Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E. F. Hill

Australia’s Revolution: On the Struggle for a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party


Politics, whether revolutionary or counter-revolutionary, is the struggle of class against class, not the activity of a few individuals. (Mao Tsetung: Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art. Selected Works, Vol. III, pp. 86-7).

This quotation is used in this way because the real meaning of politics has been obscured so much in Australia that any serious treatment must restate that politics are the history and waging of class struggle. The idea that parliamentary politics are the only politics has been so assiduously fostered that the word “politician” is almost synonymous with parliamentary politician. But parliamentary politics and parliamentary politicians in truth are only incidents of real politics, the politics of class struggle. Parliamentary politics are one aspect of capitalist class politics. They confine politics within limits permitted by the capitalist class.

The development of the Communist Party in Australia can only be understood in the light of development of class struggle, class politics. The Communist Party is the product of class struggle, the product of the working class struggle against the capitalist class and it develops along with the class struggle.

Capitalism is a social system characterised by a few great monopolies owning the means of production (factories, mines) and the great majority of the people working in those means of production and owning nothing but their capacity to labour which they are forced to sell. Capitalism brings misery to the people, unemployment, inflation, crises, war. There is great upheaval throughout the world. Everywhere people are struggling. Australia is no exception. There is urgent need to find the way out of all this. Our view is that the revolutionary road is the only road.

Then the question is – against whom is the revolutionary struggle in Australia directed? Our introductory chapter showed that in 1 788, New South Wales was occupied by the British imperialists as a penal colony. British imperialism was the then dominant imperialism in the world. The colony remained the strictest of strict colonies until 1823. The British imperialist appointed governor had absolute power, the other administrators were British military or naval officers. Over the 19th and 20th centuries the forms of British colonial hold changed. Something of that has been traced.

It is not our purpose to trace in detail the history of the various Australian colonies. General development has been commented upon. Suffice it to say that “responsible” government was “granted” by the British imperialist authorities to the colony of Victoria in 1856, Tasmania in 1856, Western Australia in 1890, South Australia in 1856, Queensland’s first such “responsible” parliament, largely based on the New South Wales pattern, met in 1860. All of this was the action of British imperialism to maintain its real hold on the colonies while conceding the forms of representative and “responsible” government.

These concessions were necessary to British imperialism because free settlement had grown, local production had grown and the local people demanded an end to the absolute autocracy of the Crown colony governors and system of government.

The economy in the Australian colonies was predominantly primary production for home consumption and for processing by British industries. Lenin pointed out that in its occupation and exploitation of colonies imperialism of necessity also caused the development of capitalism and commodity production in those colonies. Capitalism developed in Australia was a capitalism to serve British imperialism. The British imperialists certainly did not seek to create an Australian economy which would free the colony from the imperialist hold. In whatever way it arises, capitalism calls into being a working class and other sections of people – small capitalists grew up, farmers both big and small, and intermediate sections of people.

The British imperialists were quick indeed to crush any working class movement and any movement that in any way challenged the imperialist position. Hence Master and Servant Acts virtually prohibited and suppressed trade unions. On the other hand, as we have seen, British imperialism early began to use the device of local “representative” institutions to create the illusion of giving the local people a say.

All this represented the beginnings of the struggle for national independence and democratic rights of the Australian people against British imperialism. Throughout the 19th century this movement continued to develop as British imperialism continued to develop its Australian colonies.

Although the British Act of 1900 entitled “The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act” had established “one indissoluble Commonwealth” the former separate colonies (now States) maintained a separate existence. Rivalry between them reflected internal competing imperialist and capitalist interests.

Earnest of the British imperialist hold was the automatic involvement of Australia in Britain’s imperialist war of 1914-18 in which some 60,000 Australians lost their lives on battlefields thousands of miles from Australia. At the same time World War I compelled a big development of capitalism in Australia.

World War I marked the decline of British imperialism. U.S. imperialism emerged greatly strengthened at the expense of its British and German competitors.

The comparative decline of British imperialism after World War I and the advance of U.S. imperialism led to increased U.S. investment in Australia.

Whatever the national identity of the given capitalist, that capitalist invested in Australia solely to exploit Australian workers and Australian working people. This took the basic form of direct employment, i.e., direct exploitation, but it also took other forms such as purchasing Australian primary products cheap and selling manufactured products dear or simply selling in the Australian market the products of overseas manufacture or investing in industry, railways, agriculture. Australia was never and is not an imperialist country in its own right. It is both the victim of imperialism and an offshoot of imperialism.

