The Guardian 14 December, 2005
between building and demolition
On January 2, 2006, the ABC will screen as one of its Dynasties series a program on the Aarons family. The ABC blurb describes the film as "How four generations of an Australian family dedicated their lives to communist revolution". The first two of the four generations mentioned certainly did that. The 3rd and 4th generations of the family were responsible (with some help from others) for destroying the Communist Party and in innumerable ways displayed their abandonment of Marxist ideas and the struggle for socialism except in words.
Jane and Luis are the first generation of the family was. Jane and Luis are said to have played a part in the formation of the Communist Party of Australia in October 1920.They were the parents of Sam Aarons. Sam and his first wife Myrtle were the parents of Laurie and Eric while Laurie and his wife Carol were the parents of Brian and Mark. All are mentioned in this short film. Strangely, Carol's sister Olwyn McKenzie presents a quite considerable part of the commentary.
In the film Eric admits that within the family there was speculation as to whether socialism would come in five years, 10 years, at most 20 years. This was in the heady days following the defeat of fascism, mainly at the hands of the Soviet Union, in WW 2.
By the mid-1950s such notions were obviously false but the fact that there was such idle speculation at the top levels of the Party indicated a shallow understanding of history. The Cold War was raging and represented a massive anti-communist counter-attack by capitalism and the major imperialist countries on a world scale.
Mark claimed that communists "knew where history was going and we were part of it". Communists, by making use of their knowledge of class structures in society and by application of dialectical and historical materialism, may be able to approximate main historical trends but if the latter generation of the Aarons family actually "knew where history was going" and were genuine in their convictions and understanding, they would not have deliberately liquidated the Communist Party of Australia in 1991, presumably believing by that time the bourgeois nonsense that "communism was dead".
Their stated objective of "renovating" and "reorganising" the CPA and the world communist movement actually led to the liquidation of the CPA — a process not unique to Australia. But did communism die? This seems to be blandly accepted by the ABC film makers. The objective of socialism is described as "an impossible dream" and that communism is in "terminal decline".
Communism far from dead
In October 2005, no less than 73 communist and workers' parties participated in a conference in Athens. Another nine parties sent written contributions or messages. This is hardly a sign that the world-wide communist movement is dead. The Communist Party of Australia was represented at this conference. There are now probably more members of communist parties than ever before. This number compares with the 75 parties that met in Moscow (without the attendance of the Communist Party of China) in 1969.
In Australia, while the former Communist Party was liquidated, communist ideas and the socialist objective survived, firstly in the Socialist Party of Australia and, from 1996 onwards, by the present- day Communist Party of Australia.
Certainly difficulties caused by the backsliding of the latter-day Aarons family and then the break- up of the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries of Eastern Europe created much confusion and despondency. But these events did not stop the march of history as innumerable subsequent events show and continue to show every day.
As far as the latter-day Aarons family goes, we need to ask what happened to the commitment and sentiments voiced by Laurie Aarons when speaking at the 1969 conference of communist parties in Moscow when he said:
"We state our determination to work for closer unity of our movement, for united action against imperialism, and our desire for closer relations with all Communist and Workers' Parties no matter what differences we may have".
Laurie Aarons also said at the time: "We are deeply conscious of the contribution which different sections of the international movement and especially the Soviet Union and other socialist countries are making …"
(International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties Moscow 1969 p 126)
At about the same time Eric Aarons was writing his (in)famous book Philosophy for an Exploding World (published in 1972) which made a broadside attack on Marxism. A similar collection of ideas and theories formed the basis of Gorbachev's program that led to the destruction of socialism in the Soviet Union.
In Australia, the theories of the latter-day Aarons led to the liquidation of the CPA. They led to the destruction of socialism in the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries of Eastern Europe.
These countries now wallow in the calamity of re-imposed capitalism which has created the obscene spectacle of criminal capitalist millionaires and millions of destitute workers and pensioners.
This is quite an achievement to which the latter-day Aarons family contributed with their anti- communist and anti-Marxist theories.
