How to handle Pauline Hanson


And how Bob Gould was accused of losing Labor the 1966 elections

Bob Gould

Pauline Hanson has announced her itinerary in advance. Her minders obviously hope to get her some mileage out of the inevitable demonstrations against her. Her whining, scapegoating racism and her attacks on such people as single mothers, will ensure her a very hot reception from the youth of Australia and many thousands of others wherever she goes, particularly in our wonderful, cosmopolitan cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Wollongong, Newcastle, etc.

The real hatred for this woman felt by hundreds of thousands of ordinary progressive Australians, and particularly members of the groups she attacks so mindlessly, have produced a situation where no power on earth could stop major demonstrations against her wherever she goes in major cities.

While I am conscious, as I’ll spell out in this article, of the dangers built into this kind of situation, nonetheless, she deserves to be heckled, within the bounds dictated by the desirability of allowing her and her supporters free speech. She uses her free speech to attack underpriviliged Australians, I and many thousands of other Australians intend to use our free speech to challenge her, publicly.

However, tactical care and clear thinking is required so that these quite righteous demonstrations aren’t turned to the advantage of the reactionary forces represented by Hanson and Howard. It’s a human thing for some people to try and shout these reactionaries down, and even to use thoughtless rhetoric about trying to close down their meetings, but it’s not desirable politically and strategically.

One group, the International Socialists, with which in many ways and on many things, I respect and agree, advocate an absolutely dangerous and counterproductive slogan and strategy in relation to Pauline Hanson’s meetings. Their slogan, loosely translated, is close down Pauline Hanson’s meetings and put One Nation out of business. I believe this strategic approach is crazy nonsense.

They loosely base their argument on an absolutely crude misreading of Trotsky’s writings on fascism in the 1930s. At that time, Trotsky, who was a very skilled and immensly practical revolutionary politician, wrote at length attacking the vicious policy of branding Social Democratic parties “social fascist” imposed by Stalin on the world Communist movement.

Stalin said main blow should be directed against the social fascists, not against the real fascists. Trotsky opposed this disastrous strategy as vehemently as he could, and he posed the question of a united front in Germany between the two enormous workers parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists, both of which had massive workers’ militias, to crush the brownshirts of the Nazis before they could take power.

In retrospect, Trotsky was obviously right, and Stalin’s line was disastrous and contributed to the victory of Hitler, with awful consequences for the German and world working class, and Trotsky’s writings on these matters, are the best things ever written about tactics and strategy in the struggle against fascism.

Unfortunately the comrades from the International Socialists apply their crude misreading of Trotsky to the current Australian situation. Trotsky’s proposals for Germany were very concrete. He was appealing for a united front between two massive workers parties, with already existing militias, to physically crush the quite obvious fascist militias, and with a united front they could have done so.

Australia in 1998, however, is not Germany in 1932. The Pauline Hanson grouping is not fascist, although there are some ugly ultra-right lunatics circling around it. It is a reactionary, populist grouping that hasn’t yet become clearly fascist. It has nothing like the armed bands available to the Nazis. The mass workers’ party in Australia, the Labor Party, hasn’t got anything remotely resembling the workers’ militias that the German Social Democrats and Communists in Germany had in 1932.

Comrade Trotsky is no doubt fuming with irritation in his grave that these young comrades from the International Socialists are making such a useless and, in fact, dangerous, mechanical analogy between the circumstances now prevailing in Australia, and Germany in 1932, and trying to blame their tactical atrocities on his writings.

A more useful tactical approach to the inevitable demonstrations against Pauline Hanson is to make them as large and vigorous as possible, but publicly proclaim that we are not trying to close her down, or limit the free speech of her or her benighted supporters, but that we are just doing our best to show that a large majority of ordinary Australians reject their reactionary rubbish.

