By Humphrey McQueen (first published in The Vanguard – a ‘paper that puts local working class struggles at its core’)
Throughout the ‘sordid trade war’ of 1914-18, anti-imperialists warned volunteers that capitalism was not in the business of providing homes fit for heroes. The militarists treated such home truths as prejudicial to recruitment. Their critics were arrested, fined or imprisoned.
Within twelve years, the truth of the Antis’ case was obvious around the world. From 1930, the governments that had sent millions to die were forcing millions of survivors to dig ditches on sustenance pay, the ‘susso’. In Melbourne, ex-servicemen had ‘preference’ to build the Shrine of Remembrance.
Led by the Communist Party, the Unemployed Workers Movement organised resistance to the ‘susso’ regime. In support of 150 of their fellows on the Yarra Boulevard, 300 ex-servicemen labouring on the Shrine struck on 17 March 1934.
The opening on 11 November 1934 of that memorial to the carnage of capitalism coincided with celebrations for the centenary of the invasion of the Port Phillip District in 1834.
The imperialists sent the Duke of Gloucester out to initiate the circus on 18 October. Some suspected that this drongo had come as a traveling salesmen for British chocolates. Others feared that the Royal was camouflage for dragging Australians into another bloodbath.
The proof was in the Ducal war party. A battery of militarists flanked the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, Sir Maurice Hankey. Another strand of this grand game was the centenary air race from London to Melbourne. The airmail service that followed became a tread to bind the Empire.
In defiance of these preparations for war, Communists backed the All-Australia Congress Against War and Fascism, which met in Melbourne during the official proceedings. On advice from British intelligence, the Australian government refused entry to Congress guest, Czech Communist writer Egon Kisch. The delegates declared that there was little point in fighting fascism abroad at the cost of imposing fascism at home.
The Communists were now advancing on two fronts. With unemployment on the decline, the Party rebuilt in workplaces. The result was proletarian leadership throughout the union movement by 1940.
At the same time, the Communists involved liberals in maintaining the liberties that the workers had secured within bourgeois democracy. For instance, they combined to set up an anti-censorship body late in 1934. Governments were using any mention of sex to ban political novels. The prime example was a Marxian depiction of Perth during the current Depression – Upsurge, by J. M. Harcourt.
Harcourt had the honour to be the first local writer to have his fiction banned by the Commonwealth. His supporters elected him foundation President of the Book Censorship Abolition League and he chaired the group of writers welcoming Kisch.
The Movement Against War and Fascism and the Book Censorship Abolition League carried forward the spirit of Eureka. Kisch was ‘as game as Ned Kelly’. Remembering their contributions to Australia’s working people does not depend on a shrine set in stone. The way to honour them is to carry their determination and imagination to meet current challenges.
Contact The Vanguard at
PO Box 196, Fitzroy, Vic, 3065.