Socialism in Australia dates back to the earliest pioneers of the area in the late 19th century. Notions of socialism in Australia have taken many different forms including the utopian nationalism of Edward Bellamy, the Marxism of parties such as the Communist Party of Australia, and the democratic socialist reformist electoral project of the early Australian Labor Party.
Pre-federation Australian socialism was highly influenced by philosophical ideologies arising from the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Social scientists who had visited Australia at the time noted the lack of influence from continental socialist ideologies such as Marxism, labelling it as having "socialism with no doctrine". In particular, the works of the American author Edward Bellamy were highly influential, which advocated for the democratic nationalisation of all industry. The prominent movement Australian Socialist League was by the 1890s "modelled on, of all things, Daniel De Leon's Socialist Labor party". Due to the significant influence of American socialist writers, the political sociologist Robin Archer has described that pre-federation "Australian leftism was more American than American leftism itself".
The settlement of New Australia was founded in 1893 by the supporters of the utopian socialist William Lane. Lane's socialism was inspired by Edward Bellamy as well as his unorthodox belief that race played a role in preventing a socialist society from forming. Due to these beliefs, New Australia was built around the values of creating "a brotherhood of English-speaking Whites" which preserved the "colour-Line" which was seen as necessary in order to achieving communism. After conflict over Lane's supposed incompetent management, 58 colonists left New Australia in 1894 to found the colony of Cosme several kilometres south and the original colony was soon after dissolved.
Founding of the Australian Labor Party
The predecessors to the then-democratic socialist Australian Labor Party were founded throughout the 1890s and briefly took power at the state level in Queensland in 1899 - the first socialist government in the world at any level.
The Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia was led by several Communist Party members during its history, such as Jim Healy. Under Healy, the Workers Federation in 1938 went on strike to prevent pig iron being shipped to Japan, in protest the invasion of China. In 1945, the union called for a ban on working the Dutch ships, labelled the "Black Armada", during the Indonesian National Revolution.
Socialism was a major ideological force behind the Builders Labourers Federation and green bans in the 1970s. The Victorian branch of the union was primarily led by members of the Maoist CPA (M-L) such as Norm Gallagher, while the New South Wales branch was led by members of the CPA such as Jack Mundey. In 1974, Gallagher and several affiliated Maoist workers occupied the New South Wales branch office and expelled CPA affiliated unionists. After union officials, including CPA members, agreed upon the Prices and Incomes Accord in 1983 which traded lower rates of industrial action for parliamentary reforms, it signalled "the end of the renegade, guerrilla actions of the BLF to stop work and take radical protest activities". The union was de-registered shortly after during the Labor Hawke government, and members were blacklisted from working on construction sites.
Following the collapse of the communism in Europe from 1989-91, belief in socialism collapsed, resulting in the fall of the Communist Party of Australia and the shift of Labor Left towards non-socialist ideologies. The Communist Party of Australia was dissolved and the assets of the Communist Party were thereafter directed into the SEARCH Foundation, a not-for-profit company set up in 1990 "to preserve and draw on the resources of the Communist Party of Australia and its archives."
During the fall of the Communist Party, several organisations and individuals moved toward the Greens movement. Several ex-Communist Party and Labor Left members joined the Greens NSW, inspired by the green ban movement. In Western Australia, members of the Alternative Coalition (consisting of members from the Communist Party of Australia, the Socialist Party of Australia, and the Democratic Socialist Party) merged with the Nuclear Disarmament Party to form Greens Western Australia. An Alternative Coalition member, Christabel Chamarette, later became senator in 1992. The Democratic Socialist Party established "Greens Alliance" parties in South Australia, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory. However, in 1992 following the formation of the Australian Greens federation, the DSP was proscribed and members were banned from entering the Green parties. The new Green parties were broad-left coalition, with the founding documents of the Sydney Greens stating:
The Greens in Sydney come from many backgrounds. Environmental and resident activists. Nuclear disarmers. Dissidents from the Labor Party who have witnessed betrayals by both wings of that party. Feminists. Anarchists. Those inspired by the German Greens. Socialists of various kinds. What is distinctive and unifying about this new force in Sydney is the emphasis on encouraging people's self-confidence in their right to have their say, their right to democratically determine matters - whether they are large or small - which affect their lives.
In 1996 the Socialist Party of Australia, a splinter party from the CPA, changed its name to the Communist Party of Australia claiming the party was the rightful successor to the original party formed in 1920.
In 2001, several socialist organisations formed Socialist Alliance in an attempt for left unity. The organisations at foundation included the Democratic Socialist Perspective, International Socialist Organisation, Freedom Socialist Party, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Democracy, Worker-communist Party of Iraq, Workers League, Worker's Liberty, and Worker's Power. However, after several years, most affiliate organisations abandoned the Alliance. In January 2010, the last major organisation in the Alliance, the Democratic Socialist Perspective, voted to merge into the Socialist Alliance, in effect ceasing to exist as an affiliate organisation.
Political historian Geoff Robinson describes the contemporary left as a "movement of parties and electoral campaigning." There are currently three federally registered socialist parties which run in elections: Socialist Alliance, Socialist Equality Party, and the Victorian Socialists. Although Socialist Action and the Communist Party of Australia are not registered for federal elections, they have successfully contested local government elections in the City of Yarra and the City of Auburn. There are several organisations and parties which do not run in elections, either for ideological reasons or due to practical reasons, including the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), Socialist Alternative, and Solidarity.
In 1961, the pro-China faction leader Ted Hill was expelled from the Communist Party of Australia during the events of the split between the USSR and China. Hill in the following years led a split from the party which cumulated in the formation of the Maoist Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist).
In 1971, a group split from the Communist Party of Australia due to the party criticising actions of the Soviet Union, and formed the Socialist Party of Australia. In 1996, following the dissolution of the original Communist Party of Australia in 1991, the Socialist Party of Australia re-named itself to the Communist Party of Australia.
Initially formed in 1985 as the Militant faction of the Australian Labor Party. In the 1990s, they split from Labor due to it being perceived as neoliberal and undemocratic. During this time the organisation changed its name to the Militant Socialist Organisation and later the Socialist Party. In 2019, the party was renamed Socialist Action.
Initially formed in 1972 as the Socialist Labour League. In 2010, the SLL was refounded as the Socialist Equality Party.
Initially formed in 1971 as the Marxist Workers' Group, then later the International Socialist Organisation. In 1995 several members were expelled and formed Socialist Alternative. In 2008, the ISO merged with several other parties to form Solidarity.
The Australian Communist Party was initially established in 1920. Within the decade the party became aligned with the Soviet Communist International and renamed itself to the Communist Party of Australia. Following the 1930s, the party followed Marxist-Leninism, until the party became increasingly critical of the USSR in the 1960s. In 1967 the party ceased receiving funding from the USSR and from the 1970s onwards the party adopted eurocommunist theories. The Communist Party of Australia dissolved in 1991. The SEARCH Foundation was established as a successor organisation.
Initially formed in 2001 by several socialist organisations in an attempt for left unity. However, by 2010, most constituent parties had left and the last major organisation in the Alliance, the ex-Trotskyist Democratic Socialist Perspective voted to merge into the Socialist Alliance.
Initially formed in 1887 as the Australian Socialist League. In 1901, the ASL formed the Socialist Labor Party to contest the 1901 Australian federal election. Between the late 1890s and 1905, the party shifted towards De Leonism. The party declined after the 1920s, however, the party maintained its newspaper The People until the early 1970s where it then ceased its activities.
We work to foster solidarity through authentic collective struggle and to demonstrate the need for, and legitimacy of, democratic socialism.