British Commonwealth

Cypriot colonial citizenship and UK immigration controls, 1920s-1950s

This week, the citizenship of Cypriots as part of the British Empire/Commonwealth (prior to Cypriot independence in 1960) has been the subject of debate in the Australian media, thanks to the controversy surrounding Senator Nick Xenophon. My colleague Andrekos Varnava and I have worked on the question of Cypriot citizenship during the colonial era and the subsequent control of Cypriot migration to Britain between the 1920s and the 1950s. The following is based on a much longer article forthcoming with English Historical Review.

The British saw the Cypriot community as a particular problem because of their perceived criminal activities as well as their links to communism and anti-colonialism. The British authorities sought to monitor and control the Cypriot community in London and restrict further numbers from immigrating to Britain through a number of measures in Cyprus, despite the fact that Cypriots were British subjects. At this time, no other colonial group was subjected to such restrictions. The Colonial Office implemented the migration restrictions at the point of departure (i.e. in Cyprus), not because there was disagreement over trying to restrict Cypriots entering the UK, but because this was the most practical way of doing it and the Home Office did not want to implement a point of arrivals system, which could draw criticism from various quarters in the UK.

Most immigration history scholars have overlooked the migration of Cypriots to Britain prior to the Second World War. The British occupied Cyprus in 1878, but Cypriots did not become British subjects until 1914 when Britain annexed the island from the Ottoman Empire when it joined the Central Powers.[1] Cypriots started emigrating to Britain and other destinations after the war.[2] In 1921 the British census showed that there were only 316 Cypriots in England and Wales (105 in London), but by 1931 there were 1,059 (734 in London).[3] Additionally, between 1923 and 1931 the Cypriot government issued 10,000 passports to Cypriots declaring an interest to emigrate to the UK, indicating that most did not take up the option, that there was some travel back and forth from the UK and Cyprus or perhaps a third destination, such as the US.[4]

Cypriots emigrated because, with a rise in population since the British arrival in 1878, rural poverty manifested given the lack of agricultural development and employment in towns, and Cypriots, especially men, took-up the emigration possibilities presented after the Great War.[5]

Amongst the earlier migrants in the inter-war period were sailors working in the East End docks, students and lace merchants, but as time went on more and more unskilled labourers emigrated, and they ended up in the food and hotel service industry in London, mostly working in establishments owned by the Cypriot community in London’s West End.[6]

After the 1931 riots in Cyprus, when government house had been burned to the ground and a British crackdown on both the nationalist right and the communist left followed, the number of migrants increased. Those leaving the island included many political activists, especially left-wing, who were exiled or fleeing the British crackdown. Until 1936, the majority of those coming to Britain were young male Greek Cypriots, but between 1936 and the outbreak of the war, the number of women and children increased so that by 1938 there were more women and children arriving than men, partly because of the restrictions in place and because the women and children were coming over to husbands and fathers.[7] By 1939 there were between 7-8,000 Cypriots in the UK, mostly living within a small borough in the central West End of London.[8]

As Cypriots became British subjects after the annexation of 1914, they were allowed to enter (except men of military age from 1916-9 and subject to the controls outlined above from 1935), reside and work in the UK without restrictions.[9] So the British authorities sought to prevent Cypriots from arriving in Britain. The Colonial Office asked the Home Office if legislation could be introduced to prevent Cypriots from migrating to Britain, but the Home Office refused. Dawe explained:

…they could introduce legislation, but I imagine that the political objections to this may be so great as to make impracticable for them to do so even if they, as a Department, desired it. After all, the right of a British subject to enter this country, provided he can establish his national status by means of his passport, is something more than a mere question of administrative advantage. It is an important and fundamental right under our political system;[10]

The Home Office told the Colonial Office that migration controls at the British port of entry could not be introduced to target Cypriots and that the government was not considering wider controls. This did not mean that the Home Office did not agree that a problem existed, since they were involved in regulating the community, but it meant that the Colonial Office was alone in implementing migration controls, which it could only do at the point of departure.

These first appeared in 1935. The British limited the number of passports issued to Cypriots intending to travel to Britain. To obtain a passport for Britain, Cypriots had to present proof of employment in the UK and pay a bond (in case they had to be repatriated), along the same lines as had been suggested in 1931. But Cypriot authorities soon complained that many Cypriots obtained passports ‘for travel to Greece or somewhere, and then proceeding to England by a devious route.’[11]

Soon more conditions were introduced. By 1937, passports were only issued to applicants who could prove they could speak English, were able to a pay a bond of £30 and an affidavit showing they had employment in Britain.[12] Oakley explained that one of the duties of the Cypriot Liaison Officer, established by the Home Office to maintain relationships between the ‘leaders’ of the Cypriot community and the British government, was to enquire into the bona fides of each applicant and recommend to the Colonial Office whether a passport should be issued.[13] This reduced but did not stop all Cypriot migration, while the demographic make-up of emigrants changed, with more women and children coming in the late 1930s. This was celebrated by the British authorities, as the Liaison Officer explained in 1939:

I attribute the improvement in behaviour largely to the recent immigration of Cypriot womenfolk which has enabled a number of the men to settle down to quiet family life instead of wasting their time and money gambling at dog races or in the cafes.[14]

The British also used passport facilities to monitor and impede movement of suspected communists between Cyprus and Britain. On the advice of the Liaison Officer, at least one suspected communist (and pro-enosist), Kyriacos Pavlou Rossides, was the subject of a refusal order in 1937.[15] Earlier in 1931, the Cypriot government and the Colonial Secretary debated whether to refuse a passport to CPC leading figure Haralambos Vatiliotis (Vatis), a Cypriot British subject who wished to revisit the Soviet Union. Although the Cypriot government was unsure ‘whether a British subject [could] be prevented from leaving the country because he has not got a passport’, the Colonial Office confirmed that the Governor had the power to grant or withhold passport facilities and therefore Vatiliotis’ passport was retained, ‘justified by the public interest.’[16] This debate was then nullified when after the 1931 riots Vatiliotis was deported to Britain.[17]

The outbreak of the Second World War stopped the movement of Cypriots to Britain on a significant scale, although migration restarted after the war. Until the late 1950s, Cyprus was the third largest country of origin of Commonwealth migrants after the West Indies and India and was only passed by Pakistan in 1957. Between 1955 and July 1962, around 24,000 Cypriots migrated to Britain.[18] In this era of large scale African, Caribbean and Asian migration, Cypriots were seen as more ‘desirable’ and there was less hostility towards them than other Commonwealth migrants.[19] Yet the restrictions imposed in the 1930s remained until the Commonwealth Immigrant Act of 1962. This was understood by the British political elites in the lead-up to the act. In a 1959 debate in the House of Lords on restricting colonial immigrants at their point of departure, Lord Chesham (John Cavendish), a Tory Peer, explained that ‘in Cyprus prospective immigrants to this country are required to produce affidavits by persons in this country guaranteeing their support and accommodation.’[20]

John Solomos and Stephen Woodhams argued that the British used border control techniques first employed against Cypriots in the 1930s against broader Commonwealth migration in the 1950s and 1960s.[21] Viewing immigration as a social problem that needed limiting, the restrictions imposed on the Cypriots in the 1930s paved the way for the argument that ‘good race relations’ was achieved by ensuring that ethnic minorities remained as minorities and that strict immigration control was necessary to ensure this. The Cypriot case was a prototype for other cases after the Second World War. The closest examples to the Cypriot case were the border controls on Indians and Pakistanis, with Ian R.G. Spencer writing, ‘Cyprus provided a testing-ground for a set of practices that were widely applied in the Indian sub-continent.’[22] Following the Cypriot immigration restrictions of the 1930s, under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, only those with government-issued employment vouchers could settle in the UK.

 

[1]Andrekos Varnava, British Imperialism in Cyprus, 1878-1915: The Inconsequential Possession (Manchester, 2009), pp. 262-5.

[2]See CO67/204/46764; and CO67/207/19844, Stevenson to Churchill, 14 Apr. 1922, containing Annual Report for 1922 by J. M. Ellis, Chief Secretary’s Office.

