SEARCH Communist biographies project

Who’s your favourite Commo?

CPA Centenary Bios Project

In October 2020, one hundred years will have passed since the founding meeting of the Communist Party of Australia was held  in Sydney. At that first meeting, there were only 26 people, some of whose names have been lost already. Twenty four years later, the membership numbered over 22,000. From there it fell rapidly, and by 1963 was only 4500. There was a slight brief rise in the 1960s & 70s, but by the time of the last Congress in 1991, almost 30 years ago, we numbered only a few hundred. Some but not all of us who were members at that time joined the SEARCH Foundation.

Let’s face it, the numbers don’t look that great. The ALP, for example, has 50000 members currently, and once had a lot more. But the CPA was not a mass electoral party, it was a communist party, a very different animal. In earlier days, it was actually the Australian section of an international ‘party’, known as the Comintern. And what made a communist party different was its militants, its activists. People who joined the CPA were expected to make politics – specifically the struggle for socialism, for communism - central to their lives.

Over its  70+ years, the CPA attracted tens of thousands of Australians to its ranks. Some joined in their teens and stayed in until they died. Many more left, including not a small number who were expelled or driven out, when their beliefs and actions did not sufficiently align with the majority decisions of Party Congresses, which established ‘the party line’. Some of these ‘dissenters’ went on to form other parties or other non-party political and ideological groups. But the majority of ex-members simply drifted out, for a variety of reasons, both personal and political, not least of which was the difficulties involved keeping up with the many demands the party made of its members. The end result, as one twentieth century joke had it, was that ex-CPA members made up Australia’s largest political party.

Thirty years after the party was over, how many of these tens of thousands of Australian communists are remembered today? And how many will be remembered into the future? Why should we remember them, anyway? And if we do, how should we remember them?

A small group of SEARCH members are setting out to answer these questions, as part of the activities and events being held to mark the CPAs centenary. We intend to delve into the records and produce a series of short biographical sketches of CPA members who might otherwise be forgotten. These sketches are intended to invite critical reflection and comment on the CPAs history, its high points and its low points, its great achievements and its abject failures, and all the shades in between.

Our aims are simple. To honour the memories of past comrades and the contributions they have made to the struggle for socialism; to inspire current and future generations of socialists by their example; and to use this work to reflect critically on the history of the CPA, and draw out lessons from the past which are relevant to today’s struggles.

Please, if you would like to nominate someone, or to write a bio for the project, or to contribute in any way, please get in touch, via the SEARCH office, or by emailing the project convenor, Bob Boughton, on bob.boughton@une.edu.au 

Bios project collective: Bob Boughton, Danny Blackman, Louise Connor, Bob Makinson, Marg Penson, Scott Poynting, Carmel Shute, Bev Symons

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.