Penal Powers: In 1968, Clarrie O’Shea, Victorian Tramways Union leader,was jailed for refusing to pay thousands in fines levied under the Penal Powers Act. These powers were introduced by Menzies in the late ’50s and used most aggressively in the late ’60s by employers to deter unions striking over claims for higher wages. The day after O’Shea was jailed, a million workers across Australia stopped work to demonstrate their support for him and the fine was paid by an anonymous benefactor. Soon after O’Shea’s release, the government moved to modify the laws.
Abstract: The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was historically significant for the fundamental revision of Lenin by the introduction of an idealist concept that the proletariat could surrender state power to the whole people and that this voluntary liquidation of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat could happen and still lead to communism. This, coupled with the attack on the cult of the personality, was a cover for an attack on the fundamentals of Leninism and Lenin’s view that the class rule represented by this dictatorship will exist right up to communism. This article also shows how this revision influenced the decline in the communist movement in Australia along with the changes caused by the scientific and technical revolution. This led to the reestablishment of a bourgeois state at first without a major bourgeoisie but then seized by the counter-revolutionaries under Yeltsin and Gorbachev.
Key words: proletariat; dictatorship; state; whole people; communism; Lenin; idealist.
In the last decade of the twentieth century the representatives of imperialism triumphantly proclaimed the end of history. They were celebrating the restoration of capitalist relations in the territories of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European people’s democracies.
The People’s Republic of Yemen was the scene of street fighting and violent upheavals. In the Balkans Yugoslavia was dismantled and Albania captured by gangsters and criminals. The assets of the people were seized and in many cases removed from their home countries. Seemingly overnight, violent wars began between Soviet republics, some of which are still unfolding.
In Asia the isolation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was intensified and Cuba went through the special period and through sacrifice survived the counter-revolutionary onslaught.
In China danger threatened when one of the so-called democratic revolutions was orchestrated to coincide with the visit of the liberal democrat Gorbachev. In Romania and Afghanistan the leaders of the communist parties were murdered by the so-called revolutionaries.
In the German Democratic Republic an assault on the Berlin wall and an internal coup within the party bought down the defences of the socialist state, the annexation of the GDR by the FDR occurred dramatically. In the Soviet Union the Communist Party was declared illegal and its assets seized by the newly emerging capitalist gangster state. Throughout the region fascist groups emerged almost overnight and communists were divided and repressed. In the Baltic states, extreme nationalism emerged and progressive and communist forces were pushed underground. Estonia, Lithuania and others fell into the hands of extreme nationalists.
In Czechoslovakia the so-called “velvet revolution” restored capitalist rule and in its first act partitioned the country into two new republics. Vaclav Havel was distinguished by the connection with the previous ruling families which had owned large parts of Czech industries before the people’s revolutions. What had not been possible to achieve by armies of intervention by the fascist hordes and decades of sabotage and isolation was seemingly done in a relatively short period of history and in a relatively bloodless way.
There were common elements though in all of these developments:
- A weakening of the communist parties and their connection to the people;
- Demonstrations in the major cities;
- Extreme nationalist movements, including revivals of racial hatreds;
- Changes to the mechanism of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat;
- A flooding in of assistance by large mainly US corporations (e.g. Xerox), religious and other NGOs;
- A revival of religious groups and restorations of state religions;
- Economic dislocations in some economies;
- Corruption within the ruling parties;
- Emergence of leading figures of communist parties as part of the new emerging capitalist trend;
- Loss of direction by the state apparatus and paralysis of the mechanisms of the state.
A crisis and paralysis
The crisis that ensued was further increased as those who fought the changes were deemed conservatives and many of the parties became pluralists and social-democratic. Former senior leaders of the communist movement emerged as local tyrants heading capitalist and nationalist regimes, for example Edward Shevardnadze in Georgia.
The ideological disintegration caused paralysis, and the damage to the movement amongst the working people in the world was exacerbated as this disintegration spread to communist parties throughout the capitalist world and formerly large communist parties, such as the Italian Communist Party, disintegrated. In all continents, communist parties dissolved into democratic movements or shifted to the position of multi-tendency parties. The Socialist Unity Party of the GDR had a party that now declared six platforms in one party.
