History of Trotskyism
g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
Wed Jun 26 22:20:03 MDT 1996
I have just finished reading Louis' excellent history of Trotskyism
(American). I wish a similar post existed on Australia.
I think there was not the same continuity within Australian Trotskyism as
there was in America. CPA Leaflets testify to the existence of
trotskyists if only through denunciations of their evil nature, but
Australian Trotskyism as I know it really is a creature of the 60's and the
I came to Australia in 75 and made contact with what was then called the
Communist League. They were Mandelites and were considered the militant
wing of the Trotskyist movement. Cuba was still approved off and believe it
or not we marched through the streets of Brisbane chanting in Spanish El
pueblo unido etc. Can't believe it now but we did have contact with groups
of Chilean exiles, and maybe that explains the Spanish/Latin-American
There was another Trotskyist grouping in Australia, then the SWP run by the
Percy Brothers, Jim (now deceased) and John. Both the Communist League and
the SWP were linked to the Fourth International. Then in 1975, Mandel and
Barnes did a deal. Mandel got some important part of Europe (Belgium?) and
Barnes got Australia. That meant we were ordered to "fuse" with the SWP.
We held a series of fusion meetings and these consisted of debates around
topics like the Portuguese revolution. We rehashed the Inprecor articles
and they gave us the American line. From memory I do not think that we ever
discussed much about Australia. In true Trotskyist fashion we were
"internationalists". Jim Percy came to Brisbane and tried to recruit us
into a united organization. But the Communist League (about40 members) was
very reluctant to be swallowed up.
Politics too intervened. the extreme right wing Premier of Qld,
Bjelke-=Petersen, banned the right to march in order to crush resistance to
unranium mining. I got involved in that fight, being I think arrested about
6 times in all.
Our tactic was to defy the police and to march. Initially we had the
support of the SWP but then they came out with a different line. They said
that we should not defy the police and that we should be "legal & peaceful."
They would chant this during marches and we militants in the Communist
League were enormously embarrassed to be in the same International as them.
There was widespread opposition within the Communist League to fusing with
people whom we regarded as a bunch of non-militants. Then the leaders of
the Communist League were offered positions on the Central Committee of the
SWP. We created a new lot of leaders. These too were persuaded to join up
as leaders of the SWP. Resistance to fusion became impossible in these
Thus the dreaded fusion became a reality. The Communist League was
disbanded and we were all one happy Trotskyist organization. I however
refused to have anything to do with the new group. I wanted to continue
militant defiance of the State Govt. That seemed to me to be the most
important thing. For my pains and my opposition to the "legal-peaceful
slogan" I was described in a secret internal document as "nothing more
that an ultra-left lunatic". CharMING! (Probably accurate though)
These events covered a period of about three years from 75-78. Those who
fused with the SWP were gradually broken and demoralized because they were
not allowed to take part in the large mobilizations and street marches.
They drifted out of politics. The leaders who had been offered prime
positions also discovered that there was no real role for them in the Percy
One of the other ways they were broken was though a policy of
industrialization. Once the SWP had said the student movement was the key
to the struggle against capitalism. Then the factory became the new site of
struggle and that was the last straw for many ex Communist Leaguers. Those
that left or drifted out of politics were labeled as petty-bourgeois.
Beneath contempt for the band of true proletarians in the SWP.
Eventually the SWP drifted away from the Barnes group. When & why I do not
know. They tried to join up with the SPA, the Moscow oriented breakaway
>from the CPA, but they were rebuffed. Now they have been hanging around the
Green movement despite continuing rebuffs for a few years. But if Ken
Howard's recent post is correct then there may indeed be some kind of new
regroupment coming out of Melbourne which also involves the SWP. It will
have to be quite something for me to ever go near an organisation with input
>from the SWP/DSP, but we will see.
As for the Communist Leaguers, there are very few of them still in Left
politics. Some of us tried deep entry and got swallowed up in the black
hole of the Labor party. Middle age has laid its hand upon us as well.
Militancy is for the young. For example recently I was on a picket line
with a former CLer and I got into a fist fight with a scab. My former super
militant colleague just stood there in embarrassed silence. Embarrassment
at being associated with a mad militant on a picket line for academics. Ah
well fugaces labuntur anni! But sometimes when I walk down the streets of
Brisbane I can hear a faint echo of "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!"
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