Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E.F. Hill

Communism and Australia
Reflections and Reminiscences

Chapter One: Origins of Communism in Australia

Those who originated the seizure of Australia from the black people could have had but little conception of the course events would ultimately take. Their concern was the solution of immediate problems. These problems included the need for England to have expanded trade bases. There was the particular problem of exporting convicts from England. When the transportation of those convicts to Australia first occurred, the exporters were concerned to get rid of the ever-proliferating number of “criminals”, the “crime” of some of whom was stealing a few pence or engaging in trade union activities. At the same time, these “criminals” and other settlers offered a core for Australian colonial primary production to serve England and for the development of a market for English finished products.

The original conception set in train a whole series of events in Australia which were remote from the minds of those who formed the conception. They little visualised that a mere 80-odd years later, all export of “criminals” would cease and that the settlement would grow in such a way that opposition among the settlers themselves would be a considerable force in putting an end to that export.

Nor did they visualise that it would set in train the total occupation of Australia at the expense of its indigenous inhabitants, many of whom fell before the guns of the settlers; others of whom succumbed to poison and others still to the trauma of being driven from their traditional ties to the land and traditional ways of life. Still less did they visualise the resistance of the black people and the magnificent present-day resurgence of their original resistance.

Nor did they visualise that by the middle of the 19th century the English government would be compelled to confer responsible government on its Australian settlements. The responsible government won and “conferred” retained a strong colonial flavour. Even the granting by the English government of federation in 1900, although fundamentally compelled on that government by Australian agitation and struggle, still gave the English government a substantial hold over Australia. That hold expressed the strong position of English economic (particularly loan capital) and political interests in Australia. When the original colony had become established, Australia evolved as a food and raw materials producer for England and as a trading outpost. It was a market for English finished products. Responsible government and ultimate federation also testified to the skill of the English authorities. Faced with the ever-increasing demand for responsible government and later for federation, those authorities had ducked and weaved. Their compromise of responsible government made substantial concessions, but left a colonial tail.

Nor at the time of the original settlement did anyone in the metropolitan country, England, and still less in the newly settled Australia, have in mind the social upheavals that would overtake England and Australia and the world in the years then to come.

In England, capitalism was developing rapidly. Called into being by capitalism was a large and growing working class. Among the workers arose a certain consciousness that the rising capitalism boded little good for them. Instead of machines and machinery being used for the benefit of workers, machines and machinery were to become their masters. Machines were used for the profit of a handful of owners. The Luddite breaking of machines by rebellious workers would not arrest the development of this new method of getting a living. Nonetheless the Luddite movement represented primitive consciousness that the new machinery brought relentless exploitation of men, women and children. To serve the owners of the machines and exploitation of the workers, governments controlled by those owners ruthlessly administered the English state. The character of owners and their government was exemplified by the Peterloo massacre (1819) where in crushing a workers’ demonstration, the authorities killed 19 workers and injured many others. It caused the English poet, Shelley, to describe government leaders Castlereagh and Sidmouth, and personnel of other state institutions including the head of the judiciary, Eldon, in these words:

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Eldon, an ermined gown;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.

Clothed with the Bible, as with light,
And the shadows of the night,
Like Sidmouth, next,
On a crocodile rode by.

And many more
Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
All disguised, even to the eyes,
Like Bishops, lawyers, peers or spies.

It caused him to call upon the English workers to rebel:

Men of England, wherefore plough
For the Lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed, and clothe, and save,
From the cradle to the grave,
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat – nay, drink your blood?

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge
Many a weapon, chain and scourge,
That these stringless drones may spoil
The forced produce of your toil?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?

The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps;
The robes ye weave, another wears;
The arms ye forge, another bears.

Sow seed – but let no tyrant reap;
Find wealth – let no imposter heap;
Weave robes – let not the idle wear;
Forge arms – in your defence to bear.

