Comintern

The Communist Party and the ‘White Australia Policy’, 1920-45

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…

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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’.[1] 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.[2] 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’.[3] 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.[4]

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’.[5]

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’.[6] 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’.[7] 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’.[8] 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’.[9] 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.’[10] 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.’[11] 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.[12]

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’.[13] 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’.[14]

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)[15] 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’.[16] 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.[17]

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. [18]

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’,[19] the Party also emphasised that they were internationalists and ‘welcome[d] workers from any land’.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22] 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’.[23] 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.[24]

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’.[25] 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’.[26] 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’.[27] 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’.[28]

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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.[29]

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’.[30]

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).[31] 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’.[32] ‘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.’[33]

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.[34]

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’.[35] 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.’[36]

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,[37] 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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].
  3. 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.[38]

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.[39]

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[1] 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.

[2] ‘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.

[3] Pearl Hanks, ‘The Color Problem’, The Proletarian, 7 December, 1920, pp. 11-12.

[4] Hanks, ‘The Color Problem’, p. 13.

[5] Hanks, ‘The Color Problem’, p. 13.

[6] 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.

[7] ‘How to Deal with Immigrants’, The Workers’ Weekly, 12 December, 1924, p. 1.

[8] ‘How to Deal with Immigrants’, p. 1.

[9] ‘Immigration Menace’, The Workers’ Weekly, 5 June, 1925, p. 4.

[10] ‘Immigration Menace’, p. 4.

[11] ‘Immigration Menace’, p. 4.

[12] ‘The Immigration Menace’, The Workers’ Weekly, 17 July, 1925, p. 2.

[13] 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).

[14] Montefiore, ‘Speech at the 5th Congress of the Comintern Moscow, 25th June 1924’.

[15] 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.

[16] ‘Immigration Policy’, The Workers’ Weekly, 15 January, 1926, p. 2.

[17] ‘Immigration Policy’, p. 2.

[18] Chas Nelson, ‘Miners and Italians’, The Workers’ Weekly, 12 August, 1927, p. 2.

[19] Nelson, ‘Miners and Italians’, p. 2.

[20] W.E.P., ‘Foreign Workers in Australia’, The Workers’ Weekly, 19 August, 1927, p. 4.

[21] ‘Immigration Policy’, p. 2.

[22] John Pepper, ‘Meeting of the Secretariat (British)’, 22 April, 1926, p. 2, RGASPI, 495/72/14.

[23] Pepper, ‘Meeting of the Secretariat (British)’, p. 5.

[24] ‘Australia in the Scheme of Empire’, The Communist, 1 March, 1928, p. 9.

[25] ‘Resolution on the Australian Question’, 31 October, 1927, p. 12, RGASPI, 495/3/30.

[26] ‘Resolution on the Australian Question’, p. 12.

[27] Robert Bozinvoski, ‘The Communist Party of Australia and Proletarian Internationalism, 1928-1945’ (Victoria University: Unpublished PhD thesis, 2008) p. 70.

[28] Stuart Macintyre, The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia From Origins to Illegality (St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1998) p. 126.

[29] ‘Communist Party’s Appeal to All Foreign-Born Workers’, The Workers’ Weekly, 10 August, 1934, p. 3.

[30] ‘Against State-Aided Migration’, The Workers’ Weekly, 24 January, 1936, p. 3.

[31] 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.

[32] ‘“Undesirable” Aliens and Desirable Parasites’, The Workers’ Weekly, 24 August, 1937, p. 2.

[33] ‘“Undesirable” Aliens and Desirable Parasites’, p. 2.

[34] ‘No Worker Need Apply – Lyons and the Refugees’, The Workers’ Weekly, 28 February, 1939, p. 2.

[35] Tom Wright, ‘Trade Unions and Migration: Aid Political Refugees’, The Workers’ Weekly, 26 August, 1938, p. 2.

[36] Wright, ‘Trade Unions and Migration’, p. 2.

[37] 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.

[38] ‘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.

[39] 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

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How to navigate the Comintern archives online: A guide for the non-Russian speaker

In 2015, the Russian government made freely available the scanned papers of the Communist International that had been digitised in the 1990s. Access to this digital archive was limited to a number of universities in Europe, as well as the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The new portal made the thousands of scanned documents free to view, but the portal is only navigable in Russian. This post is an attempt to help people navigate the Comintern archives without knowing Russian.

There are two ways to try and find relevant material using the archive – browse and search.

