Interview: Organising In Cyberspace
Industrial: How Low Is Low
Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
Unions: Bad Medicine
History: Right Turn, Clyde
Economics: Long Division
International: Union Proud
Politics: Howardís Sick Joke
Indigenous: The year of living dangerously
Review: Lights, Camera, Strike!
Culture: News Front
The Locker Room
Gerard Henderson is a right-wing skirmisher who heads up The Sydney Institute, a conservative think-tank which organizes guest-speaker lectures, and publishes a journal and a magazine. The Institute is supported by corporations which Henderson seems coy about identifying; sponsors have reportedly included AMP, Boral, BT, Macquarie Bank, Shell. A major function of the Institute seems to be to act as a vehicle for Henderson's diatribes against the Australian Left, reminiscent of Cold War politics.
Henderson has worked his way through various institutions of the Australian Right, beginning as an employee of the Catholic anti-communist critic of the Australian Left, B.A. Santamaria, and his National Civic Council. It was here Henderson imbibed the politics of anti-communism, cutting his teeth as a propagandist defending Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War and attacking the radical student and anti-war movements of the 1960s.
Later Henderson variously worked for the Liberal Party, including a stint as Chief of Staff to John Howard (1984-86), in the crucial early days when Howard was taking hold of the Liberal Party. He has published books on Santamaria, and on Robert Menzies and the Liberal Party, is a commentator often quoted and employed by the mass media, and writes weekly opinion pieces for the Sydney Morning Herald and The West Australian.
Each year since 2004, Henderson has attacked in the mainstream print media the Sydney based historian Andrew Moore, currently an Associate Professor in History, Politics, Philosophy at the University of Western Sydney. Moore established his credentials at La Trobe University during the late 1970s, early 1980s, with a remarkable piece of historical research, later published as The Secret Army and the Premier (New South Wales University Press, 1989).
Forensic in its exhumation and use of a wide array of company records, newspapers, archival, manuscript and oral material, The Secret Army detailed and documented the story of the Old Guard, a formidable rural based paramilitary organisation in NSW during the Great Depression that planned to overthrow the democratically elected government of Labor Party Premier, Jack Lang.
The Old Guard was a well-financed, well-armed, organization, the creation of an elite of Australia's wealthy, powerful, socially exclusive men. Moore's research was significant because it not only brought to light what had hitherto been a secret organization buried by history and hidden from researchers by the wall of silence its leadership had erected in 1930, but also because he teased out the links between this outfit and elements of the leadership of the armed forces, and Australia's intelligence community. Further, Moore argued, there existed in Australia a conservative paramilitary tradition from World War 1 until the early 1950s that variously had in its sights the labour movement, public dissent, and democratic government.
Moore was not alone in exhuming what some call the 'secret history' of Australia. Other historians and investigators contributed, notably amongst them Keith Amos, Frank Caine, Michael Cathcart, Drew Cottle, Robert Darroch, Richard Hall, Les Louis, David McKnight, Humphrey McQueen. Collectively their significant, at times devastating, researches and writings since the 1970s portray a version of Australian domestic politics and history that is anything but quiet, peaceful, consensus driven, the preferred conservative version of Australian History. Arguably, what is shown instead is a history infused with ideologies and the politics of social class; when it came to the crunch, and beneath the image of refined urbanity, Australia's political conservatives and business elites conspired and acted, or were prepared to act, in anti-democratic ways to protect and advance their interests.
Liberal Party founder Robert Gordon Menzies is a player in this history; an authoritarian figure, serving the interests of the rich and powerful, rather than the iconic, democratic, figure of Liberal Party political hagiography. During the 1930s Menzies admired the stability, social order, and enthusiasm for service to the state, evident in Mussolini's Italy and in Hitler's Germany. When he got his own long run of Prime Ministerial power (December 1949-January 1966) during the Cold War, Menzies clung to power by exploiting fear and loathing; internment camps were planned for leftists, ASIO was expanded and used as a form of political police, a range of dirty tricks were employed against the labour movement, plans were drawn up for the large-scale use of troops against militant unions; democratic liberties were jeopardized.
According to Andrew Moore (in 1995), it is not melodramatic nor too far from the truth to suggest that in 1950-51, with Menzies ramping up anti-communism and trying to outlaw the Communist Party, the headquarters of Australian fascism were in Canberra, in the Prime Ministerial residence, 'The Lodge'. Now this is a big call, and maybe Moore should have chosen softer options instead of full-blown fascism, settling instead for the political flavour of the time resembling incipient or nascent fascism.
Whatever; the reality is that regardless of what Menzies had in mind, and where he would have taken Australia, he was variously thwarted or restrained by a robust Labor Opposition, the labour movement generally, civil libertarians, the legal system, pressure from within his own party, and a population not yet saturated to complacency by a servile mass media.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Enter Gerard Henderson. Moore makes his statement about 'The Lodge' in his book, The Right Road? (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995), a brief, readable study of right-wing politics in Australia. The Australian Right has not received a great deal of study and investigation by historians, and Moore's book was a pioneering effort. It still is. The title mischievously alludes to the Australian polemical classic of the 1930s, The Red Road by the aspirant spy, anti-communist historian and journalist, M. H. Ellis.
Henderson has a problem with Moore's Road book, the repetitive focus of his anti-Moore angst. In his latest foray on the theme (Sydney Morning Herald, 31 January 2006), Henderson ridicules the idea that the term fascism can be used to describe political players in Australian history, using Moore's Road and other of his historical writings as his launching pad. Not so, says Henderson, implying, but not saying directly, that to do so is part of some leftist mind game. And no, Henderson assures his readers, Howard's Australia is not in some sort of pre-fascist condition as some critics maintain. Fascism requires vicious, top-down, terror and intimidation. Apparently we can all breathe easy.
By concentrating on Moore's and others' use of the term fascism when discussing aspects of the Australian past and the national-security present, Henderson avoids dealing with the implications of their historical research; and the question, if it isn't fascism, then what is it, remains.
What is happening in Australia now, and what happened during the Cold War, resembles fascism at many points, but arguably is not the full-blown thing. The present, with multiculturalism increasingly becoming a dirty word, growing distrust of difference, anti-labourism, appeals to national regeneration, the elevation of the martial spirit, government more and more attune to and in tandem with big business, increased police powers, empowerment of the military to act in matters usually the preserve of civilian authorities, the chipping away at civil liberties, has some of the characteristics of nascent fascism.
But with the continuing existence of parliament, and in the absence of state-terror and the corpses of dissenters, this requires a term that encapsulates the idea of prescribed democracy; a shrinking democracy with increasing limitations, democracy with authoritarian and policed overtones, democracy that may well intern dissenters, but with enough civil processes intact to prevent them being disappeared and thrown out of night flying aircraft over Bass Strait. And much of this with the complicity of the Opposition.
Henderson's fixation on the use of the term fascism merely diverts attention from what the work of Moore and others has revealed. The Liberal Party has a closet full of authoritarian skeletons that mock its appropriation of the term 'liberal'. It is a political party adept at moving to the Right in a way that leaves little room for others on the Right, except the truly marginal; witness, for example, its appropriation of race after Pauline Hanson.
The historical evidence amassed over the years by historians like Moore, of authoritarianism, contempt for democratic processes and liberties, by Australia's rich and powerful, and their political representatives, will not go away, and will continue to haunt and shape Australian politics and culture. Henderson's obsession with contemporary use of the term fascism should be seen as a rightist ploy, an attempt to divert attention from the significant evidence and analysis contained in the work of Moore and others, to prevent it from gaining the currency it deserves, and to prevent it from helping us understand future political possibilities.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online