Published in Labor Leader, Vol. 4, No. 3, June 1980, pp 5, 7.
On 7th May, the newspapers of Australia’s most influential communist parties, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA) carried a joint statement of historic importance and great significance to the labour movement.
In 1971, as a breakaway from the CPA, the SPA was formed under the presidency of Pat Clancy, national Secretary of the Building Workers’ Industrial Union.
Those who formed the pro-Moscow SPA could never live with the CPA’s condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, nor with what they claimed was the CPA’s attraction to peripheral causes – such as women’s liberation and ‘green bans’. These divisions are still important. The newspaper of the CPA, Tribune, recently commented: “In view of the differences that both parties still have on such issues the Statement (of 7th May), omits reference to the Women’s Movement and the Uranium issue, among others.”
Although the SPA supports the USSR’s ‘peaceful’ use of nuclear energy, it has taken a leading role in the anti-uranium lobby in Australia. Mr. Pat Clancy has even addressed rallies organised by the Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM). The implication to be drawn from this is that the SPA does not oppose the use of nuclear energy on environmental grounds, but opposes the development of a uranium industry in Australia because this would operate against the strategic interests of the Soviet Union.
In contrast with the SPA, the CPA over the last decade has paraded itself as a ‘euro communist’ style party modelled on the Italian Communist Party.
Of particular importance has been the influence of the Italian theoretician Antonio Gramsci who coined the term ‘hegemony’ to describe the dominant cultural values of a society.
The term is now employed in communist jargon to describe contradictory and different phenomena.
However, the CPA uses the term in a sense similar to Gramsci’s. They believe that the future of the CPA lies not so much with building of party membership, but by becoming the dominant influence on the Left in Australia. In other words, to gain ‘hegemony’ over the Left of the labour movement within and outside of the ALP.
Evidence for this proposition may be found in the recent dominance of communists and their supporters within the Australian Union of Students and the close links between the Socialist Left of the Victorian ALP particularly Mr. Jim Roulston who left the CPA in the 1960s and the Victorian Branch of the CPA. Evidence is also available in NSW where leading members of the Socialist Left Steering Committee have advocated a ‘dialogue’ between the CPA and the Left of the ALP. For example the Newcastle and Northern District Committee of the CPA has organised ‘socialist conferences’ which include ALP members to further this purpose, and they have published a pamphlet outlining New Prospects for a Unity of the Left.
It is in this context that the joint CPA/SPA statement should be viewed. The statement proclaims “officials of the two parties have held a number of meetings in an effort to develop co-operation between the two parties. We see this as a contribution to Left Unity as a step towards a much wider unity or progressive and democratic forces and to the development of a genuine alternative policy to meet the needs of the people.”
The statement elaborates the parties’ opposition to “a return to the Cold War” and briefly summarises common points of agreement on the Australian economic position.
It concludes by saying “while both parties will develop their own campaigns around the issues discussed. Exchanges of information and experience will take place and joint activities be developed which we hope will be shared and loaned by others, leading to a broader common approach on the various issues.”
Further: “where a different approach or estimation anises both parties record their willingness to discuss differences in an atmosphere of mutual respect and to continue to search for points of agreement.”
This article was continued in the next issue of Labor Leader.