Fighting Against War: Peace Activism in the Twentieth Century

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The extended commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great War have commenced in earnest. Over the next four years people around the world will struggle to avoid the politicised public narratives of these remembrances. Nationalistic sentiment is no less palpable today than imperial sentiment was a century ago. Its opponents are still there too. Among the countless commemorative activities that will occur, there are innumerable counter narratives. Although they are compelling in their telling of oppositional stories, they have yet to capture the imagination of the dominant storytellers of our generation. Mainstream media, governments, and politicians of all persuasions, remain a captive of “soft jingoism”, and the myth making of Geoffrey Serle’s “fire-eating generals”. In such a view, war remains a lamentable, but necessary evil. The true costs of war are absorbed only partially.

Given the destabilisation of much of the globe, and the increasing militarisation of domestic politics by Western governments, it is unsurprising that a widespread movement for peace is momentarily lost. But history provides hope. By looking back we can see the ebb and flow of peace movements, and the lessons here are instructive. The present commemorative phase provides historians with a license to tell the stories that underscore the feeble fabric of nationalistic hubris – ones that seek to analyse and understand the human condition rather than simply commemorate it. Tales of national re-birth are but one facet of war, complicated by a much richer, dirtier, and more nuanced reality. This reality challenges the necessity of war, and allows us to empathise with war’s victims, elucidate oppositional tactics, and provide explanations for the difficulties in sustaining a pacifist approach in the midst of war.

The chapters here deal with aspects of peace and anti-war, of memory, of forgetting, and of legacy. The majority – unsurprisingly, given the present historical moment – concentrate on the experience of the First World War. The shadows of that war are long, and the historiography they build on extensive.

Contributors include Phillip Deery, Julie Kimber, Karen Agutter, Anne Beggs Sunter, Robert Bollard, Verity Burgmann, Liam Byrne, Lachlan Clohesy, Rhys Cooper, Carolyn Holbrook, Nick Irving, Chris McConville, Douglas Newton, Bobbie Oliver, Carolyn Rasmussen, Phil Roberts, and Kim Thoday.

Published by Leftbank Press in 2015, the book is available as a free PDF here.

First published by Leftbank Press in 2015 / Copyright © Leftbank Press 2015 / 978-0-9803883-2-9 (paperback) / 978-0-9942389-7-9 (ebook) / 978-0-9942389-8-6 (ebook) / National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry /  Title: Fighting against war : peace activism in the twentieth century / edited by Phillip Deery and Julie Kimber / Subjects: Pacifism / Peace movements. Dewey Number: 327.172 / Cover artwork by Victor Gordon / Graphics by Sauce Design / Typeset by Inscope Media / Printed by Ligare.

Phillip Deery and Julie Kimber (eds), Fighting Against War: Peace Activism in the Twentieth Century (Melbourne: Leftbank Press, 2015)

Table of Contents

Chapter 1


Phillip Deery and Julie Kimber (1-9)

Chapter 2

At Daggers Drawn: The International Women’s Movement and the Struggle to Avert War, July–August 1914

Douglas Newton (10-31)

The spirit of internationalism ran high in the British women’s movement in July 1914. In part this followed from a chance event: the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) happened to be meeting in London in mid-July, bringing inspirational international feminists into contact with the British suffrage organisations. At a series of IWSA events, a group of mainly younger British women (Mary Sheepshanks, Maude Royden, Kathleen Courtney, Emily Leaf, Catherine Marshall and Helena Swanwick) made common cause with their visitors, such as the charismatic Hungarian feminist Rosika Schwimmer. Together these international and British feminists persuaded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) to mount a public campaign against the threat of war in late July. They prepared a passionate and prescient manifesto, predicting the catastrophic impact of a long war of mechanised killing and urging international arbitration. Prodded into further action by Labor women’s organisations, the IWSA/NUWSS leadership also decided upon a large demonstration in London’s Kingsway Hall, to be held on Tuesday evening 4 August (as it happened, just hours before Britain declared war). This packed meeting was one for the ages: the international women’s movement denounced any resort to war, on behalf of the powerless and largely voteless women of 26 nations, on the very brink of the ruinous conflict. This chapter, based on the private papers of many of the leading participants, considers the significance of the women’s movement’s peace activism on the eve of the Great War.

