Left and Vietnam War

The Australian left, nationalism and the Vietnam War

By RICK KUHN* rick.kuhn@anu.edu.au

originally published in Labour History no 72, May 1997, pp. 163-184

Nationalism underpins most political debate in Australia, including discussion on the left. This is particularly true when Australia's role in the world is at issue. But the adequacy of nationalist assumptions to political analysis and practice has been subject to relatively little scrutiny.

The following argument examines the adequacy of different contemporary interpretations of Australia's international political role in relation to the largest and most sustained social movement since World War II. From modest and marginal origins in the mid 1960s the campaign against the Vietnam war became a mass movement in which hundreds of thousands of people were actively involved during the early 1970s. Most of the explanations of Australia's involvement in the war were nationalist in the sense that they assessed developments against a criterion of the interests of 'Australia', understood as the common interests of all or most of the people living here. There were different views about what those interests were. But nationalist perspectives all identified Australian interests that were above or could unite classes. For the conservatives the nation and individuals were units of analysis, not class. The significance of class varied over a wide range in the discourses of Labor politicians, but the most consistent uses of class analysis were close to those of the Communist Party of Australia. The Stalinist left believed that a small number of 'monopolies' or 'wealthy families' were opposed to the common interests of other classes in Australia. Few on the left, notably Trotskyists, were hostile to Australian nationalism because it served capitalist interests.

There are broadly two kinds of tests for political ideas. One concerns their adequacy as explanations of real developments. The second is their effectiveness as guides to political practice. Mainly by using published sources, I assess how accurate the accounts offered by different political currents were in explaining why Australia was involved in Vietnam, employing the first sort of test. Given limited space, I consider the political practice of different sections of the left only in order to provide a context for this sort of examination. I readily concede, however, that if the point of politics like philosophy is to change the world such a test is significant only because an accurate understanding of the world a) will be the most consistent basis for elaborating reliable strategies and tactics to bring about the changes we want and b) will, at least in part, be a product of political practice. My conclusions suggest that it is worth questioning the validity of the still dominant nationalist assumptions of political analysis in Australia.

The first six sections below outline different accounts of why Australian troops were in Vietnam current during the 1960s and early 1970s. The conservative government's and official Labor Party positions are discussed first, briefly because they have attracted most attention in the historical literature. Then I examine the left's explanations. The common characteristic of the left was a systematic orientation to the working class and a commitment to socialism. It included the Labor left and radical groups outside the Party. While there were a variety of political and single issue campaign organisations to the left of the ALP, the most articulate, distinct and influential explanations of Australian involvement in Vietnam were propagated by the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), Communist Party of Australia (Marxist Leninist)-the Maoists (CPA (ML))-and by Trotskyists. I focus on their contributions and then assess their adequacy against my own understanding of how Australian troops were sent to Vietnam and why they remained there for the best part of a decade. This is essentially a retelling, within a Marxist framework, of the standard historical accounts of these events. To a large extent the latter in turn draw on evidence which has mainly emerged since the end of the war.

Conservative explanation

The Menzies Government and its conservative successors offered several different, though not necessarily contradictory justifications for sending first Australian 'instructors' and then, in May 1965, combat troops to Vietnam. Its superficial rhetoric was about defending democracy in the country ruled by a succession of dictatorial and corrupt regimes. Some conservatives may have believed these arguments but they were nothing more than fantasy. The Government's most systematic and serious public explanations of its actions held that it was in Australia's national interest to involve the United States in Southeast Asia and that Australian participation in the Vietnam conflict would encourage this. A senior academic apologist for Government policy made the argument very plain, 'The commitment of Australian forces to Vietnam ... does more than anything else we can do to ensure a continued American presence in an area which is vital to our security.'1 Two mechanisms were allegedly involved. One drew on Australian racism and conservative anti-communism.

The takeover of South Vietnam would be a direct military threat to Australia and all the countries of South and South-East Asia. It must be seen as part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.2

The other mechanism was less direct. It amounted to an insurance policy. Australia's commitment to Vietnam was seen as a down payment for US help if Australia were ever attacked.

The Labor Party and the War

Arthur Calwell was the leader of the Labor Party from 1960 until early 1967. Under his leadership the Party opposed conscription, announced in November 1964, then the dispatch of troops to Vietnam. Electoral competition with Menzies, the emergence of a modest anti-war movement and the conflict with Gough Whitlam over the Party leadership led him to toughen his initial stance which was based on the conviction that the Government's decisions were mistaken. In May 1966 the Parliamentary Labor Party endorsed Calwell's commitment that a Labor Government would pull conscripts out 'without delay' and regular forces 'as soon as possible'.3 Calwell also encouraged demonstrations and, up to a point, the movement on the streets.

Nevertheless, Calwell's framework for judging foreign policy was not very different from Menzies's. 'All our words, all our policies, all our actions must,' the Labor leader asserted in May 1965, 'be judged ultimately by this one crucial test: What best promotes our national security, what best guarantees our national survival?'4 For the right and centre of the Labor Party, the US alliance met this test. The conflict between the Government and Opposition over Vietnam amounted to a sometimes coded debate (even to the participants) over the most effective means of maintaining a stable world order dominated by the USA, under which Australia could flourish. Nationalism therefore informed the judgements of both. Despite differences over means, Calwell himself affirmed that,

On three great issues, there is agreement between the two parties. These issues are: The American alliance, opposition to Communism, and the common determination to keep Australia safe and inviolable.5

Except on the left of the ALP, the Labor conception of Australia's place in the world rested on the same foundations as that of the conservatives: Australia was an independent member of the community of states, capable, without radical social changes, of pursuing its people's interests. Differences over Vietnam were at a more superficial level.

According to Calwell, the conservatives were too supine in their attitude to the United States. The Johnson Administration was mistaken in its Vietnam policies and, out of friendship and concern for the USA's standing, the Government should point this out. He was capable of expressing this in populist rhetoric when it suited him, denouncing the Government's failure 'to define and implement a clear defence and foreign policy that has now placed it in the relation of a client, rather than the ally of our great and powerful friends.'6 The problem was that the US Government and, following it, Menzies had overestimated the possibility of a military solution to the Vietnam 'problem'.7 This miscalculation was damaging the national interest. As a later Labor Foreign Minister put it,

The Australian desire to see the United States actively engaged in the security of South-East Asia was more understandable. Here the problem lay not in the objective but in a failure to appreciate that the US strategy in Vietnam would not succeed.8

Subsequent events demonstrated that overwhelming superiority in weaponry is not a guarantee against defeat. Mainstream Labor regard the Vietnam conflict as essentially a civil war into which Australia and the USA had foolishly strayed.9 It, along with other moderate sections of the anti-war movement, was concerned to prevent both countries from being embarrassed by their military activities in Vietnam.10

The conservatives were more disposed to confrontation and coercion in foreign and industrial relations policy. The ALP advocated cooptation. Communism could be combatted more effectively by improving the lives of the South Vietnamese people. The United Nations should help resolve the dispute. But Calwell's alternative strategy for defeating or neutralising Communism in South Vietnam, which Whitlam and the ACTU shared,11 was utopian. The prospects of the USA, let alone Australia, embarking on a massive aid program to improve Vietnamese living standards while the Communists had control of the North and significant support in the South were minimal. With both the USA and USSR able to veto decisions, the UN was a nullity in cases in which there was any element of superpower conflict. A 'neutral' government with NLF participation could have been only temporary or superficial.

Calwell's position had deep roots. As a youth he had supported the struggle for Irish independence and during the First and Second World Wars he had opposed conscription. Labor's stress on the United Nations dated back to Evatt's efforts in the 1940s to use it as a multiplier of Australian influence. And experience in the union movement made it apparent to many Labor politicians that Communism was not identical with industrial militancy or a preparedness to resist imperialism. There were, nevertheless, other advocates of a negotiated settlement in Vietnam, amongst Australian employers, churches, the conservative French President de Gaulle and even sections of the US bureaucracy.12

In his very useful account of Labor's position on the Vietnam war, another Minister under Hawke and Keating, Kim Beazley (Jr) noted that Gough Whitlam 'was not convinced that the Americans would lose the war; he believed that at least a compromise settlement could be achieved, and worried that insufficient pressure was being placed on the Americans for a negotiated settlement.'13 This and Labor's poor performance in the November 1966 elections led Whitlam to shift the Party's position on Vietnam to the right after he took over as leader in 1967.

