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Student Archival Essays
- Australia and the Interwar Internationalism Movement
- In her study of the League of Nations Union in Britain, Helen McCarthy argues that “the League of Nations inspired a rich and participatory culture of political unrest, popular education and civic ritual." Was the same true in Australia?
- Interwar Internationalism: Refugees
- A Broad Unity for Peace: An historical examination of the International Peace Campaign’s Australian Peace Congress, 16th – 19th September, 1937
- Interwar Feminism in Australia and the League of Nations
- What were the primary factors in the failure of the League of Nations Union in Australia to create what Helen McCarthy terms a ‘rich and participatory culture of political protest, popular education and civic ritual’?
- Analyze how the ‘Myth of Collective Security’ was cultivated and evolved in Britain, compared to Australia by the LNU
- The League in Nations: the Effects of Identity
- Paths to Peace: A comparison of the voluntary peace groups in Britain and Australia
- The League of Nations: Lessons and Legacy
A Broad Unity for Peace: An historical examination of the International Peace Campaign’s Australian Peace Congress, 16th – 19th September, 1937
by Felicity Gent
Labor's Case Against War and Fascism Pamphlet
Letters, Secretary, Aboriginal Fellowship Group and Assistant Secretary, International Peace Campaign
News Sheet of the League of Nations, November 1937
For an organisation whose creation in 1919 held great promise, the 1930s presented significantly troubling times for the League of Nations.1 Though criticisms of the League grew increasingly intense during this decade, hope for its success persisted and support for its ideals remained. Organisations such as the International Peace Campaign (IPC) fostered this support strongly. The IPC recognised that the best mechanism to attain international peace was to mobilise widespread desire for the League of Nations and support for its activities. In Australia, the work of the IPC found considerable success amongst a population that was inspired by its calls to work towards global peace. By examining the Victorian Branch records of the IPC, including correspondence and related media material, this essay brings new insight to the Australian Peace Congress, held at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne from the 16th to 19th September, 1937. In particular, the essay examines how the Congress illustrates contemporary Australian attitudes towards the League of Nation and the notion of international peace. The Congress brought together a diverse range of organisations and interests, and demonstrated the breadth of support within Australia for the League and international peace more broadly. The Congress, however, was not without resistance and scepticism; criticism of more divisive principles of the League, such as collective security and rearmament, were evident in some attitudes towards the Congress. Nonetheless, the Congress was able to successfully mobilise different groups towards action for peace, illustrative of the willingness of many sections of Australian society to support movements for international peace.
The formation of the International Peace Campaign, and its establishment in Australia, reflected a broad and persistent determination for international peace, despite the challenges faced by the League of Nations. Initially, the League was heralded as a critical mechanism to prevent wars and violence, though throughout the 1930s it was subjected to increasing criticism.2 International developments such as Japanese aggression against China in 1931 and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 prompted claims of the League’s failure.3 Indeed, such sentiments were voiced in Australia as elsewhere; an article in the Brisbane Worker in March 1937 criticised those who believed in the value of the League as having ‘a long series of empty breakfasts on hope.’4 In Britain, broader public sentiment nonetheless largely supportive of an internationalist and democratic League of Nations. In this context, the International Peace Campaign was established by Lord Robert Cecil in Britain in 1936.
The IPC sought to bring together all people working toward peace regardless of their individual systems and principles.5 It thus aspired to function primarily as an ‘umbrella organisation’, bringing together governmental, non-governmental and intergovernmental groups that equally believed in international peace and peace education.6 At its core, the IPC championed a four- point programme, centred around support for the League of Nations and its concepts of treaty obligations, armaments reduction and control, international negotiation and cooperation, and collective security.7 In this way, the IPC served to provide the popular support that Cecil considered the ‘ultimate safeguard of collective security.’8 The IPC’s four principles clearly echoed the Charter of the League; dedication to the cause of peace and security through respect of treaty obligations and international cooperation were key to the League’s ‘Two Main Purposes’ of ‘[achieving] international peace and security…and [promoting] co-operation…between the nations of the world.’9 As a first action to attract the international participation it desired, the The IPC organised a World Peace Congress, held in Brussels in 1936 to establish support for the movement. The Brussels Congress was attended by 5000 delegates from 40 countries, and subsequently prompted multiple national and regional congresses around the world serving to reach and mobilise populations.10.
