VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism • www.cpaml.org
This is the Political Report of the 14th Central Committee to the 15th Congress of the CPA (M-L), June 2019
This report reviews the work of the Party since the 14th Congress in 2015, analyses our current situation, and sets the general direction for the coming period.
Immediately it must be said that the Party is in quite a good place. We have a membership that is united on the basis of a correct ideology. Differences that emerge from time to time and which, incidentally, provide a stimulus to the internal life of the organisation, are pursued on the basis of that ideology and not on the basis of ego or factional interests. Our members are immersed in struggles of the people, studying and striving to integrate revolutionary Marxism-Leninism into Australian conditions. Into this environment over the last three years, we have welcomed a number of quality new members. Most are young and working class. Our website and Facebook page continue to attract interest at home and abroad.
The international system and the danger of war
A key feature of the international situation is the expansion of Chinese economic, political and military influence and the inability of US imperialism to counter this. The social-imperialist (“socialist in words; imperialist in deeds”) Belt and Road Initiative has seen Chinese control of raw materials, access to markets, and investments in infrastructure reach from the South Pacific to the north of Africa, from Australia to Europe. Russia and China complement each other’s influence in the Middle East to the detriment of US dreams of “full spectrum dominance”. Even the European allies of US imperialism depart from its preferred position from time to time, for example on Trump’s withdrawal from international treaties and agreements. Trump’s personality lends a certain novelty to the decline of US imperialism, but imperialism is a system, not a person, and the inability of the system to peacefully contain China or to enforce its will on the Middle East and in Europe is what makes it so dangerous. It remains a truth for all time that so long as imperialism exists, so too does the danger of war.
US imperialism is rearranging the pieces on the chessboard to try and counter China. It hopes to use countries like Japan and Australia as its cat’s paws in regional provocations against China in the East China and South China Seas. The cat – US imperialism – does not yet dare risk its whole body in confronting China but wants Japan and Australia to poke and prod and test China’s patience and resolve. Australian politicians in both major parliamentary parties are under continual US pressure to test China’s sovereignty in the South China Seas. Comrades working in the peace and anti-war movements are doing a good job of emphasising on behalf of the Australian people our demands for an independent capacity for decision-making in foreign affairs and ultimately the necessity for Australia’s economic and political independence from imperialism. We should continue to identify US imperialism as our main enemy whilst keeping an eye on China and its social-imperialist expansion. Both countries are responsible for escalating tensions in our region, but the main danger of armed conflict comes from the US. We support the demand for an independent and peaceful Australia, one that does not follow others into conflicts created for their own self-interest.
Capitalism and the threat of economic crisis
Everything US imperialism does points to its long-term commitment to win the right to rule the globe through an imposed economic dependency and ultimately through war. It is trying to defuse minor conflicts while positioning itself and its allies to undertake a major war. Whether these plans will be accelerated or delayed by a new economic crisis is something we should take into account. Many bourgeois economists and chief executives of major corporations expect at the least a substantial economic downturn in 2019. Many are holding their breath in case a downturn becomes a crisis. The Australian ruling class has not had to work its way out of major crisis for around thirty years - no doubt a crisis will see them promote further attacks on people’s economic livelihoods, rights and liberties in the hope of extricating themselves from economic crisis.
Capitalism is a system in which disparate entities are driven to accumulate more and more profit from the surplus value of the working class. They must do this to kill off competitors and monopolise, as far as this is possible, the markets for their products. Their accumulation is driven by a desperate race to control the latest technological innovation so that the capital they expend on wages is reduced to the lowest possible level. Workers are expected to work longer for less pay. Like other commodities in the capitalist production chain, their labour power is utilized on a “just-in-time” basis, creating uncertainty and enlarging the pool of precariously employed workers. A sense of unfairness is widely felt across the Australian working class. The precision and order achieved by individual companies and corporations in their internal operations is undermined at every step by the anarchy and disorder of the market place. The threat of a return to economic crisis, whether it arises directly from overproduction of goods designed to boost accumulation, or from the diversion of capital from the circuit of production, distribution and exchange into the quicksand of financial speculation, is seen as a matter of some inevitability.
The international economic crisis of capitalism and imperialism is worsening the political instability of the bourgeoisie, unleashing social upheavals and rebellion. Mass resistance to the increasing burdens of capitalism and imperialism are sweeping across the world. Monopoly capital’s ability to rule through deception is waning.
