State Library of Victoria

Archives of political extremism in Australia: A short guide

Recently I was emailed asking about the archives of the political extremes in Australia and what archives had I come across in my research. I sent the following reply, which I think is a concise (but obviously not complete) survey of the various collections around the country. I thought others might be interested, so enjoy!


For my research on Australian political extremism, the predominant archival sources are those of the Communist Party of Australia. The Mitchell Library in Sydney has the largest collection of materials belonging to the CPA and the Aarons brothers, as well as a number of other CPA members. The University of Melbourne also has a substantial archive of CPA material, as well as that of Bernie Taft, Ralph Gibson and George Seelaf. UQ has a smaller collection of CPA material.

The Noel Butlin Archives at ANU has a wider labour movement collection, donated by several academics and labour groups. The National Library of Australia has some records relating to different radicals, such as Guido Baracchi, and Ralph and Dorothy Gibson.

The State Library of Victoria has digitised over 100 CPA pamphlets, which can be viewed via their catalogue and Trove has digitised the newspapers of the CPA until the mid-1950s.

There is a website called Reason in Revolt which has digitised a bunch of Australian radical materials, but it is far from complete and needs updating. But it does have extensive copies of the materials of the various Trotskyist groups in Australia, especially the ISO and the SWP/DSP.

The Encyclopaedia of Anti-Revisionism Online has the best materials relating to Maoism in Australia, sharing some with the Reason in Revolt page. The current CPA has an archive of the Socialist Party of Australia’s Australian Marxist Review journal back to the 1970s.

On the other side of the extremes, there is little on the Australian far right outside of the National Archives of Australia’s security files. There are papers dedicated to the New Guard in the Mitchell Library, as well as at the NAA. Former ALP and anti-communist activist Frederick Riley has two collections – one at the NLA and one at the SLV, but these are quite wide and varied. UQ also has a collection of material relating to the Australian League of Rights, as part of the papers of Jack Harding and Raphael Cilento. At this stage, the Searchlight archive at the University of Northampton (UK) might have the best collection of post-1945 Australian far right material, other than the declassified ASIO files.

Obviously there are other archives and resources that I have missed. If you can suggest any, please comment below!


Communist Party of Australia pamphlets digitised by State Library of Victoria

This is just a quick post to let people know of an amazing online collection of Communist Party of Australia pamphlets digitised (and available for public access) by the State Library of Victoria. It is difficult to link to the exact spot in the catalogue, but if you click on this link, it should take you to the catalogue using the keyword ‘communist party of australia’ with the option of showing only online resources. If you click that, this will allow you to peruse (and print/download) the 101 CPA pamphlets that the SLV have digitised. This is a fantastic resource for those interested in Australian labour history. The pamphlets range from pre-CPA Australian Socialist Party’s 1919 manifesto Australia and the World Revolution to the CPA’s A Programme for the People from the Party of Peace from the late 1940s.

CPA pamphlet

I won’t link to all 101 pamphlets, but thought I’d mention some of the gems in the collection:

Australia’s Part in the World Revolution (click here): An outline of the CPA’s adherence to the politics of the ‘Third Period’ and evidence to prove to Moscow that the Party was following the Comintern line, published in 1930.

Unite for Peace, Freedom, Democracy (click here): The draft programme of the CPA from its 1938 Congress at the height of the pre-1939 Popular Front era.

Communism: An Outline for Everyone (click here): A pamphlet based on something written by the CPGB, rewritten by R.W. Robson, and published in 1943 as pro-Sovietism and the Communist Party reached their popular heights.

Programme of the Australian Communist Party (click here): In 1945, the CPA, like many Communist Parties around the world, believed that Soviet victory had laid groundwork for further socialist revolution and this pamphlet presents the CPA at its most optimistic. Although a Labor Government was in power, the CPA, unlike the CPGB, were more sceptical about what it could achieve and pushed for militant action against the Chifley Government.

The Communist Way Forward (click here): This pamphlet, written by J.D. Blake and published the Party’s Victoria Branch, encapsulates the militant attitude that CPA encompassed in the late 1940s that progressed with the ‘two camps’ thesis promoted by the Cominform in 1947-48.

Happy hunting left-wing trainspotters! Thanks State Library of Victoria!