History of the Australian Labor Movement - A Marxist Interpretation by E. W. Campbell. 1945
“The formation of the Community Party (October 30, 1920) was one of the decisive revolutionary acts of the Australian working class. It was the outcome of the experience gleaned in the struggles and growth of the labor movement from 1890 to 1920.
In this period the working class experienced the limitations of ‘Liberal’ Labor Governments and Reformist trade unionism. It experienced the futility and bankruptcy of socialist sectarianism (Socialist Labor Party, Australian Socialist Party, etc.) and anarcho-syndicalism (the I.W.W.).
The formation of the Communist Party represented the victory of Marxism-Leninism over these various petty-bourgeois, pacifist, ‘socialist’ theories.
At last the Australian workers started to find the true path to their emancipation, i.e., along the lines of the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism, embodied in the Communist Party. The formation of the Communist Party was therefore, one of the historical milestones on the road of the Australian working class towards its liberation.” 
The historical decision to form a Communist Party was made at a Conference of left-wing and socialist groups, called together in Sydney by the Australian Socialist Party,  on October 30, 1920. A Provisional Executive of 12 was elected, including three representatives of the A.S.P., to administer the affairs of the new party until such time as the participating groups had consulted their members, wound up their own affairs, and completed the merger.
The Conference reassembled on November 6 and 13 to ratify the decisions of October 30 and to review the work of the Provisional Executive. Here the representatives of the Australian Socialist Party adopted a factionalist attitude, which delayed the unification of the revolutionary forces in Australia for almost two years. This delay was most unfortunate both for the Party and the Labor movement, since it prevented the rapid growth of the new organisation at a time when objective conditions strongly favoured the revolutionary trend. Absence of a united Party hampered the struggle against reformism when the latter was most discredited and undergoing a deep crisis. When unity of the Communist Party was finally established in the middle of 1922, the first post-war period of revolutionary upsurge was already drawing to a close, to make way for the new phase of capitalist stabilisation. Reformism, which had been able to manoeuvre and to recapture some of the prestige it had lost during the war, was temporarily strengthened and communism for the time being was retarded in its growth.
The A.S.P. delegates to the November Conference opposed the immediate ratification of the October decision to form a united Communist Party. They claimed that more time was needed by their organisation to consult the membership and to wind up its affairs. Subsequent events proved that these objections to immediate unity were not legitimate and were advanced merely to cloak ulterior aims.
It seems that the A.S.P., which can claim the credit for initiating the move to form a Communist Party, was loath to part with this initiative. It viewed the formation of a Communist Party in Australia as a process whereby the other revolutionary groups would be absorbed by the A.S.P., which would change its name, without at the same time effecting any radical changes in the structure, methods of work, or leading personnel.
These ideas conflicted with those of other delegates, who were averse to having their organisations swallowed by the rival A.S.P. The opposition to the A.S.P. centred in a Trades Hall group of leftwing trade unionists, most of whom had been prominently associated with the O.B.U. movement. Undoubtedly faults on both sides contributed to the bad situation which developed. These faults had their roots in the general theoretical backwardness of the Australian labor movement and the immaturity of communism. Lack of sound socialist theory among the would-be founders of the new revolutionary party resulted in petty personal differences becoming magnified and exaggerated beyond all proportion to their real significance. Questions involving principles were in consequence relegated to a subordinate place in discussions. Charges and counter-charges of deceit, trickery and intrigue filled the air as the leaders of the A.S.P. and their rivals jockeyed for leadership and control of the new party. In the prevailing atmosphere it must have been exceedingly difficult for an honest revolutionary to determine which side was in the right. But history leaves no doubt that the A.S.P. leaders were chiefly to blame for the schism which held the Party back during the first two years of its existence.
The November Conference brushed aside the objections of the A.S.P. delegates and ratified the earlier decisions to form a new party. W. P. Earsman was elected the first general secretary. The A.S.P., refusing to be bound by this majority decision, took the unforgivable step of withdrawing its members from the Executive and setting itself up as the Communist Party, in opposition to the Party formed at the “all-in” Conferences of October and November.
Thus militant workers, who were turning away from reformism and syndicalism, and beginning to approach communism, found their approach complicated by the need to first of all decide which of the rival parties really represented this new trend in Australia. Both the Trades Hall group, which established itself in the old Sussex Street headquarters of the I.W.W., and the A.S.P. group, which continued to operate from the Liverpool Street headquarters of the sect, were equally vociferous in their claims to be the “only official communist party.” Actually neither group could yet claim to be a real communist party, since neither had mastered the first principles of Bolshevik organisation, which calls for unity and discipline within a single party.
The Party can lead the practical struggle of the working class and direct it towards one aim only if all its members are organised in one common detachment, welded together by unity of will, unity of action and unity of discipline. 
Of the two organisations, however, the Sussex Street group came closest to being the nucleus of a real Communist Party. It did set out to build a party of a really new type and to conduct its activities in the spirit of Lenin’s teachings. It possessed one overwhelming advantage over its Liverpool Street rival, that was its connections with the masses, the trades unions and the Labor Party branches. That is one reason why, in spite of many other disadvantages, it, and not the ASP, made the greater headway.
A Party is invincible if it is able to link itself with, to keep in close touch with, and to a certain extent if you like, to merge with the broadest masses of the toilers – primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses.
A Party perishes if it shuts itself up in its narrow party shell, if it severs itself from the masses, if it allows itself to be covered with bureaucratic rust.” 
Bureaucratic rust had long been accumulating over the A.S.P. Changing the name to the Communist Party didn’t automatically cleanse the apparatus, which went on functioning in the old sectarian manner, in isolation from the masses. That is one reason why the A.S.P. eventually perished, while the Communist Party, since June, 1922, when unity was achieved, has grown and flourished.
Both Parties sent delegates to the Third World Congress of the Communist International, which met in Moscow in June-July 1921. The C.I. directed that before any question of affiliation could be considered unity would have to be established. It gave both parties until the end of January 1922 to compose their differences and unite in a single organisation. No recognition of any Communist Party in Australia would be extended until unity was realised. The C.I. pointed out to the Australian delegates that no differences on questions of principle existed between the parties. It was only local, personal, and petty details which kept them apart. These could quite easily be overcome by discussion within a united party.
The A.S.P. leadership, dominated by petty-bourgeois intellectuals, rejected the Comintern’s unity proposals. For a time their bureaucratic grip on the Party machine enabled them to perpetuate the split, but in June 1922, the rank and file, disgusted with the disruptive tactics of the leaders, staged a revolt. A substantial section broke away and linked forces with the Sussex Street Party.
Socialist sectarianism, in the shape of the ASP, was not the only obstacle to be overcome on the way to a unified Communist Party in Australia. Anarcho-syndicalism also provided its quota of trouble. In February 1922 the I.W.W., which then went under the name of the Industrial Propaganda League, was admitted to the Party as an autonomous body. This represented a departure from Marxist-Leninist principles of party organisation. Marx, in 1868, opposed the admission of Bakunin’s anarchist International Alliance into the First International as an autonomous body retaining its own program and organisation. He insisted that the Alliance be dissolved and that its sections accept the Program of the First International as a condition of membership. Lenin, in 1902-3, waged a fierce struggle against the separatist tendencies of the Jewish Bund. The relations between the Industrial Propaganda League and the Party were severed in April, when the former withdrew after it had failed to prevent a decision that the Party members on the Labor Council should support a Manifesto upholding trade union participation in politics and favouring the return of a Labor Government. In spite of all the initial difficulties the Party made quite considerable headway. Its propaganda and activity in the mass organisations, particularly the trade unions, began to attract attention and to win new supporters.
Recognising the serious danger they were in if the already widespread dissatisfaction with reformism was not checked, the Labor politicians, early in 1921, took what was for them a bold and unique step. They caused the Federal Executive of the A.L.P. to convene an All-Australian Trade Union Congress to draw up a program which would give expression to the desires of trade unionists throughout the Commonwealth. It was made clear that the decisions of the Trade Union Congress would be placed before the A.L.P. Executive for submission to an A.L.P. Conference. The convening of such a trade union congress by the Parliamentary Labor Party was without precedent in the annals of the movement. It clearly indicated the stage of bankruptcy reached by reformism.
The proposals did not awaken the enthusiastic response anticipated by the politicians. Some of the larger and more militant unions viewed the invitation with the utmost suspicion and were not at first disposed to give it serious consideration. But when it was recognised that if the larger and more progressive unions stayed away the small craft unions, which were more conservative, would dominate the Conference and determine its policy, this attitude of aloofness was reversed. When the Congress assembled in Melbourne, in June 1921, it was found to be the largest and most representative gathering of trade unions yet held. It is estimated that the aggregate number of unionists represented at the Congress was in the vicinity of 700,000.
The President of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, E.J. Holloway, who was also the President of the A.L.P. Executive, occupied the chair. In his opening remarks Mr Holloway explained why the Conference had been called. There had been lightning changes all over the world, he said, changes which had to be studied. Some members considered that the program and objective of the Australian Labor Party no longer corresponded with the changed conditions, that it was, in fact, obsolete. The Federal Executive was alive to the fact that great numbers of workers were not satisfied with the policy of the A.L.P. The Executive had called this Congress to hear from the trade unions what they really wanted. An A.L.P. Conference would be held at a later date to give effect to any changes proposed by the Trade Union Congress.
The outcome of two days debate on the program and objective of the A.L.P. was the adoption of the now well-known, but little mentioned, Socialisation of Industry objective. Congress also spent some time discussing trade union organisation and methods of work. A detailed scheme of industrial unionism, on the O.B.U. pattern, was drafted by a special committee and endorsed by the Congress.
In the following October the Federal Conference of the A.L.P. was held in Brisbane. The main business was to receive and consider the decisions of the Melbourne Trade Union Congress. State Conferences, with the exception of Queensland, had met prior to the Federal Conference and had instructed their delegates to support the Socialisation resolution. The few months interval between the two Conferences had given the reactionary politicians time to work out their tactics for nullifying the results of the Trade Union Congress.
E.G. Theodore led the frontal attack on the Socialisation Objective. If it were adopted, he said, the Labor Party might just as well change its name to the Communist Party and be done with it. However, the resolution to change the objective was carried by 22 votes to 10. A further motion to place the Socialisation plank in the forefront of the fighting platform was then advanced. This was in keeping with the desires of the Trade Union Congress, which expressly stated, “That all parliamentary representatives be required to function as active propagandists of the Socialisation objective.”
But Theodore and Co succeeded in having this motion rejected in favour of another calling for the establishment of a special sub-committee to consider the whole question and report back to Conference. Theodore had himself elected on to this Committee, and there, behind the scenes, succeeded in doing what he had not been able to accomplish in open Conference. Conference hadn’t dared to reject the Socialisation plank out of hand. Most of the delegates were bound by State Conference decisions to support it. Some perhaps really desired it. But not the right-wing politicians. On the Committee Theodore insisted that it should be a recommendation to Conference that the Socialisation plank and the methods of achieving it be adopted merely as an ultimate objective and thus excluded from the fighting platform of the Party. In spite of stubborn opposition on the part of one or two of the more progressive delegates he swung the Committee his way. When the report embodying these proposals was tabled for endorsement by Conference, the late Maurice Blackburn moved an amendment to the effect that the first plank in the fighting platform be the Socialisation of Industry. Unless this were adopted, he maintained, Conference had been wasting its time. If Socialisation were to be relegated to the obscurity of a pious objective, it would “meet the same fate as other objectives, it would be pigeon-holed and forgotten”. Ernie Lane, who attended the Conference as a proxy delegate for Tasmania, seconded Blackburn’s amendment and made an impassioned appeal to Conference to adopt Socialisation as a fighting plank. But the amendment was defeated by 20 votes to 11, and the motion adopted, much to the joy of Theodore and the whole right-wing camp.
Pressure from the left had for a time stirred the politicians out of their customary state of lethargy. It compelled them to accept a change in the Party’s objective. But the attitude of Theodore and Co left no room for doubt that this change would lead to no alteration in their reformist practice. Socialisation for them was a useful manoeuvre to placate the militants within the Party and to arrest the drift of the masses towards communism. Having served its purpose the objective could be comfortably shelved and forgotten. Little or no mention was made of the Socialisation objective in Labor’s election campaigns following the Brisbane Conference. If the candidates referred to it at all it was only to apologise for its existence. It was revived by the A.L.P. in NSW in the depression years of the thirties, and, objectively, it served the same purpose as when it was first adopted, namely, to provide a buffer between the leftward moving masses and communism.
Undoubtedly the propaganda and activities of the Communists in 1920-21 contributed to the situation which compelled the A.L.P. to alter its objective to Socialisation. But the Communist Party was not yet strong enough to effectively counter all the manoeuvres of the right-wing reformists. Its youth, inexperience, theoretical backwardness and lack of unity prevented it from placing itself at the head of the radicalised workers and developing the revolt against capitalism and reformism to higher levels.
After the Third Congress of the Communist International the Party in Australia intensified its efforts to apply Lenin’s united front tactics and to carry into effect the slogan of the Congress, “To the Masses.” These efforts were strengthened when unity was established in June 1922. In December the first united Party Conference was held. J.B. Miles was present as a delegate from Brisbane. At this Conference the first Party Constitution and rules were adopted. The main business discussed, apart from the Constitution, was the application of the line of the Communist International to Australian conditions.
It was decided that the best form in which the united front could be realised would be through the Party becoming affiliated with the Labor Party. At this time the Party had quite good connections with the unions and the Labor Party through Garden and Howie. It carried out a great deal of mass agitation and activity, although this was not fully reported in the revolutionary press at the time. One of the most successful campaigns initiated by the Party in this period was the drive for funds for the relief of victims of the Russian famine, brought on by the wars of intervention. This campaign was led through by the Labor Council in New South Wales and by J.B. Miles in Brisbane.
The Party organ, the Communist, was more of a theoretical journal than a popular newspaper. Much space was devoted to abstract questions of principle and very little to the burning issues of the day. This arose partly from the need to explain Communist theory and to combat the errors of reformism and syndicalism, and partly from the lack of a theoretical organ.
After the December Conference a really good campaign in support of affiliation with the A.L.P. was developed. On April 28, 1923, a United Front Conference was held in Sydney which was attended by 150 delegates from 100 different trade union bodies. Power, a prominent member of the Labor Party, chaired the Conference in the morning, and Jack Howie, of the Labor Council and the Communist Party, chaired the afternoon session.
