Occasional Comments on History: History and a sense of time.

What follows is an extract from a letter which I wrote to my son many years ago about history. I still think the remarks valid:

“History, properly understood, gives a sense of perspective, a better notion of what things are important and what things are not. Without history you see events out of focus but yet do not realize that your vision is limited.After all, it is natural that you and I as with everybody else living in the present should think it supremely significant — and in a sense it is. It is the field of current action but the measure of events,their true significance or otherwise, can only be guaged from the context of the whole course of human action.To think only of the present is like viewing an artificially enlarged photo of a very small segment of the landscape.
For history to give us this perspective we must try to keep in our minds a proper idea of time. This is very difficult. It requires a strong effort of the imagination to give historical periods or events their proper relation to each other.You will know that William the Conquerer succesfully invaded England in 1066. You may know that Julius Caesar was murdered in Rome, which I hope you will visit one day, in 44 BC.For long I had known this but I recall the sense of shock I felt when I recognized that the period of time between William the Conquerer’s defeat of Harold and today is actually less than that between Caesar and Christ and the Norman invasion.There are perhaps a number of reasons for my surprise. One no doubt is that the world of ancient Rome, notwithstanding many differences, seems closer to our own than that of Anglo-Saxon England. But the chief reason was the quite false notion that we have that so much more seemed to have happened since 1066 and therefore it seemed to be a longer time. As I say the idea was quite wrong. Just as many events, although perhaps unrecorded and unrecollected, occurred during that period as in any other.Consider for a moment that the period between the Armada in 1588 and Governor Phillip’s landing at Port Jackson with the First Fleet is longer, although only by a trifle, than the perid since the landing and today.Does that surprise you? Consider also that the period between 1388 and 1588 is quite as long again and that 1388 is many years from William the Conquerer and we are still ever so many years since Cicero was arguing before the Courts or addressing the Senate.

A sense of time is very important.It is said that in the past there has been too much attention to dates in the learning of history.No doubt this was true.Exact dates may well be unimportant.To reduce history to the learning of dates is absurd but that does not, I think, affect the fact that without a sense of time history will be a mish mash and, therefore, the perspective that history can provide will be distorted.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 9, 2011 at 11:25 am  Comments (1)  

Occasional reflections on history

” As Claude Levi Strauss has written — for a culture ‘isolation is the fatal flaw’.A society located in the Highlands of New Guinea and a society on the shores of the Mediterranean will inevitably develop differently because of the inabilty to receive ideas in the one case and the proximity to ideas in the other.An isolated society may adapt marvellously to its environment as in the case of the Australian Aborigine but there is no stimulus for innovation to transform it.

In the following extended quotation, Ruth Benedict graphically explains western civilization’s dependence on foreign ideas:

“Western civilization itself is based on inventions borrowed from every part of the world… the alphabet was invented by semitic people in areas north of the Red Sea and carried by Phoenecians to Greece and Rome. Over centuries it spread throughout Europe and into India. Paper and gunpoweder too are old inventions made in China. The true arch, with its keystone, was a great architectural invention made in Babylonia 30 cnturies before Christ; but ancient Greek architecture is not based on it.The great monuments and temples of Peru and Central America were built without any knowledge of it.Gradually,however, the Babylonian invention was adopted in ancient Etruria and in Rome and became basic in Gothic Cathedrals.Mofified into a ome, it is used in modern public buildings … coffee was brought into cultivation by South American Indians, and Bolivian Indians cultivated 240 varieties… bananas come from Central America … and Polynesian peoples had carrried themselves over immense areas of the Pacific ocean before European navigators made their voyages of discovery.”

Published in: Uncategorized on November 8, 2011 at 5:06 pm  Comments (2)  

Who Were The Nabateans?

The Nabataean kingdom at Petra – ‘the rose-red city’ – flourished from the 5th century BC and controlled an area extending from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea, including a part of northern Hijaz. It lost its independence in the first century BC when it became a vassal of Rome.

Garraty & Gray (ed.s), The Columbia History of the World, pp. 256-257

Published in: Uncategorized on August 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 50th Anniversary of Amnesty International

I gave the following address at the celebrations held by the ACT branch of Amnesty at the Belconnen Arts Centre on the 27th of May. Happy birthday Amnesty.

The story is fairly well-known but worth re-telling, especially on this occasion.

Whilst on his way to work, Peter Benenson, a London lawyer, read in the morning paper how two Portugese students were arrested by police when proposing a toast to freedom in a Lisbon restaurant and were sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. Outraged, Benenson approached his friend, David Astor, proprietor of The Observer.The result was Benenson’s article, ‘The Forgotten Prisoners‘ which appeared in The Observer, 50 years ago from tomorrow,  the 28th May 1961, – and the formation of Amnesty International.

Its first paragraph read:

“Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government.There are several million such people in prison – by no means all of them behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains…. The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”

During  the next 10 days The Observer was flooded with promises of support. The article was repeated in Le Monde,, other European newspapers – courageously in Franco’s Spain – and also in the New York Herald Tribune. No mention was made in the article of any proposed organization. It was simply an appeal to people to protest. But by July there were the beginnings of an organization.

The origins of Amnesty in Australia

The Australian connection commenced in August with a broadcast by Wilfred Thomas. He described Amnesty’s formation in London. As a result of his broadcast many listeners wrote to the address which Thomas gave. One to do so was Clare Wositzky.

It is right on this occasion to remember Clare and to say a word about her: for if there is one person who could be said to be the founder of Amnesty International in Australia it is Clare Wositzky – a woman of great gentleness of manner and equally great organizing ability. She was for long the driving force of Amnesty here.

She received a reply from Benenson which set out a list of names of prisoners. As a result, on the 2nd of March 1962, a meeting was called at Owen Dixon Chambers, William Street, Melbourne. Twenty-two persons attended. It was resolved by the meeting to form a Branch of Amnesty International, the Victorian branch, and to pay the affiliation fee – two pounds – to London. The money was sent and thus was formed the first branch in Australia. The three prisoners of conscience we received were a Greek — for these were the days of the Colonels; two East Germans, Gunther Kemnitz and Jeremiah Moraka, and an African, one of the banished.

Prisoners of Conscience

The concept on which the movement was founded was the ‘prisoner of conscience’. Its basis was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the 10th of December 1948. The Commission which prepared it, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Assembly which endorsed it, presided over by Dr Evatt – were greatly affected by the Nuremberg trial. Indeed, the sober, formal ,legal language of the Preamble to the Declaration is broken by a flash of anger when it recites that the violation of human rights has resulted in ‘barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind’.

Benenson had made clear the danger of campaigns drifting into support for the particular political views of the prisoner. The ‘prisoner of conscience’ was a prisoner whose rights, as specifically stated in the Universal Declaration, had been violated; the particular views he or she advocated were irrelevant.

