Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E.F. Hill

Imperialism in Australia

The Menace of Soviet Social-Imperialism


On December 27, 1941 the then Labor Prime Minister of Australia, Curtin, said: “Without inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom. We know the problems with which the United Kingdom is faced; we know too that Australia can go and Britain can still hold on. We are therefore determined that Australia shall not go, and we shall exert all our energies towards shaping our plan, with the United States as its keystone, which will give our country some confidence in being able to hold out until the tide of battle turns against the enemy.”

At once this can be seen to be a most significant statement. It encompasses the position of Australia in relation to two of the then big imperialisms – British imperialism and U.S. imperialism. At the time, and of course, Mr. Curtin’s statement strongly implies it, British imperialism was on the decline and U.S. imperialism was still developing.

In the last chapter it was seen how the British Statute of Westminster, adopted by Australia in 1942, at the time of its adoption made operative as from the 3rd September 1939, marked a step in Australia’s moving away from British imperialism. It was the legal expression of a long socio-economic development. Curtin’s statement expresses another aspect of the process, a process in which U.S. imperialism was very deeply economically and strategically interested in Australia. In addition, Curtin’s statement stands in striking contrast to Menzies’ 1939 declaration that Australia was at war with Germany by reason of the mere fact that Britain was at war with Germany. Mr. Curtin’s statement stands in even greater contrast still with the statement of the World War I Labor leader Andrew Fisher who declared the Australian Labor Party’s attitude as being with Britain “to the last man and the last shilling,” (long of course, before decimal currency). In the 3 odd decades between Fisher and Curtin’s statements, the comparative positions of British and U.S. imperialist interests in Australia had profoundly changed. The contrast between the two statements indicates the change.

All this really emphasises that British imperialism had greatly declined after World War I and still further declined during and after World War II. Her hold upon Australia had suffered serious blows both from competition by other imperialisms and from Australia’s own struggle for independence. The various imperialisms constantly and bitterly compete with each other. As British imperialism in Australia declined, U.S. imperialism ruthlessly pushed her aside and moved much more aggressively into Australia.

Before World War II, Japanese imperialism conducted a vigorous and aggressive exploitation of Australia’s markets, investigated very carefully her raw materials and general strategic position. This culminated in Japanese bombing of northern Australia and shelling of Sydney.

Before World War II, the great imperialisms with competitive interests in Australia were thus British imperialism, U.S. imperialism and Japanese imperialism. U.S. imperialism became the dominant imperialism in Australia in and after World War II.

After World War II, U.S. imperialism moved still more aggressively in its investment in Australia, establishing its industries in Australia and bringing Australia within its sphere of influence. Its industries and investment became the core of capitalism in Australia.

The economic position can be demonstrated by a reference to some industries either wholly dominated by U.S. imperialism or decisively controlled by U.S. imperialism. Perhaps it can be illustrated by this statement made in 1971:

The main sources of private capital inflow up to June 1968 were U.K., 47%; U.S.A. and Canada, 39.2%; other, 13.2%. However, it must be pointed out that U.S. imperialism at the moment controls the more decisive, important sectors of our economy (automobiles, heavy industry, real estate, petrol, mines) and over the next ten years, the U.S. leaders intend to invest $7,000 million, while Britain’s investments will come nowhere near that figure.

All this investment – like the $358 million invested by U.S. companies in Australia in manufacturing Plant and equipment in 1970 and the $141 million invested by U.S. bosses in the petroleum industry in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands – is not developing the so-called ’national interest’. It means in practice, higher prices for the workers and higher profits for the U.S. bosses.

Australia’s minerals are of special value to the imperialist powers involved in our territorial carve-up, but especially to the U.S. imperialists who explained quite openly in a 1952 Presidential Commission investigating the Raw Materials Situation that ’From now until the year 2000 the U.S. will require 100% of the known reserves of raw materials in the Free World’.

