The Guardian • Issue #1990

50th anniversary of the founding of the Socialist Party of Australia

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1990

The 5th December is an important date for us at the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). It was on this day, fifty years ago (1971), that the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA) was formed. The SPA was the former name of our Party as it existed concurrently with the former CPA that had been established in 1920.

Having raised their concerns with CPA leadership about its direction, our SPA comrades developed the view that the CPA was headed towards liquidation and that Marxism-Leninism would disappear in Australia. Here is their analysis of this situation:

“It is no secret that an open struggle has been going on in the CPA for a number of years against the present leadership which has deserted the teachings of scientific socialism, moved away from the working class and based itself on radical-power movements and upon a sect known as Trotskyism. The CPA leaders abandoned development of working class united action adopting instead, divisive policies and tactics which weakened the struggles of the trade unions, the peace movement and other progressive organisations. Its policies have become so hostile to the world socialist system and the communist movement that it is politically isolated internationally.

“The lesson to be learnt is that a revolutionary party can exist and grow only if it bases itself on scientific socialism and is committed to the concrete issues facing the working people. […]

“We intend to speak out on current problems, on immediate struggles for a better life, on questions of monopoly and its consequences, inflation, redundancy, prices, wages, trade unions, democracy, the farm crisis, peace and socialism. These are the questions that affect every worker and his family. These problems face us all. We believe we have the answer to these problems, but it is actions, not words, which will be the test.”

It is crucial here to take stock of the accuracy and truthfulness of these words. The claims about the ideological direction of the CPA (1920) are by no means slanderous. Comrades are more than welcome to revisit old issues of Tribune where CPA leaders such as Denis Freney applauded the Party for its “decisive break with Stalinism,” and in the process promoting Trotskyism by praising its “invaluable lessons” (Tribune, 27th May, 1970).

The magnitude by which the CPA abandoned the working class would reveal itself some ten years later with the election of the Hawke government and the Prices and Income Accord (social contract). As political economist Elizabeth Humphrys writes:

“[t]he ‘molecular transformation’ of CPA-aligned officials was particularly stark […], in that they shifted from arguing that the Accord would be a pathway to socialism to defending its most regressive aspects – including declining real wages – on the basis of the national interest” (How Labor Built Neoliberalism).

The political pressure to support the Accord was immense, and this must be emphasised when discussing the SPA’s opposition to it. Addressing the Accord as early as 1982, then-General Secretary Peter Symon wrote that:

“[u]nless all major aspects of the economy come under central government control a ‘social contract’ will be limited and will be inevitably turned against the interests of the working people as the employers continue their quest for maximum profits.”

By providing this analysis and adopting this position many that same year that Symon wrote these words left the SPA in support of the Accord. It is now generally accepted by anyone left of the ALP that this was precisely the consequence of the Accord.

With Scientific Socialism, the SPA (now CPA) has not only survived these struggles and continue to exist but grown, with new members joining and branches being created. On the other hand, the CPA (1920) failed as a viable pluralist left alternative and liquidated in 1991. As we celebrate fifty years of communist activity, let us learn from our history and build together for a socialist Australia!

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