We should draw a careful line between our right to exert our free speech by giving a vigorous passage to the Hansonites, wherever they appear, and nevertheless, recognising their right of free speech. The comrades from the International Socialists should carefully consider the fact that with the present relationship of class forces in Australia, a vigorous defence of the right to free speech is more appropriate from the progressive point of view than any light-minded chatter about stopping anybody else’s free speech.

In the real world, at the moment, if anyone’s free speech is more likely to be curtailed, it’s ours, not theirs. Further to this point, at this stage in developments, quite a few workers and middle-class people, particularly in rural areas and provincial towns, are still attracted to the Pauline Hanson phenomenon, because of its apparent attack on the ruling elites and the exclusion of poorer Australians from power and influence.

One of the political tasks is to draw these people away from the Hanson formation, which, I reiterate, is not a fully fledged fascist grouping. Sensible demonstrations against Hanson are consistent with trying to win these people away from reaction, but light-minded rhetoric about shutting them up and closing them down usually has the opposite effect.

So, when the demonstrations happen, as they will, I’ll be there yelling with the rest of them, in my unmistakable foghorn kind of voice, but I’ll be vigorously advocating good humour, care, tact, and restraint in relation to the misinformed supporters of Ms. Hanson. Further to this question, the following little memoir of my experiences in 1966 may be of some use to others.

How Bob Gould was blamed for losing Labor the 1966 elections

When the crucial first Vietnam election was called in 1966, I was the secretary of the most militant, and more youthful Sydney antiwar grouping, the Vietnam Action Committee. For the previous 18 months, we had been organising vigorous, steadily growing and diverse demonstrations and other activities against the Vietnam War.

Arthur Calwell, the then Labor Party leader, had courageously nailed his colours to the mast, so to speak, and defied the conventional wisdom and phoney patriotism of the patriotic gore type by opposing the war and conscription and calling for the withdrawal of Australian troops. While he had thus consolidated the support, for the moment, of the protest movement against the war, we were still – in those times of dopey patriotic euphoria – a minority of society, and Labor under Calwell’s courageous leadership was making rather heavy weather of it in the run-up to the election.

Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt’s opening campaign meeting was announced for Rockdale Town Hall early in November, entry by invitation card only, to keep out protesters. A week or so before this meeting, a functionary of the Communist Party approached me coyly with the proposition that he could lay his hands on several thousand perfectly printed forgeries of these invitation tickets.

I considered the matter a bit cautiously. The Vietnam Action Committee and the Communist Party sometimes collaborated in opposition to the war, but sometimes we were in sharp conflict with the Communist Party over tactics and strategy, and there wasn’t much love lost between us.

They regarded us as Trotskyists and they were still pretty much unreconstructed Stalinists. Nevertheless, despite misgivings, we decided to collaborate with them on this project, and we mailed our painstakingly collected mailing list, which by that time had reached more than 6000, inviting them to come to a demonstration at Rockdale Town Hall on the night of Holt’s meeting.

The night of the meeting turned out to be a prematurely hot summer’s evening and our demonstrators arrived good and early. Several hundred tough-looking wharfies and seamen and hundreds of old Stalinist pensioners, as well as many hundreds of our Vietnam Action Committee supporters, who by and large were younger and hairier, poured into the Town Hall, with perfect tickets, much to the amazement of the Tories on the door in their suits and ties.

We’d packed the hall to overflowing before they had woken up to what was going on, and, indeed as the real Liberals in their going-out gear arrived with the real tickets, 90 per cent of them couldn’t get in, and they had to stand outside with our steadily increasing crowd of demonstrators. Our Vietnam Action Committee mailing, combined with very effective word-of-mouth in Communist Party circles, in fact, produced the largest turnout to any demonstration up to that time, and by the announced opening time for the meeting, at 8pm, there were a couple of thousand bemused Liberals with tickets who couldn’t get in, surrounded by six or seven thousand good-humoured demonstrators.