At the moment, the main foreign corporations extracting Australia’s natural mineral wealth include: Hammersley Holding (jointly owned by U.S. Kaiser Steel and British Rio Tinto Zinc), The American Metal Climax Inc., Aluminium Company of America, Swiss Aluminium, American Smelting and Refining Company, Texas Sulphur Company and others. Of interesting significance is the number of major U.S. corporation investors in Australia which also have leading contracts with the U.S. Defence Department. These include: General Electric (No. 2 in the U.S. list with $1620 million in military contracts), General Motors (No. 10 with $584 million), Martin Marietta (No. 25 with $264 million), Kaiser Industries (No. 45 with $142 million), Ford (No. 19 with $396 million), Honeywell (No. 18 with $405 million), Olin Mathieson (No. 20 with $354 million), Standard Oil (No. 24 with $291 million), R.C.A. Sperry-Rand (No. 12 with $467 million), General Dynamics (No. 3 with $1243 million), Westinghouse (No. 15 with $429 million), Chrysler (No. 53 with $121 million), Texaco (No. 52 with $123 million), Standard Oil (Calif) (No. 42 with $148 million), Mobil (No. 41 with $151 million), Pan Am (No. 39 with $167 million), Lockheed (No. 1 with $2000 million) and others giving a total value in terms of dollars for all these military contracts, from 1968-69, of $36,888 million.

U.S. imperialism’s growing dominance over Australia’s economic, political and cultural life has produced a situation in which ups and downs in the U.S. economy have an impact on Australia.

A pre-Moratorium broadsheet written by a group of young workers, entitled ’Vietnam is a Bosses’ War’, published a graph of movements in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (a measure of U.S. economic trends) and 50 leading companies on the Melbourne Stock Exchange, which highlights the close connection between the U.S. and Australian economies.

One reason for this is the great plunder of our mining industries which currently earn about 20% of Australia’s annual export income by U.S. and other imperialists. In 1968-69 almost 50% of Australia’s mineral exports went to Japan, and this will also increase rapidly in the future. At the same time, however, Japan depends on the U.S. for about one third of its export trade. Hence an economic set-back in the U.S. economy soon has its repercussions in Australia via reductions in Japanese steel and heavy industrial production and consequent reduction of the import of Australian minerals.

So it can be seen that U.S. imperialism is a major plunderer of Australia’s economy and also cracks the whip politically. Even though the British imperialists may have a greater percentage of capital invested here at the present time its investments in the next few years will be nowhere near the proportion of those of the U.S. overlords who are the number one imperialist concern in Australia. Furthermore, it is significant that the U.S. imperialists are carving up only the most ’juicy’ portions of Australia; the mineral and mining industry; the automobile and petrol racket, heavy industry in general, real estate, etc.

The U.S. has far greater sway over its parliamentary puppets than do the British in Australia. Through their local quislings, the U.S. imperialists have effectively orientated Australia’s economy towards aiding U.S. aggressive wars in Indo-China, as well as aiding U.S. exploitation of Australia itself.

With the world-wide general trend towards armed revolutionary struggle against imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism, a general world-wide crack down has been instigated in the U.S. ruling class. In their death throes, drowning in the rising tide of people’s armed struggle the world over, the imperialist chieftains in the U.S.A. have been forced, by the sheer necessity to survive for one split second longer, to resort to fascism; the open, terrorist dictatorship of the imperialist bourgeoisie.”

In the comparatively short period of U.S. presence in Australia, the volume of U.S. investment in Australia (1969) was estimated at $3,600 million. It must be said that all official statistics on these matters are very unsatisfactory. No doubt the ruling circles are very reluctant to disclose the real situation of foreign ownership of Australia. The Australian people deeply resent foreign ownership. Therefore it has to be concealed. And there remains great difficulty in getting accurate information. It can be said with certainty that U.S. imperialism dominates the oil and mineral industries, the motor vehicle industry, pharmaceuticals and toilet preparations, processed food, earth moving equipment and rail locomotives. In 1970 the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia issued a statement which said 1500 American companies were operating in Australia and 15,000 Australian firms acted as agents for U.S. companies. A 1971 statement by the same U.S. source said a further 142 foreign companies (mainly American) were engaged in mineral prospecting in Australia. And U.S. imperialism is a very substantial landholder in Australia; it probably now surpasses British imperialism in this regard.