Article 18 guaranteed freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Article 19 freedom of expression. Article 5 guaranteed that no one was to be subject to torture and Article 9 that no one was to be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention.

And so, a ‘prisoners of conscience’ was one who, in violation of these specified rights, had been imprisoned or detained by reason of his or her political, religious or other conscientiously held belief or by reason of ethnic origin, colour or language, provided they had not used or advocated violence. I speak of the original definition of the prisoner of conscience. It was later extended.

The Universal Declaration assumes that the human rights declared by it are superior in moral authority to the claims of the state. But of course the superiority of the state’s physical authority and sheer coercive power were at any time able to override these. Benenson’s genius was to see that if you could mobilise people from all over the world to focus  collective action on the relief of the particular wronged individual and the violation of his or her rights this disparity of power could be greatly redressed.

But how was ‘prisoner of conscience’ status to be assessed in any particular case? How are the facts about a prisoner to be ascertained? There are high profile prisoners – an Andrei Sakharov in 1980 or a Liu Xiabao in 2010 who are self-evidently prisoners of conscience. Not all high profile prisoners, though, fit the ‘prisoner of conscience’ criteria so easily.

The case of Nelson Mandela

In June 1964 the police swooped on a farm house at Rivonia where Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other leaders of the African National Congress were meeting in secret – many of them, Mandela included were on the run.

They were charged with plotting violence. And there is no question they were. The trial created enormous ferment throughout the world but nowhere more than in Amnesty. It was confronted with admiration for Mandela, on the one hand, and the ‘violence’ exception, on the other.

By way of background I need to tell you that the ANC had preached and practised non-violence since its formation in 1912. But then in 1960 came Sharpville. That was the turning point. The agony in which the ANC leaders were placed was described quite movingly by Mandela in his statement to the court. I shall quote a brief excerpt.

“ I must return to June 1961. What were we, the leaders of our people to do?.. We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more oppressive legislation and fewer and fewer rights.”

The outcome of the tremendous controversy was a compromise in which Amnesty members could campaign against the death penalty but not claim he should be released as a prisoner of conscience. Actually, the prison sentence was a kind of triumph.

Finding the forgotten prisoners

But let me return to the immediate question, to Benenson’s numberless forgotten prisoners. How are they discovered? And how are they assessed? Over 40,000 prisoners have been designated and supported as ‘prisoners of conscience’ since 1973.

The London headquarters approaches this systematically. The researchers there rely upon a diversity of sources – local newspapers, court reports, released prisoners, local exile groups, the church and so forth. And Amnesty’s name is sufficiently well-known for it to be approached directly for help.

Their findings of fact are examined to see if they comply with the prisoner of conscience criteria and if approved are embodied in a case history which is then distributed to Amnesty groups throughout the world for action. The case history sets out the offender and the offence and indicates why he or she is a prisoner of conscience. It also sets out the political and legal background of the country concerned and the recommended action including relevant addresses.

The ‘prisoners’ sent to our group and no doubt others in the last month or so, include a number of Chinese internet dissidents; a Kurd due to be executed in Iran for ‘enmity against God’; Vietnamese  labour rights advocates; a Sudanese human rights defender; a 22 year old Sri Lankan domestic servant sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and then there is  the continuing struggle with Iranian authorities to avoid the death by stoning imposed upon Mohammadi-Ashtiani for adultery.

Our urgent action organizer, Dorothy Bennett, sends them to members of our group. But similar action is being taken throughout the world. The result is mass action from a diversity of countries.

I will conclude at this point. The goal of world-wide human rights remains very much unfulfilled and daunting. But on this 50th anniversary it is right that the 125,000 Australian members of Amnesty International and its friends should join in celebration.  Also, we should perhaps remember two nameless non-members. I refer to those two Portuguese students whose toast to freedom in a Lisbon restaurant led them to spending 7 years in Salazars’ gaols – but also to much else.

Published in: on May 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm  Comments (1)  

The Prelude to Petrov

Menzies and the Petrov Affair (Neely 2010) examines whether Menzies benefited politically from the Petrov affair and provides an excellent analysis in answering that question. Its historical judgements are clear and balanced and amply justified by the evidence adduced.

However, it deals with only one segment of a connected piece of Australian history. This piece of history began with the introduction of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill by the Menzies Government in April 1950 and concluded with the formation of the Democratic Labor Party in 1955. The Petrov Affair which commenced in May 1954 was in effect the second chapter of this story.

 The first chapter, which will be described, began with the introduction of the Dissolution Bill in April 1950 and ended with the rejection by the people at a referendum, on the 22nd September 1951, of the government’s request for constitutional power to validate it.

As Neely observes the Cold War was the context for the Petrov Affair. But it was also critical to the entire period – or piece of history – we are discussing.

Before the War in Europe ended the unity of the allies commenced to fracture and the resulting ‘Cold War’ dominated international affairs for the next 45 years.

At Yalta in January 1945, the Allies agreed upon democratically elected governments in Poland and the other German occupied countries of Eastern Europe. Between January and April the German resistance on the eastern front collapsed with the result that these countries together with Eastern Germany were overrun by Soviet armies. From shortly after Yalta, the Soviet Union began to ‘install’ communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe.

The war against Germany ended in May 1945 but that against Japan was continuing and its cessation still uncertain when the Allies met again at Potsdam in July. They met under the shadow of the atomic bomb which was tested just before the Conference. It was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August and Japan surrendered shortly afterwards.

In March 1946, Churchill made a speech at Fulton, Missouri, at a time when it was feared that either directly or indirectly communist parties under the influence of the Soviet Union would take control of Europe. His speech declared that “from Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

The Soviet Union or its allies suppressed tentative steps towards national independence and freedom in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and in much of the rest of Eastern Europe.

Communist Parties and communists in the non-communist world proclaimed their support for, and even loyalty to, the Soviet Union. Scientists in the West, of which Emil Fuchs and Nunn May were the most prominent, divulged the making of the bomb to the Soviet Union.

In October 1949 the Communists in China defeated Chiang Kai-shek, who fled the mainland to occupy Taiwan.

From these circumstances, so briefly summarised, it will be evident that from the advent of the Cold War, democracies faced a problem with domestic communism. It was vitally necessary to protect national security. This, of course, included outright treason but also extended to the prevention of subversion.

At the same time, to prohibit freedom of association or assembly and, above all, freedom to express dissent contradicted the very ideals and values that inspired antipathy towards communism. More than that – as the 1919 ‘Red Scare’ in the United States exemplified – prohibitions on speech generate fear throughout the society in expressing or being associated in any way with non-conforming opinion.

The situation facing democratic societies was made for fanatical extremists and unscrupulous demagogues.

