Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E. F. Hill

Looking Backward: Looking Forward


In 1950, the Menzies government passed through the parliament an Act entitled the Communist Party Dissolution Act. This Act was the brainchild of U.S. imperialism meant to deal a blow primarily at the Australian trade unions in respect of their economic struggle. It was aimed particularly at the economic struggle because if U.S. imperialist investment in Australia was to continue then it must be ensured control over the trade unions. In that way it would ensure the best possible conditions for its investment – low wages, speed up, and so on.

Whatever political shortcomings they may have had, and however the question of revolutionary politics had been neglected, the Australian trade unions and workers had a long and splendid tradition of militant struggle. That was a struggle which particularly in the years up to 1949 the Communist union leaders had shown great ability in leading. They had shown themselves as very good exponents of trade union politics as a political trend (and not in its vulgar sense of intrigue).

The Communist Party Dissolution Act therefore provided that the Communist union leaders be removed from their positions and the Communist Party be dissolved and be declared unlawful. This Act was passed in a world situation where the reaction was desperately trying to halt the advance of Communism. Outstanding events in the whole period were the provocations of the so-called Berlin airlift and the U.S. aggression against North Korea. In Australia, it was correspondingly a period when the reaction came out with a great anti-Communist outcry. We have mentioned the events of 1949. Ultimately the High Court declared the Communist Party Dissolution Act unconstitutional. It did so primarily because big sections of the ruling class believed it to be mistaken tactics to declare the Communist Party unlawful and to remove the Communist trade union leaders in this way. As history has proved, and we will show, their view from their standpoint was absolutely correct.

That view was carried into the referendum in 1951 as to whether or not the people would vote in favour of conferring power on the Australian parliament to pass the Communist Party Dissolution Act. The ruling class was divided on the question and, coupled with a big and good workingclass campaign, the proposition was defeated and a No vote returned at the referendum on September 22, 1951.

The No vote reflected the vastly developed consciousness of the Australian workingclass and working people. In that consciousness the Communists had played a big part. They were thus able to generate a mass movement against the Government’s proposals.

There were other measures. The Commonwealth Arbitration Act, under which trade unions are registered and under which the decisive wage levels are fixed, was amended in various important respects. The measures of Chifley, which introduced government ballots in the trade unions and penalised the trade unions, were greatly extended. For those who espouse trade union politics and who give organised political expression to them in the Australian labor party, these measures were no more than the natural extension of measures they themselves had introduced. In fact, they had paved the way for them. What then of the former Communist Party? We have already commented on the limitations from which it suffered in the influences of trade union politics, weakness in Marxism-Leninism, the revisionism of Browder. It was not sufficiently equipped politically, ideologically or organisationally to deal with the situation. Moreover the ruling class had set out deliberately to intimidate the leading Communists. It gaoled Sharkey, who wielded great influence in the Communist Party and who had played a role in introducing the ideas of Marxism-Leninism into Australia. Sharkey was a product of his time and history. He expressed many of the shortcomings of trade union politics and even his booklet on the trade unions, although it contains good material, shows how greatly he was influenced by trade union politics and how far removed he was from a living grip of Marxism-Leninism.

His booklet shows that his conception of the revolutionary struggle was that it be conducted mainly through the trade unions. It takes no full account of the sweep of the revolutionary movement. Above all, it fails to recognise that the decisively important position is that of the revolutionary party, the Marxist-Leninist Party, the Communist Party. The revolutionary movement is far wider than the trade unions and trade union questions. It embraces all strata of the people (except the monopolists). It raises many, many questions beyond trade union demands. For example, the Russian revolution proceeded under the slogan “Peace, Bread and Land.” The revolutionary movement raises the vitally important questions of allies of the working-class. Thus the question is a far wider question than merely having a correct revolutionary approach to the trade unions, of “revolutionising” the trade unions. As Lenin showed in “What is to be Done,” and even more clearly in “Left Wing Communism,” it is a question of the workingclass and its Party taking up every aspect of the oppression of the people amongst every section of the people. A revolutionary party must do that and not confine itself to the trade unions. Lenin’s whole theme was the broad revolutionary sweep that the revolutionary party must have. The essential question is correct mass work.

In a certain sense, when the trade unions are considered, there are two questions: (1) The trade unions must exist and must be strengthened against the capitalists. Hence the Communists recognise this. The trade unions exist to prosecute the economic struggle and every Communist trade unionist must take part in that; (2) On the other hand, Marxism-Leninism is far wider than the trade unions. It is indeed a world outlook which embraces the trade unions along with everything else. It recognises that the spontaneous politics which emanate from the trade unions are non-revolutionary politics and that while the trade unions as such must be preserved and strengthened, the politics that spontaneously emanate from them must be combated and lifted into revolutionary politics. The decisive question is the purity of the Marxist-Leninist Party, the Communist Party. Sharkey’s booklet is quite one-sided in that it tends to present the trade union as the be-all and end-all of his conception of revolutionary struggle, as the vehicle of revolution. In his ideas expressed in this book, the trade union leaders are the leaders of revolution. Furthermore, the book clearly conceives, puts forward the left bloc of Communists idea which we previously dealt with. His ideas must inevitably cut the Communists off from the critically important day to day painstaking mass work (amongst the workers) that Lenin enjoined the Communists to perform. Sharkey’s book is in direct conflict with the principles of Left Wing Communism.

