Into The Mainstream by Tom O’Lincoln

Left Turn, Right Turn: The CPA in the Seventiess

The Communist Party entered the seventies smaller and more divided than it had been for decades, yet there was one saving grace: it was also able to respond, though somewhat sluggishly at first, to a powerful radicalisation that began to sweep Australia from about 1967. The party was engulfed in a great upsurge of industrial militancy, and by a student radicalisation which was at the heart of a powerful movement against the Vietnam war. Following close on the heels of these developments there came the explosive growth of women's liberation.

How did each of these aspects of the radicalisation contribute to a turn to the left in the CPA's orientation?

The trade union struggle took off like a sky-rocket from 1967. Days lost in strikes, which had been below a million per year for a considerable period, grew by leaps and bounds:
STRIKE DAYS LOST (THOUSANDS) Source: ABS
Year Days Lost Year Days Lost
1967 705 1971 3068
1968 1079 1972 2010
1969 1958 1973 2634
1970 2393 1974 6292

One aspect of the general militancy which was to have particularly important political consequences was the widespread participation by women, whose willingness to fight led to a narrowing of pay differentials with men and ultimately to a historic equal pay decision by the Arbitration Commission in 1972.

By the beginning of 1969 the Communist Party's central leadership had grasped some of the implications of the industrial trends, and concluded that it was possible to wage a major struggle against the Penal Powers which had hamstrung the entire trade union movement for most of the postwar decades. In January of that year the CPA National Committee was induced to call for a perspective of confronting the Powers, despite resistance from those of its trade union leaders who were soon to depart with the SPA. The party prepared itself for what it believed would be a major fight, and it was proved correct within months when Victorian Tramways union leader Clarrie O'Shea was jailed in May for refusing to pay fines imposed under the Penal Powers. A million trade unionists stopped work, and after a mysterious anonymous donor paid the fine, the Powers had become a dead letter.

The O'Shea victory in turn opened the way for a generalised working class offensive, in which CPA-led unions and workers played an important role, among the most important areas of work being the building industry, the NSW power industry, and the workers' control movement.

The NSW Builders' Labourers became something of a legend, beginning with a hard-fought strike in Sydney in 1970, which was in many ways a model of organisation. Jack Mundey and other officials, who had already agreed to receive salaries no higher than those earned by workers in the industry, did not get their salaries at all during the strike, subsisting on strike pay. The dispute was run by an elected committee and measures were taken to involve the many migrant workers in the organisation. However the most famous action was the forming of vigilante "de-scabbing" groups, which occupied building sites until non-unionists were withdrawn. No amount of State government or press hysteria were enough to defeat such an enthusiastic group of workers, especially in the runaway boom conditions that then obtained in the Sydney building industry, and "Mundey's marauders" became a household word.

Next came the "Green Bans", beginning with the defence of Kelly's Bush in Hunters' Hill. This was a piece of land in an upper middle class area, but there followed the battle to save the Rocks and the struggle for Woolloomooloo, both inner city areas of historic importance. And the bans eventually extended to the area of sexual politics, when union action defended the rights of a homosexual student at Macquarie University and then helped ensure the establishment of a women's studies course at the University of Sydney. These were inspiring and historic actions, and if I do not dwell on them here it is because they have been well chronicled in other places. [1]

Less publicised but also quite important were the workers' control tactics pursued by the BLF: the Builders' Labourers were given to "sacking" their foremen and reorganising the work process to attain some desired end, such as greater safety.

Workers' control was also the new watchword in the NSW power industry. The power stations have a long history of shop committee organisation, derived originally from their links with the railways, and the CPA has enjoyed a considerable presence in the shop committees since the thirties. The Committees were linked together in the Electricity Commission Combined Union Delegates' Organisation, a strong body which was well to the left of the official union structure and enjoyed a considerable freedom of action.

In the early seventies ECCUDO led a series of struggles for the 35 hour week, employing innovative tactics. They remained in the stations rather than walking out, attempting to control the flow of power; when the State government told certain industries to shut down, aiming to divide the working class by putting sections of it out of work, ECCUDO took out newspaper advertisements advising trade unionists to simply replace fuses and continue work. Power, they said, was available whatever the government might claim.

And in fact workers' control ideas were spreading widely, encouraged by the Communist Party. A left journalist captured the prevailing mood:

An ABC TV "Monday Conference" interview in 1972, in which Jack Mundey elaborated on some of the ideas of the Builders' Labourers Federation brought a flurry of congratulatory phone calls and letters. A lot of these were particularly enthused about the concepts of new forms of strikes; for instance, keeping trains and buses running but not collecting fares, or workers keeping factories producing food and other necessities but distributing the goods to pensioners and others in need. The idea of workers using that sort of radical initiative appealed to people's imagination.
Later in that year, workers and others were jubilant about what workers at South Clifton coalmine (on the NSW Southern field) did: with the US-controlled mineowner pronouncing the mine closed and the workers sacked, some 90 of them worked the mine for three days, producing coal without a boss.
Earlier, at the Harco Steel plant in outer Sydney, boilermakers who had been sacked by the boss continued working there in a defiant weeks-long work-in.
[2]

In the same year the CPA put a great deal of effort into a series of conferences, beginning in Newcastle, aimed at establishing a workers' control movement modelled somewhat on the Institute of Workers' Control in Britain led by Tony Topham and Ken Coates. The Newcastle conference was a considerable success and attracted many workers, some of them delegates from jobs. Conferences elsewhere had uneven results: in Melbourne it became apparent that the Communist Party could not control the direction of the discussions because there were too many people from the revolutionary left present; the party therefore simply did not turn up for the second day and allowed the Melbourne end of the project to collapse.

The student and antiwar movements were in some ways even more spectacular than the industrial upsurge. In 1966 the ALP had declared against the war in Vietnam and campaigned against it in the Federal elections, and while the electoral results were poor the campaign did mobilise an important activist minority. After the electoral defeat, these activists swung sharply to the left and toward direct action, especially on the campuses.

By 1969 the issue had become a rallying point for masses of youth, and had become interwoven with other aspects of a general youth rebellion. The campuses became tinderboxes, as students revolted against authoritarian structures, the ideological bias of course content, sexual repression and the values of the society around them. At Monash, students collected aid for the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, and on all the bigger campuses an important minority moved toward an explicitly socialist and even revolutionary stance.

In doing so, they moved well to the left of the Communist Party. The CPA was still associated with Russia and still contained a substantial pro-Soviet minority, at a time when the young activists perceived that the Kremlin was nothing resembling a force for revolution. What is more the party was seen, correctly, as associated with those traditional Old Left and pacifist forces who sought to keep the antiwar movement within respectable limits. In fact the CPA's position on Vietnam was to the right of sizeable sections of the Labor Party, who began to demand immediate withdrawal of the troops while the Communist Party's slogan was still "Stop the bombing, negotiate!" [3]

The best activists therefore went not to the Communist Party, but often to the new left groups and it did not seem to matter what the specific theoretical stance of those groups was. In Melbourne and especially at Monash the attraction was mainly to Maoism, which could claim links to the Chinese Cultural Revolution and an association with the general third-world charisma of both China and Vietnam. In Sydney the strongest pole was the Trotskyists, who could point to the important role played by their comrades in the radical wing of the student and untiwar movements overseas. In Brisbane it was the anarchists and libertarians, who could appeal to the anti-authoritarian impulse which was so strong in the youth revolt.

Wherever you looked the CPA was being outflanked, and as the party leadership began to grasp the fact it realised it faced something of a crisis. Its cadres had survived the cold war partly by sticking to the hope of an eventual new left upsurge; it had also begun to liberalise and break with Moscow and naturally expected this to pay off in recruitment among the newly radicalising forces. Now it appeared the party would miss the boat.

The CPA National Committee, meeting in November 1968, decided that if the party was to have a future, it would have to enter the "hurly-burly of the left" and decided to do so by initiating a conference "where by far the most significant element present would be the 'new left'." [4] This was the Left Action Conference which was held in April 1969 and attracted some 790 people.