The American Experience

On the 9th February 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy, until then a little-known Senator from Wisconsin, charged in a speech at Wheeling, West Virginia that he had in his hand a list of communists in the State Department ‘known to the Secretary of State’. Uproar followed and on the 20th February the Committee of Foreign Relations set up a Sub-Committee chaired by Senator Tydings to examine the allegations. Unwisely it allowed the hearings to be public, including allegations made against individuals. It was in the course of these hearings that Senator McCarthy almost stumbled upon the theme that he and other red-baiters were to constantly reiterate – that China was lost by Soviet sympathisers in the State Department.

The ‘loss’ of China was a traumatic experience for the American public; Chiang had been supported by the military and economic power of the United States. It was easier to explain this by treason in the State Department than that Mao led a genuinely popular movement against an increasingly corrupt government. Individuals were publicly accused of disloyalty, as for example Owen Lattimore, a distinguished expert on China, who was not in fact even an officer in the State Department.

Although the Sub-Committee rejected the allegations (the ‘list’ Senator McCarthy had held aloft in his original speech was never produced) they were taken up by the Republicans – Senator Taft denouncing a pro-communist group in the State Department “who surrendered to every demand from Russia at Yalta and Potsdam”. Senator McCarthy was welcomed as speaker and featured alongside Cardinal Spellman at Church gatherings. He even turned his attack on General Marshall, a revered figure, and perhaps the most distinguished American of his generation, saying that Marshall was part of “a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man.” The public fear spread. It was a striking example of the fear he inspired that General Eisenhower not only failed to defend Marshall – to whom he owed a great deal – but modified the criticisms about him in a speech he made in Wisconsin.

“Under the Port Security Programme… employment tests were authorised for all maritime and dock workers… many dockers lost their jobs, principally union leaders and those who were active in the unions… A Grand Jury reported that ‘an overwhelmingly large group of Americans employed at the United Nations were ’disloyal ‘to their country. Within the State Department, diplomats had to appear before a Loyalty Board. The British-born actor and film-maker Charlie Chaplin was accused of having connection with ‘subversive’ causes. Leaving the United States, he vowed never to return. It was 21 years before he did so … to receive his second Academy award…” (Gilbert M 1997 – 99, 366)

On 7th July, J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI sent a plan to the White House recommending the suspension of habeas corpus and the arrest of 12,000 persons whose loyalty, he claimed, was suspect. The arrests he proposed  were fortunately never carried out.

For the next several years, the [House] Un-American Activities Committee conducted a kind of permanent fishing expedition into subversive activity in the country, at one time or another investigating such wide ranging subjects as Time Magazine, communism in the movie industry …Very often its hearings took on the flavour of criminal trials in which it subjected suspects to examination, heard other evidence and then issued a verdict as though in a court. (Kelly & Harbison, 905)

Arthur Miller, who wrote The Crucible about this time descibes in his autoiography Time Bends  the nature of the Committee hearings and the parallel with the 17th century trial at Salem:

” The main point of the hearings, precisely as in seventeenth century Salem, was that the accused make public confession, damn his confederates as well as his Devil master, and guarantee his new allegiance by breaking disgusting old vows ….In effect, it came down to a governmental decree of moral guilt that could easily be made to disappear by ritual speech: intoning names of fellow sinners and recanting former beliefs. This last was probably the saddest.. part of the charade, for by the early 1950s there were few, and even fewer in the arts, who had not left behind their illusions about the Soviets”[p.331].

The period became known as ‘the Great Fear’. It came to a head when McCarthy overreached and attacked the Army. At the same time the Supreme Court changed its position.

However distasteful the Court’s previous decisions on communists may have been… their impact was overtaken on June 17,1957. That day, the Court handed down four decisions. It reversed the dismissal of a high-ranking diplomat from the State Department whose loyalty was challenged; it reversed the convictions of fourteen communist leaders for violation of the Smith Act; and it reversed the conviction of witnesses held in contempt of the House Committee on Un-American activities in one instance, and of a state legislature investigating subversion in another. (Schwarz B, 1983, 116)

The consequences though continued.

Much more important was the effect of the great fear on American citizens themselves … even after the acute phase passed, in 1954-1955, there was a long aftermath of uncertainty, anxiety and occasional oppression. (Brogan H 1985, 619)

The United States experience is essential background for an analysis of what took place in Australia. The question faced by the Australian polity was what steps needed to be taken to protect Australia’s security and democratic processes from the internal threat of communism and whether that could be done whilst preserving the rule of law. The United States experience is essential because the question facing Australia was whether it too might undergo something similar to the McCarthy reaction in the United States. McCarthyism involves a breakdown in the rule of law but also repression of dissent which becomes so great that society comes to fear any expression of non-conformity. That was the broad political issue which overshadowed all others in Australia during 1950-1951.

The Communist Party Dissolution Bill – Timeline

It is useful at this point to set out key events before turning to detailed explanation and closer attention to the issues:

* The Menzies-led Coalition defeated Labor at the 1949 elections and was sworn into office on the 19th December;

*The Communist Party Dissolution Bill [the Dissolution Bill] was introduced into Parliament on the 27th April 1950. The introduction of the bill gave effect to an election promise made by Menzies during the 1949 election campaign;

*On the 25th June 1950, North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea. The United Nations Security Council authorised the use of force to repel the invasion and establish a United Nations Force for that purpose;

*On the 17th September 1950 an Australian contingent joined the United Nations Force in Korea;

* On the 25th October 1950 the Dissolution Bill received the Royal assent and became law;

* On the 14th September 1950, 10 unions brought action in the High Court for a declaration the Communist Party Dissolution Act lacked constitutional power and was therefore invalid. Dr Evatt was retained by the Waterside Workers Federation to lead the challenge to the Act in the High Court;

* On the 9th March 1951, the High Court declared the Act invalid;

* On the 19th March 1951, the Prime Minister was granted a double dissolution by the Governor General and called an election to both Houses;

*On the 25th April 1951 the Menzies Government was re-elected, gaining control of the Senate with 32 votes to Labor’s 28;

* Chifley died on the 13th June 1951 and Dr Evatt became Leader of the Labor Party;

* Parliament enacted an Act providing for a referendum under the Constitution seeking the powers necessary to validate the Dissolution Bill from the people.

* On the 5th September 1951 the referendum campaign commenced;

* On the 22nd September 1951 the referendum was defeated; the request for additional powers to validate the Dissolution Bill was rejected: 2,370,009 voted against; 2,317,927 voted for additional powers; 3 states only voted for the additional powers. As the Government did not obtain approval by a majority of the electors in the majority of states, the referendum was also lost on that ground.

The Communist Party Dissolution Bill – Background

There was never the slightest possibility of the Communist Party staging a coup in Australia. Even at the height of the Red Army’s popularity the national membership was probably less than the 25,000 it claimed. Its candidates never received more than 3% of the vote in any election.

