In 1939, World War II broke out. Because Great Britain was at war, the Australian government took the view that Australia’s position in the British Empire (or more euphemistically “British Commonwealth of Nations”) meant that Australia too was at war. This testified to British imperialist hold on Australia.
The Communist Party at first declared its support for the war because it was led astray by its subjective desire to see the defeat of fascism. It failed to appreciate the facts of imperialist rivalries between Hitler’s Germany on the one hand and Britain and France on the other. The facts, and the truth that flowed from these facts, had not yet been sufficiently investigated. But the phoney war period in which great efforts were made by the British and French ruling circles to come to terms with Hitler, led to a reconsideration of the position. The Communist Party then correctly denounced the war as an imperialist war.
The phoney war came to an end. Hitler advanced into Western Europe. The class struggle within the capitalist countries greatly intensified as the workers strove to oppose the imperialist war. The Communist Party in Australia was banned in June 1940. The fact that it was banned demonstrated the fear of the ruling circles of it and of workers’ struggle. The Party maintained an underground existence. (Its legality formally was restored in 1943 but in reality in 1942.)
On June 22, 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and shortly after that, Britain declared its alliance with the Soviet Union. Australia correspondingly declared its support of the alliance with the Soviet Union. A labour government came to office in Australia in 1941. After the Anglo-Soviet alliance, the Communist Party supported the war. The character of the class struggle changed; the ruling circles were now anxious to use the Communist Party, the workers, and of course the Soviet Union in the struggle against their imperialist rival.
The Communist Party correctly supported the war but again it did not analyse and investigate the facts deeply enough. The nature of imperialism had not changed, the nature of the capitalist state in Australia had not changed. The co-operation between on the one hand, the ruling circles which included the labor party and on the other hand, the Communist Party, led to a certain amalgamation. In short, the maintenance of the independence and initiative of the Communist Party in the united front was given altogether too little attention. The Communist Party tended to be an appendage of the labor party. The Party sometimes acted against workers’ just struggles instead of seeing that the nature of capitalist exploitation had not changed and that while co-operation was necessary, still the position of the working class had to be kept in the foremost position.
A correct appraisal of the situation and what should be done was given by Mao Tsetung. He said “... compromise between the United States, Britain and France and the Soviet Union can be the outcome only of resolute, effective struggles by all the democratic forces of the world against the reactionary forces of the United States, Britain and France. Such compromise does not require the people in the countries of the capitalist world to follow suit and make compromises at home. The people in those countries will continue to wage different struggles in accordance with their different conditions. The principle of the reactionary forces in dealing with the democratic forces of the people is definitely to destroy all they can and to prepare to destroy later whatever they cannot destroy now. Face to face with this situation, the democratic forces of the people should likewise apply the same principle to the reactionary forces.” (Some points in Appraisal of the Present International Situation, Selected Works, Vol. IV, p.87.)
The anti-fascist war aroused great support and enthusiasm among the workers. The ruling circles sought to exploit that support and enthusiasm for their own ends, namely the strengthening of capitalism. The task of the Communist Party should have been to direct that support and enthusiasm against fascism and towards the overthrow of imperialist domination of Australia and certainly to maintain the Party’s own independence and initiative.
Almost a million Australians were in the armed services during World War II. The vast majority were drawn from the working class. Because of their imperialist interests, the ruling circles in countries like Australia are forced to arm the workers at certain times. This has a very positive side in that the question of guns in the struggle for political power is a decisive question of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary politics. Never in Australian history had there been such a mass armed mobilisation. Furthermore, the threat of the Japanese imperialist advance put the question of guerrilla war by the Australian people on the agenda. The ruling class had been forced to make the question of guns a mass question.
How then was this most important matter seen by the Communist Party? It was seen only as a question of guns against the external enemy and external threat. Here once more is an expression of the influence of bourgeois politics within the Communist Party. At the close of the war, the surrender of guns almost without question by the armed workers throughout the so-called western world (in which for this purpose we include Australia) showed just how deeply the Communists were affected by bourgeois ideas. In Australia, little or no effort was made even as a propaganda matter to explain within the Party and amongst the workers the profound importance of arms.
Co-operation with the ruling circles and their labor party led really to a large measure of ideological amalgamation. That gave rise to ideas of changes in the nature of monopoly capitalism and imperialism. There were visions of peaceful co-operation between the workers and the capitalists to remould Australia in the interests of the working class. All sorts of promises of a new world for the working people had been made by the ruling circles during the war but the reality was that these promises were sheer deception. That deception to a considerable extent was taken as reality amongst some of the Communist leaders.
The most systematic development of these ideas was that of the U.S. revisionist Browder. His ideas gained a large measure of acceptance among Australia’s leading Communists because of factors we have previously mentioned. Browder’s ideas involved a disarmed working class, disarmed materially with their guns surrendered to the class enemy, and disarmed ideologically because now according to Browder, the class enemies could cooperate to their mutual benefit. Such ideas could only gain support in a Communist Party heavily infected with bourgeois ideas, with subjectivism and organisational sectarianism. Browder in reality did a tremendous job for American imperialism.