In addition to this, it was a hot Friday night, and all the nearby pubs were full of drinkers, most of whom appeared to be Labor supporters, and many of whom wandered backwards and forwards from the pub to the demonstration. The Princes Highway was blocked, and the streets around about were crammed full of demonstrators in all directions. A jocular “festival of the oppressed” kind of atmosphere developed in this extraordinary scene outside Rockdale Town Hall.

I got into the meeting early on with one of the tickets, and I established a kind of little command post upstairs at the back of the Town Hall, watching with amusement as the frantic Liberal ushers ran around like headless chooks, trying to work out what to do in this – to them – rather unpredictable and alarming situation.

I got bored, however, as Holt was predictably late, and nothing much was happening inside the hall. Some bright spark amongst the demonstrators outside managed to climb up on a roof near where I was, but outside, and prize open a window to the upstairs, and a few demonstrators got in this way, and I then started to use this unorthodox entrance to the hall to get in and out as it suited me. I was young and agile in those days. By 9pm Holt still hadn’t arrived, and there were perhaps 10,000 people in the streets outside, a significant proportion of whom were getting quite pissed as the pubs were so close.

One publican told me later that he hadn’t had such a good night’s trade for 30 years. Finally, we hear police sirens and Holt’s car arrives, and starts to edge itself through the crowd. Would you believe, Holt’s car finally stopped just where I was standing, with televisoin newsmen and reporters surging around it.

Human nature being what it is, and being young and impudent, I started banging on the bonnet, which a number of other demonstrators joined in doing, with a rather startled Holt looking at me through the glass. Television cameras homed in on us for a good half minute. Eventually a phalanx of police get Holt out of the car and get him into the hall, with a kind of flying wedge, with the demonstrators yelling and chanting at them as they go in.

Holt’s meeting inside the hall was absolute pandemonium from start to finish. I got back into the hall through my convenient window entrance, and joined in the chanting and counting out of Holt and other noisy activity inside the meeting. All of this went out on national television and radio.

Eventually the meeting concluded, the frustrated and angry Liberals went home, and many of us demonstrators went back to the pub to celebrate our great victory. On the late television news, there we were. But unfortunately for me there was a good half minute of my ugly mug leading the banging on Holt’s car.

The television and newspaper and radio news comment was all extremely effective shock-horror about this rabble of demonstrators who wrecked the fine Prime Minister Holt’s opening campaign meeting. Turbulence continued at all the major election meetings, (including, incidentally, right-wing disruption at Calwell’s meetings, and even an assassination attempt against Calwell) throughout the campaign, but the publicity about this turbulence, while considerable, was dwarfed by the continuing hullabaloo about the disruption of Holt’s Rockdale meeting.

A kind of legend grew up, based on the television pictures of me banging on the car, that I had orchestrated the whole thing, which was really quite bizarre as I’d only been a kind of energetic bit player, so to speak. But, anyway, I basked in the glory for a while, and it enhanced my rather exaggerated reputation in matters relating to demonstrations.

Unfortunately for us, of course, Labor lost the election. The ALP and the Vietnam antiwar movement were swimming against the stream in the political climate in 1966, in which we had only been involved in the war for a short time, patriotic hysteria still prevailed, and, in particular, there had still been very few casualties among Australian troops. The great surge of opposition to the war came later, as the war dragged on, Australian casualties mounted, and the horror of the war was brought constantly into everybody’s living room, Vietnam being the first television war.

Our constant antiwar agitation ultimately bore fruit and was a major contributing factor to the swing against the war, which came later. But in 1966, we were still a minority and the ALP was walloped in the election, although Labor retained about 42 per cent of the vote – roughly the same vote it retained in the Keating defeat in 1996.

We would have lost anyway, but the hysteria that was whipped up about Holt’s Rockdale meeting probably gained the Liberals another 1 per cent. However, in labour movement circles, the legend was peddled by everybody who was uneasy about Labor’s opposition to the war that the demonstration at Holt’s meeting lost Labor the election, and unfortunately for me this became personalised by some people into the proposition that Bob Gould lost us the election, as I was a prominent ALP member who had been seen by all on television banging on the car.

