SPECIAL FEATURE: by Cardinal George Pell ACNews Weekly
B.A. Santamaria, strategist and prophet
, August 30, 2008
During a long career, B.A. ("Bob") Santamaria (1915-1998), founder of the National Civic Council, engaged in public campaigns across a wide range of issues, including national defence, trade unionism, wage justice, state aid for non-government schools, bioethics and the Catholic Church.This is the speech given by His Eminence Cardinal George Pell AC at the launch, on August 12 at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, of a collection of Santamaria's papers edited by Patrick Morgan.*Patrick Morgan's book B.A. Santamaria: Running the Show is a wonderful collection of documents, where we can read for ourselves what B.A. Santamaria was saying at various times, usually to his fellow-workers.
His long personal history is still a minefield, or rather a series of minefields, ecclesiologically, personally and politically from the 1955 split in the Labor Party to the split within the National Civic Council in the early '80s. I do not have the ambition to blunder through them! These documents constitute a precious source of information for scholars, friends and opponents.
The editor of this volume, Paddy Morgan, has written introductions to each set of documents. These introductions are deeply sympathetic to Bob Santamaria, but independent, and judicious in their evaluations.
Morgan sees Bob as a "radical Christian conservative". His concluding section, entitled "commentary" and consisting of fewer than 20 pages, is a masterpiece - honest, shrewd and perceptive.
Santamaria was a strategist as well as a prophet. He was a lawyer, with all the dexterity this can imply, who saw his organisations working at different levels, public and private, when they were not operating secretly!
Originally, he was a young man in a hurry, who at the age of 26 formed the Movement which was active across Australia, using the Catholic Church's parish structures to throw out the communist leadership, especially in the key unions, using much of their communist methodology, minus the lies and violence.
By the early 1950s, the Movement had 6,000 members in 350 districts with 100 factory and union groups. For years the topic was buried in silence. There is even gossip that the communists urged Frank Hardy to write Power Without Glory
(1950), a novel many saw as based on Melbourne businessman John Wren, because they thought Wren was behind the Movement!
I think Morgan is right in pointing out that, after the disaster of the 1955 ALP Split, Santamaria emerged as an entirely more formidable strategist and thinker, although politically he never enjoyed anything approaching the success of the early years.
I believe he always had something of the Irish-Australian Christian Brothers about him. In Victoria, many or most of his followers came through the Brothers' schools and he shared their assertiveness, their conviction that they were entitled to a place in the mainstream of Australia life, their courage and perseverance. In a 1978 talk, he paid a beautiful tribute to the Brothers, which also says a lot about himself:
"They (the Brothers) took the children of a depressed social group, men and women who were in reality quite prepared to settle for being second-class citizens in Australia as their ancestors were in the Old World; dragged them up by their own boot-straps; set their feet on the rungs of the professions, the services, the Church; and made it possible for them to contribute the best they had in them to the building of Australia.
"That was the St Kevin's achievement (Santamaria's year 12 school). It eventuated because, like every other great achievement, it is the fruit of a vision, a vision seen by the greatest Australian of his time, Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne.
"A school is not buildings. It is teachers and pupils; the interplay of the moral and intellectual quality of the teacher on the potentiality of his pupils. The role of those teachers and those pupils in the Catholic history of Melbourne was then, and remains, unique."Ostracism
After the Split, with its consequent ostracism and abuse, not only did his interests and ambitions change, but there was more of the "Italian" evident in his work and writings; more of Sturzo, Gramsci and even Machiavelli than had been needed in the earlier more brutal and simple battles for union control.
These documents show a formidable intellect at work. He wrote a great deal, and these two volumes represent only a smaller part of the total. But he was not primarily a writer or commentator; he was an activist, an organiser, a "doer".
Lenin's question, "What is to be done?", was a recurring one for him, which he regularly answered in practice as well as theory. In turn, he headed five organisations - Catholic Action, the National Catholic Rural Movement, the Land Settlement Scheme, the Movement and the National Civic Council - across nearly 60 years.
His first interests had been in the struggle against communism in the unions and in agrarian reform, which the then Governor-General Sir William McKell scathingly rejected as a proposal for "a sheep, a goat, three acres and a migrant"!
Obviously, there was more to it than that, but the two settlements in Gippsland and near Wagga did not prosper. Bob's interests then turned to the struggle against communism's expansion in South-East Asia and a more general battle with the corrosive forces of liberalism, embodied in the policies of men like Labor's Lionel Murphy. Later still, he tried unsuccessfully to found a new political party.Culture wars
He recognised the importance of the "culture wars" (to use a later terminology) in the universities as a new front-line struggle, and recognised too the crucial struggle within the Catholic Church between those who accepted the Second Vatican Council and those who wanted to use it as a springboard for what he called the "wildest eccentricities" by appealing to the "spirit of Vatican II".
