round table ’81 socialism, science, technology, development strategies
21-26. 09. 1981. cavtat, jugoslavija

September 25, 1981

Dear Yugoslav Comrades:

Meeting to identify issues of common concern, we are a group of women from several countries who have participated in the work of the conference. First, we wish to thank our Yugoslavian hosts for their very gracious hospitality and for their effective work in developing the themes of this conference. We have all greatly benefited from this international exchange on socialism, science, technology, and development.

We would also like to make a recommendation to the Round Table organizers in the spirit of ensuring a fuller analysis of the complex issues of each Round Table conference.  There are far too few women participants at the Round Table. Women are active socialists in every area of the world, and they have much to contribute to the general deliberations. These contributions are not now made available. Also, the problems and promises of science and technology in working for socialist transformations often affect women differently from men. Similarly, many aspects of our social situations as women and men require specific analysis if we are to be able to work effectively. Finally, in many technical areas of our deliberations, women have done important research and are the appropriate specialists or experts.

We would like to suggest strongly that in the future the conference organizers specifically encourage each national group to include women as official participants and specifically inquire about appropriate women to be invited. Explicit encouragement by the conference organizers in their initial inquiries and invitations could assist each country in becoming more conscious of the need for women to contribute to our overall efforts. Both men and women, as well as our movements, would be the beneficiaries of this effort.

Thank you.




Science, Technology, Socialism and Development Strategy: an Australian Perspective Romaine Rutnam, Wollongong
[Paper presented to The Round Table 1981, Cavtat, Yugoslavia. Published in Socialism in the World, International Journal of Marxist and Socialist Thought, Year six, Beograd 1982: 31: 127-139]

1. The growing opposition to capitalist science and technology in Australia The processes of scientific and technological research and development under capitalism started to come under scrutiny in Australia in the late 1960s and early 1970s through the activities of scientists concerned for the preservation of the environment. Issues such as the impact of technology on the environment led to the growth of a critique of capitalist technology more radical than that produced in similar movements in, say, the United Kingdom. However, such criticism and debate remained very much within the province of scientifically trained academia – a very small proportion of the Australian population.

Later in the 1970s, proposals to mine and export Australia’s vast reserves of uranium became the focus of considerable public debate and mass action. During this process of debate and public demonstration, many important issues were raised:

  • opposition to nuclear energy as an option on three grounds: because of its very serious environmental hazards; because of the possibility that waste from the nuclear energy process could be diverted for use in nuclear warfare or blackmail and thus considerably endanger world peace; and because, being a highly centralised, capital-intensive and dangerous technology, it was seen as inevitably leading to oppressive and anti-democratic security systems in society;
  • investigation of alternative renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power;

  • a linking of the exploitation of uranium reserves with the continued exploitation of the Australian Aboriginal people on whose tribal lands most of the reserves are found;

  • the question of conservation of energy and other resources, which implicitly led to a critique of capitalist economic growth policies

The opposition to uranium mining and nuclear energy was developed through mass campaigns such as the Movement against Uranium Mining (MAUM) and the Campaign against Nuclear Energy (CANE), which organised protest marches and rallies, debates and educational programs in schools, workplaces and community centres. By 1977 a majority of the electorate voted for parties with policies against uranium mining and nuclear energy; and this majority has held in every federal election since then. However, because of the undemocratic structure of the electoral system in Australia, the conservatives who favour the exploitation of uranium and the development of a nuclear industry have won government since 1977. They have approved several uranium mining operations, while several State governments have expressed interest in establishing uranium enrichment plants, and one State (Western Australia) has announced its intention to construct a nuclear power reactor.

These electoral setbacks have resulted in a sense of defeat and discouragement in the community-based protest movements. However, Australian trade unions have increasingly adopted policies opposed to the nuclear option, and recently have begun translating such policies into actions such as opposing the movement of mined uranium for export. In the present international situation of escalation of tension and danger of nuclear warfare, one can expect that the popular movement of opposition to nuclear energy will come to life again in support of the trade unions.