The Conference demanded that the Labor Party change its rules to permit the affiliation of other working class parties, with the right to maintain their own independent organisation and to conduct their own propaganda, while loyally accepting majority decisions of representative conferences of the A.L.P. This resolution was widely publicised and popularised by the Party throughout the labor movement. At the same time the Party was taking up the immediate economic problems of the workers, especially those of the seamen and miners.
On the eve of the annual Labor Party Conference the Party published an appeal to delegates to support the “United Front and Fighting Policy” which would be put forward by progressives. On June 2, the A.L.P. Conference assembled, with Garden, Howie and some other Party members present in the capacity of elected delegates from certain trade unions. The question of Communist Party affiliation came up for discussion at the June 4 session. A lively debate ensued which culminated in the Conference dividing evenly on the motion to admit Communists. The voting was 122 for and 122 against. The Chairman, A.C. Willis, delivered his casting vote in favour of the motion. This made Labor history. It was the first decision in favour of Communist Party affiliation to be adopted by any labor party in any part of the world. The British Communist Party gave it great attention and moulded their own tactics accordingly in the campaign there for affiliation to the British Labor Party.
The Party followed up the decision of the Easter Conference with an appeal through the Press to its own members and the rank and file of the A.L.P. to make the affiliation real. However, it turned out that the Party was still too immature and politically inexperienced to develop the situation and to combat the sabotage of the right-wing reactionaries in the Labor Party. Lang and Loughlin led the struggle inside the A.L.P. to reverse the decision of the 1923 Easter Conference. J. T. Lang actually made his way to prominence in the Labor Party by his attacks on Communism and the left-wing progressive forces. It is interesting to note, in view of subsequent developments, that the Workers’ Weekly, the organ of the Communist Party, took up the struggle against “Langism” in 1923.
During 1923 the Party continued its activities in the trade unions, paying special attention to the mining industry. J.B. Miles, who was then Secretary of the Building Trades Council in Brisbane, began to contribute Industrial Notes to the Workers’ Weekly, which helped to keep before the Party the tremendous importance of work in the trade union sphere. In August 1923, unemployment became widespread in New South Wales and, as part of the campaign waged by the Party in the interests of the unemployed, a huge demonstration was staged outside Par1iament House. Leading Party speakers were arrested at this meeting and this gave rise to a Free Speech fight in which the united front tactics were applied with remarkable success. Trade unions and local Labor Leagues were drawn into the struggle. Even the reformist leaders were pushed into activity and two M.L.A.s, Baddeley and Murray, were arrested, along with Party speakers, in the course of the campaign, which ended victoriously.
Lang, however, maintained his attacks on Communism. He entrenched himself in the Auburn League of the A.L.P. and from there, and through the columns of the Cumberland Times, attacked the Party day in and day out. Notwithstanding the Easter Conference decisions, Lang maintained that “The Communists were not and never would be a part of the labor movement.” He was afflicted apparently by the same form of mania which nine hundred years earlier had caused the Danish King Canute to bid the waves cease breaking on the shores of England.
At first Lang’s anti-communist crusade had little effect on A.L.P. supporters. But as capitalist stabilisation developed, in the last half of 1923, and the first post-war wave of militancy receded, Lang’s influence became stronger. The “Left” reformists, now that the pressure from below relaxed, also changed their tune and began to join in Lang’s reactionary chorus.
A climax in the relations between the Communist Party and the Labor Party was reached in October, 1923, when the A.L.P. Executive violated the decisions of the Easter Conference by removing Garden and Howie from the Executive and expelling all known Communists from the A.L.P.
To emphasise the anti-democratic nature of this action, which was engineered from behind the scenes by Lang, it need only be mentioned that the expulsion motion was carried by a minority. Out of the 33 members of the A.L.P. Executive only 16 voted for the exclusion of the Communists. Ten opposed the motion, while seven sat on the fence and abstained from voting. This indicated that in spite of all Lang’s manoeuvring there was still a strong sentiment for unity within the A.L.P. A canvass of opinion in the Leagues and Unions, carried out by the Party, showed that the rank and file were opposed to the Executive action by a 4 to 1 majority.
The Party attempted to mobilise opposition to the high-handed action of the Executive. Many A.L.P. leagues and affiliated unions supported the demand for a Special Labor Party Conference to deal with the situation which had arisen. In December, 1923, the Workers’ Weekly published a list of 70 Labor Leagues and Unions which still supported Party affiliation to the A.L.P. But the Party drive lacked the necessary vigour and besides, was not given sufficient prominence in the Press. Lang and his cohorts resorted to “basher-gang” tactics to force their policy on the A.L.P. One unfortunate League Secretary at Granville was almost kicked to death for insisting on inner-party democracy being observed.
In December, 1923, the Third Annual Conference of the Communist Party was held in Sydney. Delegates present represented Party organisations on the Northern NSW coalfields, Newcastle, Sydney, the South Coast, Brisbane and North Queensland. Perth was also represented by proxy. The Party had not yet mastered the principles of Bolshevik organisation. This is reflected in the holding of Annual Conferences, on the A.L.P. pattern, instead of periodical Congresses, and also in the election of an Executive, rather than a Central Committee. At the 1923 Conference an Executive of five was elected, consisting of: Political Secretary, J. Garden; Financial Secretary and Editor of the Workers’ Weekly, H. Denford; Trade Union Leader, R. King; and Labor Party Leader and Organiser of the Sydney Group, H. Ross.
Following this Conference an improvement in the campaign to win support for the United Front was noticeable.
Beginning with the February 1st issue the Workers’ Weekly ran a series of articles based on twelve reasons why the Communist Party should be affiliated with the A.L.P., in the general interests of the working class. In March, 1924, considerable space was devoted to reporting A.L.P. Branch activities, which seems to indicate that the contact with rank and file members of the A.L.P. must have been fairly well maintained. In April the Party press took up the question of the coming A.L.P. Annual Conference and the vital issues which would confront it. An attempt was made to influence the Conference decisions through the Labor Council, where the Party still enjoyed great influence. On April 18, the Workers’ Weekly published a front-page article setting out in detail the excellent program adopted by the Labor Council, which delegates attending the A.L.P. Conference were urged to support. No stone was left unturned by the Party in its unity drive. But there was one Rock of Gibraltar which couldn’t be moved and that was the A.L.P. Executive.
The reformist politicians, headed by Lang, controlled the Executive and the Executive controlled the election of delegates to Conference. The result was a stacked meeting against Communist affiliation and unity. Many Leagues and Unions repudiated their delegates on the eve of the Conference because they were hand-picked by the Executive and not elected by the members. The “precautions” taken by the right-wing proved to be very effective. Affiliation of the Communist Party was rejected by 159 votes to 110. A very narrow margin to be sure, when all the circumstances are considered. An analysis of the voting shows that in actual fact the supporters of affiliation and unity represented a larger proportion of the membership than did the opposition. The 159 votes marshalled by the Executive came, in the main, from small country Leagues and insignificant craft unions, while the 110 votes in favour of affiliation came from the representatives of the largest and most important Leagues and Unions. The number of members represented by the supporters of the Executive was only 31,300, while the number represented by those in favour of unity was 113,000. Had a card vote been taken it would have revealed a 3 to 1 majority in favour of affiliation.
In mustering such excellent support for its proposals the Party was helped considerably by the hostility which existed on the part of many unions towards the corrupt and dominant Bailey faction in the A.L.P. It was recognised that Communist affiliation would help cleanse and strengthen the A.L.P.
While the right-wing politicians were able to get their way on the question of Communist affiliation, they were not so fortunate on another matter, which they considered to be of almost equal importance, namely, freedom of action for themselves in the House. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, much of the internal life of the A.L.P. revolves around the relations of the politicians to other organs of the movement. The politicians had long since become accustomed to regarding themselves as the centre of the universe, so far as the labor movement was concerned. This notion was almost perpetually being challenged by one section or another of the rank and file, who stuck to the old-fashioned, but thoroughly sound view that the parliamentarians should be the servants and not the masters of the movement.
The Easter Conference of 1924 provided its clash of opinion on this long-debated subject. In spite of an attempt on the part of the Executive to prevent it, a resolution was carried that all candidates for Parliament should sign an undated resignation and deposit it with the Executive, as a guarantee that there would be no departure from the Party’s platform when they reached office. Lang, as quite befitted one who aspired to become a dictator, led the attack against this decision. He defeated the aims of the resolution by threatening to resign from the leadership and from the Party if any attempt were made to enforce its terms.
The Party continued, through the columns of the Workers’ Weekly, to wage a campaign against faked ballots and corruption in the A.L.P. It also continued its agitation in support of the economic struggles of the workers. A big step forward was made in August 1924, when the New South Wales coalminers formed a Left-Wing Movement, with a revolutionary objective and a broad program of immediate demands. This was the outcome of the Party’s efforts to organise militant industrialists who supported its general aims, but who were not yet prepared to become Party members. On September 2, 1924, the movement launched amongst the miners was carried a stage further, when a Central Left-Wing Movement was formed at a representative conference of militant unionists, held in Sydney. Another sign of Party growth was the launching of a monthly theoretical organ, The Communist, on January 1st, 1925.
The Party in this period campaigned vigorously for closer trade union unity and for the establishment of a National Trade Union Centre. At the same time, seeking to overcome the isolation of the Australian trade union movement and to strengthen its international ties, the Party advocated the establishment of a Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat. This particular campaign influenced the decisions of the Interstate Conference of Labor Councils, held in Adelaide, in July 1925. This Conference recommended the formation of a Commonwealth Disputes Committee (which became the forerunner of the present A.C.T.U.). It also decided to convene a Conference of the trade unions of all countries bordering on the Pacific.
These decisions reflected the revival of militancy which set in in the labor movement temporarily in 1925. On August 20, the British seamen went on strike in all ports of the Commonwealth against wage-cuts and the sell-out of their union leader, Havelock Wilson, to the British Shipping Combine. The Party came out solidly in support of the British seamen and organised the collection of strike funds. Australian seamen supported their British comrades and the Tory Prime Minister, S.M. Bruce, threatened to deport the leaders of their union, Tom Walsh and Jacob Johnson, as well as Jock Garden, Secretary of the Labor Council.
The Workers’ Weekly openly indicted Bruce as a tool of the overseas shipping interests and called on the workers for a mass campaign to prevent the threatened deportation of trade union leaders. In the course of this struggle Bruce appealed to J.T. Lang, who was then Premier of New South Wales, to lend him support. Lang is reputed to have thrown Bruce’s letter into the wastepaper basket and to have demagogically told him to “do his own dirty work”. Lang’s anti-British, Australian bourgeois nationalism, plus the strong pressure from the left wing in the New South Wales trade union movement, were behind this action. It contributed to the prestige of Lang, which he was busily engaged in building to suit his own reactionary purposes. However, it should be noted that while the members of the New South Wales Labor Government did not dare to throw in their lot with Bruce and come out openly against the strike, they did little or nothing to help the seamen to win.
In September 1925, at the Interstate Labor Conference, the supporters of the Party advocated a general strike if Bruce attempted to implement his threat to deport trade union leaders. The reformists, who were in a majority, opposed this and advocated that resistance be confined to legal measures. Walsh and Johnson, who up to that time had enjoyed the reputation of being militant trade union leaders, under the stress of the sharpened class struggle, began to reveal their true characters. They were severely criticised by the Party, through the Workers’ Weekly, for not fighting their case in court along class lines and for relying on bourgeois legalism rather than the mass struggle of the workers to save them from deportation. The Party pointed out, and events proved it to be correct, that the logical outcome of the opportunist line followed by Walsh and Johnson would be their complete capitulation to the bourgeoisie.
In September 1925, another important strike took place among the railwaymen, under the Queensland Labor Government. The Party sent organisers among the strikers and helped them to achieve a partial victory. There were also a number of strikes on the Queensland waterfront in which the Party participated. For its efforts on behalf of the struggling workers the Party was bitterly assailed by the capitalists and reformists alike.
State elections were held in New South Wales in 1925. The Party supported the return of the Labor Government but decided, in addition, to stand one or two independent Communist candidates. Garden was one of those selected and he polled only 300 votes. This brought to a head a situation which had been developing for some time among certain opportunists in the Party. G. Baracchi became the spokesman for this anti-Party group when he moved that the Party be forthwith liquidated to allow its members to enter the A.L.P. individually to transform that organisation from within. Twelve months earlier, to cap the expulsion of Communists from the A.L.P. in New South Wales, the Federal Conference of the Labor Party had adopted the notorious anti-Communist pledge. Baracchi’s resolution represented a craven capitulation to the pressure of reformism.
The Fifth Annual Conference of the Party, which took place over the Christmas holiday period, in 1925, dealt with this traitorous deviation and summarised its roots as follows:
The period of revolutionary upsurge attracted to the Communist Party many types, from militant trade unionists to bourgeois Marxists. The subsiding of the revolutionary wave and the rise of reaction weakened their fervour. The inability of the Party to elect or assist in electing them to positions in the labor movement dampened the ardour of some with opportunist tendencies ...
Baracchi met with little open support for his cowardly policy, but practically the whole of the Executive, including Garden, who was looked on as the leader of the Party, and Denford, the Secretary, soon afterwards left the Party and went over into the camp of reformism. Many prominent militants outside the Party also succumbed to the conditions of the period and the left-wing movement temporarily touched a very low level.
However, the liquidationists did not succeed in putting an end to the Party. Some of the foundation members like J. B. Miles, E. J. Docker and Norman Jeffery, kept the Party together, while new forces growing up in the Party, Tom Wright and L. L. Sharkey, were soon to join forces with them in eradicating opportunism and rebuilding the Party on Bolshevist lines.
In the first half of 1926 the Party tried to extend its influence in the trade unions and to build a strong left-wing movement. The Workers’ Weekly of April 14, 1926, devoted a leading article to the task of forming a “Militant Minority Movement”. The slogans advanced included, “Every Worker an Active Trade Unionist.” The Party participated in the campaign of the Federal unions for a 44-hour week. In July it initiated a drive against the Bruce-Page referendum proposals to give the Commonwealth Government wider powers to “discipline the trade unions.” This was after the High Court had delivered its verdict against the Government in the Walsh-Johnson deportation case. During July and August the Party press paid great attention to the pending Interstate Trade Union Congress. It called on the masses to make this gathering a step on the road to the “complete unification of the Australian working class.”
The Party’s policy was partially realised when the Trade Union Congress decided to meet yearly, instead of infrequently as before, and to set up a General Council of a permanent character. Thus was established the A.C.T.U. whose birth had been foreshadowed at the 1925 Congress. The 1926 meeting also took a step forward on the Pan-Pacific question by deciding on concrete measures to expedite the holding of a Conference of all Pan-Pacific trade union movements.
