Peace Campaigns of the 1930s

Two streams of the Australian peace movement, which worked together in a loose alliance, were active from the 1930s: one from among Christians, many pacifist, and the other comprised of bodies such as the League of Nations Union (LNU). Activists in the Victorian Council Against War and Fascism (VCAWF) dedicated themselves to victory over the fascist nations as a first step to a lasting peace. The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) played an active role in the anti-fascist movement, though it does not appear to have exerted quite the degree influence over the broader peace movement as has been supposed in many extant works. Eleanor Moore, a long time peace activist, thus argued that ‘the greater part of the brains and conscience of the quest for peace in Australia has been supplied by the clergy’. Because they found attitudes to their peace activity inside the established church unsatisfactory it was ‘easier to work with outsiders than with most of the members of their own communion’.[1]

The rise of fascism in the 1930s, and the subsequent world war, presented unique challenges to peace activists not faced before, especially among younger pacifists who began to embrace non-violent resistance. Minutes of meetings of the United Peace Council (UPC), active in the 1930s, illustrates how peace bodies of varied political and religious beliefs could in a time of crisis suppress their conflicting beliefs and work towards a common goal.[2] Delegates from church, pacifist, Christian socialist, communist, trade union and anti-fascist organisations came together to campaign for world peace. Conflicting beliefs existed not only between communists and pacifists, but also between pacifist and non-pacifist Christians.[3] Just as the dogmas heard coming from some communists were not adhered to by others of the same persuasion, so the absolute pacifism advocated by some pacifists was not adhered to by others. Eleanor Moore represented the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) at UPC meetings. She withdrew and insisted that her organization have nothing further to do with the organisation. Moore, an absolute pacifist, took exception to the support given by the UPC to collective military security of nations opposing fascist aggression.[4]

Younger pacifists especially, found Moore’s absolute stand unhelpful to their cause. They felt fascist oppression called for a more nuanced response. Non-violent resistance and civil disobedience could be effective and were a morally acceptable way to protest. Reverend Frank Coaldrake studied Gandhi’s teachings on non-violent resistance and came to accept that ‘boycotts, strikes, sabotage’ were justified when those in power made ‘intolerable encroachments on industrial rights or civil liberties’.[5] He applied Gandhian non-violent resistance with other young pacifists by opposing police in the eviction of tenants from their houses. The non-violent ‘occupations’ staged by war-resisters in the 1960s and later the ‘blockades’ of uranium mines staged by anti-nuclear protesters were guided by pacifist, especially Quaker, ideas on non-violent civil disobedience.

The absolute pacifism advocated by Moore was an extreme position to have taken in the face of fascist oppression. And yet her adamant stand made a significant statement against war, the more so with the revelation, post-war, of the potential of nuclear weapons to annihilate humanity. The advent of nuclear armaments is a consequence of the mentality that accepts war as a natural human activity. The elimination of nuclear weapons is bound up with renouncing war as a means of solving conflict. Ultimately the issue is a moral one, which Moore believed must weigh on the conscience of each and every individual. However, others believed that not only moral persuasion was called in the struggle to abolish war, but also a commitment to non-violent resistance.