Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1603      July 24, 2013

Active and United for a Socialist Australia

The following is the report given by CPA Acting General Secretary Bob Briton to the Sydney District Conference of the Party held at the head office over the weekend. Delegates gave reports on their work since the last Conference, considered amendments to the Party’s major document and elected delegates to the 12th National congress to be held in Sydney in October. The slogan for the congress is “Active and United for a Socialist Australia”. Bob took up these themes in his contribution.

Thanks comrades, thanks for the opportunity to speak today. I’ve never attended a Sydney District Conference and I’m looking forward to hearing what issues are on comrades’ minds and what sorts of activities our Branches here have been engaged in.

Photo: Denis Doherty

Australia is a big place and this has advantages and disadvantages for us. It aids the development of regionalism and quite big differences between city and country and, to some extent, from state to state. It makes life hard for our Party – for our leadership to be in close contact with its far-flung organisations.

Party organisations can differ from one another markedly, even on political questions. This is a challenge for us as a Marxist-Leninist organisation working on the principles of democratic centralism. We must work at unifying our approach and learning from one another about what works and what doesn’t as we campaign in our different localities. So, again, I appreciate this opportunity to learn more about your work here and to take this back to Adelaide for our mutual benefit.

It’s an unusual feeling speaking to you in this way, delivering a report as Acting General Secretary of the Party. This is the first time I will have done this. I wasn’t expecting this to happen and, while it’s an enormous honour, it’s happened at a very daunting time – right in the lead-up to our Party Congress. I know comrade Hannah was intending to remain in her post until the Congress but circumstances didn’t allow for that to happen. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hannah for the enormous effort she put into her work as General Secretary. She has had major battles with her health and conditions within the Party in recent times have been quite difficult. I’ll return to this a bit later. I would like to acknowledge the very great efforts of the outgoing National Organiser, Denis Doherty, as well. Thank you comrades.


I’d like to say something about the backdrop to the District Conference and the 12th congress and why I believe these events are so important. Ever since I started attending such gatherings, comrades have noted very similar things. Capitalism is drifting further into crisis, US imperialism is becoming more desperate and reckless, millions more people are being drawn into struggle against capitalism and imperialism. It was true then and it’s true right now. In fact, it’s never been truer. There’s been a qualitative change in the long crisis of capitalism we have been noting for some time.

Of course, more than half the planet’s people have gone to sleep hungry for a long time but the hunger is spreading to countries once thought to have conquered that scourge, at least. We see reports of people in Greece going to fascist organisations for food parcels to ward off the hunger pangs. People have asphyxiated in their apartments because they have burned rubbish indoors in order to stay warm. Pensions and wages have been slashed. Young people are heading overseas once more because they see no future at home. The same phenomena are evident in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland, the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Eastern Europe is devastated and the US is still struggling to revive a stalled economy despite trillions in debt and stimulus spending.

We know the reasons for this downturn. It’s another of the cyclical crises that characterise the capitalist economic system. It has been exacerbated by worsening levels of corruption and galloping monopolisation of the global economy but it’s a very familiar pattern. But this time it’s deeper and the national economies affected have fewer tools available for governments to do anything about it. Privatisation and deregulation are the sacred cows of neo-liberal governments across the planet and international trade agreements have been put in place to prevent them changing course.

The situation is grim and the forces confronting the people are well resourced and ruthless. But resist they do. Greek workers under the leadership of Party-aligned trade union organisation PAME held another general strike this week. That’s the 20th since the current wave of “austerity” began. Arrests and tear gas won’t stop them. Fascist gangs won’t stop them. Some of the biggest protests in recent history have taken place in European cities like London and Madrid.

The socialist countries continue to develop and consolidate. Elsewhere, as we know, people have created a breach in the defences of imperialism. It started in Venezuela in 1998. The Bolivarian Revolution has influenced others in Latin America to band together and stand up to US imperialism. Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador have elected governments from organisations with deep roots in the community. Brazil and Argentina are not the pushovers for imperialism they once were. Nationalisation of resources and industries have been carried out and workers’ control is being implemented. The poor are being fed and educated. Cuban-trained doctors are looking after their health.

What about Australia?