For the Communist Party the conference was a major breakthrough. To be sure it adopted policies the CPA had formerly considered over-extreme, such as support for the Vietnamese National Liberation Front. It did not bring the party any significant organisational gains. But it achieved its immediate objective, which was to re-legitimise the Communist Party in the eyes of radical youth. Laurie Aarons commented that there had been "not a shift to the Communist Party as such but to a wider acceptance that the Communist Party is sincere".[5] A trotskyist current around Denis Freney was drawn toward the party, and the CPA increased its collaboration with Brisbane new leftists organised in the Revolutionary Socialist Alliance. The party's concern to appeal to the youth was made abundantly clear by a Tribune front page headline which announced: "It's Mayday, Man".[6]

In the case of the student movement it was quite obviously a case of the Communist Party responding to, indeed tailing after the struggles ot the youth, rather than taking a lead. This was also very obviously true in the case of the CPA's reaction to the women's liberation movement that developed after 1971.

The growing equal pay struggles in industry had been resisted for a time by the Arbitration Commission, and in 1969 its refusal to grant equal pay to all but a tiny minority led a small group of women to chain themselves to public buildings and form the Women's Action Committee the first modern style women's liberation group in Australia. The initiators of the Committee were members of the Communist Party, but neither the party nor the Union of Australian Women were prepared to associate themselves with what they saw as an extremist splinter group. Yet within a few years militant feminism of this sort became one of the strongest forces on the left.

The CPA responded, grudgingly at first. Tribune began to feature "women's rights" articles more and more, and if its consciousness was still low enough to permit an uncritical report about the "Miss Equality Contest" on International Women's Day 1969, [7] by 1972 it had gone to the other extreme and published an interview labelled "Germaine Greer as Revolutionary."[8] The NSW Builders' Labourers accepted women in the industry and campaigned for their right to work there, and in 1973 CPA women were among those who stormed the Sydney May Day Platform in protest against the more sexist of the day's activities.

The changes in the outside world also began to have an impact on the party's internal life and debate. Daphne Gollan has described the impact of the new women's movement on some of the established CPA activists:

For a very long time the women resented that they always had to do the typing and stencilling, and dreary work, as well as often having a lot of decision making. They were so competent! They could do every task in the office, and they always had to do them, the men were incapable. I think they sometimes bitterly resented the helplessness of the men...
After an initial rejection of what the women's movement had to say "bourgeois feminism once again" nevertheless, the explosive quality of Germaine Greer, and Betty Friedan, and then all the stuff just pouring out of America! After 1968 it wasn't possible any longer in the party to tell people not to read it. And the party women read it. They could reject an enormous amount and still keep enough to be highly explosive.
[9]

No wonder that by 1973 Mavis Robertson was telling the National Committee in no uncertain terms:

We want an end to situations... where an action of importance to women was called trivial by some men, and worse, where men, including some communists, appointed themselves to take over the action... We don't want party branches rejecting some women speakers on the grounds that they are too "forceful"... We do need a heightened awareness that the feminist movement and its theories bring to the revolutionary struggle a new dimension, that without it, the revolution will be incomplete. [10]

Similarly the youth rebellion began to have its internal fall-out, with a Youth and Students Working Group in Sydney complaining of a "condescending and paternalistic attitude towards youth in many branches" and a lack of activism in sections of the organisation which put young people off, as well as an over-centralism in the party's youth organisations. [11] And the party began to lecture those among its trade union officials who were slow to recognise the radical potential of the new militancy on the job. In 1970 Laurie Aarons attacked the "narrowness of vision" of many of the trade unionists, including a "conservative attitude to arbitration" and an "even balancing of conservative passivity and 'adventurism' as problems in unionism today when, in reality, the former is the main one". He also deplored their hostility to criticism:

When youth are solemnly warned not to criticise union officials lest this be destructive, then revolutionary spirit has been lost, and our own movement's experiences forgotten. [12]

The party's continuous leftward motion eventually found its expression in official documents. There was an important policy statement called "Modern Unionism and the Workers' Movement" which called for workers' control actions to encroach on the rights of employers, and a document entitled "Women and Social Liberation" adopted in 1974 which incorporated all the basic demands which had emerged from women's liberation. And above all there were the main Congress documents of 1974, which were so radical in their phraseology that John Sendy was moved to comment wryly:

In the 1970 Statement of Aims the CPA was described as an independent Australian socialist party. The political document adopted at the 1972 Party Congress spoke of the CPA as being an independent revolutionary party of the Australian working class. But the political document of the 1974 Congress described the CPA as an independent revolutionary party working for socialist revolution!! Furthermore the 1974 document used the words revolution and revolutionary (in the singular and plural) 54 times in nine pages! [13]

Yet within a few years all the radical rhetoric was being disavowed, and the party was on its way to a new rightwing consensus. If we are to determine why, we must begin by analysing the limitations of the left lurch of the early seventies, and especially the underlying reformist methodology which permeated even the most radical features.

The Limitations of the Left Turn

THE FIRST indications that the left turn was not as deeply rooted as it might appear lay in the impressionistic and eclectic nature of many of the new ideas. The party that prided itself on a new-found independence and critical awareness was, in reality, all too often simply following in the wake of every trend in the world around it. Having broken with Stalinism, it was seeking its place in the social mainstream, and for a time society was moving to the left. The danger, however, was that once society began to shift back to the right, the party would do likewise.

And even in the short term there were obvious weaknesses. The party was prey to fads of every description. If Germaine Greer was a revolutionary one year, the centre of the revolution had shifted to Nimbin by the next year. And when Jerry Rubin of the American Yippies published a book whose (admittedly amusing) voluntarist nonsense was summed up in the title Do It!, Tribune published a rave review, prompting one contributor to the letters page to retort: "Boy, I can hardly wait, when does Hugh Heffner take over as editor?" [14] There was even a toleration of the anti-working class prejudices of the new left, as when Tribune opened its pages to a report on the Nimbin counterculture by a young man who wrote:

A revolution is taking place but Communists and most Leftwing working class bogged down in their booze-oriented suburban life are unaware and not in touch with it. [15]

No wonder working class cadres were lost to the CPA! But far more serious than such episodic lapses was the fact that the talk of revolution concealed an underlying method which remained within a framework of reformism and class collaboration.

This can even be demonstrated in that apparently radical area: workers' control. Here too there was a faddishness the party simply ignored the serious weaknesses in the work-in tactic, for example, in its enthusiasm at seeing workers try new methods. The work-in at Harco, during which the employees worked for nothing in defiance of the sack, was hailed as a milestone. The fact that the objectives of the work-in were not achieved, and that only 9 of the 17 participants felt the action was a success, was played down. [16]

But the deeper problem was analytical. For Marxists there are two quite central problems in an analysis of the capitalist system, and hence to any strategy for overthrowing or transforming it. One is the mode of production: the systematic manner in which people interact with each and with the means of production to produce wealth. The other is the state: the apparatus of both physical and (less directly) social and ideological repression which defends that mode of production. The fact that workers are located at the heart of the productive process is rather central to their role in socialist transformation. What distinguishes workers' control struggles from ordinary trade unionism is precisely that they point to a reorganisation of the mode of production. By contrast ordinary trade unionism typically concentrates on the battle over the terms under which workers will participate in the existing system (and especially on the price of labour power, that is, on an issue concerning more the realm of exchange than production itself).

Given that capitalists will resist attempts to transform the mode of production, and will presumably make use of their repressive institutions, quite obviously workers' control struggles must ultimately raise the question of the state. How shall we confront it by attempting to smash it as Lenin believed, or by some more gradual kind of subversion?

