To celebrate the submission of the manuscript for our edited collection on the history of the Australian far left in the Cold War era, I am posting an excerpt from a chapter by Jon Piccini and I on the Communist Party of Australia and immigration restrictions, primarily the ‘White Australia Policy’. The following section looks at the period between the two wars, when the CPA was in the ascendancy…
The Australian left has a long and conflicted history of engagement with the politics of whiteness, The Immigration Restriction Act, colloquially known as the ‘White Australia Policy’, was amongst the first acts of newly created Australian commonwealth in 1901. It was strongly argued for by the left of politics, particularly the Australian Labor Party (ALP), who saw it as a means of securing the union movement’s gains from cheap foreign labour. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) primarily opposed the policy and campaigned against explicit racial discrimination, but at the same time, supported some restrictions upon immigration and appeared sympathetic to the anti-immigrantism expressed by sections of the Australian labour movement. Throughout the inter-war period, the CPA was throughout its existence torn between a professed global solidarity and the realities of the Australia’s position as a bastion of white skin privilege. The Comintern criticised the CPA for this, and an uneasy compromise was made whereby the party extended a ‘friendly hand’ to migrant workers in Australia, but campaigned against ‘mass immigration’ from Europe at the same time.
The Communist Party of Australia and the Comintern in the 1920s
The Communist Party of Australia was formed in 1920 and immediately applied for membership to the Communist International (Comintern). From the inception of the Comintern in 1919, the international communist movement was imbued with an anti-colonial agenda and agitated against the ‘colour bar’ that operated in the colonial sphere and in the former settler colonies, including Australia – what Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds have described as ‘white men’s countries’. For example, the 1922 theses on the Eastern Question drafted at the Fourth Comintern Congress stated that ‘the international proletariat does not harbour any racial prejudice’ and any antagonisms between coloured and white workers served to fragment and weaken the unity of the workers’ movement. In an issue of The Proletarian, one of the pre-existing journals that became an outlet of the newly formed CPA, Pearl Hanks criticised the Australian worker for ‘ignor[ing] the existence of the colored man while they can, and when that is no longer possible, to meet him with open hostility’. Quoting the Indian member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Shapurji Saklatvala, Hanks reminded readers:
A dream of Communism for white races only is the height of folly, because… the industries in England cannot be taken over by the workers while the sources of raw material remain in the hands of the capitalists.
This realisation, Hanks argued, forced the conclusion ‘that we must give up either our color prejudice or our hopes of Communism’, further stating, ‘there is no justification for the color bar, because a civilisation which excluded the colored races would benefit only a comparative handful of the world’s inhabitants’.
Although anti-racist rhetoric was quickly incorporated into the Communist Party’s literature and the party platform, this did not necessarily transform into practical political activism, with the CPA continuing to campaign against ‘mass immigration’ and others in the party arguing that ‘race’ was not a significant issue for the CPA. For example, in 1922, Fred Wilkinson, in a report to the Comintern’s Anglo-American-Colonial Section, wrote that ‘employers want cheap coloured labour imported’, but wrote approvingly that the ‘trade unions are, of course, opposed to this’. In December 1924, The Workers’ Weekly claimed that ‘the boss class finds in immigration a powerful weapon for the degradation of the condition of the Australian workers’ conditions’. The paper seemed to lament the Australian labour movement was not strong enough ‘to control such dangers as immigration’ and argued that the strategy, for the time being, was to ensure that ‘immigrants were met at once and enrolled in unions’, with ‘an embargo imposed on all who refused’. In another article from 1925 titled ‘Immigration Menace’ proclaimed that the Communist Party recognised ‘this present immigration campaign [by the Australian government and employers] is the biggest immediate problem before the Australian working class’. To counter this, the CPA announced that preparing material in Italian to appeal to migrant workers ‘to stand firm alongside Australian trade unionists in the fight for the preservation of the conditions which have been won only by the hard fighting of Australia’s workers.’ To help build links with these Italian workers, the CPA called for ‘an abandonment of all irritation tactics against the fellow workers who have been shanghaied across from Europe.’ A few weeks later, the CPA conceded:
It is not immigration as such that troubles the working class in Australia. It is unemployment, and the cause of that is found in the anarchic character of the capitalist system.
At the Fifth Congress of the Comintern in June 1924, Dora Montefiore, a veteran socialist and suffragist representing the CPA, admitted that the trade unions were opposed to non-white workers and acknowledged that ‘it would be pointless to ignore the question of coloured workers’. Montefiore argued that the CPA weren’t calling for ‘bringing in cheap coolie coloured labour’, but, influenced by Marx’s ‘Proletarian of all lands unite!’, the position of the CPA was ‘we cannot accept any exploitation of coloured workers, because any such exploitation is bound to be followed by reduction of the wages of white workers’.
