Labour History

‘A Political … as well as a Propagandist Movement’: Cultural Politics and the Rise of Fisher Labor

Labour History (2012), 102, (1), 11–36.


The Australian Labor Party’s emergence during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century has been a well-documented, if narrowly concerned subject of enquiry. Historians have traced the institutional growth of the federal and state parties, chronicled dramatic incidents such as Labor’s split over conscription during World War I, debated its ideological trajectory or lack thereof, and biographically eulogised its leadership. Despite the emergence of more sensitive treatments of the early Australian Labor Party in recent decades, few historical works have properly explained the importance of the party’s powerful cultural forms. Indeed, most scholars simply assume its existence. By contrast, this article argues that the distinctive language, iconography and narrative tools wielded by early Laborites – what I term the party’s cultural politics – drove much of its precocious electoral success, culminating in Andrew Fisher forming the world’s first majority Labor government following the April 1910 federal election.

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Author details

Dyrenfurth, Nick