Politically, Australia was dominated by U.S. imperialism. Symptomatic of the degree of that domination were the statements of Menzies: “I become very resentful when I hear people affecting to sneer at American imperialism. The benevolent commands (note that he acknowledges them as commands) of a great nation should be good for mankind. If that is American imperialism, let us have more of it” (Christian Science Monitor, September 24, 1952); and Holt the Liberal Prime Minister spoke of an “appropriate” slogan for Australia being “All the way with L.B.J.” (i.e. the initials of the U.S. President L.B. Johnson); and Gorton, a far more “independent” Australian Prime Minister still reflected the high degree of U.S. domination when he said in similar vein that “we’ll go a-waltzing-Matilda with you.”

All this was expressed in various treaties and agreements with the U.S.A., notably SEATO and ANZUS. U.S. imperialism had assumed a more dominating economic position in Australia and rather decisively overtaken British imperialist political influence in Australia.

The U.S. imperialists had something over 30 known military installations in Australia, some of them vital in the waging of war. These installations had the dual purpose of protecting U.S. investments in Australia and the purpose of serving U.S. imperialism in global war.

In accordance with U.S. imperialism’s domination of Australia, Australia was deeply involved in U.S. imperialism’s aggressive war in Korea (1950-53) and in U.S. imperialism’s aggressive war in Vietnam.

The position of the political parties and the internal political position in Australia is of the deepest interest in studying the penetration of Australia by U.S. imperialism.

Already reference has been made to Curtin’s statement of Australia’s turning to U.S. imperialism. Any imperialism which seeks to penetrate a country must make ideological, political and organisational preparation to carry out its penetration. Curtin’s statement makes clear the position of the Labor Party leadership. Menzies’ statement, and subsequently those of Holt and Gorton, make clear the position of the open parties of the Australian reaction. But in addition, the forerunners of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy’s National Civic Council and its various instrumentalities such as the Labor Party Industrial groups, the Movement, the Democratic Labor Party, etc, were energetic champions of U.S. imperialism in Australia.

Even more important was the position of the then Communist Party which during and after World War II actively welcomed the theories of the notorious U.S. revisionist “Communist” Browder. These “theories” were really essentially similar to Menzies’ statement only they were dressed up in Communist language. Although these ideas were nominally repudiated by the Communist Party in Australia, yet under the influence of certain leaders, that Party adopted in its programme the “peaceful transition to socialism” (commented on previously in relation to Khrushchov and there shown to be positively anti-revolutionary). Such a programme and attitude of the Communist Party were of immense assistance to U.S. investment in Australia. It follows from all this that the U.S. imperialists in Australia had the advantage of the unequivocal and authoritative statement of Curtin (followed by his successor Chifley), the supporting position of Menzies, the Roman Catholic Hierarchy’s political instruments, the confused position of some of the Communist Party leaders (this latter also expressed itself in other ways helpful to U.S. imperialism, notable amongst them being a certain ideological and political amalgamation of the Communist Party with A.L.P. ideology and politics and hence with the pro-U.S. imperialist position of the A.L.P.).

This is by no means to overlook the great influence of a deluge of U.S. films, books, newspapers, magazines, etc. which all carried the message of U.S. “benevolence” for and the “advantages” to Australia of U.S. interest in Australia. This too was a critical part of the ideological and political “justification” of U.S. imperialism’s position in Australia.

The Labor Party government of the World War 2 and post World War years sought out and organised U.S. investment in Australia. For example, this government actually financed General Motors in Australia which by 1974 had remitted to the U.S. about $400,000,000 and paid an insignificant amount in tax to Australia.