In September the Party intensified its “Hands Off China” campaign. It also fought more vigorously against “Fordism,” or the employers’ attempts to intensify labor, subsequent to the realisation of the 44-hour week in New South Wales. But the Party was finding it increasingly difficult, under the conditions of capitalist stabilisation, to make rapid headway. Reformism, on the other hand, in the temporarily favourable situation, appeared to be forging ahead. In November, 1926, a Special Conference of the New South Wales A.L.P. gave supreme power to J. T. Lang as leader. This move was severely criticised by the Workers’ Weekly at the time, which pointed out where Lang was bent upon leading the movement.
As the pressure on the party increased the opportunists revealed themselves more openly. The 1925 Annual Conference had dealt with the liquidationist tendency and expelled some of its open exponents. But it had not succeeded in completely overcoming this trend.
Garden who was a liquidationist in practice was tolerated up to December, 1926, when he was finally expelled following a speech he made at Young renouncing his membership in the Party. Garden did not accept the decision without question and a prolonged discussion took place in the columns of the Workers’ Weekly.
Garden accused the existing leadership of the Party, headed by Kavanagh, of isolating it from the masses . There was more than an atom of truth in this, as later events were to show. Nevertheless, it did not in any way justify Garden’s own attitude, which would have led to equally disastrous results for the Party. The controversy revealed, among other things, that Garden, who came into the Party from the ranks of left-wing trade unionism hadn’t yet succeeded in breaking decisively with his petty bourgeois, pseudo revolutionary past. He did not, even when regarded as a party leader, have a firm grip of Marxism. Nor had he a clear conception of the Party’s leading role. Garden shared the weakness of many Australian Labor leaders. He exaggerated the role of the trade unions and belittled the role of the revolutionary political party. In his debate with the Central Executive, through the Workers’ Weekly, Garden quite frequently referred to the Labor Council as “the spearhead of the revolution.”
By the middle of 1927 the capitalist rationalisation drive was in full swing. In July judge Beeby tried to insert piece work clauses in the metal trades award. The Party led a fight against this. In August two American workmen, Sacco and Vanzetti, were sentenced to death on framed up charges of committing a “hold-up.” This legal murder shocked the workers of every country. In Australia the Party succeeded in organising big protest demonstrations in all the capital cities. In September the N.S.W. State elections were held and the Party supported the return of a Labor Government, specifying that its aim was to facilitate the exposure of reformism. In the same month the Queensland Labor Government locked out its employees in the railway service. The Party in the North took an active interest in this struggle. However, it was not yet strong enough to win the leadership and the railwaymen were defeated. J. B. Miles contributed a series of articles to the Workers’ Weekly analysing the strike and pointing out how the Queensland Central Executive of the Labor Party had sabotaged the railwaymen’s cause.
In November, as a result of capitalist rationalisation, unemployment was becoming a serious problem and the Party took up a fight on behalf of the workless. It put forward the demand for “Work or Full Maintenance at Basic Wage Standards” and aroused mass support. Big demonstrations of unemployed were held at the gates of Parliament House, Sydney, which were dispersed by the police. Similar demonstrations took place in Melbourne under Party leadership. The Party advocated the formation of a united unemployed organisation which should be closely linked with the trade union movement.
In December, 1927, the Workers’ Weekly began to publish a series of articles calling on the miners to set up Pit Top Committees to organise a struggle for a 30-hour week and £5/10/- national minimum wage. Early in 1928 the Prime Minister, Mr. S. M. Bruce, indicated his intention to call an Industrial Peace Conference of the unions and the employers. The Party launched a vigorous struggle against this move to strengthen class collaboration to the detriment of the workers.
On March 3, 1928, an important conference of militant miners was held in Sydney. Thirty delegates attended from all the districts and adopted the following six point programme:
Co-incidentally with the holding of this conference the Workers’ Weekly was campaigning for extension of the Militant Minority Movement. The objects of the movement were set out:
1. To increase the power of organised labor by promoting class consciousness and stimulating activity in the unions on all matters affecting their interests.
2. To endeavour to bring about closer organisation by urging the principle of the One Big Union and favouring the amalgamation of crafts on the basis of one union in each industry.
3. In times of industrial crisis to assist the workers as a van guard and to expose the betrayers of the struggle.
4. To develop among workers a spirit of dependence on their own collective strength as a means of forcing concessions from capital and defence against attack
5. To work for the abolition of all contract, bonus and piece work systems of wage payment.
6. To organise for a shorter working week.
7. To bring into existence a centralised industrial movement linked with the Red International of Labor Unions.
8. To assist the development of the working class movement towards the overthrow of capitalism and for the socialisation of industry.
The Party should have succeeded in winning support from a large number of trade unionists for its immediate programme of radical demands. The workers were beginning to feel the effects of capitalist rationalisation and were losing confidence in their old reformist leaders. However, the work of the Party was marred by traits of opportunist sectarianism which developed among those who had supplanted Garden and Co. in the leadership.
From 1926 the dominant leadership of the Party, headed by Kavanagh, were more and more revealing a dangerous tendency to draw the Party away from the masses, away from mass struggle. Whereas in the earlier period the Party had paid close attention to developments in the A.L.P. and tried to win over the rank and file, while isolating the reactionary leadership; under Kavanagh it held itself aloof.
It refrained, for instance, from utilising the oppositional and faction fights inside the labor party to open the eyes of the masses, help isolate the right-wing and facilitate the dissolution of reformism. During 1927 the majority of the unions supported the Searle, so-called “industrial”, faction in the A.L.P., while the petty bourgeois elements in the Leagues tended to line up behind the corrupt Bailey A.W.U. faction which had control of the machine. The Party characterised the fight as simply a case of opportunists struggling among themselves for control of the movement. It couldn’t see the wood for the trees, couldn’t see beyond the personalities Searle and Bailey, and take into account the industrial workers who supported the former. Consequently it adopted the attitude of “a plague on both your houses.” It is true that there was little to choose between the leading personalities on both sides, but this did not justify the aloof stand of the Party under Kavanagh’s leadership. The rule formulated by the Kavanaghites, allegedly to safeguard the purity of the Party, that
Every Party member must declare his party membership in order to prevent work in the A.L.P. 
only played into the hands of the reactionaries.
On the trade unions question the same sectarian attitude hampered the growth of the Party.
A Communist could only take office in a union when the majority of union members accepted Communism
and even then, Kavanagh declared,
must return to work in industry after two years in office. 
This sectarianism of Kavanagh was opposed by a strong group of Sydney Party members who were supported by some comrades in other States. To combat this legitimate opposition the Kavanagh clique sunk to the level of the reformists. At the Xmas, 1927, Party Conference they prepared by organising a number of “new” branches in North Queensland and came to the Conference armed with from 3 to 5 proxy votes each. These Tammany tactics enabled them to remove comrades Sharkey and Norman Jeffery from the Central Committee in a futile effort to silence criticism and maintain their grip on the leadership. Nothing was heard of the “new branches” after the Conference.
World capitalism was now approaching a new period – the break up of temporary, partial stabilisation and a severe intensification of the general crisis. Stalin had sounded a warning of these impending changes at the 15th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in December, 1927. In his report he stated, “From stabilisation is born the growing crisis of capitalism.” The 6th Congress of the Comintern (July 18-September 1, 1928) analysed the world situation and pointed out that we were entering a third period in the development of post-war capitalism. The first period had been characterised by acute economic and political crises; the second period was marked by relative stabilisation; the third period is distinguished by a sharpening of the basic contradictions of capitalism leading eventually to the complete shattering of stabilisation.
This third period renders inevitable a new phase of imperialist wars between the imperialist nations, of wars waged by them against the Soviet Union, of wars of national liberation against imperialism and against imperialist intervention, of gigantic class battles. Accentuating all international contradictions, accentuating the internal contradictions in the capitalist countries, unleashing colonial movements, this period inevitably leads through the further development of the contradictions of capitalist stabilisation, to the further shattering of capitalist stabilisation. 
The Sixth Congress also indicated the role which reformism would play in the new period. It would come to the aid of the bourgeoisie, as it had in the first and second periods, it would assist capitalism by all means in its power to overcome the growing new crisis at the expense of the working people. The Communist International, therefore, called upon its sections to launch a most determined offensive against Social Democracy. The Communist Parties were urged to come out independently and lead the masses in the sharp struggles which lie ahead.
These decisions, which embodied a drastic change in revolutionary tactics were anticipated in Australia. Before the Sixth Congress concluded, the Workers’ Weekly, on August 24, 1928, published the “Queensland Resolution.” This important document was worked out by the Party here in collaboration with the Executive Committee of the Communist International. It outlined the new tactics to be applied in the approaching Queensland State elections. Analysing the, situation in Australia, it pointed out that the class struggle was sharpening, that this represented the influence of world economic and political events upon this country. Confronted with mounting difficulties employers were determined that existing wage standards must be abandoned. Reformist leaders, it was stated, had formed an open coalition with the capitalist class. They had assumed the role of open policemen.
This made it necessary for the Communists to adopt tactics of more clear and open hostility to the reformists and to expose their true character. In Queensland, the resolution continued, the Communists will no longer adopt the tactic of giving unqualified support to labor candidates. This tactic was correct only until such time as the futility of parliamentary action could be demonstrated by the labor governments to backward workers. McCormack and Co. were branded as class enemies, therefore the Communist Party declares to the workers they must be treated in the same way as the openly avowed capitalist candidates. Whenever the resources and Party machinery permit, the resolution concludes, the C.P. will put up candidates to challenge the labor party representatives. In other districts it will support only such labor and independent working class candidates who accept its programme of immediate demands,
The Queensland resolution was thus in perfect keeping with the decisions of the Sixth World Congress which followed within a few weeks of its adoption by the Party in Australia. This was not clearly understood by the Kavanagh faction, whose opportunism became more openly apparent as the class struggle mounted in this country.
The drive for capitalist rationalisation had proceeded since 1925 under the leadership of the Bruce-Page government. In carrying out its policy in the employers’ interests this government adopted a series of repressive Acts, including the Amendments to the Crimes Act in 1926 and the Amended Arbitration Act in 1928. It was anticipated that these coercive measures would deter the workers from struggling against lowered living standards. In May, 1928, the shipowners locked out the marine cooks and demanded the abolition of the roster system of engaging labor and a reduction of staff. In the ensuing struggle the Crimes Act was invoked to send Seamen’s and Wharfie’s Union officials to gaol. In September 1928, the Waterside Workers refused to work under a new and vicious Federal Award. The Government again used all its newly acquired powers to crush the strike. The Federation was fined £1000 for “encouraging and inciting a strike.”
Still the workers were not cowed and the government found it necessary to supplement its strike breaking powers with another Act – the Transport Workers’ Act, or as it is more widely known, the “Dog-Collar Act.”
This Bill provided for the licensing of persons as transport workers It virtually gave the government power of life and death over waterside workers, since anyone who took part in a strike disapproved of by the government could be deprived of his licence and thus barred from earning a living on the waterfront. Many arrests were carried out during the course of the Waterside Workers’ strike and four workers were shot by the police on the Melbourne waterfront.
In January, 1929, Judge Lukin announced a new award for timber workers. This award took away the 44-hour week, reduced wages and generally worsened working conditions. The timber workers came out on strike against this class biased award and their union was fined £1000. In addition, thirty-two members of the organisation were fined £100 each, in default, three months’ gaol.
In March, 1929, the Northern N.S.W. mine owners locked out 12,000 miners, an attempt to enforce a 12½ per cent. wage cut. This was the beginning of a fifteen months bitter struggle during which miners were attacked by the State forces and Norman Brown was shot dead in a demonstration protesting against the employment of scabs in the Rothbury pits of R. W. Miller and Company, Cessnock.
These happenings verified the Queensland resolution’s claim that the class struggle was becoming more acute in Australia, they emphasised how necessary it was for the Communist Party to come out independently and lead the workers. However, the majority of the Central Committee, influenced by Kavanagh, could see no contradiction in operating the policy of independent leadership in Queensland while at the same time advocating support for the Labor Party in the 1928 Federal elections.
The main article in the Workers’ Weekly, October 19, 1928, was headed, “HERE IS YOUR CHANCE OF PUTTING BRUCE OUT” – “COMMUNIST POLICY IN THE FEDERAL ELECTIONS.” “The most important issue confronting the workers of Australia at present,” this article maintained, “is the attack on wages and conditions launched by the capitalist class against the waterside workers and the miners as a preliminary to a general attack On the standards of living of the entire working class.”
Instead of calling on the workers to organise their own forces to resist these attacks under party leadership, the article urged them to “Put the acid test on their politicians,” to compel the labor politicians to take a stand against the capitalist offensive. The fact that the reformists everywhere were facilitating this offensive and helping to carry it out was ignored. Instead of a clear cut exposure there was a glossing over of the role of reformism.
Instead of sharp opposition there was qualified support for the Labor Party. This policy clearly violated the decisions of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International. It was not supported unanimously throughout the Party. In Sydney two members of the Central Committee, Sharkey and Moxon, opposed the line of supporting the Labor Party. In Brisbane J. B. Miles headed the opposition. Two letters were sent to the Central Committee, protesting, on behalf of the Queensland membership, against the decision to support Labor candidates in the Federal elections. These protests were ignored by Kavanagh and Co. Those opposed to the Kavanagh opportunist policy decided, in the interests of party unity and discipline, to carry out the decision in regard to the Federal elections, and to reserve their criticism until the campaign was over.
The Bruce-Page government was returned to power and continued with unabated vigour the attacks on living standards. This, as already mentioned, provoked the militant struggles of the timber workers and the miners. The Government also tried to supplement its coercive measures by deception. It sought to further hamstring the trade unions by bringing the reformist leaders into an open coalition through an Industrial Peace Conference. Thanks largely to the opposition mobilised and led by the Party these plans fell through.
It was in this atmosphere of sharpening class struggle that the Queensland State election campaign opened. On April the 5th the Workers’ Weekly featured a report of a great mass meeting addressed by J. B. Miles in Brisbane. On April 26 the front page heading was, “Communists Leading Fight Against Bosses Two Parties in Queensland.”
The Party stood two Communist candidates and gave strong support to three other left-wing candidates (one being Fred Patterson). The Labor Party suffered a decisive defeat, a fate which later befell all governments, State and Federal, Labor and Nationalist, who had been carrying out the capitalist offensive. The five candidates supported by the Party polled 3000 votes. This was no mean achievement, having in mind the weak state of the Party organisation in the North at the time, plus the fact that the Central Committee did not give all the support of which it was capable to the Queensland campaign. More important than the number of votes cast was the fact that the Party gained strength through the campaign. Many new recruits were won to the Party and some new branches established.
