Communism and public opinion in Queensland, 1939-1951 : an explanation of Queensland's Vote in the 1951 Anti-Communist Referendum

Beatson, Jim (1974). Communism and public opinion in Queensland, 1939-1951 : an explanation of Queensland's Vote in the 1951 Anti-Communist Referendum Honours Thesis, Department of History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Beatson, Jim
Thesis Title Communism and public opinion in Queensland, 1939-1951 : an explanation of Queensland's Vote in the 1951 Anti-Communist Referendum
School, Centre or Institute Department of History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1974-01-01
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Open Access Status Other
Supervisor Ray Evans
Total pages 150
Language eng
Subjects 430101 History - Australian
Formatted abstract
The starting point of this thesis was a desire to explain the rapid demise in the popularity which the Communist Party enjoyed in Queensland during the second world war. Wartime Queensland gave the Australian Communist Party its highest state vote and six years later Queensland again gave the Communist Party its highest state vote - this time however, to ban the Party. From this I was led into exploring the changing policies, beliefs and strategies of the Party, as well as the many sub-groups on its periphery, and the shifts in public response to these.

In 1939 Townsville elected Australia's first Communist alderman. Five years later, Bowen elected not only Australia's first but also the British Empire's first, Communist state government member. Of the five electorates the Australian Cornmunist Party contested in the 1944 Queensland State elections, in none did the Party's candidate receive less than twenty percent of the formal vote. Not only was the Party seemingly enjoying considerable popular support but this was occuring in a State which,but for the Depression years (May 1929- June 1932) had elected a Labor State Government at every state election since 1'915. In the September 1951 Constitution Alteration Referendum, 'Power To Deal With Communists and Communism' Queensland registered the nation's highest "Yes" majority- 55.76% of the valid vote. Only two other states registered a majority in favour of the referendum's proposals, Western Australia and Tasmania.

As this research was undertaken it became evident that while Tarious trends exhibited at the time, anti-Communism, the work of the Industrial Groups, Labor opportunism, local area feelings, ideological shifts of the Party, tactics of Communist-led unions, etc., were present throughout the entire period, they were best seen when divided into three chronological phases of the Party's history and popularity.

The first period covers the consolidation of the Party's post Depression popularity during the war years as it benefited from the Soviet Union's colossal contribution to the Allied war efforts, and this support continued for some six months or so after the war. Throughout the period Communist strength within the trade union movement greatly increased as did total Party membership.

The second period was marked by a rapid series of events starting in March 1946, with Winston Churchill's 'Official Opening' of the Cold War by his sweeping attack on Communism and Russia, at Fulton. Several days later the first of a series of long and bitter strikes in Communist-led unions occurred as the Party mobilized for what it believed would be a series of attacks on the working class from a ruling class, defending a capitalist system on the verge of an economic collapse. It was a period when the Party believed this ruling class was using Labor reformism as a last desperate 'carrot' to get workers to accept their lot within a capitalist economic framework. Out of the Meat Strike emerged the Industrial Groups, who waged not only a determined war against Commuadst trade union leadership but also encouraged the A.W.U. influenced State Labor apparatus to even greater anti-Communist antagonisms. The Communist Party's increasing militancy and Labor's resistance to it,ended finally in the collapse of the Chifley Labor government.

Characteristically the third period opens with the Communist Party making an another about-face, desperately trying to form an alliance with the Labor Party and curbing its former adventurist industrial policy, as it prepared for Menzies' direct assault. The Communist Party's activities were greatly reduced, a function of both a declining membership and, furthermore, a membership reluctant to confront an  increasingly hostile society.

In examining the changing policies, beliefs and strategies of the Party and the shifts in public response to these, I have tried to distinguish between general trends occurring within Australia and the national party, and trends peculiar to Queensland and the Queensland branch of the Party. The Communist Party suffered a decline in support and membership right across Australia throughout this period as a result of the national policies of the Party, and the changing nature of world politics. There were particular features of this decline that were peculiar to Queensland.

I have, however, singled out three features of particular importance throughout the period for a short but more specifically detailed analysis, than would be possible in a purely chronological study: i.e. the Party's structure, the Party's ideological subservience to Moscow, and the general effect upon it of the Cold War. These are dealt with in Section One.
Keyword Communism - Queensland
Queensland - Politics and government - 1922-1945
Queensland - Politics and government - 1945-1965

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (non-RHD) - Open Access
 
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