After World War II, the ruling circles quickly adopted a sharper counter-revolutionary policy. In Australia, they at first bowed to certain demands of the workers but even then only after big strike struggles. In 1946, the British imperialist Churchill, after consultation with Truman the then chieftain of U.S. imperialism, made his Fulton speech. This was the voice of world imperialism calling for attack upon the working class. By the end of the forties, the cold war had set in. Within Australia, attacks were made on the working class and on its Party. All this marked the counter offensive of the bourgeoisie to offset the strengthened position of the working class gained during World War II.
Its offensive was resisted by the workers in many big struggles and Communists played a prominent part in them.
All this helped the workers and Communists in Australia to understand the real character of capitalism. Developments in World War II and in the post war years, the greatly expanded U.S. investment in Australia caused an expansion of capitalism in Australia. The working class increased in size. The political experience gained during the war, plus now the attack of the ruling circles, helped to develop the working class and the Communist Party. Because capitalism in Australia had expanded, the class struggle was necessarily fought on a larger scale. U.S. imperialist expansion in Australia and the aggressive role of U.S. imperialism in the world acted too as a focus against which militant struggle was waged. The war against Korea, the Berlin airlift, all helped people understand the nature of imperialism.
Within the Communist Party, class struggle was reflected. The tactics of the bourgeoisie embraced bribery, adaptation of the Communists to capitalism, intimidation, force, with Royal Commissions, gaolings, frame-ups, police thug attacks on the Party and Party members.
These factors led to certain of the Communist leaders compromising still further with capitalism. The great coal miners’ struggle of 1949 was branded by these people as “left”, as sectarian and a stand was taken against mass struggle. In so far as mass struggle could not be suppressed, these Communist leaders sought to restrict it, to confine it within limits acceptable to the bourgeoisie. All this served U.S. imperialism.
But within the Communist Party, healthy elements protested against this policy. They kept alive the spirit of Communism. The imperialists, both British and U.S. had always seen Australia as an outpost of “western civilisation”, that is, as a base for British and U.S. imperialism in the Pacific. World War II had emphasised the need to the imperialists to have such a base. World War II however had given great impetus to the liberation movements in the Asian countries. This served to emphasise to the advanced Australian workers that the interests of Australian working people lay with the liberation movements of Asia. The victory of the liberation forces in China caused a tremendous change in the relationship of forces in Asia, and the Pacific (and indeed in the world). The Australian working class now existed in an environment where there were active liberation movements in the countries around it. These events and the growing maturity of the working class necessarily caused a more precise definition of the character of the revolution in Australia, the forces of the revolution and of Australia’s place in the world.
Despite this, in 1951 under the influence of the factors we have previously discussed and of the cooperation which had resulted in a certain amalgamation of ideology with the labor party, the Communist Party had declared in its programme that the road to socialism was a peaceful road – the so-called peaceful transition to socialism. With that programme, the Communist Party lived through and participated in the fight against the intensification of the reactionary offensive.
In the actual storm of class struggle serious doubts could not help but arise as to “the peaceful transition to socialism”. Previously it has been pointed out that the state is an apparatus of force and violence and can only be defeated by force and violence. It is not at all that the Communists reject peaceful change. Communists simply say, seek truth from facts and then the facts compel the truth that there cannot be peaceful transition to socialism. Engels put this very well when in answer to the question: “Will the abolition of private property be possible in a peaceful way?”, he said:
It were to be wished that this could happen, and the Communists would certainly be the last to take exception thereto. The Communists know too well that all conspiracies are not only useless, but even harmful. They know too well that revolutions are not made arbitrarily and to order, but that they were everywhere and at all times the necessary consequence of circumstances which are entirely independent of the will and control of particular parties and whole classes. They also see, however, that the development of the proletariat in almost all civilised lands is forcibly suppressed, and that in this way the opponents of the Communists are making with all their might for a revolution. Should the oppressed proletariat be in this way driven finally to a revolution, then we Communists will defend the cause of the proletarians just as well with deeds as we now do with words. (Principles of Communism.)
The appearance of this “peaceful transition to socialism” idea in the Communist Party programme certainly reflected bourgeois influences. And it occurred in conditions of intensified class struggle. It carried forward the trend of reformism, revisionism that existed in the Communist Party from 1920 and which had expressed itself throughout its history, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker as the class struggle ebbed or flowed.
The 1951 expression of it was an important matter for the future history of the Party. The two trends – Marxism-Leninism and bourgeois ideology, had been contending since the foundation of the Party. By 1951, there had been great world advances in the whole working class movement and the counter-offensive of the ruling circles had gathered way. The stage was set for the further development of the struggle in the Communist Parties between these two lines as a reflection of the class struggle. The struggle was bound to intensify. It continued sometimes seemingly imperceptibly and not necessarily in the name of a struggle for or against Marxism-Leninism. Nor was it fought to a conclusion.
Some Party leaders were fond of stressing the unity of the Party. But this unity was a nominal unity. Struggle within the Party never ceased. Against critical questions such as tactics in the united front, on the character of the war, on Browder’s line, voices particularly amongst the rank and file workers had been raised. These voices challenged the line of some of these leaders.
The unity conceived of by the Party leaders was a misconception of unity. Earlier it was pointed out that unity is always conditional, struggle absolute. Democratic centralism was likewise seen as an absolute rather than as a living concept dependent for its life on adherence to Marxism-Leninism. By a misuse of unity and democratic centralism, opposition to “peaceful transition to socialism” tended to be stifled in the name of the unity of the Party and democratic centralism.
Another feature that strengthened the bourgeois trends within the Party occurred again over the united front. For example, two of the great expressions of the counter offensive of the ruling circles were the Communist Party Dissolution Act passed in 1950 and the referendum on it held on September 22, 1951 and the anti-working class provocation staged in 1954 about the Russian diplomat, Petrov. Petrov was a Third Secretary in the Soviet Embassy who defected in 1954 and carried to the Australian authorities documents and “information”, which implicated Australians in a “spy ring”. A Royal Commission in 1954/55 was used to victimise innocent Australians. No spies were found. In those instances there was co-operation (desirable co-operation provided there was sound Marxist-Leninist understanding) between the Communist Party and the Labor Party. The nature of this co-operation strengthened the tendency to ideological amalgamation. Independence and initiative of the Communist Party in the united front was not understood sufficiently.
On the other side was the mass revelation of the real character of the labor party in its gaoling of workers, its repressive legislation and its open service to U.S., British and Australian big business. Its White Australia policy, its mass immigration, its promotion of U.S. big business investment in Australia, were all products of its capitalist character. They were absolutely logical and consistent products of the labor party’s policy; indeed they were the very purpose of the labor party.
Those then are some background features of the most critical struggle in the history of the Communist Party in Australia. That struggle as in all other Communist Parties concerned the question of the supremacy of Marxism-Leninism or desertion to the revision of Marxism-Leninism.