[3]Robin Oakley, ‘Cypriot Migration to Britain prior to World War II’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 15(3), 1989, p. 513; For 1921, the number of Cypriots is given as 334 in Vic George and Geoffrey Millerson, ‘The Cypriot Community in London’, Race & Class, 8, 1967, pp. 277.

[4]CO67/237/7, Storrs to Passfield, 9 Apr. 1931.

[5]Rolandos Katsiaounis, ‘Η Κυπριακή Παροικία του Λονδίνου και το Αρχιεπισκοπικό Ζήτημα της Κύπρου, 1928-1936’, Annual of the Centre for Scientific Research (Nicosia), 22, 1996, p. 521; Nicolas Manitakis and Michalis N. Michael, ‘Cypriot Emigration to the United States of America (1910 to 1930)’, Chronos, 30, 2014, pp. 99-143.

[6]Oakley, ‘Cypriot Migration to Britain prior to World War II’, pp. 515-6.

[7]Oakley, ‘Cypriot Migration to Britain prior to World War II’, p. 520.

[8]Ibid; and George and Millerson, ‘The Cypriot Community in London’, p. 277.

[9]Ian R.G. Spencer, British Immigration Policy since 1939: The Making of Multi-Racial Britain (London, 2002), pp. 11-2.

[10]CO 67/258/7, Note from Dawe, 2 Jan., 1935.

[11]FCO 141/2523, Acting Colonial Secretary to All Commissioners, 2 Apr. 1936.

[12]Oakley, ‘The Control of Cypriot Migration to Britain Between the Wars’, p. 39.

[13]Ibid.

[14]FCO 141/2554, Thorne to Colonial Secretary, 16 Jan. 1939, p. 4.

[15]CO 67/275/4, Handwritten note from A.R. Thomas to J.B. Williams, 11 Aug. 1937.

[16]See CO 67/240/3.

[17]Heinz Richter, ‘The Cypriot Communist Party and the Comintern’, The Cyprus Review, 15(2), 2003, p. 109.

[18]Hansard, 18 Mar., 1965, col. 311w.

[19]Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (London, 2006) pp. 360-1.

[20]Hansard (Lords), 12 Mar., 1959, col. 1204.

[21]John Solomos & Stephen Woodhams, ‘The Politics of Cypriot Migration to Britain’, Immigrants & Minorities, 14(3), 1995, pp. 251-4.

[22]Spencer, British Immigration Policy since 1939, p. 23.

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South African progressives and the Suez Crisis of 1956

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On 29 October, 1956, the Suez Crisis began with an Israeli attack upon Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, with the UK and France intervening the subsequent days to ‘protect’ the Suez Canal. Many historians have viewed these actions as the last major ‘roll of the dice’ for the British and French governments hoping to stem the decolonisation process in Africa and the Middle East, and the drawing of the postcolonial world into closer ties with the Soviet Bloc.

From South Africa, progressives watched as imperialist forces invaded one of its former colonies to prevent a programme of nationalisation, occurring amidst the wider decolonisation process across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This worried the various progressive groups that still existed in South Africa in the mid-1950s. Eight years into Apartheid rule, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) had been banned in 1950 and its membership driven underground (its successor, the South African Communist Party (SACP), was not officially established until 1960). The African National Congress (ANC) was still a legal organisation, but a month later, most of its leadership would be arrested and put on trial for treason by the Strijdom government. The remnants of the CPSA that remained in South Africa were often also members of the ANC, while other former CPSA activists coalesced around organisations, such as the ex-servicemen group, the Springbok Legion.

The Suez Crisis, coming at the same time as the Soviet invasion of Hungary, shocked these progressives as a blatant imperialist reaction to the decolonisation process, and an affront to the sovereignty of these newly formed postcolonial nations. In their journal Liberation, the ANC called the action a ‘blatant aggression’ and stated:

British, French and Israeli troops have invaded Egypt and occupied Egyptian territory by force of arms; a wanton, premeditated act of aggression taken in defiance of solemn undertakings under the United Nations Charter.

The reason for this invasion, the ANC declared, was control of the Suez Canal and the revenue generated from this, with the Israeli invasion providing a pretext for seizing control. The journal continued:

[T]hat in fact is exactly what the English and French imperialists are out for – loot. They want to grab the Suez Canal. The Israeli attack was just a feeble excuse (no doubt it was fixed up in advance with the Israeli Government)…

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Meanwhile, the newspaper New Age, run by a number of ex-CPSA members, such as Ruth First, published on its front page a statement drawn up by several progressive organisations in South Africa, such as the ANC, the Indian National Congress, the Coloured People’s Association and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). The statement read:

The invasion by the Israeli army and the decision of the British and French Governments to re-occupy the Suez Canal zone constitute a serious act of aggression against Egypt which will have world-wide repercussions…

These acts are in total disregard of the territorial sovereignty of the Egyptian people and cannot be justified by any alleged provocations. Britain and France have used Israel as a spearhead to re-establish themselves as masters of the Suez Canal in order to maintain their domination over colonial countries in Africa and the Middle East.

This idea of Britain and France reasserting their imperial dominance over the postcolonial world was something that was also highlighted by the ANC. As well retaking the Suez Canal, the ANC suggested that the Anglo-French aims were ‘to overthrow the Nasser Government and re-occupy Egypt as a colony’ in the short term, and ‘to teach the peoples of the colonies and former colonies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East “a lesson”’ in the long term. At this time, the British were fighting anti-colonial movements in Malaya, Cyprus and Kenya, while the French were fighting the National Liberation Front in Algeria.

However the actions of the British and French were not successful and both countries were chastised by the United Nations. Both the ANC and those attached to the New Age newspaper celebrated the fact that Egypt had not been defeated by the imperialist forces. Two weeks after the fighting stopped, the New Age newspaper wrote:

The force of world anger at the British, French and Israeli invasion of Egypt has led to a cease-fire and brought to a temporary halt the use of naked aggression to crush the Nasser government. This is a victory for the forces of progress, but it is by no means a final victory.

The ANC were just as celebratory, writing:

The plot to conquer Egypt has failed; the “lesson” has turned out to be the greatest fiasco in modern history. As we write, the aggressors’ armies are still in Egypt, but we cannot doubt that the massive reaction of the peace-loving people of the whole world will compel them to withdraw unconditionally, and to compensate the innocent Egyptian people for the damage and suffering that they have caused.

From this, both publications expressed solidarity between the progressive and anti-imperialist forces in South Africa and the Egyptian people as allies in the fight against imperialism and racialism. The ANC declared that the Suez Crisis had inspired ‘the awakening millions of Britain’s African empire’ and ‘[i[nstead of frightening the colonial world’, the Anglo-French-Israeli attack had:

raised against themselves a storm of mass solidarity, indignation and determination that can only hasten the doom of imperialism and colonialism through-out the world.

The aforementioned statement on the front page of the New Age finished with this expression of solidarity:

On behalf of all peace-loving South Africans we demand an end to force and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Egyptian territory. We express our sympathy with the Egyptian people and our support for their just claim to sovereignty in the own country.

In an editorial contained in the same issue, the links between progressives in South Africa and the Nasser government in Egypt were reiterated:

As an African country we are closely involved in this invasion of Africa. As members of the liberation movement we are closely involved in this attack on a liberation movement. As opponents of national oppression and colonialism we are involved in this oppressive and imperialist war…

We dare not remain quiet. Our voices must be heard in the call for an end to the war in Egypt – in the demand for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the territory of that country.

But while these various groups expressed solidarity in the face of imperialist attack, they did not all consider Colonel Nasser in the same light. Moses Kotane, the General Secretary of the CPSA and then the SACP, stated in New Age that Nasser was ‘no fascist’ as the Western media and politicians had described him, but was ‘an ardent nationalist whose main concern is the freedom, independence, progress and honour of Egypt and her 25 million inhabitants’. Kotane explained that Nasser played an important role in the worldwide anti-colonial movement, saying, ‘Colonel Nasser desires to see colonialism ended in Africa, Asia and the rest of the world.’ He concluded his outline of Nasser with this:

The South African people must clearly understand that the continued independence and progress of the Egyptian people means a lot to their own struggle against apartheid and injustices in this country.

