Book review: (Part 1)
The Reds: The CPA from origins to illegality
by Stuart Macintyre Allen & Unwin, rrp $49.95
reviewed by Peter Symon, General Secretary, Communist Party of Australia
Stuart Macintyre claims in his Introduction that "Communism is no more" and that "The communist parties of the West have been dissolved". He writes that the Communist Party of Australia was a "failed cause". These comments immediately set the tone of his book. The Reds is the first of two books on the history of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). It covers the Party from its foundation in 1920 to World War II. The second book, yet to come, spans the period from WW2 to the Party's dissolution in 1991. It is about the former CPA — not the existing CPA. Stuart Macintyre is Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. He had access to the archives of the former Party which have been placed in the Mitchell Library and the archives of the CPSU and the Communist International which have been opened following the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. He has drawn on a considerable range of publications and the memories of many ex-communists, but none that are present members of the CPA or those of the former CPA who did not agree with its dissolution. The project was initiated by an invitation from the SEARCH Foundation which was set up by those who liquidated the former Party. It holds the not inconsiderable assets of that organisation. Macintyre's book was helped by a grant from the Australian Research Council. Stuart Macintyre joined the CPA in the early 1970s when Laurie Aarons was still the Party's General Secretary. Three major developments are worthy of note about this period. Eric Aarons published his book Philosophy for an Exploding World. Eric Aarons' book is an attempt to debunk Marxism as an ideology and advances, as an alternative, a "values revolution". His book laid the ideological foundations for the subsequent liquidation of the CPA. L Aarons recruited and promoted Denis Freney into the leadership of the CPA. Freney had been an operative of the Trotskyist Fourth International. The Party leadership had already embarked on a virulent anti-Soviet campaign and used the familiar argument of "Stalinism" among others. It was into this milieu that Stuart Macintyre joined the former CPA saying he "joined with others who sought to empty the Stalinist cargo from the revolutionary vessel"(sic)(p.1). The result of his and their stevedoring was to sink the vessel, not save it. It is rather strange that a book published in 1998 should still assert that "Communism is no more" when even the capitalist mass media does not have such illusions any more. CPs dissolved The communist parties of the "West" would indeed be intrigued to know that they have "dissolved". Which ones — the Greek, Portuguese, French, German? Or the CP of Bohemia & Morovia (the Czech Republic) which recently replaced the Social Democrats as the second party of the Czech Republic? The CP USA reports an unparallelled resurgence of membership. By referring only to the "West" there could be an implication that the only history worth taking into account is European. What about the communist parties of India and the fact that the Left Front led by the CPI (M) has formed the Government of West Bengal (population about 70 million) for more than 20 years and now leads two other Indian states? What of the Japanese CP which, following recent elections, now holds more municipal seats than any other Japanese party? The South African Communist Party is in alliance with the ANC and COSATU and is pressing the slogan, "Build Socialism Now". Just in case someone says, "What about Cuba, Vietnam, China, North Korea, India, South Africa and others?", Macintyre writes that "the last regimes that still lay claim to the title are mere mockeries of what communism promised"(p.1). This is probably the clue to Macintyre's reasoning. He does not consider any one of the Communist Parties to be communist. It follows from this that Macintyre concludes that the "communist project has failed"(p.6) and that the CPA's work and struggles were a "ruined cause"(p.360). To substantiate this "failure" the author says that he presented two statements of "competing doctrines of freedom" to a class of first-year undergraduates. The first, "freedom based on private property and liberal democracy" (attributed to Friedrich von Hayek) and the second, "freedom and liberation from capitalism and imperialism" (from a passage in Stalin's report to the 19th Congress of the CPSU in 1952). Stuart Macintyre says his students found the first statement "instantly familiar" and the second "so strange as to be almost incomprehensible"(p2). But what does this prove except that Australian students brought up in the Cold War of anti-communism and a climate of hostility to the wars of national liberation by colonial countries are familiar with the terminology, ideology and culture of the dominant ruling class through the mass media and their various educators? Words like "capitalism", "imperialism" and "liberation" are regarded as suitable for third world countries, but not for students of liberal capitalist Australia. The author makes clear his own preference for liberal capitalism. Lenin & Marx It was inevitable that Stuart Macintyre's history should be anti- Stalinist but he has taken on a more ambitious project — to debunk Lenin and to counterpose Lenin to Marx. This is attempted not by any serious discussion (including putting things in their historical context) of the vast writings on a multitude of theoretical and day to day issues by Lenin but by adjectival qualifications. We are told of Lenin's "ferocious polemics"(p.28), that he was "a fanatic, utterly ruthless and single-minded in his revolutionary purpose". After the "collapse" of the 1905 revolution in Russia he "resumed the life of an emigre conspirator"(p.29). We read that the slogan of the 1917 Russian revolution — "Peace, Bread and Land", "was something less than socialist, much less a communist policy"(p.39). It is the objective of communists to make life better for people — peace