Just as important, the Labor government had used the Australian state apparatus against working class struggle to improve conditions of work. Notable among its actions was the smashing of the coal miners’ strike of 1949 with the use of every state weapon – parliament, courts, army, police and gaols. It formally strengthened the secret police by setting up the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. It introduced government ballots into trade unions, strengthened the compulsory arbitration system. All these actions and others laid the foundations for even more repression by the open parties of reaction which occupied government office from 1949 to 1972. All of this was to facilitate the exploitation of the Australian workers and working people by U.S. imperialism.

These very years however marked a certain rise and a certain decline in the position of U.S. imperialism in the world. And of course this was reflected in U.S. imperialism’s position in Australia.

U.S. imperialism, like every other imperialism, is subject to the law of the uneven development of capitalism. As was said, it had a certain rise and a certain decline. Its Korean and Vietnamese war adventures greatly weakened it. It was its weakness and decline that compelled its “withdrawal”, while at the same time it sought to maintain its presence.

All this affected and affects U.S. imperialism’s position in Australia which constantly changes.

The Australian national bourgeoisie, weak though it was compared with the British and U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie in Australia, was always alert to push its case for better terms from its imperialist masters and for its dream of an independent Australia (a dream impossible of achievement by the Australian bourgeoisie and only possible under working class leadership). One facet of this process was the 1972 elections in which the Labor Party took office. Certainly it was not the only one. But the new position and manoeuvre for its independence can be gathered from statements of Whitlam, Labor Prime Minister. Whitlam spoke of a new “nationalism” in Australia. He spoke of the “parlous state” of the U.S. presidency when speaking of Nixon. Oakes and Solomon in their book “Grab for Power” (1974) said that in November 1973 Whitlam explained that “the new nationalism brought together a great number of diverse strands and attitudes and ambitions.” They then quote Whitlam directly as saying “It means the greatest possible measure of Australian control over our industries and resources ... It means an independent foreign policy – not one without allies, but one without obsessions, without distortions, without subjection to the ideologies or follies of other powers . . .”

It is not necessary to adopt the limited intra-parliamentary concepts of Messrs. Oakes and Solomon (indeed it is necessary to reject them), but their book can be usefully drawn upon to demonstrate something of the decline of U.S. imperialism, even though they do not see the matter in these terms, and something of the position of the Labor government on this matter:

Whitlam did not take Australia out of the American camp into the Communist orbit, as his opponents frequently alleged. He insisted that Australia was firmly allied with the United States. But he did not want that tie with the US to prevent Australia dealing with all nations on a non-ideological basis. In a speech over Radio Australia in December 1972, which was beamed mainly at Asia, Whitlam said: ’It would be churlish not to acknowledge our traditional, our deep and abiding relationship with the United States. In the great essentials, there will, under my government, be no decisive change in that relationship.’ In May, however, in his first foreign policy statement to the Parliament, he said: ’I want to emphasise that in our relations with the United States, as with all other nations, we should not allow any single aspect of our relations to dominate our whole approach. The importance of ANZUS has tended to overshadow the variety and strength of our relations in other fields, such as trade, finance, investment, technology, aviation and culture, which no less than our defence links, have brought us substantial rewards and benefits.’

He warned the Labor Party Federal Conference in July that it, too, should not become too preoccupied with any one facet of international affairs.

We should not focus all our attention on one region or one nation. This was precisely the error of our predecessors. They went along completely with Britain’s old commercial preoccupations in the straits and in the United States’ ideological preoccupation in Indo-China. Conscription, the F-111 and Vietnam were all fruits of that obsession. In their propaganda they attempted to reduce every question of our international affairs to the single consideration of ANZUS. They defined ANZUS itself in the narrowest way, almost as if it were a personal treaty between the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of the United States . . .’

The ALP should guard against making the same mistake in reverse he added. The negative obsession some people in the party had about the American alliance was as ’counter productive as our predecessors’ preoccupation with forcing every issue into its framework.’

