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Aarons, Laurie (1917–2005)

by Peter Symon

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Laurie Aarons, a former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) died in Sydney on Monday, February 7 after a long illness. He was 87 years of age.

Laurie Aarons became the General Secretary of the former CPA in 1965 following the death of Lance Sharkey. He had had a long period of activity in that party from his early years and had occupied a number of positions leading up to his elevation to the General Secretary’s position.

He brought into that position a range of ideas and outlooks which had as their consequence the liquidation of the former CPA in 1991. Obviously his ideas did not stand alone but were or became supported by the majority of the members of the Central Committee and, in time, a majority of the Party’s membership.

In a CPA Discussion Journal published in 1969 one contributor declared: "People are judged, in the long run, not by what they say, but what they do; and a policy or a viewpoint must be judged by the practical results of that policy in life". The 36 years that have now elapsed provide sufficient time to have tested in practice the theories advanced by the former CPA leaders.

One of the early indications that a new course was being set by Laurie Aarons as the General Secretary was the publication in the late 1960s of a Democratic Rights Charter which championed the issue of democratic rights. No-one could have any argument about that.

The Communist movement worldwide has always been in the forefront of the struggle to extend democratic rights for the working people and their organisations. The Communist Party together with many others had fought and won the Party’s right to legality when the Menzies government’s referendum of September 1951 to outlaw the party was defeated.

But the Democratic Rights Char­ter came in for very strong criticism from many Party members because it approached democratic rights in a non-class way, even to the point of claiming that the judiciary in capitalist countries is "independent". In fact, leading figures of the judiciary are appointed by the government of the day and are required to administer the laws decided by parliament and the limitations set down in a country’s Constitution.

The Democratic Rights Charter was eventually abandoned but not before it had caused much confusion in Party ranks and sewn false, non-class and liberal ideas about the struggle for democratic rights.

The Discussion Journals, which had commenced publication in 1967 continued to come out for a number of years. The idea of Discussion Journals was eminently commendable as a forum for open discussion on the issues of the times and many Party members and non-Party supporters took the opportunity to contribute. A welter of different ideas and issues were raised but without any direction being offered the end result was to sew confusion and disunity.

Maybe the leadership did have a clear idea of where they were heading but if it was towards the liquidation of the Party (which is what happened) it was never revealed at this time.

A seminal development in 1972 was the publication of a book written by Eric Aarons, (Laurie Aaron’s brother), called Philosophy for an Exploding World. Today’s Values Revolution. Eric was undoubtedly the major ideologist for the course being followed by the CPA leadership at that time.

It is not possible in this short article to go into this book at any length but it made a broadside attack on Marxism’s philosophy of dialectical and historical materialism.

Eric Aarons wrote about "new thinking", the "values revolution" and presented a non-class democracy. These theories were all taken up later by Mikhail Gorbachev with equally disastrous consequences.

In a response to Eric Aaron’s book, W Brown wrote, "The booklet represents a basic philosophical departure from the Marxist materialist standpoint and makes a major departure from the class approach to modern socio-political issues. Small wonder it has been favourably reviewed by sections of the bourgeois media. (The response written by W Brown is called A False Philosophy Exploded and is still available from SPA BOOKS.)

Note: By the time Eric Aaron’s book was published (1972) many long-time members of the former CPA had left that Party and formed the Socialist Party of Australia. In 1996, after the CPA was liquidated by its leadership in 1991, the Socialist Party of Australia changed its name to Communist Party of Australia and continues to uphold and apply Marxism in its work and activities.

In the early 1970s Laurie Aarons declared that "Trotskyism is a legitimate revolutionary trend" and that "Trotskyism is not counter-revolutionary" as had been asserted in the Marxist Glossary published by the CPA in 1967. Denis Freney, a declared functionary of the Trotskyist Fourth International, was brought into the leadership of the Party and onto the editorial board of the Party’s newspaper The Tribune.

Denis Freney had written as far back as March 1968 that, "We (the Trotskyists) aim at the emergence of a new type of Communist Party … allowing the fullest freedom of tendency". The aim was to provide an open go for Trotskyists to join and work within a Communist Party.

The promotion of Denis Freney was another cause for confusion, disunity and a loss of pride in the Party by many members.