State power is still in the hands of the capitalist class and there have been set-backs like in Honduras but the gains by these people in struggle should be an inspiration to us all. So what about Australia? We are not the most affected by the grab back of rights and conditions being carried out under the banner of “austerity” but the changes are harsh and are gathering pace. Single parents have been booted onto the dole and further into poverty. Charities can’t keep up with the appeals for help – for food and with spiralling bills. More and more companies are talking about the need to drastically cut wages to restore Australia’s “competitiveness” on global markets. It’s still open season on unions in Australia, particularly those ones taking action to protect their members’ interests.

Resource companies write their own tax legislation. They continue to encroach onto Aboriginal land and now onto other private farming land in order to “frack” for coal seam gas. They waged a relentless campaign against any regulation of carbon emissions and they appear to have secured almost total victory. It will be a temporary one because people will fight back. Look at the Lock the Gate campaign. Elsewhere, look at the people of Tecoma as they fight to keep McDonalds out of their town. Bussies went on strike in Brisbane recently and thousands of workers took to the streets in Perth to protect local jobs.

It’s great and we should be throwing ourselves into supporting these actions. But for all these instances of resistance, the movement is too weak. The flow is going the wrong way. We may yet have a Coalition dominated federal government committed to worsening conditions for working people. There is a consensus among the two big parties of capital about the US alliance and the further involvement of Australia in US war plans in the region – plans with the ultimate objective of destroying people’s China. Since the last District Conference, the Australian government has agreed to another US military base in Darwin. Australian troops are still in Afghanistan. We aid and abet the US as it deploys drones and seeks to undermine more independent-minded states like Syria by the most appallingly brutal means. Our country’s reputation continues to be trashed by the government’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers.

Comrades, we know this. We have spoken about this at length at our meetings and reported on developments in The Guardian. The reason the resistance to capitalism is too weak, why unions are on the back foot and why the disadvantaged are getting kicked in the teeth is because our Party is too small and too weak. You know this too. I don’t want to wallow in the detail of these shortcomings because that can be very discouraging to people and it does a disservice to the comrades doing great work, often unbeknownst to the rest of us.

I was recently knocked out to find out about the work of our Riverina Branch. The fact that there is a Riverina Branch in this day and age amazes me. My wife comes from the region so I know how conservative the political terrain is out there. I heard they are carrying on advocacy work for people on benefits having housing and other difficulties. They’re growing and want to start a food coop for battlers in the district. Let’s celebrate that.

In SA we had a member of our Port Branch serve on the local council for almost 20 years. We now have comrade Tony elected to the Auburn Council. The SA State Committee has led a two-year-long campaign against increased uranium exports out of Port Adelaide. It has now brought the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, a local environment group and members of Friends of the Earth into the battle. As I said, I’m looking forward to hearing about the work of Branches here in Sydney and learning from that.

We have members giving leadership in their unions – comrade Warren in the MUA, David Matters in the RTBU in Queenland, Party President Vinnie Molina in the CFMEU in WA. We produce a paper every week putting our Party’s position to a loyal readership. It is a widely consulted and appreciated online resource. For all our shortcomings, for all our frustration that we are not more influential than we are, we should first acknowledge the work that is done and give support and encouragement to the comrades carrying it out. If I had to identify our major organisational defect I would say it is a failure to do precisely that and it would be the simplest thing to turn around. All it would take is a slight shift in attitude and a tighter rein of our tongue.


Of course, that’s not our only shortcoming. I notice a new one developing in the Party which I would like to say something about. I think it has grown out of the frustration we all feel from time to time about the lack of influence of our Party. This has led to some very unhelpful conclusions including that our Program, based on long accepted analysis, is to blame, that it is revisionist. We shouldn’t strive for an alliance of left and progressive forces; we should work with Marxists only; we shouldn’t seek election to parliaments or to establish a government of a new type. A new word has entered the lexicon – “stage-ism”, which is said to be a revisionist idea at odds with the supposed Communist program of more or less instantaneous seizure of state power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In the Australian context, this is a major left error. I can’t and won’t speak for other Parties in other countries. But in this country, given its history and the grip of social democracy on the thinking of the workers and the trade unions, the idea that we will press straight on to socialism without passing through a period of anti-monopoly, progressive government is fanciful.

