Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the defeat of the Anti-Communist Referendum
September 22, 2011 marks the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the attempt by the Australian Government to ban the Communist Party of Australia.
The reactionary government of Sir Robert Menzies had sought to crush the Australian working class in the interests of British and US imperialism by destroying its most far-seeing and genuine voice: the party of the working class.
Menzies first tried to introduce legislation to ban the CPA and to proscribe affiliated organizations such as peace committees and trade unions. He sought to reverse the onus of proof, a foundation of Western bourgeois democracy, by granting the secret police (established by Labor) the power to declare a person to be a communist.
So reprehensible were the contents of his Communist Party Dissolution Act that the conservative High Court of Australia made a 6-1 determination to strike down the Act.
This was after the vacillating leadership of the social democratic Labor Party had agreed to allow the bill to pass through the Senate, then under Labor Party control.
Menzies refused to accept the High Court decision and decided on a referendum to ban the CPA. In the 6 months between the High Court decision in March and the September referendum, a colossal campaign was waged by communists and other democratically-minded forces to defeat Menzies.
Those forces included the ALP’s deputy leader, Dr H.V. Evatt, and many rank and file members of the Labor Party. Real credit goes to the courageous members of the Eureka Youth League and the Communist Party who door-knocked, held street corner and factory gate meetings, and travelled to country towns to address farmers and rural labourers in defiance of the slander that they were “traitors” and “Red rats”.
A substantial contribution was also made by then leader of the Victorian state committee of the CPA, the barrister E.F. Hill. Ted Hill later led the movement to reconstitute the Communist Party after it succumbed to revisionism, emerging as the first Chairperson of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1964.
Evatt’s personal contribution to the campaign stands in stark contrast to the neo-liberal warriors in the leadership of today’s Labor Party.
Addressing a Wikileaks support rally in Canberra last December, Marxist historian Humphrey McQueen referred to the High Court defeat of Menzies’ anti-communist bill, saying: “ What happened next is unbelievable in terms of parliamentary performance today. The leader of the Labor Party, ‘Doc’ Evatt, led the campaign against banning the Communists. He took up this cause with the support of only 12 percent of the population. Where were the focus groups? Evatt won the popular vote after tens of thousands of supporters turned that 12 percent into a slender majority. Where is an ALP leader today with the guts to follow Evatt’s example? Moreover, the taking up of an unpopular cause did not harm Labor’s popular support. At a half Senate election in May 1953, the Labor vote increased by more than 5 percent on the poll in April 1951.”
Under the Australian Constitution, a referendum must have the support of a majority of voters and a majority of the six states in which they vote. Menzies lost on both counts - narrowly – but still lost. Only 49.5% of voters supported the “Yes” proposition whilst the states voted 3-3 which did not count as a majority vote. Nevertheless, it was a humiliating defeat for Menzies and his imperialist masters. To have lost the vote having had such strong support only months before showed just how effective was the mass campaigning which largely focused on drawing parallels between Menzies and the fascist tactics of Hitler and Co.
We Australians can rightly celebrate the events of 60 years ago today alongside the great struggles at Eureka, Barcaldine, Port Kembla and around the great issues of defending Aboriginal rights, of fighting for the equality of women with men, of anti-conscription and the Vietnam War, of Clarrie O’Shea’s stand against penal powers, and of Ark Tribe’s defiance of the ABCC.
There are more struggles we can celebrate, and there will be more in the future.
Long live September 22, 1951!