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Movements against Communism 1951–4

Why was communism feared?

Fears about the influence of communist ideology in Australian working class politics had been prevalent in Australia since the early 1920s. The Communist Party of Australia had been formed, with a small membership, in 1920. In reality, its influence was minor but at various times during the 1920s and 1930s beliefs about communist influence in the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) led to vague fears that Australia's democratic way of life was under threat.

In the five years following the end of World War II, these vague fears assumed a more substantial form as Australians witnessed much of Eastern Europe and a significant part of Asia fall behind the 'Iron Curtain' of communism. In the 1949 general election, the Prime Minister, Mr Ben Chifley (ALP), was defeated by Mr Robert Menzies (Liberal). Menzies had campaigned, at least in part, on an anti-socialist and anti-communist platform. It was against this background that a number of political crises developed in Australia in the first half of the 1950s.

Identify and analyse information

Australia's Democracy (pp 128–40) details the role of communists in the trade unions during the 1920s and the efforts of the Prime Minister, Stanley Melbourne Bruce (photo right), to control communism.

  • What evidence is there that there was communist activity in Australia in the 1920s?
  • How real or widespread was the communist threat to Australia?
  • To what extent did the Prime Minister use the threat of communism to electoral advantage in the 1920s?

Introduction | Why was communism feared? | Timeline of key events in the campaign against communism | What was the Communist Party Dissolution Bill? | What happened in the 1951 referendum? | Why did the Labor Party split? | Assessment tasks and Additional resources