A discussion on the lessons of the campaign was opened in the Party press. In the course of this discussion the differences in the Party were brought into the open. On May 3 J B. Miles contributed an article, “The Challenge to Capitalism and Reformism.” In this he traced the history of the Queensland resolution, pointing out that the question of running Communist candidates in the Queensland elections was first considered by the Party Conference in 1927. The idea was further developed in collaboration with the Communist International. Out of these deliberations developed the Queensland resolution.
“The new line in relation to the A.L.P. therefore avoided being a Queensland adventure, it became a part of the world wide intensified struggle against reformism."
It was precisely this wide significance of the Queensland Resolution which was lost upon the Kavanagh faction, who had by now become part and parcel of the international right-wing which had made its appearance in practically all communist parties at that time.
The Kavanaghites denied the general validity of the Queensland Resolution. Their thesis, presented to the Eighth Annual Conference of the Party in January, 1929, represents the Queensland Resolution as having purely local significance. It is true that the C.C. Resolution on the Labor Party brought forward by Kavanagh and Co. at the Eighth Conference characterised in a general way the reactionary role of reformism in Australia. “The A.L.P. is a nationalist labor party ... it has betrayed the workers ... it is the agent and saviour of capitalism ... etc,” The tasks of the Party were also more or less correctly stated in similar general terms “... to capture the masses from reformism ...”
But the Party had been repeating such things at its conferences and in its press from the time of its formation. What the resolution failed to recognise was the new situation and the new tasks which it posed. The time had arrived for going over from such general propaganda statements to concrete mass actions to wrest the masses away from reformism in the changing conditions of acute class struggle. But these aims found no reflection in the resolution. Nor was the real significance of the Queensland Resolution recognised. The opportunism of the right-wing is illustrated by the following passages from the resolution:
While the above characterisation of the A.L.P. (as the agents and saviours of capitalism, etc.) does not distinguish between any sections of the A.L.P. in different states, or between the McCormacks and Langs, the Scullins and Hogans, it would indeed be a mistake, and unforgivable for the Communist Party to apply mechanically and blindly the same tactics in the various States. This tendency on the part of some comrades to confuse the question of principle, i.e. the political fundamentals involved, with the question of tactics, is a mistake to be condemned ... In the light of the foregoing the Queensland Resolution stands out as it was intended as an instrument of applying this general policy (of openly opposing the reformists) to a given concrete situation. It should be noted even in Queensland we are hampered by our own organisational weakness.
This phrase, “organisational weakness,” soon became a firm favourite with the right-wingers, who used it to excuse every conceivable sin of opportunism. However, there were people in the Party who were not deceived by this subterfuge and who were convinced that the chief fault was not so much organisational weakness but the political weakness of the majority of the Central Committee, who were departing from Marxism-Leninism.
Two members of the Central Committee who had for some time been critical of the line taken by the majority were L. L. Sharkey and Herbert Moxon. They conducted a fight on the Committee to have the decisions of the Sixth World Congress applied in Australia. After the Queensland elections and during the discussion on the 1929 Federal election policy, Sharkey and Moxon came out more openly and sharply against Kavanagh and Co. who advocated that no Party candidates be stood in the Federal elections and that the Party give support to the Labor Party.
In the Workers’ Weekly, August 9, 1929, Moxon had a signed article entitled, “C.I. NEW LINE CORRECTLY APPLIED IN QUEENSLAND.” In it he stated, “The Queensland Resolution was the Communist Party of Australia’s first application of the new line of attack on reformism and it was completely justified by results.” Moxon appealed to the Party to “Make the new line general"
“Upon our experiences in Queensland,” he wrote, “the Communist Party must make immediate preparations for the application of the new line to all States and in the Federal sphere.” “Contrary to a popular belief among some comrades (a retaliatory blow at Kavanagh and Co. and the phrasing of the Eighth Conference Resolution) there is but one reformist party in Australia, and its (the A.L.P.'s) policy is one of collaboration with capitalism, is an anti-working class one, whether it be in Western Australia or in Queensland, N.S.W. or Tasmania or elsewhere. The A.L.P. stands always for reformism, for capitalism.”
The further intensification of the class struggle involved the Bruce-Page government in fresh difficulties and precipitated another Federal election in 1929. The immediate cause of this new election was the proposal of the government to transfer to the States all Arbitration jurisdiction, excepting only the maritime industry. There seems to have been two main reasons for this step:
1) The existing arbitration machinery was proving too cumbersome. The overlapping of Federal and State jurisdiction was hampering the employers’ offensive against wages and conditions.
2) The stubborn resistance of the Timberworkers to the vicious Lukin Award of the Federal Court.
Bruce first tried to get full power for the Commonwealth Government to handle the situation. He asked the State Premiers if they would accept Federal supremacy in arbitration. When they refused he announced that the Commonwealth would withdraw from this sphere altogether. The gnome-like William Morris Hughes, who in Australian politics has been “everything by starts and nothing long,” led a revolt inside the Nationalist Party against Bruce’s proposals. The Labor Party, in keeping with its role of “developing and strengthening the country and creating a central government”, joined hands with Hughes and defeated the government.
The Workers’ Weekly, September 20, 1929, hit the nail on the head when it stated that the Federal elections arose out of the industrial struggles of the Australian workers. But it strayed far from revolutionary Marxism in outlining the Communist programme to meet the situation.
“The Communist Party calls on the workers to smash the Nationalist Federal Government and welcomes the prospect of a Labor Government which would in the present circumstances inconvenience the employers’ plans and may provide a short breathing space in which preparations could be made to meet a new attack ... The Communist Party desired to put forward its own candidates in this election, but due, to organisational and financial difficulties this course cannot be taken ... As there are no revolutionary candidates and the choice lies only between Nationalist (direct agents of capitalism and the Labor Party (which is still subject in some degree to working class pressure) the Communist Party urges workers in the present circumstances to vote Labor ..."
In the issue of the Workers’ Weekly, September 27, we find an attempt made to justify this opportunist line. “It is only the realisation that the Bruce Government must be smashed and that the revolutionary movement is still organisationally weak that causes the Communist Party to advise the workers in this election to vote for the Labor candidates against Bruce.”
Sharkey and Moxon alone on the Central Committee came out against this policy. They upheld the decisions of the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International. Fearing that all their sophistry would not avail them if the Sixth Congress decisions became widely known among the membership, Kavanagh and Co. sat tight on all the material from abroad and refused to publish it either in the “Weekly” or elsewhere.
To break this conspiracy of silence Sharkey and Moxon published an important document from the Communist International on their own responsibility. For this they were severely censured by the right-wing and threatened with expulsion from the Party if they dared to repeat the “offence.” Still in disagreement with the majority of the Central Committee, Sharkey and Moxon cabled the Executive Committee of the Communist International protesting against their censure and setting out their views on the Australian situation. The E.C.C.I. in reply upheld the position of Sharkey and Moxon and condemned Kavanagh and Co. for their opportunism.
The letter from the Communist International analysing the situation in Australia was published in the Workers’ Weekly in December. In the meantime Bruce had been defeated in the elections and the Scullin Government returned to office. The Right-wing Central Committee greeted this result in the Workers’ Weekly, October 18, under the heading, “ELECTION RESULT IS DECLARATION OF RESISTANCE TO WAGE CUTTERS – MAKE LABOR GOVERNMENT REVERSE BRUCE'S POLICY“. This course was only strengthening illusions concerning the labor party’s role in the crisis which was still maturing. The question was not one of making the Labor Party reverse Bruce’s policy, it was a matter of the Communist Party realising that the top leaders of the Labor Party had entered into open alliance with the bourgeoisie, and coming out independently to lead the masses into action against them.
On October 25 discussion opened in the Party press in preparation for the coming Ninth Annual Conference. The degree to which the revolt against opportunism had ripened is illustrated by the headlines in the Workers’ Weekly – “DISCUSSION OPENS WITH A BROADSIDE ON ELECTION POLICY.” A joint article by Sharkey and Moxon was published sharply criticising the Central Committee and characterising the election policy as “treachery to the working class.”
“The independent leadership of the Communist Party is the biggest question facing communists today,” this article stated. “The workers are given two alternatives: organise under an independent leadership and fight, or capitulate to capitalism and its reformist allies ...
“The Communist International has reaffirmed the line formulated at the Ninth Plenum and adopted at the Sixth Congress, the line in accordance with the third phase of post-war capitalism – Class Against Class. Our qualified support for the reformists in the second phase is repudiated and a new line of the independent leadership of the Communist Party takes its place EVERYWHERE.
“In Australia the right-wing danger has been allowed to flourish without adequate check from the membership as a whole and the leadership in particular.
“The right-wing anti-Comintern policy adopted in the Federal elections in 1929 is the most glaring recent example of the utter repudiation of the single world line of the revolutionary working class.
“In Queensland the Party operated for the first time the new line of the Comintern ...
“The plea of organisational weakness contains some truth, but it is not the reason for the capitulation to the bureaucracy by the Central Committee ...
“We two alone (Sharkey and Moxon) opposed the C.C. line in the Federal elections. The majority were wrong, and, as a Central Committee, now fails to criticise its mistakes ...
“What are we to do?
1. Bring our party line into line with the C.I. policy
2. Fight reformism at every step
3. Win authority as leaders of the workers in struggle
4. Break down the habit of Australian workers of being spectators at demonstrations. Lead them in demonstrations locally and nationally
5. Give a call to the workers to break decisively with’ the labor government and win them over to Communism.”
The article closes on a challenging and confident note:
“It is a definite lie to say we can do nothing because we are only a small propaganda sect, WE ARE A PARTY.”
J. B. Miles, who was not yet on the Central Committee, had an article in the same issue, under the title, “Forward, Not Backward – Confusion and Opportunism in the Federal Elections,” in which he criticised the Central Committee for “tailism.”
In the November 15 issue of the Workers’ Weekly Kavanagh attempted to reply to the criticism of Sharkey, Moxon and Miles. He claimed. in opening, that the Central Committee policy in the elections was correct, and accused his opponents of “repeating parrot fashion phrases culled from the C.I. decisions without attempting to relate them to actual conditions ...”
Miles and Sharkey and all who supported them, according to Kavanagh, suffered from “romanticism.” History has certainly proved the superiority of their “romanticism” to Kavanagh’s “realism.”
In unfolding his defence Kavanagh showed that his deviations from Marxism were not of recent origin. For some time he had harboured differences with the Communist International. It took the sharpening of the crisis and the accompanying increased pressure on the Party to force these differences out into the open. According to Kavanagh the time for the most intense criticism of the Labor Party was in the second post-war period. Instead, he claimed, “The united front tactic was mechanically applied and merely led to the liquidation of the party.” This is distorting history with a vengeance. Therefore it is not surprising to find Jesuit tricks practised in the remainder of the article, which makes believe that the difference on the Central Committee did not arise over the major question of running communist candidates against the reformists, but over the secondary question of whether or not the informal vote should be advocated. Upholding the decision of the Central Committee Kavanagh concludes,
The correct policy, the policy the C.C. adopted was to tell the workers to defeat Bruce, to put the Labor Party in power during the period of the capitalist offensive in order that the masses might experience objectively the reactionary character of reformist parties, and the futility of capitalist parliaments.
Here one clearly sees the theoretical bankruptcy of the “theoretician” Kavanagh. He was no more advanced than the socialists of the nineties, who thought that a Labor Party, had only to be formed to automatically become socialist. Just like these early leaders of socialism in Australia, Kavanagh bows to spontaneity and fails completely to recognise the vital role of consciousness, of theory. This consciousness of its historical mission can only be brought to the working class by the socialists organised as a political party. Not a party satisfied with a propaganda role, but a party that will come out independently, leading the masses and teaching them in action.
There was some historical justification for the backwardness of the earlier socialists – the economic backwardness of Australia and the relatively undeveloped state of class antagonisms. There was no such justification for Kavanagh’s opportunism. The Australian working class had accumulated a wealth of practical experience, including experience of the reactionary character of the reformist parties and the futility of capitalist parliaments. It was the duty of the Communist Party in accordance with the teachings of Marx and Lenin (embodied in the decisions of the Sixth Congress) to make the most of this in a determined bid for independent leadership. But Kavanagh, in spite of all his posturing, never had a grip of Marxism-Leninism. To cover up his own ignorance he insults Australian workers.
The present generation in Australia are practically strangers to the works of Marx and Engels. It is not to be expected that a great number will ever be familiar with these works. 
Nor would they had it been left to Kavanagh and Co. to make these works available, judging from their treatment of important overseas documents.
It is unfortunate that it should have to be said, but it is nevertheless true, that the Party in Australia has got to go back to Marx before it can assume the dignity of a Leninist Party.
Supporting reformism, which was openly carrying out the capitalist offensive is “going back to Marx,” according to Kavanagh. Is there no end to the crimes attempted by the opportunists in the name of “Marxism” – their brand? Contrast this feeble attempt to defend the policy of retreat with the vigourous self-confident assertion of Sharkey: “We are a Party!” and having attained that dignity are duty bound, as summed up in the slogan of J. B. Miles, to go “Forward, not Backward.”
In the Workers’ Weekly, November 22, Lance Sharkey returns to the attack: “Moxon must be given full credit for a definite emphatic policy, the absolute opposite to the Central Committees”. He advocated:
1. No support for reformism, but a determined attack.
2. Party candidates in the elections.
3. Full application of the informal vote in electorates where no Party candidates were standing.
“While I agreed with him on the first two points, I believed we need not insist on the informal vote.”
On December 6, 1929, an Open Letter from the Executive Committee of the Communist International to Australian Party members was published in the Workers’ Weekly. In opening it mentions the events leading up to the Queensland Resolution in 1928 and the reasons for the latest communication. From this brief introduction it went on to review the situation confronting the Australian working class.
The labor movement was going through a crisis of transition, it was pointed out, Australian capitalism, like world capitalism, was going through the third post-war phase – crumbling capitalist stabilisation. Australia was becoming the scene of an ever sharper competition between British and American capitalism. The Australian bourgeoisie was trying to play this up to ensure for itself an independent imperialist development. In order to compete on the home and world market the Australian capitalists were compelled to cut costs, to reduce living standards. This meant that the hitherto privileged position of the Australian workers was being shaken to its foundations.
This found reflection in a growing process of radicalisation. The prospect was one of intense class struggles in the immediate future. A perspective which favoured the extremely rapid growth of the only revolutionary party – the Communist Party. If it were to take advantage of these conditions the Party must become the initiator, organiser and leader of economic and political struggles. It must learn how to act consciously and without vacillation. It was strongly emphasised by the E.C.C.I. that the decisions of the Sixth Congress and the Tenth Plenum of the Communist International and the Resolutions of the Fourth Congress of the Red International of Labor Unions had been neglected by the Party in Australia.
