The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) struggled hard to understand the essential unity of theory and practice. It was and is critical to understand correctly the theoretical propositions of Communism, but an understanding of those principles depends upon practice, upon mass activity.
In the years after the reconstitution of the Communist Party, much valuable experience has been accumulated and summed up. The Communists have participated in mass movements of every kind. Their participation is based upon the recognition that the Australian masses are the real “heroes” while the Communists “are often childish and ignorant” and the recognition that “without this understanding it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge”. (Mao Tsetung) By freeing themselves of the shackles of the old sacred cows like trade union and parliamentary politics and left blocism, (the revolving of Communists in a narrow, self satisfied circle of like-minded “Communists”), the Communists have learned much. They began to recognise the great wisdom and initiative of the workers and working people and to learn from that wisdom with proper humility.
Australian Communists have come to some understanding of Mao Tsetung’s words: “Discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and the objective world. Practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge. This form repeats itself in endless cycles, and with each cycle the content of practice and knowledge rises to a higher level.” (Mao Tsetung: On Practice, Sel. Works Vol. I p.308).
Parliamentary politics, to which the leaders of the old Communist Party had subscribed, are based upon the fundamentally wrong idea of so-called peaceful transition to socialism. These parliamentary politics had diverted the Communists from correct mass work. Because parliament is a capitalist institution the striving for parliamentary seats is a capitalist activity. It offers no solution to the problems of the working class. To suggest that it does offer a solution is quite wrong. Canvassing votes among the masses, suggesting to them to vote “Communist”, publishing material for like purposes is fundamentally wrong. Of its own nature, it limits Communist contact with the masses. Almost instinctively, Australians recognise that there is something wrong with parliamentary politics, they want nothing to do with such politics. Moreover, the Communists know that parliament is a deception and fraud. Again, Australians know that Communists will in fact not be elected to parliament, because there is a 2 party system which is a vital part of this capitalist institution. For the Communists in any way to subscribe to parliamentarism or Parliamentary solutions is to deny the only real solution, the revolutionary overthrow of imperialist domination and the establishment of people’s power in Australia. The Australians have increasingly taken great social issues into their own hands and increasingly taken the road of mass struggle right outside parliament and parliamentary methods. Efforts to keep them within the boundaries laid down by parliament and the system of parliamentarism have increasingly failed.
Thus great mass struggles have developed which have involved hundreds of thousands of Australian people. These struggles have had nothing to do with parliament but parliament has been compelled to pay attention to them. In this latter sense, parliament has an importance as sometimes reflecting mass struggles and at all times offering an insight into the minds of the ruling circles.
Side by side with parliamentary politics go trade union politics. Trade union politics confined the workers to trade union economic matters (this does not deny political action and legislation on these matters.) These politics confined the Communists to activities within the trade unions, the winning of trade union official positions, suggesting that this was the revolutionary way forward. Again, as was pointed out earlier, this meant riveting the Australian workers to capitalism, because trade unions in Australia are based upon acceptance of the permanence of capitalism. The official central bodies of the trade unions, A.C.T.U. and Trades and Labor Councils operate, with the Labor Party, a division of labor. This division of labor is based upon the idea that the trade unions will look after the economic needs of the workers while the Labor Party will look after the “political” needs in Parliament. This is sometimes expressed as “the industrial and the political wing of the labor movement”.
Parliamentarism and trade union politics are formidable obstacles to the revolutionary advance of the Australian working class, working people and other democrats and patriots. To defeat and destroy them is a big undertaking.
Ideological preparation is a vital part of their destruction but their destruction is an all sided ideological, political and organisational task. The Communists have undertaken that task. Much material has been published to deal with the ideas of parliamentarism and trade union politics. Political struggle has been waged against them, and an organisational break from them has been made. They cannot be destroyed in one blow. It is a never ending unremitting struggle to defeat them (as with all political errors). The force of habit, as Lenin once said in another connection, is a terrible force. There is constant pressure to fall back to the past, to give up half way. But this can never be.
