When I saw that Joseph Earp had written a piece for VICE on the Australian Vietnam war protests I knew I had to take a look. Joseph is after all the fella who wrote an entire article for “Brag” magazine calling Australian patriotism a “terrible intoxicating lie” and white Australians racist, sexist, homophobic genocidal cultural philistines. I knew when I opened the piece I was in for an entertaining (if deluded) piece of leftist pseudo-history.
And boy was I right.
The entire piece centres on the person of Rowan Cahill, presenting him as a brave and lonely early voice against the evil of the war in Vietnam. Joseph paints Rowan as a man overcome by moral revulsion at an unjust war, unfairly persecuted by ASIO just for speaking his mind.
Which is a truly astonishing take considering that Rowan Cahill is one of the preeminent Marxist chroniclers of the history of Marxism in the Australian union movement alive today. I mean the guy is actually quite famous for being a Marxist and writing Marxian things about the history of Marxism. For those unfamiliar with this area of Australian history it is only a Google search away.
I don’t expect that this fact was unknown to Joseph when he wrote the piece. This is the same guy after all who wrote a glowing review endorsing the Marxist book for promoting Marxism to young people written by Socialist Alternative supporting Marxist journalist Helen Razer. I did enjoy the part where about eight paragraphs in he managed to lightly skip over the fact that the early Vietnam protests were organised by a fringe group of “young Communists and leftists” which suggests he understood just how big a lie about Australian history he was attempting to pull off here.
Rowan Cahill wasn’t just a Communist, he was a member of the editorial board of Australian Left Review (ALR), a bi-monthly journal of Marxist theory and practice published by the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Rowan was no disinterested outsider in the cold war, he had been entrusted by the then Stalinist aligned CPA to help formulate what propaganda would be used to indoctrinate their members and recruits. In his own writings Cahill recalls attending a secret party meeting of the CPA leadership at the party training camp at Minto just outside Sydney to help formulate the ALR editorial line. The CPA leadership had selected Cahill for this position at least in part due to a monograph on emerging currents in the wider Australian extreme left that he had published with the Australian Marxist Research Foundation. Cahill and other up and coming Marxists Laurie Carmichael, Alastair Davidson, Bernie Taft and Doug Kirsner had been tasked with quietly finding an ideological path for the CPA more independent of Moscow than had traditionally been the case.
In other words ASIO sure as hell wasn’t taking photographs of him just for going to a few protests.
It’s one of the better kept secrets of Australian history that until probably about 1968-1969 the anti-Vietnam war movement in Australia was dominated by Marxists, different factions of whom were furiously competing with each other for control. In Sydney the old CPA was firmly in charge. After the failures of the Queensland Rail Strike and their attempt to directly confront Ben Chifley during the 1949 Coal strike (as well as the closely fought 1951 referendum on banning them altogether) the CPA had retreated into those institutions and front groups it knew could sustain it. One of the more vital of these were the University Labor clubs. Sydney University Labor club in particular had been under the control of the CPA since 1944. These groups and associated “peace societies” formed the basis of the early Vietnam protests. The CPA and its Maoist offshoot the CPA-ML after all had a deep interest in promoting the Vietnamese side of the war and weakening Australian resolve. Both Maoist China and the Soviet Union were at different times supporting and supplying the North Vietnamese government with the very arms being used against Australian soldiers. Australian Communists of all stripes had absolutely no doubts about on which side of this particular fight their loyalties lay, and it wasn’t ours.
In 1971 the CPA split. The internal reform efforts that had begun with those tentative steps Cahill had witnessed in that meeting in Minto came out in the open when the more pro-Stalin members of the party were unable to countenance any further deviation from what they considered to be the true light of the international workers revolution. Almost a thousand members walked out and created the pro-Stalinist Socialist Party of Australia (SPA). Among the splitters were the devoutly pro-Stalin parents of future Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon who would raise their daughter to love the Soviet Union with all the same fervour as themselves. Strangely enough considering that he had been brought into the ALR as part of the move towards reform Cahill sided not with the young up and coming new generation but with the Stalinists. He had been employed in 1970 by the Seamen’s Union of Australia (SUA) to compile a written history of the organisation and had fallen under the sway of the grand old Stalinist strongman of that union E.V. Elliott.
So not only did Joseph Earp in his VICE article manage to deliberately not mention that the man he was presenting as an “outlaw” rebel hero fighting the unjust war in Vietnam was a follower of the same ideology of the enemy Australian troops were fighting, but he also failed to mention that he was also a loyal adherent to the memory of one of history’s greatest mass murderers.
That is pretty good even for VICE I have to say. I’m actually quietly impressed with the sheer brazen mendacity of it.
Its also a little poignant that Joseph chose to tell such stunning lies of omission about Cahill rather than picking any number of other figures he could have chosen. Cahill and his compatriots at the ALR were instrumental in the late 1960s in introducing the thoughts of Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci into the bloodstream of Australian far left thought. One of the most influential of Gramsci’s ideas was that of “Cultural Hegemony”, theorizing that Communists could never take control of a society until they had control of those institutions that help ordinary people decide what is “normal” and what is not.
The fact that Australia hating toe-rags like Joseph Earp feel so free to burnish the credentials of Stalinists like Cahill and present them as heroes for siding with the enemy in a war over 500 Australians died fighting in shows exactly how far towards normal these extremists have come.