Chapter 3

Falling in and out of love: Doris Hordern, Maurice Blackburn and the Women’s Political Association, 1911–15

Carolyn Rasmussen (32-55)

At 21 Doris Hordern was introduced to the Women’s Political Association (WPA) and her enthusiastic embrace of its activities soon led to an important role as joint campaign secretary in Vida Goldstein’s bid for the Senate in 1913. In the course of that campaign she fell in love with Maurice Blackburn, at that stage something of a pin-up boy with the WPA. Blackburn was in transition from the Victorian Socialist Party to the Labor Party, and his election as the State member for Essendon allowed Maurice and Doris to marry, but not before war had broken out in August 1914. By then Blackburn was already at odds with the WPA on the matter of a citizen defence force, and the WPA was changing. Exchanges on various matters, including venereal disease and equal pay, became heated and by March 1914 Blackburn no longer felt welcome. Doris agreed sadly about the growth of “sex-antagonism” in the WPA, but it was the outbreak of war that brought her into conflict with an organisation she had thought to be her spiritual home. She felt unable to support the purely pacifist stand taken by the WPA, but it was the manner of decision-making on this, and other matters, which finally drove her away. She would continue to further the broad goals of the WPA but in new associations and with new friends and activists, most notably the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Chapter 4

Syndicalist and Socialist Anti-Militarism 1911–18: How the Radical Flank Helped Defeat Conscription

Verity Burgmann (56-78)

Before and during the Great War, syndicalists and socialists dominated the antimilitarist 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 antiwar 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 mobilising 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 antiwar 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 chapter analyses the balance of left-wing forces within the anti-militarist movement of the Great War period and its prelude, and how this uncompromising antimilitarism encouraged the fragmentation of the labour movement into a left/anti-conscription majority and right/pro-conscription minority.

Chapter 5

The Young John Curtin and James Scullin: Conscription, the Split, and Labor’s Political Culture

Liam Byrne (79-103)

John Curtin and James Scullin are best known as Labor Prime Ministers with vastly contrasting places in party lore. Less known is that between 1914 and 1917 these young men were two of Victorian Labor’s most important figures. Scullin represented the moderate Australian Workers Union-led wing of the movement, and Curtin the growing socialist forces within the unions. These two forces united to oppose conscription but for vastly different reasons. Where the moderates were seeking to defeat Hughes and enforce union control over the party the socialists sought to take opposition to the measure further to oppose the war itself. I shall argue both that the Victorian movement was the key player in initiating the national campaign, and that the socialist left played a cohered and organised part in this initiation not recognised in past literature. But this story reveals more about Labor in this period than this narrative alone. In this time of great stress and recalibration of the organisation, the ideological division between the socialists and the moderates played a creative role in developing arguments against conscription, but also conceptions of Labor’s role and what the party should be. Scullin and Curtin were crucial agents in this contest, movement intellectuals who were both activists and agitators, each connected to an important movement power base. The story of these young men concerns not just how Prime Ministers were made, or how conscription was defeated, but the very nature of the Labor Party itself in this vital period.

Chapter 6

Ballarat’s Crusading Evening Echo: Fighting Militarism in World War I

Anne Beggs-Sunter (104-120)

The Evening Echo commenced publication in Ballarat in 1895, becoming the organ of the Ballarat branch of the Australian Workers Union in 1910. In the early twentieth century it had the largest circulation of any newspaper outside Melbourne, with future Prime Minister James Scullin editing the newspaper between 1913 and 1922. During World War I, the paper under the socialist Scullin took a forceful anti-imperialist view, particularly when it came to the two conscription campaigns, when it was the strongest voice against conscription in Victoria. This chapter will examine the role of the newspaper, its editorial stance, reaction to it both locally and in Melbourne, where its twice daily editions were widely read. Its influence in representing labour causes in a strongly conservative media environment will be assessed.

Chapter 7

Heroes of the Fireplace: Conscientious Objectors in Australian Newspapers during World War I

Rhys Cooper (121-138)

With censorship and sedition laws enacted during the First World War, the Australian print media of the time was predominantly an arm of propaganda for the federal government. As such, the depictions presented in mainstream, Australian print media of anti-war campaigners and conscientious objectors were typically negative. A common method used by newspapers to persuade public opinion against women and men who challenged the war was to compare their perceived cowardice with the bravery of returned or serving Australian soldiers. Letters and opinions of those who were serving, or had served on the front lines declared anti-war protestors in Australia to be “worse than cowards.” Furthermore, journalists frequently compared the gallantry of those serving in the Australian armed forces, with the unpatriotic and weak natures of those who opposed the conflict. Such representations attempted to create a stark contrast between heroes and cowards, Australian and un-Australian, and help to further part a nation already divided by the conscription campaigns. This chapter examines the dichotomy created by Australian print media of the cowardly pacifist and conscientious objector with the heroic soldier as well as how this contrast altered over the course of the Great War.

