The Guardian 19 October, 2005
CPA 10th Congress:
delegates have their say
Delegates to the 10th Congress of the Communist Party of Australia took full advantage of the opportunity provided in the Party’s Constitution to raise a wide range of issues and concerns. Delegates from across the country spoke about the drafts of the Political Resolution and Program being considered by the meeting, about their activity in their trade unions and community organisations and the work of their Party Branch. They also spoke frankly about where the Party needs to improve its work and where its focus should be in the period leading up to the next Congress.
Support for Program
Several delegates used their speaking time to explain what the Political Resolution and updated Program would add to their political work. Eddie Clynes — from the Blacktown Branch of the CPA — expanded on the need for the CPA to raise its profile and show leadership in the various struggles developing against the anti-worker, anti-people policies of the Howard Government:
"In our deliberations at this Congress, many contributions have illustrated the campaigns we are involved in and spoken of the need to "raise the party’s profile". There is much valuable work being done. There has also been mentioned the need for the Party to ‘play a leading role’ or for the Party to ‘give leadership’.
"These propositions need careful consideration and interpretation, because we as a party have something to offer which no other left group or party claiming to be ‘communist’, offers.
"To raise the Party’s profile or to give leadership does not just mean to be the best campaigner or to lead the campaign in an organisational way, but to give political leadership, which must essentially entail talking about a way forward.
"I am talking about raising our party’s strategy for social change as the key component, the most essential feature of our contribution, which is usually described as exercising our leading role or raising the Party’s profile.
"If we don’t raise the Party’s strategy for social change, we don’t essentially add anything to the struggle for change, not the "struggle", but the "struggle for change".
"I am not just talking about raising the goal of socialism, although we must do this a lot more, showing the benefits and advantages of a socialist system for people’s lives ... but we must not dwell on socialism in the abstract, as if it will just happen one day.
"We need, as Peter Symon said when reporting to Congress on the work of the Central Committee, to realise, as the ruling class has done, the necessity of a ‘step-by-step’ approach to achieve our objectives.
"Our strategy for change is based on stages of struggle; the ‘one-fell-blow’ theory of socialism never was a reality.
"Yes, we have to build working-class unity and people’s unity, to build alliances of social forces opposed to monopoly and imperialism and our key structural achievement in social reconstruction — aggroupment of forces if you like — is the achievement of a people’s government."
Eddie noted that just such a people’s government is developing today in Venezuela and that the Party needs to talk more about this outstanding example of the gains that can be made in the struggle against the monopolies and imperialism.
Solidarity and internationalism
Vinnie Molina reported on the growth in the CPA’s Perth Branch in Western Australia and the involvement of its members in the industrial relations campaign being waged by their unions. "In the new wave of industrial relations changes, Branch members have been active in some cases by giving leadership in campaign committees or on the streets shoulder to shoulder with the people on the ground. Leaflets are distributed, the ones produced by the National Office as well as those produced locally by the Branch", Vinnie said.
At several points in his contribution, he noted the global context of changes taking place in Australia and how this aspect of the anti-imperialist struggle has been reflected in the work of his Branch. "We recently remembered Chile, ‘The other September 11’. Many people attended and drew lessons from that event in 1973 in which fascist legislation was introduced and destroyed democratic and civil rights. The attendees listened to the Chilean guest speaker’s comparison between Pinochet’s labour legislation introduced straight after the military coup with Howard’s industrial and anti-terror legislation."
Vinnie underscored the dual importance of solidarity work for the Party — important to the people engaged in struggle in other countries and to Australians as an example of the gains that can be made even in the most adverse conditions:
"The Branch also gives leadership to the solidarity work with the struggles of other peoples of the world; in particular with socialist Cuba and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. In this regard Branch members have leading roles in the local ACFS [Australian Cuba Friendship Society] and work together in joint solidarity functions.
"We are currently involved in the international campaign to free the Cuban Five. Five young Cubans illegally detained by the US government even after successfully appealed before the 11th Court of appeals in Atlanta which quashed their convictions and ordered a new trial."