When Whitlam went to Washington he was intent in his public speeches to stress the independence of the new Australian government. He told the Washington National Press Club:

I believe this alliance is old enough and strong enough to stand a little frankness on both sides . . . We do not wish to grandstand or thumb our noses at the United States. When our interests do not coincide and when we disagree with the United States, we shall, as a good friend should, say so firmly and frankly, usually, and preferably, in private . . . What we wish to do, what we are doing, is to see that the official United States view is not the only view ever considered by any Australian government. For example, in determining our position on any matter before the United Nations, I wish to know the view of our neighbours and our other friends, just as I want to know the view of the United States.’”

Japanese imperialism, largely restored by U.S. imperialism, rapidly began a course independent of U.S. imperialism. It too manifested a deep “interest” in Australia, particularly in Australia’s raw materials of coal and iron ore. It became Australia’s No. 1 trading partner.

It has largely made its initial investment in Australia through companies which give it an Australian “front”. The following list provides an example of what is going on:


Japanese banks have established branches in Australia and Japanese imperialism plans much more investment in Australia.

The position is graphically illustrated in this item from the U.S. journal Newsweek (November 11, 1974):

In the eyes of many Japanese industrialists, Australia appears little more than a large quarry stocked with a limitless supply of natural resources. And for many Australians, Japan is still, above all the aggressor nation that bombed Darwin during World War II and then very nearly invaded the country. But in spite of their long history of mutual disregard, Japan and Australia have become the friendliest of trading partners over the post-war years – if only because each country is so deeply dependent economically upon the other.

Since Gough Whitlam and his nationalistic Labor government began calling the shots in Canberra two years ago, however, Australia’s symbiotic relationship with Japan has become strained. And last week, when Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka arrived in Canberra on a six-day state visit to Australia, the No. 1 item on his agenda was to untie some of the economic knots that have snarled trade relations between Tokyo and Canberra of late.

As the Japanese saw it, the major problem was quite clearly Australia’s restrictive foreign-investment policy. Shortly after taking office, Whitlam made good on one of his campaign pledges by severely limiting foreign investment in Australia’s natural resources. The country’s mineral and agricultural wealth, Whitlam argued, was too valuable to be left in anything but Australian hands.

That stand won plaudits from Whitlam’s Laborite supporters, but it sent shock waves through Japan, which imports more than V2 of Australia’s mineral resources, including 90% of its coal and 80% of its iron ore. Even more alarming to the Japanese, who have begun an intensive program to develop nuclear energy, was Australia’s total ban on uranium exports. Multi-million dollar contracts negotiated with Australian uranium companies before Whitlam came to power were suddenly frozen and when the oil crisis struck, the Japanese became desperate.

But the Japanese were not the only ones with a beef. Earlier this year, in an effort to protect the agrobusiness interests in his Liberal Democratic Party, Premier Tanaka banned the import of Australian beef and drastically reduced Japan’s quota of wool imports. Since Australia ships more than 40% of its wool and nearly 18% of its beef to the Japanese market, Australian farmers were hard hit by Tanaka’s protectionist moves – and Gough Whitlam has been under increasing pressure to come to their rescue.

At the end of last week, however, Australian farmers were still empty handed while Japan had its uranium. First in a 180 degree shift of policy, tough talking Rex Connor, Australia’s Minister for Minerals and Energy, blandly announced that Australian uranium companies could begin fulfilling their Japanese contracts immediately. Then Prime Minister Whitlam, who is well aware of his country’s dependence on a healthy Japanese economy, let it be known that he wants Japan to join in the development of a uranium-enrichment plant and a multi million dollar petrochemical plant in Australia.

The Japanese were visibly pleased by the results of the bargaining. ’We don’t say this to the Australians,’ declared one incautious Tokyo businessman, ’but deep in our hearts we want Australia to remain just as it is now – an agrarian economy which will continue to supply us with raw materials, energy resources and foodstuffs and which will also continue to buy finished products from us.’ Which comes very close to a description of the perfect colonial relationship.

And now before turning to Soviet social-imperialism in Australia, we must draw together very briefly the threads of imperialism in Australia.