Chapter 8

Economic Conscription and Irish Discontent: the Possible Resolution of a Conundrum

Robert Bollard (139-156)

It has long been recognised that a source for discontent with the Great War was the disaffection of Irish Australians, fanned by the suppression of the Easter Uprising and the subsequent increase in sectarian hostility. In this context L.L. Robson’s revelation in 1973 that Catholic enlistment to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was in proportion to their demographic share of the population, and that there was no drop off in that enlistment after the Easter Uprising, has presented historians with a conundrum. This chapter will present a possible resolution of this conundrum based on a study of recruitment patterns in a number of locations, including the mining centre of Maitland in the Hunter Valley and the town of Koroit in western Victoria. It will argue that consideration of the economic position of Irish Australians in this period explains why they were more vulnerable to “economic conscription” and that this most likely compensated for the ideological and political disincentives to their enlistment.

Chapter 9

“Italians Deported – Australians Next”: Italians, World War I and the Labour Movement

Karen Agutter (157-176)

For over two decades prior to World War I Italians living and working in Australia had been on the receiving end of union hostility. Regularly referred to as cheap, even coloured, labour, they were frequently accused of working for less than award wages, as strike breakers, and as a major threat to Australian workers’ rights. In 1918, having successfully fought against conscription in two referendums, the Australian labour movement found itself in an unusual position. The round-up and forcible deportation of allied Italian men by the Australian authorities, effectively selective conscription, was seen as a direct challenge to the “No” vote and as the first step towards wider conscription of other nationalities and ultimately Australian workers. Around the country groups within the labour movement helped organise protest meetings, posted flyers and wrote petitions in support of the Italians as they fought against their deportation. According to the Military Investigation Bureau, who closely monitored these activities, “the Labor Party and Socialists [did] … much to create and foster the soreness … among Italians.” Certainly the labour movement provided an avenue of protest for these Italians where no other means existed. This chapter will consider how the plight of allied Italian men fitted into the Australian labour movement’s anti-militaristic and anti-conscriptionist beliefs and how the events around this protest brought a group of previously distrusted workers, albeit briefly, into the fold.

Chapter 10

Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour and Arch of Victory

Phil Roberts (177-200)

On 3 June 1917 the first plantings for the avenue on the western edge of Ballarat took place and by the last planting on 16 August 1919 this avenue at 14 miles (22 kilometres) was the longest in the world. More than 3,800 Ballarat servicemen and women who served in the Great War were each commemorated by the planting of a tree. These memorials were a permanent visual reminder of the death of many who served and the impact of war. Following the Ballarat plantings many other avenues were planted in western Victoria. It is an intriguing story about how the avenue came about in a city where the union movement and the Labor Party had a very strong foothold and where the conscription campaigns of 1916 and 1917 had caused major rifts within the society. The story will be told as a result of close research of the contrasting emphases of Ballarat’s three major daily newspapers – The Star, The Courier and The Evening Echo – and other local primary documents. As part of the story an exploration will be made about the reasons for so much war commemoration in Ballarat and the contribution of the “Lucas Girls” who were involved in the plantings.

Chapter 11

“Security and Justice”: H.V. Evatt’s Foreign Policy and the Beginning of the Cold War

Lachlan Clohesy (201-223)

In the context of emerging Cold War tension in the immediate post-war period, the United States and United Kingdom regarded the Soviet Union with deep suspicion. However, Australia’s External Affairs Minister from 1941–59, Dr H.V. Evatt, decided on a different course. Evatt was widely regarded as a liberal internationalist who fostered international cooperation, culminating with his election as the President of the United Nations General Assembly. In doing so, he sought a greater role for Australia on the international stage in pursuit of a policy that was increasingly independent of both Britain and the United States. This chapter seeks to trace the origins of Evatt’s foreign policy, revealing the extent to which it was influenced not only by incipient Cold War tensions, but by the relationships Australia had experienced with its allies during World War II. This chapter will, in turn, assess the effectiveness of Evatt’s policies in External Affairs as responses to Cold War conflict.

Chapter 12

“A harder thing than dying”: Peace Activism and the Protestant Left in Australia During the Early Cold War

Kim Thoday (224-245)

Research findings concerning “Protestant left” involvement in the Australian peace movement during the early Cold War. This chapter will highlight how their religious convictions caused the “peace clergy” to be, paradoxically, both vulnerable and resistant to communist influence. The Rev. Alf Dickie’s evolution as a peace activist and his role as president of the Australian Peace Council will be examined as a test case for this resistance and vulnerability. His association with organisations such as the Christian Common Wealth Movement, the Federation for the Resistance to War, the Democratic Rights Council and the Peace Quest Forum will shed light upon the motivations of the peace clergy, for whom Dickie was broadly representative. It will be argued that the Australian Peace Council and the Peace Quest Forum (whose membership was limited to clergy, including a disproportionally high number of Churches of Christ ministers) were closely affiliated and that this affiliation was symptomatic of the diversity of motivation, ideas and strategy within the peace movement; a diversity that eschewed communist interests and Cold War divisions.

