Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1614      October 16, 2013

A people’s vision for Australia

One of the highlights of the opening night of the CPA’s 12th National Congress was the address given by CPA General Secretary Bob Briton in which he presented a vision for a better Australia and the path to achieve that goal. The following are excerpts from his speech.

We are gathering in a situation that feels a bit like the lull before the storm. The corporate media is doing its usual contradictory thing of sensationalising the news while, at the same time, presenting an underlying message that everything is fine. That we are pulling back from the brink of war, that the economy, while it requires greater sacrifices from workers, is essentially on the mend, that we have plenty of time to deal with the climate emergency facing the planet and so on.

CPA General Secretary Bob Briton. (Photo: Anna Pha)

But I think everyone gathered here would agree that we’re not living through a “business as usual” phase of the development of capitalism, a time like any other. Certain extremely destructive consequences of the operation of capitalism are re-asserting themselves. Of course, I’m speaking here as a person from the developed world. The people of Africa, Asia and Latin America have had long experience of the savagery of un-adorned, unrestrained capitalism. But we need to address our circumstances and confront stark new realities.

Greece is, perhaps, the starkest reminder of the dangers present in the current crisis of capitalism. Stories of mass unemployment, the slashing of pensions and wages, the accidental suffocation of people burning rubbish inside their homes to stay warm; these stories have spread across the globe. Of course, the blame for the situation is put on the victims themselves for presumably having it too good for too long or for not working hard enough. This is a message we are already used to hearing and it will become more frequent as the full force of the crisis hits Australia.

We will have to fight hard to prevent such a development, i.e. the growth of fascist forces in this country. We need to commit ourselves in a way that recognises that we are at a crossroads. We can’t afford to let the situation involving our rights at work and other human rights, our rights to health, education and other services, our right to a clean environment and other rights slip any further. If we do, we will inevitably arrive at the point the people of Greece find themselves.

Before I move on from the situation in Greece I would like to pay homage to the resistance of the people of that country. I draw considerable inspiration from their endurance of engaging in over 20 general strikes in the past two years and I admire greatly the role of the Communist Party of Greece in leading the fight-back by the working class of Greece. I would like to pay homage to the spirit of resistance of the people of Latin America – of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and others – to the people of South Africa, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Laos, Vietnam and China for holding fast to their sovereignty and pursuing their own path to development.

Most people in this room, I think, are expecting a sharp turn for the worse with the recent election of the Abbott government. People are imagining all sorts of ways to face the onslaught. Discussions are taking place about the best way to work together to turn back these attacks and to press forward. In this process of discussion and organisation, the CPA will press for a new, independent agenda where the needs of workers and other exploited people are the only consideration.

Imagine ...

Before I go any further, I’d like to carry out an exercise with you. I’d like you to imagine a very different Australia. It’s still Australia; we don’t want to get too fanciful.

In this new Australia, the government has a program for the socialisation of the leading heights of the economy. So do our trade unions, which are now active, well represented organisations in the workplace in many if not most sectors. There is full employment.

Land rights are on the agenda. Health is free as is public education. Wages, pensions and benefits are decided centrally and pegged to increases in the real cost of living at least. These have all been significantly increased. The wages share of GDP has expanded rapidly and the profits share is being reigned in.

It may not be in legislation but in practice there is a right to strike. The working week is getting shorter. The 35-hour full-time working week is being discussed.

There are controls on the exchange rate of our currency. There are tough restrictions on foreign investment and the government is arranging to buy out transnationals that are turning the country into a quarry. There are plans to take over the big banks.

We are moving to an independent foreign policy. We are strengthening ties of friendship with Vietnam and People’s China. The government is moving to take control of US bases in the country and to wrap them up completely. We are welcoming refugees to our country in unprecedented numbers and establishing them in the community. Racism is being legislated against.


I’d like to bring you back to the present. Sorry about that. On this occasion, the exercise might have been easier for the older members of the audience. That’s because each of those features of my imaginary Australia either existed or was on the political agenda of the ALP and the ACTU 30 years ago. It is a very sobering exercise to make a list of the gains made by workers through long decades of struggle and to realise a large percentage of them no longer exist.

People, including many workers subjected to the unrelenting propaganda of the capitalists, began to believe there is no alternative to monopoly-dominated markets and capitalist dominated parliaments. I mentioned before that people across the planet are fighting bravely to break out of the grip of imperialism and to maintain the sovereignty of their countries. We’ve seen mass protests including the Occupy Movement.

But I think just about all of us would conclude that, as we gather for this 12th Congress of the Communist Party that our vision of a better Australia and a better world is not cutting through. It is not real to people. By and large, while most people wouldn’t argue that peace, full employment, protection of the environment and so on aren’t desirable, they are mostly convinced that they aren’t achievable.

