By Fr. Leo Donnelly, S.J.
COMMUNISM has become
perhaps the biggest issue in Australia today following the amazing Press revelations of English-born Cecil Sharpley, who, arm/. 14 years as an organiser for the COmmoniat Party, chiefly in the Trade Union field, resigned his post and wrote an extraordWarily candid confession of Communism'a inner workings.
Among the restilts of Sharpley's revelations have been the decision of the Victorian State Government to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Communism; the initiation of an Inquiry into Communist activities in Trade Unions by the Melbourne Trades Hall Council; inquiries into specific charges of Communist malpractice by a number of Trade Unions named by Sharpley; and a decision by the Liberal and Country Parties to demand banning of the Communist Party.
More significant, however, has been an amazing outburst of opposition to their Communist officials by thousands of rank and file members of Unions hitherto passive under Red control, while the Commonwealth Government has asked the Trade Union Movement and State Executives of the Labour Party for advice on legislation to prevent corrupt rigging of Trade Union ballots, which Sharpley revealed was widespread in the Communist Party's interests.
Reaction of Communist leaders has bordered on panic. A number of them have been roughly handled at union meetings, where once their word was law. Others have suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of members of the Labour Party cells or " Industrial Groups" formed by the Labour Party to fight Communism in the unions.
The Party's political leaders appear bewildered at the strong revulsion of feeling against them in a country where typical carelessness and apathy towards public affairs had allowed them almost a free hand. As a political force, Communism in Australia is dead: whether the very real power which it has exercised for years from its stranglehold on a number of powerftil Trade Unions will be lost, the next few months will tell.
The Foundation THE Australian Communist Party was founded in 1920, its first members consisting of recruits from Left-wing revolutionary organisations, including the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World), the One Big Union Movement and a breakaway section of the Socialist Party. Prominent in the formation of the new party was J. S. (Jock)
Garden, then Secretary of Sydney Trades and Labour Council, who soon after departed for Moscow to attend a Communist Congress there.
His return was followed by intense Communist activity and an attempt in 1923 and 1924 to infiltrate the Labour Tarty. The attempt Was rebuffed, and Labour Party members were prohibited from association with the Communist Party or advocacy of its policy.
The real growth of the Communist Party in Australia dates from the beginning of the depression period, when the then leaders, Kavanagh. Ryan, Higgins and King, were deposed by a secret emissary from Moscow on charges of lack of militancy and refusal to obey the orders of Stalin, who had just consolidated his victory over his rival for the dictatorship of Russia, Leon Trotsky. The Party was entrusted to J. B. Miles, a North of England Socialist, who had been Communist organiser in Queensland. Miles held the same position in Australia as Stalin in Russia. He was Secretary of the Communist Party. President was Lance Sharkey, who until that time bad not been over-prominent in the Party, although he claimed to have joined it in 1920, when it had only 300 members. Number three in the Party control was Robert Dixon, acclaimed as the leading theorist and intellectual of Australian Communism. He had formerly, under the name of Cliff Walker. been a railway porter at Lithgow, N.S.W. In a reorganisation last year, Miles was superannuated, and Sharkey and Dixon were promoted.
Miles, Sharkey and Dixon established the iron discipline which has characterised the Communist Party, since their own blind acceptance of Stalin's orders gained them his approval and their promotion to leadership. Typical of their ruthlessness was their expulsion from the Party of Ernest Thornton (now National Secretary of the Ironyorkers' Union), who was only readmitted after publishing an abject apology.
Moscow-Trained BAS'S of the success of the new control was training of leaders abroad and organisation at home particularly in the Unions. Among present-day leaders sent to Moscow in the late 'twenties and early 'thirties to study revolutionary organisation were Sharkey (1930 and 1935), Tom Wright (Fedeaal Secretary, Sheet Metal Workers' Union, Moscow 1927), Jim Healy (1-ederal Secretary, Waterside Workers' Union. Moscow 1934), Jack Blake (Victorian Communist President, Moscow 1930-32), L. Donald (Victorian Organiser, Moscow 1929-31), Stan Moran (N.S.W. Waterside
Workers' Union, Moscow 1933-35), Norman Jeffrey (Pastoral Workers, Moscow 1928), and many others.
The training process is still being carried on through youthful leaders of the Communist-sponsored Eureka Youth League, who are being sent abroad in regular batches.
Although the Communist Party claims only 15,000 members in Australia, it has no more difficulty in financing these expensive tours than it has in paying for its numerous and well-equipped offices all over Australia and its extensive staff of full-time organisers and its propaganda.
Following the Communist Party Congress in 1930. the first Moscow trainees to return devoted themselves in accordance with orthodox Leninist principles to work in the
Trade Unions. The Militant Minority movement was launched
aiming at formation in every Trade Union of a Communist cell, planning first to infiltrate and then dominate.