The crisis was not new
In Australia this disintegration and ideological confusion was not new. The communist movement had undergone a series of splits and divisions which increased in frequency at the turn of events locally and internationally. That which divided the international communist movement was magnified and fought out all over the country. As a people of an immigrant country, with each international struggle touching and influencing our development, Australians look to developments in other countries, particularly the country of their origin. Waves of Irish looked to the struggles of Ireland, Russians had influenced early trade union struggles as they fled tsarist persecution, Greeks and Cypriots played their part in our labour struggles. It was the influence amongst Italian sugar cane growers and rural workers that led to the only representative of the Communist Party in an Australian parliament, Fred Patterson in Queensland. The influence of British trade unionism was also strong in the Australian context, and the colonialism of Britain dominated right up until the 1970s in the “backward” sections of the working class. International events became the mask that was used by opportunist forces to split the party in Australia. Events in Europe or Asia generated followers and led to formations in Australia.
A proud history
The party that was now rent with these divisions had itself been inspired by the development of socialist revolution in Russia. Thus in Sydney the Comintern persuaded the two communist parties that had been formed to unite and create the Communist Party of Australia in October 1920. So began the turbulent history of our movement. As a party there is much to be proud of, as it was a fighting organisation from the beginning. It was the first party to treat the Aboriginal people as human beings and to begin with the great pioneers of that liberation movement struggled against the colonial vestiges and for the survival of a people. As part of a strident effort to bring forth the progressive aspects of an Australian culture, the author Katherine Susannah Pritchard did much to show the struggle of the people in everyday life and the shameful treatment of the Aboriginal people – exemplified in her truly legendary work, Coonardoo, and her commitment to telling the story of Australian working people. The new theatre movement added to the wealth of culture. The leading role in the struggle against war and fascism, sheepskins for Russia and the movements for democratic rights and the right to speak in public all built our movement. The Communist Party, in alliance with the trade union movement and the Labor Party, were able to defeat the referendum launched by the reactionaries to ban the Communist Party.
Within the trade union movement the influence and leadership of the party extended during the 1940s to the 1960s and included party organisation in many workplaces and industries. Many trade unions were transformed into fighting organisations of the working class, the concepts of which were well expounded in Lance Sharkey’s The Trade Unions: Communist Theory and Practice of Trade Unionism (1961). Hundreds of works on all aspects of Australian society and international questions were published.
The party was a unified force of the Australian working class and a part of the international communist movement. This movement, though, is and was a part of the class struggle between the successful proletariat and the defeated bourgeoisie.
Changes in Australian society and the rise of opportunism
The continued expansion and the growth of industries led to what has been called a prolonged boom after the Second World War in which Australian society changed and developed. A conscious policy to tie the workers to home ownership and vast new suburbs created the illusion of continuous progress under capitalism. This at home increased the aristocracy of labour and embedded the Labor Party as the second party of capitalism which in the main was based on this new affluence. Incomes rose and welfare was extended to include many aspects of life.
Reforms in recent years have tied the working classes of the world imperialist system to the financial position of imperialism. Superannuation for sectors of workers share market investment and home ownership, suburbanisation of populations and mixing up the class compositions of communities are all useful for dissolving organisations.
It was these trends that influenced the development of class consciousness and led towards opportunism in the Australian communist movement. These manifested in the twin rise of petty bourgeois tendencies towards left opportunism and right liquidation along with an increase in social democratic tendencies.
Opportunism is an international trend and this Australian “disease,” as it was sometimes called, had manifestations in all parties. It is linked to and results in capitulation to imperialism. It weakens the proletariat and disarms the class consciousness of the vanguard. In 1914 it had tragic consequences for the people of the world and was reflected in the capitulation of the Second International to national chauvinism. Kautsky and Bernstein have shared the role of the personification of this trend.
I would argue that the distinction goes to Khrushchev in the former Soviet Union and to the Aarons brothers in the case of the communist movement in Australia. It is the source of their distortions that we should examine, not because they themselves have created the distortions but because they reflect the idealist trend in the movement that has allowed revision through the door of the movement. The actual class and material basis for these distortions is still the subject of much conjecture. What is it that led to the changes in view that saw tractor stations privatised, that led to the declaration of socialism as achieved whilst capitalist relations still prevailed in the collective farms? Was it due to simple mistakes or was there a class force at work? The actual overthrow of socialist relations took over three decades, and even during this period there were still developments.
