Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Stopping War and Stopping Conscription: Australian Labour’s Response to World War I in Comparative Perspective

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2014), 106, (1), 43–67.

Abstract

In the early twentieth century, the labour movement was the most important force seeking to prevent war and restrain militarism. Comparison of the Australian labour movement’s response to World War I has been rare, but it shows the Australian experience was distinctive in two ways. Elsewhere, socialist and labour leaders engaged in a frantic round of efforts to stop the war prior to its outbreak, although most soon abandoned their opposition once the conflict had begun. In Australia, similar efforts were virtually absent. Yet during a second wave of opposition in the English-speaking countries, the Australian labour movement was uniquely successful in stopping the introduction of conscription. How can we account for these two differences? Cross-country comparison of labour’s political strength suggests that this may help to account for both.

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Footnotes

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63.Though both cabinet and caucus agreement to do even this was only secured by a very narrow margin.Jauncey, The Story of Conscription, 157–58;Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger, 179–87;Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics, 105–6;Meaney, Australia and World Crisis, 171–72. Google Scholar

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65.Hughes had initially planned to publicise the early returns for the soldiers’ vote himself. But the results were closer than he anticipated, and a majority of soldiers at the front may have actually voted against conscription; seeTurner, Industrial Labour and Politics, 114. Google Scholar

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83.The British Liberals (though not Labour), the Canadian Liberals, the Australian Labor Party, and even (at the outset) the American Socialists all split. Even in Germany, where the SPD prided itself on its discipline, those who favoured support for war credits were prepared to break with the rest. In the end, of course, there was no need for them to do so, and the anti-war credit MPs continued to observe party discipline; seeSchorske, German Social Democracy, 291. Google Scholar

84.See the similar effect amplifying the winning party’s majority in US cities where this system was used until the 1960s inRichard EngstromandMichael D. McDonald, “The Election of Blacks to City Councils,” American Political Science Review 75, no. 2(June1981):344–54; andFarrellandMcAllister, Australian Electoral System. Google Scholar

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Archer, Robin