Labour History

“Nowhere Else to Work”: Advertising and the Left in Australia

Labour History (2015), 108, (1), 17–36.


From the late 1930s to the early 1970s, a noticeable cluster of left activists (both women and men, and all, at some point, members of the Communist Party) could be found working in the Australian advertising industry, using their artistic and writing skills to support themselves and pursue their political goals. The article explores the complex relationship between left politics and consumer culture in this period by examining the careers of a handful of these activists. It finds that the shift away from revolutionary politics in the late 1930s to mobilisation around anti-fascism made it possible for left activists to work in advertising without attracting significant criticism from their fellow party members. With the rise of a radical critique of consumer culture from the early 1950s, however, it became increasingly difficult for those who remained committed to left activism to justify working in an increasingly despised industry.

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*I am grateful toLabour History‘s two anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions and to Sean Scalmer and Stuart Macintyre for commenting on an earlier draft. Thanks also to my colleagues Rosemary Francis and Wendy Dick for their hard work, encouragement and advice. The Australian Research Council (DP120100777) funded the research. Google Scholar

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121.Ibid.It is not clear who commissioned this report but it seems not to have been an official request. Google Scholar

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Author details

Dickenson, Jackie