What of the failure to deal with corruption and the rise and rise of the black economy? The urbanised population took to the streets and carried out what was in effect the first colour revolution and installed the drunk Yeltsin to power as the representative of a gangster bourgeoisie. The state fell under the influence and use of the counter-revolutionary forces.
The 20th Congress
The ideological position of these forces was assisted by the decline in prestige of the communist movement, and the popular trend is to assign this to the role of Stalin and the “cult of personality.”
This cult was denounced by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Party and, despite Khrushchev’s later removal for economic mismanagement, does not ever seem to have been reviewed. De-Stalinization became a code word for many changes that were implemented during this period and resulted in damage to the international movement. A chain of events occurred and led to a split between a number of communist parties and the Sino-Soviet split that caused divisions in all communist parties.
There was a wave of counter-revolution that seems to coincide with the so-called de-Stalinisation of the socialist communities. Khrushchev’s speech and the struggle in the Soviet Party around the concept of the cult of the personality, and the unscientific way in which this issue was handled, opened the road for an attack on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The airbrushing of Stalin out of Soviet history and the demonisation that grew each year led to an attack on basic concepts of the Marxist-Leninist movement.
Throughout the communist movement loyal communists came under attack for their alleged support of the cult of the personality, and in the Communist Party of Australia statements against Stalin were delivered to all party organisations. Those who did not fall into line were condemned as Stalinists. Confusion and distress were compounded by the fact that the speech which was “secret” in the Soviet Union was anything but to the Western capitalist media. The term “Stalinist” was hurled from all directions at those who supported the revolutionary concept of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and distortions of the concept were paraded by modem anarchist trends that appeared under flags of Trotskyism and Maoism. This added to the ideological confusion and there was little firm ideological ground for Marxist-Leninists as undetected revisions of the basic tenets caused the ground to fall out from under the communists’ feet. The attack from Khrushchev restored legitimacy to and borrowed heavily from Trotsky’s denunciations of Stalin. That there was no analysis of the process was testament to the success of the method used of cloaking the distortion in revolutionary verbiage.
Literature from the Soviet Union expunged Stalin and replaced him with Khrushchev as the source of wisdom; the 20th, 21st and 22nd Congresses were lauded as decisive contributions to the theory of Marxism-Leninism. Changes were subtle in approaching the question of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Under the guise of learning from experience of building socialism, distortions of Marxism-Leninism appeared.
Under the influence of these congresses, V Afanasyev, in his Marxist Philosophy: A Popular Outline (1961), in the chapter entitled “The State of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to the State of the Entire People” (pages 318-320), makes the following assertions:
The state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as we have seen, exists during the transition period from capitalism to socialism. The working class needs it to crush the resistance of the exploiters, to abolish the oppression of man by man and to build socialism, together with the peasants and other working sections of society.
The working class in the Soviet Union successfully carried out this epoch-making task with the aid of all state power: socialism won completely and finally in the Soviet Union. With this victory the conditions which necessitated the dictatorship of the proletariat disappeared. The working class, in the words of Programme of the CPSU, “is the only class in history that does not aim to perpetuate its power.”
Having brought about the complete and final victory of socialism – the first phase of communism – and the transition of society to full scale construction of communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat has fulfilled its historic mission and has ceased to be indispensable in the USSR from the point of view of the tasks of internal development. The state which arose as a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat has, in the new, contemporary stage, become a state of the entire people, an organ expressing the interests and will of the people as a whole.
The state of the dictatorship of the proletariat is a transitory phenomenon of history. It must arise when the working people are confronted with the task of building socialism. When socialism triumphs completely and finally, the dictatorship of the proletariat comes to an end. When the victory of socialism is secured, the working class voluntarily renounces its rule over society and transforms its dictatorship into a state of the entire people.
Absurdly, Afanasyev goes on to assert that this “does not mean that the working class loses its leading role in society”; and then, “only with the disappearance of classes, ie with the building of communism, will the working class complete its mission as leader of society.”