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Lionel Bernstein, a comrade of Kotane in the CPSA/SACP and editor of the Springbok Legion’s Fighting Talk, was much more critical of Nasser and his government. The revolution that was led by Nasser and his fellow army generals was, according to Bernstein, simply passing Egypt ‘into the hands of the new dictatorship of the military junta, acting without consultation with the people, without elections, without any authority save the force they commanded’. Bernstein pointed to locking up of all political opponents, including Egypt’s communists, as a very negative aspect of the regime, but also pointed to positive changes, such as the creation of a ‘democratic’ constitution. However this constitution was deemed to be a constitution of the bourgeoisie – ‘the creation of the Nasser regime, of the middle-class revolutionaries representing the middle class of Egypt’. Teleologically it was moving the country ‘steadily away from military dictatorship towards bourgeois democracy’, but for Bernstein, the Nasser regime was not socialist.

On the other hand, Bernstein recognised Egypt’s commitment to anti-colonial solidarity:

It is a government of fighters against foreign subjection, taking the first steps against colonialism, against the backward heritage of imperialism. Let its enemies look to their own record in their own territory – in Kenya and Algeria, in Cyprus and in Malaya and Morocco and compare the record.

The Suez Crisis coincided with the Soviet invasion of Hungary and this led to a schism amongst communists, socialists and other progressives across the globe. Unlike other Communist Parties in the West, the fact that the CPSA had disbanded and gone underground meant similar open debates that occurred in the British, French and Italian parties could not happen, and in general, amongst South African progressives, the events in Hungary were seen as justified in comparison with the Anglo-French-Israeli actions in Egypt. In the New Age, it was pronounced that comparison between the two interventions was a ‘false analogy’, stating:

  • The Anglo-French aggression was directed against the Egyptian government; the Soviet [gave] assistance on the invitation of the Hungarian government.
  • The Anglo-French forces invaded Egypt. The Soviet forces were stationed in Hungary with the recognised responsibility of protecting Hungary’s independence and preventing her return to fascism.
  • Britain and France had no shred of legal right to invade; the Soviet armed forces were legally in Hungary in terms of the Warsaw pact.
  • Most important of all – the issue of Egypt is between imperialism and national liberation; the issue in Hungary is between socialism and reaction…

In the editorial of Liberation, the ANC made a similar case for the differences between Suez and Hungary:

we should not forget that the Soviet Union has not suddenly ‘invaded’ Hungary, as the British and French have invaded Egypt. Soviet troops have been in Hungary ever since the end of the second world war, and as a result of that war.

From these statements, it is evident that the progressive forces in South Africa were particularly concerned about other national liberation movements in Africa (and across the rest of the world) in their fight against imperialism and colonialism. Experiencing a severe racialist reaction against the decolonisation process in the form of Apartheid, South African progressives expressed solidarity with the Egyptian people and viewed the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion as part of a wider reaction by the global West against decolonisation. In the following years, southern Africa would be viewed as anomaly where the imperialist powers had not relinquished their stranglehold on these settler colonies, in the face of a generally decolonised African continent.

On the other hand, those progressives that were part of the SACP and ANC looked to the Soviet Union, as well as the Non-Aligned Movement (which had first met the previous year in Bandung) as guiding forces in the anti-colonial struggle. The ANC called the USSR ‘a great power openly and irrevocably hostile to imperialism’ that had ‘enabled the former colonies triumphantly to proclaim and consolidate their independence’. Criticism of the Soviets would come later on, but in 1956, there was little dissent amongst what the ANC and the underground SACP expressed towards the Soviet Union.

Like the putting down of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, the Suez Crisis showed South African progressives that the British were unwilling to give up control of some colonies that had strategic value to them, or where they felt that communists could potentially take power. Although Harold Macmillan would speak of ‘winds of change’ across Africa a few years later, the long struggle against Apartheid and imperialism in southern Africa was only just beginning.

 

 

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New piece at History & Policy: Brexit, imperial nostalgia and the “white man’s world”

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This is just a quick note to let people know that the website History & Policy has published a piece by myself and Steven Gray (University of Portsmouth) on Brexit and imperial nostalgia for the ‘white man’s world’ of the former settler colonies. You can read the piece here.

 

Forming the National Front of Australia: ASIO and the fledgling far right group

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On Saturday June 2, 1978, a group of nine people gathered in a room of the Southern Cross Hotel in the Melbourne CBD to launch the National Front of Australia (NFA). According to the ASIO informant, nine people attended the meeting, including several well-known far right activists, a 16 year old schoolboy and an undercover reporter for the newspaper The Age. Seven out of the nine listed were already known to the authorities in some regard. The meeting was led by a 23 year old law student and army reservist, Rosemary Sisson, who had travelled to the UK in 1977 to seek permission from the National Front’s John Tyndall to establish an NF in Australia. According to ASIO, Tyndall had appointed Sisson to be Chairwoman of the NFA until a directing body was created. In a report on Sisson by the Victorian Police’s Special Branch, Sisson was described in these terms:

She appears to be intensely sincere in her beliefs but politically naïve and immature. I do not believe that she has the ability to form a political party on her own volition and would most likely be used by other persons taking advantage of her enthusiasm, while maintaining their anonymity.

The meeting, which lasted between two and four hours, commenced with the playing of God Save the Queen and passed several motions relating to the outlook of the NFA, the composition of the National Directorate, membership fees and a statement of ambition regarding the contesting of elections in the near future. The ‘highlight’ of the meeting was listening to a tape recording of Tyndall. The ASIO informant described Tyndall’s speech as such:

Tyndal’s [sic] speech included greetings to the newly formed NFA and congratulations and it is encouraging to him that the National Front had extended to Australia… He pointed out that the National Front had been established for almost 12 year and during this time there had been clashes with the authorities, Police Special Branch and most left-wing groups. In spite of all this, they had conducted massive demonstrations and never instigated violence but violence was forced upon them… The speech continued with the usual self praises and self congratulations for the National Front.

Tyndall also mentioned in his speech that National Fronts had been established in several other countries, such as New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Rhodesia. After Tyndall’s speech, a letter of congratulations from the leader of the New Zealand National Front, David Crawford, was read out. Sisson saw the connection to the British NF as very important and most of the policies outlined at the meeting centred around maintaining Australia’s links with Britain, the Commonwealth and the ‘Anglo-Celtic’ race. These included the establishment of the Commonwealth National Front (CNF) as a (theoretical) co-ordinating body of the various NFs across the globe and the call for the reconfigurement of the British Commonwealth as ‘an exclusive closely-knit association of White states’, where there was either a large white population or ruling white elite. This led to the calling for the re-entry of Rhodesia and South Africa into the Commonwealth and support for white rule in both countries. As evidenced by the singing of the old national anthem, loyalty to the British Crown was paramount to the NFA.

The Age journalist that attended the meeting was David Wilson who wrote about the establishment of the NFA in the newspaper the following week. Wilson described the secret meeting of nine people as:

the culmination of 12 months’ work: trips by England by two of the nine, talks with the head of the English movement, Mr John Tyndall, letters to the chairman of the New Zealand division, Mr David Crawford, and weeks of long hours carefully selecting the initial members of the Australian movement, printing, letter writing and telephone calls.

According to ASIO intelligence reports, a Birmingham based NF organiser, Jeremy May (who had previously lived in Australia), had travelled in early 1978 to assist Sisson in setting up the NFA, while Sisson also communicated with Tyndall in writing. In an intercepted letter between Sisson and Tyndall, written in late November 1977, she concurred that the NFA would supposedly operate differently than the British NF, writing:

We agree with your suggestion that an Australian NF body should aim to function – at least initially – as a pressure group concentrating on basic political technique and party organisation, rather than attempting to achieve mass popular appeal and publicity.

