The emergence and consolidation of the Communist Party of Australia, 1920-1945
Extract from Chapter V of A Short History of the Australian Labour Movement, by E.W. Campbell (Current Books, Sydney, 1945)
A. The struggle for a unified Communist Party
The formation of the Community Party (October 30, 1920) was one of the decisive revolutionary acts of the Australian working class. It was the outcome of the experience gleaned in the struggles and growth of the labour movement from 1890 to 1920.
In this period the working class experienced the limitations of “Liberal” Labor Governments and Reformist trade unionism. It experienced the futility and bankruptcy of socialist sectarianism (Socialist Labor Party, Australian Socialist Party, etc) and anarcho-syndicalism (the IWW).
The formation of the Communist Party represented the victory of Marxism-Leninism over these various petty-bourgeois, pacifist, “socialist” theories.
At last the Australian workers started to find the true path to their emancipation, ie along the lines of the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism, embodied in the Communist Party. The formation of the Communist Party was therefore, one of the historical milestones on the road of the Australian working class towards its liberation.
The historical decision to form a Communist Party was made at a Conference of left-wing and socialist groups, called together in Sydney by the Australian Socialist Party, on October 30, 1920. A Provisional Executive of 12 was elected, including three representatives of the ASP, to administer the affairs of the new party until such time as the participating groups had consulted their members, wound up their own affairs, and completed the merger.
The Conference reassembled on November 6 and 13 to ratify the decisions of October 30 and to review the work of the Provisional Executive. Here the representatives of the Australian Socialist Party adopted a factionalist attitude, which delayed the unification of the revolutionary forces in Australia for almost two years. This delay was most unfortunate both for the Party and the Labor movement, since it prevented the rapid growth of the new organisation at a time when objective conditions strongly favoured the revolutionary trend. Absence of a united Party hampered the struggle against reformism when the latter was most discredited and undergoing a deep crisis. When unity of the Communist Party was finally established in the middle of 1922, the first post-war period of revolutionary upsurge was already drawing to a close, to make way for the new phase of capitalist stabilisation.
Reformism, which had been able to manoeuvre and to recapture some of the prestige it had lost during the war, was temporarily strengthened and communism for the time being was retarded in its growth.
The ASP delegates to the November Conference opposed the immediate ratification of the October decision to form a united Communist Party. They claimed that more time was needed by their organisation to consult the membership and to wind up its affairs. Subsequent events proved that these objections to immediate unity were not legitimate and were advanced merely to cloak ulterior aims.
It seems that the ASP, which can claim the credit for initiating the move to form a Communist Party, was loath to part with this initiative. It viewed the formation of a Communist Party in Australia as a process whereby the other revolutionary groups would be absorbed by the ASP, which would change its name, without at the same time effecting any radical changes in the structure, methods of work, or leading personnel.
These ideas conflicted with those of other delegates, who were averse to having their organisations swallowed by the rival ASP. The opposition to the ASP centred in a Trades Hall group of left-wing trade unionists, most of whom had been prominently associated with the OBU movement. Undoubtedly faults on both sides contributed to the bad situation which developed.
These faults had their roots in the general theoretical backwardness of the Australian labor movement and the immaturity of communism. Lack of sound socialist theory among the would-be founders of the new revolutionary party resulted in petty personal differences becoming magnified and exaggerated beyond all proportion to their real significance. Questions involving principles were in consequence relegated to a subordinate place in discussions. Charges and counter-charges of deceit, trickery and intrigue filled the air as the leaders of the ASP and their rivals jockeyed for leadership and control of the new party. In the prevailing atmosphere it must have been exceedingly difficult for an honest revolutionary to determine which side was in the right. But history leaves no doubt that the ASP leaders were chiefly to blame for the schism, which held the Party back during the first two years of its existence.
