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Towards a historical materialist history of Australian working-class politics

By Jonathan Strauss
The theory of the labour aristocracy argues that opportunism in the working class has a material basis. Class-collaborationist politics express the interests of a relatively privileged stratum of workers supported in their benefits by monopoly superprofits. Karl Marx and, especially, Frederick Engels, first developed this theory. It is most closely associated with V.I. Lenin, however, for whom it became “the pivot of the tactics in the labour movement that are dictated by the objective conditions of the imperialist era”.1

This article, the fourth of five,2 surveys the previous discussion of the labour aristocracy in Australian labour historiography and outlines the development of monopoly superprofits in Australia. The final article in the series will discuss the course of development in Australia of concessions from monopoly superprofits to the labour aristocracy and of opportunism in the politics of the Australian working class.

The labour aristocracy in Australian labour historiography

Attempts on the left to discuss and explain the history of the politics of the Australian working class have developed in a series of schools of thought. Each school has offered a critique of the one before it.

In the mid-1990s, Terry Irving, then the editor of Labour History, suggested that left labour historiography from the late 1960s onwards considered the politics of the working class, which has been dominated by the Australian Labor Party (alp), a failure.3 This, he said, overturned this historiography’s previous “optimistic story”4 that the class’s political development had borne with it the nation’s identity and historic collectivist values.5 The radical and even socialist sympathies of the historians who presented this earlier view did not, for example, shake their belief that Australian history in the second half of the nineteenth century, including the development of the union movement and the formation and rise to government of the alp, “was a record of democratic political and social advance”.6

Irving said the new left labour historiography used “labourism” as a category “to characterise Labor’s ideology and practice as non-socialist”.7 Whether the new left approach’s arguments were empiricist or structuralist, it assumed socialism involved revolutionary class conflict, the unauthenticity of non-Marxist socialisms and ideological social control, which automatically made the working class subordinate. He argued that the new left labour historiography, therefore, couldn’t account for conflict and change in the alp. New work, he said, should ground itself in a social theory concerned with culture, communication, discourse and power, and focus on the internal dynamics of the party and the labour movement, in which the dependence of the power structure of the party on unions limited ideological debates to adaptations of the expression of the power structure of the unions in politics.8

Irving’s particular interest was in a history of parliamentary socialism as the relationship of mobilisations of the working class to the development of the alp. He argued that a working-class mobilisation formed the alp to exploit “a balance of class forces that permitted working class access to the state via parliament”. alp governments failed to protect and advance the interests of the working class, however. In response, a triad of interacting forces—a mass democratic party, production-conscious and industry-governing unions and a liberal intelligentsia—developed in the struggles of the second decade of the twentieth century. This was “a moment of real opportunity, leaving as its legacy a positive, proactive understanding of parliamentary socialism”. It “unfolded”, however, under the impact of unfavourable economic conditions, a conservative political counter-offensive, bureaucratic victories in the unions and leadership corruption in the alp. In its wake “a peculiar political identity for the working class” consolidated: workers collectively, through their unions, concentrated their efforts on the labour market, seeking power and control, and were wary of the alp; the dependence of union power on an arbitration-articulated compact with manufacturing capital, defended and extended by the alp, led workers individually into “a passive serialised support for the Labor party”, expressed in the party’s forty to fifty per cent vote and the appeal of party branches in working-class communities.9

Irving’s views have become a point of reference for labour historians.10 In particular, Sean Scalmer extended Irving’s analytical approach into the 1940s and 1950s, with comparative contemporary references.11

Despite the parliamentary socialist arguments against the labourist critique, and the latter’s against the optimistic interpretation, they offer similar assessments of the party’s relationship to the working class. For example, when proponents of parliamentary socialist and labourist perspectives respectively claimed that the alp was transformed in the 1950s and the 1960s, they differed about the character of the alp, and also about the cause of the transformation, but not about what changed in the party’s relationship to the working class. Scalmer concluded that the Labor Party had shed “much of its traditional nature to become a more conventional, less threatening, less class-based organism … less committed to socialism as well as less able to reflect and represent the views of its working-class constituency”.12 Earlier, Robert Catley and Bruce McFarlane had that argued “technocratic labourism” began when the alp shifted from being “based on organised labour” towards being dominated, through the party’s leadership, by a professional political coterie, and the party’s attitudes to equality and income distribution and to the economic power structure of capitalist society changed.13

The common idea of the optimistic, labourist and parliamentary socialist perspectives about the alp is that while the existence of a relationship of the party to the working class may have been fraught, where it has existed it has not been significantly problematic: “most labour historians have assumed that the Labor Party was founded on the shared experience and common interests of working-class people”, Frank Bongiorno wrote.14 The differences among and within these analyses have been about whether or not the alp has been sufficient to serve the interests of the working class, as each historian making that assessment has understood those interests.