In the late 1970s, another arena of public debate opened around the process of technological change within industry, and its effects on employment. Australia, like the other advanced capitalist countries, has experienced a severe economic recession since around 1974-75. The official numbers of unemployed persons throughout Australia have risen from around 90 000 in June 1971 to about 482 000 in February 1981. It is widely recognised that these official figures considerably understate the real levels of unemployment.

A great proportion of the lost jobs were in the manufacturing sector. As a result of the international restructuring of the division of labour under the aegis of the largest multinational corporations, Australia lost its shipbuilding and electronics industries, and more recently has seen a considerable reduction in its automobile industry. It has also lost at least a quarter of its textile and clothing industries and almost its entire footwear industry as a consequence of the reduction of government protection for the domestic industry – a move that has fitted in with the plans for the de-industrialisation of Australia and a restructuring of her economy as a mere quarry, a supplier of cheap raw materials and energy for the advanced capitalist countries. The present federal government’s policy of investment-led economic growth, assisted by a very generous investment allowance, greatly escalated the introduction of automated and semi-automated processes into industry in the late 1970s. All these factors have begun to have a profound impact on the nature of Australian society.

In 1978 the relationship between technological change and employment under capitalism became the centre of a major industrial dispute when technicians working for Telecom Australia (the single state-owned telecommunications utility) took industrial action to try and stop the installation of a new telephone exchange system. The issues which were raised during that dispute included:

  • the elimination of jobs;
  • the de-skilling of the majority of jobs that remain;
  • the increase in managerial control in the workplace; and
  • the import of foreign technology and the neglect of research and development of Australian technologies

One of the consequences of the public interest raised by this dispute was the establishment in 1979 of a Committee of Inquiry into Technological Change in Australia.  Perhaps predictably, the Committee (on which the Federal Secretary of the Australian Telecommunications Employees’ Association was “balanced” by the Vice-Chancellor of a major university for science and technology, and an Australian manager of a local affiliate of a Swiss-based aluminium company) produced a report last year which glossed over the concerns publicised by the Telecom technicians, and settled on a position that the process of technological change was inevitable and, in the long run, would be beneficial to all.

One of the most serious defects of this report was its failure to point out the growing dependence of all sectors of Australian industry – agriculture, mining, manufacturing and the tertiary sector – on decisions with regard to the development and/or introduction of technology being made by multinational corporations.  Expenditure on research and development in the private sector declined considerably during the 1970s.  While the government sector continues to fund a very high proportion of research and development, much of this is devoted to basic scientific research related to the agricultural industry.  Another view of the government’s lack of enthusiasm for sponsoring Australian science and technology development can be gained from comparing the approximately $115 million it allocated for such programs in 1979-80, with the $507.6 million effective cost of its investment allowance in that year.

The highly optimistic, and technologically determinist view of the government is now being increasingly opposed by the organised trade union movement in Australia, on the basis of growing numbers of studies being undertaken of the concrete effects of technical changes in workplaces and communities within advanced capitalist countries.  The widespread introduction of computers into the labour process in most industries has quite clearly been the major technical change of the 1970s.  Its effects on employment in Australia have been significant.

2. Employment implications of technical change in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s
a) The shift towards tertiary-trained occupations
The most noticeable trend to be observed in the changes in occupational structure recorded in the last three population censuses has been the increase in “white-collar” occupations, and the corresponding decline in “blue-collar” ones.  Large gains have been made in the professional white-collar category which includes teachers and engineers with university degrees, and in the paraprofessional(technician), clerical and sales occupations, while substantial losses were experienced in the relatively unskilled labouring jobs.

These changes are best described as the result of the transition from experience-based to science-based technologies.  Organisationally, this has meant a shift within primary and manufacturing industries from production work to maintenance and central services work (the latter including research and development, engineering, financial planning, and training functions), as the actual tasks of production have been mechanised and/or automated.

