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A comment on an historical document.

Written by: Central Committee, CPA (M-L) on 18 July 2020


The July 13, 2020 edition of the Communist Party (CPA) newspaper “The Guardian” continues their practice, in this, the centenary year of the Communist movement in Australia, of reproducing articles from years gone by that reflect some of the movement’s history.

In the main, the articles have contributed to an awareness of the achievements of the Communist movement in Australia, and the great struggles in which it has been involved.

The July 13 edition, however, reproduces a July 1963 Statement by the CPA Central Committee Secretariat on the resignation of “sixty-two members of the Communist Party in Victoria … (in a) planned move in the campaign of disruption and factionalism by a group led by E F Hill.” Hill and others would go on to establish our Party, the CPA (M-L) in March 1964. 

The lengthy statement rebukes Hill and others for leaving the CPA, describing it as a “desertion of Marxism-Leninism”. In capitalized letters, which we reproduce here, it states: “THOSE WHO DESERT THE PARTY THEREFORE DESERT THE CAUSE OF SOCIALISM, THE CAUSE OF THE WORKING CLASS, HOWEVER LOUD THEIR PROTESTATIONS TO THE CONTRARY MAY BE.”

The original statement is a product of its times reflecting the then CPA leadership’s position on the intense political and ideological struggle within the CPA at that time.  It’s a useful resource for anyone wanting to study the history of the Communist movement in Australia. However, ignoring the local and international ideological and political environment that this statement was made in does little justice to Marxism-Leninism and the struggle for socialism..

It is disappointing for this document to be published without any contemporary contextualization. The publication of this document without putting it in the historical context of immense political and ideological struggle locally and internationally fundamentally ignores immense changes that were taking place in the former Soviet Union which was abandoning Marxism-Leninism and socialism after the death of Stalin and the ascendency of new revisionist leadership under Khrushchev.  Further, it was during a period of years of growing concerns by many in the CPA with the direction the Australian leadership was taking, moving away from Marxism-Leninism.  The statement reprinted in the Guardian is graphic illustration of this. 

Apparently, the irony is lost on the editor of the Guardian that what is known today as the Communist Party of Australia is in fact, the renamed remnants of a group that itself “deserted” the CPA only a few years later in 1970-71 and went off to form the pro-Soviet Socialist Party of Australia (SPA).

Workers want cooperation between Parties

The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) has for many years sought to create a working relationship with the Communist Party of Australia.
We can trace this back to a speech made by the founding Chairperson of our Party, Comrade EF Hill at a History of Communism in Australia Conference, in Melbourne in August, 1980.  Whilst not apologising for his part in the campaign to oppose Khrushchevite revisionism in the CPA, Hill conceded that he had “personally said some things I would not say today”. Directing his comments at the CPA members in his audience, Hill concluded:

We are concerned to develop in every possible way the unity and integrity of the Communist movement. There must be exchanges of views and the deepest possible study of Marxist-Leninist general principle in order to guide actual struggle in Australia.

Hill’s offer of an exchange of views led to a meeting on 18 September 1982 between the two parties, with Hill, Charlie McCaffrey and Marcus Clayton representing the CPA (M-L) and Bernie Taft, Mark Taft and Rob Durbridge representing the CPA. One outcome of the discussion, on Durbridge’s suggestion, was that each party, together with the Socialist Party of Australia and the Socialist Workers Party, contributed a full page to a four-page supplement carried in each parties’ paper.

The Socialist Workers Party was a Trotskyite party. It commanded a certain following and was included on that basis. 

The Socialist Party of Australia, to which reference has already been made, comprised ex-members of the CPA who rejected the emerging Eurocommunist revisionism of the CPA leadership and wanted a strongly pro-Soviet party. They left the CPA in 1971 and formed their new party.  Ironically, the leading authors of the 1963 reprinted piece later liquidated the CPA, embraced social-democracy, and became leaders of trade unions promoting the Accord and selling out the working class. After the Taft-Durbridge CPA leadership gave up the Communist ghost by shutting the party down in 1991 (they took its money and established the social democratic Search Foundation), the SPA took back for itself in 1996 the name of the party they had rejected – the Communist Party of Australia.

Our Party has continued to try and develop a working relationship with the CPA and it was on our initiative that a joint parties’ statement was issued to celebrate the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in 2017.

Since then, the CPA has further fractured, with General Secretary Bob Briton resigning to form the Australian Communist Party (ACP). 

In recent times, we have endeavoured to work with both the CPA and ACP, party to party, and in the mass movements.  They, like us, proclaim an adherence to the goal of Communism in the name of their organisations. However, the existence of separate Communist parties has disappointed and confused those among the advanced sections of the working class for whom unity is the key to all progress and success. We believe we can acknowledge the continuing political, organizational and ideological differences we have with those two parties at the same time that we promote cooperation on practical matters that serve the working class. 

Regrettably, the publication of the 1963 document without explanation or comment, raises questions about the current enthusiasm of the CPA for mutual respect and to find ways to work together in the interest of united working class struggle. There is no immediate prospect of a single Communist Party existing in Australia. However, there is definite scope for cooperation between our members and followers in a united front against fascism and imperialism.

Post Script 

Perhaps some in the CPA have had time to reflect on the negative impact of their publication of the historical document mentioned above. A post on their Facebook page this morning (Sunday 18 July) carries the Guardian article with the belated contextualization below:

The Guardian's history section marks a sad, but significant moment, for the Australian and world, communist movement. In 1962, what became known as the “Hill group” decided to resign from the CPA. The following year, these ex-members would form the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) (CPA-ML).

The split was reflective of a larger ideological fracturing of the international communist movement centred on what became known as the “Sino-Soviet split” – a breakdown in the political relations between the USSR and PRC over ideological differences, starting with Khrushchev’s secret speech. As a result, many Maoist parties around the world sprung up, co-existing with Soviet-aligned Marxist-Leninist groups.

The Sino-Soviet split caused irreparable harm to the international communist movement from which it never truly recovered.

The CPA today does not harbour the same resentment expressed in the article presented here for historical purposes. The CPA is committed to fighting on a united front against capitalism and welcomes all organisations that are committed to this struggle.

We must remember that we are stronger together, weaker apart.

We welcome the CPA’s reassurance that it “does not harbour the same resentment expressed in the article”. 

This is the centenary year of the Communist movement in Australia. 

The CPA and the CPA (M-L) have both grown out of the original Communist Party of Australia, dissolved in 1991. 

We are indeed stronger together, weaker apart.


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