This idea, however, is challenged in the first instance by the limits of the relationship of the mobilisation of the working class to the development of the alp:

  • The development of the alp has continued also after downturns of working-class mobilisation, beginning in the 1890s after the defeats of the 1891 Queensland shearers’ strike and 1892 Broken Hill miners’ strike. This phenomenon has also been expressed in the election of alp governments—for example, federally in 1910 and 1929—after defeats, at least initially, of new working-class upsurges.
  • Rising mobilisation of the working class, moreover, has also been related to the development of alternatives or partial breaks from the alp and not necessarily at all to the alp as an organisation. Examples are the rise of the iww before its suppression by the state and then the formations of the short-lived Industrial Socialist Labor Party and the Communist Party before and during the first world war, and the slight rise in the cp’s substantial influence among unionists at first at the end of the second world war.15 The final results of the 1960s radicalisation, with the loss by the Stalinist currents of any mass influence in the working class and the failure of any other socialist current to gain such influence, might appear to be a contrary example. However, the alp was as a whole divided and ambivalent towards the movement against the Vietnam War and the greater part of the party was never involved (the alp’s “left fringe” of members and supporters which was involved was nonetheless sufficient to constitute the majority of and most of the leadership of the movement, except, perhaps, among the students and other young people).16 The alp vote dropped below forty per cent in the 1980s and 1990s in a process in which the issues raised by social movements, such as the anti-nuclear and environmental movements, had a key role in the creation of new electoral formations.

The existence of a limited relationship between the mobilisations of the working class and the development of the alp in turn deepens the challenge to the validity of the assumption that labour historians have made about the party. Bongiorno’s proviso that political affinities among workers otherwise socially divided in a multitude of ways “rested on languages and institutions that evolved in the course of political struggle, [and, therefore,] Labor politics was a product of policies, institutions and political languages that constituted a ‘working class’ as a political force in its own right”,17 which, draws on E.P. Thompson’s understanding of class as a cultural formation,18 emphasises this. What kinds of mobilisations were going on, what interests these mobilisations sought to serve and what solidarities the mobilisations developed need to be considered.

A significant reason why past interpretations have not focused on these concerns is that they have treated the labour movement as their subject, substituting this for the working class. Critics of this approach, however, have not understood the significance of this for developing a historical materialist history of the politics of the Australian working class.

Marilyn Lake, for example, argued that in labour historiography a perspective which pits organised working men against capitalist men and their oppression of the workers either excludes women or assimilates them as the “organised”, contrasted with the yet-to-be organised. She claimed labour history’s framing of the working class as organised and yet-to-be organised workers is underpinned theoretically by Marxist views about class struggle.19 This holds true, however, only for an “1848 Marxism” based on an argument Karl Marx and Frederick Engels made in their first formulations of historical materialism, which is that the revolutionary combination of the proletariat would tend to form in step with the development of capitalist production, with its organisation “as a political party” consequent on its industrial organisation as a class.20 If a historical materialist outlook also incorporates, first of all, what Marx and Engels wrote in the following few years, as well as Engels’ later comments on historical materialism, this leads instead not so far as Thompson’s concept of class formation by culture,21 but to the concerns raised by Engels and, subsequently, V.I. Lenin, about politics in the working class, in particular through their discussion of the labour aristocracy.

Historical materialism should study the struggle between political trends in the working class as expressions of conflicting social interests, with different material bases. For example, the limits of the relationship between the mobilisations of the working class and the development of the alp, given the conflict and change within and in relation to the party, are related to the creation and stabilisation of a contradiction between the party’s outlook and the historic antagonism of the working class to capitalism. The theory of the labour aristocracy suggests the sources of these two trends, of which the definitive forms are opportunist and revolutionary working-class politics.

Australian labour historiography, even when influenced by Marxism, has made little use of the theory of the labour aristocracy, which is that a strata of the working class, which enjoys relative privileges sustained by monopoly superprofits, is the part of the class susceptible to becoming the social basis of opportunism—that is, collaboration with the capitalist class against the mass of the proletariat and its historic interests. Vere Gordon Childe’s oft-venerated How Labour Governs, published in 1923, did not refer to the theory, despite the prominence of the Russian revolutionaries who advocated it and the theoretical basis it provided for the formation of Communist parties, even as the book rehearsed most of the arguments about the politics of the working class the historiography has used subsequently.22 Its idea about the formation of a new view of labour democracy has been grounded by optimistic and parliamentary socialist analyses of the alp in the economic and social conditions and political experiences of the working class from the 1850s onwards, while its concerns about the influences of middle-class membership, support or alliances and of industrial and parliamentary office have been brought forward by labourist analyses.