The ALP's Federal Conference that year expressed general opposition to the continuation of the war and Australian involvement in it. But there was no call for the immediate withdrawal of Australian conscripts. Australian participation, it stated, should end only after an ALP Government had failed to persuade 'our allies' to stop bombing North Vietnam, negotiate with the National Liberation Front and to 'transform operations in South Vietnam into holding operations'.14 Much of the Party's left was complicit in this position.15

When it was electorally expedient, Labor's policy on the war eventually became more forthright. The Tet Offensive in February 1968 demonstrated the fragility of the situation in South Vietnam and the mood in Australia and the United States began to shift. In June 1969 the first withdrawal of US forces was announced. In July Nixon enunciated his 'Guam Doctrine', a rationale for pursuing US foreign policy goals by means other than the deployment of US troops, and the July Federal Labor Conference formally hardened up ALP policy, against Whitlam's position that the withdrawal of Australian forces should occur after a united Vietnam had taken responsibility for affairs in Phuoc Tuy Province which they garrisoned.16 Spurred on by an opinion poll result in August that indicated that a majority opposed Australian involvement in the War for the first time, Whitlam promised in October that the troops would be brought home by June 1970, if Labor won the 1969 elections. Only in 1971 did the Party decide it would repeal the National Service Act, which provided for conscription, and 'annul its penal consequences'.

Whitlam was always, however, even more insistent than Calwell on the importance of close relations with the USA. 'It is not the American Alliance itself which has reduced Australia to a status of diplomatic and defence dependence. It is the Government's interpretation of the Alliance.'17

Jim Cairns, publicist and figurehead

Left Labor MHR Jim Cairns was the most prominent opponent of Australia's involvement in Vietnam. He made it clear that the conservative parties, Liberal, Country and Democratic Labor, used anti-communism as a weapon against Labor and that Chinese expansionism and Communist aspirations for world domination were not the basis of resistance to the United States and its clients in Vietnam. Like Calwell, Cairns, in Living with Asia, recognised that there were concrete reasons why ordinary people might support communists. Support for Communism in Vietnam grew out of the role of the Viet Minh and National Liberation Front in resisting foreign domination and corrupt regimes, that is, in leading an essentially nationalist movement. There was no military solution to the Vietnam War. Australia should be offering aid and support for economic progress. And, 'If aid is to be effective in preventing capture of the revolutionary forces by extremists, then we will have to recognise that men who will be described as "nationalists", "socialists", or even by some people as "Communists", will have to come to the top'.18

Cairns's starting point in explaining why Australia was involved in Vietnam was Australian nationalism and his argument revolved around the mistaken ideas and outdated attitudes on the conservative side of politics:

Our failure to achieve a distinctive Australian outlook is preventing us from solving our Australian problems. The basic assumption of our "defence policy", for instance, is that we cannot solve our military problems: that we must depend on "powerful friends" ... Granted the assumption, it follows that we should never displease our "powerful friends" or they will never come to our aid.

The analysis amounted to the identification of a cultural cringe at the level of foreign policy, because 'we are ruled by classes of people whose connections with England and the United States are tenuous enough, but whose value-judgements are conventionally subservient to England and the United States'. It was not, however, linked with Cairns's attribution of Australia's economic problems (essentially low growth rates and inflation, given that 'the great problem of depression has been largely solved') to 'the concentration of power in the hands of fewer and fewer large "monopolistic" companies', while 'much of this power is being rapidly transferred outside Australia.'19 In other words his critique of Australian (and US) foreign policy was essentially moral and cultural rather than based on a relationship between domestic class structure, economic interests and imperialism.20 This dissociation facilitated an ambiguous attitude to the US Alliance, critical of over dependence on the US, but assuming common interests between the two countries and supportive of the USA's democratic traditions.21 It also reflected his characteristically labourist belief that it is possible and desirable to reconcile class conflict in the national interest.22

Cairns's far from radical analysis of Australia's place in the world and involvement in Vietnam was matched by his political stance. Not only did he comply with Labor's official policies on the War, he also drafted the amendment which watered down the Party's position on Vietnam at the 1967 conference.23 Later he argued that 'Australian influence should primarily be used to end the war, and it could be significant in ending the war ... Withdrawal of forces should come if it appears that Australian efforts to end the war were no longer likely to be effective.'24 As the most prominent figure in the Moratorium Campaign in 1970 and 1971, Cairns demanded that the Australian forces be brought home. It was not this, but rather his encouragement of mass political activity that distinguished his position from Whitlam's.25 Only in Victoria where the left's influence was greatest, was there whole-hearted support from the ALP for the Moratorium Campaign, even after Whitlam had decided that rapid withdrawal was an electoral winner.26 As a consequence, the movement was largest in that state.

Only to the left of Cairns did radicals explicitly reject the US alliance. Adelaide academic, Bob Catley offered what amounted to a radical version of Cairns's position. He argued that the ALP as well as the Liberals were influenced by the 'mythology of the US alliance' and that the alliance facilitated US intervention in Australia.27 But most left wing accounts of Australia's place in the world were influenced by the Stalinist heritage of Australian communism.28 Sections of the ALP left influenced by the Communist Party's analysis, the CPA itself, the CPA (ML) and other currents in the (especially student) left saw Government policy as a betrayal of the national interest and as a consequence of direct pressure from the US interests. Cairns's idealism at least allowed him to regard Australian governments as capable of pursuing their own policies (even if these, under the Liberals, expressed a cultural deference). The concern of the Stalinist left to link foreign policy to material interests had, however, the implausible consequence of turning the conservative government into pawns of the United States.

The CPA and Labor left

In order to secure Australia's independence, the CPA sought an alliance with the Labor Party, or at least its left wing, and broad support from workers, farmers, small and even middle sized businesses. The enemy was a small group of monopolists, 'the sixty families who owned Australia', and their government, which was betraying the nation. So while critical of Whitlam and the right of the Labor Party, Communists tended not to offer an analysis of the problems with the ALP as a whole. This acted as a significant brake on the kinds of positions the Communist Party was prepared to argue for in the anti-war movement, even if it sometimes adopted a more radical stance in its own publications. Its stance was tailored to accommodate allies in the ALP and, in the tradition of the peace movement of the 1950s, amongst 'progressive' intellectuals and ministers of religion. But there was a significant element inside the Labor left (probably including some secret CPA members29) which took its lead from the Communist Party and they worked together in the largest peace organisations in Sydney, the Association for International Co-operation and Disarmament (AICD) and Melbourne, the Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament (CICD). So there was an element of feedback intensifying the brake. Particularly after Labor's policy was watered down in 1967, rather than emphasising the demands for an immediate end to conscription and withdrawal of Australian troops the CPA called for an end to US bombing of North Vietnam and negotiations. The Party's position was summed up in the slogan 'Stop the Bombing, Negotiate!', until the political climate shifted dramatically to the left in 1968. And while the CPA rejected the US Alliance, for the sake of unity it tended to play this down as an issue in and for the antiwar movement, the biggest opportunity to win an audience for its politics for decades.

Australia's subordination to the USA had, the CPA believed, replaced subordination to Britain. In discussing imperial preference in 1962, veteran Communist journalist Rupert Lockwood spelled out that involvement in the British imperial system meant 'Australia never acted as a free agent' in its relations with Asian, African and South Pacific peoples. Now Australia refused to recognise the People's Republic of China 'on US orders' and offered the first advisers for the American war in Vietnam.30

Australian Communists recognised that Australia engaged in imperialist policies of its own. This was hard to miss, especially in New Guinea. 'Australian monopoly capitalism,' through the Menzies Government 'has pursued a consistent line in trying to advance Australian imperialist ambitions.' But local imperialism, sometimes referred to as Australia being a 'junior partner' of US imperialism, did not mean the Government pursued an independent, ie. national policy. The Government,

in pursuit of [its own imperialist goals] has oriented its whole f[o]reign policy upon slavish support for the USA. And they do this despite many warnings that the US imperialists will not only ride roughshod over the desires of the Australian people for peace, but that when it suits them, they also treat with contempt the very aims of Australian imperialism.

