LABOR HISTORY: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Bob Carr blasts Dr Evatt over 1950s Labor Split
, November 26, 2011
The former NSW Premier and well-known Labor historian, Bob Carr, has launched a trenchant attack on Dr H.V. Evatt, the Labor Party’s federal leader in the 1950s, blaming him for launching the Split in the Labor Party which kept the party out of office federally for nearly 20 years.
Bob Carr served as Labor Premier of Australia’s largest state from 1995 to 2005, and is the longest-serving premier of New South Wales.
Carr’s comments are significant because Dr Evatt was lionised by the left after the Labor Split, and even today there are a number of memorials to him, including the Evatt Foundation, established in 1979, which calls itself “the Australian labour movement’s leading policy research centre”; a suburb in Canberra; the H.V. Evatt Library in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra; as well as parks and meeting rooms in different states around Australia.
This is remarkable for a man who split his own party to entrench his control over it, and never succeeded in his ambition to become Prime Minister of Australia.
Evatt made himself the central figure in the Petrov Affair, the Royal Commission which was conducted after the defection of a Soviet agent, Vladimir Petrov and his wife in 1954.
Evatt denounced the Royal Commission as a conspiracy against him by the then Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
He defended Communist Party members named in documents which Petrov brought from the Soviet Embassy in Canberra, and in Federal Parliament, tabled a letter he had received from Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov reassuring him that the Soviet Union had no spies in Australia!
Not surprisingly, many of his Labor colleagues were aghast at his behaviour, and some called for him to step down as federal ALP leader.
It was in the midst of these events that he launched a public attack not only on the ALP Industrial Groups, which had been established in the 1940s to oppose Communist Party operatives in the trade union movement, but more broadly, on anti-communists in the ALP.
Evatt singled out the Catholic Social Studies Movement (the Movement), together with its founder, B.A. “Bob” Santamaria, which had strongly supported the Industrial Groups.
He then had the anti-communists expelled from the Labor Party, prompting the formation of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) which today has one Senator, John Madigan, in the Australian Parliament.
The recent comments on Dr Evatt appeared in Bob Carr’s web blog, where he was reviewing two books, one a biography of the formidable member of the Canberra Press Gallery, Alan Reid, and the other, The Family File, written by Mark Aarons, which is a history of his family — the leading communist family in Australia — taken from the files of ASIO.
Carr informs us: “Reid wrote three books but none on the affair that clinched his journalistic reputation, the Labor split of 1954-7. It was Reid in The [Sydney] Sun who had unveiled B.A. Santamaria, the leader of the so-called Movement, which was mobilising within the unions and party — luridly unveiled him: ‘…in the tense melodrama of politics there are mysterious figures who stand virtually unnoticed in the wings, invisible to all but a few in the audience, as they cue, Svengali-like … the actors on the stage’.
“Reid was fond of the John Curtin–Ben Chifley era of Labor leadership and hostile to Santamaria whom he portrayed as an ‘exotic’ force. He even advised H.V. Evatt on his 1954 statement attacking the Santamaria forces. The statement provoked The Split and was entirely unnecessary as Santamaria’s influence was containable and, as leader, Evatt should have been able to straddle his party’s factions as indeed Curtin and Chifley had done.”
Carr added, “Reid recoiled from ‘the Doc’ as the flailing Evatt resorted to anti-Catholic sectarianism — as reflected in this exchange with Reid, patched together from Reid’s oral history:
“Evatt: Alan, you’ve left me.… You’re anti-Santamaria but you’re not with me in this campaign.… I’ll tell you something Alan, for every Catholic vote I’ll lose I will get two Protestant votes.
“Reid: You’re out of your cotton-picking mind, Doc.”
Bob Carr added that in the biography the authors Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt referred to Evatt’s “rapprochement with Communists and fellow-travellers in the broader labour movement”.
Carr remarked: “This is a good insight, the key to Evatt’s position through the Split. This rapprochement or accommodation with a pro-Communist Left was documented by Reid in story after story, especially after he joined The Telegraph.”
Bob Carr went on to say that Alan Reid would not have been surprised by the revelations contained in Mark Aarons’ book, that the Communist Party of Australia had been directly financed by the Soviet Union, and that its leading operatives had betrayed their country by giving intelligence information to the Soviet Union.