes this clear: “The development of cadres is a continuing task. The aim is to ensure that each member maintains the maximum level of activity with an increasing capacity to fulfill the tasks of a Party member, maintaining high moral standards and a commitment to serving the working class.” 2
Of course cadre training involves understanding our party’s ideological and political position, gaining familiarity with our policies and their rationale, public speaking, report preparation, paper selling, and many other aspects of party work.
I would like to raise some of the concepts I consider important to be discussed at cadre training sessions.
Why the party exists; the necessity to develop a mass influence; orientation of the party to people outside the party.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels analysed the relationship between the Communists (Marxist Party) and the proletarians (working class). They wrote that communists do not have “interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole”.
“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement ...
“The Communists, therefore, are ... that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.” 3
To use a well-worn phrase, “the party does not exist for itself”. It exists for the people, to serve the people; in the first place, the working class.
That it is necessary for the party to develop a mass influence would be agreed on by all comrades, yet in our day-to-day party work I am of the opinion that time and again we miss opportunities to involve non-party people. There are many improvements we can make to better orient our activity towards people outside the party.
This should be the subject of discussion with party members. Developing contacts with non-party people has to be promoted as the principle method of doing party work. Members who are content to remain “hidden” and only surface at party meetings are not fulfilling their obligation to build the influence of the party.
It must become a standard practice for party branches to develop a contact list of non-party friends and supporters and to seek ways to involve such people in party work e.g. selling the Guardian and supporting SPA social and political activities.
Most importantly, the party has an obligation to have discussions with party friends and supporters to ascertain how the party can help them.
Connecting theory with practice
It is important that party members participate in the many struggles of the people, both by working in one of the many non- party organisations and by campaigning in the party’s name.
If our work is to be successful and advance the movement, there are two main errors we should avoid. One consists of failing to appropriately introduce the necessary political and ideological aspects of the struggle in order to give people a better understanding of the meaning and direction of their struggle. That is, we fail to apply our Marxist-Leninist ideology.
The other error is to try and rally people on the basis of general demands, assuming that the mere presentation of our political and ideological position is sufficient to win support and generate activity.
Both errors derive from an improper relationship between theory and practice. Party propaganda should be discussed and assessed in this light.
Within the party we have to develop a better understanding of how to put theory into practice in order to strengthen the unity of the party and make our work more effective.
We are united theoretically i.e. we share a common ideology and have a common analysis of political life and a common set of policy solutions to the major problems facing the people.
If we want to deepen the unity of our party and our application of democratic centralism, to ensure there really is a close contact between higher and lower bodies we have to make explicit our common approach to struggling, in practice, for the implementation of party policy.
One useful way to achieve this is to examine the logical progression which leads us from the analysis of issues to the practical tasks of the day.
There are many ISSUES in the world which we examine as a whole. We formulate POLICIES to solve the problems raised by the issues. We set GOALS, usually more immediate ones, which highlight the need to achieve elements of our policies. We pinpoint CONCRETE TASKS which have to be carried out in achieving our goals. We allocate RESPONSIBILITIES for carrying out these tasks.
Issues > Policies > Goals > Concrete Tasks > Responsibilities
In our party there is an artificial division between the steps in this progression. There is an accepted “division of labour” between the different levels of the party. In my opinion, this is an expression of the separation of theory and practice.
Policy is decided at Central Committee level and the lower party organisations have to implement it, i.e. set the goals, formulate the concrete tasks and carry them out.
It can be argued that this “division of labour” is to some extent a natural one as the more developed and experienced members of the party are better able to analyse issues and formulate policy. But surely the aim of building the party, building an alternate leadership for this country, necessarily includes ensuring every party member can analyse, develop policy, set goals, formulate concrete tasks and allocate responsibilities.
Yet as a party we accept this “division of labour” as fixed and unchangeable.
Reports at Central Committee meetings often present the results of analysis and policy formulation carried out at Central Committee Executive meetings. There is very rarely any suggestions of immediate goals or concrete tasks that party organisations should consider, in order to win support for the implementation of our policy.
This is reflected in some branch meetings where the work of the party is often conceptualised in unachievable terms, it remains at the level of issues and policy. We have to “win the working class” or “get our policies across” but these goals are not translated into concrete tasks for the organisation. The consequences of this approach are that we talk in abstract terms and never really develop good organisers who can see in detail how to develop struggle. This approach gives our party a “talkshop” and “isolated” image.