In particular, External Affairs Minister, 'Barwick's barbed wire lowers Australia's stature to that of a stooge for the US gendarmes.' The proposed Northwest Cape communications base also reflected this relationship. Australia was in the process of being sold out, 'The very independence and national honour and security of Australia is now at stake.'31 The Labor left had similar concerns.32 The monopolists and their allies 'sell Australian independence for dollar investment, tie Australia to US political and military intervention against the peoples of S.E. Asia and the Pacific, and practice imperialism and neo-colonialism.' Communist criticisms of these policies implied that the Government and monopolies themselves did not know how to look after capitalist interests. This accommodated the Party's conception of an anti-monopoly alliance, in which, thanks to the ambiguity of its formulation, small capitalists might be included.33 On the campuses, the student left also linked US investment in Australia and involvement in Vietnam. But coverage of the issue until around 1968 mainly consisted of moral condemnation or commentary on official explanations that seldom went beyond positions like those of the ALP.34

The Party first noticed that Australia was being sold out to the USA in the 1940s. The initial shock of Menzies's commitment of regular forces to Vietnam led Party leader Laurie Aarons to conclude that 'Menzies thus finally surrenders the last shred of independence in foreign policy.'35 But the line soon reverted to describing how Australia's independence was in the process of being eroded. The idea of a never consummated sell-out in the making permeated the Party's analysis for the whole period of Australian involvement in Vietnam36 and on into the 1980s. The CPA's leadership never explored the possibility that this formulation concealed a flawed analysis borne of nationalist assumptions. The Communist explanation of Australian involvement in Vietnam was expressed on the left of the union movement, which included prominent Party members. The Queensland Secretary of the Seamen's Union maintained, in May 1965, that 'The decision to send the troops was taken on the orders of the US Government.'37 The Secretary of the Railways Union offered a similar account of US responsibility for the expansion of Australia's involvement in Vietnam, the following year, 'No one can deny,' he asserted 'that the USA put pressure on the Australian Government to increase our commitments' to Vietnam, while some manufacturers in heavy industry and the Government 'want their share of the blood-money the USA is making available to its satellites'.38

The formation of alliances in the growing anti-war movement, however, increasingly preoccupied the CPA. Its approach was shaped by its whole conception of socialist strategy. While sloughing off adherence to Moscow during the late 1960s, the Communist Party continued to adhere to the modified version of the Stalinist popular front strategy embodied in its conception of a 'Coalition of the Left' formally adopted at the 1967 Congress.39 So Communists went further than welcoming the opportunity to work with other forces against the War, around common demands. Accommodating to church and liberal opposition to the War amongst students and academics, commentary on foreign policy and Vietnam from late 1965 gave weight to moral condemnations at the expense of social analysis. Earlier reservations about Calwell's position gave way to largely uncritical support.40 Moral rhetoric and a less critical attitude to the Labor Party as a whole (though not its right wing) persisted until Australia's involvement in the War ended in 1971-72.41 This approach was also apparent in the moderate demands Communists advocated for the anti-war movement.

Like Cairns, Tom Uren, a NSW MHR, is a good example of the kind of Labor left figure to whom the Communist Party was prepared to accommodate its demands and actions in the movement. His stress (in rather vague terms) on the link between foreign ownership and control of Australian industry and involvement in Vietnam was similar to the CPA's preoccupations.42 But, in line with the ALP's official position, Uren was still referring to developments in Vietnam as a 'civil war' in 1968, despite the massive level of US intervention in the country.43 In 1966 he said 'we do not support the proposal that American forces and installations should be withdrawn from South Vietnam before peace talks commence.'44 He played a pivotal moderating role in the Sydney demonstration against South Vietnamese Prime Minister Ky in early 1967.45 Even before the ALP's position was formally watered down in August 1967, Richard Dixon, the President of the Communist Party, argued for 'support of the issues upon which there is already wide agreement, opposition to conscription and the Vietnam war,' a position to the right of Calwell's during the 1966 election campaign.46 Tribune underplayed the dilution of the ALP's position on Vietnam in 1967 and stressed the agreement between the Labor and Communist Parties on the demand that bombing of North Vietnam should halt.47

The CPA welcomed the successes of the Tet offensive in February 1968 and issued a call for immediate withdrawal of Australian forces and an end of the US Alliance. But the Party continued to demand an end to US bombing of North Vietnam and peace negotiations, rather than the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from Vietnam and continued to praise, with vague reservations, the ALP's 1967 policy.48 At this stage Tom Uren was still advocating the official Labor position, which was also that of the ACTU and, essentially, of the moderate AICD/CICD section of the anti-war movement in which the Communist Party was influential:

Stop the bombing now. Recognise the National Liberation Front. Achieve a holding position so we can have a negotiated peace in Vietnam. It may be a long drawn out war, but this would be a de-escalation of the war.49

The populist analysis of Australia's commitment to Vietnam, most influentially advocated by the CPA, was evident in material produced by the Moratorium campaign in 1970. A leaflet from Brisbane maintained 'We are fighting for the sake of American imperialism. Our diggers die for dollars!'50, while the Sydney Trade Union Moratorium Committee argued

The war and those who profit!

The powerful and enormously rich families who own American monopolies see to it by lobbying, bribery and corruption that the war in Vietnam continues and escalates to the extent that they secure the maximum in profits from war contracts.51

At a third Moratorium rally, Labor Senate leader Murphy said 'We are involved because the US Government decided we should be involved.'52

The Moratorium movement was a product of the growing appeal of the demand for the immediate withdrawal of troops after the Tet offensive. The Labor Party had belatedly reverted to supporting this policy in 1969 and this eliminated Communist qualms about making it a demand of the anti-war movement. But Communists and their Labor left allies continued to restrain the movement's slogans and tactics. In Brisbane they physically restrained a leading militant from speaking. The Party opposed US imperialism, but the CPA and Labor left were still not keen on the Moratorium raising 'anti-imperialist' slogans. Even the more radical aims of the third Moratorium mobilisation of 30 June 1971 did not raise the issue of imperialism by making links between the structure of Australian (or US) society and foreign policy or the US Alliance. This approach was justified in terms of the dangers of 'excluding' people by going beyond the questions of foreign troops in Vietnam and conscription.53 Given the widespread hostility to the War, however, it seems that fears of scaring people off by including in the Moratorium's aims a call to end the Alliance and recognition that the Vietnam war was a consequence of imperialism, were exaggerated.54 An article in the University of Queensland student newspaper in 1971 expressed the concerns of the radical (Maoist, libertarian and Trotskyist) left about the Moratorium's narrow focus. Australian foreign policy could only be understood, it maintained, in terms of the nature of Australian society and imperialism.55 A higher profile for these issues, including the US alliance in the anti-war movement might also have encouraged more critical thinking about the ALP in advance of the euphoria over Labor's 1972 victory.

The ALP and CPA recruited out of the anti-war movement, notably in the period from 1968. But there was also an intimate relationship between the movement and the emergence of student radicalism and the new left. Labor's failure to win the 1966 election was a turning point in the campaign against the Vietnam War and the development of the Australian left. From 1965, interest in more confrontationist political tactics had started to revive. Labor's defeat led to a more self-conscious radicalisation of sections of the movement, especially students, who no longer accepted that issues could or should simply be resolved by elections or Parliaments .56 They rejected the toning down of the ALP's policy on the war and the CPA's moderation. Greater working class combativity during this period also showed that militant struggles were possible and could achieve results. The Maoism of the CPA (ML), in particular, but also Trotskyism and libertarianism provided more radical critiques of Australian capitalism and justifications for more extreme tactics.

Maoism

Particular currents in the student movement and wider left had more influence in some cities or universities than others. The example of young people turning contemporary China upside down, 'Third World' revolutions and the verbal radicalism of the Chinese regime and its Australian supporters in the Melbourne based, pro-Peking CPA (ML) were very influential on radical students, notably members of the Monash University Labor Club from 1966-67.57 The CPA (ML)'s political tactics and verbal aggressiveness drew on the Chinese version of the 'Third Period' analysis of the Communist International in the early 1930s. Unlike the CPA, it denounced the ALP, including its left, as equivalent to the conservative parties.58 It argued that the CPA and Soviet Union had also betrayed socialism. But the 'Maoists' expected workers, farmers and large sections of the middle class to rally to their own red banner in the short term because, like the CPA, they believed that the main political cleavage in Australia was between 'the people' and a tiny group of monopolists. They were fierce in their denunciations of US imperialism and the Government's betrayal of Australian independence.59 As John Murphy points out, 'the outline of [their] analysis was widely accepted in the New Left and in the CPA, though none pursued it with such zeal as the Maoists'.60 Where the CPA tended to argue, from the 1940s through to the 1980s, that Australia was in the process of losing its independence, the CPA (ML) regarded this as a fait accompli:

McMahon is nothing but a servile, snivelling lackey who has nothing in common with the Australian people.

McMahon does not speak for Australian workers, working people, democrats, patriots, peace-lovers. He speaks for the giant US monopolies that dominate Australia-General Motors, Fords, Chryslers, the oil and rubber companies, etc.

... For Australian independence! Yankees go home!61

Australia was involved in Vietnam because the Government was subordinate to the United States and US corporations.

While their understanding of Australia's participation in the war was distinguished principally by its strident rhetoric rather than a distinctive analysis, student militants of the Monash Labor Club, notably the Maoists, shifted the public debate to the left through their radical tactics. Other student groups in Australia had already expressed support and raised medical aid funds for the NLF, when in 1967 the Labor Club at Monash started to collect money that could be used for military purposes. Activists were subject to violence from right wing students and disciplinary procedures by the Monash administration. They organised confrontationist demonstrations against the US Consulate and, with other militants, successfully pushed for a sit down during the first Melbourne Moratorium demonstration in May 1970.62

The Draft Resister's Union, which set out to make conscription unworkable and included different political currents, was influenced by these ideas,

In support of the cardboard world of our subjugation by American economic, political and military interests we send a voteless minority to carry out the official policies of Free Fire Zones, Search and Destroy ... We are fighting not "for freedom" but rather in support of the utter stupidity of our leaders, in support of our own selfish insurance policy with the Americans, in support of US economic interests ... and in support of the Americans' fear of "communism"63

But some DRU pronouncements, suggested that an Australian imperialism existed, though without indicating that the local variety might be the product of local ruling class interests which could ever diverge from those of the United States.