In support of this contention the Comintern pointed out how the Party, at the 1928 Conference could not give a proper political estimate of the Labor Party, or define its fundamentally social fascist character, its aggressive counter revolutionary role in the existing situation. “In the present, third post-war period, the role of the A.L.P. as an agent of the bourgeoisie stands out most clearly. The tactic now pursued by the Communist Party of Australia is not leading, but misleading, the working class. To support the Labor Party now is to support the enemies of the working class.”
The document went on from this trenchant criticism to deal with the 1929 election policy. The decision of the majority of the Central Committee to support the Labor Party is characterised as a “glaring example of a grave right-wing deviation” and as such is “deserving of the severest possible condemnation The E.C.C.I. warned that there was a serious danger of this policy leading to the liquidation of the Party if it were not checked in time. This is best illustrated, the E.C.C.I. letter goes on, by a statement from the Workers’ Weekly on August 2, 1929.
“In this country there will be no strike on August 1. Not that Australian workers have less need than our fellow workers in Europe to demonstrate against imperialist war and the warmongers but that in this country the lines of the struggle have not yet become so clear and the working class is only beginning to realise that its enemy is capitalism and the capitalist state.
“The task of the militants in this country is not yet to lead the working class in a direct challenge to capitalism, but to popularise the basic ideas of the class struggle amongst the workers, their wives and children ...
To this we would add, continues the letter from the E.C.C.I., the following passage from the resolution of the Party Conference, December, 1928:
“We must not lose sight of the fact that the way to the Communist Party leads through the left wing ... not because we want it so, not because we in any way hesitate to transfer these masses directly from the path of reformism and Labor Party illusions to our own revolutionary ideology and action, but because the masses still hesitate to do so. This transformation is not effected through political miracles, nor will we accomplish it through virtuous isolation of the Communist Party from the masses, but it is a long and difficult process whose various phases we must help in speeding up ..."
The comment of the E.C.C.I. on these passages was sharp and to the point:
“It must be said that such statements border on liquidationism. They are a denial of the elementary principles of the role and functions of the Communist Party ... Apparently the Communist Party of Australia regards itself as being merely a propaganda body, a sort of adjunct to the left-wing of the labor party, whereas our conception of the role and functions of the Communist Party is that it should be the leader of the working class and the principal driving force in its economic and political struggles.”
The C.I. letter concluded with the valuable advice that the Party in Australia must reorganise the whole of its work in accordance with the 6th Congress decisions. It must rid itself of opportunism and turn its face to the masses, mobilising them for struggle against the bourgeoisie and its reformist allies.
One would have anticipated that such an important communication would have received a great deal of attention from the Central Committee and that the latter would have made a serious attempt to study the document and put the advice into practise. This was not the case. Kavanagh and Co. treated the E.C.C.I. letter in the same manner that reformists often adopt towards troublesome correspondence – “received and contents noted.” The only sign of any response on their part is a short editorial in the Workers’ Weekly on December 13, which states that,
“The Central Committee considered the Open Letter from the Communist International ... It accepts it unreservedly and welcomes the call to the Party to assert itself more vigorously as the leader of the masses, etc ... The Central Committee recognises the Party has been lacking in self-criticism and has been guilty of serious right-wing mistakes. The C.C. has been slower than most members in reacting to these mistakes.
The editorial contained not a single word about how it was proposed to rectify the mistakes and not a single word about how the Party was to rid itself of opportunism. Nor was there any indication of plans for re-organising the work of the Party in the spirit of the Sixth Congress decisions. No mention about coming out openly against reformism and capitalism. In fact, not a word about anything that really mattered in the Open Letter from the E.C.C.I.
In the following issue of the Workers’ Weekly J. Kavanagh had an article in his own name which entirely ignored the Open Letter. The title of this article was Election of Federal Labor Government has aided Revolutionary Development. The subheading was “Back to Marx to Capitalise the Situation”. The whole article was merely an apologia for Kavanagh’s right-wing mistakes combined with a supercilious attack on his legitimate critics.
In the same issue J. B. Miles had a vigorous article, which was written incidentally before the Open Letter was published. With characteristic bluntness it was headed Where the Hell Are We? and launched into a merciless criticism of the majority of the Central Committee for their opportunist deviations from Marxism. The C.C. line in the Federal elections, he wrote, boils down to support for the A.L.P. In the new situation created by the third post-war period this is sheer treachery. J. B. Miles pointed out that he wanted an independent campaign in the 1928 Federal elections and two letters were sent by him from North Queensland to the Central Committee setting out these views. The Central Committee completely ignored this correspondence. There was considerable opposition to the C.C. Election Manifesto in Queensland, Miles continued, but those opposed to the policy of support for the Labor Party decided, in the interests of party unity and discipline, to throw themselves into the campaign. The high standard of discipline and the amount of energy displayed in the campaign in Queensland was, according to J. B. Miles,
... the surest sign of a hell of a fight as soon as circumstances rendered it possible.
It was necessary in Brisbane to exercise great care in the discussions which followed polling day. The slightest sign of opposition on the part of those disgusted with the Manifesto would have brought about inertia if not total disruption.
The opening of the pre-Congress discussion, however, lifted these self-imposed restrictions on public criticism of the Central Committee line, and the “Hell of a Fight” forecast by J. B. Miles was not slow in developing.
The struggle reached its culminating point at the historic Ninth Annual Conference of the Party, held in Sydney on January 10, 1930. A cable was received from the Communist International setting out the main issues which confronted the Party. Once again it condemned the right-wing majority of the Central Committee and upheld the criticism and attitude of Sharkey and Moxon. The Conference endorsed the policy of the Communist International and administered a stern rebuff to the opportunists. The censure imposed by Kavanagh and Co. on Sharkey and Moxon on October 21 was lifted. Both these members were re-elected to the Central Committee by an overwhelming majority in the ballot. They were joined by R. Dixon and T. Docker, who, together with J. B. Miles, had won the confidence of the membership for their part in the fight to get the Party back on to the right path of revolutionary struggle.
J. B. Miles was not elected to the C.C. at this Conference because he lived in Brisbane. Owing to an absurdly narrow organisational concept it was stipulated in the rules that C.C. members must be resident in Sydney. This anti-democratic rule was amended by the new C.C., and in 1931 J. B. Miles became general secretary. Kavanagh and other incorrigible right-wingers, who refused to recognise their mistakes, were defeated decisively in the elections to the new Central Committee. This Conference, which more correctly should be styled a Congress, marked a turning point in the history of the Party. It was here that the Party finally divested itself of its swaddling clothes and began to grow rapidly, strengthening its connections with the Australian masses in the process.
The new Central Committee began at once to act energetically. Organisers were sent to the coalfields to help the locked-out miners. Rank and file committees were set up and the Party raised the slogan, “All Out!” in the mining industry. This was the only way to bring the struggle to a head and win the miners’ demands.
While the pits in the north were closed the mines in other districts were producing to capacity. It was obvious that if the coal owners succeeded in starving the northern miners into subjection the wage cuts would soon be extended to other fields. The reformist leaders of the Federation tried to confine the struggle to the north and advised the members in other districts to remain at work and only give financial support to the fight. This policy objectively played into the hands of the coal owners. The party exposed the reformist leaders and also the Scullin Government, which had promised to open the pits during its election campaign and had received liberal financial support from the miners in consequence. When elected, however, the Scullin Government cynically discarded its promises to the miners and openly assisted the coal owners.
The struggle on the coal fields sharpened: arrests, batonings and gaolings became commonplace under the Scullin Government. In N.S.W. the Nationalists, led by Thomas Bavin, were in power. This government attempted to place scabs in the mines. The miners marched to the scab pits at Rothbury to induce the non-unionists to cease work. It was in this demonstration that the police opened fire with their revolvers, killing Norman Brown and wounding several others. The Party and militant miners began to organise Workers’ Defence Corps to protect themselves from such violence. The Party slogan, “All Out” and its struggle for a general stoppage were sabotaged by the reformist leaders, who ultimately forced the miners to capitulate and return to work on the terms of the government and coal owners. The campaign, however, laid the basis for the Party’s influence on the coalfields. It is no accident that the Miners’ Federation was the first important trade union in Australia to elect communists to official positions. Had the right-wing leadership of Kavanagh and Co. been removed earlier it is possible that the outcome of the coalfields struggle would have been in favour of the miners.
The economic crisis was now effecting Australia in full force, the right-wing theory of “exceptionalism” was refuted and the policy of the Communist International and the new Central Committee vindicated. By March, 1930, there were already 200,000 unemployed and the number was growing each day. The Party had organised big demonstrations on International Unemployed Day, February 26, which were broken up by the police. The Party also began to organise the workless into the Unemployed Workers’ Movement. The chief demands put forward were for increased “dole,” a rent allowance, work at full award rates, and no evictions. The U.W.M. became a mass movement under Party leadership and waged a militant struggle on behalf of the unemployed.
In October, 1930, State elections were held in New South Wales. The Party contested 54 seats and polled just on 19,000 votes. This exploded another favourite Kavanagh myth about “organisational and financial weakness.” The Lang Labor Government replaced the Bavin Nationalist Party in office. There were now Labor Governments in the Federal Parliament (Scullin) Victoria, (Hogan) South Australia, (Hill) and Tasmania as well as Lang in New South Wales.
These Labor Governments carried out the capitalist offensive on wages and working conditions and savagely attacked the workers when they resisted. The unemployed particularly suffered under these Labor Governments. Processions and demonstrations of unemployed in all States were attacked by the police who freely used their batons and revolvers. The Lang Labor Government in particular became notorious for the savagery of its attacks upon the workless. Anti-evictionists who barricaded themselves in the homes of workers threatened with being turned out on to the street were forcibly removed by armed police. Many were injured in these fierce struggles and hundreds were thrown into gaol. There were more workers sent to prison for political offences under the Lang Labor Government than at any time in the past history of New South Wales. Labor Governments in other States acted in the same brutal manner towards the workers. Their actions fully justified the Party’s characterisation of them as “Social Fascist” governments. The Party was not wrong in labelling them thus, as is sometimes maintained today. Sectarian mistakes were made on occasions by not differentiating between the leaders and the rank and file of the labor party. The term social fascist was often loosely applied to all members or supporters of the Labor Party. This prevented the full application of the united front tactics. Other sectarian mistakes of the period were declaring the dole “black” and in the attitude towards the police. Party speakers often antagonised rank and file policemen by their ill-considered abuse of the police force in general instead of directing their blows at the police chiefs and the governments.
However, in spite of these sectarian errors the Party did succeed in drawing the masses into militant struggle and concessions were won and the prestige of the Party increased. In the first twelve months under the leadership of the new Central Committee the Party membership increased four times.
R. Dixon summed up the situation in an article in the Workers’ Weekly. The year 1930, he wrote, has been one of great change. While much good work had been carried out by the Party under the new leadership there was still “too much generalising about the correctness of our policy and too little practical mass work” The Party had begun to organise on a factory basis, but many of the new branches were not active. He called on the Party to finally overcome opportunism by activising the entire party membership.
About the same time the Party had occasion to discipline Kavanagh. After they had been removed from the C.C. in January, 1930, Kavanagh and J. Ryan attempted to gain control of the Sydney branch. Ryan was expelled from the Party in March. Kavanagh continued to factionalise against the new Central Committee. He was severely censured in June for nominating as delegate from the Trades and Labor Council to the 5th R.I.L.U. Conference against the decision of the Party, and warned that unless he desisted from his opposition he also would be expelled. Finally, in December, 1930, he was criticised for cowardice in the Timberworkers’ strike and for his theory that the “workers are in full retreat,” hence it is useless to call on them for militant struggle. He was expelled from the Party soon afterwards.
Herbert Moxon, who had been associated with L. L. Sharkey in the struggle on the Central Committee against the right-wing, for a short time became General Secretary of the Party. However, Moxon revealed leftist characteristics which he failed to overcome, and which led to his expulsion from the Party. The Central Committee early in 1931 prevailed upon J. B. Miles to come to Sydney from Brisbane and assume the secretary-ship of the Party.
The analysis of Sharkey, Miles, Dixon and others opposed to the right-wing, that the Labor Party in office during the crisis would further organise and fully develop the capitalist offensive commenced by the Bruce-Page Government, was realised in full.
This offensive as already mentioned, was preceded by the “Industrial Peace” campaign and the visit to Australia of the “Big Four”, British bankers whose mission it was to advise the Australian bourgeoisie how to organise and carry through the attacks on living standards. The Party had considerable success in exposing the “Big Four” and nullifying the Industrial Peace campaign. The Sydney Trades and Labor Council was persuaded to reject this sorry scheme and it fell through, much to the disappointment of Garden and other reformists who at this time were very much under the sway of “Fordism.” Henry Ford was regarded as the new messiah who had refuted Marx and the doctrine of the class struggle and shown how it was possible for employers and employees to peacefully collaborate to the mutual benefit and prosperity of both sides. Of course the developing crisis helped to smash these illusions and the Party slogan of “Class against Class” grew in popularity.
The “Big Four” were followed by Sir Otto Neimeyer who demanded, on behalf of the British bondholders, that the Australian capitalist class and their reformist servants set about balancing the Budget to enable them to meet their commitments to the British banking and financial institutions.
The Scullin-Theodore Labor Government listened attentively to Sir Otto Neimeyer’s advice and later put the capitalist economic experts to work formulating a plan to transfer the cost of the crisis to the working people. The State Premiers were called together in Conference with the Federal Labor leaders and the iniquitous Premiers’ Plan was drafted in May-June, 1931. The Party raised the slogan, “Make the Rich Pay,” and organised the workers against the Premiers’ Plan. John T. Lang, the N.S.W. Premier, was the chairman at the meeting which adopted the Premiers’ Plan. His was the first signature to the document which foreshadowed drastic wage cuts and worsened conditions. However, when Lang returned from the Conference he opened a demagogic campaign against the Premiers’ Plan to create a smoke-screen behind which he prepared to put the Plan into operation.
One of his retainers, an inconspicuous legal man, drafted the “Lang Plan” which was advanced as an alternative to the Premiers’ Plan. The former called, among other things, for a reduction in interest payments on government loans. The “Lang Plan” was represented to repudiate interest payments entirely, but in fact only advocated the suspension of payments to London for a period of three years. The Party was quite correct in exposing Lang as a dangerous demagogue who was utilising the radical sentiments of the masses to extend his bureaucratic control over the labor movement and to advance his own career. Lang had visions of vacating the State sphere for Federal politics with the possibility of becoming Prime Minister.
