Why was Fascism Unsuccessful in 1930s Australia?

This was the theme of a talk by Andrew Moore at the Blackheath History Forum yesterday. Blackheath is in the Blue Mountains out of Sydney and it has a lot of semi-retired academics and the like who support a thriving intellectual subculture of  bookshops, galleries and action groups. Also the Blackheath Philosophy Forum and the History Forum. With a nice sense of economy the portable sign outside the venue has History Forum on one side and Philosophy Forum on the other.  The chair of the group is Neal Blewett and they have an annual Gordon Childe lecture which will be delivered this year by Henry Reynolds.

It is nice to visit the mountains on a good day, but yesterday there was a gale blowing and the ambient temp was about 10 so you can imagine the wind chill factor.

Andrew Moore of the Western Sydney Uni has written a  book on the lapsed North Sydney Bears rugby league club and he is in a group that sponsors scholarly research on sport and an annual lecture on rugby  league.

He has spent some 40 years on and off in the archives of material relating to the extremists of the 1930s. There has  been a certain amount of published work on the Old Guard and the New Guard of the thirties. One of the  minor sources is the D H Lawrence novel Kangaroo which has a sketch of one of the leaders who Lawrence encountered while passing through. I should have asked him about this but left before question time (after a tea break) to get home before dark.

Andrew’s topic was the New Guard, led by Eric Campbell, which peaked in NSW with about 60,000 members in the Sydney district. It formed in 1931 and its driving force was concern about communism and the policies of Jack Lang. When Lang was dismissed as the Premier in 1932 and lost the election later in the year the ranks of the New Guard melted away rapidly, apart from a core around Campbell.

They did some street fighting with communists and the police (who were determined to crack down on them) but their forte was comic opera. The high point was de Groot slashing the ribbon at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The idea was to prevent Lang from opening the  bridge and they had a hare-brained plan to kidnap him using a commandeered ambulance. One of their street fighters was a one-armed New Zealander called Roger Crystal and he lay on the road in Ocean Avenue Woolahra while his colleagues called an ambulance. When the paramedic started to fumble inside Roger’s coat to find what damage he had suffered it turned out that Roger was very ticklish and he started to laugh which dislodged his revolver from his pocket or the holster and the ambulance team took off. So they resorted to plan B.

Campbell went to Europe in 1933 and when he came back he instituted  uniforms, salutes and  heel-clicking, also a more inflammatory rhetoric. This had no appeal to the kind of people who were prepared to be concerned about communism and Jack Lang but were cynical about all politicians and had no instinct for any kind of political fundamentalism.

Andrew concluded that fascism did not get off the ground in Australia for several reasons. Economic conditions were worse in Europe. The European communist parties had hundreds of thousands of members and revolution was a visible (if not a realistic) threat. Germany  suffered a loss of prestige and morale in WWI and hungered for national greatness that Hitler offered. Hitler was a charismatic figure and Eric Cambell was  not.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

So Australian fascists were ticklish. I never knew. Hitler and his henchmen were not. The rest is history.

Rafe
11 years ago

That is what you find when you do serious research!
On such small things hinges the fate of nations:)

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

My thoughts entirely Rafe. My thoughts entirely.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

Explains why Hitler didn’t start giggling at important times in his speeches. Never. Not once. I mean check out this video. Not the slightest sign of ticklishness of any kind . . . until it’s altogether too late.

Richard Tsukamasa Green
Richard Tsukamasa Green(@richard-green)
11 years ago

Did he also consider the fact that there was never much doubt about who was in power in Australia (and Britain/America etc.) at any given time? A large part of the appeal of Mussolini and Hitler (especially considering the latter had been largely a subject of ridicule in the 20s) was the promise that they could make government and make it clear that someone was doing something. Germany had been having elections almost every month, so Weimar democracy became tainted by an aura of indecisiveness. The NSDAP gave an aura of organisation (as did the Communists), so there was an appeal that the fringes would at least do something, which was better than the moderates and democrats unable to decide even who was in charge. The same appeal of certainty when normal democracy seemed indecisive contributed to the creation of the French Fifth republic with far less nasty results.

In Australia however, no matter what turmoil was occurring with dismissals and party splits, when Labor was in power, they were recognisably in power, and then the UAP was. There was no need to look for someone who would simply just take charge and start doing something. Hooray for single member electorates?

observa
observa
11 years ago

Hooray for Anglo Saxon electors more like it. A unique ancestry and culture that could rise up and chop the head off an authoritarian king and promptly install another with clear instructions to behave himself like a true scholar and gentleman thereafter. A shining example for the world and authoritarian socialists everywhere to remain perpetually in awe of, not least and most recently one Kevin07 by all accounts.

observa
observa
11 years ago

Mind you to get to the stage whereby mere sampling of our displeasure can command others less civil to wield the axe without us physically reaching for same with much trepidation for past unseemly behaviour, has required reaching for the odd Spitfire or two to more amply demonstrate our displeasure. We like to think nowadays the world is full of scholars and gentlemen like ourselves and it can come as somewhat of a rude shock to us to realise that’s not always the case. Peace in our time gentlemen please and let’s discuss this like civilised folk. That hesitation and trepidation can often be mistaken for weakness which can be a fatal mistake if your intentions are really not honourable. Don’t ever misjudge that Chamberlain nature lest you reap the Churchillian bulldog in us. It’s in the genes and a Heinz 57 Varieties, mongrel lot they are, although all out of Africa I believe.

Geoff Robinson
11 years ago

1. Timing, if elections had been held in early 1931 the populist radical right would have polled very well but by late 1931 the mainstream conservatives had co opted the populist right, 2. Labor was clearly headed for defeat by late 1931 so the right just had to wait for the election, 3. the mainstream developed a plausible economic appeal around the restoration of business confidence rather the purely negative appeal of 1929-30.

trackback

[…] Club Troppo » Why was Fascism Unsuccessful in 1930s Australia? […]

Tel
Tel
11 years ago

Hooray for Anglo Saxon electors more like it. A unique ancestry and culture that could rise up and chop the head off an authoritarian king and promptly install another with clear instructions to behave himself like a true scholar and gentleman thereafter.

No form of authoritarianism has taken off well in Australia: not Communism for that matter, nor overtly pushy religious theocracy. People often mention the “tall poppy syndrome” as if it was a bad thing (and from some perspectives it is) but it’s also a survival mechanism. When you see someone getting too big for their boots, taking them down a peg protects all members of society from potential disaster. The slightest hint of arrogance in a leader tends to get the voters offside real fast (e.g. Paul Keating).

How to find someone both capable of wielding power effectively, and trustworthy enough to actually be offered the chance to do so? Perennial problem really.