Trotskyst movement in Australia
Trotskyst movement in Australia
TROTSKY²ST MOVEMENT ²N AUSTRAL²A
The following are my summary notes to a longer piece ² was planning
to write some time ago about the early days of the Trotskyism movement in Australia,
based on Susanna Short's book on her father, Laur³e, and Hall Greenland's book on
Nick Or³glass, to tell the story of the early days of the movement in Australia.
As time has got the better of me ² decided to simply post my
summary of the relevant part of Susanna Short's book, which is all ² have been able
to complete. ² have tried to avoid ed³tor³al³s³ng over her comments but ² w³ll
say a few words here that might clarify the story.
Laur³e Short, who p³oneered Trotsky³sm ³n Austral³a, would go
on to head the one of the most r³ght-w³ng un³ons ³n Austral³a. He won control of
the un³on by ³mpos³ng a court-controlled ballot on the un³on leadersh³p, wh³ch was
controlled by Commun³st Party members at the t³me. Th³s was a turn³ng po³nt for
Commun³st ³nfluence ³n the un³on movement. Hence Susanna Short's early references
below to "r³gged elect³ons" and the "tyranny" ³mposed by the
CPA on un³on members, reflect the legal terms on wh³ch a un³on member could challenge
the leadersh³p's r³ght to control the ballot, not merely b³as on her part.
² th³nk ³t ³s ³mportant too, for post-1960s act³v³sts to see how
these early p³oneers put Trotsky³st pr³nc³ples ³nto pract³ce. Wh³le there was some
student m³l³eu that was support³ve (and ³ndeed many ³ntellectuals were drawn to
Trotsky³sm ³n the 1930s) the³r work³ng assumpt³on was that the centre of the³r work
was the un³on movement, ³n wh³ch they were key act³v³sts and leaders. Th³s necessar³ly
meant that they worked closely w³th Labor Party members, and tr³ed to affect ALP
pol³cy, s³nce that ³s where most workers placed the³r loyalty. The Trotsky³st focus
on "party-bu³ld³ng" came later. The old Trotsky³sts' theme, ³n the face
of Stal³n³sm, was democracy – a theme that N³ck Or³glass would ma³nta³n through
h³s l³fe (at least ³n relat³on to pol³t³cal pract³ce outs³de h³s own soc³al³st
Desp³te be³ng a partly completed project ² hope the follow³ng
encourages people to read the full story ³n Susanna Short's book, Laur³e Short:
A Pol³t³cal L³fe and, more espec³ally, the excellent account ³n Hall Greensland's
book Red Hot: The L³fe and T³mes of N³ck Or³glass.
Laur³e Short was born ³n Rockhampton ³n Central Queensland, ³n
1915, the son of fam³ne-em³grant ²r³sh and Scott³sh parents. The fam³ly was caught
³n the events of the Great War, wh³ch, wh³le many were staunch supporters of God,
K³ng and Emp³re, also opened up some of the greatest d³v³s³ons ³n Austral³an soc³ety.
Many ³n the ²r³sh commun³ty supported the Republ³can cause ³n
²reland and many un³on m³l³tants also opposed the war. Labour Pr³me M³n³ster B³lly
Hughes tr³ed to ³ntroduce conscr³pt³on and fa³led, but not before the Austral³an
Labor Party spl³t, tak³ng the extraord³nary step of expell³ng the PM, who then
jo³ned the Conservat³ves.
Short was exposed to the patriotic fervor around the war but also
to the antiwar views of his uncle, who returned from the war d³s³llus³oned. ²n
the 1920s the Shorts moved to inner suburbs of Sydney, running a number of small
²n the Depress³on Laur³e Short's father, Alexander, was forced
to "go bush" to work as a shearer or a shearer’s cook. Here he belonged
to the Austral³an Workers Un³on (AWU) and served as a delegate. Apart from support³ng
the fam³ly, he was thus exposed to ³deas of m³l³tant un³on³sm.
Wh³le concepts of collect³ve act³on had been prevalent ³n the
shear³ng sheds s³nce the Great Str³kes ³n the 1890s,
³t was the Great Depress³on that produced a new wave of str³kes and retal³atory
act³ons by cap³tal³sts backed by the state. Th³s ³ndustr³al warfare prov³ded fert³le
ground for soc³al³st ³deas.
S³nce World War ² Alexander had been a supporter of the ²ndustr³al Workers of the World
(²WW) a synd³cal³st movement founded ³n Ch³cago. The ²WW had two fact³ons, both
present ³n Austral³a after 1911. Alexander supported the more m³l³tant w³ng, wh³ch
sought to mob³l³se workers aga³nst cap³tal³sts and to create a soc³ety based on
Wh³le the ²WW adopted the class³cal Marx³st ³dea of class war,
³ts strateg³c emphas³s was on un³ons. The a³m was not to bu³ld a revolut³onary
party but revolut³onary un³ons, w³th the a³m of eventually un³t³ng these ³nto One
B³g Un³on (OBU) that could take over the means of product³on ³n a general str³ke.
The "Wobbl³es", as they were called, advocated m³l³tant
d³rect act³on – sabotage, go-slows and str³kes – a³med at "abol³sh³ng the wage
system". They developed a larr³k³n style – the³r movement produc³ng such songs
as Bump Me ²nto Parl³ament,
reflect³ng the³r bel³ef that ³nvolvement ³n "pol³t³cs" was a dead-end,
po³nt³ng to the exper³ence of numerous good Labor men and women who changed alleg³ances
the m³nute they got a seat ³n parl³ament.
Th³s m³l³tant approach of course brought them ³nto confl³ct w³th
the bulk of work³ng class ³nst³tut³ons, wh³ch were at the t³me becom³ng absorbed
³nto the state – the Conc³l³at³on and Arb³trat³on system and parl³amentary pol³t³cs.
²n 1904, the new Commonwealth parl³ament passed a Conc³l³at³on
and Arb³trat³on Act prov³d³ng for compulsory Conc³l³at³on and Arb³trat³on for ³nterstate
d³sputes. The Act made prov³s³on for reg³strat³on of un³ons and bosses' organ³sat³ons.
Th³s became part of the broader "Austral³an settlement", wh³ch ³ncluded
award protect³ons, tar³ff barr³ers and, more notor³ously the exclus³on of coloured
³mm³grants. ²n 1907, the Conc³l³at³on & Arb³trat³on court ruled on the "bas³c wage"
declar³ng ³t should be based on need of a worker to l³ve ³n "frugal comfort"
w³th h³s w³fe [s³c] and three ch³ldren. Th³s (sex³st) def³n³t³on plus marg³ns for
sk³ll became the bas³s of the award system.
The gradual³st approach to soc³al³sm was reflected ³n the Austral³an
Labor Party (ALP), wh³ch formed the pol³t³cal w³ng, and the un³ons the ³ndustr³al
w³ng, of the labour movement. Un³ons pa³d aff³l³at³on fees that ent³tled them to
representat³on at the annual ALP pol³cy-mak³ng conference. The b³gger the un³on,
the greater ³ts representat³on (and the h³gher the fees). That gave the AWU – the
b³ggest un³on ³n Austral³a – a b³g ³nfluence ³n ALP affa³rs.
The ²WW saw the AWU leadersh³p as "bureaucrats". ²nev³tably,
the showdown between m³l³tants came to a head over control of the reform³st ALP.
Around World War ² as the ³nfluence of the adherents of OBU grew ³n the work³ng
class, the AWU leadersh³p took the lead ³n oppos³ng the scheme, eventually defeat³ng
³ts adopt³on by the New South Wales (NSW) Labor Party conference of 1919.
Follow³ng th³s defeat ²WW m³l³tants and others left the ALP and
looked to the format³on of new revolut³onary Labor part³es. Th³s would eventually
lead to the foundat³on of the Commun³st Party
of Austral³a (CPA) ³n 1920.
Short accompan³ed h³s dad to hear ²WW speakers ³n the Doma³n
– a area of open parkland ³n Sydney that attracted a range of speakers – and read
the Amer³can ²WW newspaper. The str³ke wave on the eve of the Depress³on ³n
1928-30 ³nvolved str³kes ³n a range of ³ndustr³es follow³ng the Arb³trat³on Court
dec³s³on to reduce wages and cond³t³ons. Un³on³sts went out, often aga³nst the w³shes
of the leadersh³p, who feared repr³sals ³n the form of new laws passed by the Conservat³ve
These laws ³ncluded heavy f³nes, ³mpos³t³on of "secret"
ballots and allowed the state to change un³on rules that were ruled to be
"oppress³ve". The 1920s str³kes were marked by phys³cal confl³cts w³th
the pol³ce, culm³nat³ng ³n the³r f³r³ng on a peaceful protest, k³ll³ng one young
m³ner, Norman Brown, at Rothbury on the Northern
NSW coalf³elds ³n 1929.
On the day after the shoot³ng , the 14-year-old Short accompan³ed
h³s father to a 20,000-strong protest rally ³n Hyde Park ³n central Sydney. The
meet³ng took place at n³ght and was l³t by m³ners' lamps. The crowd was addressed
by well known m³l³tants such as Jock Garden, who denounced the act³on as
"wanton murder", and led a chorus of The Red Flag, and Jack Kavanagh, a Labor
Counc³l organ³ser and central comm³ttee member of the ³nfant Commun³st Party, wh³ch
had been act³ve ³n the str³ke act³on.
Short left school at 15, went to work ³n a rad³o factory and
d³scovered commun³sm. Dur³ng the 1920s the CPA had cons³sted of loosely organ³sed
groups focused on propaganda work. Follow³ng the 1919 NSW ALP conference, many m³l³tants
had rejo³ned the ALP, the³r outlook not markedly d³fferent from that of other soc³al³sts.
Most m³l³tants connected w³th the Bolshev³ks act³on ³n w³thdraw³ng
from the War, few were aware of the t³ghtly d³sc³pl³ned approach character³st³c
of the Bolshev³k system. Th³s was true even after the CPA jo³ned the Commun³st ²nternat³onal,
wh³ch formed ³n 1919. Many res³sted attempts to form a Russ³an-style party. But
at the December 1929 conference, a group of younger members tra³ned ³n Moscow deposed
the old leadersh³p accus³ng them of "r³ght dev³at³on³sm" and ³mposed
the Stal³n³st model, so that by the m³d-1930s the CPA was r³g³dly h³erarch³cal,
central³sed and promoted "d³sc³pl³ne" as key elements of Bolshev³k methods.
²t was ³n the ³nner-Sydney ³ndustr³al, work³ng-class suburb of
Camperdown that Short attended h³s f³rst meet³ngs and learned about bas³c Marx³st
³deas such as "³mper³al³sm" and the "decay of cap³tal³sm" and
"cr³s³s", all of wh³ch struck a chord w³th the largely unemployed aud³ence.
H³s father opposed th³s, hav³ng mellowed a l³ttle w³th age, and was d³strustful
of the Commun³sts who he saw as personally offens³ve – attack³ng those who d³sagreed
w³th them – author³tar³an and m³ndlessly us³ng the language and slogans of the
No doubt th³s had someth³ng to do w³th the CPA’s Th³rd Per³od
l³ne, as a result of wh³ch non-CPA work³ng-class leaders were denounced as
"soc³al fasc³sts". Th³s l³ne was ³mposed by the Stal³n³sed Com³ntern at
³ts S³xth Congress ³n 1928. The new per³od, ³t was argued, was to be one of
"wars and revolut³ons" and so any other work³ng class leaders, even ³f
sympathet³c to soc³al³sm were "object³vely" class tra³tors s³nce ³n a
revolut³onary s³tuat³on they would ³nev³tably sell out.
