Communist influence in the Australian Labor party
Some interesting history below by the ultimate Communist insider, Mark Aarons. Mark inherited leadership of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) from his father Laurie and not long afterwards wound the party up. Outside the universities, Communism is now dead in Australia. It is interesting that Mark does not defend the CPA below -- probably to protect his present high status in the Labor Party. The vile things he has written about the Vatican suggest that his underlying views are still Soviet-style.
From all that I know of the matter, however, I think Mark's basic point that the influence of Communism on the Labor party was indirect and confined to a small minority is correct. And I did have a fair bit to do with Communists (AND the DLP) in the period concerned, for one reason or another. In fact Mark and I were taking out sisters at one stage. That was when he still had hair
THE relationship between the ALP and the Communist Party was complex. Bob Carr has revised his view of Labor Party history based on my recently published book The Family File. But he pushes it too far.
The ASIO files demonstrate that important figures in the ALP Left were dual members of the Communist Party of Australia. That does not support Carr's conclusion that the "impetus" for policy positions advocated by the ALP Left originated entirely with such people.
There has always been a strong Labor Left, both before and after there was a CPA (1920-91). Most such members pursued policies during the Cold War because they believed in them, not because they were so instructed by secret communists. My reading of well over 100,000 pages of ASIO files reveals scant evidence of a direct connection, although there were ties between some CPA leaders and ALP members who were completely loyal to their party.
One such relationship was between my father, Laurie Aarons, and Tom Uren, who long ago publicly acknowledged Laurie as a significant influence, along with "Weary" Dunlop, among others. Carr quotes me as accepting "Uren's denial" that he was a CPA member. The position is much clearer: in Uren's ASIO file I found one agent's report claiming he had been a CPA member from 1948 to 1958. If that were true there most certainly would have been other reports from that period, as in similar files. ASIO's coverage of the CPA at this time was ubiquitous; it would have been impossible to hide Uren's "membership" from ever-present agents and telephone bugs. The official record substantiates Uren's denial.
Uren was undoubtedly influenced by the ideas of some communists, but many of these were positive: for example, his pioneering work for the environment. Jack Mundey's green bans stimulated Uren's thinking, and rightly so.
The period leading up to and after the Labor split of 1955 was more complex than Carr's version. I recently made the point to him that during the first half of the 1950s the battle inside the ALP was really between two unpalatable opposites: Bob Santamaria's attempt to impose a somewhat medieval, rural-based Catholic social policy on the ALP, and the communists' effort to build a powerful base to shift the ALP Left from "reformism" to "revolution".
Carr's critique of Bert Evatt, and his endorsement of the Democratic Labor Party's anti-Labor position in the 50s and 60s are oversimplifications. After he became ALP leader in 1951, Evatt maintained an alliance with Santamaria's forces against the Labor Left. Santamaria's "movement" was established in 1941 as a "mirror image" of the CPA, thus inheriting some of its Stalinist characteristics. It was an official arm of the Catholic Church, working with the ALP Industrial Groups to defeat communists in trade unions.
Evatt's decision to repudiate this alliance arose because he believed that Santamaria had reneged on an improbable deal: in return for delivering the Catholic vote at the 1954 election, which he expected to win, Evatt would accept Santamaria's conception of what sort of party Labor should be. As revealed in Gerard Henderson's book Mr Santamaria and the Bishops, as early as 1952 Santamaria had declared that he had the power to turn the ALP into a Catholic party, based on his own narrow "Christian social program". But after Labor lost in 1954, Evatt renounced Santamaria and did a deal with the Left.
Evatt was the architect of his own defeat, propounding the conspiracy theory about the Petrov royal commission and declaring there was no espionage because the Soviet government said so. The commission's conclusions about the KGB spy ring, operated by CPA member Wally Clayton, were actually understated. Clayton's confession to Laurie Aarons, revealed in my book, lays the conspiracy theory to rest.
Carr's revision of history lacks nuance. The DLP, which he now praises, was not simply "anti-communist". Contrary to his denials, Santamaria controlled both the DLP and the National Civic Council, which was established after Rome decreed that the "movement" breached doctrine about the separation of the church from the political activities of Catholics. The DLP pursued both anti-communism and Santamaria's Catholic "social program". The NCC also had a clandestine and well-organised presence in the ALP, despite being proscribed, like the CPA. Indeed, it was far better organised, for several decades running sophisticated intelligence operations, which provided invaluable material to ASIO.
As Carr correctly says, his NSW Right faction emerged victorious in the battle that raged for 50 years between Left and Right extremes. This faction has been dominant, both in NSW and federally, precisely because of its pragmatic view that it was better to hang on to power than pursue ideological chimeras, Left or Right. Carr quotes former prime minister Paul Keating as correctly identifying the communist influence in the ALP. More recently, however, Keating has slammed his old faction, the NSW Right, for lacking "an ideology other than the pursuit of power". What a pity that Ben Chifley's "Light on the Hill" has come to that.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).