When the historiography has discussed the existence of a labour aristocracy, it has generally, following E.J. Hobsbawm, distinguished groups of skilled manual or professional white-collar workers by earnings, job control and social status.23 It also refers to the strata, without elaboration, to suggest, as an explanation of policies, something akin to craft exclusiveness rather than class politics: for example, Ken Buckley and Ted Wheelwright, wrote that the ALP’s emphasis on the exclusion of Asian migrants “could be seen as a trade-union restrictive practice, used by a labour aristocracy to protect its turf”.23a However, a labour aristocracy’s existence has not, according to the same historiography, precluded “the formation of a coherent class interest and its entry onto the political stage” in the form of separate labour parties engaged in reformist parliamentary politics.24

Humphrey McQueen, who originally “explained the non-socialist and non-revolutionary nature of the Labor Party by referring to Australia’s labouring people as a peculiar kind of petit-bourgeoisie”, later said an analysis would instead need to start by determining the modes of production and the consequent class structure. It would introduce, with regard to the rise of the alp in the 1890s, the emergence of the monopolising phase of capitalism.25 His characterisation of this phase, however, was that “the market associated with monopolising capitals replaced price competition with restraints on trade, product differentiation and an intensified sales effort”:26 monopoly superprofits would, accordingly, result from price-fixing, rather than from making a product at a cost below the product’s value through higher labour productivity. Also, while he referred to a labour aristocracy (on one occasion he wrote “Victoria’s entire workforce can be seen as an aristocracy of labour, within which the Melbourne Trades Hall Council operated as a House of Lords”27 ), he continued to relate the strata to the exclusivist practices of skilled workers.28 In turn, even though he presented evidence of the role of federation [of the Australian states into a single nation state] in the party’s formation, of the exclusion of manufacturing and transport combines, except in connection to agricultural produce, from assault by labour’s case against capital, which instead focused on financial and land monopolies, and, perhaps most tellingly, of the concern of alp figures that Australian monopolising capital did not monopolise effectively, he said “the Labor parties came into existence to oppose the interests of monopolisers”.29 Unsurprisingly, then, he has since stated that he had “inflat[ed] this possibility … that monopoly profits had allowed for an aristocracy of labour among certain skilled workers … into an explanation for Laborism”.30

In Francis Castles’ survey of historic compromises between labour and capital in the smaller imperialist countries as alternative strategies of social protection in response to economic vulnerability, he discussed how a compromise might be arranged “either as a consequence of the ruling class detaching a section of the labour interest (Lenin’s historic compromise of monopoly capital and the ‘aristocracy of labour’), or as a result of labour detaching a fraction of capital (essentially, the solution proffered by the social democratic hypothesis)”. However, he also argued that the circumstances for the former arrangement, which is that a stratum of a subordinate class in a nation is advantaged at the expense of others, were “highly exceptional”. So historic compromises are “most likely” to occur when capital’s political representatives are divided.31

Apparently only Jürgen Kuczynski has attempted to apply systematically the theory of the labour aristocracy to the political history of the Australian working class. He wrote: “Australia, in the nineteenth century, is an exception among colonies because a very large share of that part of the super-profits which the British ruling class has usually put aside for the corruption of parts of the proletariat in Britain remain in the colony for the benefit of colonial labour.”32 He argued that, between 1850 and 1870, skilled workers achieved the greatest advances, but overall conditions for workers also improved more, with a larger part of the class sharing in the improvement than was the case in Britain.33

According to him, the key condition for the benefiting of the Australian working class from super-profits was the “temporary gains for a vast number of people … made at the expense of the whole world, and not at the expense of Australian workers or Australian capitalists engaged in non-mining enterprise”, from cheap, high yield production as a result of new exploitation of mineral resources. Agricultural activity formed the base and background of the economy but did not determine the speed of the economy’s growth or its peculiarities. Cheap food in Australia and the high cost of immigration to Australia were also important.34