The November Conference brushed aside the objections of the ASP delegates and ratified the earlier decisions to form a new party. W.P. Earsman was elected the first general secretary. The ASP, refusing to be bound by this majority decision, took the unforgivable step of withdrawing its members from the Executive and setting itself up as the Communist Party, in opposition to the Party formed at the “all-in” Conferences of October and November.
Thus militant workers, who were turning away from reformism and syndicalism, and beginning to approach communism, found their approach complicated by the need to first of all decide which of the rival parties really represented this new trend in Australia. Both the Trades Hall group, which established itself in the old Sussex Street headquarters of the IWW, and the ASP group, which continued to operate from the Liverpool Street headquarters of the sect, were equally vociferous in their claims to be the “only official communist party.” Actually neither group could yet claim to be a real communist party, since neither had mastered the first principles of Bolshevik organisation, which calls for unity and discipline within a single party. “The Party can lead the practical struggle of the working class and direct it towards one aim only if all its members are organised in one common detachment, welded together by unity of will, unity of action and unity of discipline.”
Of the two organisations, however, the Sussex Street group came closest to being the nucleus of a real Communist Party. It did set out to build a party of a really new type and to conduct its activities in the spirit of Lenin’s teachings. It possessed one overwhelming advantage over its Liverpool Street rival, that was its connections with the masses, the trades unions and the Labor Party branches. That is one reason why, in spite of many other disadvantages, it, and not the ASP, made the greater headway. “A Party is invincible if it is able to link itself with, to keep in close touch with, and to a certain extent if you like, to merge with the broadest masses of the toilers — primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses.
“A Party perishes if it shuts itself up in its narrow party shell, if it severs itself from the masses, if it allows itself to be covered with bureaucratic rust.”
Bureaucratic rust had long been accumulating over the ASP. Changing the name to the Communist Party didn’t automatically cleanse the apparatus, which went on functioning in the old sectarian manner, in isolation from the masses. That is one reason why the ASP eventually perished, while the Communist Party, since June, 1922, when unity was achieved, has grown and flourished.
Both Parties sent delegates to the Third World Congress of the Communist International, which met in Moscow in June-July 1921. The CI directed that before any question of affiliation could be considered unity would have to be established. It gave both parties until the end of January 1922 to compose their differences and unite in a single organisation. No recognition of any Communist Party in Australia would be extended until unity was realised. The CI pointed out to the Australian delegates that no differences on questions of principle existed between the parties. It was only local, personal, and petty details which kept them apart. These could quite easily be overcome by discussion within a united party.
The ASP leadership, dominated by petty-bourgeois intellectuals, rejected the Comintern’s unity proposals. For a time their bureaucratic grip on the Party machine enabled them to perpetuate the split, but in June 1922, the rank and file, disgusted with the disruptive tactics of the leaders, staged a revolt. A substantial section broke away and linked forces with the Sussex Street Party.
Socialist sectarianism, in the shape of the ASP, was not the only obstacle to be overcome on the way to a unified Communist Party in Australia. Anarcho-syndicalism also provided its quota of trouble. In February 1922 the IWW, which then went under the name of the Industrial Propaganda League, was admitted to the Party as an autonomous body. This represented a departure from Marxist-Leninist principles of party organisation. Marx, in 1868, opposed the admission of Bakunin’s anarchist International Alliance into the First International as an autonomous body retaining its own program and organisation. He insisted that the Alliance be dissolved and that its sections accept the Program of the First International as a condition of membership. Lenin, in 1902-3, waged a fierce struggle against the separatist tendencies of the Jewish Bund. The relations between the Industrial Propaganda League and the Party were severed in April, when the former withdrew after it had failed to prevent a decision that the Party members on the Labor Council should support a Manifesto upholding trade union participation in politics and favouring the return of a Labor Government. In spite of all the initial difficulties the Party made quite considerable headway. Its propaganda and activity in the mass organisations, particularly the trade unions, began to attract attention and to win new supporters.