“Where’s the money going to come from?” “We need the US alliance in case there’s trouble in the region.” “If we don’t have coal mining and fracking, where are the jobs going to come from and where are the revenues going to come from to provide services? They are already crumbling for lack of funds.” “If corporations operating in Australia have to pay top wages, provide good conditions and maintain world best practice safety standards, they can’t compete with low wage centres.” “If we leave our borders open to refugees we won’t have jobs for ourselves and our kids.”

I hope I don’t have to persuade anyone in this room on those questions and the error of those attitudes. The Party and other sections of the left has written extensively on each of those issues and more and sought to mobilise people around progressive solutions. My point is that those prejudices, planted and nurtured by the capitalist class, are extremely widespread among the people we would like to see organise to defend and advance their own interests.

A solid proportion of the electorate is cynical and disengaged from the parliamentary political process. That’s true. But an overwhelming majority of them continue to vote for parties that pursue policies based on the anti-people, neo-liberal agenda that gives rise to the questions and statements we all encounter in the course of our political work.

Before I go on, I would like to point out something I’m sure we are all aware of – there are still, after all these years, good people fighting the good fight in the ALP. We all know them; the true believers who want more left-leaning people to join the ALP and change it into something it’s not and has never been. They are stalwarts of their unions and activists in their communities. They are our friends and allies. I mean no disrespect to these salt-of-the earth brothers and sisters.

In the office of the Party … I picked up The Sydney Morning Herald of September 28-29. It’s a story about the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change It says, among other things, that temperatures may rise by between two and four degrees by the turn of the century. Sea levels are set to rise between 26 and 81 centimetres, by then causing untold human misery.

The title of the story is: “Evidence is there, so what are we waiting for?” What a great headline and what a good question. We could point to a long list of problems crushing down on the people of Australia and the world.

Trillions are wasted on the military while people don’t have food and shelter. “What are we waiting for?”

People are dying from preventable diseases because they can’t afford medicines controlled by Big Pharma. “What are we waiting for?”

People in rich countries like our own suffer in pain for months and months for operations in public hospitals while billions are wasted on the Private Health Insurance Rebate to prop up private hospitals. “What are we waiting for?”

Research on alternative energy is starved for funds while profit-gorged coal mining companies continue to get billions extra from the diesel fuel rebate. You get the idea.

The reason we appear to be waiting is we have been confused and divided by the people who profit from the status quo – the international capitalist ruling class. I think another reason is the Communist Party in this country is too small and doesn’t exert enough influence in the movement. If I could put in a plug here, if you have been looking around for a place to invest your passion for social justice, to see your energies amplified you will be welcomed in a spirit of comradeship and encouragement into the Communist Party of Australia.


But I repeat, we are willing to work with a broad range of organisations and, in that process, try to forge an alliance of forces to achieve a government of a new type that, with mass support in the workplaces and communities throughout the country, will start to roll back the corporate agenda, limit the dominance of the monopolies and extricate us from the war fighting strategy of the US and its allies and take action to save the planet and the environment.

A community/union alliance is a very good place to start. It would be a major new front on which to fight back against the neo-liberal agenda. The CPA would support that to the hilt. In fact, its only reservation or regret is that it doesn’t have more to bring to the table right here and now. One of the tasks of Congress this weekend is to work out how we can build the CPA to achieve this goal: “Active and United for a Socialist Australia”. It is time for us to step up and show more leadership.

There has been discussion in other sections of the left recently about organisational unity of parties and organisations on the left. A spirit of cooperation and unity in action is a good thing. But the CPA remains convinced that a distinct, Marxist-Leninist Party is necessary in Australia as it is elsewhere. The movement brought together to achieve change will be diverse but the Party must be clear about what direction it would like to see the movement go. That’s toward socialism as quick as it is humanly possible to get there.

The time has arrived to make all those connections, create the structures and wage the struggles to stop the Abbotts of this world in their tracks. I’m sure it’s on a lot of people’s minds tonight – what sort of Australia will we have after a term of an Abbott government? I suppose I shouldn’t personalise it. I should describe it as the next phase in the plans of the capitalist class to rob the Australian people of their collective legacy.

What will the “end of the era of entitlement” look like for the unemployed and pensioners? What will crime rates be like among marginalised people trapped in under-serviced neglected areas? What extra humiliations and hazards will people face in their workplace? What will the fate be of the people seeking sanctuary in our country from the wars, rising oceans and other disruption cause by our government and ones of a similar stripe?

I don’t want to find out and I don’t think you do either. Let’s go out from here, and comrades from my Party, let’s leave our Congress on Monday with the conviction that this rather daunting period will go down in history as the beginning of the end of the old politics of hatred, exploitation and division and the beginning of a new era of solidarity, peaceful co-existence, independence and possibilities.

The full text will be available soon.

Next article – CPA 12th National Congress Resolutions

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