Prompted by the Brussels Congress, the IPC first established state councils in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland in 1936. Like the bigger international movement, the Australian branches sought to establish support through organising a national council. In terms of its scale and spectacle, the Australian Peace Congress was an ambitious and ultimately impressive event. A key purpose of the Congress was to secure Australia’s position in the growing international movement. Importantly, the Congress served as ‘Australia’s first united response to the call of the World Peace Congress for action.’11 Alongside a series of notable Australian speakers, the Congress was attended by British MP Arthur Henderson as a representative of the IPC’s global headquarters in Geneva; Henderson’s presence provided a powerful link to the global movement and served to counter claims Congress’s futility by its sceptics.12 The scale of attendance attested to the extent of interest and support for international peace in Australia; thousands of people attended the Australian Congress’ events, including 866 registered delegates who participated in the various Commissions.13 The seven Commissions, established to focus discussions between groups with similar interests, included ones on the church, economics, education, women, trades unions and youth.14 Though Congresses in other countries were of a similar scale, the Australian one was notable for overcoming concerns by organisers that it would not attract much interest because of problems of distance for delegates to travel and financing.15 In total, 113 organisations were represented at the Congress; the significance of this size is evident in comparison to reports of other National and Regional Congresses in the IPC’s journal, Peace Campaign; a Scandinavian Congress, held in Stockholm in July 1937 attracted 42 organisations in total.16 Indeed, Henderson noted the significance of this in his opening speech at the Congress, stating that the huge audience proved incorrect claims that Australians were apathetic about international affairs.17 The Congress sought also to make an impression upon the people of Melbourne and Australia through public exhibition of its size and success. Henderson’s address was broadcast by radio, and reported in various newspapers to spread his message.18 Further, the program culminated on the Sunday with great spectacle with a peace procession through the streets of Melbourne and a Peace Pageant.19 The Australian Peace Congress thus served to powerfully establish support and a reputation for the IPC in Australia.
Beyond just the size of its attendance, however, the IPC actively sought to unify a diverse range of public organisations towards peace efforts at the Congress. This particular focus was proclaimed by banners hung in the Exhibition Building during the Congress which proclaimed “public opinion can build a strong League of Nations,” a clear echo of Cecil’s belief of the power of popular support. The IPC’s process of arrangement and advertisement of the Congress evidenced particular attention to this priority of broad representation. In its correspondences prior to the Congress, the Victorian branch of the IPC engaged with a wide range of groups, including churches, women’s groups, trade unions, political parties and other peace organisations.20 Specific organisations and sections of the population were targeted through leaflets that emphasising the particular benefits of world peace for each of their interests . One such leaflet, entitled ‘Trade Unionists and World Peace’ listed trade unions abroad and in Australia already in support of the IPC, and called upon Australian trade unionists to be ‘foremost in this great movement to save Australia and the world from the terrors of a new world war.’21 Similarly, circulars sought to invite groups to register delegates for the Congress’ Commissions. One such pamphlet issued to Agricultural groups, highlighting the economic impact of war on the agronomic sector, stating that ‘Agricultural workers have much to lose from war, and nothing to gain.’22 Another circular to churches listed leading church officials already registered for the Congress, and called upon minsters to support the IPC through holding a special Peace Service and making announcements about the Congress.23 More broadly, the IPC sought to engage the wider public by setting up Peace Shops throughout Melbourne, selling literature and peace posters is preparation for the Congress.24 Reflecting on the Congress, Chairman Judge Foster proclaimed the IPC’s success in achieving this goal, suggesting that ‘in some form or other nearly every section of the people were represented’.25
The breadth of ideas represented at the Congress went further than the efforts made by the IPC; the willingness of different groups to cooperate despite different principles reflected a widespread attitude of support for international peace through the League of Nations. In its desire to unify such a broad range of interests, the IPC naturally brought together groups with competing views regarding the best avenues for peace. Such divergences in views were evident even within members from similar backgrounds. The report from the Congress’ Church Commission reflected upon the fact that among Christian people views ranged from absolute opposition to armed force, to a belief in a justifiable use of it as an instrument of international ‘in certain restricted circumstances’.26 Nonetheless, the principle of peace evidently inspired compromise and concession amongst divergent views. The conditions of participation of particular individuals is telling of this priority. A letter from the World Peace Campaign (WPC)’s New South Wales section, an organisation assisting the IPC in achieving the ‘national character’ desired for the Congress by inviting ‘prominent people’, elucidated the priorities of one such delegate, Dr. Bean. In the correspondence, the WPC advised that Dr. Bean was “not prepared, under the present circumstances, to oppose re-armament…believing that, alas, as things are, it offers the only chance of peace and freedom, and should be supported.”27 Regardless of the contradiction between Dr Bean’s view of re-armament, and the IPC’s four- point programme, his intention to attend and participate in the Congress suggests a broader support for the idea of peace. Another notable concession was recognised by the Age which reported that the Anglican Synod sent it greetings and support to the Congress, even though it was acknowledged that Communist interests, in direct contention with the priorities of the church, would be represented at the event.28 Interestingly, this tension paralleled an issue faced by the IPC’s efforts in Britain; the IPC’s association with Communists was a considerable issue to more conservative Labour Party leaders. For some, this was reconciled by an emphasis on the ‘non-political’ nature of the campaign and, like the Anglican Synod in Australia they nonetheless agreed to support the IPC. In contrast, however, three key British Labour leaders who ‘would have been the logical allies of the campaign’ otherwise, did not engage because of the Communist association.29 The evident plurality of views and attitudes towards the best principles of peace at the Australian Peace Congress demonstrated a common commitment to the broader idea of peace amongst many delegates.