And further: “The experience of building socialism and communism in the Soviet Union shows that the dictatorship of the proletariat ceases to be a necessity before the State withers away. But the state as an organisation of the entire people will be preserved until the complete victory of Communism.”
In contrast to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is “the further development of democracy.” It is in this context that Lenin and Marx are revised. On pages 20-28 of the 1949 edition of Lenin’s The State and Revolution, Lenin discusses the state as an instrument for the exploitation of the oppressed class by the exploiting class. And he then points out that “The Supersession of the bourgeois state by the proletarian State is impossible without a violent revolution. The abolition of the proletarian State, ie of the State in general, except through the process of ‘withering away”’ (ibid., page 33).
To assert that the proletariat can abolish the state by surrendering power is an idealist interpretation; to talk of socialist democracy being established after such a transfer of power is an attack on the actuality of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as the last form of the State and not in fact a state in the traditional sense. This attack derives from the unprincipled attack on the efforts of the socialist society to this date.
The attack on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the surrender of power to a state of the whole people could only result in a state above the people. As states are instruments of class rule, the state of the whole people being in fact a departure from the dictatorship of the proletariat weakens the class rule of the proletariat and slows the withering away. As such the state provides a vehicle for the re-emergence of the class that was defeated: the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is not as yet a fully formed class but exists in embryo and grows from the vestiges of capitalist relations that still exist under socialism from the continued commodity production and in relations with the capitalist world and from outright corruption and theft. This is what led to the substitution of the rule of the proletariat for the rule of an elite that began to respond to imperialism; rather than a withering away of the state a strengthening of the state as above the classes (of all classes) reverses the gains of the revolution.
The strengthening of the peasants’ hold on the economy through the abolition of state controls opened the door to the re-emergence of commodity economy. The separation of central control to the creation of a commodity market enacts the economic development of this position. The privatisation of tractor stations and the transfer of some enterprises to the peasantry through collective farm property transform the relations of production. The emergence and tolerance of the black economy and the failure to deal with the questions of exchange with the imperialists. These are symptoms that were manifest prior to the new leadership, and there certainly had been a development of privilege, but none of these are in and of themselves decisive; it is an accumulation of material actions taken and not taken that have led to the changes.
It has to be asked: What was it in the development of Soviet society that caused the Soviet leadership to see that their tasks were the removal of the status of Stalin? Who did it benefit and what were the changes that it engendered?
The attack on the cult of the personality led to denial of the role of the party and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the struggle to establish socialism. It placed the individual outside of the class and the historical period. It was idealist in that it placed all negative developments at the feet of one man. This has nothing to do with Marxism-Leninism. In the 30 years of Stalin’s leadership, socialism was consolidated, the fascists defeated, and collectivisation of agriculture achieved. The total negation of Stalin’s contribution cut off a whole generation of revolutionaries from a correct understanding of the movement’s material base and led to a series of counter-revolutions; the necessary suppression of these moves led to rising nationalism within the people’s democracies; a weakening in the understanding and practice of socialism undermined the development of socialism in those countries and opened the movement to revision of the basic concepts. This subjective approach was manifest in other practices and is what gradually cut off the party from the people and the real material genesis of the socialist revolution.
In European parties the concept of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was denied and thus many of these parties walked away from revolution, instead becoming stuck on transforming the capitalist state. It is thus that Lenin states on page 51 of The State and Revolution (1949 edition):
To proceed. The essence of Marx’s teaching on the State has been mastered only by those who understand that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general, not only for the proletariat which has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but also for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from “classless society,” from Communism.
In a later text on political economy by Konstantinov, The Fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy (1974), pages 423-429, the distortion continues.
The political forms of the Socialist state may be of various kinds (the Soviet form, the forms of proletarian dictatorship that have become established in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, Asia and in Cuba; other forms of socialist state are also possible, including the parliamentary republic). But the essence of all these forms is one and the same dictatorship of the working class, its leadership of society, of the state.
The phrase quoted uses this sleight of hand to reduce the concept of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as the form of the state and instead reduces the role of proletariat to the leading role; it is not the rule of one class. It also slips back to a form of bourgeois democracy, the Parliamentary republic, and again introduces the concept of capturing and using the bourgeois state rather than abolishing it.
