An independent forum of strategy, tactics and history in the Australian left, green and labour movements
The CPA and the left
By Denis Freney
Letter to The Old Mole, No 4, July 20, 1970
Comms wipeout read the poster advertising the last Old Mole on Sydney campus. Leaving aside the anti-communism involved in that particular piece of publicity, it was a curious "wipeout" when at least a third of the pages of your paper were involved in attacks on the Communist Party in one form or another.
The piece de resistance, so to speak, was of course, comrade Bob Gould's, and it is with that I wish to mainly deal. I will ignore the gratuitous personal insults Gould splatters about him. Personally, I find it rather something of pride to be noted for my production of revolutionary material. It is a pity that others were not as prolific.
As the title inferred, the main line of Gould's attack was that the "honeymoon" between the CPA and the "ultralefts", such as Laver, at the Left Action Conference a year ago, was "over".
The Left Action Conference, for Bob, was marked by "verbal hot air" about "occupation of the factories", "action committees for dual power", etc.
I, and the CPA, as revealed in its documents and action, do not however believe that was "hot air", but rather key to a revolutionary strategy. I believe Brian Laver also still believes in that position.
The CPA has been carrying out a continuous educational campaign among its unionist militants and sympathisers for a revolutionary strategy in the unions, outlined particularly in the congress document, Modern Unionism, around the demand for workers' control, occupation as a tactic, rank-and-file action committees around such things as the Moratorium, etc.
Moreover, in strikes, and particularly in the very important builders' labourers strike last month, that strategy was applied in a militant fashion — including, note, occupation of building sites worked by scabs.
Interestingly enough, Gould nowhere mentions the builders' labourers strike, even though he knows the BLF secretary, Jack Mundey, is also Sydney district CPA president.
Gould and Resistance did not carry out a single action in solidarity with the BLF. So much for the "hot air" of the worker-student alliance.
The "thunderous applause" Gould sneers at, for these calls for occupation, etc, at the Left Action Conference, was a very important sign of the revolutionary growth of the movement. Gould, of course, is essentially a conservative political animal and finds all this "ultraleft" and "adventurist" — as do, by the way, his allies in conservatism, the pro-Soviet, Stalinist opposition inside the Communist Party.
While grudgingly admitting that the congress documents of the "Aarons faction" were better than those of the "Neanderthal Stalinist opponents in the CPA", Bob weeps many a tear for the Stalinists who are about to be expelled, so we are told, for "factionalism".
Comrade Gould is well aware that there is no more democratically functioning party in the world than the CPA. Not a single person has been expelled for the past five years.
There is full freedom of tendency around ideas. But there is not, and can never be, in any party, room for a fully organised party within a party, with its separate paper, separate centre, separate discipline, aimed at sabotaging party decisions. That is what is happening, and it can never be tolerated anywhere, by anyone.
But the main question is political: the Stalinists remain crass apologists for the bureaucratic dictatorships in the USSR and Eastern Europe, and extremely conservative on unions, the antiwar movement, students and other planes.
Robert Gould's main attack is, however, centred on the antiwar movement. He commits his first error when he misinterprets the decision of the last Left Action Conference on the NLF. Bob says: "Laver moved a resolution that all future antiwar activity should have as its central proposition "Support the NLF of South Vietnam". The Aarons faction supported this (according to Gould).
In fact, the resolution that was carried reads: "That this conference for Left Action endorse the proposal that there should be a strenuous campaign for support of the program of the Vietnamese NLF, which includes the withdrawal of Australian and all foreign troops, as a strategic action this year."
A dispute arose over what should be the mobilising slogans for the December 15 demonstration organised by Resistance last year. In fact, what I and others advocated was the inclusion of "Support the NLF" in the demo slogans. Gould not only opposed that, but opposed the production of a poster with that slogan. The YSL and others subsequently went ahead and produced such a poster.
But the basic argument has been missed by Gould. I have written many times (in International and Tribune) over the past year that there is little point in having small, basically vanguard, demonstrations of 1000 or 2000 (as December 15 turned out) around minimal slogans of "withdraw all troops now". Therefore anti-imperialist slogans should be an integral part of such calls to demonstrations, and the main propaganda be anti-imperialist propaganda, aimed at raising the level of awareness of the mass antiwar movement.
That is what I and other advocated on December 15, and what we practised on July 3. It should be noted that Bob Gould opposed anti-imperialism being the keynote for July 3, and when it was accepted virtually boycotted the whole campaign.
I wrote in December 1969 that only when we had more than 10,000 in the street could we begin to talk of a mass demonstration. I then first put forward the concept of a "general national strike against the war and conscription" and that "if all other conditions are fulfilled we can win major victory in April (then the date of the Moratorium) by mobilising in the streets many thousands, and of even achieving the goal set of a quarter of a million … but it also provides the possibility and the absolute necessity of mobilising large numbers around the more revolutionary slogan of "victory to the NLF" and raising the whole consciousness of the class by injecting this concept into the struggle".
There is no contradiction, except for the simple-minded, between vanguard mobilisation around anti-imperialist slogans, and that vanguard leading (and not handing it over to liberal and reformist elements) the mass movement around limited, but correct slogans such as "immediate withdrawal"; both are complementary and one without the other will lead to either ultraleftism or opportunism.