Most important is the test of practice, the test of actual struggle. The years subsequent to the foundation of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) have been exceedingly rich in that practice and struggle.
Typical of many struggles was that centred upon the repression of the workers embodied in what are popularly described as the penal powers. These penal powers enable the courts to penalise workers and trade unions who and which struggle against capitalism. For many years pious declarations had been made against them by the official trade union bodies and by A.C.T.U. and Trades and Labour Council leaders. Still these powers remained. In practice, little or nothing was done to challenge them. On the initiative of the Communists, tramway workers took up the challenge in 1969. Struggle which in one way or another involved hundreds of thousands of workers developed. It developed right outside parliament and right outside the official trade union bodies. It cast off the shackles of parliamentarism and trade union politics. Communists participated in every aspect of the struggle as ordinary workers. They had the job of learning from the workers and teaching them in accordance with the principle: “We should go to the masses and learn from them, synthesize their experience into better, articulated principles and methods, then do propaganda among the masses, and call upon them to put these principles and methods into practice so as to solve their problems and help them achieve liberation and happiness.” (Mao Tsetung: “Get Organised” Sel. Works Vol. III, p.l58).
This principle of Communist work operated too in the many, many economic and political struggles of Australian workers. Without doubt, Australian workers experienced a new awakening in the sixties. One product of that new awakening and in its turn, a contribution to it, was the creation of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) and the creation of this form of work – integration with the masses and full participation m actual mass struggle. This contrasted with past practices of arbitrary command of struggle, aloofness, superiority which had operated in the past. In the practice of struggle, the general truths of Marxism-Leninism were enriched and far better understood by the Communists. All these struggles of the workers showed in life and practice the bourgeois character of parliamentarism and trade union politics.
A great feature of this practice was the graphic light it threw on the fundamental truths of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. Previously we have said that the debate in the early sixties between Australian Marxist-Leninists and revisionists on such things as peaceful transition to socialism, peaceful coexistence, the nature of the Labor Party, etc. tended to be abstract, general, bookish. But in the practice of struggle the force and violence of the capitalist state machine became a reality, the need to counter it with mass force and violence likewise a reality. Step by step more and more workers came to understand the position of force in society and the impossibility of peaceful transition to socialism. In the actual practice of struggle, the real character of the Labor Party as a party of capitalism, but with its rank and file willing and desiring to struggle, came to be far better understood. Theory illuminated the path, and practice illustrated and enriched theory. It was no longer an academic, abstract, bookish question.
The bankruptcy of Communist organisation based upon parliamentary ideas, with local Party branches based essentially upon parliamentary electorates, was revealed; likewise the bankruptcy of Party organisation based upon trade unions. Instead, in practice there came to be the development of understanding that revolutionary organisation must be based deep in the heart of the working class and primarily in the factories. This gives flesh and blood to Lenin’s idea that in its struggle for power the working class has no weapon other than organisation . . . the proletariat can become, and will inevitably become, an invincible force only when its ideological unity round the principles of Marxism is consolidated by the material unity of an organisation which unites millions of toilers in the army of the working class (Lenin: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back). Australian Communist practice has greatly enriched this idea. Thus the Communists in Australia have struggled to build up organisation in the work places and particularly the imperialist owned work places irrespective of trade union organisation but taking full tactical account of the existence of trade unions and workers’ adherence to them. The contrast is between organisation concentrated on the trade union on the one hand, and on the other, Communist organisation in the heart of the working class.