In the tertiary sector – both public and private – most of the workforce can be categorised as “white-collar”, but even within this broad category there appears to have been a shift to a slightly greater proportional increase in the senior managerial and professional positions.  This has mainly resulted from the growing establishment of separate electronic data processing departments, and the setting-up of elaborate work study, time-and-motion study, organisation and methods and management training groups within individual companies and government departments.  There has been a corresponding decline in the routine clerical functions, as these have been computerised.

While the 1970s saw a sharp pruning of the labouring jobs in the rural, mining and manufacturing industries, the 1980s are expected to see a massive decline in clerical and sales operations in the finance, commercial and public administration sectors as a consequence of the massive investment in computer and communications technologies in the late 1970s.

b) The questions of skill
The elimination of unskilled labouring jobs and the shift towards tertiary-trained occupations has been the basis of the much-vaunted claim by employers that computerisation has led to the need for increasing skills in the workforce.  This claim should only be substantiated by a close examination of the concrete tasks people perform in their work, and not by resorting to statistical analysis based on broad occupational classifications – on which most of the employers’ arguments have rested.

There can be no doubt that the mechanisation and automation of production processes has led to a reduction or a complete elimination of the human skills involved in such production.  The continuous casting process in the steel industry, for instance, has eliminated almost a dozen different operations: ingot casting, ingot reheating, blooming, slabbing, and connected materials handling and transport operations.  The skills that the operating staff had to learn, often through years of experience based on their direct observations of changes in, eg, the colour, sound and heat of materials, are now transferred to machines which can sense, test and monitor such changes.  Human judgments are increasingly based on the reading of instrument indications, interpreting their meaning and their inter-relations, and drawing conclusions from them.  “The sources of data for decisions have been moved from furnace, converter and rolling train to instrument panels and control pulpits” (ILO reference).

Mechanisation and automation thus require the workforce to reach some level of literacy and numeracy to understand the meaning of instrumentation and respond correctly to its signals.  However, automation has also tended to simplify and trivialise many of the human decisions that remain to be made within the labour process.  Operations work often just means sitting around and waiting for a light or buzzer to warn of a malfunction.  Clerical workers merely have to respond in a routine way to standardised procedures and instructions.

While at this stage it may appear that the need for greater numbers of technicians, engineers, researchers, financial and computer system analysts etc means that higher levels of skills are exercised, much of their actual work has already been formalised and standardised through computerisation.  In the near future, the process will be greatly intensified when the use of computer numerically-controlled lathes and computer-aided design systems becomes more widespread, and when the more reliable new-generation machines with micro-processor controls of fewer moving parts are introduced here.  As the Telecom technicians noted, there is great potential for maintenance work to be de-skilled to the level of removing a defective module of equipment and slotting in a new one.  Engineering design and draughting work is also rapidly being automated.  Effective computer control is seen as a substitute for lengthy training and skilled manpower.

There are some exceptions to this process of human deskilling and that is at the higher levels of management.  Here decisions are now made on the basis of much greater volumes of information than ever before, made possible by the computerisation of the results of each section or branch or department of the labour process.  This has led to an increase in management training in techniques of work measurement, and planning, programming and budgeting based on – often – daily reports of output, performance, achievements of targets etc.

It is common to find that while most areas of industry are working shorter hours through a drastic reduction in overtime or the achievement of a 35 hour week, senior management staff are working longer hours than ever to keep up with the floods of information with which they are inundated.  While some exceptions to the rule can be found, the way automation has been implemented so far in Australia has led to a much greater centralisation of information, decision-making and consequently power and control within the workplace.

c) The intensity of work pace
Computerisation has led to a speeding-up of most work processes in the 1970s, and especially in the information sector previously considered immune to speed-up.  Not only has the work pace been increased through a more accurate control of manufacturing processes, but the tolerance of timing between one process and the next has been dramatically shortened, so that there is greater pressure to rectify malfunctions as quickly as possible in order not to disturb the regularity of the workflow.  In the banking and insurance industries, workers are generally paced by their machines.  The average time taken to perform a transaction is very much less than before. Machines are generally much faster, more consistent and more reliable than people to work with (except when they are not in working order, which can still be quite frequent) and workers experience much greater stress when having to continually respond to such a work pace.  Computerisation has also led to greater use of shift work and weekend work for “white-collar” as well as “blue-collar workers.

