Australia 1917: From world war to class war

NOTE: This article was subsequently updated and published in the Marxist Left Review. This edition is posted in its original form for posterity.

The countdown to war in the Gulf invoked fear and dread amongst hundreds of millions of people all over the world; millions demonstrated against the US war drive even before the first shot was fired. Yet by comparison when World War I was declared in August 1914, Australia, indeed all the combatant nations, seemed to be engulfed by a wave of patriotic fervour. There were spontaneous pro-war demonstrations and tens of thousands rushed to enlist. Strikes were called off, rioters attacked German-owned businesses and German-born workers were sacked, often due to pressure from fellow workers.[1] While press and pulpit beat the drum, ALP leaders attempted to out-do them for chauvinism. Andrew Fisher, soon to be elected Labor Prime Minister, made his famous vow to fight to “our last man and our last shilling” for the British Empire.[2] Even leading left wing Labor MP Frank Anstey declared:

We have a personal interest in what is taking place, and to that extent it becomes our duty to furnish all the aid we can, whether in arms or men.[3]

Many on the left were shocked and demoralised by this stance, and by the collapse of the mainstream of European social democracy (with the honourable exception of the Russian Bolsheviks and one or two smaller parties) into pro-war chauvinism.[4] But they should not have been surprised, for as early as 1910 Labor’s future wartime Defence Minister Senator Pearce had declared that:

the party to which he belonged was trying to realise the high ideals of humanity. There was no surer guarantee for working out those ideals than the Union Jack, the symbol of the British Empire. They had to look further afield than the mere defence of Australia, and be prepared to defend that flag and all it represented.[5]

The mainstream feminist and pacifist organisations openly backed the war. Patriotic fervour led the major middle class pacifist group, the 55,000-strong Australian Freedom League, to suspend its activities and practically dissolve as it did not want “to hamper the Government in the discharge of their grave responsibility”.[6] Only small groups of socialists, the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the militant and socialist-inclined feminists of the Women’s Peace Army bravely proclaimed their opposition to the war.[7] And courage and determination indeed were needed to stand against the wave of chauvinism. Anti-war meetings and demonstrations were broken up by howling jingoistic mobs. Speakers were assaulted and “respectable” middle class citizens urged on squads of soldiers to eliminate the traitors.

Yet within the space of three years, Australia was rocked by a great wave of upheavals that were to continue into 1920. The high points were the 1917 NSW General Strike and the massive campaigns which defeated two conscription referenda. The Labor Party split in the face of mass insurgent demonstrations, armed street clashes, the formation of Labor Volunteer armies to defend anti-conscription rallies, and strike after strike outside the control of union officialdom. Many, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum, came to see revolution as inevitable. How did this dramatic turnaround occur, and why didn’t this, the greatest social crisis ever in Australian history, end in revolution?

To begin to answer these questions we must briefly trace the development of the working class movement in the pre-war years. The unions had been shattered by the defeat of the great strikes of the 1890s, and the long drawn out Depression from which there was no sustained recovery in industrial militancy until 1906. In response the official movement had embraced Arbitration and parliamentary Laborism. However after 1906 there was a rapid recovery in militancy and the growth of syndicalism with its emphasis on direct action and scorn for parliament.

The miners led the way. In these years of limited large scale manufacturing the mines, especially at Broken Hill, were some of the largest workplaces. And they were militant centres. The 13,000 or so NSW coal miners and the 9,000 Broken Hill metal miners accounted for three-quarters of all strike days in the pre-war upsurge. They emerged as clearly the most politically advanced section of the class and consequently developments in the mines were central throughout this period. The pre-war upsurge peaked in 1909 with an 18-week Newcastle coal strike which was savagely defeated, and a four month lockout of Broken Hill miners.[8] However by 1914 the movement had bounced back from these setbacks, and indeed the war interrupted a new surge of struggle.[9]