'Though ex Prime Minister Gorton has said it was in 'our' interests to be in Vietnam, who are the 'our' he is talking about? Over the last six years the Australian worker has been paying over 2% of their annual taxation to support the Vietnam war ... So whose interests did we serve in Vietnam? The interests of US and our own imperialism.'64

The radical left won greater influence in the anti-war movement as the campaign declined in the wake of the Government's decision to withdraw combat troops from Vietnam. A February 1972 meeting of Moratorium supporters in Melbourne adopted, at the head of other slogans

1. Oppose US and allied aggression in Indo-China

2. Oppose US domination of Australia

3. End the US/Australia alliance65

And, not surprisingly, this left nationalist perspective influenced the movement's poetry too. Andrew Taylor's 'demonstration poem' describes Australia's relationship with the USA as 'dependent in a south-westerly direction'.66

Humphrey McQueen, a young academic sympathetic to Maoism, in his 1970 A New Britannia presented stinging historical criticism of the nationalism and racism of the labour movement of the 19th and early 20th century. He linked these phenomena with support for imperialism. This, probably the most radical expression of the idea that Australia was a junior partner of British imperialism, could be read, though it was apparently not intended, as a rejection of nationalism in general.67 McQueen's was one of the major contributions in the development of a critique of contemporary, 'technocratic laborism' by young academics and students who had been involved in the movement against the Vietnam war.68 They included Bob Catley and Bruce McFarlane who produced a book length study of technocratic laborism in 1974. Kelvin Rowley, who had been influenced by reading Trotsky and was soon a cofounder of the journal Intervention, pointed out the connection between nationalism and imperialism, and particularly the ALP's imperialist policies for Asia.69 Intervention, in its early efforts to explore the nature of Australian capitalism included material critical of Australian nationalism.70

Although the early 1970s saw systematic work on the weaknesses of laborism and social democracy in Australia, there was no similar effort to understand the effects of Stalinism on the Australian left. No one extended Baiba Berzins and Terry Irving's seminal demolition of the nationalist version of Australian history dominant on the left into a systematic critique of other aspects of the left's Stalinist theoretical heritage and nationalism.71 There were, however, currents on the left which rejected the Marxism of the CPA and CPA (ML). An unsystematic anti-authoritarianism was characteristic of the student movement, but it was usually combined with a romanticism about revolutionary struggles in the 'Third World' and identification of Australia's involvement in Vietnam with US imperialism that were the unconscious heritage of Stalinism. Brisbane was the only city in which a major element in the movement eventually developed a distinct anarchist coloration.72 Undifferentiated anarchist rejection of authority did not generate any original insights into Australia's place in the world or its involvement in Vietnam. But Australian Trotskyism, represented by only a handfull of people in the mid 1960s, did.

Trotskyism

In Sydney, where Trotskyism had some influence, an understanding of Australian participation in the war, explicitly counterposed to Stalinist populism, had some currency much earlier than in other cities. The tiny group around the bulletin International had a quite different analysis of how socialists should respond to Australia's role in the world and Vietnam in particular to that dominant on the left. In 1965 the organisation argued in its bulletin, that

Terrified by the rising revolutionary tide [in Asia], Australian Imperialism, with a Labor Government, forged in the 1945-49 period the fundamental basis of Australian post-war foreign policy: the alliance with US imperialism which has been maintained and strengthened ever since. It found clearest expression in the ANZUS and SEATO war pacts and Australian participation in the suppression of the Malayan-now Vietnamese-Revolutions.'

It also regarded capitalists' interests in markets and investment outlets in the Pacific and Malaya and Thailand as a factor in Australian support for the USA and Britain in Southeast Asia. 'The relative prosperity of Australian capitalism for nearly a quarter of a century is likely in the immediate future to continue to be favoured by its role in imperialist world strategy, as sheet-anchor and bastion' in Southeast Asia. Like the rest of the left, the International group, the Socialist Perspective group which broke from it and later the Socialist Youth Alliance (SYA) had overblown expectations about the socialist content of 'Third World' revolutions and did not identify Australian imperialist interests distinct from those of the United States. But they were critical of the nationalism and racism of Labor policy and the Communist Party's nationalist propaganda. As a consequence they could recognise that the Australian Government pursued the interests of locally based capital and was not simply a puppet of the USA. Their rejection of both nationalism and the idea that socialists should be concerned about Australian independence was unique on the left.73

It was less a distinct analysis of Australia's involvement in the War that initially found wider support than the preparedness of Trotskyists to argue for demands and tactics which were, until late 1969, generally more militant than those supported by the ALP or CPA. And this was a consequence of their rejection of nationalism and the accommodationist politics that, in the case of the CPA, went with it. Bob Gould played an important role in the Vietnam Action Committee (VAC) in Sydney and Hall Greenland was prominent in the VAC and at Sydney University.74 The VAC pioneered civil disobedience at anti-war protests in Sydney starting with an October 1965 demonstration. In the years before the Moratoriums, it consistently called for the withdrawal of Australian and other foreign troops from Vietnam, unlike the ALP or CPA.75 In April 1967, an editorial in Vietnam Action, the campaign's journal, argued

The only response which serious opponents of the war in Vietnam can have ... is a determination to redouble our efforts for the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam and for the expulsion of the primary aggressor, the United States, from that country.76

The SYA emerged at the end of 1969 from the Sydney youth group Resistance with which Gould had been involved. It broke with the experience of tiny isolated groups and (in the main) with the tactic of working inside the Labor Party. The SYA was the first Troskyist organisation to develop a significant public profile, particularly through its newspaper Direct Action. The group drew on earlier Trotskyist accounts of Australian capitalism and was inspired by the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. This entailed illusions about the socialist content of Third World national revolutions but also a rejection of Australian nationalism. SYA's account of Australia's place in the world nevertheless shared weaknesses with CPA's conception of Australia as a 'junior partner' of the United States. According to Direct Action, Australian capitalism had 'imperialist ambitions' in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and was 'a client of US imperialism ... obliged by political and economic pressure to pay the price of its basic subservience to foreign capital. Unlike France and to some extent Great Britain, Australian capitalism is not sufficiently independent of US capital to allow it some sort of political independence.'77 But this analysis, unlike the CPA's, was not nationalist because workers 'have no interest in replacing their foreign exploiters with local ones'.78 Further

Even if Australia had a measure of economic independence, its independent imperialist ambitions would impel it into counter-revolutionary intervention in South East Asia

It is possible to overstate the importance of Australia's client status with regard to its military involvement in South East Asia. Indeed, most analysts tend to rest on this assumption far more than on the independent imperialist status of Australian capitalism.

... Where Australian capitalism's own interests coincide with those of the United States it seizes the opportunity to have these interests defended by the greater imperialist power for the minor price of a token military and moral involvement in the struggle.79

This is exactly what happened in Vietnam. The analysis was, at the very least, ambiguous about the actual nature of the relationship between the USA and Australia. It shared some questionable but basic assumptions with the populist and Stalinist left about the political incapacity of the Australian ruling class. The difference was that while the CPA regarded Australian nationalism as progressive, Direct Action identified its conservative dynamic and drew attention to the chequered history of the ALP's, including the Labor left's policies on Vietnam.80 Jim McIlroy later expressed this very clearly and provided a more coherent account in discussing foreign investment:

Australia is not an oppressed nation like Ireland or Bangladesh, Australian nationalism developed historically as the chauvinism of an imperialist outpost with its own interests allied with but distinct from those of the British and now US monopolies ... One of the paramount tasks of the socialist movement in this country is to combat Australian nationalism ...81

Despite their differences over nationalism, however, in the Moratorium campaigns the tactical position of the Socialist Youth Alliance and its successor the Socialist Workers League (now the Democratic Socialist Party) was similar in some respects to that of the Communist Party. Although it recognised the conservative nature of Australian nationalism and rejected alliances with sections of the capitalist class which underlay the communist position, the SYA/Socialist Workers League (SWL) placed an even more dogmatic emphasis on the importance of limited slogans to attract broad support for mass demonstrations which it regarded as the key to success.82 This was a step backwards from the approach of Trotskyists in the VAC and was modelled on the tactics of the SWP in the United States.