The greater capital investment in labour processes and the greater management control over them has certainly increased the responsibility of all workers in a computerised industry to work fast, consistently and accurately.  Employers have attempted to equate this increase in responsibility with an increase in skill.  However, the discussion deskilling above should make it clear that such an equation is illegitimate.

d) Job satisfaction
As “work” becomes trivialised and routinised for more people, at the same time as its pace and responsibility intensifies, there are good reasons for questioning the ability of the new technology to improve working life and make it more enjoyable.

As far as the health and safety of work is concerned, there are certainly cases where automation has allowed workers to be moved away from dangerous, excessively hot or cold or polluted work environments and into air-conditioned control rooms or offices.  However, workers are also discovering harmful health effects associated with continuous operation of such new equipment as word processors and visual display terminals, and work in air-conditioned atmospheres.  The use of science in the service of capital to create new materials, chemicals, products and technologies has resulted in the proliferation of many substances and techniques in the workplace long before adequate knowledge of their possible toxic effects can be established.

e) Homogenisation of work
The main effects of computerisation on the organisation of work have been described as: optimisation, standardisation, formalisation and specialisation. As computerisation spreads, these effects are being felt across all industries to the extent that the differences between them are beginning to evaporate while similarities grow.  For instance, one can anticipate a time when, to all intents and purposes, the steel, coal and finance industries (say) will be the same because they will be staffed by crews of repair and maintenance workers whose tasks are to monitor and service machines; and groups of planners and decision makers whose tasks involve a response to regular reports on their visual display terminals on production targets, output, sales and investment options.  Maintenance work is essentially the same, whatever the industry, and clerical work is increasingly becoming so as it consists more and more of a feeding-in of information to the computer, and a reaction to what the computer presents as a result of its processing of that information according to predetermined rules.  The content of the information tends to become irrelevant to the mass of clerical workers who have to process it. Already one can see a merging of the communications and computer industries; and the expansion of Electronic Funds Transfer systems will break down some of the divisions between the finance, retail and communications industries.

This homogenisation of work can theoretically lead to a greater flexibility in the organisation of work. Whereas the organisation of production work is relatively inflexible, being based around fixed structures such as ovens, furnaces, mills and mines, the organisation for maintenance work can take varied forms, ranging from extreme centralisation to extreme decentralisation. The move by many companies to divest themselves of some construction, maintenance, cleaning and other such operations and to use contractors and sub-contractors instead is one indication of a shift from a centralised to a decentralised organisation of these functions. Computer technology can also theoretically allow clerical and some engineering work to be performed in the home instead of in a centralised office. A move in this direction is already under way in the USA.

The choices as to whether centralised or decentralised work organisations are adopted will tend to be made along the same political/economic lines as those which decide which new technologies are researched and developed, and how they are used. While the gathering together of workers in factories was an important means by which capitalists in the Industrial Revolution of the 16th and 17th Centuries asserted control over workers and their product, it seems technically possible for them now to control work done in the home through monitoring systems built into the machines, and at the same time benefit from the considerable advantages they can reap from keeping workers isolated and, presumably, non-unionised and unorganised in their homes.

f) The sexual segmentation of work
While the processes of mechanisation and automation in the rural, mining and manufacturing industries have mainly affected males (purely because they have traditionally been stereotyped as “male” work), the computerisation of the finance and other “white-collar” industries such as retail trade and public administration can be expected to have a devastating effect on the job opportunities of women who have, in Australia, been segregated to a great extent in these clerical and sales occupations.

