'They will make splendid allies': The Communist Party of Australia and its attitude towards migrants

European migrants to Australia aboard the ship SS Derna on their arrival in Melbourne in November 1948.

February 22, 2013 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Below are two chapters from Australian socialist Douglas Jordon's thesis on the Communist Party of Australia. They deal with the CPA's sometimes inconsistent attitude to migration and racism within the Australian working class. As such issues continue to feature heavily in Australian politics and trade union activity, something the left must always deal with, these chapters provide useful lessons and experiences for socialists today. The chapters are availabe for download as PDF files or can be read on screen below the introduction.

Douglas Jordan was politicised in England in the late 1960s. After arriving in Australia he joined the Socialist Youth Alliance/Socialist Workers League/Socialist Workers Party, in which where he remained a member for 14 years. Today he is a community activist and co-presenter of the City Limits radio program on Melbourne's 3CR.

After working as a tram conductor in Melbourne and Adelaide he was replaced by a ticket machine in 1998 and so lost his lifetime profession. He returned to study and is now writing his PhD thesis. The thesis -- of which these chapters are an excerpt -- is a detailed examination of the extent to which Communist Party of Australia union activists raised political issues in their unions.

In particular it looks at the peace movement, attitudes to the post-war migration program and the Aboriginal struggle for human rights. There was been a general perception that Communist Party union activists were nothing more than industrial militants. The thesis aims to challenge this and show that CPA members often raised political issues and sought support for them from their co-workers.

For another chapter from Jordan's thesis, see "Industrial action for peace: The Communist Party of Australia and antiwar activity before 1960". For more on the CPA, click HERE.

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By Douglas Jordan

There was near unanimity in the Australian labour movement’s racist attitude towards migration before World War II. Almost alone in the working-class movement at this time, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) stressed the common interests of all workers in uniting against the common enemies of capitalism, mass unemployment and the rise of fascism. In this period it recruited many foreign born workers who shared its idealism and its absolute support for the Soviet Union.

In contrast, the social-democratic Australian Labor Party (ALP) was fervent in its support of the White Australia Policy, and deeply hostile towards non-Australian-born workers. Similarly, trade unions such as the Australian Workers Union (AWU) barred many foreign born workers from its ranks.

The introduction of the mass migration scheme following World War II and the subsequent arrival of large numbers non-British migrants posed a significant challenge for the CPA to maintain its internationalist traditions.

Australia’s experiences during World War II helped to convince the Labor government that new policies were needed that would both guarantee Australia’s post-war security and develop Australia’s relatively low industrial infrastructure. The government endorsed a policy of rapid population growth, with half of the projected annual increase in population to come from a program of mass immigration. The original intention was that the overwhelming majority of these migrants would come from Britain. Arthur Calwell, Australia’s first minister of immigration, argued that the common heritage between Australia and Britain would mean that British migrants could be rapidly assimilated into Australian society without causing social tensions or bitter conflicts. However, when the government failed to attract sufficient numbers of British migrants it was forced to turn to new and non-traditional sources in order to fulfil its ambitious targets.

The war had created an enormous flood of refugees. Many had fled the advancing Soviet armies and made their way towards Western Europe and what they considered to be safety. Some had been active collaborators with the German occupation forces, while others had been unwillingly forced into some form of service with the governments that were established by the Germans in Eastern Europe. Both groups feared possible reprisals from the new regimes that would be established by the Soviet forces. Still others had already witnessed the brutal reality of Stalinist rule and were determined not to repeat the experience. When the war ended there were also large numbers of prisoners of war and conscripted labourers in Western Europe who resisted being returned to their homelands which were now under Soviet occupation. As the new regimes in Eastern Europe consolidated themselves they forcibly expelled millions of ethnic Germans. What the majority of the people from these groups had in common was a hardened and persistent anti-Communist outlook. Many of Australia’s earliest post-war migrants came from the ranks of these refugees.

The issue of mass migration posed a particular dilemma for the CPA. Its internationalist outlook should have made it more receptive to the arrival of workers from other countries. However, it was well aware that many Australian workers, despite the recent war, continued to hold racist attitudes towards potential migrants. There was also a widespread fear that mass migration would be used to drive down wages and working conditions. In the end the Party remained formally opposed to mass migration throughout the 1950s and in resolutions repeatedly called for its cessation or a reduction in the annual intake. However, in sharp contrast to many of the historical traditions of the labour movement, the CPA argued that once migrants arrived in Australia they should be fully accepted by the trade unions with the same rights and responsibilities as other Australian workers.

Download "Calwell’s ‘Baltic fascists’ are not welcome: The CPA and East European migrants" and "‘They will make splendid allies...’: the CPA and European migrants", or read on screen below.

Part 1: 'They will make splendid allies': The Communist Party of Australia and its attitude to migrants by

Part 2: 'They will make splendid allies': The Communist Party of Australia and its attitude to migrants by