In reaction to the evils of capitalism, Utopian socialists arose – great men indeed. (Most notable were the Englishman Robert Owen and Frenchmen Fourier and St. Simon.) They saw the terrible condition to which capitalism reduced the great mass of workers and they saw the extremes of wealth and poverty. They wrote of the perfect society from which these evils would be abolished. Their dreams did not change the reality but they served to fan the spark of people’s revolt.

Nor did the originators of settlement in Australia envisage the nineteenth century waves of Chartist revolt in England. The realisation of the demands of the Chartists, namely (1) annual elected parliaments, (2) equal electoral districts, (3) universal adult male suffrage, (4) abolition of property qualifications for members of parliament, (5) secret ballot, (6) payment of members, would have shaken the whole English government and its institutions to their very foundations. The English capitalists and landowners skilfully manoeuvred to defuse the movement by making small concessions while essentially turning the movement to the advantage of the capitalists themselves against the old land-owning class.

Nor did they visualise the gradual evolution of a scientific understanding of the development of capitalism and of its historical destiny. Some of the more far-sighted radicals of the day understood aspects of this but fell short of a comprehensive analysis. It fell to Marx and Engels to systematise it all and to lift understanding of capitalism, its historical origin and destiny and the forces within it, to a new overall scientific plane.

Nor did they envisage the revolt by the Parisian workers in 1871 and the establishment by those workers of their own rule between March and May 1871. History has recorded the triumph and defeat of the Parisian workers who in the Paris Commune had “stormed heaven” as Marx put it.

Australia evolved in that background. Its settlers were English transportees with a good representation of Irish victims of England’s, ruthless domination of that country. The Irish people had never submitted to England’s centuries old domination and oppression. Their spirit of rebellion was unquenchable. They built up a powerful tradition of patriotic rebellion which dwelt in the hearts of almost all Irish workers and peasants. This they carried with them to Australia.

It would be naive to believe that these momentous events did not leave some mark upon Australia and Australia’s new inhabitants. This goes for the upper classes and the convicts, emancipists (freed convicts) and immigrants.

As a so-called “settled colony”, in English legal terms, Australia inherited the worst features of English repression. Thus, for example, the struggle for elementary Australian trade unions was hindered at every turn. This was in keeping with the transportation to Australia of the seven men known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Their “crime” had been to try to organise an agricultural labourers’ union in Dorsetshire. The legal pretext for their prosecution and transportation was that they had administered unlawful oaths amongst their membership contrary to an ancient English statute. Dr. H.V. Evatt, in his book entitled Injustice within the Law, drew attention to how this law was manipulated to serve oppression. The real “crime” was to organise a trade union; the nominal crime was to administer an unlawful oath. English authorities who transported the Tolpuddle Martyrs would scarcely permit in Australia, the organisation of trade unions for the “crime” of which they punished the Tolpuddle Martyrs. To meet any tendency in Australia for effective trade union activity to develop, the NSW Legislative Council (another tool of England) in the 1840s passed Master and Servants legislation to make trade unionism with strike action a virtual criminal conspiracy. However, the struggle to organise persisted among the small groups of workers which the development of the colony had called into being. By 1856, a significant number of building workers had achieved an eight-hour day.

With the discovery of gold in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley and in Victoria’s Ballarat and Bendigo in the mid-19th century, new capital was accumulated. Already English loans were extended on a comparatively large scale. The surge of people from all over the world to the goldfields provided a labour force adequate for agricultural pursuits (the dominant method of getting a living) and also for what manufacture there was. Likewise the discovery of gold caused the need for more effective transport. The constant search for new agricultural and grazing land led to the opening up of vast areas. So the foundations for the development of Australian capitalism were laid.