There had been rebellion of various kinds against reactionaries. Because it had a working class and a capitalist class, there had been quite acute class struggle. It would be naive to believe that fully fledged working class politics inspired and guided what struggle there had been. Only hopeless pedants would test or examine Australian working class history against such an assertion. The working class develops step by step along with the development of capitalism. Working class consciousness likewise develops along with the development of the working class itself. Revolutionary class consciousness arises at a given stage of the development of capitalism and of the working class. Lenin demonstrated the essential interaction between working class consciousness and its development to socialist consciousness through the ideas of scientific socialism evolved by Marx and Engels. (See Lenin’s “What is to be Done”).

Revolutionary class consciousness is something that arises and develops. It was not something transplanted and adopted fully developed by the Australian working class.

While the working class of a given country is certainly influenced by developments in other countries and by international events as a whole, still its specific development is determined by factors internal to itself, internal to the development of capitalism in Australia. “It is altogether self evident that, to be able to fight at all, the working class must organise itself at home as a class and that its own country is the immediate arena of its struggle.” (Marx: Critique of the Gotha Programme). It develops its own Communist Party as part of that development and that Party develops according to factors, contradictions, within itself in its own particular internal and external environment. Thus in order to understand the development of the Communist Party in Australia and in order to define the tasks of that Party, while fully understanding international factors, we must primarily look to the internal developments and the effect of external factors on them.

There are those who see the process simply in terms of foreign influences such as those of the Communist International or Russia or China or see it simply as a question of what some individual did or did not do. In consequence, quite banal accounts of the development of the Communist Party have been published. (Examples are Davidson’s: The Communist Party of Australia; Gibson’s: My Years in the Communist Party; Bacon’s: Outline of the Post-war History of the Communist Party of Australia).

Struggles of the Australian people varied in the degree of consciousness and class status of their participants but the line common to them was that they were rebellions against reactionaries. Those reactionaries were primarily the British imperialists and the local “partners” of them. Hence the objective direction of the struggle was freedom from British imperialism. The independent Australian capitalists and landowners rebelled against being hemmed in by British imperialism. They played a part, even the leading part, in independence struggles. They had no perspective of carrying through the struggle to the end. They came to terms of compromise with the British masters. Generally speaking each set of terms was an advance on its predecessors. For example, though the establishment of the “indissoluble Commonwealth” was a device of British imperialism, nonetheless it testified to the growth of the movement for Australian independence.

It is correct and necessary to rebel against reactionaries. In retrospect it is easy to point to shortcomings, even reactionary features, in the many struggles that occurred in Australian history. It is possible to fasten on the negative sides and then condemn the struggles in their entirety. However, such an approach does not have much to commend it because it is not in accord with the actual forward march of the oppressed. The working class movement (and rebellious movements of other social groups) has its infancy and its adolescence as the foundation for its adulthood. It was bound to make errors, bound to be one-sided, bound to be deficient in consciousness. But Australia, no less than any other country, demonstrated that wherever there is oppression there is resistance. The Australian working class and oppressed people adequately proved that they were no exception to this universal truth.

Rebellion against reactionaries in itself is not enough to solve the social problems of exploitation and oppression that come with capitalism. Rebellion needs to be guided by scientific theory: it needs ultimately to be rebellion of the workers, working people and other oppressed not only produced by actual social conditions but guided by scientific theory. Marx and Engels, in their Communist Manifesto published in 1848, made a scientific analysis of history. They showed that all history (other than that of the primitive communes) is the history of class struggle. Slave society had been overthrown by rebelling slaves to be replaced by feudal society; feudal society had been overthrown by rebelling serfs to be replaced by capitalism and capitalism would be overthrown by rebelling wage workers (wage slaves) and replaced by socialism.

History shows that Marx and Engels’s analysis was correct in fact. The Paris Commune of 1871, the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, Chinese liberation in 1949 and the socialist revolutions in Eastern Europe after World War II were each graphic demonstrations of the correctness of the analysis of Marx and Engels. (It is another matter that the Russian and certain other eastern European revolutions have been betrayed.)The importance of Marx and Engels’s analysis was that it showed that socialist revolution was a law of history, and an essential feature in it is that man develops social consciousness, that that consciousness is a product of social events and in its turn profoundly influences those events. It being a law of history that capitalism must give way to socialism, that law embraced Australia; Australia is and could be no exception.