Throughout the mid-1920s, the CPA continued to campaign against ‘mass immigration’, particularly government sponsored immigration from the British Isles (seen as way of simply of British imperialism transferring its poor to another part of the empire) and from southern Europe. The Party argued that ‘the wholesale importation of immigrant workers into Australia’, which was ‘a deliberate attempt on the part of the capitalists to flood the country with cheap labour’ and thus called upon Australian workers to ‘take every possible step to combat the dangers of large scale immigration’. Labourers from Italy were specifically targeted by the Communist Party, with the party press identifying a particular ‘problem’ in Queensland where:
colonies of Italian workers have developed and their lack of knowledge of the English language and the hostility of certain unions… have forced these workers to become easy prey of the capitalist class and a menace to the conditions of the Australian workers.
But an edition of The Workers’ Weekly from August 1927 warned its readers from being hostile towards Italian workers, reminding them:
The Italian workers did not drop from heaven, but, to the contrary, come from a country that experienced a working class revolution, with the Labor movement developed to a higher degree than in Australia. The Italian workers have been members of the Communist Party, Italian Labor Party and the trade union movement before their arrival out here and if given the opportunity they will demonstrate their trade union traditions equally with other workers that have done so here. 
This highlighted a contradiction in the CPA’s outlook towards immigration and the ‘White Australia Policy’. While stressing that the unions still needed to ‘protest against the State aided mass immigration of Labor’, the Party also emphasised that they were internationalists and ‘welcome[d] workers from any land’. The programme of the CPA during this period consisted of the following:
- To agitate for the discontinuance of state aided immigration schemes and international post war agreements.
- To impress upon their trades unions the necessity of recruiting into their ranks all immigrants on arrival.
- To advise their trade union and labor councils to affiliate to the Red International of Labor Unions… with the definite object of securing the unity of the rival organisations into an all inclusive trade union international organisation.
John Pepper, a Hungarian-American member of the Comintern’s Anglo-American Secretariat harshly criticised the Communist Party of Australia’s contradictory stance in 1926, in response to report by the CPA’s Edgar Ross on the ‘Australian question’. Pepper called the white working class in Australia ‘a proletariat with many privileges’, which was reinforced by the White Australia Policy. For Pepper, the Party ‘did not fight energetically enough against the White Australia ideology of the workers’ and warned that if the CPA ‘does not want to become something similar to the official Labour [sic?] Party’, it had to combat the White Australia Policy’. The following year, the CPA resolution declared:
In opposition the chauvinistic and racial policy of the A.L.P. as manifested in its White Australia Policy, the C.P. must put forward a policy of opposition to State aided immigration whilst insisting on the elimination of all racial barriers in the Immigration Laws; at the same time formulating a programme for receiving and organising immigrant workers into the working class movement of Australia.
The conflicted agenda was agreed to by the Comintern as its own resolution on the ‘Australian Question’ put forward something similar, proposing that the Communist Party ‘must conduct an ideological fight against [the] social chauvinism’ of the Australian labour movement, by ‘championing an internationalist policy’, as well as ‘insisting upon… free admittance for the workers of all countries’. But at the same time, the Comintern called for the CPA to criticise and condemn the ‘plans of the British and Australian governments for mass migration’. Robert Bozinovski has described this approach as the Party’s ‘commendable opposition to White Australia in the face of virulent racism’, but also noted that the Comintern continued to complain that the CPA ‘was not sufficiently vocal in its opposition’. Stuart Macintyre has suggested that this contradictory position was because of the social and political origins of the Communist Party and its attachment to the international communist movement. ‘The concern for the purity of the race was a persistent theme of the Australian labour movement’, Macintyre explained, and because the CPA was ‘a by-product of that movement’, as well as a ‘member of an internationalist organisation committed to the unity of the workers of the world’, the Party ‘found itself torn between old habits and new loyalties’.
From the Workers’ Weekly, Jan 1926
From the Third Period to the Second World War
Despite the sharpening of anti-colonial and anti-racist politics of the international communist movement during the ‘Third Period’ (between 1928 and 1934) and the greater focus on the Aboriginal struggle and Australian colonialism in New Guinea by the CPA, its position on the White Australia Policy largely stayed intact throughout the 1930s. As more southern European workers came to Australia fleeing the Great Depression and political upheaval in Europe, the Communist Party attempted to appeal to these workers. In an open letter in The Workers’ Weekly, the CPA announced:
The Communist Party of Australia, as the only internationalist party in this country, presents itself to you, the emigrant workers, Maltese, Italians, Greeks, Yugo-Slavs, and toilers of all other nationalities, as the only political party defending your interests and consistently carrying out a programme and policy leading to emancipation, to bread and work and freedom for all members of our class.