Active in their communities
A number of delegates reported on their work in the community. Mark Hayward from the Perth Branch, spoke about his union work and the struggle there against privatisation of the public health system.
"The union to which I belong, the LHMU has successfully negotiated a return to the state sector of almost all of the previously privatised parts of the public health care system. These include catering, housekeeping and security and indeed entire hospitals….
"The workers in our public health care system have seen privatisation before. It was introduced in the early ’90s by the Court Government. The results were AWAs, lower wages, poor moral, poor food quality and dirty hospitals…
"A publicly-owned health care system is the best way to provide an open and effective and efficient system of health delivery."
Denis Doherty of the Port Jackson Branch in Sydney made a number of points about his work in the peace movement, including the need for the CPA to increase the impact of its message about the $60 million a day cost of the Australian military. Denis was one of a group of about 70 activists who journeyed to Rockhampton in June to confront the huge joint Australian-US military exercise called "Talisman Sabre".
Denis pointed to the huge drain the $60 million a day makes on the well being of the community.
"In the Australian education system there are 3.2 million students, 250,000 teachers and 90,000 schools. Yet the Australian military attracts more funding than Education. The military have less than 10,000 members, but their equipment is extremely and exorbitantly expensive."
Panos (Peter) Stamatopoulos
Panos (Peter) Stamatopoulos outlined the challenges faced by progressive forces in the Greek community in Victoria but expressed confidence that their influence will grow. He chairs the Greek Committee of Friends of KKE (the Communist Party of Greece) and the CPA. "We have a radio program with 3ZZZ every Thursday morning from 8:00 to 9:00 which I present, and the response from the Greek community is very encouraging and positive", he told the Congress.
Janice Hamilton of Illawarra Branch (South Coast, NSW) also spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities presented by community radio. Her Branch presents a weekly community radio program called Struggle Street. The program goes to air at 5 pm every Saturday and can be heard in parts of Sydney.
"Struggle Street has a number of segments broken up by revolutionary working class folk music. These include:
What’s wrong with Capitalism?
The news that Rupert and Kerry will never report.
Who is/was she? The background of a woman who has made a contribution to the working class or revolutionary movements.
Industrial report — discussion of items from The Guardian and Workers Online and discuss.
Corridor Chat where we talk about the week’s events.
Like other Branches involved in community radio, Janice’s Branch does not only report on the struggle:
"The Branch has been involved in many local campaigns including local environmental campaigns such as Sandon Point which has been reported on over the last few years in The Guardian. Branch members were also heavily involved in the election of the first ever Green member of the House of Representatives in the Federal Parliament. In June 2003, the Branch joined a local coalition of trade union, Green other progressive people called the Active Community Team.
"In terms of party campaigns we have been actively involved in the Save Medicare Campaign where Branch members hit the streets and handed out the party’s Save Medicare booklet and asked people to sign the Party’s petition."
Dean Turner from Melbourne has found his local progress association an effective channel for part of his political activity:
"The Preston-Reservoir Progress Association is recognised by both our Council and the State Government as a force to be reckoned with, particularly after such campaigns as the fight to retain Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, to return local, elected government after the Kennett Government threw it out and, recently, a vigorous and ongoing campaign to oppose the proposed industrial relations legislation.
"We have pursued issues such as the defence of David Hicks, opposition to the Free Trade Agreement, support for a Bill of Rights and many other campaigns, including the Defend and Extend Medicare campaign…
"Some Progress Associations deal only with local issues. Some of the ways the Association makes itself heard is by letter-writing, lodging petitions, canvassing support through stalls and attending public meetings. Someone once said that Progress Associations are the heart and conscience of the community; ours certainly is."
Many of the delegates’ contributions dealt with the question of recruitment, particularly among young people. Marie Lean of the South Australian State Committee noted that there is still a lot to learn from the past experience of the Communist movement and the CPA’s own history.
Steve Mavrantonis of the Party’s relatively new Beloyiannis Branch spoke about the early successes he and his comrades have had in attracting members from the Greek community. He urged all Party organisations to give recruitment a very high priority:
"This task is not as difficult as it may seem. It requires planned, collective efforts by all Party Branches. Some four months ago our Branch decided to draw a list of potential recruits and allocated specific responsibility to some members to go and talk to these people with the aim of recruiting them to the Party.