In his personal characteristics, mentioned only because they throw a light on subsequent history, Sharkey was a vain and naive man. His experiences in gaol, experiences with which we can fully sympathise, left a profound mark on him and a determination never to let it happen again. There is no doubt that he was frightened. His fear infected others in even the purely limited trade union struggle, the more so because it coincided with experiences of some of his fellow Communists from the trade unions. It merged with, was part of, the general demoralisation that flowed from the so-called disaster of the mineworkers’ strike. Thus the natural development of trade union politics, coupled with the tactics of the ruling class, which of course assessed the limitations of the former Communist Party, led to a certain avoidance even of the purely economic struggle. The years following 1949-1950 reveal that whereas up till then the Communist trade union officials had initiated and led big economic strike struggles, after that, this all declined. (It would be wrong to say it disappeared altogether). Hence even the historically “good” trade union politics were changing and in fact the positions of the Communists in the trade unions were declining (a decline which continues to this day).

It is not necessary to trace in detail all the measures of the ruling class in this period. Suffice it to say that in 1956 it created a special court designated by Dr. H. V. Evatt as the Court of Pains and Penalties – the Industrial Court – with the specific job of penalising trade unions for industrial activity. The whole net of the reaction was developed and extended to contain the trade unions and, because of its particular trade union history and politics, to contain the Communist Party. (In fact, within the capitalist world, Australia has more legal restrictions on the trade unions than almost any other capitalist country).

It must be said immediately, and from what we have already said it is apparent that the politics, ideology and even organisation of the A.L.P. always had a big influence in the Communist Party. Always there was a struggle between this on the one hand and Marxism-Leninism on the other. Naturally, the influence of Browder drove the Communist Party further away from Marxism-Leninism and closer to the A.L.P. The line of demarcation between them was further blurred. Failure to make a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the error meant a failure to break completely free from the error. The correct co-operation of the former Communist Party with the A.L.P. in the war period never proceeded from a thoroughgoing Marxist-Leninist analysis. The lines were blurred The trade union leaders who were Communists and who came from an environment of trade union politics were dominant figures in the Communist Party and we have recounted the experiences of 1949-1950. Having never kept the line of demarcation clear the actions of the Chifley Government in 1949 came as a complete surprise, appeared almost as a temporary aberration instead of the logic of the position of the A.L.P. In 1951, co-operation in the referendum campaign between the A.L.P. and the former Communist Party was very close. Again it proceeded from the dictates of the practical situation and without the former Communist Party’s seriously setting out to analyse from a Marxist-Leninist standpoint the implications of the undoubtedly correct co-operation. In the co-operation, A.L.P. politics and ideology were supreme, were dominant. Largely the effective organisation came from the former Communist Party. In the competing ideologies the field was dominated by the A.L.P., and it may be said that from these experiences and because of its general background, the trend manifested itself in the leadership of the former Communist Party of organised reconciliation with the politics and ideology of the A.L.P. You may think that is a big claim, but let us examine it a little.

First of all, it is important to see just what motivated the leaders of the A.L.P. in opposing the banning of the Communist Party. The A.L.P. was a parliamentary political party which had engaged in frankly anti-workingclass actions, strike breaking, gaoling of workers, union breaking, but yet it opposed the Communist Party Dissolution Act. Nor did it do so without a struggle in its own ranks, for the industrial groups and their parliamentary representatives supported the measure. In the first place, the A.L.P. leaders at all times serve the ruling class, and they did so in their opposition to the Communist Party Dissolution Act no less than on any other question. We have already commented on the division in the ruling class as to the tactics of handling the situation. The A.L.P. decisive leaders belonged to the school which tactically believed it was wrong. They could see that an illegal Communist Party was more likely to be compelled to find the correct Marxist-Leninist ideology, politics and organisation than a legal one. They could see that an ineffective Communist Party provided a ready-made method for the ruling class for tabulating and keeping under observation all workers and people potentially dangerous to them. They could see that for them to support such a measure may well have contributed to isolating the A.L.P. from the masses, for such a measure, by its very nature, was unpopular.

Indeed, the whole situation was a rich lesson in dialectics and the need for dialectics to be a mass question. Armed with dialectical materialism the Communists can reveal the contradictions within the A.L.P., amongst the various sections of the capitalists, within the trade unions, within the Communist Party itself. By revealing and understanding those contradictions the Communists can correctly assess their line and tactics. Weakness in dialectical materialism and failure to make it the possession of the workers were particularly manifest in this period.

