Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E. F. Hill

The Great Cause of Australian Independence


Australia's specific history determines the course that must be followed to achieve socialism and Communism in Australia. Man must have the correct ideas to achieve these forms of society. History shows that there are general laws of development which are universally applicable but these general laws have specific working out in given countries.

While socialised production is far advanced in Australia it does not follow that the next step is thoroughgoing all-round socialism and the building of Communism.

Australia's specific, material evolution has given rise to Australian revolutionary ideas, to ideas that arise from the actual situation in Australia and at the same time influence the actual situation. This is the theory of the Australian revolution. Australian revolutionary theory guides the Australian revolution. Australia has its own path to socialism and Communism.

The history of Australia determines that path. Previous reference has been made to the fact that capitalism in Australia has swept aside the primitive Communism of Australia's native people, that Australia as it is today had a colonial origin, that the attempt at the beginning of white settlement to create a semi-feudal peasant economy was swept aside. It developed a capitalist life of its own and called into being factors that led to the demand for independence from British imperialism.

The independence movement took many forms. It was in struggle, contradiction, with dependence -dependence in the first place on Great Britain. The existence of British investment in Australia, Australian exports to and dependence on Britain, British "defence" of Australia, were the material basis on which "loyalty" to Britain arose plus the sentiments of immigrant workers largely from Britain. On the other hand the surviving black people, the growth of local white workers and working people, the growth of Australian independent producers, were the basis for ideas of independence. All this occurred in a world where similar processes were afoot.

Gradually struggle developed for independence. It grew in strength. Britain made concessions. At the same time she retained her hold. Again there were growing material factors which constituted the basis for ideas both of dependence and of independence. "Responsible" government, which conferred on the colonies "self-government" while retaining a large measure of British control, hastened the development of an internal state apparatus in the separate Australian colonies.

The colonies were separate. There was no single Australia New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia became Britain's colonies in Australia.

The British imperialists kept them separate and fostered divisions among them on the age-old principle of "divide and rule". So people in Australia evolved as New South Welshmen, Tasmanians, Victorians, South Australians, Queenslanders and Western Australians. Travel in such a big country was difficult; this contributed to division.

With the growth of industry and transport, particularly railways, capital began to assume an Australia-wide character. An Australian consciousness began to take shape. The movement for independence from Britain by Australia as one whole began to take shape. Eureka's armed rebellion and its demands were concerned only with Victoria (historically it had been part of New South Wales) though naturally enough they had repercussions in the other British colonies in Australia.

In 1900, Australia's existence as one country was given legal recognition by a British statute. It "created" a united Australia and turned the former separate colonies into States of the united Australia.

On the one hand Britain created Australia as one nation or rather recognised legally the material forces that were compelling Australia's emergence as one nation and on the other hand retained the division into States. In the tactics of maintaining a hold on her erstwhile colonies in which there was great British investment she worked out in the Australian constitution a legal form of independence and yet dependence, unity yet division. The embryonic Australian bourgeoisie in its turn sought independence yet wanted certain dependence.

Since 1900 capitalism has greatly developed in Australia. This has led to a strengthening of the united government. At the same time, the States have remained strong as against the central government. The imperialist powers have changed in relation to each other. The U.S., which ousted Britain as the dominant power, used the division in Australia to its own advantage. Now it is being challenged in a similar process by the imperialist Soviet Union.

Thus Australia has developed to the stage of being a comparatively developed independent capitalist country with a history of dependence upon Britain and struggle for independence from Britain, then challenge of Britain by the United States which became the dominant power in Australia and now is challenged by a new imperialism, the Soviet Union. Each of them has used the division into States, each of them has manipulated the state apparatus and each of them has manipulated parliament and used other means of deception. The decisive basis in that has been first British investment, Britain as an imperialist power, then the more aggressive U.S. investment, USA as an imperialist power and now the question is arising of Soviet investment, the Soviet Union as an imperialist power.

Along with this division into States have gone other colonial hangovers such as the British monarchy, British -appointed Governors both for the United Australia and for the separate States, (the Governor-General significantly enough is the Commander-in-Chief of Australia's armed forces), the existence of appeals from the States to the British Privy Council (a British court set up to hear appeals from British colonial courts), the need to reserve certain legislation for the Queen's assent, British imperial honours and so on. These colonial relics have been retained. They have been used or influenced where necessary by the then dominant imperialism, such as the U.S. in the sacking by the Governor-General of an Australian government on November 11, 1975 because that government took up a mildly anti-US. position in favour of U.S. imperialism's rival, Soviet social-imperialism.

