chapter  1
Australian Communism in crisis – 1956
ByPhillip Deery
Pages 21

1956 was a cataclysmic year for communist parties worldwide, and Australia was no exception. It began in February with Nikita Khrushchev’s explosive “Secret Speech” denouncing Stalin to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and ended in November with Russian tanks re-entering Budapest and installing a Soviet-friendly regime. The chapter will commence with an overview of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech and its impact on the American and British communist parties. This will provide a reference point and comparative basis for assessing the impact on the Australian Communist Party. The chapter will chronicle the sharp schisms that developed within and between sections of the leadership and membership, culminating in acquiescence, resignations or expulsions. It will conclude with an examination of the impact on Australian communists of the Hungarian Uprising and the Soviet suppression. It will suggest that within the Party there was no predictable, single trajectory. Some members who were bewildered by Khrushchev’s revelations accepted the assertion of Soviet authority in Hungary; others, and not only the “intellectuals”, were shocked by the first and affronted by the second; a few hardliners were untouched by either and toughened their commitment to communism. The events of 1956 not only diminished the strength of the Communist Party through defections and disillusionment but also weakened the hold of “democratic centralism” over Party members, a development that accelerated after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.