It is absolutely correct for a Communist Party to take advantage of divisions in the ruling class and to form temporary alliances provided no question of principle is sacrificed. But the former Communist Party did not analyse the situation from this standpoint, did not analyse the dialectics of it. The result was not its strengthening but its weakening and on the other hand the strengthening of the ideological influence of reformism within the former Communist Party. Dr. H. V. Evatt, who largely carried the A.L.P. campaign, emerged as the dominant figure from the campaign. What he did was not without courage, but his political position was a bourgeois political position.

Really the decisive factor in the Referendum No vote was the mass movement. Under the influence of the antifascist war there was developed among the workingclass, working people, middle class, intellectuals and other sections of the people a deeper than hitherto political consciousness. The Communists played a big part in the leadership and inspiration of this. Due to their limited Marxist-Leninist understanding they did not draw the proper conclusions in strengthening themselves and the people ideologically, politically and organisationally.

Thus the A.L.P. had, as the former Communist leaders consciously or unconsciously saw it, saved them in their trade union positions, in their legality as a party, and in their freedom from gaol and other penalties. Moreover, the former Communist Party of Australia had begun to advance the idea of peaceful transition to socialism as the only way of advance, very similar to the A.L.P.’s socialist objective. Its own strong trade union environment continually fed the anti-Marxist-Leninist trends.

The holding of important, influential and economically rewarding jobs as trade union leaders is itself a source of corruption unless the holders are subject to rigid self-discipline, strong Marxist-Leninist ideology and the discipline of a good Marxist-Leninist Party, and a thorough-going understanding of the dialectics, contradictions within their various positions. That was not the case. Commonly enough the trade union leaders, from the standpoint of their own personal interests or those of their own unions or the unions as a whole, determined their own discipline and that of the Communist Party.

The slogan of the united front of the workingclass was I and is absolutely correct. But by incorrect interpretation and application of it the trend was reinforced in the former Communist Party of reconciliation with the ideology, politics and organisation of the A.L.P., a bourgeois party.

Criticism of the A.L.P. was abandoned, was branded as sectarian. The history of the A.L.P. was obscured or suppressed. The rich lessons of the character of the A.L.P. so spectacularly demonstrated, for example, in 1949 were never drawn upon. Instead, the position of the A.L.P. on the Communist Party Dissolution Act, and at that a distorted picture of it, was put forward as the true picture of the A.L.P. Its parliamentary opposition to various anti-workingclass measures of the Menzies government was put forward as the whole picture of the A.L.P. instead of its positive and negative sides being estimated, together with a whole picture of the A.L.P. as a party of capitalism. Nor once again were the contradictions, the very basis of Marxism-Leninism, subject to close analysis. Some of those contradictions we are now revealing.

Again the different tactical position of the industrial groups under the dictates of different interests of the monopoly capitalists led to an acute struggle in the trade unions and in the A.L.P. itself. The A.L.P. industrial group backers made the mistake of trying to go too far too quickly, of j being far too open in their pro-American, pro-fascist policy and thereby endangered the mass following of the A.L.P., i.e. endangered its capacity to deceive the masses into following what is an essentially similar policy to the A.L.P. industrial groups (demonstrated historically as we have already indicated by the fact of collaboration between their chief representatives and the chief leaders of the A.L.P.).

Furthermore, the Industrial Groups made the mistake of trying to seize for their own nominees all the leading positions in the A.L.P. and the trade unions, and to assail the positions even of the main A.L.P. leaders such as Dr. H. V. Evatt, Senator Kennclly and others. In consequence the decisive A.L.P. leaders opened up a struggle against these people and turned for support to the former Communist Party, which had more or less correctly estimated the Industrial Groups from the outset. Again the former Communist Party’s position merged with that of the A.L.P. The line of demarcation disappeared or was blurred. The former Communist Party failed to maintain sufficiently an independent Marxist-Leninist ideological, political and organisational position. In that situation inevitably the ideas of the A.L.P., backed by immensely greater resources, became the dominant ideas.

The former Communist Party’s conception of the united front, for these things were all presented as great victories for the united front, was really reconciliation with the position of the A.L.P. with the leading force, in fact, the A.L.P. Instead of being the leader, the initiator and the inspirer of the united front, the former Communist Party became the very junior partner and Marxism-Leninism suffered in the process.

Of the utmost significance is the fact that these battles were fought out largely, indeed almost exclusively, in the trade unions. The main figures were trade unionists and the trade unions were the main battlegrounds. It was once more the assertion of trade union politics.

Once again the decisive factor in the defeat of the Industrial Groups was the development of the consciousness of the workers, working people and others in the anti-fascist war and post-war period. The Communists had played a big part in that. Rightly they inspired and led the mass struggle and took advantage of the divisions in the labor party and in the capitalist class. Their shortcoming was in their Marxist-Leninist understanding. They failed to draw the lessons fully of developing Marxism-Leninism strategically, politically and organisationally.