Some people, who may be good patriots and who may yet make good nationalists attached as they are to the Alt-Right and to other patriot structures, have made favourable references to the Australian 1930’s paramilitary group, the New Guard. They have suggested it could be a fountainhead for Australian nationalism. I consider the New Guard – the exact opposite.
The New Guard, formed in 1931, was an armed and violent conservative movement which set out to undermine the Jack Lang government of New South Wales. In Lang, they saw ‘communism’. After all, he repudiated the war debts to London, stood up for the mass of the unemployed and pushed for credit expansion to ease the Depression. Lang stood for Australia first, for the struggle of the productive classes. Meantime, the New Guard espoused ‘unswerving loyalty’ to the Empire, ‘sane finance’ (deflation) and a managerial government run by ‘the best families’. The New Guard programme represented the class war from above dressed up as patriotism.
In 1933, the leader of the New Guard, Eric Campbell, met Sir Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists. Mosley considered the New Guard to be fascist. He was wrong. And by this time too, Campbell was openly calling himself ‘fascist’. He was wrong too.
What is the problem?
Well, the New Guard certainly went about uniformed and did violence, offering fascist salutes and saying it was fascist. It said it wanted to crush communism by violence and it claimed to be militantly patriotic.
But the New Guard was connected throughout its four-year life by subliminal sentiments, imperial and class ideological references and organisational threads to the Old Guard conservatives, the rich colonial-imperial bourgeoisie who wanted to hang on to their wealth against the challenge from the people. Social change, Australian economic independence, the Labor Party – all was communism. The Old Guard would rely upon the state apparatus and a secret paramilitary apparatus and putsch for power if need be. The New Guard, its bastard child, would do the street violence. It was no challenge to capitalism either.
Irony entered in. In July 1932, Lang was sacked by Sir Phillip Game, the governor, such that New South Wales be ‘saved’ from communism and civil war (sic). Four years later, Game was in London, making sure in his capacity as Commissioner of Police, that Mosley’s fascists could not be an effective challenge to the British elite. Two countries. Same imperial elite. Same interests to be defended.
For me, Jack Lang, brother-in-law to Henry Lawson, was the real deal. He was the champion of the people. He railed against international finance capital, against those who could not act and think as Australians in the banks and the corporations. In his extreme old age, he remained the fighter for White Australia. If there is a fountainhead for nationalism, it was Lang and not the New Guard.
In what must be suggestive of ideological place, I recall a chat some years ago with a Klub Nation reactionary, one of the shysters who recently conned his way into the Aussie Alt-Right phenomenon. He told me that the New Guard was a real nationalist movement and that its opposition to ‘leftist’ Lang was correct. It was ‘fascist’ too, he said – as if I would be turned on. So the circle completes and we again, in the immediate period, find ourselves assessing the relationship of fascism and conservatism – from the past.
Of course, there is a large academic literature these days that explains how fascist and conservative groups, under the pressure of events and the challenge of the Left in 1930s Europe, might share external features. Decades ago, the study was fresh and it was easier for political newbies and others to confuse the two. No more. Names like Martin Blinkhorn, Eugen Weber, Stanley Payne, A. James Gregor, Roger Griffin, Roger Eatwell can be traced by the curious today and it’ll be explained. Conservatism and fascism were mutually exclusive things.
Nonetheless, in my decades of political activity, I have continually come upon conservatives playacting at being militants and at being ‘fascists’ and even ‘Nazis’. It took me time to understand their essential ‘bs’.
When I was a high school kid, I came upon Eugen Weber’s Varieties Of Fascism. It taught me that fascism in one vital sense was a synthesis of nationalism and socialism. It varied from country to country, in how it arranged that synthesis from source-material and in what it looked like, but that synthesis was a key element of it. So, I tried to apply that knowledge to people I met.
I remember blundering into a Brisbane meeting of Eastern European ‘fascists’ in 1972. They gave each other salutes, chatted about fighting the Labor communists (?!) and doing violence – and then talked over how to help the Liberal Party stay in government. The Liberal Party? It seemed the Libs were going along with the USA to roll back East European communism and they would help the Libs make it happen. They were not alone in that sort of notion.