Chapter 13

The Peacemaker’s Role in the Anti-Vietnam War Movement

Bobbie Oliver (246-267)

When the Menzies government reintroduced National Service in 1964 and then sent conscripted soldiers along with volunteer service personnel to fight in the Vietnam War, the pacifist movement in Australia was faced with the dilemma of whether to actively encourage young men to be conscientious objectors to National Service, or merely support those who already held such beliefs? One of their most effective tools was the newspaper The Peacemaker, founded in 1939. The Peacemaker provided an alternative voice during the war, and supported conscientious objectors to military service in both war and peacetime. Always short of funds, The Peacemaker survived on subscriptions and donations until the end of 1971, when it ceased publication. The Federal Pacifist Council [FPC], which produced the newspaper, regarded it as a worthwhile investment in time and resources. In order to assess the extent of its impact, this chapter surveys issues of The Peacemaker from the last seven years of production (1964 to 1971), and examines FPC Minutes and correspondence between objectors and the newspaper’s editor, Vivienne Abraham. It is intended that examining The Peacemaker as a case study may shed some light on the broader issue of the efficacy of the alternative press as a means of communication.

Chapter 14

“Couldn’t we actually try and do this in Australia?”: Reading the Vietnam Moratorium in its Global Context

Nick Irving (268-290)

The Australian historiography on the war in Vietnam understands the three Moratorium Campaigns in one of three ways: within a continuous history of peace movement activism in Australia, which privileges trade union and Christian pacifist involvement; within the context of the war itself, which reads it as a response to that war; or as a movement that borrowed uncritically from American activists rather than responding to local political conditions. This chapter aims to assess the Moratorium within a global counterculture, examining the ways Australian activists critically adopted American protest practices but adapted them to suit the specific historical circumstances of Australian antiwar activism. It will also look at the ways American government responses to American protesters – the rhetoric of “Law and Order” – were adopted in public discussions of the Moratorium in an attempt to silence or stifle protest during the second and third Moratorium campaigns. The chapter will show that Australians were attuned to a transnational counterculture, and expressed their opposition to the war and their ideas about protest in terms adopted from that counterculture.

Chapter 15

Protest or Propaganda? Psychology and Australian Memory of the Great War

Carolyn Holbrook (291-312)

The psychological turn in Great War remembrance over the past three decades has been noted both internationally and in Australia. However, there has been less recognition of psychological readings of the war dating from the 1930s in the Australian context. This chapter examines early psychological interpretations of the Great War and the meaning that was attributed to them. It shows how this meaning has been transformed over time, as a consequence of the rise of trauma culture. The chapter discusses the debate among historians about whether the tendency to conceptualise war in the language of trauma and suffering facilitates its sentimentalisation. It concludes that while the Anzac legend successfully absorbs the language of trauma in contemporary Australia, the meaning attributed to psychological readings of war is always subject to the geo-political context in which it is made.

Chapter 16

Anzac: Memory and Forgetting in Local Landscapes

Chris McConville (313-333)

If global violence shaped cultural identity in the first half of the twentieth century, then surely, over the last 60 years, the civic culture of the neoliberal west has come to rely, viscerally, on memory. This reworking of memory into a public memorialism typically mirrors the politics of the nation-state, in which the purposeful commonality demanded by war has been all but erased. Public memory of world wars thus becomes an opening for political assertion by the marginalised, the last vestige of wartime mass solidarity for a group now dwindled to a minority, and beyond these sectional interests, a mask behind which an individualising transnational neoliberalism can continue its erosion of national civic identity. The simple admonition, “Lest We Forget”, always engenders a tangled politics. Historians are now well practiced in identifying elisions and absences in the memorialism of both world wars, since even the most elaborate commemorative event – that for D-Day is a classic example – must be selective. Perhaps, though, there is something more that we can say about public memorialism; a commentary beyond our now routine unearthing of evasions and silences in such sites of memory? A cultural theorist such as Andreas Huyssen (especially in his reflections on Berlin) can write critically but in the end perhaps, positively, about this culture of memory. In the interest of a renewed civic life, some historians of the twentieth century, amongst them the late Tony Judt, have envisioned a more forgetful response to genocidal wars. The civic life that Judt suggested, seems to be antinational, and in fact might operate best in localised settings. In what sense might forgetfulness rather than memorialism allow for a civic future in a time of neoliberalism? This chapter examines the localised material culture of public war memory in Australia and Europe, using examples in particular, from Ballarat in Victoria for World War I and Linz in Austria for World War II. It is proposed here that localised memorial sites can provide some resistance to the neoliberal capture of public memory at a national and transnational scale. At the same time, since our forgetting is always selective, it can never cohere in any sustained counter-memory. There are then difficult questions we need to ask of history and memory, of war and genocide, for any new civic life to flourish.


The Aim Network (Edward Eastwood).

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