CPA celebrates 75 years

Marcus Larsen reports from Australia

THE Communist Party of Australia was formed on October 30 1920. In the 71 years up to its liquidation, it led the most militant and conscious sections of the working class in Australia.

It suffered three periods of illegality, survived a referendum calling for it to be banned in the height of the Cold War, built many militant trade unions, trained tens of thousands of activists and won many great victories for the class.

It was at times a fighting Party. It also suffered the long cancer of unquestioning loyalty to the Soviet bureaucracy for much of its existence, abandoned a working class position, pioneered Eurocommunism, maintained a bureaucratic internal regime and helped establish the class collaborationist Accord (social contract) which has been the cornerstone of 12 years of Labor government.

This anniversary gives communists the opportunity to examine the history of the Party, warts and all, in our task of reforging a genuine communist party in this country.

This past month has seen a number of events to either celebrate or commemorate the formation. This small flurry of activity in most Australian capital cities has largely been organised by the 1971 pro-Soviet split from the CPA - the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA). The other organisation involved in what is more like a wake is the Search Foundation, the trust fund set up by the liquidationist leadership of the CPA to manage the Party’s sizeable assets.

This anniversary is being celebrated in a period of complete liquidation of the Communist Party.

A dinner of about 500 people in Sydney brought out many old Party members, unionists, some left Labor identities and many a voyeur. The dinner and its speakers were a glimpse of the Party in its dying days: the ‘anti-Stalinist’ liquidationist leadership firmly in control; the disorganised ‘opposition’ faintly trying to hold the Party together.

The whole process was overseen by Brian Aarons, last Party secretary and one of the main architects of its demise and its transformation into the New Left Party (a rump of a ‘party’ which thankfully led a short life and died a silent, embarrassed death in 1993).

On the surface the speakers seemed to be very representative; a balance of men and women, older and younger. All spoke of the terrible errors of Stalinism, a long shopping list of the Party’s involvement in social movements in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and its proud (and thankfully long gone) tradition during the Depression.

But it was a carefully constructed list of speakers who all supported the Party’s liquidation: the usual ‘Stalinist’ methods all in the name of ‘anti-Stalinism’ and pluralism. And in the background, the ‘left’ of the CPA - those 40% who opposed the liquidation - from them came some noise - not orchestrated, not organised, but still a noise - “we was robbed,” a common theme.

The SPA, whose idea the dinner was in the first place, was there too, but it wasn’t given a jersey. The dinner was over with no mention of revolution, the working class or communism - the Party safely buried for those who dug the hole.

The SPA, still managing to hold a pro-Soviet fragment together, was in a much more celebratory mood. It held a Party history exhibition which displayed a much more revolutionary and fighting Party, not the Eurocommunist rump it became. Still, the SPA looks at the Party’s history with rose coloured glasses, its weekly paper calling for a return to the good ol’ days of the 1940s and 50s - the height of pro-Soviet monolithism in the CPA. The ageing SPA has used this opportunity to repeat its lowest common denominator unity mongering.

Despite all the liquidationist drivel and the media dragging out old communists to declare their crimes in public, the occasion of the 75 years since the formation of the only revolutionary party the working class has ever had has led to a mood in some left and union circles that something must come out of this. Most of this is an attempt by the Search Foundation to rehash its failed New Left party.

For genuine communists this occasion is one to be proud of. The CPA was involved in leading most of the victories of the working class over the decades; it was also involved in some of its defeats.

It gives us the opportunity to examine the history of our Party with a view to understanding its long drawn out liquidation, its weaknesses, its strengths and clean off the anti-communist muck that its last leaders left it with.

There is no public discussion on building a genuine communist party. It is this task which genuine communists must take up in this period. Indeed, it is the central issue for communists in Australia. What is necessary to reforge a fighting party of the class, a party for revolution and for communism? What is it that we must do in order to reforge a communist party?

It is this question that the 75th anniversary of the formation of the CPA puts firmly before us. It is up to us to grasp it with both hands.