‘White Australia Policy’

The Communist Party of Australia and Anti-Colonial Activism in Papua New Guinea

This is the extended part of a paper that I wrote with Padraic Gibson for the Eric Richards’ Symposium in British and Australian History, which was held at Flinders University last week. The abstract for our paper was as below:

Alongside the Communist Party of Australia’s (CPA) work for Aboriginal rights, the Party’s demands for independence for Papua New Guinea (PNG) arose in the late 1920s from a more complex understanding of the specific form of Australian imperialism. Originally the CPA made no differentiation between British imperialism and the settler colonialism that existed in Australia. This contributed towards an uncritical attitude to immigration restrictions and a silence on the colonial oppression experienced by Aboriginal people on this continent and Indigenous peoples in Australia’s ‘mandated territories’ in the South Pacific. In dialogue with the Comintern, from the late 1920s, the party developed a more nuanced theory of imperialism that highlighted the independent interests and initiative of the Australian bourgeoisie. In this context, the CPA started to campaign against Australian imperialism in New Guinea, highlighting the violent and exploitative rule by the Australians in the mandated territory. This provided an orientation that led to the development of important links between Communist Party members in northern Australia and the independence movement in the territories of New Guinea and Papua. In the lead up to the Second World War and during the early Cold War era, these links particularly worried the Australian authorities (including ASIO) as they thought that a successful anti-colonial movement in the territory would allow firstly the Japanese, then the Chinese or Indonesian communists to gain a base close to the Australian mainland. This paper will explore at this overlooked part of the history of the Australian Communist Party and the campaign against Australian imperialism in the Asia-Oceania region.

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However the paper that we wrote was too long to confine into one conference paper, so I am posting the second half of the paper, on the post-1945 period, here. This is very much a work in progress piece, so any feedback is welcome.

The period after the Second World War looked to present the international communist and anti-colonial movements with an ‘interlude of hope’ as the forces of socialism and national liberation seemed to gather pace.[1] Based on Lenin’s theory of imperialism,[2] communists saw the collapse of the European colonial systems in Africa, Asia and the Americas as the catalyst for worldwide socialist revolution.

In the era of decolonisation that started after the Second World War, the CPA increasingly look towards Asia and the revolutionary precedent established by the Communist Party of China. It is evident that as the dual processes of the Cold War and decolonisation got underway, there was a clear division of labour between Moscow and Beijing, with the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence concentrating on Europe, while it was accepted that the colonial countries of Asia would follow the ‘Chinese path’. The CPA was to provide support to the anti-colonial movements in Asia and formed particularly close links with the Communist Parties of Malaya, Indonesia and India, as well as the Chinese Party. A 1949 report on communism in Australia compiled by the CIA noted the support that the CPA had given to communists in Indonesia, Malaya and India, and stated, ‘It is one of the strongest Communist parties of the region and has extended assistance to various independence movements’.[3] The same report claimed, via ‘unverified reports’, that the CPA has set up amateur radio station in Queensland to communicate with sister parties in South-East Asia, and also used ‘smugglers and seamen’ to help in communicating with the armed rebellions in Malaya and Indonesia.[4]

As well as fighting British, Dutch and French imperialism in South-East Asia, the Communist Party revived the fight against Australian imperialism in the aftermath of the Second World War. During the Second World War, the CPA was relatively silent about New Guinea and self-determination for its people. Criticism of Australian imperialism was substituted for criticism of Japanese and German imperialism in the region and New Guinea was predominantly mentioned as a battleground against the Axis powers. Like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who fought the Japanese during the war, the Communist Party celebrated those Papuans who helped the Australian Army and saw this fight against fascism as the beginnings of a longer fight against imperialism and racism.