This letter was written in the wake of the ‘Battle of Lewisham’ in August 1977 when the British NF attempted to march through a borough of south-east London with a large African-Caribbean community. The clashes between anti-fascist protestors and the police, as well as with some NF members, brought the NF to attention of many Australians as the scenes were broadcast on the news. The NF had shifted in their strategy from attempting to gain influence amongst ex-Conservative Party voters and building its membership base to a strategy of ‘owning the streets’ and gaining as much as publicity as possible from these street battles, whilst simultaneously contesting elections and trying to siphon off disaffected Labour voters. It seemed from Sisson’s letter that the NFA were not expecting to mimic the British NF’s approach just yet – with only a handful of interested people, occupying the streets was too tall an order for them.

The 'Battle of Lewisham', August 1977

The ‘Battle of Lewisham’, August 1977

The month before the establishment of the NFA, May wrote an article in Tyndall’s journal (aligned to the NF at the point in time) Spearhead, titled ‘Towards a National Front of Australia’. Like Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, the NF saw Australia as ‘a vast and fascinating country with tremendous social and economic potential’ and while the country was ‘almost completely self-sufficient in economic resources’, it was perceived that Australia was at the mercy of foreign investment and international liberalism. May pointed to the ending of the ‘White Australia Policy’ as a particular symbol of Australia’s despair, lamenting the ‘invading hordes’ from southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Furthermore, May focused on Australia’s ‘complete absence of protection for almost the entire length of the country’s vast coastline’ as another example of the country’s weakness, with the naval defences, described as a ‘bathtub floatilla’, unable to prevent ‘Chinese drug racketeers, Pacific Islanders and, most recently, Vietnamese refugees’ from reaching its shores. Despite this, Australia was still seen as a bastion of the old white Commonwealth at a time when South Africa and Rhodesia seemed on the verge of collapse. May warned Spearhead’s readers:

Let us be clear on one point. Should South Africa ever fall to the forces which threaten to engulf Western civilisation, we can be sure that Australia will be next on the list. Liberalism is a luxury which Australia simply cannot afford, if only for geographical reasons. No protection money will ever be sufficient to dissuade the teeming Asiatic billions from erupting into the island continent once they get their chance.

May declared that the only way to ‘safeguard the nation from this fate’ was the creation of the NFA, which he described as ‘an urgent and imperative necessity’. ‘Native Australians’, by which May meant white Australians with an Anglo background, ‘are a proud, strong-minded and independent people’, who also maintained their links to British. And it was up to the NFA to ‘ensure that this distinctive national identity… is encouraged, enforced and politically activated.’

With this mission in mind, the establishment of the NFA was preceded attempts to gauge public opinion through the secret distribution of literature across Melbourne. As David Wilson wrote in The Age, ‘The only indication of the secret spread of the movement was through the carefully circulated newsletter, The Australian Nationalist.’

The Australian Nationalist had started appearing from January 1978 and was a mimeographed publication written by Sisson. The first issue called for a united Australian nationalist party and bemoaned that the nationalist movement at that time was ‘almost hopelessly and irretrievably fragmented into mutually suspicious, competitive, and absurdly idiosyncratic, exclusive little groups.’ But Sisson declared:

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE REGROUP AND UNITE! Only though unity and the strength this gives us can we begin to tap and realise the incalculable political potential of national patriotism within this country.

Sisson pointed the British NF as the example ‘forever before our eyes’ of the unification of several different far right groups (in 1967, the NF had formed from the remnants of the League of Empire Loyalists, the British National Party, the National Democratic Party, the Greater Britain Movement and the Racial Preservation Society). The Australian Nationalist expressed a pro-British Commonwealth nationalism and its influences were very much drawn from the British fascist movement, rather than the American far right. Similar to May’s article, Australia was portrayed as the bastion of the white British civilisation on the periphery of Asia and Sisson argued that this meant that a strong nationalist movement was needed to maintain this position. The fear of invasion by Asians was long-standing in Australia and Sisson evoked this in a January 1978 article:

The geographical situation of Australia, with its close proximity to some of the most populous of Asiatic nations, impels us to be very much on our guard against nationally destructive propaganda…

In the editorial to the April 1978 edition of the newsletter, Sisson further championed Australia’s links to Britain and the importance of their ‘proper ethnic pride’. She argued:

Australia owes almost everything it has to Great Britain. The conquering and pioneering spirit of our forefathers was British. This can never be denied. If anything, we should seek closer links not only with white Europe, but to a greater extent with our mother country. Even though we are no longer a cluster of colonies, but are fully self-governing and independent, there is no reason why we should forsake our history and clamour for a republic.

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The first leaflet produced by the NFA

In June 1978, The Australian Nationalist became Frontline: Magazine of the National Fronts of Australia and New Zealand, with the debut issue dedicated to the formation of the NFA. Unlike the descriptions by ASIO and by David Wilson in The Age, the June meeting of the nine people to form the NFA was described in Frontline in grandiose terms. Quoting the opening address by Sisson, meeting supposed ‘mark[ed] an important event in the political history of Australia’ by forming a new political party that ‘represents the future of the Australian people’ and ‘revive national pride’. The magazine also carried the text of Tyndall’s speech heard at the meeting, in which Tyndall described Australia as a terra nullius transformed by British settlers into a bulwark of white civilisation on the edges of the British Empire:

Australia was not so very long ago a wilderness inhabited by a few savages, and it took some very hardy determined, self-reliant and tough pioneers to carve a great country and a great civilization out of that wilderness…

Tyndall enthused about the formation of the Commonwealth National Front, remarking that the ‘realisation of the National Front spanning the whole British Commonwealth has always been a dream to me’ and with the establishment of the NFA, ‘the sight of this dream being fulfilled is enormous encouragement to me’. Tyndall asserted that the NFA was not subordinate to the British NF and there was to be ‘equal partnerships’ between the NF in the UK and those in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In an article in Frontline, the CNF was to co-ordinate activities amongst the various NFs across the Commonwealth, but allowed discretion to each NF to function as it desired. The article explained:

Subject to their adherence to a common set of basic principles and objectives, National Front organisations in various countries are free to determine their own rules of association, to make their own executive decisions and to determine themselves all policies relating to their own countries’ domestic political affairs.

The above will include the right to determine whether the National Front in a particular country will function as a fully fledged political party, seeking power in its own right by the ballot box, or whether it will function merely as a pressure group or society for the furtherance of National Front ideals.

The magazine also carried the letter of congratulations from the NFNZ’s leader David Crawford, which described the NF as ‘the vanguard of the most impelling force ever to strike your country in the last 100 years’. Crawford mentioned that National Fronts now existed in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. The journal Patterns of Prejudice noted the announcement of the Commonwealth National Front in mid-1978, but stated that the only NF that had been set up by that time was in New Zealand – although by March, 1979, ASIO believed that the NFNZ was ‘almost finished’. Patterns of Prejudice that NFs in Canada and South Africa were still in development.

The 16 year old schoolboy that attended the inaugural meeting of the NFA was David Greason. In his autobiography, I was a Teenage Fascist, Greason described the meeting as a ramshackle and ill-organised affair, with him moving a motion for the formation of the NFA, even though he had not seen the motion previously. Greason described that in the days following the meeting and the publicity given to the NFA in the mainstream media, several different far right identities, usually linked to the now defunct national Socialist Party of Australia claimed to part of the NFA’s leadership. This is borne out in the ASIO files, which catalogue that various people in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales all claimed to represent the National Front in Australia. According to Greason and ASIO, the NFA seemed to be limited to Victoria and Queensland, where the Queensland Immigration Control Association (run by John C.A. Dique) had significant influence. The rival to the NFA in Sydney was the National Alliance, which eschewed the pro-Britishness of the National Front and leaned more towards the white supremacism coming out of the United States, influenced by the infamous newspaper National Vanguard. According to Greason, National Alliance tried to foster a uniquely Australian nationalism, appropriating the symbolism of the Eureka Flag and promoted the idea of an Australian republic. The leading figure of the National Alliance was Jim Saleam, who had been a member of the NSPA and went onto form groups such as National Action and the Australia First Party.

By mid-1979, Patterns of Prejudice was reporting that the NFA had between 100 and 300 members, but had been subject to in-fighting, particularly as Sisson made trips to the UK to meet with Alan Birtley, a NF member jailed for weapons and explosives offences. The ASIO file carries significant correspondence between Sisson and a NF member named Margaret Swan, whom Sisson discusses her links to Birtley extensively.