With the war, most strikes were immediately called off or collapsed – though not all. NSW South Coast miners fought on despite the patriotic euphoria and there was a virtual mutiny by seamen aboard the troopship Kanowna over their water allowance. Still the general mood was such that the number of strikes halved in 1915. There was a high level of enlistment amongst unionists. Even in some mines, workers forced the sacking of Germans[10] and the Broken Hill miners’ paper initially took a pro-war stance. Nevertheless the traditional impression sustained by the likes of C.E.W. Bean, the official war historian, of indescribable wartime enthusiasm and unity must not go unchallenged.[11] While a minority of workers were caught up in the chauvinist frenzy, the general mood, despite the abject capitulation of the Labor leaders, was more one of confusion, regret, apprehension and resignation.[12] Most participants in pro-war demonstrations were middle class. While many workers undoubtedly rushed to enlist for patriotic reasons, many others joined because of unemployment which doubled to 11 percent by late 1914 due to wartime disruption of trade.

Spontaneous patriotic outpourings were very short-lived. The Labor government had to mount a massive propaganda offensive to maintain recruitment and impose draconian censorship to hide the horrors of war. One example: in late 1914 the government released a film of German “atrocities” in Belgium. It had been shot “on location” outside the Sydney gas works![13] Most workers had naively expected the war to be a smashing victory – all over in a few short months. As the death toll mounted the mood became more subdued. Casualties undermined morale inside the army itself. There was a wave of rioting by soldiers in army camps all across Australia in 1916.[14] By August 1916 recruitment had collapsed. The new Labor prime minister, Billy Hughes, now campaigned for the introduction of conscription.

One symptom of the trend was the fall-off in church attendance. From the outbreak of war, Protestant pulpits were draped with the Union Jack and it was difficult at times to distinguish between sermons and calls for recruits.[15] Whilst respectable middle class society revelled in this jingoism, workers were increasingly repelled. Soldiers who had seen the slaughter in the trenches turned sharply away from religion.

At the same time working class resentment was building up over a series of economic grievances – unemployment and prices were spiralling while wages were held down. Workers were angry at massive wartime profiteering, which saw shipping profits alone multiply twelve-fold between 1913 and 1916. For a period high levels of unemployment, which undermined workers’ confidence to fight, helped hold these frustrations in check. The first serious outbreak of unrest came on the Melbourne wharves in late 1915, culminating in a successful strike in early 1916, in defiance of union officialdom, to stop the export of wheat while the price of bread was so high at home. This by the same workers who only a year earlier had been driving Germans off the wharves. While not as yet anti-war, the mood had changed to one of demanding equality of sacrifice.

However pro-war sentiment continued to hold workers in check. This was reflected in January 1916 when 2,000 coal miners on the NSW South Coast, led by syndicalist militants, struck for shorter hours in defiance of their left officials. The continuing patriotic mood meant they could not pull out the northern NSW fields. They were isolated and forced back to work. In the last half of 1916 however this mood began to change sharply. Industrial grievances were now reinforced by political ones. Easter 1916 saw the brutal crushing by British troops of the Dublin uprising for Irish independence. The execution of the leaders of the rising, and a vicious outburst of Protestant sectarianism against the considerable Irish-Australian minority of the working class, turned them increasingly against the war.[16] However it was the growing threat of conscription that was to galvanise the whole class in an enormous mass movement. Workers saw conscription as undermining union organisation, and bitterly opposed the unfairness of conscripting labor when there was no conscription of capital.