During the war, the security services that predated ASIO started to be interested in any inroads that the CPA were making amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities in northern Australia. Of particular concern was the CPA’s activism with Indigenous people in the northern parts of Western Australia and in early 1944, inquiries were made out about possible communist activism in another frontline area – PNG. A memo from the Deputy Director of Security in Western Australia wrote to the Director of Security in Canberra, however, noted ‘[t]here is no evidence that the Communist Party in this State has show any interest in the future of the natives of New Guinea.’[5]

In July 1944, the Party first announced its programme for the nation once the war ended, looking to prevent Australian capitalism filling the vacuum after the Japanese occupiers left. In Tribune, the Party stated:

Now that the Japanese are pushed back and the danger is over, New Guinea capitalists are clamouring to return to their plantations and business with complete freedom to exploit and enslave the natives as before.[6]

Self-determination to the people of PNG was the ultimate goal, but the CPA also made several interim demands, particularly as the Communist Party argued that the people of PNG had ‘not developed to the point of setting up democratic organisations’.[7] These interim demands included restrictions on ‘non-native private enterprise and commerce’, restrictions on exploitation of land and the assistance of ‘native agriculture’, the funding of health and education services, and the ‘abolition of the indenture system’.[8] These interim measures, the Party claimed, were ‘aimed to assist [the] people of New Guinea to advance toward nationhood and to exercise their right to self-determination.’[9]

This gradualism in the call for self-determination in New Guinea is very different from the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the CPA and its support for national liberation movements in South-East Asia that were emerging at the same time. In 1945, the Party called for the rights promised under the Atlantic Charter to be applied to the countries liberated from Japanese rule,[10] including political independence, but by 1948, the Party demanded that ‘the labor movement as a whole must stand unswervingly for independence for the colonies’ as well as giving ‘fullest support to the great national revolutions proceeding in India, China, Indonesia, Viet-Nam, Malaya and Burma.’[11] In the same 1948 pamphlet, the Party warned that the ‘Australian imperialism is developing its own colonial empire’, but still insisted that the ‘natives’ in PNG, Fiji and other Pacific Islands needed ‘protection… against slavery to Australian capital’ and granting them ‘assistance… in the raising of their political and educational level’.[12]

A 1964 report on the activism of the Communist Parties of Australia and New Zealand in the Oceania region outlined some of the ways in which the CPA promoted raising the ‘political and educational level’ of the people of New Guinea. One was the encouragement, via the Australian trade union movement, of the formation of a Papuan Workers’ Union.[13] In Tribune, the Party argued:

Formation of such a union plus the establishment of co-operatives are two of the first steps in Papua towards realising UNO Charter aims of improving social, economic, educational and health standards of the peoples of the South West Pacific territories and assisting them to become in the shortest possible time fully independent self-governing communities.[14]

In the 1958 resolution on New Guinea published in Communist Review, the CPA announced that it ‘welcome[d] the ACTU decision directed towards the extension of trade union protection and rights to these workers.’[15]

In the early 1960s, ASIO noted, the Party also suggested an end to individual leases by ‘native occupiers’ on communal land, with farming co-operatives to be set up as alternatives to the capitalist exploitation of the farming population of Papua and New Guinea.[16] This system, Jim Cooper wrote in Communist Review, ‘would not be a violent change from the present communal lands, or the social set up’, but would ‘mean smooth transition by the New Guinea people [from the] commercial exploitation of their land’.[17] It would, Cooper argued, ‘guarantee the New Guinea people’s lands to them, and make for a prosperous and contented people as our near neighbours.’[18]

After increasing episodes on unrest in Papua and New Guinea in the early-to-mid-1960s, the Party more frequently featured the territory in the party press, particularly Communist Review, the monthly journal of the CPA. These episodes of unrest coincided with attempts by the Australian and British governments to establish some form of self-government in the territory of Papua and New Guinea, with a report by Sir Hugh Foot proposing in 1962 the election of a 100 member local parliament by 1964. The CPA saw these attempts at establishing a self-government by the Australian government to be an attempt to ‘hang on and develop a fully fledged capitalist economy’ in Papua and New Guniea.[19] The Party supported the reforms suggested by the Foot report, but argued that these proposals ‘would not mean independence’, and instead maintained:

The only policy for the Australian working class is the principle of independence for the people of Papua and New Guinea. Assistance to help the people develop their country would come from socialist and neutral countries and even Australia itself with no strings attached.[20]

This push for immediate independence was a shift away from the view that the Party had in the late 1940s that the people of New Guinea were not ready for self-determination. Laurie Aarons, the General Secretary of the CPA since the mid-1950s, wrote in Communist Review in 1963 that both the trade union and national movements were growing in size and that the ‘past few years [had] seen many important struggles on a very broad front’, including ‘class struggles for wages and conditions’, ‘struggles to defend the land from alienation’ and ‘struggles against oppression and for democratic rights’.[21] Like other statements from the mid-1960s, Aarons stressed the importance of independence for Papua and New Guinea, but also proposed that the Australian labour movement had ‘to learn from the New Guinea people what their aims are and what help they require from our working class.’[22]