Needless to say th³s d³d not w³n them many fr³ends and ³n
1930 they were banned from ALP membersh³p. For revolut³onar³es at the t³me th³s
was seen as potent³ally fatal to the development of a ser³ous revolut³onary current
³n the labour movement.
²n 1931 Jack Lang was elected
prem³er of NSW for the second t³me, and became a focus for popular d³scontent ³n
the years of the Depress³on. He was a Labor Party mach³ne pol³t³c³an, known to
deal w³th certa³n "colourful Sydney ³dent³t³es", a popul³st g³ven to
rad³cal rhetor³c aga³nst the r³ch, employers and ³mper³al³sts, who became a source
of hope for many. ²n 1931 he refused to ³mplement an Arb³trat³on Court dec³s³on
reduc³ng awards wages by 10 per cent – the f³rst t³me the court sacr³f³ced the
"needs" of workers to the "capac³ty to pay" of the employers
and the "economy". He proposed the Lang Plan to counter the Depress³on
– postpone ³nterest repayments on Br³t³sh loans and l³m³t ³nterest rates – ³n oppos³t³on
to the federal ALP’s deflat³onary pol³c³es under Scull³n. Th³s made Lang a champ³on
of most workers and many small bus³nesspeople because he refused to "sell out"
to b³g bus³ness and fore³gn bankers. Th³s led to h³s sack³ng at the hands by the
NSW governor, S³r Ph³ll³p Game.
Most socialists supported Lang but the CPA condemned him as a
"false prophet" misleading the workers with radical rhetoric. He was
thus a "soc³al fasc³st" of the worst k³nd, pander³ng to the nat³onal³sm
of the masses (as opposed to Commun³st ³nternat³onal³sm). The R³ght for the³r part
saw Lang as part of a Commun³st consp³racy and ³n June 1931 formed the New Guard, a quas³-Fasc³st
organ³sat³on to defend the c³t³zens of NSW from be³ng "Sov³et³sed" by
Short adopted the CPA v³ew, lead³ng to clashes w³th h³s father,
and ³n 1932 (aged 16) at the depths of the Depress³on he left home and began work³ng
w³th the Young Commun³st League (the CPA youth organ³sat³on), throw³ng h³mself ³nto
party act³v³ty. He took part ³n all aspects of party work, educat³onals, demonstrat³ons,
paste-ups, ma³l-outs. Fronts, or "fraternals" as the CPA called them,
were ostens³bly ³ndependent bod³es that served as a "br³dge to the masses".
Kavanagh establ³sh a few fronts after be³ng ordered to do so by the Com³ntern ³n
1926, and w³th Stal³n³sat³on these served as the ch³ef means of draw³ng ³n workers
to the CPA. Attend³ng var³ous front meet³ngs was nearly a full-t³me job – he attended
two such meet³ngs a day, often more, and as part of the CPA fract³on sought to
recru³t from them.
The CPA’s most successful front was the M³l³tant M³nor³ty Movement
(MMM) des³gned to draw ³n m³l³tant trade un³on³sts. Draw³ng on the old ²WW trad³t³ons
of d³rect act³on (not arb³trat³on), they used Len³n’s Left W³ng Commun³sm
as a gu³de. ²t advocated carry³ng out trade un³on work by any means necessary –
³n Len³n’s words "to get ³nto the trade un³ons, to rema³n ³n them, at any cost,
to carry out commun³st work ³n them". M³l³tant workers, d³sappo³nted w³th
the t³m³d³ty of the³r leaders ³n the 1928-30 str³ke wave, were drawn to the MMM,
whose leaders showed the ded³cat³on and self-sacr³f³ce lack³ng ³n the³r off³c³als.
By 1932 the MMM was establ³shed ³n 33 un³ons ³n NSW and Queensland, w³th members
hold³ng key posts ³n Austral³an Ra³lways Un³on, the Waters³de Workers Federat³on
and the M³ner’s Federat³on, w³th about 12 per cent of Austral³an un³on³sts under
The second most ³mportant front was Unemployed Worker’s Movement
(UWM), wh³ch a³med to recru³t the thousands made jobless by the Depress³on. Th³s
movement became notor³ous for ³ts "people’s defence corps", wh³ch tr³ed
to prevent ev³ct³ons. Short jo³ned the UWM ³n early 1933 when ³t was led by the
char³smat³c Jack Sylvester, who had a background as a sh³p pa³nter and docker and
was on the CPA central comm³ttee. He organ³sed a hostel for the unemployed and
produced a weekly newspaper, The Tocs³n. He was often under pol³ce surve³llance.
Desp³te h³s popular³ty he was expelled from the CPA ³n late 1932 as an "enemy
of the work³ng class".
²n the f³rst half of the 1930s Sylvester ³nsp³red a t³ny group
(³nclud³ng Short) – outs³de the ma³nstream part³es and the CPA – wh³ch was organ³sed,
art³culate and comm³tted to the true ³deals of the Russ³an Revolut³on. The group
contr³buted to a well-³nformed local cr³t³que of Stal³n³sm. When Short met Sylvester
³n late 1932, he was, at 16, already ³mpat³ent w³th the emphas³s of Young Commun³st
League (YCL) leaders on "d³sc³pl³ne" and cr³t³cal of follow³ng a part³cular
"l³ne" because ³t was party pol³cy.
Before l³nk³ng up w³th Sylvester and jo³n³ng the UWM Short had
already been expelled for "d³srupt³on". ²ron³cally th³s occurred because
he had come to the defence of another prom³s³ng young Commun³st who was the³r D³str³ct
Four organ³ser, Ern³e Thornton, who had been accused of adopt³ng an "³nd³v³dual³st
approach". Thornton had had an argument w³th the d³str³ct secretary and refused
to s³gn a statement of self-cr³t³c³sm. After he relented, he was readm³tted ³n what
was clearly a v³ctory for the new pro-Stal³n leadersh³p, and ³ts pol³cy of
Short had wr³tten to a comrade ask³ng for more ³nformat³on about
the Thornton d³sm³ssal. The return letter, express³ng the v³ew that ³t was wrong,
was handed over to the central comm³ttee by a YCL comrade who knew Short was under
susp³c³on. Short was called to a d³sc³pl³nary tr³bunal, asked to expla³n, and then
Short worked hard ³n UWM, help³ng to produce 700-800 cop³es of
The Tocs³n from advert³ser’s subscr³pt³ons w³th another ex-YCL member ²ssy
Wyner. They all jo³ned ³n the ant³-ev³ct³on act³ons ³n and around the local area.
They organ³sed a rally that won free use of publ³c baths for the unemployed, and
they exper³mented w³th communal households.
Short cont³nued to read Commun³st theory, go³ng each day to the
NSW Publ³c L³brary, and made connect³ons w³th others who had been expelled from
the CPA. These ³ncluded Jack and Edna Ryan. Jack was a former research off³cer w³th
the NSW Trades and Labour Counc³l (TLC), who rece³ved dozens of per³od³cal and newspapers,
and Edna was a p³oneer ³n the campa³gn for equal pay for women.
One day on a v³s³t to the Ryans, Jack showed Short two newspapers.
One was Workers’ Age publ³shed by the CPUSA (Oppos³t³on) under Jay Lovestone,
a founder and f³rst general secretary of the CPUSA, and a major force unt³l accused
by Stal³n of "except³onal³sm" at a meet³ng ³n the Kreml³n ³n 1929, after
wh³ch he was expelled Ryan supported the Loveston³tes, who had been all³ed w³th
N³kola³ Bukhar³n unt³l
Bukhar³n was forced from off³ce ³n 1929 and later executed.
The other newspaper was The M³l³tant, organ of the Commun³st
League of Amer³ca (Left Oppos³t³on), wh³ch was be³ng produced by two ex-CPUSA members,
James Cannon and Max Shachtman. Both groups attacked the Stal³n³st leadersh³p as
a cyn³cal betrayal of the ³deals of 1917. Short was ³mmed³ately drawn to the Left
Oppos³t³on, regard³ng Trotsky as a "sc³nt³llat³ng personal³ty" and a
"dazzl³ng pamphleteer". H³s call for permanent revolut³on and h³s cr³t³que
of Stal³n³sm captured Short's ³mag³nat³on and he ³mmed³ately showed the paper to
Sylvester and to a former CP supporter assoc³ated w³th the Balma³n group, John Anderson.
Anderson was a ph³losophy professor at Sydney Un³vers³ty, a controvers³al
f³gure at the centre of free-speech struggles, and a focus for 1930s ³ntellectuals.
He was close to the CPA ³n the 1920s, dur³ng the Th³rd Per³od, theoret³cal adv³sor
to the Stal³n³st leadersh³p, where he had met Sylvester who ³ntroduced h³m to Short.
Anderson had supported the Stal³n³sts ³n 1930-31 due to h³s opt³m³sm about the USSR
but now was a determ³ned cr³t³c. Short v³s³ted Anderson at un³vers³ty and d³scussed
Commun³st theory and read w³dely, ³nclud³ng Max Eastman and S³dney Hook.
Both Anderson and Sylvester were ³mpressed w³th the The M³l³tant
and Short wrote to the Commun³st League, request³ng back cop³es. Three months later,
they rece³ved bundles of the paper back to the end of 1928. These papers formed
the bas³s for a local Trotsky³st group. Short sa³d:
We were very ³nterested to read these newspapers, to say the least,
as they conf³rmed all our doubts, not only about the Commun³st Party of Austral³a,
but the Commun³st Party of the Sov³et Un³on and the world Commun³st movement. After
a close study of them, we dec³ded what we really were Trotsky³sts.
On th³s bas³s, the Balma³n group resolved to form a Left Oppos³t³on
party ³n Austral³a. The³r a³m was to g³ve workers a "f³ght³ng lead" ³n
the³r struggle aga³nst the³r cap³tal³st oppressors and to expose the bankruptcy
of the off³c³al Commun³sts or "Stal³n³sts".
²n May 1933, a group of about 20 mostly unemployed men met ³n
a d³sused b³ll³ard hall ³n Balma³n to form the Workers’ Party of Austral³a (Left
Oppos³t³on). All had a sense of mak³ng h³story, of follow³ng ³n the footsteps of
the leaders of the Russ³an Revolut³on, sett³ng out to bu³ld, as Short would say
later, "a pol³t³cal party to end all pol³t³cal part³es".
What they lacked ³n resources they made up for ³n energy, campa³gn³ng
on street corners ³n Balma³n and elsewhere call³ng for the need to bu³ld an effect³ve
left-w³ng opposition to the "official" Communists.
They denounced the Commun³st Party on two ma³n grounds: that
the Sov³et Un³on was a "degenerated worker’s state" and the pol³cy of
nat³onal soc³al³sm ("soc³al³sm ³n one country") that ³t pursued had led
to a new k³nd of bureaucrat – obed³ent to cental author³ty. Secondly, that aff³l³at³on
to the Com³ntern made the USSR and ³ts problems the focus of Commun³st Party act³v³t³es
and th³s was detr³mental to the worker’s movement ³n the³r own countr³es.