But to say only that is to understate the power and influence of the Party. Communists had obtained leadership in certain key unions – Coal Miners, Wharf-Labourers, Seamen, among others. In 1945, the Communists secured a majority of 100 at the Congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Over the next four years unions, mostly communist led, initiated a wave of crippling industrial action (see Santamaria B A 1981, 104-106). This culminated in the 1949 Coal Miners’ strike. That strike by 23,000 coalminers lasted for seven weeks from the 27th June 1949.

The wave of strikes over these years, culminating in that of the Coal Miners’ did great damage to the national economy and caused much hardship. The Chifley Government took a number of actions. In 1947 when faced with a ban by the Building Unions of construction on the Woomera Rocket Range, it introduced legislation – the Approved Defence Protection Act 1947, which made any boycott or advocacy of boycott of the project a criminal offence. In the course of his address to the Parliament when introducing the Bill, Dr Evatt said:

Just as the endeavour to change decisions by open expression of opinion is of the essence of democracy, so attempted boycott to prevent the government carrying through a defence project by obstruction and sabotage, approved by Parliament, or by the government responsible to Parliament, would be the antithesis of democracy and no government could tolerate it. (Santamaria, op.cit. p.110)

The Coal Strike was called during the winter of 1949 inflicting maximum hardship and, in addition to the Union’s industrial demands, was probably intended, as Santamaria suggests, to demonstrate that a key Union could override an arbitration tribunal decision (op.cit. p.110). The government took immediate action. Evatt, as Attorney- General, introduced legislation within 2 days of the strike making it illegal to give the strikers financial support and on the 5th July the funds of the Union were frozen. Thereafter, seven Union officials were prosecuted and sent to gaol. On the 1st August 2500 troops were sent in to work the mines. The strike collapsed and the miners returned to work two weeks later.

In addition, the Chifley Government, in 1949, introduced the first ‘clean ballots’ legislation for union elections. This legislation was strengthened in 1951 by the Menzies Government so that a union election could be supervised by the Industrial Registrar upon a petition by a substantial portion of the Union membership.

Most importantly, at a non-governmental level, the Australian Labor Party had in the early 1940’s established ‘Industrial Groups’ to combat Communist Party influence in the Unions. The ‘Groupers’ as they were called were fiercely opposed to communism and communists. They became linked with and subject to a Catholic organization, the Catholic Social Studies Movement, known simply as ‘the Movement’, formed by B.A. Santamaria in 1941. The ‘Groupers’ opposed not just communists but other members of the Labor Party whom they considered insufficiently anti-communist.

The Groupers had great success in ousting communist leadership in the Unions. By 1949 the communist majority of 90 at the 1945 Australian Congress of Trade Unions Conference had been replaced by an anti-communist majority of 100. (Santamaria op. cit., 106) “The fact was that by the beginning of 1953, communist power was to all intents and purposes broken in the Australian trade union movement.” (op. cit., 115)

In 1950 Cecil Sharpley, in leaving the Victorian executive of the Communist Party, made a number of allegations about the political influence of the Party in the Unions and on consequent industrial action. A Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the allegations and into the activities of the Communist Party. It was presided over by Mr Justice Lowe. The Inquiry called 159 witnesses, their evidence covering 9791 pages. In the course of his thorough report, Mr Justice Lowe found that the Communist Party’s objectives were revolutionary and to that extent its observance of the law was a matter of expediency. But so far as the Unions were concerned he found that the election of communist officials was largely because of genuine support for their militant position and that there were relatively few cases of ballot-rigging. 

More relevantly, Mr Justice Lowe stated that;

…with regard to the Party’s international affiliations, he found no evidence of direction from abroad or overseas financial aid since 1943, although Party policy was generally in harmony with that of the Cominform. (Ricketson S, 1976, 101)

Turning from the domestic to the international dimension of the communist question in Australia, there was of course no question that the Cold War presented a continuing threat of actual world war during this period. It was also clear that communists were sympathetic to the Soviet Union and questions arose whether Party members constituted a security risk.

The Labor Government had established the Australian Security Intelligence Organization for which Evatt was responsible. The government also prosecuted to conviction two communist officials, Sharkey and Burns, for sedition when they expressed support for Soviet troops, should they invade Australia.

The Korean War began after the introduction of the Bill and, as indicated in the introductory outline Australian troops were involved. It was apparent that something less localised was always possible but at the time the Dissolution Bill was introduced a world war was not imminent, nor was Australia threatened with invasion.

These remarks briefly summarise the situation in Australia and internationally when the Dissolution Act was introduced.

  The Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950

The Bill was unusual in the extent of its Preambles. These usefully summarise the reasons for the measure and became critically important when the Act came before the High Court:

And whereas the Australian Communist Party, in accordance with the basic theory of communism, as expounded by Marx and Lenin, engages in activities or operations designed to assist the coming of a revolutionary situation, in which the Australian Communist Party, acting as a revolutionary minority, would be able to seize power and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat:

And whereas the Australian Communist Party also engages in activities or operations designed to bring about the overthrow or dislocation of the established system of government in Australia and the attainment of economic, industrial or political ends by force, violence or fraudulent practices:

And whereas the Australian Communist Party is an integral part of the world communist revolutionary movement…

And whereas it is necessary for the security and defence of Australia and for the  execution and maintenance of the Constitution and of the laws of the Commonwealth that the Australian Communist Party and bodies or persons affiliated with that Party should be dissolved and their property forfeited to the Commonwealth…

By section 4, the Communist Party was declared to be an unlawful association “and is, by force of this Act, dissolved”. Section 5 provided for declarations by the Governor General of organizations other than the Communist Party which did not espouse Communism but were substantially controlled by communists. Bodies like the communist-controlled Peace Council which had non-communist support would have been proscribed. Given the indeterminate character of political doctrine a large number of left-wing organizations might have been covered and thus declared. Section 9 provided for the Governor General to ‘declare’ that a person was a member of the Communist Party or was a communist, and once ‘declared’ such a person was to be incapable of being employed by the Commonwealth or any industrial organization: a person ‘declared’ could apply to a court to have the declaration set aside but in any such proceedings the onus was on that person to have the ‘declaration’ reversed. By section 25 it was provided that proof a person was a communist could be made by “showing that that person had attended meetings, distributed literature or addressed meetings advocating the objects of the Communist party. Proof that a person was a member of the Communist Party could be established by evidence that his/her name or initials appeared in documents found in the premises of the Party.”

