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Fourth International, June 1944


Australian Working Class And The War

From the Manifesto of the Revolutionary Workers Party,
Australian Section of the Fourth International


From Fourth International, vol.5 No.6, June 1944, pp.183-186.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Australia is a fully developed capitalist state whose ruling class has hitherto relied on English imperialism for protection against its working class. The situation in Europe and the entry of Japan into the war left the local ruling class without a protector, and so a hasty alliance was made with the USA. While the capitalist press has built up a story that America is defending the Australian people from the Japanese hordes, the converse is, in fact, correct – Australia is fighting for the “right” of America to control the Pacific ocean.

The sudden attack on Pearl Harbor and the unexpected success of the Japanese in the East Indies gave a false picture of the strength of Japanese imperialism. It suited Australian capitalism to play up the “danger” in order to militarize and conscript the people of this country and to filch from the workers many hard won industrial conditions. Reactionary legislation, introduced under the guise of “National Security,” has given the ruling class powers as great as those of Hitler.

The basic fear of the Australian capitalist class was not Japanese invasion but the possibility of the development of a revolutionary situation. At the time of the entry of Japan into the war, the ruling class in Australia was in a condition of semi-collapse. Unable to rule, it had called on its Labor hirelings, the Curtin government, to take over the task of controlling and disciplining the workers. Owing to their efficiency in this task the ruling class has regained much of its strength and the influence of American troops has given added confidence. Reactionaries like Theodore and de Groot hold important positions in industry and the armed forces. Semi-fascist and fascist parties appear daily. The total militarization of the workers through the Civil Construction Corps and the Army is all part of a gigantic offensive launched by capitalism against the workers.

There has been established in this country an internal police system similar to the Gestapo. A percentage of all civilian mail is opened to provide a check on morale, quite apart from the “listed” mail that is always censored. Every man suspected of left sympathies has a dossier and his views and actions are recorded. All the incidentals of a police state such as passport system and domiciliary visits are in full operation. The inability of the Labor Party (Social Democrats) to resist reaction has been demonstrated over and over again. France, 1936-39; Germany, 1930-33; Italy, 1920-22 are convincing examples. Only a revolutionary party of the working class can offer serious resistance because such a party recognizes the class war and its implications.

*  *  *

The Australian Economy

Some years ago the Australian Section of the Fourth International characterized Australia as “a junior partner of English imperialism,” recognizing that, in the period 1925-35, this country had ceased to be a colony but nevertheless could not stand on its own right as an independent imperialism. Under the drive of war, industrial development has increased in tempo; but England herself has lost her independent status. Australia is now a dependent imperialism looking for a master. Its capitalism is fully developed. The perspectives are now the Socialist revolution or Fascism.

Australia commenced as a prison – passed through a stage of industrial pastoralism based on convict labor which ended with the gold discoveries of the 1850’s, then through a stage of colonial development based on mining and the wool industry; there was a mass inrush of proletarian elements with a high degree of class consciousness: the Irish rebels and the Chartists mixed with the descendants of the convicts to form the Australian proletariat. The basic industries, grazing and mining, were monopolistic in type, required a relatively small number of highly skilled laborers and had a rate of profit much higher than the world average. The distance from the world markets and the competition of richer virgin countries made industries based on cheap imported labor unprofitable. By 1900 the colonial economy was fully developed. From 1900 until the 1930’s Australia was a rapidly developing capitalism, a development forced on by the war of 1914-18 and the depression of 1928-35. During the whole of this period the proletariat engaged in a reformist struggle with a highly integrated capitalist class which depended, in the last resort, for its state apparatus of repression upon English imperialism.

The Present Structure

As this war has dragged along the economy has reached its full capitalist development. With imports cut to the bone and under the drive of industrial war requirements we are making every article that can be made here.

In primary production Australia is organized upon an industrial basis. The great majority of holdings (158,000 out of 233,000 – Commonwealth Year Book 1939, p.98) are over 500 acres, and machinery is regularly used. The industry is based upon the export trade (66 percent of all primary produce by value is exported) and its control lies in the hands of the processing and exporting companies, and, in the last analysis, of the financial institutions.