In the UK general election in May 1979, the British NF contested more than 300 seats and were wiped out at the polls, receiving barely more than 1 per cent of the vote on average. Similar electoral contests by the NFA in 1979 and 1980 led to the same results. Greason outlines that by 1980, there had been several defections from the NFA to the National Alliance, but the National Alliance was unable to make any more headway than their rivals. The media also focused less on the National Alliance, which did not have the same name recognition of the ‘National Front’, which was infamous across the English-speaking world.

The Commonwealth National Front did not last long into the 1980s. The NFA emerged to a completely hostile media and fared very poorly in its electoral pursuits, but was also not popular enough to take up the strategy of ‘occupying the streets’. Besides the production of Frontline, Sisson’s organisation dwindled and eventually over taken by rival groups, namely National Action. Patterns of Prejudice also reported in 1978 that the National Front of South Africa was in talks of merging with another small racist group and that the Chairman, Jack Noble, had resigned. The NFSA’s other major figure, Ray Hill, also left South Africa in 1980, before returning to the UK to join the British Movement as an undercover anti-fascist mole for Searchlight magazine. The British NF, which was seen as the beacon of the CNF, also collapsed after the 1979 election into warring factions. Tyndall formed the New National Front in 1980 and in 1982, transformed this into the British National Party. The remnants of the NF in the 1980s became known as the Official National Front and the NF Flag Group, which competed with the BM and the BNP for support amongst football hooligans and skinheads in the Thatcher years.

John Tyndall, leader of the NF and the BNP

John Tyndall, leader of the NF and the BNP

In his PhD thesis (acquired through the University of Sydney), Jim Saleam suggests that it was the authorities, particularly ASIO, that stifled the development of the NFA, writing ‘two facts were demonstrated: some Extreme-Rightists had strategies, and the para-State intended they not blossom.’ However while ASIO had infiltrated the NFA from its very inception and monitored it closely, the hostility it faced from the Australian public and its inability to gain any sort of traction politically was more to do with the NFA’s ideology and its membership.

As John Blaxland has acknowledged in his volume on the official history of ASIO, the security services had monitored the far right in Australia since the inception of the NSPA in the early 1960s and continued to monitor the far right throughout the 1970s, even though the various far right groups did not seem to present a danger to the parliamentary system and the ‘poor quality’ of its small membership. Troy Whitford has shown that when National Action was formed in 1982, both ASIO and the NSW Special Branch took measures to monitor and infiltrate the organisation, especially in the late 1980s when NA became increasingly involved in racist and political violence (as noted in the 1991 national inquiry into racist violence in Australia).

These three large files of ASIO’s surveillance of the National Front of Australia make for very interesting reading and show how the NFA attempted to seize the initiative presented by the British NF, creating an antipodean version of the UK organisation. The NFA had a particular pro-British outlook and saw a white-dominated British Commonwealth as its goal, but like many white supremacists and far right activists in the 1970s and 1980s saw South Africa and Rhodesia as symbols of white ‘civilisation’ being attacked by non-white and communist forces. Solidarity with these former settler colonies was paramount to the NFA’s worldview. The files show that the internal structures of the NFA (with the disputes over the leadership and direction of the party), as well as the media’s spotlight on the fledgling group and its inability to gain a widespread following, all led to the demise of the NFA by the early 1980s. However, as National Action, the Australia First Party and nowadays, the United Patriots Front demonstrate, the far right in Australia may change and shift, but not necessarily go away.

Rhodesia, the UDI and the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s

This is a continuation of my research into how the Communist Party of Great Britain campaigned around the issue of national liberation and majority African rule in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, looking at the period from the breakup of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland to the aftermath of the UDI. Today is the 50th anniversary of Ian Smith’s  Unilateral Declaration of Independence (11 November, 1965), which is often forgotten when compared with the other historical anniversaries that the day represents.

A CPGB pamphlet from the late 1960s

The role of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) within the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Britain is well documented and it is generally acknowledged that while a number of key personnel within the AAM were members of the CPGB, these Party members did not try to assert the Communist Party’s perspective on South Africa onto the Movement. Inspired at this moment in its history by the idea of ‘broad popular alliance’ (CPGB 1968: 1), the Communist Party emphasised that it was willing to work alongside other progressive organisations and social movements and not try to dominate them. This meant working with potential allies in the Labour Party, the trade union movement, progressive Christian groups, various other left-wing groups and non-aligned anti-apartheid activists. While critics of the AAM attempted to portray it as a communist front, the influence of the CPGB at the leadership level was greatly limited.

However in an adjacent conflict to the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the Zimbabwean war of national liberation, the Communist Party was less constrained by the AAM and promoted its own line on the Zimbabwean struggle, influenced by a reading of the struggle as part of a wider conflict in the Cold War period. The CPGB saw South Africa and Rhodesia as two arenas of the same battle against capitalism and imperialism being waged in Southern Africa, also taking in Mozambique and Angola. From the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith in 1965 to the elections held under African majority rule in 1980, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was viewed by the CPGB as the ‘weakest link’ in the chain of the imperialist system and an important battle against racial oppression on the road to fight against apartheid.

In the year prior to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Smith regime, leader of the Communist Party’s International Department, Idris Cox (1964a: 38), wrote in Marxism Today:

Within the past seven years the number of independent states in Africa has trebled… With the exception of South Africa (which is ‘independent’ only for the European minority) these independent states account for over 80 per cent of the African territory, and 85 per cent of its population.

After Harold Macmillan’s ‘winds of change’ speech in South Africa in 1960, decolonisation amongst Britain’s African colonies rapidly increased so that by 1965, the only British colony left on the continent was the Dominion of Southern Rhodesia. Rhodesia (as it was also known) was joined by the Republic of South Africa (which had left the Commonwealth in 1960) and by the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique. These four nations formed a bloc of imperialist states where white racial supremacy mixed with anti-communism to maintain ‘Western civilisation’ in the face of the broader decolonisation movement and as part of the global West in the Cold War. When declaring Rhodesia’s UDI in late 1965, Smith described the action as striking ‘a blow for the preservation of justice, civilization and Christianity’, rhetorically asking, ‘does anyone believe that Rhodesia would be the last target of the communists of the Afro-Asian block?’ (The Times, 12 November, 1965).

In an attempt to delay potential problems with the seemingly inevitable transition to majority African rule in their southern African colonies, the Conservative Government in Britain had overseen the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953, which combined both Southern and Northern Rhodesia, as well as the protectorate of Nyasaland. By 1963, this federation had collapsed, leaving Southern Rhodesia as one of the few imperialist states in Africa that maintained rule by the white minority, denying the majority African population many political and social rights. Resistant to pressures from the British government (and other members of the Commonwealth) to integrate the African population into the body politic of the former settler colony, the Rhodesian Front (RF), under the leadership of Ian Smith, promoted that Southern Rhodesia (increasingly referred to as just Rhodesia) should remain a white-ruled Dominion. Formally taking power in 1964, Smith’s RF initiated the beginnings of a fight against the emergent national liberation movements inside the country, awoken by the slow collapse of the Federation since the early 1960s. Criticised by the incoming Labour government under Harold Wilson, Smith announced the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in November 1965, withdrawing Rhodesia from the Commonwealth and initiating a long battle against majority African rule.

The Communist Party had long been involved in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist politics in Africa and in the Party’s publicity material for the 1964 general election, proudly stated:

The Communist Party is the only political party which has always opposed imperialism and all forms of colonial rule and exploitation. It fully supports the efforts of the colonial and newly independent peoples.

We have stood consistently by the peoples of Africa and Asia, and never hesitated in that cause to oppose our own Government and condemn the actions of our own military forces (CPGB 1964a: 2).