Konstantinov continues: “From being an instrument of the majority of the population directed against the exploiters the state becomes the instrument of all members of society; it ceases to be a means of suppressing the resistance of exploiters, who have disappeared, and embodies forms of people’s unity.”
Socialism is not a classless society; vestiges of capitalism remain if only in the relations of production. This creation of a new stage before communism, a stage without class rule the concept of a state, above class rule, of the whole people has proved to be false. This falsification is the core of the revision of Marxism-Leninism that has plucked the revolutionary mobilization of the proletariat out of Marxism-Leninism and has led us to the present mess. The involvement of the whole people in the administration of the state is part of the process of withering away of the state. The class character of the state is not changed by this process and this is fundamental in a socialist state, for the restoration of capitalism remains on the order of the day whilst imperialism continues in the world.
The transfer of state power to other classes and groups in the Soviet Union was completed by the Gorbachev clique when they moved from soviets to dumas (the parliamentary republic). At any time during this prolonged period a restoration of the Soviet state was possible; it required the conscious activity of the Communists to mobilise the proletarian dictatorship to restore the class rule of the proletariat.
This is what Andropov attempted during his brief period as general-secretary. It was the military and political pressure of the United States that influenced other classes in Soviet society, and the dispersal of the state power away from the proletariat introduced notions and concepts that eventually led to new thinking and its weakening of the Soviet state. The internal dynamic of the black economy and other forms of corruption undermined the morale of the proletariat. The paralysis that was obvious during these counter-revolutions was sourced from the removal of revolutionary content in the form of the state.
The influence of these revisions on the Communist Party of Australia
As stated above, the storms and divisions of the international communist movement during this prolonged period were rent out in the Communist Party of Australia. Forces loyal to Ted Hill sided with the Chinese party in the disputes that arose between the Soviet Union communists and the Chinese communists. Complicating this development was the de-Stalinisation of the Australian party. Developments within the Chinese party also had an effect on the party formed, the Communist Party of Australia (ML). As different changes occurred within the socialist world, splits were the result of differences over international positions. Reflections of the Cultural Revolution and other stages of the Chinese party found their way into the movement. The divisions that arose caused divisions of the communists within the working class. This, though, could at times be overcome when the reality of the struggle within Australia stepped forward – and one such moment of great unity was when the working class fell in behind the CPA (ML) led Tramways Union and a general strike was called against the penal powers legislation of the Menzies government in 1968 and the jailing of Clarrie O’Shea.
During this struggle the pattern of working class militancy and the unity displayed led to a massive defeat of the employing class. The unity of the forces was short lived and the division in the Communist Party of Australia began to come to the fore. A section of the leadership was moving towards the right and adopting an opportunist approach to the developing youth, environment and women’s movements.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, under the influence of the Vietnam war, a youth radicalisation movement broke out questioning all aspects of contemporary society. It reflected on the fact that youth had increased its numbers in society and that in developed capitalist countries many more university students were required as a result of the scientific and technical revolution. This presented a challenge to the contrast of labor by hand and brain. The individualism of this layer contrasted with the collective spirit developed by the proletariat over decades of struggle. It was their intellect that was shifting the process of labor and technicians became more in touch with the proletariat.
It involved new layers entering the Communist Party and some old layers not attached directly to the industrial working class. The attack on Stalin and the cult of the personality was accompanied by an anti-communist campaign, with the Menzies government continuing its attempts to ban the Communist Party. From within the labour movement Trotskyists and right-wing groups organised within the Catholic Church began their attacks to destroy the communists and any progressives within the working class movement. During the two to three decades communists were jailed including the general-secretary of the party, Lance Sharkey. In Balmain, Nick Origlass from the Pabloite Fourth International succeeded in having the elections for the Ironworkers’ Union overturned and communists were jailed. The Catholic-inspired groupers captured the Ironworkers’ Union with the assistance of the Trotskyists. This occurred also with the Federated Clerks’ Union and the Shop Assistants’ Union; these groups still exist and are seen as a respectable part of the Labor Party in modem times.
