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Anti-War and Peace Movements

Melbourne's liberal Protestantism made it the centre of the Australian peace movement throughout the 20th century. The movement brought together pacifists and many with labour and socialist sympathies who advocate arbitration as a substitute for war.

Australia's first peace organisation, the Melbourne Peace and Humanity Society (PHS), was formed in May 1900 by Dr Charles Strong, the Reverend Laurence Rentoul and H.B. Higgins. By 1914, several organisations shared this commitment: local branches of the London Peace Society (formed in 1905), the Australian Freedom League (AFL), the Women's Political Association (WPA), the Political Labor Council, and the Victorian Socialist Party (VSP), all argued against militarism. Both the Socialist and Labor Call carried articles from English and American pacifists such as Norman Angell and George Kirkpatrick, as well as local activists William Wallis and Frank Anstey (MHR, Bourke), and protested against the treatment of conscientious objectors to 'boy conscription'. On the motion of John Curtin and R. Thorne, the Victorian Trades Hall Council (THC) declared its opposition to war early in 1914.

Soon after the outbreak of World War I, Melbourne's pacifists, led by the VSP, formed the Australian Peace Alliance (APA), which provided an organisational base for its affiliated societies in their opposition to the censorship of peace literature and other anti-war work. The Alliance brought together a small number of radical liberals, ministers of religion, freethinkers and Quakers from the Peace Society, and some members of the recently disbanded AFL, and in 1915 gained the affiliation of a new middle-class women's group, the Sisterhood of International Peace (SIP), established by Charles and Janet Strong in March 1915. The THC decided unanimously at its first meeting after the declaration of war to affiliate, while the Women's Peace Army (WPA), after a divisive debate, joined later. Most of the Alliance's membership leaned to the Left and its influence on trade union and Australian Labor Party (ALP) policy in Victoria was, by 1916, very marked. Arguing for a more democratic and participatory foreign policy, the APA grew from an initial 13 societies to an affiliation of 54 in 1918, peaking at 80 by 1921.

The growing casualty lists confirmed the APA's abhorrence of war. But it was the Commonwealth Government's mid-1915 recruitment campaign that saw the rise of anti-militarist and explicitly anti-conscription groups. The WPA was formed in July by Adela Pankhurst. The Australian Socialist Party and the Socialist Labor Party, together with a small International Workers of the World group, set up an Anti-Militarist and Anti-Conscription League, with explicitly revolutionary objectives. The VSP affiliated but devoted most of its energies to the more broadly based No-Conscription Fellowship, which worked in close collaboration with the Peace Alliance to urge 'the people of Australia to resist to the utmost all attempts to foist compulsory service upon them', and called on the imperial government to declare peace terms. The closure of venues for pacifist meetings and the scapegoating of outspoken radicals and pacifists made public heroes of Adela Pankhurst, Joseph Skurrie and Fred Katz, who were defended by the new United Peace and Free Speech League. In December 1915 the Victorian Labor Party signalled its leadership of the peace movement by agreeing to pass on a VSP-Peace Alliance call for peace terms to the prime minister. All Melbourne's pacifist groups campaigned against conscription in 1916 and 1917.

Middle-class pacifists such as members of the SIP couched their pacifist objectives in the ethic and language of liberalism rather than class warfare, eschewing protests and street demonstrations in favour of lectures, study circles and drawing-room meetings. Nevertheless, Eleanor Moore, first corresponding secretary of the SIP, condemned the harsh censorship of pacifist views, and many of the women suffered ostracism. In the wake of the war, in 1920, the Sisterhood became the Australian section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), always based in Melbourne and the most enduring group in the Australian peace movement. Charles Strong's journal Peacewards, established in 1915, was the leading voice of pacifism until his death in 1942.

After the war the movement struggled to maintain its momentum. The WPA disbanded in 1919 and the APA in 1922. Though peace ideals were promoted by the League of Nations Union Melbourne branch formed in February 1921, enthusiasm was slight until the international disarmament conference of 1928 stimulated 16 Melbourne societies to form a branch of the World Disarmament Movement. Nationwide, 112 bodies had affiliated by 1930, and in 1931 WILPF collected 118 000 signatures for a worldwide disarmament declaration.

Women were the mainstay of the 1930s movement, and Melbourne was its centre. Divisions that appeared between the left-wing Movement Against War and Fascism (MAW&F), established 1933, and the Christian and humanist-liberal United Peace Council born in 1935 were resolved by a united front movement, the International Campaign for Peace (ICP), which grew out of the four-point plan endorsed at the World Peace Congress held in Brussels in 1936. The MAW&F made its greatest mark in late 1934 when Czech writer and peace activist Egon Kisch, a delegate to its anti-war congress, was designated an undesirable immigrant and initially refused the right to land.