In the late 1960s, the Papuan independence movement became more militant and the CPA saw it in a similar vein to the other anti-imperialist and national liberation movements happening across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America. In 1971, Alec Robertson, the editor of the CPA newspaper Tribune, called PNG ‘the last domino’ in Australian Left Review, writing:

PNG – a country very well suited to guerrilla warfare – is approaching a state of crisis already seen in SE Asia and is a potential theatre of large-scale counter-revolutionary war by Australia’s rulers. Each step in that direction should be opposed strenuously by the Australian anti-war movement, for it is essentially the same issue as Vietnam.[23]

From the early 1950s to the early 1970s, ASIO were seemingly more worried about international intervention in PNG, particularly Indonesia, China and the Soviet Union,[24] but there was also a concern about the role that the CPA was playing in the Papuan independence movement. Files at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra reveal that in the early-to-mid-1950s, ASIO closely monitored CPA members and fellow travellers who visited PNG, often from Queensland.[25] Rhys Crawley has suggested that while ‘ASIO expected the CPA to continue its vocal criticism of Australian colonial rule in TPNG’ during the 1960s, it found that ‘there was no organised CPA or communist front activity’ in the territory.[26] It seems as though the role that the Communist Party of Australia played in the campaign for independence for Papua New Guinea was primarily a propaganda role in increasing awareness amongst the Australian labour movement.

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[1] Robin Gollan, Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism & the Australian Labour Movement 1920-1950 (Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1985) p. 143.

[2] V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Peking; Foreign Languages Press, 1975).

[3] CIA, The Communist Influence in Australia, 11 April, 1949, p. 3, CIA-RDP78-01617A00300070002-5, CIA Online Library, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp78-01617a003400070002-5.

[4] CIA, The Communist Influence in Australia, p. 3.

[5] Letter from Deputy Director of Security for WA to Director General of Security, Canberra, 4 May, 1944, A6122 357, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.

[6] ‘Party Asks for New Deal for NG Natives’, Tribune, 6 July, 1944, p. 8.

[7] CPA, Jobs Freedom Progress: Draft Resolution for 14th National Congress of the Australian Communist Party (Sydney: CPA pamphlet, 1945) p. 5.

[8] CPA, Programme of the Australian Communist Party (Sydney: CPA pamphlet, 1945) p. 20.

[9] CPA, Programme of the Australian Communist Party, p. 20.

[10] CPA, Jobs Freedom Progress, p. 5.

[11] CPA, The Way Forward (Sydney: CPA pamphlet, 1948) p. 17.

[12] CPA, The Way Forward, p. 17.

[13] ASIO, ‘Oceania – Communism’s Last Target’, 1964, p. 3, A12839 A30 Part 5, National Archives of Australia.

[14] ‘New Deal for Papua is Urgently Needed’, Tribune, 31 January, 1947, p. 5.

[15] ‘New Guinea’, Communist Review, May 1958, p. 228.

[16] ASIO, ‘Oceania’, p. 9.

[17] Jim Cooper, ‘New Ordinance and New Guinea Land Rights’, Communist Review, January/February 1965, p. 12.

[18] Cooper, ‘New Ordinance and New Guinea Land Rights’, p. 12.

[19] Harry Stein, ‘Decline of Imperialism in Papua New Guinea’, Communist Review, January 1963, p. 30.

[20] Stein, ‘Decline of Imperialism in Papua New Guinea’, p. 30.

[21] Laurie Aarons, ‘On New Guinea’, Communist Review, June 1963, p. 183.

[22] Aarons, ‘On New Guinea’, p. 184.

[23] Alec Robertson, ‘The Last Domino’, Australian Left Review, 29, March 1971, p. 43.

[24] David Horner, The Spy Catchers: The Official History of ASIO 1949-1963 (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2014) p. 159; Rhys Crawley, ‘Australia’s Cold War Frontline: ASIO in Papua New Guinea, 1962-1975’, in John Blaxland, The Protest Years: The Official History of ASIO 1963-1975 (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2015) p. 289-299.