Formulating and achieving concrete tasks develops a realistic sense of achievement and fosters pride in the party when tasks and goals are successfully fulfilled.
At the other end of the spectrum we have party branches and party members who see their role as solely to carry out concrete tasks, which are very necessary, but in the absence of ever taking part in developing goals, formulating policies, analysing issues, fail to develop comrades who are able to give leadership to the many struggles of the people.
Both higher and lower party committees must have the perspective of extending their work to both ends of the above “progression” as much as is possible for them.
Good leadership must be able to see this dynamic of theory and practice in all we do and be able to “flesh out” all stages of the progression from issues to responsibilities.
I am not asking the Central Committee to be responsible for allocating particular comrades in each branch around Australia to sell the Guardian, but I do think it essential that the Central Committee bring its experience and knowledge to bear on how to implement policy, which goals to set, what concrete tasks party organisations could carry out, in winning support for the implementation of policy, which is, after all, policy decided by the Central Committee. We cannot maintain an artificial division between theory and practice and still claim to practice democratic centralism which ensures “close contact between higher and lower party organisations”.
Our 5th Congress Political Statement spoke about the need to develop “action programs”, based on our policy. It says when developing activity around party policy we should ask the questions: a) which targets, what demands b) to which groups is the program directed c) what form, tactics, organisation d) which party organisation, members, supporters, can be involved e) what evaluation do we make of our work
These are some of the questions the Central Committee and other higher party committees can begin to tackle when making decisions about policy.
If the Central Committee took more responsibility for how its decisions were implemented the real life connections between it and the State and District committees would multiply, giving the party a more developed unity and a greater sense of common purpose.
Similarly, the lower party organisations, especially branches must be encouraged to engage in analysis and policy formulation. The greater the responsibility the branches have for all aspects of their work, from policy making to implementation, the greater will be their commitment and sense of responsibility for implementation i.e. activity.
Role of party branches
The party branch is the public face of the party in the many areas where the branch is active, be it a workplace, a locality, or a mass organisation. The party branch exercises this role more so than any other party committee, because branches have the most direct contact with non-party people.
The party branch must play its part in organising struggle, both in its own name and through non-party organisations. A major aim is to win support for party policy as the best way forward and in this process to win new members who are prepared to join us in party activity.
Branch life must be stimulating and action oriented, with discussion and planning of activities and allocation of responsibilities. There must also be follow up i.e. checking on decisions and planning of further activity based on the previous practice and the lessons learned.
An important topic for discussion at cadre training sessions is how to upgrade the party’s public profile, especially that of the party branch. What use does each branch make of means such as the Guardian, leaflets, petitions, stalls, the local media, the ethnic media, delegations to local members, house meetings and public meetings?
Branches should play a most important role in guiding the work of their members, those who work directly with the people on behalf of the party organisation and those who work in non-party mass organisations. Our concept of criticism and self-criticism i.e. assessment of work done and guidance for the future should be central. Branches should also give back-up and support to members who work in non-party organisations.
The branch executive
Our constitution places responsibility on a branch executive for “implementing decisions of the branch, preparing the business for each branch meeting, for the extension, development and strengthening of the branch organisation” and for “taking necessary steps to encourage the maximum participation of branch members in the activity of the branch.” 4
How this is done, concretely, is rarely the subject of discussion. The fact that branch executives are still not very business like, do not pay attention to details of correspondence, leave things until the last minute etc. is proof of the need for such discussion about their role.
It is the branch executive’s task to ensure political reports are given at every business meeting – reports which deal with the issues of the day and are helpful for comrades both as part of their general political education and in their everyday work.
Branch executives must ensure that proposals for activity are put forward at branch meetings. The need to check on decisions has been raised for many years in our party. “Some party organisations do not do this. They have a discussion, make decisions and when they meet again have another discussion and make more decisions. Such a party organisation will almost certainly be standing still and getting little done except having a ‘good discussion’.” 5
Improving the work of branch executives will overcome attitudes of liberalism, still prevalent in our party, and help to strengthen our practice of democratic centralism and thereby our party work.
The function of branch officers
In the life of our party there have been tens of branch secretaries, chairpersons and treasurers. How many of these comrades have ever discussed what their role is? Very few, I suspect.