Recognising the serious danger they were in if the already widespread dissatisfaction with reformism was not checked, the Labor politicians, early in 1921, took what was for them a bold and unique step. They caused the Federal Executive of the ALP to convene an All-Australian Trade Union Congress to draw up a program which would give expression to the desires of trade unionists throughout the Commonwealth. It was made clear that the decisions of the Trade Union Congress would be placed before the ALP Executive for submission to an ALP Conference. The convening of such a trade union congress by the Parliamentary Labor Party was without precedent in the annals of the movement. It clearly indicated the stage of bankruptcy reached by reformism.
The proposals did not awaken the enthusiastic response anticipated by the politicians. Some of the larger and more militant unions viewed the invitation with the utmost suspicion and were not at first disposed to give it serious consideration. But when it was recognised that if the larger and more progressive unions stayed away the small craft unions, which were more conservative, would dominate the Conference and determine its policy, this attitude of aloofness was reversed. When the Congress assembled in Melbourne, in June 1921, it was found to be the largest and most representative gathering of trade unions yet held. It is estimated that the aggregate number of unionists represented at the Congress was in the vicinity of 700,000.
The President of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, E.J. Holloway, who was also the President of the ALP Executive, occupied the chair. In his opening remarks Mr Holloway explained why the Conference had been called. There had been lightning changes all over the world, he said, changes which had to be studied. Some members considered that the program and objective of the Australian Labor Party no longer corresponded with the changed conditions, that it was, in fact, obsolete. The Federal Executive was alive to the fact that great numbers of workers were not satisfied with the policy of the ALP. The Executive had called this Congress to hear from the trade unions what they really wanted. An ALP Conference would be held at a later date to give effect to any changes proposed by the Trade Union Congress.
The outcome of two days debate on the program and objective of the ALP was the adoption of the now well-known, but little mentioned, Socialisation of Industry objective. Congress also spent some time discussing trade union organisation and methods of work. A detailed scheme of industrial unionism, on the OBU pattern, was drafted by a special committee and endorsed by the Congress.
In the following October the Federal Conference of the ALP was held in Brisbane. The main business was to receive and consider the decisions of the Melbourne Trade Union Congress. State Conferences, with the exception of Queensland, had met prior to the Federal Conference and had instructed their delegates to support the Socialisation resolution. The few months interval between the two Conferences had given the reactionary politicians time to work out their tactics for nullifying the results of the Trade Union Congress.
E.G. Theodore led the frontal attack on the Socialisation Objective. If it were adopted, he said, the Labor Party might just as well change its name to the Communist Party and be done with it. However, the resolution to change the objective was carried by 22 votes to 10. A further motion to place the Socialisation plank in the forefront of the fighting platform was then advanced. This was in keeping with the desires of the Trade Union Congress, which expressly stated, “That all parliamentary representatives be required to function as active propagandists of the Socialisation objective.” But Theodore and Co succeeded in having this motion rejected in favour of another calling for the establishment of a special sub-committee to consider the whole question and report back to Conference.
Theodore had himself elected on to this Committee, and there, behind the scenes, succeeded in doing what he had not been able to accomplish in open Conference. Conference hadn’t dared to reject the Socialisation plank out of hand. Most of the delegates were bound by State Conference decisions to support it. Some perhaps really desired it. But not the right-wing politicians. On the Committee Theodore insisted that it should be a recommendation to Conference that the Socialisation plank and the methods of achieving it be adopted merely as an ultimate objective and thus excluded from the fighting platform of the Party. In spite of stubborn opposition on the part of one or two of the more progressive delegates he swung the Committee his way. When the report embodying these proposals was tabled for endorsement by Conference, the late Maurice Blackburn moved an amendment to the effect that the first plank in the fighting platform be the Socialisation of Industry. Unless this were adopted, he maintained, Conference had been wasting its time. If Socialisation were to be relegated to the obscurity of a pious objective, it would “meet the same fate as other objectives, it would be pigeon-holed and forgotten”. Ernie Lane, who attended the Conference as a proxy delegate for Tasmania, seconded Blackburn’s amendment and made an impassioned appeal to Conference to adopt Socialisation as a fighting plank. But the amendment was defeated by 20 votes to 11, and the motion adopted, much to the joy of Theodore and the whole right-wing camp.