Thus while there is an independent Australia and there is capitalist democracy in Australia and while the decisive relations of production in Australia are capitalist, nevertheless there remains large dependence upon imperialism. Australia is a country which while politically independent is enmeshed in financial and diplomatic dependence particularly on the USA, then on Britain and Japan and now entering into the picture is Soviet social-imperialism.

In the world of today, the USA and the Soviet Union are the decisive imperialist powers which are fighting out the division of the world. Each strives to make lesser countries such as Australia dependent upon it.

These matters make necessary a very careful consideration of the problems that confront Australian people in the realisation of what Communists believe is the ultimate desirable Communist society.

Socialist revolution and the building of Communism are universally inevitable. They are dictated by the development of the productive forces. They are attained only by men, by the people, impelled by changes in the productive forces. The inevitability includes in it the action of men. The people alone make history.

Communism is not immediately attainable. It must be built upon and within a long development of socialism. Socialism is not immediately attainable in many countries. Not only is it a process of development itself; in many countries there are certain uncompleted tasks of preceding social development before there can be the advance to socialism.

For example, in Russia the socialist revolutionaries at the end of the 19th century were faced with the position that the change from feudalism to capitalism had never been completed. The development of capitalist productive forces had dictated the overthrow of feudal relations of production. Feudal relations of production restricted the development of the productive forces, there were not relations of production that corresponded to the development of capitalism. Capitalism could not fully develop. Thus the working class itself could not fully develop. A first stage in the socialist revolution was to complete the bourgeois democratic revolution, that is, bring about relations of production where the productive forces could develop. Only in that way would the Russian working class gain the necessary position to carry through to socialism its challenge to feudalism. The socialist revolution in Russia, because of the level of productive forces and the condition of the relations of production necessarily was required to go through the stage of bourgeois democratic (capitalist) revolution to socialism. They were different stages which arose from historical necessity. There was competition between the capitalists and the working class for the leadership of the revolution. If the democratic revolution were to be carried into socialism, then the working class must lead. In leading, it recognised the two stages of the revolution. The theory of revolution arose from man's practice and summing up of that practice. The practice proved the accuracy of the summing up. Thus in Russia a process of continuing revolution by stages expressed itself in the 1905 bourgeois democratic revolution, the February 1917 bourgeois democratic revolution which carried 1905 further, and the October 1917 proletarian socialist revolution. Each step was the foundation for bigger steps.

In China, the advance to the development of China's productive forces was barred by imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. These had to be overthrown as essential steps in the struggle for socialism. The leading force in the struggle was the working class and the main force was the peasantry. Examination of the facts and practice revealed this path. The theoreticians summed it up and gave guidance to it. Practice proved the theory correct. Thus a great united front of Chinese people led by the Chinese proletariat won liberation in 1949 and entered upon the struggle for socialism. Liberation from imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism was an essential part of the struggle for socialism and Communism. Only after the victory of liberation could socialism be built. Liberation was a preliminary but necessary stage.

In Australia, history has been different.

Capitalism developed in it when the bourgeois democratic revolution in Britain had broadly speaking been completed. In the British bourgeois democratic revolution, there were elements of compromise with feudalism but the decisive relations of production were capitalist. Hence in Australia there were no productive forces giving rise to feudal relations of production. There were no feudal aristocracy, feudal overlords, to overthrow in order that capitalism could develop. No task arose of completing the bourgeois democratic revolution in the sense of the overthrow of feudalism and its replacement by capitalism.

There was a colonial autocracy in the separate British colonies in Australia. In defining the tasks of socialist revolution it is extremely important to note again that the British colonies in Australia were indeed separate New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, even though originally part of New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia. They had separate administrations, separate colonial autocracies. The struggle within them had several sides.

The common oppressor of the workers and working people and of the growing Australian capitalists was Britain. These separate sections of the population thus had a common enemy. The fact that the separate colonies had a common enemy was a factor in the ultimate unification of Australia. The united peoples of the colonies were a greater force both quantitatively and qualitatively than the peoples operating simply as single separate forces in the separate colonies. An essential uncompleted task in Australia is to overcome the restrictive aspect of the division into States.

There was far-reaching oppression by Britain. Democratic liberties of the colonial people were very limited. There was physical annihilation of the black people. The peoples of the colonies were denied their own independent government and making their own decisions even though such a government would be within the framework of capitalism and decisions would be capitalist decisions. British imperialism, by its own actions, impelled by the need for imperialism to expand, set in train productive forces within the separate Australian colonies which had their own development. They invested in Australia, set up factories etc. A working class and a capitalist class came into being alongside the dominant British imperialist investment and productive means, indeed because of them. The "partners" of British imperialism and the importers from Britain and exporters to Britain looked for better terms from her.