A larger and more representative Australian Peace Congress, attended by 866 delegates and over 8000 observers, was held in Melbourne in September 1937. Despite a clear consensus that social and economic justice were basic to peace, a movement away from absolute pacifism was also discernible. Two Melbourne schoolboys reacted by founding a Peace Pledge Union in 1938 to endorse an absolute pacifism and to provide support for conscientious objectors. In the following two years, agreement about collective security and the greater evil of fascism became stronger in Melbourne's mainstream peace circles and much energy was devoted to Spanish and Chinese aid and relief. But absolute pacifists were withdrawing from the ICP and, with the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, the MAW&F re-formed as the League for Peace and Democracy, supporting a policy of non-intervention.

Apart from WILPF, the Peace Pledge Union and members of the Communist Party (CPA), there was little dissent when war was declared in September 1939. But ICP acquiescence was conditional and members turned their attention to protection of civil liberties and to insistence on a war of defence, clearly stated peace terms and preparation of conditions for negotiating a lasting peace. Hopes for peace dissipated after Dunkirk, and the IPC went into recess on 13 June 1940. When Curtin proposed limited conscription for overseas service, a No-Conscription Campaign and an Anti-Conscription Committee were initiated in Melbourne and joined by radical liberals, civil liberties leaders, Labor Party Catholics and pacifists, but both organisations had disappeared by the end of 1943. The Labor Government did, however, yield in early 1942 to Christian pacifist and civil liberties arguments protecting the rights of conscientious objectors. The remaining pacifist organisations formed the Federal Pacifist Council in June 1942, which then became the Australian section of War Resisters' International. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the assistance of WILPF and the Victorian branch of the Australian League of Women Voters, they protested against the use of atomic weapons and opposed the establishment of the Woomera range.

Apart from WILPF, postwar peace movements in Melbourne were undermined by the polarisations of the Cold War. The Australian Peace Council, founded in Melbourne in 1949, was headed by 'peace parsons' the Reverends Victor James (Unitarian), A.M. Dickie (Presbyterian) and F.J. Hartley (Methodist), and supported by the Australian Student Christian Movement and University of Melbourne academics such as Jim Cairns, but its status as a branch of the Cominform-inspired World Peace Council condemned it as a communist front. The Victorian Peace Council (VPC) sponsored the Dean of Canterbury to a peace congress in 1950 and provided the springboard for new groups such as Melbourne's Peace Quest Forum (for clergy only) in 1951, but the CPA did most of the organisational work. VPC condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 was a first step towards rehabilitation but the major turning point came with the 1959 Melbourne Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament (CICD), which attracted over 1000 delegates. The CPA's influence in the peace movement was now considerably diluted, and the VPC was dissolved in 1962. In May 1960, Australia's first Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) group was formed in Melbourne. Its young middle-class members espoused civil disobedience and until 1965 held annual Easter marches.

With the reintroduction of conscription late in 1964, CND merged into the broader Vietnam Day Committee (VDC). Melbourne was again the centre of the national protest movement. The Youth Campaign Against Conscription and the Save Our Sons movement, established in Melbourne in August 1965, were drawn into a co-ordinated protest committee by the VDC a month later and participated in marches, meetings, 'teach-ins', 'preach-ins' and public rallies. After Labor's defeat at the 1966 election, the peace movement fragmented and moderates lost the initiative. Militant resistance and non-compliance were led by the growing student New Left and, from 1968, by a new group, the Draft Resistance Movement, which was soon superseded by Students for a Democratic Society, centred at the University of Melbourne, and the Monash University Labor Club. They were gradually joined in their active non-compliance by members of the broad peace movement led by the Federal Pacifist Council and the Labour Left. Their 1969 'Don't Register Campaigns' led to many arrests under the Crimes Act, reaching a peak in 1970, when the Draft Resisters' Union concealed draft resisters in the University of Melbourne Union building.

The year 1970 also marked a transition from resistance to collective power evident in the moratorium movement. Reunified under the rubric of the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign Committees, chaired by Labor MHR Jim Cairns, Australian peace groups brought 150 000 people into the streets, more than half of them in Melbourne, on 8 May 1970. Despite the collapse of the anti-war movement after the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, the nucleus of peace organisation survived, expanding again in the late 1970s in opposition to uranium mining, nuclear proliferation, the presence of US bases, and French atomic testing in the Pacific. Ex-Labor Victorian Senator Jean Meltzer stood for the Senate as a Nuclear Disarmament Party candidate and a State branch of People for Nuclear Disarmament was formed, the main focus of which was the co-ordination of the annual Palm Sunday rallies, beginning in 1982 and reaching a peak in 1985. Other more ephemeral peace organisations emerged in Melbourne to protest against the Gulf War in 1990, inaction against Indonesia's attacks on the East Timorese, and NATO incursions into the Balkans in 1999, with the largest protests since the moratoriums occurring in 2003, opposing Australia's entry into the Iraq war.

Judith Smart