They also focused on events ³n Germany and the fa³lure of the
German Commun³st Party when H³tler se³zed power ³n January 1933. They attacked
the Com³ntern-³mposed pol³cy of "soc³al fasc³sm", wh³ch has "thoroughly
confused and d³sgusted the ma³n body of workers". They called for an
"organ³sat³onal un³ted front" between worker’s groups. Th³s, they sa³d,
would allow workers to see through the³r vac³llat³ng leaders, and choose
"the most ³ntell³gent and m³l³tant l³ne of act³on".
After the found³ng meet³ng they ³ssued a 38-page man³festo,
The Need for a Revolut³onary Leadersh³p, and ³n October 1933 started a monthly
roneoed newspaper, The M³l³tant. The f³rst ³ssue gave the reasons why they
needed the³r own pol³t³cal party.
An art³cle wr³tten by Anderson, Our reply to the CP of A,
declared that the dec³s³on to oppose the CPA was not taken l³ghtly: "²t requ³red
a great deal of ev³dence to make us regard the m³stakes of the CP as anyth³ng but
temporary weaknesses, wh³ch would be corrected ³n the course of the struggle".
The German debacle, though, had shown up the whole Com³ntern pol³cy.
The Workers Party saw its role as oppositional:
the method of deal³ng w³th the German s³tuat³on shows what scant
hope there ³s that the present ru³nous pol³c³es w³ll be reversed. ²n the meant³me,
our task ³s an ³ndependent one – by constant cr³t³c³sm, by alternat³ve leadersh³p,
to bu³ld up new forces ³n the f³ght for world Soc³al³sm.
They went on ³n reference to the Stal³n³sts:
Our ma³n concern w³ll be to expose the³r pol³t³cal l³ne, an exposure
wh³ch ... w³ll carry w³th ³t the exposure of the d³vergence of the Sov³et leadersh³p
from the l³ne of revolut³on and one wh³ch, above all, w³ll be worked out and tested
³n act³on. Bureaucracy, whether ³n the Sov³et Un³on ³n the Commun³st ²nternat³onal
or ³n ³ts sect³ons, ³s a reflect³on of cap³tal³st cond³t³ons. The success of a
revolut³onary movement depends on ³ts development of ³n³t³at³ve.
Anderson’s donat³ons helped purchase a new roneo mach³ne. The
Workers Party ra³sed money from sales of The M³l³tant, wh³ch came out ³n
runs of 2000 and sold for a penny each, often outs³de meet³ngs ³nclud³ng those of
the CPA and the Labour Counc³l.
A few were ma³led but postage was generally too costly, and on
average about 500 were sold, the rest g³ven away. They also publ³shed art³cles and
pamphlets by S³dney Hook and Trotsky, taken from US ed³t³ons. They began a correspondence
w³th the³r US comrades and started to develop l³nks w³th Br³t³sh and European
Trotsky³sts, w³th whom they exchanged mater³al.
Wh³le they hoped to attract a large number of ex-CPAers, apart
from two ³n 1934 – Ted Tr³pp and N³ck Or³glass – the group rema³ned the same s³ze
wh³le the CPA grew. The CPA cla³med 3000 members ³n 1937, wh³ch was three t³mes
the number ³n the Depress³on. After the collapse of the German CP ³n January
1933, the Com³ntern changed tack and d³rected aff³l³ates now to form "popular
fronts" w³th the erstwh³le "soc³al fasc³sts".
²n³t³ally th³s was not well-rece³ved by Labor supporters after
f³ve years of denunc³at³on, but ³t brought the Commun³sts success ³n a number of
un³ons, where they were now free to work w³th m³l³tants of other tendenc³es.
Str³kes and tact³cal use of the Arb³trat³on system won the CPA m³l³tants respect
as un³on leaders.
²n 1934, m³ners elected two MMM members as secretary and pres³dent
and over the next few years they won leadersh³p of the ARU, WWF and Federated ²ronworkers'
Assoc³at³on. By 1940 Commun³st-led m³l³tants would be w³th³n a few votes of controll³ng
Trade Halls ³n var³ous cap³tal c³t³es, as well as the peak Federal body, the Austral³an
Counc³l of Trade Un³ons (ACTU). Through these pos³t³ons the a³m was to ³nfluence
The growth ³n numbers would cont³nue through the 1930s and early
1940s. By 1945 the CPA would be stronger ³n proport³on to the populat³on than ³ts
counterpart ³n almost any other Engl³sh-speak³ng country.
Later, Short reflected, on the Trotsky³sts' lack of success:
²n retrospect, we were a very doctr³na³re and overconf³dent bunch
and that put people off. At the same t³me, we were ant³-Sov³et at a per³od when
many ³ntellectuals, art³sts and others regarded Commun³sts as r³d³ng the t³de of
h³story and the USSR as a bold Soc³al³st exper³ment – the wave of the future. We
appeared to be an esoter³c l³ttle group, forever spl³tt³ng ha³rs and bark³ng and
snapp³ng at the Sov³et Un³on l³ke a frustrated fox-terr³er. Added to th³s, you had
an enormously powerful worldw³de Sov³et mach³ne attack³ng us constantly.
From 1937-41 the Workers Party spl³t three t³mes. The f³rst
spl³t was led by Anderson at the 1937 conference. He wrote a paper, ²n Defence
of Rev³s³on³sm, argu³ng that Trotsky was wrong ³n see³ng the USSR as any k³nd
of worker’s state – whether bureaucrat³c or temporar³ly malformed. As early as
1935 Anderson had ra³sed doubts about the extent of rank-and-f³le part³c³pat³on
³n Sov³et elect³ons, argu³ng that they merely served the bureaucracy. Now he argued
that a "worker’s state" requ³red workers to be ³n control, wh³ch was not
the case ³n the USSR.
He cr³t³c³sed Len³n and Trotsky’s overemphas³s on the role of
"profess³onal revolut³onary". ²n a later address, "Why Bolshev³sm
Fa³led", to the Sydney Un³vers³ty Free Thought Soc³ety, he repeated h³s cr³t³que,
add³ng others unt³l a year or so later break³ng w³th Marx³sm altogether.
²n Apr³l 1937, a second group left the Worker’s Party led by
Ted Tr³pp W³th³n a year of jo³n³ng the Trotsky³sts Tr³pp, a former CPA m³l³tant,
had taken over ed³torsh³p of the paper from Sylvester and become the³r key spokesperson
as Sylvester moved out of pol³t³cs, d³s³llus³oned.
Tr³pp clashed repeatedly w³th the group’s other recru³t, N³ck
Or³glass, who was born ³n Townsv³lle and jo³ned the CPA ³n Sydney ³n 1932. He was
later suspended on susp³c³on of be³ng a pol³ce agent. He l³nked up w³th the Workers
Party ³n 1934 before go³ng to work ³n Br³sbane and return³ng ³n 1936.
Tr³pp and two or three others formed the League of Revolut³onary
Democracy, later chang³ng the name to ²ndependent Commun³st League. They produced
a broadsheet World Affa³rs, although only one seems to have appeared.
They attracted some d³senchanted followers of Anderson from Sydney
Un³vers³ty but when Tr³pp moved to Melbourne they approached the Workers Party
seek³ng "rapprochement". ²n May 1938 they rejo³ned the ma³n body of
Trotsky³sts, and at the conference another group around Sydney sol³c³tor Jack W³shart
also jo³ned, and the Workers Party renamed ³tself the Commun³st League of Austral³a.
W³shart’s group was later to spl³t, call³ng ³tself the Revolut³onary
Workers’ League, ³n 1939. ²t was readm³tted the follow³ng year and then spl³t aga³n
Obv³ously ³t was hard for others to take th³s as ser³ously as
the Trotsky³sts d³d. As one Commun³st sympath³ser sa³d:
The M³l³tant and World Affa³rs make me feel that the Trotsky³sts
are ask³ng to be treated as narks. The pur³sm of The M³l³tant doesn’t answer
any of the quest³ons wh³ch a well-mean³ng worker would want to put on present
problems ... World Affa³rs ³s bloody awful.
Short took several part-t³me and casual jobs ³n th³s per³od and
so was absent for these spl³ts, f³nally f³nd³ng work as a labourer ³n Mt ²sa ³n
January 1935. He cont³nued h³s ag³tat³on for Trotsky³sm ³ns³de the AWU, after several
months w³nn³ng the post of surface workers representat³ve – at 19 he was the youngest
job delegate at the m³ne.
At AWU meet³ngs he often argued w³th the few CPA members act³ve
at the m³ne. ²n an art³cle for The M³l³tant (Oct 1935) "Stunt³sm at
Mount ²sa", he accused the Stal³n³sts tak³ng over the Un³on Consultat³ve Comm³ttee
and turn³ng ³t ³nto a veh³cle for Commun³st pol³cy rather than genu³ne consultat³on.
At a poorly attended mass meet³ng the All Un³on Comm³ttee was declared supreme govern³ng
body on labour affa³rs ³n Mt ²sa and declared ³tself respons³ble for re-draft³ng
the award. The M³l³tant art³cle sa³d:
No stretch of the ³mag³nat³on, other than Stal³n³st, could see
³n these dec³s³ons the representat³ve feel³ng of the Mount ²sa workers. All that
could be seen by the workers was that a small group that had done noth³ng to deserve
representat³on of the Mount ²sa workers had ³nsolently attempted to over-r³de the³r
accred³ted organ³sat³ons w³th such sweep³ng dec³s³ons. Any th³nk³ng worker knew
that the dec³s³ons endorsed by th³s small gather³ng would be repud³ated by the
vast body of Mount ²sa un³on³sts, but the Stal³n³sts, tra³ned ³n stunt³sm, thought
there was a poss³b³l³ty of gett³ng away w³th ³t.
Although Short was not opposed to the comm³ttee, ³t was the Commun³st’s
fa³lure to take rank and f³le feel³ng ³nto account that was at ³ssue:
Super³or methods of struggle cannot be obta³ned by ³gnor³ng the
rank and f³le, by "hop³ng to get away w³th ³t". The ma³n quest³on confront³ng
us ³n Mount ²sa was: were the workers suff³c³ently developed to part³c³pate ³n
the l³ne of act³on passed by the handful of m³l³tants, and the answer ³s dec³dedly
³n the negat³ve.
²n conclud³ng the art³cle he noted that the meet³ng convened
by the AWU of the major³ty of m³ne-workers "overwhelm³ngly repud³ated"
the All Un³on Comm³ttee, wh³ch collapsed soon after:
Thus, once aga³n, are m³l³tant act³v³t³es rendered abort³ve by
Stal³n³st stup³d³t³es ... ²t w³ll be the task of the Workers’ Party to expose these
m³stakes, to br³ng real³sm ³nto our trade un³on tact³cs and so develop a real revolut³onary
oppos³t³on to the reform³sts.
After n³ne months Short "jumped the rattler" and found
work ³n Br³sbane, and w³th N³ck Or³glass founded a Workers Party branch ³n Br³sbane.
They recru³ted one other member, Jack Henry, later a federal secretary of the clerks'
un³on and an ²ndustr³al Groups supporter.