With the benefit of hindsight

The most popular conservative justification for Australia's involvement in Vietnam, that Australia was directly threatened by developments there, derived from the domestic political and economic advantages of propagating racism (the 'Yellow Peril') and anti-communism (the 'Red Hordes'). These were neatly combined in paranoia about Chinese expansionism, toppling dominoes down to Darwin. In the context of the continuing cold war, such arguments also had an appeal in the right of the ALP. But it had virtually no factual basis. Cairns provided a good account of the essentially nationalist position of the forces opposed to the USA and South Vietnamese regime. Objectively the levels of threat to Australian territory were very low: none of the countries in the region had an interest in armed conflict with Australia and, even if they had, their military capacity was small compared with Australia's own. The Minister for the Army noted in his diary in mid 1965 that 'The threat to the Australian mainland remains remote till at least 1970'.83

The US Alliance was an insurance policy against the Asiatic/communist threat to Australia and supporting the US in Vietnam was a way of renewing it. There was little serious evidence to support this argument and it was quickly debunked by the anti-war movement.84

The Minister for External Affairs, Paul Hasluck, recognised some of the real interests the USA and Australia had in raising the stakes in Vietnam:

The United States could not withdraw [from South Vietnam] without necessarily considering the world-wide impact of such a withdrawal on the broader strategies of world politics.85

Gabriel Kolko's assessment of US intervention in Vietnam applied to Australia too. 'The United States was ... acting not out of a desire to defend the nation against some tangible threat to its physical welfare but because it sought to create a controllable, responsive order elsewhere, one that would permit the political destinies of distant places to evolve in a manner beneficial to American goals and interests far surpassing the immediate needs of its domestic society.'86

To know how an act was justified is not the same as knowing why it happened. We can understand Australian foreign policy by looking at the structural position of the Australian capitalist class, because, by virtue of its economic power and the structure of the state, not only could the capitalist class define the national interest as its own, but in an important sense the national interest was the interest of the capitalist class. With this fundamental qualification in mind, it is possible to agree with the observation by Liberal politician John Howard 'that Menzies and his colleagues (and often large sections of the Labor Party) believed it to be in Australia's interests to act in concert with those powerful friends-and that in most cases, that judgement was right.'87

As the world's largest economic and military power, the USA was in a better position than any other state to secure the global private capitalist order it desired. And this preeminence encouraged an (ultimately unjustified) optimism in the viability of this project. Australia had an interest in creating and sustaining a broadly similar world order to that sought by the United States. This was a sensible policy option from the conservative viewpoint because it also involved a substantial free ride. During the Vietnam War, the proportion of GNP Australia devoted to arms expenditure was around half that of the USA.88

Australian capitalists had an interest in a growing and profitable global private capitalist economy. Such a world order could absorb Australian exports and provide both commodities not produced locally and capital flows to cover the typical current account deficits. Both the Labor and conservative parties accepted the organisation of the Australian economy on capitalist lines and sought to promote economic growth within this framework. They therefore expressed the identity of capitalist and national interests. This entailed both endorsement of the western side of the contest with the Soviet Bloc and criticism of efforts by underdeveloped countries to radically alter their form of integration into the private capitalist world. No doubt Hasluck regarded these as identical. It is true that successful national liberation movements could provide military advantages to the Soviet Bloc. But, more importantly and realistically, they could limit the scope for private capitalist profit making by imposing restrictions on trade and investment, while providing encouragement for other similar movements. The modesty of Australia's economic and military capacity meant that Australian governments alone could not hope to mould the international order (as opposed to that closer to home in the southwest Pacific) into the form they desired. Since Australia could not police the world, the Menzies Government encouraged the USA to do so. This was also one of the Labor Party's goals, though the ALP differed on the best way achieve it.

The western Pacific and Southeast Asia were of much greater concern for Australian than US Governments. They were better prospective trade partners and destinations for Australian investment; sensitive shipping routes passed through them. In 1964 and 1965 worries of the Menzies Government about the region and US involvement were deepened by Indonesia's 'Confrontation' with Malaysia in northern Borneo. The most thorough study of the origins of Australia's involvement in Vietnam observes that 'Australia's strategic and economic interests demanded that Western hegemony be maintained in' Southeast Asia.89 But since World War II the USA had focussed its foreign policy attention on Europe and, especially after the Cuban revolution, on Latin America. So there was a logic behind Australian efforts to boost the USA's policing activities in south east Asia. While trapped like other Australian policy makers in an ideology of national defence most of whose racist and anticommunist premises had little in common with reality, one conservative academic put his finger on this in 1963:

Attempting to pursue an independent policy, Australia has found that the global strength of the United States has set limits within which diplomatic manoeuvring is possible, and consequently that one of the major tasks of Australian diplomacy has been to collaborate with the United States and to influence, perhaps attempt to orient, American policy in our own area that is often of peripheral interest to Washington.90

Far from being a puppet of the USA, the Australian Government's position 'was to the Right of the US over Vietnam, seeking skilfully to use its troop commitment to force an even larger commitment by the US'. The details of the decision to send Australian combat troops to Vietnam are now well known. The Menzies Government took this initiative without a request from the US Government or an invitation from the South Vietnamese regime.91 Once Australia's 'primary objective [of embroiling the USA in the region] had been achieved', 'America did not find much enthusiasm from their ally after 1966 to increase its contribution to the common effort in Vietnam.'92 What Richard Leaver has called 'the counter-cyclical pattern in relations between the ANZUS allies'93 demonstrates not only the poverty of approaches which emphasise Australian dependence on the USA but also the existence of distinct Australian interests which Australian governments have pursued.

Hasluck's insight, expressed in the midst of a fog of spurious Government rationalisations, on the USA's position in Vietnam also cast light on the fundamental reasons for Australian involvement. But they were only made explicit by the Australian Trotskyists, a small section of the left in this period in no position to develop their analysis at length. Their rejection of Australian nationalism made possible a recognition that involvement in Vietnam and the US alliance were not betrayals but expressions of Australian nationalism and Australia's national interests. The pursuit of these interests was similarly the basis for Australia's (token) participation in the USA's war on Iraq under a Labor government in 1990-91. Military action in the Persian Gulf helped the United States government overcome the very cautious attitude to global policing, known as the 'Vietnam Syndrome', that was the most important and positive legacy of that earlier conflict. In the movement against the Gulf war, however, there was a more influential argument about the Australian national interests served by participation in the conflict alongside the still dominant nationalist explanation.94

Back to opening page

Endnotes

* I am grateful for the information, advice, comments or criticism offered by Eric Petersen, Jim George, Mike McKinley, Jock Collins, Kelvin Rowley, Bob Gould, an anonymous Labour History referee and, as always, Mary Gorman when I was preparing this article.

1 S. Cowen 'Australia's Policy towards Asia' in Australian Institute of Political Science Communism in Asia: A Threat to Australia? Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1967, p. 168.

2 Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates (CPD) (H of R) vol. 45, 29-4-65 pp. 1061. Also CPD (H of R) vol. 44 10-11-64, p. 2715-2718 which provides a rationale for forward defence, the SEATO and ANZUS treaties and the introduction of conscription.

3 M. Saunders 'The ALP's Response to the Anti-Vietnam War Movement: 1965-73' Labour History 44, May 1983, p. 79.

4 CPD (H of R) vol. 46 4-5-65, p. 1102. For a very clear expression of his supp. ort for the US Alliance, which did not alter after Australian troops were committed, and preparedness to condone the dispatch of additional Australian 'instructors' to Vietnam in June 1964 see A. Calwell The Challenge before Us Australian Labor Party, Canberra 1964 pp. 9, 11.

5 A. Calwell CPD (H of R) vol 45. 23-3-65, p. 242.

6 CPD (H of R) 38 2-4-63, p. 266.

7 Kolko identifies the hubris of imperial states in their overconfidence in their own power. In Vietnam, 'America, locked into its mission to control the broad contours of the world's political and socioeconomic development, had set for itself inherently unobtainable political objectives.' 'Despite America's many real successes in imposing its hegemony elsewhere, Vietnam exposed the ultimate constraints on its power in the modern era: its internal tensions, the contradictions between over involvement in one nation and its interests and ambitions elsewhere, and its material limits.' G. Kolko Vietnam: Anatomy of a War 1940-1975 Unwin Hyman, London 1987 pp. 545, 547.

8 G. Evans and B. Grant Australia's Foreign Relations Melbourne University Press, Melbourne 1991, p. 204. The Communist Party drew attention to the common assumptions of Government and Opposition at the time, L. Aarons 'Menzies' Undeclared War' Communist Review June 1965, p. 130-131. In some quarters of the Department of External Affairs during 1964 there was also concern about how much Australia or the USA could do about worsening political and military developments in Vietnam David Jenkins 'The year tensions over Indonesia ran high' Sydney Morning Herald 2 January 1995, p. 9.

9 A. Calwell CPD (H of R) vol. 46 4-5-65 pp. 1102-1107. Also see T. Uren, a prominent member of the left from NSW, CPD (H of R) vol. 45 25-3-65, p. 347, CPD (H of R) vol. 50 22-3-66 pp. 432, 435 and even as late as 1968, CPD (H of R) vol. 58 28-3-68, p. 621.