In those days, I was a delegate every year to the ALP state conference in June. The big issue at the June conference in 1967 – the conference after the 1966 election defeat, was Vietnam policy. The new leader, Whitlam, who had replaced Calwell, moved to drop the policy of immediate withdrawal from Vietnam and replace it with a less explicit policy of negotiation, a dramatic shift to the right.

The leaders of the “official” left, the Steering Committee, exerted great pressure to fall in behind Whitlam, as also did our main rival in the antiwar movement, the Communist Party. At the conference, I moved the necessary amendment to reaffirm the Calwell policy of withdrawal, and my amendment was seconded by Stewart West, then president of the wharfies’ union in Wollongong, later on a minister in the Hawke government.

During the debate, Jim Shortell, then president of the Labor Council of NSW, the leader of the right wing, (who incidentally had been a close friend of my father in the 1930s when they were both Langites, and who therefore knew me slightly) made this fiery speech in support of the Whitlam line, during which he waved his finger at me and said: “Bob Gould lost us the 1966 election.”

After a very heated debate, the watering-down of the Vietnam policy was carried by about 60 per cent to 40 per cent, and despite the support of the Steering Committee leaders for the retreat from the policy of withdrawal from Vietnam, we obviously got the overwhelming majority of the left-wing votes, plus a few others, in our 40 per cent. This infuriated the Steering Committee leaders, and at the next Steering Committee meeting I was expelled from the Steering Committee for defying their discipline, although paradoxically they left Stewart West alone, on the grounds that he was the representative of a significant union.

I was the irritating symbolic figure that they wanted to get rid of. Looking back on these events, I don’t really apologise for any of the above, because our cause was righteous and just, and we were learning as we went in these matters of demonstrations etc, but the obvious moral is that you have to consider as carefully as you can the possible outcome of what you do at demonstrations, and in the current context it wouldn’t be smart at all to allow an image to be created that we, the demonstrators, are trying to deprive Pauline Hanson, her supporters, or Howard and his supporters, of their freedom of speech.

A historical aside

It’s interesting that Sydney has a talent for producing rebels, republicans, antiwar protestors etc, with initiative, spirit and cunning. I recently discovered a wonderful account in The Hummer the journal of the Sydney Labor History Society, by Eric Fry, of the amazing republican “riot” in 1887 at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

A meeting was called in the Town Hall by the Lord Mayor to organise celebrations for the Jubilee. The meeting was swamped by Australian and Irish republicans, Catholics, socialists, rationalists and others, and they carried overwhelmingly an amendment that the Jubilee was a danger to the democratic spirit of the colony.

The Mayor called a second meeting, entry by ticket only, but there were counterfeit tickets available, and Queen Victoria’s Jubilee was again condemned. They had to call a third meeting, and call out the army, the Police, the Masonic Lodge, the Royal Orange Lodge, the Primrose League and several hundred bluejackets from British ships in the Harbour, before they could get a motion carried supporting the Jubilee.

Sydney has a long tradition of progressive initiative at public meetings. This tradition goes right back to the meetings at Circular Quay in the 1840s against transportation and for colonial self-government, at one of which the silver tongued Dan Deniehy destroyed Wentworth’s proposal for a colonial House of Lords by the use of the one phrase, describing it as a “bunyip aristocracy”.

September 25, 1998

Article from The Hummer, journal of the Sydney Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Vol 2, No. 3, Summer 1994

Sydney’s Republican Riot

Eric Fry

In 1887 the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, crowned 50 years earlier, was celebrated throughout the Empire. In Sydney the Mayor called a public meeting at the Town Hall to plan a fete for school children in honour of the occasion.

To the Mayor’s astonishment an amendment was carried by a large majority of those present declaring that the proposal to impress upon the children of the colony the value of a Jubilee year of a Sovereign was unwise and calculated to injure the democratic spirit of the colony.