Kuczynski’s concern with the effect of the copper, gold and silver rushes, however, drew his attention away from the creation and influence of more permanent capitalist monopoly superprofits gained through higher labour productivity. The reassertion of petty commodity production relied, for its above-average profitability, on differential ground-rent from natural advantages. He was led by the brief period for which such superprofits were available to consider the 1870s and 1880s to be the time when the previous struggles culminated in unionists and skilled workers becoming a more definitively separate labour aristocracy, willing to strike, but aloof from the unemployed and leaving the mass of the working class ignorant of the confrontation between capital and labour. The great strikes, on the other hand, supposedly infused the labour movement with new life through the formation of the alp, a drive to organise unskilled workers and the “hold of the old bureaucracy weakening”.35

Kuczynski’s view turned the course of events on its head. An application of the theory of the labour aristocracy to the political history of the Australian working class should trace the development of monopoly superprofits in Australian capitalism, the influence of this on the capitalist polity and, in greatest detail, the course of politics in the working class within and in reaction to that. Existing research provides a substantial body of material to support this approach. However, the past interpretations of this evidence cannot be accepted. Otherwise, an analysis would refer to the theory and state that the alp is objectively a liberal capitalist party, but it wouldn’t, as past analyses didn’t, show how the party would necessarily be so.36

The development of monopoly superprofits in Australia

In Australia, Andrew Wells noted, “capitalist producers, whether farmers, pastoralists or miners, were able to get access [to land] on the basis of freehold or through advantageous leasehold arrangements. This enabled producers to invest large amounts on stock and equipment and improve their productivity without higher profits being lost in rental appropriation”.37

If the capitalists’ ability to invest was vital for capitalist development, nonetheless, as Ellen Meiksins Wood argues, “the distinctive and dominant characteristic of the capitalist market is not opportunity or choice but, on the contrary, compulsion”.38 Indeed, in the pastoral sector, significant investment appears to have begun not in the 1840s, when the pastoralists, having seized land by squatting, could have expected to hold on to it because of their political influence and also the increasing domination in Britain of industrial capital, which favoured their export-oriented primary production, but in the 1860s, when selection and other land laws forced the pastoralists to pay the government for freehold and leased land.39 Pastoralism thereafter surpassed and subsequently dominated mining in Australian exports.

The significance of the gold rushes, then, does not lie in the wealth they brought to a few. It is that they brought many more people to Australia, but in poverty, relative to the situation of those few. The rapid exhaustion of the alluvial gold deposits forced the petty producers of the goldfields, at first unemployed and then proletarianised, into the cities or pastoral areas. The bulk of the economically active population become wage labourers.40 They were also the mass basis for the mobilisations in favour of democratic forms for the responsible governments being formed in the colonies and of land redistribution.41 Thus “by the late 1850s the formation of a capitalist labour market and the capitalist alienation of the landed property was achieved … the gold rushes expedited this process”.42

The politics of land alienation in the colonies were a class compromise expressed at its roots in the pattern of land ownership that resulted, however. Selection led rapidly to large-scale private property, as the squatters pre-emptively acquired the most valuable parts of their runs, in the early 1860s in Victoria and through a longer period elsewhere.43

Another aspect of this class compromise was that much of the government revenue gained from land sales and leases was spent on public communication systems.44 This reduced the transport costs of the pastoral and mining capitalists.45

Wells’ categorisation of government revenue as “state-appropriated ground rent” incorrectly identifies the source of these funds, however. As Wells noted, the landlord and capitalist tenant farmer pattern of land ownership and usage that gave rise to ground rent, including from unequal investment by landowners, did not exist in Australia.46 Also, the pastoralist landowners of the colonies could not impose ground rent on subsequent land users, such as occurred in Argentina.47

In Australia, capital’s investments in primary production, directly or through its government, in, for example, mining machinery, pasture fencing and water conservation and agricultural research, by which it sought to maintain and improve profit rates in the face of rising costs and international competition, increased labour productivity.48 Indeed, even when, in the 1890s and after the turn of the century, Australian agrarian exports were diversifying from wool to include wheat, meat and dairy products,49 and lead and then zinc concentrates became the most important products of the Broken Hill mines,50 the per capita rate of productivity for all primary production in Australia (and New Zealand) was at least fifty per cent higher than the same rate for countries such as Argentina, Canada and the us, where again at least some capitalists had had advantageous access to land compared with the still less productive European primary production.51 Moreover, the proportion of the Australian work force employed in primary production was less, for example, than that in the us.52

