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Issue #1714      December 9, 2015

Open letter

The spirit of intolerance

I write in response to the article carried in The Australian of December 2 by Jennifer Oriel under the heading “Malcolm Turnbull must take note of the Menzies strategy”. The proselytising piece rehashed many of the biases held by the political right regarding international relations and jihadism and so came as no surprise. But the suggestion that “Menzies fought communism by preparing the Communist Party Dissolution Act in 1950,” was an unusual and ugly blast from the past.

The claims that “The Act aimed at thwarting the communist threat to Australia’s sovereignty by blocking its path to political legitimacy”, “Menzies identified communist ideology with the intent to ‘assist or accelerate the coming of a revolutionary situation’ by subverting the state’s security apparatus, defence capabilities and vital industries” and that “He rightly classified the subversive strategy as treason,” are nasty and inaccurate pieces of vilification that deserve examination and condemnation.

Firstly, Menzies did try to ban the CPA in 1950 with the above-mentioned Act but it was soon struck down by the High Court as unconstitutional. Undaunted, “Pig Iron Bob” held a referendum in 1951 to remove the legal obstacles to banning the Party. The people of Australia voted the reactionary power grab down.

On the question of “subverting” industry, etc, there was a Royal Commission held in Victoria in 1949-50 into the activities of the Communist Party. The Commissioner, Sir Charles John, found that trade union officials from the CPA were elected because of their strenuous efforts in defence of workers’ rights, pay and conditions and that no strategy to bring forward the collapse of the economy and, thereby a revolutionary situation, existed.

It is true that the Party’s General Secretary of the time, Lance Sharkey, was jailed for sedition for comments reported in the media. These are the words that put him behind bars as a lesson to others:

“If Soviet forces in pursuit of aggressors entered Australia, Australian workers would welcome them. Australian workers would welcome Soviet forces pursuing aggressors as the workers welcomed them throughout Europe when the Red troops liberated the people from the power of the Nazis.

“Invasion of Australia by forces of the Soviet Union seems very remote and hypothetical to me. I believe the Soviet Union will only go to war if she is attacked and if she is attacked I cannot see Australia being invaded by Soviet troops. The job of Communists is to struggle to prevent war and to educate the mass of people against the idea of war.

“The Communist Party also wants to bring the working class to power, but if fascists in Australia use force to prevent workers gaining that power, Communists will advise workers to meet force with force.”

Rather than learning history’s actual lessons and condemning Menzies’ baseless smearing of Australian Communists, Jennifer Oriel has suggested his spirit of intolerance should be resurrected. Unfortunately for us, that spirit never went away and it is evident with the attacks currently levelled against trade unions and the Australian Muslim community. Thankfully, most Australians aren’t buying the snake oil. Like the CPA, they support multiculturalism and reject these attempts to divide us.

Bob Briton
General Secretary
Communist Party of Australia

Next article – Fightback against gambling corporations

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