The CPA conception of workers' control consistently fudged both of these questions, as becomes quite clear in a major article written by Denis Freney just before the 1973 Workers' Control Conference at Newcastle. He begins by blurring the qualitative distinction between workers' control and traditional trade unionism, presenting the former merely as an extension of the latter:

Workers' control, in general terms, is something as old as the labour movement itself. The right to strike and to form unions are forms of workers' control, limiting the bosses' power. [17]

What then is new about it? According to Freney, the new feature is that it can be extended beyond the workplace and people's

ability to manage their own working and, indeed, whole life without bosses or bureaucrats. . . Workers' control and self-management in both France and Czechoslovakia were the major part of the movement. . .for the general social self-management of all aspects of economic, social, political and cultural life ... [18]

What is conspicuously avoided is any consideration of the distinctive quality of workers' control as an intervention in the productive process itself. On the one hand Freney blurs the distinction between workers' control and conventional trade unionism; on the other he merges workers' control into a rather vague and romanticised conception of social liberation in general. From here it is not far to divorcing workers' control from the workplace altogether. Freney begins by defining "Green Bans" as workers' control, which is perhaps still legitimate, but then slips over rapidly to including any and all political action involving unions or workers:

The different bans placed by the NSW Building and Construction Workers' Union on developers' plans for environmental destruction readily come to mind in this regard ... In other cases, unions have, in using normal strike tactics, taken over decision-making in certain spheres previously reserved for the boss or the bureaucrats. . . Even the unions' participation in the Vietnam Moratoriums and the anti-apartheid campaign, despite its limitations, represented an intervention in directly political matters formerly the province of government...
Workers' control then is a concept which has spread beyond the workplace to the whole of society. It means basically that workers seek to take control of their own working and waking lives, and all aspects of social decision-making that affects them.
[19]

Freney's whole analysis of workers' control has skirted carefully around the need to challenge the existing relations of production, but even so, the perspective is radical. One question however arises immediately: how will the repressive forces in society react to these challenges? That is, what about the state? We recall that Freney saw the struggles in France in 1968 as examples of workers' control in action. He was quite expansive in enumerating the strengths of these struggles:

...workers' control and self-management were not only goals, models and visions to be fought for (even unconsciously) by the mass of workers and students and their newly forming leaderships, but also provided a tactic and a strategy to build in the here-and-now a new society of socialist democracy based on self-management. [20]

How one can fight unconsciously for goals, models and visions is not clear but at any rate the movement apparently combined vision, tactics and strategy with great success. Why then did it fail? Only because it did not spread far enough, it seems:

In some places, these occupations changed to rudimentary practice of self-management, where workers operated factories and the circulation and distribution of goods was undertaken by strike committees. Perhaps if this system had been generalised in all the occupied factories and cities, if the workers had begun to produce the goods and services and organise their distribution themselves, then the outcome may have been different in France. [21]

Perhaps, but there was the small matter of the army and police, and also of the more indirect mechanisms of social control, ranging from the church to the French Communist Party hierarchy itself which helped to stifle the movement. These were some of the reasons why the movement did not spread beyond a certain point. Revolutionaries have traditionally called for the construction of a disciplined, revolutionary party to combat such institutions. If the "trotskyist" Freney could dodge this issue, it is no wonder that the party as a whole did the same.

So far I have only indicted Denis Freney for vagueness rather than explicit reformism, but the point is that by remaining vague he allowed the established CPA cadre to fill his categories with their own content. How easily this could occur becomes clear from a discussion document written by Brian Carey in 1968, in a much less radical tone but with some astonishing similarities of formulation all the same:

From the trade unions, where the most sectarian attitudes of Stalinism never worked, the concepts of peaceful transition, sharing the leadership, and co-operation with religious workers developed...
The mass trade union campaigns already spontaneously involve the demand for worker control over management, over prices and wage policy, over computerisation, over national development and foreign policy.
The CPA has correctly been giving a special stress to this slogan, which has long been in the centre of socialist thinking, but whose full implications have not yet been fully explored... Unconsciously, workers are seeking such control over monopoly. Objectively, our guerilla fights against the effects of capitalism cannot achieve permanent victories without worker control. But, in the era of transition to socialism, the struggles inside capitalism flow on into struggles to change the social system.
[22] (Emphasis added.)

Here the idea that ordinary trade unionism flows over naturally into workers' control, which in turn flows into anti-capitalist struggle, is explicitly linked to a peaceful transition to socialism as well as to "sharing the leadership" (i.e. pluralism). Whatever Freney's own intentions, the ambiguities in his article meant that the reformist notions of Carey and others like him remained, at bottom, unchallenged.

Freney's article does have one great merit that should be mentioned: he distinguishes clearly between workers' participation which "seeks to integrate workers into the system" and workers' control which "seeks to mobilise them against it".[23] Unfortunately the CPA's propaganda frequently blurred this distinction too, calling all too often for such things as a "voice in the management of industrial undertakings".[24]

If workers' control, the most radical concept put forward by the party, was ambiguous at best, the underlying reform orientation came through much more clearly in the electoral propaganda. A major election broadsheet produced in 1972 provided an excellent survey of the CPA's policies, taking up various issues in turn. Class issues got one mention out of twenty-six, under "U" for unionism, while under "Z" the party embraced the "Zero Population Growth" fad. The central thrust was a classless conception of "people's action" while inequality received the following treatment:

The rich have become still richer; the really poor have increased and become poorer still; the majority in between find it harder to keep abreast of rising prices, higher taxes and charges for essential services. (Emphasis in original.)

If in the discussion of living standards the working class had disappeared into something called "the majority in between", it was no more present when it came to allocating preferences. The ALP was supported because it favoured reform, but no more than the Australia Party which "also stands for reforms within the system".[25] The fact that the Labor Party was the mass party of the working class, based on the trade unions, was obviously not a major consideration. And at various times through 1974 Communist election candidates continued to give preferences to the Australia Party, so that in some ways the CPA's general propaganda had a more classless quality during the left turn of the early seventies than it did after 1975 when Malcolm Fraser forcibly reminded the party of the centrality of class politics.

In the practical world of the unions, class politics could hardly be ignored but they could certainly be compromised, especially in the metal trades where some of the most conservative practices remained. To be sure, Laurie Carmichael lent his signature to a statement on the antiwar movement calling for "more militant positions"[26] and called for stronger rank and file organisation, pointing to the "Strike Committee organisation of Ford workers" as a particularly fine example. [27] But in this regard he was simply drifting with an overwhelmingly militant tide, in a situation where gains came easily. Carmichael's real understanding of the rank and file was soon tested by the very Ford rank and file he praised so highly. In 1973 a riot took place at Ford in Melbourne, when an elaborate plan developed by the union officials proved to be totally out of step with the real aspirations of the workforce. In a stormy meeting Carmichael's coat was torn and he was soon kicked upstairs and moved to Sydney by his union.

The Ford events are well known, but only a short time before he had also clashed with Communist boilermakers in Brisbane. Three metal trades unions were being amalgamated and were to adopt the AEU branch structure, with its locality branches. The Brisbane boilermakers, preferring the workplace branches they were used to and considered more democratic, protested. Carmichael came up to lay down the law, with the result that a number of militants left the party and the Brisbane metal fraction was effectively wrecked.

The underlying weaknesses in CPA union work came to the fore with the Federal intervention into the NSW BLF in 1975, when federal secretary Norm Gallagher, backed by the employers, carried out a massive operation to smash the State branch and ultimately succeeded after prolonged resistance.

The BLF's own weaknesses were revealed under the onslaught. While few will perhaps take seriously the notion that it was a "revolutionary union" whose demands "could not be contained within capitalism" and the mass of whose members had a revolutionary consciousness, [28] it was still one of the best unions ever seen in Australia, and for that very reason its weaknesses as well as its strengths deserve mention.

Looking back on the period leading up to the Federal intervention Jack Mundey has himself remarked that he "did feel at the time that the union was travelling too quickly"[29] and that "we made an error in taking up too many social issues at the final stages... we took on too much, I think we failed to consolidate at a certain period".[30] There had been a prolonged boom, and workers were prepared to take all sorts of advanced (and sometimes outrageous) actions, secure in the knowledge that labour was tight. It was possible for members and also leaders to get a bit giddy, and to find themselves suddenly vulnerable when the boom came to an end in 1974.