The Party: explanation and leadership
Against this backdrop of international tension and economic uncertainty, the Party has striven to explain the developing situation and to offer leadership in the direction of mass struggle against imperialism and for socialism. Since the last Congress, and in the short space of three years, we have continually added good material from a growing number of writers on our website, produced agitational leaflets for rallies and demonstrations, and published booklets and pamphlets elaborating on our fundamental political and ideological positions.
In June 2016, we published Parliament and Elections – a superficial democracy which contextualized our views on parliamentarism and the Labor Party, and put forward our views on an independent working class agenda and working class democracy. We published a second edition in May 2018. In September 2017 we made an analysis of contemporary imperialism and refuted the accusation sometimes made against us that we are bourgeois nationalists because we call for independence from imperialism as a component part of the struggle for socialism (Australia and Imperialism in the 21st Century).
In 2017 we published the very popular 150 Years Young: Marx’s Capital, written for us by Marxist historian Humphrey McQueen. In May 2018, we updated and republished Who Owns Australia – Exposing the Multinationals, and in July came Marxist Theory Today: Three Basic Questions and Service Sector Workers’ Struggle Shows Need for Bold, Resilient Leadership, the latter an important analysis of new forms of struggle adopted by precariously employed workers in the cleaning industry.
In December last year, we took on the task of explaining how China, a socialist country, had followed the example of the Soviet Union in abandoning the socialist road, adopting capitalism and becoming social-imperialist. First put up as a pdf, that publication is now also available in hard copy.
Each of the works mentioned has been the result of collective effort, with principal authors submitting their drafts for amendment and improvement.
Our work has also, importantly, encompassed the participation of our comrades in mass struggles and in various mass organisations. It is not always possible to give credit for this mass work for reasons of security and keeping the identity of our comrades from the state’s surveillance authorities, but you will be aware of occasions such as the 2017 centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution when several of our more openly known comrades participated in public meetings on behalf of the Party.
Indeed, we initiated a joint statement from our Party and the CPA, based largely on a draft submitted by us, on that centenary. Despite the recent withdrawal of the CPA’s general secretary and the subsequent announcement of a new Australian Communist Party, we will continue to pursue a cooperative relationship between ourselves and other parties claiming to be Communist Parties. That is not to deny the continuing differences between ourselves and those parties on political, ideological and organisational lines, but to respect the wishes of workers who are confused by such differences and who sincerely want the unity of the working class. This will be an important task in the lead-up to the centenary of the foundation, next year, of the original Communist Party of Australia in 1920.
The Party also made presentations and participated in discussions at public forums on the occasion of 150th Anniversary of Marx’s death and other similar public events.
Finally, in May 2019 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the struggle initiated by our Party through its Vice-Chairperson Comrade Clarrie O’Shea that led to the defeat of the penal provisions of the Arbitration Act. The idea of putting self last, of enduring jail rather than paying fines, of trusting in and relying on the masses, of encouraging a break-out of mass struggle in defiance of the authority of the state and of right-wing trade union officialdom – was new to many who had not been led through similar processes of struggle in recent decades. At public events we were able to draw on the lessons of the O’Shea Penal Powers struggle (led by the Communist Party of Australia (M-L)) as a concrete illustration of working class struggle independent of bourgeois parliament and courts. We pointed out the importance of raising political class consciousness in the long preparations and final victory of this mass struggle. Our Party has a rich history of mass work, of integrating revolutionary theory with day to day practice in the workplace and the community, and we should never let it be forgotten.
Just as the aforementioned works and activities have been the result of collective effort, so have the main Congress documents. The General Program has been in circulation in draft form for months, with members of the Central Committee suggesting changes and improvements. So too with the Fighting Program and to a lesser extent, because of time constraints, this Political Report. We have also undertaken consultation on both draft Programs with friends and supporters of the Party, inviting their comments and suggestions. This enabled us to engage in deeper discussions with non-party members in analysing current conditions and our ideology and practical work. These consultations outside the Party have resulted in positive comments and improvements to the Fighting Program.