Pressure from the left had for a time stirred the politicians out of their customary state of lethargy. It compelled them to accept a change in the Party’s objective. But the attitude of Theodore and Co left no room for doubt that this change would lead to no alteration in their reformist practice. Socialisation for them was a useful manoeuvre to placate the militants within the Party and to arrest the drift of the masses towards communism. Having served its purpose the objective could be comfortably shelved and forgotten. Little or no mention was made of the Socialisation objective in Labor’s election campaigns following the Brisbane Conference. If the candidates referred to it at all it was only to apologise for its existence. It was revived by the ALP in NSW in the depression years of the thirties, and, objectively, it served the same purpose as when it was first adopted, namely, to provide a buffer between the leftward moving masses and communism.
Undoubtedly the propaganda and activities of the Communists in 1920-21 contributed to the situation which compelled the ALP to alter its objective to Socialisation. But the Communist Party was not yet strong enough to effectively counter all the manoeuvres of the right-wing reformists. Its youth, inexperience, theoretical backwardness and lack of unity prevented it from placing itself at the head of the radicalised workers and developing the revolt against capitalism and reformism to higher levels.
After the Third Congress of the Communist International the Party in Australia intensified its efforts to apply Lenin’s united front tactics and to carry into effect the slogan of the Congress, “To the Masses.” These efforts were strengthened when unity was established in June 1922. In December the first united Party Conference was held. J.B. Miles was present as a delegate from Brisbane. At this Conference the first Party Constitution and rules were adopted. The main business discussed, apart from the Constitution, was the application of the line of the Communist International to Australian conditions. It was decided that the best form in which the united front could be realised would be through the Party becoming affiliated with the Labor Party. At this time the Party had quite good connections with the unions and the Labor Party through Garden and Howie.
It carried out a great deal of mass agitation and activity, although this was not fully reported in the revolutionary press at the time. One of the most successful campaigns initiated by the Party in this period was the drive for funds for the relief of victims of the Russian famine, brought on by the wars of intervention. This campaign was led through by the Labor Council in New South Wales and by J.B. Miles in Brisbane. The Party organ, the Communist, was more of a theoretical journal than a popular newspaper.
Much space was devoted to abstract questions of principle and very little to the burning issues of the day. This arose partly from the need to explain Communist, theory and to combat the errors of reformism and syndicallism, and partly from the lack of a theoretical organ.
After the December Conference a really good campaign in support of affiliation with the ALP was developed. On April 28, 1923, a United Front Conference was held in Sydney which was attended by 150 delegates from 100 different trade union bodies. Power, a prominent member of the Labor Party, chaired the Conference in the morning, and Jack Howie, of the Labor Council and the Communist Party, chaired the afternoon session. The Conference demanded that the Labor Party change its rules to permit the affiliation of other working class parties, with the right to maintain their own independent organisation and to conduct their own propaganda, while loyally accepting majority decisions of representative conferences of the ALP. This resolution was widely publicised and popularised by the Party throughout the labor movement. At the same time the Party was taking up the immediate economic problems of the workers, especially those of the seamen and miners. On the eve of the annual Labor Party Conference the Party published an appeal to delegates to support the “United Front and Fighting Policy” which would be put forward by progressives.
On June 2, the ALP Conference assembled, with Garden, Howie and some other Party members present in the capacity of elected delegates from certain trade unions. The question of Communist Party affiliation came up for discussion at the June 4 session. A lively debate ensued which culminated in the Conference dividing evenly on the motion to admit Communists. The voting was 122 for and 122 against. The Chairman, A.C. Willis, delivered his casting vote in favour of the motion. This made Labor history. It was the first decision in favour of Communist Party affiliation to be adopted by any labor party in any part of the world. The British Communist Party gave it great attention and moulded their own, tactics accordingly in the campaign there for affiliation to the British Labor Party.