Turning against the war

Broken Hill was in the vanguard. This isolated mining town had established itself as an important centre of the labour movement, with a comparatively strong socialist presence. It came to be seen as a Mecca of militancy.[17] Initially after the outbreak of war the metal miners were on the back foot; half the workforce had been sacked as the main market for ore was Germany and Belgium. Unemployment led to a high level of enlistment and provoked a wave of anti-German and anti-migrant racism. Anti-war militants here, just as in the rest of Australia, were at first an isolated minority. In September 1914 the first anti-war demonstration by a small group of socialists, at a farewell for departing troops, was attacked by a patriotic mob, who chased them to the nearby Socialist Hall and made several attempts to smash their way in to get their hands on the “anti-Britons”.[18]

But despite this the miners’ union, the AMA, under socialist and syndicalist influence, began to campaign against the war. Sensibly, they linked anti-war agitation to the miners’ economic grievances. Agitation to cease paying rent till the war was over led in 1915 to a general stoppage of rent payments. The major issue the militants took up was shorter hours. In May 1915 a move to strike for a 44-hour week was defeated due to continuing pro-war sentiment. However by now the militants had cohered, as a “vociferous, uncompromising…and well organized” minority.[19] By October they were on the march. The underground miners formed a separate committee, headed by leading socialists and syndicalists. They broke with the more conservative surface workers and their left officials, and under the slogan: “If you want a 44-hour week, take it”, refused to work Saturday afternoons.

The bosses responded with sackings which provoked a month long strike. The extremely determined and well organised underground miners set up mass pickets to impose their will. After clashes on the picket line with the pro-war engine drivers, they closed down the mines. The strike was widely perceived as undermining the war effort since it threatened munitions production. As one historian put it: “It implied an unequivocal rejection of all appeals to patriotism, arbitration, and the public interest in favour of the assertion of their rights by force”.[20] Precisely!

The strike had little support outside Broken Hill, and even in the town itself the underground miners were a minority. However their bargaining position was strong, as with the shift to war production the mine were making massive profits and the government badly needed their output. They had a magnificent victory. A minority within a minority ha broken through. This economic victory now gave a major boost to the political struggle against the war. The ideas of the anti-war socialists who had led the strike began to gain a resonance. In July 1916, in the face of the growing threat of conscription, the militants launched the Labor Volunteer Army (LVA). The 2,000 draft-aged workers who enrolled in the LVA in Broken Hill all took the following oath:

I … being fully convinced that conscription of life and labour in Australia will be a death blow to organised labour and will result in the workers of this land crushed into subjection by a capitalist military oligarchy, do hereby pledge myself to the working class of Australia that I will not serve as a conscript (industrial or military) and that I will resist by every means in my power any attempt to compel me or any of my comrades…to break this pledge, even though it may mean my imprisonment or death, and I take this pledge voluntarily and freely, knowing that if I break it I will be branded as a traitor to my class.[21]

The LVA soon grew into a huge mass movement. In August 1916, after Empire loyalists attacked an anti-conscription meeting, 10,000 out of a population of just 30,000 rallied to denounce them. There followed weekly one-day stoppages against conscription and a series of monster demonstrations. In the wake of this campaign two leading militants, Percy Brookfield and Mick Considine, were elected to parliament in the place of the local Labor MPs who had not taken a strong stance against conscription. The Broken Hill example spread to the capital cities, with strikes against conscription and the formation of Labor Volunteer Armies. On 4 October 1916 there was a nationwide anti-conscription stopwork.

Up until about August the Empire loyalists controlled of the streets of the main cities. Physical attacks, particularly by soldiers, made it difficult to hold anti-conscription meetings. On 13 August, at a 100,000-strong rally in the Sydney Domain, anti-conscription soldiers joined with working class demonstrators to drive off attacks by a right wing mob. The tide was beginning to turn. In Brisbane a big clash in early October, involving shooting between soldiers and armed workers, led to the formation of a Labor Volunteer Army to defend anti-conscription meetings. The following week more shooting followed as the LVA defeated attacks by rioting soldiers. From now on, it was the pro-conscriptionists whose meetings were consistently broken up. Just one example: in the north Queensland town of Bundaberg, 1,000 workers rioted at a pro-conscription rally, injuring the speaker – a renegade former Labor minister. In Brisbane, during a parade of draftees two days before the poll, nine young men who had refused to attest stood on the balcony of the Queensland Irish Club and called to the marchers below, “How are you going to vote?”. They were greeted with a roar of “No!” from the reluctant troops.[22]