Our program does not suggest that social change will be led from parliaments; it insists the progression from the popular, anti-monopoly stage to the revolutionary stage must be led by forces in the workplace and communities that will benefit from it. The Party will be in the forefront. It doesn’t say the ruling class will not challenge these developments or that the working class and its allies will not have to defend their gains by all means necessary. I don’t recognise the Program of our Party in the “stage-ist” criticisms directed at it and I have not heard a persuasive alternative.

I have read and re-read a Party document The Pattern of Struggle for Marxism Leninism in Australia. It was written in 1983, at the height of the struggle with the right opportunist trend in the Party. Among the conclusions was that since its foundation there has been a constant struggle to keep the movement on a consistent Marxist Leninist line because of the huge effect of petit bourgeois ideology in this country. Actually you would have to qualify this and say it is a quasi ideology because there are two sorts of ideology in the world today – working class ideology and capitalist ruling class ideology.

The petit bourgeoisie feels squeezed by the forces of the organised working class and on the other hand is under enormous pressure from the monopolies. Its political position can swing wildly as it reacts to the forces acting on it.

It can fall in behind fascist movements promising to smash the trade unions and the parties advocating socialism. On the other hand, sensing the injustices imposed by the capitalists they will create, join or support ultra “left” groups. While they may influence a few workers, they have little contact with or understanding of working class life so slogans advocating revolution now seem perfectly realistic to this group, regardless of the reality. Interestingly, they make the most frequent use of the terms “proletariat” and “working class”.

Are these people enemies? Their sectarianism can make it hard to work with them but no, they are not enemies. That’s just as well because the petit bourgeoisie in Australia is large and getting bigger. Small business is the biggest employer of Australians. The ranks of small business people are being swelled by the use of contractors rather than in-house employees. Lots of redundant factory workers are buying franchises for mowing services and the like. Many Australians strike out in a small business to escape the daily humiliations that accompany wage slavery. Some work for less than wages so as to have some independence and some dignity. No, these people are first and foremost our potential allies against the monopolies. But we don’t need their wildly gyrating “ideology” influencing members of our Party.

Marxism Leninism

Comrades, Marxism Leninism is a compass, not a road map. It’s not a collection of holy texts to be quoted chapter and verse irrespective of time and place. Its universality is in its approach to problems, its dialectical method committed to moving beyond class exploitative society. Our thinking and planning around challenges often falls to either side of the optimal approach, much like the airline pilot who spends most of the trip adjusting course to the true one. We will all make left and right errors from time to time but it is clear in my mind that a rejection of the underpinnings of our current Program and Constitution would be a serious and very damaging left error, a complete swerve off course.

Comrades, we need to get back on the same page ideologically. I feel that our neglect of education in the Party has caused some of the problems we experience from time to time. That has to be rectified and must be a major priority of the incoming Central Committee.

Another is the situation of our Party and recruitment among the youth. I wrote about this in the discussion journal so I won’t take up much time here. I would just say that in the term of the incoming Central Committee we will have to develop a strategy across the Party, throughout our work and our print and online publications to attract younger people. This won’t completely address the problem of generations who appear to be allergic to joining political organisations but it will be a start. This is a Catch 22 but I think the other clues will have to come from young people themselves as to how they would like to be involved in the Party or, if the possibility exists, a Communist youth organisation. I’m sure participation in the production of our own alternative media would be of great interest to them. We should explore that.

I’ll close by mentioning some things I’m sure we hold in common. We all want a bigger, more influential Party. We would all like to feel greater pride in its achievements. We would all like to land a few more punches on the class enemy and be of more help to others that are trying to do that. We would all like to spend more time carrying out practical work to a more professional standard. We can do that. We might look like a mob of battlers gathered in a room on a random Saturday in Sydney but I sincerely believe in the power of the collective guided by a powerful ideology. I’m sure you do too. Otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered making the major commitment indicated by joining the Communist Party in such a hostile environment. And I’m like you – I don’t want to die wondering if we could have built the Party of our dreams if only we had devoted a bit more effort and kept it together a bit better.

Every day dawns afresh in a sense. We can make a new commitment to turn around an unsatisfactory situation or put it off or give up. I think this year with our state and district conferences and our National Congress we have opportunities to recommit and lift the Party’s fortunes. Is this important in the scheme of things? I believe it utterly important to the future of the workers and other exploited people of Australia. If we don’t rise to these challenges, the future looks very bleak. If we do, the future is ours.   

Next article – It was the CIA that helped jail Nelson Mandela

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