The decline in job opportunities overall appears to have revived traditional prejudices against the paid employment of women (especially married women) on the grounds that they are “not worth training because they leave to have babies”. The rapid increase in female unemployment is already becoming marked. There are great dangers that the process of women’s liberation, supported by the growing economic independence of women during the 1960s and 1970s will receive a major setback because of the effects of the workings of technological change in Australia.

3. Social implications of computerisation
Predictions of the social impact of computerisation under capitalism are now surprisingly similar, whether made by researchers working on behalf of trade unions or computer scientists themselves. They forecast a society divided into those without work, poor and alienated; those “lucky” enough to have (degraded and deskilled) work and whose fear of being unemployed keeps them little better than slaves; and the small group of controllers, whose decisions affect the membership of the other two groups.

The concerns raised by such a forecast can be summarised under two broad themes: equity, and social control.  However, as the discussion that follows will show, these themes are related by the key question of access to, and control over, information and power.

a) The greatest social impact of computerisation (combined as it will be with the effects of the severe recession of the 1970s, and the international restructuring of industry) will be that of large-scale unemployment or under-employment. The irony of the situation is that while thousands are laid off work, those who still have jobs have to work under greater pressure.

Computerisation has led to the elimination of many of the jobs which served as training ground for young people leaving school. The exploitation of youth in part-time casual work in fast-food outlets and supermarkets is widespread. Under such working conditions they will be isolated from the opportunity to learn from experienced trade unionists how to work collectively in unions to better their conditions and pay. For school-leavers the prospects of a future based on either unemployment or super-exploitation often lead to drug-taking, violence, apathy, and/or suicide. Since there are no adequate social planning mechanisms in our capitalist society, often the training a young person might be given is useless after the training period, because jobs are only available for those “with experience”.

For older people suddenly retrenched, or whose skills have been made redundant, the trauma can be very great. The concept of life–long education has been peddled by a variety of authorities — governments, employers and educators. For people in such positions retraining doesn’t constitute any sort of threat and may even be welcomed as a relief from a job that has become routine. However, it is usually the people in our society who are least confident about, and competent at, schooling – working class people, immigrants, and more often women rather than men – who are forced into the intolerable position of having to train or retrain, often at their own expense, or else live and impoverished existence on the dole (an extremely low social security payment). The very recent cuts in education expenditure announced by the federal government make the promises of retraining and life-long education even more of a mockery.

For the young and old people without jobs, and for those in employment whose work constitutes no form of enjoyment or challenge but is tolerated purely as a source of income better than the dole, there is generally no question of choice in their ways of living. The lack of equity in this case is a result of a prior situation in which decisions as to which techniques are to be developed and how they are to be used have been taken by small groups of planners in the head offices of large corporations. In planning for the future of their own enterprises, these planners do not (have to) take into account the overall social impact of such decisions spread across many or all enterprises.

The other major social concern about computers is related to the question of privacy. In an excellent analysis of the question, Kerstin Aner of Sweden has noted that:

Privacy is not an ancient eternal idea … The concept arose with the bourgeois family and the modern press. That is not to say it is not a necessary concept and demand in our age, but we must see it in perspective. The important danger about invasion of privacy by electronic mans is that it is a mass invasion, and that it cannot be returned on the snooper.

This inequality in access to, and control over, information – ie an inequality of power – is what the struggle is really about, not so much about control over details of one’s individual private life. To quote the former writer again:

The concept of group privacy is slowly coming to the fore. The people who really suffer from the imbalance of computer power are the under-privileged – not the privileged ones, who originally invented privacy.

As for the remedies, they are of course first of all laws that have teeth and can really forbid abuses of power. Secondly all political and technical measures that help put computer power in the hands of the less informed. Attack is the best defence, here as always. Finally perhaps, the developments in computer technology towards decentralised computer power.

