For those of you who I haven’t had the pleasure of talking to in person, I am an historian. I am currently working on a Doctorate on the history of industry and labour movements in the Geelong region (where I live) after completing an Honours thesis on the growth and development of the Australian Communist Party (ACP) between 1943 and 1945.
There is much that Occupy Melbourne can learn from the ACP and, if we don’t, we are doomed to the failure that that Party experienced.
A major theme of the ACP’s history in the 1940s was unity. After some confusion in the very early stages of the Second World War the Party declared itself in opposition to the war, in line with the policy of the Executive Committee of the Third Communist International (you may know it as the “ComIntern”). This was met with hostility from the Australian public, especially after the Soviet army’s campaigns in Poland and Finland. With the Party lacking public support, Prime Minister Menzies was able exploit war regulations to have the ACP banned.
The Party did continue to operate in illegality but certainly not with any of the efficacy or public support that it had enjoyed previously. Assets were taken. Contact was disrupted. It was a real struggle for survival.
The tide began to turn, however, after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Indignation at Germany’s blatant attack on a neutral country and admiration of the Red Army’s fighting success had endeared the USSR to the Australian public and done much to dispel the scandal caused by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.Even though the ACP was still operating illegally there was a spike in support and membership so that when Dr. Evatt announced to Parliament that prohibition of the ACP had been lifted the Party emerged into the light with an active, enthusiastic and broad membership.
The period from December 1942 to about 1947 in the ACP’s history is of great importance to us in Occupy Melbourne. This period saw middle class membership in the Party grow to an extent that had never been seen before. It was a time when the Party was pursuing the United Front tactic, building rapport and collaborating with other labour groups and classes. Two major campaigns run by the Party in 1944 showed its growing strength: the ACP’s election fund drive raised over £2900 – the equivalent of $180,000 in 2010 – and the ‘Victory’ recruitment campaign later that year drew in an extra 3500 members.
By 1945 the Party had various subcommittees concerning traditionally middle-class issues and communities (such as the Communist Doctors who led a campaign against tuberculosis, diphtheria and whooping cough), was contesting and winning municipal elections around the country and had seen the first Communist Member of Parliament, Fred Paterson, elected to the Queensland lower house.
This success only slowed and then stopped in the wake of the Cold War, sustained attacks from Bob Menzies and a rigid and bureaucratic Party structure that stifled free discussion and dissent. As the Party shed members it lost contact with the Australian public, got caught up in its own rhetoric and moved down a radical path that destroyed any remaining sympathy from the “forgotten” people.
Occupy Melbourne, while strong, is not as strong as we could be, nor as strong as we need to be. We are a movement of consensus that moves forward through discussion. We represent the 99% and the 99% is made up of many people with many different philosophies and ideologies.
At the 17th General Assembly yesterday an almighty argument blew up and for a short while it was like watching rabid dogs tearing in to each other. This is not how we operate. It is to our credit that we soon remembered that we are all on the same side and the anger was channelled into working together against our common enemies.
This will happen from time to time but we need to do as much as we can to prevent it. This is my suggestion.
At all times remember that we are working together in a common cause against greed, unfairness and inequality. Nearly everyone will have a different conception of how these issues are manifest and how they can be resolved. If there is a disagreement at a General Assembly or otherwise, concentrate on what you have in common with other occupiers, not what you disagree about.
More often than not you will find that you have more in common than you realise and a suitable outcome can be arranged.
Sometimes this will mean you have to swallow your pride.
Sometimes this will mean you have to hold your tongue.
Every time this will mean you have to regard your fellow occupiers with respect and humility.
Every time this will mean we can come to an agreement and later, when tempers have cooled, you can calmly discuss the points you disagree about and maybe find a way to resolve your differences. Sometimes a difference in opinion is only the result of a different perspective, sometimes it is because they haven’t taken on the same information that you have. Neither of these is a reason to attack (nor to hate) someone.
Never forget that the 99% comprises people who haven’t been able to or previously haven’t been interested in learning about some of the issues we are tackling. We need to embrace them, encourage them and accommodate them or else we will lose them forever.
We must look to the long-term so that we can move through the short-term together.