In spite of the determined efforts to make the Congress broadly inclusive, and the willingness of some to make concessions, however, there remained some persistent resistance and criticisms that primarily centred around specific and politically sensitive principles of the IPC’s four-point programme and the League of Nations. Notably absent from the Congress that sought such wide representation were delegates of the Australian Labor Party. Letters to the IPC Executive from the ALP’s Victorian Central Executive, and leader of the Victorian Labor Party Thomas Tunnecliffe both declined the invitation to participate in the Congress, citing the conflict between the principles of the four-point programme and the ALP’s ‘Defence Platform’. Tunnecliffe characterised the IPC’s support of collective security as ‘the stumbling block’ for the Australian Labor Party, which considered itself ‘a peace loving Movement’ to participate in the Congress.30 For the Labor Party, the problem of collective security lay in its acceptance of conflict under specific circumstances. More broadly, the notion of collective security was also criticised for its evident failure in the early 1930s; the League’s failure to prevent or ameliorate Japanese aggression against China was seen by critics as evidence of the shortcomings of the principle as a safeguard for peace.31 Notably, the IPC’s emphatic support for these more divisive aspects of the League diverged from the approach of organisations such as the League of Nations Union in Britain. The LNU was characterised by an ‘ideological flexibility’ that purposefully focused on broader ideas such as the prospects of disarmament and negotiations; through this, the LNU was able to attract much stronger support from groups that saw themselves as pacifically minded, such as the British Labour party church groups.32 Such limitations of the Congress’ appeal are illustrative of persistent issues of contention regarding international peace during the period. Issues such as the legitimacy of collective security and rearmament were prominent as the League encountered troubles during the 1930s. In this way, reactions to these more divisive aspects of the IPC’s rhetoric reflected broader disagreements over the best course for international peace during the interwar period.
Nonetheless, despite contentious elements of the IPC’s principles, the Australian National Congress was successful in inspiring purposeful resolutions for action amongst its delegates. Naturally, The IPC’s Report on the Congress hailed the event a lasting success, but these sentiments were broadly shared in immediate reflections on the event.33 The Spectator Magazine declared that ‘In terms of time, the first Australian Peace Congress has come and gone; in terms of influence, it has just begun.’34 The resolutions of each of the committees were central to the ‘constructive outlook’ of the Congress.35 Specifically, the ability of each of the Commissions to translate the ideas of such diverse representatives into clear plans for the future was a considerable achievement. Reflecting the range of interests represented at the Congress, its Resolutions addressed a wide range of areas in which the IPC’s peace priorities could be furthered. The Church Commission resolved to introduce an Annual Peace Sunday and called for the discouragement of military training in public and Church schools.36 The Trade Union Commission proposed that the Trade Union Movement boycott products from aggressor nations, naming Italy, German and Japan. Most notably, the General Commission agreed to strengthen the IPC’s basis in Australia through the establishment of national council of the IPC to coordinate further national peace movements.37 These resolutions, in their desire to continue the ideas discussed at the Congress, represented both the event’s success in inspiring participation and the dedication of its delegates to the cause of peace.
The Australian Peace Congress brought together a wide range of Australian interests in support of the International Peace Campaign’s global effort towards peace. Seeking to mobilise public support for the stumbling League of Nations, the IPC found an attentive audience in Australia. The strength of support for the Congress and the IPC’s principles more broadly was evident in the variety and number delegates that attended. The breadth of groups represented at the Congress was in part due to the conscious efforts of the IPC to give the Congress a diverse character to maximise its reach. However, it was also reflective of widespread consciousness of the importance of support for and public efforts towards peace movements in Australia. Significantly, this willingness defied common conceptions of Australians as isolated and disinterested in international affairs. On the contrary, Australia’s engagement with the Congress was illustrative of the universality of the matter of international peace and security during the interwar period. Certainly, the IPC did not unify all interests, and its explicit support of aspects of the League that were increasingly divisive, such as the notion of collective security, lost it some support. However, in the impressive support it did attract, and the spirit it produced of purposeful actions towards peace throughout different groups in society, the Australian Peace Congress reflected and fostered a society determined to secure peace.