The narrow No victory in the referendum on 28 October 1916 (1,087,557 for conscription, 1,160,033 against), while not a vote against the war as such, provided an enormous boost to the anti-war movement. The tensions which had been building up inside the Labor Party now exploded. Under intense pressure from their radicalised rank and file, the union leaders who controlled the party machine had been forced to make a stand against Hughes’ attempt to impose conscription. When Hughes and his supporters in Cabinet refused to accommodate to this pressure a split became inevitable. The union leaders and those Labor MPs who lined up behind them were no revolutionaries, but they recognised that if the ALP did not shift to the left and disavow Hughes, it would be totally discredited in the eyes of wide layers of workers. A space would then be opened for the genuine revolutionaries to achieve a mass following.

In November 1916 Hughes and a sizeable block of MPs split away to join with the conservative opposition in a new Nationalist government. The NSW Labor premier Holman followed Hughes out. Yet even after the split, the new Labor leader, Tudor, while opposed to conscription, declared himself in favour of prosecuting the war “with vigor and determination”.[23] He and other ALP leaders, like Queensland Premier TJ Ryan, continued to participate in recruiting campaigns designed to coax young men to the slaughterhouse on the Western front. The casualty figures had now reached horrendous proportions. At the third battle of Ypres alone there were 38,000 Australian casualties – about one in three Australians at the front.

The defeat of the Conscription Referendum served to deepen the economic struggle. An all-out coal strike in November was marked by a high level of rank and file involvement. After overturning a compromise proposal by their officials they won a smashing victory, both shorter hours and a 20 percent wage increase. Massive unrest increasingly spread from the mines to other areas. There were important victories by shearers, meat workers and many other groups of workers. Workers were beginning to overcome anti-German feelings. In July Townsville workers, who had previously banned German-born workers, now voted to work alongside them. “The only enemy they had was the Capitalist”, one unionist stated.[24] In August 1917 came the first demonstration for an immediate peace.

Weaknesses of the movement

So far, I have stressed the enormous strengths of the insurgent movement. Now we have to examine its weaknesses if we are to understand subsequent setbacks. Inside the anti-conscription campaign, the far left, both socialists and syndicalists, tended to tail the moderate leadership – Labor anti-conscriptionists who supported voluntary enlistment and feminists and pacifists. This limited the militants’ capacity to harness the massive anti-conscription sentiment for outright opposition to imperialist war. It is most clearly seen over the issue of racism. The mainstream of the campaign, including prominent pacifists and feminists like Adela Pankhurst, raised as a central question the bogey of “coloured” labour being imported if conscription was introduced. This racism had broad populist appeal. Pro-conscription meetings were commonly disrupted by demonstrators yelling that “niggers” were to replace white workers sent to the front. Labor anti-conscriptionists also argued that with “our boys” away in Europe Australia would be taken over by the Japanese “yellow peril”.

The far left, including even the normally anti-racist IWW, went along with much of this racist agitation.[25] Even in Broken Hill, where the campaign was dominated by the militant left, the racist bogey was raised.[26] This inevitably limited the anti-capitalist dynamic of the campaign. Instead of emphasising a class-based, internationalist opposition to imperialist war, the far left helped channel the movement into narrow nationalism. Furthermore, by not challenging racism at this stage, the militants left open the space for a subsequent racist Red-scare campaign. In 1919 a large, fascist-style movement was mobilised against the local pro-Bolshevik, Russian community, and socialists were attacked for adopting the “alien” ideology of the Red “degenerates”. The RSL organised violent mobs to invade the Russian area in South Brisbane, smashing and looting homes, shops and restaurants. This virtual pogrom was only prevented from spreading to the nearby Jewish area by residents arming in self-defence with shotguns and dynamite. The government and employers backed up the right wing mobs with widespread sackings, arrests and deportations of Russians.[27] The second key weakness was that most of the militants did not have a conception of building a socialist political alternative to the ALP. Heavily influenced by syndicalist ideas, most looked instead to reorganising the unions on industrial lines into a militant One Big Union. The One Big Union would, depending on the brand of syndicalism you professed, either totally bypass the ALP or pressure it to act in the interests of the working class. Reliance on unions as the revolutionary instrument limited the militants’ capacity to effectively challenge the politics of Laborism. This became most obvious in the decisive struggle of the period, the 1917 NSW General Strike.