Dr Evatt, who generally became the main opponent of the measure, later described it in these terms:

The chief vice of that legislation was that it gave to the Cabinet of the day final and conclusive power to say that the person to be ‘declared’ was disloyal or subversive or likely to be a danger to ‘security’… There was no appeal from this Cabinet decision, either to a court or a jury, or even a Judge. (‘Liberty in Australia’, 1955, 67)

 Under the legislation, a person was to be ‘declared’ upon the basis of belief, whether he or she was a communist, and not for any conduct they had done or failed to do.

Initially, the Labor Party opposed the Bill. Leaders such as Chifley and Evatt grounded their opposition upon the Bill’s invasion of individual rights and contradiction of the rule of law. But the Party was divided and a minority, mostly from Victoria and mostly ‘Groupers’, vehemently supported the measure. In addition, even those within the Party who opposed it were compelled to recognize that the Government had obtained a clear mandate at the recently held elections. At a more ‘political’ level, polls showed community support for the Bill and, within the Labor movement, it was feared opposition to the measure would weaken the traditional Catholic support for Labor.

 Labor’s position was important in the Parliament because it had a majority in the Senate. In the first instance, it decided not to oppose banning but only introduce major amendments to the ‘declaration’ and ‘onus of proof’ provisions. But on the 16th October 1950, swayed by the strength of the opposition within the Party and the fear of losing the Catholic vote, the Federal Executive of the Labor Party, by majority, instructed the Party to support the measure and desist from moving the amendments in the Senate. Chifley and Evatt were appalled but could only obey. The Dissolution Bill was enacted.

 On the 19th October 1950, immediately following enactment, ten Trade Unions brought action before the High Court for a declaration that the Act was invalid. Evatt was retained by the Waterside Workers Federation and led the challenge to the Act before the High Court (Evatt had previously sat on the Court for ten years and it is generally accepted he was a distinguished Justice).

The Act could only be justified constitutionally if it fell within one of the heads of legislative power conferred upon the Commonwealth Parliament by the Constitution. The principal power relied upon was the ‘defence’ power. The power to make laws ‘with respect to defence’ had been construed as a ‘purpose’ power and, in that respect, differed from other powers in the constitution. As a result, the power extends beyond strictly military subjects to matters ‘necessary’ for the defence of the nation. This obviously introduces an elastic criterion and so in war the subjects covered by the power will be far more extensive than in peace. During the Second World War, legislation held valid under the defence power provided for the control of supplies, the fixing of prices and entered many other fields necessary for the conduct of the war.

In peace time the defence power would only be attracted to these extended non-military subjects by a national emergency of sufficient gravity. But how, in the case of the Dissolution Act , was the existence and gravity of any emergency to be determined?

The Commonwealth sought to rely upon the Act’s Preambles  and the facts recited in them to ask the Court to accept the statements made in them and so justify the contention that communism constituted such a threat to the security of the nation that the ‘secondary’ aspects of the defence power could be invoked. Evatt began his argument on behalf of the Waterside Workers Federation in mid-afternoon. He immediately attacked reliance upon the Preambles which he described as a series of assertions by which the Commonwealth sought to recite itself into power. He argued that the Act was unconstitutional in the following way.

What has been done in this Act is to take the phraseology, which the court upheld in certain cases with respect to the exercise of the defence power, transfer the whole of that to the executive power, and give to the executive government of the day a discretion of the most extreme character … To deprive people of their property and of their civil rights… and to justify that – not upon any law laying down some rule of conduct or even thought which has been infringed, but upon the mere discretion of the executive government.

Sir Owen Dixon’s biographer, Phillip Ayers, records him as saying of Evatt’s argument that afternoon  he had never heard him ‘to more advantage’, although he thought thereafter  he addressed for too long. (Ayres P 2003, 223)

The Court was clearly concerned. The immediate concern was that the acceptance by the Court of the Commonwealth’s argument would involve a distinct inroad into the concept of judicial review. The doctrine of Marbury v Madison (1803) that it was for the Court to decide, and not for the legislature or the executive, whether or not a proposed law came within the power, was as axiomatic in Australia as it was in the United States. Further, the powers that the Commonwealth sought by preambular statements were of a fundamental kind. Mr Justice Dixon said in his judgement;

…moreover, it is a government under the constitution and that is an instrument framed in accordance with traditional conceptions… among these I think it may be fairly said that the rule of law forms an assumption. In such a system I think it would be impossible to say of a law of the character described, which depends upon its supposed connection with the power upon the conclusion of the legislature and affords no objective test of the applicability of the power is a law with respect to that power.

On the 9th March 1951 the Court, by majority (Latham C.J dissenting), held the Act invalid. The Prime Minister was “stunned” (Ayres op. cit., 223) and immediately approached the Governor-General for a double dissolution.

On the 19th March the Prime Minister was granted a double dissolution and at the ensuing election won a majority in both Houses.

With this majority Menzies secured passage of the Communist Referendum Bill which, if carried at the referendum, would have conferred power on the Parliament to enact the Dissolution Act.

The stage was thus set for a referendum seeking the powers necessary to pass the Dissolution Bill.

On the 5th July, the Federal Executive of the Labor Party decided by 8 votes to 4 to oppose the referendum proposals. The Victorian and Western Australian delegates dissented from this decision.

In July opinion Polls indicated 80% of the People would vote ‘Yes’ in favour of the proposals.

It was expected in any event, given the history of the matter and the result of the election, that Menzies would succeed in securing the powers sought by the referendum. Chifley had died in June and Evatt had become Leader. He led the ‘No’ campaign  with only qualified support from a divided Party. The media was almost united in support of the ‘Yes’ vote. At the outset he seemed almost alone.

But Evatt campaigned tirelessly, travelling enormous distances, and was increasingly successful in alerting the community to some of the fundamental issues. Although he suffered great calumny in Parliament, in the media and generally as supporting communism, he was aided by the comments of prominent Australians. The comment of famous essayist and writer, Walter Murdoch, was typical. “The government is asking for… the power to punish a man for his beliefs or for what some spy alleges him to believe. It will be a sad day for Australia if she allows this spiritual poison to get into her system.”

The referendum voting on the 22nd September 1951 rejected the proposals. It was a close result. The popular vote in favour was 2,317,927; the vote against was 2,370,009. The referendum was defeated on the popular vote with 50.48 % of the votes cast.

Dr Evatt said:

I regard the result as more important than half a dozen general elections. The consequences of a mistaken vote in an election verdict can be retrieved. But an error of judgement in this constitutional alteration would tend to destroy the whole democratic fabric of justice and liberty.


There were two broad concerns about the measure. The first, already mentioned, was that the Act contravened fundamentals of the ‘rule of law’. That is, a person could be ‘declared’, not by a court, but by the executive and not for conduct but because of his or her political beliefs. The onus of proof on these matters was not upon the State but upon the accused person to disprove any allegations.

