The in­ner work­ings of San­ta­maria’s Move­ment

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

BA San­ta­maria was one of the most in­flu­en­tial un­elected Aus­tralian po­lit­i­cal fig­ures of the 20th cen­tury. The Show is a some­times con­tro­ver­sial re­assess­ment of the role in labour his­tory and La­bor pol­i­tics of this Mel­bourne-based Catholic lay­man who loomed large in our po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural land­scape. From 1942, San­ta­maria (1915-98) helped or­gan­ise and or­ches­trate anti-com­mu­nist ac­tiv­i­ties through­out Aus­tralia, es­pe­cially in Vic­to­ria.

Mark Aarons’s pre­vi­ous book, The Fam­ily File, was a riv­et­ing ac­count of four gen­er­a­tions of his fam­ily who, over seven decades, were mem­bers of the Com­mu­nist Party of Aus­tralia, so he knows the ter­ri­tory well.

In re­search­ing this fas­ci­nat­ing book, Aarons was aided by an erst­while war­rior from the other side of the bar­ri­cades, John Grenville, who in 1957 joined the Na­tional Civic Coun­cil.

This pri­mar­ily Catholic or­gan­i­sa­tion was run by San­ta­maria and was also known as The Move­ment or, by its mem­bers, as The Show. For years, The Move­ment and the CPA were ex­tremely in­flu­en­tial in Aus­tralian pol­i­tics.

For more than a decade Grenville, a com­mit­ted Catholic, op­er­ated as a highly in­flu­en­tial, yet se­cret, NCC mem­ber in the trade union move­ment in Vic­to­ria. In 1975 he re­signed from his po­si­tion as fed­eral sec­re­tary of the Fed­er­ated Clerks Union and also from the NCC. This was in the mid­dle of a bit­ter fac­tional fight that even­tu­ally tore The Move­ment apart.

As Aarons ac­knowl­edges, it was Grenville’s de­tailed knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the work­ings of the NCC and the Catholic Church that has made pos­si­ble this con­tem­po­rary telling of a some­times re­vi­sion­ist his­tory.

Aarons claims, rightly in my opinion, that while the CPA and The Move­ment were op­posed in a re­lent­less pur­suit of their ideas and ideals, in many ways they mir­rored each other. In this dra­matic, yet schol­arly, ac­count of the in­ner work­ings of The Move­ment, Aarons ex­plains and elu­ci­dates pre­cisely how San­ta­maria’s or­gan­i­sa­tion man­aged to de­feat the com­mu­nists in a num­ber of key unions.

As I made clear in my ac­count of Catholi­cism and the great La­bor split of the mid-1950s, The Pope’s Bat­tal­ions, San­ta­maria based his Move­ment on the CPA, whose struc­ture and whose meth­ods of in­fil­trat­ing the ALP and key trade unions he aped in their en­tirety.

A pri­mary aim of The Show is to elu­ci­date the im­pact of San­ta­maria’s key de­ci­sion to model The Move­ment on com­mu­nist tech­niques. In­deed the book’s ma­jor theme is, as Aarons puts it, “the im­pact that im­port­ing the CPA’s chief char­ac­ter­is­tic of the early 1940s — Stal­in­ism — had upon The Show’s devel­op­ment, op­er­a­tions, and vir­tual demise upon San­ta­maria’s pass­ing”.

While one might cavil at Aaron’s use of the term “Stal­in­ist” here, it is cer­tainly true that, over time, San­ta­maria’s key or­gan­i­sa­tion, and the unions it con­trolled, be­came in­fected by au­thor­i­tar­ian and anti-demo­cratic prac­tices and poli­cies.

To ex­pose what he claims is “a pre­vi­ously un­seen side of San­ta­maria’s Catholic Move­ment”, Aarons has made ex­cel­lent use of ex­ten­sive in­ter­views with a num­ber of key pro­tag­o­nists in their bat­tle for the life and soul of the Aus­tralian labour move­ment. In us­ing, to good ef­fect, pre­vi­ously se­cret ASIO and Com­mu­nist ar­chives, as well as hith­erto un­pub­lished in­ter­nal ma­te­rial from The Move­ment, he man­ages to un­cover much about the lat­ter’s clan­des­tine op­er­a­tions in the wider trade union move­ment and against the CPA in par­tic­u­lar. The Show also demon­strates how ASIO and The Move­ment helped each other gather in­tel­li­gence that was of mu­tual ben­e­fit.

Aarons’s book deals use­fully with San­ta­maria’s role in the for­ma­tion of the Demo­cratic La­bor Party. It also il­lu­mi­nates how, in his later life, San­ta­maria railed against all as­pects of moder­nity and the per­ni­cious ef­fects of un­reg­u­lated transna­tional cap­i­tal­ism. In the years be­fore his death in 1998, this brought him quite close to old ide­o­log­i­cal en­e­mies, in­clud­ing the ALP’s lo­qua­cious Clyde Cameron and the long­time Vic­to­rian com­mu­nist leader Bernie Taft.

Un­for­tu­nately a sig­nif­i­cant part of San­ta­maria’s im­por­tant papers, held in the State Li­brary of Vic­to­ria, are not yet avail­able to his­to­ri­ans and other re­searchers.

The fact is that only files older than 40 years are cur­rently in the pub­lic do­main. This means Aarons could not ac­cess ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to the tu­mul­tuous events re­counted in chap­ter 12, “The cult of per­son­al­ity”.

This cru­cial chap­ter deals with San­ta­maria’s in­creas­ingly au­to­cratic and dog­matic be­hav­iour and his pro­nounced ten­dency to dom­i­nate pro­ceed­ings at con­fer­ences and else­where. It was

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