Start with this URL: http://sovdoc.rusarchives.ru/#main

To browse

On the home page of the archive, choose the third from the left link along the top that says “Документальные комплексы”.

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This should lead to a page with four options. Click the second link.

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This will bring a long list of links in Russian organised by fond (for example, Ф.495. Оп.3.) If you use the LOC guide, you can try to locate specific fonds. For example 495/3 is the fond of the ECCI Political Secretariat.

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Once you click on this link, you will find a page describing the fond. In the bottom left hand corner, there is a hyperlinked number.

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Once you click on this link, you will find links broken down by individual file. For example, Дело 1, 2, 3, etc. In the 495/3 fond, there are 513 individual files.

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If you have a reference for a particular file in a book/article/thesis, it will usually say something like RGASPI 495/3/1. This is the level that each reference is broken down to usually.

Included in each link is a short title of the file in Russian. For example, the first link (495/3/1) is “Protocols and materials to the minutes of the Political Secretariat of the ECCI meeting”. On the right is the date scope for the file.

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Once you click on a link, it will take you a page with further information about the file.

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In the bottom left hand corner, it will have the words “Количество графических образов” (number of graphic images) and a hyperlinked number.

If you click on the hyperlinked number, you will be taken to an image gallery, with an individual thumbnail for each scanned page, organised into pages of 20 thumbnails.

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If you click on a thumbnail image, it will bring up a gallery where you can easily browse through each individual page. However each page of 20 has its own browsing gallery.

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Remember that the various bodies of the Comintern were based in several European cities, such as Moscow, Berlin and Brussels, so the documents are in several languages, including Russian, German, French and English.

To search

To search requires a little ingenuity. To find the search bar, once again, choose the third from the left link on the top on the archive’s home page.  As you can only search in Russian, I use a translation tool (such as Google Translate) to translate possible search terms into Russian and then cut and paste into the search bar.

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This can be hit and miss, but if you keep it broad like ‘Ireland’, ‘Australia’ or ‘imperialism’, for example, then you will find some stuff. Some of the fonds listed are not currently available, due to some arrangement between the Russian government and Yale University, but most stuff from the 495 series is available.

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Once the links to each file come up, follow the above steps to view each individual image.

Printing/Saving

As these images are all JPGs, they can be individually saved by the viewer. Once downloaded, I have found that printing from those saved images is the best way.

Happy archive exploring! If these steps are helpful, please let me know. If anything is unclear, let me know also.

For those on academia.edu, join my feedback session on transnational communism & anti-racism in WWII

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I just thought I’d post this there for anyone on academia.edu and has an interest in transnational communist history. I am currently running a feedback session on the site for my paper ‘”Our Soldiers Need Guns!” Communists and the Enlistment of Black Soldiers in the Second World War in South Africa, Australia and the United States’. If you have an academia.edu profile, you can ask to join the session and provide feedback for the next 6 days. I have already had some really good comments from various scholars, but would be very interested to hear from others, particularly those with a knowledge of Australian left history. So come join the academic fun!

Picture credit: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2016/jan/24/racial-harmony-in-a-marxist-utopia-how-the-soviet-union-capitalised-on-us-discrimination-in-pictures

Communism, anti-racism and the ‘imperialist war’ phase in South Africa, USA and Australia, 1939-41

With the anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War this week, this post is an extract from a paper that I am writing on the Communist Parties in South Africa, the United States and Australia and their agitation for black soldiers to join the war effort after the Soviet Union joined the Allies in June 1941. This part of the paper actually looks at the ‘imperialist’ war phase, between September 1939 and June 1941, when the international communist movement rejected the war as an inter-imperialist battle.

 

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After the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact in late August 1939, the Soviet Union shifted from its prominent anti-fascist stance that it had taken since the beginning of the Popular Front period. When Britain and France declared war on Germany, the Soviets declared that the war was an ‘imperialist’ war to maintain British and French colonial possessions.[1] Individual Communist Parties followed the Soviet lead and by October/November 1939, denounced the war as an imperialist war and pushed for ‘peace’ between the European powers. Australia and South Africa soon joined the British war effort (which was at first welcomed, then criticised by the respective Communist Parties), but the United States remained out of the war until December 1941. In the USA, the Communist Party’s main slogan was, according to Harry Haywood, ‘Keep America out of the imperialist war!’[2]

