International communist movement

‘The Far Left in Australia since 1945’ – forthcoming with Routledge

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Vietnam Moratorium march in Canberra, Sep. 1970 (via National Archives of Australia, NAA A9626/112)

We are pleased to announce that our forthcoming edited volume on the history of the Australian far left in the Cold War era has been put up on the Routledge website, with a Table of Contents. Unfortunately it is not available to pre-order just yet. We hope this is rectified soon!

You can check out the book and its TOC here: https://www.routledge.com/The-Far-Left-in-Australia-since-1945/Smith-Piccini-Worley/p/book/9781138043855

Meanwhile excerpts from the chapter written by myself and Jon Piccini on the Communist Party of Australia and the ‘White Australian Policy’ can be found here and here.

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

New article on Communists and anti-racism in South Africa, Australia and the US during 1930s-40s

This is just a quick post to let readers know that the journal Labor History has just published an article by myself titled Against fascism, for racial equality: communists, anti-racism and the road to the Second World War in Australia, South Africa and the United States’. The abstract is below:

The Second World War (after June 1941) was a high point for the international communist movement with the Popular Front against fascism bringing many new people into Communist Parties in the global West. In the United States, South Africa and Australia, the Communist Party supported the war effort believing that the war against fascism would eventually become a war against imperialism and capitalism. Part of this support for the war effort was the support of black and indigenous soldiers in the armed forces. This activism fit into a wider tradition of these communist parties’ anti-racist campaigning that had existed since the 1920s. This article looks at how support for the national war effort and anti-racist activism intertwined for these CPs during the war and the problems over ‘loyalty’ and commitment to the anti-imperial struggle that this entanglement of aims produced.

You can access the article here. If you have trouble downloading it, let me know and I can send a PDF.

Announcing the chapter list for ‘Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956’

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Image source: Getty Images

Now that we have entered the copy-editing phase, Matthew Worley and I are happy to announce the chapter list for our forthcoming volume with Manchester University Press, Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956. It is the second volume that Matt and I have co-edited for MUP (the first being Against the Grain) and we are very excited to showcase new scholarship by a range of established and upcoming scholars (including a number of activist-scholars). Like the previous volume, we have tried to cover a wide variety of different groups and movements and hope that these chapters inspire further research into the British (and international) far left. So here is chapter list:

Introduction: The continuing importance of the history of the British far left – Evan Smith and Matthew Worley

1          Revolutionary vanguard or agent provocateur: students and the far left on English university campuses, c. 1970–90 – Jodi Burkett

2          Not that serious? The investigation and trial of the Angry Brigade, 1967–72 – J. D. Taylor

3          Protest and survive: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Labour Party and civil defence in the 1980s – Jacquelyn Arnold

4          Anti-apartheid solidarity in the perspectives and practices of the British far left in the 1970s and ’80s – Gavin Brown

5          ‘The Merits of Brother Worth’: the International Socialists and life in a Coventry car factory, 1968–75 – Jack Saunders

6          Making miners militant? The Communist Party of Great Britain in the National Union of Mineworkers, 1956–85 – Sheryl Bernadette Buckley

7          Networks of solidarity: the London left and the 1984–85 miners’ strike – Diarmaid Kelliher

8          ‘You have to start where you’re at’: politics and reputation in 1980s Sheffield – Daisy Payling

9          Origins of the present crisis? The emergence of ‘left-wing’ Scottish nationalism,      1956–79 – Rory Scothorne and Ewan Gibbs

10        A miner cause? The persistence of left nationalism in postwar Wales – Daryl Leeworthy

11        The British radical left and Northern Ireland during ‘the Troubles’ – Daniel Finn

12        The point is to change it: a short account of the Revolutionary Communist Party – Michael Fitzpatrick

13        The Militant Tendency and entrism in the Labour Party – Christopher Massey

14        Understanding the formation of the Communist Party of Britain – Lawrence Parker

We hope that the volume will be available by the end of the year, or in early 2018. Further details will be on this blog as they come to us.

For those attending the Modern British Studies conference at the University of Birmingham in July, Matt and several of the contributing authors will be speaking about the collection. More details to follow soon.

Sydney, London, Moscow, Beijing: Schisms in the international communist movement, 1947-61

The following forms part of a forthcoming book chapter on the relationship between the Communist Parties in Britain, Australia and South Africa. It builds on previous posts (here and here) and will also be worked into the manuscript that I am currently developing from my postdoctoral research. As per usual, any feedback is most welcome!

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Mao Zedong meets Harry Pollitt, Nelson Clarke and L.L. Sharkey.