10 'We want the American presence, strong and powerful, in Asia and the Pacific ... It is precisely because we do not want America to be humiliated, because we want America to be in a position to negotiate from strength, that we are concerned about the danger of her present course' CPD (H of R) vol. 45 23-3-65, p. 241; CPD (H of R) 46 29-4-65 pp. 1107. Also Allan Fraser CPD (H of R) vol. 47 18-8-65, p. 206. For similar views outside Parliament see, for example, University Study Group on Vietnam Vietnam and Australia Sydney 1966, p. 134 whose proposals for resolving the Indochinese problem were very similar to Labor's in 1966.

11 See E. G. Whitlam Australia-Base or Bridge? Evatt Memorial Lecture 1966 Sydney University Fabian Society, Sydney 1966 pp. 7-9

12 The Victorian Employers' Federation was concerned that conscription might force up wages, J. Murphy Harvest of Fear: A History of Australia's Vietnam War Allen and Unwin, Sydney 1993, p. 116. Murphy's is the most comprehensive general account of the movement against the Vietnam war. Businessman Gordon Barton, the force behind the Liberal Reform Group and Australia Party, also opp. osed Australian involvement in the War, see F. McPherson and R. Whittington 'The Australia Party's Campaign' in H. Mayer (ed.) Labor to Power: Australia's 1972 election Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1973 pp. 88-96 and H. Albinski Politics and Foreign Policy in Australia: The Impact of Vietnam and Conscription Duke University Press, Durham 1970 pp. 54-55.

13 K. Beazley 'Federal Labor and the Vietnam Commitment' in P. King (ed.) Australia's Vietnam George Allen and Unwin, Sydney 1983, p. 51. On desirable policies in Vietnam see Whitlam Australia-Base or Bridge.

14 E. G. Whitlam Beyond Vietnam: Australia's Regional Responsibility Victorian Fabian Society Pamphlet 17, Melbourne 1968, p. 19

15 So, for example, the NSW left Steering Committee faction expelled Bob Gould was from for moving for a return to the policy under Calwell at the 1967 State ALP Conference, G. Langley A Decade of Dissent Allen and Unwin, Melbourne 1992, p. 39.

16 Socialist and Industrial Labor August 1969, p. 1.

17 Whitlam Beyond Vietnam, p. 22, or as Humphrey McQueen put it, 'It is not a question of the US imperialists telling Whitlam et al to be a counterrevolutionary; rather it is a question of Whitlam et al telling the imperialists how to be more effective at it. There is no disagreement over ends, only over means,' 'Living Off Asia' Arena 26 1971, p. 15.

18 J. Cairns Living with Asia Lansdowne, Melbourne 1965 pp. 174, 41, 97.

19 Cairns Living with Asia pp. 111, 127, 115. Also see J. Cairns The Eagle and the Lotus: Western Intervention in Vietnam 1847-1971 Lansdowne, Melbourne 1971 pp. ix, xi

20 See The Eagle and the Lotus pp. 75, 77, 230.

21 J. Cairns CPD (H of R) vol. 44 pp. 3097-3098; Living with Asia, pp. 99-100; 'Foreign Policy after Vietnam' in Association for International Co-operation and Disarmament The Asian Revolution and Australia Sydney 1969, a collection of papers presented at a conference in October 1968 pp. 182-183. Cairns was not alone on the Labor left in this regard, I. Lasry, President of the Brighton (Victoria) ALP Branch maintained in Socialist and Industrial Labor, the organ of the NSW Labor left, July 1967, p. 6 'that many of those who opp. ose the Vietnam war are utterly convinced that they are the most sincerely pro-American of all Australian citizens'.

22 See K. Rowley 'Dr Cairns on Tariffs: Planning, Imperialism and Socialism' Farrago 29-7-71, p. 4.

23 T. Uren Straight Left Random House, Sydney 1994, p. 189. Also P. Ormonde A Foolish Passionate Man Penguin, Ringwood 1981 pp. 86, 90. He did not, however, favour dilution of the Party's opp. osition to conscription.

24 Cairns 'Foreign Policy after Vietnam', pp. 183.

25 Ormonde A Foolish Passionate Man, p. 126.

26 M. Saunders 'The Vietnam Moratorium Movement in Australia: 1969-73' PhD Thesis, Flinders University 1977.

27 'The ALP as a reforming party is as susceptible to dominant cultural tendencies as the tories' 'A Resilient Perspective' (originally written October 1970) in J. Playford and D. Kirsner Australian Capitalism: Towards a Socialist Critique Penguin, Ringwood 1972 pp. 341, 344. Also see R. Catley 'The Australian-American Alliance' Australian Left Review June-July 1969 pp. 41-50.

28 See R. Kuhn 'Class analysis and the left in Australian history' in R. Kuhn and T. O'Lincoln Class and class conflict in Australia Longman, Melbourne 1996 pp. 145-162.

29 There is, as one would expect, little written evidence of this. But for CPA members in the Labor Party in the late 1930s and 1940s, see R. Milliss Serpent's Tooth Penguin, Ringwood 1984 pp. 114-5, 120 and for the 1950s see D. Freney A Map of Days: Life on the Left Heinemann, Melbourne 1991 pp. 72, 82, 92. In the union movement Communists and sections of the Labor left worked very closely together in some unions, while Communist led unions sent delegates to State Labor Party Conferences. Labor Clubs at a number of Australian universities and the Australian Student Labor Federation (ASLF) provided a bridge between some left Labor and Communist students during the 1950s and into the 1960s, Ann Curthoys in Langley A Decade of Dissent, pp. 13, 30.

30 R. Lockwood 'Imperial Preference and the Common Market' Communist Review July 1962 pp. 199-200. Subordination to the United States was a constant theme in the CPA's paper, especially in relation to Vietnam see a small proportion of the coverage of the issue in Tribune 18-11-64, p. 2; 17-2-65, p. 4; 12-5-65, p. 2; 28-7-65; p. 2; 21/12/65, p. 1.

31 This is a reference to the shipment of barbed wire to South Vietnam, L. Aarons 'Monopoly & Australia's Foreign Policy (from Report to the March Central Committee meeting) Communist Review May 1963 pp. 156-161. See C. Jones 'Australia and Asia' Communist Review April 1964, p. 98 and M. Robertson 'The Conscription Lottery' Communist Review April 1965, p. 74 ,where the emphasis is on Australia's own imperialist policies rather than its subordination to US imperialism. For the term 'junior partner' in relation to Australia's role in Vietnam see A. Robertson 'War Against Democracy' Communist Review July 1965, p. 164. The term was already being used by the Party in the 1940s. It was echoed in papers presented by J. Blackley and D. Evans, and J. S. Baker to the National Anti-war Conference in Sydney in February 1971 (National Library of Australia J. Jolliffe Papers MS 4969).

32 '"All the way with Australia!"-challenges Calwell' Scope (newspaper of the Victorian Labor left which dominated the Party) 29-9-66, p. 1; 28-7-66, p. 8.

33 L. C. Sharkey 'Central Committee Report to the 20th Congress' Communist Review July 1964 pp. 209-211. Also see C. Jones 'The Anti-Monopoly Front' Communist Review July 1964 pp. 224-229, L. Aarons 'Balance of Payments Crisis' Communist Review May 1965 pp. 99-100. This account of Australian imperialist aspirations was revived to explain Gorton's nationalism, Australian Left Review February-March 1969, p. 6; Bill Gollan 'Foreign Policy Issues' Australian Left Review June-July 1969 pp. 51-60; L. Aarons 'Anti-war Perspectives-A Communist View' Australian Left Review March 1971 pp. 23-24.

34 For example, A. Clunies-Ross 'Vietnam-Australia's Role' in Monash University Labor Club (later a hotbed of militancy) Vietnam Tragedy Melbourne 1965 pp. 3-10; and editorial Farrago 4-10-67.

35 L. Aarons 'Menzies' Undeclared War'.

36 See, for example, M. Salmon 'Doomed Policy in South East Asia' Communist Review July 1965 pp. 167-168; 'Vietnam and Conscription' Communist Review April 1966, p. 83; 'The government blithely acceded to American pressure and first committed an Australian battalion', Australian Left Review October-November 1967, p. 1.

37 J. E. Fitzgerald 'Vietnam ... Queensland maritime workers demonstrate "No diggers for dollars"' Seaman's Journal May 1965, p. 93. When seamen objected to crewing the Boonaroo with its cargo of war materiel for South Vietnam, the union's Federal Secretary explained the Government's response in similar terms, E. V. Elliott 'On Course!' Seamen's Journal May 1966, p. 95. Also see G. Webster 'Conscripts for twenty years?'; Seamen's Journal May 1966, p. 118 and 'What the meetings said' Seamen's Journal March 1967, p. 58.