The theoretical analysis of imperialism and the inevitability of war so long as imperialism lasts, and the bankruptcy of the idea that the nature of imperialism has changed, were greatly enriched in Australia by mass struggles of Australian people against the U.S. imperialist aggression in Vietnam, Australia’s participation in it and such things as conscription for it. On all aspects of the opposition to the war in Vietnam, Australian Communists played a big part. They were the most consistent champions of the cause against imperialism. They resisted all attempts to water down the struggle, all attempts to get them to drop the use of the words “U.S. imperialist aggression”. The campaign against these words took the form that such words were too advanced, could not be understood by the masses, were sectarian. This line was advanced by the revisionist “Communists”, by pacifists and labor party leaders. But again practical experience in the struggle of the masses demonstrated theoretical truth, and theoretical truth was enriched by practice.
In resistance to police brutality, lessons of how to resist capitalist state force and violence were learned. In prosecutions in the courts, the falsity of equality before the law, justice and so on was demonstrated and at the same time more lessons about force and violence. In the gaols, lessons were learned about force and violence, about the anti-working class direction of all justice, and its end results in gaols. Struggle right outside the old limits reached new heights. Defence in the courts, behaviour in gaol blazed new trails. They broke from the old. The army demonstrated graphically where ultimate force rested. Conscription for that army brought a storm of resistance and still a new front of struggle. It too caused searches for still newer methods of mass resistance. On all these fronts of mass struggle, Communists were integrated with the masses. They learned still more lessons about the bankruptcy and limitations of parliamentarism and trade union politics.
In the sixties, the young people of Australia arose in their thousands in struggle. They too shared the new awakening. They displayed tremendous initiative in blazing new trails altogether. They participated in every form of struggle and conducted their own struggles also. Students challenged the whole educational system of capitalism. They put this system on trial. They broke from the old shackles. Undeterred, indeed spurred on, by police violence, court proceedings, injunctions, “discipline” of all kinds, they inspired new people into struggle. Students at primary schools, secondary schools and universities chose the road of rebellion against reactionaries. They demonstrated the truths of daring to struggle, daring to do and of students orientating themselves to the workers and to working class struggle. On all the key political questions such as the nature of state power, the nature of imperialism, Australia’s dependence upon imperialism, the nature of Australia’s revolution, these young people in actual struggle learned and enriched the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism. Communists played a full part.
At the outset, we commented upon the position of Australia’s black people, dispossessed as they were by the British colonialists. In the last few decades, oppression of them has advanced at the hands of the U.S. and British imperialists. Further dispossession and exploitation is the way of life imposed upon them by the giant foreign monopolists in the search for and exploitation of minerals, cattle and sheep stations and so on. Australia s black people have risen as never before in struggle against this intensified invasion. In the practice of struggle, they come to understand the nature of their oppression, the imperialist character of racial discrimination, the political and economic reason for their dispossession and the need to overthrow imperialism. Australian Communists, properly integrated with the struggle of the black people, learn Marxist-Leninist truth on all these questions and on the question of racial oppression.
Australian women have risen in a new way. Communist truth, theory, is that the basic reason for the inferior position imposed on women is the exploitation of capitalism. Capitalism mouths phrases about equality of women. It even gives nominal equality in certain spheres of life. But it maintains real inequality. This is born of imperialist exploitation. Imperialism dictates that women’s place is to look after a wage slave, her husband, so that he can be exploited more profitably or she is herself directly exploited by the imperialists in conditions inferior to men. In thousands of ways, some crude, some subtle, she is kept in a state of inferiority. Only the overthrow of the imperialist domination of Australia will open the way to complete equality of women with men. As never before, in history, Australian women are struggling and understanding the basic character of imperialism and its domination of Australia and its effect upon them. They join the anti-imperialist struggle.
U.S. and other imperialist domination has ravaged Australia. Forests have fallen before it, the soil has been torn up and ruined, the seas have been invaded and polluted, the air and water have been polluted. No natural resource is safe from the imperialist exploiters. Parliaments have “authorised” all this and trade union “leaders” have said it is in the interests of Australia. But Australian people have recognised the real character of this attack upon Australia. Struggle after struggle, in which Communists have been full participants, has occurred, each one more advanced than its predecessor.