The Party failed in this period to bring forward with sufficient clarity and vigour its own independent proposals, which might have succeeded in carrying the mass movement above Langism to a higher level. The united front tactic was not applied as it should have been to win over the masses supporting Lang. The Party did not sufficiently link itself with the mass movement. It was often not sufficiently concrete in its criticism of Lang, which brought it into conflict with ardent but misguided rank and file Langites.
To check the leftward swing of the masses the Lang controlled Executive of the A.L.P. allowed the Easter Conference to carry a resolution setting up Socialisation Units inside the Branches. These Socialisation Units were supposed to popularise the A.L.P. objective of Socialisation of Industry, etc. At first they developed as semi-autonomous bodies, meeting apart from the Leagues and conducting almost independent activity, such as classes and street corner propaganda meetings. In the early stages their propaganda did not go beyond the limits of Fabian socialism. But the radical section of the membership of the A.L.P. who were attracted to these units soon began to demand a more concrete approach to socialism, that is, they wanted more militant action and less “revolutionary” talk.
To placate them, Garden, who by this time had patched up his earlier quarrels with Lang and was now the “Big-fellow's” adjutant general in the trade union field, came out with his own notorious claim that Lang is greater than Lenin. The more advanced of the Socialisation Units often invited Party speakers to address them. As they advanced beyond the utopian stage they became more of a menace to the Lang dictatorship and the edict went out: “smother them.”
This was to be done peacefully if at all possible, so as to cause the least possible embarrassment to the ruling junta. The first step was to limit the membership of the Socialisation Units to A.L.P. members and prevent outsiders from addressing them. Secondly, the Branch officials were to function as officials of the Units, which were to cease their semi-independent existence and be brought under more strict control of the A.L.P. Executive.
The struggle reached a climax at the Easter Conference, 1931, which adopted the Payne Report one day and rescinded it the next. The Payne Report was drawn up by the left wing who supported the Socialisation Units and wanted to retain them and extend their functions. When the Conference rejected this report and gave the Socialisation movement the axe a group of the most advanced and progressive members resigned from the A.L.P. and joined the Communist Party.
While it was quite clear to the communists that Lang was a demagogue whose revolutionary phrases meant nothing, it was not clear to the workers who supported him. They really thought there was more than a grain of truth in what Garden said. They looked to Lang to lead them in a real revolutionary struggle against capitalism. The middle classes were also taken in by Lang’s demagogy: they thought he had socialist aims, and since their vague notions of socialism were derived from the class biased capitalist press accounts of the Russian revolution, they were extremely antagonistic to Lang. The crisis had thrown them off balance; their old peaceful habits of life were given a severe and sudden jolt; confused and bewildered, they didn’t quite know who or what to blame for the calamity which had befallen them.
If this stream of middle-class dissatisfaction had joined with the current of working class discontent, things might have become serious for the ruling class in Australia. The storm could be weathered however, if the radicalisation of the middle classes could be diverted and the attention of the working class occupied with something apart from wages and conditions, dole cuts and evictions. So the press got busy adorning Lang with all the virtues (for the working class) and vices (for the middle classes) of a revolutionary socialist.
The Langites, headed by Beasley, in the Federal Parliament, had by this time brought about the downfall of the Scullin Government and Lyons had deserted the Labor Party, like Hughes and Holman before him, to head an anti-labor coalition. In the course of his demagogic campaign Lang withheld certain monies due for interest payments on overseas debts, leaving the Commonwealth Government to carry the baby. Lyons threatened to impound State revenue to make good the deficiency. The press was speculating on the prospects of civil war. In this tense atmosphere the New Guard was established as a semi-secret fascist organisation.
No doubt the ruling class feared that the mass activity of the workers might get beyond Lang’s control. The New Guard began to enrol the middle classes, who were led to believe that Lang was out to socialise their wives and confiscate their savings and personal property, and began to drill them on semi-military lines. The Party at once called for a united front against Fascism and reformed the Workers’ Defence Corps to defend political meetings.
The New Guard organised flying squads of “basher gangs” who would descend in car loads on workers’ meetings, upsetting the platform and assaulting speakers and bystanders alike. The Workers’ Defence Corps, which had developed out of the miners’ strike and the unemployed and anti-eviction struggles and which were reconstituted and revitalised when the New Guard came on the scene, met and defeated the challenge of incipient fascism.
The New Guard were driven off the streets. The Lang junta, who were always splitters, formed a so-called Labor Army, in opposition to the Workers’ Defence Corps, to oppose the New Guard. Instead of correctly applying the united front tactic towards the Labor Army, the Party opposed it, calling it a “button army,” because the promoters had worked out a profitable sideline of selling buttons to denote membership in the Labor Army. The theory being that when the New Guard saw how many people were wearing these buttons they would take fright and vacate the scene.
Whatever the views of the leaders may have been there was no mistaking the temper of the rank and file Labor Army men, they were out after fascist blood, and meant to have it, so long as unprovoked attacks on working class meetings continued. The party should have seized this favourable opportunity of uniting with the masses who were still under the spell of Langism and leading them in the fight against the New Guard and the bourgeoisie.
Another favourable opportunity for united action was lost when Lang deliberately involved himself in a Constitutional crisis with the Governor, Sir Phillip Game, to provide an easy way out of a situation which was becoming more and more complex and difficult.
... Lang had done everything demanded by Sir Otto Neimeyer, the representative of the Bank of England, who visited Australia in 1930. He had reduced wages and salaries in accordance with the decisions of the Premiers’ Plan, increased the taxation of lower incomes, put the unemployed on a starvation ration and suppressed the resistance of the Trade Unions, and organised employed. In short, he had placed the main burdens of the crisis on the backs of the workers, farmers and middle classes.
The ruling class now resolved to get rid of him as he had served his purpose and his demagogy was arousing the workers to action. The Lyons Government, which Lang had brought to office, passed legislation enabling it to impound N.S.W. income to meet overseas interest payments. Lang replied by the most demagogic attacks on all and sundry. “If they force me far enough I will go the whole hog,” he threatened. He urged the workers to stand by him. “The revolution is here,” he shouted.
Then came the anti-climax.
Lang had issued an order instructing public servants not to hand over the funds of the State Government to the Federal Government. On May 13th, 1932, the British Governor to N.S.W., Sir Phillip Game, summarily dismissed the Lang Government from office, for “instructing public servants to violate Federal law.”
All that Lang had to say when the news reached him that Governor Game had wiped aside the constitutional rights of the people of N.S.W. and dismissed the government they had elected, was: “Thank God I am a free man.” He walked out of his office, got into his car and drove to his Hawkesbury farm and was not heard of for days after.
The Party instead of leading the masses in united demonstrations against the Governor’s undemocratic action and demanding that Lang be restored to office, where his exposure must have been facilitated, merely concentrated on exposing the whole thing as a hoax. The workers took Lang at his word and decided to wait for the ballot. In the meantime the bourgeoisie weren’t leaving anything to chance. The whole of their vast propaganda resources were mobilised against Labor. All sorts of dire consequences were foreshadowed if Lang were returned. In addition to this most firms included in the pay envelope of their employees on the eve of the elections a notice to the effect that if Lang was returned they would reluctantly be compelled to close their establishment. This was the deciding factor. The main body of the workers did not heed this propaganda and voted solidly as they had long been accustomed for labor candidates. Backward workers and the middle classes, almost to a man, voted for the U.A.P. Lang was then able to come out and say that all was lost for or the time being, the workers had let him, their great leader, down, and that the faithful would now have to wait another three years to rectify the electors’ tragic mistake.
When the Stevens Government came into office the depths of the crisis had already been reached and it was beginning to pass over into a “depression of a peculiar kind.”
The Stevens Government put the finishing touches on the work already commenced by Lang of transferring the burden of the crisis to the masses. Thanks to reformism the resistance of the masses had for the time being been broken. The sectarianism of the Party had prevented it from doing more to combat reformism and lead the masses in a fully effective struggle against the reformism capitalist offensive. Nevertheless the influence of the Party grew and it increased its membership and improved its organisation. The Party emerged from the crisis a Commonwealth wide organisation, with a stable central leadership and committees functioning in all States. Its connections with the trade unions and factories were also strengthened, and became stronger as the depression lifted and unemployed who had revolutionary experience were re-absorbed into industry.
The U.A.P. Governments, which came into office in the depths of the economic crisis, claimed the credit for the slight upward trend which set in in 1933. This, they maintained, was the direct result of their “wise” policy of public administration, in contrast to the “reckless” policies of Labor Governments tinder Scullin, Lang, etc.
By this shibboleth the U.A.P. attached to itself the middle class “floating vote” and reigned for a decade in the parliaments of the Commonwealth and N.S.W. In usurping the title “saviours of capitalism,” the U.A.P. politicians did their Labor colleagues a grave injustice. It was not their “wise” policy so much as the working out of the internal economic forces of capitalism which were responsible for industry emerging from the lowest depths of the crisis.
“By means of the fierce intensification of the degree of exploitation of the working class, by means of the ruin of the masses of the farmers, by means of the robbery of the toiling masses of colonial countries, capitalism has succeeded in obtaining a slight improvement in the condition of industry. The increased exploitation that heightened intensity of labor, the reduction in wages – all this makes it possible for a number of capitalists to continue production even with a small demand and low prices of commodities. Prices of raw materials and foodstuffs have declined at the expense of the farmers, and toilers in the colonies ; this also means lower costs of production for the capitalists. The crisis has destroyed a tremendous part of the productive forces. The destruction of large quantities of goods has at last so reduced the reserves that the ratio between supply and demand has become more favourable. The wiping out of weaker enterprises has here and there closed the market for the surviving stronger ones. Thus industry has passed its lowest point. From this low point industry has entered the phase of depression.” 
These were the factors, rather than the statesmanship of Lyons, Stevens and Co., which brought Australian capitalism out of the crisis. The chief points – wage cuts and speed up – were prominent features of the Premiers’ Plan, the architects of which were Scullin, Lang and Co. The Labor Party, therefore, can justly claim to have laid the foundations of “recovery,” on which subsequent U.A.P. Governments merely erected the super-structure. The Labor Governments also paved the way for political reaction.
This reaction which marked Australian politics from 1928 was part of a capitalist world-wide phenomena. Stalin drew attention to this trend in June 1930. In his report on behalf of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union he stated:
The bourgeoisie will seek a way out of the economic crisis on the one hand, by crushing the working class, through the establishment of fascist dictatorship, i.e., the dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, most imperialistic capitalist elements, and, on the other hand by fomenting war for the redivision of colonies and spheres of influence at the expense of poorly defended countries.
This is just what happened. In 1932, the Japanese imperialists, without declaring war on China, marched their troops into Manchuria. Thus there arose in the Far East what Stalin termed – “the first seat of war.” In 1933 in the heart of Europe there arose a “second seat of war,” with the coming to power of fascism in Germany.
“The German fascists inaugurated their home policy by setting fire to the Reichstag, brutally suppressing the working class, destroying its organisations, and abolishing the bourgeois democratic liberties. They inaugurated their foreign policy by withdrawing from the League of Nations and openly preparing for a war for the forcible revision of the frontiers of the European states to the advantage of Germany.” 
The victory of fascism in Germany marked a big change in the world situation. The bourgeoisie of other countries went over to more intensified war preparations. This, besides adding to the economic burdens of the workers and farmers, was accompanied by increased political repression. Hitler’s rise to power became the signal for the international bourgeoisie to take the offensive against the working class and its organisations, particularly its revolutionary vanguard, it became the signal for a wholesale attack against democratic rights and liberties.
On the other hand, the international working class was greatly shocked and bewildered by the triumph of the Nazis. The German working class had been regarded as the best organised, the most class conscious and revolutionary in the capitalist world. The German Communist Party had received six million votes at the last free Reichstag elections. How did it come about that such a powerful working class and such a strong revolutionary party were defeated overnight? Does this mean that nothing can stop the rise of fascism to power? Is the victory of fascism inevitable? These were the questions agitating the minds of the workers in all capitalist countries. A real danger of defeatism and demoralisation was imminent. But all at once these doubts were dispelled; confidence was restored and the militant class spirit recaptured. This transformation was wrought by the valorous defence of the Bulgarian communist, Georgi Dimitrov, at Leipzig. On trial for his life on the trumped up charge of setting fire to the Reichstag, Dimitrov defied his accusers, and converted the court proceedings into it thorough exposure of the real nature of fascism. The German workers were defeated because they were disunited. The victory of fascism is not inevitable. Fascism can be defeated by the united front of the working class. This was the gist of Dimitrov’s message to the workers of the world from the dock at Leipzig.
Dimitrov’s courageous stand evoked tremendous admiration and enthusiasm among communists and non-communists, among workers, farmers and intellectuals the world over. In every country a united front arose to demand his release. The Nazi hangmen dared not disregard this universal demand. Dimitrov was released. Fascism experienced its first major defeat and the united front had its first major victory. Dimitrov was granted Soviet citizenship and flew to Moscow. At the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, in August, 1935, he elaborated on and developed still further the views he expressed at Leipzig that the victory of fascism was not inevitable, that it was possible and necessary to prevent this victory through the united front of the working class.
Unity Against Fascism and War became the main slogan of the Communist Parties, including the Communist Party of Australia, after the Seventh World Congress. From its inception the Communist Party had persistently warned the workers that so long as capitalism lasted there would be the ever constant danger of new world wars. From its inception it had sought to organise and prepare the workers to meet such danger. Now, however, it was no longer a question of pointing out the danger of imperialist war in general, but one of struggle against a concrete and immediate threat arising from fascist aggression. The Party fought for an alliance with the Soviet Union as the most consistent peace-loving nation, it advocated international collective security in the Pacific for the maintenance of peace and the security of this country. It fought relentlessly against reactionary legislation and all fascist tendencies in Australia.
The Party initiated a boycott of Japanese goods and organised strikes against the sending of war materials to Japan. It came out strongly in support of Abyssinia, demanding full economic sanctions and the closing of the Suez Canal. It called for full support for the Republican Government of Spain in its struggle against counter revolution and fascist intervention. Throughout this entire period the Party combatted the treacherous policy of the Australian ruling class, the policy of “appeasement” and “non-intervention” and the equally treacherous policy of the labor reformists – “isolation”.
It exposed Chamberlain and Munich and showed how the British imperialists were planning to strengthen Hitlerism and promote a Soviet-German war. Considerable success marked these mass political campaigns of the Party. Through the Movement Against War and Fascism, the Hands Off China movement, the Spanish Aid movement and similar united front bodies large numbers of workers, farmers and intellectuals were drawn into activity side by side with the communists. However, thanks mainly to the resistance of the top leaders of the Labor Party the movement did not reach a sufficiently high level to reverse the dominant reactionary policy of the ruling class which was dragging the country into war.