The second, or what might be described as the ‘McCarthyist’ concern, was that the effect of the Act generally and the ‘fear’ of being ‘declared’, would ‘cripple’ the free expression of opinion. Any person holding and expressing left-wing views or dissenting from Australian Government foreign policy would become subject to public accusations of disloyalty. Accusation would replace debate. This ‘fear’, as in the United States, could be generated by accusations directed against named persons or extreme and general accusations against groups or bodies which were almost incapable of disproof.

The first kind of accusation was evidenced quite early and indeed before the Bill became law. During the Bill’s second reading debate, the Prime Minister announced to Parliament “a list of fifty three avowed and alleged Communist trade-union leaders.” Clearly the statement, made under parliamentary privilege, was not only highly defamatory of those named but highly prejudicial to them. If the Bill became law an issue of their ‘declaration’ could arise. The uncontrolled nature of allegations of this kind was confirmed when in answer to an interjection by Mr Ward, Mr Menzies responded, “I can think of one member of this House who might escape only by the skin of his teeth.” (Tennant K 1970, 259) The dangers in all this were revealed “a few days later (when) he had to admit that five of these named people were not Communists and one not even a trade unionist”. (Ward R 1977, 303)

The other kind of allegation is exemplified by the statement made on the 28th August 1951 by a prominent anti-communist politician, Stan Keon who said:

… the Australian National University has become deliberately, according to a planned scheme, a nest of communists who are busy building up their own organizations to subvert the institutions of this country.

Such a broad, general accusation, inherently incapable of rebuttal, is almost classic McCarthyism.

An area which lent itself to political misuse was the Security Service. Chifley had said of the Bill that “security files will be filled with lies or half-truths and the man attacked will never know’. In fact this happened without the Bill becoming law. Years later the poet Judith Wright at the age of 81 learnt that she had been on ASIO’S files from 1954-1961; Ric Throssell (diplomat and son of VC winner Hugo Throssell and communist author Katherine Susannah Pritchard), denied promotion and access to files, was still struggling years later to find out what the allegation against him was; Mr Justice Barry of the Victorian Supreme Court and his family was also on ASIO’S files. (Finnane M, 2007) ASIO also sought to enlist the support of University lecturers to report on their colleagues.

In the result, the Royal Commission into the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization conducted by Mr Justice Hope recommended (5th May 1977) that the ASIO Act expressly provide that “it is not the purpose of the Act that the rights of lawful advocacy, protest or dissent should be affected…” That recommendation and the further recommendation that an Inspector of Intelligence and Security be appointed, were adopted.

Menzies and the Petrov Affair accurately states that “Australia did not experience US style McCarthyism”. But it was a close run thing. The nation was spared ‘the great fear’ by the grace of the High Court and Dr Evatt.

This essay has also been published on Clio History Journal.


Ayres P 2003, Owen Dixon, Carlton: The Miegunyah Press

Brogan H 1985, The Penguin History of the United States of America,

Finnane M 2007, J. V .Barry, Sydney: UNSW

Gilbert M, A 1997 – 1999, A History of the 20th Century, London: Harper-Collins

Kelly & Harbison, American Constitutional Law

Santamaria B A 1981, Against the Tide, Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Schwarz B 1983, Inside the Warren Court, Garden City, NY: Doubleday

Tennant K 1970, Evatt – Politics and Justice, Sydney: Angus & Robertson

Ward R 1977, A Nation for a Continent, Richmond, Victoria: Heinemann Educational Australia

Journal Articles:

The Australian Institute of Political Science, Liberty in Australia, 1955, 67

Neely 2010, ‘Menzies and the Petrov Affair’, Clio History Journal

Ricketson S, ‘Liberalism in a repressive age; Communism and the Law’, Monash University Law Review, Vol 3, Nov 1976

Published in: Uncategorized on January 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Liu Xiaobo — Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

In the New York Review [Jan 13, 2011, p56] Perrry Link movingly describes the ceremony which took place in Oslo on 10th December: ” The presentation speech was made by Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Prize Committee, who is a former Prime Minister of Norway …Only a few minutes into his speech, he said: ‘We regret that the laureate is not present here today. He is in isolation in a prison in north east China… This fact alone shows the award was necessary and appropriate.’ When he finished reading these words the audience of about a thousand people interrupted with applause. The applause continued for about thirty seconds and then, when it seemed that the time had come for it to recede, it suddenly took on a second life. It continued on and on, and then turned into a standing ovatioon, lasting three or four minutes ….In the remainder of his speech Jagland stressed the close connections among human rights, democracy and peace. He reviewed the four other occasions in Nobel history when a Peace Prize laureate was prevented from traveling to Oslo: in 1935, the Nazis held Carl von Ossietzky in prison; in 1975 Andrei Sakharov was not allowed to leave the USSR; in 1983, Lech Walesa feared he would be barred from reentering Poland if he went to Oslo; and in 1991, Aung Sang Suu Kyi was under house arrest in Burma……After Jagland’s speech the Norwegian actress Liv Ullman read the full text of the statement that Liu Xiaobo had prepared for his trial in Beijing in December 2009. The statement is called ‘I have no enemies’ and it was significant that Ullman read it in full because, at Liu’s 2009 trial, his own reading had been cut off after 14 minutes.The presiding judge that day had interrupted him, declaring that the defendant could not be allowed.. more time than the prosecutor, who had summed up Liu’s crimes in only fourteen minutes. Ullman’s reading took about twenty-five inutes and was beautiful. She held the audience in immaculate silence ….The climactic moment of the ceremony came when Jagland, unable to hand the Nobel diploma and medal to Liu Xiaobo, placed both upon the empty chair where he was supoosed to have ben sitting …”

Published in: Uncategorized on January 27, 2011 at 6:38 pm  Comments (6)  

Prisoners’ voting rights

In Australia, we do not have a Bill of Rights and so there is no constitutional right to vote: but the Constitution does affect the matter indirectly by requiring senators or members to be ‘directly chosen by the people’. To be valid, legislation providing for electoral qualifications must accord with that. What also bears on the constitutional issue is the fundamental premise that we are a representative democracy.

It was these latter considerations which led the High Court in 2007 to strike down a ‘Howard’ Electoral Act amendment which would have deprived all convicted persons serving a term of imprisonment for any offence and for whatever period, of their right to vote.

But the Court did not rule that conviction and imprisonment for an offence could never in any circumstances constitute grounds for depriving a prisoner of his/her right to vote.

It rejected the ‘blanket’ denial of voting rights in the legislation; that is the absence on its face of any rational linkage between offences for which imprisonment had been imposed and denial to the offender of his/her civic right of voting. There may however be a;

“serious offending” [which represents] such form of civic irresponsiblity that it is appropriate for Parliament to accompany the offender’s physical separation from society with a denial  of the right to participate in the law-making process.”

