Diary of a Labour Man 1917- 1945

Full text. Editor of the 'Westralian Worker'


Westralian Worker, 21 December 1923, page 4.


While in Melbourne editor John Curtin was asked by the 'Labor Call' what he thought of things in general and of the Labor Movement in particular. His answer may be of interest to 'Worker' readers:-

'I perceive all around me the evidence of decadence in our civilisation. Owing to the break-down in the circulation of commodities, the industrial basis of Europe has seriously retrograded. Only of Russia can one say the contrary. All the other countries frantically endeavouring to regain the old normality, proceed from one stage of demoralisation to another, and a worse one; and Russia is succeeding, not because of any special advantages, but in spirit of the most adverse conditions, because the State as the civic administration is linking industry and society in an organic union.'

He meditated a moment, and went on:

'How can there be stability in any community where the tremendous power of the State is deliberately employed as a prop for a dying system? Both Lenin and Mussolini have demonstrated that in the control and direction of industry lies the principal function of modern government.

How absurd that the power of the nation should be limited to the protection of a few shop windows during sporadic riots! A Government that is without a plan of social order and economic organisation is like an army without a commissariat.'

What is the idea you derive from this reasoning?

'Merely that if the State plays the role of economic spectator during the next decade, the stupid capitalists, seeing nothing but the need for profits, will destroy civilisation. Just note a few facts: Ships were never faster or larger, machinery never more wonderful or efficient, communication easier or quicker, or the power to produce anything like what it is at present. Yet in every land houses are too few and too congested, the unemployed more numerous and hopeless than they were, the actual producers in relation to the total community never fewer. The most lucrative occupations are either completely parasitical, or nearly so. Morality has gone to the dogs enthusiastically, serious study has given place to sensuality, and those who are not themselves sinners like to read extensively about those who are.

Re-read Gibbon, and you'll see in our world a great deal that was in Rome when the twilight commenced to descend on what had been relatively as great an age as ours.'

So that's what you think of the world! But what of the Labor Movement? Do you despair of that?

'No! It has its mission; it has its eternal purpose; and it should proceed to the acquisition of the material with which to realise it.'


'By concentrating on essentials; by refusing to confound individual vices with principles of social action.

I could spit on the men who are always rushing into print – and enemy print, too – about the alleged indecencies of their colleagues. A Labor man who wants to fight Capitalism should not be immersed in scandalmongering. And if at heart he is merely a job-chaser, then let him do it quietly and less disturbingly than has recently been the case. All these so-called cleansers of the Augean stable are not themselves so pure. And, in any case, no one has any right to make the record and repute of his own party blacker than it is. That is serving the enemy. It is demoralising to our own army.'

There was a time when to know of a king's misconduct was to be in jeopardy of one's life. Generally the rule worked fairly, for the king was never as immoral as his critics alleged. The same thing is true of Labor.

'The men, wherever they come from, who know what is wrong in our methods, who allege corruption and the rest of it, see only what they like to see! Then they rush pell-mell to an enemy newspaper, which blackens and defames and traduces the whole policy and principle of Labor – a policy and principle which the ambitious tittle-tattler professes to advance by manufacturing evidence against its exponents.'

'No wonder our successes are miraculous. We triumph over our opponents and over our own stupidities. No other movement in the world could do that. And our opportunities do not come so often that we should abuse them. We want the right kind of publicity, and not the wrong kind. We need devotion to the cause, affection for all its advocates, a helpful and not a discordant place in the ranks.

'I do not ask men to swallow everything for the sake of unity. But I do ask them to shed ignoble passions, personal animosities, petty ambitions, and miserable jealousies. Let us realise that the choice confronting the world is the rule of Labor or a reversion to a grievously lower level of civilisation.

'Within the ranks there should be room for difference on fine points, doubtful points, of tactic and policy. But these debates should be the discussions of brothers, of comrades, of members of a confraternity united by a great love for justice, and an intense faith in humanity.

'Given that, we will again attract unspoiled youth to our battle-line. The young are largely emotional; their hearts are their strong point, and we are driving them away by our ugliness of disposition and our fratricidal follies. I've been a youth myself, and I know.'

To summarise, then, what would you like us to say?

'Say that the purity of our principles and the idealism of our struggle transcend any personal disqualifications we may individually labor under, and that, as Labor's programme is essential to the progress of man, the unity and concord which is essential to Labor is not only the hope of the world, but is its sole means of meeting the evils ahead.'

JCPML. Records of the Australian Labor Party WA Branch. What Curtin Thought About Things in General . Westralian Worker, 21 December 1923, page 4. JCPML00984/118.