Oppression within the colony engendered opposition. The enforcement of miners’ licence fees on gold prospectors caused bitter resentment. On December 3, 1854, the miners at Ballarat, who had shown a spirit of rebellion and set up their own defensive Eureka Stockade, were suddenly stormed by colonial troops on the orders of Governor Hotham. The miners resisted heroically but were ill-prepared to deal with, the soldiers. The Eureka Stockade was the high point in rebellion against systematic oppression by the colonial authorities. Elements of the Chartist demands appeared. Along with them went the demand for extended responsible government. Marx regarded the Eureka rebellion as part of the radical movement that was sweeping the capitalist world and which had reached a high point in the dramatic European revolutions of 1848.

Eureka became one of the symbols of Australian radicalism.

The Eureka miners were not workers in the sense of men working for an employer. Essentially they were petty producers. From them emerged some capitalists, but the great majority became workers. They had been attracted to the goldfields by stories of easy gold. When the “easy” gold disappeared and was replaced by capitalist, larger scale gold mining, some became workers employed by mineowners, others sought employment elsewhere.

The capitalists and landowners in Australia had their own axe to grind in getting a greater measure of freedom from England. They wanted to run their own affairs free from English interference. At the same time, they maintained a certain dependence on England for development. Among the more enlightened workers, there was a definite democratic republicanism. As in previous episodes of reform, the capitalists used the radical sentiments among other sections of the people to secure concessions for themselves from the English and colonial authorities.

Marx and Engels’ systematic scientific socialist ideas took up the ideas of the Utopian socialists Owen, Fourier and St Simon. Marx and Engels also took up the ideas of German classical philosophy, subjected English political economy to detailed analysis and showed how society had evolved and had then developed into capitalism. They demonstrated the rise of capitalism in England and elsewhere and the historical inevitability of its fall.

There was a general development of rebellion against the worst features of capitalism amongst the English workers, a continuing struggle by new capitalist elements against the old feudal land-owners and within Australia predominantly a struggle by the new colonial bourgeoisie and old land-owners against the English colonial authorities for an Australia run by that bourgeoisie and those landowners. There was acute struggle between these two Australian sections, each jostling for the dominant position in the struggle against the English authorities. On the other hand, the evolving Australian working class had fewer ties to the English authorities. It had its own acute contradictions with both the new bourgeoisie and the landowners, each of whom exploited it. It also had an interest in common with them in the demand for freedom from English colonial rule. Thus independence and rebellious sentiment had a mixed content. It is not surprising to find a confusion of ideas and conflict of interest among the Australian population. Nor is it surprising to find persistence of democratic independence and rebellious sentiment amongst members of the bourgeoisie, in universities and such institutions.

The black people were the most discriminated against. They were totally opposed to all settlement by the invaders. To “justify” the destruction of the black people, an ideology developed that the black people were “animals”, of no use, sub-human, a drag on civilisation and so on.

In 1847 and 1848, the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels expounded and published their systematic ideas of scientific socialism. The Manifesto was based upon a comparatively developed capitalism. The situation in Australia was of a developing but extremely immature and dependent capitalism, a capitalism very much in its very earliest infancy. Its immaturity was marked by a small capitalist class, a small but powerful group of big land-owners, convicts (although transportation was already ceasing or under serious challenge), a very small and very weak working class, decisive control of Australia by the English colonial authorities through English governors, a weakly representative Legislative Council and myriad tangible and intangible other ties to England. Its population was only 400,000-odd. Australia’s economic and political situation was a long way behind that of the Europe of which Marx and Engels largely wrote. Within Europe itself, the ideas of Communism took considerable time to spread. They were very advanced ideas even in the most developed capitalism. In Australia, far behind in capitalist development and far away, they had no discernible influence. No systematic revolutionary theory of a colonial or semi-developed country had been advanced. The radicalism that evolved from emancipists (freed convicts) particularly those of Irish origin, a few immigrants, and from the striving for independence from England by almost all sections of the people in Australia, despite diversity of reasons, fell far short of the situation dealt with in the Communist Manifesto. What political consciousness there was, was far removed from the scientific socialist consciousness for which the founders of scientific socialism were striving.

