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Issue #1806      December 13, 2017

Congress impressions

The Guardian caught up with some of the delegates and observers after Congress to ask them about their expectations and impressions of the 13th National Congress of the CPA before they returned to their states. There were a number of relatively new members who attended Congress for the first time, reflecting a recent interest in the Party. So before asking about the Congress itself, the Guardian spoke to one of these observers from Adelaide about how she came to join the Party.

Tamara Alexandra Otello.

Tamara Alexandra Otello is from Adelaide in South Australia. She came to Australia from Germany as a young mother with a 15-month-old son, her own mother was already living here. While living in the west of Germany she had frequently visited the German Democratic Republic (East) to see her grandparents.

“That made an impression on me. I was living in the West but had regular contact with the East. Politics was never discussed in my family. My mother always voted Liberal and still does.”

Ironically her parents had fled communism.

“When I went to university I studied social work, I studied sociology, psychology, politics. I became quite interested in politics and so I joined the Communist Party in the 1980s.” (The present CPA was the Socialist Party then – Ed)

“I’ve had a long career in social work – in domestic violence, in health, and other areas. That will always be my interest, that and the Cuba Friendship Society.

“I was always involved in left causes – anti-nuclear, Roxby Downs, the women’s movement, we had a women’s contingent that went to Roxby Downs.”

It was Tamara’s strong interest in Cuba and a trip at the end of last year on a Brigade to Cuba that led to her joining the CPA. The Brigade leader was CPA national president Vinnie Molina.

“I was exposed there and saw how it worked.” She already knew a number of party members from her activism and not long after her return, CPA general secretary Bob Briton asked her to consider joining the Party which she did.

Today, in “retirement” Tamara is involved in the Anti-Poverty Network. They have been campaigning for an increase of $100 per fortnight in the NewStart Allowance, against the Basics Card and also do some advocacy work for people dealing with CentreLink.

As for the Congress, Tamara said, “I was quite pleased to hear one of the young members saying we cannot just dismiss the disabled, the mentally ill, aged pensioners and the unemployed as lumpen proletariat because they are not workers.

“I don’t think we can’t just focus on workers in that sense. We need to think about everyone.

“I would also like to see more women in the Party. Congress has been great. I have met people I chat with from Facebook.”

Andrew Rayment.

Andrew Rayment is a 25-year-old student from Newcastle in NSW who was also attending his first Congress as an observer. He is studying biotechnology.

“I didn’t come with any expectations but was pleasantly surprised with the discussions that were going on. It was good to hear about the struggles from around the country that others are involved in. It was great to put faces to names or meet people involved in other political activity or have written articles for the Guardian.

“It was nice meeting so many young people in the Party and getting to know them and talk to them about the Congress and what they felt the role of the youth in the Party could be. I think it will strengthen the links between the youth around Australia.

“From what I’ve heard, I think the Congress was inspiring for most people who attended. It will give them a direction over the next four years. It gives us a policy platform for where we are heading over the next four years with the incoming Central Committee.

Romina Beitseen.

Romina Beitseen a member and treasurer of the Melbourne branch of the CPA. She has been in the party for just over 30 years, having joined soon after she came to Australia in 1986 from Iran. It is her second Congress, the first was in the early 1990s.

“I hoped to see more younger members of the Party at this Congress which I have. It was beyond my expectations, it was really great. They are all involved and active and that is a really good, positive thing for the party.”

Comparing this Congress with the first one she attended, Romina said, “it shows that we have grown as a party. We had a lot of older members at that time who were very active and had lots of experience.

“It was the same at this Congress, with a lot of capable, experienced comrades who are active in a lot of areas. I guess it is a larger Congress this time with a lot of the younger generation. So it’s a positive thing for it shows that we are growing as a party.”

Romina is very active in the peace movement and is secretary of the Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD). She is also involved with The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN), the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW) as well as being a member of the Cuba Friendship Society.

“Especially at this time I believe we should all be involved in the peace movement and try to get people to see what is really happening with US aggression and also to support IPAN to have an independent, peaceful Australia and not follow the US into every war.

After the Congress, Romina hopes that the Party will be involved in more peace activities. “I’m hoping that the Party will be a leading force in the peace movement. ‘Peace to the people, land to the peasants’ was the battle cry of the Russian Revolution. Lenin was a strong advocate of peaceful coexistence between nations.

“I would like to see this Party lead the peace work in Australia.”

B N Sudarshan.

B N Sudarshan is a lawyer and a member of the Sydney Central branch of the CPA and attended Congress as an Observer. He migrated to Australia from India where had worked in the trade unions and had been a member of the Communist Party India-Marxist. He retired a year ago.

“Listening to the deliberations of delegates I understood one thing, that they participated with enthusiasm. I am impressed with the theme of the Congress, ‘Taking the Party to the People’, because the Communist Party is the vanguard of the working class and the working class have to lead the nation.

“The working class are the majority in society. Unfortunately the working class is not in government. Australian society is governed by the capitalist parties, whatever their name – Liberal Party or Labor Party. The Labor Party does not represent the working class in Australia.”

Sudarshan pointed to the existence of exploitation in Australia which is a class society and how rising prices are reducing the share of the wealth generated being distributed to the working people who generate it. “People do not have a share of the economic growth.”

On the question of what we do following the Congress: “We have to deliberate further on the theme of the Congress, have workshops at all levels of the Party to develop a methodology on how to take the Party to the people. What are the issues to be taken? What means are to be adopted?”

Wayne Sonter.

Wayne Sonter is the secretary of the Western Sydney branch of the CPA and former secretary of the Sydney District Committee. He has attended a number of Congresses and has been an activist in the union movement, around the shorter working week and a number of solidarity movements.

“I think new personnel are coming in and the old guard is gradually coming to pass, but it is being managed in a generally orderly manner. The Party’s ideological continuity is being largely maintained as this process unfolds.

“Congress will give us an impetus for our work, but this is in rapidly changing times. Our supreme task is to keep up with and ahead of these changes as they are affecting the masses, if we are to build the Party in building the movement. We must continue to motivate ourselves and to find inspiration in our work throughout the next four years. The Congress is just the start of that process,” Wayne said.

As for this work, “As a branch secretary, I see there is a lot of work to do to grow our branch, extend its profile and connect to what is a more general upsurge among the masses outside the Party, that we need to connect to if we are to ‘Take the Party to the People.’ ”

Next article – Greetings from the Tudeh Party of Iran

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