One signal failure in this union which otherwise stressed the role of the rank and file was the absence of strong job organisation on most building sites. The comparatively conservative leaders of most tradesmen's unions in the building industry were no friends of the BLF, so it was crucial that links be forged directly with the rank and file of these unions through site committees. And when the official structure of the BLF came under attack, job organisation was essential to hold things together at the local level. Where it did exist, as at the Qantas or Bondi Plaza sites, the anti-Gallagher forces still had effective control as late as 1978. But as Builders' Labourer David Shaw commented, "only two or three jobs in Sydney had site committees, linking BLs to the other unions. If more jobs had had them, we'd have had a better show of beating Gallagher".[31] Nevertheless, far more of the blame for the defeat lies with the leaderships of other unions, including those led by CPA members. When one bears in mind that this was a case of an all-out, and exceptionally blatant union-busting operation , it is obvious that left union leaders had certain responsibilities to show solidarity with the BLF. Yet except for the Federated Engine Drivers they did little. The AMWSU for example, which had members in the industry, did nothing to support Mundey and Co. despite a powerful Communist Party presence that included figures such as Carmichael and John Halfpenny. Mundey later alluded to this fact rather pointedly:

Yes, mistakes, but always keep in mind that had other unions displayed working class solidarity with the democratically elected NSW leadership... the "invasion" would have certainly failed. [32]

Since the late sixties, discipline within the party had grown continually slacker. Partly this was a product of rank and file revolt against the old authoritarianism; partly it was a product of centrifugal tendencies which had been unleashed by the period of political turmoil which began after 1963. The CPA generally claimed that this indiscipline was more democratic and hence desirable. Yet it now became clear that the lack of discipline also meant that whole sections of the party could refuse to defend other sections they disliked; nor did they have to implement policies they disapproved of. Not only in the unions but everywhere else this meant that whole sections of the organisation could hold aloof from all the radical innovations of the time, thus keeping them ghettoized in certain places and areas of work. The NSW BLF experienced a minor revolution; the Victorian AMWSU changed little. Similarly the Adelaide branches were packed with leftists, but the left had little impact in Melbourne.

The resistance of the whole Victorian organisation to the left turn proved to be very important. Tribune was simply not widely sold in Melbourne, because it was considered too radical, and it was even suspected in Sydney that the Taft leadership in Victoria was prepared to split over the issues in dispute. Because the central leadership was not prepared to contemplate such a thing, Victoria had a considerable bargaining power and provided a base for a mobilisation of the right wing. The Victorians could gradually begin to appeal to the "silent majority" of members who were dubious about the new radicalism, but who remained silent in the face of the energy and determination of the radicals.

In 1970 as the pro-Soviet minority made preparations to depart, Joyce Slater had written a letter to Tribune in which she said:

The extreme Rightwing Stalinists have taken a beating, but what of the stay-putters, don't-rock-the-boat elements in the middle? We have only just begun the fight for radical change in the party. [33]

Slater had identified a real problem, although a few years were to pass before it really began to make itself felt.

The Left Tendency

ONE GROUP of people who aroused the special hostility of the CPA's right wing were the Left Tendency, which represented the extreme edge of the radical turn. Its rise and fall provides an interesting counterpoint to the main trends in the party.

While the CPA had chased after the youth rebellion from 1969, it had not achieved immediate results in terms of recruitment. The 1972 Congress documents commented sadly that "the CPA has failed to win large numbers of youth to become active members" even though "scores of thousands of young people are revolting against the policies and values of the capitalist system and thousands are entering political activity of a radical or revolutionary kind".[34] In fact the party continued to find recruitment of young people difficult until the latter years of the decade. But there were some exceptions. Some elements of the "new left" did begin to move into the CPA after 1972, bringing their ideas with them.

The antiwar movement had begun to decline about the same time as Whitlam came to power. Some of the activists began to realise that the new left was going to dissipate as a movement, and that the small revolutionary groups that had emerged out of it had little chance of establishing a permanent mass presence. The CPA, with its roots in the labour movement and its links to rank and file workers, appeared to some as the logical place to begin a long-term revolutionary practice.

Those who joined the party, says Terry O'Shaughnessy, "had a strong committment both to the renewal of Marxism as a theoretical tool for the analysis of society and to Leninism as a guide to developing the sorts of instruments that would be necessary for radical transformation".[35] One of their leading spokespersons, Winton Higgins, wrote in the Socialist Register that the CPA could be won to genuine Marxism and that it was "demonstrating the potential to lead a viable communist movement in Australia".[36] The young recruits aimed to turn this potential into reality.

O'Shaughnessy emphasizes four points around which the tentative program of the Left Tendency cohered. Firstly, "a call for a materialist analysis" to replace the idealist and eclectic theory of the post-1967 period. Secondly, a call for an analysis of the Whitlam government that went beyond noting individual strengths and weaknesses and focussed on the structural role of Labor under capitalism. Thirdly, an analysis of the USSR derived from Ernest Mandel[37] and fourthly a concentration on rank and file organisation in industry. This last deserves some comment.

The Tendency was of course critical of the old-style trade union bureaucrats in the party, but at the same time it was dissatisfied with the ideas contained in "Modern Unionism and the Workers' Movement", and even with the practice of the NSW BLF:

We believed that the key notion... was independent organisations which could become the nucleus of a revolutionary society. We believed that the trade unions were not capable of being transformed in this way and that it was necessary instead to build organisations in the working class that could play this role. We believed that in the shop committee we could see the nucleus of such a way in which society could be both transformed and administered in a post-revolutionary situation. [38]

The model most looked to was ECCUDO in the power industry, and from the undeniable strengths of this organisation there was a slippage to the idea of Soviets. The notion that shop committees could be the embryos of Soviets was a common one to young Australian Marxists in the early seventies, who were deeply influenced by Antonio Gramsci and the experience of the Turin factory councils. Tendency members attempted to translate elements of this theory into practice through involvement with the "Link" groups in the metal trades and through an industry bulletin produced in Melbourne by the Carlton branch and the metal branch of the party.

As the idea took on a certain importance on the Australian left at the time, it is worth a slight digression to suggest its limitations. No doubt shop committees can, in certain circumstances, become the beginnings

of Soviets. On the other hand, they have never actually done so. Even the Turin factory councils were not really Soviets in the sense of posing an alternative political power. In Russia, the classic case, a shop committee movement existed alongside the Soviets, but was not their origin. More recently in the Portuguese upheaval of 1975, revolutionaries tried in vain to move the shop committees there in the direction of Soviets.

Moreover, the actual ECCUDO was far from being a centre of radical politics, as we will see.

The Tendency was most successful in Adelaide, where some 30 or 40 young radicals poured into a party organisation that had been hard hit by the SPA split. It was more of a fusion than a recruitment process, and the Tendency soon found itself running the Adelaide CPA. It was vastly less successful in Melbourne where it was ghettoized in the Carlton branch. In Sydney its influence was somewhere in between. Sydney therefore became something of a testing ground for the left's strategy for transforming the party.

At the 1974 Congress the Aarons leadership accommodated the Left Tendency to a considerable degree, because they needed its support in a struggle with the Victorian leadership (which was beginning to demand a retreat from the party's most radical positions). The Tendency members felt they had hit the bigtime, as O'Shaughnessy explains in a passage that is perhaps more self-revelatory than he intended:

Those of you who've had a background in either the student movement or the sects will know that there's a constant feeling that one's not engaging in grown up politics... and our work in the party at this period and particularly this important struggle... gave us first of all a taste of what could and did go on in an organization like the Communist Party which had a significant presence in proper politics. [39]

Alas, the Tendency comrades were only temporarily to be tolerated among the grown ups. Between the 1974 and 1976 Congresses their fortunes faded drastically, partly because of tactical errors, but mainly because the party began its shift to the right.

