World War I had greatly stepped up imperialist activity and interest in Australia. This caused big developments in capitalism and intensified the class struggle. The class struggle had an anti-imperialist direction. This was evidenced by the anti-conscription victories in the two referendums, (1916 and 1917) the anti-war activities of the I.W.W. and socialist groups, the 1917 general strike in New South Wales. The upsurge in Australian class struggle was a component part of the intensified class struggle in the world of which the October Revolution was the high point. Moreover economic crisis in Australia in the post-war period (a part of the general crisis of capitalism) accentuated class conflict.
On the other hand, the international bourgeoisie and its Australian component combined to offset revolutionary growth. One aspect of this was the armed intervention against the Russian revolution. Alongside armed intervention, an unprecedented ideological and political campaign was waged against the “menace of Communism.” Intervention against the Soviet workers failed. It did great damage but it also helped the workers to understand the nature of communism and the nature of imperialist intervention against it. This too influenced Australian workers, and the Australian Communist Party played a prominent part in organising relief for the Russian people.
The political and ideological campaign against communism took many forms. Outright attacks on it by the newspapers and other such organs of the capitalist class were a prominent feature. The more dangerous attacks were those amongst the workers themselves. And here the bourgeoisie used its labor party to do the job. Under the pressure of class struggle to which we have referred as influencing the formation of the Communist Party, the labor party inserted a socialisation plank into its platform. This was at once a reflection of the growing militancy of the working class in Australia and an act of deception on the part of the bourgeoisie. In order to divert the advanced workers from Communism and the Communist Party and its genuine struggle for socialism, it was essential for the bourgeoisie to strive to guide revolutionary sentiments into harmless channels. We must never forget that the bourgeoisie constantly discusses its tactics of struggle.
Division and splitting are a feature of the growth of the Communist Party in Australia. This is inevitable. Division and splitting result from the reflection of the class struggle in the Communist Party. There was from the very beginning (and there will remain) struggle between proletarian and bourgeois ideology manifested in the struggle between social democracy and its influences (labor party politics) on the one hand and Communism on the other, between the old and the new. The struggle did not and does not take place under these banners but that was and is its real essence.
The formative years of the Communist Party showed conflict amongst its component groups. Reflection of the external class struggle and shortcomings in ideology were the basic cause of this internecine strife. An expression of this was deficiency in integration with the Australian workers and working people. It all reflected the then immaturity of the workers and the yet early development of class struggle.
The Party in its formative years strove for Marxism-Leninism. Of necessity the bourgeois counter-attack affected it in its internal struggle. Communist ideas, Marxist-Leninist ideas in the Communist Party of Australia could only develop and grow strong in internal conflict in the Party against non-Communist ideas and chiefly those of social democracy (labor party).
As to armed struggle the world was providing rich lessons in the initiative taken by the bourgeoisie in the use of force and violence. After all, unparalleled violence was initiated and launched against the Russian workers. For generations the Russian Tsars at the head of the Russian ruling class had used unlimited force and violence against the Russian workers and peasants. Then when the Russian workers and peasants rebelled, the Russian ruling class again resorted to unlimited force and violence. And it was backed in this by the armies of the interventionary powers.
It is true that in Australia there was not this degree of violence. But the lessons to all workers were clear. And in its own way the Australian ruling class used its police, its courts, its gaols to suppress workers’ struggle. Frame-up and gaoling of the I.W.W. leaders, the sedition laws, the violence against the advocates of no-conscription, were all indications of the force and violence of the ruling class backed ultimately by the army. How to counteract the force and violence of the ruling class received little attention yet that question is critical to the politics of revolution. This is a weakness that showed the strength of social democratic influences.
Labor party social democracy depends upon parliamentary majorities, depends on the “peaceful transition to socialism”, depends upon legalism. One can reject those ideas without positively embracing their opposite in revolutionary ideas. It is a law of revolution that the given revolution will be resisted with counter revolutionary force and violence. If the workers and their allies are not armed both ideologically and materially to overcome that counter revolutionary force and violence with their own force and violence their revolution is doomed. Marx criticised the Paris Communards for not resorting to force and violence with sufficient determination.
The rejection of revolutionary force and violence is a bourgeois idea. The bourgeoisie understands the part in society played by its own force and violence. It struggles might and main to preserve its monopoly of them and to disarm the workers and their allies. Its chief weapon among the workers in this respect is social democracy. And the quintessence of social democracy is its rejection of people’s democratic revolutionary dictatorship, of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the seizure of power by armed force and armed revolutionary struggle to counteract the force and violence of the imperialist dominators of Australia and their collaborators.
Within the Communist Party in 1920 and its early years this matter had yet to develop. Indeed it is fair to say, and it is saying a lot in the then circumstances, that a good deal of the Party’s propaganda lay in arguing about the ideas of Communism. This took the form of somewhat abstract material but it was scarcely avoidable in the growth of the Party.
Its interest in the trade unions and among the labor party rank and file marked the beginning of uniting the revolutionary forces of the working class and other working people. Again there is not yet the attempt to define the forces of the revolution, the character of the allies of the revolution. All these and many other things were to be a process of growth.
Had the Communists not formed the Communist Party in 1920, experience on these matters would not have been accumulated. We would not now be in the position of summing up experience.
World capitalism entered a period of relative stability in the mid-twenties. The intensity of class struggle in Australia abated. Ideas that the Communist Party had been prematurely formed, emerged. These too are basically social democratic ideas. They rest on the basis that socialist revolution is unnecessary, that capitalism is permanent which is the very foundation of parliamentary and trade union politics. A trend to liquidation of the Communist Party asserted itself. In terms of contradiction, the contradiction between proletarian and bourgeois ideology, between social democratic ideas and revolutionary ideas took the active specific form of for or against the struggle to establish a revolutionary Communist Party. Bourgeois ideas required the liquidation of the revolutionary party. Within the Communist Party, liquidation in its open form was defeated.
Tribute to the fact that the revolutionary banner of Communism was being upheld was the political Crimes Act of 1926. This Act centred on the assertion that the Communist Party in Australia upheld revolution by force and violence and advocated force and violence. The many-sided attack of the bourgeoisie can be clearly seen. On the one hand, they promoted direct hostile verbal and written attacks on the Communist Party, they fostered the idea through their social democratic labor party that there is no necessity for a Communist Party and on the other hand they used the force and violence of their Crimes Act physically to deal with the Communists and to intimidate the weak.
In summary, the apparent stability of capitalism nurtured illusions about its permanence and no need for its overthrow; capitalist ideological and political attacks on the Communists, physical attacks on them and deception of the workers from within, were all features of political life in Australia.
All this found reflection within the Communist Party and acute internal Party struggle resulted. It was the reflection within the Communist Party of the class struggle and was the way in which the Party lived and grew.