But the Party still campaigned against state aided migration programmes, arguing that while the CPA ‘want[ed] to see Australia populated’ and ‘want[ed] to see great, growing and economically secure working-class population’, they insisted that ‘the State mass migration schemes must be resisted’.
The rise of fascism in Europe also shifted the Communist Party’s thinking about immigration and anti-racism. Since the 1920s, Italians had come to Australia to escape the Fascist regime under Benito Mussolini and after the Nazi’s ascension to power in 1933, a small number of Germans fled to Australia, followed by a small number of Jewish refugees in late 1930s (who were initially refused permission by the Australian government). These refugees from fascism ignited sympathy amongst many Australian workers, with the Communist Party, trading on its anti-fascist credentials, pushing for a greater intake of refugees and criticising the Australian government for its racialism. In August 1937, the Party castigated the Lyons government and the mainstream press for using ‘the language of Hitler’ in referring to incoming migrants as ‘undesirable’ and ‘physically and mentally inferior’. ‘This question of “superiority” and “inferiority” in races’, the Party editorialised, ‘is one of the vilest features of fascism and its ideology’, and was also, according to the CPA, ‘one of the most effective weapons in the hands of capitalism for splitting their ranks.’
Until the outbreak of the Second World War, the CPA campaigned for a greater intake of refugees from Europe. For example, an editorial from February 1939 stated:
The great Australian labor movement must fight for the rescue of these [refugees], our brave fellow-workers. The working class must see that these destitute people of our own class are not allowed to starve or be returned to the fascist terror merely because they have no money…
The Lyons government must be compelled to assist financially working-class refugees from fascist barbarism.
Although the Communist Party continued to argue against ‘mass immigration’, they characterised the arrival of these refugees as a ‘special problem’ that had been ‘created with the rise of fascism’. The Party thus claimed that the Australian working class ‘can be nothing but sympathetic to the victims of fascist terror and anxious to assist in securing sanctuary for them.’
The Party built a small cadre of migrant members amongst the Italian, Greek and Jewish communities, especially in Melbourne and Sydney, and became increasingly involved in mobilising the Jewish community towards anti-fascism and support for the war effort. Unlike the British and American Communist Parties, which had built significant Jewish membership in the 1930s due to their militant anti-fascism, the Australian party had to make significant concrete efforts to welcome Jewish members into the Party and combat anti-semitism amongst its members (and the wider labour movement). A 1943 document, intercepted by the security services, outlined the important responsibility of the Australian Communist Party in this field:
- To mobilise the labour movement and people generally to understand the nature of anti-semitism, to stamp it out and expose the fascist plans of its purveyors.
- To win the Jewish people for the National Front for active participation in the fight against fascism for all progressive activities of the Australian people and for active steps to combat anti-semetism [sic].
- To support every step which has as its aim the saving of as many Jewish people as possible from Nazi controlled Europe, to fight for the reconstruction of Jewish life after the war with full rights for all Jews. To participate in carrying out these tasks is the special duty of all Jewish Communists irrespective of what their particular Party activity or responsibility may be, where they may work or amongst whom they may mix.
By war’s end, the Australian far left was in a buoyant mood – the Soviet Union was held in high esteem, European colonies around the world were declaring independence, and with some 23,000 members in 1944 and an ability to exert control over at least 40 per cent of Australia’s unions, the previously marginal CPA had become a force to be reckoned with. At the height of this momentary euphoria, the Party’s Assistant Secretary Richard ‘Dick’ Dixon wrote a short pamphlet entitled Immigration and the White Australia Policy, which captured the Party’s partial awakening to the issues of race and migration—openly attacking the White Australia policy for the first time. Yet, Dixon’s pamphlet straddled a difficult course – challenging the labour movement’s long history of opposing coloured immigration, while arguing to retain the wages and conditions that ‘white Australia’ maintained.
 Marilyn Lake & Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2008)pp. 6-7.
 ‘Theses on the Eastern Question’,in John Riddell (ed.), Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011) p. 1181.
 Pearl Hanks, ‘The Color Problem’, The Proletarian, 7 December, 1920, pp. 11-12.
 Hanks, ‘The Color Problem’, p. 13.
 Hanks, ‘The Color Problem’, p. 13.