On the economic front the Party also recorded a number of successes in the period succeeding the “depression” and the Seventh Congress.
Party activity contributed to the rebuilding and revitalising of the trade unions. Responding to the stimulus of improved economic conditions and Party Propaganda the workers began to struggle to regain crisis losses. In the strike struggles of the miners, seamen and sugar workers the Party played a leading part. The Communists on the coalfields, together with leading Party organs, worked out a programme giving expression to the miners’ demands and led two general strikes for its realisation. It was not unnatural that under these circumstances one union after another began to elect communists to executive positions. It was in the trade unions that the first fruits of the united front tactic were gathered. Trade union experience demonstrates that it is possible for communists and reformists to work side by side for the realisation of common immediate aims and, furthermore that such working together strengthens not only the organisations involved but indirectly the whole labor movement.
Australian experience as well as the decisions of the Seventh Congress showed how necessary it was to extend the unity achieved on the economic field into the sphere of politics. The Party set out to achieve unity with the Labor Party. There was nothing new in the united front tactics as such. From its inception the Communist Party has fought for the unity of the working class. From a long range viewpoint unity is necessary for the victory of socialism, unity around a revolutionary programme, unity under the leadership of a single revolutionary party. The Australian Labor Party cannot lead the workers to socialism because it is a national-liberal party of capitalism and not a socialist party. The Communist Party arose in 1920 partly because the limitations of the A.L.P. had become apparent. But this historical truth was realised only by a minority, constituting the vanguard of the Australian working class at that time, who went over into the new party. For the victory of socialism it is not sufficient for the vanguard alone to be convinced of the necessity for a new policy, new methods of organisation, of struggle, etc. The masses must also be won over, i.e., learn from their own experience (which the vanguard must help them to interpret correctly) to discard the old and adopt the new standpoint towards the class struggle. The united front tactic facilitates this process.
What is it that distinguishes reformism from communism?
Reformism holds that reforms, i.e., slight improvements in wages and conditions, a wider franchise, etc., are an end in themselves and that the workers shouldn’t concern themselves with ultimate aims. Reformism holds that such improvements benefit employers and employees alike and that these two classes should combine for their realisation.
Reformism holds that strikes injure both the employers and employees therefore these two classes have a common interest in eliminating industrial stoppages. Reformism, therefore preaches class peace and class harmony, which in effect results in subordinating the interests of the workers to their capitalist masters.
Communism, on the other hand holds that reforms are but a means to an end, a means of drawing the workers into militant struggle, a means of preparing them for the ultimate decisive struggle for the abolition of capitalism. These improvements, taken alone, mean very little and cannot be lasting under capitalism, since what is won in times of prosperity is soon lost again in times of economic crisis. While the capitalists retain their private ownership of the means of production and the workers are compelled to submit to exploitation by selling their labor power there can be no class peace. Communism, therefore, claims that ultimately no good but only harm can come from attempts to gloss over the class contradictions in society.
The independent interests of the working class must be kept to the forefront and the class struggle allowed to develop to its logical conclusion – the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. From this it can be seen that the view points of reformism and communism are widely divergent. However, they have one thing in common, they both favour reforms. It is true that the desire for reforms springs from different motives on the part of each party, but reasons apart, the fact remains that both express a desire for reforms, economic and political. It is this factor in common which provides the basis for immediate unity. Without such a factor common to both trends, unity would be impossible and the united front tactic meaningless.
The application of the united front tactic has differed in different periods according to the stand adopted by the reformist leaders and the masses supporting them, and the state of the party. In the first years of the Party’s existence the struggle for the united front took the form of a campaign for affiliation to the Labor Party. Affiliation was agreed to in N.S.W. in 1923, but the agreement was subsequently violated by Lang and the right-wing. The fight for affiliation, accompanied by support for the return of Labor Governments (mainly with the object of facilitating their exposure) continued up to the outbreak of economic crisis in 1928/9.
This was a period of the united front from above as well as below, made possible by the fact that the reformists, under the conditions of capitalist stabilisation, were not openly allied with the ruling class in attacks on the workers. On the contrary, they were in some cases the instruments through which concessions were granted, e.g., the first Lang Government and widows’ pensions, 44-hour week for railwaymen and tramwaymen, etc.
In 1928, however, the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International, analysing the world situation, reached the conclusion that a new economic crisis was approaching and it was inevitable that the role of reformism would change. Whereas previously, by playing the part of mediators and damming back the class struggle, and diverting mass discontent into peaceful legal channels, they had been able to serve capitalism while at the same time maintaining the pose of working class “benefactors,” now the reformists would be forced out into the open, would become the chief organisers of the capitalist offensive. Under these circumstances the workers could only be united “from below” and against the will of the reformist leaders. It was this change in tactics which was resisted by the right-wing Kavanagh leadership which was removed from the Party in 1930.
The period of united front tactics from below continued from 1928 to 1935, when as a result of the greatly increased dangers of fascism and war, the Seventh Congress of the Communist International gave the lead for a further change. It became again possible and necessary to strive for the united front from above as well as below. This struggle was facilitated by the differentiation which began in the ranks of reformism, affecting not only the rank and file but also sections of the leadership, part of which came over to the side of struggle against fascism and co-operated with the Communists in various mass movements which sprang up.
This process of differentiation spread unevenly throughout the Australian Labor Party, expressing itself variously and to an unequal degree in the various States. It became most sharply defined in N.S.W., taking the form of a struggle to oust Langism. From the time he first disappointed his legion of supporters by tamely accepting his arbitrary dismissal by Governor Game, the influence of Lang began to wane. Not automatically and not unaccompanied by certain unfavourable features for the labor movement.
Many former Lang supporters became so disappointed or disgusted after the Governor Game episode that they lapsed into total inactivity, others, more numerous and spellbound, accepted Lang’s advice and were content to await future elections “to give him another chance.” This section, in the grip of blind prejudice, unwittingly caused most harm. For a time they stubbornly resisted all approaches of the communists and refused to take part together with them in the day to day struggles. Instead of joining in militant resistance to new attacks of the employers, they were satisfied to meet the onslaught with a phrase, “Wait until Lang Gets Back.”
Only through the persistent propaganda and militant activity of the Communist Party was the great Lang illusion gradually dispelled and its tremendous harm remedied. Langism was dealt a mortal blow in the fight which developed around the questions of the control of the Labor Council radio station 2KY and the trade union press, the “Labor Daily.” This struggle divorced Lang from the main body of reformist trade union officials who had previously constituted his chief support in the labor movement. It also brought to a climax the schism among his parliamentary supporters. Dissatisfaction had been growing among the latter at Labor’s repeated failure to make any headway in State elections. The A.L.P. itself was demoralised, all initiative in the branches being stifled by the dictatorship of the junta, and the middle classes alienated by memories of the closing of the State Savings Bank. It became clear to the job conscious politicians that Lang would never lead them back into “the tart shop.”
This view was often expressed, but never in “The Leader's” hearing, because, shrewd reformist tactician that he was, Lang held fast to the purse strings of the Labor Party. All donations to the Party “war chest” were under his control. He was the sole dispenser of largesse. So in spite of their discontent with his leadership none among the labor politicians showed any marked inclination to challenge Lang’s position. The challenge came, as so often was the case in the past, from the trade unions affiliated to the Labor Party. It arose, as already mentioned, from an attempt by Lang to secure a stranglehold over 2KY and the “Labor Daily.” The Sydney Trades and Labor Council became the first battle ground and here Lang was defeated.
But the fight could not be confined to these two questions, the enemy was repulsed but not yet beaten, the fight had to be carried right into his own camp. An “all-in” Conference of Unions was convened and labor politicians invited to attend. Mr. Heffron and three others accepted and were expelled by the Lang junta. This resulted in the formation of the so-called Heffron Party. Outwardly the struggle conformed to the pattern of past internecine strife in the A.L.P. But inwardly a new quality had emerged. In this fight less attention was focussed on personalities and more on principles. The issue at stake was not only Lang’s leadership but the whole policy of reformism – the attitude to the united front, the struggle against war and fascism, the attitude to the Soviet Union, etc. A large number of A.L.P. supporters opposed to Lang were clearly aware of these issues and fought consciously to bring them more and more to the forefront as the struggle developed and the situation permitted. This was the new element in this conflict which differentiated it from past upheavals inside the Labor Party and placed it on a higher plane.
In two successive by-elections, Waverley and Hurstville, the Heffron Labor Party stood candidates against the official nominees of the Lang Party. The Heffron candidates were supported by the whole left-wing of the Labor movement, including the communists, and crushingly defeated the Langites. The majority of State Labor politicians who had sat on the fence and taken no part in the fight to oust Lang saw the writing on the wall. They realised that if they delayed much longer Lang would be isolated and defeated without their aid, and the subsequent reorganisation might deprive many of them of pre-selection, resulting in the loss of their seats. To circumvent this Lang was deposed by Caucus and McKell stepped into his shoes.
The first aim of the dissident movement was realised when Lang was removed from the leadership and differentiation now developed in the ranks of the dissenters. The whole body of parliamentarians were now satisfied and thought the movement had gone far enough; the A.L.P. should revert to its traditional policy of “hastening slowly” and, above all avoiding any contact with the revolutionary section of the labor movement. And yet only through such contact and common action had it been possible to defeat Lang, only through a further development and strengthening of such unity was it possible to combat effectively fascism and war. A new right wing, centred in the parliamentary fraction came into existence in N.S.W. A new left wing, composed of those who had formed the core of the movement against Lang, crytallised around Messrs. Hughes and Evans, who had been elected to leading executive positions after the rout of Lang at the great unity conference between the Heffron “breakaway” party and the official A.L.P.
This left wing, besides leading the struggle against Lang inside the A.L.P., had consistently adopted a progressive attitude on questions of national and international policy, which was at variance with the official policy of the Labor Party. They had stood for Aid for Spain, when the official policy was “non-intervention”, they had stood for Aid for China when the official policy was “isolation,” they had opposed Munich, when the official policy was “support Chamberlain”, etc. They stood for the united front, whereas the official party was opposed to the united front.
A climax was reached in 1940 when the Annual Conference of the N.S.W. A.L.P. carried what came to be known as the “Hands Off Russia” resolution. The Federal Executive of the A.L.P., which had shown marked reluctance to intervene against Lang in N.S.W., acted with alacrity in this instance. They demanded that the resolution favouring friendly relations with the Soviet Union be expunged from the minutes of the Annual Conference. Shortly afterwards a special Federal Conference, dominated by Forgan Smith and Fallon, removed the Central Executive from office in N.S.W. and arbitrarily set up what was known as the McAlpine Executive. The deposed Executive re-convened the Annual Conference on August 17, 1940, and there was established the Australian Labor Party, State of New South Wales, or State Labor Party as it came to be known, to distinguish it from the usurpers who appropriated the title, “Official Labor Party,” sometimes known as the Federal Labor Party.
The Twelfth Congress of the Party met in Sydney in November, 1938, two months after Munich. It was the only political organisation in Australia which came out decisively against Chamberlain’s shameful betrayal, not only of Czechoslovakia but of world peace. Two of the main questions dealt with at the Twelfth Conference were “The Organisation of an Australian People’s Front Against Reaction” and “A Programme for Peace.” The latter stated,
Australia needs defensive agreements with our great democratic neighbours in the Pacific – the U.S.A., the U.S.S.R. – and also China, Dutch East Indies and South American States and should strive to influence Empire policy along these lines ... The Government must pursue a consistent peace policy and unite with all countries supporting collective action for peace.
The Congress demanded the removal of the U.A.P.-U.C.P. Government, which was pursuing a policy of appeasement from office. It emphasised the need for a united front of the working class – Communist Party-Labor Party unity – as the core of a People’s Front. The Congress also called for a stronger Communist Party and the doubling of its membership as a means of strengthening the Labor movement in preparation for the stern tasks ahead.
A terrific campaign against fascist aggression, against appeasement, and for collective security was waged by the Party following the Twelfth Congress. But the resistance of the reformist leaders to the united front could not be overcome in time. Similar obstacles in other countries prevented all the pressure of which the international working class is capable being brought to bear on the ruling classes and war between Britain and Germany became a fact in September, 1939, almost on the first anniversary of Munich which was to have brought “Peace for our time.”
At the outbreak of war the Central Committee, for a brief moment, made an incorrect appraisal of its character. The Party had developed such an intense campaign of hatred for fascism and had agitated so long for decisive measures to restrain fascist aggression that it failed to note the imperialist motives which led to the Anglo-French declarations of war against Nazi Germany. At the same time there was a failure to understand fully the significance of the Soviet-German Pact of Non-Aggression. The Party statement called for support for the war against fascist Germany by the British and Australian Governments, while at the same time calling for a struggle against the appeaser Menzies and Chamberlain governments. However, this error was short-lived and the Party quickly orientated itself on a correct Leninist estimation and policy.
In the first phase of the war, the so-called “phoney war” period the Party policy aimed at preventing its spread. At the conclusion of the Polish campaign the Soviet Government associated itself with proposals for a peace conference. The Communist Party supported these proposals which offered a last minute chance of averting the tragedy of a world-wide conflict. The offer was, however, rejected by the British Government. Then came the invasion of France and the Low Countries, the war spread, as it was bound, and the Peace slogan was no longer applicable. The Party raised the slogan of a People’s Government, which would sue for a People’s Peace and, failing that, would organise a real People’s War against fascism. A tremendous barrage of slander was directed against the Soviet Union after the Non-Aggression Pact with Germany was signed in August, 1939.
This was combatted by the Communist Party, which pointed out that the refusal of the British and Polish governments to conclude a Pact of Mutual Aid with the Soviet, left the latter no alternative but to safeguard its own territory. Later, when the Polish government had fled before the German invaders, abandoning the people to their fate, and the Red Army reoccupied the former Russian provinces of Ukraine and White Russia, the slander campaign was intensified.
The defensive war against Finland brought this campaign to its highest peak. Full preparations were made in Britain to send an “Expeditionary force” to the aid of the Whiteguard Mannerheim. The Communist Party came out against these plans for “switching the war.” It proposed to the masses that the reactionary governments of Chamberlain and Menzies should be deposed and People’s governments installed; it proposed that instead of seeking war with the Soviet, as were these governments, a friendly alliance should be concluded, in event of the fascists refusing to negotiate peace with a People’s government, that a real People’s War be conducted against them. There was never at any time on the part of the Communist Party any question of appeasement or capitulation to fascism, but always, both before and during the different phases of the war the consistent application of an anti fascist policy.
