Menzies’ Cold War, a reinterpretation
L. J. Louis
Red Rag Publications, $

One Man’s Fight Against ASIO
Lefty Freeman
RMIT University, $

Arguing the Cold War
Peter Love & Paul Strangio (eds)
Red Rag Publications, $

By 1938, the émigré German novelist Thomas Mann had perceived that Nazism and fascism were “expedients against the threat of social revolution everywhere … for which the respectable world everywhere … has a secret weakness”. The appeasers knew which side they were on in that global class war. The armed conflicts that had begun in Spain and China did not surrender their character as imperialist rivalries upon the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The USA continued to wage economic war against both its Japanese competitor and its British ally, as it had done during and after the Great War. The tussle for dominance within the United Nations erupted as soon as the Axis powers surrendered. The conflict between the Soviet bloc and the US-dominated force was another part of this grab for markets.

Les Louis has shifted the ground beneath Cold War scholarship by linking military-espionage matters to the struggle between wage-labour and capital. From this perspective, the attacks on Communist-led unions appear as economic necessity more than red-baiting. The class struggle would have proceeded inside Australia even if the Cold War had not occurred. When Labor and then the Coalition used the military in the mines and on the docks they were involved in the class struggle as a battle for productivity against the technological backwardness of both sectors.

In the late 1940s, much of the Australian economy was still being managed under the wartime extension of central power. The big exception was the direction of labour, although New Australians were supposed to work wherever they were told for two years. When the Menzies government lifted price controls and ran into the Korean War boom, the gap widened between the need to invest in capital goods and the demand for consumer items. On top of this scissors crisis, came pressure to increase military outlays.

With inflation moving towards 18 percent in the April-June quarter of 1951, Menzies declared that Australia “did not have a day more than three years in which to get ready” for a new world conflict. Having just had his Communist Party Dissolution Bill declared unconstitutional, Menzies was staking out the grounds for arguments before the High Court to extend the powers of the Commonwealth to preparations for war, and not just for its conduct or aftermath.

The Menzies Government needed a US umbrella  (ANZUS) if it were to win an election after signing the Peace Treaty with Japan and committing troops to the Middle East. Louis’ Australian case makes sense in the context of the triangular strategy of reviving Europe and Japan by giving them access to their old colonies. The British needed Malaya for tin and rubber to provide dollar exchanges.

Louis underlines the nuclear option as the new priority that allowed total defence outlays to stagnate around £200m. through the 1950s, after the death of Stalin and cease-fires in Korea and Indo-China had lowered the temperature.

Now that Louis has pointed the way, it behoves diplomatic historians to bone up on political economy in the manner of the Kolkos, but with even more attention to the labour process.

The working day of Leftheris Eleftheratos (Lefty Freeman) at the GM-H Pagewood plant in the 1950s deserved more space in his memoir. Freeman, came to Sydney in the late 1940s but was not allowed to return when he went back to Greece in the mid-1950s. He complains that he was treated as a Communist when he wasn’t one. Typical of Hellenic revanchists, Freeman spends much of his book proving that Cyprus has always been Greek. The national question takes precedence over the class question, even though, as he notes, the armed rebels in Cyprus under Grivas were in cohoots with the homeland Greeks who had collaborated with the British in 1945-48 and with the Colonels who overthrew a creaky democracy in 1967. Less than a quarter of Freeman’s book adds to the Cold War story in Australia. Yet it is worth being reminded that Cyprus was one of the foci of the Cold War for control of the Mediterranean, another strand of decolonisation. The retreat of Britain left room for the US to swivel between Athens and Ankara, according to which was the more fascist at the time. Henry Kissinger connived in the Junta’s toppling of the democratically elected President Makarios in 1974, which further diminishes the Greek claims to be the fount of democracy.

Conference papers gauge the ideological winds. The Love and Strangio collection presents somewhat more than the conventional left-wing wisdom about the Cold War years in Australia, but nonetheless reveals how far most writers have to go to catch up with Louis.

Peter Love opens with as succinct an overview as it is possible to construct. Errors of detail and emphasis are worth correcting to sharpen our understanding of the class factors at play. The Coalition was not the “only unequivocal victor in Australia’s Cold War” since the US military and corporations did far better out of it. Moreover, it is sad to see someone on the left accepting US propaganda about the Marshall Plan as a charitable act, and one which Stalin rejected. In fact, the Plan had been framed so that the Soviets could not accept it, its aim being to revive the US economy.

