Socialist Equality Party (Australia)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Australia)

The betrayals of the CPA

124. At its 14th national congress in August 1945, the Communist Party of Australia hailed the agreements of the “Big Three” at Tehran and Yalta as establishing a “great coalition of the peace and freedom loving powers, Britain, Soviet Russia and America” and set out its role in the coming peace: “Congress declares that there can be no relaxation of Australia’s war effort, even though the war in Europe has ended. Production must be maintained, strikes avoided, and disruption of national unity opposed.”[1]

125. Hundreds of thousands of Australian workers were returning from the battlefields of Europe, Asia and the Pacific determined to prevent any return to the conditions of the 1930s. Major industrial struggles for improved wages and conditions began in the concluding phase of the war and continued into the immediate post-war period. In the years 1945–47, nearly 5.5 million working days were lost as a result of industrial disputes, twice as many as in the three years immediately preceding the war. This movement was fuelled by broad-based anti-capitalist and socialist sentiments, born out of three decades of war, depression and fascism. The CPA, which now led, or had major influence over, some 40 percent of unionised workers, was determined to continue its collaboration with the Chifley Labor government and so-called “democratic” sections of the bourgeoisie. “To raise the slogan of socialism,” CPA assistant secretary Richard Dixon wrote in July 1945, “as the immediate post-war aim of the Communist Party … would imply that we had reached the conclusion that the economic and political conditions to establish a socialist regime will exist when the war ends. We have arrived at no such conclusion as that and therefore, the raising of the slogan of socialism as our immediate post-war aim would prevent us from realistically tackling the problems of reconstruction, and would divide the progressive movement of the people and promote sectarianism.”[2]

126. During the two-year post-war industrial upsurge, the CPA maintained its so-called “united front” with the Chifley Labor government, notwithstanding the Laborites’ efforts to suppress the struggle for a 40-hour week and better wages. But in September 1947, the Stalinist regime in Moscow ordered a “left” turn. As the Cold War got underway, the founding conference of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) declared that the world was now being divided into two great camps, an anti-democratic, imperialist camp, led by the US and a democratic, anti-imperialist camp, led by the Soviet Union. Henceforth attacks on right-wing socialists had to be stepped up. In accordance with this “new line”, the CPA increased its criticism of the Labor Party, and claimed there was a growing break with reformism in the working class. In reality, the post-war upsurge was subsiding and the Labor reformists had strengthened their position, not least due to the support afforded them by the CPA. By the beginning of 1949, as the Cold War intensified, CPA general secretary Lance Sharkey denounced the Labor leaders as “the definite allies of warmongers and imperialist aggressors, who are just as anti-labour as Hitler and Mussolini and the Japanese imperialists were.”[3]

127. The twists and turns of the Stalinists, and the resultant political miseducation of the working class, were to have a decisive impact on the outcome of the historic miners’ strike in 1949. In June 1949, miners voted by a ten-to-one majority to press for long outstanding demands for improvements, including wage increases and a 35-hour week. The strike led to a head-on conflict with the Labor government, which was determined to break it in order to maintain the arbitration system. Within two days of its commencement, the Labor government rushed through emergency legislation prohibiting the use of any funds to assist the strike, including strike relief paid to the miners. On August 1, Chifley sent in troops to work the open-cut mines. The minister for immigration, and future Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, told a Sydney meeting that Communists should be put in concentration camps and that the government would “use all the resources of the country against them. We will use the army on them, the navy on them, and the air force on them.” The Labor “left” Leslie Haylen declared: “The Communists in the Miners Federation have been pursuing a long sustained policy of attrition against the operation of the system of conciliation and arbitration in the coal-fields. These people are not, in the main, Australian born, or interested in Australia. Their policy is directed from overseas and they are working upon age-old hatreds that belong to another nation and another clime. …” While there was considerable hostility to the actions of the Labor government, there was also deep mistrust, among wide sections of the working class, towards the role played by the Stalinists. Consequently, the miners could be isolated and, after seven weeks, forced to return to work.

128. The defeat of the miners brought to an end the immediate post-war upsurge of the working class. The Labor government’s attack on the strike as a foreign-inspired communist conspiracy helped foster the anti-communist Cold War climate that was to shape politics for almost two decades. This was not simply a question of ideology. The Labor government set up the security and intelligence organisation, ASIO, which initiated a program of spying and provocations against left-wing organisation and individuals. With the CPA having played a key role in enabling the Labor government to stabilise the post-war political situation, the way was opened for the return of the Liberals to power in 1949.


Betrayal: A History of the Communist Party of Australia, Workers News Editorial Board, Allen Books, Sydney, 1981, p. 95.


“Post-War Policy and the National Congress”, Communist Review, no. 47, July 1945, Communist Party of Australia, Sydney, p. 540.


“The Reformists Serve Reaction”, Communist Review, no. 92, April 1949, Communist Party of Australia, Sydney, p. 112.