The Impact Of Communism In Australia


The inability of Menzies-led UAP-UCP governments to destroy the Communist Party during the cold war, ultimately through constitutional means, following a parliamentary procedure that failed to deliver that outcome, remains a bitter irony in Australian history. With the beginning of the Cold War, the Australian state was determined to destroy the Soviet Communist Party. The Soviets were the aggressors of Australias cold war. The nexus of the Cold War and the Australian Class War meant that the State, under Menzies, would seek to ideologically and practically eliminate Communism, casting its communist party as responsible for a host of problems plaguing Australia.

Experience has confirmed the analysis that the founding of the Communist Party in Australia was, in fact, a marriage between mildly radical labor and Parliamentarism born in nineteenth-century Australia, and rather diluted Australian socialism, which was influenced by the Russian revolutions of October and ideas about rapid developments of a worldwide socialist revolution. For two years after its founding, the Communist Party of Australia remained fundamentally divided on attitudes towards the Labour Party, with those in the largest groups believing the militants of the unions were too close to the Labour Party. In its first years, mostly thanks to Garden efforts, the party had achieved a degree of influence within the NSW union movement, but had been reduced to an unremarkable band by the mid-1920s.

It attracted a number of the party’s working-class and unionist supporters, and developed a progressive politics, focusing on working-class issues, such as workers rights and unions, and on women and migrants’ rights, environmental issues, Aboriginal land rights, and peace movements. The Australian Communist Party reflected genuine militant and democratic aspirations of many Australian workers, whilst at the same time embracing Stalinist methods and turning over its policies at Moscows behest. Despite its sectarian shadiness in its first years (1920-26), its Stalinisation (1926-68) and later its descent into reformism and dissolution (1968-91), the CPA attracted some of the best working-class activists, trained them to be activists, and had a profound influence on Australian culture, industry, politics, and working-class life.

The question of Communist influence within unions remained potent, and led to the 1955 Labour Party split and the creation of the Democratic Labor Party, made up of disaffected members of the ALP concerned about Communist influence within Australian trade unions. Jack Mundey of the NSW Builders Labourers Federation was a party member when he helped to initiate the green bannings of the early 1970s; Lori Carmichael of the Metalworkers Union was a party member when she helped steer the Australian trade unions toward a form of political unionism which would result in a consensus with the Australian Labor Party.

A year later, North Korea invaded South Korea, and in 1951, in the midst of the Korean War, Robert Menzies Liberal Government attempted to ban the Communist Party of Australia, first through legislation which was declared illegal by the High Court, and then through referendums in a bid to get around a constitutional hurdle to this legislation. Similar sentiments were stirring in Australia, where the Menzies government won the federal election in 1949 campaigning on the platform of disbanding the Communist Party of Australia.

The end of 1941 was a high point for Australian Communism, given its access to wartime governments and its control over the nation’s major unions. While the electorate generally voted Conservative, Australia shared a shared Western experience in the interwar years of a small but energetic Communist movement.