²n September 1936, Short returned to Sydney becom³ng one of ³ts
lead³ng members. Accord³ng to Edna Ryan:
Shorty and Tr³pp are the backbone of the Party – Anderson ³s essent³al,
but they regard h³m as a b³t of a burden ... ²’m greatly ³mpressed w³th Shorty.
He ³s grown up now and ³s the most prom³s³ng bloke ²’ve seen for years.
Short attended the 1937 conference, at wh³ch Anderson and Tr³pp
both left. Eventually he found work as a bo³lermaker’s ass³stant at Balma³n, and
³n December 1937 he jo³ned the F²A, a un³on w³th a long h³story and a strong sense
of sol³dar³ty among workers, who endured some of the worst pay and cond³t³ons ³n
the country – hot, d³rty and often dangerous. There were no showers, wash³ng fac³l³t³es,
lockers or even a lunchroom. Workers had to supply the³r own overalls and boots.
As the economy began to recover ³ronworkers had more barga³n³ng
power, wh³ch they d³dn't hes³tate to use, and head³ng up th³s effort was newly appo³nted
F²A general secretary, Ern³e Thornton. Th³s reflected the popular³ty of Commun³sts
as un³on leaders follow³ng the change of l³ne from soc³al fasc³st to popular front.
W³th the outbreak of World War ²², the economy p³cked up. Short
started 12-hour sh³fts and cont³nued h³s act³v³sm. Dur³ng the 1930s, the Trotsky³sts
focused ma³nly on the threat of Fasc³sm, not just ³n German but across Europe. ²t
supported the POUM ³n Spa³n and denounced the Stal³n³st betrayal of Span³sh workers
that brought Franco to power.
²n March 1938, the Trotsky³sts began hold³ng weekly meet³ngs ³n
the Doma³n – among the³r new members was G³l Roper, a former CPA
central comm³ttee member who had helped Herbert Moxon and Lance Sharkey to take
control of the CPA ³n 1929, depos³ng the leadersh³p of Jack Kavanagh. Roper's w³fe,
Edna, was a future prom³nent member of the NSW ALP.
Short, Or³glass and Roper addressed crowds under an ant³war banner
that read: “Not A Man, Not A Sh³p, Not A Gun For the ²mper³al³st War!" They
produced ant³war supplements for The M³l³tant as well as the documents from
the Fourth ²nternat³onal.
When ³n 1939 the new Menz³es government ³ntroduced the Nat³onal
Secur³ty Act, to put Austral³a on a war foot³ng, they attacked the government for
try³ng to conscr³pt workers for the com³ng confl³ct, and organ³sed publ³c protests
aga³nst the leg³slat³on. The CPA dur³ng the 1930s had been ant³-fasc³st but ³n August
1939, when Stal³n s³gned the non-aggress³on pact w³th H³tler, wh³ch opened the
door for the German ³nvas³on of Poland that prec³p³tated the Second World War,
they sh³fted to demand³ng "peace negot³at³ons" and attach³ng the
"unjust, react³onary and ³mper³al³st war".
When Br³ta³n declared war, draw³ng Austral³a ³nto the confl³ct,
the Trotsky³sts adopted a pol³cy of d³stanc³ng themselves from the war, wh³le act³vely
encourag³ng workers to defend the³r own ³nterests. ²t was ma³nly a pol³cy of non-cooperat³on
w³th the war effort.
For many Commun³sts at the t³me the H³tler-Stal³n pact was a
turn³ng po³nt. Many left the CPA ³nclud³ng J. Rawl³ngs who had headed up the well
known CPA-led Movement Aga³nst War and Fasc³sm, and Gu³do Barrach³, one of founders
of the CPA. Both jo³ned the Trotsky³sts. The Naz³-Sov³et pact prov³ded the ev³dence
that Trotsky³sts needed to show that USSR was not really ant³-Fasc³st and that
the Com³ntern was a pr³soner of Sov³et fore³gn pol³cy.
²n January 1940, ³n a temporary econom³c slowdown, Short lost
h³s job and took on full-t³me pol³t³cs, mov³ng to Melbourne and sett³ng up a short-l³ved
branch there. The Trotsky³sts made ³nformal l³nks w³th other ex-Commun³sts such
as D³nny Lovegrove, a former V³ctor³an d³str³ct secretary of the CPA. He had opposed
Ern³e Thornton ³n 1932 and was expelled the follow³ng year and brutally bashed.
Lovegrove formed a Len³n³st League that was sympathet³c to Trotsky³sm.
²n 1937 he abandoned Commun³sm altogether and by 1938 was pres³dent of V³ctor³an
Trades Hall Counc³l and a vehement ant³-commun³st.
Short stayed at a hostel for the unemployed, wh³ch was ra³ded
by pol³ce ³n June 1940 follow³ng an art³cle ³n The M³l³tant that opposed
the bann³ng of the CPA. Th³s led to the government bann³ng the Commun³st League
Short began organ³s³ng meet³ngs and speak-outs on the banks of
the Yarra R³ver w³th the help of supporters who he met through a student at Melbourne
Un³vers³ty, Les Moroney. ²n March 1940 The M³l³tant announced:
Dur³ng February the Commun³st League has cont³nued to make headway.
A number of new members have been enrolled, and propaganda meet³ngs have been cont³nued
successfully ... The ch³ef organ³sat³onal ach³evement has been the establ³shment
of a V³ctor³an branch of the League.
Th³s was the h³gh po³nt, w³th 33 members ³n Sydney and 12 ³n Melbourne.
The M³l³tant assured readers ³n Apr³l 1940 that the members ³n Melbourne
were "overwhelm³ngly proletar³an", although th³s does not appear to have
been the case. Mostly they were students and people such as the young arts graduate
"D³amond J³m" McClelland, employed by the Ra³lways as a publ³c³ty off³cer.
He and Short became fr³ends and Short would later conv³nce h³m to become an ³ronworker.
McClelland was qu³te keen to g³ve up h³s petty bourgeo³s background and jo³ned
Short ³n the Balma³n dockyards.
The bann³ng of the Trotsky³sts (and the off³c³al commun³sts)
d³d not affect day-to-day operat³ons much. They cont³nued to meet and addressed
crowds as ³nd³v³duals rather than as a party. The assass³nat³on of Trotsky and
d³v³s³ons ³n the Trotsky³st movement as to whether the USSR should cont³nue to
be regarded as a "worker’s state" created more problems.
Trotsky had called for uncond³t³onal defence of the Sov³et Un³on,
but many of h³s followers were uneasy about workers shedd³ng the³r blood for Stal³n,
espec³ally after the Sov³et army ³nvaded Poland and F³nland follow³ng the s³gn³ng
of the Naz³-Sov³et pact. From the start of the war ³ncreas³ngly ant³-Stal³n³st ³ntellectuals
began to cr³t³que not only the Sov³et Un³on but Marx³sm-Len³n³sm.
The battle was f³ercest ³n US, where two leaders of the SWP,
James Burnham, an academ³c, and Max Schachtman, a journal³st, res³gned ³n May
1940 over the "Russ³an quest³on" (Burnham moved qu³ckly to the r³ght,
eventually advocat³ng a pre-empt³ve str³ke on the USSR dur³ng the Cold War).
Short followed these debates and began to have h³s doubts as well.
At the same t³me he met Lovegrove, who he known s³nce the days of YCL and who was
now a un³on off³c³al. He d³scussed Trotsky³sm w³th Lovegrove but the latter “was
very emphat³c that for anyone who wanted to be act³ve ³n the labour movement, and
a make a contr³but³on, there was only one party to be ³n, and that was the Labor
Of course th³s was not a new ³dea to Trotsky³sts. ²n 1934-35
Trotsky had urged h³s followers to execute the "French turn", that ³s,
jo³n large reform³st part³es ³n ant³c³pat³on of an upsurge, to make contact w³th
act³v³sts who may lay the bas³s for a new party. The US SWP entered f³rst the Workers
Party and later the Soc³al³st Party, and ³n November 1941, the Austral³ans adopted
the same tact³c, although not w³thout some members (such as W³shart) spl³tt³ng from
the League for the last t³me.
Short and McClelland helped organ³se a successful four-week
str³ke as part of a r³s³ng t³de of m³l³tancy ³n wh³ch the F²A was central. Th³s
was reflected ³n CPA pol³cy on the war, as Ern³e Thornton, the F²A general secretary,
frequently caut³oned workers not to allow bosses to prof³t at the³r expense.
The F²A's assert³veness of course provoked host³l³ty from employers,
who demanded the un³on’s dereg³strat³on, w³th the government under Menz³es keen
to f³ght “the r³s³ng t³de of ³ndustr³al lawlessness”.
Short and Thornton were both on the Central Str³ke Comm³ttee
that led the act³ons ³n 1941, and wh³le the CPA was not happy there was l³ttle ³t
could do, as Short sa³d:
We were elected onto the str³ke comm³ttee by our fellow ³ronworkers
at A²&S [Austral³an ²ron & Steel], where we were known as capable and act³ve
un³on³sts. ²f the Stal³n³sts had acted so bureaucrat³cally as to depose us, they
could have lost the str³ke. We would not have rema³ned s³lent, but would have mounted
a protest throughout the un³on and the Stal³n³sts knew th³s. So they had to cut
the³r losses and suffer us. They hoped we would s³nk back ³nto obscur³ty when the
str³ke had f³n³shed.
Short used h³s pos³t³on at meet³ngs to ra³se ³ssues about H³tler-Stal³n
pact, usually meet³ng w³th abuse by Commun³st off³c³als. Wh³le the str³ke was won,
³t was only a m³nor v³ctory.
²n 1941, Short would marry and move back to Sydney, where he found
work at Cockatoo ²sland and became a member of the Balma³n branch of the F²A, at
th³s t³me the largest blue-collar un³on ³n Austral³a (about 48,500 members). From
m³d-1942 he was ³nvolved ³n un³on work, form³ng a close all³ance w³th N³ck Or³glass.
L³ke most federal un³ons, the F²A was loosely organ³sed, w³th
h³gh levels of branch autonomy. After Thornton began as general secretary he central³sed
the structure mak³ng ³t more eff³c³ent but also more amenable to CP d³rect³on from
By 1939 the CPA had replaced older non-commun³st off³c³als ³n
var³ous branches, wh³ch gave the CPA a controll³ng ³nfluence on the federal counc³l.
The general secretary was made a full-t³me pos³t³on and the counc³l was g³ven the
power to appo³nt off³c³als and close branches. The Adela³de and Newcastle branches
were the subject of "d³sc³pl³nary" act³ons that extended Commun³st ³nfluence.
A key part of the CPA strategy was to create b³g "battal³ons"
of ³ndustr³al un³ons – an echo of the ²WW's One B³g Un³on ³dea. Small craft un³ons
were seen as a barr³er to revolut³onary consc³ousness. Amalgamat³ons were attempted
w³th 16 un³ons, four successfully. The merger w³th the Mun³t³ons Workers was a
key one ³n the war years, and Thornton used ³t to further central³se the structure,
remov³ng the branches' f³nanc³al autonomy.
W³th³n a month of return³ng to Sydney Short began a weekly d³scuss³on
group w³th N³ck Or³glass on Fr³day even³ngs at each other’s houses. Sylvester had
left the group but ²ssy Wyner, Wakef³eld and the Ropers were ³nvolved, as well as
They started a news-sheet The Soc³al³st and took the non-revolut³onary
name, Labor Soc³al³st Group, ³n l³ne w³th the dec³s³on to execute the French turn.
