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A gift to the world’s peoples: lessons from the October Revolution

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A speech by a CPA M-L comrade, at an event organised by the Communist Party of Australia in Sydney.

It’s an honour to speak tonight on behalf of the Communist Party of Australia Marxist-Leninist, alongside CPA, union and international comrades, to celebrate the momentous Red October.

We meet on the lands of the Sovereign Gadigal People of the Eora Nation. In 1792, 500 metres from where we gather, Bidjigal man Pemulwuy led an attack against the invaders. May this celebration also honour their spirit!

The lessons from the world’s first socialist state, are an enduring gift to the world’s people. The most important one is to listen to, and learn from the people.
The Russian Revolution succeeded because, through detailed study of Russia, Lenin and his comrades crystallised the ideas of the masses and analysed the forces arrayed against them. Mao describes this in simple words, “Seeking truth from facts.” 

Lenin did not confuse his desire for change with reality. To lead effectively we have to be able to retreat as well as attack, to make compromises that lay the ground for future advance. Lenin and the Bolsheviks did just that.
Marx and Engels are quite clear that the people need a communist party. October 1917 proved why. “The Russian revolution would not have happened, could not have happened,” a young comrade writes in the latest Vanguard, “without a committed, tightly organised and disciplined Party, to make the ongoing analyses, to develop the strategies and tactics, to agitate consistently across the vast empire, to organise the people politically and militarily, and to possess the accumulated collective wisdom and courage to brave the tsarist and bourgeois repression and know when and how to strike.”

Then came the hard part - creating an utterly new system on the heels of world war amidst mass starvation, civil war, invasion, and later rising fascism and another world war.

Class struggle does not cease under socialism
In August 1917, in The State and Revolution, Lenin summarised Marx and Engels’ ideas on the state – that it is an organ for ruling class dictatorship, and that taking over of the existing state machinery of army, police, spies, courts and gaols would lead to disaster for the working class and their allies. In order to protect the revolutionary gains of the people, the old state must be smashed.

The vast majority of the people, led by the workers would exercise their dictatorship of the proletariat, over the tiny minority of former exploiters, desperate to restore their own rule.  There were tremendous gains for the people but errors were inevitable and some did great harm. There was no blueprint, no map. Most arose because the party was not well-steeled enough in Marxism-Leninism, including Lenin’s mighty philosophical legacy, and did not seek truth from facts.

Facing enormous difficulties, Stalin’s leadership distorted the principles of democratic centralism, by undervaluing democratic discussion and overvaluing central control. Within the USSR itself, and in the Australian party, non-antagonistic contradictions among the people, were often treated as antagonistic ones, against the enemy. Here, sectarian abuse undermined discussion that could have charted a way forward.

An 1870’s idea - that all revolutionary parties should be directed from a common international centre – also took hold. Counter to Lenin’s theory and revolutionary experience, the Soviet party dictated what happened in Australia. In 1929, a Comintern official even ensured the Central Committee of the old Communist Party Australia was chucked out and a new one installed.

Ted Hill, the CPA-ML’s founding chairperson, wrote in Communism and Australia, (published in 1989, after Hill's death), that the new committee demanded “direct transition from capitalism to socialism, and the immediate overthrow of capitalism in a country where capitalism was young, its working class immature and the Party also small and immature.” A political miracle! “Australians,” wrote Hill, “instinctively sensed the unreality of the Party’s position.”

But despite this, Stalin’s leadership oversaw great gains for the vast majority of Soviet people. They kept to the socialist path. Would we have done any better than they did in that uncharted new historical epoch? The point is to learn from the mistakes.

In Marxism, ‘Revisionism’ means talking socialism, while heading towards capitalism. Our two parties hold different views about why and when the revisionism arose, that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vanguard outlines our view. But even deeper study of the facts, discussion and open minds are essential to a better understanding by us all. Revisionism reflects individual and collective failings, but the solution lies in thorough collective understanding, through all our individual efforts. We have to keep our eyes on the end point – the classless society of communism – to understand how to get there.

The ruling class uses this method. In Driving Disunity, the Business Council against Aboriginal Community Lindy Nolan quotes KPMG’s Peter Nash, that corporations “begin with the end in mind.”

Where are we now?
Across the world, people were inspired by newborn socialism. In China, Mao Zedong wrote, “All correct leadership is necessarily ‘from the masses, to the masses’. He meant, taking the scattered and unsystematic ideas of the masses and through Marxist study of reality making them concentrated and systematic, then going back to the people propagating and explaining the ideas till the people make them their own, and test them in action.  We do this over and over again, creating ever deeper understanding and more effective action.

Coming to that realisation has been a hard and slow process for Australian communists.

We strive to study Marxism-Leninism as a science, and integrate it into the minute details of Australia’s conditions. We stand against dogmatism, that squeezes facts into theory, like huge feet forced into Cinderella’s glass slipper. The ultimate test is practise, whether the Australian people take up our ideas in struggle.

We have to work closely with people who challenge the status quo, but if we only hang round in left blocs, with likeminded people, how can we know what the masses are even thinking, let alone lead them? Sectarianism at its heart, is separating ourselves from the masses.

However perfectly formed our denunciation of capitalism is, if it doesn’t correspond to the experience of the Australian people, we’ll soon be speaking to empty air. And like Lenin and Mao, we need to express deep truths in simple language.

That’s why the CPA ML worked with historian Humphrey McQueen to produce a booklet in everyday language summarising Marx’s Capital on this, its 150th anniversary, inviting them to read the real thing.

Many facts of where we stand are unpalatable. Yet other things are afoot too.

Most of my life, Australian people overwhelmingly believed the lie that we live in a democracy. Now they’re not so sure. And the word capitalism is more widely, and negatively, used than ever, so corporations are forced to construct, a human face for capitalism.

People are not stupid. They’re not rednecks. As facts accumulate, they learn. And right now, they know something is wrong – even those manipulated by a billion-dollar avalanche of divide and conquer lies.

The ruling class is right to fear our united peoples. Even without Marxism they are a mighty force. With it, they are unstoppable.

Invasion is the bedrock on which capitalism has been built here, when classless Aboriginal societies met the hideous class violence of penal colonialism and ‘civilisation.’ The battle cry of sovereignty has not been silenced down the years. It has much to teach us.

I stand with you tonight, on this CPA platform because the people’s needs demand it. Despite differences between how each party analyses the path to revolution in Australia, and the pitfalls of history, we have learned to challenge ideas, rather than throw labels at those whose ideas differ from our own. 

The joint statement of our two parties, published in Vanguard, is evidence of this. I hope those who aspire to communism, and respect the people, can come together in the future. We have more in common than divides us.

We are a very, very long way from Lenin’s words about the state being acceptable to the peoples of this continent. But leave out the rhetoric. You don’t have to go far to find people who reckon it would be better if ordinary people ran this country – they just don’t believe it’s possible. The task is to create a communist party capable of leading them.


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