This opposition to the war reframed the anti-racist activism of the Communist Parties in all three countries, but predominantly in South Africa and the United States (partially owing to the fact that the Communist Party of Australia was banned from June 1940 to December 1942). The argument of the Communist Parties became that for non-white people, there was little difference between fascism and the imperialism of Britain and France, or particularly the discrimination faced by black people in the US or South Africa. The CPSA asked rhetorically in their Party organ in June 1940, ‘What is the difference to the Non-Europeans between the Nazi regime in Europe and the Union Government in South Africa?’, which was followed by ‘How can we be interested in fighting Nazism thousands of miles away, while in reality we have a similar monster devouring us here daily?’[3] The Communist Party argued that it was hypocritical of white South Africans to ask their non-white countrymen to fight for the Union (and the wider British Empire) when they did not enjoy the rights of their white contemporaries. A 1940 flyer produced by the Party stated:

It is an insult to the intelligence of the African, Coloured and Indian people to ask them to fight against a system of Nazi tyranny when they themselves suffer under terrible oppression and injustice.[4]

In February 1940, General Secretary of the CPSA, Moses Kotane, argued in Freedom that for Africans, there was ‘no enthusiasm among them for the war’,[5] while a pamphlet produced by the Johannesburg District Committee alleged that ‘the Coloured and African peoples are generally in a hostile frame of mind’, compared with the indifference of the Afrikaner population.[6]

However this hostility towards the war effort did not mean that Africans did not join the South African armed forces after the Union narrowly voted to go to war in October 1939. Despite the discrimination and segregation faced by Africans in the armed forces, David Killingray and Martin Plaut have calculated that more than 70,000 Africans enlisted into the Native Military Corps.[7] Although the CPSA was opposed to the war, they still campaigned for those non-Europeans who entered the armed forces to be treated as equals with white soldiers. Recognising that the armed forces offered a way out of unemployment for non-Europeans, the Party declared, ‘If the Government wants the non-Europeans to fight for it, let it give them the same rates of pay and chances of promotion as the Europeans.’[8]

Although the United States did not enter the war until after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, during the ‘imperialist war’ phase, the CPUSA warned of the ‘so-called liberal bourgeoisie’ who were seeking to ‘enlist the Negro’s support for American imperialism in this reactionary war’.[9] The CPUSA reminded its readers that African-American soldiers had fought in the Revolutionary Wars, the American Civil War and the First World War and had gained little from it, so while the ‘Negro masses [were] ever ready to fight for liberty, for real democracy’, they were not ready ‘to die again for the benefit of the swollen coffers of imperialist hangmen’.[10] This reflected broader trends in the attitudes of African-Americans towards the US armed forces in the lead up to America’s involvement in the conflict. As Daniel Kryder has noted, recruitment of African-Americans into (and retention within) the armed forces prior to Pearl Harbour was poor, with ‘widespread discontent’, so that by 1943, only one-fifth of black males eligible for service were successfully recruited (compared with one-third amongst eligible white males).[11]

Much more than the natives of South Africa and African-Americans, there was an initial enthusiasm amongst indigenous Australians (both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) to join the armed forces, although they were predominantly recruited to be support labour, rather than actual soldiers. When Australia entered the war in 1939, Noah Riseman reminds us that ‘[t]he Defence Act had no restrictions against enlistment of Aboriginal people’, although they were ‘exempt from call-up and from compulsory training’.[12] The Army had no little interest in actively recruiting indigenous people or the formation of indigenous units, but many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders did join up (approximately 3000 and 850 personnel respectively), with some seeing it as a way on encouraging the Australian Government to give its indigenous population citizenship rights.[13] Explaining the position of the influential Australian Aborigines’ League, Robert A. Hall summarised, ‘If Australia were to take seriously its fight against fascism,… then it had to take steps to end repression of Aborigines at home.’[14] However this recruitment was short-lived and in 1940, the government ‘explicitly prohibited the enlistment of all nonwhite persons into the army and navy’, although this was reassessed the following year as the threat of the Japanese loomed bigger.[15] By this time, the Soviet Union had entered the war and the position of the Communists in Australia, as well as everywhere else, had changed.

————————————————————————

[1] V. Molotov, Soviet Peace Policy (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1941) p. 30.

[2] Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978) p. 496.

[3] ‘The War and Segregation’, Freedom, June 1940, p. 7. Italics are in the original text.

[4] ‘Non-Europeans and the War’ (Cape Town: CPSA flyer, 1940) BC 1081/O18.10, Ray and Jack Simons Collection, University of Cape Town Library.

[5] Moses Kotane, ‘The Africans and the War’, Freedom, February 1940, p. 7.

[6] J. Morkel, The War and South Africa, (Johannesburg: CPSA pamphlet, 1940) p. 5.

