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Issue #1652      August 20, 2014

ANZAC Centenary and the CPA response

From a report to the
Central Committee
August 2, 2014

I offer this as part of the discussion, an exploration of the topic of the ANZAC and Gallipoli centenary to take place next year. The centenary will be particularly important to Communists and other progressive Australians as the official commemorations will provide a backdrop to all other events in the lead up to April 25. Given current trends, the tone of the commemorations can be predicted to be reactionary and militaristic. War preparations on the part of the government will be helped by the endorsement of historic alliances. This will be presented as logically leading to the US alliance and all that entails.

The centenary of the outbreak of World War One will take place this month. It will be marked more prominently in Europe than elsewhere if only for the simple reason that the shooting war took place there. It is to be hoped, given that nation states took different sides in the conflict, that discussions will centre on the futility of the inter-imperial rivalry and the need to preserve peace. There may well be the insertion of a WW2 theme of needing to stand up to aggressors, with modern Russia being inserted disingenuously in the role of Nazi Germany. Time will tell.

I don’t anticipate these messages concerning WW1 will be hammered in the Australian corporate media as much as in Britain, though I did notice Murdoch columnist Greg Sheridan took the then looming occasion to say the British and their allies were in the right and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians were in error. I don’t think much enthusiasm or attention was generated by the piece and not many others have ventured into this sterile area.

The Gallipoli centenary will be a completely different story in Australia. The Commonwealth and State governments will be spending vast amounts on events and promotion and splashing grants money in large quantities to get over the sort of ANZAC message they want. In my lifetime ANZAC was an unusually humanistic war commemoration about the futility of war, the callousness of the leaders who wasted all those lives, about a sort of brotherhood between the Australians, New Zealanders and even their respected Turkish “enemies”.

There was contempt for Churchill and the British High Command. Marches and other observances were dwindling through the decades until they were absorbed by the reactionary wave that is still breaking through Australia’s political and cultural life.

Young Australians are now more likely to say ANZAC is about respect for those who went and fought for our democratic rights and way of life – though that aspect was there previously when World War II was recalled. A section of young Australia is taken in by clichés such as draping oneself in the Australian (colonial) flag and going to a dawn service at Gallipoli while on a tour of Europe. This type of dumbing down of public awareness is greatly encouraged at the highest levels of the government and bureaucracy and it will be to the fore next year.

The federal government’s plans have hit some snags. Private corporations were asked to contribute to a fund for the commemorations. Precious little of a projected $380 million has turned up. No doubt, the culture warriors on the side of the ruling class will make sure there is plenty of money available to make the new, reactionary ANZAC message unavoidable next year.

Given our limited resources, what can we and other sections of left and progressive opinion do about it? Whatever we do, I believe there has to be a consistent anti-war message our materials and activities. I think we should emphasise that it is also the centenary of the anti-imperialist war movement in Australia. We should consider publications, posters and other educational material on this theme. I suggest they deal with the wide scope of resistance to imperialist war in Australia.

I’ll give some examples. Australia defeated two referenda to introduce conscription during WW1 such was the scepticism on the part of the public about the inter-imperialist war. Australian soldiers were notably rebellious towards their British commanders (see Fred Paterson’s writings). Australians soldiers were drawn in significant numbers to support the October Revolution.

We have the example of the volunteers to the International Brigades to go to Spain and fight fascism before it spread any further. Waterside workers refused to load pig iron on the Dalfram and in other ways challenged Menzies’ pro-Axis policies. Hal Colbatch, a Perth-based lawyer, has written a despicable revisionist history of the role of Australian unions in WW2 insisting they were traitors. This needs further rebuttal.

Australian workers aided the Indonesians in their struggle against Dutch imperialism. The Ban the Bomb movement during the 1950s was widely supported in spite of the cold war hysteria of the time. And, of course, there was the long history of support for the Vietnamese people – the Moratorium marches, the actions of the seafarers on the Jeparit and the Boonaroo in refusing to carry arms to the US led forces in Vietnam. That anti-war struggle politicised a generation of Australians that included myself.

More recently there were the February 2003 marches against the looming invasion of Iraq when unprecedented numbers of people took to the streets of our cities. Clearly, in the face of the US “Pivot” to our region and the war preparations based in Australia, there is much to do to re-vitalise the anti-war movement in the country.

Other wars that would be appropriate to raise on this occasion are the forgotten frontier wars waged by European “settlers” against the Aboriginal people. The official message to Aboriginal people is to “get over it” in stark contrast to the ANZAC message of “lest we forget”. We should join others during the ANZAC commemoration period in recalling these wars and the fallen.

No doubt the question of gate-crashing official events next year will arise. We should have a position. I have reservations about this sort of action. I can remember in Canberra when women joined the ANZAC marches in memory of the women raped in war. A valid protest but I feel the scuffles and scenes of mayhem reinforced conservative rather than progressive points of view, in my opinion. Lets talk about this ahead of time and take a position that our participation should be very visible but not confrontational.

In summary, I believe we should use the centenary creatively to celebrate the history of the anti-war movement in the country. We will need to commit human and other resources to this and produce a range of materials about this history. It will add considerably to our work-load but I think we should not leave the field of the battle of ideas to be dominated by the right and the ultra “left”.

Next article – Activists stop work on AGL fracking project

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