That’s not to say we haven’t had good branch officers. An amount of experience was brought into the SPA at its formation and passed on to newer members, but not in any systematic way. Branch officers also learned what to do through their own experience, integrating that with already established practices.
There are differing views on the role of branch officers in our party. This is not surprising, as we, as a party, have not developed a uniform definition of what is required of secretaries, chairpersons etc.
In my experience in the party, I have been in branches where the person in the chair has been regarded as the main political cadre, rather than the secretary as it should be in our party. In such branches, the secretary has been seen as “a secretarial worker”, answering correspondence etc., and not as responsible for ensuring the political direction of the party organisation.
In our party the branch secretary is responsible for all that happens in the branch, and therefore answerable to the higher party body for the work of the branch.
The secretary does not have to do everything personally, but must ensure that responsibility is allocated for all the necessary tasks to be carried out by the branch. The branch secretary must think of everything!
Branch programs of action (whatever the scale or scope) have to be formulated and in the first place the branch secretary should draft such programs, in discussion with the other executive members.
A branch secretary is primarily responsible for motivating others into activity. Again I will quote from our Fifth Congress Document: “Party members must not succumb to apathy or lack of political consciousness which is often widespread. It is the task of political leadership to overcome these difficulties and rise above them not capitulating to this or that mood which might prevail from time to time. The party must see further ahead and elevate the working class to its role of leadership of all the progressive forces.” 6
Branch secretaries should see to it that there is constant contact between the branch executive and branch members, and the branch and party supporters. The secretary is also responsible for the development of all members, including the allocation of responsibilities to members of the executive and of the branch.
Chairing a meeting is not just a matter of “keeping comrades in order” as you will often hear the chairperson’s job described.
Their main function is to ensure a proper discussion around the proposals before the meeting and to ensure the meeting reaches some conclusion i.e. the proposals are accepted and / or amended (or rejected) and that responsibility is allocated for putting the proposals into effect.
There are other aspects of the role of the chairperson, including maintaining a good atmosphere in the branch meeting and using initiative to overcome difficulties in the meeting.
One aspect which should be discussed at cadre training sessions is whether we should use the so-called “rules of debate” at party meetings, and if not, why not.
Other branch executive positions, include treasurer, Guardian officer, education officer and they too should be the subject of extensive discussion, and not be left to individual comrades to find their own way. That’s not an argument for stifling individual initiative, but a plea for a common, collective understanding of what comrades in these positions should be doing, to help party branches fulfill their role in the best possible way.
Real life examples
I think it best if the role of branches and the function of branch officers are not discussed in an abstract way, but as much as possible real life examples and problems are used as the basis for discussion of what needs to be done and how it should be done.
Key points of our ideological and political platform should be integrated into the discussion at all stages where appropriate. For example, our attitude to other sections of society and the need for allies of the working class, our two-stage transition process, as well as our attitude to left and right opportunism should be constant themes when discussing how to upgrade the party’s public profile and build connections with the people.
Our attitude to unity and our strategy of building a political alternative are also important cornerstones of party policy which party comrades have to apply in their everyday work.
Aims of cadre training
Our party should make cadre training a permanent feature of party life. There is always a need to replenish our cadre force. It’s not only people new to the political movement who we have to train, but those who come to us from different sources, such as other left parties or the ALP.
Cadre training should teach people how to carry out the many necessary tasks of party life, some of which are discussed above. In this process we should aim to build cadres with a devotion to the cause of the working class, comrades with a loyalty to the party and a commitment to develop and build the party.
We should avoid a narrow interpretation of what a party cadre is. Some years ago, Georgi Dimitrov wrote: “...in practice preference is very often given to a comrade who, for example, is able to write well and is a good speaker but is not a man or woman of action, and is not as suited for the struggle as some other comrade who perhaps may not be able to write or speak so well, but is a staunch comrade, possessing initiative and contacts with the masses, and is capable of going into battle and leading others into battle. Have there not been many cases of sectarians, doctrinaires or moralisers crowding out loyal mass workers, genuine working class leaders.” 7
We have to develop comrades who can think for themselves, comrades who can work out solutions to problems which the party faces, problems which the people face, and who are not afraid to show initiative and to take on responsibility for decisions taken.
Cadre training should equip comrades to work among the people, to be able to give real leadership to the working class and other sections of the people.