38 M. O'Brien Vietnam Why Are We There? Sydney, April 1966.

39 See T. O'Lincoln Into the Mainstream: The Decline of Australian Communism Stained Wattle Press, Sydney 1985 pp. 106-112. For a Communist account see A. Robertson 'CPA in the Anti-War Movement' Australian Left Review October-November 1970 pp. 39-49.

40 E. Niit 'The Struggle for Vietnam and the Moral Question' Communist Review November 1965 pp. 313-315; R. Gibson 'Victorian Notes on Vietnam Protest Action' Communist Review January 1966, p. 6; J. R. Hughes 'Morality Vietnam and Conscription' Communist Review May 1966 pp. 117-120; Onlooker 'The continuing ALP crisis' Australian Left Review (the successor to Communist Review which had a somewhat more open editorial policy) June-July 1966 pp. 43-49. A. Robertson 'Foreign policy and its distortion' Australian Left Review August-September 1966 pp. 3-11; M. Salmon 'Foreign Policy-What Now?' Australian Left Review June-July 1968 pp. 52-56. Mavis Robertson highlighted the moralism of much of the anti-war movement and called for politicisation, while pulling her punches on the relationship between Australia and the United States 'Conscription' Australian Left Review June-July 1966 pp. 11-15.

41 For example, even before the escalation of Australian involvement, Tribune could not recognise the underlying logic in Labor's call for peace initiatives in Vietnam while supp. orting the US Alliance, 24-2-64, p. 2.

42 CPD (H of R) vol. 50 22-3-66 pp. 432, 435.

43 See T. Uren CPD (H of R) vol. 45 25-3-655, p. 347, vol. 47 19-8-65, p. 249-250, vol. 50 22-3-66, p. 432, vol. 58 28-3-68, p. 621.

44 T. Uren CPD (H of R) vol. 50 22-3-66, p. 435

45 Uren Straight Left, p. 188

46 R. Dixon 'Issues in Labor Conflict' Australian Left Review February-March 1967, p. 39. Also see Australian Left Review April-May 1967 pp. 3-5 which is critical of Whitlam's support of the US alliance but, misleadingly, attempts to distinguish this from ALP policy; and CPA leaflet for the November 1967 Senate election (Riley Collection, National Library of Australia 'Communist Party NSW' file).

47 H. Stein 'Who won in Adelaide? The victory went to Labor as a whole' Tribune 9-8-67, p. 3 and editorial Tribune 16-8-67. Also see 'Ivan Dixon's' 'The Coalition of the Left' Socialist Perspective 4, April 1968 pp. 2-13 which is an impressive discussion of the logic of Communist policy in the anti-war movement and its broader strategy, to be contrasted with Murphy's in Harvest of Fear,; and 'A Socialist Strategy for the Anti-War Movement' Direct Action September 1970, p. 8.

48 'Vietnam: Time To Rethink' Statement by the Queensland State Committee of the CPA, 12-2-68 (Riley Pamphlet Collection, National Library of Australia 'Communist Party of Australia Qld' file) and the report of the CPA National Committee meeting of 12-2-68 in Tribune 14-2-68, also Australian Left Review Aril-May 1968, p. 2. Tribune 'Foreign Editor Malcolm Salmon's review of Cairns's The Eagle and the Lotus  is devoid of even friendly criticism of his conception of Australia's relationship with the USA Australian Left Review February-March 1970 pp. 71-75.

49 CPD (H of R) vol. 58 28-3-68, p. 623.

50 'Diggers for Dollars ...' Queensland Vietnam Moratorium Campaign Co-ordinating Committee, Brisbane 1970 (Riley Collection NLA, 'Queensland Vietnam Moratorium Co-ordinating Committee' file). Note, however, that this leaflet, with its arguments about US imperialism, was probably produced by on and to the left of the CPA rather than those in agreement with the Party's position in the campaign, B. Laver 'Towards the Spring offensive' in The Communist Party is behind this Moratorium-way behind B. Laver, Brisbane 1970. This phrase was used by the Queensland Seamen's Union Secretary in 1965, Fitzgerald 'Vietnam ... Queensland maritime workers demonstrate'. Aarons made a similar argument in 1965 'Menzies' Undeclared War'.

51 'Stop Work Friday 18th Sept to Stop the War' W. Rigby for the Trade Union Moratorium Committee, Sydney 1970 (leaflet, Riley Collection NLA, 'Vietnam Moratorium NSW' file).

52 Sydney Morning Herald 1-7-71, p. 2.

53 Aarons, CPA National Secretary, 'Anti-war Perspectives-A Communist View', pp. 25-26. This article was a paper presented at the National Anti-War Conference in Sydney, 17-21 February 1971. Aarons makes a valuable point about the importance of industrial action against the War. Also B. Taft, Victorian President of the CPA, 'Debate in the Anti-war Movement' Australian Left Review May 1971 pp. 15-20. An underlying political argument of Murphy Harvest of Fear is a defence of the CPA's position, see particularly pp. 245, 254-58. For positions critical of the CPA and Labor left see D. Cassidy 'Power grows out of the barrel of a gestetner' in The Communist Party is behind this Moratorium-way behind; Bob Gould 'Honeymoon over: The Decline and Fall of the Left Coalition' Old Mole 3 29-6-1970 discusses the CPA's tactics in the movement; D. Vines 'National Anti-war Conference' Farrago 1-3-71 pp. 7-8. While the CPA was hostile to the slogan being raised by the Moratorium campaign, Denis Freney spray-painted 'Victory to the NLF' on the boards of the Sydney Stock Exchange in a stunt with a handful of people, including other members of the staff of the Party's newspaper, Tribune, in 1970, Freney A Map of Days, p. 272.

54 This was the Maoist position at the 19 July 1970 Vietnam Moratorium Campaign sponsors' meeting, see Saunders 'The Vietnam Moratorium Movement in Australia', p. 169. The tone of 'anti-imperialist' material could be just as reasoned as that presenting more moderate explanations and demands, see 'What's So Special About Vietnam' leaflet produced by 'an alliance of radical student and worker groups', (probably April) 1970 (Riley Collection, National Library of Australia 'Vietnam Moratorium South Australia'.

55 B. J. Costar 'The Moratorium-Where Now?' Semper Floreat 1-9-71, p. 19. For similar arguments see H. van Moorst 'King and Country and Revolution' Farrago 1-9-71, p. 10.

56 H. McQueen 'A Single Spark' Arena 16 1968 p51; R. Gordon 'An Overview' in R. Gordon (ed.) The Australian New Left Heinemann, Melbourne 1970, p. 27. Of course there was still supp. ort amongst students for analyses like those of the ALP; see, for example, R. Anderson 'Australia's Foreign Policy: White or Wong' National U (newspaper of the National Union of Australian University Students) 16-9-68 pp. 6-7. C. A. Rootes 'The development of radical student movements and their sequelae' Australian Journal of Politics and History 34 (2) 1988 pp. 173-186.

57 For the development of student politics and particularly the Maoist current at Monash see M. Hyde (ed.) It is Right to Rebel The Diplomat, Canberra 1972.

58 See the report from the Monash University teach-in Farrago 6-10-67, p. 3 for an equation of the positions of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser.

59 J. Jolliffe 'The Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)' Socialist Review 2(1) February 1972, p. 20; B. York Student Revolt Nicholas Press, Canberra 1989 p40.

60 Murphy Harvest of Fear, p. 225.

61 Defeat U.S. Imperialism Communist Party of Australia (ML) (Riley Collection NLA, 'Communist Party of Australia Qld' file). Also see Australians develop struggle against US imperialism Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) Melbourne, April 1970.

62 See the favourable editorial on Monash students raising funds for the NLF in National U 28-7-57. For the Maoist stance in the Moratorium see Langley A Decade of Dissent, pp. 134-135.

63 J. Davidson and S. Thomas 'Conscription: the case for non-registration in 1971' Draft Resisters' Union (before June) 1971 (national leaflet, Riley Collection NLA, 'Draft Resisters' Union' file). On the history of the DRU see M. Hammel-Green 'The Resisters' in King Australia's Vietnam, pp. 101-128

64 'Exploitation and Draft Resistance' Draft Resisters' Union, Brisbane 1970 or 1971 also see 'Why Register for National Service?' Draft Resisters' Union, Brisbane (both leaflets, Riley Collection NLA, 'Draft Resisters' Union' file) and 'National Draft Resisters' Conference 18th & 19th September 1971: Statement' late 1971 or 1972 (leaflet, Riley Collection NLA, 'Draft Resisters' Union' file).

65 Moratorium News April 1972, p. 1. The editorial in this issue maintained that 'The intensive exploitation of world markets, resources, and labour by giant corporations (mainly US corporations) is the underlying cause behind the war and these domestic crises [in Australia:] ... pollution, poverty, unemployment, inadequate pensions, etc.'