Love is also amiss to claim that von Hayek’s allegation that welfarism must lead to totalitarianism was not widely discussed here by 1946. Dymocks had published an edition of The Road to Serfdom in 1945, with a reprint the next year. By October 1945, local trade journals were quoting praise for Hayek from the Reader’s Digest. More significantly, Australia had its home-grown von Hayeks in Professor F. A.  Bland’s outpourings,  John Anderson’s 1943 essay on “The Servile State”, and the Institute of Public Affairs, founded late in 1942. The ideological front of the class war was well underway in Australia before Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech. The pre-emptive strike against planning was part of the war for position on the ideological front, protecting capital from domestic constraints, not threats from abroad. At the start of the Cold War, the struggle was to restore capitalism to favour after it had delivered two world wars, a depression and fascism.

The Communist Party Dissolution Bill and subsequent referendum have none of the aura that Petrov Commission still attracts yet it generates as many errors. Contrary to Love, Evatt’s arguments to the High Court over the Act “persuaded” none of its members who had to put aside their animus towards their erstwhile brother in order to uphold their legal principles. A majority of electors voted “No” at the subsequent referendum because of the economic anger that Evatt and Victorian Liberal premier Tom Holloway inflamed. Jenny Hocking’s piece on the 1951 Referendum misses both these points and fails to grasp that, as much as Dixon J. wanted to ban the Communist Party, he was not prepared to abolish Federalism, or the High Court, which he believed the government was asking the Bench to do. To dismiss such objections as “technicalities” fails to grasp the nature of judicial logic. Those technicalities may prove useful against the latest state terrorism.

Hocking also needs to read Audrey Johnston’s 1986 life of Tasmanian Senator Bill Morrow, Fly a Rebel Flag, if she thinks that Menzies was being other than factual when he remarked how easy it would be easy to “declare” at least one Labor senator. Menzies’ mention that a member of the House of Representatives would escape by the skin of his teeth was a parliamentary riposte at Eddie Ward who had just interjected. Evatt’s role in the court case or referendum did not ensure “his and the Australian Labor Party’s electoral defeat for years to come”. On the contrary, Evatt went from strength to strength until he won a majority of the votes, but not of the seats in 1954.

The ex-Coms, Amirah Inglis and Bernie Taft, rake over ploughed fields whereas the Groupers, John Cotter and Rick Brown, open up the story. A volume of their colleagues’ memoirs would be more welcome than another moan from the Left. The splits in Santamaria’s organisations matched those in their Communist adversary. What would have happened had the Movement been led by Stan Keon and not by Bob Santamaria? Was Keon was the greatest Labor prime minister Australia never had? Bruce Duncan seeks to crack the Santamaria Conundrum but does not see that he was a Falangist more than a fascist, whose enemies were the Reformation, the Enlightenment and Modernism, of which Communism was but a late manifestation. His attacks on global finance in the 1990s were part of that mentality.

Overland editor Ian Syson ends the collection with the wish that the Cold War become a popular topic, observing that it is important to keep the Quadrant crew, from Peter Coleman to Robert Manne, in their ideological place. Surely it would be better to go back to Les Louis’s concern for the class war in every decade as a basis for waging it today?

In preparing for those battles, it is worth noting that none of these leftist authors accepts the Marxist-Leninist stance that the state is the instrument of class repression. Rather, they seem upset that the government did not act as umpire. From this condition, two conclusions follow. First, many of the most radical Australians have absorbed a bourgeois liberal view of the state. Secondly, if this acceptance is indicative of the outlook of the Australian working class, then any notion of the state as class violence raised to an obligatory norm is enshrined as a truism with scant relevance to political activism. To analyse why this pluralist view has triumphed means exploring the effects of industrial arbitration, parliamentary cretinism and welfare systems in giving the workers’ representatives a bureaucratic rent.

Similarly, the Left’s acceptance of the Venona transcripts – despite Phillip Deery’s warnings - has installed a line between those bad communists who spied for the Soviet Union and the good ones who worked for social reforms. Again, this division rejects Marxist-Leninist principles where loyalty is owed to the international working class, not to the capitalist state under which one happens to be born. To rephrase a familiar remark, if asked to betray either one’s country or one’s class, the revolutionaries of the 1920s had hoped for the courage to subvert the rulers of their nation-market-state. That this morality later served ignoble ends does not make it any less honourable. Above all, the great betrayal was not of bourgeois patriotism in the 1930s and 1940s, but of proletarian solidarity when Labor leaders sabotaged the Second International’s pledge for a general strike to prevent war in 1914.