LABOR HISTORY - 1955 LABOR SPLIT
Vere Evatt made two inestimable contributions to the preservation of our
social democracy. The first was his leadership of the 1951 campaign to
oppose the banning of the Communist Party.
have shown that the Menzies government was preparing to put thousands of
Australians into concentration camps once that ban came into effect.
Fortunately, most Australian followed Evatt’s lead and voted against
the referendum to alter the Constitution.
Evatt not used his authority in the Labor movement to marshall
opposition to the anti-Red Bill, political life would have been driven
well down the road to authoritarianism. Communists would have been
punished for their beliefs, not for specified offences. Fellow
travellers and other non-communist radicals would have been rounded up
Australians now appreciate that Evatt played the hero’s part on this
issue, while the Liberal Party under Menzies exposed how little it had
in common with small-l liberalism or the rights of the individual.
other contribution, however, is hardly recognised. Indeed, his action in
splitting the Labor Party has been an embarrassment to his admirers. It
is high time to praise Evatt for saving Australians from a national
government dominated by the Catholic Action groups around B.A.
October 5, 1954, Evatt denounced the “Movement” and the
“Groupers” as clandestine organisations attempting to take control
of the political and industrial wings of the Labor movement. The term
“Movement” derived from Santamaria’s National Catholic Rural
Movement and the Catholic Social Actin Movement. “Grouper” was
shorthand for the Industrial Groups which had been set up inside the ALP
to take control of unions from the Communist Party.
memoirs, Against the Tide
(1981), acknowledged that the Industrial Groups had the numbers to
control the ALP machine, and hence to influence government policies. On
the issue of sacking the anti-grouper federal secretary of the ALP, he
wrote: “Nor was there any doubt that a majority existed on the federal
executive to bring this about”. He added that “Industrial Group
supporters now occupied the positions of federal president … and the
pretended to be surprised by the extent of this takeover. In fact, for
tactical reasons, he had been supporting the Catholic Action forces for
two years. During the approach to the 1954 elections, Evatt initiated
discussions with Santamaria. According to Santamaria, Evatt promised two
million pounds as a capital contribution to land settlement projects.
years on, the significance of what was then a substantial sum of money
needs explanation. In those days, the Catholic Actionists hoped to
convert Australia into a utopia of rural idiocy. Their pivotal
organisation was the National Catholic Rural Movement. Santamaria called
his 1945 manifesto “The Earth, Our Mother”, in which hs expounded
the virtues of living on six acres with a cow. All modern evils came
from industrialisation and organisation. The contemporary world was
sinful by definition. The answer to communism and to juvenile
delinquency was to encourage a society of small rural producers.
immigration program would be tailored to suit. Catholic peasants would
be brought out and put on government-funded settlements. Women would
fulfil their God-ordained role as breeders of 12 children and keepers of
Santamaria put it: “If Dr Evatt had won the election, he would never
have launched his attack on the Industrial Groups or the Movement, since
he would have needed their support as prime minister”. In exchange, a
federal Labor government would have implemented social and economic
programs far more reactionary than any supported by Menzies and his
Country Party partners. With Grouper-dominated in five of the six
States, complementary legislation would have been forthcoming to
overcome the fact that constitutional powers on many social issues
resided with the States.
defeat in the 1954 election prevented the implementation of such
schemes. The claim that ASIO arranged Petrov’s defection to save us
from a left-wing government under Evatt has never held water, given how
right-wing Evatt’s policies were in the first half of 1954. If there
were any truth in the Petrov conspiracy, it is more likely that the
Anglo-Saxon Protestants moved to prevent a government in which
Santamaria set the agenda than that they sabotaged the electoral chances
of a left0leaning Evatt.
instead of moaning that the Labor split helped to keep the Liberals in
office for 23 years, progressive Australians should rejoice that
Evatt’s madness and machinations prevented the forces of black
Catholic reaction from dominating the government.
only criticism to be made of Evatt was that he attacked the Groupers
before they had had a chance to clean up the NSW branch of the ALP. The
Groupers were on a crusade to purify the world. Having vanquished the
Reds, Santa’s sanctified ones were turning their attention to the
corrupt elements on the Right of the Labor movement.
of the Groupers, the old Irish Catholic Right in NSW went along with
Evatt’s attack and thus survived the split to perpetuate its reign
down to the present. If Evatt could have waited, the Groupers might have
done their cleansing thoroughly enough to dislodge the machine that has
landed us with Paul Keating and his mates.