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Issue #1663      November 5, 2014

Culture & Life

Rewriting history again

History is not kind to capitalism. That’s real, genuine history I’m talking about, a scientific analysis of facts including economic factors, social movements and political ideas. Not the sort that credits all advances to a few powerful individuals.

Prime Minister Bob Menzies – “Pig Iron Bob”.

Capitalism, as I say, doesn’t come off too well in any objective consideration of history in the last 200 years, so the people whose job it is to promote the system simply rewrite history to make the outcome more favourable to them. It’s an old dodge and capitalism’s apologists have been applying it with unashamed gusto, especially in the 90-odd years since the October Revolution changed the relationship of global class forces forever.

The post-war period usually identified as the Cold War saw the rewriting of history reach new heights as it became important to denigrate or outright deny the achievements of socialism, especially its role in the defeat of Fascism. With the overthrow of socialism in Russia, in 1989, the floodgates were opened: it became important once again to rewrite the history of the Revolution, of Collectivisation, of the struggle against imperialist espionage and sabotage before WW2.

In Australia, our history has been rewritten time and again as right-wing academics and “think-tanks” strive to overturn the pro-people position that developed in the 19th century with the strong support of the “bushman’s bible”, The Bulletin. The history of the convict system, the activities of the bushrangers, the struggles on the gold-fields and the anti-squatter struggles of the free selectors have all been rewritten. Even more rewriting has been done to 20th century history, with major targets for revision being the response to WW1, the anti-conscription campaigns, the Great Depression, the development of unionism and the fight against Fascism in this country before WW2, Australian participation in the International Brigade in Spain, and of course, Australian capitalism’s sorry record in the post-war period.

The single figure who encapsulates that sorry record has to be Pig Iron Bob Menzies, founder of the Liberal Party and the man who tried to make membership in the Communist Party a criminal offence. The Murdoch press, radio jocks and reactionary politicians have all combined recently to push the line that Menzies was “the greatest Prime Minister we ever had”, a statement of such gross historical inaccuracy it beggars belief that any responsible person could actually say it.

Menzies spent the 1930s praising “Mr Hitler’s” actions in Germany “on behalf of the German people”. Fiercely anti-Communist, he was committed to the same policy towards the Axis powers as Britain’s notorious appeasers. After Japan invaded China, waterside workers refused to load pig iron for shipment to Japan (where it would have been made into armaments for use against the Chinese people). Menzies enacted special legislation to force the wharfies to load the iron, an act of such extraordinarily reactionary political bias (not to mention appalling short-sightedness) that it earned him the nick-name “Pig Iron Bob” for ever after.

Described by at least one Labor politician of the time as, essentially “a Nazi”, Menzies wholeheartedly supported Britain’s Chamberlain government and its policy of appeasement, of trying to get Nazi Germany and militarist Japan to eliminate the Bolshevik scourge once and for all by invading the USSR from both directions. When Hitler invaded Poland and Britain had to at least appear to defend that country, to which it had treaty obligations, Britain declared war on Germany as appeasement was abandoned in favour of the “phoney war” tactic. Australia followed suit.

As Attorney General, Menzies’ chief contribution to the war effort was to use wartime powers to declare the Communist Party illegal on June 15, 1940. Eventually declared unconstitutional, the ban was not lifted until the beginning of 1942, by which time Menzies and his mates were long out of office, replaced by the Curtin Labor government.

Menzies did not get back into government until 1949, when the Libs used a lying scare campaign to grossly misrepresent Labor’s bank-nationalisation policy as an attempt to appropriate people’s savings. Once back in power, this time as PM, Menzies used dirty tricks such as spy scares, along with help from the ultra-reactionary Catholic political party the DLP, to keep himself in office. His very right-wing agenda, of course, also ensured that he had the whole-hearted support of the capitalist media.

Communist Party members and sympathisers taking part in unity procession – 1951.

When Menzies came to government in 1949, the Australian people owned all sorts of public enterprises. These restricted profiteering in and gave stability to a diverse range of industries. The government owned airlines, petroleum refining companies, engineering companies, all manner of manufacturing enterprises as well as having a dominant position in the electronics field. Menzies however hated the very concept of public enterprises and went out of his way to destroy them.

When the private airline company ANA (owned by a consortium of ship-owners) failed to compete successfully against the government-owned TAA, it was bought by trucking magnate Reg Ansett, a close friend of Menzies. The latter promptly introduced a rule that all federal government departments had to share their use of planes for passengers and freight equally between the government’s own airline and Ansett’s.

A committed imperialist and royalist, Menzies embarrassed even other royalists by his gross sycophancy towards Queen Elizabeth with his “I only saw her passing by” speech. Royals however like that kind of stuff, and Menzies was duly rewarded with the Order of the Garter and the title Warden of the Cinque Ports. The title was a historical relic, harking back to England’s imperial past when she still controlled a chunk of the Continent. But just as the title was now an outdated fossil, so also was Menzies, the personification of reactionary politics, despising workers and their organisations, and quite content to send young Australians to war for monarch and empire.

He was a fossil however whose backers had deep pockets and powerful media interests, and they kept him in the top job for many years. No wonder he was contemptuous of democracy.

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