Report to the first National Congress of the Australian Communist Party
It is an honour to be delivering this report to the founding Congress of the Australian Communist Party on behalf of the outgoing interim Central Committee of our Party. Our Congress is small, representing an as yet small party but I should point out that our numbers are not that much smaller than those attending the original founding Congress of the Communist Party in Sydney in 1920 and bigger than the number of delegates at the first Congress of the Communist Party of China. That should give us some perspective regarding our gathering here today. The rest is up to us!
Some of you have been comrades for some time and would be familiar with the reasons for the decision to establish the ACP. Others might not be so familiar so I will summarise these briefly. Members who came with us from the CPA will remember well the hostility shown by significant numbers of opportunist members of the CPA prior to our departure. An orchestrated campaign was mounted against the work of the youth in Sydney and around the country involving some truly shameful incidents in which these hostile forces involved city and police authorities.
Background To Our Foundation
These incidents were distressing for the members involved and discouraged many from joining the Party. Initially, we believed that these difficulties were generated by a small number of difficult and uncomradely individuals. We thought the resentment shown to the initiatives of the youth was down to subjectivity and resentment to exposure, by practice, of lazy habits in party organisations. We thought that this was exclusively the result of lax recruitment and organisational practices in the CPA and the failure of leading figures to show solidarity at important meetings.
Unfortunately, this early assessment was incorrect and the problems encountered were actually the result of deeper, underlying political and ideological issues. The unproductive and bureaucratic methods of work reflected and continue to reflect the influence of social democratic thinking on the old party. The factionalising, number-crunching and cronyism we witnessed at the last Sydney District Conference and the 13th were not the behaviour of rogue elements within the Maritime Branch and elsewhere but a reflection of trade union and ALP practices inside the CPA.
How did these practices go unchecked inside an avowedly Marxist-Leninist party committed to Leninist principles including Democratic Centralism? It became clear to the founding members of the ACP that such behaviour was encouraged by the program of the party and had become progressively worse over the decades. With hindsight, it was concluded that such methods were brought into the SPA (since 1996 known as the CPA) at the time of its establishment in 1971 despite commitments not to repeat the mistakes of the original CPA. That party had become overwhelmed by such deviations and eventually embraced reformist “Euro-communist” ideas.
“We have established strong recruitment protocols and have gathered a core of cooperative, eager party workers”
Even a showdown with right-opportunist forces in 1983 did not fix the problem. Why? We have concluded that certain attitudes expressed in the party’s program lent themselves to opportunist practices. Despite the restatement of the leading role of the party, a woolly advocacy of an alliance of “left and progressive” forces leading to a government of a “new type” led members to tail parties of bourgeois ideology including the ALP and the Greens. There was little pride in the party and a tendency to hide or downplay the independent work of the party. We must learn from this and never repeat those mistakes.
This error became very obvious during the recent Change the Rules campaign waged by the ACTU in support of the re-election of a Labor government. Plans were discussed to use the campaign to raise systemic problems in capitalism that give rise to the sorts of “rules” being used to crush trade unions. The question of socialism was to be raised in a CPA campaign. A Workers Solidarity Network was to be established in Sydney to rally the community behind organised workers in struggle. None of these efforts succeeded in injecting a socialist consciousness into the movement as claimed.
“The Communist movement has long engaged in such services to the community and their attitude would leave this type of work to religious groups and the extreme right as we have seen in Europe”
In fact, an effort to inject class-conscious analysis into the campaign, authored by myself, was heavily criticised by the Central Committee and I was accused of “jeopardising 50 years of united front work with the ALP”. I did no such thing. I was putting a Marxist-Leninist position on behalf of the Party while others were happy to limiting themselves to getting rid of “this rotten Liberal government” and falling in behind what was described as the strategy of the whole labour movement at the time. The advice, rolled out at every election, to favour the ALP in practice through voting preferences was advanced yet again. Little energy was devoted to enabling an electoral presence of the party so it could use its campaign to set a socialist program before the people.
It was these sorts of considerations that led the founding members of our party to conclude that the CPA was beyond redemption given the alignment of forces. This has been described by some as “defeatism”, which is amusing given that most of the people making that accusation are members of a party born of a split. The originators of this split concluded at the time that the influence of revisionism on the original party was too strong to correct. They were right and we were right. It is now up to us to make sure that errors of that magnitude are never again committed.
We have several advantages in this respect. We have established strong recruitment protocols and have gathered a core of cooperative, eager party workers. There are no massive egos or labour aristocrats insisting on some special status due to trade union of other office. Most members are young and are not as likely to have succumbed to social democrat and other essentially conservative influences. They are active and we insist on activism as a condition of membership. “Communist” arrogance (behaviour suggesting one is so much more worthy than others) is discouraged and rooted out.
