Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Santamaria, Mr Bartholomew Augustine
There is a common and very human tendency to accept unquestioningly that the way things are is the way they must be, as if history has been guided by some predetermined inevitability which has led us to where we are today, that it was inevitable that the Allies should have defeated fascism and that the Berlin Wall was always destined to fall. There is a sort of reassuring comfort in such a belief but it is plainly untrue. Time and again in the history of nations, their futures hang in the balance with the outcome determined one way or another by the actions of a handful of committed individuals determined to influence the way the cards fall.
It is to these individuals at these times that the credit, or indeed the blame, for the outcome of the contest which comes to constitute the new national norm is attributable. Often the commonly held belief by those not intimately involved in the contest that the outcome was inevitable diminishes the credit which is afforded to those who effectively changed the course of history. This is even more likely to be the case where the protagonists themselves—either of their own decision or by force of circumstance—wage their battles out of the public glare and with a commitment to, as far as is possible, avoiding publicity for their work.
There are times, however, when acknowledgement of the actions critical to the shaping of a nation's history must either be properly afforded or people are condemned to ignorance as to the forces which have shaped their society. Tonight is an appropriate time for such an acknowledgement.
As the centenary year of BA Santamaria's birth comes to a close, I want to record a few thoughts about this great Australian, who never held political office and was never a member of any political party but who nonetheless had a significant influence on public affairs over nearly 60 years. Santamaria's greatest achievement was his contribution to the defeat of the organised effort in the 1940s and early 1950s by the Communist Party of Australia and its fellow travellers to dominate the trade union movement, the ACTU and consequently the Labor Party. At this time the Communist Party of Australia was entirely subservient to the Stalin-led Soviet Union and its interests.
Writing in the foreword to a 1940s Australian edition of Stalin's The Foundations of Leninism, Lance Sharkey, general secretary of the Communist Party of Australia from 1948 to 1965, enthused:
The whole of the toiling masses of the world to-day acclaim the great work of the great statesman, Stalin.
More than 60 years later, looking from the other side of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of Eastern Europe from Soviet domination and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, it may be difficult for us to understand just how serious a threat to the free world, including Australia, the communists were. Stephane Courtois' The Black Book of Communism, published in 1999, totalled up the corpses and found that communist regimes worldwide were responsible for some 100 million deaths, 20 million in the Soviet Union alone. Santamaria described how he became a committed opponent of communism:
One day, by the purest accident, I was wandering round a suburban library, and by mistake I picked up a book that turned out to be Malcolm Muggeridge's Winter In Moscow which he published in 1934, and as I told Muggeridge many years later, 'I blame you for everything that's happened to me in my life, because that book changed my life.'
In 1937, on the day he signed the solicitors roll after graduating in law from the University of Melbourne, Santamaria, then just 22 years old, was invited by Archbishop Daniel Mannix to come and work for the Australian national secretariat of Catholic Action. In 1941, Bert Cremean, deputy leader of the Labor Party in Victoria, asked Santamaria for help in combating the dominance of the Communist Party of Australia in the trade unions. Santamaria described the approach he developed to tackle this task. He said:
I always believed that the only way to fight communism in the union movement was to go in, create a counterforce of anti-communist unionists, organise as well as they did, better than they did and beat them and throw them out.
The vehicle Santamaria developed to recruit and organise unionists for this task was the Catholic Social Studies Movement, 'the movement'. However, he worked more broadly with Labor Party and trade union leaders through the ALP sponsored industrial groups. Leaders such as Laurie Short of the Federated Ironworkers Association; Lloyd Ross of the Railwaymen's Union; Percy Cleary, President, and Reg Broadby, Secretary of the ACTU and Arthur Calwell, then a minister in the Curtin government, supported this approach.
By 1954 this task was largely achieved. Labor, under the leadership of Bert Evatt, narrowly lost the May 1954 election. After appearing as legal counsel for two of his staff members at the Royal Commission on Espionage and failing to produce any evidence for his bizarre theory that ASIO had conspired with Vladimir Petrov to produce a forged document naming the two staff members as sources for information passed to the Soviet Union by Rupert Lockwood, Evatt cast about for someone to blame. He settled for a sectarian attack on BA Santamaria and the movement, notoriously claiming to Alan Reid that for every Catholic vote he lost he would gain two Protestant votes. He believed, or claimed to believe, that Santamaria had conspired against him with ASIO.
Evatt, claimed to have confirmation of his conspiracy theory when he received a reply from Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, who assured him that as there was no Soviet espionage in Australia, the Lockwood document must be a forgery. If Evatt had not succumbed to his own conspiracy theories, a broad based Labor Party would almost certainly have won government sometime in the second half of the 1950s. In the event Evatt's reckless and unnecessary attack on Santamaria led to the tragic Labor Party split of 1955 and to Labor's extended occupation of the opposition benches until 1972. In his 1973 pamphlet Philosophies in Collision, Santamaria identified three philosophies in contention for the soul of the West: Christianity as broadly understood, Soviet communism and secular humanism or libertarianism—the view that the individual should be able to do whatever he or she liked. Santamaria noted that technological developments such as television and the contraceptive pill had played a major role in facilitating the spread of a libertarian approach beyond narrow intellectual circles to the broader community.
By the early 1980s, Santamaria had refocused his energies on combating the new Gramscian strategy of the 'long march through the institutions' adopted by the Left. Both old communists looking for new causes and libertarians were seeking to change Australian society through demolishing or restructuring the family, religion, education and culture. Santamaria engaged in this new struggle through publications such as News Weekly and AD2000,as well as through ancillary organisations such as the Australian Family Association.
Santamaria was fond of posing the question used as the title of a 1902 pamphlet by Lenin, 'What is to be done?' His whole professional life was driven by the answers to this question which he developed, along with his collaborators, in the face of one challenge after another—communism in the trade unions, the Labor Party split, the Cultural Revolution. It is a question each of us engaged in public life should constantly be asking ourselves.
Tonight I pay tribute to the life of Bob Santamaria and to those thousands of unnamed people who met in small groups around the country and who bowed their heads and prayed:
Lord Jesus Christ our King,
Teach us to be generous
To serve you as you deserve to be served,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To work and not to seek for rest,
To spend ourselves and not to seek reward
Save the knowledge that we do your holy will.