Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'The Show: Another side of Santamaria’s movement' by Mark Aarons and John Grenville

The Movement was a secret organisation which radically reduced the power of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) within the union movement during the 1940s and 1950s. Initiated by B.A. Santamaria, the Movement was very active in several Australian states and worked with the general knowledge and approval of key Catholic Church bishops. The Movement (or the Show) ultimately aimed to steer the Australian Labor Party (ALP) towards Catholic political aims. The ALP split in the mid to late 1950s was partly the result of the sectarian tensions exacerbated by the Movement’s activities. Following pressure from the Vatican, the Movement’s formal links with the Catholic church ended in late 1957. The Movement’s work continued with the creation of the National Civic Council (NCC), although as the decades progressed, its relevance and impact on Australian public life gradually faded.

Mark Aarons (with John Grenville) has produced an intriguing new study of Santamaria’s Movement, based on careful study of archival sources and the information and insights of labour movement figures and Santamaria associates. The focus of the study is less on Santamaria’s ideas and policies, and more on the Movement’s strategies for weakening the grip of CPA members on the labour movement, with some emphasis on the election of union officials. As the authors skilfully detail, in working to defeat communist influence in the industrial arena, the Movement gathered much intelligence (some dubious) on CPA figures which was shared with official intelligence agencies such as ASIO.

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