The post-war Communist Party of Australia and its prospects
It’s quite rare for a sympathetic overseas researcher to publish an assessment of the circumstances and the work of the CPA. Given the remoteness of the author from the subject, the following is a very insightful piece. While the influence of religion on the thinking of the masses in Australia might be over-estimated, the observations of the anti-Communist repression from the 1950s onwards, the disorientation of many after Khrushchev’s “secret speech”, the dominance of social democracy over the labour movement, the demobilising effect of the Accord, the splits in the Communist movement and more are all there. While the analysis is brief, particularly regarding the splits in the movement, it’s hard to disagree with one conclusion that “there is still a tortuous and bumpy journey ahead for the Communist Party of Australia to explore the socialist path.”
From the date of its establishment, the Communist Party of Australia has been adhering to the theoretical guidance of Marxism-Leninism, seeking to unite the working class and the working people of Australia, opposing the reactionary rule of monopoly capital, maintaining political and economic interests of the Australian people, and struggling heroically for social progress. However, after WW2, under the impact of a variety of factors, the Communist Party of Australia has gradually faded.
An analysis of the decline of the post-war Communist Party of Australia
The power of the Communist Party of Australia has been constantly undermined since World War II. The number of members of the original Communist Party of Australia had dropped to 5850 by 1958, 2500 by early 1972, 2000 by 1982, and finally the party was dissolved at the end of 1990 under the impact of the drastic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
(A) the post-war suppression of by the bourgeoisie and its government
After World War II, the Australia bourgeoisie stepped up its attacks on the Communist Party and other left-wing parties. They persecuted Sharkey, attempted to outlaw the Communist Party of Australia, and demonised the Communist Party through manipulating public opinion. The Labor Party undertook a variety of anti-communist or limiting measures from within, and supported the reactionary policies of the then Menzies government to combat the Communist Party of Australia.
(B) The impact of the setbacks and failures of the world socialist movement
Khrushchev’s “secret report” has led the governments of the Western developed countries, including Australia, to take the opportunity to discredit socialism and set off a new round of anti-communism. The incident also caused ideological confusion within the Communist Party of Australia, shook the faith of some party members and cadres towards socialism, and even led some party members to quit the party. Ultimately, the drastic changes of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe led to the dissolution of the former Communist Party of Australia, and a lack of confidence in the socialist system among the Australian people.
(C) The weakening of the party by repeated splitting
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Communist Party of Australia was split several times. In 1963 some party members headed by Hill split from the party and formed the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist). In 1971, some party members thought that the leaders of the Communist Party of Australia were anti-Soviet, so split and established the Socialist Party of Australia. In March 1983, the Socialist Party of Australia encountered a major split, which reduced the number of party members from near one thousand to about 500. In 1984, the Socialist Party of Australia split again and was further weakened.
Under the shock of the drastic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the former Communist Party of Australia was disbanded at the end of 1990. The Socialist Party of Australia changed its name to the Communist Party of Australia at its Eighth Congress in 1996. As a result, there are still in existence the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Australia. This division has limited the development of the two parties and is a major challenge faced by the communist movement in Australia.
(D) The decline of the labour movement and the trade union movement in Australia since the mid-1970s
Due to a decline of the workers’ interests in joining the trade union, the membership rate of trade unions also declined. Before 1974, approximately 70 percent of the workers joined trade unions, but the rate is only about 18 percent of the total working population of Australia today. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, due to the suppression of the Australian unions, the Australian working class has been more and more dis-organised. The Australian bourgeoisie has constantly fought against the trade unions, and has weakened them. The Australian government has also adopted many harsh anti-union and anti-worker laws, almost banned workers’ strikes and other labour movement activity.
Second, the Australian bourgeoisie has constantly sought to inculcate class collaborationism among the working class and weaken their fighting spirit. In 1983, the Australian Labor government signed with the Australian Council of Trade Unions the Prices and Incomes Accord, which, together with other class collaboration policies, have caused a decline of many workers’ living standards as well as many other changes not in the interests of the working class, such as the increase of working hours, ignoring of health and safety rules, work acceleration, frequent accidents, the spread of part-time jobs, rising unemployment, etc. For example, Australia’s unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in December 1995 and 8.5 percent in 1995.
Third, the Australia bourgeoisie holds ideological dominance, and has launched repeated ideological attacks on the workers’ movement through a variety of means such as instilling individualism and classless or ultra-class ideology to the working class, etc. which have consequently obscured the class consciousness of the working class.
Fourth, the bourgeois chooses contractors for service and induces the workers to move away from the unions. They have also sought to undermine the basic working conditions of the workers, divide the working class, and weaken the trade union movement. The decline of post-war Australian labour movement and trade union movement has led to a decline of the radical workers supporting radical left-wing political parties such as the Communist Party of Australia. This is an important factor for the continuing weakening of the post-war Communist Party of Australia.
The prospects of the Communist Party of Australia
The outbreak of the economic crisis of capitalism has greatly changed the adverse situations of the Communist Party of Australia and brought a rare opportunity for the development of the party. At the same time, however, the Communist Party of Australia also faces many challenges.
First, the flooding of reformism in Australia.
After the war, reformism has gradually flooded in Australia with the following main reasons: first, in order to eliminate the impact of the Communist Party on the working class and maintain its long reign, the Australia bourgeois established the welfare system and social security system, which to some extent have improved the lives of working people, hence alleviating the internal class contradictions and crises; second, the post-war Australia witnesses a “new middle class” (including managers, supervisors and experts), who favor the status quo and fear social unrest, so tend to accept reformism; third, Australia is a country of immigrants, so the unionism and social reformism of the migrants also have an impact on the working class.
Second, the limitation of Australian electoral system for small parties and the Labor Party.
The lack of funds renders the Communist Party in a very disadvantageous position in the election campaign. The election of members of the Federal House of Representatives adopts a single-seat constituency method, which means that the winner would take all the ballots of a district. As a result, while some small parties or independents non-partisan candidates get certain votes in the constituency, it is meaningless if they did not win the relative majority of votes.
Third, the liquidity of the working class is disadvantageous for the Communist Party to recruit new members and strengthen party building.
There are a lot of temporary and part-time workers within the Australia working class. They often work in unstable jobs and constantly change positions, with very low wages and strong liquidity. They are the most exploited stratum of the working class. This situation certainly poses a challenge for the recruitment and development of the party.
Fourth, the majority of Australians believe in religion, which is not conducive to the spread of Marxism.
Australians have a variety of religious beliefs. The 2001 census data show that the ratio of Episcopalian is 21 percent, Roman Catholic 27 percent, other Christian sects 21 percent, and the religion of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism 5.9 percent; the population of no religion or religious beliefs accounts for only 20.2 percent of the total. This situation certainly is a barrier for the spread of Marxism in Australia, which is founded on dialectical materialism and historical materialism.
Overall, at present, the challenges faced by the Communist Party of Australia are greater than the opportunities, and there is a long way to go for the Communist Party of Australia to grow into a significant mass political party. Consequently, there is still a tortuous and bumpy journey ahead for the Communist Party of Australia to explore the socialist path.