The General Strike started amongst metalworkers in the Randwick railway workshops.[28] The formal issue was the introduction of the card system-speed up. It was however simply the final straw, unleashing a wave of bitterness over falling wages, and the sacrifices demanded to maintain the war effort. While the strike was not directly aimed against the war, it reflected growing working class questioning of the whole structure of society. A wave of sympathy action rapidly spread the strike to involve 76,000 workers in NSW and 20,000 interstate. There was a high degree of rank and file involvement and the spirit of the strikers was insurgent. Most had struck in defiance of the union bureaucracy or before they were officially called out The government responded with a well co-ordinated scabbing operation and a wave of repression. The response of the official strike committee was totally inept and cowardly. Yet despite the militant mood and broad popular support, no concerted left challenge was mounted to the official leadership.[29]

No socialist organisation had emerged to agitate to spread the strike, to initiate the formation of a rank and file strike committee, to co-ordinate mass picketing and most importantly, to give political direction to the insurgent movement The IWW proved incapable of intervening to offer a road forward. In part, this was due to police repression, but more importantly it reflected the inability of syndicalism to face up to the challenge of providing revolutionary leadership. So when the sell-out came, despite enormous rank and file opposition, especially by seamen and miners who fought on for another month, the officials managed to reassert their control. The workers were divided and forced back, union by union. This defeat was a key turning point, as the General Strike had the potential to go forward to an outright challenge to capitalism. That potential was blown and what followed was the victimisation of thousands of militants.

Still, the revolt was not yet over. The militant minority had been tempered by the General Strike and was growing rapidly. It faced its first test when Hughes, attempting to take advantage of demoralisation following the defeat, once more moved to impose conscription. This second campaign was even more bitter and intense, especially in Queensland. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated all over the country. After Hughes unleashed the army to seize the Queensland parliamentary Hansard, as it contained anti-conscription speeches, the Brisbane Industrial Council seriously discussed organising an armed revolt.[30]

The general mood within the city was edgy and unstable, with the police commissioner worriedly noting the large number of firearms being purchased and carried, loaded, at public rallies.[31]

Despite determined attempts by Hughes to rig the ballot, the margin for No was even greater. War-weariness had increased the degree of open anti-war sentiment. The impact of the NSW General Strike meant the issue was posed much more in terms of capital versus labour. As well, long before the war ended returned men were begging in the streets. The promises to soldiers were not seen to be kept and this had a searing effect.

While 1918 saw a sharp retreat on the industrial front, in 1919 there was a further upsurge. The need to reorganise the union movement along fighting lines was widely recognised. The idea of the One Big Union in the wake of the defeat of the General Strike gained an enormous resonance. Militants began to win leadership in union after union, culminating in the capture of the NSW Labour Council by the Communist-inclined “Trades Hall Reds”. The successful workers’ revolution in Russia offered further inspiration. It now seemed possible for workers to end both the war itself and the whole system that produced wars.[32] As one account puts it:

Apocalypse was in the air in 1918 as workers, daily expecting peace, read ecstatic accounts of “Russia’s stupendous historic achievement”.[33]

In Townsville returned soldiers were jeered in the streets and told “to take off that badge of slavery” (their RSL badge). Workers at the Alligator Creek Meatworks openly paraded in red guernseys with “the word ‘REVOLUTION’ woven across them”.[34] Some syndicalists began to see the need to go beyond trade union militancy to build a political alternative to the ALP. This trend was spurred on by the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution. But the process took time to work its way through. It was not helped by the fact that there were very few Australian socialists with any real understanding of the Bolsheviks. The clearest were the local Russian Communists, but their numbers were small and they were seen in the broader labour movement as alien outsiders.