66 Andrew Taylor Vietnam Voices special issue of Overland 54, 1973.

67 H. McQueen A New Britannia Penguin, Ringwood 1970 also see 'Glory without Power' in J. Playford and D. Kirsner Australian Capitalism, 1972 pp. 345-376. McQueen did not reject nationalism per se and later made it clear that he favoured a genuine nationalism, see his 'National Independence and Socialism' Melbourne Journal of Politics 9, 1977, p. 76 and 'Afterword' A New Britannia third edition Penguin, Ringwood 1986, p. 254. Also see 'Living off Asia', p. 15.

68 R. Catley and B. McFarlane From Tweedledum to Tweedledee Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney 1974 provides a bibliographic guide to the development of the new, left critique of the ALP, p. 9.

69 K. Rowley 'Dr Cairns on Tariffs: Planning, Imperialism and Socialism' Farrago 29-7-71; K. Rowley 'The Political Economy of Australia since the War' in Playford and Kirsner Australian Capitalism, pp. 302-314; personal communication with Kelvin Rowley.

70 See P. Moore 'Australian Capitalism Today' Intervention 1, April 1972 pp. 27-42 was critical of nationalism but stressed, like the SYA/SWL 'the basic weakness of the Australian bourgeoisie'. Also see the editorial in this issue. David Evans, who had explored the nature of Australian sub-imperialism with J. Blackley in a paper presented to the National Anti-war Conference in Sydney in February 1971 (National Library of Australia J. Jolliffe Papers MS 4969) was a member of Intervention's Editorial Group.

71 B. Berzins. and T. Irving 'History and the New Left' in R. Gordon (ed.) The Australian New Left: Critical Essays and Strategy Heinemann, Melbourne 1970 pp. 66-94.

72 O'Lincoln Into the Mainstream, p. 143. For the early history of the student movement in Brisbane before the development of a consistent anarchist perspective see D. O'Neill 'The Growth of the Radical Movement' Semper Floreat 17-3-1969.

73 'Australia in Imperialist World Strategy and the Tasks of the Revolutionary Marxists (Resolution of conference of the Australian Section of the Fourth International, 11, 12 September, 1965)' International: Organ of the Australian Section of the Fourth International 46 September 1965, pp. 2, 5, 3. Also see D. Freney 'The Crisis of Australian Imperialism' International 9(72) September-November 1969, pp. 1-4; and Ivan Dixon Socialist Perspective 3, May 1967, p. 9. Ivan Dixon was a collective pseudonym used by people involved in the Socialist Perspective group, including Bob Gould and Roger Barnes. Their organisation had broken from the International Group in 1966 and was associated with the Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International.

74 Gould had been a member of the International Group and then the organisation around the bulletin Socialist Perspective. Greenland was a member of the International group and edited the Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit in 1968.

75 On Gould's role see Ann Curthoys, a member of the VAC, in Langley A Decade of Dissent, p. 62; Sydney Morning Herald 15-4-66, p. 2. For the radical influence of the Trotskyists in Sydney see A. Curthoys 'Mobilising Dissent: The Later Stages of Protest' in G. Pemberton (ed.) Vietnam Remembered Weldon, Sydney 1990, p. 147; and P. Scherer's report on the 1965 ASLF Conference Lot's Wife 14-6-65. R. Summy 'Militancy and the Australian Peace Movement' Politics 5(2) 1970 pp. 148-162 deals with the divisions between moderates and militants in the movement. Nick Origlass, of the International group argued for campaigning around organising aid for the NLF and a US defeat in Vietnam in early 1967, 'Socialism: A Transitional Policy' Australian Left Review February-March 1967, p. 45. In an early Vietnam Action Committee leaflet explained Australia's involvement in terms of US policy, though this viewpoint did not persist 'Vietnam: Why Must the Protest Go On?' Mitchell Library.

76 Vietnam Action 1(1) April 1967, p. 3. Also see VAC leaflets 'Why We Are Fighting in Vietnam' 1965, 'What Made this Diplomat Resign' (Riley Collection NLA, 'Vietnam Action Committee' file); Vietnam Action Committee Newsletter February 1966, 9-4-66; and Vietnam Action 1(3) August 1967, p. 3 which argues that the slogan 'end-the-bombing, negotiate-now' may be a trap which concedes too much to the position of the United States.

77 'Mass Action and the Antiwar Movement: A Strategy for Socialists' Direct Action May 1971 pp. 10-11. P. Sanford, associated with another Trotskyist current, similarly argued that 'in many respects, Australia's relation to Japan is that of colony to imperialist power' but that 'these points have to be made without succumbing to racism or the supp. ort of national capital against Japanese capital' paper presented to the National Antiwar Conference, Sydney February 1971 (National Library of Australia J. Jolliffe Papers MS 4969).

78 Ivan Dixon 'A Ruling Class in Decay: The Australian Bourgeoisie and Imperialism' Socialist Review (the SWL's journal) 2 (2) May 1972, p. 19.

79 'Mass Action and the Antiwar Movement: A Strategy for Socialists',

80 'A Socialist Strategy for the Anti-War Movement' Direct Action September 1970 (the first issue), p. 8; M. Stuart 'Labor's Viet. Record' Direct Action 9-11-72 pp. 9, 14.

81 J. McIlroy 'Foreign Takeovers' Direct Action 22-5-72, p. 13. Also J. McIlroy 'Foreign Investment and the ALP' Direct Action 9-11-72

82 'A Socialist Strategy for the Anti-War Movement' loc. cit.; 'Mass Action and the Antiwar Movement: A Strategy for Socialists' loc. cit.; 'Moratorium More or Less' Direct Action 9-8-71 pp. 4-5; P. Conrick 'Which way for the moratorium?' Direct Action 1-3-72, p. 5.

83 quoted in G. Pemberton All the Way: Australia's Road to Vietnam, Allen and Unwin, Sydney 1987, p. 313.

84 For example, see the widely reproduced arguments of H. Levien Vietnam: Myth & Reality Harold Levien, Sydney 1967, also see University Study Group on Vietnam Vietnam and Australia,

85 CPD vol H. of R. 45 23-3-65 pp. 233. This argument paralleled the more confidential explanation of US calculations by 'Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton who in late March [1965] assigned relative weights to various American objectives in Vietnam': 'To avoid humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor),' 70 per cent, 'to keep SVN (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands,' 20 per cent and 'to permit the people of SVN enjoy a better, freer way of life,' 10 per cent, The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking in Vietnam, Volume IV, The Senator Gravel Edition, Beacon Press, Boston 1971, p. 22.

86 Kolko Vietnam, p. 73. Also see G. Kolko The Roots of American Foreign Policy: An Analysis of Power and Purpose Beacon, Boston 1969, pp. xv, 78. Michael Hammel-Green expressed a similar view in Australia, 'Although American economic interests are not directly present in Vietnam, the war is a test of whether American military security for her economic hegemony over the rest of the Third World can be successfully challenged by popular revolutionary guerilla movements. Hence American leaders' talk of the necessity of showing that "wars of national liberation" are bound to fail.' 'Vietnam: Beyond Pity' Dissent Winter 1970, p. 33.

87 J. Howard 'Menzies minus the myths' Weekend Australian 12-13 November 1994 Books Section, p. 5.

88 J. Richardson 'Australian Strategic and Defence Policies' G. Greenwood and N. Harper Australia in World Affairs 1974, p. 239. Also see M. Teichmann (ed.) 'Introduction' New Directions in Australian Foreign Policy Penguin, Ringwood 1969, p. 11.

89 Pemberton All the Way, p. 333.

90 N. Harper 'Australia and the United States (with special reference to South-East Asia)' in G. Greenwood and N. Harper Australia in World Affairs 1963, p. 169

91 D. Jenkins 'How we blundered into 'Nam' Sydney Morning Herald 1 January 1996 Opinion Section, p. 9; M. Sexton War for the Asking: Australia's Vietnam Secrets Penguin, Ringwood 1981 pp. 41, 136-156; G. Clark 'The Vietnam Debate Revisited' Quadrant 33 (10) October 1989, p. 10. Additional details are available in the conservative official history, P. Edwards and G. Pemberton Crises and Commitments: The Politics and Diplomacy of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948-1965 Allen and Unwin, Sydney 1992 pp. 358-375.

92 Pemberton All the Way, p. 319.

93 R. Leaver 'Patterns of Dependence in Post-war Australian Foreign Policy' Australian Political Studies Association Conference, University of NSW September 24-27 1989.

94 See T. O'Lincoln 'The new Australian militarism' Socialist Review (Melbourne) 4 Winter 1991 pp. 27-47 for Australian foreign policy in the 1990s and D. Glanz 'Gulf War: lessons of the movement' Socialist Review (Melbourne) 4 Winter 1991 pp. 126-151 for different accounts of Australian involvement in the conflict within the anti-war movement.

Back to opening page