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Meeting of the 17 Group – Wed 3rd April 2013

The next meeting of the 17 Group will be on the subject “Natural Enemies: Anzac and the Labour Movement During WW1”. The speaker will be Mark Cryle who is currently researching the origins of Anzac Day for his PhD. The meeting will take place in unit 6 at 20 Drury St. West End at 7 pm on Wednesday the 3rd of April.

Here is Mark’s short summary of his talk:

“Natural Enemies: Anzac and the Labour Movement During WW1”

Two months after the outbreak of the Great War the Australian Worker, the prominent Australian labour paper and mouthpiece for the powerful Australian Workers Union, told its readers that the labour movement was “the supreme apostle of peace”. As “natural enemies”, Labor and the War, it was claimed, should be seen as “opposed to each other at every point of the compass … no man can be in favour of war and in favour of the Labor movement at the same time. [1](Australian Worker, 14 October 1914, p.1)

The immediate post-Gallipoli period saw a new, potent and highly pervasive blending of Australian nationalist discourse with an Antipodean version of the warrior cult. This distinctively Australian blend of nationalism and militarism was increasingly advocated and enshrined at Anzac commemorative events. In other words, militarism and nationalism were fused in a unique discursive formation that created the Anzac legend. How did the labour movement respond to this new political, social and cultural phenomenon? The quotation above suggests the likelihood of an incompatible and fundamental ideological breach between Anzac and labour. I will suggest that the reality was quite the opposite.

Mark Cryle is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland writing on the origins of Anzac Day. He was formerly the Manager of the Fryer Library. He is also a musician and songwriter. Sometimes he shows up for academic presentations with his guitar and sings songs!

When we went to see Leon Davidovich and showed him Mark’s summary he read the first paragraph, put the sheet on the table and began quoting from memory his famous remarks from the Zimmerwald Manifesto Against the War:

“The war has lasted more than a year. Millions of corpses cover the battlefields….”

He was obviously going to go on for some time. When we came back from a coffee in a nearby bar he was into this:

“New fetters, new chains, new burdens are arising, and it is the proletariat of all countries, of the victorious as well as of the conquered countries, that will have to bear them….”

Encouraged to see him thus on topic for our meeting and ever hopeful that this time he might turn up, we put the question to him directly, but he seemed to be in a trance of nostalgic militancy as he fixed his steely gaze upon us and declaimed:

“Workers!

Exploited, disenfranchised, scorned, they called you brothers and comrades at the outbreak of the war when you were led to the slaughter, to death. And now that militarism has crippled you, mutilated you, degraded and annihilated you, the rulers demand that you surrender your interests, your aims, your ideals – in a word, servile subordination to civil peace….”

When we left he was just entering his stride, and these were the words that echoed in the corridor as we shut the front door behind us:

“The Socialist proletariat has waged a struggle against militarism for decades. With growing concern its representatives at their national and international congresses….”

Who knows? At least we left the summary on the table and he might yet read it to the end and scent the possibility of vigorous debate. But even if he doesn’t you should.

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