The bulk of Australian primary production was exported, especially after wheat production expanded in the 1880s and 1890s from Victoria and South Australia into New South Wales and also Western Australia and through technical innovation.53 The sector’s high productivity, therefore, principally did not serve to reduce the value of labour-power in Australia, by reducing the time needed to produce the commodities required for the reproduction of labour-power, nor to reduce the cost of raw materials for manufacturing capitalists. Instead, since Australian primary industry capital had no monopolies in the production or export of its commodities,54 the world market values of those commodities were determined by the higher average international commodity values needed to satisfy the entire international, monetarily effective demand.55 (Wells wrote, “the prices of production compared favourably to those of other producers [and] the price paid for exported commodities exceeded their value.”56 )

Thus, as Wells discussed, “colonial specialisation in primary production was very advantageous for the capitalist and colonial producer classes”.57 This advantage consisted of the capitalist monopoly superprofits that arise for those who produce with an advantage in productivity related to investment levels higher than the average.58

The economic difficulties in the aftermath of the gold rushes were resolved in the 1850s and 1860s, therefore, when the new political institutions and immigrant population took commodification to a new stage.59 Partly this was, as Wells said, by the “formation of necessary property rights, political institutions and imperial relations that would result in the development in Australia of an advanced pastoral capitalism”,60 but also because the same social formation subsequently ensured domestic commodity production and circulation supported its favourable unequal exchange of values in the world market.

The growth of manufacturing, which replaced a proportion of imports and eventually included basic industries such as lead smelting and steel and zinc production, was, according to Donald Denoon, “neither automatic nor self-sustaining growth, but rather a purposeful protection of domestic processing, using the revenue accruing from primary production for export”.61 Liberal protectionist measures for manufacturing, introduced in Victoria in the latter half of the nineteenth century and nationally after the federation of the colonies in 1901, to the extent that they also protected workers’ living standards, shifted at least part of the value of the capitalist monopoly superprofits of primary production capital from that sector to industrial capital, rather than allowing it to go to capitalists of other nations importing manufactured commodities produced at a higher productivity than that prevailing for these products in Australia.

As well, although the coal industry’s exports varied, its productivity rates benefited manufacturing and the key productive transport systems, for which coal was a key raw material. Production per worker employed, in both tonnage and value, was the highest in the world at the end of the 1880s, and at the start of the twentieth century still matched most other industrialised countries (productivity in the us coal industry was somewhat superior).62

The assessment made, for example, by Wells, that in Australia “traditional branches of industrial production, especially large-scale urban manufacturing, were retarded”63 must, therefore, be qualified. These industries were less retarded than they would have been but for their protection; their backwardness was only relative to the advanced primary production sector. These qualifications suggest “the parallel development of capitalism in agriculture and in industry, by the formation of a class of rural and industrial employers, on the one hand, and of a class of rural and industrial wage-workers, on the other” required for the development of capitalism and its phenomenal form of a home market64 —as is necessarily the case for capitalist development, not an even, but an uneven and combined development—did occur in Australia.

The development of capitalism and the home market in Australia in the nineteenth century contradicts the view of the mass of left labour historiography that Australia was (and remains) a dependent country. This is often posed in terms of exploitation through metropolitan export of capital, especially, in turn and variously, from Britain, the us and Japan. Otherwise, this relationship to the world market is presented as: acceptance by the country’s polity of export-led development; “the reservoir of Australian labour and industry … never fail[ing] to provide a stream tributary to the broad river of English wealth”; “the local business community ha[ving] had prime responsibility in determining the pace and character of Australia’s accommodation … but the autonomy of Australian capital should not be exaggerated”; being not a centre of capital accumulation nor part of the exploited periphery, and, therefore, “semi-peripheral”; being “sub-imperialist”, or a “junior partner in” a great power’s imperialism, with latent tensions in that partnerships related to the possibility of insufficient concern for Australian capital’s interests from the great power.65

Furthermore, although Wells argued that in the nineteenth century, the appropriation in Britain of part of the surplus value created in Australia was not exploitative of Australia, but instead benefited public and private capital accumulation in the colonies, he also said that British economic imperialism combined capitalist development and economic dependence. He added, “one fraction of Australian capitalists, linked through ownership of landed property, finance capital, merchant capital and state property, derived its revenue through its close integration and dependence upon British capitalists”.66 However, at this time finance capital—that is, in the context of a concentration of production and capital to the point that it has created economically decisive monopolies, the merging of bank capital with industrial capital67 —did not exist, because the concentration of capital had not reached the stage of dominating monopolising capitals and the merger of the two capitals was incomplete. In Australia, as Wells noted, “productive industrial capital resided in the colonies, whilst financial domination was external”.68 Returns to Britain on funds invested were, therefore, interest on bank capital, while industrial capital in Australia garnered both profits and superprofits; both forms of capital drew from the total surplus value available as a result of the advantageous position of Australian capitalist commodity production in the world market.