The Left Tendency made the mistake, firstly, of publishing a document characterising the Communist Party's internal life and identifying what they considered to be three tendencies: the Victorian right wing, the "centre" led by the Aarons group, and themselves. This aroused disquiet among wide sections of the membership, who had been somewhat traumatised by past splits and did not like the spectre of further division being raised so explicitly. The Left responded by waging a struggle around the right of tendency, but whatever the merits of their case in principle this only made the hostility to them more intense, and their isolation grew.

But more important than tactical errors were changes in the world outside. The new left radicals who had joined the party did so with the expectation that as they changed the party, other activists from the same background would also join. But the radical movement born in the late-sixties was beginning to fade away, and as it did so, the CPA felt less need to accommodate to it or to its representatives in the Left Tendency. By contrast the Aarons group felt a growing need to heal the breach with the Victorians.

Moreover, many of the distinctive concerns of the Tendency were made peripheral or harder to argue for by the Constitutional Crisis of 1975. Debates over the nature of Labor governments were hardlv germain after the sacking of Whitlam, and as the labour movement as a whole moved into a defensive phase, the Left's insistence on the right of tendency could be portrayed as dangerously divisive. The Aarons' desire to conciliate the Victorians was also enhanced, and old differences between them could be declared outlived in the new situation.

The Left, which regarded Sydney as a test of its strength, suffered a major defeat at the Sydney District Conference held in 1976 in the run-up to the 25th Congress. A motion was carried by a substantial majority rejecting the right of tendency, and to add insult to injury the motion was moved by Jock Syme, secretary of the very ECCUDO organisation that the left had looked to as a model of radicalism. The left were given another lesson in "grown up politics" when, despite their command of a sizeable minority at the district conference, they were permitted only one delegate from Sydney at the Congress.

And indeed at the Congress the Tendency wasn't even in the hunt. The "centre" and the Victorians were conciliated with a great show of unity, and three national secretaries were elected to represent different views but not those of the left. The leaders of the Tendency now collapsed into the CPA mainstream. Rob Durbridge has now become politically indistinguishable from the Aaronsites while Winton Higgins, who once hoped to pull the CPA to the left, is now so far to its right that he looks to Swedish Social Democracy as a model for social change. [40]

Farewell to Radicalism

THE COMMUNIST Party's move back to the right, which took place from about 1976, had been prepared in ideological terms by elements in the Victorian leadership during the early part of the decade.

The Victorians' lack of enthusiasm for the more radical trends in the party went back to the SPA split, which was insignificant in Victoria partly because, as John Sendy wrote, "the Victorian leadership, while acting firmly in the ideological fracas, did not stalk the opposing comrades. We adopted a milder stance, deliberately setting out to maintain good relations with the opposition wherever possible." [41] Members soon to join the SPA were elected to the State Committee in 1971, and Ralph Gibson was chosen as State representative on the National Committee despite his reservations about aspects even of Victorian policy. In 1972 Sendy and Taft defended a more pro-Soviet line within the party, and in late 1973 Sendy produced a circular letter which represented a major document of the Victorian right wing.

The letter attacked the CPA central leadership for "standing aloof from the problems of the ALP government" and for thinking that many of the more conservative party members were "not much good". It called for a conciliatory approach to internal political struggle:

Now the whole concept of polarisation is a first class ticket to a scrap. We polarised the differences with Hill and then we polarised the differences with Brown and Clancy. Are we going to polarise the differences again? Well I'm not too bloody keen about being polarised. Finally it appealed to a sense of pride in the party's Stalinist traditions, which had come under continual criticism for several years:

For example it is fashionable today to deride the whole history of the Party. To hear many comrades speak, even at National Committee meetings, one would think that the Party had always been wrong in the past and that its history was rather laughable. This is sheer nonsense. No matter what the mistakes of the past the Party has always been the most relevant revolutionary organisation in Australia. [42]

Around the same time the Victorian State Committee began to sound the alarm about the Left Tendency. A statement from the Committee appeared in Tribune expressing "grave concern at some of the extraordinary views voiced by a small minority of NC members and others invited to attend the meeting. We refer to such views expressed as that the USSR is not a socialist country at all or even socialist-based, and that the international Communist movement is not a revolutionary force. We urge the National Executive and National Committee to wage a vigorous ideological campaign against such irresponsible stances." [43] There followed a lively debate in the letters pages on the Left Tendency's ideas.

It is not hard to imagine the appeal of such arguments to many members, especially those of long standing who had been deeply upset by the splits of the previous decade, who saw the new radical ideas in the party as half-baked and divisive, and who felt that criticism of the CPA's past was a rejection of their own many years of dedicated effort and struggle. But if Taft and Sendy could appeal to a widespread desire for unity, their increasing combativeness also appeared to contain a thinly veiled warning: if yet another split were to occur, it would be the fault of the central leadership for not moderating their policies, and for not containing the Left.

In 1974 the central leadership had fought the Victorians, but by 1976 they were no longer prepared to do so, and the Congress of that year brought a reconciliation of the contending forces. The key intervening event, we have suggested, was the sacking of Whitlam on November 11,1975 which inaugurated a new era of defensive struggle, and created a strong desire in the left and labour movement to close ranks against the new enemy in Canberra. This provided a strong boost to the Victorians' appeal for an end to internal factionalism, as well as an opportunity for the Aarons group to retreat from their previous policies without losing face for the old policies could be simply dropped as outlived. At the 1976 Congress there was much emphasis on the need for a broad united front, and Laurie Aarons defended himself tartly against those on the left who called this a "collapse" and a "retreat".[44]

But above all, the crisis of 1975 proved a turning point because it was the beginning of a period of defeat in the class struggle. The economy had begun to move into recession from 1974, and the employers had no confidence in the ability of the Labor government to discipline the working class and impose upon it the cost of the economic downturn. Hence the rise of Fraser. Fraser in turn took the offensive against the unions at a time when rapidly worsening unemployment and falling consumer demand was undermining workers' bargaining power, and he was able to win a series of victories.

There was, firstly, his electoral triumph in the 1975 elections. Then followed, within less than a year, the destruction of Medibank despite a major trade union mobilisation. These political defeats for the organised labour movement were complimented by several years of defeat on the wages front, where the most important test was the struggle of the Latrobe Valley power workers in Victoria in 1977. The power workers, a group with considerable industrial muscle, made an heroic 11-week attempt to break through the government's wage indexation guidelines only to finally return to work with virtually no gains. This setback ensured the triumph of the government's wage cutting policies for several years and seriously demoralised Victorian workers in particular. The overall trend in industry is suggested by the strike figures:

STRIKE DAYS LOST (THOUSANDS) Source: ABS
Year Days Lost Year Days Lost
1974 6292 1977 1654
1975 3509 1978 2130
1976 3799

The figures for 1975 and 1976 are somewhat "inflated" by the political strikes over the Kerr Coup and Medibank, so the general picture for the more conventional sort of industrial struggle is obviously depressed for the middle seventies compared with the massive push of the first part of the decade. Moreover many of the strikes that did occur were defensive struggles aimed merely at holding ones ground against a ruling class onslaught which succeeded generally in reducing real wages und worsening conditions for a time.

The Communist Party reacted to the defeats by blending increasingly into the broad left of the ALP and trade union officialdom which for its part was moving rapidly to the right. In response to the Constitutional Crisis itself the ALP moved rapidly to contain mass mobilisation, with Bob Hawke especially important in convincing workers and labour supporters to "cool it". The Communist Party did not disagree. In its own Daily Tribune issued during the crisis period, criticism of the ALP was almost non-existent until the last couple of issues, while statements by Labor leaders were given extensive verbatim coverage. Finally at the very last, the Daily Tribune did stir itself to mention that Labor in office had "retreated under pressure from Australian and foreign big business" and had "compounded the error by appealing to (supporters) to leave it to the government, not to rock the boat, not to organise or act on their own behalf." [45] Well said, but when the masses did mobilise in Melbourne on a massive scale in the wake of the Constitutional Crisis, what was the role of the CPA?