[25] See: A6122 357, NAA.

[26] Crawley, ‘Australia’s Cold War Frontline’, p. 299.

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.

Public engagement ftw!

Exeter

Two guest posts by yours truly have been published in the last two days. The first is on my research into the UK perspective on the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in 1975 and has been published by The Conversation. The second is on Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and their view of Australia as a ‘proto-fascist’ settler colony. This post has been published by the wonderful Imperial and Global Forum run by the University of Exeter.

I did a radio interview about the Whitlam controversy with Dom Knight on ABC Radio Sydney last night. I think the episode is available for reply for the next week.

 

New article on Australian Border Force for Salvage mag

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This is just a quick post to let people know that the new left-wing magazine from the UK, Salvage (established by ex-SWPers China Miéville and Richard Seymour, amongst others) has just published an online article by me on the failure of Operation Fortitude and the Australian Border Force controversy. You can find the article here.

This follows on from a tweet of mine about the failed Operation making it into a report from the Sydney Morning Herald that day. You can see my *hilarious* tweet here.

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.

British attitudes towards the ‘White Australia Policy’ in the inter-war period

I am currently writing a research article on the British Union of Fascists’ view of Australia and how it fit into the fascist view of empire in the inter-war period. As Paul Stocker has recently written, the fascist view of empire was predominantly an extension of already existing conservative attitudes towards the empire, but was much more protectionist and held up ‘imperial unity’ as paramount to the preservation of the British Empire (and the British ‘race’). In my research, I have found that the BUF’s attitudes towards Australia (and particularly the ‘White Australia Policy’) weren’t that far removed from the attitudes shared by many other British politicians and journalists. Most of the British elite had sympathies for the idea of a ‘White Australia’, but this was tempered by the fact that Australia was deemed to be under-populated and under threat from Japanese (and German) expansionism. The British felt that large scale and rapid migration of people (not necessarily from Britain or even Europe) was probably needed to secure the country as a British possession. This pragmatism was decried by the BUF, who maintained the importance of Australia as a white settler colony.

The section below is part of this research and outlines how the British elite viewed the ‘White Australia Policy’ in the inter-war period, providing the wider context for the fascist view of Australia that was developed by the BUF in the 1930s. This is a new area of research for me, so any feedback, criticisms or tips for further research are most welcome.

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The under-population of tropical Australia was a concern for both the Australians and the British, who believed that it may succumb to invasion.

As Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds have argued, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the settler colonies of the British Empire, alongside the United States, established a ‘global colour line’.[i] Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa (and eventually Southern Rhodesia) had a special role in maintaining the boundaries at the edges of the Empire and sought to regulate the dichotomy between the European coloniser and indigenous colonised. Within this imperial hierarchy, certain ethnic groups were imported from other places within the empire to perform certain labour and administrative tasks, but it was always reinforced by the colonial rulers (particularly in the settler colonies) that the British were at the top of this hierarchy. This hierarchy operated more or less in an informal manner across many of the colonies, but in the settler colonies, there were efforts to make this hierarchy more formalised – and in the case of Australia after 1901, efforts were made abolish this hierarchy in favour on an unachievable monocultural society.

For the newly federated Australia, the ability to make sovereign decisions over its racial make-up was central to its push for self-government. As Lake and Reynolds have argued, Australia’s pursuit of self-government sought to confirm ‘their special status as white men in a multi-racial Empire…, even as they continued to subject themselves to the sovereign British Queen.’[ii] In the 1880s and 1890s, the Australian colonies had objected to British treaties which allowed unrestricted Chinese and Japanese migration within the British Empire and sought to implement immigration controls that restricted non-white migration ‘regardless of their standing as powers or status as British subjects’.[iii] First introduced in the colony of New South Wales in 1896, this was reiterated in the 1901 Commonwealth Act, against the protests of the British.

One of the important aspects of the ‘White Australia Policy’ was its protection of the rights of ‘white workers’. Before 1901, certain ethnic minorities (such as the Japanese and Pacific Islanders in Western Australia and Queensland) had specific places within a colonial economy, but after Federation, the majority of employment was reserved for white workers, with several pieces of legislation severely restricting the access of non-white people to jobs. Until the 1960s, the organised labour movement in Australia worked to ensure that white (British and northern European) workers remained at the top of this hierarchy and were firmly attached to the concept of the ‘White Australia Policy’.