He was scathing about the effects of liberal scriptural studies in the Protestant churches and resisted their spread into the Catholic communities. So, too, he clearly saw the damage done to traditional Catholic morality, especially sexual morality, by appeals to personal conscience.
He was not an enthusiast for US Democrat President Jimmy Carter or the Vatican's Ostpolitik
, i.e., opening up to communism, under Pope Paul VI. I remember a rather cynical priest friend of mine pointing out that, until 1978 and the election of Pope John Paul II, Bob went from quoting Pius XII to quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
These changing interests, his identification of new challenges, often bewildered some of his allies who felt they had been passed by, and his opponents regularly ignored them, preferring to paint him as an immobile figure from the past, an obscurantist and medievalist.
He began his leadership role as a very young layman when the Catholic Church was overwhelmingly clericalist, although Pius XI was a champion of lay "Catholic Action". It was the good judgement of Archbishop Mannix, who not only gave Santamaria room to move but fostered and backed his leadership.
We often forget today how strong the Australian communists were in the 1940s in the unions, how they opposed the World War II efforts, sometimes even after Russia became our ally after the 1941 Nazi invasion.
In 1945, the Communist Party still had a majority of 90 votes at the Australian Congress of Trade Unions (ACTU) congress. Only the Catholic communities were able to produce thousands of working-class unionists dedicated enough to work to throw them out. We owe the Groupers (as these Industrial Groups were called) a lot, and the comprehensiveness of their victory should not blind us to the years of dour struggle that were needed.
As an ignorant teenager, in a family whose father had always voted Liberal and whose mother had been a Labor supporter, I remember being shocked by the rout of the Anti-Communist Labor candidates in the Victorian state elections of May 1955. I had naively expected many of them to be elected.
With the passing of the years, I always retained a substantial sympathy with Bob's political positions, but I became increasingly convinced that his reading of the cultural challenges to Christian belief was correct and that he was also right about the struggle taking place within the Catholic Church, even when he stated this in a somewhat old-fashioned way.
I also came to see that he was one of the few people in Australia who might be able to do something to reverse the decline - or, more correctly, that he was already working to shore up the Church. The founding of the monthly journal of religious opinion AD2000
in 1988 represented a significant advance in this struggle.
Bob Santamaria was a pessimist. He was attracted to "crisis situations", some of which he tried to provoke through pre-emptive strikes, and he did have an "urgent apocalyptic tone" on occasions, to quote his editor on all three points.Defeated
But he was right about communism and right to oppose it. It was good that he saw it defeated in Europe and Russia, while effectively disappearing, even in Vietnam and China.
He was also right about the Church, with his viewpoint vindicated substantially by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. This is not to claim that the forces of orthodoxy have prevailed in the Western world, but the ball is still in play. While no gains are permanent, the situation in many places, especially in the United States, is healthier than 10 or 20 years ago.
I remember reading or hearing that Bob explained once that he did what he did because Archbishop Mannix asked him! I knew there was more to it than that. These papers reveal his fundamentally religious motivation.
He used to quote French theologian and historian Cardinal Jean Daniélou that "history is the unfolding of God's plan for man", and in 1953 he explained the Movement's success in the unions in these terms: "It is true that normally He [God] acts through men, that therefore someone had to be chosen, and that, in those critical years, we were chosen."
Twenty years later, in 1973, the tone is different as he quoted Machiavelli's claim that every struggle was decided by fortuna
(fate or destiny) and virtù
(inner strength). He ruefully claimed that on three occasions (the 1954 ALP federal executive meeting, the talks in the 1960s to heal the ALP-DLP split, and in the proposed DLP-Country Party merger) he lost by one vote."Creative minorities"
He knew that the wheel of history turns unexpectedly and that the future is moulded, not by apathetic majorities, but by what Arnold Toynbee called "creative minorities", provided they are not too feeble to act.
He wrote, "The law of Faith is not that 'God is on our side', but that so long as we try to be on God's side we can never finally be defeated."
He concluded, "Those who are prepared to bear the burden may never see the victory. Like Mother Teresa and her companions, they are the victory. Their vision, their courage, their uncompromising faith will transform the world."
I commend this selection of documents which reveal the mind and activities of a distinguished 20th-century Australian who made a remarkable political, religious and cultural contribution to our nation and to the Catholic Church.
Bob Santamaria has been ably served by his editor Patrick Morgan in the selection and organisation of the contents and by the editor's incisive commentary. I hope it finds a wide and sympathetic readership.
* BOOK DETAILS:
B.A. SANTAMARIA: RUNNING THE SHOW: Selected Documents 1939-1996
edited by Patrick Morgan
(Melbourne University Press)
Hardback: 520 pages
Rec. price: $59.95