to a country which had suffered years of war, bread for those who were hungry and land for the landless peasants many of whom still toiled for feudal landowners. Only on the basis of solving these problems was it possible to start building a socialist society and only a socialist society could solve them. One would have thought that that was obvious to any student of history. "Marx's followers", writes the author, "called themselves Social Democrats as Lenin did to emphasis that the revolution was not to be the work of conspirators but would be carried out by the great mass of the working class"(p.36). One can only describe such a statement as breathtaking nonsense. However, it has the aim of suggesting that communism is a conspiracy. Following this line of reasoning the Russian revolution of 1917 is described as "the Bolshevik seizure of power". All these assertions and invectives are taken from the considerable storehouse built up by bourgeois anti-communist writers over many years and there is nothing new in them. It is on this background that Stuart Macintyre writes about the first 20 years of the Communist Party of Australia. There is little analysis of the socio-economic background which led to the formation of the CPA and the changes in the following years. The real or imagined machinations of various individuals — "idiosyncrasies" the author calls them — are recounted at great length and this builds up a caricature of an important historical event — the formation of the CPA on October 30, 1920. The author writes of the "remarkable regimen that membership (of the CPA) entailed". The conditions of membership of a communist party have normally been acceptance of the Party's Program and Constitution, acceptance of majority decisions, activity in a Party organisation and payment of dues. Perhaps the one condition that "liberal democrats" find hardest to accept is that which refers to "acceptance of majority decisions". However, most organisations are governed by the principle that majority decisions are binding. These are hardly "remarkable" nor are they a difficult regimen to accept unless one puts his-or-herself before the collective, has a disregard for majority decisions, is motivated by anarchistic ideas or thinks that democracy means doing anything one pleases. Party Congresses The author makes very brief references to all of the 12 conferences and Party Congresses held by the CPA in the historical period covered in the book. The 12th Party Congress in November 1938 called for "A People's Front for a Free and Happy Australia". It took place on the background of the imminent threat of war being launched by Nazi Germany. Continuing their appeasement of Nazism the British and French Governments had just surrendered Czechoslovakia in the infamous Munich Agreement when the Party Congress assembled. It was an urgent situation. The answer of the Party was to renew the call for a People's Front. The resolution adopted by the 12th Congress said: "The Communist Party of Australia declares that a People's Front, embracing organisations of the labour movement, of the farmers and middle classes, is urgently needed in Australia to fight against the menace of fascism and war." (Decisions of the 12th National Congress, Communist Party of Australia p.72) The question for an historian is to consider whether in the circumstances this was a right policy to adopt. However, scant attention is given to the decisions of the Congress with more attention to different emphasis expressed by this or that person. The author seems to be always looking for differences to play on. He claims that "The most striking feature of popular front communism was its cultivation of national traditions"(p.315). Was this really its "most striking feature" or was it rather an effort to unite all the progressive anti-fascist forces in society which was necessary if fascism was to be defeated in both Europe and in the Pacific where Japanese militarism was already engaged in war against China? A People's Front did in fact come into existence in the course of the war although it was not formalised in any agreements among the political forces that comprised the anti-fascist front. In the course of its work the Party drew upon the democratic and progressive national traditions of the Australian working people. Macintyre sees the "cultivation of national traditions" as representing the take over of communist parties by nationalism and a betrayal of internationalism. "For Trotsky", he tells us, "such endeavours were a capitulation to national chauvinism and a betrayal of proletarian internationalism"(p.318). It seems that Macintyre agrees. While nationalism certainly exists it is nonsense to maintain that drawing upon the progressive and revolutionary traditions on one's people is necessarily a betrayal of internationalism. But there seems to be a purpose behind this assertion because Macintyre concludes that it was "national antagonisms" which erupted into World War II(p.319). This obscures the contradictions between German expansionism and British imperial interests. It also obscures the worldwide threat of Nazism, Hitler's objective of world domination and the historic international campaign against it. Not far below the surface when discussing any topic in Macintyre's history is the role and position of the Soviet Union and the Communist International. He claims that the CPA "tied its fortunes to a foreign dictatorship"(p.419). Was it the Party's ties with "a foreign dictatorship" that created a party about which the author writes: "The growth of the party, its strong presence in the trade unions and extensive participation in a whole range of public activities made it a part of the civil society..."(p.419). The author writes of the "animated discussions on committees and at conferences on a wide range of social and political issues, relations with the trade unions and the ALP, etc". This is perfectly natural and contradicts the picture of a CPA not capable of making a decision unless it was told what to do by someone in Moscow. * * *
Continued next week.
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