Also, if Australian capitalism’s comparative conditions of production in the world market were the key source of its superprofits, then the significance for it of English superprofits from the exploitation of Asian colonies, which Jim McIlroy said it shared in as a privileged part of England’s empire, instead must be regarded as generally only indirect. The market for the commodities exported from Australia which English capitalism provided was buoyed up by these colonial superprofits.69

In nineteenth century Australia, a process of the acquisition of capitalist monopoly superprofits and the accumulation of these as capital existed. This, combined with the development of a home market, which provided the conditions for the development of an independent capitalist social formation, created the circumstances suggested by Wells’ alternative conclusion: “… the colonies [had] more advanced capitalist production relations”; and, aided by the radical liberal continuity of England’s free trade imperial reformers and the colonial democracies, “the colonial middle class pursued, consciously or unconsciously, full development of capitalist production relations and social relations.”70 In the twentieth century, when monopolising capitals dominated, and divided the world into oppressed and oppressor nations, the same combination made Australia an advanced capitalism.

The specificities of capital accumulation in Australia, however, do not allow as simple an analysis as, for example, Irving’s description that, from the 1850s, “economic development was now in progress”.71 Demand and price trends for the raw material commodities exported, in general, have not been favourable: fluctuations are usually sharper than for manufactured goods; and while the prices of non-farm products appear to have fallen in the nineteenth century,72 the relative price of manufactures compared with raw materials has tended to rise since.

The significant pressures on the overall profitability of pastoralism which arose from the 1880s onward were first the backdrop against which the politics of the federation of the Australian colonies was played out. The actions of the new federal government both secured the home market for the manufacturing sector and developed Australian capitalism’s means to pursue its own colonialism in the South Pacific. However, the ripening of these measures took until at least the 1940s:73 meanwhile, the relatively disadvantaged capitalist export producers allied with urban capital to secure government support for a system of “protection all round”.74 After the second world war, not only did primary production for export diversify into a broader range of agricultural products and alumina, coal, iron ore and natural gas, but within the total value of exports the proportion accounted for by manufactured goods rose from the two to three per cent of total exports typical previously to ten per cent in the middle of the 1950s and twenty-four per cent in 1970-71, and capital exports increased in the early 1970s.75 When the latter two trends then stagnated, Australian capital pursued its own concentration and export through changes in financial regulation and the privatisation of government corporations, the production and export of “elaborately transformed” manufactures through changes in trade and industrial regulation, and the cultivation of a “special relationship” with the Indonesian regime and broader trading blocs in the Asia-Pacific region.

The significance of industrial protection in Australian politics lies not only in its emergence, prevalence and later decline, however, but also in the historical development of different positions on it taken by the various political trends in Australia. Victorian liberalism’s protection of manufacturing before the federation of the colonies is well known. Meanwhile, in New South Wales the liberals were free traders and the politicians representing the interests of the conservative pastoralists tended to protectionism at first. This was not, apparently, in their immediate interests, but, being directed against Victorian and South Australian grain, was the cement of an alliance with the colony’s selectors and rural workers. However, political links began to blur and reshuffle at the end of the nineteenth century when the approach of federation put forward the prospect of free trade between the Australian colonies and some kind of protection against the rest of the world.76 The politics of the Australian working class, until then largely confined to support for liberalism and its “friends of labour”, developed in this context.

1. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the split in socialism”, in V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Resistance Books, Sydney, 1999, p. 131.
2. This series was originally planned to be only three articles, but has subsequently expanded. The first, “Engels and the theory of the labour aristocracy”, appeared in Links No. 25. It considered the scope and significance of the theory and its application by Engels to understanding the politics of the English working class in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The second, “Monopoly capitalism and the bribery of the labour aristocracy”, appeared in Links No. 26 and the third, “The labour aristocracy and working-class politics”, in Links No. 28. They discussed Lenin’s development of the theory, the controversies which surround the theory (the source and nature of the “bribe” to the labour aristocracy, the stratum’s composition, and the relationship of the labour aristocracy to the labour bureaucracy and to the rest of the class) and the political strategy and tactics Lenin proposed to counter opportunist influence in the working-class movement.
3. Terence H. Irving, “The roots of parliamentary socialism in Australia, 1850-1920”, Labour History, No. 67, November 1994, p. 98.
4. Raymond Markey, The Making of the Labor Party in New South Wales 1880-1900, Kensington: New South Wales University Press, 1988, p. 7. Irving refers to this interpretation as a “whig history” (“Labourism: a political genealogy”, Labour History, No. 66, May 1994, p. 4, and “Roots”, p. 98), following Manning Clark and other critics of it (Markey, p. 8).
5. Irving, “Roots”, p. 99.
6. Robin Gollan, Radical and Working Class Politics: A Study of Eastern Australia, 1850-1910, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1970, p. vii. See also: Brian Fitzpatrick, A Short History of the Australian Labour Movement, South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1968; Robin Gollan, Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism and the Australian Labour Movement 1920-1955, Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1985; Ian Turner, In Union is Strength, Melbourne: Nelson, 1976, and Industrial Labour and Politics: the Dynamics of the Labour Movement in Eastern Australia 1900-1921, Neutral Bay: Hale and Ironmonger, 1979; Russel Ward, The Australian Legend, Melbourne: Oxford, 1989.
7. Irving, “Roots”, p. 102.
8. Irving, “Labourism”.
9. Irving, “Roots”, especially pp. 97, 103 and 107. This repeats, more theoretically, Irving’s argument in “Socialism, working-class mobilisation and the origins of the Labor Party”, in Bruce O’Meagher (ed.), The Socialist Objective: Labor and Socialism, Sydney: Hale and Ironmonger, 1983.
10. See, for example: Frank Bongiorno, The People’s Party: Victorian Labor and the Radical Tradition, 1875-1914, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1996, p. 5; Bruce Scates, A New Australia: Citizenship, Radicalism and the First Republic, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 8.
11. Scalmer as a postgraduate student was supervised by Irving. Much of the argument of his PhD thesis (“The Career of Class: Intellectuals and the Labour Movement in Australia, 1942-56”, University of Sydney, 1996) was presented again in articles, including: “The affluent worker or the divided party? Explaining the transformation of the alp in the 1950s”, Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 32, No. 3, 1997; “Being practical in early and contemporary labour politics: a labourist critique”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 43, No. 3, 1997, and; “Labor’s golden age and the changing forms of workers’ representation in Australia”, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 84, No. 2, December 1998.
12. Scalmer, “Affluent worker”, p. 415.
13. See Robert Catley and Bruce McFarlane, Australian Capitalism in Boom and Depression, 2nd ed., Chippendale: Alternative Publishing Cooperative, 1983, pp. 122-123.
14. Bongiorno, op. cit., pp. 7-8.
15. Tom Sheridan, Division of Labour: Industrial Relations in the Chifley Years, 1945-49, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 226.
16. M.J. Saunders, “The alp’s response to the anti-Vietnam War movement, 1965-73”, Labour History, No. 44, May 1983.
17. Bongiorno, op. cit., p. 8.
18. See E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, Ringwood: Penguin, 1980; E.P. Thompson, “The Poverty of Theory: or an Orrery of Errors”, in E.P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays, London: Merlin Press, 1978.
19. Marilyn Lake, “The independence of women and the brotherhood of man: debates in the labour movement over equal pay and motherhood endowment in the 1920s”, Labour History, No. 63, November 1992, esp. p. 1.
20. See, for example, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto and its Relevance for Today, Chippendale: Resistance Books, 1998, pp. 51-56.
21. See., for example, Marx’s discussion of the French peasantry during the first half of the nineteenth century in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Class Struggles in France: the February Revolution to the Paris Commune, Chippendale: Resistance Books, 2003, pp. 204-10.
22. Vere Gordon Childe, How Labour Governs: A Study of Workers’ Representation in Australia, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1964.
23. R.W. [Bob] Connell and T.H. Irving, Class Structure in Australian History, 2nd ed., Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1992, pp. 202-03; Markey, op. cit., p. 45; Greg Patmore, Australian Labour History, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1991, p. 66.