The Dynasties film says that the Aarons family was known as the "royal family". That's true but it was not a compliment in the eyes of many. It was rather a reference to the nepotism that became a feature of the Laurie Aarons period as General Secretary.
There is a comment in the film by Carol's sister Olwyn to similarities between communist ideology (turned into dogma by some) and catholic dogma. In fact, there is no similarity between communist ideas, which recognise an ever-changing world, and catholic dogma which starts with a creator and is dependent on the creator for all things. Dogmas presuppose a rejection of Marxist dialectics and the scientific approach.
Marxism is not dogma
Olwyn claims that people fell for it (that is communist ideas presumably presented as dogma) "hook line and sinker". Well, perhaps some did play at a political game of follow the leader, but no self- respecting communist would give up the ability to think and work things out using the time-proven scientific method of accumulating facts and on that basis, and only on that basis, making an analysis and coming to a conclusion.
But this thought comes directly from Eric Aaron's book referred to above. He writes on page 84: "Such people [fundamentalists] feel that if a particular 'principle' of theirs is relinquished or seriously questioned then the whole basis of their world will collapse and be swept away. It might be the word of God, the Pope, Marx, the CPSU or Mao Tse-tung…"
But then, having set up a false accusation against Marxism, Eric goes for the jugular: "It is one purpose of this study to suggest that a critical review of dialectical materialism in the form in which it has developed and become known is necessary in order to realise the revolutionary potential".
It is those who distort Marxism (and there are many in that school) who should be subject to "critical review" rather than the essence of Marxism, which has as its philosophical core dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism is a scientific method of studying all things in nature and its validity is proven time and again every day by scientists in other fields and in political life as well.
It cannot be claimed, as the film infers, that Laurie's sons and his brother Eric have carried on the struggle. We are told that Eric is now in retirement in Minto (which was ironically once the CPA's school house) while his youngest son, Mark, is now a senior adviser to the NSW Labor Government "working to change the system from within". Is this to be achieved through Carr and Iemma's Labor Party?
Mark remarks in the film that he stopped believing quite early in life. We are left to surmise what precisely he stopped believing in although it is fairly clear.
One of Brian's now adolescent children (Bronwyn), faced with the traditions of her great grandfather (Sam) and her great great grand-parents (Jane and Luis) on the one hand and the quite different course traveled by Laurie, Eric, Brian and Mark, remarks that it is "hard to know which direction you are supposed to go in?" "Supposed"! Supposed by whom? It is indeed a question potent with meaning and perhaps anguish. Simply put, it raises the question of "which side are you on".
The answer to her question, however, is already blowing in the wind and it is there for all to feel both the wind's warm caress of genuine enlightenment, commitment, solidarity and friendship as well as the tempestuous hurricanes of revolutionary change.
The alternative is the tawdriness of modern capitalism that has turned money into its god and turns to dross all the noble aspirations of generations of fighters for a better world.
By the way, the film reveals that Laurie's father Sam did not agree with the course being taken by Laurie. Brian dismisses Sam as one coming from "the old school".
Faced with the reality of what happened one wonders why many of those who attended Laurie Aaron's commemoration at Rookwood cemetery lustily sang the Internationale? Among the singers was Mark, now working for a right-wing Labor government. Were the singers clutching at nostalgia or was it a cover to obscure their own part in the act of liquidating the Communist Party, an act that history has already repudiated?
Why the film?
There is one final question. Why did the ABC decide to turn the Aarons family into a dynasty worthy of a film?
Apart from biological lineage there is nothing in common between the commitment of the first two generations, who played a part in the formation and building of the CPA, and the latter two generations, who destroyed what their parents and grand-parents created.
There is only one reason for the ABC making this film. It lies in the fact that the latter two generations of the family destroyed what the first two generations had created. Destroying a communist party makes them some sort of heroes in the eyes of all good capitalists and their tame propagandists.
Finally, as already mentioned, the ABC blurb speaks of communism being in "terminal decline". Sorry ABC but you are dead wrong — just look around the world and be guided by facts rather than prejudice.