1919 saw an explosion of economic struggles over wages and the threat of post-war unemployment. Broken Hill was again in the forefront. After an 18-month lockout the miners won the 35-hour week, an amazing achievement for that period. However, the key struggle was by seamen who shut down much of industry for four months, and despite the jailing of their leaders won a decisive wages victory in defiance of Arbitration.[35] The tactics adopted in many of these strikes reflected the extreme bitterness and insurgent spirit of many workers. In June, Townsville workers seized the city after demonstrators demanding the release of jailed strikers were fired on by police. Railway workers then struck in an attempt to prevent police reinforcements sent by the State Labor government reaching the city.[36] This working class ferment intersected with the bitterness of unemployed ex-soldiers who increasingly participated in angry demonstrations demanding jobs. A Returned Soldiers’ Labour League was formed which argued that it was capitalism that was responsible for unemployment.[37]

The international context

1919 was a year of revolution internationally. What is commonly omitted from the history books is that the First World War was not ended at the negotiating table of the high and mighty at Versailles, but through mass action by millions of workers and rank and file soldiers. The revolutions in Russia in 1917 and in Germany 1918 were decisive. In both countries the outbreak of war had led to a wave of patriotic euphoria and, as in Australia, the opponents of the war were initially isolated. But the explosive combination of privation at home and slaughter in the trenches eventually provoked revolt. For while capitalism is a system that breeds wars, it also breeds resistance. The twentieth century has been a century of war and revolution. War is the inevitable product of the division of society into classes. The threat of it will never be ended by begging rulers to make peace. The arms have to be wrested from their hands by a movement fighting to overturn class society once and for all. That means mobilising the only power capable of stopping the drive towards war, the working class. Only socialist revolution can end the horror of war.

In February 1917, women workers of Petrograd protesting against food shortages sparked off a rebellion that toppled the tsarist empire. In October, mobilising around the slogan of “Bread, peace and land”, the Bolsheviks led the working class to power, in a revolution that was to eventually take Russia out of the war completely. Then in November 1918 a mutiny by German sailors in the port of Kiel provoked a revolt that saw workers’ councils set up in all the major cities of Germany. As one observer described the scene:

The Kaiser Alexander Regiment had gone over to the revolution; the soldiers had rushed out of the barracks gates, fraternised with the shouting crowd outside; men shook their hands with emotion, women and girls stuck flowers in their uniforms and embraced them. The officers were being stripped of their cockades and gold lace…[38]

And another:

No elegant gentleman or well-to-do lady dared show themselves in the streets. It was as if the bourgeoisie had vanished from the surface of the globe. Only workers – wage slaves – were to be seen. But they were seen with arms.[39]

In the following year the revolutionary wave spread across Europe toppling old monarchies and empires. In despair British Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote:

The whole existing order, in its political, social and economic aspects, is questioned by the masses from one end of Europe to the other.[40]

Unfortunately, only in Russia did the working class actually take control of society into its own hands. In Germany and the rest of Europe the traditional reformist leaders of the labour movement eventually managed to channel the revolt away from an outright challenge for power. The failure of socialists outside Russia to build a clear revolutionary alternative to the Labor and Social Democratic parties, before the onset of mass upheaval, was decisive in allowing the reformist leaders to derail the movement. The Russian Revolution was left isolated, surrounded by a sea of hostile capitalist powers. The defeat of the revolution in Germany was crucial both for the rise of Nazism and for the triumph of the Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia.[41]

