(Ward, Russel, 1983 pg 131) Arguments have raged over the appropriateness of Menzies ban on the communist party. This paper maintains that this ban on the communist party was meant to suppress democracy and was against the basic underlying democratic fundamentals under which Australia was formed and also which the Liberal Country Party sought to further. It was also against individual rights as it was seeking to infringe on the freedom of association. The banning of communist party was driven by ill based fear especially as a revolution driven by Russia was rife in the air.
At the start of the world war two, the party had been banned in the pretext or in an unfounded belief that it was a dissident organization (Manne, Robert, 1994, pg 34,44). The federal government did this by invoking the National Security Regulations, however this ban was to be later lifted in December 1942. This was after the leadership established that the communist Russians had decided rally their support against fighting the Hitler’s Third Reich terming the new force as the Patriotic Forces.
Towards the start of the war, the Comintern was against the involvement of Russia in the Second World War terming it as purely an imperialist’s affair. Australian communists had too earlier on spoken against the rising Nazism and Fascism, warning that these it was likely to spread to the rest of Europe. The lifting of the ban is an indicator that it was not on any justified cause but was as a result of the rising opposition to the government’s policies at home (Ann C. and John M. , 1984). The communist party was riding on a wave of simmering discontent and disillusionment of the Australian workers under the labor unions.
The lifting of the ban in 1942 did it greater service as its popularity soared to a record height. The number of trade unions allied to communist party increased greatly. The communist movement was able to penetrate and infiltrate the major trade unions mostly in the face of rising communism in Eastern Europe. The communist party in Australia was enjoying some considerable support especially amongst the workers. This is seen in the way it was able to influence and instigate workers strike. The Chiley government in turn was using the military and arbitrary jailing of officials to crack the party.
1949, in Australia, was a bad year for the labor government. The miner led a nation wide strike, a strike that lasted for seven weeks. This was a period that would put the government’s strength and will power into test. It was to retaliate through unwarranted emergency legislations, and establishing an “Anti Communist Month”. This scuffle would leave both the communist party and the labor party suffering debilitating effects in the face of a rising unpopularity that was being fuelled by Menzies Liberal Party. This was so especially as the 1949 federal elections drew closer.
Right from the start, Menzies was set against communism in Australia. He considered the party as “alien” and “destructive pest”. In his campaign for elections, he vowed to prohibit it. Indeed that was the first deed upon his swearing in, having won the elections with a landslide (Peter L. & Paul S. , 2001, pg 66). Many argue that it was not the suppression of the communist party activity that did not endear him to many but it is the approach that he took. He embraced undemocratic strategies and invoked some constitution provisions that would infringe upon the rights of the population.
It has to be understood that Menzies policies against communism were a greater extent fuelled and influenced by the United States and Britain in the face of cold war. The three countries had been sharing classified information on the communism and on nuclear technology including the remote sites. Allegations that the communist party in Australia was spying for the USSR led to Menzies taking a hard stance and vowing to stamp out the party, referring to the act as a “high treason” (McKnight, David, 1994, pg112).
The events that would ensue after this were highly undemocratic. Menzies took excess measures to curb any association, support or membership of the Communist Party. It is these measures that received a lot of criticism. Majority wanted prohibition to be specifically limited to membership and not based on some other ununderstandable criterion. His worst headache however was how to ban a party that enjoyed considerable support from the trade unions. Impediments lay on his path as he tried to ban the party mostly as the common wealth constitution did not have such provisions.
He had to plan carefully, cautious not to step on the toes of the powerful trade unions (Gollan, Robin, 1975, pg 145). Menzies was not enjoying much support from the industrial workers who saw him as impediment to their rights. His policies were likely to ignite an industrial instability. In banning the communist party, he used selective and isolationist policies. The communist officials were to be denied any job opportunities in the government offices but the trade union officials were not to be affected by this, even those publicly opposed to the federal government.
Sifting the communist from the rest required the reversing of the fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty. The legal burden of proof lay upon the individual accused of being a member of the communist party. This did not endear him to many and was seen as meant to lead to arbitrary detention in the pretext that a crime against the commonwealth was committed (Macintyre, Stuart, 1998 pg 20-23). A hate campaign was instituted against the communist in the bid by the federal government to instill a sense of fear into the masses and wane the communist party popularity.
The bill introduced by the government referred to as the Australian Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950, was meant to outlaw completely the communist party. The provisions in the bill were unreasonably harsh and a clear infringement of the citizens rights. Supporters were to be jailed and those suspected to be communists sacked from their jobs. This was in the midst of concerted and vehement opposition from the Australian Labor Party led by Ben Chifley. According to him, freedom and individual justice were at stake if the bill was to be passed.
Others were also emphasizing similar views. The high court ruled to the disfavor of the Menzies administration and his mechanizations did not make headway. The 1951 referendum held on 22nd September landed Menzies a slight defeat, however, still in the face of this defeat, the government did not give up the fight against communism. (Rupert Lockwood, 1992 pg 149) It is important to indicate that opposition is not on the decision to fight the Communist Party perse but it is against the strategy that he used.
It is agreeable that the ideal of communism in the face of cold war were a threat to the stability of Australia. However the methods used to fight it are not condonable. The public voted against the government as there was fear that individual right and freedoms were to be trampled on had the act been enacted. The strategies used by Menzies were undemocratic and were seeking to arbitrary oppress a section of the Australian population especially those believed to have some communist connections.
Some people were citing the arbitrary arrests on the mere basis of suspicion as the reason behind their voting against the proposed act. Reference Ward, Russel, 1983. A nation for a continent: the history of Australia, 1901-1975, Richmond, and Vic. Heinemann Educational Australia. Ann Curthoys and John Merritt, 1984. Australia’s first Cold War Society, communism and culture. 1945-1953 / Volume 1: Sydney: Allen & Unwin. Peter Love & Paul Strangio, 2001. Arguing the Cold War. Carlton North, Vic. : Red Rag Publications. Gollan, Robin, 1975.
Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism and the Australian Labour Movement, 1920-1955, Canberra: Australian National U. P. Manne, Robert, 1994. The shadow of 1917: Cold War conflict in Australia, Melbourne: Text Publishing. Rupert Lockwood, 1992. 'Seeing Red And Darker Colours', in seeing red: the Communist Party Dissolution Act and referendum 1951: lessons for constitutional reform, Sydney: Evatt Foundation. Macintyre, Stuart, 1998. The reds, St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin. McKnight, David, 1994. Australia's spies and their secrets, St Leonards, N. S. W. : Allen & Unwin.