Research suggestions

Archives of political extremism in Australia: A short guide

Recently I was emailed asking about the archives of the political extremes in Australia and what archives had I come across in my research. I sent the following reply, which I think is a concise (but obviously not complete) survey of the various collections around the country. I thought others might be interested, so enjoy!

CPA ML

For my research on Australian political extremism, the predominant archival sources are those of the Communist Party of Australia. The Mitchell Library in Sydney has the largest collection of materials belonging to the CPA and the Aarons brothers, as well as a number of other CPA members. The University of Melbourne also has a substantial archive of CPA material, as well as that of Bernie Taft, Ralph Gibson and George Seelaf. UQ has a smaller collection of CPA material.

The Noel Butlin Archives at ANU has a wider labour movement collection, donated by several academics and labour groups. The National Library of Australia has some records relating to different radicals, such as Guido Baracchi, and Ralph and Dorothy Gibson.

The State Library of Victoria has digitised over 100 CPA pamphlets, which can be viewed via their catalogue and Trove has digitised the newspapers of the CPA until the mid-1950s.

There is a website called Reason in Revolt which has digitised a bunch of Australian radical materials, but it is far from complete and needs updating. But it does have extensive copies of the materials of the various Trotskyist groups in Australia, especially the ISO and the SWP/DSP.

The Encyclopaedia of Anti-Revisionism Online has the best materials relating to Maoism in Australia, sharing some with the Reason in Revolt page. The current CPA has an archive of the Socialist Party of Australia’s Australian Marxist Review journal back to the 1970s.

On the other side of the extremes, there is little on the Australian far right outside of the National Archives of Australia’s security files. There are papers dedicated to the New Guard in the Mitchell Library, as well as at the NAA. Former ALP and anti-communist activist Frederick Riley has two collections – one at the NLA and one at the SLV, but these are quite wide and varied. UQ also has a collection of material relating to the Australian League of Rights, as part of the papers of Jack Harding and Raphael Cilento. At this stage, the Searchlight archive at the University of Northampton (UK) might have the best collection of post-1945 Australian far right material, other than the declassified ASIO files.

Obviously there are other archives and resources that I have missed. If you can suggest any, please comment below!

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Some highlights from the CIA’s recent document dump online

This week, the Central Intelligence Agency uploaded more than 12 million documents onto its online library, allowing access to previously unavailable declassified material ranging from the 1940s to the 1990s. There is a lot of interesting material for researchers to wade through, but here are some of my initial highlights:

  1. A 1949 report on the communist movement in Australia.
  2. A 1949 report on the communist movement in New Zealand
  3. A June 1956 report on the fall out amongst Western Communist Parties after Khrushchev’s Secret Speech in February 1956
  4. A 1957 report on Titoism and World Communism
  5. A 1958 report on the Afro-Asian Solidarity Conference held in Cairo in 1957 (just after the Suez Crisis).
  6. A 1976 report on the emerging ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ regime in Cambodia
  7. A 1981 report on the states that supported terrorist movements in Europe and North Africa/Middle East
  8. Two reports on the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party from July and November 1983
  9. A 1984 report on the relationship between Australian Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the trade union movement.
  10. A 1985 report on terrorism in Western Europe

These are just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, so if there’s any documents you think are particularly interesting, leave a comment below and I might try to compile a further list soon.

Full run of IMG’s ‘The Red Mole’ is now online

The first issue of The Red Mole (March 1970)

The first issue of The Red Mole (March 1970)

This is just a quick post to note that the blog Red Mole Rising has been resurrected and is now uploading many new interesting documents relating to the International Marxist Group, the USFI and Socialist Action. As part of this, the blog has uploaded the entire run of the IMG newspaper The Red Mole, alongside most of the run of its predecessor The Black Dwarf. As we wrote in the introduction to our book on the British far left, the IMG had emerged out of an entrist group within the Labour Party in 1965, splitting with the Revolutionary Socialist League that would eventually become Militant. Moving from orthodox Trotskyism towards a left libertarianism (similar in area of the pre-1970s International Socialists), the IMG dived into the radical student movement and the counterculture of the late 1960s, with a particular eye on the ‘Third World’ and anti-imperialism (including heavy involvement in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign). Aligned with those organised around New Left Review, the IMG helped produce an intra-party publication titled The Black Dwarf, which was a mixture of Trotskyism, Third Worldism and ‘soft Maoism’. But by 1970, tensions within the paper over its direction led to the IMG establishing The Red Mole as a dedicated party publication. The Red Mole probably coincided with the height of the IMG’s influence on the British left, with a much more youthful focus than many of its rival publications. It lasted until mid-1973 when the IMG replaced it with Red Weekly, which signalled a change in line for the party.