By the early 1920s world capitalism had been temporarily restabilised. Reflecting this trend, the radical tide in Australia was ebbing. In part this was due to the victory in the war which took some of the sting out of anti-war feeling. As well the Labor Party, following the split with the pro-conscriptionists, deliberately sought to project a more left wing image. This assisted it to channel working class aspirations into directions less threatening to capital. The forces of the right that had been thrown onto the defensive in 1917 now reorganised. They mounted a furious red scare campaign backed up by huge paramilitary mobilisations which intimidated many workers. A wave of government repression saw tens of thousands of radicals and migrants jailed or deported. Furthermore the economy had begun to pick up after wartime disruption.

However, just as important as these factors was the weaknesses of the vanguard of the class. The working class as a whole had moved sharply to the left from 1916 onwards, but the organisations of the far left were unable to take advantage of the upheavals of 1917 or of the subsequent explosion in 1919. Partly this was a product of the small size of the revolutionary left at the beginning of the war. But it also reflected political weaknesses. The IWW collapsed, unable to offer a road forward. Other syndicalists were slow to draw the lesson of the Russian Revolution, that a revolutionary Marxist party was decisive if the working class was to take advantage of the crisis to overthrow capitalism. By the time a Communist Party had begun to be formed here in late 1920, the flood tide had passed.

Still, while the revolutionary potential of the movement was not fulfilled, it would be wrong to end on a pessimistic note. The years 1917-1920 were ones of fantastic struggle – a real high point of Australian working class history. Major political victories were chalked up, most importantly the defeat of both conscription referenda which established a tradition of working class anti-militarism, as well as key victories on the industrial front by seamen, coal miners, meatworkers, shearers and Broken Hill miners. They also saw by far the longest General Strike in Australian history. New forms of organisation, Labor Volunteer Armies to defend anti-conscription meetings and workers’ demonstrations, were thrown up. Above all they demonstrated the potential ordinary working people have to radically change society by their own activity. In the space of a few short years the mass of workers broke through the fog of patriotic euphoria that engulfed Australia at the outbreak of war and struck out in defence of their own class interests. We must learn from their failures but also their triumphs, if we are to successfully confront Bush’s “New World Order”, which condemns us to more and more brutal imperialist wars.

[1] Rupert Lockwood, Ship to Shore: A History of Melbourne’s Waterfront and Its Union Struggles, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1990, p128: “A pole was transfixed above the entrance door of the club’s [the union club – MA] premises and a Union Jack, 10 feet by 4 feet, was suspended over the doorway. Every member entering the building was compelled to raise his hat and salute the flag.” He goes on to describe how the well organised Melbourne wharfies bashed their German-born fellow workers and drove them and other foreign-born workers off the wharves.

[2] The Argus, Melbourne, 3 August 1914.

[3] Quoted in Gilbert Giles Roper, Labor’s Titan, The Story of Percy Brookfield 1878-1921, Warrnambool Institute Press, 1983, p29.

[4] Tony Cliff, Lenin: All Power to the Soviets, Bookmarks, London, 1985, p1-44.

[5] Frank Farrell, International Socialism and Australian Labour, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1981, p9.

[6] Leslie C. Jauncey, The Story of Conscription in Australia, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1968, p103.

[7] The IWW in their inimitable style declared in Direct Action of 22 August 1914: “LET THOSE WHO OWN AUSTRALIA DO THE FIGHTING. Put the wealthiest in the front ranks; the middle class next; follow these with politicians, lawyers, sky pilots and judges. Answer the declaration of war with the call for a GENERAL STRIKE… Don’t go to Hell in order to give piratical, plutocratic parasites a bigger slice of Heaven. WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE! DON’T BECOME HIRED MURDERERS! DON’T JOIN THE ARMY OR NAVY!”