At least 50,000 rallied in Melbourne's City Square, looking for some sort of action, yet on the platform the CPA's representatives were not distinguishable from those of the ALP. John Halfpenny, with Bernie Taft at his elbow, offered only commonplaces about the perfidy of Fraser, and the angry crowd was led away from the centre of town, where Halfpenny joined with Clyde Holding to appeal to them to disperse. At this point the initiative was stolen from them by a small group of revolutionaries, who led at least ten thousand people on to the Stock Exchange, chanting "General Strike!" This was the first time for several years that the CPA was very obviously to the right of a mass movement, but it was not to be the last.

In June 1976, some 1500 job delegates met in Melbourne's Dallas Brooks Hall to consider action over Medibank. Communist and other left officials met beforehand with the Trades Hall right wing and agreed on a proposal for a four-hour protest stoppage. When this proposal was put to the meeting, it was thrown out by an overwhelming vote in favour of a 24-hour stoppage proposed by a member of a small revolutionary group.

Again during the Latrobe Valley strike, the CPA began organising for a return to work from the seventh week, succeeding only after several weeks' careful work designed to demoralise the strikers. Because the Communist Party has since argued[46] that the strike, which was run by a committee of shop stewards, could for that reason not possibly have been sold out by the officials, it is important to detail the methods used by John Halfpenny and supported by the CPA.

There was indeed a strong shop stewards' organisation, which was suspicious of interference by Halfpenny, or anyone else from "outside". This was the strikers' great strength, but to the extent that it was tied to parochialism it also contained weaknesses. The power workers did not understand the statewide and national implications of their struggle nor did they, until quite late, understand the importance of mobilising outside support. Halfpenny was able to manipulate the isolation which resulted.

Halfpenny first raised the idea of a return to work after about seven weeks out, at a stewards' meeting. He got no support. But at the following stewards' meeting he had made a small but significant breakthrough, gaining the support of stewards' secretary Sam Armstrong a CPA member. He then went to work demoralising the rest, using the strikers' isolation from the rest of Victorian workers in two ways.

One way was to tie them up in arbitration. This meant repeatedly inducing them to make the exhausting drive to Melbourne, not to talk to fellow workers but to attend hearings which consisted of hours of tedium and stonewalling from the Electricity Commission. The other was to actively create the feeling that there was no outside support. Halfpenny told the strikers that a prolonged dispute would isolate them from other workers, and that they would become the centre of a political confrontation, with a Federal election looming. And Bernie Taft backed him up in Tribune, warning the power workers against "playing right into Fraser's election plans".[47]

Such a pessimistic outlook was quite unnecessary. Three shop stewards who did get involved in speaking to worker and student meetings in Melbourne saw the considerable public sympathy which the strike enjoyed, and these three opposed a return to work at all times. Two others toured Newcastle and Wollongong, including one who had previously voted to go back to work, and both sent a telegram to the final mass meeting saying that support was excellent and that the strike should continue. Had all the stewards been offered such experiences, things might have turned out differently. As for the danger of "playing right into Fraser's election plans", this theory was soon tested in the Greensborough by-election, which produced a result suggesting that the strike was an electoral plus for Labor.

When the discouraged stewards finally recommended a return to work, Tribune applauded them for doing so. The paper suggested that arbitration might yield gains that militancy had failed to deliver, and was scathing about anyone who suggested otherwise:

Some commentators see the return to work in Victoria's power dispute as a total defeat for the workers. Some suggest that arbitration as the final umpire is the kiss of defeat. [48]

Unfortunately the "commentators" {Tribune had in mind the newspapers of the revolutionary left) were proved entirely correct. Four months later the power workers were given pitiful rises of around $2 to $5 when they had fought for $40, with some thirty percent of the workers receiving no rise at all. Nor was this really any surprise, for it is a commonplace of industrial relations known even to the editors of Tribune that in the absence of effective action, "arbitration as the final umpire" is indeed "the kiss of defeat".

The increasingly conservative industrial practice of the Communist Party was, however, covered for a time by a series of propaganda initiatives, launched through the Metal Workers union and backed heavily by the Communist Party. These were the "People's Budget" and the "People's Economic Program". The former was something of a trial balloon, launched with some fanfare at a press conference by Halfpenny. After it seemed to get a good response it was superceded by a much more ambitious pamphlet entitled Australia Uprooted. The pamphlet called for a "People's Economic Program" and advanced some proposals for what such a program might contain. Both appeared to draw their inspiration from similar initiatives in Britain which have come to be associated with the term "alternative economic strategy".

There were two clear themes to the argument in Australia Uprooted. The first was that the economic crisis in this country was caused deliberately as part of a conspiracy by the multinationals: "Australia plunged into its biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. All because of the decisions of a few owners of companies".[49] The second was that investment was systematically being drawn away from manufacturing: "Australia is becoming a vast quarry, supplying minerals for overseas manufacturing industries".[50] The roots of the crisis were not located in the mode of production and its contradictions, as Marxist analysis attempts to do, but in the machinations of a few foreign boards of directors and their Australian puppets.

The analysis advanced in Australia Uprooted, whose crudity was all-too-apparent, has since given way to more sophisticated versions but the general thrust remains: Australia is being "deindustrialised" by foreigners and a nationalist response is required to save domestic manufacturing.[51] The economics need not concern us here, but the politics of Australia Uprooted have been of considerable importance for the left ever since.

The nationalism became increasingly hegemonic as the seventies drew to a close. The CPA had, in principle, accepted Australian nationalism as legitimate since the mid-thirties but in its left phase in the early seventies this aspect of its politics had been relatively unimportant. In fact in 1973 Laurie Aarons had attacked as a "retreat" the Maoists' "old concept of the 'national bourgeoisie' with whom workers can supposedly unite against foreign capital".[52] Now, however, the trade union left moved back toward just such ideas. The Metal Workers held joint seminars with the employers, and prominent CPA member Jim Baird launched the union's "Buy Australian" campaign. And whereas the Maoists had raised the Eureka flag as a nationalist symbol the CPA now went them one better: the conventional Australian flag appeared on the party's 1980 Queensland State conference booklet.

The programmatic proposals had a radical sound to them, but on closer inspection they proved to be set firmly within the context of the existing system of government. For example there was to be a "Department of Economic Planning" which was to "give advice to and carry out instructions from the elected government". And this government was not even called upon to carry out full scale nationalisation. Rather it would

Seek to effect changes in the constitution necessary to bring about the public ownership of as many of the largest Australian and Overseas owned corporations operating in Australia as it is necessary to control the direction and functioning of the Australian economy. Where full public ownership is unnecessary shares sufficient for control will be obtained. [53]

Nevertheless, whatever the limitations of the program it was radical enough to be unacceptable to the Australian bourgeoisie. Had the metal trades officials been prepared to actually fight around it, that would have been a significant step forward for the labour movement. Unfortunately only one clause in the program was ever given any practical application, and that was the one calling for tariff protection.

The rest of the program performed two functions: first it provided a left-sounding smokescreen for protectionism. Second it gave the AMWSU leaders something to talk at length about at delegates' meetings, to avoid embarassing discussion of why the union hadn't waged a real award campaign for several years and showed no signs of doing so in the foreseeable future. In other words, it was a masterful left cover for a drift to the right in practice.

It was not only the labour movement that was moving to the right under the impact of defeats. So too were the social movements, and the "middle class left". Consider for example the development of the women's movement.

Women's liberation had been an explosive force in the early seventies, and during the Whitlam years it had still probably been the healthiest aspect of the left. However, during the years of Labor government some of the seeds of decline were sown. The movement was drawn heavily into self-help projects dependent on government funds. This created a certain orientation to piecemeal reform and governmental assistance. Because money came easily a series of advances were achieved and a certain overconfidence resulted; the essential vulnerability of the projects was overlooked.

Meanwhile there was also a growth of separatist notions, according to which a distinct women's struggle against "patriarchy" was more and more separated out from the struggle for social liberation in general. Given that during the first part of the decade the women's movement was stronger and more radical than some other parts of the left this tendency for women to strike out on their own had a certain plausibility and logic.