Our Prospects And Plans
The founders of our party met in Sydney in mid-March and spent a weekend considering our current situation. We decided then to hold the Congress we are now conducting. We discussed our recruiting practices, as described above. We would also be vigilant regarding loyalty to our Party and our comrades. These values are universal in the Communist movement but, to use expressions common in the Australian working class, we would not tolerate “bludgers” or “dobbers” or gossipers. We would encourage proper criticism and self-criticism in our Party.
“Our Party is a young Party. This is encouraging. The Bolsheviks were also a young party. Young people generally are more active and have new ideas to contribute”
We discussed the best way to promote our Party and the means by which it would exert its influence. Our first recommendation was to continue the work of the Community Union Defence League, the best example of which is the street kitchen carried on by the dedicated Party-aligned group in Sydney. We would establish such work wherever we succeed in establishing an organisation. I this regard I would like to commend comrade Finn for his hard work and initiative in Hobart.
Our Party has drawn some criticism for focusing on this type of community work. They accuse us of lightening the load of the bourgeois state by engaging in “charity” work. Others accuse us of wasting our time moving among the “lumpen” and neglecting truly revolutionary work. We needn’t be distracted by these critics. The Communist movement has long engaged in such services to the community and their attitude would leave this type of work to religious groups and the extreme right as we have seen in Europe.
Our Party plans to establish fully-functioning Branches out of our initial cell structure. Given the right assistance and encouragement, we have prospects for this in Sydney, on the South Coast of NSW, Adelaide and Melbourne. We have good prospects in Hobart, Brisbane and Perth. We must work creatively to establish our presence in rural and regional centres as flagged in our Program.
We committed to establishing a good online presence with a professional appearance. We have achieved this and I take this opportunity to thank Nathan and Connor in particular for the quality graphics we have carried. We aim to produce a monthly publication presenting our ideas and reflecting our activity. At present we are working to finalise the first issue of the Militant Monthly. We must produce a lot of leaflets and other material in connection with our national and other campaigns. From the very first meeting we identified housing as a campaign particularly deserving of our attention.
While prioritising the struggles of the Australian working class, we committed ourselves to proletarian internationalism. We want to develop fraternal relations with like-minded parties and, one day, to get recognition from and affiliation to the movement behind the International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties. This will difficult given the current affiliation of the CPA and its capacity to veto membership of other parties in Australia but we will continue to work at this project. This development may become easier if there is a move to remove revisionist parties from the current IMCWP movement, perhaps as part of the creation of a new Communist International. I am encouraged by the greetings we have received for our first Congress and grateful to the Iraqi Kurdish Communist Party for sending a representative. A general comment I would make is that there is considerable interest in the work of our Party in Australia and internationally.
“We must work creatively to establish our presence in rural and regional centres as flagged in our Program”
Our Party is a young Party. This is encouraging. The Bolsheviks were also a young party. Young people generally are more active and have new ideas to contribute. Older members often lose enthusiasm and what Stalin called the “sense of the new”. Younger members, on the other hand, by definition lack experience and education in the political and ideological sense. At our first meeting, we committed ourselves to educating our members to the best of our ability. We should never be completely happy with any aspect of our work but I’m satisfied we have met our early commitment in connection with education. I am optimistic about future progress given the recruitment of Michael Hooper, a professional educator, to the Party.
Speaking about our youth, our early plans included the establishment of a Young Communist League affiliated to the World Federation of Democratic Youth. This is achievable given the numbers of young members in the ACP. The question that we must still answer is how we will give some sort of separate existence to the YCL.
I am satisfied with the general level of activity in the Party prior to this Congress. Much work has been done postering in several centres around the country. The posters have been a very useful recruiting tool and method for engaging recruits and members. A deficiency in our activity so far has been the lack of events, public meetings and involvement in protests. We have still to increase members’ involvement in their trade unions and to guide this work. Some of these weaknesses are down to the lack of venues but we must lift our level of effort and initiative, especially as Party campaigns get underway.
Some Thanks And Observations
We have fulfilled the early plans of the founding members to a commendable extent. The enhancement and expansion of this work in the lead up to our next Congress (proposed to take place next year) will be in your hands and the leadership of the incoming Central Committee to be elected this weekend. The incoming CC has a heavy responsibility to firmly establish our work as a Party.
I have had experience on the Central Committee of both the CPA and the ACP. I can tell you there is no comparison between the two CCs in terms of collective work and comradeship. The comrades on the ACP CC have stepped into their roles with great energy and ability. On the personal level, they have helped me through a very difficult period while dealing with challenging circumstances of their own. The composition of the incoming CC is entirely in your hands. All the members of the outgoing CC have put up their hands for election and I think they are all well suited to those roles.
I have avoided a long analysis of the grave national and international situation that forms the backdrop to our meeting this weekend. We have written at length about this elsewhere and I believe my time would be better spent on the organisational questions before us. As can be seen, we have many challenges ahead of us to live up to our early commitments. I am confident we can reach our goals. Again reflecting on my experience in the CPA, I am moved by the same sense of optimism I felt when I first joined the Communist movement in 1979 at age 24. I would like to thank you all for your dedication to what you must be aware is a massive task.