Friday, September 01, 2006

A book for the times

Read Leicester Webb’s Communism and Democracy: a survey of the 1951 referendum last night. Very interesting. When I think of the Communism debate I tend to think of Soviet espionage, emphaised in the work of John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. But what Webb brings out is that the debate was much more about the broader sedition issue. Communists had been jailed for seditious statements on the lines that Australian workers would welcome the Red Army etc. but the government focus was on industrial relations, it was the perceived meanings of actions (that is strikes by Communist-led unions) rather than words that were central. Webb shows how the Courts, even before the Communist Party case, were loath to read seditious meanings into actions. The discussion of newspapers is interesting Webb argues that although editorials and sometimes subheadings were slanted the major newspapers in competitive markets provided fair coverage of both arguments. From my examination of the Sydney Morning Herald in the early 1930s I would concur, it despite its wild editorial partisanship provides a better news coverage than The Australian today. Webb also discusses the controversy about the accuracy of Roy Morgan's opinion polls which over predicted the final 'yes' vote; again his son's polls are still in the news. Webb suggests that ethnic Germans may have voted 'No' and the Lutheran church recalled the WW I experience. His suggestion that Labor's thinking was informed by the experience of Chifley government's battles with Communist-led unions is something I had not though of before. I liked his statement that:
Those who know the political life of the labour movement, with tis mixture of idealism and corruption, of massive loyalties and bitter sectional feuds, of over-rigid disciplines and seething discontents, will recognise in its frequent surface agitations a sign, not of decadence, but of vigour and essential cohesiveness.


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