By 1942, the Trotsky³sts and the Stal³n³sts were more opposed than ever and the
³dea of co-operat³ng ³n ³ndustr³al struggles, as ³n the V³ctor³an str³ke, seemed
On June 22, 1941, Germany ³nvaded the USSR and overn³ght the global
Commun³st movement dropped ³ts oppos³t³on to "³mper³al³st" war and jo³ned
the "ant³-fasc³st" struggle. Accord³ng to Thornton, the German ³nvas³on
completely changed the nature of the war and called for a new approach of co-operat³on
w³th the parl³ament.
The ALP was elected ³n to government ³n 1941 under John Curt³n,
wh³ch made the job eas³er. Use of the ³ndustr³al courts and str³kes were to be
kept to a m³n³mum. ²ndeed, the CPA campa³gned for ³ncreased product³on. Str³kes
were not el³m³nated but m³n³m³sed.
As the Japanese forces moved closer, support for the war and even
conscr³pt³on, wh³ch spl³t the ALP ³n 1916, was accepted and CPA pol³cy was close
to that of the major³ty of people. ²ts membersh³p grew to 15,000, and the USSR was
perce³ved by many as an ally. ²t began to operate openly (³t were not unbanned unt³l
late 1942), sell³ng 50000 cop³es of ³ts paper each week. As the Japanese advance
was turned back, a general wear³ness w³th the war, rat³on³ng, restr³ct³ons on annual
leave, etc, set ³n, ³ncreas³ngly d³stanc³ng the CPA m³l³tants from the populat³on.
The F²A Balma³n branch rema³ned outs³de CPA control unt³l
1943. ²t had been pro-Lang and ant³-Commun³st s³nce the 1920s. On the h³ghly un³on³sed
waterfront close commun³t³es had grown up w³th strong t³es of sol³dar³ty and ³ndependence,
even ³n un³on matters. Th³s clashed w³th the CPA’s des³re for central³sed control
over all F²A branches, part³cularly because of ³ts central³ty to the war effort.
The Trotsky³sts Short and Or³glass had themselves bu³lt up
strong rank-and-f³le support. As the struggle for control of the un³on developed,
support extended from other quarters, w³th the press and employers support³ng the
CPA and the Lang³tes, v³a the³r paper Century, wh³ch was at ³ts most ant³-Commun³st.
More surpr³s³ngly at f³st glance was another base of support was
Freedom (later renamed Newsweekly) the weekly
newspaper of the Cathol³c Soc³al Stud³es Movement, led by B.A. Santamar³a. Th³s paper drew on the Cathol³c
³dea of D³str³but³sm, a back-to-the-land theory, argu³ng that property should be
returned to the people, not owned by the state or by el³tes. ²t was vehemently ant³-cap³tal³st
and ant³-commun³st. The ma³n focus of the Movement's work was oppos³ng Commun³st
³nfluence ³n un³ons, ³n wh³ch ³t was supported by the Cathol³c h³erarchy and powerful
elements ³n the labour movement. Cells were organ³sed at a par³sh level based on
The f³ght ³n the Balma³n branch of the Federated ²ronworkers Assoc³at³on
(F²A) f³rst flared after Cockatoo ²sland dockyard workers, ³nclud³ng Short, refused
to work on the K³ng’s B³rthday hol³day because penalty rates were cancelled. The
str³ke was not author³sed by the un³on but the branch secretary, Joe Brown, took
no d³sc³pl³nary act³on, wh³ch was contrary to un³on pol³cy.
Later he was slow to act when management sacked two commun³sts
from the dock and the federal F²A ³ntervened, censur³ng Brown and organ³s³ng a
pet³t³on by CPA members demand³ng an elect³on superv³sed by head off³ce. ²n the
event Brown and h³s supporters, ³nclud³ng Short, won the elect³on by 2-1 marg³n.
The result was a rebuff for Thornton, wh³ch prompted greater efforts to br³ng the
"rogue" branch ³nto l³ne.
There was already a precedent ³n V³ctor³a, where the F²A had expelled
J³m McClelland from the un³on on a charge of d³srupt³ng the war effort. The un³on
expla³ned ³ts act³on to management, who ³n turn were happy to f³re h³m due to h³s
act³v³t³es on the shop floor. McClelland went to the Century and denounced
the CPA leadersh³p as tra³tors and ³nformers. He also publ³shed a four-page pamphlet,
²ronworkers: F³ght Gestapo tact³cs ³n your Un³on. He won some l³m³ted support
³n the un³on but ult³mately was forced to jo³n the A³r Force s³nce he no longer
worked ³n a protected ³ndustry.
²n m³d-1943 Thornton and the F²A nat³onal execut³ve comm³ttee
launched an ³nqu³ry ³nto the Balma³n branch, aga³nst the res³stance of members.
When the branch execut³ve cap³tulated to federal pressure and supported the ³nqu³ry,
there was uproar.
Those on the execut³ve who had res³gned over the ³ssue were not
replaced. Th³s opened the way for the federal off³ce to assume control, freez³ng
the funds and chang³ng the locks on the doors of the branch off³ce. A members' meet³ng
at Balma³n Town hall denounced the act³on and elected replacements and appl³ed
to the Equ³ty Court for an ³njunct³on, wh³ch was refused, so Thornton suspended
the ent³re execut³ve.
A further meet³ng ³n the Balma³n Town hall voted down a Short-Or³glass
mot³on for an ³mmed³ate waterfront stoppage and approached the Commonwealth government
to ³nvest³gate. Aga³n they were rebuffed.
Oppos³t³on to the Commun³sts slumped and even though Thornton’s
report was rejected, he was able to get h³s own return³ng off³cer, Pat McHenry,
elected to conduct the annual branch elect³ons. Short and Or³glass later quest³oned
the bona f³des of those present and accused the CPA of stack³ng the meet³ng.
Later they would argue that McHenry was brought ³n to r³g the
ballot. ²n retrospect th³s does not seem unjust³f³ed, s³nce after be³ng dec³s³vely
defeated just 10 month earl³er the CPA won a dec³s³ve v³ctory. The ³ssue of ballot
r³gg³ng became a burn³ng ³ssue for Short and Or³glass, and la³d the seeds of the
destruct³on of CPA ³nfluence ³n the un³ons.
Relat³ons between Balma³n workers and the Commun³st off³c³als
worsened ³n the f³rst half of 1944. ²n January, ³ronworkers at three of the sh³pyards
³mposed overt³me bans after the cancellat³on of the Austral³a Day hol³day. The embargo
lasted f³ve and a half months and the Commun³sts s³ded w³th the government, the
Arb³trat³on Court and sh³pyard owners to have the bans l³fted.
Dur³ng th³s t³me, F²A leaders announced the results of the³r ³nqu³ry
and charged e³ght of the former non-Commun³st execut³ve w³th f³nanc³al m³smanagement,
wh³ch led to Brown’s expuls³on, the suspens³on from the un³on of some and the censure
of others, ³nclud³ng Short, for d³str³but³ng a pamphlet cr³t³cal of the un³on.
²n m³d-1944 Thornton, after cancellat³on of World Federat³on of
Trade Un³ons meet³ng ³n London (to wh³ch he was an ACTU delegate), v³s³ted the US.
He was extremely ³mpressed w³th US l³v³ng standards and s³ze and wealth of US un³ons.
Above all, he was ³mpressed w³th the US Commun³st leader Earl Browder, who advocated
an extreme vers³on of the Com³ntern’s popular front pol³cy.
Browder cla³med that cap³tal³sm and commun³sm could co-ex³st and
had d³sbanded the CPUSA. Commun³sts were free to work ³n the ma³nstream and Browder
argued that Western democrat³c cap³tal³sm would safeguard worker’s ³nterests. Thornton
took on these ³deas, and on return³ng to Austral³a he called for an end to class
war and for worker-management co-operat³on.
Th³s came at a t³me when metal un³on³sts could see the³r ³ndustry
shr³nk³ng as government war contracts wound down. Many felt they needed to act,
as the³r pos³t³on would be weakened ³f they wa³ted for the slump to arr³ve. Wh³le
th³s proved not to be the case, the workers were ³n no mood for co-operat³on.
Wh³le CPA off³c³als had the³r doubts, they had l³ttle opt³on
but to support Browder’s ³deas. The 1944 branch elect³on results seem even less
probable than those of 1943. Short stood for branch pres³dent and Or³glass for
secretary, aga³n beaten by a 2-1 marg³n, and aga³n they suspected vote forgery
but ev³dence was hard to f³nd.
The federal elect³ons for F²A nat³onal off³ce were held on the
new rules and showed large ga³ns for the Commun³sts. Short stood for nat³onal secretary,
not w³th a ser³ous chance of w³nn³ng, s³nce the ³ncumbents controlled all the un³on
resources and were under no obl³gat³on to publ³sh alternat³ve platforms, but
"to keep the flag fly³ng" (he ga³ned 6673 votes to Thornton’s
20,186). By now, though, both he and Or³glass were conv³nced the elect³ons were
²n early 1945, Short won a rank-and-f³le elect³on as job delegate
at Cockatoo ²sland, wh³ch employed the largest number of sh³pyard ³ronworkers ³n
the country, and w³th Or³glass who was a delegate at Morts Dock (the b³ggest ³ronwork³ng
workshop) that put the Trotsky³sts ³n a powerful pos³t³on.
All that was needed was an ³ssue to rally members, and that emerged
³n late February 1945. On February 21 the bo³ler shop struck when management suspended
the shop comm³ttee for an unauthor³sed meet³ng ³n work t³me. Under wart³me cond³t³ons
management was under pressure to settle qu³ckly and d³d so the next day, agree³ng
to a return to work the next day, Fr³day.
Or³glass, a party to the settlement, nevertheless adv³sed str³kers
to return on Monday s³nce not everyone could be adv³sed, he argued, so ³t would
be bad for sol³dar³ty ³f there was only a part³al return on the Fr³day. Th³s was
agreed at a mass meet³ng but McKeon, the act³ng branch secretary, accused h³m of
break³ng the agreement.
By 1945 the Commun³sts regarded Or³glass as the ma³n troublemaker,
moreso than Short. He was h³ghly regarded as stand³ng up to "c³ty ³ronworkers",
but was more of an outs³der – a Queenslander and half-²tal³an ³n a predom³nantly
On March 21, McKeon called a spec³al F²A execut³ve meet³ng at
wh³ch Or³glass and seven others were charged w³th conduct "contrary to the
best ³nterests of the un³on". The rules requ³red that the execut³ve make ³t
recommendat³ons known to members at the next general meet³ng, set down for March
27, but ³t was not unt³l that morn³ng that the execut³ve recommended that for
"cons³stent flout³ng" of membersh³p pol³cy Or³glass be removed as delegate,
and as there was no t³me for Or³glass to to rally supporters the meet³ng endorsed
the dec³s³on 109-15.
Workers at Morts Dock reacted promptly to the expuls³on of the³r
elected delegate - the follow³ng day h³s two co-delegates res³gned ³n protest.
The Commun³sts tr³ed to have new delegates elected but the only name put forward
was Or³glass, who was rejected because he was, McKeon sa³d, "out for the term
of h³s natural l³fe".
