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  • Title
    Communist Party of Australia - records, undated; 1918-1970
  • Creator
  • Call number
  • Level of description
  • Date

    Undated; 1918-1970
  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Physical Description
    Textual Records - (printed)

    On 30 October 1920, a small number of members of existing Australian socialist groups met in Sydney to form the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) (known as the Australian Communist Party between 1944 and 1951). Enthusiasm for the ideals of the Russian revolution prompted the attempt to unify these groups—although it appears that, at this early stage, they were not well informed about the concrete doctrines of Leninism. Disputes immediately arose within the newly formed CPA, leading to the existence of two communist parties until a further ‘unity conference’ in mid-1922 led to a reunification. The CPA was then recognised by and granted affiliation with the Communist International (Comintern), an association of national communist parties based in Moscow, in August 1922.
    The CPA initially sought affiliation with the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and was briefly successful in achieving this in New South Wales. However, in October 1923 the New South Wales ALP reversed its decision to allow affiliation with the CPA, and in October 1924 the federal ALP conference also opposed affiliation with the CPA, declaring ‘ineligible for membership avowed communists’.[3] Following this formal break with the ALP, the CPA sought to establish itself within the union movement, particularly the mining and waterfront unions, and its strength eventually lay there, rather than in parliamentary politics. Fred Paterson was the only CPA member to serve in an Australian parliament. He was twice elected by the Queensland state electorate of Bowen, and served in the Queensland Legislative Assembly from 1944 to 1950.
    The Menzies Government moved to dissolve the CPA on 15 June 1940 under the National Security (Subversive Associations) Regulations 1940, and had three weeks earlier banned nine communist publications. However, the CPA had anticipated the ban and party activities did not seem to be greatly disrupted, with meetings continuing under other guises, communists retaining union offices, and CPA members standing as independents or socialists in the 1940 elections. Dr H. V. Evatt, Attorney-General in the subsequent Curtin-led ALP Government (and former High Court Justice), lifted the ban on publications and the party on 18 December 1942 on the condition that the CPA support the war effort.
    Menzies returned to government at the December 1949 election having promised to ban the CPA. He secured the enactment of the Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950 on 20 October 1950. In summary, the Act declared the CPA an ‘unlawful association’ and provided for its dissolution and the appointment of a receiver to deal with its property. It also empowered the government to, in certain circumstances, declare unlawful other bodies affiliated with the CPA and to declare persons to be communists, making them ineligible to be employed by the Commonwealth (including in the Defence Force) or to hold office in certain unions. The validity of the Act was immediately and successfully challenged by several unions in the High Court, with Dr Evatt, then Deputy Leader of the Opposition, appearing for the Waterside Workers Federation. Menzies then put a proposal to amend the Constitution to grant Parliament the power to ban the CPA to a referendum on 22 September 1951. The proposal was narrowly defeated.
    The CPA’s membership declined in subsequent decades, such that it had only around 5,000 members by the early 1960s.
    Source: Michael Sloane, Australian Parliamentary Library
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