The General Program of the Party has been restructured to improve the flow around major topic areas, and for the first time, specific items such as First Peoples, Women, Youth and the Environment have been given their own space. The significance of this may not be readily apparent to the casual reader of the Program, but it signifies a genuine commitment to more consciously undertake work in each of these areas. The low level of interest in our material and the Party by women workers is a serious cause for concern. For example, only 12% of the “Likes” on our Facebook page are by women compared to 85% by men (the 3% unidentified by gender are probably those FB users who have not provided that information on themselves or who reject male/female gender identity). The same proportions (13% and 84%) hold for followers of our page. That is despite the fact that 23% of those “reached” by our page are women, compared to 75% who are men. So, our challenge with women in particular is to make the content of publications and propaganda work of greater relevance to working women, and that means doing more than the annual International Women’s Day article. It means our material and work needs to connect the practical day to day lives and struggles of working class women to the revolutionary perspectives of socialism.
If some of the above seems to overemphasise theoretical and written work, it is important to realise that as a Communist Party we do not make bourgeois distinction/difference/separation between workers and theoreticians. All work is of equal importance for building the party and the revolutionary movement and we expect comrades to contribute in all areas of our work. Some make greater contributions by way of practical work, whilst others contribute internally. We respect all our comrades' work.
We have addressed environmental issues in our material. We have drawn on the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) and Cde Stefan Engel’s Catastrophe Alert – really the first comprehensive attempt to look at capitalism’s environmental vandalism from a scientific socialist viewpoint. It argues the case for protection of the environment to be carried out under the leadership of the organised working class, both its mass organisation in the form of unions and community groups, and its vanguard organisation in the form of the Party.
During Ged Kearney’s time at the ACTU, t-shirts were produced and leaflets printed declaring that “Climate Change is Union Business”. This was a progressive sentiment and we should try to keep the organised working class involved with actions around climate change. They are the only class that can stop capitalism’s destructive approach to the living planet. Environmental issues enable us to make connections with young people, particularly those high school students becoming involved in climate change rallies in quite large numbers. It is important that as potential entrants, over the next couple of years, into the workforce, they see a connection between unions and environmental activism.
Environmental activism opens doors for developing sympathetic and complementary relations between farmers and workers. Worker-farmer unity was an objective of Australian Communists from early in the history of our revolutionary movement. Now workers and farmers more clearly face each other’s enemies: giant miners that demand unsustainable levels of water at the expense of pastoralists and others; corporations involved in fracking that pollutes and degrades farmland; speculators in water trading and upstream cotton and rice growers who steal and otherwise misuse water needed by people throughout the Murray-Darling Basin and down to the Coorong; big oil companies threatening fisheries and oyster-growers in the Great Australian Bight; proponents of nuclear waste dumps in areas anywhere other than the suburbs that the rich and their kept politicians live in. The worker-farmer unity directed at these big local and overseas corporations is at the same time a unity that depends on First Peoples and supports their just demands for Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs.
A further change from previous programs has been the decision to place less emphasis on the phrase “the two-stage theory of the Australian revolution”. The content of that phrase remains as the essence of our theory and strategy of how to develop revolution in the conditions of Australia. The phrase itself though, is rather clumsy and has contributed to the view, alleged by some, that we are bourgeois nationalists, essentially striving for a new democratic bourgeois state freed from imperialist domination and control. Another area of confusion is associated with the CPA’s use of the phrase “two-stage theory” to denote a primary stage of democratic reform and achievement from which a secondary stage of transition to socialism will emerge.
It should be clear as a bell that this is our strategy in Australia’s revolutionary process to achieve socialism. It is important that the strategy does not become an end in itself, or that anti-imperialist independence is inadvertently separated from socialism. We should be careful not to leave ourselves open to misinterpretation and distortions of our position.
The people and their view of the future
Investigating where the people are at is the basis of our mass work. The best-selling book in Australia last year was Scott Pape’s The Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You’ll Ever Need. Last year it sold 524,096 copies, nearly twice as many as the second-highest best-seller at 268,376. It was the second year in succession that it had topped the best-seller list. Altogether, in a country of 24 million adults and children it has sold more than one million copies, probably around one for every ten adults. Its author says it is not “a wealth creation book which will make you a millionaire. It’s about security.” We don’t know the class origins of its million purchasers, but recently released figures suggest that most low-income earners are spending between one and two hours a week just trying to manage family finances. Working and middle class people turning to a book like this for help with financial insecurity are still tied to a perceptual knowledge of capitalist economy. They are not looking for guidance from the revolutionary movement, but for guidance for individual salvation and long-term security. They were probably amongst that section of the community spooked by the Coalition’s attacks on Labor proposals on franking credits and negative gearing during the recent federal election. They perceive that their future is uncertain, but still cling to a hope for a future for themselves and their offspring within the current system. Ideologically, if they are workers, they comprise part of the backward and middle elements of our class and we need to know how to raise their ideological level so that they join the advanced elements and contribute to our movement.
