Australian History. 1942

Communists and the War

by D. Lovegrove

Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in the “Labor Call” October 8th, 1942;
Republished: as A Review of the Report of the Ironworkers’ Union Federal Council and Communists and The War;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.

“The leading circles of the Second International are acting the most filthy and criminal part in the blood-dripping slaughter machine of the war. They are deceiving the masses by their homilies on the anti-fascist character of the war, and are helping the bourgeoisie drive the people to their slaughter.”

Dimitrov, General Secretary Communist International (before Germany attacked Russia).

THE most amusing parts of the Ironworkers’ Council’s Report are the Communist apologies for their changed attitude towards the Labor Parties including the Australian Labor Party.

After explaining that the “Character” of the War had changed because Russia was attacked, the author hastens to plaintively ask —

“How could the workers put any trust in people who alone led the Allies before June 22, 1941, even without the military tragedies that followed one after the other for the whole military machine of Great Britain?”

“The people who led the Allies early in the war were people who all their lives had been opposed to the working class. As well as the military leadership, the civil leadership of the Allied cause was in the hands of Anti-working class people.”

This last sentence is, of course, best answered by the Communist Party itself, which, in the Communist “Tribune” of September 9, 1939, issued the following statement:

“We stand for the full weight of Australian manpower and resources being mobilised for the defence of Australia, and along with other British forces for the defeat of Hitler, for a democratic Germany, and for the independence of nations now enslaved by Nazism.”

And we make its policy even clearer:

“We hold that it is unreal to reject on principle the organisation and training of forces to fight overseas. In the even of a voluntary expedition force being organised for use in any part of the world to safeguard Australia from aggression or to participate directly in the struggle to defeat the aggressor armies,

The Communist Party will advise fit and available members to offer their services.”

Apparently the Communists were quite prepared to trust the Chamberlain and Menzies Governments with even the lives of their own members in September, 1939.

For, at that time, the British Labor Party had not entered into the National Government and in Australia, to quote the Ironworkers’ Report (page 9):

“We had the pro-Fascist Menzies Government supposed to be conducting an Anti-Fascist war.”

But this, of course, was before the Communists threw their first somersault, and Dimitrov discovered that —

“The leading circles of the Second International” (the Labor Parties) were “... acting the most filthy and criminal part in the blood-dripping slaughter machine of the war.”

What, however, was the Communist policy — after British Labor entered the National Government?

The Communists villified the British Labor Party in precisely the terms used by them to villify the Australian Labor Party.

Therefore, it is amusing to read (page 9) another argument for the second Communist somersault, because

“Almost coinciding with this new change in the character of the war, a Labor Government came to office in Australia.”

This, of course, is not true. The Communists changed their policy immediately after June 22, when Russia was attacked, and raucously supported the war during July, August and September, under the reactionary Fadden Government, before Labor assumed office in the October.

So that the argument of — “coincidence” — is approximately as factual as the rest of the arguments in the Ironworkers’ Report.

And the funniest submission in the Ironworkers’ Report is indubitably the cautious statement (page 9) that:

“The Labor Government is not a thoroughgoing workers’ government in the full sense of the term, but it is ant Anti-Fascist Government. Nobody could say that about the previous Federal Government, or of the people now in Parliament who were in that Government. We cannot say that Menzies, Spender and Cameron are anti-Fascist. We know that Menzies is pro-Fascist.”

But we can forget for the moment that the Communists were quite prepared to shed everybody’s blood under the Menzies “pro-Fascist” Government in 1939, and under the Fadden Government in 1941, and we can examine some of their opinions of the Australian Labor Party during the period which commenced after the Russian-German Pact, and ended when Germany attacked Russia on June 22, 1941.

The Second Switch

On January 6, 1940, the Communist “Guardian” informed its readers that

“Curtin makes Shameless War Propaganda,”

And that:

“The Federal Labor Leader, Mr. Curtin, is placing himself unashamedly at the disposal of the Menzies Government in its prosecution of the War,”

And that:

“Mr. Curtin is typical of the leaders of Social Democracy, who, despite their disguise, really stand in the camp of Capitalism, and serve its interests.”

On February 17, 1940, while Labor was fighting to win Corio against the U.A.P candidate, Mr. Vinton-Smith, the Communist “Guardian” reported that the Communist Candidate, Dr. O’Day, addressed an “enthusiatic crowd of 500 people” in the Geelong West Town Hall, and stated amongst other things, that:

This issue is clear, Smith and DEDMAN stand for war, for the interests and profits of the big financiers, for the death of thousands of Australians, for the resulting increased taxation and economic depresion.”

On March 30, we find the “Guardian” alleging that:

“FUERER CURTIN, Federal Labor Chief, arrogantly wipes out the democratic opinion of the most powerful State body of Australian Labor, and say it doesn’t count.”

On April 17, we find the “Guardian” advising its readers that:

“In recent actions the Federal Labor Leader, Mr. Curtin, has completely betrayed working class principles for which he once strongly stood.”

And that:

“Today, the successful politician, Curtin, divorced from the working class, joins with the capitalist gang in reviling the Land of Socialism.”

And by April 18, we find the General Secretary of the Ironworkers’ Union telling the A.C.T.U. Congress that the war is all Imperialist War, and that:

“While he agreed that working class unity is desirable in most matters, WAR IS NOT ONE OF THEM.”

And that:

“For once he was IN AGREEMENT WITH MENZIES, that had the election lasted another month,

Curtin would have been in Khaki so changed was his policy from day to day.”

And so the stream of Communist vituperation against the Australian Labor Party flowed on to June, 1941, until once again we find the General Secretary of the Ironworkers’ Union telling an A.C.T.U. Congress that the war is an Imperialist War, and moving an amendment to the effect that:

“Congress demands the immediate nationalisation of the arms industries, and
Reaffirms its uncompromising hostility to military and industrial conscription in all circumstances.”

But the anti-climax was not long coming. Within a few days, Germany attacked Russia, the Communists overnight changed from bleating lambs of Pacifism into roaring lions of war, and by December, 1941, we found the General Secretary of the Ironworkers’ Union publicly stating that:

“I would not necessarily oppose conscription in all circumstances.”

And by June 1942, we find the Communists and the Federal Council of the Ironworkers’ Union delicately disclosing to the workers that one of the “exlanations” for their second switch in war policy is the assumption of office by a Labor Government headed by “Fuehrer Curtin, the Federal Labor Chief,” who, if the Communist were to be believed last year, “really stands in the camp of capitalism, and serves its interest.”

But if the Communists suffer from short memories, they do not lack impudence. So, inevitably we find the Federal Council of the Ironworkers’ Union used as a convenient megaphone for Communists Second Front propaganda.