As the Federation broke up in the early 1960s, the Communist Party saw Southern Rhodesia on the cusp of either majority African rule or joining ‘the familiar henchmen of imperialism’, such as the UK, the USA and South Africa (Buckle, 1962: 374). The head of the Party’s International Department, Idris Cox (1963: 229), declared that ‘[t]he Federation is now dead’ and predicted that ‘[s]ooner or later Southern Rhodesia will become independent – but not under European minority rule’, proclaiming that independence ‘must be democratic independence under African majority rule’. After the transition to majority African rule by Nyasaland (Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), the Communists saw Southern Rhodesia as the next to fall and would leave apartheid South Africa vulnerable and isolated. Support for the national liberation forces in Southern Rhodesia became paramount to defeating imperialism and colonialism on the African continent, with Jack Woddis (1963: 776) writing, ‘it would be no exaggeration to say that Southern Rhodesia is one of the most dangerous explosions points in Africa.’ By the following May, Cox (1964b: 291) stated that if Smith maintained his position on resisting majority African rule, there would be ‘more violence and bloodshed in Southern Rhodesia and would be ‘another “trouble spot”’ for the British (following from the counter-insurgencies in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus).

The Communist Party put its support behind the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), a national liberation organisation established in the early 1960s and led by Joshua Nkomo. Despite being banned by the Smith government, ZAPU first agitated against white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia, calling for the mobilisation of the African population and demanding the British and the UN intervene in negotiations with the regime. Before the UDI in late 1965, the demands of ZAPU were:

  1. Suspend immediately the Constitution of the Colony.
  2. Order the release of Joshua Nkomo and all other political prisoners.
  3. Appoint an Executive pending the calling of a Constitutional Conference.
  4. Make available units of the British forces for emergency action against any attempted act of treason by the white minority Smith Government against the Crown (as cited in, Cox 1964: 292).

However the resistance of the Smith regime to any form of negotiations of the prospect of majority African rule and the persecution of the national liberation movement in Southern Rhodesia led ZAPU to take up the idea of the armed struggle, establishing the military wing the Zimbabwe People’s Republic Army (ZIPRA) in 1964 in Zambia. ZAPU formed links with the African National Congress (ANC), exiled from South Africa, and both organisations were supported by the Soviet Union. The ANC, along with the South African Communist Party (SACP), had adopted the notion of the armed struggle in the early 1960s, with the formation of its military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) in December 1961. This served as a framework for ZAPU/ZIPRA and the two organisations would fight together against the Rhodesian and South African armed forces in the near future (such as the raids on Wankie in 1967).

The CPGB published a statement by ZAPU in the fortnightly journal Comment in September 1964, which called for people to support either ‘Smith and his fascist group’ or ‘the majority, who are the Africans, led by Mr. Nkomo’, declaring ‘[t]here is no question of pedalling in the neutral zone’ (ZAPU 1964: 566). Taking inspiration from the anti-fascist struggles of the Second World War (as well as the armed struggle advocated by the ANC), ZAPU (1964: 566) argued that if the Smith regime was unwilling to negotiate on the issues of democracy and ending ‘the venom of minority rule’, it would fight to liberate the majority African population ‘from the yoke injustice, domination [and] exploitation’. The statement ended with this declaration:

We cannot condone violence and bloodshed nor can we condemn it, for there is no course left in Zimbabwe. The people have been frustrated so much that they cannot see any other course open but the REVOLUTIONARY WAY! GO ON FREEDOM FIGHTERS – FOR IN OUR BATTLE THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS!!

At this moment in 1964-65, Rhodesia seemed to be at a turning point – it was either going go the way of the other British colonies in Africa, such as Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Kenya and Tanganyika (later Tanzania), who all gained independence and majority African rule in the early 1960s, or it was either going to join South Africa, South-West Africa and the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique as part of a network of imperialist states ruled by a white minority. The Communist Party (1964b: 562) noted the two options open to Rhodesia, posing the question, ‘shall white minority domination continue or shall democracy prevail and the country advance to independence based on the rule of the African majority?’ And it was once again felt that Rhodesia was the lynchpin of the imperialist system in Southern Africa, which, if it fell to majority African rule, would put enormous pressure on the existing imperialist states. The Party saw the Dominion as such, writing:

Imperialism sees Southern Rhodesia as the central bastion in the line of colonialist strongholds stretching across the southern part of the African continent, linking the Portuguese colonies of Angola in the west and Mozambique in the East (CPGB 1964b: 562).

As Ian Smith consolidated his hold on power in Rhodesia, he proposed that the country’s 1961 Constitution allowed for him to claim its independence from the British Commonwealth and maintain white minority rule. Both sides of the British government attempted to bring Smith back from the brink of declaring the UDI during 1965 and called for a compromise, with Smith retaining the 1961 Constitution, but allowing for Africans to have the vote. Jack Woddis (1965: 358), the future Head of the International Department, wrote that this was no suitable compromise as ‘the African people and their organisations and leaders have repeatedly rejected the 1961 Constitution… and have emphasised time and again that they will never accept this constitution as the basis for independence’. But on 11 November, 1965, Smith pronounced Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence and refused to impose majority African rule, declaring that the British and the other constituent parts of the former Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland had tried ‘to foist the same dogma [of ‘racial harmony’] on to Rhodesia’ (The Times, 12 November, 1965).

Writing in the CPGB aligned journal Labour Monthly, R. Palme Dutt (1965: 529-530; 541) described the UDI as a ‘fascist type’ and ‘racialist’ coup by the Smith regime and likened the British government’s reaction as akin to the policy of appeasement of the 1930s. The UDI, Dutt argued, was a counter-revolutionary and ‘rearguard action of a fanatical racialist minority’ against the ‘advancing African Revolution’, but one which was ‘doomed to defeat’ as European imperialism was removed from the African continent by the forces of national liberation. He declared that the ‘interests of African freedom and of world peace demand the unconditional defeat and destruction of the racialist regime in Rhodesia’, looking to ZAPU and the country’s neighbouring African-led governments to intervene. Like others, Dutt saw the struggle for majority African rule in Rhodesia as part of a struggle against racism and imperialism in the rest of Southern Africa, writing:

The question of Rhodesia cannot finally be separated from the question of South Africa and of the Portuguese colonies. The fight to end racial servitude and win democratic freedom in these territories is a common fight… It is a common battle of all the African peoples, as proclaimed already by all the independent African governments, with support of all the progressive peoples of the world, of the socialist nations, the newly independent states outside Africa, and of all who support these common anti-imperialist aims in the imperialist countries. 

However support for this by the British trade unions was lacking at the time, beyond affiliation to the MCF and support for an embargo for South Africa, with Dutt thus imploring, ‘it is the vital interest of the British labour movement to play its full part in this common fight’.

In an emergency resolution passed at the CPGB’s 29th National Congress in November 1965, the Party made three demands on the issue of Rhodesia:

  1. The removal of the illegal Smith Government in Southern Rhodesia;
  2. Release of all political prisoners and those in detention;
  3. Suspension of the 1961 constitution, and a fully representative conference to frame a new constitution based on universal adult suffrage and majority rule (CPGB 1965: 64).

Furthermore the resolution expressed ‘firm solidarity’ with ZAPU which it described as ‘the spearhead of the African liberation movement in Southern Rhodesia’. Like Dutt’s conclusion, the resolution called for members of the CPGB ‘to do their utmost to win the organised labour movement to bring the maximum pressure to bear upon the Wilson Government to put these measures into effect’.

There seemed to be general consensus in Britain and in Africa that the Smith regime, with the oil embargo, pressure from the United Nations and the national liberation campaign being waged by both ZAPU and ZANU, would not be able to hold out for long on its own. Harold Wilson, perhaps infamously, declared that Rhodesia would feel the brunt of sanctions ‘within weeks, not months’ (Cited in, Coggins 2006: 371). This initial enthusiasm was tempered by the failure of the Wankie Raids by the ANC and ZAPU, when the armed wings of both organisations, the MK and ZIPRA, attempted to attack the Smith regime within its borders (to create a communication link between ANC camps in Botswana and Zambia) and were repelled by the Rhodesian Army, with assistance from the South African Defence Force (SADF) (Ralinala, et. al. 2004). By the late 1960s, the Rhodesian ‘bush war’ seemed headed for a stalemate, and further negotiations between Wilson and Smith (the Tiger and Fearless talks) failed to break the political deadlock.