However after 1975 and the Constitutional Crisis it became much more problematic. Society was suddenly polarised very sharply in class terms, and while the new government was among other things extremely anti-feminist, the focus of resistance to it shifted far away from any independent women's struggle to the trade unions. For a considerable period the women's movement found itself tailing behind the organised labour movement.

Both the orientation to piecemeal reform and to separatism now grew in strength, but much more clearly as part of a retreat away from the original radicalism and also the socialist tendencies of women's liberation. Many women were drawn toward traditional electoral, legal and lobbying action of the sort associated with the ALP and Women's Electoral Lobby. Simultaneous, and sometimes overlapping with this was a trend to the fragmentation of the movement and an increasing sectarianism toward the socialist left. The original idea of an independent women's movement, in which women met separately in order to make their own decisions and develop confidence now gave way to a rather different concept of autonomy. The term was used in many different ways, but increasingly it meant a hostility to Marxism and socialism, and to the "male revolution". Unfortunately, since the alternative concept of "feminist revolution" has remained fuzzy in the extreme, even the most extreme "radical feminism" tends to leave a theoretical void which in the end gets filled by reformism.

Other independent left activists also began to move away from Marxism and Leninism, and from the aggressive radicalism of the early seventies. They became aware that the new left had faded as a mass movement, that as individuals they were isolated and impotent in the face of the crisis-torn economy and growing class conflict, and that the explicitly revolutionary groups were too small to really fill the gap. They began to question their own radicalism and were less willing to make major personal committments. To some of them the increasingly moderate Communist Party offered a home: one where not too much was expected of them and certainly not any conformity to a coherent party line where the dominant notions of social change were increasingly modest, and yet where there was some collective support and security. For those with nostalgic ties to a more radical past there was also the comforting thought that they were "Communists" and had a party card to prove it.

An intake of rightward moving people, in turn, could only increase the rightward momentum of the party itself. This was certainly noticeable in Brisbane, where some of the new recruits such as Lee Bermingham moved into leading positions.

Consolidation on a New Course

IF THE Communist Party has experienced a rightward motion since 1975, the years after about 1978 also saw a consolidation, a hardening up of the new conservative politics. Four important experiences served to make this quite clear: the adoption of a new program, a mass struggle in Queensland, a rather impressive public conference and the crisis in Poland.

If the party's Congress documents of 1974 had been full of revolutionary phraseology they had nevertheless remained vague on the details of the proposed "revolution" and, as we have seen, concealed an underlying method which was less radical than the rhetoric. In 1976, as the main factions began to be reconciled, the language was toned down while the ambiguities remained. But the new program adopted in 1980, entitled "Towards Socialism in Australia", made it quite clear that the party had left its revolutionary pretensions far behind.

It declared that "capitalist power has to be challenged and the exclusive grip of the ruling class on the institutions involved broken" and called for "Expansion, through mass action and extended democratic rights, of popular control over the government and economic machinery".[54] (Emphasis added.) Clearly, there was to be a period of power-sharing with the bourgeoisie, during which the people (not the working class) would extend its control gradually. And finally, at some later stage, we would see "the remaining power and influence of the ruling class, sexism and racism tackled in the process of building socialism".[55]

If these formulations were not clear enough, their implications were spelt out very sharply by John Boyd, a miner who had led the party's Mt. Isa branch for eight years before resigning in the wake of the 1980 Congress. He pointed out that the document was designed to breed illusions about the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism, and also marked the final abandonment of the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat:

I also stated at congress that I believed the programme had moved away from the principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat... Several comrades argued that the principle was not lost and one quoted a particular passage to back the argument. All I can say is, that if I require the services of a lawyer to interpret the jargon in which it's disguised, then we've moved far enough away from that principle for it to become meaningless. [56]

One experience that influenced John Boyd's decision to leave the Communist Party was its role in the struggle in Queensland over civil liberties and the right to hold street marches, which began after Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen announced in September 1977 that street marches were effectively banned. Resistance began quickly among students and then spread gradually to broader layers of the population. A considerable movement came into being, and within it there was an on-going debate over tactics a debate which was to continue in one form or another for several years.

One strategy, argued for amongst others by the Communist Party, was for a very cautious response, concentrating on indoor meetings, petitions and the like. It was claimed that militant action would alienate the "middle ground". Associated with this argument was the thesis that there were important forces that could be won to some form of action against the march ban, but which would not be prepared to directly defy it, in particular sections of the Liberal Party and the churches.

The other strategy, put forward most consistently by the revolutionary left, was to defy the ban and march in the streets. This strategy, which consistently won the argument and the votes at meetings of up to six hundred, argued that the majority of Queenslanders, and in particular of the working class, were already passively opposed to the march law. The task was to provide a focus for mobilising that opposition.

The latter view was soon vindicated, as thousands rallied and hundreds marched in defiance of the law. The movement grew so powerful that even senior Labor politicians were prepared to face arrest in order to be part of it not only left figures such as Tom Uren but also such a right winger as John Ducker of the NSW Trades and Labor Council. Most importantly, Senator George Georges mobilised the left of the Queensland ALP. Meanwhile, there was growing trade union support, most notably from the Seamen.

Belatedly, the CPA accepted the necessity of marching. Here was the first time since the early seventies that the party confronted a new layer of activists moving dramatically leftward and beyond its influence: the question was, would it react as it had in 1969 and move to the left? In essence the answer was no. Certainly the party was prepared to march in the streets as long as Senator Georges was there. But when the immediate mobilisation subsided the party moved swiftly back to the right, and when a second major explosion occurred in 1978, the whole debate was repeated.

Petersen announced his support for a particularly fierce attack on abortion rights in the form of a new bill, and a protest movement developed to fight it. Again the revolutionary left argued for mass action, and again the CPA called for a moderate approach and an appeal to progressive elements in the Liberal Party. In particular the CPA was enthusiastic about Liberal MLA Rosemary Kyburz, who opposed the bill but was also on record as saying strikers should be shot.[57] This did not stop leading CPA member Eva Bacon from sending her flowers, nor did it keep the party from building her up as a heroine of the abortion struggle.

The CPA claimed that its moderate tactics were responsible for the defeat of the abortion bill; the revolutionary left for its part attributed it to the militant actions they had led. There is probably no way to decide the issue conclusively, though it is interesting that Petersen himself said publicly that the militant marches to parliament were the major factor. What matters here is not so much who was right or wrong, so much as the very obvious fact that the party was not prepared to move to the left in any systematic way despite considerable pressure from large numbers of radicalising activists.

If the hardening of the new conservative course was tested in practice in Queensland, it found its expression in the propaganda sphere at a major event in Melbourne in 1980: the public "Communists and the Labour Movement" Conference, which was jointly sponsored by the CPA and others. There were two very obvious and important features of this conference, which drew hundreds of people from all areas of the left and labour movements. One was the confidence the party displayed as a group which felt that at last it knew where it was going; the other was the consistent and systematic reformism of the politics.

Despite occasional interventions by critics from the floor, the CPA was able to dominate all the sessions and impose a reformist consensus on the discussions. One speaker after another sneered at "super-militants". The same party which had once seriously discussed trotskyism now put up the ex-trotskyist Denis Freney to spend half an hour ridiculing it. Ted Hill was invited to speak on the 1963 split, and was displayed more like a captured wild animal than as an enemy to be taken seriously. With a few exceptions the party which Sendy had accused of treating its history as "laughable" in 1973, now expressed a pride in its "sixty years of struggle" all of them nor were any but the organised revolutionaries prepared to disagree.

The final session on "Socialism in the Eighties" provided a fitting consummation. Here was John Halfpenny, recently resigned from the CPA and moving closer to the Labor Party; here was Ian Mill of the ALP, who spoke of "multi-class progressive action" including a "pluralist parliamentary development" and an "attempt to democratise the capitalist state". To be fair, however, Mill actually sounded the most left-wing note of the session when he commented: "I am not going to say that a gradualist policy commands my complete respect".