Our economy has long ceased to be organized mainly for primary production: only 20 percent of persons in occupations in 1933 were engaged in primary industries (in the USA in 1920, 25 percent were so engaged). The great bulk of production consists of manufactured goods. These industries have been developed not by cheap labor but on. the basis of machine technique and the bulk of local capital has been accumulated from the pastoral and mining industries with their peculiar capital set-up. This, together with the limited home market, has meant that in the major industries the only units technologically efficient have been monopolistic in the sense that the needs of the entire economy have been supplied by one organization (iron and steel, chemicals, sugar, tobacco, glass, land transport, rubber, etc.) or by very closely interlocked groups (mining, sea transport, banking and finance, insurance, beer and spirits, news, meat, wheat and wool exports, textiles, etc.), all of which are themselves welded into a coherent whole by the financial houses. Maclaurin in his Economic Planning in Australia gives a curious example of the closeness of the integration in connection with the Premiers’ Plan.

“Outside the Conference there was very strong opposition in financial quarters in Melbourne to the Conference proposals. When compulsory conversion was being considered, a private meeting of 400 leaders of Australian thought was convened in Melbourne to discuss the financial proposals of the Premiers’ Conference. At the meeting Mr. R.G. Menzies declared …. ‘Report of a private meeting convened by Sir W. Harrison Moore, Melbourne, June 3rd, 1937.The meeting was kept private, and the report of the proceedings was not published because it was not believed to be desirable in the national interests. THE REPORT HAS NEVER BEEN MADE PUBLIC.” (Author’s emphasis ).

The result of this large scale organization has been a highly integrated, flexible economy with a high rate of surplus value. Profits have been poured into every available avenue of investment until further internal development is impossible. Investment henceforth must be in overseas lands, and in the present state of world imperialism such investment is only possible if backed by military force.

The Accumulation of Capital

Yearly Rate of Surplus Values in Factories

(in Thousand of Pounds)
(From Commonwealth Year Books)




































(It must be assumed in view of the averaging of the rate of profit and the known uniformity of the wage levels that these figures are sufficiently generalized to give a general rate for the whole Australian economy.)

These figures establish, taking into consideration the natural faking tendency of the keepers of the books, that the division of the added value as a result of manufacture is approximately even as between capital and labor.

To view the matter from another angle, we have the following position with regard to the number of persons producing the goods upon which the present standard of living is based:


Total available for work, including unemployed, 1939


Persons recruited since




Persons engaged in socially useless work:

Military forces, etc.


Munition workers, and section of normal industry devoted to war


Domestics, luxury workers, etc.






So we have 1,400,000 producing socially useful goods in the community at the present time. In other words, under capitalism, one half of the working population is, without further investment and development, not required. The problem for our ruling class is whether in the circumstances of a post-war world, there will be room for Australian imperialist development.

Considering both the division of value (Table I) and the activity of the workers (Table II) the rate of surplus value is at least 100 percent. On a national income of 1,000 million Pounds there is available for capitalist consumption and investment some 500 million Pounds. We are in a period of acute capital crisis and the higher the value of production the more there is for investment, the more acute the crisis.

The Panacea of Public Works

Such situations as will face the Australian economy after the war have been met in the past in other countries by a lavish program of public works. In Scandinavia there was a policy of planned public spending, and in the USA we saw the spectacular instance of the “New Deal,” a method by which the ruling class bought a respite from a revolutionary situation. But the countries that have used these expedients have had low public debts and stable credit. Australia at the end of the war will have a public debt of crippling dimensions and will be in an intensified inflationary spiral. Public works based on borrowing will be impossible. Even now it is difficult to find loan money for the prosecution of the war; how much more difficult will it be to borrow when the capitalist is assessing his losses.