[7] David KIllingray with Martin Plaut, Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War (Woodbridge, Suffolk: James Currie, 2010) p. 72.

[8] ‘Non-Europeans and the War’.

[9] Theodore R. Bassett & A.W. Berry, ‘The Negro People and the Struggle for Peace’, The Communist (April 1940) p. 326.

[10] Bassett & Berry, ‘The Negro People…’, p. 326.

[11] Daniel Kryder, Divided Arsenal: Race and the American State During World War

[12] Noah Riseman, Defending Whose Country? Indigenous Soldiers in the Pacific War (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2012) p. 10.

[13] Robert A. Hall, The Black Diggers: Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the Second World War (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1997) pp. 9-12; Riseman, Defending Whose Country? p. 10.

[14] Hall, The Black Diggers, p. 11.

[15] Riseman, Defending Whose Country? pp. 10-11. Italics are in the original text.

New Communist History Online Resources

Just a quick post to let those interested in Communist history that there are two new online resources to play with!

Firstly, the Russian Archives have now made the Comintern Online Archive free to access. The website is only navigable in Russian at the moment, but after playing around with Google translate, I have been able to find some very interesting stuff. This article from the Library of Congress in Washington is very helpful in outlining what each file group are by reference number.

Secondly, the University of Wollongong has digitised all 148 issues of Australian Left Review, the monthly journal of the Communist Party of Australia from 1966 to 1993. Similar to the CPGB’s Marxism Today, the ALR was the outlet of the Eurocommunist/Gramscian wing of the CPA, with significant crossover between the ‘Euros’ in both parties.

I have been trying to get the draft of my book finished, so I haven’t had enough time exploring these two resources, but hopefully soon I will be able to blog about some of my finds. Happy hunting!

Fairfax to students: ‘You silly young people. Don’t you know the sixties are over!’

How student protests were covered by the media in 1971

How student protests were covered by the media in 1971

Since the student protests that kicked off last Wednesday, Fairfax Media in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have run three comment pieces on how the students needed to drop the traditional mass street protest of the 1960s/1970s and employ ‘new’ tactics in the fight against higher education cuts. First there was Annabel Crabb, who wrote:

I’m just wondering why university students – who should be the most connected, educated, cutting-edge communicators in our country – are still protesting like it’s 1969… But in this magical new era of communication, there must be better ways of telling a story than “What Do We Want? No Fees! When Do We Want It? Now!”.

Then former Liberal Education Minister Amanda Vanstone complained:

Protests are, in my view, a good thing. They are a sign of the freedom we all enjoy. But what some protesters fail to understand is everyone else’s right to go about their business undisturbed. Sadly, the right to protest has become for all too many the right to ruin anyone else’s day just because they want to be on telly.

And then today, PR firm Hootville got some free publicity from The Age by releasing ‘advice’ they gave to the National Tertiary Education Union about how to combat the cuts. Number one piece of advice from this PR lot was:

1. 1968 is over – forget the violence

Intimidation, harassment and bullying is not going to help you persuade people to your cause. You’ve already donated Minister Pyne hours of free, easy media coverage.

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane last week

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane last week

There are really three things that really annoy me about these pieces, comparing the student protests now with those of the 1960s and 1970s.

1) This is a really reductionist idea of what forms of protests were employed during the 1960s and 1970s, instead relying on this popular stereotype of sixties’ protests involving marching, chanting and sitting down. A read of Sean Scalmer or Iain McIntyre (see his How to Make Trouble and Influence People website) shows that the history of protest in Australia has seen a diverse range of tactics used, with marching and chanting only one of many options.

2) The mainstream media has had a well-worn narrative that Generation Y is self-centred, individualistic and apolitical. The protests last week saw young people showing initiative and deep political concern – enough to mobilise several thousand onto the streets around Australia. While it is only one tactic in a broad spectrum of activism in the 21st century, congregating in public together demonstrates to those involved that they are not alone and proves the old adage, ‘in unity is strength’. Street demonstrations can give a critical mass to a movement much more than a bunch of disparate individuals getting involved in online campaigning – but it should be kept in mind that activism is not a zero sum game. It should’t be street marches or clicktivism, but street marches plus clicktivism.