The CPA, therefore, has agreed and still does agree, with the "ultralefts" such as Brian Laver that injecting anti-imperialist demands into the struggle is an absolute prerequisite. We disagree with the sectarian way they want to do this, and their contempt for the mass of workers and students who support withdrawal or even shout "peace now".
We will work with the Lavers and others to inject anti-imperialism into the mass movement, but will reject them when they do so in a sectarian way, or when they reject the mass movement (not to say that Brian Laver was the only one in the wrong in the "Laver incident", which Gould and co now seek to exploit in their crusade against the "Aarons Stalinists").
If that principled and dialectical policy constitutes a "somersault", well and good.
It is at this point, of course, that Gould's imagination takes over. Everywhere there are Stalinist plots. The radical students were "almost effortlessly elbowed aside" and the "CPA fronts" (shades of Willie Wentworth1) such as the AICD, "took complete physical control of the running of the Moratorium".
The answer to this distortion and lie is easily found.
For a small group of some 30 active members, Resistance has a very large proportion of the Moratorium secretariat. Yet as this went on, despite large attendances at Moratorium meetings and Gould's noisy disruption, the Resistance forces did next to nothing in the Moratorium. It is all very well to paint a picture of a takeover by AICD, but it is a fact that if AICD had not stepped into the gap there would have been a considerably less effective Moratorium. Gould himself immediately after the Moratorium paid tribute to the tremendous personal efforts and sacrifices made by AICD organisers such as Kim O'Hara, who carried the total technical and organisational work almost alone.
Gould's effrontery is evident when I can state without fear of contradiction that in Manly-Warringah alone much more propaganda material was distributed than by the whole of that "major section" of the antiwar movement, the "Resistance-Third World Bookshop complex".
How much physical work did Gould do? How much did the Percys? The lie of CPA-AICD liberals' "manipulation" is not easy to maintain because Gould, and a number of other signatories to the Open Letter did very little indeed.
The "independent" office barely functioned and cost a great deal of money to satisfy Gould's own manipulations. Gould has, since the Moratorium, been engaged in a frantic effort to take over the Moratorium, or if not, to separate the students into another mobilisation committee. This was his aim when he set out to develop the Student Mobilisation Committee. That failed due to the success of the Moratorium.
Gould has been hustling up support for his bid from all possible quarters. He has been running with his tales to the pro-Russian members of the CPA, to the Barry Robinsons, to the anarchist groupings, to Barricades, to his much-despised Maoists, to anyone who will be whipped up into a factional fury on the basis of primitive anti-communism.
But Gould's efforts have been in vain, although successfully disrupting two sponsors' meetings. His cry for a separate office is really hot air — the committee weeks ago commissioned one AICD supporter and a member of Resistance to find an office and conduct a cost analysis, to no avail (as yet). The AICD and most other sponsors would be quite happy if a reasonably priced and economically independent office could be established without ridiculous costs being involved. But some, without making independent inquiries, have swallowed Gould's line, hook, line and sinker.
The decisive factor for them was Gould's anti-Communist tales about it all being a "CPA plot".
That well-known socialist scholar Bob Gould is also critical of the lack of contributions to the Socialist Scholars Conference. Maybe he has some point, but them sometimes silence is golden, particularly when, like Bob, you have nothing to say except that we should all join the ALP. Bernie Taft and Eric Aarons can at least claim a volume of printed theoretical material, which (among overseas Marxists with no axes to grind) is treated as serious stuff. That Eric and Bernie were in for "continuous criticism" whenever they did speak, is not necessary a criterion for judgement. After all, Bob, with all his intellectual agility, was not exactly cheered to the echo when he offered forth his wisdom.
As for the CPA "boycotting" the conference, Communists made efforts to ensure that it was widely advertised by the CPA, particularly in the Australian Left Review, and that CPA representatives attended all meetings they were invited to.
Gould's version of the history of the Revolutionary Socialist Alliance is a typical distortion.
I personally took the initiative late in 1968 to attempt to get all revolutionary organisations and individuals linked in a loose alliance that would not claim to be a party but rather a forum and a means of joint action. The attempt failed due to Gould's insistence on domination and his disruption on the pattern we have seen repeatedly at Moratorium meetings. The final blow came with an 11th-hour sabotaging of the attempt to get headquarters in Goulburn Street, Sydney, in an attempt to work fraternally with Resistance, and with full agreement from Gould. Gould "moved in" and took the lease himself.
The most interesting thing about Bob's article is, of course, that he fails to reply to a single point of the critical analysis of the crisis in Resistance that I published in Tribune in June. We have offered to publish any reply Bob Gould would like to write. So far, not a word. Bob finds my analysis "bizarre" and "petulant".
Gould's crazy factionalism, his crude use of red-baiting and anti-Communism to win over people such as Robinson, the anarchists and anyone else he can whip up, including the CPA-Stalinist wing (who are closely consulted), is going to fail miserably because it is based on a whole fabric of lies and distortions.
It is the desperation of a man whose own political base in Resistance has collapsed and who is trying desperately to find allies in his hate campaign against the CPA. It is the last political fling of a man who has replaced political principles with opportunist manoeuvring and blocs.
Meanwhile, he provides amusement for those whose main interest is fun politics and a useful ally to those who, for their own purposes, want to prevent the real development of a revolutionary movement seriously engaged in mass politics.
Comments welcome. Ozleft
Since July 18, 2003