It was therefore a law of Australian development that the workers and working people would develop socialist consciousness. The rebellious workers and working people therefore were compelled by social events to seek and did seek for theoretical guidance to their rebellion. Experience had shown limitations on purely trade union action (Maritime Strike). Experience had shown the capitalist character of the Australian Labor Party. It had shown that parliament offered no solution. There was a grasping after socialist theory. People called themselves socialists, as they still do, without understanding what scientific socialism is. But there were various socialist groups and individuals which and who conscientiously strove to understand the struggle for socialism. Just as at the time of Marx and Engels quite a number of people were grappling with ideas similar to those of Marx and Engels precisely because the conditions of capitalism compelled them to it, so by 1920 various people and various groups of people in Australia had been striving to grasp the way forward for Australian workers and working people. This is a matter to which previous reference has been made.

Marx and Engels’s genius lay in their qualitatively higher comprehensive revelation and substantiation of the laws of history and science, materialist dialectics. Their contemporaries were limited in that they elucidated only this or that aspect of social development. Australian rebellious trends were destined to discover a common guide in Marx and Engels’s theory enriched and developed to a new and higher stage as it had been by Lenin. They founded the Communist Party of Australia on October 30, 1920.

In Australia at that time the working class was as yet immature. It was bound to impose the mark of its own immaturity on the Communist Party. That Party set out to embrace Marxism-Leninism.

Along with the whole revolutionary movement, Australia’s revolutionary movement had been given great impetus by the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. The October Revolution was the most brilliant demonstration in life and practice that Marx and Engels’s theory was correct. But tne creation of the Communist Party in Australia could only be the action of Australians in Australian conditions.

The formation of the Communist Party was an act of decisive importance for the working class movement in Australia. It crystallised and gave concrete form and expression to the real hopes and aspirations of the Australian workers. The Party set out consciously to seek the guidance of Marxism-Leninism for the revolutionary movement. Naturally Communism in Australia was in its infancy. The Party had not very much theory, not very much experience, but it was bound to learn in the process of revolutionary practice and experience. The development of a Communist Party too is like that of a man: it goes through childhood, youth, manhood and old age. The founders of the Party had dared to act, dared to struggle, dared to form a Communist Party. Therein lay a great contribution to Australia’s development.

We should interpose here that the very term “Australia” has a class content. When the imperialists and their hangers-on speak of Australia they speak of capitalist Australia. They identify Australia with their own selfish interests. As an illustration, the U.S. corporation General Motors says that what is good for General Motors is good for the U.S.A. From its standpoint this is correct because General Motors and a few other such corporations are capitalist U.S.A. Likewise in Australia, the view these corporations take is what is good for these great corporations is good for the imperialist dependency, Australia.

On the other hand, Australian workers and working people think of Australia in a way fundamentally different from this. There is nothing in common between the Australian workers and working people on the one hand and the Australian imperialist-collaborating capitalists and their foreign masters on the other. An Australia owned by the workers and working people is entirely different from an Australia owned and exploited by a few giant foreign and domestic monopolies. This is a very important question because failure to keep constantly in mind the profound class content of such elementary terms as “Australia” leads many astray.

Terms like “Australian public opinion”, “public sentiment”, “literature and art”, are of a similar nature. Again, Australian patriotism is essentially a class question – the ruling class is loyal, patriotic to its own exploitation and profits, the working people to their country and people. Patriotism raises the question – patriotic to what and to whom? Public opinion raises the question – public opinion of whom? Public opinion is a class question. What class is being spoken of? This analysis must be extended to every similar idea. “In class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class”. (Mao Tsetung – On Practice: Selected Works, Vol. 1, p. 296).

To serve the Australian workers and working people, the foundation Communists formed the Communist Party at a time when the labor party with its parliamentary politics was still in the upsurge. This party used the name “labour” and appealed to the workers as a workers’ party. It based itself on parliament and said to the workers: elect a labor government and this government will solve your problems. It existed alongside the trade unions. It fostered the idea that the trade unions would look after the economic interests of the workers while the labor party attended to their “political” interests in parliament.