There thus must be some rational connection between the offences, the term of imprisonment imposed and the maximum penalty, on the one hand, and the withdrawal of the right to vote on the other.

Accordingly, and upon these grounds, the Court in the 2007 case which I have referred to expressly upheld the validity of previous legislation which required a term of imprisonment of three years or more for voting rights to be lost.

Before commenting on this, I should mention UK and Canadian decisions. These involve of course the Convention and Charter of Human Rights.

It appears that, before 2005, UK legislation disenfranchised all convicted prisoners. The European Court of Human Rights held this automatic ban on all convicted prisoners to be arbitrary and in violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the Convention. But the application of the Convention voting right is not unqualified: it is qualified by the ‘proportionality principle’; ie “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. This qualification to the application of the right will only permit its minimum impairment. In the UK case ofHirst, the European Court held by a majority that although deprival of the right to vote of those “who had breached the basic rules of society to have a say in what the rules should be during the duration of their imprisonment” was legitimate, the UK law before the Court was too arbitrary to be justified and breached the principle of proportionality.

In 1993, in Canada, the Supreme Court held on similar grounds and by similar reasoning that a blanket ban on prisoners regardless of the length of sentence violated the Charter. The Canadian Act was subsequently amended in the light of this so as to deny the right of voting to inmates serving two years or more. But the Supreme Court, dividing 5 to 4, again held the legislation violated the Charter.

Thus the reasoning in all three jurisdictions is similar and denial of voting rights on the ground of imprisonment is not absolutely prohibited.

I think it unlikely even in the case of the Convention countries, or Canada, prisoners would ever be vested with an absolute right to vote by virtue of the Convention, Charter or, in Australia,  by constitutional interpretation.

Nevertheless, the ‘right to vote guarantee’ in Europe and Canada mandates a less restrictive regime than the constitution in Australia. This is because the only way in which the guarantee is qualified in Convention countries is by virtue of the proportionality principle and the proportionality principle is subject to a ‘minimum impairment’ of the right’ limitation. That is, proportionality allows qualification of the voting right guarantee but only to the minimum necessary. This is not of course applicable to Australia.

I do not know what has happened regarding the issue in the UK since 2005. The government foreshadowed public consultation after the Hirst decision. I unsuccessfully googled to find out.

There is one further general comment on the law I would add which is important in explaining the Australian position and, I suspect, the UK – and that is the long history of voting restrictions on convicted persons. It seemed to have become linked with the grounds for disqualifying members of  parliament who committed an offence. At all events the point is evident in the following passage in the High Court judgement:

“Given the 19th century colonial history, the development in the 1890’s of the drafts of the constitution, the common assumptions at the time, and the use of the length of sentence as a criteron of culpability, it cannot be said .. such a system is necessarily inconsistent, incompatible or disproportionate in the relevant sense …. etc.”

Generally, I am very much opposed to the notion of subjecting rights to the performance of responsibilities.

‘Responsibilities’ are very comprehensively imposed upon us by the criminal law – and not just the criminal law – but the civil law which defines the ‘responsibilities’ we owe to our neighbours. Rights have been separately identified and given force by the law because they are needed to protect the individual from power – the power of the state.

An independent regime of responsibilities will have the effect – if not the design – of allowing the executive to be satisfied that a ‘responsibilty’ has been complied with before some executve discretion or power is exercised in favour of a person to which he or she would otherwise have been entitled. The ‘responsibilities’ are unlikely to be specific legal duties because that would overlap with the criminal law. Such a regime is likely to fall upon minorities who are more likely to have to satisfy the executive of compliance with some generally expressed responsibility. [It would, in effect be the reverse of what we have out here. Australia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but has not enacted it into law. Nevertheless, the High Court has held that the rights in the Covenant must be taken into account in the exercise of any executive power].

The position is to some extent different were the ‘responsibility’ is an identified criminal offence and the disabling consequence of a conviction is general and relevant eg. driving under the influence and licence to drive etc.

In the case of prisoners voting rights it may be justifiable to disqualify an offender convicted of treason from engaging in the law-making process but the problem is that only history and the difficulty of finding any other criterion justifies length of the term as the test for denying the vote. After all, three years would cover persons imprisoned for non-intentional offences like manslaughter.

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 11:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Democracy in China — Wen Jiabao

About the same time as Liu Xiaobao was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Chinese Premier was making a number of speeches calling for political reform.In a rare interview, aired on CNN, he said: “I believe I and all the Chinese people have such conviction that China will make continuous progress, and the people’s wishes and need for democracy and freedom are irresistable. I hope you will be able to gradually see the continuous progress of China.” He added: ” in spite of some resistance I will advance within the realm of my capabilities, political restructuring.” In regard to censorship Mr Wen said: ” I believe freedom of speech is indispensable for any country.”

He insisted there was freedom to criticise the Chinese government on the internet, ” I have read sharp critical comments on the work of the government on the internet….” On freedom of expression, he said “I often say that we should not only let people have the freedom of speech. We, more importantly, must create conditions to let them criticise the work of the government. And it is only when there is supervsion and critical oversight from the people that the government will be in a position to do an even better job.”

Any reforms, he added, ‘must be conducted within the range allowed by the constitution and the laws so that the country will have a normal order”.

The interview is the third time in recent weeks, the Premier has raised the topic of political reform.

At the beginning of September, on a visit to Shenzhen, he said that “without the safeguard of political reform the fruits of economic reform would be lost and the goal of moderenisation would not materialise”. He also called for a loosening of the “excessive political control” of the Communist Party. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September he said that “while deepening economic restructuring we will also push forward political restructuring.”

One is struck by the similarities of the Premier’s comments and the proposals in Charter 08  for which Lu Xiaoboa is serving 11 years imprisonment and the sad irony which that indicates. ” Mr Wen admitted there is inner party isagreement over political reform” said Victor Shih, a Professor of Chinese politics at North Western University.

What John Garnaut described as the Premier’s ” bold campaign for political reform” has emerged in the mainstream media. The Southern Weekend, a popular newspaper featured Mr Wen on the front page and quoted him as saying “the will of the people for political reform is irresistible”. ” I will not fail in spite of the strong wind and I will not yield till the last day of my life.” The CNN interview remains ‘blacked out’ indicating it was made without full leadership consensus.

Some leading comentators say Mr Wen’s push for reform has the backing of the President, Hu Jintao in the face of stiff internal opposition. The source of domestc reports of Mr Wen’s reform comments have come from outlets associated with Mr Hu’s Communist Youth  League, including the southern stable of newspapers and The China Youth Daily, but not outlets more tightly controlled by the Propaganda Department.

It should be noted that Mr Wen’s views are not new.In 2006 , at a meeting with a delegation from the Brookings Institution he said that “when we talk about democracy we usually refer to three key components:elections, judicial independence and supervision based on checks and balances”.At the National People’s Congress in 2007 he said that “developing democracy and improving the legal system are basic requirements of the socialist system”.