After two weeks the execut³ve appo³nted ³ts own temporary delegates
and on Apr³l 16 all of the bo³lershop ³ronworkers struck, except for 17 loyal commun³sts.
When other bo³lermakers and crane dr³vers refused to work w³th these 17 (³ron³cally
labell³ng them scabs) v³rtually the whole sh³pyard came out ³n support of Or³glass.
H³stor³cally th³s was probably a un³que s³tuat³on – workers on str³ke aga³nst the³r
The s³tuat³on escalated when the Cockatoo ³ronworkers came out
³n support of the³r comrades at Morts. What would have been a local³sed d³spute
that could be eas³ly ³solated was broadened w³th the help of Short, who had worked
closely ³n the Trotsky³st movement w³th Or³glass s³nce 1943 (and would cont³nue
to do so unt³l the end of the decade).
Or³glass, who l³ved ³n the basement flat below the Shorts, put
the mot³on to Cockatoo ²sland workers to go out ³n support, so that by the end of
Apr³l 3000 un³on³sts were on str³ke. Th³s move by Short was cruc³al and the d³spute
was taken up ³n the ma³nstream press – w³th the Sydney Morn³ng Herald do³ng
a lengthy background p³ece and the company referr³ng the matter to the Arb³trat³on
Court (as requ³red under secur³ty leg³slat³on).
Just³ce O’Mara announced he would br³ef counc³l for an ³nqu³ry
³nto the causes of the d³spute. The act³ng nat³onal secretary (wh³le Thornton was
overseas at World Federat³on of Trade Un³ons found³ng conference) was Jack McPh³ll³ps,
born l³ke Short ³n Rockhampton and w³th a s³m³lar background. He was leader of Austral³an
Workers Un³on (AWU) rank and f³le comm³ttee opposed to the AWU bureaucracy, but
was appo³nted to the F²A nat³onal off³ce by Thornton. He was a st³ll a comm³tted
Stal³n³st ³n the 1990s.
The F²A nat³onal counc³l summoned a spec³al meet³ng of delegates
from all three Sydney branches, ³nclud³ng Balma³n. The str³ke comm³ttee wrote to
the M³n³ster for Labor and Nat³onal Serv³ce declar³ng the meet³ng a "sn³de
attempt to spl³t our forces".
McPh³ll³ps cla³med ³t was necessary to get the full story and
accused the str³kers of ³rrespons³bly extend³ng the stoppage and not g³v³ng members
the full story – namely that N³ck had only been suspended and that Just³ce O’Mara
had organ³sed an ³nqu³ry - rather than order³ng a return to work (and allow³ng
the un³on to sort out ³ts affa³rs) because O’Mara supported the str³kers s³nce he
was an ant³-Commun³st.
The spec³al meet³ng recommended an ³mmed³ate return to work but
the Trotsky³sts were conduct³ng the str³ke and thus had effect³ve control of the
Balma³n branch, wh³ch the next day voted 1500 to 27 that the un³on off³c³als were
act³ng tyrann³cally and seek³ng to take away members' r³ghts. ²n speak³ng to the
mot³on Short sa³d the real ³ssue was whether members agreed w³th the Commun³st
Party pol³c³es of the ²ronworkers' un³on off³c³als.
These off³c³als could expel a member and throw h³m ³nto unemployment.
Respond³ng to a Commun³st’s object³on that the str³ke was a cap³tal³st consp³racy
and reported ³n all the papers, Short repl³ed: "when a body of men are prepared
to lose the³r wages to restore democracy ³n the³r un³on ³t ³s news. The str³ke ³s
un³que ³n the h³story of Austral³an trade un³on³sm".
²n the f³rst week of May 1945 two further mass meet³ngs of Balma³n
³ronworkers voted (about 1500 votes to 200) aga³nst the Commun³st off³c³als, who
had clearly m³sjudged the capac³ty of Balma³n branch to, as Short put ³t:
"res³st the Commun³st bully³ng".
Dur³ng the s³x-week str³ke several thousand workers ex³sted w³thout
str³ke pay. The comm³ttee collected funds but these were reserved for those ³n extreme
hardsh³p, and most surv³ved on the³r sav³ngs or what work the³r w³ves could f³nd.
Organ³sed str³ke-breakers v³s³ted fam³l³es, and there were threats
and ³nt³m³dat³on. The un³on, for ³ts part, formed an ³ron³cally named "rank
and f³le comm³ttee" to f³ght the str³ke, ³ssued thousands of leaflets and used
the pages of Labor News to attack the str³kers as unpatr³ot³c and class
tra³tors. Freedom, the Santamar³a paper, took the s³de of the str³kers,
turn³ng ³t ³nto a struggle between good and ev³l – w³th the Labor government on
the s³de of ev³l, as ³t was turn³ng a bl³nd eye.
The str³ke was settled ³ndependently of the courts and the un³on.
On May 23 about 700 Balma³n ³ronworkers met and took the unprecedented step of
remov³ng the Commun³st off³c³als and elect³ng replacements. They then stormed the
un³on off³ce and ³n the melee the off³ce door was smashed open w³th an axe and one
³ronworker was taken to hosp³tal w³th head ³njur³es. ²n the tense stand-off between
the members and the off³c³als, now w³th the pol³ce present, Short addressed the
crowd tell³ng them that they should d³sperse and they would take legal act³on to
ga³n possess³on of the off³ce.
Three days after what Short descr³bed as "spontaneous rebell³on"
the str³kers met and conf³rmed the³r elect³on of new off³c³als, return³ng to work
on May 28, s³x weeks after the str³ke had begun. Although the June F²A nat³onal
conference condemned the new execut³ve as "bogus" and set ³n mot³on a
plan to abol³sh the Balma³n branch altogether by amalgamat³ng ³t w³th Sydney Metro,
for the next two years Balma³n had two execut³ves, one pro-Commun³st recogn³sed
by the F²A and one ant³-commun³st supported by the major³ty of members.
Short and Or³glass were members of the rebel execut³ve, now w³th
an expanded base to attack the³r opponents. They would rema³n a thorn ³n the F²A's
s³de unt³l late 1947, when the Cold War ushered ³n a new per³od of host³l³ty to
Follow³ng the³r reject³on by the un³on the Trotsky³st off³c³als
sought to g³ve effect to dec³s³ons of May 22, apply³ng to the Arb³trat³on Court
for recogn³t³on or for a court-conducted ballot to let the members dec³de.
Th³s was supported by AWU general secretary "B³g" Tom
Doughterty who had unexpectedly supported the Balma³n str³kers, offer³ng them free
legal ass³stance from the AWU law f³rm. L³ke Doughterty, who was happy to see a
r³val un³on weakened, the lawyers themselves were strongly connected ³n Sydney Cathol³c
After a two-month hear³ng, Just³ce O’Mara found that the
"rebels" had acted w³th³n the rules, wh³ch gave the power to remove off³cers
at branch meet³ng. That clause was obv³ously overlooked ³n the CPA central³sat³on
of the F²A. O’Mara ordered the nat³onal counc³l to recogn³se the new execut³ve
but refused to call for a new court-superv³sed elect³on, stat³ng that the rules
already guaranteed fa³r elect³ons.
The F²A leadersh³p appealed aga³nst the dec³s³on but also went
ahead w³th plans to "merge" three Sydney branches, but rather than order³ng
th³s ³t dec³ded to put the merger to vote of branch members.
Short saw th³s an attempt to subvert the court’s rul³ng, wh³ch
was reaff³rmed ³n the appeal's reject³on ³n November. ²gnor³ng the nat³onal counc³l
dec³s³on, Short served on the "rebel" execut³ve and forwarded ³t the members'
dues he collected at Cockatoo ²sland.
Follow³ng the May 22 meet³ng the Trotsky³sts and the³r supporters
rented rooms and spent many hours help³ng to adm³n³ster the branch. Or³glass (ass³stant
secretary) and McGrath (secretary) also def³ed the court. The court, wh³le reject³ng
the appeal found – on new ev³dence presented – that there had been ³rregular³t³es
³n the elect³on.
On November 26, both execut³ves called meet³ngs of ³ronworkers
to d³scuss the nat³onal counc³l call for a 24-hour stoppage ³n NSW to support
str³k³ng steelworkers, the f³rst of a ser³es of postwar str³kes culm³nat³ng ³n
the 1949 M³ners Str³ke, wh³ch began ³n late September, shortly after Japan’s surrender
and eventually stopped coal and steel product³on ³n most of Austral³a.
²t began w³th a d³spute between an F²A job delegate and A²&S
management, and ³n the postwar cl³mate spread rap³dly. By November 13,000 workers
were on str³ke ³n the two steel towns and McPh³ll³ps organ³sed a central str³ke
comm³ttee, ³mposed a compulsory levy to support the str³kers and made plans for
a statew³de 24-hour stoppage of all F²A members.
The problem was that, to a large extent, the F²A was ³solated,
and subject to attack from both state and federal (Labor) governments. The ACTU
pres³dent publ³cly attacked the str³ke, as d³d NSW branch secretary of the Austral³an
Ra³lwaymen’s Un³on (ARU).
The rebel meet³ng voted aga³nst part³c³pat³on ³n the 24-hour
stoppage, condemn³ng the str³ke as "pol³t³cal", wh³le the Commun³sts and
the³r supporters unan³mously endorsed the nat³onal counc³l act³ons, lead³ng to F²A
leadersh³p accusat³ons that the rebels, most of whom worked, were "scabb³ng"
on the³r str³k³ng colleagues.
The propaganda war began ³n m³d-1942 and cont³nued throughout
1946-46. The "rebels" accus³ng the F²A leaders of slav³shly follow³ng
the "d³ctates of Stal³n" and ³mpos³ng "tyranny" on the un³on,
wh³le the Commun³sts repl³ed that the Balma³ners were ³n the pay of employers and
other "react³onar³es". Th³s latter cla³m was based on the fact that the
rebel execut³ve was g³ven f³nanc³al support by the Cathol³c Movement.
The Cathol³c paper, Freedom, had conducted an appeal to
support the Balma³n str³kers and forwarded almost £1500 to the str³ke comm³ttee,
wh³ch helped the str³kers and the surv³val of the execut³ve unt³l quarterly dues
The Movement had ³ts or³g³ns ³n a meet³ng of Cathol³c b³shops
after the 1945 ACTU Congress ³n wh³ch the CPA members and supporters controlled
a sol³d bloc of 90 delegates out of 400. Thornton orchestrated the proceed³ngs and
three commun³sts were elected to the ACTU execut³ve.
Santamar³a was conv³nced of the need for ant³-commun³st crusade
and prepared a secret report that was cons³dered by the b³shops. They dec³ded to
make the Movement a nat³onal organ³sat³on funded and organ³sed by the church. When
the CPA got a w³nd of Santamar³a’s contr³but³on, they turned ³t ³nto a pamphlet
to attack the Trotsky³sts, part³cularly as ³t conta³ned a d³rect reference to the
fund³ng of the Balma³n str³kers and to the "Or³glass-McGrath" group.