4. Implications for socialist theory and practice
These effects of the present stage of capitalist scientific and technological development serve to confirm the view of the early British philosopher of capitalism, Andrew Ure, expressed in 1835, “that when capital enlists science in her service, the refractory hand of labour will always be taught docility”.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the results of decisions which are made to allocate resources to research and development of some technologies (eg nuclear power) and not others (such as solar or wind power) systematically enhance the power of the ruling class and correspondingly weaken the working class. Similarly, the combination of the introduction of new equipment with management processes that divide jobs into the many with limited understanding of the overall operations of the industry, and the few with a high degree of power and control, are serving to weaken the knowledge and control over the labour process of the working class, in the interests of the national and multi-national ruling class. This class nature of scientific and technical development is becoming more apparent to wider sections of the Australian labour movement.

Such a view of the political nature of the design and use of science and technique is directly opposed to that held by Lenin in 1918: “The Soviet Republic must at all cost adopt all that is valuable in the achievements of science and technology in … the field of analysing the mechanical motions of work … We must organise in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and systematically try it out and adapt it to our own ends”. Such a belief that there is a “rational” or “scientific” method of organising work based on the division of labour that is somehow neutral of class power was whole-heartedly rejected by Australian workers represented at a federal unions’ conference on technological change held in March 1981. Their statement included the following passages:

“Conference draws attention to the increasing use of new technology and “systems engineering” to impose –

◦ worker subservience to the machine
◦ “built-in” surveillance
◦ time and speed control over the worker
◦ fragmentation and greater division of labour including mental labour
◦ dehumanisation of relations between people and the workplace
◦ inadequate health and safety protection
◦ low standard ergonomics
◦ both subtle and direct attacks upon unionism and solidarity.

Conference sees this as an example of the employer exercising class power in the workplace and an attempt to remove any vestige of workers exercising any control over their work, all in the guise of technology and systems engineering. It is an aspect of technological application that should be rejected, as time and motion study and so-called “scientific management” Taylor systems were rejected in the past.”

The political, economic and social consequences of the present developments can be highly dangerous both for the prospects of democratisation and liberation of society through the agency of the working class and its allies, and for the very survival of humanity. As we have noted – and in contradiction to Marx and Engels’ hopeful view in the Communist Manifesto that “the advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association” – the new technology can be and is being used to atomise, weaken and disarm a great proportion of the working population.

Technical surveillance and population control methods are increasing in power and sophistication by the day. The sheer magnitude and entrenched nature of the combined efforts of scientists and technologists in both power blocs to use their skills in support of warfare tends almost to pre-empt the possibilities for redirecting science and technology in more socially-useful and desirable directions.

And yet, a more dialectical analysis will show that within these developments, more hopeful possibilities exist. The degradation of much intellectual work has contributed to a process of radicalisation and politicisation of many technical and professional workers in Australia. Attempts to atomise these workers as well are being resisted in a highly creative and conscious manner. In the past few years, “white-collar” unionism and female unionism has grown dramatically, both in numbers and in militancy. More and more, white-collar unions are recognising a unity of interest with their blue-collar brothers and sisters and are seeking joint action. There are moves for combined action between public and private sector workers. Organisationally, these are resulting in mergers between the “peak” union councils of blue-collar workers (the Australian Council of Trade Unions), white-collar private sector workers (the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations) and federal public servants (the Council of Australian Government Employees’ Organisations). At another level, telephones, planes and computers are being used to unite workers nationally and internationally too.

Potentially one of the most important developments, as far as the prospects for socialism are concerned, has been the spreading of Workers’ Research Centres and similar organisations throughout Australia – organisations which bring together politically-committed research workers, and workers in the manufacturing, transport, communications, energy and other industries, to investigate jointly questions such as the ownership, control and direction of their industries. Through this process of joint research and action it is hoped that the barriers between manual and mental labour, the very basis of all class societies, can begin to be broken down.

