- by Graham Holton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2074
Fred Paterson 1950.
The Brisbane and Sunshine Coast branches of the Communist Party of Australia jointly hosted this year’s Queensland Party School, held the Waterloo Bay Hotel. Presenters were David Matters of the Qld State Committee, Alex Denton, Secretary of the Brisbane Branch, and Graham Holton, Secretary of the Sunshine Coast Branch. The conference was a great education event for attendees.
David had recently returned from China where he was given an award for his contribution to the study of political economy. He is noted for his contribution to the union movement, editor of the AMR (Australian Marxist Review) journal, and as a member of the Central Committee.
Matters gave an excellent introduction on Political Economy and Class Consciousness, tracing the history of Marxist theory on the Class Struggle. The role of Trade Unions is to unify the proletariat in their struggle for improved conditions and wages. The role of the strike is for the working class to understand its power as a united force in its stand against the ruling classes. The strike empowers the working class, educating them on how the capitalist system works. It builds the confidence of the proletariat in its struggle as a unified class, giving revolutionary power to the workers.
Matters examined the political economy of Australia and the socialisation of production, alienating production from the labourer and society. The role of the state is to support the class nature of capitalism. The Industrial Revolution created the proletariat, concentrated capital, supported the rise of the bourgeoise and the role of the ruling class. By the late 19th century, the state supported monopolies through legislation and the militarised support of their global expansion. 1917 saw the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the Russian Revolution, with opportunists siding with the bourgeoise in trying to undermine the achievements of Lenin.
Matters went on to examine the economic formula M-C-M1 as a formula for capital production, with M representing capital in its monetary form, culminating in the production of more money. Money (M) is transformed into commodities (C), which is then changed back again into money (M1) with an increased value. In other words, through M-C (the purchase) money is changed into a commodity and then, C-M (the sale), the commodity is changed back into money, creating more capital.
Matters then examined why the USSR collapsed, asking if it was due to a lack of popular support, or other factors such as pluralism following Khruschev? The Red Army was a class army and it failed to support the Communist Party and the Politburo allowing the Soviet Union to disintegrate under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The CIA was also heavily involved in supporting the collapse.
Alex Denton examined Lance Sharkey’s important book The Trade Unions: Communist Theory and Practice of Trade Unionism (2019). It traces the rise of unions in Australia and the 8-hour-day in the 1850s. The CPA raised the political awareness of workers to a level of a Communist understanding of society, such that by 1939 trade unions had 915,470 members. To be useful, party members must know the rule book of their union, its history and practices. The trade union is great training for cadre to learn how to unite the workers against the ruling classes and the capitalist system. Sharkey writes: “Strikes, properly led and conducted and properly timed, are a revolutionary weapon. Strikes develop the labour movement, organise and unite workers and win the intermediate social strata to the side of revolution.”
Graham Holton examined how Queensland’s radical history belies its reputation as a reactionary backwater state. That radical history is very relevant to our present problems. It is therefore important to understand and appreciate the great achievements the CPA made in the class struggle in Queensland. The Red North (1981) by Diane Menghetti traces the history and influence of the North Queensland Communist Party of Australia (CPA) from Mackay northwards, covering over 1000 kilometres. The CPA supported workers in sugar cane cutting and sugar mills, the mining industry, cattle stations, ports, railways, metal workers, etc. The Party played a role in building up and educating the proletariat.
In the 1930s and 1940s the CPA led Australia in internationalism and the Working Class struggle during the Great Depression. Under the leadership of Jack Henry and Fred Paterson, the CPA was involved with large migrant communities, mainly Italian, who were actively fighting against fascism. The Party faced a conservative state Labor government and had to deal with the conservative Australian Workers’ Union (AWU).
The Weil’s Disease strike of 1935 demanded the burning of sugar cane fields to prevent the spread of the disease. Burning was opposed by cane growers as it reduced the sugar content. Communists supported workers, who voted to declare all unburnt cane ‘black.’ Within weeks, the CPA had over 2000 cutters and mill-hands on strike. More than 150 police were sent up from Brisbane forcing striking workers from their quarters to be replaced by scab labour.
The Italian migrants were both socially and politically involved in the strike, with women active in relief committees. The CPA won Italians, Yugoslavs, and Spaniards into its ranks. The workers’ struggle involved entire communities, drawing in the small shop-keepers and smaller growers. Communists stressed rank-and-file control and unity, organising relief kitchens, accommodation and social activities. In July 1936 local groups came out to support the arrival of JB (Jack) Miles, the CPA National Secretary. The CPA was also the driving force behind the Unemployed Workers’ Union.
In 1923 Frederick (Fred) Paterson joined the CPA and in 1937 he became editor of the North Queensland Guardian, which had a circulation of over 8000 per issue. It contained sections for families, local events and national and international news. Fred Paterson won the state seat of Bowen in 1944, the first communist to be elected in Australia. He represented the CPA in its High Court challenge to the Communist Party Dissolution Act of 1950 and appeared before a Sydney magistrate in 1953 for Adam Ogston in the Communist Review sedition case.
Another great Queensland party leader was John (Jack) Henry, who joined the AWU, then Australia’s strongest union. In 1931 he joined the CPA. Henry learnt about Marxism while residing in cane cutter barracks, reading the Communist Manifesto and Capital by candle light. He organised party inroads in mining, railway, shipping, sugar, dairy, the meat works, the pearling industry, and the vast unemployed camps across the state. In 1934, Henry stood for election in the federal electorate of Herbert. His experience was crucial for Fred Paterson’s later victory. Henry joined the CPA’s Central Committee as a political organising secretary, and then moved to the CPA’s national headquarters in Sydney. He worked tirelessly as a union militant, a steadfast internationalist during the White Australia policy, and a comrade who built the Party into an impressive and powerful movement.
Today party branches are working on setting up new branches across Queensland. The branches strive to bring in new comrades, to enrich members’ lives with a better understanding of Marxism Leninism, and to get members involved in the class struggle through union activity and grassroot demonstrations.