Consider the colourful – if ridiculous – Australian Nazi phenomenon during the period that the extreme-left in Australia gained some size (1969-75). Some of these so-called Nazis believed that they would ‘prove’ themselves to the conservative moneybags by fighting those commies in the street and, out of desperation at being unable to stem the Red tide any other way, the conservatives would ‘call them in’ to save the country. A Liberal-Nazi government would form to fight communism and perhaps even win the war in Vietnam! I remember asking one of these Nazis if that meant the Liberals would allow some socialist reforms of banking and the multinationals – but I was told that was communism too. “Are you a communist?”, he asked me. Much of the time, the Nazis took cues from the Special Branch political police in attacking the Left, yet considered that normal, a primer before the curtain was raised on their taking power. Nazis in Queensland thought Premier Joh was Australia’s von Hindenberg, the patriot who would team up with the tough boys to save the country. Delusional maybe, but all this demonstrated the essential linkage between the conservatives and would-be fascists. These fascists (sic) considered themselves as conservatives with one difference: they reasoned the conservatives weak and unwilling to do the dirty work – which meant someone had to break the law to fight those Reds!
However, there was for me, one good bump in the conservative road. I also met the émigré Hungarian fascists who had a different story. They told me that you: “cannot have nationalism without socialism and socialism without nationalism”. They said most of the émigré fascists (Eastern Europeans by and large) were flunkeys of the Liberals and that the Libs were the quintessential party of capital. They even told me that if ever they returned to Hungary, they thought it best that the property socialised by the communist regime from the aristocracy and the old wealthy elite– stay in state hands! Maybe they were communists like me?
In the late 1970’s, I was in Sydney, a member of the first nationalist groups when we met those Liberals known as ‘the Uglies’. Their descendants still survive as rabid free marketeers. This gang posed then as the toughest of the tough and the hardest of the hard Right. Or so they said. They told the nationalists that they were us and we were them, except they were going to take over the Liberal Party and ‘come out’ when the day came. The day never came and generation after generation of young people has heard their story. The nationalists worked it out. The Uglies were spinning a yarn to suck people in and neutralize them forever. The Liberal machine would mince them up into becoming Libs and run them as lures for other ‘radicals’ who might upset the conservative applecart.
There was a twist. This Liberal lot also told us that they were secret ‘fascists’ and even ‘Nazis’. After all, Menzies who had been an ‘Appeaser’ of fascism in the 1930’s had let into the country the East European collaborators after 1949. They said Hitler really knew how to screw communism by fighting it in the streets. Why he finally grew up and attacked the Soviet Union. Nazism was the highest form of patriotism because it defended its principles violently. But Aussie people didn’t really know all that so its secret message would stay the glue that will bind us – while we take over the Liberal Party. I started to think: is the Soviet Union even the enemy? Why fight them for the USA? And why are these Uglies all the way with Uncle Sam? How does their taking over the Liberal Party help the nationalist cause? We, nationalists, wanted an independent Australia and their programme isn’t nationalist. They said they just hated the ‘wet’ Malcolm Fraser, but supported everything he said about deregulation and ‘fighting communism’. After 1979, they followed Margaret Thatcher; she would beat communism by privatising everything, they said.
The dirty truth (part of it at least) came out in 1978 when the leader of the Uglies (Lyenko Urbanchich, a Slovenian collaborator with Germany and Italy) called for the recruitment of Vietnamese and other Indo-China ‘refugees’ into the Liberal Party as supporters of the war against communism. We, nationalists, were concerned with our European identity not communism as threats to the nation, so the division was in the open. Even so, they kept telling us for years they were ‘fascists’, just like us, ad nauseum. When one of us quipped to an Urbanchich follower, we would prefer a Soviet White Australia to a capitalist multiracial sewer, the old Slovenian guru finally said that Australian nationalism was bolshie anyway (1987). Thanks for that!
In the mid-1980’s, a wag in the nationalist Australian National Action, of which I was the Chairman by then, came up with a goodie: the conservative Liberals will tolerate Nazis, but they will never tolerate nationalist-socialists.