The computer is perhaps a unique symbol of the dialectical possibilities facing humankind at this stage of its history (or pre-history). Being a means for storing, processing and transmitting information, the basis on which ruling class ownership and/or control of the means of production is legitimated, it offers a future of either increased centralisation of control and power (the capitalist scenario) or a decentralisation of information and a diversity of power structures at various levels – local, regional, national and international. The latter is the form which communists in Australia now believe is the most desirable and necessary for the socialist movement to take. The process of deskilling which the computer contributes to, and which most unions decry at present, perhaps also has its dialectical opposite that is highly favourable to the long-term achievement of communism. This is the break-down of “professionalism”, intellectual secrecy and elitism, through, for example computer-aided diagnostic systems which allow accurate self-help in health matters, or computer-aided design systems which will allow communities to learn planning and decision-making skills quickly, and have equal and universal access to planning data. The rapidly reducing costs of computer hardware now appear to make the widespread availability of this technology possible throughout the world, thus breaking down the divisions between the information rich and information poor, both within and across nations.

In order to block the capitalist scenario, the State ownership and control of the means of production is certainly necessary but not sufficient – a conclusion that is becoming apparent to communists in both the advanced capitalist countries, and in Eastern European countries. There is an urgent need for socialist systems analysts and computer programmers to develop appropriate software for the new technology – appropriate, that is, to the conscious aim of socialising the power of appropriation of information and decision-making concerning our natural and social environments.

It seems possible that it is only now, in the computer age, that the vision of Marx and Engels in The German Ideology can become a reality:

This ‘alienation’ … can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. For it to become an “intolerable” power, ie a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity “propertyless”, and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. And on the other hand, this development of productive forces … is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore, because only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the “propertyless” mass (universal competition), makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones.”

The technology of the computer, communications satellite and cable television has made the “universal intercourse between men” a reality in our lifetime through the imperialist linking of national economies across the world. At present this technology is under the control of minority groups in society, whether in capitalist or post-capitalist countries, making the majority “propertyless” in information and control. The urgent task before us is to act through unions, political parties, the women’s movement and all other organisations which seek to increase the political awareness, confidence and capacities of the underprivileged groups in capitalist and other class societies. We have to assert our rights to understand and control science and technology in the interest of serving human need and the production of use values, rather than maintaining the division of labour that perpetuates class societies. The processes of democratisation of information and power, and self-management in the workplace and home, offer the only viable future for the world.

Toast to the Party – my speech as South Coast organiser of the Communist Party of Australia at the dinner on 28.11.81

We’ve decided to let you in on a secret. About a week after we sent out the letters inviting organisations and individuals to share in this celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the CPA on the South Coast, some of us began asking for the details of that formation. To our dismay we couldn’t find anyone who knew the exactdetails. Was this the sixtieth anniversary after all?

To our relief we discovered it was. Thanks to some research by David Bowen into the files of the earliest copies of the newspaper The Communist we’ve discovered that there were CPA members in Wollongong in 1921, and in 1922 there were two branches – Wollongong and Scarborough.

The oldest living member of the CPA on the South Coast, who is unfortunately not well enough to be with us tonight – Paul Yolkin – joined the Party in 1921 and formed a branch at Bulli in 1926 when he moved to the Coast to live and work here. The Coast sent 2 delegates to the first conference of the CPA in January 1923. Other areas represented were Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Abermain and Newcastle.

The first news report from the South Coast to The Communist concerned a mine demarcation dispute. This got front page cover, and the lengthy report ended:

More than one union in the mining industry, as in all industries, is a menace to the workers and a tower of strength to the bosses. One industrial union must be the slogan of the working class. Crafts and other divisions must be dumped upon the industrial scrap heap along with all sectional barriers that divide the working class.
If you find it a depressing fact that, 60 years on, we’re nowhere near achieving that aim, I’d have to agree. There are a few members here tonight who joined the Party in the 30s – Bill McDougall, Len Boardman – and more who have been members since the 1940s, like Bob Heggen and Stan Wilson, and of course Sally and Dave [Bowen, the guests of honour] – and they will have many memories of the heyday of the Party, when the Party had around 26,000 members nationally, when we used to sell 1700 Tribunes each week on the South Coast, and when Party members were publicly respected and acknowledged and not feared, abused or just ignored as many are today.