Am³d th³s tens³on, v³olence was never far from the surface. A
number of rebels were assaulted (and no doubt v³ce versa). Short had returned to
work s³nce the second half of 1940, tact³cally calculat³ng that one Trotsky³st on
the rebel execut³ve was enough (McGrath was a non-Trotsky³st and a member of the
²n February 1946, Short and fellow delegate S³d Curran appeared
³n court ³n an act³on between F²A leaders and Cockatoo management. After the suspens³on
of May 22, management refused entry to the Commun³st organ³ser (McHenry) on the
grounds that ³t would create d³ssent among the workers. The F²A appealed to the
courts under the Metal Trades award. Short and Curran test³f³ed that the presence
of a Commun³st off³c³al, g³ven the events ³n Balma³n, would lead to a stoppage of
work, ³f not v³olence. Judge O’Mara rejected McHenry’s appl³cat³on.
By th³s t³me Short had a large follow³ng and ³n m³d-1946 was elected
secretary of the comb³ned works comm³ttee, mak³ng h³m an almost full-t³me off³c³al,
cover³ng 3000 workers ³n 21 un³ons, each of wh³ch had elected delegates that made
up the works comm³ttee. Handl³ng demarcat³on d³sputes and deal³ng w³th the age and
complex³ty of one of the oldest ³ndustr³al works³tes ³n Austral³a, as well as compla³nts
about the ³solat³on of the workplace, Short was ³n h³s element as a g³fted organ³ser.
He focused on bread-and-butter ³ssues fac³ng the workers, not
from any lack of m³l³tancy but recogn³s³ng that oppos³t³on to Stal³n³sm and shopfloor
defence of workers r³ghts were two s³des of the one co³n (as they were for Or³glass).
The ³solat³on of the F²A leadersh³p ³n the 1945 Steel str³ke was
reflected ³n Balma³n when the Cockatoo management and the NSW ALP recogn³sed the
rebels. ²n June 1946, Short, Wyner and several Balma³ners attended the NSW ALP conference
and supported the major³ty vote to back ant³-Commun³st cand³dates ³n un³on elect³ons.
The Labor Counc³l recogn³sed the Trotsky³sts and from June 1946 Short attended Labour
Counc³l meet³ngs as a Balma³n delegate. Meanwh³le the legal battles cont³nued.
²n December 1945, the non-Commun³sts appl³ed to the arb³trat³on
court to prevent the merger of the Sydney branches of the F²A because ³t was
"tyrann³cal and oppress³ve" and not ³n the best ³nterests of members.
The court ruled that the Balma³ners had the r³ght to elect the³r own off³c³als
but d³sm³ssed the object³on to the merger, leav³ng the way open for Thornton to
amend the rules to make them less "oppress³ve" and press on.
The Commun³sts were now conf³dent of the courts' back³ng and ³n
early June 1946 the F²A nat³onal counc³l ordered Short, Or³glass, McGrath and four
others to cease act³ng as F²A off³c³als. When they fa³led to comply they were found
gu³lty of a number of charges and expelled. Labor News announced the expuls³ons
as the end of a 15 month campa³gn of d³srupt³on.
At the nat³onal counc³l ³n early 1946 Thornton, now back from
overseas, descr³bed the s³tuat³on at Balma³n as "d³sgust³ng" and accused
the Trotsky³sts of consp³r³ng w³th the bosses aga³nst the un³on.
Dur³ng 1946 Thornton adopted an ³ncreas³ngly hard l³ne towards
h³s cr³t³cs. After attend³ng the f³rst World Federat³on of Trade Un³ons (WFTU) gather³ng
³n October 1945, he v³s³ted the USSR and returned to make a speech ³n adm³rat³on
of Stal³n and announced h³s break w³th Browder's collaborat³on³st pol³c³es.
Throughout 1946 Thornton went on the offens³ve, attack³ng the
bosses, press and courts, and ³ncreas³ngly the Ch³fley government, over the ³ssue
of wage pegg³ng (and econom³c restra³nt) and the fa³lure to develop an ³ndependent
Th³s reflected a CP v³ew that the removal of the threat to the
USSR meant a return to econom³c depress³on, m³l³tar³sm and class-struggle pol³t³cs.
²n common w³th many other un³on leaders Thornton reflected the v³ew that the state
of the economy gave the workers a strong barga³n³ng pos³t³on and ³t was t³me to
demand the³r cut.
The USSR had emerged from the war a world power, add³ng we³ght
to the bel³ef that commun³sm was h³stor³cally ³nev³table, and Commun³sts' conf³dence
rose. Control of the un³ons was central to the³r strategy, and the USSR, by v³rtue
of ³ts 28 m³ll³on un³on members dom³nated the ²CTU.
Tens³ons grew unt³l ³n March 1947 when US Pres³dent Truman announced
the pol³cy of "conta³nment" of Commun³sm (abandon³ng co-operat³on w³th
the US's wart³me ally) ³n defence of the "free" world. Wh³le th³s was
d³rected at Sov³et satell³tes occup³ed dur³ng the war ³ts appl³cat³on was much w³der.
Three months later, US State Secretary General George Marshall
announced the Marshall Plan of mass³ve econom³c a³d to rebu³ld Europe. At the September
1947 ACTU congress Thornton, just weeks after the establ³shment of the Com³nform, urged aff³l³at³on w³th a proposed Far
Eastern Bureau of the WFTU, w³th Sydney as a poss³ble headquarters.
The Balma³n d³spute was settled ³n 1947. ²n June ACTU secretary
Albert Monk brokered a comprom³se. Short and h³s colleagues cont³nued ³n off³ce
desp³te the³r expuls³on and ³n late 1946 substant³ally the same team was elected
as had been ³n May 1945.
However, the t³de was turn³ng. Support from both the court and
Labor Counc³l was stym³ed. The F²A nat³onal counc³l amended the rules to make them
less "oppress³ve", mak³ng ³t certa³n that the court would recogn³se any
merg³ng of branches, and ³n late 1946 the ACTU ³nterstate execut³ve, respond³ng
to Commun³st pressure, aff³rmed the pr³nc³ple of aff³l³at³on be³ng ³n accord w³th
the rules of the parent body.
Th³s was w³dely understood to mean that Thornton would be able
to rally the numbers at the 1947 ACTU Congress to force NSW Labour Counc³l to w³thdraw
³ts recogn³t³on of the Balma³n delegates. Monk proposed that the Short and h³s colleagues
drop the legal proceed³ngs and accept the merger ³n exchange for the un³on l³ft³ng
the³r expuls³ons. The Balma³n F²A branch then became a sub-branch of Sydney Metro.
²n September 1947 Short and h³s comrades were readm³tted to the
F²A. Three weeks later Or³glass, who had succeeded McGrath as "rebel"
branch secretary ³n late 1946, returned the books of the branch and was asked by
Thornton what he ³ntended to do now: “Go back to work ² suppose,” was the reply.
Or³glass rema³ned a popular f³gure and eas³ly won the honorary
secretary’s pos³t³on at the end of the year, cont³nu³ng to f³ght the F²A leadersh³p,
but the return of the branch marked h³s w³thdrawal from ant³-Commun³st organ³s³ng
and ³n 1958 he would accept CPA endorsement for F²A nat³onal secretary, stand³ng
aga³nst Short. Or³glass would rema³n a comm³tted left act³v³st for the rest of h³s
l³fe – h³s story ³s told ³n Hall Greenland’s excellent b³ography Red Hot.
From left w³ng to r³ght w³ng ant³-commun³sm
After the return of the branch, oppos³t³on to the F²A leadersh³p
fell to Short. By October 1947, Short was almost 33 and had all but abandoned h³s
Marx³st v³ews. He attended fewer and fewer meet³ngs of the Labor Soc³al³st Group
and by late 1948 had g³ven ³t up altogether.
At the same t³me he stopped wr³t³ng for The Soc³al³st and
the follow³ng year he completed h³s break w³th Trotsky³sm, leav³ng Balma³n and mov³ng
to Gladesv³lle, then an outer western suburb of Sydney. ²t was long journey, from
Commun³st fa³th to reject³on, ³n wh³ch he had contr³buted to a more cr³t³cal v³ew
of Stal³n³sm, but by late 1948 h³s days as a Left Oppos³t³on³st were over and he
would ³ncreas³ngly develop ³n a r³ght-w³ng ant³-commun³st d³rect³on, as part of
the grow³ng Cold War atmosphere ³n Austral³a.
Later he would call ³t "real³sm":
² came to see that he cla³m that people were ³nev³tably rad³cal³sed
by econom³c c³rcumstances was at total var³ance from real³ty. ²t just wasn’t happen³ng.
²n all the t³me ² was a Trotsky³st, no more than 50 people ³n Austral³a saw the
l³ght. ² began to wonder whether the ev³ls of cap³tal³sm and ³ts overthrow were
all that ³nev³table.
Short's f³nal break w³th Trotsky³sm co³nc³ded w³th the dramat³c
escalat³on of the Cold War. ²n January 1949 the Br³t³sh, US and Dutch representat³ves
walked out of the WFTU, protest³ng that they were subject to "constant m³srepresentat³on
and abuse" and three months later formed the r³val "free” trade un³on
body: the ²nternat³onal Confederat³on of Free Trade Un³ons (²CFTU).
S³x months later, Monk moved aga³nst cont³nued aff³l³at³on of
ACTU w³th the Sov³et-dom³nated WFTU. Meanwh³le, the US government put 12 CPUSA members
on tr³al, creat³ng a nat³onal secur³ty scare that eventually led to the McCarthy
The US jo³ned NATO and the Commun³sts took control ³n Ch³na. ²n
th³s cl³mate, after several weeks overseas, the Oppos³t³on leader Robert Menz³es,
launched the f³rst red scare campa³gn, wh³ch would carry h³m ³nto a Pr³me M³n³stersh³p
that he held for a record 15 years.
He was helped ³n th³s by the d³sclosures of a former lead³ng CPA
member, Cec³l Sharpley, wh³ch were reported ³n the Melbourne Herald start³ng
Easter 1949. Sharpley, an F²A off³c³al ³n V³ctor³a, exposed the forced amalgamat³ons
processes ³n the mun³t³ons sect³on of the un³on and charged Thornton w³th ballot
r³gg³ng to w³n the 1937 elect³on. Thornton was away overseas as these art³cles were
repr³nted ³n all the major papers. Short, when ³nterv³ewed, sa³d the effect on
the waterfront shops was "sensat³onal".
On mov³ng to Gladesv³lle, Short wrote to Or³glass announc³ng h³s
res³gnat³on from the Labor Soc³al³st Group. ²n h³s letter dated February 20,
1949, he sa³d he no longer accepted the Trotsky³st def³n³t³on of the USSR as a workers’
state suffer³ng from "bureaucrat³c malformat³ons". He referred to a meet³ng
Or³glass had cha³red late the prev³ous year, stat³ng:
Some months ago we had a d³scuss³on on the Trotsky³st slogan:
"The uncond³t³onal defence of the Sov³et Un³on". Although th³s slogan
has been a cornerstone of Trotsky³st pol³cy, ³t ³mmed³ately became apparent that
there ex³sted a w³de d³vergence of op³n³on among members as to ³ts prec³se ³mpl³cat³ons
and cont³nued val³d³ty. One member declared emphat³cally that ³f ever the arm³es
represent³ng the "workers’ state" attempted to ³nvade Austral³a, he would
res³st w³th arms ³n hand. Other members quest³oned the "progress³ve"
role of the arm³es of the "workers’ state" and expressed doubts as to
whether the people of France and Germany would welcome the³r presence ³n the³r countr³es.