Flicking through the collection, the thing that struck me was the forthright internationalism present in The Red Mole and the support for national liberation and ‘terrorist’ groups across the globe. The IMG, an influential force in the Troops Out Movement, was particular notorious for its critical support of the IRA during the early 1970s, which is reflected in this paper.

This is now a valuable resource for historians of the British left and I hope that more material follows in the near future. As I have written in the past, we still haven’t seen a recent history of the International Marxist Group!

Are labour historians still doing labour history?

Today I have been having a discussion with several friends on social media over the question that an academic posited to me – is labour history dead? As part of that discussion, most of us have argued that labour history isn’t dead, but it has evolved since its heyday in the 1970s and has benefitted from interaction with other historical sub-disciplines, such as women’s history, transnational history, migration history, cultural history and oral history. The scope for what is considered ‘labour history’ has widened over the last few decades and could now be considered ‘people’s history’, as the Welsh labour history Llafur recognised when they changed their masthead in 2002.

As what is described as ‘labour history’ often crosses over with other historical sub-disciplines, I was intrigued to see what was being published in journals that were explicitly categorised as ‘labour history’ journals. I found five history journals in from across the Anglophone world with the word ‘labour’ in the title and decided to browse the articles that they had published since the beginning of 2014. The journals were Labour History Review (UK), Labor History (US), Labour History (Australia), Labour/Le Travail (Canada) and International Labor and Working Class History (US/UK), which gave a good cross-section of the field in different parts of the world. I avoided other journals that could have potentially crossed over, such as Past & Present, History Workshop Journal, International Review of Social History, Socialist History Journal and Radical History Review, because while they (explicitly or implicitly) shared a popular history ‘from below’ approach, they were not specifically ‘labour history’ journals.

By examining the titles and abstracts of original research-based articles from the five journals, I made a list of the broad categories of the content of each article published in 2014-15. The number of articles in each journal issue and the frequency of publication fluctuated. For example, I examined eight issues of Labor History, while only two issues of International Labor and Working Class History were available for perusal at the time that I was doing my ‘research’. Also Labour History had up to eleven articles in one issue, while one issue of Labour History Review had as little as four. I tried to categorise the articles by the issues that they dealt with and not by region, which would have thrown up a bias towards UK or US history. Articles often straddled multiple categories and the numbers do not equate one article with one category only.

So here are the topics dealt with the most by articles published recently in specifically labour history journals:

Trade Unions 17
Strike 17
Industrial Relations 13
Race 12
Sport 10
Military 10
Colonialism 10
Transnationalism 10
Protest 8
Migration 7
British/Australian Labour Party 7
Deindustrialisation 6
International organisations 5
Ethnic communities 5
Environmental issues 5

 

In the table above, industrial relations broadly refers to the arbitration between workers, employers and the government, as well as specific pieces of IR legislation. Transnationalism refers to a number of things including the movement of ideas and people across borders, the building of solidarity networks across borders and supra-national labour organisations. Most of the other categories are self-explanatory (I hope).

These were the top fifteen categories, and overall I listed 45 different categories. This is skewed by the fact that there were several special issues, with Labour History having a special issue of ANZACs and labour during the First World War, Labour History Review having an issue dedicated to the strike wave of 1911, Labor History having an issue of transnational labour history and International Labor and Working Class History dedicating a special issue to African labour history.

With these qualifications, the results are bit surprising. Most people had agreed that the field of labour history had widened considerably over the last few decades and the traditional focus of the sub-discipline on straight, white working class men and their organisations (primarily the trade unions and the Labour Party) had been superseded by, for example, studies of women, ethnic minorities, and people from the colonial sphere/Global South. But I could find only three articles dealing with women. A high number of articles were still dealing with the long established topics of trade unionism, strikes, and industrial relations. Perhaps weighted by the special issue on African labour history, there were a number of articles dealing with issues of race and colonialism, as well as migration. I was surprised by the number of articles that dealt with the issue of sport and its relation to the working class and labour organisations.

While scholars are still dealing with these topics, it almost inevitable that they are looking at these topics in different ways and through the lens of the multitude of sub-disciplines that have grown since the 1970s and the ‘cultural turn’. The history of trade unionism written in 2015 is not going to be the same as if its was written in 1975. But scholars are still dealing with the same topics.

