- No Country for Revolutionaries: Italian Communists in Sydney 1971–1991: Their Activities, Policies and Liaison with the Italian and Australian Communist Parties by Gianfranco Cresciani
Gianfranco Cresciani’s latest book, No Country for Revolutionaries, is a noteworthy and timely contribution to the history of the far Left in Australia. Critically, it contributes to an area of the literature hitherto under-explored: the involvement of migrants in radical politics, parties and organisations. Drawing upon research from a wide variety of archival sources, mainly public collections in Australia and Italy, the author painstakingly reconstructs the organisational history of the Sydney-based chapter of the Italian Communist Party in Australia (PCIA).
The PCIA began operating in 1971 and for the next 20 years sought, unsuccessfully, to win the hearts and minds of the local Italian proletariat. It aspired to emulate the more successful experience of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) federations in Europe, but faced multiple challenges in Australia. There was a perennial dearth of qualified cadres despite recent arrivals from Italy and ongoing efforts to train them in Party schools in Italy and Australia. The number of card-carrying members, several hundreds, struggled to increase, notwithstanding the adoption of strategies to enrol new members, or recover former members. The Australian environment, with its divided working class, ethnic segmentation, ideological splits and ever-present anti-communist attitudes, prevented the PCIA from growing in membership and influence.
Yet, thanks also to large-scale migration from Italy, the size of the Italian community in Australia had rapidly become the largest non-English-speaking group in the country. This contributed to the false impression that thousands of migrant workers could be persuaded to join the communist cause, or have their passion for the communist cause rekindled. The powerful Italian Communist Party (PCI), with its electoral successes, membership strength and cultural influence, also gave the false impression that its mass party structure and ideological framework could be replicated successfully in Australia. The Communist Party of Australia (CPA), which had allowed the PCIA to operate locally, and even supported some of its activities, saw in the Italian organisation a bridge to the migrant community as well as a pathway to recruit new members. In this way, it hoped to reverse its declining membership. But “mobilising migrants remained an apparently intractable quandary for the CPA” as well as the PCIA (102). The majority of Italian migrants were “socially, politically and culturally ‘atomised,’ [and] did not respond to PCI[A]’s initiatives and appeals as they were used to before emigrating” (77–78), nor to those of the CPA and its splinter groups. [End Page 246]
For much of the 20-year history of the PCIA, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) kept a watchful eye on the organisation and its members, mainly through agents, informers and surveillance. The author offers a comprehensive understanding of the deep level of ASIO’s monitoring activity, going beyond the PCIA and including pre-1971 instances. Of particular interest are complex figures like Mario Abbiezzi, a first-generation, long-standing activist of the PCIA and member of the CPA. In 1952, Abbiezzi was threatened with deportation but managed to obtain “several reprieves and in … 1954 requested to be interviewed by ASIO” (21). He supplied them with information regarding the contact of Italian communists and organisations with the CPA and “general activity of communists within the Italian community around Sydney” (21). Abbiezzi was later allowed to remain permanently in Australia.
The author cleverly dissects the complex web of relationships between the main institutional actors (the PCIA, the CPA and the PCI), allowing the reader to make sense of the different party policies and purposes, but also providing the means for the reader to understand the ideological inflexibilities, revolutionary dreams, and authoritarian methods, which often harboured sectarianism, personal animosities, and the rifts between militants, stifling initiatives and enthusiasm.
While these are notable reasons to admire the text, the true merit of the book lies in the...