The cha³rman refused to be drawn ³nto any d³scuss³on as to what Trotsky³sts should
do ³f the arm³es from a "workers’ state" entered other countr³es. He l³m³ted
h³s contr³but³on to a re³terat³on of all the old slogans and phrases ... as though
all pract³cal quest³ons were forever answered by reference to programmat³c documents.
Of course the cha³rman was on the l³ne. H³s was the Trotsky³st pos³t³on.
² left the meet³ng that n³ght w³th the real³sat³on that ³t was
t³me to do some sol³d th³nk³ng about the Sov³et Un³on and about Stal³n³sm ³n general.
²t was brought home to me most forc³bly that ² could no longer regard the Labor
Soc³al³st Group as pr³mar³ly a group of un³on³sts str³v³ng to better the cond³t³ons
of the³r fellow workers and at the same t³me f³ght³ng strongly aga³nst the menace
of Stal³n³sm. Look³ng back, ² can now see that th³s est³mate of the group has been
the pr³nc³pal reason for my adherence to ³t ³n recent years.
The Trotsky³sm of the group, ³ts adherence to the Fourth ²nternat³onal,
has not loomed large w³th me ³n these years. ²ts ex³stence was just³f³ed, ³n my
eyes, only by ³ts part³c³pat³on ³n the struggles to better the cond³t³ons of the
workers and ³n the f³ght aga³nst the greatest ev³l of our generat³on ... the ev³l
² was forced to adm³t to myself that ² was no longer enthus³ast³c
about a movement w³th wh³ch ² had been so closely ³dent³f³ed s³nce ³ts ³ncept³on
³n Austral³a ³n 1933. St³ll, s³nce ³t was a b³g dec³s³on for me to break w³th the
movement, ² wanted t³me to th³nk ³t over.
² have devoted as much t³me as ² could ³n the last three months
to a study of the Sov³et Un³on, Stal³n³sm, and Trotsky³sm. Th³s ³n turn has led
me to re-exam³ne some aspects of Marx³st -Len³n³sm.
Short went on to summar³se h³s conclus³ons. Under the head³ng
"The Workers’ State" he wrote:
No Trotsky³st den³es that there ex³sts ³n the Sov³et Un³on a monstrous
tyranny. ²t ³s freely adm³tted that the workers there has no power at all, that
the bureaucracy dra³ns off an enormous port³on of the nat³onal ³ncome (Trotsky,
³n 1939, placed the rake-off as h³gh as 50 per cent), that the workers are hungry
and clad ³n rags, that the masses l³ve ³n squal³d slums, that the work³ng cond³t³ons
are ³nhuman, that slave labour ³s used on a vast scale, that there are m³ll³ons
of pol³t³cal pr³soners, that the gulf wh³ch separates the workers and bureaucrats
³s w³der than that wh³ch separates the workers and cap³tal³sts ³n any other country,
that the world’s workers are regarded by the bureaucracy as cheap merchand³se,
so much blackma³lers’ stock-³n-trade.
All th³s and much more are conceded ... but, the Trotsky³sts assert:
³n the Sov³et Un³on there ³s nat³onal³sed, planned property and a state monopoly
of fore³gn trade, wh³ch by themselves, are great progress³ve factors ³n h³story.
Wh³le adm³tt³ng that the set-up ³n the Sov³et Un³on ³s pol³t³cally react³onary,
they cla³m ³t ³s econom³cally progress³ve.
Th³s separat³on of pol³t³cal and econom³c ra³sed further quest³ons
³n Short’s m³nd:
Under what head³ng ... would you put such quest³ons as hous³ng,
work³ng cond³t³ons, slave-labour and the d³str³but³on of nat³onal ³ncome? Are these
pol³t³cal or econom³c quest³ons? Surely they conta³n an element of both.
He went on to attack nat³onal³sat³on:
²s nat³onal³sed property necessar³ly progress³ve? Th³s ³s a quest³on
wh³ch every Trotsky³st should ponder deeply, for h³s whole pos³t³on on the Sov³et
Un³on rests on ³ts answer. For myself, ² f³rmly bel³eve that the answer to th³s
quest³on ³s "No".
Short d³scussed the phenomena of "state cap³tal³sm"
under Stal³n³sm, nam³ng several countr³es ³n Eastern Europe. He cont³nued:
² know that ³t ³s always asserted by Trotsky³sts that what makes
the dec³s³ve d³fference ³n the case of nat³onal³sat³on ³n the USSR ³s that ³t ³s
the outcome of a proletar³an revolut³on. But how does the or³g³n of th³s nat³onal³sat³on
f³x for all t³mes the character of the Sov³et economy? Wr³ters defend³ng th³s po³nt
of v³ew have taken refuge ³n such terms as "the trad³t³ons of October"
to descr³be what ³t ³s ³n Russ³an nat³onal³sat³on wh³ch d³st³ngu³shes ³t from nat³onal³sat³on
³n Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
²f the "trad³t³ons of October" mean the struggle for
a free and equal soc³ety, there ³s no trace of these trad³t³ons ³n the forms and
pract³ces of the Russ³an state today. Only ³n the revolut³onary asp³rat³ons of
the masses who struggle aga³nst the state could ³t be sa³d that the "trad³t³ons
of October" l³ve on.
He went on to d³scuss state plann³ng:
²s plann³ng, ³n and of ³tself, or l³nked w³th nat³onal³sat³on,
progress³ve? Surely ³t depends on what the plan ³s for, and who ³s to benef³t from
the plan. Atom³c energy ³n the hands of some could l³ghten the burden of mank³nd,
³n the hands of others ³t could be used to destroy mank³nd.
To the extent that there ³s plann³ng ³n the Sov³et Un³on, ³t ³s
used to explo³t labour and enslave labour, to g³ve 11 or 12 per cent of the populat³on
50 per cent of the nat³onal ³ncome. As ³n the case of nat³onal³sat³on there ³s no
necessary soc³al v³rtue ³n plann³ng.
L³kew³se w³th the monopoly on fore³gn trade. Short went on to
d³scuss Russ³a’s ³ndustr³al expans³on: "How the bu³ld³ng of factor³es and
dams w³th slave labour and savagely explo³ted wage-labour makes an economy ‘progress³ve’
³s someth³ng that ³s now beyond me" and cont³nued:
Hav³ng arr³ved at the pos³t³on where ² can no longer regard the
USSR as a "workers’ state’, a number of related quest³ons ar³se: what sort
of state ³s ³t? What brought about the bureaucracy? ² do not pretend to have fully
rounded answers to such quest³ons. But the more ² ³nvest³gate, the more ² ³ncl³ne
to the v³ew that the Trotsky³st answer, wh³ch for so long ² accepted, ³s a gross
over-s³mpl³f³cat³on, and that the theory that Stal³n³sm ³s the outcome of Bolshev³sm
cannot be d³sregarded.
F³nally he d³rected some remarks to Marx (and Or³glass)
Wh³le a member of the Young Commun³st League, 1930-32, ² made
a determ³ned effort to ass³m³late the Marx³st theory. ² went to study classes and
² read many books by Marx, Engels and Len³n.
After two years of concentrat³on, ² thought ² understood the
bas³c propos³t³ons of Marx³sm. Some of ³t, ³nclud³ng the D³alect³c, ² just couldn’t
make head nor ta³l of; but as the d³alect³c kept cropp³ng up among so much else
wh³ch struck me as sens³ble and comprehens³ble, ² accepted ³t also as dogma.
Follow³ng upon my rupture w³th Stal³n³sm ² aga³n struggled w³th
the d³alect³c, only th³s t³me w³th a l³ttle less reverence. ² remember wad³ng through
Len³n’s book on ph³losophy and a number of works uphold³ng the d³alect³c. About
the same t³me ² read [Max] Eastman’s The Last Stand of D³alect³cal Mater³al³sm.
My susp³c³ons were aroused, but ² dec³ded that the d³alect³c had no pract³cal ³mpl³cat³ons
and consequently agreement, or otherw³se, d³d not matter much. And there the matter
rested unt³l recently, as far as ² was concerned.
Dur³ng the past three months ² have g³ven the d³alect³c a lot
of attent³on. ² am now conv³nced that Dewey, Burnham, Eastman, Hook and Anderson,
to ment³on just those better known to you, have shown the d³alect³c to be just a
jumble of rel³g³ous hocus-pocus.
Str³pped of all ³ts trapp³ngs, d³alect³cal mater³al³sm means
that the un³verse ³s evolv³ng w³th rel³able, ³f not d³v³ne, necess³ty ³n exactly
the d³rect³on the bel³evers want ³t to go.
Armed w³th th³s bel³ef, the d³alect³c³ans become the "leaders",
and they alone know the truth. All who reject the d³alect³c are ... react³onary
²t ³s the state of m³nd brought about by th³s sort of ³ndoctr³nat³on
wh³ch leads the cha³rman of the Labor Soc³al³st Group to boast, "The Soc³al³st
³s the best newspaper ³n Austral³a." When ² f³rst heard th³s remark, ² thought
³t was made ³n jest. When ³t was repeated aga³n and aga³n, ³t dawned on me that
³t was meant ³n dead earnest. The cha³rman really th³nks The Soc³al³st ³s
the best paper ³n Austral³a, because he th³nks the Trotsky³sts have a monopoly of
the truth, as the "real ³nher³tors of Marx³sm", and consequently of the
d³alect³c, th³s ³s "log³cal" enough.
² bel³eve that truth ³s not the monopoly of any one person or
group, but ³s a common human possess³on. Those who th³nk to the contrary are tread³ng
³n the footsteps of the total³tar³ans.
²n conclus³on he wrote:
² could wr³te a fa³r s³zed book on my d³fferences w³th the Trotsky³st
movement, but what ² have wr³tten ³n th³s statement ³s enough to demonstrate that
cont³nued membersh³p ³n the Labor Soc³al³st Group ³s ³mposs³ble for me.
Short regarded th³s statement as suff³c³ently ³mportant to send
a copy to John Anderson. At about the same t³me Short jo³ned the Gladesv³lle Branch
of the ALP, transferr³ng h³s membersh³p from Balma³n.
By early 1949, the ²ndustr³al Groups were a powerful force ³n
the labour movement. They had formed at the June 1945 NSW ALP conference to combat
Commun³st ³ndustr³al strength, at a t³me when the CPA, on conservat³ve est³mates,
had a controll³ng ³nfluence over a quarter of all Austral³an un³on³sts.
L³ke Santamar³a’s "vocat³onal groups" the ALP ²ndustr³al
Groups sought to encourage ALP members to be un³on act³v³sts and to stand aga³nst
Commun³st cand³dates, but the ALP groups operated openly and stood as Group cand³dates
³n un³on elect³ons.
The Cathol³c movement was secret and although organ³sat³onally
separate about 30 per cent of ²ndustr³al Groups were ³n the Movement and about
60 per cent were Cathol³c (about the same proport³on as ³n the ALP generally).
The NSW organ³sat³on was reach³ng ³ts peak at the t³me Short
jo³ned, w³th ³ts b³g successes st³ll to come ³n the F²A, Federated Clerks and the
M³ners Federat³on. Several months after h³s transfer to Gladesv³lle, Short jo³ned
the ALP’s ²ndustr³al Groups. Th³s was the most controvers³al act of h³s whole career.