The relationship between the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and Moscow started to deviate in the post-war period. In the era of decolonisation that started after the Second World War, the CPA increasingly look towards Asia and the revolutionary precedent established by the Communist Party of China. It is evident that as the dual processes of the Cold War and decolonisation got underway, there was a clear division of labour between Moscow and Beijing, with the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence concentrating on Europe, while it was accepted that the colonial countries of Asia would follow the ‘Chinese path’. As David Lockwood has argued, after 1949:

an informal ‘division of labour’ within the world movement seems to have been agreed upon between the Soviet and Chinese parties in which communists in the colonies, ‘semi-colonies’ and ex-colonies would receive their advice from Beijing.[1]

The CPA was to provide support to the anti-colonial movements in Asia and formed particularly close links with the Communist Parties of Malaya, Indonesia and India, as well as the Chinese Party. This support also caused friction between the Australian and British parties, particularly over the level of support that the British party gave to the national liberation movements in the British colonies.

On the eve of the Malayan Emergency in mid-1948, the CPA’s leadership used the situation in Malaya to attack the CPGB for its reformist tendencies. In the initial post-war period, the CPGB supported the Labour Government, who despite endorsing colonial independence in some instances, harshly put down anti-colonial movements which had communist links, such as in Malaya. The CPA saw the CPGB’s support for Labour as ‘Browderist’, based on the argument made by former CPUSA leader Earl Browder that separate Communist Parties were no longer necessary in the global West. The Australian party further accused the British party of substituting the struggle for socialism with the acceptance of bourgeois democracy. The CPA believed that the CPGB had lost its way and it would rather look towards Moscow (and Beijing) for direction.

In particular, the Australian Communist Party, strongly influenced by the Chinese Communist Party (and for a time, the Tito regime in Yugoslavia), accused the British Communist Party of not fully committing the struggle against colonialism.[2] This began in 1947 with Sharkey’s heavy criticisms in the newspaper Tribune of the new pamphlet by CPGB General Secretary Harry Pollitt, Looking Ahead for ‘mislead[ing] the British working-class’ and evading the logic of Marxism-Leninism.[3]

The CPA had close ties to the Communist Party of Malaya (based in Singapore), who were debating whether to launch an armed insurrection against the British colonial government. Part of the CPA’s critique of the CPGB was that as the British party supported the Labour Government under Clement Atlee, they were unwilling to fully support anti-colonial rebellions in the British Commonwealth as this would upset any prospective ‘Labour-Communist’ alliance. On the other hand, the CPA was very supportive of communist anti-colonialism in the South-East Asia region (on the doorstep of Australia). With its enthusiasm for the Malayan Communist Party, the CPA could highlight the contrast between its agenda and the ‘reformism’ of the CPGB and also depict itself as a supporter of the emerging anti-colonial movements in Asia.

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A letter from the Central Committee of the CPGB to Sharkey in July 1948 accused him of ‘uncomradely and un-Communist’ behaviour for using the theoretical journal of the Malayan Communist Party to attack the CPGB.[4] The CPGB described Sharkey’s article, titled ‘The International Situation and Opportunism’, as ‘an entirely false presentation of the policy of our Party’ and pronounced:

Such methods as you have seen fit to adopt have nothing in common with international practice among Communist Parties and between Communist Party leaders.[5]

In a further exchange of letters between the two parties, published in the CPGB’s World News and Views, Sharkey further criticised the British party over its anti-colonial work, accusing it of

insufficient struggle on behalf of the independence of the colonies; and worse still, the example of the British comrades which led to opportunism and confusion in a number of the colonial Communist Parties.[6]

Although Sharkey did not elaborate on this accusation, it is true that some national liberation movements and Communist Parties in the colonial sphere, such as those in India, believed that the resolve of the CPGB on anti-colonial issues had waned in the 1940s.[7] The CPGB believed that the Australian party was possibly ‘pro-Tito’ (and thus willing to criticise the British party) because Sharkey had spent time in Calcutta with a Yugoslav delegate in 1948 as the only two non-Asian communist representatives at the congress of the Communist Party of India.[8]

In further private correspondence between Sharkey and Pollitt, the Australian Communist leader wrote, ‘you have an incorrect understanding of the present day maneuvers of British imperialism in relation to the colonial revolutions’.[9] However the CPGB maintained that anti-colonial politics was central to its programme and that ‘as the Party in the ruling centre of the Empire’, it held ‘the greatest responsibility… to combat the vicious and harmful policies of imperialism’.[10] And despite these fractures, the Communist Party of Australia still sent delegates to the CPGB’s Communist Parties of the British Empire conferences in 1947, 1954 and 1958, while several leading CPGB members, such as Harry Pollitt and Willie Gallacher, toured Australia in the 1950s.

Throughout the 1950s, the CPA looked increasingly to the Chinese Communist Party for direction and as Mark Aarons has written, ‘[t]he CPA was the first Australian political party to understand that Australia is geographically located in Asia.’[11] Although Australia was a settler colonial power, rather than a colony, it seemed to make sense, geographically, for the CPA to build closer ties with China, rather than simply looking to the Kremlin and the CPGB in London, with whom ties had been loosened throughout the late 1940s.