The truth was that parliament was nothing but a device to conceal the reality that Australia was ruled by the big capitalists and particularly by the British and U.S. capitalists. No parliament could or would end the rule of these capitalists. On the contrary, everything that the parliament did was to serve the interests of these capitalists because it was their parliament and could be nothing else. Australian history proves beyond any doubt the correctness of Marx’s statement that parliamentary elections give the people the right every few years to choose which member of the ruling class will misrepresent them in parliament; and the same history proves that parliament is simply a talking shop to conceal the fact that much of the real business of the country is done in London and Wall Street and by the Australian big business associates of London and Wall Street big business.

By 1920, the futility and bankruptcy of both parliamentary and trade union politics were being discussed by the advanced workers in Australia. Reference has already been made to the completely capitalist character of parliamentary politics. By trade union politics we mean the system of politics that limits working class struggle to economic demands (even though “political” legislation may be demanded), confines politics to the “conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.” (Lenin: What is to be Done.) Such politics accept the permanence of capitalism. They do not in any way raise a challenge to capitalism itself.

The foundation of the Communist Party in Australia represented the commencement of a break from this, constituted an organised systematic challenge in the working class to bourgeois politics which included parliamentarism and trade union politics.

Why was a Communist Party needed in Australia?

The great revolutionary leader Mao Tsetung posed the general question – “Why must there be a revolutionary party?” to which he answered, “There must be a revolutionary party because the world contains enemies who oppress the people and the people want to throw off enemy oppression. In the era of capitalism and imperialism, just such a revolutionary party as the Communist Party is needed. Without such a party it is simply impossible for the people to throw off enemy oppression.” He set before the Communists certain objectives: ”We are Communists, we want to lead the people in overthrowing the enemy, and so we must keep our ranks in good order, we must march in step, our troops must be picked troops and our weapons good weapons. Without these conditions, the enemy cannot be overthrown.” (Rectify the Party’s Style of Work: Selected Works, Vol. III, p.35.) The Communist Party in Australia arose to fulfil those general objectives. It had a long hard road to travel.

In Australia the Communist Party was the creation of the advanced workers at a certain level of development of capitalism. It was no arbitrary whim of some man or group of men to form a Communist Party. The necessity for it arose from the then social being, social development in Australia. We may illustrate this by simply asking would there have been a basis for a Communist Party at the time Captain Philip seized Australia from the black people as a convict settlement in 1788? The answer simply is no, because at that time there had been no development of capitalism in Australia. The Australian aborigines were in the primitive commune stage of social development and the convicts, while the victims of capitalism in England, were not wage workers in Australia because there were no capitalists in Australia. The basis for the existence of the Communist Party lay in the historical development of capitalism in Australia (and the world) in the years between 1788 and 1920. The advanced workers had reached the stage where they were seeking scientific socialism.

Australia’s Communist Party had the task of leading the struggle for independence from British and United States imperialism to the very end. Australia must be independent. Socialist consciousness, the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism, showed that in the struggle for socialism a necessary prerequisite was the winning of independence from imperialism, the uniting of all the forces that could be united in this struggle – the working class, toiling farmers, the vast majority of public servants, such people as insurance and bank clerks, small shopkeepers, national capitalists, and other patriotic people – in a united front under the leadership of the working class. A government based on this under the leadership of the working class and based on an alliance of workers and farmers must be the aim. Internationally the movement must be part of a world wide united front against imperialism.

It is well to re-emphasise the position of the working class in Australia. The basic leadership of the working class is critical to the struggle. “... it is only the working class that is most far-sighted, most selfless and most thoroughly revolutionary. The entire history of revolution proves that without the leadership of the working class revolution fails and that with the leadership of the working class revolution triumphs. In the epoch of imperialism, in no country can any other class lead any genuine revolution to victory.” (Mao Tsetung: On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, Selected Works Vol. 4, p.421.)

We have quoted Lenin and Mao Tsetung because their theoretical principles were derived from the actual experience of the Russian and Chinese revolutions and those principles were tested and found to be correct in the Russian revolution of 1917 and Chinese liberation in 1949. Thus the need for a Communist Party based on scientific socialist theory has been demonstrated in the actual fire of socialist revolution.

Therefore in 1920, the founders of the Communist Party in Australia took a step which was a product of history and in strict accord with historical development.