At this stage, the international campaign for solidarity with the national liberation forces in Zimbabwe shifted, believing that the armed struggle and co-operation between the ANC and ZAPU would intensify in the late 1960s – as shown in the Marxism Today from September 1969 below. This is covered in the other posts that I have written on the subject.

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REFERENCES

Buckle, D. (1962) ‘The United Nations and Southern Rhodesia’, Labour Monthly (August) pp. 372-376.

Coggins, R. (2006) ‘Wilson and Rhodesia: UDI and British Policy Towards Africa’, Contemporary British History, 20/3, pp. 363-381.

Cox, I. (1963) ‘The Real Issue in Southern Rhodesia’, Comment (April 13) p. 229.

  • (1964a) ‘Socialist Ideas in Africa’, Marxism Today (February) pp. 38-45.
  • (1964b) ‘Zero Hour in Southern Rhodesia, Comment (May 9) pp. 291-292.

CPGB (1964a) ‘Finish with Colonialism! Draft for General Election’, CP/CENT/EC/09/08, LHASC.

  • (1964b) ‘Salazar – Smith – Verwoerd’, Comment (September 5) p. 562.
  • (1965) ‘Emergency Resolution: Southern Rhodesia’, in CPGB, 29th Communist Party Congress Report (London: CPGB pamphlet) p. 64.
  • (1968) The British Road to Socialism (London: CPGB pamphlet).
  • (1969) International Affairs Bulletin: Rhodesia Special Issue, 3/4 (January/February) CP/CENT/INT/08/08, LHASC.

Gurney, C. (2000) ‘“A Great Cause”: The Origins of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, June 1959-March 1960’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 26/1 (March) pp. 123-144.

Ralinala, R.M, et. al. (2004) ‘The Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns’, in South African Democracy Education Trust (eds), The Road to Democracy in South Africa: Volume 1, 1960-1970 (Arcadia, SA: UniSA Press) pp. 479-540.

Woddis, J. (1963) ‘What Next for Southern Rhodesia?’, Comment (December 7) pp. 776-778.

  • (1965) ‘Rhodesia’s 1961 Constitution’, Marxism Today (December) pp. 358-364.

ZAPU (1964) ‘The Revolution Gripping Zimbabwe’, Comment (September 7) p. 566.

 

The road to ‘The Dismissal’ in 1975: The British perspective

From The Guardian, 12 November, 1975, p. 13.

From The Guardian, 12 November, 1975, p. 13.

The Museum of Australian Democracy has announced that in commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam government, it will be tweeting the events of late 1975 leading up to 11 November. This will be a very interesting for those into in Australian history and helpful in understanding how the events in the weeks beforehand led to the dramatic dismissal of Whitlam by the Governor-General John Kerr.

For the last few years, one of my many research projects has been looking at how the UK government reacted to the dismissal and when I was last in the UK, I examined the FCO files relating to the ‘constitutional crisis’ of 1975. These files, which I discussed here and here, are mainly correspondence between the British High Commission in Canberra and the FCO in London, giving an account of the events leading up to the dismissal and then offering advice to the Wilson government on how to proceed, particularly as there was confusion over whether the Queen could have intervened in the crisis. One of the very interesting things to read in the files is the interpretation of the events leading up to 11 November, 1975 from the perspective of the staff at the High Commission. These are mostly letters written from J.M. Hay in Canberra to Alan Clark in the South-West Pacific Department of the FCO in London. I thought I would highlight some of this correspondence from the files.

On 22 September, 1975, Hay wrote:

The phoney war over the prospects for an early election continues thanks to Mr Fraser’s unwillingness to come out firmly one way or the other. It looks as though he is still casting around for an excuse but the indications are that the initiative is slipping out of his grasp…

There are indeed strong hints that the Mr Whitlam would soldier on should the Senate block supply and would return the budget bills to the Upper House for reconsideration while gradually turning off the tap on various Federal financial commitments. I doing so, he would hope to persuade the electorate that the Opposition was doing damage both to the Constitution and to the economy and thereby reverse the trend in the opinion polls.

On 23 October, Hay outlined that while the Senate continued to block supply to the Whitlam government and the Prime Minister refused to hold an election, both Whitlam and Fraser were looking to the Governor General to make a decision on this stalemate. Hay wrote:

Mr Whitlam and Mr Fraser seem set on a collision course, and more and more often the Governor-General is mentioned as the final arbiter. Mr Whitlam has given his very firm opinion that the Governor-General cannot take any step such as dissolution of Parliament without the advice of the Prime Minister… Mr Fraser, on the other hand, has made equally clear his opinion that the Governor-General has the power and the duty to dismiss the Government in order to resolve the crisis. It must be a very lonely time for Sir John Kerr.

On 31 October, Hay wrote:

We do not seem to be much nearer a solution to the political deadlock in Canberra and both Mr Fraser and Mr Whitlam are standing firm on their positions. It begins to look, however, as though the former’s support, both amongst his own colleagues and in the country, is beginning to leak away.

The letter continued:

Mr Fraser is now in the position that he can no longer be absolutely sure of the support of his colleagues in the Senate… Mr Fraser must now seriously doubt whether Opposition Senators will continue to fall into line on motions of deferral, never mind one of outright rejection of supply.

Hay concluded his letter that there were ‘no signs of compromise’, but that Fraser was unlikely to ‘gain… the support he need either in the Senate or in the country’.

On 7 November, Hay described an offer by Malcolm Fraser to Whitlam to pass the supply bills being held up in the Senate if Whitlam would call for an election of the House of Representatives and half of the Senate. Hay said that the High Commission was surprised by this offer by Fraser, writing:

It is difficult to see what Mr Fraser hoped to gain out of making an offer which he must have known… that Mr Whitlam, who believes that Governments are made and broken in the House of Representatives, would reject out of hand. In making the offer Mr Fraser also damaged his own position by effectively shifting his ground from a stance of principle to an admission that his tactics have been no more than a grab for power. In doing so he showed weakness in the face of the enemy – and few now have any doubts about the degree of personal animosity which exists between the two leaders – which would inevitably stiffen Mr Whitlam’s resolve.

Throughout the correspondence from late September to early November, Hay expressed concern that the deadlock was continuing and lamented that both Whitlam and Fraser seemed unwilling to compromise. It seemed, from Hay’s writing, that the British High Commission were dissatisfied Fraser’s politicking and expected that the Opposition’s tactics would not lead to the dismissal of the government in Fraser’s favour. My reading of this correspondence suggests that the High Commission expected Whitlam to survive the crisis and that the Australian public were not interested in returning the polls so quickly, as an election had been held in 1974 and was not due to be held until 1977.

Also evident in the correspondence was a concern that the Governor-General might have sought advice from the Queen or the British government. The view expressed by the High Commission to the FCO was that this was unlikely, but not impossible. In a letter from the FCO to the Foreign Minister, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, dated 24 October, suggested that while the best strategy was to do nothing for the time being, but also wondered whether it would be appropriate for the Queen’s Private Secretary ‘be advised to get in touch with Sir John Kerr with a view of “blocking off” any attempt to involve The Queen in Australian domestic politics’. However it was decided:

such advice could well offend the Governor-General who might feel he was being told how to advise on a matter for which he is already well qualified, while Mr Whitlam, if he heard of it, would inevitably suspect the UK’s involvement.

However when the dismissal did occur, the High Commission were taken by surprise and there were debates about what to send Fraser after being made caretaker Prime Minister as ‘a message in conventional terms would clearly be inappropriate’. In a telegram from the High Commission to the Prime Minister’s Office, dated 12 November, it was recommended that Harold Wilson ‘be advised to send a brief but friendly message’, wishing ‘Mr Fraser and his government well in discharging the responsibilities of their new offices and look forward to working with them in the spirit of friendly co-operation which traditionally shapes relations between British and Australian governments’.

As anger in Australia was directed towards the Governor-General, the representative of the Queen in Australia, the British government was steadfast to avoid being involved in the crisis. A telegram sent on 13 November from the FCO to the High Commission clearly stated:

It has accordingly been decided that UK ministers should avoid any involvement in this exclusively Australian domestic political dispute.

