B. A. Santamaria (1915 – 1998) Catholic political activist
B.A. Santamaria, Australian political activist and journalist, was one of the most influential political figures in 20th century Australian history. He was the unofficial leader and guiding influence of the Democratic Labor Party.
Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria (14 August 1915 – 25 February 1998), (known in public as B.A. Santamaria and in private as “Bob”), Australian political activist and journalist, was one of the most influential political figures in 20th century Australian history, however he never held public office or joined a political party. He was a highly divisive figure, inspiring great devotion from his followers and intense hatred from his enemies. He regarded his own career as a failure, but on his death was widely praised for his lifelong opposition to Communism.
Santamaria was the unofficial leader and guiding influence of the Democratic Labor Party.
Early and Family Life
Santamaria was born in Melbourne, the son of a greengrocer who was an immigrant from Sicily. He was educated at Catholic schools (including the elite Catholic private schools, St Joseph’s College Melbourne and St Kevin’s College) and at Melbourne University, where he graduated in law. His MA thesis was titled Italy changes shirts: the origins of Italian fascism. He was a political activist from an early age, becoming a leading Catholic student activist and speaking in support of Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. He also was a a strong supporter and wrote about Mussolini’s regime in Italy, but denied that he had ever been a supporter of fascism. He always disliked and opposed Hitler and Nazism. Whilst being a strong supporter of Mussolini up until 1936, he attributed Mussolini’s late alliance with Hitler to the failed policies of Anthony Eden, and expressed regret that Mussolini went with Hitler.
Santamaria was married in 1939 and had eight children, several of whom became prominent in various professions, but none of whom followed him into political activism. In 1980 his wife Helen Santamaria died. He later married Dorothy Jensen, his long-time secretary. His brother Joseph Santamaria was a well-known Melbourne surgeon and was prominent in the Catholic bioethics movement. In the sporting arena, he was a devout supporter of the Carlton Football Club.
Catholic Worker Movements
In 1936 Santamaria was one of the founders of the Catholic Worker, a newspaper influenced by the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII. Although the Catholic Worker group campaigned for the rights of workers and against what it saw as the excesses of capitalism, Santamaria came to see the Communist Party of Australia, which in the 1930s made great advances in the Australian trade union movement, as the main enemy. In 1937, at the invitation of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, he joined the National Secretariat of Catholic Action, a lay Catholic anti-Communist organisation.
During World War II Santamaria gained an exemption from military service (it was later alleged that this was obtained through the political influence of Arthur Calwell, a leading Catholic Labor politician, but both men later denied this; it has also been attributed to the influence of former Prime Minister James Scullin and Archbishop Mannix). In 1941 he founded the Catholic Social Studies Movement, generally known simply as “the Movement” or Groupers, which recruited Catholic activists to oppose the spread of Communism, particularly in the trade unions. The Movement gained control of the Industrial Groups in the unions, fighting the Communists and gaining control of many unions.
This activity brought him into conflict not only with the Communist Party but with many left-wing Labor Party members, who favoured a united front with the Communists during the war. During the 1930s and ’40s Santamaria generally supported the conservative Catholic wing of the Labor Party, but as the Cold War developed after 1945 his anti-Communism drove him further away from Labor, particularly when Dr H.V. Evatt became Leader of the Labor Party in 1951. Seven Labor MPs, elected from Victoria and followers of Santamaria, criticised Evatt’s leadership over the next four years
Labor Split and National Civic Council
In 1954 Evatt publicly blamed the Groupers for Labor’s defeat in that year’s federal election, and after a tumultuous National Conference in Hobart in 1955, Santamaria’s parliamentary followers were expelled from the Labor Party. The resulting split (now usually called The Split, although there have been several other “splits” in Labor history) brought down the Labor governments in Victoria and Queensland. In Victoria Mannix threw the resources of the Church behind Santamaria, but in New South Wales, Norman Cardinal Gilroy opposed him, favouring the traditional alliance between the Church and Labor.