In 1948 the Chifley Labor Government had launched an all-out campaign against communist influence in the Coal Miners’ Union, the army was used to load coal and the communist leadership of the union was defeated. The Catholic groupers captured the Labor Party but were repelled and a split occurred: many anti-communists left the Labor Party and formed the Democratic Labor Party, whose main aim was to side with the conservatives and keep the Labor Party from government, and at the same time to break up unity between the communists and progressive labour. There was an all-out assault on left and progressive forces in the union movement and many Communist-Labor alliance leaderships were challenged.
During this period the Pabloite Fourth International adopted a strategy of “entrism” into communist and labor parties. An agent for this trend, Dennis Freney, began discussions with the national secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, Laurie Aarons, about entry into the Communist Party and the formation of a faction. They were attracted by the anti-Stalin rhetoric and a growing criticism of the Soviet Union. The new student radicalism and the shift of some layers of the party towards the actual lifestyle of the petty bourgeois strata added this new dimension that enabled this trend to penetrate layers of the party. The working class sections of the party came under attack.
The Communist Party under Aarons’ leadership began to expel long-standing communists and to disband industrial branches, such as the maritime branch, simply for disagreeing with the leadership. The philosophy of this leadership was later confirmed by Laurie Aarons’ brother Eric in the book Philosophy for an Exploding World. Whilst this book was not the basis for the split, it confirms the idealist politics of this group and their departure from Marxism.
In Philosophy for an Exploding World Eric Aarons calls for a “values revolution” and launches into an attack on the fundamental foundations of Marxism. Aarons substitutes the newly emerging youth and student movements for the working class as the mainstay of change and adopts the idealist view that change is from within the individual. He explains his position on page 8:
Associated with the turmoil and change of our century there is already a groundswell of new thinking – the kind of revolution of attitudes and ideas that has accompanied and promoted every major social change in history. The people of all countries – socialist and capitalist, “east” and “west,” industrially advanced and undeveloped are for the first time simultaneously involved … Consequently the thinkers of all nations are forced to consider the most fundamental conceptions …
And further on: “The nature of ‘values’ themselves is under scrutiny. Are they purely man made norms, or do they emerge as the expression of some world spirit?” And after several juxtapositions of these concepts, we read this:
I would wish to contend that the changes with which we are confronted today are not inexorably determined facts of history, but something with which we have a continuing relationship of active exchange: not only do these conditions suggest new ideas to us, but with these ideas we can and ought intervene in history, striving to shape it to our needs and desires.
This book outlines views that led to divisions and splits in the Communist Party of Australia. Marxism-Leninism was replaced with an idealist world view. Many members of the party became renegades and launched attacks on existing socialism. Whilst it is important to study what is new and coming into being, it is also true that ideas are based on the material world and have material reality as their starting point; even madness has a material basis. This attack on proven historical facts is what enabled the leading cadre of the Communist Party to move away from the working class and attack actually existing socialism, instead substituting their fantasies for the reality.
In his False Philosophy Exploded, Bill Brown from the newly formed Socialist Party replied to this mess as follows:
Since material reality is under challenge as the sphere determining ideas, this is clearly a shift in philosophical standpoint away from Marxist materialism. What is the alternative? The shift can only be towards the standpoint of placing ideas in the primary position.
And referring to the author’s attack on Marx:
Further, the booklet implies that Marx adopted a wrong position in not recognising the role of ideas reacting back onto practice or material reality. This is merely resorting to the hackneyed “straw man” device of attributing to the person under challenge views which he did not hold.
It was as this trend that had developed within the Communist Party of Australia that brought on the formation of the Socialist Party of Australia from amongst those expelled and others who left the Communist Party.
The Socialist Party adopted the view that those forces who had captured the Communist Party would eventually liquidate it. This view was confirmed in 1992 when, having fulfilled their role of splitting the movement, the liquidators gained the dissolution of the party and created the Search Foundation as an organisation to manage the considerable assets of the old party.
It was not long before the union activists that were associated with the Communist Party adopted more useful positions to the capitalists and began through majority leadership in unions, such as the Australian Metal Workers’ Union, to adopt class collaborative approaches. Documents such as Australia Reconstructed and many similar publications came from a nationalist and protectionist position, and the struggle for socialism was relegated to a back seat.
