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Issue #1703      September 23, 2015

Rich history

How many Australians have learnt about kings and queens, the Fertile Crescent or the First and Second World Wars at school, but very little about the history of Australia? Let alone the history of the labour movement? Yet the labour movement in Australia has an extremely rich and important history in which the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) has played an important role.

The history of the Communist Party of Australia was the main topic of a National School held on the weekend of September 12-13 in Sydney. Members from around Australia took part, a number of them with immigrant backgrounds and a range of ages.

The importance of knowing our history was emphasised. “A movement without a knowledge of its history is like a man without a memory – liable to commit the same mistakes over and over again,” as Joe Harris wrote in the foreword to The Bitter Fight: a pictorial history of the Australian labor movement. (University of Queensland Press, 1970)

The first session, led by Anna Pha, looked at the period up to 1929 commencing with the early struggles of trade unions, the conditions that led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party and the emergence of a number of socialist parties. The period covered significant events and policies including Federation, referenda for conscription in 1915 and 1917, the White Australia policy, formation of ACTU and Lenin’s remarks on the ALP.

This provided the context for the formation of the CPA on October 30, 1920 – “a party of a new type” based on Lenin’s teachings. It concluded with the timber workers’ strike in 1929.

The second session, led by Bob Briton, set the context with students contributing their knowledge of international and national developments during the 1930s. These included the Great Depression, the Militant Minority Movement, the wharfies’ refusal to load the Dalfram with iron for Japan, evictions, New Theatre, Solidarity with Spain, Workers’ Defence League and much more.

A few topics were singled out for group work, with students reporting back on what they were given to read. For group work personal anecdotes from the Depression were discussed.

On the Sunday morning Anna Pha continued with the 1940s, another rich period of struggle with the CPA playing a leading role in the trade union movement and campaigns on national issues and international solidarity. The format was the same as the previous sessions with group work and reports looking at the role of the CPA and the relevance to today.

The final session with Bob Briton was a hands-on exercise in how to write a media release. After looking at some basic principles and given some details for a press release, the class worked in small groups to do drafts. It proved to be not as easy as it looks!

The two days passed too quickly and really only scratched the surface of so many significant events. It is hoped that the school will have stimulated interest and result in further reading. The study of the Party’s history will be continued next year.

Next article – Bolivarian left poses major challenge to capitalism

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