3) Vanstone’s complaint that protests disrupt the business of other people, alongside Hootville’s call for student protestors to conform to the rules of conventional politics, overlook the purpose of protest. Protest is about breaking out of the boundaries of the conventional political sphere and challenging the status quo. If protests aren’t causing disruption, then they are not an effective political strategy. As Kurt Iveson wrote here, conforming to the mainstream political idea of ‘legitimate protest’ will push protest activity from the realm of direct action to the symbolic. For Iveson, the concept of ‘legitimate protest… rests on the liberal assumption that if protestors are given the opportunity to speak, this will be enough for them to be heard if they have a legitimate point to make.’

Of course, protest should be peaceful, but as history has shown, even when protestors are peaceful, the authorities can construe any form of protest as ‘potentially violent’, believing those who protest to be ‘thugs’. The real lesson that students should be taking from the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s is how the government, the police and the mainstream media have reacted to protest in Australia over the last forty years.

CPSA and anti-colonialism beyond its borders

I have started my archival research in South Africa and am currently ploughing through the extensive collection of Jack and Ray Simons’ papers. One thing that is very noticeable, but not particularly surprising, is that the issue of ‘race’ and the relationship between black and white workers is present in almost every Communist Party of South Africa document. Compared with the documents of the Communist Parties of Great Britain and Australia, the CPSA seemed to be very aware of how the effects of ‘race’ and colonialism affected the labour movement in South Africa. The CPA did discuss Aboriginal rights and campaigned against the discrimination of Chinese migrants, but these issues were often relegated to the back and were peripeheral to the CPA’s main economic and political concerns. The CPGB also discussed issues of ‘race’ and colonialism (usually the ‘colour bar’ in the colonies) but once again, these ideas were not central to the CPGB, unlike the CPSA.

However, while the CPSA was very aware of the issues of ‘race’ and colonialism within South Africa, I haven’t seen a lot about anti-colonialism beyond its borders (yet). We know that the CPSA was an underground force in Southern Rhodesia and other British colonies in Southern/Eastern Africa in the 1940s and 1950s, but activism beyond the Union of South Africa is under-documented in the papers that I am currently looking at. (Obviously, once the SACP goes into exile in the 1960s, there is much more emphasis on the Party’s internationalism, especially in Africa)

This lack of internationalist anti-colonialism may be explained by the changes in the international communist movement through the Popular Front period. A number of scholars have argued that during the Popular Front era, anti-colonial activism by Communist Parties in the West was subsumed by broad-based anti-fascist work (although conflated in much of the contemporary communist literature as ‘anti-imperialism’), which meant co-operating, to a certain degree, with the pro-imperialist (yet anti-fascist) sections of the bourgeoisie. Some scholars, such as Neil Redfern (who focusses on the CPGB), have asserted that this shift in focus from anti-colonialism to anti-fascism was driven by directives by the Communist International, which changed with shifts in course with Soviet foreign policy. To some extent, Redfern’s arguments are true, but I think his dismissal of the CPGB’s actions as ‘Browderist’ is a bit much.

The reason I raise this is that I found a document from 1939 in the Simons’ papers that takes an alternative stance on the Comintern directing the international communist movement away from anti-colonial work. In a substantial document prepared for the CPSA’s 1939 conference, the Party stated:

It is true that the Party has committed a number of serious mistakes of a right character, such as, inactivity of a number of Party members, neglect in developing the National Liberation struggle which also is an anti-fascist struggle under semi-colonial conditions. It is also true that the Party has failed to carry out anti-fascist propaganda amongst the native and coloured masses, which has been interpreted by some comrades that it is the policy of the C.I. to tone down the colonial struggle, because of the possibility of Britain fighting on the side of the Soviet Union in a war against fascist aggression. At no time was it the policy of the C.I. to tone down the colonial struggle, this can clearly be seen [in] the struggles of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples in China, India, Palestine and South American Republics. What the C.I. did say was that the C.P. of South Africa should stop splitting hairs on the Independent Native republic which is the strategic slogan of the Party and which is the late stage in the Liberation struggle of this country. But comrades will realise that we have not as yet succeeded in [e]ven building an effective anti-Imperialist movement amongst the Africans nor has the class struggle and national struggle reach the stage that would make this slogan a rallying cry for acting and capture political power. To blame the C.I. for our weaknesses is going a bit too far and clearly shows the ideological trend of some comrades.

(Willie Kalk, ‘Annexure 1: Minutes of a Meeting of the CPSA, held in Johannesburg, Dec. 29th 1938 to Jan. 1st, 1939’, pp. 3-4, O13.1, Jack and Ray Simons Papers, University of Cape Town Special Collections)

Hopefully this is a sign that the archives here in South Africa will have a lot of useful material for my project!