All this and much more is people’s struggle in Australia. It has assumed an anti-imperialist character. All struggles flow into the anti-imperialist stream. From this, Australian Communists have learned a great deal and have done their best to give their assistance and Communist direction, taking up a position of being pupils first. This movement is assuming giant proportions and in the fire of struggle is demolishing ideas of parliamentarism and trade union politics.
About parliamentarism and trade unionism, let us say still another word. In the course of struggle, inevitably parliament and trade unions are involved, and along with parliament, municipal councils. Mass work involves Communists in working in these spheres. There is no doubt of that – Lenin in his “Left wing ’Communism’, an Infantile Disorder”, dealt fully with the main principles of such work. (Some of his examples are now matters of history). It would be quite wrong to refuse to participate in such struggles. But where the error of the past was made, and it carries into the present, is to present parliament, municipal councils or trade unions as they are constituted in Australia, as roads to revolution. To do anything to suggest that Marxist-Leninists believe that that is so is quite incorrect, it is a revival of revisionism. Parliaments, municipal councils, trade unions, will not solve these problems. That is a truth, a principle of Marxism-Leninism. On the other hand, there are masses of workers and other people who are misled by these institutions. Among these people, the Communists work. Thus there are 2 different questions on this one topic – the capitalist character of the institutions themselves with the need to struggle against them and the need to create no illusions about them on the one hand, and on the other hand, work among the masses who are involved in activities around these institutions.
Mass struggle, work among the masses, mass line methods of work, are matters of principle for Australian Communists. More conscientious attention than ever before has been and is being paid to this. Communists have worked hard at solving the contradiction between no or little knowledge and more and more knowledge on this matter. Theory has come alive in practice, and practice has greatly enriched theory. Communist publications in the newspaper “Vanguard”, pamphlets, the theoretical journal “Australian Communist”, have summed up experiences, made Marxist-Leninist propaganda. They are mass publications serving the people in rousing them to struggle. They too have developed step by step, suffered ups and downs, ebbs and flows, made errors, corrected errors in a never ending process. In the history of Australian Communism they represent a big step in the struggle to integrate Marxism-Leninism into the conditions of Australia. No propaganda, however good, can in itself cause revolution. Revolution arises from the conditions in a given country; in Australia, the conditions of imperialist domination and the struggle against it. It is mass struggle that is decisive. Propaganda and theoretical lessons in Communist publications are an essential unity with that struggle. Nor does self-assertion of correctness by the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) nor by anyone else of their own correctness for that matter, make them correct. Whether or not the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) is correct, is tested in practice. Here, too, the questions of theory and practice are a unity. The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) has earnestly struggled to be correct. It has made errors. Those errors have never been suppressed, but have been revealed and their erroneous character has become known. Then by the method of criticism and self criticism, efforts have been made to correct them.
Nor must it be thought that the danger of return to revisionism has passed. It will never pass. It continually asserts itself both in big things and small things. Communists get sucked into the old. Some do not persistently, consciously fight the pressures that all around push towards revisionism. The enemy says there has been a Communist Party in Australia for more than 50 years yet there is no victory for the Communist Party and there never will be. But the Communists know better – Marxism-Leninism shows that capitalism will be overthrown; it shows that in Australia, imperialism will be expelled. The nature of capitalism and imperialism has not changed. They are bound to be defeated. The crisis of imperialism in Australia is all around us; it is a general crisis, it embraces the economy, the ideology, the politics and the whole organisation of capitalism. The people are battering away at it at an ever increasing tempo. Mao Tsetung told the story based on a Chinese fable of the foolish old man who with his two sons removed the mountains, shovelful by shovelful, so that in the end, God sent angels to take them away. So the Chinese people persisted in their struggle against imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism; in the end, they won liberation and their God was the Chinese masses. Our Australian people too, persist in struggle. They will remove the mountain of imperialism from Australia and win their own liberation.