Note also must be taken of the generality of the analysis made in the Manifesto.

However the conditions destined to develop, were to render the soil more fertile for the Communist analysis and method of approach advanced by Marx and Engels.

Regard must be had to the correct approach to such books as the Manifesto of the Communist Party and to Marxism. It is certainly not holy writ but a guide to analysis and action. “The whole spirit of Marxism, its whole system, demands that each proposition should be considered
(a) only historically,
(b) only in connection with others,
(c) only in connection with the concrete experience of history.[1]

The living soul of Marxism is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions. These admonitions of Lenin were to receive insufficient attention in Australia. To them may be added “Engels was not infallible. Marx was not infallible”. (He added if you want to point out their “fallibility” you must establish it).[2] The specific applicability of Marxism to the colonial, semi-colonial and undeveloped and then developed Australia calls for later comment.

None of the actors in Australia’s drama of development were or could be conscious of precisely where Australia was going. Each section, and no doubt each individual, consciously desired particular things. But it has been pointed out by Frederick Engels that that which is willed rarely happens, the numerous desired ends cross and conflict with one another or are incapable of realisation. Thus the conflicts of innumerable individual wills and individual actions produce a state of affairs in the domain of history entirely analagous to that prevailing in the realm of unconscious nature. The ends of the action were willed, but the results which in fact follow from these actions are not; or when they do at first seem to correspond to the end willed, they ultimately have consequences quite other than those willed. Thus by and large historical events also appear to be governed by chance But wherever accident superficially holds sway, it is always governed by hidden laws and it is only a matter of discovering those laws.[3] The end common to most sections in Australia was self-government. That arose from the actual conditions in Australia remote as it was from England and with a basically agricultural economy essentially different from the developed all-round capitalist economy of England. The Australian demand did not go anywhere near full independence from England.

In 1864 the International Workingmen’s Association was founded largely on the initiative of Marx. This was a body representative of Communist thought throughout Europe It took upon itself the task of organising and guiding the workers of the world along the paths of Communism. In 1872, it ceased to function, and in 1876 formally declared itself dissolved. Thus what came to be called the First International had but a short existence. In 1871 an Australian delegation attended a Congress of the International. There is little material on this but the Australian ideas of Communism were very confused – scarcely surprising. That there was a delegation shows that the existence and ideas of the International Workingmen’s Association reached Australia, however imperfectly.

The history of the First International was itself stormy. The correspondence between Marx and Engels and their comments on various participants in the International, show considerable diversity of ideas about socialism. Its profound positive achievements were to lay the foundation for the organisation of the working class in its struggle to put an end to capitalism and propagate scientific socialist ideas.

Propagation of scientific socialism, and organisation for it, had an importance it is impossible to exaggerate The Communist Manifesto had concluded with the stirring words “Working men of all countries, unite!” The First International took up this theme. The workers of the world were the common victims of a system of exploitation, the nature of which the Manifesto had analysed. But the idea that an international body could control an international revolutionary movement had its own defects. The idea that struggle in a given country could be directed from a common centre had the danger that people in the given country would look not to themselves for solution of their problems but to the international body. The specific working out in given countries of correct general principles created its own particular problems and tasks for the people in the given countries. Only those people themselves could work out their own destiny. It was scarcely possible to solve in London or Basle or some other European city the problems of the immature but evolving working class and other people in Australia. Communism in its general propositions was correct and scientifically substantiated, but the course of its realisation in a country like Australia was a very different matter. Europe was the centre of the capitalist world. The International’s proceedings were based on the classical capitalism which had been subject to Marx’s analysis. It was necessary for him to proceed on an abstract, ideal capitalism derived particularly from a study of England, the first country of capitalism. Without the abstraction of an ideal capitalism, it was impossible to deduce the general laws of capitalist development. It almost necessarily excluded a thorough study of colonial countries and their participation in the revolution and general guidelines of revolutionary struggle for them. Although the perspicacity of Marx and Engels on colonies was extraordinarily good, detailed revolutionary questions in such countries were really beyond the experience of an international body essentially centred in Europe. An ephemeral connection with the International plus a few comments on Australia by Marx and Engels, could scarcely provide the European International with a basis for sound analysis and guidance of Australian society and revolution. Nor did it attempt to do so. The best that could be done was a general overall picture of capitalism.