What does this mean for the field of labour history? Possibly not much. People are writing about the same things, but probably in different ways than before. But maybe it indicates that labour history is maintaining its definition in these specialised journals, while those ‘doing’ labour history are also publishing elsewhere, combining the traditions of labour history with the techniques of other sub-disciplines.

This is not an exhaustive study of the state of labour history, but a cursory glance. I’d be interested in crunching more numbers, but maybe someone with more quantitative skills might help me out (hint hint). And possibly there needs to be a content analysis too. For another time!

ASIO and B.A. Santamaria: Duelling Anti-Communisms

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The Australian has had a love-in this week with Catholic anti-communist B.A. Santamaria, with pieces by Tony Abbott and Gerard Henderson celebrating Santamaria’s anti-communist crusade inside and outside the Australian labour movement since the 1940s, and Greg Sheridan disclosing how his work inside the National Civic Council led him to crosspaths with ASIO and conduct anti-communist mischief in the student movement in the 1970s. Sheridan wrote this week:

The NCC always had some kind of relationship with ASIO. ASIO studied the communists for several reasons. Many communist groups received money from the Soviet Union and other foreign governments. Some used violence for political purposes. Some facilitated espionage. ASIO got information from the NCC and vice versa. So there was always a clandestine, secretive, slightly exotic air about the NCC.

However, from these National Archives files from ASIO’s monitoring of the NCC from 1973 to 1976, the relationship between ASIO and the NCC was much more fraught than Sheridan would suggest. In a 1972 report, ASIO complained that Santamaria continually made links between the ACTU’s Bob Hawke and the Communist Party of Australia’s Laurie Carmichael, although no link seemed to be there. The report says, ‘There appears to be no reason or justification for this, other than to smear HAWKE by association.’ In the same report, ASIO described Santamaria’s description of the involvement of ‘the Kremlin’ in the affairs of the Australian labour movement as bordering on the conspiratorial, and akin to the rantings of the anti-semitic League of Rights. This section of the report states:

The second point, which alleges coalition now of the “Communists” and “monopolistic employers”, is perilously close to the League of Rights – Eric BUTLER allegation that a conspiracy links the Pentagon and the Kremlin. The only difference is that the League sees the conspiracy as Jewish and the NCC as Communist-Capitalist. Mr. SANTAMARIA does  not bother to explain exactly what the “communist union bosses”  and “cynical capitalist employers”  have in common that leads them to agree on squeezing “small businesses” and the “lowest paid workers”.

The report concludes:

If the NCC’s analyses continue to develop along the lines of SANTAMARIA’s second point, one may have to consult a political pathologist, or even a psychologist, for an adequate explanation.

Furthermore, a February 1973 minute wrote that ASIO was ‘competing with the NCC in interpreting to Government and the public, the nature and extent of Communist influence in Australia’ and depending on government priorities could be considered a ‘subversive’ organisation. The minute pointed two specific areas where the NCC was worthy of ASIO’s interest:

(1) Undeclared NC members penetrating sensitive areas of Government service with consequent detriment to official secrecy.

(2) The use of such information by the NCC to embarrass or thwart Government, for example, in such a situation as Mr. SANTAMARIA’s recent visit to Saigon as a guest of Brigadier SERONG where he addressed a military academy and urged disregard of U.S. and Australian policy re the cease fire.

However the minute concluded:

The nature of their political attitudes and objectives, whether judged extreme by some, or commendable by others, would not, I believe, justify security attention in a democratic society.

Although we know from this file that ASIO continued monitoring the NCC for at least the next three years.

The file also includes some documents relating to the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security held between 1974 and 1979 by Justice Hope (after the infamous raid on ASIO by Labor Attorney-General Lionel Murphy in 1973). This admits that ASIO assisted Santamaria and the NCC at some stage, but also notes that the NCC was an organisation of interest to ASIO (with a suggestion that ASIO impeded its activities at times as well). However these documents don’t reveal what the relationship between ASIO and the NCC was during the 1970s (beyond the one-way internal reports of the early 1970s).

One of the primary goals of ASIO was to combat communist subversion in Australia, a goal also held by Santamaria’s Democratic Labor Party and the NCC. While both pursued this goal and there was collusion between the two organisations at times, it is important to recognise that both organisations also had wider agendas and their anti-communisms were not exactly the same. While not having too much faith in the opinions of ASIO during the 1970s, a read of this file indicates that ASIO were wary of the claims being made by Santamaria and the NCC and saw them as worthy of monitoring because it was unclear what the wider agenda of the NCC was and there was also suspicion of the Council’s semi-clandestine operative framework.