During this period there was little to distinguish the top leaders of the Labor Party from the open representatives of capitalism. They echoed all the vile anti-Soviet slanders and in many cases took the lead in this crusade. It was, for the time being, impossible to apply the united front tactic from above as well as from below and the Party concentrated on winning over the Labor Party supporters against the will of their own leaders. It only became possible to revert to the tactics of unity from above and below after June, 1941, when the character of the war changed.
In the meantime, in June, 1940, the Party was declared to be an unlawful association and was suppressed by the Menzies government. Throughout the major part of its existence the Communist Party lived under the threat of illegality. Prior to the depression the Bruce-Page government passed the Crimes Act Amendment Bill with the avowed objective of outlawing the Communist Party. Before this aim could be realised the Bruce government was unseated and the Scullin Labor government elected. When Scullin was defeated and the Labor renegade, Lyons, came into office the attacks on the Communist Party were renewed.
Harold Devanny, who at that time was publisher of the Workers’ Weekly, was proceeded against by the Crown for allegedly soliciting funds for an “unlawful association,” namely the Communist Party. This was an attempt to establish the de facto illegality of the Party without any formal declaration. This Machiavellian effort failed. The Party mobilised the masses and a huge campaign was conducted resulting in the prosecution being dropped.
A somewhat similar attempt to outlaw the Party by round about means was made in 1935 through linking the Party in a prosecution of the “Friends of the Soviet Union,” a non-political cultural organisation which had itself initiated a legal action against the Government. This also failed.
An undeclared and uneasy truce was then maintained by the Government, which, however, only waited a more favourable opportunity for renewing the offensive. The Menzies Government thought this opportunity had arrived during the war, when the anti-Soviet campaign was at its height and many people were confused by the distorted capitalist press versions of the Finnish War. This was a most difficult period for the Communist Party, which was called on not only to withstand a vicious ideological attack from all quarters, but also physical assaults on Party meetings and speakers. The Party defended itself and defended the Soviet Union. More than that, it placed itself at the head of the masses; it led the struggles of the miners, metal-workers and other sections of the working class for improved conditions.
The ruling class saw that the Party could neither be cajoled nor intimidated into deserting its fundamental principles, and so, on June 15 it was proclaimed an unlawful association. Party offices, bookshops and printing establishments were raided, the homes of Party members were invaded and their libraries confiscated. No literary discrimination was shown by the raiders: the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Goethe, Shelley and Lawson were bundled into police and military trucks, cover to cover with those of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. If the Government hoped by this blow to banish the Communist Party it must have been disappointed.
The Party had anticipated reaction and prepared beforehand for the transition to new methods of work. Communist activity, far from decreasing became more widespread after June 15. The Prime Minister, Menzies, announced that more drastic measures would be taken to curb these activities. Two Party members, Thomas and Ratliff, who had previously served a term of imprisonment for communist work, were picked up and thrown into a concentration camp without charge or trial. The Central Committee aroused the Party and the labor movement against this fascist-like action of the Government. Thomas and Ratliff embarked on a hunger strike which focussed public attention to the case. The Sydney Trades and Labor Council called a one day general strike demanding their release. In spite of the sabotage of certain reformist officials the strike was most successful. It shook the Menzies government, but not sufficiently to brink about its downfall or the release of the two political prisoners at that stage. The cowardly inactivity of the majority of labor politicians dammed back the pressure and helped save the face of the Menzies government.
Besides the persecution of Ratliff and Thomas there were about fifty arrests in all throughout Australia. Western Australia suffered most. Here the Party was weakest and the State leadership, afflicted with “liberalism,” hadn’t taken the ideological and organisational steps advised by the Central Committee. In Western Australia also reformism played its most rotten part. Certain labor leaders acted as police informers in denouncing active communists. The fight against political persecution, intimidation and provocation steeled the ranks of the Party and led to a higher political development. The majority of members withstood the test well. There were relatively few deserters. Among those more prominent were Nelson, Lloyd Ross, Barrachi and Rawlings. The Party deemed itself well rid of such people and was thankful that the lesser crisis had revealed their true character.
The Party press continued in circulation during the whole period of illegality. The Tribune printed illegally and much reduced in size, came out within a week or so after its suppression as a legal organ. It was followed soon after by the “Communist Review.” Besides maintaining these weekly and monthly publications the Central Committee issued many leaflets and pamphlets, including, “Soviet Russia and the War,” “The Coming War in the Pacific” (when Menzies and Co. were assuring Australia that there would be no war, that by appeasing Japan with wool and scrap-iron and closing the Burma road war would be averted), and “What is this Labor Party?” The circulation of the Tribune doubled and that of the Communist Review trebled while the Party was illegal.
Oral propaganda was also maintained. Leading communists in the trade unions and other mass organisations still continued to put forward in public the Party point of view and were not deterred from so doing by the threats of the Government. The Party platform in the Sydney Domain was reopened by Stan Moran in his own name. Party members stood as election candidates either as “Independents” or Socialists. No one was deceived by this legal fiction, least of all the Government who probably hesitated and refrained from going further along the path to fascism out of fear of the probable consequences. After all Britain and Australia were formally at war with fascism and there were limits to the abrogation of democratic rights beyond which even Menzies and Co. daren’t venture. The political strike against the illegal detention of Ratliff and Thomas showed them that they were walking dangerously close to the edge of a precipice and that any added weight of political repression might result in an avalanche in which they and not the communists would be submerged.
One week after the first anniversary of the illegality of the Communist Party, on June 22, 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and the character of the war began to change. Mr. Churchill at once announced that Britain would support the Soviet Union. From an imperialist war the struggle was transformed into a People’s War of liberation against fascism.
The Party quickly reorientated itself and adjusted its policy to the new situation It now declared its fullest support for the war which had become a just war. It called for the closest relations with and the fullest support for the Soviet Union. Mr. Churchill, on behalf of the British Government, concluded a Mutual Aid Pact with the Soviet which soon afterwards was supplemented by a 20 Years’ Treaty of Alliance. The Dominions and the U.S.A. fully supported Mr. Churchill’s policy. The great anti-fascist coalition for which the Soviet had strived and the communists had fought since the coming to power of Hitler was at last in the process of formation. Lenin once said that the path to Socialism was “not like the Nevsky Prospect” (a broad straight thoroughfare in Petrograd). Neither, it proved, was the path to international anti-fascist unity. A tortuous zig-zag course led to this objective. The march of the peoples towards this goal was marked by temporary reverses and transient severe defeats. It was reached ultimately under circumstances which could not have been foreseen, but it, was reached, nevertheless, and soon showed its great worth by stemming the flood tide of fascist aggression and turning it back.
The Communist Party advanced a concrete policy for winning the war. In the forefront of its programme was the demand for the opening of a second land front in Europe so that Britain and the Soviet might strike joint blows at their common enemy as the Alliance demanded they should. The Party called for the fullest strengthening of the armed forces and a maximum effort by the workers in industry to produce all the requirements of war. Under the Menzies Government the armed forces were poorly equipped and the welfare of the troops received no consideration. There was widespread dissatisfaction with pay, food and hygiene in camps, curtailment of leave privileges, etc. In some instances discontent took the form of sit down strikes among the troops. The Party drew attention to the grievances of the soldiers and campaigned for an improvement in their conditions. In industry, the employers revealed a strong tendency to put their sectional, profit making, interests first, while the workers were being called on to forego established conditions and accept lower living standards, allegedly in the interests of winning the war. Here also the Party came forward and led the workers in struggles against all attempts to increase profits under the guise of war needs.
When the character of the war changed it became possible to broaden the united front tactic to once again include those leaders of the A.L.P. who supported the Alliance with the Soviet Union. The Party sponsored a United Front proposal to the Federal Labor Party through a number of prominent left-wing trade union officials, who also proposed at the same time that Mr. Curtin should take over the Government from Menzies. These proposals were made in September, 1941, and although they were not accepted by the Labor Party they contributed to Curtin’s decision to take office in October. Soon after the Party’s United Front offer the first fruits of the victory over Langism in N.S.W. fell ripe. The Labor Party was returned with a record majority. Not without some lingering fear, Mr. Curtin took advantage of the next Parliamentary crisis to assume office in the Federal Parliament.
By this time the war was no longer remote. In December Japan struck at Pearl Harbour. Soon Singapore had fallen, the Dutch East Indies were overrun, and the war had reached Australia’s doorstep. The Labor Government acted energetically to put the country on a war footing. It recalled two Australian Divisions from the Middle East and sent them to New Guinea. Curtin appealed to America for planes and men. Industry was mobilised and large numbers transferred from less essential to more essential undertakings. The Defence Act was amended to permit the use of Militia Forces outside Australian territory. In all of these measures the Government was supported by the Communist Party which continued to campaign for the avoidance of industrial stoppages where possible and a maximum productive effort. Price fixing and profit control measures were also instituted by the Labor Government.
The reactionary trend in Australian politics, so pronounced under the Menzies regime, was reversed under the Labor Government. Ratliffe and Thomas were set free and the ban on the Communist Party lifted.
In the struggle for production the Communist Party had to fight strenuously against certain groups of reformists in the major industries who set out to sabotage the policy of the Party and the Curtin Government These reformists who had spent their lives preaching compulsory arbitration, class peace and gradualism, now became transformed into “militant strike leaders,” who created grave difficulties in important defence industries. The strikes fomented by these right-wingers only helped the most reactionary sections of the capitalist class who were striving to discredit the Labor Government and bring about a restoration of the U.A.P. to office.
The “Rights” were assisted in their campaign of sabotage by the anarchistic, crude, “militants” who lacked political understanding, and consequently could not realise the gravity of the situation for the labor movement if fascism were not defeated. These outbursts, which were encouraged by sections of the reformists and anarchists, indicated that the Australian labor movement had not yet completely overcome spontaneity, that there were still large sections of the workers lacking in political consciousness. These sections were of course reinforced by the new recruits drawn into industry by war time measures while on the other hand many workers with accumulated experience had gone into the armed forces. The Trotskyite counter-revolutionaries, whose chief aim is the defeat of the Allied nations, played a prominent part in this disruptive campaign. Had it not been for the active struggle waged by the Communists against all these elements there is no doubt that even more serious harm to the nation’s war effort would have resulted.
The Party emerged from illegality with more members than it had in June 1940 when it was suppressed. The raising of the ban resulted in a further rapid increase. At the end of 1943 the membership had reached 20,000, and the Party was recognised as a political force to be reckoned with in the affairs of the country.
In the Federal election campaign of 1943 the Party entered into a united front agreement with the State Labor Party in New South Wales. Unity was proposed to the Official Labor Party and again rejected At the conclusion of the election campaign, which returned the Curtin Government with a record majority, the Executive of the State Labor Party proposed to the Communist Party that officials of both parties meet to discuss prospects of amalgamation. Terms were drawn up and submitted to the membership of both parties for discussion. They met with almost unanimous approval. Both parties had separate Conferences which ratified the proposals and finally in January, 1944, a democratically elected joint conference effected all amalgamation. Besides adopting a programme of immediate demands the joint conference decided to open a campaign to secure affiliation of the new Australian Communist Party with the Official A.L.P. The General Secretary, J. B. Miles, told Conference that
The A.L.P.'s policy now is nearer to that of the Communist Party than at any time in history. If affiliation were granted the Australian Communist Party members would abide by A.L.P. rules, while retaining the right to continue their own propaganda ... We must work so that the decision on this question is made not by the reactionaries but by the best A.L.P. elements – and they are in a majority.
The affiliation of the Communist Party to the Australian Labor Party under the circumstances set out by J. B. Miles would be a typically Australian way of solving the problem of unity. It would also pave the way for the creation of a single working class party based on sound socialist principles and organised in a new way so that these principles can be applied to the changing situation. Just how such a Party will come into existence is a matter for the future to determine. One thing is sure, and that is that the trade unions will play a most important part.
The Australian Labor movement arose out of trade unionism. The trade unions initiated the Australian Labor Party. At moments of crisis in the history of that Party the trade unions have come forward in an attempt to set things straight. It was the trade unions which formed the core of the movement against Conscription. It was the trade unions which tried to alter the course of the Labor Party in the first post-war period by insisting on the adoption of the Socialisation objective. It was the trade unions which formed the backbone of the struggle to oust Lang.
The history of labor for the past fifty years has in a sense been a history of struggle on the part of the trade unions to compel the Labor Party, their own creation, to function in their own interests. These interests have not been clearly understood in the past owing to lack of socialist consciousness, and all past attempts to reform the Labor Party have failed. The interests of the working class are bound up with the struggle for socialism. To achieve socialism the working class needs a socialist party, a party of a new type.
When Australian trade unionists realise this, great changes will be wrought in the Australian Labor Movement. With the defeat of world fascism and the coming of peace the working class will need to be not less but more united than ever. Tremendous tasks will confront Australia, as well as all other countries in the post-war period. Then the question will be decided. Back to the old, or forward to a new way of life. The Communist Party has set its course for a strong, free and independent Australia, leading eventually to Socialism, which expresses the aspirations of the majority of toiling people summed up in the past century of history of the Labor Movement.
1. Notes on Party History, From a Lecture by L. Sharkey, p. 2. 107
2. A Socialist League was formed in Sydney in August, 1887. In 1907 it changed its name to Socialist Labor Party. In the same year a small breakaway group formed a Social Democratic Party, later known as the International Socialist Club. In July, 1907, a Unity Conference was held in Sydney. Delegates attended from the Victorian Socialist Party, the Socialist Labor Party, the International Socialist Club, the Barrier Socialist and Propaganda Group, the Social Democratic Vanguard (Brisbane) and the Social Democratic Association (Kalgoorlie). The combined financial membership of these groups was 2000. The Unity Conference resolved to combine these various groups into a Socialist Federation of Australia, the two S.L.F. delegates dissenting. The Socialist Federation later became the Australian Socialist Party.
3. Short History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) p. 47.
4. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol XXV, p. 174.
5. Short History CPSU(b), p 362.
6. Notes on Party History by L. Sharkey, p. 5.
7. Ibid, p. 5/6.
8. Resolution of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International on the Report of the Executive Committee.
9. Present day circulation of Communist Review, the Party’s theoretical organ, is 20,000 per month. Pamphlet on Dialectics sold 7,000 copies in few months. Books by Marx and Engels are sold out as soon as they appear.
10. The Story of J. T. Lang by R. Dixon, p. 16.
11. Leontiev Political Economy, p. 281.
12. Short History. C.P.S.U., p. 302.