In Britain, there was sympathy for the ‘White Australia Policy’ and acknowledged that this was central to the Australian political system at the time. National Democratic Party MP, Charles Jesson, stated in the House of Commons in 1920 that ‘the workers have decided that they will have a white Australia, and we have no right to interfere.’[iv] In 1925, Labour MP Hugh Dalton described the ‘White Australia Policy’ as ‘an absolutely inevitable policy’ and declared that ‘every State has, under international law, complete control over its own immigration – whom it will admit and whom it will not admit.’[v]

But there was also concern that the newly federated country was placing racial purity above the broader military/security concerns of the British Empire. Expressed in Parliament and in the mainstream press, many were anxious about the security of northern Australia, which was seen as under-populated and as attractive territory for rival powers, particularly Germany and Japan. In the House of Lords, Lord Denman reminded the House that Australia, along with New Zealand, occupied an ‘isolated position in the Southern Seas’, but was still only ‘within a few days steaming of great Asiatic countries’ and that this threat was exacerbated by the under-population of the country.[vi] Dalton said that the need for settlers was felt across all of the Dominions, but stated ‘I think there is no case as urgent as that of Australia’, claiming that the ‘White Australia Policy’ was ‘barring their way to the great empty spaces of the Australian continent.’[vii] Dalton concluded his address by declaring his support for the ‘White Australia Policy’ but declared that ‘it can only be maintained and justified in the eyes of the world if Australia can achieve a great increase in her population and render her new unoccupied territory fertile and productive.’[viii]

Developing the empire was a great concern in the inter-war period and the Empire Settlement Act 1922 was part of a broader attempt to shore up the empire through migration, with assisted migration for skilled Britons to the Dominions to maintain the strength of the empire in the peripheries. The Australian-born Conservative MP, Sir Newton Moore, described his concern that the country was ‘surrounded by teeming millions of Asiatics whom she does not propose to admit’ and this was a threat to the Australia’s northern ‘territory of a million square miles with only something like 350,000 people’.[ix] This concern continued through the 1930s, and was raised with the rise of Germany, Italy and Japan. After Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in late 1936, Conservative MP Somerset de Chair lamented the peripheral position of Australia and described the ‘White Australia Policy’ as a bulwark against Asian expansionism:

They know that they stand isolated from the rest of the Empire and that between them and us are the teeming millions of Asia. They have adopted a “White Australia” policy because they realise that if they once opened the door to coloured immigration, above all to the immigration of the Chinese, they would be completely swamped. They have recognised that the “White Australia” policy is the only alternative, to racial extinction.[x]

But de Chair also recognised that upholding this policy of racial purity came at a strategic cost and with a population of ‘only 6,500,000’, Australia had to ‘realise that that is bound to be dangerous’.[xi] The crux of the predicament faced by the Australian government was,

They want the country populated, and they know that the natural proess of the increasing birthrate will not be sufficient to fill the country in time. At the same time, they are reluctant to consider an immediate influx of immigrants.[xii]

The juxtaposing concerns of maintaining the health of the British ‘race’ across the empire and ensuring the security of the peripheries of the empire can also be seen in the mainstream press in the inter-war period. In 1919, an editorial in The Times opined about the under-population of the northern part of Australia and the concerns this raised for the elite in London, stating that the ‘danger of leaving this immense area permanently unpeopled has an Imperial aspect, because empty lands are an abiding temptation.’[xiii] While many in the Australian government promoted the idea that ‘white’ Britons would eventually settle these northern areas, the newspaper was much more sceptical, writing that ‘we are unable to believe that millions of whites will ever be established in the northern areas of Australia’.[xiv] But still feared that ‘the more temperate regions of Australia have a boundless future’ for ‘other races’.[xv]

When the British negotiated the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1920 to prevent imperial conflict in Asia, the British press saw the ‘White Australia Policy’ as a barrier to this arrangement that ensured the security of the British Empire’s Asian colonies in the short-term. In The Times, it was recognised that the ‘determination of Australia and New Zealand to prevent Asiatic immigration is set and unalterable’, yet hoped that the determination of Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes to maintain this policy would not derail the Alliance, declaring that the English-speaking world ‘cannot face the prospect of renewed competition in naval armaments without the certainty of financial and… moral bankruptcy.’[xvi]

