The difficulties discussed in the previous chapter occurred in an Australian background with which Communist principle required interweaving. The events within the Communist Party were in many cases seen as things in themselves divorced from Australian reality. However the essential task was for the Communist Party to be concerned with Marxist principle and its expression in Australia. Failure to attend to this in the correct way led to a separation, as it were, of the considerations.
The general background was of growth of Australia’s economy and a further extension of US investment and influence in Australia. Apparent stability and growth of Australian capitalism in the years that followed World War II had contributed within the Australian Communist Party to a trend of denial of fundamental Communist principle by some Communist Party members. It led to illusions about the permanence of capitalism. Thus there was a basis in the Australian Communist Party for accepting what was wrong in the Soviet Party’s revision of fundamental principle. Moreover US pressure exerted its own influence on the Communist Party, a pressure adverse to correct Communist principle. Those events occurred when the USA was preoccupied with what it regarded as the Communist threat all over the world. With Australia and New Zealand, the USA had sponsored the ANZUS Pact (1951). Then in 1954 came the South East Asia Treaty Organisation which embraced the USA, Australia, New Zealand, France, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines. The USA commenced intervention in Vietnam in which Australia subsequently participated. It was an Australia faced with the choice of friendly relations with the peoples of Asia and the Pacific or an Australia lined up in the US confrontation of the “Communist menace”. The Australian ruling circles “chose” the USA, basically because of the great US economic interests in Australia. Thus Australia fought alongside the USA in the losing wars in Korea and Vietnam and shared in the overall retreat compelled on the USA by military defeats in those countries. On a world scale, the Soviet Union increasingly assumed an expansionist character, the foundation and “justification” for which had been laid at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It strove to move into the “vacuum” about to be left, and subsequently left in various parts of the world by the retreating US.
Within Australia, the Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon governments went along with the USA. Australian people protested against Australia’s commitment in the Vietnamese war. The more far-sighted Australian capitalists reconsidered the situation. They concluded that there was no future in hostility to the liberation movements in Asia and the Pacific. They saw that there were advantages in diplomatic relations with China. The whole of South East Asia and China constituted a potentially huge market for Australia. Moreover the policy of confrontation being pursued was causing serious divisions within the Australian community to the detriment of the economy and stability and profits. In the mid-fifties, the Labor Party split over these issues. The right wing (Industrial Groups) split away and formed the Democratic Labor Party. The ALP Hobart Conference in 1955 took a comparatively progressive stand on international questions.
Another period of radicalisation of many Australian people set in. It was a product of the opposition to the war in Vietnam and reaction against repression in Australia to which successive governments and subordination of Australia to the USA, contributed.
Acute contradictions between the Soviet Union and the USA intensified. At the time when the US was experiencing greater and greater difficulty in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in 1968 militarily occupied Czechoslovakia. The struggle between the USA and the Soviet Union assumed world-wide proportions. A mildly pro-Soviet position on limited issues was in 1971 a contributing factor to the downfall of the Australian Prime Minister Gorton, His attitude of a greater measure of Australian independence annoyed the US and the dominant Australian bourgeoisie. This was an indication of the intensity of the rivalry between the superpowers and showed how that rivalry influenced events within Australia. Amongst the groups of capitalists in Australia, contradictions deepened. These embraced rural industry against secondary industry, protectionists against free traders, national capitalists against those who had thrown in their lot with the USA and Japanese investors and traders, amongst collaborators with the different imperialisms. Australia was rapidly changing from the old outpost of the British Empire into part of the sphere of the US empire (“an outpost on the rim of Asia”, as ex-US Secretary of State, Kissinger, was later to put it). As such, it became “home” for a number of US military bases, the essential purpose of which was to contain the Soviet challenge.
The crucial question for Australia and thus for the Communists was Australian independence. The soil was fertile. Strong anti-US imperialist sentiments developed. They derived from US exploitation of Australian workers and oppression of other sections. Some capitalists were ruined in the competition with US monopolies. Highhanded US actions infringed on Australia’s sovereignty. Australian people were part of the world-wide opposition to the USA, which was seen as the world’s policeman. The now social-imperialist (socialist in words, imperialist in deeds) Soviet Union, though a comparatively small trader with Australia, made tentative efforts to get a greater financial hold. Its efforts met with no great success. But the Soviet Union worked hard at extending its influence in Australia by calling on traditional pro-Soviet groups, by extensive lobbying, by paying close attention to cultivating trade union and Labor Party officials. It did not neglect any of the parliamentary parties nor leading personalities from all walks of life. Together with this, the Soviet Union over the years of what is regarded as its genuine socialist period, had won much sympathy both from advanced workers and other people and a less tangible popularity with wider sections of Australian people.