"The end result was that we recruited five new members and a number of others are now being pursued and we hope to recruit them soon.
"It can be done, Comrades, it requires a consistent and planned drive by party organisations."
Bob Briton of Port Adelaide Branch noted that young people especially are now time poor as well as cash poor. "Everybody seems to be studying nowadays, either to get a job, to get a different job that pays reasonably or just to hang on to the job they’ve got. They work bits and pieces of casual work to keep it going financially. Younger recruits often don’t know if they’ll be available on the night of the next Branch meeting."
"Despite these problems, Port Branch has recruited an average of one new member a month over the last 12 months by following up every enquiry to the Party about membership or joint activity."
Other delegates reported significant success with their recruiting efforts but noted the difficulties in attracting large numbers of younger people. Cultural factors were cited by a number of delegates. Nathan Morris of Newcastle Branch pointed out that many youth are aware of the very negative trends in the mainstream consumer culture and that they could be brought into struggle about the issues involved:
"Capitalism has reached a point where it has the ability to commercialise culture. This is shown most powerfully by Hollywood’s hegemony in the movie industry. This promotes a lot of things which are damaging to the many cultures of the world. It promotes unrealistic body images. These body images are impossible to meet and require people to change bodies, even with surgery. The Hollywood movie industry also promotes false ideas about other races and cultures. It relies on stereotypes to attract its audience."
Andrew Jackson of the Sydney Central Branch also listed some of the adverse cultural conditions facing the Party in its efforts to recruit among the youth:
"We live in Australia where the popular culture encourages consumerism, individualism and anarchism. It is a society where culture is not used to raise the youth up, but to drag them down to the lowest common denominator.
"It is a culture where a vote in an online poll — such as ‘do you agree with John Howard’s refugee policies — yes or no’ — is considered a form of activism. ‘Oh, I don’t agree with them, I’ll vote no. Wow, 68 percent of Australians agree with me! Well, that’s my activism for today — I’m worn out. I might go and watch Australian Idol now and vote on that too."
Andrew stressed that work among the youth is more important than ever:
"As communists we must be aware that the youth remain the most exploited section of our workforce. The youth of today don’t know what an ‘Award’ is. All they know is they turn up at a new job, sign an Individual Contract that allows the boss to call them into work at any time 24 hours a day, seven days a week and pay them below-poverty wages.
"And comrades, under Howard’s new Industrial Relations legislation this situation will only worsen. We have a historic responsibility to the youth of this country to ensure that doesn’t happen."
Thalia Anthony described the Federal Government’s Voluntary Student Unionism legislation as an attack on the collective, democratic culture that still exists on Australian university campuses. She urged the CPA to give resistance to this threat the priority it warrants:
"Both nationally and on each university campus, students are part of a democratic and collective culture. This is a culture that organises politically. It assists a range of clubs and societies, including the Marxist Club which a number of young members of the Communist Party were involved in running. They also provide student newspapers, legal services that protect students’ academic rights and help students financially. They provide sporting activities, entertainment, catering and leisure facilities.
"Student unions are also a good training ground for developing collective values that students can take with them into the workforce and throughout their lives. Without compulsory student unionism, the ability for students to organise and develop collective values will be severely threatened."
Confident in the face of challenges
In describing the many challenges facing Australia’s workers and other oppressed people, delegates expressed their confidence that the Party would step up and play its part in the growing resistance to the capitalist onslaught. Michael Beatty from WA added a gift to Congress to his report on his Branch work — a plaque of Marri wood varnished and smoothed to a high gloss. Michael described what is shown on the plaque:
"The CPA flag — it will always be the red flag regardless of the symbols — with all of its history. We should never forger its depth of meaning. We should restore its place in the world. There is the Eureka flag; uniquely Australian and which needs no explanation of the importance and respect of its history."
It also bears the chorus of a song well-known in the labour movement. It could be said to sum up the spirit of resistance coming from the CPA’s 10th Congress very well:
Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.