Did these Liberals ever want the nationalisation of the banks? Did they want free education and socialised medicine? Did they want our mineral wealth controlled by the nation? Did they want direct democracy? Not at all. They adored free dog-eat-dog enterprise and government by parliament. They abhorred ‘dole bludgers’ (read: anyone who lost his job), considered themselves the born-to-rule elite and they regarded the working class person as not their equal. They never thought in terms of the fiercely independent nation with a destiny of its own, but revelled in the dependent country beholden to great allies.
Not too much ‘socialism’ in their national socialism? I suspect that in so far as they liked (sic) Nazis and fascists, it was all about the fascist regimes that went to war against communism and then only so far as they did fight communism as a system. Such social change that the fascists did implement was ignored in that argument. Past that, these conservatives weren’t part of fascism at all, but no end of game-players calling themselves ‘fascists’ would hang around them. They could sit around and talk and talk and dream – and do the dirty work of the conservatives.
What I did see in most of those who wanted to talk about fascism in those days of the 1970’s and 1980’s (and in possibly even now?), is that they wanted to discuss regime-fascism and how ‘good’ it was. They liked pretty pics of parades, invasions of the USSR, a few criticisms of ‘Jewish capital’ (but seldom, gentile capital), the myth of the great leader. In so far as any of it had some transcendental relevance to any Australian struggle, none seemed that interested in the mechanics of revolutionary action. This alone should have suggested that their talk of fascism was a block in the way of action! Fascism was for them just a myth to be talked about in a club of such people with Libs in attendance who could provide a ‘political’ outlet for them.
It became clearer to the nationalists. There had always been a real demarcation line between historical fascists and conservatives. If there had been anything positive in fascism that ‘line’ was it. And fascism’s essential sin (not the only one I would add) had been its alliances with the conservatives. Its revolution was bowdlerized before it got going. In that regard, I do remember meeting in the 1980’s an Italian who fought for the Italian Social Republic. He opined that the Mussolini regime till 1943 had been an illusion, a travesty of fascism’s potential. The Italian civil war brought the people into play against the industrialists and the landowners, the church and the monarchy, those whom the regime had previously indulged. That sounded different!
Of course, the discourse of a revolutionary fascism hardly gets a look-in with the debate on fascism, locked as it usually was, into a look-in at the regimes and their wondrous (sic) surface-appearances. The curiosity for me was the deepest fault of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s – that it temporized with the conservatives and the joke in the contemporary world was that the would-be fascists confused the two and pimped for the conservatives as errand boys.
The joke is still being played out in small circles.
I write as an Australian nationalist. My interest in fascism would be literary only if it was not for conservatives who put out bait and for a few people who muck about with fascism in the hope it might offer them something. The latter is more of the problem. Do they still mean regime-fascism? Or do they mean that synthesis of nationalism and socialism that the fascists, to their credit, attempted? And if they do mean that, did not the Australian radical nationalists and our labour movement achieve that synthesis but in our language and in a popular-democratic form? If that was true, why have the discussion about fascism at all?
I would conclude this article with a commentary about Australia from Antonio Grossardi, the Consul General in Australia of Fascist Italy. He said:
“Australia…since the day of its federation has lived…in the rosy certitude that it was the wealthiest, most capable, privileged and hard working country in the world, a type of Earthly Paradise,” God’s Own Country”, such that with a blind and constant faith in the present and future resources of the country, it abandoned itself to social-proletarian experiments of all sorts without taking into account the obstacles, the costs and the possibilities of success.”
Grossardi thought such was the wealth that the Australian people enjoyed they could afford to launch “continuous experiments in social-democracy”. This included a pragmatic labour party, distant from the ideological strife of the Old Continent, bent on enriching the poor rather than taking from the rich like the old socialisms. He went on to describe Australia’s social security system unsurprisingly as “overly generous”. Such comments beg comparison to the Italian reality at the same time, where the Fascist government was only beginning to introduce the rudiments of social welfare.
I am not surprised really that the regime-fascists thought ill of us. Australia is not the Old Continent, but a New Continent – and our challenges are our own.