At first progress was slow, but when in 1935 Moscow ordered Communists in every country to water down or conceal the more unpleasant and uncompromising aspects of their policy, and instead advocate a United Front of pretended friendship for Social Democratic and Labour Parties, success was more rapidly and fully achieved. Commencing with the first big success in 1933, when Orr and Nelson, elected on the Communist ticket, took control of the Miners' Union, the Party has rolled up an impressive set of union victories to the credit of the Moscow technique.
The men from Moscow still run the Party in spite of the emergence into the limelight of newer and younger Communist union bosses like Brown (Railways), Row (Engineers), Hughes (Clerks), O'Shea (Tramways), and Thomson (Building Trades). For all their notoriety, these younger men are treated with scant respect by those who, like Wright or Sharkey, have actually worshipped at Stalin's shrine.
Finally, there is in the background the real leadership which is secret. In every country the Communist Party maintains behind its openly declared leaders a small unknown group in direct liaison with Moscow and conveying the Kremlin's orders on all vital aspects of policy. Such al group is required to take over, should the open leaders be laid by the heels as a result of a ban on the Communist Party. '
It will organise the Party's sabotage programme should war with Russia be followed by internment of Communist leaders. It is the job of Australia's Security Service to find these leaders of the Red Underground.
The Present Position THE report of the 15th National Congress of the Australian Communist Party, published in April, 1948, for circulation among trusted members only, contains the following statement: " At the end of 1945, the registered Party membership stood at 16.280. Comrade L. Donald informed the Central Committee that the number of members for 1946 had fallen to 13,450. The 1947 report shows that only 12,108 membership cards have been issued. This reveals a fall of over 4,000 in three years."
While these membership figures would not include undercover members, such as those in the public service, Army, Navy and Air Force, police, scientific services, etc., they are so small that many may be inclined to ask "How can such a minority possibly menace our free institutions and our democratic government, to the extent that their opponents claim? "
The answer is that the Communist Party in Australia as in Britain, France, Italy, Canada. U.S.A. and every other democratic nation relies for its power on its influence in the trade unions-an influence out of all proportion to its numbers.
Its immense activity in multiplying cells particularly during the war years has placed the Australian Communist Party in a commanding position in Australian unionism. At the Conference of British Empire Communists in London in 1947, the Australian delegate J. C. Henry, now organising Secretary of the Party for all Australia, made it clear that Australian industry danced to the Red tune. He reported
" Communists hold the leading position in a number of Unions, including 'those covering the Ironworkers', Miners, Seamen, Sheet Metal Workers, and Building Workers, while the Party is very influential in the Clerks, N.S.W. Teachers and N.S.W. Hospital Employees Union."
It is significant that the Communist Party has concentrated its control on the unions controlling the basic industries on which Australia's economic life depends. It controls heavy industry, the building trades
and transport. Its power is centralised in the hands of the Red Union leaders, Wright (Sheet Metal), Thornton (Ironworkers), Brown
(Railways), Rowe (Engineers), O'Shea (Tramways), Elliott (Seamen), Healy (Waterside Workers), Thomson (Building Trades), Williams (Coal Miners) and the rest. These men to-day control Australia's industrial life and they are responsible to one man (Lance Sharkey) Party Secretary, who from his Kremlin Marx House in Sydney gives them their orders. To whom is he responsible?
The Counter-Force WHILE the Communist Party is a formidable force from its stranglehold on Australia's industrial life, there are factors at work which are fast weakening that stranglehold. Summarised these factors are:
(1) The general public awakening as a result of revelations of former Communists, such as Sharpley, backed by the warnings of wellinformed political, public and Church leaders.
(2) The altered attitude of the Press, which during the war period was fulsomely pro-Soviet, and in the early post-war period gave plenty of publicity to Left Wing movements. In the past few months there has been a sharp swing to the stage where Communist activity gets a uniformly bad press.
(3) Leading political figures particularly in the Labour Party, who were apathetic on the Cornnounist issue, are now more and more tending to take a strong Ulm Cominuniam.
(4) The Labour Party's Industrial Groups formed inside the Trade Unions to counter the Communist Party cells there are becoming stronger and stronger. have made most Unions secure from Red attack. have wrested a number of others from Cornmunist control and are admitted by the Communists themselves to endanger that Party's existence inside unionism.
(5) International policies of the Soviet Union tend to make Australians increasingly distrustful of Conununism and as a result ex-Servicemen's organisations in particular are demanding strong Governmental action against the Reds.
(6) Finally, the Catholic Church, to which one Australian in five belongs, has been and is a bulwark in the opposition to Communist policies. By prayer, propaganda. by rallying Unionists and educating Australians to the menace of Communism, the Church has done much to defeat that menace; so much so that Communists of late years have tended to label all serious forms of opposition to them " Catholic Action ".
All these factors indicate that Communism in Australia has no future unless reinforced by Red Army bayonets victorious over the democracies.