Thus the very productive forces and their development in the separate colonies in Australia called into being by Britain herself impelled Australia to rebel against Britain. Alongside this went the struggle of the black people.

Product of the development of the productive forces and the actions that they compelled Australians to take was so-called responsible government. This was legislatively conferred by Britain on the several separate Australian colonies largely in the middle of last century. It had been preceded by other more limited forms of local "self-government" and by struggles of the Australian people. Most notable was the Eureka rebellion against the colonial autocracy in 1854.

All this too went on side by side with the struggle for democratic rights and better conditions in England itself. The great Chartist movement in. England which in the then historical conditions raised far reaching demands [(1) universal suffrage (2) equal electoral districts (3) no property qualifications (4) annual parliaments (5) payment of members of parliament (6) secret ballot] had great influence in the Australian colonies.

Self-government had conceded a measure of autonomy to the Australian people. But Britain retained a substantial colonial hold. The people's struggle was to overcome the colonial autocracy, the British imperialist domination. The development of the productive forces, the growth of transport particularly railways, called into being still more Australian people. The Australian bourgeoisie and working class grew. So too did Australian partners of British capitalists who struggled for better terms of "partnership".

There was a never ending struggle to extend democratic rights and for better living conditions and to throw off the colonial autocracy. The new Australian capitalists while they wanted independence, still wanted protection by British imperialism both against external enemies and against internal struggle by the workers. The working class did not yet have a clear-cut independence consciousness.

The united Australia "created" in 1900 was called the Commonwealth of Australia. The constitution of Australia simply gave legal form to economic and social forces that had developed in Australia and brought about changes in her relation to Britain. The very words of the British Act (to which the constitution is a schedule) show the neo-colonial character of what was done. An example is: "Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established. And whereas it is expedient to provide for the admission into the Commonwealth of other Australasian Colonies and possessions of the Queen.

"Be it therefore enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows ..." (Note the omission of Western Australia where dependence on Britain kept Western Australia in a special position).

Then follow the detailed provisions under which the Commonwealth was set up and the detailed provisions of the constitution itself.

Just 77 years ago this measure was passed. While it granted independence it also reflected very clearly the continuing dependence of the erstwhile Australian colonies (now States) on Britain. On the one hand Britain recognised the necessity of concession to the Australian forces to which her implanting of capitalism m the Australian colonies had given rise and on the other hand maintained by the very measures of the constitution a system whereby she could retain a good deal of control. It is worthy of note too that nowhere did the Constitution use words of independence.

As for the local capitalist class, it wanted self- government in Australia which gave a certain independence consonant with its independent economic and social position but at the same time reflected the economic and social strength of Britain in Australia. The working class was an active participant in the struggle for an independent Australia, indeed was used by the Australian capitalists to that end. It had not yet worked out a theory of independence struggle.

The Australian capitalists and their representatives who participated in the Convention proceedings for an Australian constitution showed the actual weakness of Australian independent capitalism as against the strength of Britain. These capitalists had reaped the benefit of many struggles large and small by the workers and working people against the British colonial authorities. They used these struggles as bargaining weapons in their struggle with Britain.

The result then of the Australian constitution, the creation of a united Australia, was very far from recognising Australia as a wholly independent capitalist state. It simply recorded a certain stage in the development of the independence, economy and society of Australia as against the economy and society of Britain. It measured in legal terms the then social and economic relations between the two.

It left a substantial legacy of dependence and substantial tasks to be performed before there could be an Australia genuinely independent of imperialism. Thoroughgoing independence for Australia is a critical part of the struggle for socialism.

While Australia had not had the weight of feudalism to throw off, still it had the weight of colonialism and imperialism to get rid of. In the process of getting rid of it many anti-imperialist sections of the population were impelled by circumstances to come together. In 1900, for example, the Australian workers had an anti-imperialist task along with the farmers and the Australian capitalists. In addition there were other working and patriotic people. In 1900 however, Australia was still a series of colonies, its working class scattered and not very strong (there as yet being no extensive Australia-wide developed industry), its farmers were in a position economically very dependent on Britain, its capitalist class was very weak. The world was largely a world dominated by imperialism. The world socialist revolutionary movement was as yet comparatively weak even though the Parisian workers in 1871 had "stormed heaven" and set up their own state power for 3 months.

To accord with this the apparatus of state in Australia was only beginning to take shape as an Australian apparatus. Australia's independence was in its infancy. Britain exercised power and influence within it.