After the denunciation of the ‘crimes’ of the Stalin era by Khrushchev in 1956 and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in October 1956, Communist Parties across the world went into shock, with many suffering significant membership loss and debate spilling over into the public sphere. Inside the British Communist Party, dissidents, such as E.P. Thompson, John Saville, Brian Pearce, Peter Fryer and Malcolm MacEwen (amongst others), sought channels outside the Party to denounce the actions of the Soviet Union, as well as the lack of internal debate within the Party. Phillip Deery and Rachel Calkin have shown that similar scenes occurred in the CPA.[12] Although the leadership of both the CPGB and CPA supported the invasion of Hungary in October 1956, the backlash in these Parties fostered a much deeper debate about the role of the Soviet Union in the international communist movement. In Britain, the Communist Party lost over 8,000 members between February 1956 and February 1958,[13] leading to the creation of the first New Left that attempted to negotiate a path between Western capitalism and Stalinism.[14] In Australia, Communist Party membership ‘slumped from about 8000 to less than 6000’,[15] which was followed by further divisions inside the CPA over the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s.

Between 1956 and 1960, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China seemed to heading towards a major split in the international communist movement and it was up to each individual country or Communist Party to decide where their support lay. Right up until 1960, the CPA seemed to take the side of the Chinese in the dispute, with Nick Knight claiming that during the late 1950s, ‘virtually the entire National Secretariat of the CPA was ideologically and psychologically in favour of the Chinese position’.[16] However Sharkey, despite visiting China in 1959 and 1961, pulled back at the last moment and shifted its support back to Moscow when attending the 81 Communist and Workers Parties conference in Moscow in November 1961.[17] ASIO noted that the Sino-Soviet split also had a major impact upon the CPA’s relationship with the Communist Party of New Zealand (the only Western Communist Party to side with China in the split).[18] While Mark Aarons suggests that Sharkey was partially swayed by some large cash payments by Moscow, Tom O’Lincoln suggests that the rank-and-file membership had little appetite for the extreme rhetoric of the Chinese Communist Party at this time, while Knight argues that it was Sharkey’s probable realisation that the CPA ‘would become isolated from the fraternity of the international communist parties should its support for the Chinese position continue’.[19]

After the realignment of the CPA towards Moscow, a pro-Chinese faction broke away and formed the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1963, led by Ted Hill. In Britain, the CPGB experienced similar breakaways from anti-revisionists. In the same year that the CPA (M-L) was formed, Michael McCreery formed the Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Community Unity and led a small number of party members disgruntled with the ‘revisionism’ of The British Road to Socialism.[20] A larger group left in early 1968 when AEU leader Reg Birch formed the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).[21]

By the 1960s, the international communist movement had fractured, caused partly by the events of 1956, partly by the Sino-Soviet split and partly by the rise of the Non-Aligned Movement, which presented an alternative to both Stalinism or Maoism for the new decolonised nations across the global South. This was very different from the situation in 1945 when communists the world over looked the newly triumphant Soviet Union, the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe and the Chinese Communist Party on the verge of winning a decades long civil war. As the Cold War got underway, coinciding with the era of decolonisation, Communist Parties in the West shifted to the left and embraced this enthusiasm for socialism and anti-imperialism, including the Communist Party of Australia. The Communist Party of Great Britain, although taking a more conciliatory approach to domestic politics, was charged by Moscow with assisting anti-colonial struggles within the British Empire/Commonwealth. The CPA quarrelled with the CPGB over its reformism and alleged that this political shift had left the CPGB unable to assist its comrades in the colonial sphere. This tumultuous relationship was not repaired until the 1950s, when important figures such as Harry Pollitt visited Australia, and grew closer after L.L. Sharkey was replaced as Party leader in the mid-1960s. However the enthusiasm for Stalinism and Maoism, which had characterised the outlook of the Party in the 1940s and 1950s had given way to a proto-Eurocommunism by the late 1960s.

CPA pamphlet

[1] David Lockwood, The Communist Party of India and the Indian Emergency (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2016) pp. 10-11.

For further discussion of this division of labour, see: John Herouvim, ‘Australian Communists and Peking: New Light on an Elusive Source’, Politics, 20/1 (1985) pp. 127-129.

[2] See: ‘Exchange of Letters Between the Australian and the British Communist Parties’, World News and Views, 31 July, 1948, pp. 332-339.

[3] L.L. Sharkey, ‘Critical Comment on Harry Pollitt’s Book’, Tribune, 25 October, 1947, p. 7.

[4] Letter from CPGB to L.L. Sharkey, 16 July, 1948, CP/CENT/INT/34/02, CPGB archive, Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Manchester.

