Published in Labor Leader, Vol. 4, No.4, December 1980, p. 7.
Since the publication of a joint Statement between the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and the pro-Moscow Socialist Party (SPA), which promised closer co-operation between these two parties, bitter divisions have emerged between the various personalities and fractions. This article evaluates the significance, reasons behind, and ramifications of the joint Statement.
Two questions need to be asked about this Statement: How did come about? And what is its significance?
Without sources within either the CPA or SPA speculation about the factors leading to the Statement can only be informed by clues to be found in the [CPA’s] Tribune, The Socialist, journal of the SPA, and other sources.
Mr John Sendy a former National Organiser of the CPA last year published his book, Comrades Come Rally, an autobiography of importance for analys1s of recent events.
Firstly, he notes that the [communist] schism of 1971 had different affects in different States. The bitterness between the SPA and CPA was most pronounced in Sydney where the main protagonists, Pat Clancy (SPA) and Eric and Laurie Aarons (CPA) reside. Differences in Melbourne were less intense and the chances of joint campaigns have always been higher in Victoria than in NSW.
Secondly, there is considerable resentment within the CPA at the Aaron brothers’ dominance of the party: criticisms are made particularly by the older members, that the party has not paid enough attention to the trade union movement and too much attention to ‘trendy causes’.
Thirdly, there is considerable despair among CPA members concerning their inability to act as the ‘vanguard of the proletariat’. Increasingly party members come from a bourgeois background rather than from the working class.
In the conclusion to his book John Sendy argues that the CPA should give up the cause of forming a mass alternative party to the ALP. Sendy argues that more benefit can be gained by the CPA members influencing the ALP whether within or outside of it.
The defeat of CPA member Mr. Jim Baird in the election for organiser of the Victorian Branch of the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights’ Union (AMWSU) has contributed to the closer co-operation of the CPA and SPA.
Mr Baird’s opponent, Mr Dusty Miller, won election by proclaiming that he was not the candidate of the CPA in that election. The Victorian Branch of the CPA were staggered by Mr Baird’s defeat and almost certainly concluded that closer co-operation with SPA supporters within the AMWSU was important to the long-term goal of controlling this union.
Another factor influencing CPA thinking has been its experience w1th univers1ty campus politics. The communist collective within the Australian Union of Students has splintered in recent years. The major reason for these splits has been the success of moderate ALP students and their supporters in disaffiliating university campuses from the Australian Union of Students (which has long been controlled by the CPA and its supporters.)
Mr Gary Nicholls, the Leader of the CPA at AUS Conferences resigned from the party last year and bitterly attacked the Victorian CPA for being too conservative and over-cautious in student affairs. Mr Nicholls, in a letter to communist students which was published last year, argued that revolutionaries should join the Socialist Left within the Victorian ALP rather than the Victorian CPA.
The experience with temperamental student politicians has convinced many of the CPA elders, particularly in Melbourne, that there are only short-term gains to be made in following the ‘Aarons’ strategy’ of linking up with radical students and trendy causes.
Thus the conclusion may be drawn that the Victorian Branch of the CPA has been decisive in influencing the CPA to sign the joint statement with the SPA.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has not impeded the moves towards closer co-operation. At the Communist and Labour History Conference held in Melbourne in August, Pat Clancy, the President of the SPA, and Bernie Taft, Secretary of the Victorian CPA, shared the same platform and spoke of the need for ‘left unity’. So far as many CPA members are concerned, Afghanistan is water off a duck’s back.
As for the SPA, which religiously follows Soviet policy, other factors were at work. The Socialist, journal of the SPA frequently trumpets the virtues of a ‘united front’ of the Left within the Labor Movement. So far the virtues of a ‘united front’ with the CPA has not been seriously argued in the pages of the Socialist. What then has been the cause of the change?
The conclusion to be drawn is that following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the SPA needs as many friends as it can get. The SPA calculates that the movement towards a ‘united front’ of the CPA, SPA and Socialist Left of the ALP will minimise criticism of the Soviet Union and the SPA’s role as the mouthpiece of Soviet foreign policy.
What is the significance of the Statement? In answering this question reference should be made to the reactions in Tribune and the Socialist to the Statement. Since the May 7th Statement was published, Tribune has only published a few letters to the editor on the matter.
The Socialist, however, in its issue of May 21st published letters of support and congratulation from the Secretary of the Victorian CPA Phillip Herington, Dick Scott, President of the AMWSU (and an ALP member), Mr Darrell Dawson, NSW Teachers’ Federation Organiser and Secretary of the Newcastle and Northern NSW District of the CPA, and other communists.
It must be asked, why wasn’t Mr Dawson’s or Mr Herington’s letters published in the Tribune, the official Journal of the CPA? Why has there been scant coverage of this matter in Tribune? The answer may be that the CPA is deeply divided over the issue or, at least, that the Victorian Branch is in support of the Statement and the Sydney Branch is divided. This may be an indication that the influence of the Sydney Branch dominated by the Aarons brothers is on the wane. Time will tell.
Splits within the CPA were revealed over this year’s Federal elections. Mr Brian McGahen, who was the CPA’s candidate for Lord Mayor in the Sydney local government election wrote to Tribune after the federal election complaining that the CPA did not advocate a first preference vote for the SPA in the Senate election.
The joint National Secretary of the CPA, Eric Aarons, was stung by this attack and wrote a reply explaining the reasons for the CPA’s decision. “Sectarianism, though it may exist, was not one of them”, Mr Aarons claimed. (Tribune, November 12th).
The SPA has succeeded in dividing the CPA over tactics and has weakened the credibility of the leadership of the Sydney branch of the CPA.
Of greater significance to the ALP is the certainty that there will be fresh calls for a ‘dialogue’ between the Socialist Left and the communist parties. The Socialist Left with its Midas touch for disaster may yet press ahead in support of calls for the ‘unity of the Left’. This can only have disastrous electoral consequences. On a national basis, the CPA and the SPA between them cannot scrape up more than 1% of the vote. Their recent maneuverings are symptomatic of their decline in influence.
This article was partly aimed at countering the strategy of left ALP Senator Arthur Gietzelt who at the time was talking about a broad left dialogue including the communists.
Those of us on the social democrat wing or the Right of the ALP abhorred the association with the communist tradition.
I remember Laurie Short at the Federated Ironworkers’ Association ringing me to praise what I had written.