John Curtin: A Prime Minister and his People
  Banning of the Communist Party in World War II

 

Throughout the 1930's and most of the 1940's, communism gained increasing support within the trade union movement in Australia. The Great Depression had brought enormous suffering to workers and both the Labor and non-Labor governments seemed to have failed the working class. Workers looked to Communist Russia, which was said to have no unemployment, as a model.

In the early stages of World War II, Russia was engaged in the re-occupation of Polish territory and was fighting in Finland. Russia was not involved in the war against Germany at this point. Local Communists were very critical of the war, denouncing it as a capitalist and imperialist cause. Communist criticism of the war and the Allied war effort led the Menzies Government to use a regulation of the National Security Act to ban the Communist Party in June 1940. The then Governor General, Sir Henry Gullet, said that the Communists were " the voice of avowed enemies, not only of Australian and Allied war efforts, but of constitutional government in Australia and of the Empire…" [Lewis, R. A Nation at War Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, 1984, page 39]

The ban on the Communist Party was lifted in late 1942 while John Curtin was prime minister, arousing much public debate. By this time the Russians had joined the Allied cause and were helping to turn the tide of the war against Germany. Australian Communists were now seen to be supporting the Allied war effort. The very big part that Russia played in the defeat of Nazi Germany further encouraged the growth of Communism in trade unions in Australia.

Consider the following questions before you proceed further with the activity.

1. Should a democracy ban political parties that oppose mainstream views during times of war?

2. A number of political parties in Australia oppose or are very critical of Australian involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Do you think anything should be done about these parties?

Two documents on Communism have been selected from the 'Prime Minister and His People' resource for a closer examination. These documents provide different perspectives on the Communist Party in Australia during World War II.

Document 1 & Quiz

Document 2 & Quiz

Follow-up Research

In Document 2 Grace Bardsby says that while the Communist Party remained banned, 'well known traitors of the Australia First type' have been released from prison. To find out more about the Australia First Movement and its treatment during World War 2, we recommend the following reading:

Gregory, G (ed) On the Homefront. Western Australia and World War II UWA Press, Nedlands, WA, 1996, pages 183 - 185

 

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