There was an overall steady decline in the standing of the Party. Its press sales and financial income slumped, although some new recruits were gained on the basis of it having become an overtly "anti-Soviet" party and one that was increasingly seen to be putting forward non-working class policies.

Following these developments and the sweeping criticisms of the international communist movement, the Party became more and more isolated from the world communist movement.

As long ago as 1965, the Party leadership suspended the publication of the Communist Review which had come out continuously since well before World War II. Even during the period when the CPA had been illegalised by the Menzies government it was still published. The Communist Review was replaced by the Australian Left Review which purported to be "broad".

Communism was declared by some in the Party leadership to be a "dirty word" and in its place we began to hear about "broadness". However, this broadness was actually aimed at dropping the name Communist and abandoning Marxist ideology. All the existing socialist countries were offensively dismissed by using the term "post-capitalist countries".

In 1985, a resolution of the Party’s National Committee spoke of a "new socialist party and left coalition". Simultaneously the words "socialist renewal" were used but it was not to be the "renewal" of the Communist Party. The Party was to be merged into a "broad left" organisation and the Communist Party as such would disappear. The historic role of communist parties was abandoned.

Various money-raising schemes to continue the publication of The Tribune were put forward but the tenor of the discussions in the Party is illustrated in the remark of one speaker who said, "Tribune is locked into a desperate embrace with the Party".

By the late 1980s the publication of The Tribune was stopped and specific steps were taken to liquidate the Party altogether.

This was finally implemented in 1991. The Party’s life was ended. It was replaced by a party with the name, New Left Party. The Tribune was replaced by a newspaper called Broadside. It seems that those who chose this path believed that left Labor Party members would flock to such a party. This proved to be an illusion, despite the constant criticism of the role played by Hawke-Keating governments in these years by many left Labor Party members and supporters.

Both the New Left Party and Broadside had a short life of about two years before they too went out of existence. Unfortunately, many members drifted away into inactivity or joined the Labor Party or, more recently, the Greens. At any rate many gave up their former hard work for a communist party holding to a socialist objective and Marxist ideology. But it is never too late to reflect on the past.

Whatever one may say in criticism of the role of the Soviet Union, is it not a fact that the break-up of the Soviet Union and the victory of counter-revolution in that country opened the floodgates to imperialism and its current world-wide offensive against labour and everything progressive?

The adoption of the anti-Marxist "values" revolution and so-called "new thinking" put forward by E Aarons and others in the then leadership of the CPA neither built the influence nor the membership strength of the Party. They led to the liquidation of the Party.

In the late 1980s, the "values" revolution and "new thinking" were put forward by Mikhail Gorbachev and they led to the liquidation of socialism in the Soviet Union and the victory of counter-revolution in that country.

Another very significant indicator of the direction of the Party was its support for the ACTU-ALP Accord adopted in 1983. A number of CPA (and SPA) trade union leaders supported the Accord which turned out to be disastrous for the militancy and class consciousness of the trade union movement. By that time many of the Party’s workplace organisations had been disbanded which also contributed to the decline in the influence of the Party in the trade union movement and the overall weakening of the trade union movement of Australia. It is hard to imagine that former CPA trade union leaders such as Jim Healy, EV Elliot, Ernie Thornton, Jack Hughes and many others would have become party to such a class collaborationist agreement.

Despite all the difficulties that have confronted the communist parties of Australia and other countries, and there have been many, the communist movement has survived and the parties are slowly growing again.

There is no room for defeatism any more. The world-wide resistance and struggle against the US imperialists in particular, against its wars of aggression and its vile attacks on the working people and everything progressive, is surely a call to action now, in Australia.

Marxism’s ever fresh philosophy and policies, properly applied, remain a guide to our work. There is a place for the many former members of the CPA who recognise the truth of this sad story and remain willing to take up the struggle again in an organised Party.

It is not a time for scoring points but it is always a time to learn from our collective experiences and to work to fulfil the promise of a peaceful world built in the interests of the working class which is the vision of millions and which has been best outlined by Marx, Engels, Lenin and others.

Original Publication

  • Guardian (Sydney), 13 April 2005

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Symon, 'Aarons, Laurie (1917–2005)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/aarons-laurie-23499/text32536, accessed 28 May 2017.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012