No such reservations were expressed by Communist Party speakers. Mark Taft spoke vaguely of a "committment to a genuine pluralism" in pursuit of "better social relations". He did mention the experience of Chile indeed he hinted that there were lessons to be learned but he drew no lessons. Instead he turned to the economic crisis at home, where he said there "must be developed a whole range of programs which come to terms with our economic realities". He did not however elaborate one.

Finally there was Judy Mundey to declare that "We shouldn't all be in the one organisation" and to make the astonishing admission that she, the national president of the CPA, felt much more secure as a woman in the party with the women's movement to protect her. [58] The message was clearly that the CPA intended to blend into the labour mainstream as one group among many, with no distinctive communist program for which it sought to win majority support. By default, therefore, the day went to Ian Mill and his parliamentary road the only strategy for socialism actually argued for in the whole session.

The Polish events at the end of 1981 provided a fitting counterpoint to the CPA's Australian approach. For just as the Prague Spring of 1968 had once inspired Australian Communists, who saw it as a model for their own notions of socialism with a human face, so the party's response to events in Poland reflected the political consequences of its now well-developed pluralism and reformism.

Throughout the previous year or so, the CPA had shown a great interest in Poland, with some of its prominent personalities visiting there and expressing support for the Solidarity trade union movement. Yet when the army moved into the streets of Polish cities, strikes were crushed by armed force and thousands were interned, the CPA reacted very cautiously indeed.

When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, the party had campaigned against the action, calling a public meeting in the Sydney Town Hall and issuing a special edition of Tribune. But its response to the Polish crisis was markedly different. In Sydney the party had to hold a major internal debate to decide whether to participate in demonstrations supporting Solidarity (it finally elected to do so) and in Melbourne it refused to support them. While Denis Freney wrote an article in Tribune supporting Solidarity, Steve Brook was also permitted to publish a piece assigning blame to "radicals" and "hardliners" on both sides of the confrontation. [59]

The party's National Officers issued a public statement which was little different. To be sure, the statement blamed the crisis on the Polish state bureaucracy. The bureaucracy, it said, had been guilty of "corruption, transparently false official propaganda, broken promises and a resort to force". This had given rise to a "deep cynicism" and the whole problem was "compounded by Soviet pressures". But at the same time it attacked "inappropriate and misplaced... tactics from strands within Solidarity" and expressed the pious hope that General Jaruzelski "may be a sincere man". The statement called for "a return to dialogue between the forces involved".[60]

If at a time when strikers were being shot in Poland, the Communist Party of Australia was calling for dialogue, it did not take too much imagination to work out what the party would be saying, and doing, should Australia itself enter a period of crisis and confrontation


1. See Pete Thomas, Taming the Concrete Jungle, Sydney 1973, p.40 ff; and Jack Mundey, Green Bans and Beyond, Melbourne 1981, p.79-117.

2. Pete Thomas, op. cit., p.31.

3. CPA Public Statement, "De-escalation", April 1967.

4. Mavis Robertson, "Conference for Left Action Report to National Committee", Discussion, No.2, (July) 1969, p.34.

5. "National Committee Discussion of Left Action Conference by M. Robertson", Discussion, No.2, (July) 1969, p.39.

6. Tribune, 30/5/69.

7. Tribune, 19/3/69.

8. Tribune, 1/2/72.

9. Daphne Gollan, interview with the author, January 1979.

10. Report by Comrade Mavis Robertson to the Meeting of the National Committee, CPA, Held on August 11 and 12 (1973), duplicated.

11. Tribune, 15/1/72.

12. Tribune, 14/1/70.

13. John Sendy, The Communist Party; History, Thoughts and Questions, Melbourne 1979?, p.27-8.

14. Tribune, 26/8/70.

15. Tribune, 5-11/6/73.

16. For example: "The Harco workers did not win their jobs back, but that was through no fault of their own, nor of the tactic of the work-in. What they did, however, was to popularise the idea of the work-in, at least among militant workers, throughout the country." Denis Freney, "Workers' Control Perspectives", A ustralian Left Review, No.39, March 1973, p.4. .

17. Denis Freney, op. cit., p.3.

18. Ibid., p.3-4.

19. Ibid., p.5.

20. Ibid., p.4.

21. Ibid.

22. B.T. Carey, "Communists and Other Marxists", Discussion, No.2, June 1968, p.41.

23. Denis Freney, op. cit., p.5.

24. CPA Industrial Newsletter, Sydney, June 1971.

25. The Elections and the Future, CPA Sydney 1972.

26. Tribune, 18/3/70.

27. Tribune, 29/4/70.

28. Meredith Burgmann, speaking at the "Communists and the Labour Movement" Conference, Melbourne 1980. Jack Mundey spoke immediately afterwards and put Burgmann's contention neatly in perspective by noting that most NSW BLs were straightforward Labor voters. The tape of both talks is in the Latrobe Library, Melbourne, under the title "NSW BLF".

29. Jack Mundey, Green Bans and Beyond, p. 120.

30. Jack Mundey, "NSW BLF", (see note 28).

31. The Battler, 15/12/76.

32. Praxis, No.8, March 1976, p.28.

33. Tribune, 15/4/70.

34. "The Left Challenge for the '70s", in CPA Documents of the Seventies, Sydney n.d., p.35.

35. Terry O'Shaughnessy, "Arguing About a Strategy for the Seventies; the Rise and Fall of the Left Tendency in the Communist Party of Australia, 1972-80"; a talk given at the "Communists and the Labour Movement" Conference, Melbourne 1980. Tape in Latrobe Library, Melbourne.

36. Winton Higgins, Reconstructing Australian Communism, reprinted from the Socialist Register as a pamphlet by Queensland CPA, Brisbane 1975, p.l.

37. Ernest Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory, London 1968 was very influential among younger Marxists in Australia in the early seventies. Mandel's treatment of the USSR is to be found in chapter 15.

38. O'Shaughnessy, op. cit.

39. Ibid

40. Winton Higgins, "Working Class Socialism in Sweden", Intervention, No. 13, October 1979, passim.

41. John Sendy, Comrades Come Rally, Melbourne 1978, p.188.

42. Ibid., p.233-4.

43. Tribune, 13-19/11/73.

44. Laurie Aarons, "National Secretary's Report to the 25th Congress", CPA 25th Congress, Sydney 1976, p.7.

45. Tribune, 12/12/75.

46. Mostly these have been verbal arguments, but see Max Ogden's comments in an 'interview entitled "The La Trobe Valley Power Dispute", Australian Left Review, No.64, May 1978, p. 12. My own account of the dispute including this aspect is based on discussions with Alec Kahn, who covered the strike in depth for The Battler.

47. Tribune, 2/11/77.

48. Tribune, 2/11/77.

49. Australia Uprooted, AMWSU, Sydney, n.d., p. 10.

50. 50. Ibid., p. 11.

51. For an example of this general line of argument, see E. Crough, E.L. Wheelwright andE. Wilshire, A usiralia andWorldCapitalism, Melbourne 1980. For a substantial critique of the left nationalist approach to the Australian economy, see Rick Kuhn, "Whose Boom?", International Socialist, No. 12, Summer 1981-82, p.22-9.

52. Tribune, 20-26/2/73.

53. Australia Uprooted, p. 18.

54. Towards Socialism in Australia.

55. Ibid.

56. John Boyd, resignation letter from CPA, 1979.

57. Alison Anderson, "The Abortion Struggle in Queensland",Hecate VI, ii, 1980, p. 11.

58. All comments from the "Socialism in the Eighties" session of the "Communists and the Labour Movement" Conference, Melbourne 1980 are on tape under the title "Socialism in the Eighties" in the Latrobe Library, Melbourne.

59. Tribune, 16/12/81.

60. Poland: State of Emergency, Statement by National Officers, Communist Party of Australia, Sydney, December 1981.