 Minutes of meeting of the Anglo-American-Colonial Section of the Executive of the Comintern, 6 April, 1922, p.5, 495/72/2 RGASPI, Moscow.
 ‘How to Deal with Immigrants’, The Workers’ Weekly, 12 December, 1924, p. 1.
 ‘How to Deal with Immigrants’, p. 1.
 ‘Immigration Menace’, The Workers’ Weekly, 5 June, 1925, p. 4.
 ‘Immigration Menace’, p. 4.
 ‘Immigration Menace’, p. 4.
 ‘The Immigration Menace’, The Workers’ Weekly, 17 July, 1925, p. 2.
 Dora Montefiore, ‘Speech at the 5th Congress of the Comintern Moscow, 25th June 1924’, https://www.marxists.org/archive/montefiore/1924/labour.htm (accessed 4 April, 2017).
 Montefiore, ‘Speech at the 5th Congress of the Comintern Moscow, 25th June 1924’.
 The Empire Settlement Act 1922 saw the introduction of a programme by the British government to send large number of people, especially returned soldiers and their families, to the settler colonies, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and southern Africa. See: John A. Schultz, ‘Finding Homes Fit for Heroes: The Great War and Empire Settlement’, Canadian Journal of History, 18/1 (1983) pp. 99-111.
 ‘Immigration Policy’, The Workers’ Weekly, 15 January, 1926, p. 2.
 ‘Immigration Policy’, p. 2.
 Chas Nelson, ‘Miners and Italians’, The Workers’ Weekly, 12 August, 1927, p. 2.
 Nelson, ‘Miners and Italians’, p. 2.
 W.E.P., ‘Foreign Workers in Australia’, The Workers’ Weekly, 19 August, 1927, p. 4.
 ‘Immigration Policy’, p. 2.
 John Pepper, ‘Meeting of the Secretariat (British)’, 22 April, 1926, p. 2, RGASPI, 495/72/14.
 Pepper, ‘Meeting of the Secretariat (British)’, p. 5.
 ‘Australia in the Scheme of Empire’, The Communist, 1 March, 1928, p. 9.
 ‘Resolution on the Australian Question’, 31 October, 1927, p. 12, RGASPI, 495/3/30.
 ‘Resolution on the Australian Question’, p. 12.
 Robert Bozinvoski, ‘The Communist Party of Australia and Proletarian Internationalism, 1928-1945’ (Victoria University: Unpublished PhD thesis, 2008) p. 70.
 Stuart Macintyre, The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia From Origins to Illegality (St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1998) p. 126.
 ‘Communist Party’s Appeal to All Foreign-Born Workers’, The Workers’ Weekly, 10 August, 1934, p. 3.
 ‘Against State-Aided Migration’, The Workers’ Weekly, 24 January, 1936, p. 3.
 Gianfranco Cresciani, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia, 1922-1945 (Canberra: ANU Press, 1980); Klaus Neumann, Across the Seas: Australia’s Response to Refugees – A History (Collingwood, VIC: Black Inc, 2015) p.; Andrew Markus, ‘Jewish Migration to Australia, 1938-49’, Journal of Australian Studies, 7/13 (1983) pp. 18-31.
 ‘“Undesirable” Aliens and Desirable Parasites’, The Workers’ Weekly, 24 August, 1937, p. 2.
 ‘“Undesirable” Aliens and Desirable Parasites’, p. 2.
 ‘No Worker Need Apply – Lyons and the Refugees’, The Workers’ Weekly, 28 February, 1939, p. 2.
 Tom Wright, ‘Trade Unions and Migration: Aid Political Refugees’, The Workers’ Weekly, 26 August, 1938, p. 2.
 Wright, ‘Trade Unions and Migration’, p. 2.
 Henry Srebrnik, London Jews and British Communism, 1935-1945 (London: Valentine Mitchell, 1995); Jason Heppell, ‘A Rebel, Not A Rabbi: Jewish Membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain’, Twentieth Century British History, 15/1 (2004) pp. 28-50; Bat-Ami Zucker, ‘American Jewish Communists and Jewish Culture in the 1930s’, Modern Judaism, 14/2 (May 1994) pp. 175-185; Jacob A. Zumoff, The Communist International and US Communism 1919-1929 (Chicago: Haymarket, 2015) pp. 172-186.
 ‘The Tasks of Jewish Communists in the Struggle Against Anti-Semitism and for the Rights of the Jewish People’, 1943, A6122 444, National Archives of Australia.
 R. Dixon, Immigration and the ‘White Australia Policy’ (Sydney: Current Book Distributors, 1945), available at https://www.marxists.org/history/australia/comintern/sections/australia/1945/white-australia.htm