The Party followed up the decision of the Easter Conference with an appeal through the Press to its own members and the rank and file of the ALP to make the affiliation real. However, it turned out that the Party was still too immature and politically inexperienced to develop the situation and to combat the sabotage of the right-wing reactionaries in the Labor Party. Lang and Loughlin led the struggle inside the ALP to reverse the decision of the 1923 Easter Conference. J.T. Lang actually made his way to prominence in the Labor Party by his attacks on Communism and the left-wing progressive forces. It is interesting to note, in view of subsequent developments, that the Workers’ Weekly, the organ of the Communist Party, took up the struggle against “Langism” in 1923.
During 1923 the Party continued its activities in the trade unions, paying special attention to the mining industry. J.B. Miles, who was then Secretary of the Building Trades Council in Brisbane, began to contribute Industrial Notes to the Workers’ Weekly, which helped to keep before the Party the tremendous importance of work in the trade union sphere. In August 1923, unemployment became widespread in New South Wales and, as part of the campaign waged by the Party in the interests of the unemployed, a huge demonstration was staged outside Par1iament House. Leading Party speakers were arrested at this meeting and this gave rise to a Free Speech fight in which the united front tactics were applied with remarkable success. Trade unions and local Labor Leagues were drawn into the struggle. Even the reformist leaders were pushed into activity and two MLAs, Baddeley and Murray, were arrested, along with Party speakers, in the course of the campaign, which ended victoriously.
Lang, however, maintained his attacks on Communism. He entrenched himself in the Auburn League of the ALP and from there, and through the columns of the Cumberland Times, attacked the Party day in and day out. Notwithstanding the Easter Conference decisions, Lang maintained that “The Communists were not and never would be a part of the labor movement.” He was afflicted apparently by the same form of mania which nine hundred years earlier had caused the Danish King Canute to bid the waves cease breaking on the shores of England. At first Lang’s anti-communist crusade had little effect on ALP supporters. But as capitalist stabilisation developed, in the last half of 1923, and the first post-war wave of militancy receded, Lang’s influence became stronger.
The “Left” reformists, now that the pressure from below relaxed, also changed their tune and began to join in Lang’s reactionary chorus. A climax in the relations between the Communist Party and the Labor Party was reached in October, 1923, when the ALP Executive violated the decisions of the Easter Conference by removing Garden and Howie from the Executive and expelling all known Communists from the ALP.
To emphasise the anti-democratic nature of this action, which was engineered from behind the scenes by Lang, it need only be mentioned that the expulsion motion was carried by a minority. Out of the 33 members of the ALP Executive only 16 voted for the exclusion of the Communists. Ten opposed the motion, while seven sat on the fence and abstained from voting.
This indicated that in spite of all Lang’s manoeuvring there was still a strong sentiment for unity within the ALP. A canvass of opinion in the Leagues and Unions, carried out by the Party, showed that the rank and file were opposed to the Executive action by a 4 to 6 majority. The Party attempted to mobilise opposition to the high-handed action of the Executive. Many ALP leagues and affiliated unions supported the demand for a Special Labor Party Conference to deal with the situation which had arisen.
In December, 1923, the Workers’ Weekly published a list of 70 Labor Leagues and Unions which still supported Party affiliation to the ALP. But the Party drive lacked the necessary vigour and besides, was not given sufficient prominence in the Press. Lang and his cohorts resorted to “basher-gang” tactics to force their policy on the ALP. One unfortunate League Secretary at Granville was almost kicked to death for insisting on inner-party democracy being observed.