The indigenous solution of revolutionary problems had been encouraged by Marx. He had insisted that the arena of struggle for a given working class was its own country.4 His own method of work was to subject all experience, even what to him must have been the remote event of Eureka, to close scrutiny. In those days of the infancy of Communism, not enough experience had accumulated to work out the full relationship of national and international Communism. Even the general ideas and analysis of Communism required considerable filling out and development as subsequent history showed. Communism way a world outlook. It embraced every phenomenon, natural and social. But its concrete analysis of given countries required concrete working out in those countries. The source of subsequent errors in Australia and Australian Communism may largely be traced to misconceptions of the part played by international bodies, foreign bodies and Communist generalisations. The main misconceptions were that general propositions and laws in themselves offered solutions and that a single central body could provide those solutions.

The job before the International was the propagation of the ideas of Communism. In this, there was conspicuous success – a truly monumental achievement. The principles of the Communist analysis, despite innumerable “refutations”, remain valid to this day; they have grown and their correctness has been verified in practice. Such development could only occur if that analysis coincided with the truth; it was seen by many to do that. Had the International Workingmen’s Association not initiated this on a world scale in 1864, the probability is that the introduction and development of Communist theory would have been seriously set back. The very fact that “refutations” abound and multiply is testimony to the strength of Communist ideas. The more difficult problem was the organisation of men in the constituent countries of the world to carry into effect Communist ideas. In the nature of things, that organisation had to be immature; it was the first essay into the field. The Geneva Congress of the First International (1866), for example, discussed united action of the international forces on such questions as the legislative introduction of the eight hour working day, women’s and child labour, co-operative labour, trade unions and standing armies – matters with predominantly European flavour. They were matters with which each country could deal.

The use made of the Communist general economic and social laws by Communists from different countries proved the difficulty of finding the correct way to reveal and use the general laws in their particular working out in a given country. What was correct lived and grew; what was incorrect withered and died. The too literal acceptance of his ideas was correctly repudiated by Marx himself. Marx’s repudiation was not heeded sufficiently. In addition, Marx and Engels were German, their International brought together predominantly English, French, German, Italian and Swiss representatives. These countries were a comparatively small part of the world. Communists in them could not be expected to solve problems in other and very different parts of the world.

Scientific truth knows no national boundaries. Whether the discoverer of scientific laws be Australian or German, English or American, black or white, universality of the laws discovered remains. The original discovery of the general social and natural laws by the Germans Marx and Engels was built upon and developed by the Russians Lenin and Stalin and then by the Chinese, Mao Zedong. There were others. All of them drew on material from all over the world and from the work of other social commentators from many races.

In their campaign against Communism and fear of it, the capitalists made much of its “foreign” origin. Just as it is natural to look with infinite respect to the scientists Galileo or Newton or Einstein, it is natural to look with infinite respect to such giants as the social scientists Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong. The discoveries of the natural scientists did not put an end to scientific development in the respective spheres with which they dealt; on the contrary, their discoveries opened up development. So too with the social (and natural) scientists Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong. Their discoveries opened the way to further development of the laws they discovered and to practice and experimentation based on them. Because Marxism directly involved social class conflict, it was far more controversial than natural science. Objectively, seizure by enemies of Communism, on the “foreign” origin of Communism (“foreign” for whom? is itself a good question) is just as illogical as seizing on the “foreign” origin of Galileo or Einstein (or any other similar figure). Still, enemies of Communism exploited the prejudice against the “foreign”.