There are other nostrums. Single Tax, Douglas Credit, Central Bank Credit, but there is no solution for the present capitalist economic impasse, except investment overseas; and investment overseas is a function of military power. It is no longer possible to sell to the wide world; the only salesmanship that is effective at the moment is that backed by military force. Unfortunately for our ruling class they are not in a position to participate as principals in the imperialist struggle; they have to play the role of jackal to the USA and England. The difficulties of these leading members of the “democratic” Alliance are so great that the scavenger’s share of the feast must be small; so small, in fact, that it will provide no relief for the problems of the economy. Thus, within the limits of a stable and efficient economy, capitalism cannot continue in this country, consequently it must make way for another system or rely on the techniques of force and improvisation that are called Fascism.

Such is the long term, post-war view of the Australian economy. We are, however, faced by a period of some three or four years of war. In this, Australian capitalism is the rather despised lackey of Anglo-American imperialism. The leaders of the self-styled democracies are not concerned with saving Australia, but with screwing every ounce that fear and cupidity can extract from the Australian community for the purposes of “victory.”

This means that the manpower of Australia will be forced into the armed forces to do the dying. If necessary, labor will be brought from the USA and cheap labor countries of the East, to free the healthy Australian fighting men for the battle front. It also means that the Australian capitalist will have to take manpower from the forces of production until we live under the threat of famine. He will have to screw the rate of surplus value (which means depress the amount of consumption) to a maximum. There will be malnutrition in the midst of plenty, crops will rot on the ground, fields will be left untilled, while the people face starvation.

The recompense the local ruling class expects to receive after the war is illusory. However, we must recognize that the overseas troops of allied though competing capitalists, e.g. the USA are available to keep the workers of this country in order. Under capitalism, the workers of Australia must for the period of the war, work and die; after it, they must starve and die.

The Class Structure

During the rapid development of the economy, the colonial class structure is ceasing to exist. The middle class is being liquidated into the proletariat; the aristocracy of labor are learning their common interest lies with the proletariat; the distinction between capital and labor, becomes sharper.

Economically the capitalist class is being organized more closely than ever but as a result of the break in the tradition of servility to England, the loss of the coercive force that England represented, and the rapid growth of new production relations within the economy, it is politically disoriented. In its fear of working class revolt it prefers, with some loss of profits and prestige, to leave the Labor Parliamentary lackeys to carry out measures the capitalists would not dare impose. However, the process of integration is proceeding and in the face of a common danger, such as an attack by the workers, the capitalists would unite.

The middle class, on the other hand, has been broken up and dissolved in the course of the war. Many have entered the armed forces; others have sunk into the ranks of the workers. For the period of the war, they are impotent in the class struggle. The armed forces, in a large measure, occupy their place in the social system. At the moment the Forces are not allied politically to either side in the class struggle. Mainly they are unquestioning servants of the government, engaging in strikebreaking activities and accepting the propaganda of a press that represents the workers’ struggles as a betrayal of the soldier in the line: however, they are also oppressed and, insofar as this oppression drives them, they are on the side of the workers. Their final line-up depends on the progress of the war and the pressures brought upon them. Divorced as they are from the process of production they cannot be relied on by either side.

The working class is also in the process of reorientation and economic reorganization. New recruits with alien ideologies are coming in from the female domestic workers and the middle class; there is a breaking of craft traditions consequent on reorganization and dilution. This has increased the natural confusion arising from the unprecedented position of security of employment and wages coupled with the demands of traditional patriotism. It must be admitted that, at the moment, the workers of Australia are, in the mass, desirous of the defeat of the Axis, especially Japan, and desire not Socialism but the prosperous capitalism of 1928. Only patient explanation of the nature of the imperialist struggle and the dangers of local fascism can assist their development. It is to the intensification of the class struggle, which the war makes inevitable, that we must look for their education and realization of their true role.

Against this background of defined classes, a dubious army and intensified economic and class pressures, the struggle proceeds. The roles of the Communist and Labor politicians are demonstrated from day to day; even the trade union officials appear as props of the capitalist system. The workers are spontaneously reorganizing their class for the purpose of struggle; the capitalists hurriedly prepare to face any attempt to challenge their rule. In the meantime, the pressure of the war economy increases and the influence of the American armed forces becomes more obvious.

The lines of development of the economy can be envisaged. The course of the class struggle depends on the development of local fighting organs of the working class and the creation of a revolutionary political organization.

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