In The New Statesman, Independent National MP from the Australian House of Representatives, Frederic Eggleston, wrote that the ‘chief factor in the healthy growth of the Australian democracy has undoubtedly been the purity of the Anglo-Saxon base’ and declared that ‘Australia is more purely Anglo-Saxon than any other dominion, more so than some parts of Great Britain.’[xvii] But Eggleston also realised that Australia’s ‘sparsely settled territory’ was tenuously held and ‘it would not take much to swamp the Anglo-Saxon holding party.’[xviii] For this Australian politician, the ‘White Australia Policy’ was paramount to assuring the security of the British Empire in the Australasian region, arguing, ‘[u]nrestricted immigration of Asiatic races means the disappearance of Australia as an Anglo-Saxon democracy.’[xix]

Eggleston and other supporters of the ‘White Australia Policy’ promoted further migration of British settlers to Australia to secure the country and stave off the perceived threat of Asian invasion. For example, a Daily Mail editorial from 1927 claimed that the only way that Australia could maintain the ‘empty lands of a continent where there are only six million people to nearly three million square miles’ was through the ‘vigorous immigration of the best white stock’.[xx] Although as The Times editorial above suggested, many in Britain were sceptical of this occurring and pragmatically believed that non-British migration would be a suitable solution. A 1934 Times editorial stated, ‘A White Australia policy… cannot be safe so long as it implies or seems to imply an empty Australia’, suggesting that ‘a well-organized scheme of migration’ was needed to ensure the security of Australia and the wider British Empire.[xxi]

The opinions expressed by various British politicians and journalists show that the idea of a racially ‘pure’ Australia as a paragon of the settler colonial society was widespread throughout British elite and that concerns about maintaining this ‘purity’ were not the desires of the far right in Britain, but shared by a much broader strata. However this desire for maintaining the ‘purity’ of the British ‘race’ in Australia had to be gauged against the desire by the British to maintain the country as part of the British Empire/Commonwealth (in the face of threats from Japan and Germany). This concern about the nation’s security meant that the British favoured large-scale migration of non-British (and possibly non-European) migrants into the northern territories of Australia to prevent this ‘empty land’ from being invaded.

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[i] Marilyn Lake & Henry Reynolds Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008) p. 5.

[ii] Lake & Reynolds Drawing the Global Colour Line, p. 143.

[iii] Lake & Reynolds Drawing the Global Colour Line, p. 144.

[iv] House of Commons, Hansard, 26 April, 1920, col. 948.

[v] House of Commons, Hansard, 24 March, 1925, col. 368-369.

[vi] House of Lords, Hansard, 29 May, 1922, col. 850.

[vii] House of Lords, Hansard, 29 May, 1922, col. 850.

[viii] House of Lords, Hansard, 29 May, 1922, col. 850.

[ix] House of Commons, Hansard, 2 April, 1925, col. 1615.

[x] House of Commons, Hansard, 25 January, 1937, col. 677-678.

[xi] House of Commons, Hansard, 25 January, 1937, col. 678.

[xii] House of Commons, Hansard, 25 January, 1937, col. 678.

[xiii] ‘The Future of Tropical Australia’, The Times, 12 August, 1919, p. 11.

[xiv] ‘The Future of Tropical Australia’, The Times, 12 August, 1919, p. 11.

[xv] ‘The Future of Tropical Australia’, The Times, 12 August, 1919, p. 11.

[xvi] ‘Empire Policy’, The Times, 8 April, 1921, p. 11.

[xvii] Frederic W. Eggleston, ‘The White Australia Policy’, New Statesman, 10 July, 1920, p. 386.

[xviii] Eggleston, ‘The White Australia Policy’, p. 386.

[xix] Eggleston, ‘The White Australia Policy’, p. 386.

[xx] ‘Advance, Australia!’, Daily Mail, 9 May, 1927, p. 10.

[xxi] ‘Empty Spaces of the Empire’, The Times, 1 February, 1934, p. 15.

A Fascist View of Australia (1937)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next steps are twofold:

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

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

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