Into The Mainstream by Tom O’Lincoln


THIS ESSAY is about the evolution of the Communist Party of Australia since World War II.

Beginning as a monolithic Stalinist party of some strength in the late forties, it has been transformed by the postwar decades. It rejected Stalinism, but was unable to replace it with a coherent political alternative, and it has gradually declined into a confused and demoralised rump.

Most commentators have welcomed the political changes which have occurred in the party, arguing that the CPA's break with Stalinism was a historic step forward. A minority have deplored them, contending that the party has abandoned a socialist vision in favour of trendyism, opportunism and reformism. By and large the debate over the CPA's postwar development has been conducted between these two poles.

My argument is that both views must be rejected. Stalinism was undeniably an odious political tradition, and was also unviable in the postwar era. However in rejecting it, the CPA has embraced liberal and reformist ideas which are no real improvement. The one political tradition which could have provided a real socialist vision for our times — the authentic tradition of revolutionary Marxism — has been consistently rejected by the vast majority of party members. Yet without it, the Communist Party could only end up liquidating itself into mainstream bourgeois politics. This book traces the complex process by which it has moved toward just such a fate. In keeping with my basic thesis, the treatment is often quite polemical.

The first two chapters are brief sketches, providing essential international and historical background. The main argument begins in chapter 3, which considers the Communists' attempt to take the offensive in the late forties. They soon found themselves on the defensive in the fifties, an experience discussed in chapter 4, and then entered a period of fragmentation and confusion in the sixties (chapter 5). The sixties were also a time of attempted theoretical renewal, and chapter 6 considers this process. Chapter 7 looks at the party's short-lived lurch to the left in the early seventies, and its subsequent drift back to the right over the remainder of the decade. Finally, in chapter 8, we see the party move toward its final resting place in the political mainstream.

I owe thanks to many people for advice, criticism and help, but I would particularly like to mention Phil Lee, Janey Stone, Phil Griffiths and Megan Conlin.

Thanks, too, to all those people who kindly consented to be interviewed. Many of them stressed that in doing so, they did not wish to be thought to have rejected the entire CPA experience. They pointed out that the party had many achievements to its credit, and that many of its members were among the finest fighters for their class. It is a sentiment with which I sympathize, and I hope that the polemical character of the present work has not obscured it unduly. — Tom O 'Lincoln, April 1985