The International arose from the advanced intellectuals and workers in the more advanced capitalist countries. It reflected the lack of sufficient experience of the struggle for socialism. Although its positive influence far exceeded the negative, it would be wrong to ignore some negative legacies it left in the minds and work of Communists.

Australia’s settlement and development occurred during the general rise of capitalism with the growth of the working class and of trade unionism. All were in their infancy in the then colonies of Australia. But the working class developed along with the inexorable development of capitalism. That development gave rise to what for Australia were the large-scale strike struggles of the ’nineties. Those strike struggles grew out of intensified exploitation of Australian workers in a depressed economy. The workers’ consciousness was that of trade unionism, that is, the struggle to obtain better conditions in the sale of labour power. It was trade union consciousness that gave birth to a limited parliamentary political consciousness. Political consciousness sought reform through parliament. As a result, in the ’nineties, the Australian Labor Party was born.

Then the development of trade, the Australia-wide ramifications of various businesses, the restrictions caused by separate colonial tariffs, the need for Australia-wide defence, led to a series of inter-colonial conferences to consider federation of the Australian colonies. Ultimately in 1897-8 a constitutional convention took place. From all this evolved the Australian Constitution. It was enacted by the English parliament in 1900 as a schedule to an English Act. In the new all-Australia parliament, conservative, liberal and Labor parties were represented.

The Labor Party reflected a development in class consciousness of the workers. It had toyed with a vague socialism. It declared itself for the cultivation of an Australian sentiment. It conceived itself solely as a parliamentary party. Its parliamentary representatives confined themselves to doing the best they could with the other parliamentary groups to get reforms for working people. There was a certain affinity between the Labor Party and the Liberals who also stood for humane reforms. The Liberals were torn by conflict between a protectionist wing and a free trade wing. The conservatives were similarly torn. Ultimately the two contending parliamentary parties became the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, though the latter underwent many subsequent name changes.

Australia continued to grow. Its weak federation with strong remnant powers in the old separate colonies (now States) offered at least a framework for Australia as a nation. National sentiment was limited and qualified. Talk of England as “home” died a lingering death. State rightism, born of colonial divisions, was very strong. English authorities had again demonstrated their “wisdom” and experience; they had bowed to the inexorable economic growth and national sentiments of Australia but retained a substantial imperial hold on their new Commonwealth of Australia. In appeals from Australian courts to the imperial Privy Council, they retained an overall hold; so too English appointment of Governors with strong reserve powers derived from the prerogative powers of the British monarchs, maintenance of the operation in Australia of the British Merchant Shipping Act and the Colonial Laws Validity Act, reservation of certain laws for Royal assent, much English control of the States and various other tangible and intangible controls. The Colonial Laws Validity Act provided that in a colony a local law inconsistent with an English law was invalid to the extent of the inconsistency.

The conclusions drawn by the workers from their experience in the strikes of the ’nineties were not systematic or organised. Socialist or even class consciousness was as yet not well developed. The birth of the Labor Party and the further development of trade unions were in the historical circumstances very positive achievements. They represented something of mass independent workers’ organisation.

Economic development determined a steady increase in numbers and strength of the working class. Socialist ideas of diverse kinds began to be expressed. Various socialist groups developed. As early as 1887, the Australia Socialist League was formed; its members held a diversity of socialist views ranging from influences of the Utopian socialist Edward Bellamy, author of Looking Backward, to the scientific socialist Marx. William Lane had led a group of Australians in 1893 to form an ideal “socialist” settlement in Paraguay; he was one of those influenced by Bellamy.

Marxist ideas among the socialists developed. Bellamy’s ideas faded away. Within the trade unions, the anarcho-syndicalist ideas of the Industrial Workers of the World, founded by the American Daniel De Leon, grew. These were three of the many trends. Also, within a given trend, there was a mixture of other trends. Consistency was scarcely marked by its presence.