We know that ASIO started monitoring the NCC in 1963 and it is reasonable to assume that they kept monitoring after 1976. The NCC flirted with the edges of democracy and were, at times, judged to be involved in subversive and anti-democratic activities within the labour movement. Because they shared an anti-communist agenda with ASIO, the surveillance of this secretive organisation by the Australian security services was limited, but it is very apparent that Sanatmaria, the DLP and the NCC were not the beacons of democracy that Abbott, Sheridan and Henderson suggest in the pages of the Murdoch press this week.

Maybe it is worth applying for an FOI request for any ASIO files on the NCC from 1976 to 1985?

New Communist History Online Resources

Just a quick post to let those interested in Communist history that there are two new online resources to play with!

Firstly, the Russian Archives have now made the Comintern Online Archive free to access. The website is only navigable in Russian at the moment, but after playing around with Google translate, I have been able to find some very interesting stuff. This article from the Library of Congress in Washington is very helpful in outlining what each file group are by reference number.

Secondly, the University of Wollongong has digitised all 148 issues of Australian Left Review, the monthly journal of the Communist Party of Australia from 1966 to 1993. Similar to the CPGB’s Marxism Today, the ALR was the outlet of the Eurocommunist/Gramscian wing of the CPA, with significant crossover between the ‘Euros’ in both parties.

I have been trying to get the draft of my book finished, so I haven’t had enough time exploring these two resources, but hopefully soon I will be able to blog about some of my finds. Happy hunting!

What does the term ‘black’ mean for historians of Afro-Caribbean & Asian activism in 1970s Britain?

Should historians of Afro-Caribbean and Asian activism in Britain in the 1970s-80s use the term ‘black’ to describe these people and their communities? Or does the term ‘black’ as a political category belong to a by-gone era?

 

Photo by Phil Maxwell

Photo by Phil Maxwell

From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, many African-Caribbean and South Asian activists in Britain used the term ‘black’ to denote a political position of Afro-Asian unity in the face of white British racism. Writing in the mid-1980s, authors, such as Peter Fryer and Ron Ramdin, used the term ‘black’ to describe all non-white Britons in their histories of black people in Britain.[i] Paul Gilroy also used the term to highlight opposition to the racism of white British society, which seemed to regard ‘the racial characteristics of both “Paki” and “nigger” as being equally worthy of hatred’.[ii]

In his 1985 work, ‘RAT and the Degradation of Black Struggle’, A. Sivanandan referred to the common experience of nearly all non-white immigrants in Britain, ‘created in the post-war years by a culture of resistance to racism in the factories and the neighbourhoods of the inner cities to which the Afro-Caribbeans and Asians had been condemned to work and live’.[iii] Located in ‘the same ghetto’, Sivanandan stated that African-Caribbeans and Asians had ‘found common cause a racism that denied them their basic needs… and brought them up against racist landlords, racist teachers, racist social workers and racist policemen’.[iv] The common problems and interests of African-Caribbean and Asian people in Britain ‘led to a common culture of resistance’ and what Sivanandan calls ‘a community’ – a black community.[v] Using the language of Sivanandan, it can be argued that these black communities of the 1960s and 1970s were defined by their struggle for political recognition and a political voice, as well as racial and socio-economic oppression by the British state, which was experienced by nearly all black people in post-war Britain.

But it is also important to recognise that there were (and are) many different experiences by different ethnic groups, classes, ages and localities within these wider communities. Since the 1990s, many scholars have been reluctant to use the term ‘black’ to include both African-Caribbeans and Asians as it was believed that the term failed to recognise the differences between the multitude of diaspora communities. It was argued that non-white people in Britain could not amalgamated into one homogenous category.

One question that arises from this is what term do historians of the period of ‘black’ activism (from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s) use? In her history of black activism in Britain, Kalbir Shukra wrote:

I retain “black” not to bestow any authority upon it, but because it is the term most commonly preferred by those who were the focus of this project.[vi]

In the past, I have followed Shukra’s reasoning, but am curious to see what other people think.

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[i] Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, Pluto Press, London, 1984; Ron Ramdin, The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain, Gower, Aldershot, 1987

[ii] Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation, Routledge, London, 2002, p. 36

[iii] A. Sivanandan, ‘RAT and the Degradation of Black Struggle’, Race & Class, 25/4, 1985, p. 2

[iv] A. Sivanandan, ‘RAT and the Degradation of Black Struggle’, p. 2

[v] A. Sivanandan, ‘RAT and the Degradation of Black Struggle’, p. 2

[vi] Kalbir Shukra, The Changing Pattern of Black Politics in Britain, Pluto Press, London, 1998, p. 125