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More than meets the eye – the CPA(ML) in NSW Part 3 – Whitlam, Uncle Sam and the People

Written by: Louisa L on 29 October 2020


In 1974 Sydney, ten years after the party was formed, an already heated atmosphere was overlaid by venom with the takeover by the federal Builders Labourers Federation of its NSW branch. A recent Vanguard article, ‘Mundey and Gallagher, two lives in working class struggle’, covers that period and pays tribute to both antagonists in that dispute. 

From the beginning, the party was known for its militancy and the BLF continued to be, as it was under Jack Mundey’s leadership, a lightning rod for young activists. But it was soon overshadowed by more immediate battles.


On July 4, 1975 Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and other dignitaries were farewelling Marshall Green, U.S. Ambassador at a posh Wentworth Hotel party. Green arrived after Whitlam’s election to interstate protests led by our activists pointing out he was a hatchet man, a CIA coup-master. Indonesia, where up to two million people were massacred just ten years earlier (and the first time the USA used Islamist forces to wield weapons) was his career highlight.

This was an intense time.  Through the 60s and 70s Sydney was a major Australian destination for refugees from murderous CIA-coups in South America. The most recent was Chile, just three years before our protest. 

Campaign Against Foreign Military Bases in Australia leaflets warned Green had almost certainly set up mechanisms for the overthrow of the Whitlam Government. Yet some then and now ridicule our Party’s concern with the forces of the imperialist state and our consequent determination to be immersed with the masses, like Mao Zedong’s “fish in a sea of people”. Ironically, the youngest of us were, like other left groups, behaving as a left bloc. Events would soon change that.

Whitlam’s overthrow saw massive protests and birth of organisations, including People for Australian Independence. It had no snappy title but launched the following year taking over where Worker Student Alliance left off, it captured the vibe of the moment. Hundreds of Eureka flags were screen printed in a Darlinghurst flat. Thousands of ‘Independence for Australia’ badges and tens of thousands of leaflets were grabbed by eager protesters. Independence made perfect sense. An unelected representative of a foreign government had sacked Australia’s elected government. 

Party members and supporters devoured Marxist Leninist classics in small study groups and branches. Our collective lens focused on their application in Australia. So, when young members of the old CPA eventually tried to counter the Eureka flag’s popularity with a badge, impaling out of context Marx’s words ‘Workers have no country’ (originally ‘working men have no country’) we shook our heads. Didn’t they remember the old party’s Eureka Youth League the decade before our party’s ejection from it? There was arrogance on both sides.

If other left groups called us bourgeois nationalists, the facts and the people showed otherwise. 


These days CIA involvement in the bloodless coup against the Whitlam Government is well known to activists, but in early years after it, that was definitely not the case. Our comrades did much of the early research to join the CIA dots.

Students for Australian Independence leaflets, distributed early in 1976 charted the similarities to the lead-up to the Chilean coup and outlined Governor General Sir John Kerr’s service to the CIA. Unlike Chile, the army never got off grey alert, as ACTU President Hawke, himself tainted with CIA connections, stood down trade unions immediately. 

Yet we were more critical than most protesters, seeing Whitlam’s wage indexation, for example, as disarming the people, because workers no longer had to organise collectively for wage increases. As time passed indexation was indeed whittled away till it was scrapped.

Like every left group of the time we were sectarian, but we refused to separate ourselves from the masses of everyday people by raising indexation inappropriately to attack a much-loved leader. 

NSW University was the most working class university and where our supporters were strongest. When Whitlam, the toppled hero, visited early in 1976 he was met with the two questions he was due to answer the very day he was sacked, “What’s at Pine Gap?” and “Is Richard Stallings a CIA agent?” Whitlam refused to answer the first, and in fact may not have known. While Pine Gap paraded as a joint military base, it has always been US run for a peppercorn rent, today outsourced to US war corporations like Raytheon Industries. Whitlam answered the second affirmatively, about Stallings, who rented his Canberra home from his good mate Doug Anthony, then Country Party leader. 

By then we were already on the trail of that other CIA man, the Governor General.

Sir John 

Sir John Kerr was an easy target, rotten on so many levels before he sacked Whitlam. Legal counsel against equal pay for Aboriginal workers in the Territory, the judge who jailed Clarrie O’Shea in 1969, with clear links to the CIA… 

We tracked his moves through the Sydney Morning Herald’s Vice Regal column. Everywhere he went, we, our mates and anyone else we could let know turned up, sometimes in busloads, roaring. The Royal Motor Yacht Club, opening something-or-other, anywhere he thought he could feel safe among his adopted class. Didn’t matter. We hunted and hounded him, the protests growing. Some members of the larger and less militant Citizens for Democracy, in which CPA(ML) members were also involved, joined as protests grew. Till Kerr went overseas and stayed there, returning to be buried in a secret grave with no state honours. 

Politics is not about individuals, though they have their importance. But public pressure built through the year largely because of the protests we led, till general anger overflowed again on the first anniversary, Remembrance Day, 1976. The working class and its allies remembered. The ALP took charge. 

But our street theatre from the edge as the crowd grew was pointed. A bosses’ cop. A CIA agent. A capitalist fat cat. Uncle Sam. And the people. 


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