Comment and views on recent developments:

John Garnaut: Under the title ‘Wen’s comments on reform are compelling’, John Garnaut argues that ” the longer China’s economic structural problems remain  the same,despite years of talk, it seems they may never be resolved without political reform … it is this nexus between politicl reform and the whole Chinese economic enterprise that makes’ Wen’s reformist comments so compelling.” Certanly, Wen himdelf draws that conclusion –“without the safeguard of political reform, the fruits of economic reform would be lost” . Whilst the nexus between political and economic reform has some a priori appeal, it has not been spelt out explicitly, or at least in detail, by  either by Mr Wen or John Garnaut.The clearest link is with the absence of reform and the endemic corruption which afflicts China.  Garnaut draws out the connection in the following comment:”Unfettered administrative power and a market economy are proving a heady combination. Officials at all levels of China’s enormous bureaucracy have huge incentives to stonewall against economic reform because the status quo works to their personal advantage. They have little incentive to increase accountability to those they govern, to invite greater media scrutiny or to support the semblance of an independent justice system.” A Wen supporter, economist, Professor Xu Xianian said,”these are very dangerous conditions for developing a market economy. This is the way of Suharto… and also the way of Marcos”.

Mr Wen, himself, adds, ” my view is that a political party, after it becomes a ruling party should be somewhat different from the one when it was struggling for power. The biggest difference should be that this political party should act in accordance with the constitution and law.”

Final comment:

What will become of all this?  If, as some say, Mr Wen has the backing of Mr Hu, that, on the face of it, suggests a formidable combination.

One does not know.It seems inconceivable that Liu, like Andrei Sakharov,another Nobel winner, should receive a phone call from a Chinese leader as Sakharov did fromGorbachev, and so mark a new stage in democratic reform in China.

At the moment the reaction to Liu is one of hostility and that is not the atmosphere likely to lead to a move to reform.

Timothy Garton Ash summed up the present reaction to the Liu award.”The fearful,offended reaction of the Chinese party-state testifies to its own insecurity, and its fundamentally Leninist inability to tolerate any genuinely autonomous sources of social and political authority — be they Liu and his tiny band,Falun Gong or Dalai Lama. It speaks of a deep and widely shared national humiliation at the hands of the west.”

My own view is that it is unlikely China will liberalise now or in the near future. One can only hope that in their different ways Liu and Mr Wen have contributed. But the near past provides little ground for optimism — both Hu Yaobang and Zhi Ziyang endeavoured and failed to liberalise.

The one major qualification is if  a major economic downturn should occur. None is on the horizon but I wonder if the fear of this , has prompted the note of urgency in Mr Wen’s comments. The foundation of  Communist Party authoritarianism is the enormous economic success, contradicting the frequently repeated and self-serving policy position of many, incuding Foreign Affairs, that ‘quiet’ diplomacy will do the ‘trick’. 

The grounds for my view is, first, the comprehensive control exercised by the Chinese Communist Party. It has been succesful not only in stamping out alternatives — as, for example, the China Democracy Party — but in maintaining internal stability. Whatever quarels between factions they have been contained so that the Presidency lasts or 10 years and no President openly sought to subvert that and stay on. The internal stability of the Party is indicated in the willingness of the Military to make no ‘grab’ for power. Next, is the Party membership which enables valuable and frequently corrupt personal relations to be established between its members an, finally, the is the Orwellian thought-control which it exercises as, for example, in the case of the Internet.

Beyond Party control,the underlying factor among the people is an intense Han Chinese  nationalism, particularly among the Young,which is very extreme and reminiscent of the fanatacism of the Red Guards.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Refugees — Status of Refugees Convention

After the war,Europe ‘was faced with a tidal wave of refugees’. There were 9 million displaced persons in Germany alone.The United Nations Refugee Relief Administration[UNRRA] was established to assist in their re-settlement. Slowly they were dispersed to Australia, Canada, the United States and other countries. Non-Government organizations such as Oxfam, formed during the war to alleviate distress in Greece, Save the Children, Medicins sans Frontiere together with the Red Cross carried forward humanitarian help.

The international protection of refugees hardly existed before the First World War. Russians fleeing the Bolshevik revolution and Armenians fleeing the Turks faded dificulty in proving identity but also there was no internationally agreed definition of ‘refugee’. Two early treaties of a limited character were entered into during the thirties, one specifically directed to refugees from Germany. The aftermath of the Second World War made the problem urgent.The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established in January 1951 and in July of that year the Status of Refugees Convention was opened for signature and ratification.

It defined a ‘refugee’ as ‘a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race,religion,nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,is unwilling or unable to avail himself for the protection of that country:or, who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.’ A refugee cannot be returned or sent to a country where he or she may be persecuted.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 5:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Refugees and armed conflict

On October 6 the United Nations head of refugee relief, Antonio Guterres, warned  governments that continuing conflicts, notably in Afghanistan and Africa are creating a near-permanent refugee burden.

About 1.7 million Afghan refugees are still in Pakistan, another million in Iran while more are dispersed in other countries but about 5 million have returned voluntarily since 2002. The number of Somali refugees abroad rose from 440,000 to 678,000 by the end of 2009. Another 1.5 million Somalis were displaced inside the country.

Democracy, world-wide, is under strain in dealing with this problem. The present situation is extremely troubling. As The Guardian reports:

“…in the Netherlands Geert Wilders Freedom Party goes from strength to strength with his anti-Islam campaign, paralysing Dutch governance. In Austria, the extreme right leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, is running for Mayor … and, although likely to lose is expected to take 20% of the vote; in Hungary, the radical right wing Jobbik has gained a parliamentary foothold and is demanding permanent, guarded internment camp for Gypsies. In Italy the anti-immigration Northern League of Umberto Bossi is in government and is the country’s fastest growing Party. In Germany, interestingly, the extreme right has failed to make inroads but the political sensation of the summer was the best-seller by a former Berlin banker, Thilo Sarazzin in which the principal claim is that the country is digging its own grave by admitting waves of immigrants. But the greatest surprise of all is Sweden which has long seemed an oasis of openness, with the most generous welfare, asylum and immigration policies in Europe. But with about 100,000 immigrants entering the country (pop. 9  million) each year, the mood is changing – reflected in the relative success of Jimmie Akesson’s far right Sweden Democrats Party. In the high rise suburb of Almgarden one in three voted Sweden Democrats and in working class Malmo, the vast majority switched from the Social Democrats in this year’s election. The result led Jimmie Akesson to declare, “We’re in”. The trend is worrying but should not be overstated as overall, his Party received only 6% of the vote.”

Published in: Uncategorized on October 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm  Comments (1)