The growth of socialist ideas in Australia is tortuous indeed. Splits, confusion, acrimony and personal rivalry, all featured. Still the number of “socialist” adherents and interest in socialism grew.

The Second International was founded in 1889. It was again an attempt to organise the working class on an international scale. It proceeded on assumptions similar to the First International in that the international body was to be the authority for the constituent national bodies. It performed the service that it made socialism a mass question and prepared the soil for the broad mass spread of the workers’ movement. It influenced Australian socialists. In its developmental period, its achievements were great. However it too had the negative feature that socialists in given countries saw it as an authoritative central body to determine questions in all countries. As such, it tended to inhibit the socialists in given countries from working out their own solutions in their own countries. The tendency to look to the international body which had little knowledge and no experience of conditions in, for example, such a country as Australia, deepened the trend among Australian socialists to regard international bodies and foreign leaders as possessing magical qualities.

In the period up to 1914, the rivalry between the great powers assumed menacing shape. England, as the first great capitalist power, had a world wide empire – “the sun never set on the British Empire”, the spokesmen for English imperialism said. God was the “God of our far-flung Empire”. But other imperialisms arose to challenge it. The Second International at its Basle Conference in 1912 recognised the danger of imperialist war to redivide the world and pledged itself and its constituents to oppose that war.

When war broke out in 1914, almost all the constituent bodies of the Second International failed to carry out that pledge. They supported their respective governments in waging the war. The exception was the section of Russian Social-Democrats (Communists) known as Bolsheviks (Russian word for majority) and led by Lenin. The Bolshevik opposition to the war was the most reasoned and consistent. The Australian Labor Party became an affiliate to the Second International. Some Australian socialists were more closely associated with it. But throughout the world, including Australia, the most enlightened socialists opposed the war on the ground that it was purely imperialist – concerned with the division of the world by the great powers. On the other hand, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, Andrew Fisher, pledged the Labor Party “to the last man and the last shilling” in support of the war.

The war caused a great development of the Australian economy both in agriculture and industry. Systematic large scale steel production dated from 1915. The production and export of wheat and wool jumped. The war served to show the continuing hold of England over Australia. At the same time it engendered a greater, more systematic and conscious move for Australian independence from England. It accelerated Australia’s progress as a nation. It accelerated progress of the workers and other sections of Australian people.

In this latter process, the radical wing of the Labor Party, the I.W.W., the socialist groups and various individuals played a substantial part. The 1916 and 1917 referendums on whether or not there should be conscription for overseas military service radicalised the workers and gave the left section of the Labor Party, the socialists and I.W.W., rich experience in united struggle, in the power of a united working class. Rejection of conscription accelerated national feeling and consciousness of the need for independence from England. A general strike in 1917 in New South Wales caused by a speed up system in the railways, showed the growing disillusionment with the war. It too accelerated national and independence consciousness.

The war thus had the effect of enormously developing Australia’s capitalist economy, increasing the consciousness and militancy of the working class, enhancing the influence of the socialist minority and stimulating ideas of independence from England. It also strengthened ideas of independence among sections of Australian capitalists. As a result of the war, England was severely weakened. This too increased the relative strength of independence demands within Australia as against the English authorities.

In 1917, the workers and peasants in Russia first established a bourgeois democracy in February; then in October, led by the Russian Communists (Bolsheviks), established a Russian socialist republic. In 1918-1919 the Third International was initiated. Each of these events had far-reaching effects in all respects and in the particular respect of Communism in Australia.


[1] Lenin: Letter to Russian revolutionary Inessa Armand, November 30, 1916. Collected Works, Vol. 35, p.250.

[2] Lenin: Letter to Inessa Armand, December 25, 1916. Collected Works, Vol. 35,

[3] Engels: Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of German Classical Philosophy. 4. See, for example, Marx: Critique of the Gotha Programme.