"By background and temperament, the Australian communist was a radical and militant, a nay-sayer and a troublemaker; by training and conviction that person was an organiser and improver." Stuart Macintyre, The Reds: The CPA from Origins to Illegality, 1999.
From its formation at a gathering of twenty-six men and women at the Australian Socialist Party Hall In Sydney on 30th October 1920, the Communist Party of Australia and the communist movement had a turbulent history. The Party formed against the backdrop of the growing Australian labour movement and the Bolshevik Revolution. It had close ties to the trade union movement and many in the Party's leadership were giants in Australian trade unionism. In its early years the Party focused on a "vigourous program of industrial organising" (Australian Communist Party, n.d.), advocating for the rights of the working classes and unemployed.
Party membership expanded rapidly in the 1930s and peaked during the early 1940s with a membership of approximately 23,000. The Party found its way through a unified message of opposition to war, fascism and Nazi aggression. The Party enjoyed the support of close to 40% of trade union members and CPA candidates started to have some success at the ballot box.
However, the ensuing years were challenging, with divisions growing within the membership and the Party facing constant attempts by the Australian Government to not only suppress its influence, but eradicate the Party alltogether, most notably through the Communist Party Dissolution Act (1950) and the 1951 Referendum which sought to ban the Communist Party.
Growing sectarianism and conflict over the actions of the Soviet Union led to an eventual split and the formation of the Socialist Party of Australia in 1971.
In recent years the communist movement has continued in Australia through the work of the SEARCH Foundation, Australian Communist Party and Communist Party of Australia, with a focus on advocating for workers' rights as well as the major issues relating to Indigenous people, peace, climate change, housing, health, trade unions and solidarity.
Reds Under the Bed: 100 Years of Communism in Australia provides a short overview of the history of the communist movement in Australia and highlights some of the communist material held within the Noel Butlin Archives Centre.