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Issue #1929      August 24, 2020

Communists and the struggle for peace

In the darkest days of World War I, it was the new Soviet Government that made an appeal for peace in November 1917, a full year before the armistice.

Andrew Irving, Romina Beitsen and others at the Gates of Pine Gap 2016.

The appeal starts: “The workers’ and peasants’ government, created by the revolution of October 24-25 and basing itself on the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies, proposes to all belligerent peoples and their governments to start immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace.”

The Soviet Government published for all to see the dirty agreements between the British, the French and Tsarist Russia on how the world would be carved up after a victorious conclusion of the war against Germany and its allies.

The agreements show the cause of the war – imperialism’s hunger to gain more territory and wealth. In Australia’s case, our brave lads at Gallipoli were fighting and dying so that Britain and France could conquer Turkey and give it to Tsarist Russia which in return would allow Britain full and unchallenged rights in what is modern day Iran for its oil resources. Tsarist Russia would gain full control of the Bosporus.

When the party was founded in 1920 it made peace a central focus of its activities. However, the 1930s and the lead up to WW2 was when the party really had to step up and devote its few resources to campaign against war and against the Australian Government’s involvement in the wars of imperialism and fascism.

In August 1932, a great congress of a world movement for peace was launched in Amsterdam. It became the Movement Against War and Fascism. Its manifesto said, “Capitalism is the cause of the economic crisis, and the economic crisis hastens war […]”. It acknowledged the “noble dreams” of pacifists and the courage of conscientious objectors but insisted that personal challenges to the war machine were doomed to failure. The masses were “the only invincible power” in the fight against war.”

The councils of communists, ALP members, trade unionists, socialists, and churches. The pattern of broad coalitions in response to war and other crises has continued to this day

The first major conflict that the Party dealt with in the 1930s was the Abyssinian War (Abyssinia was the former name of Ethiopia). Italian fascism was determined to gain colonies just as the other European powers had.

England adopted a position of neutrality and the Lyons government of Australia followed suit. The way was clear for Italy to attack Abyssinia, the only independent state in the whole of Africa that had not succumbed to colonialism. The war started in late 1935 and ended 1937.

Mustard gas and asphyxiants were used liberally by the Italians but the people were fighting for their land and fought very bravely and tenaciously. In Australia calls by Party to follow United Nations rules and impose sanctions on Italy were ignored.

The Spanish Civil War followed in 1936 which inspired actions in support of the legitimate government of Spain and against fascists led by Franco. Fund raisers for the victims of war, demonstrations, public meetings and the formation of brigades to go to Spain to fight followed. The task for communists was made more difficult as the Catholic church here supported Franco and the right wing of the Labor Party dominated by Catholics was an obstacle to unity against war and fascism.

Japan’s invasion of China started with the invasion of Manchuria in 1937 and again the Party was active in resisting this war. One example of this was the Dalfram dispute. From 15th November, 1938 to 21st January 1939 in Port Kembla members of the Waterside Workers Federation (now part of the MUA) refused to load scrap iron onto the Dalfram bound for Japan.

The dispute attracted support from a broad range of unions, groups and Chinese seamen who were on leave in Sydney in a classic working class community alliance which has been a feature of communist actions for peace. Bob Menzies, then Attorney General, threatened legal action but still there was resistance. Menzies became known as Pig Iron Bob ever after.

A leaflet in Party archives from that period is an appeal for Australians not to buy Japanese onions, it was accompanied by the slogan “Every onion sold is a bullet heading for the heart of a Chinese tot.” The leaflet emphasised how the Japanese war in China was having a devastating effect on the children of China.

The immediate post war period saw the rise of anti-colonial struggles. The communists and communist-led unions were in the forefront of promoting the struggle for independence from the colonial powers. One of the most significant for Australia was the struggle against the Dutch in Indonesia.

The period of the Chifley Government’s demise and Menzies’ ascendancy (1948-1952) saw interest in an alliance with the United States in the mistaken belief that we needed “a great and powerful friend.” Lance Sharkey, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, expressed his disgust:

“No one menaces us with aggression.

“Why then do we need a military pact with the American Government of Big Business and Brass hats? Any war these gentry engage in cannot, in the nature of things be other than a war of imperialist aggression, an unjust war. Those who want peace must oppose military pacts with the imperialist powers and insist that the proper working of the UN as Australia’s best safeguard.”

It took eighty years for a conservative to publicly say what Lance Sharkey argued when former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser wrote a book called Dangerous Allies in which he outlined how our alliance with the US was dangerous and not in our best interests.

The 1950s saw Australian involvement in the Korean war and campaigns here against the war. Menzies was pilloried by the Communists for the warmonger he was as he rearmed and diverted resources away from much needed items such as housing and employment.

Menzies in 1962 used dodgy excuses to get Australian troops committed to the Vietnam War and in 1964 introduced conscription. The response by the people and the Party was the Vietnam Moratoriums which took place in most states and were composed of numerous groups from trade unions, senior ALP figures, churches, and peace groups. The Party was active in the Moratoriums and members played leading roles such as they did in the pre-WW2 days.

One of the most tragic events happened when the CIA and the Whitlam Government gave the green light for an invasion of East Timor by Indonesia. The repercussions are still being felt as we see in the trial of Bernard Colleary and Witness K. The Party ran an illegal radio station and set up communications with the main resistance group Fretilin.

Also dominating the 70s was the visit of South African football teams to Australia which had to face the might of the Australian anti-apartheid movement. The campaign included digging up goal posts and huge demonstrations which ended in the South African rugby and cricket teams being banned from Australia despite the vicious fight back by conservative forces. The CPA was active in these struggles and the Party’s paper was full of articles agitating for the banning of South Africa from world sport and from visits to Australia.

The communist inspired worldwide organisation, the World Peace Council, was set up in Helsinki in 1952 and played a major role in many countries in getting the peace movement going. In Australia, the Australian Peace Committee (APC) had branches in most states with trade unions, ALP members and CPA members most active.

US President Reagan’s installation of intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe suddenly concentrated the world’s mind on the dangers of nuclear war. The demonstrations were massive in Europe and became so in Australia too. The Party responded by setting up CICD (Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament) in NSW and this organisational model was followed in some other states. However, some states later turned their organisations into People for Nuclear Disarmament (PND). (CICD in Melbourne had been established in 1959.)

Nevertheless, good work for nuclear disarmament was done by many thousands of people all around Australia. Some years later when the French began testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific there was organisation and goodwill that saw large demonstrations against French testing.

The ferment around nuclear weapons led to the establishment of the Peace Squadrons where kayaks and larger vessels went out in the harbours of Australia to resist the arrival of US nuclear armed warships.

During the Hawke-Keating Governments, Foreign Minister Bill Hayden said that Pine Gap would probably be a target in a nuclear exchange. One result of the ensuing concern was the formation of the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition. This group, with significant leadership and encouragement from the CPA, is still going today but has declined from its large role from the 1990s to about 2010.

The Iraq wars, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and many others, US Marines in Darwin, joint war games and much more have provoked sustained resistance by the people to the mindless capitalist driven wars and the Communist Party has been there with encouragement and active work for peace.

The 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was recently commemorated, with demands for Australia to sign the United Nations nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Over the last 100 years we have seen the broad sweep and depths of the CPA’s commitment to peace – one of the major achievements of the Party that we celebrate in this year of the Party’s Centenary.

Next article – Govt, plan to widen attack on democracy: White Paper “threat to all critics”

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