After 1952, as the Cold War split developed in the Labor Party, and Communist Party leader Lance Sharkey published a pamphlet about that conflict, the CPA also paid great attention to developments in the ALP. It encouraged the development of a Labor left, which was frequently under its influence, although this influence was sometimes challenged by smaller groups of Trotskyists.
For most of its history, the CPA did not afford itself the luxury practised by most current Marxist sects of treating the Labor Party, its leadership and ranks as an undifferentiated reactionary whole. Neither did the pioneer Trotskyists in Australia, for most of their period of activity, adopt such an unscientific attitude towards the Labor Party.
A recently published book, Local Labor, by Michael Hogan, about the ALP in the inner-Sydney suburb of Glebe, notes that one group of Trotskyists, led by Joe Boxall, entered the Labor Party as early as 1937. Most socialists of the Marxist sort have taken developments in the Labor Party very seriously, and the current sectarianism of the Marxist sects towards Laborism is an aberration. It is a serious error given the still massive grip of the ALP and the unions on the working class and the left half of Australian society.
One weakness of David McKnight's chapter is that he doesn't discuss the Australian Labor League of Youth, of which the CPA won the leadership during its entry work in the Labor Party.
The ALLY, a large organisation, was the vehicle for the recruitment of hundreds, and possibly thousands, of activists to the CPA's version of the socialist movement. Many of the activists who sustained the CPA for the next 20 or 30 years were recruited from the ALLY. There is some description of this activity in Audrey Blake's autobiography, A Proletarian Life.
«It cannot be expected that those Social-Democratic workers who are under the influence of the ideology of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie… will break with this ideology of their own accord, by the actions of objective causes alone. No. It is our business, the business of Communists, to help them free themselves from reformist ideology…. there is no more effective way for overcoming the doubts and hesitations of Social Democratic workers than by their participation in the proletarian united front.»
In 1935, the Communist International made a sharp turn in its political outlook opening a period designated as the «popular front against fascism». Previously it had described even social-democratic and labor parties as «social fascist», arguing that they were little different from fascist parties because they supported capitalism. This line proved disastrous especially for the German Communist Party (KPD) but also for Europe as a whole. As the strength of Hitler's National Socialists grew, the communists and Social Democrats fought each other, rather than uniting. The shock of Hitler's appointment in January 1933 as Chancellor of Germany and the defeat of the German communists led to the calling of the Seventh World Congress of Comintern.
At the congress, the new Secretary of the Communist International, Georgii Dimitrov, outlined the dramatic shift. The choice of Dimitrov as Secretary was significant. Dimitrov had recently been accused by Hitler's government of trying to burn the Reichstag. «During the trial, in several exchanges between Dimitrov and Herman Goering the Nazi leader lost his temper and shouted threats of what his men would do to Dimitrov once they had him outside the court. Dimitrov's replies were quiet, reasonable and courageous. He presented the Communist movement as the defender of the values of Western civilisation especially of rationality and the rule of law.» At the Congress, Dimitrov acknowledged certain mistakes by communists including an «impermissable underestimation of the fascist danger» and a «narrow sectarian attitude». To defeat fascism it was necessary to form a united front of all workers, regardless of their political party stance.
«The Communist International puts no conditions for unity of action except one, and that an elementary condition acceptable to all workers, viz., that the unity of action be directed against fascism, against the offensive of capital, against the threat of war, against the class enemy. That is our condition.»
There was also a new liberality in the application of the line which would take «various forms in various countries, depending upon the condition and character of the workers' organisations and their political level, upon the situation in the particular country». Even within fascist Germany it was necessary to organise, said Dimitrov, invoking the capture of Troy: «the attacking army… was unable to achieve victory until, with the aid of the famous Trojan Horse it managed to penetrate to the very heart of the enemy's camp». Instead of denunciations of «social fascists» Dimitrov referred to «the… camp of Left Social Democrats (without quotation marks)».
The strategy of the popular front has been widely examined by historians of the communist movement and it is now being re-discussed in the light of new archival sources. In France and Spain where a communist party was relatively strong it sought a formal alliance with the social democratic and anti-fascist parties, usually in the form of a Peoples' Front. In the English-speaking world where it was usually smaller, as in Australia or the United States, it appears to have used a different strategy. This involved the creation of an underground group within the main Labor or Social Democratic party. In the US, the CPUSA inititally tried to create a left-wing, third party as an alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties. To this end they were active in Minnesota's Farmer-Labor Party, Wisconsin's Progressive Party, the campaign to End Poverty in California (EPIC), the American Labor Party in New York and radical groups in Washington and Oregon. In the context of the Depression a number of these groups garnered significant voter support, particularly the Farmer-Labor Party. Whether these groups would have united and run candidates against Democrats, especially Roosevelt, is doubtful. But the CPUSA's putative strategy was abandoned after the Comintern advised that support for Roosevelt was more important, largely because of the needs of Soviet foreign policy. These hitherto unknown strategies of covert penetration were closely watched by the Anglo-American Secretariat of the Comintern, which hoped to influence national governments formed by social democratic parties in the direction of collective security with the USSR.
The newly released archives of the Communist International and the records of the now-disbanded Communist Party of Australia provide evidence for such a political strategy in Australia. After the change in political direction represented by the Seventh Congress in 1935 the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) began to recruit members of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Rather than urging them to leave the ALP, these new communists were asked to remain inside the Labor Party and became undercover members. By 1939, these dual members, allied with the indigenous, non-communist left wing had ousted the leadership and took control of the largest and most politically powerful of the six state branches of the ALP, that of New South Wales (NSW). Two covert CPA members became senior officers of Labor in NSW, one of them the General Secretary. In the state of Western Australia, where a similar strategy was followed, a secret member of the Communist Party became a member of federal parliament. The growing success of this strategy in Australia was halted after the Soviet-German NonAggression Pact. The pact provoked a series of events in which the undercover communist wing split the NSW branch of the ALP and formed the «State Labor Party». While this split helped deny Labor office in the national elections of September 1940, the communist presence also deflected plans for a wartime government of national unity of Labor and conservatives.
Historians' knowledge of this significant aspect of the Seventh Congress policies is scanty. When a communist presence in the Labor Party is acknowledged it is invariably minimised. No historian of Australian Labor has understood either the depth of CPA penetration nor its origins. Most assume that some kind of communist presence must have existed because the communist-led State Labor Party ultimately amalgamated with the Communist Party of Australia in January 1944.
The evolution of the CPA's strategy toward the Labor Party began with a 1935 proposal discussed by the Political Bureau of the CPA, which stated that it was advisable «to organise Left-wing movements in the Labor Party in order to fight for the united front proposals» and to urge «members of the Labor Party who join the Communist Party [to] retain their membership in the Labor Party and carefully work for united front proposals». In a report to the CPA congress in 1935, CPA leader Lance Sharkey argued that in addition to joint trade union activity «[i] t is also possible that certain of the Party members go into the Labor Party to work in such a way that all leftward elements in the Labor Party are brought to the leadership in order to ensure the acceptance of the proposals of the united front».
The change towards P