1 Martyn Housden, The League of Nations and the Organisation of Peace (New York: Routledge, 2014) p. 278.
2 Raymond Watt, ‘“The League of Nations”: Has It Failed? What of Its Future?’, The Australian Quarterly 5, no. 20 (1933), 99.
3 Watt, ‘“The League of Nations”’, 100; Housden, The League of Nations and the Organisation of Peace, 16-17.
4 'THAT "LEAGUE OF NATIONS".', Worker (Brisbane, Qld.: 1890 - 1955), 30 March 1937, p. 9, viewed 3 October, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71270597
6 Elly Hermon, ‘Peace Education Between the World Wars: An Historical Overview of the Origins of the Organized Transnational Peace Education Movement’, Peace Research 19, no. 2 (1987), 5; Helen McCarthy, The British People and the League of Nations: Democracy, Citizenship and Internationalism,c.1918-1948, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011), 216.
7 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Trade Unionists and World Peace, 1937; McCarthy, TheBritish People and the League of Nations, 216.
8 Susan Pedersen, ‘Back to the League of Nations’, The American Historical Review 112, no. 4 (2007), 1096.
9 ‘The Covenant of the League of Nations’, in The Aims and Organisation of the League of Nations (Geneva: Secretariat of the League of Nations, 1929), 15.
10 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, International Peace Campaign Australian Peace Congress, 1937; UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 5, 5/1, Peace Campaign – Official Journal of theAustralian Peace Campaign, April – May 1937, 2.
11 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Australian Peace Congress Programme, 1937.
12 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, ‘The Australian Peace Congress’ The Spectator, 22 September 1937, p. 758.
13 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Enrolments, 1937.
14 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Australian Peace Congress Programme, 1937.
15 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 5, 5/1, Peace Campaign – Official Journal of the AustralianPeace Campaign, April – May 1937, 9; UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, ‘The Australian Peace Congress’ The Spectator, 22 September 1937, p. 758.
16 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Enrolments, 1937; UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 5, 5/1, Peace Campaign – Official Journal of the Australian Peace Campaign, April – May 1937, 8. 17 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Report of Australian Peace Congress held in Melbourne, 16th-19th September, 1937, 1937, 8.
18 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Report of Australian Peace Congress held in Melbourne,16th-19th September, 1937, 1937, 4.
19 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Australian Peace Congress Programme, 1937.
20 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/8, Letters to IPC Victorian Branch, 1937.
21 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Trade Unionists and World Peace, 1937
22 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/8, Circular Letter to Agricultural Groups, 1937.
24 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/8, Preparations for Australian Peace Congress Peace Shops and Commissions, 1937.
25 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Report of Australian Peace Congress held in Melbourne, 16th-19th September, 1937, 1937, 6.
26 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Report of Australian Peace Congress held in Melbourne,16th-19th September, 1937, 1937, 15.
28 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, ‘Mr. Henderson Here for Peace Congress’ Newspaper clipping, September 16 1937.
29 Donald Birn, ‘The League of Nations Union and Collective Security’, Journal of Contemporary History 9, no. 3 (1974), 151.
30 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/8, Letter from Mr T. Tuncliffe to Mrs D. Gibson (International Peace Campaign), 10 September 1937.
31 Raymond Watt, ‘“The League of Nations”: Has It Failed? What of Its Future?’, The AustralianQuarterly 5, no. 20 (1933), 100.
32 McCarthy, The British People and the League of Nations, 3.
33 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Report of Australian Peace Congress held in Melbourne, 16th-19th September, 1937, 1937, 7.
34 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, ‘The Australian Peace Congress’ The Spectator, 22 September 1937, p. 758.
35 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Report of Australian Peace Congress held in Melbourne,16th-19th September, 1937, 1937, 5.
36 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Report of Australian Peace Congress held in Melbourne, 16th-19th September, 1937, 1937, 15.
37 UMA, IPC Collection, 1981.0087, Box 3, 3/7, Report of Australian Peace Congress held in Melbourne,16th-19th September, 1937, 1937, 14.