In December, 1923, the Third Annual Conference of the Communist Party was held in Sydney. Delegates present represented Party organisations on the Northern NSW coalfields, Newcastle, Sydney, the South Coast, Brisbane and North Queensland. Perth was also represented by proxy. The Party had not yet mastered the principles of Bolshevik organisation. This is reflected in the holding of Annual Conferences, on the ALP pattern, instead of periodical Congresses, and also in the election of an Executive, rather than a Central Committee. At the 1923 Conference an Executive of five was elected, consisting of: Political Secretary, J. Garden; Financial Secretary and Editor of the Workers’ Weekly, H. Deaford; Trade Union Leader, R. King; and Labor Party Leader and Organiser of the Sydney Group, H. Ross.
Following this Conference an improvement in the campaign to win support for the United Front was noticeable.
Beginning with the February 1st issue the Workers’ Weekly ran a series of articles based on twelve reasons why the Communist Party should be affiliated with the ALP, in the general interests of the working class. In March, 1924, considerable space was devoted to reporting ALP Branch activities, which seems to indicate that the contact with rank and file members of the ALP must have been fairly well maintained. In April the Party press took up the question of the coming ALP Annual Conference and the vital issues which would confront it. An attempt was made to influence the Conference decisions through the Labor Council, where the Party still enjoyed great influence. On April 18, the Workers’ Weekly published a front-page article setting out in detail the excellent program adopted by the Labor Council, which delegates attending the ALP Conference were urged to support. No stone was left unturned by the Party in its unity drive. But there was one Rock of Gibraltar which couldn’t be moved and that was the ALP Executive. The reformist politicians, headed by Lang, controlled the Executive and the Executive controlled the election of delegates to Conference. The result was a stacked meeting against Communist affiliation and unity. Many Leagues and Unions repudiated their delegates on the eve of the Conference because they were hand-picked by the Executive and not elected by the members. The “precautions” taken by the right-wing proved to be very effective. Affiliation of the Communist Party was rejected by 159 votes to 110. A very narrow margin to be sure, when all the circumstances are considered. An analysis of the voting shows that in actual fact the supporters of affiliation and unity represented a larger proportion of the membership than did the opposition. The 159 votes marshalled by the Executive came, in the main, from small country Leagues and insignificant craft unions, while the 110 votes in favour of affiliation came from the representatives of the largest and most important Leagues and Unions. The number of members represented by the supporters of the Executive was only 31,300, while the number represented by those in favour of unity was 113,000. Had a card vote been taken it would have revealed a 3 to 1 majority in favour of affiliation.
In mustering such excellent support for its proposals the Party was helped considerably by the hostility which existed on the part of many unions towards the corrupt and dominant Bailey faction in the ALP. It was recognised that Communist affiliation would help cleanse and strengthen the ALP.
While the right-wing politicians were able to get their way on the question of Communist affiliation, they were not so fortunate on another matter, which they considered to be of almost equal importance, namely, freedom of action for themselves in the House. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, much of the internal life of the ALP revolves around the relations of the politicians to other organs of the movement. The politicians had long since become accustomed to regarding themselves as the centre of the universe, so far as the labor movement was concerned. This notion was almost perpetually being challenged by one section or another of the rank and file, who stuck to the old-fashioned, but thoroughly sound view that the parliamentarians should be the servants and not the masters of the movement. The Easter Conference of 1924 provided its clash of opinion on this long-debated subject. In spite of an attempt on the part of the Executive to prevent it, a resolution was carried that all candidates for Parliament should sign an undated resignation and deposit it with the Executive, as a guarantee that there would be no departure from the Party’s platform when they reached office. Lang, as quite befitted one who aspired to become a dictator, led the attack against this decision. He defeated the aims of the resolution by threatening to resign from the leadership and from the Party if any attempt were made to enforce its terms.
The Party continued, through the columns of the Workers’ Weekly, to wage a campaign against faked ballots and corruption in the ALP. It also continued its agitation in support of the economic struggles of the workers. A big step forward was made in August 1924, when the New South Wales coalminers formed a Left-Wing Movement, with a revolutionary objective and a broad program of immediate demands. This was the outcome of the Party’s efforts to organise militant industrialists who supported its general aims, but who were not yet prepared to become Party members. On September 2, 1924, the movement launched amongst the miners was carried a stage further, when a Central Left-Wing Movement was formed at a representative conference of militant unionists, held in Sydney. Another sign of Party growth was the launching of a monthly theoretical organ, The Communist, on January 1st, 1925.
