History of the Australian Labor Movement - A Marxist Interpretation by E. W. Campbell. 1945


THIS essay represents a modest venture into a field which has, in the writer’s opinion, been too long neglected. Little enough of a purely factual character has been written about the history of the Australian Labor Movement, while for the most part the interpretation of events has been left mainly to bourgeois liberal historians, reactionaries and reformists. Thanks are due to Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick, in his Short History of the Australian Labor Movement, for making a break with the old tradition. But, as Mr. Fitzpatrick says about his work,

This essay has few pretensions. It is a digest of one man’s reading and observation of the Labor Movement in Australia, and is presented for the single purpose of describing what Labor has done and has tried to do towards building a ‘fair and reasonable’ society in Australia under capitalism.

The object of this present book is altogether different. It is an attempt to interpret the history of the Australian Labor Movement from the viewpoint of Marxism. Little or no original research has gone into it. The pressing tasks of the practical struggle for socialism do not permit much time off for such luxuries. The writer has been compelled to accept and rely on the discoveries of others and is greatly indebted to Mr. Fitzpatrick for the valuable leads obtained, not only from that author’s own works, but also from the useful bibliographies attached. All that is new is the construction placed upon developments, which, as previously stated, purports to be Marxist.

No claim is made that what appears is necessarily the last word to be written on the subject. Like Mr. Fitzpatrick’s Short History it is “a digest of one man’s reading and observation.” As such it is bound to have some shortcomings. An attempt has been made to limit these by having the manuscript read, in its various stages of preparation, by such qualified Marxists as J. B. Miles, L. Sharkey and R. Dixon. Their advice and assistance have been of the utmost value, but final responsibility for what appears herein is accepted by the author.

The central theme is that “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” and that while the labor movement continues to be non-revolutionary it must remain subservient to the bourgeoisie. Only the combination of socialism with the mass labor movement creates a durable basis for both. The writer regards the most significant event in the history of the Australian Labor Movement to be the formation of the Communist Party in 1920. Only then did there really begin the task of uniting socialism with the mass movement, without which the emancipation of the working class is impossible.

Whatever modifications in minor detail may have to be made in subsequent editions as new facts emerge, this fundamental conclusion at least will never be shaken.

E. W. Campbell.
October 30, 1945.