The Mayor called a second meeting the next week to rescind this amendment, issuing tickets giving early admittance to approved loyalists. Before the appointed time for the ticket holders to present themselves the Town Hall was, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald – for 50 years the voice of respectable opinion – besieged by dense crowds of excited and gesticulating men loud in their clamouring for immediate admission and equally earnest in insisting that every man was as good as his neighbour and that no tickets were needed.

Furthermore, the newspaper alleged, several hundred forged tickets had been issued. The mob swept in a mass into the vestibule, the hall was crowded to suffocation, the police could not keep order, the Mayor was booed and shouted down, fighting broke out in all directions, the crowd not dispersing until after an hour of turmoil.

The Herald described it as an absolute chaos of uproar, confusion, faction-fighting and ruffianism of a most disgraceful and unprecedented character in the history of New South Wales. This occasion became known as the Republican Riot.

The Bulletin, a brash, satirical, nationalist weekly also described the scene as extraordinary but rejoiced that the voice of the people – fully five to one against the boasted object of the promoters – had prevailed in defending the rights of public meetings.

When the second meeting became uncontrollable the Mayor and about 40 leading citizens retreated to the Mayor’s reception room where they determined to stamp out this sedition at a third meeting the next week. They would mobilise overwhelming forces, leaving nothing to chance, and repudiate the disloyalists.

The battleground for the third encounter would be the Exhibition Building in Prince Alfred Park, Redfern. The organisers summoned a task force drawn from the Naval Brigade, the Volunteer Naval Artillery, the Lancers, the Loyal Orange Institution, the Primrose League, football clubs and undergraduates of Sydney University led by the professor of medicine, to support 300 police.

Some 15,000-20,000 people turned up. This time the procedure of early admission by ticket worked effectively. Within the building those who could gain entry were directed into six separate squares, each surrounded by the forces of law and order, who also guarded the raised platform. There the official party included the Mayor, Sir Henry Parkes as Premier, prominent politicians, leaders of the bench, bar and business, and among the protestants some catholics to claim the endorsement of Irish Australians, whose fidelity to Crown and Empire was often suspect.

The Mayor read the notice of the meeting, although few of the multitude could hear him, and called on Parkes to move the first resolution. Sir Henry declared they were met to tread disloyalty into dust and assert their loyalty and devotion to the throne and person of the Queen and the laws and institutions of the Empire.

The band played patriotic airs, the crowd joining in Rule Britannia. Despite the din the Mayor declared the motion carried, on a show of hands, unanimously. But finally the force of the crowd, like an irresistible wave, forced back the guardians of the platform, the chairs and tables there being crushed and broken into splinters.

The arrival of Lord Carrington, the popular Governor, permitted the Mayor to propose a resolution that a Queen’s Fund be established in aid of destitute women of New South Wales. Even the Bulletin had to admit that the monarchists had won the day at last, although through a sham public meeting manipulated by every available engine of cunning and violence: Orangemen had been massed by password; 400 footballers wearing heavy boots were placed where they might kick to the best advantage; the University, an aristocratic institution run by a well-paid crowd of English Tories, sent 150 rowdy youths.

The conservatives of the Primrose League had rubbed shoulders with a gang of professional prize fighters; the entire police force of Sydney was pressed into service; naval reservists, the volunteer artillery, the Sydney Lancers and a large number of bluejackets from the British men-of-war in the Harbour had been marshalled for the occasion. So the loyalty of the colony was reasserted and the name of the Queen was coupled with an unimpeachable charity. The republicans had been repulsed. Yet one of them, a rebellious adolescent, poor and unknown, had the most lasting word.

Henry Lawson, 19 years old and come to Sydney from the bush, was stirred by these events to pour out his anger and hopes in A Song of the Republic:

    Sons of the South, make choice between
    (Sons of the South, choose true)
    The Land of Morn and the Land of E’en,
    The Old Dead Tree and the Young Tree Green,
    The Land that belongs to the lord and Queen
    And the Land that belongs to you.

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