[5] Letter from CPGB to L.L. Sharkey.

[6] ‘Exchange of Letters Between the Australian and the British Communist Parties’, p. 334.

[7] Smith, ‘National Liberation for Whom?’, p. 289.

[8] Letter from Brian Pearce to CPGB Executive Committee, 7 August, 1948, CP/CENT/INT/34/02, LHASC.

[9] Copy of letter from L.L. Sharkey to Harry Pollitt, 22 October, 1948, CP/CENT/INT/34/02, LHASC.

[10] R. Palme Dutt, ‘Political Report to the Conference of the Communist Parties of the British Empire’, in CPGB, We Speak for Freedom (London: CPGB pamphlet, 1947) p. 24.

[11] Mark Aarons, The Family File (Melbourne, Vic.: Black Inc, 2010) p. 172.

[12] Phillip Deery & Rachel Calkin, ’”We All Make Mistakes”: The Communist Party of Australia and Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, 1956’, Australia Journal of Politics and History, 54/1, pp. 69-69-84.

[13] Willie Thompson, The Good Old Cause: British Communism 1920-1991 (London: Pluto Press, 1992) p. 218.

[14] Michael Kenny, The First New Left: British Intellectuals After Stalin (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1995); Wade Matthews, The New Left, National Identity and the Break-Up of Britain (Leiden, NL: Brill, 2013) pp. 1-26.

[15] Tom O’Lincoln, Into the Mainstream: The Decline of Australian Communism (Sydney: Stained Wattle Press, 1985) p. 98.

[16] Nick Knight, ‘The Theory and Tactics of the Communist Party of Australia (M-L)’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 28/2, 1998, p. 236.

[17] Knight, ‘The Theory and Tactics of the Communist Party of Australia (M-L)’, p. 236; Mark Aarons, The Family File (Melbourne: Black Inc, 2010) pp. 172-185.

[18] ASIO, ‘Oceania: Communism’s Last Target ’, A 12388, 81 PART 2, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.

[19] O’Lincoln, Into the Mainstream, p. 102; Knight, ‘The Theory and Tactics of the Communist Party of Australia (M-L)’, p. 236; Aarons, The Family File, p. 192.

[20] Parker, The Kick Inside, pp. 45-50.

[21] Will Podmore, Reg Birch: Engineer, Trade Unionist, Communist (London: Bellman Books, 2004).

Starting a discussion about self-archiving political movements and the international left

I have been in discussions with various people over the last few months about how movements ‘remember’ themselves and how they engage with their ephemeral history. I am interested in how these movements have often self-archived their materials and what they have done with these materials – are they open to researchers and people interested interested in the history of these movements? Some organisations and movements (as well as certain individuals) have donated their historical papers to various university archives or museums. These are valuable to researchers, but still privilege those who can gain access – usually academics and independent researchers who can afford to do archival research on site.

However some organisations and enterprising researchers are overcoming these obstacles by scanning and digitising the materials of the various progressive and left-wing movements across the Anglophone world. Sites such as the Marxist Internet Archive have been scanning many American, Canadian, British, Irish and Australian documents from the international communist movement, including various Trotskyist and anti-revisionist groups. A number of institutions across the globe have followed, such as the University of Wollongong’s Communist Party of Australia journals, the collection of South African radical material digitised by DISA, the Anti-Apartheid Movement collection at Oxford University, and the Amiel and Melburn Trust collection of British new left journals and the CPGB’s Marxism Today. As well as these institutional initiatives, others are digitising their historical documents at the grassroots level. This can be seen with the Red Mole Rising website, which is archiving online the materials of the International Marxist Group, the Irish Left Archive, the Red Action archive and the Anti-Fascist Archive, amongst others.

The wonderful thing about these online archives is that they are democratising the research of these movements. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can now access these documents, without incurring the costs of doing archival research. This is particularly helpful for those conducting research internationally. The downside is that these initiatives are often costly in terms of equipment and labour, with individuals having to volunteer a lot of their time and effort to provide these resources for others. Also by relying on the efforts of individuals with access to certain collections, there are significant gaps in what is available online. For example, I would like to see more stuff from Militant and the Workers Revolutionary Party made available.

It is exciting to be conducting research in this era of increased digitsation, but there are limits to what we can access at the moment. More people need to get involved – either providing original documents, or offering their services in the scanning process, or by helping out with the costs of hosting the websites (particularly as Scribd and Dropbox are increasingly used to hold these large file depositories).

At the same time, many original activist documents are languishing in people’s attics, basements, garages and other storage areas. These need to be located and preserved. If you have a collection of left-wing ephemera stored away somewhere, do try to find it and think about donating (or selling or at least, lending) it to people who can digitise it and preserve this (often obscured) history.

I hope this starts a discussion about how historians and activists can work together to help ensure that the documentary history of the international left is not overlooked.

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.