A Fascist View of Australia (1937)

As part of my research into how the British Union of Fascists viewed Australia during the inter-war period, I came across this description of Australia in the BUF weekly newspaper Action from May 1937, written by A. Raven Thomson (one of the BUF’s chief ‘theoreticians’):

One of the Pivots of the Empire – A. Raven Thomson

AUSTRALIA, alone of all the British Dominions and colonies, possesses the inestimable advantage of complete freedom from any racial problem, for the aborigines are entirely insignificant in numbers and culture. Here we have an entire sub-continent completely controlled by one race of people speaking one language, a factor which cannot be paralleled elsewhere in the Empire except in the Home country, for even New Zealand has her Maoris. For this reason, if for no other, Australia must inevitably form one of the two pivots of Empire, for it is about the two great blocks of pure British race that the Empire must revolve.

As Australia bears this great responsibility as the second British homeland, the first essential is to preserve the racial integrity of the Australia continent. No easy task. As yet but sparsely populated, Australia forms a land vacuum in much too close proximity to the over-crowded Asiatic continent for safety…

The British Union offers Australia and all other parts of the Empire security, because we should concentrate upon the great problems of Imperial Defence, and cease to interfere in European quarrels… Such a redistribution of naval power accompanied by a similar establishment of air power in the second Homeland, would assure Australia peace for her future development, upon which so much depends.

STEPS would then be taken to fill the empty continent with men and women of British stock, for it is only by filling the vacuum that the threat of external Asiatic pressure can finally be raised… Emigration from the overcrowded old Homeland of Britain to the under-populated new Homeland of Australia, can only take place when money and capital are flowing the same way…

FINALLY, the greatest boon to Australia will be granted by the British Union through planned Empire trading, which will guarantee the Australian producer of raw products his fair share of the increased home market of Britain. Also the British Union policy of friendship with the Fascist powers of Europe will win them as markets for Australian wool and other raw products, enabling Australia to break loose from the dangerous trade relations with Japan, which are compelling her to buy Japanese rather than British goods. In developing Australia settlement on a much larger scale he British Union will not neglect to supply the necessary markets for Australian products, which Democracy, under the control of International Finance, has neglected in favour of its own foreign investments. Under the British Union, Australia will become the firm southern pivot of a Greater Empire.

IMG_0274This article emphasises the two main themes that the British Union of Fascists promoted about Australia. The first was that Australia was an environment where the ‘British race’ could develop unimpeded and focus on creating a ‘pure’ British ‘stock’. The BUF believed that Britain was too crowded and subject to Eastern European migration, while the other Dominions (Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia and New Zealand) had indigenous peoples (and other Europeans) that presented a ‘threat’ to the British population. The BUF bought into the widespread idea that Australia’s indigenous population was ‘dying out’ and that the vast Australian continent could be populated by British settlers. The ‘White Australia Policy’ was celebrated for keeping out Japanese and Chinese people from this part of the empire and the BUF press also reported numerous stories on the Australian hostility towards Jewish refugees.

The second was that Australia, alongside the other Dominions, could be the ‘bread basket’ for a revitalised British Empire. The industrialised agricultural economy of Australia was seen as important for a ‘self-reliant’ Britain within the ‘Greater British Empire’, as the BUF bemoaned Britain’s trade with non-imperial countries, such as the United States and Argentina. Thomson in particular was concerned that Britain was at the mercy of ‘international finance capitalism’ (code words for ‘the Jews’) and wrote in several articles that Australia, as well as Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, were necessary for breaking this economic ‘control’.

These ideas were quite mainstream in Australia during the inter-war period, particularly the ideas about ‘race’, although support for fascism, either the BUF or local varieties such as the New Guard/Centre Party or the short-lived Australian Union of Fascists and National Socialists, was very limited.

My next steps are twofold:

Firstly, I want to find out whether these ideas were shared by others in Britain at the same time. What did the political class think about the ‘White Australia Policy’? How did Australia fit into wider thinking about the British Empire during the inter-war period?

Secondly, I need to explore how much empire was a central part of BUF ideology and practice. There are a number of scholars who view fascism as predominantly an imperial project, but German and Italian fascism begin this imperial pursuit with no empire, while Britain already has one. If British fascism was inherently imperialist, what did it do about maintaining the empire? Other scholars, such as Robert Skidelsky and Martin Pugh, have noted that the BUF were especially vocal about keeping India in the empire, but what about the settler colonies?

This is a very long-term project – I have books about communism to write before I dedicate myself to this! My short-term goal is to track down copies of Fascist Quarterly and British Union Quarterly. Unhelpfully, all microfilmed copies of these journals in Australia were scrapped some time ago. If anyone (especially in Australia) knows where I can find copies, please let me know.

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2 comments

  1. > I want to find out whether these ideas were shared by others in Britain at the same time. What did the political class think about the ‘White Australia Policy’? How did Australia fit into wider thinking about the British Empire during the inter-war period?

    I suppose a good step would be to analyse the response to British migration to Australia in the IW years: the treatment of British workers brought out as part of the Men, Money and Markets policy was pretty appalling and sparked a migration movement amongst British ex-pats to return home. “Michael Roe, Australia, Britain, and Migration, 1915 – 1940: A Study of Desperate Hopes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)” is a good start, especially on the question of the importance of Empire (at least from the Australian viewpoint).

    I think “Jacques Ferland and Christopher Wright, “Rural and Urban Labour Processes: A Comparative Analysis of Australian and Canadian Development,” Labour History (71) (November 1996)” also has some discussion of the racial composition of Australia’s labour force as against Canada’s but my knowledge of the race side of the equation is fairly limited. From my own research (Geelong during the Great Depression) there is clearly antipathy shown towards Italian workers in the region (though interestingly not the Chinese market gardeners in Newtown/Chilwell), who are seen to be intruding even when trading legitimately and, later, to be associated with communism.

    In Victoria during the early 1930s the main body of fascist organising appears to have been the League of National Security (aka the White Army) which kept itself comparatively well hidden – this was also more of an Old Guard organisation and operated quite differently to the New Guard and South Australia’s Citizens’ Reform League. The latter appears to have had some ideological influence over the Associated Chambers of Commerce due to the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce percolating the movement’s ideas through its newsletter and communications. I would recommend having a thorough read through of the ACC’s records at the State Library to see if there are any snippets of fascist materials available that might indicate some co-operation/ideological influence.

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