It was proposed that the line to take by those at the High Commission would be:

There is no Ministerial or Parliamentary responsibility at Westminster. It would be highly improper for any of us to enter into these very difficult problems – constitutional and others – which have arisen in Australia.

Despite earlier predictions that Whitlam would survive this challenge by Fraser, after the dismissal, the High Commission predicted that the Liberals would win, although they feared that the Liberals would control the lower house while Labor would control the Senate, leading to the same predicament in 1976. The High Commission started to favour a Liberal-National Party victory as this would mean closer and more straightforward ties between Australia and the UK, believing that if Labor was re-elected, Whitlam would seek to loosen ties with the UK, particularly making moves towards abolishing Australia’s ties to the British Monarchy.

In the end, the fears of the British were allayed by the electoral victory of Fraser’s Liberal-National Party coalition. These files reveal that the British government were keenly following the events in Canberra leading up to the dismissal in November 1975, while hoping that the events would engulf them and require intervention by London or the Queen. It is interesting to see that the High Commission underestimated the tenacity of Malcolm Fraser to unsettle the Whitlam government and to provoke such a crisis that needed the Governor-General to act in the way that he did. The 1970s saw the relationship between Australia and the ‘mother country’ greatly change, with Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community and this constitutional crisis affecting the traditional ties. While the Australian side is well-known by now, the perspective of the British on this untangling is yet to be fully uncovered.

 

(And it would be great to find the US perspective on this in the future too!)

Communism, anti-racism and the ‘imperialist war’ phase in South Africa, USA and Australia, 1939-41

With the anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War this week, this post is an extract from a paper that I am writing on the Communist Parties in South Africa, the United States and Australia and their agitation for black soldiers to join the war effort after the Soviet Union joined the Allies in June 1941. This part of the paper actually looks at the ‘imperialist’ war phase, between September 1939 and June 1941, when the international communist movement rejected the war as an inter-imperialist battle.

 

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After the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact in late August 1939, the Soviet Union shifted from its prominent anti-fascist stance that it had taken since the beginning of the Popular Front period. When Britain and France declared war on Germany, the Soviets declared that the war was an ‘imperialist’ war to maintain British and French colonial possessions.[1] Individual Communist Parties followed the Soviet lead and by October/November 1939, denounced the war as an imperialist war and pushed for ‘peace’ between the European powers. Australia and South Africa soon joined the British war effort (which was at first welcomed, then criticised by the respective Communist Parties), but the United States remained out of the war until December 1941. In the USA, the Communist Party’s main slogan was, according to Harry Haywood, ‘Keep America out of the imperialist war!’[2]

This opposition to the war reframed the anti-racist activism of the Communist Parties in all three countries, but predominantly in South Africa and the United States (partially owing to the fact that the Communist Party of Australia was banned from June 1940 to December 1942). The argument of the Communist Parties became that for non-white people, there was little difference between fascism and the imperialism of Britain and France, or particularly the discrimination faced by black people in the US or South Africa. The CPSA asked rhetorically in their Party organ in June 1940, ‘What is the difference to the Non-Europeans between the Nazi regime in Europe and the Union Government in South Africa?’, which was followed by ‘How can we be interested in fighting Nazism thousands of miles away, while in reality we have a similar monster devouring us here daily?’[3] The Communist Party argued that it was hypocritical of white South Africans to ask their non-white countrymen to fight for the Union (and the wider British Empire) when they did not enjoy the rights of their white contemporaries. A 1940 flyer produced by the Party stated:

It is an insult to the intelligence of the African, Coloured and Indian people to ask them to fight against a system of Nazi tyranny when they themselves suffer under terrible oppression and injustice.[4]

In February 1940, General Secretary of the CPSA, Moses Kotane, argued in Freedom that for Africans, there was ‘no enthusiasm among them for the war’,[5] while a pamphlet produced by the Johannesburg District Committee alleged that ‘the Coloured and African peoples are generally in a hostile frame of mind’, compared with the indifference of the Afrikaner population.[6]

However this hostility towards the war effort did not mean that Africans did not join the South African armed forces after the Union narrowly voted to go to war in October 1939. Despite the discrimination and segregation faced by Africans in the armed forces, David Killingray and Martin Plaut have calculated that more than 70,000 Africans enlisted into the Native Military Corps.[7] Although the CPSA was opposed to the war, they still campaigned for those non-Europeans who entered the armed forces to be treated as equals with white soldiers. Recognising that the armed forces offered a way out of unemployment for non-Europeans, the Party declared, ‘If the Government wants the non-Europeans to fight for it, let it give them the same rates of pay and chances of promotion as the Europeans.’[8]

Although the United States did not enter the war until after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, during the ‘imperialist war’ phase, the CPUSA warned of the ‘so-called liberal bourgeoisie’ who were seeking to ‘enlist the Negro’s support for American imperialism in this reactionary war’.[9] The CPUSA reminded its readers that African-American soldiers had fought in the Revolutionary Wars, the American Civil War and the First World War and had gained little from it, so while the ‘Negro masses [were] ever ready to fight for liberty, for real democracy’, they were not ready ‘to die again for the benefit of the swollen coffers of imperialist hangmen’.[10] This reflected broader trends in the attitudes of African-Americans towards the US armed forces in the lead up to America’s involvement in the conflict. As Daniel Kryder has noted, recruitment of African-Americans into (and retention within) the armed forces prior to Pearl Harbour was poor, with ‘widespread discontent’, so that by 1943, only one-fifth of black males eligible for service were successfully recruited (compared with one-third amongst eligible white males).[11]

Much more than the natives of South Africa and African-Americans, there was an initial enthusiasm amongst indigenous Australians (both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) to join the armed forces, although they were predominantly recruited to be support labour, rather than actual soldiers. When Australia entered the war in 1939, Noah Riseman reminds us that ‘[t]he Defence Act had no restrictions against enlistment of Aboriginal people’, although they were ‘exempt from call-up and from compulsory training’.[12] The Army had no little interest in actively recruiting indigenous people or the formation of indigenous units, but many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders did join up (approximately 3000 and 850 personnel respectively), with some seeing it as a way on encouraging the Australian Government to give its indigenous population citizenship rights.[13] Explaining the position of the influential Australian Aborigines’ League, Robert A. Hall summarised, ‘If Australia were to take seriously its fight against fascism,… then it had to take steps to end repression of Aborigines at home.’[14] However this recruitment was short-lived and in 1940, the government ‘explicitly prohibited the enlistment of all nonwhite persons into the army and navy’, although this was reassessed the following year as the threat of the Japanese loomed bigger.[15] By this time, the Soviet Union had entered the war and the position of the Communists in Australia, as well as everywhere else, had changed.

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[1] V. Molotov, Soviet Peace Policy (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1941) p. 30.

[2] Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978) p. 496.

[3] ‘The War and Segregation’, Freedom, June 1940, p. 7. Italics are in the original text.

[4] ‘Non-Europeans and the War’ (Cape Town: CPSA flyer, 1940) BC 1081/O18.10, Ray and Jack Simons Collection, University of Cape Town Library.

[5] Moses Kotane, ‘The Africans and the War’, Freedom, February 1940, p. 7.

[6] J. Morkel, The War and South Africa, (Johannesburg: CPSA pamphlet, 1940) p. 5.

[7] David KIllingray with Martin Plaut, Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War (Woodbridge, Suffolk: James Currie, 2010) p. 72.

[8] ‘Non-Europeans and the War’.

[9] Theodore R. Bassett & A.W. Berry, ‘The Negro People and the Struggle for Peace’, The Communist (April 1940) p. 326.

[10] Bassett & Berry, ‘The Negro People…’, p. 326.

[11] Daniel Kryder, Divided Arsenal: Race and the American State During World War

[12] Noah Riseman, Defending Whose Country? Indigenous Soldiers in the Pacific War (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2012) p. 10.

[13] Robert A. Hall, The Black Diggers: Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the Second World War (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1997) pp. 9-12; Riseman, Defending Whose Country? p. 10.

[14] Hall, The Black Diggers, p. 11.

[15] Riseman, Defending Whose Country? pp. 10-11. Italics are in the original text.