The pro-Soviet Socialist Party had a majority of union activists in the construction, maritime and transport industries, and it continued activity from 1971 until the early 1980s when a split developed over the question of the Prices and Incomes Accord and party discipline. Party president Pat Clancy, construction leader Tom McDonald, and sections of the maritime and transport branches, adopted support for the policies of the Labor Party for an agreement on wages restraint in exchange for a social wage. Ideologist Bill Brown came down in favour of the Accord with Labor. This Accord is what eventually led to the loss of militancy of the working class.
The forces around this group that had come together in the Socialist Party were mainly associated with different leaderships in the industrial unions. The militancy of the communist and left labour leaderships and the long post-war boom had led to these groups of workers enjoying a better standard of living than some other groups of workers, and the concept of the united front was distorted to serving the economic struggle rather than the political struggle of workers.
This led to this section of the party coming to a detente position with the right-wing Social Democrats in the ACTU and gave a guarantee of class peace and wage reductions in real terms for a social wage as a means of ensuring the continuation of Labor governments.
Clancy used the capitalist paper The Australian to launch an attack on the party; he had also maintained international relations with forces in the Soviet Union, a strategy of hedging his bets revealed later in Tom and Audrey McDonald’s biography Intimate Union. Clancy was expelled from the party and using this he whipped up an anti-party campaign, splitting dozens of rank and file workers from the party.
The anger was such that fist fights and intimidation was used by the Clancy forces against the party. Two organisations were formed: one was the short-lived and misnamed Association of Communist Unity; and the other was the Maritime Union Socialist Activities Association, which still exists in some ports. The majority of the members of these organisations dissolved into the Australian Labor Party, others set their life towards single issue campaigns.
During the decade of the Accord union membership went into decline, and the membership in trade unions of the Australian working class fell to 15-25 per cent from nearly 60 per cent. Industrial activity plummeted and unions that engaged in actions against the capitalists were deregistered, a process that in other times when a union lost its registration was respected, in this period those unions found their members conscripted by the state into other unions.
Where there was an award system covering all workers in a given industry, the end of the Accord era and the Labor government saw the new system where each company or workplace had its own agreements. Bargaining across industry was made illegal and the new Liberal government was able to take the step of introducing individual contracts to workers in 1996 and further extending this during a decade of government.
The Labor government was able to introduce extensive privatisations of government assets and took workers to the position where their retirement savings were frozen and became part of the capitalist share market. The social wage, at first increased, was eroded by the privatisations, and workers’ employment conditions were increasingly individualised.
It has taken a long time but the Socialist Party has begun to recover from these splits and has now enacted its constitutional provision and reformed as the Communist Party of Australia in 1996.
During this period the party correctly rejected the new thinking of the Gorbachev era and has maintained relations with the international communist movement. The damage that has been done is the shift of the working class away from the political struggle against capitalism and the increasing dispersal of left forces away from an active role in the working class.
The newly reformed Communist Party of Australia does not reject the lessons of history nor attack existing socialism. We see that the diversity of views within the communist movement can best be united by open application of the unity of theory and practice.
As the writer of this article I offer a view on the question of socialism in the 21st century, and that is that it cannot be built unless we are prepared to accept the experience of those who built socialism before us, and our history is a continuity of that struggle. Some who create the concept of 21st-century socialism can make the mistake of not accepting and developing that continuity.
The most basic tenets of Marxism remain that only by the replacement of bourgeois class rule with proletarian class rule can we change towards socialism. To get to this position still requires the application of the vanguard of our class organised as a communist party.
It is important that we learn from life and apply theory and practice as a unity.
The path to socialism is obviously not a straight road but it requires clear and careful direction by the principle of Marxism-Leninism. These principles include the class rule of the proletariat as the transitional form of socialism to communism and are guided by the party principle.
In Australia the distortion of these tenets has led the working class up a blind alley and to a weakening of the class consciousness. This has set back the struggle for socialism in Australia.
Aarons, E 1972. Philosophy for an Exploding World. Melbourne: Brolga Books.
Afanasayev, V 1960. Marxist Philosophy: A Popular Outline. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Brezhnev, L I 1969. “For Greater Unity of Communists, for a Fresh Upsurge of Anti-Imperialist Struggle.” Speech to CPSU Delegation, International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties, 7 June, I969. Moscow: Novosti Press Agency Publishing House.
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