If our analysis and views are to provide a guide for people then we have to come to terms with what underpins the changes to perception. Financial insecurity, combined with low union density in the labour market are bound up together. Raising their ideology to the point of joining our movement requires our movement to give them cause to do so. We need to provide explanations for financial insecurity and for declining union density, along with its consequences, in order to offer an alternative. How we present our immediate demands to workers at the various levels of ideological understanding within the working class is something to which we should pay attention.
We stand against the tide of bourgeois individualism systematically promoted by the ruling class. Such individualism, which encourages people to put their own interests before others’, to deny their social position as members of definite classes, to look for solutions to problems that don’t embrace unity with others in the same situation, is poison to the people. It allows them to be manipulated. It undermines the collective culture that is essential to the ability of workers and their allies to organise and act as a class for their own interests. Collective culture is the foundation on which action is built. We stand for workers as a class. Building this sense of collective working class culture must be a high priority in the coming period.
At that higher level of understanding are the active members of organisations such as the Anti-Poverty Network, Fair Go for Pensioners, some public housing groups and other grass roots organisations. It is part of the ruling class’s attack on working people that a reserve army of labour – unemployed or in precarious employment -is maintained. Workers who try to fight for improvements on the job are threatened by the sack and take that threat seriously because others want the work. Those others are kept in a state of abject dependence by the Newstart Allowance which has been effectively frozen for 25 years. Welfare recipients are further threatened by compulsory income management in a number of regions, particularly those with a high First Peoples population. Anti-poverty activists are doing a great job in organising around these issues and need our ongoing support.
Casualisation, insecure work, labour hire and replacement of local workers with low paid and intensely exploited migrant workers, destruction of local maritime, shipping and manufacturing industries are occupying the minds and work of workers and unions. These are the effects of imperialism.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus has pointedly tapped into the widespread feeling of an unfairness embedded in contemporary Australia society in her little book On Fairness. But she does not go so far as to say that capitalism can never be fair for workers. Such an understanding represents a leap from perceptual to rational knowledge and will only be encouraged by those with a revolutionary commitment to a socialist future. We have made our views on the Change the Rules campaign initiated by McManus and the ACTU clear: we are for it, but changing the rules really requires changing the system. The task for our Party comrades and supporters is to keep that perspective before the workers. That campaign must free the working class to use its organised industrial strength to take on the ruling class – it must not result in strengthening either the legal processes of arbitration or dependency on social-democratic favours coming from the parliamentary arena. It should target Fair Work Australia, the Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission – all of which attack the rights of workers and contain massive financial penalties on individual workers and unions.
The re-election of the Coalition government will embolden the more reactionary sections of the ruling class, including their representatives within the Labor Party. We must prepare the people for further attacks. It is good that McManus has stated that the election result is “a hurdle, but it is not a reason to back down.” However, her vision is limited to a fight for “fairness”: the ideology of trade unionism cannot go beyond this essentially bourgeois conception. The need to run a campaign to change the political and industrial rules as an independent working class movement was not made a mass question in the lead up to the election. The campaign did not put pressure on the ALP but rather encouraged reliance on it. The Labor Party as a party of social democracy cannot build movements that lead away from the promise of high parliamentary office.
The integration of the trade union leadership into the parliamentary and social democratic objectives of the Labor Party restrains and puts a break on independent working class agenda and struggle and revolutionary class consciousness. Our comrades involved in working class struggles have set themselves the task of collectively studying and investigating conditions of working class struggle and develop a style of work that encourages working class militancy and revolutionary class consciousness.
To repeat: our Party is in a good place, but we need to make it even better. Good work is being done on a number of fronts, not all of which can be acknowledged in a public report such as this. Good work requires the guidance of theory, and theory – the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong and E.F. Hill (for an Australian perspective) - must be studied, tested and developed further through practice. So long as we keep to a good Communist style of work, are engaged in people’s struggles, and are firm in our understanding of Marxist-Leninist ideology and its integration into Australian conditions, we will continue to grow and to serve the people in struggle.