Gilroy’s influence in Rome ended official Church support for the Movement. Santamaria founded a new organisation, the National Civic Council (NCC), and edited its newspaper News Weekly for many years. His followers, known as Groupers, continued to control a number of important unions. Those expelled from the Labor Party formed a new party, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), dedicated to opposing both Communism and the Labor Party, which they said was controlled by Communist sympathisers. Santamaria never joined the DLP but was its unofficial leader and guiding influence.
Anti-Communism and Pro-Family
During the 1960s and ’70s Santamaria regularly warned of the dangers of communism in Southeast Asia, and supported South Vietnam and the United States in the Vietnam War. He founded the Australian Family Association and Thomas More Centre (for traditional Catholicism) to extended the work of the NCC. However, gradually, his political role gradually declined. The death of Archbishop Mannix in 1963 ended Catholic Church support for the NCC even in Victoria, and in 1974 the DLP lost all its seats in the Senate and was wound up a few years later. Santamaria ran the NCC in a highly personal and (according to his critics) autocratic way, and in the mid 1980s there was a serious split in the organisation, with most of the trade unionists leaving. The Grouper-controlled unions then returned to their ALP affiliation.
But Santamaria’s personal stature continued to grow, through his regular column in The Australian newspaper and his regular television spot, Point of View (he was given free air time by Sir Frank Packer, owner of the Nine Network). A skilled journalist and broadcaster, he was one of the most articulate voices of Australian conservatism for more than 20 years. He was greatly admired by conservative politicians such as Malcolm Fraser and John Howard. Santamaria claimed that Robert Menzies told him that he twice voted DLP (this being confirmed by Menzies’ family), and that the DLP was the party Menzies thought he had founded.
Santamaria had the satisfaction of living to see the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the world Communist movement. But he was also hostile to free-market capitalism, and to abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and other liberal and secular trends of the modern world. He was consistent in his support of spiritual, religious and family values and opposed those policies he believed threatened these pillars. For these reasons he was a strong critic of secular humanism in his later years. Politically he could best be described as a Christian Democrat, a political tradition which has never taken root in secular Australia. In the eighties and nineties, he opposed the ‘economic rationalist’/market based economic policies of the Australian Labor Party and Liberal/National Coalition alike. He came to despise politicians of all parties who failed to oppose these things, and towards the end of his life said several times that his political career had been a complete failure.
Traditionalism in the Catholic Church
Santamaria also bitterly opposed what he saw as liberal and non-traditional trends in the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council, and founded a magazine through his Thomas More Centre, called A.D. 2000, to argue for traditionalist views. He welcomed Pope John Paul II’s return to conservatism in many areas. In his last years the conservative Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, reconciled him to the Church. Santamaria died aged 82 of an inoperable brain tumour. On his death Santamaria was praised by conservatives for his opposition to Communism, but also by some on the left for his later campaigning against unrestricted capitalism.
Late in his life he began to write passionately against the dangers of “monopoly capitalism” and was consistent in his view that this represented as great a threat to civil society as communism. He wrote throughout the 1990s, in The Australian newspaper and elsewhere, that the debt-based monetary system, credit creation and the private ownership of major banking institutions were all fundamentally deleterious to good order and government, and that international investment banks based in New York, London and Frankfurt had taken effective control of the levers of Australian economic policy since the 1970s. He was also concerned about the consistent contractionary economic policies pursued in the “pro-market” 1990s, which in his view had produced a long-term decline in real wages, which had in turn forced mothers into the workforce, and had then led to the breakdown of the family unit. Late in life, he continued to believe that the power of the “market” was the greatest threat to the survival of the family and, more broadly, of Western civilization in the late 20th century.
He was consistent throughout his life in being a supporter of what he called the “Christian Democratic thesis”.
Archbishop Pell’s tribute to B.A. Santamaria
Bob Santamaria was a great Australian, and a saintly Catholic. He would be annoyed if we did not pray during this Mass that he be loosed from his sins. And I do this willingly, but without deep conviction about the need.
He did know the attractive force of the principle that the end justifies the means. But he rejected this. He loved greatly his Church, his family, his nation and because of that he knew God’s love and forgiveness.
He has left us, but his legacy remains. As we await the resurrection of the body we also have to keep up the struggle with hope and strength.
Complete tribute : http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/1998/apr1998p10_560.html
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