23a. Buckley, Ken and Wheelwright, Ted, False Paradise: Australian Capitalism Revisited 1915-1955, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1998, pp. 14-15.
24. See Andrew Wells, Constructing Capitalism: An Economic History of Eastern Australia, 1788-1901, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1989, p. 158.
25. Humphrey McQueen, A New Britannia: An Argument Concerning the Social Origins of Australian Radicalism and Nationalism, rev. ed., Ringwood: Penguin, 1986, pp. 255-57.
26. ibid., p. 258.
27. Humphrey McQueen, “Victoria”, in, D.S. Murphy (ed.), Labor in Politics: The State Labor Parties in Australia 1880-1920, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1975.
28. ibid., p. 262.
29. ibid., pp. 263-267.
30. Humphrey McQueen, A New Britannia, 4th ed., St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2004, p. 264.
31. Francis Castles, Australian Public Policy and Economic Vulnerability, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988, pp. 70 and 76.
32. Jürgen Kuczynski, A Short History of Labour Conditions under Industrial Capitalism, 2nd ed., Vol. 1, Part 2, London: Frederick Muller, 1945, p. 80.
33. ibid., pp. 91-92.
34. ibid., pp. 78-80.
35. ibid., pp. 92-95.
36. See Jim McIlroy, The Origins of the alp: A Marxist Analysis, Chippendale: Resistance Books, 2004, esp. pp. 31-34 and 51-54, for an example of this.
37. Wells, op. cit., p. 146.
38. Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, London: Verso, 2002, p.7.
39. Wells, op. cit., pp. 33-41, 61-62.
40. ibid., pp. 46-52.
41. See Irving, “Roots”, pp. 99-100.
42. Wells, op. cit., p. 64.
43. ibid., pp. 69-73, 146.
44. ibid., p. 75.
45. See John Merritt, The Making of the AWU, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1986, pp. 10-11.
46. Wells, op. cit., pp. 144-145. For a discussion of the role of “improvement” in English agricultural capitalism, see Wood, op. cit., chs. 5 and 6.
47. See Donald Denoon, Settler Capitalism: The Dynamics of Dependent Development in the Southern Hemisphere, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983, pp. 96-98.
48. ibid., pp. 82-83, 101-103; Merritt, op. cit., p. 11.
49. Denoon, op. cit., pp. 100-101.
50. Geoffrey Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill, South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1968, pp. 51-55, 68-77.
51. T.A. Coghlan, Statistical Account of the Seven Colonies of Australasia, various editions, Sydney: Government Printer, 1890-1904.
52. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, part 1, Washington: us Department of Commerce, 1975; Coghlan, op. cit.; Turner, Industrial Labour, p. 249.
53. Denoon, op. cit., pp. 100-01.
54. See: ibid., chs. 4 and 5; also Merritt, op. cit., p. 9 for the proportion of wool used in importing countries produced in those countries.
55. Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, London: Verso, 1987, p. 72.
56. Wells, op. cit., p. 146.
57. ibid., p. 146.
58. Mandel, op. cit., p. 77.
59. Wells, op. cit., p. 64.
60. ibid., p. 63.
61. Denoon, op. cit., pp. 152-54. Also Blainey, op. cit., pp. 77-85.
62. Coghlan, op. cit.
63. Wells, op. cit., p. 75.
64. V.I. Lenin, “The development of capitalism in Russia: the process of the formation of a home market for large-scale industry”, in V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 3, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977, p. 590.
65. See Connell and Irving, op. cit., p. 13, and also Dick Nichols, “The Making of the Labor Party in New South Wales”, Socialist Worker, Vol. 4, No. 2, March 1989, pp. 38-39, and for the examples cited: Ken Buckley and Ted Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers: Capitalism and the Common People in Australia, 1788-1914, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 247, 249; Catley and McFarlane, op. cit., p. 9; Connell and Irving, op. cit., pp. 13-14; Denoon, op. cit., pp. 192, 228; Brian Fitzpatrick, The British Empire in Australia, 2nd ed., Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1949, p. 348; McQueen, op. cit., chs. 1, 4.
66. Wells, op. cit., pp. 134, 152.
67. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism”, in Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 22, pp. 226, 266.
68. Wells, op. cit., p. 141.
69. McIlroy, op. cit., p. 34.
70. Wells, op. cit., p. 80.
71. Irving, “Roots”, p. 99.
72. Denoon, op. cit., p. 212.
73. Stuart Macintyre, The Labour Experiment, Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1989, pp. 39-40.
74. Denoon, op. cit., p. 191; Macintyre, op. cit., pp. 38, 55-56.
75. R.A. Foster, Australian Economic Statistics, 1949-50 to 1994-95, Reserve Bank of Australia, 1996, pp. 7, 22, 39 ; West Jon, “Is Australia a neo-colony?”, in Jon West, Dave Holmes and Gordon Adler, Socialism or Nationalism? Which Road for the Australian Labor Movement?, Sydney: Pathfinder Press (Australia), 1979, pp. 53-54, 58-60.
76. Bede Nairn, Civilising Capitalism: the Labor Movement in New South Wales 1870-1900, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1973.

[Jonathan Strauss is a long-time member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective in the Socialist Alliance of Australia. He is currently a postgraduate student investigating developments in the working class and its consciousness during the Hawke-Keating Labor governments.]

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