The Cold War must have been a very bitter period to live through. While the referendum campaign in 1951 for a No vote to Pig Iron Bob Minzies’ proposal to outlaw the Communist Party was itself a great success for the Party and the working class of Australia, the major defeats in the unions like the Miners’ Federation and the Ironworkers began a period of great demoralisation. Tonight is an appropriate occasion to remember and honour the courage and commitment of our comrades who lived through that period and who have remained fighting to this day.

In the last decade, though, the Party both on the South Coast and nationally, has been going through a process of renewal. It has opened itself to the experiences and ideas of the many social movements that became active in the 1960s in Australia as well as internationally – the Black Power movement, the women’s movement, the student movement. Both theoretically and practically the CPA and its members have been responsible for many creative developments in that time – one can think of the Builders’ Labourers’ Green Bans and the attempt to unite the workers’ and environmental movements; the contributions to the development of Socialist Feminist theory and praxis; the analysis of the new (and old) divisions within the working class – between male and female, English-speaking and non-English speaking, young and old, highly-skilled and lesser-skilled – and the greater energy we are putting into breaking down these divisions within the trade union movement in our homes and throughout society.

For people like myself, this process of renewal has been the reason for joining the Party. The Party is saying and doing things that make sense to the large numbers of us who have joined or rejoined the Party in the last 10 years. We’ve joined up because we hate and fear the way capitalism and imperialism oppresses us, and we want to change direction towards a society in which the domination of some people by others – whether for reasons of class, sex, race, sexuality or whatever – can be ended.

While there are many more of us now in 1981 than there were in 1921, or in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the task is enormous. The threat of nuclear war is almost overwhelming. There are still serious divisions between those of us who want to see a socialist Australia and world. There are many socialists who feel it is better to work within the ALP or the SPA or a Trotskyist group or not in any party at all – than to work within the CPA.

It is encouraging, however, to note the growing unity in action over the past months and years on many fronts – within trade unions, the women’s movement, international solidarity groups, workers’ research organisations, and so on. It is even more encouraging to have so many non-Party members here with us tonight, celebrating this historic occasion.

I would like you all to stand with me, and raise your glasses to the Community Party of Australia – may we continue to grow in strength and commitment to hasten the day when we can live in a Socialist Republic of Australia.

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“Joining the Party was the best thing I ever did in my life.” “The Party has taught me everything I know.”
Sooner or later, you’re sure to hear these words from other communists you’ll get to know, especially from older comrades with years of experience of struggles on the job and in the community.

As you begin to work with other communists – in your Party Branch, in your union, in the women’s movement, in the peace movement, or in the dozens of other campaigns in which communists are active – there’s one thing you’ll soon learn – that you are no longer on your own.
If you joined the Party because you’ve come to hate the capitalist system we live under and want to do your bit to change it, you will find great encouragement and support through meeting and working with others who think like you.
LEARNING FROM OTHERS You will find plenty of opportunity to learn from other comrades – things ranging from the history of the Communist Party and the international communist movement, to Marxist theory, to more basic skills like writing and printing a leaflet, how to organise and lead a meeting, and how to speak in public. Ask your fellow-comrades all the questions you want, and demand that you get the answers!
POLITICAL ACTIVITY While many of these things can be learned from books – and all new members are encouraged to undertake the individual study program available from the Party library, as well as attending the various district, state and national schools organised each year – it is equally important to learn through action.
This is best done through your active participation in your branch, and in any other mass activities that you might be interested in, and can find time for. You can find a diagram of the Party structure, and a list of the mass activities communists are involved in on the back of this leaflet. Additionally, there are lots of other things you can do to help the Party – like selling TRIBUNE, the party newspaper, and collecting money for the Party’s printing, propaganda and office expenses…

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