Syndicalist and Socialist Anti-Militarism 1911–18: How the Radical Flank Helped Defeat Conscription
Before and during the Great War, syndicalists and socialists dominated the anti-militarist movement that opposed Australian pre-war preparedness and involvement in the war. By campaigning against any involvement in war, syndicalists and socialists acted as a radical flank that helped create political space for the more moderate movement against conscription. Especially significant in ant-war campaigning was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The explicit and developed basis of IWW internationalism, inherent in the principles and tactics of revolutionary industrial unionism, enabled it to grow in size and influence at this time when capitalism was revealed at its worst. Socialists were also a significant force, especially in mobilizing against ‘boy conscription’ from 1911. However, at the outbreak of war the socialists were compromised and embarrassed by European socialist parties voting for war credits, which raised further the profile of the IWW, untainted by the Second International’s disgrace. With Australian socialists disoriented, it was the IWW that spearheaded anti-war agitation and it did so from the moment hostilities commenced. Its anti-war activity won it supporters amongst workers inclined to be critical of the senseless slaughter and angered by inequalities of sacrifice on the home front. This paper analyses the balance of left-wing forces within the anti-militarist movement of the Great War period and its prelude, and how this uncompromising anti-militarism encouraged the fragmentation of the labour movement into a left/anti-conscription majority and right/pro-conscription minority.
Verity Burgmann, Adjunct Professor, Politics, Monash University
Equality or Militarism: The Conflict of Founding Narratives
One of the achievements of which the liberal idealists who created the Commonwealth of Australia were most proud was that federation had been a peaceable process: ‘An orderly sequence of growth is apt to appear tame in itself’, wrote Alfred Deakin, ’while the fortunate absence of the pomp and circumstance of war deprives the federal climax of much picturesqueness…[it] makes its appeal to the reason and patriotism of its people’. The ideals proclaimed by the founders of the Commonwealth also included equality, social justice and the common good, all three invoked by Deakin when he introduced the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in 1903. The new court would provide a means ‘to resolve conflict and prevent war between the classes’, he stated, quoting German Field Marshal Von Moltke to say ‘War is destruction’. ‘War is that and nothing else’, affirmed Deakin, ‘destruction of life, of property, of the means of happiness and progress. Lockouts and strikes equally involve destruction – destruction of labour, of machinery, of capital, of social relations and of social peace’. Then in 1915 a new founding narrative was promoted by the official war correspondent CEW Bean, educated in the ideals of manliness and imperial service at Clifton College, a man who had little sympathy with ‘the democracy with socialistic tendencies’ beloved of pre-war radicals, men and women. Now it was the military virtues displayed by men at war, who, it was said, proved at once their manhood and nationhood on overseas battlefields.
Marilyn Lake, Professor, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne
The first casualty of war: contesting the Anzac centenary
In 2012, a team of researchers based at Monash University offered the 100 stories project to the Anzac Centenary Board in Canberra – 100 stories to mark the centenary of the Great War. These narratives were drawn from across the length and breadth of Australia. They highlighted the experience of women as well as men, recovered the too often forgotten contribution of Indigenous Australians, and emphasised the ongoing cost of war to the community as a whole. The 100 stories remembered not just the men and women who lost their lives but also those who returned to Australia, the gassed, the crippled, the insane, all those irreparably damaged by war. Why did the 100 stories prove so controversial in Canberra? Why did some seek to censor the project and substitute “confronting” stories with “positive, nation building” narratives? And one hundred years on, is our country prepared to confront the cost of war – or will the Anzac Centenary be more an act of forgetting than remembering? This paper will be framed by a discussion of Repatriation records, a new source recently opened to researchers and likely to change popular perceptions of the Great War. It will also reflect on other problematic projects, most notably the history of the Shrine of Remembrance and the (forthcoming) Interpretative Centre at Villers- Bretonneux.
Professor Bruce Scates, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University