The Party in this period campaigned vigorously for closer trade union unity and for the establishment of a National Trade Union Centre. At the same time, seeking to overcome the isolation of the Australian trade union movement and to strengthen its international ties, the Party advocated the establishment of a Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat. This particular campaign influenced the decisions of the Interstate Conference of Labor Councils, held in Adelaide, in July 1925.
This Conference recommended the formation of a Commonwealth Disputes Committee (which became the forerunner of the present ACTU. It also decided to convene a Conference of the trade unions of all countries bordering on the Pacific. These decisions reflected the revival of militancy which set in in the labor movement temporarily in 1925. On August 20, the British seamen went on strike in all ports of the Commonwealth against wage-cuts and the sell-out of their union leader, Havelock Wilson, to the British Shipping Combine. The Party came out solidly in support of the British seamen and organised the collection of strike funds. Australian seamen supported their British comrades and the Tory Prime Minister, S.M. Bruce, threatened to deport the leaders of their union, Tom Walsh and Jacob Johnson, as well as Jock Garden, Secretary of the Labor Council.
The Workers’ Weekly openly indicted Bruce as a tool of the overseas shipping interests and called on the workers for a mass campaign to prevent the threatened deportation of trade union leaders. In the course of this struggle Bruce appealed to J.T. Lang, who was then Premier of New South Wales, to lend him support. Lang is reputed to have thrown Bruce’s letter into the wastepaper basket and to have demagogically told him to “do his own dirty work”. Lang’s anti-British, Australian bourgeois nationalism, plus the strong pressure from the left wing in the New South Wales trade union movement, were behind this action. It contributed to the prestige of Lang, which he was busily engaged in building to suit his own reactionary purposes. However, it should be noted that while the members of the New South Wales Labor Government did not dare to throw in their lot with Bruce and come out openly against the strike, they did little or nothing to help the seamen to win.
In September 1925, at the Interstate Labor Conference, the supporters of the Party advocated a general strike if Bruce attempted to implement his threat to deport trade union leaders. The reformists, who were in a majority, opposed this and advocated that resistance be confined to legal measures. Walsh and Johnson, who up to that time had enjoyed the reputation of being militant trade union leaders, under the stress of the sharpened class struggle, began to reveal their true characters. They were severely criticised by the Party, through the Workers’ Weekly, for not fighting their case in court along class lines and for relying on bourgeois legalism rather than the mass struggle of the workers to save them from deportation. The Party pointed out, and events proved it to be correct, that the logical outcome of the opportunist line followed by Walsh and Johnson would be their complete capitulation to the bourgeoisie.
In September 1925, another important strike took place, among the railwaymen, under the Queensland Labor Government. The Party sent organisers among the strikers and helped them to achieve a partial victory. There were also a number of strikes on the Queensland waterfront in which the Party participated. For its efforts on behalf of the struggling workers the Party was bitterly assailed by the capitalists and reformists alike.
2. A Socialist League was formed in Sydney in August 1887. In 1907 it changed its name to Socialist Labor Party. In the same year a small breakaway group formed a Social Democratic Party, later known as the International Socialist Club. In July 1907, a Unity Conference was held in Sydney. Delegates attended from the Victorian Socialist Party, the Socialist Labor Party, the International Socialist Club, the Barrier Socialist and Propaganda Group, the Social Democratic Vanguard (Brisbane) and the Social Democratic Association (Kalgoorlie). The combined financial membership of these groups was 2000. The Unity Conference resolved to combine these various groups into a Socialist Federation of Australia, the two SLP delegates dissenting. The Socialist Federation later became the Australian Socialist Party.