[8] Graeme Osborne, “Town and Company: The Broken Hill Industrial Dispute of 1908-09”, in J. Iremonger et al (eds) Strikes, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1973, pp26-50.

[9] Mick Armstrong, “The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia”, Socialist Review, 2, Melboume, 1990, pp68-70; Vere Gordon Childe, How Labour Governs, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1964.

[10] Robin Gollan, The Coal Miners of NSW: a History of the Union, 1860-1960, Melbourne University Press/Australian National University Press, Melbourne, 1963, p137.

[11] C.E.W. Bean, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, Vols 1-6, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921, 1940, 1941, 1942.

[12] Raymond Evans, Loyalty and Disloyalty. Social conflict on the Queensland home front, 1914-18, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1987, pp20-41.

[13] This was first exposed in Direct Action, 1 December 1914.

[14] L.L. Robson, Australia and the Great War 1914-1918, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1974.

[15] Jauncey, The Story of Conscription in Australia, pp204-205.

[16] Patrick O’Farrell, The Irish in Australia, NSW University Press, Sydney, 1987, pp252-288; Evans, Loyalty and Disloyalty, p89; Alan D. Gilbert, “The Conscription Referenda, 1916-17: The Impact of the Irish Crisis”, Historical Studies, 14, 53, 1969, pp54-71.

[17] George Dale, The Industrial History of Broken Hill, Libraries Board of S.A., Adelaide, 1965.

[18] Brian Kennedy, Silver, Sin, and Sixpenny Ale. A Social History of Broken Hill, 1883-1921, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1978, p128.

[19] ibid., p134.

[20] ibid., p135.

[21] Roper, Labor’s Titan, p36.

[22] Evans, Loyalty and Disloyalty, p92.

[23] Ian Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1979, p119.

[24] Quoted in Evans, Loyalty and Disloyalty, p117.

[25] Armstrong, IWW, pp76 and 83. The IWW continually referred to William Morris Hughes as “Wilhelm Maltese ’ughes” because he supposedly attempted to import “coloured labour” from Malta.

[26] J.M. Main, Conscription: The Australian Debate 1901·1970, Cassell, Melbourne, 1970, p54.

[27] Raymond Evans, The Red Flag Riots, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1988.

[28] Gollan, The Coal Miners of NSW, pp150-160. Dan Coward, “Crime and Punishment: The Great Strike in New South Wales, August to October 1917”, in Strikes, pp51-80.

[29] E.W. Campbell, History of the Australian Labor Movement: A Marxist Interpretation, Marx House, Sydney, 1945, pp97-104.

[30] Evans, Loyalty and Disloyalty, pp106-109.

[31] ibid., p109.

[32] P.J. O’Farrell, “The Russian Revolution and the Labour Movements of Australia and New Zealand, 1917-1922” in International Review of Social History, 8 (2), Amsterdam, 1963, pp177-197.

[33] Kennedy, Silver, Sin, and Sixpenny Ale, p155.

[34] Evans, Loyalty and Disloyalty, p133.

[35] Richard Morris, “Mr Justice Higgins Scuppered: The 1919 Seamen’s Strike”, Labour History, 37, 1979, pp52-62.

[36] Terrence Cutler, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday: The Townsville Meatworkers’ Strike of 1918-19”, in Strikes, pp81-102; Doug Hunt, “The Townsville Meatworkers’ Strike, 1919”, in D.J. Murphy (ed.), The Big Strikes, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1983, pp144-161.

[37] Evans, Loyalty and Disloyalty, p151.

[38] Quoted in Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution, Germany 1918 to 1923, Bookmarks, London, 1982, p9.

[39] Quoted in Harman, The Lost Revolution, p10.

[40] ibid.

[41] See Peter Binns, Tony Cliff and Chris Harman, Russia: From Workers’ State to State Capitalism, Bookmarks, London, 1987, and Tony Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, Bookmarks, London, 1988.

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Marxist Left Review will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.